Monday Chatter: Why Plagiarizing Reviews is Bad (Because Apparently it Needs to Be Said)

Happy Monday, everyone!

Originally I wasn’t going to write an entire post about this because I don’t like voluntarily courting drama (unless it involves someone coming after a person I care about. Then I start sharpening knives), but the more I thought about it, the more irritated I got. So I’m just gonna get it all out into the open.

I was browsing through my feed early last week and clicked on a Wilder Girls review from a relatively new blogger I’ve been following. At first I thought it to be a really well-written post, and I was nodding along with a lot of their points.

But then I came cross a passage that looked eerily familiar:

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See, here’s what I wrote in my Wilder Girls review:

The main characters are a bit of a hit and miss. Power describes the girls’ relationships beautifully, and I really appreciate that she took the time to explore intense friendships and romantic love and the idea that there’s room for both in your life. I also love the fact that all of these characters are allowed to be selfish and mean–not because they’re terrible people but because their circumstances aren’t kind and there’s only so much kindness you can dredge up when it feels like your life is teetering on a knife’s edge. Forever give me all the flawed female characters who aren’t always nice.

 

Huh. Okay. So they took my sentence and reworded it slightly. Kind of sucks, but it’s nothing to lose my head over.

And then came this paragraph:

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And here’s my corresponding one:

…And I really wish I can end this review here. I really do.

But I got to talk about that ending.

This is where things go off the rails for me. And I’m trying to purge it from my brain because just thinking about it ruins the experience I had with the rest of the book. From Hetty’s actions and how it wraps things up with the other characters, to the very sudden, very shoddy explanation for the Tox, the ending is the equivalent of strolling along a creek, tripping on a rock, twisting my ankle, and landing face-first into water that’s filled with piranhas–painfully unexpected, makes zero sense (because piranhas in Canada, what?) and puts an abrupt end to what was turning out to be a nice afternoon walk. It tried to go with a scientific route, in which case the explanation should have been doled out in small pieces over the course of the story instead of just dumping it onto your lap at the end. It’s almost as if the author wasn’t sure how to close things off, so she just went with an explanation that’s popular and topical (spoiler: climate change), and it feels so incredibly tacked-on. I’d rather have had no explanation than the ones we got. As for the ending it gives to the characters, it’s one with zero emotional payoff.

Oh boy.

What really gets me is that they took my dumb little scenario of falling into a piranha-infested creek and changed it to crocodiles. It’s just so ridiculously blatant.

So I wrote them a comment, talking about how their plagiarism is kind of hurtful, and could they remove the passages in question, please and thank you. In response, they got rid of the crocodile sentence, left everything else intact, and deleted my comment, all the while holding radio silence.

Which made me feel really fucking great.

I don’t mind people using my reviews as a kind of a guideline for what they should talk about in their own posts. But this? This is straight up copy-pasting. And aside from the obvious “plagiarizing other people’s content is a breach of ethics” issue, it also calls into question the originality of all their past and future reviews.

I guess one could make the argument that ultimately it’s just a book review. But I could also take that sentiment and lob it back, ask why you’d go to the trouble of making someone feel shitty just for the sake of a book review. I don’t think my blog posts are deserving of literary awards (hell, I don’t even like my reviews half the time), but they’re still mine, and I hold a modicum of pride for them.

So I’m not writing this to be all, “How DARE they steal and tarnish this masterpiece.” I’m writing it because most of the time this community is wonderful and supportive, and we as a bloggers do a lot of work for very little, and all we ask from each other in return is at least a semblance of respect. I don’t think that’s that difficult of a bar to reach. And yet.

Your reviews don’t have to be the best (because what does that even mean?) They don’t have to be funny. They don’t have to be inspiring. They just have to be yours.

So. Plagiarism.

Don’t do it.

 

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Well, enough of that. Moving onto more fun things!

 

Etsy Store

A couple of weeks ago, I talked about my plans for selling This is How You Lose the Time War prints, because the authors and a couple of other people have been asking about them (which is incredible and humbling).

And I’m happy to announce that my Etsy store is LIVE and you can order your very own time traveling gay birds!

http://www.etsy.com/listing/714417854/this-is-how-you-lose-the-time-war

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Books to Read (feat. cover porn)

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I haven’t had a lot of time for reading this past week, and I’m still chugging away at Crier’s War and The Ventriloquists.

I’ve also started The Ten Thousand Doors of January and All the Bad Apples (about a girl who goes searching for her missing older sister). And so far I’m utterly charmed by the prose of TTTDOI as I am by its cover.

 

Review + Giveaway (INTL): Gather the Fortunes – The Most Neil Gaiman Thing I Read Since I Last Read Neil Gaiman

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Title:
Gather the Fortunes (A Crescent City Novel Book 2)
Author: Bryan Camp
Publisher: John Joseph Adams/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Release Date: May 21st, 2019
Genre(s): Urban Fantasy
Subjects and Themes: Gods, Mythology
Page Count: 384 (hardback)

Rating: 8.0/10

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Renaissance Raines has found her place among the psychopomps—the guides who lead the souls of the recently departed through the Seven Gates of the Underworld—and done her best to avoid the notice of gods and mortals alike. But when a young boy named Ramses St. Cyr manages to escape his foretold death, Renai finds herself at the center of a deity-thick plot unfolding in New Orleans. Someone helped Ramses slip free of his destined end—someone willing to risk everything to steal a little slice of power for themselves.

Is it one of the storm gods that’s descended on the city? The death god who’s locked the Gates of the Underworld? Or the manipulative sorcerer who also cheated Death? When she finds the schemer, there’s gonna be all kinds of hell to pay, because there are scarier things than death in the Crescent City. Renaissance Raines is one of them.

 

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(Note: I got to Gather the Fortunes after reading about 1/4 of the first book–I ran out of time!–and while having some prior knowledge of some of the characters might be beneficial, it can absolutely be read as a standalone.)

That title isn’t hyperbole. Not in the slightest. Because holy shit, I am in love with Bryan Camp’s imagination.

Gather the Fortunes is set in an alternate world of gods and demigods and spirits and other supernatural beings, and the result is a beautiful, rich conglomerate of various mythologies–Greek, Norse, Native American, Haitian, you name it, he has it–each carefully constructed and all woven seamlessly into the narrative.

It’s not just the premise and the complexity of the story that reminds me of Gaiman’s work; it’s the utter confidence with which he crafts it. As if this isn’t some fictional world he pulled from his imagination but a reality that actually exists in some alternate dimension. Bryan Camp understands his world inside-out and he has the talent to manipulate it in ways that are not only exciting but also thought-provoking. I love the way he interprets death and afterlife and posits the idea that there are always, always two sides to every coin.

And what astounds me is how polished and detailed everything is. Nothing is done half-assed–from the process of soul-taking (which involves unbraiding and distilling a part of the soul and then turning it into a piece of fruit, eating it, and escorting the remaining spirit through the Underworld. Camp lends grim reapering a sense of craftsmanship, turns it into an art form. It’s fantastic) to the various gates of the Underworld (in the last gate, your life in the form of a coin gets weighed on a scale and that decides whether you’re sent off to a good afterlife or tossed into oblivion).

The prose is just as rich and hard-hitting. There are passages that have this internal rhythm, so that when you read them out loud, they play out like spoken poetry. It’s stylish as hell. Of course not all of it is written that poetically–that’d be exhausting–but Camp knows exactly when to turn it on and off, and that in itself is praiseworthy. And the opening paragraphs that you find in some of the chapters are tiny art pieces in and of themselves–brief narrations about topics like death and luck and premonitions as they apply to different mythologies.

And the last two paragraphs? Chills down my spine. Gave me hard, hard vibes of the Dream vs. Choronzon scene from Sandman. I had to read them aloud multiple times, once to a friend.

Here’s a snippet:

Everywhere Death walks, Life follows. Everything Death takes, Life gives to another. She is Asase Yaa. Onuava. Demeter. Coatlicue. Phra Mae Thorani. He is Kokopelli. Makemake. Geb. Lono. They plant the seeds in the earth and children in the womb. They gave birth to the gods and to the first mortals and to the cosmos and to the sea. They gave their lives to water the earth, to bring plentiful game to hunt, to keep the sun in the sky. They are the sky. They are the sun. They are the buds of new growth in spring, and after a fire, and after a flood, and in the shadow of a failed nuclear reactor. They are everywhere we swore they couldn’t be, in the exothermic vents of the deep ocean, in the ones and zeroes of information, in the fossil records of Mars. Death can end a life, or lives, or this life, or very life.

But not Life.

Our heroine is Renai, a young black woman who, five years previous, had been dead and subsequently resurrected with very few memories of when she was alive. Now she works as a psychopomp, someone who guides the dead to the Underworld. I really quite liked her. She’s a great mix of fierceness and vulnerability, with sass running through it all.

I did have issues with the plot and characters. The story goes through a lot of moving from point A to point B, doing one thing, and then moving to point C, and then doing something else and moving on again. And while parts of it were interesting, others…weren’t. They often felt disconnected from each other and I wasn’t sure what the point of some of them were.

I was also disappointed that Ramses didn’t play a bigger role in the story (at least, not directly) because the synopsis had me anticipating a sibling relationship forming between Renai and Ramses. But sadly, no.

Overall, though, this was a very impressive read and Camp’s New Orleans is one you absolutely need to experience for yourself.

 

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GIVEAWAY

10 people can win finished copies of Gather the Fortune. Open internationally!

ENTER HERE

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Bryan Camp is a graduate of the Clarion West Writer’s Workshop and the University of New Orleans’ Low-Residency MFA program. He started his first novel, The City of Lost Fortunes, in the backseat of his parents’ car as they evacuated for Hurricane Katrina. He has been, at various points in his life: a security guard at a stockcar race track, a printer in a flag factory, an office worker in an oil refinery, and a high school English teacher. He can be found on twitter @bryancamp and at bryancamp.com. He lives in New Orleans with his wife and their three cats, one of whom is named after a superhero.

      

TOUR SCHEDULE

WEEK ONE
MAY 20th MONDAY JeanBookNerd INTERVIEW
MAY 21st TUESDAY BookHounds INTERVIEW
MAY 22nd WEDNESDAY TTC Books and More TENS LIST
MAY 23rd THURSDAY Movies, Shows, & Books EXCERPT
MAY 24th FRIDAY Insane About Books REVIEW
MAY 24th FRIDAY Pages Below the Vaulted Sky REVIEW

WEEK TWO
MAY 27th MONDAY A Dream Within A Dream REVIEW
MAY 28th TUESDAY Nay’s Pink Bookshelf REVIEW
MAY 29th TUESDAY Sabrina’s Paranormal Palace REVIEW
MAY 29th WEDNESDAY Port Jericho REVIEW
MAY 29th WEDNESDAY Book Briefs REVIEW
MAY 30th THURSDAY Two Points of Interest REVIEW
MAY 30th THURSDAY Gwendalyn Books REVIEW
MAY 31st FRIDAY Crossroad Reviews REVIEW

Review: Deposing Nathan – Heartwrenching, Raw, and So Very Important

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Title:
Deposing Nathan
Author: Zack Smedley
Publisher: Page Street Publishing
Release Date: May 7th, 2019
Genre(s): YA Contemporary
Subjects and Themes: LGBTQIAP+, Religion, Abuse
Page Count: 400 (hardback)

Rating: 9.0/10

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For sixteen years, Nate was the perfect son—the product of a no-nonsense upbringing and deep spiritual faith. Then he met Cam, who pushed him to break rules, dream, and accept himself. Conflicted, Nate began to push back. With each push, the boys became more entangled in each others’ worlds…but they also spiraled closer to their breaking points. And now all of it has fallen apart after a fistfight-turned-near-fatal-incident—one that’s left Nate with a stab wound and Cam in jail.

Now Nate is being ordered to give a statement, under oath, that will send his best friend to prison. The problem is, the real story of what happened between them isn’t as simple as anyone thinks. With all eyes on him, Nate must make his confessions about what led up to that night with Cam…and in doing so, risk tearing both of their lives apart.

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Sometimes I read books and love them, and then days or weeks or months later I’d think back and go, “This wasn’t as good as I thought it was.” Well, this book is the opposite of that because I seem to love it more and more with each passing week.

Deposing Nathan is good. Like, award-winning good. Like, why the hell are you reading this when you could be pre-ordering the book RIGHT NOW good.

It’s a propulsive debut that covers a myriad of complex topics from religion and sexuality, to parental abuse, to a friendship gone terribly wrong, and nails all of them with stunning clarity and a rawness that makes your heart weep.

Its two main characters are very flawed and very real, and while Nate’s struggles broke my heart, it was Cam that captured it. Really, I was a goner from the moment he said, “A thousand merry fucks to the MCAT.” He’s one of those people who talk like they’re reading from a movie script–charming and sarcastic and wit dripping down the tail end of every sentence. You’re not sure if they’re arrogant or just too smart for their own good, but either way you’re drawn to them because they’re like walking motes of light and just being with them makes you feel alive.

So there’s Cam on one side, who is able to reconcile Christianity with his sexuality, and then there’s Nathan on the other, who just cannot. And there lies the heart of the story’s conflict.

“If you’re wondering why I’m not designing my sexual identity around a few sentences from a twelve hundred-page book that was last fact-checked two thousand years ago, I don’t have an answer for you. Christianity is about love, and acceptance, and I’m as much a part of it as you are.”

I’m always going on and on about messy characters and how they’re so important–especially teenage ones–and Nathan and Cam are two of the best examples I’ve come across in recent years. The book doesn’t pull punches with these two. They say and do terrible things to each other with nothing spared. Every grievance, frustration, and anger are hashed out in scenes that twisted my stomach into knots.

And what I loved and appreciated most is just how much they communicate together. If they have a problem, they say it outright, regardless of how harsh it is. Sometimes because of how harsh it is, because they want to hurt each other in the worst ways. And that might be a weird compliment to give to a book–that the argument scenes are done incredibly well. But I think verbal fight scenes in books are so hard to pull off, and Smedley pulls it off well enough to make me grimace and forget that this is fiction.

I realize these scenes might be triggering for a lot of people–this being with someone who’s unable to acknowledge a part of their identity, but still refusing to give up on them because you love them and you believe love will pull through in the end. And on the flip side, being stretched out so thin between parental pressure and the feeling of not knowing who you are.

But I think the payoff is absolutely worth it, because the ending is immensely satisfying, painful yet healing. In between bouts of heavy crying, I was filled with so much pride for both characters.

As for criticisms…If I had reviewed this a month ago, immediately after finishing it, I would have said that Aunt Lori crosses over into evil Disney stepmother territory at times. And that some of her actions feel unrealistic next to the organic nature of Nathan and Cam’s relationship. But I’ve sat on it for a month and I’m going to cancel that out. Because the world is wide and there’s a wide variety of shitty people out there, many absolutely falling into the cartoonish category, and some even holding offices of high power. So who am I to state what is and isn’t realistic when it comes to abusive adult figures?

“I just don’t think it’s possible to love someone and be afraid of them at the same time.”

Deposing Nathan is a beautiful and stark love letter to teens (and adults) who have their faith in one hand and sexuality in the other and are wondering if they can walk their lives carrying both.

A hard read but an absolute must-read.

 

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Playlist

Zack has an official playlist up here, which is longer and better, but have a gander at my version HERE! (Or down below)

1. Gravity by Vienna Teng
2. Ashes of Eden by Breaking Benjamin
3. How to Save a Life by The Fray
4. Alibi by Thirty Seconds to Mars
5. Saturn by Sleeping at Last (the main song for the book)

(WordPress lets me add the Spotify playlist in editing mode but it’s completely invisible in preview mode, so I have no idea what’s going on there.)

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Zack Smedley was born and raised in southern Maryland, in an endearing county almost no one has heard of. He has a degree in Chemical Engineering from UMBC and currently works within the field. As a member of the LGBT community, his goal is to give a voice to marginalized young adults through gritty, morally complex narratives. He spends his free time building furniture, baking, tinkering with electronics, and managing his obsession with the works of Aaron Sorkin. DEPOSING NATHAN is his first novel.

Website | Goodreads | Twitter | Instagram

 

GIVEAWAY (US Only)

Win a physical copy of Deposing Nathan! Starts May 1st and ends May 15th. ENTER HERE.

 

TOUR SCHEDULE

May 1st

The Unofficial Addiction Book Fan Club – Welcome Post

May 2nd

Musings of a (Book) Girl – Review + Official Book Playlist
The Bent Bookworm – Review + Favourite Quotes

May 3rd

Book-Keeping – Review
Pages Below the Vaulted Sky – Review + Playlist

May 4th

Reads Like Supernovae – Review + Official Dream Cast
Young Adult Media Consumer – Review

May 5th

Bookish_Kali – Review
The YA Obsessed – Review

May 6th

Cheyenne Reads – Story Behind The Cover
The Layaway Dragon – Review + Favourite Quotes

May 7th

everywhere and nowhere – Is “Natural Talent” All You Need?
Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile – Review

 

Review: Dealing in Dreams – Starts Off High, Crashes To Blandness

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Title: Dealing in Dreams
Author: Lilliam Rivera
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: March 5th, 2019
Genre(s): YA Dystopia
Subjects and Themes: Feminism
Page Count: 336 (hardback)

Rating: 6.0/10

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Sixteen-year-old Nalah leads the fiercest all-girl crew in Mega City. That role brings with it violent throwdowns and access to the hottest boydega clubs, but Nala quickly grows weary of her questionable lifestyle. Her dream is to get off the streets and make a home in the exclusive Mega Towers, in which only a chosen few get to live. To make it to the Mega Towers, Nalah must prove her loyalty to the city’s benevolent founder and cross the border in a search of the mysterious gang the Ashé Riders. Led by a reluctant guide, Nalah battles crews and her own doubts but the closer she gets to her goal the more she loses sight of everything—and everyone—she cares about.

Nalah must choose whether or not she’s willing to do the unspeakable to get what she wants. Can she discover that home is not where you live but whom you chose to protect before she loses the family she’s created for good?

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I went into Dealing in Dreams expecting three things:

1) “The Outsiders meets Mad Max: Fury Road”
2) Female friendships
3) Subversive look at feminism

To my delight and surprise, one of those “X meets Y” blurbs actually proved to be pretty accurate because the world of Dealing in Dreams is one of girl gangs and throwdowns and unrepentant, gritty ultraviolence.

The story is set in a post-apocalyptic society where women rule the top of the food chain–as gang members and soldiers to Dessee, the city’s ruler–and men either toil away in factories or in clubs as sex workers (“papi chulos”). And dreams (or sueños)–a drug made to induce euphoric dreaming–are manufactured and dealt like currencies. Overall, it’s a cool, unforgiving city and Rivera paints a stark portrait of it.

I wasn’t as impressed with the female friendships. I never got a good sense of the other girls in Nalah’s gang, and there were definitely no heartwrenching “Stay gold” moments to be found here.

The biggest draw of the book, aside from its worldbuilding, is the theme that it carries. Rivera addresses gender roles and equality and the issue of feminism being presented as the direct opposite of male dominance–the idea that tough, rough women and submissive men equates to a better world. It asks the readers whether lopping off the head of one kind of inequality only to replace it with another can really be called progress.

“You are forced to abide by rigid rules on what it means to be a man and a woman…Do you think violence makes you more of a woman? Does forcing papis to work at boydegas make them a better ally?”

And I love that. That’s a fantastic message. And I loved the way it was presented in the first half.

But I found the second half to be a massive let-down. It felt like an abridged version of the book, with several sections missing from the middle, and events happened far too quickly to pack any kind of emotional punch. And this denial of a satisfying lead-up to the ending renders that message, not moot, but significantly less powerful.

The writing style also plays a part in this issue. It’s super clipped and plain which fits the setting and the MC’s personality pretty well, but doesn’t do much in terms of showing off the secondary characters, and ends up muting scenes that could otherwise have been poignant.

The book is still definitely worth giving a shot, but considering the sheer amount of potential it had, my feelings on Dealing in Dreams are mostly of disappointment.

Review: Do You Dream of Terra-Two? – In Space, Everyone Can Hear You Dream

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Title: Do You Dream of Terra-Two?
Author: Temi Oh
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd
Release Date: March 7th, 2019
Genre(s): Literature, Sci-Fi
Subjects and Themes: Space expedition
Page Count: 528 (hardback)

Rating: 8.5/10

Add to goodreads

 

 

A century ago, scientists theorised that a habitable planet existed in a nearby solar system. Today, ten astronauts will leave a dying Earth to find it. Four are decorated veterans of the 20th century’s space-race. And six are teenagers, graduates of the exclusive Dalton Academy, who’ve been in training for this mission for most of their lives.

It will take the team twenty-three years to reach Terra-Two. Twenty-three years spent in close quarters. Twenty-three years with no one to rely on but each other. Twenty-three years with no rescue possible, should something go wrong. And something always goes wrong.

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So this is an odd, odd book to classify. It’s not a sweeping space adventure in the vein of Interstellar. Nor is it quite the thriller that Gravity is (though there are resemblances in the last 1/4 of the book). And if you ask me what happens in the course of 528 pages, I’d be inclined to answer, “Nothing much.”

But it’s kind of like spending an entire evening plus the early morning hours outside, staring up at the constellations and telling their stories in your head. And next day, when someone asks what you did the other night and you answer, “I did some star-gazing.” And they say, “Sooo, nothing much?”

And you say, “No. Everything. I did everything.”

That might only make sense to me, so a more straight-forward version: in terms of main plot, not much happens, but beneath that there’s a lifetime of stories that are playing out.

Temi Oh’s writing is absolutely beautiful. It’s the kind of prose that’s meant for traversing outer space and cataloguing stars, and it’s got depth to it that goes beyond sounding pretty–a feeling of awe that I think is so key for space-faring stories; a commanding sense of the moment so that even small, seemingly inconsequential scenes feel important in the grand scheme of things; and a melancholy and intimacy that makes it seem like you’ve been with these characters for years when it’s only been a handful of pages.

It’s the kind of prose that teeters between sad and hopeful, and just when you think it’s falling into sadness, hope yanks it back up again.

As for our characters, their stories range from relatable to heartbreaking:

Poppy, the gorgeous linguistics genius who so badly wants to escape the bleakness of her home. The linguistics genius who got into languages in the first place because it was a way to bridge gaps between herself and others–to travel distances with only a few words–and a way to be less lonely in this world (this is a detail I really, really loved).

Astrid and Juno, the Kenyan twins. The former an astrobiologist who signed up for the program because the thought of being the first to chart an unknown world was irresistible. The latter a chemist, more serious and pragmatic.

Ara, an Indian girl who delights in the delights of the world and delights the world in turn.

Eliot, the robotics genius. The only one of the group who was scouted by the Terra-Two project leaders.

Jesse, the dreamy boy who weaves broken shells into his hair. The boy who’s been told that he would leave this world on his twentieth birthday and is hoping that “leaving the world” literally means leaving the world. On a spaceship, to be exact.

Harry, the pilot and commander-in-training. There’s zero doubt in his mind that he was born for this role, and for someone whose life has revolved around being good and winning, this might be the biggest prize of them all.

For a story that’s about heading into the future and opening a new chapter for humanity, it’s a story that’s also about carrying the past. About sifting through the various events in these characters’ lives that led them to stand where they are, as who they are, and the hopes and fears that they carry with them. It reminded me a lot of LOST, in that sense.

As wonderful and interesting as the characters are, I did have one big problem with them. When they’re in their own heads, being all introspective, they brim with complexity and their personalities shine like starlight. When they’re outside of their heads, interacting with each other, they get somewhat less interesting and complex. Dialogues don’t quite fit together, some of the interactions are strangely jagged, and I had trouble differentiating one person’s voice from another.

The good news is that they spend most of the time in their heads. And when they do, it’s mesmerizing, absorbing stuff.

And for someone who’s never experienced a pioneering space mission (presumably), Oh’s depictions of dread and excitement and just the whole range of emotions associated with the process feels remarkably real. She draws out the initial pre-launch tensions beautifully for the first 1/4 of the book, and does the same with the last 1/4. Every part of the experience is detailed and organic.

All in all, Terra-Two is a magnificent debut. If you like happy endings and fast-paced space operas and storylines that are neatly wrapped up and handed on a silver platter, it might not be the book for you. But If you want a quiet and provocative character-driven story that muses on destiny and the nature of humans, I wholeheartedly recommend it.

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Review copy provided by the publisher via Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

Review: The Cruel Prince – Bad Fae Boys Don’t Do Romance (Or Much of Anything)

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Title: The Cruel Prince (The Folk of the Air 1)
Author: Holly Black
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: January 2nd, 2018
Genre(s): YA Fantasy
Subjects and Themes: Fae
Page Count: 384

Rating: 6.0/10

Add to goodreads

 

 

Me: I should just write a mini review. Writing a detailed review for this is probably like doing an hour-long seminar on why Pixels doesn’t work as a commentary on video game culture.

Also me: Hey all, enjoy this 1200-word review! Also, here’s some crappy fanart!

(Warning: I wrote this in December when I was in a really ranty mood. Apologies to anyone who loved the book. :P)

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I finally caved into hype’s cold, seductive embrace and cracked open this beauty. And what I found inside was…well, more or less what I’d expected. But also less.

A word of advice: if you’re looking for a fae story that’s built from the ground-up, with in-depth exploration of fae culture and social hierarchy and gritty characters, then look elsewhere.

But if you want Boys Over Flowers: Fae AU (kudos to Alice for mentioning the BOF comparison), complete with all the eyeroll-y drama, then turn your sweaters inside out and hop on over to Faerieland because Holly Black’s got you covered!

Part 1 is a story we’ve all seen before ad nauseam. A plain, outsider girl butts heads with the most infamous and popular clique at school and she’s the only one daring (and stupid) enough to defy them. They make her life a living hell, their leader gets off on tormenting her (because he’s an emotionally challenged asshole who doesn’t know how to express interest in a healthy way), but she ends up in a relationship with one of the members who’s so kind and so different from the rest, and all the while the tension between her and the leader ramps up.

Part 1 is like a shoujo high school story that got sloppily ported over to a fae setting. And I wouldn’t have minded the cliche of it all if the main characters had something going for them (one of my favourite things to experience is a story with an overdone plotline that absolutely works because the characters make it work–hello, Fullmetal Alchemist). This, for the most part, didn’t.

Let’s go down the list, shall we?

Jude is…something. I’m still not exactly sure what because book doesn’t give me much about her beyond hating Cardan, wanting more power, and being “badass” for the sake of being badass. It would have been nice if, in the beginning, we were shown what growing up in the fae as an orphaned human was like (how her parents’ murders affected her childhood, how she had to adjust to fae customs, etc), because right now she feels rather hollow and her connection to the fae world tenuous.

As for our titular character, we don’t actually see much of him. In the first half of the book Cardan pops in every now and then to bully Jude, and the second half he spends lounging around in the background like some pretty upholstery. And what we do see of him I found disappointingly tame. I wasn’t expecting a Joffrey-level of sadism but something meatier than what we got would have been great.

It’s like Holly Black wanted to write an enemy-to-lovers story starring a human girl and a bad boy fae but she couldn’t make the boy too bad because she wanted their romance to kickstart in book 1, so that the readers have something to hook onto before the sequel, and she didn’t want it to be a lopsided abuser-victim relationship. So Cardan ended up being this lukewarm, all bark and no bite character. Like a chihuahua with a nice fashion sense.

What I’d hoped for was a del Toro/Brom type of fae–the kind whose “cruelty” derives from the fact that they’re literally inhuman and view the world through a stranger lens than ours. Instead I got a middle school bully cosplaying as a fae. Yippee.

And because Cardan is such an underwhelming antagonist, the vitriol Jude throws at him feels a little overblown and misplaced. Why does she show more hatred towards this school bully than the man who murdered her parents in cold blood?

Oh, and their romance? It’s less of a romance and more:

“I hate you”
“I hate you more”
*furious lip-mashing noises*

Let’s also talk about Locke, the fox-eyed (literally) not-like-those-other-bullies faerie that Jude ends up swooning over. As someone who’s spent a decade on the receiving end of callousness and disdain, you’d think she’d be a little more, I don’t know, cautious about throwing herself heart-first into a romance with one of the Big Bad Four.

The silliness of this subplot is compounded by the fact that she harps on every chance she gets about how much she hates Cardan (“That doesn’t sound like Cardan, whom I despise” — I think my lady doth protest too much). So why does fox boy here get a free pass?

Three facts that make it glaringly clear that he’s terrible boyfriend material:

  1. The boy hangs out with Cardan and co. That makes him, at best, an enabler.
  2. He straight-up tells her in the beginning that it’s fun and easy to be terrible people. I figure that should set some alarm bells ringing.
  3. At one point he has her dressed up in his dead mother’s clothes. I’m not saying that that’s sociopathic, Norman Bates, get-out-of-there-girl behaviour but that’s exactly what I’m saying.

The writing ranges from okay, with some weird word choices here and there (I’m still not sure how anyone’s handwriting can be classified as “arrogant”), to awkward and unintentionally funny. Let’s just say that there are some passages that, had I been reading this as an ebook, would’ve made me wonder if I’d bought a fake fanmade copy.

Some of the highlights:

“She’s clearly shocked by my behavior. She should be. My behavior is shocking.”

“Just tell me why you hate me. Once and for all.”

“All I want to do is nice things that make you happy. Sure, I’ll make whatever bargain you want, so long as you kiss me again. Go ahead and run. I definitely won’t shoot you in the back. (What is even going on with this paragraph? Why does it have a cadence that makes it sound like angsty song lyrics?)

And my absolute favourite:

“Because if I scream, there are guards in the hall. They’ll come. They’ve got big, pointy swords. Huge.” (Truly a threat for the ages. “They have ALL the swords. The BEST swords. HUUUUGE and bigly.”)

“Wow, Kathy, so much hate. And you still gave it a 6 out of 10?”

Right, here comes a confession: I didn’t actually dislike it. Was I annoyed? Definitely. Baffled? Sure. But I was never bored which is more than I can say for a lot of the other books I read in 2018.

The Cruel Prince is definitely not the start to the next great YA fantasy as some would have me believe, but it’s got marketability and a weird addictiveness that (almost) overrides my annoyance. It has everything that makes the Boys Over Flower formula popular with the added benefit of a protagonist who’s not a doormat which is, admittedly, cathartic (even if she does lack a personality). And Cardan does have potential to be interesting so I’m holding out on the hope that maybe–maybe–he plays a more active role in the sequel.

Oh, and Black’s descriptions of the food and fae clothing are pretty great. It doesn’t really contribute to the overall quality of the book–it only makes me wish the other elements of the story were as detailed–but it’s a nice touch.

So all this backhanded praise is to say its many faults won’t stop me from reading Book 2.

…And it won’t stop me from drawing Cardan, either (attempting to, anyway). Because aesthetics–this boy has ’em. (And no, I don’t know what’s going on with the “thorns” around him either. I got tired and lazy. Sigh.)

 

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Review: The Monster Baru Cormorant – A Chess Game, A Lesson in Economics, And a Masterclass in Character Work

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Title: The Monster Baru Cormorant (The Masquerade 2)
Author: Seth Dickinson
Publisher: Tor Books
Release Date: October 30th, 2018
Genre(s): Epic Fantasy
Subjects and Themes: Politics, Economy, LGBTQIAP+
Page Count: 464 (hardback)

Rating: 9.0/10

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As the long-awaited sequel to Traitor Baru Cormorant, Monster was one of my two most anticipated releases of 2018 and I can safely say that it did not disappoint.

There are few things to keep in mind when diving into Monster.

One: this isn’t a book that you can power through in one or two sittings. It’s a dense, slow-paced story stuffed to the brim with intricate character work and social sciences.

Two: this is an entirely different beast to the first book. Traitor Baru Cormorant was very much an origin story for Baru. I’d almost call it an extended prologue–a story that needed to be told in order for the main story to progress. It was about setting up the pieces on a game board. Or no–not even that. It was about taking chunks of wood and whittling them into piece-like shapes.

Monster is about setting them on the board and saying, “Okay, let’s get moving.”

And boy, do they ever move.

Monster expands our view hundredfold, focusing not only on Baru but also her enemies and her maybe-allies. Dickinson makes it clear that this isn’t just a Baru story anymore. There are other players on the board and each come with their own motivations and their visions for the endgame. And make no mistake, they will each sacrifice what it takes to get there.

Every one of these characters (it feels weird calling them “side” characters) are complex and interesting and so distinct. I just can’t get enough of Dickinson’s ability for compact character building. Even the ones that appear on page for a short amount of time leave such crisp and deep impressions. And that’s a seriously hard thing to do.

As with Traitor, the female characters really shine in this one. These are women of powerful positions. Women of ambition and calculation. Women who have known betrayal and are more than willing to deal it out in turn.

And then there’s the Apparitor who is hand-down the best side character in the book. He’s refreshingly blunt and caustic–his insults giving Scott Lynch a run for his money–and the snipey banter between him and Baru is an absolute treat and a much-needed reprieve from all the doom and gloom (if nothing else, I want these two to become friends).

The plot picks up immediately after the ending of Traitor and we now turn our eyes southward to Oriati Mbo, the thousand year old communal nation that has repelled countless attempts of subjugation and kept its citizens content. Naturally, the Empire wants to know their secrets.

So, here’s an interesting thing. Book 1 established the Empire as this unmovable, all-powerful force. Monster, however, introduces tension within the Empire (specifically, between the navy and the parliament) that, with the right or wrong force, can create cracks in their system. They seem less like a faceless evil and more like a nation with its fair share of weak points.

So while Book 1 was very much an Us VS Them (at least, on the surface), Book 2 isn’t so clear cut. It doesn’t help that it gives you a lot of characters from the Empire that you can sympathize with, like the Apparitor and his lover and Baru’s friend Aminata.

So the water starts getting really muddy, which I love. Which endgame do we, as readers, root for here? The burning of the world through an all-out war as Baru claims she wants? But look at what Baru’s done. Look at what she plans on doing in the future. As repulsed as we are by the Empire’s methods, how can we, in good conscience, root for a woman who will use the memory of loved ones as carte blanche for all her terrible actions?

Noble and kind and honest doesn’t seem to get you very far in this world. And I can’t wait to see how that sentiment changes as the series goes on.

Do you know what my most favourite part about the book is, though? The writing.

I loved it in Traitor, but compared to Monster I can only call the former restrained and the latter experimental and free-flowing. Dickinson just does so many interesting things with the style and formatting–we get PoV and tense switches, flashbacks, interludes, small diagrams in the middle of paragraphs, interjections from dead characters (or so it seems), extended use of parentheses. Each PoV comes with its own distinct voice and structure, so even when nothing notable was happening plot-wise, I was still very much engaged by the writing itself.

I love the creativity and the daring of it because you don’t see too many epic fantasy books go, “Fuck conventional styles, I’m just going to do what I want.” And in a sequel at that.

And what surprised me was how much humour there is. Some of it’s gallows humour–the “can’t cry so might as well laugh” type–but others are genuine, which I didn’t expect considering how things ended in Traitor. Really, all I could think was that he must have had a ton of fun writing some of this because I had a ton of fun reading it.

He does a lot of things and I know it won’t be to everyone’s tastes–I know some people like the prose in their fantasy to be plain and invisible–but, for me, they all worked and really cemented Dickinson as one of my favourites in the genre.

So if you’re one of those people who have sunk far too many hours of their lives into grand strategy games like Europa Universalis and Crusader Kings (*whistles loudly*) and the notion of staring at a map plotting out trade alliances, assassinations, and increasing territory while stamping out conflict makes you positively giddy, then my god, this book (and the series) is for you. It is geopolitical fantasy at its finest.

If you’re one of those people who are into books written by someone who’s well-versed in science and politics and knows how to communicate them to the readers in a clear but interesting way, while also creating ridiculously complex characters and drowning the text in flair and wordsmithery…then you should also maybe, probably, most definitely pick this up.

flourish

Thank you to Tor for providing the review copy. All opinions are my own.