Book Review: We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

28243032Title: WE ARE OKAY
Author: Nina LaCour
Release Date: 2017
Pages: 234
Publisher: Dutton Books
My Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5)
Review on Goodreads

It’s Christmas Break and Marin Delaney is the only person left in her cold, New York dorm. From the very first page you can feel the threads of grief tugging her down, and they weave their way throughout the entirety of this short little book that I could not put down. I did not expect to be this affected by this book, but by the last page I was crying.

Marin is an orphan, raised by her grandfather, with no other family to speak of. When her grandfather dies, she flees her hometown in California for college in New York. As Marin narrates, however, the reader begins to see that it isn’t just her grandfather’s death she is trying to escape from, but the reality of his life and their lives together. There is more, much more, buried in the crevices of Marin’s heavy grief. The truth is revealed slowly, tugged out of Marin with difficulty because she can’t bring herself to face it.

The entire novel takes place over the three days Marin’s best friend Mabel comes to visit her at college. It is obvious that the girls were more than friends, however, and that Marin’s grief has driven a wedge between them. Their interactions are hesitant and fragile as they try to patch themselves back together again.

Though the narrative is interspersed with flashbacks, for me it is the present-day scenes that speak the loudest. LaCour does an incredible job bringing forth emotions using setting alone. Marin and Mabel are all alone on an empty college campus, snowed in, surrounded by freezing cold and snow storms and icy quiet. This barren landscape mirrors Marin’s own emotions. Not only does Marin’s grief leap off the page, so does her loneliness.

I come from a very large family. My father died when I was little, but I have a mom, a brother, grandparents, aunts, tons of cousins, and so much extended family that I can’t even remember all their names. We’re huge and sprawling and we talk to each other all the time and we’re always there for each other though we live on two different continents. I don’t often think about their existence as a balm for my loneliness, but it is; there is a comfort in knowing there are so many people I could reach out to, so many people I am effortlessly connected to.

Marin has no one. She had her grandfather, who tried his best, but it wasn’t enough, for he was too suffused in his own grief to be everything Marin needed. And then he dies, and Marin’s grief and loneliness suffocates her. I would say I can’t imagine how it feels, but I can, because LaCour writes of it so vividly and so powerfully that I felt my chest grow heavier just by reading along. The novel ends with a message of hope, but the majority of it succeeds in filling you up with the heavy, unbearable grief Marin feels.

This isn’t a typical novel that follows typical plot structure. It’s much more introspective. It’s about grief and suffering and loneliness and what they can do to a person. It’s about forgiveness. It’s about found families and forging new connections. Not too much happens in this novel, and I’m not gonna lie, it’s depressing as hell, but I loved it all the same. And as a writer, it’s inspired me to write, which to me always means a book is spectacular in some way or another.

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Book Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

25489134Title: THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE
Author: Katherine Arden
Release Date: 2017
Pages: 322
Publisher: Del Rey Books
My Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5)
Review on Goodreads

On a cold winter night in a northern Russian village, a mother of four dies giving birth to her fifth child: a young girl born with the promise of magic in her veins, a predetermined fate nipping at her heels.

So begins the tale of Vasilia Petrovna, a wild, willful child who grows into a spirited, brave young woman. Arden tells her story slowly, gradually, from birth to adulthood, but the narrative is no less compelling for it. Arden wields words like a painter, crafting a lush atmosphere that makes you feel warm, as though you are reading a book by the fire. That is what I first noticed about this book; it immediately drew me in and made me feel cozy.

Despite the third person semi-omniscient narration, I was able to get a good sense of the characters. I usually despise this type of narration, especially when viewpoints flit between characters in a single chapter as they did here, but Arden does this masterfully. Nowhere did I feel that her writing did not cohere beautifully. The sweeping fairy tale feel evoked by the narration does not take away from the characters, each of whom comes to life in their own way.

Vasya is the strongest character of them all, a girl so strange and willful as to be branded a witch by her village. Born with the ability to see domovoi, her friendship with these strange Russian spirits is a direct contrast to her step-mother’s terror of them. Anna, whom Vasya’s father marries at the behest of his prince, is gifted with the sight as well, but unlike Vasya she fears the domovoi “demons” so much that she is constantly on the precipice of madness. She finds solace only in church, where domovoi cannot enter, and so when an egotistical young priest named Konstantin is sent to Vasya and Anna’s village, Anna latches onto him and his fear-mongering.

Konstantin the priest is a fascinating character; holy and devout but arrogant and vain. He lives for the love of the people and nurtures a desire to be worshiped by them. At the same time he is tormented by his desire for Vasya, whose willful spirit both tempts him and infuriates him. Throughout his years in her life he alternates between love and hatred of her, and he stokes the villagers’ suspicions of her, cementing her as an unholy witch in their minds.

But Vasya is protected by her family, among them her father Pyotr, an honest, hard-working, honorable man who wields an iron fist of justice. Though he loves his daughter he is frustrated by her strangeness, her unwillingness to fit in the world, the way she throws off the shackles of womanhood in medieval Russia. Alongside Vasya as an ally is her older brother Alyosha, whose love for and protectiveness of his sister shone through more than any of his other traits, making him a memorable character in his own right. Even Irina, Anna’s daughter and Vasya’s half-sister, who could have been merely an afterthought, grows in complexity as she breaks away from her mother’s hold and comes to ally with her sister in small but significant ways.

This tale is steeped in Russian folklore, the remote, pastoral setting lending a mythical feel to the story. Like most fairy tales Arden’s tale reads like magical realism. Christian reality integrates seamlessly with Russian folklore, all coming to a head in the climax of the novel, in which Vasya finally confronts the evil that has been haunting her village and maddening Konstantin the priest, making him believe he was listening to the voice of his God.

This is a delightful tale steeped in richness and atmosphere. The evocative moods shift from tense and terrifying to comedic to uplifting, conveying the various tenors the harsh northern setting itself evokes. This is something else I must mention: Arden writes of the seasons with such utter grace, illuminating the icy danger of winter as much as the heavy heat of summer. Her lyrical descriptions are bursting with vivid color, which boosts the novel immensely, as the setting is such a significant part of the narrative.

This has been one of my favorite reads of this year: comforting, thrilling, inspiring, and utterly beautiful.

Book Review: Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova

27969081Title: LABYRINTH LOST
Author: Zoraida Cordova
Release Date: 2016
Pages: 324
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
My Rating: ★★★☆☆ (2.5/5)
Review on Goodreads

I wanted so badly to love this book, but I couldn’t. From the very beginning I couldn’t get into it, and completing it was a struggle. I literally had to force myself to keep reading. And it sucks, because there is so much to love about this book! Unfortunately, I found it was overwhelmed by the negatives, which mostly encompass two things: the writing and the oddly paced plot.

So, the plot. This may have more to do with my own tastes than anything else. I’m really not a fan of Alice in Wonderland style tales, where heroes journey through a strange land. I suppose some authors could do it justice, but in Labyrinth Lost I was just bored to tears. The plot was formulaic and unoriginal. There were few surprises or twists, and the ones that were there were either predictable or contrived. It was so, so boring.

The writing is my other main issue. I don’t normally comment on writing styles, but here it was just awful. I just could not get past how clunky and juvenile it was. Sentences were all so simplistic and repetitive; I felt like I was banging my head against a wall. It was so jarring and uncomfortable.

I’m disappointed, because this book had the potential to be excellent. There are some incredible things here!

Latina witches in Brooklyn! Already the concept is intriguing and fresh and comes with the promise of rich traditions and lengthy histories. With the epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter, I was reminded strongly of the Sweep series, one of my favorites. This book was so close to coming alive with magic.

Then there’s the characters. Despite the stilted writing, the characters were all endearing and believable. The author managed to give each and every one of them their own authentic personality; the characters came to life on the page. Even the Devourer, the villain of the story, was intriguing, with a fascinating past.

There’s also a really neat subversion of a common YA trope along with a f/f relationship! You expect Alex to fall in love with the “mysterious brujo boy” but instead she is in love with another woman, which honestly blew me away.

But…all of it ultimately falls short because of the writing and plot. The plot would have worked better had it taken place in our world rather than a secondary fantasy one (never thought I’d hear myself saying that). And the writing…man, I am drawn to the characters and would be interested in seeing them have an adventure in our world, but…is it enough to get me to suffer through this writing again? Probably not.

TV Corner: No Tomorrow

Pilot

The CW’s No Tomorrow didn’t really draw me in at first.  I wasn’t drawn by the fact that it starred two generic white people, and I wasn’t sold on the premise either.  However, I love Joshua Sasse (Generic White Person #1) and I’ll pretty much watch anything The CW puts out, so once this was on Netflix I was all over it, not expecting to like it very much.  Instead, I absolutely loved it, which sucks for me, since it was cancelled after one season.

No Tomorrow stars Joshua Sasse as Xavier Holliday, an eccentric physicist who believes that the world will end in eight months when an asteroid collides with the Earth and destroys it (in other words, an apocalypse truther).  When he meets Evie Covington, a woman who has always played it safe, he convinces her to broaden her horizons and take more risks.

Strike one against this show was casting a generic white actress as Evie, when this could have been so much more interesting with a woman of color in the role.  Strike two is tangential to strike one, which is that this show involves one of my least favorite tropes: fun-loving and reckless man draws shy and responsible woman out of her shell.  I hate it, but it would have been given layers of depth if Evie were a woman of color who then had to play it safe by virtue of her background.  But, you know, this is The CW, so I don’t expect too much.

Anyway, I went in with low expectations, but I was totally charmed! This is a charming show.  It’s cute and utterly hilarious, never forgetting how completely ridiculous its own premise is.  Joshua Sasse, coming off his stint in Galavant, is brilliant as fun-loving Xavier, bringing depth and complexity to what could have been an incredibly grating role.  Tori Anderson is adorable as Evie, if a little boring.  The two are surrounded by a much more diverse cast of wacky characters that by the end of the series have become a tight-knit group of friends.

The show is essentially a classic rom-com with an apocalypse twist thrown in for kicks.  But somehow, it works, leading to absurd hijinks and a whole lot of fun.  By the end of the show, all the characters have changed and matured for the better.  The CW even released a short little epilogue letting you know where all the characters ended up and whether or not the asteroid did indeed hit the earth.   The closure wraps up the show quite nicely!

At only thirteen episodes, No Tomorrow is a highly bingable weekend treat that is sure to cheer you up!

 

Book Review: A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab

29939230Title: A CONJURING OF LIGHT
Author: V.E. Schwab
Release Date: 2017
Pages: 624
Publisher: Tor
My Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5)
Review on Goodreads

The conclusion to Victoria Schwab’s trilogy hits the ground sprinting, picking up where last book’s cliffhanger left us. The first few chapters fly by at a breakneck pace as the gang (and they are a gang, now) tries to deal with Osaron. The pace slows down slightly towards the middle, but the gang is on a ship (I love ships!) so I was a happy camper. The book concluded wonderfully, happily even, tying up all loose ends while still promising new adventures.

One of my favorite things about this book was all the extra screen time (page time?) Holland got. Since book one I’ve been so intrigued by him (I was telling a friend he reminded me of a young Snape) and getting to see more of his backstory was rather enlightening. I loved the way he interacted with both Kell and Lila, thawing a frosty relationship with the former and building a rickety alliance with the latter.

Lila, of course, is wonderful and powerful and badass as always. She’s an absolute tour de force, I have to say. Her scenes and interactions with Kell were incredible and left me wanting more and more and more.

I have only one complaint about this book. Ever since the first book, Kell’s past has been teased. And yet, even by the end of the trilogy, we are not given any new information about who he is or where he came from. Kell consciously makes the decision not to learn anything about his past when he is given the opportunity halfway through the book, a decision which always frustrates me, since if I were given the choice I would always wish to know the truth no matter what it may be. I guess the point Schwab means to have come across is that it doesn’t matter, but if that were the case I wish it hadn’t been teased so often, as though it were building up to a reveal!

Same issue with Lila – what exactly happened to her eye? Was it an accident or did it turn black? Why is she an Antari in a world without magic? How did she come to be so? I just wanted more, but honestly, that’s more about me as a reader. I like backstory and filling in holes, but I do think Schwab intentionally doesn’t tell us this information because she wants to stress that it is what these characters do nowthat matters, which I guess I can live with.

Other than that…I have no complaints. I loved this book and I loved this series. And seriously, just, thank you to Victoria Schwab for giving us the gift of Delilah Bard. Thank you.

Fancast: A Darker Shade of Magic

Back in the heyday of Livejournal, I looooooved fancasts.  I’d hunt them down like a bloodhound, and I tended to create many myself!  Because I’m slowly becoming obsessed with V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic series (who isn’t?), I of course started picturing who I would want cast in the roles.  And since the series is also being turned into a TV show, hopefully soon, this is all the more timely!

FYI, I’m 80% into A Conjuring of Light but not done yet, so please, no spoilers!

So here we go:

KELL (FREDDIE FOX)

KELL
Finding someone for Kell was hard, and not just because I’d rather have Alfie Enoch in the role.  His looks are very particular, and he needs to give off that aura of seriousness.  I think Freddie could be great assuming the makeup team puts in a lot of work.  I also considered Caleb Landry Jones who also has appropriate looks, but I’ve actually never seen either of these two act.  In this particular picture, though, Freddie looks perfect.

 


LILA (MEDALION RAHIMI)

delilah
Lila was the easiest person to cast! I first saw Medalion on the prematurely cancelled (seriously, don’t get me started on this) Shondaland drama Still Star Crossed.  She plays a princess, a role entirely different from thief and cutthroat Delilah Bard, but seeing her act, I think she can bring ferocity to the role.  She’s also very striking, and she’s a woman of color! Others I considered were Nina Dobrev (light of my life) and Anya Taylor-Joy.


RHY (ELLIOT KNIGHT)

RHY
Elliot is so handsome and he can play charming rogue and serious prince very well.  I’ve seen him on Sinbad and Once Upon a Time, two completely opposite roles, but he’s been brilliant in both.

 

 

 


ALUCARD (DENIZ AKDENIZ)

ALUCARD

 

I mean.  Look at him.  Need I say more? He looks the part and he oozes charm.  He played Aladdin on Once Upon a Time and had a small guest role on Jane the Virgin.  Not only were both roles superbly acted, but he also managed to be incredibly seductive in both, which is exactly what this role needs.

 

 


HOLLAND (TOM BURKE)

HOLLAND
As far as I know, the popular fancast for Holland is Mads Mikkelsen, which I would support wholeheartedly, only Mads is much older than how I picture Holland.  Tom is thirty-six, which is exactly the age I picture Holland.  After watching him play Athos on BBC’s The Musketeers, I know for certain he will be able to convey Holland’s calm, dry wit and emotional trauma.

 


So what do y’all think? Did I choose right? Did I choose totally and utterly wrong? Who did you have in mind for these characters? What other characters in the books do you have castings in mind for? Tell me in the comments!

The Mid-Year Freak Out Book Tag

Chelsea over at Spotlight on Stories did this tag, and I really liked it so I thought I’d snag it!

1. The Best Book You’ve Read So Far In 2017

31123249Saints and Misfits, also known as literally the first YA book I’ve ever read that positively portrays the Muslim community. Not only that, it’s clever, engaging, witty, and incredibly well-written.  I couldn’t put it down, even though I had to read it as a PDF on my phone (thanks, Netgalley), squinting and awkwardly maneuvering the pages.

 

2. Your Favourite Sequel This Year

20764879A Gathering of Shadows.  I read A Darker Shade of Magic in March and while I liked it, I wasn’t awed by it.  Then I read A Gathering of Shadows, and I finally understood why everyone loves these books so much! While second books in a trilogy are usually slower and transitional, A Gathering of Shadows is shaping up to be the best book in the series. It’s got great pacing and buildup and incredible payoff.

3. A New Release That You Haven’t Read But Really Want To

29939048  28449207

I’ve heard nothing but good things about both of these books!

 

4. Most Anticipated Release For The Second Half Of The Year

32718027  33395234  33958230City of Brass is written by a history buff and is set in 18th century Cairo! I mean! What more could I ask for! I’ve read a short story by the author of Beasts of Night, Tochi Onyebuchi, called “Screamers” and it was haunting and incredible.  And of course, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns has been getting so much buzz! Plus it features an anti-heroine, so I’m already sold.

5. Your Biggest Disappointment

30363359The Thief  was such a major disappointment. I had heard so many good things about this book and this series in general that I was really excited to read it, but by the quarter mark I was already struggling. It took everything I had to finish it and by the end I was skimming whole paragraphs just to get it over with. It was boring and uneventful and the only two female characters show up for a few pages at the end of the book.

6. Biggest Surprise Of The Year

33574143

I mean, I knew I would like The Beautiful Ones, but I didn’t expect it to be a romance novel (Reading Comprehension: 1, Hadeer: 0) and I also didn’t expect to love it so much as to be inspired by it to write a whole series! It’s always a special book that inspires me like that.

 

7. Favourite New To You Or Debut Author

30269126  25036395Rhoda Belleza really hit the ground running with her debut novel Empress of a Thousand Skies, an expertly plotted sci-fi novel with a fantastic understanding of the politics of race.  And every chapter ends with a cliffhanger! How! Sarah Beth Durst has been writing for much longer, but she is new to me, and The Queen of Blood was an excellent, vivid fantasy.

8. Your New Fictional Crush

20764879

 

Can I just say Sam Winchester and call it a day? No? I guess I’ll go with Alucard Emery. This smooth, charming bastard captured my heart from the very first moment he appeared on the page.

 

9. New Favourite Character

20764879Delilah Bard, hands fucking down.  I mean, I have honestly never seen a female character written like this before, with all the traits that are usually assigned to men.  Lila is powerful and unafraid, and more than that, she embraces her power fully.  She’s not afraid of it or wanting to damper it; she wants it to let loose and destroy and she is amazing.

 

10. A Book That Made You Cry

23437156  22299763

Hmm, I don’t think I read any books that were  enough to make me cry.  Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom did make feel ALL the emotions, though, so there you go.

 

11. A Book That Made You Happy

28458598

Easy! When Dimple Met Rishi! Dubbed a rom-com, that book was truly cheerful and romantic, playful and sweet! It’s a quick, happy little read.

 

 

12. Your Favourite Book To Movie Adaptation That You’ve Seen This Year

The_Handmaiden_filmI’ve only watched like four or five movies this year and none of them were adaptations, I don’t think. Can I say The Handmaiden? It’s based on Fingersmith by Sarah Waters but from what I’ve heard moving the setting to Korea worked wonders for it. I’ve never read the book but the movie captured my soul.

 

13. Favourite Book Post That You’ve Published This Year

31123249

 

Probably my Saints and Misfits review, which was retweeted by S.K.Ali herself!

 

14. The Most Beautiful Book You Bought Or Received This Year

21979832

The Girl From Everywhere is such a beautifully designed book! That color contrast is incredible.  Alas, I haven’t read this yet!

 

 

15. What Are Some Books That You Need To Read By The End Of The Year

34606064  34017058  29760778  28526192  7767021