Book Review: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

children of blood and boneTitle: CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE
Author: Tomi Adeyemi
Release Date: March 6th, 2018
Pages: 448
Publisher: Henry Holt Books for Young Readers
My Rating: ★★★☆☆(3/5)
Review on Goodreads

I have some seriously mixed feelings about this book. It’s difficult to read a book that has been as hyped as this one without being affected by your own high expectations, despite trying very hard not to be. I liked parts of it, but overall I found it to be a regurgitation of cliched YA fantasy tropes, pasted onto a fresh setting. The Goodreads summary is pretty accurate: this is basically the classic Hero’s Journey tale of Ye Olde Fantasy, complete with chosen one, sacred artifacts, gods and goddesses, and a magical destination. Which could have been fine, given that the setting is so original – in fact, the West African inspired setting was probably my favorite thing about the book. But despite this, everything else just fell flat for me.

However, just because I personally wasn’t wowed, doesn’t mean this book doesn’t have appeal. To be honest, you’ve got thousands of YA fantasy books out there that regurgitate the same plot over and over onto the same vaguely Anglo-French medieval setting and they do fine, so it’s nice to see something like this that features black and brown characters. It’s kind of like when people say, oh, paranormal/urban fantasy is over and done with, when POC haven’t gotten their chance at it yet. Just because white people have gotten all their shots at something doesn’t necessarily mean it’s been played out. I’m glad this book exists for POC teens to see themselves in the types of fantasies they have been reading about for years.

With that being said, I had a lot of problems with this book. I think the main reason I struggled with it was the writing style. It just felt very young; though the subject matter is mature, at times I felt like I was reading a middle grade book instead of a young adult book. The writing is incredibly melodramatic, littered with phrases like “something inside me broke” and “I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding” and “I should have known you were the monster all along.” More than once I found myself cringing and rolling my eyes at just how Extra the writing was. Furthermore, even the expressed themes are presented in such a simplistic way, and the reader is beaten over the head with every little thing. I would recommend this to teens on the younger side of the spectrum, but I think more mature readers might not enjoy it as much.

Another issue I had with the writing style is that it is written in first person present, which is probably my least favorite tense. It takes a really subtle hand to make first person present work, and this book’s writing is not in the least bit subtle. I also found it confusing at times, since there are three different POVs, all in first person present, and their voices are not all that different, so I often found myself forgetting whose perspective I was supposed to be in.

As for the plot, well, as I said, this is classic Hero’s Journey, played almost completely straight. So, Zelie is chosen by the gods to bring magic back to Orisha, and she goes on a journey that takes her to various places in the country to collect the sacred artifacts she needs to conduct the ritual that will return magic. Alongside her are Princess Amari, who has defected from her father, and Tzain, Zelie’s older brother. They are being pursued by Inan, the Prince and Amari’s elder brother who is determined to stop Zelie’s ritual. The plot is essentially a series of strung-together YA fantasy tropes maximized for commercial appeal, but the result is a narrative that lacks much depth. (One of those tropes is Enemies to Lovers, which features the Inexplicable Heterosexual Romance, in one of the weirdest character flip-flops I’ve ever seen. It was just…very abrupt and unbelievable.)

While the book started off quick and engaging, the plot quickly slowed down. I found that the book was much longer than it needed to be. In fact, there was a huge chunk in the middle where the gang has to compete in these arena games that felt completely tacked on just to be able to say the book included it. I think this particular plot point, along with a lot of other instances, is where the story could really have used a firm editorial hand. A lot of things seemed random, chucked into the book to just to make it seem more exciting, but it was all way too much, especially when combined with the juvenile writing style. Probably about a hundred pages could have been cut from this book to make a better, tighter final product.

At the center of the narrative is the oppression of the maji, which in a lot of instances seems to be written to directly mirror real-world racism. I’m not sure how well that worked given the portrayal of magic users here; that is, their powers are portrayed as world destroying, and it almost seems understandable that those without powers would want to wipe magic out to level the playing field. On the other hand, certain people’s potential for magic is used to exploit them for economic gain even though they have no magic to hurt anyone, and that certainly speaks of baseless, irrational racism. The book certainly tries to have this complicated conversation, but it just falls short, and by the end I wasn’t entirely sure what exactly the book was trying to get across. Perhaps later books will address this, but…the ending makes me suspect that later books are going to circumvent this problem entirely.

I know this has been very negative so far, but there were some things I liked about this book! The worldbuilding is fantastic: all the characters are black or brown, and much attention is paid to the various hues of their skin and the textures of their hair. That was super refreshing to see, especially since POC in other books are often cut from the same cloth, appearance wise, so it was great to see so much diversity while still having a cast made up entirely of POC. The West African setting is fresh and wonderfully detailed, as is this world’s creation myth and the legends of their gods and goddesses. Something else I liked is that there’s two leading ladies here, and by the end they become excellent friends (now this is an Enemies to Friends situation I can actually stand by). There’s still not a lot of positive female friendships in YA, unfortunately, so it was great to see that. Zelie, the main character, is written to be fierce and fiery, and I liked her a lot, though I wish her internal (and external) monologues weren’t so melodramatic.

Generally, I just wanted some more nuance and maturity, with regards to thematic points and writing. Also, and I’ve said this several times before, but I’ve started to really, really hate “journey” stories, and that’s certainly a strong personal preference that affected my enjoyment of this book. However, I can certainly see how this would appeal to people, particularly the younger YA generation. Also, I can definitely see this book’s blockbuster quality, and I’m super excited for the film! I’m not sure if I’ll pick up the second book in this series, however. I might just wait for the movie.

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Book Review: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

simon vs the homo sapiens agendaTitle: SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA
Author: Becky Albertalli
Release Date: 2015
Pages: 303
Publisher: Balzer and Bray
My Rating: ★★★★★(4.5/5)
Review on Goodreads

I knew virtually nothing about this book except that was it about a gay teen. That’s it. But I’d heard so much about it I didn’t even read the summary before diving straight in. The book gets straight to the point at once:

“It’s a weirdly subtle conversation. I almost don’t notice I’m being blackmailed.”

With that, the reader is privy not only to the overarching plot, but also to Simon’s humor. Being in his head is hilarious; he’s got this kind of approach to life where he takes everything in stride and mostly with humor, and it leads to a character who is impossible not to like. He’s utterly charming. Unfortunately, he’s being blackmailed.

Simon is gay, but nobody knows this except for “Blue,” a fellow gay boy he has been anonymously emailing. When Simon forgets to log out of his email one day, a fellow classmate named Martin takes screenshots of his emails and blackmails Simon into setting up Martin with Abby, a new girl Simon is good friends with. But Martin isn’t as douchey as you would think. However, Simon tries his best to comply with Martin’s demands, and as the story moves along, Simon’s life changes irrevocably, and subtle hints are dropped about Blue’s identity.

I absolutely loved the reveal of who Blue was. I thought Albertalli did a fantastic job. I was totally surprised, but then I nodded my head because the reveal made perfect sense. Now I kind of want to go back and re-read this book just to watch for all the clues we were given. And I’d totally be down for re-reading this; it was so much damn fun. Like I said, Simon’s narration is engaging and hilarious, and the book is a super quick read. I think I finished it in a few hours? I mean, I also couldn’t put it down, so much so that I stayed up until 4AM until I finished it. It was just so readable and fun!

And it’s so sweet and happy! Like, it doesn’t completely ignore the realities of being a gay man in in the American South, but it still shows us gay people just being happy and carefree, which was amazing. There’s so much friendship and love and positivity here. I actually really love books with happy endings and happy characters, so this book just made me super happy and cozy.

Fancast: Hadestown on Broadway

HADESTOWN ON BROADWAY

Hadestown began as a concept album, way back in 2010.  I fell in love with it immediately, and spent years envisioning how it might be adapted for the stage. In 2016, my dreams came true, and the New York Theater Workshop turned Hadestown into a production which I loved.  Following the successful run at the NYTW, Hadestown went up to the Citadel Theater in Canada in what many are saying is a pre-Broadway run.  I have no doubt that the show will indeed find its way to Broadway soon!

Now, I’m also pretty sure that many of the current cast members will go to Broadway with it, given that some of them are relatively big in theater (Patrick Page, Amber Gray). I do like the current cast, but, as these things always go, I still have a dreamcast in mind, which I will discuss below.  I’ve made sure to embed pertinent videos showcasing the actors’ voices as well, so be sure to check those out!Read More »

The Writer’s Tag

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Nobody tagged me for this, but I saw it on Reading Every Night and thought it looked like fun! I’ve been writing a lot more recently.  Not only has the quality of my writing improved, but so have my habits. I’ve become more at ease with the kind of writer I am and what works for me.

What genres, styles, and topics do you write about?

I write mostly fantasy! I tend to flit between YA and Adult, or fall in that nebulous category right in between, but usually it’s fantasy. Although I do have one women’s fiction/romance work that’s hidden deep within the recesses of my laptop and shall not be seen by any human eyes for a long, long time, if ever.

A lot of the topics I write are things that I want to see in books, so, female friendships, lots and lots of female characters, f/f relationships, men and women being friends and just friends, diverse characters, non-western fantasy settings, women who are not defined by romance, trope subversion, and lots of magic.


How long have you been writing?

For a while! I wrote my first completed short story when I was…twelve, I think? It was a murder mystery called “Jealousy Can Be Murder.” It had a cover page with Microsoft Word images. It was really, really terrible. Right around the same time I started writing Inuyasha and Harry Potter fanfiction.


Why do you write?

I love creating different world and different characters. But I also need to write, because if I don’t, my head gets so cluttered with different thoughts and plots and people that I can hardly think straight. I daydream a lot, and a lot of those daydreams turn into my stories. If I don’t get them on paper, they drive me insane.


When is the best time to write?

There’s never one specific time; it really depends on my mood. Sometimes I’ll be all fancy and go to a nice coffee shop (rarely), but most of the time I’m just sneaking in time to write whenever I can. Usually it’s during my free time at work. Sometimes it’s weekend evenings when the house is quiet.  Sometimes it’s at night after I’ve come home from work. I’ve found that it’s good to write whenever and wherever and not tie it down to a certain aesthetic or anything.


What parts of writing do you love and hate?

The parts of writing I love are…

  • Creating new characters and giving them names and descriptions and personas
  • Creating maps of new worlds and world-building in general
  • The initial burst of energy and inspiration when I can’t stop writing
  • Making pretty sentences

The parts of writing I hate are…

  • Plotting.  I loathe plotting and I always worry that I’m terrible at it. There’s just so much thought that needs to go into plotting, you know? It’s like, is there enough conflict? Do the characters have realized arcs that mesh with the plot? Is there an inciting incident, climax, etc? Is it interesting enough? Is it fast-paced? Is there a twist? Where’s the twist? Is the twist shocking enough? Does everything make sense? It’s obviously the crux of the novel but I’m so insecure about it.

How do you overcome writer’s block?

Whenever I’m “blocked” it’s usually just because I’m stuck with something to do with the plot. This usually comes in the outline stage, since I’ve discovered I don’t like to start writing unless I have a completed outline. Anyway, whenever this happens, I either go read another book to get some inspiration or try to find inspiration from something else. Pinterest is great for that.


Are you working on something at the moment?

I’m working on many things! I have a fantasy WIP that I’m pretty serious about; it’s fully outlined and I’m halfway done writing it. Once I’ve edited it I want to start querying for agents with it, so fingers crossed. I have a bunch of other WIP novels in the works, and also a bunch of short stories.


What are your writing goals this year?

  1. Finish my current WIP, edit it, and start querying.
  2. Finish the two short stories I’ve been working on since forever.
  3. Outline another WIP.

I don’t quite know who to tag (I suck at tagging anyway), but if obviously if you feel like doing this, go forth, and pingback to me so I can read your answers!

Top 5 Tuesday: Series I Want to Start This Year

top-5-tuesday

Top 5 Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the fantastic Bionic Bookworm. This week’s topic:

JANUARY 9TH – Top 5 series I want to start this year

I’m generally not especially good with series unless they really, really wow me. I find that most series don’t really need to be series, or at least don’t need to be as long as they end up being. Furthermore, I have a really, really crappy memory, so I often need to wait until the entire series is out so that I can read it all at once, which is kind of annoying. I don’t always dislike series, however – there are some series that I wish would stretch longer, because I love them so much! Fingers crossed that the ones I talk about below turn out to be like that!Read More »

Book Review: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

34275232Title: THE HAZEL WOOD
Author: Melissa Albert
Release Date: January 30th, 2018
Pages: 368
Publisher: Flatiron Books
My Rating: ★★★★☆(4/5)
Review on Goodreads

This is an odd book, so odd it took me some time to decide if I liked it. I think I did, despite its strangeness, and despite the fact that it set itself up as one thing and turned into something else entirely (what I like to think of as Mara Dyer Syndrome).

We begin with the main character, Alice, explaining that she has spent her life on the run with her mother, Ella. What are they running from? It’s not quite clear – they call it “bad luck.” Ella thinks it has something to do with her mother, Althea Proserpine, the author of a strange book of fairy tales called Tales From the Hinterland. Ella doesn’t talk about her mother and Alice has never met her grandmother. Her life is strange, but she doesn’t think too hard about it. When Ella vanishes, seemingly kidnapped by real-life Hinterland characters, Alice has little choice but to team up with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland fan.

The first half of the book, which I actually enjoyed more, is half scavenger hunt, half road trip. It plays itself out like a variety of different genres – psychological thriller, mystery, supernatural horror – yet never quite settles into any one of them. It is only a bit past the halfway mark when this turns into the incredibly weird portal fantasy it was always meant to be, as Alice navigates her way through the Hinterland, which is kind of a creepy Wonderland. There’s a lot of really clever and shocking twists that I enjoyed, and a lot of strange fairy-tale logic that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, which I didn’t love. A lot of the time I felt like my brain was struggling to wrap itself around what exactly was happening, but it almost seemed like the book was trying to tell me the logic of it all isn’t important, because it’s a fairy tale, and it’s magic.

I want to address something I’ve seen in a lot of reviews so far: Alice’s character. Yes, she’s extremely unpleasant. But she isn’t meant to be likable. She is specifically written as horrible because there is a specific reason for how horrible she is, which is revealed towards the end. Plus Alice is aware of her bitterness and her rage, aware of how she can’t control it no matter how hard she tries, aware of how it claws its way up into her throat from her belly like a beast she has no power over. Basically, the narrative foreshadows the fact that her anger isn’t normal and that it makes her horrible. Besides, it makes her a compelling character, even if I didn’t like her (and I really, really, really didn’t like her).

I was much more fascinated by her mother, Ella, and more than once found myself wishing we had gotten to know her better. More is revealed about her towards the end, but I still wanted more. What I appreciated, though, was the bond between her and Alice, and how it essentially formed the crux of the entire narrative. Mother/daughter relationships like this are quite rare to see, and I loved that Ella and Alice’s love for each other was the backbone of this story. The budding romance with Ellery Finch is slight and ends up subverting the YA romance trope in a really intriguing way.

This book is compelling, mesmerizing in a weird way, and vaguely creepy. I finished it in two days because it’s such a quick read (but with lovely, occasionally dreamy prose) and I was pulled in by the mystery. The story keeps you guessing again and again and even when you think you understand what’s going on there’s more to learn. Again, it’s an odd book, and I’m not entirely sure I completely understood it. Like I said, it operates on fairy tale logic, which to me often feels nonsensically metaphorical and slippery, like it’s not meant to make any kind of sense.

Despite this, I enjoyed it very much, mainly because it’s rather unique! I really have never read anything quite like this before, and it was gripping, so it gets a high rating from me.

Book Review: Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

17163123Title: TIPPING THE VELVET
Author: Sarah Waters
Release Date: 1998
Pages: 472
Publisher: Virago Press
My Rating: ★★★★☆(4/5)
Review on Goodreads

How do I even begin to describe and review this mountain of a book, on which tomes of literary analyses have been written? Tipping the Velvet has been, alternately, described as a bildungsroman, a picaresque novel, literary smut, lesbian fiction…and I would say that all those descriptions are very, very accurate. It was a very rich, intense read, and also a rather raunchy and bawdy one.

Tipping the Velvet is styled as an autobiographical narration of one young woman’s coming of age in London. Nancy Astley, Whitstable-oyster girl, finds herself captivated by male-impersonator Kitty Butler, and leaves her home to join Kitty in London, where she soon joins Kitty on the stage. There is no traditional plot, such as it is; like a picaresque novel, this is mostly a series of loosely connected events. This, I will admit, tempered my enjoyment slightly; I’m a fan of the traditional plot structure. Without it, Tipping the Velvet seemed to drag on quite a bit in some places. However, this flaw is easily excused when one looks at the novel’s other qualities.

Sarah Waters has said that this is a “re-imagining” of of Victorian London rather than a recreation; that is, this is not so historically accurate as I had hoped. Waters has said that there is precious little evidence of such a flourishing lesbian underbelly to 1890s London, and that she has built up her version of the time period from little snatches of evidence. It’s disappointing, to be sure; I was rather under the impression that I was reading a historically accurate and well-researched recreation (given Waters’ Ph.D in 19th century gay and lesbian fiction). In hindsight, had I been a more critical reader I may have noted all the winks and nods Waters gives that point towards various embellishments.

The historical accuracy in this novel comes in the form of rich, vivid, sensory description of 19th century London; Waters brings to life the sights and sounds and smells and tastes of the city, from music-halls to pubs to slums to socialist union houses. I felt like London had come to life before my very eyes, and I found myself aching to walk the streets of the city to look for the remnants of history that Waters describes with such care and detail. 19th century London itself becomes a character in its own right, as Nancy navigates its various neighborhoods and social spheres and becomes a different person in each one.

Nancy’s malleability as a character is off-putting and makes her rather difficult to like. She flits from one life to another with relative ease, casts her family aside and never thinks of them, and is on the whole rather self-absorbed and with little self-awareness of the fact. She is, however, a compelling narrator, and her distinct voice engaged me from the very first page of the novel. Her character is also refreshing; no shame regarding her love for other women or her desire to dress up like a man. There is no tortured coming out story here; from the start Nancy acknowledges her love for women and is scornful of those who don’t accept her. Her open embrace of non-normative sexuality and lifestyles is what contributes to her eventual split from her first lover, who is fearful of losing herself to such predilections. As time goes on Nan embarks upon a sexual awakening, going from shy, hesitant sex in the dark with Kitty, to prostitution while dressed as a man, to playing mistress to a predatory wealthy woman who engaged in abusive behavior.

The sex is always explicit, and it’s revelatory. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything like this novel; its contributions to the canon can hardly be understated. It was probably a bit too raunchy for my tastes, however, verging very close to erotica at various points (apparently Waters read a lot of 19th century pornography when studying for her Ph.D). I found myself exhausted that so much of Nancy’s life revolved around sex and sexual encounters. Not that I necessarily wanted something more chaste, or that I wasn’t giddy to finally read a depiction of lesbian sex in literary fiction, but there is just something I can’t articulate that made me a little uncomfortable. Perhaps it seemed that the eroticism was given more weight than actual love between the women? I’m not quite sure.

For all that, I couldn’t help but fall in love with this novel in all its incredible detail; I hardly have the words to describe how much 19th century London comes alive here. Despite the loose plot structure of the story it was nearly always compelling and intriguing, exploring class, gender, and sexuality through the eyes of a sexually brazen young woman who is unashamed of her desires. I will also say, and I don’t think this is a spoiler, that the novel ends quite happily and provides the appropriate amount of closure, allowing Nancy to acknowledge how much she values her openly lesbian lifestyle and to settle down with a woman she loves.