[The Disappearances] Emily Bain Murphy

 

The Disappearances is a magical-realism, historical novel rich in character and story. The novel primarily follows Aila, whose life has been uprooted following the death of her mother and the deployment of her father. At some point I had forgotten that this was also a historical novel, so that gave it a nice unexpected flavor when I first started reading it. The Disappearances is about a set of three towns that have been struck by strange Disappearances that no one can explain. With a focus on Sterling, the town that Aila’s mother grew up in, The Disappearances probes the events of the past: possible Catalysts, what has disappeared, and how they’ve unlocked some of the secrets of Sterling. When Aila and her brother arrive it’s like the past has come to Sterling; Aila’s remarkable likeness to her mother, Juliet, the only person who escaped Sterling, sets the townspeople on edge. With the next Disappearance coming up, Aila strives to clear her family’s name by discovering where the Disappearances came from. But there are those who may not want the Disappearances to stop.

“We call them the Disappearances.”*

‘The Disappearance affected everyone, young and old, and every thing: fruits and flowers, perfumes and shampoos–even those things that make people sentimental, like the smell of a child’s hair, or scents linked to important memories.’* 

Disappearances. Catalysts. A mystery that has affected Sterling since 1907, with something new disappearing every seven years. It’s something small, something mundane that you don’t think about until it’s gone: the smell of baking bread and flowers, your reflection in mirrors or lakes, the stars. It’s only when it’s gone that you realize what you’ve lost. With the Disappearances affecting everyone for most of their lives or since birth, living with them has become the norm. The townspeople have adopted rules regarding outsiders and the Disappearances, so when Aila and her brother come to live in Sterling with an old friend of their mother’s and her family, it causes problems within a community where tensions are already high. Their mother is called a Catalyst, a witch, and other things,  and it falls to Aila and her brother to deal with the accusations of the townspeople. Aila knows that the only way to clear her mother’s name is to discover the truth about the Disappearances. Continue reading

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[The Epic Crush of Genie Lo] F.C. Yee

Chinese folklore, action, and the threat of a demon invasion. That is what The Epic Crush of Genie Lo is made of. Epic Crush is the debut novel from F.C. Yee, and combines high school classes and college prep with hunting down demons and learning how to control sudden powers. The gods, goddesses, and demons from Chinese mythology were unfamiliar, but they were integrated into a modern setting in a way that introduced them to a reader who has little to no knowledge of them.

I know nothing about Chinese mythology, so this was my first introduction to the gods, goddesses, and demons. It worked for me and I enjoyed reading a book that also taught me something. Ultimately, I’m not sure if learning about folklore from a YA book is the best because authors sometimes pick and choose, but it was interesting enough for me! I enjoyed that both Chinese names and translated names were used. It was a good choice because had all traditional names been used, I think it would have had the tendency to run together, but if all names were translated, it would have given the book a childishness that the book doesn’t deserve.

I really like books that incorporate an older, mythological setting and characters into a modern one. I like the urban fantasy aspect that it creates for books. While I felt that the modern setting was a bit too vague and relied on the reader to supply what they thought the Bay area looked like, I was able to imagine the world of the gods that existed alongside the modern one through the descriptions given to me in the stories Genie learned about. So while I felt that the normal setting was a bit bland and unrealized, the mythology behind it made it much more interesting.

The main character in Epic Crush is Genie, a girl prepping for college by studying hard, going to an adviser, and generally doing any volunteer activities that will help her get into a college far, far away from her hometown. That’s her main goal. She’s kind of thrown for a loop when she’s suddenly told that she has powers, but they’re not exactly the standard ones. There’s a lot of adjusting, and then there’s even more adjusting when something is revealed that makes her question her whole identity. I thought it was an interesting take on the powers trope. It isn’t something I’ve read before, so I was pleasantly surprised by it.

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[Caraval] Stephanie Garber

Once people leave this isle, the things they’ve done here don’t just unhappen, no matter how much they wish them undone.

Well, I’m glad that I didn’t pursue the idea of buying a UK edition. While Caraval did suffer from the fact that I went through a major reading slump while reading it, it wasn’t just that. I feel like Caraval was far too long for a story where very few things happened.  We were promised a carnival-esque setting, but I feel like I didn’t see much of it. The story primarily focused on Scarlett and Julian instead of the scavenger hunt / performance of Caraval.

Anytime I heard anything about Caraval, I heard about carnivals and circuses.  The people who participate in Caraval are supposed to solve a mystery–the disappearance of Scarlett’s sister–by following a set of clues like a scavenger hunt. It was something that sounded so interesting–a carnival steeped in a fantasy world. At the beginning of the novel, we’re introduced to several characters who are participating in this scavenger hunt, so it seems like Scarlett will have to compete against people who only want the prize, where she has a lot more at stake because it’s her sister. However, as the novel progresses, the only characters we consistently spend time with are Scarlett and Julian. The other characters are somewhere else, only showing up when they need to give hints to Scarlett or reveal that another character is villainous. There’s been other novels where I’ve complained about this before, but Caraval was the absolute worst that I’ve read to date. It basically was Scarlett and Julian wandering around Caraval and happening upon clues. I was really disappointed that the novel ended up focusing on the romance (instant-love, by the way, no matter how much Scarlett feels it’s meant to be and complains about her sister doing the same thing).

I wanted to know more about the tattooed young man and the woman who records all of Caraval–both past and present–in her book. There were shops where you answered truthfully or lost a day of your life–in the sense that you literally die for a day and then wake up the next. Those little bits of fantasy elements that were thrown in were so fascinating that had they been focused on and expanded, I think I would have liked Caraval more than I did. Despite it being about a performance, we didn’t see much of any performance. It had so much potential that wasn’t met, despite the fact that it was heavily marketed as a fantasy-circus novel. I think that Caraval is a prime example of book marketing done right–in the sense that many readers, myself included, were eagerly looking forward to getting our hands on this book. I feel so disappointed that it disappointed me.

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[Aftercare Instructions] Bonnie Pipkin

Ever since the death of her father, Genesis has had to take on more than the average seventeen-about-to-turn-eighteen girl should have to. When her mother fell into a depression after her father’s death, Genesis took on the responsibility of taking care of her family. She can’t just leave her mother to her grief. But then Genesis gets pregnant. It’s not how she expected her year to go–pregnancy in high school was never her plan. She and her boyfriend, Peter, decide that getting an abortion is the only option for them because they’re seventeen and not ready for a child. After the procedure, Genesis expects to find her boyfriend waiting for her in the lobby of the Planned Parenthood. Instead she discovers that Peter abandoned her there. She’s alone. It’s something that she hasn’t really addressed before.

The girl and her escort have the same wild hair and deep-set eyes. This has to be her mother, and I try to imagine my own mother helping me out, escorting me. But I can’t conjure the faintest image of this. Not anymore.*

What follows is a heartfelt exploration of first loves, friendship, and understanding that your–and others’–actions may not be so black and white.

While Aftercare Instructions puts an abortion at the forefront of the novel–and indeed the opening scene takes place at the clinic–it’s very decisively after: it focuses on what Genesis is going through after the abortion and after the realization that her boyfriend has abandoned her. She needs to learn how to move on from both events and figure out how they’re going to change her. Genesis doesn’t always address everything, but since the chapter titles deal with aftercare and details about what your body goes through after an abortion, the reader is constantly reminded of where the novel started and what Genesis will eventually have to come to terms with.

I thought that Bonnie Pipkin did a good job of showing Genesis’ processing; she goes through an array of emotions from betrayal, to second guessing, to wanting to forget, all while trying to hold herself and her family together. She’s very much a girl who thinks that she has to keep it to herself to protect others, even her best friend. I think there’s an important release when she’s able to confide in others. I also think it’s equally important that she wasn’t shamed for having an abortion. Instead we were shown female relationships where there was only concern.

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[The Bear and the Nightingale] Katherine Arden

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I absolutely loved The Bear and the Nightingale. Katherine Arden has crafted a beautiful tale of wildness, beauty, and fantasy. It’s the story of Vasilisa–called Vasya by those who love her–and her family’s trials and triumphs in a world that doesn’t always believe in the mystical. In the wilds of Russia, far from the civilized world of Moscow, Vasilisa and her siblings grow up believing in Morozko–the not-always-nice Frost–and other household and wilderness beings such as the domovoi and the rusalka. It chronicles the life of Vasilisa as she grows and discovers how to reconcile her old beliefs with new ones that make their way to her household.

The Bear and the Nightingale opens with a Russian folktale, that of Morozko and the maiden. It sets up the story quite well, as there are parallels to this folktale throughout The Bear and the Nightingale. While I would say that is the main folktale that is threaded throughout the book, Arden has included more of the mythology and stories of the region to create a rich cultural setting in addition to a rich physical setting. And it wasn’t mentioned just to have “culture.” The beliefs of the North–which is, according to those who live in the cities, obsolete and incorrect–are consistently in the narrative. As Vasilisa grows, Arden introduces more of the mythology as she learns about it through exploring her world. It was a natural way of storytelling and of growing the world contained in the book.

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Morozko and the Maiden

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[The Dream Protocol: Descent] Adara Quick

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What would a world be like if dreams were controlled by the government and your place in life determined at age 15? What would a world be like if nightmares were weaponized and you could be punished for anything they determined were wrong? In The Dream Protocol, your life is lived in a grey world and your only escape is the dreams that you can afford. Then at age 35, you’re no longer wanted and you take your Descent. Deirdre is no longer content with living this way. As her mother’s Descent creeps steadily closer, she begins to rebel against the norm. When who she loves is threatened, she discovers that she will do anything to protect them–even if it means putting herself in danger.

So I will begin by saying that I’ve never had a novel length story published. But I have written and read a lot of stories, particularly young adult ones, in the last year and a half or so, so I know what I like to see in novels such as these. The Dream Protocol has everything that I like to see in a dystopian novel, but sadly, they all never go beyond the idea. I felt that this novel was built around the bare-bones of a plot, but was never fully fleshed out. As it’s the first novel in a series, perhaps this is explored in the next novels. However,  because it’s a first novel, the fact that it’s full of big ideas that aren’t fleshed out kind of damns it.

There are so many interesting things that are introduced in The Dream Protocol but never pan out into something more. There’s a prophecy, but we’re never shown how it’s connected to Deirdre and her family. We’re teased with hints of what the Dream Protocol truly is as we’re given accounts and reactions periodically throughout the novel, but this never expands into something more. One of my big disappointments was that I wish it had been described more. Instead, we’re given small details that don’t really flesh out the world. Everyone wore grey, the walls were grey, there was no sky…grey overwhelmingly describes the blandness of the book.

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[Throne of Glass] Sarah J. Maas

 

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Throne of Glass is the first novel in a series about Celaena Sardothien, an assassin who has been toiling in the slave mines of Endovier for a year when she is suddenly released under one condition: she must fight in a competition to be the King’s Champion. Only then will she win her freedom. As Adarlan’s Assassin, she strikes fear into the hearts of people who know her name; as Celaena, she’s only a girl to the men in the competition and easily brushed aside. As the competition continues, Celaena proves that she’s not easily ignored, but soon that’s the least of their worries. Something is killing the competitors–and it’s only a matter of time before it comes for her.

If you only read the synopsis of the novel, it sounds pretty good. It’s only when you open the pages and read the first few chapters that you realize it’s not that great. This novel came out a few years ago when I was still working at a bookstore, and I remember picking it up and dismissing it as something that I wouldn’t enjoy. That opinion held true to some extent. I still read through this book because I’d heard from several reviewers that I follow that this is one of their favorite series and that subsequent books are far better. This meant that as much as this book was overwhelmingly meh to me, I had to read it to see if the series is as good as everyone says.

That said, there were things that I did really like about this book. The idea of a female assassin was great, if poorly executed. I just didn’t believe that Celaena was that horrifying assassin. She focused entirely too much on sweets and outfits. There were more descriptions of the intricacies of Celaena’s outfits rather than her actions in this competition. That is what I was interested in. It made Celaena’s vanity–and frankly, stupidity–the focus of her character rather than her supposed talents of assassination. I do like that she is vain because it is a strange flaw for an assassin to have, but it became too much when I was looking for other aspects of her personality to shine through. I just didn’t buy that she was this feared assassin, even if she couldn’t come out and say it. However, I do think that it showed her age. She was vain and childish because she is a young character. It’s just too bad that I didn’t feel that I saw much of her mature side.

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