[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.

Genesis does not become the Girl that had an Abortion–partially because few people know, but mostly because she doesn’t allow herself to use that as one of her personal definitions. She’s so much more. However, I think the book lost a little bit of its potential because of that. 

When I first heard about Aftercare Instructions, I thought that it was going to really focus on the abortion and the after. It gets pushed to the background instead. The fact that Genesis had an abortion is constantly there, but  it becomes more about Genesis worrying about her mother. Or a budding friendship/relationship. Or being called out on neglecting friends. It’s about abortion and teen pregnancy, but it’s also not about abortion and teen pregnancy. I feel odd describing it that way, but there’s no other way to explain it. While it’s good to have a book that shows a character learning how to balance her before and after, I did expect that Genesis’ abortion would be in the forefront of her thoughts more than it actually was. The novel was instead about the relationships–friendly, romantic, and familial–and the ins-and-outs of them. As much as I enjoyed the book, it’s tempered by my disappointment that Aftercare Instructions didn’t do something entirely new. I hope that it’s the first of many books that deal with real issues that teens may be going through but aren’t often addressed in literature (that I’ve read). I hope that there’s a trend that starts and gets on my radar. 

I agree with another reviewer who said that even though it isn’t entirely focused on this, it still gives young readers–who may be experiencing the same thing–a protagonist who isn’t judged for having an abortion and who has a variety of emotions about what happens after. Aftercare Instructions was written really thoughtfully. In that sense it succeeded in opening up a discussion about abortion. It has the potential to be uncomfortable for some readers, and there was a moment where I got queasy because I’m not good with doctor visits, but I think overall it will be something that is talked about in the book community. A lot of times contemporary novels seem to deal with cotton-candy issues–Will I get into college? Will this friendship last through the struggles of senior year?–instead of things that are labeled as tough. It was refreshing to read something different.

My absolute favorite part of Aftercare Instructions is the unique way that it was given to the reader. It’s prose with sections of a play–Genesis’ before–interspersed throughout. There’s the before and the after, which I thought was a great way to show Genesis and her relationships. When they eventually collide, as all things must, Genesis is forced to reevaluate herself through the lens of the after. I thought it was a very realistic way of dealing with how we can willfully be blind to certain things in our lives. Genesis’ coming of age comes from her tracing her past.

As for the characters themselves, I wish that they had been fleshed out further. I expected more from Genesis because of what she’s going through. Even though the novel is written in first person, I didn’t feel that delved very deep into Gen’s psyche. There were times when I didn’t quite connect with her during emotional moments because I wasn’t given enough meaning. I felt like I was occasionally told how I was meant to be feeling rather than shown. However, I think that Pipkin does do a good job of examining all of the different ways that her choice ripples through her life. Pipkin examines them all in turn.

Another thing I liked about this this novel was how female relationships were portrayed. Although there is a small part that deals with girl-on-girl hate, it isn’t stuck in that position. While there are many female characters in this novel, I didn’t feel that all of them were on equal footing. Some of them existed for Gen to grow in some way, then they disappeared. It does makes sense as this novel is in first person and understandably focused on Gen, but I think there could have been strength in allowing these secondary characters to shine through the page. Instead they’re kind of there in the background, only coming to the foreground when necessary. For example, Rose is Genesis’ best friend, yet she doesn’t appear as much as I would expect, especially with the circumstances in Gen’s life. I understand that there’s some element of healing that Gen needs to go through alone, but it was odd to me that Rose wasn’t in Gen’s life more. I wish that the friendships had been explored more in Aftercare Instructions.

For all of my minor complaints, I felt that Aftercare Instructions was a really engaging novel. I liked the writing style a lot. I thought the choice to have different styles–prose and script–in the novel really showed how people interact with one another, especially when you strip it down to dialogue. Aftercare Instructions took a subject that is oftentimes considered taboo and talked about it in a way that doesn’t judge either way. It’s good to see a book like this in the young adult contemporary genre.

4 stars.

I received a copy of Aftercare Instructions from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Aftercare Instructions will be published on June 27th.

*Quotes are taken from an ARC and subject to change before publication. 

[My Lady Jane] Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows

My Lady Jane is a retelling of England’s Nine-Day Queen. This novel is what happens when something historical is retold in a contemporary style while still remaining fairly true to history. It is a longer read that delves into the points of view of three characters based on Lady Jane Grey, Edward VI, and Guildford (stylized as Gifford) Dudley, giving the characters a happier ending than their reality. The three authors weave together humor, romance, and a bit of real history–along with a lot of changed history.

I usually love retellings, especially when there’s history involved that I’ve studied and enjoyed.  And if I look at it purely from a standpoint where I only address it as a historical retelling, My Lady Jane was successful one. I really enjoyed that the conflict between the Catholics and the Protestants was twisted into a conflict between the E∂ians (people who have the ability to shape shift into an animal, often at moments of high emotion or stress) and the Verities (people who do not have that power and often view it as a perversion of nature.) Changing history to the point of smudging or completely changing the outcome–which is basically the point of alternative history–didn’t bother me, because I liked how the authors took real events and added a bit of fantasy to make it fit their new narrative.

The alternative history, the E∂ians…that is why I read and enjoyed My Lady Jane, even to the point where I was able to mostly overlook the things that I didn’t particularly like. Ultimately, while I did enjoy reading the book, I also feel like it doesn’t have memorability for me. I won’t really be thinking about it now that I’ve finished it. It didn’t blow my mind, though I understand why it’s popular. It’s a catchy, quick read with entertaining moments. The characters are likable and it’s easy to cheer them on. But I found that even though this was a fun read, there were things that I didn’t work for me and distracted from the fantasy setting.

One of the things I couldn’t ignore was the childishness of the three main characters. In our time they’re children. But in their age, the average life expectancy is roughly 40 years old and they are of marriageable age / recognized as adults. Some of them would legally be adults in our age. They really didn’t act it at all. I expected a little more maturity. The way they talk is annoying and felt odd for the time period. They have to work together, but instead of learning from each other and changing their opinions, they remained pretty consistent in how they felt about one another. Yet at the end of the book I’m supposed to believe that they changed.  Although the characters were likable, I also felt that they were vain and unrelatable.

Because I felt that they had little depth, it was difficult to be interested in the romance in the book. This book switches between three points of view, so I got to read a lot of how they all loved each other. It really wasn’t my thing. I didn’t really care who ended up with whom because I was more interested in the fantasy part of the novel. I was so so interested in that. I know that My Lady Jane is part of an overall Jane series (they’re planning a Jane Eyre one next–which I probably won’t read because I actually love Jane Eyre and don’t want it to be messed with), so I’m hoping that maybe the E∂ian / Verity conflict continues. I may change my mind if that is the case. That would be pretty cool.

Part of my interest in My Lady Jane was that it has three authors. I was really curious how three people can write a book because logistics must be slightly annoying, but it looks like they all wrote one character. Considering that’s how it was done, the book flowed together really well and there weren’t any moments where the plot seemed to skip.

I did find the author asides verged more on the annoying side than the amusing side for me, mostly because a lot of them focused on spoon feeding me parts of English history or architecture that they decided to keep in the novel. I found them unnecessary and a  bit condescending. Of course, it’s not entirely fair for me to say that–I’m sure there are plenty of readers who know little about England’s history, particularly this time, so the asides were helpful and welcome. But for me, I know enough about this time that I found them very grating, especially when they were long. It took me out of the story. Most of the time when they happened I just wanted to get back to the story. I also didn’t like that Gifford was quoting Shakespeare and saying they were his own. If I wasn’t familiar with them I think they would have worked better. But that’s just my take on it.

My Lady Jane is an interesting twist on history. I find the stories of England’s Queens in the Henry VIII era and after  to be really sad and often tragic, so the idea of making a world where one of them survives was really cool. I personally like to keep my historical and my high school-esque / contemporary novels separate, which is something that this book taught me. It was a fun read, albeit a bit long, and I can see why it became so popular when it came out.

3 stars.

 

[The Suffering Tree] Elle Cosimano

Warning: I discuss cutting and the inclusion of it in The Suffering Tree in this review.

This cover is really nice. The colors are so lovely.

When I finished The Suffering Tree and read reviews of it I asked myself if I read the same book as these other reviewers because I absolutely do not have feelings of this being a five, four, or even three star book. The initial look at the book, aka the summary, had me hooked. It seemed right up my alley: it has a curse, a mystery, and a character coming back from the dead coupled with the outsider / outcast aspect. That summary was what led me to request an ARC on NetGalley. Sadly the summary led me astray.

The things I liked about this book are slim compared to the problems I had with it. It’s exceedingly frustrating as a reader to have most of the excitement about the book explained in the summary, because I found the actual book quite slow and boring at times. Even though the writing had beautiful and sometimes poetic moments, I couldn’t shake the disconnect from the characters despite following Tori throughout the entire novel.

Normally this is where I’d go into talking about the characters to keep with the flow of my writing, but I wanted to talk about the things I had issues with in order of importance. Because all of my issues with the characters and the points of view pale in comparison to this:

Using cutting as a way to have magical things happen is a HUGE problem

There was no indication going into The Suffering Tree that Tori self-harmed. Like this review here, I agree that self-harm is not something that should be completely erased from young adult books, but it does need to be done in a way that doesn’t glorify it the way that I felt The Suffering Tree did. The inclusion of self-harm was completely unexpected. I’ve read a few other books with self-harm in them, and generally there’s something in the plot summary that indicates to the reader that it will be discussed in the book.

I hated that other characters, namely her mother and brother, seemed to ignore that Tori was hurting. Tori had been caught before and was required to talk to someone (she no longer is talking to someone ) and Tori’s mother counts the knives in the drawers, but there’s just something so dismissive about how it was handled in the book. They just scurry out of her way in their attempts to not talk about it.  With the death of Tori’s father, subsequent eviction, and move to a new home and town, you’d think that Tori’s mother would be aware of the stressors in Tori’s life that would lead to more cutting. There’s absolutely no discussion about how Tori is doing and there’s no therapy, even though the discussion of therapy is halfheartedly made later on. Nothing comes of it, however.  It made me feel like the author just used it as a way to further the story rather than call attention to the real harm it can be.

Which brings me back to my main point: using cutting as a way to have magical things happen is a gigantic problem. It’s huge. And honestly, I have a hard time thinking about how this made it past editors and first readers, particularly when it’s in the young adult market. There’s a difference between blood being specifically used for spells which sometimes happens in books with witches / magic and when a character harms herself with the intent to harm and something magical just happens as a result.  I cannot believe that this decision was made and reinforced as it went through first readers.

This is threaded throughout the entirety of the novel but is never truly addressed. Tori acts weird and blows people off, yet no one calls her on it. No one asks–truly asks–if she’s okay. There are other ways of showing that a protagonist has anxiety and depression. Frankly I feel like it trivializes these things by making it the catalyst to magical things.

Which leads me into my second problem: the characters are not developed at all. Secondary characters are just names on the pages. The novel centers completely around Tori and Nathaniel. She has friends but doesn’t engage with them. Nor do they really try to engage with her. Along with her mother and brother, Tori’s two friends exist as plot devices to occasionally further the story. It’s sad when I read a story and none of the characters are memorable. I hardly even know what Tori and Nathaniel look like and the other characters may as well be the creepy mannequins at department stores. There’s basically a one sentence description about them. I felt that a lot of it was just ticking boxes.

When the romance develops the lack of character development really killed it for me. Even when a novel goes the instant-love route, there’s things that I can find cute about the romance even if it’s unrealistic and / or developed too quickly. With The Suffering Tree I felt nothing. Honestly I think the romance wasn’t necessary; I was far more invested in the mystery and anytime something remotely romantic happened it didn’t seem to fit in with the novel. I think it would have worked better had Tori and Nathaniel worked together as friends who both had an interest in solving the mystery.

The points of view were also very odd in this book. There were three, which is at least one too many. The choice to write in two perspectives–first and third–also kept removing me from the story. It was weird and jarring to switch from one to another. I don’t mind multiple perspectives, but it seems unnecessary to switch from third to first and then back. I didn’t feel that the book benefited from this choice at all, so I’m rather confused about why it was included in the first place.

A lot of this review focuses on the negative things, but there was enough positives that I didn’t hate the book. I use the two star rating for “okay” and that’s really how I felt about it. I enjoyed reading the mystery and of both Nathaniel and Tori’s involvement in it, although I feel that the lack of a villain made it weaker. I wanted to feel more uneasy about the mystery and the events surrounding it, but there wasn’t a sense of urgency to them. They felt very surface level which is frustrating when I want to read a mystery. I kept reading because I wanted to see how things would turn out in the end. I was curious but ultimately I feel that the author led too much into what was going to be revealed because it was easy to guess where it was going to go.

I have no doubt that The Suffering Tree will be popular when it’s published despite the issues I had with it. The premise was amazing and it made me have high hopes for the novel. I have a hard time reviewing when I’m one of the first reviewers of an upcoming release that doesn’t have many reviews, but I also know the importance of reading reviews before purchasing a book. I’ve tried to address all of the positives and negatives so people wondering about this book will have another perspective to look at.

I sincerely hope that the publisher addresses the issue that happens when cutting is glorified (particularly when this book is in the young adult market) before publication.

2 stars.

I received a copy of The Suffering Tree from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The Suffering Tree will be published on June 13th.

[Geekerella] Ashley Poston

Geekerella is the most adorable book I’ve read this year. It is full of geeky references to BatmanStar TrekStar WarsFireflyThe Lord of the Rings… and so many more. It embraced fandom and all of the different facets of it: how you feel when your favorite thing is remade or made into a movie for the first time, fanfiction, reaction posts, cosplaying, and connecting with fans across the world with something you’re passionate about. Ashley Poston takes all of that and writes a retelling of Cinderella that fits in with this geeky culture that is often written off by people who don’t understand it.

The novel is divided between two points of view, Elle and Darien. Elle is our heroine who lives and breathes Starfield, the show she shared with her late father. Starfield is getting a reboot and Elle is equal parts thrilled and worried. She wants it to be for her generation–it’s bound to be better than the cardboard cutouts they had to use for props in the original–but worried about who will be cast as the main characters. When teen actor Darien Freeman is cast as her favorite character, her hero Federation Prince Carmindor, she thinks that everything Starfield will be ruined by this teen actor who only knows the basic answers to questions about the fandom. Elle wants a fan to play Carmindor–or at least someone who took the time to learn about what he’s stepping into–is that too much to ask?

As for Darien, playing Carmindor is his dream role. Like Elle, he grew up with Starfield. Only no one knows that. No one believes that this teen heart-throb with his screaming legion of fangirls has any depth. He used to love the geeky culture of Starfield, back when he wasn’t famous. Now that he’s famous, he can’t be Darien Freeman, geek who  likes Batman and Starfield. He has to be Darien Freeman, teen actor who lives for being in the spotlight, who took on this role because it would catapult him into fame. More and more, Darien feels that he is losing himself.

I was worried that Geekerella was going to be an instant-love story. With how it was described in the summary, it seemed like Elle and Darien wouldn’t meet until the convention. Thankfully it was not the case. In a world where sometimes we only interact with people through a screen, I thought that Poston’s use of a mistaken number worked really well for this novel. The reader knows the whole time of the identity of those texting, so it was nice to see how their relationship grew without having prior knowlege of who they each were or what they looked like.

While Geekerella did follow the expected points of Cinderella, they were changed to fit into Elle’s world. Instead of a pumpkin being turned into a carriage, there’s a food truck that’s painted like a pumpkin. It’s an eyesore. And loud. It made me hungry for vegan tacos. I loved it. There’s the expected mean stepmother and horrible stepsisters who share a slightly dilapidated house. But there’s no magic. The only magic that comes into this story is the magic you feel when you fall in love and when you have the hope that dreams can come true. It was modern and wholly passionate.

Geekerella’s thing is Starfield. Although entirely fictional, it drew parallels to other space themed shows and movies. By the time I finished the novel I’d almost forgotten that Starfield wasn’t real. I wish it was because it is essential to the success of this story. Anyone who has ever had something that they’ve obsessed over–be it TV shows, books, or games–will find themselves in this book, even if they’re not interested in the romance.

While this book did have its sappy moments it didn’t detract from the narrative and become only about the romance. Geekerella is a heartfelt novel that took me by surprise because it was about accepting yourself and making a place for yourself in the world, even when your passions aren’t understood by everyone around you. I really recommend it for those who enjoy contemporary novels and want to read a book that embraces the culture of fandom. I’ll definitely be checking out other books by Ashley Poston.

4 stars.

I received a copy of Geekerella from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Geekerella will be published April 4th, 2017.

[Shadow Run: Kaitan Chronicles I] AdriAnne Strickland and Michael Miller

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Shadow Run has been touted as Firefly meets Dune, a space opera that should draw fans of both. The Firefly tease was part of the reason why I requested an ARC of Shadow Run in the first place. Shadow Run had action and adventure, a touch of romance, and the looming threat of an increasingly powerful bad guy. I didn’t find it as episodic as Firefly, but Shadow Run functions as a nice stand-alone space opera novel, with a potential to continue the series.

One of my favorite parts of Shadow Run, and other space opera stories is the world. When done well, they can be rich and immersive. I feel that way about Shadow Run, although I still wish it had gone into more detail. There was plenty of detail to show the world to the reader, but I still wanted more. I really enjoyed reading about it. The few planets that were visited by the characters were described in ways that allowed me to really visualize the setting. When the world isn’t familiar or created entirely by an author, those details must be there. A reader doesn’t know what living on another planet will be like, so an author has to fully immerse them in it.

Unusual Planet wallpapers and images - wallpapers, pictures, photos

The thing that really cinched the world-building for me were the differences between Nev and Qole’s planets. The weapons and clothing differs, the cities on Nev’s planet are unbelievable to Qole who is used to smaller buildings, and the characteristics of the people are extremely different. Qole’s culture shock is believable and expected.

This was helped along by the two viewpoints. Readers are shown both characters out of their element, but Nev’s adaptability is a little better than Qole’s. Although he’s always had everything, he was able to adjust to a lesser lifestyle rather quickly. In contrast, I loved reading Qole’s reactions to the high-fashion and careless lifestyles of the people around her. I feel like their voices–and their speaking patterns–were very clear.

While I have a clear picture of both Qole and Nev, I don’t feel the same about the secondary characters. They’re delegated into roles: Strong-arm, hacker, brother, androgynous member of the crew. I didn’t mind the first person narration because I feel that it showcased the differences between Qole and Nev, but it didn’t help with knowing other characters. I feel that there was a bit of a disconnect between the reader and the world because of the first-person narration; I was in Nev’s head to understand his world, then suddenly in Qole’s–and part of her point-of-view was her trying to come to terms with what Nev had said or revealed. It was a lot of back and forth and I feel like some of the action was lost in it.

However, I did have a favorite secondary character. Basra. I want to know more about him. He seems to be quite a chameleon and even at the end of the novel, still has his secrets. I liked that he actually had a backstory that was more explored (i.e.: shown) than that of Eton’s and Telu’s, who I feel were only marginally explained. I want to know Basra’s history. Story about that, please.

I also really liked that Basra didn’t comment on his gender. The members of the crew he works with refer to him as a boy, (which is something that was figured out off page, pre-Shadow Run) yet in his past he’s been referred to as a girl. It was nice to have a character like that, although Nev’s introduction to him (Boy? Girl? Wha?) was a little unkind in my opinion. If it was meant to be clever it fell flat.

I really love books with a variety of characters and I’m glad that authors are becoming more aware that there needs to be better representation of different genders and races in novels. However, I feel that this book was awkward about it. It was like it was screaming See? We’re representing! every time something regarding race or culture was brought up. I was being told, rather than shown. Show me! It gave an awkward tilt to the novel. Any other reviewers feel this way? Perhaps someone else can better put words to my feelings.

One bad thing about characters is that I didn’t feel like there was anything new, other than Basra. Although I liked Nev and Qole, they fell under the stereotype of Prince and Commoner. As a result, a lot of their story line was kind of obvious, so I’m hoping that the next novel subverts that a bit more. The last bad thing about characters is that Qole’s power needs to be contained. It bothered me the longer I read.  It’s setting Qole up as an untouchable character, which strikes me a little like a deus ex machina show of power. Where is the stopping point?

Free Space/Galaxy Texture by Lyshastra

 

What was great about Firefly was how it was episodic. I imagine (since this is called Kaitan Chronicles, which typically means an expansive story) that we’ll see more of the Kaitan Heritage and Qole and crew. This wasn’t really episodic. It was more of a typical story of discovering that everything you believed in isn’t necessarily true, good, or fact.  I feel like this book promised more than it delivered, because the only similarities I saw to Firefly was that there was a curmudgeonly Captain piloting through space.

In the end, I enjoyed reading Shadow Run when I either got over or got used to the things that caused problems for me. I think it will do well with people who like science fiction and fantasy and don’t mind the fact that it recycles some of the often used tropes of the genre. Personally, although I liked it, I feel very neutral about the next novel. Usually the end of novels that I enjoy drive me straight into the pages of the second novel. For Shadow Run, I could either take or leave the next one. This is directly because of the ending: it can either function as an open-ended stand-alone or as an opening for the second novel. Readers will have to decide what it is for them. I still haven’t.

3. 5 stars.

I received a copy of Shadow Run from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Shadow Run will be published March 21st.

 

 

[Heartless] Marissa Meyer

I love the cover of my edition.

I love the cover of my edition.

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Heartless is the story of the Queen of Hearts before she was the Queen of Hearts, before she was cold and angry, before she called incessantly for the heads of those who had wronged her. Before she was the Queen of Hearts she was Catherine, a girl who daydreamed about falling in love and of starting a bakery full of the treats she had created by her own hands. Renowned for her cakes and tarts, she’s caught the eyes and the heart of the foolish King of Hearts, who is not what she envisions for a future husband at all. Unfortunately for Cath, her mother and father desire something more for her than a floured apron. As her future comes closer, Cath starts running out of options. If she wants to avoid her fate, she must try to find another path.

I was really excited to read Heartless because The Lunar Chronicles is a really good young adult series. Perhaps it’s because Heartless is a standalone, but I really didn’t find it as engaging as her series. I didn’t feel bored, exactly, but I felt a little like I was reading just to pass the time, rather than reading for pure pleasure. In fact, I ended up setting the book aside for a week because of work and didn’t feel a drive to return to it. Not in the way that The Lunar Chronicles had me going back.

This book is well-written but I’m left feeling underwhelmed at its overall content. I don’t know if I went into it expecting more than it was able to give, but I didn’t find this quite the page-turner that I expected it to be. I loved Meyer’s first series and had high hopes that I would enjoy this one just as much, but ultimately it’s only just okay.

The idea of before in Heartless was really interesting. I liked that it was an origin story of a character who is traditionally viewed as a villain. Catherine’s descent into the familiar red-faced Queen of Hearts was, for the most part, well thought out and written. But somewhere around the middle the book just dragged.

The first half of the book consisted of Catherine focusing on her dream and how she would gain it. When she meets Jest, the new court Joker, it should have gotten more interesting.  Heartless claimed to be about a secret courtship between them. What I got was an indecisive girl that didn’t know what she wanted and was torn between dreams and the reality of what her parents wanted. She was very whiny.  I also didn’t feel that Jest was very well-developed, so compared to Catherine, he was kind of bland. His backstory was interesting and I would have loved to see more of it, but there just wasn’t time in the novel.

I think that it’s sometimes difficult to keep readers interested in retellings when they kind of already know the story. I felt that inevitability in Heartless. It dragged down the story at times because it was inevitable who she was going to become, that the Jabberwock was going to be problem, that there was going to be something in Cath’s life that made her turn toward anger.

While the characters are familiar, only parts of their characterization are to me, because I’ve yet to read the original story. Obviously, the Hatter has to be mad, but I liked the way that his madness was explored and explained. Along with Jest, I would have really liked to see more of their lives before they met Cath. Something that The Lunar Chronicles excelled at was making a reader care about the secondary characters.

Even though I was a little slow to get through the book, I ended up really liking the ending. So much so, that I was actually disappointed that it was the end. I wanted to see more of this new Cath. The buildup into her character as a villain was worth it. This moment was perfect–just the right amount of darkness. It was just unfortunate that it was at the end, because I felt that the real strength of the book was here. You could really see that Meyer had been building to this point. More of those feelings would have benefited the book in the pages before it.

I think that this is a good retelling, it just wasn’t for me. I really loved the fact that it focused on a villain rather than Alice (who I think was only mentioned in passing). There were familiar characters who were expanded upon and it made the story richer. I only wish the novel had gotten to the good stuff sooner.

3 stars.

[Wintersong] S. Jae-Jones

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Wintersong is the story of what happens when you make wishes and promises to a mysterious stranger and they come to collect. Liesl is nineteen and dreams of composing, but she’s put her desires on hold in order to help out at her family inn, train her brother for a position as a violinist, and indulge her younger sister in her vanities. Liesl has to content herself with snatched moments and hidden scraps of her compositions as she acts as the strong, older sister. But when her younger sister is stolen by the Goblin King, Liesl has to remember the songs and stories of her childhood in order to save her from a Goblin King who deals in riddles and trades. Suddenly, Liesl finds herself in a precarious position deep underground in the world of the Goblin King. It is there that she discovers more about herself than she ever allowed herself to learn. As she passes the threshold from innkeeper girl to adult composer, Liesl has to make a choice about just how much she is willing to sacrifice.

Wintersong had an extremely strong start. Jae-Jones introduced us to her world slowly using beautiful language reminiscent of music. The story promised touches of the fantastic that is often found in fairy tales. I truly enjoyed reading how Jae-Jones used words to construct a familiar yet fairy tale-esque world. The inclusion of Christina Rossetti’s poetry at the beginning of each part of the book also set the stage for what was to happen perfectly without giving too much away. Threaded throughout the story was the language of classical music. Sadly I didn’t understand this as well as I understood the poetry due to the fact that I never studied music in the way that Jae-Jones seems to have. I thought it was a really unique way of writing. It wasn’t something that I had seen before. I was glad that Jae-Jones used it to enhance her writing rather than overwhelm her story with it.

I really thought that using music as a way to create more stunning imagery was wonderful. It’s one of the reasons why the writing style was so engaging for me; even though I struggled to get through the second half of the book at times, the writing kept me reading. The one downside to using music so much is that any time something sexy or sexual came up, music was used as a metaphor. There was a fair bunch of cringey lines that were repetitive or just plain corny. I much preferred when it wasn’t used that way, because I just could not see anyone ever using these lines on their romantic interest.

The thing that is really odd about Wintersong is the way that the book is split in two. Other reviewers have mentioned it and I feel compelled to as well. There is a clear divide between part one and part two, and for me, there wasn’t much of a bridge between the two of them. I understand the connection, but character-wise, it was like I was reading another book or a book where the characters, namely Liesl, weren’t fully realized.

Honestly, I was far more interested in the first half. It focused on family and Liesl’s love of them. Even though she had given up her dreams in favor of her brother and sister’s, even though her mother and father didn’t really believe in her the way they believed in her brother, you could see the love that she felt for all of them. I liked that part one was a love story to her family. Liesl was desperate to protect both her brother and her sister, but she couldn’t divide her time equally. Focusing on her brother’s future nearly lost her sister’s future; when Liesl realizes this, the love she feels for her sister demands that she engage in the impossible task of saving her.

Her journey into the Underground was a wonderful blend of familiar and unfamiliar myth. I have a very surface level understanding of Goblins and their Underground, so I’m not sure how much was of Jae-Jones own design and how much was the usual spiel. I loved that there was an element of sacrifice, which further showed just how desperate Liesl was to get her sister back and how much she loved her sister. Everything Liesl did in the first half marked her as an incredible and incredibly interesting heroine who was spunky and wouldn’t take any garbage from anyone around her, particularly when she’s Underground. She was so interesting and she easily made the first half of the book a  4 or 5 star read.

That’s why the departure from this is the second half of the novel was so disconcerting. She was, technically, still spunky and outspoken. But too many times it became her throwing a tantrum or refusing to act like an adult, while at the same time complaining about not being treated as an adult. I was confused, because Liesl didn’t seem like the Liesl that had been present in the first half of the book. She became less of a heroine and more of a whiner who near-constantly thought that there was something wrong with her or complained about the Goblin King not liking her enough. It became a mope fest.

Something that part two also introduced was the idea of this novel as less of a young adult novel and more of a new adult novel. I read both, so it didn’t bother me that there was sex scenes in the book. What did bother me was that I felt kind of blindsided by this. It just seemed out of place. Honestly, I felt that the sex scenes weren’t really necessary. They furthered my annoyance with Liesl because I didn’t feel that she was the same character that she was in the first half. She became obsessed with her love interest, and that wasn’t cool.

Throughout the majority of the second part I wished that it would go back to what I had loved about the first half: the exploration of the Underground, the love she felt for her family, and the willingness to go to hell-and-back for her sister. That was where Jae-Jones’ storytelling really shone and where she could weave her mythology about the Goblins and the Goblin King. I really liked that humans were often tricked into positions by the Goblins. Even knowing this, Liesl is often tricked by both them and the Goblin King. Her naivety in the first half is because she doesn’t care what she has to do to rescue her sister; her naivety in the second half is because she is blinded by a relationship. Throughout the novel there are stories of both the brave and the beautiful (re: stupid) girl–Liesl manages to be both.

There is talk of a sequel that will be out at some point in 2018, so perhaps some of the loose ends of the story will be concluded in that. I can never decide if I like loose ends or not. What it usually comes down to is if the author manage to portray the loose ends in a way that I personally like and it’s often very arbitrary. So while I liked the conclusion of Wintersong,  I am also curious about what is going to happen in the sequel. I also wonder if it will end up being a sequel or a companion novel because I’ve read rumors about that too.

There are so many different nods to things in Wintersong that I think it’s welcoming to a variety of readers. Fairy tales, and not necessarily the happy ending ones; Labyrinth, which I’ve never seen (so I’m not sure if this is a good or a bad thing); poetry, some of which I was familiar with; and music. The music was my absolute favorite part. I thought it was lovely to pull that theme through the entirety of the novel and made the writing exceptionally beautiful. I really think this is going to be popular for people who like all or some of those things.

Despite really liking it, the partial disconnect I felt between the first half and the second half of the novel really threw me off and brought my rating lower.

3 stars.

Wintersong will be available on February 7th, 2017. I received an ARC from the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.