[Shadowsong] S. Jae-Jones

What are monsters but mortals corrupted?*

Strange and queer, the lot of them. Elf-touched, they were called in the old days…The mad, the fearful, the faithful. Those who dwell with one foot in the Underground and another in the world above.*

*     *     *

We were grotesques in the world above, too different, too odd, too talented, too much. 

S. Jae-Jones is a brilliant writer.

I will admit that I didn’t love the entirety of Wintersong––I loved the first half but thought the second was a little slow––but I always thought that S.Jae-Jones’ writing was beautiful and spectacular. Her writing shone in Shadowsong. The images she creates with her words are utterly beautiful, forming Liesl’s world for the reader in a very poetic way. It’s perfect for the setting of fairy-tales and goblins and music. S.Jae-Jones is someone who can create a world with her words that I just want to immerse myself in. Couple that with the fact that Shadowsong is a fantasy novel with a historical setting and I’m hooked.

Although Shadowsong is fiction, S. Jae-Jones gives her readers an author’s note at the beginning warning that not everything inside of this novel is so easily read as a fiction. Shadowsong deals with the very real subjects of self-harm, addiction, reckless behaviors, and thoughts of suicide. The author is open with her own diagnosis of bipolar disorder and how she gave it to Liesl. There were moments that were difficult to read because of how Liesl was struggling. I could relate to certain thoughts she had regarding creation of art and fear of failure and doubt. I thought it was wonderful that S. Jae-Jones was completely open about this at the beginning of her novel.

I waited for some mood or inspiration to strike me, for the desire to play to overtake me, but there was nothing. Solitude around me and silence within me. I had not dreamed once since we came to the city. The voice inside me––my voice––was gone. No ideas. No drive. No passion. My nights were quiet. Blank. The dullness was seeping into my days.*

It’s a very common idea that madness and genius are connected. Musicians and composers of Liesl’s time suffered from mental disorders that many may have attributed to the madness/genius of creation. Mental disorders were not understood in Liesl’s time, and that reflects onto her own confusion as she tries to navigate the waters of her own depression while simultaneously trying to understand and be there for her brother, Josef. There’s a darkness and loneliness that is present throughout the whole novel as Liesl explores who she is after becoming the Goblin Queen. Up in the Above, away from the Underground, she’s once again a normal woman. Where before she had a focus––composing––now she can barely manage to play. Her mental state was in the forefront of the novel and sometimes even Liesl didn’t know how to address it.

It’s even more complicated because Liesl finally has what she wants and yet she still feels this unrest within herself. I thought it was important that S. Jae-Jones made that point. Being successful doesn’t always lead to happiness. There’s no 1+1=2 solution to being happy or even being calm. Liesl’s struggle with the pressure to compose––to heal––is something that S. Jae-Jones carefully weaves throughout the story. The fear of failure. This is revealed through both Liesl and Josef, the two musicians of the family. It’s something that Liesl thinks she has to bear alone, so she’s blind to the people who are trying to help her.

A harpsichord, a similar instrument to what Liesl may have used.

Perhaps I was afraid I had nothing left to say.*

I loved that S. Jae-Jones showed that conflict within Liesl––and how it sometimes led to hatred of herself––in this novel. It wasn’t resolved in a neat and tidy bow, either. It was realistically explored, with Liesl understanding that she couldn’t always do it on her own. Only when she had this realization did she find some measure of peace. What I liked the most is that S. Jae-Jones didn’t make Liesl her disorder. She had it, but the disorder did not have her.

I could rise above this. I would rise above this. This life was what I wanted. This was the culmination of all my wishes, all my desires. I just needed time. I would be myself, whole and entire, once again. I would. I would.*

*

She carries the imprint of the Goblin King’s touch upon her soul.*

The line between sanity and madness is played up in this novel. When Liesl left the Underground, she thought that was the end of it. But when things begin to leak into the world above, Liesl realizes that she never truly left the Underground. But she doesn’t know if it’s real or not. She keeps thinking that she’s seeing her lover or her companions from the Underground. It’s making it really hard to forget about her life below, to move on.

As a result, Shadowsong was about far different things than the first novel. I feel like Wintersong was about the importance of family and finding a place for yourself on your own, mixed in with romance and the world of the Underground. In contrast, Shadowsong was about finding out who you really are––even the parts that you don’t necessarily love about yourself––and understanding that one part of you is not who you are as a person. It’s far more internal than the first. I don’t know if that’s the reason why I enjoyed Shadowsong more––it’s certainly part of the reason––or if the reason is because this is S. Jae-Jones’ second novel and more streamlined than the first.

What was real and what was false was as unreliable as memory, and I lived in the in-between spaces, between the pretty lie and the ugly truth.*

*     *     *

But what about the Goblin King? Her love interest whose name has been forgotten by the passage of time? While he is present in Liesl’s thoughts, he’s hardly in the novel at all. The romance in the first novel was something I didn’t particularly like, so his diminished presence was fine by me. I’m sure many readers expected the opposite; I certainly thought Liesl was going to return to the Underground immediately. It was a pleasant surprise that she didn’t. I enjoyed that their love story wasn’t the center of everything. It was like Liesl was the center, and there were a bunch of webs spreading out from her to create Liesl, entire.

While Liesl drove this story, Shadowsong is also about the Goblin King, Josef, Käthe, and François. There’s other characters as well, but these are the four that are most important in Liesl’s life. I enjoyed that S. Jae-Jones used a different point of view to show how these characters’ storylines were advancing. It kept it separate from Liesl but still showed how it all was connected. These asides allowed the past of the Goblin King to slowly grow into a bigger story without swamping Liesl’s growth. It was really interesting to see how the narrative of the Underground was shaped in this one when most of the time was spent Aboveground.

No two stories of the unholy host agree. It is said that their appearance presages some unspeakable catastrophe: a plague, a war, or even the end of the world. Others say the Hunt rides abroad when there is an imbalance between heaven and hell, between the Underground and the land of the living, sweeping through the world above to claim what is rightfully theirs. The old laws made flesh: given steel and teeth and hounds to reap what they are owed.*

When people begin to die under mysterious circumstances, she wonders if it’s her fault for leaving.  I loved that there was a new element to Goblin lore in the Wild Hunt. It was a scary force that lingered at the edges of the story while Liesl battled her own internal demons. Adding the Wild Hunt but not making the entire novel about them was brilliant. Again, maybe other readers thought it was going to be more about the Goblin world and were disappointed, but I loved that S. Jae-Jones kept the novel centered on Liesl while everything else moved on in the background.

I want to keep talking about this novel, but a lot of my thoughts are still jumbled and incoherent because of my love for it. Shadowsong is a great fantasy book that gives representation to a lot of marginalized characters and people both of the past and of the present. I think that this sophomore novel is the better of the duology, but without the first the second wouldn’t exist. S. Jae-Jones is going to be an author I watch because she has a truly splendid way of storytelling.

The queer, the wild, the strange, the elf-touched––they are said to belong to the Goblin King. Their gifts are the fruits of the Underground, their genius, their passion, their obsession, their art. They belong to him, for they are Der Erlkönig’s own.* 

5 stars.

I received a copy of Shadowsong from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Shadowsong was published on February 6th, 2018.

*I went a bit overboard with the quotes because I love S. Jae-Jones’ writing a lot. The quotes were taken from the advance reading copy I received, so some of the quotes may have changed slightly in the published edition.

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[Tash Hearts Tolstoy] Kathryn Ormsbee

Tash hearts Tolstoy. Like, a lot. So much so that she’s created a web series about Anna Karenina called Unhappy Families with her friend Jack. They’ve been filming for awhile and have a few loyal followers, but nothing too big. They’re both happy that they’re getting the experience for future projects and for college–which is looming on the horizon. Toying with the idea of fame is fun, of course, but they know that it will never happen…until it does.  When they’re thrust into the internet limelight, Tash and her friends are suddenly dealing with followers in the tens of thousands. No longer an obscure web series, dealing with their sudden fame is both exhilarating and terrifying. Being famous isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and Tash and Jack need to find a way to deal with both the good and the bad if they’re going to make it through.

Tash Hearts Tolstoy was a cute contemporary read. I loved that it was about producing a web series and what happens when your dreams are realized. Ormsbee did a good job about giving filming details without allowing the book to be bogged down with too many; it allows us to be in the world of web series but not be bored by it. I wish that Unhappy Families existed outside the book! It sounded really interesting. While the focus is on how the web series becomes famous, the book is about so much more.  At its core is a coming of age story. I liked that Tash’s “coming of age” wasn’t about one specific thing. They’re all struggling to find their place in the world and learning how to navigate the messy reality of friendships and family where lines sometimes cross.

Because the book focuses on Tash and Unhappy Families, there’s a lot of focus on her friendship with Jack and her brother, Paul. These are two people who have been in Tash’s life for a long time and who know her in a certain way. I appreciated how Ormsbee explored their friendship and the expectations they’d placed on one another. Friendships change as you get older and as you’re moving to a different part of your life,  and I liked how that was shown against this backdrop of blossoming and distracting fame.

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[When Dimple Met Rishi] Sandhya Menon

I love this cover! It makes me happy.

When Dimple Met Rishi is a novel about a girl meeting a boy. Or a boy meeting a girl, depending on whose perspective you’re currently reading. The novel is split between the perspectives of Dimple and Rishi, two people who couldn’t be more different. It’s a perfect formula for a young adult romance novel. Dimple is an aspiring web developer whose dream is to code apps that will change peoples’ lives; Rishi is hoping to meet his betrothed before heading off to college across the country. Their parents set up a meeting at Insomnia Con–a convention where the number one prize is having your app funded and put out there. For Dimple, it’s a dream come true; for Rishi, it’s a way to meet his future wife, to see if the match is meant to be. There’s only one problem: Dimple has no idea.

The premise of this book is really adorable. I liked that Dimple and Rishi switched the typical young adult roles. Don’t get me wrong, I love contemporary romances (or romance in fantasy or…), but it was really cool to see that Dimple was focused on her future instead of finding a boyfriend/husband. She wants to have a career before she gets married–and she doesn’t even know if marriage is in her future. Menon wove the pressures of what her parents wanted v. what Dimple wanted through the pages of this novel in a way that had Dimple challenging her preconceived notions about relationships.

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[Blackhearts] Nicole Castroman

Literally the first words of this book’s synopsis are “Blackbeard the pirate” but that is not what Blackhearts is about. I kept waiting for pirates to show up! For excitement to happen! For anything other than the flimsy romance that was the focus of this novel. Honestly, I’m quite disappointed. I thought that this was going to be a really exciting, quick read, but I couldn’t really find a point in the early part of the story that was interesting.

When I first started writing, one of my teachers told the class that oft-used phrase: Start in the middle of the action. I’m fairly positive this advice has been given to me every time I had any sort of creative writing class. I wish that Blackhearts had heeded that advice. While Castroman does a good job of setting the scene and giving both Anne and Teach their backgrounds, I thought that there was a bit too much telling instead of showing. I love getting pieces of the setting when it’s mixed in with the story. I love seeing the character of a protagonist when they’re up against adversity. I feel like Castroman should have focused more on showing that as the plot progressed instead of making the first half of the book heavy on the telling side.

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[The Hate U Give] Angie Thomas

I’ve seen it happen over and over again: a black person gets killed just for being black, and all hell breaks loose. I’ve Tweeted RIP hashtags, reblogged pictures on Tumblr, and signed every petition out there. I always said that if I saw it happen to somebody, I would have the loudest voice, making sure the world knew what went down.
Now I am that person, and I’m too afraid to speak.

So many good things have been said about The Hate U Give that I don’t think I can add much more to it. I also am still processing my emotions regarding this book. It definitely–for me at least–requires a second read. I do think that if you didn’t get to this book in 2017, it should definitely be on your list for 2018.

Once upon a time there was a hazel-eyed boy with dimples. I called him Khalil. The world called him a thug.

The Hate U Give has characters that are fictional, but I couldn’t help feeling the very real elements of it. Starr is a sixteen year old girl who sees the fatal shooting of her childhood friend. As the days pass, the media begins to portray Khalil as a thug, a gangbanger, a drug dealer, merely because he was black. As his death becomes a headline, Starr has to figure out where she stands in it. As the only witness, she wrestles with what she should–or shouldn’t–say. Her struggle as she tries to decide what is best for herself, her family, and for Khalil is wonderfully done. Starr’s voice was both strong and fragile as she began to tell her story of what happened that night.

Brave doesn’t mean you’re not scared, Starr. It means you go on even though you’re scared. And you’re doing that.

This is an important book to read when we live in a world where unarmed men and women are shot merely for the color of their skin. Where police brutality and officers involved in shootings are not prosecuted. Where people have to protest for the right to live a life free of fear. The Hate U Give draws on these events and the Black Lives Matter movement. This novel could easily be a non-fiction piece. I think that’s what makes it such an intense read. Because as much as there’s moments of humor in it, Starr’s story and Khalil’s death are all two real.

The Hate U Give was a fast read. I thought that Thomas did a good job of blending reality with fiction. Of taking a situation that exists in the real world and injecting it with humor. A tragedy does not mean that you stop living. You keep living in spite of it.

I will definitely keep Angie Thomas on my authors to watch list. I recommend The Hate U Give for everyone, regardless of what you normally read. Pick it up here!

5 stars.

The Hate U Give was published in February 2017.

[Long Way Down] Jason Reynolds

No crying. No snitching. Revenge.

***

Another thing about the rules:

They weren’t meant to be broken
They were meant for the broken

to follow. 

These are the rules at the core of Long Way Down, a story about a boy looking to avenge the death of his brother. Written in prose, we follow Will as he takes the elevator down to the lobby the day after his brother was killed. With his mother’s sobs filling his ears, he sees no other alternative than to kill the person who killed Shawn. Or, at least, the person he thinks killed Shawn. He’s certain that he knows the guy. What follows is an exploration of a life and how the people around you shape how you live yours.

When I first started Long Way Down I wasn’t sure if I’d like the prose. Prose has an ability to really speak to you as a reader, but it also has the potential of simplifying a situation. That was not the case with this novel. I thought that Reynolds did a superb job of using the form to introduce the traged(ies) and the characters and their mindsets. I don’t think I could have been given a clearer picture. The words were so full of emotion–not only for this fictional situation, but for the very really lives that live in a world like this. I found myself equally looking forward to how the next visitor in the elevator fit in and dreading the new facet to the tragedy.

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[Girls Made of Snow and Glass] Melissa Bashardoust

There are worse things in the world to be than delicate. If you’re delicate, it means no one has tried to break you.*

Girls Made of Snow and Glass is a unique retelling of the tale of Snow White, with a princess and a queen who struggle to find their place in the kingdom. Though based on Snow WhiteGirls Made of Snow and Glass doesn’t fall into the fantasy tropes of evil queen v. young princess, age v. beauty, or wondering who the princess is going to marry. In fact, I feel that there’s very little about Snow White that remains in this debut novel, other than the queen and the princess element.  It truly feels like its own story.

“It was only the dead mothers who were perfect–the living ones were messy and unpredictable and selfish.*”

The main conflict of the novel does set up Mina–the Queen from the South–and Lynet–the princess who is soon to come of age–against each other, but not in the way that I expected. Girls Made of Snow and Glass puts their relationship at centerstage and explores how it has flourished and changed over the years. For Lynet, Mina has been the only mother she has known. Her own died when she was too young to remember, so when Mina enters her life–first as a friend and then as a mother–it fills a hole in her life. For Mina, Lynet has always been the one who will take over her position one day–so she tries to keep her heart from loving the girl.

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