May 16, 2016
The power of Diet Coke compels you! My Best Friend’s Exorcism is a nostalgic, sweet, and disgusting story about friendship, high school, and demons. There are a few tiny gaps in the narrative and plot, but I enjoyed this book more than I expected. Best book to read while wearing a swatch and leg warmers, but can’t stop vomiting up maggots!
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
November 1, 2016
In an intergalactic society, humanity has developed Diabolics. They are artificially designed to be bodyguards and weapons for the rich and powerful. Nemesis is one of these creatures and she has been assigned to Sidonia, the daughter of a Senator. There is literally nothing Nemesis wouldn’t do to keep Sidonia safe. So, in order to keep her hidden away from a blood-thirsty, paranoid Emperor she must go undercover and pretend to be her in the galactic court. But despite the danger and the risks, despite everything she’s ever known to be true, Nemesis begins to discover that she might be more human than anyone ever expected.
The premise of this book made it sound like a perfect fit for me. Space, action, adventure, secret identities. It rang all my bells. But I was ultimately left disappointed. The characters, the plot, the world, the belief system, the romance; none of it felt as developed as it could have been. From the moment we meet Nemesis, through to her time at Court, I felt like I was being rushed along from one scene to another. This entire novel takes place in space, in a world that looks almost nothing like our own. But Kincaid never gives it the time to grow. A few sparse details are sprinkled in but there is the potential for so much more.
Back in 2014, we read another novel by Kincaid for our WWAC Book Club: Insignia. Going back I realized that a number of points from our discussion could easily be applied to The Diabolic. The world building was rushed, and it fell prey to a number of overused tropes and stereotypes. It would seem that I keep wanting to like Kincaid’s novels but they just keep leaving me unsatisfied.
For me, The Diabolic is a perfect example of wasted opportunity. It’s an ambitious novel, which is admirable. But in the end, it simply doesn’t give itself enough time and it’s unlikely I will continue with this series.
October 4, 2016
Three remarkable women, their talents unappreciated by mainstream society, join a detective agency run by a rich, mysterious benefactor, and use their skills to protect the world at large. I just described Charlie’s Angels, but this is also the plot of Angels of Music by Kim Newman, the modern master of the literary mash-up. Here, the mysterious benefactor is none other than Erik, the Phantom of the Opera, and his Angels include some of the most remarkable women of 19th and early 20th-century fiction. Christine Daae, Erik’s beloved pupil, is here of course, as is Sherlock Holmes’ Irene Adler, and even Eliza Doolittle.
Comprised of an earlier novella and new material, Angels of Music follows several iterations of Erik’s team against backdrops like the Grand Guignol theatre and the 1910 Great Flood of Paris. Newman’s prose is full of wit and fast-paced action, and as fun as it is to play a game of “spot the reference,” Newman keeps the story accessible for casual readers who don’t know penny dreadfuls from dime novels. (I especially want to track down the source novel for La Marmoset, the ruthless “Queen of Detectives”). As fun as it is to see Eliza Doolittle transformed into a master of disguise, or read about Lady Snowblood slashing her way through a pack of villains, there is a deeper feminism to this book than just the Spice Girl-ian chant of “Girl Power!” Angels of Music is also an indictment of literary figures like Erik, Svengali, and Henry Higgins—men who seek to control and mold vulnerable young women to fit their desires. Ultimately, the Angels achieve liberation from possessive mentors and feckless husbands, finding fulfillment in the bonds of a kick-ass sisterhood.
August 16, 2016
Vicarious is the story of Winter, a woman who’s on a mission to find her sister’s killer. There’s a lot I love about this story: Winter is a bad ass, the ViSEs (Vicarious Sensory Experiences) that she records for others to experience is an interesting (and admittedly alluring) sci-fi concept, and the main romance had me intrigued. I also have to give props to Stokes, a white author, for how she writes Winter, a Korean American character: there weren’t any microaggressions in the story, and in fact, Stokes wrote a series of blog posts talking about the importance of research and sensitivity when writing outside your experiences.
My biggest criticism of the book has to do with pacing and formatting. Winter is a sex trade survivor who has more trauma than she lets on. It’s a difficult subject, surely, and while the book handles Winter’s status well in the first half, the second half does a disservice to Winter by making it almost entirely about her past. The book is part one of a duology, so Winter’s survivor status ends up getting a lot more weight put on it than I think appropriate (i.e., it ends up feeling like it defines her rather than just being one aspect of her). In the end, the twist that happens at the end of part one, opening the door for book two, really should’ve been the halfway point of the novel. It’s a compelling story, but one that might be more enjoyable when read alongside part two (which has yet to be released).
November 27, 2012
I read this book as part of a read along with friends and it was a lot of fun (I highly recommend it). It’s been awhile since I read romance and Wallbanger was a great return to the genre. It’s about a woman who hasn’t had an orgasm in a long LONG time with a neighbour whose wall bangs while he has female company over. She’s mad. She walks over to confront him. They meet and of course, the tension is thick between them (this book has a TON of innuendos so don’t blame me).
The pacing was excellent, the banter was great, and I was emotionally invested. Yes, there are some sexy times that are worth the wait (and boy, you’re waiting). I don’t know if I want to read the sequel, Rusty Nailed, because Wallbanger wrapped up so well but there’s a tiny bit of desire pushing me towards it. It’s a ride. Go read it.
Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins
September 20, 2016
This is my favourite book of 2016. I read it days before the year ended and enjoyed it so much. A friend of mine described it as “female Dexter, but with great friends” and she’s right. The character motivations made sense which is so important when you’re faced with characters who do things you don’t agree with (mostly Alex). Alex is my favourite person, and I want to be her friend, so much which is odd given her extracurricular activities (I don’t endorse it FYI). As a woman, it’s hard not to understand the why though and I think that was handed well, since it wasn’t just left unchallenged. McGinnis did a great job at creating a fantastic female friendship between Peekay and Alex, and I think that’s what elevates this book beyond its premise.
I highly recommend reading it. It’s young adult but everyone will enjoy it. You’ll be invested in these people’s stories which will leave you open to getting feels. Get it! Go! Now!
St. Martin’s Griffin
May 17, 2016
If Lily Anderson just decides she’s going to spend the rest of her life writing YA retellings of my favorite plays, I’m cool with that. Her debut novel, a modern retelling of Much Ado About Nothing, is a hell of an introduction, and I’m now chomping at the bit for her upcoming retelling of The Importance of Being Earnest.
In The Only Thing Worse Than You is Me, Beatrice “Trixie” Watson and Benedict “West” West want nothing more than to beat each other for third place in the senior class rankings. In a high school where discussing your IQ is taboo and students discuss Gramscian theory and The Princess Bride in the same sentence, two circles come together when the Senior Vice President and the future Salutatorian finally start dating after dancing around each other for years. This means Trixie and Ben (respective best friends) have to spend more time with each other, even outside of class at the harvest festival and the comic shop both groups enjoy. The two trade barbs like wire, to the point where it’s almost impossible to be around them. When their friends decide to take matters into their own hands, anyone familiar with the original can giggle and snort at the way things play out. Anderson’s writing is fun and snappy, giving each character a different personality while allowing them to still be teenagers—even if they happen to be supernerds who could easily test out of high school any day of the week. While the characters skew surprisingly heteronormative for a modern contemporary YA (though at least they were racially diverse), it was fun to read a book where I got all of the references and could follow along with a familiar plot and still be surprised at the end of it all.
Viking Books for Young Readers
April 12, 2016
I read two books–one YA and one middle grade–about inquisitions by the Medieval Catholic Church that came in out in 2016. Maybe this is some sort of strange trend? In The Passion of Dolssa, Dolssa lives in 13th century Provence and is in love with Jesus and talks about him in a pretty scandalous way for the time. She runs into trouble for telling others about her relationship with him. Facing execution for heresy, Dolssa escapes and finally finds refuge with three sisters, their drunk father, and their cat in a seaside town. Berry tells the story from multiple points of view including Dolssa, one of the sisters Botille, the Inquisitors chasing Dolssa, and even the “author” herself. The characters tell their stories to these Inquisitors so as the reader you are never quite sure if they are being truthful.
I admit that part of me wonders about the appeal of the book, but for teens who like historical fiction or who crave stories about friendship, this is a great pick. Honestly, I was probably one of those geekier than average teen readers who would have loved this book. I remember reading another book about Cathars, 13th century “heretics” from Southern France in high school. Berry has some great information about the language, region, history, and controversies of the Albigensian Crusade in an author’s note. Most interesting to me was when Berry talks about recent scholarship that challenges whether Catharism, which earlier historians equated with the Albigensian Crusade, was actually a real problem.
It’s an emotional story about friendship, the nature of belief, and the ways that the Church suppressed and were afraid of the spiritual lives of women during this time. The research Berry did was extensive, and the world is fascinating and sad. The book is heartbreaking, beautiful, and is one that will stick with me for a long time.
November 22, 2016
I become smitten with the Young Queen Victoria when I first saw the titular named movie by director Jean Marc Vallee. Something about a young girl being thrust into a political world where no one expected her to do half as well as she did stuck with me. I’m also a romantic, so the love story between her and Prince Albert tugged my heartstrings. Of course, later I was a bit grossed out when I found out it was her cousin, but I guess that was the way back then?
So when I was gifted this book for Christmas, I was overjoyed. It seemed like the perfect gift. I was surprised when I found the book focused more on the relationship between Victoria’s first Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, than her relationship with Albert. In fact, it spun the should be professional relationship between the two, into a romance. Let’s not forget Melbourne was more than twice her age. You can read between the lines and see how manipulative he was and emotionally controlling, but it takes a few readings. I was disappointed that they reduced a powerful women to a “crush.”
I did like that the author interjected Victoria’s strength; in resisting her mother’s control, much of England’s demands, and the choices others made for her. However, it often came off as childish and perfectly fit the stereotype of defiant, lovestruck, teenage girl. The book is also most of the inspiration for the British television series, Victoria played by Jenna Coleman, but I’m not sure I’ll watch after knowing what the plot is.
Ultimately, it is the story of a young girl trying to navigate her way through a landscape in which no one wants to see a women succeed. It’s a story of finding that inner will when you were thrust into a role you never asked for and somehow finding a way to make it work.