That Inevitable Victorian Thing

that inevitable victorian thing

That Inevitable Victorian Thing

By: EK Johnston

Genre: Science Fiction

Expected Publication: October 2017

Bang Bang Rating: bombbombbomb

Review

In this alternate world, the coming out season is soon underway.  Yes, the coming out season where girls and boys of age and class attend parties during a season.  Helene is a plain jane who comes from humble means, Elizabeth is a celebrity socialite, and Margret is the princess of England and they all end up at the same party. In this world, people are matched by a Computer.  You upload your DNA and it finds your perfect match.  Some people live by the Computer and marry their match while some believe in free will.  I can’t say much more because it’s full of spoilers but if you want to read the spoilers, click here.

I wanted to like this book because I liked Exit, Pursued by a Bear and this has a similar formula.  It begins as a simple story but it slowly reveals a serious subject.  Victorian Thing began quite well-it’s a new world and it was organized very strategically.  Midway through however, it began to fall apart for me.

This book is set in Canada, Johnston’s homeland, and although I live mere hours from Canada I know literally nothing about our neighbors to the north. Here’s what I know about Canada: their bacon is round ham; they make a lot of maple syrup; they dip potato chips in ketchup; it’s cold; and their prime minister is cool as hell.  I didn’t realize how little I knew about Canada until I read this book and I know this sounds bad and I apologize but I’m not interested in Canadian history.  I applaud Johnston for including Canadian historical fiction and I think teens will benefit but I didn’t know what was historical fiction and what was Johnston fiction and I usually research but I didn’t because I didn’t care.

Although all the characters were likable, none of the characters were memorable.

The world had potential because it’s the 21st century and everyone is still wearing corsets and the monarchy is head of state and everyone uses Match.com and the American Revolution didn’t happen.  I have, however, read several books where computers are a cautionary tale but Victorian Thing didn’t really do anything special with this overused plot device-bummer!

Overall, this is one of those books where at the midpoint it was pretty good but it slowly started to decline and the last 10 pages tanked it for me.

All The Crooked Saints Spoilers

As I stated in the spoiler-free review, Crooked Saints is full of symbolism and themes so I’ll discuss spoilers through my interpretation but please be aware that I could be wrong.

Daniel: Daniel’s parents died while accidentally helping a pilgrim.  They turn into wood (not quite sure the significance of wood and if you have an idea, please share).  Before they are completely engulfed, Daniel is chopped out of his mother’s womb.

Daniel was a hellian until he tried to steal The Holy Child of Atocha painting.  He physically couldn’t lift the painting any longer and found the dedication to all the crooked saints on the back.  (This is the only time the title in mentioned in the book so here’s the significance of the title). This is a real painting with a historical significance and I think this painting awakened Daniel to fulfill his higher purpose which is to become the saint.  My copodcaster and I concluded that Daniel was a hell child because he was angry about the death of his parents and he didn’t want the responsibility of sainthood so if he was a bad person, he wouldn’t have to become the saint.

The thing Daniel wanted was to help someone he was not allowed to but he feared this desire would ruin his family like it ruined his family when his father tried to help a pilgrim.  Daniel makes the conscious decision to help Marisita, a pilgrim he loves, (I’ll talk about her later) and he runs away so he won’t bring darkness to his family.

Beatriz: The thing she wants is to devote time to understand why the butterfly is similar to a galaxy.  I tried to do some research into butterflies and galaxies and similarities but I couldn’t find any so I concluded that Beatriz wants to spend her time philosophizing and her fear is to be asked to do anything else.

When Beatriz and Daniel were 10 and 12, they discussed animals and if they could be cured with a miracle. (The Soria family had an untamed horse.) Beatriz philosophized that because horses were not human and didn’t have the concept of right and wrong, they could not posses darkness and could not be cured of a miracle.  My copodcaster and I concluded that when Daniel was still in the womb, he didn’t pass along the darkness because he had no concept of right and wrong and therefore did not need a cure.  We could be reaching here but regardless, it’s a great topic of discussion and the reason for the abortion debate.

Joaquin:  His desire was to be famous and he feared dying alone.  He wants to be a DJ and some historical fiction is his pirate radio station and the music of the 60’s makes an appearance in the novel.  Joaquin and Beatriz want to find Daniel and help him but they know if they do, the darkness will get them but they find a way to help him and all the pilgrims through music.  This was a minor theme; music has healing power/it can bring you out of the darkness.  Because of his new new DJ job, Joaquin will never die alone because he’ll always have listeners.

Marisita (Pilgrim): Marisita literally has a dress of butterflies and is constantly under a cloud of rain.  We learn that Marisita was guilted to take care of her family by marrying a man she didn’t love and concluded that she was depressed. The butterflies could symbolize not being able to take flight or Marisita not being able to be free.  Butterflies symbolize the soul/resurrection/growth.

Marisita also loves Daniel and when she admits it, her guilt releases, the rain ceases, and the butterflies fly away thus her second miracle.

The Other Pilgrims: The journey of the other pilgrims are pretty obvious and my favorite was the skirt chasing priest who had the head of a coyote.  Coyote’s are both a trickster and a teacher.

The Ending and Themes: The Soria family is afraid to interfere with the pilgrims because they don’t want to invite the darkness and this in itself is an issue-fear.  Fear is a major theme and Beatriz finally realizes that her family lives in constant fear and they too need a miracle. Beatriz decides to perform both miracles for her family by helping Daniel.

When she finds Daniel, he is dead in the arm of Marisita (Oh the feels).  As Daniel was dying, he was seeing an owl and I’m not quite sure what that means. Anyway, Beatriz sees the same owl with Daniel’s eyes and mouth.  When she tries to grab the owl, it backs away until she realizes that she needs to want a miracle for the owl to approach her.  When she relents, it approaches her and she grabs Daniel at the same time to give him back his eyes and breath but of course helping him causes the darkness to travel to Beatriz and she is now going blind. In order for Beatriz to perform the second miracle on her own, she has to admit that she does have feelings and she does love Pete before she goes completely blind.  Pete finds her, helps her, and also becomes blind but after admitting their feelings, they complete the miracle.

Themes:

  • Darkness is about shame and not because you are terrible
  • Face your demons and you can’t conquer demons alone
  • Fear holds you back
  • We must come together to be better than doing it on our own

Little Monsters

little monsters

Little Monsters

By Kara Thomas

Genre: Thriller/Mystery

Publication: July 25, 2017

Bang Bang Rating: bombbombbomb 3/4

Overview

After running away from a toxic household, Kacey Young moves to Podunk Wisconsin to live with her father, step-mother, and two step siblings.  On day one at school, Kacey is marked as a drug user head case from NY but that doesn’t stop the invisible duo,  Bailey and Jade, from befriending her.  Although Kacey would rather have anyone than be lonely, Bailey has her own set of issues and being her friend is a psychological roller coaster.  She is the queen bee of the invisible trio and if you don’t play along with her reckless adventures, she’ll freeze you out.  Not wanting to participate yet not wanting to be frozen, Kacey reluctantly sneaks out with her immature thirteen-year-old sister to perform a seance at the local haunted barn and then all hell breaks loose-Bailey disappears.  Of course the entire town in Broken Falls Wisconsin begins to point the finger to the new girl and Kacey can’t let that happen so she points  her finger to the slut shaming ex-football hero.  What really happens in this Gone Girl lite novel? You’ll have to read to find out.

So the title is Little Monsters and it’s basically what the author is saying-girls are little monsters.  Thomas sets up the typical whodunit by listing all the suspects and their motives.  Kacey is the voice of the reader as she asks all the questions for us to keep us up to speed and she does it well.  Kacey does make some dumbass decisions but she’s seventeen so she’s forgiven and although she’s likable she’s a bit underdeveloped.  That’s one of the issues with Little Monsters-the characters are just a bit underdeveloped and ultimately their motives aren’t strong enough.  My other issue was the ending. This book is set up like a mystery but that anticlimactic ending leads me to think it’s more of a thriller and the focus is on girls and what little monsters they can be.  A novel either needs to be a mystery or an expose and although it was a page turner, Little Monsters seemed like it didn’t know what type of novel it wanted to be.

I also read Thomas’ first book and once again, 90% of the book was good but the ending fell apart and in a mystery the reveal is a BIG deal.  However, this was a fun quick novel to read and I recommend it for teens who aren’t ready for Gone Girl or Girl on the Train.

Jane Unlimited

jane unlimited

Jane Unlimited

By Kristin Cashore

Genre: Fantasy

Publication Date: September 19, 2017

Bang Bang Rating: DNF at page 121

Overview

Jane is alone and aimless after her aunt died on an Antarctica Expedition when an old friend visits her at work and invites her to stay with her family for the Spring gala.  On the promise of her aunt to accept any invite from the Thrash family to their estate, the Tu Reviens, Jane packs her bags to visit the peculiar cast of characters including the family dog.  After one evening, Jane discovers a mysterious bank heist, forged art, and the disappearance of the mistress of the house.

The first 90 pages sets up the extensive cast of characters and the mysteries surrounding them.  The subsequent pages shows Jane tackling the aforementioned issues.  This novel is similar to the Choose Your Own Adventure books; you can literally choose which topic Jane decides to investigate.

Although I think Cashore is a wonderful writer and Jane Unlimited had intriguing characters, I could not get into the novel.  I made it though the set up and I started to lose interest especially in the art forgery portion.  I don’t know anything about art nor do I care so I decided to skip this adventure and choose the bank heist.  The second adventure, however, also included the art forgery story and I just couldn’t feign interest.  I also thought there were too many characters (15) and many of them were unbelievably eccentric and they all had their own story-it was just too much.

Finally, I don’t think this is YA.  All of the characters are college aged or older.  I don’t know who to give this book to.

I LOVED the Choose Your Own Adventure books when I was a kid so therefore I thought the premise was good.  Although the writing was pretty great, I just couldn’t get into the plot.

All The Crooked Saints

All The Crooked Saints

By Maggie Stiefvater

Genre: Paranormal

Publication Date: October 2017

Bang Bang Rating: bang

Overview

There’s been some talk on Goodreads about how racist Crooked Saints is and although I’m not Mexican, I don’t think it was racist or racially insensitive.  As a Black person, I think a book is racially insensitive when the characters are stereotypes. Blacks and Mexicans have been stereotyped as lazy, gangsters, ghetto, ignorant, savage, poor, etc.  When characters are brown and take on these attributes, it’s racially insensitive especially when the author is not the race they are stereotyping.

With that being said, onto the review of All the Crooked Saints.

The Soria’s from Mexico are a family of saints where people come from all over looking for them for a miracle.  After they were run out of Mexico for their peculiarity, they settle in Bicho Raro Colorado in 1960.  In this character driven plot, Joaquin, Beatriz, and Daniel are cousins and Daniel is the current saint.  Joaquin is an aspiring radio DJ and he and Beatriz have created an illegal radio station where Diablo Diablo, Joaquin’s DJ name, “spins” contemporary music. Beatriz is an engineer, a thinker, and devoid of feelings.  Daniel was a troubled child turned saint.

People seek out Daniel for a miracle.  They are troubled and Daniel helps them by essentially making the pilgrims literally wear their problems on their sleeves.  It is up to the pilgrim to figure out how to solve their own problems and all the pilgrims live nearby the Soria’s until they can resolve their issues and move on.  The Soria family is forbidden to help the pilgrims and will be plagued by their own darkness if they interfere.  There are about six pilgrims featured in the novel with varied demons that range from possessing a coyote’s head on a human priest to being a ten foot giant. Daniel violates the don’t-get-involved rule and runs away for fear of bringing darkness to the Soria family.

Once again remember that Saints is COMPLETELY character driven so don’t expect a fast moving high adventure plot.

I really enjoyed Crooked Saints, not as much as Raven Cycle, but I liked it a lot.  I prefer a character driven plot and I thought all the characters (there were a lot of characters) were extremely well developed and likable.  Beatriz is my favorite character because she’s complex and logical.  This is a wonderful book for teen and adult book clubs because of all the themes and symbolism. EVERYTHING Stiefvater writes is significant and essential to the plot and that’s why I love her writing.  Long after you’ve finished the novel, you get to look up meanings of owls and black roses and coyotes roosters.  I like when an author challenges the reader to think and research and discuss and this is why Stiefvater is one of my favorite authors.  I can’t say too much because it’s spoilerish so to see the spoilers, click here.

For me to give a book five stars, I have to have an OMG moment and didn’t have one with Saints.  I was also a bit bummed by the ending.

After discussing All The Crooked Saints with my coworker/copodcaster and reread the ending, I did have an OMG moment so I changed my rating to 5 stars.

Spoiler Edition Podcast

The Gentlemen’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

gentleman's guide

The Gentlemen’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

By Mackenzi Lee

Genre:  Historical Fiction/LGBTQ

Publication Date: June 27, 2017

Bang Bang Rating: bombbombbomb 1/2

Overview

Henry Montague is a screw up.  He was kicked out of his school for gambling and illicit activities with boys and his father is fed up.  As a punishment, he’s sending Henry, Henry’s plain studious sister and his Negro best friend on a “tour” of 18th century Europe.  (It’s okay. I can say Negro; I’m Black.) During this time, Henry’s father hope he gets out all his jollies so that he can return home to run the family business.

Henry is excited for this opportunity because maybe his feelings for his best friend, Percy, will be requited and he can have a lot more illicit fun.  But there’s one problem, Henry’s father hired a chaperone and intends to expose the trio to culture.   On their early days of culture in Paris, Henry makes an ill advised moved on Percy and thus begins the cold shoulder.

On their first stop Henry insults the host, the Duke of Bourbon and former Prime Minister to the King, then steals a random puzzle box and this action puts the trio on the run from the Duke who desperately wants it back. While on the run in Marseilles, Percy falls ill and because not-that-attractive sister reads books, she knows how to do everything including the proper way to initially deal with Percy.

The trio discover the importance of the box and that it may have a medicinal value to help Percy so they desperately travel to Barcelona to return the box to the owner. Of course the owner is dead and no one knows how to open the box yet, the trio decide that they aren’t going to abandon this mystery even though they can’t get to the cure and they’re heads are on the chopping block for stealing it.  After several convenient eavesdropping opportunities lead to important information on the owner, they stumble on time period science that the sister understands perfectly because he reads.

Henry still being a dick who has yet to grow even though EVERYONE tells him how selfish he his, learns how to open the box but keeps it to himself until they can sail to place that requires the box.  They want to jump on a ship but whoops, no Negros allowed. No worries, they just stow away Percy until they are caught by Negro pirates because dickhead Henry opens his mouth to get them captured.  But once again, no worries because Henry gets them out of this jam because he knows someone who knows someone and saves the day for the Negro pirates.

During all of these misadventures, Henry is constantly flushed by Percy’s eyes and gets flummoxed every time he brushes Percy’s knee and blah blah blah. Of course Henry grows in the end after saving the day and all is right in the land.

I wanted to love this book so badly but it started to take a turn by chapter 5-YIKES!  There are several reasons for my rating.  The biggest disappointment was the romance; it was too formulaic.  I don’t think Lee knows how to write the unrequited love story yet.  There are two reason for the unrequited-they don’t share their feelings or they are purposely keeping them away.  Obviously it’s not the former because then this wouldn’t be a love story.  When that main character is purposely being kept away, the author has to find a way to make turn the old trope into something new and I think Lee tried but it didn’t land for me.  I think Bardugo did this wonderfully in Six of Crows as well as Clare in The Infernal Devices.

Secondly, I think Lee tried to put in too many historical significances.  She had the Duke of Bourbon, not educating women, Percy’s illness and race, the tradition of “touring,” homosexuality, and list goes on.  Percy’s race could have been omitted.  Percy is half Black but he’s too brown to pass as White and many people think he’s a slave.  US teens have a good overview of slavery and the fact the Lee didn’t add anything new to this time in our history means his race didn’t drive the plot. Percy could have been White and it wouldn’t have impacted the plot.

Thirdly, Felicity-Henry’s sister. Lee tried to make her an interesting character but in the end, she was a trope.  She’s a plain girl who doesn’t want to go to finishing school and rather be a scientist.  She reads a lot and therefore she’s able to get them out of jams. Sure she’s witty and smart but that’s it.  She’s also used for Henry to explain his sexuality to the reader but most teens are once again not new to homosexuality and Lee didn’t offer any new wisdom.

Lastly, Henry. He wasn’t likable and I know that some characters aren’t supposed to be but I think Henry is.  He’s selfish and although people are constantly calling him on it, he continues to be for 90% of the novel. And of course he grows in the end.  Technically there’s nothing wrong with that but once again, it’s formulaic thus making is predictable and boring.

I wished Lee had focused more on the time period and less on the romance and I wished the mystery part of the novel was better developed.

Face Like Glass

face like glass

Face Like Glass

By Frances Hardinge

Genre: Fantasy

Publication Date: May 10, 2017

Bang Bang Rating: bombbombbomb 3/4

Overview

Seven years ago Neverfell was discovered hiding in the cheese tunnels of Master Cheesemaker Grandible.  Grandible knew she was different simply by looking at her face and he decides to keep her hidden from the rest of the citizens in Caverna but one day, Neverfell gets out.

While wandering through the underground city in her mask Grandible makes her wear, Neverfell meets Zouelle and decides that Zouelle is her best friend.  Zouelle sees a gullible little girl and uses Neverfell to infiltrate the house of the Facesmith only be caught without her mask–OH NO, WHAT DOES SHE LOOK LIKE? IS SHE AS UGLY AS SHE THINKS? Nope, Neverfell just has a face like you and me-she has a variety of expressions while Cavernans have to learn different facial expressions.

Neverfell is immediately arrested and becomes the subject of suspicion because her face is like glass or you can see true feeling by looking at her.  Neverfell doesn’t remember where she came from but someone does and they are trying to kill her.  A master winesmith adopts Neverfell to save her and gives her wine to hopefully job her memory but it doesn’t work.

Meanwhile, there’s the Klemptomancer who steals important items thus pissing off the Grand Stewart-the king.  Neverfell gets herself into another jam, she has to survive a series of tests, and she ultimately becomes the Grand Stewarts taste tester because everyone is trying to kill everyone in Caverna.  As Neverfell works for the Grand Stewart, she become curious about her background and begins to do research which often lands her into some sticky situations.

Face Like Glass is all about world building and the underground world of Caverna is fascinating. Babies are born without facial expressions; the Court will do anything to gain favor of the Grand Stewart; there are Cartographers who will make anyone insane if you talk to them longer than five minutes; and on and on.  All of the characters were great in their own way, it had moments of humor, and I really craved cheese and wine while reading it. There were no tropes or silly romances. The world building is by far the best thing about the book and the reason for the rating.  The plot on the other hand…

 This book jumps all over the place. I thought I had it figured out at least five times and every time I was wrong.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it was frustrating.  The reason for the low rating is Neverfell and the length.  Neverfell was a good character but she lived in isolation in a cave for seven years yet she’s smart enough to beat everyone at their own game? She does spend her time reading and she’s quite the engineer but COME ON! My biggest problem was the 488 page number.  Hardinge tends to take pages to make one simple point thus making this book 100 pages too long.

The Lie Tree was by far Hardinge’s best book and I realize it’s because it’s her latest book meaning that she’s either grown or has hired a better editor.  If it’s the latter, for the love of rainbows please keep this editor because A Face Like Glass needed someone to tighten it up.

If you like an acid-trippy fantasy with a lot of colorful characters and a vivid world building, then pick this up today.