The Astonishing Color of After -Emily X. R. Pan

“I would have carved out my heart and my brain and given them to her just so she could feel right again.”

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X. R Pan is a magical realism novel. After Leigh’s mother commits suicide she is convinced that her mother has turned into a bird. She never knew her mother’s parents so she and her father travel to Taiwan to meet them. During her trip Leigh continues to see the same bird over and over, she’s sure that her mother is trying to tell her something and is determined to stay in Taiwan until she figures it out.

This is the first book that I’ve been told was magical realism. It was a little strange to get used too, mostly because it really seemed like I was watching Leigh have some kind of mental break. I know it was just supposed to be magic but I was hard to get used to this aspect. I’m not really sure that I ever did, but that’s okay. It didn’t ruin the story though. Especially because this book is focused around mental health already, it was easy too see it as comment on how it just takes one emotional trauma like losing your mother to suicide to trigger a change in a person’s mental health.

“I hated the word condition, but it was easier than calling it what it really was. A war. Her depression was a big thing we were all battling together.”

Pan did very well showing Leigh’s struggles when watching her mother disease consume her. It’s not said in the novel, but my assumption would that her mother has manic depression due to her extreme highs and lows. Pan’s language using drew me in making me feel like I was part of the story and because of this I want to say that this novel should not be read if you are not in a place to read about depression and suicide. While I didn’t find it deeply triggering it did bring me a sense of sadness for knowing exactly what it’s like to be in a low like Leigh’s mother. While I knew that it affect the people around you Leigh’s viewpoint really brings this to light and that was what I had a hard time with, knowing how my mental health affect those around me and how deep the hurt can become.

Much of the magic in this book is explored in an interesting way upon arriving at her grandparents house in Taiwan she finds essence inside of a drawer. When she lights one she sees her grandparents’ and parents’ pasts. After the first time of doing this she starts burning things with the essence to take her back to specific place in time. When she does this she learns more about why she never met her grandparents. Flashbacks are hard to do right, but Pan manages to pull them off in a way that isn’t completely jarring, which is great because a large chunk of this book involves flashbacks.

Pan tackles mental health in a fantastic way. I’m glad that I finally got around to reading this novel. It’s a great way to show an outside perspective on mental health while still being interesting and non clinical. But, again this is not a good book to read if you find anything about suicide and depression to be triggering.

Wicked Saints – Emily A. Duncan

I was given an e-Advanced Reader Copy of this novel through Netgalley. Many thanks to Netgalley and the Publisher for the opportunity to do so!

Emily A. Duncan’s debut novel Wicked Saints has two types of magic, one given by the Gods and the other given by blood. Nadya’s magic is given to her by the Gods. Gods who through her are going to bring their presence back to where they have been cast aside for blood magic. Malachiasz, a rogue blood mage who, albeit for different reasons, wants to take down the blasphemous king. The two travel to the kingdom full of heretics. Nadya’s is heavily aided by Malachiasz to get her close to the king.  Serefin is the King’s son and the second point of view in the novel. The three of them eventually come together in a fight against the king, each using the other as a means to an end.

Oh geez where do I start… I didn’t not like this book. It was like riding a roller coaster… a bad one. Some parts were interesting and exciting and others were just…there. Parts of this novel added nothing to the novel. The magic system is barely explained. Sure the Gods give you magic, but how are Clerics picked? Is there some kind of system do how the Gods choose? And why do they all talk to Nadya..which is apparently rare? Yes the other kingdom killed off all  of the Clerics that knew about but why didn’t the Gods keep picking new people when their chosen died? I mean, if they’re almighty why don’t they?

Then there’s blood magic. Which I’ve always thought was a really cool magic system, though I’ve never seen it done in a way that was exceptionally well thought out and Wicked Saints is no exception. Malachiasz and Serefin both use blood magic. There is no explanation as to who or why people can use blood magic. They also mention that the King has blood magic but it is weaker than his son’s. What makes some people’s blood magic more powerful than others? Blood is composed of the same thing as everyone else? Eeek. This magic system is a hot mess.

I’d also like to mention that the ‘Villain’ of the novel is only around for like 100 pages tops and he’s barely mentioned. He’s suppose to be this big evil dude, but he’s not build in a way that makes him so. He’s just kind there so the author as something to bring everyone together for a common cause and then use him to divide them. And while were on the topic of characters, Nadya is so dumb. It’s like watching a horror movie where you’re screaming at the main character to not go look to she were the noise is coming from but they do it anyway and then they die. She continuously trusts someone that lies to her constantly and believes that it will be the last time that he will lie to her, which of course comes back to bite her.

The romance in this novel is so unnecessary. We are reminded ever 5 pages by Nadya that she shouldn’t love this man because he’s a blood mage but she does anyway. The gods, despite that she constantly says that they will punish her for kissing him or holding hands don’t. Malachiasz is a manipulative jerk, and their romance as zero growth. Please, YA authors stop putting romance in a book because you feel like it needs to be there.

Duncan’s debut novel is just a mess. I wouldn’t recommend reading it and I won’t be picking up the next one. I feel like there’s something that missed when others seem to enjoy it so much but this novel was just not for me.

The Missing of Clairdelune by Christelle Dabos

Spoilers for A Winter’s Promise.

I was given a E-Advanced Reader Copy through Netgalley in exchange for a honest review. Many thanks to Netgalley and the Publisher for the opportunity to do so!

Christelle Dabos’ The Missing of Clairdelune is the second installment to her The Mirror Visitor Quartet. Ophelia’s adventure continues in The Pole. Her and Thron are set to be married, so that Thorn can share Ophelia’s ability to read the history of objects. Finally revealed to the court and the politics that come with it, Ophelia requests from the Family Spirit, Farouk, a job. He assigns her to be the Vice-Storyteller, a job that will have her telling stories from Anima to him and other members of the court. Thrust deeper into court politics Ophelia finds that her fiance is the only one that she can truly trust. When people in the court hierarchy begin disappearing each has some kind of connect that leads back to Ophelia. She must find out what is happening to them before it’s too late. Even if it means disobeying Thorn’s orders.

The Missing of Clairdelune is more fast paced than A Winter’s Promise. While it still has the political intrigue of it’s successor, it has so much more action in it. Something is always going on. Mostly because Ophelia is a strong headed character and refuses to listen to anyone when they tell her that something isn’t a good idea. For the most part I like this about her, but sometimes you just want to shake her because you know it’s a terrible idea for her to go off alone or decide to investigate something the Thorn specifically tells her not to stick her nose in. This is just a flaw in her character and who doesn’t like an author that actually gives their characters flaws?

Dabos’ is consistent with her characters. Ophelia is clumsy as ever, but not to the point of being obnoxious. She does have points of being a klutz durning important things but Dabos uses it cleverly and it’s often hilarious because it’s relatable. For instance at one point she trips on the stairs going down off of a stage. Thorn is still telling Ophelia not to get involved in things and not draw attention to herself. He is still socially awkward and withdrawn. I love that she is able to be consistent with her characters. Often times authors will say that someone is clumsy or withdrawn but they lose their characteristics by the end of the book unless it’s convenient to the story progression.

This novel is much better than the first. This may be because there is more action in this one because there isn’t as much world building that has to occur. I have some problems with how the novel ended because I’m not sure where the next two books are going to go, but I will be reading the third book when it is translated. It certainly does make me wish that I could read French so I wouldn’t have to wait!

A Winter’s Promise by Christelle Dabos

A Winter’s Promise by Christelle Dabos, translated by Hildegarde Serle, follows Ophelia as she is given away to be married to Thorn. Thorn is from a different clan in a different part of the world. Ophelia must learn how to navigate a new place, which may as well be a completely different world. Ophelia has the power to see the history of an object by touch, she also has the rare ability to pass through mirrors. Thorn is cold, stand-offish and completely uninterested in Ophelia. The reasoning for their match is unknown to Ophelia and she struggles to come to terms that she is going to be married off. She can’t say no without risking a war between the two clans. Ophelia is forced to stay in hiding instead of entering Court life with Thorn, not only that, she fears that their secrecy bodes poorly for her future.

This novel has a lot of intrigue. The magic in A Winter’s Promise appears to be somewhat clan based. Ophelia’s clan can manipulate what they call Anima. Ophelia can ‘read’ objects and see the history of the object, she can also travel through mirrors. Talon’s Aunts however have the ability to harm people without touching them. It’s not fully explained how the magic came to be so divided but having it split this way is an interesting idea. I would guess that it has something to do with the mysterious Rupture that split the world into floating islands, but I’m not entirely sure.

There’s some strange translation going on here. There are random French phrases and words that are left in the novel. I understand the ones that are names, it makes sense to leave those alone but in conversations and descriptions it can get confusing. I wish they were directly translated so that I wouldn’t have to look up the phrases in the middle of reading. Along this vein there’s a lot of large vocabulary that I think makes this on the very high end of Young Adult books, but I would lean towards it being adult. Funnily enough a lot of those words are French in origin.

I really enjoyed this novel, even though it has some fairly prominent flaws. For one Thorn is a jerk. He doesn’t tell Ophelia about anything he does including his reasoning for marrying her specifically. He lets his Aunts abuse her, mentally and physically and does nothing about it. Even when he finds out about it he is very nonchalant about it. He claims to care about her but he doesn’t do anything to prove it. However, I find myself still liking him because he’s not perfect. The story doesn’t make him the most beautiful person in the world like many other novels do with their male protagonists. He is also socially withdrawn and doesn’t seem to know what he’s done to make Ophelia upset. I appreciate that Dabos doesn’t make him the picture of perfection and thank you for not making her be head over heels for someone who is terrible to her.

I have high hopes for the second book in this series and I can’t wait to read it! I would suggest this novel to people who like fantasy and don’t mind having to get used to the style of a book that is translated, as well as some more complicated vocabulary. This novel has a lot going for it from the characters to the setting and the plot.

The Enchanted Sonata – Heather Dixon Wallwork

Heather Dixon Wallwork’s The Enchanted Sonata is a retelling of The Nutcracker in which Clara is spirited away to world where the children and soldiers have been turned into toys. Even the Prince has been turned into a nutcracker, weeks before his coronation. The mastermind of the curse uses music in effort an effort to make the country turn against their future king, who he thinks isn’t worthy of the title. Clara teamed up with the prince work together to break the curse, keep his kingdom’s faith, saving the kingdom from giant rats and get Clara back to her world in time for her to play piano at a concert in the evening.

Just to be clear, I know nothing of the story of the Nutcracker. I may have to read it later just to how much was changed and how they compare them to each other. I really did enjoy The Enchanted Sonata, both Clara and Nutcracker seemed like real people. They both had their flaws and weren’t perfect. Which is something that authors tend to forget because they want people to like their characters and in doing this they make their characters unrelatable because none of them are humanly flawed. This makes me really appreciate authors that give their characters flawed.

I liked that the villain of the novel had motives that are a little gray. They make him more of a villain because of the circumstance rather than someone who was just evil because they can be. Dixon Wallwork takes the time to explain the villains motives and goes into his back story. Which is also something that authors forget to do especially in shorter novels. Though his personality could have been developed more, but it was nice to at least have a backstory.

The Enchanted Sonata is a pretty quick read and was a lot less holiday related than I thought. There wasn’t a whole lot of mention of snow. Christmas was really only mentioned when Clara was in her world. I was unfortunately looking for more of a holiday story. Though, this may just be unfair because I was thinking it was a holiday story just because The Nutcracker is something I associate with Christmas. It didn’t ruin my enjoyment of it, but it made the atmosphere a little weird to me.

Over all The Enchanted Sonata is a fun read with some life lessons to be learned. It had a bit of a fairy tale feel due to there being a very clear moral to the story, but because of this the novel had a more whimsical feel(the fairies also helped.) I’d recommend this one to someone who is looking for a light and fun read. While it was almost 400 pages, it didn’t feel like it.

A Quick and Easy Guide to Queer and Trans Identities -J.R. Zuckerberg

Many thanks to Netgalley and the Publisher for an E-Advanced Reader copy of this comic. I was given this in exchange for a fair review.

A Quick and Easy Guide to Queer and Trans Identities written by J.R. Zuckerberg, illustrated by Mady G, is exactly what it advertises. It is indeed an easy guide to Queer and Trans Identities. Mady’s illustrations add cuteness and spunk to an otherwise hard topics. Zuckerberg’s writing complements the illustrations wonderfully. The writing makes you feel more like you’re sitting with a group of people listening to someone talk about a topic and answering questions that the group has.

I loved that the author made the decision to use snails to have a conversation instead of people, lightened it up and made it educational without it being like a textbook. The vibrancy of the colors also add to this, using bright pinks, purples, yellow and a variety of blues and greens. As such I would not recommend getting the kindle version of this if you are reading on a device that is only black and white. The light colors make it almost impossible to read in black and white. The usage of a comic format for this was a genius idea. Not only does it make for an easy, comprehensible read, it brings creativity to a topic that is usually spoken about in a more clinical, an apathetic way when it comes to educational material. Again this makes it feel like a casual conversation while still being able to teach the reader.

There was something that confused me, however. There’s a chapter on relationship basics that seems a little strange to be in comic that advertises that it is about Queer and Trans identities. While what it talked about in the chapter is important to be addressed it doesn’t fit into the category of identity. The only way that I can think of this to address this is to change the title from using identities to topics, but, again it is only this chapter that I didn’t find to fit the overall theme.

I glad that this book took some time to explain the reclamation of the word Queer. Back in my day(Ha! I’m only 25.) it was not a positive thing to called Queer. It is hard for me to see this this term used in books as a positive descriptor because of this. Maybe someday I will be able to use it in a nonacademic way but for now it is ingrained in my brain that is derogatory and should not be used. However, it does clear up that the usage of it in the comic is positive because the community has reclaimed the word to make it a positive once again.

A Quick and Easy Guide to Queer and Trans Identities is a thoroughly enjoyable comic, that is informative and creative. It is a great start for anyone who is curious about identification in the LGBTQ+ community. Even those who are currently questioning their identity and sexuality will benefit due to the in depth conversations about the different types of people in the broad spectrum of sexuality and identification. This is also a good start for someone who has just come out and has people in their family or social circles that are having a hard time understanding their ‘new’ identity. It is a short and easy read, but stockpiled with information for helping these groups. I highly recommend that anyone picks up this comic.

Strange the Dreamer – Laini Taylor

When Lazo Strange was five years old he discovered the mysterious city of Weep.  The original name was lost, suddenly vanishing from everyone’s memory. His obsession with Weep continues to grow as with his as he ages. Until an opportunity presents itself when warriors from Weep come to his city in search of master of their crafts. Lazo must take this chance so that he can see the city that he has dreamed of since he was a child. Lazo wants to learn why Weep suddenly cut themselves out from the world two hundred years ago. And why has the leader Weep – The Godslayer- seeking all of these people to solve a problem that he won’t even tell them about. Lazo thinks that all of his questions will be answered but he finds that he has more questions than answers.

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor is a phenomenal novel, one of the best that I have read all year. I don’t often re-read books but this would be one that I would definitely consider doing so with. Taylor is lyrical, and shocking. The end of this novel will leave you reeling. It kept me awake because I kept thinking about it and in a way I’m glad that I waited so long to read it so that I don’t have to wait a year for the next one because Muse of Nightmares just released this month! (phew)

While it was a slow start Taylor manages to keep the reader interested while doing world building and plot set up. Her descriptions of environments and people are beautiful and often lyrical. Taylor also uses more complex descriptors that lead to a more clear image. Though she still allows for the imagination to take over and push these images farther.

I loved the romance in this novel. It did move a little too fast but it seemed reasonable for it too for two people who are particularly lonely. Their interactions are cute and definitely mirror how one feels the when they fall in love with someone. Their kissing and makeout scenes are descriptive but not erotic and this also goes for the sex scene between another set of characters. I appreciate this greatly as I don’t particularly enjoy reading eroctica or anything close to it in romance. It just isn’t my thing.

While I greatly enjoyed this novel, it is by no means perfect. There is a lull in the middle of the novel when they are on their way to Weep, which involved crossing a desert. Which, as it sounds, got a little one note. Taylor does save herself  by using this time to grow the comradery between Lazlo, the Tizerkane, and the Masters but it was one of the more difficult parts of the novel to get through. I’m also sad that Calixte basically disappears after they get to Weep. She is one of my favorite characters so I wish that she could have stuck around a little bit longer.

I can’t wait to start reading Muse of Nightmares! Also, I just want to say that I’m super jealous of UK for their hardcovers of these and yes I am going to use that cover for this review because I love it so so much. Also, go pick this novel up now if you like fantasy.

People Kill People – Ellen Hopkins

If you give fear a voice, it will curse you.” (pg 270)

People Kill People by Ellen Hopkins follows six teens in Tucson, Arizona. Each having different ideals from pro-immigration to White Power. A gun that already changed one person’s life is bought by one of the teens and by the time the you get to the end this gun changes someone’s life again.

I have been reading Ellen Hopkins for at least ten years. I appreciate that she’s trying to do new things but it just didn’t work for me. I picked up Ellen Hopkins’ novels years ago because they were so different then any YA book that I’d ever seen at that time. It utilized prose and explored dark themes that need to be talked about. People Kill People has some of the prose that I expected but the novel also uses regular storytelling writing for the most part. It just didn’t work for me.

Hopkins’ does continue with her theme of writing about dark topics. This time she explores gun violence, something that needs to be explored especially with the increasing amount of gun deaths in the United States. Hopkins’ does a good job of this, each character has a reason to want a gun and some of the reason are good and some of them are not. But as always even good intentions can run awry. I did like this aspect of the novel and found to bring all of the diverse characters together with a common thread.

I just couldn’t get in to the writing of this novel as much as her other ones. I’m glad that she is willing to experiment with her writing and going out of her YA comfort zone, but it just didn’t work for me. It is thought provoking which I did enjoy, but it just didn’t make up for my disappointment in the writing.

Fierce Fairytales – Nikita Gill

I was given an e-Advanced Reader Copy from Netgalley and the Publisher in exchange for a fair review. Many thanks to the Publisher and Netgalley for the opportunity to do so.

Fierce Fairytales: Poems and Stories to Stir Your Soul by Nikita Gill is a collection of poems relating to fairy tales, some well known and others not as much. However, these poems rarely talk about what happened during the fairy tale but what happened before or after it occured. For example: one poem talks about what made Gaston become a villain, making a point in saying that children are not born wicked, the become wicked due to the circumstances of their youth. This moral is repeated several different times using characters that are considered villains of their respective fairy tale.

I enjoyed reading this book of poetry considerably. Each poem, even the ones that were only a few lines, had something to take away from it. One of the big ones being the circumstances that cause someone to become a villain. I appreciated this being talked about as I have always found villains to be more interesting. Their history is rarely talked about and leads me to ponder what made them become the way that they are. Gill offers takes on this from child abuse to a broken heart. Each one leading to a sympathetic outlook on the character. And like fairy tales are meant to teach, the moral for these poems is that everyone has a story that is worth telling, if you are just willing to listen.

Gill also take a huge stance on female empowerment, something that is often lacking in traditional fairy tales. Making a point to note that women are strong on their own and don’t need a Prince Charming, or a Knight in Shining Armor. All they need is themselves, anyone else is just an extension of them, not a piece to the puzzle. She picks Sleeping Beauty to showcase this. The Princess, after learning of her fate, studies all that she can about the spell. In doing so she finds a way to undo the spell . She, after falling into her one hundred year slumber, fights her own personal demons until the ninety-ninth year when she wakes because she loves herself for who she is. Using this love of herself to replace a true love’s first kiss.

Gill’s usage of language makes for beautifully written poems, creating stories that are worth reading. However, if you don’t like retellings of classic fairy tales I would caution a reader’s decision in picking this up. These poems are all retellings in some way either from changes to the actual story to talking about events that happened either before or after a fairy tale takes place. I usually enjoy retellings and this is what made me what to pick the book up and read.

The illustrations in this poetry book are beautiful. I love that the style is sketch like but still feels like a complete piece. The variety of the sizing also makes them more interesting. Some of them cover a whole page while others take up less than a quarter. This draws the eye to them and allows the reader to see them as well as the poem/story that it is associated with.

All and all, this book made for a fun read while also being thought provoking. It’s good for people who enjoy fairy tales and those who like to read poetry, especially more contemporary poems.  It’s definitely a book I would consider buying a hard copy of.

Beast: A Story of Love and Revenge – Lisa Jensen

Beast: A Story of Love and Revenge by Lisa Jensen is a retelling of a the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. Lucie is sent to Château Beaumont with the hope that she will be able to get a job there to keep her away from her Step-Father. After becoming a maid for the Château she quickly finds herself enchanted with the breathtakingly beautiful Jean-Loup Christian Henri LeNoir, the ruler of the Château and the lands around it. After he rapes her Lucie is set on revenge, finding a witch in the woods who hears her plight and tells her to wait. The witch arrives at the castle and curses Jean-Loup turning him into a hideous beast, who will only be able to return to his previous form if he find someone who will marry him for who he is. Lucie is transformed into a candlestick where she watches the Beast suffer in his loneliness. However, Lucie finds that the Beast acts completely different than Jean-Loup and finds herself conflicted as to if Jean-Loup and the Beast are truly the same person. Rose arrives at the Château and Lucie soon finds herself obsessed with getting Rose to leave afraid that the Beast will turn back into his cruel original self if he succeeded in getting Rose to marry him. Does Lucie get her way or will Jean-Loup return and continue to torment her?

Beast: A Story of Love and Revenge by Lisa Jensen is a book that I truly wanted to like. Especially when seeing a large amount of the negative feedback about the book stemming from a rape scene early on in the book, with several people not finishing the book because of this. But it ended up being a boring read for me. I liked the changes that were done to the original fairy tale, but I was just incredibly bored. My dislike of the book mostly stemmed from this fact though there were a few other things that bothered me.

When Lucie starts trying to find a way to get Rose to leave to keep Jean-Loup from returning I spent the majority of the time wondering if she was doing this out of jealousy instead of for to good of the Beast. It just came off as her trying to keep the Beast for herself, instead of doing it because she didn’t want the Beast to turn back into his cruel formerself. There was no reason to believe that if the Beast does get Rose to marry him that he wouldn’t keep the Beast’s personality when he turned back into a human and because of this it just made it seem like Lucie was jealous and that she wanted the Beast to marry her instead.

I’ve seen some criticism of this book stem from the rape scene that occurs early in the story. I personally did not have a problem with this. I didn’t find it to be overly explicit or graphic. Lords often raped their servants during the time period this is set in as well. Lucie reacts understandably to the fact that she’s been raped. She thinks that everyone will know her shame and without her virginity intact she will never be able to marry and will remain poor and perhaps die in the gutters somewhere. As time goes on she begins to think that she is pregnant and continues to have suicidal thoughts and eventually tries to go through with it. This is a common thing to happen among rape victims and so I did not find this to be exaggerated or unreasonable.

However, as the novel progressed I began to wonder if Lucie was starting to suffer from Stockholm Syndrome. A condition where someone forms emotional ties with their captor as a survival tactic. I had a hard time separating Jean-Loup and the Beast, so when Lucie starts to fall in love with the Beast I found her to be falling in love with her rapist. Though, Belle, in Disney’s version of Beauty and the Beast, can also arguably have Stockholm Syndrome so I can see where this is just how Jensen wants the novel to go.

I do appreciate that Jensen puts an emphasis on the fact that Lucie’s value is is not diminished because her rape and subsequent loss of her virginity. Even to this day it is pushed upon young children that it important to save themselves for marriage or for the “right person. When the value that is placed on this aspect harms a rape victim’s self-worth adding more guilt on top of the shame that they feel from their rape. It is an important thing to tell women that their value does not become less just because they were unable to follow the societal norm because of someone else’s decision to force such a violent act upon them.

I would not consider reading this book again as I wondered why I didn’t stop reading it long before I got to the end. I was just over all bored and uninterested in the plot and characters. It’s a cute romance when taken at face value but there were things lurking beneath the surface that left me with a lot of questions by the end.