How does one…read a book? If anyone has suggestions, please feel free to mail out a note to my brain detailing step-by-step instructions, as the poor thing has clearly forgotten. Which, turns out, is a bit of an inconvenience when you’re trying to run a …
Title: Burn Author: Patrick Ness Publisher: Quill Tree Books Genre(s): YA Fantasy, Historical Fiction Subject(s)/Themes(s): War, Discrimination, Dragons Representation: Biracial MC, Gay MC Release Date: June 2nd, 2020 Page Count: 384 (hardback) Rating: 8.0/10 On a cold Sunday evening in early 1957, Sarah Dewhurst …
Author: Estelle Laure
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Genre(s): YA Historical Fiction, Paranormal, Magical Realism
Subject(s): Multigenerational, Abuse
Release Date: July 14th, 2020
Page Count: 304 (hardback)
It’s 1987 and unfortunately it’s not all Madonna and cherry lip balm. Mayhem Brayburn has always known there was something off about her and her mother, Roxy. Maybe it has to do with Roxy’s constant physical pain, or maybe with Mayhem’s own irresistible pull to water. Either way, she knows they aren’t like everyone else.
But when May’s stepfather finally goes too far, Roxy and Mayhem flee to Santa Maria, California, the coastal beach town that holds the answers to all of Mayhem’s questions about who her mother is, her estranged family, and the mysteries of her own self. There she meets the kids who live with her aunt, and it opens the door to the magic that runs through the female lineage in her family, the very magic Mayhem is next in line to inherit and which will change her life for good.
But when she gets wrapped up in the search for the man who has been kidnapping girls from the beach, her life takes another dangerous turn and she is forced to face the price of vigilante justice and to ask herself whether revenge is worth the cost.
CW: talk and depictions of domestic abuse, sexual assault, suicide
Set in 1987 against the backdrop of Santa Maria, with a girl and her mother fleeing their abusive household, Mayhem is a poetically wrought mess that disappointed me the more I read.
The core message of the story is sound and impactful, about taking control and power in an environment where you’re offered little of either, but it’s heavily stifled by a tangle of storylines and genres that gets thrown onto your lap without much fanfare. From research, it seems that the book is less of a mashup of The Lost Boys and The Craft and more of a direct retelling with a few changes made here and there. Which is a little eyebrow-raising considering how the marketing did its usual “If you like X and Y, you must check this out!” and made it out to be a book that takes elements of those films while still remaining an original, not a near-same story with a different filter. And I would have been fine with that, since I didn’t know much about the source materials to begin with, if it wasn’t obvious that the book is multiple stories awkwardly cobbled into one. It tries to fit magical witchy elements, mother-daughter relationships, new friendships, budding romance, navigation of past trauma, an abusive husband/stepfather on the loose, and a serial killer mystery in 300 pages.
It just doesn’t work.
It picks up a plotline and then pushes it aside in favour of a different one, resolves the latter with underwhelming speed, and returns to the old one only to leave it hanging or tied in the messiest knot imaginable. Characterization also suffers because of this. There are just too many people introduced all at once–Roxy, Roxy’s twin sister Elle, the three children living in Elle’s attic, Roxy’s old friends–and Roxy, the one character aside from May who should have had the main focus throughout, fades into the background in the second half. The other side characters are surface-level interesting, but again, never given enough time for me to get attached to.
The writing is beautiful, however; that’s what hooked in the beginning. And environmental storytelling is the story’s strongest suit. Laure knows how to create quiet scenes that seem to expand with each sentence, and some of the chapters read like haunting vignettes, a moment in time frozen by the lingering memories of what May and her mother endured. There are scenes that made my throat close up in empathy and anger, and the horrors of abuse and assault are depicted with care.
If Laure had just taken that and expanded on it for the rest of the book, focusing solely on the relationships between the characters and their individual pains and journey to healing, while introducing the magic as a subtle undercurrent? How complete the story might have been.
As it is, Mayhem knows what it wants to accomplish, and the emotional depth is well present, but it tries to go about it with more tools than it can hold and falls in the execution.
About the Author
Estelle Laure, the author of This Raging Light and But Then I Came Back believes in love, magic, and the power of facing hard truths. She has a BA in Theatre Arts and an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults, and she lives in Taos, New Mexico, with her family. Her work is translated widely around the world.
Thank you to Wedneday Books for having me on this tour!
Find me (and my art) @aildreda on:
Title: Dragon Age: Tevinter Nights Author(s): Patrick Weekes, Sylvia Fektekuty, John Epler, Lukas Kristjanson, Brianne Battye, Caitlin Sullivan Kelly, Courtney Woods, Ryan Cormier, Arone LaBray Publisher: Tor Books Genre(s): Epic Fantasy, Game-to-Novel Subject(s): Gods, LGBTQ+ Release Date: March 10th, 2020 Page Count: 496 (paperback) Rating: …
Happy March, everyone! These past two months felt overly short and dragged out at the same time. And I’m torn between wanting to re-do them or wanting to stuff them into a burlap sack filled with rocks and hurl them into the nearest lake. I …
Title: The Unspoken Name
Author: A.K. Larkwood
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre(s): Epic Fantasy, Portal Fantasy
Subject(s): Gods, Coming-of-Age, LGBTQ+ (main and secondary)
Release Date: Feb 11th, 2020
Page Count: 464 (hardback)
What if you knew how and when you will die?
Csorwe does. She will climb the mountain, enter the Shrine of the Unspoken, and gain the most honored title: sacrifice. On the day of her foretold death, however, a powerful mage offers her a new fate.
Csorwe leaves her home, her destiny, and her god to become the wizard’s loyal sword-hand — stealing, spying, and killing to help him reclaim his seat of power in the homeland from which he was exiled.
But Csorwe and the wizard will soon learn – gods remember, and if you live long enough, all debts come due.
Turns out I have a few things to say about this book, so to keep everything organized we’re doing sections today. Huzzah!
Unconventional But Likeable Protagonist
Csorwe is a female orc and also a fighter who’s pretty laid back–almost humble–about being a well-oiled sword swinging machine. That makes her a bit of a unicorn in a genre that lauds its “badass” female human characters. She’s skilled and pragmatic and levelheaded, which is a super underrated character trait, and just plain readable. And the contrast between her calm and Tal’s anxiety-ridden disorder is a joy to behold.
Fun and Genuine Character Interactions
The dialogue is pitch-perfect and arguably the shining point of the whole thing. From scenes of vulnerability to wry sarcasm to fuck-it anarchy (mostly on Tal’s part), they do much to convey the characters’ personalities and their relationships. Csorwe and Tal’s dynamic is pure schoolyard antagonism and entertaining as hell to see played out. Though I’m hoping the sequel adds a few more layers to them because the 24/7 sniping (and nothing else) is going to get old pretty quick.
The slow-burn romance between Csorwe and Shuthmili is also one of the highest points of the story. I mean, Shuthmili is a great character to begin with–her surface coldness a product of a life that’s always been about fearing and being feared for her powers–and her journey of learning to see choices beyond ones that have been spoonfed to her is a nice parallel to Csorwe’s own journey of independence (and I would say better written than Csorwe’s).
The two together are cute and sweet and make me smile–what more can you ask for?
Cool Worldbuilding Setup
Dying worlds and broken gods and airships. It’s like the book knows me. Oh, and any author who includes a sentient and intelligent serpent race in their story has my eternal love.
Picturing this World in My Head is Like Walking to the Grocery Store Without My Contacts On
You can have an interesting broad scheme for your worldbuilding but drop the ball on the details. And that’s the case here.
This is a story that hops through different worlds, but if you ask me to sketch out what each of them looks or feels like, I’d shrug at you from across a blank page. At best I’d call the settings minimalist–and nothing wrong with that, no one needs a two-page description of the texture of a tavern wall–but mostly they’re a frustrating landscape of vague shapes and smells. It’s like squinting though a mist while a tour guide yammers at your ear about how wonderful the place looks and how rich the culture is–all well and good except you can’t see any of it.
The snake world near the beginning is pretty interesting, but that’s the only one that left a solid impression. The rest are an absolute blur, to the point where I felt disoriented. I’m assuming this was a stylistic decision on the author’s part, but it makes the story resemble too much of an elongated dream sequence. And with an epic portal fantasy, it just feels like a lost opportunity.
Sethennai the Wonder Bread Boy
Speaking of blurs! Let’s talk about Belthandros Sethennai. Oh, Sethennai. Sethennai the poster boy for not living up to a badass name.
You know when your friend tells you about their celebrity crush and the person in question turns out to be a bland white dude whose appeal is completely lost on you, and you can’t even differentiate him from the previous bland white dude they were crushing on, so you’re just sitting there thinking, “This is the greatest mystery of my life”? Well, that’s Sethennai. Minus the white bit.
The book tries to make me believe that most everything in its narrative orbits this man. He’s the “kindly” mentor/savior figure who rescues Csorwe. His quest for the reliquary is what propels the storyline forward. Women swoon over him. His mentees fall over themselves to try to please him. It’s devotion at its finest, and all I want to know is WHY. Just why. What makes him so special? From Csorwe’s point of view, I kind of understand; he pulled her out from a horrific fate and I imagine a life debt makes for some thick rose-tinted glasses. But what about everyone else?
The characters tell you that he’s charming and suave and convincing. Whether or not he actually is any of those things is very much the greatest fucking mystery of my life, because at the end of the day, I don’t know who Sethennai is. He’s clear paint smeared atop a clear canvas and just about as exciting and remarkable.
And his weak characterization affects other major aspects of the story, like his quest for the Reliquary. In order for me to have cared about this plotline at least one of the following had to be true:
(1) I’m interested in the premise of the quest itself
(2) I think Sethennai is an interesting person
(3) I care that Csorwe cares about Sethennai
And…yeah. None of those were happening.
Lackluster Character Development
This also leads back to good ol’ Belthandros! (He’s out here just ruining everyone’s day, isn’t he?) The other reason why Sethennai had to be a solid character is that both Tal and Csorwe’s storylines lead back to him. So the fact that he isn’t makes Csorwe’s journey of self-discovery, and kicking herself out of the nest, so to speak, less impactful than it should have been. And Tal’s journey is even more underwhelming. If I have zero impressions–good or otherwise–about the man they’ve had this complicated and mostly-one-sided relationship with, then I can’t be expected to feel much for a series of character developments that directly depend on the guy being at least somewhat complex.
Also, there’s a big gap in Csorwe’s development from Csorwe the Chosen Bride and Csorwe Thereafter. From 14 years of living in a convent and being slated for death to being told you’re now a free agent with a future, and the transition between the two is basically non-existent. No exploration of how she’s had to adjust, or how her world views have changed, just a “Okay, I was living in Point A, now I’m living in Point B. The end.”
Okay, I know, that seems like a lot of ranting. But I did mostly like the book! On the surface it’s an enjoyable story with great potential, and it’s got a set of main characters (minus He Who I Shall No Longer Name) that interest me enough to keep going. But things start fraying when you try to delve deeper, and I just wish it ended up being more than what it turned out to be.
(Review copy provided by the publisher for an honest review)
So um. A thing happened several months ago. Well, okay, a bunch of things happened. And they’re all interconnected and relevant to THE thing I want to talk about, so let’s just go through them in chronological order. Imagine the countdown from Hamilton‘s “Ten Duel …
Yup, it’s yet another blog tour! (Seriously, how did I sign up for so many tours? Did I accidentally clone myself one night?) And my YA curse continues because The Light at the Bottom of the World didn’t exactly light up my world. So my …
Happy Samhain, New Atlanteans!!
We have some seriously cool events planned–for current fans of the series and readers who aren’t familiar with it but would like to be–and today we’ll be giving you an overview of what’s to come (we’ll get into the heavier details of specific events on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday).
But first, if you want to know how #HangedManPromo got started…
I had the chance to read The Hanged Man in September, and predictably I was obsessed with it. And when I get really obsessed about something, like a-dog-trembling-with-a-bone-in-its-mouth obsessed, I try to funnel that energy into activities. Which often means writing, gaming, drawing, dancing, making a playlist and going for a hike…Or, as in this case, creating an extensive project. Because otherwise the excitement settles into a cloying, negative thing–a kind of congealed anxiety with no outlet–which doesn’t rate super high on my Fun Scale. And as anyone who’s read The Tarot Sequence knows, it’s got a +100 to “Obsession Inducer”, which equals to a lot of anxiety.
So that’s the selfish reason.
The not-quite-as-selfish reason is that my grandmother had passed away from cancer in July, and I’d spent most of the summer months thinking about–well, life, to sound cliche. About pushing past doubt and just doing things because you may not have another chance.
And after finishing THM, there was this sense of “I’m feeling everything and I need more people to read this so they can feel it with me.” And, “I can do that, so what’s stopping me?” That would normally mean writing a review and making fanart (which I still plan to do!) But I also wanted to do something bigger, more wide reaching, something that could be accessible to newcomers of the series. The publication date for THM got delayed again, and no one was very happy, and I wanted the months leading up to its release to be as festive as I could make it.
And…here we are.
I asked two of my favourite people in the world to join me, Sia and KD–well, we obviously can’t do it without the damn author–who I’m convinced are actual superheroes and/or angels (I mean, they’re not even hiding it very well *rolls eyes*). Together we polished this into something AWESOME. And do you know the best/scary part? We’re not done brainstorming.
This event is a love letter to a series that celebrates the families we make for ourselves.
It’s a love letter to four people–two fictional, two very real–who have become bright stars in my orbit.
And it’s a love letter to you–the fans, both present and future.
We’re going to have so much fun with this.
So here’s what’s definitively on the schedule. MARK. YOUR. CALENDARS.
Nov 2nd – January 1st:
Creative Tarot Sequence Project
What it says on the tin. I wanted to do a contest to celebrate creativity and specifically, Tarot Sequence creativity. We’ll be talking more about it on November 2nd, and revealing the VERY cool prizes involved.
Nov 3rd – Dec 17: Giveaway (INTL)
Giveaway of what, you ask? Well, you’ll just have to see on November 3rd!
Nov 16 – Dec 16th: Last Sun Readalong
Perfect for those who haven’t read The Last Sun yet, and for those who want to refresh their memories and get reacquainted with the characters before Book 2 drops. We’ll be doing weekly discussions and K.D. will answer any questions you have regarding the text. More info to come tomorrow! (#LastSunReadalong)
Nov 6th – January 1st: Street Team (#ScionsOfAtlantis)
This is our biggest event, and also my favourite (just barely passing Creative Tarot Project), as it allows for roleplay–for us and for you. Do you like roleplay? Quests? Competitions? Letters that may or may not hide clues to special secret content? Then come pledge your allegiance.
As a Scion-with-amnesia, you’ll align with one of four courts (Sun, Justice, Tower, Death) and complete quests and collect points along with your teammates in preparation for the Hanged Man’s arrival. Glory will be heaped on the winning court, along with some very cool rewards.
By joining you also get a chance to participate in The Convocation of the Traveling Last Sun. The idea is that we send a physical copy of The Last Sun to North American and European members, and you get to scribble, doodle, and highlight the book to your heart’s content. Leave messages to your team members! Point out a favourite passage! Then you take pictures and post them on social media, and pass the book to the next person.
☀️ SIGN UP HERE ☀️
We also have a challenging quiz for The Last Sun planned (plus a raffle), blog posts, including a discussion about the series’ worldbuilding, and MORE.
If you have an idea that you think would be a good fit for the campaign, or if you want to pitch in some prizes (we would love you forever), contact us on Twitter or email us at email@example.com.
DNF Reviews: Tarnished are the Stars & The Good Luck Girls – Why does YA Hate Me? (I’m Open to Suggestions)
Here’s a fun stat for you: I DNFed 5 books in the past month and a half, and four of them were YA SFF. And I’m pretty sure they’re at least 60% responsible for the reading slump I’m currently in. Conclusion? 1) Recent YA SFF …