First Class Murder by Robin Stevens

Originally published on Goodreads May 18th 2017

Confession: I finished this charming little gem of a mystery back when I was in Florida at the beginning of May for my sister Rachel’s college graduation. I just hadn’t finished tying up all the loose ends of this review until now. 🙂  and in my humble opinion, this is one of the best installments of the Wells & Wong Detective series, aka Murder is Bad Manners.

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Schoolgirl detectives Hazel Wong and Daisy Wells are back for round three of sleuthing in First Class Murder. It’s 4stars.pngsummertime and on holiday from school Hazel’s father Vincent Wong is treating the girls to a holiday traveling among Europe on a luxury train. Ever the devoted businessman he’s accompanied by his assistant Mr. Maxwell, and intends to make this a trip that’s both business AND pleasure. The train featured is the Orient Express (yes, Agatha Christie penned a novel about said train in 1934. Some thirty-some years later it was adapted into a movie. And recently, director and actor Kenneth Branagh has announced he’s doing his own version of the story, with a star-studded cast –Daisy Ridley, and Johnny Depp to name just two– and a goal to make it even darker and scarier than the original. That being said, it’s sheer dumb timing; the release of this book and that reboot.) Now I’ve never read any of Christie’s mysteries and I don’t know the story of her Murder on The Orient Express, so I’ve got zero and zilch to compare this story to. Which is in a way, good in its own right, because it’s a good reader that can judge the merit of a book on it’s own content– and not just how it was inspired or derived from other stories out there.

Robin Stevens prose here is incredible as always. Consider this passage from the beginning:

I climbed up, out of the ordinary world, into the fat creamy body of the great, glorious Orient Express. All the noises from outside seemed to fade away at once. . . .The inside of the Orient Express was like a palace in miniature, or the grandest grand hotel. The walls were rich, smooth, golden wood, picked out in beautiful floral marquetry; gold licked up the lamps and picture frames and doors. We stood on a soft, deep blue carpet that stretched away from us, down the glowing chandelier-lit corridor, and I knew that here I would have no trouble not being a detective. This was a place quite separate from the rest of the world, so full of marvels that even Daisy could not possibly become bored.

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In First Class Murder when they first embark on their European vacation, Hazel and Daisy are forced to swear off detecting. (Ha!) But they find themselves enticed into resuming their society when they get a gem of a tip. The return of the enigmatic police officer Miss Livedon (who posed as Daisy’s new governess Lucy Alston in Poison is Not Polite). This time, she’s undercover in the guise of the glamorous wife of a copper magnate. Her goal? To sniff out a spy who’s selling information on England to the Germans. This takes place in 1935 and although Hitler has not yet come to power, he’s some concern to the national security of Britain, so Miss Livedon is on the case. Her shocking and unexpected arrival is all it takes to kick off Hazel’s and Daisy’s determination to be detectives once again and try to lend a hand in finding the alleged spy. Something, that Miss Livedon has warned the girls gravely not to do, but of course, an order that they just can’t help but refuse it MOST vehemently.

Here was another grown-up telling us not to be detectives on this holiday, and I found I liked it less and less each time I heard it. We were being shut out of everything truly interesting.

There is a impressive roster of characters that are traveling on the Orient Express. There’s the flamboyant and easily spooked Italian magician, Il Mysterioso; bitter and penniless Countess Demidivskoy who escaped Russia during the communist uprisings, accompanied by her American born-and-bred 14-year-old grandson Alexander; a beautiful by dim heiress Georgiana and her overbearing and abrasive husband William Daunt, who peddles diet pills and is running a very lucrative business. There’s also a medium, Madame Melinda Fox, a cheeky wink at the spiritualism movement and how it captivated so many in England, a failed crime novel writer Robert Strange, who also happens to be Georgiana’s disgraced elder brother. Hetty Lessing plays maid to Daisy and Hazel on this journey, and bunks with Georgiana’s maid, Sarah Sweet, who’s really nothing but sour. And the conductor is a friendly if not a touch clueless man named Jocelyn.

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Hazel’s character has really come into her own. She and Daisy have matured so much from the girls they were back in the first novel. Take a gander at this brilliant little observation from Hazel:

It has been a very long time since I believed in the myth of Daisy Wells. Yes, yes is president of the Detective Society, but I am its vice president, and if I do not take her down a peg or two from time to time, who will?

First Class Murder is a can’t miss Hazel and Daisy adventure. The characters are off the charts hilarious and crafty, the writing is lush and full of details and wit galore, and the whodunnit reveal is a murder mystery at its finest! Highly recommended.

cover art from Robin Stevens author website. chapter image divider from the book.
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DNF: Get it Together, Delilah! By Erin Gough

Originally published on Goodreads May 3rd 2017

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Seventeen-year-old Delilah Green wouldn’t have chosen to do her last year of school this way, but she figures it’s working fine. Her dad is on a trip to fix his broken heart after her mom left him for another man, so Del’s managing the family café in his absence. Easy, she thinks. But what about:
– homework and the nasty posse of mean girls making her life hell
– or how one of Del’s best friends won’t stop guilt-tripping her
– and her other best friend is so in love with his tutor he might go to jail for her if Del doesn’t do something

But who cares about any of that really, because above all else, she can’t stop thinking about beautiful Rosa who dances every night across the street until one day Rosa comes in the café door . . .

GITD

1 star

How the *bleep* has this won so many awards?! I hate to come down so harsh on it but after 82 pages I’ve realized that this is not the book for me. And that ultimately, it’s kind of rubbish.
I’m always snagging the latest LGBTQ releases. I picked this one up because the premise of a young, awkward, but openly lesbian lead wasn’t just coming to terms with her sexuality, but actually struggling with school, dealing with her recently broken family, and being bullied on a regular basis. Get It Together, Delilah! isn’t just what I like to call one of those “coming out” books, where the central focus is the main character struggling with expressing their homosexuality and feeling OK in their own skin: don’t get me wrong, those books are so valuable and I absolutely LOVE them when they’re done well. Buuuut at times they’re a bit over done.
And that’s not the main problem here.
Delilah herself is an infuriating lead. To say I want to THROTTLE her is putting it lightly. She constantly throws herself pity parties, and has a woe-is-me attitude that clings to her like a second skin. Her pessimistic attitude is grating. And the love story here, one of the big sells of the book, totally bombs. Her crush on Rosa isn’t one of those sweet coming of age type LGBTQ relationships. Instead Del obsesses over how beautiful Rosa looks while she dances every night. And like an Australian female Norman Bates she hides up in her room and peers out the window through the part of her curtains watching Rosa. It’s cringey and really creepy.
Another huge problem I have with this novel is the way Del’s bullying is handled. It seems like everyone and their brother has something AWFUL to say to Del every moment of EVERY day. How the hell the teachers manage to let this slide in 2017 is RIDICULOUS.

The homophobic slurs and insults are hard to buy. The whole thing reeks of melodrama common to those ABC Family made-for-TV movies that played in the 90’s and early 2000s. The entire conflict is juvenile and not easy to believe. No matter how hard I try to suspend my disbelief, I just can’t buy these stereotypical scenes; they seem to be for shock value alone. But they don’t even really do that for me either. Honestly, it made me groan and roll my eyes. Especially because Del also has a tendency to vicitimize herself and refused to acknowledge that her behavior or attitude in ANY way, shape, or form, may come into play. I’m not saying she DESERVES it, or bullying is OK, but her “everyone hates me” mind set is childish and doesn’t seem real.
The other HUGE issue I have with Get It Together, Delilah! is the way many of the female characters are represented in book. Her ex-crush, Georgiana got spooked about Del liking her once the whole school found out (and again, big freaking whoop) and avoids Del like the plague. Although she never disses Delilah to her face, Del and her friends have taken to calling her “the Evil Bitch”. This is used way too casually. It’s the kind of hateful language that goes with perpetuating the cycle of “hate” between girls. Usually I have a thick skin when it comes to insults, but this one I just can’t stomach. As for her antagonists, they’re a pack of mean girls who are pretty much just described as hateful, and liking to wear makeup and cute clothes. The way Del clashes with these girls reinforces that whole stereotype that fights between girls are inevitable and can be ferocious at times. And they taunt Delilah mercilessly. But their insults really don’t have any teeth because these girls have pretty much zero character development.

The Get It Together, Delilah! title is only too appropriate. The effort to tell a meaningful story is here. But the wannabe bittersweet and edgy tone just doesn’t do it. How this is so acclaimed is beyond me, because on all counts this is some seriously lacking literature.
But to end on a positive note, one feature I would like to compliment is how Erin Gough included a glossary on the last pages of the book that define the Australian slang used in the book. This was wonderful, because British slang is quite different! Other than that, this is one DNF I have no regrets about quitting.

 

Poison Is Not Polite by Robin Stevens

Published on Goodreads on May 15th 2017

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Tea time turns lethal in the second volume of Robin Stevens’s Wells & Wong Mystery girl detective series. This follow up to the debut Murder is Bad Manners, Poison is Not Polite is even more of a delightful, action-packed story than the first novel. The mystery here is more complex than it was in Murder is Bad Manners and there’s an abundance of character development here, something that makes this sequel even more compulsively readable and successful.
The story kicks off a couple of a months after the events at Deepdean. It’s now the April and time for the Easter holidays. Hazel is staying with Daisy at Fallingford House, her mouldering, shabby estate in England. There are many new characters that debut here: from humorless bluestocking governess Miss Lucy Alston; to jolly George Wells the Lord Hastings an adult with a school-boy’s humor; to the flirty and shamelessly vain Margaret Wells the Lady Hastings and Daisy’s mother. There’s also the kleptomaniac Great-Aunt Saskia who dresses like a failed opera singer and has a flair for the dramatics. Fallingford is staffed by a grumpy, ancient butler, Chapman, a cheerful cook Mrs. Doherty and kindly ladies maid Hetty Lessing. Bertie’s bestfriend, Stephen, a bright scholarship student studying with him at Eton is also there for the Easter holidays. Don’t get tripped up by all the names! This impressive cast positively leaps off the pages. And just about everyone gets a chance to shine. (I use that term loosely here, especially in the case of grumbly Chapman, who’s anything but a sunny person!)
Daisy’s world is shattered when she sees her mum locking lips in the library with a sleazy “friend” named Dennis Curtis. Talk about shattered illusions of mummy’s goodness! Dennis is a man who Margaret HIGHLY vouches for (and makes moony eyes at. A lot.) and he claims to be at Fallingford House to appraise the many antiques that are otherwise just taking up space in the estate.

As always accompanied by her Watson (Hazel, who else!) Daisy gets a first hand look at her mother’s disgraceful cheating antics –and hears from her elder brother Bertie that her mummy has had dozens of flings– and realizes her parents rock-solid marriage isn’t their reality, but instead an ideal that she clings to. Already, things have taken a more mature turn in this novel and we see a more apprehensive and fragile, even sensitive, side of Daisy. Her bravado is shaken and its revealed that her determination to see these detective mysteries as “just stories” is essentially a coping method for her to deal with the anxiety of what’s beyond her control. This makes her character infinitely more likable than her cocky, bossy, and arrogant girl she was in Murder is Bad Manners, and makes her character much rounder and more believable. I truly felt for Daisy here, and I’m thrilled to see she’s maturing and treats Hazel more respectfully.

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Daisy’s 14th birthday tea party comes to an abrupt end when Dennis drops dead after swigging back his cup. At first the Doctor, Doctor Cooper is sure that it’s Dysentery. In a matter of minutes, Daisy races down to the library with Hazel in tow and pores through some medical volumes. One of which says arsenic poison can be mistaken for Dysentery. At once the girls decide that murder and mayhem is afoot, and dive headlong into it.Joined by their schoolfriends, shy and sensitive Beanie, and inquisitive and bossy Kitty, Daisy has no choice but to relent to letting the duo join on as temporary members of the Detective Society. Along the way, they try to steer clear of being thwarted by Uncle Felix. Once Daisy’s favourite relative, lately he’s been… off . And his bizarre, strained interactions with Mr. Curtis and Miss. Alston are more than a little troubling.

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In every way Poison is Not Polite is a rousing success of a book, and a stand-out sequel that’s even better than the first volume. There’s no sophomore slump here. Everything is on point, from the plot, the pacing, the characters and the final twist reveal at the end this is a must-read. Fans of Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart quartet, Y.S. Lee’s The Agency series, and British comedy of manners will be more than pleased with this little gem of a book!

covers from Robin Stevens author website. Final photo from Google Images.

Murder is Bad Manners by Robin Stevens

Originally published on Goodreads May 9th 2017

Note from Vicky: Heya! Since the time of writing this original review I’ve finished reading the four other published installments in this spifftastic Murder is Bad Manners series, by Robin Stevens. Including Book 4: Jolly Foul Play and Book 5: Mistletoe and Murder which I ordered from a bookseller from the glorious U.K.! Reading Robin’s words in their truest essence instead of the Americanized editions that are floating around the US was a real joy, and I highly recommend it. The slang truly does go a long way towards transporting me to this British boarding school in the 1930s. I also want to point out that although some of my criticisms here may sound harsh, I absolutely adore this series and can say without a doubt, now that I’ve read all the published works each volume in Hazel and Daisy’s adventures and crime solving whodunits gets better and better and better. I can say with all my heart that I highly recommend this series in all its entirety for anyone a fan of delightful characters, tricky mysteries, and anything and everything England. Cheers. 😍 ☕️🏰 XX

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Lately I’ve been on a real female detective kick in young adult & middle grade fiction. I wolfed down Y.S. Lee’s magnificent Victorian-era Mary Quinn Quartet, was completely captivated by the crew of English boarding school girls in Julie Berry’s The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place and I’ve similarly enjoyed the first few volumes of Gail Carriger’s steampunk comedy-of-manners Finishing School series.
That said, Murder Is Bad Manners by Robin Stevens takes place at an English boarding school called Deepdean in the early 1930’s. The schoolgirl leads: Hazel Wong and Daisy Wells at first seem like an odd sort of pairing except for their mutual affinity for detective novels and their boundless curiosity. Although both Daisy, Hazel, and their close friends Beanie and Kitty are only 13-years-old, this isn’t by any means just children’s literature. Instead, it has lovely prose that is very descriptive, a cast of characters that’s punchy and memorable (if not a bit cartoonish and exaggerated at times) and witty and smart dialogue that ping-pongs across each page. If you’re an adult reader don’t be discouraged by how this is classified as a children’s book. If you’re a fan of British comedy and drama, intricate mysteries like BBC’s Sherlock and spunky heroines, this book is for you.

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The core mystery of Murder Is Bad Manners is the catastrophic death of the girls’ professor Miss Bell– namely the discovery that she was knocked off on purpose, is the driving force of this book. It fires things off with a bang. Amidst lessons, bunbreaks, and meal times, Daisy and Hazel, founders of their own two-person Detective Society, comb through the school trying to uncover evidence. Their two-woman mission? Find who killed their science professor and make sure everyone knows and that they’re escorted away from the school (by the proper authorities, of course. But ONLY when permissible for Miss Daisy). Eek.
This is a whodunit story, and it’s a pretty darn effective one from start to finish, considering many of the suspects are well…suspicious! There’s a sense of much lurking under the surface and beneath the veneer of this perfect academy. The girls come to realize that adults are fallible, and can be troubled. 

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Some of the UK novels are published under different titles.

There’s no sense of adults have ultimate authority and knowing best here. They realize their safety isn’t guaranteed. Eeek again! Much like in the Series of Unfortunate Events novels, the girls here may be young, but they’re brilliant, resilient and know how to take action. There’s no sense that author Robin Stevens is talking down to younger readers. Instead she shows how she values them and believes in them! They also actually do sound like and act like kids, which makes them more alive on the page, but in some cases also has some shortcomings.
One of them is with Daisy Well’s character. She’s the stereotypical English rose. She’s a lovely fair girl with silky blond hair, bright blue eyes and is born into wealth and privilege, the daughter of the Lord and Lady Hastings. Daisy can be a bit frustrating at times. Not only is she often very egotistical and self-centered but she can be rottenly stubborn too. Her dynamic with Hazel at first is a bit troubling and disappointing.

Hazel Wong, is from Hong Kong and was shipped by her Anglophile father who still lives there, overseas to England to get a “Proper Education”. Her prominent Asian features made her stand out and at first made her a bit of an outcast from her peers. For a large chunk of the book, Hazel defers to Daisy and puts herself down, doubting her own worth and abilities. It was incredibly upsetting to read about such a whip-smart and interesting girl considering herself lesser to her perfect white English friend. Other girls even mention things like how Hazel is “Daisy’s slave” and were skeptical about Hazel’s fluency in English (uhh PERFECT) and think she’s some charity case (in fact, she’s very well off and her family has even more servants and wealth than Daisy’s family). Hazel is humble but in ways that sometimes broke my heart– especially when she went off a stint pretending to hate studying and learning along to fit in with the other girls. Daisy also relegates her to “secretary”, while she’s President.

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This is written from Hazel’s point of view, using “I”, and her observations actually help us to really get to intimately know the teachers and the school and the other students. She’s also a heck of a lot more sensible, likeable and even relatable than Daisy! This is a huge reason why I kept reading. Had Daisy been the narrator instead of Hazel, I’d want to flick her dainty little doll-like self right off the pages and probably put the book down. Waaah. Not that this is a poorly written book or a weak story in any way, shape or form!

Really, it’s a fun, fizzy, read that is playful with an interesting mystery. Ultimately the culprit that’s unmasked is somewhat of a twist, action runs thick through the pages, and the characters interactions and discoveries are both hilarious and totally engrossing. Yes there in are some shortcomings. Namely in the way Daisy is just so darn snobby and entitled. At times she’s infuriatingly childish, and has mistreated Hazel time and time again, and gets away with it scot-free. Another is that the big reveal at the end feels a tad….convenient, and isn’t exactly unexpected. Still, this is a beautifully written thriller loaded with comedy and drama and told by a precocious and at times self-deprecating lead. I’m 24-years-old and had an enjoyable go of this book from start to finish. This brilliantly British whodunit is the solid start to a new middle grade series.

Recommended

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cover images and maps from robin stevens author website. chapter design and first picture from googleimages

Blood of Wonderland by Colleen Oakes

originally published on goodreads March 9th 2017

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3stars

Blood of Wonderland is not a total bore, buuuut much like how some second albums hit their “sophomore slump” this follow up to The Queen of Hearts suffers from “middle book syndrome”.

The plot is still intact but we’re bombarded with fillers galore. Imagine a dog dashing around in circles chasing his tail– THAT is this book.

So why did I give this 3 out of 5 stars ?!

Because Colleen Oakes descriptions of Wonderland’s world and environment are absolutely dazzling. Say what you will about the shortcomings, but visuals are certainly not one of them. Oakes adeptly crafts stunning scenes: from the fantastical psychedelic mushroom fields, to the liberally feathered and architecturally airborne Yurkei village to the formidable and haunting Twisted Wood. Not to mention, one of the most outstanding of the lot, the brilliant “mad tea party”scene in the meadows with its lush descriptions, and sumptuous banquet it was a complete delight and treat for the senses!

As for the rest of the book it was rather just OKAY even as far as guilty pleasure books go.

Dinah is still bratty and dramatic and I have a hard time getting behind her as Queen of Wonderland. The idea that she can reclaim Wonderland and be the symbol of revolution is a song and dance that was a heck of a lot more effective in The Hunger Games (I mean, they even give Dinah a crane inspired outfit here! Not exactly a mockingjay. But still…)

Unfortunately  that’s not the only way that Blood of Wonderland is pretty darn derivative.

The Yurkei people are heavily inspired by Native American tribes of old and are like a cross between the Mongols and Game of Throne’s Dothraki. Nothing too original, even though their campsite was beautifully described.

The character that helps Dinah most, Sir Gorrann the Spade Knight talks JUST LIKE Hagrid. I wonder if he also has a penchant for horrible cooking & a fondness for ferocious creatures. 😛 What we do know is that he has a generic backstory that ended in his family being slaughtered by the King of Hearts, which goes to justify why he wants so badly for Dinah to knock that POS of the throne.

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In Blood of Wonderland Cheshire plays more of a significant role in this book, which is ANOTHER reason why I opted to give this three stars instead of just two. His character is by far the most original in the series, and the most dimensional of the lot. He reveals some of his history and *spoiler coming up ahead!* his confession that he was the man who had the alleged affair with Davianna and is Dinah’s REAL daddy! OMG! I did NOT see that one coming. It was a VERY welcome plot twist surprise. So points for that Colleen! We also find out officially that he was the one who helped Dinah escape the palace at the end of the last book aka the “shadowy figure” with the “familiar sounding”  voice which only the most derpy and noodle-brained of readers wouldn’t have figured out on their own by now 🙃. Cheshire spills the beans on little miss V. He gives us the lowdown on Vittoire’s REAL lineage that *pssstt* she’s a puppet ruler through and through, not the King of Heart’s “bastard daughter” after all, but someone he essentially kidnapped to ensure his dominion over Wonderland.

The rest of the book is pretty much just Dinah traveling with her new troops: the Yurkei who’ve formed an alliance with her and Spades and other former Wonderland cards (soldiers) who defected from their country. OR who are just fed up with the King of Hearts big heaping piles of BS. Which reminds me, continuing with the book’s theme of derivative dot com The King of Hearts is a shameless imitation of the Mad King Aerys Targaryen. Minus the erm…incestuous bloodlines and dragons.

But rejoice about this: there’s still no love triangles, yay yay yay! BUTTTTTT…. Dinah’s obsessive love with Wardley, the boy she was moony over in the first novel, hits a wall. Even though she’s ONLY 16, she claims to be oh so deeply invested in her childhood crush, that it’s very soapy and melodramatic. Her need to possess Wardley could’ve really been mined to add a warped and twisted layer to Dinah as the Queen of Hearts instead she just comes across as pouty, moody and bitter.

Wardley basically comes out to Dinah and says he just can’t love her romantically even though he’s been actively trying. He basically says he’s gay and my heart just broke for him to see how he was grappling with coming to terms with this new facet of his identity. Confessing that took A LOT of guts, especially keeping in mind how Wardley continually sacrificed SO much for Dinah. Wardley was endlessly patient during Dinah’s own temper tantrums and needy spells and constantly there for her.

Soooo, Dinah’s reaction to him was BEYOND immature. She FREAKS the hell out and is completely uncaring about how his confession affected him she doesn’t give a flying fawk he’s gay  except for that HOW DARE HE RUIN HER FANTASY OF THEM BEING TOGETHER! YOU UNGRATEFUL LITTLE WELP, WARDLEY! By making his coming out all about her, Dinah is beyond spoiled and completely unlikable. Boo hoo, I’m Dinah and my whole life has been an “elaborate illusion” or “well orchestrated lie”. Yup both of those canned phrases were LITERALLY used here. All because her childhood crush and best friend wore his heart on his sleeve and stressed to her (with MANY tears) that as much as it hurt him to hurt her, he gets his rocks off with dudes. Not that he actually rolled in the hay with any hottie cards. Yet. When he’s done I’m sure Dinah will maul whoever is in spitting distance from her, and proceed to yowl in rage. Because uhh that’s how Queens behave. 😐

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My final two cents on Blood of Wonderland is that it has a really WONKY tone.

It wants to be edgy and serious, but it’s really just absurd and ridiculous. And not in an endearing, fun and whimsical way. There are a few spectacular horror scenes in the beginning of the book, especially where Dinah’s “hell horse” Morte fights a vicious white bear in a graphic as hell throw down, that was beyond chilling and chock full of seriously gorey and nauseating imagery, but other than that Blood of Wonderland tries to be raw and deep.

Meh. Instead, it’s riddled with HILARIOUS comments that may be written to elicit our sympathy or make us nervous, but instead just made me laugh my head off. If you read the first book and want to read this, go ahead. It’s a VERY quick read, and it doesn’t take a whole lot of thought or investment from you as a reader.

Will I read the conclusion to the trilogy? Maybe. Depends when it comes out, but I’m thinking I’m erring in the direction of naaaah. I leave you with these excerpts straight outta the pages of the book.

First, the King of Hearts legendary temper tantrums (!!!) strike again:

When [he] returned from chasing you … he maimed three fruit sellers just because they didn’t get out of his way fast enough, and there were a handful of people he beat so savagely yeh can hardly recognize them.

And secondly, before reuniting with Dinah, Wardley was pooh-poohed on by Wonderlanders after Dinah fleed:

“ There is nothing more to tell me of Wardley?”

“No. His shoulder’s still healing. He spends his days in the stables, wiping the dung off his face that is thrown at him by orphans”

LOL WHUT.

first two images are the covers of the book. last photo from pinterest

Queen of Hearts by Colleen Oakes

originally published on goodreads March 5th 2017

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3stars

My favourite classic of all time is Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. As a little girl I had countless picture books and novel adaptations of the books, and I watched just about every made for tv movie or television program about Alice and her adventures that was out there. And considering I was born in 1992, some of the videos I watched were rather…erm dated… but still, I LOVED them. To this day I’m still entirely in love with this absurd fantasy, with it’s plucky heroine, bizarre characters, fantastical world and made up words. Anytime I see Wonderland-esque books out there, I snatch em up to give them a read, because, let’s not be silly, why not?! 😛

Back in March when I was playing around with designing up displays for the Teen Room in the library I work I instantly spied Queen of Hearts by Colleen Oakes. This is after Marissa Meyer of The Lunar Chronicles fame already published her own retelling of the murderous Queen of Hearts origins and fall into madness: Heartless. I hadn’t yet gotten around to reading Mar’s departure from Cinder & co., and to this very day, I have yet to read Heartless so I didn’t have anything as a yard stick to compare Colleen Oakes novel too. For the most part I’m not a judgemental person. I don’t go into picking up young adult books, scoffing and snorting about how awful they are going to be. Sure, I’m picky and I’ve got a good nose for guilty pleasure and mediocre fiction out there, but I almost never knock a book before giving it a shot. Unless it’s a vampire novel. Or a soapy love triangle laden romance. Cuz those books? I vehemently HATE. I want to tie them to a stake, douse them with gasoline and watch them burn baby burn. Those books are on fiyaaahh. But I digress. Off to Wonderland we go!

The Goodreads synopsis of Queen of Hearts is as follows:

This is not the story of the Wonderland we know. Alice has not fallen down a rabbit hole.
Dinah is the princess who will one day reign over Wonderland. She has not yet seen the dark depths of her kingdom; she longs only for her father’s approval and a future with the boy she loves. But when a betrayal breaks her heart and threatens her throne, she is launched into Wonderland’s dangerous political game. Dinah must stay one step ahead of her cunning enemies or she’ll lose not just the crown but her head.
Evil is brewing in Wonderland and maybe, most frighteningly, in Dinah herself. This is not a story of happily ever after.
This is the story of the Queen of Hearts.

*sniffs* Do I detect a hint of cheesiness? Yes. Yes I do. But still, I barrelled into reading this book. FULL STEAM AHEAD.

This review isn’t as linear as some of the others I’ve penned. You’ll see it is instead in more of a rapid fire list format. One I like to call the:

+Yay and Meh –

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+ Yay +

Considering Dinah + Soooo Princess Dinah, future Queen of Wonderland and protagonist of this book, is all fired up with nowhere to go. She’s a little older than sixteen, and we find out that she’s angry. Very angry. Most of the time she emotes in the book it’s when she’s pissed off or ruminating and stewing over what else is going to inevitably come along into her way, and you guessed it, piss her off even more! Thankfully, she proves herself an adept hand at solving mysteries (there’s one where she uncovers the identity of a woman who has more in connection with her than she knows) and she is very determined and resilient. She does whine, and have her bratty moments, and her weepy insecure moments, but still, she gets what she needs to get done, done. She also pulls it together, shuts her mouth, and makes progress with her quest. No, she’s not particularly lovable, but she’s also NOT dreadful or too stupid to live. There’s not a whole heck of a lot of reason to root for her and believe in her, and at times her immaturity is OFF THE CHARTS, but still, I don’t hate her.

+Creature Feature+ Hornhoove’s, massive steeds from Colleen Oakes imagination are essentially Hell Horses !! Forget the benign and relatively tamed Thestrals at Hogwarts — instead these evil equines are more in line with the demon horse Entei from Rumiko Takahashi’s manga and anime, InuYasha. Reading about these bloodthirsty beasts and how they revel in killing makes me shudder! They’re described in such a vivid way that it’s easy to see just how dangerous they are. Undeniably Hornhoove’s could be listed in Newt Scamander’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them compendium.

+A Dark & Whimsical World+ Oakes describes the many places that make up Wonderland with a light hand, but in enough of a way to establish that this a more shadowy version of the beloved topysy-turvy world. There’s not a whole heck of a lot of whimsy except for how the Heart Palace is described. Oakes lavish party, feast, and croquet scenes are BEAUTIFULLY written. She really wields her words in SHOWING not telling way.

blog queen of hearts alice and cheshire.png+Pack of Cards+ Forget the literal playing card soldiers– here the Cards are actually rankings for flesh and blood soldiers. The different suits reflect their purpose and duties in Wonderland. Heart cards “protect the royal family and the palace”; Club cards “administer justice and organize Execution Day”; Diamond cards manage the treasury and deal with all things finance; and finally Spades are “untrustworthy and brutal”, they’re reformed criminals who have “dangerous pasts”. This reimagining of the Wonderland Troops is clever and logical! What’s a bummer though, is that it’s exclusively men. Women, in this world, I guess can’t take up arms and be any kind of warrior. Points off for having some archaic ideas about gender. I mean come on, even in Tim Burton’s movie Alice got battle armour!

+Twisted Prison + Talk about one of the absolute highlights of the book.The warped jail where petty criminals and the most notorious traitors are locked up is described in fantastic detail. The grim Black Tower where the “worst of the worst” is kept, feature grimy cells where tendrils of black roots snake their way through the mouths, eyes, noses, of prisoners and poisons their mind. This is pretty much Azkaban, but without the dementors. This is some horror gold here, and another reason why I opted to give this three stars instead of two.

+Ssssslippery, sssneaky, advisssser + Think Varys from Game of Thrones, and Jafar from Aladdin. We’ve all seen the cunning, corrupt advisers who are in the pocket of whatever King or leader they have– and with their silky, oily, promises actually wield considerable power in the kingdom. Cheshire, the King of Hearts adviser is indeed the man from this trope. However, he’s written with a very natural rhythm to his dialogue and has one of the most distinct voices of all the characters– plus his physical description is especially memorable. He’s clearly based off the taunting and uncanny grinning cat from the original Alice in Wonderland.

His face was long and flexible as if he had no underlying bone structure. . . lean and sinewy, he towered over the King, radiating malice. There was no one above Cheshire but the King.

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-MEH-

– Insta-Setting Just Add Water – The whole feudal medieval era is a little generic. The Wonderlanders believe in many gods, and follow the caste systems from medieval Europe. Not a whole lot of originally in terms of place and time period. STILL, it’s an improvement from the Wonderland interpretations in the abysmal Looking Glass Wars and the disappointing and meh Splintered.

– Dialogue and Exposition – Some of the dialogue and conversations between characters are MAJORLY canned. There’s also many moments where backstory is literally spelled out for us readers in long winded paragraphs of exposition. Oakes mastered the abilities of showing and not telling with scene, but she just hasn’t really got it going on with plot– come on Collie, trust us, we readers aren’t Tweedle-Dum-Dums.

+ YAY +

+Puppy Love But No Geometry + Yup, there are absolutely NO love triangles. Praise be. Dinah’s feelings for Wardley, a knight in training who she grew up alongside is definitely in the realm of a schoolgirl crush. Her fervent love of him is more of the side of soapy teen drama, but considering how he’s not a tall, dark, and dangerous, stereotype that insults her or treats her awfully, this is a positive point for the book! Wardley also doesn’t play games with Dinah’s heart– these two are very much teens in love, or infatuation, or whatever, they just want to snog and be together. It’s all good.

+ Completely Bonkers + Dinah’s little brother, Charles, is just shy of 15 and he’s known throughout the kingdom for his fantastical creations– yes, he’s the Mad Hatter in all his glory! Don’t jump to assuming he’s just another Johnny Depp from the Tim Burton movie, Charles is not just younger but he’s a heck of alot more earnest and innocent. His rhymes and sing-song observations and both creepy and endearing. He’s a total sweetheart and makes a great contrast to Dinah’s suspicious and prickly character.

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-ANNNND MEH –

– Vittoire Must Die- Dinah absolutely RESENTS her suddenly legitimized half-sister Vittoire. After being bestowed with the title of Duchess of Wonderland and given fancy apartments, in fact, Dinah’s later mother’s quarters, Dinah is furious. She despises everything about Vittoire, but honestly from my angle, everything she hated most about her had to do with her physical appearance– her flowing goldy locks, waifish figure, and her elaborate wardrobe. Yup. She also claims to hate how Vittoire is shy and doesn’t speak much, but really it’s just a shallow excuse. It’s really hard for me as a reader to HATE Vittoire when she’s done absolutely nothing cruel or infuriating. It just reflects badly on Dinah as a character and makes her seem irredeemably jealous.

+ Papa Don’t Preach – Yes indeedy this category is both negative and positive. First of all, The King of Hearts is a drunken womanizer who’s all about the glory of the battlefield and conquering– think, Robert Baratheon, but without his sense of humor, and a his pompous arrogant head shoved up his arse. Dinah had an incredibly close relationship with her mother, the previous Queen of Hearts Davianna, and because of her resemblance to her mother who died far too young, things were strained even more between her and her father. She and her father never got along, he was consistently critical and harsh to his daughter and that rage he feels towards her grows exponentially once he introduces Vittoire to his court. Estranged and abusive father-daughter relationships can be written excellently into storylines, think The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz. Here however, his misogynistic ways, violent temper and his relentless hatred of Dinah is not just incredibly drawn out, but at times in creeps into the territory where it’s seen a farce , it’s so exaggerated that it’s laugh out loud funny at times, something that Oakes PROOOOOBABLY didn’t intend. Just take this one line from one of the final pages of the book:

Argh! That foul little creature. I will throw her in the [Black] Towers and forget that she was ever called mine!

Still, I got a kick out of this book. Guilty pleasure, full and fulblog queen of hearts coverl. But you know what, that’s OK! I love me some escapist lit to tumble into. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece or the most intelligent, articulate and creatively mindblowing creation. Really, I dig these ‘just for fun’ novels to read in between more serious ones or more intricately crafted ones. Queen of Hearts was a real trip. One that was infinitely more energized and interesting than other young adult Wonderland duds: Splintered by AG Howard, and The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor.

 

 

images from goodreads and google images

Saturday Selection: Survivor’s Club by Michael and Debbie Bornstein

review published on goodreads April 11th 2017
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5 stars
Of the hundreds of thousands of children who had been delivered by train to Auschwitz, only fifty-two under the age of eight survived. They were the world’s best hiders. I was one of them.

What. A. Bombshell.

Survivors Club is a novel you don’t want to miss. The narrative prowess of Debbie Bornstein is something to behold. She’s able to channel her father Michael Bornstein’s history into a heartbreaking, harrowing and thrilling account. Rife with vivid details and jaw-dropping horrors, we’re pulled into a family’s struggles to fight against the tides of oppression and their desperation to survive, at all costs during the Holocaust. The resiliency young Michael showed, that same spirit that embodies his extended family, is incredible and moving.

Many numbers cropped up time and time again in the story. Seamlessly blending historical facts with the prose of a story such as in the following excerpt:

Thirty-four hundred Jews lived and worked in Zarki before the Holocaust. Less than thirty returned. My family accounted for almost all of them. We were an elite club of survivors, with luck that had conquered all the odds.

This is classified as Young Adult, but it’d be a disservice to not read this if you’re an adult or “past a certain age”. The story is so universal and so powerful that it’d bound to shake you to your bones and leave you thinking about it long after you read the last page. Perhaps the most moving of all is the surprise happy ending, all one hundred percent of it, and the realization that it is completely true. Survivors Club is a tale of triumph that makes you believe in miracles! 🙂 and continues to spread the word and keep the oral histories going of one of the greatest atrocities to ever happen in plain sight.

That family heirloom [the silver kiddush cup], once buried in my parents’ backyard in Zarki, now stands as a symbol of faith that can’t be broken , no matter how great the test. Two generations after the Holocaust from one survivor, there are four children, and eleven grandchildren. There are hundreds of thousands more from other survivors and escapees. Hitler did not wipe out a religion. Today, our sense of identity is stronger than ever.

Now that we’re just about halfway through 2017 I can say without a hesitation that Survivors Club is a not to miss read, and one of the highest recommendations I have for the year.

If you were as taken and captivated with this as I was, I suggest you check out another child survivor’s Holocaust memoir: Bread, Butter and Sugar by Martin Schiller.

 

Skip It: A Darkly Beating Heart by Lindsay Smith

originally published on goodreads on March 15th 2017

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Why am I so intrigued by this life?
Maybe it’s the anonymity– the sense I am not myself.
I am uninhibited as Miyu. People expect me to be sour and hateful, and so pay me no mind.
As Miyu, my hatred can run free.

1 star

I’m absolutely obsessed with the anime/manga InuYasha (just ask my boyfriend Ryan or ANY of my gal pals). It’s referred to as a “feudal fairy tale” and it follows the adventures of high-schooler Kagome Higurashi in modern day (errrm well, actually, circa 1990) Tokyo. One morning at her family’s shrine she’s inadvertently pulled down the Bone-Eaters Well by a demonic centipede. Kagome is dragged down the rabbit hole and is spit out in the “Warlord Era”, 15th and 16th century Japan– also called the Sengoku Jidai period. And proceeds to go on a whirlwind adventure with half-demon InuYasha, a cursed monk Miroku, a playful fox demon kiddo named Shippo, and a demon-slaying prodigy named Sango who’s seen more than her fair share of tragedy.

So when I heard tell of a new YA story A Darkly Beating Heart about another Japanese teen being transported through time to the feudal era I was FREAKING out!

WELL unfortunately, Reiko is no Kagome, and A Darkly Beating Heart is no InuYasha. *sad face* So if you’re looking for that, turn back now and crack open one of those mangas instead. It’s far more satisfying and infinitely more exciting, terrifying and hilarious.

inuyasha

In keeping with the title A Darkly Beating Heart is a very dark and heavy read. This may be triggering for some readers as Reiko OFTEN completes suicide and seriously harming herself. She actively cuts as a way to cope with the extreme anger and anxiety that she harbors inside of her, and she talks a lot about it, and spends a lot of time describing what the sensation is like for her.

This is definitely a read for a more mature YA audience. Reiko’s mental illnesses are tastefully handled BUT a little bit vanilla and by the books. It’s as though Lindsay Smith did a lot of reading on the mindset of teens with mood disorders and self harm tendencies and slapped together the most commonly reported influences and how it manifests itself. To give you an understanding of what this is like, had Lindsay given Reiko anorexia her experience would completely be ALL about Reiko being a “perfectionist” or having a poor relationship with her momma– two VERY prominent influences, but by far not the ONLY experience. But uh nope. Reiko’s revolves around cliches and what’s most common.

Take this scene:

My scars are gone.
My thighs are blank. A cold, pale surface, unmarked.
No. No. Those scars were my history. My memory. How could they just be gone? The pressure swells against my eyes. Tears blur my vision as I search my stomach and hips. But there is nothing. None of the beautiful cuts I wrought the day I found out that Chloe had moved on, or the day Hideki came home from Iraq for good. Who am I without my scars? Who am I without proof of my suffering?

Reiko is an 18-year-old hurricane of rage– her college plans didn’t pan out (she got wait-listed) ; the girl she had a fling with during a summer art camp disintegrated in a hot minute (and Rei, needy, clingy, constantly angry Rei got dumped for some punk rocker babe who definitely had it more together); and she’s had a notoriously rocky relationship with her elder brother, Hideki. She ends up going to stay with her uncle, aunt and cousin Akiko in Shibuya, Japan to take a break from the drama back home in Seattle, Washington. Reiko gets roped into a her glamour girl cousin Akiko’s project to launch, aki *LIFE* rhythm, her attempts to brand herself as a rising j-pop star and idol. With a trio of young twenty-somethings Mariko, Kenji, and Kazuo, Reiko is dragged along to an Edo-period village called Kuramagi, the backdrop Akiko insists on for her interviews and music videos.

Reiko has a laundry list of grievances of all who’ve hurt her and wronged her. Very little of which might I add is explicitly said in the book. The synopsis says she’s bullied in her highschool but we never see one SINGLE incident of any classmate being cruel to her. Honestly, she doesn’t even come across as a misfit. Soooo why is she so freaking miserable? Because she’s such a negative & hateful girl!

Reiko is NOT AN EASY character to like. Being in her negative headspace and endlessly looping thoughts of how PISSED. OFF. SHE. IS. made me want to punch her in her boobs. Her hate is one-dimensional and considering how that’s the trait that MOST describes her, it’s an EPIC fail. Reiko is angsty, judgemental and FATALLY self-righteous. She victimizes herself and throws herself a pity party on every page. She doesn’t EVER entertain the thought that she is in ANY SHAPE OR FORM RESPONSIBLE OR ACCOUNTABLE FOR HOW SHE FEELS. Cripes I wanted to throttle this jerk!

In keeping with how it’s the Big Bad Mean World VS Lonely Broken Little Reiko, she goes on to say that she spent so much time with Chloe, her summer lovin’ girlfriend, because “She. . . possessed me.” ACTUAL quote from the book. She goes on to muse, “I wanted to change myself. Into whatever she wanted me to be. Anything to be loved. To be needed. Then I would have the power. Then I could possess her too.” Talk about melodramatic.

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At first, upon reading the summary it was exciting to see that she identified as bisexual and how she’s a woman of colour but those little check boxes of diversity aren’t enough to redeem the novel. In fact, Reiko kinda seems to hate that about herself. Her sexuality I mean. Consider this one scene she has with Kenji, an ENDLESSLY patient and kind guy who tries to be friends with her:

Kenji is quiet for a few moments. “But you do, um…You do go for…” He winces. “Guys.”
I stare at him.
“It’s okay if not. It’s just–” His shoulders draw forward as he curls around his drawing. “I saw how you and Sierra talk, back at the inn, and I thought maybe…”
The tightness inside of me is imploding, crushing down hard, turning into a diamond of hatred. “Is that a problem if I’m bisexual?” I ask. “So what if I like boys and girls?” The darkness flashes through me– the rivers and rivers of blood. I raise my hand in front of me and imagine it drenched in red. It feels sticky, throbbing, alive. Yes, this is what I’m after.”

 

Akiko is depicted as a ditzy and haughty wannabe pop princess. Her friend Mariko spends her time punching in trashy romance stories on her cellphone and playing shy and sweet when she’s not desperately trying to kiss up to Akiko. It’s not hard to see why Reiko dislikes both of the girls, but her extreme hate for them is WAY out of line. It only makes Reiko seem like an unapologetically hateful person. Which, uh she is. Which, BEE TEE DUBS isn’t exactly a lovely quality that makes us as the readers root for Reiko. One afternoon at Kuramagi Reiko steps off the forest trail while out with her Akiko and Mariko while the three are tromping around trying to film footage. She finds a sort of shrine inside a hollow, and a curious little object in it: “I spot a stone: black speckled with gray, round on one end, curved, shaped like a comma. The buzzing in my head mingles with the sounds of rain. Something inside me shifts– a weary sigh, a head falling against a pillow after an exhausting day.”

Then, she finds herself transported back in time! OMG! To Kuramagi while it’s at the height of the feudal era! Holding, then dropping the rock allows Reiko to time-jump from the past back to her present. In Kuramagi she inhabits a woman named Miyu– a gal who is angry AF (like Reiko!), disliked by every single person who meets her (like Reiko!), and who openly hates said people and wants to punish them and hurt them (like Reiko!).

Maybe Miyu’s revenge can help me in my life here, too. She’s focused in her hatred. She’s in total control. If I can master my plans as Miyu, then I can master my plans as Reiko, too. I can make everyone pay.

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Finding out Miyu’s backstory is one of the things that kept me reading A Darkly Beating Heart, and while it turns out to be a pretty darn shocking and tragic tale it’s also not completely original. It reveals what a warped, twisted, girl Miyu was, and makes Reiko start to see sense that she doesn’t want to become equally crazy AF. Finally. But before that, Reiko spends every waking moment either living out Miyu’s life in Kuramagi (Having sex with a hot samurai! Scrubbing the tatami mats! Wishing her dad and every single villager screws themselves and go to hell!), or being a moody and argumentative Reiko. Especially to Kenji and Sierra, the two people who constantly go out of their way to be inclusive and kind to her, and who genuinely care about her. For some godforsaken reason.

They have insightful and positive advice that challenges Reiko’s defeatist and straight up miserable and bratty AF persona. It’s BEYOND frustrating that Reiko refuses to take it to heart and opts to continue on her path to destruction. Take this fascinating scene at a Shinto Shrine in the Kuramagi Village

“He’s [the priest] trying to teach you about the . . . dual nature of the kami. He wants you to understand that every kami -every spirit- has two natures, all right? That when you respect them, then they are more than happy to love and nurture and care for you. But he is worried you have a–mmm, how did he phrase it? A darkened neglect in your heart.”
I laugh like dry leaves rattling. Yeah he’s really got my number there. “Whatever. It’s not like I believe in that shit.”

Kenji makes a strained expression. “It doesn’t matter what you believe in, Reiko. If you feel angry, if you’re destructive, then you draw anger and destruction to you. Your mindset creates your reality, no matter what you believe.

* the bold emphasis is my doing

Her sexy samurai boy toy in Miyu’s world ALSO has his two cents

“We are all defined by our past,” Jiro says. “Our choices and circumstances have made us who we are. It’s all there, carved into us indelibly. But . . . it is not our present. Nor our future. That’s what we control. It’s what we choose to do with the past that’s entirely up to us.

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I will say that Miyu intrigued me. If it weren’t for her storyline, and Reiko piecing together what happened to make Miyu so hated and vengeful, I wouldn’t have had any incentive to keep reading. We find out that Kuragami village is in fact, cursed. There’s a darkness to it that comes from Miyu’s lingering spirit, which, as it turns out possessed Reiko when she came into contact with the rock and continued to carry it around everywhere. So again, Reiko’s actions are justified as being NOT HER entirely, but AGAINST her. Once again we’re expected to see Reiko as a poor little victim. Not buying it. She was far too proud of the violence and pain she inflicted on everyone around her, and totally got her rocks off imagining causing MORE hurt and hatred to spread. Consider her reaction when she speaks with the Kuramagi museum historian, who helps her fill in the gaps and tells her the WHOLE story about Miyu.

“The younger sister [Miyu] –that demon– she doesn’t drink the poison. The blacksmith dies, but she lives. Then she goes to her sister, Fumiko, and tells her– ‘Now we are even.’”

“So she seduced her sister’s husband just to get him to kill himself?” I ask. “Why?”

But I already know why. Because I have that same blackness roiling in me like hot tar.

The ending of this novel is rushed to say least, and attempts to slap a bandaid over the mess Reiko made and make us cheer for her. But it’s hard to go bananas over a girl who assaulted her ex-girlfriend’s new girlfriend, stalking her and then smashing her head with a glass bottle, and who spent hours designing bloody, gorey, and hateful collages of her peers and her school being hurt and punished. It’s hard to feel any kind of happiness or even a SEMBLANCE of liking Reiko, especially considering many of her conversations with people who befriend her are disgustingly emo.

Look at this exchange between Kenji and Reiko more than HALFWAY through the book.

“Hey. Are you okay?” Kenji touches my arm, gentle.
“For fuck’s sake, Kenji.” I curl my arms around my legs. “Stop trying to be my goddamned nanny.”

He lowers his pencil; his face looks so soft, like if I punched it, my fist would sink in.
“Can I just try to be your friend?” he asks.

Friends. Right. Everyone wants to be friends with the antisocial whackjob.

“I’m not a good person, Kenji,” I tell him.

My final verdict? Don’t waste your time reading this novel. It’s a broken record of self-loathing and resentment, featuring an entirely flat and unlikeable protagonist, and a cheap and flimsy ending that doesn’t fit the tone of the book. There’s no pay off to get from reading this book. If you’re looking for an infinitely better ancient Japan and time travel book, you’re infinitely better off with InuYasha.

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all images from google images

DNF Friday: The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

review originally published on goodreads March 19th 2017
those of you new to bookish blogging DNF means: Did Not Finish

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2stars

it was just OK.

The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco is a very ambitious book, it has all the chaotic energy of a modern art splatter painting– worth a few glances but ultimately an eyesore. It’s for that reason, among others, that I did not finish this novel . It tries to be too much, too fast, and too intense, far too soon.
I enjoyed Rin’s first YA book The Girl From the Well a take on the onryō legend in j-horror flicks and urban legends. In this new series Rin’s story is even more fantastical and has an even heavier paranormal spin. The premise is in a fairytale-esque world, when boys and girls come of age (naturally when they hit their thirteenth birthday) they can exhibit supernatural powers– many of the population does. However, not all enchanters/witches/sorcerers or what have you are treated the same. No, the dark asha are largely feared, disliked and ostracized. 13-year-old Tea has a rude awakening when she inadvertently calls her recently deceased big brother Fox from beyond the grave. Now, a bone witch as they’re called in vulgar and hateful way (it’s much like the insult mudblood for muggle born witches and wizards in Harry Potter), Tea has to leave her village and begin an apprenticeship under a formidable dark asha, Lady Mykaela of the Hollows.

Bone Witches were not a respectable trade.
They said bone witches gave sleeping sicknesses to innocent princesses with the prick of a finger, and they said bone witches ate the hearts of children who strayed too far into the forest.

They did not truly serve the Eight Kingdoms as they claim, because they dabbled in the Dark runes just like the False Prince and his Faceless followers. Bone witches raised armies from the dead. They could raise daeva–like the one that had killed Fox.

The concepts here really are really well thought out and elaborate but the scale of the world is just too too enormous. There are a whopping 8 kingdoms (each with a different leader and factions) modeled after a few different countries in Asia, the Middle East, the African continent; it has a fairy-tale storytime sense of diversity to it. Sweet, but in the way that Kindergartners are when they queue up for story time. It’s very one-dimensional and cliche–by trying to make this GRANNNND original world, instead The Bone Witch is a cluttered fantasy, that would be more effective if the world were streamlined to one or two specific places. Similarly, there are way way way too many characters. Talk about breeding like rabbits. It’s a challenge to keep track of who is who and why what they are important. There are far too many “extras” clogging up each chapter. Take two of the villains, known as “Faceless men” (Umm, are you there Jaqen H’ghar? It’s me, Vicky.) one named Druj laying attack to “Yadosha City-States” and the other, Usij warring with “Daanoris” in the mountains. Talk about a brain teaser, and tongue twister.

The terminology is also excessive. In the attempts to brand her own world and develop cultures, creatures, magic and what have you, Rin relies on using made-up words, written in italics, but never really actually explains WHAT the words are until later….IF EVEN AT ALL (there are four words I can think of that have not been defined in the pages I read). Daevas are demons?? Maybe?? And a hua is what?? A Hawaiian muumuu?! Beats me. Rin never says. These words comes hurling at us, rapid fire. If they were paintball pellets, this book would have me covered in bruises! Yowch.

When the word asha is finally explained, get ready for a serious case of exposition! Many pages in the book are dedicated to the 4-1-1 regarding these witchy women. There are, it turns out THREE types of asha, Lady Mykaela explains:

Performing asha, known for their dancing and their singing.
 

Fighting asha, known for their magic and their prowess.

The third are Dark asha like us, the strongest of them all.

Sooooo in this world, these girls are basically geishas and priestesses with a pinch of witchcraft.

The made up language, Old Runic (what seems like a hybrid between Game of Thrones High Valyrian and Tolkien’s Elvish Quenya) is used with heavy-hand, but at least Rin uses it to reveal:

Asha means two things… .The first is ‘truth’; the second ‘spellbinder.’ That is what we must do– we bind the magic and force it to do as we command.

Which kinda contradicts the whole easy breezy beautiful covergirl entertainment schtick Rin mentioned earlier. Yup. Ok. Moving on.

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By page 100 I had too much of headache to continue reading onward, so I’ve dropped it and chalked it up to a did not finish. There’s not nearly enough incentive to keep me invested in a story that is a big, sloppy, mess. The chapters alternate between Tea first discovering her necromancer abilities (at the tender age of 13) , and then a flash-forward into the future, where Tea is living it rough in a cave, at age 17, after having been disgraced and kicked to the curb by her people for some as of yet unknown reason. A curious Bard stumbles upon her and as they share soup and tea by her fire, he coaxes her story out of her. I DO like that prose Rin uses in those to slowly unravel the tale. But these chapters–italicized and written with a deliberate, careful rhythm that’s very poetic– are far too short. The make the other chapters in the “present” day, the main storyline, sound clumsier and more disjointed . It’s disappointing that they seem more like a supplement, one that had they been given more prominence, the Bone Witch would be a much more successful story.  blog bone witch 3

As it is now, the “muchness” levels of Bone Witch are off the charts. I can’t bring myself to read a single page past 106. I’ve read too many ho-hum books recently to waste my time on this bloated and chaotic story. If you want to read a story that takes this concept– a young woman learning how to wield her supernatural abilities, and embarking on a quest to keep her world in balance– check out Malinda Lo’s YA novel Huntress. It has a lush, richly described culture and impressive world building, and layered and compelling characters, a focus on female-friendships and a touching and earnest romance between the two teen girl leads.

 

first two images from googleimages final image from rinchupeco.com