Okay, so the whole premise of this fic is mad spoilers for the really excellent book Havemercy by Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett. What’s that? You haven’t read it? Well, just… put down your computer right now and go. Even if you don’t want to read this fic when you’re done. Read Havemercy. I’ll wait.
In my opinion there are two kinds of fiction: the kind that has intense heavy themes, allegories, symbolism, etc., and the kind that doesn’t (like crack for your brain). This book is the latter. I personally prefer books that I can pick up, read, enjoy, and then proceed to go on my merry way. Every so often I go for the deep, heavy book, but that’s not common.
Storm Front is the first book of The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, which is a series of fantasy mystery novels. Storm Front follows Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden, wizard and private investigator, as he helps the police solve a series of violent and grisly murders with magical origins.
I love fantasy-set-in-the-real-world books. I adored Harry Potter—who didn’t though?—and the Artemis Fowl books (before they went south, which really means I liked the first one and the premises of all of them). Fantasy is actually my favorite genre; I like it much more than science fiction. The juxtaposition of the real and the unreal makes for interesting and fun reading.
My favorite thing about this book is its voice. When I read something, I like being able to imagine someone actually saying all of the words. Not as in reading the book aloud, but as if the author and I were sitting in the same room and he was just talking and telling me a story. I know I tend to write how I speak, and I love an author who does that too. Butcher really gives Harry a voice by writing the book in first person. And I enjoyed what Harry said/thought and how he said it.
It’s not a very long book—I read it in under three hours—but it’s definitely worth the read. I’m really trying not to give anything away because it is a really enjoyable, shorter book. So go read it!
Young adult literature is just about my favorite genre to read, but YA has a complicated relationship with diversity. Although the number of stories on the market celebrating people who don’t meet the white-straight-cis-abled norm is increasing, they are still a significant minority, and often don’t get the press or love that other books get. Book covers get whitewashed, and authors are still questioned about whether their minority characters are ‘realistic’ in their storylines. That’s where Diversity in YA comes in.
From DiYA’s tumblr:
Diversity in YA was founded in 2011 by YA authors Cindy Pon and Malinda Lo as a website and book tour. While the tour is over, we’ve revived the website as a tumblr! We celebrate young adult books about all kinds of diversity, from race to sexual orientation to gender identity and disability. We hope you’ll enjoy celebrating them with us.
Malinda Lo and Cindy Pon are excellent and talented writers in their own right and their stories are filled with diverse and interesting characters. It’s great to see that they’re also taking the initiative to celebrate other stories like their own.
The DiYA tumblr features a variety of content. Sometimes they recommend upcoming books that feature diverse characters. Sometimes they have interviews with authors who are of color or are GSM or disabled, or whose stories include such characters. And sometimes they just moderate discussions about topics like “Dismantling White as the Default” and “Beyond Diversity 101: On Bisexual Characters and YA Literature”, just to list two examples. They are pretty new on tumblr, as their description points out—they’ve only got about fifteen pages of content so far—but they’ve recommended dozens of books that I would probably have otherwise not heard about, and they are contributing to an important discussion in the literary world just by existing at all. Give their tumblr a look-see and let me know if you try any of the books they’ve featured!
Since everyone in my neck of the woods has been enjoying relatively warm weather, I thought I would discuss a novel set in wintry Wales. I was hesitant at first to review this book because I found it in the teen section. Teen novels are not everyone’s cup of tea. However, I try my best not to discriminate against books based solely on their intended audience. Not every teen novel is stupid and more than a few have a good story to tell. They will often even have interesting heroines and heroes. Paula Brackston‘s The Winter Witch is a pretty cool novel. I’m always up for a book about magic, but what I got was far more than another book about a teenage witch who finds love. I don’t think it’s a stretch to call The Winter Witch a fantastic piece of fantasy fiction, and the protagonist Morgana a well-written and interesting character. Continue reading
The sad tragedy of storytelling is that many of our old myths, legends, and fables are built off sexist tropes and ideologies. The sexy vixen, the wicked witch, and the damsel in distress are all classic tropes in storytelling that have been ingrained so heavily in our culture that the everyday person can easily pick them out and identify them. These narratives that so often portray women as weak or evil are especially harmful when we continue to indoctrinate future generations with these sexist tales.
Can we ever undo what these past stories have done to women? Sadly, probably not, but perhaps we can lessen the effects by re-telling and re-interpreting these same stories from a feminist perspective. The advantage here is that writers can take tried and true narratives and characters that people already like, and then make them more complex. The characters and plots of the original stories are often stereotypes or flat, archetypal characters. Reinterpreting these stories with more complexity has the benefit of causing people to like them more than the original by updating them for a modern audience.
There are many stories that have been reinterpreted over the years through a feminist lens, like Cinderella (Ever After), many of Grimm’s Fairy Tales (Once Upon a Time, Fables, etc.) and many more, but there are so many other stories that need a feminist revamp. So here are five stories that I would love to see get a feminist makeover for a contemporary audience.
Last week I reviewed Broadway Nights, a book I unexpectedly found at good ol’ Half-Price Books. Another book I was thrilled to come across in my used book store’s Performing Arts section was Ken Mandelbaum’s Not Since Carrie: 40 Years of Broadway Musical Flops. I’ve been keen on reading this book ever since I got interested in Carrie, the musical, several years ago, but hadn’t come across it in any of my bookstore visits (why I never looked online for it, I don’t know). I’m pretty sure I actually let out an audible gasp when I saw this copy wedged on the shelf and immediately snatched it up before proceeding to the register smiling like I had some kind of juicy secret. Hopefully I didn’t unnerve anyone too much, but I can’t really bring myself to be too bothered because I was on cloud nine.
To start with, I both love and hate the cover. I’m not fond of the typeface selected and really hate that it’s used for the title, subtitle, and author’s name. It’s just too much, especially for a typeface that’s so decorative and not particularly legible, and it kind of obscures the book’s name. Is it 40 Years of Broadway Musical Flops: Not Since Carrie or Not Since Carrie: 40 Years of Broadway Musical Flops? Yes, the “Not Since Carrie” part is larger, but being written in the same font and having everything perfectly aligned to the left makes it read more like a paragraph than a title. I much preferred the title as presented within the book:
Doesn’t that look nicer? Using different fonts to give emphasis and impact, and actually arranged like a title rather than a block of text? What I love bout the cover, of course, is the photo. Gah, I spent an inordinate amount of time just looking at that photo and picking up little details like the glittering floral design on Carrie’s dress that I was never able to see in online photos of the show.
A little costume porn goes a long way with me, so that saves the whole cover.
Anywho, 300+ words into this review, maybe it’s time to actually talk about the content of the book, huh? The first section included Mandelbaum’s acknowledgements, operational definition of a “Broadway Flop” (No more than 250 performances, no significant productions after closing, only shows which were intended to play Broadway even if they closed before making it to their opening, and only those with a narrative), and some preliminary information about the infamous musical from which the book gets its title.
The concept of Paradise, the idea of some final reward waiting for the good folks after death, is a part of many religious traditions. From Dante’s Paradiso to that episode of Tom and Jerry where Tom dies and St. Peter won’t let him into heaven unless Jerry forgives him, we have a bit of a cultural fixation on the good life after death.
We’ve gotten pretty creative about portraying it, too. It’s not all angels in white dresses wielding harps anymore.
I found the book Broadway Nights at my local Half-Price Books (because you never know what gems you might find in used book stores) and bought it straightaway. It’s a novel written by hilarious Broadway aficionado Seth Rudetsky, and it focuses on a not so young but not quite middle-aged pianist named Stephen who dreams of one day being the music director/conductor of a Broadway show.
I’m a fan of Seth as a comedian/host/entertainment personality, but I didn’t know anything about his writing talent. I’m glad to report that he does a very good job of creating both a story and the characters to populate it. This particular story is told by the character Stephen in the form of a journal which he is writing at his psychiatrist’s request. As such, the writing has a very rapid, stream-of-consciousness feel to it. There’s no lengthy purple prose to wade through, which is nice, and Seth’s big personality comes through on the page as clearly as if he were telling the story directly to the reader.
The whole book is written like this. I can definitely see it being annoying to some readers, and even I sometimes wished he were more focused, but presenting the novel as a journal made it work since a journal is meant to be someone’s collection of thoughts rather than a clearly advancing plot.
There are some interesting comments about masculinity and homophobia in the book (like how he bemoans the fact that he has to call his log a “journal” because a “diary” is for a girl) but it doesn’t feel preachy. Even when he rants against Republicans it’s humorous more than it is offensive and I’m impressed with his ability to make commentary without bearing down on the reader from his soapbox.
The biggest draw, though, is the insider’s look on how Broadway works, from the creation of musicals to their continued upkeep. Seth offers a unique perspective and shares great anecdotes of backstage life, some fabricated, some based in truth, but many which are actual true stories of theatre history and it’s fascinating to read his accounts. (Side-note: Seth Rudetsky should have been writing Smash all along because he actually knows what the world of Broadway is about and makes it interesting.)
I definitely recommend this book. It’s funny, fun, and informative. As a writer, Seth’s personality comes through very clearly on the page and, though the narrative occasionally got off track, it was never boring.
Ransom Riggs’ New York Times bestseller Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is about Jacob Portman, who is not a happy teenager. He has no real friends, school is a bore, his parents are barely parents at all, and his future is both well-planned and depressing. The only interesting part of Jacob’s life is his grandfather, Abe Portman. Abe is a Polish Jew who fought in the later years of WWII. He speaks three languages, knows his way around more than a few weapons, and can tell a tall tale better than anyone.
His tales are mostly about the orphanage on an island in Wales where he was sent as a war refugee. He also keeps a cigar box full of whimsical photographs; one has an invisible boy, another has girl floating, another has a skinny teenager lifting a boulder over his head, and there are many others equally as strange. However, not everything is as sunny as it seems—after a horrific incident Jacob is forced to face his worst fears. Using the clues that his grandfather gave him in his tales and photos, Jacob must find out what made Abe run and who or what he was running from. Grandpa Abe has a secret, and Jacob is determined to find out the truth. However the truth may be just a bit… peculiar.