“Carnival of Souls” by Melissa Marr

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Melissa Marr’s books are twisted, violent, and unpredictable. After “Wicked Lovely,” I wasn’t sure if I was prepared for “Carnival of Souls” and after reading it, I must conclude indeed I wasn’t indeed. A new world of daimons and witches completely swept me off my feet.

The beauty of Marr’s style is she is able to build worlds that have unusual magic and social norms. It’s actually the social norms that govern her fantasy worlds more than the magic. The norms affect what relationships the characters are able to have versus what relationships they desire. The caste system of the daimons impacts friendships, romances, and alliances in unexpected ways.

Many people are forced to work together and usually the relationship isn’t entirely positive. Someone usually is working the system to their own benefit, and the reader is left wondering how the character’s choices will impact the plot. A Hunger-Games-like battle to the death in the daimon world certainly raises the stakes.

Of course, Marr grounds her fantasy world with a link to the human world as well. One of the characters is a human girl who’s been adopted by a witch father and is aware of witch customs. Her true identity has been hidden from her, and she spends most of the book trying to work it out. However, she is also important to the daimon world as well. Her witch father has taught her to fear daimons and she has to decide which world she belongs to.

Although the girl in the human world should’ve been the most relatable, I found her the most frustrating. She assumes a passive role through most of the plot and although this isn’t entirely her fault, her obedience does turn her into a weak character. I look forward to seeing how she grows during the rest of the series.

 

 

“Gilded Cage” by Vic James

“Guided Cage” is a fantasy book with an intriguing structure. I’m still thinking a lot about it even after turning the final page.

The story follows two families in an alternative Britain. One is a family of commoners without magical ability. The other is a family of magically skilled aristocracy. When the common family is forced to serve their ten year sentence of labour in the household of magically skilled aristocracy, their worlds overlap. And when one of the common children is separated and forced to work in a brutal labour camp, he has to decide whether to fight or accept the system.

The two families with their differences are fascinating. Especially since the story is told from multiple points of view. And when I say multiple points of view I mean multiple. Each chapter is told in third person limited, but which person you get to follow through the story is not obvious and switches a lot. Be prepared for intense cliffhangers where you have to wait many chapters to return to the character’s viewpoint you desire! However, Vic James pulls this off well and I found the different viewpoints added to the story.

This is a highly plot driven novel between the settings of the aristocratic estate and the labour camp. In some sense the overall plot is more focused on how the two groups – the magical elite and the commoners – interact, instead of character-character interactions. However, the macro doesn’t entirely overtake the micro.

There are strong and complex character-character interactions as well. The elite character Gavar with his creepy hold over the commoner child Daisy in addition to a rather tense and unpleasant relationship with his financé comes to mind. This character has a lot going on. Silyen is equally as strange with his creepy magical powers and unclear alliances. However, I found the girl in the labour camp Renie to be more unbelievable. Also the romance in the book (between who I shall not say) wasn’t very swoon-worthy.

Overall, I really enjoyed this read. I wish the ending wasn’t as open as it was, but since this is a trilogy I look forward to reading the rest of the series and learning more about the characters.

5 Gorgeous Children’s and YA Novels Written Solely in Verse

Yes, novels for middle grade and YA audiences written solely in verse! Forget the horrors of long epic poetry, these novels are easy to read with language that flows simply and beautifully in a unique narration style. Each poem contributes to the overall plot, although often they are suited for stand-alone works as well. This trend in kid lit is small, but catching.

1) “Audacious” by Gabrielle Prendergast

Raphaelle is a strong willed girl with a Catholic background. She falls in love with Samir, a Muslim boy. Can their romance overcome their different cultural backgrounds? When Raphael’s art project challenges how society society views women, it comes with some unexpected consequences for Raphael and the people around her. This novel deals with some pretty mature topics and is more for the YA crowd.

 

 

 

 

2) “Inside Out and Back Again” by Thanhha Lai

A semi-autobiographical work about a family of Vietnamese refugees and their trip to the US and their subsequent adjustment to the new culture. This book is suitable for younger readers and the writing is beautiful.

 

 

 

 

 

3) “Red Butterfly” by A.L. Sonnichsen

A book about a orphaned girl with a disability living in China and her illegal American mother who adopts her without proper documentation. This is a story of a girl between cultures who is neither Chinese nor American and is forced to live in hiding. It is also a story about discovering the true meaning of family.

 

 

 

 

4) “Blue Birds” by Caroline Starr Rose

This is the story of two girls who meet in 1587. One girl is from England and has settled in the new world in Virginia. The other girl is from the Roanoke tribe. Even though the two girls don’t share a common language, they become close friends. However, tensions between the native people and settlers become high and their friendship is threatened.

 

 

 

 

5) “Capricious” by Gabrielle Prendergast


Raphaelle is back. This time she’s trying to navigate having two boyfriends among some unusual family dynamics. Definitely YA.

“The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This August I had the pleasure to hear Angie Thomas speak at the Melbourne Writers Festival. Her novel, “The Hate U Give” has been first on the New York Times best sellers list for 29 weeks in a row (last time I checked) and is the most outstanding YA novel for 2017. In fact, this novel has the makings of a classic and I wouldn’t be surprised if it became mandatory reading for high school English class.

When Starr’s childhood friend Khalil is shot by the police after a party, Starr watches her friend die before her eyes. The novel follows Starr and her family in the weeks after the incident and explores whether the officer who murdered Khalil is held responsible for his crime and whether true justice is served.

This novel provides a voice for black Americans and describes their experiences of racism. It has been called the book about the “black lives matter” movement. Before I read this book, I didn’t really understand this movement. I didn’t doubt that police brutality was a thing for a second. However, I didn’t really understand how corruption in the police force effected disadvantaged individuals and communities to the extent I do now.

“The Hate U Give” is eye opening. It is a difficult uncomfortable read, because it deals with painful topics that exist all too well in today’s world. It is a book that promotes empathy and change.

During Angie Thomas’s keynote speech at the Melbourne Writers Festival, she discussed how art can promote change – perhaps even by changing the world. She talked about the teenage audience and how writing books for them can influence how young people think and influence how they’ll vote further down the road. In this sense, YA books are so, so important for promoting cultural change.

After hearing Angie’s speech, I realised that as a YA writer, I had a responsibility to my audience to represent the difficulties of the world fairly and accurately, but also to suggest how it might improve. I also appreciated how Angie didn’t put down YA fiction in escapist genres. She agreed that escapism was important and that there were parallels between escapist worlds with our own.

If you haven’t read “The Hate U Give” I suggest you strongly consider it. It is well written and raises relevant issues to today’s society. It definitely provokes the reader to think well and hard about these issues as well.

5 Things I Learned about Writing from Reading Maggie Stiefvater’s “Raven Cycle Series”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before I read “The Raven Boys” I’d been in a terrible writing slump, where I was working away at my draft in a dull monotony. I’d forgotten why I liked reading. I’d forgotten why I liked writing. And then, when I read the first page of the novel I was hooked on the entire series. Stiefvater is a master of her craft and you can learn so much about what makes a novel work by reading it.

1) The opening lines are brilliant. Stiefvater chooses to start each book with a prologue, and although there is plenty of conflicting information out there of whether to prologue or not, this choice works so well for her novels. The prologues set the mood for the novels and serve as seductive promises of the intrigue to follow.

Take the first sentence of “The Raven Boys.”
Blue Sargent had forgotten how many times she’d been told that she would kill her true love.

BAM. The reader needs to know more. How can someone tell Blue with certainty that she will kill her true love? And why so frequently? And will this even happen? If so, how? And more importantly, who IS her true love anyway? Does she have a true love yet?

The rest of the prologue expands this theme and by the end, the reader is committed to reading the rest of the book. The entire series answers the questions raised by the very first sentence of the book.

The first sentence of the second book in the series, “Dream Thieves” is equally as brilliant.
A secret is a strange thing.

Simple, but effective. In this prologue, Stiefvater breaks into an essay of the different kinds of secrets and how they apply to one of her characters. It. Is. Amazing. The theme of secrets immediately brings intrigue to the novel and promises that the reader will understand her characters like no one else will.

Which leads me to the next point.

2) The books are incredibly character driven. Forget about flat sucky characters that drift around aimlessly and only jump to the plot because the author tells them to. Stiefvater’s characters have so much depth they seem like real people. Gansey, Ronan, Adam, and Blue have their own hopes and fears, secrets, families, likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. Although Noah isn’t as well developed, that’s for other reasons.

In each of the books, the personal motives of each of these four characters are made perfectly clear. Each of them is different. Each of them drives the plot in their own way. And the way they interact together is magical. So much yes.

By the end of the series, I felt a physical ache inside that I would be leaving the characters behind forever. It felt like losing old friends. Fortunately, Stiefvater’s writing a new book about Ronan so I won’t have to say goodbye just yet!

3) The brand of magic is distinct, unusual and kind of quirky. The magic doesn’t fall into typical YA fantasy clichés and is refreshing. Obscurely Old Welsh Kings in the Virginia Hills and Lee Lines are awesome. The novel revolves around Glendower’s burial, a king whose refreshingly not Arthur of the famous legend. There’s an arcane historical element, which I loved and the Latin never gets old.

However, the medieval historical magic doesn’t make this a dry read. In fact, Stiefvater balances this unusual topic with aspects the YA readership loves. Namely one girl hanging out with four hot private school boys in cool cars exploring the countryside. What high school girl doesn’t want to do that? If there’s some weird magic going on, why that’s just a bonus.

Basically, the reader doesn’t have to like history to like this book. The history just sort of slips in.

4) Stiefvater has a clear, concise way of writing. Nothing rambles. Every sentence has a purpose and leads to the next one. The descriptions usually highlight character or the setting and use the perfect words to do so.

I learned so much just by checking out how she starts each of her chapters. There are three main ways she does this:

a) A opening sentence telling you the character and the setting where the action will take place for the scene.
e.g.: Gansey woke in the night to find the moon full on his face and his phone ringing (“The Raven Boys,” Chapter 9).
Clearly, the character is Gansey.
The setting is at night and the reader probably can assume that he’s in his room at Monmouth since he just woke up.

b) A topic sentence that reveals an aspect about the character or setting we’re going to follow for the chapter, almost like the start of an essay.
e.g.: Mornings at 300 Fox Way were fearful, jumbled things (“The Raven Boys,” Chapter 3).
This is a topic sentence about setting.
Or
e.g.: Blue wouldn’t really describe herself as a waitress (“The Raven Boys,” Chapter 6).
This is a topic sentence about character.

c) Or she starts the chapter with Dialogue, often asking a question.
e.g: “Mom, why is Neeve here?” Blue asked (“The Raven Boys,” Chapter 13).

The first two ways demonstrate how to start a scene without ambiguity. It’s helpful to be precise and tell us who, what, where, and why as quickly as possible. Ways b and c also promote intrigue for the reader. These three ways to start a chapter work well.

5) Authentic dialogue. Each character has a way of speaking that’s uniquely their own and showcases their personality. I’ve read before that for good dialogue, the tags aren’t entirely necessary. You should be able to tell without tags that there are different people conversing. Stiefvater’s dialogue definitely meets this goal.

Also, the dialogue is humourous. This in turn, makes the characters more likeable even if they are difficult people.

 

4 YA Books about Sexy and Dangerous Faeries

Or should I say the Fae. Whatever you call them, it can’t be denied. Immortal faeries with powerful magic, cruelty, hot bodies and tricky bargains are causing YA books to fly off the shelves. This fantasy trope still is going strong, although soon it may run the danger of being overused.

Here are 5 great books about sexy and dangerous faeries that you should read:

1) “Wicked Lovely” by Melissa Marr

This is a gritty fantasy book about Aislinn, a teenage girl with the sight. When Keenan, the Summer King, starts stalking her and trying to make her his Queen, Aislinn has to make a series of difficult choices. Keenan is sexy, but dangerous. He doesn’t care about Aislinn’s typical teenage hopes and desires. He doesn’t care about Aislinn’s relationship with her super pierced (and sweet) boyfriend Seth. All this faerie cares about is what he wants. Will he get it?

 

 

 

2) “Lady Midnight” by Cassandra Clare

It’s true: Clare’s latest series in the Shadowhunter world features other fantastical creatures such as werewolves, vampires, and warlocks. However, faeries take a critical role in the plot here – perhaps more than any other creature. The faeries are nearly at the brink of war with the Shadowhunters. When similarly multilated bodies of both humans and faeries are discovered again, protagonist Emma Carstairs gets involved. Her parents were killed in this way when she was a child. Many deals between faeries and humans will be made. The humans will always get the short end of the stick. As Clare excels in writing romantic relationships, faeries are some of the love interests and may form a love triangle later in the series. Ooooh.

Read my review of “Lord of Shadows,” the sequel of “Lady Midnight” here.

 

3) “A Court of Thorns and Roses” by Sarah J. Maas

The romance is the driving force behind this book. You have Feyre, a Katniss type character, who hunts for her family’s survival. One day, in pursuit of a doe, Feyre kills a faery in wolf form in the woods. But it doesn’t matter. Sexy Tamlin drags her to the faerie kingdom as punishment. Feyre has to live at court for the rest of her days. At first, Feyre resents the faeries and worries about her family’s survival without her. However, after she gets to know her captor better… well, romance!

 

 

 

4) “The Iron King” by Julie Kagawa

The first book in this series, describes Megan Chase, a girl who goes to the Faerie world to rescue her little brother who was replaced with a changeling. There she meets many characters inspired by Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” including Oberon and Puck. Of course, there is a dangerous faerie love interest as well. Who? Well, I won’t say.

 

“The Wrong Side of Right” by Jenn Marie Thorne

I have to admit: I’ve always found American elections ridiculous. They start campaigning so far in advance it is absolutely insane. They debate all issues dry well before election night and it becomes more performance than promise. And it completely dominates Canadian news, but I digress.

With the current political climate being what it is in the US, it isn’t surprising that writers have taken inspiration. Say hello to “The Wrong Side of Right,” a YA novel that describes an election campaign.

When teenage Kate Quinn’s mom dies that year, she meets her father for the first time. He’s a Republican politician whose running for president. His campaign team turns a potential scandal into a promotional opportunity. Everything changes for Kate when she is thrust into the public eye, campaigns for causes she doesn’t necessarily support, and meets a family she never knew existed.

In an environment where everyone constantly adheres to party policy, it is hard to know who people actually are and Kate is constantly at risk of losing her identity. Should she stand up for what she believes in even if it opposes her father? Should she trust a boy she’s falling for, even if he’s on the wrong political side? Will she ever fit in with her new family if she’s true to herself?

Despite my poor interest in the subject, I found myself immediately swept up in the political drama. There are clear messages about people, politics, and extreme beliefs and how when they mix together there are necessary compromises.

However, this novel doesn’t just talk about political relationships. The strongest relationships are actually about family and friendship. There’s also a strong element of romance if you’re into that, which I am.

Of course, the most interesting part of the novel was the election’s conclusion. How the novel resolves and how the past election resolved and how they compare… well. You’ll have to read “The Wrong Side of Right” to find out what happens. Let’s just say in lieu of recent events the novel’s conclusion is most interesting.

 

“13 Days of Midnight” by Leo Hunt

When 16-year-old Luke’s estranged father dies, he bequeaths his entire inheritance to his son. This happens to be six million dollars – nothing to sniff at.

However, it isn’t that simple. Luke’s dad was a necromancer. Along with the money, Luke inherits eight ghosts. Eight ghosts who hate his guts and want to kill him so they can go free.

I don’t usually do ghost books and the emo cover really threw me off (so much so that when I was reading this one in public I was like “God, I hope no one asks me about this.” No one did though, so yay). However I’m glad I gave this one a try. It’s compelling yet creepy and Leo Hunt’s voice really captures the teenage vibes. His sentences relate to the real world in such a way that it makes the first person narrative believable.

The main character Luke has a nice character arc and although he’s okay, he certainly doesn’t start super likeable. He can be kind of a jerk actually. He’s got a lot going on with a mom in chronic pain though, which explains some of his stuff. Anyway, it’s nice to see him grow through the novel.

His ally the goth girl Elza though… I don’t know what it is about these books where the main character’s like “ooh it’s a goth girl she’s creepy” and then discovers that the goth girl really knows what’s up and what’s going on and is smart and kinda hot and he was wrong to judge her… Seriously. This goth girl character is becoming a common trope in YA.

Not gonna lie, I liked Elza. She works. But sometimes I wish that instead of the “I judged you wrong you’re awesome” plot twist, that it was more like “I judged you wrong you’re more awesome than I expected but you still have flaws.” I mean, Luke has flaws. Why doesn’t Elza have any either?

The plot was very compelling. So much so that when I was reading it in a busy place with lots of background noise, I became completely immersed and forgot about what was happening around me. Leo Hunt knows how to raise the stakes for Luke so you have to find out what happens next. At all costs. Also, the dog character Ham is hilarious. I laughed out loud. In said public place.

Overall, I really enjoyed “13 Days of Midnight.” And I’m glad I wasn’t born with second sight. Seeing ghosts everywhere would be waaaay too creepy.

 

 

“American Girls” by Alison Umminger

This book is a modern take on “The Great Gatsby” with Manson girl undertones. When teenager Anna loses it with her family at home, she runs away to LA to meet her half sister Delia. Delia is trying to make it as an actress, but despite her beauty, struggles.

On the sets of Hollywood’s D-list, Anna is forced to acknowledge that glittery LA is actually kind of scuzzy. Although not everyone is terrible, a creepy director wannabe hires Anna to research the murderous Manson girls and she becomes obsessed with discovering their back story.

This book is dark, but sometimes I like my books dark like my chocolate. There is a lot going on. The emotional violence in Anna’s family contrasts with physical violence of the Mason girls.

The book focuses on an intense comparison between women. The women include:
Daisy in “The Great Gatsby,” who is stunningly beautiful.
Delia Anna’s actress sister, who is getting too old to really make it.
The Manson girls themselves, whose beauty contrasts with their crimes.
An teenage princess star, who used to be on top but is on her way out.

The main character Anna may be an allusion to Daisy’s friend Jordan in “The Great Gatsby.” Anna is girl who’s in the middle of society, but isn’t the queen bee. Instead, she is on the side of all the action. She still somewhat has her head, even though she’s a little lost.

The comparison between women in “American Girls” left me with questions about why we value beauty in women the way we do. Can we, as women, really live the American dream? Does beauty help or hinder us?

“13 Little Blue Envelopes” by Maureen Johnson

When Ginny’s Aunt Peg dies, she leaves her niece with a little blue envelope. Inside is a thousand dollars to get Ginny started on a trip to Europe and instructions to receive the twelve other envelopes that will instruct her on where to go and what to do next.

Along the way, Ginny learns to come out of her shell, stay true to herself, and uncovers more stories about her aunt. Some of Ginny’s experiences cause her to understand her aunt better or herself better or a combination of the two. Also, there is a love interest.

it was interesting to learn about Aunt Peg, who is a critical character in the book who never appears. Also other forms of art, such as visual art as well as performance art played a thematic role.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. It really captured the feeling of exploring new places and meeting new people and different kinds of tourists. Even though there was a light hearted quality about it, ultimately the novel centres around grief and growing up.