Those of you who watched my First Impressions video on Interference will likely have suspected I was going to love this. I was smitten right from the first page, couldn't get over the voice and the fantastic dry humor, and well, everything, basically. There may have been "delighted jazz hands" in the video, so. . . Basically I said it was on track to be a favorite of 2016, unless it took a nosedive, so now the question is: did it?
Thankfully, thankfully, it did not. Interference was strong from beginning to end. It was warm and endearing and funny, and captured the place-feel very well. As I said in the video, it set up a lot of interesting contrasts well right from the beginning (there vs here, then vs now, us vs them). I can't speak to the Friday Night Lights of it all, as I've never watched it (couldn't get past the nauseating shaky-cam of the first episode; someone tell me if the camera work gets better and its worth sticking around?), but I'd imagine that any YA small town slice-of-Americana that heavily features football probably garners the same comparison.
What I can speak to is the Austen of it all, and I gotta say, it hits Emma notes in very clever ways, much the same way Clueless did: not over-the-top, but with all these little nods and easter eggs for Austen fans, while interpreting and reinventing the story in fresh, fun ways. There's some really smart thinking in using the daughter of a politician to reframe the story of Emma for the modern day -- the theme of manipulation for the greater good and that sense of well-meaning superiority that is such a part of Emma's world fits perfectly with a daughter who has been raised on the campaign trail and in front of cameras. It's one of those strokes of perfect obviousness that is borderline genius — of course! Of course a modern Emma would get her manipulation skills and ability to spin things to her benefit from a politician father! Of course someone whose grown up in a world where people are both passionately fighting for what they feel is right while also being absolutely sharks would pick up some of Emma's puppet master tendencies. It's really a very clever mash-up.
Now, like Emma, whom many readers have MAJOR likability problems with, some readers may never connect to Kate, or may want to jump ship before she learns some lessons and wins her likability points. But as I've always said, Emma is one of my favorite characters, and I relate to her a lot. I relate to her hard, y'all. I've got as much Emma in me as I do Lizzy (that's right, I'm a self-important smartypants who knows whats best for everyone else, but never takes her own advice. Soz!), so I loved Kate from the start. One of the joys of Emma for me is that, even when Emma is getting herself (and those around her. Oops) into colossal snarls, following her own misguided compass, you can always see why she thinks she's right. Her actions, though inevitably wrong, make sense. The same is true of Kate; she doesn't listen when people tell her that she's interpreting something incorrectly, and she doesn't kowtow to someone else's greater understanding of a person's character that they've known their whole life — she knows how things have worked for her in the past, where she's from, and she knows how she'd expect people to react, and why should here be any different? She goes full-steam ahead with her schemes, convinced that she's right and someone just needs to try, and that may frustrate some readers, but I get her — because how do you know if you don't try? And frankly, I like a confident (some may say cocky, I say confident) YA heroine or young woman in general. (I think that's part of the reason that I actually resent Knightley a little bit. He just had to be right. =/)
I don't know what else there really is to say. In many ways, it's a typical, familiar story; that doesn't bother me, because it just makes it seem relatable and familiar-like-a-friend, rather than just the same old, recycled storylines. (And I mean, it is a retelling, so... I expect that feel.) Its main character may put some people off, but I love her; but then, I do tend to love the MCs that no one else does (and I'm okay with that). As always, I'd say just know yourself as a reader: if you're not a fan of Emma, there's a good chance you won't like her rewritten. If you love fluffy, fun contemporary,* you might like this. And if you're not, you won't.
I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments, especially if you've read this or watched my First Impressions and have thoughts on the style! Also, can I hear from some fellow Emma lovers out there? It was many, many years before I realized that a lot of people didn't actually like her (like, seriously, many years. I read it when I was 17, and I think I only realized last year when our read along was Emma. I was baffled(ish), startled, and a little bit heart-broken.) And if you end up picking this book up, please come back or find me on twitter and let me know what you thought!
*Speaking of, the synopsis compares this to Elizabeth Eulberg (with which I agree) and Sarah Dessen, and now I wanna know: is this how Sarah Dessen writes? Is this the kind of story she tells? Because if so, I've been missing out and need to change that. Someone who's read this, let me know, pls!
Initial thoughts: Just under a 5 for a bit of a rush-job on the ending, but for the most part, lurved it. And really lurved Vassa.
Review: Now, I’m goiInitial thoughts: Just under a 5 for a bit of a rush-job on the ending, but for the most part, lurved it. And really lurved Vassa.
Review: Now, I’m going to say right off the bat, this story is certainly not for everyone. It’s weird and it’s odd (and somehow those are different things). The nights are getting longer and longer, even though the clock stays the same (weird), and there’s a talking doll who could eat several times her weight in…well, anything (odd). But more than that, it’s an occasionally non-linear story (something some readers struggle to follow or stay engaged in), where nearly everything is off-putting and slightly discordant—or should I say diskordant, because every single ‘dis’ word that has a C in it (and you’d be surprised how many there are), instead has a K—and this is yet another layer of the strange and bizarre and weird and odd that will be found in Vassa’s pages. And yes, though that may not seem like much, it is a symbol of just how thoroughly The Odd pervades this book. It’s written to make you a little uncomfortable, to keep you more than a little unsettled. Plenty of people struggle enough with “weird” books when it’s just the contents that are weird, but when the storytelling itself goes wonky, that’s enough to drive some readers away.
What’s more, it’s disturbing and it’s dark, and yes, those are most definitely separate things, though they certainly go hand in hand. I mean, there’s a dancing store on giant chicken legs (disturbing), surrounded by a fence of heads on spikes (dark). There are glitter nail polish –wearing disembodied hands (disturbing) who wield axes and are bloodthirsty to tear people apart (dark). There is a missing father who has made possibly one of the strangest fey deals in any story I’ve ever read (no spoilers, but…disturbing and odd and weird), and a half sibling who sends her sister to the dancing chicken-legged store at night, knowing it could very well end with her head on a spike (and hoping it will—dark). There are no cookie cutter happy endings here, where resolution is given to each bit of each story line; where the good guys always win and the bad guys always get what’s coming to them, and any real damage done is undone. Vassa’s world is one that is pretty downtrodden and unsettling even before she gets snarled up in Babs’ murderous machinations*, and even if she should prove victorious and manage to survive her very long nights at BY’s, she still has to go back to that small, unhappy world.
But—there is hope. As with any fairy tale worth its salt, there is some small chance of a silver lining, an improvement in one’s lot. And there is the realization of self that only the really good fairy tales possess, that newfound understanding of one’s own power and competency and agency. And all of these things—these weird, odd, disturbing, dark things—are what drew me in and made me love the book. No, it won’t be for everyone, and the lack of perfect resolution may mean that even some readers who were enjoying the book will feel as if the rug has been pulled out from under them by the end, or as if they’ve invested their time for not enough pay off. But for those—like me—who enjoy the surreal and the bizarre, who like their fairy tales dark and their retellings darker, and who appreciate a good Coming Into One’s Own type of story, you may find it doesn’t get much better than Vassa. It’s fantastical and strangely compelling and has a great voice, and it hits a lot of right notes (the thrills! the chills! the funnies and tinglies!).
I’ve seen some people say it was slow, but you all know I’m not the person to ask about a book’s slowness, because I always seem to love them more when they build and burn and luxuriate in setting the scene.** (Though I will definitely agree with those who felt the ending seemed rushed by comparison, because it most definitely did.) Though it doesn’t seem there are plans as of yet for a sequel, I’m hoping there will be, because I would like to fall into Vassa’s world again, to see what becomes of her and some peripheral characters, and also to see if we get any resolution of some of the weirder storylines—but all in all, I find myself heartily recommending it to those who think they are likely to like the weird things I like, and only cautiously recommending it to those who don’t – and fully curious to know the thoughts of any who do end up reading it!
*Claiming for future bad punk band name… ** To an extent, because there are definitely some books that my godddddd are too slow. And I can not abide info-dumping, which makes a book insta-slow.
Dark and tense and unsettling and brutal, and I'm not sure if there's going to be a sequel, but I think so (hope so?) and will be looking forward to iDark and tense and unsettling and brutal, and I'm not sure if there's going to be a sequel, but I think so (hope so?) and will be looking forward to it. (Not that I'm opposed to a dark, un-pretty ending. But there are still questions to be answered!)...more
In the very near future, I have a Book Chat video coming out about the book trend of 2016 -- dark, gritty YA -- and Kara Thomas' The Darkest Corners c In the very near future, I have a Book Chat video coming out about the book trend of 2016 -- dark, gritty YA -- and Kara Thomas' The Darkest Corners could not be a more perfect example of that. It's part of a new wave of crime novels that eschews the lurid crime-porn approach of previous thrillers and mysteries, and instead seeks to really dig into the idea of good guys and bad guys, and play with reader perceptions and biases in fascinating and complex ways.
Building upon a familiar scenario (creepy serial killer + pretty young girls = Very Bad Things), and then slowly and steadily picking it apart, The Darkest Corners keeps the reader constantly doubting and guessing (and I say that as someone who is rarely kept guessing). There are lots of twists and turns, false starts and sudden realizations, but it's all done in a very believable way, with excellent pacing; things are revealed at just the right moment to keep readers on their toes, and to keep the whodunit aspect fresh and present throughout, without ever feeling overdone or cheesy. Though there are a lot of suspects -- and a lot of suspicious things -- it's not really a "Villain du Jour,"an inexpert attempt to twist things and shock the audience. Instead, it feels very authentic, in the way that communities who are faced with tragedies like this begin to question everyone and everything, and at the same time, turn a blind eye to any answers that hit a little too close to home.
Thomas pulls in real-life crime scenarios, grounding the story even more in something the audience can relate to and recognize (the Casey Anthony case, for example), and spins those real life influences into just-distorted-enough versions to hold up a mirror and reflect the reader's biases back at them; each successive reveal or piece of doubt makes the reader examine how easily things can be distorted, and how biases and extraneous circumstances can override impartial judgement and justice. And -- as the forward from editor Krista Marino points out -- how unreliable eyewitness accounts and memory can be, especially when the damning evidence is gathered through the eyes of a child.
What really elevates the story for me, though, is that it doesn't just rest on being an intriguing mystery, well-told, but also adds in fantastic depth through the character of Tessa, her interactions (or lack thereof) with the people in her life, and the brokenness that so many of the characters deal with that's not even necessarily related to the murders. Though much of the problems in the book of course are related to the crimes and the feeling of insecurity and helplessness that resulted, there are problems outside of that, too, and Thomas doesn't ignore that. Real world, everyday problems like domestic and substance abuse, bad family situations, poverty, mental illness, etc., are all rolled up into the characters' lives and their responses to the murders, just as they would be in real life -- we none of us have just one problem to deal with, and all other problems don't cease to exist just because one bigger one has come along. Thomas uses this to build a story that feels very real and authentic, and much more related and rooted in reality than just another mystery novel. And all of it together builds tension and anxiety in a really good way -- my heart was actually pounding towards the end.*
I have a LOT more to say on this and a number of other gritty, dark YAs, so make sure to keep an eye out for the next Book Chat discussion (which is coming up in the very soonish). Until then, let me know your thoughts in the comments!
Oh, and PS: Some of you may remember might excitement when I unboxed this book & shared its contents on instagram (seriously, some of the best marketing, ever); well, it gets better! The website for The Darkest Corners contains more of the newspaper clippings I was going on about, and a whole bunch of other stuff, too, making the book a more immersive experience! I would definitely recommend checking it out, if you end up reading this. The attention to detail is just. . . ...more
I think this would be excellent for classrooms, for teaching children about concrete poetry or showing them that poetry in general doesn't have to beI think this would be excellent for classrooms, for teaching children about concrete poetry or showing them that poetry in general doesn't have to be stuffy, serious, or full of bad rhymes. Beyond that, though, I think older audiences will find the poems too simplistic and sometimes pointless, and may not be as engaged. ...more
4.5 This had a fantastic opener, and was pretty damn solid throughout. Really enjoyed this, and now it makes me want to dig out my copy of Struck, Jen4.5 This had a fantastic opener, and was pretty damn solid throughout. Really enjoyed this, and now it makes me want to dig out my copy of Struck, Jennifer's debut, which has been sitting around on my shelves since it came out, and see if it's as good. ...more
Say "kitchen witch" and I'm there. (Especially when said kitchen witch tells me, personally, that I should eat nasturtiums, which I love...) There'sSay "kitchen witch" and I'm there. (Especially when said kitchen witch tells me, personally, that I should eat nasturtiums, which I love...) There's just something so. . . charming and quirky and endearing in stories around the theme of kitchen witchery, and this was no exception. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it's like magical realism's more universally palatable cousin (and we all know how I feel about magical realism). Think Practical Magic. Just Say Yes is the even more palatable cousin, actually – the kitchen witchiness is subtle, never beating you over the head with quikry magicfulness, which I imagine many people will appreciate.
If you’ve been around for awhile, or follow my Austen event, you’ll probably already be aware that I tend to find Goodnight’s stories equal parts cute, funny, and sexy; they never fail to win me over and put a smile on my face. This was fun and funny and quirky and cute, as expected. There's charm and warmth to her characters, always balanced by a sharp, incisive humor, coated in a veneer of light sarcasm (never bitter or obnoxious, just witty). She seems to do well at fleshing out her casts, too, with great side/peripheral characters that you always want to see more of (which means you’re seeing just the right amount of them – always leave ‘em wanting more, and all that). There’s a great mother/daughter relationship, and other friend and family relationships and interactions that help ground the story and build it up nicely. There were times I questioned Max, the male lead, and whether he’d really be so gung-ho about all of the goings on, and the way Jade consistently pushes him away, but I still think it worked – and frankly, maybe that's my own biases clouding my perception of him. But it was never enough to thrust me out of the story or make me dislike either of the romantic leads, or their relationship.
Speaking of the relationship, which is kind of a central focus in a romance, this one was sexy and fast-building in a way that could go really wrong and feel like it’s fleeting and meaningless, but it managed to keep from going off the rails into cheesy territory. It's – for the most part – believable, and there seems like a solid-enough foundation and chemistry for it to go somewhere after the book has run its course. Goodnight wisely tests the romance and characters, beyond that initial getting-together/will-they-won’t-they. She gives them obstacles, and opportunities to grow stronger together, which is something that really elevates a romance novel for me. It takes it out of the realm of quick fluff, and makes it that much more believable. On top of all that, there’s a good streak of nerdery that pop culture/nerdom fans will appreciate. All in all, I’m glad to hear there's more in the series AND I totally want there to be an offshoot business, with recipes and label designs and all of it.
Edit: 2/17/17 -- Found myself thinking about this book again today, and when I came to GR to see when Moira's next book is coming out,This book, man.
Edit: 2/17/17 -- Found myself thinking about this book again today, and when I came to GR to see when Moira's next book is coming out, realized my review somehow never made it over here. It's a video one, so I can't embed it, but... it's here if you're interested. (2 years later.)...more