**spoiler alert** This is the second time this year that I’ve read a book and gone “Huh, this sounds awfully familiar, didn’t I just read something li...more**spoiler alert** This is the second time this year that I’ve read a book and gone “Huh, this sounds awfully familiar, didn’t I just read something like this?” (Even though I read Dare Me about six months ago.) I’ve said before that I don’t have a problem with authors exploring similar premises, it’s all about how the author specifically approaches the material. I’m not a huge Lauren Oliver fan (I’ve only read Before I Fall prior to this, still not sure if I want to read if I want to read Delirium, but I am interested in her middle grade books), but the concept sounded interesting, and I wanted to see how the concept of “teenagers who do stupid, dangerous stuff because they’re bored” would work in someone else’s hands.
I will say this about Oliver, it’s that she’s a very atmospheric writer. The way she portrays the town of Carp does feel very realistic, and particularly the way she gets into why something like Panic is so tempting to play, even for a character like Heather. I really liked the fact that while Panic is known to the authorities and adults of Carp, it’s largely kept secret by the high school population, mainly through threats. It’s not to say that the adults encourage Panic, but it’s not spoken of until someone gets hurt. (That would have been an interesting angle to see, but seeing how recently Panic was invented in the book’s setting, there’s not a generation gap for the adults to look the other way.) And I do see the appeal of the game to these teenagers. They’re stuck in a dead end town, with few opportunities to get out, so a get-rich-quick, winner take all game would be tempting. And obviously, they can’t really do the same events over and over, so the stunts continue to ramp up in danger. And because they’re teenagers, they feel like nothing bad is going to happen to them—even in cases like Dodge, who has seen the consequences of Panic. (I’ve seen a few people complain that the money pot of $67,000 is too much for a poor town to cough up, but given the rules Oliver sets, it’s feasible to reach that amount at a dollar per student per day.)
Not to mention that Oliver is a very evocative writer, especially when it comes to the various stunts and once they begin to escalate. The whole time I was reading Heather’s individual challenge, or the freeway challenge, I was sitting there going NOPE. NOPE NOPE NOPE. (Speaking as someone who’s been hit by a slow moving car while jaywalking, it’s not fun why would you cross a freeway blindfolded oh my god. That whole sequence, I was expecting someone to become a smear on the asphalt.)
And it’s why I don’t really fault Heather or Dodge for getting into the game in the first place. Although Heather does decide to join the game on a whim, her participation isn’t so much as proving how brave she is, but rather, her only way out of town and away from her junkie mother. I’m not a fan of why Dodge joins the game, but I can understand that he does want revenge for his sister, and feels that the only way in doing that is either killing or incapacitating Ray Hanrahan. And what I also like is that even though better opportunities are given to Dodge and Heather, they’re still stuck in the mentality that Panic is the only thing that’s going to get their goals. I really liked that Dodge is angry about Big Bill Kelly helping out his family and offering to pay for Dayna’s therapy; it made Dodge feel more realistic to me. I even liked that Heather felt that she wasn’t worthy to stay with Anne and her nice house. It’s a very unexplored mindset, in that Heather and Dodge want to prove themselves worthy of being adults and caretakers, but they can’t see anything beyond their methods to fix everything.
I liked both Heather and Dodge fine. They’re not spectacular leads, but they’re not terrible either. (And points for them not hooking up, but we’ll get to that.) I do like that they’re not likeable leads—I think YA demands that main characters have to be likeable, and I don’t necessarily agree with that. I liked that Heather has dubious reasons for joining Panic in the first place, and though I don’t like why Dodge joins, again, I understand it. I just wished they had more personality. With Heather, you do get the idea that she’s had to grow up fast, and that she cares a lot about her sister. And Dodge is just an angry kid, who’s had to watch this little town take away the only thing he’s cared about and he’s going to play their stupid game to blow it back up in their face. But other than their motivations, there’s really not much to either lead personality-wise—I never got a full grasp on either Heather or Dodge.
I didn’t like the supporting cast. I would have hated Nikki, mainly for the “I’m going to backstab my best friend because I wanna get out of here” gambit she tries to pull throughout the book, but she’s slightly redeemed by the fact that she’s the one who tries to stop Dodge. (Girls can be friends without being complete bitches to each other, people!) (view spoiler)[And then there’s Bishop. I liked him. I was rooting for him to get together with Heather. And then it’s revealed that he’s the one in charge of Panic this year. And that he didn’t really want Heather to play, but she did and now he has to put her in even more danger so no one can expect that he loves her. For the record, Heather’s personal challenge is Russian Roulette, and her father committed suicide via gunshot wound to the head.
WHY DOES HEATHER END UP WITH BISHOP? WHY? WHY THE HELL DOES THIS BOOK END WITH THE TWO OF THEM KISSING AND HAPPY TOGETHER? I don’t care how much they say they love each other, if anyone pulled that level of psychological torture on me, no matter what the reason, I would tell them to fuck off and get the hell away from them as fast as I could. Bishop doesn’t even give a reason as to why he didn’t try to resign his position when Heather joined! (hide spoiler)]
(view spoiler)[This leads to my problem with Panic overall. For a book that spends so much time in the beginning setting up that “This is a game with consequences, and even the winners have to deal with the damage that they’ve caused,” there are no consequences in this book. Everyone walks away with a few superficial scars, Panic is going to continue for another year and they all lived happily ever after. I’m not saying that this should have ended with Heather dying in a fireball, but everyone gets off lightly. Bishop commits arson and endangering several lives, and gets community service for his trouble. No one ever realizes that Dodge sabotaged the car Heather drives at the end, and he gets to live grumpily ever after.
It’s especially glaring with the fact that with every year, the challenges in Panic get bigger and more dangerous, and yet, interference from the authorities is almost a non-issue. It’s mentioned at several points that someone informs the cops, but there’s really nothing done on the part of the town. And this could be chalked up to “Carp is a dying town, the cops don’t really care” except that the discovery of Little Bill Kelly’s body sparks a massive investigation, and Panic is brought up several times by the police.
This a book that needed to end with consequences, or at least an escalation to the point where the authorities would have to intervene. Again, I don’t want every character to end up in either a wheelchair or a body bag, but there needed to be something. And preferably not Heather making out with Bishop. (That is my biggest problem with the whole book, because no. Just no.) (hide spoiler)]
I really don’t know if I can ultimately recommend this. I am giving it a three star rating, mainly on the strength of Oliver’s prose, but I really didn’t like the developments of certain plot threads. (Nonspoiler version: I don’t think Heather should have ended up with anyone, the book would have worked fine without tying up romantic subplots.) If you like Oliver’s previous YA books, there’s a good chance you’re going to like this; however, if you’re unfamiliar with her work and do want to start with Panic, I would say you’d have to make up your own mind. There’s things that I liked about it, but as for a personal recommendation, I’d have to go with something else by her. I don’t outright hate this book, but the ending left a bad taste for me.
*Digital ARC provided by Edelweiss* ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
You know how I keep saying that I really don’t know what to expect from this series? Because every time that I think “Oh, here’s what the predict...moreWell.
You know how I keep saying that I really don’t know what to expect from this series? Because every time that I think “Oh, here’s what the predictable route is going to be for the next book,” there’s suddenly a massive plot shift with the next volume and I’m sitting there going “Oh my God, this is so much better than what I thought it would be.” This is kind of the opposite version of that—it’s not how I thought that the story was going to move along, but this didn’t really gel with me completely. This seemed to rush the conclusion to Claire’s story and I just didn’t feel it as much as I did with the first three volumes. I still enjoyed reading this, but when I got to the end, it was like “That’s it?”
It is a conclusion with Claire’s struggle directly, and I do like that she does get everything she’s wanted to do throughout the series—she gets to go to university, still keep the children in her care, and Andrew Malvern will be waiting for her, along with a patent. But how she finally gets those things is so happenstance, that it lessens the impact of their importance. I needed more buildup and conclusion than just Claire rescues Count von Zeppelin and he took a liking to her. I really wanted an emotional payoff for Claire, that she’s proven to the world that nothing is going to stop her, and it’s not here.
It also doesn’t help that the plot of this book is even further distanced by anything that had been leading up from the previous three books. To be fair, Isobel Churchill’s involvement with the Canadian Inuit tribes had been mentioned throughout, but given everything that had happened in Magnificent Devices, it felt like there had been a massive plot thread dropped in between books. Instead of the Spanish Kingdom and a not-dead-yet Lord James Selwyn catching up to the flock in Canada and making their final stand there, we get enterprising business men trying to start World War I a few decades too early by trying to assassinate Count von Zeppelin, and an incredibly extended subplot about indigenous tribes and land rights that literally up and leaves the plot with barely any resolution. (Can I have an Alice Chalmers spin-off story dealing with that? Please?) And again, it’s not that any of these plot lines are bad, it’s just…there was so much that was unresolved from the previous book, that to kill off the major antagonist we’ve been dealing with for at least three books, kill off his business partners and there’s no mention of any other parties that may be gunning for revenge, it feels like a massive cop-out. I mean, on the one hand, I do applaud Adina for killing off James so unexpectedly, but there’s so many loose ends that needed to be addressed and we don’t get that here.
And there’s the whole subplot with Alice trying to find her father, which is similarly unresolved and actually fairly underdeveloped. Once the flock finally arrives in Edmonton, Alice sets off to find her birth father, and we soon learn that Fredrick Chalmers is suspected of sabotaging the Dunsmuirs’ diamond mines. If the whole plot was focused on the diamond mines and the land rights and the oppression of indigenous tribes (particularly apt given what we learn of Lady Dunsmuir’s ethnicity, which again: where the hell did that come from?), I would have been fine with this. But it’s initially set up as “this is the main plot” and then the Count von Zeppelin plot comes in and smashes it aside. The two plotlines never quite gelled for me, and I really got confused as to what was happening. (And a massive missed opportunity, if you ask me. Examining the Inuit land rights in the veil of the Victorian era would have been fascinating, especially when you bring in characters like Isobel Churchill and Fredrick Chalmers and the implications of Isobel Churchill being vehement about indigenous rights and facing off against Lady Davinia Dunsmuir.)
It also doesn’t help that we don’t get to see either one of these plot lines (aside from character introductions) for a good half of the book. The first half of Brilliant Devices is devoted to one of my favorite plot devices : the love decahedron. Alice has fallen hard for Andrew, who’s all jealous because Captain Hollys kissed Claire, who’s all confused if she’s still in love with Andrew after all of this. The reason that I didn’t mind Claire’s back and forth with Andrew and James was her situation was presented as “Society has bound me in such a way that I can’t publicly pursue Andrew. If I can break off the engagement, sure, but for now, not happening.” (And also because James was a massive rampaging douchebag.) Here, what we get is Alice continuously thinking, “Oh, Claire’s a lady and she’s so fancy and she’s danced with the Prince Consort, and knows what fork to use and I’m just so plain in my greased shirt and I hate wearing corsets and frippery and Andrew would never look at me.” The thing that I loved about Alice and Claire’s friendship is that even though they do come from very different worlds, they still respect and admire each other and bond over engineering and mechanics! And yeah, that’s still in here, but it sucks reading about Alice brooding over her perception that “Andrew could never love meeee!” OH AND points off to you, Mr. Malvern: I don’t care if it’s ‘only right’ that Claire was kissed by another man, WHY THE HELL DID YOU KISS ALICE? JUST TO MAKE CLAIRE JEALOUS? The only way I’d feel better about the entire resolution to this was Alice and Andrew figuring out that they do work better together and Claire ended up with no one because she don’t need no man. That would have been fantastic. (The only saving grace about this whole affair is that when Alice confesses about her kiss to Claire, Claire’s reaction is “Well, at least he’s got good taste in other women. I’m not jealous.” Bless.)
(I have to touch on Gloria Meriweather-Astor here; she is the daughter of the main antagonist of this volume, and a former classmate of Claire’s. Basically, I still don’t know why she plays such a major role in the events, because Claire’s so far removed from the upper class halls of London and I honestly don’t remember Gloria showing up until this point. BUT when Claire starts to give Gloria the cold shoulder, thinking her to be nothing more than a brainless “meringue,”Gloria’s the one to tell Claire, “No. I know what you think of me, and it’s the same thing my father and his associates think. You all think that I’m vapid and naïve, but there’s so much more to me.” If there’s anything that I will champion about this series is that even though this begins with Claire being built up as “not like the other girls,” this does validate a lot of different female characters and steadily moves away from that attitude.)
There’s so many dropped threads of plots that I’m really sad that we’re probably not going to see their full resolution. Like, Alice’s finding her father and reconciling with him—given that the entire Inuit tribe flies off before the climax of the book, we never get a full resolution or even an explanation from Fredrick Chalmers in why he’s been integrated into this tribe. (Side note: the Inuit huts are actually half-buried air ships. Part of the reason why I needed more of them.) All we learn is that he crossed Ned Mose and he’s been keeping tabs on Alice ever since he left. Alice is rightfully angry about this, but there’s still no emotional payoff aside from her rescuing her father and half-brothers from hanging. There’s so much there that isn’t explored, only barely touched on. (Hence why I want an Alice spin-off.) And I still have no idea why Meriweather-Astor wanted to start a war aside from profiteering.
Again, it’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy reading this, because I did. It’s just when these plot points showed up, I was sitting there thinking “Okay, what? But…okay.” This felt more like a jumble of plots and the resolution to most of them are so rushed that everything that had been leading up to the ending didn’t have much impact on me. It’s not that the plotlines came out of nowhere (see Magnificent Devices; now that was a left field plotline) And it’s kind of a problem because the next two books are going to be about the Mopsies in six years, and I don’t think that there’s going to be as much of a focus on Claire. I want more of that emotional pay-off to her story, and here it feels like “Oh, well, she gets to go to university anyway! And she’ll be able to keep her operations in London! Everyone wins!” was decided at the last minute.
It’s not as well-crafted or awesome as the prior two books, and it’s not a bad read—for all of the meandering about with the love decahedron, it moves fairly quickly. But the mish-mashed plot and rushed resolution just didn’t stick for me, and I felt more disappointed than happy. I am still holding out hope that the entire series resolution will be better, but it depends on how things develop. In the meantime, bring on the Mopsies. (less)
I have a feeling that I’m going to eventually shell out and pay for physical copies of this series because it’s OMG SO GOOD. As in, I’ve told multiple...moreI have a feeling that I’m going to eventually shell out and pay for physical copies of this series because it’s OMG SO GOOD. As in, I’ve told multiple friends, “No, you HAVE to read this” and it’s a lot easier for me to shove something into their hands instead of sending a download link and hoping they’ll buy the other books. (For as much as I’m loving this series—and I am!—you have to read books 1 & 2 together to really get into it.)
And the big reason that I’m really loving this series is how unexpected a lot of things are about it. This whole series could have been a very straightforward steampunk romance with Lady Claire torn between Lord James Selwyn and Andrew Malvern, with the orphans being a mere subplot. That’s what I was pretty much expecting from Book 2 onward. And even here, I was expecting that the plot of Magnificent Devices was going to be “Claire makes it to Canada, but she has to maneuver Lord James’s machinations and cover for Dr. Craig until the appropriate time.”
I wasn’t expecting to get Wild West steampunk with outlaw sky pirates oh my God. And even then, I was thinking that the Ned Mose plotline was going to be just there for an opening action sequence, and then it turned out to be the entire plot of the book. And it works. While the first two books certainly had very epic action sequences, a lot of the plot moved around Claire and Andrew developing technology, and Claire combating Lord James’s marriage intentions and not so much on Claire’s fearsome reputation as the Lady of Devices. I like what’s done here, by derailing the plot to spend some time building up this world’s version of the American West. And it’s kind of a breather plotline without feeling like massive filler to put some distance between Claire and England. There’s a lot more room to for the characters to develop, especially since so many of them are out of their elements.
Not to mention, it’s Wild West steampunk, which in my reading I haven’t really encountered. I know it exists, and I know there’s a lot out there, but especially in YA, the focus tends to fall into the more fashionable city aspect (because, as I said for the first book, GOWNS AND CORSETS WITH NONFUNCTIONING GEARS OMG). But it’s something that I really want to see a lot more of, and not in bad Will Smith movies. And the thing that I really like on display here is the cultural and technological attitudes. It’s not just “Oh, those Texicans are crude and crass,” but there’s specific attitudes that really play a lot more to Western sensibilities. There’s a much heavier emphasis on the railroads—making Claire and Andrew’s invention even more profitable than its application on the British railways—and a much more openness for automatons and mechanized prosthetics. It’s not to say that these concepts haven’t been in the previous books, but they’re very briefly mentioned and never really show up in the plot. And Claire’s both fascinated and unnerved a little by all of this technology and its possibilities. It really says just a lot about the period, and the cultural differences really add a lot to this book. (And can I just say, with the characters finally getting to Canada in the next book, I want steampunk logging industries.)
So. Alice Chalmers. One of my slight issues with these books so far is that Adina will introduce a character and really build them up, but they don’t really stick around for more than a few chapters—see Dr. Craig or the Churchills. And it’s not that they’re unimportant to the plot, but they leave a big impression that you feel the lack of their presence as the book goes on. So, I really wasn’t expecting Alice to stick around after she initially helps out Claire. But I’m happy that not only does she play a pivotal role in the plot, but that she sticks around and joins the cast. I love how Alice and Claire immediately bond over their shared love of mechanics, and that Alice doesn’t really hold with her stepfather’s actions and outlawing around the town of Resolution. And that it’s this attack on a fairly defenseless airship that makes Alice turn her back on helping Ned Mose and focus on getting out of Resolution. I really enjoyed Alice’s character, she makes a great foil for Claire. (I do have to say—and this is more in the next book, but it pops up here too—can we not with a love triangle with Alice, Claire and Andrew? Can we please not? It makes Alice less awesome.)
I really like that the “flock” is getting so much more development as the series goes on. Tigg got the bulk of the character development in the last book, but this is really a showcase for the Mopsies and Jake. I had never really gotten a good handle on Jake, he seemed a little indistinguishable from Tigg and Snouts, but I liked that this started with Jake betraying those onboard the Dunsmuirs’ airship in order to save his own hide. And that we don’t really know what his full motivations are (aside from saving himself) until the end. I do want to see the fallout from this, because I really don’t think either Tigg or the Mopsies are going to let Jake slide without some punishment in the future.
But the Mopsies really shine here. They were interchangeable in the first book, and in the second, you got to see more of their separate personalities. Here, you can really see how Lizzie and Maggie are growing up, and that means that they’re not always going to be of the exact same mind. I really like Lizzie, and that she’s more headstrong of the two. I like that she comes up with most plans, and even though she’s more pragmatic, Lizzie is willing to go along with whatever Maggie wants to do to keep her sister happy. It’s not to say that Maggie’s a bad character—I really love that Maggie has a family now, and she’s not going to let anyone destroy their “flock,” and God help those who try. (I was looking up the other Shelley Adina books and there’s going to be a second quartet in the Lady of Devices series AND AND AND SIXTEEN YEAR OLD MOPSIES ARE THE LEADS. YES.)
And the supporting cast is fantastic. I really like the Dunsmuirs, and how remarkably chill they are about Claire’s hidden talents and the situation they’re in. I mean, sure, they’re upset and angry by being taken by sky pirates and Davinia faints a lot, but that’s not to say that they don’t have a plan on how to get their ship back at all, or that they’re sitting around and wringing their hands the whole time while Claire’s off rescuing everything. (The plan fails, but points for trying.) Heck, Lady Davinia gets a few good awesome moments throughout the book, despite her acting like a typical Victorian noblewoman. (And apparently, she’s a Inuit princess which isn’t brought up until the next book? Again, this is a slight qualm I have about the book, there’s very little character description until someone randomly brings it up. It feels like “Surprise! They’ve been a POC character the whole time!” I’m not complaining about POC in steampunk, it’s just I would have liked to known that upfront instead of going “Wait, what? It’s awesome and all, but what?”)
(view spoiler)[And the ending of this book. As I said, there were a lot of things that I was expecting going into the other books in this series. One of them being that Lord James Selwyn was going to show up and force Claire to reconsider breaking off their engagement, emotionally and socially manipulating her in front of the Dunsmuirs. (One! One member of the peerage to see through James’s bullshit this is all I want.) And this happens. Right before the train taking Claire and James to San Francisco blows up. I had to sit there, staring at the page going “Hold up, what just happened. What is going on here I CANNOT EVEN.”
I did not expect this book to end the way it did. It’s such a left field ending that it actually works. Mainly because there’s several reasons for the train blowing up and we never get a definite answer. Was it because that James and his financiers had processed the coal wrong and it’s a genuine accident? Was it sabotaged by a third party? Did James sabotage the coal in an attempt to frame Andrew? Because he would, seeing as James is a complete and utter doucheschnozzle. Also, he’s totally not dead. That’s not a spoiler, it’s my prediction, because there’s no way we’ve got through three books and then BOOM! He’s dead, it’s over. There’s another book, and even though it could be focused on Ned Mose and his crew catching up to Claire, I think that would be more of a subplot. In conclusion: James Selwyn is totally not dead and is still a massive manipulative douchebag. (I need to stress what a douche he is.) (hide spoiler)]
There’s so much to this book that I haven’t touched on—for one thing, I really wanted more done with the Navipo village because omg Native American steampunk yesss. (Pacific Northwest Native steampunk in the next book, oh please oh please oh please.) There was a lot with Alaia and her family that I wanted to see more with, and they felt somewhat underdeveloped. I wanted to see more with the Texican rangers and the Spanish settlers, particularly given how things have turned out in this universe’s American history. I would have liked to have seen San Francisco, but given the end of the book, that’s not happening.
I just have such a fun time reading this series. It’s not as dense as Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate universe is, but it’s just as fun and imaginative as hers and I think Adina explores a lot more possibilities than Carriger has to this point. (That sound you heard is my best friend’s brain imploding because I’ve just said that.) And Adina manages to pull a few surprises in what could have been a very by-the-numbers cash-in series, and really develops Claire into a heroine that I not only enjoy, but care about and I want to see her eventually succeed. I’m having an absolute blast with this series, and here’s to the next book! ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I’ve touched on the fact that I have on-off depression in at least one other review, and that this is something that I’ve dealt with since middle scho...moreI’ve touched on the fact that I have on-off depression in at least one other review, and that this is something that I’ve dealt with since middle school, being the result of relentless bullying that went on for a few years. Hence also why my self-esteem is fairly shot as well. I’ve been fortunate enough to not have gotten to the point of being actively suicidal, but I’m not going to ignore the fact that I’ve given it thought numerous times. That also started during middle school, after a particular bad day when I just didn’t want to deal with it anymore.
This is what I mean when I say that there’s a thing in a book that makes me go “Oh God, that is/was my life.”
Yes, I will admit to chuckling during Elise’s opening suicide attempt, but I don’t fault her reasons for doing it. (Look, she’s googling how to cut herself and she’s got the Jeff Buckley cover of “Hallelujah” blasting; I’m not being callous towards her, but it’s so overwrought that I kinda found it funny.) Because when you have that bad of a day, to the point where the only point of your existence is to be pushed around by others, I completely understand why Elise does what she does in the beginning.
Elise is an immensely relatable character. She does want to stand out, but she goes about it in all the wrong ways at first, and then stumbles into Her Thing by happenstance. And when things go wrong for her because of her skills and love for music, I really liked that Elise’s immediate reaction is “It’s me, isn’t it? I’m too special, and that makes people jealous of me, so being special is actually bad.” Because that feels completely realistic (and a little too on-the-nose for me) reaction to me. And she also has to deal with the consequences of her actions from that. I really love that this shows Elise as a flawed, teenage girl who doesn’t know quite what to do, and that she’s going to mess up along the way.
(Tangent the first: I’m really not kidding when I say that the bullying that Elise gets hit a little too close to home. I did have a specific bullying target—look, I’m a big girl, I deal—but as I got older, it became more about that I was the weird smart girl who kinda kept to herself and would always listen to music when I got the chance. The scene in the cafeteria where the other girls make Elise clean up their mess? Yeah, that actually happened to me for a full semester. Trying to stand up to your bullies by telling them that you’re better than they are and having that turned on you? *raises hand*)
And I love that Elise literally stumbles into Start, and gets dragged into this club Wonderland where she finally finds out her Thing in Life. And even then, when she’s starting to hang out with Pippa and Vicky and Char, she’s incredibly intimidated by them. She wants to be their friends and hang out at Start with them, but at the same time, the social indoctrination of high school is crippling Elise’s own development. And again, I love that. I love that even though Pippa and Vicky do sweep Elise under their wing, she has to work at being friends with them, and deal with the fallout that later occurs in the book. And I absolutely love the idea of Start. Not that I probably would have gone to anything like that as a teen, but I love the idea of this underground club that there’s no real social or dress code to get in, you just have to pass Mel’s standards. And speaking of stumbling, you have Elise stumbling into DJ-ing. I really liked that it’s telegraphed early on that Elise grew up on music and listening to her dad’s records, and she can put on a killer playlist, but it doesn’t mean that she’s a stellar DJ from the first go. I liked that she grows into it, that people notice her raw talent, but she has to work at it initially. It’s the smaller details like that I picked up on and really enjoyed.
(And for tangent #2: A Note to YA Authors. If you’re writing a book focusing on a character who loves music, please remember that music trends are changing rapidly, and we really don’t live in the era of “You have to stay in ONE genre ONLY because records/cassettes/CDs are expensive” and/or geographical/social influences. (Unless if there’s a plot-specific reason.) Because when I read Elise complaining about she hates Top 40 music, and she listens to real bands like the Smiths and the Cure, I admittedly cringed. Because that has started to become shorthand for “Look how original and edgy I am!” Yes, you and how many other millions of teenage Morrisey fans. Again, to use a personal example, my parents are both massive Springsteen fans, my dad goes for a lot of singer-songwriters and jam bands, and my mother has an open love for Barry Manilow. I have well over thirteen thousand songs (that’s not a typo) in my music library, and there’s a wild range of genres in there. Luckily, Elise does prove me wrong throughout the book by showing me that she knows her stuff, but the attitude did raise a red flag for me.
My point is, if I’m reading about someone who loves music but openly snubs certain genres, I’m going to raise an eyebrow.)
I also loved how Elise’s various relationships are portrayed. I actually really liked how her respective relationships with her parents is portrayed throughout the book. There’s always a lot of talk about absentee/clueless/busy parents in YA books, but I think this was a realistic view of working parents can leave a teenage girl to do what she wants, and how that can be a bad thing. And even after Elise’s suicide attempt, they really can’t coddle her all the time because real life and other responsibilities are taking their time. I really liked her parents in this book, even though with the one-hit wonder dad and hippie mom and stepdad could have gone too far in certain directions, I liked that they were restrained to what felt natural to me.
So. Char. (Which admittedly, my mind went to Ella Enchanted every time I read that name.) Again, I liked that Elise’s relationship with Char was grounded in the reality of “She’s swept up in this glamorous fantasy, and things are going to go wrong.” I really love the fact that Char is held accountable for his actions, and that he doesn’t actually win. Whenever it was brought up that Pippa had a crush on Char, again, I inwardly cringed. There’s still girl-on-girl sniping between Pippa and Elise but Pippa doesn’t get slut-shamed and Elise does patch things up.
The only thing that didn’t grab me as much was the secondary bullying plotline. I did like the reveal of who was behind it, because it was somewhat unexpected (and actually plays a lot into the whole theme running through the book of seeing people for who they really are). I just didn’t really get the idea that if that many people knew about the fake Elise blog where she’s ‘openly talking’ about suicide, and one of them is a teacher, I think the school staff would have intervened a little earlier than towards the climax. That, and I really wanted more done with Sally and Chava. They’re not really developed enough for the payoff towards the end for me, and I felt like there should have been more meat to their characters before the ending. I get their purpose and involvement in the beginning, but I wanted to see some of the same growth that Elise got.
It’s by no means a perfect book; it did take me a while to warm into Sales’s writing style and the first few chapters feel a little off at first, but once the plot jumps ahead a year, the pacing and writing do pick up a lot. And as I said, there could have been more development with Elise dealing with school and that environment versus the new circle she’s found at Start. That said though, I did really enjoy reading this; it’s realistic, it manages to be touching and funny and even though the deeper issues are at times skirted around, Sales does handle her message really well. I do really recommend checking this out (and also checking out the playlist at the end, which I admittedly downloaded the dozen or so songs that I didn’t already have after I finished the book.) (less)
You know, I’ve never figured out exactly why I tend to gravitate to YA books about “average girls who suddenly become famous for various reasons.” Bec...moreYou know, I’ve never figured out exactly why I tend to gravitate to YA books about “average girls who suddenly become famous for various reasons.” Because personally, getting fame and fortune and everything that goes with it hasn’t exactly been a thing for me. I can see the reasons why I would like these books, particularly the music-based ones, and that’s because I’m a huge music fan. (I’d say that the reason I like these kinds of books in the first place is a holdover from my RPF popfic days, but even then I didn’t like the “Hottest Guy in the band falls in love with the main character!” stories.) But I can see why this kind of story is immensely popular, because it does tap into some internal desire to be noticed and loved by famous people. And even moreso nowadays, because becoming famous isn’t just making that One Audition; there’s so many ways a person and their talents (and photogenic looks) can be discovered now.
But the thing that I really liked about The Funeral Singer is how localized and immediate the events are. The entire book only takes place in the space of a few months, and while Mel becomes a viral sensation, her celebrity status never really moves outside of Fairfax, Virginia, and she’s treated like how a local celebrity would be treated. (Even with the pushy, opportunist local entertainment reporter.) I find this to be really refreshing, as there’s so few of these stories that take a more realistic look at how a ‘viral star’ would be treated, and that the usual lead-up of events is concluded before they could spiral out of control. I also like that although the Grime were a nationally popular band, it’s stated very clearly that they’ve burned out and are so desperate for a comeback that they need to make a spectacle out of the funeral of their keyboardist. (view spoiler)[And even then, it blows up in Zed’s face. I’d like to think that Zed either got kicked out or that Bruno formed a new band following the end of the book, but I’ll get to the ending later. (hide spoiler)] Although I will say that this needed to be longer than about two months in the time span. I like that it’s immediate, but I also think it’s the biggest problem with this.
I do like Mel. I don’t one hundred percent love her, but she’s likeable enough to carry the book. One of the big criticisms that I have with this type of story is that the main character typically gets over her head and we have to make into a diva-esque bitch. (With the possible exception of Audrey, Wait! and Teen Idol, as Audrey and Jen respectively go “Yeah, no.” and don’t buy into their own hype.) And my issue is that, I actually don’t fault a girl getting an inflated ego. I don’t like when she becomes a diva bitch (but that’s what the story needs, so I side-eye it), but I understand that mentality. She’s being told that she’s special, she’s important, and people are listening to her; would you really fault someone for starting to believe that? (I also think there’s a lot of room to talk about how an older mentor figure manipulating teenage girls is bad and creepy, but it needs to be done by really skilled writer.) I get why Mel is overenthusiastic about getting to join the Grime, and her band crush Zed is paying attention to her OMG. My only issue with the progression is that it happens too quickly. Mel only has a few practice sessions and one gig with the Grime for her ego to inflate, and I feel like there did need to be more time for her to develop that mindset.
And it also never feels like we get the full dynamic of the Grime and its members. Sure, we find out why Zed and Bruno are clashing, but we never see how Mel fits in with that, or even any characterization from the other two members. (Interestingly, Mick’s position is heavily lampshaded towards the beginning, that “No one’s really interested in the keyboardist, but hey, publicity is publicity,” and yet we don’t really learn about anyone else in the band aside from the frontmen.) Again, one of the things that I do like is that the Grime feels like they’ve burned themselves out from partying and only Bruno is visibly shaken by Mick’s death. But again, the plot isn’t given a lot of time to explore the aftermath of losing a member, and Mel’s quickly replacing him. And even though a lot of that is due to Zed’s machinations, I think this would have benefited in having the plot develop a little slower.
(Can I mention that I loved the part where Mel’s dad gives her the “People in show business are going to use you and then when you’re not famous anymore, they’ll walk all over you?” speech and it’s immediately followed by Mel finding out her dad has been pushing her fame to boost business at his funeral parlor? Despite the fact that Mel’s dad ends up being right about Zed’s intentions, but it’s a nice gag to throw at the end. These moments I really enjoyed reading.)
It’s partially because of the pacing that I really didn’t see Bruno as a love interest. I didn’t feel there was enough build-up and tension between Bruno and Mel to fall in love with one another, and it felt like “Oh, well, I guess I’m in love with Bruno now!” I could buy the two of them becoming friends and respecting one another by the end, but not as a romantic couple. And honestly? There’s really no chemistry between the two. It felt like a love triangle for the sake of a love triangle, and I don’t think that this book could have really needed Mel to end up in someone’s arms by the end. (Honestly? I thought that Mel was going to end up with Pete—that he was going to reveal that he was in love with her, didn’t think he was good enough for Mel so he ‘crushed’ on her best friend. I did feel like they had more chemistry together.)
It’s not just the romantic relationships that suffer, most of Mel’s friendships and relationships (and various character developments) don’t feel too fleshed out. Her parents are built up pretty well towards the beginning of the book, but once the focus switches to Mel and the Grime, they’re largely dropped. Which would be fine, except for the ending of the book where Mel’s dad says that he doesn’t care about his daughter being famous or not; it needed more set up for that payoff. Lana’s subplot needed a lot more backstory to it. I get that she has a controlling stepfather, and that her extended family relationships went sour, but we’re never given reasons to what happened. (view spoiler)[Which is jarring when her grandfather dies so suddenly. I understand that it needs to happen, but it felt that it needed more time to develop or that Lana needed to have a stronger reaction.
And in general, the climax and ending is rushed. Mel has her outburst at Bruno and is caught on camera, and then Lana’s grandfather dies, and then everything’s neatly tied up at the funeral. The final three chapters really needed to be expanded and given more time, because everything happens at such a fast pace that I had to keep up with all of the details. I’m not complaining what happens in the book, I’m actually fine with a lot of it, it’s just that the pacing feels like “Well, this all needs wrapped up in a bow!” when it actually could have been given a few more chapters. (hide spoiler)]
I did like this book, pacing problems aside; it’s actually one of the better indie ebooks that I’ve read. But given how fast the plot moves and how quickly everything is wrapped up, I think that this could have benefited by going into more depth about the characters (especially the Grime members), and more focus on Mel’s relationships and how that changes in light of her newfound fame. But it’s still a fun little read, and I do recommend checking it out. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I don’t know if I want to say that I’m surprised that I managed to finish this in a day. Because I honestly was sitting there, reading the book, and w...moreI don’t know if I want to say that I’m surprised that I managed to finish this in a day. Because I honestly was sitting there, reading the book, and when I was done, I thought “Oh. Well. That’s done with.” Not because the plot grabbed me, not because the characters were fantastic, I read through this just because there was really nothing better for me to do.
This is boring, bland, C&P’d paranormal YA. For the record, I have no problem with authors coming up with somewhat off-the-wall concepts or going into concepts that haven’t been really explored in certain subgenres. What my problem is when they take those concepts or plot ideas and really do nothing with them. There’s nothing done with the characters, the setting, and the plot is really just window dressing for the one cool thing they’re trying to put on display. And that’s what makes me more disappointed with a book. You can have a concept that’s been done over and over again, but you can make it different and interesting with so many other story elements than just a plot gimmick.
Take the setting in Dollhouse, for example. Had it not been pointed out in text that Cassie had moved to Australia from the States, I would have honestly said this takes place in America. There was really nothing in this book that really told me that “No, this doesn’t take place in North America,” and no, mentioning “footie” once and sprinkling in a few wallabies doesn’t really count. I’m not going to say every character needs to drop “G’day” and “No worries” all over the place; I’ve read a fair number of books set in Australia that do a much better job of establishing their settings without resorting to this. (I really wonder how much of this is due to the American market, generally speaking—the book can be foreign, but not too foreign. And I say boo to that—it’s demeaning to the audience to suggest that “You’re going to be confused and frightened by this cultural shock so we’ll neuter any of that and just blandly remind you were this is set.”
I’d also love to know where exactly in Australia this takes place, because just telling me “Oh, there’s forests and mountains” doesn’t help. I don’t want to have to Google a book setting’s location to get an idea of how things are there.)
I also wasn’t incredibly invested in the Dollhouse portion of the book. Yeah, there’s creepy dolls and toys (and I may have been humming Jonathan Coulton a lot) and circus memorabilia, but there wasn’t anything that really made it atmospheric for me. It felt more like “Ooooohhh something creepy. Boo.” I also just never really understood why things were the way they are here. Jessamine treats everything like her playthings for Reasons and none of her captives try to question her or undermine her. I get why if Henry Fiveash was outright kidnapping young girls and turning them into dolls would be difficult to pull off well and with the incredibly horrific and triggering explorations of that concept in a YA book (paranormal or not) but that would have made more sense to me. Or, considering that this is a paranormal book, why wouldn’t have Jessamine’s magical sleepy-time tea start transforming the girls into actual dolls—changing their body shape, their skin turns to porcelain, and then have the girls slowly becoming more childlike and dollish as time goes on? That’s actually creepy and horrifying and lends a lot more urgency to the situation rather than the girls might be sacrificed at some point. We don’t know when, but it’s a looming threat. (It’s a bad sign if I’m mentally rewriting the book like this.) And what also does not help at all is that we get barely any answers by the end of the book. All we find out is that Jessamine’s been dead for over a century and that the Lamia is after her because of…some reason. I knew going in that this was supposed to be a series, but given how little we find out about what’s going on is more frustrating than intriguing. Why is Jessamine trapped? What’s the purpose of sacrificing the other girls? What the hell was up with the Feast of Fools thing and Henry Fiveash? Is Henry the one to blame or is he a lackey? What the hell was going on the whole time? There’s way too many questions that need to be answered or at least hinted at in this book, and given that I wasn’t really into it, I don’t want to have to read the rest to find all this out.
And the characters were just…eh. There’s absolutely nothing to them that made me connect with them emotionally because they’re just so bland. Cassie is the typical narrator stand-in, Ethan is the mysterious ‘bad boy’ love interest, Lacey was pretty much nonexistent, and Aisha is the rival/good friend. I never got the sense why any of them were friends with each other in the first, much less the idea that Cassie would be so desperate to go find Aisha. Aside from the fact that it clear the suspicion that Ethan murdered Aisha. Of course, it also seems not to matter to Cassie if Aisha’s alive or not, because all she needs to know is that Ethan didn’t do it. And if Aisha is dead (that fatty), then Cassie can be there to comfort Ethan in his emotional distress. Yeah, our very first introduction to Aisha is Cassie standing there bitching about how she can’t understand why those two are together and Ethan’s so hot and look at Aisha’s fat ass hanging out of her shorts. (LAURA SMASH.) AND BY THE WAY, Ethan deserves his punishment in the Dollhouse for making out with Cassie when he’s allegedly trying to find his girlfriend. Unfortunately, Cassie gets off scot-free for that, but that’s okay because she’s the heroine.
I’ve become retroactively angrier at this than when I first finished the book, which I chalk up to being too tired to be angry in the first place. I still don’t think it deserves the “Nuke it from orbit” button, but I really can’t find any reason to recommend this book at all. There’s better paranormal YA out there, and just honestly skip this. (And if you want good paranormal YA set in Oceania, may I recommend some KarenHealey?) (less)
For as much as I berate myself for filling up my ereader with cheap or free YA books, when I find one that’s really good and defies my expectations of...moreFor as much as I berate myself for filling up my ereader with cheap or free YA books, when I find one that’s really good and defies my expectations of self-published ebooks makes me happy. I first picked up Lady of Devices shortly after a post-Gail Carriger binge and going “I need more, I can’t wait until November.” And going into it, I was a bit apprehensive about how things were going to turn out, and if it was just going to be taking up space that I really don’t want wasted. And thank God I was wrong about this.
As with the first book, the thing that I really like about this series is that we have a heroine who has to deal with just barely managing to provide for herself and her charges. Sure, they live fairly comfortable for their class, but Claire’s always worrying about finances and how she’s supposed to pay for her things as well as the children’s. I really don’t see this mindset in a lot of the steampunk books that I’ve read—either the financial situation is nonexistent, or if the main characters start off lower class, they’re suddenly swept up into the upper society set and shoved in Victorian finery. And even though the Magnificent Devices series has its fair share of having Claire still maintaining her ‘rightful’ place in society (heck, the climax of this book has her interacting with Prince Albert), it’s framed with her financial situation in mind and Claire trying to figure out how to look reasonably fashionable while still being able to provide for her charges.
This is a series that’s really not about the awesomely cool gadgets (though there are plenty of those), but rather about the societal expectations and mores, even when the Victorian period has suddenly gained better technology. It’s one thing for Claire to take on a job as not only as a governess (*gasp*), but as a governess to orphans (*gaspshock*). And she still intends on attending the Royal College for Engineering. (*faints*) Again, it’s very easy for a lot of authors to sit there and go “Oh, these silly, backwards thinking Victorians and their stupid misogyny! Girl power in a corset!” But what I like that Adina does frame this thinking as a mindsight largely held by the noble classes and the society upstarts, whereas female scientists and explorers do exist and are held in some esteem (albeit also as aberrations, but I’ll come back to Dr. Craig) by members of the lower class.
And I like that Claire being caught in this situation is the main plot of this book. She wants to reach her own goals, but she knows she can’t achieve them on her own. And even though her loveless engagement to Lord James had me yelling at the ereader, I really liked that Claire was ready to undermine James whenever he tried to block her from taking any recognition in her development of the moveable truss. (view spoiler)[And even when James tries to screw her over for a final time, Claire’s next course of action is essentially “Fuck James, fuck my mother, that’s my invention, Your Highness. We’re out.” (hide spoiler)] I really love Claire essentially because when she’s pushed so far, she’s out of fucks to give and she’s awesome because of it. (Case in point: she goes to a fancy dress ball in her Lady of Devices get-up, says she’s a sky pirate, and cleans out most of the attending gentlemen’s pockets. Oh, and that’s just the start of her awesomeness.)
Honestly, I’ve been apprehensive about a potential love triangle since I read the first book. What I really like here is that Claire doesn’t think she’s in a love triangle—sure, she’s infuriated and confused that Lord James would say he respects her and then turns around and undermines Claire’s actions; she’s infatuated with Andrew, but she can’t do anything because the societal rules would cast even more shade her way if they knew she kissed a man who wasn’t her fiancé. Andrew and Lord James are definitely aware that they’re in a love triangle (well, Andrew is; I think Lord James has his head shoved up too far his own ass to notice that Andrew likes a ~girl~, much less his fiancée), but it’s never shown to the reader as “Oh, no! How shall poor Claire ever choose?” Which, again, is so refreshing to read when I’ve been expecting to mark off the trope checklist.
There’s a lot more going on in this book than the first one in terms of plot and development. I really liked that we get to see Claire moving around in society and dealing with how people see her and her charges. The group of orphans is really more developed than they were in the first book, and not even in that certain kids fulfill certain roles, but also how they’re growing up as well. Again, the inclusion of the kid characters could have been handled really wrong, but I like that Adina fleshes out the kids, not only in terms of personality, but also in how they’re finding their own strengths. I really loved Tigg’s and Snouts’ respective developments over the book, in that they’re the most worried that Claire’s planning on up and leaving them some day. I love Tigg, and how much he’s learning how to do mechanics with Claire and Andrew’s help. I absolutely loved the flock’s trip to Claire’s seaside estate, and how the kids would rib Lord James endlessly. Oh, and the Mopsies are precious and vicious and I kinda adore them both. I think the only one who doesn’t get as much development is Willie, but given what we learn about him, I think that’s going to be saved for the next book. (view spoiler)[(Although I do love how everyone who knows proper manners is horrified that the rest of the children refuse to address Willie as “Lord Wilberforce.” And that the kids’ response to that is “Yeah, no.”) (hide spoiler)]
Oh, so Dr. Rosemary Craig. For the minor amount of screentime that she appears, she really makes an impression in those pages, despite only being there to help Claire out with the device MacGuffin. As I mentioned earlier, despite the presence of lady scientists and adventurers in this universe, they’re still treated as curiosities and not universally respected. For Dr. Craig, this means that her development of incredibly deadly weapons (including Claire’s preferred weapon of choice) lands her in Bedlam with very little hope of being released. I do think that Dr. Craig does disappear from the book a bit too quickly, but I like how she manages to help Claire with managing the lightning gun and its properties. (view spoiler)[And given how quickly she disappears to Canada, my guess is that she makes a repeat appearance in the next book. (hide spoiler)]
(I also really like the Dr. Craig plotline because this is one of the few times I’ve read a Victorian-set sci-fi/fantasy book that doesn’t gloss over Bedlam’s treatment of its patients. Claire’s outright horrified by some of the treatment rooms, and quickly realizes how easy it would be to break someone out from the outside. But the best part is that there’s a one-off female patient who may accidentally give Claire’s plan away, and basically the patient is in there for “delusions” of parental abuse (and implied that the nurses are doing the same). Claire tries to comfort her, gets yelled at by Dr. Craig for encouraging the poor girl’s delusions. Claire responds to this by blowing away one of the nurses, and telling the girl that she’s going to be safe now.
Lady Claire Trevelyan: zero fucks given.)
It’s not a one hundred percent perfect series, in that I do think there’s a lot of character and plot development that suffers because of a big pay-off in a later book, and there’s a lot of tropes that Adina does stick to because they’re somewhat expected in a YA steampunk novel. But I like that she doesn’t treat the lower class as merely background noise to only somewhat impede the main characters, and that Claire has to struggle with living in her current means, plus balancing what society still expects of her. (Even if it’s something as simple as maintaining her social life.) And I really love that we have a strong, intelligent female character and that we’re given so much evidence to back that up as well. And that it’s not just that Claire’s clever with machines; we’re shown how she has to maneuver socially and keep a step ahead of James. (view spoiler)[(And whenever she does admit to Mr. Stephenson about her involvement in creating the moveable truss, it’s more out of frustration of having to dance around the fact to keep James happy.) (hide spoiler)] And the fact that this is kinda of anti-love triangle in that it’s all set up to force Claire into making a choice, but she doesn’t really care about which boy she has feelings for, she has her integrity to worry about.
However, this is an incredibly delightful little series that I discovered, and as usual, I’m sitting here and smacking myself for not having picked this up last year when I read the first book. (To be fair, I only have so much money—yes I know most of the books are like, three bucks, but I have a tendency to go “BUY ALL THE THINGS.” I’ve also resigned myself to the fact that I have to schedule my reading list.) BUT as far as discoveries go, this is one of the best that I’ve come across. It’s a fun read, but there’s a lot more going on in this series than dressing up a historical romance with a few gears and clockwork. I absolutely loved this, and can’t wait to read Book 3. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Let’s get the first thing out of the way: this book is basically pure and utter fluff, with as much as nutritional value as cotton candy. And I’m not...moreLet’s get the first thing out of the way: this book is basically pure and utter fluff, with as much as nutritional value as cotton candy. And I’m not faulting this for being fluff; I do like brain candy novels. And I see why this book is really popular (aside from being a free Amazon bestseller, although that may have something to do with it)—it’s a simple story with a generally relatable character, and as I said, the literary equivalent of cotton candy.
So. Why the two stars? Because, literary fluff or not, I still think that this a book that could have benefited from a few more drafts and a beta pool. It’s not eye-gouging terrible, but I think that this really needed a lot more work before being released into the wild.
A lot of the reason I didn’t love this book is mainly because of the prose and the dialogue. Nobody in this book talks like real people, real teenagers would talk. There’s maybe a handful of lines that do sound somewhat authentic, but for most of the book it just rang false or trying too hard for me. Especially when the dialogue was between characters like the Baldwins, people who should be more comfortable speaking with one another, and it just felt so forced to me. Ditto for Adams’s prose style, especially in how she stops to info-dump the reader instead of working it into the prose more effortlessly. It does feel like it’s very targeted to a much younger audience than YA or even as a middle grade novel, which really doesn’t work given the age of the characters. (Actually, I was describing this to a friend of mine, who said, “Is this supposed to be a Disney Channel movie for tweens?” which…is kind of a very apt description.)
It also doesn’t help much that the characters and settings are incredibly one-note. The characters aren’t outright terrible, but there’s really no growth or development to any of them except whenever it concerns romance. Like Maude, for example. She really doesn’t change very much throughout the book aside from growing a spine in front of her foster parents, but that’s not because of the experience she’s gone through; it’s more due to the fact that she has a bargaining chip. Matt doesn’t have much of character growth aside from “Wow, I really do love Maude!” (I will say this, I did like the fact that the guy we’re supposed to be rooting for romantically is the big superstar, and not the downtrodden underdog. Sorry, I was expecting for Thomas to be the more desirable of the two.) And then you have characters like Lindsey and the Rucherts. Lindsey…look, I just have learned to accept the bitchy blonde girl archetype. I hate it, but I bite my lip and move on. The Rucherts I have a much bigger issue with. Given what we find out later on about Maude’s parents, I really don’t understand why they treat her this way, aside from “Well, we need antagonists and this is a Cinderella story after all!”
Also, the portrayal of France in this book bothered me. It read to me more as being “Being in the countryside stuffed with Francophiles” rather than being in France. Some of it does make sense to me, like Maude overly romanticizing Paris because she’s never been to a big city, but it comes off as so stereotyped that I’m kinda waiting for Bernadette Peters and the entire city to start bursting out into song. (It’s also amusing that there’s this loving description of the Eiffel Tower and how all of Paris loves it since the day it was built, and you know that it would have been torn down if there wasn’t a practical use for the Tower? Yeah.) And the same goes for the New York scenes as well. Again, I get that this is a book that really emphasizes the glamour against Maude’s upbringing, but at times, it doesn’t ring true to me.
So. The music aspect. When the only realistic thing that I can see with this is Maude writing her own lyrics, and that they read like something a sixteen year old girl would write. They also read along the lines of Rebecca Black’s “Friday” rather than something that Lorde or Taylor Swift would write. (And considering that Rebecca Black didn’t write that song, and I’m not particularly a fan of the latter two…yeah. Also coming from someone who has a lot of bad pop music.) I would also like to not that an untrained pop singer, with only five weeks’ work would not get the leading role in an opera (even a somewhat quickly produced production), much less singers who have been training for longer, but in popular music genres. My aforementioned friend, who while not professional, did sing opera for a number of years, and I asked her about this, and she may have ranted at me. As she said, “Just because you can reach those notes does not mean you can sing them in a production.” I do like that there is an emphasis on Maude’s classical background, and that plays into her musical style, but classical and operatic are two different types of music and no.
I also have to mention this, because this is what really had me headwalling: the record company Maude signs with, Soulville, does not have lawyers because the head, James Baldwin (no, really) does not like lawyers at all, and in fact, gets upset that one of his daughters wants to study law. Given that one of the plot threads in this is that a rival singer steals a song Maude and her love interest Matt are working on, this makes NO SENSE whatsoever. And it’s not even the fact of the copyright plot thread, it’s also because as an industry, Soulville would need lawyers to draw up their contracts and handle other accounts and especially since so much of their talent are apparently minors. And it’s not just the Baldwin family who hates lawyers, but it’s stated very clearly that Mssr. Ruchert is a lawyer, and it’s beaten into the ground that he is a horrible person who has abused Maude and so clearly all lawyers are evil. If it were something like James didn’t like getting too involved with the legal side, because lawsuits (and especially one with a doubtful story like Maude’s) take up a lot of time and money. (And for the record, the SAME THING happens in Full Moon o Sagashite, but they say outright “Yeah, there’s no way we can prove that the rival stole your lyrics.”)
(And also, the superstar love interest is professionally known as Matt. Not by his full name, not by a stage name, just MATT. Look, if I said, “The number one pop superstar in the world, Justin” would I be referring to Timberlake or Bieber? Yeah.)
As for the various plot developments, I didn’t hate them…but I wasn’t going “OMG OMG” and I wasn’t really surprised by some of them. And as I said, this is really not that terrible of a book, but it does read like one that’s very much in progress and needed more work or tightening up. I can see why it’s popular—not only in sales, but in ratings—but it just doesn’t work for me on the same level. (less)
**spoiler alert** I’m not going to ignore something that I said in one of my updates for this, and that is that I’ve just read a very similar book onl...more**spoiler alert** I’m not going to ignore something that I said in one of my updates for this, and that is that I’ve just read a very similar book only a few months ago. Not that I’m going to harp on Nick Cutter for coming up with the same premise as Mira Grant (parasitical tapeworm zombies), plus a similar epistolary style, and that these two books are being published fairly close to one another. I don’t have a problem with authors coming up or using similar concepts to one another; there’s very few original ideas left in the world.
Unfortunately, I really can’t not compare the two books, because they do have all of these similarities. And trust me, I tried, I really did. The problem that I had, though, wasn’t because “I just read this” but rather this really felt like the weaker version of what it could have been.
This really didn’t do a lot for me, even without the looming comparisons. Yes, there’s a good plot set-up, a creepy monster, good setting…except that a lot of the plot hinges on the characters making idiotic decisions and that I really couldn’t bring myself to care for any of the characters. And that to me makes for not-good horror. I want a reason to care about these kids, and not just because the majority of them are ‘good’ and innocent.
Not helping is the fact that the main cast of characters are largely clichéd to begin with. We have the Alpha Male Scoutmaster, the Bully Jock, the Nerd, Those Two Kids, and the Requisite Creepy Child. And all these characters would be fine, if they were allowed to move beyond those clichés. There’s really no growth from any of the characters—two of them are killed off before any major plot developments past the invasion of the parasitical tapeworms, and the rest don’t have any character development. There’s a half-hearted attempt via therapy journals by Ephraim and Newt, but they really don’t contribute much to the story, and it just feels like a lazy copyout on the author’s part. I never got the idea that Ephraim had this lingering anger behind him all the time; and of course, Newt the nerd who so desperately wants to be popular. Kent is a bully jock with a bully jock father; I don’t even remember anything about Max (view spoiler)[other than he’s the Final Kid. (hide spoiler)] That’s it. And then there’s Shelley. Shelley is our requisite Creepy Child. How do we know he’s creepy? Because there’s something off and wrong about him. Also, he tortures animals. And likes to be a dirty creepy perv. That’s it, to all of them. And I’d be even fine with the base characterizations…if we actually got to see any characterization in the book. For example, Ephraim: we’re repeatedly told that he has an anger problem, and that he has to keep himself in check all the time. Except that his anger never plays into the plot. There’s some arguments with Shelley and Kent, (view spoiler)[but the only consequence we get from that is so Ephraim can get infected. And after that, his anger management doesn’t even play a role in his infection. We’re left watching Shelley slowly torture Ephraim into cutting himself (WHICH NOPE. CUE THE NOPETUPUS.) and bleeding to death. (hide spoiler)] Or even his friendship with Max—we’re repeatedly told that Max and Ephraim are best friends and would do anything for each other. But again, I don’t see it, at all.
The other problem I have with the characters is that they don’t feel real to me. Fourteen year old boys do not talk nor act like they do in this book—I actually had to double-check the text a few times to remind myself that I was reading about teenagers and not eleven-twelve year olds. They wouldn’t be sitting around innocently talking about superheroes and “Oh, golly, what’re we going to do?”; they would probably have filthy conversations complete with every swear word they can think of. If you want a really good example of what I’m talking about, it’s mentioned that one of their teachers used a joke, “How do you make a hormone? You don’t pay her.” and none of the boys got it, except for Shelley. I can buy maybe Newt not getting it, but not one other boy? Seriously? I know I’m probably focusing on one minor detail too much, but it’s a clear example of why a lot of this book doesn’t ring true to me.
The plot was…okay. The parts where we actually got to see the genetically-modified tapeworm were good and creepy (and I was kinda reading this on my lunch breaks and NOPE), and there’s buckets of gross-out horror. But so much of the plot was “So-and-so is infected now! Let’s go have Shelley be creepy some more.” Yeah, we got the perspective of the infected characters as they were slowly being taken over, but they never felt like actual threats to the dwindling number of survivors to me. And then there’s the various interviews and articles that are interludes between the chapters, which serve to explain where the worms came from. And…again, I really didn’t care so much for that. I wasn’t really interested in hearing about the Pandora’s Box of Science That Man May Not Touch (and the fact that the scientist responsible for the worms is a sociopath. Because of course he is) and the eventual reveal of who was behind that. You know what I wanted to know about? I wanted more to do with the families and attempted rescue efforts to get the boys off the island. We get to see one, in the very distance, but we never really hear or see anything about it until after the fact.
(If I can tangent, I think this book really suffers from being set in the present-day. The plot progression hinges on the lack of technology—the Scoutmaster forbids the boys from bringing cell phones, and they actually listen to him (which brings a whole new snarl of characterization), and he refuses to use a radio to CALL FOR MEDICAL HELP because of his crippling machismo. Every time the interludes would talk about the island being quarantined, all I was sitting there thinking “If it’s public knowledge that there are kids on a quarantined area, with no communication or help, then where the hell is the media frenzy?” Because the amount of knowledge that’s given in-universe about the situation, it’s never mentioned about the public reaction. Again, minor details in the larger plot, but the more I sat and thought about them, the bigger the plot holes got.)
And this is why I say that “I read this book three months ago, and that one was better.” The Troop reads like a pale imitator; someone who had a strong concept but not a strong enough voice to go along with it. A lot of the book feels like it’s written to shock the reader into horrified revulsion, but horror alone doesn’t work for me. I need to care about the characters, about their situation, and when I can’t that doesn’t make a good horror book for me. I’d honestly skip this book in favor for something with a lot more meat to it. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Back in September, I wrote a review with a opening rant about I felt that there’s really no more YA horror novels anymore—there’s YA paranormal, there...moreBack in September, I wrote a review with a opening rant about I felt that there’s really no more YA horror novels anymore—there’s YA paranormal, there’s YA thriller, there’s a combo of the two, but there’s no outright horror novels. Horror isn’t just about something lurking in the dark and then popping out and going “BOO” to me; it’s about that thing lurking in the dark, but you don’t know why or where it is. I’m more of a psychological horror fan at heart, and while I acknowledge that is a concept that you have to pull off really well for YA, I don’t see enough of it. (I’m also of the idea that YA needs a Scream-esque novel that parodies recent developments and making them scary again. Again, really hard to pull off well.) One of the books I had mentioned was the then-just-released The Waking Dark by Robin Wasserman, and how I had seen it marketed as both a thriller and a horror novel (with a lot of “for younger fans of Stephen King!” marketing thrown about). I haven’t really read much of Wasserman’s work—I’ve flipped through The Book of Blood and Shadow at work, didn’t really grab me and I have Hacking Harvard somewhere in the depths of the stacks—but this was a $2.99 ebook, and I had a shiny new gift card.
Was it everything that I wanted in a YA horror book? Well…no, and I would argue that this still falls along the lines of thriller than horror. But I can argue labeling details later.
I did really enjoy this, though. Despite a somewhat rough start (mainly due to the loads of characters in the story), the opening chapters grabbed me right off and I was sucked in. Wasserman really explores the psychology of the dying small town and its dark secrets, and what that means for her fairly large cast. I love that most of these kids have their own reasons for wanting to leave or stay in Oleander, and how living there has affected their lives. And I love that this is a small town desperately trying to cling onto its past glory days, and the events that happened are only speeding up its slow death. (I actually thought that this was a historical novel in the first few pages, until it was said that no, this is the present day; that’s how good a job Wasserman does with creating Oleander’s atmosphere.) I love that this is a town with a dark and violent past, and how history cruelly repeats itself. (view spoiler)[Which, for the record, is a great red herring. Again, up until someone outright said that the main reason for all the violence and bloodshed was a manmade virus, you could read this as either a sci-fi thriller or something supernatural at work here too. And even after that, you’re not sure if the virus was acting completely alone. (And btw, thank God the science angle isn’t vilified. The corporate security funding is, and I’m just glad there’s a stated difference between the two.) (hide spoiler)]
The pacing is something that also works really well whenever you get the reveal of everything. For the two weeks or so in which the main plot takes place, things do ramp out of control, and that does make sense given what we find out throughout the course of things. Again, it’s something that’s really hard to pull off, not only well, but in a way that makes sense to both the plot and the reader. And what really sells the idea of someone’s personal world going insane is the small town angle—specifically, the secrets and grudges that lay buried just beneath everyone’s smiles and courtesy.
If there is a problem with the pacing, it does feel like it takes a little too long to warm up to any of the characters and really connect with them, if only for the sheer number of them. I’m not complaining about the number of characters, but it does take a while to get to know any of them when you have roughly eight main characters and jumping around from person to person. What I like is that Wasserman does take a lot of time to really flesh them out throughout the book. There were several that could have been very easily caricatures or underdeveloped—West and Jule, for example. Whenever we first meet West, it’s very evident that he needs to hide his sexuality for the obvious reason (Midwestern small town, star football player) , but after the shock of the opening chapter, I really liked seeing his regression into anger and keeping his true self hidden. And I loved the flashbacks exploring the complexity of his relationship with his parents; that felt very true to me that he would choose to completely disavow the part of him that everyone thinks is unnatural. (view spoiler)[Also, the ending with him and Jason rebuilding the West family homestead because he can’t leave home; excuse me, I’m going to go lie in a corner and cry now. (hide spoiler)] Jule feels like the natural bad girl with the heart of gold, the one with the bad family that she disavows, but I like that she does care about her family. Jule wants nothing to do with her uncle Scott’s business, and she’s disgusted by her mother and her other uncles, but they’re still her family; they’ve raised her, and taught her all that she’s known. I love that Wasserman explores this factor and gives it that realism.
You also have a character like Ellie King, who’s devoutly religious without becoming overly preachy or saintlike through the course of the novel. I loved Ellie—I loved that she was genuine about her faith without judging people she deemed beneath her. (This is also something I rarely see—devout Christian characters who are genuine about their beliefs and act like decent human beings.) I loved that a lot of her personal journey was based on this toxic ideology Ellie was spoon-fed and how much guilt she has to carry. (view spoiler)[And that “Here’s the baby killer!” line—that is how you pull off foreshadowing. (hide spoiler)] I had been guessing that she had rape-as-backstory, and while her having a miscarriage is very standard, I like how it’s handled in-story. I also really love her dynamics with Jule and Cass—she has a similar relationship with both girls (wanting to be there for people who don’t want to be saved), but I like how the other girl’s respective personality makes it different.
Daniel, Cass and Grace had probably the weakest plotlines of the main characters, but I still liked them well enough. I think that Grace and Cass’s relationship was done really well, (view spoiler)[especially even after finding out the truth, Grace still can’t bring herself to forgive Cass for killing her brother. Yes, it was surprising to have Grace fatally shoot Cass in the end, but it makes sense to me. (hide spoiler)] Daniel’s story, and personal journey, doesn’t really stick out for me. I did like his relationship with Milo, and how Milo helps him get closer to Cass and Jule as friends and people that he wants to save. I really love how Daniel’s relationship with Jule progresses,(view spoiler)[ and I love that this book ends on them crossing the Kansas border with Milo. (hide spoiler)] I just didn’t really like Daniel’s main story of his dad being a Doomsday drunk and Daniel’s only story was really saving his brother from that. (This is also why I thought this was a period piece, given that Daniel gets followed around with “Son of a Preacher Man!”) I didn’t really get Daniel’s fears of waking up with a shotgun and getting blood on his hands, or that he thought he was slowly going insane—it’s the only part of the book that didn’t really grab me.
(And it’s just hitting me now how much of this story is about family. Go go English major powers!)
I really like that this is a novel with no real, tangible villain. Deacon Barnes and Baz are the two closest things to villains in the book overall, and they feel very real, except their story really only relates to Ellie (and Jule to an extent). (view spoiler)[And yes, there’s the mysterious GMT but aside from the opening chapter and the admittance that they were the ones who engineered RG-8 in the first place, they really don’t play a role in the proceedings. (hide spoiler)] This is a book about what happens when that darkness we force out of ourselves, or we stamp it down is suddenly let free. Deacon Barnes is already somewhat terrifying, as we know he’s power hungry and manipulative. (And something that I know can happen all too well these days—see this asshole.) Baz is also someone who could exists all too well in real life, and that even the barest of societal conventions isn’t enough to hold back his impulses. And even with the protagonists—some of the things Grace thinks about doing to Cass are horrifying, especially when you consider the fact that she’s twelve. But it makes sense, considering what she’s gone through.
As I said in the beginning, it’s really hard to pull off dark psychological horror in YA well, mainly because there are some places you really can’t go. That said, I think Robin Wasserman is hitting the appropriate notes, and while this isn’t a creepfest, the exploration of a dark small town psychology suddenly freed of inhibitions is really well done. (As an aside, this is the second book in a week that I’ve finished that the author said they were heavily inspired by Stephen King; I think Wasserman succeeded in this, without feeling like a pale imitation.) I really enjoyed this, and am probably going to pick up more of Wasserman’s work in the near future. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
So, I’ve had the hardest time doing a handsell of this book at work, and it’s mainly for two reasons. The first is when people see the front cover and...moreSo, I’ve had the hardest time doing a handsell of this book at work, and it’s mainly for two reasons. The first is when people see the front cover and realize that there’s comics in this book, and with that art style. Which I then have to defend because, well, that’s the point. And then they ask me what it’s about. My answer pretty much goes along the lines of “It’s a mix between stories of the author’s life and growing up and her dealing with her depression :D”
This is the point where most customers back away and I have to go “NO WAIT ITS FUNNY TRUST ME WHERE ARE YOU GOING.”
Because this is one of the funniest books I have read in a long time, to the point that it took me longer to read since I had to put down the book because I was laughing so hard. And yet, I think it has some important (albeit in an incredibly self-deprecating manner) Things to Say About mental health and depression, insofar that not everyone has a Reason to be depressed and that their journey isn’t necessarily going to be underscored by swelling, inspirational music. I was already somewhat familiar with Brosh’s work (I actually don’t read her blog, but I’ve seen the posts around. I actually didn’t make the connection until I was flipping through this at work and went “Oh, she’s the *Insert* ALL THE THINGS girl!”), but I really enjoyed reading the entirety of this book.
(That said, I can’t tell you the funniest part of this book, but it’s a close tie between the Cake God story or the DInoGoose.) (less)