Review: The Drowning by Valerie Mendes

October 31, 2016 Diversity 0, Reviews 0 ★½

Review: The Drowning by Valerie MendesThe Drowning by Valerie Mendes
Published by Simon & Schuster Children's UK on August 1, 2005
Genres: YA, YA Contemporary
Pages: 256
Format: eBook
Source: Bought
More than anything, sixteen-year-old Jenna wants to dance, not just in her studio in St Ives, or in her local class, but professionally, in London, under the eyes of the best teachers in the world. She knows her father will support her all the way; that her aunt will help with the fees and give her a home in the big city. Her mother, however, is a problem. She remains unconvinced of Jenna’s talents and pours scorn on her dreams.

But then a fatal accident blows Jenna’s Cornish life and family apart. Left in her care one hot summer’s afternoon, her beloved younger brother, Benjie, drowns behind some lethal rocks. Blaming herself entirely, guilty and grief-stricken, Jenna puts all her plans on hold. She relinquishes her hard-fought place at ballet school to support her father and their family-run café, valiantly trying to pretend this is the life she wants.

Until she finds Benjie’s diary and starts to probe its secrets. It seems he was being bullied at school; that a pair of twins could have been involved. Jenna finds it impossible to discover who they are and whether they can give her any new details about Benjie’s death.

But a chance meeting with someone who was there with her that tragic afternoon could help. Who is he and what can he reveal? What does Jenna discover that puts the accident in a whole new light?

And will she find the courage and determination to pursue her dancing dream?

Diversity Rating: 0 – What Diversity?

Racial-Ethnic: 0
Disability: 0
Intersectionality: 0

Once upon a time, I knew a website that posted daily about all sorts of free books I could download onto my Kindle and free stuff = good stuff, so I downloaded pretty much all the YA they ever posted about. Then I started reading the books I’d downloaded and realized most of them were awful. That’s why I can’t even remember the site’s name anymore! I just remember The Drowning was one of the titles I found out about through the website and happily acquired. Well, now I’m unhappy four years later because this is just bad.

There’s content here that works well, which makes the end result all the more disappointing. Jenna has the foundation for a great character and I genuinely cared about her. It actually isn’t that easy to make me care for a character, let alone one in a novel as flawed as this, but Mendes did it! As the novel went on, the potential for nuanced emotional scenes was clear on just about every page. Already-cruel mom gets crueler and more depressed? Time to let out some secrets! Dad reconnects with a friend from his youth? Hmmmm, that sounds like a recipe for infidelity.

But we don’t get any character development, nuance, or emotion from The Drowning. Each scene reads like a summary of what’s happening, not an in-the-moment description that readers will get sucked into. An entire eleven months pass from the first page of the book to the last, but it certainly doesn’t feel like it. Indiscriminate and heavily summarized timeskips are common and even the passages where we are in the moment with Jenna and her family feel like an outline, not a fleshed out scene.

Because the novel skips along like that, we miss character development. Jenna goes from pursuing dance to giving it up to taking it up again because her romance with a lifeguard encourages her to. As if it isn’t problematic enough that she only wants to dance again because of her bland love interest! If she ever longed to get back to dance for her own sake, we never witness signs of it, like her staring longingly at her studio or composing a dance in her head when she hears a good song. That is how to do characterization and character development: showing us the little things.

Once it comes up that Benjie’s brother was enduring bullying at school and his death might have been related to that, it’s a great opportunity to paint the portrait of a sister whose grief turns into anger and she has to question herself about whether she should seek revenge against these middle school bullies or not. The outline of that plotline is there, but once again, there’s no emotional depth to it. When the whole tale unraveled, I felt nothing–and I love a good vengeance story.

It bothers me as well that both major figures in her life as she’s recovering from her brother’s death are men. Her two best friends, fellow dancers, are completely shut out of her life. Jenna only has her pushover of a father and the love interest she decides to take up dance again for. It’s honestly sad to read when I’m used to so many novels with women on every page and plenty of female friendships.

The formatting isn’t great either. For some reason, the first paragraph of each chapter or section would be single-spaced and then the rest would be double-spaced until the chapter ended or a new section began. Rinse and repeat. Commas often lacked the necessary space after them. You take away the space that follows a comma and everything just looked smushed together.

As the saying goes, I’m not mad. I’m just disappointed. The Drowning is what happens when you take part in NaNoWriMo, get your 50,000 words by writing summaries of scenes you expect you’ll expand on later, and then you decide you’ll publish it as-is without any editing whatsoever. I’m honestly glad The Drowning is no longer available in the Kindle store because work so poor isn’t ready for the public eye no matter how old it is.


Review: Avenged by E.E. Cooper

October 28, 2016 Diversity 4, Reviews 0 ★★★½

Review: Avenged by E.E. CooperAvenged by E. E. Cooper
Series: Vanished #2
Published by Katherine Tegen Books on November 8, 2016
Genres: Mystery, YA, YA Thriller
Pages: 352
Format: ARC
Avenged is the conclusion to the Vanished duology, an absorbing, psychological suspense story about friendship, deception, jealousy, and love.

Everyone believes Beth’s death was an accident, except for Kalah. The girl she loved was stolen from her, and now Kalah’s broken heart wants revenge. In order to crack Brit’s perfect alibi, Kalah pretends to be Brit’s best friend—with the sole mission to destroy her.

Kalah knows that playing Brit’s game is deadly. One wrong move could cost someone their life, including her own…but the more lies Kalah tells, the closer she is to the twisted truth.

Diversity Rating: 4 – This is Our World

Racial-Ethnic: 2 (Kalah is Indian)
4 (Kalah and Beth are bisexual, a gay couple is in here somewhere)
2 (Kalah has OCD and anxiety)
4 (See all the above about Kalah)

Return of the bisexual Indian girl with anxiety! Vanished remains fresh in my mind even though I read it close to a year and a half ago thanks to its characters and well-written mystery. Also, diversity and intersectionality are fantastic. Naturally, I was excited to see its sequel Avenged land on my doorstep! Cooper writes a solid conclusion to her duology and the mystery remains as engrossing as ever, but I have more problems with the ending than I can discuss. That’s very literal. I can’t discuss them without spoiling everything. So I don’t! Read more »


Two Cool Pre-Order Campaigns to Get In On!

October 26, 2016 Uncategorized 1

I don’t pre-order books very often. The last time was around January when I pre-ordered the fantastic This is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp and got a sweet lanyard for doing so. Pre-order campaigns for books I’ve already read and loved or are super excited for = my catnip!

In the last few days, I saw two really cool pre-order campaigns I wanted to spotlight. One comes with unusual and very cool swag; the other comes with character cards and the author talking about her characters in unlockable videos.

Back in mid-September, Stacee of The Book Junkie announced a pre-order giveaway/campaign for This is Our Story by Ashley Elston. All US readers who pre-order the book will receive a branded pouch, deer antler necklace, signed bookmark, sticker, tattoo, and pin. They’ll also be entered into a larger giveaway for signed copies of all three of Elston’s novels. All international readers who pre-order the book will be entered into two different giveaways: one for signed copies of Elston’s novels and one for a $50 gift card to anywhere they choose. Further details and how to take advantage of the campaign are on page linked above.

Seeing as I’m super excited for This is Our Story, I’m almost certainly going to pre-ordering the book and taking advantage of this campaign!

The second is for Audrey Coulthurst’s Of Fire and Stars, a f/f fantasy novel, and her campaign is operating on a tiered system. As of the time I write this, the campaign is still on its first tier, which unlocked a video of Coulthurst talking about the main character Dennaleia and a limited edition art card of her guaranteed to anyone who pre-orders. Each new tier reached unlocks more videos and more art cards of different characters for readers. If all four tiers are unlocked by the novel’s release on November 22nd, everyone who pre-ordered will be entered in a drawing, its prize a choice of a Kindle Paperwhite or s $100 gift card to a bookstore of the winner’s choosing. Again, full details on the above-linked page.

I really really REALLY want Of Fire and Stars to sell well and do well so we’ll see more f/f fantasy in the future, so get on it, people! Also, Audrey is hilarious on Twitter and you should follow her if you don’t already.

Know of any other YA books with pre-order campaigns like this? Let me know! I’d like to start compiling them for people on a regular basis.


Write Responsibly

October 23, 2016 Discussion Post 0

I’m a lifelong fan of true crime and trashy docudramas, so of course I watch the Investigation Discovery network on occasion. Lately, my favorite show of theirs has been True Nightmares, a very dramatically narrated show that presents three horrifying true stories from the past. I often recognize one of the three cases from each episode, but it’s introduced me to a great deal of historical nightmares I’d never heard about until then, such as the starvation “sanitarium” run by Linda Hazzard during the early 1900s as well as a former Brazilian politician and police officer arranging murders in order to increase ratings on his variety crime show Canal Livre.

The episode I watched last night featured a “Ouija board murder” from 1930 New York. The irresponsible manner in which the story was told has me on the edge of being done with the show.

In a nutshell, Seneca tribal healer Nancy Bowen’s husband Charlie passed away and she was deeply distraught. Due to her inability to read or write, she used a Ouija board with rez schoolteacher and fellow Seneca woman Lila Jimerson so she could talk to Charlie. Jimerson used that opportunity to manipulate Bowen into murdering Clothilde Marchand, wife of an artist Jimerson had been modeling for and having an affair with. Then Jimerson could romance the widower. When hexes failed, Bowen used a hammer to do the job. Both women were maligned in the press because they were Native American and the Marchands were white. (One link said the women were Cayuga in addition to Seneca.)

I only found out about that when I looked up the case for more information. True Nightmares didn’t mention even once that the women were Native American, let alone tribally enrolled Seneca. Apparently, being manipulated into murder by your friend is a nightmare, but racism isn’t?

Talking about this case the way True Nightmares did is like trying talk about Emmett Till’s murder without any discussion of race. You’re not telling his story at all if you omit the fact his skin color is why he was murdered! Jimerson’s affair began because she was a Native American woman and the artist, Henri Marchand, found that his Native American models were more willing to bare their breasts for him if he seduced them. The case gained so much attention because the women were Native American.

I don’t want to have to fact-check every single show I watch on television. If I Google something I saw on the program, it’s because I’m interested in learning more! One of the first damn links I found related to the Ouija board murder made it clear that Charlie, Lila, and Nancy were Native American and members of the Seneca tribe. If I can do that with a Google search, surely everyone involved in the episode’s writing process can do better.

I even looked up the biographies and backgrounds of the actresses who played Lila (Mikayla S. Campbell) and Nancy (Cheyenne Camille). If either woman has publicly stated their tribal enrollment, I haven’t found it. Campbell’s biography only makes note of her Greek, Spanish, Finnish, and Korean background.

If neither women are in fact tribally enrolled Seneca or even Native American women from any other tribe, we can add “irresponsible casting” to the list of the show’s crimes. God knows there are Native American actresses out there who could and would play those roles, but the casting people either don’t look for those women or the women didn’t have the resources to know those roles were even available. That’s systemic racism in Hollywood.

It may seem odd to post about this on my bookish website, but everything I just complained about plays into how I read books now. It’s part of why I decided to rate books on both their overall quality and the quality of their diversity. If an author only describes the skin of POC characters, readers notice. It sets white as the default and POC characters as the Other.

When someone tries to explain it away by saying “well, of course this white person won’t describe the skin of another white person, they don’t see the skin color of someone who looks like them,” I call bullshit. I’m whiter than a girl in yoga pants and a sorority T-shirt holding a pumpkin spice latte screaming “I can’t even!”  If I have to describe a white person to anyone of any skin color, I note their skin color like I note their hair color and what they were wearing.

When writers only describe POC skin, their books lose the racial nuances present in everyday life. I have so much more I want to add to this, but I simply don’t have the words for it as a white woman. Because I don’t have the same experiences as people of color–especially women of color–I probably never will. I can only do my best to listen to their experiences and be their ally when they both want and need me to be.

Whether you’re writing a novel or writing for television, please write responsibly.


Blog Tour Stop & Review: How to Keep a Boy from Kissing You by Tara Eglington

October 19, 2016 Blog Tours, Diversity 0, Reviews 1 ★★★★½

Blog Tour Stop & Review: How to Keep a Boy from Kissing You by Tara EglingtonHow to Keep a Boy From Kissing You by Tara Eglington
Series: Aurora Skye #1
Published by Thomas Dunne Books on October 25, 2016
Genres: Comedy, YA, YA Contemporary
Pages: 320
Format: Hardcover
Source: finished copy from the publisher
Sweet sixteen and never been kissed . . .

That’s Aurora Skye’s big secret. And the way she wants it to stay. She’s not going to give away her first kiss to just anyone. Busy dodging suitors and matchmaking for her best friends, Aurora (not so) patiently awaits her prince.

But everything changes when Aurora is coerced into a lead role in the school production of Much Ado about Nothing. Which means she’ll have to lock lips with her co-star Hayden Paris―the smart and funny boy next door who also happens to be the bane of her existence, always around to see her at her worst.

Now Aurora is more determined than ever to have her first kiss with the one who’s truly worthy of it. But first she’ll have to figure out just who that person is.

Romantic and funny, Tara Eglington's How to Keep a Boy from Kissing You is a feel-good tale of finding love where you least expect it.

Diversity Rating: 0 – What Diversity?

Racial-Ethnic: 0
Disability: 0
Intersectionality: 0

I got bullied in school. Badly. If you were too, you might have heard the line that “maybe they’re bullying you because they like you!” I can even recall one specific person from high school everyone suggested was bullying me due to a possible crush on me. My response has always been “WHAT THE HELL KIND OF LOGIC IS THAT?” (In kinder words, of course.) If that’s the way the bully expresses their feelings, how would a proper relationship with their bullying victim be any kind of healthy? Because of all that, I’ve never been a fan of any hate-to-love relationships in fiction. They always manage to take a wrong turn or fail to convince me the characters will work.

Then I read How to Keep a Boy from Kissing You and finally got it. Tara Eglington does so much right in her hilarious, friendship-heavy novel that I finally ship a hate-to-love ship! Read more »


Review: The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti

October 14, 2016 Reviews 0 ★★★★

Review: The Purity Myth by Jessica ValentiThe Purity Myth: How America's Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women by Jessica Valenti
Published by Seal Press on March 24, 2009
Genres: Adult Nonfiction
Pages: 272
Format: Paperback
Source: Bought
The United States is obsessed with virginity — from the media to schools to government agencies. In The Purity Myth, Jessica Valenti argues that the country’s intense focus on chastity is damaging to young women. Through in-depth cultural and social analysis, Valenti reveals that powerful messaging on both extremes — ranging from abstinence-only curriculum to "Girls Gone Wild" infomercials — place a young woman's worth entirely on her sexuality. Morals are therefore linked purely to sexual behavior, rather than values like honesty, kindness, and altruism. Valenti sheds light on the value — and hypocrisy — around the notion that girls remain virgins until they’re married by putting into context the historical question of purity, modern abstinence-only education, pornography, and public punishments for those who dare to have sex. The Purity Myth presents a revolutionary argument that girls and women are overly valued for their sexuality, as well as solutions for a future without a damaging emphasis on virginity.

[Originally reviewed in 2011 but not imported here properly. I think now is a good time to do so. Only mild revisions!]

The Purity Myth spent years on my TBR due to good word about it as well as my own teenage curiosity about why society slut shames, victim blames, and judges women based on the sex they are or aren’t having. It took me a while to read, but I finally did it! It’s all about how society judges us as women based on how sexual we are regardless of anything else. Whether you’re het or QUILTBAG, the book applies to each and every woman because there is not one of us that hasn’t been affected by the purity myth at one point or another. Heck, I’m asexual and the book still applies to me because it’s also about the sexuality forced upon women against their wills by society. Read more »


Review: Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee

October 13, 2016 Diversity 4, Reviews 0 ★★★★★

Review: Outrun the Moon by Stacey LeeOutrun the Moon by Stacey Lee
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons BFYR on May 24, 2016
Genres: YA, YA Historical
Pages: 400
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
From the author of the critically acclaimed Under a Painted Sky, an unforgettable story of determination set against a backdrop of devastating tragedy. Perfect for fans of Code Name Verity.

San Francisco, 1906: Fifteen-year-old Mercy Wong is determined to break from the poverty of Chinatown, and an education at St. Clare’s School for Girls is her best hope. Although St. Clare’s is off-limits to all but the wealthiest white girls, Mercy gains admittance through a mix of cunning and a little bribery, only to discover that getting in was the easiest part. Not to be undone by a bunch of spoiled heiresses, Mercy stands strong—until disaster strikes.

On April 18, a historic earthquake rocks San Francisco, destroying Mercy’s home and school. Now she’s forced to wait with her classmates for their families in a temporary park encampment. Though fires might rage, and the city may be in shambles, Mercy can’t sit by while they wait for the army to bring help—she still has the “bossy” cheeks that mark her as someone who gets things done. But what can one teenage girl do to heal so many suffering in her broken city?

Stacey Lee masterfully crafts another remarkable novel set against a unique historical backdrop. Strong-willed Mercy Wong leads a cast of diverse characters in this extraordinary tale of survival.

Diversity: 4 – This is Our World

Racial-Ethnic: 5 (Mercy is Chinese and Lee accurate depicts the diversity of San Fancisco’s population)
Disability: 2 (a deaf black man appears for a scene and Mercy’s role model Mrs. Lowry is blind)
Intersectionality: 5 (see above; also discussions of how sexism Mercy faces differs from sexism white girls face)

The 2016 US presidential cycle has made it difficult to have any faith whatsoever in humanity and the goodness of people’s hearts. Seeing as one Australian show reported on our election with circus music in the background, I doubt even international readers need me to explain why. We still have a month left of this madness as I write this! This little tangent might seem unrelated, but it really isn’t. Outrun the Moon did what I thought wouldn’t happen until Hillary Clinton’s election as president: It made me believe even the worst people can come together and be good. Read more »