YA Y'all: Moxie, Part-Time Princesses and Sarah Dessen

One more round-up of Young Adult reading - Jennifer Mathieu's Moxie, Monica Gallagher's Part-Time Princesses and a whistle-stop tour through the ouevre of Sarah Dessen. Steel yourself for angst, anxiety, young women finding their agency, and some floppy-haired love interests.


33163378Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu (2017)

Vivian’s high school, in a small town in Texas, is a hot mess of misogyny and harassment. The administration doesn’t care, the boys are a disaster, and Viv and her friends are left to suffer in silence.

And then she discovers Punk. It turns out that Viv’s mom was a Riot Grrl in the 1990s. After finding a cache of her mom’s zines, Viv sees them as the perfect way to express herself: angry, anonymous and, most of all, loud. ‘Moxie’ (the zine) succeeds beyond her wildest ambitions, introducing Viv to new friends, creating an underground of female empowerment, and of course, getting them heard.

It isn’t without trouble, of course, and Moxie contains all the ups and downs that you might expect. Moxie is a Disney After School Special version of Friday Night Lights, with all the conflicts (oh no! Moxie is banned!) and ‘surprises’ (oh wow, the cheerleader is on-side!) that fit the formula. There isn’t quite a moment where they all jump on their desks... but it isn’t far off either.

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Three Fantasies: The Black Witch, The Empire of the Dead, and The Summer I Became a Nerd

The Black WitchThree reviews - all books with different 'fantasies', or relationships with fantasy, at their heart: The Summer I Became a Nerd, The Black Witch and The Empire of the Dead. One's a romp. One's a long-overdue provocation. One's kind of a mess. Enjoy!


The Black Witch by Laurie Forest (2017)

A very traditional fantasy with a thought-provoking, revisionist twist.

The Black Witch has a really, really interesting premise: it full-on tackles the fact that many fantasy tropes are inherently racist. That's not only a telling comment on the radical polarisation of real-world politics, but, within the scope of genre, Witch takes a  fascinating approach to fantasy's racial essentialism. All Orcs are evil. All Drasnians are sneaky. All Elves are good. Fantasy is grounded in simple, unchallenged 'genetic' truths, with the exceptions (whaddup, Drizzt) there to prove the rule.

Black Witch has a completely classic fantasy world with a heroic human - basically the unappreciated secretly-hawt princess trope, rampaging hordes of Evil, the true religion, Fate and Destiny, a war against the darkness, and, of course, the chosen ones of light and darkness. But, as is made rapidly clear: every part of this is completely subjective.

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Paris Adrift, One of Us Is Lying, All the Crooked Saints and More

Six recent reads across time, space, and genres: Maggie Stiefvater's All The Crooked Saints, E.J. Swift's Paris Adrift, Georgette Heyer's The Talisman Ring, Jason Rekulak's The Impossible Fortress, Eva Ibbotson's The Dragonfly Pool, and Karen McManus' One of Us is Lying.

I'd say I loved them all unequivocally, but, well, then I'd be lying too.

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Tolkien, Potter, and Pulps

Abandoned Spaces by Stefan Hoenerloh
Photograph by Stefan Hoenerloh


Adam Roberts on the global success of Tolkien:

One reason Tolkien’s imaginary realm has proved so successful is precisely its structural non-specificity. What I mean is: Tolkien treats material that has deep roots in, and deep appeal to, various cultural traditions; but he does so in a way—as fictionalised worldbuilding rather than denominated myth—that drains away much of the poisonous nationalist, racist and belligerent associations those traditions have accumulated over the centuries.

This is very similar to what Henry Jenkins has to say about Harry Potter, where he argues (my paraphrasing) there is a world broad and shallow enough to include the potential of every individual reader's inclusion. 

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The War of Undoing by Alex Perry

25328003The War of Undoing is, at first appearances, a pretty straightforward book. The humans and the vuma live in an uneasy (and clearly temporary) peace. [ominous thunder]

With that established, cut to...

Three children - the Rainings - living alone, unchaperoned, and in poverty in the unwelcoming city of Tarot. They receive a mysterious message saying that they're needed for a Great and Magical Cause. This gift horse seems like a truly spectacular chance. They can leave the city, pursue their capital-D-Destiny, and maybe even find - and bollock - their absentee parents.

Of course, things are never really so simple - not even in even high fantasy. The Rainings are quickly separated, and head down their own paths, making new friends (and enemies) along the way. More worrying, what they assumed was their Destiny is perhaps someone else's. The three children learn that being the instrument of a Great Cause is less about being a hero and more about being, well, a tool.

This is a long - and often quite meandering - book. There's a slow start, followed by a lot of quiet, discursive tangents. Several of Undoing's plots and 'hints' don't coalesce until the very end, and certain momentuous occasions and world-changing events - which would be the very heart and soul of other fantasy novels - are downplayed, and shifted to the background. As a result, The War of Undoing can feel frustrating at times. But, and I can't stress this enough, stick with it: this book simply has different priorities.

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SPFBO2017: The First 26 Reviews!


I'm participating in this year's Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off competition - all the background, details and updates are here.

The first step is to filter through the buffet of 301 books that have been sent my way. Although I'll bring some fancy-shmancy grading criteria in later in the process, at this stage I'm being unabashedly subjective: do I want to keep reading it?

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Otared, Graustark and The Winning of Barbara Worth

OtaredOne very modern book and five very old ones. Are there common themes? Is there a pattern?! Not really, no.


Mohammed Rabie's Otared (2016) is a harrowing existential thriller, set in a near-future Cairo. The city has been occupied by a mercenary army - a sort of quasi-Masonic organisation that swept through in a sudden coup with distinctly Cruaderish underpinnings. Cairo persists - everyday life plods along, despite the foreign invaders and the ominous ring of battleships.

Otared is a former policeman who, infuriated by the way the government rolled over, has joined the rebellion. His job is distasteful: assassin, freedom fighter, terrorist - everything in-between. Otared repeatedly asks the same question - how far would you go? - with different nuances and inflections each time. The voiceless people of Cairo are choosing between two - if not 'evils - brutalities. Otared decides what he will do, how far he will go, in the name of a city that he never particularly liked and certainly never liked him. It is particularly telling that the resistence is led neither by civilians nor military, but policemen - who Otared describes less as a public service and more like a necessary evil. 

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Review Round-up: A Queue, Two Devils, Some Magicians and an Empty City

9781612195162_custom-9dcd78cb1494554fe2ead2adb48ab8c65e917d12-s400-c85I'm way behind on writing reviews - a combination of life, SPFBO reading, sekrit projects and watching Ariana Grande and Chris Martin sing "Don't Look Back In Anger" on continuous loop. But whilst we all wait for me to get my act together, here's a quick catch-up on recent reading:

The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz (2016, first 2012). In an unnamed country, the people are ruled by a faceless bureaucracy. All paperwork challenging the state must be notarised by officials at the 'Gate', the accepted nomenclature of the 'powers that be' that work at entrance of the government building, but the Gate never opens...

Over time, a huge queue forms, and with it, a new society. People come and go, trade gossip, form a new, grey economy. The Gate seems to know everything and be everywhere, but its actions are nonsensical and baffling. Set against this... a mystery, of sorts. A man, shot in an uprising that never happened by soldiers that weren't there using guns that don't exist, is standing, wounded, in the queue. The maze of paperwork around him, if he exists, captures a handful of others, as they make extremely difficult choices in the face of overwhelming indifference. 

The Queue isn't quite as abstract as I'm making it sound. It is a good Orwellian thriller, with compelling, heart-breaking characters. Although inspired by Egypt, The Queue is one of the great fictional dystopias, with horrifying relevance to, well, everywhere. If you read one book on this list, make it this one.

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