Ruthless Magic, by Megan Crewe

 

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When I heard that the upcoming YA fantasy Ruthless Magic, by Megan Crewe was a cross between The Hunger Games and Harry Potter I was pretty darn excited to get an advanced reader’s copy. I have to admit that there were some fascinating aspects of this new magical YA story, although I didn’t feel like the connection between Suzanne Collin’s page-turning thriller and J.K. Rowling’s classic series entirely did Ruthless Magic any great lip service.

Let me explain.

The Skullduggery Effect

Ten years ago, a series came out called Skullduggery Pleasant. In our local bookstore, the marketing copy read “Pick up the new Harry Potter today!” I was initially intrigued, but what I would later discover was a fantastic series in its own rite just… didn’t “do it” for me, because the truth was that Skullduggery Pleasant is not Harry Potter. It’s true that book marketing teams frequently use “comp titles” to help place their new books in the market, sometimes I think that choosing the wrong title to compare a fledgling book to can ruin what might otherwise be a great reading experience. I call this “The Skullduggery Effect.”

Okay, now back to Ruthless Magic. 

A New Magical World

I liked it. I did. The beginning set up a unique, magical world set in New York City. I thought that it was interesting to read about the hierarchy of magicians and the need for the main characters to fight for a spot at the prestigious magical school. Along with some beautiful prose and tantalizing intrigue in the first few chapters, the characters were likeable and felt genuinely “real.” This is a well-written book on many accounts.

But Where’s the Tension?

While the narrative does create a similar feeling of competition between young individuals like in The Hunger Games, the narrative urgency that had been building for such a good, long time at the start of Ruthless Magic is broken when the characters just decide to work together. (You could argue that some characters work together in The Hunger Games too–especially in later instalments of the series–but there was also other intrigue building that tempered this release of tension between previously “warring” characters. As in, my all-time-favourite will-Katniss-and-Peeta-get-together already storyline). While there was some light romance building, the white-hot tension wasn’t quite there. Or maybe, it just didn’t feel the same…

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Is Ruthless Magic a victim of The Skullduggery Effect? I’m not entirely sure. It’s a well-written narrative with some solid moments that were fun to read, but do yourself a favour and ignore the comp titles for a more enjoyable reading experience.

 

 

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My Favourite Bookish Blogs/Websites

Top Ten Tuesd

 

 

Today for Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, it’s all about the bookish internet. Where do you go on the web to find great reading and writing resources? Although I’m partial to reading books on writing, there are a few sites or apps that I frequent when I’m looking for a good book review or some much needed advice:

  1. Sarah Selecky – For the writerly folk out there, this is my favourite place to go when I’m looking for great resources, well-written posts and excellent advice. (As a bonus, Sarah Selecky’s online writing school is excellent).
  2. Litsy – I’m a fan of bite-sized book reviews, so I like to check Litsy when I want new book recommendations. The community is also extremely friendly, with book swaps and buddy reads an ongoing event. It’s a fun way to meet other book nerds!
  3. Book Fight – While not a website, this literary podcast is equal parts hilarious and informative. Not only do the hosts have interesting conversations about books, but I love all of their weird and wonderful segments, like “raccoon watch” and “fan fiction corner.”
  4. Literary Hub – This site has everything from publishing news, to fascinating essays. There’s always some new perspective to consider!
  5. Book Riot – I’m a fan of Book Riot for their short, interesting bookish articles. In particular, I like that they cover several different sub-sections of book related topics, such as “gifts for book lovers” or “book lover travel destinations” as well as reviews and listicles.
  6. Netgalley – If you are a voracious reader and also like to write reviews, Netgalley is a great place to request galleys!
  7. Off the Shelf – This is a great place to find any sort of curated book list to satisfy any of your literary cravings.
  8. The Rumpus – While this site isn’t just about books, there are fun comics, essays and all sorts of good reading to be had.
  9. McSweeney’s – I love this site! It’s hilarious. Seriously, though, if you want to laugh so hard that you pee yourself, this is the place to go.
  10. Publisher’s Weekly – This one is more from a publisher’s standpoint, but it can also be useful for aspiring writers and other bookish folk who might be looking to get an inside scoop on upcoming releases.

My Best Friend’s Exorcism, by Grady Hendrix

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I can remember watching The Exorcist with my dad one afternoon when I was nine. It scared the living freak out of me, even though I played it cool (while hiding in the crook of his massive arm). But even though it terrified me, that story has always stuck with me. While it is not the same as the original 1973 Exorcist, starring Linda Blair, Grady Hendrix’s My Best Friend’s Exorcism is one of those books that transfixes readers. It grabs hold of them (perhaps like the demon who takes over Gretchen’s body?) and refuses to let you set it down until you are finished. (Or is it finished with you?) Full of fun, 80’s nostalgia and a compelling narrative about female relationships, My Best Friend’s Exorcism is the perfect summer read for those who want to laugh and scream at the same time.

Campy, 80’s Awesomeness

Reading My Best Friend’s Exoricism felt a little bit like watching Cabin in the Woods, which is a campy, self-aware narrative that pokes fun at the horror genre in many delightful ways. What I loved about this book, was that not only was it fast-paced, but it also set a light-hearted tone for readers with 80’s song titles as chapter titles. Setting the story in the 80’s made it seem like one of those old, slightly goofy 80’s horror movies, which I loved. And can we just talk about that gorgeous, VHS reminiscent cover that Quirk Books has going on? It’s delightful.

A Clever Framework

I’m always a sucker for anything that harkens back to the 80’s, but what really possessed me to keep on reading was the compelling narrative about female relationships that Hendrix situates within his campy, 80’s horror story. On the outside, it’s a story about a girl who gets possessed by a demon and does a lot of very gross, disturbing stuff to her best friends and her family. On another level, Hendrix touches on issues of sexual assault and male aggression without ever dropping a (delightful 80’s beat). I loved that the plot hinged on girlfriends standing up for each other despite the horrific events that happen. Even though demonic possession is (hopefully?!?) in the realm of fiction, the heartbeat of this narrative felt authentic.

Whether or not you love to be freaked out, this spooky book has good bones and a terrifically fast-paced plot. Read this book; you won’t regret it the way Gretchen regrets running off into the woods…

 

 

Writerly Wednesday: The Hike

 

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We stared up at the steep, chain-linked climb that began the six-hour trek to the top, at Kjerag, Norway.

Were we really doing this? 

A sick feeling settled in my stomach. I’d read about people getting stuck or lost on the trails at the plateau, which are sparsely marked with stones, and the chains, which aren’t always still attached to the rock faces we’d be climbing up. Or… the ever-present edge of the trail, which was a long way down to the fjord. What if we got lost and couldn’t find our way back before dark? 

“We don’t have to do the hike,” said Matt.

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I shook my head. For some reason, I had to get to that boulder. The hike was long and beautiful in places. After a while, we got used to hefting ourselves up steep inclines by the chains. We rested in green valleys with sheep grazing in them and swore our way up the last crazy-steep set of rock faces until we reached the plateau, which was cold, silent, stunning.

I lined up to stand on the boulder. I got out of line. I lined up three times before I forced myself to step out on the narrow rock ledge, 3,228 feet above Lysefjorden anyway. The chain that used to help hikers leverage themselves out on the rock was broken, so I had to feel my way along the smooth ledge. Standing on the boulder with the wind whipping around me was intensely powerful, but not as much as what happened next.

 

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

As I turned to leave, I wobbled. My legs were unaccustomed to so much physical exertion. I looked down. And then I panicked.

I was stuck on the boulder. 

I had envisioned myself doing yoga poses like all of the people on Pinterest and Instagram, waving flippantly at the camera as if standing so high and vulnerable was no big deal. Instead, I felt the hot shame of tears streaming down my cheeks.

“Hey! It’s okay–grab my hand!” shouted a voice.

I looked and saw that the other hikers had formed a sort-of make-shift chain with their arms. With the help of a group of strangers that I will probably never see again, I was back on solid ground. We hugged.

It’s not About the Climb

At first, I felt embarrassed, but on the way down I saw hikers helping each other all along the way. Somehow, in my frenzy to make it to the top, I had missed this camaraderie of fellow travellers.

Writing takes you places within yourself. If a good writing process means making yourself vulnerable to get to those authentic places, it is equal parts about reaching out and asking for help when you get stuck.

 

Have you ever been stuck somewhere terrifying before?

 

 

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I’ve Read in 2018 (So Far)

Top Ten Tuesd

 

This week for Top Ten Tuesday, it’s all about my favourite books that I’ve read so far this year. Tough choice! There were a lot that I thought about listing, but in the end, these books stuck with me:

  1. My Best Friend’s Exorcism, by Grady Hendrix – I blew through this one in a day while floating in an inner tube at the cottage. My husband had to bring me food periodically, because I refused to put the book down. Seriously, it was that good. (Stay tuned for a full review of this book on Friday).
  2. The Girl with All of the Gifts, by M.R. Carey – This is another deeply creepy narrative, but told from the fascinating perspective of a zombie girl who is discovering what it means to be “alive.” I liked it because it felt in places like a twisted coming of age story.
  3. The Favorite Sister, by Jessica Knoll – Not only is this book a great thriller from the first page, but there is an interesting discussion around female success and cattiness. Also: it’s all about reality TV. If you’re like me and you like tuning in to The Bachelor, then this book will keep you reading.
  4. Educated, by Tara Westover – Heartfelt, disturbing and powerful, this memoir had me captivated. It reads like a cult – escape narrative in some ways, which kept the momentum quick, but what struck me as the most fascinating were the family dynamics that Westover describes.
  5. Strong Female Protagonist, by Brennan Lee Mulligan & Molly Ostertag – I loved this graphic novel because it was campy and quick-paced and the artwork was excellent, but I also appreciated the original perspective on the super hero narrative.
  6. The Witches of New York, by Ami McKay – I know that I talk about this book a lot, but to be fair, it is really fantastic. I loved the atmosphere that McKay creates and the beautiful prose, among other things. Read more about it here.
  7. The Impossible Fortress, by Jason Rekulak – I picked this book up because it described 80’s nostalgia, and I’m a sucker for that kind of stuff. What I ended up loving was the quirky romance and the hilarious heist narrative that piggy-backs on the larger story about a boy who loves to code video games. I would compare it to Ready Player One, but for me, it was better.
  8. Love and Gelato, by Jenna Evans Welch – Fun, flirty and set in Italy? Who wouldn’t want to read this book?
  9. The Last Black Unicorn, by Tiffany Haddish – I’m not normally interested in reading celebrity autobiographies, but this one was hard to put down simply because of all the crazy stuff that Haddish had to go through in her life. It was enlightening and at times quite funny.
  10. Meddling Kids, by Edgar Cantero – If you loved Welcome to Night Vale and Scooby Doo, then this book will have you riveted. I loved all of the nods towards the classic TV show and found the plot to be captivating.

 

What are some of your favourite books that you’ve read (so far) this year?

the witch doesn’t burn in this one, by amanda lovelace

 

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First, let’s get something straight. I am a feminist. I’ve read Bell Hooks and I have handed out enough copies of We Should All Be Feminists to buy Chimamanda Ngozi at least a nice little trip. I teach my four-year-old son that boys and girls are equal. When someone argues that feminism is irrelevant or based on a man-hating female group, I am the first to come to the defence of feminism. Furthermore, I think that the #MeToo movement is extremely important, as is the ability for women who are survivors of assault and rape to be able to speak up, be angry and be heard.

However, Amanda Lovelace’s poems in the witch doesn’t burn in this one fell flat on me.   I do think that Lovelace is saying important things, but I felt at times that they were ideas that have already been expressed in other narratives. I grew up in the 80’s reading stories about girls who rescue themselves, like  The Paper Bag Princess  , Princess Smarty Pants and  Tamora Pierce’s many stories about lady knights.  I read Gregory Maguire’s Wicked and felt suitably bad for the witch who in recent years has found a place in feminist discourse. (My favourite representation of a feminist discourse situated around witches is Amy McKay’s The Witches of New York). Perhaps I was not the intended target.

Keep in mind that I have no desire to denigrate the empowerment of others, but I’m going to be a little bit honest here. While trying to engage with the spirit of Lovelace’s narrative, I decided to write out my review in the poetic style found within the pages of the book:

 

my mind was not

blown wide

o

p

e

n

by this book.

sadly, my heart did not ignite

with feminist fury.

these are lines

that i have already read.

(maybe i am just one of the lucky ones)

an important message?

absolutely.

i am sure

it came

from a genuine place.

an engaging, original narrative structure?

nope. 

sorry, amanda lovelace. 

 

 

10 Reasons Why you Should Write Thank You Notes to Authors you Love

Writerly Wednesday

Recently,  I got it into my head that it would be fun to write a thank you note to a writer that I have loved. It felt like her words had changed my life in a cool way and I wanted to let her know it. Normally, I would be too shy to do anything like that. Maybe it was the full moon. Maybe, it’s because I’m trying to challenge myself to not hide in writerly solitude in my Nerd Cave all day. I don’t know.

So I wrote this letter and sent it out into the universe and that was that.

A short while later, I found a curious email with–gasp!–my beloved author’s name attached. She had actually written me back! It felt nice to know that I had reached this person in some way, even just to say thank you. I mean, hey, saying “thank you” is nice.

On a more selfish note, there are other cool perks to writing your literary heroes:

  1. Who doesn’t need a happy little pick-me-up? Even literary super-heroes can use some good writerly karma.
  2. Taking the time to sit down and think about why you liked someone else’s work that you admire gives you a chance to discover new ways that you can strengthen your own writing.
  3. Writing thank you notes is weirdly meditative, and having a meditative state of mind is great for writing real, honest work. (Aka the good stuff).
  4. Maybe said Literary Hero has some Super Awesome Advice for you? You never know until you ask.
  5. Doing nice things makes you feel better. Again, karma, man.
  6. Reaching out fights Resistance (aka the Darth Vader of writing progress). What do you do when the rejections start piling up? Reach out to other writers and suddenly you don’t feel so alone.
  7. Even though writing is a solitary task, it’s also about starting conversations. So why not join the conversation that your literary hero started? Let them know what you thought and join in.
  8. Talking about writing–in any way–even to compliment another writers’ awesome work puts you in a good frame of mind for creating your own awesome work.
  9. Reaching out to other writers makes you feel more connected. And hey, don’t stop there. Why not reach out to as many writers as you can? Find a writerly group online or in your hometown and you might just find a new writerly BFF.
  10. And hey, maybe, you and your Literary Super-Hero will become BFFs? I mean, you never know…

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Have you ever written to your Literary Super Hero? Met them in person? What was it like?