Friday, August 26, 2016

Fandom Friday: An Introduction

Today kicks off a new series – Fandom Friday! Every Friday, I’ll discuss some aspect of fandom, be it my own personal experiences or fandom in general. I’m planning to alternate weekly posts between this blog and my YouTube channel, because certain topics are better suited to written or video formats. So ever Friday, either here or on my channel, I’ll be chatting all things fandom!

I’m excited to begin this series! Fandom has always been a big part of my life, ever since I was 13 and discovered the Harry Potter online community. This was back in the heyday of Live Journal, and I was quickly introduced to fan fiction, online RPG, and the amazing sense of community. Granted this all began back when I was in junior high, and the slightest hint that you were involved in anything fandom related was enough to warrant merciless teasing and being called a nerd, the most horrifying thing a teen could ever be accused of . Needless to say, I kept my fandom involvement to myself, and for years never spoke of my online interests to anyone in my everyday life.

Fast forward a decade or so, and things have definitely changed. Fandom has become a normal part of popular culture, and there are more platforms to espouse the wonders of fandom than ever. Tumblr, podcasts, Archive of Our Own – these are a few of the major players and probably the best sources for those just getting started in any particular fandom. The advent of major comic conventions that have become star-studded affairs has helped to make fandom culture more normalized, and these days TV shows/movies/books are able to achieve massive levels of success by understanding the value of fandom. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child sold over 4 million print copies in its first week. Marvel movies regularly dominate the box office. Popular YA series skyrocket onto the NYT Bestsellers List before being adapted into successful (well, sometimes) TV shows or movies. Fandom plays a huge role in this.

As I said, I got into the fandom game relatively young, via Harry Potter online RPGs (seriously. It’s still not something I’m overly proud of) and fan fiction. There’s been endless debate over fan fiction and whether it’s plagiarism, and you’ll find plenty of Creative Writing professors more than willing to dismiss it as a joke. But you’ll find none of that here! I still remember the early days of, and the epic HP fic repository that was Fiction Alley. Fan fic and the fandom community soothed the agony of waiting years between Harry Potter books, a much-needed alternative to obsessively checking MuggleNet every day for news.

While I started in the Harry Potter fandom and still consider myself very much a part of it, I’ve been in plenty of fandoms over the years. Usually my stay in any one particular fandom is brief, because I don’t have the attention span or desire to be active in more than one or two fandoms at a time (look, fandom can be draining, ok? I’m talking time, resources, and emotions). Some of my biggest fandoms have been Teen Wolf, The 100, The Hunger Games, The Raven Cycle, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and of course Harry Potter.

Fandom Friday will cover a wide range of topics, and I’m hoping this will be a great way to get a bit more personal on this blog and my channel. If you have any recommendations of things you’d like to see me discuss, let me know in the comments!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

ARC Review: Our Chemical Hearts

Title: Our Chemical Hearts
Author: Krystal Sutherland
Publication Date: August 30, 2016
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers (Penguin)
Source: ARC*
Goodreads | Book Depository

“Henry Page has never been in love. He fancies himself a hopeless romantic, but the slo-mo, heart palpitating, can't-eat-can't-sleep kind of love that he's been hoping for just hasn't been in the cards for him—at least not yet. Instead, he's been happy to focus on his grades, on getting into a semi-decent college and finally becoming editor of his school newspaper. Then Grace Town walks into his first period class on the third Tuesday of senior year and he knows everything's about to change.

Grace isn't who Henry pictured as his dream girl—she walks with a cane, wears oversized boys' clothes, and rarely seems to shower. But when Grace and Henry are both chosen to edit the school paper, he quickly finds himself falling for her. It's obvious there's something broken about Grace, but it seems to make her even more beautiful to Henry, and he wants nothing more than to help her put the pieces back together again. And yet, this isn't your average story of boy meets girl. Krystal Sutherland's brilliant debut is equal parts wit and heartbreak, a potent reminder of the bittersweet bliss that is first love.”

This book is billed as “John Green meets Rainbow Rowell” and honestly, that should have been enough to trigger alarm bells in my head. It’s not a secret that I’m no fan of John Green’s books, and the comparison that is all-too frequently applied to YA contemporaries these days usually signals that I’m about to be underwhelmed.

Enter Henry, our basic white boy protagonist, unexceptional save for his interest in the school newspaper and his quirky band of family and friends. His posse includes an Australian best friend (because, sure), a feminist lesbian other best friend (#diversity), and a brilliant older sister who’s always around to conveniently dole out advice on life and love (probably a former MPDG herself).

Yes, you can already tell that I’m salty about this book and I’ll be honest, it’s not gonna let up.

Enter Grace, who wears boys’ clothes and uses a cane, but still manages to capture Henry’s affections. Lucky Grace. But don’t worry, Grace isn’t some Manic Pixie Dream Girl! She’s more of a Manic Pixie Depressed Girl, because she’s like super broken and Henry can totally fix her with his love. Henry then proceeds to fall in love with, and become obsessed to the point of STALKING, Grace even though she is clearly going through Stuff and is not in a good place. Henry even acknowledges at one point that Grace probably needs some help, and then does NOTHING but keep pursuing her. I just…sigh.

The way that Grace’s situation was dealt with, or rather not dealt with, was so disappointing. I can’t site the specific example I want to because it’s major spoilers, but there’s no reason why the adults in her life wouldn’t have stepped in at some point. Several moments in this book made me deeply uncomfortable, and I will admit that things ended up being much more serious (and honestly, messed up) than I had ever expected. The ending, or at least what Sutherland tried to say, was probably the strongest part of this story. Unfortunately it was pretty much lost in the 300-something pages of this underwhelming contemporary that tried way too hard.

This is my biggest gripe with Our Chemical Hearts – it tries too hard. Nothing about this book felt natural, from the characters to premise or even the reading experience itself. Our Chemical Hearts read like a desperate, overzealous attempt at writing a book worthy of a John Green comparison. It may have been too successful, because this felt like yet another reiteration of the same basic, tired John Green storyline. White boy becomes obsessed with a MPDG and drags his crew of quirky friends along for the ride while learning some valuable life lessons. This is a story I’m no longer interested in reading.

There’s so much potential in Our Chemical Hearts. I wonder if switching to Grace’s perspective would have made it more successful, or just not worked at all. Ultimately this was unimpressive and unenjoyable, and I wouldn’t recommend this unless you’re a major fan of this type of story.

Rating: ⭐️ ⭐️

*I received this ARC from the publisher in exchange for a free & honest review.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

DNF Diaries: Girl In Pieces & And the Trees Crept In

Welcome to another installment of DNF Diaries! It’s been a while since my last post, which I suppose is good for my reading (and man, did I read a ton so far this month), but I’ve recently DNFed two books for very different reasons. So today’s post is a dual DNF Diaries!

Title: Girl In Pieces
Author: Kathleen Glasgow
Publication Date: August 30, 2016
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Source: ARC*

I hesitantly gave Girl In Pieces a try after picking it up in the flurry of book acquisition that was BEA. If I had taken the time to read the synopsis, I probably wouldn’t have taken a copy. Girl In Pieces is about Charlotte “Charlie” Davis, who wakes up in a psych ward after a suicide attempt. This book should have “trigger warning” written all over it – the entire story revolves around self-harm, sexual assault, and substance abuse. I’m not triggered by any of those things, but I still usually avoid books with these subjects because they can quickly devolve into torture porn, or otherwise completely mishandle these topics. I thought Girl In Pieces would tackle how the system (healthcare, social services, take your pick) fails people, particularly young people, who are struggling with addiction or mental health disorders. But I honestly couldn’t get far enough into this story to see if any of that is actualized.

I DNFed Girl In Pieces at about 75 pages. Very little happened in those 75 pages – Charlie wakes up, adjusts to life on the ward, and has some flashbacks to certain traumatic experiences. The chapters are very short in the beginning, only a paragraph or a few lines, so realistically there was far less than 75 pages’ worth of content. There was nothing to connect to, nothing to keep me engaged, and through Charlie’s narration and flashbacks, I could tell the story was setting up something I wasn’t interested in following. Ultimately I DNFed this book because I did not want to suffer through hundreds of pages of Charlie suffering. Usually I DNF books for technical issues, or a strong emotional response, but in the case of Girl In Pieces, I simply did not want to read this story.

Title: And the Trees Crept In
Author: Dawn Kurtagich
Publication Date: September 6, 2016
Publisher: Little, Brown
Source: ARC*

This DNF is much more straightforward: I am a wimp. I don’t like scary movies, I can’t watch creepy TV shows, I think people who say being scared is “fun” are crazy. So when I pulled And the Trees Crept In out of the black hole that was my book suitcase after BEA, I knew how this would end up. Two sisters move in with their aunt, whose house is conveniently the color of blood. The younger sister speaks to a man no one else can see, and the trees surrounding the house apparently begin to close in around them (And the Trees Crept In, get it?). I’ll be totally honest here and admit that I only made it a chapter into this book before I had to give up. I wasn’t immediately drawn in, I knew things were about to get scary and weird, and my anxious little heart wanted none of it. Will this be a great read for some people? Yes, absolutely, but I’m just not one of them. I DNFed And the Trees Crept In at 15 pages and am now highly suspicious of the tree outside my window.

* I received these books from the publisher at BEA in exchange for a free & honest review.

What's the last book you DNFed? Do you DNF books? Let me know in the comments!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

ARC Review: Poppy by Mary Hooper

Title: Poppy
Author: Mary Hooper
Publication Date: August 30, 2016
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Format: eARC*
Goodreads | BookDepository

“England, 1914. Poppy is fifteen, beautiful and clever, but society has already carved out her destiny. There's no question of her attending more school; it's too expensive and unsuitable for a girl. Instead, Poppy will become a servant to the aristocratic de Vere family . . . and bury her feelings for their youngest son, Freddie. It doesn't matter that Freddie seems to have fallen just as hard for Poppy. He could never marry a girl like her.

But the set path for Poppy's life is irrevocably altered when it becomes clear that the war isn't going to be over soon. The chains of class, wealth, and her gender no longer matter--England needs every able bodied person to serve in battle in some way. Which, for Poppy, means volunteering on the front lines as a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse. As she experiences what people are capable of--the best of humanity and the very worst--Poppy will find an unexpected freedom and discover how to be truly her own person.”

Poppy and its sequel, Poppy In the Field, were previously published in the United Kingdom to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, and now Bloomsbury USA Childrens will publish Poppy on August 30. I haven’t come across much YA literature set during the First World War, so I was very excited to receive an eARC of Poppy via Netgalley.

The eponymous heroine of Poppy is Poppy Pearson, a parlor maid for a wealthy family at the beginning of the war who ends up enlisting as a volunteer nurse. This first book focuses mainly on the societal expectations of 1915 England, especially as it relates to an ill-advised romance between Poppy and Freddie, the son of the family for whom Poppy works. The class divide and its subsequent break down following the war is a constant theme of WWI literature, because it marks such a shift in British society. But Poppy, and all of England, is still beholden to the “above/below stairs” mentality that would prevent them from being together. The way society and class relations are portrayed in Poppy were so intriguing and well written that it was one of my favorite aspects of this book.

That Poppy becomes a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurse is obviously the biggest draw into this story, and it was fascinating to learn about how these young women were trained and their experiences aiding soldiers. This book allows Poppy (and the reader through her) to acclimate to the often horrific injuries soldiers sustained at the front, but also the methods of treatment available at the time. The soldiers joke about the “tin shop” where doctors could perform facial reconstruction on soldiers, and there’s even mention of “Dottyville,” the nicknamed hospital where soldiers suffering from shell shock were sent, including famed poet Siegfried Sassoon.

All that being said, this felt like a filler book, since it’s just setting the stage and giving us enough background information for Poppy to be sent off to the front lines in the sequel, Poppy In the Field. I am intrigued to read the sequel, because I think it’ll provide some of the more action-oriented excitement missing in Poppy. Poppy as a protagonist was lovely, and I liked seeing her grow as a person and into her role as a nurse. I did find that nearly all of the other characters felt overly simple, and at times a bit too trope-ish for my taste.

Someone without much knowledge of World War I will undoubtedly learn a lot of good, basic information about the war and society at the time. However, as an historian who did her masters dissertation on WWI, I felt it was a bit heavy handed at times. The best way I can think of to describe this is that Poppy read quite like the old Dear America books that Scholastic published when I was growing up. An imaginary girl at a certain historical event kept a journal, and throughout the book it was like the author ticked points off a list, so that by the end you knew all about say, voluntary nurses in England during WWI! And a very similar effect is accomplished by reading Poppy. Did that lessen my enjoyment? Not really.

I think Poppy is a great book for those historical fiction fans who want to learn more about WWI, and it also does a great job of representing the experience of women, especially working class women, in England during the war. I’ll be eagerly anticipating the sequel, should Bloomsbury decide to publish it in the US.

Rating: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ . 5

*I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for a free and honest review.