The Witch Doesn’t Burn in This One, by Amanda Lovelace

“i don’t consider myself
a spidery, spiteful, spitfire woman,

but if i’m never going to be whole again,
then neither are you.”

rainandabook-the-witch-doesnt-burn-this-oneThe Witch Doesn’t Burn in This One. I find that title to be a powerful one – one that makes you stand up, take notice, stop what you’re doing and listen. One that shouts we’re done taking shit lying down. One that announces, we’re women, and we’re tired of being burnt at stake because our only crime is that of being women.

This is the second collection of poetry from the series Women are Some Kind of Magic by Amanda Lovelace. The first was The Princess Saves Herself in This One. The book is divided into sections with poems exploring themes such as abuse, violence, politics, periods, self-acceptance, healing and more. A lot of the poetry was hard-hitting and struck a chord with me. Let’s be honest – it struck several chords! I was highlighting furiously as I read, and one of my favorites in the collection is the poem below:

some
fathers
will
cracked
their
daughter’s
teeth
with skinned
knuckles
&
when
her lover’s
fist
comes
for her
she will
offer him
an open-lipped
smile.

“it’s just like home,”
she’ll say.

This brought a lump to my throat.

However, I do have some mixed feelings about this book, looking at it objectively through the lens of a book reviewer. I’m the last person on earth who would call herself a poetry snob or poetry purist, so let’s get that out of the way. But that doesn’t stop me from thinking that hitting Return after every word doesn’t turn a sentence into a poem. Of course, any and all rules of literature and poetry are meant to be broken, toyed with, played jump-rope with. Creative liberties are fine and a right to be exercised. But…
Every
Word
In
A
New
Line?

Maybe that’s just me. Moving on to other things, I found some of the poems to be repetitive, like they were in a similar vein, conveying similar ideas. I also felt I’d read some of it before.

My biggest grouse with the book has to be the misandry though. I know this is being promoted as a feminist book, and yes, for the most part that’s exactly what it is, and I applaud it. I’m a rather loud feminist myself, so every voice added to feminism is something I’m beyond grateful for. But there’s a thin line between feminism and misandry which I’m afraid the poet has not only crossed but justified it. I understand where she is coming from and I share the sentiment, and I also understand this volume would not have been this angry or this relevant had it not been written this way. But the chapter where misandry is justified did not sit well with me, because the answer to misogyny is not misandry. That will just skew the world in the opposite direction, but it will remain skewed. In fighting the villains, we must not become the villains.

For these reasons, while I really liked the collection, I cannot bring myself to bump it up to 4*. I’ll keep the rating at 3.5. That said, I still feel it’s a relevant book and everyone should read it. It will get you riled up enough to not let anyone treat you like a doormat. Even a certain dickhead masquerading as a President somewhere in the world.

Goodreads | Amazon

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review from NetGalley/Andrew McMeel Publishing. My review is honest and unbiased.

 

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Herding Cats (Sarah’s Scribbles # 3), by Sarah Andersen

sarah-scribbles-rainandabook-4Herding Cats is the third book in the Sarah’s Scribbles series. Sarah’s Scribbles # 2 (Big Happy Mushy Lump) was the first book I’d reviewed last year, and I’d declared Sarah Andersen to be my hero. I loved that book and the comics were quirky and original.

However, having read both her previous works, Herding Cats seemed a tad underwhelming. I can’t quite point out to what went wrong where, but I feel like I’ve read the whole introverted, socially anxious angle before and that Sarah isn’t bringing anything new to the table (yes, she did try to make a few political statements, but they didn’t quite pack a punch). The two comics below are the only ones I truly enjoyed, the first more than the second.

sarah-scribbles-rainandabook

sarah-scribbles-rainandabook3

The book jumps right into a comic, almost, that is to say, without warning. No headings or titles. This happened with the first couple of comics and threw me off a bit. The quirks now sound a bit mean, as though the introvert has turned into an out and out misanthrope. Like this one:

sarah-scribbles-rainandabook-2

The second part of the book was structured like an essay. Sarah makes quite a few good points here about pursuing your passion as an artist and not to give up in the face of obstacles (parents, society, etc. etc.) I’m sure this would’ve worked well as a motivational speech, and I agree with whatever she says – but as an essay, not so much.

Rating: 3/5

Goodreads | Amazon

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this comic book from Andrews McMeel Publishing/Netgalley. My review is honest and unbiased.

 

Brooding YA Hero: Becoming a Main Character (almost) as Awesome as Me, by Carrie Ann DiRisio

“Of course you can write a book about yourself. That’s your favorite topic.”

“It is not!” he thundered, his eyes flashing. Broody was 5% rain cloud, on his father’s side.

Brooding-YA-Hero_Rainandabook

I’m a fan of the Twitter account @BroodingYAHero, so when Sky Pony Press offered me an ARC of Brooding YA Hero: Becoming a Main Character (almost) as Awesome as Me, I broke my own resolve of not accepting books for review and jumped at the chance.

For those of you who do not know @BroodingYAHero is a parody account run by Carrie Ann DiRisio that dismantles popular and overdone YA tropes one tweet at a time. Here’s an example:

tweet-brooding-ya-hero-rainandabook

The Brooding YA Hero book is an extension of this parody account. So does it translate well to this longer-than-a-tweet form? Let’s find out.

We are introduced to Broody McHottiePants. He’s the self-centered, narcissistic, brooding male protagonist of (almost) every YA novel, right from Romeo to Mr. Darcy to vampires to zombies to… well, you get the idea. In his words, he’s “the one with the most adjectives.” However, of late he has been out of work. For a while now, authors haven’t been requesting his services. He is so frustrated that he decides to write his own book – a self help guide on how to become a main character just like him. Once in a while, he falls asleep or leaves the room, and his evil ex-girlfriend Blondie DeMeani takes over the narrative. How do we know she’s the evil ex? Cos for one, she’s female, plus she’s blonde, she wears makeup and high heels – basically the opposite of the “main love interest” (who’s usually the demure, non-high-heels, non-ambitious type).

So far so good.

The book is funny and there were several laugh-out-loud moments. It cleverly (satirically) addresses the issues in most YA books, such as the marginalization of POC/WOC characters, how every story is essentially the same with a different setting – a love triangle against some conflict-inducing backdrop, how the same tropes get repeated etc. It also ends up becoming a How To of writing a novel – it describes elements of plot twists, POVs and so on, types of characters (from Broody’s POV of course, so they’re all less important than him). It also helps break certain stereotypes – Blondie reminds us that we think of her as evil only cos the stereotype exists, and throughout the book, her narrative makes more sense (as intended) than Broody’s.

However, there were a few inconsistencies that I noticed. For one, it’s often confusing to figure out whom Broody means by “you”. For the majority of the book, he’s addressing the reader (who, as the title suggests, is becoming Broody himself with the help of the book). There are other parts where by “you”, Broody means his love interest. That got a little confusing for me. I also noticed some repetition – for example, there is a section about the main character’s “rivals” – usually the third corner of a love triangle. This whole section is repeated in a different chapter. Another inconsistency I noticed is how at the beginning of the chapter, Broody mentions he’s traveled through space and time (refer to my statement about Romeo above). However, towards the end, he mentions it was his ancestor Broodington Hottietrousers who worked with Shakespeare. This also calls to question the existence of the Deleted Files Hall, where outdated characters go to die.

For the most part, this book is really funny, but in an attempt to go over the top, Broody begins to sound a little… repetitive and Broodsplainy (although yes, he admits that “as a man, I greatly love explaining things”). But still, consider this:

What if you and your friends uncover mystery revolving around a strange object – a goat. You unravel the mystery…
And it has nothing to do with the goat.
That goat was a red herring.
Not literally.
It’s still a goat.
Not a fish.
Anyway.

As readers (or future authors), we are intended to listen to Broody, but not take him too seriously (given his whole self-important, I’m-the-best air). Blondie of course makes some great points about writing a book. Keeping this in mind, I believe the below paragraph should’ve been part of Blondie’s narrative instead of Broody’s.

Young adult literature gets made fun of a lot by so-called grown-ups for always having love stories (even though it doesn’t) and for over-using “ridiculous love triangles” (even though there are plenty of stories without one) and for “always being about vampires and silly girls” (Seriously, it’s like these “adults” read one YA book ten years ago and based all their opinions on that.)

To these critics, I say, I’m sorry you’re so incredibly bitter and miserable that you can’t feel the rush of joy when your crush at imagine what butterflies in your stomach feel like. Also, please read some YA before insulting it.

I so completely agree with what is written here – I know YA gets a lot of flak that it doesn’t deserve. However, my point is, this is so true that it doesn’t go with the rest of Broody’s attitude towards everything. Now if Blondie had said this, well yeah, Blondie made sense throughout.

This was a great start to the new year for me, books-wise (where I hope to do better than last year). I do believe this book could have been edited better, to iron out those inconsistencies I was referring to. But overall, it was a good read, poking fun at all those YA tropes and stereotypes.

Rating: 3.5/5

Goodreads | Amazon

Disclaimer: I received a digital ARC of this book from Sky Pony Press. My review is honest and unbiased.

I Hate Everyone But You, by Gaby Dunn; Allison Raskin

I Like Every Book But This.

hate everyone but you - rain and a bookRemember back in 2014-15 when my book reviews used to be snarky and I ended up offending a bunch of authors? Yeah, good times. This book makes me want to go back to who I was back then.

This book has good reviews and in particular, I fell for the one by Francine Pascal, whose books I devoured as a teenager. Given the premise, I should have loved this book: Two best friends starting off their first semesters at college and starting a “long distance friendship”. The book is written as a series of texts and emails exchanged between the two and even talks about issues that a lot of teenagers face. Did I mention both best friends are feminists? In theory, this should have been a good book.

But here’s the thing: almost all of it is problematic. On every level. I could take each of the aforementioned teenage problems and dissect it to present to you its offensive bits. But should I give this review any more time than it deserves? Should you take longer to read my review than I took to read the actual book? No and no. I’ll just address a couple of them here to make my case and let you decide for yourself.

Frankly, it’s my personal belief that for fiction to be realistic, it can be raw and flawed and the characters can be unlikable etc. That aside, you know that feeling you get when you read about a character and feel they’re a token character? The character is present throughout the novel, but just isn’t… represented correctly? In this book, Ava Helmer suffers from anxiety and OCD, Gen has come to the realization that she’s bi. While reading I had two thoughts

Thought # 1: Are these characters here solely to bring these facts to the front? Because a) there’s no other character development so this basically becomes their identity b) if yes, couldn’t this have been dealt with more depth and sensitivity (and sensibility) instead of just skimming the surface.

Thought # 2: This representation is so damn offensive and the portrayal is complete rubbish. Ava uses her anxiety to act like an utter douchebag. People, anxiety is something that some of us real people live with and try hard to cope with (I know I do). It isn’t a convenient excuse to be rude and judgey. As for Gen’s sexuality – I get that she’s experimenting and doesn’t wanna be tied down etc., but that isn’t an excuse to hook up with basically anyone (including her transphobic teacher) and it is certainly not an excuse to cheat. Gen represents a trope that is SO not okay – one where bi and non-monogamous people take everything as a license to cheat. Nope, not done. It’s like a narrow-minded straight person wrote this character (and incidentally, I came to know a lot of this is autobiographical, so I’ve NO idea how that happened). And may I add, Ava’s ignorance of bisexuality was SO cringeworthy.

I don’t even know why this book has side characters; they were all useless – present only to show who hooked up with whom. Ava and Gen’s friendship was a little too much for comfort. Actually, let me rephrase that – Ava’s clinginess and Gen’s apathy was hard to read about.

Goodreads tells me a 2* rating means “It was okay” and I guess, to be generous or whatever, it was. With that said, I wouldn’t really want a teenager or young adult to read this book. Poor representation of the LGBT community; poor portrayal of those with mental illness.

Goodreads | Amazon

Disclaimer: I received an ARC from Netgalley/St. Martin’s Press. The review is honest and unbiased.

The Rules of Magic, by Alice Hoffman

“Isn’t that what love makes you do? Go on trying, even when you’re through. Go on even when you’re made of ash, when there’s nothing inside you but the past.”

34037113The Rules of Magic is the story of the Owenses – Franny, who can talk to birds, Jet, who can read minds, and Vincent, the first boy in the family, who was a charmer since the day he was born. For the siblings, their life is bound by a set of rules since childhood – no walking in moonlight, no black clothes, no red shoes. As teenagers, they discover the truth of what they had long suspected, a secret their mother Susanna had kept from them – they are witches. This is why the neighbors avoid them, for there are so many rumours surrounding them. The family is cursed, for the one rule they must not break at any cost is this: never fall in love. The Owenses brought doom upon whoever they fell in love with, because in the 1600s, Maria Owens fell for the wrong man, a man who led witchhunts. More and more family secrets are unearthed when the siblings spend a summer with the mysterious and fascinating Aunt Isabelle.

The Rules of Magic is a prequel to Practical Magic, a book I’ve previously mentioned as one that’s really hard to find. However, you can read this book by itself even if you haven’t read Practical Magic. It is a rich piece of literature, filled with magical realism and romance. Alice Hoffman’s narrative technique is so brilliant that raw emotions scrape at your throat when you read this book. The story has shades of Chocolat and The Mistress of Spices, but I suppose all stories of witchcraft have certain similar themes. Each character stands on his or her own, the practical Franny, the shy Jet, and the rebellious Vincent. The plot may be described as tragic, but its beauty is beyond description.

A highly recommended read for fans of magical realism.

Rating: 4*/5

Goodreads | Amazon

I received an ARC from Simon & Schuster/Netgalley. This review is honest and unbiased.

Paper Hearts, by Ali Novak

paper-hearts-ali-novak-rainandabookHave you ever read a book in which all the characters seemed like filler characters? That’s what Paper Hearts felt like.

We have Felicity, the so-called MC, who is really stupid and needs obvious things spelled out for her. With a brain as slow as hers, I’m surprised she gets to be a character in book (that was written and published) at all.

The male lead is Alec Williams, member of the “world famous” boy band The Heartbreakers. Like every YA hero since the dawn of time, he’s the brooding, reserved kind and only the female lead can “save” him. How Felicity would ever accomplish this with her terrible IQ is beyond me.

We have Asha, the “hot best friend”, and token POC character. Actually, I’m not sure of the POC bit – Asha sounds like an Indian name, and she wears saris (what teenager wears a sari to a masquerade ball!?), but her surname is Van De Berg, which is… Dutch? It isn’t important whichever way, cos we don’t have any background info or character development.

Then there’s Boomer, and all we know about him is he loves cars and Asha.

Plus some of Alec’s band members thrown in for good measure.

The story begins with Felicity telling us her sister’s been missing since four years. Conveniently, around a few pages in, she finds out her sister had actually been writing to her. She decides to go search for her and Alec (whom she’s only met twice before) offers to drive her all the way from LA to Seattle. Lots of random stuff happens, like water gun fights, hide and seek games. You know, usual stuff that happens in YA novels. Not. (Seriously, what 20 yo plays hide and seek ffs!)

There is nothing about this story that’s believable. It is full of grammar errors, but since this is an ARC, I’m willing to give it the benefit of doubt on that front. It ends abruptly and then you begin lamenting all the time you wasted on this.

A little note about the blurb I saw on Goodreads – it mentions Felicity’s best friend Lucy, who has some plans and designs of her own; there’s no Lucy in the whole book.

Rating: 1/5

Goodreads | Amazon

I received an ARC from Netgalley/Sourcebooks Fire. The review is honest and unbiased.

 

 

Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn

“All I have are the songs crashing together in my head. They’re all sad. They’re all bitter. And they’re all I have.”

rain-and-a-book-nick-norah-infinite-playlist-cohn-levithanIf you saw my little note on Goodreads, then you know that I was not sure if I was going to review Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. But it occurred to me that not talking about this book on my blog would be highly unfair. Not in recent times has a book moved me so much or, for the lack of a less cliched phrase, filled my lonely, dark, black hole of a heart with so much joy.

Whenever I talk about David Levithan, this is the first book people point me to (although I don’t know why I still pushed it a little far down my list). David Levithan as an author is not just someone I admire and look up to but also someone who has some kind of influence on me. When I read him, there have been times when I’ve felt it’s something I wrote, or if it was something written exclusively for me. I don’t just mean that in the sense that I connect to it or relate to it in a way we do with so many writers. It’s more like his work is like my security blanket. I discovered him last year and although I’d resolved to read only one book each by the authors I chose (in order to increase the number and genres of books I read), I ended up breaking that resolve for Levithan. I think, if I may be so bold to admit it, I’m a little bit in love with him because of his writing.

I had not heard of Nick and Norah before I started reading Levithan, or even the movie of the same name (which is, I hear, quite popular). I was skeptical at first because this is a collaboration project, and I wondered how it would turn out. In the past I’ve tried to get two writers to do collab projects with me, and they both politely declined stating “What if it doesn’t work out” as the reason. Oh well. I’m glad Levithan and Rachel Cohn did not say that to each other. (Speaking of Cohn – I’ve not read any of her works, so reccos are welcome!)

A lot of us are against books with their movie tie-in covers (I still have quite a few in my collection. I generally try not to look at the cover if it bothers me.) But in the case of Nick and Norah, I fell in love with the cover as well. Not that I have any particular liking for Michael Cera or Kat Dennings (I’ve seen way too much Arrested Development and Two Broke Girls for that), but seeing that cover made me feel things that other authors of this genre have failed to. I’m not being partial here. I’ve seen the original cover as well, the one that looks a bit like Eleanor and Park (which still gets credit for being the book through which I eventually discovered Levithan – it was a whole YA trail I had to walk through), and I still like the movie tie-in cover of the edition that I have better.

The story begins with Nick asking Norah to be his girlfriend for five minutes, and her responding with a kiss. They are both avoiding the same person – Nick’s ex Tris. Later, as Norah goes searching for her friend (who’s passed out drunk somewhere), Nick’s friends ask her to take him out for the night, because he has been spending too much time pining for Tris. They promise to drop her friend home safe and sound. And thus begins a very memorable night – for Nick, Norah, and the readers.

The story is intermeshed with music – Nick is a member of a band, he’s written songs for Tris, songs whose lyrics Norah had read even before she knew who Nick was. There are also numerous references to other popular bands (“The Cure. What do they think they’re the cure for? Happiness?”). Even the Acknowledgments page is a playlist. It’s one of the books I danced with, and swayed along with the music. There may be other books with their own “soundtrack” so to speak, but this is the one that transported me to that night. Norah’s indecisiveness regarding whether to give Nick a chance, Nick’s heartbreak that slowly heals during the course of the night – all of it was almost magical to read.

It is difficult to explain why this book made me feel all the things it did (yes, the point of this review should be to explain that, but sometimes words fail), but the main reason, it seems, is that it’s a story about moving on. It’s a story of two healed hearts. It’s a story where things change drastically in one night for the better for two lost, heartbroken people. There, right there, is a story worth reading, a book worth recommending. So go on, mend your broken heart. Find your cure.

The Cure. For the Ex’s? I’m sorry, Nick. You know. Will you kiss me again?

(PS: After reading Nick and Norah, I also read Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by the same authors. There’s a reference to the above quote – a happy reminder of how all these characters are in the same universe, which makes them more real somehow)

Goodreads | Amazon