It’s been a while since I read and reviewed Above the Star the first in Alexis Marie Chute’s Young Adult fantasy trilogy. In an ideal world, I would have reread it before reading the second but, unfortunately, I didn’t have it on me. I’ve been forcing everyone I know to read it because I absolutely loved it. I’m always a bit scared of recommending books that I love to people because, well, what do you do if they hate them? You either have to reevaluate your literary choices or your friend choices. And, let’s be honest, books are going to win every time. But I do make an exception when I think a book is good enough. And I definitely thought that Above the Star was good enough. It was one of my favourite reads of last year and I’ve been eagerly awaiting news of the second book’s release. Luckily for me, Alexis Marie Chute offered to send me an ARC copy so I didn’t even have to wait for the actual release date in October this year. I already had about 3 books on the go when this arrived but I knew I had to start it immediately. And I was hooked from the start. If it hadn’t been for my inconsiderate niece deciding to be born early, I would have finished and reviewed it weeks ago.
I’ve had this book sat in my NetGalley account for a while now and, as I’m trying to get better at sending my feedback, I decided it was finally time to read it. This was one of those books that sounded like a really interesting read. I don’t tend to read much fantasy these days and I tend to particularly avoid fantasy for younger readers. It’s the kind of genre that can be done so well but, on the flip side, just be turned into a horrible stereotype of things gone before. There is a fine line between creating a brilliant fantasy world and just shoving a load of random letters together to get a magical sounding city name. But, despite my misgivings, I’m always willing to give the genre a chance and this one sounded interesting.
I want to start this TBT post by saying that, no matter how much fun it was discovering films from 1988, I’m so fucking happy that my Throwback Thirty series is over. The problem with watching films for this blog is that, more often than not, I don’t get to watch the films that I want to. It can be a bit of pain having a craving to watch something but having to put it permanently on hold to watch a shitty film from 1988. However, there was a part of my that really liked having a themed TBT series. So, I was all ready to start a new series in which I go back a re-review films that I’ve already written about on the blog. (Which, as it turns out, is something of a fuckload.) I thought it might be interesting to compare my feelings then and now. But, I’m not sure if it’s actually a thing worth doing so, disclaimer, I might very well abandon it in the next few weeks and just review films I haven’t done before. But for now, and partly because the New Year is about reflecting as much as it about looking forwards (thank you Janus), I’m going to get all nostalgic and go back to the start.
So, this week may seem like something of a departure for someone who, only a couple of weeks ago, was ranting about how simplistic YA fiction is. And I realise that it is slightly hypocritical of me to then go on to read and review a teen horror novel from the 90s. However, I’ve been obsessing over this book for so long that I needed to reread it. I first read this book hen I was a teenager myself. I loved R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books when I was a kid so, once I started to get a bit more mature with regards to my reading, I started to “borrow” my older sister’s Point Horror books. Most of them were forgettable but this one stayed with me. I don’t know of it’s because it was the first one I read or whether it was just the story itself but I’ve never forgotten it. Well, I didn’t remember the name of it. Which didn’t really matter until last year when I got an urge to find it again. So I went through every beach related title in the set and finally found it. I started reading it night after I’d finished Long Way Down and turned the final page the next day. What a blast from the past.
Anyone who has read a few of my book related posts may know that I have a rocky history with YA fiction and I’m not entirely convinced by contemporary poetry. So you’d think that I’d definitely want to steer clear of a piece of YA fiction written entirely in verse. But Long Way Down is the kind of book that I couldn’t ignore for long. Loads of people I respect on Bookstagram loved it and I heard loads of praise for it in general. So, when To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before proved too much for me to handle, I decided it was time to give it a try. After all, it’s not a very long read so I knew I could blast through it in a matter of hours. And I am still trying, though not very hard, to read more poetry this year. It feels like a novel written in verse is the ideal way of doing this as I sometimes find it difficult to get into poetry. It’s not exactly a normal method of reading when you’ve got a collection of poems loosely tied together by a similar theme but that are all separate. As this one contained such a tight and concise narrative, I was excited to see how it would work.
For the first time in a really long time I haven’t got a new book to review. So, for the first time in a really long time I haven’t got any inspiration for my Wednesday post. It definitely doesn’t help that my current read is so bloody uninspiring. I don’t really know what possessed me to start reading To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, especially as I didn’t even like the film that much. I guess I thought it would be an easy read but I just can’t get into it. It’s fallen into so many awful YA traps and I genuinely hate reading parts of it. There is something about an adult writer trying to write the voice of a 16 year old that never quite works. I know that there is no way that I could write a convincing 16 year old yet, still, YA writers keep trying. It got super bad when she used the word “beotch” twice in quick succession. This was a book that was only written a few years ago. Who was still using the word “beotch”? It’s ridiculous. I’ve spent so much of this novel cringing. Which is why I’m being so bad at reading right now. I just don’t want to pick up this book.
I will always kind of believe that reviewing a Netflix film for my Tuesday review is something of a cop-out. It doesn’t feel as though it takes much effort and, as we’ve come to see, most Netflix original films aren’t that great. Netflix does something things amazingly well; documentaries; animated shows; reviving old comedies; and stand up specials. What it hasn’t yet nailed is films. Some have worked really well. Okay, I mean Okja was worth watching and others were enjoyable enough. But the majority of films I’ve watched in the last few years have been disappointing or just ridiculous… I’m looking at you A Christmas Prince. So when Netflix announced that it was adapting the hit YA romance novel All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. It’s a book I’ve seen all over Instagram in the past but dismissed it due to it’s awfully clichéd romance cover and my horribly judgmental personality. But I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews for the film version so I had to check it out. Even though I knew it wouldn’t be for me. Any teen movie not starring Chad Michael Murray and Hilary Duff will feel right.
It seems appropriate to start my review about this YA novel discussing prejudices by talking about my own. I openly admit to you all here that I’m prejudiced against YA fiction. I’ve always been disappointed by the simplistic narratives and underwhelming writing on offer in so many popular YA books. I know there are some really good ones out there but the majority are just so obvious, repetitive and dull. I’ve always found it a little hard to accept that so many adults these days are reading Young Adult fiction. I think YA books are great… as long as they’re read by Young Adults. The thing is, a lot of the people who read YA these days aren’t of that demographic. They’re adults. And maybe it’s because they don’t have the time or energy for something more advanced or maybe they just don’t see the appeal of other fiction? I don’t know but I find something a little bit sad about anyone over the age of 20 who reads only or primarily YA fiction. I just haven’t enjoyed very many YA books that I’ve read in recent years. It’s all so immature and simplistic. The use of language just isn’t on par to anything I’d normally read. Still, every so often there comes along a book that I can’t ignore. This was one of those books.
Today is International Women’s Day which mean I would have ideally been able to write my post from yesterday today. I don’t want to get too ranty feminist but it’s fucking brilliant that we’ve got to a stage where a classic, male-lead film can be rebooted starring some fantastic female comedians. Yet, it still riles me that women are accused of being unable to cope with taking the lead in an action based narrative. You may have seen several sexist YouTube comments claim that women just aren’t suited to playing the action hero. I mean whoever heard of a women kicking ass and taking down dangerous enemies? Oh, yeah except all those women on screen and in books who are constantly doing just that. One of the all time greatest female action heroines has to be the great Ellen Ripley of Alien. Sigourney Weaver basically paved the way for strong women to play the hero rather than the victim. Thankfully, that practice is on going and YA fiction is always attempting (and failing) to replicate her. Latest YA sensation Illuminae is no different.
Illuminae is one of those books that has so much fucking hype around it that you can’t ignore it. It’s perhaps one of the most talked about YA books of recent years and has been all over Instagram thanks to its unusual format… but more on that later. The novel is set in 2575 and tracks the events directly following an assault on a planet. The planet in question is home to an illegal mining colony and is attacked by the company’s biggest rival. The limited survivors find safety on the corporations three nearby ships but their problems are only just beginning.
There is plenty of danger to add to the narrative including a psychotic AI called AIDAN, a deadly virus turning people into killers, and a huge enemy battleship getting closer by the day. It’s fairly standard science-fiction kind of affair with the traditional YA over-the-top romance thrown in for good measure. The novel is presented as a file full of official documents pertaining to the events following the assault and follow the movements of two teenage survivors; Kady, who is suspicious of the superior officers and starts investigating on her own, and Ezra, who is immediately conscripted to a unit of fighter pilots. Awkwardly, the pair broke up the day before their home was destroyed but, despite being on separate ships, find themselves missing each other.
Their conversations are included in the dossier and are as clichéd YA soppy teenagers as you’re likely to meet. These characters aren’t realistic, which I realise is a bit of a shitty thing to say about a novel set in space, They just don’t feel like real teenagers and there was never a moment when I connected with either main character. They’re just the same YA characters that reappear time after time and it’s getting dull. Strong willed female raging against the system? Gee where have I seen that before?! Whether that had anything to do with the limitations of the form or just bad writing, it’s safe to say none of the characters presented to us have any real depth. The nearest we get is the pair recovering from losing their parents. Classic YA: if you need to make your hero troubled just kill their fucking parents.
I can’t deny that Illuminae was a triumph of style and format. The idea to present the novel as a series of documents, verbal accounts, emails and visually stunning pieces of prose was a fantastic way to get everyone’s attention. However, it does present some issues with storytelling. The story doesn’t progress as fluidly as it would have in a more traditional format and there are times when the visuals make for an uncomfortable reading experience. I mean I can’t be the only one who found it overly complicated when the writing flowed around the pages meaning it was impossible to read anything at the middle of the page, can I? Whilst I was as excited as anyone by the styling of the novel, I found I tired of it incredibly quickly.
Which would have been fine is the narrative was interesting enough to counter that annoyance. However, it’s nothing but a rehash of every science-fiction trope in the book. There isn’t an original idea in this novel and it’s absolutely disgraceful. Anyone with any real knowledge of classic science-fiction will not only have seen the aspects of this narrative elsewhere but will have seen them done better. AIDAN is nowhere near as terrifying a prospect as HAL 9000. The crazy virus is nothing we haven’t seen before. The idea of people uncovering their superiors keeping secrets and fighting to uncover it is just yawn inducing at this point. The only original idea that Kaufman and Kristoff has was adding in a soppy teenage romance to add to the equation. It’s almost insulting to their many readers.
Illuminae defines the idea of “style over substance”. So much attention was given to trying to create an unusual form that very little attention was paid to the actual story. It’s a fucking patchwork quilt of science-fiction stories all knitted together into a not very clever or suspenseful narrative. It’s compelling in its own way, I’ll give it that, and the short ‘chapters’ make it easy to keep reading. However, I can’t say I was every wowed by any aspect of this story. In fact, it just made me want to watch 2001 again so I can see sci-fi executed well.
The dust jacket of Boo reminds me of the ‘Travel Writer’ episode of Black Books. You know the one where every quote on the back of Jason Hamilton’s new book says he’s charming: “Every one of these blurbs says he’s charming: ‘I was swept away by a wave of charm.’ ‘I was immolated in a firewall of charm and charisma.’ ‘I almost exploded from the concentration of charm on the page.’” The one thing everyone seems able to agree upon regarding Neil Smith’s first full length novel is that it’s charming. Nothing like creating a little bit of pressure for yourself, is there. Still it was a novel that I’d been keen to read for some time: an incredibly charming novel that’s reminiscent of The Lovely Bones? Is it any wonder I lost sleep over this thing?