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Month: June 2019

Review: The Grace Year by Kim Liggett

Review: The Grace Year by Kim Liggett

‘No one speaks of the grace year. It’s forbidden.

Girls are told they have the power to lure grown men from their beds, drive women mad with jealousy. They believe their very skin emits a powerful aphrodisiac, the potent essence of youth, of a girl on the edge of womanhood. That’s why they’re banished for their sixteenth year, to release their magic into the wild so they can return purified and ready for marriage. But not all of them will make it home alive.

Sixteen-year-old Tierney James dreams of a better life—a society that doesn’t pit friend against friend or woman against woman, but as her own grace year draws near, she quickly realizes that it’s not just the brutal elements they must fear. It’s not even the poachers in the woods, men who are waiting for their chance to grab one of the girls in order to make their fortune on the black market. Their greatest threat may very well be each other.’

I really enjoyed The Grace Year and applaud the many connotations of its narrative and the metaphors contained within. In a world of male oppression, young women are believed to grow into a magic that grants them the ability to bewitch men and endanger society, and so they are sent away into the wild, supposedly to rid themselves of this magic so that they can become proper, obedient wives. However, the reality of what the girls are led to believe about themselves and the ‘necessity’ of the male enforced grace year is far from the truth – at least to the women who have endured and survived it, the men of the village conditioned by other men to maintain its tradition and their hold over the women in their lives.

One of the things that struck me most about The Grace Year is how it handles the matter of how society pits women against women from an early age. Ours is not a world in which women are encouraged to support each other, particularly with the media portraying women as enemies, rivals and threats to each other instead of exploring the friendships and sisterhood that it should be taking the time to present as a healthier message for young women. The girls of The Grace Year are brought up to believe other women are rivals for their role as the perfect wife and mother of many sons, a role only a few of them will be claimed to fulfil, the rest sent to work if they survive the grace year. They have no control over their futures, for the men arrange the marriages among themselves as if the girls are no more than animals, and have final say on who is to become a wife, leading this uncertainty to only heighten the competitive nature that takes hold of many. An element that I found particularly heartbreaking is the threat held over the girls leaving for the grace year, in that, if they do not return or their bodies are not retrieved (and worse) and identified, their little sister(s) are banished from the village, one of the only secure female bonds many might have exploited to force them into participation. There are hints, here and there, of an understanding and a bond between those who have survived, and I don’t want to reveal any specific spoilers, so I’ll settle for saying that these are some of the moments that I loved the most.

I’m more than a little dubious about the need for a lead female character to find a man and fall in love by a novel’s conclusion, yet its significant impact on the narrative in this case is one that meant that, while I wasn’t too sold on the relationship itself, I found I wasn’t entirely opposed to it, despite some concerns about Tierney’s age (something that only makes the lives of all the women in the village more harrowing). The matter of the age of the girls and the events that unfold is a deliberately unsettling construction, in that they are set to be wives before they are truly women, their identities and choices stolen from them before they have a chance to discover who they really are, and in this instance and this dystopian setting it is far from the most disturbing element of society.

I have to say that, despite all the positive messages about the need for feminism and why women should aim not to embrace society’s suggestion that they are each other’s enemies – in-fact the myriad of representations of women and explorations of sisterhood and friendship – I was a little disappointed to discover that the novel closes with lines about a man and not a focus on the more beautiful and haunting elements of the story. However, The Grace Year is a fantastic read and one I highly recommend picking up a copy of when it’s released on September 17th!

I received an e-ARC of The Grace Year from Netgalley and the publisher. Thank you!

Review: Wicked Fox by Kat Cho

Review: Wicked Fox by Kat Cho

‘Eighteen-year-old Gu Miyoung has a secret–she’s a gumiho, a nine-tailed fox who must devour the energy of men in order to survive. Because so few believe in the old tales anymore, and with so many evil men no one will miss, the modern city of Seoul is the perfect place to hide and hunt.

But after feeding one full moon, Miyoung crosses paths with Jihoon, a human boy, being attacked by a goblin deep in the forest. Against her better judgment, she violates the rules of survival to rescue the boy, losing her fox bead–her gumiho soul–in the process.

Jihoon knows Miyoung is more than just a beautiful girl–he saw her nine tails the night she saved his life. His grandmother used to tell him stories of the gumiho, of their power and the danger they pose to men. He’s drawn to her anyway. When he finds her fox bead, he does not realize he holds her life in his hands.

With murderous forces lurking in the background, Miyoung and Jihoon develop a tenuous friendship that blossoms into something more. But when a young shaman tries to reunite Miyoung with her bead, the consequences are disastrous and reignite a generations-old feud… forcing Miyoung to choose between her immortal life and Jihoon’s.’

Wicked Fox is a hugely enjoyable read and one of my favourites of the year so far. I used to watch a lot of K Dramas and probably will return to watching them soon, as there are many elements of Wicked Fox that mirror elements found in them (Miyoung herself actually watches K Dramas as a method of coping with a lack of affectionate human interaction). It’s a well-paced read that allows for both development of the supernatural and mythological elements within the story while spending quality time with the characters during ‘downtime’ in a manner that forms a well-rounded cast that the reader quickly and easily begins to care for and becoming invested in the futures of.

Miyoung is a girl trapped between worlds, unable to exist fully in the human world as a ‘normal’ girl and unwilling to fully embrace her gumiho side and live as others of the same nature do. Her mother offers her very little guidance in how she might navigate either world, determined to protect her at the cost of all else, including showing her the affection that Miyoung quietly craves, leading her to believe that she will never be good enough for her mother to love and be proud of. In many ways, Miyoung tries to emulate her mother, creating distance between herself and others so as to better survive and ultimately protect them, leaving her ill-equipped to respond to more friendly interaction that falls outside of the norm that she has lived with her entire life. She has a keen sense of what she believes is right and wrong, which leads her to reject some of the needs of her gumiho side, and also means she is more than willing to stand up for those she believes are being treated unjustly (I loved a particular interaction with Changwan in this vein), except, in most instances, herself, for fear of what she might do. It’s primarily through her interaction with Jihoon and his halmeoni (grandmother) that she begins to experience and understand all that she’s missed from her human half, to the extent that it both highlights to her all that she lacks to a distressing extent and makes her fearful of it going away. Miyoung has many of the necessary aspects to become the typical ‘all powerful’ YA heroine, and that she doesn’t is a refreshing change, the focus more on her learning to embrace her human side than a story of her developing her powers. To my mind, Miyoung certainly is a heroine and I adore her story arc, and I was pleased to discover that it was not one of her eventually exploiting her more magical gifts.

I have a particular love for stories that include legends and mythology, and one of the structural features of the narrative that I enjoyed is the flashbacks to the origins of the gumiho (and one gumiho in particular) that gradually become more and more clearly relevant to the main narrative. The magic and mythological elements of the story don’t seem out of step with the contemporary setting, perhaps mostly because they serve as an addition to the story while also being at its heart, and the narrative’s focus seems firstly to be on character interaction and not the magical world. The contemporary and magical elements fit neatly into the same world, each enhancing the other and lending aspects that might not be seen if the novel were to be purely of the fantasy genre.

Wicked Fox is out on June 25th from Penguin Teen!

Blog Tour: The Switch Up by Katy Cannon

Blog Tour: The Switch Up by Katy Cannon

Today is the final stop on the blog tour for the brilliant summer read The Switch Up by Katy Cannon! Read on for a synopsis and a fun game to help you see which of the main protagonists you are more like: Alice or Willa!

WILLA

Drama queen

Fashion guru

Spontaneous

Looks like Alice

ALICE

Bookworm

Allergic to fashion

Planner

Looks like Willa

LAX Departure Lounge. Two girls board the same flight to London as complete strangers. When the plane touches down, it’s the beginning of the craziest plan ever. Can Willa and Alice really swap lives for the summer?

Things are going to get complicated…

Alice and Willa may look very similar, but they are completely different in their attitudes to life and what they enjoy most. You can use the flowchart below to plan your dream holiday and follow a path to see which of them you are more like! Though they may be not so similar in many respects, they share the same good heart!

The Switch Up is a delightful read full of characters that are easy to love and journeys to found family and self-realisations. Alice and Willa’s paths may take them to very different locations, but each of their stories is just as significant as the other, as the two endeavour to make new discoveries about themselves through inhabiting each other’s lives, take steps towards dreams and the future, and expand their worlds. Family is what remains at the story’s core, and not only for Alice and Willa, but for others, such as Luca, one of the friends Alice makes during her stay in Italy. The impact of his fractured family life upon his attitude towards attachment to others is something that has stayed with me long after finishing the novel. The Switch Up is a fun and incredibly enjoyable read, seemingly lighthearted, yet it doesn’t shy away from addressing the important subjects, such as loss and separation. I loved it from start to finish and highly recommend picking up a copy!

Thank you to Stripes Books and Katy Cannon for inviting me to be part of the blog tour and for gifting me a copy of The Switch Up! If you’d like to let me know whether you’re more like Alice or Willa, you can tweet me or leave a comment on my Instagram, both @pythiareads!

Review: Field Notes on Love by Jennifer E. Smith

Review: Field Notes on Love by Jennifer E. Smith

‘It’s the perfect idea for a romantic week together: travelling across America by train.

But then Hugo’s girlfriend dumps him. Her parting gift: the tickets for their long-planned last-hurrah-before-uni trip. Only, it’s been booked under her name. Non-transferable, no exceptions.

Mae is still reeling from being rejected from USC’s film school. When she stumbles across Hugo’s ad for a replacement Margaret Campbell (her full name!), she’s certain it’s exactly the adventure she needs to shake off her disappointment and jump-start her next film.

A cross-country train trip with a complete stranger might not seem like the best idea. But to Mae and Hugo, both eager to escape their regular lives, it makes perfect sense. What starts as a convenient arrangement soon turns into something more. But when life outside the train catches up with them, can they find a way to keep their feelings for each other from getting derailed?’

One of the things that I love most about Field Notes on Love is that it isn’t so much a ‘will they? won’t they?’ romance that is extended and exploited throughout the narrative, but a story that is about what it means to love, and not solely in the romantic sense. The relationship that grows between Mae and Hugo is not just based on attraction or desire and it isn’t manipulated to create tension in a more predictable fashion, particularly as the question of whether they have any feelings for each other is addressed quite early on in the story. This in particular is something that isn’t seen very often in novels or television anymore and is what I think we need more of, ultimately allowing for characters’ feelings to be explored over the course of a story, rather than having them get together at the end and leave no room for seeing how they truly interact as a pair.

Field Notes on Love is as much about discovering and learning about what you love and why as anything else. Mae in particular believes that she has found her path in life and has devoted herself to following it, focusing primarily on developing her skills and viewing much of it from an analytical point of view. This has left her with a somewhat clinical approach that Hugo promptly and inadvertently disrupts with his interest in her process and the choices that she makes in putting her films together. He interacts with her interviewees in a way takes her outside of her usual manner of doing things and begins to draw her interest more towards the people in her movies than the ideas and messages she wishes to convey, her need for control over every element giving way to a willingness to examine her own feelings and what she wants from the world.

In a similar vein, Hugo is forced to re-examine what he really wants out of life and how much he is willing to sacrifice in his efforts to avoid hurting the people he loves most in the world. In taking the train journey with Mae, he perhaps does one of the first things that he has ever done solely for himself, and he spends much of the journey worrying about how what he wishes could hurt his five siblings and his parents, seeing their needs as outweighing his own. Hugo is a genuinely lovely character and his views in this respect are admirable, but, as Mae begins to help him understand – her direction and focus on her own goals helping to inject some into his – trapping himself in a life he doesn’t truly want is no way to live. Admittedly, it takes a lot for me to actually like a male character in a lot of YA literature, mostly because they are so often destined to unnecessarily ‘rescue’ or take away the agency of female characters, but Hugo is a sweetheart and a character I would happily read further stories about.

I love both Mae and Hugo’s families, from the interaction of Hugo’s siblings, to Mae’s adorable dads. It’s lovely to see parent and child interactions that are healthy and involve obvious affection and an interest in the well-being of each other, and it’s the familial relationships in the story that are perhaps the thing that I would praise above all. Field Notes on Love leaves the reader with a real sense that they know both families, even though much of the interaction is via Mae and Hugo with their families off-screen, and I would honestly love to see more of them.

Thank you to My Kinda Book & Pan Macmillan for sending me a copy of Field Notes on Love!