Something in Between

28688476Title: Between the Lines
Author: Melissa de la Cruz
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, YA, Drama
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ | 2.0 of 5.0

I wish I could say I enjoyed this novel. I even wish I say this novel simply “wasn’t for me.” Unfortunately, neither of these are true. I will preface this by saying that I’m neither Filipinx nor undocumented, so my personal impressions should be taken with a grain of salt, and should not take precedent over the opinion of someone who is Filipinx, undocumented, or both. That said, I found the novel to be extremely juvenile for its target demographic, and it was also incredibly microaggressive, especially where it came to respectability politics. I DNF-ed this book at just over 50% of the way through.

Initially, I was excited to read a novel about an undocumented Filipina girl because there are a lot of undocumented Asian Americans, but as a community, we don’t centre their voices nearly enough. Something in Between follows Jasmine de los Santos, who seems to lead a charmed life––pretty, popular, a cheerleader and a contender for valedictorian, she’s surrounded by loving friends and family. She’s fully prepared to live the American Dream. That is, until the day she’s notified that she qualified for a major college scholarship, but her parents tell her there’s no way she can accept, because she lacks documentation. While her world is crashing around her, she becomes increasingly reliant on Royce (…you read that name correctly), whose father is one of the most strident anti-immigrant congressmen on Capitol Hill.

…Alrighty then.

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Certain Dark Things

Certain Dark Things (Silvia Moreno-Garcia)Title: Certain Dark Things
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Genre: Contemporary, Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
Rating: ★★★★☆ | 3.5

After humans discover the existence of vampires in the 1960s, they’ve been pushed out into the open, slowly taking over drug trafficking and fighting over control of territories. After the fighting between her clan and the Godoys leaves Atl’s family dead, she flees to Mexico City, pursued by the scion of the Godoy family. But Mexico City is a vampire-free zone, and they’re both being pursued by veteran cop Ana Aguire, who is sick of dealing with both the bureaucracy and they body count in Nick Godoy’s wake.

Then there’s Domingo, who’s been surviving on his own since his stepdad kicked him out years ago. He’s infatuated with Atl, who, despite not having the time for it, feels strangely attracted to this earnest, naive boy.

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How to Repair a Mechanical Heart

How to Repair a Mechanical Heart (J.C. Lillis)Title: How to Repair a Mechanical Heart
Author: J.C. Lillis
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, YA
Rating: ★★★☆☆ | 3.0

How to Repair a Mechanical Heart has a lot of things to recommend it: a fluffy gay romance, a quirky sensibility, and a knowledge of fandom that speaks to the author being engaged in it. The novel was well-written, and it didn’t condescend to fandom (and in particular, the fangirls)––in fact, it satirises anboys who condescend to girls for being into ships and writing fic. It felt a lot like Simon and the Homo Sapiens Agenda, but where Alberti’s book felt at times to me to be trying Too Hard, Lillis’ book felt very naturalistic.

Yet somehow, I wasn’t engaged.

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Prom Queen Perfect

29331371-_uy1600_ss1600_Title: Prom Queen Perfect
Author: Clarisse David
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, YA
Rating: ★★★☆☆ | 2.5

Alexandra de la Cruz is perfect: perfect family, perfect older sister, perfect clothing, perfect life. She’s the most popular girl in school, and she’s on track to become prom queen––just like her sister. Just like her mother’s favourite. And if she becomes prom queen, maybe her mother will stop finding fault with her at every turn.

So when childhood friend-turned brother-in-law turned nuisance Adam Cordero tells her she’s selfish, she’s determined to prove him wrong by taking Christy Marquez on as a project, turning her from social reject to social butterfly. Her plan works, but it works too well, and suddenly the title of prom queen, which was so within her grasp, is slipping away, and she has to contend with the true nature of friendship.

This was a cute pick-me-up during finals week––it’s short, utterly predictable, and its characters were bland and vacuous enough that I didn’t feel so caught up in their struggles that I neglected my studying, which is good. For finals week. Not really so good for when I need a substantial story to keep me occupied.

But I’ve mentioned this multiple times across multiple reviews and I am always going to be the first to say: fluff entertainment has value, too, and I’m not going to dismiss the novel because it doesn’t have substance. Books are entertainment, and English minor I may be, but I will meet you behind the gym at 3:00 pm with my fists ready if you entertain the notion that all books have to meet some arbitrary standard of Literary Value to have Worth™.

That being said, while I enjoyed the novel for what it is––the written version of, say, She’s All That––it wasn’t much beyond that. I don’t really know what else to say. It was cute, it was okay, it’s the equivalent of watching a teen movie with a tub of ice cream and some popcorn on a lazy Saturday when you should be doing other things. I don’t regret purchasing it, but I’m also probably not going to reread it. The characterisation was jerky––who becomes a best friend mere hours after meeting?––but overall it was inoffensive enough that it went down like jello. It didn’t stir up any strong emotions or attachment, but I was also not really expecting it to.

shrug-2

How to Write a Query Letter (and Not Piss Off the Intern Reading It)

A blunt, unprofessional guide to how to be a fucking professional and send query letters that don’t upset the interns who are in control of your slush pile destiny.

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1. Follow the agency rules. Follow the agent rules.

I don’t know how to make this clearer to many of the authors who are querying: the interns (aka the ones who read your queries) know the rules. We know how our agents like their queries formatted, we know how many pages they request. Deviation from the rules can sometimes work out––but more often than not, if you ignore agency rules, if you don’t listen to what our agents want, you come across as rude and disrespectful and hard to work with.

What is says to me is that you looked up a list of agents somewhere and you’re sending out your queries based on that, not based on actual knowledge of the agent. Every agent has their submissions guidelines posted on their websites: it’s not inaccessible or hard to find, so when you send in a query that does not care about the agency guidelines, what it means is that you don’t value our time or care about what we want.

Your writing might be good enough to make me overlook this, but TBH I wouldn’t count on it.

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The Pirates (2014)

The Priates (2014)Title: The Pirates
Starring: Son Ye-jin, Kim Nam-gil
Genre: Historical, Comedy
Rating: ★★★★☆ | 3.5

Give me a historical slapstick swashbuckler about pirates and bandits fighting in a time of dynastic transition against the corrupt court and add to that a whale and imperialism and you have a recipe to make me the happiest girl on the world.

Yeo-wol is a pirate who’s successfully mutinied against a faithless captain, and she’s just been offered a contract by disgraced army captain Park Mo (AKA Ahab): bring back the imperial seal bestowed upon the newly-established Joseon by Ming, which was swallowed by a whale (hi, Moby Dick), and be rewarded with riches beyond imagination. Unfortunately for Yeo-wol, however, former lieutenant-turned-bandit Jang Sa-jung, who had opposed the rebellion that put Yi Seong-gye in power, has also heard about the prize, and he is willing to go to sea to save his failing bandit outpost. Sa-jung and Yeo-wol clash multiple times, but when both their demons come knocking, they’re forced to work together to build a future they want to live in.

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And I Darken

and-i-darken_kiersten-whiteTitle: And I Darken
Author: Kiersten White
Genre: Historical Fiction, Alternate History, YA
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ | 2.0

For a stretch of about 30 minutes, I thought I might actually like this novel. Imagine: a novel about Dracula, but Vladimir is Lada, and Lada is ugly, and brutal, but ultimately sympathetic. Add that to the fact that the novel was super hyped by a bunch of book bloggers whose opinions I usually trust, and I jumped into this pit like there was a feast at the bottom of it.

To its credit, there are things that it does try to do well––Lada is certainly an unconventional protagonist. She isn’t likeable and she’s unapologetic about wanting power. There’s something I love about women who want power––it’s not so much that I think it’s empowering for women to take power, because it’s really not (see: Margaret Thatcher), but because I love that girls can be fucked up pieces of shit and still be worthy of having our stories told.

And insofar as they stay in Wallachia, the story felt nuanced: Lada’s self-hatred, the internalised sexism that she displaces onto her mother, her desperation for her father’s love and her frustration at his inability to protect Wallachia from Ottoman invasion.

Past this, the book goes so quickly downhill. Even if you weren’t concerned with diversity (which if you aren’t, yuck), the writing is extremely dry. There were a few pretty lines, but they felt incredibly false and formulated, just a bunch of words strung together to sound #empowering but lacking any real understanding of oppression or true subversive potential.

And once the novel hits the Ottoman Empire…yikes.

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