The Fall of Butterflies by Andrea Portes

fall of butterfliesIn her novel, The Fall of Butterflies, tells the story of Wilma, a young woman whose life hasn’t by any stretch of the imagination been easy.  She’s never quite fit in, her mother has been absent, and her father struggles to support them.  To make matters worse, her mother has decided that to be a proper adult, she has to abandon her hometown of What Cheer, Iowa for a pretentious private school on the East Coast.  Consequently, Wilma plans to commit suicide once she arrives there.

That is, until she meets Remy.

Remy is an enigma.  She fascinates Wilma and breathes joy back into her life with her wit and friendship.  For a while, they simply enjoy each other’s company.  Remy sometimes disappears for days on end, but she also moves in with Wilma and pushes her to try new things and meet new people.  However, Wilma soon learns that Remy has some very serious problems and some very dark secrets.

Portes tells Wilma’s story in a refreshingly frank tone by wasting no time beating around the bush and using very little figurative language.  This technique works well, and makes Wilma seem more genuine.  In addition to being painfully honest at times, The Fall of Butterflies is gripping to say the least, and Portes manages to make a story that addresses very real human concerns fun and light at times, while also solemn at others.  Portes also raises questions about social issues such as the wealth gap and subsequent prejudices as Wilma watches the lives of her wealthy friends through the eyes of a child whose father worked very hard just to keep them afloat.  The Fall of Butterflies also succeeds at character foils, both with Grease and Hamlet; although, it would have been better if Portes had not spent so much time explaining how the characters related and spent more time showing it.

This challenge is actually the key flaw in The Fall of Butterflies: Portes wastes too much time telling her reader when she should be showing them.  She does paint a very vivid picture, but she leaves very little to the imagination.  Most people are familiar enough with Hamlet to recognize that Remy shares many traits with Ophelia, and it would have been more elegant if she’d allowed the readers to make the connection for themselves.  This problem persists throughout the entire book and follows nearly every pop culture reference made, which makes it tedious to read at times.  Portes’s lack of a fourth wall also feels unnecessary and uncomfortable.  All of the points Wilma made by speaking directly to the reader could have been made more gracefully if Portes had shown them implicitly through Wilma’s thoughts or actions.  The final challenge The Fall of Butterflies faces is how to seem realistic.  It’s very difficult for adults to genuinely sound like teenagers in young adult fiction, and Portes never really manages to bring Wilma the authentistic voice of a high schooler.  She attempts to remedy this through use of pop culture references, such as “hashtags”,  and long tangents about unnecessary things, but they only feel out of place and often break the flow of the story, making them more annoying than relatable.  Even elements of the plot, such as Milo’s sudden interest in Wilma and the breakneck speed at which their relationship moves, are incredible.  Frankly, it would have been much more believable for Remy and Wilma to fall in love than for Wilma to fall hopelessly in love with Milo because she saw him across the way once.  Although the “love at first sight” trope has been successful in the past, many authors struggle to make it believable, and Portes never really achieves it.
In short, The Fall of Butterflies is witty and brutally honest, but was difficult to get through due to the aforementioned problems.  Regardless, it is an interesting read for people who would like to explore  themes such as acceptance of oneself and others, the class distinction and the issues that it causes, and what it means to live rather than to simply persist. – Paige P.

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The Girl in the Blue Coat reviewed by Bella Buchter

Girl in the Blue Coat

Girl in the Blue Coat

I don’t normally read historical fiction, so The Girl in the Blue Coat was a nice change of pace and I enjoyed how the author, Monica Hesse, weaved a story with so much mystery and detailed description. It really seemed like a very researched book.
The girl in the blue coat follows the quest of Hanneke, a young woman who lives during 1943, when the Germans invaded Amsterdam. In order to provide for her family, she deals in black market goods, secretly smuggling illegal things such as cigarettes and coffee to her customers. Her own life is risky, but this time is even more dangerous for her friends and neighbors who are jews, as they are forced to go into hiding in order not to be taken to transit camps. One day on a delivery, Hanneke is asked to find a missing jewish girl, who at any time could be captured by the Nazis. It is an almost impossible task, but Hanneke takes it on partly as a small rebellion against the Nazis. She feels that her boyfriend, Bas, who was killed at war with the Germans, would want her to try to save the girl. Throughout the book, she becomes overwhelmed with feelings of sadness for Bas, which encourages her to continue looking for the missing girl.
Hanneke is a very detail oriented, independant, do-what-you-have-to-to-survive type of person, and an expert at finding things such as all her black market goods. Hanneke’s determination and focused personality help her a lot a she reaches dead end after dead end and new mystery after new mystery while trying to locate Mirjam, the missing girl and as she gets deeper and deeper into her quest and things gradually get more dangerous.
Some parts of this book did get confusing, especially at the end, when Hanneke was trying to figure out what really happened to Mirjam, but besides that it seemed like a very realistic book and had a strong main character to admire. Any fans of historical fiction would enjoy this book, as well as any fans of mystery.

SuperMutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki Review!

Simply beginning as slice of life web comic Supermutant Magic Academy is a compilation of comic strips from this not so ordinary high school. Where we see little interactions between the students, teachers and themselves experiencing the most mundane high school situations like failing a test, prom, trying to find the school’s wifi hotspot or procrastinating on a project but with the added twist of magic wands, lasers, and shape shifting into trees. We also see the characters discovering their sexuality, superpower or the secrets to the universe between classes, during P.E. and in their dorm rooms. Making this a very witty, quirky, and relatable graphic novel that summarizes high school with each panel.

Although what is probably the best thing from this graphic novel is the hilarious and very diverse characters. From an everlasting boy who continuously dies and regenerates, an artist hell bent on making a statement about the world to her less appreciative peers, a shy and sarcastic dungeon master attempting to confess her feelings to her best friend and a jock named Cheddar who only has time to go off on existential rants as he refuses to become the chosen one. And yet this is only skimming the surface of all the characters featured in the novel and as you may be able to tell that they are quite distinct and memorable.

Overall the art style and story telling of this graphic novel is very welcoming and a whole bunch of fun in its simplicity. Making it a great book for people trying to get into graphic novels but are sort of struggling with the transition from text only to primarily illustrations and dialogue because like a real novel there are spaces left for you to fill in, but instead of it being images and characters it’s the story and how everything comes together which allows your imagination to roam and flourish at the Supermutant Magic Academy.

Maid of Deception by Jennifer McGowen Review

When you really like a genre you tend to read a lot of books within it and therefore read a number of similar books. Books that take place in the same time periods, featuring the same monarchs, similar leading ladies, a stereotypical romance and plot line making it everything you want but sort of leaving out a lot of the surprise and mystique as you wonder what is going to happen next. Since because you are so familiar with this particular genre everything appears very predictable as if you have read it before… Unless you have read it before and it just takes you 250 pages to realize that. Which is what happened to me in this instance. Although, when I originally read it I -for some reason- never wrote review on it so please allow me to remedy that now.

Now, to be fair, I am quite well read in historical romances taking place during Queen Elizabeth I’s reign in the 1500s with a cunning female lead falling in love with a brute. Also, I remembered reading the first 20-30 pages before leaving it be for a while (of so I though). So for me to think that I was reading this novel for the first time was entirely plausible. Especially since it was on my “to be read” stack. But I have to say that this novel was just as good the second time around, even with the weird deja vu I was having with it.

Which was mainly in part with the intricate and provocative characters. Especially with the protagonist Lady Beatrice Knowles who was a very clever, honest, persuasive, deceiving and responsible with her loyalties to the country of England and her family. Even if it meant marrying out of necessity for her family’s fortune to be sustained or to flirt with uncivilized scotsmen in order to woo information out of them. Since Beatrice is a liar and tradeswomen of secrets, knowing all and choosing when to wield her knowledge or to just talk her way out of something. Unlike her fellow spies, or the maids of honor, who dealt more in the supernatural, shadows and force in comparison to Lady Beatrice. Then there was the scottish warrior Alasdair MacLeod who is dashing, strong and prideful but utterly infatuated with the engaged Lady Beatrice. But of course her Royal Highness (and many other -nesses) directs her head maid honor to flirt with the scot to Lady Beatrice’s great annoyance. Making Lady Beatrice’s internal monologue quite entertaining as she takes you through all her flirtations, deceptions and personal agenda.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed reading this novel, for the second time. The story is still enchanting, thoughtful, well crafted and entertaining. Definitely a must read for fellow fans of historical romances, mysteries and simply historical YA fiction.

Change Places With Me by Lois Metzger

Be transported to a time not so far away in a place somewhat similar to our own, known as Belle Heights. In this place the buses are powered by hydrogen, lab dissections are virtual, teeth can be straightened in under an hour and there’s this special procedure known as Memory Enhancement.

So meet Rose a reborn women in her sophomore year of high school trying to make friends and reestablish herself. Right off the bat we see Rose dying her hair, beginning to wear makeup and completely change her wardrobe. Which instantly garners her more attention and allows her to break into new social groups, but something is amiss for Rose. She is making everything perfect, but it just doesn’t feel real or perfect to her. Which then leads us to the rest of the events of the novel.

Now, onto my opinions of this book! It is a short read and conceptually very interesting but incredibly convoluted. There just isn’t that much consistency or continuity throughout the novel to allow me to fall into Rose’s world, instead I keep dragging myself out of the world in order to set names straight, timelines and perspectives/pronouns. Which took away a lot from what is a pretty beautiful and powerful story. It also drew attention away from the very complex and compelling character of Rose who is a very confused, insecure and struggling teenager that a lot of us could identify with but it is hard to fully understand her and follow her development because of all inconsistencies of her pronouns, perspective and thought process that jumps around quite a bit similar to an actual teenager but makes it quite difficult to understand what is happening, happened or going to happen.

Alright, the reason why I wanted to read this book was because it claimed to be similar to Adam Silvera’s More Happy Than Not which was an amazing neo-science fiction novel. Now, there are a lot of similarities in these novels especially that they are what I consider neo-science fiction  which is when the world in very similar to our own aside from one or two things that are totally ahead of our time. In this case is was the Hydro-buses and Memory Enhancement which were pretty cool and well executed in the story.

So overall, I thought that this book was conceptually very interesting just not perfectly executed. However, I do believe that Rose’s character has some merits and a story worth being told. Also, this book would be good for anyone else interested in this neo-sci fi thing.

The Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters

steep and thorny way 2The Steep and Thorny Way chronicles the life of sixteen year old Hanalee Denney, whose parents are an interracial couple in 1920’s Oregon.  Hanalee is still mourning the loss of her father nearly two years before, and the story begins with Hanalee confronting the boy who hit her father while driving under the influence.  He suggests that her father was killed by Hanalee’s new stepfather, Uncle Clyde, which leads her down a twisted path as she tries to learn what really happened to her father and uncovers many dark secrets along the way.  Using the framework of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Winters explores several issues of the the time including racial divides and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, homophobia and the eugenics movement, and the pressure to conform to society that fueled them.  Although Hamlet is by no means the main focus of this book, it plays a critical role in the way Winters portrays her characters and how they interact.  For example, the strained relationship between Hanalee and her Uncle Clyde is a clear reference to Hamlet’s feelings toward his own Uncle Claudius.

Winters has a talent for imagery and her novel is riddled with eloquent descriptions of the wooded town of Elston that paint a vivid image in the reader’s mind and bring the story to life.  She also has an eye for detail and includes several subtle references to brands that would have been commonly used at the time, such as the description of the “distinctive” sound of a Model T and the Canthrox soap that Hanalee uses, which helps transport the reader and make the story feel more realistic.

The challenge The Steep and Thorny Way faces is how to incorporate racial discrimination, internalized racism, homophobia, Prohibition, post-war economic troubles, and Hamlet into one novel.  In some aspects, it gracefully combines several issues, such as how the end of World War One forced many families, like the Markses, to turn to “bootlegging” to survive.  Winters also addresses the issue of internalized racism extraordinarily well and tactfully through the way Hanalee seems to idolize her mother’s and Fleur’s blonde hair and fair skin.  She even manages to offer acceptance for Hanalee at the end of the story, which was refreshing and overall well done.  Winters’s trouble begins when she tries to stay true to the plot of Hamlet.  Hamlet has a very unique plotline that, frankly, is barely believable in the Bard’s version.  With the KKK, Joe’s stories of eugenics in the prison system, and the murder of Hanalee’s father, the connections to Hamlet feel out of place and unnecessary.  The story would have flown much better and made more sense if Winters had just loosely based it on Hamlet and abandoned certain elements, such as the ghost, that make it seem far fetched.  She has so many elements to work with already that she even could have formulated a completely unique plot that still could have addressed the issues of 1920’s Oregon without the confusion that the Shakespeare element brings.

The Steep and Thorny Way was an interesting read that did touch on a lot of major issues that are still problems in today’s society while also keeping the reader interested with a quick-paced plot and many twists.  Despite its pitfalls, it is worth reading for those who have an interest in history and in exploring sides of the Roaring Twenties that are rarely discussed. – Paige P

Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash

Honor GirlIn this book, Maggie Thrash has spent basically every summer of her fifteen-year-old life at the one-hundred-year-old Camp Bellflower for Girls, set deep in the heart of Appalachia. She is from Atlanta, never kissed anyone, really likes the Backstreet boys, and most of her summer is peaceful until this second on a random day in camp-a split second of physical contact from an older counselor, which is like a gut twisting love. But she is surprised that the reaction was towards the older Female counselor named Erin. But at camp Bellflower, you can’t fall in love with another girl there, and the camp’s rifle range is the only thing keeping her heart at bay from an exposition. But when it seems like Erin, the counselor, might feel the same about Maggie, it’s too much for the both of them and the rest of Camp to understand, or handle.

 

I would tell everyone to read it. After the first few pages, I was hooked to the book, and I wanted to see what happened to Maggie, because I know people with similar stories, of being attracted to someone they didn’t think they could be attracted to, and to anyone going through such a challenge. I think this book could help them figure out what to do, because knowing one person’s story and challenge could give you a new perspective on the challenge you are facing.

The Haters by Jesse Andrews

There are a lot of haters in the world, most of them are middle schoolers or pretentious hipsters. Although that’s not quite true and is actually quite presumptuous, most people are haters. Some are just more openly critical than others. And Jazz kids are definitely the more open of haters. So what happens when you shove hundred of them into a competitive camp?

Apparently three of them will ditch it completely a go on tour because they are just that cool. And it’s these three haters that we’ll be reading about. So I basically have already stated the entire plot of this book in two sentences but I have more to say. Especially on the bulk of this book which is them in a car driving around avoiding the cops, eating nothing even remotely nutritious, experiment with all sorts of drugs and alcohol, discover themselves, have phone/technology withdrawals and attempt to get gigs at clubs and bars. Its hilarious, profane, realistic and utterly enchanting. Sadly, there isn’t much more that I say without divulging spoilers! There are just so many surprises on the road that it would be awful to even give one of them away.

On to the awesome and enigmatic characters. Beginning with the leader of the Ash Ramos Band/Meow Meow Kitty/Jennifer Lawrence’s Armpit/Cookie’s Gruesome Death/ Perfect Taste/Charlize and the Eds/The Haters, Wes. A boy known to be ever vigilant, responsible and an unapologetic hater. He is sort of the dad of the group since he is always concern with everyone’s safety, care and overall experience while on their whirlwind tour. He plays bass and doesn’t suck, but also isn’t that good. Then there is Corey, Wes’ right hand man and the percussionist of their band. He has a streak of picking fights and also for being kept on a leash by his protective parents so he’s the most excited about this little adventure. And Ash the girl who has her own pace and rhythm that’s mesmerizing even if it doesn’t fit the song. She’s a rebel and sees no issue with her decisions and crazy ideas that take Wes and Corey on this wild ride. Now, what’s most enthralling about these characters is watching them bounce off of each other and grow with each other over the course of this novel.Since no one comes out of this road trip the same. This road trip tries them, strains them and tests their new or well founded relationships. Both boys are vying for Ash while Ash wants none of that, she just wants to have fun. So we see how Wes and Corey compete for Ash and also how this new freedom either sends them overboard or makes them incredibly conscious of how impossible this situation is.

Overall this book was awesome. It was realistic, laugh out loud funny and incredible. Definitely a must read for any jazz band people especially those in high school who will be given an awesome new game idea and also understand way more of the jokes then I did. This book is also for everyone who read John Green’s Paper Towns and would like to read a similar story about teenagers going on a life changing road trip this is worth checking out. Thankfully this book didn’t end up breaking my heart like Me, Earl & The Dying Girl did so thank you Jesse Andrews for your mercy. Please continue writing your ever hilarious and captivating stories.

Fans of The Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa Review

Tell me a story about how we can always runaway. How life is this impossible thing to comprehend yet we are all fan of it. Everyone is utterly enthralled with the concept of life even when they don’t want to be apart of it anymore. This harmless looking novel shows us three different perspectives,  all of which are a different expression of depression so some readers may recognize these characteristics in yourself, friends, family or someone you pass by. Although the facade is quickly taken off and throws the reader into the downward spiral of being a high schooler.

So the main setting in a small town in Massachusetts not to far from Cape Cod and Provincetown at a Catholic school and local diner. Summer has just ended and we meet Jeremy on his first day back to school and the beginning of his Sophomore year. Then we meet Mira who is partially repeating freshmen year and is the new student at this Catholic school. We meet Sebby later who should probably be in class but is just hanging out at a record store whittling away his time until he can hang out with Mira. Mira is trying to appease her family, but mostly be mother, by participating at school and making new friends. So when she is asked to join the new art club Sebby quickly convinces her to join. And the president of this art club is Jeremy and thus entwines the lives of these fans of the impossible life as they work on an art exhibition for their school.

Obviously not much more detail can be said about the setting and plot since that’s venturing too much into spoiler territory. So let’s introduce you to the characters. There are obviously three main characters because there are three perspective taking place. Readers first meet Jeremy a bookish and friendless art fanatic who spends all his time doodling. Jeremy has two Dads, a cat named Dolly Parton the cat (yes, that’s her full name) and confides in his english teacher, Peter, a great deal. And it was Peter’s idea to have Jeremy start the art club so he can begin making new friends and breaking out of his shell more. Mira and Sebby are paramount to Jeremy’s development as he is quickly enveloped into their circle and learns what it is like to not be alone and to have people to spend time with and texting to. And he is incredibly caring and devoted to his friends while still maintaining his own person, not being sucked into a group but infact becomes a better more independent him through his friends which is what friendships should accomplish. Then there is Mira a dark skinned and curvy thrifter who hates having to wear a uniform and makes a point of just barely breaking the rules so she can maintain her own style. She’s imaginative, crafty, sarcastic and insecure. Pretty much a perfect individual, but obviously she has her problems too. Although those problems are abated through thrifting and Sebby, her best friend. Sebby is in incredible character. He is written in a much different way then his friends jeremy and Mira who are written in the first person while Sebby is in the second person, kee that in mind while reading the book. Now, Sebby, a kid down on his luck caught in the foster care system making his share a room which a sparkly and too-peppy six year old, he can’t and won’t go to school and only has Mira and Jeremy to confide in. Sebby and Mira make up a dream team of kids finding security in the other to help resolve their personal insecurities. Its an epic relationship and totally a best friend goal for most of us out there in the big wide world. Alright, time for some shout outs to Jeremy’s fathers who are the first gay parents I have ever read before, then Rose the incredibly optimistic pessimist who is so infatuated that it will make anyone’s heart flutter and roll their eyes reading about her and then Peter a debately too open teacher who will listen to any student and tell other students who he thinks will end up all alone in the end. So yeah, the characters a freaking great.

As previously stated in the opening that this novel does deal with depression which is something most people encounter sometime in their life and most commonly in teens. It’s normal and can just be a phase, but sometimes gets out of hand. And I have to hand it to Kate Scelsa for expressing the three most common forms of depression through Mira, Jeremy and Sebby. These characters show a lot of the common signs of depression and how kids tend to deal with it. Which is heartbreaking and adds another layer to this story that is greatly appreciated and reaches out towards all different kinds of people out there dealing with depression.

You know, when I began this book I wasn’t expecting much. It just appeared and read like some slice of life coming of age novel. Nothing truly enthralling or magical, but not bad either. But boy oh boy was I wrong. This book is fantastic and something inexplicably compelling. It’s new and magnificent marking a new leaf in young adult literature and queer literature with Jeremy’s Dads and how only one character is straight the rest are gay and nobody obsesses over it. It’s just there and is amazing. So bravo Kate Scelsa you wrote a damn good book!

The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman

Mysteries, conspiracies and scandals have captivated audiences across the globe and time sprouting gossip and internet forums to answer; why? Another thing that tends to enthrall the public is something spooky, something dark and utterly dangerous. It’s not uncommon for the two to intertwine and create something truly bewitching; like a novel. Well, prepare to be amazed by Alison Goodman’s newest book The Dark Days Club which the beginning to an astounding new series! One that deals with one debutante whose attempting to overcome such scandal bestowed upon her by her Mother.

 

Alright, let’s set the stage in 1812 London right as the summer season draws nearer and nearer our leading lady Helen is about to present herself to her majesty the Queen and is dutifully practicing her curtsies and rehearsing a scripted answer for if anyone brings up her scandalized mother. Life is normal and the bookish lady Helen is merely trying to appease her gracious extended family and atone for her Mother’s scandal by marrying in her first season. But obviously that’s not the whole story… Lady Helen is introduced to a distant cousin, Lord Carlston. A man accused of murdering his wife but with no body ever being found he remain innocent. Although lady Helen is still advised to maintain a length of distant from the Lord. This doesn’t stop Lord Carlston as he weasels his way into Lady Helen’s life and ultimately turns it upside down. Lady Helen is then thrust into the espionage and conspiracies kept under wraps by the “nonexistent” Dark Days Club that works directly under the crown in order to protect the public.

So, the characters are to die for. They are all intelligent, funny, witty and quick. Perhaps too quick… At least lady Helen Wrexhall who is notorious for stealing four hour candles so she can read well into the night since all she wishes to learn and satisfy her not-so-feminine curiosity. Lady Helen  also has a little quirk about her, aside from her substantial height, and that is her acute ability to read faces and see into the hearts of those she stares at. As a protagonist lady Helen thrives! She is level-headed, conservative, loyal and realistic with her escapades and also in her being a woman of the Regency era. A time that was the height of the ideal that Women’s’ sole purpose was to produce heirs and be obedient. Obviously, lady Helen disagrees with this ideology but knows to never voice her opinions and this constantly restricts her to her own and the reader’s frustration. Overall I absolutely adored Helen and can’t wait to see how her character further develop. Alright our main sidekick is Lord Carlson the man shrouded in scandal and mystery. In one word he could be described as commanding, enigmatic or disturbing… He carries a dangerous intensity but lady Helen automatically trusts and is infuriated by him. Now, in this novel we don’t learn too much about the history of Lord Calston but it is quickly understood that he is a respectable and virtuous man who believes in protecting everyone even at the expense of himself. Watching this duo bounce off each other was quite captivating since they have a lot of similarities but there is an obvious chasm between them due to their genders that either free them or hinder them. There is a plethora of other amazing and enticing characters who could keep me typing for pages upon page, but that would spoil a lot of the fun in the novel. You should know though that I adore Darby the best darn Lady’s maid who may not be as well at Lady Helen but she is just as smart and passionate as her Lady. There is also Duke or Selborne, Lady Helen’s brother Andrew and Lady Margaret who are worth mentioning too.

Read this book, please just read it! My ability to formulate sentences or reviews could never possibly do justice to the masterpiece that is this book. This novel is significantly different from any of the Regency era books that I have ever read and that is a lot of books. The only books that it is somewhat similar too is Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate or Finishing School series with the same century and witty female protagonists. I adore the writing, I admire the characters and was astounded by the story. Let me tell you that I cannot wait for the next installment in this series.