Because You Love to Hate Me: 13 Tales of Villainy: A Review

Whether it’s secretly cheering them on or not-so-secretly waiting for them to meet a bad end, readers love villains. Because You Love to Hate Me: 13 Tales of Villainy capitalizes on that fascination while failing to explore the reasoning behind it in this unwieldy collection edited by Youtube sensation Ameriie.

Each author’s short story is inspired by a Booktuber-provided prompt ranging from vague like “A young Moriarty” for Susan Dennard’s “Shirley and Jim” which presents a modern (and female) Holmes meeting Moriarty for the first time at boarding school to bizarrely specific. Renée Ahdieh’s sci-fi story “The Blood of Imuriv” is inspired by the prompt “The grandson of an evil, matriarchal dictator who tried to rule over the universe wants to follow in her footsteps and accidentally loses his temper, killing his sibling in a game of chess.”

This wide range of prompts leads to stories of varying quality and makes this cross-genre collection less than cohesive. BookTuber contributions range from personality quizzes and literary criticism about the stories to personal essays related to the prompts.

Standout stories include Soman Chainani’s “Gwen and Art and Lance” (“A modern-day mash-up of the King Arthur legend and Persephone-Hades myth”) which is written entirely in texts and emails between the titular characters as Gwen tries to manipulate Art into taking her to prom amidst unwanted overtures from Lance and “Death Knell” by Victoria Schwab (“Hades wakes up after being unconscious at the bottom of a well in Ireland”) which offers a nuanced meditation on what it means to be Death–and what it means to try to run from it.

There are no redeeming qualities for most of the villains here and, for the most part, a lot of superficiality. One notable exception is Cindy Pon’s poignant story “Beautiful Venom” (prompt: “Medusa, go!”) which makes the Greek myth relevant to modern readers as they watch Mei Feng become Mei Du in Pon’s tragic retelling with a Chinese setting. Because You Love to Hate Me is a marketable if not entirely serviceable collection that will appeal to fans of the contributing authors.

*A more condensed version of this review appeared as a review in the July 1, 2017 issue of School Library Journal*

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Summer Days and Summer Nights: A Review

Summer Days, Summer Nights edited by Stephanie PerkinsAfter My True Love Gave to Me was greeted with critical praise and success, it’s no surprise that Stephanie Perkins is back editing another anthology featuring popular YA authors. This time around the stories all center around summer romances in Summer Days and Summer Nights.

With the exception of Perkins herself, every author is a new contributor. There is more diversity among the authors and a better split between men and women which makes this a more balanced collection in that respect. With several noted fantasy authors, Summer Days and Summer Nights also boasts some excellent speculative fiction.

Summer Days, Summer Nights is a lot of fun, but it is also more of a mixed bag for me (but I am a winter person and Christmas is my favorite holiday so I suspect I was always more inclined to favor My True Love Gave to Me just a bit more). Because of that I’m including thoughts on each story below instead of a more cohesive/generalized review.

Head, Scales, Tongue, Tail by Leigh Bardugo: This is an intense story–something I’m realizing is Bardugo’s signature–and an interesting choice to start the anthology. The writing is very atmospheric and almost reads like magic realism (I say almost because at the end of the day it is just straight fantasy). An eerie story that is a bit creepy and a bit romantic which seems fitting when it’s centered around a mysterious lake monster.

The End of Love by Nina Lacour: My first encounter with Lacour’s writing. This is a sweet story with two girls as the romantic leads. There is not much here to give Flora presence as a main character or narrator (perhaps intentionally because so much of what she goes through in this story revolves around how she relates to others?). BUT the story does have great atmosphere and really strongly depicted emotions.

Last Stand at the Cinegore by Libba Bray: Libba’s story is one of my top three favorites in the entire collection. Reading it made me really want to read Beauty Queens which has been languishing on my shelves forever. This story follows Kevin at the end of his high school career on his last night working at the Cinegore theater. It’s his last chance to ask his dream girl, Dani, out. Which is great and totally doable. Except, you know, everything goes wrong when they start showing the last copy of a cult classic horror movie in the theater. This story also includes two of my favorite quotes from the entire book: “Dress codes are basically fascism.” and “Maybe sometimes the best thing you can do is to burn it all down and start over.”

Sick Pleasure by Francesca Lia Block: Block is not an author I would pick up for myself. Her style sometimes gets a bit too high-concept for my tastes. Such was the case here were all of the characters names are simply initials. Although this is not a fantasy it is still a bit . . . weird for reasons that are hard to explain in a paragraph. I will say that I really liked that that the main love here was self love in this story.

In Ninety Miles, Turn North by Stephanie Perkins: This story features Marigold and North (the characters from Stephanie’s Christmas story) and picks up the summer after they first meet. Of course this story was a lot of fun and super cute and I loved it. Why wouldn’t I when I already know and love Marigold and North? That said, I am not totally sure this story is as readable without knowing the background from their Christmas story.

Souvenirs by Tim Federle: I think it might just be Federle’s writing style (this is the first time I’ve read him) but this story is very frenetic. The prose took some getting used to before winning me over. This story follows Matty and Kieth who always knew their summer romance had an expiration day. Which is great. Except that on their self-selected breakup day, Matty is feeling decidedly ambivalent about the whole thing. Favorite quote: “But the thing about scars is that, as much as they knot you up, they make you stronger, too. Collect enough scars and you get a whole extra layer of skin, for free.”

Inertia by Veronica Roth: Full disclosure time: I’m not sure I’m really a fan of Roth’s writing style and I’m not sure it works for me. This story is okay but not a favorite and it is super melancholy (a recurring theme in the collection). Claire and Matthew were best friends until they grew apart months ago–largely due to Claire’s refusal to get help for her depression–so it’s strange and confusing when he chooses Claire as one of his last visits–a futuristic procedure that allows them to communicate in share memories before Matthew’s (highly probable) death. It’s a small nitpicky thing but the fact that a doctor in the story wears nail polish while getting ready for surgery and being a doctor really pulled me out of the story.

Love is the Last Resort by Jon Skovron: It has been a long time since I’ve read anything by Skovron and I’m sad to say this story did not bump him any higher on my mental to read list. This story is part romance and part comedy of errors as two jaded teens (who definitely, absolutely do not at all believe in love) work to bring two star-crossed couples together–and maybe change their own opinions on love in the process. While the narrator’s identity was a surprise, I don’t think I’ve ever rolled my eyes so much reading a short story. Obviously the style here is intentional but why????

Good Luck and Farewell by Brandy Colbert: Another new to me author. Rashida’s cousin Audrey has been like a mother to her. So when Audrey announces she is moving across the country with her girlfriend, Rashida is understandably upset. She works through her conflicted feelings about the upcoming move with an unlikely confidante: The very cute younger brother of Audrey’s girlfriend. Although sad, this story is really well-written and engaging. Colbert also offers a thoughtful discussion about coping with depression (and why treatment is okay and not an admission of defeat) which is impressive for the relatively short length of the story. The story ends on a really nice, hopeful note and highlights a variety of relationships including inter-generational ones within a family.

Brand New Attraction by Cassandra Clare: Lulu Darke’s father has run the family’s Dark Carnival for years. When her father goes missing, Lulu is left to takeover and get to the bottom of her uncle’s seemingly spontaneous arrival and his insistence that the carnival needs a new–way more evil and scary–demon at its core.This story has nothing to do with Shadow Hunters which was actually a really nice surprise. Unlike a lot of the other stories, this one reads young (ironically since Lulu is one of the older heroines). While thin on character development and a bit messy, this story is atmospheric and quite fun–in a dark way what with the demons and all.

A Thousand Ways This Could Go Wrong by Jennifer E. Smith: Annie is happy to work with the younger kids at her summer camp job but she isn’t sure what to do to help the new boy, Noah, have a good time. He’s on the autism spectrum and everything she tries seems to end badly. When she gets to hang out with Griffin, her longtime crush, she is thrilled with his insights for helping Noah although she isn’t sure what to make of the varying levels of success on their dates. There are a thousand ways things could go wrong here. But, it turns out, sometimes that just means there are also a thousand ways for things to go right. This story is in my top three favorites of the entire collection (no surprise since I’m a longtime Jen E. Smith fan)! Now this is a summer story and more like what I wanted and expected from the rest of the collection.

The Map of Tiny Perfect Things by Lev Grossman: When Mark realizes he’s been living through the exact same summer day for . . . quite a while . . . he starts to explore the limits of what he can do within a day. While there’s a lot of fun to be had, he’s incredibly relieved to find Margaret who is also aware of what’s happening. Although they don’t know how to fix the problem and get to a new day, at least not at first, they do embark on a project to find every tiny perfect moment that the day has to offer. This story is easily the best and my favorite of this collection. Perfect pacing. Perfect plot. Fantastic character development. I loved everything about this one and am hoping to read some of Grossman’s novels later this year.

As you can see, Summer Days and Summer Nights has some ups and downs for me in terms of quality and enjoyment (though again I think a lot of that is because I’m not a summer person per se). It’s funny seeing how much broader summer is in terms of genre and setting compared to the holiday stories collection which felt a bit more cohesive. Surprisingly (or maybe not?) a lot of these stories also revolved around breakups and had a generally melancholy tone.

Upon finishing Summer Day and Summer Nights I wanted to tear up my copy so that I could take each story and give it to the just-right reader for it. Recommended for readers who enjoy summer and short stories. A great introduction to some notable young adult authors and a fun way to explore a variety of genres for readers hoping to try something new.

You can also check out my Q & A with Stephanie Perkins to hear a little bit more about her experiences editing this anthology.

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

My True Love Gave to Me: A (Festive!) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories edited by Stephanie PerkinsOnly in a short story anthology can organization, elves, the holiday season, and some other things besides come together to create a delightfully seasonal assortment of stories. My True Love Gave to Me (2014), edited by Stephanie Perkins, brings together YA authors at the top of their game in this festive collection of romantic stories set during the best time of year.

If you enjoy Christmas, especially the decorating and the food look no further than Stephanie Perkins’ “It’s a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown” for a story that combines the wonders of home organization with a first encounter that might lead to something more. “Welcome to Christmas, CA” by Kiersten White is a sentimental story about finding home with some delectable food thrown in to taste.

Not a fan of Christmas? That’s okay too. “Midnights” by Rainbow Rowell is a heartfelt New Years’ story while “Krampuslauf” by Holly Black and “The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer” by Laini Taylor are fantasies set in December without being Christmas specific. Although Kelly Link centers her story around annual Christmas parties, “The Lady and the Fox” is more a Tam Lin style story than a specifically holiday story.

Don’t celebrate Christmas? Gayle Forman’s “What the Hell Have You Done, Sophie Roth?” and David Levithan’s “Your Temporary Santa” both offer a look at the season from a Jewish perspective.

Humor is also prevalent in many of these stories, none more so than “Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus” by Myra McEntire.

Themes of family are just as prevalent in this collection as romance which can be seen in “Angels in the Snow” by Matt de la Pena and Ally Carter’s “Star of Bethlehem” both of which offer very different (but true) takes on what it means to find or just think about the importance of family over the holiday season.

The story I have thought about most since finishing this story is by Jenny Han. “Polaris is Where You’ll Find Me” offers a tantalizing look at what life might be like on the North Pole for Santa’s daughter in a story that I can only hope will one day become a full-length novel.

Considering the range of authors and writing styles in this anthology, My True Love Gave to Me is a stunningly solid collection with a high quality of writing that spans every genre and story presented. This is a delightfully festive (and often secular) assortment of stories with something that will appeal to everyone. Perkins has done an admirable job of editing and organizing this anthology where whole exceeds the sum of its parts and is sure to leave every reader with a smile on their face.

(Careful readers may also want to examine the cover to find their favorite couple on the ice rink. The ARC I read also promises interior illustrations which I can’t wait to see.)

Possible Pairings: Ex-Mas by Kate Brian, Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan; To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Let it Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle; Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters by Natalie Standiford

Who Done It?: A Review

Who Done It?What happens when the meanest, nastiest, smelliest editor invites all of his authors to a party at The Old Abandoned Pickle Factory? What happens when he threaten to reveal every one of their deepest, darkest secrets?

Well, the editor turns up dead is what happens.

And every author and illustrator is a suspect in his murder.

Jon Scieszka conducts the investigation as each author provides a brief alibi for the time of Herman Q. Mildew’s death in Who Done It? (2013).

In addition to being a very entertaining premise, Who Done It? benefits a great cause. This “serial act of criminal literature” benefits 826nyc–a non-profit organization that supports kids’ and teens’ creative and expository writing.

With over 80 contributors suspects, there are a whole lot of alibis to sift through here. I don’t recommend reading them all at once as they do tend to blend together. (Though averaging two pages each one is a short read.) The level of continuity between entries is also impressive as authors carry details throughout the collection.

There is a lot of fun to be had with this book whether you read it all at once or just peruse it for new and familiar authors.

My favorite entry is Patrick Carman’s, bar none. But with a variety of formats (David Levithan’s is a poem. Sarah Mlynowski and Courtney Sheinmel wrote a screenplay. And Lev Grossman’s is a riff on fantasy conventions) and a few choice illustrations, Who Done It? is guaranteed to have something for everyone.