Edited: A WIRoB Review

This piece originally appeared in the Washington Independent Review of Books:

Edited by Barry LygaAs the title suggests, this book is an edited down version of a story–a story about Mike. And a story about Mike and Phil (Philomel). As author Lyga explains in a note that starts the novel: “This story you’re about to read is actually a partial version or an iteration, pieces of a larger whole, stitched together to cover the surgical trauma. You can read it on its own or as the companion to a grander, more epic work–and I’ve provided you the tools to do so, embedded in the text itself.”

The story begins as Mike realizes he can edit reality leading to fundamental changes in the world that only he perceives like changing the color of his now ex-girlfriend Phil’s party dress between red and blue–the latter of which better compliments Phil’s naturally teal hair and begins a journey for both characters through a series of world-shifting changes to their individual lives and their relationship with each other and reality in Edited (2022) by Barry Lyga.

Find it on Bookshop.

In Edited, Lyga inserts himself into the story as a quasi-character sharing notes on his creative process and authorial choices both in the narrative and in footnotes throughout the novel referencing points in Unedited–the 794 page companion to Edited–where readers can find more information on different areas like “a deeper dive into George’s miserable childhood” in chapter two of Unedited which is instead a brief paragraph in Edited.

Edited is a high concept story with a hook that will appeal to fans of meta-narratives in the vein of the films Stranger Than Fiction and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. In Mike’s world children’s and YA literature is instead known as “nonadult” and Mike’s best friend George loves the author Gayl Rybar (an acronym for Barry Lyga) creating many tongue-in-cheek moments that don’t quite coalesce into meaningful world building or in-depth characterization while keeping the narrative voice impersonal as seen in Mike’s dissection of his friendship with George: “All of this leads me to believe and to understand that a best friend is perhaps best defined as someone whose upbringing sucked vastly more than your own . . . and yet steadfastly contends that your upbringing was just as bad, if not worse.” Clinical observations like this lend themselves to provocative realizations from Mike (“By this particular logic George is my best friend, but I can never be his.”) and interesting quandaries for readers but rarely lead to a larger impact on the story or characters.

Phil–the only female character of note in this book–comes with another set of programs as for most of the novel she serves as an object of Mike’s pining without becoming a fully developed character in her own right. Lyga notes this problem himself writing that Phil comes across as “paper-thin, a caricature more than a character” as she explains herself in the only chapter narrated by Phil where she breaks the fourth wall to discuss with readers the “Creator’s advantage” of the author and the multitudinous nature of characters who can be many things–both good and bad.

What Mike experiences throughout the novel is “as simple and as complex as ink on paper” in this self-referential, process-driven story where creativity trumps everything.

The Reader: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Sefia has been hiding and evading capture for most of her life. It started with the house  built on a hill filled with secret rooms and hidden passages meant to guard a dangerous secret. When her father is murdered, Sefia does what she has been trained to do. She hides. She grabs the thing that her parents spent their lives protecting. She goes to her aunt Nin and together they run away.

After Nin is kidnapped, Sefia vows to find her. Sefia turns to the strange rectangular object her father died to protect. As she examines the thing, Sefia slowly realizes it is a book.

The Book may hold secrets about Nin’s abduction and Sefia’s own parents if only she can master the symbols within and learn to read the words. In Sefia’s world, books are their own kind of magic–a dangerous power in the wrong hands. Sefia will need that power if she wants to rescue Nin and stop hiding in The Reader (2016) by Traci Chee.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Reader is Chee’s first novel and the beginning of her Sea of Ink and Gold series. This book is a layered narrative filled with hidden messages and clues within the text (be sure to look at the page numbers for one of them). The depth and layers within The Reader are impressive and staggering to contemplate. However the hidden clues, messages, and intricate physical design of this novel are distracting at times. Readers willing to give this story time and a proper chance will enjoy the intricate layers and the unexpected ways Chee’s multiple narratives come together.

In the fantasy world Chee has created the written word doesn’t exist. While they have identifying symbols to label things like herbs and other items, this world relies more heavily on an oral tradition for their stories and history. Books and reading are magic in a very literal sense and so both things are closely guarded by mysterious powers and largely unknown to citizens like Sefia.

If you spend too much time scrutinizing the main conceit of this plot (reading doesn’t exist), it starts to crumble. How does electricity work in this otherwise non-industrial society? How do characters leave messages for each other without written words? Are glyphs used? Oral recordings? No one knows or at least no one shares.

Vocabulary that would be taken for granted in any other story also needs further clarification in a book like The Reader. How do characters know about pens or reading lamps? Why do they exist if, as the novel states, reading doesn’t exist? Furthermore, although Chee’s writing is rich and heady, there isn’t a particularly good way to show a character learning to read when that character doesn’t have the vocabulary to describe a book, letters, or words. It makes for plodding passages and very slow progress for the rest of the story.

Readers willing to ignore these niggling questions may find themselves drawn into Sefia’s story. The premise, the larger message about the written word, and particularly Sefia’s own growth is empowering. Chee’s descriptions are vivid and bring Sefia’s multi-faceted world to life.

The Reader is a slow-paced adventure story. Sefia embarks on a journey with unlikely allies and surprising foes. She discovers magic and her own inner strength. She also, strangely enough, learns to read. How you feel about that last one will largely influence how you feel about this story as a whole. Recommended for readers seeking an introspective fantasy with a slow payoff. (Go into this one willing to commit to the series as many of the big reveals come in final chapters.)

Possible Pairings: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, Sorrow’s Knot by Erin Bow, Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, Ink, Iron, and Glass by Gwendolyn Clare, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston, Forest of Souls by Lori M. Lee, Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller, The Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, Elysium Girls by Kate Pentecost, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Afterworlds: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Afterworlds by Scott WesterfeldDarcy Patel has put everything on hold to be a writer. A real, published writer. She moves to New York City with a contract to publish her novel “Afterworlds” and its as yet unwritten and untitled sequel, part of her advance, and the dazzling title of soon-to-be debut author.

Darcy does not have plans for college. She does not have an apartment. She does not have any idea what happens next.

But somehow, in the world of writers–both seasoned and new–Darcy finds her people. Over the course of one tumultuous year in the city Darcy will learn about writing, publishing and even love. More than anything, she’ll learn if she has what it takes to really do this thing that she loves so much.

Interspersed with Darcy’s story is the story that brought her to New York in the first place: Afterworlds. After surviving an unthinkable attack, Lizzie realizes she has the ability to slip into the afterworld–somewhere that exists between life and death. With her new ability, Lizzie discovers that ghosts are everywhere as are other, darker things. Everyone seems to want something from Lizzie but even her new gifts might not be enough to keep those she loves safe.

Darcy and Lizzie’s worlds blend together in this story about facing your fears and finding yourself in Afterworlds (2014) by Scott Westerfeld.

Find it on Bookshop.

The first thing to know about Afterworlds is that it reads like two books. Odd numbered chapters focus on Darcy’s “real world” story of moving to New York and revising Afterworlds. Even numbered chapters detail the “story within the story” of Lizzie and her journey into the afterworld. While this book clocks in at over 600 pages (hardcover) really it’s two stories–two books even–in one both told to excellent effect.

In addition this book features a truly diverse cast in a casual/accepted way. While it’s important to the story, the diversity never becomes the story.

The premise sounds too lofty. It sounds highly un-writerly. A novel about writing a novel? With the full text of that self-same novel? Surely it can’t work. Yet Westerfeld pulls it off beautifully. Although the story is highly self-aware (and often very meta), every detail works here. Darcy’s new experiences feed into her revisions of Afterworlds. Her growth as a young woman and author mirrors Lizzie’s growth. Both girls, in their respective arcs, accomplish great things.

While not for everyone, Afterworlds is astonishingly successful on every level. Sure to have high appeal for all aspiring authors or sci-fi/fantasy fans. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, The Lost by Sarah Beth Durst, The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, The Strange Maid by Tessa Gratton, Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, Undercover by Beth Kephart, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, The Archived by Victoria Schwab, Or What You Will by Jo Walton, Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

*This book was acquired for review consideration from the publisher at BEA14*

Tags have come to Miss Print (one last post about changes to the blog)

I’m always unclear about how many regular readers I have who actually spend time on my blog as opposed to just reading through an RSS reader but if you are one of those readers you might have noticed some wacky changes going on here at Miss Print during the past few weeks.

First and foremost, my review indices are actually usable now. You can view them by author or by title. In addition, I’ve also organized my Interview index in a similar fashion. It’s not as impressive because the feature is newer but eventually I hope the organization there will also become vitally useful.

After that was done, and I had some time to do some soul searching, I decided to add tags to the blog.

I can say now that all of my book reviews, interviews, book lists and some other posts have been tagged (not all because I’m crazy but not certifiably so). I’ve added a lot of features retroactively (book cover images, possible pairings, year of publication, amazon links, and even the original review index). Not one of those was as horribly painful to complete as this tagging. It took forever, I thought I’d never finish. Even when I thought I was done, I wasn’t done. There was more to do.

When I was truly, finally, done I didn’t look at the blog for a week because the thought of dealing with any of it was too horrible. But I’m back now and things are, I hope, better organized and appealing for all of my toils. (So far the only change aside from more work seems to be more spam comments sadly.)

On every book review post you can expect to find tags for: author, pub. year, publisher, key themes or other information I deem appropriate and necessary. Other posts follow similar guidelines. Some tags are obvious (“vampires) while others like “reference” might be more obtuse (reference: basically anything I did research for or that I deem valuable information). Some tags like “charming conmen (and conwomen!) are just funny. We’ll see how it goes.

Categories are also a tag fixture. In the midst of this my “Chit Chat” category absorbed the previous “Words of Wisdom” and “Random Poll” categories. “Quotes” might eventually go the same way but since I don’t feel like dealing with it right now those posts get a pass.

My sidebar now has a tag cloud which, I believe, is the only WordPress option for displaying tags. The thing I’m happiest about is that my Chick Lit Wednesday posts now have their own tag so they can all hang out together. Most surprising was my need for a “chickens” tag and the fact that it has received multiple posts already.

Anyway, I’m feeling all kinds of accomplished having all of this finally be done and I hope some readers out there find the changes helpful in some small way.

On Writing Book Reviews

A while ago I discovered the wonderful and brilliant blog Emily Reads. Aside from having the best take on Greg Heffley EVER Emily’s blog is interesting because she posts review haikus. As far as I know she’s the only book blogger who posts reviews in haiku form (maybe in poem form period). Then I started looking around and realized everyone has very different review methods.

One of my best friends, The Book Bandit, features a book of the week (like this one) in a list kind of format (what it is, why she liked it, etc.) along with other reviews.

Blogs run by groups of people like Stacked or The Book Smugglers might have review conversations or multiple reviews with different takes on the same book.

Dog Ear often includes quotes in her reviews to support her stance.

I’m also really enjoying booked up‘s reviews because aside from having a really clean site, Nicole also takes her own pictures of each book instead of just posting the cover image.

You get the idea.

Anyway, that got me thinking about how I put reviews together–a process I thought I’d share with you below:

All of my reviews start with a summary–always written by me. I structure them much like a booktalk. Summaries never have spoilers or feature information beyond page 20 of the book (give or take for longer titles) or information not featured in the blurb found on the actual book.

Reviews also feature title, publication date and author. If I discuss a cover I try to mention the designers/artists involved.

Sometimes reviews are negative. I am always honest in my reviews and part of that includes reviewing books I didn’t love in a professional manner. Honestly, reviewing nothing but the books I loved would get boring. Reviews, especially negative ones, often help me as a reader to hash out what exactly frustrated me or turned me off in a book.

The end of a review will feature possible pairings. These include books, movies, tv shows, songs, etc. I feel fit with the book at hand. Sometimes that means there is a similar plot, genre or basic premise. In other instances the items will deal with similar themes or feature similar language and style. The pairings are, of course, subjective but I do put thought into it and try to put things readers will enjoy if like the book featured in the review.

Sometimes, if I have a lot to say about a topic not directly related to the review or my feelings about the book (often about the cover but sometimes other things) I will also place Exclusive Bonus Content at the end of a review. I cross post a lot of my reviews but that bonus content can only be found here.

Then, of course, every Wednesday I apply all of these guidelines to a Chick Lit Wednesday review which features a strong female character (or more!) and is often written by a female author.

It’s a Book: A Picture Book Review

It's a Book by Lane SmithIs it wrong that I liked the book trailer for It’s a Book (2010) by Lane Smith more than I enjoyed the actual book? If it is, I don’t want to be right.

What happens when a monkey* sits down with his copy of Treasure Island and a donkey** sits down with his laptop? Well, let’s just say the book might not do as much, but it sure has a lot of staying power.

It’s a Book has a great message. In snappy text and fun illustrations, it shows all the fun a book can be. And yet . . .

There is something very meta about discussing the merits of a book in a book format. There is also the issue that anyone who really needs to know how great books are (or show their children how great they are) is not going to be reading It’s a Book in the first place. I could see this being a fun read aloud but only in a nose-thumbing kind of way among people/children who are already readers. Honestly, the trailer was more effective as a medium and I’d love to see something like it being adopted by ALA to compliment their READ posters.

There’s also the issue of the donkey. The book introduces him as a jackass and ends with a mouse reminding him, “It’s a book jackass.” And that’s fine because it’s a legitimate term for donkeys. But it’s also a language issue*** and it just feels awkward and superfluous in the story.

I’m not really sure what Smith wanted to accomplish with It’s a Book or what it actually will accomplish. It’s an interesting idea and the book trailer is wonderful in its own right(do watch it!). Oddly as an actual book this one falls short.

*I feel really strongly that what we have here is a gorilla and it’s been driving me nuts since I first saw the book that he is called a monkey throughout.

**Smith actually calls the donkey a “jackass” from the get-go, not I think in a negative way but just in a “jackass is another name for a donkey” kind of way, but I just can’t bring myself to do it.

***I’m kind of a prude when it comes to bad language, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable reading this book to anyone. Some reviews have said it’s snarky or obnoxious, I wasn’t feeling that but it was . . . a really weird element to include.

*I received a copy of this book for review from the publisher*

Random Poll #5: How long is too long?

I hate reading on the computer. Hate it. Which, I will grant, is a bit ironic for a blogger. But I find I can’t concentrate on posts that go very long and I worry a lot about eye strain. I try to keep all of my reviews on here at more or less 500 words. For anecdotal posts I sometimes go longer. When I was on a different (now deleted) platform I used to write much longer posts but it was harder for me to write and organize them.

I have just started experimenting with Bloglines and following a bunch of new blogs but find I am already cutting back because some of the posts are just too long for me to deal with. And that has made me curious as to what my reading public thinks on the matter. Thus the new poll.

Random Poll #1: Miss Print’s Blog

I’m moderately excited about WordPress’ new poll feature and wanted to give it a go with a meta-poll about the blog (thus being called a “meta” poll). So, here we go . . .