Mini-Reviews: Illustrated Fantasy, Dark Realities

April 7, 2016 / 4 Comments / Mini-Reviews, Review

mini-reviews by mostly ya lit banner

Mini-Reviews: Illustrated Fantasy, Dark RealitiesThe Pharos Gate

Author: Nick Bantock
Find the author: Website, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Publication date: March 22nd 2016
Source: Finished copy from Raincoast Books (thank you!)
Format: Hardcover
My rating:
Buy It: | | The Book Depository | iBooks | Google Books | Audible

A love story for the ages, the tale of Griffin and Sabine is an international sensation that spent over 100 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and continues to beguile readers 25 years after its original publication. Here to celebrate that anniversary is the final volume in Griffin and Sabine's story—a book that can be enjoyed as a singular reading experience or in conjunction with the series as a whole. The Pharos Gate rejoices in the book as physical object, weaving together word and image in beautifully illustrated postcards and removable letters that reveal a sensual and metaphysical romance, one full of mystery and intrigue. Published simultaneously with the 25th-anniversary edition of Griffin & Sabine, The Pharos Gate finally shares what happened to the lovers in a gorgeous volume that will surely delight Griffin and Sabine's longtime fans and a new generation of readers.

Beautifully illustrated and executed, this latest (and possibly last?) installment of the Griffin & Sabine series really belongs somewhere within the third book of the trilogy, The Golden Mean. It is, as described, additional letters and correspondence between Griffin and Sabine as they try to make their way towards each other to Alexandria. For those who have not read the series, I think it will be a little difficult to follow this piece – it’s almost like an added novella to the series. That said, since the reading experience of these books is so delightful, I would go ahead and recommend reading it anyway, because there’s nothing more delicious that getting to read and see and feel other people’s correspondence. If you’re already a fan of the series, then just know that while this installment doesn’t add more in terms of the actual plot line, reading it did bring me back to those initial moments of wonder when I first read Griffin and Sabine. The writing, is, as always, extremely spiritual and metaphysical; at it’s best, it illustrates the desperation, fear and longing that Geiffin and Sabine face. What this installment gave me, more than the rest of the books, was a feeling of how much Sabine and Griffin were giving up to be together. I believe that the older, wiser Nick Bantock realized that, too, and because of that, this book humanizes the very fantastical relationship that Griffin and Sabine have, and made me cheer them on even more. If you’re a fan of this series, I would definitely recommend purchasing The Pharos Gate, but if you’re new to it, start at the beginning and savour the magic of Griffin & Sabine. You won’t regret it. 

Mini-Reviews: Illustrated Fantasy, Dark RealitiesCharlotte Cuts It Out

Author: K.A. Barson
Find the author: Website, Twitter, Facebook
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Publication date: April 5th 2016
My rating:
Buy It: | | The Book Depository | iBooks | Google Books | Audible

Lydia and I were in eighth grade when we came up with our Grand Plan to go to cosmetology school and get jobs to build our clientele while we earned business degrees. Then we’d open our own salon . . .
Now Charlotte and Lydia are juniors, in a Cosmetology Arts program where they’ll get on-the-job training and college credits at the same time. The Grand Plan is right on schedule.  Which means it’s time for Step Two: Win the Winter Style Showcase, where Cos Arts and Fashion Design teams team up to dazzle the judges with their skills.  Charlotte is sure that she and Lydia have it locked up—so sure, in fact, that she makes a life-changing bet with her mother, who wants her to give up cos for college.
And that’s when things start going off the rails.
As the clock ticks down to the night of the Showcase, Charlotte has her hands full. Design divas. Models who refuse to be styled. Unexpectedly stiff competition. And then, worst of all, Lydia—her BFF and Partner in Cos—turns out to have a slightly different Grand Plan . .
Like 45 Pounds (More or Less), K.A. Barson’s Charlotte Cuts it Out is a funny, relatable story set in the heart of the Midwest, just right for girls who have big dreams of their own.

Cosmetology student Charlotte has always had everything figured out, from her and her best friend Lydia’s future plans to win their winter showcase and start a salon together, to being the best employee at her dad’s store. But when Lydia suddenly decides to leave the cosmetology program, Charlotte’s plans start to go awry. If you are not into unlikeable characters, this probably isn’t your book. If, however, you’re willing to give a book with a very controlling, prickly MC a try, Charlotte might be for you. I alternately wanted to throw this book (and Charlotte) across the room and had the experience of seeing myself in a lot of the protagonist. Although the general concept of the story is predictable, author K.A. Barson creates realistic, flawed secondary characters that gave this book a bit more dimension than just a cute contemporary. In particular, the family moments and dramatic friendships reminded me very much of my own high school life. I also deeply appreciated seeing the skilled trades represented and shown as a viable alternative to university. That said, I felt that a lot of the scenes ran long and I would have appreciated a little montaging here and there. There were also a few moments when I got my back up a bit, because it’s difficult for me to see an assertive, strong (dare I say “bitchy) female character feel that she needs to soften herself for anyone. It’s a hard thing to balance and I’m not sure it was entirely successful. Overall, an enjoyable read.

Mini-Reviews: Illustrated Fantasy, Dark RealitiesAsking For It

Author: Louise O'Neill
Find the author: Website, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram
Publisher: Quercus US
Publication date: April 5th 2016
My rating:
Buy It: | | The Book Depository | iBooks | Google Books | Audible

Emma O'Donovan is eighteen, beautiful, and fearless. It's the beginning of summer in a quiet Irish town and tonight she and her friends have dressed to impress. Everyone is at the party, and all eyes are on Emma.
The next morning Emma's parents discover her collapsed on the doorstop of their home, unconscious. She is disheveled, bleeding, and disoriented, looking as if she had been dumped there.
To her distress, Emma can't remember what happened the night before. All she knows is that none of her friends will respond to her texts. At school, people turn away from her and whisper under their breath. Her mind may be a blank as far as the events of the previous evening, but someone has posted photos of it on Facebook under a fake account, "Easy Emma"--photos she will never be able to forget.
As the photos go viral and a criminal investigation is launched, the community is thrown into tumult. The media descends, neighbors chose sides, and people from all over the world want to talk about her story. Everyone has something to say about Emma.
Asking For It is a powerful story about the devastating effects of rape and public shaming, told through the awful experience of a young woman whose life is changed forever by an act of violence.

Note: I’ve read a lot of books about rape and sexual assault lately, and it’s been…heavy, so I asked my friend Niya Bajaj, a feminist and board member for a women’s community support program, if she would review Asking For It for me. Here are her thoughts (thanks for your help, Niya!):

Similar to most reviewers of Louise O’Neill’s Asking for It, the book made me angry, but my reaction was provoked by a other reasons. O’Neill should be recognized for taking on the challenging issues of sexual assault, the lasting impact that poorly considered sharing of information on social media can have on people, and the ongoing challenges that survivors of sexual assault face when engaging the justice system. It’s refreshing to see authors take these topics on since they are salient to both the primary audience of YA readers, and their parents’ book clubs.

That said, I had serious issues with Asking for It, including:

  1. the inclusion of marginalized, voiceless characters of colour. It would be great to hear more from the asian female character who lives through a similar experience the white female protagonist lives thought. There is also one partially black character, whom we never hear from.
  2. a cast of shallow, stereotypical parents who appear to be more vapid than the teenagers. Readers may wonder if the protagonist’s mother, who was similarly attractive in her youth, dealt with similar experiences, but their unrealistic relationship makes it impossible for there to be any commonality.
  3. never using the word “survivor”. The choice not to include this term means the female characters who experience non-consensual sexual contact can’t see themselves as anything but victims.
  4. a classically feminine white protagonist who is incapable of anger. Because good white girls don’t get angry.
  5. a classically lovesick, boy-next-door who lacks depth, self-awareness and the ability to stand up for himself.
  6. a stereotypical older brother who can’t care about his sibling until something terrible happens and then cannot experience a range of emotion. He vacillates between angry outbursts and sudden departures instead of being a complex human being, or an example of positive, healthy masculinity.

In addition to these issues, Asking for It is filled with opportunities to portray examples of healthier non-gender specific behaviour that aren’t taken. While the text is worth reading, it would be brilliant to see the same story arch with more complex, real characters who could reflect the feelings of the target audience.


Mini-Reviews: Illustrated Fantasy, Dark RealitiesThis Is Where the World Ends

Author: Amy Zhang
Find the author: Website, Blog, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Pinterest, Tumblr
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Publication date: March 22nd 2016
Source: ARC from Harper Collins Canada (thank you!)
My rating:
Buy It: | | The Book Depository | iBooks | Google Books | Audible

Janie and Micah, Micah and Janie. That’s how it’s been ever since elementary school, when Janie Vivien moved next door. Janie says Micah is everything she is not. Where Micah is shy, Janie is outgoing. Where Micah loves music, Janie loves art. It’s the perfect friendship—as long as no one finds out about it. But then Janie goes missing and everything Micah thought he knew about his best friend is colored with doubt.
Using a nonlinear writing style and dual narrators, Amy Zhang reveals the circumstances surrounding Janie’s disappearance in a second novel.

I very rarely dislike a book so much that I can’t finish, but This Is Where The World Ends was, unfortunately, one of them. My main issue with this book was that the characters and the story were just…not compelling. I felt like I barely knew Janie and Micah after the 100 pages I got through, and as I skimmed through the rest of the book, the “reveal” was so predictable and frustrating that I had no reaction to it. There are pockets of pretty writing, but those were eclipsed by the utterly miserable characters. I know it was supposed to be about unlikeable characters and toxic friendships, but the problem was, the characters felt like stock YA characters – the artsy, flighty girl everyone wants to be and be friends with; the boy next door who’s good and in love with her, and his best friend who is trying to pull him out of depression. If they had turned into real people or I saw a glimpse of something more than that, I might have been more interested, but it felt like that was never going to happen and I wasn’t invested enough to stick around. Very disappointing as I enjoyed Zhang’s debut, Falling into Place, a lot, and some of what happens with the reveal could have been a lot more realistically and sensitively explored.


Have you read any of these books lately? Any thoughts? Hit the comments and let me know which one you would read and what you’d take a pass on!

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Want more YA reviews and bookish fun? Get Mostly YA Lit in your inbox and be the first to get notified on new updates.

4 responses to “Mini-Reviews: Illustrated Fantasy, Dark Realities

  1. I’ve never even heard of Griffin and Sabine :O I feel like I’ve been living under a rock! I’m glad that you enjoyed it and Charlotte Cuts It Off for the most part, though I’m sorry that This Is Where The World Ends and Asking For It didn’t work out better for you. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on all of these 🙂

    • Nah, Griffin & Sabine is a really old series, and it’s not YA. It’s just a very beautiful illustrated book series that I love. You should check it out, Micheline!

      Thanks so much for always reading and commenting!

    • Sarah W.

      I still have all my Griffin and Sabine books from when I discovered them over 20 years ago. They are beautiful books with an appealing story. I definitely recommend them.

  2. I haven’t read any of these before, actually! Asking For It and This is Where the World Ends are both on my list, but now I’m not so sure… I might give Asking For It a Go, because even if there are some issues, it’s still a look at some pretty important topics, so I hope it’ll be okay for me.
    Thanks for sharing! Love your mini-review format!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.