Friday, 30 September 2016

Vassa in the Night Blog Tour: Q&A + Review


Good day friends! Today I'm lucky to be taking part in the Vassa in the Night Blog Tour. Thanks to both Raincoast for having me and Sarah for taking the time to answer some questions. Vassa in the Night is a re-telling of a few popular Russian fairy tales. I'm unfamiliar with both of them, but that didn't stop me from being super intrigued by the synopsis. Read on for a Q&A and my review. 


About

I write stories that seem to me to be quite true enough for all practical purposes. Among them are VASSA IN THE NIGHT, THE LOST VOICES TRILOGY, and the forthcoming WHEN I CAST YOUR SHADOW and TENTACLE AND WING. Realism makes little sense to me and I experience more truth in the fantastic. I always have new novels underway, both Young Adult and Grownup/ Literary/ Speculative. When not writing my own weird stuff, I can often be found leading creative writing workshops with amazing young NYC public-school writers via Teachers & Writers Collaborative. Or I might be drawing, or gardening, or wandering wraithlike through the streets. I live in Brooklyn, land of mystery, with my awesome husband Todd and our two cats, Jub Jub and Delphine. websitetwitterfacebookgoodreads| instagram


Q&A


Brittany: Fairy tale retellings are one of my favourite sub-genres. But we normally come across theSnow White, Sleeping Beauty, Disneyfied ones. I love seeing something so different; a
folktale I don't already know of. What drew you to Vassilissa the Beautiful and Baba
Yaga? The creepiness? The magic? Maybe you're a Russian history buff?

Sarah: Hi Brittany, I grew up with Russian fairy tales, so it wouldn’t have occurred to me to retell anything else. VASSA IN THE NIGHT is a kind of tribute to my childhood mythology.
I don’t have any particular emotional connection to Snow White or Cinderella or any of
the Grimms’ stories; they’re beautiful stories, but they didn’t form my imagination
in the way the Russian ones did. I can’t imagine retelling a story that I didn’t have
a deep personal connection with; writing a novel is such a long, immersive process that
you’ve really got to have your heart in it.


Review

Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter

Publisher: Tor Teen
Publication Date: September 20th, 2016
Pages: 304
Source: ARC from publisher
Rating: 4/5
Add to Goodreads

In the enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn, the fashionable people put on cute shoes, go to parties in warehouses, drink on rooftops at sunset, and tell themselves they’ve arrived. A whole lot of Brooklyn is like that now—but not Vassa’s working-class neighborhood.

In Vassa’s neighborhood, where she lives with her stepmother and bickering stepsisters, one might stumble onto magic, but stumbling out again could become an issue. Babs Yagg, the owner of the local convenience store, has a policy of beheading shoplifters—and sometimes innocent shoppers as well. So when Vassa’s stepsister sends her out for light bulbs in the middle of night, she knows it could easily become a suicide mission.

But Vassa has a bit of luck hidden in her pocket, a gift from her dead mother. Erg is a tough-talking wooden doll with sticky fingers, a bottomless stomach, and a ferocious cunning. With Erg’s help, Vassa just might be able to break the witch’s curse and free her Brooklyn neighborhood. But Babs won’t be playing fair… 


Vassa in the Night has one of those synopsis's that absolutely pull you in with its intriguing yet weirdness. It totally caught my attention. I'll stray from my comfort zone every once in awhile when something like Vassa comes along. I mean I really didn't know what to expect going in. Something just really called to me from this book, so here I am.

Although unfamiliar with both Russian fairy tales that Vassa in the Night is based upon, that didn't stop me from wanting to know more. I like the fact that Vassa is something different in the horde of re-tellings oversaturating YA these days. And being unfamiliar with the original work just makes it all the more intriguing for me as I can go in knowing nothing and hopefully come out wanting to know more. Also means I have nothing to compare Vassa too, which let's face it is something that happens less and less these days.

How to sum up Vassa in the Night is close to impossible. It is one bizarre tale about a girl named Vassa and the corner store, BY's, that's pretty much taking over her Brooklyn neighbourhood. It's a store that walks around on chicken legs, with an old lady inside who seems fit to behead anyone who steals. Add in the fact that the nights are getting longer and longer and Vassa and the rest of Brooklyn are in a very lethargic state. Vassa, who is an orphan, lives with her stepsisters and stepmother and a little wooden doll named Erg; who eats more than should possible and gets Vassa into some tight situations with her sisters. One night finds Vassa going to BY's for lightbulbs and sees her being forced to stay there and work for three nights. That situation doesn't seem to have an ending that sees Vassa coming out of the third night alive. Especially when Babs, the owner, is giving Vassa tasks that are literally impossible for a human to complete. But hey, maybe Vassa is more than meets the eye as well.

Okay, seriously this book is a huge mixture of bizarre, intriguing and magical. There is absolutely no way I could describe this book or it's plot to someone. Which is possibly a huge check mark in Vassa's favour as every reader will go in blind not knowing what's coming their way. Did I understand what was happening half the time? No. But I liked it that way. I was seriously on this weird magical journey with Vassa; discovering the night is stuck, Babs is a psychotic old witch and there's a lot more to Erg than just a little wooden doll. 

Vassa is a cool girl. For someone that feels like they don't have a home, she's not outwardly upset about it. Vassa just accepts that she's in a way has a family, well she misses her mom. Erg and her one sister Chelsea don't necessarily see it that way. But it might just take the book for Vassa to get it as well. Vassa finds herself in a disturbing and undesirable situation working at BY's. She fully expects to not live through the three nights on her employment, yet she doesn't let that get her down. Showcasing that being helpful and nice do go a long way. Not to say Vassa doesn't have her own brand of cunning and sass. It's just that being nice means that people/things are wanting to help her. Also, no one likes Babs, so seeing someone take her on(finally) is a blessing. Like I said, Vassa learns a lot about herself and her life in those three nights. She's a very cool girl.

Vassa in the Night is magical realism at it's best. Honestly, with Sarah's poetic writing and strange storytelling, the reader is in for a head-scratching ride. Yea, I was confused at parts, but I also found the book to be utterly compelling. I needed to understand every little facet that was thrown into the story. Is that night on a motorcycle? What is Erg? What is the story behind Babs? The questions are never-ending. I know vagueness is a common theme in the synopsis and my review, but I'm pretty sure that's the point. Vassa in the Night is a magical fairy tale with an interesting set of characters and an even more intriguing plot. 




I want to give a huge thank you to Raincoast for allowing me to participate in this blog tour. And to Sarah for answering my question. 
Vassa in the Night is out now. It's the perfect fall/Halloween read. So just the right time to be picking it up.

Happy reading!

Brittany


Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Labyrinth Lost Blog Tour: Q&A + Review



Hi friends, Today I am lucky enough to be part of Labyrinth Lost Blog Tour. Labyrinth Lost was a book I was super eager to get my hands on upon hearing all about it moons ago. As chance would have it Raincoast announced they were hosting a blog tour in partnership with Zoraida Cordova and here we are. Keep reading to see what Zoraida has to say to the question I asked her. And I've got my review on the book(spoiler; it's good, guys) too.


About




Zoraida Cordova: Zoraida C√≥rdova was born in Ecuador and raised in Queens, New York. She is the author of The Vicious Deep trilogy, the On the Verge series, and Labyrinth Lost. She loves black coffee, snark, and still believes in magic. Send her a tweet @Zlikeinzorro







Q & A

Brittany: With the importance of We Need Diverse Books and #ownvoices, and just the general whitewashing in the SFF genres; How important was it for you to showcase your culture and be inclusive by having LGBTQ+ characters in a fantasy novel? I love how the Latin American myths and tradition were weaved into this magical world in Labyrinth Lost.

Zoraida: Thank you. Let me start by saying that I 100% believe in We Need Diverse Books and #ownvoices books. They are quality books that need more spotlight. I’m not here for people who argue that diverse = not of good quality. I’m also glad that readers feel that what they read in Labyrinth Lost feels authentic. But please don’t think that you’re learning about Ecuadorian myths because that’s not what I’ve created. I’m still writing fantasy, I’m just representing People of Color as well. Let’s unpack this.

“What’s real in Labyrinth Lost?” I’ve been answering a form of this question a lot lately. I think because my background is from South America, there’s an assumption that the stories in Labyrinth Lost are real/taken from stories I heard as a child. Don’t get me wrong; I’m super flattered that my world feels real. I thank everyone who is reading this book. It is exactly what I aim for as a fantasy author, and I thank my readers for that.

Let’s unpack Latin America. Latin America has many superstitions, despite the deep roots of Catholicism. There is no all-encompassing Latin American mythology. It’s not real. It doesn’t exist. My brief childhood in Ecuador doesn’t come with all the superstitions of all the other countries in South America. The UN recognizes 33 Latin American countries. That includes U.S. territories, former Spanish colonies, Portuguese and French speaking countries. What we think of Latin America is a U.S. media portrayal of white Mexicans and sexy Colombians and Italian-looking Puerto Ricans. We think of the parts that Spain conquered and colonized. At the end of the day, Latin America is extremely complicated because we are all so different and individual, but also united under region and language.

So what’s real and what isn’t?

We tend to paint Latinos as these magical and superstitious beings, and some of us are. The Native American community knows all too well what that’s like to a much worse extent. In hopes of stepping outside myths associated with Latinos, I decided to make up my own superstitions and my own stories and gods. It was so hard to take out the Llorona myth that everyone knows because even we have that story in Ecuador.

The gods of Labyrinth Lost are all made up. The other realms of Los Lagos is entirely made up. The Meadow is more inspired by Alice in Wonderland than any other culture. One of my favorite parts of writing this book was writing the cantos (spells) and epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter. Writing creation myths is something I love, and the story of La Mama and El Papa (the major gods) was a lot of fun.

There is one monster in particular that is inspired by my childhood in Ecuador. When you’re a kid, everyone scares you with monsters. Duendes are evil elves that can steal you away. The Duendes in Labyrinth Lost are a little different, and hopefully I’ll get to bring them back in another book. But the one that’s stuck with me for a long time is the Cuco. In Mexico, there’s the Cucuy, which is a demon. For us (Ecuadorians), we scare kids with the “Cuco.” It’s a demon that eats children who behave badly. I always pictured a black beast with sharp teeth and claws. So, naturally, I turned it into the Maloscuros in Labyrinth Lost.


Review

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication Date: September 6th, 2016
Series: Brooklyn Brujas #1
Pages: 336
Source: ARC from publisher
Rating: 4/5
Add to Goodreads

Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.

Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation...and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can't trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange marks on his skin.

The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland...



Labyrinth Lost was a book I was instantly attracted to as soon as I came across the synopsis. Witches and magic are total buzz words for me, but Labyrinth Lost has that something different going for it; here we have bruja/brujo's

Alex is a great character. Sure we're working with the chosen one trope, but you know, for the most part, I'm fine with that trope as long as the "chosen one" is a likable character. And that Alex is. She's been secretly containing her magic because she wants nothing to do with it. Her family believes her magic will show itself soon, so Alex continues to let them think that. Until that moment the magic explodes out of her and Alex is on the path to becoming a very powerful witch. Alex wants nothing to do with that and thinks she can make her magic disappear; well, of course, that's not how that works and she makes her family vanish instead. Forcing Alex to make a deal with Nova, a boy she barely knows, to help her travel to Los Lagos to get her family back.

I had no issues with Alex. In fact, I totally understood her. Yea, she's a bit selfish, but what teenager isn't? Yea she believes in what some stranger boy tells her about getting rid of her magic. And yea, she decides to take it upon herself to cast a spell that's powerful and honestly has no business casting; yet again, how many teenagers try to do everything themselves? Most. So here she is a normal 16-year old who's scared out of her mind to become this very powerful bruja because her past makes her want nothing to do with the world she's grown up in. There's something about Alex, she's the quiet bookworm type, which really works for her when she's trekking through Los Lagos trying to find her family. She listens to her heart. She's kind and brave and turns into a total kick ass women when the time arrives. I cannot wait to see how Alex grows throughout the rest of the series.

Family is one of the biggest parts of Labyrinth Lost. They are the most important thing in Alex's life. This isn't another book where the main character is off to save their love interest and there's very little family present. Alex feels like the outsider in her family, but she's learning to just find her place. And it's a great story line.

As for Alex's companion, Nova. He's that mysterious guy with an angry past. And I spent the whole book trying to get my finger on what his real motives were for helping a girl he's just meet. Nova is a guy you should keep your eye on. Just sayin'.
Then there's Rishi; Alex's best friend/only friend at school. Rishi is smart and an utterly compelling girl. Like Alex, I was drawn into her larger than life personality. But also her loyalty to Alex. Rishi is in the dark with regards to Alex's magic. But she follows Alex into Los Lagos because of her need to be with her, help her. Not only is their friendship strong, the love there, but just maybe something else starts to bloom. Let's just say real feelings are coming to light.

The fantastical world, Cordova has created in Labyrinth Lost is wonderfully dark. Alex's family and then the world of Los Lagos is heavily influenced by different Latin American's myths, legends, and culture. Everything is from Cordova's mind, I loved how you can see the threads that are woven into the story from what is probably her childhood and the stories she grew up on. Los Lagos is that in between land. Think of it as a Wonderland of sorts. There're creatures and spirits and a dark power is trying to control it. It's not a place I'd like to find myself but it makes for an adventure that is great to read.

Labyrinth Lost is a fresh start to a series saturated in diversity of every kind. It's a perfect start to a trilogy, that I see getting better and better with each book. 




I want to give a huge thank you to Raincoast for having me participate in this blog tour. And also to Zoraida for getting involved with the Q&A.
Labyrinth Lost is out now, I highly suggest everyone go buy it or borrow it from the library.

Happy reading!

Brittany

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: My Favourite TV Shows of the 90's

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme held by The Broke and the Bookish.




This week's topic is: Honouring fall TV in some way. So I choose to go with my favouire shows of the 90's; my elementary/very start of high school years.


Let's face it, this is pretty much going to be a list of Disney cartoons because do you know me? Although TGIF was a staple time slot of mine. I also watched a few "adult" shows. But I'm sticking with shows that only ran through the 90's. No crossing decades here. 

Dinosaurs

"Who's the baby?" Dinosaurs being people in all our dysfunctional family ways. What is not to love about that?

Breaker High

Baby Gosling. Although short lived, this show was gold. I don't know how many times I watched every episode. It was my dream high school experience.

TaleSpin

Looking up these shows have brought to my attention how very little episodes all of them had. Apparently watching the same episode 100 times as a kid is the same as getting a new one.

Goosebumps

God this show was scary. Between this and Are You Afraid of the Dark? I don't know how I slept through the night. 

Ready or Not

This was the perfect show for an adolescent girl. They covered everything from boys to periods to bullying. Everything. 

Gargoyles
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Funny and action filled. I effing live for Gargoyles. I need to youtube the crap out of this right now.

The Little Mermaid
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Favourite movie turned into a TV show. What was this magic?! Talk about a little girls dreams coming true.

Animaniacs
"It's time for Animaniacs. And we're zany to the max." They sure were kooky. Now I will have this song in my head for the next week.

Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers

The original Power Rangers are still the shit. Look at this high-tech set. And just so you know I was the Pink Ranger. I played the hell out her character. 

Wishbone

This dog was adorable. Plus he could read and act out favourite classic stories. This is literally my dream show(even now), dogs and books.


You guys remember these shows? Did you also love them? Hook up your TTT below.

Happy reading!

Brittany

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Review: The Cursed Child by Jack Thorne & John Tiffany


The Cursed Child by Jack Thorne, John Tiffany & J.K. Rowling
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Publication Date: July 31st, 2016
Pages: 320
Series: Harry Potter #8
Source: Purchased
Rating: 2/5
Add to Goodreads

The Eighth Story. Nineteen Years Later.

Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, a new play by Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage. The play will receive its world premiere in London’s West End on July 30, 2016.

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.




Like the rest of the world, I was counting the minutes until this next chapter in the HP universe was released. Went to the Midnight party, and stayed up into the wee morning hours devouring this play. As I was reading my thoughts were more along of the lines of !!!!!!!!. I finished and was like not amazing but great. And then I came out of my HP haze and was like nooooooo. So much terribleness and my good mood plummetted. This is why I had to let myself sit on this for a month before writing a review. I think I could have been really harsh after I did that emotional 180.

Any new Harry Potter is always going to make my life; having it connected to JK Rowling in some way, her being involved is like having your cake and eating it too. But at the end of the day, this isn't Rowling's work and it is NOT the 8th Harry Potter story. 

I have no doubt that seeing this on stage will bring about stronger emotions than just getting by with your imagination. Reading a script is easy but it doesn't give you the narrative an actual novel will. That really comes across when, like me, you know the original source material better than anything else in life. But I will admit just seeing the trio interact as adults are literally everything my heart desires. Draco and Ginny, of course, add to that dynamic. Being a parent and overcoming the past that won't leave you alone was never going to be easy for any of them.

Most importantly, McGonagall is still queen. #slay

Albus and Scorpius are definitely the show's stars(of course, I'm basing that off of a script, but I doubt I'm wrong) and by far really the only thing I liked about the script. Their friendship is glorious, which just adds to their complex characters. I love how they don't let their parent's old prejudices and history taint their first meeting. They are instant friends. And for both of them, living in the shadow of their parent's history, it's something they so desperately need. There isn't much to have to overlook when it comes to Albus and Scorpius's characters; they are sweet, endearing and really just trying to become their own selves.

As for the others, the ones we know and love, well I didn't love them here. This is 20 years later and they're still children. The flaws and immatureness they had as teenagers are still there. It's obvious that the writers just changed their age but didn't actually age them into adults. Harry is still rash. I mean he says some things to his child that is pretty much inexcusable. Hermione is Hermione as Minister of Magic, which isn't believable because she's making big mistakes and bowing down to people that shouldn't be. And if she was portrayed as a 40-year-old, instead of a 17-year-old in a 40 years old body she'd make a perfect Minster. And then there's Ron. My Ron. The Mr. Mom. The goofy comic relief. I will admit to laughing to some of his one-liners. But c'mon, this is not adult Ron we all imagined. He would not be okay with sitting back letting his wife be everything well he sits ideally by. Wasn't that the whole problem throughout the series? Remember Deathly Hallows? It's just glaring obvious that this isn't really the trio I love so much.

Unfortunately, the flow is a little wacky. It's pretty obvious that Rowling didn't write this. Honestly, the script is really poorly written. It's so simple; the dialogue. It's just not the same. It feels like a whack of fanfic tropes thrown together in one big mess. I don't care if Rowling came out and said this is canon. Has she forgotten the world she created? The characters? I refuse to take this for canon. The plot is sloppy and unbelievable. So much of the plot devices are head scratchers and just whys. The big one? WHAT THE HELL EVEN? I can't get behind it because it's unfathomable for a whole whack of reasons. Who would even think of that? It's gross.

My biggest issue is the missed "opportunity" at the end. I was honestly shocked and let down because I thought for sure I spotted all the signs of something that was being built up to be brilliant and wonderful. And then disappointment. Obviously being scared of what a few idiots would say kept the creators from exploring/adding something the original material is missing. This was something I was rooting for and very excited for as it was very clearly being developed throughout the script. I'm just really sad.

Of course, Harry Potter and nostalgia ultimately win. This is bittersweet. There's a part of me that wished I never read The Cursed Child. But I was also not going to. At the end, the release of this script was a cash grab. The smarter thing would have been releasing the play on DVD along with the script. I have no doubt that would have made me enjoy and appreciate this story a little more. 


Happy reading!

Brittany