Fantasy, Fiction, LGBTQIA+, Short Stories, Young Adult

Vampires Never Get Old

Cpver image for Vampires Never Get Old edited by Zoraida Cordova and Natalie C. ParkerEdited by Zoraida Córdova and Natalie C. Parker

ISBN 9781250230003

“There is no one way to write the vampire. After all, a being with the power to shape-shift should wear many faces and tell many tales.”

Vampires Never Get Old brings together a variety of stars from the world of young adult fiction to provide fresh takes on the vampire story, with a particular focus on diversity and inclusion. The collection consists of eleven short stories, each with their own spin on the vampire mythology. To each story the editors add a quick note on the aspects of the vampire tradition used, transformed, or subverted in that tale. The stories include a wide variety of LGBTQ+ and BIPOC protagonists, as well as a fat slayer and a vampire with a disability.

For unique form and dark and creepy vibes, I want to call out “Mirrors, Windows & Selfies” by Mark Oshiro. The story is written in the form of an online diary or blog, but the commenters perceive it as a work of ongoing fiction, which gains in popularity over time. The writer is a young vampire who was born, not made, and although I really hate this trope, I still enjoyed Oshiro’s execution. Cisco has been moved around the country his entire life by his vampire parents, but as he nears adulthood, he begins to question the secrecy and the rules, and wonders why exactly his parents have been keeping him hidden and isolated from vampire society.

Perhaps the most chilling tale is “In Kind” by Kayla Whaley, a dark revenge fantasy in which a disabled teenage girl is murdered by her father, an act which the press dubs a “mercy killing.” Grace then faces the choice about whether to use her new powers to punish her father for what he has done. The story is also notable in that while becoming a vampire makes Grace stronger and more powerful in many ways, it is not able to restore her ability to walk. Her vampirism is empowering, without being a miracle cure for her disability, which is a core part of her identity.

The funniest story belongs to Samira Ahmed, who contributes “A Guidebook for the Newly Sired Desi Vampire.” A brand new vampire wakes up alone in a dark warehouse, and has to undergo Vampire Orientation 101 by Vampersand, a newly minted vampire tech start up for young Indian vampires who have been unexpectedly turned by careless British vampire tourists. Filled with snark and anticolonial bite, this was the only story that made me laugh out loud.

Most of the stories stand alone well, but several had strong potential as novel starters. In particular, I would definitely read a f/f novel with a vampire and a slayer, something that Julie Murphy explores in “Senior Year Sucks,” and which Victoria Schwab also features in her tale, “First Kill.” However, the stand out in this regard was absolutely “The House of Black Sapphires” by Dhonielle Clayton, in which the Turner women return to New Orleans’ Eternal Ward after centuries away. Descended from vampires, but distinct, Eternals can only be killed by Shadow Barons, but none of the Turner girls have ever met one until they return to their mother’s home in New Orleans, and discover that their mother was once in love with a Shadow Baron herself. This story had atmosphere and world-building potential galore, and I would dearly love to read an entire novel set in this world.

Vampires Never Get Olds marks a delightful return to the mythology of vampires, filled with unique tales and fun little extra nuggets. Read through the author bios to find out each contributor’s favourite vampire, and check out the copyright page for a vampire-themed book curse! If like me you’ve been missing vampires, this collection might just quench your thirst, at least for a while.

For more vampires, you might also like:

Urban Fantasy Vampires

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

Certain Dark Things 

Fantasy, Fiction, Young Adult

The Everlasting Rose (The Belles #2)

Cover image for The Everlasting Rose by Dhonielle Clayton by Dhonielle Clayton

ISBN 978-1-4847-2848-2

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this title from the publisher.

“What is the truth in Orléans?… You and your sisters spent your entire existence altering appearances, shifting reality, catering to the most shallow whims. The birth of this world came out of a rotten, poisonous seed—and now, the framework is laced with it. Everyone spends all their time trying to look like something else. The masses will believe what is presented to them, as long as it is compelling and beautiful. Thanks to you, they no longer have any idea what’s real—what’s true.”

Camille, Edel, and Rémy are on the run from the tyrannical Princess Sophia, soon to be crowned Queen of Orléans, unless they can find the rightful heir, the recently awakened Princess Charlotte. Sophia claims her sister is dead, and that she will present her body to the court before her coronation, but Camille has to believe that she is still alive, and she knows that the dead Queen Celeste would not want her cruel younger daughter to inherit the crown. But it seems impossible that they will find Charlotte before Sophia’s ascension, and the scheming Princess is already hard at work ensuring that new imperial decrees will make it almost impossible to unseat her once she is crowned. A resistance movement is afoot in Orléans, but can the Belles really make common cause with the Iron Ladies, a group of women who reject beauty treatments altogether in favour of living with the gris?

I was excited to return to Orléans, but reading The Everlasting Rose reminded me that while I mostly enjoyed the world of The Belles, I was still upset about Claudine’s fate, as she was by far my favourite character in the first volume. Claudine’s lover, Violetta, reappears here, and it did seem at first as if Clayton was going to cast her as the grieving avenger with a grudge against Camille. Fortunately she does not significantly pursue that tired angle. However, there were a couple more deaths that felt engineered for heavy-handed melodrama, in ways that seemed merely intended to traumatize Camille. I was more interested in the parts of the book that explored the origin of the Belles, the calcifying control over their traditions, and the possibilities for a different future. In short, the society, rather than the plot, grabbed my attention.

With the remaining Belles either captured or on the run, The Everlasting Rose relies heavily on interjected new snippets to convey what is going on elsewhere in Orléans, and keep both the reader and the rebels apprised of Sophia’s machinations. Of course, the news nets are not entirely to be trusted, as Sophia manipulates certain outlets to her own ends. Only the underground newspapers can fully defy her censorship. While the first book was set mostly at court, the second volume is free to range over Clayton’s world, to explore the other cities and teahouses, and the shadowy corners no regular Belle would ever have a chance to see. This tour also incorporates a few fun nods to Clayton’s colleagues, including a peacock named after her Tiny Pretty Things coauthor, and a millinery named for Justine Larbalestier.

I expected the Iron Ladies to play a more significant role in the story based on the plot description, but they do not feature in the early parts of the book. It is only later that they form an uneasy alliance to depose Sophia, and set Charlotte in her place. But ultimately, the Belles and the Iron Ladies have different goals, and different visions for the future of Orléans, and I expect we will get to see this dynamic play out further if this series gets another installment. Currently, no third book has been announced.

You might also like Tiny Pretty Things by Dhonielle Clayton and Sona Charaipotra


ALA Midwinter Fiction Preview

At the end of January, I had the chance to attend two days of the American Library Association’s Midwinter conference in Seattle. I had a great time attending panels, meeting up with book blog and librarian friends, and browsing the exhibits.  As usual, publishers were spotlighting some of their upcoming titles. Here are a few that I am excited about!

Umarriageable by Soniah Kamal

Cover image for Unmarriageable by Soniah KamalIf you love a Pride and Prejudice retelling as much as I do, you will be equally excited to check out Unmarrigeable, a modern day, Pakistani revisitation of Jane Austen’s classic. Alys, the second of five daughters,  teaches English literature at a girl’s school, to pupils who often drop out to marry and start having children. Literature is her small chance to influence them before they begin that chapter of their lives. Her small town is set atwitter by a big wedding, which brings several eligible bachelors, including the wealthy entrepreneur Mr. Bingla, and his aloof friend, Mr. Darsee. I didn’t want to leave you only with titles that aren’t out yet, so this one is already available from Ballantine Books!

The Everlasting Rose by Dhonielle Clayton

Cover image for The Everlasting Rose by Dhonielle Clayton I knew that the publisher was going to be promoting Dhonielle Clayton’s follow up to The Belles at ALA, but I figured that it would be so popular I would probably miss out. So I was surprised but pleased to pick up an advance copy of The Everlasting Rose, which will follow Camille, Edel, and Remy as they try to save the rightful heir to the throne before her evil sister, Princess Sophia, can cement her rule of Orleans. To succeed, they will need to join forces with the Iron Ladies, a group of women that totally reject the beauty treatments that Orleans society is built upon. The revolution is here. Coming March 5, 2019 from Freeform.

Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow by E. K. Johnston

Cover image for Star Wars: Queen's Shadow by E. K. Johnston When Padmé Naberrie completes her term as Queen of Naboo, she faces the daunting task of building a new life for herself, out from under the long shadow of the throne. Instead, she will find herself in deep political waters, when her successor asks her to serve as Naboo’s representative in the Galactic Senate. Despite her uncertainty, Padmé  agrees to her Queen’s request, and takes up the challenge. To be honest, that cover alone was enough to pull me in, but I am excited to see E. K. Johnston, author Exit, Pursued by a Bear, take us on Padmé’s journey from Queen to Senator. Coming March 5, 2019 from Disney Lucasfilm Press.

The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins

Cover image for The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara CollinsOne of the great benefits of going to ALA is getting to talk to the publicists, and find out what they are hyped about. When asked which fiction title she was excited for, one of the Harper reps said “this one!” with such speed and certainty, that I took it without further question. The Confessions of Frannie Langton follows the trial of a former Jamaica sugar plantation slave accused of murdering the man who enslaved her, and his wife. Frannie herself claims to remember nothing about the night of their deaths. The novel is already garnering comparisons to the work of Esi Edugyan and Colson Whitehead.  It is set to hit shelves on May 21, 2019.

Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera

Cover image for Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby RiveraJuliet Palante has just come home to the Bronx from her first year at college, and she is trying to figure out how to come out to her Puerto Rican family before she moves across the country for a summer internship. She will be spending the summer working for Harlowe Brisbane, author of Raging Flower, the book that sparked Juliet’s feminist awakening. But when she arrives in Portland, Juliet quickly feels out of her depth. The longer she is in Portland, the less sure Juliet is about Harlowe’s brand of feminism. But the summer nevertheless introduces her to people and experiences that will open her mind in ways she never expected. Originally published by Riverdale Avenue Books in 2016, I noted at the time I reviewed it that the book could have used another editorial pass, and a little more polish and attention. So I am excited to see that Patrice Caldwell at Hyperion has picked it up for re-release in the fall of 2019! I can’t wait to see this book get another chance to shine. Look for it September 10, 2019.

Did you have a chance to attend ALA? What forthcoming titles are you excited about? Let me know in the comments!

Fiction, Young Adult

Shiny Broken Pieces (Tiny Pretty Things #2)

Cover image for Shiny Broken Pieces by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Claytonby Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton

ISBN 978-0-06-234242-3

“Sometimes you want something so badly you’re willing to do whatever it takes to get it.”

After surviving brutal bullying and hazing, both Cassie Lucas and Gigi Stewart are back at the American Ballet Conservatory for their final year, struggling to prove they still have what it takes after healing from their injuries. Unable to prove that she wasn’t the one who pushed Gigi in front of a taxi, Bette Abney is still suspended, and neither her former best friend, Eleanor, nor her ex-boyfriend Alec, are speaking to her. After finally landing a breakout role in Giselle, June Kim is poised for her best year yet, determined to land one of the American Ballet Company’s coveted apprenticeships. But her falling weight and unusual eating habits are bringing her under increased scrutiny, straining her relationship with her mother, and her boyfriend Jayhe. Now the upperclassman have a choice: focus on their dreams, or pursue revenge.

Gigi Stewart, for one, has set her heart on revenge. After all, she could have died. And with the return of Cassie Lucas, the last girl who was terribly injured by Bette’s machinations, she has an unexpected ally. In Tiny Pretty Things, Cassie was the spectre that hung over Gigi’s hazing, spoken of in horrified whispers. In Shiny Broken Pieces, she finally comes fully on-stage, no longer a talismanic victim, but a new bitter, angry rival, hungry for revenge and determined to prove herself. Though she rarely carries the POV, her presence eggs Gigi on. Even as the Conservatory tries to start fresh, new pranks and anonymous bullying pile fuel on the flames. And since the incidents never take place in the POV of the perpetrator, there is and added element of mystery and suspense.

In many ways, Shiny Broken Pieces is a book about role reversals. Once the sunny, laid-back new girl from California, Gigi has been embittered by her experiences. Meanwhile, Bette, always used to being a star and the darling of the Conservatory, is on the outs, suspended from school indefinitely. She is guilty of a lot, but determined to prove that whatever her past, she was not responsible for Gigi’s near-death experience. Meanwhile, June has gained bigger roles and more attention, but it hasn’t fixed her eating disorder, or her non-relationship with her father, or helped her decide between pursuing a ballet career and going to college with Jayhe. Her role at the Conservatory may have changed, but she is still the same person, with a dark secret or two weighing on her conscience. Together the three girls form a horrifying and yet strangely sympathetic cast.

Shiny Broken Pieces is full of blackmail, drama, and deep, dark, twisty secrets. The competition is fierce, and with only two apprenticeships on offer, it is about to go to a whole new level. In this respect, it is very much of a piece with Tiny Pretty Things, but with even higher stakes. Lives and careers are on the line.

Challenges, Fiction, Young Adult

Tiny Pretty Things

Cover image for Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton

ISBN 978-0-06-234239-3

“The Sugar Plum Fairy has the farthest to fall.”

Gigi Stewart is the new girl at an elite ballet academy in New York City. She comes from a laid-back California dance studio, and isn’t prepared for the intense competition and catty backstabbing amongst the New York dancers. To make matters worse, Gigi has a secret, one she is determined not to let her classmates use against her—it’s bad enough being the only black girl at the conservatory without everyone knowing her medical history. Two long-time dancers at the school are Bette Abney and June Kim, both of whom are legacy students. Bette is fighting to get out from under her sister’s shadow, bringing out a ruthless competitiveness that has already cost her one of her oldest friends, and she may still lose her boyfriend if he ever finds out what she did. June is a half-Asian student who doesn’t fit in anywhere since she was rejected by the other Korean girls. June has always been an understudy, and now her mother is threatening to take her out of the academy so she can focus on preparing for college—unless she can land a starring role. The competition is about to go from fierce, to brutal. Hanging over it all is the spectre of Cassie Lucas, the last girl who was driven out of the school by bullying.

The prologue focuses on Cassie Lucas, and the final, defining moment that pushed her from the school, driven out by students who couldn’t accept that a newer, younger dancer might take a starring role. After that, the perspective rotates between Gigi, Bette, and June. By using three perspectives, Charaipotra and Clayton are free to explore a variety of issues that might plague an aspiring ballerina, from familial pressures, to anorexia, to recurring injuries. What would be overwhelming if laid on the shoulders of one character can be distributed among them to better effect. It also helps round out the characters; from the outside, Bette seems cold and calculating, but there is turmoil beneath the surface that makes her more than simply a villain. There is plenty soapy drama here, but also some depth, as the girls struggle with identity, and what it may cost to realize their dreams.

I picked up this book thinking it was a stand-alone volume, and as such I had some problems with the structure and pacing.  As the end nears, we still don’t know everything about who is responsible for the various attacks on Gigi, despite some fairly strong suspicions. The repeated references to Cassie seem somewhat ineffective, since we know very little about her before she vanishes from the scene. However, knowing that there is a follow-up volume changes the perspective on these structural choices. There is space now for Cassie to re-enter the picture, as well as more time for the truth to come out. And there is still room to raise the stakes—after fighting tooth and nail for roles in The Nutcracker, and Giselle, next the girls will be competing not for roles, but for spots in professional ballet companies.

However, knowing there is a sequel doesn’t relieve all of the problems in Tiny Pretty Things. I was looking to the romance in the book to provide a bit of relief from the constant drama and competition, but the relationships are just as fraught as the dancing. June becomes involved with her former best friend’s boyfriend, and since he won’t break up with Sei-Jin, they have to keep their involvement a secret. Meanwhile, Alec shifts his affections from Bette to Gigi with a suddenness that would suggest he only cares about being the boyfriend of the lead dancer—even though this isn’t otherwise in line with is character. Meanwhile, Bette is being harassed by Henri, Cassie Lucas’s former boyfriend and dance partner, who seems to have come to New York from his Paris school for the sole purpose of finding out what really happened to Cassie. However, his intensity is much more creepy than romantic. This read is dark all around, and could use a little light, but the romance isn’t it.


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