Posted in book reviews

The Near Witch – V.E. Schwab

The Near Witch is only an old story told to frighten children.

If the wind calls at night, you must not listen. The wind is lonely, and always looking for company.

There are no strangers in the town of Near.

These are the truths that Lexi has heard all her life.

But when an actual stranger, a boy who seems to fade like smoke, appears outside her home on the moor at night, she knows that at least one of these sayings is no longer true.

The next night, the children of Near start disappearing from their beds, and the mysterious boy falls under suspicion.

As the hunt for the children intensifies, so does Lexi s need to know about the witch that just might be more than a bedtime story, about the wind that seems to speak through the walls at night, and about the history of this nameless boy.

Part fairy tale, part love story, Victoria Schwab’s debut novel is entirely original yet achingly familiar: a song you heard long ago, a whisper carried by the wind, and a dream you won’t soon forget.

I was incredibly excited to dive into Schwab’s debut novel, The Near Witch, to see where it all began – and I was not disappointed.

This was a bone-chilling, atmospheric read, that I most certainly regretted reading in the early hours of the morning, with nothing but my (not very bright) bedside lamp lighting my room. Schwab sets the atmosphere wonderfully, I felt incredibly creeped out and scared of the uncanny (the wind!!) and I was glad my window was tightly shut. This is something Schwab does wonderfully in more recent works as well, she has a strong grasp on tone and creating atmospheric settings that feel incredibly real.

That was the strongest part of the novel. In other places, it feel flat for me. Maybe it’s just me liking details and particulars, but I really wanted to know what time this was set in (did I miss it). I felt like there were modern idioms used, which felt out of place and juxtaposed the sort of medieval setting. There was just a lot about the world that did not make sense – and I wasn’t able to let this go.

Secondly, Lexi tired me out with her constant running! She was constantly running from one place to another. Often, this didn’t even make sense – I don’t get how she was able to run from people who were, in some instances, described as being close to her? And then she’d rest, like they never noticed / couldn’t catch up to her. How fast does she run????

The characters / emotional stakes fell flat. I think it was because of the constant running, (yet, I would say this didn’t have much action for a large chunk of it) that I don’t think time was spent delving in to and exploring the familial & romantic relationships. Thus, even when profound moments happened, they were sad/happy based on that circumstance, but it wasn’t particularly moving.

But I did love reading this. I think it was great to go back to the earliest released work of Schwab, and to see how much her writing has grown and changed over the course of her career. This, by no means, was a bad book. But in later works, her characterisation & plot development became much stronger. I’m excited to continue to follow her work.

3 out of 5 witchy stars.

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Moxie – Jennifer Mathieu

Moxie girls fight back!

Vivian Carter is fed up. Fed up with her small-town Texas high school that thinks the football team can do no wrong. Fed up with sexist dress codes and hallway harassment. But most of all, Viv Carter is fed up with always following the rules.

Viv’s mom was a punk rock Riot Grrrl in the ’90s, so now Viv takes a page from her mother’s past and creates a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously to her classmates. She’s just blowing off steam, but other girls respond. Pretty soon Viv is forging friendships with other young women across the divides of cliques and popularity rankings, and she realizes that what she has started is nothing short of a girl revolution.

I wish I liked this.

It’s hard to explain quite why this didn’t click with me – is it more on a personal level? Or the style of writing? I think it’s both.

The problem I found with this is that this lacked the ability to give readers freedom of thought. It seemed very one-stroke of a paintbrush, and if you didn’t get on with that, well then, you suck.

That is not to say by any means that I did not agree with the messages this book was trying to get across: I do. I agree schools and authority figures often use their power in the wrong ways, and females can be disadvantaged and treated differently. Dress codes can be sexist and barbaric. People can be wilfully ignorant and arseholes.

The problem with me is how it chose to show those who weren’t wilfully ignorant, just confused, lacking understanding. Due to the genre and the writing style, this is aimed towards young adults, and that’s why this is so frustrating. So you have Viv, the main character, and then Seth. New boy in town / love interest. This relationship dynamic was used to highlight how it is that boys can be ignorant and not quite understand (and probably can’t ever truly understand as they don’t live through the experience) but that just because they are doesn’t mean they’re ‘bad’. It’s the whole we’ve painted every other man in this story as jackass, but we must have a special snowflake (don’t worry photo store man, I see you). Viv and Seth’s relationship was there for used as an example and tool to how people can say things that perpetuate a matter of behaviour etc, but then this is how we should talk it out and discuss it.

Which is great. The only way to learn is to ask questions and discuss and be mindful. Love that.

However, it didn’t go like that for me. Everytime Seth seemed to ask a question Viv would get frustrated with him (understandable at times, when you’re fed up with the world treating you a way which isn’t just), but then she never really learned how to . . . not be. She’d talk to him. It would end in her going off and thinking they’ve broken up blah blah blah, multiple times. Or she’d tell him how she felt and then ended the conversation to avoid it. So Viv went the whole book moaning about how people are wilfully ignorant and stand by and let these things happen . . . and then just does it herself? For the sake of not losing her relationship with Seth? Even though the second her mum found a guy, that Viv immediately didn’t like because of his political views and profession (works with jocks, therefore he must be an arsehole too) she was recalling about how her younger version of her mum (which Viv idolises as some sort of ultra feminist) would’ve never done that?

So there comes to end of my first problem. Freedom of thought: this book often lacks giving good encouragement to readers to ask there own questions because hey, if you do, you’ll piss someone off or the issue will just get swept under the rug. But that’s not a way to learn. Questions etc should always be respectful and mindful but people growing up in this society aren’t always raised and born with these feminist values. So it sucks the book is shitting on that (and I will come back to more on this later).
Problem two: Viv and her ultra-feminist mum. If I hear Viv say she’s going to go and put on her Runaways t-shirt once more I swear I’ll burn it. Viv has this idolisation with the Riot Grrrls or something (can’t ever remember the name, oops) and always talks about how her mum was this ultra feminist with her coloured hair and rebellious streaks. This is then compared with her saying about how she’s so dutiful and looking around at the other girls and criticising them for all just being normal/boring . . . like ?? I’m not sure I understand this. It just really rubbed me the wrong way with how it was like well to be awesome feminist you’ve got to be a rebel and FIGHT BACK AND BE ANGRY AND YAY ANARCHY but like . . . no? You can still do your homework and not get in to trouble but still hold these values? There’s different ways of fighting back?

Yes, it’s impossible for a book to explore this all at once without feeling too long, messy, etc. But that’s the thing. It had these things in and S T I L L felt messy. I’m not sure if we’d call this problem number three or just the same problem but here: this book did try to include other issues – i.e. issues about race. Yet once again, it felt flat. It would make a comment here and there about race, saying about how unjust POC have it, and then . . . plateau off. Like CHECK!! THERE GOES MY INTERSECTIONAL BOX!!

This whole book just felt so very white feminist. There’s nothing wrong with white feminism. But it’s bad when you try and tick off these other ‘issue boxes’ in order to try and show hey look!! I am a good one!!!!

I want to compare this to Asking For It. That book is set in a small, mostly white town, in Ireland. It’s narrative focuses on rape culture. Never once when reading that was I fed up about how (privileged seems the wrong word here, but we’ll use it) privileged the feminism was. Because it just worked. It was able to tell a story and the impact of rape culture and how we can be our own worst enemies without every feeling preach-y. It made the reader THINK. It indirectly questioned them. Where this, this didn’t. Moxie just felt too preachy, and too cardboard cut out. I guess it never felt authentic.

And I think that’s because of the over exaggerations. When talking about this with my friends, I compared this to an early 2000’s movie or something like Mean Girls, that has everyone segregated off in to little factions, which are associated with certain behaviours. I.e you have the jocks, and obviously because they play sports they have to be a rapist arsehole.
I give this book it’s dues: it did sort of work past this towards the end. We had people interacting from different groups (oh yay the cheerleader isn’t a stuck up non-feminist bitch like we all assumed based on her status and one action – turns out she was being blackmailed and we shouldn’t judge!!) but that was it. And I wonder – why? Why segregate them like this? Schools, at least from my recent experience, weren’t that cookie cutter. So why not be in touch with more on how it is? Surely the story would’ve worked better if you did it more casually, instead of having to dramatizes every small thing? Readers aren’t stupid. It’s show not tell. So don’t fall back on those basic tropes. . .

I lost where I’m at now.

Anyways. There isn’t one type of feminism. This is a part of it. And the book did good towards the ending in showing about how you learn and grow and how it can be a powerful thing etc.

But then I question if the ending was even good. I guess sure, it was realistic that there was no real resolution for the rapist jock (it happens) but also the big dramatics at the end . . . was it too much?

Or was it just highlighting the power people can have? Who knows. I wish this book highlighted more though that feminism is something that some people desperately need & that it’s not just a cute little side club you sign up too as a hobby. It was getting there in the end, of you know, we should all be feminists and work to work on each others feminism, but it just seemed too well hey this is our cool little feminist club. But then again again, Viv realised that her mum in her flowers and her maybe not-so-perfect boyfriend still is a feminist and there’s no one right way to be one and that was good. You do grow as people, and because of this, your values grow and change. Mine certainly have within the last year. Heck, I can change my values and views within a month. It’s called evolving – but I think this book took too long, too many cheap shots, and just a lot of eye rolls, to get there.

I think I would’ve loved this book when I was 15. I’d be with you all screaming about how this makes my heart scream because YAY GIRL POWER AND FEMINISM AND FINALLY SOMEONE GETS IT but now, after reading so many of these books, I’m tired. I’m tired that these ya books are all mostly told in the same preachy, almost patronising fashion, that can often contradict itself and weave in unfeminist points while trying to make feminist points . . .
Who knows. Maybe I just read this in a grump


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Dangerous Lies – Becca Fitzpatrick (A Review)

Stella Gordon’s life is a lie.

She does not belong in Thunder Basin, Nebraska. As the key witness in a murder trial, Stella is under witness protection, living a life she doesn’t want. No one can know who she really is. Not even Chet Falconer, her hot, enigmatic neighbour. But against her better judgement, Stella finds herself falling under Chet’s spell …

A storm is brewing. Is Stella really safe in Thunder Basin? And will Chet be her shelter, or her downfall …?

I have been a fan of Becca Fitzpatricks since the first Hush, Hush book was released, and I’ve stuck with her ever since.  So when Dangerous Lies was released I was excited to get my hands on her new novel, despite the fact that the novel before that – Black Ice – wasn’t a big favourite of mine. But still, I can’t turn away from one of her books, no matter how hard I try.

I’m so happy that I gave this book a chance. 4 big fat stars go to this book. The character development is great. In the beginning our main character Stella is determined to do whatever she can to rebel against her situation. Her and Carmina, her ‘foster mum’ clash, not getting along one bit. But throughout the book their relationship develops and they begin to open up to each other. One of the best things about this book is watching the relationship between these two characters flourish and develop.

Originally, by the marketing I had seen for this book, it seemed that it was going to be more of a mystery/thriller type book, but it was more of a romance. Which was fine, it worked well, and there was still some twists and turns along the way to keep the mystery up. This whole novel is more character-driven than plot based.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It was an easy, fun read. Now I’m waiting on the edge of my seat waiting to see what great things Becca Fitzpatrick comes up with next…

You can also view this review on Goodreads!