Thursday, August 31, 2017

Book Review: The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding by Alexandra Bracken

Title: The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding
Author: Alexandra Bracken
Series: The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding, #1
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Publication Date: September 5, 2017

Synopsis: "I would say it's a pleasure to meet thee, Prosperity Oceanus Redding, but truly, I only anticipate the delights of destroying thy happiness." 

Prosper is the only unexceptional Redding in his old and storied family history — that is, until he discovers the demon living inside him. Turns out Prosper's great-great-great-great-great-something grandfather made — and then broke — a contract with a malefactor, a demon who exchanges fortune for eternal servitude. And, weirdly enough, four-thousand-year-old Alastor isn't exactly the forgiving type.

The fiend has reawakened with one purpose — to destroy the family whose success he ensured and who then betrayed him. With only days to break the curse and banish Alastor back to the demon realm, Prosper is playing unwilling host to the fiend, who delights in tormenting him with nasty insults and constant attempts trick him into a contract. Yeah, Prosper will take his future without a side of eternal servitude, thanks.

Little does Prosper know, the malefactor's control over his body grows stronger with each passing night, and there's a lot Alastor isn't telling his dim-witted (but admittedly strong-willed) human host. 

From #1 New York Times best-selling author Alexandra Bracken comes a tale of betrayal and revenge, of old hurts passed down from generation to generation. Can you ever fully right a wrong, ever truly escape your history? Or will Prosper and Alastor be doomed to repeat it?

Review: I don’t often read Middle-Grade books, but the premise of The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding had me so intrigued that I couldn’t resist picking it up. And Alexandra Bracken did not disappoint. This was a fun, dark read with wonderful characters and fascinating creatures. We follow twelve-year-old Prosperity Oceanus Redding as he learns he is the host of a demon/fiend prince named Alastor, who is determined to exact revenge on his family, and who Prosper is determined to get rid of. I absolutely adored Prosper! He comes from a very respectable family but has always felt like he wasn’t quite good enough, especially compared to his twin sister, Prudence Fidelia Redding. He is an artist, loyal, and kind-hearted and I really enjoyed his narration. But I also loved getting to be inside Alastor’s head! He’s old-fashioned, stubborn, and just a little cheeky and I am excited to see his relationship with Prosper develop more. Prosper also becomes friends with another favorite character, a witch named Nell, who is proud, resilient, and kicks butt. The twists and turns were great, the atmosphere was delicious, and that cliffhanger left me eagerly awaiting the sequel.

An ARC was provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

-Kristen ♥

Friday, August 25, 2017

Book Review: The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

Title: The Prince and the Dressmaker
Author: Jen Wang
Publisher: First Second
Publication Date: February 13, 2018

Synopsis: Paris, at the dawn of the modern age:

Prince Sebastian is looking for a bride―or rather, his parents are looking for one for him. Sebastian is too busy hiding his secret life from everyone. At night he puts on daring dresses and takes Paris by storm as the fabulous Lady Crystallia―the hottest fashion icon in the world capital of fashion! 

Sebastian’s secret weapon (and best friend) is the brilliant dressmaker Frances―one of only two people who know the truth: sometimes this boy wears dresses. But Frances dreams of greatness, and being someone’s secret weapon means being a secret. Forever. How long can Frances defer her dreams to protect a friend? Jen Wang weaves an exuberantly romantic tale of identity, young love, art, and family. A fairy tale for any age, The Prince and the Dressmaker will steal your heart.

Review: Graphic novels are still a fairly new genre to me, but with each one I read I fall in love a little bit more and The Prince and the Dressmaker has got to be the sweetest one I’ve read yet! Jen Wang’s illustrations were fantastic, the characters lovely, and the dresses absolutely divine. I loved watching Prince Sebastian’s confidence grow as he transformed into Lady Crystallia and I adored Frances’ friendship and easy acceptance. This story is about two characters going after their dreams and my heart warmed as I watched them come true. The ending was my favorite part as love conquered the day and I cannot wait to get my hands on a physical copy so I can read it all over again.

(I know there's a while to wait until the release of this book, BUT I WAS JUST TOO EXCITED NOT TO SHARE!!)

An ARC was provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

Rating: 5/5 stars

-Kristen ♥

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Blog Tour: Antisocial by Heidi Cullinan (Guest Post + Giveaway)

Title: Antisocial
Author: Heidi Cullinan
Publication Date: August 8, 2017

Synopsis: A single stroke can change your world. 

Xander Fairchild can’t stand people in general and frat boys in particular, so when he’s forced to spend his summer working on his senior project with Skylar Stone, a silver-tongued Delta Sig with a trust fund who wants to make Xander over into a shiny new image, Xander is determined to resist. He came to idyllic, Japanese culture-soaked Benten College to hide and make manga, not to be transformed into a corporate clone in the eleventh hour.

Skylar’s life has been laid out for him since before he was born, but all it takes is one look at Xander’s artwork, and the veneer around him begins to crack. Xander himself does plenty of damage too. There’s something about the antisocial artist’s refusal to yield that forces Skylar to acknowledge how much his own orchestrated future is killing him slowly…as is the truth about his gray-spectrum sexuality, which he hasn’t dared to speak aloud, even to himself.

Through a summer of art and friendship, Xander and Skylar learn more about each other, themselves, and their feelings for one another. But as their senior year begins, they must decide if they will part ways and return to the dull futures they had planned, or if they will take a risk and leap into a brightly colored future—together.

About the Author: Heidi Cullinan has always enjoyed a good love story, provided it has a happy ending. Proud to be from the first Midwestern state with full marriage equality, Heidi is a vocal advocate for LGBT rights. She writes positive-outcome romances for LGBT characters struggling against insurmountable odds because she believes there’s no such thing as too much happy ever after. When Heidi isn't writing, she enjoys playing with new recipes, reading romance and manga, playing with her cats, and watching too much anime.

Guest Post: 

American Gods: Anime, Manga, and the West 

Thanks for having me! I’m here today to talk about my newest novel, Antisocial, a new adult gay and asexual romance set in a fictional college in upstate New York between a one-percenter fraternity boy and a highly antisocial artist. One encounter with Xander Fairchild’s artwork is enough to turn Skylar Stone’s carefully orchestrated life upside down, unlacing his secrets and inviting him into a secret anime-soaked world with a new set of friends. I’m also going to talk about anime and manga culture and how it interacts with western culture, specifically American, and my own personal reflections on it as a whole.

I can’t tell you how many years I’ve been reading manga and watching anime, but the answer is, “many.” I’ve become more aggressive about it since December, it’s true, but this is largely because Yuri on Ice ignited a long-smoldering fire and I wanted to learn more, consume more. I’ve also begun studying Japanese, in part so I can travel to Japan but also so I can read Japanese, not only manga but also Japanese literature. I am, to quote one of my favorite animes, curious. I’ve always enjoyed anime and manga, but the depth to which I responded to Yuri on Ice made me want to know more, to dig deeper and attempt to understand why I was responding so much and so passionately. Yes, some of the YOI phenomenon was simply YOI, but there was always something different about every bit of anime and manga, and I wanted to try to find out what was going on.

I’m here to tell you, I don’t have a full answer yet, but I'm getting closer. I can recommend to you a few places for you to try your hand as well: The Soul of Anime by Ian Condry and The Anime Machine by Thomas Lamarre are two good entry points. So is getting your hands on as much anime and manga as you can swallow and drawing your own conclusions. Developing even a remedial understanding of Japanese language and culture helps too—that may sound like you’re coming at it backwards, but I’ve found that’s a good place to start. Because the first thing I learned was every time I made an assumption about something cultural about anime and manga, I was missing all kinds of pieces. Make no mistake—eight months into my studies all I have is a better understanding of what I’m missing, but that helps too.

Speaking specifically as an American, even though I’ve traveled and read more widely than the average citizen, I’m still highly aware of how isolated my culture is and how little influence we have in our entertainment from the outside world. We take for granted that our cinema will be in our native language and not dubbed or containing subtitles. We assume movies in our native language will be produced by major studios because they are, and the same for television. We ignore foreign language work because we can, and because there’s no real pressure or movement for us to look outside our own borders for anything; when there is a cultural movement, we feel entitled to a translation and are annoyed if there isn’t one. So one of the reasons I’m so fascinated by anime and manga are because they’re such powerful industries that function terribly well without US participation. Don’t worry, they’re happy to have our participation, but no one is going to jump if we start throwing hissy fits either. I find that refreshing, and I suspect having to work to understand a medium I’m so interested in is good for me.

In The Soul of Anime, Cordry talks about how anime in particular is consumed not passively but discussed on social media and across cultures and discussed around the world on social media, that this energy is now part of commercial success. This is true of a lot of entertainment, though, and not unique to anime and manga alone. It is true that Japan produces more anime, old-school type animation than we do, and that most of their entertainment (certainly a greater percentage than ours) is in this format. But this still doesn’t inform how it influences the west. Except, still working backwards, it might. Because Cordry also talks about how these animators are often exported and even the top creators and directors work in incredibly humble environs the exact opposite of our Hollywood studios. This part I’m not entirely sure on, but my preliminary understanding also is that while their voice actors are treated as celebrities, they do not live quite the grand and insane life style that ours do. There seems to be a humility all around to the whole process, at least overall.

Something else which is markedly different is that we have censors and Japan doesn’t, not in the same way. Comics, movies, and television have censors and advisory boards which limit content—even standard books have recently begun to come under that cloud for fear of not getting into big box stores and retailers, though that seems to have gone by the wayside with Amazon and Fifty Shades of Grey. For all the United States’s love of free speech, we have a highly Puritan sensibility regarding content at times. It’s subtle, but it’s there, and you notice it when you watch foreign entertainment. 

We also have a rather mercenary sense about our entertainment. Especially in regards to anything in film or television, if it doesn’t make money, it won’t get produced. And when I say money, I mean money. There’s a lot of content we could be producing that has an audience ready, but unless it’s massive, we won’t do it. This is a stark contrast to Asia. Take a gander on YouTube sometime and you will find yourself awash in “BL drama” (boy’s love, Japanese for gay romance) from Japan and Thailand—yes, Thailand—whereas you will find almost nothing here in the US, where our laws regarding same-sex marriage and LGBT rights are far different. The audience is smaller, but their idea of what a “hit” needs to be is smaller as well.

The greatest thing I’ve noticed about Japanese anime and manga, though, is something Skylar mentions briefly in Antisocial. In Japanese stories, I have noticed a stark difference in how problems are solved and how heroes are perceived. There is far more importance placed on group dynamics than on the individual, and it is frankly refreshing. There is a greater import on the society and a sense of belonging to the group and getting along, of not knowing your place exactly but working with your community and having respect. It’s the kind of thing I was taught when I grew up, which I have watched erode all around me specifically in my state and generally in this country—I think right now this is why it is so attractive to me as lately the United States honestly looks like a civil war on its best day and a trash fire as a matter of course. Japan is all about order and norm in its storytelling, a sense of putting things as they should be and everyone joining together.

I’m quite, quite certain this is fantasy up, down, and sideways. Whenever I find myself too wistful, I think of when I was twenty-one, about to graduate college and traveling to Europe on a credit card with my choir, terrified of graduation and about to enter first a chaotic dark period and then meet my future husband, but at that moment things were just about to get really terrible and I could feel it—I was chain-smoking on the deck of a ferry from York to Rotterdam and a young man from Manchester who was travelling to Germany for work sat there and told me emphatically how great my life was because I was American. I blinked at him, thinking of my debt and terror and broken family and shitshow of a boyfriend and I said, “Um, no.” He got angry and told me, “Yes it is. I know how you live. I’ve seen The Brady Bunch.”

Honey. He was dead serious.

I think of that guy a lot these days. Because I’m pretty sure I’m watching Japanese Brady Bunch, but by God, I don’t want anybody to take it from me. I thought about that guy a lot as I wrote Antisocial too. Right now I feel like so many people have this yearning to escape to a better place, this deep craving for there to be somewhere better, somewhere magical where people are sane and smart and a land where everything is okay. It doesn’t, of course, exist, but we don’t like that answer. What we want are gods, deities to magically make things work out and to be our buffers for life.

I feel, sometimes, as if my culture has tried to whisper false gods to me. I think back to the election and all the build up and chaos before and after, and it makes me bananas, because everything feels like broken promises: gods who lied. I think seeping myself in a foreign culture feels like release because I’m just so grateful to not look at my own for a twenty-two minute episode or the span of a manga.

I do know the real answer is to be my own god—to find my own truths, to be a leader and helper and a light in my own way, and I do try. But I also enjoy my moments of respite, and I won’t be giving up my Crunchyroll or my RightStuff Anime membership anytime soon.

If you want to make an escape with me after reading Antisocial, I’m currently in the middle of a blogging streak about what I’m watching, but you can also keep up with me at MyAnimeList. I hope to see you there.


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-Kristen ♥
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