Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

About Jia

Jia is an avid reader who loves fantasy and young adult novels. She's also currently dipping her toes in the new adult genre but remains unconvinced by the prevalent need for traumatic pasts. Her favorite authors are Michelle West and Jacqueline Carey. YA authors whose works she's enjoyed include Holly Black, Laini Taylor, Ally Carter, and Megan Miranda. Jia's on a neverending quest for novels with diverse casts and multicultural settings. Feel free to email her with recommendations at [email protected]!

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REVIEW:  Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine

REVIEW: Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine


Dear Ms. Fine,

When it comes to YA speculative fiction, I’ve been looking for something different. I’m meh about urban fantasy and paranormals. I’m just about done with dystopians. And many a science fiction title has earned my side eye, because they were dystopians in disguise! But when I read about your novel, Of Metal and Wishes, I was intrigued. Interesting titles go a long way with me! Also, there’s an Asian girl on the cover and she has a face!

(I know five years seems like forever in internet time, but I remember the Liar cover controversy. This is progress.)

After the death of her mother, Wen leaves her family’s picturesque cottage to live above her father’s medical clinic located adjacent to a slaughterhouse. Instead of embroidering fabric, she now sutures wounds while assisting her father. It’s obviously a huge change in circumstance.

The slaughterhouse is in turmoil. Hungry to increase profits, the factory bosses have brought in foreign workers as cheap labor. As you can imagine, this only stirs up the latent class and race issues. Further complicating things is that a ghost supposedly haunts the factory, granting wishes to those it deems worthy. A skeptic, Wen demands the ghost prove its existence — which it does, in dramatic fashion.

I would say Of Metal and Wishes is a cross between Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and Phantom of the Opera. Wen is torn between Melik, a charismatic foreign worker, and Bo, the factory’s ghost. It is presented as a love triangle, although it is very obvious where Wen’s true affection lie (not-really-a-spoiler: with Melik). The relationship between Wen and Melik is borderline instalove — Wen comes to Melik’s notice when his friend trips her and lifts up her skirt. Yeah, classy.

This actually leads me to my main complaint about the book. There is a whole lot of rape culture. Wen is harassed and molested by one of the factory bosses. At one point, she is almost sexually assaulted. But it’s not just major incidents — Wen herself spouts some of the more insiduous beliefs. When she’s alone with Melik early in their relationship, she thinks that if something happens to her, it’ll be her own fault because she was alone with a boy. There is a parlor near the factory that is actually a brothel, and Wen slut-shames them.

In fact, I really wanted to like Wen. She likes stitching people up! She has medical training! This is cool. But when she’d shame another woman, I’d cringe. Why is this necessary? This also isn’t helped by the fact that she’s presented as the One Good Non-Racist person. Is it so much to ask to have a character who is not the Ultra-Exceptional One? To have a female character who isn’t put forth as awesome because She’s Not Like Those Other Girls? At this point, it’s tedious. I want to think we’re better than this in our fiction. That a novel can protray a teenaged girl having positive, supportive friendships with other girls. That a novel can feature a teenaged girl being awesome and being the star of her own story without having to put down other female characters too. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

The worldbuilding is a little handwavy. Wen’s culture is clearly a Chinese-analog. I actually don’t think Melik’s people are meant to be white but with much being made of their paler skin, pale eyes, and red hair, I couldn’t help reading them as such. Based on the factories, the world’s technology is definitely industrial although there are elements of steampunk. In theory, this should all fit together nicely but overall I was left feeling disatisfied for reasons I can’t articulate.

The novel has an open-ended conclusion, which led to the discovery that this is the first book of a duology. I guess that’s better than a series, but I’m not convinced it was necessary. Perhaps more of the race and class tensions will be explored in the second novel, because I went in expecting more of that in Of Metal and Wishes. It’s not a cliffhanger, though, and in all honesty, I think the book stands alone well.

Of Metal and Wishes might appeal to people who love Phantom of the Opera for the similarities. I was more interested in the similarities to The Jungle, but I will warn that for a book written in a dream-like style, there is a surprising amount of blood and gore. Not surprising, given the subpar factory conditions, but for readers who’ve never been exposed to The Jungle, the contrast may be jarring. Overall, I don’t think this was a bad book but I do have many reservations. C

My regards,

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REVIEW:  Torn Away by Jennifer Brown

REVIEW: Torn Away by Jennifer Brown


Dear Ms. Brown,

Some days I get in the mood for what I call “wallow” reads. Books that are emotionally wrenching and send you through the ringer. I can’t read novels like that all the time but going through the cathartic process of loss, grief, and recovery is nice once in a while.

For Jersey, living in the Midwest means that you get used to hearing the tornado sirens. You learn what to do when they sound. But knowing in theory is different from knowing in reality and Jersey learns that firsthand when a huge tornado levels her town.

Jersey loses everything. Her house is destroyed. Her mother and half-sister are killed. Her stepfather falls headfirst into a downward spiral that leaves him unable to take care of Jersey. As a result, she’s uprooted and sent to live with relatives she barely knows. The situation is less than ideal and now she has to learn to live again, rather than merely exist.

I will say that this book is one of the most accurate portrayals of a teenager going through the grieving process. Jersey is not always nice. Sometimes she does and says awful things. But I felt her pain acutely and understood where she was coming from, at all times. Kudos for that.

I admit I was really pissed at Ronnie, Jersey’s stepfather. I kept rooting for him to climb out of that black hole he fell into, to step up and do the right thing but spoiler, everyone, that doesn’t happen. It’s just a terrible thing to do to a child, saying that he’s can stand to be around her because she reminds him too much of her mother. It’s not that I don’t understand what happened. He loved Jersey’s mother so much that he couldn’t imagine life without her so her death destroyed him, but there’s truth in Jersey’s observation that he would never have done the same to her half-sister, who is his biological daughter.

Ronnie’s abandonment is further worsened in my eyes when he sends Jersey to live with her biological father. It’s not like he didn’t know her biological father wasn’t bad news — drunk all the time, abusive, and in and out of jail. To make matters worse, the entire family was like that. Because I wanted Jersey to pick up the pieces of her life and heal, I hoped that she’d find a way to make the situation work. I still felt that way even as all signs pointed to that never happening because her father’s family is just too broken.

During this section of the book, I was a little terrified that Jersey would be stuck with these terrible people. As her family life kept deteriorating, I worried that she would have to settle and be numb. I think that’s a compliment to the writing skill here since I wanted Jersey to have a happy ending when so many in her life had, and were continuing to fail, her.

I thought it was interesting that the book explored the different facets of a person. Jersey knew her mother in only one light. Then she discovered some ugly truths courtesy of her father’s family, and then later from her maternal grandparents. It’s hard to learn these facts in the wake of a horrible loss but in some ways, it’s good because Jersey was so close to putting her mother and little sister on untouchable pedestals during her grief. On the other hand, I thought the book didn’t do quite enough with it. It felt like it should have taken up a bit more of the book and the fact that it didn’t was a disappointing.

This isn’t a book that I’d recommend to everyone. It’s heartwrenching in spots and the portrayal of grief is so spot-on that it hurts to read sometimes. But if you’re in the mood for something like that, then Torn Away is worth a try. B

My regards,

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