The Underpass

part of Annabel Lee: Year One

So, you’re wondering. What’s all this?

All this, as you put it, is a short story. It’s related a bigger whole–that is, the novel we’ve been writing, Parker & Winthrop. Since we can’t share a whole novel with you here, though, and since we haven’t quite finished that first draft (we’re very close, though!), we wanted to give you a taste of what we’ve been creating the last few months. This short story is about one of our protagonists, Annabel Lee Winthrop, and was written by Basia. Since today’s her birthday and all (hello, quarter-century!), she wanted to share it with you.

We hope you enjoy it! Let us know what you think, and stay tuned: you’ll be hearing more from us about Parker & Winthrop and more about W(REC)’D soon. 

On her first night in Philadelphia, Annabel Lee Winthrop killed four werewolves.

She found them on the highway near Penn’s Landing. They had cornered a young woman in one of the underpasses below the bridges connecting the waterfront with Old City. There was blood—a lot of blood—but the woman was screaming, and that meant that she was still alive. Annabel Lee had been walking on the bridge parallel to the one under which the small group currently hunkered, and when the screams had alerted her, she had dropped down onto the highway below and begun her stealthy advance. Luckily (and also unluckily), she was downwind from them, so they hadn’t yet scented her. Annabel Lee, on the other hand, took shallow breaths thought her mouth to avoid inhaling their rank smell: one part animal musk, one part raw meat, and one part wet dog.

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nine women, one dress

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The Facts

Nine Women, One Dress by Jane L. Rosen
Basia rates it: 2/5

I’m honestly not quite sure what kept me reading this book. It felt like a young author’s first novel, not the product of a veteran writer. The prose was pretty mediocre, and there were so many exclamation points–almost all narratively, not in dialogue–which is always frustrating. This book is an excellent example of why I am wary of reading novels in first-person: I never got a feeling for the character telling the story–or, for that matter, any character. The prose was simplistic and almost childish at times (probably the exclamation points), with every single “essay” sporting the same boy-howdy, golly-gee sort of tone to it, and the author often gave in to stereotypes, as if we wouldn’t believe one of the young women whose story was being told was Southern without her speaking, even narratively, as if she were in a Tennessee Williams play.

The format of the “essays” also annoyed me. Each was introduced with a title, a byline, and occasionally (usually for the women, major side-eye) their age. Furthermore, there were times when the essay-writer would address the reader or refer specifically to their title or byline. It was jarring and disconcerting. It was a self-aware move that only works with some books, and this was certainly not one of them. I picked up this book because it seemed reminiscent of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, to a degree; from the description, it seemed as if it would be a third-person account of where this dress went, that I would consistently follow it on its journey from person to person. That, however, was not the case. So if that’s what you’re going into this book looking for, steer clear. You won’t get it. I was most excited during a scene in which a woman is killed when her cab is swallowed by a sinkhole. I sort of wanted to join her.

To say nothing of the low-key way in which it condones stalking.

I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

I’m still not sure what kept me reading this book. I think it was because I wanted to know what happened to the millennial who was looking for a job.

places no one knows

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The Facts
Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff
Basia rates it: 4.5/5

Maggie Stiefvater said she wasn’t sure if this book was “a dream wrapped in razor wire or razor wire wrapped in dream.” The beautiful thing about this book is that it’s both. It is a book about people who feel too much and people who feel too little, how to navigate feelings or unfeeling in a world where we’re constantly fed expectations of our emotional responses to situations.

All of Brenna’s books have a dreamy sort of quality to them, but this one especially. It creates an interesting juxtaposition of dream versus reality–when the thing you’re “dreaming” feels like the more tangible, more real space and your reality is the waking dream. This isn’t a book for everyone (Brenna’s books seldom are), but for those it speaks to, it will practically shout. It’s a story of expectation versus reality, of self-identity, of the difference between the self that you project and the one that you are on the inside. This book is raw and strange, but it is so powerfully honest. There’s something here for everyone to connect to, whether you’re a Marshall, a Waverly, or someone somewhere in between.

summers with sarah

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Every summer, I reread Sarah Dessen. This began the summer after my freshman year of high school, when a friend of mine pressed her copy of The Truth About Forever into my hands and told me, “Read this. Seriously.” So I did.

And I haven’t stopped since.

I went through a phase near the end of high school where I adopted that #2Cool4U attitude most teenagers have about things that they used to like. What had I been thinking, reading YA romance novels? I had to get a grip on myself. So I did my sneering and eye-rolling, and then it was after graduation and the summer before college, and there was Sarah, on my bookshelf, waiting for me. I begged forgiveness for my stupidity, and I haven’t once looked back. I think the only thing I’ve read more than I’ve read The Truth About Forever is Harry Potter. I’m twenty-four now, but I’m a firm believer that YA novels are not just for teens. That might be their targeted demographic, but they can resonate with anyone if you’re reading them the right way. And even though I’ve been reading Sarah–listen to me, calling her Sarah like we get sushi together on Mondays–for ten years, I have never once felt like one of her books didn’t resonate with me. I actually had to set down Along for the Ride the other day because some quick line, a tiny piece of wisdom, hit me so hard that I had to regroup and catch my breath.

I’ve seen and heard people describe her books as formulaic, but when you think about it, most books of a certain genre have pretty similar narrative structures. And for me, it’s never been about the plot. For me, books, and especially Sarah’s, are all about the characters. It’s not that I don’t find plot interesting, but the plot falls flat if you don’t have great characters to carry it along. And that is what I love about Sarah Dessen’s books so much–at the heart of it, they are about people and all of the trials and tribulations that come with just being a person in the world. They touch me so deeply because while situations might be different, emotions are something with which we can always connect. Especially–and most importantly–love.

When you walk into the YA section of your local Barnes and Noble, you’ll probably find that Sarah’s books are shelved under Teen Romance. I get it. Maggie Stiefvater’s books are shelved there, too, even though I would never classify The Raven Cycle as Teen Romance. But boiling Sarah’s books down to just romance makes them sound so muchless than what they are. There is romance, to be sure, but that’s because these books are about love. There are so many kinds of love–romantic, sure, but also familial, friendship (friendial? You get the idea), understanding, love of self. They all come into play in some way, shape, or form.

I reread Sarah Dessen every summer because there is something about her books that speak to me of summer. When I was still in school, it was because that was the in-flux time of my life–I was moving from one school year to the next, a gap between chapters–and it is within this in-flux period that Sarah’s characters find their stories. Now that I’m no longer in school, I’ve just fallen into the habit. But as any twenty-something will tell you, now I feel as if my life is constantly in that in-between period. Out of the teen years but not old enough to be considered a “real” adult by other adults, unsure of where I’m going or what I want to do but having a drive to do something. Being in your twenties is a ten-year stretch of that in-flux feeling, and Dessen books have never resonated with me more than they have these past few years. I read her books to remind myself of important truths (about forever and otherwise) that I need to hear, to find myself when I’m feeling lost, to find a new way it relates to my life and feel blown away by the quiet wisdom of her words, and to fantasize about Wes running with his shirt off. (Everyone has a Dessen guy. Mine is–will always be–Wes.) And because, of all of the truths out there, this is one the truest I’ll ever tell you:

It’s just not summer with Sarah.

the assistants

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The Facts

The Assistants
by Camille Perri
Basia rates it: 4/5

I have to say, The Assistants surprised me. With a jacket flap/back cover description that describes the protagonist, Tina, as a six-year assistant who is “bored, broke, and just a bit over it all,” I was excited. Aren’t we all bored, broke, and just a bit over it all? I know I am. (Then again, my job title has “assistant” in it.) To me, this seemed like The Devil Wears Prada meets a heist movie, both of which are things I love, and it was all over my social media feeds, so I put it on hold at the library to give it a go.

After a technical error in the expenses department leads to Tina being reimbursed for an expense that had already been cancelled, she finds herself with a sizeable check that would, in one fell swoop, finally pay off her student loan debt. She never intends to deposit the check–she just wants to look at it for a while. But while it’s such a huge amount to her, it’s a miniscule amount to Robert, her boss, and Titan Corporation, the company he runs and for which Tina works. So, after three weeks of sitting on it, she deposits the check and pays off her student loans. Simple, right? Not quite. An assistant from the accounting department discovers what she’s done and blackmails Tina into faking expense reports to pay off her student loan debt. The two become involved in an embezzlement scheme the likes of which Tina never wanted part, but it is this scheme that leads to something that is, surprisingly, not only legitimate but the sort of fulfillment for which Tina’s been searching.

I’m unwilling to give spoilers, because that’s rude. (There is a circle of hell for people who purposely spoil things for other people.) But I can say that this book took more than a few turns that I didn’t expect. As a reader, a writer, and an editor, I like to figure out where novels are going. Sometimes they surprise me, and sometimes they don’t–this doesn’t necessarily mean a novel is either good or bad; I’ve liked plenty a book where I could predict the ending. But it’s been quite a while since something surprised me in the way The Assistants did. Just when I thought I’d gotten something figured out, it flipped everything upside-down and I was back at square one. It made the book a wild ride–I was frequently texting Connor that yet another shoe had dropped. “This book is an octopus,” I said, with many exclamation points. “It’s dropped like five shoes already.”

While this book was an enjoyable read, it wasn’t the best thing I’ve ever read. There seemed to be a dissonance between the prologue and the novel. It read as if it were an article written by a different individual, summing up poorly the events that follow and also inventing a few things here and there for added spice. It’s not unusual for a prologue to deliberately mislead the reader, and it’s a narrative tactic that I’ve seen before, but here it didn’t feel deliberate; it felt as if they had been written widely apart from one another, and somewhere in that time the connection between them had been lost. I also genuinely had trouble liking the love interest, even though I can tell he’s supposed to be likeable. There’s something about using the phrase, “You’re not like other girls” (repeatedly, if with variation) that sends up a red flag that won’t quite go away.

I definitely look forward to seeing what Perri has to offer in the future. The Assistants is poignant and hilarious, and while it may sometimes hit a bit too close to home for a recent college graduate like myself, that’s what makes it, ultimately, so relatable.

the waking fire

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The Facts
The Waking Fire by Anthony Ryan
Basia rates it: 4 out of 5

I received an ARC of The Waking Fire from a Penguin Random House service known as First To Read, which encourages readers to review books they win but does not require it.

The Waking Fire takes place in a world where the blood of drakes (which are basically dragons) can imbue certain humans who have the ability to use drake blood with enhanced abilities. The ability each offers depends on the type of drake–black, red, green, or blue. I think what I liked best about this novel is that I didn’t feel like we had the “simpleton outsider” trope; I never felt like there was one character who didn’t know anything about the world specifically so the reader could be told things as they were explained to the character. I had to do a lot of inferring about what drake’s blood did what and so on, but I liked that. It’s always refreshing when an author remembers his or her audience have brains and treats them accordingly. There was, of course, a bit of explanation here and there, but I never felt like any of it was too much of an info dump, which is a pitfall most high fantasy books fall into as they try to explain the setting.

This book is long. If you’re not accustomed to long high fantasy novels, I’d suggest steering clear of this until you think you’re ready. The characterization in this novel is spectacular; there are three point-of-view characters, whom the narrative interchanges fairly regularly, and each character felt distinct and tangible. (Also, one of them is a woman.) It’s difficult, sometimes, to come across high fantasy that isn’t plot-driven. I generally prefer character-driven novels, and this is a very good example of how high fantasy can work with a character-driven rather than a plot-driven structure.

Most of my quibbles with this book are fairly small. There are a lot of characters in this book, and many of their names similar. I once knew someone who said she only really took in the first letter of each name, and this book would be hard for her to navigate. It was sometimes difficult to remember which character belonged to what name, especially if I was reading quickly. Also, while a decent amount of the secondary characters were well-constructed, there were a handful on whose personality I couldn’t quite get a grip. I’m hoping this is rectified in later novels. The author also has a tendency to over-describe aspects about which I have no knowledge or any desire to have knowledge, and so I would find myself glazing over sometimes, but that’s more of a personal thing. It wasn’t info-dumping so much as oversharing.

Overall, however, it was a good read. I plan to pick up the second novel when it comes out, and I’ve already recommended it to several people. There were enough dragons (drakes, I should say) to satisfy even me, and while this isn’t a read you can tear through at breakneck pace, it’s engaging and keeps you interested. Ryan does a good job of giving you just enough information to make you feel a bit satisfied but withholding the rest so that you feel compelled to keep going. If you’re into long high fantasy and dragons, I say definitely pick it up!

jane steele

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The Facts

Jane Steele by Lindsay Faye
Basia rates it: 4.5/5
I really enjoyed this book. It’s billed as a retelling of Jane Eyre, which is wholly inaccurate. Jane Steele is very aware of Jane Eyre–in fact, it’s her favorite book. But Jane Steele’s lifedoes mirror her favorite heroine’s in some respects, but there are vital differences, the largest of these being our heroine is a murderer.

It regretfully took me a bit of time to read this, but not for lack of wanting to read it. I didn’t have the time to sit down and devour this book in one go as I’d have liked to, but it is definitely the sort of book that lends itself to binge-reading. The tone is arch clever, and it recalls nineteenth-century novel language without being indecipherable to a more modern reader.

While this isn’t a YA book, I think it is a book that recommends itself to readers who enjoy YA. I hesitate to say that, of course, because so often people think that the YA is somehow less of a genre than literary fiction meant to be consumed by adults, but with a heroine whose age is twenty-four, she exists in a sweet spot that brigdes the gap between YA novels and adult novels and also speaks to the young readers who, like myself, find themselves somewhere in between these two intended age groups. I would definitely read another novel by Faye like this–drawing cleverly on the classic novel we all know while adding new elements and crafting her own story that is fresh and engaging.

mighty morphin power rangers: pink #1

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The Facts

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Pink #1
by Brenden Fletcher & Kelly Thompson

I was really excited to learn about the Pink Ranger comic run several months ago. Like most kids born in the ’90s, I watched Mighty Morphin Power Rangers with a fervor bordering on reverence. Unfortunately, because I was a girl who didn’t (and who still doesn’t, really) like the color pink, I never fully appreciated Kimberly until several years ago, when I realized I hadn’t given her a chance just because she was the Pink Ranger. Which is, ultimately, a shame, because she’s pretty great and badass in a time when there weren’t a whole lot of kickass women on shows, especially not shows for kids, and considering most female characters I would have wanted to be for Halloween didn’t have brown hair and wigs made me itch.

I’m no stranger to Brenden Fletcher; I will tell anyone who will sit still long enough to listen that I love the new Batgirl run over at DC, and I also really enjoy Gotham Academy, so I was excited to see what he would bring to the table for the Pink Ranger. I haven’t read any of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers comics (yet), but right before doing this writeup, I went onto Comixology and purchased all of the issues that are out so far. (As you can see in the photo, I do most of my comic-reading on my iPad; comic books take up a lot of space, which I frankly don’t have, and my boyfriend and I share the Marvel and Comixology accounts, which means we don’t need to buy two copies of everything. Thank you, digital comics!)

When we catch up with Kimberly, who is rocking some great straight-across bangs the likes of which I sported until high school, she’s at a gymnastics tournament. Her mother and step-father have failed to show up, which is unusual, so she hops on her motorcycle and goes to the little French village where they’re now living, only to find it totally deserted. I don’t want to do a recap of the whole issue–that’s not what this is for. This is just to tell you that I think you should start reading along with me. But already, I’m with her. Something is weird, and she’s throwing on a great leather jacket and going to find out what it is.

Reading this issue was like a mystery novel meets a superhero comic. It’s a limited run, so there’s a very clear trajectory and storyline that we’re following. I sometimes feel comics suffer from a haziness of direction for the first few issues, but I didn’t feel that way here. There’s something super weird going on, and Kimberly’s going to get to the bottom of it, and if she dons the Pink Ranger suit along the way, even better. I’d honestly read this comic even if she didn’t turn into the Pink Ranger. She’s compelling: she’s fierce and funny and kickass but not without kindness and soft-heartedness. This isn’t the campy but fun ’90s cartoon. This is a Power Rangers–a Kimberly Hart–for the twenty-first century, and I can’t wait to see more of her.