Last year (2021), I found myself not really reading much besides what I had to for work and just feeling generally burnt out when it came to literature. This year I’m trying to be more proactive with reading for a few reasons:
I’ve always enjoyed reading and it sucked not having that enjoyment in a year of pandemics
I need to keep up with the trends. A big part of being a publisher is knowing what to publish. This means I need to make sure that I’m reading new releases and can identity upcoming trends to make educated decisions about what to publish
I need to expand my genre knowledge. Each publisher and commissioning editor has a genre specialty. I love high fantasy and urban fantasy, Zola loves romance, Belinda loves feminist fiction, Megan loves Fantasy and Bianca is our resident horror expert. But as the Founder and manager of SmashBear Publishing, I need to have at least a basic understanding of genres that I wouldn’t normally read such as paranormal romance, horror, and science fiction.
But because of my crippling guilt when it comes to enjoying anything instead of doing work, I have made reading into work (kind of). I’m going to be reviewing the books I read to trick my brain into actually letting me enjoy reading again. I also hope that these reviews will help aspiring writers improve their own writing.
It’s my goal to read 12, non SmashBear related, books this year. Hopefully averaging one a month. This month has been interesting for me because I caught covid and have had to spend the last week in isolation and I’ve managed to hit my January target already! I chose to start with a book that I’ve read before and remember greatly enjoying when I was a teenager; Glass Houses by Rachel Caine.
Review: Glass Houses by Rachel Caine - 4 stars
A veteran of the vampire mania that swept through teenagers in the 2010s, Glass Houses by Rachel Caine still stands up to the hype it received when it first came out. I gave this book a glowing 4 stars and in reality, it’s closer to 4.5 but there are just a few things that bring it down. Mainly what I call ‘Ariel Syndrome’ and from that, I think you guys can guess what it is.
Glass Houses has a really interesting premise; a small, isolated town in the middle of Texas that is secretly run by vampires. The townsfolk know about the vampires and can take precautions e.g. they can get protection from a vampire, pay a 2-pint blood tax a month, don’t go out after dark, and essentially live as peacefully as possible.
Of course, if everyone stuck to the rules, we wouldn’t have a very interesting story. Unfortunately for some, the town also has a university and we grimly find out that the vampires take 2% of the student population off the bat and are experts at making people disappear.
This is where we meet our protagonist, Claire Danvers. A student with insane intellect and managed to skip two years of high school and end up at college 2 years early at the age of 16. Bad for her though, she’s managed to get on the wrong side of the mayor’s daughter, Monica, and finds herself needing to find somewhere else to live other than the university dorms. She finds a room at Glass House with 3 roommates, perky goth, Eve, troublemaker and bad boy Shane, and the mysterious Michael Glass who owns the house.
All of the roommates are 18 and struggle with Claire being underage but it eventually resolves itself when Claire gets entangled in vampire struggles.
There is something just so charming about this book. I know I’m viewing it through rose-tinted, nostalgia glasses, but even through a publisher's lens, I struggled to fault it. The quality of Caine’s writing is impeccable. Only once did I find myself taken out of the story by a clunky sentence which is really amazing! Caine and her editor have achieved such a great standard of writing that I urge aspiring urban fantasy writers to read it purely for that.
The story has such an interesting and unique premise which was hard to achieve during the vampire hype of the 2010s when a lot of releases felt like a Twilight rip-off. Setting the book in Morganville really helped to add tension and build the feeling that the protagonists were truly isolated and on their own.
The vampires are also quite scary. They're dangerous and try multiple times to eat our protagonists. Claire compares them to rattlesnakes when they flash their fangs in a 'threat display' and Caine has really cool descriptions of how their pupils constrict into pinpricks, leaving you truly with quite a scary image.
My only critique comes in the form of the aforementioned ‘Ariel Syndrome’. You know that scene in The Little Mermaid when Ariel says ‘I’m 16, I’m not a child anymore’, and when you’re 16 or younger you’re like ‘hell yeah Ariel, tell him’ but when you’re older than 16, and especially me being 24, you’re like ‘omg Ariel, you’re 16, sit down’. That’s this book.
Throughout the entire first three-quarters of the book, everyone is mentioning that Claire is a kid and way in over her head, urging her to go back home to her parents. But then when shit hits the fan, 18-year-old Shane suddenly forgets that he’s been calling Claire a kid this whole time and has a steamy makeout session with her.
I remember reading this at 14 and being totally in love with the idea of an ‘older man’ falling in love with me, someone who was always told I was ‘mature’ for my age. Now, however, the thought of an 18-year-old making out with a 16-year-old is horrifying to me. In fact, when it got to that scene, Stanley from the Office played through my head ‘that girl is a child. Boy have you lost your mind because I’ll help you find it'.
Whilst Caine is adamant that Claire is 16 and a half, nearly 17, it just doesn’t ease how uncomfortable it makes me at 24. Not to mention the fact that Claire is constantly compared to Shanes's dead younger sister… the 2010s were a really weird time.
However, this didn’t ruin the book for me as I know their relationship is respectful and things don’t really progress until she’s 17, which is the legal age in Texas. I also need to keep in mind that this book is aimed at young adults, not me, an adult. This sort of plotline with a bad boy who has a secret love for the geeky protag had me enamored when I was a teenager, so just keep that in mind if you pick it up.
I really would urge any urban fantasy writers to read this if you’re looking to branch into ya! I loved it as a teenager and I love it as an adult, which I think is the best kind of YA. It stands the test of time and is a fun, easy read with real stakes (pardon the pun), and danger for the protagonists.
Sadly, we lost Rachel Caine last year to cancer and her family is still paying off her medical bills. Usually, I’m all for people buying second-hand books. I'm a sucker for raiding my local Oxfam bookshop, but I would suggest, if you can, to buy any of Caine’s books new to help her family.
If you have any recommendations for me to review next, leave them in the comments!