Mad Miss Mimic (ARC)

Mad Miss Mimic by Sarah Henstra reviewMad Miss Mimic
Sarah Henstra
0.5 Star book review

Well, Ashers,

I didn’t expect my very first ARC* review to be a ranty one, but here we are.

Mad Miss Mimic caught my eye on NetGalley for a slew of reasons, most of which revolve around my obsession with Jane Austen (“Jane Austen meets Arthur Conan Doyle,” boasts the book’s synopsis), my interest in Victorian society (true story: I’m a nerd), and my burning curiosity regarding the representation of a heroine with a significant speech impediment.

Let me tell you now that I was disappointed on all three fronts; I was mired in boredom for most of the book, and deeply pissed in the end. My feminist, pro-disability-(etc.)-in-YA heart can’t take this book. Because I’m so ready to put this book behind me, this review will be a (long-ish) spoiler-free, bulleted-list thing instead of a full-length critique.

But it’s crucial to point out the two aspects of this book that I found especially problematic, so at the end of the review I’ll put up a big TINY SPOILERS AHEAD warning, and two additional bullet points addressing the source of my anger.

If you’re interested in this book and care at all about feminism and disability in YA, please read those tiny spoilers.

*ARC: Advanced Reader Copy. As much as I didn’t enjoy this book, I’d like to extend a hug to the publisher for sending me an ebook copy before its publication date in exchange for my honest review. Penguin Random House Canada is awesome, and I appreciate them letting me pick apart their book. (Sorry, guys.)

Book synopsis

Jane Austen meets Arthur Conan Doyle in a historical fiction debut for fans of Ruta Sepetys and Elizabeth Wein.

Born into an affluent family, Leo outwardly seems like a typical daughter of English privilege in the 1870s: she lives with her wealthy married sister Christabel, and lacks for neither dresses nor trinkets. But Leo has a crippling speech impediment that makes it difficult for her to speak but curiously allows her to mimic other people’s voices flawlessly. Servants and ladies alike call her “Mad Miss Mimic” behind her back…and watch as she unintentionally scares off every potential suitor. Only the impossibly handsome Mr. Thornfax seems interested in Leo…but why? And does he have a connection to the mysterious Black Glove group that has London in its terrifying grasp? Trapped in a city under siege by terror attacks and gripped by opium fever, where doctors (including her brother-in-law) race to patent an injectable formula, Leo must search for truth in increasingly dangerous situations—but to do so, she must first find her voice.

Note: This book is a YA historical thing, and will be published on January 3, 2017. If for some reason you aren’t upset by what I’m about to describe, and you decide to give the book a try yourself, you’ll find it in the usual places, like your local library, Book Depository, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon. But honestly, I hope people don’t condone this book’s messages by throwing money at it.

Spoiler free book review

Book review praise

Starting with the positives:

  • Our heroine, Leonora (a.k.a. Leo), possesses a significant stammer.
  • Her stammer (and her other trait, the compulsive mimicry of other people) affects her identity and her life in a deeply judgmental and ableist society.
  • The book has a strong opinion about the misogyny of upper class Victorian society, and I wholeheartedly agree with that opinion.
  • The premise, the idea behind the characters’ interrelationships, and the message at the story’s heart are all genuinely neat.

Believe me, I wish I could list more positives.

Book review criticism

Because I have quite a few flaws I’d like to highlight, I’m going to break down my list of negatives by category. (It’s for my sake as well as yours.)

Writing Problems

  • The book read like a promising draft in need of stylistic revisions. For example: almost everything that would have been more powerful when shown (for example, emotions shown through expressions, tone of voice, and body language) was actually told, and as straightforwardly as possible (such as stating “I was surprised,” rather than being shown gasping, flinching, blinking, etc.). As another example: metaphors were described at length, and then explained at length, thus sapping their impact. Stylistic issues like these make for boring reading.
  • All books need to start with a hook, some interesting and engaging tidbit to grab the reader’s attention. This book’s first hook is ridiculously lazy: immediately before chapter one opens, we’re presented a newspaper article that (briefly) describes the Major Exciting Event that happens in the book’s climax. Chapter one then begins with Leo (our first-person narrator) narrating about how she was powerless during the events of and leading up to that climax, and how tragic her life now is post-climax. “Look,” this hook is muttering, “look how huge this climax is going to be. Aren’t you excited? Don’t you want to read more?” No, I am not excited. You just ruined the climax by showing me what’s going to happen both during and immediately after it.

Character Problems

  • Every character, from our heroine to her love interest to the villains, was one-dimensional at best, and a one-dimensional caricature at worst. I’d be hard-pressed to tell you anything about Leo’s personality beyond the fact that she’s naïve and her speech impediment has made her shy. She’s . . . yeah, I can’t think of any other defining characteristics. Oh, she’s incapable of putting two and two together unless you drag out a chalkboard and walk her through the process; that’s a trait she exhibits consistently. I was not engaged by any of the characters.
  • Due to everyone’s flatness, and the way emotions are told rather than shown, I felt zero chemistry between Leo and her love interest. This was especially frustrating because quite a lot of time was devoted to the romance.
  • How and why, exactly, is Leo able to perfectly mimic a rich baritone voice? I ask because (a) it’s not necessary for the plot, (b) this book isn’t marketed as magical realism, yet there’s clearly something unnatural going on here, and (c) hundreds of thousands of transguys and masculine-presenting genderqueer people want to know.

Plot Problems

  • I can count on one hand the number of times Leo performs a plot-significant action (as opposed to passively hanging around as things conveniently happen around her), and still have fingers left over. Personally, I prefer my heroines be less passive, more engaged with the plot.
  • The pacing was unbearably slow, due to both her passivity and the sequence of events in the plot itself. All told, not a great deal happens in the book, and the events that do happen are (in my opinion) not portrayed in a particularly engaging or compelling way. I spent several days struggling to finish the book, and it’s only about 250 pages long.
  • This book should not be compared to the stories of Sherlock Holmes, because it contains zero mystery. The villain’s identity is shockingly obvious from the start, and Leo is as far from Sherlock-ish as humanly possible.
  • There’s a significant, fundamental plot hole that greatly reduced my acceptance of the plot. (This could have been an easy fix in the editing process, unfortunately, so every time it reared its head—which was often—I had to engage in yet another gentle round of headdesking.)

World Problems

  • The setting, like the characters, did not feel fleshed out or realistic. There were a few genuinely neat setting descriptions, but I never felt like the book was set in real, historical London. History nerd that I am, I found that disappointing.
  • There were too many (recurring, unaccountable) missteps regarding Victorian culture throughout the story. I had expected this book to provide at least a passably decent portrayal of Victorian society; why else would it have been compared to the Regency’s Jane Austen, whose works were such careful observations of and commentary on her own society? And don’t you dare tell me “because of the romance.”

Message Problems

  • Although the book does point out the misogyny inherent in Victorian society, it hammers (loudly) on only a single key/aspect of that broad (multifaceted, pervasive) subject. I was disappointed that the book didn’t even hint at any of the countless other ways that misogyny affected women’s lives during that time. Even worse, this feminist message is comprehensively contradicted by some of the problematic aspects I’ll be raging about soon.
  • The book’s synopsis claims Leo learns to face down her fear and find her voice, but no. No, she doesn’t. Sure, she pauses her narration of events to tell us that she suddenly overcame her fear (etc.), but her actions don’t support that claim. She can tell me she learned any life lesson she liked, but I won’t believe her unless I see that lesson affect her behavior/actions/life. As a result, the book’s heart felt as flat as the characters themselves.

Underlying Misogyny and Sizeism?

  • The way this book describes women really put me off. Almost everyone Leo sees is described as unattractive, but while Leo only briefly acknowledged the ugliness of the male characters, she lingered gleefully on the grotesque of appearances of the female characters, describing their grossness with an unnecessary attention to detail. Only one male character is given the same long-form inspection of his physical disgustingness, and that’s only toward the end, after he’s revealed to be morally bankrupt. Leo never showed any other sign of misogyny; I was left with the feeling that it was actually the book that was vaguely misogynistic, not Leo herself.
  • Leo/the book also loved to point out how “enormously fat” (direct quote!) people were, and how these people always seemed to be sweating through their clothes. And no, she didn’t describe these people in any other way (hairstyle, eye color, etc.), even though the skinnier people were described in terms other than just their weight. I won’t lie, this stuff pisses me off.

Two Infuriating Things
TINY SPOILERS AHEAD

And now, because I believe everyone should be aware of them before going into this book:

  • Leo experiences a serious, prolonged case of “the guy I love is gone, so that means my life is over forever, I should totally just waste away locked in my room until I die because I’m not even a real person without him.” The only thing that convinces her otherwise is when the guy returns, and therefore her life is worth living again. This is an awful thing to tell women in general, and young women specifically: that they are worthless, and their lives are pointless, unless they’re with the guy they love. I was horrified and disgusted by Leo’s behavior, by her beloved aunt’s (lack of) response, and by the book’s apparent belief that this is all perfectly fine and normal and even romantic. It is not fine. It is not normal. It sure as hell is not romantic.

BUT EVEN WORSE, OH MY GOD:

  • Leo’s lifelong speech impediment is magically cured toward the end, through the power of looove. Surely I don’t need to tell you that this is a terrible thing for books to do. I’m pissed enough about it as it is; I can’t imagine how much more deeply I would have been affected if I had a serious speech impediment, and finally got to see a protagonist share my exact struggle, only to find that they get to be made “normal” at the end because of bullshit nonsensical authorial interference. Why couldn’t Leo just keep the impediment? Nothing of importance would have changed about the story’s conclusion if she still stuttered. Removing someone’s impediment (or disability, or chronic illness, or mental illness, etc.) as a “reward” at the end of the book is unspeakably awful.

Book review in closing

To be honest, I probably would’ve given this book one or one and a half stars (my “very bad” rating), except for those two deeply problematic aspects. Only poorly written and infuriating books get awarded that elusive half-star rating.

This book does have an interesting premise, and with significantly more editing it could be a fascinating and powerful story. The author clearly has some great ideas, and just needs more practice developing them and capturing them on paper. And, you know, a bit more of a feminist and non-ableist education. There’s a chance that I’ll be looking her work up again in, oh, six or seven years, after she’s gained more experience and begun to settle into her craft.

But for now, I need to go curl up with a better book to cleanse me of my rage.

Love,

Liam


45 thoughts on “Mad Miss Mimic (ARC)

  1. Wow. Well, thank you so much for your insightful review for this book. I haven’t heard of that one before, and I am glad I read your review, ESPECIALLY these problematic points. Boy, I would have been SO MAD to have read about these, especially Leo relying so much of her life’s worth on another guy being or not being there; This is infuriating, really. I now understand how you gave this such a low rating, haha. Thank you for this 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Glad to save you the aggravation of reading it yourself! And I’m also glad you weren’t eagerly awaiting this book, only to have your hopes crushed. That’s an awful feeling.

      I can’t wait for the day when YA romance novels consistently push the message (as loudly or as subtly as they like) that it’s not the presence of men that gives women’s lives worth. Shakes a fist.

      Thank you for venting with me! It always makes me feel 100% better when someone joins my rant a bit. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh YES, 100% with you on that. It makes me so, so mad when this happens in a book. Like we need men to feel worthy of anything. This is crazy thinking, and I hate when books are putting that crazy idea in our heads.
        Of course! Thank you for writing such a good review, and it’s so good to be able to rant about books and everything with you! 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Great review!! Oh my word, the synopsis of this book sounds absolutely wonderful, but after reading your review I will stay far, far away from this one! The problematic elements you describe are so maddening, I just know that I would be so angry while reading this book! And that ending? Uggh. Terrible.
    And wonderful picture by the way! That flower you have in the picture matches the cover perfectly!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Doesn’t that synopsis sound amazing? The author really does have neat ideas; here’s hoping her writing improves rapidly, so we can wholeheartedly enjoy her stories!

      But yeah, no. “Uggh. Terrible” was pretty much my face the entire time I was reading/thinking about this book.

      Oh my god, thank you! I’m still trying to figure this book photography thing out, so that means a lot. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  3. That is incredibly disappointing. I’d been looking forward to seeing people talk about this Mad Miss Mimic, but I’m not reading it after learning this. I’ve had a stammer my whole life, even when I’m around the love of my life. I’m sorry you suffered through this one, but thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for this comment, Ceillie; knowing that I’ve helped save you from reading (and probably being seriously upset by) this book more than makes up for the awful time I had reading it myself. This probably sounds silly, but you’ve officially made my entire week. Possibly my month? Let’s go with month; that sounds right.

      Here’s hoping we see more heroines and heroes with stammers in the future, and that they’re handled with respect and dignity. My fingers are crossed. =)

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Amazing review, Liam. I had to read the spoilers because I just needed to know all the awfulness within this novel after all the other things you had pointed out. I hate that the author decided to do that. I’m so mad and I didn’t even read the book! I hate magical fixes for disabilities with all my heart. I agree that the author has a lot to learn before writing another novel. Also, what a beautiful picture you took with the cover and the flower, I can’t stop staring at it 😍

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Aw, thank you! ❤

      I’m so glad you read the spoilery part; anything to spare you the even more intense anger of actually reading the book itself. Better secondhand fury than firsthand, that’s for sure.

      Aaaah, thank you for the compliment! That makes me ridiculously happy. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Noooo, I am generally intrigued by books that talk about, er, upper class societies and criticise it for various reasons, but the criticisms you have are 100% valid, and the problematic elements are truly problematic indeed. The fact that you gave this less than even a one star is… extremely discouraging, and I don’t think I’ll be picking it up any time soon.

    That cover is beautiful, though, so I suppose that’s one good thing. I hope your next book manages to cleanse you of all the rage – I’d be raging too. 😛

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m sorry to be the bringing of awful news; hopefully you’d never even heard of this book, so aren’t too upset that I trashed it.

      Isn’t that cover lovely? Whoever designed it deserves a raise.

      Thank you! I wound up reading a short gay romance thing, and it cheered me right up. 😊

      Like

  6. Well! I’ve never been so glad I was rejected for an ARC on NetGalley! 🙂 I only skimmed the description when I requested it, because I was so enchanted by the beautiful cover.

    I’m sorry this was such a bad experience for you – I’m always angry when I waste my (valuable?) time on a bad book, especially if I expected to like it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I do think you dodged a bullet there! Its cover is amazing, though, isn’t it?

      Reading time is definitely valuable; I can’t be too angry in this case, though, because I feel it’s better I’m the one who reads and rants about the book than, say, someone with a disability. Like I’m just doing my civic duty. (There I go, feeling all heroic. 😅)

      Hopefully you don’t come across too many bad books, yourself; your life sounds too busy to waste hours on books that upset you!

      Like

  7. Ah is it weird that I recognise this book from the tagline “Jane Austen meets Arthur Conan Doyle”- which I saw in someone else’s rant about this book… convoluted I know- but I think I’ve got to say the same thing that I said there: that’s definitely too good to be true! That said I enjoyed your rant! hahaha the gentle round of headdesking definitely amused me!! Even if it sounds painful for you 😉 Ah the bella-swan-style-moping would get on anyone’s nerves! And, yeah, love does not cure speech impediments! That’s not a thing! Great review!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh thank goodness I’m not the only one ranting. I’d only glanced at a few other reviews, and they were all glowing 5 stars.

      Too good to be true, for sure.

      And YES, I was totally thinking of Bella during the MY LIFE IS BOYLESS AND THEREFORE OVER part. ARGH.

      Thank you so much! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. haha well then I’m glad I could help 😉 Haha yes!!! (to be honest Edward going off to kill himself cos he hasn’t got Bella is equally pathetic- especially since he chose to do it!! Basically it’s a dumb trope!!)
        You’re welcome! ❤

        Liked by 2 people

  8. Low rating reviews for ARCs are terrible, I feel so bad when I have to write one (actually, I’m supposed to be writing one right now but I’m lazy and I don’t want to! I was so sure I’d love the book!!)
    This book suffers from a massive ‘tell because I can’t show’ issue! I hate when it happens. The writing should always introduce feelings and events in a way that don’t make me feel I’m reading a textbook explaining everything. This is in no way a good way to get your readers connected to the story and characters.
    So the blurb lies to you by making you hope for a mystery that is way too easy. Hmmm, another big no-no!! Never lie to readers to sell!
    I have loved studying the Victorian era this semester so I’m disappointed to read this book had this part wrong too. This is such an interesting time, and if you choose to set your story there, do your homework…
    Oh no, they did not….LOVE IS NOT A CURE FOR EVERYTHING!!!!!! If I could have given a chance to the book despite all the other arguments, this is the moment I say goodbye book! It’s bad enough for Leo to rely so much on a guy, with all the “my life is over without him” drama cliché, but with that on top of everything? No, just no. I’m so mad just reading your review, I’d better not pick this book, hahaha
    This was a fantastic ARC review!!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m so glad that this rating-an-ARC-low guilt is pretty much universal, but uggh, I wish you’d had a better time reading that disappointing ARC. Best of luck writing your review! You can do it!

      I’m doing so much nodding along with everything in your comment, my neck’s cramping.

      Thank you so much! I’ll be looking forward to your ARC review, too! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  9. After reading the spoilers you left, I don’t think this novel is my cup of tea. Too many problematic issues my stomach can’t ignore. I can’t stand it when books desensitize and/or overromanticize things that we are supposed to be empathic about.

    Excellent review though! You expressed your disappointment well.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. “I can’t stand it when books desensitize and/or overromanticize things that we are supposed to be empathic about.”

      Very well said! It’s unfortunate how often this happens, but I’m so glad that readers have an increasing number of places to discuss and protest the problematic books. Here’s hoping publishers and authors listen and improve the books they produce!

      Thank you so much for your comment, Shealea! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Aha! I found your comment. It turns out that this was entirely a problem on my end. I finally found the culprit in my settings!

        Anyway. Not sure if I’ve properly thanked you enough for being the key inspiration for my second discussion post, but thank you!!! Keep doing what you do. Everything you write stimulates me to think more critically. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’m glad you were able to fix it! That’s significantly better than wrestling with WP support for weeks.

        Honestly, you couldn’t have made me happier than you just did. Generating awareness and discussion is my life’s goal—and, having accomplished that, I can officially retire from the Internet, triumphant.

        (j/k, got more rants to write. <3)

        Like

  10. Omg, photography goals!! Seriously, the cover photo is so gorgeous. Did you buy the flowers exclusively for the photoshoot? XD Either way, it goes so well with the cover.

    Oh man. That’s seriously too bad! I hate it when a book’s premise sounds promising but the terrible execution makes it DNF worthy. Sigh, I’m sorry you had to got though that. But thanks for taking one for the team; I’m going to stay far away this title because I always trust your critiques. 🙂

    And happy holidays, Liam! I hope you have a safe and warm Christmas. ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Aaaah, you flatter me! Amazingly, no, I already had the flowers on hand. Lady luck smiled on me that day, or something.

      YES. It’s heartbreaking when this happens. Here’s hoping 2017 sees fewer and fewer books like this one published. Fingers crossed.

      Happy holidays, yourself! Ha ha, my Christmas was very safe and VERY warm (humid, with temps in the low 80s, I think?). Have a lovely new year! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Wait… PRH >CANADA<. What are you, an honorary Canadian now? Who what? Since when?!

    But damn, the prose sounds unnecessary overwritten. I obviously skipped all the way to the spoiler section (because obviously) and I would destroy this book for the missing fuckboy (too crass?) being a cure-all to plot. It is seriously the worst offender of ex machina tropes ever. Ever.

    Thanks for taking the bullet (not that I was interested to begin with but let’s just say I was).

    Liked by 2 people

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