Man, I’d been hearing some great things about this book before I even picked it up, but I didn’t expect to be this blown away by a 2014 debut. “Cruel...moreMan, I’d been hearing some great things about this book before I even picked it up, but I didn’t expect to be this blown away by a 2014 debut. “Cruel Beauty” isn’t just a retelling of “Beauty and the Beast”, but it also mixes in alternate histories/universes and Greco-Roman mythology. Oh, and ass-kicking females. Which definitely got my attention. Guys, this book is a total breath of fresh air for YA, and I’ve already reread it once before doing this review. If you’re looking for a really amazing fairy retelling with a lot of other elements thrown in, “Cruel Beauty” is definitely the book you need to pick up this year in terms of debuts.
Oh boy. Where to start with this one? When I heard that RL Stine was returning to YA, I was really excited. I loved "Goosebumps" as a kid growing up i...moreOh boy. Where to start with this one? When I heard that RL Stine was returning to YA, I was really excited. I loved "Goosebumps" as a kid growing up in the 90s (which 90s kid didn't?) so I was hoping for the same quality with this horror/retelling of "Midsummer's Night Dream". Alas, it was not to be had. Where did everything go so hideously wrong? I just...I can't even really see where it's a retelling with the horror element so heavy within it. Maybe if it'd been written differently, or had Stine chosen to tell his story with different words, or different characters, or anything like that, I might have been able to see the retelling of Shakespeare's classic tale. All I can say is that I was looking forward to this one, and Stine let me down. I wish I could say that I recommend "A Midsummer Night's Scream", but I just can't.
What bothered me the most: the slut-shaming. It starts on ARC page 29, and just goes on from there. It felt as if Stine was trying to embody the "Hollywood" dynamic with mean girls and sluts everywhere as antagonists, and I just don't see that working. I mean, of course there are mean girls and those that sleep around a little too often in Hollywood, but they're not the vast majority Stine makes them out to be. Not that I'd know - I'm not in the business, but friends who do work in the lower tiers of the business confirm that yes, there are nice and awesome people and no, they're not all sluts. I'll chalk this up to Stine wanting for teenage girls to relate and his lack of research/reliance on an old stereotype.
There's also the general poor quality of cross-gender narration. While I'll give Stine the benefit of the doubt that cross-gender narration is hard to nail, this was...well, to be frank, one of the worst examples I've seen of it so far. It felt like an older guy trying to narrate a typical, hopefully popular YA book through a dated version of a teenage girl, not to mention a general stereotype of what typical teenage girls are made of: obsessions with clothes, slang, and clique-y friends. While there's always a tiny grain of truth within stereotypes, Stine really took it to the next level with exaggeration. At times I was infuriated and then wanted to laugh because I was so incensed.
The world: while there is a good feeling of the Hollywood world through the wild pool parties (that part hasn't changed since the 1920s, always good to know), the rest of it feels barely there. I'm talking 1D, paper-thin, and is constantly being propped up by characters that are also of the same quality. However, I will say that the creepy atmosphere the opening chapters had with the teenagers in the house in the woods was really good (stick to what you know - "Goosebumps" worthy horror), it got a little cheesy after awhile to the point of me saying to myself "saw that coming". The action and tension are good, but the stakes are just not high enough for the MC and main cast we're supposed to care about, and thus, I just had to DNF it after a third of the way in.
And I know my Shakespeare well enough to say - where was the retelling? I seriously for the life of me could not find it. And if I couldn't find it a third of the way in, that spells trouble for the book in general. I should be able to figure it out within a few chapters. I wasn't able to. And that was aggravating. The concept was fantastic, but the execution in pretty much all technical areas was exceedingly poor.
Final verdict? Stine, stick to what you're best at - "Goosebumps". I'm completely serious - I'd love it if more of the series came out. I'd definitely read them. But "A Midsummer's Night Scream"? Nope. Can't recommend it. If you're looking for a better retelling, definitely search elsewhere. But that's just how I feel about it. "A Midsummer's Night Scream" is out July 2, 2013 in North America from Macmillan, so be sure to check it out then and come to your own conclusion about this book.
(posted to goodreads, shelfari, and birthofanewwitch.wordpress.com)(less)
This was an absolutely gorgeous treat of a book, guys. Though a little on the long side, "Mortal Fire" is a beautiful magical reality tale set in 1959...moreThis was an absolutely gorgeous treat of a book, guys. Though a little on the long side, "Mortal Fire" is a beautiful magical reality tale set in 1959, Southland New Zealand. And get this - it has paranormal romance AND characters of color! That feels so rare now in YA, which is really a shame. If you're looking for a good vacation read to really sink your teeth into, definitely give "Mortal Fire" a try.
My two biggest issues with this book: stuff that could have been edited/cut short with no detriment to the novel as a whole, and the fact that it's part of the "Dreamquake" universe, which is not talked about on the jacket description. Because of that, I felt a little lost in areas (especially talking about the Dream Hunters), but you can definitely bet that I want to read those other two "Dreamquake" books because of "Mortal Fire". This book isn't directly tied into the "Dreamhunter" Duet, but it's still within the same universe, so there were a lot of references that I didn't get because until you got to them (and then googled them), it wasn't mentioned in the blurb or description at all. Which was pretty frustrating. As for the part about length - the explanations of the mine accident and how it tied into the Zarene family could have been cut short - it got a little too rambling for my liking - with no real change to the book as a whole. Since I read an ARC I'm hoping by the time it went to pub it got that edit that it needed. The mine accident is just one area that could have been cut down, but it's the most obvious of the lot.
Those gripes aside, Knox definitely knows how to build a world, characters, and has a real way with sensory imagery and language. Let's start with the world - Knox really was able to bring back the world of 1959 (and previous years) Southland, NZ with ease and grace that's incredibly hard to pull off, but she absolutely nailed it. While I will admit that I don't really know much of New Zealand, its geography or history, Knox was able to make it very accessible to the ignorant reader, and that was something I was really greatful for. She gave a quick rundown of what happened in WWII, the Shackle Islands, and how Canny (and her mother, both of API descent) came to be in Southland in the first third of the book. That was really well done, especially when we learn Canny's mother's role in the history of the Zarenes and outsiders during WWII. The rest of the world is built by the histories and backstories of the main cast, as well as absolutely gorgeous sensory imagery and language - which is definitely Knox's greatest strength. It was so nice to be totally immersed sensorily in a book like I was with this one.
The characters: While I feel like some of the more important of the Zarenes could have been fleshed out a little more (Iris), overall Knox does a great job with building her characters. Canny is one you want to root for, that clever girl, and the relationship web of worldbuilding is used here, so the world builds the characters, and vice-versa. While I feel like things happened a little too fast with Ghilsain in terms of romance, it wasn't instalove, but it still felt a little too quick for my comfort level. Regardless, nearly everyone is wonderfully deep and detailed, and to do that for one character is hard, much less an entire main cast.
There's also the magic - it's one of the most original systems I've seen in YA in recent years. It's complex, it's lovely, and it's very detailed. It's not easy to learn, or easy to continue learning - the Zarenes are strict in their instruction and their entire magic "language" is very, very hard to learn (even for the predisposed-to-magic Zarene children). All of this stems from a retelling of the Lazarus story from the bible, which I thought was a very odd but interesting touch, and really absorbed me more on the whole. I wanted it to be a larger part of the story than it was, but what I got was still really awesome.
Final verdict? If you're looking for a very original PNR YA tale, definitely pick up "Mortal Fire" and give it a try. It's out now from Macmillan in North America, so check it out when you get the chance!
(posted to goodreads, shelfari, and birthofanewwitch.wordpress.com)
Okay, guys, I’ll admit: I really liked “Beastly”, and I’ve had the second of the Kendra books sitting in my TBR pile on Mr. Nook for months now, which...moreOkay, guys, I’ll admit: I really liked “Beastly”, and I’ve had the second of the Kendra books sitting in my TBR pile on Mr. Nook for months now, which I heard was pretty good. So to see another fairyretelling by Flinn coming out made me pretty exciting, especially since “Beastly” put some very creative twists on the original “La Belle et Le Bete” tale. However, it was not to be. “Towering” was disappointing in all technical areas. I can’t even claim it as a guilty pleasure read – that’s how bad it was. Which was incredibly saddening to me, since I haven’t found a really good “Rapunzel” retelling as of yet in YA. Maybe Jackson Pierce will tackle it in her second set of the “Fairy Retelling” trilogies? God I hope so.
Where to start? This had a really promising set of two opening chapters – with Rachel, a girl kidnapped and forced into a tower “for her protection” from the outside by a figure known as Mama, not her real mother, and had some interesting undertones of Stockholm Syndrome to it that really could have been explored, but weren’t. Then we get our male protagonist, Wyatt, and things kind of go downhill from there.
He’s come to stay with friends, and things start getting convoluted. Somehow he stumbles on Rachel (Rapunzel) in her tower, and it’s never really made clear with the house in terms of sensory language and imagery whether Wyatt’s already seen the tower when he shows up. So it’s just kind of nowhere after “hearing singing” does he find Rachel. Uh. Singing, especially as it’s described here as “soft singing”, especially with a reinforced tower and walls, is incredibly hard to follow unless you have canine-grade hearing. Which, apparently, Wyatt does not.
Then there’s insta-love. Cringe.
Add to that ancient prophecies, severe abuse of “The Chosen One” trope, and I was 500% done. I just couldn’t even finish the book. While the ghostly bits were awesome, the rest of the technical areas just weren’t developed. At all. I mean, we’re talking 1D cardboard world and characters bad in terms of development. Even at the ARC stage of things, I was really dismayed at the lack of development in every single technical area. How did this get past the editors? I just..yeah. I rarely go off on books like this, guys, but I just can’t even with this book. I’m not even sure if I can continue to read Flinn’s work if this is the effort she’s going to put into it.
But that’s just how I feel – and yeah, it’s pretty harsh. However! “Towering” is out tomorrow from HarperTeen in North America, so be sure to check it out and come to your own conclusions on the book. I’m eager to hear other opinions and welcome discussion in the comment section below. Give the book a try – it may be your thing. It just sadly wasn’t mine.
(posted to goodreads, shelfari, and birthofanewwitch.wordpress.com)(less)
It never fails to amaze me how much better my mentor gets with each book she releases. Seriously. I'm feeling stupid for putting off (though there wer...moreIt never fails to amaze me how much better my mentor gets with each book she releases. Seriously. I'm feeling stupid for putting off (though there were circumstances, to my credit) reading this for so long, and I finished it in one sitting. Blending her trademark lyrical magical realism style along with a post-apocalyptic setting and a semi-retelling of "The Odyssey", "Love in the Time of Global Warming" is a wonderful book that makes one fight to survive, and to evolve - yet not lose one's heart doing it. I can't recommend this one enough, guys - and yeah, I'm slightly biased because this is my mentor we're talking about, but at the same time, it's definitely one of the best of 2013.
Once again, what was very sneakily (and yet masterfully) done by Block was her way to incorporate her own real life issues (google "save the faerie cottage" while you're reading the beginning of the book and the talk of foreclosures) and at the same time make this prose emotionally accessible to all. If you're an American, you know someone who's lost a house, almost lost a house, or suffered in some major way since the start of the Great Recession. This book makes that topic accessible to the YA crowd that's within the marketable age range of the readership, and makes it understandable to all. In "Elementals", it was the topic of her mother's fight (and defeat) with cancer. In "Global Warming", it's the topic of the battle of the banks, which gets mentioned numerous times. I was in her classes during both periods of writing, and I had no idea both were going into both books. So it feels like all of that stress, though painful, really pushed Francesca to grow, to conquer, and like our heroine Pen, not to lose her heart or her power to love while doing it.
That being said, Pen is definitely a sympathetic heroine. Sensitive, sexually confused, devastated by the loss of her family, friends, and of her beloved city of Los Angeles (quite possibly the entire country or even the world) to the Earth Shaker, Pen takes quite a few hits, both emotionally and physically in this book. While not as quite as aggressive as Odysseus in "The Odyssey", Pen learns to fight, and she learns how to be a real person again in the face of Kronen's terrible Giants in this wasteland (and all of the land on the path to Las Vegas). What I loved the most about Pen was her fear - her fear of becoming a Giant, of losing herself completely, of losing her new friends/lover completely, of losing her humanity, and of not being able to find her family alive. Though on her journey throughout this book, like "Odyssey", it's one big character development arc for the entire main cast, including Kronen, our biggest antagonist. You see the most development in Pen, though the rest of the main cast does develop a fair amount before our eyes, and that's quite satisfying. The fear kept Pen on her toes, and while that can get tiring (fight or flight responses require a huge amount of energy), the emotional payoff? Absolutely brilliant.
The sensory language is of the caliber I've come to expect from Block is still on par with everything I've read from her so far - and if anything, because of this strange new post-apocalyptic landscape, is more heightened than ever. We have double worldbuilding going on - internally (emotionally/within memories) in our main cast, and externally (the actual setting) as well, and that's never easy to do. Block's always been able to do both, as both have almost always existed within her broader bibliography as a whole. So, FLB fans, nothing to worry about there.
If you've read more of her work, you'll notice Block's fascination with Giants, mythology, magical realism has reached its height in this semi-retelling of "The Odyssey". In her other books, she's related Giants with fear and anxiety (usually about body image - though in this book there really are giants), of sugary foods as possibly poisonous (in this book they really are poison), and of ecological destruction as a place where we can't come back (that, I can't spoil for you - you'll have to read it for yourself in this book). All of that culminates explosively in this book, and it'll be interesting to see if she continues her pattern of musing on these various repeating subjects in future books. I hope she does.
Final verdict? Definitely one of my faves of 2013, "Love in the Time of Global Warming" kicked me in the feels, let me catch my breath, and then kicked me in the feels again. And it's never heart so good. "Global Warming" is out today from Henry Holt/Macmillan Children's in North America, so definitely be sure to check it out when you get the chance!
(posted to goodreads, shelfari, librarything, and birthofanewwitch.wordpress.com)(less)
This book is pitched as “Dexter” meets “The Goddess Test”, and I have to say, upon reflection, it really is a very good summary of this bo...more3.5/5 stars.
This book is pitched as “Dexter” meets “The Goddess Test”, and I have to say, upon reflection, it really is a very good summary of this book. “Vengeance Bound” is the story of a girl possessed by the Furies, wanting to find their Third and become a true force of power in the world once again, and a girl who wants revenge on the man that helped destroy her life. And as engrossing as this book was, I feel like in the end, there were one too many loose ends not tied up, and questions unanswered. I usually don’t mind when the author leaves it to the reader to fill in the blanks by themselves, but these felt like continuity errors more than anything else. However, I do have to say that I did enjoy it quite a bit. If you’re looking for a Greek mythology retelling with a little more bite to it, definitely give “Vengeance Bound” a try. There are some spoilers in this review, so you’ve been warned.
My biggest issue with this book: the continuity errors/consistency issues. We get a lot of information (Niko quieting down the furies, how Alekto escaped, why Goodhart wanted Cory/Amelie as his lab rat), but we don’t get much more than a few sentences in explanation (if that) in terms of a lot of this very important backstory. A few little tiny infodumps, and that was it – and it was really inadequate in terms of the backstory part of worldbuilding. Ireland needed to integrate backstory a little bit more into her worldbuilding, though I will say she did a really good job creating her world even without much backstory for the audience to go on. It was quite absorbing, so I can’t completely knock her down there.
There’s also a pretty big medical error in the ARC version I read, and it made me cringe: the issue of “multiple personality disorder”. I really, really hope that the author did her final checks before this went to pub, because MPD no longer exists. As of the DSM-IV manual (second or third edition, I think), it’s now called DID – disassociative identity disorder. As for Goodhart wanting Amelie because he thought the Furies were other identities she had and getting money from drug companies to treat her/them…as far as I know, that too is a bit outdated as DID is now mainly being researched with less medication and more with brain mapping – specifically, regions in the brain where neurons that help cause DID are known to misbehave. I feel like since this is such a large part of the book in terms of Cory/Amelie questioning her sanity when her grip on the Furies is starting to slip AND with Goodhart on the run (as well as his motives), more research on Ireland’s part really should have been warranted or at least explained. DID doesn’t really manifest itself in patients much before their twenties, either, so I felt like that needed to be talked about a little, too. Or something – more than what we got. DID is a really complicated disorder, and Ireland did it more than a bit of an injustice here as using it as a plot device, and even though I don’t have this diagnosis, I do have a family friend and a friend who do, and they’ve suffered quite a bit.
For that big mistake alone, one half star gets knocked off.
The rest, though? The rest was awesome. Much like Dexter has his Dark Passenger, Cory/Amelie had her Furies, and it felt very much like Dexter for the YA set in the serial killer area alone. He too loses power over his Dark Passenger – in fact, there’s a whole book dedicated to it in the book series alone, as well as all of season 6 in the TV series. I saw a LOT of Dexter in Amelie, and it felt like a good tribute, all mistakes and loose ends aside, and that made me happy. More over, throwing the Furies into the mix was a great idea, and the idea that they could get corrupt from their own power was a fantastic one to work off of – abusing the privilege of using Amelie as their vessel by taking off with her body, for example, was one of my favorite parts. It really gives them more shape as characters within Greek myth, and one that only one other YA book so far that’s based around the Furies has talked about (Jill Wolfson’s “Furious”). However, I did feel like Alekto wasn’t as well-crafted as the other two Furies, and that was a bit disappointing. There was plenty of room to give Alekto more shape than just a scolding ex-Fury trying to save girls from her fate. The character building in general was more or less okay, but I feel like it needed another draft to fully flesh out some of the more important main cast characters like Alekto and later, Niko. None of the guys get much character development here, but seeing aside from Niko that they don’t get much face time, I was okay with that. But as Niko becomes the main love interest and the main way for Cory/Amelie to help keep the Furies under control – well, character building on his part is pretty important. However, Ireland manages to save this character by NOT making it insta-love, thankfully, and has an ending that was surprisingly light, but not exactly a standard HEA. Which I was happy with. Regarding that non-standard HEA – I can easily see another book with Mindi as the protagonist. I won’t say anything further there because of spoilers. But Niko? He felt very filmsy at times, just propping up Cory/Amelie when she needed the Furies to shut up. Which was more of an editing issue – one more draft could have helped develop him a bit better.
I will say that Ireland is quite gifted in the sensory language area, and I feel like that’s where she excelled the most, along with pacing. The pacing was good and even, and though there were areas where I wanted to linger and get a little more backstory where I felt it was insufficient, the consistency of the pacing overall won out over those times I did want to linger. Ireland did the best in these two areas, followed by worldbuilding, and then character building (if I had to rank them).
Final verdict? While there was one big mistake and a few other areas that badly needed another draft, “Vengeance Bound” was a really good read, one I’d recommend for the YA set that enjoys books like the Dexter series. “Vengeance Bound” is out now from Simon and Schuster in North America, so be sure to check it out once you get the chance!
(posted to goodreads, shelfari, and birthofanewwitch.wordpress.com)(less)