This one was a pleasant surprise, though I wish it had been longer. "When My Heart Was Wicked" is a snapshot of what can happen to someone as a causeThis one was a pleasant surprise, though I wish it had been longer. "When My Heart Was Wicked" is a snapshot of what can happen to someone as a cause of an unstable, dangerous childhood trying to become an adult - but through the lens of Francesca Lia Block-esque magical realism. I loved this one, and it makes me feel like Stirling will be one awesome author to watch. If you're looking for a little magical realism in your tough stuff YA issues book, "When My Heart Was Wicked" is definitely the one you want to pick up.
My biggest problem with this book - the lack of development with the antagonist of this book (or well, perhaps the most major one, as there were really two), Cheyenne. While we understand she's a bad mom, kinda a bad person (though redemption seems possible in the end), we don't really understand a lot of her. She feels like a shallower version of the mother in "White Oleander" (in fact, a lot of this book feels like that book, but with more magic and witchery instead) - maybe slightly mad, or a sociopath, but with love for her daughter that's just been twisted up in all sorts of ways that psychologically "normal" people cannot understand. However, she is really pretty abusive, and does cause harm to others - both magically and normally. But I wanted more - we get slight flashes of her motives and her roots in this book, but we don't quite get enough to go on for everything to feel really solid.
So for Cheyenne in general, I think we needed one good last edit.
But for Lacy? Her character development (which, was also used as worldbuilding in one of the most creative ways I've ever seen) was spectacular, and I felt as if I were right there with her. Using her astronomical sign (Gemini) to help develop her character was brilliant move on Sterling's part - the good twin, and the bad twin. Also, the idea of her "bad self" as redeveloping in an egg was a great idea as well, and I felt like it fit very well. She was quite the sympathetic protagonist, with a little bit of unreliable narrator thrown in for good measure. All of the tricks of the trade were used for Lacy, and they all worked. I don't think I've seen that in YA recently from debut authors - or if I have, it's been only a handful. Bravo.
As for the general worldbuilding (outside of Lacy), I felt that Chico was far more developed compared to Sacramento. Or rather, if Chico was the "light", Sacramento was the under-developed "Dark". I feel like we could have had more details there about the neighborhood, about the school, about all the places Lacy was currently in and had been to in the past with her mother, etc. I wanted more details other than the Demeter's Daughter shop and the house. I really wanted more there so that the "outer" world felt more complete.
Otherwise? One of my favorite debuts of 2015 so far. If you like Francesca Lia Block's brand of magical realism (also echoed in Janet Fitch's "White Oleander"), you're going to want to pick up this book. "When My Heart Was Wicked" is out now from Scholastic in North America, so be sure to check it out when you get the chance!
(posted to goodreads and other places, including birthofanewwitch.wordpress.com)
Fair warning here, folks: this review is going to have a lot of spoilers for the “Nightshade” trilogy (and its novellas/prequels). I thought and thou Fair warning here, folks: this review is going to have a lot of spoilers for the “Nightshade” trilogy (and its novellas/prequels). I thought and thought on how to do a review for this book without spoilers and then realized that it just wasn’t going to happen. So, fair warning, folks. “Snakeroot” is apart of the new “Nightshade Legacy” continuation series (not sure if “Captive”, “Rise”, and “Rift” are in this continuation/expansion but I’ll throw them in there anyway), not focusing on the main characters of our trilogy, but instead on the fringe characters we met throughout the journey of the trilogy. While “Snakeroot” definitely satisfies, it leaves us on a cliffhanger with no definitive promise that this series will continue. And I sincerely hope it will.
It's no secret that I'm a sucker for pretty much anything CLAMP does/participates in, and "BLOOD-C" is no exception. I'm also a huge fan of the greateIt's no secret that I'm a sucker for pretty much anything CLAMP does/participates in, and "BLOOD-C" is no exception. I'm also a huge fan of the greater "Blood: The Last Vampire" universe, too. If you've wanted an alternate universe where Kisaragi Saya is a bumbling schoolgirl yet deadly hunter, this is definitely one of the "BLOOD" spin-offs you need to check out.
The content of the manga isn't so different from the "BLOOD-C" TV series, if you've seen that. It covers up until Nene and the Old Ones come into the picture (I'll admit that I'm not really digging Dark Horse's choice of English translation for "furukimono" - I'd have preferred the "Old Ones" over "Ancient Ones", but that's me being nitpicky). What is great is that there are a lot of the foreshadowing clues that didn't seem as obvious in the anime compared to here in the manga - like we can see where things are going, and they're not going in a great direction. And fast.
There's a lot of action, too - lots of battles with the Old Ones, but I'd have preferred more than what we got, but we have a few more volumes to go, so hopefully Kotone and CLAMP will up their game a bit more in future volumes. But what we did get? Kotone really did a great job with those fight scenes, and even though I wish CLAMP had illustrated the manga themselves, Kotone does a good job filling in for them. A really good job. If you're going to check out this manga only because it is apart of the "BLOOD" universe, just check it out for those fight scenes as well as what the Old Ones look like. Pretty creepy, compared to the originals we saw in "Blood: The Last Vampire", "Blood: 2000", and "Blood+".
And as in any CLAMP creation, there's already a crossover clue - keep your eye on the dog Saya finds at the end of this volume, then watch the film that serves as an end to the series, "The Last Dark", if you can. All I can say in that respect is - well played, CLAMP. They took a piece of the "BLOOD" universe and really made it their own. Saya as an innocent, bumbling yet absolutely deadly schoolgirl is an absolutely brilliant angle that I'd hoping someone would create for awhile, and my wish came true with this series. I don't know about everyone else, but I really enjoyed it - and with what's coming up on the horizon for this series (when shit get real), it'll definitely knock your socks off.
Also, the translation is pretty great, and they include all of the original color plates from the source material. Seriously delicious, and worth the buy for those alone.
Final verdict? If you're looking for something new and fun to read, or if you're a CLAMP/BLOOD fan, definitely be sure to check out "Blood-C: Volume 1". It drops from Dark Horse Comics on March 19, 2013 in North America so be sure to look for it then!
(posted to goodreads, shelfari, and birthofanewwitch.wordpress.com)...more
Oh, "Weather Witch". What to do with you? While absolutely awesome in basic concept, plot, and worldbuilding, I couldn't entirely get on board with itOh, "Weather Witch". What to do with you? While absolutely awesome in basic concept, plot, and worldbuilding, I couldn't entirely get on board with it. This isn't to say that I didn't enjoy it - I did, and quite a bit. But I guess it's another case of blurb seduction, but I just expected a whole lot more than I got. But it is a solid first book in a new series, and while I haven't made up my mind as to whether I'm going to read book 2 yet or not, it's still a great summer read, and a whole lot of fun. If you're looking for something a little more original in your steampunk/alternate history PNR YA genre stories, definitely check out "Weather Witch".
This book's greatest strength: worldbuilding. I LOVED the concept of this alternate history 1844, where steam-powered things were just starting to come into wider use, and where Weather Witches (real people) were used to power everyday objects like lamps and so forth. While the backstory could have had a little better continuity (example: if a Weather Witch saved the Mayflower settlers, why are they so hated now?) and explanation of certain things, I'm hoping that will come with book two. But for book one, it should have been there. The societal ranking system, while very original, was a bit confusing, and I feel overall the entire book (and I read a finished copy, thoughtfully provided by the publisher) could have used one or two good, clean edits to make everything connect where it needed to.
The biggest weakness in this book: character building - particularly in the case of the protagonists. However, on the up side, the more minor players of the main cast help build the world up more than either the antagnonists or protagonists, which is odd, because I've never really read anything like that before. Usually it's a united effort with the entire main cast, or just the protagonists, but I don't think I've come across a novel where the minor characters help fill in a lot of the blanks that the protagonists/antagonists just don't. And that actually counted for a lot - the idea that minor characters actually made the protagonists/antagonists stand out where they couldn't have done so on their own is a fascinating dilemma. I found the antagonists well-built, but the protagonists rather weak and at times, completely confusing. Example - when Jordan is found guilty of being a Weather Witch, her fiancee (protagonist B) goes from using her as his meal ticket to suddenly falling madly in love with/worrying about her so much that he follows her to the slaver's ship. It made no sense. There was no real explained reasoning as to why the about face with him, and since that's such an integral part of the story with this first volume, it's kind of an important omission. I'm not sure if Delany did this intentionally or not. I found Jordan as a heroine to be generally not very interesting, even as the mystery as to whether she's been framed as a Weather Witch. I didn't seem much growth or development in her own personal journey arc throughout the story (in fact, I felt like there wasn't even really a personal journey arc even there, which is another important omission). For me, that's a very important thing I look for in my protagonists, so I can only hope that Delany builds Jordan up more in book two.
The sensory language/imagery: while it was pretty good in terms of describing the actual scenery, I feel like generally over all there was more telling over showing - another reason why I feel this one needed another good edit before publication. What I got was satisfactory to keep the story going, and I found that the sensory language when it came to scenes with the Weather Witches was the most powerful. I wanted more of that, and for it not to just be confined to those scenes alone.
Final verdict? Despite my nitpicks on the technical areas, this book was a lot of fun to read, and a great summer read to blow of some stress. I think others who are seeking a little more originality in their steampunk/alternate history/PNR stories will really enjoy this one - I know I did. "Weather Witch" is out now from St. Martin's Griffin/Macmillan in North America, so definitely check it out when you get the chance!
(posted to goodreads, shelfari, and birthofanewwitch.wordpress.com)...more
So, "The Circle". An interesting mix of "The Craft" and "The Secret Circle", that's not afraid to make fun of itself. I can see why John A3.5/5 stars.
So, "The Circle". An interesting mix of "The Craft" and "The Secret Circle", that's not afraid to make fun of itself. I can see why John Ajvide Lindqvist blurbed this book - it's got a certain mystery to it that also inhabits his books, but at the same time, I think there was a bit lost in translation. At least, at the ARC stage of things (which is what I got from the US publisher). But this book really isn't just about teenage witches - it's as Lindqvist says in his blurb - people learning how to deal with other people, and that is perhaps the best part of this book. While I feel like a lot could have been cut from this book with affecting nothing, it is what it is. "The Circle" is a taste of life in a small Swedish town, with teenagers against teenagers, learning how to deal with each other and their new-found abilities all at the same time.
My biggest problem with this book: the translation. As a translator myself, I can say regardless of what language I'm trying to work with, all translators deal with the same issue - trying not to make text read as "translatese", and instead as fluid, coherent English. Unfortunately, this version of "The Circle" (I haven't checked the final UK version so I don't have anything really solid to compare it to) was full of translatese, and I know that this is because there were probably a lot of Swedish pieces of text that just couldn't be worked into English any easier than what we got. That, or the editor just let it slip - and both of these two scenarios are totally possible. The result? It made good chunks of this book a little hard to read and to proceed smoothly along to the next part. That, and the fact that there were long parts of this book that could have been cut in the Swedish edition with the content not suffering one bit for those missing bits. There's just too many scenes where not a lot (or anything at all) happened, and those could have been cut.
Otherwise, I really enjoyed "The Circle", if just for the fact it puts together six girls who really do NOT get along, and makes them have to work together in the common goal of preventing a huge evil from making its way into our world. Not an easy task - especially when they're all along the social spectrum. There are some that have bullied the others in the past, and there's a very "The Craft" sense about some of the characters' actions in order to get back at those who hurt them with their new power. That being said, there's a LOT of characters to keep track of - our six protags, along with the Principal, the caretaker, parents, other friends, and so forth spinning a huge world within this tiny backwater Swedish town, which I found very impressive. With each girl comes her own demons and her own struggles, and I thought that the authors did a really good job of interweaving their stories, and showing us where they all intersected, and how they learn to deal with the fact that they're all Chosen Ones, and they all need to work together, otherwise demons will come to this world and wreak havoc. But hey, no pressure, right?
I think one of my favorite parts was the world, and how the setting of the town of Engelfors became an antagonist. Even though it's just one little sleepy town, the characters help really build it (the authors rely on the relationship-web school of worldbuilding, connecting everyone to create the world further than what's just fixed as the basic setting) into this place where the past (witch burnings, really needed to give us more information on that but because this is a trilogy, I'm going to let it slide) haunts now, and helps create this thin membrane between humanity and demons, witches and regular teenagers that works both against the demons, and against the witches, along with the regular teenagers just trying to get along in this town until they come of age, get out of school, and become eligible to get the hell out of there to somewhere larger.
I think everyone can relate to that. Another thing I like about this book is the relatability - I think everyone can relate to so many moments in this book, because it's the stuff of being a teenager, trying to figure out how to interact with others in this world along with discovering who you yourself really are all at the same time. That's why I think it's so beloved in its home country - because it's something you can relate to, regardless of your age as a reader/the audience. You can say you've been there, even if your own situation hasn't exactly been the same.
Final verdict? I think I'll be sticking around for book two, but I'm really hoping Overlook gets the translatese problem solved for it. It's a long, long book, but the ending (while semi-anticlimactic) is very well worth the wait. "The Circle" is now out in North America, so be sure to check it out when you get the chance.
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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 1959This 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)
This is a fantastic bridge between books one and two of this duology, and I really hope it gets printed into the paperback edition of "The Blood KeepeThis is a fantastic bridge between books one and two of this duology, and I really hope it gets printed into the paperback edition of "The Blood Keeper" (seeing as it isn't in the paperback version of "Blood Magic"). So sad to see this duology go, and I LOVED it.
Yen Press/Orbit/Hachette did an absolutely fabulous job with this translation. I'm really happy with it - and hopefully now they'll pick up the rest oYen Press/Orbit/Hachette did an absolutely fabulous job with this translation. I'm really happy with it - and hopefully now they'll pick up the rest of the Madoka manga (and its spinoffs) for US publication, too!...more
This book is no less than stunning in nearly every way - a luscious, almost decadent read of a future city in a pyramid, with almost something for eveThis book is no less than stunning in nearly every way - a luscious, almost decadent read of a future city in a pyramid, with almost something for everyone, including magical realism, cyberpunk and sci-fi, a crazy mix of South American/Cuban-Afro and Japanese cultures. This is a tale of death and kings, of queens and machines, of youth and love, of war and peace. "The Summer Prince" is definitely one of my favorite books of 2013 so far because of its delicate yet bold storytelling, and because of Johnson's brave portrayal of a future society where who you love doesn't matter, unless it's the Summer King - doomed to die each year so that the Queendom may continue.
This is a pretty spicy read (no pun intended, considering where it takes place) for YA - I'd almost say it moves closer to mature YA than anything else, because of some of the themes it introduces. There's the idea that pansexuality is decriminalized (our MC has two moms, for crying out loud), that polyamory happens (I won't spoil any further on that point), and that a society can only flourish if a woman is in charge, and executes a man each year as her Summer King. I can safely say that this may make it to some banned book lists, but you know what? That would just put the exclamation point in terms of how awesome this book is, how bold it is. It introduces some very provocative ideas that may not even get introduced in adult lit, and my hat goes off to Johnson for being brave enough to try to write all of these things for YA, period.
Let's start with the world. The only issue I had with the worldbuilding was that I was a little bit fuzzy on how Palmares Tres was built (where everything was), and the calendar structure (normal years vs moon years vs sun years, and how the Summer King sacrifices all fit into that. The rest of the world in terms of imagery was gorgeous, and there were no real issues with that for me. The backstory was great, though it was a bit late, and felt a little infodumpy, but otherwise really good. While I could pick a serious bone when it came to the Palmares Tres-adopted idea of "kiri" (as in harakiri, Japanese ritualistic male/samurai suicide), I'm not going to, not really, because everything else is just so good in this book. I'll just say that it fits with this futuristic city, but she got the origins in terms how each gender committed ritual honor suicide a bit wrong. Harakiri/Seppuku (depending on how you read the kanji) was reserved for male samurai, and as the kanji suggests, it's self-disembowelment, not cutting one's own throat - though you did offer it to your servant overseeing your suicide so that they could decapitate you after death. Women would commit ritual honor suicide by drowning themselves after their husbands, or also engaging in harakiri, though the former was a far more "clean" way to go.
That being said, I love how Johnson went ahead and combined all of these different cultures together to make Palmares Tres, and you can see all of those elements of those different cultures throughout the book in very strong, pronounced ways. In that way, the worldbuilding was bold, and I loved it.
The characters. Unforgettable. I think even I fell in love with Enki. They're all very layered, the entire main cast - including the most minor characters. This is where Johnson shines the most - with her characters. June, Gil, and Enki are absolutely amazing, and the messy sort-of-love triangle (which was totally forgivable because it brought the whole GLBT thing into the mix, and that was awesome) and the question of 'friends or lovers?' was present the entire time, and even June herself isn't sure for most of the book, nor is Gil, nor is Enki. June is a great firey, feisty protagonist, and it was a real joy to watch her grow throughout the book.
The theme of this book is perhaps the most important of all - the transience of youth and life, represented by the role of the Summer King. He dies so the rest of the world within Palmares Tres can continue to flourish. In a world where you can now live over three hundred years with body modifications, it seems that everyone forgets that humans can actually die. Everyone but those in Palmares Tres, who the world views as barbaric and backward. I thought this was an excellent touch, especially when we see Ueda explain it all to Enki and June with the whole system of the Aunties, the Queen, and the Summer King.
What did need work aside from the aforementioned parts of the worldbuilding - transitions. Many of these transitions were pretty cloudy and ambiguous, and while I love that in a book and can see it used as a style, here it was just obvious that it needed a bit more editing. Then again, I got an early ARC of things, so I'm hoping by the time the final copy is out on shelves, all of that will have been solved.
Otherwise, final verdict? Definitely a breathtaking debut that can't be missed, you simply must give "The Summer Prince" a try. "The Summer Prince" is out now from Scholastic in North America, so be sure to check it out when you get the chance!
(posted to goodreads, shelfari, and birthofanewwitch.wordpress.com)...more
This is such a breath of fresh air within the realms of witchery within YA. I'm automatically in if there are witches, but doubly in if there's musicThis is such a breath of fresh air within the realms of witchery within YA. I'm automatically in if there are witches, but doubly in if there's music involved. Put the two together, and you basically have me buying your book. And while "Chantress" was awesome, I think it needed one more good smooth edit before getting to the ARC stage of things. I'm hoping that some of the things that got me slowed down got fixed before publication. Other than that? If you're looking for something deliciously new and enchanting within YA paranormal witchery, look no further - "Chantress" is your book.
What needed work: the external worldbuilding. While we do get a great sense of the island within the opening chapters of the book, once we get to London, it feels like Greenfield really pared things down to the point of being bare-bones about what London at that time might have felt like. When she did show us that London, it was breathtaking, and she obviously has some serious talent with sensory language when she wanted to use it. But I wanted more showing and less telling, even if there were some situations where it couldn't be used very much within the book. However, the internal worldbuilding, the paranoia brought on by Scargrave and the Shadowgrims was nothing short of excellent. You had the feeling that even you as the reader might be caught at any time, and I really enjoyed that. When authors manage to do both external and internal worldbuilding somewhat successfully, I'm impressed, and that's the case here. The external bit was just the one that needed more work out of the two.
What was good: the basic plot and the characters. While I do feel like the characters in general needed a bit more complication and expansion (especially Scargrave and Lucy - as an MC, she didn't feel quite complicated enough), the building was good enough combined with the world and the plot to propel the novel to the last page. I really couldn't stop reading - it was that good. But it could have been better. Since this looks like it's the first in a trilogy, I'm hoping that these matters will get addressed and we'll get more on Lucy and the rest of the Chantresses and their histories in future books, as well as deeper antagonists. At weighing in at a little over 300 pages, this book could have been longer with more depth to all of the technical areas in general (except sensory language - that, frankly, was spectacular) without losing any real motion or tension within the story as a whole.
I did love the dynamic between Lucy and Nat - there was no insta-love, and that was such a relief. There was also no love triangle, which was a bigger relief. Generally, all of the character relationships were well done (though I wanted more between Lucy and her godmother - that entire part of the book felt more than a bit rushed), and it's obvious that Greenfield has no problem using relationship web school of worldbuilding when she's not using the actual traditional sensory language and imagery method. Which worked in this book, though I did want more of a better balance between the two.
Now finally, to the sensory language. The Shadowgrims, the Feeding Pit - everything having to do with Scargrave, the magic, and the grimoire gave me the chills. In a good way. I seriously can't wait to read book two based on those plot points alone, because in those areas, Greenfield definitely knows how to deliver. And the idea of singing one's magic, and the difference between Proven Magic (which was a nice tip of the hat to alchemy) and Wild Magic was really, really great. I wanted more of that, and I hope we definitely get more with the history of chantress magic within book two. What we were given here was good, but it definitely needs to be expanded if there are going to be more adventures with Lucy and company. Anytime magic was used, it was almost a visceral feeling (especially with the state of Lucy's throat if she had to sing for a long time), and I love it when authors can cause that kind of response in a reader like me.
Final verdict? While this could have been cleaned up (and hope it was) before publication, this is definitely a great debut effort and deserves the read. Because of those points that needed editing, it just misses my best of 2013 list by just a hair, but is still a really fun and exciting read. "Chantress" is out now from Simon & Schuster in North America, so definitely be sure to check it out when you get the chance. I seriously can't wait until book two!
(posted to goodreads, shelfari, and birthofanewwitch.wordpress.com)...more