There are a lot of things I could say about the writing and the structure of the book, and the alternating viewpoints, and the interestingness of it a...moreThere are a lot of things I could say about the writing and the structure of the book, and the alternating viewpoints, and the interestingness of it all, but what I really want to talk about is this: I'm kind of amazed at how dark this book is. I mean, don't get me wrong, I sort of loved it, but my god...this is a dark book. That description up ↑there↑ makes it sound sort of campy and quirky - a fun pirate romp. Not so much. Emer was a pirate in the full sense of the word: she stole and swahsbuckled with the best of them, sure, but more importantly, she was bloodthirsty and had nothing to lose (until suddenly, she had everything to lose). In the course of her brief time as a pirate, she kills countless men and meditates on her piratical "trademark" - should she carve her name into her victims backs? Been done. Maybe amputate limbs or keelhaul them? Gets old. Nope, Emer is an eye-gouger. In fact, the book opens with it. What I'm saying is, she's dark.
So when she's cursed to live 100 lives as a dog (many of them brief and brutal), and is then reborn in the form of Saffron Adams, the darkness doesn't just go away. Though she never acts on her darker desires, she routinely pictures herself scalping, skewering and otherwise inconveniencing people who make life difficult for her. It's funny, but it's also scary, and above all, it's true to her character. She's had 300 years to learn and grow and let go of some grudges, maybe - but she's also had 300 years to stew and fixate, and you can't let something like that go. Not to mention that being a teen in the 80s/90s and having your parents breathing down your neck about college, when in your heart you know you're a mothereffing pirate -- well, that would do things to a person. There have to be times she questions her sanity, and there have to be times that she wants to be able to exercise the, um, freedom of a pirate in dealing with her enemies. King realizes this and stays true to who Emer was, while allowing Saffron (and 100 dogs) to bring new own experiences to the mix. And bloodthirsty pirate that she is, you kind of can't help but love her.
But the darkness doesn't just lie within Emer/Saffron. There is a pervasive dark streak throughout nearly ever aspect of the book, and no act of human cruelty is shied away from. The things that are done to Emer, the things that she does to other people, the things that other people do to other people, and say and think and want - they're more often than not harsh and raw and selfish, and unflinching in it. King doesn't tiptoe around the negatives and the brutal realities of piracy, history and human nature in general, and the steady stream of (yes, dark) humor throughout the book just plays counterpoint to all the really messed up things that are going on.
I'd say it's a tale of obsession more than anything, but for all that, it is equally a story about love. Told through alternating timelines and viewpoints, as the reader you're stuck watching as things move inexorably towards each other, heading for a crash, and when you think it couldn't possibly end well for anyone involved, it somehow manages to be redemptive. It's full of contradictions, a simple tale full of complexities, and as hard as it is to read, it's harder yet to put down. By no means is it a story for everyone, and many many people will be turned off by the casual violence and general bleakness. But the rest of us will fall in love with Emer/Saffron, and cringe along through the good and the bad, right until the end.(less)
There has been a huge upswing in the amount of dystopian and dystopian-like books written in the past few years. Some are excellent. Some have excelle...moreThere has been a huge upswing in the amount of dystopian and dystopian-like books written in the past few years. Some are excellent. Some have excellent premises that are just not quite carried off. And some have premises that leave you kinda scratching your head. Despite all of the good things I've heard about Gabrielle Zevin, I was afraid this was going to fall in the latter category. I mean, a world where chocolate and caffeine are banned, but alcohol is not? And since that was all that was really being said about the book, it seemed like a pretty thin basis for a dystopia - hell, for a book in general. I was...hesitant. I've been burned by a thin premise before.
But here's the thing (well, the things): 1. The dystopian-like elements of this are almost incidental. They play a part (a big part), but it's not a dystopian story. 2. No matter how questionable elements in your world are, if you do them well, they will work. If you build it they will come. If you back your shit up, I'll buy in.
And I did. So, to break it down: This is being tossed around as a dystopia, and like I said, the elements are there. But I am a firm believer that dystopia means something. Dystopia - like satire - is used to highlight some aspect of society, to show us what could be from what is. It's a magnifying glass held to our flaws, our society taken to its logical extremes, and all with the mantra that it's for our own good. All These Things I've Done does have a smidge of that, but it's lacking the verve, the fervor, the ardency that comes with A Message. And the reason is that it's not really about that. Zevin's dystopian society just is. It's not being used as a spotlight, and not even completely as a catalyst, but more just as a backdrop to the real story. It's no different than an alien world or a fictionalized contemporary world. It's simply a matter of 'this is what it is, and this is what we know.' No one's fighting (yet), no one's being made martyrs - it's not about that. It's more that this is just the world that is, and this is one girl's story in it.
This is a simple story of a girl who gets caught up in a whole lot of mess when the world starts noticing her and she starts noticing it back. So let's move on from the dystopia into what it really is. I've read reviews from a few friends who felt like they weren't able to connect to the characters or that Anya and the narration was really detached. This was one of my favorite things. The main character, Anya, is a bit of a cold fish. She has led a really hard life and has an insane amount of pressure on her shoulders, all the while trying to get out from under the shadow of her family and what they represent (which, as the daughter of a slain mob boss, is no easy feat). Anya's reservedness and tendency to go cold in her narration, to recap things and make less of them - I found this perfectly in keeping with her character and the world/character-building. I understood her thoughts and reactions, and her standoffishness and fierce need to protect. I liked her reluctance and pragmatism, especially where Win is concerned. It made her seem more real to me, and in some ways, more relatable. Everything she is and does has a basis in her past, and that comes through palpably.
Generally, I felt this was true across the board. I found all of the characters pretty relatable and I thought they added to my understanding of Anya and her world pretty nicely. Yes, some are cardboard and I could have wished for something more dynamic, but in the telling, somehow it still works. Anya's constant "Daddyisms" - wise words from her mobster father - made sense and helped build the picture. The whole family unit, who they are and how they react and are portrayed, that all worked for me. Win was a little too good and Gable a little too bad...But I do think Win is a good love interest, even if the whole thing creeps dangerously close to something that would normally irritate me (Romeo & Juliet bullshiz. Which this is, as it is essentially a retelling, star-crossed lovers and all that jazz). But Anya's behavior saves it for me, cold-fish that she is. I could have done more shades of gray, but that is all really in hindsight because, as I said, as I was reading, it all just worked for me.
All that said, there were 2 things that bothered me. I mentioned the choc/caff banning as being a BIT ridiculous, but I can see a banning happening. I can even see coffee speakeasies and black market extra dark chocolate bars. What I CANNOT see is people getting high off of a candy bar. I mean, we all joke about being chocoholics, but come on now. I don't buy an honest-to-AA caffeine addict, I just don't. But this was minimal-ish and I got over it. The second thing that bothered me hit me like a ton of bricks and is spoilery, so if you don't want to know...
PRE-SPOILER (you can read this, it's safe) I reallyreallyreallyreallyreallyreally liked the relationship between Anya and Scarlet, her best friend, through most of the book. I was so damn happy to be reading a book with a female main character who gets along with other female characters. We all had a best friend in high school and for the most part, they weren't back-stabbing c*nts. I am so beyond sick of this Mean Girl trend I CAN'T EVEN TELL YOU. So I was reading, and there was no Mean Girl-ness - even from the school gossip, who I was just waiting to turn bitchy - and I was giddy with the idea that there was going to be a healthy female relationship in a YA book. And it wasn't even saccharine and fake - these two do have problems, they do have arguments and disagreements. But then they do this miraculous thing where they talk about them and remain friends. It was heaven. And then.
SPOILER(view spoiler)[ And then Scarlet did something that I can't forgive, even if Anya could. Scarlet began dating Gable, Anya's ex-boyfriend, who'd tried to date-rape her and then told the school she was a slut when she wouldn't sleep with him. And then Aw-hellll-no Misty came out, and I was ....argh. My Book Chat on pet peeves came out shortly there after, in which I mentioned that I am working my way up to the "douchebags and Mean Girls" rant because I can't make it past unintelligible cursing quite yet. So no points for Scarlet. Pissed me RIGHT the fuck off. And they get it back on track. There are reasons Scarlet dates him, and she's a big softy, and Anya forgives her so I guess I'm supposed to, too. BUT I WON'T. (hide spoiler)]
That flaw knocked it back some, but it didn't ruin my enjoyment of the book by any means. I'm confident Anya can take care of herself, and Gable certainly gets what's coming, and probably will forever and ever amen, so I'm good with that. Scarlet's bad choice wasn't enough to spoil my the book for me, and Anya's voice and the overall dark tone of the story worked for me enough that, coupled with the hints of where this series is going, I'm certainly eager to see more.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Sweetly is a companion novel to Sisters Red (which I have, but haven't read), so even though the two aren't dependent on each other, I'm sure there...moreSweetly is a companion novel to Sisters Red (which I have, but haven't read), so even though the two aren't dependent on each other, I'm sure there are things that happen in Sisters Red that would have expanded my understanding of things in Sweetly. That being said, it reads fine as a stand alone, so if you've been holding back from reading it because you feel you need to read Sisters Red first, don't worry, you don't have to.
Now, on to the story at hand. Sweetly is a really interesting take on the Hansel and Gretel story for me. There were things I really didn't like or didn't feel added to the story - and I am going to discuss them - but for the most part, I enjoyed this thoroughly. Before I get into picking it apart as I am wont to do, just know that I think this is a book worth your time.
Because of Gretchen and Ansel's past (losing their sister in the woods, losing both parents, being blamed and hated by their stepmom, etc), there is a real darkness to the beginning of the story. Gretchen is reclusive, having dropped out of school and avoiding social interaction; she lives her life terrified of the "witch in the woods". She doesn't understand why her twin - her other half - was taken and she was spared, and she is basically just biding her time, waiting for the other shoe to drop and the witch to get her, too. Ansel is her protector, but all is not right with him, either. He's a football star who once told Gretchen that he liked football because "he liked getting hit. That being knocked to the ground reminded him he was here." So there's this sort of desolation to the beginning of the story that I really liked. It felt true - these characters would feel like this, and would be trying to work through things like this - and it also helped paint the story with a sense of foreboding and sadness that I think is appropriate to the story.
There came a point where it changed, though. What started as this dark story about healing, with almost magical realist elements, eventually becomes something more...typical, I guess. Just another teen paranormal story. I don't want that comment to be construed as a bad thing, because it wasn't. For what it is, it is well-done. But the insight and sadness that I saw in the beginning I thought was a sign of the tone of the whole, and of something a little more being injected into the story. But for the most part, it wasn't. Gretchen's is still a story of healing in some respects, but for the most part, the story is a straightforward paranormal romance. It made it feel a little disjointed to me, perhaps just because of my expectations, and that was a little bit of a letdown. But once I adjusted my thinking to the story at hand rather than the story I thought I would be getting, it was completely enjoyable.
I really REALLY enjoyed the world-building. Jackson Pearce creates a little bubble in Live Oaks that has its own crazy shenanigans going on, but that still feels like a real town with real people in it. Sophia's chocolatier, though improbable, set out in the middle of nowhere (how much gourmet chocolate does a small town really buy? Especially if they have to go out into the middle of nowhere to get it, rather than through the checkout line at the Piggly Wiggly?), was at least really interesting and atmospheric. It was a fun, modern take on the Gingerbread Cottage, and it brought with it a sense of magic in a more mundane way (invigorating lemon peels and calming gingerbread chocolates, rather than spells and potions and obvious (overthetop) magic). It gave the story ambience, and had the side-effect of leaving me with a persistent craving for dark chocolate truffles. (Which is rather cruel, Ms. Pearce. I blame you for the brownies I consumed.) But this was good. It was almost a full sensory experience. I would have liked a little something different in the handling of Sophia's storyline (Gretchen's constant mistrust did nothing for me, and w/o spoilers, Sophia's motivations and actions as it comes out in the end were...eh, so-so for me. Somewhat rushed and contrived). But all in all, I found Sophia, her world and her interactions with everyone interesting.
The relationship building in the story worked for me, too, on most levels. I thought the town's mingling of awe and distrust for Sophia was interesting, and I loved getting to know her through Gretchen and Ansel. I liked her slight desperation, and her mirroring of Gretchen, and I liked how they come to just belong at her chocolate shop and be a part of her non-existent family. The relationship between Gretchen and Ansel was really lovely, too. The way they looked out for each other and always new what the other was thinking or feeling, it made sense given their history, and it was also a nice place to start and then watch them grow and begin to be comfortable on their own. The aspect of familial love is often over-looked and underplayed in stories, and it would have been a shame had that been the case here, as it is the perfect story to take advantage of that closeness and love. Fortunately, Pearce used it to full advantage.
What didn't do it for me was Gretchen's relationship with Samuel. I just didn't feel that it was necessary. I mean, as sheltered and alone as Gretchen has been, it's fine to have budding feelings or awkwardness, or just a knowledge of potential. But the relationship didn't add anything to the story for me, and I didn't feel it was all that realistic to happen (so quickly! And obviously!) for either party. They both had shit to deal with, and it was enough of a story to have them dealing with that shit, with maybe hints of potential for romance in the future. If anything, I think it became a bit of a distraction, and felt like just the obligatory YA paranormal romance. I would have respected the story - and Pearce - more with the restraint to keep romance light or non-existent, and to focus on the deeper issues at hand. There was a little bit of plot-holiness with the crux of the story, too, which I don't want to get into (spoilers!), but that left me feeling like the reasons behind things were a bit thin.
And there you have it. It's a bit of a mixed bag, with some largish things I didn't like, but an overall thumbs up. I know that part of this is me being picky because of what I saw in the book. When the potential for something I'm going to love is there, it KILLS me to not see it realized, and I always go harder on the book then. But that's my own nonsense to deal with, and I really did enjoy this book. I'm a sucker for retold fairy tales (as you know), and this one is one of the better modern retellings. I'm certainly looking forward to having a break in my schedule to read Sisters Red. And even more than that, I am very eager indeed for the next book, Fathomless. I think, from the end of Sweetly, that I have some hints as to where that story will be going, and I am intrigued. It'll be a wishlister, for sure. (less)
When I came across this on Goodreads, it became one of those things that just takes over your brain. Or takes over mybrain, anyway... Everything from...moreWhen I came across this on Goodreads, it became one of those things that just takes over your brain. Or takes over my brain, anyway... Everything from the cover to the title to the fantastic little tag line just called to me. So when I was offered a copy out of the blue, of course I casually said, Oh, thanks but nah.... O_O Or HELLS YEAH. It was one of the two. And when it came in the mail (so if you went with Choice 1, sorry, you lose), I promptly sat down and made short work of it. And though the beginning was a little rocky for me, I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Juniper Berry for me was interesting in that it pleased both my adult side and the 9 year old Misty that was obsessed with creepy books and made her mother worry that she had "unhealthy" reading habits (because apparently to moms, Goosebumps is acceptable only in small doses. A steady diet of it = serial killer, or something. Or, at least that's what meddling neighbors lead moms to believe. Moving on...) Reading it, I got the same impression I had when I read Coraline: that my younger self would have eaten this up. It was just creepy enough, and unflinching in its darker aspects, that it would have delighted me to no end. It had this fantastic dark circus feel, with fairy tale elements in there as well (hence it's inclusion in Fairy Tale Fortnight), but it still remained its own thing. There were certain little unexpected elements that delighted me (kid and adult) and gave it this great visual appeal, and I have always loved a book that makes you see what is going on and leaves you with lasting images. Certain quirky things are always going to pop into my head when I think of this book, and I love that. This is of course aided by the fantastic illustrations. My copy, being unfinished, only had some of the illustrations, which means I'll have to track down a finished copy to see the rest. But from what I saw, they were perfectly suited to the text, and stylized nicely.
I mentioned Coraline earlier, and I want to bring it up what more time because the comparison doesn't end just in the fact that I liked it as an adult and now I would have loved it as a kid. It also reminded me of Coraline in that it was disturbing in the way that Coraline was disturbing. In Coraline, there was the Other Mother, and good lord, if she is not the creepiest character for a kid to read... And it's not just the black button eyes, or the eating of souls. She's disturbing because she is a parent (or, looks like one and pretends to be one, anyway). Though there is a villain in this (more on him in a minute), what ups the disturbing factor in this is the parents. You know - and Juniper knows - that they are good people, but that something is wrong. Having your parents do these strange dark things ups the creep out factor immensely, and I loved it.
But moving on to the actual villain of the piece, Skeksyl, my reaction to him was...interesting. In some respects, he's a very good villain. He's creepy, he's dark, he's tempting, and he has a raven for a sidekick. (Villain: ☑). But there was one thing that I found off-putting, and this is just because I'm me. I don't think kids would be bothered by this, but every time Skeksyl is described by Juniper, his nasally, high-pitched, screechy voice is mentioned, which just made me want to laugh. I can't take a villain seriously with a nasally, high-pitched, screechy voice (unless it's a wicked witch, and then, sure). I know that's minor and silly, but it affected my overall impression of the villain, and really, I just needed to share that with someone. So there. I could have done with a little more subtlety from him, too, but whatever, it's a kids book.
And Skeksyl was the only one that got on my nerves at all or made me question. I loved all of the other characters, especially Juniper. She's smart and quirky and strong, and above all else, she knows herself. She knows who she is and what she wants (which is kinda the point of the whole thing), and beyond just loving this personally, I think it sends a powerful and much-needed message to young readers. I love having a character for this age group who is so self-aware and confident in who she is. I love that she's not ashamed of her intelligence and her interests. Juniper knows who she is and says so proudly. The book as a whole is a great statement on insecurity and acceptance, and it's refreshing and welcome. That's why, if you know a kid who will be able to handle the darker elements, I would highly suggest recommending them (or gifting them!) this book.
Side note: I absolutely adore it when an author uses big words for young kids, and uses them without being condescending or explaining/excusing the word away. Just unashamedly using a word and meaning it. I love that. Respect your reader (and your reader's intelligence and inquisitiveness), and they'll respect you.(less)
First I want to start with a HUGE THANK YOU to Ksenia of Polish Outlander for being awesomesauce and surprising me with a copy of this.
I kind of don't know where to begin other than to say I fell in love with this. The illustrations are just perfectly stylized and atmospheric, and incredibly expressive. This probably has less text than any graphic novel I've ever read (entire pages go by with no words), and yet it doesn't lack for story. It's always so clear and complete - I never felt it was lacking simply from not having a lot of text. The story is fully there in the pictures, which not a lot of graphic novels pull off or even attempt. Furthermore, her style was distinctive and memorable. It reminded me somewhat of Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis in the simplicity and almost cuteness of the black and white illustrations, but Brosgol has definitely put her stamp on it.
Beyond the fact that the illustrations are just perfect, the book works on so many levels. Brosgol has a great sense of humor - in Anya and in the illustrations - that acts as a good counterpoint to the growing tension and unease regarding her ghost, Emily, who she meets when she falls down a well.
And speaking of Emily - oh, I loved her. I mean, you don't ever not see what's coming with her (did that make sense?), but it's so delightful watching her morph from this little lonely ghost to this maniacal sort of poltergeist with a vengeance. She's a sweet little nutjob, and I loved it. And Brosgol's depiction of her and the way her character evolves as her story is slowly revealed is fantastic.
She goes from this:
and I loved every minute of it. On that level, it was a great classic ghost story, a creepy story of control and obsession and longing.
But it's not just a ghost story. Anya's Ghost is also a bit of a coming of age story, and an immigrant/Outsider story that makes Anya relatable and lovable (even when you want to smack her). Brosgol created Anya's voice really well, and captured both her desire to be normal and mainstream as well as her awkwardness and insecurity and bitterness about what it means to actually be mainstream.
Do you ever have those books where, when you try to recommend them to someone, all you can come up with is "Just read it"? I know I've kind of rambled, and just shoved pictures in your face, but - just read it.(less)
Brenna Yovanoff is quickly becoming one of those authors whose books I will buy without even knowing wha...more[Thanks to Alexis for letting me borrow this!]
Brenna Yovanoff is quickly becoming one of those authors whose books I will buy without even knowing what they are about. In just two books (The Replacement and now The Space Between), she's convinced me of her skill and understanding and finesse as a writer and made me trust that, whatever she's writing about, I will want to read it. I was a little fearful of the dreaded "sophomore slump" with The Space Between, and clearly there was no need for me to worry.
As she did with Mackie in The Replacement, Brenna captured Daphne's "otherness" in a really interesting, authentic way. It was never over the top, but it was always clear that she was not quite human. So many people write garbage where the MC is supposed to be Other, but is really only in name. Daphne feels Other and seems Other, but still remains relatable. But what's really interesting about her is that she is 'Other' from both sides - she refuses to be like her demon "sisters" but she certainly isn't human, either. She processes things differently, reacts differently, is always enough of an odd duck to feel authentically demonic in origin, but as the story goes on, she sort of becomes more human. She thaws out a bit, lets slip her demonic reserve and shows some passion. More than relatable, she's likable.
Truman has a fair amount of Otherness about him, too, but it is in the very human, relatable way that we all sometimes feel like we don't belong or there's nowhere to turn. What is most appealing about him is the struggle and the small sparks of hope that begin to come through. I think what it comes down to is that Brenna understands show don't tell - or show AND tell - and she understands that the emotion and the core desires have to be real, both for the audience and the characters. Daphne and Truman make such great main characters because the reader can see his/herself in both, and can feel for them and pull for a happy ending, no matter how unlikely it may seem. For all of the characters, human and non alike, I loved the struggle, the almost-humanness, the sadness and the overall message of love, even from those who have no hope of it, or want it more than anything. I said in my review of The Replacement that I don't really find the book itself scary, but that "It's more that it can be so unsettlingly real and human in the best and worst ways that it gets under your skin. And that can be scary." I think this is true of The Space Between as well.
[Note, this is not to say that both books don't have their scary elements and scary moments. Where The Replacement had The Lady and The Cutter - one of my all-time favorite villains - The Space Between has Azrael and Dark Dreadful. There is definitely some scariness and twistedness, and it is delicious.]
I think once you've got a solid connection to the characters, everything else in a story can be nearly incidental. There are plenty of times we read a story and love it purely for the characters, even though there is nothing out of the ordinary in the plot or worldbuilding. Fortunately, Brenna doesn't slack when it comes to these things either. Her Hell and its inhabitants were really interesting and visual. I really liked the transition from Daphne's home in Hell to Truman's here on Earth, and the way the two came together. The use of religion and history, and the mythology that Yovanoff builds is absolutely perfect for the story, fully realized and interesting. And where some people do the whole gritty urban thing for shock value, Brenna's reads much more authentic and just a matter of course, in a sad way. It's an extension of her characters and their minds, and it worked brilliantly from that aspect. There is an icy realness to her writing, and a heartbreaking truth, always. Like she just reaches into the heart of things and lays them bare. There's no cloying sentimentality, no pandering for emotion. Her books are real and raw and lovingly executed, and that's why they always end up on my list of faves.
One thing, too, that was pleasantly surprising was the dual narration. I am not always a fan of multi-narrators because I think the story can seem disjointed or muddled. But getting both Daphne's and Truman's perspectives actually really worked and added dimension to the story. And there's this ominous feeling that comes from the "countdown" on Truman's chapters - each of Truman's chapters is headed with X-amount of days/hours, but the reader never knows what the countdown is counting down to until it happens... It was like having a steadily ticking clock in the background that you know is about to erupt in an alarm, and you don't know what the alarm is for, or when it will go off. It made it a bit unsettling and provided such wonderful tension. I actually felt anxious; I was so terrified of what was going to happen and then when it did -- I said at the time that Brenna ripped my heart out, waited a few beats, and then put it back in. I can't say any more than that, but man! She had a tight fist on my emotions, I'll give her that.
So. If I haven't convinced you that you need to read this by now, I'm not sure what I can say that will convince you. Oh, other than the fact that I'm giving away a copy... ;P
[If you're reading this after Nov. 5, 2011 - TOO LATE!](less)
Just to warn you: there really is no way to write a review of a 2nd book in a series without revealing some secrets from the first book. This is espec...moreJust to warn you: there really is no way to write a review of a 2nd book in a series without revealing some secrets from the first book. This is especially true where this series is concerned, so this review will contain spoilers for book one!
I mentioned in my review of The Poison Diaries that I liked it better after having read Nightshade. It brought some things together for me, but mostly I think it was because the ending to TPD takes such a strange turn that I think your mind needs time to adjust, and there just wasn't time before the book ended. I mean, yes, you've been somewhat prepared for talking plants from Weed's revelations, but then to actually have plants talking - and plotting murder and world domination - is just a little strange. It takes a big adjustment. A lot of willing suspension of disbelief. But by book 2, it almost seems natural. Partly, I think this is because not just poisonous plants are doing the talking. You start to get a feel for the different "personalities" of the plants, and they become more like characters. But I think it's also because of the way it's narrated - more in Weed's voice, and where Jessamine is concerned, she's no longer fevered, so it reads less...manic, I guess. Whatever the reason, it works now, and makes the ending of TPD go down a little better.
Where it seemed to touch on magical realism in book one, I think it takes a pretty firm turn into magical realism in Nightshade. It also goes really, really dark. Wood explores some pretty deep, scary waters for a YA book, which, coupled with the magical realist feel, is really interesting. When you think "dark" in YA, you tend to think emotional contemporary blahblah. This is a completely different kind of dark, a story of control and manipulation and completely losing oneself to it. It's very Gothic feeling, and I kept thinking as I was reading that it would make such a good, strange little movie. (You know, if you could figure out a way to make Oleander scary and not just silly onscreen.) It's told in that delicious car-crash-in-slow-mo way that just grips you and makes you certain that it's going to be a first-rate tragedy. [I mean Tragedy-capital-T; you know, the cosmic irony, world is against us, every step I take in what I think is the right direction makes everything worse...that type of thing.]
Part of what makes this work so well is the split narration between Jessamine, who is slowly losing herself with the help of Oleander, and Weed, who is coming into his own. I wasn't a big fan of the split narration in book one, but here it really works. There is good balance to their story arcs, and getting to see every false step from two angles, seeing it all plotted out by Oleander, and how successful he is at pulling the strings, really contributes to the Gothic tragedy feeling. I also just plain liked Weed's voice in this, so I was happy to be in his thoughts and have his world opened up more. He keeps it all together, but it's Jessamine who steals the show. I mentioned at the end of my TPD review that book 2 is definitely worth reading because Jessamine is kickass, and I meant that. She is...dark and dangerous and a complete 180 from the charmingly naive girl she was in the beginning. And what's more, it's believable. It's sometimes painful to watch, and you sometimes want to cheer for her and sometimes want to yell at her, and it all just works to push us toward an ending you can't help but fear.
As for the ending itself, I have to say I loved it. Now, this comes with a caution, because, just as in book one, I think this is the type of ending that may really piss people off. It is certainly not for fans of the cliff-hanger ending. But, going back to the movie comparison, the whole thing feels very episodic and it works for me. The feel of the ending is really haunting and an interesting blend of optimism and pessimism. It's perfectly in keeping with the darker tone of the book, and I respect it as a result. And I have to say, without giving anything away, the final image is just... just brilliant.
So if you've read book one and were on the fence about whether to continue the series, I would strongly urge it. It's really going some interesting places, and I think you'll like the two books almost as a set. If you haven't read book one, but ignored my spoilers warning and read this review, and now have your interest piqued (talking plants? Oleander? Tragedy?), I would strongly recommend picking up both books at the same time, so that you can head straight into Nightshade after finishing TPD. Don't worry, they're both quick reads...
There are always times when you think the concept of a book is so interesting and potentially awesome that you're sure you're going to be let down whe...moreThere are always times when you think the concept of a book is so interesting and potentially awesome that you're sure you're going to be let down when you read it. It's some little failsafe in our brains, preparing us for disappointment because we're pretty sure we're going to be let down. And then, when that doesn't happen, and we actually get what we are hoping for - there's this moment of shock. It's a little thrilling, actually. And it's all the more special for being rare. Thankfully - for me, at least - I Hunt Killers delivers one of those moments.
Barry Lyga gave me exactly what I was looking for. The Nature vs. Nurture debate is one of the most interesting to me, and in a story like this, where a boy is essentially being groomed to be the world's finest Serial Killer Extraordinaire by his, um - talented? - father, Nature vs. Nurture takes center stage. Jazz's father has been in jail for 4 years by the time the book opens, but Jazz can't really get out from under his shadow. He's been programmed to see the weaknesses in people, and his own superiority, and then to use that. Being in his head, the reader gets to see what a struggle it is for Jazz to have any kind of normalcy. He clings to the things that make him human because he's terrified that he's a ticking timebomb - he's just waiting for something to set him off. He tries so hard to remind himself to be normal, because he's so terrified that he's not. It's like N.vs.N. in a petri dish - a one-man psychological experiment in whether we really have any control over who we become.
Psychologically, this book could not have been any more what I wanted it to be. It was exactly what I was hoping for, unsettling and a little heartbreaking, fascinating and creepy. The doubt (both on Jazz's part and on the reader's, for Jazz) was just perfect. The way Jazz pushes people away and tests them to see if they'll finally give up on him - it's almost like a part of him is waiting for someone to give him permission. For someone important to him to show that they think he's hopeless, so that he can finally let go of the tension and the burden of trying not to be his dad, and just give in to what he perceives to be inevitable. He's so hyper-aware of everything, every advantage and disadvantage. Jazz, and the narration, was knowingly calculating, which is chilling on its own, but what's great is that it chills Jazz too - but not enough to stop him from doing what has to be done.
The tone, too, was exactly what I wanted. It's darkly humorous at times, and other times just plain dark, but it's prevented from being completely bleak by the human connections in Jazz's life. It's through them that you know Jazz isn't a lost-cause, because they see the humanity in Jazz that he's tortured himself into pretending doesn't exist. Through them, you know he has the potential to be loving, to be a good person, and you see the burdens he places on himself - and all the while, that good portion of his life is being constantly undermined by Jazz's impressions of himself and his fear that any good he does, any love he feels, is just an act. The blind his inner serial killer hides behind. It's fascinating.
And interlaced with all of this, there are snippets of things Jazz saw or did with his father, as well as snippets of narration from the current Lobo's Nod serial killer, which help escalate the tension and show what Jazz really is up against and why he's so haunted. The way these scenes from his past creep up on him and never let him have peace were a really nice layer to the story. All of it - the killer's obsession and plotting, Jazz's understanding of the horrors and his own calculation, his grandmother's craziness and his father's sociopathic glee - all of that combines to make it a really gripping read. And though it's gruesome, it's never gratuitous. Lyga eschews continual bloodbaths and cheap startles in favor of a layered psychological thriller that is far more chilling as a result.(less)
One of mybiggestselling points in any book is tension. I talk a lot in my reviews about tension, and generally it's because I'm talking about the lack...moreOne of my biggest selling points in any book is tension. I talk a lot in my reviews about tension, and generally it's because I'm talking about the lack of it. But what I mean when I talk about tension is a lot of things, actually. It's not just the internal tension in the story, between characters, say, or two factions. That's only part of it. When I'm talking about tension, I'm also talking about the way your gut reacts to a story. The best stories have tension you can actually feel. They cause an actual physical reaction inside of you, making you sit up straighter or curl in on yourself, feel butterflies or feel terror. They make your heart race or give you chills. They making reading a sensory experience, make you feel like you're more in the story. I could feel this story; the tension was beautiful.
This companion novel to Ship Breaker* has a very dark and hopeless atmosphere and is almost unrelenting in that darkness except that there are these bright moments to balance it: trust, love, companionship, hope - things that somehow manage to live on against the odds in the face of child soldiers and fanaticism and all manner of unspeakable atrocities. Don't get me wrong, nothing here is sugar-coated; the story remains incredibly dark, but not so relentlessly grim that you just can't bear to read it.
And the storytelling - the writing and tactics and plot devices - were very well done. This is a great example of shifting narrators that actually worked for me. In the past, I've talked about how this can be hit or miss for me, but this time it was a big hit. It's also a great example of anti-heroic characters that work and that still remain sympathetic and rootforable. Bacigalupi juggles things well and shifts seamlessly, and weaves each character's storylines together to make them more meaningful than they would be on their own. There were so many things that I stopped to read over, not for clarity but for the sheer power of it. It was sometimes breathtaking, but not in the way of any kind of beauty, really. More in the way that a punch to the gut is breathtaking. I just sometimes had to set the book in my lap and just linger over some things, process them or prepare myself for what I knew was coming. I love a book that engages me on this level, because it's rare enough on its own, and rarer still to have that last the whole way through the book.
It's fascinating from the dystopian/post-apocalyptic aspect, and I think those who have gotten used to the watered-down dystopias and post-apocalyptic books flooding the market lately will appreciate the vitality of this. Everything felt very critical, very authentic and very tenuous, with that skin-crawling layer that comes with well thought out dystopias. Vital, truly disturbing dystopias rely on things that could happen and/or do happen, and intelligently distill a future of what could be from what is. Good dystopias/PAs give you glimpses of insight into where everything went wrong, and then how they kept going wrong, and they shock your system with how easily it could all happen. Bacigalupi does this really well, sort of meditating on the choices we make and their snowball effects.
I don't know if there will be a third companion book, but there are loose ends in The Drowned Cities that could leave it open for one. I don't mention this as a drawback, however, as I think the loose ends were done in a good, believable way, and I like to have stories like this left up in the air a little bit. It gives something to discuss, something to think over and work out. This is not the type of book to have everything come together completely in the end, or to have a Happy Ever After for every character; it would have felt inauthentic if this had been the case, and a lot of the power of the story would have been lost as a result. As it is, the story is bittersweet, not bow-wrapped, and that's exactly as it should be.
*Note: To my understanding, The Drowned Cities is a loose companion to Ship Breaker, so if you haven't read Ship Breaker don't let that stop you - it didn't stop me! And I never felt like I was missing anything or not comprehending the scope of things; it definitely works well as a stand-alone, but makes me even more excited for when I finally do read Ship Breaker... Also, this is marketed to YA but there's no real YAness about it. It's just a book, well-written and as such I think will appeal as much or more to adults as to the teens it's marketed to.
Curious about The Drowned Cities? Read the first 11 chapters here for free! I doubt you'll want to put it down...(less)
This was one of my more highly anticipated books of last year (because hello? Fairy tale freak. This is not news to anyone.), and it's sort of shameful that I am just now posting a written review. (Though yes, I did have a mini vlogged one here. But still.) I feel like I've talked about this book a lot, but nothing's all official-like until I write about it. So.
This was my favorite Jackson Pearce book to date. I've enjoyed everything I've read by her, but there's always been something a teensy bit off for me, especially in her endings. As short as her books are, they seem to lose steam a bit at the end, which is disappointing on its own, of course, but more so considering how much I enjoy them up to the steam-loss. But while Fathomless isn't perfect by any means, its come the closest to being exactly what I wanted from it. It has this really good dark streak that is perfectly suited to both the original tale and to the world Pearce has set up in her retellings series. There's this quality of a car crash in remarkably slow motion, a great sense of foreboding over the whole story, that creates excellent tension, and Pearce uses that to get at the unhappiness and emptiness at the core of The Little Mermaid - and is it weird to say I was so very happy to see that? This aspect is one of the things I potentially love most about a fairy tale retelling (especially one as dark as TLM(1)), but it's also often one of the most disappointing and neglected aspects. Modern audiences are so out of touch with original fairy tales that retellings that make use of the actual endings and tones are considered novel and creative, rather than traditional. We've been Disneyfied, and I'm on a tangent, so I'm going to rein myself in and just wrap that up by saying, I love it when a retelling is more traditionally bleak(2)... Fortunately Pearce capitalizes on it, to which I say THANK GOD. This is what I wanted from a TLM retelling. It's a little off. It's a little disturbing. Perfect.
A big part of what makes this work is the characters. The sisters and the romance are means to an end, but the "3" main characters (one of them being a 2-in-1 deal...) are what make this story what it is. How they interact with/react to each other and their colliding worlds, and how they use each other to make sense of their lives - and in a desperate attempt to break away from the things holding them back - is what gives this story that car-crash feeling. It's impossible for them to all get what they want, to all have their HEA(3), but you're made to care for each of them, damaged as they are. And so you know pain is coming, and it's simply a matter of degrees... It leaves you a little conflicted(4) because you both see flaws and feel sympathy for each of them, which makes things excellently ambiguous. Add to this an overall dark tone and sort of desperate, lonely, magical atmosphere with not all of the loose ends tied up, and you've got a book nicely calculated to make for Happy Mistys.(5)
This complements the rest of the series very well, but can also be read completely as a standalone, which is excellent for readers wanting who've been wanting to pick these up, or even just Fathomless specifically, but weren't sure about making a series committment. Though all of the stories are linked, and they will expand the readers understanding of the rest, they work perfectly as potential companion novels to be read on their own. You don't have to feel tied down by them, or obligated to read them (to know what's going on or to have closure), which is something I really like from a series of this type. So if you've liked Pearce in the past or have been wanting to give her a try, I think you can't really go wrong with Fathomless.
1. Originally, of course. I love me some Alyssa Milano-Ariel as much as the next 80s kid, but in case you didn't know, Disney changed the story a whole lot. Like, it's actually a real bummer... 2. Ok, nothing's going to keep me from sounding weird, so whatever. I like the sad, tortured feels.†
3. Happily Ever After. 4. Unless you don't root for non-humans, maybe? I'm not always Team Human. 5. 1 out of 1 Mistys agree. † What's this? A note within a note? Yeah, I only like those feels in fairy tales. Add 'em to some YA PNR and I might have to cut you.(less)
If I don't shout maybe I can save myself, save the rest of us. But I don't know how I can just look on and watch a murder. Can you do that? Can you look on and do nothing? It feels like I ought to do something. It feels like all of this was because we all just stood by and did nothing, in the before time, in the time when we had every flipping day to sort out all the Connors and all the Jases and all the Lucases ever born.
I went into this with some trepidation, because I think we'd all agree, this is a tricky subject to take on. To make this powerful and meaningful, to show the horror of the situation, but also any hope - slim hope, slim humanity - to avoid sensationalism and finger-pointing...it all just seemed like too much to ask. And briefly in the beginning, I was worried that it was going to be too much to ask. But Mussi somehow pulls it off, despite all of the times it could have gone wrong. Siegeis powerful and effecting and so very, very horrific, but I never felt like Mussi was just going for shock-value or trying to fulfill a quota on bleak atrocities.
But my god, her success with Siege makes this a hard review to write. When I finished the book - in the middle of the night, mind you - I wanted nothing more than to just get up and record a vlog for you guys, a sort of impressions video, 1/2 review, 1/2 discussion. Because frankly, I needed to talk it out. But as it was the middle of the night, and as I was essentially a shattered mess, that didn't seem like the best idea. But now I'm stuck wondering how do I write about this? How do I discuss this without being raw, and without giving too much away?
What makes this book work so well is Leah Jackson, the smarter-and-braver-than-she-could-have-ever-realized main character. The way the story is filtered through her experiences - who she is, her need to help and fix and save and live - and her fear that her brother may somehow be involved, is what makes the story so powerful. Mussi evolves Leah's character very well throughout the story, from the beginning panic and confusion, through her disgust and her questioning and examining, and all of her realizations and revelations; Leah grows tremendously in a very condensed time frame, and the reader is led along at break-neck speed, thinking the same thoughts Leah does at the same time she thinks them. Leah's adrenaline practically drips off the page. This is a visceral read; it gets you in the guts. My heart pounded - literally pounded - reading this. That just doesn't happen to me. I get butterflies when something is really good, yes, but heart-pounding, physical, nervous anxiety is a rare one for me. And of course the way I felt completely gutted in the end... there was that. All of this happens through Leah and her somewhat stream of consciousness narration, and it makes for a really compelling read.
But this is part of what will make it a very difficult book for some people to read. There is no break from Leah's voice, and she is in the thick of things right from the start. There are no little side jaunts with other characters, no forays into the outside world for reactions - nothing to give the reader a break from the relentless anxiety and stress that Leah is under, both physically and mentally. Leah witnesses a lot of things no one should have to witness, and is forced to contemplate things or act on things that no one should have to face. I wouldn't call Siege gratuitous, necessarily, and I don't think Mussi descended into sensationalism and useless violence, but she doesn't flinch away from the true horrors of a situation like this. But I think everything is done with an eye to being honest to the story and the situation, and (more importantly) to the whole of the situation, all of the little things that lead to something like this. Most readers will know within pages - if not even before they start the book - whether Siege is the right type of read for them, but for those that can handle it, I think they'll find it a really compelling read with a lot of fascinating gray area to explore. And I think they'll find it surprisingly - perhaps uncomfortably - relatable.
I will say, I was really, really leery of the use of government presence in this. There came a point early on where I started to have suspicions, and as I was slowly proven right, I kept asking myself whether this weakened the story or strengthened it. I don't want to give anything away, but there's an element of the Grand Government Conspiracy here, and I'm still not sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, it (sadly, scarily) is believable for the world that has been set up. Even more sad and scary, is that there are definitely people who believe these Grand Government Conspiracies are happening here and now in relation to shootings. Seriously. Google "Sandy Hook conspiracy theories" and you'll see what I mean. So even though this particular instance is believable and works for the story, and even though it sort of parallels the way people search to impose meaning on senseless acts, I could never really decide if I felt it was a necessary element, and whether it added or detracted from the central issues of the story. It worked in the end, and maybe even won me over; I think Mussi certainly handled it better than many would. But I think there are readers who are going to find it one thing too much in a book that already begins as a struggle for some to read.
The only other thing I want to touch on - and that, only briefly - is the ending. I really can't say much because I don't want to give a single itty, bitty thing away, but I think some readers will be very bothered by at least one aspect of the ending - and really, there are a few to choose from. Personally, I was not bothered, and it's one of the things that had me sitting up late into the night, talking myself down from the book, and thinking that it would make for a really intriguing group or book club read. In some respects, I think things happened in the only way they really could, but at the same time, the end leaves so much to talk about and think over, and - if you're brave enough - feel, and after all the stress and tension of the book, these last few twists of the knife might be a bit too much for some readers. Personally, I think feeling it is good; being bothered by it is good. This is a book to be discussed, not reviewed.
[And I'm going to be completely honest with you and tell you that, not only did I have a really good cry when I finished (an interesting book-cry, not just sad, but sort of drained and hollowed out), but I also teared up a few times writing this review, as it all came back to me. It's not just the things that happen in the book, but the way Mussi makes you feel, and the way a story like this - at least for me, an American woman who hears about these things far too often, and who for a long time intended to be a teacher - really hits home.] (less)
Reminded me A LOT of those Alvin Schwartz Scary Stories books; had a similar feel and those twist endings, brought back what I loved about those as a...moreReminded me A LOT of those Alvin Schwartz Scary Stories books; had a similar feel and those twist endings, brought back what I loved about those as a kid. Wanted a little more, but still really liked it, and LOVED the art. Full review to come.(less)