3.5 I've said many, many times before that I think Kiersten White is a good funk-breaker author. I look forward to her stories, especially when I have...more3.5 I've said many, many times before that I think Kiersten White is a good funk-breaker author. I look forward to her stories, especially when I have a lot on my plate, because I know I'll tear through them, they'll keep me entertained, and they'll jumpstart a good reading kick. They just get me in the zone; she has this quality to her writing that draws you along and makes you keep turning pages - even when it's flawed, it goes down like candy.
But surprisingly, The Chaos of Stars didn't quite get there for me. It was still candy, I still devoured it pretty quickly, but it was like the candy in the vending machine that wasn't quite what you were craving, but you got anyway because at least it was chocolate...
My August Rewind (up late, but better late than pregnant... Err, never. Better late than never.
THE BOOKS: The Fairest of Them All| Carolyn Turgeon [re...more My August Rewind (up late, but better late than pregnant... Err, never. Better late than never.
THE BOOKS: The Fairest of Them All | Carolyn Turgeon [review] Mansfield Park | Jane Austen (obvs) Among the Janeites | Deborah Yaffe [review] The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. | Adelle Waldman [review] Austentatious | Alyssa Goodnight [review](less)
Err, I didn't realize the third book was out. Scratch that, I didn't realize there was a third book; I still haven't read the 2nd. As much as I loved...moreErr, I didn't realize the third book was out. Scratch that, I didn't realize there was a third book; I still haven't read the 2nd. As much as I loved book one, I need to get on that.(less)
The Archivedhas one of the most interesting concepts I've seen in awhile, vaguely reminiscent of theSilence in the Library/Forest of the DeadDoctor Wh...moreThe Archived has one of the most interesting concepts I've seen in awhile, vaguely reminiscent of the Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead Doctor Who story arc, but for the YA, book/library-loving crowd. The building for Mackenzie's world - the Archive, the Narrows, the Outer, Returns, all of it - is really just spot on and fascinating. Some may find it confusing - there is certainly a lot left to the imagination, the potential for a lot of questions - but most will become completely entranced by the very thought of the world. I like a story with tough choices, a story that lacks easy answers, and I think Schwab played with this well. Also, Big Bonus: the mystery is very well done. The right amount is revealed at the right time, and even though I generally always know exactly where a mystery is going within 1/4 of the book, this time I was left wondering, and when I was right, I wasn't sure if I was. The action is also very nicely played out - not too much, not too little, and coming at the perfect time. The story as a while is paced and plotted really well.
I really liked Mackenzie - actually, I really liked all of the characters, even the not-so-good ones. They were all pretty full, pretty complete. They all seemed to have big personalities, even if we only see them in glimpses - they were distinct, which is impressive when you're talking about an entire cast. I loved watching Mackenzie navigate this secret world, and balance people who know with people who don't; the juggling act she has to maintain day in and day out lends a great tension to the story, and sympathy for Mac, that really worked. I also really liked watching her struggle to come to terms with grief, and to have burgeoning questions and worries, and how the sort of philosophical ramifications of the Archive come to play in her life.
I will say, though, that I do wish this could have been dwelt on more. There was a fair amount of introspection, and her thoughts felt right to me (and very consistent with her character), but I always felt like we were so close to a really powerful statement that just didn't come. Maybe it's because I was spoiled by the sheer beauty and effectiveness of the writing in Schwab's debut, The Near Witch, but it just felt like there was something missing. I was never able to delve as deeply as I would have liked. (Note: even though I did miss the lyrical style of The Near Witch, it would not have fit this story or Mackenzie, and I applaud Schwab for knowing that and for writing in another style just as well as she wrote in her debut.)
All in all, The Archived makes a a good stand-alone, but it certainly leaves you wanting more, which makes me really glad it's not a stand-alone (unless Goodreads is lying to me...). It feels as if the surface has barely been scratched, and there are some really murky areas I think readers (including myself) are going to want to dive into. Because Mac was raised in this, and because she idolizes her grandfather so, she doesn't really think to question anything until close to the end, when she starts to realize just how little she knows. Until then, secrecy is just part of the job, and all of the HUGE questions are still waiting to be asked. Now, knowing what she knows and seeing what she's seen, I think Mackenzie is going to be a force to be reckoned with.
So yes, I know we've still got quite a wait on this one, but I think you wouldn't go amiss to pick upThe Archived - I think you'll find it well worth your wait.
Marissa Meyer's debut, Cinder, made mylist of faves in 2011, so of course I was really looking forward to the second book in the Lunar Chronicles ser...moreMarissa Meyer's debut, Cinder, made my list of faves in 2011, so of course I was really looking forward to the second book in the Lunar Chronicles series, Scarlet - especially 'cause LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD ZOMG! Ahem. Excuse me. LRRH is one of my favorite tales for a number of reasons - not least of which is because of how really fricken disturbing it is - and I love to see what people make of it when they retell it. And though I think Cinder still has a (cyborg) leg up for sheer uniqueness, for the most part, Scarlet was thoroughly engaging and happy-making, just like its predecessor.
I talked a bit in my review of Cinder about how I love when a fairy tale retelling can stand on its own - when the original fairy tale elements are clearly there, but the story isn't mired in them. Cinder did this really well, and fortunately Scarlet stands on its own as well. I think with LRRH this is a little harder to do; I mean, a red cap or red hair, a trip to/search for grandma, a wolf of any kind - the barest whiff of any of these screams Little Red Riding Hood to people. We're used to rags-to-riches stories, so it sometimes escapes a heavy Cinderella parallel, but with LRRH, it's harder to not be obvious. (Am I making any sense?) But I think Meyer uses the fairy tale elements judiciously (and wisely, judging from the changes she made, which she highlights in her guest post at A Backwards Story), and though the LRRH-ness is always there, it never overwhelms the story. In this version, Red (aka Scarlet Benoit) and Wolf (aka, um...Wolf) retain some measure of their fairy tale aspects, but they each stand on their own quite nicely. I really, really liked both characters quite a bit (though not always together, though I'll get to that). Scarlet is strong, smart and fierce, and I couldn't help but love her. Wolf is enigmatic, a bit dangerous, but charming, and has a slight Bad Boy tang, but without the unsavory aftertaste (Wolf he may be, and Alpha he may be, but an Alpha A-hole he is not, and Hallelujah for that). The more minor characters are fantastic as well - the old familiar ones who pop up again, as well as the new additions. Meyer crafts great characters for readers to love and/or love to hate.
The one problem I had, though, was sort of character-related: there are a lot of them. It's not that it's ever confusing, or that the cast of characters is even all that huge. The problem lies in the fact that they each have to have their time in the spotlight: there are multiple narrators/POVs, multiple plot-lines going on, and as a result, it sometimes felt like the focus was split. Cinder got an entire book to herself, but Scarlet has to share, which makes me worried for Cress and Winter. Now, this is tricky, because I love Cinder, and I would have been disappointed if she didn't have a part in this (and I liked her part in this, truly). Also, I think there would have been mutiny if Cinder didn't have a part in this, because hello? book one's cliffhanger... But it's hard to build as much tension and make readers care as much for the new characters - and any romance that may be developing - when they're giving up a lot of their screen time to everybody else. I loved Scarlet and Wolf, but as for loving them together, I think I mostly did because I was supposed to, and not necessarily because I was given no choice but to - there are some excellent moments of tension and building chemistry, but there's not enough there yet to make me love their love, or whatever may come. (Especially given the time frame of the book.)
Now, this is not in any way to say that I don't see chemistry there, or that I didn't like either of them, because that would be totally false. The chemistry was palpable, and I loved Scarlet and Wolf almost as much as Cinder and Kai - just not as swoon-worthy couple (yet). But I can see it getting there, and I certainly liked what each brought to the story, not just in themselves, but in the way their characters and backgrounds expanded the world of the story. Each brought new pieces of information to the table that embellished the world and added to the understanding of the Lunars, their powers, and Queen Levana's endgame. The story grows nicely as a result, and Meyer has set up a strong basis for where the series is going, making me very eager for Cress and Winter, which frankly, can't come out soon enough. And on a side note: I'd sure love to see these made into films; I have a feeling they could be pretty kickass. (less)
I loved the Anna Dressed in Bloodduology. I have more than a tiny obsession with mythology. I harbor a bit of a girlcrush on Kendare Blake.* Kendare Blak...moreI loved the Anna Dressed in Blood duology. I have more than a tiny obsession with mythology. I harbor a bit of a girlcrush on Kendare Blake.* Kendare Blake wrote a modern mythology retelling.
Sounds like a recipe for a book I could love, which generally means I won't, because the world is funny like that ha ha ha. But fortunately, this was one of those cases of me loving a book just as much as I was hoping to. I absolutely loved Blake's modern take on Greek mythology, the Trojan war and the Twilight of the Gods. All the petty jealousies, rivalries and cavalier attitudes of these familiar dying gods translated well to a modern setting, and Athena's growing shame over who they've all been - and whether they deserve their fates and afflictions - brings a much-needed humanness. Yes, it's missing some of the humor and lightness - and surprisingly, some of the gore - that characterized Anna, but honestly, I respected that. I want a tone and style that suits the story, not the same thing rehashed a million times with a different title and characters. Blake gave us two voices, Athena's and Cassandra's, and stayed true to those voices, and it works.
The alternating points of view worked for me, which is something that's always really dicey. I love the idea of alternating POVs, but I often don't like the execution. Even when it's pulled off admirably, I don't always think it's the right choice for the story, but in this case, I do. I can't really picture not getting both Athena's and Cassandra's stories in this way; I loved each and thought each was needed, both for contrast and for creating the whole picture. Cassandra is strong as a modern girl, and their two stories, hers and Athena's, act in tandem - as one becomes a little more human, one becomes a little more cold and god-like. And you know how normally when there are multiple POVs in a story, you sort of pick a favorite and can't wait to get back to it every time it switches? I actually had that feeling with both, which was interesting. It's "I can't wait to see what happens next" x 2. But it wasn't just Athena and Cassandra that drew me in; I liked seeing how other characters from the myths have changed and grown - and how they've stayed the same.
Some may think Antigoddess feels longish or repetitive, but I actually thought everything was needed and fit the story, and gave us time to get to know Athena and the gods. Even when it's circling the same ground, it feels like it's building towards something big - and Blake is not one to shy away from ripping the reader's heart out and then showing it to them, bloody and barely beating. [I both really respect her for this, btw, and want to shake her for it. She makes the same decisions I would make, but look, I'm used to my cruelty. I'm not used to having it turned back on me...] All told, I can't wait for book 2 and seeing more gods crop up, more betrayals and weaknesses exploited, more getting in touch with human side and fortifying the godly side, etc. If you liked Anna (or thought you'd probably like Anna, but were afraid of the gore...), or like mythology or retellings, I'd definitely recommend you pick this up.
*But the restraining order hasn't gone into effect yet, so it's cool.(less)
I have this goal of taking notes on a book when I finish it, to make reviewing it easier. I know myself; I willjump straight into the next book, and t...moreI have this goal of taking notes on a book when I finish it, to make reviewing it easier. I know myself; I will jump straight into the next book, and things will get muddled, and then I'll forget half the things I want to say if I don't take notes. Sometimes my note-taking is really lax, but sometimes I love my nerdy, essay-writing self for being a note-taker, because then when I'm being a lazy ass and putting off writing a review (for no other reason than, say, a Firefly marathon. Again.), I'll at least have something to look over to refresh my memory and make me actually write the damn thing.
My review for Touch of Power is one of those, a thank-god-for-notes review. Why? Because I read it just before Christmas, all gung-ho about another Maria book and wanting to get up a review asap. But I mean, hello? Christmas and New Years, it's not like I was going to get anything done. And, um...now it's May. So that's how that works out for me.
But it was funny to me a bit when I looked back over my notes. Sometimes things get a little crappier in hindsight, and sometimes they get a little rosier. I think Maria's books tend to get rosier for me, and that's because I always have issues with the beginnings of them. I mean, take Poison Study, her debut and one of my favorite books, period. A friend recommended it to me, and within the first 30 pages or so, I was emailing her and asking her whyyyyy and was about to take it back to the library, until suddenly - it clicked. And I loved it rabidly from then on out. And I look back on it now as nearly flawless. The bumpy beginning never even happened. Looking over my notes for Touch of Power, I'm discovering that I've done it again. Or Maria has. She's made me forget that in the beginning, I was writing myself notes like this:
Maybe I've been watching too much Community, but Avry's narration is reminding me of Abed. It feels...almost meta-fictiony, like a cheesy voice over. It's not natural.
Maria said Poison Study took her about a decade, and I think it shows. I think she needs that length of time to stew and perfect and produce something with depth and originality. None of the others have come close to matching PS, and each seems to get farther from it...
God, I was a bitch fussy-pants. But here's the thing - the as-I-go notes stop after that. All the rest are post-book, and that's because I didn't put it down to make a note after that point. Like Poison Study, it clicked and suddenly everything was magic. Now don't get me wrong, I think the decade Maria spent on PS still shows and it is my favorite of her works without a doubt. Touch of Power doesn't quite measure up to that, but I'm okay with that. I don't expect other books to measure up to my favorites. Poison Study was fresh to me, and this is never not predictable. It skews younger and simpler, but I don't necessarily find this a bad thing. I'm okay with a foregone conclusion because sometimes it just makes sense. This was still well told and engaging, even if you could see what was coming, and even if there was a bit of a mustache-twirler-type villain.
The simple fact is, Maria writes an engaging story with rootforable characters and engrossing world-building. Always. I shouldn't doubt that because she's shown me time and again that if I just quit being a bitch fussy-pants and give in, I will be entertained and I will be very eager for the next installment of whatever it is she's writing. Ever. Period. Her romances are stomach-fluttery and swoony without being sickening; her heroines are kick-ass by human. Her tension is - my god, it's tense. Everything is always so tense! I love it! I'm using exclamation points!
Maybe she's some kind of wizard. I really don't know. But whatever it is, she's got it, and even if it doesn't always shine as brightly as one may hope, it still always shines. She writes books that make you want to recommend them to people, books you talk about and push. That says a lot to a book-lover. So if you haven't picked up one of her series yet, you should. You just should.(less)
This review has been in the making for ages. It's kind of ridiculous how long it's taken me to write it - to the point that I was wondering if I'd hav...moreThis review has been in the making for ages. It's kind of ridiculous how long it's taken me to write it - to the point that I was wondering if I'd have to read the book again before I could - because it's hard to know what to say. Part of me just wants to say: Get it; read it. Part of me wants to say: A.S King should already be on your auto-buy list. But how else to talk about this complex, weird, painful, triumphant book without giving away some of its magic?
I guess I'll start with Lucky. I love Lucky Linderman as a narrator, and I think nearly everyone will. He's very relatable and rootforable, and his deceptively calm way of narrating just really works. And the pace at which things are revealed by Lucky is just damn near perfect. He's just this really well-designed gateway into what can be a very difficult (technically and emotionally) story. On the surface, his story is about bullying and self-worth, but it would be too easy to write it off as just those things, because the story is more complex than that, and Lucky is more complex than that - Lucky doesn't exist as just a victim of bullying, he is not defined purely in terms of what is done to him, and this story explores that and teaches Lucky that.
I normally talk about WSOD (willing suspension of disbelief) in stories when it doesn't work - when an author doesn't quite pull it off, and I'm not really able to suspend my disbelief. But when I am able to - when it's successful - it normally isn't addressed because it seems so natural. But I want to make a point to talk about it here because I think King's writing really drives this home - the entire concept and presentation of this story requires a huge WSOD, but it's done in such a way that you almost don't even need to be willing - it just happens, you just go with it, and before you know it, you're like, "Yeah, talking ants, state-shaped scabs, mother = squid/father = turtle, real-world dream-travels back to Vietnam to chat with your MIA/POW grandpa. Of course." It all just seems like such a completely logical way of seeing the world around you, and dealing with that world, that the reader's willing suspension is not only never broken, but it's not even really threatened. That's a pretty impressive feat in a story like this, which brings me to:
A.S. King should be on your auto-buy list. She has such an unflinching quality to her writing that I absolutely love. Combine that with a magical realism streak (yay!), and it's pretty much a guarantee that I'm going to like what she writes. But I don't think that's just me; I know magical realism isn't something that everybody is comfortable with (it's weird, it ignores boundaries, it makes you uncomfortable), but King uses it judiciously and she makes it work. She confronts things, and she does so in a unique, powerful way that affects the reader. She takes on a topic that many have tackled before (bullying and self-worth, and finding your place in the world and among your family, etc.), but she does so in what is very uniquely her own way. She also understands how to find a balance between a "normal" contemporary story and something a little more weird and quirky, so that fans of contemporary find themselves reading something more challenging in presentation, and fans of weirder stuff find themselves enjoying the contemporary story they may normally forego - both get genre-shaken, and I think that's a good thing.
And I...I don't want to say too much more than that, really, because I don't want to give even a tiny bit of the story away. Every little thing, down to the tiniest ant, has its place in this story, and sometimes those tiny things will creep up on you out of nowhere and hit you so hard that it takes your breath away - and that is the type of story that needs to be readunderstood experienced. (less)
There's always a worry when you're really looking forward to a book that it's going to disappoint you. And not just disappoint you, but crushyou simpl...moreThere's always a worry when you're really looking forward to a book that it's going to disappoint you. And not just disappoint you, but crush you simply because you were so looking forward to it. I was really looking forward to this. Like, probably more than anything else this year. And thank you Sweet Baby Cheesus, it was worth every bit of my anticipation and book-coveting.
Sometimes you pick up a book and you know, you just know that you are probably going to end up reading every thing that author ever writes, and buying some of it without even knowing what it's about. I'm putting Laini Taylor on that short-list. She is a wordsmith, and though yes, there are times when I feel it's too much and it's over-written, the fact is that most of the time, I am glorying in every word, every single syllable, every dead-on beautiful line of it, and feeling half-jealous that I didn't write each particular turn of phrase - and I'm not even an author. It's that type of writing. Not flawless, but gorgeous.
But it's one thing to write something well, and I do believe good writing can make an otherwise mediocre story worthwhile and in some cases, even a favorite. But this is a good story, too! It could so easily have been another drop in the overflowing bucket of sameness that paranormal YA has become. But it's like Laini Taylor looked at all of the books out there that have done star-crossed love and supernatural elements and said "How can I do this right?" So much of it - I'm sorry to say - is forgettable. It's been done (often not all that well). It's beige. Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a pop of raspberry pink in a sea of beige. (Or a blue feather mask, I guess.) It stands out from the crowd because the writing and the story are so good. She's taken a story that people could say "It's been done" about, and she's made it better. She's set the benchmark; it's one-upmanship at its finest, to which I say kudos.
It has that epic quality that a lot of authors try for - love, heartbreak, betrayal, loss, hope - and it actually hits the mark. It very rarely feels grandiose or melodramatic. It feels organic and true, even when it's treading very close to those YA books that make you roll your eyes. It's all backed up with real emotion and thinking characters, and it's lovely. There's heft and meat to every bit of it. It's palpable.
I am absolutely enamored of the world-building in this. Most of the book takes place on Earth (in Prague) and the scene is set really well. But by the time a second world comes into play (and I'm not going to talk too much about that), even though a majority of the book takes place in Prague, the 2nd world was so visual and so fully realized that I forgot Earth was ever even a part of it. I became so immersed in this other world and it's creatures and cultures that it felt as if it had made up the majority of the book and the world-building. The shift was effortless and almost all-consuming. I loved it. And the mythology that supports it all is thorough and spot on. It plays off of what we think of as angels and devils, and twists it with the addition of what they think of each other, and the reality of what they really are. Even at its most fantastic, it is still very human and relatable, grounded in what we know and expect from human nature. It all coalesces into something that feels very real and fraught with history and pain and, most importantly, hope. Very, very well done.
And then you cap it all off with romance(ish). This is where so many books of this type tank. I very rarely buy into romances, especially those of the sudden and all-consuming variety. This one especially could have easily missed the mark. It has the pang of great tragedy; Karou and Akiva are star-crossed loves and all that jazz, and I am heartless and merciless in matters such as this. If I roll my eyes (if I even blink especially adamantly) it's over. But they are not star-crossed in a woe-is-me, self-centered way, but in that layered and believable way where there are legitimate things, prejudices and betrayals and pain and loss, standing in their way. It's a physical presence between them, and it's crushing. You feel so much for them, and you try to have hope, but you also have delicious doubt, and what does that give us but TENSION and OH MY GOD I talk about lack of tension in so many reviews and how it makes the reader feel cheated and here is someone nailing it and LAINI TAYLOR WILL YOU MARRY ME?