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...
Previously: Saw the cover for this tonight at Written in the Mitten. Gorgeous (though now all I'll be able to think about when I see it was the discus...more Previously: Saw the cover for this tonight at Written in the Mitten. Gorgeous (though now all I'll be able to think about when I see it was the discussions it caused on horse and dragon proportions and genetics (ish)...) =D And then: Just for my own records, my copy has 320 pages, not 240. 320 glorious pages. This is 2 lovely, perfect books in a row now; I am decidedly in Merrie Haskell's corner.
Review: A couple of days ago, I gushed about The Princess Curse, which is sort of loosely connected to Handbook for Dragon Slayers. Though it may not be a fairy tale retelling as The Princess Curse was, it has a lot in common with that charming middle grade book that took over my brain. They have similar worlds (separated by some centuries and location, yes, but with a generalized medieval Easter European setting), and there are also subtle little "easter eggs" that link the two books more fully. Both feel complete as stand-alones, but also work as companion pieces in the larger framework of Haskell's two (so far) apprentice stories. But what they share most strongly is their excellent, plucky, admirable main characters.
I talked a bit in my review of TPC about how Reveka was exactly what I wanted - and needed - in a female protagonist as a kid, and how she's the type I still immediately fall for now. Tilda, the main character of Handbook, is much the same. Haskell has a way with plucky, awesome characters, girls with strength and determination and spirit, and a passion to make them memorable. You can't help but root for and love Haskell's characters; they're fresh and vibrant and thoughtful. And most importantly to me, they're smart - not in an obnoxious, precocious way, but there is a subtle layer to both characters that tells the reader (ie mostly young girls) that these girls are smart and talented, and they use those smarts and talents to follow their passion, and that's what makes them awesome. At the risk of sounding boring and cliched myself, they're role models - but they're not boring and cliched. [See what I mean about how Haskell's books were exactly what I wanted/needed when I was a kid?]
On a similar note, Handbook's main character, Tilda, has a clubfoot. This is a painful-enough affliction on its own, but in medieval times when modern medicine and pain relief are hard to come by, if not non-existent, and you're a princess who's supposed to be seen as strong leader material? Needless to say, this is a huge plot point for Tilda, and I thought it was handled really well. Tilda suffers, but she isn't a whiny martyr; it does have an undeniable influence on who she is and how she reacts to the world around her - and how she expects the world around her to react to her, but in the end, she won't let it define her. I thought Haskell made a lot of smart choices in the handling of Tilda's disability, and the fact that there's no magical resolution was an excellent choice for me. Not only does it make her more relatable and sympathetic, and add a great deal of "interestingness" to her character, but to have a magical, fantastic story that doesn't wave a wand and do away with any "unsavory" bits is exactly what I would want, and what I think is needed. Having a clubfoot doesn't make Tilda less, and though she has this brief moment where she thinks (hopes, longs for, wonders if) maybe she could be magically cured, I think it was an excellent choice on Haskell's part not to.
There's a lot going on in this story...many, many plot points, and to some it may feel chaotic or confusing. I never found it too much to keep track of, and I think the points played well off of one another, but I can see why, to some, it may make it harder to follow, or make them feel like the story was rushed or scattered. But to me, it's a sprawling adventure story in that grand way that you only seem to get in kids books, and reading it brings back some of that irrepressible eagerness and energy that comes with being a kid. As a middle-grader, I would have been completely engrossed and would, without a doubt, have fallen in love with Haskell's world, her characters, and their adventures. As always, highly recommended for those who like middle grade, have middle graders, or want a fun historical fantasy/adventure with a strong, likable female lead.(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.
INITIALLY: Whoa, wait a minute. More September? Woot! Edit: Just read the description, and Holy Effing Velocipedes, I want this NOW.
AND THEN: What can I...moreINITIALLY: Whoa, wait a minute. More September? Woot! Edit: Just read the description, and Holy Effing Velocipedes, I want this NOW.
AND THEN: What can I say that I didn't already say in my review of The Girl Who Circumnavigated? When I finished the first book, it felt complete. That's not to say there wasn't room for more, but it felt like it easily could have been a somewhat open-ended stand-alone book, and I was happy about that. But that doesn't mean I wasn't tickled to death to hear there was a book two - and that it dealt with September's shadow! In fact, I wasn't even nervous going into this that it was going to be a lesser book than the first, as I often am with sequels and 2nd-in-a-series books. I went into this fairly confident that Valente would masterfully avoid the Sophomore Slump, and I think she did. The Girl Who Fell is just as strong as its predecessor, but with a with a more mature, more insightful September at the helm.
Now, I think some people are going to find this a little...hmm - harder? to connect to; I think they'll find it less whimsical and a bit darker, and September a little more serious, and they may interpret that as the story losing some of its magic and charm. But I don't think that's the case, and I personally found it the opposite. I think it's simply that things have changed. September is older now (as our narrator coyly tells us, she now has the beginnings of a heart), and her perception and experiences are different. She's more thoughtful - and more hesitant - which I think for some readers will mean the magic is starting to die. Which in the scope of all things fairy is generally true - the older you get, the more it slips away... But September is still September, even though everyone around her is a shadow of what they're supposed to be (literally), and I think she still comes through very strongly. I actually really really love that September is starting to grow up (as much as we may not want her two); this makes her so much more authentic, AND ALSO this means that a younger audience reading this can potentially grow alongside September and relate to her, and that gives me Happy Reader Shivers.
But even if September is a little older, a little wiser, and a little more introspective, the fact remains that she's still September and she's still going to do Septemberly things and approach the world (both "real" and Fairyland) as only September would. And frankly, Fairyland-Below = awesome. It expands the world of Fairyland really nicely; familiar characters popped up in unexpected ways, and new characters crept in - many of them fleetingly so, as in the way of the first book, but what's so wonderful is that even the minor characters who just pop up and disappear are never confusing. Instead, they make the world full - everything has a place, everything has a purpose, and everything comes into play.
The struggle with the shadows and with Halloween (the Hollow Queen, ie September's sort-of-stolen shadow) are just fantastic. I loved that nothing is ever easy/black and white. I love that you begin to feel for the shadows and for Halloween just as much as you do for their tangible counterparts. I LOVE the idea of everyone's shadows just hanging out, being a part of you but never really getting to experience, never getting credit, never getting to do their own thing. The bittersweet, melancholic streak I talked about (and loved!) in Circumnavigated;is stronger in Fell; (shortest yet), and perfectly suited to Fairyland Below, AND to where all of the characters are now; it's not just September who has grown and changed, but all of the characters - even some you may not expect. There are FACETS. I like FACETS. Makes everything shiny.
Basically, I doubt anyone who liked Circumnavigated will dislike Fell; those that found the beginning of the first slow moving will find the same here, but again, it's a good slow. It's a savory slow. And it will once again charm the pants off kids and adults alike. (Um, scratch that; everybody keep your pants on. You can be charmed with pants.)
Valente is still the Queen of Nonsense, and I still mean that in the best of all possible ways. As far as I'm concerned, she always will be. Long may she reign.
So if you've read The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making and liked it, you should pick this up. If you haven't, you should do that. But if you can't pick it up just yet, maybe read this Fairyland short story to tide you over? ----->
But before you go, head over to my guest post from Catherynne (and while you're there, enter to win!!) (Ends 10/8/12) And don't forget to check out the other stops on the tour here!(less)
This review has been a hard one for me to sit down and write. Crewelwas one of my most anticipated books of this year (I mean, hello, buzzwords!), and...moreThis review has been a hard one for me to sit down and write. Crewel was one of my most anticipated books of this year (I mean, hello, buzzwords!), and I was all ready to be impressed and count it among my favorites. But sadly, it ended up being one of my biggest letdowns.
Crewel lured me in almost immediately - the intro was strong and compelling, Adelice's predicament in trying to hide her talent, and all of the chaos and confusion of the beginning chapters were really effective and interesting. The world that was set up had all of the building blocks for something cool and memorable (though I sometimes had to fight through Albin's occasionally muddled writing to see those building blocks), and Adelice's voice was engaging - basically, the elements were there, and I was ready to love the story. BUT.
But then it just kind of fell apart. Albin sets up a world that isvery repressive, with very strict rules on pretty much everything, most especially gender roles and norms. There is strict gender segregation in nearly every aspect of life (especially for the young), a limited amount of jobs women can are allowed to perform, and ways in which they are expected to look while performing those jobs. Flirtation and gender-mingling is pretty much non-existent, and talk of sex and sex-related things is, understandably, taboo. This is the world Adelice has known, so when she's thrust into the world of the Spinsters (which is still really regimented and gender-segregated), and suddenly finds herself moving about in the world of lecherous, creepy Powerful Men, she's pretty shaken. This could have been really, really cool (and sometimes was); it had a Mad Men-esque vibe that made my skin crawl, and I really liked seeing the juxtaposition of naive-in-the-ways-of-the-world Adelice (and all of the other young Spinsters and Spinster-wannabes) with the really, supreme ickiness that men brought into this world. It was reminiscent of The Handmaid's Tale (which I love), and it was an element I wasn't expecting, so I was excited. BUT. (Again, there's that but.)
But when these two worlds collided, the characters and the rules became really inconsistent. There was a lot of slang (like, our slang, not slang of the Crewel-world), and attitudes toward sex/boys/attraction that just didn't gel with the world that had been set up. It was really hard to believe that all of these girls who had been raised with strict gender segregation and hardcore rules about sex would suddenly speak very freely about sex and teh hawties, that they'd be borderline predatory - and catty, and jealous, and vapid, and a million other things that just didn't suit - and that nobody would bat an eye. I suddenly found I didn't buy the characters or how they fit into their world - who they are and how they interact, relative to the world, caused a huge disconnect, the world was weakened, and I felt cheated. Things just didn't work with the world as it was set up. They could have* - it would have only taken minor tweaks - but instead things were contradictory and discordant, and they kept shaking me out of my WSOD. I felt deprived of what could have been a really interesting world - but a world very different from our own with characters like us superimposed on it just doesn't work. It feels phony and almost lazy.
Also - this had a serious case of the Typical YA Romance blahs. A touch of romance potential (a lingering look, a fastly-beating heart, a burgeoning curiosity**) to be built up over the length of the series, pitted against the icky aspects of Mad Men-style sexualization would have been much more interesting and believable. Instead, it was all Insta-Love-Triangles™ all over the place, and again, I felt cheated of the build-up and the potential power. Add to this all the jealousies and plots and it all became a little too soap opera for me. It did have some interesting dynamics I'd like to see explored more, but I want to see them explored as I think characters from this world would explore them, and not characters from our world. If you're going to tackle sexualization, sexual intimidation, homosexuality, gender roles, etc., please, Ms. Albin, do it as these characters from this world with this set of experiences would do. That has the potential to be so much more fascinating and powerful and memorable than Crewel as it is now, which unfortunately faded pretty quickly from my mind.
Essentially, I was looking for impact, but I got write-by-numbers - stock characters, lack of believability, and everything built on a foundation of sand. But maybe it wouldn't be such a letdown if I didn't see potential. Then, I could just write it off and be done with it. But the fact that it sort of actively disappointed me means that I saw where it could have been incredible (especially after that strong beginning), and it was so close, that I was left feeling cheated - but also hopeful that the series can somehow get back on track and leave me feeling more fulfilled than this book did. I guess only time will tell.
If you're curious, you can read chapters 1-5 here for free.
*A case can be made that the girls - even in their gender-segregated lives - were raised to be this way. And I would buy that - if it had been shown. There are touches (like girls growing up knowing that they can be only a handful of things, or like the girlish fantasy of being a Glamorous Spinster) that would begin to make a case for...hmm, indoctrination, I guess? into this type of role/behavior. But more was needed if that's the way this story was going to go.
**But good god, nothing so purple-prosey as that. =P(less)
And then: Alright, let's just get this out of the way: Seraphina is one of my favorite books I've read this year. Hands down, without a do...moreInitially:
And then: Alright, let's just get this out of the way: Seraphina is one of my favorite books I've read this year. Hands down, without a doubt, straight-up adored it. And I'd say it's my single most-pushed book this year; I've been pushing it on everyone. Obnoxiously. And I'm going to try to tell you why, and I'll do my best to avoid spoilers, but if you take nothing else from this review, understand that I want you to pick this up. Find out why HERE.(less)