When The Sea is Rising Red was a little bit of an odd reading experience for me. It was one of my most anticipated reads of 2012, so when3.5-4 range.
When The Sea is Rising Red was a little bit of an odd reading experience for me. It was one of my most anticipated reads of 2012, so when I got my hands on it awhile back, I was super excited and maybe holding it to too-high a standard. I think it suffered a little for that, because it couldn't quite live up to my enthusiasm and was a little lackluster as a result. It grew on me but it wasn't as powerful or gripping as I was hoping for. There are times when I thought it was going to be, little moments that shined or things that Hellisen does well that made me almost fall for it, but there was something always holding me back just a bit.
Mostly, I think the thing holding me back was Felicita. As a protagonist, she is hard to like. She's spoiled and self-centered, and even though she does take this huge, admirable leap to take control of her fate and be strong, she's still very much a product of her upbringing throughout. Though I can't really fault her for that (or Hellisen; it is realistic, after all), it does make it hard to root for her. But she does grow considerably, and part of me knows that this was the point of her character, but it still was hard to cheer for her or want to read her story at times. It always made sense that she'd think the way she does, that she'd look down on people and be somewhat narrow-minded, but chances are it will put some readers off - those who are not fans of anti-heroes or aren't patient or willing to wait for things to come around and for her to get with it. But even beyond that, I couldn't help but feel that Felicita was sort of incidental at times, that she wasn't really needed; that she was just the gateway into the story, and that things probably would have happened exactly the same with or without* her. This is not necessarily bad; it can be kind of intriguing, actually. But I didn't get as much out of her as I would have liked, other than that she brought me to these other characters that I loved. But she can be introspective and she is curious, so she does bring things to light and allow us to see this world through her eyes. I was able to forgive her most things because of that.
[*I'm sorry if I just put Bono in your head...]
What made up for Felicita, though, was Pelimburg and the creatures who populated it. The world-building was excellent (for me, at least. I'm sure some will find it confusing and frustrating, but I ate it up.) Pelimburg was genuinely interesting and felt very lively and full. I liked Felicita's exploration of it, and her attempts to let go of "Felicita" and become "Firel" so that she could escape into something else (even though she can never seem to leave Felicita behind). The rest of the characters are fun and I adored a number of them. They made me wish for a longer book because I wanted more pagetime for them; I wanted to get more of their stories, more of their thoughts and actions and how they came to be together (even though the slight mystery, always-has-been-ness of it all really worked). I also really liked the take on magic and folklore, with different cultures, backgrounds and superstitions adding a really nice layer to the story. And it all had a sort of desolate, dreary, hopeless feel to it, which I loved, and which kept me going where Felicita sometimes did not.
Another thing I absolutely did love was the treatment of love - or not so much even that, but attraction. Hellisen avoids a lot of the pitfalls of most YA, portraying attraction and romance in a much more realistic, muddled, confusing way. It's not the stereotypical YA romance, even though there is a love triangle(ish). What love is there, what romance and triangularness and flirtation and confusion, etc., felt more human and authentic in its treatment than you generally find; it's bumbling and cringe-worthy in that really good, awkward, realistic way, and (thankfully) completely ignores the idea of swooning, mushy lovestuff. This alone means that I'll be keeping an eye on what Hellisen does in the future.
But the fact remains, when I finished the last page and closed the book, I didn't feel the need to immediately tell someone about it or push it on anyone. I knew that any pushing I did do would be qualified ("Read this, it's neat, but..."). Again, I think part of this was just because of my own expectations and inexplicable excitement for the book, and that's not really fair of me. And there's part of me that wonders if I may appreciate it more on further readings. There is something there that lingered with me, and there is certainly a part of me that wants more of the world and its cast of characters. So it did sort of worm its way into me, and that's a plus in my book. (I mean, it stuck with me well enough that I'm able to review it and recall things months after reading it, which can be a rarity for me.)
As I said, it was an odd experience. In the end, I do recommend this, but with qualifiers - know yourself as a reader. If you aren't put off by the negatives I've listed, and are intrigued by the rest, definitely pick this up. But if you're easily confused or frustrated with complex, unusual world-building or oft-times frustrating MCs, or you like your romances immediate and swoony, you might want to skip it. As for me, I think I might read it again at some point, when I can come to it with fresh eyes. And I'll certainly be keeping a lookout for what Cat does next, since this was her debut and all; I'm intrigued to see what she'll do next and how she'll grow. ...more
This was winding down nicely, and I'd started to tell myself that maybe I'd be okay with it if book 3 never happens; I wouldn't be happy, but it wouldThis was winding down nicely, and I'd started to tell myself that maybe I'd be okay with it if book 3 never happens; I wouldn't be happy, but it would be okay, it would leave me with resolution.
AND THEN THE LAST PAGE HAPPENED.
Holy hell. Scholastic'd better get it sorted, 'cause I need book 3, pronto....more
Brenna Yovanoff is quickly becoming one of those authors whose books I will buy without even knowing wha[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!]...more
Dracula in Love isn't just a fill-in-the-gaps retelling of Dracula, fleshing out the story from Mina's point of view. No, it is a sort of femini4-ish.
Dracula in Love isn't just a fill-in-the-gaps retelling of Dracula, fleshing out the story from Mina's point of view. No, it is a sort of feminist retelling in which Mina asserts that the story that everyone knows, the story that's been told by men, is false. True to their Victorian beliefs and morés, the men have cast the women of the story as either saints of harridans, relegating them to sidelines to seethe or swoon as they may. But thinking, feeling, intelligent Mina isn't having it. There is so much more to Mina's story, things her husband and the doctors and lovers who have spun the story so far have no idea about. Because for Mina, the story begins long before Jonathan travels to the continent to do business with a Count...
It's been a long, long while since I read Dracula. I was thirteen, and I devoured it, but in some ways, it left me unsatisfied. I think that same dissatisfaction may have been the impetus for Essex's reimagining of the tale, at least in part. I mean, the story is so wrought with Victorian fear of female sexuality and human passions in general, so to have it told by a female character who is neither sinner nor saint but just human and humanly flawed, with human cravings - it fills the tale out and makes it more authentic and powerful to me. I really, really liked the idea of getting Mina's side of the story, and of having Mina be lass passive and perfect and more passionate and strong. In that respect, I got what I wanted out of the story.
But what I wasn't expecting, and what I found most fascinating, was her interactions with the men of the story, human and inhuman alike. Dracula's role in this is not the demonic, power-mad, lustful creep of a villain. Or at least, not for the most part. There is certainly a fair amount of lust and a good deal of power and submission. But he bears no resemblance to this guy in looks or manner. Though he is somewhat...unnatural, I guess you'd say, he's not really the villain of the piece. Dracula doesn't appear to be all-encompassing evil. He was terrifying to the Victorians for what he made them confront (lust, mortality), but a thinking, passionate woman need not necessarily fear, so Mina's reaction to him, slowly evolving, intrigued, is appropriate and enjoyable.
All of the domineering men, Drs. Seward and Von Helsinger, Arthur Holmwood/Godalming, even sometimes Mina's husband Jonathan, they're the ones you have to watch out for. And they're the perfect types of villains to creep the bejeezus out of me, because they are overzealous fools given unchecked power they shouldn't have, over people who have no real defense against them. Reasons this makes my skin crawl more than monsters under my bed: a) they feel completely justified in the awful things they do, b) their victims have no real recourse, because in the eyes of the law, they are justified, c) just by virtue of being men, they win control, and anything one could try to take control back would further cement their authority and add to their claims that everything they're doing is justified, and d) they are 100% real. I mean, not these particular characters, of course. But men like them, Victorian psychiatrists and the like, really did exist and practice horrific things on people whom we would consider completely sane. It's this horrible vicious circle that meant that any woman in the Victorian era who had the audacity to express a lustful thought was fair game for their experimentation and "curing" and if she dared stand up for herself and fight, it was further proof that she was insane and needed curing.
I think this is where Essex's book shines. Her human characters can be pretty monstrous, and her portrait of Victorian life and what it meant to be a woman, especially a passionate woman, is very well realized. You can tell she has done a lot of research and a lot of work to bring Mina's world to life. Mina herself straddles the line between proper Victorian woman and fully-realized, passionate woman. She has friends in her life who aren't afraid to express their passions and break the mold, and they are presented in realistic ways, as forward-thinking suffragettes, etc, lending more authenticity to the tale. Because of them, Mina doesn't feel out of place, and the story doesn't feel false or as unrealistic as it could have, given the setting. It was reminiscent of the original, but modern and feminist and womanly enough to be believable. I'm sure Mina would have struggled with some of the things she struggled with, and the feelings and dreams and ordinary experience of sexual awakening and how startling that is for her. From this aspect, it is very well done.
There were some minor setbacks for me. There were times, especially in the beginning, when I just wanted the story to move on. I am not a big fan of excessive description; I am all for setting a scene, and for showing, not telling, but I get more than a little antsy when I feel like useless description has brought the action to a halt. This is a style preference, and I know there are plenty of readers out there who love to have all the minutia described so that they can really see everything in detail. But for me, there were times when I wanted to skim or set the book aside because it wasn't getting on with it at a quick enough pace for me. This was less a problem for me as the story moved along and got into the meat of it, especially once they reached the asylum.
I think there are also those who will be put off by the sexualization of the story. I never found it to be pornographic per se, but it certainly leans toward the erotic at some points. I think this is in keeping with the original in a weird way, since it was so very much about repression and forbidden sexuality (ie, everything that screams Victorian...). While it's never what I would really call explicit, it will most certainly make some people blush; I wouldn't suggest reading it to your grandma. (Well, I may have read this to my grandma. She would have cracked up.) There were times when everything was a little over the top for me, or a little timed ("It's been X pages, time for some writhing..."). But overall, I found it an interesting way to modernly explore what was actually a sexualized tale à la Victorian morés.
I don't remember Dracula enough to really compare specifics, but I think it's certainly an interesting riff on the story. Especially to have Mina telling the tale, firmly and with conviction, because Mina was always the focal point for me anyway. The added gothic elements, like Mina's lifelong bouts with supernatural and Essex's take on the vampire mythology, as well as the very creepy, very gothic and very authentic use of early psychiatry, really brought the book to another level, and made it creepy in a new, modern way. (That sounds like a contradiction, that the use of the Victorian beliefs made it creepy in a modern way. But I think you know what I mean. I hope.) It didn't completely sweep me off my feet, but for the most part, I was pretty pleased with Essex's take and the Mina she presents. If you're not adverse to a little lovin', and you enjoy the gothic ambiance, I'd recommend this one. ...more
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 simplThere'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?
1.5 I feel bad about what I'm about to do. Honestly. I'm not one of those people who just writes snarky, mean-spirited reviews, just for the sheer blac1.5 I feel bad about what I'm about to do. Honestly. I'm not one of those people who just writes snarky, mean-spirited reviews, just for the sheer black-hearted, puppy-kicking glee of it. As tempting as that sometimes is, I just am not that reviewer (generally). I like puppies...
[Do I feel bad? Do I? Do I even really like puppies? I don't know. What I DO know is this review couldn't be contained in words, so there's a chart. You know you wanna click.]
In some ways, I'm surprised I liked this as much as I did. I'm not sure why, maybe it's because I love the title/cover combo, or because I love the idIn some ways, I'm surprised I liked this as much as I did. I'm not sure why, maybe it's because I love the title/cover combo, or because I love the idea behind it, or because quirky can sometimes go horribly, horribly wrong; whatever the reason, I was kind of bracing to be let down in this one. And since it reads a little dispassionately in the beginning, I had a hard time staying engaged and thought my doom-and-gloom expectations were going to be - well, satisfied doens't seem like the right word... But I thought I was going to be disappointed, and I wasn't. (yay!)
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is intensely creative and unique, consistently giving me things I wasn't expecting. This is not to say I didn't have issues with the book, because I did. Though I love the idea of using quirky, odd photos to help narrate the story, there were certainly times when those photos seemed more forced on the story than supplemental to it. There were times, too, where it just felt so damned over-written. I just wanted to say, 'Pull back a little, buddy. One metaphor is fine.' And as I said, it sometimes felt a little dispassionate. But neither of these was a consistent problem, and the times when the book or the tone was nailed far outweighed the times when they were not.
I think this is one of those books that you should know going in whether you are going to like it. If you know that you like things a little quirky, a little dark, a little macabre and a whole lot strange, then yes, you are going to enjoy this. (If you don't, you probably won't.) The characters the reader is introduced to certainly live up to their moniker of peculiar. Some are just mildly shocking ala a circus freak show, and some are downright unsettling...(view spoiler)[I'm talking about you, boy who makes little clay golems, then brings them to life with mouse hearts and makes them fight each other (hide spoiler)] There's a creepy "off" tone to a lot of what goes on, and the threat of violence and being, you know, hunted down and eaten, so yeah, it's a good Halloween read for sure. ;P
What I loved, though, was getting things I didn't expect. It's rare for a book to surprise me, and this one did so pretty consistently. There were some great lines and bits of unexpected description that just tickled me and had me pulling out my post-its tabs*. And there were characters and relationships among them that I did not see coming, and aspects of the villains that I didn't see coming (and I am rarely surprised or pleased by a villain). Most of all, though, I was surprised by the whole plot and who it all works together. Beyond the expected elements of horror and mystery, there is romance and history and - something I can't get into it without being very spoilery - there was a crucial element to the plot, hinging on an ability of the titular Miss Peregrine, that I just did not see coming. And I loved it.
And I sort of feel like that's all I can say without starting to give some major things away. As most people know now, there will be a second book (which, though it could be read and work as a stand-alone, I think a 2nd book was a bit of a given), and there will be a movie. <---- And this I am very eager for, as I kept picturing scenes while I was reading. It's very visual and some elements of the setting I just cannot wait to see onscreen. There is a sense of wonder that I hope they can catch and even expand on.
Oh, and I love the design of the book. I know it's silly, but it gets points. Almost everything about the design is just a little tiny bit different than other books, showing that thought went in to nearly every aspect of it, from the very squared-off binding to the end papers and chapter-pages, etc. It's nice, that level of thought and attention to detail. I approve.
*"But beyond all that, above the houses and fields and sheep doddering around like puffs of cotton candy, I could see tongues of dense fog licking over the ridge in the distance, where this world ended and the next one began, cold, damp, and sunless." Though a bit overwritten, I just adored the image of the 'sheep doddering around like puffs of cotton candy.' ;) ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more