3.5 I've mentioned before that I was excited for this one (I mean - the title alone...). But I also just read an excellentfantasy maybe a week or so be3.5 I've mentioned before that I was excited for this one (I mean - the title alone...). But I also just read an excellent fantasy maybe a week or so before this, so it sort of had a lot to live up to, on top of the hype. That always makes me a little wary. And I think, in this case, deservedly so; at least, in the beginning. For a good chunk of the beginning, I was hesitant and not completely sold. It's not that I ever wanted to put it down, exactly, but there was a sameness to it; a typical YA, unoriginal feel that had me worried for what the rest of the book would hold. And this lasted for awhile, and had me questioning whether I was going to find this one a throwaway in the end: quick and enjoyable enough, but forgettable and predictable. Fortunately, there came a point where that changed and it didn't fall back on formula (or at least, not entirely.) It had a strength of its own and went to the places I was hoping it would go eventually, even if not always fully.
The characters were interesting to me, and what kept me hanging on in the beginning, though oddly enough, they started out much the same. They would come into the story as sort of somewhat fleshed-out stock characters, and just when I would get worried that that's all there was to them, they'd show me they weren't. They had dimensions and personalities and little bits to set them apart and make you care, but it was just something you had to be patient for. (I know not everyone will be patient, but I want to reiterate that the story is not unenjoyable before they start to stand apart from the crowd. It's always engaging enough to keep you going, but it takes awhile to sort of step into its own.) I am a big fan of explorations of the type of belief and fervor that lead people to do bad things in the name of good, and this aspect of some characters really heightened things for me. Belief and fervor, and the murkiness of right and wrong is what could set this book apart, and was one of the things I got from it that I wasn't expecting. [pleased face]
And - at the risk of being very repetitive - the world-building was much of the same. It was good, and enough to keep me engaged and visualizing it, but it started out with a sameness, feeling a touch lackluster and flat, and then becoming something more as the story grew. Bardugo seems to like finding a balance between originality and stock, and sort of building off of that. It works, it's serviceable, but something that doesn't catch me or impress me right off the bat isn't something I'm necessarily going to rave about as I do the world-building or characters or plot of some other books of a similar nature. But as I said, those all come around in the end.
I would have liked the nuances that were there to be explored more fully, though. In a story about light and dark, I want to really explore the shadows. This, for me, is where the wow factor comes in. The nuances and explorations were there and were touched on more than I'd dared hope after the way the story began, but less than I could have wish for. Part of this I'm sure is me being a little hyper-critical because I saw the potential for some heartier fare. Whenever I see that potential, whenever it's so close, I just want to keep pushing, and that sometimes lets me down more than if the potential had never been there to begin with.
But there was some exploration there, and Bardugo did ultimately build up some of the gray areas that I wanted to linger over, and I'm grateful for that. If this were really an unoriginal, "typical" YA, that wouldn't have happened, and the fact that it did at all gives me hope for the rest of the series and her growth as a storyteller. For those of you that are unsure you want to start a series with this sort of back-and-forth type review, let me mention 2 things: 1) I rated it 4 stars on Goodreads, so it's not like I didn't enjoy it by any means. (In fact, I'm going to a Fierce Reads signing so I can get mine all fancied up.) 2) This would work quite nicely as a standalone with the future left open, I think. Personally, I'm curious to see where it's going, as it is the start to a series, but I think you could easily read it and leave it as is, with some threads hanging and possibilites endless; it's a well-rounded enough ending to leave you feeling satisfied. But as I intend to read the next book, I'm hoping (fingers crossed) that the murky gray areas, the vagaries of belief, fanaticism, control and power, etc., will be capitalized on, as I think that's the only thing that would make me want it to be a series rather than an open-ended stand-alone.
[And on a side note, if you are the type to be bothered by an author taking liberties with a culture or language, I'd suggest checking out Tatiana's review before picking this one up. This did not bother me the least little bit (well, except the female names not ending in female forms and v.v.) but I can understand why it would maybe work under someone's skin, especially if they have ties to that culture (in this case, Russian). So, worth checking out.]...more
I am bound to judge any story that uses Persuasion pretty harshly. I can't help myself; I'm a huge Persuasion fan, and there haven't been enough adaptI am bound to judge any story that uses Persuasion pretty harshly. I can't help myself; I'm a huge Persuasion fan, and there haven't been enough adaptations of it to dull my senses to the inconsistencies yet. So it's a risk - as much as I look forward to stories that make use of it, there's a good chance that I just won't be able to let things go. I think I probably was harder on this that I would have been if it didn't use Persuasion and instead was just another dystopian YA. But it was inevitable that I would judge it harshly - though even then, I couldn't help but love it.
It was unputdownable. It had that indefinable something working for it, and the heart of it, the way it mirrored Persuasion but adapted to fit a wholly different environment, was really compelling to me. There were always parts of me saying, Anne wouldn't say what Elliot just said, Anne wouldn't do what Elliot just did - but then I'd catch myself thinking, but she would feel it... And that was why it worked. No, Elliot is not a carbon copy of Anne. She has Anne's basic traits (she's loyal, she's smart, reliable, and compassionate, and everyone pushes her around), but she is also a product of her environment, and the two work together to create a character that strongly resembles Anne (is very Anne-like), but is also her own creation. I really have to applaud Peterfreund for being able to balance the two so well. The story is at once a clear retelling of Persuasion, and its own very different story entirely. It's not just a regurgitation of Persuasion in an exciting dystopic setting. It's its own creation, and though there are these changes in the core of who the characters are, I think for the most part, they're suited to the story Peterfreund created. It feels more "inspired by" than a straight retelling. I think you can really tell how much Peterfreund likes Persuasion and Austen, and respects her source material, and that's part of what really makes it work as a whole.
That isn't to say there weren't things that bothered me, or that didn't work from a retelling standpoint. Because this is written for YA, the timing doesn't have the same impact. In Persuasion, Anne and Wentworth fall in love and are separated when Anne is 19, and then meet again nearly a decade later. Moving up the timetable to suit a YA audience means that Elliot and Kai are separated at 14 and come together again at 18, and I have never been enough of a romantic that I would consider separated 14 year olds to be tragic lovers, and a reunion at 18 to be a triumphant return... It lessens it somehow; lessens the tragedy and the sadness of pining and being alone for almost 10 years, takes away the pain of feeling like the character will always be alone, like she's lost her only chance... It makes it all a little lighter, which is sad because there's really nothing that Peterfreund could do differently and still have it suit the audience. The way, too, that they are separated - with Elliot first of all in mourning, and second, legitimately making the right decision for everyone around her - means that it becomes a lot harder to like Kai. I did like him, don't get me wrong, but I think that was maybe only because I knew who he was supposed to be, and how he was going to turn out. Otherwise, I think I would have found him really callous and almost cruel, both in the manner and timing of their separation, and in his treatment of Elliot on his return.
Other things that niggled at me: It feels like the beginning to a series. I don't think it will be, but that's just because I know it is a retelling. If I picked this up just as a sci-fi read, I'd be sure it was going to be a trilogy. There's so much that feels like it could still be explored, and for all of the doom and gloom of the situation, and Elliot's internal debates over what's right and what the future should hold, things are far too easily wrapped up once she's (re)secured Kai's affections; in fact, the entire book ends too abruptly for me, with it feeling like Elliot is being rash, and a number of characters being ushered quickly off the stage... Also, I didn't like the letters that begin and punctuate the book. I got used to them, and I like what Elliot did with them, and the knothole, etc., but the letters themselves felt forced on the story to me, and they didn't work as a way to draw me into the story.
See? See how nitpicky this all turned out, when I really do want to push this book into everyone's hands? Ugh, okay: Despite my obsessive attention to this as a Persuasion retelling, and my too-harsh judgement as a result (because I have to, I can't not, it's one of my all-time faves), Peterfreund crafted a really compelling story that: a) is one of the most unique Austen adaptations I've ever read. And I mean unique in a good way - P&P&Z was "unique" too, but my god, was it ever terrible. This is both unique and functioning as a story, compelling and interesting, very very different from other adaptations, but showcasing the same love of the original as the best adaptations do. b) works both as a retelling and as a complete original, which I don't know I have ever said - or even thought - about any other adaptation. It can be read by fans of YA, fans of Austen, and fans of both, and each group will get something different out of it while also enjoying it for what they came to it for, adaptation or YA sci-fi (And they won't feel like they're missing anything by not being familiar with Austen and/or YA). c) presents a really interesting, engaging world with characters and conflicts that intrigued me.
So yes, as much as I notice all these little things, and feel compelled to say "But wait - but what about - but then - " I really did thoroughly enjoy this and think Peterfreund did a fantastic job of making it work so very far out of the box. So get it. Read it. And enjoy it immensely with me even while we pick it apart......more
When I covered this for Fairy Tale Fortnight, I only did a silly little review-teaserthat consisted of my weird, random notes on the book, since publiWhen I covered this for Fairy Tale Fortnight, I only did a silly little review-teaser that consisted of my weird, random notes on the book, since publication was still quite a ways off. But now publication is right around the corner, so it's time for me to actually give you an idea of whether you'll like this quirky little book. First off, I have to mention it's a retelling of The Ugly Ducking, so points for that. And it's certainly...non-traditional, and requires quite a bit of WSOD. But if you're willing to go with the weirdness, the story is actually quite charming.
I think the characters are what make it so easy to connect to this story. You like them, so you go with it. Emmeline is a fantastic ugly duckling heroine; she's plucky and stalwart and even though she continually finds herself at a disadvantage, she fights to make things right and to keep her spirits up. She's very loyal and smart, and I couldn't help but like her. And as silly as the whole "she has a connection to cows" thing sounds, I actually loved that. It was so unexpected and quirky, but actually perfectly suited to fairy tales (I mean, how many tales have MCs who can talk to some kind of animal? Lots and lots, they've just never been cows, which makes it seem silly at first, but actually ends up being warm and sweet.) Owen Oak, the man from the "good" side of the kingdom, who is set up as Emmeline's love (very quickly, but not wholly unrealistically), made me a bit leery in the beginning, but it wasn't long before I was rooting for him just as I did for Emmeline.
And - unexpectedly - I liked the treatment of the villains. I like villains who are either somewhat rootforable (you can understand their motivations, or they show doubts, or they grow - anything that makes them dynamic), but with fairy tales you don't often get dynamic villains. Instead, you tend to get the mustache-twirling blackguards that you know will be defeated, because that is their purpose. And the way a couple of people were set up in this book, I figured that's what would be the case here. But eventually new sides of these characters are revealed that makes them a bit more understandable, and at least lest detestable, if not rootforable. (Able. I just wanted to say it again.) Though I guess it turns out they were actually only pre-villains, because the main Big Bad - she's not so dimensional...
I think the world is what requires the biggest suspension of disbelief. The magic of churning milk (plain milk) into chocolate, well...that requires you to ignore logic and real-world facts, pretend there's not a cocoa tree in this world (or even necessary), etc. Though the idea that chocolate is the most prized thing in the kingdom isn't hard to believe. I have a feeling that most people who read fairy tales aren't going to be too put off by this, but I'll admit that, as much of a fairy tale lover as I am, I did struggle with this - it kept threatening to break me out of my suspension, and that's not a good thing. It never did, but it threatened, so those less disposed to be forgiving of fairy tales will probably be put off by some of the shaky logic of the world. That said, I think the other aspects of the world-building make up for it. I love the political aspects, and the forced segregation of society to the point that Emmeline didn't even realize there was more to the world, or people unlike her. The world of the "dirt-scratchers" was a really good contrast to the rest of the country (which is loosely England-like), and I really liked that there were bigger issues at play than just Emmeline's story.
All said, I think those who are willing to go with it will find a really enjoyable story in The Sweetest Spell. Unfortunately, I worry that the really bizarre cover synopsis will keep a lot of people who would enjoy it, from even picking it up to begin with....more
INITIALLY:4.5 Maybe even a 5. And I couldn't even tell you why...Though of course, when I get around to reviewing it, I'm certainly going to try. ;D
IINITIALLY:4.5 Maybe even a 5. And I couldn't even tell you why...Though of course, when I get around to reviewing it, I'm certainly going to try. ;D
I ended up rounding up after consideration. Growth, my friends. Still can't quite put it all into something coherent, but I connect to Anya a lot for some reason. Review to come closer to the release. :)
AND THEN: After being told about Gabrielle Zevin for years (after having her relentlessly pushed on me by certain people, and 1 in particular, who shall remain Naughty Librarian Ashley nameless), and resisting for no apparent reason, I finally sat down to read something by her last year: All These Things I've Done, which, lo and behold, I loved. Anya's cold-fish narration won over my blackened, shriveled little heart with ease. Needless to say, I was looking forward to book 2. (Even more so when info was released about it, because ohmysweettitleobsession, if that isn't a damn good title!)
I was hesitant, though. Of course I was. I'm ever-leery of the sophomore slump, and Anya's life has undergone some big changes in a very short time, which could mean the magic was going to be lost. But this was one of the rare cases of me liking a 2nd book just as much as the 1st, though for completely different reasons (which is also a good thing, because that means it's not just a regurgitation of book One). This was also an even rarer case of me liking something more after sitting with it for awhile than when I first finished. Anya is different in this, but understandably so. She's starting to lose a little bit of her cold-fish tendencies and put herself out there more. It's growth, and though I'll miss cold-Anya, it's good growth; she begins to move away from her Daddyisms (another of my favorite things from ATTID), even going so far as to question some of the things he told her, and question why she so blindly held to them rather than figuring things out for herself. She's still very long-suffering, but she's starting to grow out of that. She's becoming a little more ruthless and a little less afraid of being so (which pleases me); she understands and is embracing what being Anya Balanchine - being part of her Family (intentional capital F) - really means. By the end, she's not running anymore. (And this really pleases me.)
Because It Is My Blood finds Anya in Mexico, learning more about the chocolate trade, the history of the Prohibition, and just what it is her family does. I loved this new facet to the story - the detour to Mexico, the cast of Mexican characters*, Anya's growing familiarity with chocolate, all of it. It helps facilitate her growth and questioning, and it gives her some sense of purpose - a measure of self-understanding that she didn't quite possess before. The family/Family drama is still good, but it's less about that now, and more about Anya coming into her own. I mean, family/Family drama is still a big a part of the plot, but the filter is even more through Anya, and making tough choices, growing up, letting go and standing strong. This aspect was there in ATTID but it wasn't fully realized because Anya wasn't ready yet. Now she is, and Zevin confronts things beautifully.
*I mean, Theo might be my favorite person of ever.
But not all of this book takes place in Mexico, as much as I love the expansion of the world and that little bit of escapism. Anya still has to deal with things (a LOT of things) at home, and I like how Zevin confronted these issues, too. I'm not going to lie, I'm still really mad at Scarlet and I STILL REALLY HATE Gable. [And honestly, I'm starting to not give a shit about Win...I like him, but more because of Anya's reactions to him - the slightly-tortured, definitely in love, but not willing to compromise who she is** aspect of their relationship is excellent, but as I said above: Theo might be my favorite person of ever.] But mostly, I REALLY loved where this went with Charles Delacroix. I don't want to risk spoiling anything, but it actually went where I was hoping it would go, and even though I was expecting it, it was still really nice to see it happen (but also unsettling). A lot of YA authors wouldn't have dared. And while we're being cryptic - the same is true with Kipling/Yuji, etc. Zevin didn't pull punches with the relationships, and they had me feeling all turmoily and anxious and FEELS. I'm curious to see where things stand in the future with all of the characters/relations, as many are very open and very tenuous. But I loved the handling for now. It was very adult, very unforgiving, and yet another sign of Anya's development that I both liked and bought.
All in all, I liked the expansion of the world, and the better explanations of the chocolate/caffeine prohibiton, and I really liked Anya's conclusions/goals. I'm definitely curious to see where the series goes from here. Garbielle Zevin and her cold-fish-Anya have won me over. You win, Naughty Librarian Ashley world. You win.
**Do you know? Do you know how much I love this about her?!...more
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 seMarissa 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. ...more
With dystopian books being as popular as they are right now, it always makes me a little wary when I pick one up. I mean, I love them, don't get me wrWith dystopian books being as popular as they are right now, it always makes me a little wary when I pick one up. I mean, I love them, don't get me wrong. But it's inevitable when you have a lot of something that they each get a little farther from the core of what makes that something good. Each dystopia seems to be a little...fluffier than the last, and a little more farfetched. To me, you can see the truth in a good dystopia. As bizarre as the society portrayed may be, some little part of you is made extremely uncomfortable while reading it because it feels like it could maybe happen. Dystopias hold up a mirror to some aspect of our society, and then project that aspect to its logical extreme.
While Slated may occasionally fall into some of the fluffy-dystopia traps (not every book needs a romance, dammit!), it generally wiggles itself right back out of those traps, and more importantly, touches on what makes dystopia dystopia - it feels like it could happen.
The idea of Slating, of a forced mind-wipe, is intriguing because it's something I could easily see being researched in a lab somewhere right now. I mean, it's reprogramming, essentially, and we already do that in one form or another. But what makes it so eerie, what makes it seem so plausible, is the idea of it being presented as something altruistic and just - the best, boldest, kindest solution to a problem. Why lock criminals away and let them rot? What good is that doing? What if instead we could simply remake them? What if we could reach into their brains, give their memory Etch-a-Sketch a little shake, and begin anew? And as a failsafe, we'll just have this little brain monitor that would zap the hell out of you if you tried to hurt someone - and maybe even if you get too sad...Wouldn't everyone be better off then? The criminals would get a chance to be productive and happy, and the criminalized would get to feel safe again. Problem solved. See how easy it is to justify something like this? I guarantee there are people in our society now who would absolutely see the benefits in this and would even promote the science.
That is, if it weren't for one little thing: abuses. Because let's be honest, there's NO WAY this wouldn't be abused. And there you have it: the crux of dystopia. How far can you go before the potential good is outweighed by the potential bad? Terry walked this line really well and as the book went on, was clearly able to convey the snowball effect something like this would have, and the way this kind of legislature/propaganda would creep up on the general public until they find themselves having agreed to a totalitarian society with no real recourse to change things back.
But getting beyond the dystopian aspect, the book is just thoroughly readable. It's engaging right from the start, and Kyla is an intriguing main character. She's fascinating because she doesn't know who she is now or who she was before, but she lives in fear of her unknown past - what must she have done to be slated? The reader is right there with her, wondering if Kyla was part of a terrorist organization, wondering if she was an abused child who turned the tables - wondering what could possible have gotten this bright, artistic, seemingly sweet child slated. As a character with no past, she could have seemed substance-less, but she didn't at all. In fact, she is a sharp counterpoint to many of the other slateds around her, and she only becomes more complex and intriguing (and even more mysterious) as the story goes on.
Now, as I mentioned above, there is a romance, and frankly I could have done with out it. But that's because I'm heartless. I think it was actually pretty well handled (for the most part) and didn't seem forced on the story for the sake of having the Obligatory YA Romance. And there was one thing that happened in the end that redeemed the story-as-far-as-romance-goes for me, and it's spoilery so I'm not going to tell you what, but when you read it you're going to say, Man, she wasn't kidding about being heartless...
And that's all I'm going to say, other than this: When I started this, I stayed up very late into the night and read the first 100+ pages in one sitting. But this was just before Fairy Tale Fortnight, so I really had to put it down, because frankly I should never have picked it up yet. I didn't mean to read the first 100+ pages, I just wanted to get a feel for the story. Putting it down and not coming back to it for almost a month could have really backfired. Sometimes a story grips you in the beginning and you read it voraciously and LOVE IT at the time, and then once you've had some breathing room, you're like, What exactly did I like about that again? It's book crack, and though you love it initially, you regret it later. Putting this down could have revealed this as book crack, if it wasn't a good story. But when I came back to it, I was right back in it like I'd never left. It engulfed me again, and when I was finished, all I could think was how l o n g the wait was going to be until the next book. So. Long.
So now I need you to read it so we can commiserate. ;D...more
***This review is SLIGHTLY SPOILERY. You have been warned.***
It took me awhile to get around to writing this review, in part because it took me foreve***This review is SLIGHTLY SPOILERY. You have been warned.***
It took me awhile to get around to writing this review, in part because it took me forever to read the book, and in part because I just felt like I didn't have a lot to say...
It's a very typical YA. Girl moves to small town. Girl sees pretty boy. Boy has a girlfriend (and is dogged by rumors of violence and rages), but girl falls for boy anyway. And (oops) puts a spell on him that makes him lover her, too. Did I mention the girl is a witch? No. It's okay, she didn't know either until she was able to do, um, everything, so it's cool. We've seen this before. It's been done. To death.
And maybe if I was younger and was ever the type of girl to be wooed by insta-lovey swooneyness - I wasn't - this would have won me over. It's a quick read, certainly, so it's not like I had to drag myself from one swooning-and-sighing perilous encounter to the next. Though I guess that's not entirely true: I couldn't for the life of me muster up the desire to pick this up most of the time; took me ages. Partly I think this was because everything felt like a foregone conclusion, so it felt like a waste of time - I knew what was going to happen, so why waste the couple hundred pages getting there? - but I also think it may have felt like a quicker read than it was because when I did pick it up, I sometimes resorted to skimming. I just could not make myself want to read Anna's thoughts. There were times when I just had no choice but to skim through her anxieties and woe-is-mes and flutterings, and just get to the next plot point or bit of dialogue. It was skim or give up, and I chose to skim.
But it just all just feels VERY young, and very almost silly in it's emotions and Mary Sue-ness (Here comes Miss Powers Out the Ass to bungle everything up, and maybe, if she can get it together, save the day). There was just not enough development or slow-burn to anything, so I knew exactly where it was going from page 1. Everything was laid out and obvious. Yes, it's a fantasy, and yes, Winter is an interesting town with a really interesting history. And yes, Anna has powers, and now she also has questions, and those could have all made the book something special, a tale of discovery and and secrets and intrigue. Instead it was very much a book about a girl's inexplicable love for a guy she doesn't know, and then his unfortunately explicable love for her (he's under a spell - and then he's not, but he still super-duper loves her), and it just doesn't ever get past that or turn into anything more than that. I think if this had taken a different turn, if it had delved more into the history of Winter, and had a more slow-slide into Anna's discovery of things, I could have actually liked this a great deal. But it didn't.
Its one saving grace is that it does pick up at the end, and Warburton is not so flowery and sentimental a writer that she won't give her characters legitimate consequences. This is HUGE for me, because when a book has really high stakes and a ton of really crazy super-powery stuff or mega-villains or Good vs Evil, etc., and all of the characters are in danger all the time, I expect something legit to happen. If all the good guys come through unscathed and all the villains get crushed into oblivion or escape with their tails between their legs, Imma be pissed. (And no, for those of you reading this in the UK, I do not mean I'll be drunk, but after all that, I'll want to be.) FORTUNATELY, the last 1/4 of the book or so moves along at a very brisk pace, and actually had some pretty enjoyable moments, and FORTUNATELY, it does end up having some good consequences that made me glad I did stick it out and finish the book. UNfortunately, I don't think even that is enough to make me want to pick up book 2...
But this will find a rabid, happy audience in young girls and those looking for a light throwaway read.
Okay, so what had happened was, I wrote a very glowing review of this last year after I read it, and apparently somewhere along the line, it got deletOkay, so what had happened was, I wrote a very glowing review of this last year after I read it, and apparently somewhere along the line, it got deleted. Couldn't tell you when, as it was around the holidays that it would have gone up (and who can focus on anything except yummy turkey dinners (mmm, gravy!*), ugly holiday sweaters and family dramz around the holidays?); all I know is that I went to link to it for something a few weeks ago and noticed it was no more. =/ [*But seriously, though? I am a gravy MASTER. So full of yumz, you want to pour that shiz on everything.]
I was going to try to rewrite it right then, but then I realized that, though it's not a fairy tale retelling, it has a strong folklore and mythology basis and style to it that actually makes it a really good fit for FTF! And here we are. So though it's now been months since I read this, and I'm sure I was dazzlingly witty the first time around, I'm just going to give you guys a quick rundown of why I think this book is awesomesauce, and you should pick it up.
I have to start, of course, with the world building, which is such a stunner that I'm pretty sure it will be what comes to mind first for just about everybody. It was so amazingly strong, detailed and unique; I think Durst really did a knockout job of creating a world that felt complete and utterly fascinating. It manages to be both realistic and completely fantastical; because Durst really built the world from the ground up, history and all, there's a really strong foundation that the story is rooted in, which allows the more fantastical elements to kind of play on top of that. Its strong real-world basis - a culture which felt really believable, with authentic customs, superstitions and interactions and a strong folkloric feel - just lures you right in, and makes you see everything that's going on, and the layering of the mythos on top of that was flawless. And the truly amazing thing, is that all of this fantastic world-building is done with almost no info-dumping. Everything about it just feels so utterly natural - from the first page, you're immediately plunged into this world that just feels right, and you don't event have to think about it. There's no overly-detailed infodump, and there's no confusion - just a beautifully realized world to immerse yourself in. The religion and fantasy elements Durst has created are unique and executed really well, and I think even if I hadn't connected to the characters, I still would have loved this book on the strength of the world alone.
But I did love the characters! The main character, Liyana, is easily one of my absolute fave female leads of recent memory. The same is true of the male lead, Korbyn. I defy you not to love Liyana and Korbyn. But it's not just them - I like even the not-likable characters. All of their interactions; their individual strengths and weaknesses; the way they related to their worlds, religions, clans and each other; they way they fit as pieces in the larger puzzle - all of it worked brilliantly for me. There's a perfect amount of different types of tension (a ticking clock, looming war, romantic tension and the kind that comes when clashing personalities have to work together), and it made for a really compelling reading experience that I could feel. I love it when a book makes me physically feel something.
There was a slight bobble at the end, when things began to feel a little more rushed or just...not as strong as the rest of an otherwise extremely strong book, I guess? But I still endorse it wholeheartedly; it ticks all of my boxes for a stand-out, reread-worthy fantasy:
Compelling world building with a believable real-world basis ✓
Believable, intelligently conceived and carried-out mythology and history ✓
Thoughtfulness and complexity ✓
Unique "visual" elements, like sandwolves (ie, they are literally sand-wolves - they show up in sandstorms, and howl in the howling wind!) and flying glass serpents ✓
Strong, intelligent, competent female lead ✓
Intriguing male lead (who happens to be a trickster god!) ✓
a "love" story (dare I say, a triangle, even) that is complex and lacking in foregone conclusions ✓
and tension, tension, glorious TENSION ✓
Durst gets stronger with every book, in my opinion, and has become one of my top authors to watch....more
4.5 I listened to this one on audiobook, so you guys are actually going to get 2 reviews in 1, here: my thoughts on the story, and my thoughts on Jani4.5 I listened to this one on audiobook, so you guys are actually going to get 2 reviews in 1, here: my thoughts on the story, and my thoughts on Janine Hegarty's narration of it. And I might as well just jump the gun and tell you I loved both. Okay, so yes, I may have made it pointless for you to read the rest of this review now, but I trust you'll stick around for my dazzling wit. No? Unceasing charm? Nothing. Because you've got nothing else to do, and reading & commenting on this review earns you an extra entry in the Austentatious giveaway? Ahh, there we go...
Now, as I was saying, I couldn't really help but love this. The only thing I was torn on was whether I wanted to experience the book on audio - those voices! That sly humor! - or on the typed page, where I could tab all the things I found funny. Which was basically all the things. I already knew I liked Goodnight's style from having read Austensibly Ordinary, but you never know if something's a one-off, or, since AO is the 2nd book, maybe she Goodnight had dramatically improved and the first one was...dramatically unimproved, or something. Basically, you never know. And with an audio, you also don't know how well the narrator is going to convey any humor that is there, or how well you'll connect to the narration style. Added to the fact that I just don't do audios often... it wouldn't be inaccurate to say I had reservations, especially once I began the book and the narrator sounded a little too "documentarian" for my tastes. This was only in the beginning, though, and it actually worked really well with Nic's character; it changed beautifully (but subtly) as the character loosened up, and I got a better sense of who Nic was as a result. It didn't take me long to decide the audio was worth my time, and by the first time Hegarty did a Brit accent, she had won me over. By the time she got around to doing a Scottish accent as well, I was thoroughly smitten. She conveyed emotion, humor and a number of personalities with ease, and I was always able to not only keep them straight but instantly recognize them. It was kinda fantastic.
I'm sure it helped that Hegarty had a very engaging story to narrate. There was lots of emotion, lots of humor, and just a shitload of personality. Excuse me, Janeites. How crass of me. It had a well-trimmed bonnet-ful of personality. But seriously - Goodnight's style is personable and hilarious, and Hegarty conveys every drop of it. I was smiling so much while listening to this that my face hurt. My face actually hurt. Listening to this while doing dishes? ---> Grinning like a loon in the kitchen window.---> Face hurts. Listening while checking the mail? ---> Laughing out loud for no apparent reason. ---> Face hurts. My neighbors had to have thought I'd lost my mind. But I don't even care,* Nic's combination of buttoned-up neuroses and Sean's casually-sexy prodding was delicious, and I ate up every minute of it. [I like Sean MacInnes. I want one.] I liked Nic and Sean together, I liked the side characters, I liked the romances and the magical realist aspect. I liked the style and I liked the narration, and I liked all the bursting-at-the-seams personality, and - there's really just nothing negative I have to say.
It was cute, it was charming, and it won me over just as easily as Austensibly Ordinary did. And hell, as much as I liked Cate from AO, I might like Nicola more, and that's saying something. When it comes to Sean or Ethan, though... Well, I'll just take one of each, please! ;)
Not a lot of fairy tale retellings take on the men in fairy tales. Or at least that's the perception. So I was excited to see that an entire serieswas Not a lot of fairy tale retellings take on the men in fairy tales. Or at least that's the perception. So I was excited to see that an entire series was going to take on just that - the nameless Princes Charming and who they really were. And I have to say, Christopher Healy does a good job of taking their teensy little bits of fairy tale text (Prince: dances, notices shoes. Prince: doesn't have a thing to do with story until he kisses girl in coffin. Prince: climbs strangers hair... etc.) and uses those little bits + public perception of the them to extrapolate real personas for the characters. They're really more of caricatures, actually, very funny and over the top, and all very distinct from one another. And they come alive on the page in a way I think middle grade readers will really love.
And it's not just the Princes that are brought to life and made adorably eccentric/silly/zany, etc. It was a fun take on all of the characters; the Princes were a bit bumbling, and I went back and forth with who was my favorite, while the Princesses were more heroic and daring, but also impetuous and/or sometimes bratty. My favorite, though (and this always seems to be the case) was the silly side characters - I love a good side character, and this book had lots of them. Like the Princes and Princesses, I went back and forth on who was my favorite (I mean, there's an excellent Wicked Witch, a lovably doofy giant, a hilariously tyrannical 10 year old Bandit King, etc) until I came upon the trolls. The trolls win. They are my favorites, hands down. I mean, they're all named Troll.
"Troll's name is Troll," the troll said, flashing a toothy smile. "All trolls' name is Troll." He pointed to a number of other trolls in the crowd. "That's Troll. And that's Troll. And that's Troll... All Troll." ... [Frederic said] "This will affect all you trolls. Yes, even you, Troll. And you, too, Troll." Once troll in the crowd leaned over to its neighbor and said approvingly, "Personal touch is nice."
I mean, how can you not love that? I really liked Troll. (not the be confused with Troll. Or Troll.) And I liked the fact that they're not quite what you expect of them, actually being law-abiding (though odd) herbivores who are very upset by the human notion that they're brutish people-eaters. It was so fun and memorable, which is a pretty good description of the book as a whole.
The storytelling itself is charming, very exuberant and enjoyably silly. It was like reading a Pixar/Disney film, if that makes any sense. In fact, I could actually see it in my head ala Pixar - the character movements, the voices, everything. It was strange and neat, and made me thing the story would lend itself really well to film (and it's been optioned, so yay!) It's equal parts adventure and slapstick, and I think will appeal to a pretty wide MG readership because of that, especially where reluctant readers are concerned. The laughs and the antics will pull them along and make them keep reading what otherwise could be a dauntingly thick book for a MG reader. And what's nice is that it will appeal to both boys and girls almost equally, I think, and to parents, too, who want something adventurous but still wholesome for their kids.
Now this is not to say that everyone will be taken by it; I have a feeling it may not translate well for all adults. I mean, some will love it (most of my GR friends rated it 5 stars), but those that don't normally read middle grade may find it toomiddle grade. You have to either be a kid or easily slip into a kid-like frame of mind for it to work. It's very lighthearted, and some adults just aren't. And there were times it was a little too easy to put down. I have a feeling this was mostly just my state of mind, because I liked it when I was reading it, but it didn't make me have to read it. Some books beg you to pick them up as soon as you have a free moment, and they want to be read all night. This one I could read a bit and put it down and go to sleep just fine, but I think it was just that I, myself, wasn't quite light-hearted enough to sustain a long reading session with it. But as a kid? I would have eaten this up. (And as an adult, there were plenty of times I actually LOLed...)
I think this one is a definite to-buy for those with middle grade children or students, or neighbors, nieces or nephews. It's a great summer reading book, a great feel good, fun book, and a very nice start to the series. And to top it off, it has fantastic artwork! =)...more
Teensy tiny (feels like it should be tinsy-long-I) bit below a 5, but I have to say, I really love this Nastasya chic.
Review to come here:
I think manyTeensy tiny (feels like it should be tinsy-long-I) bit below a 5, but I have to say, I really love this Nastasya chic.
Review to come here:
I think many of the things I said in my review of Immortal Beloved apply here as well. I mean, as much as I loved Immortal Beloved, I still went into this one a little leery (she leaves Rivers Edge? WTH?), so I was prepared to face some sophomore slumpage. But again, Cate Tiernan thwarts me. There was a teeny bit of the slump, but for the most part, I loved it again.
Here's the thing about the dreaded Sophomore Slump: it's nearly unavoidable. The shiny wears off. The things that made a book new and exciting aren't new any more, and so they're normally not as exciting either. The courtship phase is over. A second book in a serious really relies on growth and tone, and in the pursuit of one, authors often lose sight of the other. Fortunately, Tiernan doesn't seem to have trouble with this. There is a good deal of growth, for all that Nas takes a huge step - well, maybe not wholly backwards, but sideways at least. But the tone, Nas' fantastic voice, is still there and just as enjoyable as ever.
I chose the quote at the top because to me it represents the book - and what I love about it - really well. As I've said before, Nas has the potential to be really annoying (460 yr old whiny club kid? Pass.) but she manages not to be, and part of it is that she does actually realize what a screw-up she is, and she does realize that it's time to stop being one. It gives her just enough leeway for you to go with her and give her a chance, and see that she's not as big a screw-up as she thinks she is. Just...profoundly damaged and ready to heal.
There's Whiny Nas. Scared Nas. And it couldn have been much more annoying than it was, but it wasn't. Nas is still Nas, and you always know that there's something going on, that her actions are a little more excusable because of the life she's had, and because you suspect someone is pulling the strings. So even though she pushes people away, and even though you're screaming at her like a horror movie bimbo for the love of god not to leave Rivers Edge, you know that there's more to it. And you also know that it really is necessary - it reconfirms that Nas didn't just overreact when she came to Rivers Edge, or when she started to doubt Innocencio. It wasn't just melodrama, and it wasn't just a burnout. There is something insidious going on, and she sensed it, and now it's come back for her. So any steps back-and-siedways she may take are needed and not nearly as frustrating as you would think. Plus they add great tension.
When I wrote my review for Immortal Beloved, I ended up tossing most of the notes I'd written in favor of a "just read it, gahhhh!" review, but a few that I didn't include I think remain true to this book. So I'm un-tossing them:
** The side stories and bits of info on the other characters really round the story out and drive home my favorite thing about the series: everyone has shit. Everyone has to deal. There is still darkness and wallowing in Darkness Falls, but more than that, Nastasya starts to really see that everyone has shit to deal with, and everyone has darkness to battle. Her understanding of this begins to pave the way for her to become a very sympathetic, more (I almost hesitate to use the word) enlightened character. I just love it when good world-building is combined with good character-building. Plus it just adds so much to the story for the reader; really enjoyable, and this coming from someone who often cringes when the word "flashback" is used...
** It's less like a concrete episodic story, and more like a journey that is just beginning. This may bother some people, loose ends and all that, a fairly minor villain and a reversal of a bigger one in book 1, then an expansion of the one we thought was the Big Bad, while the a potentially Bigger Bad is out there roaming around off stage, etc. But I liked that. It made sense, and was a bit of a coming of age story, which is funny for someone Nas' age, but also just a bit...epic feeling.
** It handles the concept of immortality better than most. I mentioned this in the other review, but it bears mentioning again. There is thought to it, what it would really be like - pieces you would carry with you from your old lives, habits and thoughts, people you'd mourn, things you'd miss and how that would all shape you. All the way down to how tall you're likely to be if you were born 500 years ago. I really liked that it was clear Tiernan thought about these things. And it's all super quick and fun to boot.
So yeah. Once again, if you haven't picked up this series - what are you waiting for?...more
Alright, I have some catching up to do. And if Twitter and Tumblr and Pinterest would just leave me alone for five minutes*, I could do it... Um. Yeah.Alright, I have some catching up to do. And if Twitter and Tumblr and Pinterest would just leave me alone for five minutes*, I could do it... Um. Yeah... So I'm going to kick off the catch-up with a VERY belated mini-review of The Statistical Probability of the World's Longest Title of Love at First Sight, which I read in February and really should have talked about by now. So. Let's talk....more
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 BlakI 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....more
When I first heard about this one, a lot of people were tossing around the word 'dystopia';at the time I was reading Slated, which is a dystopia, anWhen I first heard about this one, a lot of people were tossing around the word 'dystopia'; at the time I was reading Slated, which is a dystopia, and which is about a girl whose memory is wiped and she has to start over. When I heard about this I thought the concept was pretty similar, and I was curious to see how they'd play off of each other. But this is not dystopian after all. Nor do I think it was meant to be, and I think it's stronger for not taking that path. Revived takes place now, and is told in a way that makes it completely plausible for this type of thing - covert experiments on new drugs, somewhat shady government outfits, etc. - to be going on right under our noses. I think a lot of authors would have tried to make this a doom-and-gloom dystopia, and I think that's probably why so many people were tossing around that word. But I have to say, I'm really glad it's not. I appreciate that Cat Patrick didn't take that route, and instead made it a more insular, more relatable story. As contemporary science fiction, it works; as a dystopia, it would fall flat.
But because I had been anticipating a dystopian story, this didn't entirely go where I was expecting it to. And even once I started reading the story and realized that it wasn't dystopia, readjusted my perception and thought I had the story all figured out, it still didn't go exactly where I was expecting it to. And this was a good thing. I mean, it did go there in the end, it worked its way back to the shady covert sci-fi thing, but there was a detour through some much more human, relatable territory I wasn't expecting, and it made it more interesting and poignant as a result. Much more human and natural than it would otherwise have been. I don't want to risk giving anything away, but I was pleasantly surprised by the places Patrick took this and the way it sort of muddled genres into something realistic and authentic for Daisy, the MC.
And speaking of, Daisy was a really good main character, and she was surrounded by an excellent supporting cast. I really loved her relationships with other people in the book and how organic they felt; there could have been some risk of insta-lovey-ness, but this was one of those rare cases of the speed of things making absolute sense. The relationships are a very believable level of gooey, and tempered by some darker, real-life things, which, coupled with the characters' reactions to those things, keeps the story safe from disgusting YA love levels. I also especially loved Daisy's relationship with her not-really-father/secret-agent, Mason. This was such a great dynamic and it really brought a lot of personal feel to the story, especially compared to most YA lit, where adult characters and parental figures are mostly dead, missing, or absentee.
I really loved the "God Project", the secret testing of the drug Revive. Patrick explores the murkiness of the morality in a thing like this, with how the project was dealt with, the shadowy megalomaniacal aspect, the carelessness with life that would come from being able to cheat death, etc. Daisy's realizations of the chances she's been given and how cavalier she has always been about death when she suddenly has to confront the finality of it was effective and well done, and it gave the book dimension I wasn't expecting. I did see the end and the villains coming a mile away, but in a dramatic irony/intentional way, not an obtuse, why-doesn't-she-get-it? way. And there were a couple of things that were revealed here and there - the depth of the conspiracy and the zealotry - that I wasn't expecting but was pleasantly pleased to find.
All in all, Revived was very quick, readable and entertaining. It's also a very rare stand-alone (woot woot!), which always makes me happy - I love when an author can give you just 1 complete novel and not be afraid to leave the ending just open enough that you can build your own idea of what will happen to the characters and what their futures will hold. And on a random note, I love the cover. It's one of those rare instances of a "pretty" cover actually meaning something to the book, but in an abstract, thoughtful way. Well done....more
"[Is] that wise? Having a mess of seedling evil geniuses falling in love with you willy-nilly? What if they feel spurned?" "Ah, but in the interim, t
"[Is] that wise? Having a mess of seedling evil geniuses falling in love with you willy-nilly? What if they feel spurned?" "Ah, but in the interim, think of the lovely gifts they can make you. Monique bragged that one of her boys made her silver and wood hair sticks as anti-supernatural weapons. With amethyst inlay. And another made her an exploding wicker chicken." "Goodness, what's that for?" Dimity pursed her lips. "Who doesn't want an exploding wicker chicken?"
I have to say, I was equal parts excited and trepidatious* when my fave awesome person at Little, Brown asked me if I wanted to be part of the blog tour for this. I loved Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series, but was concerned about how she would make the transition to YA, especially after my friend Elizabeth's reaction... That gave me pause. FORTUNATELY, I have to (politely, maybe) disagree with E. on this one. Yes, it was a little heavy handed at first, and was missing some of the magic that came with Alexia's narration and her fabulous personality - but it worked, and in the end I quite liked it.
I'm a pretty firm believer that you don't have to change your style/writing much (if at all) when you change age levels - there's no need to "write down" to kids (especially in this case, as the Parasol Protectorate series was a highly popular cross-over - Pretty much remove the steamy Victorian sexytimes and you're good to go). But the beginning of the book seemed like Carriger was going to write down to her audience and point things out in a really obtrusive way (as if they couldn't possibly put things together all on their own...), and that has got to be my number one I-will-throw-you-against-the-wall-you-just-see-if-I-don't pet peeve. Even as a kid, I found it highly insulting; you've got to have faith in your audience, and faith in yourself as a storyteller that you're doing fine - you don't have to handhold, and if you do feel the need to, you're not telling it right. But either the handholding was just a brief blip, or I got used to it, because the rest of the book slipped into the quirky, upper-crusty, hilariously Missish storytelling I'd grown to love in the Parasol Protectorate.
Etiquette & Espionage - much like the PP series, or Sorcery & Cecelia, and others of its kind - thrusts readers into a strange** world, very like ours and yet decidedly not, and then relies on an irrepressible but pragmatic narrator to guide the ship*** and draw readers along on a whisper of curiosity and charm. After Elizabeth's unfavorable reaction, I did something I generally don't do, which is look into reviews of a book right before I'm set to read it. (I don't want to be biased, so I typically avoid them - but I had to know if it was going to be a dud! I needed to brace myself if that was the case...) One of the complaints I saw most about this book was about the characters, actually - a lack of connection to them, a dislike for them, etc. And though I can see a tendency toward stockness about them, I didn't ever find myself disliking them - especially Sophronia and some of her more unlikely companions. I loved her fearlessness-bordering-on-recklessness quite a bit, and her intelligence and composure, and I think she'd keep me entertained over the course of a series by dint of that alone. But beyond that, I found that the characters manage to be both well-suited to their AU Victorian England and to a modern audience looking for characters a little less demure and a little more spirited, and that's really all I could ask of them. I was curious, and I was charmed.
Etiquette & Espionage turned out to be a very fun, very YA-appropriate expansion of Carriger's world. Set earlier than PP, there are all sorts of little easter eggs for readers already familiar with the world (traditions, characters at a younger age, or before big events, etc.), which made it fun on a level that works without being obtrusive - readers who aren't familiar with the world won't feel confused or like they're missing anything, but will have bits of handy background should they choose to move on to the other series. The world of Carriger's steampunky England is expanded in some ways by this spin-off, though I think for the most part, as it largely takes place in such a very insular location (a boarding school on a dirigible, for realsies), some readers may feel the lack of variation and be disappointed. Personally, I liked being able to explore a more confined world in depth, and on the few instances when they went offship, plenty of hijinks ensued to balance it out. Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality was a good starting point, not overwhelming the reader with the alternate universe, but providing a good foundation for it. And while I'm not panting for the next books, as I was with the first few of the Protectorate, I look forward to seeing where the world expands from Mlle. Geraldine's over the course of the series.
* Spellcheck needs to stop telling me "trepidatious" isn't a word. If the OED says it is, then it is. **Both from a historical and a contemporary point of view ***I'mma just go ahead and mix all the metaphors I can, mmmkay? [Please note: the opening quote is from the ARC of Etiquette & Espionage, and as such may be different in the finished version - or not there at all. Though I hope that isn't the case, as it tickled me immensely.]...more
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 especJust 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...
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 tI 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....more
I'm going to do my best to avoid spoilers of both Anna Dressed in Bloodand Girl of Nightmares, but just in case spoiler potential would keep you fromI'm going to do my best to avoid spoilers of both Anna Dressed in Blood and Girl of Nightmares, but just in case spoiler potential would keep you from reading my review(s), here's the gist: You should go buy these. Even if you don't like horror, even if you don't like urban legends, even if you don't like YA or romance or contemporary or mysteries or ghost stories and gore, or any of the things that make up this book, you should really have these on your shelves. Or better yet, in your hands. I'm not even kidding, and I rarely tell people to buy things. But this is for serious.
Now, as for the review:
My initial review on Goodreads, upon finishing Girl of Nightmares in the middle of the night was something like this:
Remember when The Doctor sent Rose through to the other world? That feeling. I feel bereft.
And it's true, I really did feel sort of bereft, like I had lost something that wasn't coming back. There was no more. This is the end. [See, this is why I am so bad about finishing series'; this is why I've had Monsters of Men, the last book of the Chaos Walking series, sitting on my shelves since May of 2010. I just couldn't...] And it wasn't just the fact that the duology is over that left me feeling this way, but the things that happen; Blake does a commendable job of ripping my heart out, squeezing it a time or two, and then putting it back. Anna would be proud. It's bittersweet and exactly right (see, these are happy tears), and I admire so much that Kendare always gives the right ending, the ending that needs to be, even if it means going some places others would avoid, or giving an ending that might not make all readers happy.
And I respect that this is it. The characters will now go about their lives (or lack thereof) without us peeping in, and anything else that may come of them is left to our imaginations. I appreciate this. A lot of authors would have dragged a series like this out to infinity, especially considering some of the new ground Blake covered in this - there's a lot there that could be mined for many books to come, so I respect that Blake looks at it, says, 'No, this is complete and any prolonging would just weaken it,' and is done. I applaud that (even while it makes me frowny-faced, and even if I would buy and read every consecutive book, complaining all the while that the series probably should have ended on a strong note X books ago...)
And speaking of new ground, Girl of Nightmares went some places I didn't expect. I mean, I didn't really know what to expect, honestly, but I certainly wasn't expecting what I got. The story and the world is really broadened in this (which could easily be seen as a set-up for future books, which is why I respect even more that it's not - she still took the time to broaden the story and give us something new), and there were resolutions to things that I didn't realize really needed them. All of it together just worked.I did want more Anna, but I think that's just because I'm enamored of her. There's something special about her as a character, and about her relationship with Cas, that you just don't get in other books, and so I couldn't help but want more of that. That being said, at the same time, I couldn't help but think she was in it exactly the right amount.
The creepy times are not as frequent in this, but those that were there honestly freaked me out more than anything in Anna. Books don't scare me, and I rarely have nightmares, but when I do...well, there's a scene in here that pretty much nailed it. It was startling and skin-crawlingly shudder-worthy, perfectly designed to get under your skin or have you looking over your shoulder. [I really want to use another DW gif right here, but it would be totes spoilery, so I won't. Or will I...] I also really love that Blake understands peaks and valleys. She knows how to lull you and then startle you with something, and she's not afraid of viscera (which helps in creating a visceral reaction... See what I did there?) I have to applaud Blake for this, because I think there are a lot of authors in the horror genre that just try to slam you with non-stop startles and ick, and end up becoming really predictable and burning you out. Blake doesn't do fall into that trap, and I like her storytelling so much more as a result. [Pauses to look back at review of Anna Dressed in Blood, sees that I talked about "judicious gore" and "peaks and valleys" then too. Realizes this is indicative of a pattern in Blake's writing, which bodes well for ALL THE BOOKS. Is pleased.]
And so, I guess I want to end this the way I began it: I don't generally tell people what to buy. It's your money, waste it on whatever you'd like. But buying the Anna books would be so far from a waste of your money that if you're not in line at the bookstore or adding them to your online shopping cart right now, I have to wonder to myself what you're doing with your life? I mean, you trust me, don't you? Would I lie to you? [No. The answer is no.]
When Ashley and I started our discussions for this year's FTF, there was 1 book that topped both of our wishlists - Aletha Kontis' Enchanted. Sure,When Ashley and I started our discussions for this year's FTF, there was 1 book that topped both of our wishlists - Aletha Kontis' Enchanted. Sure, there were plenty of other fairy tale books we wanted to read, and movies we wanted to see, but we were both in a mania to get our hands on this book (which wasn't an easy feat, lemme tell you). That cover and title combo, coupled with the fact that it's a retelling of The Frog freaking Prince, meant that we just had to cover it this year! And I have to say, I'm glad we did.
Now, I don't think this is necessarily the book for everybody. Some people definitely like their fairy tale retellings darker and weightier. And I certainly like that side of them - but I also like the fun, tongue-in-cheek exuberance that comes with the lighter retellings. This one definitely falls into the light category. It's very breezy and quirky and fun. I know I just used the word exuberant, but it really is the perfect word for this tale. It's refreshing. There is bad stuff and dark stuff, as there always will be, but it's the type of tale where there is never really any doubt that it's all going to come out right in the end.
Along the way, it throws in or touches on like every tale, ever. Those with a passing knowledge of fairy tales may not get everything and may just feel like certain things are weird quirks to the storytelling. For the rest of us (ie those obsessed), each tale is like a little easter egg, and you're wondering which you're going to find next. It could have been too much, but for me at least, it wasn't. I absolutely loved the idea of a girl whose stories come to life, and a family (and couple) who essentially became the basis for all of the fairy tales we know. They sort of live them all, and it sort of all happens in a fairly short amount of time. (Well, a very short amount of time, but I'll get to that.) It's a fun little twist that I think fairy tale lovers will appreciate. When I finished it, I described in on Goodreads as "weird, but a good weird" - it's the kind of weird that just keeps you grinning and turning the pages.
But. As I said, I don't think this will necessarily be the book for everyone, and here's why:
The obstacles keeping the protags apart sometimes seemed forced or outlandish. This is going back to that weird-but-good-weird thing, but I know it will bother some people they they just don't talk. That they're just not honest, that everyone is just not honest. But the characters of Sunday and Rumbold (and basically everybody) are very, very enjoyable, and I think make up for this. The story and the characters and the dynamics are very charming and homey-feeling, which I really liked, and which suits the fairy tale retelling aspect well, for all that their connections are convoluted and a bit too conveniently interlinked for my tastes.
But mostly, it's all down to timing. I know things come in 3s and 3 days is sort of magical fairy-taleness. But I would have liked more time in the development of the relationship between Sunday & the Frog and Sunday & the Prince (same guy, two meetings, both centered around 3 days). Yes, 3 is magical and all, but really? There's no reason things can't happen slower and sweeter. It's as easy as starting a chapter with "In the coming weeks, blah blah blah" and poof! Your characters have now known each other for a respectable amount of time. 3 days is just not enough for me to buy everlasting love, even if it technically has to be true love, because only true love's kiss transforms, and all that. I just - I'm too jaded for that. And I want the build-up. I want the butterflies and the flirtatious moments, and the burgeoning realization of love. I was able to set this aside (because I know how fairy tales work and I know how YA works, and I get that it's magic, so fine). But I know some readers won't be able to. One man's enjoyably-weird is another man's too-freaking-weird, and it all just comes down to which camp you fall into - How willingly do you suspend your disbelief?
(With the exception of love, my answer is pretty willingly.)...more
Perception was one of my eagerly-awaited books of 2012. I read Clarity last year for HH, and was pleasantly surprised to find that all of the peopPerception was one of my eagerly-awaited books of 2012. I read Clarity last year for HH, and was pleasantly surprised to find that all of the people that pushed it on me were right. I loved Clare's voice and Harrington's breezy, engaging storytelling. I couldn't wait to get back into Clare's world. And though I think Perception suffered a bit from sophomore slumpage, I have to say, it was nice being back in her world.
There were times when, I'm not going to lie, I was a little disappointed. The book - and Clare - seemed somewhat lacking in spirit. I missed Clarity. In the first book, she reminded me so much of Veronica Mars - as this sassy, really smart, no nonsense, strong girl - and I loved that. In Perception, she lost some of what made her stand out from the rest of the YA pack. Her sassiness peaked through and definitely became more pronounced as the story went on, but for awhile she became just a little more typical, a little more predictable, and that made me sad. Strong Clarity somehow lapsed into an average YA heroine, caught between 2 boys and the popular and unpopular groups. She wasn't really her anymore. Her spark was missing.
Now, she did reclaim it. And part of me even thinks that, given all she went through in book 1, it kind of made sense for her to be a little...less, somehow. But still. Her voice was a big part of the reason I liked the series in the first place. And part of it, too, was - OH GOOD GOD with the love triangle already. Don't get me wrong, if ever there was an excuse for a love triangle in a book, this book gets it. Certain things needed to be addressed after how the 1st book ended, and it should have merited a good amount of page space - there were some major things to be worked through. But seriously. There's only so much you can take before you want to yell "Let's get on with it already!" Also, NO WAY would those boys ever have been as saintlike as they were.
So, there was that. But as for all the rest, it was just as enjoyable as ever. It was strange, because much like book 1, I felt like I had it pegged the whole way through, yet felt like I didn't. I basically called it as soon as one specific character entered (because there was no other reason for the character to be there, really); but still...even though I was pretty sure, Harrington does a really good job arousing suspicion of everybody. The red herrings are just a-flyin' and at some point, you doubt just about every damn body. Part of me always knew, and part of me always doubted - it's a really interesting way to read a book. I have to give Harrington props for that.
Another thing that got points was that there were good repercussions from book 1. Some serious shiz went down, and there's bound to be fallout from that. And I don't just mean where Clare is concerned. Everyone went through some majorcrazyscary, and they have to deal with that. And though, no, this is never going to be one of those books that wins awards for depicting How People Cope, Harrington (fortunately) isn't the type of writer that just throws the trauma away and lets the characters move blithely forward. She not only didn't ignore the fallout and the trauma with the whole cast of characters, but she used it as a way to explore Clare and what she wants from life. I so very much liked Clare's burgeoning sense of self and purpose as a result of what she went through.
So all in all, there's a lot of good growth, though it is a kind of in an in-between book. They're inevitable in a series, I guess, but a little slumpy all the same. Still, it's worth the read, and Clarity does come back into her own (and makes a damn decision), and a lot of ground work is laid for the series to grow and for Clarity to become a really strong, kick-ass heroine. Plus, despite any faults, it's always quick and engaging.
Now, this one is not strictly a Jane Austen retelling, I know. But it isset in Regency England, and it doesuse a certain Mary Crawford (of Mansfield PNow, this one is not strictly a Jane Austen retelling, I know. But it is set in Regency England, and it does use a certain Mary Crawford (of Mansfield Park) as a character, so I feel completely justified in including it here. I read a pretty early copy, which I think may have detracted from the book (it sometimes felt a little scattered and I wanted some editing and trimming), but I'm going to set that aside on the assumption that these things were improved (though I guess you never know). On the whole, I was pleasantly surprised by this. It was very inventive, combining real world events, Regency politics, and figures (like Byron), as well as fictional characters, mythology, and a gothic novel mentality to create an engagingly over-the-top read. Mary Crawford isn't the only thing to get it Austen points, as Liss style was at times decidedly Austenesque, even though his subject matter was not. Though sometimes over-written, much of the time Liss captured something really interesting, and the consistent tone had a great historical feel, even when intentionally historically inaccurate.
The plot was a bit too rambling for my tastes, which is part of what makes me hesitant to whole-heartedly recommend it, and until it really got going, I would put it down and not feel really compelled to pick it up again, which makes it harder for me to push a book. But it has a charm to it that does make me want to recommend it. It reminds me a bit of the Thursday Next books in that, if you are familiar with the literature and goings-on of the time, there are lots of little in-jokes and allusions to keep you amused. If you're not, this may end up really hard to follow. I mean, it's hard to love a book about the Luddite revolution (and how it's actually all related back to magic) if you don't know what a Luddite is. In the end, I think this will really come down to personal preference for people, and whether it will suit them as a reader; it's no the type of book to push on everyone, but for those suited to it, this will be a big hit.
Verdict: Read an excerpt of it at your bookstore/library/online, and if engages you, buy it. If it makes you only curious, borrow it. If it confuses you, skip it....more
I'm a fan of Quirk Books. They're always looking for ways to challenge the status quo a bit, try something new, and I appreciate that. (And with hitsI'm a fan of Quirk Books. They're always looking for ways to challenge the status quo a bit, try something new, and I appreciate that. (And with hits like Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children to their name, they aren't doing a bad job of it, either.) So I'm always curious to see what they have planned next. But The Thorn and the Blossom surprised even me. I mean, I knew of accordion bindings in a sort of abstract way, as something that's just not done. And yet, here they are, doing it. And I have to say, I liked it.
I'm sure some will find the accordion binding gimmicky, and hey, maybe it is, but the fact is, it's also perfectly suited to the story that's being told. Evelyn and Brendan's stories just ...wouldn't have been the same if they were just told in parts, rather than back to back. I can't explain why, but it would have lessened it somehow.
Their stories fit together and complemented each other very nicely, and the unique format of the book helped facilitate that. I was worried that it was going to be a little hard to read, but aside from a bit of flopping about when I first began reading, the book actually wasn't that hard to manage. Also - it's a flipping accordion. I would have put up with a bit of frustration just to be able to play with the book like a magic deck of cards...
But onto the story itself. You can start at either side, and I started with Evelyn. I have no idea how or if this colored my reading of the story, but I have to say I'm glad I started with Evelyn. It felt right, starting with her, and plunged me into the magical feel of the book a bit more thoroughly than I think it would have if I'd started with Brendan. Regardless of where you start, though, the story is very sweet and charming. It's modern, but it reads a bit like a fairy tale, borrowing from folklore and adding in some magical realist bits that kept me completely engaged. But light as it was, Evelyn and Brendan are adults and so are there stories - there were touches of darkness, little bits of doubt, but done so very lightly and subtly. It worked to make the fairy tale aspect seem heightened, but also more real. It was that little bit of counterpoint to an otherwise almost airy story that helped ground it and make it have a little more impact.
It's an incredibly quick read, being only about 80 pages - a slim little novella easily read in 1 sitting. I know some people don't like to read anything under novel length; they feel like they won't get enough meat to the story, that there's not enough depth or development in such a short span. And yes, I suppose there isn't a ton of development going on in this book; there are things glossed over, large swaths of time skipped. But it didn't feel like any negligence on Goss' part. It just wasn't necessary. As I said, it's very much like a fairy tale, like a story people would tell aloud, and those are never very lengthy. They tend instead to be brief, succinct, relying on a few symbols and common tropes, and the reader's (or listener's) familiarity with them to give the story any import.
In this case, there can be no real conclusion to the story, other than the ones drawn by readers. I mean, with a story that is going to be retold as soon as you finish it (since you are merely flipping the book over and starting again), you can't know for sure how it ends, or it would give away the other half and render it pointless. But it's the type of ending where all pieces are there, and it's up to the reader to determine how everything will go from there - whether the magic contained in this slim book is worldly or otherworldly - and whether it matters at all, so long as there is love.
So, gimmicky or not, Goss carries it off well, and I think this would be a pleasant addition (perhaps even a necessary addition) to any bibliophile's coffee table. And if you don't believe me, just wait until you see it in person. See if you can resist the siren song of the accordion binding then......more
I remember loving this book when I was a kid (I mean, I was a devoted Pike fan anyway, but this one was near the top for me), so when I saw this beautI remember loving this book when I was a kid (I mean, I was a devoted Pike fan anyway, but this one was near the top for me), so when I saw this beautifully repackaged version, I figured I'd be picking it up sometime...Borders had it today for 50¢!...more
You never really know what to expect when you go into a collection like this. Well, I mean you know one thingto expect, but as for the quality of theYou never really know what to expect when you go into a collection like this. Well, I mean you know one thing to expect, but as for the quality of the actual storytelling, it's a gamble. Fortunately this was a gamble that paid off, because I found myself consistently surprised with the quality of the stories. Yes, each one revolves around some sort of otherworldly/supernatural (smutty) relationship, but for the most part, it seems like all of the authors chose to focus on layering their stories and injecting as much depth and interestingness to the stories and characters.
A lot of people are put off by short stories, I think (and this used to be true of me) because they don't connect - there's just not enough time, not enough text, and so things end up falling a little flat for them emotionally. Many times a reader will say of a short story, 'It was good but I wish it was full-length' or 'There just wasn't enough' ... they are left unsatisfied, feeling as if they've just begun when it ends. But there are a good number of stories in here that I actually found myself connecting to, sometimes rather quickly, and I have to praise that. One in particular, "Cover him with Darkness" by Janine Ashbless, I found very intriguing and perfectly complete as a short story - I didn't want anything else from it. I just thought it was really well done, well-suited to the format, and intriguing. The same is true of "Painted" by Anna Meadows and "Dolly" by Charlotte Stein. All 3 of these stories are completely different with a different feel, but they all had a completeness to them, and a story I loved following.
One other thing I found interesting and a little unexpected was that the stories that most appealed to me and felt the most interesting and complete (and the least cheesy) were the ones that didn't have to do with vampires or weres. It's not necessarily that the vamp/were stories were bad, necessarily, but with few exceptions, I found myself caring about them less. I did really enjoy editor Mitzi Szereto's "The Blood Moon Kiss" which is one of the vamp stories, and is a fun, somewhat tongue in cheek take on vampire culture and a certain popular television show. But the standouts for me were the unexpected ones: artworks come to life, little wax voodoo dolls that could have been very creepy but were somehow sweet, fallen angels or gods or god-knows-what - there was a nice spread of creativity and world-building throughout the collection that I really appreciated.
The only real drawbacks for me were just things that aren't to my taste. Romances and dynamics that just don't appeal to me. (I'm sorry, but I am just not a fan of complete submission, of anyone, to anyone. Collars and cages - aaaand I'm out.) But this I think was actually probably a good thing in its own way because it shows that there really is a little something for everyone.
I think the foreward from Kelley Armstrong (yes, that Kelley Armstrong) was a nice surprise that really seemed to get at the heart of the collection and the somewhat gothic feel of the whole thing. These stories are about atmosphere and Otherness, and amping up the latant sexual tension of the gothic classics into something more palpable. Really well done.
[Side note: If you're wondering if you want to venture to read a book labeled 'paranormal erotica romance', I would employ the cock-test I used in my review of and Falling, Fly sometime back: how do you feel about the word 'cock'? If you just cringed, skip this. If you sat up straighter and said 'where?' go out and grab a copy.]...more