"I hate skin; I hate bones and bodies. I want to curl up inside of him and be carried there forever."
Earlier this year, I fell in love with Lau...more2.5 - 3
"I hate skin; I hate bones and bodies. I want to curl up inside of him and be carried there forever."
Earlier this year, I fell in love with Lauren Oliver's debut, Before I Fall. So understandably, I was very excited to hear about her next book, Delirium. A dystopian world where love is a disease, written by the clearly very talented Oliver? Yeah, I can get behind that. Only turns out? Not so much. Reasons why = HERE(less)
2.5 I did another video review for this one (and if you want to watch it, you can here.) But if you're not into video reviews, here's a brief written r...more2.5 I did another video review for this one (and if you want to watch it, you can here.) But if you're not into video reviews, here's a brief written review, in the language of Bumped:
It was like, rilly rilly all about young girls pregging for money. Like, for seriously young. But it was okay, 'cause they were being, like, patriotic, and all the hot girls go Pro anyway, and it's just a delivery, so who cares? And if creepy old guy agents are making you major bank on that pregg, and your creepy parents are encouraging it, and you get to bump with like, the hawtest hunkaspunk in, I dunno, the whole Uni, then why the eff not, right? And, so, yeah, sometimes people die or have, like postpartum pyschosis, but it just means that they are rilly, like, not ProAm material, they are totally neggy.
But there are these Churchies, too, and they are total creepers who believe in keeping their preggs and having like, lots of them. And they want you to have god, and be obedient and whatevs, but maybe they wouldn't mind a little erection perfection themselves... But, yeah, they're still creepy.
So when these 2 sisters, one who's totally going to bump with, like, the cockjockey, and one who's like a total Churchie, get together, it's like for seriously predictable, and is rilly gonna get banned for like sex + religion stuff. Like total Sexigion. And yeah, some neggy people are going to be all like "Oh, where's the science? Why don't they just do like, artificial bumpage, blahblahblah" But that's just cause neggy people don't get it, right? Cause it's satire, bitches.
Oh, and it for seriously ends in the middle of a scene in a rilly irritating way.(less)
And then: Alright, let's just get this out of the way: Seraphina is one of my favorite books I've read this year. Hands down, without a do...moreInitially:
And then: Alright, let's just get this out of the way: Seraphina is one of my favorite books I've read this year. Hands down, without a doubt, straight-up adored it. And I'd say it's my single most-pushed book this year; I've been pushing it on everyone. Obnoxiously. And I'm going to try to tell you why, and I'll do my best to avoid spoilers, but if you take nothing else from this review, understand that I want you to pick this up. Find out why HERE.(less)
Okay. Let's begin with the fact that I got a digital copy of this early, which -- no, no, no, let's go back farther. Let's begin with the fact that I...moreOkay. Let's begin with the fact that I got a digital copy of this early, which -- no, no, no, let's go back farther. Let's begin with the fact that I met MVS back in November (and I never posted pictures or notes of the rollicking good time that was had by all), and at dinner, she told us about the book she was working on that was due to come out in, oh, 1/2 a year (the tease). It was a YA dystopian novel she says, and then I drifted out a bit, because could she have said anything more up my alley? Maria V. Snyder, she of the series' and the characters that make my book club get really loud and inappropriate and, dare I say, fangirlish, was writing a YA. DYSTOPIAN. NOVEL. She somehow read my dreams.
But I didn't want to get my hopes up. Too 'up', anyway, because that's not fair, and there were all kinds of what ifs. YA dystopia is not her norm -- what if she can't write YA? What if she can't write dystopia? What if I *gulp* hate it.
What if I drive myself crazy with worry slash ineeditnow, when I know damn well that it's going to have her talent and character-driven goodness behind it. Back to the "getting the digital copy" bit, I found it on NetGalley and snagged it for review, and what was I worried about?
All of the things I loved about Snyder's adult books are her in Inside Out. I care about the characters, I see a budding romance, but on a YA level, the writing is super fast paced and catching, and it flows wonderfully. Trella is definitely rootforable, and ya love her even when you want to shake her. There was great tension and edge-of-your-seatness, and the world is fully realized and intriguing, just as her worlds always are. All of this I've come to expect from Snyder. AND there are 2 more good things, which I wasn't expecting. 1 - the beginning had me right from the start. Now, this isn't to say that her beginnings don't generally grab me, because that would be a lie, but they sometimes feel like beginnings to me -- they feel clunkyish or awkward. This was a "plunge right in, sink or swim" beginning, and it worked beautifully. #2 - she shocked me. ME. I'm never surprised by anything that happens in a book. I always see it coming, at least in part, and it's generally a question of how well it's done. But even though I perhaps should have known -- clues were dropped, I'm not an idiot -- she shocked me. I didn't think it could be done. Hats off, Maria.
So I think that's all I can say. I don't want to give anything away, I just want you teased enough that you'll go out and grab this, because trust me, it is well worth it. And then you can sit and wait anxiously with me for the sequel, Outside In. [laughs diabolically:](less)
I don't even know how to go about this review without gushing like an incoherent loon. [Nope, as it turned out, all I had to do was sound really melod...moreI don't even know how to go about this review without gushing like an incoherent loon. [Nope, as it turned out, all I had to do was sound really melodramatic and um...intense...Oh, boy.] I mean, really, I don't know that I have a single bad thing to say about this book. I loved reading it for the beauty of the storytelling and for the way it made me feel, and I respected it for the same reasons as well as one very important one: Anne Ursu respects her audience.
It is very, very rare to find an author - or an adult, for that matter - who respects children and what they are capable of. So many adults who have dealings with children (parents, teachers, authors, etc) have a tendency to sugar-coat things and say that kids "aren't ready" for certain things; they pretend kids "won't understand". They have forgotten what it is to be a kid. I think, when we force ourselves, we can all remember what it was actually like to be a child and to be "treated like a child" - to have the adults around us speak of things as if we don't understand, or try to hide things from us that we already fully comprehend. As if a child isn't aware that they are growing up with divorced parents or an alcoholic mother, or an abusive father or anorexic sibling. We all joke about kids being mimics (don't they just say the darnedest things, I wonder where they come up with it), and we turn a blind eye to the fact that they are taking everything in and feeling and understanding and worrying about a lot more than we ever give them credit for.
It's so very rare, then, to find an adult who realizes the strength and understanding children really do have, and embraces it and showcases it. [Side note: I have a little story about this, but I will save it for the end, since it really has no place in this review...] I find it so refreshing and so much more powerful when an author just writes, just tells the story that needs to be told, and trusts their audience to understand it. Anne Ursu does just this. Ursu does not pander to her audience or hide from less pleasant aspects. Her story is non-flinching and not necessarily going to have a happy ending. No magic wand is ever going to be waved. There are a lot of villains in the world, and they come in all sizes, but there is no Big Bad Villain, just time. Ursu tells a story that I think will be embraced by children - who will respect it without even realizing they are doing so, or why - and will be enjoyed by adults - who will find there is more in it that they would have imagined they'd get from a middle grade novel.
There is a depth of pain to the story that I found really affecting; I didn't expect it to have such a range of experience and emotion. I don't want to turn anyone off by saying this, because it is not like it's some sob story written with the intent of making you cry. (I loathe anything that makes me feel like I'm intentionally being played.) It's just, there's an everyday pain worked into the story. There are broken homes and mental illness and that mix of longings that seem to come at a certain age - the longing to be "grown up" and figure things out coupled with the longing to have things remain easy and carefree and the same. The story is deceptive in its simplicity: a contemporary retelling of a fairly unknown fairy tale that is layered with understanding of human nature, issues of self-identity, crises of faith and a friendship so fierce its heartbreaking. It's full of these melancholic little word-gems. Which, yes, sounds a lot more emo than I'd intended it to, but that doesn't make it any less true.
It was a very full reading experience. It was funny and modern and very, very true, and I adored Hazel. There is light to balance the dark, and a healthy dose of the magic and fantasy a story like this needs to thrive. We tend to think of coming of age stories as the transition into recognized adulthood, but I think this is very much a coming of age story for the almost-teen set. It's a time when friends do start to grow apart - and the very realistic pressure that Hazel (a girl) and Jack (a boy) face to begin growing apart, along with their desperation to go on as they were, felt very authentic to me. There's also this almost-but-not-quite metafiction aspect to it that I really liked. In some ways, on top of the very well done retelling, there is a focus on storytelling and the effects of stories in our lives. Avid readers, young and old, will see many familiar names and events from their own childhood faves and classics. It was well done - fun, like an easter egg hunt, rather than feeling unoriginal.
I've talked in complete circles, I know it. But I feel like I can't say too much, and I can't say enough. I feel like there is something here for everyone. You can read it as a fairy tale retelling and leave it at that. You can enjoy it as a coming of age novel and feel a little wistful. You can find yourself in the wood, confronting your own yearning and sadness, or just glory in the beauty of a good story, well told. There is no real villain but time.
*And now, an unrelated-but-related story from my childhood: When I was in 2nd grade, my teacher read a story called The Faithful Elephants aloud to us during story time. It's a heartbreaking kids picture book (a phrase you do not hear often) about the bombing of the Tokyo Zoo during WWII. We all cried, students, teacher and aides alike. It was one of our longest story times because it was so hard just to get through.
Afterwards, we talked about the story and about compassion; about war and mankind and history. Years later, when I was taking a Children's Lit class, I emailed my 2nd grade teacher and said "I'm sure you don't remember me (she did), but I'm hoping you remember this" and I described what I remembered of the story. I asked her for the name of it because I wanted to present it to my class, and I thanked her for having the respect for children to be willing to read that book to us and let us connect to each other and show what we were capable of understanding and feeling. Not many teachers would be willing to read a story that would make an entire classroom of 7 year olds cry. It was a ballsy move, and I respected her for it.
She told me that the timing of my email was perfect - the very next day she was going to an annual meeting where, among other things on the agenda, they would be deciding whether to allow her to continue reading that story to her classes. She took my email in; she retained permission. (She also bought me a copy and signed it to me, thanking me; it sits proudly on my shelves to this day. She died unexpectedly the next year, and I am so sad for all of the classes of children who are going to miss out on a teacher like her. I credit her with being one of the key people who inspired my passion for books.)
This, I think, is the power of storytelling, and this is why I respect books like this, that treat children as people, so much. I hope you'll read this, and I hope you'll share it and all of your favorite stories, with a child in your life. (less)
I'm always on the lookout for fairy tale retellings that take on lesser-known and lesser-used tales, so of course when I heard there was a Bluebeard r...moreI'm always on the lookout for fairy tale retellings that take on lesser-known and lesser-used tales, so of course when I heard there was a Bluebeard retelling, I was all over that. Fortunately for me, Strands of Bronze and Gold didn't disappoint. Jane Nickerson has placed the "Bluebeard" tale in antebellum South, using a Southern Gothic style to create a retelling that is gorgeously atmospheric and lush. More on why I loved that, plus a touch of controversy, HERE.(less)
Last year during Fairy Tale Fortnight, I hosted an interviewfrom this lady, Marissa Meyer, who had a book coming out in the misty distant future about...moreLast year during Fairy Tale Fortnight, I hosted an interview from this lady, Marissa Meyer, who had a book coming out in the misty distant future about a cyborg Cinderella. It sounded quirky and weird and awesome, and I couldn't wait to get my hands on it to share it with you this year for FTF. But uh...turns out I couldn't wait until April to share the awesomeness that is Cinder. (But no worries. We'll find some other way to get Marissa and Cinder involved in FTF this year!)
Clearly from Fairy Tale Fortnight, I love a good fairy tale retelling. I even occasionally love a bad fairy tale retelling. But what I absolutely love most about any fairy tale retelling is when the story can stand on its own. This is where a lot of retellings fail, because without the recognizable elements that some rely on too heavily, the story falls flat. Thankfully, that is not at all the case with Cinder. All of the familiar set-pieces of Cinderella are definitely there, but Meyer doesn't use the fairy tale as a crutch. Even if you don't know or like the original fairy tale, Cinder is complete and interesting enough on its own; it has enough going for it that it should work for fairy tale lovers and sci-fi fans alike (and if you like both, like me, then Cinder is just a treat).
Now, this is not to say it's not predictable. Of course it is. It's a fairy tale retelling - we already know the characters, the plot points, the motivations. But in a retelling, it's not so much about the story but what you make of it. And I have to say, this is absolutely one of the most creative and unique twists on a fairy tale that I've read, but what's even better is that it's not forced. There's good depth and believability for such a potentially outlandish premise. It doesn't feel like Meyer sat down and said "How can I make Cinderella weird/new/different/innovative?" The sci-fi/cyborg elements don't feel forced on the tale, they feel more like a natural evolution, and where Cinderella was our lovable outcast of the past, Cinder is our lovable outcast of the future.
And she's strong. She's smart, she's spunky, she's brave. AND SHE'S NOT A SWOONER. (I mean, other than when her cyborg body sort of overloads and kinda sorta electrocutes her. But that doesn't count.) My point is, she's not simpering, and her elevation from outcast status isn't going to be wholly dependent on a fairy godmother and Prince Charming. She intends to take control of her own life and make it what she wants it to be. [Ignore me while I jump up and down and scream "Yes! This!"] She has her hardships and has to continually work against prejudice, but she's competent and perseverant and I ♥ her for it.
Add to all this that the stakes are legitimately high, not just for Cinder but for her entire world - tough choices have to be made and bad things actually do happen, and there is just enough doubt in the readers mind that maybe things won't be very happily-ever-after. It's not saccharine, and I ♥ Marissa for this.
But above all, it's just story telling that worked for me. It reminded me of Firefly and Ever After, and a million other things that I love. But it didn't feel derivative of those things; more like Marissa grew up with the same loves and interests as I did, and they wormed their way in, just a touch, to give the story this enjoyably eclectic feel that nods to all these things that came before, but builds something entirely its own.
And I cannot wait to see where the story goes in the rest of the Lunar Chronicles series. (So bring on Scarlet!)
*This review was part of the Cinder blog tour (yay!) You can check out an awesome guest post from Marissa on Cinder's cyborg elements here, or view a full list of the stops here.
[Or you can download the first 5 chapters here!](less)
I hadn't heard of Sara B Larson's debut, Defy, until it showed up in my mailbox, which is shameful of me, because I'm normally pretty on top of anythi...moreI hadn't heard of Sara B Larson's debut, Defy, until it showed up in my mailbox, which is shameful of me, because I'm normally pretty on top of anything that even hints at the phrase "gender-bender." (I blame this almost completely on Tamora Pierce, and probably a little bit on movies like Rocky Horror, Ladybugs, To Wong Foo and Just One of the Guys. My formative years in a nutshell, friends.) So even though I had no plans to read this, and a whole stack of other things that needed to be read instead, I promptly sat down with this one almost immediately upon opening the package. And for all my high hopes and a fairly strong start, I was sadly disappointed.
Defy was an oddly confused piece of writing. It doesn't know if it wants to be the next big smexy romance novel or a straight-forward epic fantasy, so it tries to do both, and fails. 'Hot and bothered' just doesn't work as well when there are more pressing concerns like fighting for your life. Now, I've always been one to say that romance still has a place - maybe even more of a place - when the setting isn't all that conducive to a romance; people still fall in love in the middle of wars. Emotions are heightened, life seems short, and people carpe the hell out of their diems. But... if that's the case you wanna make, then that mentality, that forced, manic, precarious vitality has to be represented and believable. And those other concerns, like war and death and hurt, loss, pain, anxiety — they need to intrude, need to make up a bulk of the characters' thought-space, even. Otherwise, it makes your characters seem vapid and self-absorbed, and all of the potential tension in your story (beyond the sexual) goes right out the window. If they don't legitimately fear for their lives, we won't. If they only care about the ills of society in a cursory way, when forced to, we'll either stop caring about the world, or stop caring about the characters. (And by we, I mean me, but I'm guessing some of you, too.)
Defy felt like a lot of potential, wasted. And I don't just mean the more dire aspects of the society, and the seriousness of the situation. Even Alexa's disguise as Alex felt wasted. Larson does have talent that tries to rear its troublesome head, but beyond the lack of depth and the apparent obviousness of Alexa's disguise (who doesn't know? I think just adults, who presumably are too busy or too obtuse to pay attention to anything around them...Like the fact that one twin matures from boy to going-on man while the other remains sexless and ambiguous. Or the fact that one twin (the not-boy one) seems to spend most of his/her time openly leering at all of the sweaty dreamboats in his/her regiment...), I just felt like there needed to be more follow-through, follow-all-the-way-through, in Defy. There needed to be some psychology, some cause-effect, and all those fundamental hallmarks of good world & character building. Two apparently-straight boys are in love with someone pretending to be a boy - shouldn't there be...a grappling with confusing feelings? As a woman in a society where women are forced into brothels to be brood mares for the army, shouldn't their be some real hatred and bitterness? More distrust, more paranoia and caution in regards to the "disguise," or some acting-out, and even some self-loathing for being a member of the Army that helps prop up this institutionalized sex trafficking? Though there was a scene - a single scene - of disgust for the world Alexa lives in, I can't say that it was really more than set-up for a pivotal moment of the book -- a means to an end, and not a real analysis or condemnation of the world. It was well-done in the moment, and then relegated to the d-plotlines once again.
There were things that should have been explored and capitalized on, that should have had a greater share of the focus, over faux drama and twu wuv. So Alexa's the best fighter ever, and she's maybe magic ooh ahh. She's also smart and resourceful (one assumes), so let us see some more of that. She shows moments, but let's have more than moments; let's have that be the bulk of the narrative instead. Not confused longing and a lip-service condemnation of the serious ills of the world, before getting back to the Very Urgent Business of who's hotter, the prince or the pauper? I try not to get too moral when it comes to a book and how it presents its story -- I generally don't feel authors have some sort of "responsibility" to...well, anything, really, other than the story they set out to tell. But as amoral a reader as I am, I couldn't help but be bothered by the shock tactic of using the forced prostitution of children as an easily-discarded frame for a story about how Alexa's milkshake swordplay brings all the boys to the yard.
Now. I've gone very negative, and some of that may be the wine talking (but probably not), so I do want to say that some of this I just saw as rookie mistakes. The story could have done with a lot of lengthening, which, beyond making more depth likely, would have allowed for more of an exploration of some of these difficult plotlines. The timeframe is very compressed, and if you're rushing to get your main characters alone in the woods together so they can get their angsty-flirt on, you're bound to neglect some of the more troublesome aspects of the story. They're just not as fun, amirite? The story as a whole would have benefitted from a slower pace, and I know I'm not the only one who thought that:
And while we're talking about rookie mistakes, even though it seems silly after the more serious stuff: the names! What was with the names? They were so jarring to me; every last one of them seemed like something the author thought sounded cool, and not at all like something that fit the world being built. Cultures have patterns, languages have forms and cadence and a feel to them, and these things all make part of a believable world. Names are a much bigger part of that than you'd think, because they represent the characters who are our 'in' to the world, and therefore represent the world itself; you can't have:
This one is Frenchish, and this one's English-like, this sounds kinda Spanishy, and ooh, this sounds "exotic" and maybe a little ethnic, so that's perfect - let's toss them all together into my insular, isolated world! Perfect! No one would ever believe they didn't develop organically as an extension of the culture and language of a people! *pats self on back*
Choosing something with no real rhyme or reason other than it sounds badass is something a budding writer does in middle school. You gotta murder your darlings, baby, and you gotta make sound decisions rather than "cool" ones. I just had to get that little rant out of the way, 'cause it bothered me...
BUT, all that said, it is very fast-paced, and managed to be engaging even when it was getting under my skin. I saw enough in it that I would read the follow-up, even if it won't be high-priority; there is talent there, it just wants developing, and I'm curious to see what Larson does in the future. And I think I'll get that chance, as I have a feeling Defy is going to find a very devoted audience. (In fact, judging from some of my GR friends' reactions, it already has.) No matter how much we all rail against it and its predictability, there's always a huge market for love triangles; everybody wants to be Team Somebody. Defy will have that in spades. It's just the rest of it - all of its other bookness - that failed to deliver. It's probably a good "epic fantasy" for people who don't actually like epic fantasy, but want to feel like they're reading one - it gives you the bare bones of such a thing, with some vaguely jungle-ish world-building, looming war and atrocities, and mad swordplay skillz, but in the end, it's really just a standard YA love triangle dressed up in epic fantasy's clothing, like a child wearing her mother's heels and playing house. (less)
"[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.](less)
Weirdly, unexpectedly, I was sort of amazed by this. I'd heard of Cate Tiernan but never read anything by her. I'd had friendsthat pushed this on me(e...moreWeirdly, unexpectedly, I was sort of amazed by this. I'd heard of Cate Tiernan but never read anything by her. I'd had friends that pushed this on me (especially one who shall remain Allisonnameless). It has a grandiose, somewhat silly title that I can't help but like because it reminds me of Gary Oldman and Beethoven. But somehow I still just wasn't expecting much from it. Maybe it was the idea of an eternal club kid that just made me turn up my nose and say, Um, no. But for all of the good I've heard about Cate Tiernan, I went into this with my expectations low. And the b*itch proved me wrong. I friggin loved it.
There were so many times it could have gone wrong - even should have gone wrong. So many pet peeves and really bad tropes that had the potential to just kill it dead. And yet, Cate Tiernan not only made those pet-peevish things work, she made me like them. She made me say, yeah, ok. I'm with you. 460 year old club kid? Sure. Protag who is powerful and special and gosh darn incredible without realizing it? Okay. Melodrama, crazy instant attraction, and a healthy dose of angst? Bring it. Viking alpha male almost-rapeyness? Why the eff not?
I don't understand it. If you had mentioned even one of those things, I probably would have quirked an eyebrow and said "Pass". I would never have conceded to the possibility that I might end up liking any one of them. But I did. Like, a lot. Cate Tiernan, you're a crafty one. I understand why you write about witches, because clearly you are one.
I have to say, I love when someone proves me wrong. I love when someone takes something that I think is never going to work, and then makes it work.* In less skillful hands, so much of this could have been very bad. In less skillful hands, this book could have ended by being tossed against a wall, and this review could have been a rant. But I wasn't irritated. I didn't hate everything. I didn't hate anything. I feel vaguely warm and fuzzy. It's more than a little unsettling.
I could tell you all of the reasons that it worked, or all of the things I really liked, like how it was a great set-up for the series and had interesting world-building. Or how I really liked Nas and wanted to know more about her, and Reyn, and River and Incy, and all the rest. I could tell you about how the flashbacks kept me intrigued and flowed well, rather than feeling abrupt and "foreshadowy" and pissing me off. I could tell you about how it handles the concept of immortality better than just about any vampire/immortal/paranormal YA out there, or how it has this almost epic feel to it.
I could tell you all of those things, but what would be the point? All I really want to tell you is to pick this one up and give it a chance, and let you find those things out for yourself.
Immortal Beloved was a strong start to a promising series - really really really readable and engaging, and I definitely get the appeal of Cate Tiernan now. I love when something thwarts my inner bitch and robs me of a good rant. I like you Cate Tiernan; I've got my eye on you...
INITIALLY: Whoa, wait a minute. More September? Woot! Edit: Just read the description, and Holy Effing Velocipedes, I want this NOW.
AND THEN: What can I...moreINITIALLY: Whoa, wait a minute. More September? Woot! Edit: Just read the description, and Holy Effing Velocipedes, I want this NOW.
AND THEN: What can I say that I didn't already say in my review of The Girl Who Circumnavigated? When I finished the first book, it felt complete. That's not to say there wasn't room for more, but it felt like it easily could have been a somewhat open-ended stand-alone book, and I was happy about that. But that doesn't mean I wasn't tickled to death to hear there was a book two - and that it dealt with September's shadow! In fact, I wasn't even nervous going into this that it was going to be a lesser book than the first, as I often am with sequels and 2nd-in-a-series books. I went into this fairly confident that Valente would masterfully avoid the Sophomore Slump, and I think she did. The Girl Who Fell is just as strong as its predecessor, but with a with a more mature, more insightful September at the helm.
Now, I think some people are going to find this a little...hmm - harder? to connect to; I think they'll find it less whimsical and a bit darker, and September a little more serious, and they may interpret that as the story losing some of its magic and charm. But I don't think that's the case, and I personally found it the opposite. I think it's simply that things have changed. September is older now (as our narrator coyly tells us, she now has the beginnings of a heart), and her perception and experiences are different. She's more thoughtful - and more hesitant - which I think for some readers will mean the magic is starting to die. Which in the scope of all things fairy is generally true - the older you get, the more it slips away... But September is still September, even though everyone around her is a shadow of what they're supposed to be (literally), and I think she still comes through very strongly. I actually really really love that September is starting to grow up (as much as we may not want her two); this makes her so much more authentic, AND ALSO this means that a younger audience reading this can potentially grow alongside September and relate to her, and that gives me Happy Reader Shivers.
But even if September is a little older, a little wiser, and a little more introspective, the fact remains that she's still September and she's still going to do Septemberly things and approach the world (both "real" and Fairyland) as only September would. And frankly, Fairyland-Below = awesome. It expands the world of Fairyland really nicely; familiar characters popped up in unexpected ways, and new characters crept in - many of them fleetingly so, as in the way of the first book, but what's so wonderful is that even the minor characters who just pop up and disappear are never confusing. Instead, they make the world full - everything has a place, everything has a purpose, and everything comes into play.
The struggle with the shadows and with Halloween (the Hollow Queen, ie September's sort-of-stolen shadow) are just fantastic. I loved that nothing is ever easy/black and white. I love that you begin to feel for the shadows and for Halloween just as much as you do for their tangible counterparts. I LOVE the idea of everyone's shadows just hanging out, being a part of you but never really getting to experience, never getting credit, never getting to do their own thing. The bittersweet, melancholic streak I talked about (and loved!) in Circumnavigated;is stronger in Fell; (shortest yet), and perfectly suited to Fairyland Below, AND to where all of the characters are now; it's not just September who has grown and changed, but all of the characters - even some you may not expect. There are FACETS. I like FACETS. Makes everything shiny.
Basically, I doubt anyone who liked Circumnavigated will dislike Fell; those that found the beginning of the first slow moving will find the same here, but again, it's a good slow. It's a savory slow. And it will once again charm the pants off kids and adults alike. (Um, scratch that; everybody keep your pants on. You can be charmed with pants.)
Valente is still the Queen of Nonsense, and I still mean that in the best of all possible ways. As far as I'm concerned, she always will be. Long may she reign.
So if you've read The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making and liked it, you should pick this up. If you haven't, you should do that. But if you can't pick it up just yet, maybe read this Fairyland short story to tide you over? ----->
But before you go, head over to my guest post from Catherynne (and while you're there, enter to win!!) (Ends 10/8/12) And don't forget to check out the other stops on the tour here!(less)
Okay, I know this is random, but best acknowledgements section ever.
Anywho: I started off my year with Kiersten White's debut, Paranormalcy, and I said...moreOkay, I know this is random, but best acknowledgements section ever.
Anywho: I started off my year with Kiersten White's debut, Paranormalcy, and I said in my review that it was the perfect funk-breaker and way to start the year. I've been recommending it heartily ever since. And so, though I don't usually actively pursue review books, the sequel, Supernaturally, was one I was bound and determined to get my hands on. (As politely and professionally as possible, of course... ;p) So yes, Misty + ARC of Supernaturally = Pleased As Punch. I was so, so ready to slip back into Evie's world and have her funny, effervescent voice back in my head.
Supernaturally picks up a few months after the events of Paranormalcy, with Evie settled into the normal life she's always craved - and she's quickly learning that normal's not all it's cracked up to be. I mean, she's even beginning to lose her enthusiasm over lockers. Evie is...sad, but she doesn't quite realize it yet. I kept thinking as I was reading this that the Evie we meet in Supernaturally is going to be hard for some fans of Paranormalcy to swallow. She is going through some major changes and confronting the facts of her life - no longer a super-special kick-ass IPCA chick, not quite as human as she thought she was, missing her best friend and almost-sister, finding out normal = boring, and relationship slightly on the rocks - and all of this makes for a less likable Evie. She's not as buoyant and irrepressible; she's sort of angsty and occasionally whiny, and at times, downright sulky. She's a little hard to bear, and it may well put some fans off.
But the thing is, I still have to give credit to Kiersten White because I think these changes were honest. It makes perfect sense that after everything, after losing so much and finding out that her life has always been a lie, that Evie would be reeling and not dealing with it all that well. Her world has been turned upside down, and she can't trust anything anymore. She's starting from scratch, and the shiny wears off pretty quickly, especially when the only thing you've got to look forward to is a locker. Not to mention that she's pretty much lived her life in a controlled bubble, so she doesn't necessarily have the coping mechanisms to deal with these huge changes, nor does she have the people in her life that would have been the ones to help her through them. It's only fitting that this introduce some angst into her life, and that we see her in a rough patch. It wouldn't have been believable to have everything go on smoothly and nonchalantly as before. But even if it's understandable and even necessary to advance Evie's character, there will be people who just don't have the tolerance for it. And with a lot less Lend in the story than people are going to be happy with, and most of the cutesy gone, there may be those who were fans of the first book, but heartily dislike the second.
There were times when I was irritated with Evie or the story, but for the most part, even if it lacked a bit of the magic of the first, I enjoyed it pretty thoroughly. There were some new beings introduced, either briefly or for the long haul, that brought in a lot of the fun I've come to associate with White's writing. Much of it expanded the world nicely, and some of it was downright hilarious (unicorns!). One of the new major characters, Jack, was a great deal of fun, very Puckish* and irreverant, and school-boy/smart-ass charming. He's good, crazy fun. I mean, don't get me wrong, I saw his storyline coming a mile away, but I still enjoyed getting there, and what he brought out in Evie or allowed to be revealed.
(*I mean that in the old-school sense, not the J. Kagawa sense. Stop squeeing.)
Many of the old characters were there too, even some that you may not have expected to see again. Raquel is back with her sighs - though less of them, thank god - and we get to know some of the formerly minor characters a little better. And Reth makes an appearance or three, and I ate up every minute of it. I love me some Reth, I don't even care. Say what you want, he may be a Fey dick at times, but I lurve him, and I don't even care to hide it. One thing I was happiest about, though, was the continuance/resolution to the Vivian storyline. Vivian is still a part of the story, in her way, and while still just as intriguing, it is a much calmer relationship. I really like her and the consistency of her character; even when she grows and changes, it's believable, and she facilitates that in Evie, too. The realities of Evie's struggle and what she and Vivian are paves the way for a great expansion of Evie's history. There is still so much there to explore, both in the person she is going to become (and I love her struggle, love the temptation and the horror of being what she is), and in the way the other paranormals treat her.
I think, in some ways, this was a book to get through. I don't mean that it was bad or you have to slog through it, but I think it acts as a necessary bridge between what has happened and the things that need to come into being. Just as Evie needed to go through these hard, angsty times to come into her own (I hope) and grow, I think there are a lot of things that either happen or are hinted at that give a sense that the story is much bigger. Something big is brewing, and it always feels as if it's about to explode. There are things that aren't 100% tied up at the end, and though that may frustrate some, it's doesn't seem done in that false way that's meant to get you to buy another book. There are just...implications of a bigger picture, hints about the elementals and other beings, of tensions and alliances, and though the main events of this story are wrapped up nicely, you get a sense that it's just the calm before the storm. And personally, I love storms...
Looking forward to book 3.
Related: If you haven't read the book, here's the trailer. If you have, this fan-made, Sims-based trailer kills me. So bleeping funny. [Intenionally or not...](less)
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
I...moreINITIALLY: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?!(less)
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 be...more3.5 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.](less)
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 wr...moreWith 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(less)
This review has been a hard one for me to sit down and write. Crewelwas one of my most anticipated books of this year (I mean, hello, buzzwords!), and...moreThis review has been a hard one for me to sit down and write. Crewel was one of my most anticipated books of this year (I mean, hello, buzzwords!), and I was all ready to be impressed and count it among my favorites. But sadly, it ended up being one of my biggest letdowns.
Crewel lured me in almost immediately - the intro was strong and compelling, Adelice's predicament in trying to hide her talent, and all of the chaos and confusion of the beginning chapters were really effective and interesting. The world that was set up had all of the building blocks for something cool and memorable (though I sometimes had to fight through Albin's occasionally muddled writing to see those building blocks), and Adelice's voice was engaging - basically, the elements were there, and I was ready to love the story. BUT.
But then it just kind of fell apart. Albin sets up a world that isvery repressive, with very strict rules on pretty much everything, most especially gender roles and norms. There is strict gender segregation in nearly every aspect of life (especially for the young), a limited amount of jobs women can are allowed to perform, and ways in which they are expected to look while performing those jobs. Flirtation and gender-mingling is pretty much non-existent, and talk of sex and sex-related things is, understandably, taboo. This is the world Adelice has known, so when she's thrust into the world of the Spinsters (which is still really regimented and gender-segregated), and suddenly finds herself moving about in the world of lecherous, creepy Powerful Men, she's pretty shaken. This could have been really, really cool (and sometimes was); it had a Mad Men-esque vibe that made my skin crawl, and I really liked seeing the juxtaposition of naive-in-the-ways-of-the-world Adelice (and all of the other young Spinsters and Spinster-wannabes) with the really, supreme ickiness that men brought into this world. It was reminiscent of The Handmaid's Tale (which I love), and it was an element I wasn't expecting, so I was excited. BUT. (Again, there's that but.)
But when these two worlds collided, the characters and the rules became really inconsistent. There was a lot of slang (like, our slang, not slang of the Crewel-world), and attitudes toward sex/boys/attraction that just didn't gel with the world that had been set up. It was really hard to believe that all of these girls who had been raised with strict gender segregation and hardcore rules about sex would suddenly speak very freely about sex and teh hawties, that they'd be borderline predatory - and catty, and jealous, and vapid, and a million other things that just didn't suit - and that nobody would bat an eye. I suddenly found I didn't buy the characters or how they fit into their world - who they are and how they interact, relative to the world, caused a huge disconnect, the world was weakened, and I felt cheated. Things just didn't work with the world as it was set up. They could have* - it would have only taken minor tweaks - but instead things were contradictory and discordant, and they kept shaking me out of my WSOD. I felt deprived of what could have been a really interesting world - but a world very different from our own with characters like us superimposed on it just doesn't work. It feels phony and almost lazy.
Also - this had a serious case of the Typical YA Romance blahs. A touch of romance potential (a lingering look, a fastly-beating heart, a burgeoning curiosity**) to be built up over the length of the series, pitted against the icky aspects of Mad Men-style sexualization would have been much more interesting and believable. Instead, it was all Insta-Love-Triangles™ all over the place, and again, I felt cheated of the build-up and the potential power. Add to this all the jealousies and plots and it all became a little too soap opera for me. It did have some interesting dynamics I'd like to see explored more, but I want to see them explored as I think characters from this world would explore them, and not characters from our world. If you're going to tackle sexualization, sexual intimidation, homosexuality, gender roles, etc., please, Ms. Albin, do it as these characters from this world with this set of experiences would do. That has the potential to be so much more fascinating and powerful and memorable than Crewel as it is now, which unfortunately faded pretty quickly from my mind.
Essentially, I was looking for impact, but I got write-by-numbers - stock characters, lack of believability, and everything built on a foundation of sand. But maybe it wouldn't be such a letdown if I didn't see potential. Then, I could just write it off and be done with it. But the fact that it sort of actively disappointed me means that I saw where it could have been incredible (especially after that strong beginning), and it was so close, that I was left feeling cheated - but also hopeful that the series can somehow get back on track and leave me feeling more fulfilled than this book did. I guess only time will tell.
If you're curious, you can read chapters 1-5 here for free.
*A case can be made that the girls - even in their gender-segregated lives - were raised to be this way. And I would buy that - if it had been shown. There are touches (like girls growing up knowing that they can be only a handful of things, or like the girlish fantasy of being a Glamorous Spinster) that would begin to make a case for...hmm, indoctrination, I guess? into this type of role/behavior. But more was needed if that's the way this story was going to go.
**But good god, nothing so purple-prosey as that. =P(less)
I loved the Anna Dressed in Bloodduology. I have more than a tiny obsession with mythology. I harbor a bit of a girlcrush on Kendare Blake.* Kendare Blak...moreI loved the Anna Dressed in Blood duology. I have more than a tiny obsession with mythology. I harbor a bit of a girlcrush on Kendare Blake.* Kendare Blake wrote a modern mythology retelling.
Sounds like a recipe for a book I could love, which generally means I won't, because the world is funny like that ha ha ha. But fortunately, this was one of those cases of me loving a book just as much as I was hoping to. I absolutely loved Blake's modern take on Greek mythology, the Trojan war and the Twilight of the Gods. All the petty jealousies, rivalries and cavalier attitudes of these familiar dying gods translated well to a modern setting, and Athena's growing shame over who they've all been - and whether they deserve their fates and afflictions - brings a much-needed humanness. Yes, it's missing some of the humor and lightness - and surprisingly, some of the gore - that characterized Anna, but honestly, I respected that. I want a tone and style that suits the story, not the same thing rehashed a million times with a different title and characters. Blake gave us two voices, Athena's and Cassandra's, and stayed true to those voices, and it works.
The alternating points of view worked for me, which is something that's always really dicey. I love the idea of alternating POVs, but I often don't like the execution. Even when it's pulled off admirably, I don't always think it's the right choice for the story, but in this case, I do. I can't really picture not getting both Athena's and Cassandra's stories in this way; I loved each and thought each was needed, both for contrast and for creating the whole picture. Cassandra is strong as a modern girl, and their two stories, hers and Athena's, act in tandem - as one becomes a little more human, one becomes a little more cold and god-like. And you know how normally when there are multiple POVs in a story, you sort of pick a favorite and can't wait to get back to it every time it switches? I actually had that feeling with both, which was interesting. It's "I can't wait to see what happens next" x 2. But it wasn't just Athena and Cassandra that drew me in; I liked seeing how other characters from the myths have changed and grown - and how they've stayed the same.
Some may think Antigoddess feels longish or repetitive, but I actually thought everything was needed and fit the story, and gave us time to get to know Athena and the gods. Even when it's circling the same ground, it feels like it's building towards something big - and Blake is not one to shy away from ripping the reader's heart out and then showing it to them, bloody and barely beating. [I both really respect her for this, btw, and want to shake her for it. She makes the same decisions I would make, but look, I'm used to my cruelty. I'm not used to having it turned back on me...] All told, I can't wait for book 2 and seeing more gods crop up, more betrayals and weaknesses exploited, more getting in touch with human side and fortifying the godly side, etc. If you liked Anna (or thought you'd probably like Anna, but were afraid of the gore...), or like mythology or retellings, I'd definitely recommend you pick this up.
*But the restraining order hasn't gone into effect yet, so it's cool.(less)
When I came across this one in my preparations for Fairy Tale Fortnight, I was immediately struck by the dark and direct tone of the cover, and took i...moreWhen I came across this one in my preparations for Fairy Tale Fortnight, I was immediately struck by the dark and direct tone of the cover, and took it as an indication of the tales found inside. In some ways this is what I got: the retellings are gritty and dark and very pared down, stripped of any residual fairy dust and ball gowns. Koertge plays on the original tales, in all their dark and twisted glory, but he also plays with our Disneyfied modern expectations.
But even though Koertge did sort of give me what I was expecting, it somehow managed to not be quite what I wanted. The book is very brief, tackling 23 different tales in less than 100 pages, including illustrations and title pages for each story. This means each story averages about 2 pages of well-spaced text or free-verse, and this means Koertge only has the space of a few blinks of the eye to make an impression with each story - blink and it's over...
I will say, I think Koertge certainly tried to create memorable, concrete images that would linger with the reader, plunging straight into the heart of each with a wry, jaded style. There's also a really good mix of well-known and little-known tales, and Koertge changes up the narration slightly in each tale. But even the narration at its most different (like Little Red's vapid prattling) still has a sameness to it. Some readers will appreciate this and feel the sardonic tone running throughout is the thread that holds it all together. Other readers - like myself - will feel that what the book really needs is a shake-up. The stories, different as they are originally, blend one into the next in Koertge's hands, and in the end, I would have been hard-pressed to tell you what happened in which, and how - if at all - the narrators differed.
There just weren't any stand-outs. Maybe it's because of my admitted immersion in fairy tales - maybe others who pick this up on a passing fancy, who don't read and breathe fairy tales, will find this fresh - but I felt like I'd seen it all before. This isn't necessarily bad on its own, because these are retellings, after all (so of course I've seen it before), but if you're going to put forth these "little gem" retellings, every effort needs to be made to make each and every one memorable in its own way. And when they're verse on top of that! well, every little bit of space matters. No word should be wasted; they should all serve a purpose. I know I hold things like this to a high standard, but there should be something, some turn of phrase or image or pleasing sound to the language itself that makes each story stand on its own. Instead, these felt (oh god, you have no idea how much it pains me to write this) amateurish. I cringe to write that, I really do, but the stories felt like writing prompts or Creative Writing 101 exercises. And in the end, whether because of their style or brevity, I quickly forgot them.
So maybe others won't feel this way, I don't know. Maybe people who don't eat, sleep and breathe fairy tales, and who haven't read a flipping shit-ton of short story retellings that take very similar tones and tacks to the ones in this book but do so better, will find this collection fresh and entertaining. At the very least, it's easily read in 1 sitting, so I would advise those who are considering picking it up to actually pick it up and flip through a few stories first - they're all pretty much the same, so if you like one, you'll probably like them all.
[And if instead you're looking for short fairy tale retellings with a variety of stories, styles, and twists, I cannot recommend enough the fairy tale anthology series edited by Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow. Especially Silver Birch, Blood Moon, which I adore.](less)
Previously: Saw the cover for this tonight at Written in the Mitten. Gorgeous (though now all I'll be able to think about when I see it was the discus...more Previously: Saw the cover for this tonight at Written in the Mitten. Gorgeous (though now all I'll be able to think about when I see it was the discussions it caused on horse and dragon proportions and genetics (ish)...) =D And then: Just for my own records, my copy has 320 pages, not 240. 320 glorious pages. This is 2 lovely, perfect books in a row now; I am decidedly in Merrie Haskell's corner.
Review: A couple of days ago, I gushed about The Princess Curse, which is sort of loosely connected to Handbook for Dragon Slayers. Though it may not be a fairy tale retelling as The Princess Curse was, it has a lot in common with that charming middle grade book that took over my brain. They have similar worlds (separated by some centuries and location, yes, but with a generalized medieval Easter European setting), and there are also subtle little "easter eggs" that link the two books more fully. Both feel complete as stand-alones, but also work as companion pieces in the larger framework of Haskell's two (so far) apprentice stories. But what they share most strongly is their excellent, plucky, admirable main characters.
I talked a bit in my review of TPC about how Reveka was exactly what I wanted - and needed - in a female protagonist as a kid, and how she's the type I still immediately fall for now. Tilda, the main character of Handbook, is much the same. Haskell has a way with plucky, awesome characters, girls with strength and determination and spirit, and a passion to make them memorable. You can't help but root for and love Haskell's characters; they're fresh and vibrant and thoughtful. And most importantly to me, they're smart - not in an obnoxious, precocious way, but there is a subtle layer to both characters that tells the reader (ie mostly young girls) that these girls are smart and talented, and they use those smarts and talents to follow their passion, and that's what makes them awesome. At the risk of sounding boring and cliched myself, they're role models - but they're not boring and cliched. [See what I mean about how Haskell's books were exactly what I wanted/needed when I was a kid?]
On a similar note, Handbook's main character, Tilda, has a clubfoot. This is a painful-enough affliction on its own, but in medieval times when modern medicine and pain relief are hard to come by, if not non-existent, and you're a princess who's supposed to be seen as strong leader material? Needless to say, this is a huge plot point for Tilda, and I thought it was handled really well. Tilda suffers, but she isn't a whiny martyr; it does have an undeniable influence on who she is and how she reacts to the world around her - and how she expects the world around her to react to her, but in the end, she won't let it define her. I thought Haskell made a lot of smart choices in the handling of Tilda's disability, and the fact that there's no magical resolution was an excellent choice for me. Not only does it make her more relatable and sympathetic, and add a great deal of "interestingness" to her character, but to have a magical, fantastic story that doesn't wave a wand and do away with any "unsavory" bits is exactly what I would want, and what I think is needed. Having a clubfoot doesn't make Tilda less, and though she has this brief moment where she thinks (hopes, longs for, wonders if) maybe she could be magically cured, I think it was an excellent choice on Haskell's part not to.
There's a lot going on in this story...many, many plot points, and to some it may feel chaotic or confusing. I never found it too much to keep track of, and I think the points played well off of one another, but I can see why, to some, it may make it harder to follow, or make them feel like the story was rushed or scattered. But to me, it's a sprawling adventure story in that grand way that you only seem to get in kids books, and reading it brings back some of that irrepressible eagerness and energy that comes with being a kid. As a middle-grader, I would have been completely engrossed and would, without a doubt, have fallen in love with Haskell's world, her characters, and their adventures. As always, highly recommended for those who like middle grade, have middle graders, or want a fun historical fantasy/adventure with a strong, likable female lead.(less)
...hope will break the heart better than any sorrow...
Plain Kate is the type of book I wish I could have read when I was younger. As much as I loved K...more ...hope will break the heart better than any sorrow...
Plain Kate is the type of book I wish I could have read when I was younger. As much as I loved Kate and her world now, I think it would have absolutely worked its way into me when I was a kid. At the same time, though, there's so much to the story that I appreciate as an adult that maybe would have gone unnoticed as a child.
I love a good outsider story, and this one does it really well. Kate, of course, is an outsider, barely eking an existence out of her carvings, waiting for the day the world will turn on her. But she's not the only outsider in the story, by a long shot. Plain Kate is peopled with those who never quite fit in, or cannot fit in, who live on the edges and deal with their pain and Otherness alone. As a kid, I would have just seen that Plain Kate found some other outsiders to share her outsiderness with, but as an adult, I have to praise Bow for subtle injections of reality, even when reality isn't so pretty. I especially appreciated this when it came to Plain Kate's relationship with Linay.
Linay is the villain of the piece, sure. Or, I suppose Linay is a villain of the piece, because really, there are plenty of people not shown at their best, especially in the cities. But Linay is the central Big Bad -- he's got possession of Kate's shadow, and he intends to use it to do some very bad things. But this is where it gets interesting, and where I began to respect Bow as a storyteller. Where most people would leave it at that -- Linay = villain, 'nuff said -- Bow weaves together this relationship between Linay, who is hurting and alone, and Kate, who is hurting and alone. As much as they both know that each wants to undo the plots of the other, they worry about each other and care in this weird, sometimes sweet, almost unhealthy, occasionally heart-breaking, utterly human way*. There's so much gray area in the relationship to connect to and explore on your own, and I absolutely love that. It's one of the most interesting and subtly complex relationships I've read in a book for this age group in awhile.
But beyond impressing me in that regard, Plain Kate is a just-plain-fun read. I loved the characters -- Taggle, especially -- and the adventure. It's essentially a race against time, so there's that fantastic edge-of-your-seatness which makes it fun to read. There's also great world set up, and I liked exploring it with/through Kate. Bow took a culture (or, a couple of them, I guess) that are familiar enough to fall into, but distant enough to be intriguing, and she added her own spin. The only thing that knocked this back from near-perfect was the ending. Don't get me wrong, and don't let this hold you back from reading it, but I wasn't as happy with the end as I was with the rest of the book. And it's not necessarily what happens, either (though I was frowny-face at times); it's more that there was a sparkle and power to the rest of the book that I felt was a little lacking at the end. It was still good, but it -- hmm, there was a slight disconnect, if that makes sense.
But all in all, a definite fun, fast read with characters you'll remember. I would especially recommend this to teachers for their classrooms, as I think a lot of school kids could get a lot of enjoyment out of this.
*I'm sorry, that was a really long sentence. But I meant all of it. (less)
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 people...morePerception 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.
The Archivedhas one of the most interesting concepts I've seen in awhile, vaguely reminiscent of theSilence in the Library/Forest of the DeadDoctor Wh...moreThe Archived has one of the most interesting concepts I've seen in awhile, vaguely reminiscent of the Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead Doctor Who story arc, but for the YA, book/library-loving crowd. The building for Mackenzie's world - the Archive, the Narrows, the Outer, Returns, all of it - is really just spot on and fascinating. Some may find it confusing - there is certainly a lot left to the imagination, the potential for a lot of questions - but most will become completely entranced by the very thought of the world. I like a story with tough choices, a story that lacks easy answers, and I think Schwab played with this well. Also, Big Bonus: the mystery is very well done. The right amount is revealed at the right time, and even though I generally always know exactly where a mystery is going within 1/4 of the book, this time I was left wondering, and when I was right, I wasn't sure if I was. The action is also very nicely played out - not too much, not too little, and coming at the perfect time. The story as a while is paced and plotted really well.
I really liked Mackenzie - actually, I really liked all of the characters, even the not-so-good ones. They were all pretty full, pretty complete. They all seemed to have big personalities, even if we only see them in glimpses - they were distinct, which is impressive when you're talking about an entire cast. I loved watching Mackenzie navigate this secret world, and balance people who know with people who don't; the juggling act she has to maintain day in and day out lends a great tension to the story, and sympathy for Mac, that really worked. I also really liked watching her struggle to come to terms with grief, and to have burgeoning questions and worries, and how the sort of philosophical ramifications of the Archive come to play in her life.
I will say, though, that I do wish this could have been dwelt on more. There was a fair amount of introspection, and her thoughts felt right to me (and very consistent with her character), but I always felt like we were so close to a really powerful statement that just didn't come. Maybe it's because I was spoiled by the sheer beauty and effectiveness of the writing in Schwab's debut, The Near Witch, but it just felt like there was something missing. I was never able to delve as deeply as I would have liked. (Note: even though I did miss the lyrical style of The Near Witch, it would not have fit this story or Mackenzie, and I applaud Schwab for knowing that and for writing in another style just as well as she wrote in her debut.)
All in all, The Archived makes a a good stand-alone, but it certainly leaves you wanting more, which makes me really glad it's not a stand-alone (unless Goodreads is lying to me...). It feels as if the surface has barely been scratched, and there are some really murky areas I think readers (including myself) are going to want to dive into. Because Mac was raised in this, and because she idolizes her grandfather so, she doesn't really think to question anything until close to the end, when she starts to realize just how little she knows. Until then, secrecy is just part of the job, and all of the HUGE questions are still waiting to be asked. Now, knowing what she knows and seeing what she's seen, I think Mackenzie is going to be a force to be reckoned with.
So yes, I know we've still got quite a wait on this one, but I think you wouldn't go amiss to pick upThe Archived - I think you'll find it well worth your wait.
3.5 I've said many, many times before that I think Kiersten White is a good funk-breaker author. I look forward to her stories, especially when I have...more3.5 I've said many, many times before that I think Kiersten White is a good funk-breaker author. I look forward to her stories, especially when I have a lot on my plate, because I know I'll tear through them, they'll keep me entertained, and they'll jumpstart a good reading kick. They just get me in the zone; she has this quality to her writing that draws you along and makes you keep turning pages - even when it's flawed, it goes down like candy.
But surprisingly, The Chaos of Stars didn't quite get there for me. It was still candy, I still devoured it pretty quickly, but it was like the candy in the vending machine that wasn't quite what you were craving, but you got anyway because at least it was chocolate...
There was a point in Manifest that things sort of clicked for me and I saw the potential for something pretty gripping and distrubing (without giv...more2.5
There was a point in Manifest that things sort of clicked for me and I saw the potential for something pretty gripping and distrubing (without giving too much away, there is a serious creep (in the real world sense) preying on the girls of Lincoln, and MC Krystal may be the next on his list. There was a dark, gritty and realistic edge to this side of the story that I didn't see coming, and it added much needed authenticity and danger. But this one almost-stellar aspect aside, Manifest fell flat for me.
One of the biggest problems was the main character, Krystal. Krystal is very, very hard to like for a good chunk of the book. She's angsty in the worst way, pouty and insolent, she's kind of obtuse and frustrating, and it was sort of hard for me to root for her. This did get better as it went along, and I realize that it was an intended progression because of things that had gone on in her life, but it doesn't change the fact that I didn't want to read her; I didn't want to be in her head. Of the other bigger side characters, Ricky was cliched, contradictory and silly, Sasha is a princess who has yet to grow on me (bad sign, as she's the star of book 2), and Jake, who I liked and felt was more developed, was often brushed to the side.
Another problem I had (and this was partly the result of my own expectations) was the cliched aspect of the novel, coupled with attempts to make it a more POC slant. I was looking forward to getting a new perspective, something more like a melding of urban fantasy and paranormal romance. But it never felt authentic to me. Ricky, the ghost gangbanger, wears his pants low and his Timbalands untied, and he speaks in alternating urban teen slang and well-spoken prepster -- sometimes both in one sentence, like this: "I'll admit, if circumstances were different, I might try to holla at you. But your foul attitude would probably turn me off." Really? What teen of any background talks in this weird mish-mash? And what teen says 'foul attitude', other than in a mocking way when they've just been written up for it? Overall, the way it was handled, I just felt like the author had to try to connect with an audience so she sprinkled some stuff in hoping it worked, or even worse, maybe thinking it rang true, and it didn't. For me, this was hard to get past, and I found myself rolling my eyes a lot. The same is true of the "Mystyx" powers (and the name Mystyx) -- it was sort of too grandiose and I rolled my eyes. A lot.
But even though this bothered me, and I've been fairly negative so far, but truth be told, I did see potential. As I said in the beginning, there was a darker, more raw undercurrent that really could have made something of the book, and as is, saved it from completely flopping for me. I feel like Arthur has given herself room to grow over the series, and I'm curious enough, and saw potential enough, to be willing to read book 2 and see what she makes of it. I wouldn't push Manifest on anyone, but I wouldn't completely dissuade them from reading it, either. Caution, maybe, but not dissuade.
In the end, I went into Manifest with hopes of a good POC take on paranormal YA, with maybe some romance. What I got was a letdown: a cliched story of a hard to like main character, with slang and skin color thrown in to mix it up. But I also caught glimpses of something better, and I'm hoping to see it expanded upon. (less)
Marissa Meyer's debut, Cinder, made mylist of faves in 2011, so of course I was really looking forward to the second book in the Lunar Chronicles ser...moreMarissa Meyer's debut, Cinder, made my list of faves in 2011, so of course I was really looking forward to the second book in the Lunar Chronicles series, Scarlet - especially 'cause LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD ZOMG! Ahem. Excuse me. LRRH is one of my favorite tales for a number of reasons - not least of which is because of how really fricken disturbing it is - and I love to see what people make of it when they retell it. And though I think Cinder still has a (cyborg) leg up for sheer uniqueness, for the most part, Scarlet was thoroughly engaging and happy-making, just like its predecessor.
I talked a bit in my review of Cinder about how I love when a fairy tale retelling can stand on its own - when the original fairy tale elements are clearly there, but the story isn't mired in them. Cinder did this really well, and fortunately Scarlet stands on its own as well. I think with LRRH this is a little harder to do; I mean, a red cap or red hair, a trip to/search for grandma, a wolf of any kind - the barest whiff of any of these screams Little Red Riding Hood to people. We're used to rags-to-riches stories, so it sometimes escapes a heavy Cinderella parallel, but with LRRH, it's harder to not be obvious. (Am I making any sense?) But I think Meyer uses the fairy tale elements judiciously (and wisely, judging from the changes she made, which she highlights in her guest post at A Backwards Story), and though the LRRH-ness is always there, it never overwhelms the story. In this version, Red (aka Scarlet Benoit) and Wolf (aka, um...Wolf) retain some measure of their fairy tale aspects, but they each stand on their own quite nicely. I really, really liked both characters quite a bit (though not always together, though I'll get to that). Scarlet is strong, smart and fierce, and I couldn't help but love her. Wolf is enigmatic, a bit dangerous, but charming, and has a slight Bad Boy tang, but without the unsavory aftertaste (Wolf he may be, and Alpha he may be, but an Alpha A-hole he is not, and Hallelujah for that). The more minor characters are fantastic as well - the old familiar ones who pop up again, as well as the new additions. Meyer crafts great characters for readers to love and/or love to hate.
The one problem I had, though, was sort of character-related: there are a lot of them. It's not that it's ever confusing, or that the cast of characters is even all that huge. The problem lies in the fact that they each have to have their time in the spotlight: there are multiple narrators/POVs, multiple plot-lines going on, and as a result, it sometimes felt like the focus was split. Cinder got an entire book to herself, but Scarlet has to share, which makes me worried for Cress and Winter. Now, this is tricky, because I love Cinder, and I would have been disappointed if she didn't have a part in this (and I liked her part in this, truly). Also, I think there would have been mutiny if Cinder didn't have a part in this, because hello? book one's cliffhanger... But it's hard to build as much tension and make readers care as much for the new characters - and any romance that may be developing - when they're giving up a lot of their screen time to everybody else. I loved Scarlet and Wolf, but as for loving them together, I think I mostly did because I was supposed to, and not necessarily because I was given no choice but to - there are some excellent moments of tension and building chemistry, but there's not enough there yet to make me love their love, or whatever may come. (Especially given the time frame of the book.)
Now, this is not in any way to say that I don't see chemistry there, or that I didn't like either of them, because that would be totally false. The chemistry was palpable, and I loved Scarlet and Wolf almost as much as Cinder and Kai - just not as swoon-worthy couple (yet). But I can see it getting there, and I certainly liked what each brought to the story, not just in themselves, but in the way their characters and backgrounds expanded the world of the story. Each brought new pieces of information to the table that embellished the world and added to the understanding of the Lunars, their powers, and Queen Levana's endgame. The story grows nicely as a result, and Meyer has set up a strong basis for where the series is going, making me very eager for Cress and Winter, which frankly, can't come out soon enough. And on a side note: I'd sure love to see these made into films; I have a feeling they could be pretty kickass. (less)
If I don't shout maybe I can save myself, save the rest of us. But I don't know how I can just look on and watch a murder. Can you do that? Can you look on and do nothing? It feels like I ought to do something. It feels like all of this was because we all just stood by and did nothing, in the before time, in the time when we had every flipping day to sort out all the Connors and all the Jases and all the Lucases ever born.
I went into this with some trepidation, because I think we'd all agree, this is a tricky subject to take on. To make this powerful and meaningful, to show the horror of the situation, but also any hope - slim hope, slim humanity - to avoid sensationalism and finger-pointing...it all just seemed like too much to ask. And briefly in the beginning, I was worried that it was going to be too much to ask. But Mussi somehow pulls it off, despite all of the times it could have gone wrong. Siegeis powerful and effecting and so very, very horrific, but I never felt like Mussi was just going for shock-value or trying to fulfill a quota on bleak atrocities.
But my god, her success with Siege makes this a hard review to write. When I finished the book - in the middle of the night, mind you - I wanted nothing more than to just get up and record a vlog for you guys, a sort of impressions video, 1/2 review, 1/2 discussion. Because frankly, I needed to talk it out. But as it was the middle of the night, and as I was essentially a shattered mess, that didn't seem like the best idea. But now I'm stuck wondering how do I write about this? How do I discuss this without being raw, and without giving too much away?
What makes this book work so well is Leah Jackson, the smarter-and-braver-than-she-could-have-ever-realized main character. The way the story is filtered through her experiences - who she is, her need to help and fix and save and live - and her fear that her brother may somehow be involved, is what makes the story so powerful. Mussi evolves Leah's character very well throughout the story, from the beginning panic and confusion, through her disgust and her questioning and examining, and all of her realizations and revelations; Leah grows tremendously in a very condensed time frame, and the reader is led along at break-neck speed, thinking the same thoughts Leah does at the same time she thinks them. Leah's adrenaline practically drips off the page. This is a visceral read; it gets you in the guts. My heart pounded - literally pounded - reading this. That just doesn't happen to me. I get butterflies when something is really good, yes, but heart-pounding, physical, nervous anxiety is a rare one for me. And of course the way I felt completely gutted in the end... there was that. All of this happens through Leah and her somewhat stream of consciousness narration, and it makes for a really compelling read.
But this is part of what will make it a very difficult book for some people to read. There is no break from Leah's voice, and she is in the thick of things right from the start. There are no little side jaunts with other characters, no forays into the outside world for reactions - nothing to give the reader a break from the relentless anxiety and stress that Leah is under, both physically and mentally. Leah witnesses a lot of things no one should have to witness, and is forced to contemplate things or act on things that no one should have to face. I wouldn't call Siege gratuitous, necessarily, and I don't think Mussi descended into sensationalism and useless violence, but she doesn't flinch away from the true horrors of a situation like this. But I think everything is done with an eye to being honest to the story and the situation, and (more importantly) to the whole of the situation, all of the little things that lead to something like this. Most readers will know within pages - if not even before they start the book - whether Siege is the right type of read for them, but for those that can handle it, I think they'll find it a really compelling read with a lot of fascinating gray area to explore. And I think they'll find it surprisingly - perhaps uncomfortably - relatable.
I will say, I was really, really leery of the use of government presence in this. There came a point early on where I started to have suspicions, and as I was slowly proven right, I kept asking myself whether this weakened the story or strengthened it. I don't want to give anything away, but there's an element of the Grand Government Conspiracy here, and I'm still not sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, it (sadly, scarily) is believable for the world that has been set up. Even more sad and scary, is that there are definitely people who believe these Grand Government Conspiracies are happening here and now in relation to shootings. Seriously. Google "Sandy Hook conspiracy theories" and you'll see what I mean. So even though this particular instance is believable and works for the story, and even though it sort of parallels the way people search to impose meaning on senseless acts, I could never really decide if I felt it was a necessary element, and whether it added or detracted from the central issues of the story. It worked in the end, and maybe even won me over; I think Mussi certainly handled it better than many would. But I think there are readers who are going to find it one thing too much in a book that already begins as a struggle for some to read.
The only other thing I want to touch on - and that, only briefly - is the ending. I really can't say much because I don't want to give a single itty, bitty thing away, but I think some readers will be very bothered by at least one aspect of the ending - and really, there are a few to choose from. Personally, I was not bothered, and it's one of the things that had me sitting up late into the night, talking myself down from the book, and thinking that it would make for a really intriguing group or book club read. In some respects, I think things happened in the only way they really could, but at the same time, the end leaves so much to talk about and think over, and - if you're brave enough - feel, and after all the stress and tension of the book, these last few twists of the knife might be a bit too much for some readers. Personally, I think feeling it is good; being bothered by it is good. This is a book to be discussed, not reviewed.
[And I'm going to be completely honest with you and tell you that, not only did I have a really good cry when I finished (an interesting book-cry, not just sad, but sort of drained and hollowed out), but I also teared up a few times writing this review, as it all came back to me. It's not just the things that happen in the book, but the way Mussi makes you feel, and the way a story like this - at least for me, an American woman who hears about these things far too often, and who for a long time intended to be a teacher - really hits home.] (less)