You ever have those late nights where you can’t sleep and you find yourself being sucked down the rabbit hole? No, I don’t want to say sucked. Everyth...moreYou ever have those late nights where you can’t sleep and you find yourself being sucked down the rabbit hole? No, I don’t want to say sucked. Everything sounds dirty now... Where you find yourself making bad decisions...Like buying crap from infomercials. Texting people you shouldn’t text. Reading bad books because the reviews crack you up... I found myself reading reviews of this, and then I found myself reading a few pages, just to see, and then a few hours later, I found myself ending the book and saying, Well - that was...that.
Here's the thing: this is not great writing. I doubt this is up for debate. It has a strong tendency towards cheesiness, and some of the euphemisms are pretty cringe-worthy. BUT it's actually sort of hilarious. And not in the, this book is crap, unintentional way. Clayton - and her desperate-for-an-O main character - are genuinely funny. As silly as it all is, it's engaging. So while it may not be great writing, it is good storytelling. So now, at 4am, feeling like my eyeballs are going to dry up and roll out of my head, as silly and cheesy as it could sometimes be, I don't find myself regretting falling down this particular rabbit hole. It was worth it for the surprising laughs and fun voice.
So. That happened.
[Also, for those of you put off by the fact that it started as Twilight fanfic, I can honestly say - don't be. These characters and their plots had to have similarities in name only, because nothing here really resembles Twilight. I'm not saying there's no resemblance, because I guess it peeks through a teensy bit now and again, but really - I could not have bore the last few hours if it had been Bella moaning about her lost O and Edward being a control freak. I really think Twilight must have just been a jumping off point to get Clayton writing, because this isn't a Twilight regurgitation with the, ahem, banging of walls...] (less)
Just to warn you: there really is no way to write a review of a 2nd book in a series without revealing some secrets from the first book. This is espec...moreJust to warn you: there really is no way to write a review of a 2nd book in a series without revealing some secrets from the first book. This is especially true where this series is concerned, so this review will contain spoilers for book one!
I mentioned in my review of The Poison Diaries that I liked it better after having read Nightshade. It brought some things together for me, but mostly I think it was because the ending to TPD takes such a strange turn that I think your mind needs time to adjust, and there just wasn't time before the book ended. I mean, yes, you've been somewhat prepared for talking plants from Weed's revelations, but then to actually have plants talking - and plotting murder and world domination - is just a little strange. It takes a big adjustment. A lot of willing suspension of disbelief. But by book 2, it almost seems natural. Partly, I think this is because not just poisonous plants are doing the talking. You start to get a feel for the different "personalities" of the plants, and they become more like characters. But I think it's also because of the way it's narrated - more in Weed's voice, and where Jessamine is concerned, she's no longer fevered, so it reads less...manic, I guess. Whatever the reason, it works now, and makes the ending of TPD go down a little better.
Where it seemed to touch on magical realism in book one, I think it takes a pretty firm turn into magical realism in Nightshade. It also goes really, really dark. Wood explores some pretty deep, scary waters for a YA book, which, coupled with the magical realist feel, is really interesting. When you think "dark" in YA, you tend to think emotional contemporary blahblah. This is a completely different kind of dark, a story of control and manipulation and completely losing oneself to it. It's very Gothic feeling, and I kept thinking as I was reading that it would make such a good, strange little movie. (You know, if you could figure out a way to make Oleander scary and not just silly onscreen.) It's told in that delicious car-crash-in-slow-mo way that just grips you and makes you certain that it's going to be a first-rate tragedy. [I mean Tragedy-capital-T; you know, the cosmic irony, world is against us, every step I take in what I think is the right direction makes everything worse...that type of thing.]
Part of what makes this work so well is the split narration between Jessamine, who is slowly losing herself with the help of Oleander, and Weed, who is coming into his own. I wasn't a big fan of the split narration in book one, but here it really works. There is good balance to their story arcs, and getting to see every false step from two angles, seeing it all plotted out by Oleander, and how successful he is at pulling the strings, really contributes to the Gothic tragedy feeling. I also just plain liked Weed's voice in this, so I was happy to be in his thoughts and have his world opened up more. He keeps it all together, but it's Jessamine who steals the show. I mentioned at the end of my TPD review that book 2 is definitely worth reading because Jessamine is kickass, and I meant that. She is...dark and dangerous and a complete 180 from the charmingly naive girl she was in the beginning. And what's more, it's believable. It's sometimes painful to watch, and you sometimes want to cheer for her and sometimes want to yell at her, and it all just works to push us toward an ending you can't help but fear.
As for the ending itself, I have to say I loved it. Now, this comes with a caution, because, just as in book one, I think this is the type of ending that may really piss people off. It is certainly not for fans of the cliff-hanger ending. But, going back to the movie comparison, the whole thing feels very episodic and it works for me. The feel of the ending is really haunting and an interesting blend of optimism and pessimism. It's perfectly in keeping with the darker tone of the book, and I respect it as a result. And I have to say, without giving anything away, the final image is just... just brilliant.
So if you've read book one and were on the fence about whether to continue the series, I would strongly urge it. It's really going some interesting places, and I think you'll like the two books almost as a set. If you haven't read book one, but ignored my spoilers warning and read this review, and now have your interest piqued (talking plants? Oleander? Tragedy?), I would strongly recommend picking up both books at the same time, so that you can head straight into Nightshade after finishing TPD. Don't worry, they're both quick reads...
When Ashley and I started our discussions for this year's FTF, there was 1 book that topped both of our wishlists - Aletha Kontis' Enchanted. Sure, t...moreWhen Ashley and I started our discussions for this year's FTF, there was 1 book that topped both of our wishlists - Aletha Kontis' Enchanted. Sure, there were plenty of other fairy tale books we wanted to read, and movies we wanted to see, but we were both in a mania to get our hands on this book (which wasn't an easy feat, lemme tell you). That cover and title combo, coupled with the fact that it's a retelling of The Frog freaking Prince, meant that we just had to cover it this year! And I have to say, I'm glad we did.
Now, I don't think this is necessarily the book for everybody. Some people definitely like their fairy tale retellings darker and weightier. And I certainly like that side of them - but I also like the fun, tongue-in-cheek exuberance that comes with the lighter retellings. This one definitely falls into the light category. It's very breezy and quirky and fun. I know I just used the word exuberant, but it really is the perfect word for this tale. It's refreshing. There is bad stuff and dark stuff, as there always will be, but it's the type of tale where there is never really any doubt that it's all going to come out right in the end.
Along the way, it throws in or touches on like every tale, ever. Those with a passing knowledge of fairy tales may not get everything and may just feel like certain things are weird quirks to the storytelling. For the rest of us (ie those obsessed), each tale is like a little easter egg, and you're wondering which you're going to find next. It could have been too much, but for me at least, it wasn't. I absolutely loved the idea of a girl whose stories come to life, and a family (and couple) who essentially became the basis for all of the fairy tales we know. They sort of live them all, and it sort of all happens in a fairly short amount of time. (Well, a very short amount of time, but I'll get to that.) It's a fun little twist that I think fairy tale lovers will appreciate. When I finished it, I described in on Goodreads as "weird, but a good weird" - it's the kind of weird that just keeps you grinning and turning the pages.
But. As I said, I don't think this will necessarily be the book for everyone, and here's why:
The obstacles keeping the protags apart sometimes seemed forced or outlandish. This is going back to that weird-but-good-weird thing, but I know it will bother some people they they just don't talk. That they're just not honest, that everyone is just not honest. But the characters of Sunday and Rumbold (and basically everybody) are very, very enjoyable, and I think make up for this. The story and the characters and the dynamics are very charming and homey-feeling, which I really liked, and which suits the fairy tale retelling aspect well, for all that their connections are convoluted and a bit too conveniently interlinked for my tastes.
But mostly, it's all down to timing. I know things come in 3s and 3 days is sort of magical fairy-taleness. But I would have liked more time in the development of the relationship between Sunday & the Frog and Sunday & the Prince (same guy, two meetings, both centered around 3 days). Yes, 3 is magical and all, but really? There's no reason things can't happen slower and sweeter. It's as easy as starting a chapter with "In the coming weeks, blah blah blah" and poof! Your characters have now known each other for a respectable amount of time. 3 days is just not enough for me to buy everlasting love, even if it technically has to be true love, because only true love's kiss transforms, and all that. I just - I'm too jaded for that. And I want the build-up. I want the butterflies and the flirtatious moments, and the burgeoning realization of love. I was able to set this aside (because I know how fairy tales work and I know how YA works, and I get that it's magic, so fine). But I know some readers won't be able to. One man's enjoyably-weird is another man's too-freaking-weird, and it all just comes down to which camp you fall into - How willingly do you suspend your disbelief?
(With the exception of love, my answer is pretty willingly.)(less)
I'm a fan of Quirk Books. They're always looking for ways to challenge the status quo a bit, try something new, and I appreciate that. (And with hits...moreI'm a fan of Quirk Books. They're always looking for ways to challenge the status quo a bit, try something new, and I appreciate that. (And with hits like Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children to their name, they aren't doing a bad job of it, either.) So I'm always curious to see what they have planned next. But The Thorn and the Blossom surprised even me. I mean, I knew of accordion bindings in a sort of abstract way, as something that's just not done. And yet, here they are, doing it. And I have to say, I liked it.
I'm sure some will find the accordion binding gimmicky, and hey, maybe it is, but the fact is, it's also perfectly suited to the story that's being told. Evelyn and Brendan's stories just ...wouldn't have been the same if they were just told in parts, rather than back to back. I can't explain why, but it would have lessened it somehow.
Their stories fit together and complemented each other very nicely, and the unique format of the book helped facilitate that. I was worried that it was going to be a little hard to read, but aside from a bit of flopping about when I first began reading, the book actually wasn't that hard to manage. Also - it's a flipping accordion. I would have put up with a bit of frustration just to be able to play with the book like a magic deck of cards...
But onto the story itself. You can start at either side, and I started with Evelyn. I have no idea how or if this colored my reading of the story, but I have to say I'm glad I started with Evelyn. It felt right, starting with her, and plunged me into the magical feel of the book a bit more thoroughly than I think it would have if I'd started with Brendan. Regardless of where you start, though, the story is very sweet and charming. It's modern, but it reads a bit like a fairy tale, borrowing from folklore and adding in some magical realist bits that kept me completely engaged. But light as it was, Evelyn and Brendan are adults and so are there stories - there were touches of darkness, little bits of doubt, but done so very lightly and subtly. It worked to make the fairy tale aspect seem heightened, but also more real. It was that little bit of counterpoint to an otherwise almost airy story that helped ground it and make it have a little more impact.
It's an incredibly quick read, being only about 80 pages - a slim little novella easily read in 1 sitting. I know some people don't like to read anything under novel length; they feel like they won't get enough meat to the story, that there's not enough depth or development in such a short span. And yes, I suppose there isn't a ton of development going on in this book; there are things glossed over, large swaths of time skipped. But it didn't feel like any negligence on Goss' part. It just wasn't necessary. As I said, it's very much like a fairy tale, like a story people would tell aloud, and those are never very lengthy. They tend instead to be brief, succinct, relying on a few symbols and common tropes, and the reader's (or listener's) familiarity with them to give the story any import.
In this case, there can be no real conclusion to the story, other than the ones drawn by readers. I mean, with a story that is going to be retold as soon as you finish it (since you are merely flipping the book over and starting again), you can't know for sure how it ends, or it would give away the other half and render it pointless. But it's the type of ending where all pieces are there, and it's up to the reader to determine how everything will go from there - whether the magic contained in this slim book is worldly or otherworldly - and whether it matters at all, so long as there is love.
So, gimmicky or not, Goss carries it off well, and I think this would be a pleasant addition (perhaps even a necessary addition) to any bibliophile's coffee table. And if you don't believe me, just wait until you see it in person. See if you can resist the siren song of the accordion binding then...(less)
This review has been in the making for ages. It's kind of ridiculous how long it's taken me to write it - to the point that I was wondering if I'd hav...moreThis review has been in the making for ages. It's kind of ridiculous how long it's taken me to write it - to the point that I was wondering if I'd have to read the book again before I could - because it's hard to know what to say. Part of me just wants to say: Get it; read it. Part of me wants to say: A.S King should already be on your auto-buy list. But how else to talk about this complex, weird, painful, triumphant book without giving away some of its magic?
I guess I'll start with Lucky. I love Lucky Linderman as a narrator, and I think nearly everyone will. He's very relatable and rootforable, and his deceptively calm way of narrating just really works. And the pace at which things are revealed by Lucky is just damn near perfect. He's just this really well-designed gateway into what can be a very difficult (technically and emotionally) story. On the surface, his story is about bullying and self-worth, but it would be too easy to write it off as just those things, because the story is more complex than that, and Lucky is more complex than that - Lucky doesn't exist as just a victim of bullying, he is not defined purely in terms of what is done to him, and this story explores that and teaches Lucky that.
I normally talk about WSOD (willing suspension of disbelief) in stories when it doesn't work - when an author doesn't quite pull it off, and I'm not really able to suspend my disbelief. But when I am able to - when it's successful - it normally isn't addressed because it seems so natural. But I want to make a point to talk about it here because I think King's writing really drives this home - the entire concept and presentation of this story requires a huge WSOD, but it's done in such a way that you almost don't even need to be willing - it just happens, you just go with it, and before you know it, you're like, "Yeah, talking ants, state-shaped scabs, mother = squid/father = turtle, real-world dream-travels back to Vietnam to chat with your MIA/POW grandpa. Of course." It all just seems like such a completely logical way of seeing the world around you, and dealing with that world, that the reader's willing suspension is not only never broken, but it's not even really threatened. That's a pretty impressive feat in a story like this, which brings me to:
A.S. King should be on your auto-buy list. She has such an unflinching quality to her writing that I absolutely love. Combine that with a magical realism streak (yay!), and it's pretty much a guarantee that I'm going to like what she writes. But I don't think that's just me; I know magical realism isn't something that everybody is comfortable with (it's weird, it ignores boundaries, it makes you uncomfortable), but King uses it judiciously and she makes it work. She confronts things, and she does so in a unique, powerful way that affects the reader. She takes on a topic that many have tackled before (bullying and self-worth, and finding your place in the world and among your family, etc.), but she does so in what is very uniquely her own way. She also understands how to find a balance between a "normal" contemporary story and something a little more weird and quirky, so that fans of contemporary find themselves reading something more challenging in presentation, and fans of weirder stuff find themselves enjoying the contemporary story they may normally forego - both get genre-shaken, and I think that's a good thing.
And I...I don't want to say too much more than that, really, because I don't want to give even a tiny bit of the story away. Every little thing, down to the tiniest ant, has its place in this story, and sometimes those tiny things will creep up on you out of nowhere and hit you so hard that it takes your breath away - and that is the type of story that needs to be readunderstood experienced. (less)
In some ways, I'm surprised I liked this as much as I did. I'm not sure why, maybe it's because I love the title/cover combo, or because I love the id...moreIn some ways, I'm surprised I liked this as much as I did. I'm not sure why, maybe it's because I love the title/cover combo, or because I love the idea behind it, or because quirky can sometimes go horribly, horribly wrong; whatever the reason, I was kind of bracing to be let down in this one. And since it reads a little dispassionately in the beginning, I had a hard time staying engaged and thought my doom-and-gloom expectations were going to be - well, satisfied doens't seem like the right word... But I thought I was going to be disappointed, and I wasn't. (yay!)
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is intensely creative and unique, consistently giving me things I wasn't expecting. This is not to say I didn't have issues with the book, because I did. Though I love the idea of using quirky, odd photos to help narrate the story, there were certainly times when those photos seemed more forced on the story than supplemental to it. There were times, too, where it just felt so damned over-written. I just wanted to say, 'Pull back a little, buddy. One metaphor is fine.' And as I said, it sometimes felt a little dispassionate. But neither of these was a consistent problem, and the times when the book or the tone was nailed far outweighed the times when they were not.
I think this is one of those books that you should know going in whether you are going to like it. If you know that you like things a little quirky, a little dark, a little macabre and a whole lot strange, then yes, you are going to enjoy this. (If you don't, you probably won't.) The characters the reader is introduced to certainly live up to their moniker of peculiar. Some are just mildly shocking ala a circus freak show, and some are downright unsettling...(view spoiler)[I'm talking about you, boy who makes little clay golems, then brings them to life with mouse hearts and makes them fight each other (hide spoiler)] There's a creepy "off" tone to a lot of what goes on, and the threat of violence and being, you know, hunted down and eaten, so yeah, it's a good Halloween read for sure. ;P
What I loved, though, was getting things I didn't expect. It's rare for a book to surprise me, and this one did so pretty consistently. There were some great lines and bits of unexpected description that just tickled me and had me pulling out my post-its tabs*. And there were characters and relationships among them that I did not see coming, and aspects of the villains that I didn't see coming (and I am rarely surprised or pleased by a villain). Most of all, though, I was surprised by the whole plot and who it all works together. Beyond the expected elements of horror and mystery, there is romance and history and - something I can't get into it without being very spoilery - there was a crucial element to the plot, hinging on an ability of the titular Miss Peregrine, that I just did not see coming. And I loved it.
And I sort of feel like that's all I can say without starting to give some major things away. As most people know now, there will be a second book (which, though it could be read and work as a stand-alone, I think a 2nd book was a bit of a given), and there will be a movie. <---- And this I am very eager for, as I kept picturing scenes while I was reading. It's very visual and some elements of the setting I just cannot wait to see onscreen. There is a sense of wonder that I hope they can catch and even expand on.
Oh, and I love the design of the book. I know it's silly, but it gets points. Almost everything about the design is just a little tiny bit different than other books, showing that thought went in to nearly every aspect of it, from the very squared-off binding to the end papers and chapter-pages, etc. It's nice, that level of thought and attention to detail. I approve.
*"But beyond all that, above the houses and fields and sheep doddering around like puffs of cotton candy, I could see tongues of dense fog licking over the ridge in the distance, where this world ended and the next one began, cold, damp, and sunless." Though a bit overwritten, I just adored the image of the 'sheep doddering around like puffs of cotton candy.' ;) ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
This was a pretty fun book, mixing real pirate lore and superstition with elements from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, in a how-to style. The...moreThis was a pretty fun book, mixing real pirate lore and superstition with elements from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, in a how-to style. There are the things every pirate should know, like how to climb rigging or properly insult someone ("feculent maggot" being my personal favorite, followed closely by "salty wench").
There are also the less expected tips on things like How to Disguise Your Gender* or How to Cope with Mermaids.
There are pictures and illustrations interspersed throughout the text, ranging from movie stills to instructional diagrams to amusing illustrations. like this ------->
All told, I think this would make a great gift for boys (especially those who are reluctant readers) and for pirate aficiandos; it would also make for a fun quirky coffee table book, and certainly come in handy on International Talk Like a Pirate Day. There's enough real history mixed in with quirky pirate lore to entertain most pirate fans, and the design of the book is rather nice and user-friendly, too.
*as anyone who's seen my latest IMM would expect, I quite liked that section. Female pirates in disguise = awesomesauce.(less)
First I want to start with a HUGE THANK YOU to Ksenia of Polish Outlander for being awesomesauce and surprising me with a copy of this.
I kind of don't know where to begin other than to say I fell in love with this. The illustrations are just perfectly stylized and atmospheric, and incredibly expressive. This probably has less text than any graphic novel I've ever read (entire pages go by with no words), and yet it doesn't lack for story. It's always so clear and complete - I never felt it was lacking simply from not having a lot of text. The story is fully there in the pictures, which not a lot of graphic novels pull off or even attempt. Furthermore, her style was distinctive and memorable. It reminded me somewhat of Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis in the simplicity and almost cuteness of the black and white illustrations, but Brosgol has definitely put her stamp on it.
Beyond the fact that the illustrations are just perfect, the book works on so many levels. Brosgol has a great sense of humor - in Anya and in the illustrations - that acts as a good counterpoint to the growing tension and unease regarding her ghost, Emily, who she meets when she falls down a well.
And speaking of Emily - oh, I loved her. I mean, you don't ever not see what's coming with her (did that make sense?), but it's so delightful watching her morph from this little lonely ghost to this maniacal sort of poltergeist with a vengeance. She's a sweet little nutjob, and I loved it. And Brosgol's depiction of her and the way her character evolves as her story is slowly revealed is fantastic.
She goes from this:
and I loved every minute of it. On that level, it was a great classic ghost story, a creepy story of control and obsession and longing.
But it's not just a ghost story. Anya's Ghost is also a bit of a coming of age story, and an immigrant/Outsider story that makes Anya relatable and lovable (even when you want to smack her). Brosgol created Anya's voice really well, and captured both her desire to be normal and mainstream as well as her awkwardness and insecurity and bitterness about what it means to actually be mainstream.
Do you ever have those books where, when you try to recommend them to someone, all you can come up with is "Just read it"? I know I've kind of rambled, and just shoved pictures in your face, but - just read it.(less)
I was hooked by the tagline "Boy Meets Girl. Boy Stalks Girl. Girl already has a stalker. Boy becomes her stalker-stalker." It's kinda perfect, and tw...moreI was hooked by the tagline "Boy Meets Girl. Boy Stalks Girl. Girl already has a stalker. Boy becomes her stalker-stalker." It's kinda perfect, and twisted enough to be right up my alley. (I assumed.) And though I did like this aspect of the story, I felt a little let down.
It's weird; I like the elements of the story, and they all seem to fit together to make something I should really like, but I felt disconnected from the story. I think this is in large part due to the "medical blog" style. I mean, yes, it was quirky and sometimes very amusing, more so when you would take into account the things Gomez was saying + the reasons he was saying them + the fact that a medical research team was to have full access to the blog and his (very personal) shared thoughts. This should have = a win, and occasionally it did. But most of the time, Gomez's clinical style and my questions on the timing and delivery of it all kept me from buying in and going with it.
But despite this, I wouldn't call it a bad read. Parke is funny and quirky ala Christopher Moore, and some of the stuff that happens is fun and random in that good, wtf? way. Gomez's interactions with his clueless neighbor were so hilariously uncomfortable (in fact, Gomez's interactions with a lot of people were hilariously uncomfortable -- he knows some odd people, and is a bit odd himself...), and the situations he finds himself are fun/zany. I think there will be people who will really love this book and recommend it to people, and think about it and its characters fondly. I'm just somewhere in the middle, wanting to like it more than I did, wanting to connect to it more than I could. I think with a few different choices, the book would have had me, but as it is, it fell just shy. (less)