I have to start this review with a little bit of a disclaimer: I wasn't entirely aware of what I was getting myself into in this book. I knew there wa...moreI have to start this review with a little bit of a disclaimer: I wasn't entirely aware of what I was getting myself into in this book. I knew there was another book that came before it, The Man Who Loved Jane Austen, but I thought the two were more interconnected standalones than one being a direct sequel of the other. And maybe they're meant to be, and it just wasn't carried off, but either way, Yours Affectionately, Jane Austen plunges you right into the heart of a story that's already going on. I mean, really - it's right in the middle of a ball, which (to my understanding) the last book spent much of its time building up to. By the time this story begins, the two main characters are already confessing their devotion to each other, and I'm like, wait - we don't know each other that well, folks, let's back this up a bit. But then they would say things like how they've only known each other 2 days, and I'd be like, Um, maybe I misread the confessions of love? I kept flipping back and forth in the beginning, trying to confirm what was really going on, and how long these characters had known each other, and where the timeslip to Jane Austen's time came in, and Darcy's romance with her, and how Darcy became DARCY, and - it was hard for me to get my bearings, is what I'm saying. And this is no fault of Sally Smith O'Rourke, mind you. At least, not entirely - it's my own fault for reading a book 2, though I still find the brevity of the romance to be suspect... But some of the things that completely threw me off may not phase another reader who has read book 1, and maybe those 2 impassioned days of whirlwind romance are really enough to make the reader buy them as a couple by the time this book starts. I don't know. So: disclaimer. There you have it. Take any negatives I may have with a grain of salt, because I'm kinda shooting blind.
Now, that being said, I was eventually able to make sense of who was who and what had been going on before this. Some things were always a bit unclear to me, but for the most part, I was able to suss things out and dive into the story. And I have to say, there were some things I really enjoyed, though they're maybe not the things I was supposed to like the most. YA, JA is split into 3 different storylines: 1) at some point in the past, a modern day man named Fitzwilliam Darcy traveled back into Jane Austen's time, and sorta maybe wooed her a bit - storyline 1 deals with what's going on in Austen's timeline as a result; 2) Fitzwilliam Darcy came back to the present, where a woman who has stumbled on his past romance with Jane has come to seek him out - storyline 2 follows their immediate true lurves; 3) a stableboy from Jane's time, Simmons, wants to make a better life for himself, and decides to follow Darcy back home, which means time travelling into the current timeline - pretty straight-forward, that Simmons, and I gotta say, his storyline was my fave, hands down. The other two storylines had their positives and their negatives: I was amused by Jane, and liked how O'Rourke used her actual words (from her letters and stories) to make her seem more real... but she never quite gelled for me; the romance between modern-day Fitz and Eliza had potential, but it was more of a chaotic neutral - things seemed to happen too fast, and were a bit roller-coaster-y, which auto-tips me into my Prime Judgement Zone, but in the end, it was a pleasant-enough romance.
But Simmons. Oh, Simmons. I liked his story so much more than any romance. His was a story all about striking out on one's own, about seeking a place in the world where you can be valuable and respected, and about taking huge, bold risks to do so. Frankly, I could have done with a whole story following Simmons and his jarring travels in the modern world. It was funny, it was sweet, and it seemed realistic, which is always a big bonus in a time-slip novel. Even though I enjoyed the other two threads in the book, I found myself constantly wanting to get back to Simmons - this was not the reaction I expected to have when his 3rd POV was introduced into the book. I was worried that so many plot lines, so many different points of view, would fracture the book and make me not like it. Instead, I thought they all worked together well, and gave a more-complete picture, but it was Simmons, the thread I thought I'd find unnecessary and want to just snip from the overall fabric, Simmons whose story I kinda fell in love with.
So, I don't know. It was a bit of a strange reading experience for me, in that I didn't get at all what I thought I was going to get (my fault), but I ended up really liking the things I didn't think I was going to like (Sally's fault, so good on her, 'cause she won me over). It's hard for me to know whether to recommend the book, though, as I haven't read the first one, and so can't recommend it - but while I liked this, and loved Simmons, I can't recommend this either, without saying, read the first book... So, I guess, if you have read The Man Who Loved Jane Austen and liked it, or want to see how the story wraps up, pick this one up and you'll get Bonus Simmons. If you haven't read either, but are curious, just know there's some interesting timeslip and a really cool stable boy to look forward to... =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)
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)
I'm not entirely sure what I want to say to you about this one. It had its high and low points, as all books do, and in the end it left me feeling a l...moreI'm not entirely sure what I want to say to you about this one. It had its high and low points, as all books do, and in the end it left me feeling a little middle of the road. I think a few years ago, I may have loved this, but now I feel so used to this story (even though I hadn't read it) that it didn't leave much of an impression.
Here's the thing: I find the ideas behind the book really interesting. I like timeslip novels conceptually because I find the whole thing fascinating. It's then down to whether or not the concept is carried off well, and in this case, it was. As a time travel book, it worked for me and was interesting. Yes, the "time gene" and all that was a little muddled. I had my questions, assuredly. But they didn't bother me too much, and I thought the different ways the "time gene" could manifest was very interesting. So it wasn't the crux of the story that sort of threw me off.
Unfortunately, it was sort of the characters. And here's where it gets tricky, and why I'm not sure what I want to say about the book. I liked the characters themselves for the most part. I liked Emerson, I thought she was fun and spunky. I liked Michael, though he was maybe a little flat (I don't particularly care for flawless men. Strange, I know.) I really liked Emerson's best friend, Lily, and am curious to see where her storyline goes. I liked Emerson's brother and his wife, Michael's friends and colleagues. I seemed to pretty much like them all. And yet...they didn't quite work for me. I don't know how to explain it; it was partly that I never really felt too much of a connection with them, and it was partly that they were a little one-dimensional, save those who turned out to be super-crazy. (Like, no joke. Cat-petting, mustache-twirling, hyena-cackling, Bond villain, bald-Brittany cray-cray.) For whatever reason, I just never found myself completely invested in their stories, for the most part. There were moments where I would just start to become attached, and then I would lose the thread. They were never real to me.
Part of this, I think, was because of the insta-love storyline. I have to hand it to McEntire, she certainly tried to make insta-love believable and gave it some legitimate scientific reasoning, which made me not loathe it the way I generally would. (She gave it some good lustiness, too, which didn't hurt.) But it remains one of my biggest pet peeves regardless, so I can't entirely let it slide. And I think it was part of what made me disconnect from the characters. As soon as you get into insta-love, can't live without you, saying I love you and meaning it fanatically in a matter of minuteshours days, I stop believing that you are in any way real. Don't get me wrong, I know there are people out there who completely act like that, but I don't think they're real, either (I think they're crazy). I am a jaded hardcore bitch cynic, so this whole immediate twoo wuv thing just cancels out a lot of my WSOD. So, there, I guess. That's a big part of my disconnect. (Coupled with the caricatures that developed at the end.)
So in the end, I guess it was a bit of a balancing act, trying to decide if the plot and the time-travel and the character-aspects I did like outweighed the things I didn't. And it ended up a pretty balanced scale. I don't see it as a book I will be pushing people to go out and read nao, but it won't be one I'll discourage people from reading, either. It ended with an interesting basis for further books in the series, so I likely will read them, even if I won't rush to buy them. The idea of time paradoxes and the multi-history lines, coupled with the consequences of changing the timeline provides fascinating potential, and the revelations of Emerson's past, and any revelations that I think may be to come, will likely keep me reading, even if the books don't end up on the top of my stack.
Check out my interview with Myra here. Also, you can enter to win a copy of this here (ends 11/5/11)(less)
There are a lot of elements to Steel that seem as if its bound to be a win. Fencing? ☑ Pirates? ☑ Time travel? ☑ A touch of romance? ☑ They’re all the...moreThere are a lot of elements to Steel that seem as if its bound to be a win. Fencing? ☑ Pirates? ☑ Time travel? ☑ A touch of romance? ☑ They’re all there. But I never really connected to Steel the way I would have liked.
I mean, it was enjoyable enough, but there were some things that held me back and created a bit of a disconnect. Jill was a bit too moody and petulant for me. I get that she’s a teen (and probably a spoiled rich one - who else fences?), and I get that super competitive people are really hard on themselves and can get pretty pissy when they don’t do as well as they want/anticipate. But that’s part of why I’m not friends with a lot of super competitive people. I don’t want to watch you sulk, or listen to you bitch and moan.
And realistically, I think this was part of the point. Not only is it part of Jill’s character, but it’s this whole transformative growth mumbojumbo wherein Jill realizes that losing a fencing match is maybe not so important in the grand scheme of things. And her turnaround begins pretty quickly, so it really shouldn’t bother me the way it does. But the fact is, the Jill I met in the beginning of the story stayed with me throughout - in my head, at least - and prevented me from really loving the book. It felt a little too after-school-special, and I’ve always doubted that the spoiled rich kids who learn the value of blahblahblah in those specials actually change and remember said value for long.
Now, lest you think I completely dislike Jill, let me correct you: I did like her and root for her, but part of that, I think, was just that she’s the main character and therefore who I was supposed to root for. My irritation with her was for the most part slight, but it was there, and it contributed to my mehness about the book.
Also a contributing factor was the “unreality” of it all. I mean, yes, she’s a fencer and she ends up on a pirate ship where she learns where her skills really come from, historically, and how to put them to good use and actually swordfight, not just playact, and golly isn’t that swell. But I never had a real sense of time in the book (was she there days? Weeks? Months? I don’t frakking know.), so I found it sort of silly when everyone is willing to let her fight Mr Big Bad. She’s a high school fencer, for jeebus sake. I think it would have taken him about .02 seconds to run her through in reality. Again, it was kind of after-school-special (which I’ve just realized abbreviates to ASS), and I just didn’t buy it. I think maybe younger kids, tweens and early teens, would eat this up and not have a problem with the lack of believability in this respect, but it nagged at me.
Those two larger things aside, I liked the book well enough, though I never felt compelled to read it. The piracy was rollicking and fun, and pretty well researched, I’d say (though a bit sanitized), and there was a good feel to the book, a good sense of place. Whether in the Caribbean or on the ocean, it all felt very scenic and pretty fully realized, and I enjoyed that. The reader gets to learn the world and explore it through Jill, and from that aspect it worked for me. In the end, I didn’t feel it was a waste of my time, but it didn’t keep me on the edge of my seat, either. I think it will find a welcome audience with younger girls, and I think seeing strong women like Pirate Queen Marjory Cooper and Jill (later in the book, when she’s left bratty behind) will be welcome to the young girls who do read it. But I wanted more, and have a feeling it will fade from memory pretty quickly.(less)
February 12th is Cupid Day, Samantha Kingston's favorite day, when friends and secret admirers send each other roses at school, and everyone gets to s...moreFebruary 12th is Cupid Day, Samantha Kingston's favorite day, when friends and secret admirers send each other roses at school, and everyone gets to see just how popular - or unpopular - they really are. But this year, Cupid Day is also the day Sam dies. And dies, and dies. You see, Sam can't stop reliving her last horrible, confusing, frustrating, glorious day, no matter what she changes and what she discovers about herself and the life she's lived -- though dying may be exactly what Sam needs to really live.
Before I Fall is one of those books that seems to just take over the blogoshpere on occasion. It has a prettypretty cover, an interesting title and premise, and people just seem to go gaga over it. This made me leery.
I mean, don't get me wrong. It's not that I don't trust your judgment, blogger friends, and it's not that I don't want to buy books with prettypretty covers. Ok, I may be lying in both instances...but it's because I have been burned by a rave review and a pretty package before. So even though I caved and bought this one, I couldn't make myself pick it up for the longest time because I wasn't ready to be disappointed. Plus, the whole "Groundhogs Day" connection had me more than a little hesitant.
"I'm dead, but I can't stop living..."
But the fact of the matter is that this book is a gem. It's not perfect, no, and it will frustrate some people, but it will make you think, and it will make you uncomfortable in the best way, and it will leave it's mark for awhile to come, and that is the sign of a talent and a classic. No, I'm not being hasty, but I do think this will stand up to time and reflection. Sam will haunt me, and the choices she makes, and her friends make, and her enemies make, and that I've made and will make -- they will haunt me.
"I did my part, too. I did it on a hundred different days in a thousand different ways..."
This book is going to make people uncomfortable because it's going to force them to consider the things that they've done and the influences they've had. As a YA book, I think it's going to be incredibly relatable and enjoyable, while at the same time being effective in something that is pretty hard to do -- making teens think about someone other than themselves.* Hell, adults too, for that matter.
"...it makes me feel, weirdly, like all of these different possibilities exist at the same time, like each moment we live has a thousand other moments layered underneath it that look different."
We all do things that are thoughtless or careless or downright cruel, and Lauren Oliver deals with that in a realistic way. There isn't a lot of pandering to her audience or saccharine, condescending, sentimental bullshit. There's good and bad and freak coincidence all mingled together in a believable way. It's compulsively readable contemporary fiction with an interesting sci-fi slant that will draw in readers who don't generally read contemporary fiction. All you have to do is get past the Groundhog Day basis, which isn't irritating or overpowering the way I thought it'd be. Some readers may struggle with Sam and want to shake her, but I find her slow transformation, with occasional backsliding, more realistic and I respect Oliver for not taking easy paths in this book.
The only real drawback for me was some of the asides to the reader. Sometimes they felt a little heavy handed or obvious, like Oliver let doubt creep in about what her reader (as a teen) would be able to conclude, so she pointed them in the right direction. Many people may not be bothered by these, but I don't like these sorts of things at all.** Fortunately, most of these were brief and well-spaced, so I could pretend they weren't there.
Pick this up; I think you'll like it.
*I say this with love. **There was once a very long rant about the reader asides in The Tale of Despereaux. I think my Children's Lit class thought I was crazy.