Hush, Hush is the story of Nora Grey, an average high school student going about her business as usual -- until her Bi...moreNOW WITH SPOILERY RANT @ BOTTOM!
Hush, Hush is the story of Nora Grey, an average high school student going about her business as usual -- until her Biology teacher rearranges the class seating and places her next to the dangerous-looking new kid, Patch Cipriano. Nora gets a weird feeling from Patch, and things just keep going from bad to worse as Nora becomes convinced that she is being stalked, and may even be the target of murderous intentions. Add to the list Nora's strange feelings about the Archangel ride at the amusement park and her constant near death experiences, and well, Nora's life is becoming anything but average.
When I finished reading Hush, Hush, I had to mull it over for awhile. I really wasn't sure what to say. I am absolutely enthralled by the cover (athletic looking, darkly mysterious fallen angel, contorted in mid-air in grayscale? What's not to like?). I had to have it because of that cover*. But I had a sneaking suspicion that a cover that good had to be masking something. Yep. It's a bright light to dazzle the eyes and make you *ahem* overlook any faults. It didn't work.
Inside was the most confused, schizophrenic piece of writing I've read in some time. Becca Fitzpatrick didn't seem to know quite what she wanted, only that it had to be Ominous and Scary and Dangerous -- and Titillating, of course, and Mysterious and Sexy. So with those buzz words in mind, she threw a bunch of things together and let her narrator, Nora, sort them out. Nora, understandably, had some trouble with this, and the result is a thoroughly frustrating heroine who jumps to insane conclusions based on inane evidence one moment, and the next goes blithely along into obvious danger.
Patch is intriguing, and perhaps the most consistent character**, and I was fully prepared for an 'anti-hero as the hero' story. I wanted a little boundary-pushing and a not entirely likeable or trustworthy male lead who may or may not redeem himself, but who gives you the dangerous and alluring in spades. For the most part, Patch wasn't a let-down in this regard, and as screwed up as it is to like him, he was the stand-out character for me. (Not to say I didn't have issues with him, too.)
But it wasn't enough. Patch's bad boy antics couldn't save this book from itself. It was self-indulgent, cheesy, melodramatic in the worst sense, and confusing. I wanted to like it; I loved the fallen angel premise, the idea of an anti-hero, and bits and pieces of the writing throughout. But Hush, Hush suffered from too many villains and too much shock and awe, and not enough thought and follow-through. Maybe Fitzpatrick can pull it together for round two, and with some strong convincing by trusted, like-minded people, I may be willing to give her another chance (never gonna happen). But this was a monstrous let-down for me. You've been warned.***
*We all know how that whole so-pretty-I-just-had-to thing works out. See my guest post on Jo's blog about this. **And by 'consistent' I mean he was consistently a douche. Vee was pretty consistent too, and was a lot of fun, but she started to get annoying and a little strange... ***You're still going to read it, aren't you? Damn you, James Porto and your beautiful, beautiful cover!
***HERE THAR BE SPOILERS***
If you haven't read Hush, Hush and intend to, or if you don't want me dissing the melodrama that is Patch and Nora, look away....NOW!
You already know I had issues with this book. I think a lot of people are going to take offense to the idea of Patch as the hero, as teen girls' fantasy, just as they did with Edward in Twilight. Patch goes beyond the simple term "bad boy" in that yes, he does actually mean Nora harm. Consistently.
I'm not going to go into that, because frankly, I don't care. He can be an anti-hero all he wants, whatever. If that's where the story's going, fine. Most of my issues -- but not all -- lie with Nora.
Here's the thing:
Nora is that girl you yell at in the horror movie, the idiot that goes up the stairs instead of out the door, or reaches to turn over the downed bad guy just to make sure. We all know that's frustrating, but we've come to expect it in movies, and that dumb big-breasted, scantily clad girl normally gets killed off.
Nora is so much more frustrating than that.
The many sides of Nora: She continually suspects Patch (and Elliot, and just about everyone else in this story), and with good reason. However, she then continually ignores her instincts and puts herself in danger. In fact, she can't seem to agree with herself. She will think to herself that Patch is stalking her and trying to kill her, and then within pages think 'Oh, but he could never hurt me.' This just cycles and cycles throughout the story.
Also throughout the story, Nora makes insane jumps in logic -- whether they turn out to be true or not, it's not believable when she immediately jumps to the most bizarre conclusions and then acts on them. At the same time, she will be directly confronted with some piece of real evidence, something that would make a normal, non-fictional person take notice and say something's not right here -- and she will completely ignore it. It's like she's being willfully obtuse.
* Early(ish) in the story, Nora hears a voice in her head and thinks Patch has "breached normal communication methods and could, at will, speak to me without ever opening his mouth." Naturally, she thinks she's delusional. Hearing your name and a few inane comments would make one think they are imagining things, and this I could buy. Even Nora not being exactly sure what happened and being creeped out I could buy. But she proceeds to ask Patch how he's able to speak directly to her mind, making her look like a loon. I wouldn't be even all that bothered by this, if it was consistent throughout the story; if Nora either consistently thought that she was going crazy because of all the implausible things that are happening, I could buy it; if she wanted to prove she wasn't crazy and kept confronting Patch and sleuthing, I could buy it. It would be 1 solid choice on Becca Fitzpatrick's part. She could be the ultra-paranoid girl who thinks she's going crazy and jumps to conclusions about everything. Annoying, but doable. But to present this as if it's normal...and I'm out.
* Conversely, near the near the end of the story when the shit's really beginning to go down and nearly everyone has become a villain, Nora and Patch walk out of a movie theater to find that "...both the tires on the driver's side were flat: '"I can't believe it!" I said. "I drove over two nails?"'
She thinks she's being stalked, she thinks her best friend has been kidnapped by a teenaged murderer named Elliot, and by this point she thinks she's the target of not one but two murderous angels, and yet all she can come up with is that she ran over two nails? Come on! If Nora will jump to conclusions on the barest of evidence, how in hell does she not comprehend the obvious?
* Throughout the story, Nora thinks everyone's out to get her (she's right, but I'll get to that), especially Patch. Patch is Ominous, capital 'O', and yet...And yet, no matter how much Nora thinks he's badbadbad, she trusts him. Why? Weirdest of all, when Nora confronts Patch about his intentions, he admits he wanted to kill her; her reaction? 'I know Patch could never hurt me' -- and she trusts him implicitly from that point on. Really? The whole story, you've suspected him and been insistent that you should stay away on the barest of evidence, but once he's confessed his (albeit previous) intentions of murder, you trust him. Really. Her sudden bizarre trust of Patch comes too late for any real belief in their romance. Or her sanity.
There is no consistency in Nora's thinking. I just can't understand why Becca Fitzpatrick couldn't pick one Nora to write and stick with her. She could have just always thought she was losing her mind; self-doubt would have been interesting, and made her root-forable. If she had just been reckless and always convinced that yes, maybe something is a little off about Patch, but she still found herself attracted to him, it would have been interesting, and could have been used to slowly reveal the truth and up Nora's anxiety. If Nora had just been naive and always convinced that everything was fine despite any indicators, it would have built tension. But combining it all made Nora seem confused and a little off herself, and made the writing seem schizophrenic.
Too many villains: Fitzpatrick makes the rookie mistake of lack of restraint. Nora suspects everyone, and everyone does in fact seem to be a villain. This makes the book seem unfocused and sort of cheesy. When everyone is under suspicion, and everyone seems to be a bad guy, it makes it seem like no one really is. It's like if you use a really great word once or twice it's going to stand out. But if every word you use is some great, unusual word, none are going to stand out. There's no negative space, no background to make the focal point pop. Everywhere Nora turns, someone's trying to kill her. It just gets silly after awhile. Also, it has the added negative effect of making it hard for Fitzpatrick to "top" as it were. Where does she go from here? If there are 4 different people trying to kill Nora in book 1, how many people will there be out for blood in book 2? She didn't leave any room to grow the suspense.
Another bad thing about the amount of villains and Nora's instant suspicion (and the overall over-the-top nature of the book) was that there was precious little suspense. By giving everything away rather freely, Fitzpatrick deprived the reader of the slow build-up and the privilege of the mystery; we never got to have any suspicions of our own, or choose sides. There was too much in the way of ominous overtones, and not enough restraint.
On a side note, not that I'm calling Vee a villain, but even she became a little weird* as the story went on. It's one thing to be the wild and crazy girl in the best friends dynamic, but constantly trying to get your best friend alone with a guy who she says makes her uncomfortable, who she believes broke into her house and may be stalking her, and who she knows was a murder suspect is reckless beyond the pale, and shitty, shitty friendship.
*By which I mean she goes from being quirky and funny to a godawful, shitty friend. You know, for no other reason than apparently to help lure Nora into bad/ridiculous situations. Plot device: ☑
The writing overall: I saw glimpses in Fitzpatrick's writing that demonstrated how this could have been a good book. She does sexual tension and confrontation scenes fairly well, and there is some good humor. Vee -- in the beginning, at least, before she becomes a really reckless, really bad friend -- was pretty amusing as the traditional sidekick. Patch had great one-liners, both funny and smoldering. But for all the occasional good, there was quite a bit in the way of bad. The dialogue was often stilted and weird. The analogies were completely out of left field. They were those turns of phrase that you can tell were used because they sounded cool, or because one was needed, but they don't mean anything, or they leave you thinking wtf? "His eyes looked like they didn't play by the rules." What does that even mean? What rules do eyes usually play by? Does he not blink? This is a mild example, but I got sick of making note of them. I got this really hit-and-miss feel about the writing and the language in the book. Pieces of literary crap mixed in with the really good bits blended to form a "throw it all in and something's bound to work" style. A total lack of finesse made it hard to want to keep reading -- and made me feel like if I kept rolling my eyeballs, they were going to roll right out of my head.
1.5 I feel bad about what I'm about to do. Honestly. I'm not one of those people who just writes snarky, mean-spirited reviews, just for the sheer blac...more1.5 I feel bad about what I'm about to do. Honestly. I'm not one of those people who just writes snarky, mean-spirited reviews, just for the sheer black-hearted, puppy-kicking glee of it. As tempting as that sometimes is, I just am not that reviewer (generally). I like puppies...
[Do I feel bad? Do I? Do I even really like puppies? I don't know. What I DO know is this review couldn't be contained in words, so there's a chart. You know you wanna click.]
"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)
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)
The Luxe is about turn of the century New York socialites falling in love and misbehaving. New York's darling debutant, Elizabeth Holland is poised to...moreThe Luxe is about turn of the century New York socialites falling in love and misbehaving. New York's darling debutant, Elizabeth Holland is poised to marry one of the most eligible (and debaucherous) bachelors in the city, but her perfect life is not what it seems.
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
Brenna Yovanoff is quickly becoming one of those authors whose books I will buy without even knowing wha...more[Thanks to Alexis for letting me borrow this!]
Brenna Yovanoff is quickly becoming one of those authors whose books I will buy without even knowing what they are about. In just two books (The Replacement and now The Space Between), she's convinced me of her skill and understanding and finesse as a writer and made me trust that, whatever she's writing about, I will want to read it. I was a little fearful of the dreaded "sophomore slump" with The Space Between, and clearly there was no need for me to worry.
As she did with Mackie in The Replacement, Brenna captured Daphne's "otherness" in a really interesting, authentic way. It was never over the top, but it was always clear that she was not quite human. So many people write garbage where the MC is supposed to be Other, but is really only in name. Daphne feels Other and seems Other, but still remains relatable. But what's really interesting about her is that she is 'Other' from both sides - she refuses to be like her demon "sisters" but she certainly isn't human, either. She processes things differently, reacts differently, is always enough of an odd duck to feel authentically demonic in origin, but as the story goes on, she sort of becomes more human. She thaws out a bit, lets slip her demonic reserve and shows some passion. More than relatable, she's likable.
Truman has a fair amount of Otherness about him, too, but it is in the very human, relatable way that we all sometimes feel like we don't belong or there's nowhere to turn. What is most appealing about him is the struggle and the small sparks of hope that begin to come through. I think what it comes down to is that Brenna understands show don't tell - or show AND tell - and she understands that the emotion and the core desires have to be real, both for the audience and the characters. Daphne and Truman make such great main characters because the reader can see his/herself in both, and can feel for them and pull for a happy ending, no matter how unlikely it may seem. For all of the characters, human and non alike, I loved the struggle, the almost-humanness, the sadness and the overall message of love, even from those who have no hope of it, or want it more than anything. I said in my review of The Replacement that I don't really find the book itself scary, but that "It's more that it can be so unsettlingly real and human in the best and worst ways that it gets under your skin. And that can be scary." I think this is true of The Space Between as well.
[Note, this is not to say that both books don't have their scary elements and scary moments. Where The Replacement had The Lady and The Cutter - one of my all-time favorite villains - The Space Between has Azrael and Dark Dreadful. There is definitely some scariness and twistedness, and it is delicious.]
I think once you've got a solid connection to the characters, everything else in a story can be nearly incidental. There are plenty of times we read a story and love it purely for the characters, even though there is nothing out of the ordinary in the plot or worldbuilding. Fortunately, Brenna doesn't slack when it comes to these things either. Her Hell and its inhabitants were really interesting and visual. I really liked the transition from Daphne's home in Hell to Truman's here on Earth, and the way the two came together. The use of religion and history, and the mythology that Yovanoff builds is absolutely perfect for the story, fully realized and interesting. And where some people do the whole gritty urban thing for shock value, Brenna's reads much more authentic and just a matter of course, in a sad way. It's an extension of her characters and their minds, and it worked brilliantly from that aspect. There is an icy realness to her writing, and a heartbreaking truth, always. Like she just reaches into the heart of things and lays them bare. There's no cloying sentimentality, no pandering for emotion. Her books are real and raw and lovingly executed, and that's why they always end up on my list of faves.
One thing, too, that was pleasantly surprising was the dual narration. I am not always a fan of multi-narrators because I think the story can seem disjointed or muddled. But getting both Daphne's and Truman's perspectives actually really worked and added dimension to the story. And there's this ominous feeling that comes from the "countdown" on Truman's chapters - each of Truman's chapters is headed with X-amount of days/hours, but the reader never knows what the countdown is counting down to until it happens... It was like having a steadily ticking clock in the background that you know is about to erupt in an alarm, and you don't know what the alarm is for, or when it will go off. It made it a bit unsettling and provided such wonderful tension. I actually felt anxious; I was so terrified of what was going to happen and then when it did -- I said at the time that Brenna ripped my heart out, waited a few beats, and then put it back in. I can't say any more than that, but man! She had a tight fist on my emotions, I'll give her that.
So. If I haven't convinced you that you need to read this by now, I'm not sure what I can say that will convince you. Oh, other than the fact that I'm giving away a copy... ;P
[If you're reading this after Nov. 5, 2011 - TOO LATE!](less)
2.5ish territory, but this one has a pretty fluid rating, I think - apt to change depending on my mood.
Okay, Shadowlands...I feel like I would write a...more2.5ish territory, but this one has a pretty fluid rating, I think - apt to change depending on my mood.
Okay, Shadowlands...I feel like I would write a different review of this every day of the week. Frankly, I'm really torn, and have even held off giving it a rating on Goodreads. Here's the thing: There are going to be people that are so shocked and amazed by the way this ends that they'll love it. There are going to be people that are so shocked and dismayed by the way this ends that they'll hate it. There are going to be people that find this gimmicky and disjointed, something that relies too heavily on a twist (and today, at least, that's where my opinion is hovering.)
This is a difficult book to talk about without spoiling something, but essentially, Shadowlands is a contemporary thriller that reads like a movie trying to be a book. And that doesn't really work. Things that work in movies often don't work so well when they're written out because your brain processes them differently. Fog, for instance; fog rolling up right at the opportune (or inopportune) moment, there at the height of tension and then gone - seeing that on a screen works, even if later you think it's cheesy; we sort of process it in the background. But when in writing, it ceases to work because it's being pointed out; you are forced to focus on it, which gives you the time to reflect on it, realize how cheesy it is immediately, roll your eyes, and then begin to question everything. It jars you out of the flow a little, and each time this happens, you get further and further away from connecting with or believing in the story. Things like this, and the unrealistic way characters react and/or interact with each other, kept eating at me. But this is where it becomes tricky, because those same things can actually be kind of interesting by the end.
I spent the first half of this book being really frustrated with damn near everything, laughing and rolling my eyes when I should have been, I don't know, shivering in sympathetic terror, I guess. And then there came a point right about the middle when I thought, you know what would be kind of neat? If this had a twist ending where [big fat spoiler]. And then I started to think that the only thing that could redeem the book and make me look at all of my little annoyances in a different light would be that [big fat spoiler]. But the book kept going on and on, and though things got a little weirder, and then occasionally less-weird, I started to doubt the book would be redeemed. But wouldn't you know it? [Big Fat Spoiler] right there at the very last second. Well, I'll be. And so there is was, the BFS, and I'm sitting there thinking 2 things: 1. This gives the book interesting reread potential, which is funny because I didn't think I'd want to finish it, let alone reread it; and 2. This is going to piss people off. Or maybe amaze them. Or mostly piss them off, but amazingly so.
So it happened, the one thing I thought could maybe save this and make me like it, and for that, I have to kind of smile at Kate Brian and admit that there's a part of me that likes this. But I have to wag my finger at her, too, because she really drew it out to the very last minute, and is it too little, too late? Well...sorta, yeah; there needs to be a balance. In the end, the things I didn't like about it made sense and even seem almost necessary, but to get to a place where it works, readers have to make it all the way to the end. In an often-frustrating book, that may not always happen.If this weren't fairly engaging and quick, I probably would have given up on it, and I never would have known that things worked for the world. You have to give the reader a reason to go with it, and if you don't, it doesn't matter how snazzy or perfectly-suited your twist ending is. If you give me piece of pie and the first few bites taste like crap (or even just bland and pedestrian), you can't be surprised when I don't want to finish it, even if you insist that the last few bites will totally change my mind. I want the whole slice to be good, dammit. There are a lot of calories in pie. Each bite should be worth it.
I've gotten offtrack.* What I'm trying to say is, I'm TORN. A twist ending is 10% of a book, tops. I need to care about the other 90%, too. So, yes, part of me likes this in hindsight, and even thinks it will make for an interesting reread; but part of me thinks it's just silly and slapdash, and full of really unlikable characters and unlikely events, that is hastily (but interestingly) pulled together in the end. Personally, I could have done with a lot fewer cliches and a lot more slow-burning thriller. There could still have been unlikable or questionable bits that click into place in the end, but with something more worthy to pull me along. But this would make a good movie, I think, and I have to wonder if perhaps it was written to be? A lot of authors seem to be writing things with the goal of having it optioned and potentially making bank on a franchise, and though that's another pet peevish trend I do want to discuss someday, I'm not going to use Shadowlands as a platform to do so. In the end, this book is truly going to come down to each individual reader, and I find it nearly impossible to predict which side of the fence any one person will fall on. Maybe it comes down to whether you figure out twists waaaay too f*cking far in advance (like me =/) or whether they sneak up on you. I dunno. I will go so far as to say that I'm curious enough about the setup for the rest of the series - and more specifically, the main character's reaction to it - that I may even read book 2. So there's that. But there are a lot of pages in a book. Every page should be worth it.
See, it all comes back around...
OH! OH! OH! AND: This cover? Pretty much nothing to do with the book.
*Have you guys ever noticed how many food metaphors I use? Lest you think I'm some binge-eating, calorie-counting, obsessive foodie**: 1. for a long time I thought I was going to be a chef; 2. everyone eats. Food is something we can all relate to, so it's a good go to. At least, that's what I'm going to tell myself the next time I compare a book to food. **Okay, I sort of am an obsessive foodie. But not of the binge-eating type, and certainly not of the calorie-counting type. shudder.(less)
I have to say, I've been on an awesome good-book streak lately. With one notable exception, nearly everything I've been reading has been really enjoya...moreI have to say, I've been on an awesome good-book streak lately. With one notable exception, nearly everything I've been reading has been really enjoyable and readable. Even those books that I'm almost a little hesitant to read because I'm looking forward to them so much that they may let me down, haven't been letting my down. That includes Anna Dressed in Blood, which I was so eager to read that I was a little afraid I was going to psych myself up and then be let down. And thank god that wasn't the case.
I know it's been said before, but it reminded me of Supernatural, and this is a very good thing. I want to be clear that it wasn't that it felt derivative or unoriginal. I mean, some comparison to the show is obvious because both are about hunting and killing ghosts (among other things, as the case may be). But both also just have this great energy and intelligence to them, and both pair humor with grimness. There is lightness and there is depth. That is crucial to me: you need dark to see the light and vice versa. I think this is especially true in horror. There are some books that can get away with being relentlessly grim, but they are few and far between; for the most part, a good horror book (or any book, for that matter) should have peaks and valleys, and Blake did this really.
I talked in my BC: Scary Reads video about how I loved horror growing up but kind of left it in my past and don't really read it anymore. I think Anna hit a lot of the notes that made me love horror, but blessedly avoided the pitfalls; there are thrills and shocks, but it wasn't too over the top or utterly predictable, and it wasn't just an excuse for a gore-fest. It had gory bits, there is no denying that, but there's so much more going on in this story, and the gore was parceled out so as to actually have some impact (judicious gore, if you will), and it just really worked. I think one of my favorite things about it, actually, is that it's the type of book that will work for a lot of different readers with different tastes. There is the horror factor, with the gore and the classic ghost story/urban legend vibe. But there is also humor and romance and action/adventure, blended together in what is just good storytelling. Blake's world is vivid and her characters likable, taking potentially stock characters and fleshing them out into people you care about and can root for.
And it just flowed really well. There weren't any of those rough patches for me that make me want to say "I liked everything but..." I didn't ever not like it. [Does that even make sense?] It was one of those books that I would squeeze in reading of, even when I didn't actually have time to read. I found myself actually a little angry at my workplace when my lunch break was over and I had to put it in my locker and get back to work. I wasn't finished. I needed to know. And I was willing to be late... I love a story that makes me late or steals my sleep. Those are the benchmarks for a good book. This was so very readable. I hated putting it down to sleep (or work), and every time I picked it up, I fell a little more in love with Cas and Anna. I don't want to go too into detail on them because I don't want to deprive anyone of the pleasure of meeting these two and falling for them, but I just need to state for the record that they may be one of my favorite duos I've read in a good long while. I loved everything about them. Every. Little. Thing.
And that's all I really want to say to you because I don't want to give anything away. I think you should read this, horror fan or no. There's a little something for everyone, and at the very least, it's worth it to meet Cas and Anna. And I want to leave you with something a little silly. You may or may not know, but I take notes on a book when I finish it (and sometimes as I'm reading) so that I don't forget things I want to say in my review. This is the last line of the notes I wrote for Anna Dressed in Blood:
I'd been hesitant to read this one. On the one hand, it has a beautiful cover and I'd heard a lot of omging raves about it. On the other, I have yet t...moreI'd been hesitant to read this one. On the one hand, it has a beautiful cover and I'd heard a lot of omging raves about it. On the other, I have yet to read an angel book I liked, and I never really trust the OMGers of the world... (sorry. sort of.)
When I first started it, I thought maybe this was the angel book that was going to break the mold and live up to what it promised - And then Luce met Daniel.
Briefly: Read it. Soulless is exactly what I wanted and didn’t get from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. It’s a pithy, funny, tongue-firmly-in-cheek m...moreBriefly: Read it. Soulless is exactly what I wanted and didn’t get from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. It’s a pithy, funny, tongue-firmly-in-cheek mesh of Victorian manners and morés, and absurd occult occurrences. Alexia Tarabotti is an intriguing and amusing MC, completely un-Victorian and yet somehow not out of place. Carriger’s take on Victorian London high society shows a real knowledge of it, while not taking it too seriously. And, man, talk about cover appeal! Love it! Highly recommended if you like historical, paranormal, satirical, and/or sexy-silly fiction.
Not-so-briefly: let's get down to business -- Characters: The characters of Soulless, including many of the secondary ones, are vibrant and fleshed out. The main characters are engaging and charmingly flawed. The two main characters, Alexia and Lord Maccon, are irresistible. Seriously. Just try to resist them; I'll wait. Alexia is sassy and smart, with a strain of Victorian sensibilities that is unfettered by any sort of wallflower-ness. She is not shy or coy or retiring. She is a feisty heroine with modern inclinations, who just happens to expect to be treated like a Victorian lady, smart spinster, some-time sex object, and fan of treacle tart; she doesn't ask much. She's a perfect little bundle of contradictions. Lord Maccon is every bit the Alpha werewolf, posing as a highly desirable bachelor Lord. He is constantly on the verge of bursting out and doing something deliciously indecorous. The fireworks between Lord Maccon and Alexia are blinding (and plenty exciting -- and loud, as fireworks tend to be). It's a classic love/hate relationship with the added fun of Victorian etiquette and supernatural elements tossed in.
Setting and Plot: The steampunky goodness of Carriger's Victorian England is almost as much a character as Alexia and Lord Maccon. Carriger did her research, and a London slightly different than we may have expected comes to life on the page. The Victorian obsession with the fledgling field of genetics plays a prominent and brilliant role, and the exploding obsession with science in both the working and moneyed classes makes for a suitable, smart and intriguing background to the story. Carriger's idea that these great advancements (logically) are the result of supernaturals is fun and playful, while making perfect sense. There's good conflict, great tension (plot tension and sexual tension *waggles eyebrows*). All said, she has set up a great stage-set to play on for the remainder of the series. Long may it live.(less)
PLEASE NOTE: This is a DNF (did not finish) review. For those of you concerned, I quit at the 100-page mark. Also, this is all spoilery, so you have b...morePLEASE NOTE: This is a DNF (did not finish) review. For those of you concerned, I quit at the 100-page mark. Also, this is all spoilery, so you have been warned.
I tried with The Mephisto Covenant, honestly, I did. But it was clear to me really early on that this was not the book for me, and unlike Carrier of the Mark (which I also realized early on was not the book for me), I didn't find anything in it that compelled me to keep reading. Find out why HERE.(less)
When I first started Random Magic, I was pretty enthused. I'd been chatting with the author, and her emails were hilarious and scattered in a fun, qui...moreWhen I first started Random Magic, I was pretty enthused. I'd been chatting with the author, and her emails were hilarious and scattered in a fun, quirky way, and the book seemed much like those emails. It was quirky and scattered and absurd and random for sure, and I look a good bit of quirky/absurd/random in my life. (quirksurdom?) The book was more sort of a series of weird little vignettes that were connected by this search for Alice (of Wonderland fame), and for about 1/3 of the book, I was willing to go along with it. Things were funny, I was enjoying myself, and though there was always a part of me that said this is certainly not a book for everyone, I did think it was the right book for me.
But apparently it's about 1/3 the book for me, because as much as I enjoy random quirky weirdness, at some point, I just wanted to get to it already. The vignettes started to feel too drawn out and, well, random, and though they were always funny on their own, with so manypiled together, one on the next on the next on the next, it just got to be too much. The frenetic zaniness was really fun in the beginning, but by the middle I was just wishing for some restraint. It was like everything that was in Soren's head -- every. little. thing. -- made it to the page, and though each of those things was a fun little gem, it was a few gems too many. Save some for the next necklace, this one's weighing me down.
So it's kind of a weird one for me to review. I liked what I read, but I wanted to stop reading... I just wanted to have some sense of where it was going; I wanted an end in sight, some idea that there was plotting involved, planning and forethought and not just "sit down and write, and whatever happens, happens." I think I could have found this truly enjoyable if there had been some restraint, if Soren had saved some of the antics and vignettes for another book, and instead focused on making the ones in this one fewer but stronger. But it is a fun read, if at times overwhelming, and there are certainly those who like it quite fine as is. [check out vvb32 reads or the "Winterlong" Random Magic Tour for more](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)
In Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, we witnessed one of literature's favorite heroines, Elizabeth Bennet, fall in love while fighting valiantly agains...moreIn Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, we witnessed one of literature's favorite heroines, Elizabeth Bennet, fall in love while fighting valiantly against the zombie menace that had overtaken England. Now, in this lively prequel, PPZ: Dawn of the Dreadfuls, learn how the hoardes of unmentionables became said menace, and lively Lizzie found herself becoming one the British Isles foremost warrior-maidens.
There are going to be some of you reading this review who are going to be surprised that I decided to read this. You may recall from my review of Seth Grahame-Smith's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies that I was, shall we say, less than pleased. You're thinking, 'Why would she even bother if she didn't like the first one?' It's simple: Dawn of the Dreadfuls has a different author. It was a risk I was willing to take.
It was worth it.
PPZ: Dawn of the Dreadfuls blew the socks off the first book. Now, Steven Hockensmith did have some advantages in that writing a prequel was a bit more of a clean slate; though he did have to remain faithful to the world and characters created, he did not have to try to work his words into those of another and make it seamless. That's not to say he had an easy task. He still had to mimic Austen's writing, create a believable prequel that could plausibly lead up to both the original text and Grahame-Smith's altered one, and he still had to find a way to strike a balance between Regency-era novel and zombie romper. I think he did admirably on all counts.
In PPZ: DOD we get to watch as the dreadful plague, thought vanquished for years, returns to England. The Bennet girls find themselves in a peculiar situation, as their father intends them to learn the ways of the warrior, whilst their mother (and society) wishes them to go to balls and marry well. Young teens all, they've never been faced with the zombie menace -- or the handsome, red-coated officers who come to Meryton to battle them. The resulting mash-up of their experiences -- learning how to wield battleaxes and practice the Pouncing Panther and remain demure, proper English ladies at the same time -- makes for exactly the type of story Quirk Books is trying to present: fun parodies of literature's Greats that hit the mark without being condescending, insipid, or utterly ridiculous.
The best compliment I can give Hockensmith is that there were times, in the midst of the ridiculous Regency zombieness, that it felt like Jane Austen could have written it. Nearly all of the things I didn't like in the first book were well done in this prequel. Unlike G-S, Hockensmith captured her tone and liveliness and humor well, and he remained faithful to the characters and world she created. Lizzie is both the sharp girl of Austen's classic, and the budding fierce warrior of Grahame-Smith's parody. Her sister, Jane, is as charming and sweet-natured as ever, and Mrs. Bennet is ever anxious that her daughters marry well before someone fall victim to the unmentionables and leave them all ruined. He kept their characters and personalities intact, while skewing the story just enough to make their actions still make sense in much-altered circumstances.
All told, there's a little something for everyone: fans of Jane will find a fun twist on her work, and a real effort to stay true to her and her language, with little surprises planted for those familiar with her most famous work; fans of zombies will find brain-munching dreadfuls in abundance; fans of romance will find some romantic plot twists and general funness; fans of strong female characters will certainly love Elizabeth. If you didn't like the first one, I think you'll like this. If you did like the first one, I think you'll like this more. And if you've been unsure of whether to try one of these lit parodies that's suddenly all the rage, I think this is a good place to start. I would recommend getting your hands on a copy in time for Helluva Halloween II...(yeah, it's coming).(less)
I'm going to do my best to avoid spoilers of both Anna Dressed in Bloodand Girl of Nightmares, but just in case spoiler potential would keep you from...moreI'm going to do my best to avoid spoilers of both Anna Dressed in Blood and Girl of Nightmares, but just in case spoiler potential would keep you from reading my review(s), here's the gist: You should go buy these. Even if you don't like horror, even if you don't like urban legends, even if you don't like YA or romance or contemporary or mysteries or ghost stories and gore, or any of the things that make up this book, you should really have these on your shelves. Or better yet, in your hands. I'm not even kidding, and I rarely tell people to buy things. But this is for serious.
Now, as for the review:
My initial review on Goodreads, upon finishing Girl of Nightmares in the middle of the night was something like this:
Remember when The Doctor sent Rose through to the other world? That feeling. I feel bereft.
And it's true, I really did feel sort of bereft, like I had lost something that wasn't coming back. There was no more. This is the end. [See, this is why I am so bad about finishing series'; this is why I've had Monsters of Men, the last book of the Chaos Walking series, sitting on my shelves since May of 2010. I just couldn't...] And it wasn't just the fact that the duology is over that left me feeling this way, but the things that happen; Blake does a commendable job of ripping my heart out, squeezing it a time or two, and then putting it back. Anna would be proud. It's bittersweet and exactly right (see, these are happy tears), and I admire so much that Kendare always gives the right ending, the ending that needs to be, even if it means going some places others would avoid, or giving an ending that might not make all readers happy.
And I respect that this is it. The characters will now go about their lives (or lack thereof) without us peeping in, and anything else that may come of them is left to our imaginations. I appreciate this. A lot of authors would have dragged a series like this out to infinity, especially considering some of the new ground Blake covered in this - there's a lot there that could be mined for many books to come, so I respect that Blake looks at it, says, 'No, this is complete and any prolonging would just weaken it,' and is done. I applaud that (even while it makes me frowny-faced, and even if I would buy and read every consecutive book, complaining all the while that the series probably should have ended on a strong note X books ago...)
And speaking of new ground, Girl of Nightmares went some places I didn't expect. I mean, I didn't really know what to expect, honestly, but I certainly wasn't expecting what I got. The story and the world is really broadened in this (which could easily be seen as a set-up for future books, which is why I respect even more that it's not - she still took the time to broaden the story and give us something new), and there were resolutions to things that I didn't realize really needed them. All of it together just worked.I did want more Anna, but I think that's just because I'm enamored of her. There's something special about her as a character, and about her relationship with Cas, that you just don't get in other books, and so I couldn't help but want more of that. That being said, at the same time, I couldn't help but think she was in it exactly the right amount.
The creepy times are not as frequent in this, but those that were there honestly freaked me out more than anything in Anna. Books don't scare me, and I rarely have nightmares, but when I do...well, there's a scene in here that pretty much nailed it. It was startling and skin-crawlingly shudder-worthy, perfectly designed to get under your skin or have you looking over your shoulder. [I really want to use another DW gif right here, but it would be totes spoilery, so I won't. Or will I...] I also really love that Blake understands peaks and valleys. She knows how to lull you and then startle you with something, and she's not afraid of viscera (which helps in creating a visceral reaction... See what I did there?) I have to applaud Blake for this, because I think there are a lot of authors in the horror genre that just try to slam you with non-stop startles and ick, and end up becoming really predictable and burning you out. Blake doesn't do fall into that trap, and I like her storytelling so much more as a result. [Pauses to look back at review of Anna Dressed in Blood, sees that I talked about "judicious gore" and "peaks and valleys" then too. Realizes this is indicative of a pattern in Blake's writing, which bodes well for ALL THE BOOKS. Is pleased.]
And so, I guess I want to end this the way I began it: I don't generally tell people what to buy. It's your money, waste it on whatever you'd like. But buying the Anna books would be so far from a waste of your money that if you're not in line at the bookstore or adding them to your online shopping cart right now, I have to wonder to myself what you're doing with your life? I mean, you trust me, don't you? Would I lie to you? [No. The answer is no.]
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)