By long practice, I am not an avid memoir reader. (I can't say I don't read memoirs at all because there were all those assigned readings at school -- something, I think, that put me off reading them in my leisure time because really, all those books they assigned at school were depressing.) I don't read nonfiction in general. But whatever invisible hand or inner compass that prodded me to check out this book out at the library, I thank it. (Or Him, or them.)
Eat, Pray, Love surprised me in a pleasant way. Here, I found myself relating to someone who has had markedly different life experiences than myself: she's old enough to be my mother, lives in New York, has a sister, was married and divorced, and traveled outside of the US even before the events of this book. Despite all these differences (I'm not even out of college and I've never lived or been to a city with more than a quarter of a million people in it), I found myself understanding her.
Perhaps it was the beautiful writing style. So full of wit and charming insight -- the way it nonchalantly imbued enthusiasm and despair and terror, sometimes all at once. It is not outside the realm of possibility that I felt a sort of kinship because the writing transported me so fully into Elizabeth Gilbert's head.
Though I cannot say for certain what connected me to her, it does not erase the astounding fact that I was happy -- truly, giddily happy -- for a someone I had never met and yet was actually real. (Or, as real as anyone who's ever given a TED talk can be. It's plain to see that Ken Robinson is a freak occurrence of Nature, like Stonehenge or something.) My best guess to say what facilitated this connection is that Elizabeth Gilbert was open and honest in a way that didn't hide the worst parts of her, or downplay the best. This kind of attitude forged my respect for her from the get-go, and so allowed me to fully immerse myself into her transformational story.(less)
Though there are many middle grade series and authors that I hold dear, I don't overly explore the middle grade genre outside of the authors I have already subscribed to. I had a lot of mixed feelings over Lauren Oliver's young adult books (Delirium, Before I Fall) but what I could never deny was how wonderfully breathtaking her writing style is. Jim Dale was the one who piqued my interest in Liesl & Po with the simple fact that he narrates the audiobook. He also did Harry Potter. When I heard an excerpt from the audiobook, I had to pick it up. When I saw it at a bargain book store, I grabbed it. And I am so glad I did.
What I expected was the stereotypical middle grade novel: something with some overly simplistic writing and characters that were flatly grandiose puttering along to a plot that could be predicted from another planet. What I got was the tale of three adorably fleshed out characters racing through the pages, chased by eyebrow-raisingly creepy villains, in a world that is instantly recognizable for its genius but enchantingly exotic shadows.
What I admired about Lauren Oliver's take to this straightforward plot was how she pulled the simple bones of the plot like soft taffy until they were an entirely different shape. The original idea was the still there -- a tale of an accidental switch by an abused apprentice, and a girl closeted away by an evil stepmother -- but it came alive. Lauren Oliver made it feel not so much created as discovered.
The illustrations added another layer of atmosphere to the already jam-packed story. They piqued my interest when I browsed ahead, and then painted a deeper picture when I came upon that part of the story. The illustrations helped me imagine how the author must've imagined the characters, and that brought a certain flavor to the reading of the story, seeing how the author meant it to look.
Liesl & Po was a fantastic story with a bittersweet ending. It is certainly a book that I will proudly carry on my shelves, and also one I may take the time to reread in the future. I highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone.(less)
My friend TOTALLY set me up to fall for this one! I snagged it off her shelf, started reading it for the heck of it, and when I got into it she told m...moreMy friend TOTALLY set me up to fall for this one! I snagged it off her shelf, started reading it for the heck of it, and when I got into it she told me it was her favorite book ever. Well, I was into it alright, and when I finished? WHAT AN ENDING. SERIOUSLY. When I rounded on her, she was like, "I TOLD you it was melancholy!" It was. In spades.
It was a great book, though. I absolutely loved the atmosphere and the main character. But steel yourself for this ride. (less)
Captured me from page one, it did. The first little bit I read at the JoBeth in Cincinnati haunted me until I broke down and bought it online. Finishe...moreCaptured me from page one, it did. The first little bit I read at the JoBeth in Cincinnati haunted me until I broke down and bought it online. Finished it within two days. If I had a hat, I'd tip it to Ruta Sepetys.(less)
Kendare Blake single handedly turned my intrigue and curiosity towards the ghostly side of creepiness. Where normally I stay far, far away from anything with the mere suggestion of skin-crawling terror, Kendare Blake's work, first with Anna Dressed in Blood and now Girl of Nightmares, has brought me a new appreciation of things that go bump in the night. I think in any other case, I would cast a questioning glance at the author's mental stability after seeing the product of their work, but with this book -- with its refreshingly three dimensional characters, exciting plot and great narrative -- I'm willing to make an exception.
The one thing that worries me with sequels of any kind, whether it's a part of a long, drawn out series or just a duology, is a rehashing of the first book. With each new book, I expect a deeper and thorough progression of the characters and a plot that explores the world instead of sticking to the same set of possibilities. Girl of Nightmares really impressed me with the way the world, and the characters, expanded.
The characters had to be my favorite thing about this book. I cheered for and admired them in Anna Dressed in Blood and that admiration only grew with Girl of Nightmares. I think specifically of Carmel: I loved seeing her gain dimension and progress as a character. Normally, side characters are shoved ruthlessly aside to make room for all of the main character's drama, but Carmel was a solid presence. In fact, all of the characters were nuanced. They lacked the picky, petty, cookie cutter melodrama that tends to sand down the finer grains of a character. In this respect, they all had a strong sense of realism, so it made it nearly impossible for me not to sympathize with them as they went to hell and back (literally).
The "there" that she's referring to is the Tower of London, the castle-like fortress that sits on the north bank of the Thames. It's touristy and historical, the site of numerous tortures and executions, from Lady Jane Grey to Guy Fawkes. Looking at it as we cross the Tower Bridge, I wonder how many screams have bounced off the stone walls. I wonder how much blood the ground remembers. They used to put severed heads up on pikes and display them on the bridge until they fell into the river. I glance down at the brown water. Somewhere underneath, old bones might be fighting their way out of the silt.
Cas's narrative made it so easy to slide into the story. Full of great zingers and one liners, I love Cas's blatant insolence and dry humor. This style of Anna Dressed in Blood carried over brilliantly to Girl of Nightmares. With clear, concise imagery, Kendare Blake's writing style really brings out the creepiness in clear cut descriptions. The effect is uber chilling. It's incredibly easy to picture the action like a movie, which only heightens the suspense and drama.
Not that the plot needed the extra help. Constant action, always something interesting happening. I loved how it was perpetually moving forward. There were no boring or useless fillers; everything had a purpose, impact. The stakes kept building and building, pushing the characters, forcing them to make choices, to question themselves, to make sacrifices. The climax... Ah, climaxes that make me want to cry are always memorable. The bittersweet ones are the worst, aren't they?
Girl of Nightmares was an epic book. I loved every page. I must have it for my shelves.(less)
For a long time I've claimed that short stories aren't really my thing -- I don't read them, I don't write them. Now, I find myself doing both! These...moreFor a long time I've claimed that short stories aren't really my thing -- I don't read them, I don't write them. Now, I find myself doing both! These three authors have rekindled my faith in short stories. Each of their pieces are electrifying and exciting. Truly inspirational. Love it, love it, love it!(less)
At least once in your life, a book comes along that forges an instant connection before page one is even started. Skinny was that book for me. I knew, from the moment I heard Donna Cooner give her story behind Skinny, that I wanted to read it. I have always had private issues with my self image, but what drew me to this book was the concept of the little voice in the back of your head having a name: Skinny. With a Cinderella-esque format, a brilliant main character held up by brilliant supporting characters, and a little shoulder devil, Skinny was the book that, for me, could do no wrong.
I say "Cinderella-esque" because it is not a retelling of Cinderella with a few shoddily hidden parallels. Cooner curves the story so that it is entirely its own creature. From the moment I started it, I couldn't put it down. I loved the main character, Ever (though I will forgive her for her name), with her edgy narrative voice that was tinged with a depth that went beyond the pages. My only issue was how I wished -- so wished! -- that she would stand up for herself more. But even when she didn't, I could deal with it, and move through the story with her without it diverting my attention.
I love Lauren Myracle's blurb for Skinny:
The best -- and truest -- depiction of the joys and pangs of transformation I've ever read. Deeply moving, totally addictive, utterly fabulous.
I love how Skinny wasn't about preaching the warning signs of obesity or low self esteem. It was a beautiful story of a girl who transformed inside and out, so it doesn't come off as depressing or heavy. While it dealt with a very big subject and showed the not-so-friendly sides of human interactions, I didn't feel weighed down when I closed the book. I felt enlightened! It was a book that I could fully identify with, and learn from. And I loved that.
Cooner's writing style was simple and elegant, and effortless morphed between scenes of skipping and laughing happiness, to edgy betrayals and bitter anger. It carried along a story that built to a climax that had me grinning like a moron in my chair. Cooner packed a thrilling conclusion within a mere few pages. It was electric.
Skinny is a book that crosses boundaries. It's a book that can be read by anyone and everyone, because there isn't a person out there who doesn't feel insecure about something. Or who doesn't that that little voice of doubt niggling in the back of their mind. With its wit and universal message, Skinny is a book I'd recommend to anyone.(less)
I don't like vampire books. Just a little quirk of mine. So the one and only reason I picked Drink, Slay, Love up was because it was written by Sarah Beth Durst, who blew me away with her unbelievably wonderful fantasy novel, Vessel. People told me, "Oh, you liked that? You'd totally love Drink, Slay, Love." And I just thought, "It's...a...vampire book." But I did pick it up. Thank God.
I love books that make me laugh. What surprised me here was the way humor was used. Drink, Slay, Love was not some light, fluffy spoof. So while it was a lot of fun, the humor was more along the dry and sarcastic side rather than ridiculous and unbelievable. (But okay, I'll admit the unicorn thing did push a limit or two.) I didn't expect something deep and rich with complicated feelings, nuanced characters and a plot that actually challenged the characters instead of being conveniently inconvenient. But that's exactly what I got.
Another expectation busted? Pearl's awesomeness. Huzzah for awesome vampire main characters. I thought she would be irritating and shallow, but she never even gave my nerves a mean glance. Not even for a second. That rocked. I loved how her transition from soulless predator to vulnerable teenager was portrayed as a slow evolution that was believable and sincere. I backed Pearl up 100%. I wanted her to live (so to speak), to find her happiness, and succeed at her mission. Having so much sympathy with the main character let me sit back and enjoy the story.
I was thinking the plot might be a little on the sketchy side. I mean, there's a unicorn. But only a few things warranted an eyebrow raise. The stakes were well defined (no pun intended) so I understood from the get go what Pearl stood to lose if she pushed the boundaries of her world. There was constant motion and conflict, always something to move the story forward, and the plot twists challenged the characters, didn't let them slide by with only a few scrapes.
All of this was accented with a great sense of humor and underlined with a sweet romance. I liked how the humor was more sarcastic and snarky than goofy and unbelievable. And the romance. Ah, amour. I think that I saw the signs of a Durst trademark. In Vessel, the romance built up naturally and here, too, in Drink, Slay, Love, the romance did not take center stage but instead was something else the main character had to work through. I really liked how this wasn't a romance, but more of a coming-of-age story.
Sarah Beth Durst has finally given me the opportunity to say that there is only one vampire book I like, instead of declaring I dislike them in general. Drink, Slay, Love was a fun tale of vampirism, action and a dash of romance, all laced with a snarky humor that had me giggling from start to finish. A great read.(less)
There's a reason I never watched any of the Jason movies (weren't there seven of them or something?) or The Exorcist. Somehow, there's a huge difference between the urban fantasy world of Twilight and City of Bones with the vampires, werewolves, and warlocks and what Debra Chapoton brought to life in Sheltered.
I was glued to the pages, but mostly out of fear of stopping than morbid fascination. I am a total scaredy cat, but this was a whole different kind of creepy. It was psychological. Debra Chapoton paired the physical demons with the mental ones and the effect was spine tingling. Maybe my lack of spooky experiences made me uber vulnerable to suggestion, but regardless, the effect was immediate and lasting. I almost couldn't get through it because I didn't want to be freaked out.
Sheltered surprised me with how it appeared to be ordered chaos: a string of seemingly linear events tossed in with mystery but all told with an omniscient POV that I haven't seen outside of the Ranger's Apprentice series by John Flanagan. In a single scene, the POV would switch between three different characters seemingly at random. At first I was a bit put off by this because it would happen without pause: no marker that said it was now being told from Ben's POV. An interesting style that, I think, worked for the story.
Sheltered took on a different kind of story for me. I was more concerned, mentally, for the creepy things going on than for the development of the characters or the world-building. Only upon reflection did I think about how much I didn't really like one of the characters, or the romance. It was the tiny details of the possessions that I found myself focusing on, not the characters themselves.
While Sheltered was not a story I would seek out myself, I think anyone who wants a good spooky read for Halloween has found a good one.(less)
I've always been a huge fan of Patricia Briggs, ever since I picked up the first Mercy Thompson novel (Moon Called) at my good friend, Smash @ Smash Attack Reads, request. This short story in the On the Prowl anthology is the prerequisite story to the Alpha & Omega series. I've already read and fell in love with the Alpha & Omega series, so starting in on a short story where that series began was a sure win for my affection.
If you've never read anything by Patricia Briggs, taking a look at this short story would be a good test drive to see whether you, dear reader, would enjoy pursuing her work. For patrons of the Alpha & Omega series, this short story really set up the series nicely. Though the events were alluded to in the first book, Cry Wolf, it was merely given as background information to provide a foundation for the story.
The one thing I absolutely love about Patricia Briggs' writing is how she can pack so much character into a few paragraphs. There's an immediate sense of both Anna and Charles's characters as the POV switches between them and this skill, though very helpful for writing an appealing short story, carries over into her full length novels as well.
Even though I've read the entire Alpha & Omega series, reading this short story makes me want to read it all over again. (Which, as a matter of fact, I'll be doing since I read them before but never reviewed them.) Patricia Briggs created a well-balanced, well-rounded story with nothing forced or sloppily done.
So, dear reader, try this out for a test ride and see how far you can get without completely falling in love with the story.(less)
I had all kinds of wild expectations for The Assassin's Curse: there had to be romance, but not of the sneak-in-through-the-window-and-watch-you-sleep variety; the main character had to be kickass but not untouchable and immovable; the world had to be fully realized and epic; and, the plot had to be exciting and fresh. For a woman with such a sugar-topped name as "Cassandra Rose Clarke," she sure knows how to write a story to surpass all expectations.
The world of The Assassin's Curse makes me want to toss my computer aside and head for a pirate ship. While Clarke's writing style wasn't fantastic, it fit the story. So as I read, I could easily imagine the chatter of the day market, the rush of a hot desert wind, and the crash of waves against a ship on the open sea. I loved the design of the assassins with their desert masks, of how their tattoos and eyes glow like Avatar arrows. But, I feel like Clarke's only scratching the surface in this first installment, like she's just laying the foundation and secretly chuckling, "You ain't seen nothing yet."
Which reminds me of Ananna's character, a girl of many layers. The absolute refusal of an arranged marriage has been around since Romeo & Juliet, but would Romeo's father have sent an assassin after Juliet for marrying his son? Would Juliet have fought back, accidentally saved the assassin's life and end up bound to him? Didn't think so. Ananna's character was on a knife's edge: if she got too cocky, she would risk coming off as fake and irritating, but if she strayed too much to the soft side, she'd appear fluffy and superficial. Ananna was a girl who took a stand, called people's BS (even the dude she took a shining to), and backed up her arguments. I loved how her insecurities were not shrouded by bravado in her narration. She was strong, but not without empathy.
I could totally get into the story. While the writing style could've been a little deeper, could've stood for a little more polish, it had a certain... je ne sais quoi. But what was important was that Clarke knew how to develop the story in a way that heightened the suspense while delving deeper into the characters. The stakes were laid out starkly, so that I understood perfectly why Ananna would quake with fear, or rise to face her attacker.
The Assassin's Curse is what I would shamelessly call "masterful." I was hooked from page one, and had such difficulty putting it down! And when I did manage to yank myself away from the page, the characters would follow me and stalk me while I went about my day. I love books that manage to do that, invade my world so thoroughly. And with the way Assassin's Curse ended, I'm on tenterhooks for the next book, which doesn't come out until June?! If it's one mark against Assassin's Curse, it's how much I fell in love with it and how much it makes me want the sequel, which I'm going to have to wait forever for!(less)
This was...amazing. I don't know if I would necessarily recommend this to someone who has yet to read Under the Never Sky, simply because the story is set up under the assumption the reader knows what is what and who is who, etc. However, if you've read Under the Never Sky and loved it, I have a strong conviction that you'll love this, too. Roar was a beloved character in Under the Never Sky for many readers, so given that this novella is set entirely in his point of view will appeal to the many fans Roar has accumulated.
I loved the insight. Veronica Rossi created a whole new voice. Roar was given a breadth that we readers didn't get to really see in Under the Never Sky. There was a whole swath of vulnerability and longing underneath all that wit and bravado. Though I would never have thought Roar underdeveloped before, I still loved the further depth that came from a story from his point of view. He seems much better fixed in my mind now.
With her brilliant writing style, Veronica Rossi captured, and gave depth to, the already-explored world of the Tides, making it come alive within the sixty pages. The world of the Tides had become faded in my mind in the time since I'd finished reading Under the Never Sky. This novella brought it back to life almost instantly. Veronica Rossi has created a world that I absolutely would love to live in.
Roar and Liv is a great sampler of Veronica Rossi's work. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoyed Under the Never Sky.(less)
I'm a big fan of Rae Carson's debut, The Girl of Fire and Thorns. When I saw this one, I immediately rushed to buy it, even though I've never bought anything on my Kindle before. This historic buy was not disappointed. Rae Carson packs a lot of plot and character development into the equivalent of 54 printed pages. This time, we see Elisa through the eyes of her sister, Alodia as they encounter a problem in a remote part of their kingdom.
I was struck by the immediate sense of character. Within the first few pages, I felt well acquainted with Alodia, and because she is so self righteous, it was with a put-upon kind of amusement that I observed her character. She had so little faith in Elisa, it was disheartening, but I liked the transformation that goes down throughout the story.
And the story was a well-rounded one at that. Well-rounded, yet leaving a taste for more. The plot was exciting and coupled with Rae Carson's eloquent writing style, the shock factor of some of the twists actually made me gasp.
A reader doesn't have to have the history of The Girl of Fire and Thorns to get a grip on this novella. For those of you who have read The Girl of Fire and Thorns, this novella provides a great insight into Alodia's character, something that isn't really offered in the full-length book. It isn't exactly a refresher course of the book, however, since it takes place when Elisa is younger and her journey hasn't really started.
An amazing story; I don't regret the three bucks I spent on it.(less)
The last Artemis Fowl book. What a thrilling end! This book marks the very first to make me, Amelia Robinson, shed a tear. Part of me always worries about what kind of hell the author will put their characters through in the series finale, and with these crazy MG authors anything is possible. In Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian, I really enjoyed the maturation of the characters set off by Eoin Colfer's signature humor. Colfer pulls out all the stops to create a fast-paced, intriguing topper to his beloved Artemis Fowl series.
As is the case of book eight of any series, there's some preconceived ideas about how awesome the book is going to be -- and if a reader is eight books into a series, we're gonna assume the series is awesome. So there isn't much to add that hasn't already been said before. It's established that the Artemis Fowl series, which has been in my life since I was ten, is justifiably the definition of awesomeness. Moving on...
This final installation was sheer genius. Colfer opens with a bold and exciting conflict -- I mean, maybe that's a bit of an understatement when the "bold" conflict was the utter destruction of the known world. The stakes were upped like never before, creating a nail-biting ride. I liked that Colfer went into this kind of territory: most books, dystopians especially, take place after the world has been destroyed and been refitted into a semblance of order. The Last Guardian takes place during the destruction. I really appreciated Colfer's imagination.
I liked how there was a definite maturation of the characters. While Artemis Fowl has always been credited for speaking and acting a decade older than he should've been, emotionally there was a step up. There was a wealth of history to draw upon and the characters had (finally) truly accepted each other. I really enjoyed the camaraderie between them -- especially when it's accented with Colfer's signature humor.
The ending...was sheer brilliance. Sheer, utter brilliance. I have never seen a full circle executed so beautifully in the very last paragraph. And the climax made me cry! Me! Cry! Maybe I wasn't sobbing like a baby, but the words did go a little blurry and I had to wipe a tear away. But, of course, what would you expect from the last book in a series?! Ironically enough, the only other book that had me on the verge of tears was The Supernaturalist also by Eoin Colfer.
As sad as I was to see this beloved series come to an end, I really enjoyed it. It was funny, exciting, satisfying... If you haven't ever read the Artemis Fowl series, I'd highly suggest you try it out. It's middle grade, but it's short, enjoyable and terribly clever and imaginative.
My only regret, to those of you who have read the whole series: Seriously? Why was Minerva never brought back in? She was brilliant! (less)
When Vessel first caught my eye some months ago, I dismissed it. What a mistake. Sarah Beth Durst captured what I love most about fantasy with her impressive command of prose, instantly likable main character, and beautifully defined world. I had a hard time tearing myself away to do normal things, like I don't know, eat and sleep and other silly things like that. I was so firmly rooted in the story that my soul wept knowing that there wasn't a sequel. Vessel was just that amazing.
Tamora Pierce called it right when she blurbed, "Unique and breathtaking..." The beauty and simplicity of the opening line caught me right away:
On the day she was to die, Liyana walked out of her family's tent to see the dawn.
Sarah Beth Durst carries the story along with a beautifully exotic, yet easy to understand writing style. It's straightforward and reminds me of Maria V. Snyder's style -- how the sentences are short, but not truncated. It complements the characters and plot well by enhancing the atmosphere rather than getting in the way.
Durst also shows a command of story. When Liyana is abandoned by her tribe, Durst is able to maintain interest even when Liyana isn't interacting with another character. I was expecting a slump, because it's typical to see a character's inner self displayed by how they react to others, but there was plenty of conflict, both internal and external. It was at that point that my interest in Vessel doubled. It only got better the deeper into the story I got. And not only story, but world. The world-building was incredible. Complex, yet easy to understand, the stakes were clearly defined and I felt, right along with the characters, the dread of what could happen if the worst occurred. I loved the extra details: the stories, the gods, the destinies. All these fun things that don't really happen outside of a fantasy novel.
Liyana was a stellar character. (In fact, all the characters were very defined, with character specific dialogue.) I loved Liyana from page one, and felt immense sympathy for her when her tribe left her -- which occurred within the first few chapters, generally too soon for me to form an attachment to a character. Also, I never grew irritated with her because it seemed that all of her actions were well-defined by a clear thought process alongside consistent and believable motivations. She was feisty and a quick thinker. Possibly one of my new favorite characters.
Out of everything that made this novel unique to me, the romance stuck out the most. When Sarah Beth Durst described, in an interview with Simon & Schuster, how the romance in her novel was very natural, I didn't quite believe her. Now, after having experienced Vessel for myself, I realize how right she was. It didn't feel superficial to me; there was no instant gratification. And overall, the romance was intensely bittersweet, but it built and progressed at a natural pace.
It's amazing to me that Durst could tie up an entire story within four hundred pages. It's strange to me to see a stand alone fantasy book, and it made me sad to let go of the story so quickly! While some of the action scenes could've been refined to show more depth and clarity, the plot progressed smoothly and built the stakes higher and higher until my fingers were clenched around the book in anticipation for the conclusion.
Vessel was an amazing story. I must have it for my shelves.(less)
What Morgan Matson brings to the table in terms of talent is astounding. Inspiring even. To the way she uses clever, subtle details to bring out a character's quirks, or creates a heartbreaking ending, reading her books makes me strive to be a better writer. For her sophomore novel, Morgan Matson took a simple idea and turned it into an original story. While the romance flopped a bit for me, especially in comparison to Amy and Roger's Epic Detour, I'm keeping my eyes peeled for Matson's next book.
Second Chance Summer continues with Morgan Matson's great writing style. Her prose is easy to read and process, and elegant in its simplicity. Plenty of abstract thoughts, but presented in a concise manner that didn't overwhelm me. Instead, it did what abstract prose is supposed to do: create a profound atmosphere and added depth to the main character's narration. Morgan Matson writes with authority. She created a grounded reality, brought to life with tiny details that made it sound as if she truly knew what she was talking about -- like conditioning your feet to handle walking on a gravel driveway.
The main character, Taylor, didn't appeal as much to me as Amy did, from Matson's debut, Amy and Roger's Epic Detour, but that's not to say she was a bad character. She struggled with things that a lot of us do as a teenager: like just trying to find something that you're good at, that makes you exceptional in your own standing, and facing some of life's inevitable things: like death. These two things alone made me sympathetic towards her, but I lacked a connection with her, that spark that made me cheer her on 100%. This didn't detract much from the book overall.
I had two issues with the plot, one good and one bad. The good: I nearly cried at the end. Matson created an ending that will pull at your heartstrings. Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian by Eoin Colfer is the only book to date that has made me actually cry, but I had a feeling that if someone hadn't been in the room with me while I finished Second Chance Summer, this might've been the second. Now, the bad: the ending had a little bit too much cheese for my taste. That is a forgivable trait, but it made enough of an impression to make it mentionable. Where nearly the entire book had sounded like a masterpiece, the ending made it sound a bit cheap.
Another thing that stood out, for me, was the romance. Whereas the romance was excellent in Amy and Roger's Epic Detour, it flopped in Second Chance Summer. Nothing about it really meshed, from the way Taylor and Henry's history was portrayed, to the way they finally reconnected. It didn't seem real to me, like their rekindled romance was inevitable and therefore, there's no need to create a dynamic relationship. My continuous question was: why do they like each other? I can understand lasting attraction, but love? It didn't come off very convincingly. Taylor's relationship with her family was fantastic, though. I thoroughly enjoyed the way love and respect blossomed throughout the book.
Based on the premise alone, I probably wouldn't have picked up Second Chance Summer. But because it was written by Morgan Matson, my curiosity got the best of me -- I had to see what she would do with something as benign as a summer at a lake house. She has a talent, I'm starting to see, of taking things that have a commonplace feel, and displaying it in a way that hasn't quite been done before. She covered a road trip in Amy and Roger's Epic Detour and made it memorable. With Second Chance Summer, she took a shot at the summer lake house and put her own unique mark on it. I'm waiting in breathless anticipation for whatever she does next.(less)
My first experience with Libba Bray's work left me skeptical that I would ever pick up something of her's again. A Great and Terrible Beauty bored me. I found it unenlightening with a picky, uninspiring main character and dull plot. Southern Book Bloggers changed things. I got a week to slave over the immensity that was The Diviners. Chockfull of brilliance of every kind -- from amazing, deep prose to a chilling antagonist -- my experience with The Diviners restored my faith in Libba Bray. I am psyched to find out what the rest of this series holds in store.
I can't help but compare my thoughts on A Great and Terrible Beauty to The Diviners. Given that A Great and Terrible Beauty was published in 2003 and here it is, nearly ten years later, there was an incredible maturation on many levels. This is evidenced mainly in the exponential increase in the page count of Libba Bray's Gemma Doyle series: A Great and Terrible Beauty (403 pages), Rebel Angels (548 pages), and The Sweet Far Thing (819 pages). Now, The Diviners at 578 pages. By the page count alone, Libba Bray certainly gained some polish from her work on A Great and Terrible Beauty.
The Diviners was told in an elegant, haunting style that perfectly suited the plot. Written in large swaths of detail and description, Libba Bray's prose was concise and easy to understand. Five hundred plus pages might suggest that the story amounted to a whole lot of nothing, but every word carried meaning. Occasionally, I thought that a scene was a bit out of place a time or two, like it was put there merely to better paint the backdrop of 1920's New York City. It didn't much affect my overall opinion, however. Paired with subtle humor and a keen eye for lively details, Libba Bray is a study in beautiful language.
Language became a bit of an issue for me during some parts of the plot. While I was impressed and deeply appreciative of Libba Bray's immense knowledge of 1920's lingo, I thought sometimes it was a bit overused. The excessive use drew me out of the story a time or two, like I was suffering from sensory overload.
Though The Diviners was told from multiple points of view, it centered on Evie. Evie was a great main character. She was inspiring because she had the ability to be unbelievably irritating at times with her selfishness, but the fact I found her irritating and likable says to me that underdevelopment or poor character-building wasn't to blame. Rather that she was presented in such a human-like way that I could accept her, rough edges and all, because I could relate to her on some levels. Still, there were moments that I just couldn't believe how selfish, self-centered, arrogant, mean and downright stupid she could be. Those moments were backed up quite convincingly by Libba Bray, so I was left shaking my head and hoping she'd remember her mistakes, as if I were a friend admonishing her for her recklessness rather than a judgmental stranger.
Above all, The Diviners scared me half to death. It's as if Libba Bray had personally snuck inside my head, withdrew all the tiny things that made my skin crawl, and fit them into words. I learned, the hard way I'm afraid, why reading The Diviners before bed was a bad idea. Coupled with the fact that I was sleeping on my grandmother's couch at the time, overall was not conducive to sleeping. Especially since I was looking over my shoulder into the darkness every few seconds, to see if Naughty John was standing there, ready to start whistling while he chased me around the house. Bray made a clever move by putting several of the murder scenes in the point of view of the victim. It brought creepiness to a whole new level.
I'm excited for this new journey that the Diviners trilogy has in store. I thoroughly enjoyed the characters that seasoned this haunting read -- Memphis, Theta, Sam, Jericho and Will -- and I anxiously await the continuation to their story.(less)
When Legend first popped up on my radar, I was turned away by the amateur-style cover. I was intrigued, however, when the hype drove me to read a sample of it. I was impressed by how there was an immediate sense of character and that allowed the also-immediate conflict to take effect. Paired with Marie Lu's effortless writing style and propelled by a both heart-wrenching and thought-provoking plot, I never wanted the story to end.
Legend tells the story of two awesome main characters. June, with her Holmesian-like logic but warm heart; and Day, the guy we girls would all like to run into on the streets. I was pleased (and impressed) with how June, the government's prodigy, didn't come off as a cold-hearted anti-hero. She had a heart -- a big heart -- that wasn't impervious to breaks. The criminal Day reminded me a lot of Han from Cinda Williams Chima's Seven Realms series, only Day doesn't have silver cuffs branded to his wrists. Mentally, I connected them because they're passionate, flirty, and street smart, and they always take care of their families.
The world of Legend was magnificently displayed. Lu doesn't fall into the trap of having to explain how everything worlds. By letting the world affect (or not affect) her characters in certain ways, she lets the world build seamlessly. It's this showing and not telling that is so effective in creating the swaths of color into the world around the characters. Sometimes it has a fantasy-like feel to it, and sometimes it feels more sci-fi or dystopian, giving it a well-rounded atmosphere.
What I was most impressed with from Legend was the way Lu built the story. I understood what was at stake, I knew the risks, and I felt each obstacle resonate within the characters. It was a story that built stakes like kindling for a fire -- they pushed the characters; they didn't come at a conveniently inconvenient time. At every turn, I would mutter, "What are they going to do now?" or "How are they going to get out of that?" The plot was tightly compacted: nothing was wasted, but there are threads to be continued in other books.
So while there were predictable places, it was the moments that took me by surprise that defined my liking for Legend. With it's fantasy/sci-fi like world and lovable characters, Legend should be a book to get on your shelf. I'm glad it's on mine.(less)
Pushing the Limits had the blogosphere foaming at the mouth before it even hit shelves. Normally, I steer clear of books like this -- the ones that explode so drastically that it makes me just a little bit suspicious. (No, seriously, Twilight anyone?) I bought Pushing the Limits after reading the first two pages in Barnes & Noble. No book can be that good, right?
Wrong. So wrong. Pushing the Limits totally deserves the hype. It was amazing from start to finish. I was delightfully surprised by the depth and clarity of each main character, and by the stakes they faced. I was never once pulled out of the story by insincere or sloppy writing. Everything about it makes me conclude, This is how a good book is supposed to be written.
Besides the dynamic main characters, my favorite thing about Pushing the Limits was the writing style: McGarry didn't preach anything. Information came out naturally, because the circumstances required it. There was none of this boring the reader with paragraphs of explanation. McGarry shaved away all the excess writing baggage that has become the staple of young adult literature. Each sentence brought the respective character more and more to life, adding depth and clarity instead of adding mindless prose to equate to a whole lot of nothing.
McGarry didn't shortchange the characters, which made my emotional connection with them stronger. Echo and Noah were independent, but inextricably linked -- the more they learned about each other, the more they learned about themselves, and I think that's what makes their romance so great. (Of course, some blush-worthy make out scenes certainly help a great deal.) I'd predicted that Echo was going to be whiny, but I was wrong. I was impressed with McGarry's ability to build motivations and thought processes into the character's prose so that every triumph and complaint is justified. This aspect really made the characters pop off the page for me.
Pushing the Limits has the revolutionary feel of a book that sets new standards. McGarry took two issues that are very real, relevant things in today's society, and brought them out of their dusty corners, showcasing them in a way that made them easier to approach, and to understand. Katie McGarry set out to do something:
I wanted to write a story in which my characters felt strong enough to leave their pasts behind and create new futures for themselves... Two, I wanted to write two characters who were facing overwhelming issues and who, through battling these issues, found hope at the end of their journey.
McGarry's passion shines through the prose; her cleverness, through the playful, witty banter between her two main characters. Pushing the Limits is the physical manifestation of stark honesty and brilliance. Katie McGarry certainly put herself on the map with this one, and I think she's going places.(less)
My first impression after closing the cover on Days of Blood and Starlight was that for a lady with bubblegum pink hair, Laini Taylor seriously knows how to dish out some intense stuff. There was absolutely nothing remotely cheerful about this story, but if there was anything that kept me turning pages, it was how Laini Taylor had a way of putting things that makes it interesting to read.
I had a hard time engaging in the characters. In retrospect, I think it was because I'd unknowingly shut myself down from empathizing or forging any kind of connection with the characters. How could I not? The world, as Taylor crafts it so masterfully, was soaked with death, destruction, horror and gore. The story was so heavy that I just couldn't bring myself to invest in the characters. That's not to say I didn't like any of them, because while Karou and I won't be exchanging friendship bracelets anytime soon, I certainly didn't feel any animosity towards her.
After closing the book, I certainly felt an animosity towards the plot and how much effort I had to put into understanding it. The plot was so heavy -- the war stuff got depressing really fast -- and quite frankly, it was a bit confusing. Some moments felt like a memoir without the historical context and other times, the scenes were disjointed and I was left thinking, "How the heck did we get here?" Overall, however, the story worked. I got the shifts between characters and where the stakes stood, and really, when someone's getting assassinated, that's what counts.
The one thing that impressed me the most, though, besides Taylor's way with words, was her indisputable knowledge of this world. There were so many details -- so many random things thrown in for flavor -- that it's like Taylor herself was reincarnated from that world. Except for the massive influx of war and death and depressing devastation, I would almost go so far as to say that Taylor's way with world-building is very Rowling-esque. It was just so obvious to me that she was a true authority. She knew was she was talking about, and I can't help but foster a deep respect for all the time and effort she must've put into her work.
Days of Blood and Starlight was a real beast of a novel. Super intense and breath taking in its scope, it's not something I would ever find it in myself to read again, but I can't lie and say that I didn't enjoy reading every page of it.(less)
I have always loved dragon stories, and with one notable exception, I have never been disappointed. Rachel Hartman and her work with Seraphina has reminded me in no uncertain terms why I love dragons and dragon stories. She created a world so uniquely her own and wrote a story so full of detail and passion, I would've thought she were recounting something she herself had experienced. From start to finish, this story captured me; I loved every moment of it.
Passion, I think, is something that a lot of writers nowadays lack. Everyone seems to be writing books now, obscuring those few gems who write for the sake of writing and who, even if their stuff won't sell, will be writing because they have to. Rachel Hartman wrote with a passion that makes me infinitely grateful that I didn't pass it by because of the disastrous cover, and gave the story a chance to stand on its own. Seraphina's story connected with me on a personal level, but I think many audiences could see something of themselves in this tale, simply because everyone has something inside of them that they are ashamed of, and that they are afraid to show the world. The fear of rejection is a universal feeling. I loved the way Rachel Hartman captured that.
Seraphina was a fantastic narrator. She's the kind that shouts, "Here, here, look at me!" And then blocks your view when you try to look around her. Her voice was steadily entertaining in a self-deprecating, sarcastic way that made her endearing rather than irritating. Hartman highlighted emotions that are normally butchered or omitted entirely by most authors. For example, Seraphina's reaction to a compliment: while she might feel the compliment is true, her thought process is such that I don't feel she's being falsely modest with herself. Her vulnerability and shame, along with how she dealt with the ground shifting beneath her feet, made her a character that I instantly bonded with.
I also grew deeply rooted in Hartman's world. It's almost as if the descriptions could've only come from someone who had the knowledge of a world that was fully realized, things that I didn't understand and yet the character clearly did. Hartman set up a world that was uniquely her own, adding details to flavor (not bog down) the story in a style similar to that of Tamora Pierce, Christopher Paolini, and Cinda Williams Chima. So when I set the book aside, the world still sat in my head like a memory palace and characters still deigned to play around.
The plot was amazing, though I could see how a reader might think it slow and sometimes aimless. But the way Hartman just dove into it, I couldn't help but try and keep up. I was so engrossed in the story, my mind stopped thinking about, "Is this predictable?" or "Could this have been better?" The inner editor just shut off and I went along for the ride -- and loved every moment of it!
I recommend Seraphina to any fantasy lovers, but specifically to those who love dragon stories. May it take your breath away as it did mine.(less)