I'm sure you've seen this cover making its round in the book community. Even I find it quite catching, and I've been known to criticize a YA cover oncI'm sure you've seen this cover making its round in the book community. Even I find it quite catching, and I've been known to criticize a YA cover once or twice...or most-times. But that's beside the point. What I want to say is that I think Sharon Biggs Waller's A Mad, Wicked Folly deserves popularity.
Because, truly, if one's decision whether or not to read a book is based on synopsis alone this book would've been discarded easily. The premise promises drama and opulence to some, monotony and exasperation to others. It promises nothing more than what we've all read before: a girl trying to defy her circumstances, a girl with morals, goals, and personality. But they're always a let down. Not here. Not Victoria Darling. Not Sharon Biggs Waller.
A Mad, Wicked Folly is a historical young adult fiction that does its job; it entertains while imparting knowledge. Victoria introduces us to art, Pre-Raphaelite art in particular. Through her artist's eyes, she shows us the beauty and technique in painting. She shows us how to look at a painting. That right there, I haven't felt from a YA book in a long time.
Take A Mermaid, for example. An iridescent painting by John William Waterhouse. A familiar painting to myself but with Victoria, I learned where to look, how to look and what to make of what I saw. I found myself googling the painting, zooming in and out of focus trying to see what she felt. If that's not compelling writing, I don't know what is. The passion is there, coursing through the author into her character and into the reader.
Another fascination of Waller's is history. This novel is set at the turn of the 20th century. England. Now, if you watch Downton Abbey, you'll know all about the remarkable changes occurring during this period. If not -- why aren't you? It's astonishing that women's suffrage (just another way to mean women's right to vote) has only been around for a century or so. Literally just a couple of blocks down the timeline and women of then were so unjustifiably limited. There was already a subway station for crying out loud!
Victoria is originally mixed in with a group of suffragettes, a huge misunderstanding. She wants to focus on art, not politics. But as she tries harder and harder to make her artistic dream come true, the more she bumps into strictures. And more and more, her creative aims are tied tighter with those of the female protesters. Victoria slowly realizes how all the suffocations of life have been because of her sex. How freedom in one area of life is not enough. How it must be freedom in whole.
Victoria is illustrated as passionate, ambitious and determined. I'm glad to say she stays that way. She is not swayed easily, distracted often. Her focus is straight and unrelenting. More importantly, she never forgets herself. Not in a selfish, self-absorbed way. But in the way of never losing one's identity and aspirations.
There are other things, like, oh, romance. Of course, there is. And it's nice. The love interest is a dish. The relationship is believable; it develops in a timely fashion; and there is a genuine connection. Victoria makes friends with the suffragettes who are based on real people and some of them sparkle.
The writing is wonderful. It uses dialogue extremely well; relying on the characters to tell the story rather than the author scrawling endless descriptions which readers are made to swallow. Characters have personality! I rarely laugh out loud but there were some very funny quips that made me actually LOL.
A negative? Well, maybe because this book does take on some heavy issues, it did sometimes border on preachy; a little too repetitive. But that's a faint negative. Also some weird phrasing; some sentences sounding off. Again, small complaint. The ending? While, I did find it a tiny bit preposterous -- a little hard to believe -- I appreciated it. It was brave in more ways than one.
If only all YA books were this easy to read and review. Sharon Biggs Waller's A Mad, Wicked Folly is a wonderful treat. Pretty on the outside, beautiful on the inside. Likeable characters, good plot. Respect is given to history. This is an ode to art and justice.
This review also appears on The Midnight Garden. An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review.
I read "time travel" and "Romanov Russia" in this novel's synopsis and thought this book must have been written for me...because let me tell you, I haI read "time travel" and "Romanov Russia" in this novel's synopsis and thought this book must have been written for me...because let me tell you, I have quite the fascination with the last ruling royal family of Imperial Russia. A revolution, an assassination, an escaped princess whose body was never found? That is the stuff of my childself's imagination. (Also, this is one of my favorite movies of all time -- judge me.) In fact, I've immersed myself so much that I can recite the particular characteristics of each sister, so finding out that Gray centers on my personal favorite grand duchess just blew me out of the water.
That is where it ends, however, because Endless is an occasionally effective mystery book, an at-best adequate suspense story and a sometimes cheese-inducing romance novel. I can't say that this novel is driven by its characters because I think they are quite lackluster. Jenny is an only child, she lives with her dad and has an aunt and one friend. She is lonely and always looking for someone to understand her. She's sad when she needs to be sad, smiles when she has to and fights when she's called to. There isn't anything remarkable or memorable in the way she is presented except for the fact that she has a special ability.
The problem here is that a reader cannot just be told a character is a certain type, this must be supported by the environment; how people react to this character, etc. The development was simply lacking. And I felt this practice was current in most aspects of the story. For example, a lot of weight is placed on a relationship we never even truly witness. Yet this relationship is central not only to understanding Jenny's emotional state but to the plot itself. In fact, Jenny's relationships to those closest to her are showcased very minimally. Apart from Jenny, the secondary characters all seemed one dimensional. They wavered transparently without ever taking solid shape.
Something else I had a problem with was dialogue. Endless dialogue (excuse the pun). Everyday, mundane conversations are not necessary. When having a phone conversation about a crucial clue to the mystery the characters are solving, we don't need the chit chat. I am (most of the time) a firm believer of less is more. Too many words, too much description tends to devalue the work, in my opinion. The point is, a lot of this is skimmable.
Now the plot. About half-way through the book, I suffered a jerking bout of confusion...because initially, what with Jenny's ability to see visions and dream strange dreams, Endless seemed to follow the route of a paranormal. Enter time travel. After that, it seemed more sci-fi. Not that the two are exclusive but it was strange to start a character off by defining them by a single magical talent, then not using that talent for the rest of the book.
The plot progression is also, at times, equally confusing. The subplots are obviously interconnected but it isn't done in a way that makes it easy to identify the connecting threads, nor is it engagingly ambiguous. (Though much of this might be me being not-smart). And when at last all the dots are connected, a lot of it still didn't make sense. And, as far as I know, this is a stand alone. No room for later explanations.
Why, you wonder, did I give it 3 stars. Well, Gray really hit me with the Romanov family. And also, this is very readable. I point out my issues because I wanted it to work. And it does. I can see how many will have a good time with Endless. Unfortunately, it could have been more.
One more thing: I did kind of love the ending. Such a tease.
Shadows by Paula Weston is the first installment in her Rephaim series. This Aussie YA title has had a lot of buzz since its release a year ago, and aShadows by Paula Weston is the first installment in her Rephaim series. This Aussie YA title has had a lot of buzz since its release a year ago, and at long last it's arrived here in North America. It's certain that most fans of readers of paranormal romance who try out this series will clawing for the next.
Shadows is based on angel lore. So yes, you've read the same story, the same myth, the same names, only, as in all other angel books, there are little tweaks here and there to differentiate it from the crop. But, as I've always said, whatever the material, if the writing is good then the book is good.
It's only been a year since the death of her twin brother, Jude, and Gaby has run away in an attempt of moving on, patching up the cracks her grief has left at its wake. But there is a secret to her. She doesn't remember much about the crash and what little memory she has of her life before is all in a haze. And then Rafa and a whole host of characters turn up asking why isn't she dead? Piece by piece, characters offer Gaby truths about her past, and piece by piece, we readers are taken aback by the genuinely surprising twists Weston has set up.
The plot starts off a bit shaky because Gaby's condition and whereabouts are so obscure it seems almost a let down. But then Rafa materializes right out of her dream and the real mystery begins. The plot heats up quickly and does not stop until the final chapter. There is proper construction of secrets and questions, of confusion and suspicion. And as we get more and more answers, this world of war between fallen angels and demons manifests into a woven tapestry of lust, sin, and redemption.
As for the characters, there are three that stand high above the rest. Gaby and Rafa. Their exchanges are quick and sharp, funny and provoking. Rafa has the advantage of knowing more things about Gaby than she's comfortable with but oh she sizes him up good and gives it right back to him! He's also sexy and cocky, a lover and a fighter. And he smells of sandalwood -- now, I love sandalwood, so this is like a dream come true. Gaby on the other hand is lost and vulnerable in so many ways but she manages to find ground when she needs to be strong. She's feisty and thinks for herself.
All in all, I can see real potential down the line for these two. Perhaps the romance started off a little too soon and there were a little too many corners of the mouth "turning up" (which is code for smiling but not smiling, it seems) but doubt not that I was just as giddy by the end as anyone.
And then there's Jason. He is introduced as a side character to a secondary character, no more than a bystander. But he makes surprising leaps, commanding a more crucial role than one would have ever expected. Props.
Shadows delivers all it promises in its premise and, despite minor oddities throughout this nearly 400 page book, is well-deserved of its impressive ratings. There is a girl, a boy, war, love, angels, demons and blood. What more do you need?
There have been much debate over Sarah Rees Brennan's second installment in her Lynburn Legacy trilogy. It had been soSit down. I have a lot to say...
There have been much debate over Sarah Rees Brennan's second installment in her Lynburn Legacy trilogy. It had been so hyped up it almost jinxed itself. Untold has received giddy praise and somber criticism. So, which is it? Well, it's kind of both.
Untold tells the aftermath of Kami and Co. after having discovered that it was Rob Lynburn who had been doing the massacring around not-so-sleepy-town Sorry-in-the-Vale. Now, he's recruiting to build an army. As is with most middle books, the basic premise is preparation. Kami needs to spread the word out to the people, to educate them and arm them of and against these evil magic doers.
Plot-wise, the book suffered faintly -- I say faintly because I am unyielding in my fan-love and will be satisfied with whatever Brennan gives me. The book is slow and in the end, progress is short. We learn a little more about how magic works between the Lynburns, a few more spells, a bit more history. But somehow Kami spends more time learning karate moves, doing historical research and playing undercover agents -- all important but not quite the action readers were hoping for. Something I really liked, however, is the time spent with Kami's parents. It's a sweet relationship with genuine affection, so the downward spiral it descends into is heartbreaking. There is also more mystery with Kami's mom. The trouble is, we are given almost no answers.
As for the paranormal factor in this novel, it is hard to believe that as a town that is in the midst of war between centuries-old sorcery and good old human mortality, there is still such a thing as school, or trick-or-treating, or going to the post office. This is one heck of a diplomatic and considerate war -- but I understand, that's the way of the game. With that said, it does make up for lost bloodshed. There is gore and appropriate repercussions are dispensed.
Surprisingly, something many found exasperating was one of the highlights and strengths in the first book -- the quirky, eccentric yet lovable smart-alec attitude of the characters. I agree begrudgingly. Yes, they did occasionally meander into Annoying Ville. There were a little too many clever quips, too many droll retorts.
Kami, in particular. Sometimes I just wanted her to speak normal, which is almost sacrilegious as she is one of the most colourful and effervescent protagonists I've ever met. More than that, she stands for self-respect and self-confidence. Her psychology, understandably, needs healing. She is still struggling from detaching herself as an individual from her link to Jared. Did all her guts and spirit come solely from him or did she possess them on her own? Essentially, is she herself without him? Jared, too, is beginning to open up. And near the end, we hear him; we are allowed access to a character who has so far been unreadable. It was such conflicting pleasure. (Only Jared can do that.)
Having said that, they still frustrated me. Good god, the delusions! The angst! The misinterpretations! You see, the romantic core in the book, to me, is clear. It is just the journey there that is pissing me off. When it comes to love, these two are clueless. (But so meant to be.) The book is heavily focused on mending the cruel cracks left on them after the cut. And the scars go deep. And, as in Unspoken, it is painful yet so rewarding.
This book doesn't quite reach the height of expectations -- and that's okay as they were Everest. But it is still spectacular. What I truly appreciate is the spectrum of topics Brennan covers in her paranormal romance thriller: homosexuality, family dysfunctions, the plight of low income families, marriage problems, superficial beauty, self-acceptance. It is all done subtly, softly; without ever becoming cumbersome.
Brennan tells an absurd, fun, heartfelt story of a girl who speaks to a voice in her head. This voice turns out to be a real live boy. And while they wander into magical adventures, it is ultimately about so much more.
Neverwas is the highly anticipated second installment in the Amber House trilogy. This book starts off on quite a spin. At the end of Amber House, SaNeverwas is the highly anticipated second installment in the Amber House trilogy. This book starts off on quite a spin. At the end of Amber House, Sarah rescues both her little brother Sam and her aunt Maggie from the dream world which changes the course of the future. Neverwas is consequently based on an alternate present — a time when the Nazis won WWII; when the world continents are divided under the oppressive commands of the German and Japanese empires; and when racial segregation is still routine.
In comparison, Neverwas is a departure from its predecessor. It is bigger and more ambitious in scale, moving away from domestic drama into an all-out, no holds barred, twilight zone-esque fight to save the “real” world. It is still frightening, still mysterious and still gripping — only that the source of these fears and mysteries have slightly changed along with history. In other words, it is still creepy but for other reasons.
Since the setting and atmosphere is in a way distinctly different to the one established in Amber House — which was more Gothic, more Romantic — the challenge is to write an alternate universe while still maintaining the essence readers grew to love in the previous novel; a little bit like the supernatural device used in the books…a different shell but containing the same soul. This is impeccably done by the writers. All three women are in sync with their vision and the language they are using to tell it.
And the environment in Neverwas is quite different. Sarah, for one, is changed from the first book. Having saved Maggie, Sarah’s entire lifetime is altered — not only by the sudden change in her family life but also by the change in history, which changes the status of women. She grows up into someone a little more sheltered, a little more cautious, a little more proper. But the growth in her, her journey into finding and becoming the “old” Sarah, is worth witnessing.
Maggie and Sam also play a lesser role — which I found unexpected considering so much of the first book centered on Maggie’s absence, Maggie’s death and later, Maggie’s rescue. Sam on the other hand is just complete pleasure, so missing him was a little disappointing. Richard, oh Richard. I think we might discover some converts after this second book, that’s all I’ll say. Claire, Richard’s mom, plays a new and intriguing part, one that I hope to see very well explored in the third installment. As for Sarah’s relationship with her own mother — which in the first book is such an integral factor to Sarah’s nature — it has shifted into a different kind of tension. And Jackson, still perfection. And that’s all I’ll say.
While the house and Sarah’s ancestors are still at the heart of the story, there is a heavy addition of social and political issues that Sarah must come to understand and inevitably fight against. Her family is involved in political election, racial discrimination layers tension between Sarah and Jackson. This slight shift in focus, along with the missing sentimental pull of Maggie and Sam, the drama between Sarah and her mother, and the romantic question between Sarah and Jackson, might be the reason for the narrowed emotional impact of Neverwas. Don’t get me wrong, its punches will still make readers’ faces crease and their eyes water, but compared to Amber House, this second installment feels less intimate.
Though slower-paced, Neverwas remains a success. Its ambition is impressive and the social and political topics tackled is a testament to the breadth of the writers’ talents. As mentioned, it is different. But it is still Amber House.