The problem I had with most of the prior Stiefvater novels were the leads, who were...moreFor more reviews, Cover Snark and more, visit A Reader of Fictions.
The problem I had with most of the prior Stiefvater novels were the leads, who were basically the sort of people who murder banter. They bore me to tears. Cole and Isabel’s narration on the other hand crackles and pops with incendiary wit. They’re rough-edges, tremendously-flawed, violent, strange, hateful, inconsiderate, stubborn, and visceral. They’re not the sort of people I can imagine myself being friends with ever, but they’re fascinating. They’re compelling, the sort of people who, against their own will sometimes, cannot help drawing other people to them, like the flame that draws moths. These are the sort of characters that I like to read about.
In Sinner, I feel like Stiefvater may have realized somewhere along the line that the wolf thing isn’t really the best part. In fact, the wolf stuff hardly factors into this book at all. If you loved the Mercy Falls series for the shifting, you might be disappointed, but, if you were skeptical, then this is what you wanted. In fact, read as a standalone, the wolf is so entirely a metaphor in this book for the escapism Cole St. Clair indulged in during his younger years. The wolf is his desire to not be himself, to not think, to not deal, to not live as a human. The wolf is much more powerful this way than as an odd paranormal plot line, because, honestly, it factors into the plot not an iota.
Were I one to use the classification, I would actually put Sinner in new adult, probably. Though they’re still young, Cole and Isabel are dealing with new adult problems. Isabel’s taking a nursing class before med school and working a retail job. Cole’s a rock star trying to figure out what to do with his life. Unlike the rest of the Mercy Falls books, there’s not the slightest touch of high school in this one. Sinner is dark and edgy.
Both Isabel and Cole have inner demons to fight. That’s the real plot here. Can these two get together in spite of themselves? They’re drawn to each other, but they’re both hesitant to commit for various reasons. Ultimately, they don’t entirely trust one another and for good reason. Cole doesn’t trust Isabel to stay and Isabel doesn’t trust Cole to stay sober. Their relationship problems are their own and no one else’s. No one is trying to keep them apart and, actually, they do have some shippers trying to help these two kids work it out.
The other aspect of Sinner I found so charming were the characters that Cole and Isabel pick up along the way. I say ‘pick up’ because they don’t do anything the way ‘normal’ people do. Cole befriends his driver, Leon, an older man a bit sad with life. I also adore Isabel’s cousin Sofia and would honestly love a book about her coming of age, the poor sweet dear. There’s just something so fabulous about the way Cole and Isabel interact with people. They’ve got such powerful voices and ways of being. Plus, I have to love any two people who are so incredibly terrible at small talk as Cole and Isabel. It’s so much fun watching them either intimidate or confuse anyone they speak to.
If Sinner is what Maggie Stiefvater’s writing has become since her debut, I may just have to jump on the bandwagon. Sinner‘s a departure from the rest of the Mercy Falls books, so that’s something to be aware of. I think there’s definitely appeal here for new adult readers who might have been hesitant to try something paranormal in a series. Though part of the series, it does serve nicely as a standalone.(less)
At this point, it’s seeming as though my love of LaZebnik’s The Trouble with Flirting may have been a fluke. The difference between her Mansfield Park retelling and the other two (Pride and Prejudice in Epic Fail and Persuasion in The Last Best Kiss) is that I didn’t care and in fact thought it was awesome that she made alterations to Mansfield Park. That book is a mess and changes only improve it. Not so with P&P or Persuasion. Oh, LaZebnik puts all the things in basically the right places; they’re very clearly retellings. This retelling fails to capture the emotional resonances of the original. If you are able to separate The Last Best Kiss from Persuasion, it’s a fun read, though not a great one. If you can’t, it’s going to be frustrating. I ended up somewhat liking this one only because I’ve apparently forgotten a good deal of the middle of Persuasion.
The biggest problem with The Last Best Kiss is how the modernization is done. What The Lizzie Bennet Diaries understood, as Gillian (Writer of Wrongs) has very wisely told me, is that a marriage proposal in the past is very akin to a job offer now. See, marriage back then was essentially a woman’s occupation. There often wasn’t love involved. Agreeing to marry was more of a business deal with wives chosen by what they could bring to their husbands. Getting to marry a man you loved, as Austen’s heroines did, was emotionally pretty similar to getting a job offer for your dream job.
In Persuasion, Anne Elliot accepts an offer of a marriage from Frederick Wentworth, then a poor naval officer. However, Anne then caves to peer pressure from her father, sister, and friend, which leads her to break the engagement. She was persuaded not to marry him. This is not, however, an illogical decision for Anne. She would be taking a step down in station and would have been pretty promptly left alone while he went off to sail the seas in the navy, probably with a kid and without much money. She didn’t make the romantic decision, but she was afraid to take what was legitimately a huge risk.
In The Last Best Kiss, Anna Eliot dates Finn Westbrook secretly when they’re both freshman. Finn’s short and super nerdy, where Anna is popular. Anna fears everyone will judge her for dating a short, weedy boy with glasses, so she keeps their relationship hidden. Everything culminates in her dissing him publicly at the school dance. While I can see how LaZebnik went for this, the emotional impact is so incredibly different. What Anne did to Wentworth was fail to trust him and to give in to an understandable societal fear; what Anna did to Finn was to treat him like shit. The most obvious difference of course is that everyone knew that Anne wanted to marry Wentworth; he wasn’t a shameful secret.
This change in motivations makes Anna an entirely different sort of girl. Anna is hugely judgmental and focused on popularity, something Anne really wasn’t. In fact, Anna doesn’t come across as a cohesive character at all, probably because she’s being shoehorned into a retelling when her personality doesn’t fit, so sometimes she acts one way and other times another.
The other big character change for the retelling was to Louisa Hargrove, Anne’s romantic competition for the returned and wealthy Wentworth. Louisa becomes Lily, a manicpixiedreamgirl. Louisa is a flirt and not especially likable, but she was standard. Lily on the other hand is a total special snowflake. She has a different ridiculous outfit and/or hairstyle every day. She brings a ukelele to class and teachers let her play it whenever she wants to. She does whatever she want, damn the consequences. The shade-throwing at John Green did ultimately make this an interesting choice, but I also feel like LaZebnik had to make Lily completely insufferable in order to make Anna look better in comparison, since Anna is a lot less likable than Anne.
Finn, on the other hand, is a pretty great guy. He’s a genius, he’s handsome (when he returns in senior year), and he’s pretty good at bantering. Wentworth definitely acts like a bastard sometimes, especially given the fact that Anne did have some legitimate concerns. They both took the blame in Persuasion, where Finn really just comes off as forgiving. LaZebnik tries to make a play like the both messed up, because he wore such a horrible outfit to the dance, but that doesn’t work out. Finn is the victim in this situation. I will say that I did end up mildly shipping them, but it’s not the powerful moment from the end of Persuasion where the two overcome their past issues and accept their feelings.
There are, however, some great aspects to The Last Best Kiss. The book’s pretty diverse. I especially love the treatment of the LGBTQ+ aspects. Molly, Anna’s middle sister, is a lesbian. I like Anna best when she’s interacting with Molly, because she’s endlessly supportive. Even Anna’s father and oldest sister, Lizzie, don’t have any issue with Molly’s sexual orientation, though they do, true to form, say some infuriating things about it maybe being a phase. Despite those comments, they really have no issue. Nor does Anna’s mother. Rarely do coming out stories in YA go down so well and I applaud LaZebnik for this casual acceptance.
Anna also makes a number of casual, healthy comments about weight. She, though judgmental in general, has a sense that certain people look better at different weights. She doesn’t hate skinny girls or fat ones for being that weight. She comments on some women looking better while carrying some extra weight. Her mother, for instance, put on weight after the divorce because she not longer had a husband pressuring her to fit his ideal and Anna thinks she looks better. YA novels often put a really subtle pressure on fitting the societal ideal (aka super thin), so this was refreshing.
Once I was able to stop comparing to Persuasion, The Last Best Kiss was pretty enjoyable. If you know the novel well enough to compare and aren’t able to stop thinking of it as a retelling, it’s going to be frustrating.(less)
I cannot remember the last time a book made me feel so incredibly, incandescently, indescribably enraged. Seriously, I was filled with anger for most of the book. Loathing. Unadulterated loathing. Right now, I can see you looking at the rating and wondering whether I slipped up. No, I didn’t. This book pissed me off more than most any other, but it MEANT to make me feel that way. This review will involve a good deal of ranting, but that’s not directed at the book. Rites of Passage is an intense read about gender and the military, which made me want to go on a nutpunching rampage.
My expectations going into Rites of Passage were something along the lines of Cadet Kelly, the Disney Channel Original Movie where Hilary Duff is sent to a military academy. It’s fluffy and fun and there’s romance. On the one hand, they’re definitely ripe for comparison, but there’s nothing fluffy about Rites of Passage. The key difference is that there were other women in positions of power at the military academy Hilary Duff went to (most notably Ren Stevens as a badass drill sergeant). Sam McKenna is one of five girls to attend Denmark Military Academy, and they are not wanted.
Sam McKenna is from a military family. She knows the regulations and has lived them for most of her life. Her father’s a colonel and both her brothers followed in his footsteps. Before he died, her favorite brother, Amos, dared Sam to attend the DMA. After his death, she had no choice but to follow through, because she owes it to her love of him. Plus, she’s as ready as anyone can be for the challenges of a military academy. She knows what will be asked of her and she’s both strong and determined.
In fact, Sam IS ready. She’s basically a model recruit. She’s able to bear up for the physical challenges. Though she doesn’t usually finish first, she’s generally near the front of the pack. The rules of the academy are already drilled into her. A military academy is tough and not remotely fluffy. Recruits are not allowed to walk on the sidewalks, even though sidewalks are literally made for walking. They have to sandwich the rank of anyone above them, like “Drill Sergeant Stamm, yes, Drill Sergeant Stamm,” which to my mind is a completely pointless and idiotic waste of time. Pretty much every single rule is there to dehumanize the recruits. While I will never ever understand any of this being necessary on an emotional level, it’s intended to bring the class of recruits together and make them 1) work hard and 2) work as a team.
Still, that’s what Sam signed up for and she could handle that. Unfortunately, this DMA is populated by misogynistic shitbags and from day one everyone has been telling her to go home and stop polluting the academy. Sam responds not by acting out but by holding herself to ever higher standards of excellence. Meanwhile, she’s consistently berated for holding her company back and for being weak and inferior, even though she’s much better than many of the other recruits. Watching this is agony. People abuse her verbally and physically in an effort to make her leave. Clearly, these dickwad arsehole shitheads are aware that, if women come to the academy, the females might just excel. If they truly believed women were inferior, they could have just left the women alone and waited for them to inevitably fail. Secretly, these boys know women are strong enough and that’s why they’re so afraid. FUCK THE PATRIARCHY.
What happens to Sam is completely disgusting, not because she’s a girl, but because she’s being held to a different standard because she’s a girl. Sam doesn’t need or want special treatment. She does all the same physical activity as everyone else. The only reason they claim she can’t hack it is because her genitals are on the inside. It’s such fucking bullshit. And all she can do is either drop out or accept the abuse quietly, because the military will always believe people of higher rank. I FEEL SO MUCH RAGE.
For a lot of the book, Sam’s completely alone. No one is on her side and it is painful to watch. The way her family doesn’t stand by her is what really kicked me in the emotional kidneys. Her mom, especially, who is completely outside the military academy and draws away for non-political reasons. Losing one child is a shitty reason to push away the rest of them. What kills me about this book is how plausible it seems. I want to be able to say, “this book is unrealistic because there’s no way people would have allowed the vendetta against Sam to get this far,” but I really just can’t. Removing prejudice is an incredibly slow process and I think the military, by its nature, is probably even slower.
There is a bit of a romance and, at first, I wasn’t a fan of that. Sam is such a rule-follower and so set on making it through this year to ease the path for other female recruits to follow that I couldn’t see her risking her place on kissing. However, I think Hensley handled it perfectly. There’s a ship there for you to enjoy, but Sam’s pretty careful about what she does. Despite the hormones, she cares about her military career first. It fits with Sam’s personality and I won’t complain about adding shippy moments that make sense.
The one thing that didn’t ring true for me was Jax. During her first days, Sam gets an email from an account called jaxhax telling her to quit the DMA. Eventually, you learn who Jax is and that she wants to help Sam. Conveniently, Jax is a hacker and has exactly the skills needed to make the plot possible. Her presence is too convenient and her character’s rather inconsistent, I find, in order to fit the demands of the plot. Honestly, the whole larger plot that Jax is needed for really didn’t do much for me anyway. I don’t feel like things needed to be conspiracy theory intense.
Rites of Passage is an intense consideration of gender roles and expectations in a military academy. It might make you want to feminist smash some stuff, but it’s a really great, worthwhile read. Now, I think I need to watch Cadet Kelly to recover.(less)
There is nothing like the right book at the right time. I mean, obviously, a good book is good whenever, but a good book just when you needed it? Bookish heaven. Magnolia is what I needed in this slumpish mood I’ve been in. I’ve been craving fluffy romance with a great ship and Magnolia is that. Technically, Magnolia is a review book, but egalleys are supposed to be lowest priority, so it also felt like a free read, like I was cheating my schedule. Ah, beautiful liberation. Even more odd, just as the storm in Magnolia Branch hit in my reading, the thunder started going outside. How about that for timing? Magnolia is everything I hoped it would be: a southern Swan Princess with a glorious ship and all the feels.
Kristi Cook is writing about the popular kids in Magnolia. All the people that Jemma and Ryder hang out with regularly are the pinnacle of society in their Mississippi Town. Jemma’s a cheerleader and Ryder’s the head quarterback. Though Cook doesn’t get into the popularity stress stuff or show everything as unhealthy as it usually is, I also don’t think it’s quite idealized. There are definitely some drunken mistakes and some people are clearly not the nicest. My point is, though, that Jemma and Ryder aren’t the sort of people I would hang out with in real life and they’re nothing like me, but I still got completely sucked into this story and fell in love with the characters. I’m always so impressed when an author can make me feel for a character without me having too much in common with that character.
From the beginning, I loved Jemma’s narration. The occasional bit of dialect irked mildly, but Cook keeps it to a minimum. Otherwise, Jemma’s voice was just immediately full of life. I can’t put a finger on what makes a character go from believable but still only a character to being so real and immediate. Whatever it is, Jemma has it. I love too that Jemma has so much passion for things I don’t care about, particularly shooting. I actually hate guns and have zero interest in all of that, but I love that Jemma, who enjoys refashioning vintage clothing and cute dresses, is the best shot in her town and has a pistol named Delilah. I care about this because she makes me care. Also because woman power for the win.
Before I get into the ship, I want to talk about my other favorite part, which is the storm itself. The hurricane that hits Magnolia Landing, a whole six hours from the coast, is diminished but still monstrous. I was so incredibly tense as I read the chapters during the storm. There’s a special sort of helplessness as they sit there and listen to crashing sounds, not knowing whether the house will still be there when they come out. Like with the characters, I think Cook got this so perfect that I felt like I was there myself.
Now, I’d never really given it much thought, but this is actually a trope I LOVE. Two people who hate each other for one reason or another are forced together by circumstances and have to work through everything. This trope happens all the time in manga and kdrama. Being trapped together by circumstance forces the two to talk about things they never have before. There’s also an added sense of danger, sometimes very real and sometimes merely that of being stuck in unfamiliar circumstances. In this context, being honest is a lot easier and this is where all the feels come. Oh boy do they come.
This ship is a marvelous ship. The book’s been compared to a flipped Romeo and Juliet, but I definitely think it’s more Swan Princess. You know that opening song where the parents are trying to force the kids to get together and the kids are like BLECH. It’s like that. These two have serious chemistry and the ship is done just right. There’s a certain amount of pain and JUST KISS ALREADY and then the moves happen exactly when they should. It’s also awesome how Jemma and Ryder have to learn to throw off their old patterns of hatred, even once it’s become clear that hatred is not the emotion there. THIS SHIP IS GREAT.
The one thing that didn’t quite ring true for me was how perfect Ryder and Jemma are. Ryder’s gorgeous, incredibly smart, gentlemanly, and an amazing football player. Jemma plays down her own skills, but she’s talented with film, dress alteration, cheerleading and shooting, on top of being really attractive and smart. I mean, Jemma’s got so many talents that are shown that I have trouble feeling her passion for film as any stronger than any of the other things at which she excels. They’re flawed primarily in how stubborn they are. The other thing is that I feel like Cook threw in a few too many serious side plots for a fluffy book and then didn’t tie them all up satisfyingly. Personally, I feel like the plot about Jemma’s sister Nan sort of fell by the wayside. It wasn’t terribly handled, but I also don’t really get what it added to the story, much like View Spoiler ».
If, like me, you love fluffy books with swoony romances, THIS BOOK. Also, if you like southern contemporaries or books about storms/survival, Magnolia‘s just what you need.(less)
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’ve been really picky with books lately. I’ve...moreFor more reviews, Cover Snark and more, visit A Reader of Fictions.
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’ve been really picky with books lately. I’ve been picking things up and abandoning them when they don’t keep my interest. Despite the fact that Dissonance is almost five hundred pages, Dissonance kept my attention consistently. Considering that I’ve not been able to make it through some much shorter books, this means something. This book is parallel universe awesomeness. I liked it from the start, but the ending was just as solid. Dissonance is a fabulously unique debut and a wonderful start to a new series.
Delancey is just my sort of heroine, by which I mean that she’s a bit of a bitch. Del’s the sort of girl who doesn’t take to well to authority. She skips class constantly, disobeys orders, and sneaks out of the house. Plus, she totally puts her wishes above those of others. Though she really loves her grandpa Monty, she tends to keep people at a distance and is constantly fighting with most people. She’s judgmental of those around her and generally not all that nice. I know some readers aren’t big fans of heroines like Del, but I love them. Of course, when I was a teen (and now too lbr), I had issues with authority (though I was a total rule-follower) and I was a judgmental bitch, so you know I get these girls.
Anyway, I have to say that the world building is the strongest element of Dissonance. Sure, I come for the characters and stay for them, but this world building is totally boss. Del is a Walker, like the rest of her family and a whole network of people around the globe. Walkers have the ability to sense Pivots, places where someone’s choice has created a new echo of the Key World. The Walkers can travel to these Echoes and seek to maintain the safety of Key World, by fixing or cleaving the echoes from it. There’s also this musical component to being a Walker. They all have perfect pitch and can tell the worlds apart by their musical tones or, in the case of echoes out of whack, their dissonance. Obviously parallel universes have been done before, but the musical tie was such a cool touch. Plus, I’m just amazed by how well O’Rourke managed to describe everything that I am nodding along like OF COURSE and not going CHICKAWHAT.
The ethical quandaries central to Dissonance are the sort of philosophical consideration I love to consider. Are the echoes real or not? The people in them take on their own unique personalities, disparate from the Key World and live their own lives. Given enough time, they can become quite different. However, if the person dies in the Key World, their echoes go too. Are they real? Should their lives be maintained or cleaved? What function do the echoes serve? There’s so much to wonder and debate in this world. It is RICH with possibility.
Dissonance is one of those books where the things that sort of irked me early on actually get handled and resolved in a good way. Del, at the start, has this horrible relationship with her sister Addie. Those two are terrible to each other. However, Addie isn’t an unrelenting villain. They don’t become best friends, but they learn a lot about each other over the course of Dissonance. They have an actual arc, which is all I ask.
I was also concerned about her relationship with her best friend, Eliot, who has a very obvious crush on her. I don’t know about you guys, but I have been burned by this before. However, it’s handled in a very non-dramatic, non-love triangle-y way. Plus, Del is badass and won’t let people make her feel guilty for things she shouldn’t feel guilty for and it’s great. Much like her relationship with her sister, things are still on unstable ground, but I like the arc so far.
Then there’s the romance, which obviously I have to talk about. It’s not a SHIP, but it’s a solid ship. To be honest, they instalove on each other a little bit, but I’m totally not gagging. I believe that they feel that way, whether or not it’s true. They do have a connection and also things are complicated. What especially makes me like them is that they do have some issues that they work through rather than everything being perfect in their relationship.
Basically, if you are into parallel universe things, YOU WANT THIS. Also, if you like complex stories and the bitchy sort of heroine, again THIS.(less)
One Death, Nine Stories didn’t really scream Christina book, but I couldn’t resist...moreFor more reviews, Cover Snark and more, visit A Reader of Fictions.
One Death, Nine Stories didn’t really scream Christina book, but I couldn’t resist the premise of the anthology. It actually turned out to be much cooler than I was even expecting. I thought they’d be essentially companion stories by different people associated with the deceased. That’s true, but they’re also interlocking and codependent. It’s more of a cohesive novel than I was expecting. It’s a multiple POV novel from nine different authors. One Death, Nine Stories is a really neat idea and I hope to see more collaborations like this one in the future.
Of course, I probably wouldn’t have taken a reading risk like this one had the book not been so short. I started One Death, Nine Stories at 10 PM last night and had two stories left by midnight, even though I wasn’t very focused. It’s only 140 pages of stories, with the rest of the page count being associated material like author bios. It’s an easy risk to take, because, like it or not, it doesn’t take a huge chunk of your reading time. In my case, the risk paid off.
Singularly, the stories mostly aren’t subject matter that I would want to read as a book, but the way they all tie together is amazing. The best example is Ellen Hopkins’ story. I didn’t really like it because the first person POV is this guy Mick, who has really racist and sexist attitudes. He didn’t learn anything and I wasn’t a fan of that. However, at that point, you don’t really know too much about the deceased and, in learning more about Kevin, I had a bit of a new stance on Mick by the end. The stories really do impact one another.
Kevin Nicholas we see first as a body in a bag. He’s tall, but that’s almost all we know. Then we see him as an altar boy, having his first sexual experience. Some of the stories are memories of him in his youth, while others are as recent as a couple of days before he died. Some of the stories really focus on Kevin’s impact on the person’s life, while, in others, his death is merely a launching off point for things that person needs to deal with because they didn’t know Kevin at all. In the beginning, all the reader sees is the mourning family and the expressions of sadness at his loss, but the picture becomes less simplistic with all the new information in each story.
As is not usually the case with anthologies, there wasn’t a single story that dragged. They were all fast-paced and interesting. I will say, though, that I didn’t really get why one story was in there. It’s from the POV of someone whose cousin knew Kevin and he sees about the death on Facebook. He starts thinking about Kevin’s death a bit, sure, but mostly it’s about his football practices. I think the death was supposed to have some strange impact on how he lives his life, but that wasn’t really conveyed effectively to me. It wasn’t a bad story per se, but I didn’t think it fit as well with the others.
If you enjoy novels that experiment with different formats or are interested in author collaborations, I urge you to check out One Death, Nine Stories. It’s different from a lot of YA or, actually, NA, since the characters are 18 and over for the most part and, hey, it’s super short so why not?(less)
First things first, you should know that Lenore is one of my besties. I know some p...moreFor more reviews, Cover Snark and more, visit A Reader of Fictions.
First things first, you should know that Lenore is one of my besties. I know some people make the decision not to officially review books by author friends because of conflict of interest and I totally respect that. Personally, though, I still want to be able to talk about the books I read honestly, so that’s what I’m going to do. Obviously, I love Lenore, but I’m going to endeavor to leave that aside here and share my opinions. If you have a problem with that, then *waves*. Anyway, if you enjoyed Level 2/The Memory of After, I think you’ll be pleased with Chasing Before.
You know, when it was revealed, I wasn’t the biggest fan of this cover. It seemed a bit more glamorous than seemed right for a book that’s not about fashionable evil masterminds. Not that Felicia doesn’t like to look good, but she generally has more on her mind than clothing. Now, though, I’m actually really pleased with how well the cover matches the book. I mean, Felicia spends much of the book wearing black, both clothing and heavy eyeliner. Plus, the dark background references her struggle with the darker sides of her personality and she’s reaching out for the orb, which is totally plot relevant, with two fingers and away with two, knowing she probably shouldn’t. Basically, it’s kind of perfect, minus how one eye is closed and the other a little bit open which creeps me out tbh.
Like Level 2/The Memory of After, Chasing Before splits between the afterlife and memories of being alive. However, if you’re not as big of a fan of flashbacks, there’s a bit less of that now. In Level 3, there’s a focus on moving on with your afterlife. Level 2 was very reflective and, ideally, meant to help people say goodbye to their earthly life before ascending to the next level. In Level 3, there’s a whole world with occupations and all of that.
I really love Lenore’s conception of the afterlife, full of such mystery and promise. She draws on various sources to pull things together. If anything, it’s most similar to Dante, I’d say, with the various levels. Though many of the characters are Christian and there are angels, it’s not comparable to any Christian conceptions of heaven. There are also references to other mythologies, like muse being a profession, hearkening to Greek mythology. It’s very cool and imaginative. I love afterlife fiction and I love learning the rules of each level.
Chasing Before is a real page-turner. Explosions and secrets and fighting abound. I was propelled forward quickly, curious to find out what would happen next. There’s a constant sense of menace with the ever-plotting Morati. Plus, I end up sort of torn between wanting Felicia to accomplish her goals and between wanting her to die so I can find out what Level 4 is like… Sorry, Felicia, but I’d really like to know.
From the character side, I am simultaneously in love and frustrated. See, it’s really cool that Felicia’s hooked up with Neil now and we get to meet the guy in all the memories. It’s also awesome that we see how skewed Felicia’s memories of him are. It’s less cool that I have to watch Felicia obsess over such an insufferable, sanctimonious prat. I do think it’s neat that these two obviously (to me anyway) are going to be incompatible ultimately, but that there’s still a connection there that needs to run its course.
Why are they incompatible? Well, Neil is Mr. Selfless and holier-than-thou. Felicia’s one of the most selfish heroines I’ve read, which will probably annoy some people but which I love. Both of them really just want the other person to be something other than what they actually are. They’re in love with an idea, not the actuality. Though their lives may be over, they’re still young and have lots of learning to do. Oh, and I do love the fact that it’s Felicia who’s the aggressor in their physical relationship and Neil who isn’t ready, even if he annoys me.
What I would like to see more of is Autumn, even though I’m not a big fan of her. I think there’s a lot of emotion to be mined there and a lot of things Felicia needed to work through. I don’t think she put the effort towards her relationship with Autumn that she maybe should have, though should is a strange word. The way their story plays out doesn’t ring quite right to me, though I can’t put a precise finger on why.
Lenore Appelhans’ Memory Chronicles are a perfect choice for anyone who likes to imagine the limitless possibilities of a life beyond this one. Chasing Before is fast-paced and almost new adult in its consideration of employment and trying to maintain a mature relationship.(less)
What’s funny about Fiendish is that I was really tempted to DNF after the first chapter. I was confused and it didn’t make any damn sense. Plus, I’ve been DNFing left and right and that’s been working for me. However, I pushed on a couple of chapters and Fiendish got really good. So basically, I am here to tell you that, even if you find the start really puzzling and off-putting, keep going because it will make sense. If you’re into southern gothic witchy horror, you will not want to miss Yovanoff’s latest.
Yovanoff has an outstanding way with setting a mood. Every bit of her writing and setting comes together into this dreamy, gothic sense that pervades absolutely every bit of the book. It’s enchanting really and helps catch the reader up and make the strange world within convincing. She has a way of making this paranormal story seem magical and completely ordinary all at the same time. The writing itself isn’t particularly complex, but somehow it all comes together perfectly and does just what it needs to do. Gothic writing isn’t generally my thing, but I think Yovanoff does it beautifully here.
Fiendish has a great hook. The first chapter, as I said is confusing, a hodgepodge of strange images and memories all swirled together. After that, though, the heroine, Clementine DeVore, is rescued from a cellar she’s been trapped in for 10 years. How did she survive? Magic. Deal with that, okay. Magic pervades this book and either you like that or you don’t. Clementine was down there in some sort of stasis, occasionally seeing through the eyes of someone else, her own sewn shut, trapped from the age of seven. At this point, I had to know what was going on in this town, even before I was really engaged. This kept me reading.
Which is good, because this book is creepy in such a good way. This town, you see, borders on this magical place called the Hollow and there are witchy people living in the town. There are also normal people who hate the witchy people, most of whom try to hide their craft. The powers are tied to the elements, like dirt, fire, water, air. Down in the hollows, there are helldogs and fiends and magic is so potent. It all has a very organic feel and, damn, is it terrifying when the reckoning comes and the magic spills over.
Also, in case you couldn’t tell from the horror label, but this book is dark dark dark. It’s not the sort of story with an easy resolution. There is pain and things are uncomfortable as all hell. This is not a pretty, fluffy fantasy, nor is it for the faintest of heart. I’m not too easily scared by books, but there were a couple of memorably haunting scenes in this one.
The characters are interesting, which I mean in its true definition not in the one where interesting means awful or boring. Clementine, actually, is probably the least compelling of the set for me. Shiny, her cousin, is sassy, bitchy and fiery. Rae’s the one magical person who seems truly capable of control, even as things fall apart, sort of the Velma of the group. There’s creepy old man Heintz with his horrible zoo and his abused daughter Davenport. The cast is as strange and atmospheric as the magic they wield.
The only thing that left me cold was the romance. Because of reasons, Clementine sort of saw Fisher while she was trapped in the cellar. It’s the paranormal clichés with Fisher being a bad boy and Shiny warning her away, but Clementine is too drawn to him for that. He even tells her to stay away for her own good, but oh no. They’re such cheeseballs and, while they don’t actually claim to be in love because thank kanye the romance isn’t a huge factor most of the time, the whole thing smacks of instalove. I do not ship it and I do not care about their feelings.
Come to fiendish for the dark and creepy, and you shall likely leave satisfied, my friends. It’s fun watching Yovanoff getting better and better at her own craft, and I’m looking forward to what she does next.(less)
It’s kind of funny how time can change things, and in really strange ways. I read T...moreFor more reviews, Cover Snark and more, visit A Reader of Fictions.
It’s kind of funny how time can change things, and in really strange ways. I read The Lightning Thief back in 2008 when I was first really getting into YA. At the time, I thought it was okay, but I wasn’t particularly charmed by the characters and got bored of it by book two. Now, though, I’m appreciating it a lot more, so I really think I tried the series at the wrong time. What I was in the mood for then, I suspect, was YA and romance. I picked up The Lightning Thief on a recommendation and there are all these 12-year-olds and it was so not what I was hoping for. On the reread, though, I was prepared for a middle grade and my expectations were way lower, so Percy Jackson soared way above them.
The best thing about liking Percy Jackson, aside from Debby not flying across the Atlantic to kill me in my sleep, is that I always felt a bit weird about the fact that Percy Jackson was one of the characters I named my cat for. Why would I name a cat for a character for whom I had no emotional attachment? But now I can honestly say I enjoy the series. Plus, I think Percy Jackson’s character is a fairly good fit for my Percy, though the cat version really hates people. No telling where he got that from.
Right, the book. I should probably stop reviewing my cat.I’m curious why younger me wasn’t more impressed with the world building. Maybe I was and I just forgot over time? Either way, now I feel the need to praise it to the skies. Riordan clearly has a lot of knowledge of how awesome Greek mythology is and plays homage to it in amazing ways while fitting it into the modern world. Tying the pantheon to the center of Western Civilization is absurdly clever. Plus, I’m all about Greek mythology. The Lightning Thief is pretty heavy on the world building and dropping knowledge, but Riordan does that primarily in hilarious and entertaining ways.
The pace of The Lightning Thief is really fast. All told, I probably read it in a few hours. Percy’s pretty much always got a goal to accomplish, even when it’s not an official quest. In every chapter, he’s up against something, even if it’s just his creepy uncle. Riordan clearly has a sense of how to keep his target audience engaged, or any audience really. He also assembles a cast of characters that’s vaguely Harry Potter-esque: Percy, who’s always been an unwanted screw-up (except by his mom who loves him dearly), Annabeth (who’s a total know-it-all genius), and Grover (who’s a disappointment to his kind and a bit of a comic relief character). There are a couple of other similarities, particularly at the start, but thankfully there’s so much unique in the world building that they didn’t overwhelm me at all. Plus, Percy doesn’t brood nearly so much, though that could come with age.
The humor does often skew slightly young, but a lot of it still amused me. It’s silly humor, but not scatological like some middle grade books (this is my line). The characters do read a bit young, but they’re intelligent and, from everything I’ve seen on the internet, are going to grow up fast. I’m looking forward to seeing them not be twelve anymore. Come on, age where I can not feel creepy about shipping things!
Percy Jackson hasn’t quite gotten me in the emotions yet, but I can see some possibility here. I love the foreshadowing of tragedy in the coming books and the fact that I KNOW Riordan is actually going to go to those places, based on the wails of many fans. The Lightning Thief is fun, but it’s also the first book. There’s lots of room for Percy to grow in age and knowledge. The Lightning Thief has occasional middle grade moments where a twist is really obvious to me and not so much to the characters. Plus, sometimes Percy didn’t know basic things about the gods, but then he’d know what a caduceus is, which was a bit uneven and distracting.(less)
Before I launch into what will be, for this book, a fairly negative review, I want...moreFor more reviews, Cover Snark and more, visit A Reader of Fictions.
Before I launch into what will be, for this book, a fairly negative review, I want to get some things straight. First, I don’t think Anna and the French Kiss is a bad book; in fact, I think it’s good, but in some ways not good for the particular person I am. Second, this review’s going to be somewhat ranty, but I really did like and sometimes even love much of Anna and the French Kiss. If my ranting will upset you because you love everything about this book, I’m envious that you had all the feels and send you on your way with my blessing.
Perkins most definitely has the makings of a contemporary author who will write books that I personally will love. Even though this hasn’t been an entirely positive experience for me, I will undoubtedly be reading the rest of her books. She has great snappy dialogue and tons of pop culture references, both things that are total Christina bait. Plus, I totally adore the setting at SOAP (School of America Paris) with it’s dorm rooms that are small and awful to Anna but absurdly amazing as dorm rooms go. It’s great too because most boarding school books end up being so depressing and full of intense melodrama, but Anna and the French Kiss is free of that.
The familial relationships and friendships in Anna and the French Kiss were largely great too. Anna’s father, James Ashley, an obvious reference to Nicholas Sparks, amused me no end. He forced her to go to Paris, so he can feel cultured. Initially, she’s very anti-Paris and doing the poor me having to go to France thing, but it’s really that her agency was taken away and not that Paris is awful. Plus, Anna’s very afraid of being rude or doing something wrong, which is something I can relate to in her fear of venturing out in France not knowing the language.
I like the way that Anna’s new friends draw her out of her shell. She could, had she not found good friends, have ended up like Cath, shut up in her dorm room for much or all of her year at SOAP. Instead, she discovers resources within herself she never knew she had and ends up having an amazing experience.[Aside: St. Clair takes her out for panini and she's amazed at this rare and unusual sandwich, but this book came out in 2010 and Panera is everywhere. There are all kinds of sandwich places in Atlanta that serve paninis. It's possible, but seriously?] I think the whole crew of friends is interesting, though I would have liked to get to know Josh, Rashmi and Mer a bit better. I think Rashmi ends up getting the best development and their relationship helps Anna reevaluate a lot of how she perceives others.
The problem is, though, that, in a romance, you’re pretty much sunk if you don’t ship the ship. Thankfully, I don’t quite unship the ship. For a while, I was walking up to board. I had my ticket purchased and my bags packed, ready to depart. Unfortunately, I got about three steps onboard, realized I didn’t like where it was headed and ran back off. This metaphor may have gotten out of my control a bit.
What you need to understand about me is that I tend to have a very black and white sense of justice. I’m a bit like Darcy: “my good opinion once lost is lost forever.” Actually, like him, that’s not entirely true, but it is difficult to convince me to change my mind. My problems lie almost entirely with the character of St. Clair. I’ve tried to forgive him because he’s young and stupid, which is true, and because it’s believable, but I can’t. The last two chapters completely sealed me not wanting these characters to get together or at least not feeling happy that they are together.
Anna and the French Kiss takes place over the course of almost a complete school year. During almost that entire time, St. Clair has a girlfriend called Ellie, who’s off at uni nearby. He spends the whole year alternately ignoring all of his friends and hanging out with Ellie or ignoring Ellie and hanging out with his friends, which also includes flirting with Anna. The flirting initially is mild, just some casual but intentional leg brushes, which is okay I guess. What bothered me from the start was the way that St. Clair would flip flop from friends to girlfriend, blowing off one then the other, like he can’t be a good boyfriend and a good friend at one time; it’s or the other. When he’s actually there, he’s great and so is the banter, but he’s not dependable.
I’d be warned about the cheating thing and, honestly, it wasn’t as bad as I expected in some ways. If the reactions to it had been different, I actually wouldn’t have been bothered so much by this particular scenario. Of course, it’s all gray areas with what counts as actually cheating and blah blah blah, but using the most common definition, St. Clair doesn’t behave too badly. View Spoiler » That I could live with if St. Clair was really incredibly apologetic, which he sort of was but also wasn’t. I’ll move into spoiler tags now for safety.
(view spoiler)[St. Clair makes so many excuses, which okay he doesn’t want to be alone because his mother is dying, but he also has tons of good friends and doesn’t really like his girlfriend. Why the fuck is he still with Ellie when he’s liked Anna since the very first day he met her? He’s been wishing on that fucking zero point in Paris for her to want him ALL YEAR. He tells her, once they’re together, that he’s never felt this way about anyone. And yet, the amount that he cares for Anna still isn’t enough to make St. Clair risk having to be single. We’re meant to forgive him for sticking with the girlfriend because she’s vaguely horrible in her couple of scenes, an easy target. Plus, he didn’t have sex with Ellie again after the admittedly incredibly adorable Christmas email exchange. Let’s ignore the fact that a couple that was having regular sex just stops for months and neither of them will FUCKING END IT.
St. Clair, despite having a girlfriend, is jealous any time a guy pays attention to Anna. He shames her for kissing someone else, when she has made no promises to anyone. Once everything comes out, he accuses her of being part of the problem because she lied and pretended he hadn’t confessed feelings for her back in November when St. Clair was drunk off his ass. Yup, clearly Anna’s fault that you kept dating a girl you didn’t like anymore. He basically says it’s all also her fault because she wasn’t willing to speak up about her feelings, which is so incredibly unfair and dickish that I cannot even with this guy. And, yeah, they’re young and stupid but there’s nothing in the book to say that this isn’t cool. Anna believes everything he says and takes a share of the blame. Yes, she sometimes pushed him away, but ONLY BECAUSE HE HAD A GIRLFRIEND. Pretty sure she would have eventually said or done something had he been single that whole time. It’s not her job to watch out for his relationship, but she did a better job of that than he did.
Then, once they resolve everything and get together, they’re so damn cheesy and insufferable, which I can’t handle with how un-sorry St. Clair is. He gets everything he wanted and that whole situation worked out fabulously for him. He decides to go to California for her (365), not for his mother or to obtain freedom from his father. They’re not even dating yet! I mean, I know they were best friends most of the year, but he obviously was planning this before he’d broken up with his girlfriend, because of when college applications have to be in. Then the last three lines: “For the two of us, home isn’t a place. It’s a person. And we’re finally home.”
I cannot. I can’t. The ability to can has been suspended. This about a guy who claims to have loved her basically all year but who kept dating another girl for pretty much all of that year. I wouldn’t build my home on that sort of a foundation, but best of luck to you Anna. (hide spoiler)]
So yeah, that didn’t really turn out like anybody hoped. There are lots of good things about it, but I also have many non-happy feelings about one of the most loved YA guys. I has a sad.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Aguirre’s Razorland trilogy really impressed me, thus I was super eager to get my h...moreFor more reviews, Cover Snark and more, visit A Reader of Fictions.
Aguirre’s Razorland trilogy really impressed me, thus I was super eager to get my hands on Mortal Danger. Of course, the gorgeous cover didn’t hurt either. What I forgot, though, is that Enclave wasn’t the strongest book in the trilogy. There’s some good stuff in Mortal Danger, but it’s also often troubling. Considering that the Razorland books got better as they went along, I can only hope the same will be true here.
Mortal Danger was such a mixed bag, but overall I think the liking won. Unlike has been the case for most everyone else I know, I didn’t find Mortal Danger slow. I was hooked from the beginning and found Edie’s narrative voice compelling, if a bit uneven. I enjoyed the supernatural aspects and the more contemporary ones too, as Edie pursued her vengeance against her bullies. I was fully entertained the whole way through, even if one problematic element occasionally had me groaning at the book in frustration.
The paranormal stuff is really well done. It starts off vaguely paranormal with a mysterious hot guy (of course) named Kian offering Edie three wishes if she doesn’t follow through with her plan of committing suicide. He’s no genie, though. These wishes, called favors, come at a price: she must do three favors for the people he works for in return. As the book goes along, things get darker, creepier, and way more paranormal. The ramping up of the tension will definitely have me coming back for book two. Plus, it’s brutal. Much death and dismemberment and this is only book one!
One thing I do really like is the stakes for the bad guys. They’re all pretty evil and terrifying but they’re not bent on the usual world domination. The fact that it’s a game to them, much like that ending sequence of Men in Black where the aliens play with the planets, is really cool. They’re fucking with people for fun, like a toddler with toys. In case you think this is a spoiler, hello, it’s the series title. It’s just nice because Edie’s kind of a chosen one as is typical, but when it comes down to it that’s like being a favorite Barbie or particularly cool matchbox car.
There’s a lot of stuff about beauty in here and it’s almost entirely problematic. For her first favor, Edie asks to be made beautiful and Kian gives her plastic surgery of the future to make her into her idealized self. After that, she’s hot and things come more easily to her, including confidence. She does sort of recognize in her friend Vi what a difference confidence can make, but no real lesson is learned. She still thinks really hateful things about pretty and ugly girls alike. I really hope Aguirre brings her mindset to somewhere healthy by the end. She has made a fair amount of emotional progress, like seeing depths in the Teflon crew, so I’m hopeful that’s possible.
I hated everything about the romance. Kian and Edie are a terrible ship and I am firing flaming arrows at it. First of all, he’s in a position of power over her with the whole set up. Then HE chooses how she’ll look, which even at her behest is far too Pygmalion. Though he’s not abusive (the one good thing I have to say about him aside from him being hot), he admits to being a stalker. For work with creepy guys, but whatever. It’s almost worse in some ways how often Edie would question the wisdom of being into this guy and then continue to instatrust and instalove all over him. Their connection is saccharine and painful, full of all the sappy cliches.
Mortal Danger has a creeptastic, fascinating plot line dragged down by a romance that follows in line with the worst of paranormal traditions. I’ll definitely read book two, and I hope one of my flaming arrows turns that ship to a cinder. Also, I hope that this book got way more editing from the ARC version, because this one had more errors than I’m used to seeing, even in ARCs.(less)
Now that I’ve finished While We Run, I’m both admiring and a bit disappointed. So f...moreFor more reviews, Cover Snark and more, visit A Reader of Fictions.
Now that I’ve finished While We Run, I’m both admiring and a bit disappointed. So far as I can tell, this is a duology, though there’s room for more in this world if Healey decided to return to these characters. As it stands, I’d rank the When We Wake series very highly among the YA dystopian novels I’ve read. They’re very focused on the plot and world building, and, perhaps more importantly, they don’t follow the traditional YA path of revolution and happy ending. While We Run is a surprisingly dark tale of trying to change an evil government without resorting to equally horrific tactics.
For reasons that honestly aren’t clear to me, there’s a perspective switch in While We Run. The first book was from Tegan’s perspective, but now we’re in Abdi’s head. I can’t compare the narrative voices because it’s been too long, but if my engagement in the books is anything to go by Abdi is much more distancing. He’s not as emotional. He’s intelligent and calculating, so his thoughts are very focused on planning and not on feelings, which didn’t really draw me in.
The one thing Abdi’s perspective did allow for was to show the terror of the opening to full effect. He and Tegan were captured by SADU (government bad guys) at the end of book one. Now, they’re tortured and forced to perform. They’re being used to convince people to trust government programs they know are a trap. The torture is horrible, using their feelings for one another against them any time they don’t follow every rule. Even worse, View Spoiler »
The plot is really well-handled. The characters are very much idealists and are working to change the government, but they don’t want to resort to underhanded tactics to do so. They’re truly hoping to save as many as people as possible and just make life better. Tegan, like Katniss, has become the face of a revolution and is similarly hesitant about appearances; the difference, though, is that Tegan does want to be involved and does want to affect change. For Tegan, it’s not simply about survival but about improving the world around her. The tensions with Abdi, who mostly just wants himself, his friends, and his family out of harm’s way, are an interesting dynamic.
One of the big pluses of While We Run is how diverse it is in pretty much every way. Abdi himself is from Djibouti, but there are characters from several other places as well. There’s a lot of discussion of various religions. In the main characters, there are a couple of Muslim, a Catholic and an atheist (Abdi himself). Then there’s the former lesbian couple of Bethari and Joph, the latter of whom is transgender as well. As she says, she’s a “lesbian who was born male-bodied.” In every single one of these instances of diversity, the characters aren’t defined by these aspects of who they are. It’s very well done and I want to hug the book a lot for this.
By the time I got to While We Run, I have to say that When I Wake was a bit fuzzy. There’s enough recap that I wasn’t at sea, but I definitely lost some of my tie to the characters in the year long gap between books. It could be due to Abdi’s narration, I suppose, but the characters really stayed on the page. I didn’t feel for any of them. I didn’t ship Tegan and Abdi, though I know I did in When We Wake. The emotional component was entirely gone for me and it’s difficult for me to sustain interest in even the best plots without that connection.
The When We Wake trilogy is an excellent choice for readers looking for diversity or who enjoy books with a strong political focus. The world building and plot are very strong, as well.(less)