I cannot believe in all these years of reading this book, I completely overlooked the queer subtext. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME? The things I learn from ouI cannot believe in all these years of reading this book, I completely overlooked the queer subtext. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME? The things I learn from our classics readalongs! Also, one of our blog friends mentioned it's possible Harriet may be on the autism spectrum. One of those cases where discussing a book makes you look at something you love in a whole new light.
Not many books start out with the heroine getting shot in the chest with a flying arrow. Fortunately, Tevra is wearing chain mail and astride her horsNot many books start out with the heroine getting shot in the chest with a flying arrow. Fortunately, Tevra is wearing chain mail and astride her horse, however, so she doesn't even bat an eye. She merely pulls out her sword, narrowly avoids the keening magical orb pursuing her, and rendezvous with the men under her command. The king himself has charged her with ending the corruption in the Forest Province, and as the youngest Colonel in the Light Cavalry, she takes her extraordinarily powerful role as the king's viceroy quite seriously.
I rarely traditional fantasies because I often don't have the patience to learn all the new customs and names--and so many fantasy books seem so focused on the world building that an engaging story sometimes falls by the wayside. Not so in this book, however! We are thrown into the action as soon as the story begins, and we are quickly caught up on the issues at stake. For a short book in which sword battles, politics, romance, and magic play nearly equal roles, it is exceptionally well-paced, entertaining, and accessible, whilst pleasing most fans of high fantasy, adventure, and romance.
Tevra is an unforgettable heroine, one who imperiously commands war-scarred men and dispatches corruption with ease, but who is also capable of expressing herself subtly with a cool lift of her brow or a gracious tilt of her head. The author has created in Tevra a sympathetic protagonist who is believably authoritative, but whose inner dialogue also shows a more vulnerable, emotional side that is immensely appealing. In the middle of the sensitive political issues she must deal with, Tevra is also struggling with an unwanted attraction to the Forest King, and her tingly encounters with this man made me clutch the book a little more tightly more than once. Complicating matters is the headstrong young Hetwith, who has been at her side for more than a decade and whose strengths and weaknesses somehow seem a perfect match to complement her own.
Written with brisk economy that still manages to convey a great deal of expressiveness and emotion, Tevra's story excited me and moved me in ways that I didn't expect. It is thrilling to witness her decisiveness and determination in the heat of battle (the woman takes a harpoon through her side at one point!), it is unbearably sad to hear about her past as an Unchosen maid, and it is scandalously pleasing to see her discover her feminine side for the first time. It's always tricky with first person narrative to make the reader cognizant of clues that the main character herself may not necessarily be aware of, but somehow the author managed to do that here. I also loved the cheerful humor and witty language with which nearly every scene was met--I don't think I've ever chuckled so much in a fantasy adventure.
While it's true that you might predict some of the plot lines or you may guess some of the secrets that Tevra keeps hidden even from herself, it really doesn't matter. This book fulfills every demand you would want from a story like this--and it does so with style, playfulness, and latent emotion. I couldn't have loved it more.
Spread the Love
If you ever wonder about whether word of mouth is influential, by the way, this book is another great example of how readers discover and share hidden gems. Gail Carriger chose a moment from this book as her favorite romantic scene on my blog for her guest post. Since I started reading it, more than 100 people have shelved this book and I know a number of friends have purchased it (along with a few of the author's other titles) as well. Taming the Forest King is sadly out of print, but you can easily obtain a copy through secondhand bookstores or online through Amazon, Half.com, Alibris, etc. Good luck! It's well worth the $5 or so you'll spend....more
Currently free for Kindle in the U.S. and Andrea says it's also free on B&N, Smashie, Amazon UK, etc., too. Grab before it's gone.
3.5 stars Love lCurrently free for Kindle in the U.S. and Andrea says it's also free on B&N, Smashie, Amazon UK, etc., too. Grab before it's gone.
3.5 stars Love love loved the beginning survivalist part! And the worldbuilding was incredible, though I think some of the humor I liked so much, as well as the characterization, got a bit lost in the last half.
2.5 stars My feelings on Under the Never Sky are fair to middling. Overall, it had a lot of potential, but unfortunately, I had a hard time staying in2.5 stars My feelings on Under the Never Sky are fair to middling. Overall, it had a lot of potential, but unfortunately, I had a hard time staying interested in the story and invested in the characters. The book is one of many recent dystopian-lite novels that have been cropping up in the YA market recently, and while I don't always mind books that are less focused on the world-building as long as something else is done well, neither the characters nor the plot were so outstanding here that they could keep me fully engaged. My partner also bailed about halfway through our readalong, if that counts for anything.
Here's what I liked about the book:
--The overall concept --Occasional humor in the writing --Interesting shorthand for words, which makes sense in a futuristic society: "champ," "rancy," "wrathy" are all great examples of the way language might evolve or devolve, depending on how you look at it --cool "Smarteye" technology --a couple of interesting action sequences (view spoiler)[including a decapitation! (hide spoiler)]
Here's what I didn't care for:
--The girl is much too trusting and had to be rescued over and over, to the point that you want to scream at her. She also isn't all that compelling of a protagonist, and is also occasionally very rude and rather ungrateful. --The names. Aria (GUESS WHAT SHE DOES), Paisley, Lumina, Aria, Echo, Peregrine (view spoiler)[I'm rather ashamed to say that I was glad when Paisley bit it, because I was so happy I didn't have to read her name anymore. (hide spoiler)] --Interchangeable secondary characters --Weird things that are mentioned in passing but never really explained. Soren's underwater birthday party, no stains, not getting hurt in the Realms' virtual reality type situation, blood lords, the Tides' superhuman senses, etc. --Rather uninspired "she did this, he did that" type of writing. Everything is explained as an afterthought and random snippets suddenly dropped, there’s no gradual lead in for it in the narrative. --Some writing choices that didn't quite work as well as the examples in the "like" section, such as "“sweaty seaweed" or “his nephew’s temper had grown dark and damp.” Those just don't make sense to me. There were also some awkward sentences, such as "Perry woke sweated to his clothes." --What is with all the birdish names? Peregrine, Talon, Lumina (which is a type of falcon), etc?
I came away from Under the Never Sky feeling rather aggressively indifferent to it. There were moments when the book was fairly entertaining and there were moments when I was extremely bored, so it worked out to be a pretty uneven reading experience. My partner and I really spent most of the time during the two weeks of our readalong asking questions, however. "What the HELL is aether? How is he doing this? I don't get it!" and so on and so forth, because so many things were introduced and then dropped and never explained. And even if we got answers, they didn't really provide lightbulb moments so much as a grudging concession that an attempt was made to explain something.
Overall, this book felt similar to me to Blood Red Road, Divergent, and Legend, in that they are all very much action-oriented stories. But the difference is, those books had much stronger and more memorable characters, who took initiative and made things happen. Those novels were also, for all their admitted flaws, just plain fun. For me, that element was sorely lacking in this story and I was disappointed to find that I wasn't nearly as excited about this book as many of my friends have been--and that's saying something for a book where there are cannibals.
But look! I snapped this Under the Never Sky moment at the beach in January. I do like the title quite a bit, even if I still have no idea what it means.
Random Side Notes:
There is NO WAY that what Perry thinks smells like violets actually smells like violets, no matter how advanced our society becomes. Also, I wish my skin were as velvety as a mushroom.
An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review.["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"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
It all starts with a cataclysmic electromagnetic impulse. Dead birds fall from the sky. Deer run off a cliff, maddened for unknown reasons. And peopleIt all starts with a cataclysmic electromagnetic impulse. Dead birds fall from the sky. Deer run off a cliff, maddened for unknown reasons. And people drop dead instantaneously and inexplicably--or they are miraculously, irrevocably changed, some for the better, and some for the worse.
The first half of this book is a phenomenal. 17-year-old Alex is transformed by the big event in ways that she can't understand. She is saddled with an angry 8-year-old and an attractive ex-Army guy who's hiding secrets, and they all must find safety and shelter from the other survivors who are no longer...human. The prologue is well-written and compelling, and I was drawn to the bleak, lonely mood and stark setting right from the very beginning. I liked the strong but fragile Alex, and I was thoroughly engrossed by the incredible suspense and visceral, shudder-inducing scenes that will be forever seared into my memory.
But literally halfway through the book, something really odd happens. During a tense standoff with a band of vicious kidnappers, one of the three people in Alex's group is shot. This cliffhanger ends one chapter and when the next one begins, the story takes up three days later. WHAT? (view spoiler)[TF?? (hide spoiler)] Talk about leaving your readers high and dry! From that point on, things stop making any kind of sense at all. The story changes tone completely, there is a whole new cast of characters, the story is poorly plotted, the writing became disjointed, and every single element I liked about the first half of the book was completely abandoned. Alex herself suddenly seems like she's just stumbling from one random encounter to the next, and by the time it all ended with a somewhat interesting but predictable cliffhanger, I was ready to abandon them all to whatever horrible munchy fate might befall them.
It is such a shock to go from loving a book and then to being completely annoyed with it, so I had no idea what to do about rating this one. The first half of this book is literally a 5 star read for me (and I don't give 5 stars that often), but the second half is maybe a 1.5. It's as if the second portion was written by a completely different person! What a disappointment.
I really wish that these problems had been fixed in the outlining stage, but certainly they should have been sorted out by the time the manuscript made it through several drafts and edits and rewrites. I really regret the wasted potential of the amazing first 240 pages, as well as fantastic premise. I don't know if I'll ever recover from the abrupt downhill hurtle that this book plunged down; I finished this novel 5 days ago and I'm still mad at it.
First 240 pages: 5 stars + Second 240 pages: 1.5 stars ÷ incredible disappointment = lackluster 3 stars.
This review also appears in The Midnight Garden. An advance copy was provided by the publisher.. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I want to put my arms around Tom Mackee and give him a huge hug. I have a soft spot for boys who behave badly but are hurting on the inside--and boy,I want to put my arms around Tom Mackee and give him a huge hug. I have a soft spot for boys who behave badly but are hurting on the inside--and boy, does Tom behave badly. And boy, is he hurting.
The Piper's Son takes place five years after the events in Saving Francesca. Tom and Jimmy were my favorite characters from that book, so I was really happy to dive immediately into TPS right after finishing the previous novel. When we meet up with Tom again, he's gone through a lot of drinking, a lot of drugs, and a lot of one-night stands. He's also lost his favorite uncle, he isn't speaking to either of his parents, and he's become estranged from his friends and the one girl he's always dreamed about. Tom's now staying with his aunt Georgie, who is the other main character that we follow throughout the novel. Georgie is dealing with an unexpected pregnancy by an ex-boyfriend she thought was out of her life, and she finds herself in the untenable position of being torn between her pride and her heart. Both of them are very confused, very angry, and very, very sad.
I loved spending so much time getting to know the complex person that Tom turns out to be. What's brilliant about the book is that the author skillfully shows us his character through his relationships with his sister, his parents, and his friends, even though we know he's done a lot of crappy things to nearly all of them. I fell in love with the long letters he writes to Tara full of bravado and foolish hope, as well as his persistence in sending them, even though she doesn't write back. And I fell in love with Tom for the utter decency of character that we see revealed beneath all the ways that he lashes out at the people around him.
I was initially surprised at the unusual choice to spend so much time with Georgie, as the subject of adult women dealing with a tricky relationship isn't the usual YA fare. But I liked Georgie's story quite a lot, and I was impressed by how realistically her position is portrayed. Most of us can relate to knowing what is the right/easy/practical thing to do in theory, but we're held back by stubbornness and anger that are side the products of being terribly hurt. I will say that at first, it was a little confusing to be confronted by so many family members and characters and some of the story structure is a little confusing, but after awhile I became deeply immersed in where the author was taking us. I would loved to have also seen more about the elusive Jimmy, however; the few glimpses we got of him here and there were among the most touching moments in the book to me.
This is a complicated novel that touches on the themes of love, loss, joy, grief, integrity, hope, forgiveness, and redemption. Above all else, this is a story about family ties and how they lay the foundation for shaping what you are...but it's individual decisions that determine who you will be. I've thought a lot about whether teens today would really be interested in reading a book that is so very adult, and I don't know the answer to that--but I do hope they are. It's a book that deserves to be read.
But seriously, though. I really really really want a Jimmy book. ...more
It's a tricky situation when you're really looking forward to reading a book and it ends up being a disappointment. I normally post my reviews fairlyIt's a tricky situation when you're really looking forward to reading a book and it ends up being a disappointment. I normally post my reviews fairly quickly after reading, but I put off writing this one for some time because I was so conflicted over my feelings.
The thing is, I really enjoyed Stork, the first book in this series, for several reasons: the strikingly original paranormal concept of a girl who is destined to be part of a mystical order of women, the fresh and funny voice, the cute relationship between Katla and Jack, and the bits of Icelandic lore. I thought that the paranormal stuff could have been more fleshed out, however, and I was hoping that this second installment would more fully explain what Katla's duties and powers actually are and we'd get a little more immersed in the mysterious Stork society.
But that's not the case. The story goes off onto a different adventure, most of which involves how Katla deals with Jack and his new obsession with learning about his power, which made a bizarre appearance towards the end of the previous novel. So all the things I enjoyed about the first book go out the window pretty fast, particularly the Stork ladies (this storyline is half-heartedly revisited, but quickly abandoned) and the relationship between Jack and Kat. There's now a giant wedge between them in the shape of a Professor Brigid Fonnkona, an icy environmental researcher who is determined to take him to Greenland. Frost is loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen, so those familiar with the tale will have an inkling of how those elements take shape in the modern version.
What would have been impossible to predict, however, are all the subplots that kept piling on in this book. Something weird is going on with Katla's afi. The kids are doing a musical version of The Snow Queen at school. Kat's mom is pregnant. Her dad is around, but...extraneous. Her friends are fighting. Hulda is sick. Kat may or may not be seeing ghosts. Dorit has been kicked out of the society and has disappeared. There are so many new people and new plots to assimilate, and none of the old ones were at all adequately explained. It seems as though most of these problems could have been fixed during the outlining process, so I am very surprised that they were not.
After awhile, I realized that I was never going to get the answers to my questions from the first book and I probably would never get answers to the new ones popping up. Because frankly, I'm not sure that there is an overall plan figured out for these characters, either. While there were occasional moments towards the beginning that recalled what I enjoyed about the first book (Yule Cat, Santa, Pig-Pen), overall reading this book and watching the story line derail was an extremely frustrating process.
I wouldn't rule out checking out another one of this author's books sometime down the road because I do like her voice, but it will be with an extremely guarded and wary eye. I was really sad when I closed this book 10 days ago, and I'm still sad that the promise of the series' premise will apparently never be fulfilled.
There is a certain rough beauty which can be found in urban environments. Anyone who has stood on a rooftop at sundown or noticed a patch of wildfloweThere is a certain rough beauty which can be found in urban environments. Anyone who has stood on a rooftop at sundown or noticed a patch of wildflowers poking out of a concrete sidewalk will appreciate the strange duality of natural and manmade aesthetics, as well as the occasional difficulty of finding security and happiness in such surroundings.
For Kid, who has been living on the streets for over a year, the city of Brooklyn offers both strength and sadness and love and loss. Kid's parents can't seem to accept a lifestyle that doesn't fit neatly into a box, and Kid turns to one person after another looking for fulfillment that can't be found at home. This is a slow, gritty coming of age story that deals with painful family relationships, small but impossible dreams, unexpected kindness, hopeful love, and the hard truth that sometimes friends can understand you better than the people you've known your entire life.
Written in matter-of-fact prose that is ever more affecting because of its lack of sentimentality, Brooklyn, Burning offers a troubling look at what many kids go through when their families can't or won't accept their fundamental sexual identities. The author pulls off the incredible trick of never revealing Kid's gender to the reader, and it's clear that Kid's father's refusal to open his heart to his son/daughter is the direct cause of Kid's desperate struggle to find some measure of peace and happiness outside of self and outside of home.
Despite its pragmatic style, there is incredible beauty and a great deal of latent emotion in this moving book. Kid's longing for human connection lingers over every conversation and every thought, and the author's descriptions of love and music leave a lovely ache.
I just stood, watching him, listening to the melody he hummed. Even without words, it haunted me--filled the room and everything in it. The visions it gave me: they were dark, but beautiful. They took me out of the cellar, up to the rooftops at night on the lower East side, down into the subway, onto the tracks, and into the tunnels. They brought me deep into the city, deeper than anyone can ever really go: into its heart.
Can you miss someone before they're gone, when they're still smiling up at you with closed eyes, and their beautiful face, with its deep-set eyes and two days of beard, is rolling slowly between your knees?
I was drawn in by Brooklyn, Burning in ways that I never expected, but was so touched to find. This is a brave and unique story, and as unlikely as it might seem, I know I'd be hard pressed to find a book written this year that has more toughness and heart and spirit and beauty than this one.
This review also appears in The Midnight Garden. An advance copy was provided by the publisher.
Please note that there may be some mild spoilers in the discussion below! ...more
It's really weird to not know how to rate a book. I don't normally use images in my reviews, but in this particular case, there's no better way to cleIt's really weird to not know how to rate a book. I don't normally use images in my reviews, but in this particular case, there's no better way to clearly explain the yo-yo-ing of my opinions as I was reading this novel.
See what the problem was?
The beginning of the story thrusts us into the unlikely scenario of Ava suddenly switching schools because she wants to go to a place where it's okay to wear pink. "Pink" is the code word for not only the freedom to wear girly clothes and sport your natural hair color, but also the freedom to date boys and to be a decent student. (!) Ava has a too-cool-for-school girlfriend named Chloe, but Ava thinks she wants to do some more exploring in other pastures. And apparently being cool and a liberal means that you're not supposed to care about anything and you're shunned for wanting to do well at academics.
Anyway, I've accepted many a more far-reaching scenario than this, so I just went along with it, primarily because the writing is admittedly very good and Ava's voice was extremely readable. But after awhile, I realized much to my dismay that Ava didn't really have much of a personality. It's true that the main theme of the book is about exploring options and deciding who you want to be, and there's a certain amount of confusion that goes along with that. But Ava subverted so much of her personality, made so many mistakes, and lied to so many people, that it became more and more difficult to feel any sympathy for her. Particularly when I had no idea who Ava really was.
The huge low point of this book, however, came about two-thirds of the way through when Ava does something really terrible to one of her friends--for no reason whatsoever except that she wants to fit in and to look cool. I really hate it when people are mean, especially in the guise of superiority, and I absolutely despise the fact that this was done in conjunction with a subject of great sensitivity. (view spoiler)[Ava's friend Jen has just come out to her, so she drags her to the cafe where the popular lesbian girls hang out. She joins in with her friend Chloe in making fun of Jen at one point, and Jen overhears and is devastated. :( (hide spoiler)] Ava had already exhibited lots of character traits I didn't like, including being a reactionary show-off, but after this I got really annoyed with her. If that weren't enough, she continues to make more and more stupid mistakes with not admitting what she did, hard-partying, and (view spoiler)[cheating on her girlfriend. For the second time. (hide spoiler)]. She did redeem herself in the end in a way that surprisingly, did not feel emotionally manipulative, although it relied a great deal on one-note characters, a Hollywood-style grand gesture, and one character behaving in the complete opposite way than she'd been presented throughout the rest of the story.
I think overall, I just found it very hard to like a character who doesn't exhibit a very strong personality and who lies so much. She seemed very young for her age, and many of her actions seemed more like those of a juvenile or middle grade character than one in high school. I did like that the author did such a great job of showing how good Ava is in math, however, and I also liked the snappy dialogue, Sam (who has a great scene of putting Ava in her place by explaining the difference between Greek homo and Latin homo), and the many Battlestar Galactica and other nerdy references. It's a shame, because I liked the writing quite a bit and there were a number of quotes that tickled my fancy, including:
He just spread his arms, and gathered me into a warm embrace. It's what I imagined being hugged by a bear might feel like, giant and soft and utterly comforting, and smelling strangely of marshmallows.
In the end, though I tipped up the rating for the writing and for saving Ava somewhat, these two quotes sum up perfectly how I feel about Ava, and therefore about the book:
She became someone different when she was around those other girls--someone mean and aloof, her cool hardened into cold.
"No," said Sam. "I don't care if you're a lesbian or not. I don't want to know you anymore because you're a bitch."["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more