Complex, dark, and evocative tale – Gratton’s best book yet, 4.5 stars
Tessa Gratton has penned her best book yet with Book 2 of her United States of Complex, dark, and evocative tale – Gratton’s best book yet, 4.5 stars
Tessa Gratton has penned her best book yet with Book 2 of her United States of Asgard series: The Strange Maid. I stayed up late into the night, with goosebumps raised on my arms, to finish this book. The story, the writing, and the characterization are all beautiful, deep, and complex. I love a book like this that prioritizes character development over plot, but The Strange Maid still manages to combine the two well. Most of all, though, I love the risks that this book takes with characterization, theme, and source material.
Signy Valborn is a girl on the verge of Odinist glory as a Valkyrie, and she embraces the dark things she believes that should include – blood and death and violence and chaotic, passionate things stirring inside her soul. I love that Gratton was willing to create a wild, out-of-control, and fearsome female character; in doing so, she affirms that madness, desire, and a longing for revenge can be felt by all, not just males. Signy, however, is not a one-note character; she also experiences fear, doubt, and love. The other characters who flank and support Signy are also well-developed, from Soren Bearstar of the first book to Ned the truth-teller who hides behind his poetry to the gods and other Valkyries themselves. I also so appreciated the themes conveyed in the story about loss and revenge, the balance between chaos and control, choice versus destiny, and the types of relationships that matter in our lives.
In addition, Gratton skillfully plays with and updates Norse mythology to create a modern tale that pays homage to the violence, strength, and madness that was celebrated in Old English works like Beowulf. Because of this and the adept way the characters are portrayed, this book felt more mature than most other YA titles I’ve read. This is a complex and evocative tale that will be best appreciated by readers who aren’t afraid to feel uncomfortable from time to time while reading. Reading the first book in the series or having a background in Norse tales isn’t necessary to understand and appreciate the story, but it will likely help.
I have always been a fan of Gratton’s work, but my appreciation for her craft and the intentionality of her writing has been taken to a new level after my reading of The Strange Maid. I can’t wait to see what the next book in the series brings, and I will definitely be recommending this title to my friends and older students alike.
Note: This review refers to an advance review copy....more
Beautiful & achingly realistic tale of young love & its aftermath
Very rarely does a book impress me, satisfy me, and affect me emotionally a Beautiful & achingly realistic tale of young love & its aftermath
Very rarely does a book impress me, satisfy me, and affect me emotionally as much as Katie Cotugno's debut novel, How to Love, did. This novel is a beautiful and achingly realistic portrayal of one couple's doomed teenage love affair, the aftermath, and their eventual coming to terms with one another.
HOW TO LOVE stands out among the crowd of other YA contemporary novels most notably due to Cotugno's lyrical, evocative writing. The author creates beautiful mental images throughout the novel by including details that add nuance and feeling to the story. Every detail or repeated image seems intentionally placed and well-considered. I would often stop reading to admire a passage and think to myself "THIS is what good writing looks and feels like." Another strength lies in the two main characters, Reena and Sawyer. Both are complex, flawed characters with multifaceted family members and friends surrounding them. While I often didn't like Reena or Sawyer, the writing allowed me to understand them and their actions and motivations.
In addition to her strong character development, Cotugno also does wonders with the plot and the structure of the novel. There is a careful interweaving of plot threads about family pressures, work, alcohol/drugs, religion, school, and friendship to make the characters' lives feel real and palpable. I especially liked the presence and impact of Reena's best friend, Allie, on the relationship between Sawyer and Reena. The plot of HOW TO LOVE never hurries nor dallies; the juxtaposition of the "before" and "after" chapters are perfectly aligned with mirrored events that follow one another naturally. When the book came to a close, the ending left me satisfied, even without answering every plot question directly.
Though this book was a perfect fit for me, there were a few phrases or sentence choices that threw me at times, and other readers may not be able to look past Reena's and Sawyer's flaws in order to find them sympathetic.
In all, though, HOW TO LOVE is the best young adult book that I've read in the past two years. I can't wait to see what moving, realistic, and emotionally arresting stories Cotugno writes in the future. I know that I'll be reading every one of them.
Note: This review refers to an advance review copy.
Immediate reaction: My first five-star book in two years! I am so incredibly impressed with the quiet but compelling story this novel tells and the style and lyricism with which the author tells it. I can't wait to see what this author writes in the future....more
Solid & engaging start to new series based on Norse myth
Tessa Gratton begins her new series, The United States of Asgard, with The Lost Sun, a t Solid & engaging start to new series based on Norse myth
Tessa Gratton begins her new series, The United States of Asgard, with The Lost Sun, a tale of two teenagers and their race to find and save the sun god, Baldur the Beautiful. Soren Bearskin has always feared the fire in his chest, the berserking, that might lead to a murderous rampage like that of his father. Conversely, Astrid Glyn, a young prophetess, lives in the shadow of her mother’s great seething and seeks to embrace it. When fate throws them together and the country erupts in chaos after Baldur goes missing, the two strike out on a cross-country trek to find the missing god and return him to his rightful place.
The Lost Sun is a solid and engaging start to Gratton’s new series, and its strength lies in the writing and the depth of emotion and conflict depicted in the characters. Set in an alternative United States filled with the creatures of Norse myth, this is a story that could have easily been overshadowed by the flash and action often associated with retold myths. Instead, however, this is a novel (and likely a series) about the characters, their struggles, and their humanity. Soren, Astrid, and Baldur are all sympathetic characters, but Soren is especially so; the dilemma that Soren faces as a berserker feels genuine and heart-wrenching. While there is a romance, it’s not the focus. This is foremost a story about friendship, loyalty, self-discovery, and self-definition. When romantic moments did occur, I also felt twinges of swoon despite the too-quickly-realized romantic connection.
Having said that, though, this novel also excels at its interpretation of Norse myth, even when playing loosely with the original tales. I enjoyed reading about this reimagined U.S. where mortals walk among demi-gods, gods, and Valkyries. The writing is rich and full of description that allowed me to easily envision every setting and situation, from dilapidated farmhouses with trolls inside to the emotional conflict roiling in Soren's mind. The story then concludes with a bittersweet ending that avoided the easy solution, which I also appreciated.
Even with these strengths, there were a few instances in which I longed for more. The romance and some friendships developed quickly and a bit unbelievably; I wish there had been more development in the initial stages of each relationship. The mythology, including the trickery involved at the climax, was a bit hard to follow at times, and I was grateful that I had at least some background in Norse mythology. And, while I love Gratton’s style, the abundance of descriptors and metaphors/similes became noticeable and distracting at times.
Regardless of these small qualms, The Lost Sun is a winning start to a new series with a unique and relatively unexplored mythos, and I’m looking forward to the coming books in the series. Norse mythology is likely to be the next big thing, and I’m glad Gratton is in on the front end of it. Highly recommended to fans of Maggie Stiefvater and Brenna Yovanoff.
Note: This review refers to an advance review copy....more
Beautiful and evocative writing creates satisfying tale
Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races takes readers to the small island of Thisby, a place wherBeautiful and evocative writing creates satisfying tale
Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races takes readers to the small island of Thisby, a place where nothing is earned easily, whether it be money or respect. Sean Kendrick has found that out himself, scraping by as a stable worker. He’s no ordinary stable hand, however, since he is the only one able to truly control the fearsome capaill uisce, the carnivorous water horses that emerge from the sea. Each year, Sean races his beloved water horse, Corr, in the potentially deadly Scorpio Races. Despite the odds in his favor, there’s much more at stake in this year’s race. Puck Connolly, on the other hand, never meant to go near the Scorpio Races, but her own hard luck has changed that. As the two navigate the difficult paths given to them, they must decide which risks are worth taking.
THE SCORPIO RACES stands out as Stiefvater’s most well-written book to date. Her writing remains beautiful and evocative, and it does so this time without ever feeling overdone. She constructs a palpable sense of mood and place using her words, and the characters have authentic personalities and motivations based on what’s shared about their pasts. Certain emotional and haunting scenes have stayed with me long after I finished, and I got goosebumps while reading more times than I could count. As a standalone novel, the story was satisfying and complete in itself, and the aching closing scene had me thinking about it for days. Other strong points of the novel included its unique water horse mythology (which was explained well without too much telling) and the focus on the strengths of Sean and Puck and the meaningful relationship each had with his or her horse. When a romance did surface, it was reflective of the characters involved and based on mutual respect and admiration.
Despite these strengths, I wasn’t able to give the book five stars due to a few weak points. The story was very slow in the beginning and didn’t pick up until about page 160. Told in alternating first-person perspectives, the voices also felt too similar at times. Though this is the best book overall that I’ve read from Stiefvater, I didn’t get caught up in the characters and their emotions like I did in her faerie books (Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception and Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie). I expect that this story will appeal to a smaller audience than her Shiver novels due to its focus on the human-horse relationships and its slow pacing and quiet romance.
Even with these few small qualms, I greatly enjoyed THE SCORPIO RACES because of its gorgeous writing, tangible sense of place, and strong, resilient characters. After reading this, I can’t wait to see what Stiefvater’s two forthcoming standalone novels will bring. It feels like her work will continue to get better and better.
Note: This review refers to an advance reader's copy. ...more