A few weeks ago, I came across an essay written by Neil Gaiman and titled "All Books Have Genders": the beginning of the essay touches upon the truthA few weeks ago, I came across an essay written by Neil Gaiman and titled "All Books Have Genders": the beginning of the essay touches upon the truth that, whether we (readers or writers) like it or not, most books can be defined as either girl books or boy books. What determines what a book's "gender" is? I'd say it's a mixture of things, particularly the main character, the mood of the story, the focus of the plot, and the narrative's voice. What does any of this have to do with the novel I'm reviewing? Well, despite having a female lead, Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig is undoubtedly a "boy book."
As far as being a "boy book," there's nothing wrong with that, but I suppose my expectations muddled my reading experience a bit. You see, Blackbirds's synopsis gives the promise of urban fantasy: Miriam Black, through touch alone, can know how the person she's touching is going to die. For Miriam, it's an instant thing, experiencing someone's death in the span of a few moments even if the dying itself may last minutes or hours from the person's eventual perspective. Given this dark gift, it's not unexpected that Miriam's become affected by its power...but sometimes she seems less a "realistically-written woman damaged by her strange ability" and more "damaged woman written with the voice of a guy." There's a difference, believe me, especially when you're reading it.
Now, Miriam's gift leads to her gaining the attention of quite a few unsavory characters: a con artist, two dangerous people claiming to be FBI agents, and a creepy hairless man who stabs someone through the eye in one of Miriam's death visions. The problem? Miriam seems to be the cause of that last death, and over the course of the novel she attempts to maneuver a way to prevent this death even though she had long ago accepted that fate is a merciless storm that won't be diverted no matter what she does.
For the first 100 pages or so, I rather liked the novel (the thought-provoking aspects of fate particularly intrigued me), but at some point the story became quite gratuitous with its moments of gore, akin to movies like the Saw series. If such movies are your thing, then you'll probably enjoy Blackbirds. As for me, I don't mind gore -- unless it's used for shock factor or a way to include narrative punch. Sadly, Blackbirds seemed to thrive on using gore in just those two ways, and thus reading the book became quite an unpleasant experience for me at times.
Given my mixed feelings on this first novel, I can't say I would follow Miriam through an entire series, but perhaps I'll see where her journey goes in the sequel, Mockingbird. As for whether you should read it or not, I'd recommend reading a few reviews and sampling the novel's first few pages before you commit to reading it in its entirety. It's definitely not one of those urban fantasy novels that will jive with everyone, but I'm certain it will find its audience who will enjoy it for what it is with few complaints.
(Note: I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.)...more
Wildefire by Karsten Knight is a strange beast of a novel. Nearly 400 pages, it's a bit of an intimidating novel – especiall(Actual Rating: 3.5 stars)
Wildefire by Karsten Knight is a strange beast of a novel. Nearly 400 pages, it's a bit of an intimidating novel – especially if you had been reading many iffy opinions about it as I had. Too much senseless violence. Unsympathetic heroine. Creepy love interest. So many one-star reviews had been coming into my Goodreads feed that, after a while, I had simply deleted the book from my shelves despite my having had the book listed to-read since August 2010.
But something happened a few days ago. I had one of those panic-stricken moments when I wanted to read a book but nothing was sticking with me. Then my eyes turned to my neglected e-galley of Wildefire that I had yet to delete off my e-reader. Curiosity, however morbid, eventually won out – and I started reading.
I'm not going to deny it: all of those negative elements listed above are present and accounted for in this novel. But you know what? Strangely, by book's end, all of those things somehow make sense in the scheme of this story (and that's a lot more than I can usually say for paranormal YA).
Wildefire is a mad mix of X-Men and Neil Gaiman's American Gods. The story revolves around gods and goddesses, all from different cultures (meaning that there's not just a focus on Greek myth deities or Norse myth deities, but a mixture – very fun), being reincarnated into mortal forms over and over again. But for what purpose are they being reincarnated? And why are five of them suddenly being drawn together in a school in the middle of nowhere? There are answers, but they definitely don't come easily. . .
I'll be honest: knowing that the heroine and her sister were reincarnated goddesses, I didn't have as much trouble swallowing the initial violence as I thought I would. Sure, the reasons for it – Ashline basically “taking revenge” on the girl who “stole” Ash's boyfriend – are rather irksome (especially since it would have been more ironic and even a bit funny if Ash had been wailing on the boy with her fists instead), but I get why Knight chose to write it that way. How many times in Greek mythology did Hera go all “hell hath no fury against a woman scorned” on the mortal women who had caught Zeus's eye? In all those cases, Hera should have been taking her anger and divine retribution out on Zeus, her husband, but did she? Uh, no. She went after the women. ALL. THE. TIME.
Anyway. . .the violence didn't bug me because I knew beforehand that I was dealing with goddesses who didn't have mortal-sized tempers. However, I can't say that any of the violence helped to warm me to Ashline as a heroine. Yes, she has a sister, Eve, who is somehow even more likely to embrace her psychotic side than Ash is – but is that in and of itself enough to make me sympathize with a girl who beat up another teenage girl just for sucking face with a boy the heroine didn't even care much about in the first place? Not really.
One of the flaws that never quite resolves itself is that Ashline doesn't become a sympathetic heroine in this first installment. Personally, I came to look at her as the means through which this potentially awesome and epic story of gods and goddesses warring against each other could take place. The story just as easily could have been told from another viewpoint (fellow deity Raja or Ade in particular might have been intriguing) and I would have been satisfied just the same. Is that a flaw that I might have enjoyed the story even more from a different viewpoint? I don't know.
Characterization as a whole is a bit of an issue in this book. Though all the god characters have their own specific backgrounds and stories, we never truly get a feel for them. It doesn't help that Knight's particularly snarky style of dialogue somehow leaks into all of the characters. Not every person has a witty or snarky one-liner for everything! The similar voices made it a bit difficult to latch onto any of the characters, so I was a bit disappointed that I did not come away loving any of them.
The more I read of this novel, the more I had to wonder: why wasn't this written for the adult urban fantasy market? I easily could have seen the characters aged a few years and living in a large city – and the story would have fit well in UF since I'm sure it would have had a smoother reception than it has had/will likely have in the YA market. The high-school age characters were already acting like adults, so why not just move them up a few years and be out on their own when the 'god calling' strikes? There could have been potentially even more awesomeness and epicness down the route of UF.
However, whatever the flaws of this novel, I must say this: this book should be required reading for anyone who intends to write a mythology-influenced novel. This is how gods and goddesses should be written. A book about deities with supernatural powers to shift the earth or cause storms or what have you needs to take advantage of the “epicness” that walks hand in hand with mythology. Why do you think the myths were first created? Just to tell a story about some truth or explain away some aspect of nature? Yes, there was that component – but the ancients were also trying to entertain themselves with these stories. (That should be obvious enough with the number of “funny” myths to be found – such as the Norse myth where the thunder god Thor dresses up as the beautiful goddess Freya at the trickster god Loki's insistence.) And, undoubtedly, Wildefire entertains (and offers quite a few plot twists and turns along the way to keep you guessing).
For me, the good outweighed the bad with Wildefire, but I know that it won't be everyone's cup of tea. However, I will say that anyone who's even a little bit intrigued should read the first few pages and see if it works for you. You may just end up reading the whole thing and enjoying it just as I did....more
There has been much buzz surrounding Marissa Meyer's debut novel, Cinder, over the months leading up to its publication. How(Actual Rating: 3.5 stars)
There has been much buzz surrounding Marissa Meyer's debut novel, Cinder, over the months leading up to its publication. How could there not be? The main hook is Cinderella as a cyborg. Even without reading the synopsis, many people would likely snap to attention at the mention of such an idea, and I was no exception to to the allure of what this book might entail.
In the end, my curiosity felt only half-rewarded. Cinder was an enjoyable read with good (and some really unique) ideas, but oftentimes the execution wasn't as powerful as it could have been. Amusement and annoyance alike colored my reading experience. I regret to say that, for me, the story was not the unforgettable book I had been hoping to read.
In a world over 100 years past its fourth world war, Linh Cinder is a mechanic living in New Beijing within the Eastern Commonwealth. However, given her cyborg status, she lives under the thumb of her stepmother, who reaps the benefits from Cinder's work. Even as Cinder dreams of getting away from the life she lives and fleeing to somewhere better, her country is in a state of turmoil: a plague rips its way through the population, the emperor lies on his death bed, and the Lunar Empire threatens war. All of this is beyond Cinder's paltry life, yet she may play a bigger part in all of this than she ever imagined...
As intriguing as all of its ideas are, Cinder often felt bogged down by its fairy tale roots, keeping it from gaining the wings that could have made it soar as a story right from the start. The first half of the novel is an introductory phase, groundwork being laid for not only this book but also the sequels to come. While in and of itself that seems like a good way to handle a multi-book story, the execution failed to draw me in and engross me as much as I had wanted. Only past the halfway point (over 200 pages into the story) did I begin to care for the characters and the world around them. This kind of slow-building storytelling usually works for me, but I can't say it bore full-effect with Cinder.
Then, thankfully, the second half of the novel kicked in, and suddenly things seemed...desperate. Dire. Maybe even deadly. And my enjoyment rose to much greater heights. By the time I reached the end, I did want the sequel, and I felt invested in Cinder as a character. I admired what Meyer had done with the climax and denouement, not seeking to tie up the end or give a quick (and unsatisfactory) happily-ever-after. Cinder's story didn't stay in the cookie-cutter mold; it broke free of it. Cyborg Cinderella, true to her promise, has much more in store for her than marriage to a prince. Her journey is only just beginning.
Speaking of Cinder herself, I admit that sometimes I was exasperated with her. How could I not be, when she's either forgetting to do something important (to the point that she seems an accessory to keep the plot "mysterious" for as long as possible) or mulling over her cyborg identity even though she always claims her humanity when in a face-off with her stepmother? She's not a bad heroine by any means (far from it, actually), but I wish she had been more consistent. She could have been only a more powerful heroine because of it.
For all its promise and hype, Cinder didn't work for me as I had hoped...but the strong final act convinced me that the sequels will be worth reading, if only to see how this saga (with all its threads) will end. Other readers will likely be much more receptive to the story as a whole, overlooking the flaws and enjoying the book for what it is: the first of a slowly unfolding saga that, layer by layer, may prove to be greater than the sum of its parts. I look forward to seeing if that will be the case when all is said and done.
Note: I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley....more
Erin Morgenstern's debut novel, The Night Circus, is a book bound to divide book lovers into the "loved it" and "hated it" categories. Some people will adore the prose; others will despise it for being flowery and excessive. Some readers will hate the false promises the blurb on the jacket copy offers; others will still find something magical to love and admire in this novel despite the deception within the blurb. As for me, I was divided in my opinions. I mean, I really, really wanted that story the blurb promised about a "fierce competition" and "a deep, passionate, and magical love." I still want someone to write it since, sadly, Morgenstern didn't give it to me.
What Morgenstern did give me, however, was a lovely novel about the passage of time surrounding a circus concocted by magical means. The circus here is not just a location: it too is a character, one that is more vibrant than many of the other characters within this story. Morgenstern succeeds at making the magic wondrous and enchanting, although those looking for the rules to the enchantments will come away disappointed. There is no rhyme or reason to the magic here: it simply is, and that is as much a strength as it is a deficit.
The novel has no consistent timeline or narrative either, given that the chapters alternate among the past and present, standalone moments from the circus itself, and character viewpoints of varying importance. Although The Night Circus contains literary merit, it doesn't have quite enough spark to achieve everything all its build-up promised.
Le Cirque des Rêves (The Circus of Dreams) has an uncommon inception within London in 1873: two gentlemen, one who calls himself Prospero and the other who dons a grey suit and is known as Alexander, make a wager that two pupils of theirs will undergo a magical competition. Prospero's choice is his daughter, Celia, whom he has only been aware of for the past six months. Alexander, however, does not make his choice until the following January: an orphaned boy whose name Alexander does not care to know. These two children become bound together by a magical pact, but they remain unaware of each other for many years. Only once the magical circus, the chosen venue for the competition, is in its planning stages does the real game begin...
"Competition" doesn't quite fit what transpires within the circus because of the magic of Celia and Marco (the orphaned boy). There are no showdowns, no competitive scenes, no dangerous moments. Instead, the novel showcases how Celia and Marco try to one-up each other with how enchanting their various contributions to the circus can be. These enchantments, however, devolve into almost a flirtation between the two as they silently create new tents and exhibits for the sole purpose of impressing one another. It's a nice idea, but it would have born more weight if both sides had been aware of each other's identities sooner in the novel. Somehow, we're meant to believe that, with so much secrecy abounding, these two can honestly, truly fall in love. And that is one of the greatest flaws within The Night Circus: the love story is not deep, passionate, dangerous, or even really sensical, and it makes the story weaker than it otherwise might have been.
The first meaningful conversation between Celia and Marco occurs halfway through the book. Then, Morgenstern does the unthinkable: the next chapter is set three years later, and suddenly Marco is proclaiming, "I'm in love with her." Really? Really? There needed to be some transition between the two chapters, something to bridge the gap to show that something was growing in the hearts of these two individuals now that they were both aware of one another. Instead, the love between the two is shoddy and gimmicky, the stuff of an hour-and-a-half movie rather than a nearly 400-page novel with a literary bent.
Now, you must be wondering: "Jillian, if you had such a problem with the love story, why give the novel three-and-a-half stars?" Because the novel isn't just the love story. There was plenty more for me to like in this novel: the segments about the circus's various attractions, a plot line following a boy named Bailey who's in love with the circus, and the inclusion of rêveurs (dreamers) who follow the circus around the world. Basically, the circus is the main character...and, given what I read about it, I knew that if such a place existed I would probably be in love with it too. So I couldn't dislike the novel simply because the story introduced me to such an intriguing, enchanting place.
All my qualms and opinions aside, The Night Circus is a charming story, but it won't be for everyone simply because it's not as universal as it could have been. It may be a literary smash-hit for a time, but will it be a classic read in the decades to come? I doubt it. However, if Erin Morgenstern can hone her craft a bit more, then maybe someday she really will become a household name. For now, though, The Night Circus is the debut novel that will either enchant or alienate readers. Whether you will be one or the other, that all depends on how you fare with the circus and its offerings if you give this novel a go....more
Under the Never Sky and I were bound to have a rocky relationship. The original description for the novel was a "take on Romeo and Juliet in a post-apUnder the Never Sky and I were bound to have a rocky relationship. The original description for the novel was a "take on Romeo and Juliet in a post-apocalyptic setting." Mention Romeo and Juliet, and my hackles rise. Romeo and Juliet did a lot of stupid things for the sake of lust "love" – and, as much as recent young adult books have tried to paint Shakespeare's famous tragedy as a "great love story," it's not something that should be emulated or, frankly, even wanted. Thus, coming into reading this novel, I was wary of what I would receive. Would the novel be a nauseating love story, or would it actually be able to stand its ground against other dystopian young adult novels I had read and loved?
To my surprise, Under the Never Sky actually has a well-realized, intriguing world as its landscape. People live in scattered and closed-off places called Pods, and they spend their time in virtual realities called the Realms. But there are dangers lurking in the outside world: storms caused by Aether swirls churning in the sky, diseases and germs that attack those least immune, and tribes of violent savages and bloodthirsty cannibals. Aria has lived in the Pod known as Reverie for all her life, but one misstep – rule-breaking that leads to fire and a breach in which an Outsider comes into the Pod – eventually incurs Aria's ejection into the dangerous outside world. The Outsider, a Tide tribesman known as Perry, has his own worries and concerns, but one thing is certain: he needs Aria's help to make things right for himself and his tribe.
What makes this world so interesting? It holds much of the danger and adventure present in fellow post-apocalyptic novel Blood Red Road, though in a more subtle fashion. The inclusion of "powers" called Senses is familiar yet unique, done in such a way that allows for some surprises along the way. The history of what caused the world to fall into this state isn't explored in this first installment, but the lack of information doesn't really affect the logic of the world-building itself.
The disappointment, sadly, came with the characters themselves. Aria and Perry are interesting characters, yes, but I didn't connect to them or find them particularly endearing. It was hard to believe, then, that they could connect to one another and find each other endearing. (view spoiler)[(Don't get me started on Perry only starting to feel attracted to Aria once she had begun her period. Or his imprinting-like "rendering" that makes him feel like a piece of him is missing when she isn't near.) (hide spoiler)] I didn't buy that their prejudices against one another could be smoothed over so easily. Wouldn't there be more hurt feelings? Wouldn't there be more distrust and wariness that wouldn't be so easily swept away? It seemed too simple and easy for them to jump so quickly from near-enemies to allies to somewhat friends to something more. I understand that things like war and survival can make brothers (or, I guess in this case, lovers) of enemies, but...will this attachment they have even last during more "peaceful" times? Can they sustain what's between them? I'm not convinced they can or, frankly, even that they should.
Lest I paint some false impressions, Under the Never Sky is a very readable book, even despite some choppy passages and a conservative writing style that doesn't offer much in the way of "poetic prose." The draw to this novel is the discovery of the world and the adventure, one page at a time. My feelings were mixed, but others may find this story to be a shining gem among the oft-disappointing bevy of young adult dystopian novels to be had. If nothing else, the world-building within the novel is more than enough to give this novel a look. Give it a try if you feel so inclined.
Note: I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
You Against Me by Jenny Downham (author of Before I Die) is one of those books where the book blurb reminds you a lot of a Lifetime movie. You have aYou Against Me by Jenny Downham (author of Before I Die) is one of those books where the book blurb reminds you a lot of a Lifetime movie. You have a boy and a girl, joined by the sordid details of a crime and accusation involving their siblings. The boy is planning revenge in some form while the girl, unaware of the boy's intentions or identity, slowly begins to fall for him. It almost sounds like Romeo and Juliet meets a Dateline crime special. How can this end well on either side?
Mikey is struggling to balance work and family as he copes with the aftermath of his sister Karyn's alleged rape. Though his dreams lie in living in London and learning to become a chef, he instead toils away to help his family because his single mother is an alcoholic who spends more time hung-over than with her three children. What were the fraying threads of his family life now threaten to rip apart entirely after what happens to Karyn; police officers and social workers become parts of the family's life, much to Mikey"s dismay. But even though the future is unclear, Mikey knows one thing: Thomas Parker caused all of this.
Thomas "Tom" Parker is Ellie Parker's older brother -- the one who was accused of raping Karyn. Though her family hides behind the gates leading to their home, Ellie too is dealing with a family on the brink of self-destructing. Because the allegations against Tom are of the "he said, she said" variety, Ellie feels a great pressure since she was home the night the alleged rape occurred, and she will likely be detrimental to her brother's defense in the upcoming trial. However much her parents assure her that helping her brother prove his innocence is the right thing, Ellie feels even more doubtful and uncertain the longer she processes the memories of that night and the truth of what really happened. . .
Mikey and Ellie meet under the guise of lies and a pursuit for revenge. Their initial relationship is based more of Mikey's attempt to glean his own personal justice upon Tom, but nothing works quite as planned once Mikey and Ellie begin to realize that they like each other. Whatever their differences or flaws, they are connected by the crime and its ripple effects through both of their families. How will they survive it? And will they be able to look at each other the same way after the fact?
You Against Me is definitely a very fascinating book, especially with how it delves into the psychology of how families cope with crimes (from aspects of both accuser and accused). . .but it is also very frustrating. No, this book is not a romance -- or, at least, not in the traditional sense. Instead, it's a portrait of realism, falsehood, truth, fear, doubt, family, and healing. The characters don't take easy paths -- and, even when decisions are made, the answers are not so clear-cut and simple. This is an ambiguous book showcasing that there are always two sides to every story and that, instead of black and white, our world is a very gray place of villains masquerading as heroes and heroes being portrayed as villains.
However much I loved this book for challenging my mind and my own judgments, I honestly don't think it's a book for everyone. It's the type of story that you mull over, that you ponder and contemplate, that makes you think, "Okay, what would I do?" Not every reader is comfortable with that kind of introspection, so that's why I hesitate to say,"YOU MUST READ IT." Still, You Against Me is very fascinating and thought-provoking, so I hope it will find the readers who will appreciate it the most -- and who come away better and stronger because of it....more
I love books that surprise me. That may seem a strange thing to write from the perspective that, ideally, all the books you(Actual Rating: 3.5 stars)
I love books that surprise me. That may seem a strange thing to write from the perspective that, ideally, all the books you read should surprise you in some way. Given that we don't live in a perfect world, though, every reader is bound to come across plots, characters, and ideas that come across as predictable or derivative to them. That's just the way things are.
However, When the Sea Is Rising Red, debut novel from Cat Hellisen, is far from predictable or derivative. In a book world of trend waves and overused tropes, this novel is refreshing in that it doesn't stick to any of those things many of us have come to expect from various YA novels but instead strives to pave its own path, free of such restraints and focused on one thing: telling a good, imaginative story.
In Rising Red, Felicita -- daughter of the once-renowned House Pelim -- lives in a strange world where the sea can promise curses and death, magic requires the use of an addictive mineral called scriv, and humans try to keep hold of what power they can even as vampire families rise up and gain prominence. But Felicita's worries are closer to home: she feels trapped under the standards of her strict mother and her cold older brother. Only once the death of her best friend occurs does Felicita decide to grab her own chance at freedom and brave the shadowy world of the common people known as Hobs.
Beyond strength of prose or tightness of plot, I believe the make-or-break mark of a good storyteller is the ability to build strong, believable worlds -- and Hellisen definitely has that mark. Felicita's world is striking and haunting, the kind of place where dark fairy tales are the reality and not the nightmare.
As much as I enjoyed the world within the novel, though, I can't say my reading experience was always smooth. For a time after Felicita settled into a new way of life for herself, I felt as if the plot had reached a snag and lost its focus. It didn't help either that I just couldn't jump on board with how much of the "bonding" Felicita and the Hob characters had occurred during instances where alcohol and drugs were present. None of it seemed genuine to me from the perspective that people in general are rarely ever themselves with such substances addling their senses, and thus I felt wary and distrustful as the reader while the narrator herself never was. Though those scenes weren't without their purpose in the overall story, they simply didn't sit well with me.
On the other hand, I found myself intrigued by some other aspects of the story: particularly the character of Jannik, whose appearances throughout the novel are few and far between but who is a remarkably fleshed-out character nonetheless. The plot itself -- of the sea rising red -- really amazed me, even though I wish the sense of danger and mystery surrounding it had been interwoven into the story a bit more consistently. By the end, I felt satisfied by all that had transpired and found myself longing for a sequel, so that's saying something, isn't it?
When the Sea Is Rising Red may be a strange beast of a story compared to the usual YA fare, but I would recommend it simply because it has a lot more going for it than against it. If you're in the mood for a story that blends fairy tale and fantasy and dystopia, then definitely consider giving this one a try. Even with its flaws, it is still a story well worth the read....more
In Shadows on the Moon by Zoë Marriott, Hoshima Suzume's life changes within moments when her father is accused of treason a(Actual Rating: 3.5 stars)
In Shadows on the Moon by Zoë Marriott, Hoshima Suzume's life changes within moments when her father is accused of treason against the Moon Prince, and she sees her once-happy life stolen and destroyed. In the panic that follows, something strange awakens within Suzume, an ability to disappear and blend into her surroundings as she flees her devastated home. Once the situation settles, Suzume's mother returns from her trip and retrieves Suzume...although Suzume herself is uneasy by the way her father's friend, Terayama Ryoichi, swoops in and takes Suzume and her mother into his household without hesitation. Grief overtakes Suzume even as she slowly begins to realize the more sinister possibilities behind why her father was accused of treason...
Many readers have been fascinated by this Japanese-flavored take on Cinderella, so I was enthusiastic to start reading it because (thanks to my years of anime watching/manga reading) I've been in love with Japanese culture for quite a while. However, once I did begin the novel, I found myself a bit conflicted: there were elements I absolutely loved while some other things annoyed me. (In some ways, my reading experience reminded me of how I felt with Marissa Meyer's Cinder -- another YA Cinderella retelling, oddly enough.) Given my mixture of opinions, I decided to tackle my review in an untraditional way, so here are the pros and cons I encountered as I read Shadows on the Moon:
-Yay for more diversity in YA! Asian heroine, Asian-inspired land, a love interest who is of pseudo-African descent...awesome! I would love to see many more explorations of diversity like this in fiction, especially in the fantasy genre that's far too often "white European"-influenced.
-The idea of shadow-weaving (illusionary magic) was innovative and mysterious. Even though illusion as a magical ability is in no way uncommon in the fantasy genre, I was still intrigued by the ability and its varying uses. I wouldn't even mind following other shadow-weavers in other books (*hint, hint*).
-Suzume's journey from nobility to tragedy was very intriguing and, at times, haunting. As I followed Suzume through her varying circumstances, there were few times I didn't feel my heartstrings tugged. Even with my opinions all tangled about this book, I always felt sympathy for Suzume as a character.
-I admired and appreciated how some very serious real-life issues, such as self-harm and contemplation of suicide, were handled over the course of the story. It's rare to see such thoughtful consideration for these issues in contemporary fiction and even more so in fantasy. Given how little these issues are seen in fantasy novels, you would think fantasy characters never experienced the kind of self-destructive depression so often found in real life! But that wasn't the case at all in Shadows on the Moon. The depression here manifests in very real and sometimes very harmful ways.
-The ending satisfied me yet left more than enough room open for a potential companion novel or sequel. I would love to see more of this world, whether it be the Moonlit Lands or Athazie, because there is so much possibility in this mysterious world of magic manifesting in such intriguing ways.
-Compared to most YA novels, the build-up of the story was slow, so much so that it was sometimes a detriment to the story. This is entirely a matter of taste. Some readers gobble up novels that take a hundred pages or more to "get going"; as for me, I'm rarely one of them. Shadows on the Moon nearly lost me a number of times throughout its first 200 pages, but I kept on because I love (and want to see more) Japanese-influenced stories. The pay-off, of course, was eventually there within the pages (thank goodness).
-As much as I enjoyed the Japanese spotlight in this story, I couldn't help but feel that the handling was either too "faithful" or not "ambitious enough" depending on the point within the story. Do I believe this story could have been told without the Japanese words sprinkled throughout the narrative and would have lost very little through it? Yes. Do I believe that the story seemed a bit too reliant on Japanese culture and background despite being a "new world/land"? Yes. As a fantasy land, it really didn't seem divorced enough from real-life inspirations. It's one of those stories where, if it had been tweaked a little and sold as "historical fiction with hints of magical realism," I would have been much happier.
-The romance, as sweet as it became, was built on a shaky foundation. I eventually liked Suzume and Otieno, her love interest, quite a bit together -- though it took me a while to warm up to them. Electricity-ridden glances, traces of insta!love, and clandestine meetings...not the newest territory for the foundation of a relationship in YA. (It didn't help that Suzume and Otieno shared their first conversation on page 170, have a few scattered conversations to which the reader is not privy, and then on page 178 they kiss for the first time. Much telling and not showing went on in the early stages of building their relationship, and I was disappointed by that. In some ways, I understand -- every writer fears that their novels will be shunned for "focusing too much on romance" -- but romance, no matter how heavy or light, should always resonate with the reader. I didn't always feel that here.) However, near the two-thirds mark, I found myself charmed by the interactions of Suzume and Otieno. No, I was never fully convinced by them, but I was happy for them when they were together.
-I felt the very nature of how the shadow weavers recognized and sensed each other to be less of an interesting nuance and more of a plot contrivance. Far too many times did Suzume get out a sticky situation just because there was another shadow weaver nearby, and I felt that to be a bit...too easy. I'd rather the heroine help herself, find a way by herself, than to fall back on "others of her kind" who happen to be nearby to help.
-Suzume, despite her strength as a character, was far more passive than I would have liked (as far as her revenge storyline goes). For much of the latter two-thirds of the novel, Suzume hungers for revenge...but her "pursuit" in itself is not very active. Though a promise not to harm her enemy bars her from direct vengeance for a small part of the story, I couldn't help but be a bit frustrated by Suzume's lack of activity; she is a far cry from Edmond Dantes (of the infamous The Count of Monte Cristo, which Marriott herself cited in an interview was part of the first inspiration for Suzume's tale), who actively sought ways to see his vengeance enacted, always the puppet master pulling strings. Suzume's eventual plan of action (which wasn't even her own idea, but another's) seemed the "safe" way to ensure that the reader would not fault Suzume in any way. Even the eventual "revenge" doesn't come from a maneuver on Suzume's part but a chance circumstance. If she indirectly commits acts of vengeance, even despite all the intent within her heart, how can we condemn her? As I said, all of it seemed a "safe" way to approach a female character who wants revenge.
Despite my qualms, I would never claim Shadows on the Moon is a bad novel or even a mediocre one; in many ways, the story is very fascinating and refreshing. Some of my issues with the plot and characterization simply impeded my overall enjoyment of the novel. As for other readers, I would recommend this novel to anyone who loves Japanese culture and/or fairy-tale retellings. If one or both apply to you, then chances are that Shadows on the Moon will be a new book for you to devour and love....more
Oh, Cynthia...you must have taken your kid gloves off after Unearthly since you really managed to deliver a beating with Hallowed! If a plot twist wasOh, Cynthia...you must have taken your kid gloves off after Unearthly since you really managed to deliver a beating with Hallowed! If a plot twist wasn't clubbing me in the head, the emotions of the characters were punching me in the stomach! The experience left me feeling rather drained and a bit bruised...but it was worth it.
Clara Gardner, an angel-blood by birth, thought that her heavenly purpose had died away with the last embers of a wildfire...but she is far from done with visions telling of things to come and actions she may have no choice but to take. When a recurring dream hints at the funeral of someone close to her, she hastens to find answers of who, when, where, and why -- even as she must contend with her feelings for two vastly different boys who represent two very different choices and futures.
Much like its predecessor, Hallowed was a pleasant surprise to me: not only did it continue its subversion of many of the common tropes to be found in young adult paranormal romances, but it also managed to avoid the trap of the "sequel slump" (where the second book in a series feels more like filler than a necessary story). Even with "the dreaded love triangle of doom" present front and center in this installment, the characters never act in ways that are inconceivable, intolerable, or completely irrational. Rather, they all seem to be just handling their lots in life the best ways they can: "coping" eventually becomes the default mode for many of them.
The story here is much more focused on Clara's growth as a character than I had been expecting. With all the revelations and discoveries, they all seem to add layers to her character to the point that no longer does she resemble that starry-eyed angel girl of Unearthly's beginning, who was so intent on fulfilling her purpose and glad to do so. Clara has grown up. She has seen the gray and experienced sorrow and grief, and now she looks at her purpose as more of a burden rather than a joyous occurrence. Clara's struggle with free will and "destiny" is one of the best conflicts to the series, even as it becomes clear that destiny means that many things cannot be avoided.
And that's part of my problem with Hallowed: the angel-bloods can take as many winding roads as they want, but eventually all of them will find themselves fulfilling the stages of their purposes in some fashion. It may take more time, they may fight against it, but "destiny" will happen. Honestly, I don't know how I feel about that, especially since the "big picture" of Clara's purpose has yet to be revealed.
I also have another problem: Christian, the enigma and constant presence in many of Clara's purpose-centric visions. Christian is the mysterious boy who has the answers but hides them, who uses kindness and compassion as a way to subtly manipulate the heroine, and who seems to have more of an agenda than he's saying: basically, he's not much better than the typical YA paranormal love interest, at least not from what has been presented of his character in these first two installments. Though Christian is presented in a much better (and, dare I say it, more deceptive) package, I can't help but look at him with distrustful eyes, and I almost want to call him an antagonist waiting to happen. But the doubt in me says, "No, the subversions in the series will only go so far. Don't expect too much. You'll only be disappointed if you do."
Doubts aside, I do have hope that Cynthia Hand will continue to subvert this convoluted paranormal genre young adult literature has had on its hands for the past few years. I have hope that she will keep surprising me with her story's twists and turns, that all my worries and resignations are needless, that by the end I'll change all my ratings for the books to five stars because of how blown away I felt by the entire scope of the story once it was revealed to me. But I have to wait and see if that day will come. The Unearthly series has one or two books left and much more story left to tell...so I'll wait and hope.
Regardless of my own qualms, I highly recommend Hallowed because it represents the kind of storytelling and characterization that many YA books are sorely lacking. If you like young adult paranormal books and have yet to read Unearthly, then you're missing out, so make sure to pick up both Unearthly and this sequel in the near future. You may just find yourself enthralled by a story you had never even hoped to expect....more
Ixion: a place of eternal night and eternal pleasure -- but nothing, nothing, comes without its price. . .
Admittedly, Burn Bright was one of my most aIxion: a place of eternal night and eternal pleasure -- but nothing, nothing, comes without its price. . .
Admittedly, Burn Bright was one of my most anticipated releases of 2011. First, there's the darkly beautiful cover that brings to mind the fashion of Lady Gaga and the gothic wonder of Tim Burton's movies; right from the first time I saw it, it ensnared me in such a way that for months I thought, "I must have this book, I must have this book." Then there's the synopsis, speaking of a dark place called Ixion and a heroine who plunges into this night world to find her brother even though she has no desire to cavort and party as other Ixion migrants do. Burn Bright is of those ideas that just lit fire to my imagination and made me wonder what this story would entail and what dark delights would lay within its pages.
Thus, you can imagine that I came into reading this book with high expectations. Perhaps it was wrong of me, but I really expected this book to be a dark and heady mixture that made me think of the works of Laini Taylor or Melissa Marr. Instead, I received something that was bittersweet in texture and feel. . .and I honestly don't know if I liked it.
Burn Bright is a book that thrives on being different. It is very much a dark supernatural fantasy, and there is nothing quite like it in the young adult book market at the moment. Since it's fresh in that respect, I can see why other readers would be enamored with it. When you're faced with something so different from the norm, you're going to either embrace it or run away from it. Me? I was caught in the middle.
Where the story really succeeds is the world-building -- which, again, is so different from anything else that it's really rather fascinating and intriguing as you learn about Ixion right alongside its heroine, Retra. Ixion is a place where teenagers flee to lose themselves in wild parties and no-holds barred behavior, but there are people who act as guardians in Ixion: the Ripers, a group of overseers headed by the dark and secretive Lenoir. Why must the 'baby bats' -- the newcomers to Ixion -- stick to the lighted paths? And what happens to those who grow too old for Ixion?
Honestly, Ixion is a fantastically realized world, holding the madness of Lewis Carroll's Wonderland and the strangeness of J.M. Barrie's Neverland. However, a world on its own is not enough to carry a book: there also needs to be a balance with characterization and plot too. In Burn Bright, I couldn't help the feeling that the world of Ixion itself was so rich that the characters seemed flat and colorless by comparison. To me, the characters here felt like puppets moving against a backdrop that didn't help to ground or solidify them but rather outshine them -- when, really, it should be the other way around. The characters are what move the story forward, and they need to feel like live players instead of figures at the mercy of unseen twists and turns. Yes, the world building offers so many fantastic ideas and concepts -- but, meshed with the characters and plot, the story didn't seem so stellar of a package as it could have been.
The plot itself is mostly a mixture of uncovering the secrets of Ixion and seeing a battle for dominion over Ixion begin to stir -- and Retra finds herself caught up in all of it and forced to change because of her involvings in Ixion. In and of itself, the story didn't really offer me much that I hadn't expected. You have the heroine who becomes a key player in a world to which she is still only a newcomer. You have her love interests, neither of whom seem really good for her in the long run. You have her friends, most of whom have brighter personalities than she does but who take a backseat as mere tagalongs for much of the story. Needless to say, I wasn't very much impressed as far as the characters and plot go.
While others will love Burn Bright for its ingenuity and freshness, I'm sad to say that it just wasn't enough for me. However much I liked the world building, it wasn't the book I had expected to read. Whether it will be a hit or miss with you. . .well, you have to read it to find out. I hope it will burn bright in your eyes as I wish it had done for me. ...more
In the growing world of young adult dystopian literature, Incarnate is an odd beast, blending elements of dystopia, utopia,(Actual Rating: 3.5 stars)
In the growing world of young adult dystopian literature, Incarnate is an odd beast, blending elements of dystopia, utopia, fantasy, and even science fiction. Instead of reading like a seamless story, however, Jodi Meadows's debut novel sends many mixed vibes, to the point that the whole package feels like a mish-mash of concepts where some could have been cut as "excess." The novel actually reminded me of The Host by Stephenie Meyer: I mean that in both good and bad ways since, much like The Host, Incarnate shines not with world-building or plot but rather characters, their development and interactions, and intriguing concepts that make up the threads of their world.
Ana, the heroine of Incarnate, lives in a world where everyone has known everyone else for thousands of years through reincarnated lives. However, Ana is the exception to the rule: for reasons no one can explain to her, she is a newsoul with no memories intact or prior lives on record. Because of this anomaly, she has experienced the brunt of being isolated and ridiculed by her cold mother, who despises her for "replacing" one of the other reincarnated souls. On her eighteenth birthday, Ana finally escapes her isolated life and heads for Heart, the city where she'll hopefully find answers and maybe even the meaning to her existence.
Much of my enjoyment of Incarnate came from Ana as a character, who is both relatable and sorrowful because of her situation. Despite the emotional abuse she experienced at home, Ana is not a weak or timid girl; rather, she's simply wary and distrustful of people. Yes, she's indifferent at times and quite naive during some moments, but I would be shocked if she weren't any of those things. At the beginning of the story, she's a bit like an abandoned dog who has been abused and neglected; it takes her time to grow away from all of that even though the emotional scars and memories will never fade. Over the course of the novel, her personality unfolds like the opening petals of a flower in bloom, and I couldn't be happier for the transformation she undergoes as she begins to learn to care, trust, and even love.
(Speaking of love, I must admit that I adored the romance within this book. While it won't be for everyone -- especially those who don't like "age differences" -- I felt charmed by it and glad for Ana that she finally had someone kind and understanding in her life.)
Innovation to the "reincarnation trend" aside, the world-building...bothered me a bit. I understand that writers can do anything they want with their books, but I guess I'm too traditional in that I don't like seeing modern technology and influences mesh with fantastical creatures like dragons, centaurs, trolls, etc. It doesn't work for me since I don't often come across writers who can mesh "realistic" and "fantastical" in a believable fashion. Incarnate was no different because I never felt convinced of the world within the novel, which has a bit of an identity crisis with fantasy elements yet also many instances of technology that could have been transported straight from our world. The end result feels like a half-baked idea for an alien world of some kind. In truth, despite the many mentions of the creatures inhabiting this world, only sylphs (air spirits with no souls) and dragons are threats in this first installment, and even then some of the attacks seemed to be random methods to inject conflict and suspense into the story.
As for the rest of the plot and the revelations therein...I wasn't moved by much of it. Honestly, I was ready to give the novel four stars before the final climax and denouement, both of which felt dull and flat compared to the vibrance and emotion in earlier chapters. The last fifty pages of the novel offered some answers and revelations, but the execution of everything felt sloppy with a lack of proper punch.
Despite my misgivings, I did like much of my reading experience with Incarnate, so I will be reading both sequels to see Ana to the end of her journey. As for whether you should take the plunge yourself, look to the reviews, positive and negative, and try to weigh the pros and cons for yourself. There is enjoyment to be found in this novel: the only question is whether you will be one to find it or not.
Note: I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley....more
With some trepidation do I start this review of Supernaturally, sequel to 2010's Paranormalcy. Now, I liked Paranormalcy well enough because of its heWith some trepidation do I start this review of Supernaturally, sequel to 2010's Paranormalcy. Now, I liked Paranormalcy well enough because of its heroine, Evie, and the story's tendency to poke fun at the paranormal craze. Whatever flaws the story had, the novel had charm in a world of YA books gone shallow and insipid, unrelatable and inane, and I was hopeful to read the next installment even if I thought that Evie's story could have stayed open-ended with readers imagining what her future might hold after she has gained some semblance of normalcy. In truth...I think it might have been better to leave the story open-ended since Supernaturally doesn't have quite the same amount of charm that its predecessor had.
Supernaturally suffers from the "sequel slump," a common occurrence among many, many trilogies to be found in the young adult section. Most YA novels that expand into trilogies quite honestly could have stayed standalone novels, but nowadays the bigger publishers bank on trilogies instead of standalone novels. And that's fine. However, when you have a debut author who has likely only written a handful of novel drafts (if that) prior to a publishing deal, you have to take into consideration whether or not the author has the experience to undertake a trilogy. Will the author be able to handle an overarching plot that hangs as an umbrella over all three novels and then the individual novel plot problems and predicaments? Will the author potentially be able to make the novels tied up plot-wise on their own so that any reader can feel satisfied by finishing one novel without needing to read the rest? (Yes, that can be a pro and a con, but then you have the other end of the spectrum: cliffhangers that leave frayed threads of plot just hanging where you NEED the next book even if only to satisfy your curiosity. Now, which would readers rather have: books that can stand on their own or ones that thrive off cliffhanger central? I would guess the former before the latter.)
Kiersten White falls somewhere in the middle: though her novels have their own individual plots and then hints of an overarching plot across all three books, they aren't the kind of novels that leave off on cliffhangers (think The Hunger Games) that leave you wanting more, nor are they completely individual on their own (though, to be fair, YA novels that are a part of trilogies/series rarely are this sort). So what is Supernaturally? It's a novel caught in that place where no novel wants to be: too reliant on its predecessor to be a companion or standalone novel yet not fulfilling enough as a sequel to the original.
Supernaturally begins with Evie where she has always dreamed of being: living the normal life of a teenage girl. Sure, her boyfriend Lend may be away at college, and she may still have more questions than answers about her supernatural heritage...but life is good. Of course, this is Evie, so things are never quite so normal as she may think. After a series of strange occurrences, Evie finds herself working for IPCA again, but her jobs aren't solo anymore: this time, she's working with a trickster-like boy named Jack, a human who has the power to walk the Faerie Paths.
While Supernaturally did offer some smiles and just good-natured fun to me, it really didn't have oomph. One problem is that it was too easy for me to put the book down; when I'm reading a book, I should always feel the need to know more, more, more and keep flipping those pages. Time should be a void while I read -- to the point that when I look up from the book I'm shocked to find that hours have passed since I started reading. With Supernaturally, there was no pull for me. I slogged through the book over the course of a few weeks, and everything -- Evie, Lend, even the paranormal world around them -- didn't seem to have the same charm that I remembered it having in Paranormalcy. The need for conflict and plot motion gave way to stupid character decisions and unnecessary angst, and all of it left me feeling rather lukewarm.
However much Supernaturally was a mixed reading experience for me, I will be reading the final book, Endlessly, because I have hope that Kiersten White will manage to wow me with the finale. Though I can't wholeheartedly recommend Supernaturally on its own, I do think Paranormalcy is worth reading. I may not have been a fan of the second installment, but that doesn't mean that everyone will feel the same way I do. So...read at your own discretion....more
In the YA book world, 2011 is definitely shaping up to be the year of the dystopia. With the popularity and acclai(Cross-posted from The Book Lantern)
In the YA book world, 2011 is definitely shaping up to be the year of the dystopia. With the popularity and acclaim of Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games trilogy, the young adult publishing world seemed to explode with all kinds of ideas for dystopias about oppression and chaos -- and publishers were all the more willing to oblige them due to the proven success of The Hunger Games.
Truthfully, I don't think the quick comparison to The Hunger Games does Divergent any favors except to build hype and expectations among readers. However much it's a great tactic for marketing, I personally don't know if this book should even be referred to as a dystopia since the label hurts more than helps it, giving the idea of one thing to the readers and offering something a little bit different with the story itself.
Let me explain: I have a set idea as to what, for me personally, a dystopian novel is. YA dystopian novels seem to have an identity crisis at times (something Vinaya spoke about here) where they're just so intent about illustrating some kind of suffering or shock factor hook that they lose the true meaning of a dystopia: a world that has descended from order to chaos, one where what once were nightmares and dark musings of past times (i.e. usually our own modern days) are now common pieces of society, even to the point where rights or privileges of the people have been abolished and replaced by 'what is deemed right and fair.'
Now, back to the case of Divergent: yes, it certainly has hints of dystopian tenets. . .but strip the layers of the story away and what do you have? Is it really a true dystopia, the kind that makes us fear for our own world because we see the problems and warnings present in our own time and place? Or just an action thriller with dystopian elements? Honestly, Divergent is an adrenaline-kick, shock-factor-enthusiast, and action-centric kind of book first and foremost; the dystopian undercurrent is mostly for show, at least in this beginning installment to the trilogy.
For being labeled a dystopia, the world-building behind the story leaves a lot to be desired. Though we are told that the five factions resulted from a 'great peace' following a devastating war, the nature and state of the world as a whole is a big unknown. Chicago is the focus, front and center, but any reader must wonder, "What about the rest of the United States? And the world itself?" Roth describes her world sparingly, giving only some modern downtown Chicago landmarks scene time to ground her world; one must wonder if the sparseness of setting is a sign of intentional withholding of information or lack of planning and fleshing of the story's world. (Personally, I hope it is the former.)
But all of those concerns of mine started to fade into the background as I continued to read. Though the flaws are many (the length, unfortunately, being one of them), Roth doesn't fail to draw readers into her story and make them feel compelled to keep reading just to see what happens. The first one hundred and fifty pages were a struggle for me, no lie, but then it got easier to accept the book for what it was instead of wishing for more of what I thought it could be. The most discernible problem for me was Beatrice, who was a difficult heroine to grow to like since she started out so judgmental and harsh to the point that she was a bit unrelatable. Then her 'change' seemed to come much too soon, but I was glad for it since she eventually became a bearable (though, at times, still not particularly likable) heroine.
The novel's plot doesn't start to come together under the last one hundred or so pages, but I have to appreciate the character relationships that grow within the story. However much I was ready to ride them off in the beginning, the characters grew on me (sometimes in spite of myself), and I really started to care about what was happening to them and around them. When I start off with questionable feelings towards a book, I don't often change my mind. . .but, with Divergent, I eventually found myself swayed.
In the end, what struck (and stuck with) me most about the novel overall is this: the underlying theme of morals and their importance in the story. The factions themselves are representations of things valued and praised within the Bible: selflessness, bravery, honesty, knowledge, and peace. (I am not taking liberties by assuming Roth used the Bible as inspiration for her world; she herself has not hidden the fact that she is a Christian.) Honestly, I was pleasantly surprised by the moral aspect of the novel, and it gave the story some of the depth I had been craving all along. Let it be known that, at its core, this novel is about choices, priorities, and beliefs. This tendency isn't a flaw in the story, however; rather, I think it helps to enhance and differentiate a book that would otherwise have been lost in similarities to its popular predecessor.
(I will also give Roth credit in this respect: she could have easily had her factions act forever positively in regards to their specific traits, but instead she does not shy away from casting all the factions in gray lights. All the characters are ambiguous figures, mostly neither hero nor villain but rather 'flawed human,' and that in itself is refreshing in a YA landscape of 'goodies and baddies.')
Though this novel contains a rocky and lengthy start that takes away a bit from the impact of the novel as a whole, the story does eventually 'get there' where you're invested (even if only to see where everything is going). It took a while for me to care, but other readers who are more action-oriented than I am may look at this novel with more patience and appreciation. As it is, I'll be reading the sequels to see how the story continues, but I stand by my words that this novel is much more appealing when it is showing off its games of ambiguity and morality than its plays at brutality and violence.
My conclusion: Divergent is a free-for-all book dependent entirely on a reader's specific tastes and expectations. There's just no way to go other than reading it for yourself and deciding your own stance on it. Like it or dislike it, you will definitely be able to admit one thing, at least: it's a book that's going to lead to a lot of interesting discussions among readers.
(Note (May 7, 2012): I know I'm in the minority with this book, but I thought a re-read might help me to warm up to some of the things I had disliked the first time around. However, I just couldn't finish reading it a second time. Most novels I liked can at least hold up during a re-read...but not so with this one. Thus, I felt the need to detract a star from my original three-star rating.)...more