Sarah Diemer just keeps sharpening her craft with each story I read from her. This short story, The Witch Sea, is no exception, for it boasts exquisitSarah Diemer just keeps sharpening her craft with each story I read from her. This short story, The Witch Sea, is no exception, for it boasts exquisite writing that rivals even some of the offerings in Diemer's longer works such as The Dark Wife and Sugar Moon. For those who have yet to read Diemer's work, I would say this short story is a great place to start. (If you need any more goading, the romance is between a witch and a selkie maiden... Can't say that isn't a hook in and of itself, right?)...more
What makes a five-star read? For some people, a five-star book might mean "near-perfection" in storytelling, characterization, plot, prose, pacing, thWhat makes a five-star read? For some people, a five-star book might mean "near-perfection" in storytelling, characterization, plot, prose, pacing, theme, and enjoyment. For me, however, a five-star read usually must have all of the following: a certain degree of uniqueness to the story's execution, great characters whom I come to love, a high level of enjoyability, and (most important of all) a story that grips me from beginning to end. If a book can grant me all of those things, then said book and I will undoubtedly have a wonderful reading courtship.
Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel was one such book.
Just a few hours ago, I honestly didn't expect Dust Girl to garner a five-star rating from me. My misgivings were many since fairy-centric books have become a bit of a tired trend in the past few years. How many times can we read about secret fey heritages, the Seelie and Unseelie Courts warring as only light and darkness can, and creatures of fairy tales and legends who are often just as horrific and monstrous as magical and mysterious? Added into the mix were an "American Fairies" spin and a setting of 1930's Kansas, two things that could have been downfalls if not executed properly. In a lesser writer's hands, Dust Girl might have been a disaster, a book full of good ideas that never met their full potential...but Sarah Zettel is definitely not a "lesser writer" since her book soared and broke through the barrier of my expectations.
In dust-ridden Slow Run, Kansas, day-to-day life is a struggle for Callie LeRoux. The dusty air clogs up her lungs and makes breathing nearly impossible at times; her "mad" mother refuses to leave the dying town all because of a long-ago promise that seems unlikely to be fulfilled; and her lack of a father is a detriment as well as a mark of scorn and judgment in society. As more and more people leave Slow Run, desperation clings to Callie. Will both she and her mother die in this abandoned town? But the dust is stirring with a changing wind to come...
Almost all the qualms I held about Dust Girl were thrown away as soon as I began reading. Callie's voice is sympathetic and realistic, tugging at the right heartstrings and making you care about this girl whose struggles are burdens upon her shoulders. The feel of the setting and time period is believable and vibrant as if Zettel had used a time machine to go back in time and take notes on just the right things to make her story's world grounded but not overbearing. Even before I reached the author's note at the end, I knew that a lot of time, care, and research had gone into making the historical aspects to this tale as true and honest as possible.
That's actually what I appreciated most about this story: its truth and honesty. Even with creatures and magic and otherworldliness present in the plot, the story is very grounded in portraying humanity and the struggles many people face while living in "normalcy." Though there are shades of optimism and idealism to the story, many of the characters have faced very real hardships such as poverty, abuse, hunger, ridicule, and judgment. I think it's a trend of our modern materialistic society that many historical fiction novels tend to follow middle- or upper-class people while forgetting or downplaying the great majority who often struggled to survive.
As for the fairies in this story, they are very much a presence (and even a threat) in this first installment, but I think this novel has only just grazed the surface of Zettel's American fairy mythology. Already the mythology feels familiar yet unique, with both light and dark factions of fairies as well as animal-spirit guides and creatures hiding in human skins. I definitely look forward to how the mythology will expand over the series and what the revelations will mean for Callie and her continuing adventures.
Though I know that I may end up being in the minority with my love for this book, I really hope that readers will give Dust Girl a try since it is so much more than a historical fiction novel or another spin on fairy lore. It's a journey, an account of a girl trying to survive and managing against all odds to bear the rough winds that life sends her way, and to me that's definitely the kind of story worth reading.
Note: I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley....more
Fantasy is my favorite genre, but oftentimes I find that fantasy tales are often too simplistic or too pretentious for my liking.Fantasy authors haveFantasy is my favorite genre, but oftentimes I find that fantasy tales are often too simplistic or too pretentious for my liking. Fantasy authors have the burdensome task of creating worlds and cultures that feel real and somewhat familiar but nonetheless offer a sense of danger, wonder, and excitement that few of us experience in our day-to-day lives. In the end, many fantasy novels don't sustain that balance of normalcy and humanity interwoven with the threads of fantasy...but Seraphina remarkably did.
Seraphina is a tale of dragons and intrigues, music and emotions, humanity and prejudices. Forty years prior, the age of knights battling dragons ended with a peace treaty between the queen of Goredd and the king of dragons. Now, dragons shift into human skins and live among humans...but the animosity between the two kinds is far from forgotten. Seraphina Dombegh copes with this world and keeps to her music even as she tries her best not to be noticed, for the dragons aren't the only ones with secrets to keep...
In the vein of novels from Gail Carson Levine, Megan Whalen Turner, and Tamora Pierce, the kind of fantasy represented here sings of both our world and another world quite different from our own. Religion here acts as either a comfort or simply tradition to the people who receive patron saints at their christening ceremonies; analytical minds respect studies and knowledge but have much to learn as far as the study of the heart goes; and bigotry leaks into actions due to lack of understanding and an overabundance of fear. Goredd is a well-realized fantasy world comprised of many flaws from our own societies yet many of the same fascinations as well; it's not hard to fall into the imagining that perhaps this place exists in another space and time.
Strong and believable world-building aside, the novel's finest strength lies in its namesake heroine, who ties the themes and emotions running throughout the novel all together within her own existence and journey. Seraphina is by no means perfect or "too good for her own good": she has flaws and makes (sometimes mortifying) mistakes. But she isn't the kind of character who remains stagnant or oblivious to her own shortcomings. Rather, she learns from them and grows because of her experiences. If anything, more heroines should be like Seraphina, whose growth over the course of the novel is anything but superficial.
Last but not least, the story is honestly enjoyable. It's not the kind of fantasy where you feel like a mere observer but rather an unseen companion to all the goings-on within Goredd. There are moments ripe for smiles and laughs, for surprise and gasps, for melancholy expressions and contemplation...and all of it is done in a straightforward yet thoughtful narrative that can't help but play with your heartstrings. Seraphina was all that for me and more, and I hope other readers will find treasures of thought within its pages just as I did.
I must offer fair warning, however: the ending is bittersweet in its own way...but mostly for the fact that, with Seraphina's release date of spring 2012, the wait for the sequel will be long indeed.
Note: I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley....more
Nearly sixteen and sheltered for much of her life by two overprotective guardians, Mirabelle Lively decides to take destiny into her own hands by runnNearly sixteen and sheltered for much of her life by two overprotective guardians, Mirabelle Lively decides to take destiny into her own hands by running away from home and to Beau Rivage, the site of her parents' deaths...and the place she has been strictly forbidden never to go. When Mirabelle arrives in Beau Rivage, she catches the attention of two brothers -- one prickly and hostile, the other kind and welcoming -- and finds herself caught up in the strange workings of a place she believes to be ordinary when it's anything but.
Honestly, I don't know how someone who's not familiar with the deeper themes of fairy tales (beyond the glossy veneer of Disney movie retellings and to the heart and bone of the original darker tales) will react to Sarah Cross's sophomore novel, Kill Me Softly. I could see many people becoming bored or disinterested in the story because they believe it's the "same old, same old" thing: untried and naive heroine who finds herself with a strange new destiny, check; the jerky boy who warns her to stay the hell away and who's not afraid to use force to do it, check; the understanding guy who swoops in and acts as the hero to the heroine's damsel-in-distress, check; the stirrings of romantic feelings in the span of hours and days instead of weeks and months, check; and a seeming love triangle in the making to stir up a lot of angst and drama among the characters, check. You want to believe that's all it is, don't you?
Well, I'm here to say, "Not so fast."
The preface alone promises that you shouldn't trust everything on the surface level:
Birthdays were wretched, delicious things when you lived in Beau Rivage. The clocks struck midnight, and presents gave way to magic.
Curses bloomed. [...]
Girls became victims and heroines.
Boys became lovers and murderers.
And sometimes . . . they became both.
Just like a true fairy tale, Kill Me Softly is so much more than what the surface would have you expect, and it is as much a mish-mash of fairy tale characters and themes as it is an examination and sometimes a deconstruction of many common fairy tale elements. What if you're locked into a fate you can't control? What if you try to fight against it, only to be forced into playing out your destiny by outside forces? What would that do to a person? Would you dread the inevitable, would you embrace your role wholeheartedly...or would you try to forge your own fate even though doing so might end up being pointless and fruitless?
I'm not going to lie: some readers are going to moan and groan as they follow Mirabelle, the protagonist. Why? One word: insta!love. (Cue groans all around.) I get it, really, since I'm usually the first on the "SAY NO TO INSTA!LOVE" train. But you know what? Even though Mira herself isn't aware of all the dangers of her insta!love journey, Sarah Cross as the writer obviously is. All the clues are there that Mira is thinking with the rose-colored glasses of infatuation for much of the story as she naively falls under the illusion of a "relationship." No reader is meant to believe that the "love" she finds is desirable. Instead, we're all meant to shake our heads in concern and pity as Mira ultimately stumbles into territory she isn't prepared to face. In truth, I couldn't help but be reminded of some of Angela Carter's fairy tale retellings as I read Mira's (sometimes upsetting, sometimes heartbreaking) story.
To focus merely on Mira and the insta!love, however, slightly takes away from the messages and themes of the story itself. I love that Cross questions the workings of fate and "true love" in the wrappings of fairy tale destinies. You have a Snow White who looks in the mirror every day and hates being told, "You're beautiful," because her growing beauty spells the quickening pace of her story becoming reality; you have a Beauty who knows who her Beast will be and loathes the very idea of saving him from himself; and you have a prince who has waited for his princess all his life even though he seems more interested in "playing the hero" than in hearing whether or not his princess wants him the same way. Through Mira's narrative, Cross explores all these stories and more and shows them in their good lights -- and their bad.
Aside from how much food-for-thought this novel gave me (since I love fairy tales and exploring their themes), I thoroughly enjoyed Kill Me Softly. I smiled as I read and imagined certain scenes; I laughed at the witty banter and interplay among the characters; I groaned as scenes developed in ways I hadn't quite anticipated or wanted; and I choked up during a few scenes, especially towards the end when -- just like in a real fairy tale -- all hope seemed to have been lost and heartbreak assured. It was the kind of reading experience that embraced me and wouldn't let me go until I had finished.
Overall, my verdict is, quite simply, that I loved Kill Me Softly, flaws and all. I don't know how other readers will fare with it, but I would recommend it to fairy-tale enthusiasts (probably the same ones who are enjoying ABC's Once Upon a Time at the moment). And I can only hope that Sarah Cross will revisit Beau Rivage in subsequent novels and follow other characters in their attempts to change their fairy-tale fates.
(Note: I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.)...more
Angelfall. It's pretty amazing how one self-published novel could spread like wildfire through the Goodreads community in only a matter of days...andAngelfall. It's pretty amazing how one self-published novel could spread like wildfire through the Goodreads community in only a matter of days...and for the right reasons and not excuses for snark-ridden reviews. There's been a lot of gushing about this book (and some thoughtful criticism as well), so I can't say I'll add anything new to the conversation or word of mouth about this book. But I promised a review, so here it is.
To be honest, reading Angelfall left me in a daze, and I rated it in my dazed state, ready to join the gushing factions and say, "Yes, yes, yes, you need to read it NOW! DO IT NOW, I SAY, OR I'LL SEND THE ANGELS AFTER YOU!" Five stars seemed so appropriate a rating since (a) I really, really enjoyed it and (b) it handled the premise of ambiguous angels in an apocalyptic setting so very, very well. But I didn't rush to write an uber-positive review as I normally do with five-star reads. I let it sit and mulled over my thoughts.
There's no doubt in my mind that Angelfall is very readable and enjoyable, and with it comes a great commercial appeal akin to what made novels like The Hunger Games and even Twilight so popular with legions of YA readers. Angelfall takes something we think we know -- the concept of angels -- and adds new layers and dimensions to them for fictional purposes. I mean, has anyone recently had the guts to write agnostic angels in fiction? Or non-fallen angels not wholly intent on following divine will and purpose? It's mind-boggling simply because no YA author has yet tackled such ideas. Susan Ee has bragging rights for this and may she sue the hell out of any author, self-published or traditionally published, who tries to jump on the bandwagon by "borrowing" her ideas, so of course we YA readers are a little awed by it all.
But. But, at the end of the day, Angelfall is a novel full of so much potential that isn't always wielded to best effect. I'm not saying this novel would have fared better through traditional means (on the contrary, I think it would have gone through edits and rewrites that would have left it without much of the charm and ingenuity it contains in self-published format), but I think that Ee has yet to expand her novel's world and characters to all their potential. This isn't a criticism so much as this thought: "Since she started her story this well, I hope she will keep improving with each novel she writes." There are some authors whom I can be assured of such a thing, but Ee is still new to me and I'm distrustful by nature. I can only hope that the Penryn & the End of Days series will be one that continues to soar and does not eventually crash into the pit of "good series gone bad." Luckily, Angelfall leaves me with enough optimism to say that my pessimistic imagining will likely not occur.
All I can say as I end this review is that I recommend Angelfall for all the things it does well and that I am ecstatically looking forward to owning my own paperback copy of the novel sometime soon. I'll be crossing my fingers and hoping that the majority of you will enjoy it....more
It seems fitting that I devoured Prized on Valentine's Day as if it were a box of chocolate -- but this book was so much better than chocolate to me.
IIt seems fitting that I devoured Prized on Valentine's Day as if it were a box of chocolate -- but this book was so much better than chocolate to me.
I don't think a book in recent memory has made me dread or hope as much as this one did.
Prized made my heart a knotted mess, and then slowly -- painfully -- the knots began to untangle and leave me even more stricken.
This book and its predecessor Birthmarked are so much more than run-of-the-mill YA dystopian novels. They are rife with important topics (and even some criticisms): the merit of choice for women, their bodies, and their love lives; the shades of sexism that can lead to one sex dominating over the other; and the truth that difficult circumstances ultimately try who you are, what you believe, and who you will become.
I love Gaia, the heroine, for being a confused sixteen-year-old who is still more sensible, honest, and free-willed than most heroines in YA today.
I love Leon, the hero, for not being the "perfect guy," the be-all-and-end-all for Gaia. He has deep layers and dark shades, but he is not the "bad boy" stereotype many of us have come to loathe.
I love that their romance is sometimes difficult, sometimes easy, yet always passionate.
I love the story for speaking out about so many important things in quiet and subtle ways.
And I love Caragh O'Brien for giving me these books that I'll want to devour again and again. Please keep challenging me, making me ponder, making me fall in love with your characters in both their good moments and their bad. You even have permission to break my heart with your words and your characters (as you did with this installment), so long as you offer enough hope for me to piece my heart back together again.
I wait with an anxious (and dread- and hope-filled) heart for the third book, Promised, and can only hope that the characters I have come to love will reach the places they need to be....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
Stories often begin with 'Once upon a time,' or 'Once there was--' charming lines that imply a fairy tale. Our story starts with wolves in the woods,Stories often begin with 'Once upon a time,' or 'Once there was--' charming lines that imply a fairy tale. Our story starts with wolves in the woods, and--by degrees--gets worse.
This tale, as you can imagine, is not the charming sort.
I beg to differ about the "not the charming sort" wording: rather, Once Upon a Hallow's Eve: A Halloween Fairy Tale is very charming....more
My first thoughts after finishing Ward Against Death:Oh my goodness, I loved this book so much, but now I have to wait a wh(Actual Rating: 4.5 stars)
My first thoughts after finishing Ward Against Death:Oh my goodness, I loved this book so much, but now I have to wait a while for the sequel to meet these characters again. Darn it, I read this too fast!
Ward Against Death, debut novel from Melanie Card, is the kind of book that should make a first-time novelist proud. Great main characters, awesome world-building, gripping plot, suspense, action, humor. . .whatever could go wrong here? All of those elements, when mixed well in just the right doses, hold so much potential to make a story great. . .and Ward Against Death was pretty darn great in my eyes.
The cover isn't the best representative of this book. If I were to have passed this book in a bookstore, I would likely have turned my nose up at it because it looks like a paranormal romance trying to appeal to the YA crowd by having two younger people on the cover. . .but this book isn't paranormal or even romance -- at least not in the traditional or expected ways. No, this book. . .this book is wonderful, honest-to-goodness fantasy in a realm all its own.
The story centers on Edward de'Ath, a.k.a. Ward, a bumbling twenty-year old necromancer with questionable powers. Don't let his scholarly appearance and naïveté fool you, though: he's actually been on the wrong side of the law quite a few times, to the point that he was even kicked out of the Physician's Academy. Though his main goal is to become a surgeon (an illegal profession in his world), he works a side-job of waking the dead for temporary periods -- and one such job is how he meets Celia, a nobleman's beautiful but dead daughter who claims she is in danger and must get out of her father's house. What's a poor necromancer to do?
Honestly, I loved Ward because of his struggles as a character. When we meet him in the story, he's such an unsure hero, a strange mixture of Ichabod Crane and Edmond Dantes blended with the characteristics of a scholar, a necromancer, and a physician. (Yes, he's that fun of a character. And he knows his stuff too!) Personally, I've always liked reading about characters who slowly grow into themselves and realize their potential and strength over a period of time. That kind of slow and steady growth makes their adventures and journeys so much more fulfilling. From this first novel, I can definitely say that Ward's adventures and journeys will be very fulfilling as he continues to grow and become as a character.
On the flip side, Celia was. . .well, to put it bluntly, badass. Expect her to be a damsel in distress? Expect her to be a whiner as she waits around for Ward to do all the work? Hah! No, believe me, she is definitely more akin to Buffy than Bella Swan! And what a relief that was to me! Prior to reading the novel, I fully expected to dislike Celia (since the blurb for the book doesn't really paint her in the best light), but she too grows throughout the novel. Yes, she has her flaws, but she doesn't stay stagnant and stubborn as many flawed characters often do.
The best thing I can say about these two as they grow into being a pair is that they bring out better in each other. Ward's strength solidifies after a bit of time under Celia's influence -- and Celia's cold hard-edged personality begins to soften and chip away into a different kind of power that shows care and compassion for another human being. The "romance" between them is much more a companionship born out of necessity, though chemistry and attraction weasel their ways into Ward and Celia's interactions. The back and forth banter between the two offers some of the best moments in the book -- so, yes, there is substance in this potential relationship.
This story's world in and of itself is a surprisingly rich and potentially fascinating creation. The world-building sometimes even showed a certain Tamora Pierce-esque flair due to the inclusion of a creator Goddess, a branched magic system, intrigues between humans and magic users, and even a certain level of prejudice coming from various areas (examples: nobles looking down on commoners, magic users looking down on necromancers, physicians looking down on surgeons, etc.). The various social norms for this world were even more on display since the hero and heroine themselves are rather "quirky" in their roles and their ideas of who they truly want to be. This world has so much potential, so I really hope that in future installments Card will really delve even more so into showing off her creation in all its shades and ambiguities.
As a storyteller, Card still has areas to hammer out in regards to her narrative -- repetitions in phrasing, drawn-out character ignorance, sudden solutions and lightbulb moments that teeter on the edge of deus ex machina -- but she presents such a very good package with this novel that it's so easy to overlook the flaws. The ending in and of itself felt a bit rushed (thus the reason why my five-star reading experience was knocked down to an official rating of four stars); I wish the last two chapters could have been expanded a bit for exposition's sake. What started out as a strong book ended not with the bang I had been expecting but rather a whisper. However, the story is a solid one that keeps you engrossed and intrigued, if only because of the characters and the questions of what their fates will be.
Needless to say, I am eagerly anticipating any and all sequels, so keep them coming, Ms. Card. I will be reading.
Now the question is, dear Goodreader, will you come along for at least the ride to be offered in this first installment, Ward Against Death? I very much hope you will consider it.
Note: I received an advanced copy from the publisher through NetGalley....more
Sugar Moon by Sarah Diemer is one of those books that had every potential for me to fall in love with it. Magic! Witches! Magic markets! SupernaturalSugar Moon by Sarah Diemer is one of those books that had every potential for me to fall in love with it. Magic! Witches! Magic markets! Supernatural creatures! Good and evil! As it is, this novella was really rather wonderful -- but I couldn't help the feeling that it was an idea that could have used with some more flesh and exposition.
The story follows a Maja (a witch who believes in a Goddess whose only command is to love) named Elise who lives a lonely life, traveling in her bandyloo (akin to a gypsy caravan) and bringing magic to other people's lives even as her own life seems devoid of it. The Moon Market, a gathering held among the Maja, is one of her only opportunities to socialize, and her brother Tom urges her to find a companion, as it is unnatural for any grown Maja to be alone.
But Elise has more concerns than just finding love, as sightings of the Fevered -- mysterious creatures who lurk almost as shadows blotting out the landscape -- remind her of the terrible past she thought had been laid to rest.
I'll be the first to admit that Sugar Moon offered me a very fascinating world, but the story didn't seem to rely on its unique elements -- the Moon Market, the various social groups/divisions within this world, even the true danger of the Fevered -- as much as it could have. Instead, the story is very much an internal account, the narrative drawn tightly around Elise and her own experiences.
The story in this first installment focuses on Elise meeting her love interest, Via, and then being sent on a journey to help banish the Fevered once and for all. However much I enjoyed the world within this novel, I can't say I enjoyed the romance -- one that's built on a mystic bond rather than companionship over a period of time -- as much as I should have. Though the nature of such a relationship fit into the world of this story, I'm not romantic enough to say I can ever back "insta-love" (made famous by many YA paranormal books), which to me never seems as true as love built from time and experience. Of course, other readers will likely find charm in such a pair twined together by fate, so take this reviewer's gripe with a grain of salt.
As always, Sarah Diemer's writing is just lovely. Though her stories thrive on characters rather than plot, she has such a way of weaving words that the reading experience is wonderful even without action-centric moments or plot twists and revelations within the narrative. It's easy to imagine your way into this world Diemer has crafted, and that in and of itself is a hard feat for any writer to manage.
However much I wished it would have been longer and deeper, Sugar Moon is a very solid fantasy novella built on whimsical moments, pretty prose, and vibrant emotions. Here's hoping that the sequel, Marrow Moon, will be just as engaging while also fleshing out even more of this magical world....more
Confession: before this year, I never read much science fiction. Why? Well, the genre is very convoluted to me, a person who is much more fantasy-orieConfession: before this year, I never read much science fiction. Why? Well, the genre is very convoluted to me, a person who is much more fantasy-oriented than science fiction-oriented.
However, I have to say that, if more sci-fi writers wrote like Phoebe North, I would be much more inclined to pick up sci-fi novels. She brings to mind the lush writing of Ursula K. Le Guin, except with a much more accessible flair.
Vadix, the alien character in this short story, is a longing, wanting soul. He wants to be with his mate, Velsa, but his studies come first. In a world where mating is as much of a necessity as it is a "recreational activity," Vadix and Velsa, who put their academic goals first, are seen as strange by their siblings and peers -- but still they continue on their paths even as a strange star looming overhead threatens to change their futures entirely beyond what they could imagine. . .
I can't wait to read more about Vadix and his future. There is just so much potential for a great story to unfold.
So, yes, you should read it because it's free and awesome. My prediction? Phoebe North may just revolutionize science fiction for young adults....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
The capaill uisce plunged down the sand, skirmishing and bucking, shaking the sea form out of their manes and the Atlantic from their hooves. They scrThe capaill uisce plunged down the sand, skirmishing and bucking, shaking the sea form out of their manes and the Atlantic from their hooves. They screamed back to the others still in the water, high wails that raised the hair on my arms. They were swift and deadly, savage and beautiful. The horses were giants, at once the ocean and the island, and that was when I loved them.
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater is a difficult novel to describe: it is one-part race novel, one-part horse appreciation tale, and one-part coming-of-age journey with dashes of horror and magic and just a tiny pinch of romance. It has all the materials to be a great and unforgettable tale...but somehow the pieces never come together quite exactly as it feels they should.
Every November, the small island of Thisby becomes a tourist trap as curious people travel to see a daring spectacle: the Scorpio Races, an event in which people ride upon capaill uisce, deadly water horses with bloodthirsty habits and madness when faced with the place of their origins, the ocean. No one is ever guaranteed to walk away from the race alive; death has become an all too common occurrence among these island folk.
It's such an intriguing, exciting concept...but honestly the horrific outcomes involving the water horses are only a small part of this novel. The true core of the story is much more simple and common yet nonetheless powerful: ties to family, home, animals, and dreams are the real driving forces of what make this story less of a letdown and more of a win. Though the story has flaws and pacing issues, it does have a lot of charm with its focus on the ties that bind.
However, that same slice-of-life focus is also one of the novel's most noticeable flaws: the story and leave long stretches of time with just build-up and development. Some readers may come away feeling a bit cheated because the title does not quite live up to its promise with the word "races". Instead of offering a war cry when it came to the main event, The Scorpio Races gives whispers and mutters. For me, the meaningful end to the tale more than made up for its beginning blunders and missteps, but I know that others may not end up feeling the same.
Overall, I found The Scorpio Races to be a novel that rather subverted its own promise. I came into the story expecting a tale of horror and gore; instead, I received a thought-provoking look into the life of a small island bound to tradition and magic. In the end, I was happy with the exchange. I can only hope that other readers will have a similar reading experience....more
(Note: Goodreads friends and followers, you know me by now. You know that, even as much as I love a book, my reviews aren't always a resounding, "Oh m(Note: Goodreads friends and followers, you know me by now. You know that, even as much as I love a book, my reviews aren't always a resounding, "Oh my goodness, you need to READ THIS NOW! YOUR LIFE WILL BE SO MUCH FULLER BECAUSE OF IT!" I'm not that naive or arrogant to think that the books I love will be the books you love. Instead, my reviews are...chronicles of the experiences I had with books, and if that can help you decide whether certain books will be for you or not, then I'll be all the happier. However, sometimes I am a gushing mess with books I love, and I don't note the flaws present. I will try to be mindful of this tendency of mine as I write this review.)
Hope is hugging me, holding me in its arms, wiping away my tears and telling me that today and tomorrow and two days from now I will be just fine and I'm so delirious I actually dare to believe it.
Two years ago, I had my first experience with a young adult dystopian novel: Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games. I fell in love with the characters, found myself fascinated yet horrified by the circumstances of the world, and became invested in a wonderful story that still makes me feel a tangle of emotions to this day. In some respects, Tahereh Mafi's Shatter Me gave me some of the same emotions I had back then as I stayed up to the wee hours of the morning just to read what happened next to Katniss, Peeta, and everyone else. Shatter Me left me expectant, worried, and intrigued with every page I turned. It was a stressful reading experience, definitely, but all the stress I felt was pent-up through the heroine, Juliette.
Juliette, you see, hasn't been touched for 264 days. Inside of her is a curse gift that brings deathdeathdeath agony to anyone she touches, and this strange ability has led to her being locked away in an asylum. Isolation takes its toll on Juliette, and her only real solace is writing away in a notebook and spinning phrases in such a way that they seem overwrought and not entirely rational or "normal." Then the unthinkable occurs: Juliette is given a cellmate, and everything she thought she knew begins to expand and spin out of her control entirely.
Shatter Me is a dystopian novel but, unlike others of the genre, the novel is less about external conflict (though there is some of that; it wouldn't be a novel if there weren't) and more about internal conflict. To make my meaning more clear, let me explain with a comparison: one of my friends recently directed me to a script called Maggie about a teenage girl bitten by a zombie and her slow change into one of the undead. What do zombies and one girl's transformation into one have to do with this novel? Because that script is about a big idea (zombie infestation worldwide) narrowed down to a character (Maggie) and her experiences. In some ways, Shatter Me, is much like that: it's about a big idea (a dystopian world headed by a secretive totalitarian government), but instead it focuses on one character's role in it (Juliette). Given how so many writers focus on the "big ideas" and sacrifice deep characterization because of it, I was very happy with the way this first novel developed, driven by Juliette and her ramblings thoughts.
Another hurdle of this novel is the prose, something that I feel will probably alienate many readers since...it's not exactly typical to read novels with lines like I'm catapulted across the room by my own fear or My mouth freezes in place. Also, the strike-outs may become a teensy-bit annoying to some readers. As for my experience, I was surprised: the prose didn't bother me. It actually reminded me of a verse novel (which, I know, many people don't like...but I find some of them very lovely, albeit a bit thin plot-wise). And it also helped that the prose fit the character. Juliette is an isolated girl, left alone with nothing but her own thoughts and words. Her thoughts, eccentric and detailed as they are, are coping mechanisms. The words help her to distance herself from her situation, and even after her life begins to brighten she still relies on her old habits of describing things and actions in an unnatural way. What would have bothered me is if Juliette hadn't seemed a bit "different" after spending so much time alone. Then I would have thought her a robot, and the story would not have drawn me in nearly as much.
The hero, Adam, and the antagonist, Warner, also managed to get my heartstrings all tangled. I couldn't help noting some of the sweetness and tenderness I had seen in Peeta Mellark's character within Adam Kent. In contrast, Warner...is a sadistic bastard of a character, but his obsession with Juliette and her powers is as sorrowful as it is pitiful and disturbing. Though a part of me dreads the love triangle already beginning to form, a greater part of me finds the dynamics fascinating since Adam and Warner are two opposite ends of the spectrum. One is heroic and kind; the other is cruel and nearly mad during certain moments. Even though it's a no-brainer who the "right" choice is, one must wonder how this will all play out if Juliette begins to look at herself as a monster again.
I'm not going to lie: the direction this novel takes is familiar yet still a bit surprising. When I opened this book, I hadn't known what to expect...but, near the end, I found myself at a complete one-eighty from what I had first expected. That in and of itself is a good thing, so I'm hoping that the rest of the trilogy will continue to bring surprises to the table. With the ending, I actually felt that I had a glimpse of what Tahereh Mafi had been hoping to accomplish with this novel. It's an origins story of transformation and healing amid darkness, despair, and loneliness.
The only major thing that irked me a little in this first novel was that the lack of other female characters was...quite noticeable. It gets a tad annoying that all the other characters (who matter) are boys in this first installment. No matter how strong Juliette becomes as a character, somehow it will feel a little lacking if she's the lone girl amid adoring males. I love strong heroines even more when they have a few other strong females around them. As much as I really enjoyed this first installment, my reading experiences with the next two novels may be hindered as far as enjoyment goes if Juliette remains the one girl who matters in the story.
Mixed though the opinions may be about this novel, Shatter Me really surprised me with its take on the dystopian genre, narrative style, and characterization. I look forward to seeing what will happen as the story progresses throughout the trilogy, so here's hoping the ride will continue to be exhilarating to me as a reader. As for whether you should try this one for yourself...I advise making use of preview chapters before committing to read the entire novel. Shatter Me isn't going to be for everyone, but I hope that it will find the readers who will appreciate and savor it for what it is and be able to ignore the flaws that may hamper full enjoyment of this novel....more
I turn around now, and see them laughing, but unlike Beethoven, I could already hear them. I always knew they were there. Be(Actual Rating: 4.5 stars)
I turn around now, and see them laughing, but unlike Beethoven, I could already hear them. I always knew they were there. Behind me. Even this whole year, when I didn't see them, I always knew they were there.
The lack of surprise doesn't make it any less awesome. Because I get a different revelation now, better than Beethoven's. I'm in love. . .with my stupid, fallen-apart family.
Chase "Everboy" McGill lives for the summers he spends with his family in their summer home by the beach. Rather than feel fulfilled by the other dozens of weeks in the year, Chase defines himself and his family by summer because, to him, summer holds the most meaning, the most answers, the most everything. Summer is the constant even while his life changes and spins out of his control. Spread over four consequent summers in Chase's life, Invincible Summer embodies everything there is to love about summer -- and everything there is to mourn about it too.
Just as summer is a constant, Chase's family are his constants, his crutches, his rocks, his burdens. His parents try to hide their marital tension for the sake of upholding the summer goal of vacation and relaxation. His older brother Noah disappears as he pleases as a way to tear himself away from the weakness of caring too much about his family. Younger sister Claudia is forever trying to act older than her age, wearing bikinis and make-up and trying to flirt and seduce in equal measures, while younger brother Gideon lives his life without the aid of hearing.
Then there are the Hathaways, their summer neighbors, who are also constants in and of themselves: beautiful Melinda who quotes Albert Camus and eyes both Chase and Noah at different times; wily boy Shannon who hopes that the Hathaway and McGill clans will join through marriage someday; and sweet Bella who has a crush on Chase.
There are just so many things to love about this book. The characters. The prose. The story. The intensity and uncertainty of youth. The unpredictable quality of life itself. Even the Camus quotes, which could have been high-handed or (at worst) completely unnecessary, somehow just fit so well.
Chase's story isn't a fun one -- or, at least, it's not this ideal 'picture perfect summer' story. Pain, regret, resentment, and bitterness all play a part in this tale, but that's life. Life can be so many things just as this book is so many things.
While I can't say this book was perfect, it meant something to me. It resonated. It spoke. It voiced so many things so eloquently and powerfully.
Take it from me: Invincible Summer is worth the time to read. You will feel nostalgic for your own summers of fun and regret. You will close your eyes and recall a time when life was simpler but not necessarily better -- but your perspective was different. You were young, you were invincible, you were everything. Summer was everything and more.
Read this book. Remember those days. You may learn something from the reading and remembering....more
Note: I am sorry to everyone reading this, but this book doesn't come out until April 17th, 2012. However, if you can get your hands on an early revieNote: I am sorry to everyone reading this, but this book doesn't come out until April 17th, 2012. However, if you can get your hands on an early reviewer copy, please read it. And everyone else who doesn't, mark your calendars for April 2012. I can almost guarantee you won't regret giving this book a try.
What I didn't expect was to fall so hard for the story, the characters, and the prose. This book is beautiful in a way that few books are. It is raw on emotion without being angsty; it is deep without feeling contrived; and at times it is sweet without being saccharine. Storytelling is a difficult balance to maintain, but this book had a wonderful flow to it even though the characters were experiencing upheaval both emotionally and mentally.
Gone, Gone, Gone is set in Maryland a year after September 11th, 2001, and centers around the time of the D.C. sniper shootings. Now, I don't know about anyone else living outside of the D.C. area, but I knew about the sniper shootings even though I lived all the way in Chicago. The events that unfolded cast shadows across state lines. Each new report from the national media left a sense of dread in my stomach: If that can happen there, then what's stopping it from happening here? That kind of thought imprints its own sense of paranoia into the trappings of everyday life, so I could only imagine how those living in or around D.C. felt at the time. But Hannah Moskowitz's novel didn't allow me to just imagine; it made me feel and fear right alongside the characters.
Lest I make you think that Gone, Gone, Gone is a typical 'message' book, it isn't. It also contains a very solid romantic element that gives flesh and heart to the bones of the plot. Craig is a fifteen-year old boy who takes in stray animals to cope with the emptiness and helplessness he feels for not being able to 'fix' a boy who mattered to him. Lio is a fifteen-year old boy who survived cancer even though his twin brother died of it. Both boys have issues, flaws, and emotional strains aplenty -- but they find some solace in one another for reasons they will not or cannot admit to themselves.
To say the friendship between Craig and Lio is bittersweet is an understatement. At times when I was reading this novel, I really wanted to shake Craig by the shoulders and shout at him, "What the hell are you doing?! You are ruining everything!" Their developing relationship tugged at my heartstrings, melted my heart at times, and even made me smile. What a rare thing! The progression of the romance was realistic in that perfect, awkward, unsure way that all teenage relationships seem to have -- and I loved every minute of it because it made the story ring even more truly (even though it frustrated me to no end when I just wanted to push the boys together and say, "Kiss, dang it!").
Overall, I was just really amazed and impressed by Gone, Gone, Gone because it was one of those books that just got to me in a way that few things do. I am really hoping that most people who read this book will have that same feeling as they come away from this story, but there's only one way for you to know for sure: READ IT....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 came to the conclusion a while ago that there is nothing romantic or supernatural about loving someone: Love is the privilege of being responsible fI came to the conclusion a while ago that there is nothing romantic or supernatural about loving someone: Love is the privilege of being responsible for another. [my favorite quote from Zombicorns]
What a way to get me depressed AND force me to think. For being a novella of only about 70 pages, Zombicorns was very thought-provoking indeed. You might not think much of such a satirically titled work, but it's definitely worth at least a peek. (I can guarantee that you will be hooked enough to at least finish it.)
Now, my only gripe is this: I may be a nerd, but I'm not a John Green-type nerd. Some of the things in his works totally whiz over my head and straight into the sky. I don't know about anyone else, but I don't like feeling stupid when I read books or stories. I like learning while reading, but I definitely do not like something being thrown at me that I obviously wouldn't know. John Green has a tendency to do that in his writing, thus giving it a superior tone that I don't know if he intends or not. (His main characters tend to believe themselves superior in some ways, though, so. . .it may be intentional in one respect.)
Some questions I couldn't help but ponder while reading this novella:
(1) Why wasn't this included in the anthology Zombies vs. Unicorns? I get that it was written primarily for charity at first, but STILL. I think this short story would have fit nicely since its tone was much like the stories Scott Westerfeld and Libba Bray had offered in said anthology.
(2) Why was the title Zombicorns? Was that meant to appeal to people who had read the above anthology I mentioned? Or was the title meant to be deeper than one might think, telling that the story merged violence (zombies) and innocence (unicorns) together? (Actually, the story was more about inception of violence and loss of innocence -- but you'd realize that if you read it.)
(3) Why did John Green call this a 'bad zombie apocalypse novella'? Excuse me, way to insult my intelligence. If this is stupid to you, then I'd hate for you to read some of the things I write that I call 'stupid little nothings.' (Said writings will never see the light of day even after hundreds of revisions, by the way.) I get that about trying to be humble -- but too much is too much.
(You're getting the impression that I dislike John Green, aren't you? Well -- I don't, but I can't say I'm a fan yet either even though I own all of his novels. I'm on the fence about what I think about him as a writer even though I think he's bloody brilliant with short stories.)
(And, yes, I realize that I'm giving way too many back-handed compliments. I do that with writers I'm on the fence about. You should read what I say about Stephenie Meyer and L.J. Smith.)
Anyway. . .all I can say is that this is definitely worth a read (especially since it is now FREE), so do so at your reading pleasure and leisure. Enjoy....more
I loved this book (as much as or even more so than Moskowitz's latest novel Gone, Gone, Gone), and now I wish I had mates who were young enough at heaI loved this book (as much as or even more so than Moskowitz's latest novel Gone, Gone, Gone), and now I wish I had mates who were young enough at heart to play a few rounds of Zombie Tag with me....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
(This novel tore my heart out and then handed it back to me, all the while giving a sad but sheepish smile. My love for this book is probably not enti(This novel tore my heart out and then handed it back to me, all the while giving a sad but sheepish smile. My love for this book is probably not entirely rational, but I will attempt to write a coherent review that doesn't descend into gushing and babbling.)
I'm not always certain why some books affect me more than others. Sometimes I think a few of them merely catch me at the right times and places, hitting me when I'm emotionally weak or mentally exhausted. Then, when I look back at the reviews I've written, I often think, "Okay, jog my memory. Why did this book affect me so much, and why did I rate it so highly?"
In a few months' time, I hope that thought won't creep into my head when I think of Brenna Yovanoff's sophomore novel, The Space Between, a darkly beautiful story about demons and mortals, grief and pain, healing and redemption. Here and now, I know exactly why it pierced my heart and left me so moved: the novel, despite being filled with supernatural and otherworldly elements, spoke of honesty and humanity...and it didn't hold back a shred when it came to the painful and heartbreaking bits. But it wasn't cruel in its execution because it still nonetheless offered hope, a kind whisper that said, "Everything may not be all right now, but it can get better. Just wait and see. You'll never know if you don't give your life a chance."
I know those words well, but even when I'm faced with them I don't always believe in their truth. There have been so many times in my life when I've felt like skidding to a halt, digging my heels into the dirt, and saying, "No, this is too much. I can't take it anymore. Just give me some peace already." But I didn't always think it out of grief or pain or depression. Sometimes I thought it simply out of boredom, out of the dread of continued monotony in my colorless life, out of the terrifying thought that this may be all my life will ever be. Those dark days, however, are like unruly elements: I may have weeks of overcast skies, some days with pouring rain and lightning-torn clouds, but they eventually pass...even as I secretly harbor the fear that the day may come that the clouds never recede. With those experiences of mine, I read this book with an open heart that managed to resonate with these characters and their own emotions, all jagged edges and unfulfilled hopes and disquieting fears.
The Space Between follows a girl and a boy, two strangers embroiled in the dark (and sometimes deadly) matters of hell, heaven, and earth. In Pandemonium (the city of demons, otherwise known as Hell), Daphne is a bored girl, the daughter of Lucifer and Lilith, who finds comfort in the familiarity of her surroundings but gleans no true happiness from it. On the mortal plane, Truman is a teenage boy, teetering on the edge of self-destruction as the waters of grief pull him down more and more each day. These two, who otherwise would never have known of each other's existence, meet in one haunting moment, leading them through a series of seemingly unconnected events that draw them closer to one another...and toward inevitability.
Brenna Yovanoff's take on demons (and angels) is unique yet still faithful to various mythologies, beliefs, and legends. Though I'm usually always wary when it comes to any angel/demon fiction these days, I knew as soon as I read Yovanoff's gorgeous prologue – telling the tale of Lilith through the narration of Daphne – that I never should have worried. Yovanoff has done her research, all the while adding her own personal flair to the familiar names (like Beelzebub, Azrael, etc.) and elements found in demon mythos.
As usual with Yovanoff's work, her writing is stunning, and I found myself rereading passages and contemplating them even though I always felt the need to turn the pages to find out what happened next in the plot. But her writing is not simply "pretty prose": instead, her words bear weight and meaning due to the characters, their struggles, and their emotions. No one should ever accuse Yovanoff of having lifeless prose, for hers is some of the most honest I've ever read.
As for the story itself...I found myself surprised and twisted and turned quite a bit throughout the novel, and I would have been disappointed if there hadn't been surprises (and some sucker-punched moments) in store for me while I read. There were plenty of scenes that tugged at my heart and drew sighs (and even some tears) from me. It was sometimes very much a painful reading experience for all the emotion of it, but I felt relieved (and a bit elated) once I finished. However, even as I read that final page, I knew I would miss the characters, their world, and everything this novel had offered me. That in and of itself says enough about how I felt about this story, don't you think?
Now that I've gotten all my gushing out, I am sad to say that The Space Between won't be for everyone, but I urge anyone who's interested in it to give it a try. Daphne and Truman may even manage to win your heart just as they did with mine....more
Authors like Melina Marchetta leave me in an uncomfortable position. As a reader, I'm overjoyed to read books such as hers since they challenge my minAuthors like Melina Marchetta leave me in an uncomfortable position. As a reader, I'm overjoyed to read books such as hers since they challenge my mind, make me smile and gape alike, and steal away pieces of my heart. As a writer, however, Marchetta's books...intimidate me. Never before have I read work from an author that just keeps getting better and better with each successive novel (and those who have read Marchetta's debut novel, Looking for Alibrandi, know that she has never been even a mediocre writer). I don't know what it is about Marchetta, but it always seems to me as if she is raising the bar higher and higher for herself with each book she writes. It's such an impressive thing that I'm left envious and awed, my writer self and my reader self at war with one another, but one thing is shared between my two halves: the utter respect and admiration for Melina Marchetta as a driving force in young adult literature, whether it be contemporary, fantasy, or any genre she chooses to write.
Froi of the Exiles, the sequel to Marchetta's first fantasy novel Finnikin of the Rock and book two of the Lumatere Chronicles, is quite honestly her finest novel to date. The novel is hefty at just about 600 pages, but the pages fly by as you start to read and immerse yourself in the land of Skuldenore with its various kingdoms vying for power, plotting to conquer, or just struggling to survive.
The wonderful thing about Marchetta's fantasy writing is that she never loses focus on two key things that are necessary to make any fantasy story succeed: high-stakes intrigues to keep readers captivated and a sense of honest humanity to the world and characters, so much so that readers find themselves empathetic to the characters in both the light and dark moments. Marchetta's "good" characters are just as flawed and conflicted as any villains to be found, adding a very realistic shade of gray to anyone and anything in this fantasy story.
No character is more gray than the hero, Froi, first introduced in Finnikin of the Rock as an ex-slave boy who often acted more foe than friend. Though Froi is much reformed when we meet him at the start of this second novel, set three years after the first, there is still a darkness following him, one that he recognizes and fights to keep at bay even as he works for the still-recovering kingdom of Lumatere. But there is something brewing in the kingdom of Charyn, something that may prove deadly for anyone involved with the cursed land...
To say that Froi of the Exiles ups the ante from its predecessor is an understatement: Marchetta is in top form with this novel, the threads of the plot seemingly appearing haphazard or inconsequential at first, only to come back later to play in surprising and astounding ways. Nothing is "meaningless" in this novel; everything has its purpose, whether for plot or character development.
No matter how tightly plotted, however, this novel would have been a failure if not for the characters -- characters who feel so strongly and so deeply that they feel like flesh-and-blood incarnations simply because their emotions are so palpable. The whole cast of characters are what make this novel so different, so human, compared to stale fantasy worlds and archetypes to be found en masse in hundreds of other novels out there. To be honest, this novel made me want to weep not just for the characters...but because of the plot, the words, the utter talent there must be to craft such an amazing story that holds so much depth and soul to it.
This book is a wonderful testament to the fact that truly dedicated and talented authors do not need to be tied by the bounds of genre to create all manner of stories that sing and make readers' hearts ache. For those reasons and more, Froi of the Exiles is definitely the best book I've read in 2011 and one that I would recommend to anyone who wanted a more realistic shade of fantasy....more