I could have sworn I'd reviewed this book. I could have sworn I'd at least added it to my 'read' shelf! Either I'm crazy or Goodreads ate the review,I could have sworn I'd reviewed this book. I could have sworn I'd at least added it to my 'read' shelf! Either I'm crazy or Goodreads ate the review, which is all entirely possible.
Either way, I'm sort of glad that I hadn't reviewed this book directly after I'd read it, because the review would have been a very different one. I'd had some time to dwell on the writing, the story and Valente as a writer and have come to some conclusions that I didn't immediately see when I'd first read the book.
Conclusion: I have a serious problem with this book, cultural appropriation and Valente's history as a writer.
Disclaimer: I am Russian, born and raised, and the mythology and folklore that Valente uses in Deathless is the stuff of my childhood. Considering how often Russian history and culture is misappropriated and vilified in American pop culture, I'm rather protective of it.
Deathless borrows both Russian culture and Slavic folklore for its story. Giving credit where credit is due, Valente does get the facts right. Additionally, she is an accomplished writer. If she hadn't trod on my home turf, it's likely I would not have felt so strongly about this book.
But she did, and I do. Valente has a history of cultural appropriation when writing about Japan, another culture that she was not born or raised into, and yet writes about with the assurance of someone intimately familiar with the intricacies of its society and mythology. I hadn't known this when I first read Deathless, and walked away with a vague feeling of unease, having enjoyed the book well enough but realizing that there was something about it which rubbed me the wrong way. I didn't realize until later that it was her author's assurance of her knowledge of a culture that was not hers, a culture that she was not raised in and has hardly been immersed in (a Russian husband doesn't quite cut it) that set me on edge, and that this wasn't her first instance of cultural appropriation.
What really makes me uncomfortable about Deathless is Valente's interpretation of the folklore. Don't get me wrong - I'm all about re-tellings of fairytales, all for new and fresh takes on well-worn old myths. However, taking the folklore of a culture that Valente has little intimate knowledge of and turning it into sexual S&M power play makes me deeply uncomfortable. That's like me saying, "I know that you grew up with the Lion King as your childhood feel-good fairytale where love and goodness triumph over evil, but what if I told you that Simba was actually stupid and boring and Nala totally got it on with Scar, who really looks like Oded Fehr?!"
Not only that, but her take on Koschei, who is the ultimate villain in Slavic folklore, is reminiscent of a fangirl pointing to her favorite villain and crying, "He's not evil, he's just misunderstood!" One could argue that she gave him depth and motive not previously seen in the original mythology, but let's not kid ourselves. It's woobification.
And Koschei is not sexy. This is Koschei. This is not.
I'm also not a fan of the way Valente flaunts her supposed familiarity with Slavic mythology figures in Deathless. From many of the reviews I've read, readers are confused or turned off by the glib mentions of mythic figures that they aren't familiar with. Meanwhile, Valente is name-dropping them like a Hollywood social climber. It all has a feel of 'look how familiar with this culture I am!' while the readers are left in the dust wondering if they've missed something.
In b4 haters - I'm not saying you shouldn't like this book. I liked it just fine until I examined both my vague feelings of unease and Valente's history as a writer. If you enjoyed it, that's your prerogative. I happen to feel strongly about this one, and to each their own....more
Anna and her family flee war-torn Russia, penniless and fearing for their lives, and arrive in England to live on the goodwill and generosity of Anna'Anna and her family flee war-torn Russia, penniless and fearing for their lives, and arrive in England to live on the goodwill and generosity of Anna's governess. Unable to stand for this, Anna goes to work as a housemaid for an old noble country family down on their luck. Mayhem ensues.
This may be one of the first YA novels written about Russia by a Westerner that I haven't immediately disliked. Most (American) authors who write about Russian history, culture or mythology don't quite Get It (I'm looking at you, Catherynne M. Valente). Ibbotson Gets It. Perhaps it's because she's English or she's writing from a different time and perspective, but she really hits it home when it comes to understanding and portraying Russian culture and her people. That was nearly enough to make me love the book.
Fortunately, there's much more to love. The heroine, Anna, is a wonder. Yes, she's a bit of a Mary Sue (she's humble AND hardworking AND a secret countess AND everyone loves her) but she's so well-written that I couldn't help but love her too. Her little idiosyncrasies, her passion for life, her love for her family and friends just warmed me to her and I couldn't hold her Mary Sue-ness against her. You win this time, Anna. The supporting characters are well fleshed-out and successfully create Anna's world, making it feel real and sincere.
I loved Ibbotson's writing. There's much wry British humor there, much tongue-in-cheek laughter and sassy poking fun of the less charming characters. There's also a bit of purple prose, but I couldn't hold that against her either - for the most part Ibbotson's way with words is quite lyrical and evocative, and she paints a clear picture of the world she's created, bright and open.
I found it very interesting that the antagonists of the story, Muriel and Dr. Lightbody, are so fixated on eugenics. Knowing Ibbotson's history, it makes sense that she would feature it in the book, seeing as she had lived through WWII and Hitler's rise and fall. Eugenics is a very adult, controversial topic and while Ibbotson's approach to it is a bit preachy, she does a good job of showcasing why it's not a desired approach to genetics and manages to do so relatively light-heartedly.
My one main complaint, and the reason I docked a star from the rating, is the book's approach to the elderly Westerholme uncle, who likes to grope serving girls but is repeatedly vindicated as a 'harmless old man'. I understand that Ibbotson might be coming from a different time, where this sort of behavior may have been seen as harmless flirting from an old man who's too silly to actually harm anyone, but I don't enjoy sexual harassment (because that's what it is, folks - unwanted attention and especially physical contact is absolutely sexual harassment) being taken lightly and defended in literature. The scene where the serving girls themselves actually defend him and his 'flirting' especially left a bad taste in my mouth, but I was able to put that aside enough to enjoy the rest of the book.
Yes, there are several aspects of the story that are a bit unbelievable - everything seems to just work out a little too well for everyone involved, every little peg falls in its place and things just magically align, but at its core it's a feel-good Cinderella story and I just couldn't complain too much. This is what I look for in a book - a well-written story that, while flawed, still manages to entertain and inspire. ...more
I am still trying to finalize and solidify my thoughts on The Diviners, but I'm fairly certain that this book comes swinging into a solid 3 stars forI am still trying to finalize and solidify my thoughts on The Diviners, but I'm fairly certain that this book comes swinging into a solid 3 stars for me. If I hadn't thought about it too hard, been too critical of a reader or considered Libba Bray's past works or audience, it would have likely been a solid 4 stars. But I had, and so it's not.
This is probably not going to be a cohesive review, but more trying to sort through my jumble of thoughts. Read at your own risk.
I was a huge fan of Libba Bray's A Great and Terrible Beauty trilogy when I first read it, but I've found her subsequent works to be lacking. I thought Beauty Queens was trying too hard and was rather in-your-face about its own satire; I couldn't get past the first 60 pages of Going Bovine although I suspect I'll give that one another try. I'm wondering if I'll even like A Great and Terrible Beauty nearly as much if I decide to re-read it, but I'm refusing to do so out of fear (is nothing sacred?!). So I dove into The Diviners with trepidation mixed with excitement. I am also decidedly not your average YA reader, and don't typically enjoy the most popular works (see my scathing one-star reviews of such timeless classics as Shiver or Wither). So it was going to be a toss-up.
Luckily I landed squarely in the middle. Throughout the read, the book proved to be enjoyable and entertaining; despite its heft, it was a quick, easy read and I blew through its 500+ pages quickly. My main problems were with the protagonist and the predictability of the plot.
Although it deals with some adult, heavy themes, The Diviners seems to be aimed squarely at YA readers. It reads very young, from Evie's characterization to the ridiculous amount of time it took our heroes to unravel the mystery. When the book did touch on heavier themes (trigger warning) (view spoiler)[such as rape (hide spoiler)] it felt uncomfortable and out of place. Evie herself acted and spoke like a much-younger teen, and I suspect she was declared to be seventeen so her drinking and partying wouldn't raise too many eyebrows. Still, mention of sexual desires between her and Jericho made me feel awkward, and I'm far from a shrinking violet when it comes to sex or violence. It was odd that I was more comfortable with the gruesome murder descriptions than Jericho admiring Evie's nightgown-clad body.
As I mentioned before, the plot was predictable to me; I guessed the twists and turns of the mystery pages before the characters did, especially because they took frequent detours to drink, kiss and fight. I guessed the pattern of the murders and the final 'offering', and had to wait around for the rest of the team to catch up on the page. Slightly irritating, but not a deal-breaker.
Unfortunately, I really disliked Evie. I liked that she was a real, flawed teenage girl with a past and desires, ambitions, etc (aka a well-rounded character) but I didn't like her personality or how little she'd developed throughout the story. I hated how selfish she was - everything she did, including helping with solving the murders, was to ensure her own well-being, and she didn't appear to care about any of her so-called friends (and certainly not her family) unless it served her somehow. She was immature and self-absorbed, and while those are perfectly valid character traits I don't particularly enjoy reading about such characters. I kept rolling my eyes and willing her to grow up, and she never did.
I was also really weirded out by the 'romance'. I thought the book was gunning for Evie and Sam, but all of a sudden Evie and Jericho flew in and smacked me in the head. There was no chemistry between the characters, and the 'romance' was so poorly developed, it blindsided me. At first Evie is complaining about how boring Jericho is, then she's admiring his broad shoulders. I'm pretty sure there's going to be a love triangle in the future installments. I can't wait. /poorly veiled sarcasm
OKAY I'M DONE COMPLAINING I SWEAR. I loved, loved Bray's writing and world-building in this book. She certainly did her research into the time period, and although the constant slang became a little much, the writing was so atmospheric that I loved being immersed in NYC in the 20s. I also appreciated that Bray delved into the Harlem Renaissance and wasn't simply content to whitewash the jazz age like some works I won't name - *cough*Bright Young Things*cough* - as its an incredibly important aspect of the 20s and needs to be acknowledged.
While I found the murder-mystery plot to be overly simplified for the benefit of the reader, I liked that it served to set up the stage for the future of the series. The fact that the murderer acted as a catalyst to bring the Diviners into being, and into the open, setting up the next chapter of the game. I'm excited to see how Bray brings out the wider, overarching plot of the series and ties it all together. She's a skilled writer, and I am looking forward to the next installment, despite all of my previous complaints. I just hope that Evie cools it with the slang and the selfishness in the future. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I almost feel guilty putting this book on the 'historical fiction' shelf. It's hardly historical fiction, despite the fact that it's set in the 20s. TI almost feel guilty putting this book on the 'historical fiction' shelf. It's hardly historical fiction, despite the fact that it's set in the 20s. The most historical things in it are the clothes, some slang and, of course, the Prohibition and bootlegging. Otherwise, it's watered-down Gossip Girl with era envy.
I didn't much enjoy the first book in the series, and read this one out of a weird sense of obligation. Whereas Bright Young Things was simply unimpressive, Beautiful Days was borderline offensive. Let's look at our heroines: three skinny white girls, one of them wealthy and the other two perfect examples of rags-to-riches wish fulfillment. Anyone in their world who's overweight is instantly mocked, and there's not a person of color to be seen until the last twenty pages. Everyone is perfectly straight, with the exception of Billie, who's a cardboard cutout of the lesbian stereotype. There is a scene between Billie and Astrid that turned my stomach - if you're wondering why that's offensive, look up why Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl" is offensive. And there's the extremely unhealthy, abusive relationship between Astrid and Charlie that's glorified in the same way that the abusive relationship between Bella and Edward is glorified.
All this aside, the book was simply boring. Nothing happened until the last fifty pages, and the other two hundred pages were wasted on descriptions of clothing, the girls whining and repeated failures to communicate. If any of the girls would just say what they mean at any given time, so much of the conflict in the book wouldn't have happened - but, of course, in a successful story there must be conflict and instead of creating something clever Godbersen seemed to go the lazy way of lobotomizing her heroines. Essentially every single struggle stems from the girls' expectancy to have their mind read and their wishes preemptively fulfilled. Communication is key, darlings!
Well! I didn't expect to have that many feelings on the book. From the other dissatisfied reviews, it seems that I should give Godbersen's Luxe series a try. I really hope it fills the many gaps that Bright Young Things has left behind. ...more
Daphne Kalotay's debut novel, Russian Winter, is luminous, mysterious, masterfully crafted - and problematic. The novel follows prima ballerina Nina RDaphne Kalotay's debut novel, Russian Winter, is luminous, mysterious, masterfully crafted - and problematic. The novel follows prima ballerina Nina Revskaya from the streets of Soviet Moscow and the dressing rooms of the Bolshoi Theatre to present-day Boston, where she is auctioning off her marvelous jewelry collection. Her story is intertwined with that of Grigori Solodin, a professor and translator, who is in possession of a necklace that holds both the key to his birthright and a mystery that only Nina can solve, and Drew Brooks, an associate at the auction house, working to decipher the secrets that Nina is keeping.
I'm not going to recap the plot of the stories - the other reviewers have done that already. I'm just going to say that I really enjoyed the individuaI'm not going to recap the plot of the stories - the other reviewers have done that already. I'm just going to say that I really enjoyed the individual stories and the way they loosely wove together. The first and the last especially appealed to me.
Noyes is good at creating distinct characters and establishing their separate voices. Since the stories are all quite short, we get to know the characters in each tale just enough to give us a good sense of their personalities and histories and how they contribute to each story. Moreover, Noyes is very adept at setting the mood - in the first and second stories especially, I really felt the eerie, oppressive weight of Kerfol and the unsettling sensuality that she wove into the tales. The whole book is darkly atmospheric, madness and haunting mixed with lust and despair. A good quick read for a rainy day....more
Jacob Jankowski, a young Polish man studying veterinary science at Cornell, loses his parents in a car crash. Left with nothing, not a cent to his namJacob Jankowski, a young Polish man studying veterinary science at Cornell, loses his parents in a car crash. Left with nothing, not a cent to his name, he walks out of his final exams and lost, wandering, hops a train. That train belongs to none other than the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, and before long, Jacob finds himself playing vet to a host of exotic animals, including chimpanzees, giraffes, lions and yes, the eponymous elephant (she is called Rosie and she is a notorious lemonade thief). Naturally, along the way (this is a coming of age story, after all) Jacob finds friends, makes enemies and even manages to finally lose his v-card falls in love.
What struck me so immediately and entirely about this book was Gruen's narration and the sheer amount of research she put into the novel. Her writing style strikes that perfect balance between simple prose and just the right amount of description to draw you into her world and hold you there. It's straightforward without being dumbed-down and eloquent without being flowery. Her circus folk use terms and phrases that are sometimes explained, sometimes not (I still don't know what a First of May is) but regardless, their words help bring the dusty, dirty, dangerous world of the train circus to life.
The depth of the many characters, human and animal alike, struck me. Nearly everyone had a distinct personality (more on that 'nearly' later) no matter how small of a role they played. The animals especially touched me, as an animal lover - I wanted to carry Bobo the chimp around and feed Rosie the elephant candy too - but be warned, Gruen doesn't shy away from sensitive subjects and thus there are quite a few instances of animal violence in the novel. It's heartbreaking, but it adds to the realism of the story. The good, the bad and the ugly is all on display here - Uncle Al's greed and the suffocating grip he has on his circus, August's terrifying outbursts, Barbara's promiscuity, Camel's tragic paralysis - nothing is glossed over or candy-coated, some people are cruel, some situations heart-breaking and the world more the richer for it.
The only aspect of the novel that fell flat to me was the romance. Marlena, the star of the liberty horse show and wife of the possibly-insane August, is beautiful and soulful, with a somewhat tragic past and an immense talent for performance. Sadly, she is just that - a pretty angel in pink sequins that Jacob so desperately wants to rescue from the unstable clutches of her husband. Their relationship is underdeveloped, based on escape - Jacob wants to save her and Marlena wants to be saved. There's no passion there, no chemistry. I was more interested reading about Barbara the cooch dancer.
Dull romance aside, I was perfectly satisfied reading the novel for the period descriptions, the action and the supporting characters. Gruen is a talented writer, and I adored the view she painted. The hardships, the struggles, the hopelessness and subsequent desperation, the first shining rays of hope; the animals' antics, the widely varied personalities of the circus folk, the slang, these were all things that made the story real for me and made me want to commend Gruen for a job well done. Next time, just leave the romance at home....more
Very long, but very well-written and -researched. While there were a few plot points that seemed like holes to me, and the ending seemed rushed comparVery long, but very well-written and -researched. While there were a few plot points that seemed like holes to me, and the ending seemed rushed compared to the rest of the book, I was completely engrossed in the story the whole way. Amazing....more
I've been on a big historical fiction kick lately, and I loved Koen's last two books, and I liked this one a lot, just as well. My only problem was thI've been on a big historical fiction kick lately, and I loved Koen's last two books, and I liked this one a lot, just as well. My only problem was that the ending still left things unfinished - I would've liked to see Barbara, than to hear about her through her old friends. And the plantation plot didn't go anywhere in the end. In fact, I would've liked to read more about Virginia and less about London and intrigue. Barbara is much more interesting....more
I read this ages ago and probably wouldn't enjoy it now but I loved it back in the day and I don't want to re-read it in fear that my memory of it wilI read this ages ago and probably wouldn't enjoy it now but I loved it back in the day and I don't want to re-read it in fear that my memory of it will be tarnished....more
Blah blah historically inaccurate, blah blah overdramatic. This is a fictional novel - key word fiction. Of course Gregory took liberties with detailsBlah blah historically inaccurate, blah blah overdramatic. This is a fictional novel - key word fiction. Of course Gregory took liberties with details and characterization. I managed to turn off the historical nitpicker and quite enjoyed the book. It wasn't particularly deep or thought-provoking (although it tried to be at times) but was mostly a quick, interesting read that pulled me in. At times I thought Mary was far too passive, considering everything that Anne had done to her, and that too much was attributed to Anne, but overall I have few complaints. It was interesting. The end....more