Release Date:May 29, 2012 Publisher: Simon & Schuster Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 26...moreYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Release Date: May 29, 2012 Publisher: Simon & Schuster Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 266 Format: Hardcover Source: ARC received from publisher
Tell Me More: It is wonderfully refreshing to find authors who are willing to bring obscure moments in history to life, and none more so than Philippa Gregory. The critical acclaim and widespread popularity she has achieved are hallmarks of her hard work, and it was that reputation that gave rise to my expectation of a solid and strong story from her first venture into YA. I began Changeling not having read any of her previous books, which may have been for the best, as I wasn't fully satisfied with the world Gregory created.
Changeling is told through the dual perspectives of Luca, a member of a secretive religious order, and Isolde, a young heiress who is forced to become a nun. Their respective challenges were well thought out, but while Luca was charismatic enough for me to ignore some holes in his characterization, Isolde was dull and shallow for much of the novel. Often, I could predict what she was going to say before I looked any further into her conversations, and that can quickly grow tiresome. I wanted to like her and root for her, but there just wasn't any opportunity for me to really connect with her. Her reticence was also off-putting--it was difficult to ascertain whether she truly wanted to fight for her happiness or simply settle for whatever her brother and father wanted for her. She wasn't given the agency to own her decisions, even the ones that would put her under someone else's control, and so I grew to see her as a leaf on the rapids, being jostled along and not knowing where it was she really wanted to go.
The story itself feels disjointed, as though two or three different fabrics were sewn together with one colour thread. The concept behind Changeling is extremely interesting, almost like a pre-Renaissance Unsolved Mysteries, but it never quite grows into its own potential. The first half of the novel is devoted to a violent mystery at Isolde's own abbey, and the conclusion will certainly raise some eyebrows, considering the time period. I enjoyed watching Luca uncover the truth, but I do wish that Isolde had had more of a hand in the solution to her abbey's problems. Understandable as it is that Luca and other men would find it wiser to place the abbey under the control of a monastery, it did not help the argument that Isolde is different from other girls her age, wiser and more adventurous.
Ultimately, that is where this novel falls short--the contradictions between historically accurate attitudes and the actions shown in the book created a gap too wide for Gregory to satisfactorily bridge. I've been told that she has an excellent grasp of historical detail, which can be seen in her other novels, but I was never given enough information to truly immerse myself in this particular time period. We are told that Luca is different, that there is something worth observing in him, but he consistently displays the same attitude as his peers. I can't be sure if the expectations I built up for Gregory's work in my head were responsible for my dissatisfaction with Changeling, but I am certain that based on the synopsis alone, I was asked to believe in more than what the story could give me.
The Final Say: Unsure as I am about the overall coherence and completeness of this novel, I would still recommend Changeling to readers who are starting out in historical fiction. Gregory's writing will ease them into olden times with care, and give socio-cultural issues to dissect as well.(less)
Special Snowflake Syndrome, thy name is Rose. As interested as I was in this much-praised retelling...morePosted on Seashell Reviews at Mermaid Vision Books!
Special Snowflake Syndrome, thy name is Rose. As interested as I was in this much-praised retelling of Romeo & Juliet from Rosaline's point of view, the book definitely did not live up to my expectations. Put simply, the slut shaming and idolization of a boy who is really just a jerk was unexpected and very unwelcome. Rob is not crush-worthy, and his treatment of Rose is despicable. Juliet, on the other hand, is made out to be an evil boyfriend-stealer, when really she knows nothing of the history between Rose and Rob. Nothing in the story contributes to the ongoing dialogue regarding Shakespeare's work and how it can be made more compelling for a new audience. Between the shallow character development and unimpressive prose, Rebecca Serle's case for literary retellings isn't looking good.(less)
Discovery: I originally got an eARC of this book in August from Galley Grab, but I didn’t have time to read it until last week when I bought a copy. I...moreDiscovery: I originally got an eARC of this book in August from Galley Grab, but I didn’t have time to read it until last week when I bought a copy. In the month-or-so between, I heard lots of praise for this fun and fancy-free story and knew I’d have to add it to my list of contemporaries.
+ Setting. Whatever stroke of brilliance gave Leila Sales the idea to set a book in a historical re-enactment community, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I love YA, but reading stories set in high schools can get exhausting. Summer stories also tend to be set on the beach or in beach towns, and I want something different. Essex was a charming and entertaining place in itself. I will admit that I’ve wondered what life is like for the interpreters in places like Colonial Williamsburg and Fort Mifflin. Leila Sales gives her readers a group of people who are passionate about what they do and still have a sense of humour. After all, it takes a lot of devotion to one’s work to stand around in a heavy costume during the summer and take photos with people you’ll never see again.
The War between Essex and Reenactmentland was also a highlight of the novel: leave it to the teens to make an otherwise-tedious summer into two months of ambushes, pranks and hilarity. I loved the creativity and enthusiasm that each character displayed in different ways. A companion novel that explores Reenactmentland would definitely find its way onto my TBR pile.
+ Voice. I’ve read a few reviews that took issue with Chelsea and her narration of the book. It is understandable that Chelsea is a little self-centered or oblivious to things around her–she’s a teenager and at that age, the smallest dilemmas can blow up to gargantuan proportions. That said, I enjoyed her generally optimistic nature and her insistence on finding the humour in any problem. Readers will find it easy to sympathize with Chelsea because she genuinely wants to be a better person.
- Pacing. Past Perfect is a quick read, but I do feel like some of the characters were underused because of how fast it moves. Bryan and Tawny stood out the most among the supporting characters and I would have liked to see more of their actions throughout the war. Of course, this book is from Chelsea’s point-of-view, so any additional time spent with Bryan might not be great for him, but it would certainly give the reader more to work with.
Recommendations: Definitely check out Past Perfect if you’re looking for a thoughtful romp through a historical reenactment town. You’ll never look at period costumes the same way again.
Rating: Very good.
Go visit Leila Sales at her website and follow her on Twitter @leilasalesbooks.
You can check out Past Perfect on Goodreads and order it over at Amazon and Book Depository.(less)
Release Date:January 3, 2012 Publisher: Simon Pulse Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 378 Forma...moreYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Release Date: January 3, 2012 Publisher: Simon Pulse Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 378 Format: Hardcover Source: Personal copy purchased from bookstore
Tell Me More: Sarah Ockler's first novel, Twenty Boy Summer, wasn't as impressive as I thought it would be, so my approach to Bittersweet involved less expectations and a bit of apprehension. The cover copy is actually quite vague compared to most YA novels and I wasn't sure what I was actually going to be reading. Once I started, however, I couldn't stop myself for anything.
I've noticed that most contemporary novels are character studies more than anything else. Since there isn't an entire universe to familiarize oneself with, it's easy to cut through and pay attention to the characters and their motivations. Hudson's lost her motivation, and Bittersweet details exactly how she learns to find it again. Of course, the story begs the question: why does she need motivation in the first place? What else has she lost? The prologue explains her father's "betrayal" in a few short pages. It's an incredibly emotional punch in the gut for both Hudson and the reader. Ockler's prose starts out strong and remains consistently compelling throughout the entire book. It's a credit to her that Hudson is so well-rounded, and it gives the themes of the story the gravitas they deserve.
The idea of sacrifice is one of the novel's big considerations. Hudson is always caught between one sacrifice or another to keep her life going. She's her mother's go-to person for everything, but she can't resent her mother because of the genuine necessity of her help. Her brother needs her, so she sacrifices her time to care for him. It's easy to forget that she's 16 years old and having a crisis of her own. Identity is also a theme that Bittersweet ties into Hudson's life: do her sacrifices keep her from being who she really is? Is she destined to remain the Cupcake Queen of Watonka or an ice skater? Themes like this make it even more important for a writer to provide a developed protagonist, because otherwise, why would readers care about her inner conflict?
As much as people might say it's a shallow story about cupcakes and teenage love, I heartily disagree. Sarah Ockler has managed to write the story of a girl who needed to find something about herself worth loving, without a boy or social norms hovering over her. Hudson is a quiet comet in the sky, bright and indomitable, and I loved that she learned to appreciate herself and her talents.
That's Not All:
> Cupcake recipes before every chapter will leave you extremely hungry. Do not read on an empty stomach. > Ockler has a great gift for fun dialogue. I found myself giggling more often than not while reading this book.
The Final Say: Don't be fooled by the pastel colours--Bittersweet is an intense and heartfelt read, with characters that will stay with you past the final page.(less)