Tell Me More: For a story in which an entire race is at stake, Deep Blue is surprisingly light in tone and substance. As entertaining as some of the scenes and jokes could be, they weren't quite enough to stir lasting emotions in me.
The way that Deep Blue was marketed made it seem like its core audience would be the older spectrum of YA readers. Serafina's voice was younger than I had expected it to be, and the writing style itself seemed geared towards kids starting out in the fantasy/paranormal genre. Puns are generously scattered throughout the story, but as much as I love a good pun, it didn't take long for them to grate at me.
"I was talking about the crown prince and his merlfriend," she said. "Well, his latest one." "His...his merlfriend?"
An excerpt from Walt Whitman's "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking" leads into the intriguing prologue, but the story doesn't manage to sustain its own momentum. The first few chapters are burdened by exposition and history, weighing the reader down with facts and names before they can start to care about the characters they're meeting. I would have much rather watched Serafina struggle with her songspell than read about her gossiping court. Again, this would probably work better for younger readers, who may have more need to build the world in their head before they can get invested.
The mysterious quest that Serafina and Neela is interesting enough, but it never felt all that compelling. I read mostly for the interactions between the two girls and the emphasis on friendship and sisterhood, especially since the romance remains flat. There are few surprises and plot twists, and even the ones that are meant to be game-changers are predictable. At the end of the day, the mermaids in Deep Blue weren't captivating enough to hook me into the series.
Trigger Warning:Mentions of molestation/rape in the review below.
Tell Me More:A common plot device among historicalnovels is the lack of female agency...moreTrigger Warning: Mentions of molestation/rape in the review below.
Tell Me More: A common plot device among historical novels is the lack of female agency, and in the stories I've enjoyed most, the female characters are able to either shake that off or use it to their advantage. Their ability to recognize that they are capable and smart and powerful gives those stories depth where you could otherwise have cardboard cutouts. Sadly, this is not the case in The Ring and the Crown.
Melissa de la Cruz's newest novel begins with two young women who are purported to hold power, and to an extent, they exercise some of that power. The mystery of how they would grow into their titles and magic drew me in, but the bulk of the story focused on romance and gossip. That won't necessarily be a bad thing for all readers, but I had expected a story about two girls on the threshold of their adult lives and the external conflict (read: war) that threatens them, not a historical version of Gossip Girl. Marie and Aelwyn make efforts to change things, but flip-flop so often between their choices that it could give one whiplash. Sexual acts are mentioned quite a bit, and molestation (of a character by her uncle) and rape occur in scenes, enough to make me wonder why there are no trigger warnings in place.
At the end of it all, my question remains: What was the point of all the struggle? If the choices that Marie and Aelwyn made would be negated and dismissed, then why would we continue to cheer for them? Obviously, because they want a different life than the one dictated for both of them, but I closed the book without feeling like their hearts wanted that. They settled, and I never got the sense they would fight beyond that. Perhaps that was the agency readers were supposed to see, the "serenity to accept the things they cannot change," but I find that hard to believe when the book opens with two epigraphs, one of them a call to action from Beyoncé. Aelwyn comes the closest to taking that action, but it doesn't feel satisfactory.
As a reader, the book asks me to at least be emotionally invested enough to want to know what happens to these characters and why. I did not find them unlikeable, but neither did I find them characters to cheer for and support. They simply exist, paper dolls swaying in the wind, their actions still dictated by the machinations of the court.
The Final Say: The Ring and the Crown will please readers looking for Tudor-lite fare, complete with intrigue and drama.
Tell Me More:It's been two-and-a-half years since I first readI'd Tell You I Love You But Then I'd Have to Kill You, and frankly, I wish I could go ba...moreTell Me More: It's been two-and-a-half years since I first read I'd Tell You I Love You But Then I'd Have to Kill You, and frankly, I wish I could go back. There is nothing like rediscovering a favourite series all over again, and even as I celebrate the release of the final book, United We Spy, I'm sad not only because it's the end, but because it'll be years before I can take up this series again and relive the experience like new. In the meantime, I want to take this moment to thank Ally Carter for one of the best series I've read in my entire life.
And what makes a series great anyway?
1. Consistency. Books 1 through 6 in the Gallagher Girls series have been consistently excellent, smart and ambitious, much like its subjects. Anyone who believes that a book with a girl in a school uniform can't be substantial is fooled by the same belief that the Gallagher Girls work to their advantage in every single chapter. United We Spy highlights the myriad ways that these girls have grown and used the way society sees women to achieve amazing and impossible things. Every time the reader falls into thinking that the story can be predicted, Cammie and her friends find another way to prove them wrong.
2. Real, powerful relationships between characters. I've always been more interested in the portrayal of friendships in literature than I have been in romantic attachments. The friendships on display in the Gallagher Girls series are some of the most luminous and realistic that I've encountered in literature. Cammie's strength and determination, especially in United We Spy, is built on the foundation of her love for her family and friends. She doesn't think twice about risking her life for them, not only because she knows they would never hesitate to do the same for her but that they are people worth saving. The friendship between Cammie, Bex, Liz and Macey is the crowning glory of the series, and United We Spy sees that friendship at its best. They are all brilliant girls on their own, but together? Their teamwork could single-handedly keep the world spinning on its axis.
And okay, the romance was pretty perfect. Zach is exactly what I wanted in a romantic interest for Cammie: he's funny, sweet and human. So many YA romantic heroes these days seem too good to be true, but Zach is realistic without resorting to extremes.
3. Unpredictable plot twists. I challenge anyone to correctly predict what happens in United We Spy. Go on. I'll wait.
Those of you who've read it already know that while all the plot twists and revelations make sense in hindsight, Carter handles them all masterfully, and there hasn't been a single book in the series that is unimportant to the central arc. The right pieces of information find their way to the surface all at the right times, and the suspense is bone-chilling when it needs to be. Carter succeeds in keeping the mystery and anticipation building, and the climactic scenes all feel like walking straight into a brick wall, they're that surprising. There were several moments where I literally screamed because I couldn't believe what was happening. United We Spy keeps the tension turned up to the highest level, and I couldn't be sure of who would survive the events in the novel until the very last page, as is only right for a thriller like this. It rewards readers who have followed the series faithfully, and it lays the groundwork for newer readers to return to the previous novels and pick out all the clues leading up to this one. (Frankly, I would be disappointed if those who've followed the series since the beginning didn't do that too.) It's clear that Carter has done the leg-, arm- and headwork involved in crafting this series.
4. Satisfaction. At the end of the day, a good series should tie up all its loose ends, answer its most pressing questions, and generally leave its readers with the sense that the story as told is complete. Sure, there should also be a desire for more. But if a reader can close the book knowing that the story can stand on its own and has achieved the things it wanted to achieve, good and bad, then the author has done an excellent job.
United We Spy does all of that and more.
I can't remember the last time I was this satisfied with the final book in a series, and really only Deathly Hallows compares. No question is left hanging, and it is very difficult to talk about this without spoiling anyone, so trust me when I say that this was exactly the right ending for the story. The biggest compliment I can give is this: as I finish typing up this review, I just keep thinking about how I want to sit in a corner, hold all six books and cry for a good long while because of the fantastic reading experience they gave me. So thanks, Ally Carter--you've got a fan for life.
So good. So freaking amazing, and to top it all off, I think this book just broke me out of a reading slump. A+
Tell Me More:It is a truth universall...moreSo good. So freaking amazing, and to top it all off, I think this book just broke me out of a reading slump. A+
Tell Me More: It is a truth universally acknowledged that the Heist Society series is one of my favourite things to come out of YA fiction. Kat Bishop is a heroine that goes unnoticed in her own story, and she relies on exactly that to pull off feats that no one assumes a sixteen-year-old girl could, to their detriment. It's precisely that trait that I admire most about Kat, and it's what keeps me reading this fantastic series.
In Perfect Scoundrels, Kat finds herself caught in the middle of a conflict between her loyalty towards Hale and her instincts. Kat's experience leads her to suspect that something might be wrong with the will presented to the Hale family, but she must tread carefully to expose it, or risk alienating Hale completely. While the heist part of the story might be formulaic to readers who have followed the series faithfully, Carter still manages to pull off enough surprises to keep that plotline from being boring.
What I found most interesting was Kat's exploration of who she was in relation to the people around her. Hale was her partner before he ever became her boyfriend, and it was fascinating to see how she deals with seeing him in his "true" environment, as a heir to a wealthy and influential family. Hale's avoidance of the subject added to the mystery of his family, so seeing them as real, flawed people only made the story more compelling. Readers will have spent two books siding with Hale, understanding and liking him, so naturally, no one wants to be told that Hale was wrong. But Carter is a better writer than that. She illustrates the nuances of Hale's family and the world they occupy without sinking into stereotypes. They become people that we recognize not only around us, but in ourselves. We are all selfish sometimes, we are all oblivious sometimes, we all find ourselves at a loss sometimes, and Carter doesn't impose judgment on her characters or their choices.
Kat's "family" of choice has always been a highlight of this series, and they serve as a foil to Hale's family of blood. In my interview with Carter, we talked briefly about how for many people, their family are their friends, and while they might not be related genetically, the bonds forged are often stronger because each person made the choice to stay and support each other. Carter presents that idea in Perfect Scoundrels by showing how Kat's friends trust her to know what she's doing even when they don't understand it or her motivations. Certainly, no family is ideal, and there are arguments and fights and sometimes you have to give up on a battle. But if there's one thing Perfect Scoundrels is, it's true to the idea that your family are the people you take the biggest risks for, including maybe even losing their love to help them.
The Final Say: The third installment of the Heist Society series is as intriguing and surprising as the previous novels, bringing heart and honesty to Kat's story. Perfect Scoundrels proves that this is a series teenagers and adults alike should be picking up.
Tell Me More: What better way to start a month of mystery reading than with a salute to Sherlock Holmes? Admittedly, Secret Letters reads a bit like a piece of fanfiction, but Dora is a delightful character, and thankfully, she carries the story with grace.
I wasn't sure what to expect from this story, especially since the biggest hook--Sherlock Holmes--is deceased by the time the story begins. Dora is hit with this news early on, and similarly, I did feel as though I'd lost my grip on the story. I didn't know any of the characters well enough yet to be emotionally attached to them, the plot was still vague, and the writing was attuned to readers younger than myself. But the mystery? Much more intriguing and interesting that I'd expected. Scherier structures the novel in surprising ways: as one learns about the mystery Dora has to solve, one also learns about Dora and the tiny quirks and idiosyncrasies that make up her personality.
From the limited experience I've had with mystery novels, this is one aspect that I've always enjoyed. The connection between the detective and the mysteries they solve is intrinsic to the organic unity of the story, and it gives the reader stakes to hold on to. In this novel, Dora is desperate to regain her footing after finding out about her alleged father's death, and her actions/decisions reflect that need. It doesn't excuse them, by any means, but they're more understandable in that light. Tied as she is to societal norms, Dora nevertheless goes after what she wants and that is a quality every reader can appreciate.
The Final Say:Secret Letters is a dynamic and feminist-positive mystery novel which will fascinate new and old mystery readers alike.
Release Date:January 24, 2012 Publisher: Disney-Hyperion Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 304...moreYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Release Date: January 24, 2012 Publisher: Disney-Hyperion Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 304 Format: Hardcover Source: ARC received from Hachette Book Group Canada
Discovery: I hadn't heard too much about this book before October last year, but I loved the premise and was looking forward to the Canadian setting.
+ Science (!) A confession: between the ages of seven and 14, I was obsessed with diseases. You name it, I read about it: ebola, AIDS, scarlet fever, smallpox, sleeping sickness, the list goes on. So imagine how thrilled I was to have a YA novel that dealt with the fallout of an epidemic. Megan Crewe doesn't overwhelm the reader with scientific jargon, but that almost makes it worse. No one knows what's really going on, and human nature doesn't do well when it's kept in the dark. While I thought it was a little contrived that Kaelyn's father was a doctor and a scientist, I was glad to have a front-row seat to the work he was doing and the effects on his family. As terrifying as diseases are by themselves, what they do to society is just as scary.
+ Structure. I unabashedly love epistolary (read: written as letters) stories. There's not a lot you can hide in a letter, and Kaelyn's own mental and emotional state are out for display in each one that she writes to her best friend Leo. It was easy to trust Kaelyn, to understand everything she's going through, and even the fears she won't name. I also like that her letters represented hope: she's writing to someone, unconsciously willing him to know about her life. The letters help her keep her sanity and fight for survival. This kind of organic unity (hello, creative writing terms) makes the story even better.
> O Canada! I've never been anywhere except Toronto and Ottawa, so reading about the maritimes was lovely. > Mysterious boys! Who says nice guys finish last? I'm sold on the specimens we have in this novel.
The final say: Granted, you won't be able to look at chatty people the same way again, but The Way We Fall is a must-read for anyone who is fascinated with epidemics and the myriad ways they change our lives.