This book found me under the worst circumstances possible. Having just finished Laini Taylor's Strange the Dreamer, I was desperate for something as mThis book found me under the worst circumstances possible. Having just finished Laini Taylor's Strange the Dreamer, I was desperate for something as magical as that. This was not the book I needed.
There is hardly any magic at all. Even the first MENTION of magic comes at nearly a quarter of the way through, and the PERFORMANCE of magic doesn't even come until a while after that. No, this story deals mainly in fate and curses and true love reincarnation. Which, granted, I would have known better had I read the synopsis before diving in. Still, for a story called "Spellbound", I was expecting a few more spells.
The other thing I found very distracting was the paragraph structure. Perhaps this was only in the Kindle Edition, but paragraphs didn't seem to start or stop where they should have. Many times different characters spoke within the same paragraph, and actions pertaining to a character near their speech was given a whole new paragraph. Again, not the best time for me to be reading it, having come right off of Laini Taylor.
I didn't like the romance. Something didn't hit me right about it. It was cute at first, sure, but as it wore on I got bored. I feel like I should have connected more with... Evie? Ellen? Emma! I could not for the life of me even remember her NAME while reading this book. Never mind a couple weeks later. There was nothing memorable about her, she was just some insecure, love-struck teenage girl who happened to have some magic around.
The good news is, though there is a sequel written, I have no need to read it because of cliff-hangers. This book wraps up rather nicely.
Maybe if I weren't coming off of this particular other book I might have liked Spellbound more, but as it is it was a slog to finish this book. I probably face-palmed a couple times towards the end. This is probably great for someone in the mood for a fluff piece, but anyone looking for something more substantial or memorable, I'd pass this one up....more
Not sure yet how I feel about the ending, but up to that point I loved it. Lots of plot threads still left to resolve, so I wouldn't mind another bookNot sure yet how I feel about the ending, but up to that point I loved it. Lots of plot threads still left to resolve, so I wouldn't mind another book in the same universe....more
I felt like a little too much focus was on the love triangle. Maybe it was because I didn't expect it going in, but one would think that a girl disguiI felt like a little too much focus was on the love triangle. Maybe it was because I didn't expect it going in, but one would think that a girl disguised as a boy in a medieval-ish army would have more worries than which boy she liked more. Sigh. The badass fighting eventually got going, but the triangle and romance in general was the main focus a bit more than I would have liked....more
Took a while to really get invested. The beginning can be a bit slow, especially if you're coming out of reading modern YA urbanWait, no, come back!
Took a while to really get invested. The beginning can be a bit slow, especially if you're coming out of reading modern YA urban fantasy books with snarky teens. But once I got into it, maybe a quarter of the way, I was hooked. Did NOT know this was a duology, so now I'm on pins and needles waiting for the finale. Laini, why are you so mean? A beautiful romance, elegant writing, and a unique setting, I cannot recommend this higher. (But maybe wait til it's sequel is out so you're not heartbroken like me) ...more
The romance was the same as before, with both choices being overly controlling assholes. Jack has trust issues and won't reveal 'all his secrets' whicThe romance was the same as before, with both choices being overly controlling assholes. Jack has trust issues and won't reveal 'all his secrets' which is kinda understandable, except you're in the freaking apocalypse so does it really matter anymore? Death, on the other hand, got better in that he apologized for his kidnapping, torture, and coercion committed in the last book, making an actual effort to improve himself for Evie. Definitely on Team Death for now.
On the edge of spoilers, this book was on the verge of pointlessness, and the ending really pissed me off. What good does it do to have the majority of the book hinge on Evie's final BF choice if you're ultimately going to make her choice meaningless? She finally takes a stand in her own destiny, only to have it yanked away from her at the last second. That's not "what a twist!" writing, that's douchey writing. So much for empowering your protagonist.
So while reading this one wasn't as gag-worthy as the last (as far as romance goes), the ending effectively negated everything the characters accomplished, leaving me pissed off and wondering (again) why I continue reading this series. And yet, I will inevitably continue on to the next one because I like the world and lore... Ugh....more
After that non-ending from the last book, I was excited to dive into this one. After all, we had a new genie on thAmazon ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks
After that non-ending from the last book, I was excited to dive into this one. After all, we had a new genie on the loose and I had no clue where this book was going to take her, even after watching a slightly spoilery interview with the author. So, I guess if you're looking for a new big bad to show up and the genies having to work their magic to save the world, you're going to be kinda disappointed. But if you're interested in seeing how a teen deals with a life-changing, magical decision, then you'll probably want to continue reading. I mentioned the last book had no dénouement*. Well, get ready for 350 pages of dénouement, because it's time to deal with the consequences!
Margo is a control freak with an alpha-type personality. She's never been one to care about social circles or popularity, since those are often well out of anyone's control, but when it comes to her life and how she lives it, she has a plan for just about everything. Even when it came to her wishes, she had to think for days, even weeks before she could settle on what the best three wishes could be. But then Xavier happened, forcing her to make a choice that threw all her plans out the window.
Now Margo's a genie, which means granting other people's wishes, whether she wants to or not. Not only that, but she's also forced into bodies that are pleasing to her masters. What happens when you throw a teenager, and one who craves control at that, into a completely alien and subservient situation? Needless to say, fireworks are gonna fly. I enjoyed following Margo's struggle through her normal and paranormal coming-of-age struggles, and I liked where Margo's priorities led her for the most part, especially when it came to one particular attack. She can read a bit self-centered at times, but I chalked it up to believable teenager-ness, and I'm happy to say even that was addressed/dealt with eventually. So, yes, I enjoyed living in Margo's head for a second book.
Oliver was my big unknown coming out of the last book. Would his personality change now that he couldn't read Margo's mind? How much would he—could he change for her once his vessel changed hands? Well, I'm happy to say I really liked where his character went in this book. He's still super supportive of Margo, even more so in some aspects, and most of his personality remains consistent from where we last left off. But what I liked most about him was even though he was presented as an experienced genie and Margo's only available guide to genie-dom, he didn't automatically have all the answers. He wasn't infallible, and his word wasn't law. In other words, Oliver has quickly moved up the ranks as one of my top YA boyfriends of all time.
I was definitely grateful for the increased participation of the secondary characters in this book. Yes, each of them did end up serving a specific purpose, but at the same time I still appreciated their prominence, especially in the paranormal romance (PR) genre. (What, you mean the couple isn't the only thing that matters?) From Naomi's concern over her best friend's uncharacteristic behavior, Vicky and Simon's support toward (and somewhat fangirling over) the whole genie thing, and even Margo's mom showing a few fleeting moments of motherly support and life-learned wisdom, they all added depth to Margo's world, making her non-romantic conflicts all that much more substantial.
Speaking of love, there is a very good reason love-related wishes aren't allowed in G- or PG-rated content: forcing someone to love you against their will is a magical form of rape. Suffice it to say, a couple love wishes happen in this book, and the word rape is correctly used to describe the situation. I will go ahead and say/spoil no physical sexual rape occurs in the book (it is still YA after all), but I do want to mention it as a trigger warning.
This book is not afraid to tackle some huge issues, rape being one, but gender identity being another. It's mentioned in the book blurb that Margo's "being a girl is called into question". Genies are forced to take a form pleasing to each master they have, and this body becomes their new "base" as long as that master holds their vessel, though practiced genies can change to any form at will. Needless to say, at one point Margo finds herself in a male body and has to deal with the mindset of being male yet still identifying as a female. Also dealing with a female Oliver at times was interesting. Add in a few other PR tropes getting dealt with and I, for one, enjoyed most of what this story had to offer.
However, the most frustrating thing for me was the fact that I figured out the big solution to Margo's problem before I even picked up the book. No, seriously, I knew exactly how to give Margo what she wanted as soon as I finished the last book. Unfortunately that made most of the drama and indecision in this book annoying to trudge through. I already had the solution, why did it take weeks and 300+ pages for the characters to figure it out?
Because this is a story about coming of age and finding one's own path in life. Where the last book had a big bad villain, this story's main conflict is Margo dealing with the consequences of her own choices. Yes, she does have to deal with some very douchey people, friendship misunderstandings, college acceptance letters, and musical rehearsals, but in the end she's mostly dealing with the responsibility of the choice she made. And it's pointed out multiple times that she didn't have to do it, but she chose to do it, and now she has to decide what that choice means for her future. Excuse me a second while I give another energetic fist pump.
One last thing I think it's important to know before heading into this book: The Fourth Wish is the conclusion of Margo's story. The Art of Wishing is a duet/duology/two-book-series. This is the end. And I'll admit, part of me was kind of disappointed. I mean, I went into this story expecting some new big bad to show up, cause conflict, and finish with some cliffhanger a la The Empire Strikes Back to lead us into Book 3. But that isn't the story, and the rest of me (that isn't hung up on YA PR tropes) is very glad of that. It isn't padded or stretched out with extra conflict just to fill the trilogy trend, instead it knows just where to end. Granted, the ending felt a bit fast (as was the first book's, since I forgot to mention that), and I would have loved for the last scene to have lasted a tad longer with more character interactions, and of course I wouldn't say No to a continuation, but ultimately the ending felt complete I appreciated where this story ended.
Overall, The Fourth Wish was a thoughtful and satisfying conclusion to an innovative and fun series. I'd highly recommend it and its prequel to anyone eager for a little common sense with their YA paranormal romance or those that want a fresh look at genies. There are mentions of rape, an off-screen sex scene preceded by some on-screen making out, and some physical violence which I believe keeps this in high school range. So if you're tired of the same old tropes and are looking for something different, something daring, something magical, then I would definitely recommend you check out The Art of Wishing and The Fourth Wish.
Confession time. The sole reason I picked up this book was to read it for/with Booze Your Own Adventure's book club. A few weeks ago they mentioned that they were going to talk with author Lindsay Ribar (SPOILERS INCLUDED) about her debut, The Art of Wishing, and recently released sequel, The Fourth Wish. And, while I'm a bit late to the party, I figured I might as well dig in and see what this YA paranormal romance genie series had.
I kinda wish I had read this before Robin Williams' passing.
Margo was fun to read. She could easily read like the typical snarky modern heroine but there was enough other to her that she was still interesting to read. Despite being a stellar musical (think Into the Woods or Sweeney Todd) performer and singer/songwriter, she's still mostly introverted, which I hear is actually more typical of great musicians than you might think. She's also got parents who constantly come and go on honeymoon after honeymoon.
Actually, Margo's issues with and dealings with her parents was one of the best parts of the book for me. Not only are there reasons for the parents' limited involvement with Margo, but she actually addresses the problems she has with those reasons. She reacts to her parents' behavior and her imperfect relationship with them. They're not just some prop that says, "Listen here, you can't go to the ball because we must provide conflict," but they're people Margo has to live with, flaws and baggage included. There's actually one line I love in reference to them; Margo's just come home from rehearsal and her first kiss with her new bf and sees lights on in the kitchen:
Earth to Margo[...]. You do actually have a life beyond rehearsals and music and boys. [pg 111]
Yeah, yeah she does. And that's what made reading her such a nice change from some of the paranormal romance lately. With Margo I felt like I was reading about a person who discovers magic exists in her reality, not someone thrown into a new reality. The paranormal elements don't rewrite normalcy, like suddenly people accept the main character's complete change of routine/personality/social interaction as nothing new, but rather the paranormal elements' clash with normalcy is what adds conflict to her story.
And one last quick aside about Margo. I'll admit that I'm not a huge fan of "Margo" as a name. But with the story told in first person from her point of view, the name is not actually written all that much. So if you find the name as unbelievable as I do for modern high school circles, then at least it's not shoved in our face over and over.
Now on to that paranormal element I was talking about. Oliver is a little hard to get a handle on. He's witty, kinda charming, mostly sweet and soft-spoken. He had a couple of nice quirks to him, like being a photography buff, that fleshed him out a little, and I liked that he had Margo's best wishes in mind. Here's the thing though: he's a genie. Which means his goal is to grant his master's every wish. Being a genie also allows him a form of mind-reading so that he can better grant his master's wishes. So you've got a guy whose sole purpose is granting our heroine's every desire as the romantic interest. Am I the only one who sees an issue here?
Guess what, I'm not. THE STORY ACTUALLY ADDRESSES THIS!!!
I won't go into details on how it addresses it, as that's a huge part of the conflict down the road, but the fact that it was even mentioned at all was SO AMAZING to read. Magic doesn't make it okay, if anything it makes things much more complicated. And I loved that about the story. THEY EVEN ADDRESS THE WHOLE MAGIC CREATURE AGE THING:
"Also, technically I'm a teensy bit older than most sophomores." "Oh, god, I knew it," I moaned, covering my face with my hands. "I mean, I didn't really, but you've been dropping hint after hint after hint, and I should have known. I really should have. Oh god. I'm one of those girls." "What girls?" he asked, perplexed. "Those girls. The ones in all those books and TV shows. Some dumb high school girl falls in love with some supernatural guy, and he's all, 'Behold, I am five million years old!' and she's all, 'Oh my god, how can you ever love pathetic little me!' and he's like, 'Because of my destiny!' or whatever. It's just so...ew. You know?"[pg 177-178]
There's about a page and a half more on the age thing, plus a lot of pages AND TIME spent on some of genies' other quirks. Sorry if the caps are getting obnoxious, but guys, this felt really, really great to have addressed in a YA paranormal romance. Not only did I have an icky feeling about the love interest, but the author did too. And she addressed in the story why there should be an ick factor. I cannot tell you how happy I was, but let's just say there was much fist pumping.
Yet another thing I had a happy double take with was the villain. Xavier does a lot of things that seem completely crazy, but then you find out there was reason to his madness and you're kinda blown away. Like stabbing Margo. Not only does it intimidate her and disable her somewhat, but there's also an even more crafty and villainous motive to it. And I loved that he worked like that. Yes, he does serve as the trope of the big bad who wants to kill our main love interest, thereby introducing conflict in our heroine's life, but he was given more of a reason than power or revenge. And actually his reason, crazy though it might be, was a little tear-jerky. I may not have empathized with him, but I at least sympathized a little.
And then there's that ending. I'll admit, I pretty much expected what happened at the end about halfway through the book. I just didn't expect it to happen that close to the last page. This book doesn't end as much as it segues into its sequel The Fourth Wish. There is no dénouement, there's simply the climax and a 'let's go!' that might as well read To Be Continued. I'm not saying it's necessarily a bad thing, but I had a problem with how much was unresolved. And there is a TON left unresolved. I'm very hopeful for the sequel and luckily I have it right next to me to continue, but for anyone looking for a stand-alone, don't even think about it.
Overall, The Art of Wishing was fun to read and had a lot of unexpected turns that kept me engaged throughout. I'd recommend it to anyone looking for a new avenue of YA paranormal romance or those interested in a different, modern take on genies. There are references to Robin Williams' genie and some of the mythology concerning their "freedom" might trigger responses (my sister cried when I started recapping to her). There is minor language, some knife violence and some romantic situations which I believe puts this comfortably in high school range. So if you're looking for a series with a good sense of itself and some humor and magic to boot, then definitely give The Art of Wishing a try.
Another 'contemporary' YA romance set in the mid-1980's, another book that took me forever to review. As I said with my last contemporary romance, I feel very out of my element here. This book in particular left me rather raw, making my thoughts even more jumbled than usual. Add in a straightforward plotline full of spoiler-bait, and I'm left will fairly little to say.
But here goes nothing.
Eleanor is not your typical YA protagonist, or at least not like any one I've read recently. She's headstrong, introverted, guarded, overweight, smart, and, with her flyaway hair and mismatched clothes, not on the road to popularity any time soon. Add in a bus full of bullies and a family life I wouldn't wish on anyone, and she's got quite the full plate to contend with. Between sharing a gender and having a few other details in common, I related with her a lot, which made her story all the more gripping and devastating for me. She goes through a lot of very dark stuff, and it broke my heart to know just how plausible it was. But at the same time it made me all that more hopeful and happy for the good things. Eleanor's story is about overcoming her insecurities and a horrible situation.
And so, from my perspective, Park was like a knight in shining armor. He's a bit more social but still mostly introverted, athletic, smart, popular enough to get by okay, comes from a fairly typical middle-class family, and a bit rebellious. In short, he was everything a girl would want, and everything Eleanor needed. I don't know, perhaps he would read differently from a guy's perspective, but he read as almost too perfect at times. But maybe I'm just being too cynical about romance in general. Park's story is mostly about overcoming his own insecurities and becoming comfortable with himself. Yeah, sorry, but he's the one who's got it easy in this story.
As the title suggests, this book stars both Eleanor and Park as main characters, which means both have time as the book's narrator. Unlike some books, narrator swaps are not confined to the ends of chapters. Instead, switches between the two's perspectives are handled through large breaks with the next section headed by that narrator's name, and these can occur once or many times during a chapter. At some parts, narration swaps go back and forth rapidly, after only a sentence or two. These swaps not only allow for the perspective change and equal screen time between the characters, but also add to the tone of the piece, adding frenetic energy, humor, or empathy simply with a well-timed switch.
Putting aside my cynicism for the time being, I thought the romance was well developed, well paced, and utterly adorable. Both parties are pretty reluctant to go into it at first; one because of the ramifications on his place in the proverbial food chain, and the other because of having enough on her plate already. And the romance is anything but smooth sailing, with both having to fight their own insecurities and common sense saying first love is pointless. But really, isn't it all the more satisfying when there's real effort put in? If it wasn't for all that other stuff Eleanor had to deal with, I'd be jealous. Okay, I'm still a little jealous.
On the topic of that other stuff, I do have to say I found the bullying a bit extreme. I got bullied about my weight in middle school, but never on the scale (God, no pun intended) that happened in this book. Perhaps it's a reflection on the times (90's vs 80's), perhaps it's different at that age, or perhaps these characters are just that cruel, but that was the one thing that kinda had me questioning that reality.
Granted, I'm far from an expert on that reality. Heck, I was born the year this novel takes place. I don't know any of the music (of which there is a lot) they listen to, the TV-shows they watch, nor the 'popular' styles of clothes. I don't know how schools were run, how it is to grow up in a mixed-race family, nor how it is to live with domestic abuse. But I connected with the characters enough that they brought me into their worlds. I may not be able to tell you how authentic the characters and situations actually are, but I know how they felt. And for me, everything felt real.
Overall, I found Eleanor & Park to be an endearing story. I'd definitely recommend it to fans of contemporary romance, or those who enjoy YA and are looking for an easy first step into the contemporary genre. With quite a bit of language, a couple sexual situations, and general coming-of-age material, I'd put this firmly in the high school and up range. Part feel-good romance, part coming-of-age story, and part insight into an unfortunate dark reality, Eleanor & Park should be on the list of anyone looking for a sweet, quirky, down-to-earth romance.
If there was ever a book written especially for book bloggers to connect with and adore, this may very well be it.Amazon ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks
If there was ever a book written especially for book bloggers to connect with and adore, this may very well be it. I highly doubt we'd be doing what we're doing if we hadn't felt passionate about what we're reading, so having a main character as passionate about stories and writing as we are... well it's practically a no-brainer that the community would fall in love. That being said, it's also a charming romance, a realistic look at college, and a heartwarming tale about family. Part nostalgia trip, part genuine good story, I couldn't help but be enthralled by this book.
Cath is a new college student with a TON on her plate. Shy and non-confrontational to a fault, her only solace in this new, stressful situation is in her writing. What was both scary and reassuring was how much I shared with Cath: I've connected with fan communities online, I've written (and read) fanfiction, in person I'm often shy and non-confrontational, our family situations are not wholly dissimilar... Thus I connected with Cath and her problems, her goals, and her victories on a whole other level. Not only is Cath relatable to other fangirls, but she reads like a real person with believable faults, strengths, hopes, fears, and relationships.
Speaking of which leads us to the boy, or rather boys, Nate and Levi. I won't go into spoiler territory here by telling you which one turns out to be the boy Cath ends up dating, but I will say that the boyfriend was almost too perfect. Boy had some problems, sure, but nothing that ever came up or interfered directly with Cath. I did appreciate that they did have tiffs now and again, but the resolutions came off a tad unbelievable in their speed. Still, their chemistry was definitely dreamy sigh-worthy, earning the simultaneous admiration and jealousy of every single girl reading the book. And I guess every romance has a little fantasy to it anyway.
And on the topic of fantasy, how about that Simon Snow? While somewhat of a ripoff of Harry Potter, I actually did enjoy reading the few excerpts we got from 'the original text' at the beginnings of chapters, as well as the few portions of Cath's fanfiction about it. I did find it a bit weird when Harry Potter was mentioned in the text, what with the books' premise and media situation being so identical, but it mostly read as nostalgic for me. The Simon Snow phenomenon may be a throwback to something else, (Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games, etc.) but it was well-developed—especially where the characters were concerned—and presented in a respectable and believable way. And I'll admit, I actually got invested in it and Cath's fanfiction by the end.
I know I keep saying "believable" a lot, but that's really what this book comes down to. The college experience, from the family separation to the academic expectations to the New Adult experimentation, felt all too real. I may have even experienced some teary-eyed flashbacks of my own... Cath's family problems, from trauma to triumph, felt real. Hell, Cath's entire life felt real. Apart from the aforementioned romance elements, I would swear this could be Rowell's autobiography. Obviously it's not, but even considering that possibility is a testament in and of itself.
And after all that, the ending left me wanting more. It wasn't incomplete or a cliffhanger or anything as cruel as that, thank goodness, but it also wasn't all wrapped up in a little bow either. There were still questions, there were still possibilities, and in that it was its own kind of perfect. Sure, I would have liked to have seen how certain things actually resolved, especially where the Simon Snow stories were involved, but that wasn't really what the book was about. It was about Cath, and I enjoyed the 'ending' her story came to. Including that little nod at the end; well played, indeed.
Overall, I found Fangirl to be yet another endearing story from Rainbow Rowell. I'd highly recommend it to anyone who experienced the Harry Potter phenomenon, or really any YA phenomenon, especially those who 'grew up' and entered college at the time. I don't know that this will read as well with an older audience, or those who weren't as involved with the online communities of the time, but perhaps this may serve as an insight into our lives at the time. Otherwise, fans of Contemporary Young Adult or New Adult Romance may also enjoy this book. There is adult language, some sexual situations, drinking, and general college-age material, so I'd put this firmly in the high school and up range. Book bloggers have been praising this nonstop since its release, and with good reason, but I think it's message can be loved by a much wider audience, so definitely grab yourself a copy of Fangirl. And let the fanfiction fly.
It's all come down to this. I loved the last book, but hated the first book. Would Allie's fiAmazon ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks Available April 15th
It's all come down to this. I loved the last book, but hated the first book. Would Allie's final quest be enough to win me over, or would I return to the disinterest I felt in the beginning? Only time and 416 electronic pages would tell.
First off, let's return to our heroine narrator, Allie. The end of The Eternity Cure dealt Allie a huge blow to her convictions and her outlook on life/afterlife. And so, here she has a lot to deal with both internally and externally. Vengeance will only get her so far, and after dealing with Sarren, how will she live for the rest of eternity? After what I felt were a couple of highly convenient events, she finds her answer and moves forward.
Allie has always struck me as more a kickass underdog than an actual tortured soul, thus her real challenges were based mainly in the plot rather than internally. Give her something to do, someone to fight, someplace to go, and she struggles, overcomes, and succeeds. Give her an internal dilemma with a million shades of grey and she will reliably pick the lightest/whitest shade. Because the plot conveniently presents a choice of black or white. Because she's our heroine. Not to say she isn't entertaining to read and follow, but don't expect any more depth out of her than she's previously shown. She has her strengths and weaknesses, so leave the ass kicking to her and the complex emotions to other characters.
If you read the Epilogue from The Eternity Cure, then you'll know that Zeke does make a return here. I won't say how or when in order to avoid spoilers, but I will say I loved where his character went this book. He's always had a lot of crap to deal with, what with post-apocalyptic monsters and food shortages and responsibility and falling in love with the enemy and such. Now he's got even more to deal with, and it is a doozy of an issue. Thing is, as much as I loved Zeke's full character arc in the series, I thought this book handled his new conflict a little too quickly. I get that it isn't his story, and that there are some catastrophic time-sensitive things going on, but I guess I wished his story had taken more time, or struggle, or didn't end as cleanly as it did.
Which brings me to the other character I want to see more of, Jackal. Who would have guessed that Book One's baddie would turn into my all-time favorite character of the series? Jackal turns out to be surprisingly helpful in this book, both in the action parts and in the emotional parts. And yet he still refuses to be thought of as a hero, or a good guy, or anything but a ego-maniacal bastard. I like to think of him as that little devil on your shoulder, poking and prodding you with a pitchfork to give into your dark side, but ultimately doesn't want you to cause yourself harm so begrudgingly offers sound, helpful advice every so often. And with that personality, plus that mystery of his past still hanging there, I'd just like to ask for a Jackal spinoff, please?!?!?!?
Much to my surprise and relief, even with an awesomely mysterious and complex guy like Jackal on the roster, the romance is kept solely between Allie and Zeke. And I can say that I still totally support it. I do think that, much like Zeke's arc, some of the struggles were resolved a little too quickly, but after what the two have gone through I can overlook some of the rushing. What doesn't kill [the romance] makes [it] stronger, right? And though the beginning of the book does leave the door wide open for my pick, Jackal, to make a move, he stays firmly in a brotherly role. Since I'm sure others are tired of the Love-Triangle trope, you can all breathe a sigh of relief that it isn't revived here.
And speaking of breathing, I do have to reiterate some of my confusion and annoyance at the lack of solid information concerning the vampire lore. First, I know I may be harping on this a little too hard, but can we please reach a consensus on the breathing/not breathing thing. A) You have to have airflow in order to talk; this is simple science. B) You have to be breathing in order to SMELL things. I can buy not needing to breathe, thus making extended underwater or underground activities possible, but specifically stating the characters not breathing and then having scent or speech take place directly afterwards always threw me completely out of the narrative. But it's gone through the entire series, so at least there's consistency.
Secondly, what differentiates Master Vampires from underling vampires? I understand there's a power difference, and being able to create other vampires without rabidism, but what makes them Master class in the first place? Can you will it? Is it something you inherit from your sire? Is it complete chance? Maybe, maybe this was covered in the exposition section (Part II) of The Immortal Rules, but that was so long ago (both in time and in pages) that it might have been nice for a refresher.
On the other hand, I will acknowledge that this book has amazing pacing. Allie and her crew are in a literal race against time as Sarren plans to refine and unleash a virus to wipe out all humans, rabids and vampires alike, and there is never a wasted moment. All breaks take place at times when there is no other choice, and whenever a conversation or argument goes on too long, someone always starts on the trail again. The only lull comes just before they enter Eden for the final showdown, but that serves only as a deep breath before taking the plunge. I was glued to my Kindle the entire time, finishing the whole book in two sittings.
So as the conclusion to a series, I'd say this book certainly delivered. All the characters met satisfying endings, or at least reached a place where an open-ended ending wasn't infuriating. There was a moment toward the end which foretold/spoiled the big ending reveal for me, at which point I was screaming at the characters to stop being so oblivious, but there was so much action and I was already hooked by that point so I guess it wasn't that big of a deal.
Ultimately, I'm glad I read this series. I got to know some kickass and complex characters, explore a vampire-filled post-apocalyptic wasteland, and experience an action-packed, nail-bitingly intense (and at times romantic) journey toward salvation. It had its issues, some of them nearly crippling the entire series, but I came out the other side with a positive experience overall, so I'd chalk that up as a win in my book. And as I walk off into the sunset, I look forward to reading what else Ms. Kagawa has out there (and continue hoping for a Jackal spinoff).
Overall, The Forever Song was a strong and satisfying conclusion to its series. I'd highly recommend it for anyone already hooked in the Blood of Eden, or those who are interested in a gritty, post-apocalyptic* YA romance with a lot of bloody vampire action. I can't recall any language this time around, but a sex scene and a lot of gory violence has me keeping my ranking of high school and older. With questions of morality, survival, stigma, and free will combined with chases, fights, and the occasional kiss, how could you not be racing to sink your teeth into this series? And once you've devoured the first two installments, you'll definitely want to check out The Forever Song as soon as possible.
Approximate Reading Time: 8.5 hours
*Though the series is marketed as a Dystopian, I struggle to call this particular book a Dystopian. The first and second books in the series had Dystopian elements while inside the city of New Covington, but this book takes place either in the wastes, where there is no government whatsoever, or in Eden, where there is a fair and supportive government. The series as a whole also fails to incorporate many of the themes and motifs associated with the Dystopian genre. So while I begrudgingly include the Dystopian label on the previous books' reviews, I will not include it here.
Disclaimer: I received this ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review....more
I'm a bit out of my comfort zone on this one. Really the only reason I picked it up was for the Jumble Your Genres reading challenge I've taken on. I know I've said I'll read just about anything, but I have to admit that I find Contemporary Fiction just about the hardest thing to review. Not because I hate it, but because there's not much left to interpretation. The characters are supposed to be real, the setting is supposed to be real, and the conflicts are supposed to be real. Therefore, if a contemporary novel is written well, it makes the review of it pretty sparse.
Still, I'll give it my best shot.
I actually came across Aristotle and Dante via the PulseIt website as part of their semi-regular preview offers. Thing is, instead of the usual button saying "Read a Preview" or an excerpt, it just said "Read Now," like it did during the free reads December promotion. So I thought I was getting a full book when I started it. It offered two full parts with 12 chapters in each.
Little did I know that there were actually five parts, and that part two left off on a major cliffhanger. And when I say major, I mean major. Car careens around corner and is about to hit main character major. Then it just stopped. I immediately logged on to my library website and ordered the book to be put on hold so I could pick it up in the morning. Still, I was so rattled I could hardly sleep.
And therein lies my highest accolade about this book: it makes you care.
I have very little in common with the main characters. Aristotle and Dante are two 15-year-old Mexican-American boys living in 1987 El Paso, Texas. We come from completely different nationalities, classes, settings, generations, and genders, and yet I fell completely and utterly in love with both of them. Even in the incomplete 107 pages I'd first read, I cared what happened to them. I didn't want to keep reading just because I was curious how the cliffhanger resolved, but because I needed to know they were both okay. And with each obstacle that comes their way, I cared more and more about how they would come through.
I think that's one of the hardest things facing the Contemporary genre. If Fantasy and SciFi require imagination and suspending disbelief, then Contemporary requires forging connections despite little commonality. Not every book will please everybody, and some books won't be able to connect with as wide an audience as others. This book in particular has quite a few subjects that might block people from connecting. It features Mexican-Americans. It features boys coming of age. It features underage drinking and drug use. And it features gay relationships.
Personally, I don't have problems reading about any of those subjects. I can't say I approve of the drug use, but I acknowledge that experimentation can be a part of growing up. Same with the drinking. And while I'm far from an expert on Mexican-American culture or how boys develop differently than girls, I found those elements accessible enough that I could connect to the characters and their story despite our inherent differences.
As for the gay relationships, I'll admit I wasn't expecting them. When I first picked up the book, I honestly thought it was going to be a romance and Dante was going to be a girl. When Ari first met him, I remember re-reading the book description to make sure I hadn't missed something. Here's the description I had at the time:
Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.
Nothing indicating any LGBT elements there. So then I thought maybe it wasn't going to be a romance, but just a friendship novel. But as I read more, I had a good idea I had had the right idea beforehand.
Don't get me wrong, I didn't have a problem with it. I just found it interesting that there's really nothing in the descriptions that indicate this as an LGBT novel. Not like Two Boys Kissing, anyway. But I think that works in its favor. Dante reveals himself to be gay about halfway through the novel. Before that, there's absolutely no mention of homosexuality at all. In that respect, the novel really is more about Aristotle living, growing, and finding himself than it is making a bold statement about LGBT. First and foremost this is a story about people, and secondly some of those people happen to be gay.
Still, I'm sure some people will reject this book solely on the fact that it features gay characters. But it goes back to that connection concept that I talked about earlier. Some people try to connect to a novel but will find it too foreign or confusing. Others will go out of their way not to connect under any circumstances, be it from fear or anger or what have you. Whether this book changes minds or simply serves as a sweet story about two boys growing up, I hope it continues to find its way into the hands of YA readers for some time to come.
Overall I found Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe to be an extremely touching story. I'd easily recommend it to anyone who likes coming-of-age stories, or is looking for a sweet and emotional LGBT YA romance. There are moments of violence, some drinking and drug use, and some kissing that has me recommending it for high-school and up, but I wouldn't be too anxious if a middle-schooler got their hands on it. If you're looking for insightful characters, a charming romance, or perfect read to break out of a genre rut, look no further than Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.
This book must have been a nightmare to edit. The cover copy says it has "a poetically minimal writing style". PutAmazon ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks
This book must have been a nightmare to edit. The cover copy says it has "a poetically minimal writing style". Put in layman's terms, it has a simple vocabulary, absolutely no quotation marks, no traditional chapters, and a ton of phonetically-spelled words. For example, "I figger if only we could unnerstand crow talk..." It's almost dialectical, except its throughout the narration and dialog, which I'm sure will put some readers off immediately. I admit it took some getting used to, training my mind to be lazier and not wince with each misspelling, but after a few pages (and with the audiobook's help) I managed to wade through and get to the heart of the story.
Saba is our narrator and heroine of this story. Brought up simply and fairly isolated in the post-apocalyptic wasteland, I have to admit, the writing style is fitting. Saba is your typical tough heroine. Thrown into a tough situation, she turns tough to deal with it. There are times she borders on cold and unlikeable, especially when it comes to her little sister who she can't help but blame for their mother's death. Maybe it's the fact that I'm an older sibling too, but I didn't hold her initial coldness towards her sister against her too much. Plus she's on a quest to get her brother back, so she's obviously got family values in the right place. And it's not like she goes out of her way to hurt her sister or anything...
Unfortunately, that's mostly all we get from Saba. She's tough, determined, loyal, and a great fighter. She's got some major flaws to work through, too, but really that's the summation of her character. And she's the most well-defined character of the bunch.
That, I feel, is the fault of the pacing. The story starts slowly enough. Saba and her sister begin their quest slogging through the desert after their brother. Then they're captured. Then a month flashes by off-screen. Then we return to a timer of four-or-so weeks getting set on the rest of the book. I was happy for the faster pace, and it really does pick up in a good way after that, but there's so much to do. In that time they've got a huge chunk of traveling do to, obstacles to overcome, battles to wage, and a villain to fight, leaving little time left to introduce and establish the other five (six if you count sis) main characters.
Much of that time was spent on Saba's love interest, Jack. Jack was easy enough for me to like: he's your typical man of mystery with a sense of humor, a rogue of sorts. And I do like me some rogues. But nothing was ever really done with him. He kept these secrets, but when Saba finally pried the information out of him, I never saw any reason he'd be keeping the information from her in the first place. The reveals never felt all that deserving of the intrigue surrounding them. So, I guess I approve of Jack in the sense that he had a sense of humor and wasn't a bad guy, but even he wasn't as fleshed-out as I would have liked.
The romance between the two is pretty standard fair, apart from it's strange formation. It's a bit of love at first sight, but what really gets things rolling is this heartstone Saba inherited from her mother. Story goes that the heartstone stays cold until the owner approaches their heart's desire, then it warms to hot until they touch. So whenever Saba gets closer to Jack this stone starts heating up. I guess instead of having a pushy, matchmaking best friend, this stone works instead.
Which begs the question, is this story a Fantasy? Or at least Paranormal? At the beginning of the book, the issue of star reading, and having fate written in the stars is discussed. It's believed that their father learned how to read the future from the stars and perform magic rituals, but his latest efforts have been failures causing the siblings to doubt. Saba also has a couple of prophetic dreams, one of which pertains to Jack. So with the heartstone and the star reading and the dreams, is that enough to call it outright Fantasy, or just a post-apocalyptic novel with paranormal elements?
And speaking of the post-apocalypse, I loved the setting. Some time after our modern society (known as the Wreckers) has somehow wiped itself out, all that remains is our landfills and a few hollowed husks of our cities. But unlike other books I've come across with this setting, there aren't hoards of zombies ravaging the wastes, nor vampires ruling the few hubs of cities. No, it's just humans left, and they can either help you or hurt you.
I wouldn't go so far as to call it a dystopian, seeing as there's not much of a government running things. We eventually come to find that there's a "King" running things in this area, but his "rule" never felt as absolute as in typical dystopians. Plus there are the Free Hawks and other factions fighting for territory rights, so it has more of a lawless feel than a faux-Utopia. (The Free Hawks - now there's another thing I would have loved to have known more about!)
Unbeknownst to me when starting, Blood Red Road is the beginning to a trilogy. I suppose I should have guessed it based on the YA trend of trilogies lately (not to mention the title page). But really, the ending feels very complete. There's still some loose ends to tie up, but in terms of the narrative, it's a clear stopping point. I guess on the bright side, if you didn't love it there's no cliffhangers propelling you forward. But I don't honestly know what else there is to do. I guess I'll have to find out when I pick up the sequel.
Overall, Blood Red Road was an intriguing story with some unfortunate pacing and character development issues. I'd recommend it to those who enjoy tough YA heroines or post-apocalyptic questing novels, and don't mind some romance on the side. No language or sex to speak of, but there is cage-fighting and some battles waged, plus the writing style to contend with so I'd put this in the high school and up range. If you're in the mood for an unorthodox writing style but still want a story with some grit to it, then you might want to check out Blood Red Road.
This book/series sure knows how to press my buttons. In all my years of reading (even before these last three of reviewing) I have come across quite a few things I despise reading. Besides poetry (which I'm forced to analyze) and long-winded sagas of nothingness, I've also run into a few tropes that I abhor, particularly if they are depicted in a favorable light, among which are included fate and possessive romances.
Guess which tropes are heavily featured in The Arcana Chronicles?
Picking up exactly where Poison Princess left off, we find Evie still coming down off of the buzz of unleashing her powers. And right away I'm torn on which direction I want Evie to go. On the one hand, the Empress powers make her completely bad-ass and a force to be reckoned with, but they also come with quite the bloodlust to contend with, pushing her more towards the Fated game the Arcana play. On the other hand, Evie pushes herself to fight the Empress bloodlust in order to appeal more to Jack, her extremely possessive and aggressive on-again/off-again boyfriend.
This struggle starts on page one and continues throughout the entire book, even working in a love triangle with Death. So for the entire book I'm torn between rooting for Evie to choose Fate or one of two horrible relationships. And let me reiterate: I hate Fate. The only time I can tolerate the presence of Fate is when its set up to ultimately fall to the forces of Free Will. But I also hate uber-possessive guys, especially when they're played up as being super romantic.
Let me recap Poison Princess a bit: Jack has been making moves on Evie from the first day she met him. After the apocalyptic Flash scorched the earth, he finds Evie and is persuaded by her mom to take Evie with him and help her survive. Sure, I can see the practicality of it, but I'm still not too thrilled with mom's "helpfulness" (aka matchmaking) here. Be that as it may, Jack teaches Evie the ropes, escorts her across the wasteland, protects her, and at the first sign of a safe haven immediately tries to have sex with her. When she refuses on the grounds of wanting to get to know him and move slower, Jack tells her it should be his right after everything he's done for her. Their relationship is rocky for the rest of the book.
In this book, Jack starts out distant, giving mixed signals from day to day. Eventually it's revealed that he's listened to the entire recording she made in Poison Princess, and he corners her naked in a tub to talk about their relationship. They come to an agreement and officially become a couple. Jack goes about calling her "Mine", not 'my love' or any other nicknames, but variations on "Mine". Later, just before a major battle, the two go off together and have sex. They are interrupted by Death complaining in Evie's mind (he has the power to read her mind), claiming that he is owed, and that he owns her death and thus her life as well. They ignore this and have sex anyway (which, I might add, is actually described. In full. In a YA book. Okay then.).
Skip next paragraph.
Show/Hide Spoilery recap for Jack/Evie relationship in Endless Knight or read less-spoilery next paragraph.
In this book, Jack starts out distant, giving mixed signals from day to day. Eventually Jack corners Evie naked in a tub to talk about their relationship. They come to an agreement and officially become a couple. Jack goes about calling her "Mine", not 'my love' or any other nicknames, but variations on "Mine". There's another significant experience shared between the two before they are forced to part ways.
So forgive me if I don't find Jack a great choice as a romantic interest. Sure, he can protect Evie in the post-apocalypse, but does he have to be such a dick about it? He thinks he's entitled to her, at one point tries to guilt her into sex, and has no issues forcing himself upon her even non-sexually (but always with sexual undertones). I don't find it endearing, I don't find it sexy, I find it disturbing. And I dearly wished for any guy to come in and sweep Evie off her feet instead.
Of course, leave it to the author to present a guy even more possessive than Jack.
Enter Death, the supposed big bad of the Arcana, and the one who has been threatening Evie since even before the Flash. He captures Evie, nullifies her powers, and whisks her away to his mountainside manor. There Evie is shown all the comforts of her old life, but is ultimately a prisoner awaiting the day Death will kill her. The situation actually reminds me a lot of Beauty and the Beast, with Evie trying to crack through Death's imposing exterior, learn his weaknesses, and escape, but eventually getting worn down and coming to love him instead.
And really, if it had stuck to that formula I wouldn't have had such a problem with it. But once certain truths come to light, Death is just as controlling and possessive of Evie as Jack was. Perhaps even moreso. And then the last two chapters happen and I wanted to throw the book through the wall. I get it, promises were made and broken, then reincarnation happens and things get a little blurry, but that doesn't change the fact that forcing love is NOT okay.
So you know what? Go for it, Empress. Give in to your bloodlust and kill all the shitty men in your life. Then go out and find a guy who's not shitty. There must be at least one in this world, right?
But what really kills me about this book/series is that I love everything else about it. I love the Tarot lore, the zombies, the super-powers, the supporting characters, the villains, the world. Hell, I don't even mind there being a love triangle. All I really mind is having to choose between romancing shitty men or following a pre-scripted Fate that calls for killing friends and allies. I like Evie, I really do, and I feel badly about the lot she's been given.
As much trouble as I had with this book, I'm still super psyched for the next book in the series. Evie ends off on another huge cliffhanger here, arguably even bigger than the last, so that definitely has something to do with it. But really the lore and characters are far too interesting for a little rage to get in the way of finding out how everything turns out for them. I don't know if Dead Of Winter will be the final book in the series, or if the chronicles will stretch past a trilogy. Part of me is hoping for a quick end to my romance rage, but the other hopes for some better choices for Evie to appear and stretch the series even further.
Overall, Endless Knight frustrated me yet still gave me enough glimpses of greatness that I came out with a favorable experience. I absolutely hated the romance, but for anyone who enjoyed the previous book it's probably still going to please. Cannibalism, violence, and a sex scene put this squarely in the range of *mature* high-school-and-up. So if you've got a thing for possessive relationships, or can imagine it as a saucy YA retelling of Beauty and the Beast, then Endless Knight offers an intriguing continuation of the Tarot-themed story.
A post-apocalyptic paranormal YA romance that includes zombies, magic, and Tarot lore? I must have skipped this boAmazon ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks
A post-apocalyptic paranormal YA romance that includes zombies, magic, and Tarot lore? I must have skipped this book's description entirely, because I had absolutely, positively no clue what I was reading for a while there. Not that it was confusing, mind you, I just had no idea where it was going. And I have to say, I kind of liked it that way!
The book starts out in the mind of this guy who seems just a step down from Hannibal. He's just invited this girl into his home and invited her to tell him her story. Really he's just waiting for the drugs he's slipped her to take effect so he can add her to his other test subjects he keeps in his basement. But he may as well listen to her story while he waits...
We then get Evie's story from her perspective, from before the apocalypse started all the way up until she meets this creep. But though we get this end-point at the very beginning of the book, and even flash back to it once in the middle, Evie's story was so engrossing that I completely forgot. Let's face it, I could hardly predict where she was going to be a couple pages ahead, let alone all the way into 'the present'. This book was completely stuffed, but in a good way, not in an "I have no idea what's going on" way.
Evie is a hard character to pin down, mainly because she undergoes such a change through the course of the story. She starts out before the apocalypse as a smart, sassy, friendly cheerleader. Seemingly, she's got everything going for her. But secretly she keeps getting horrific visions, hearing voices, and experiencing vivid and gruesome dreams. She also just got back from a summer in a mental institution after she told her mom she was having these. Needless to say, she's a bit distrustful, paranoid, and more than a little afraid that she's actually going insane.
After the apocalypse (turns out her visions were prophetic) she's not completely useless, but her high GPA and cheerleading skills won't do her much good anymore. She's still got voices in her head, chanting random meaningless phrases over and over, and a few other new abilities reveal themselves. She needs answers, and she needs help getting them. Thankfully she's level-headed and determined enough to accept it where she can, even if it's not in the most welcome of packages.
Jack, in the Evie's words, was "dangerous, compelling, impossible to ignore and—confusing." Now, I'm not normally a supporter of girls hanging around (or falling for) the dark and dangerous boys, but if there's one good reason to allow it, running around the post-apocalyptic landscape has to be it. And Jack was a pretty handy guy to have around, even if he was extremely difficult to work with most of the time. He's prone to thinking he knows best about anything and everything, and being close-mouthed about information he's decided Evie is too soft to handle, but he does earn points for having a mostly good head on his shoulders and deciding to protect Evie at all costs.
The romance between these two would be best described as 'Off and On'. They've each got personal baggage and prejudices against each other, yet are still trying to make the best of it. Their relationship does suffer from the 'inexplicably drawn to each other' trope, as well as some unbelievably chauvinistic ideology from Jack concerning sex and "owing him", but I'm happy to say that Evie holds her ground against him. Jack and Evie both suffer from jealousy at various points, and their communication skills leave a lot to be desired, plus I think most of the attraction between the two is based solely on mystery/curiosity and isolation. In short, I don't see it working out between them, but we'll see where it goes.
Along their journey they meet up with some other kids their age (15-18). Matthew is the kind of character you'll either love or hate. He's got a strange way of talking (possibly autistic) and sharing information, but he seems to have the best of intentions when it comes to Evie, even if it is detrimental to himself. Finn shows up a bit late, but I found him fun enough in his short while. He's your typical cocky, womanizing roguish character, but he's in the background enough not to make a nuisance of himself.
Selena, on the other hand, was downright bitchy. Because she's so secretive and hateful toward our narrator, it makes it seem like she's that way for seemingly no good reason other than to serve the plot. Gee, Evie can't have another girl friend, and girls always fight over guys, so Selena will be super-ultra-mega-alpha-bitch and flirt nonstop with Jack just to make Evie's life harder. Who knows, she might actually have a good reason for being the way she is, and we'll get the whole story later, but for now, she seems to be there solely to piss me (and Evie) off.
But what about that whole Tarot thing I mentioned? Well, I admit I have zero knowledge about the Tarot and the mythos surrounding it, so I took the story at face value. With that in mind, I found it original and intriguing. I don't want to spoil too much here, since the discovery of different aspects is integral to the plot, but I was especially interested in the abilities of each of the Tarot cards. I'm actually a bit torn now as to whether I want to do my own researching into Tarot, or if I want to wait until the series is over so as to not potentially spoil things for myself. So I can't really report (yet) on how accurate the lore is or isn't, but it was at least interesting enough to get an uneducated soul like me completely hooked.
One thing I wasn't completely sold on the lore had to do with fate. I've never really been one to enjoy when fate or destiny work into a narrative, unless the characters ultimately break free of it. And even then, it seems like more of an excuse for the characters to be dicks to each other than anything else. Here it didn't seem much different. Sure, destiny may have brought on this post-apocalypse, and the appearance of these strange powers, but then what? Are their powers based on their original personalities, or must they change their personality/ideals in order to reach their full potential?
I mentioned earlier that Evie undergoes a major change through the course of this story. Part of me understands that changes have to be made in order to survive. Adapt or die, essentially. And apparently the rest of humanity (in southern USA at least) turn into zombies or complete psychos after the apocalypse, so Evie has to become something even stronger if she's to survive. On the one hand, I'm glad that she asserts herself and does become a complete badass chick. On the other hand, is it wrong of me to wish she didn't have to give up her ideals in order to achieve that? Why did she have to stoop to their level, as it were, and abandon her initial worldview instead of using her abilities to prove it existed?
Guess I'll have to see how it progresses in the rest of the series. I'm still not 100% sold on this destiny/fate thing and how it factored into the big reveal at the end of the book, but I'm too hooked on all the other lore and interesting characters to give up so easily. Plus, rumor has it that the next book (Endless Knight) focuses on a new super-mysterious character, one who might offer better romantic fare.
Overall, I found Poison Princess to be a surprisingly intriguing introduction to a new series. The romance was a bit hit or miss with me, but I'd easily recommend it for those who like YA paranormal romance with a post-apocalyptic flare, or anyone who's looking for something new and unpredictable in YA. Quite a bit of violence and some uncomfortable conversations about sex makes this a high-school-and-up recommendation from me. So if you've any interest in Tarot or just want some variety in your sassy, super-powered heroines, Poison Princess is a must for your list.
I'd heard of Philippa Gregory—I mean, it's hard not to after the huge success The Other Boleyn Girl became. I knewAmazon ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks
I'd heard of Philippa Gregory—I mean, it's hard not to after the huge success The Other Boleyn Girl became. I knew she was mainly a historical romance writer who tended to write historically 'factual' novels with a few embellishments. I happen to enjoy the occasional historical novel, especially those that focus on women and/or teens of the time (see Tamora Pierce and Robin LaFevers). So when I heard that this renowned author was tackling a YA-focused historical series, I was pretty excited for it.
And then I read it. And then I shook my head and sighed.
The book first introduces us to Luca, a handsome and highly intelligent young man who is rumored to be a Changeling (one with fairy blood). After questioning the validity of church relics, he is recruited by The Order of Darkness (or Order of the Dragon?) to investigate strange and/or blasphemous occurrences around Italy and report whether or not the Bible's End of Days is approaching. So he goes out and investigates, joined by his outspoken servant, Freize, and an uptight record-keeper, Brother Peter.
We are then introduced to Isolde, a noble woman whose father has just passed. However, instead of being willed his lands as she had always been promised, her brother announces that their father changed his mind and said she was either to marry or become Abbess of the land's convent. After a failed rape by an 'approved' suitor, she and her closest friend (and servant), Ishraq leave for the convent.
And wouldn't you know it, the two cross paths! And though they're both sworn to the church, they kinda sorta have a thing for each other...
But if you want to have any fun with the book, ignore those two completely. Sure, Luca is smart and handsome and is leading this important quest for knowledge, and Isolde is beautiful and caring and the victim of the misogynistic times, but that's really all there is to them. There isn't any growth from either of them. No, the real stars turn out to be their confidants, Freize and Ishraq.
Freize is a kitchen-boy-turned-squire who joined his friend in order to help him. He's street-smart, funny, boisterous, crafty, and has a gift with animals. He also sees himself as a bit of a ladies man, but is quickly put in his place, often hilariously, by Israq. He may be a bit cocky, especially when he has information others don't, but his intentions are in the right place and he is loyal to a fault.
Israq is of middle-eastern descent, brought back from the crusades by Isolde's father. She was raised as a servant, but also protector and constant companion for Isolde, such that she learned all manner of skills—both physical and knowledge-based—to ensure she and her lady were safe. She is often distrustful, especially of men, but slowly learns to accept kindness and strength from others, especially Freize.
Compared to the two bricks that are the book's "main characters", these two companions have all the best dialog, the best growth, and the best chemistry. Heck, they have the most character of anyone in the whole book!
Which made the romance surrounding Luca and Isolde the most flaccid thing I have ever read. Firstly, they have absolutely no time spent between them, at least not alone, so any feelings generated between them are on looks and actions alone. Secondly, the book is written in 3rd-person-omniscient and most of the details are focused on the world, such that we have no idea what's going on in the character's heads. We don't feel any drama, any heartache from them at all. And lastly, they're both in the church, so everything is prim and proper and distanced between them at all times. On the bright side, there's no love triangle, on the other side, there's barely even a love line connecting these two!
And that's part of what leads me to call this a failure of a Young Adult novel. No, a YA story doesn't need a romance, but it does need the characters to learn and grow throughout their stories. If a main component of this story was supposed to be love, then one or both of the lovers need to come to some realization about their feelings. Admitting they have them, realizing that love is more important than religious vows (or visa versa), learning that love is complicated but worth trying for... something.
A YA book doesn't just need teen characters, it needs teen characters dealing with teen issues. Even historical teens had issues (romance being an obvious one) that they had to deal with. Changeling doesn't have its characters deal with anything. Even the titular character, Luca the presumed Changeling, never struggles with finding his origins, his truth. It comes up once at the very beginning, and is then thrown away entirely. And Isolde, who suspects that her brother betrayed her, never struggles (on-screen) with this betrayal, either of her father or her brother. In fact, she hardly does anything in the entire course of the novel.
Really, it didn't matter if the main characters were young, middle-aged, or old. None of the mysteries or strange events had anything to do with teens, self-discovery, growth, coming of age, or anything. It seemed as if the author simply wrote a story, made the main characters church-tithed to eliminate sex, and then threw in a few mentions of how young the characters were in order to break into a new, lucrative market. Nothing about the book read YA at all, which was both disappointing and infuriating.
Thing is, I can't even call it that great a story without the incorrect YA classification. As I said, it seemed like the wrong characters were written as the leads, but even they didn't come to the forefront until over halfway through. With no characters to root for, I didn't find the intrigue of the mysteries all that riveting, and so much of the novel was a bore to read. I don't know if this is typical of the author's writing style, or if this was different because it wasn't true-story-based, but I will definitely not be reading any of the sequels any time soon.
Overall, Changeling was a struggle to get through. If you're looking for a historical novel that's kid-safe, or you're starved for anything Philippa Gregory writes, you might give this a try. No language, sex, or violence, here, though there were a couple mentions of rape. Add in the thick historical details and the slow pace, and I'd suggest high school and older would be able to enjoy this. Patience is not only a virtue, but is almost necessary if you want to try getting into this series. Historical novel first, and a romance or YA novel only if you squint, Changeling will hopefully find a happier audience than I.
Perhaps I've been reading too many well-written and utterly fascinating Dystopian books lately. Maybe I've grown tAmazon ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks
Perhaps I've been reading too many well-written and utterly fascinating Dystopian books lately. Maybe I've grown too used to the idea that the world is doomed, humanity has all but killed itself, and the future holds nothing but torture and injustice. Or perhaps I've heard too much praise for the series. Because when it came to Uglies, I just didn't get the punch I was expecting.
The world of Uglies was both dark and fascinating. Inequality is a thing of the past because after age 16 everyone looks beautiful. If you think about it, it's kinda true. To quote from the book:
"Everyone judged everyone else based on their appearance. People who were taller got better jobs, and people even voted for some politicians because they weren't quite as ugly as everyone else." [...]
"Yeah, and people killed one another over stuff like having different skin color."
It's sad to say so, but who doesn't judge a person based on their appearance, take in that first impression? You may not always act upon that initial judgement, but it's in our mindsets. So it would seem that there are no downsides in creating a society of equality, where everyone can be gifted with equal beauty for free.
But in a world created by humans, are there such things as equality and freedom for all? Yeah, the book's labeled Dystopian: you do the math.
As far as Dystopians go, I thought this one was less relatable than most others I've read. Oftentimes I read a book and see parallels, or read a scathing social commentary that makes me want to change what I'm doing, to go out and make a difference now, before everything goes to hell. Here, though, everything is so distanced from the world today. All we see of today's culture is ruins, artifacts, and the characters can only wonder how we survived. It's as if we're seeing ourselves from an alien's perspective instead of a descendant's.
Which in turn made it less heavy-handed and much more focused on the story at hand. Because I didn't feel like I had to go stop things myself, I was able to engross myself in the world and characters more fully. On the one hand, I appreciated being able to relax and just enjoy the story, but on the other hand, I wasn't as distracted from things I didn't like...
Tally Youngblood was our eyes to this world of Uglies and Pretties, but honestly I found her a little hard to root for. A bit of a prankster, she starts off as being all about fun and excitement. She'd break the rules, but only as much as was expected, never enough to jeopardize her own future as a Pretty. But when that future is endangered by Shay, she's pretty quick to throw her under the bus.
I suppose that all added to the journey in which Tally is supposed to change. But when a good half of the book is spent with a narrator who is a shallow, disloyal, promise-breaking liar, it makes it harder to shift your thoughts and root for her when she changes. Also, other characters continually make her out to be special, when she does little-to-nothing to deserve such praise. The villain seems to think she has some great influence over people, her boyfriend thinks she's wiser and more serious than anyone else, but I never figured out why.
Still, I didn't hate Tally. I thought she was relatable, with flaws as well as kinda major brainwashing/conditioning to account for the more serious faults. And she was brave and loyal when the moment really called for it. I was put off by how often she would promise things, only to knowingly break her promises a few pages later, but I can overlook a few things for her fighting spirit and sacrifices she makes for others later down the line.
Unfortunately there's not much to say about the other characters in the book. Shay is written mainly as a plot device for Tally to act off of. She's passionate and opinionated one moment, pushing Tally to a new level of rebellion, and the next she's a shallow and jealous ex-friend because Tally stole 'her' boy. David, the romantic interest, is basically just that. He shows Tally the truth behind the government conspiracy, praises her up one side and down the other, and then serves as the guilt to drive her to action later. There were some more incidental characters, but none of them got nearly enough screen time to develop personalities of their own.
So with my feelings of partial indifference toward both romantic leads, what did I think of the romance? Well, it had it's ups and downs. Thankfully, the love triangle was squashed rather early. Yes, Shay liked David and held a grudge against Tally about it, but it was very clear that David would never reciprocate her feelings. I also liked that Tally didn't have love at first sight. In that sense, I did think she was rather mature and serious, though she did have a lot of guilt and thoughts of "How can I tell him what I did?" which got annoying after a while. Still, I approved of how the relationship developed and their treatment of one another, so I guess I'd endorse the pairing.
I'm actually surprised to have found this much to harp on. Believe it or not, I think fondly of Uglies, and am very much looking forward to continuing with the series. Perhaps it wasn't the most thought-provoking or heart-wrenching of Dystopians I've read these days, but I did find the story and characters engaging while I read, and I'm eager to see what happens next.
Now for the ending... About three-quarters through, once I started thinking about the series as a whole, I'm sorry to say that I was able to predict the ending. Thankfully, I didn't know exactly how it would come to pass, but I did get the gist correct. And if anything, it helped me prepare for the cliffhanger that was to come. Yes, there's a cliffhanger. And yes, you should have the next book handy. But while Tally's story is unfinished, her journey of growth and self-discovery comes to a satisfying conclusion (pause) at the end of this book.
Overall, Uglies was an enjoyable Dystopian. I'd recommend it to fans of YA, Dystopians, SciFi, or any combination of three with some romance on the side. Though no language or sex, there are a few fight scenes with mild violence and some character deaths, but I'd say middle school and older will enjoy reading this. With another intriguing what-if scenario, if you're wanting a change from the heavy-handed and depressing fare that the Dystopian genre has pitched to us lately, you'll definitely want to check out Uglies for yourself.
SPOILER ALERT This review is for those who have read or are familiar with the previous books, Hex Hall, Demonglass, & especiallySpell Bound or donSPOILER ALERT This review is for those who have read or are familiar with the previous books, Hex Hall, Demonglass, & especiallySpell Bound or don't mind knowing some spoilers for them. School Spirits, however, will remain spoiler-free. SPOILER ALERT
After the disappointment I had with the last Hex Hall book, I admit that I was a bit reluctant to return. True, Hawkins had moved on to a new character, one with a completely different backstory, and there were no promises that this would be dragged out into its own trilogy, but I knew it was still a matter of whether the writing itself had changed or not.
Turns out that changes were made, and a lot of them for the better.
Though School Spirits clearly takes place after Sophie's trilogy, I was pleased that it didn't draw too much from the other storyline. Actually, someone could pick this book up and read through it with very little trouble. Granted, it does have spoilers for Spell Bound, stating what happened to Sophie and her relation to Izzy, and there may be confusion from not explaining much about Prodigium, but I think the book holds its own surprisingly well.
Izzy Brannick was a fun main character to follow. I enjoy a good combination of snark and kickass, and Izzy's got both in spades. She's also got a lot going for her in terms of knowledge, skills, and physical abilities, but her confidence has taken a beating lately. So when a mission calls for the infiltration of a brand new environment, she may put up a strong front, but she's really just your typical awkward teen. Which, actually, fits perfectly with the environment: public high school!
While similar in storyline to the original Hex Hall, I found School Spirits to be a lot more believable. Both Izzy and Sophie go through the "new girl in school" storyline, but where Sophie was immediately singled out as both *strange* and *super-special-awesome-homecoming-queen*, Izzy reads as quirky and peculiar. She doesn't receive any special treatment, no hero worship or weird punishments, she acquires friends from shared classes and with similar interests, and she doesn't gain enemies or rivals at any point during her time there. Turns out, high school can actually be...normal!
Well, as normal as a school can be with a Paranormal Management Society. Speaking of which, I really liked all of Izzy's friends. They not only worked as great compliments to our MC, but they were also believable on their own. Romy was a great girlfriend: understanding, passionate, and so not catty. Anderson was a little underused, but still provided some good banter. And Dex, the love interest, was sweet, quirky, and a lot of fun. Though perhaps a bit too quirky for some, I'd love to get to know him more.
I'll admit, I did roll my eyes a couple times during the book, but looking back I have to say that the romance was fairly drama-free. No love-triangles, no Romeo/Juliet angst, no on-again, off-again shenanigans. There is one misunderstanding-caused break-up between the two, but it's nothing outside the range of real teen romance, so I give it a pass. Also I thought Izzy and Dex actually had a sweet relationship. I'm not sure how well it will last going forward, but it was nice to read within the confines of this story.
Another welcome change-of-pace from the original trilogy was the mystery aspect of the story. I'll grant you that the original Hex Hall had a slight mystery weaving through, but here it is the primary driving factor. First they have to figure out who the ghost is, then how to stop it, then who summoned it, and all before the next victim is hurt or killed. It gave a much-needed sense of urgency to the plot, and helped justify some of the speed at which characters or relationships moved.
Unfortunately, the most irksome part for me was the ending. When a book is written as a mystery, I feel like an important aspect of the genre is allowing the reader to develop their own theories about said mystery. Not only are we following the story of our protagonist(s), but we're also piecing together clues for ourselves. Thus, it would follow that there should be information laced throughout the story. However, with School Spirits it seemed like none of the actual information was revealed until the very end of the book.
Now, it's one thing to be completely engrossed with the protagonist, such that we don't see things because she doesn't see things. And that's bound to happen in 1st-person-perspective. Unfortunately, that means that when the surprising twist is actually revealed, the reader is assaulted by everything all at once. Not only are we receiving the Who and Why, but also the What, How, and When all in the span of a couple pages. The info-dump of a reveal felt both sloppy and rushed, not to mention completely out of left field. Frankly, I felt disappointed and deceived.
Would I read another one? Probably. I mean, it's not like I haven't found all of the Hex Hall endings rushed, or exposition-heavy. I really should have come to expect it by now. And I still enjoy Hawkins's snarky narrators with their wit and humor and kickassery. So, yes, if Izzy's book takes the unresolved plot threads and branches off into its own series, I'd probably read another one or two.
Overall, I enjoyed School Spirits more than I thought I would. It still had some eye-roll moments, but that's pretty much one of the staples of the series by now. I'd easily recommend it for those who like YA urban fantasy with a bit of romance in the mix, and I think both newbies and veterans of the Hex Hall series will find it enjoyable. No violence or language in the mix, plus PG-rated make-outs put this at a comfortable middle school level, though high school and up may enjoy the romantic bits a bit more. So if your shelf is lacking on snarky, ghost-hunting heroines, you may want to put School Spirits on your list.
As I'm rather late in reviewing this book, I'm sorry to say that I was not completely impartial in my reading of iAmazon ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks
As I'm rather late in reviewing this book, I'm sorry to say that I was not completely impartial in my reading of it. I'd read less than savory things about this book/series. Now, I don't remember exactly what I'd read, nor do I want to find and read it again as I feel it's important to express my personal reactions, plus I don't want to repeat someone else's words. That being said, I admit that I went into this book expecting to hate it.
Well, there's good news, and there's bad news. The good news is that I didn't hate it. Unfortunately, I didn't much like it either.
Wither came in at an all-around "Meh" for me. I don't hate the book as a whole, but I also don't think I would have missed anything by not reading it. Ultimately, I never felt like the book knew what it was. It was kind of a romance, but Rhine and loverboy barely got any time to know each other. It sorta had a Dystopian rebellion feel, but there was never any attempt to "fix" anything, just escape it. There were bits and pieces of commentary on marriage, motherhood, sex, science, and freedom, but everything ended up buried by Rhine's personal plot.
And speaking of our main character, Rhine was whiny, passive aggressive, and completely self-absorbed. I'm sure we're supposed to notice the good things about her: that she doesn't bully the servants, that she cares about the well-being of her "sister-wives", that she's a free spirit who only wants to rejoin her brother and love whom she wishes. But all I saw was a girl who complained about everything yet never did anything about it. And what little she does do is always aided by accomplices, who then pay dearly for their part in it.
She constantly schemes about running away from the manor, escaping and finding her brother. To do this, she plays the part of a loyal and well-behaved wife so she can become the most trusted. But do her plans ever involve escaping with the other wives? Do her plans ever involve overthrowing her captors? Nope, just me, me, me, and I, I, I.
Now Jenna, one of Rhine's two sister wives, was a character worth caring about. Her real sisters were in the same van that brought her to the mansion, and now eighteen, she doesn't have much time left, so she's resigned herself to living in the luxury that's been afforded to her. But that doesn't mean she won't work as hard as she can to help her fellow wives. Selfless and experienced in more things than either of the other girls, I would have loved to see into her head as she actively worked to free Rhine. But instead she's left in the background, only surfacing when she's helping or being punished for her rebellions.
But if that weren't infuriating enough, we then have Linden Ashby: architect, husband, and glorified slave owner (NOT to be confused with the real-life actor of the same name). No, as much as I dislike Linden as a character, I loathe the author's treatment of him even more. 'It's okay to love him because he's a nice guy who cares about his wives' happiness.' 'It's okay to love him because he's naive and doesn't know what's really happening.' Ahem, excuse my language for a minute as I call BULL SHIT.
Linden supposedly thinks that his wives were brought to him from a finishing school of sorts, that they all were volunteers willing to be sister wives and have children with wealthy husbands. But if that were true, why does he keep them on a floor with locked windows, no stair access, and an elevator that only takes a keycard for use? And why does the property have a holographic forest completely obscuring the path to the gate? Even if he didn't install these measures himself (he has an evil scientist father for that), he has to realize what they're there for.
Yet the author would have us believe that he's really a saint. That Rhine would (and should) fall in love with him because he's just so kind. And he has so much depth because he can draw both beautiful and gruesome pictures. That he's a suitable crush and love-triangle member because he loves Rhine so much. Shame on you, DeStefano. Unless you were truly writing about a case of Stockholm Syndrome, there is no way to justify the 'excuses' you've written around Linden.
But if Linden was one corner of the love triangle, and Rhine another, then you would think that my favorite of the three would have to be the remaining corner. Unfortunately, Gabriel—"servant" of the manor—was hardly even there. Rhine and he share a camaraderie because they're both slaves under different names. But with a majority of their time together mentioned in passing, and his disappearance halfway through the book, it made it hard to see him as anything more than an act of defiance. It felt like Rhine was going to have a secret relationship with him because it was a freedom she was being denied. And that he reciprocated her affection was only a convenience.
So between the barely-written boy of convenience, the glorified slave owner written up to be a saint, and the completely self-absorbed woe-is-I 'heroine' of the story, I could have cared less for any one of the three in the love triangle. Put simply, the romance didn't work.
If there was any consolation for reading this book, I will say that the world was intriguing. Apparently World War 3 sank every other land mass besides North America. Clever lie to manage the populace (sadly, doubtful), or convenient way to keep outside governments from muddying up the plot, regardless it still serves as an interesting backdrop for the main story. But what really stood out to me was the naturalists vs cure-seekers.
Naturalists think that humans screwed up enough, that they should just accept their fate and get killed off, while cure-seekers are not only continuing to have children (who will die in 20/25 years) but are also conducting numerous genetic experiments on (presumably) these children. An interesting conundrum to have—to have children in order to keep humanity alive on the off-chance that they do eventually find a cure, but also subjecting them to equally short lives. But where books like The Hunger Games did the question on the morality of motherhood justice (could you subject your child to a tragically short life?), this book simply swept it under the rug in favor of Rhine and her romance.
Overall, the more I thought about it, the less I liked Wither. If you're starved for an alternative YA romance set in the dreary near-apocalypse, then you might give this a try. Though no language or violence, there were many references to sex, prostitution (though thankfully no rape), and a childbirth scene. Based on that and the heavy subject matter, I'd suggest no younger than high school pick this up. An intriguing what-if scenario, sadly overshadowed by awful characters and a failed romance, read Wither only if you've got extra time and patience on your hands.
This book has it all. Space battles, estranged twins coming together, psychic powers, love/hate relationships, govAmazon ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks
This book has it all. Space battles, estranged twins coming together, psychic powers, love/hate relationships, government conspiracies, human rights activism... But, honestly, where the plot was full of action-packed things happening, I found it slightly lacking in substance.
Where characters were concerned, I just didn't connect. Lissa was our main character, the one we were supposed to relate to as her world is turned upside-down and she's thrust into this spectacular adventure. But with her, we're never given a base of normalcy to attach to. I mean, I get what Howson was trying for: an ordinary girl thrust into extraordinary circumstances. But from the start she's already experiencing abnormal events, already ostracized from her peers, already facing a life-changing decision. I never got a feeling for how she was before everything happened in order for her personal-growth journey to mean anything.
Lin was by-far the more interesting of the two. A girl with strange powers growing up in near-isolation, being told she's worth nothing, with strange visions of another life being her only source of hope. And then, getting to experience her escape, her triumph, her confusion at the outside world, at these 'morals' being instilled in her—now that would be fascinating to read. Observing her was okay, but without seeing the inner workings of her mind there were too many times where she felt underdeveloped. I mean, for having broken free, run away, and having a survive-at-all-costs mentality, I would expect a far less pacifistic personality, even if it was only with her sister.
And really, the two sisters' bond was the best part of the two characters. Watching the two of them interact, having absolutely nothing in common yet having to cooperate and compromise to reach a goal, was easily my favorite part. I especially enjoyed the soul-searching moments when Lissa was faced with the thought that perhaps her sister wasn't human, like when she had to explain fundamental moral concepts such as why killing/harming another person was wrong. Seeing her struggle to understand, and ultimately to love someone so intrinsically different from herself was by far the strongest aspect of the book. Do I think it might have been stronger from Lin's perspective? Perhaps...
Additionally, I thought the book had some other interesting insights in regards to morality, human rights, sociology and even a little psychology. I will say I was very skeptical of Lissa's treatment by her friends/peers. In my experience, confirmed medical conditions (especially those that result in bruises and blackouts) aren't seen as jeering material unless you're much younger, and even then it's not like the whole class would be that heartless. But besides that, I enjoyed the debates regarding what made a human, if killing was ever justified, and detachment from feelings.
Unfortunately, that all wasn't enough to make me "feel" this book. As I said, there's a lot here to keep your attention. A lot of things happen bang-bang-bang, one right after the other. But the disconnect from the characters, especially the main character, just left me feeling kinda "meh" after I was done. Perhaps it was the choice of writing in 3rd-Person Limited rather than 1st? I mean, I was interested to know more about the world/universe they inhabited, and I had fun while I was there. I didn't dislike the book, or Lissa, I just didn't really care at the end.
As far as the ending was concerned, I liked it. It was open enough to leave room for sequels, but also complete enough not to leave you feeling gypped or overly anxious for the next book. Honestly, I was a little disappointed when I discovered that there is indeed a Book 2 scheduled for 2014. And not because I have tons of books already on my plate, but because I was genuinely happy with where it ended. Our characters went through their adventure, changed, became stronger people, and, as with most stories, still had their lives ahead of them. Sure, there's more things left to be done, but I don't know what else there is to explore about them. I'll probably check out Unravel for curiosity's sake, but I think other readers could easily leave this as a stand-alone novel without too much heartache.
Overall, Linked was an interesting story, though I found the characters a bit lackluster. I'd recommend it for those who enjoy YA science fiction with some romance and morality issues thrown in. It does contain some violence and a low-scale PG romance, and a few descriptions of human testing may disturb the more squeamish, but everything is very brief. If you're looking for a futuristic society where it seems the wrong people were put in charge, and it's fate rests on the shoulders of two young girls, then you should give Linked a try.
I haven't been much into historical fiction as I used to be. Sure, I get a taste every now and again, but with so much urban fantasy and paranormal teen material coming out lately, I'm sorry to say that the historicals have been crowded out. So you can see how discovering a new young adult historical novel focusing on lady spies and protectors of Queen Elizabeth might intrigue me. Crafty girls armed with blades and surrounded by historical intrigue? Sign me up! If only it were that awesome.
Meg was an easy enough girl to sympathize with. Headstrong, crafty, and a bit lawless, she values her freedom more than almost anything. And yet, when push comes to shove, she's actually extremely loyal, even to her own detriment at times. I guess you could call her snarky, but thankfully not in a modern way. She's got a lip to her, but is still very much set in the 16th century, so she's not completely outspoken or brash. Still, I liked that she knew her skills, both physical and mental, and wasn't afraid to use them.
Unfortunately, I was disappointed by how...passive Meg turned out to be. I know spies are supposed to hang in the shadows, always observing, not springing into action, but Meg hardly did even that! I think she spied a grand total of two times, and even then she hardly gathered any information from it. I guess 'passive' isn't the right word, maybe 'ineffective' works better. Any information she did gather (most of it from pick-pocketing) had to be translated by another person because it was in a foreign language or coded or both. Which meant that too much of the time Meg (and therefore the reader) felt assaulted by loads of exposition.
But even when she was doing something, she never did it on her own. Between receiving orders, passing information off, pairing up with another of the Maids to explore or research, or getting rescued (twice!), she didn't seem all that "talented" to me. And to top that off, there's also a mystery involving this book her grandfather passed on to her on his deathbed. But rather than researching it on her own, or adding context to the deciphering or something, it's instead solved off-screen and the solution handed to her. So as much as her "natural talent for spying" is hyped up, and she's supposedly set on a path toward self-discovery, I didn't really see Meg achieving much at all.
At least not on her own, which is where the other maids factor in. I liked the other girls well enough, but I didn't get much character from most of them. Mostly they seemed to fit different archetypes and never strayed from that archetype. Jane, the Blade, was Tomboyish, so made a good companion for Meg when exploring secret passageways. Anna, the Scholar, liked codes and puzzles, so served as a convenient tool to translate Meg's findings. Sophia, the Seer, was timid and weak, so served as someone to protect as well as make Meg look better by comparison.
And lastly, Beatrice, the Belle, served as the other extreme, the bitchy, prissy, socialite and guy-magnet. Honestly, I was most confused by her character. One minute she'd be all mightier-than-thou and seeming to take pleasure in others' misfortune, and the next she'd be their best friend. There was one section in particular where Meg was forced to lie to Beatrice about being chosen by the Queen for a task, and Beatrice was instantly chummy and apologetic for all her earlier bitchiness. But when she's told another lie about Meg's true intentions, she is even more catty and horrid than before. And the next time we see her, she's perfectly fine again. I can't tell if she was actually a complex character, was too simple to question the validity of the information given to her, or was simply written into various roles to serve the plot.
I was also sorry to see the two spymasters' characters never expand into anything more than plot devices. One man is in charge of Meg and the other Maids of Honor's training, and one is the Queen's spymaster. Both add conflict to the story, partly by threatening Meg's friends should she decide to run away, and partly by assigning Meg to spy on the Queen herself. We get a little of the logistics of why someone would want the Queen's movements tracked, but we never get any motivation from these two specifically.
In fact, we get very little interaction with them at all. Meg receives her lessons and her orders, and is then left completely on her own. Oh wait, no, they do step in again toward the end of the story, but nothing ever becomes of their actions. Well, nothing on their side, anyway. They aren't ever held accountable for their spying on the Queen, or their actions and threats towards Meg. In fact, they get off scot-free for everything. So not only do we know next-to-nothing about them, but their actions aren't even important enough to be addressed.
But perhaps this lack of intimacy between Meg and men was simply a product of the time, for even her relationship with Rafe Luis Medina, Count de Martine was somewhat brief. I'm not much for the love-at-first-sight kind of romance, which this most definitely was, but I can tolerate it as a way to kick things off if there's some growth and bonding afterwards. But all we get from Rafe is nonstop flirting, some stalkerish behavior and threats spy talk, and the claim that he would have rescued Meg after the fact. So all Rafe really has going for him is his gorgeous looks and hawt Spanish-ness. Not really my idea of heartthrob material, there.
I did, however, like how Meg's denial was written. Oftentimes in YA, the heroine will be against men or love and then fight her feelings out of confusion more than anything else. "I've never felt this way, it must be a bad thing!" Meg, on the other hand, knows the attraction for what it is, and fights it because she doesn't want to be owned. She knows as soon as she agrees to marriage, her freedom goes out the window. She would own nothing, not even herself. And though that freedom has already been taken (supposedly temporarily) by the spymasters, she's not about to willingly give herself up like that. A refreshingly logical view for a heroine to take.
Which is what made the treatment of Queen Elizabeth so disappointing for me. I had thought there would be much more interaction with the Queen than there actually was. The fact that Meg talks with her and receives an assignment from her in the 4th chapter helped that impression along quite a bit. But truthfully, the Queen has very, very little to do with this story. On the one hand, I understand that this isn't her story, but on the other hand, these Maids are supposedly her personally picked guards/arsenal, so I would have expected there to be a little more intimacy between her and our heroines.
As it was, though, I think there's enough intrigue in the historical facts for readers to want to do more research and reading on the subject. There was a lot of political strife at that time, both religiously and between the genders, and much of it is simplified or glossed over here in deference to Meg's personal plot. But there are enough references and glimpses here and there that I think this will pique the curiosity of anyone previously unfamiliar with the period. Which is always a good thing, in my opinion.
In terms of a series starter, I'm not sure I'm hooked quite yet. Meg's story wrapped up fairly neatly, though is still quite open ended. The next book, Maid of Deception, actually picks up a couple weeks after this one, and follows Beatrice instead. But while I'm interested to see what part of Elizabeth's reign is covered next, I'm not sure if I'll enjoy experiencing it through Beatrice's eyes. Then again, who knows? I might get some questions answered.
Overall, Maid of Secrets provided me with a fun jaunt into Elizabethan England, but lacked the character depth I crave. I'd recommend it for fans of YA and historical fiction who don't mind some romance as well. It's free of language and sex, but does contain some violence and a good amount of kissing, so I'd say high school and up would enjoy this the most. With a fairly slow pace, a lot of details in regards to settings and clothing, and somewhat stereotypical characters, this definitely won't appeal to everyone. But if you've got a soft spot for historical England or spies or girls overcoming adversity, then you might want to give Maid of Secrets a try.
Once you get the inevitable tune of the Oscar-winning James Bond song out of your head, this book is actually a really sweet paranormal romance. Actually that song is a good theme for this book's couple. Yeah, no clue if the song influenced the book at all (I doubt it, based on the publication date), but it really does work well. Huh, go figure.
Anyway, on to the book's characters.
Vane is a very laid back kind of teenager, not really interested in doing much outside of trying to beat the heat and maybe finally pick up a girl. As far as personality goes, Vane fluctuates between unsure newbie to the paranormal world and a pillar of strength and support. I hesitate to categorize him as typical or atypical in his aversion to violent video games or movies, but in the realm of literature he's basically another clueless Chosen One a la Harry Potter. Which isn't to say he's a bad character, but I'd say his backstory and situation will be very familiar territory for most readers.
Audra, on the other hand, was a fiery breath of fresh air. Bound by duty to protect Vane at all costs, racked with guilt over her past mistakes, she's deprived herself of nearly everything. But even when the situation feels hopeless, she plans to fight back with everything she's got. Bad-ass but never brash or showy, responsible but never cold or stuffy, Audra was the perfect balance both within and with Vane. I could connect with her pain and struggle one page, then watch her kick ass the next.
If both Vane and Audra sound like prime narrators, then you'd be correct. The book switches from each of their perspectives at every chapter. At first I had my doubts at how well this would work. I thought action sequences would no doubt suffer from being in one person's perspective over the other's, or that there would have to be a lot of backtracking over emotional scenes to get on the same page with each character. And yet, the switches worked perfectly, giving just the right amount of connection with each character, the right perspective during each major event, and all without practically any overlap. I admit it took a little while to get over the skepticism that it would work out in the end, but I ended up pleasantly surprised at the result.
Another surprise came with the romance. Yes, it had similar elements that you can easily find in any romance: guy and girl don't get along at first, guy falls first and has to convince girl, girl is overly cautious of loving boy because of reasons, etc., etc.. But where so many books (particularly YA) have shown girls not 'wanting' to fall in love, or not 'knowing' they were falling in love, this one has a legitimate, external to girl's feelings, reason. And I was so glad that it wasn't just her being confused or seeing herself as unworthy because I saw her as way too smart for that. But regardless, I loved this romance and fully endorse both members of the couple.
Of course, the other half of the genre is the paranormal aspect, right? How about these Sylphs? I had no prior knowledge of Sylphs and so found Messenger's lore about them fascinating. Unfortunately, most of their lore is pretty spoiler-ish to the conflicts of the novel, so I can't go into great detail. Suffice it to say, I'm looking forward to witnessing more of their politics and natures in future novels. Also, not sure if I understand why there are exclusively air elementals and not fire or water ones, but that's a little enough thing to drop.
And without going into spoilers, I absolutely loved the ending. In a lot of romances I find the characters falling in love and instantly being okay, cause love solves everything. Doesn't matter the hardships or the pain suffered up to that point, once you've found love, nothing else really mattered and it was all worth it. Not so here. Both these characters have had a tough ten years, and an even tougher past few days. And I was pleasantly surprised to have the story, and especially the characters, take that into account at the end. Sure, it also adds some tension to the beginning of the sequel, but it still earns a big thumbs up from me.
Overall, Let the Sky Fall gave me more than enough to get me hooked and wanting more. I'd happily recommend it to anyone looking for a YA paranormal romance featuring 'new' creatures, or looking for a romantic couple featuring a kick-ass heroine and a sweet, supportive hero. No language, but with the major romantic elements and some violent sequences, I'd put this mainly in the high school and up range. Sometimes same-old, same-old can be boring, but I think this book shows that just because some things are familiar, it doesn't mean that you can't find something new. So if you've finally gotten Adele's tune out of your head, why not give Let the Sky Fall a try for yourself?
I picked this up on recommendation from the blog of Kiersten White, one of the author's writing buddies and critique partner, and decided to tackle it the last night before it had to go back to the library. So basically I had a book I knew next to nothing about with only a few hours to experience it. Frankly, I'm a still a little stumped about what to think about it.
Let's start at the beginning. Fiona (I can't help but think Shrek!) has the gift/curse of invisibility. It's a genetic thing, she was born that way and can't activate or deactivate the ability, so her body is always invisible. What she was also born with was a crime boss for a father who is set to use anything and anyone to obtain more wealth and power. If that means sending his telekinetic wife and invisible daughter in to rob banks, then so be it. Fiona doesn't enjoy her life of crime, but since her father's ability turns him into a literal woman magnet, she can't say no to him. That is, until he decides his personal thief would make for a great assassin, prompting Fiona and her mom to run for it. Now Fiona is hiding out with her mom in a podunk town in Arizona, trying to live out a normal, teenage life.
Fi is both complex and confusing, which made her realistic...and confusing. On the one hand, she's got a tough shell from growing up in a crime syndicate, training for spying, thieving, etc., and dealing with a broken family. She's also smart enough to know that she can't change into a happy-go-lucky teenager just because she's not (currently) under her dad's thumb anymore. But on the other hand, she's got a lot of personal baggage from her upbringing and her invisibility that she's trying to overcome. Also, she's horrible at math, possibly due to a brain injury from being dropped in the delivery room (you try catching an invisible baby!).
So we've got Fiona: a rebellious teen trying to deal with trust issues with family and friends, learning disabilities, hiding from organized crime, invisibility and low self-worth, guilt from past crimes, AND teenage romance/angst. If you thought that description was a convoluted mess, you would be correct. I'll admit, there is A LOT crammed into these 350 pages, and the majority of it is about Fiona. But while I appreciate the effort to not make an unchallenged, flawless, snarky heroine, I don't think I would have minded a little less complexity in exchange for a little more time and focus on what was left.
Unfortunately, anything that didn't have to do with Fiona was less than stellar. Between the underdeveloped and overly huge supporting cast, the disparate tones, and the underutilized world-building, it felt sloppy.
There are a TON of important side characters in this story. There's Fiona's family of five, then there are her classmates Seth, Brady and Bea, and their families (one of which has six members). All of these people possess rare and sought-after abilities, all of them play important roles in the book, but very little time is given to any of them, save for the love interest, because so much has to go to Fi. Bea especially felt like more of a plot device than an honest-to-goodness friend. Of course, it could have been worse considering the very first thought Fiona has about her is something along the lines of, 'Darn her for looking so great while sitting next to that hot guy.' The two could have easily become enemies or (the even more loathsome) frienemies, but thankfully ended up being fairly genuine friends. Unfortunately there was so little time spent on Bea that we see her mainly as the lone girl friend, rather than a full character in her own right.
Thankfully (for some), the romance was handled better. Our love interest (who will go unnamed due to slight love-triangle drama) was nicely revealed both in attitude and backstory gradually, as our main character was ready for it. While I can't say I approve of him entirely due to 'knowing what is best for Fiona,' even if it means hiding the truth and/or deceiving her, I can't fault the guy for his devotion and wit. What can I say, smart guys with mouths on them are my Kryptonite. Much of the romance, especially when they both decide to admit feelings for each other, feels cheesy. It worked, but I admit I was rolling my eyes through a lot of it. Still, I was glad it knew when to take a backseat to the other drama, like Fiona's family issues.
But speaking of pacing, I thought this book's pacing was excellent. Even reading into the wee hours of the night/morning, I never checked the clock or felt bored. It kept me engaged throughout. I also never felt rushed or confused when it came to what was happening in the story. The plot points were very well paced, and Fi's development flowed nicely. Granted, there was A LOT to cover with Fi, but I think most everything was either resolved or sufficiently touched upon to signify growth.
Tonally, this book is a mess. First we're given the gritty underworld that Fiona is running from, which leaves us with an ever-present fear and near paranoia that it will come to bite us throughout the book. But the entire middle section throws in high school, small town adventures, and an admittedly cheesy romance. And yet there are the very real issues of struggling with self-confidence, learning to trust people after they've hurt you, and trying to find your place in the world. But oh noes, we've gotta pass that math test or be humiliated for all eternity!!! Add in that ending and... I hate to say that books need to fit an archetype or niche, but there is such a thing as having too many eggs in a basket, and I don't think that cramming forty things into your character's story just to see how they'll affect and change her is necessarily a great strategy.
Especially when it leads to glossing over the world that you've set everything in. Basically, a few decades ago everyone started taking pills to negate the effects of radiation, but these pills ended up genetically altering everyone turning the entire planet into X-Men. Some people have useless 'abilities' like having pink skin and pointy ears, or emitting a skunk-smell when you're scared, but some people have amazing abilities like telekinesis, flight, or invisibility. Crime lords control the trafficking of these outlawed pills (because they enhance the abilities) by recruiting and/or forcing those with these amazing abilities to work for them. ...And that's basically as much explanation as was given in the book.
I can understand wanting to set your characters in an amazing world. I can understand wanting to give your main character an amazing ability, but still have them go through normal activities. How would an invisible girl be able to go to a normal school? If everyone else were freaks too! Sure, it makes sense, but that doesn't mean we don't want to see more of that world and less of Podunk America. I've heard people describe this book as X-Men meets The Godfather, and I'm not surprised that they're horribly disappointed by what they read. A crime syndicate of super-powered mutants going up against other super-powered syndicates or super-powered law enforcement? Hell yes! A super-powered former-criminal hiding out in middle America, worrying about boys and math tests? Interesting choice...but not what many people will sign up for.
Upon first picking up this book, I was kind of glad that it didn't have a series name on the front. There are a lot of series and trilogies out now, it was nice to see a standalone. And, reading through it, I do think it works as a standalone title. Fiona's story led to a nice crescendo and had a tidy ending. However, seeing that there is a sequel (Blindsided) scheduled for January, I'm also kind of glad. I hope to see more of this world the author has created, including much more of the criminal underbelly, and get a better peek at what our heroine can really do. Sure, invisibility doesn't lend much to strength, but it's really unkind to tease us with a line like, "You should really learn to fight," and then not follow it up with ANY lessons.
Overall, Transparent had an interesting premise but suffered from a sloppy execution. I'd recommend it for those who read YA and enjoy coming-of-age stories with female protagonists and romance, but with the disclaimer that it is less like X-Men meets The Godfather, and more like X-Men meets Witness. It does contain violence and some mild teen romance, so I'd say high school and up would enjoy this the most. So if you're thinking invisibility would be a walk in the park, you might want to check out Fiona's perspective in Transparent.