I once watched a vlogbrothers video where John Green described Maureen Johnson as a “true eccentric.” That’s never more apparent than on Twitter, and...moreI once watched a vlogbrothers video where John Green described Maureen Johnson as a “true eccentric.” That’s never more apparent than on Twitter, and if you don’t already follow her, you should because it is hysterical. She has a very distinct style and voice as an author, and I think if you gave me a bunch of chapters by different authors and said, “Pick the Johnson one,” it would be easy. Her characters are intelligent, sarcastic, and spirited, and they’ve got spunk. I don’t use the word spunk very often, but there you go.
Maureen often references her experiences in the Catholic high school system, and watching that color this book was very fun, from Jane’s cracks about the nuns to the polyester uniforms littered in many of MJ’s novels. Honestly, this book was so full of small tidbits of snark that I’ve got about four quotes in my head to add to this post, but I won’t, because 1) I left the book at home and 2) they’re funnier in context, like everything else. Here’s just one:
Favorite Quote: “There was something wrong in Providence today, and I, for one, was going home to hide from it.”
Devilish is much shorter than Johnson’s other novels, but this was appropriate for a retelling of the Faust myth. I liked Jane, who was a consummate Johnson heroine, but I was far less enamored with her friend Ally, who just seemed sad and boring. The romance angle felt forced, and the story would’ve worked just as well without it. I realize that most YA contains romance to some degree, but the story was more about friendship and being comfortable with who you are. Jane is different: she’s short, she has spiky blonde hair, she mouths off to the nuns and she’s too smart for her own good. And she’s fine with ALL of that. She is not at all concerned that the popular girls don’t like her, or that the nuns give her so many demerits, because it’s high school, and it’s temporary, and as long as she’s got Ally, she’s good to go. Then she loses Ally, and instead of letting the triumph be: “I outsmarted the devil’s representative and got my friend back and also did not get damned myself,” it’s upstaged by “cool I got a boyfriend.”
Devilish was a fun little read, but it’s not my favorite of Johnson’s work. It was short, and read more like a novella or a really long short story. If you haven’t read anything by Maureen, I’d recommend starting with Suite Scarlett or 13 Little Blue Envelopes. They’re cute contemporary YA novels that are packed full of quirky, intelligent characters.(less)
I’ve been working my way through Sarah Dessen’s back list, and I almost skipped Dreamland. Abuse is not an easy topic and you never know how an author...moreI’ve been working my way through Sarah Dessen’s back list, and I almost skipped Dreamland. Abuse is not an easy topic and you never know how an author will handle a sensitive issue like that. Dessen handled it better than I thought, and made Caitlin and her situation seem pretty real despite a somewhat unrealistic catalyst.
After her perfect sister skips town, Caitlin is trying desperately to find herself and fill the void. I didn’t really like this, because it made everything that Caitlin did a result of her sister skipping town, and not really the fault of her own insecurities at all. The bad relationship scenario could have just as easily gone down if her sister had gone off to college, but it had to be a bigger, dramatic “she’s gone” scenario. Caitlin starts dating Rogerson, an older, cooler, bad boy, and Caitlin is flattered by his attention. He’s also a total wad: a drug dealer, quiet until he gets angry, controlling and constantly demanding to know where Caitlin is, and physically abusive because of his own daddy issues.
The first time Rogerson hit Caitlin, I gasped. It was kind of like one of those horror movies: “Don’t go in there! Run away! Call the police!” In your logical, sheltered reader mind, you think that should be it. He hit her, she needs to make her exit. But Caitlin has been shattered by her sister’s absence and her own insecurities, and that this cool guy likes her fills that need to be accepted as she is. So she doesn’t leave him, and it gets worse. Caitlin’s life continues to spiral more and more out of control … and no one notices. That’s probably the saddest aspect of his book aside from the abuse factor – she’s obviously struggling, has a new boyfriend who radically changes her behavior, and her parents just don’t notice. Her friends notice but don’t act. When someone in her life finally does realize what’s going on, Caitlin is too traumatized to take control of her own life. Once again, someone else has to fix her.
While the reader naturally sympathizes with Caitlin, it’s hard to actually like her, because her pre-Rogerson life is essentially FINE. Her sister didn’t die, her parents love her and are involved in her life to the extent that she allows them, and she has friends. But she gets all emo about it, and starts making bad choices left and right. While I would never, ever say that she deserved to be abused or anything like that, because that’s not at ALL true, I was aggravated that she just passively accepted all these bad things that happened to her. She never asked for help, and she could have easily gotten it. I know that I’m speaking from a position of privilege here – I get that. But I would have liked for at some point in this novel for Caitlin to have discovered some NERVE. Gumption. Cajones. Anything really that states that bad things have happened to her and she’s not going to just accept it anymore. It would have sent a message: “I don’t deserve this treatment, and neither does anyone else, and here’s what I’m going to do about it.” In the end, the message that Caitlin sent was, “Bad things happened to me, and I’m unremarkable and didn’t do anything about it, and I need to be protected.”
I will say though that I liked the end of the book. When Caitlin’s mom discovers the bruises, she flies into action. You could practically see the wheels turning her head as she thought back about her daughter’s behavior, the clothes, the activities, and she realized that someone, some horrendous piece of human crap had HURT her daughter. She wasn’t a great mom before that moment but mama bear got out the claws at that moment, and I was so glad.(less)
The Chronicles of Elantra series has been on my radar for a while now, though I knew almost nothing about it beyond “fantasy series.” I liked Cast in...moreThe Chronicles of Elantra series has been on my radar for a while now, though I knew almost nothing about it beyond “fantasy series.” I liked Cast in Shadow, but it had some major problems that have had me writing and rewriting this review for days. Liked:
The basic plot was interesting and kept me engaged. Children are dying and the only clue about their deaths are the markings that appear on their arms and legs – markings that are similar to the ones Kaylin has had for years. She keeps them hidden under her clothing and very few people know of their existence. Kaylin also has the power to heal, along with an undisclosed “dangerous” power. Because of her power and markings, Kaylin believes she’s linked to the deaths, and that they are somehow her fault.
Characterization was great. Kaylin’s character was headstrong to the point of recklessness, and there were times she would butt into a conversation and I’d groan internally. Just shut up, girl! She’s got no clean laundry, she’s late for everything, and everyone seems to like her in spite of it all. She’s supposed to be twenty years old, but read a bit younger. Then again, so did Severn at twenty-five. He was clearly haunted by the past, and longs to be near Kaylin despite whatever it is he has done to drive a wedge between them. Kaylin has no family, but Sagara filled the book with characters who adopted her as daughter, friend, sister and drinking buddy. Marcus, in particular, threatens her and then turns around and says something meant as kindness; I liked him immensely.
World-building was detailed. There were whole systems of politics and magic left to be explored in the series. Part of this was due to length: this book clocks in over 500 pages, which gave Sagara room to introduce characters and settings without actively exploring them. The book may have been overlong (over 500 pages), but the opportunity to peel back the layers of this world has me curious. Disliked:
Everything from Kaylin’s markings, to her power, to a casual dialogue is cloaked in mystery. She attacks Severn at first sight, and we find out he was her childhood best friend, but it’s not until 3/4 of the way through that we learn why she hates him. After that brief attempt at murder, she mostly gets along with him, a highly confusing inconsistency. Do I trust Severn or not? I like him, I wanted to trust him, but impulsive as Kaylin is, she must have had a good reason … he clearly loves her … she keeps saying she wants to talk to him and stand near him … you see how this could confuse the heck out of a reader? To make matters more confusing, the fieflord puts a mark on Kaylin that no one will explain for a while. The eventual explanation of said mark was unnecessarily drawn out and over dramatic, involving many chapters and characters until Kaylin finally drags the explanation out of Teela. As if it wasn’t enough to have a mystery-driven plot, let’s also toss in cryptic, unfinished conversations every chapter.
All of this combined for a very confusing, dissatisfying reading experience. Now that I know how it ends, I almost want to go back and reread the book so it’s less cobbled together in my mind. A reader shouldn’t have to read your book twice to understand it, especially in a series that is 9+ volumes. Many other reviewers have stated the same problem, so I’m not sure how far I’ll get in the series.(less)
One of my favorite manga series to date. It spans 28 volumes, and is one of the most mindbending, brain torturing series ever. Just when you think you...moreOne of my favorite manga series to date. It spans 28 volumes, and is one of the most mindbending, brain torturing series ever. Just when you think you know what's happening, CLAMP reveals another piece of the puzzle. The series finished serializing a year ago, and this week I reread the whole thing. Even now, I'm still trying to put the pieces together. Definitely recommended!
TRC takes the characters from CardCaptor Sakura and pulls them through multiple worlds, searching for the scattered fragments of Sakura's memories. Murder, magic, love, hate, and hitsuzen (destiny): this series has something for everyone. The series relies heavily on cameos from beloved characters out of CLAMP's other works, and it's fun for fans of their other series to see them popping up all over the place in TRC.
If your brain can handle the plot twists, you should read it!(less)
**spoiler alert** Strengths: The premise is very clever: that the magic of The Tradition forces people down paths, like a mistreated orphan to be resc...more**spoiler alert** Strengths: The premise is very clever: that the magic of The Tradition forces people down paths, like a mistreated orphan to be rescued by a Prince and swept into a better life. But what if the Prince is only 11, or the Prince is a Princess, and the poor orphan can't take the path her life was supposed to take? Well, she can give her magic away and life a simple, normal life, or she can become Apprentice to a Fairy Godmother. And that's what Elena does. It was an excellent way to conduct a retelling, and really poked fun at the way fairy tale characters are always conveniently attractive, age appropriate, and of the ideal gender for the protagonist.
I liked Elena, pitied her for her evil stepmother and stepsisters and respected her strength and determination. Some reviewers have said that she's bland, but I found her strong. She didn't give into morose weeping or the thought that she needed someone to save her, but she carefully hoarded her magic and went about doing her chores and learning how to be better at her new life's calling.
Weaknesses: I started the novel and thought that Elena wouldn't need a man to rescue her. She didn't love any of the men in the village, and she realized early on that she only viewed marriage as a means of escape, not because she really wanted to marry any of the men she saw. Even after she becomes a Godmother in her own right, she doesn't define herself by needing marriage to be happy. She wants to protect her kingdoms. Then Alexander comes into the picture and she realizes that The Tradition is trying to force them together, and she resists it ... and I was like crap. Not because Alexander doesn't develop into a perfectly nice person, but because it's obvious that Elena is going to forge her own path and it will nicely dovetail with a romantic happily ever after. This is all well and good most of the time, but Elena isn't supposed to take the Traditional path. The ending sort of weakened the whole premise of the novel.
The other thing I didn't like was the awkward way the author handled the sexuality of the characters. It was poorly handled, and to borrow from another reviewer, tawdry in its execution. Their attraction was more lust than love, and it cheapened the romance for me. It didn't belong in the novel at it was presented: fantasy, not erotica.(less)
Pretty good. Some sections were dry and there were parts I did not enjoy. There were some astronomy myths that I sadly had thought were real (eggs sta...morePretty good. Some sections were dry and there were parts I did not enjoy. There were some astronomy myths that I sadly had thought were real (eggs standing on end ONLY during the spring equinox - which in fact can be done anytime if you are patient and possess a steady hand). Enjoyable read for an amateur astronomy nerd like me! (less)
The premise of the book sounds good: an ancient race of dragon-people, living in secret, and gemstones sing...more**spoiler alert** This was a HORRIBLE book.
The premise of the book sounds good: an ancient race of dragon-people, living in secret, and gemstones sing to them. There is a legend of one stone that is powerful enough to control all of the drakon. Drakon-girl goes out to find it, falls in love with a human (forbidden). My problem with this book was the detailed sexual content. The heroine (and I use this term loosely) has detailed sex dreams about the hero (again, loosely). The hero’s also gives the reader a detailed description of his own sexual fantasies regarding the heroine. Once they do begin having sex, the author spends pages and pages describing it in pornographic detail. One would have to skip half the book to avoid this, as the author can’t seem to get away from the idea of them sleeping together. On top of that, the characters don’t even seem to like each other. They make each other miserable throughout the book until the very end, when all of a sudden, they’re in this sweet, loving, functional relationship and you, the unfortunate reader, are left saying, “… are these even the same people???” One of the worst aspects, too, was the author’s perspective on love. The heroine at one point states that “being in love is the absolute worst feeling in the world.” Really?! I realize that love isn’t always sunshine and roses, but being in love, real love, especially at the beginning of a relationship like these characters are, is a glorious feeling. The abrupt transition from loathing and lusting after one another to sweet and caring is not only confusing, but plain unbelievable. I, as a reader, don’t really think they’re going to end up happy. I think they’re going to be the kind of couple that one of them poisons the other twenty years from now. They were both horrible people, that I didn’t like at all. And I REALLY didn’t want to know about their sex life. REALLY REALLY didn’t want to know.
This book gets 1.5 stars. I liked the concept of the plot, but the execution was awful. I sincerely hope that the author’s love life has not been like the characters in this book, because she cannot be happy if so.
Some of my favorite reviewers have raved (raved, I tell you) about the Kate Daniels series, and although it didn’t sound like my thing, I was intrigue...moreSome of my favorite reviewers have raved (raved, I tell you) about the Kate Daniels series, and although it didn’t sound like my thing, I was intrigued. Man, am I glad too! Kate is every bit as awesome and fierce as they said and I tore through the entire series in a couple of days and now I’m eagerly waiting for book 6.
-All the references to Atlanta and the streets and buildings. It made it more real for me because Kate was obviously in a real place with a real geography, areas that were safe (kinda) and exceptionally dangerous, and that I could identify with on a lot of levels because I have lived in the metro-Atlanta area for 15 years.
-The instability of the world. Magic will work and then suddenly it won’t, and nothing is certain. Everyone in this world has to be fully prepared for both realities, and it’s normal, not because their world is post-apocalyptic and in danger of crumbling at any second, but because the very fabric of the WORLD has changed and it’s still fluctuating. Kate remembers movies and sitcoms and all kinds of goofy things that none of the children have grown up knowing, and those subtle references are enough to remind you that these characters used to live in the world as we know it.
-The characters. I LOVED Kate. She is an idiot sometimes, but she’s tough, strong, and usually more than capable of defending herself. Plus Kate is always broke but she’s not whiny about it. She wants to be self-sufficient and she’s more calculating about her bills than pathetic. She’s also a terrible decision maker, impulsive, and so antagonistic that she will taunt an enemy in a fight and think, “That was stupid,” and yet somehow I STILL LOVE HER. Kate’s prickly personality ensures that she doesn’t have warm, fuzzy, cuddly relationships, but she fails to realize just how many allies she has. Maybe not all friends, but contacts at the very least. Jim (part of the beast pack), Ghastek (a Master of the Dead AKA vampire controller), a shape-shifting genius, and the Beast Lord Curran.
-Hands down my favorite thing about this series is the Ilona-Andrews-writing-duo’s* take on romance. Kate isn’t sappy about men and she doesn’t want or need a man to rescue her. She has had relationships, but she doesn’t sit around and think about having a boyfriend, and she doesn’t have a perfect happy ending where every single bad guy dies and some hot dude comes in to fulfill her dreams and make her happy. She is immensely self-sufficient, and I loved that she was so capable of finishing her own battles. She’s uncomfortable in feminine clothes and aware that while she’s not beautiful, she can manage striking. And she’s fine with it. She is totally and completely comfortable with herself. Because of her hard exterior, every single man she meets doesn’t fall down at her feet. It’s so refreshing to read about a heroine who doesn’t attract men like flies to honey and then flirt/complain about them.
-It took several chapters to get into the book and understand exactly what happened to the world they live in. Are you about to be attacked by evil unicorns? Is this going to be another bad vampire novel? (I was so afraid of this, but don’t worry, the vampires are less than secondary to the overall plot.)
-Kate has a shadowy, dangerous background that isn’t fully explained for several more books. While Andrews brings in enough foreshadowing and hints to help you understand eventually, it’s confusing at first and I kept waiting for the big reveal that never came. BUT since I read the whole series in just a few days, this wasn’t a major issue for me.
I really, really enjoyed this series, especially the further into the series I got. Andrews opens up the world, introduces/explores much stronger supporting characters like Derek, Andrea, Julie and Curran. Give it a chance, even if it doesn’t sound like your thing, because that was me and I’m firmly in the Kate Daniels fan club now.(less)