Disclaimer: I'm left feeling somewhat conflicted about the review I'm about to write because I'm a big fan of the Sentinel Wars series; I've been a faDisclaimer: I'm left feeling somewhat conflicted about the review I'm about to write because I'm a big fan of the Sentinel Wars series; I've been a faithful reader since the beginning and, though I didn't like this installment as much as I've enjoyed previous ones, it still had some interesting elements that kept me going.
What I liked:
Few characters in the Sentinel Wars series have been so tortured as Torr and Grace, who have featured as secondary characters through the entire series. It was a relief to see a resolution to this story, even if it felt a little long-winded and the plot twists a trifle convenient. She's not ever going to be a compatible Theronai female capable of forming the pair bond needed to ensure Torr lives his normal life span? No worries, a few sentences a presto fix-oh!I would have started this section of my review with a spoiler alert, but this a romance novel an HEA is inevitable. Although the second half of the book is a bit of a slog where Torr and Grace seem to experience forty days in the desert and get injured/healed A LOT, things do turn out for the best.
I also appreciated getting to see how Tori is healing from the horrific abuse she suffered during her captivity at the hands of the Synestryn. The search for Tori, and what to do with her after she was found, has been an important secondary question of the series, and let's face it: Tori's mental instability is a major problem that can't--and shouldn't--be resolved in a single novel. It was good for her to see Torr and Grace building a healthy relationship in an environment completely separate from the place where she was so physically and emotionally devastated. Although she's still more than a little wild, she's taking her life back and beginning to see what is possible for her.
It also wasn't bad getting to know a little more about Brenya, who has been an enigma wrapped in a conundrum. She has an endgame, but she's the kind of character who makes you wonder if the cure might just maybe be worse than the disease. The never seen but often mentioned Solarc continues to be a pain in the rear, and I'm getting that sinking feeling that I'm going to have to go back and read the series from the beginning to remember why he's so determined to destroy humans and other assorted life forms who have been indirectly mentioned but not yet included in the series.
What I didn't like:
I'm all for expanding the world building, but if this universe had to expand, why did it have to go entirely offworld? I think readers have a good grip on the Theronai, and we're getting to know the Sanguinar and their desperate plans for survival, but we've still to hear very much about the third side of the anit-Solarc triumvirate: the Slayers. They're mentioned/referenced so infrequently that they have begun to feel like an afterthought that is begrudgingly included instead of as a vital part of humanity's best hope for survival. I hope we get a book centered on these warriors before we forget their existence altogether; they sounded like characters I really wanted to get to know.
I also have a great deal of irritation with the timing of some of the sex scenes. It's a romance novel, so we're going to have sex scenes, but can they please not be out in the forest where the main character is supposed to be on guard duty keeping watch for monsters that can take out an entire settlement? *headdesk* Torr spends most of the novel as a walking erection, almost to the point of idiocy, and it begs the question of what is more important: How often Torr and Grace can think about or have sex, or the relationship they are supposed to be building? At the end of the day this is still supposed to be a romance, and this romance has to form the basis for a life-long pair bond. There seemed to be too much focus on lust, and not quite enough on love for this to be a realistic outcome.
Overall, I thought this novel was alright, but I can't say that I loved it; it almost feels like a bridge to give the reader exposition that informs future books. It is a relief, however, after seeing either Torr or Grace terribly injured or incapacitated for the last seven books, to see these characters fall in love again as equals who learn to respect and appreciate one another. Although there is still some uncertainty where their story will go from here, I am sure we will be hearing more about them as Shannon Butcher expands her series into the future....more
Flavia's at it again! It's only been a month since a stranger was murdered in her backyard, and now she's witness to a second murder. The difference iFlavia's at it again! It's only been a month since a stranger was murdered in her backyard, and now she's witness to a second murder. The difference is that this time she has met the victim and is in a crowded room watching a theatrical performance: the victim is the puppeteer putting on a show. There's a number of questions about how it has been pulled off, and it doesn't take long for the novel's intrepid 11 year-old sleuth to assemble a lengthy list of suspects.
As with the first book in the Flavia de Luce detective series, she uses a great deal of chemistry. Sometimes she does it for obscure reasons (I'm still not clear on what motivated her to perform a rather bizarre pregnancy test), and will readily admit that chemistry was one of my worst subjects and I glossed over most of these details.
The murder mystery in this book seems fairly straight forward: Rupert Porson, despite being short in stature and suffering from the lifelong effects of polio, is quite a ladies man. He's a talented puppeteer with a promising career, but an incredibly messy personal life. It seems obvious that it would be a jilted lover who would be the most likely suspect, right? But the story takes a tragic turn, and Porson's murder becomes personal.
What I liked about this book: Alan Bradley continues to develop the community of Bishop's Lacey, and even introduces a few new characters. The reader gets to know Bucksaw's jack of all trades, Dogger, to a greater degree, and recognizes he is suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as the result of having been a prisoner of war. The housekeeper, Mrs. Mullet, continues to make food no one seems to want to eat while also serving as an endless supply of random information for Flavia's investigations. Flavia is introduced to Antigone, Inspector Hewitt's wife, and immediately forms a connection with woman despite a single conversation. The reader also meets Flavia's Aunt Felicity: She's Harriet de Luce's big sister and a known termagant, but is also quite possibly not as bad as she seems on the surface.
What I didn't like about this book: Flavia's sisters are beyond mean to her, they verge on despicably cruel. I grew up with two sisters and, while on occasion we didn't get along and engaged in very ungirl-like bouts of fisticuffs, we never engaged in the levels of mental cruelty that Ophelia and Daphne de Luce heap on their little sister. This seems like a completely unnecessary element of the plot, and I don't know why Bradley continues to expand this part of the story.
Overall, these stories are fun to read. Flavia is a genius, but she's also an 11 year-old, with the tendency to behave like one at unexpected moments. She's clearly found her niche in life solving mysteries, but has to deal with the lack of imagination in the adults she deals with. The setting is rich and intriguing, and it isn't hard to want to sit a spell in the simultaneously quaint and bizarre village of Bishop's Lacey.
As with the previous book in this series there is nothing that would preclude this novel from being included in a classroom library. Although the text is appropriate for a YA audience, some of the vocabulary is advanced, so I would recommend it for advanced readers or those who like more challenging material. ...more
Flavia de Luce is quite possibly one of my favorite female heroines in literature ever, but I have to admit that even I found myself wondering if an 1Flavia de Luce is quite possibly one of my favorite female heroines in literature ever, but I have to admit that even I found myself wondering if an 11 year-old--even a genius child--would be able to do the things she manages to do. And then I thought about Harry Potter and Percy Jackson and just let it go. It's true: Flavia has a passion for poisons that is more than a little unhealthy, but the poor kid also needs a rich internal life to help her cope with an absent-minded and distant father still grieving the loss of Flavia's mother, Harriet. Add in two older sisters who are determined to make her life more than a little miserable and it comes as no surprise that Flavia feels adrift and without purpose. She loves chemistry, and it makes perfect sense: There's order to chemistry in which everything has a place and a purpose, and the formulas consistently yield the same results. It's also England in the 1950's, when neglectful parenting wasn't quite so frowned upon and children had much more freedom to explore and experiment in the world around them.
Flavia's career as a detective starts the same way so many others have: After a series of mysterious events, someone ends up murdered in the garden of her rambling country estate, Buckshaw. Flavia discovers, much to her surprise, that she isn't afraid or repulsed by this stranger's death; rather, she's intrigued and filled with the desire to get to the bottom of things. She already knows that adults don't give children much credit for intelligence, and that she can use this bias to her advantage as she investigates. It's a little bit CSI: Buckshaw with a dash of MacGyver, and I have to admit that Chemistry was probably my weakest subject so I had a lot of trouble following all the formulas, but I liked that she was creative and willing to problem solve even when those around her keep insisting that she's not smart enough to know what's going on. Is it all a little far fetched? Undoubtedly. But that's also why I gave this book four stars instead of five.
Flavia learns a great deal about her father: That his passion for stamp collecting was acquired when he was her age, and why it plays such a big role in the murder she is investigating; The psychological damage suffered by her father and other men in her village during World War II; and how her crumbling great house, Buckshaw, is a metaphor for an entire way of life. If I have a criticism for the novel as a whole it would be that the author spends a great deal of time developing the smallest of these details; whether this is to confuse the reader about the whodunit or to demonstrate Flavia's thoroughness I don't know. It seemed to bog down the story at various points and though it wasn't enough to dissuade me from reading, I could see where it might be frustrating to some readers.
Although the story unfolds in a slow, paced manner, I found it to be interesting and fun to read. The postwar British setting is delicious, with its references to the quaint village of Bishop's Lacey and the colorful cast of characters who live there. One of the things I love best about series is getting to know the people who surround the main character, and this book promises to reveal more about the citizens of Bishop's Lacey and how Flavia, who feels so very much like an outsider, fits right in.
As a side note: This book has been listed as intended for YA readers, and there is nothing in the narrative that would preclude me from including it in a classroom library. The language does tend to get a but sophisticated at times, so I would recommend it for YA readers who like more challenging material. ...more
This was a pleasant enough story, though some of the elements stretched credulity a bit. The premise of the book (and the larger series it belongs to)This was a pleasant enough story, though some of the elements stretched credulity a bit. The premise of the book (and the larger series it belongs to) is that an older, very independent woman is looking for a female heir to leave her large and prosperous ranch to--on one condition: That her heir, whoever she might be, will remain single for the remainder of her life. While I can see such a condition being placed in a legal document, what would happen to the inheritance if the heir decided to renege after inheriting? It seems like a condition that would be difficult to enforce in the long-term, even if it is useful plot device for bringing lots of candidates to the town of Cactus Patch for subsequent love stories. Maybe Eleanor Walker is a closet romantic, and she subconsciously is fulfilling her wish to be happily partnered through watching others fall in love?
Other features of this story include Molly's acceptance of blame for her young brother's paraplegia. The lengths she is willing to travel to martyr herself seem to be endless. She's also a virginal saloon singer and dancer who dresses in the loudest and most outrageous fashion she can in order to distract attention from her brother, who doesn't like the attention his injury draws. Yep, she's pretty much perfect for the doctor hero.
Our doctor hero is super nice, prays over his patients, and goes to church on Sundays. Yep, he's pretty much perfect too. Well, except for that he drives a really noisy early car all over a cattle-ranching town. And that Molly is so busy sacrificing herself for her brother that she doesn't see what a great match the doctor is for her.
It was a gentle book, with a few mysteries to hold interest and enough heart to keep everything rolling along. Overall, the story was a pleasant read without any huge surprises. ...more
I really wish Goodreads would allow half ratings, because I want to give this book a 3.5 I'm somewhere between "I liked it" and "I really liked it," aI really wish Goodreads would allow half ratings, because I want to give this book a 3.5 I'm somewhere between "I liked it" and "I really liked it," and the reason I'm so torn has a lot to do with one of the central premises of the book.
Charlotte Raven is born and raised in England's slums, and is rescued at age 12 by a society matron with a heart of gold. She is educated to elevated in status to the point she becomes desired and sought after by much of England's elite. Anyone with even a passing acquaintance with this period knows just how obsessed the British were with bloodlines; they published volumes and volumes of family trees and mini-biographies showing how families were connected. It absolutely defies logic that even one of England's leading ladies of good birth and rank could take in a child as her ward (why not simply adopted?) and then introduce her into polite society without establishing any of her family connections. And that then Charlotte is able to continue to move smoothly between her two worlds also defies logic; all it would take to end her (improbable) status would be for one person of rank to see her in the wrong place and then gossip about it. Although I found this story interesting and engaging, the whole question of how someone like Charlotte could actually have existed was always floating around in the back of my head the entire time I was reading.
That being said, I inhaled this book. It was a fun read, and I appreciated Diener's restraint with some of the plot twists. The mystery investigated within the story is drawn from history, and proves how fact is sometimes fantastically better than fiction. There is also the exploration of what living conditions would have been like for the 99% during this time, and some of the injustices faced by returning wounded British soldiers; that these elements are present in a period romance at all is something that should be applauded because so often it is the glitter and elegance of Jane Austen's middle-class England that gets all the attention. Although Charlotte and Edward seem to instantly fall in love despite doing a lot of their talking through longing gazes, they don't jump into bed with each other. At least with regards to their romance the emphasis is on national security and interpersonal challenges and not getting into each other's small clothes. Oh, the dreaded love triangle that seems to be in every other book? That gets resolved in a manner that seems reasonable.
Overall, I liked the story, and Diener's writing style. I'm excited to have added another author to my list of writers to follow! It looks like this book is going to be the first in at least a trilogy, and I am looking forward to future installments, which I will likely inhale as well.
Favorite quote: "Her gaze followed his to the library. "Never trust a woman-hater, Lord Aldridge. There is something wrong with a person who hates halFavorite quote: "Her gaze followed his to the library. "Never trust a woman-hater, Lord Aldridge. There is something wrong with a person who hates half the human race.""
This book is number two in what appears to be turning into a series (yay!!!). Unfortunately, I read this one first, realized it was a series, and was lucky enough to have already checked out the previous novel during a library visit. Get on that, Goodreads. You failed me this time.
Things I am learning about Michelle Diener:
--Don't expect explicitly stated HEA's. The HEA from Diener's previous book, The Emperor's Conspiracy, is revealed in Banquet of Lies. I expect we'll get more about Giselle and Jonathan's story in an as-yet-to-be-announced installment in this series. I certainly hope we get something on spymaster Lord Dervish or the intriguing and mysterious Duke of Wittaker. Wittaker certainly seems to be a fan favorite!
--Expect for Really Big Stuff to happen completely off the page. For example, after Giselle Barrington's diplomat father is murdered at the beginning of the story, Giselle travels from Sweden to England with LOTS of luggage completely unattended and NO ONE SEEMS TO KNOW. I find it strange that none of the spymasters in this book has ever heard of ship manifests. Really?!? And while a woman travelling with a man wouldn't have drawn much notice, a woman of Giselle's class travelling alone with a large amount of luggage would have been remarked on and remembered, and that this is completely glossed over is a little troubling to me.
--Expect the hero/heroine to keep their own counsel. A LOT. I've complained in the past about characters in books talking each other to death, and these characters have the opposite problem: The whole story would have ended in the first thirty pages if Giselle had trusted Jonathan even a little. She's written as capable and astute, and yet she keeps Jonathan in the dark even though he's given her no cause to do this. Not so astute after all, it would seem.
--Don't expect sex scenes. I, for one, am relieved. There's enough to establish that the bedroom activity, once it happens, will be good, but it's left to the imagination. (But refer back to my first point.)
--Michelle Diener's writing style will suck you in (unless you get so caught up in the stuff I mentioned above that you get angry, throw the book at the wall, and march straight to your computer to add the novel to the dreaded "DNF" category in your Goodreads account).
I actually feel a little bad about a 3-star rating, because I really wish I could give it a 3.5. I really enjoyed this story, and found many of the supporting details to be interesting. I wish that there was more resolution (i.e., a come-to-Jesus moment for a character that never seems to happen), but I am eagerly waiting to see what happens next in the community Michelle Diener is creating! ...more
**spoiler alert** My son and I read this story together; he’s in the sixth grade, and he really enjoyed the friendship between the characters and how**spoiler alert** My son and I read this story together; he’s in the sixth grade, and he really enjoyed the friendship between the characters and how it moved from suspicion to trust. Balliett provides answers to the mystery at a measured pace, and this kept my son’s interest high; we ended up reading large chunks in a single sitting. Although the author takes some liberties with the history of the Robie House, it serves as a great way to introduce a good story and many of Chicago’s interesting landmarks. My son’s attention was held through the length of the story, and we are not looking at getting other books in this series so that we can keep up with the continuing adventures of Calder, Tommy, and Petra.
The most significant criticism that I have for this book is that there are so many educational elements in play that it borders on ridiculous; so many scholarly concepts are introduced that they overshadow the story being told. There’s the pentominoes Calder uses, frequent references to geometric shapes like isosceles triangles and parallelograms, and the Fibonacci sequence as a plot device in the story. Petra’s focus is on the novel “The Invisible Man” and the clues this story provides, but her storyline also includes supernatural aspects that are sometimes allowed to dangle or are simply ignored once they’ve been introduced. Tommy’s story introduces another intertextual reference, Hitchcock’s film Rear Window. It is also because of Tommy’s insistence that Petra not write anything down that Calder creates a code the kids use to communicate with each other; my son and I found this code hard to follow, and it interrupted the flow of the story, and we ended up generally ignoring it. All three children are exposed to a variety of works of art and lengthy discussions about architecture and how these are an expression of the human condition. The teacher in me loves all of these aspects and the exposure the kids are getting to these concepts, but as a reader the book feels cluttered, like an overdecorated house filled with dusty tchotchkes. The addition of a supernatural plot device feels like one element too many, and the only means the author could devise to get the story out of a corner it gets written into.
10-12 year olds will likely really enjoy this story/series because of all of the interesting elements I’ve listed above, but adult reads might find it chaotic and somewhat disorganized. ...more
I’m a fan of this series, even as I have watched the last several installments get more and more implausible. In this book Craig Johnson takes on reliI’m a fan of this series, even as I have watched the last several installments get more and more implausible. In this book Craig Johnson takes on religious cults and their proliferation into rural areas, but all is not as it seems, and these cult members seem strangely well-armed and organized. Longmire is forced to tread carefully to make sure that he has grounds to pursue his investigation while he waits for cult leaders to show their hand.
I think the biggest problem with this book is something that I’ve commented on in previous reviews for earlier books, the John McClane-ization of Walt Longmire. Although there is definitely a few mysteries that have to be solved in this novel, the focus seems to have shifted from the mystery to the action sequences in the book; these action-packed moments will be great for the television series (of which I am also a big fan), but it deprives the book and series of some of the qualities that them special.
Although Longmire managed to make it out of the previous book without major physical damage, he’s back to his role as a human punching bag in this story. Although other characters get hurt far worse, it always makes me wonder if a real man in his fifties could survive the persistent abuse that Longmire has suffered over the course of nine novels. There are also a few major, heartbreaking plot twists in this book that make me wonder where Johnson is going to go from here. It seems that even he knows that in order to tell knew stories something had to change. ...more
This installment in the Longmire series is a bit of a mixed bag, and I liked it as much as I struggled with some of the plot twists. But even when LonThis installment in the Longmire series is a bit of a mixed bag, and I liked it as much as I struggled with some of the plot twists. But even when Longmire books aren’t that great, I get through them in a less of a day, so they can’t be that bad. The premise of the book is a little silly: What woman in her right mind would practically force her father to plan a wedding for her, especially involving a significant number of guests who are travelling from a distance? But this is the tone of the story: A bunch of silliness wrapped around a core of tragic mystery that Longmire can’t help himself from trying to solve, even if it means that he utterly abandons his reluctant wedding planning for his beloved daughter. The story feels unlikely, with Longmire in the right place and time to witness one of the supposedly infrequent murders that happen in his jurisdiction. It makes me wonder how such a small area can be the scene of so many murders, especially in the time span covered in the first eight books (less than two years).
Despite all my whingeing, I liked that we were back to the Absaroka County that I love so much with its colorful cast of always unpredictable characters. The reader is also invited to spend some time on the Cheyenne reservation with some familiar characters, as well as a handful of new ones. It’s a fun, easy read, and the chaos within these communities is exasperating, entertaining, and welcome. Johnson knows how to pace his novels so that they move quickly while still giving the reader a sense that we’ve spent more time than we actually have with the book and its characters.
But, as I’ve written about in my reviews of the last several Longmire novels, there are parts that are problematic. I liked the spirituality and reflection on some of the visions Longmire has experienced in previous installments, but I’m not sure about Longmire’s invitation—from the village elders, no less—to a peyote ceremony. Longmire does occupy a special place in the Cheyenne society by virtue of his relationship with Henry and his previous defense of members of their community, but the peyote ceremony itself carries great significance, and I don’t know if I buy this particular kind of involvement. They payoff from this scene is a pivotal piece of evidence, but Johnson takes Longmire far, far out of the way on a spirit quest for such a questionable payoff.
I worry that Craig Johnson doesn’t quite know how to write an interesting female lead without making her headstrong the point of ridiculousness. Vic Moretti? She wants a relationship, but doesn’t want one, and Walt (who isn’t the best with relationships to begin with) just makes a bigger mess of things. For a woman who has made it clear that she’s living in the moment and isn’t taking anything romantic too seriously, she is definitely acting like she wants him to put a ring on it as she continues to kick butt and not bother to take names. The new Cheyenne police chief Lolo Long? She runs around running off her mouth like an Indian version of Vic, completely making a muddle of things, and having to be rescued by Walt. She’s supposed to be an Iraq war veteran who has seen some terrible things, but she’s so full of piss and vinegar I wonder how a character like this would have been able to serve in a military command. Cady Longmire? She barely talks to her father but expects him to plan a beautiful wedding on an Indian reservation for one hundred guests. I don’t doubt that these two love each other, but their behavior towards each other is just plain silly. All of the normal, rational women (like dispatcher Ruby) live on the periphery of the stories, and I would greatly enjoy it if their common sense would move a little closer to Walt.
I found this book to be a fun and fast read, even while the 'serious literature' of my mind had serious problems with some of the points I listed above. Some people love these books, others can't make it through the first few chapters. As with previous installments, although there are references to previous events and characters, these books can stand alone. I would recommend that readers begin at the first book because it helps with understanding Longmire's psychology and why he is almost pathologically driven to get answers for the the dead. He makes sense, but especially within the context of his life story and internal dialogue. ...more
I enjoyed this series, but I have to admit that it was painfully hard to get through this last book in the series. It took me days to read, one chapteI enjoyed this series, but I have to admit that it was painfully hard to get through this last book in the series. It took me days to read, one chapter at a time, because none of the drama felt all that compelling.
I didn't like the time-travelling aspects of this book because no one, at any point, thinks about how any of their actions will impact history or how their role will help history unfold the way it is meant to. Yes, these novels are intended for a young readership, but they're not slow! This young and savvy audience knows time-travel is problematic, and it is curious that these questions are hardly alluded to, much less discussed outright.
I also found that it stretched credulity that nearly every major character was successfully paired off by the end of the series. Don't get me wrong, the couples are cute, but they are painfully innocent and sappy, and the intensely PG-13 feel is carefully maintained throughout all three books in this series. The story never overcomes it's saccharine sweet adorableness to truly touch on the prolonged horror England and much of Europe suffered during the Napoleonic era, and the characters from the WWII era England can't offer much there, either. These were times of great loss for England where hardly anyone was left unaffected, and this just doesn't come through in the narrative.
Which leads me to my next concern: Nothing truly bad really happens. Lackland students get hurt? Elspeth heals them in no time. Characters need extra power? Tory can blend everything like an amplifier in a snap. The students need to persuade evil characters to act against their inclinations? No worries, Rebecca conveniently develops that power in the future. The fate of the world rests in their hands? There's a power for that. The HEA is always a foregone conclusion despite cultural and socioeconomic concerns, and it's all very pat and tied with a bow.
So if you're looking for light, uncomplicated YA with lots of romance and a smattering of history, this book is for you! ...more
Every once in a while I come across a book that I just can't review right away. I have to think about it, read what other people have written, and theEvery once in a while I come across a book that I just can't review right away. I have to think about it, read what other people have written, and then sit on it all for a little while. I still don't know exactly how I feel about this book, but that it has me so tied up is a reflection of the quality of the work Rebecca Skloot managed to produce after a decade.
I'll start out by saying that I generally don't like non-fiction and I don't often read it. I found it fascinating that the saga of Henrietta Lacks' cells is so incredible that it is stranger than fiction! There is a cinematic quality to the scenes Skloot writes that I wouldn't be surprised if portions of this book aren't someday adapted into a biopic. Skloot does an impressive job of contrasting the life of the rural, poorly educated Lacks family with the urban environment that overwhelmed multiple generations. She also highlights how complicated the American healthcare system has been for generations, and how it continues to struggle with race, gender, and socioeconomic concerns.
But the ethics of what happened to Henrietta Lacks and how those actions continue to touch so many people in ways they will never understand are what remain at the heart of this book. Did race play a role in the way the medical community felt free to use Henrietta's tissues play a role? Maybe. Did doctors and researchers understand back in the 1950's the extent to which what they were doing would both enable and compromise the medical establishment? Unknown. Has society gotten better about considering the long-term ramifications of decisions made to further medical science? Arguable. But this book doesn't seek to answer those questions; it lays out just how complicated the arguments are and highlights just why these questions are so very difficult to answer.
Although this book is titled The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, there's actually little to say about Henrietta. Her life was humble, there was barely any documentation to record important life events, and she died young, long before any inkling that there was anything special about her. If anything, this book is about the reader, and her posthumous influence on the reader: The way her life and the way her unknowing contribution touch us all in so many ways. In her immortality we can find answers to medical mysteries, better medicines, and a greater understanding of how the body functions. But we also find a no-nonsense woman who warns us that these medical discoveries can carry a terrible price, and we should be preoccupied with how the mistakes and shortsightedness of previous generations continue to impact the present generation. She also reminds the reader that we have a duty to take up these questions instead of leaving them to be debated elsewhere; we are our own best advocates, and we need to be active in understanding what is happening to our bodies.
Some reviewers have argued that this book is a little too much about Rebecca Skloot and too little about Henrietta or her family and the social injustices perpetrated against them. I find that this shift in focus might have been an unintentional consequence for Skloot: She started out trying to tell another woman's story only to realize that their lives were more intertwined than she could ever have imagined. Through Skloot the reader is able to see and question how there is no "lesser of us": Every medical breakthrough requires sacrifice, and the manner we are touched by other people in ways we will never be fully able to comprehend should be more than an occasional thought. Like any great artist, Lacks' immortality isn't so much about her, as it is about us, and the way we continue to be touched by her. ...more
I started this book with a little trepidation because the first book in this series, Innocent Darkness, felt too derivative of other books in the YA/FI started this book with a little trepidation because the first book in this series, Innocent Darkness, felt too derivative of other books in the YA/Fantasy genre. I had just finished reading Holly Black’s “The Modern Faery’s Tales” trilogy, which deals with the same mortal/faerie world dichotomy. Both Black’s published trilogy (Black published hers 2004-2007) and Lazear’s deal with the same question of a magical plane that must be fed on the blood of a young female sacrifice every seven years, and the major difference seems to be that Lazear has moved the timeline a century earlier to the 1900’s to make it compatible with the steampunk elements. (And, as an aside, a sword that turns into a pen? Percy Jackson, anyone?) But Lazear is better at building the relationship between the parallel worlds, and the writing seems less conflicted in tone, so I was eager to see where the second book would take her cast of characters.
I am pleased by how Lazear’s young adult novel is appropriate to the age of the intended audience, even though some readers have commented that they find the chaste nature of Noli and V’s relationship beyond unbelievable. Given the time period of the novel and the very real danger of pregnancy, it makes sense that these two would choose not to make things even harder for themselves. As an adult reading this novel I felt like Charmed Vengeance manages to explore the complex nature of evil in the human and faerie realms without overreaching; the cruelty and menace of both feel plausible, not like an attempt at shock value or to make the book ‘street’ enough for teens to think it sufficiently cool to read. The idea of human sacrifice is more clearly defined in Lazear’s novel: Here the sacrifice is necessary to save not just the faerie world, but the human one as well. The two worlds are indelibly intertwined and, without the pact, both worlds pay a terrific price. The nature of sacrifice, and the ethical questions that surround it, simply seems handled more intelligently and doesn’t condescend to the teen audience, which I found refreshing. And it also helps that the story is moving in the direction of solving the ritual sacrifice problem.
The ‘head hopping’ in the book is a little worrisome, because it interferes with the flow of the story. In this book we get far more of Noli’s viewpoint, and the reader experiences her unwilling possession by an earth sprite, which feels a lot like mental illness. I liked this POV, and I think this part of the story, which requires Noli to develop new coping strategies, to be interesting. I still think she’s impetuous and strong-willed at all the wrong times, but her inner conflict makes for good reading. But then the POV jumps to V and James, and I wasn’t quite so impressed with the moments we spent in V’s head, watching him struggle with his brother. James is dealing with a loss of his own, and he behaves like a wackadoodle two year-old lothario hybrid. It makes things almost absurdly tough for V, and this element of the story is inconsistent, unpredictable, and sometimes downright bizarre.
My biggest complaint about the first book was with regards to the use of steampunk elements, and this no longer seems to be an issue. I adore steampunk. I love the thematic explorations with regards to race and gender, the questions it asks about humanity’s interaction with technology and how it changes us, and the enormous environmental cost humans inflict on our planet in the search for the next marvel. In this book, airships are one of the most common modes of transport, and their use is organic and natural. I am still concerned by how there are hoverboards and flying cars, but these exist in a world still (bizarrely) lit by fire. They’ve managed to invent a flying car but can’t handle an incandescent light bulb? Steam powered gadgets and gizmos exist in the faerie realm, but the reader doesn’t spend any considerable time there in this book, so this is a non-issue.
I will repeat the complaint I have with the V/Noli/Kevighn love triangle. (Does every YA novel have to have one? This convention is getting stale, I think…) The triangle would be a useful plot device if it seemed like there was any possibility that dark-haired Kevighn SilverTongue stood a chance against blond Steven Darrow (Gag! A dark v. light binary!), but it really does feel like a foregone conclusion that Steven will get the girl. I truly detest how forced this element is in the book, but I think that Lazear is moving away from the “I say no with my mouth, but yes with my eyes while I look at you over the shoulder of my True Love” dialogue and narrative. Love triangles are meant to be complex and conflicted and, while there really doesn’t seem to be much of a challenge to Steven’s and Magnolia’s feelings for each other, Kevighn’s unrequited, almost courtly, love is growing on me. If you must have a love triangle then feed it well, and I don’t mean in the last chapter of the book as part of a cliffhanger.
I also find the amount of repetitive phrases to be mildly annoying, and I think teen readers will also pick up on this. Both Magnolia and Steven’s brother James refer to him as a “fussy old bodger,” and the boys’ single profanity (?) is “flying figs.” Magnolia really, really doesn’t want to be a “dollymop.” The repetition has the unintended consequence of limiting these worlds, and I was disappointed that new language wasn’t introduced in this second installment. I hope to see the introduction of new vernacular in the remaining installment(s).
Overall, while I thought there were some problems with the novel, I enjoyed reading it, and I can recommend it to others (though I would hesitate to mention the steampunk elements and stick to a faerie description). I also wouldn’t hesitate to put this in a classroom library as it will definitely appeal to teens. ...more