Oh LORD, this was a slog. And the worst part is that it really, really shouldn't have been, at least not for me!
Reader, here are a few things I love:Oh LORD, this was a slog. And the worst part is that it really, really shouldn't have been, at least not for me!
Reader, here are a few things I love: female characters having adventures, sweet but spoiled girls, female characters having friendships, 18th-century history. And yet even I couldn't enjoy this. I'd been running through books at a rate of one or more a day in the past few weeks; this took me well over a week because I just couldn't bear more than a chapter or two at a time, it was so dry and dull. I liked the first one, though it was slow as well, on recollection, but this was just intolerable.
As I said, it just felt incredibly dry and very slow. More specifically, I felt like the characters were being kept at arm's length -- it was hard for me to really care about them at all. That can certainly work in a lot of books, but when love triangles are a major part of the plot, you really, really need your reader to care about the characters and be rooting for them to be happy (or not). I also really didn't care for how these are billed as major female-driven adventure stories, and yet these young women constantly needed to be saved by the men in their lives -- nor for how completely out of nowhere Hetta and Xavier's relationship felt. That was probably the worst example of Elliott telling me, rather than showing me, the developing relationship between the characters in this book, but there were, unfortunately, a lot more: HOW, exactly, do the trials and tribulations they face together take Hetta and Eugenie from disliking one another to best friends? Why did Hetta give up on Julien? And again, most damningly, why should I care?
So in a word, this book was disappointing. Incredibly disappointing. Heartbreakingly disappointing, for me, because as I say, this should have been a really easy sell for me. I wanted so, so much to love the Pimpernelles books, but when you can't sell me on your female-character-centered 18th-century adventure novel, you've taken a wrong turn somewhere, I'm very sorry to say. :(...more
Okay, so as I've mentioned previously, I'm not a big fan of verse novels. This book is probably an excellent example of why: I feel like there are theOkay, so as I've mentioned previously, I'm not a big fan of verse novels. This book is probably an excellent example of why: I feel like there are the seeds of a really touching story in here, but because we don't get more than the most shallow look at it, I just end up hating every single person. I was also offended on a number of levels: it's all just a big misunderstanding based on the mother being mean and unforgiving! also did you know that not all gay guys are limp-wristed, lisping, interior decorators? RUBY IS TOTALLY ENLIGHTENED BECAUSE SHE IS AWARE OF THIS! also the number of gendered slurs, ugh. The verse format does offer some really powerful opportunities for understatement; they are not taken advantage of here. Instead of less being more, the verse format merely offers an excuse for Sones to skim the surface, offering the shallowest possible version of events. I avoided this book for ages, and clearly that was a good call....more
Hmm. I should start by saying that I'm not generally a big fan of verse novels, so this was never going to be a huge hit with me. I felt like it was pHmm. I should start by saying that I'm not generally a big fan of verse novels, so this was never going to be a huge hit with me. I felt like it was pretty solid, and there was some absolutely beautiful imagery. Plot-wise, I felt like everything wrapped up REALLY quickly; the last few developments were crammed into twenty or thirty pages, which threw me off after the more careful, slow-burning pace the rest of the book maintained. Most books dealing with the topic of suicide and mental illness tend to feel a bit Issue-y to me, although this managed to escape a lot of the worst of that, and I really enjoyed the look at interconnection, how everyone has their own story; the book never takes the easy way out and offers a simple feel-good solution for anyone involved.
I guess, again, a lot of my issues come down to not being a fan of verse novels in general; it was hard for me to just let the narrative flow, and I wanted more on this bit of backstory or that; the verse was also hard for me to get the rhythm of, and that kept me from ever really losing myself in the story. But most of this is very much down to my personal tastes, obviously; for someone who doesn't have as much trouble with verse novels as I do, I think this is probably a much better fit!...more
The more of Hooper's books I read, the more I love her. She's got a wonderful talent for heroines, and female characters in general -- there are all kThe more of Hooper's books I read, the more I love her. She's got a wonderful talent for heroines, and female characters in general -- there are all kinds of strength in the women in her books, and it's always refreshing not to see someone who feels that the only way the heroine in a historical novel could possibly be interesting is if she hates everything feminine. I appreciated, too, that there was only the slightest hint of a possible romance, and that the male character in question helped Grace, but ultimately a lot of the rescuing was work she had to do herself, and that her own bravery, strength, and resourcefulness were the key in getting her through.
Others have mentioned the Dickensian feel to FALLEN GRACE, and I'll add my voice to the chorus. This novel was a complete delight, with a number of different threads and a wonderfully strong young woman at the center of them all, and I'm in awe of Hooper's knack for pacing -- there are books that feel longer than they are in a bad way, and then books that feel longer than they are in a good way, and this was the latter, because I felt so connected to Grace, so much a part of her world, and like so much had happened and we'd shared so much together, that I couldn't believe I'd read the entire book in a few hours.
I would've liked a bit of a content warning going in; I hadn't gotten any hint from the jacket copy that Grace's pregnancy was the result of rape. The issue was handled quite gracefully (har har), though, I felt, and as a survivor, I thought the conclusion, and the fate that befalls her rapist, was incredibly satisfying....more
I've had very, very bad experiences with a lot of queer-themed YA lit, and with YA stories about young women with gay friends -- at least one group ofI've had very, very bad experiences with a lot of queer-themed YA lit, and with YA stories about young women with gay friends -- at least one group of characters, either the women or the gay males, end up as caricatures. So I was pretty cautious going into this book. I am pleased to say that I thoroughly underestimated it.
The characters, first of all, were lovely -- Juby manages to walk the fine line of over-the-top ~characters~ without ever completely going overboard into cardboard. Alex and Cleo, of course, are wonderfully flawed, likeable characters, but so is much of the rest of the cast: Grace, who's a flake but genuinely loves and does right by her family, and even (especially?) Alex's father, who's trying his best to deal with things he really doesn't want to deal with, and who, moreover, I'm actually rooting for.
And Cleo. Oh, Cleo. I can't lie, I adored Cleo. I was deeply concerned, because she's a character who, in the wrong author's hands, could've been absolutely awful and flat-out offensive. Again, I vastly underestimated Juby. Cleo's a rare "poor little rich girl" who manages to be genuinely endearing -- who has an odd little sense of humor that shines when she's confident enough to let it do so, and who genuinely cares for other people but doesn't have any idea how to show that concern in any constructive way, and who learns lessons without Learning Lessons. Relatedly, another example of "things that nine times out of ten don't work for me but that Juby managed to pull off here": the flashback. We know, roughly, the backstory of how Cleo ended up at Stoneleigh, but when we finally get the flashback to Cleo and her father, his reaction to the incident that, for her, started it all, it actually works. More than works, it's downright heartbreaking: we know already that this desperate loneliness and sense of worthlessness was under the surface of her relationship with her parents; Juby has done the work to build that already. But to see how it was made explicit in the flashback is an absolute punch in the gut. That, I think, is what's key, here: this flashback augments, rather than replacing, the work Juby's done with Cleo.
On a more cheerful note! There's a lovely dry humor to ANOTHER KIND OF COWBOY -- a humor that I really don't know that I'd have gotten at sixteen or seventeen, but that, ten years later, I absolutely love. It's almost Meg Cabot-ish (and reading the acknowledgments section, Juby got a fair bit of input from Cabot), and fills the PRINCESS DIARIES-shaped hole in my heart the way not even other Meg Cabot books have managed, barreling in and being not just a decent methadone, but a lovely little gem in its own right.
That said, what happened to Detroit??? DON'T LEAVE ME HANGING, JUBY, NOW I'M ALL WORRIED. I mean, no, obvs, as Alex says, he's not going to be sold for dog food, but he's SAD, he misses Alex and Turnip and saaaaaaad. :( Also I was kind of irritated by Alex's athletic younger sisters declaring that they were gay, as well, because OBVIOUSLY athletic girls who like martial arts are lesbians (says the gay girl with a black belt in tae kwon do), and had in fact been hoping that Cleo would realize that she was gay herself, but oh well. These were tiny little missteps in the wrapping up of a thoroughly enjoyable book, and this was actually one of the few books where I got it out of the library and promptly headed to Amazon to buy a copy, because I knew I'd want to read it again. There are only a very few books that have ever managed that, so well done, Juby, well done....more
Oh, how I wish we had half-star ratings on Goodreads; this was really, for me, a 2.5, but it's definitely not a three, and I wasn't willing to round uOh, how I wish we had half-star ratings on Goodreads; this was really, for me, a 2.5, but it's definitely not a three, and I wasn't willing to round up. The "it was ok" alt-text on the second star really sums it up, anyway, so there you go. To quote another review of this book, Gravity was definitely a mixed bag. I'm quite fond of it for being a book about a queer girl period, because lordy-loo how sick I am of going searching for queer-themed YA and getting nine books about boys for every one about girls, and to throw in the main character's Jewish identity -- well, I was biased from the start. Unfortunately, Gravity is...dry, in large part, which to some extent works, with Ellie being sort of awkward and socially inept, but I feel like, for the most part, that's not so much an intentional way of building Ellie as a narrator as clumsiness on Lieberman's part.
As others have noted, Lieberman isn't Orthodox, and she may not be queer, either (apparently she's married to a man, though that certainly doesn't rule out her being bi). As others have ALSO noted, there's no real need for the story to be set in 1987 (and indeed, at one point Ellie's mother complains about the rudeness of a woman talking on her cell phone at the Western Wall), which is never a good sign for a non-contemporary story: if the time doesn't serve the characters and the story, they don't need to be there. The glaring anachronism also points to some pretty lackluster editing, which does give me some hope for future works by Lieberman: a decent editor, who can explain to her that you don't need every other word out of a character's mouth to be "um" and to give her a lot of nervous tics by way of showing that she's AWKWARD, DID YOU NOTICE HOW AWKWARD SHE IS (drinking game: drink every time Ellie says "um" or chews on a hangnail), might go a long way towards bringing out the shine.
The which shine is there in Gravity! That's what makes the places where it falls flat so disappointing, really -- there's a truly WONDERFUL book here, but alas, it needed at least one more good, hard edit before it was ready to hit the shelves....more
Overall, didn't enjoy this nearly as much as STARCROSSED (which in turn I didn't enjoy nearly as much as A CURSE DARK AS GOLD) -- that said, I suspectOverall, didn't enjoy this nearly as much as STARCROSSED (which in turn I didn't enjoy nearly as much as A CURSE DARK AS GOLD) -- that said, I suspect that STARCROSSED hit a lot more of my buttons, which may be why I didn't care for this as much.
My biggest peeve was probably that we get multiple queer characters in this story -- yay! But they're all male. As a queer women who really enjoyed the first book, it was definitely frustrating for me, to say the least, even a bit hurtful. I also felt like Fei continued a pattern that made me a little uncomfortable in the first book, of treating women who use sex and sexuality as to earn their livings as untrustworthy (even compared to the rest of the characters). And since Rat ended up being much the same kind of character as Phandre from STARCROSSED, the person from Digger's world who ends up as the kept courtesan of a nob, that means that we've only got the women who earn their livings thusly treated with suspicion and even some scorn by the text, while the male character who does it is never anything but trustworthy and one of the good guys. Which is...again, like the lack of female queer characters, frustrating for me, to say the least.
In general, I felt that this needed another good hard edit -- I read an ebook version, so I can't judge from the size of the book whether it's significantly longer than the first one, but it FELT long -- and not in a good way. It definitely dragged, and there were some clumsy or awkward passages at some points.
I really liked that we got some more of characters we only saw briefly in the first book (and yay, more Cwalo!), and I did like Koya a great deal of the new characters. I wish we'd seen a bit MORE of the characters from the first one, or seen more of Digger and Meri's correspondence with its magic invisible ink. Definitely satisfying as a continuation of Digger's adventures, but as I say, I felt like I needed another round or two of editing, and it struck a couple of pretty sour notes with me. Ugh, this sounds so negative! I enjoyed it plenty, and between STARCROSSED and ACDAG, Bunce may be on her way to my Favorite Authors list, but if anything the fact that I really enjoyed her first two books so much makes my frustrations with this one sting all the more....more
There was a lot of interesting stuff going on here, but it never quite gelled for me, and it all felt very flat. I never felt any particular investmenThere was a lot of interesting stuff going on here, but it never quite gelled for me, and it all felt very flat. I never felt any particular investment in any of the characters or their relationships, and there was an awful lot of exposition-dumping. Dunlap also never seemed quite sure how to deal with the fact that history was different, and that people had different values -- Theresa worries about her brother and how he'll be treated during his apprenticeship, but merrily sends him off to it anyway; she's appalled by the details of public torture and execution, but once the friend/ally she's trying to save is granted clemency, she leaves without a second thought to the people who weren't so lucky. Calling attention to the horrors of public torture and execution only makes it all the more jarring when the protagonist doesn't give a second thought to them once the plot moves on to some other place.
There were a lot of places where things just seemed to happen because something had to move the plot forward, and the romance felt completely dry and tacked-on -- Theresa and Zoltan had no chemistry whatsoever, and we never had any indication of when they might've developed feelings for one another, or what they might be attracted to in one another. It seemed like something Dunlap simply put in because someone told her she needed a romantic subplot. We get no motivation for Theresa's villainous uncle -- there are implications that her mother's family aren't pleased that she married below her station, that he's a reactionary who's resistant to the social philosophies of the Enlightenment, but we don't get any reason for his leap from that to pimping out his niece for the cause. To say nothing of his even younger nephew, although Dunlap seems to back away from that implication, changing it merely to the selling of child labor...which, actually, is another problem; once Toby's rescued, Theresa gives only the most cursory thought to the other boys who were imprisoned in her uncle's cellar -- if she was so upset by their presence, why was she so disinterested in their safety once the whole adventure was over?
The use of the Roma was at best pretty eyeroll-worthy as well -- Mirela seems to exist merely to fulfill the "sassy ethnic friend" role for Theresa, and she mostly does this by being inappropriately ~emotional~ and not being all that bright.
I think ultimately what bothered me the most was Theresa's complete lack of any agency -- the entire plot just happens to her, and she's along for the ride. Everyone around her does the more interesting things; her job mostly seems to be reporting it. Which is fine, but there's no awareness of this fact, and it makes it difficult to take seriously the afterword, wherein Dunlap smugly mentions how terrible history was for women who had dreams of doing anything besides getting married and having children. Theresa hasn't done anything -- everyone else does everything, and she's just along for the ride! She doesn't even seem to have many dreams, for that matter -- there are things she likes (playing music, Zoltan) but they're not given the weight of being dreams, so that she doesn't achieve them doesn't feel like any particular injustice. Even the motivation following her father's murder doesn't seem particularly clear: is she just trying to find out how she can best support her family, or does she want to investigate and avenge his death?
Basically, this was technically a very competently-written book, but it was, disappointingly, dull as heck....more
Definitely enjoyed this, although it felt a bit choppy. Some great sensory detail, and I loved the tone. I think it could've done with being a littleDefinitely enjoyed this, although it felt a bit choppy. Some great sensory detail, and I loved the tone. I think it could've done with being a little longer, actually, partly because I'd've just liked to roll around in it a little more, but also because, as I said, there were some parts that felt a bit choppy, and I'd've liked for the transitions to be a little smoother. That may just be my personal tastes, though....more
I couldn't read more than a few chapters, honestly. I love the concept, but something about Celia Rees's voice has just never clicked for me -- this iI couldn't read more than a few chapters, honestly. I love the concept, but something about Celia Rees's voice has just never clicked for me -- this is the second book of hers I've tried and while I managed to finish the first, it left me fairly cold. An awful lot of telling rather than showing, and the sudden POV switches from one paragraph to another seemed very sloppy to me. I'm also always a bit skeptical of attempts to make 18th-century English characters sympathetic to the American Revolution -- a lot of people in America weren't sympathetic to the cause, and while the Enlightenment did shake things up in England as well, something about Sovay's family just rang false for me....more