Marcus Sedgwick is a cat favorite. One of the only writers to successfully publish work for children and young adults, his foray into the ‘darker’ genres is remarkable. In My Swordhand is Singing Sedgwick takes on the myths of the vampire. In his version of the age-old myth, there are no melodramatic romances. There are also no shining and sparkling über-creatures and irresistible doe-eyed maidens. Instead, Sedgwick focuses on the folktales that have been told all over the world, all through the ages. He sets his story in the 17th century in the dead of winter somewhere in Eastern Europe. We get the story of a father, Tomas – a drunk – and his son Peter, both woodcutters and not liked by the villagers where they have settled. In this tale we get gypsies and the evil of the Shadow Queen. In this tale we get the ‘hostages’ (vampires), who’re only after one thing and it’s not making out with the living!
Sedgwick’s horror is so different from the fantasy horror that is usually associated with Vampire stories these days. If anything, it looks like for once we get a writer who has done his homework researching ancient folklore instead of romanticizing it. My Swordhand is Singing is by no means Sedgwick’s best work, but it already shows what this unique writer will attempt in later books too: a focus on setting (eerily so), an interest in the past, and gothic-like retellings of old tales.(less)
You know a book is not for you when you have read 250 pages and you’re still WTF-ing every single page and you still have more than 200 to go and drea...moreYou know a book is not for you when you have read 250 pages and you’re still WTF-ing every single page and you still have more than 200 to go and dreading every single sentence to come. Bleeding Violet is the weirdest of weird books, but sadly not in a good way. Reeves obviously strives to write a different kind of paranormal fantasy novel and to an extent she succeeds in that: Hannah is not just another paranormal romance weak girly angelic mermaidy protagonist in a nice flowing silky satin dress… She’s a completely insane bipolar bitch who’s literally all over the place, mother-complex, father issue, love & sex issues, issues all over the place. On the kookiness meter, this book scores off the charts, but structurally as well as logically this is just such a mess that it doesn’t work at all for and falls flat and will be shelved as a “WTF was I thinking?” book…
Just some random questions: Is there a reason why Portero is full of monsters? Is there a reason why every other place in the whole wide world (of the book) is a normal town, and has never heard of Portero and doesn’t even know there’s a town like Portero with doors and keys to monsters? Why is Wyatt kick ass commando style monsterfighter on one page and a doormat BF on the next? Why the hell is there never an explanation about the whole worldbuilding? Hannah never gets an answer, but the reader just has to guess as well. Even though this books goes on and on (just shy of 500 pages, which is way too long!), it’s page after page guessing what the whole point of it is. Everything in the book is random, chaotic, and ill-explained.
I guess the cat should do the magnanimous thing here and say that the whole reading experience is just one big metaphor for how fucked up the main character is as well,… well in that respect Dia Reeves totally succeeded. Did she also manage to write a good book in the process? Not for me, she didn’t!(less)
The cat’s done with the angels. And the chimaera for that matter. Cat’s had enough, no more mixing it up with the supernatural. Laini Taylor’s Daughte...moreThe cat’s done with the angels. And the chimaera for that matter. Cat’s had enough, no more mixing it up with the supernatural. Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone succeeded in enticing the cat, even more, for like half a book there, it looked like fantasy/supernatural stuff might become a regular on the cat’s bookshelves, but no, this one proves it: had it, schluss, over, done, there’s the door, I’m out! And here’s a Lance Armstrong-sized confession: read this one carefully, painstakingly, up until page 200… then , what the hell, … skimming is reading too, right?
At the beginning of Days of Blood and Starlight, we learn that Karou has disappeared from Prague. After the things that happened in Daughter of Smoke and Bone, the media has practically gone berserk, I mean dude, flying angels and superweird blue-haired girls and all that? Of course, Karou isn’t dead (this being a trilogy and all), but through some not so cryptic email even her friend Zuzana (Yay! She’s still there!) figures out she’s down in Morrocco, not to get a suntan, but to bring back all those slaughtered chimaera. See, Karou has sort of joined forces with the White Wolf, or Thiago, another resurrectionist… Oh, btw, Karou totally took over Brimstone’s job of bringing back chimaera… building an army and all that… yep, the same sort of creatures that her ex-beau Akiva totally slaughtered. It gets kind of confusing here ‘cause, yeah, Karou/Madrigal, one and the same, but not quite, different bodies, old memories, whatevs. Anyway, Akiva? Total emo-angel, with tons of guilt over having been genocide-boy and killing everyone in Madrigal/Karou’s family. So, he wants to make it right again… like being a genocidaire can be atoned for, right? But whatever, he’s building his own private angel-army so he can join Karou’s army, and end the war to end all wars.
Maybe the one and only redeeming quality of Daughter of Smoke and Bone was – in hindsight – the fact that Taylor’s writing was so incredibly generous… but those aesthetically pleasing sentences just end up being veneer and they seriously wear off after a while if there’s no pay-off (plotwise, characterwise, …), and that’s made abundantly clear in this sequel. When you have the two most lackluster protagonists imaginable who just bend over backwards to please an evil master – especially Karou, who is nothing like the fiery girl she was in the previous book, not to mention how eye-rollingly clueless she is here – then no matter how great that language … well, suffice it to say that this reader just started to gloss over sentences. Laini Taylor so much wants her Akiva and Karou be like Romeo and Juliet (“Your family sucks, my family sucks”, “I don’t care.” “Me either.” “Let’s be together.” “We can’t.” “I know, but let’s…” ), but you know what…Those two? Also just two spoiled brats and a badly-ending case of insta-love. Not something you want to repeat… but she does, over and over and over again.
Another weak point of this middle book is definitely the lack of focus, or rather the fact that we get viewpoints galore and just when you’re about to get into one of them, pew…. gone … temporarily or just killed off or whatever. And then when we do get back to that viewpoint, obviously Taylor has to repeat the backstory over and over again, and this book, guys…seriously, at 517 pages, it’s at least 200 pages too long!
There’s a point where as a reader you just don’t want to put any more energy in your reading. And not just because this story of war and brutality is incredibly draining, but also because the opulent writing style that Taylor has just enhances that whole feeling of being tired as a reader,… . The cat found Daughter of Smoke and Bone also way more interesting in the Here world of Prague and Karou’s interactions with her real human friends where Taylor’s writing felt like a lush yet welcome breeze on an incredibly hot summer day. The whole alternate universe stuff – and especially when Madrigal popped up – felt like a copout. Now that it’s obvious that this is really the focus of it all, well… I guess this is where this trilogy stops for the cat.(less)
Every day, A wakes up in a new body and experiences a day in the life of that body. When A wakes up in the body of 16-year-old Justin he thinks will just be another day in the life of a rude high school jock-jerk. However, when A meets Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon, he starts to feel something he’s missing in his own transient existence: love. Of course, being in someone else’s body every day, not knowing whether that body will be male or female, close by or far way, the quintessential question arises: can love overcome being in a different body every day? Can A be loved regardless of whether (s)he is male, female, white, black, skinny, fat, popular, unpopular, … by the same person. Is there some kind of original ‘spark’ that determines one’s essence, one’s true spirit… A believes there is, as he/she is living proof of that. A also wholeheartedly believes that love should be the strongest force ever and is as such almost obsessively focused on Rhiannon.
Every Day is more of an interesting thought experiment than it is an engaging novel, to be honest. A is a pure self, completely ridden of any sort of bodily form. A is a self, whose life spark exists solely by virtue of his/her/its thoughts and memories. Over the course of A’s 16 years in existence, A has inhabited many different hosts, with many different lives, and very different families, and very different ideas. A has learned how to adapt, not to get involved and has even learned how to self-negate… that is until A sees Rhiannon and A too wants to be loved and love in return. Levithan very self-consciously explores the boundaries of love, which has always been one of his pet peeves, but definitely never this philosophical. In Every Day he takes us to the most outer edges of those boundaries, coming up with the most fluid of definitions of ‘a self’ as he consciously decides to let the main character A not focus on such particularities as gender or race or shape and size. They are not important if you focus on what is truly universal and unique about love.
If you look at Every Day as a ‘novel’, I think you might be disappointed. There are definitely a number of plot holes and issues which should have been addressed but aren’t . For example, why Rhiannon? What about the story line involving Nathan and the reverend? There are others like A? Where? What about them? What does that mean to A? This is such an intriguing question, but it is never developed by Levithan. Instead, Nathan and the reverend are just presented as some wacko religious nutters,… and the storyline is discontinued when it could take you in a whole different direction.
Another problem is that all the secondary characters are flat characters as they only get one day to introduce themselves. There’s no character development: not for the bodies A inhabits, and not really for Rhiannon and A either. They are static (which is a weird concept if you think about the fact that A is such a fluid character…).
If you look at Every Day as an author’s vessel to convey a message, then the message initially seems to be very clear: love should know no boundaries. Gender doesn’t matter, or does it? As much as you want to believe this (and A certainly does), it seems that even the other characters don’t really. Rhiannon recognizes A for sure, but there’s not the same level of intimacy when A is a girl, which begs the questions whether gender and sex really don’t matter? Maybe not in an incorporeal world? But what world is that exactly? It also begs the questions as to what exactly love is. Because, like it or not, A is one obsessive dude(tte), and if that’s the sort of love he/she wants, then that is a very limited interpretation of the concept. Also, A (Levithan too?) preaches acceptance… when it comes to gender-issues. But what about when A wakes up in the body of a fat boy? Acceptance is nowhere in sight… I don’t know whether these seeming inconsistencies are there on purpose or not…
The reason why Every Day still gets the 3-star rating despite the many shortcomings is because of the fact that it’s definitely the type of book that makes you think about and then rethink some preconceived notions about gender, racial and sexual identity. Every Day has a fascinating premise, and is a daring thought experiment, executed just in the right way for what Levithan sets out to do (that pesky present tense… ). However, it cannot live up to anything the cat’s read before of Levithan, alone or in collaboration with another author.(less)
The cat has been dead wrong before, judging an author by just one title, but if Lisa McMann’s writing style and plotting in Cryer’s Cross is anything to go by, I don’t think I’ll bother reading any of her other stuff.
Cryer’s Cross has a killer opening sentence (“Everything changes when Tiffany Quinn disappears.”) setting the scene for what should be an intriguing mystery novel in the small rural town of Cryer’s Cross (the cat loves small town mysteries!). Kendall is 17, suffers from OCD, loves soccer and her small town environment, though she also dreams of a career in dance and has applied to Juilliard in New York. Of these 4 elements (the OCD, the soccer, the small town and the dance career), only 2 are maybe vaguely credibly worked out (the soccer and the small town) while the other two are mere plot devices to keep the reader guessing up until they might be of use to the author again, talk about pulling the rabbit out of the proverbial hat… I’m not a psychiatrist, but I do know a little bit about being obsessive, and if you claim that someone has OCD, then this is something that wholly absorbs that person. It is not something you just state (it is mentioned over and over again without us actually experiencing much of it – show us, McMann, don’t tell us!) and then seemingly forget about until it is convenient as a plot device (and even then just say something like “her OCD saved her”).
So anyway, the story is set up as a mystery, but is then interrupted through the introduction of two new characters in town, Jacian and his sister Marlena. Obviously, Jacian is set up as a potential perp as well as a new love interest for Kendall (sigh), even though she thinks he is creepy – she can sense these things, yo, courtesy of her OCD? Kendall though has been seeing her best friend Nico since before they could walk and talk, yet refuses to call him her boyfriend. Ooh boy. Then of course, Nico goes missing too and Kendall is all: “what will I do without my Nico”? (Don’t worry Kendall, I’m sure Jacian will be there right beside you!) Enter the crazy desk and the voices and the whispers and you get yourselves a ‘supernatural thriller’ that is actually not scary at all.
Anyway, it’s not so much the plot that didn’t work for the cat… OK, so it didn’t work because McMann abandoned the mystery in favor of the potential romance (which totally fell flat because guess what: no chemistry between these two characters whatsoever) up until the last 30 or so pages when the mystery was rediscovered (in the most cliché way possible), much like Kendall’s OCD. Anyhow, even more than the lack of credible plot was the way this story is told: 3rd person present tense narration. There’s definitely a reason why it’s hardly ever used – it feels peculiar to the point of amateurish! I know it should give everything a creepy sense of immediacy and “it’s all happening now all over again” and all that, but it just doesn’t work for me, not in combination with the lackluster plot in any case. Present tense is OK (cf. Hunger Games, Divergent), but I guess it is the combination with that third person singular which gives it an unnatural feel. Urgent immediacy (present tense) and distance from the main character (3rd rather than 1st person singular) just don’t mesh well.
The Vampire Blood Trilogy combines the first three volumes in The Saga of Darren Shan. Introduced as supposedly a ‘true story’, in which the names and the places had to be changed for the safety of everyone involved, Cirque du Freak - the first volume of the trilogy - introduces is to Darren Shan and his best friend Steve ‘Leopard’ Leonard. One day Darren’s friend Alan finds a flyer for a particular kind of circus, the “cirque du freak. Because of certain ‘limitations’ they can only get their hands on 2 tickets for the highly illegal show, and the honor goes to Darren and Steve to see the show that will change their life: twisting twins, wolf man, snakeboys and the mysterious Mr Crepsley with his performing spider Madam Octa… the two boys witness the whole shebang… Only Steve is sure that even more is going on and that Mr Crepsley is a vampire… anyway, in a sudden turn of events we get Darren stealing the spider, Steve being attacked by Madam Octa, and Darren getting a choice that’s really not a choice at all: becoming Mr Crepsley’s Vampire Assistant or not getting the antidote to the spider bite that can save Steve’s life.
The Saga of Darren Shan became a worldwide success right after the publication of the first couple of volumes (in 2009, the movie Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant was made, featuring Chris Massoglia as Darren Shan and John C. Reilly as Mr Crepsley). I get the impression that after the publication of the later Harry Potter books and then subsequently the whole train of ‘vampire stories’ in the wake of Twilight and the likes, Darren Shan has somewhat lost his appeal to middle graders. The audience is definitely younger teens here (mostly boys). As for the lasting (literary) quality of these books…meh, they’re definitely no Harry Potter. The writing especially is average at best (and I’m being very kind here), there is hardly any characterization going on either, and even the horror aspect is fairly meager. But, if Darren Shan gets at least one person interested in reading, I guess that’s an accomplishment in itself. The cat, though, has had enough with just one of the volumes of The Saga of Darren Shan.(less)
If there’s one undisputable thing about Libba Bray it’s that she writes and writes and writes like her life depends on it. Give her a pen, a typewriter, a laptop, a napkin, anything, and she will fill it with what’s inside that fantastically maniacal brain of hers. No wonder that her novels hardly ever clock in under 500 pages… Libba has things to share. On her blog, Libba recently confessed that she has “only one extreme sport in [her] and it’s writing. [She] plunge[s] into the unknown morass of [her] novels armed with some weird ideas, a handful of nascent characters, vague connections, a tingling in [her] Spidey senses, and the hope that it all comes to something.” It’s also been no secret that the cat feels the result of that brain effort has been a mixed bag: from the incredibly übertastic Going Bovine to the almost shockingly atrocious Beauty Queens. Clearly there must be something that – for the cat – works and something that just doesn’t work.
Her newest exploit, The Diviners, was a hit even before it reached the shelves. There’s also a great advertising spielgoing on, which – although probably necessary in this day and age of dwindling book sales (e- or otherwise), you gotta grab’em any way you can, right? – seems as over the top as an author walking around Manhattan in a cow suit. So hypes get built, great expectations arise which may or may not be met once you finally get your hands on the book. Every time a novel is built up like this, it makes the cat very wary…
But… luckily, Libba Bray hasn’t turned out another miss, but a a pos-i-tute-ly divine – although completely over-the-top (as per usual) – page turner! Just to be clear before we continue: the cat loved reading The Diviners! A fascinating and engrossing read. A mystery and a fantasy. And totally addictive! A definite 4-star book!
17-year-old Evangeline O’Neill (Evie) is sent from Ohio to New York City to live with her uncle, Will Fitzgerald, curator of The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult – aka The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies. Although her parents intended for this to be a punishment for Evie, she can’t wait to escape her tiny hometown to the buzzing New York City, which is – in the roaring 1920s – the city of speakeasies, movie palaces, glamour and all that jazz… Evie also has a secret, a special ability (she can ‘read’ people), that may actually help her when New York City is being haunted by a mysterious killer. Besides Evie, there’s a string of other characters: Memphis Campbell, a Harlem boy who used to have the healing power, Sam, whose sleight of hand even lands him a job with Evie’s Uncle, Uncle Will, the mysterious Jericho who works with Will at the Museum, Theta Knight, the stunning Ziegfeld girl… Each of these characters has their own back story, and some are even more fantastical than the next.
Libba Bray has clearly done her homework, setting the 1920s NYC scene with panache and her usual effortless writing flair. She certainly has that down even to the slang used at the time. The story itself – with Evie at the core of it – has more tentacles than an octopus. Libba is throwing it all in, in true Libba Bray-style. And yes, I do mean, all… and that of course, is a blessing as well as a curse. The Diviners is a book to lose yourself in. And the cat knows that she’ll get the same reaction from it as the one she got the other day with A Great and Terrible Beauty. Two girls come into the school library and one of them recommends A Great And Terrible Beauty to the other. Two days later the girl comes back and checks out both Rebel Angels and The Sweet Far Thing. Once Libba’s got you, she’s got you and reading her words on a page comes natural. She’ll suck you in and you’ll believe anything she throws at you, because it’s just such a great and thrilling ride! Same thing with The Diviners: Libba is a generous story-teller. She leaves no stone unturned, no detail unwritten, no word unmentioned. And you’ve got to love her for it, because that’s exactly the appeal she has, and that’s exactly what makes this book such a fantastically fun (though creepy!) ride from start to finish. But, yes, it’s also her major flaw – it’s always been her major flaw. Usually this is something an editor weeds out, but I guess after six books, to weed out the over-the-topness, to weed out that one idea too many, to get rid of the excess and the extravaganza, would be like taking the Libba Bray out of a Libba Bray book. We don’t want that to happen.
The cat takes Libba Bray the way Libba Bray is: no bullshit detector/editor necessary. Libba literally writes on that edge. Just like we want more middle-finger writers, we want more edge-writers. And you know what, the cat doesn’t care if Libba churns out a stinker now and then (BTW, that’s not The Diviners!). She’s a writer with heart, and even when she crashes, you know she did it in the most spectacular way possible. And even that is better than reading the tons of lackluster middle-of-the-road stuff, the crowd pleasers, the panem et circenses that’s thrown at us everywhere you look.
PS to Libba: did you and MJ have a bet on who could write the creepiest murder story?(less)
A complete novice to Maggie Stiefvater’s writing, the cat went into The Scorpio Races without too many expectations. A good thing too, because if she’...moreA complete novice to Maggie Stiefvater’s writing, the cat went into The Scorpio Races without too many expectations. A good thing too, because if she’d had them, she surely would have been disappointed. The Scorpio Races is not about “Scorpios” nor is it about “Races” at all,… so far for the title giving away the whole plot. Not necessarily a bad thing, of course. The Scorpio Races is actually about Maggie Stiefvater painting a picture of an island, Thisby, in a non-descript period of time. A painting of a place-less place in a time-less time, if you will. Stiefvater definitely does her utmost to make that painting as universal as possible, which is bound to alienate a bunch of readers, amongst which also the cat…
First off, we do get at least an indication of where exactly this island Thisby might be. The protagonists of this little prizewinner are called capaill uisce (“water horses”), which sounds definitely Gaelic enough for the island to be situated near Ireland or Scotland, especially taking the incredibly detailed characterization of the angry wild sea and the roughness of the shoreline into consideration. Many books are either plot-driven or character-driven and in only a few instances you get the perfect combination of plot & character. The Scorpio Races, however, is really neither. If anything it is setting-driven. The descriptions of the island and the sea surrounding it, out of which these magnificently cruel beasts capaill uisce are born, are what should suck you in from the start. Stiefvater’s prose is vividly atmospheric, the perfect tool to paint an almost impressionist tale of a temperamental island and its long-standing traditions.
In this almost mythical setting, two characters are juxtaposed: Kate ‘Puck’ Connelly and Sean Kendrick. Puck is the first girl to race in the Scorpio Races, which take place every year on the first day of November. Sean is a 4-time winner of the Races. Both have their own motivations for wanting to race. Puck’s parents were killed by the savage horses, leaving Puck and her two brothers orphaned. Now, Gabe (the oldest brother) wants to leave the island, leaving behind Puck and their youngest brother Finn. Puck wants in on the races to prove to herself and the islanders that she can do it…that and the fact that she needs the prize money to save her house. Puck being the first girl to enter the races means that all sorts of gender issues are brought to the fore too, of course (an indication that the time period is probably somewhere in the early 20th rather than in the 21st century). Sean, on the other hand, enters because of some sort of ‘oath’ to the owner of his beloved water horse, Corr. What he actually wants is to obtain Corr, the capall uisce, he’s been riding since forever and with which he has an almost transcendental connection. Puck and Sean are two sides of the same coin: one stands for future (Puck) and everything it entails (change), while the other stands for tradition (Sean) and honoring the sea and the land that brought forth the capaill uisce and the islanders.
Despite the fact that almost nothing really happens – large vague-ish brushstrokes, rather than a firm outline, to stay with the painting imagery – it’s a tale that could work (and yes, I’m now totally overlooking the fact that besides Puck, Sean, the island and the capaill uisce none of the other characters have any sort of personality) . However, the one almost insurmountable obstacle for the cat was a linguistic thing: that damned present tense this book was written in! Unlike in Collins’ Hunger Games, the present tense here annoyed the hell out of the cat. Speaking about reading pleasure being spoiled by a linguistic device… It serves a purpose for sure (universality), but it’s also the element that made sure there was almost no distinction in characterization between Puck and Sean. Add to that that both narrations are first-person narrations and you get two voices, which are almost exactly the same (again the universality of it all, the fact they’re two sides of the same coin and all that). Their pasts and motivations are different, despite the fact that there are obvious similarities. Their voices should be complimentary rather than identical. I felt the present tense narration just stood in the way of that.
Like with for instance David Almond, I can see where the attraction lies: atmospheric prose, scenic landscapes, mythical creatures, yadda, yadda, yadda… Stiefvater is a pro at creating mood, for sure. But it’s a mood that will not satisfy everyone, especially if you are also looking for a plot advancing at a decent pace (the pace here is sloooooow!), or if you like your books to have more than one interesting character. And also just like with David Almond, the cat really isn’t feeling the love here…
Don’t believe the hype! The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer popped up so many times in the cat’s Amazon’s recommendations (though why is beyond me now!) and t...moreDon’t believe the hype! The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer popped up so many times in the cat’s Amazon’s recommendations (though why is beyond me now!) and there’d been all this gushing over the oh so beautiful cover and the oh so incredible booktrailer… but seriously? This has got to be the letdown of the year! It’s not so much that it’s not the type of book I expected it to be (ok, so it wasn’t), it’s that there are so many things wrong with this book that I just don’t know where to start.
The story starts off fine enough with a ‘Before’ scene that is creepy enough – though seriously, a Ouija board, that is like so passé! – to get you going, after which there’s an ‘After’ scene in which Mara, the main character, wakes up in the hospital after being the apparent sole survivor when an abandoned asylum collapsed. The victims: her best friend Rachel, her boyfriend Jude and his sister Claire. After these scenes Mara moves to Miami because her mother – a shrink – decides she needs to get away to cope with the grief. Fine, sure, whatever. Except not, of course, right? Because Mara starts seeing dead people. “To be psychotic or not to be psychotic?”is the question. Or rather that would have been the more interesting question, if Hodkin hadn’t decided to focus on the romance part of the story… Like, please, that is just so Twilight!
Speaking of Twilight, I guess my major irk with the characters is the total stalker-sociopathic behavior of the main characters – except for Jamie, the first friend that Mara makes when she’s at her new school, and who’s just completely underdeveloped as a character. Mara, on the other hand, borders on the pathetic with her ‘I want to resist you Noah Shaw’, ‘you are of no interest to me Noah Shaw’…but then of course she secretly smiles at his actions, she almost obsessively draws him in her sketchbook, and it doesn’t really take all that much for her to go on a date with Noah Shaw, God’s gift to womankind…
Anyway, Noah, the lurrve interest: he’s hot..you know, ‘cuz he’s British and Britishness equals hotness for the American female teen target audience. We get it. But Noah is also an ass: he secretly investigates Mara. He has a bad rep for being the worst player at his high school (or is he?). He’s pushy and annoying – and yet Mara cannot seem to resist him. Mara thinks and says so many cringe-worthy things that the only possible thing I can think of is that Michelle Hodkin – a female writer – must have been suffering from temporary insanity while she was writing the character of Mara. Ugh! And double ugh!
Because again, seriously? Let’s talk about language and style. This is probably the worst aspect of the book… bordering on fan fiction level of badness. I’m sure that the gushing Twilight crowd will call this style haunting and atmospheric, while in actual fact it’s just not good enough to make this a standout book – a first in a series even!
What is especially bad here is the almost amateur dialogue between the protagonists. Here’s a sample for you:
“How did you get my phone number?” I blurted, before I could stop myself. “It’s called research.” I could hear him smirking over the phone. “Or stalking.” Noah chuckled. “You’re adorable when you’re bitchy.” “You’re not,” I said, but smiled despite myself. (p. 178)
I sighed. “Why do you insist on making me hate you?” “I’m not making you hate me. I’m making you love me.” Damn him for being right. “So you’re giving in?” he asked. “Just like that?” (p. 266)
Or what about:
“That’s my girl.” “I’m not your girl,” I said with more venom than I’d intended. “Right, then,” Noah said, and looked at me with a curious stare. He raised an eyebrow. “About that.” I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing. “You like me,” he finally said. “You like me, like me.” He was trying not to smile. “No I hate you,” I said, hoping that saying it would make it so. “And yet, you draw me.” Noah was still smug, completely undeterred by my declaration.
What could I say? Noah, despite you being an asshole, or maybe because of it, I’d like to rip off your clothes and have your babies. Don’t tell. (p. 172)
Seriously, those are the things our female protagonist thinks and says. Besides this, there’s also a whole lot of blurting out, sighing, feeling, doing things despite themselves, and of course being inevitable drawn towards each other throughout this book. Again, Twilight much? Oh and the comparison doesn’t really end there… what with the whole ridiculously chaste sort of romance Mara and Noah are bound to have, of course.
I guess, the whole paranormal romance thing just isn’t what makes the cat go all twirly inside. I mean, damn, if I’d known that this is the direction the book would take, I probably wouldn’t have started it in the first place. So many good books, so little time. The sequel – yes, of course there is going to be a sequel – is not something the cat will be waiting for.
Even literary giants aren’t for everyone… and although the cat can see why David Almond is considered such a great talent in the vast ocean of childre...moreEven literary giants aren’t for everyone… and although the cat can see why David Almond is considered such a great talent in the vast ocean of children’s and young adult literature, he’s just not her cup of tea. Skellig was a first indication, Kit’s Wilderness confirmed it. David Almond may be a fantastic writer, but it’s just not my thing.
In Kit’s Wilderness – yes yet again this novel won awards on both sides of the ocean – Almond sketches a perfect piece of British history. Kit is 13 when his family moves back to Stoneygate. Kit’s grandfather, an ex-miner, likes to tell stories about the town’s coal-mining past. It is this hard past that still haunts the area. Kit is drawn to a boy called John Askew, who, along with other children of old mining families likes to play the game called Death. In sequences reminiscent of magical realism, Almond connects Kit’s present, the lost children of the past (some of which have the same names and ages as Kit and his present-day friends), and his grandfather’s memories of the Stoneygate mines and Stoneygate.
David Almond is a master at playing with the boundaries of past and present, rooting the characters of his novels strongly in the history of a certain place, and no where is this more apparent than in Kit’s Wilderness in which Almond yet again poetically evokes a place he knows like no other. The place one is born is not just a physical space, but it almost determines a character’s spiritual being. Almond’s favorite themes are also represented in this novel: the contrast between life and death, the bond between past and present, growth and healing, the magical reality of time and place… If that sort of metaphysical and allegorical reading is your shtick, then there’s no better book than Kit’s Wilderness.
In Uglies Scott Westerfeld showed us his take on (dystopian) speculative fiction. It may not have been very original, but the result was action-packed...moreIn Uglies Scott Westerfeld showed us his take on (dystopian) speculative fiction. It may not have been very original, but the result was action-packed, driven and actually led to something, despite also being part of a series. Leviathan, first published in 2009, is apparently a prime example of another sci-fi subgenre, called steampunk. However, contrary to the Uglies series, the cat just couldn’t get into the book: too much mechanics, not enough emotional drive nor serious criticism, and a way too abrupt ending (it ends where it should have begun!) spoiled this one for her.
In steampunk, the setting is usually the Victorian era in Britain or the “Wild West”-era in the United States (both of which were steam-driven societies). At the same time, however, novels of the steampunk genre blend sci-fi and even fantasy elements with this more or less accurate historical setting. The result is often a novel with lots of anachronistic bits of technology, all very mechanical-looking, bordering on the futuristic when looked at from a Victorian point of view. Machines like in the works of Jules Verne, clocks, time machines, flying machines etc. are often featured in this type of work.
Westerfeld sets his Leviathian a bit later, namely at the very beginning of the First World War, and puts 2 different views of the world to the fore. On the one hand the British Darwinists, who believe in a biologically-enhanced reality and on the other hand the German/Austrian Clankers who believe in a man-made mechanical world. The two worldviews are presented by the two protagonists. First there’s Deryn, a 15-year-old girl who pretends to be a boy just so she can join the Air Service. Then there’s Alek, the son of Archduke Franz Ferdinand who just got murdered, together with his wife Sophie, which led to the Great War. In reality, the Archduke didn’t have a son called Alek, of course, but it’s a sign of what steampunk attempts to do: alternate versions of history, fusing the real historical, with the hypothetical and the might have been.
As far as story goes, this book is a typical “ first in a series book”, which actually annoyed the cat quite a bit. A first in a series can of course end in a cliffhanger, but as a reader you should still have the impression that you’ve actually read something that means more than an introduction to what is yet to come. It is not because your story is the first in a series, that you shouldn’t commit completely to it. That is one of the many reasons why Patrick Ness’ The Knife of Never Letting Go is such a brilliant book, and not just a brilliant first book in a trilogy. Leviathan isn’t. Not a brilliant book, and not a brilliant first book. Westerfeld chose to focus on the machinations and the workings of the Beasties (like the Leviathan) and the Walkers, and neglected to really paint a picture of the worldview of Darwinists and Clankers, which would have made for a far more interesting book. If you pick a historical era and decide to ‘alter’ this a little bit, it might be a good idea to establish what exactly is going on in that world, show reasons for doing things, what are the opposing forces doing exactly and why? There was a lot of background information missing in favor of straight up no nonsense action it seemed… I guess that’s good for some, but the cat wants a bit more than that. The whole concept of ‘steampunk’ is so full of possibilities, and the premise of Leviathan is so promising, that it’s a pity that Westerfeld decided to focus more on mechanics and action than on historical relevance or the philosophical undertones of what he is undertaking. Because that’s exactly what it would take to lift ‘steampunk’ up to something more than derivative action writing: a combination of criticism and action-packed errr… action.
It is hard to care just for the action of a story when as a reader you don’t exactly see what the point of it all is. Though the characters seem to have an interesting enough background, Westerfeld doesn’t use them enough, favoring descriptions of machines and beasts, rather than exploring internal motivations of his protagonists. So many possibilities, so little result… a pity.
The allure of Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone is beyond measure… it was actually so big that t...moreReview first published at Ringo the Cat's Blog
The allure of Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone is beyond measure… it was actually so big that the cat was drawn into reading her very first “angel” book (not counting David Almond’s Skellig, but that is a whole different ballgame). We all know that in the wake of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight bubble, not only whole series of vampire-inspired books unfortunately reappeared in BookLand (Anne Rice anyone?), but after vampires got a bit old, the publishing companies thought it would be a good thing to milk the supernatural cow just a little bit more and decided angels were the next best thing, so enter a whole string of angel-series…that the cat deftly managed to avoid… until Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone.
Now, taking into consideration that I have *nothing* to compare this to, the cat thought Taylor didn’t actually do a half-assed job, not in the first half of the book anyway. Don’t get me wrong, it is not entirely a successful book, but it is especially written well enough to keep the cat interested in what came next…well at least until about half-way through the book when even lushly written sentences wear off a little bit, if the only thing they’re there for is to gush about the perfect physical beauty of the love interest and the obvious attraction between our two star-crossed protagonists, and (towards the end) why their love just can’t be. Yes, that was a slight exaggeration.
Anyway, the book starts off very enticingly and with an opulent splendor that is absolutely mesmerizing. Taylor introduces us to her protagonist, the bright blue-haired and heavily tattooed 17-year-old art student Karou, who is tough as nails, can hold her own against annoying ex-boyfriends, but who is above all a stranger to herself. Though she splits her time between studying art at the Lyceum of Bohemia in Prague and running errands (mostly collecting all sorts of teeth) for the weirdest of father-figures – Brimstone, a horned golden-eyed monster – she doesn’t really know anything about his fantastical business, about how she ended up with him, who her parents are/were or whether there are other chimeras besides the ones she’s grown up with, like Issa, a chimera female who’s a serpent from the waist down. When her friends from this world start asking questions, she always tells them the truth, either through her drawings, or in mock humor way so that they don’t know what to believe about her mysterious other life in Elsewhere. So far, Taylor is well on the way for a 4-star book…
Taylor is such a skilful word artist (she had me after 2 pages!) who has an abundance of lush language at her disposal with which she introduces us also to the perfect setting for this story. It really is not very hard on the eye to read about Karou and Prague and mysterious black handprints on doors… I mean, it is Prague, with its many street artists, mysterious alleys, gothic looking buildings and… a great minor character, Zuzana, Karou’s friend at the art academy. Unfortunately, Zuzana, Prague, the exquisite world-building and the mystery, all that is soon forgotten once our protagonist Karou has her first meeting with her enemy, the seraph (angel) Akiva, who is earth-shattering beautiful and who will of course have some sort of inexplicable connection with Karou… and that is exactly what the other half of the story is about. The connection between Karou and Akiva, and the back story of the two. It’s still a mystery but all in service of the ‘romance’ rather than in service of furthering the actual plot (many many flashbacks!). Well,… I can’t help but feel a bit cheated here, because I just wanted more of the Prague world and more interaction between Karou, Zuzana and Akiva, and the clash between the two worlds (Here and Elsewhere) than I got. Instead, what I got was… romance, of the astral kind for sure, yes, the type of romance that wars start over even, but still romance.
And because this book is so beautifully written, you will go on and on to see what else there is for our protagonists and then Taylor will introduce another character – Madrigal – and I have to say, this is where she lost me completely. I had enough with the Seraphs and the Chimeras in Brimstone and his assistants and Akiva and I wanted more interaction there before I got the whole back story of the star-crossed lovers thing, which is, admit it, just not that original… At that is exactly what the whole first part of the book really was: inventive and lush and fresh and promising so much more than we actually got in the end. Definitely minus one whole star…
Laini Taylor is a flamboyant word mistress and as a writer, she definitely stands out in the YA crowd – and I’m fairly sure she also stands out in the ‘paranormal’ YA crowd in this respect. She has an eye for detail and can build a world with flair, a mythical and mystical world that is mysterious, lush and all her own. Her protagonist Karou shows so much strength and promise, but like in so many paranormal romances she gets weak in the knees once that all uber-perfect love interest shows up. And I wanted more Zuzana, who provided the story with an earthiness, she grounded not just Karou, but the entire Here-Elsewhere dichotomy. Or maybe it is just me – cats are solitary creatures after all – but I guess cats and angels just don’t mesh well…
PS. After writing my review, I reread the review of Wendy Darling of the midnight garden over at Goodreads and she seems to agree with a lot of what the cat had to say about this book, but she manages to say it so much better, so here is the link to that!(less)
In his much-praised and highly-hyped debut Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Ransom Riggs has created an enchanting fairytale-like world fu...moreIn his much-praised and highly-hyped debut Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Ransom Riggs has created an enchanting fairytale-like world fusing the present-day world of his main character Jacob with the memories and vintage photos of Jacob’s grandfather’s past. There’s no doubt that the photos are what will draw the reader in: they are unique, authentic, a little bit out of the ordinary… However, it’s up to Riggs to make sure there is more to this debut novel than just a bunch of vintage photos of eccentric (or peculiar) looking people.
The ‘Before’ of the book (Jacob’s ‘situation’) is definitely a great start of this book. The cat raised her expectations quite a bit because it seemed that Jacob would be an interesting protagonist to follow: definitely troubled (not just your average poor little rich kid), yet with a heart in the right place and witty to boot. The idea of trying to figure out his troubled present by investigating the photos of his grandfather’s past set up an intriguing quest for his own identity to a mysterious island in Wales of all places, completely cut off from society in space, but also in time – as will become clear early on in his quest.
The ‘After’ of the book, on the other hand, did not exactly live up to the high expectations raised by the ‘Before’. Yes, the story is ‘different’. Yes, the characters in Miss Peregrine’s home are a little bit bizarre. Yes, the book is unique in its layout and incorporation of vintage photos… However, the cat was a bit let down by what could and should have been an investigation into what makes human beings unique yet similar at the same time. This book, with this set of characters, is the ideal opportunity to investigate la condition humaine… Instead, we’re left with a fantastical adventure story with a few mysterious characters, that doesn’t even get a pay-off at the end, because it’s so obvious a first book in a series. The cat was led to believe (by the ‘Before’ of the novel) that she would get an insight into the psyche of the protagonist, that she would be taken on a wondrous trip of melancholic musings about the need to remember and how the past influences the present. Granted, pretty high hopes… and unfortunately the stakes were a bit too high…
That is not to say that Ransom Riggs doesn’t know how to write. On the contrary, his language is evocative, articulate even (Ransom Riggs definitely knows what a thesaurus is); the story of his main characters is engaging enough to keep you going to the end. If you have no expectations about this book, this book might work. It’s an enchanting tale of fantasy and wonder, reminiscent of the works of Lemony Snicket. A charming debut, no question about that either, but at times the photos, which were meant to draw readers in, caused an awkwardness in the narrative flow (you can just feel “Oh, I have another peculiar photo, and I really have to fit it in here”), and often stood in the way of character development (descriptive rather than analytical) and a richness and depth that this story’s plotline deserved. All in all, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children reads like a debut, but luckily there’s room to grow…
**spoiler alert** Since the cat read part 2 and 3 of Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle trilogy in the span of a week or so, it didn’t really make a lot of sens...more**spoiler alert** Since the cat read part 2 and 3 of Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle trilogy in the span of a week or so, it didn’t really make a lot of sense to write down a separate review for the 2 books. The one-week thing should tell you something. I mean, parts 2 and 3 have a page count of well over 1300 pages, but it’s not like Libba makes it hard on the reader: both books still have the gothic flair of A Great and Terrible Beauty and on top of that, the girl can spin a metaphor like the best of them. What is more, Libba’s prose always keeps on having that natural flow despite her many attempts at Victorian linguistic Britishisms. Anyway, once in a while you’d wish she’d stopped herself to look back on what she’d already written, because redundancy is quickly catching up with her… Where’s that editor when you need him/her???
In Rebel Angels, it is Gemma’s job to ‘bind the magic’ which she’d unleashed after destroying the runes at the end of A Great and Terrible Beauty. At the same time the reader gets to deal with a new mysterious teacher, the replacement of Miss Moore. All this plays out nicely at Spence academy, but a large part of the novel is also set in London itself at Christmas time: balls, balls, tea parties, more balls, more tea parties and proper young ladies. Oh and Kartik is there too.
In The Sweet Far Thing, Gemma has managed to bind the magic, but now all the different creatures of the realms are in a state because they all want a piece of it/her. Not only that, the Order, the Rakshana, her grandmother… Gemma’s everyone’s favorite girl, except she’s not, of course, and then there’s this blasted thing called her ‘debut’ in society. Gemma is a girl with issues, clearly!
The whole shtick about the Gemma Doyle trilogy of course is the quest for a girl’s independence. Throughout the trilogy we get to see different ways of dealing with ‘constraints’ (corsets, anyone?). Gemma, the girl with the magic who has *all* the power in the realms, feels totally insignificant when it comes to dealing with the duties and obligations set for her in ‘London society’. With great power comes great responsibility. And clearly Gemma doesn’t quite grasp that yet, until she is made painfully aware of that by the ‘real’ life problems her family and friends have to deal with.
However, that is not to say that this trilogy, and especially the concluding part of it, is without its flaws… it’s not. Again, with an 800+ page count, you’d better make sure that what you say is worth it…for all those 800+ pages… And though the overall message that Libba wants to convey does shine through, you gotta wonder whether it really was necessary to have Gemma, Felicity and Anne go into the realms one minute, and then out of them again the next, and into the realms, and out of them and into…and…well you get my drift. Get on with the point of the story already, right? And she does… the cat definitely thought the Victorian society bits of the story were the stronger point of The Sweet Far Thing , but then Libba wouldn’t be Libba if she didn’t try to put it *all in*. There seems to be no contemporary issue that doesn’t deserve to be mentioned: self-harm? Check! Child abuse? Check! Gay romance? Check (but where the hell did that one come from? Definitely not from the first part where Felicity was happily snogging that male gypsie!)! I mean, we get it, life as a teenager in Victorian society was as complicated, and not really all that different, if you come to think of it, as today’s teenager’s… In the end it all boils down to a simple question: what choice are you going to make?
Libba has ideas. Many ideas. She can write. About many things. Quite well. But Libba needs an editor! Where’s that corset when you need it?