Juana the Mad! How can she NOT be memorable? Even Jean Plaidy's awful characterization was memorable, but it is C. W. Gortner's portrayal that I love.Juana the Mad! How can she NOT be memorable? Even Jean Plaidy's awful characterization was memorable, but it is C. W. Gortner's portrayal that I love. His Juana was total BFF material as a strong, vividly drawn, ambitious woman. I especially loved how the author wrote her in a way that I was never totally sure if she truly was truly mad from the get go, if she went mad as a result of her circumstances, or if she was completely sane. Well done!...more
I was so reluctant to read this book, but Ruby had been trying to convince me for months and then I saw a copy in theOriginally posted on Small Review
I was so reluctant to read this book, but Ruby had been trying to convince me for months and then I saw a copy in the $1 bargain bin and I realized resistance was futile.
And boy am I glad I did! Amelia is a total sleepover party, BFF charm swapping, kindred spirit kind of character. She's a graveyard restorer and while there's definitely an ick factor to the profession (especially when fresh bodies turn up where they don't belong and oh my gosh that crypt scene), but it also shares all the cool historical mysteries stuff that I love about old historical house books.
The fact that she can see ghosts is a blessing and a curse, but I don't blame her at all for being a somewhat reluctant medium. I also don't blame her for being a reluctant romantic partner for one of her choices because, eh, I'm not sold on him (he has dead wife issues), but I totally blame her for not jumping all over her book 2 love interest because he is absolutely perfect for her.
Each book ends with the central mystery solved, but there's an overarching mystery (the dead wife, who so inconveniently haunts her husband) and this isn't finished yet. I read the first book fully expecting to find it meh. Instead, as soon as I finished it I checked out the sequel (which I loved even more) and then the third book. Now I'm impatiently waiting for book four to come out and considering just re-reading book two again while I wait. Definitely recommended.
Purchased #1, library for 2 & 3 Rating: 4 out of 5 for the series overall
And that's kind of a good thing, but it's also kind of a bad thing. The weirdness made me feelOriginally posted on Small Review blog
This book is weird
And that's kind of a good thing, but it's also kind of a bad thing. The weirdness made me feel giddy like when I've stayed awake too long and I've gone past tired and into the slightly deranged giggly mode where everything seems funny in a loopy sort of way. Which is fun, if you can let loose enough to just go with it and not over think things.
But it's also sort of annoying.
I wanted character depth and a plot I could sink deep into. I wanted something a little less superficial. I wanted to vicariously fulfill my dreams of getting to dive into my favorite fantasy books. I wanted maybe even a smidgen of romance. And I didn't get any of that.
(Ok, there WAS a smidge of romance, but it did nothing for me.)
There was also this weird racial sub-plot running through the camp parts of the book that I didn't really get. Perry is the only white kid at a camp made up of mostly black kids who are basically described as gang members and delinquents.
Every time this was brought up, which was often, it felt like when someone makes a really awkward off-color joke in a place like work or church or some other Not Okay venue and you sort of laugh awkwardly while wishing you were anywhere but there.
WHERE is Gandalf?!
What really sold me on the idea of this book was the chance to see a normal real-world kid get to dive into a fantasy book world. It would be like the fantasy equivalent to how time travel puts a fun spin on historical fiction. I totally wanted to follow this kid as he brings his mix of modern knowledge into a world of fantasy he adores while also maybe good-naturedly poking fun at the genre.
Perry is all about his RPG Creatures & Caverns, which, based on the blurb, sounded to me a lot like every typical Lord of the Rings-rip fantasy land. And I wanted that! I didn't want some made up fantasy world! The creatures in Perry's game-turned-reality aren't like anything I've ever read about before.
There are half man half dog/frog/octopus/horse-ish creatures and other totally unique beings. Normally creativity like that would be great and all, but the whole reason I wanted to read The Other Normals was because I was hoping for the traditional. So, BIG disappointment.
And fine, usually I would still give some brownie points for coming up with unique beings despite my disappointment, but I didn't even like these creatures. Some seemed so similar to humans that I didn't see the point to them while others were just so weird they kind of made my skin crawl. None of them had depth. The world building was also too flimsy.
And then there's Perry
I did not like him. At all. He's not that unpopular guy who plays his fantasy RPG and is actually nice and fun to hang around. No, Perry is straight up weird. His characterization is over the top, and while I guess that goes along with the whole over the top tongue in cheek vibe of the book, it also made him come off as poorly developed.
He's a big whiner verging on trantrum-thrower and he's impulsive in a completely non-endearing way. At one point he does something so embarrassingly awful that it was painful to read. He went off the deep end and into "I'm slowly backing away from you now" territory. Maybe MG boys would relate with him more? I don't know. I obviously didn't.
As the book goes on and Perry gains confidence in himself he starts to lose his whiny do-nothing approach and take charge. I think this was supposed to be part of his "journey to manhood," but it seemed to me more like he was going off the rails. He struck me as less confident daredevil and more manic, impulsive, immature, and insane.
Why didn't I DNF?
Because despite all that it was funny. I have to give it that. It was also very easy to read and I flew through it (was it really 400 pages?! That's a shock). The chapters are super tiny, so it's really easy to say, "Just one more chapter" and realize you've read four more chapters than you originally intended to read.
Also, I was curious to see what would happen and if things got any better. I don't think they did. If anything, I liked the first half where it was mostly set-up in the real world more than the second half where all the ridiculous adventuring sets in.
Who is this book for?
I'm not really sure. I would say it would appeal most strongly to middle grade boys, but I could see some parents getting angry with me if I actually gave it to their MG son. There are more curses than I would have expected and Perry is going through puberty so sex is often on his mind, though neither of these things are probably new to middle grade boys.
There is one scene where two disturbing things happen that I thought were pretty extreme for a middle grade audience. Maybe MG boys would be fine with it, but *I* wasn't even totally fine with it so I'd feel a little uncomfortable giving The Other Normals to them.
(view spoiler)[One of the juvenile dog creatures lures Perry and his friends into a trap so his pack can kill and eat them. When the pack arrives, the dog-kid wants to keep Perry as a pet and his pack murders and eats the dog-kid in response. They then murder and eat one of Perry's friends as they are running away. It was brutal. (hide spoiler)]
So I'm not really sure who I'd give it to. YA boys would probably find it too juvenile and I think girls might be turned off by the puberty guy-ishness. Or not. Maybe they'd appreciate the zaniness of it all more than I did. I rarely like zany.
Erm, yeah, not for me.
Originally posted on Small Review blog ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Oh gosh, I can't believe the time. Is it, yes, it's 12:36 AM and I really should have gone to sleep already but I've spent the past hour sobbing and trying to read through tears is a little slower than normal reading. But it was so worth it. This book is perfection. Full review to come.
You ARE the wind beneath my wings!
Ten Tissues on the Beaches Scale of Friendship
At first I really wasn't interested in this book. I mean, the bonds of friendship between two women? Where's the swoon in that? But not everything in life has to revolve around romance, and Code Name Verity is a perfect example of a book that does just fine without a swoony lead (though there is a smidge of romance with one of the women and a secondary guy...and it's very nice).
Now we're going to take a detour down my personal memory lane because this is the only way I know how to describe the friendship in Code Name Verity. Bear with me (or skip ahead).
When I was young I had a best friend and we were tight. At one point my mother remarked that we were like Barbara Hershey and Bette Middler in Beaches. I was the quiet Barbara Hershey character, my friend was a loud attention-grabbing singer. And, of course, just like happens in Beaches, I imagined our friendship spanning all of life's essential events like divorce, failed careers, and terminal heart disease (yes, this corresponded perfectly with my Lurlene McDaniel "Dying of cancer is the epitome of romantic" phase).
Little did my mother realize, but with that simple statement she sparked off my obsessive love with Beaches and the accompanying theme song Wind Beneath My Wings. Seriously, obsessed. I still tear up if I hear that song.
So now I judge the strength of all fictional friendships on the Beaches Scale of Friendship (1-10 Tissues with Ten Tissues being a perfect score of heart-breakingly amazing friendship. For another frame of reference, Anne Shirely and Diana Barry score a perfect 10, too).
Code Name Verity is easily a perfect Ten Tissues, which is saying something because I don't give out a perfect 10 lightly (even Harry, Ron, and Hermione, while very high, don't get a perfect 10). Code Name Verity begs the question, "What would YOU do for someone you loved?" and I wonder if I could do what they did.
Remember that sad ending?
I'm issuing the Do Not Read in Public warning
Ok, I admit it, I'm a tad emotional when it comes to reading. I tend to really get into things. And I cry, easily. But I don't think I've cried this much in a long time. Think Plain Kate kind of crying, but more. Think first pet dying kind of crying.
I cried here and there throughout most of the book, but mostly it was the kind of crying where I get a lump in my throat and kind of choke up a little but can pass it off as allergies just acting up a little and honestly I'm totally fine.
But then I pretty much sobbed straight through the final 50 or so pages. And at that point it was WAY past when I should have gone to sleep so I tried to force myself to fall asleep but instead I ended up crying for about another hour. And then I cried the next day. And then the day after that. Whenever I thought about everything that had happened, particularly THAT SCENE, I just lost it.
So there you go. You've been warned.
It's NOT a kissing book?!
Wait, I don't know if I like this genre
I'm a big historical fiction fan, but usually I don't like reading books set during WWII because they usually focus on one of two things: Hiding Jewish people in attics or women doing really anachronistic stuff (more on THAT later). The first subject is ok, but I think I pretty much got my fill of that in grade school.
Plus there was also the whole lack of romance factor and I was afraid I wouldn't like Verity because the blurb made it sound like she was a rotten traitor. So I wasn't really sure if Code Name Verity was for me.
But forget all that. Code Name Verity is genre transcending. It's like Lolita where, even though the subject matter is a guy who lusts after a little girl, you don't actually have to be into that to appreciate the book. Not that there's pedophilia in Code Name Verity (there isn't), it's just that, this isn't the kind of book where you can look at the blurb and decide whether or not the genre is for you.
Instead, you need to ask yourself if you like books that are powerful, heart-wrenching, and memorable. Books that creep up on you and before you know it they're a part of you. Books that make you feel and books that make you want to drop everything and make sure all your loved ones know how much you care for them. Books with impact. Books that go beyond.
I'm also issuing the Nabokovian Puzzle Prize
The whole first half of the book is written in code! And it's not a super obvious code either (but you can figure out most of it, and no, it's not quite Nabokov, but who is?).
There are red herrings galore and a ton of things are said but they actually mean something different. It was so much fun puzzling through all these bits and trying to discern Verity's true messages amid all of her storytelling and false leads.
There was also one bit that was major foreshadowing and as soon as I remembered it (right before THAT scene), my stomach dropped to the floor because I suddenly knew what was about to happen. That made it about a million times worse and heart breaking (and by worse, I mean awesome storytelling).
After Bilbo has his five hour long birthday, they go on a quest!
Give it time for the slow burn
This is a slow burn book, but the burn is a little hard to see at first. I can see how the beginning might turn readers off because it is slower and the point of it all isn't really clear for a while.
BUT, don't give up. Stick with it and I PROMISE it will all make sense. And once you get to THAT scene, well, you'll see.
Looks will only get you so far, Russell
But is it historically accurate?
I mentioned earlier that I really dislike it when authors put women in historically inaccurate roles, and with a female pilot as one of the main leads and a female spy as the other, I was really worried Elizabeth Wein was going to disappoint me.
But she didn't! She did her research (down to ball point pens!) and thankfully my eye never had to twitch.
Not only are the characters grounded in realistic roles, but I also appreciated that she focused on slightly different things than every other WWII book under the sun. Now, I'll issue another warning here, but really, if you're reading WWII books and if you saw my previous warning about not reading this book in public, well, you should pretty much expect disturbing stuff.
Because WWII? VERY disturbing. Elizabeth Wein doesn't even focus on the more usual WWII disturbing fare like starvation and battle that, as horrifying as they are, have lost a bit of sting due to the fact that we've been so exposed to them. Oh no, she brings the spotlight onto atrocities like torture, Nacht und Nebel and hints at the "scientific experimentation" crimes committed by Mengele and others.
I am absolutely in love with this book! It is firmly on my Special Shelf and as soon as I finished I added more of Elizabeth Wein's books to my TBR, because I need more. I'm such a character girl, and Elizabeth Wein totally delivers when it comes to crafting so-vivid-they-could-be-real characters.
Code Name Verity is also one of those YA books that can easily be read by adults (they may not even realize it's YA). I've already ordered a copy for my library with a particular adult patron in mind, and there's a waiting list of both YA and adult patrons after her (I gush even more about the books I love at work than I do on here, if you can believe it).
Because this is the kind of book I can't help but gush about. I want to buy a million copies and give them to everyone I know. I also made sure my mother and sister both added Code Name Verity to their lists and you'd better believe I'll be book pushering this one on all of you, too.
And why was my review so vague? Because you need to experience this book as it unfolds.
I don't like Queen Victoria. I try, I really do, but I can't stand her. At least, fictional portrayals of her. I only read this book because Carolyn Meyer wrote it.
Victoria certainly had a rough childhood and I totally sympathize for her with that monster of a mother. Given all that, I do understand why she developed the way she did and why she did the things she did. Carolyn Meyer does a great job drawing these connections, too.
And yet, I still don't like her.
Bratty, haughty, bossy, foolish, impulsive, naive, ugh, I can't muster up an ounce of liking for Victoria. I get that evil John was scheming for power when he tried to convince her she wasn't mature or aware enough to be queen. I get it, and I don't like him at all for it.
But, seriously, the guy had a point.
Four stars for Carolyn Meyer (and boy did this book make me appreciate her even more!) because the book is well written and should appeal to Victoria fans or those looking for an introduction, but 2 stars for my actual level of enjoyment because, gah, I really don't like Victoria.
Lovely. Very glad I read this. Recommended to fans of Plain Kate (not quite as gut wrenching or beautiful, but on that continuum.) Full review to comeLovely. Very glad I read this. Recommended to fans of Plain Kate (not quite as gut wrenching or beautiful, but on that continuum.) Full review to come.
Ah, now that was a satisfying story. This is another entry into the "story over characters" group, but being fairy tale based that's hardly a surprise or drawback.
There's an overarching story that wraps up well in the final tale, but the narrative focus is more like The Jungle Book, where a series of short stories are strung together to tell the larger story.
The approach worked very well and I was quickly invested in both the main story and the individual tales. Fans of legends and fairy tales will recognize the underlying threads in many of Trinket's adventures, but Shelley Moore Thomas adds enough personal touches to breathe new life into the stories (1000xs THANK YOU for the change to the dog story! I always pretended that is what really happened).
Recommended to readers who appreciate a good tale, regardless of age. This would make a wonderful addition to school libraries and family bedtime reading. Readers who like Plain Kate by Erin Bow should check out this under-appreciated gem (though don't expect quite the same level of heart wrenching depth).
Whenever I read an "extra" like a novella or short story, I always have a few nagging questions and, ok, I'll admit it, fears. The worst thing an author can do to a beloved story is stretch it beyond its limits, and oftentimes that's exactly what happens with little extras like this.
But...but it's the River of Time! Let's be honest here, I would probably gobble up anything even remotely related to this series.
But I'm also super picky and because I love these characters so much, I'm really protective over them. I can't bear to see them fall victim to series stretching. My heart would break to see them in filler stories or, worse, forced rehashes of the same old plotline.
So it was with an emotional mess of unbridled elation and gut-punch dread that I entered Bourne.
And thankfully, I had nothing to fear!
Is there a point to the story?
Yes! The fact that this is a novella and not a full-length novel plays zero part in the story's construction. This is not an "add on for fans"--the plot is original and makes sense as the logical fallout of the events in Torrent. I also finally got to learn more about the mysterious brotherhood! The best way to think of Bourne is to just forget that it is a novella and treat it like part one of the next full book in the series.
The story picks up almost immediately after the end of Torrent and it is essential that you read Waterfall, Cascade, and Torrent before reading Bourne (unless you want massive spoilers for the first three books). The same breakneck pacing mixed with tender character moments and thoughtful soul searching that characterized the first three books is present again in Bourne.
The only time I felt the limitations of the novella length was at the end. Yes, there is resolution, but the greater story arc that has been set in motion promises MUCH more to come. Seeds have been planted and threads have been left dangling, and of course I am dying to find out what happens next! I wouldn't say the end is a cliffhanger exactly, but Lisa is certainly a diabolical tease.
Do I get to see the characters I know and love?
Yes! All of my favorite characters make an appearance (except the ones who have DIED! Oh Fortino!), although for many it is a tantalizingly small appearance. Marcello, Gabi, and Greco all play a decent role but the meat of this story is Lia and Luca (yay!). Though, even there, the short nature of the book makes it so that none of the characters get as much page time as I wanted.
But that's not a criticism of Lisa. You see, this series is like a pastry shop. I love it so much that I want to scarf down everything all at once without waiting. But that really isn't possible (my mouth is, regrettably, just as small as the rest of me). The same goes for these characters. I want to absorb all of their stories, secrets, hopes, fears, desires, everything all at once. Like book osmosis. And that's not possible, so I need to learn how to be patient and savor what I do have.
And, oh my, what a treat I have in Bourne! I have always been a huge Lia and Luca fan, and I am VERY happy with the events of Bourne. It wasn't just that things finally happened (but, total YAY for things finally happening!), it was HOW they happened. Luca's personality was so perfectly displayed in the most adorable, swoony, heart-melting, giggle-inducing scenes of PURE WIN. The witty banter between Lia and Luca was everything I had been hoping for and more. I couldn't have daydreamed it better.
Does the author mess with a good thing?
Not much is different from the first three books, and that is a very good thing. There isn't any new girl causing love drama, Marcello and Gabi don't have a "misunderstanding" to carry the plot, and the characters don't suffer mysterious personality transplants.
What IS different is the inclusion of Lia's perspective! Gabi still narrates plenty (and it was such a comfort to be back in her head again), but the introduction of Lia's POV was thoroughly welcome.
I'll blushingly admit that Lia left me a little star struck in the first three books. She was just so darn cool with her arrows and calm reserve. I loved this opportunity to get into her head and see the "woman behind the mask."
Her voice is similar to Gabi's, but her caution and control seen in the previous books came through in her narrative as well. While I can't help but get swept up in Gabi's romantic view of the 14th century, Lia has always been the character my practical side can relate to. I hope more books are told from her POV in the future.
LOVE! More please!
Oh, and can someone magic me up a print copy please? That man on the cover would look so nice on my shelf.
New Girl is a tough book to like, but it's worth pushing past the the gratuitous sex and noxious characters to experience the brilliant retelling of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca hidden in this contemporary gem. I have read and love Rebecca, so keep in mind my experience with New Girl is colored by that.
Never say never
The pacing is moderate to slow and not all that much happens. Mostly it's contemporary inter-personal stuff without any BIG events (there are a few Medium events).
You know I have no patience for that, but surprisingly, I was actually ok with this. The original book doesn't have a whole lot going on either and I managed to love that one. Just like the original, I was totally transfixed by New Girl and I can't even pin point why. I felt that need to keep reading throughout the whole book.
Part of my fascination was because I was so wrapped up in watching these crazy people spiral out of control. Reading about them was almost like a guilty pleasure. I wanted to see what messed up thing they'd do next.
Their characterizations are spot on. The original characters were real pieces of work, but Paige Harbison managed to add humanity to her versions while still maintaining their Gothic lunacy. Don't expect swoony heroes and heroines you can whole-heartedly root for. Neither Rebecca nor New Girl are that kind of book.
The epically creepy Mrs. Danvers was reimagined as the tragic, but no less skin-crawlingly weird, Dana Veers. Dana's reenactment of Mrs. Danvers' creeptastic walk down memory lane through Rebecca's clothing was pitch perfect. Yikes! I'm getting shivers down my spine just thinking about it.
Even more notable was Paige Harbison's treatment of the Rebecca/Becca character. Rebecca is morphed from a goddess she-devil into a somewhat sympathetic Becca struggling with mental illness (sympathy only gets her so far though. She's still a she-devil I'd want to stay as away from as possible).
Unlike Rebecca, who haunts the periphery of the novel while never actually making an appearance in the flesh, Becca is given almost equal pagetime as the narrator. Third-person POV chapters alternate with the narrator's first person chapters and tell the tale of Becca's bombastic, twisted time at Manderly.
YAY, you have a spine!
The narrator of Rebecca was a total weenie. Her narrative was completely absorbing, but gosh did she go on and on about how she didn't think she could ever measure up to the mesmerizing Rebecca. She was so utterly eclipsed by Rebecca that her name isn't even mentioned in the book (she is known only as the "second Mrs. de Winter").
Given that, I was surprised when the narrator in New Girl actually stood up for herself! The title (naming "New Girl" and NOT Becca) should have been my first clue that this girl is not about to indulge in the pity part the second Mrs. de Winter was so known for.
Instead of internal torment, the narrator gets hit with an onslaught of "You're not as good as Becca" from her classmates. There was an oppressive feeling of the faceless mob always whispering behind her back. I was reminded of those books where the whole town accuses a woman of witchcraft and then makes her life miserable.
Where did the stars go?
I was fine with the less exciting plot because it was totally enthralling. What I wasn't fine with was the detour home the main character took during winter break.
There is sort of a point to it (it shows her personal growth and how she's moving on), but, meh, it did nothing for me. I'm not really into that kind of thing, but more importantly it felt like a DETOUR. I was antsy to get back to the story already. It doesn't take up much time though.
There were also some inconsistencies in voice, particularly with the narrator. For the first few chapters her voice seemed like a put-on trying to seem more intellectual and highfalutin but it evened out and sounded a lot more "normal high school girl" after that.
(view spoiler)[I was also kind of bummed that the ending didn't have an explosive conclusion like the original with fire and murder and secret revelations and mental breakdowns. New Girl's ending was far too tame. (hide spoiler)]
But the biggest reason for stars off is the level and treatment of sex. It DOES serve a point, but I wish that point had been made in more of a PG/PG-13 manner. It's not graphic, but only just barely. It's described in such a crass manner, which is perfect for the characters, but not so perfect for me as a reader. Many of these scenes contributed to my total lack of respect for most of the characters. Even more frustrating is the fact that these scenes are so prolific and detailed that I can't comfortably give this book to my library kids (and I so would have if it weren't for these scenes).
This is one of the better retellings I've read. Paige Harbison honored the sentiment of the original, but deftly twisted events and characterizations in ways English teacher's assigning literary comparison essays can only hope for. I am impressed.
I would definitely read another retelling by Paige Harbison, but I'm not fully sold on reading an original story of hers yet. The non-retelling parts were a little rough and I'm still hung up on her handling of the sex scenes.
New Girl is a standalone.
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