I'm glad I didn't pass this book up, despite the lack of emotional development and some of the questionable world-build
Fantasy-lite. But a lot of fun!
I'm glad I didn't pass this book up, despite the lack of emotional development and some of the questionable world-building. The Ring and The Crown is my first read by de la Cruz but it seems she has a talent for writing lighthearted, fluffy and entertaining stories. Reading this was a bit like reading a gossip magazine - full of the scandals, relationships and drama of the celebrities aristocracy. It won't change your life, you won't get a new philosophical perspective, but it is a fast-paced, entertaining novel that held my attention from start to finish. Oh, and there's also a few dashes of magic now and then.
As is common with traditional fantasy, there's quite a large cast of main characters and the book zips quickly from one point of view to another. Surprisingly, this works really well here and each perspective offers something unique and interesting. The world-building is patchy here and there, but this is not for a lack of trying. The author sets the scene in the prologue - this is an alternate history where the world is dominated by the Franco-British empire and its head controls the world's only source of magic. I had to raise an eyebrow at how quickly the author paints a picture of this unlikely world and expects us to believe it without further details... but, oh well. Into this world comes an array of characters: Princess Marie-Victoria (heir to the throne), Queen Eleanor (her mother), the Head Merlin and his daughter - Aelwyn Myrddn, Prince Leopold, Gill, Ronan and Wolf (to name but a few).
Queen Eleanor has high ambitions for her daughter and intends for her to marry Prince Leopold, but Marie has long been in love with her childhood friend - Gill. Their story isn't the only one of its kind in this novel. In fact, much of the book is about the romancing of the royals and aristocracy; the people they love and don't love but are being forced to marry. It's a whole bunch of romantic silliness that I don't usually care for but found extremely readable and entertaining. I suppose that sometimes this kind of light, undemanding story is exactly what you need. Just don't wander into this expecting hidden depth.
To some extent, though, I am selling this one short. Despite predominantly being a historical fantasy romance, the female characters all get their turn at being badass. Running parallel to the flirtations and sexual tension, is a story about war and magic. And the fate of this world depends on the female main characters (who all have their own strengths). I don't want you to think this is a typical romance where the women care about nothing but the guy's beautiful face, they have bigger concerns too.
Want something deep, complex and meaningful? Go find something else to read. Want something light and entertaining? Then this could very well be the book for you. This will probably appeal to fans of Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes....more
To many, I was myth incarnate, the embodiment of a most superb legend, a fairy tale. Some considered me a monster, a mutation. To my great misfortune,To many, I was myth incarnate, the embodiment of a most superb legend, a fairy tale. Some considered me a monster, a mutation. To my great misfortune, I was once mistaken for an angel. To my mother, I was everything. To my father, nothing at all. To my grandmother, I was a daily reminder of loves long lost. But I knew the truth — deep down, I always did.
I was just a girl.
Me immediately after finishing this book:
What the hell am I supposed to do now? What do I possibly read after this? How do I REVIEW this? How can everyone else just go on with their lives around me while I'm sat here clutching my kindle and trying to gather the pieces of my broken heart?
Me a few hours after finishing this book:
This book is easily the best book I have read this year. I'd even go so far as to say it's one of my favourite books, period. And now I somehow have to find the words to explain why.
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is, as its title would suggest, a strange and beautiful book. It's a story about a family, spanning multiple generations - it's about life, love, desire, obsession and wasted youth... and it's fucking beautiful. There is something so breathtakingly real and honest about this book, even though aspects of the story are fantastical. It's a tale about many people, each crafted with rich personality and an almost painful humanity (even those not quite so human).
The writing is so beautiful, but simply so, that I found myself feeling inexplicably emotional at times. The story just carries this mood, an atmosphere, that permeates the entire novel and left me with goosebumps. Walton wields bittersweetness in a way that can make you smile and break your heart in a single sentence. She captures the intense and feverish desires and obsessions of youth and first love/lust - with more than a little perversion at times. There is something so beautifully ugly about life, about love, about realizing you no longer love someone.
The Griffith House was like nothing Viviane remembered, reminding her of how fast the world changed and of how insignificant she was in the grand scheme of things. She thought it unfair that her life should be both irrelevant and difficult. One or the other seemed quite enough.
Being a relatively short-to-average sized book and having so many characters, you'd think this book would fall short of the mark and fail to develop complex characters. But it doesn't. At all. In fact, the large cast of characters - none of which is wasted or throwaway - made this book absolutely fascinating. I'm not sure I've felt such a strong emotional connection with a book since the weeks immediately following my discovery of Melina Marchetta. Every single character interested me, I didn't relate to them all but I felt like I understood each one of them. And this is what makes so much of the book feel helplessly tragic. People are hurt by other people who I wanted to hate for hurting them... but I couldn't.*
And it really is so sad. It's about the foolishly inexplicable things we do, the things left unsaid, the unknowing, the things that could have so easily been different. But I promise that it's not all doom and gloom either. It's a rich, intoxicating whirlwind of emotions. It's exciting and romantic and incredibly funny.
I'm not going to say anything else because this review is descending into blabbering, gushing madness and I'm going a little crazy with the BOLD text (hehe). But, what can I say... Love makes us such fools. And I really love this book.
*(view spoiler)[I should probably add that this does not include Nathaniel Sorrows. Him I could hate just fine. (hide spoiler)]["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
And Elaine is the evil popular girl. And Josh is your average popular jock. And Kurt is the school nerd and social outcast
"Alice Franklin is a slut."
And Elaine is the evil popular girl. And Josh is your average popular jock. And Kurt is the school nerd and social outcast. And Kelsey is Alice Franklin's former best friend...
This is a book about stereotypes. And it's fantastic. The author went above and beyond what I could have expected from this book. She not only challenges the idea of the "school slut" that is all too popular in real life and in YA, but she also paints detailed and three-dimensional portraits of every school label and clique. This is also a book about blame: about how everyone shares a piece of it, but about how human everyone is beneath all their mistakes and selfish actions. I found it incredibly powerful.
The Truth About Alice is an ambitious book told from four different perspectives. It alternates between the present and the retelling of past events which led to Alice Franklin becoming the girl no one wanted to be associated with. Because Alice Franklin is a slut. And in the eyes of her fellow high school students, she is also the girl responsible for Brandon's death (he was the hottest, most popular jock). According to Josh, Alice was texting Brandon in a desperate attempt to sleep with him again on the night that Brandon died in a car accident. So really, it's all her fault.
More than two perspectives rarely works for me. Usually I find that this kind of split narrative means that I never feel a connection with any of the characters, that they are spread too thin and are not given enough characterization. Or I feel like they all start to sound the same. This is not the case here. I enjoyed reading each character's POV equally. I was initially unsure about the book in the first chapter when I got inside Elaine's ditzy head and had to read the word "like" way too many times, but I soon got used to all of them and I appreciated the author's decision to make every perspective very different.
This book essentially takes every stereotype and breaks it down into something more meaningful. It shows why teenagers sometimes decide to be cruel, shows the insecurities and uncertainties everyone feels, and it humanizes each stereotype - the jock, the queen bee, the nerd, the virgin, the slut - and tells a very moving and gripping story. I can't believe how much emotion and characterization is packed into just these few pages. I couldn't put it down.
The ending might be a little unsatisfactory for some but I found the absence of "neatness" really refreshing. I hate when contemporary novels sweep everyone's problems under the rug in the final chapter and people walk off into the sunset holding hands. This book wasn't about finding a solution, it was just a very important story that needed telling.
In my opinion, every teenager should read this book.
This book sounds ridiculous. I'm not sure if I'm just adding it because I'm pretty damn hungry right now.
You know, I think I could write a dystopia -This book sounds ridiculous. I'm not sure if I'm just adding it because I'm pretty damn hungry right now.
You know, I think I could write a dystopia - just make something everyone loves illegal and dum, dum, dum... it's the end of the world. Coffee and chocolate have already been taken by Gabrielle Zevin, dammit. Maybe I could outlaw small fluffy animals. Or tea! It could be a British dystopia where all the tea is gone! (what will I do?).*
Now for some foods (you're welcome):
* I will probably need to be saved by a tea-wielding boy with a tortured soul for it to be a bestseller....more
I'm sorry but I could not finish this boring-ass book.
I feel like I should have seen this coming - I mean, the cover designers put green eye shadow onI'm sorry but I could not finish this boring-ass book.
I feel like I should have seen this coming - I mean, the cover designers put green eye shadow on a dead body. That should have been a warning sign, right? Like when those dystopian "heroines" appear on the front cover in long, flowing ballgowns and try to convince me with their pouts that this is a serious book about real, life-threatening things, and definitely NOT all about that hot dude and his smoochable lips. If it's the end of the world - why are you wearing that totally impractical dress? And if you're dead in the woods, when did you have time to MAC it up? o_O
This book was none of the things I was hoping for: clever, creepy, full of suspense... in fact, it seemed to me like one of those amateur detective stories written for little kids. You know, the ones where completely unskilled, untrained kids set out to solve the crimes that the real detectives are incapable of solving. Very Secret Seven. Very awesome when you were about ten years old. So, bearing that in mind, maybe this book does have an audience, but it would have to be a younger audience or someone who can suspend a lot of disbelief.
I just didn't buy into any of it. This would usually be the point where I complain about there being too many POV switches, but I recently read a book that had more POVs than this one - The Truth About Alice - and managed to hold my attention from start to finish whilst also making me care about every single character. The Body in the Woods had three main characters and they were so uninteresting that I couldn't care about them. I was initially intrigued by the author's decision to include an MC with Asperger's Syndrome, but Ruby's Asperger's felt like a bat we were constantly being hit over the head with. Like the author felt the need to remind us of it every time Ruby entered the room. She wasn't an interesting character who happened to have Asperger's, she was THE TOKEN ASPERGER'S SYNDROME CHARACTER. It was just offensive after a while.
The story is about three teenagers who have signed up to be part of a local Search & Rescue team. One day, they are called out to look for an autistic man who has ran away into the woods. However, they instead find the dead body of a girl. Each of them reacts to it differently, which I liked, but in the end they all decide to team up and find the killer - because this is totally the right and sensible thing to do. For the first half at least, this is not so much a creepy murder mystery, as it is a character study of three boring and unrealistic amateur detectives.
It is possible that the book gets significantly better in the latter half but there is no part of me that wants to stick around to find out. I would like to know from other readers if we actually get any answers at the end of this book, or is it all saved for the sequel?
"They were toying with me, like a pair of cats with a mouse... But I was no mouse."
I'm not sure how it happened. One minute I was reading this in bed"They were toying with me, like a pair of cats with a mouse... But I was no mouse."
I'm not sure how it happened. One minute I was reading this in bed and thinking "okay, just one more chapter and then I'll sleep", and the next minute there was sunlight coming in through my window! Oops.
So me and this 436-page book just spent a long night together and I feel a little frazzled and emotional - is this what they call book withdrawal symptoms? No, you're right, it's probably called sleep deprivation, but regardless! I somehow got sucked into this subterranean troll fantasy world and I wasn't coming out for no one. This is one of those books that I'd been putting off because of the length, but it seemed to fly by in a flurry of magic, romance and troll villains. I blinked and it was over. So sad. Where's that bloody sequel?
So... trolls. Perhaps not what you were expecting.
Myth #1: Trolls are ugly. Nuh-uh. Not all of them anyway. That's the thing about trolls that makes them so deadly... it's real easy to be seduced by their beautiful faces and twinkly grey eyes. They catch you off guard. No one expects those kind of exteriors to hide something twisted, callous and sadistic on the inside. How will Cecile ever know who can be trusted when the monsters wear such pretty disguises?
Myth #2: Trolls are stupid. Not these trolls. These trolls are cunning, calculating and ruthless. They have eyes everywhere. They know what you're going to do next before you do - okay, not literally. With every one of these clever, beautiful creatures out to get Cecile, she will have to be smarter, more cunning, than she's ever had to be before.
The upshot of this story is that a young woman called Cecile is kidnapped and sold to trolls. Not only that, but she is forced to marry their prince in the hopes that she can break a centuries-old curse that seals the trolls within their subterranean mountain world. The prophecy says that a human woman with red hair and the voice of an angel will be the one to break the curse. Cecile must learn to adapt to this world as best she can, but the longer she lives without the curse being broken, the more she becomes expendable - for what use is she to the trolls if she cannot do the one thing she was brought there for? But something else is happening too. Beneath the exterior of this structured troll society, a revolution is brewing. And Cecile is about to get caught in the middle of it.
The setting is a dark, underground world full of danger and magic. It was so easy to be pulled into this book and get lost down in the darkness under the mountain. The lack of escape and claustrophobia felt so real to me that I couldn't look away - I was almost as desperate for Cecile to escape as she was. But, as I'm sure you won't be surprised, there's more to this book than dark grittiness and unfulfilled prophecies... there's friendship and romance too.
There are a lot of complex characters in Stolen Songbird. Trolls are not all 100% evil because that wouldn't be half as fun. Cecile comes to learn that trolls have the same capacity for good and evil that humans do. She discovers that many are prisoners held captive by the monarchy, just as she is. And she discovers that her new husband might not be all he first seems. I especially liked how the characterization of Tristan and Anais was handled. The former starts off as a seemingly bratty, selfish individual but is gradually developed into something more well-rounded and likable. The romance between him and Cecile didn't feel forced like so many YA fantasy romances do, nor did it drain all the juice from the main plot.
Anais was another pleasant surprise. When she was first introduced, I found myself rolling my eyes and thinking "oh, here we go again". But I was completely wrong. While she at first appears to be the beautiful but over-sexualized "other woman" and an enemy of Cecile, she is developed into something much more. She becomes multilayered and friendship begins to take shape between her and Cecile. I liked this part of the story a lot.
There is one thing that didn't really make sense to me. A lot of YA novels - fantasy, sci-fi, dystopian, whatever - portray societies in which women are second class citizens. Whether they are slaves to men or expected to fulfill a particular role, this is quite a common feature. And I suppose it poses more challenges in the story when the vast majority of protagonists are female. This is fine, I don't mind. But there appear to be some contradictions over this in Stolen Songbird. We are told the trolls are valued based on power, not gender - it doesn't matter whether you're male or female, but it instead matters how much magic you have. And yet, a lot of trolls appear pretty misogynistic:
“But she’s his wife,” Tristan said indignantly. “She is duty-bound to go wherever he wants her to go.”
Since when? That wasn't what we were told a couple of chapters back. But these are nitpicky things that didn't ruin the book for me. Just thought I should note them.
In the end, I thought this book was excellent. Unputdownable, even. And the end leaves us in a perfect position: a nice balance between wrapped up and need-to-know-what-happens-next. It leaves room for a sequel that I not only want to read, but believe has the potential to be a very different kind of story to this first installment. I'm pretty damn excited!
There comes, on occasion, those moments in the lives of readers when they find themselves putting a book down, pausing, looking around at all the glowThere comes, on occasion, those moments in the lives of readers when they find themselves putting a book down, pausing, looking around at all the glowing reviews and five star ratings, and asking themselves the question... did I read the same book?
When it comes to language, dialogue and general storytelling of small events in The Winner's Curse, it's obvious that you are in the hands of a competent writer with a talent for description and a nicely-spun phrase. But this book is so... tame. Way too tame for my tastes. So much of the novel is in dire need of an injection of badassery or action or tension that goes beyond the romance. I wanted an interesting fantasy, but instead I got a dragged out tale of the forbidden romance that blooms between a Valori General's daughter and a Herrani slave.
I will admit that the book starts to pick up in the last third (approx) but even that was way too little and far too late for me. I noted the page when my interest piqued slightly for the first time - page 103 - because before that I'd been treated to sitting rooms, parlor games, and polite pleasantries. Honestly, I would have put this book aside by page 50 if I hadn't been spurred on by all the positive reactions from other people. There's a whole lot of swanning about doing nothing. There's balls with pretty dresses and high society gossip. A whole lot of:
And a lot of passages where Kestrel and Arin study each other's faces in great detail: Arin knew this: her gaze would measure him, and he would sense a shift of perception within her. Her opinion of him would change as daylight changed, growing or losing shadow. Subtle. Almost indiscernible. She would see him differently, though he wouldn’t know in what way. He wouldn’t know what it meant. This had happened, again and again, since he had come here.
The story starts several years after the Valorians have conquered the Herrani people. Herranis are now prisoners and slaves of their conquerors. The main character - Kestrel - finds herself at a slave auction one day and makes a rather spontaneous purchase of a male Herrani slave called Arin. What begins as a master/slave relationship between two people who are foes by birth, gradually turns into friendship, trust and love. But Arin is not all he first seems and carries a dark secret that could threaten not just their relationship, but the whole empire.
It is, essentially, a romance. Which could be exactly what you are looking for. In which case, I'd say step right up and grab this book as soon as you can. But I found it disappointing as a fantasy. While there are some references to past wars and other parts of the land where the book is set, the world-building remains disappointingly vague. There is very little reason to call this book "fantasy"; it could just as easily be labelled a "dystopia", as it reminds me of many I've read that were romance stories hiding in the dystopian section.
I would recommend The Winner's Curse to fans of Shadow & Bone and/or Throne of Glass. Those books that are light on the fantasy and heavy on the romance. This book is set up nicely for a sequel that should be equally dramatic in the romancing department. Who knows? Perhaps it will be like the sequel to Throne of Glass and appeal to me a lot more. I will be keeping an eye out for the reviews of the second book. All I ask for is this: a little less conversation, a little more action. Please....more
Like almost all short story collections by various authors, this one is a mixed bag of hidden gems and ones I didn't even finish. If you'd asked me beLike almost all short story collections by various authors, this one is a mixed bag of hidden gems and ones I didn't even finish. If you'd asked me beforehand to name a list of YA authors that I'd like to appear in a short story collection, many of the ones here would have made that list: Stephanie Perkins, Laini Taylor, Holly Black, Gayle Forman, David Levithan and maybe Rainbow Rowell (I like but don't love her books).
Then if you'd asked me what kind of short story collection I'd like to have from these favourites of mine, you would have got all kinds of weird and wonderful suggestions from me... but a collection of holiday-themed romances would never have occurred to me as something enjoyable. I'm not much of a romantic or a Christmas person, to be honest. I'm more of a Halloween type of girl - and all the genres that could possibly go with it. But I did get some really nice surprises here. I'm not sure it's worth buying the entire collection but it would be sad for you to miss out on the better ones. And it is a pleasingly diverse set of stories, filled with people of all races, ethnicities, religions and sexualities *thumbs up*
Personally, I think this book starts and ends with the two best stories, from Rainbow Rowell and Laini Taylor respectively. Taylor's work came as no surprise but I didn't see Rowell's tale coming. She really hit me where it hurts (in a good way). The story made me sit up and take notice in a collection that I wasn't sure would be my thing. I'm not going to review every single story properly because some didn't pique my interest and some I skim-read, but here's what I thought.
"Midnights" by Rainbow Rowell - 5/5 This was my favourite story and it probably wasn't a good idea for it to appear first because so many that followed received unfair comparisons with it. It tells the story of the midnight countdown on New Year's Eve over several years, revisiting the same characters in a non-chronological order and slowly filling in the blanks on their personalities and relationship. It amazed me how much I fell in love with the two protagonists, how well-developed their characters were in so short an amount of time and pages.
“You’re a kaleidoscope. You change every time I look away.”
It was a funny, sweet, wonderful little story. With a hint of melancholy, as all the best New Year stories should be. There's something really sad about the possibility of the new and moving on and becoming someone else, not being who you once were. Rowell captures that hint of fear people have about growing up and everyone they once knew changing around them.
"The Lady and the Fox" by Kelly Link - 2/5 This was one I didn't read properly. It started well and had an intriguing premise but I grew bored.
"Angels in the Snow" by Matt De La Pena - 3/5 I really liked the idea of this one and my only real problem with it was that I didn't like the female love interest. It was refreshing to see a YA romance told from a male perspective and I liked the subtle exploration of race and racial stereotyping that existed without overtaking the main story. It's about a guy who is house-sitting for his boss over the Christmas period and is slowly starving in a house with no food (he is broke). An encounter with his pretty neighbor sparks an interesting and unlikely relationship that is built up through the telling of stories.
Indulging more and more tidbits about each others lives, the two grow closer. But how much of what they tell each other is the truth?
"Polaris is Where You’ll Find Me" by Jenny Han - 2/5 It must just be something about Jenny Han's writing style that doesn't agree with me because I've been unable to like any of her books. I started to skim read this story and I can't actually remember what it's about. Hence, no real review. Oh well...
"It’s a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown" by Stephanie Perkins - 4/5 I'm really not surprised that Perkins delivered. It was her name that I saw first on this collection and I added it immediately before checking out who else was included. Her stories are always so cute and sweet, but without too much of the cheesy. This one is no exception.
Unlike Rowell's story - that deals with a relationship over the period of several years - Perkins tells us a love story that takes place over just a few hours. And it is surprisingly effective. She builds instantly likable characters and uses her gift for dialogue to convince you to root for the two protagonists even after such a short amount of time. It is one of the more feel-good, enjoyable stories in here, but it also deals with anxieties about the future and the expectations other people have of you.
"Your Temporary Santa" by David Levithan - no rating I didn't read far enough with this one because I felt no connection to the characters, which is why I'm not leaving a rating or review. I'm extremely pleased that an LGBT romance was included in the collection, I know some romance collection publishers in the past have been douches about it, but I wasn't grabbed by the story. As much as I have enjoyed Levithan's work in the past, most of his more recent stuff hasn't really worked for me.
"Krampuslauf by Holly Black" - no rating Sometimes I love Holly Black so much that I get pulled in and completely addicted to her stories. And sometimes her style does nothing for me. This time was the latter. Didn't finish.
"What the Hell Have You Done, Sophie Roth?" by Gayle Forman - 3/5 This story is about a Jewish girl who moves to college in a small, very Christian place where she feels like a complete outsider. There she meets a black boy who is equally treated like an outsider and these two big city small town misfits find something important in each other. I liked it okay.
The characters were interesting enough that I read to the end and enjoyed reading about their relationship. However, I think the story was built up solely around addressing racial and religious stereotypes, which I agree is important, but here it overshadowed everything else that happened. Most of the dialogue was made up of the two protagonists discussing the way other people saw them in this new town. I understand the idea about outsiders coming together, but I got the impression that these two got together simply because she was Jewish and he was black. Plus, the ending got a little too cheesy for me.
"Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus" by Myra McEntire - no rating I didn't read this one. Someone tell me if it's good and I'll go try it :)
"Welcome to Christmas, CA" by Kiersten White - 3/5 White is not one of my favourite authors. I've tried a bunch of her books and never been able to get into them or understand the hype. So I didn't have much hope for this one, but I tried it and it was better than expected. Unlike most of the authors in this collection, White goes with a quirky, funny style that was easy to digest and enjoyable. The characters weren't as memorable as some of the others, but I did get a few laughs from it.
"Star of Bethlehem" by Ally Carter - no rating I didn't try reading this one either because it just didn't appeal to me. Feel free to let me know if it's good.
"The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer" by Laini Taylor - 5/5 *sigh* And finally... Laini Taylor is so reliably, consistently good in her storytelling and her beautiful, evocative language. In a collection full of contemporaries, she manages to take us into her own fantasy world and breathe some magic and wonderful prose into the holiday season.
All evening long, real snow would fall from the ceiling to glitter on the lashes of dancing girls and ardent boys, but Neve and the Dreamer didn’t linger. They had other things to do: all of them. All the things, dreamed and undreamed, in the depth and breadth of the whole spinning world.
I made a little collage for this book that I posted to instagram:
And is it just me or would my college make the perfect setting for a beautiful and grI made a little collage for this book that I posted to instagram:
And is it just me or would my college make the perfect setting for a beautiful and grim Wuthering Heights retelling?
karen's review does this book justice more than I think I ever could so I'll leave you with these few snazzy pictures and a short note: This has to be the PERFECT way to do a retelling. Especially for a book like Wuthering Heights, whose praises I have sung from the rooftops on a regular basis. It captures the wild beauty and grim darkness of the original novel, sticking quite close to the plot structure of WH but putting an insane fantasy spin on the old tale too. The characters were so evil and twisted but, if you know the real WH and not the romanticized version that appears on TV now and then, then you'll know how evil and twisted the characters actually are. *sigh* I loved it....more
Holy hell, I want to go to Russia now. I mean, I did before. But now I really want to go. This novel so beauSaint Petersburg was a city of illusions.
Holy hell, I want to go to Russia now. I mean, I did before. But now I really want to go. This novel so beautifully captures the cities of St Petersburg and Moscow at the height of the 1917 communist revolution. It expertly blends the historical facts with elements of Russian mythology and sensitively portrays both sides of the revolution by allowing you to come to your own conclusions about which side is to blame - if, in fact, either is. We see angry poor men being driven into the ground by the hard labour they perform, while their employers sit in cosy, gold-plated luxury. We see people being dragged from their homes and murdered by the aforementioned angry poor men for crimes they had no say in.
This novel asks that you think about one thing: It is not our fault where and into what circumstances we are born. We have no control over that. But are we to blame if we simply accept things the way they are without trying to change them?
The author says in her note at the end: The Russian Revolution, truth be told, needs little to no fictionalization to be a fascinating time period, full of beauty and horror and wonder. And I like how close to real events she has kept the framework of her story, how she weaves in the Romanov family, Grigori Rasputin and the imperial Faberge eggs (I found this addition quite fascinating). I couldn't put this wild tale of fact and fiction down.
I only realised recently just how important atmosphere is to a novel. It's not really something you consider outright when thinking about a book but I honestly believe it can make or break it. Consider your favourite books. Maybe they have an atmosphere of fast-paced, heart-pounding, will-they-live-or-die tension that drags you right into the centre of the story. Maybe there's a bittersweet sadness that makes you feel like you might burst into tears any second - even at the happy parts of the book. Maybe it's a spine-chilling creepiness. But, whatever, atmosphere is what takes you out of the real world and plants you in another. World-building is nothing without atmosphere. My point? I am rarely so wholly absorbed into another place and time as I was with Tsarina.
Look at these quotes and tell me you can't feel the Russian air on your face and the excitement and terror of the revolution:
There were bridges from one to the next, and the canals were deep, maintained with stone walls that held the Neva River at bay. But we divided ourselves with harsher lines than the land did: the rich and the poor, the merchants and the nobles, the Whites and the Reds. When the river would occasionally flood the canals and blur the lines between islands and districts, we would hastily fix it, tighten things, firm up the boundaries and make sure the illusion, the lie, the fantasy held.
There was no mistaking a Russian winter. It was a unique thing, a creature born and bred for Russian soil, one that sometimes brutalized the natives but often served as our secret weapon. Napoleon’s army was defeated not only by the Russian people, but by Russia herself.
It was lonely now, our houses islands amid broken seas of our old lives.
It is so beautifully written. Part survival story in some ways, part historical fantasy in others. Despite the way it starts with Natalya and Alexei declaring their love for one another, this is far from a mere romance. It is brutal, even more so because it is based in fact. You find yourself sympathising with both sides and hating both sides simultaneously. I love novels that can make you feel so many complex emotions.
I'm also not one for patriotism or nationalism; I find myself nodding along with Virginia Woolf's "My country is the whole world" quote... but I found it very easy to get caught up in the passion Nataliya feels for her country. And I'm not even Russian! She has to make a decision whether to flee to France to escape the revolution or stay behind and risk everything to try and save her country, and I completely understood her desire not to abandon ship. There's a certain ferocious passion that infuses this novel and I think that's why everything I may not usually agree with makes so much sense.
How could a city so full of people feel so void of souls?
I was leaning towards five stars from very early with this book but I was just a little disappointed that the ending felt so rushed. We'd been set up in a beautifully atmospheric novel with characters I really liked, only for it to feel tied up too quickly. It didn't ruin the book but I thought it could have been better, which is why my rating is four stars instead of five. But don't be put off. This is an excellent book that I would recommend to all fans of historical fiction. I enjoyed it a lot. One final quote:
“You said it wasn’t your fault for being born rich any more than it was my fault for being born poor. And you’re right. But if we don’t do anything to fix the world, if we just shrug and let children starve and soldiers die and people be treated like cattle . . . if we don’t fix the world, Miss Kutepova, I believe it becomes our fault.”...more
Well... holy shit. I nearly passed this one up because of all the negative reviews - just look down the page at all those one stars - but it was Khanh's review that piqued my curiosity. I often find myself being in the minority on books, though it's usually a case where I wasn't feeling the magic from a book everyone else is raving about, so I decided to take a chance on this one. My thought was "I'll just try a few pages and see..." and the next thing I knew it was over and my heart was literally racing.
Personally, I think whoever did the design and marketing for this book got it all wrong. This is not a lusty teenage romance full of empty-headed characters; in fact, it's far closer to being a psychological thriller of the Abigail Haas variety. I was literally hooked. It's frightening. It's engaging. It has well-developed characters. Being a teen makes most people experience the edge of insanity from time to time and I think Olin shows that, and then proceeds to show how someone can cross the line bit by bit every day.
The, in my opinion, AMAZING characters:
This book is about three people - Lilah, Carter and Jules - who do some pretty damn awful things. But I felt like characterization and careful understanding and sympathy are never neglected by the author. These people are appalling. Carter is dating Lilah but cheats on her with Jules, and Lilah is absolutely fucking crazy (no exaggeration). And yet... and yet I felt completely absorbed into their lives and stories. It was a rare occasion where cheating, though still not forgivable, is told in such a way that I understood and sympathised with both parties.
Similarly, I loved the way Lilah's character was handled. I can't help smiling to myself now as I recall how bitter, twisted and insane she was. She is a fantastic portrait of a teenage girl's gradual descent into insanity. She is interesting, she is a villain, but she's more than that too. Because, whatever she may go on to do, I felt such a sadness for Lilah - especially towards the beginning - because I remember how it feels to be an angsty teenager and worry that you're not good enough and nothing will ever be right again.
I'm surprised more people don't sympathise with Lilah's self-destructive personality. Obviously it's completely unhealthy, but I found her a highly sympathetic character in the beginning of the book - maybe this says something about me as a teenager ^_^ - and there were certain scenes that seriously wrenched at my gut. I think it would have been very easy for the author to drop these kinds of characters into boxes but he steered clear of them all. There was zero slut-shaming, the guy was sweet and gentlemanly... I liked Wicked Games a lot.
Really bloody scary:
I do not get scared. I swear. Only with real life spiders because they're obviously up to something (why else would they need EIGHT legs, hmm?). But this book freaked me out. Like heart-pounding "the door's locked, right? are you sure???" kind of freaked out. It's just that I'm more likely to be affected by scary real life things than scary horror things because, duh, I'm probably not going to get eaten by a werewolf anytime soon. And, honestly, parts of this book are genuinely terrifying.
Also, I LOVED the ending. I thought that was just sheer brilliance, to be honest. I'm not sure if the author has set it up for a sequel or if he intends to leave it hanging there (which would be deliciously evil), but I'm good with both.
So, I'm pleased to be in the positive minority for once, but I'm a little surprised. I wonder if part of it has something to do with the way this book appears to be something it isn't... a lot of readers - sometimes myself included - don't like to get something they hadn't bargained for. We don't want to pick up a "dystopia" and get a romance, even a well-written one. It's like... I like chicken and I like ice cream but I wouldn't want to get one when I ordered the other. Okay... what am I even talking about anymore? Just: maybe take a chance on this one, you might be surprised :)
Maybe I'm being generous. Or unfair. I can't decide exactly how I feel about Jordan's latest young adult novel - Uninvited. I recently had my low expeMaybe I'm being generous. Or unfair. I can't decide exactly how I feel about Jordan's latest young adult novel - Uninvited. I recently had my low expectations trampled on by her impressive contribution to the new adult craze - Foreplay - and couldn't wait to see what more she had to offer. But Uninvited was a disappointment. It suffered from flaws in the very foundation of the story and the characters, even though the author's writing was compulsively readable enough to make me sail through it in a day and still up my rating to three stars. It's a combination of addictive, fast-paced plotting and a worn out, unconvincing story. It's entertaining, but also has a disappointingly weak protagonist. It wasn't bad and yet it could have been so much better.
There is much to celebrate and Uninvited will no doubt be an easy sell for many teens. The plot moves at a breakneck pace, dragging us into the action and drama from the very first chapter and delivering new punches at every turn. It reminded me somewhat of Divergent in this sense - I found myself simultaneously shaking my head at the ridiculous ideas I was asked to believe and reading on like a crazy person in my need to see what would happen next. Even in this you can see that Jordan is used to writing books for adults or "new adults" in the mature themes she doesn't shy away from incorporating. There are plenty of descriptions of violence that aren't sugarcoated for a younger audience... and I kinda liked that. In fact, this book contains that which is perhaps most important when writing a good dystopian book - a very real sense of fear, frustration and helplessness. I've read plenty of dystopian books that have failed to convince me that things are really that bad, but there's no danger of that here.
The story is about a music prodigy - Davy Hamilton - whose life is ruined when she is tested for and found to have Homicidal Tendency Syndrome (HTS), also known as the kill gene. Abandoned by her friends, feared by her parents and forced to change schools, Davy finds that other carriers like her might be the only people she can turn to. Even though the idea is a bit daft (well, it is), it sort of half works. I can see what the author was trying to do and many interesting ideas are brought to the table... about nature vs nurture, about humanity, about evil and hypocrisy, but I do think the romance dampens all the other powerful messages floating around. So many ideas are pushed aside by the spotlight stealing cliche of a good girl/bad boy romance. I thought we were going to learn something important but it turns out it's another one all about being saved by lurrrve.
And I thought Davy was a weak character. It was probably a deliberate move in a bid to make us more sympathetic towards a girl who'd been accused of being a killer, but it actually made her more annoying. A lot of emphasis is placed on who she's going to find to protect her - and many opportunities are set up for Sean to swoop in and save her ass - and she had a tendency to be mind-numbingly stupid. She stupidly puts herself in a lot of dangerous situations and constantly requires saving by Sean, neither fact particularly endeared me to either of them. But the worst bit of all was when Sean knelt over Davy, pushing her down into the bed, just to prove that she was vulnerable to anyone who wanted to rape her. It made me feel pretty sick.
Hmm, I'm not sure if I'll be continuing with the second book. I think I might just wait and see what the reviews are like before making a decision. But I will look out for more of Jordan's novels.