This was an enjoyable sequel, possibly a tiny bit more so than the first book, even. That Ceony sure knows how to find trouble, but it seems as if theThis was an enjoyable sequel, possibly a tiny bit more so than the first book, even. That Ceony sure knows how to find trouble, but it seems as if there's always someone there to rescue her. It's all a little too convenient but I guess that's the case when magic is involved. ;) I could never BE so lucky.
When I saw I was only 40 minutes away from the end of the audiobook, I started getting nervous because I was afraid of a major cliffhanger, the way things were going. But convenience stepped in and saved me from that. And there's still enough left unresolved for the next book. :)...more
Some serious fantasy here, the MC walking through her mentor's enchanted heart and all...paper magic, flesh magic, and more magic I'm sure we'll learnSome serious fantasy here, the MC walking through her mentor's enchanted heart and all...paper magic, flesh magic, and more magic I'm sure we'll learn about in the next book. Oh, and Fennel...he may be a paper dog but he was adorbs. There was even a touch of romance...just a touch, but enough to make my shipper heart happy. (And not only because Thane reminded me the teensiest bit of Sherlock. :P)
I liked it. Maybe it was because I listened to the audio version -- narrated by the awesome Amy McFadden -- that I ended up liking it more than others? And more than I'd been assured I would? Idk. But I liked it. So much so that I already DLed the second book on audio. :)...more
An ARC of this title was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. However, this review is for the audiobook version procured from mAn ARC of this title was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. However, this review is for the audiobook version procured from my local library. My thoughts are my own.
I initially added this book to my TBR because it was recommended for fans of The Princess Bride.
Things this book has in common with The Princess Bride:
Ways in which this book is not like The Princess Bride:
- Quotables are sorely lacking - Banter is unimaginative - The Accidental Highwayman is not a stand-alone - No ROUSes...ha, kidding (there aren't, but why would there be?)
Now, I didn't expect this book to be exactly like The Princess Bride because where's the fun in that? But to compare it to my favorite movie ever gives it a lot to live up to. (The book ranks up there, but the movie is just plain better.) Marketing aside, it was a fun, jaunty little adventure full of faeries and magic and a runaway bride, and I'm very much interested in reading the next installment.
Also, the audio version of this book is fantastic. Steve West has such a great voice and I had zero trouble getting into the story thanks to his narration. Of course, I would probably enjoy his narration of the phone book, too. ;0)...more
Interesting but I never felt pulled into the world. Had the same problem with the first book, though.
(view spoiler)[Not a sequel. Not a companion. ButInteresting but I never felt pulled into the world. Had the same problem with the first book, though.
(view spoiler)[Not a sequel. Not a companion. But a prequel. Don't know if that's really spoilerish or not, but I didn't realize it until the epilogue. Maybe it's been too long since I read the first book, idk. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>...more
I was hoping that the story behind that gorgeous cover would be equally enchanting, full of the revelry I've come to associate with the Roaring 20s. What I got instead was a story of necromancy, debauchery, and revolution. Not that I'm complaining...the story as a whole is quite intriguing.
Dark Metropolis was a much darker read than I had been expecting. That might come as a shock to you considering the word "dark" is right there in the title, but as I said, I was hoping for more decadence, less dead things. I was also hoping for a bit more world-building. I had read in a couple of places that the setting was based on Berlin in the 1920s, that period between the World Wars, and the war-torn vibe was there on the pages especially toward the end of the book, but it never felt like we were in Germany. Maybe I just don't know very much about Germany during that period -- or even now -- but I needed more from the setting. It also would have been nice to understand the Valkenrath brothers and their plan to utilize Freddy to help the country survive the aftermath of the war.
It felt as if this book began as Thea's story but quickly morphed into Freddy and Nan's story, with Thea included as just a bit player until nearly the end. And it's probably for this reason that I never felt very connected to any one character. I don't mind a switch in perspective in the narrative, especially when it makes sense to do so -- as in this story -- but before the transition, I'd like to connect to the last person whose head I was just in. The closest I came to this was with Thea in the first 50 pages or so, before it felt like she was ripped away from me in favor of Freddy's story. I suppose this sort of parallels how the families of the undead in this story probably felt, but I'm not inclined to appreciate that possibility right now.
The three main characters were great in their own right, though. Each was honorable, strong, and rose to the challenge set before them. Thea is the demure girl just trying to make her way as a plucky Telephone Club waitress while also taking care of her mother, who is ill due to a magic spell binding her to her missing husband. On the outside, Nan is Thea's closest friend and fellow Telephone Club waitress. On the inside, she is empty and unfeeling...until she solves the mystery of her special gift. And rounding out this trio, we have silver-haired Freddy, who has more control over life and death than he ever thought possible. Together, these three seek to put an end to the injustices being forced upon their friends and family.
I respect the author's inclusion of two very different romances in this story but also the fact that she didn't allow them to saturate the plot. They were very subtle, and I quite liked that. Also, yay for diversity! Even if that's another aspect that I would like to see expanded further. Not sure how many books will follow this first one, but I'm sure we'll see more of these two couples in the sequel -- and see if their love can withstand.
The thing that disappointed me most about this story, though, was probably how neat and tidy the ending was. I never wish for a cliffhanger, but I at least want to be intrigued enough to return for a sequel, and I'm not sure I'm at that point after finishing Dark Metropolis. Overall, it was an enjoyable read, atmospheric and equal parts gory and enchanting, but there was just something missing.
GIF it to me straight: It started off well enough, but the book lost its stride somewhere along the way....more
I think I was pitched this book, either through a Goodreads friend request or email or something, but I'm being lazy and don't feel like looking it up. Either way, I didn't acknowledge the request because that summary wasn't the best and I already had enough on my plate. But I saw an excerpt on another blog that caught my attention, and so I thought I'd give it a go anyway. I noticed that the book was available in the Kindle Lending Library for Amazon Prime members, so rather than requesting from the author after however long it had been, I went ahead and borrowed it. Also, if I'm being honest, it's easier for me to honestly review a book -- no holds barred -- when I didn't receive it directly from the author.
Fair or not, I instinctually picture another sparkly immortal whenever mention is made of a really old young guy who falls for a girl who's pretty much shut herself away from the world. Eaden does tend to lurk and follows Rachel around for the first quarter of the novel, but it's not so bad as all that in this story. Though it still kind of squicks me out to think of a guy with all of this worldly experience and hundreds of years under his belt falling for -- and potentially bedding -- a virgin girl who can't possibly fathom what she's just gotten herself into. The romance suffers from a severe case of insta-love, at least on Rachel's side; he's been watching her since she was in the womb. There's a reason for that, and when it all comes out, it's less creepy than it sounds, but until I figured out what was going on, I still found it all a little squicky.
Honestly, when I started this one, I thought it was going to focus on angels, but that is far from what Eaden actually is. He may have acted as Rachel's guardian angel more than once, but that's because he has a vested interest in her well-being. Of course, she doesn't discover exactly why until a ways down the road, and even then, she easily forgives him his well-intentioned deception. Rachel's character is kind of par for the course for a paranormal romance, but she didn't irritate me entirely like others have in the past. Through constant encouragement from Eaden, she grows some lady balls and actually starts to live a little. Because of that, I can overlook some of her other transgressions.
“There was something about the possession of a book that was important to me. Owning it gave me proprietary rights on the story. It meant that I could read as quickly or as slowly as I liked. No expectations, no deadlines, no proscriptions on bent spines or crumpled pages. I was not gentle on my books. I read while I ate, I read in the bathtub. At night, I rolled over on top of my books that had fallen between the covers as I dozed. For me, the worn pages and tattered covers were a sign of devotion. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, the books I read were only real when they were loved. And I understood that love was not always gentle.”
I was actually a little impressed with the writing, though the book could have used another round of editing. (There was nothing major that impeded my comprehension of the story, but there were just some general errors that needed tidying up.) Still, considering the supposed subject matter and the insta-love, this book surprised me. As did the decidedly unexpected turn the second half of the book took. One second I was reading a paranormal romance focused on an immortal record keeper, and the next, they're gallivanting off to Scotland, meeting up with witches and a secret council, and suddenly all of history has been rewritten. Honestly, it almost felt like I was reading a different book for the second half of Unbound.
I was definitely entertained by this book, if not always for the right reasons. I liked the theme of sacrifice that ran throughout the novel and how it was incorporated into the ending and especially the fact that it wasn't the lovelorn immortal who had to pay the ultimate price, as per usual. And although this is the first book in a planned series, I'm iffy as to whether I'll continue it simply because I like the way things were tied up at the end of this first book and I already have enough series to keep track of. But who's to say I won't see another excerpt from the sequel that convinces me yet again that I need to read it?
GIF it to me straight: It wasn't great but it also wasn't terrible, which is okay in my book. :)...more
You know when a sequel just blows your ever-lovin' mind, leaves you screaming and angry and in ruins? Lady Thief is that kind of sequel. I don't know how the author managed to make me fall even harder for these characters, but she did. And now my poor heart is in tatters after that ending.
Okay, so, if you know the story of Robin Hood fairly well, a lot of what happens in Scarlet and Lady Thief won't come as a surprise to you, but the way that events unfold is sure to. You might think for a second that in this one instance, Gaughen's going to go the traditional route and orchestrate the same sequence of events you've come to know as the history of Robin Hood and his Merry Men. But you'd be wrong. Though I've had many of my theories pan out over the course of these two books, I still feel like the story is remarkably fresh. I think the fact that I'm able to foresee a lot of what's to come is actually one of my shortcomings, not the author's.
I am still so in love with the fact that Scarlet is who she is, that she's survived what she has, and she still manages to persevere, to fight and love and do what she can for the people of Nottingham. Scarlet's narrative is sparse but that doesn't keep her from painting a very brutal picture for us. She doesn't hide her feelings nearly as well as she once did, though, and with what's going on now, it's no surprise. I had so hoped that she'd finally get her chance at happiness, but it looks like it wasn't meant to be, at least not yet.
Robin is a bit broken after what he suffered in the first book, and Scarlet bears the brunt of his inability to cope. As such, she's forced to make a decision that will change the course of her and Robin's future, though not as either of them expected. Neither of them knows of the stratagems already at play when Scarlet accepts a bargain from Lord Gisbourne, and when Prince John involves himself in her affairs, all hell breaks loose for Scarlet.
Fortunately for Scarlet and Rob, they find -- or rather, make -- time for romance along the way. Because of their honor and devotion to each other, I feared we'd go another book without so much as a single kiss between them, but they put that aside to bask in each other while they can. Nothing about their future is set in stone, and if the past is any indication, they have a long road to travel before they can truly seek solace in each other's arms. So it was nice to see them give in to their hearts and take a moment or two for themselves, even if doing so was technically wrong. (I'm not here to judge, but Scarlet is a married woman. Just sayin'.) Their love story is raw and achingly painful, but deliciously so, and despite all odds, I'm still betting on them.
The other characters' stories have all become compelling in their own rights. [Little] John may finally be over his roguish ways, which is quite the change from the first book. Much is showing just how capable he is and is full of worthy advice for Scarlet. Even Gisbourne's story arc proves quite intriguing. He may be pure evil incarnate, but in the beginning, he was such an enigma and as much as I loathed him, I still wanted to know how he came to be the man he was. I got more than I bargained for in that respect, but it's fitting and makes the story that much more captivating.
As I said, if you know anything of the lore surrounding Robin the Hood and his entourage, you can guess where the story is headed for both him and Scarlet, especially with the death of the sheriff and Prince John's political machinations while his brother is away. But the ways in which the end result was achieved were still shocking and at times, utterly heartbreaking. Guard your heart, folks...you're in for a bumpy ride. And if you're waiting until the third book is out because you've heard about the tear-inducing cliffy at the end of Lady Thief...well, that's all well and good, but it's still going to be there whether you wait or not, and you can't change what happens, much as you'll want to. So, what I'm saying is, hurry up and read it so we can discuss and be miserable together while we wait for book three. ;0)
GIF it to me straight: I won't be able to wait another year...I won't...iwontiwontiwont....more
This. This is what I was hoping for from the last couple of "fantasy" novels I've read. Unfortunately -- or fortunately for this short story -- this novella packs more of a punch than either of the last two fantasy novels I finished, and it only comes in at a whopping 54 pages!
Okay, maybe I'm a bit biased because I do have an affinity for stories that focus on assassins. Still not sure what that says about me, but there it is. At any rate, there wasn't all that much assassining to be had in this book, but even so, the author captured the world of the assassins -- the betrayal, the mutiny, the upheaval -- in a way that almost glorified the role James played in the Assassin's Guild.
In her pitch to me, the author stated that "I'd classify it more as upper YA or New Adult, while Midnight Thief is mid YA", but honestly, I felt no need to make the distinction. I don't want to compare it to Throne of Glass based on the content because even though assassins are pertinent to the storyline in each book, the actual premise is very different in each story. However, based on maturity level, I'd say this prequel story is comparable. Which means the author's full-length novel will be perfect for everyone! Yay!
Basically, in a few short chapters, the author managed to engage my fantasy-side and keep me glued to the pages, wondering how this story will play into Midnight Thief and Kyra's story when that full-length novel is released next year. I'm looking forward to that book even more now, and I'm so glad I had a chance to try out the author's writing with this prequel story.
GIF it to me straight: Ryan and I both approve...assassins are my weakness!...more
I must admit, I've never read a book by Mary E. Pearson. So when Kristen practically forced her copy on me (hehe), I was all:
And then I got to chapter 2, and it was on.
Not only is Lia fierce and determined not to be pushed into a marriage she does not desire, but her friend and lady's maid is just as awesome.
I don't know if Pearson always writes such strong-willed female characters, but I am impressed. Not just with those characters, though...with everything.
The setting. The writing. The transitions between points of view. And there were several of them. All:
And as the story wore on, I found myself captivated, reading it anywhere and everywhere I could.
Then I found that I couldn't put the book down.
But when I got to page 300 or so:
I did a bit of this:
But then as I absorbed it all:
I can't say that the second half was lacking because my anticipation was still through the roof,
but it almost seemed like two separate stories after that point. Before: historical fantasy.
After: a quest-like fantasy, through the unyielding desert...
with the possibility of some magic.
I say possibility because, well, I haven't seen any true magic yet. But I sense it.
A love triangle that isn't
Log wrestling...but with ruggedly handsome men over a mud pit ;0)
All in all, this book was
And I think that it ended at the best possible moment, even if the wait for the next book is going to kill me. _________________________________
The Kiss of Deception is actually my first experience with a Mary E. Pearson book. I think the science-y medical and ethical issues in the plot kept me away from The Adoration of Jenna Fox initially, but having taken a glimpse at the synopsis again, I can't really say exactly why. I love a good, introspective amnesia story, so I'll have to give that series a try soon, especially considering how much I loved this fantasy story from the author. And her characters. Gawd, those characters!
Lia is a formidable heroine. She is fierce and determined and willing to do the unthinkable to escape a life she does not want, including running from an arranged marriage. I can definitely get behind a protagonist like that, especially as she continues to grow over the course of the novel. She also has good taste in friends. Lia's lady's maid and dearest friend sticks with her through thick and thin, and she just may be the Princess's saving grace when all is said and done.
The first half of this novel spent a good deal of time introducing us to the characters and it felt more like a historical fantasy novel, which is pretty much what I expected based on the cover and the summary for the book. However, I did not expect the turn the novel would take about halfway through the story. The setting and the story abruptly changed, and it became more of a quest. But the transition to this aspect of the story and the deception that led there is handled phenomenally by the author. Things got a bit chaotic there for a bit, but I loved every second of it. It was shocking, surprising, and I found much of it to be entirely unpredictable, much to my own delight. The writing was just fantastic, and there was no way I was going to be able to put the book down after that.
This novel is actually rather brilliant. There's mention of magic but little to be seen of it. There's a day of sporting events that culminates in a bout of log-wrestling, which is just all kinds of genius. There are gypsies and vagabonds and vagrants of all sorts. And there is a bit of a love triangle that I didn't find distracting in the least because of how the characters are written. It does get a tad messy toward the end with no resolution, but that's the least of our girl's worries at that point. And I honestly don't think you should worry about the "love triangle" either because it's mostly nonexistent. Mostly.
At the heart of the story, I think the issue is who do you trust when no one is supposed to know who you are but practically everyone does? And moreover, most of those people aren't overly concerned with your well-being. Of course, Lia is unaware for most of the book that her life is in any real danger, though she knows there are people searching for her after she ran away from her wedding. That's probably the biggest deception of the story: her perceived safety, especially when it comes to the two men who've worked their way into her heart. It's also one of my favorite aspects of the story: not knowing who is who and what their intentions are.
It's books like this and The Winner's Curse that have reaffirmed my fanaticism for fantasy stories. I've read some real duds lately, but I think I'm finally out of that rut, thank goodness, thanks to books like these. Granted, I'm now craving some sequels like never before, but I survived the waiting with The Girl of Fire and Thrones series, and I know I'll survive this wait, too. (BTW, if you liked those books, you'll more than likely love this one, too. Just sayin'.) If you don't have this book on your TBR, you should remedy that immediately. It's full of adventure, romance, and betrayal, all of which obviously make it a captivating fantasy novel. I can't recommend it enough, and I'm actually already considering a re-read, if that tells you anything about my adoration for this book.
Be sure to check out my stop on the blog tour on July 7th!
GIF it to me straight: Just absolutely phenomenal!...more
When I saw the book trailer for this sequel, I knew I had been missing out on something special, something eerily different, and I resolved to get to this series sooner rather than later. And then I listened to the first book, and I rather enjoyed it. When it comes to this sequel, though, I have very mixed feelings.
First, they changed the narrator. I like Kirby Heyborne. He's narrated some of my favorite audiobooks. But I think he was a bit much at times for this story. As I said in my review of the audio for Miss Peregrine's, Jesse Bernstein was subtle and it worked really well for me. But I felt Heyborne's narration was a little too subtle at times and a little over the top at others. His accents were great, but they felt a little exaggerated in comparison. Because of that, I had a hard time connecting and concentrating on this sequel. I'm not sure if that's because of the novel itself or because of the change in narrator, though.
This time around, the romance was much more prevalent, which made the ick factor more pronounced for me. It probably wouldn't bother most people, but it was just weird to me. Also, kinda sad. The time travel is also more frequent and somewhat chaotic, and I'm not sure I understood some of the rules completely later in the story due to my inability to give this story 100% of my attention. Oh, and this review copy didn't come with a .pdf of images associated with the story, though I gather there are pictures in the actual book. So, I couldn't even go look at the disturbing images in order to rekindle my interest in the story.
The story didn't pick up for me until about the last 25%, and that's when I realized that there's going to be another book. After all of the gallivanting from timeline to timeline, in search of someone who could help Miss Peregrine, the Peculiar orphans are no closer to their goal than when this book started. If I'd known this was going to be a middle book going in, I would have prepared myself for all of the running and chasing and hiding and waiting...waiting for something to happen that actually made me care.
Hollow City had its moments. It was fast-paced and there was some dropping of the jaw. I still find these characters and their stories terribly fascinating, but I'm disappointed in the lack of resolution. I'm also disappointed that the humor and snark from the first book was noticeably absent in this sequel. For better or worse, this was a very middling middle book, and I would have to see some very positive reviews of the next book for there to be any chance I'd cave to my curiosity and find out what happens to Jacob and the rest of the Peculiars.
I don't know as much about the Tudor dynasty as I probably should, given that it's one of my favorite historical periods to read about, but Katherine Longshore excels at bringing that period to life in a way that is romantic -- poetic, even -- and not at all overbearing. It doesn't feel like a history lesson, but I learned a few things all the same, and I appreciate the author's note at the end detailing what liberties she took with the story and how they compare to what is known of that time period.
And I have to say that Brazen is now my favorite of her novels. I read an excerpt, and even from that brief bit of the story, I knew that I would end up preferring this novel over the rest in the series, though I also have to attest that it made me want to pick up the others again for a re-read. There was just something about this main character that I felt the others had been lacking. Maybe it's the fact that she bucked society's norms in a time when women had few rights and were little more than pawns. Maybe it's because she fought for love when she was told she could not have it. But I honesty just think I liked Mary's fire, her spirit and willingness to be good and honorable, even if those around her were not.
I really love how the focus of these books is always on one of the lady's maids to King Henry VIII's flavor of the moment. His breaking ties with Rome irrevocably changed the course of history, but the same could be said of the women's lives he touched as a result of that split. Gilt followed young Catherine Howard's rise to the queenship and her demise. (She was wife #5.) Tarnish followed a beguiling Anne Boleyn's rise to power. (For this book, the author took us back to Henry's second wife.) Brazen picks up at the end of young Anne's reign and her fall from grace, but it also depicted a friendship between Anne and her cousin and lady's maid Mary Howard and the heroine of our story.
When we first meet Mary, she is fourteen and about to marry Henry FitzRoy, King Henry VIII's illegitimate son, also only fourteen. And then the two are kept apart and not allowed to consummate the marriage for fear that it would bring illness to young FitzRoy if he was not mature enough when the deed was done. This meant that poor Mary's situation was always in flux, never knowing whether the King had other plans for his only son and planned to annul the marriage in favor of better partnerships.
That part is all true. Where Longshore deviates from the script is the actual relationship that develops between Mary and Fitz. Obviously, Mary had little power to control her future, but she did endeavor to love the man she was essentially forced to marry. With the help of her brother -- Fitz's best friend and boyhood companion -- and Mary's own friends Madge and Margaret, Mary and Fitz were able to spend a little time together and get to know one another, forming a bond despite the King's wishes. I loved how their awkward first encounters paved the way for some unbelievably swoony moments later on in the book.
And though I did know how their story would end, I was glad for those moments of happiness for them, especially considering how meddlesome both of their families were. As I said before, women were just used as pawns to strengthen alliances and in other business dealings, but the same can be said of illegitimate sons. Mary never had a hope of pleasing her mother, but her marriage to Fitz was everything her father could have dreamed of considering his aspirations to make Mary a queen. Or it could have been, had Mary done as he'd asked and gone against the King's wishes. But none of that compares to the demands the King made on young FitzRoy. Fitz wanted a father, but the King never deigned to be such to his only son. All the boy wanted to do was escape all of the court intrigue and be allowed to love his wife, but Henry VIII never saw fit to grant him that wish. Without the love of their parents that they so desired, Mary and Fitz took comfort in each other.
That's when things got interesting and quite delicious...until they took a turn toward heart-breaking. History -- or should I say the King -- wasn't particularly kind to any of Henry VIII's wives, nor to any of their lady's maids, and Mary is no exception. Nor were her friends. But Mary was quite a strong girl, and through it all -- family squabbles, Kingly dictates, and royal beheadings -- she held by her convictions and remained the good-hearted girl she'd always strived to be. The story Katherine Longshore presented here may be mostly fictitious, but I choose to believe that some good came from Henry's blasphemy, even if history is a cruel mistress. And because of that, Brazen will remain my favorite novel in this series...well, at least until the next book she writes.
Ahem. Well, this book turned out to be not at all what I was expecting. And I don't mean that in a bad way, just...an unexpected one. These days, I pretty much skim summaries of books as I'm adding them to my TBR, only scanning for keywords like assassin or pirate or tattooed harpoon boy. So, when I saw the cover for this book and spotted that last keyword(s) in the synopsis, I immediately assumed it was about pirates because duh, I thought that was a sailor's knot on the front.
Turns out, it's a witch's knot, part of a trio of them significant to this story, in fact. Yep, it appears that this book is about whaling and witches, not pirates. No big deal...witches can be just as awesome, if not more so, than pirates. And believe me when I tell you that the family of witches in this story have quite the history. I loved how they passed on their magic, how they came into their magic, and how hard Avery fights to unlock her own magic. But I'll let you discover those things on your own.
Salt & Storm is a story about magic, true, but it is also a story of love and sacrifice, of which there is a ton in this book. The Roe Witch protects Prince Island with her magic, and Avery believes this is a great honor. However, it is an honor to some and a curse to others, but either way, it is a responsibility that comes with great sacrifice. And as Avery learns more about this sacrifice, learns more about the two Roe witches who came before her and what they have given up, she finds herself with something she's unwilling to lose for the first time in her life.
Or, I should say someone. What starts out as a deal, one that is mutually beneficial to both Tane (the aforementioned tattooed harpoon boy) and Avery, ends in a love story that just about broke my heart. Tane is a foreigner, on the island with a docked whaling ship, but he's been searching for Avery. Even with her magic locked away, Avery still has a very special gift, one that could help Tane wreak the vengeance he so desires. But as the two work together, they grow closer. I loved the romance that was slowly blossoming between these two because it was careful and cautious and sweet, with Avery dead-set against even liking Tane. But it didn't take too long for his open and honest manner to win her over. Hell, he won me over pretty much from the start, but Avery is a VERY stubborn girl.
I think that first line of the summary is probably all you really should know going into this story: "A sweeping historical romance about a witch who foresees her own murder--and the one boy who can help change her future." I mean, I had the wrong story altogether in my head when I set out to read this book, and I ended up loving it, if that tells you anything. The book isn't for the faint of heart: it's going to tug at your heart-strings, make you ponder what sacrifices you'd be willing to make yourself, and make you reconsider what you really value in life. It reevaluates the mother-daughter relationship in a brutal way and reopens generations and generations of old wounds and heartache. But it is beautiful and magical and tragic and completely lovely. I'm glad I didn't know what I was getting with this story because it took me by surprise in the best way possible...and also the worst. I didn't cry, but it made me want to for all that was lost but also for all that was gained.
Also of note, I'm a huge nerd and love to read the Author's Note when probably everyone else just skips it. I like seeing what they have to say about the research that went into the book and what allowances they made, etc. And I really liked Kendall Kulper's Author's Note. The writing was stunning and lyrical and Kendall made this half fantastical, half historical world come alive with her words. And now I want more of this world, so I guess it's a good thing that she's working on another story set before Salt & Storm. Prequels are usually iffy for me, but in this case, it makes a ton of sense for her to go back in time rather than to move forward.
Women's suffrage, art, and a feisty heroine combine in this historical fiction to create one insanely readable piece of literature that explores girl power to the utmost. Sure, there's a romance (or two!) but it was the focus on women's rights -- to vote, where the arts are concerned, and in the world at large -- that captivated me. Sharon Biggs Waller has certainly done her research, and I felt incensed on behalf of her characters on more than one occasion. After reading this novel, I also feel incredibly blessed to have the freedoms that I do, and I am grateful to all those who fought for my right to have them.
My favorite aspect of this novel, though, is how Vicky Darling found herself among the suffragettes in the first place. She was a reluctant addition to their group, not because she was not sympathetic to their plight but because she had goals and aspirations of her own, and she wasn't about to let anyone get in her way. Sadly, it was the very thing the suffragettes worked for -- women's rights, or the lack thereof -- that threatened to put an end to Vicky's dreams. And as Vicky struggles to take control of her own life, she meets so many young women who help put her predicament into perspective. Those friendships among political activists, artists, lady's maids, etc., only strengthened the message of this story. There is some pretty serious girl power between the pages of this story, and I can't help but feel that other young adult novels might benefit more from concentrating less on the romantic aspects and more on the other relationships in a story.
I think that through intense research and the author's bewitching prose, the Edwardian time period is represented beautifully in this story. Not only is it depicted through descriptions of the fashions of that time, but it is also reflected in the rigid class system and the women's suffrage movement that was reaching a fever pitch as this story unfolded. I also very much appreciated the importance of art as it was expressed in this story. It's clear that Waller scrutinized every detail of her story to the nth degree to make it as realistic and honest a portrayal as possible.
I was further endeared by Vicky's portrayal as a would-be suffragette. This young woman is an open-minded free spirit, trapped by the constraints dictating a young woman's life during this time period. Vicky's marriage is arranged for her, to someone she does not love. She is not allowed to pursue her artistic endeavors but is encouraged to take on social obligations befitting a young lady of her status and upbringing. And not once does anyone ever ask Vicky what she wants. I cannot even fathom having every aspect of my life plotted out for me without any input from me, and yet, Vicky tries to conform.
She accepts that she is to marry Edmund, all the while developing feelings for the lowly police captain who empathizes with the suffragettes and who saved her from certain incarceration when she first returned to London. And although this sounds like the makings for one of those loathsome love triangles, I assure you, it is clear from the onset where Vicky's heart lies, and although she attempts to do what is expected of her, she never truly wavers. Honestly, I don't think any girl could help but fall for the caring and understanding Will, though. As a writer and conscientious young man, he is the perfect companion for the willful and artistic Victoria Darling.
If it's not obvious already, I kind of loved this novel. I loved Vicky's willingness not only to stand against the injustices against women of that time but also her willingness to defy her parents and make her own way in the world. I loved how well-researched all the topics explored in this story were and how despite all that, I sometimes forgot I was even reading a historical novel as I observed these events through Vicky's perspective. But what I loved most of all is that even though this story is set in the early 1900s, it is still so relevant to today's youth because at its core, it is still ultimately a coming-of-age story about breaking free from everyone else's expectations and following your own dreams.
GIF it to me straight: This book is rocking some serious girl power!...more
Ugh. I hate writing reviews like this. It's always easier to write a review for a book that you either had strongly positive or entirely negative feelings toward. I always feel so inept at writing reviews for the ones that are only so-so, that evoke no real emotional response from me. So it goes.
Possibly the problems I had with Tsarina are due in part to some really high expectations I had going into the story. I've only read Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce before, but I liked it well enough to think that I'd enjoy her retelling of the end of the Romanov reign in Russia. I also really like historical fiction and anything involving Russia. And then Wendy loved it, so I thought it was a guaranteed favorite because we often love the same books.
And don't get me wrong...there are aspects of this novel that are absolutely lovely. The prose is gorgeous. The setting is stunning. The magical bits weren't overbearing. And yet it still wasn't enough to make me love the characters. I felt zero connection to them, and as that's usually the aspect that has me falling for a book -- even when the writing isn't superb -- it made it difficult to enjoy this novel to its fullest.
Also, the romance was, um, sketchy? I really liked how the relationship between Natalya and Alexei was portrayed as something so lovely and heartbreaking in so few words. But then the war between the Reds and the nobility of Russia comes to a head and nothing is certain anymore. And I don't like where things in the romantic department left off or where they picked up because of those uncertainties. Sorry I'm being intentionally vague, but it's best I not say anything further for fear of spoilers. I just think things could have been handled a little differently so that it didn't feel like a complete upheaval of feelings. That, or it's possible that my complete lack of connection to Natalya just made it feel more sudden than it was.
I feel like a total black sheep here. I didn't hate the book. But I also didn't love it in the way that I thought I would. I mean, from the outside, this appears to be a total "Jen" book: spectacular cover, historical fiction set in Russia, elements of magic that were -- for the most part -- only hinted at for much of the book. But the first half was a total snooze-fest for me, with much less dialogue than I prefer and two girls running all over the city with no clear goal. And that kind of set the precedent for the rest of the novel for me.
Regardless, I still think this novel will resonate with a lot of readers, especially fans of Pearce's other work because as I said, the writing is still pretty fantastic. And there are a lot of elements that are done well in this story. It just so happens that the ones that I regard highly did not meet my expectations in this case, unfortunately.
GIF it to me straight: I so badly wanted to love this story, but I was pretty underwhelmed by it....more
I was thoroughly impressed with how much moreI liked Tarnishthan I did Gilt. Admittedly, I've always liked reading stories about Anne Boleyn, so it mI was thoroughly impressed with how much more I liked Tarnish than I did Gilt. Admittedly, I've always liked reading stories about Anne Boleyn, so it makes sense that I preferred reading a young adult story about Henry VIII's second wife more than one about Catherine Howard and her cohorts at court.
But it wasn't just the fact that this book was about Anne Boleyn that stirred me more. Despite some deviant and otherwise unacceptable behavior, the characters in this book were simply more likable. Young Anne is a misfit among the court and simply wants to find her place. Actually, she wants to make her own way, to be somebody. I think that's something most of us can relate to, and it made her character quite engaging.
If you know the history of the Tudor period, you know how Anne's story ends...and it's not on a particularly happy note. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, knowing the inevitable was coming. But Tarnish is not the story of Anne's demise. Rather, it's the story of a young Anne, trying to make her way and outshine the other members of her family. It's about Anne trying to overcome terrible rumors of misbehavior and keep her good name untarnished, to triumph over a bumbling alcoholic brother, to prevail amid whispers of a sister who's become the king's mistress, and to transcend a father who wants nothing to do with the lot of them.
Along the way, Anne hopes to marry and make her father proud, without having to ally herself with the man her father has already chosen for her. I often find arranged marriages squicky, but even more so when the partners are so obviously incompatible. But Anne does find someone suitable...if only circumstances were different, it might have worked out for her. She might have lived to a ripe old age, had she not instead caught the king's fancy. But that is a story for another day.
It also helps this book that I adored the narrator chosen for the audiobook. I can't remember if Jennifer Ikeda used an English accent when she read Gilt, but either way, that audiobook was just okay. This one, however, was fantastic. I felt swept away to the time of castles and balls and glittering gowns. Anne was just a girl full of hopes and dreams, the King was pompous, and the voice given to Master Wyatt was worthy of his poet's wit and sharp tongue. I couldn't imagine a more suitable narrator for this story.
This was such a fabulous piece of historical fiction. It made me sad as I was reminded of how little power women had over their own lives, but it also encouraged me to further research King Henry VIII and the Tudor period for no other reason than that it is utterly fascinating to see just how much this one man and his many wives changed the course of history.
Thanks to Penguin Audio and Audiobook Jukebox for providing a copy for review.
First, an apology to all of the other books I will read this year: I am sorry that The Winner's Curse was the first book I read this year. I am sorry that nothing I read after it will compare. I am sorry that I now have unreal expectations for every subsequent book I pick up this year and forever more. It's not your fault any more than it's The Winner's Curse, but still I am sorry.
I wish I could have read this book three or four times before sitting down to write this review because I don't think anything I could say right now would do the book justice. Nothing seems adequate to describe my love for this novel. I read the book at the very beginning of the year, and it's stayed with me since. I've been mulling over different aspects of the story for weeks, and I'm starting to think that the only way to get past this amazing book is to read it again. Or am I just fooling myself so that I can read it again?
If I'd read Rutkoski's The Shadow Society prior to picking up this novel, I might have been at least a little prepared for what was to come. As it stands, The Winner's Curse caught me off guard completely. The writing is gorgeous, the story is breathtaking, and the world is different and familiar, all at once. I felt that the story started out similarly enough to Diana Peterfreund's For Darkness Shows the Stars that I was on even footing going into it, but this story is also nuanced by the more present thrummings of revolution and the fact that the reader sees the world through the perspectives of both star-crossed lovers.
Despite the early hype for this book, I'd never read a book by this author at the time that I started The Winner's Curse and I paid little attention to the summary, so I had little to no expectations going into this story. I had no idea that a war was brewing in Kestrel's homeland. That Kestrel's only lot in life was to join the military or get married. There are no other alternatives for a young Valorian lady, despite what sharp-witted Kestrel may wish. I was also unaware that Arin was a slave fated to be so much more to his people. Also unexpected was the duel. Yes, I said duel. (Actually, my notes on the matter say, "A @#%$*&! DUEL!")
"And you will stop pressuring me to enlist. Whether I become a soldier is my choice." The general rubbed his wet palms together, his hands still dirty. The water that dripped from them was brown. "Here is my counteroffer. You will study strategy with me as my schedule allows. Your sessions with Rax will continue, but only on a weekly basis. And you will make your decision by spring." "I don't have to decide until I am twenty." "It's better for both of us, Kestrel, if we know soon on what ground we stand." She was ready to agree, but he lifted one finger. "If you don't choose my life," he said, "you will marry in the spring." "That's a trap." "No, it's a bet. A bet that you like your independence too much not to fight alongside me." "I hope you see the irony in what you have just said." He smiled. Kestrel said, "You will stop trying to persuade me? No more lectures?" "None." "I will play the piano whenever I like. You won't say a word about it." His smile shrank. "Fine." "And"--her voice faltered--"if I marry, it will be to whom I choose." "Of course. Any Valorian of our society will do." This was fair, she decided. "I agree." The general patted her cheek with a damp hand. "Good girl."
Which brings me to the importance of music in this story. In this land, the playing of music is a menial task, one reserved for slaves. And yet, Kestrel is drawn to the piano, despite her father's desires that she not toil away at it. Kestrel's love of music is palpable, as is Arin's, and it's described beautifully in this story:
She wished that Arin hadn't chosen music for the flute, of all instruments. The beauty of the flute was in its simplicity, in its resemblance to the human voice. It always sounded clear. It sounded alone. The piano, on the other hand, was a network of parts -- a ship, with its strings like rigging, its case a hull, its lifted lid a sail. Kestrel had always thought that the piano didn't sound like a single instrument but a twined one, with its low and high halves merging together or pulling apart.
There is such a rich history in this tale, full of political intrigue, military strategy and the undercurrents of a revolution. As the Valorians conquered their enemies, they enslaved them and essentially took over their lives. The Valorians live in the homes of the Herrani, while the Herrani bide their time, waiting till everything is in place to strike back at their aggressors. Kestrel is a Valorian lady, well-suited to stratagem. Arin is a Herrani slave, a skilled blacksmith destined to be placed in the household of General Trajan, Kestrel's father.
Kestrel herself has a commanding presence. She is intelligent, dedicated, and above all, open-minded. And Arin hates her the second she purchases him at the slave auction. Yet, it's her willingness to keep an open mind that eventually starts to melt the ice that's formed around Arin's heart. Arin was not born into servitude, and he has lost much at the hands of the Valorians. He manages to keep a lid on his defiant thoughts and actions, but his growing feelings for the privileged girl who might actually understand his plight are at risk of destroying all his well-laid plans.
So the Herrani thought his face held the mad delight of a warrior at the sight of battle. He let them believe it. You are the god of lies, Kestrel had said. He looked at his people and smiled, and the smile was a lie -- but like writing in a mirror, whose reflection is the inverse of a truth.
Kestrel and Arin are very pragmatic individuals. They realize that what they feel for each other can never be examined closer, that what they want means little in the scheme of things. Each has their own path and never shall the two cross. But that doesn't mean that their affection for each other doesn't continue to kindle. Though any relationship for these two is out of the question, they do embark on a slow-burning romance that cannot be doubted. Their positions in life will never allow them to be anything more, but there is no question that these two yearn for each other -- mind, body, and soul.
Arin smiled. It was a true smile, which let her know that all the others he had given her were not. "Thank you," he said.
The other characters in this story are unequivocally as unforgettable as the passion that burns between Kestrel and Arin. Enai may have had a bit part as Kestrel's nursemaid, but she is the reason Kestrel is the young woman she is today. Equally as important are Kestrel's friends: Jess, her best friend and closest confidante, and Jess's brother Ronan, whose designs on Kestrel's affections are somewhat questionable and entirely foolhardy. And then there's Kestrel's father, the gruff man who loves his daughter but also wants to see her follow in his footsteps. Their relationship was strained, but the love they felt for one another was obvious.
"Kestrel." The general touched her shoulder. When he spoke, his voice was uncharacteristically hesitant. "It's every child's duty to survive her parents. My profession isn't a safe one. I would like -- Kestrel, when I die, do not mourn me." She smiled. "You do not command me," she said, and kissed his cheek.
Do you ever read the acknowledgements of a book, discover how the idea for the book you've just read originated, and find yourself loving the book that much more because of it? That happened here. I absolutely devoured The Winner's Curse, and it's definitely one of my favorites for 2014, even though the year just got under way. But even crazier is that it's earned a spot on my favorite books of all-time list. This story is amazing, with its themes of love, loyalty, loss, and betrayal, and I honestly don't think I've read anything that quite compares to it. This novel is so promising and it offers up so much; it's just so poignant and clever and passionate. I'm sure I'll have read it several times before the second book is released. I just can't get enough of this gorgeous story, and I want to force it up on the masses!
I haven't had the best of luck with boarding school novels lately. So many of them are flat and contain the same old, same old: magic, mystery, and seI haven't had the best of luck with boarding school novels lately. So many of them are flat and contain the same old, same old: magic, mystery, and secrets, and they're all very blasé about it. So, it was with some trepidation that I began this audiobook, despite knowing that several of my friends had already loved the story.
I don't know if it's the combination of a truly worthy protagonist and a brilliant audiobook narrator, but I can safely say that I am back on the boarding school bandwagon. I loved Leslie Bellair's narration in Tarnish, so I was fairly certain she'd do Blythewood justice. Bellair beautifully portrayed Ava as a girl who's not quite sure of her sanity and also not certain of her place in the world. I'd say she far-exceeded my expectations when it comes to the narration.
My first instinct is to compare this story to Harry Potter because there are quite a few similarities, but that would be doing this book a great injustice because as far as writing and story go, the two books couldn't be more different. Historical fiction and fantasy combine in this story to create a magical world shrouded in mystery. Blythewood is magical realism at its best, as far as I'm concerned, and setting the story in the early 20th century made it that much more enjoyable for me, especially when other events from history coincide and intertwine with the story. This book is far from light, and including real-life tragic events from history gave the book a more realistic feel, making it all the more engaging.
These events also play an important role in Ava's life...Ava who's already suffered a tragic loss of her own. It's all a bit much and has Ava questioning her sanity, but she's a survivor. She's not perfect and she doesn't have the ability to magic herself out of a jam; she's just a girl who's trying to make the best out of a bad situation. And along the way, she makes some friends, both among her peers at school and among her teachers and their acquaintances, but she also makes a truly menacing enemy, one who may know Ava's story better than she does.
Another aspect of this story that I found particularly intriguing was the balance between light and dark, between good and evil. I think when it comes to magic in a story, it's always important to highlight the differences but also to stress that there are gray areas, even if the opinion is not popular. The Darklings, the fae, and the other inhabitants of the Blythe Wood are just such a gray area, and I can't wait to delve further into that magic in future installments.
I also need more of the romance from the next book. The relationship that develops in Blythewood is forbidden in nature and very slow-burning, so much so that I wondered if anything would even become of it in this book. Especially when the author seemed to be pushing another love interest into the mix. Though nothing develops with that young man, there are indications that his presence is important and that even if Ava doesn't have feelings for him, he clearly does for her. I'd buy into that romantic aspect more if I had been shown his feelings rather than having been told about them by another character. Either way, it's going to be interesting to see how this all develops, especially after certain revelations at the end of this book. Ava is going to have to overcome some prejudices and come to terms with who she really is before anything can really happen, though.
Honestly, I don't think any review I write can effectively convey the awesomeness of this story. It's slow-going at first but well worth the build-up. It's such a unique take on faerie lore intermixed with that of angels and demons and everything in between. I was disappointed to learn that it wasn't a stand-alone as I'd originally thought, but I'm also elated to know that there's more of this story to be told. I haven't had my fill of this magical world yet, and I am ever so intrigued by those Darklings and whatever else lurks in the shadows of the Blythe Wood.
I always think I'm done with fae stories, and then a book like this comes along and I'm pulled back in. I wasn't even going to read this one, not with the original UK cover, anyway. I know, I know...don't judge a book by it's cover, but that cover just did not appeal to me. Once the new cover was posted, though, I took notice...not because I love it or anything -- it's just another headless body -- but it's slightly less ferocious in nature and I actually read the synopsis this time around and felt compelled to pick it up.
And after reading The Falconer, I can say that the UK cover actually does the story justice because Kam, the heroine of our story, is fierce and determined and an altogether kickass protagonist. She's hellbent on avenging her mother's death at the hands of faeries, her reputation be damned. Well, for the most part. Everyone thinks she had something to do with her mother's murder, including her father, because of the manner in which they found her with her mother's body. So, in truth, she'd like to clear her name and earn her father's love. But considering that everything that's happened was because of faeries that aren't supposed to exist, that's a lot easier said than done.
Rather than trying to expose the fae and risking society believing she's a lunatic, Aileana sneaks out at night and battles the fae on her own. Well, not completely on her own. She does have a little pixie who lives in her wardrobe, mending her garments in exchange for honey, which makes him hilariously drunk. And she does have MacKay. Broody and menacing as he may be, he is Kam's mentor in her battle against the fae. And being fae himself, Kam knows better than to trust him completely.
Kam's father is an arse. Her best friend is a ninny who is only there as a means to connect Kam to her brother Gavin. And Gavin has his own issues, but he's a friendly enough guy. There is a love triangle of sorts, but I felt as if one side never fully legitimized itself, at least not based on true feelings, so I discounted the triangle pretty much from the beginning. Honestly, I really liked the romance in general, without the intrusion of a third party, because it was slow to build but also because it was rarely at the forefront of the story. (And because it provided some seriously swoony moments!)
After all, this is a story about kicking some fae ass, and it does it's job well by also providing us a truly awesome heroine. Aileana is ferocious in battle, but she's also clever, inventing all manner of things to make her fae-hunting adventures even more advantageous. There are steampunk elements in this story, as well, and I enjoyed the parallels between industry and machines versus the fae magic. I also loved the writing and pacing of the story, even when the action was particularly, ahem, violent.
I've seen comparisons to Karen Marie Moning's Fever series, but I can't speak to those, having never read that series myself. However, if they are even remotely accurate comparisons, I'm sure I will find myself picking up those books in the very near future. Preferably on audio so I can get to them that much sooner. Either way, I think it's pretty clear that I was impressed with this story, much more so than I expected to be. And after that ending -- which I'm not sure can adequately be described as a cliffhanger because the story just stops abruptly -- I'm dying to read more of Kam's story. I can't believe I almost passed on this novel!
GIF it to me straight: Please tell me more...now, not next year....more
Much like it's predecessor, Belladonnagot off to a bit of a slow start for me. But knowing that the author takes her time building the story, trying tMuch like it's predecessor, Belladonna got off to a bit of a slow start for me. But knowing that the author takes her time building the story, trying to catch her stride, I knew that I'd get to the middle and practically be unable to stop reading. And that's exactly what happened.
Fiona Paul has done it again. She's taken Renaissance Italy and made it even more beautiful and picturesque, but she's also lent an air of mystery and creepiness to the story by setting part of it in Florence, where there have been reports of vampires. Vampires! I know, right? But that aspect is all about perception and what one believes. Though, I suppose much of this story is, considering a major underyling theme is religion versus science. But I'm not about to get into that debate here.
So, Cass is all set to start her life with Luca after the events of Venom. She's forsaken Falco for the life she is supposed to have, the one that would make her parents proud. But she still can't stop thinking about him. I'm not going to lie, I'm not the biggest fan of Falco. Even more so after the thing at the end of this book, but that's not the biggest factor. He's pompous and a bit obscene, and though he genuinely seems to care for Cass, his heart is not always in the right place with regards to her. I mean, it seems that every tête-à-tête between them results in him trying to bed her. Not cool...especially considering what that would do to her reputation as a noble woman. And he has nothing to offer her. I understand that forbidden love is exciting, and normally I could get on board with it, but Falco just doesn't do it for me. Cass is still charmingly innocent in the ways of love -- despite being a bit of a voyeur! -- and I hope she remains so.
Now, Luca...that's a man. He provides. He protects. He is the antithesis of Falco in every way. Sure, he's not as passionate, but he's respectful and shy, and Luca is just what Cass needs to calm her adventurous spirit before she finds herself in more danger than she can escape from. And he has a history with Cass. One that they both need to dig deeper into in order to figure out what happened to her parents and determine what role the Order of the Eternal Rose and Joseph Dubois played in their deaths.
I must admit, the love triangle is not as central to the story in this second installment, which might have something to do with why the pacing picked up sooner and I found myself glued to the pages. Falco is absent for a large part of the novel, and Luca spends a lot of his time in a dungeon this time around. For the most part, Cass is on her own. But that was probably for the best since she's got her own investigation to undertake. The mystery of the Order of the Eternal Rose, the ageless Belladonna, the strange Dottor Piero...these are what intrigued me most this time around. That, and figuring out what it all had to do with Renaissance vampires.
I wouldn't say that the story is predictable, though I did guess the direction the story was taking fairly early on. Like I said, it's all about what one believes or perceives to be true. I'm open-minded but I also take everything with a grain of salt. Somehow, my wild, hair-brained theories always pan out. But the journey to seeing those theories come to fruition is still fun in this case, so it didn't hinder my enjoyment of the novel one bit. In fact, I was rather excited to see how everything played out.
Though I enjoyed Venom, Belladonna marks a surprising improvement upon the first book and has guaranteed that I absolutely must pick up Starling when it releases next year. After the ending in this book, I'm not sure what the future holds for our heroine, but I know that she won't give up until she knows all of the Order's secrets. I just hope she nabs them before they nab her.
Thanks to Penguin for providing an ARC of this title for review.
"I wish I could talk to him about what I've done, but I don't want him to know. I am alone in this, as I am alone in so much else. It is a crushing feeling with no corners and no edges. Endless and uncontainable. The Ghost seems to understand this feeling."
If you've seen my Review in a GIFfy feature, you know that the first book I ever reviewed in this fashion was Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine. (That review can be found here.) And with good reason, since so much of the story warrants such strong reactionary GIFs. But there's also a beautiful subtlety to Fine's storytelling method, full of vivid imagery but also those small things that niggle at your subconscious until you can no longer ignore them.
This book felt like so many things in one. First and foremost, it's a love story...and a doomed one at that. The setting and characters lend themselves to an Asian culture set somewhere in the somewhat recent past, but this isn't really a historical fiction novel. There are mechanical elements that are reminiscent of a steampunk novel, but that's not the focus of this story, either. One thing I do know, though, is that Of Metal and Wishes is a retelling of a timeless masterpiece, and it is beautifully told.
I loved how this story stayed with me, how even though I didn't know it was supposed to be a Phantom of the Opera retelling until I was already knee-deep in it, the hints of that familiar story were already ruminating in my brain, pushing me to read further, figure out who the Ghost was and what he wanted with Wen. And even though I did have my theories pan out, it made the story no less captivating to know what Wen was up against. In fact, knowing only urged me to plunge deeper into the story to discover the hows and whys of it all. And it all boils down to a little thing called social injustice.
A little background: Wen's family was of a nobler class before they fell on hard times. Wen's father is now the on-staff doctor at the local slaughterhouse. They live on-site in the medical quarters, and Wen's now of the age that she must consider her own occupational options. Basically, she's a sad, lonely young woman with little hope for a happier existence, and now that she's made an impulsive request of the Ghost, she's encompassed in guilt. Melik is a Noor, a group of downtrodden people who stand out as different because of their appearance but also because they are the cheap labor shipped in to work in the factory. They are not respected and they have little to no rights. As such, neither Wen nor Melik would normally have any contact with the other, save for the altercation in the cafeteria that sets off an avalanche of events that continually put them in each other's company. Their initial interactions are rocky at best, but before long, the pair begin to gradually trust one another...though not without reservations.
I usually try not to become overly infatuated with the romance in a story, instead hoping that the story can stand on its own without the love story to back it up, but for this novel, I've made an exception. Okay, maybe that's the wrong word because this story does hold its own without the romantic interludes between Wen and Melik. However, I really liked what was developing between those two, and I can't deny that it also pressed me to read on. The romance not only relies on the characters and their feelings but also on their part in society. Social injustices and peer opinions play a big role in Wen and Melik's potential relationship, and it's because of these things -- and the Ghost, can't forget him and his meddling -- that their relationship almost doesn't come to fruition. But it's everything leading up to their eventual coming together that makes their romance all the more precious: Melik defending Wen from his fellow Noor, Wen mending Melik during illness and injury, and on and on, despite their difference in class. And amidst everything they're already facing, they also have to confront their own prejudices against each other.
Just as Melik feels protective of Wen, Wen deems it necessary to stand up for the Noor, whom she grievously misjudged. She is compassionate toward the Noor when no one else is. But the Ghost, hiding in the shadows, is exacting his own brand of vengeance by way of granting wishes left for him on an altar by those in need...or those who have been wronged. He, too, feels the need to protect Wen, and it's through his wish granting and involvement in the daily lives of the factory workers that we begin to discover who or what he really is. As the mystery unravels, the Ghost's existence becomes less creepy and more sad with the realization of his existence.
And that pretty much sets the tone for the novel, which ends on a very bittersweet note. (Which is fine, since the author announced there will be a sequel.) This novel was truly exquisite: the writing was fluid, the mystery was solid, and the story itself was haunting and beautiful. I can't wait to see where the next chapter takes these characters.
"Wen always has medicine."
GIF it to me straight: That's me to this book....more
"I recognize in Dr. Finneas Bennett a snake-oil salesman of the highest caliber. Of course, it takes one to know one."
I love a good historical fict
"I recognize in Dr. Finneas Bennett a snake-oil salesman of the highest caliber. Of course, it takes one to know one."
I love a good historical fiction, especially one set in the Roaring Twenties. I still maintain that I was a flapper in a previous life. =) This particular time period was so rife with change, so imbued with culture, and it makes for some of the more intriguing historical fiction I've had the pleasure of reading.
Inevitably, I couldn't help but compare this novel to Libba Bray's The Diviners. Both books are set in New York during the 1920s and both involve séances, spirits, and the like. But I can honestly say that Born of Illusion holds its own against the work of one of my favorite authors, and it does so in measurably fewer pages. I'm in no way complaining about the length of The Diviners; I just know that some readers found the sheer number of pages in that book rather daunting. But that book had so much ground to cover and so many characters on which to focus, that its length was necessary to build the complete picture. Not so with Born of Illusion.
Anna's story is magical, literally and figuratively speaking. She might be the illegitimate daughter of Houdini, but she's also a magician in her own right, and a damn fine one at that. Yet, her mother refuses to share the spotlight with her. Their rocky relationship made it hard to like Marguerite, especially when she was forcing her daughter to take advantage of innocent people, but I eventually came to understand their dynamic and even understood Marguerite's position on a lot of decisions.
"She's a terrible snob for someone who swindles people out of money for a living."
That includes Anna's love life. I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that the romance in this book takes on a bit of a triangular edge, but the way it was presented made it essential to the story line. It wasn't simply a ploy used by the author to create unnecessary drama; the love triangle actually serves a purpose in this novel. And it's resolved by the end of the book...no waiting until the next installment to see who Anna chooses, though for me, I don't think there was ever any question.
"And Cole is the only one who can teach me. Cole, who vacillates between aloof and caring faster than a magician can say, 'Abracadabra.'"
"Owen sighs, his eyes remorseful. "I'm sorry, I'm just so jealous I can't see straight. I've been trying to let you know how I feel about you, but I'm such a klutz it never comes out right."
The book is a tad predictable, obviously, if I was able to figure out who Anna would end up with from the get-go. I also determined the identity of the villain pretty early on, but neither of these facts detracted from my enjoyment of the novel. In fact, knowing these things actually made it easier to appreciate the rest of the novel and focus on other aspects I might have paid less attention to, including that Houdini fellow. ;0)
All in all, I consider Born of Illusion to be a commendable entry in the YA historical fiction genre. The author captured the essence of the 20s beautifully, and made the allure of magic and illusion even more so before setting the stage for an engaging sequel. And this time, the story will focus on Rasputin. Color me intrigued...
Thanks to HarperCollins and Edelweiss for providing a review copy!
You had me at gargoyles. ___________________________________________________
Actual Rating: 1/2
Gargoyles! That's the only word I needed to see in the sYou had me at gargoyles. ___________________________________________________
Actual Rating: 1/2
Gargoyles! That's the only word I needed to see in the summary to know that I had to read this book. And then, I immediately started picturing this:
What? You didn't? :P In all seriousness, I'm usually a little squeamish about inter, um, species (?) relationships in books...I mean, how would that even work? Especially since the gargoyle in his true form lacks any reproductive organs. ;0)
Now that that's out there...I kind of loved this novel. It takes place right at the turn of the century, in beautiful Par-ee (that's Paris for those of you who don't speak French), and though I've never been to The City of Light myself, it wasn't hard to imagine myself there among les grotesques, basking in the beauty and the culture, while hoping that this missing brother turned up unharmed.
This book was everything I was hoping for and more. From the sometimes complicated relationship between siblings to the history of the gargoyles in Paris, I was utterly captivated. Throw in shape-shifting gargoyles, a secret alliance that keeps their existence hidden, and crazy underworld magic, and I am a very happy girl. I'm usually iffy when it comes to multiple third person perspectives because they tend to give away too many secrets while providing glimpses at each characters circumstances, but I rather enjoyed reading from Ingrid, Gabby, Luc, and yes, even Grayson's point-of-view. Though, Luc was probably my favorite because he was such a tortured soul...I have a soft spot for characters that cling to their guilt and the remorse that comes with it. Also, I loved his fierce protectiveness.
There is some swooning to be had from this book, as well...no chaste pecks on the cheek or hand, despite the time period. It nicely counteracts the ugliness of the situation but doesn't detract from the overall plot. But I feel I must warn you that a love triangle is afoot, if all indications prove to be true. I hope that doesn't come to fruition, though. It's the standard safe choice versus dangerous and brooding guy, and you can probably guess which one Ingrid is leaning toward. Her sister Gabby, on the other hand, has no such decision to make. If only she didn't love to hate her own swoon-worthy rogue. *sigh*
Above all else, I loved the lush use of descriptive imagery, from the way the author describes the physical attributes of the gargoyles to the way she depicts their shifts. The book cover immediately grabbed my attention. The mention of gargoyles held it. But the writing ensured that I will be back for more of this beautiful story and its tragic characters. And that I'm going to be pestering the husband for a trip to Paris for months to come.
Thanks to Random House for providing an ARC for review!
Claire Legrand's Nutcracker-inspired Winterspell isn't so much a retelling as an exploration of the darkness, the sensuality of the original tale. This novel endeavors to bring into focus the desires and wills of the characters and divine where they came from and what makes them tick. This is my first experience with this author's work, but her evocative prose and nuanced additions to the story mean I will definitely be coming back for more.
Let me just get this out of the way. This is not the Nutcracker story you grew up with. The gist is similar, but Winterspell delves deeper and deeper into the world of the Sugar Plum Fairy and all of those "delights" afforded to the kingdom, be it the ubiquitous sugar or those costumed dancers. And what you'll find is not a beloved fairy tale but a war that has been brewing for ages.
So, yes, in answer to the question that is most likely plaguing you, this story does rely heavily on faeries and magic. But that shouldn't surprise you all that much considering the source material. There are malevolent faeries and destructive humans and slippery mages in the land of Cane and none of them are very willing to share the land. Oh, and Clara is caught unawares by all of this when her father is abducted by faeries in order to lure her to the land of magic.
The usual characters are all present in this story, though their roles have been somewhat altered from the original tale. I loved Clara's determination -- to master her future, to save her family, to discover her family's deepest secrets. She is strong but not infallible. She is vulnerable, but she will not be discouraged. I truly love what the author has done with this character above all others, but I loved the fact that, though changed, all of the characters were still reminiscent of their original selves.
Another aspect that I really enjoyed was all of the clockwork and those little mechanized robots that kept tabs on the Queen's empire. I'm finding more and more faerie stories that include steampunk elements and faeries who like to tinker, and it quite endears them to me, maybe because it helps to somewhat alleviate that feeling of complete otherworldliness that clings to them. Winterspell didn't feel like any of those other steampunk faerie stories I've read, though. It's dark and stunning and utterly tantalizing.
And so, so seductive. Not just the gorgeous storytelling but also the character interactions. As I said, this is not the tale you were told as a child, and it becomes so much more sensual at the hands of Legrand. There were moments when poor Clara felt utterly indecent, but I exalted in seeing this story in such a new and different light. I've always loved The Nutcracker, and I had a feeling I would feel similar after reading this story inspired by it, but I loved Winterspell even more than I expected.
GIF it to me straight: I know, Jared...I'll never see The Nutracker the same way, either. (But seriously, wowsa, I loved this story so hard.)...more