The Accused: The Chaos of Stars' cast, writing, plotting
The Offense(s): Criminal waste of time, cover fraud, squandering a great premise, using cliches and juvenile writing
The Prosecution: Jessie, a disappointed reader
Opening Argument: Ladies and gentleman, I present to you a blurb that promises Egyptian gods, a creative new take for young adult supernatural fiction, and an interesting plot. The Chaos of Stars delivers Egyptian gods, sure -- but shallow, lifeless representations of them. Instead of a new, fresh plot, the same old tropes and themes are trotted out to the reader's exasperation. It is a boring affair - full of instalove, a cheesy romance, and lackluster execution.
Exhibit A: Isadora's lack of personality. Surliness and self-absorption do not a character make. She doesn't even qualify for antihero status. She's boring, she's immature, judgmental, and impossible to care about. If it doesn't directly concern Isadora herself, she is uninterested. It's hard to stomach such a badly-written character.
Exhibit B: The Chaos of Stars uses the same theme so many other young adult novels fall prey too - magical girl, who is beyond gorgeous (of course) must wrestle with familial expectations while trying to figure out what she wants from life. If you're going to use the Egyptian gods as your main characters, make use of them. Don't make them fade into the background until it's too late.
Exhibit C: The writing. It's juvenile. It's unpolished. There's no subtlety, no depth or any real emotion evoked in the nearly 300 pages of the book. You can skim the last 50ish pages and miss nothing. That is not good. There should be ethos, pathos, building tension, a dramatic conflict. There is sadly none of that to be found here.
Exhibit D: The plot. Where was it for most of the book? Your guess is as good as mine and I read the damn thing. For the most part, White focuses on a romance with an impossibly gorgeous Greek boy who is more than he seems to be (think about that for more than two minutes and you will have figured out a twist.) and who is in love with Isadora because...well... who knows.
Closing Argument: I was disappointed by this book from the beginning. For so much potential, the premise is neglected and the execution is lackluster. The characters are one-dimensional AND unlikeable or wooden, and the conclusion lacks emotion.
Verdict: Do not waste your time. It's not worth it, and you're honestly not missing anything by skipping this. Don't be lured in by that cover, or the promise of something original. There's none of that to be found in The Chaos of Stars.(less)
Much like the first in the series, Just Like Heaven, this is a charming and easy read. The Smythe-Smith...moreRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
Much like the first in the series, Just Like Heaven, this is a charming and easy read. The Smythe-Smith Quartet is shaping up nicely to become a must-read - which is something that doesn't often happen for me with this type of romance novelish book. A Night Like This is a light-hearted and thoroughly charming novel with two very likeable and compatible leads in Daniel and Anne (and scene-stealers in Frances, Elizabeth and Harriet.) There's much more than steamy sex scenes to look forward to in this - there's comedy aplenty (I admit I lol'd at the play chapter especially) and plenty of action and danger to keep the pages turning with alacrity.
I freely admit don't read a ton of romance novels - I have nothing against them, but on the whole, every reader goes into that genre of novel generally knowing the final outcome: love, sex and a happy ending. What makes it fun to read these type of books are the authors who take the time to create whole, rounded characters and a real plot to keep things advancing instead of just sex scene after sex scene. I don't/can't/won't care about the sex if I am not emotionally invested in the people having it! Julia Quinn is one of those rare authors, which is why I have found myself completely wrapped up in everything in this novel. There is am emphasis on the romance (instalove ahoy), but I didn't mind in this book, with these two. Thankfully, both Anne and Daniel are both flawed, amusing, wholly believable, personable characters with motivations and secrets of their own. They complement each other very well and have chemistry to burn but they are not utterly dependent on the other. Anne is a resourceful and smart girl that can save herself - and does on several occasions. Daniel's chacterization is a bit more typical of a young, honorable lord but his sense of humor and interactions with Miss Wynter show a more rounded version of the Earl.
I can't talk about characters in A Night Like This without mentioning the unexpected and utterly hilarious trio of girls that Anne is governess for: Frances, the unicorn-loving youngest, the middle-child Elizabeth, constantly caught between propriety and annoying her older sister, and Harriet, the earnest young playwright behind such classics as The Strange, Sad Tale of The Lord Who Was Not Finstead. Anne and Daniel are more than compelling to read about with their interwoven tales of revenge and mystery, but it is the three Pleinsworth cousins who truly make this as light-hearted and humorous as it is. Several times during their appeareances I would actually laugh-out-loud (thank you, Frances.) The cast of this novel is really the biggest attraction to he had - moreso than the slightly predictable plot, or even than the genuinely sweet romance angle of the two main leads, the large, clangorous and musically-impaired Smythe-Smith family is just plain fun to read about.
This is only the second of the series, and my imagination is already at work trying to predict the main leads for the third novel. Hugh Prentice and Sarah? Harriet? While it's a bit early to tell just now, you can be sure that I will be stalking GoodReads, waiting for the next book to pop up with information. Julia Quinn has an easy, inimitable style and her novels are an amusing way to pass an afternoon, but rewarding at the same time. With each novel of this author's that I read, I am more and more inclined to buy another. Fans of her Bridgerton series as well as of the first book will find more of the same here easy humor and steamy sexy scenes in A Night Like This. Julia Quinn, I am officially a fan. (less)
Humans will be the hunted. Love will be tested. Vengeance will be had.
I need this book. This sounds amazing, based on just the first sentenc...morePre-read
Humans will be the hunted. Love will be tested. Vengeance will be had.
I need this book. This sounds amazing, based on just the first sentence of the synopsis. I want it, precious, and I must have it. That, added to the fact that Elizabeth May seems to be made of pure awesome only makes me covet this as much as I wanted Daughter of Smoke and Bone last year. 2013 can't come fast enough - when can I pre-order?! Gimmegimmegimme.
Not A Drop to Drink is a strong, well-written, and evocative read. It smartly captures and portrays a world without easily-accessible water, and McGinnis ably spins her story of survival in desperate times. Main character Lynn is a striking protagonist and a memorable one as she grows up in this world where cholera is once again a deadly force and the thirsty dead roam free. With her third person narration and the story's creative spin on a post/near-apocalypse, Not A Drop to Drink is easily one of the better YA debuts for the latter half of 2013.
The premise itself is a clever one, and McGinnis explores it pretty well. There's not a lot of information immediately dispersed about the world Lynn and her mother live in, but details are slowly revealed through dialogue, conversation, and deed. The desperate atmosphere is palpable, the drama is intense, and above all, it's a believable scenario. Scarcity of drinkable water is something billions of people in the modern world already face, so it's easy to see the possibility in McGinnis's future. The author creates several clever ideas for her characters to be able to live and function in this world, so while Lynn and Laurel have done alright, they always live on the brink of disaster and dehydration.
Lynn is a more grown up, more mature character than a lot of YA protagonists out there. Her life is demanding and one of those demands is that she grow up fast and learn to defend what is hers, be it from other people or from the encroaching and increasingly bold wildlife. Threats come from all sides in McGinnis's world, and Lynn has been capable of killing to stay alive since she was nine years old. Her world is harsh, but Lynn isn't unlikeable. She isn't afraid to make hard choices and do what is necessary. I applaud that, and Lynn's pragmatic approach to survival. Going through the day-to-day chores Lynn performs to just stay alive is a refreshing change from how most authors would approach this kind of story. It makes for a quieter, less action-packed read, but it keeps everything realistic and fresh.
However, the characterization is the main reason I can't rate this book higher. There are more people than just Lynn and her mom in the novel, but none really came to life the way the first two did. Stebbs, a longtime neighbor, came closest, but the secondary cast needs some serious fleshing out. There is a love interest, but he was wooden and ill-defined. I wanted more from the characters -- Lynn is a powerhouse, and everyone else just kind of fades away. None possess her level personality, logic, or strength. It's frustrating because there is definite potential being wasted for the characters of Neva and Eli especially. Lucy straddles the middle - she's neither as well-rounded as Lynn, but she is not as one-dimensional as her mom and uncle.
If you liked Hatchet, or are a fan of teenage survivalism and self-reliance, Not A Drop to Drink is your book. It's a smart look at a realistic apocalyptic event, told ably and well by a strong debut author. Lynn will remain memorable for me for a long time. While this is a standalone with plenty of resolution, I wouldn't be averse to a sequel, or a companion novel. (less)
The Queen's Vow is a great first introduction to a well-known and well-recommended historic...moreRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
4.5 out of 5
The Queen's Vow is a great first introduction to a well-known and well-recommended historical fiction author. I've heard and seen C.W. Gortner's name bandied about frequently as one of the best for compelling, researched and still original novels and every claim is only reinforced by my reading experience with this novel about Castile's complicated and dramatic queen. Without condescension or annoying repetition, this mostly-factual story of 15th-century hotbed of war, religious strife and rebellion in what is now known as simply Spain, is riveting from start to finish - once The Queen's Vow, and the formidable Isabella, hit their stride, it is nearly impossible to put down. Told with an even pace and a clear voice, this four-hundred page, multi-part novel pretty much guaranteed that I will be reading more by this author, and soon. In a genre that can often seem quite overbloated with English and French-situated books, this exploration into the fertile and sunbaked lands of Spain is a welcome and exciting change.
The most remarkable aspect of the entire endeavor is the main character of Isabella herself. With the advantage of perspective and history on our side, it's clear that the infanta of Castile is a woman of complicated nature; someone that is sadly often naive in her religious judgments, but one who is conversely amazingly progressive in terms of women's education and rights (see her intransigence on the rights of her daughters/Castile's and her own sovereignty from Aragon/Ferdinand until an heir is born). C.W. Gortner is a skilled writer that somehow manages to paint a fully-realized and wholly fallible version of the renowned and reviled monarch while still rendering the final character likeable and authentic in her determined role and behaviors. Accepting both good and bad facets of her personality and her reign, The Queen's Vow offers up possible reasons for the cruel decisions Isabella made for her realm without diverging too far from the roadmap of history. It's easy to both root for Isabella in her desperate times and to curse at her when she is so easily manipulated (Carrillo, Enrique, Torquemada, even Ferdinand.) Throughout all her trials and even her mishaps, it cannot be denied that this Isabella has life and is never boring to read.
It's a credit to both the author and the novel itself that because Isabella is a historical figure largely ignored on her own noteworthy merits (maaaybe vaguely known to the general populace because of the connection Christopher Columbus) her story here is completely fresh and engaging. Unlike the Tudors/Borgias, who have been done over and over (with varying degrees of success), this view into the overlooked Trastamara royal family is happily unreminiscent of any other historical fiction I've read. The tertiary characters are a bit hard to keep track of initially due to my lack of experience with this setting, but the author eases the reader comfortably into the Castile he has reimagined. The endless wars and battles, the required Court intrigue, the drama - all were evenly and uniformly handled in The Queen's Vow. Despite the fact that war was pretty much the normal state of being for Isabella and her husband, the novel is careful to mix the battles between many other historical events so as not to sacrifice the principles' characterization or plot advancement. Time easily speeds by while turning the pages - for the real world as well as the pacing of the book. The novel can breeze over years at a time with a sentence, which didn't bother me so much as streamline the narrative of a real person.
The Queen's Vow is a going to a hit with historical fiction lovers. There's a lot to love - the sweet but imperfect marriage between the "Catholic Monarchs", the tried and true lure of Court intrigue and betrayal. The novel terminates before the end of Isabella's life, leaving it somewhat open-ended in regards to the main character, if not the final conflict. If you're looking for a well-written and engaging novel with a strong, fallible character, look no further. (less)
C.J. Daugherty has several things going for her in her debut novel and the first in her Night School se...moreRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
C.J. Daugherty has several things going for her in her debut novel and the first in her Night School series: a chilling, thoroughly Gothic vibe, an interesting and just-convoluted-enough conspiracy theory, and a somewhat rounded main character. Unfortunately for both Night School and its readers, Daugherty loses sight of what she should write about and focuses on mean girls, petty high school drama, "mysterious" boys, and an obnoxious love trianle with Allie at the center. There are kernels of good ideas at play in the novel, but but so much of what's worth time and attention gets lost in the morass of overwritten drama that takes center stage.
Allie is a...decent protagonist. She's serviceable, I guess. That's the best I can do with what Daugherty gave me. She had her moments where I wanted to shake her (any time she is swooning over either a creepy or a borderline abusive love interest) but she also had moments where she took a stand (at the dance? With Sylvain? Hell yeah. Unfortunately as the even gets further behind her, Allie gets more forgiving...) and I found myself caring about her. Still, there are multiple issues with Allie's characterization. Of course two totally hot, mysterious and unattainable guys are in love with Allie. Of course. How utterly unexpected. It's just so trite and overdone, and Allie's interactions with both highlight how much more interested Night School is in silly romance and teenage relationships than it is in crafting a taut thriller/conspiracy novel.
It also doesn't help Night School that there are so many plotlines left open and questions unanswered by the final page. It's a frustrating experience for a reader to invest so much time in a four-hundred page novel that, due to those unsatisfying factors, ends up being nothing more than a lengthy introduction; one with little to no resolution. I had trouble with this until very close to the end. The endless mysteries and secrets that EVERYONE besides Allie is in on, the unexplained caste system between the Night School students and the regular students... it did nothing for me. My experience did get slightly better, towards the very end but the utter lack of any resolution is very, very frustrating.
I have Concerns about Cimmeria Academy. (First: what kind of school would provide alcohol - their own brand! - to students at a school dance, hosted at the school? What?!) The author deliberately paints the school in broad strokes; all the better to make her audience curious about its endgame with the students. What is Night School? Why are only some students involved? How are they picked? What do they do? -All of which set up more with expectations than the actual reveal can deliver. When you find out the point, or the barest outline of the point of Night School that is shown in the first book, it's a let down, pure and simple. There's not enough there there; the knowledge imparted to Allie is minimal, and laughable. It comes across as a desperate ploy to ensure continued reading and frustrated me even more.
The complete lack of a reason for the antagonists motivation also is ridiculous. Readers are just supposed to get that he wants Something and It Is Very Dangerous and he will do anything to get it. Why? What lead up to that and what he does in the book? If you haven't even cracked the cover, you know just as much as I do, four hundred pages later. No one - at least no one interesting and worth reading about, is evil for evil's sake. Give me a villain with reasons, intelligence and believable motivations and you've just upped the appeal of your book. For all that, the minor antagonist? From the events at the dance? That revelation did manage to surprise me, and even if I can't wholly buy into why they did what they did (again: no answers, no real motivations shown), I can appreciate how ably the author pulled it off.
There are some obvious issues with Night School. For all that, I did enjoy aspects of it. The Gothic vibe works well for the story, Allie isn't a complete waste of space, and it's a pretty readable novel. It may be more work that its worth, but then again, I can't promise I won't be drawn into reading the sequel, Legacy, when it comes out. The contents of the first Night School novel can't quite live up to the premise (or that awesome cover) but it's not a complete mess. It just gets lost in the mundane and neglects the ideas and themes that could have made it truly original. (less)
I loved this. Absolutely. Frikkin. Loved it. I tried to draw out the experience and couldn't make mysel...moreRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
I loved this. Absolutely. Frikkin. Loved it. I tried to draw out the experience and couldn't make myself stop reading the second day. Without a doubt, this impressive second novel in the newer Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series is going into my "best of 2012" shelf as well as my much less used "all-time favorites." I think I may even have loved this book like I love my hallmark series of steampunk, Gail Carriger's formidably funny and inventive Parasol Protectorate series. I literally have nothing to complain about here, and that is rare. That's a lot of praise for a book to live up to, but The Janus Affair is that rare novel, the one that manages to be delightful, zany, action-packed and original from inception to execution. Please excuse and recognize my blatant and epic fangirling for what it is -- that classic kneejerk reaction of happiness that happens right after finishing an unexpected treat - not everyone in the world will be wowed with this foray into Edwardian steampunkery but boy I was. Though the first novel Phoenix Rising wasn't quiiiite as perfect, this is the steampunk series everyone should be reading now that Alexia has wrapped up her five novel arc hung up her written parasol duties. While the main events of book two of the MoPO were neatly and explosively wrapped up without my predicting the outcome (once again, thanks to the amazing Eliza Braun), I will count the minutes wait patiently until I can get my grabby little hands on whatever else next springs from the fertile minds of Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris.
By far and away, a third of my love for this book is due entirely to the two main characters at the heart of everything, Eliza Braun and Wellington Books. (The other 2/3rds are reserved for steampunkery, excellent/unpredictable and intelligent antagonists and sheer madcap adventure.) Their banter and genuine camaraderie are prone to bustups and petty fights, but it's the underlying respect and genuine feeling of friendship between that makes reading these two feel less like characters and more like real people. It helps that Eliza is a heoine to shame most other heroines - she's brash and coarse and willful and exactly whatever she wants to be. I love Eliza - I always liked her, from the first chapter of book one, but midway through this, I knew I loved her. (This was the exact moment: "In New Zealand, there had been such sweetness to their courtship, but back then she had been quite a different person. Still a little reckless, but in the way of a young woman not yet as familiar with black powder and explosions.") Her characterization is seemingly blunt and obvious (EXPLODE ALL THE THINGS!), but through interactions and over time and pages, with her Ministry Seven, Welly, and the women she relentlessly helps, Eliza is revealed to be much more than just a mere colonial or pistol-loving walking armoury. Wellington Books has been my absolute favorite character from the start and that is only reinforced through his evolution during the last two novels, but The Janus Affair particularly illustrated him as a man of many facets. His dry humour is still very much in tact ("Once more into the breach.." "Sorry, Welly, what was that?" "Shakespeare. I always recite it just before placing my career in harm's way.") but other, less...gentlemanly aspects of his character are brought to the fore. These are definitely not stagnant characters - they grow and change, make mistakes and adapt, and most importantly, they help one another. The working relationship between the two has evolved to be effective and natural - Books can more than count on Eliza to save him from danger as many times as he saves her.
Steampunk itself seems to be evolving to blend quite naturally with two other, less fantastical genres - mystery and romance. The Janus Affair does have more than a bit of both and handles each element quite admirably - as Books would say, with aplomb. I never felt that one was cheated at the expense of the other - never does any romantic entanglement supersede the plot, nor does the mystery overwhelm the sense of compatibility and chemistry between the Sherlockian main characters. I have to think that these two authors work together more cohesively than any other pairing I've yet come across - Tee Morris and Pip Ballantine complement each other naturally. Though a lot of steampunk novels have the secret organization paired with "agents" used to protect Old Blighty from the supernatural (Parasol Protectorate, Newbury & Hobbes Investigations) and solve paranormal crimes, co-authors Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris go to extremely awesome lengths to create a wholly enveloped and imagined alternate universe for their characters to play within. (They even have a ton of novellas - often by other authors - in the same universe with different characters! There are editions you can purchase, or as free podcasts.) Much like their imagined version of 1800's Britain, the steampunk machines and gadgets used by the cast are wholly original, fun and useful without becoming deux-ex-machinas. I especially liked that something from the first book was referenced and used as a slight part of the plot for the second (the "aethergates" anyone?) - it reinforces the feel that this version of England is an ongoing world, not just unconnected vignettes into random episodes.
The Janus Affair, simply put, is a book that has a lot to offer across a wide variety of areas. Original plotting, genuinely twisty and murky mysteries with a high body count, several strong female characters, amusing banter, original and highly creative use of steampunk and gadgets, veeery smart and fully capable antagonists, the slight but oh-so effective romance, double agents, explosions and more. As I said, the main events and plot of this book have been neatly and effectively wrapped up, but there are some few exceptions to the rule. I don't want to spoil anything from the novel because this really is a fun mystery to try and solve independently, but there are juicy, unresolved plot tendrils enough to ensure that readers from books one and two will want to read the planned third to figure out the Maestro's plans.
I bought the first book, Phoenix Rising, on sale for Nook for a $1.99 late last year and waited several months to dig in. (I guess I like to wait on my books before I read them? Sit on them like a dragon with its hoard, jealously guarding any potential enjoyment I might have when/if I start...? I have 100+ bought and waiting to be read...I'm crazy.) The publishers were generous enough to send me an ARC copy of The Janus Affair just in time for me to realize how much I was going to love this book, series, characters and how much I needed the sequel the second I finished book one. After the last 800 pages with Wellington Books (whom I always call "Boots" in my head before I realize) and Eliza, I can say that I will be buying my own physical copies of both these books because I love them that much. Hey now that I've finished book two, any chances of a draft of book three? Philippa? Tee? Anyone? Please? In the meantime, I'll have to go read the short stories and wait patiently for whatever these creative authors are cooking up for round number three.(less)
This entire review is going to get a lot SPOILERy, so stay away unless that's good with you!
Unfortunately, this is series that never quiiite panned out for me; I liked it but that is the sole extent of the feeling inspired by these books. I hesitated to start my ARC of the first book (for months...), but finally dove in and was mildly surprised by the complex worldbuilding and the original ideas that present amid an otherwise uneven debut. However, after my unexpected experience with The Traitor's Daughter, neither its direct sequel The Ruined City, or this, the trilogy's conclusion, lived up to the sheer awesome potential that a fantasy series based on a magical upheaval and zombie apocalypse could should have been. With the amount of and mix of genres and ideas that The Wanderers has within the four hundred page length, some plotlines/characters are inevitably neglected to the detriment of the overall impression of the novel and series. While I obviously walked away from this genre-blending series much less enthused than I'd hoped to be, I will definitely stay tuned to see what else this author comes up with in the future.
The tension and danger is supposed to be at its utmost level here, having theoretically built up a large confrontation between the Overmind and the humans/arcanists over the last two novels. But... no, not really. I never really felt the suspense build to anything credible, nor was I really impressed with the zombies (aka the "Wanderers" of the title), "plague-wraiths" and all else used to induce fear in the characters themselves. the narrative jumps around from story to story; from Jianna's mad (heroic!) plans to her father/uncle's expedition to the deteriorating city of Virtisi itself, supposedly illustrating the increased antagonism. The idea of the Overmind as an alien opponent is really a good one - the same with the alternating polarity of magic. Unfortunately, the execution of the threat of the Inhabitants/Pockets is somewhat lacking in retrospect (the Pockets, especially seem devoid of threat or malevolence). What Paula Brandon does well, really very well actually, is in the history and worldbuilding behind her medieval-ish Veiled Isles. Faerlonne is a vaguely recognizable as an homage to the Italian city-states of real-world Earth, but is an utterly original, conquered nation with its arcanists, humanoid amphibian slaves called Sishmindri. Each successive novel in the series does a more than considerable job advancing the knowledge about Faerlonne and Taerleez - something I greatly enjoyed.
Both the characters and dialogue are still very rudimentary and repetitive in the third novel. I was more forgiving of these in the first, but the weighted down dialogue, full of exposition, never really goes away and it gets old. While Jianna has grown and changed, it doesn't feel authentic. For example, she now supports the resistance and Faerlonnish freedom from their oppression but the idea of Sishmindri independence is abhorrent to her. Love interest Dr. Falaste Rione is still stereotypically perfect and for that unfortunate reason I can't buy into the romance between the two or in any chemistry between him and the young "maidenlady". The voice of each character can be stilted and wooden - the third person perspective feels appropriate especially when the book focuses in on the city storyline, but it does Jianna and Aureste themselves no favors. I first found Aureste to be a delightfully morally-grey and conflicted character with a murky personal history - over the course of the last two novels his characterization degenerated into a mindless and often oblivious bully. The same is true of the still now-unnecessary Yvenza, the secondary antagonist from The Traitor's Daughter. Since the end of that book she has drifted along in each sequel, serving no real purpose behind transparent plotting and scheming.
Aside from all that bitching above, my main issue with The Wanderers is just how easy and simple the resolution to every single plot line is. Seriously. There's no real struggle for the main characters. The final conflict between the beleaguered arcanists and the Overmind to "cleanse" the Source was utterly underwhelming and rushed - Aureste at least had a battle worthy of a zombie-apocalypse-novel finale, but I was very disappointed in just how lamely it was executed. Jianna and Falaste's ridiculous escape from prison also smacks of deux-ex-machinas or just "terribly convenient." I would've applauded the author if she had carried through, but there are other ways to rescue her doomed lovers than the laughable manner chosen here. For the hundreds and hundreds of pages (415 + 384 + 416 = 1215) accrued to reaching these final pages and epic "once every several generations" conflict, it simply wasn't the impact and fight promised. The only slight exception is Aureste, but from Nalio's easy escape (so everyone's cool with the fact that he was gong to let Jianna be executed when he could've stopped it? Yeah? Okay then...) to Onartino's less than exciting final appearance there was a certain lack of ooomph.
An uneven series that started out strongly and faltered more and more as it approached the end, there's still a lot of originality at play in the Veiled Isles trilogy. The Wanderers, especially, didn't quite manage to live up to my expectations, but Paula Brandon has proven herself to be an inventive new author with creativity to burn. In a genre where a lot of novels go for the same predictable fantasy tropes, Paula Brandon constantly tries for new ideas and angles, and even if they don't quite pan out, it's worth a try to venture into her fertile imagination. (less)
Lauren Oliver is a truly talented writer, be it in the young-adult field, or when writing for a younger...moreRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
Lauren Oliver is a truly talented writer, be it in the young-adult field, or when writing for a younger audience, like here in The Spindlers. I was impressed with Before I Fall, and I am even more so after reading this richly imaginative, darkly creepy, and thoroughly lovely middle-grade novel. I'm in my twenties and I loved every page - I can't imagine what this book would have meant to me had I read it when I was at the age of the intended audience. It's wonderful, magical, creepy adventure all about the power of love, family, hope, and believing in yourself. It's a quick read, but the beauty of Oliver's prose and her feisty main character Liza will leave a lasting impression long after the book is finished.
The Spindlers is a highly imaginative novel with echoes of some beloved favorites - Labyrinth (the abduction of a loved/hated younger brother), Alice in Wonderland (a hidden magical world Below filled with anthropomorphic animals), and Coraline (the dark, sinister aspect of a lot of what Liza uncovers.) Despite being vaguely reminiscent of those loved novels, Oliver's The Spindlers is a unique adventure filled with both wonder and magic. This charming tale of a young girl who uses stories and her vivid imagination to escape her tension-filled house (the casual hints of money problems at home - the overdue bills and shout-off notices, the broken plates and furniture, her mother's constant worry and pacing) is filled with creative new spins on monsters, what it means to be a friend, and the fun of seeing what weirdly beautiful creations Oliver can come up with next.
The illustrations are few - at least in the ARC edition that I was granted - but they are both lovely and easily capture the feel of what Oliver creates with her words. I fell in love with how this author writes because of this book. I loved Before I Fall but had some issues, but The Spindlers is truly engrossing and immersive, and a lot of that is down to how well Oliver can spin a tale. This fable-like story is imaginative, interesting, and above all, entirely fun and over too soon. I highly recommend this to anyone searching out a quick but moving read. My favorite quotes from the novel:
"The spindlers had gotten him: they had dropped down from the ceiling on their glistening webs of shadowed darkness and dropped their silken threads in his ear, and extracted is soul slowly, like a fisherman coaxing a trout from the water on a taut nylon fishing line. In its place they deposited their eggs; then they withdrew to their shadowed, dark corners and their underground lairs with his soul bound closely in silver thread."
"The world is a freak, she should have said. Everything that happens in it is strange and beautiful."
"This was what her parents did not understand - and had never understood - about stories. Liza told herself as though she was weaving and knotting an endless rope. Then, no matter how dark or terrible the pit she found herself in, she could pull herself out, inch by inch and hand over hand, on the long rope of stories."
"Liza stared at her. 'Impossible.' Mirabella swept her tail around her wrist and gave an imperious sniff. 'That is a human word,' she sad. 'And a very ugly one at that. We have no use for it Below.'"
"Liza felt she now knew many things she had not known yesterday. She knew, for example, that even rats could be beautiful, and hope grew from the smallest seeds, and sometimes there was great truth in made-up stories."
This is an absolutely wonderful middle grade novel, one that holds vast appeal for older readers no matter what their age. Lauren Oliver is a wonderful storyteller and she proves it once again here, with a unique way with words that can evoke pathos as easily as breathing. I was caught up in this story, anxious and excited to see what new ideas and creatures this able author would throw my way. From nids to troglods to the nocturni, this is a world alive with promise and horror, and all the more unique for it. (less)
There's a lot going on in those three-hundred-odd pages, the first-of-a-new-series by autho...moreRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
3.5 out of 5
There's a lot going on in those three-hundred-odd pages, the first-of-a-new-series by author C.J. Redwine. Defiance boasts a mix of several genres and subgenres, two decently flawed and interesting narrators and protagonists, and one of them a strongish female main character, as well as plenty of action and adventure to lure in readers and keep them invested. Like my other 3.5/5 ratings, I want to stress that I really enjoyed this, particularly after the rough beginning, but just thought it could have been better with a little time and finesse. As it is, there's a lot to enjoy about this easily read, fast-engrossing young-adult novel. Uneven pacing, character issues aside, I am pretty impressed with C.J. Redwine's debut novel, and think it will find a wide audience. Defiance, at its best, is an inventive, creative and unpredictable novel, and for me, that was enough to merit an somewhat enthusiastic review.
The setting of tyrant-controlled Baalboden and the destroyed world Rachel and Logan live in is both a strength and a weakness for Defiance. The interesting mix of fantasy with flightless dragons (or "the Cursed One") and the post-apocalyptic clues/vocabulary ("periodic table" "algorithms" "Pythagorean theorem") make this world seem like it's possible version of the real world rather than a pure-fantasy imaginary land. But sadly not enough detail or worldbuilding is provided to for readers to form a clear, believable picture of what lead to this apocalyptic scenario or the picture the current conditions that the characters live in. What we do know about it/Baalboden/the world before the Cursed One comes early in the novel, and then bare lip-service is paid to creating a plausible current situation as much more time and attention is given to Rachel and Logan's struggles against the Commander and their alternating inner monologues. This is a first in a series so I am sure more detail and concrete answers are on the way, but the omission and neglect of information often got in the way of my truly being involved in the story.
Much like the setting, Rachel is both a credit to and a flaw for Defiance. (It doesn't help that her "voice" and that of Logan's can read almost interchangeably for the majority of the novel.) She's presented as a strong, headstrong girl in a misogynistic, patriarchal world that misuses and mistreats its women so it's obviously very easy to root for her, but she's also careless, self-absorbed, and stubborn beyond belief. The respective backstories for both her and Logan are delivered somewhat clumsily in infodumpy dialogue, but Redwine outgrows that early on and it doesn't overshadow the the narrative for too long. I like flawed characters, I appreciate them much more than a perfect protagonist with no life or vivacity, but Rachel can sometimes be very frustrating to read because she is so determined to make her own way without telling anyone or trusting her family.
It's also frustrating for me that Rachel is literally the only girl in her walled city-state that can defend herself - it can make her bloodthirsty and dangerous personality look a bit inorganic for the novel and its setting. Surely Jared can't be the only parent who wants his daughter to able to defend herself in a world where a woman can be flogged to death for going outside without her "Protector"? That quibble aside, Rachel does eventually grow up and change for the better throughout the novel, so it's impossible to call her a one-dimensional character or even stagnant. I have high hopes for this character and her further characterization in the future books, as well as for fellow females Willow and Sylph to grow into more than just cardboard cutouts.
A strong-ish female protagonist, an interesting mix of fantasy and tech, dystopia and post-apocalyptic scenarios all make for a unique novel in the vein of The Hunger Games, etc. Fans who aren't too picky about their worldbuilding and detail with find much to enjoy here, especially those who enjoy bittersweet teenaged romance. The beginning is the roughest part to enjoy and get into, but once things start to gel together, it's easy to get lost in the story at the heart of the novel. (less)
After a bit of a slow start that was almost soap operatic in nature due to the sheer amount...moreRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
4.5 out of 5
After a bit of a slow start that was almost soap operatic in nature due to the sheer amount of secrets, lies, betrayals and affairs abounding, The Red Chamber impressed me with its scope and tragedy. Though I had anticipated an impending Tragedy with overtones of Old Timey Romantical Problems, this novel is far more than just love-triangles in powerful family. Based on one of China's Four Great Classical Novels, the 18th-century The Dream of the Red Chamber (also called The Story of the Stone) Chen's condensed version of the classic presents a more streamlined cast (down from 40 principle and 400 supporting to a much more manageable dozen or so main and limited background characters) and allows for more immediate impact from their respective edited storylines. I have not yet read the original version of The Dream of the Red Chamber, though I fully plan to now that I have devoured this in under a day, so I cannot honestly attest to the quality and breadth of this author's personal adaptation, but I can vouch for this novel's own uniquely compelling merits, of which there are many to enjoy. Historical fiction readers who enjoy convoluted family politics, strong and realistically flawed female protagonists set amid a backdrop of Imperial intrigue and maneuvering have found their next read right here.
If the author hadn't pared down the cast of characters invented by original author Cao Xueqin, each of the 40 main and 400 supporting wouldn't even get a page to themselves in this still-lengthy 400-page version. Clearly both the original author and Pauline Chen have a large scope and vision for their narrative and largely, it works. My few problems with The Red Chamber happened early and dissipated long before the end; the narrative jumps from character to character along a (seemingly) connected plotline, but there isn't much plot to be seen for the first 150 or so pages, and the characters themselves can come across as largely formulaic up to that point. Once the massive groundwork has been laid and personalities established, Chen really jumps into her novel. This seven-part novel is alive with a tangible, real feel for both its characters and its Qing setting and both benefit under the steady hand of this debut author. Condensing over 2000 pages into a compact 400 page version cannot be an easy task, but outside from the sluggish introduction, I have to think that Chen did a remarkable job making the story, especially one so intricate and convoluted, definitely hers while still managing to pay homage to the ideas, themes and plotlines that made the first, original edition so well-loved and widely-read across China.
I haven't read a ton of Chinese historical fiction, and the only one I've truly loved before this was Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. Happily the Manchu women shown in The Red Chamber don't undergo the tortuous footbinding I had to read about in Lisa See's novel, but their lives are just as constricted, regulated and predetermined as Lily and Snow Flower's golden toes ever were. This novel has a lot of main characters, but it is largely the women who take the cake; it is the women who save the Jia family over and over, usually with little to no thanks. Pauline Chen's cast of smart but very different women has several interesting parallels: Xifeng and Ping'ers friendship lost over love is mirrored in the storyline (and love-triangle) of Baochai, Daiyu and Baoyu. Each girl from either pair makes their decisions for love, for money, for security and Chen illustrates each at their best and their worst. It's easy to root for little Daiyu, to root for Xifeng in her canny awareness or to commiserate with Ping'er: though it takes a while to get there, this novel makes you care at least a little bit about its core group of flawed characters. As I said, there are several love-triangles present, and one of them is among three cousins, but keep in mind that this was written during the 1700s, when different social mores and ideas weren't thought of in the same way as in the modern age.
The third person omniscient POV used does -- thankfully -- keep The Red Chamber from the problem of too many individual, first-person POVs that so many other novels seem suffer from, but it also creates a bit of distance between the reader and some of the characters. I never connected or invested in Baochai, nor Lian, but perhaps that was point because both could be seen as obstacles in the way of happiness for other characters in the novel. Either way, this author takes time and care to present her characters as individual people, pulled by different wants and needs all tied neatly and permanently together due to family. Unifying themes of nostalgia, destiny help to pull all the overall plotlines of The Red Chamber back together for a solidly entertaining debut from this new author. (less)
After going through several (5 or more) steampunk novels last month I took a bit of a breather, only to...moreRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
After going through several (5 or more) steampunk novels last month I took a bit of a breather, only to be broken when I couldn't resist the synopsis for Cherry's first exploits and I am glad I did. Fun, easy and with a new outlook on alchemy and steampunkey (not to mention London!), Tarnished is a fun, entertaining read. The beginning novel of a new series blending steampunk, mystery and the paranormal, Karina Cooper delivers up the goods in her first outing of the Chronicles: a strong but likeable protagonist in Cherry St. Croix, handsome Earls with which to dally, Society drama to keep the intrigue high and the exploits hidden, the alluring and dangerous Micajah Hawke, and multiple unique and creative applications of steampunkery. In short, there is a lot of story, adventure and romance to be had here, and Karina Cooper makes the ride quite imaginative and original throughout. And, as an added bonus, you can pre-order this deceptively simple novel for only $4.99 for Nook! How can you resist that? Fans of Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series or Tee Morris and Pip Ballantine's Ministry of Pecular Occurrences novels might look to find their next fix between the pages of Tarnished.
A blend of several genres, it is the steampunk that stands to the fore here. Largely, that is due to the author's original conception of a lower and upper London -- one divided in half, with the rich and elite literally raised above, on steel stilts higher than the fog of the industrial, steam-powered "London below" of the less fortunate. ("The city above the drift glimmered and danced; a glittering dowager festooned with diamonds. Below, she was pocked and diseased, her skirts hanging torn and stained around her roughened knees." ARC, p.47) I love when authors actual use steampunk to be creative, rather than as drapery for a scene or as a simple deux-ex-machina (coughTheSteampunkChroniclescough), and happily for me, this is one such author. I really like the idea of London raised on stilts -- it's like a steampunk Venice, with air canals and sky gondolas as part and parcel of the whole shebang. The accompanying gadgets and gizmos dreamed up to operate in this imagined version of London perfectly complement Cherry's role as a collector, and the story at large. This bifurcated London is very different, wholly unique but one that still provides a familiar backdrop. Other imagined aspects of London that Cooper has created, like the Midnight Menagerie, only add the atmosphere prevalent throughout the entire novel. This is a dark, sexy mystery set in the perfect locale.
Cherry St. Croix leads a double life, and it is a complicated one. Or two. Colored and judged by Society's perceptions of her "mad doctor" father and the beautiful-but-dead mother she hardly remembers, Cherry must eke out a living (and cash for her addiction) by collecing bounties. While bounty-hunting may not be the most believable means of income for a young lady of society, it naturally leads Cherry to the seedy (and literal) underbelly of London and the main plot of Tarnished. Cherry's involvement in the subsequent events and mysteries of the lower classes felt natural and evolved organically; though she is torn between her two lives (and the men in them! I foresee a major love-triangle forming over the horizon for book two!), she can operate easily within either. It's easy to distinguish Cherry-the-lady from her alter-ego, as well as it is easy to feel a rapport with the character. Though it took me a while to fully get there, this spirited and intelligent character makes a favorable, lasting impression as a protagonist. I do feel a bit of apprehension with the definite possibility of love-triangles forming for Cherry in further novels (Micajah Hawke, Cornelius Kerrigan Compton) and hope the author has the aplomb to pull it off without spoiling the characterization developed so far for all characters involved.
A new spin on a lot of UF/steampunk favorites and tropes help to make Tarnished one of the more fun steampunk escapades I've read. With the events of book one mostly resolved and the few open plotlinese clearly extended toward a book two, I am eagerly awaiting more Midnight Menagerie (Hawke! I want more Hawke, definitely), more freakish alchemy and fresh interpretations of old ideas from this inventive author. I can't wait for book two.
Blehhhh. Review to come, but there's nothing new here. Same old story, same old characters. I'm sadly disappointed - this had the potential t...more2.5 stars
Blehhhh. Review to come, but there's nothing new here. Same old story, same old characters. I'm sadly disappointed - this had the potential to be like Interview With A Vampire, but, you, know, good. With introspection into the state of vampirism without being so blindingly boring.(less)
This was the perfect novel to bust me out of my bad book reading funk. The majority of last several boo...moreRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
This was the perfect novel to bust me out of my bad book reading funk. The majority of last several books I've read had been frustrating, time-consuming, and often, disappointing. Happily, that is far from the case with What's Left of Me. Though this debut novel is far from being free of all errors, Kat Zhang's first novel in the Hybrid Chronicles manages to be innovative, engrossing, unique, and affecting. I absolutely could not, and did not want to, put it down; this was another one-day read for me. With shades of The Golden Compass, Never Let Me Go and Unwind, all three of which are among my favorite-ever books, this novel is sure to entertain and engage, all the while making its rapt readers think. This is one of those rare YA novels that could, and does and will, hold a wide appeal for readers of different ages and genre preferences.
There's a lot to recommend about this novel. It's action-packed and also contemplative; it's filled with remarkable, highly individual characters and strong characterization; it's a fresh, innovative concept coupled with great storytelling. I love it wholeheartedly, even with its issues. The few things that missed with What's Left of Me only slightly detract from the overwhelming good about it. There are some sections that could use some tightening, some periods where the fluid pacing gets a bit stuck, but on the whole, this is a great book. One I would easily and happily push on my fellow bloggers, friends, and family. I felt that the ending was a bit rushed, with some key plot points left too vague and undetailed (the surgery, the tech, the drugs, etc.), but I was left with a unquenchable need for the second book as soon I as I metaphorically turned the last page.
The dystopian elements of the world shown are bare, and sketched in only slightly more as the story progresses, but I... didn't mind all that much. I often harp on worldbuilding, especially with fantasy and dystopian novels, and while What's Left of Me left some principle explanations missing in action, the characters and the plot of the novel more than made up for the lack. This is a solid, well-constructed novel and while the book's momentum hits a few snags as it moves quickly along, the emotion and relationship I had invested/built in Addie/Eva's struggle for life was more than enough to keep me fully engrossed. The other characters are almost uniformly remarkable and well-rounded, highly individual even in their twinned souls, but it was the two main characters that meant the most to me.
A few other quibbles: I found the main antagonist of the novel to be rather weak, and sadly one-dimensional in his presentation. I wished for more of a presence for him, felt that would have added more of a sense of tension to the atmosphere of the book, and for what he represented for the hybrids, but that never materialized. I also thought that the "twist" revealed at the end was a bit too open-ended and an obvious lead to buy the next book and it felt superfluous to the already-engaging plot of the novel. But like I said, these are minor complaints in the face of all the awesome shown and revealed here in What's Left of Me.
This is a great novel; entertaining and horrific at the same time. It's one that I will be buying a finished copy of as soon as it is available, because rereads of What's Left of Me are going to be necessary. I'm very impressed with Zhang's storytelling ability, as well as her obvious talent for innovative, creative plots and for crafting real, flawed, human characters. Read this book, especially if you're a fan of Unwind, Never Let Me Go and/or The Golden Compass -- for once the hype and the comparisons are dead on. I can't recommend this one highly enough.
Also: I have to note that the cover is completely perfect. Two people in one body? Creepy, awesome, eye-catching. This is not one to miss, for many reasons! (less)
I have to sit on this one for a bit, but one thing is clear: I do wish the characters, all of them, had been more individually defined. T...more3.75 out of 5
I have to sit on this one for a bit, but one thing is clear: I do wish the characters, all of them, had been more individually defined. The science at the heart of the novel is sound and detailed, but I was never wholly invested in The Testament of Jessie Lamb.
I love when books can surprise you. I had a general idea of what to expect with Karen Thompson Walker's...moreRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
I love when books can surprise you. I had a general idea of what to expect with Karen Thompson Walker's meandering, character and thought-driven novel about the end of the world, but I had no idea how bittersweetly she could spin this science fiction-adjacent tale of change, hope, young love, and death. I somehow assumed that this thoughtful exploration of the Earth's "slowing" would be a young-adult effort, but though protagonist and narrator Julia is a preteen, The Age of Miracles should not be confused for a simple young-adult story; don't be deceived as I was. Karen Thompson Walker proves herself more than adept at crafting a unique, easily-envisaged scenario in which for her characters to live or die here, and it is contemplatively engaging from the get-go. Though this is a debut author, there is clearly a lot of talent at play within this new author's fertile and expansive imagination — this is one novelist whom I will be sure to watch in the future.
I was struck by the author's writing within pages. Simple and spare, Walker and Julia are gifted with an easy but strong voice, alive with imagery. Walker has a gift for striking descriptions and a unique way with words, one easily lent to creating atmosphere and tension within the novel (from the ARC, page 8: "We did not sense at first the extra time, bulging from the smooth edge of each day like a tumor blooming beneath skin.") Her style fits this loosely apocalyptic story; the focus is not on the extreme events that happen as a result of the slowing (like "solar superstorms" or "gravity sickness"), nor in finding/explaining the cause for the change, but rather on the effects of the aforementioned on Julia and her family. As the world and the things taken for granted fluctuate and stretch, so too do the inner lives and previously unassailable facts of life for Julia, her father and mother.
Julia grows up, and into her role as narrator, quite fast in a world where "dark days" and "white nights" are the norm, and her character is neither stunted nor fully-dimensional. Hampered, perhaps, by the very short length of this novel (only 212 pages in ARC form), I never quite connected to Julia. I was curious about whether the cards would fall as I predicted, but I never fully invested in her as character. Like the particularly apt reference to the Gary Paulsen novel Hatchet and akin to its protagonist Brian, young Julia finds her way alone in an unfamiliar, and hostile world. I rooted for her in her suburban catastrophes; I just didn't love her. All the characters, from dad Joel to hippie Sylvia, feel sketched-out, rather than fully drawn and realized. Despite this, I was fully involved in the story unfolding throughout The Age of Miracles - the steady stream of new revelations, the twists and turns of the more mundane plotlines and above all, Thompson Walker's inimitable prose, kept my attention firmly affixed to the page.
Though quite short and not completely perfect, The Age of Miracles is a bittersweet and worthy addition to the science fiction/apocalyptic genre. Karen Thompson Walker's foray into writing is largely a success on many counts - it is original and compelling and distinctly written. It is, I hope, a pleasant harbinger of more to come from the debut novelist. I will definitely be tuning in as well as going forth and recommending this book for those seeking a slower-paced, more introspective take on the end of the world.
I am so disappointed. I had such a good streak going. Three, nearly four, months and eighty books into...moreRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
I am so disappointed. I had such a good streak going. Three, nearly four, months and eighty books into 2013, I'd only had one 1-star read before this. I started Taken with high hopes - that cover! that synopsis! - that quickly, and I mean QUICKLY, plummeted from "this is going to be good!" to "Oh, no..." to "To DNF or to not DNF?" to "I just want this to be over." Thankfully, my pain was rather short lived this time. Taken is three hundred odd pages, but there's so little depth to the world or the characters that it's a thankfully fast-moving read. In the end, I have to recognize that this was just a book that was not meant for me and abandon the series.
I knew thirteen pages into Taken that this was going to be a rocky road. My main and first issue was with the main character and narrator, Gray Weathersby. Erin Bowman can write an authentic male voice, but she utterly failed to create a likeable, or even interesting, one. Gray is a jerk, and Gray is rather short-sighted. He was awful, and he was where the cracks started to show. If you can get around Gray's 'tude, you will find Taken a more fun read than I did. I can see my way to loving some awful characters, anti-heroes (Jaime Lannister, anyone? I adore him. Don't judge me.) and even villains (Sepp dan Teufel is my favorite character from The Blade Itself trilogy, and he is a horrid, broken man). But they, unlike Gray, manage to be interesting, complex in their moral failings and errors. They are more than the worse of them. Alternatively, Gray is just a brat. With lifelong insecurity issues.
The other characters don't do much to take the heat and focus off of Gray's long list of shortcomings. Everyone in the book is so one-dimensional and flat. Emma, the *first* love interest, flipflops from one side of an idea to the other in pages. Her affection does the same, and her characterization is pretty much null. Blaine, the brother, is a Larry Stu, and thus practically perfect. There's no complexity or intricacy to the characters or their relationships with one another. It's alllll surface. I need more, and the book needs more - I need depth and real characterization to care about what's going on to the characters. Otherwise, I get bored and start counting down the pages til: a. everyone dies or b. the book ends.
I kept running into issues with the plot and the progression of the story as it went along. There are too many tropes (instalove! Love triangles!), cliches, and conveniences to be found in Taken. It's just too much to be believable. I have a great suspension of disbelief, but after a point, I just... can't. Gray's entire motivation and actions are too easy, and almost of the twists and conflicts he runs into end quickly, usually in a deux-ex-machina kind of way. The plotholes in the story also started to add up as more and more is revealed about the world Gray exists within. All of that adds up to more than I can buy into. And if I can't identify or relate or even care about the characters, if the plot falls apart with closer examination, and if it's a passionless, easy affair, I'm out.
Taken is a great idea that falters out of the gate with its muddled execution. The long and short of it is that a good, original and mysterious concept is not enough to carry a novel, especially one that's hundreds of pages. The novelty and curiously wear thin, and then out completely. The series will continue with books two and three, but I will not be reading to see how it all plays out. (less)
Confusing, weird and descriptive, I really have no idea what to make of this book. I'll have to ruminate on it before figuring out how to...more2.5 out of 5
Confusing, weird and descriptive, I really have no idea what to make of this book. I'll have to ruminate on it before figuring out how to word my review, how to describe the sheer oddness contained in this debut novel.(less)