Ari Berk's slowly plotted but excellently told tale of teenage Undertaker Silas Umber is a magical, enc...moreRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
Ari Berk's slowly plotted but excellently told tale of teenage Undertaker Silas Umber is a magical, enchanting, if occasionally macabre, tale - one I found hard to put down. The smooth, mellifluous flow of the writer's style eased me into an alternate world of revenants, lichs and ghosts in the necropolis of the book's setting, in the town of Lichport. I can't stress enough how much I enjoyed this quirky, individual young-adult novel with a supernatural bent. Death Watch may take a while to sink its clever claws into a reader, but once I began there was no turning back for me: I had to get as much time as I could with this strange but completely, morbidly fascinating tale and Silas himself. This is a heavy, almost haunting novel - mournful without being too much, but very readable. I went into this expecting perhaps a modern, male Sabriel (shepherd of the dead with unusual tools, dead/missing father, etc.), but Death Watch is a creature of its own making and name.
Silas is one the best parts of the entire endeavor, and a character quite dear to my heart. While his name is both a clever hint and a subtle foreshadowing of his death-centric life (Silas is veeeerry similar to "solace" and "umber" is a brown pigment, hinting at the dirt of the deceased), Silas isn't a creepy character at all: he's kind, quiet, disappointed, sad, lonely (sly mentions of invisible friends allude to the persistent loneliness of the young Umber's life) - all normal, understandable teen emotions. He's a well-developed character that's very aware of words and the power they can have, and as an empathetic young man in a house of brutes or drunks he stands out as the only likable main character in the whole novel. I found Silas' reaction to his father's mysterious disappearance and his mother's complete indifference in response to be wholly compelling and added a nice familial conflict to add in to the more supernatural elements in Silas' life. I also very much enjoyed the arc of Silas development while in Lichport: from a passive but angry young man, he evolves into one of my favorite male protagonists of the recent past.
Silas's job as the Undertaker of Lichport remains vague for the most part of the first half of the novel. I was very curious about this and the role the dead were to have in Berk's tale - fearful he'd veer into caricature or horror - but my fears were unfounded. The role of the Hadean Clock, or Silas's tool to see the ghosts the Death Watch itself, played a minor if very vital role. After so mant paranormal/supernatural reads I loved that the focus of the novel was on Silas himself rather than his "magic" or his Watch. While I found the repeated and varied ominous warning anf fear of the "mist ship" to be less than effective for creating suspense, other characters more than made up for the lack (coughCharlescough) that the supernatural failed to bring. What did more than add to the general atmosphere and the feel of history of the story/family were the notes/addendums/quotes taken from previous Undertaker's collection of knowledge. These little bits and pieces of scattered information did a lot to sate my ever-growing curiosity about the Undertakers, but did not give away too much detail to spoil the story. The supernatural elements the author does choose to include within his mythology all work together marvelously with the mundane, humane aspects to create a very fun novel for readers of any age.
I did wish for a more developed cast of background character in the case of Silas's mother, the very off-putting Dolores Umber. Silas has a strained relationship with his gin-happy mother, but Dolores is painted only one color for the whole novel: black of heart. She is never shown to have a heart or even care for her son and I felt that "disappointed in her life" was a lame and quick sop to explain her extreme apathy for her husband and their child. The slightly Hamlet vibe between Dolores and Silas's Uncle (aka Dolores' brother-in-law) is just plain creepy and did more to establish "Uncle's" character than anything else said about him. The third-person perspective used by Ari Berk is done quite well: equal light, both favorable and disfavorable, is shone upon all the characters of the novel. I just wished for a more believable motivation behind Dolores' actions and vitriol. Her bitter, typical woman-done-wrong routine seemed out-of-tune with the otherwise (mostly) superbly plotted novel. The other periphery characters of the novel - the friendly but dense Mrs. Bowe, the question of Bea - add more flavor and mystery to the novel, but none were what I would call fully-rounded and developed characters. In a novel with so much prose dedicated just about the importance of the past, of ancestors and history, I found Silas's extended family to come up a tad wanting.
While I loved the style, the voice and the characters I did have issues with the plot-lines central to the story. From the initial and almost McGuffin-esque disappearance of Amos Umber to the mysterious ghost ship to the creepy Bea, nothing felt wholly explained or even thought-out by the end of the book. Bea in particular seemed quite unnecessary and like filler for the alternate plots within the story - I would have rather more time with search, in Uncle's house, etc. These essential plot-lines also tended to get lost in the story and the details in Silas's explorations of the town and probably didn't help later on when the novelty itself flagged and I got slightly bored. The mist ship, source of so much worry and fear for 500 pages was a complete let-down and a bust. Its end was sadly all-too-predictable and lessened my overall opinion of Death Watch for it felt out of tune with the rest of such an atmospheric and affecting read. It also doesn't help that it takes quite a while (nearly 250 pages in the 540 page tome) to get any kind of real explanation of basic principles of the world/the magic/the Undertaker job itself.
Another love of mine throughout the pages of Death Watch was the town of Lichport itself. With such an obvious harbinger for a name, I loved the random but delightful flares of supernaturality in the town. From "the Restless" (basically a reanimated corpse/lich) to angry and unsettled ghosts, Lichport is a field of deadly imagination.While I thought Silas explorations of the misthomes/shadowlands fell way short of its potential for awesome. Instead of showcasing the individuality and flair of the nearly-dead town, it was an extended yawn for me after about page 350 until just about 100 pages later. I will admit to chuckling at the sailor's club line about their wives, but one quip does not save 100 pages of meandering novel. It is very impressive that the rest of Ari Berk's novel is strong enough to carry a 4 star rating, even with that 100 pages of yawns. Also: Mrs. Bowe's ridiculous reticence to tell Silas ANYTHING! made me very frustrated and cranky with her character. That also was a situation drawn out too-long and made both Mrs. Bowe and Silas act in ways contradictory to their personalities.
I love love LOVED the author's unique way with words. Ari Berk can write, make no mistake. While I might have minor issues with select parts of the novel, I cannot deny I was repeatedly struck by a passage of a quote in the middle of a page, a paragraph. I know quoting from ARCs is supposed to be a big no-no, but this is a perfect illustration of why I adored the reading experience itself:
"The day his dad didn't come home, it was like a huge window over their heads had shattered, and every day they were walking through the broken pieces. Nothing fit together. Nothing made sense or seemed connected to anything else, and every step hurt."
This is an author that doesn't delve into purple prose or overdone phrases laced with unnecessary adjectives and adverbs: his is a style of simple lyricism and ease, with a vivid picture easily attached. I loved the frequent descriptionary verbosity as it built a vivid and compelling frame for his characters, but I can see why some readers may be put off by his intensely wordy writing, in addition to the slower pace of the novel. This is certainly not for everyone and I will understand most complaints a reader could have for this story, but for me, this was a wonderful read that left me more than eager for its sequel. Death Watch is best summed up as: a compelling, morbid, weirdly fascinating tale of Wailing Women, Peller-Men, families of mutes, ghosts, lichs, revenants and a great hero, all told in unique and fresh stylings of Mr. Ari Berk.(less)
Though I've read novels entirely in verse before - David Levithan's The Realm of Possibility is a particular favorite of mine - Triangles just did no...moreThough I've read novels entirely in verse before - David Levithan's The Realm of Possibility is a particular favorite of mine - Triangles just did not work for me. I couldn't connect or care about these characters from their verse, nor could I even gain a satisfactory grip on the overarching plot. No rating from me because I failed to even reach page 200 out of this 544 page novel. (less)
No rating because I simply couldn't finish this. I can usually enjoy (and legitimately looove) young-adult novels, but this came across as much younge...moreNo rating because I simply couldn't finish this. I can usually enjoy (and legitimately looove) young-adult novels, but this came across as much younger. I think kids from about the age of 10-14 would enjoy this. It was far too dramatic, simplistic and superficial; just not a novel for me. (less)
Oh man, did I have fun with this book. A teenage girl vampire with a conscience? A vampire stabbed thro...moreRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
Oh man, did I have fun with this book. A teenage girl vampire with a conscience? A vampire stabbed through the heart by a unicorn's horn to gain said conscience? Yeah - I admit I was sold by the premise alone. Far too many authors take their vampires/werewolves/superantural/paranormal creatures far too seriously, and Ms. Durst's snarkily humorous take on the monster was fresh and above all, fun. Somewhere between the characters themselves and the randomly frequent snarky/snide allusions to Twilight, I found myself having more fun with a vampire story than I have for quite a long time.
In this very complete world of Ms. Durst's, vampires are both born or made from humans. Pearl is a born vampire, meaning she's never been human, never been in the sunlight, and never had a conscience. Durst stays true to the most original interpretation of the nightwalking bloodsuckers: they're sensitive to Holy Water, repelled by garlic, flammable when exposed to the sun and they do not sparkle. Hunters in every sense of the word, Pearl's Family is a powerful clan aiming to increase their sway through the upcoming Fealty Ceremony. Since the type of vampires in this novel can be born not just made("turned" is the vocabulary here), the induction into a full-fledged vampiress is an important one; indeed, one that the powerful and bloodthirsty King of New England vampires will be present for, and observe closely.
Pearl, the before mentioned young female vampire, within the first chapter is stabbed through the heart by a unicorn. This supposedly mythical creature's actions start to change Pearl from the typical prototype vampire. She feels emotions, guilt even, and thus is the only one of her kind to do so. By a fortuitous disaster, Pearl also learns she is the first "daywalker" of her kind: the stabbing the caused her consicence to grow also allows her where no other vampire can go. Thus the young Pearl is selected to "hunt" in the high schools in order to provide a feast for the hundreds of vampires planning to descend on her town for the Fealty Ceremony. Underneath this immense pressure, Pearl emerges as a believable teenager; one I grew warmer to (ha) the longer she remained in the sunlight. I really enjoyed Pearl and reading from her perspective: not too whiny, not too boy crazy and just the right amount of bad-ass, ass-kicking female. Pearl is by far the highlight of the novel: both my favorite character and consistently the most interesting person on the page. I want to read more stories about Pearl now.
The characters besides Pearl were also mostly enjoyable, personable and vivid. From wannabe vampire hunters cum comedic duo, Matt and Zeke could be counted on to make me snort with laughter each time they appeared. Bethany, though perhaps a bit too wide-eyed to be entirely real, was a nice counterpoint for Pearl's harsher attitude and perspective. Evan, the love interest, manages to stir up real chemistry with Pearl while maintaining an aura of mystery and keeping his distance. He remains a separate character; one not dependent on Pearl. Once again, I cannot impress upon you how HAPPY it makes me when a real relationship is charted, and matures through the novel. Pearl and Evan don't immediately "fall in love forevaa!!" nor spend three hundred pages pining for one another. It's a nice change from some YA paranormal stories.
The interesting set-up, the time-limit and unique proclivities of Pearl make the pace of this novel fly by. It's one of those books a reader picks up to peruse for a minute and is immediately lost within. It may drag on a bit long (in my opinion) after Pearl gains her conscience and before the King arrives, but that is a minor quibble. The secret "twist" about the unicorn was also a bit heavy-handed and obvious but far from the worst offender I've come across in that regard. Ms. Durst has crafted a very-well planned and thought-out alternate universe in which her characters can play; from new ideas on the prevalent-in-literature vampirism ("blood heists", "blood drunk" and of course the crucial, plot essential "Fealty Ceremony") to amusing and rarely used mythical creatures (when's the last time you read about a unicorn in fiction?) this is a novel that should be read and enjoyed by many people. I highly enjoyed this novel, and I think it will find love from a widely varied audience.
If you see it on a bookshelf in your near future, buy it, read it, love it.(less)
Though not nearly as hair-pullingly irritating as its predecessor The Red Queen, (which irritated me so...moreRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
Though not nearly as hair-pullingly irritating as its predecessor The Red Queen, (which irritated me so much I didn't even review it. Who wants to read four+ paragraphs of "UGH" and "WHY DOES SHE DO THIS!" and "Shouldn't Margaret of Anjou be the Red Queen NOT Margaret Beaufort?") The Lady of the Rivers has its fair share of problems. This time the story follows Jacquetta of Luxembourg, Dowager Duchess of Bedford, historically remembered most as the mother of Elizabeth Woodville, the wife of King Edward IV of England. This novel has an additional focus on witchcraft/charms/herbs that the previous novels lack (exception: The Queen's Fool [Tudor Series #4] has a supernatural element for the main character as well, but less hackneyed and also less of a deux ex machina) - and a move I cannot fully support. Using the legend of the mermaid-like Melusine/a as an ancestor to Jacquetta's House (a "fact" which was repeated ad nauseam - one reviewer was keeping a count of mentions and I stopped paying attention after #20) to justify this fantastical element, Jacquetta is shown to be quite adept as well as having considerable powers. I felt that reducing Jacquetta's hard-won influence and knowledge to a charlatan-like propensity to "read the cards" did the character a serious disservice. If the author wants to write a strong, determined historical fiction about a woman in the 1500s - by all means do so! But don't reduce her accomplishments and feats by flavoring the success with "magic". I also was out off by some inconsistencies within the novel (I am not even touching historical inaccuracies) such as Richard being referred to as a squire, a knight, and then a squire once more without any mention as to a knighting ceremony or why he would've been reduced to the status of a squire after achieving knighthood.
Self-important and strident, Jacquetta is not the typical woman of her times (the novel begins in 1430) and the message that she, and strong, commanding women like her, are not welcome and face death for their knowledge. Gregory uses several famous women to illustrate this point - repeatedly - throughout the novel. Joan of Arc(!), Duchess Eleanor of Gloucester, and the even the proud Cecily Neville are all brought low before her eyes, seemingly just to teach Jacquetta caution. I can't say I cared too much for this version of Jacquetta, though I did warm to her particularly in the last fifty pages of the book. She rarely demonstrates a feeling or idea, most of this entire novel is "told" rather than shown. Having married her first husband's squire (Robert Woodville) for love, I found a sad lack of chemistry between the two. Example: how do I know Jacquetta loves Richard? She says she does. That's it, that's all; no real emotion or demonstrances of genuine affection. Stiff and awkward dialog along with clunky exposition do the two lovers no favors either. The first-person perspective was well-used, and Gregory even manages to show a battle scene without randomly/abruptly changing perspective and locales. It also helps that Jacquetta, though often annoying and slightly ridiculous is far easier to read than Margaret Beaufort's cold arrogance in The Red Queen.
Gregory does a fine job with the atmosphere of the story, as she usually does. There's a decent amount of tension constantly teeming around Jacquetta: her witchcraft/magic abilities, her illegal marriage, her husband is far sent away (again and again), birthing 16 (!!!!) children, running from battles, her fear of persecution, etc. For all my complaints, I will say that this is far from a staid novel; the kickoff to the War of Roses is excellent fodder for suspense and ridiculous amounts of tension between royal houses. The frequent and bloody battle scenes add much to the feel of the novel, creating a dark and foreboding air. Intrigue among the court is what Gregory does best and the novel succeeds the most when it is within the confines of the scheming court. While the writing itself can be stiff and overly formal, I noticed less and less over the book. Whether it's because the quality of the writing itself improved or I adjusted to Gregory's "style" is up for debate. I do find the random jumps in the chronology (a year here, three years there) to be very distracting from the flow of the narrative and also FULL of info-dumping. Short, very pointed chapters explain away the missing years but left me feeling very dissatisfied. For instance after Jacquetta marries Robert without permission (a rather big no-no for a Duchess), the story completely skips over the intervening years of poverty and struggle and instead flashes forward to when the newlyweds are re-welcomed at Court. I felt slightly cheated by this particular jump; Jacquetta struggling to earn a living versus the entitled pampered life she led before would have provided a nice dichotomy between the lifestyles of the rich and the poor of England.
A novel that both entertains and irritates, Gregory uses a lot of the same "tricks" that so many deride her over. There is the constant repetition of names with titles, of past accomplishments, who is related to whom... as if she has no faith in her readership to tell characters apart. Added to explanations of "why" and "how" people do things instead of showing them, Gregory can be frustrating to read. I know it's frowned upon to quote from an ARC but this passage exemplifies many readers issues with Gregory:
"'Edmund Beaufort Duke of Somerset...'
'You mean Edmund Beaufort Duke of Somerset? The man who lost us Normandy [...] but for the King's unswerving belief in his kinsman and the Queen's misplaced affection...
'I'll be commanded by the man who gave away Normandy. '"
Instead of just using "Edmund" or "Beaufort" or even "Somerset", the man's name has to be supplied twice, along with his title and his most recent accomplishment in the novel. Furthermore, the author even explains why the Duke is so beloved instead of showing so and trusting her readers to pick up on the plotline. Gregory clearly buys into the "Somerset + Margaret of Anjou = Edward, Prince of Wales" theory so why not try to SHOW such instead of having a character narrate the information? I understand this is a historical fiction, so dates/events might get mixed around and changed but underestimating your readers to the point you have to hammer in every title, every detail is insulting.
The ending felt, to me, rather abrupt and uneven. The finale of this novel transitions to the very beginning of The White Queen: with Jacquetta's beautiful daughter Elizabeth Woodville standing by the road looking to enchant King Edward IV. I had hoped for more time with Jacquetta. I would've preferred less focus on the early years in order to see what Gregory would do with this character later on in the century; I was much more interested in what would happen after the Rivers family switched from Lancaster to the York side. I also wonder why this novel was published third, when it would make the most sense to read first in the series. Not only is it chronologically first,but it is a stronger effort than The Red Queen or The White Queen. I think I may be running out of time and affection for Ms. Gregory. I loved her Tudor novels when I first read them sixish years ago (though I'd probably not in a re-read now) but this series has so far done little to make me fall in love. With such a drama-filled, absolutely interesting and dynamic era, I can't help but feel there should be more substance and less drama/dresses to The Lady in the Rivers. (less)
First-person perspective young-adult novels and I have a tricky but pretty reliable relationship etched...moreRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
First-person perspective young-adult novels and I have a tricky but pretty reliable relationship etched out: if they are handled well and maturely I can legitimately love them, but if the author doesn't have the panache to pass their voice as a believable teen it's a lost cause with no hope. Happily for me, Jessica Martinez shines in her debut novel in the voice, mind and world of Carmen Bianchi, world-class violinist. Believable without trying too hard, without sounding too-mature for her years, Carmen is a great character in a more-than-good-but-not-great novel. Carmen shines in this vehicle, elevating a somewhat overused general plot, infusing it with personality and vitality. This is definitely a case of a character making the book better than it should be, on its own.
Carmen is a great character because she's real and grounded. She's anal, insecure, sarcastic, funny, kind and a complete pushover. I liked the multi-faceted and even conflicting aspects of her personality: by no means is this "Medusa-haired" heroine a Mary Sue. Like many teen girls, she constantly searches for approval, to be thought "normal" - usual teen emotions that keep her relatable amid the Grammys, and $1.2 million dollar instruments. She's unabashedly great at said violin as well: winner of a Grammy and world acclaim, she should be arrogant, cocky. . . but she remains herself throughout. I did find a couple of her actions to be pretty annoying and downright silly (her assumptions about Jeremy's email are immediate and judgmental) but I don't have to love everything the character does to love the character herself. She's just so human in an outrageous, extremely pressured position. Under ridiculous strain of her stage-mom's expectations and transferred dreams, Carmen has little to no control over her life. Day-to-day or even what her dreams are is dictated by her mother with "an iron fist with a french manicure." Carmen, sadly, though world-class and immensely talented, never plays for herself or her own pleasure. She plays for her mother to vicariously live a failed career, for a teacher to extend his own impact on the musical world and that is sadly representative for Carmen's entire life. As music is so personal with an almost tangible impact upon Carmen, it's incredibly easy to commiserate and mourn with her as her joy in violin is turned into something else.
Other characters sadly lack the vivacity and life of Carmen. Her taciturn Ukrainian teacher Yuri is particularly easy to visualize but lacks any dimensions or personality outside of "gruff old man." I found Carmen's mother, always referred by Carmen with her given name of Diana (which I also very telling of their relationship) to be a depressingly one-dimensional antagonist. She seems to have no love or empathy in her for her daughter or her largely unseen husband Clark - focusely solely on her daughter's career as a surrogate for her curtailed one earlier. Diana's motivations for pushing Carmen would be much more understandable, even palatable, if they were for Carmen (wanting her to be happy, great at what she loves, follow her dreams) instead of trying to mold her into Diana II. Jeremy King, he of the not-so-subtle-last-name also failed to impress me the first half of the novel. Though I didn't jump on Carmen's hate bandwagon he makes a pretty bad, then pretty bland impression. I never saw his supposedly irresistible charisma - hell, I barely saw any personality from him! He was more of a drain on Carmen than a support, in my opinion, and I would've liked a nicer, kinder character infinitely better. He's supposedly Carmen's love interest I didn't really feel the chemistry between the two until they were pretty much de facto paired up. They truly work together and the novel is most evoactive when either Jeremy or Carmen play the violin. The descriptions and personal reactions to music are beyond compare in this novel: they stand as my favorite parts of the entire book.
The finale of the novel took me by surprise, while being absolutely fulfilling. Not the big reveal/betrayal, but the action stemming from the event. Carmen took me by complete surprise, but did what ultimately feels right for her. Regardless of how you feel about her decision, at least this time, for once, it was HER decision. Not her mother's, not Yuri's, not the doctor's and not even Jeremy's. . . purely and wholly Carmen. The ending is rather open-ended for a conclusion to a standalone novel, but I loved how the author left it. The world seems limitless, with anything possible for Carmen.(less)
This was actually a mistake of mine: I downloaded Ms. Haddix's novel clearly aimed at young-adult/middl...moreRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
This was actually a mistake of mine: I downloaded Ms. Haddix's novel clearly aimed at young-adult/middle-grade novel while attempting to receive another galley. Once it was downloaded and I read the short blurb about a never-ending war with no known cause, I was interested enough to give it a try and it made for two hours of enjoyable reading. Though by no great shakes a complicated or dense novel, The Always War is action-packed, fast-paced adventure that (much) younger readers will have a great time reading. It is quite simple and thus incredibly easy to read but no less adventuresome or intriguing for its youth and simplicity. Accordingly, some of the solutions/twists Haddix offers up for her novel can be predictable and almost deux-ex-machinas, but it's easily glossed over in favor of the age group this particular novel is geared towards.
Tessa is not the most developed of characters, but since this a novel aimed at kids half my age at the most, it's easy to forgive. She's a kind, selfless girl; the kind who sees hope in a down-beaten, war-weary and repressed Eastam. This is a girl that finds beauty in a n ethereal spiderweb; a girl who won't give up. In a country that has been at war with the enemy nation of Westam for over seventy-five years, Tessa aspires to more: to be more, to do more. In a world where entering the military makes your family elite, Tessa has to struggle with the knowledge that her life will never, ever improve. Stuck in an endless cycle of school and then work, Tessa and her eagerness are easy to understand. Even her adoration of her former neighbor Gideon is understandable: in a world where war is the answer, those who kill the most are the "heroes."
Gideon, the aforementioned hero, provides a nice change from Tessa's wide-eyed dreams. While I did find the ages of all the characters to be unsettlingly and unbelievably young (Gideon is only a teenager), I doubt younger readers will have the same issues. Gideon himself is a self-tormented young man who cannot forgive himself for dropping a bomb on over 1,000 people. The only one in Eastam bothered by what he did, Gideon considers himself a murderer, a coward, a killer. While he seems to have just the right set of skills to do what he needs to, I liked Gideon's decisiveness. I didn't like his interactions with Tessa very much (I like harmonic characters rather than bickering ones) it was an accurate representation of what I think a young man would do in his situation(s). The other main character, that of Dekaterina Pratel aka "Dek", both worked for an undermined the story of The Always War. While I did find her alternatively amusing and annoying, it is completely unrealistic that this 8/9 year old would know how to disable and fly a plane ON HER OWN. It's just too much: I understand Haddix wanted this to be a novel of just youngins saving the world, but Dek is so far out there it throws off the novel. I appreciated that she grounded Tessa's optimism/dreaming with blunt honesty and that she was mature enough to not let Gideon wallow in self-pity: surely she could've been aged at 13-14 for a better representation of the character?
I did like what little the author did to establish the setting. I'm BIG on setting: place-as-character goes a long way for a novel when it's done well. Unfortunately, Haddix barely sketches out a locale for her players to operate within. Just the essential enemies "Eastam" (formerly Eastern America) and "Westam" (Western America) are supplied, along with random mentions of former landmarks. I certainly wished for much more atmosphere, but I will admit I got a chuckle of the "Santl Arch" the three adolescents use to acclimate themselves. Those less-than-subtle allusions to the modern-day United States make the war in novel even more personal and extremely relatable to a modern audience itself going through a seemingly endless War on Terrorism. I definitely recommend this to a younger audience than myself: I think ages 10-14 will love Tessa, and Dek's attitude and Gideon's plight will affect them much more than it did me. I did enjoy the final twist Ms. Haddix pulled for the war/countries: a satisfying conclusion to an enjoyable novel. (less)
The Pledge was a struggle for me to read through, in several ways over several days. For all that I enj...moreRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
The Pledge was a struggle for me to read through, in several ways over several days. For all that I enjoyed the story while I was caught up in it and reading, once I'd set it down for the day, there would be a definite lull before I felt the urge to pick up the novel once again. I just expected more from this author and this novel, if I am being honest, for in several aspects Ms. Derting's world is a shallow reflection of the possibilities for the story. With the world rigidly segregated by class and by speech and led by a maniacal body-jumping Queen, The Pledge definitely has a fresh and unique spin on the current and oh-so-popular dystopian trend for young-adult novels going for it. And I personally found The Pledge not to be wholly a dystopic young-adult novel: the fantasy/magical elements are strong and a central part of both the novel and the characters themselves.
The first area I was slightly disappointed in were the characters. For me, nearly 100% of these characters fell entirely flat. I felt like the third person omniscient point of view used for the Queen/Max/etc. did me no favors either: I had a difficult time investing in the story from such a removed perspective on the characters. The only first person narrative was for the main character and I disliked the shifts between - very disconcerting to read. Charlaina, the almost milquetoast heroine, never inspired true sympathy with me and her irritating insta!love situation with OBVIOUS love-interest Max did her no favors either. She never stood out to me: I didn't get (that) irritated with her, I didn't love her, I didn't want to hang out with her - my typical associations and categories for female leads. She's kind and unselfish, yes, but where's the personality? The vim, the pop, the individuality? Charlie was largely no different from a thousand other young-adult novel protagonists, and it felt like a chance wasted. The only stand-out about her is her hidden talent with languages, and her relationship with her mute little sister. Charlie's two best friends - Aron and Brooklynn - also fall victim to this same lack of dimension, Aron in particular. Brooklynn, the carefree and careless boy-crazy sexpot, gets the benefit of a nicely-done plot twist to flesh her out more, but Aron remains the same cardboard cut-out for the duration.
Now, for another of my letdowns for The Pledge, the love-interest Maxmillian. I either wanted to kill him half the time, and spent the other 50% of his screen-time just trying to figure out the motivation of the character could possibly be. He's a trope-ish and cliched dark-haired mystery man with a hidden agenda who is inexplicable drawn to Charlie. I'm really, really weary of the whole overdone and lazy excuse of the"inexplicably drawn" line for young-adult romances: is it too much to ask for two characters to meet as friends and then gradually segue into a mature, believable relationship? Apparently, yes yes it is as I could never discern the reason why Max became so quickly and vociferously attached to young Ms. Hart. I felt very little chemistry between Charlie and Max as well. No pop, no sizzle and no line of dialogue really convinced me that these two were supposed to be with one another. I guess I liked them both well enough, but together they did not shoot sparks together. I honestly like them both on their own, independent - but that's probably my knee-jerk reaction to their oh-so-special instalove.
As stated earlier, I felt Ms. Derting's worldbuilding left a lot. to be desired, for me personally. Her world is set in a time described only as, "After the Revolution of the Sovereigns" but hardly any details about what that event/war was about are ever provided. Even in the present day of the novel, with the Queen facing even more rebellions, etc., no more details are provided for why the country is the way it is. It just bothered me from the outset - Icrave a well-rounded novel with a vibrant setting always. Barely sketched outlines seem to set the foundation of the country of Ludania, and I craved more setting, more substance for the locale/Kingdom/city themselves. The little details of life in Ludania are sometimes supplied: there are normal-ish pasttimes that readers can identify with: dancing, illegal drinking/drugging) to tie along with the more outlandish (read: magical) elements. I just missed the bigger picture details that Ms. Derting failed to include. Her country of Ludania never comes to life, never seems or feels like a real place to the reader and that is a shame. "The Pledge" from which the novel takes its name/series takes its name, is the required daily obeisance each person of the country must person as well as a reminder of their respective places in society - only the Queen is worth saving, protecting and pledging.
I did love the language/communicative aspect for the novel. Sadly, Derting didn't go so far as to truly create and vocabularize the three languages of Ludania (Termani - the language of the elite/nobility, Parshon - the Vendor/serving class language and lastly Englaise - universal) - that we know so far - but relied on italics to stress the different languages. Derting does an adequate job of using words to isolate her classes/characters: this is a country of no trust and little love, where fathers turn in daughters and sons turn in mothers to the secret police. I liked some stuff from the novel well enough (words are power/distinction, matrilineal descent, but there was never enough detail or information for me to really feel completely satisfied with the story. It just felt half-done, or half-plotted out at points (Sydney? What as the point of her addition to the story? Xander - why did he turn? Why did "she" let him? No reasons provided!) and incomplete.
I also felt vaguely disappointed by the ending. It felt sadly lackluster and almost dull after the 300 page build-up of raids, bombs, shelters, secret police, secret deadly abilities. . . but, if anything, this is the most forgivable of my problems with this novel - for there are to be two more sequels. If Ms. Derting doesn't fill in some holes, answer some questions, provide some information on her world's past/current situation, I'm going to be a very disgruntled reader. After all that, why is this still a 3.5 out of 5 stars? I did fully enjoy the style of the novel itself - Ms. Derting is a more than able wordsmith and I hope her next effort doesn't founder in the other aspects of her writing. It's also a fast-paced action novel, and I found the varied advenures kept me reading when the characters failed to do so. I will continue reading this series to find out what happens - and to see if Max, Charlie, Brooklynn and Angelina grow on me a bit more. (less)
Legacy is sadly one of those books I wanted to like more than I actually liked in the end. Legacy can be, and very often is, dry, slightly...more2.5 out of 5
Legacy is sadly one of those books I wanted to like more than I actually liked in the end. Legacy can be, and very often is, dry, slightly boring and stilted in its execution. With so much of the novel reminiscent of other novels like the boarding school a la Harry Potter, Strange Angels, Vampire Academy, Hex Hall, etc., or the two love interests that have to be kept apart for someone's safety a la Twilight, The Clann or really almost every vampire young-adult novel ever, it is quite hard for Legacy to make a unique impression that is entirely its own. It's a sad echo of more action-filled and invigorating reads that populate this kind of novel. Though it merits only a 2.5 out of 5 stars for me, I did manage find some worthwhile aspects to this long young-adult novel about witches and evil in New England. I wish that there was more to recommend this supernatural tale from a veteran author, but I was disappointed and bored by this read. It was one of those books you finish out of endurance, rather than a genuine desire to conclude the story.
Serenity Katherine "Katy" Jessup Ainsworth is, like many teen protagonist in the paranormal YA genre, isolated, lonely, abandoned in a strange place and possessing strange powers that shouldn't exist. There's sadly not much to distinguish Katy from her peers of the genre. She's sadly cliched in many of her personality/abilities, and fails to truly connect with the reader. There's also so many pointed remarks about her "creepy" or "snake" eyes but no real reason is provided for entirely too long, so every ensuing remark drove me batty. Added to her already full closet of cliches and tropes is her Mysterious Dead Mom - another easy plot structure that Legacy falls prey to. I was supposed to feel for Katy, as she was just abandoned by her unfeeling, remote father 1500 miles from her Floridian home, but I just.. didn't. Her isolation and loneliness are extreme and I didn't buy into the student body's treatment of her, both pre- and post-Peter. I wasn't a fan of how her relationship with love interest Peter matured either: there were far too many rapid-fire shifts in emotion and status between the two of them to be believable.
Legacy is quite slow-moving for the bulk of the narrative. Not much happens in the small town of Whitfield, nor in Ainsworth School besides teenage hazing and Katy's pining for a boy she hardly knows. I wish that Legacy had been less predictable: the easy-to guess plot twists combined with the slower pace for the non-events did not do the story any favors. I found the romance of Peter and Katy to be pedantic and predictable as well: from this initial hatred to her unfounded fascination with him, I called it all. I absolutely hated the presentation of the student body within the boarding school: even the non-magical (the "cowen" in this novel's particular vernacular) are ridiculously and stupidly bigoted against Katy from the day of her arrival. Yes, the outcast role in a novel is popular because so many of today's teens can relate and identify closely with just such a character, but it was just ridiculously overdone here. These kids really were like cows: they hate Katy when Peter does and love her when he abruptly switches to the other side and loves her.
No rating because I could tell by page 150 this was just not a book for me. I was mislead by the blurb and all the focus on religion, finding God, etc...moreNo rating because I could tell by page 150 this was just not a book for me. I was mislead by the blurb and all the focus on religion, finding God, etc. is just not something I care to read about for hundreds of pages.
So, sorry Everything You Need to Survive the Apocalypse: it's not me, it's you. I have far too many books to read, so you are now part of my "unfinished" or "couldn't finish" history. Better luck elsewhere.(less)
Thoughts upon finishing: emotional. touching. infuriating. lovely. Full review to follow but I knew this was a 5-star read for me early on - Craig and...moreThoughts upon finishing: emotional. touching. infuriating. lovely. Full review to follow but I knew this was a 5-star read for me early on - Craig and especially Lio have forever a place in my heart.(less)
Light, easy and cute, Being Friends With Boys is an entertaining and fast read. While there's not a lot of originality to be found in the...more3.5 out of 5
Light, easy and cute, Being Friends With Boys is an entertaining and fast read. While there's not a lot of originality to be found in the plot, Char and Company make for an excellent ensemble cast. There are a lot of characters to enjoy here, outside of the main character: Fabian, Benji, Trip, plus pretty much Charlotte's extended family. I didn't expect much from this, even to finish it, but I was sucked in and had a good time while reading.(less)
Dark Inside was a number of firsts for me. It was the first zombieish/esque apocalyptic novel I've read...moreRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
Dark Inside was a number of firsts for me. It was the first zombieish/esque apocalyptic novel I've read. It was the first horror novel I've ever willingly completed (I gave Stephen King a try when younger. I think my delusional line of thought was: "go big or go home." I guess you could say I "went home". . . but I digress.) This is also the first time in a long time that I have enjoyed being scared (and disturbed) so much. Unfortunately, all is not perfect in Ms. Roberts' tale of world gone awry, but I more than loved it enough to make it one of my favorite reads of the year so far. It may not be the most traditional zombie/horror fare (though I have just admitted I have no idea and no right to judge but try and stop me!) but it is GREAT read, and is one of the few young-adult novels that can successfully bridge the gap into more adult fiction.
With a bleak tone right from the start, Dark Inside was a great change of pace for me. Not only are the "zombies" not technically zombies as usually defined, but darker, subverted and almost mindlessly enraged humans with no control and no compassion. That isn't to mean that the author stints from dark or disturbing elements - a scene with a pregnant womanbeing dragged by her hair into a murderous mob, or even just the casual mentions of people hunting CHILDREN at elementary schools still stand out in my memory days later - but they are simply not "supernatural" as in the undead. I liked that the monsters of the novel were actually humans, apparently those not immune to a force that has ravaged the earth before. And let me tell you, these monsters or "baggers" as in "Let's go bag a deer" with the deer now being people, freaked me the hell out. There are several scenes that legitimately had my ears up underneath my shoulders. The introductory scene with Clementine and her family in the town hall was particularly well done: I was intrigued, freaked out and eager to read much, much more of what this author had in store. I loved that the zombies weren't brainless either, but actually capable of matching wits and besting their prey. It added ANOTHER level of suspense to a novel that already had me constantly on my toes. In a book where the monster can hide in plain site, or even set clever traps, and converse pleasantly, suspicion can and does fall on every character and it is best to do as Mason is advised and, "trust no one."
The rotating POV's of four main characters alternatively works for and hinders the novel. So many perspectives (the four main kids and also sporadically thing called "Nothing" has a few, short POVs) allowed for a wider, more varied view of the monsters and the destruction of the earthquakes, but it can also get quite repetitive with the minutiae. How crazy/insane/inhumane the "baggers" are is repeated a little too often between Mason, Michael, Aries and Clementine. It is a little hard to differentiate between all four characters as none is what I would call a fully three-dimensional, realized personality. It's just too hard, for me as a reader, to identify, connect and empathize with four different people that closely with a limit of less than 400 pages. It just shifts too frequently, with too little time between the narrative change. I liked all the teenagers well enough, but if I had to pick two specifically I wish had more screen time I'd definitely have to go with the two resourceful and smart girls: Aries and Clementine. While neither was so distinctive or vibrant I didn't have trouble blurring their individual storylines up until they meet, they both impressed me more than their male counterparts. I just wished for more from each - more personality, more individuality to distinguish Michael from Mason and Aries from Clementine.
All four kids end up independent and in charge of themselves - the exact situation most would have wished for before the earthquakes and now obviously the last place they want to find themselves. Mason, whose mother and entire school died the day of the quakes, is the most extreme example of the isolation of this new world, but none are exempt. I liked the spin on what most teens would dream of: complete independence.. but at what cost? Clem at least still searches for a brother named Heath, representing her hope for survival in this cruel world, Aries has her quest for a mysterious boy named Daniel who knows too much, and Michael has a dad lost somewhere out in the wild world of America. Watching the world shatter through the eyes of these four disparate teens was entirely compelling. Though they are not perfect characters, I found myself slowly hoping for a better outcome: for Heath to be alive, for Mason to lose his anger, for Clem to live until the end.. (She was occasionally so naive it pained me! But she was my favorite! Conflicted!) Especially because this is clearly a series, I have high hopes that these characters will grow into some all-time favorites. The potential is there: either more length or a trimmed POV list is hopefully coming in the next volume.
The author also does a subtle job of slowly doling out the information about what happened the day everything changed: from the unpredictable acts of nature (6 9.5 Richter scale quakes) to the eerily similar acts of terrorism (123 schools bombed all over the world) - all while fueling even more questions.
How did some people know beforehand? (i.e. man on the bus, the bombings) Why are only some people turned into the "baggers"? What determines the intelligence of each bagger? If this is the earth clearing out the bad - why does it seem the innocent are the victims? Who/what is "Nothing"?
As the kids learn that no one safe, either alone or in groups, each moves towards Vancouver and I began to have a few issues. First of all, none of the above questions are really answered. The first third sets up all these questions and none are fully solved to satisfaction - I'm already going to read book two so I just felt unsatisfied by the lack of resolution for any of the characters. The predicted and inevitable meet-up of all four teenagers felt rushed and unnatural for the novel - in a book of distrust, they just literally run into each other right in Vancouver and. . . . everyone's all hunky dory? - and threw me off from the flow. Which.. speaking of, seems to be in need of a little polish as well. Some of the transitions for characters, both between and within POV transitions, were awkward and repetitive.
This is a violent, gory, disturbing, emotional and funny book. I loved this way more than I had thought I would. I had initially passed this over in my monthly Simon and Schuster Galley Grab email but decided to give it a go on a random whim: what a great decision in retrospect. This is not a perfect novel but I had such fun reading it I can't imagine any rating lower than a 4 out of 5. It is consistently taut with tension and occasionally fraught with emotion (Chee! Clem's parents!) and definitely not one to miss for anyone looking for a zombieish novel. A pulse-racing novel from start to finish, I can't wait to get my hands on book two - especially after such an open-ended conclusion. (less)