Short but sweet, The Alchemy of Forever is deceptively simple and remarkably engaging. The plot may noRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
Short but sweet, The Alchemy of Forever is deceptively simple and remarkably engaging. The plot may not be entirely the most original, nor the writing the most striking, though it certainly has its moments of sparkle, but this was an unputdownable read. Finished in under three hours, my first experience with the series of the Incarnates was like the perfect sugary snack between actual meals: filling while eating and left no feelings of guilt or shame when I was finished. With both a great title and a new spin on teen immortality that isn't vampires or even vampire-adjacent in its immediate favor, I obviously found The Alchemy of Forever to be a very entertaining novel.
Seraphina and her story are instantly energetic; her story begins on a night of death but it is far from the end of Sera's existence. Alchemy, an ancient (and real) fruitless search for gold/youth and immortality among others, is successful in this alternative world of Williams's imagining, and wonderfully so. In this fantastical London, science and magic are indistinguishable, and fit in wonderfully with Sera's tale of escape and redemption. Sera and Cyrus have a core, selected group with which they share fellowship: Charlotte, Sera's BFF for 200 years; Jared, a pirate from the 1660's and a sort of enforcer for Cyrus; Sebastien, a reticent and largely unseen and mysterious member of the coven; and lastly, Amelia, an icy blonde that seems to harbor ill will toward both Charlotte and Sera. With each member needing a new body roughly every ten years, this is a group with many ghosts in the closet, though only Seraphina is shown to have any remorse for the killing left in their wake. While this seems to be set in an alternative world to ours, different only in the successful alchemy, I thought I caught a reference to Bram Stoker's Dracula - a dog named Harker that doesn't seem to take to Kailey/Sera... As I've mentioned I find the Incarnates condition and modus operandi (stalking/killing victim to replenish own lifeforce) and vampires to be very similar, I wonder if it is an intentional mention. There's not enough evidence to be sure yet, but I will be on the lookout for more clues/conspiracies in the sequel.
By virtue of becoming 'Incarnates' aka basically "body snatchers" with original souls in tact with her first love Cyrus, Sera endures centuries of life - but not real love, nor true happiness despite all the exotic experiences had and places she has been. Cyrus emerges as controlling, insane, volatile type of man - but happily, instead of mistaking this psychotic behavior as the danger it is and not misconstruing it as love, Sera attempts to free herself from his clutches. Even the act of hiding petty change gives her a thrill, to "have something that was mine." From the moment I realized Sera's plans, I liked her. For the first time in centuries, Sera dares to make her own decisions, dare to dream for herself instead of fearing what Cyrus will do to her as punishment. Her naivete at 14 haunts her for the most part of her endless centuries of life, and her maturation from selfish, thoughtless girl into an actual woman takes longer than eighteen years. Sera is a very introspective woman, as can be expected from someone downtrodden and controlled for so long, and that means much of this book is not action. As I adjusted to Sera and her style, I appreciated more the inwards-bent of her thinking - this is another of those characters that sneak up in your affections.
The Alchemy of Forever is a very engaging if all too brief, novel both in terms of character, and the unique, entirely welcome new spin on immortality. But this is also slightly disquieting book. The notion of "body snatching" is itself pretty creepy - the actual person is dead but the shell remains, with another inside, unbeknownst to anyone else. How is that not the height of creepitude? There are no less than three movies since 1945 devoted to just how horrific this concept is to us. Sera herself seems very aware of this, commenting internally and often that "the daughter they knew was dead and they had no idea" in several different reiterations, with just Sera wearing her skin around them. And the fact that there is an entire coven of immortal-body-snatching-murderers-with-permanent-wanderlust out there adds another level of menace to the novel it otherwise lacks. Cyrus certainly makes for an adequate villain and foil for Sera - more than adequate when he's actually present on the page instead of a ghost or memory- but the threat of him doesn't inspire as much tension as it could otherwise.
While I can't say the "relationship" between Sera/Kailey and Noah the black-haired neighbor-boy with a heart of gold smacks of the long-sought-after and advertised "true love" from above, there is a clear chemistry and sweetness between the two. I think I found Noah a bit too wide-eyed and perfect to entirely believe in him - or his continued attraction to Kailey after it emerges how shoddily she treated him for years - but overall I liked his character and could see the appeal even if I stood outside of it. From what is alluded to about Kailey pre-Sera she seems like a hard-to-like girl as well, so I wonder why Noah didn't remark upon the abrupt and 180 degree attitude changes that "Kailey" experienced in the novel...? I also wonder at how this thing between the two will develop - how will Sera reconcile Noah to the fact that the Kailey he knew is gone but the "Kailey" he loves is an immortal murderess hundreds of years older than himself? But while I found the 'love' between the 'teens' to be somewhat lacking, the home relationship and dynamic of the Morgans is refreshing and warm, and real. They present a stark and very bleak comparison to the 'love and family' that Sera has known for centuries with the coven, and it's nice to read a non dysfunctional family once in a while.
The ending is abrupt, let's just say that. It comes to a screaming and ominous cliffhanger right at the very moment you most wish to keep reading. While I can understand the cutoff as an incentive to read the next novel it left me somewhat dissatisfied with this first in the series. Unfortunately, many, many threads are left wide-open after that bastard of a cliffhanger for an ending and no main conflict is resolved - the book just ends. What happened to the magical book Sera had the night she switched bodies? What happened to Taryn, who might know all of Sera's secrets? What was Kailey doing the night she died? The questions are endless and enough to ensure, above all doubt and frustration with this finale, I will be continuing this series. ...more
I just. . . loved this. While the beginning had me seeing echoes of the start of the film Stick It, it's easy and impossible not to4 out of 5 stars!
I just. . . loved this. While the beginning had me seeing echoes of the start of the film Stick It, it's easy and impossible not to be won over by this cute baking/hockey teenaged love story. I had fun reading it, I wanted to read it when I wasn't, and I feel comfortable - nay excited! - recommending it to others. If those are not the signs of a good book, I don't know what are. This is exactly the kind of adorable, heart-felt book centered around baking that I wanted to read last year. What I got instead was Christina Mandelski's The Sweetest Thing, and, well, to be nice let's just say it far from delivered on the promise of its title. Sports, baking, school, family - main character Hudson Avery is a well-rounded, personable, real, dimensional character and one I enjoyed reading even for more than three hundred fifty pages. Author Sarah Ockler has greatly impressed me with this, the first novel of hers I've read, and with another of hers sitting to be read in my "already-bought" TBR pile I'm eager to start Twenty Boy Summer.
Let's get the bad stuff out of the way first, nice, easy, and best of all: quick. Why quick? I have very little to complain about from this book. There's so much to love from Bittersweet: from Hudson's rounded and faceted personality to Dani's take-no-crap attitude to the delicious-sounding cupcake recipes, I either missed things I ought've been annoyed by (possible) or they just never existed (most likely). First: I found it to be a tad lengthy. I enjoy a well-told and long story, but I felt Hudson's last twenty pages or so could've used some condensing. I flew through this book and only felt that the end suffered from a need for shortening: the rest is well-developed and timed. Second: Hudson's mom, Beth, expects too much from her daughter with little to no input from the daughter. I don't mind the "pull together for the family" spiel, it's understandable and actually happening all across the country, but I did mind Beth's attitude towards Hudson. Hudson is very mature and helpful: runs a side business, babysits her brother, pays some bills, goes to school, etc., but none of that factors into her mom's decision-making. It's aggravating, especially since the book is all from Hudson's perspective. The frustration of Hudson never being heard or listened to permeates for the duration, and it was one of the few things about this book I disliked. The good news is that it doesn't happen all the time, only sporadically, so it didn't really intrude on my reading enjoyment.
Hudson herself is great. She's so not perfect I want all the authors of Mary Sues to take note. Hudson is flawed human being: complicated, confused, FUNNY (when getting kissed: "I was 92% hygienically unprepared"), strong, and most of all, real. I really liked Hudson's humor: she doesn't take herself too serious and her self-deprecating style isn't so jaded as to be worrying. She's not the prettiest, or the most popular, or even the most intelligent: she's a normal, talented girl. Actualized and vibrant, Hudson is a happy harbinger for the personalities of the rest of the characters within Bittersweet. She has dreams and desires, hopes and wishes and a real-life she feels stuck in. Basically, Hudson is a typical teen: easy to relate to, easy to root for. Let me tell you, this girl is also funny. Her voice is so authentic and real, she comes across like several awkward friends of mine - I loved the freshness and authenticity consistently present. I thought the family drama behind Hudson's story was both compelling and also real. Contrasting her individual desires for freedom and escape against family duty, Hudson's struggles through the book are mundane but universal. Sarah Ockler truly did a noteworthy job with the characterization of the people within this book. The author absolutely and repeatedly nails the emotions and feelings of so many teens with Hudson's understandable reactions and thoughts.
Another thing about this I loved: the secondary and even tertiary characters are real, and believable, rounded personalities. Even the jerk of the novel is shown to have more than one side - and not all of them bad. He's human and understandable, even if I wanted him gone long before the book ended. Dani, Hudson's best friend, is a fireball but a real friend. She calls Hudson on her shit and isn't afraid to do her own thing without her BFF. I really enjoyed the realistic nature of the friendship between the two girls; the up and down trajectory is authentic and isn't just for plotting. Ms. Ockler also pulled off a feat in YA: there was a love triangle present, however slight. I for once, wasn't alienated by it. It helps the situation that both boys have their own appeal supposedly (Team Blackthorn FTW), and that Hudson's less undecided/wishywashy and more figuring things out without being obnoxious about the attention. On a side note, I did find "Bug's" intelligence/precociousness to be a leeetle far-fetched for an 8-year-old, but hey, minor quibbles.
For all its cute romance, great characters, teenage dating and cupcake confectionery fun, Bittersweet is not without depth or emotion. Some of the curveballs Hudson and her family have to deal with will resonate with readers: the hard economy, the desires vs. duty theme Hudson explores, the broken family so common and still so problematic. Hudson's identification with Hester Prynne of Nathaniel Hawthrone's The Scarlet Letter is a nice reminder of how Hudson - and a lot of teens - feel isolated, and alone within a group they should belong. Hudson is a special case because she is shunned by a select group - serious ice skaters - but that feeling of aloneness, of not being listened to (coughBethcough) is one a lot of teens will accept without thought.
Bittersweet is not just sweet and fun to read, it's completely evocative in tone. It's set in upper New York and Hudson is an outdoors kind of person. This is a novel that makes snow sound fun, exciting, new, full of possibilities and this is not actually true. I may live out west in Arizona, but I know snow. I live in Flagstaff, which in 2010 was the city with the most snowfall in the entire contiguous United States. At one time, we had more than Anchorage, Alaska. So yeah, I know snow and I love it for the first month it's here. Sarah Ockler, however, with her magnificent setting and through her lovely descriptive writing, has me craving a blizzard out here in Arizona. Right now. I wish there'd been one while I was reading this. This is the perfect read for a snowy day, and a cup of tea in front of the fireplace. With a cupcake, of course. So nicely done on the timing front - I say buy this one ASAP while it's still cold outside.
Bottom line: Look no further if you want a book with cute but not saccharine romance, angst without melodrama, and a cast of varied and interesting characters. It's cute without beating the reader over the head with its own adorability. And Josh is hot. ...more
I'm a person that likes finality, that craves it in all things. That kind of person that likes having all the answers and knowing exactly what lead upI'm a person that likes finality, that craves it in all things. That kind of person that likes having all the answers and knowing exactly what lead up to those final conclusions. I mean, I used to peek at the final page of every book I bought I still totally do this just to glance at who might survive, scared to get attached to doomed characters.
For these reasons, I don't like to give up on books. For a looong time, I hardly ever ever did. I'm talking like maybe four out of hundreds in the last four years. I'd endure past recycled plotlines, push through just-plain-bad dialogue, obvious machinations and plotpoints, shoddy writing, just because "Hey, it might get better before the end. You never know." And that's true, it really could get better - but it totally doesn't. As it turns out, books that start off bad or bland or boring, those are the kind of books hardly ever actually get better, and then you're left with x amount of wasted time and a lot of excess frustration.
Last year, I got better at pruning through my TBR piles and what I had to read. I DNFd'd more books last year than I ever have in a single year before (12 out of 213). So when I found myself struggling with reading Still Waters, thinking constantly to myself, "Just hang in. This could get better. It could get off this generic beaten path..." but I realized, I don't have to finish this book. There is nothing compelling me to read it: not the plot, the characters, nothing. So after 142 pages, I called it quits.
No doubt some will love this book. I bet they'd also really enjoy Spellbound a book I DNF'd last year - as both are generic, young-adult thrillers and utterly, utterly unoriginal. Not for me, but no rating because hey, maybe after 150 pages, it really does get better. ...more