I, quite simply, wanted to love Fallen. I'm often an easy sucker for a well-told post-apocalyptic novel...moreRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
I, quite simply, wanted to love Fallen. I'm often an easy sucker for a well-told post-apocalyptic novel full of second chances and "special abilities": the exact premise and subsequent hope I had for this one when I stumbled upon it browsing NetGalley one night. I wanted to be swept away into a story of love and hope in the ashes of a epic, world-changing disaster, and on some levels that is exactly what Fallen is. Though Ms. Slatton's novel is quite intense and emotionally gripping from the outset, I found something ineffable lacking from my reading experience with this story of survival in a world gone mad. Unfortunately glossed over in that romantic-sounding blurb for the novel are the extreme character personalities, the not-fully explained science ultimately behind everything, and the often harsh machinations of the plot or characters. Fallen certainly still has a lot to offer (Newt! Robert!), and I can say up front that no matter how dismayed I was by sections of this introductory novel, I most definitely will be reading the two planned sequels as soon as possible.
Emma is a tough but determined woman, alive when millions have perished in the mists that have destroyed her world. I found Emma to be quite remarkable, if sadly not a character that I would personally identify closely with for reasons I'll state later, in that she has not only lived but helped seven others do the same. I may not identify with her, but I certainly respect her: she's that kind of woman. Strong and willful, Emma is at her best with her "kids" as she calls them, though only one is her natural child. Emotionally drained from the destruction and separation from her other family, Emma is very cut off from any kind of emotion outside of the children: even when speaking of those she loves (Haywood, Beth, Arthur) it doesn't quite read that way on the page. She's just too removed, too clinical in all her decisions, especially regarding her situation with Arthur. When Emma prostitutes herself for food, safety and numbers within his militaristic camp after a chance encounter, it is understandable, especially within her world and means, but it happens far too quickly. Perhaps Emma's severely divorced emotions played into her lightning-quick decision to bargain her body, but even though it was based in altruism for her band of ragtag misfit kids, it left me with a dislike for Arthur. I wish that Emma was more fleshed out, beyond just her role: that there was more than just a Mama Bear-type personality at work.
Arthur is a tricky character, albeit intentionally. He's vague and brusque: he's not motivated by kindness or altruism.This is a man that emerged from the killing mists a bit mad, yes, but stronger and determined. Usually I like a strong, determined man, but when combined with "ridiculously controlling" the said main begins to lose his luster - and fast. For example, Arthur threatens Emma with: "You can't escape me. I know you too well. I know all your secrets, the secrets of your body, the secrets of your heart, the ones you think no one knows. I know them." How downright creepy is that to say within days of knowing someone? Given that I wasn't much a fan from the beginning, Arthur does very little to redeem himself over the course of the novel, so at least he is a consistent bastard. He almost shoots a friend for merely talking to Emma, he orders her in her clothing choices, tells her where she can and cannot go. . . I didn't like the power dynamic between the two at all. It was vastly unequal and obviously full of lies and secrets. So many painfully obvious hints and outright allusions are made about Arthur's past before Emma asks anything, and information is still a long time coming even after she finally (FINALLY) manages to dredge up some curiosity about this former brilliant scientist that doesn't see the merit in basic hygiene after an apocalypse. Yes, you read that right: Arthur is a "brilliant" man, who while rebuilding human society (that is his explicitly stated goal) believes hygiene is not important. That incongruity just drove me nuts: the eradication of germs, bugs, etc. leads to longer, healthier lives, aka exactly what Arthur is trying to reestablish. It just made no sense, even if it was a small facet of his otherwise large personality.
I disliked Arthur and Emma together immediately; it seemed an both an unreasonably hasty and a disagreeable arrangement. Emma was far too familiar and trusting with this unknown man right after providing information about how some people survived the mists only to become brutal, inhumane and capable of great violence towards anyone. For someone usually so protective, just taking Arthur at his word right upon meeting him seems very unlikely. Arthur is much too much the Dominant Alpha Male in Charge. Another part of their relationship that bothered me was Emma seeming and repeated insistence not to ask any pertinent questions about Arthur's clearly shady past. Her willing ignorance for most of the book concerning key, important issues about the disaster that killed millions denigrates a lot of the compassion she displays towards her gifted and strange children. Where this novel does get you on an emotional level, are those children. From the strange but kind Newt to the worrying Mandy, the children brought the best out in Emma, Arthur, Robert, etc. I cared the most for the band of teen and pre-teen survivors and was most invested in seeing them endure to the end.
This is most definitely not a young-adult post-apocalyptic novel. From the random, copious amounts of cursing, to the gore present in almost every encampment to Emma and Arthur's frequent, rough and frenzied couplings, all representations of sex, language and violence are quite mature throughout Fallen. Even if Fallen sadly can't escape the ubiquitous YA cliche of a love-triangle (you had to know it was coming from the beginning), this novel at least has the maturity to cast that unfavorable aspect to the background and the end. Though I fear the triangle will feature much more prominently in the sequels to follow this book, hopefully it won't be dragged out ad nauseam. The time spent in the Russian camp is also quite distasteful, especially when considering how women are treated within the extreme camp of the Russian antagonist Alexei. It's firmly and quickly established within Fallen that women survivors are somewhat less than the men: they are more likely to be cannibalized, used as live shields, discarded as useless. The rogue camp is even worse than Alexei's: I'd go so far as to label that "disturbing" and extreme example of the brutality brought onto some by the mists.
I was extremely frustrated by Fallen's ending. Emma spent the entire novel pining and wishing for one certain thing to happen, and as soon as it does, she is dissatisfied. She wants the previous situation back. It's just irritating that once Emma attains what she wants and has worked for the entire novel, she wants something different. There was no real disclosure on the mists and why they can affect some survivors the way the do - as in Newt or even Emma's own case can attest - and I felt the lack of closure was a big disappointment. Only tantalizing, science fiction-esque hints of a "biomind" and "collective consciousness" behind the almost sentience of the mists were bounced around as answers nut never solidified or thoroughly detailed. I wanted more from Fallen: more characterization, more information to make the science behind the mists at least seem viable, more emotion. While I wasn't the happiest reader I've been at the conclusion of this post-apocalyptic tail with slight supernatural elements, I will be continuing the series to see what Emma finally decides and does with her life.
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)
Wow. A strong yet still likable character in a well-realized and exciting world? A romance that isn't cloying or saccharine sweet? Angelfall is a winn...moreWow. A strong yet still likable character in a well-realized and exciting world? A romance that isn't cloying or saccharine sweet? Angelfall is a winner and I need the sequel ASAP.
Full review to come in a few days, but this is going to a hard novel to follow!(less)
"An unexpected delight" were the immediate words to pop into my head upon my all-too-soon completion of...moreRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
"An unexpected delight" were the immediate words to pop into my head upon my all-too-soon completion of this historical remake of America in the Dust Bowl - with fairies! Teaching me once again that assumptions are flawed from the outset, both early and often Dust Girl exceeded my expectations. I got a thoroughly developed and humanly flawed heroine, a likeable rogue for a possible love interest, a fresh envisioning of the oft-used Seelie/Unseelie Courts of fae and a very unique background in which all these elements operate: Oklahoma, 1935 right in the grips of the Dust Bowl. From the first page I was taken completely by the story Sarah Zettel has crafted so skillfully and truthfully? I didn't want to end - the potential for awesome shown just in the creativity behind the ideas extends itself as well to the contents of the book.
Calliope referred to as "Callie" and her mom are barely making do in their dying town of Slow Run, Kansas. With a long-gone dad and a struggling mom, Callie is older than her age, mature and self-aware. Her personal evolution progresses right along with her travels to both find her mother and figure out her future - the more Callie sees and understands the more she matures and figures things out independently. She's a smart protagonist and it's easy to root for her with such a sympathetic voice. Callie is also one of the few non-white main characters in YA I've come across lately (Shadows on the Moon's Suzume and The Immortal Rules's Allison are the only others I can recall), but thankfully that is not the forefront of her characterization. Callie's mixed race does play a part in the plot of the novel but it by no means defines who she is as a person or character. (I also wish cover more accurately portrayed how Callie is described... )I also appreciate the subtlety in which Callie's race was used as a reminder of the horrendous state of American prejudices without Zettel overdoing it. But what else doesn't define Callie? Her offbeat and thoroughly charming-in-a-rogueish-way love interest, Jack.
Jack is a great addition to the story. He balances out Callie's personality traits with flair, history and wit of his own. I have to admit one of the things I liked best about Jack was that he's not immediately introduced as some swoon-worthy love-interest, nor is his and Callie's connection all about teenage fluctuating hormones. In this very action-packed novel, Jack and Callie make for an unusual but oddly complementary pair. They work well together, despite the occasional bickering (who hasn't been "ready to kill him stone dead" referring to someone they care about?), and I liked them for one another... not that anything progresses to that kind of crux. (view spoiler)[They are two people used to hiding who they are: Jacob for his religion, Callie because of her multiple hidden heritages. They make sense for one another: they don't have to hide but can freely be themselves. (hide spoiler)] Those looking for a romance-charged YA novel, this is not that book. And I love Dust Girl even more for not going that predictable and inevitably boring route. If anything, what happens between the two main characters is more of an age-appropriate "puppy love" than anything else and it is adorable, and doesn't rely on cheap tricks love triangles to create affecting problems for the two..
The atmosphere/background of the novel is complete and stretches to every aspect of the book. I thoroughly believed I was in the 1930's, and the dialogue reads like how I would expect for an impoverished girl/boy at those times ("I got nothing." "A crazy Eye-Talian", etc.) It feels authentic without patronizing. Zettel also has a unique and charming way with words to paint a vivid but not overdone tapestry of locations throughout Dust Girl. As Callie and Jack move across the dust-covered lands, each different locale springs to life with very tactile but not overly descriptive prose. It's obvious that research has gone into crafting as authentic a representation as possible and Zettel succeeds with flying colors. I also liked the sprinkles of other mythlogies and lore within this tale of fae and fairies: Baya the Coyote familiar to many Native religions, and even Callie's own real name "Calliope" was a player in ancient Greek mythology. These inclusions don't feel odd in the middle of such an America-centric novel, but rather more mesh seamlessly within the larger scope of Zettel's novel of magic. The 'magic' aspect of this could've been expounded upon more (and one of the reasons I rated this a 4 instead of 5 stars is because it wasn't detailed to my satisfaction) but what was there, was serviceable. And creepy. (view spoiler)[Particularly the Hopper family. I have a fear of grasshoppers (don't judge me! My brother used to hide them in my bed under my covers.) so as soon as Callie figures out what's so odd about the hungry family I got majorly squicked out. (hide spoiler)]
The other main reason why this a 4 star review and not a 5 like I'd love it to, is that the ending leaves a little to be desired. While there are two more novels left to conclude this series, everything seemed a bit too easy and simple at the resolution. It was satisfying in the most part, but I expected more about the fae/magic/the Midnight People. I guess I will just have to be patient and wait for book #2.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Well. That was weird, wasn't it? This young-adult paranormal/mystery novel started off very Twilightesque - down to reluctant and non-speaking lab par...moreWell. That was weird, wasn't it? This young-adult paranormal/mystery novel started off very Twilightesque - down to reluctant and non-speaking lab partners! - and then became slightly creepy, but without any involving characters. And then, the main character, Camelia, is quite dense and often Too Stupid To Live, though of course she does. The series and Camelia's life continue on with three published sequels (Deadly Little Lies, Deadly Little Games, Deadly Little Voices) and another in the works (Deadly Little Lessons) but I doubt this is a series I'll continue reading.
I gave this poor little attempt at the paranormal teen genre two stars out of five because while I find it to be a shallow (and transparent) ripoff of several novels cobbled into one, it wasn't a completely horrible one on the level with, say, Tris & Izzie. I did like Kimmie, the Goth cliche best friend, and was mostly amused by her dialogue. I was certainly more drawn to that colorfulish character than Camelia, who just made me insane. I hated the "relationship" between Ben and Camelia. Several words spring to mind to describe it in all its youthful glory: Manufactured. Dumb. Baseless. Ridiculous. And I'm just going off the top of my head here, kids. Basically, this novel is just not good. I called the twists, I called the overall antagonist (and couldn't believe when Camelia didn't and walked off willingly with her stalker after mistrusting everyone right and left...) I just fail to see the point of this novel: why exactly was there a need for this to be written, published, continued in several sequels?
Like I've said over and over there's very little noteworthy about this novel. Even the element that adds "paranormal" this book's description has been done before (L.J. Smith's Dark Visions trilogy) and better. Deadly Little Secret is so generic and really completely unnecessary I have trouble remembering the title and I've only (just) read one out of the whole series of five. This is nothing exceptional in itself and I'd steer readers to more unique, original novels than to start this series.(less)
I.... do not know how I feel about this. It's okay, I guess, and I definitely enjoyed it more than any other Anne Rice novel I've read before. It gets...moreI.... do not know how I feel about this. It's okay, I guess, and I definitely enjoyed it more than any other Anne Rice novel I've read before. It gets a bit preachy about God and justice, etc. and the man wolf/woman sexy-times just squicked me out for real.
Having read and been none-too-impressed by Ruckley's first series, a high/epic fantasy set called The G...moreRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
Having read and been none-too-impressed by Ruckley's first series, a high/epic fantasy set called The Godless World, I wasn't sure what I was in for here, with this interesting mix of genres. From horror to historical fiction, The Edinburgh Dead is strange, odd and a hell of a lot more lively than anything the author has produced to date. Though I've tagged this as a steampunk novel, it takes a backseat to the horror elements as well as being more proto-steampunk than actual steampunk. The funky but largely ignored aspect is rarely mentioned and adds little of note overall to the storyline of the novel. Lead man Adam Quire is an irascible, withdrawn and reclusive main character and can come across as more of an antihero than a straight man in this novel, and is at his best when doing so.
Adam Quire is a decent man living in an indecent time. Though his elevated standards of behavior and attitude may not seem noticeable or noteworthy for nowadays, in Quire's time it was extreme. With problems in his past and ghosts in his closet at age 37, Quire is no boy. This is a man - one that is deliberate, slow to anger but scary and scarily determined when roused to it. Quire is far from perfect - he even calls himself a "functioning" alcoholic - with trust issues and almost friendless; it's quite easy to fall into rooting for Quire to get his man even as he digs himself deeper and deeper into shit. Well interspersed and varied flashbacks occurring throughout the book provide additional background and personal history for the main character - such as he's an old soldier, strong sense of right and wrong - that Quire himself would never elaborate on presently. Quire is above ALL, a man who strives for justice -- even if that justice is whatever he decides.
Quire's antagonist is both cunning and almost comically evil. While I wasn't too impressed by Ruthven, Blegg was another matter. Him I found entirely foreboding and full of unnameable creepiness. Like Frankenstein's monster, Blegg is eventually outside his master's control and that was when I was most interested in the evil side of the tale. There was some nice and unanticipated maneuvering and sleight-of-hand with the cast of the villains of the piece, but I found their development lacking on the whole. Even the 'good' side of the conflict outside of Quire doesn't rate much better; the strength of this novel lies in the plot and atmosphere, not the characters themselves. There's even a bland hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold to add a touch of romance to all the other goings-on; I just wasn't impressed.
A word for Ruckley's writing here - I was very impressed with the creepy, foreboding atmosphere present throughout The Edinburgh Dead. The unruly and unorganized Old Town, especially compared to the strict and boring New Town, had bustle, and even had the feel of cobblestones and dirt within an old and dangerous city. This alternate Edinburgh filled with 'medical Prometheanism" came alive from page one, chapter one. This Edinburgh may be creative and fascinating to read about, but Ruckley's imagination fashions a desperate and horrific place where a thriving corpse trade ((view spoiler)[and zombies! (hide spoiler)]) make murder and grave-robbery a daily occurrence. It's a city where the living prey off the dead. . . until one fights back. Like many actual cities and the real capital of Scotland itself, there's a clear disparity between the populace of Edinburgh in The Edinburgh Dead. The poor are largely ignored, save when they can be abused for research. Quire's meddling with the uppercrust nobility reveals a much shadier world than the criminals hiding from Scotland Yard - a world where a gentleman's mere word suffices to avoid an investigation. This subplot of social segregation causes further and all too real problems for Quire in his due diligence after 'nobody' murder victims - it becomes a race against another murder as well as race to finish the case before Quire can be suspended, thrown off the case, or dismissed. It's both interesting and entirely fitting that one character would say that these were "the most enlightened of times" while concurrently, the most unspeakable and horrific acts are being committed throughout the city.
The third person was well-utilized here by the author - it shows both a lively (and deadly) Edinburgh as well as all sides of the tangled web of murder, kidnapping, deceit and zombies played out among its cobbled streets. I do wish a bit more detail had been provided and attention had be paid toward the process of creating the reanimated. The ending was actually one of my more favorite parts - rare as that is. Quire managed to wrap up his ties without a cliffhanger, all the while leaving a possibility for more in this vein/series later on. I have to admit, my opinion on this author has been changed.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I loved this. I need want a sequel(s?) now. Just amazing. Seraphina is a delightful mix of awesome and charm, wrapped in win. I will be buying my own...moreI loved this. I need want a sequel(s?) now. Just amazing. Seraphina is a delightful mix of awesome and charm, wrapped in win. I will be buying my own copy as soon as this is published.
Actual review, with real thoughts to follow.(less)
Robin Bridges brings a whole new life to 1880's Russia with her novel about a young, aristocratic, female necromancer. This is a novel that was anothe...moreRobin Bridges brings a whole new life to 1880's Russia with her novel about a young, aristocratic, female necromancer. This is a novel that was another slow-starter for me. I was mildly interested and intrigued by Bridges' magically fantastical and dangerous world set in St. Petersburg, but I wasn't well and truly hooked until late in the game - when I was about 300 pages into the novel and less than a hundred from the end. With a disquieting introduction featuring and honing in on the young Katerina Alexandra Maria von Holstein-Gottorp, Duchess of Oldenburg, The Gathering Storm sets its dark, magical tone right from the very first paragraph. With revenants, ghosts, vampires and creatures of the night stalking through the cold nights of Mother Russia, only Katerina has the dark curse able to control them, and try to figure out where all the zombiefied soldiers are coming from - and why they are being created.
Actually beginning eight years after the introduction with Katiya learning her dark powers of reanimating the dead, The Gathering Storm is set during the reign of Tsar Alexander III, known to his people as "The Bear." In this version of historical Russia, both the Light and Dark Courts of Faerie are at play within the Imperial Court of Alexander Romanov. The Imperial Tsar's own wife Dagmar of Denmark (though renamed as Marie Feodorovna) is actually a Light Faerie and controls that aspect of power in Russia. Alexander's own brother Vladimir married, shockingly, into the Dark Court fae: his wife, the Grand Duchess Miechen, has a obvious rivalry with the Empress. Not at all surprisingly, caught between these two women, these two factions, the Russian Court seethes with intrigue, betrayal and. . . magic. I loved the new integration of the faerie within the folds of the historical Russian aristocracy; I just wished it had been more detailed and fleshed out what the roles of the faerie were for, besides fomenting drama. Added to the tensions of the distant/enemy fae courts constantly around her and her family, Katerina has to contend with a witchy classmate at her boarding school named Elena, a princess of the country of Montenegro. And as the reader learns and Elena demonstrates, the fae aren't the only supernatural creatures populating 19th century Russia or its nobility. The author created numerous species/sub-species of vampire to contend with the human population as well. From the moth-like veshtizas, to the upyri, wampyr and even the supreme form of them all: the Vladiki - blood-drinkers descended from Vlad Dracul of Wallachia himself - Bridges has her own, fresh interpretation of vampirism. It's a very dense and complicated mythology that the author has created for her world, but it works.
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)
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.
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)
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)
Erzsébet (or the Anglicized "Elizabeth") Báthory is as widely vilified and infamous as far as she is known today. The scandal of a noblewo...more3.5 out of 5
Erzsébet (or the Anglicized "Elizabeth") Báthory is as widely vilified and infamous as far as she is known today. The scandal of a noblewoman killing servants in order to live forever as one myth goes, or to punish them as an assertion of power as this novel posits, is guaranteed to garner attention, as much now as it was back then. While prevalent modern-day historical opinion believes her to be largely innocent of the horrendous charges leveled against her (both in her time and after her downfall/death), Ms. John's first-person novel is not afraid to show the Countess in all her glory, vanity, cruelty and ignorance. A spoiled, entitled, cruel noblewoman, Erzsébet may be quite hard to stomach for some readers, but I feel Johns did a remarkable job of "humanizing" the polarizing lady, as well as providing sufficient details to doubt and question just exactly who and what was behind her walled-in imprisonment within her own home. Yes, Erzsébet is still an awful, awful human being, but she is not a caricature of herself, nor is she an overblown monster - Johns hit a nice balance between the macabre and the ridiculous. Told in the loose form of Erzsébet writing a letter to her beloved son Pal as she is being walled in, The Countess offers a hard-to-put-down look at the life of one of history's most famous personages in her own style and voice.
Ambitious is the word best used to describe this melange of various genres, alternate realities, and m...moreRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
Ambitious is the word best used to describe this melange of various genres, alternate realities, and mishmash of famous, reviled persons from across history. Rod Rees has indeed created something very unique and quite wonderfully different with The Demi-Monde: Winter. As the first published part in a four-book saga about an alternate reality populated with "Dupes" or a cyber duplicate, of such nasties and reprobates as Henry VIII, Robespierre, Lucrezia Borgia, Shaka Zulu, Aleister Crowley and the main villain Reinhard Heydrich, engineer of the Nazi's "Final Solution", I have to admit this series is off to one hell of a start. This is a novel that will suck you in completely, as if you were a visitor to the Demi-Monde itself; it will envelop you wholly in its individual amount of awesome and flair.
The Demi-Monde, put most simply, is an immersive alternate reality created by the United States Army to better train its soldiers without actual harm (an 'Asymmetric Warfare Environment' or AWE), but still with plenty of threat. As a heuristic (aka self-teaching) program, The Demi-Monde is constantly evolving, changing system and at least TWO of the five will always, always be at war with one another. With five sectors (The Rookeries, The Coven, Rodina, Quartier Chaud, and NoirVille), each radically, racially and religiously opposed to the others, it is a place of constant war and pain. It's a delightfully steampunkian locale, with technology equivalent to the 1870's in our (real) world. With 30 million Dupes NowLive, created from actual human DNA, this is a populous, dangerous and utterly alien world. And with Dupes considered basically the same as real humans, with no real difference between them, these horrible people are doppelgangers/reincarnations of the most vile people to walk the earth. Another twist added onto the constant fractious nature of the sectors is the reliance on blood throughout the Demi-Monde. Without it, a Demi-Mondian won't last two weeks, so supply and deman dictate life. Yes, this is a cyber-reality full of Dupes that are vampires, though not in the paranomal-type way: the Dupes simply can't survive without the Red Gold. With such a scarce supply of real blood within the AWE, this is another element is used to keep the sectors constantly at the point of war/invasion. The blood supply for this world could even be seen as an allegory for the real world's attitude regarding oil.
You can't fault Rees for being inconsistent or not planning out in minute detail every aspect of this historical fiction/fantasy/steampunk/science fiction-ish-esque story. There's varying cultures, conflicting political parties, isolationist religions. . . any stressor involved in real life, real world strife has been thought of an represented in Rees' hell of a world. From the steampunk flair of "mutoscopes", "steam-limos", the ubiquitous gas-lights, the required mention of "aether", this was a genre that worked well for a recreated subreality/world, coupled with the additional touches from sci-fi and fantasy. I do wish I had a better visual representation of the sectors, The Hub, Terror Incognita, etc. for the maps provided in the digital arc left a lot to be desired with their tiny type and indistinct markings. I never really got a picture in my head of the world itself, and better maps would remedy such an easy fix. While the constant influx of information and data just on the Demi-Monde itself, it can get a bit old but it's also so interesting. I fully admit to googling random side characters mentioned by others just to see who they were (are?), and just what they did to merit a doppelganger in a cyber-reality populated with humanity's worst vermin.
I loved the Demi-Monde and all the possibilites it brought for Rod Rees' story but I didn't love all about this tome of a novel. New, invented terms and acronyms are constantly tossed at the reader, from the first page. While it's usually quite easy to figure out the modern-equivalent of what the Demi-Mondians are saying/doing, it's disruptive in the initial part of the novel. Another aspect of the style itself I grew VERY wear of: the random capitializations. Rees will also often subvert a word or saying from the Real World for his Demi-Monde and the results are like this: LessBienism (lesbianism), RaTionalist, nuJus (new Jews), woeMen, etc. Between that and the overdone acronyms (TRUE, ABBA, PINC, AWE) it hampered the story. What started out as a clever but subversive homage to the messed up real world became a schtick to mask a non-advancing plot. It was a bit, "Here, look at all these clever observations I've made and incorporated! Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain stagnating characters and plotlines." The story itself is told is a very direct and almost simple style, switching from the lives of Ella, rebel Trixie, Trixie's father Dashwood and (my personal favorite character) a Russian colonel named Vanka Maykov.
Ella herself is a bit of an issue for me. As part of "Operation Offbeat" to rescue Norma, the President's daughter somehow caught within the AWE, I wanted to like her. I wanted to enjoy her dark humor, sarcasm and muse into her obviously troubled personal history. It's just hard to feel a genuine rapport with this woman, for me personally. I also thought her intelligence fluctuated strangely: she says she is the top of her class, best SATs, but doesn't know basic world knowledge? She meets Colonel Ivan Ivanovich and doesn't realize he's a Russian? It was random, and weird. I didn't really "get" any of the females of this novel: Norma and Trixie also fall short of my favorites list As for Ella, I definitely liked that she wasn't a general, cliched white female - she's a tough, smart African American young-woman, who is supposed to be the top of her class. Too much of Ella's plot and actions revolved around every Dupe man in the Demi-Monde finding her abnormally, irresistibly attractive, so much so that they are distracted from, say, torturing her. I'm sorry, but especially with white supremacists doing the torturing, the villains are not going to be conveniently distracted by a nice ankle, or a muscled thigh. I also got SO SICK of hearing her own incredulity at using expletives. I stopped counting the instances after the fourth one, but that needs to go, QUICK. The only time I really enjoyed Ella was in her scenes with the amusing Colonel Maykov... and that's more to do with the fake psychic than the Shade PsyChick.
As for Trixie Dashwood, former Lady of the royal regime, now enmeshed within the Demi-Mondians white supremacist version of the Third Reich (the ForthRight as it's called) she's constantly in danger. Trixie is a hard-headed and hard-hearted young-woman. Between her, Ella and Norma three different types of woman are portrayed (seductress/rescuer, wimp/whiner/rescuee, cold/closed off) and I didn't love a single one. Trixie is just too much: too much anger, too much selfishness, too much action and no thought. Ella, by far comes the closest, but in this world of EXTREME character arcs, she remains far from a favorite. (view spoiler)[ Ella's development from "jad" singer to rescuer to Messiah? Really? I can't say I predicted that at all, but that's a risky and inventive move to take for a (female) character. (hide spoiler)]. I can buy Trixie's revolutionary bent, but her abrupt and entirely unreal switch from proto-RaTionalist Lady to Commander of a militia? In days? With Trixie "[knowing] exactly what had to be done" for an entire military camp? I. Do. Not. Think. So. I call shenanigans, Mr. Rees. That is too far-fetched for a steampunk alternate reality inside a computer with murderous villains from across the ages. But even there, Trixie's evolution does not stop. Slight spoiler ahead: her eventual (and honestly, quite disheartening), bloodthirsty command turns her into something murderous and terrible, something not very far from the SS themselves. Rees does a subtle but effective job of pointing out that fighting fire with fire will sometimes turn you into what you fight. I had to admit that besides a certain charming, scheming Russkie named Maykov, it was the side, bit-players that I enjoyed the most: Louffie, Roza (LOVED HER), Dabrowski. I also quite liked Trixie's sneaky but smart father, the former Baron Dashwood and wished he'd had a bit more time to operate on the page/within the Demi-Monde itself. He sadly was the most underutilized of all the players.
The Demi-Monde: Winter is a lot of book. With plotlines that seem to tie together seamlessly and lead to a satisfying and thoroughly original read, I can't not recommend this novel. One of those rare books where antagonists both outnumber and outclass their counterparts, this was one I both didn't want to finish while simultaneously wishing I had the sequel, The Demi-Monde: Spring, in my hands as soon as I closed the cover, metaphorically speaking. Yes, there are a lot of uncomfortable themes about race, religion, politics, women - but they're all handled with aplomb and finesse and I wasn't off-put by them. The ending doled out some much-needed information, while offering unforeseen complications, a few answers and a burning desire to read the second as soon as humanly possible. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(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)
I was just bored by this, to put it in the barest and baldest terms. I found nothing original or interesting within the first 75 pages - not the rehas...moreI was just bored by this, to put it in the barest and baldest terms. I found nothing original or interesting within the first 75 pages - not the rehashed plot, the irritatingly perfect female character, the overdone 'tortured' love interest. I gave up after page 100 when I realized it was going to be standard, very cliched angel/demon/Heaven/Hell forbidden romance that changes someone for the better!read - not worth the time to read and eviscerate later. I have too many novels I'd like to actually read to waste time on a novel that has so little to recommend it.(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)
I'm still a little puzzled by The Winter Palace, even about three weeks after finishing it. It purports itself to be a novel revolving around the epic...moreI'm still a little puzzled by The Winter Palace, even about three weeks after finishing it. It purports itself to be a novel revolving around the epic story of Catherine the Great, known originally as Sophie, during her first years in the Russian, and Romanov, court. What is perplexing is that the story is purportedly about Catherine, but not told from her perspective and even as just Sophie, the character is absent for much of the narrative. Additionally, the main power player and the most eye-catching character is not Catherine, even when she comes to power later on, but the Empress preceding her on the throne: Elizaveta Petrovna. "A Tale of Catherine the Great" just doesn't seem to gel with the story within the cover. I do wish the novel had actually been from the view of Princess Sophie Fredrika Auguste Anhalt-Zerbst, and not her tongue or gazette Barbara, though that is no fault of the former's. I was just always more interested in the real, recreated personages than fabricated one which was the most important. It's just a shame that Catherine was outshone by adoptive mother of her weakling, Prussian-loving husband.
That is not to say I didn't like Barbara, or as she's usually called in the book Varvara Nikolayevna. With a title of "ward of the crown" for the Empress Elizabeth, Varvara is little more than a beggar or an orphan with a glorified title. And in the Court of Peter the Great's daughter, "Life is a game and every player is cheating." As a hidden spy, a "tongue", a "gazette", she is hard-edged and mercenary, interfering only when she knows she won't be detected. It's easy to feel sympathy for the young Polish girl in the Russian Court initially: sent there by her father after her mother's death for security, it turned out to be the least secure place her unwitting father could have sent her. She's lonely, ignored, outcast so it's easy, understandable even, that Varvara turns to secrets and whispers in order to assert some control, any kind of power in her powerless life. It's a perfect fit: the little mousy Pole that no one saw stumbles into espionage and thereby becomes important. She may wear off any true likeability the character progresses the harder Varvara becomes, but she is never not interesting to read when at court, scheming.
When Varvara learns she is not as important and powerful and protected as she had assumed, an unwanted marriage is manipulated on her. By crossing someone she ought not have, Varvara learns the only place she is truly happy is at the palace, trying to scheme Sophie, one day to be Catherine, into Elizabeth's and her son Peter's, arms. The book grew quite a bit duller when Varvara is forced from the court and into her marriage as Madame Malinka. The exile seemed to wear on for far too long and it was much duller reading than the high-risk and cutthroat Court life. I loved the tensions and secrets at Elizabeth's, and eventually Peter and Catherine's and then just Catherine's, courts. The book seethed with intrigue and distrust on all sides: from tensions between old name nobles and new name nobles based on ascension due to birth/money or merit, to the obvious distrust between Elizabeth, Catherine, and Peter, to the hidden machinations of Varvara and Bestushev. Peter himself is a source of much discontent: from Elizabeth's disapproval of his Prussian affections to Catherine's dismissal of him as worthy, he does not lead a charmed life. He never seems present in the way the strong, if distasteful, woman are. He doesn't react to his wife's vicious rumors, or question the paternity of his heir: I hoped for more from the only male Romanov of the novel. Peter III is much more a tertiary character than anything else, and is interesting for his impact on both his adoptive mother and his wife.
Sadly, much like Cayla Kluver's Legacy or Tris & Izzie by Mette Ivie Harrison, this mermaid tale is another case of Beautiful Cover, Big Ol' Mes...moreSadly, much like Cayla Kluver's Legacy or Tris & Izzie by Mette Ivie Harrison, this mermaid tale is another case of Beautiful Cover, Big Ol' Mess inside the alluring facade. Though this young-adult novel is technically not a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's famous Little Mermaid, the story is obviously influenced by and similar to that long-loved tale. Both the pain of land, the belt/chastity allegory are all in tune with the familiar story - and very little is done by the author to differentiate her version. Between the Sea and Sky is the tale of a bookish teenage mermaid - though she is soon to be elevated into the exclusive and respected sirens - named Esmerine. Esmerine's tale is about her search for her sister Dosinia, a fellow siren disappeared from the sea abruptly. It's a simple story in a very simple style that somehow manages to still take quite a bit of effort to finish. I have been on the look out for a good mermaid story, but sadly for me, Between the Sea and Sky failed to deliver a well-rounded, interesting, or even wholly appropriate mermaid tale.
Esmerine is not a very well-rounded or even developed young-woman. Her personality seems too-perfect at best and mismatching or altered to appeal at worst. I never felt invested in the young mermaid; from her dialogue and her actions, she constantly came across as too young and too immature. As "the brain of the family" Esmerine sticks out from all other merfolk: she can read and write, and has even been friends with one of the detested and avoided "sky people". I can't say I really rooted for Esmerine during her search for Dosia- it's a fairly boring trek that seems to consist of Esmerine sitting and waiting while another actually searches for her sister. The role of the sirens as well, that of luring men to their deaths using song/beauty/etc., also seem strangely out-of-tune with the almost MG tone and feel of this novel. Between the Sea and the Sky occasionally borders on uncomfortable side with the random mentions of (and fixation upon) breasts, in addition to the more mature themes randomly mixed into the story.
The "winged people" that Esmerine knows and talks to are the Fandarsee - winged humans that are essentially Mercurys - they transport messages. One reason (among many) that this novel irritated me: the merfolk and Fandarsee resent/avoid/hate the other but no real reason is provided for the animosity between the races. So naturally, when Esmerine has feelings for a 'darsee, they cannot be together because. . . of an obvious plot device by the author. It's obvious, unreasonable and needed better plotting. Alander or "Alan Dare" is the male love-interest for Esmerine; a friend from her childhood she has since (6 years) not seen. Speaking of which, Alandare reminds me of my second quibble: humans/their normal world are mentioned often throughout the story, but no information is given as to if the mermaids/Fandarsee are known outside of those encountered personally by humans. It just felt like a glaring error: I never knew what the status of the characters were and the worldbuilding suffered. And when I say worldbuilding, I'm being a tad sarcastic. There's barely any time devoted during the narrative to describe or enliven the underwater realm, which seemed by far the most interesting and with the most unique possibilities of all the places in the novel.
On A Dark Wing is obviously eye-catching and interesting novel, just judging by looks alone: from the vaguely foreboding tone of the title...more2.5 out of 5
On A Dark Wing is obviously eye-catching and interesting novel, just judging by looks alone: from the vaguely foreboding tone of the title itself to the scattered murder of ravens across the letters of the title, and the ominious, "Death never forgets. . . " ominously taglined in front of the Grim Reaper, this is a hard to miss title. It's a readable book that veers from normal to supernatural to creepy thriller almost: one thing that can be honestly said about On A Dark Wing is that it is never predictable. This is the story of a girl named Abbey, yes like Abbey Road of Beatles fame, her obsessive crush, her mom, a paralyzed but lovable hacker and Death. Yes, Death with a capital "D" - the Man himself appears and is the crux around which the rest of the book - and characters - must revolve.
Abbey is from Palmer, Alaska. It's immediately clear that miss Chandler is fairly damaged goods: her guilt and issues over her mom's death is immediate and obvious from the get-go. I had to shave off rating points for such a heavy-handed introduction: I like when the author eases the problems in so it's not overwhelming every page. She's also constantly around death: her dad runs a crematorium so death and dying are more personal and familiar to Abbey than most people. By page thirty, Abbey has begun obsessively regaling the reader with her obsession with a boy named Nate. From the way Abbey talks and acts, it's obvious her feelings veer into stalker territory: she plans openly, without any kind of embarrassment, to radio-eavesspydrop on a trip of Nate's that he doesn't even know she knows he is going on, not to mention the tiny fact that Nate has no idea who Abbey is. It's fairly uncomfortable to read Abbey waxing lyrical over a guy who literally couldn't pick her out of a line-up. I mean saving, "Nate, give me strength" when in a bad situation? Just.. what? Who does that? I certainly wanted to like Abbey - I definitely came closer the closer to the end that I got in the book and she grows up quite a bit- but her stalker tendencies, coupled with her piss-poor treatment of her father made it nearly impossible for much of the novel.
Other than Abbey, there is of course, Nate himself. I felt no real connection with Nate as an individual character, nor is it apparent for a while why we are supposed to care about a random boy going on a trip for the first few chapters. Nate is far too generic, too perfect for me to really buy into: I want a flawed man over a too-good-to-be-true archetype any day. His plot-line, though I liked how it intersected with Abbey's eventually, just failed to garner my interest from the start. Even his scenes on Denali failed to catch my eye - they were too bland and encompassing to create much emotion. I was much more interested in the paralyzed, funny and smart Tanner Lange than Nate. He is a much more flawed, real character than Nate, and carried the pages he appeared upon. Even when I found his cooperation with Abbey's stalker plans to be bemusing, I liked him immensely. He doesn't rag on Abbey for substituting food for love, he doesn't constantly rehash her guilt over her mother, he's just a best friend: supportive, loving, kind, there when he is needed the most.
Really a 3.5 out of 5. Occasionally moving, but with a hard-to-like protagonist.
A compelling story of love, death, and family sadly hampered by its m...moreReally a 3.5 out of 5. Occasionally moving, but with a hard-to-like protagonist.
A compelling story of love, death, and family sadly hampered by its main character, I found Saving June to be a mostly enjoyable, fairly easy read for a day. Hannah Harrington's first novel is an alternately riveting, amusing and frustrating foray into the mind and life of teenage angst-machine Harper Scott. It is not that the novel doesn't have plenty of potential to play with: the characters are fully dimensional and flawed, and the plot is emotionally moving and compelling to read. Where the book mostly lost me was with the main character herself and her broody/rude love interest Jake. Instead of focusing on Harper's sister June's suicide and the reasons for/repercussions of her death I was constantly distracted and irritated by the two characters and their constant bickering/will they-won't they/hatefest/lovein.
The fourth and final volume in the multi-author series called the Royal House of Shadows, Lord of the Abyss is tale of the youngest Elden princeling....moreThe fourth and final volume in the multi-author series called the Royal House of Shadows, Lord of the Abyss is tale of the youngest Elden princeling. Micah was only five when his parents were murdered and his mother's last act of magic cast him far far away - farther than all three of his siblings. Micah ends up as the Guardian of the Abyss - far from the Blood Sorcerer, his memory, his family or even basic civilty. In this loved-up and mature version of Beauty and the Beast, Nalini Singh unveils more than one surprise and entertained me thoroughly.
As for Ms. Singh herself this was my first foray into her writing, after hearing it hyped for a while. I can happily say that her style and language more than met my expectations: I was carried away into her story easily and quite quickly. She metes out more details and information about the history, the world(s) of the universe of her story quite well and naturally. Given new ground to break in with the before-unseen Abyss, Singh's tale felt fresh and new in a series that is pretty limited in most aspects. She also more than excelled at creating a complex chemistry between her characters, allowing for a romance that felt natural - through all the inevitable ups-and-downs it endures in this short tale.