When I first came upon Eva Wiseman's novel about 15th century Spain, it sounded like it haRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
2.5 out of 5
When I first came upon Eva Wiseman's novel about 15th century Spain, it sounded like it had everything going for it: an intrepid and conflicted main character, an infamous villain for the ages, an often-ignored but compelling event in history - until I opened the first chapter. What this ended up as was rather superficial story that is too short and too undeveloped to carry any kind of depth or real feeling. I was quickly disillusioned with what was in store for me in this very short young-adult historical novel because my expectations were severely let down by obvious and predictable plotting, little-to-no-characterization and inconsistencies. The Last Song tells the story of fourteen-year-old Isabel, and her family of Converso Catholics in the middle of the Inquistion of Torquemada, and was one I felt rather lukewarm about while reading.
Though this is a novel that cameos visits and appearances from actual historical personages (Ferdinand & Isabel, Torquemada, Isaac Abravanel) in addition to its cast of imaginary people, none of them have life. Torquemada is the architect of all the strife in the book but he is neither distinctive, compelling or charismatic as a villain. Much like Isabel's mother/Isabel's father/Isabel's love interest Yonah (seeing a pattern yet?), he is simply there, wooden and undeveloped. I also had issues with Caterina and Isabel after their husband/father is taken away twice by the holy Inquisition - this will get a bit spoilery so be warned! The family has had a plan in store for SEVENTY PAGES, one prepared for this exact event, and it has to happen twice with weeks before they use their "failproof" plan. I was so frustrated by this obvious cluelessness on behalf of the women that I saw it as a cheap method used to drive the plot forward. Seriously, how do two scared women fighting for their lives and family forget their "Get Out of Torture Free" card/letter?
The plot follows a fairly totally predictable route from the beginning on and never diverges into something greater, more original. Isabel's struggles and problems are no more unique than a thousand historical fiction YA heroines betrothed to someone they loathe with feelings for another, impossible match. It's hard to review a character with so little to recommend or distinguish her, because like I said earlier, Isabel was there. She was serviceable, she did what was required of her for the plot advancement and nothing more. If you erase "Isabel"'s name and input "Luis" "Caterina" or any other, the result would be the same: they played their defined roles and nothing less.
All that aside, I really do like the cover. It does a nice job of hinting at the blood and pain that accompany Torquemada and his familiars wherever they go....more
Lauren Oliver is a truly talented writer, be it in the young-adult field, or when writing for a youngerRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
Lauren Oliver is a truly talented writer, be it in the young-adult field, or when writing for a younger audience, like here in The Spindlers. I was impressed with Before I Fall, and I am even more so after reading this richly imaginative, darkly creepy, and thoroughly lovely middle-grade novel. I'm in my twenties and I loved every page - I can't imagine what this book would have meant to me had I read it when I was at the age of the intended audience. It's wonderful, magical, creepy adventure all about the power of love, family, hope, and believing in yourself. It's a quick read, but the beauty of Oliver's prose and her feisty main character Liza will leave a lasting impression long after the book is finished.
The Spindlers is a highly imaginative novel with echoes of some beloved favorites - Labyrinth (the abduction of a loved/hated younger brother), Alice in Wonderland (a hidden magical world Below filled with anthropomorphic animals), and Coraline (the dark, sinister aspect of a lot of what Liza uncovers.) Despite being vaguely reminiscent of those loved novels, Oliver's The Spindlers is a unique adventure filled with both wonder and magic. This charming tale of a young girl who uses stories and her vivid imagination to escape her tension-filled house (the casual hints of money problems at home - the overdue bills and shout-off notices, the broken plates and furniture, her mother's constant worry and pacing) is filled with creative new spins on monsters, what it means to be a friend, and the fun of seeing what weirdly beautiful creations Oliver can come up with next.
The illustrations are few - at least in the ARC edition that I was granted - but they are both lovely and easily capture the feel of what Oliver creates with her words. I fell in love with how this author writes because of this book. I loved Before I Fall but had some issues, but The Spindlers is truly engrossing and immersive, and a lot of that is down to how well Oliver can spin a tale. This fable-like story is imaginative, interesting, and above all, entirely fun and over too soon. I highly recommend this to anyone searching out a quick but moving read. My favorite quotes from the novel:
"The spindlers had gotten him: they had dropped down from the ceiling on their glistening webs of shadowed darkness and dropped their silken threads in his ear, and extracted is soul slowly, like a fisherman coaxing a trout from the water on a taut nylon fishing line. In its place they deposited their eggs; then they withdrew to their shadowed, dark corners and their underground lairs with his soul bound closely in silver thread."
"The world is a freak, she should have said. Everything that happens in it is strange and beautiful."
"This was what her parents did not understand - and had never understood - about stories. Liza told herself as though she was weaving and knotting an endless rope. Then, no matter how dark or terrible the pit she found herself in, she could pull herself out, inch by inch and hand over hand, on the long rope of stories."
"Liza stared at her. 'Impossible.' Mirabella swept her tail around her wrist and gave an imperious sniff. 'That is a human word,' she sad. 'And a very ugly one at that. We have no use for it Below.'"
"Liza felt she now knew many things she had not known yesterday. She knew, for example, that even rats could be beautiful, and hope grew from the smallest seeds, and sometimes there was great truth in made-up stories."
This is an absolutely wonderful middle grade novel, one that holds vast appeal for older readers no matter what their age. Lauren Oliver is a wonderful storyteller and she proves it once again here, with a unique way with words that can evoke pathos as easily as breathing. I was caught up in this story, anxious and excited to see what new ideas and creatures this able author would throw my way. From nids to troglods to the nocturni, this is a world alive with promise and horror, and all the more unique for it. ...more
I've read two other novels by this author, long before I started blogging, and I was less tRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
3.5 out of 5
I've read two other novels by this author, long before I started blogging, and I was less than impressed by what she had to offer in Between, Georgia and Gods in Alabama. Both of these Southern-set novels were just sort of...there. I didn't love them, didn't hate them; I didn't have enough emotion invested to feel either way. Nothing called to me from their pages; the characters weren't favorites or interesting; they simply did what they had to for the story - I felt no connection to the plots, the settings, the people. Happily for me, A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty diverges from the path set down by its predecessors. The unfolding stories and pasts of these three similar but disparate women (Mosey, Liza, Ginny) is engaging from early on and the mystery at the heart of Mosey's life is both compelling and immensely readable.
Ginny is 45 and the matriarch of her tight-knit, all-female family, and in her short-ish years has experienced a cyclical pattern for three periods of extreme difficulties: her 15th year, her 30th and 45th. Jackson paints Ginny as a strong, Southern woman, one who can readily buy that she and her family are cursed by the number 15, but one that steadfastly hates religion, mostly Baptists. She's just "Big" to both of her girls, and has a big personality to match her sobriquet. Ginny is a complex character: I'd say she's even more dimensional than her wild-child daughter Liza, and reading about this determined Grandma reminded me a bit of my own hard-as-nails grandma. Ginny feels real, as do most of the characters herein, and is humanly flawed. But it is her unceasing sense of humor that keeps her narrative from veering into too pessimistic of territory or from sounding downtrodden ("I'll go straight under any number of ladders if you put the right kind of pie on the other side..." p. 8 ARC) despite the biblical amounts of crap that continually fall her way during A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty. While the three rotating POVs of the Slocumb women worked to illuminate each woman separately and uniquely, Ginny's POV was resoundingly my favorite to read for the entire duration of the book.
Mosey is the hinge upon which this whole book turns, and surprisngly, this teenager is able to bear the pressure. While I may haaaate her name, Mosey's story is by turns funny, confusing, and emotional. While my liking for Big was immediate and I was curious about Liza from the start, Mosey was a slow-burn character for me. What really reversed my indifference was her relationship with Roger. I laughed out loud at the two of them ("he was just Roger, fixing my tit for me") when they were physcially present together: their texting drove me up a wall. Prepare oneself for 1337 speak and horribly mangled sentences when reading the interchanges between the mischievous pair. The slang felt very 'Southern' but the abbreviations and such were a bit much for me to handle.
Liza is the most unformed personality among the women, but for obvious, plot-adjacent reasons. Since Liza's situation is so different from her daughter and mother, I appreciated how distinct her "voice"/thoughts were. Though this is the second book in two weeks I've read that features a female main character with a 'brain event' (The Vanishing Game being the other), Liza's story is riveting. Described as a "half girl, half hurricane", Liza was the crazy, uncontrolled member of this family tripod. Even diluted by her injuries, "Little's" narrative is easily identifiable as hers, and almost as much as I wanted to unravel the mystery of Mosey, Liza's story has a great, unpredicted, attention-grabbing twist of its own.
A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty is an easy, but very involving read. I'm not too proud to admit that several of my heartstrings were tugged very effectively, and unexpectedly often. I didn't cry, but my eyes did have tears in them at the resolution that Jackson extends to her readers. A slow beginning eases one into a story of what family really means and how the past does not have to define the future. This is not perfect, but it is very likeable and executed well. These are three very different women, all sympathetic despite any sins they have perpetrated. And for once, the rotating POV frame of storytelling worked very well - the breaks from each's story allowed for percolation of ideas/plots/assumptions. I had way more fun with this than I anticipated. My vote: give it a chance....more
Though the blurb used most for this truly spine-chilling tale is the one above, all the publishers andRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
Though the blurb used most for this truly spine-chilling tale is the one above, all the publishers and author really need to do in order to freak their audience out and interest them at the same time is is use the poem in the prologue:
"Said my lord to my lady, as he mounted his horse, Beware of Long Lankin that lives in the moss. Said my lord to my lady, as he rode away Beware of Long Lankin, that lives in the hay. Let the doors be all bolted and the windows all pinned, Except one little window, where Long Lankin crept in..."
Effective, yes? It continues in that same grisly, eerie tone and snared me without hesitation. I was both creeped out by the third stanza and interested before even starting the actual novel. There is a reason that I refused to read this book at night (and am writing the review in daylight) and that is because this book? Is effing creepy as fuck. And yes, expletives are needed because this book got under my skin in a way that few other suspense novels have, especially ones in the YA genre, geared at kids younger and supposedly less mature than me. Long Lankin is a deliciously creepy treat that perhaps persists just a bit long for the thrill to last entirely but one that exceeds at building tension and setting an excellent atmosphere and presence for such an intimidating but rarely-seen-on-the-page creature.
Cora and her sister Mimi are the girl leads of this venture and they are paralleled in their male counterparts, Roger and Pete. In each case, I found the elder to be the more interesting and worth attention. The POV shifts between Cora and Roger were hard to discern, but that can hopefully be laid at the feet of formatting for an ARC copy instead of the final product. So while it was distracting trying to constantly figure out the who's who of a dialogue, it was easy to like both inner monologues of the kids. Cora is what my mom would term "a handful." She's adventurous and interested in the world around her and is smart, if not exactly the most obedient of nieces. It's easy to root for her and her spirited nature when one realizes how alone and abandoned this child and her sister really are; Cora realizes that she is literally all Mimi has and is quite caring. Roger is like Cora in many ways; he's from a house that really can't keep him, he's open to adventures and exploring and he's always followed by his brother. Though this is YA, neither Cora nor Roger talk down to the audience or overact their fear; Long Lankin is largely so effective as a antagonist because of how sparsely and eerily he's presented to the quartet of kids.
Ida, the aunt of Cora and Mimi, and the owner of Guerdon Hall, is also a POV character. While I could understand the necessity of having the children as POV characters and they grew into the roles naturally as the book went on, I got the most from Ida's inner monologue. I have to admit that Lindsey Barraclough establishes herself early as a talented writer and storyteller, one that favors lots of creepy descriptions in very tactile narrations. Ida benefits the most from this as she's not innocent and eager; she knows only too well what happens when the tide goes out in her little haunted English village.
The first two hundred and thirty pages of this smashed me, absolutely knocked me back a step with its flair. I was in awe of how creeped out I was, how very much I loved how creeped out I was, and how effective the author was at setting such a tense atmosphere and then.. it died. There's a lull midway through the novel where there is too much rushing about and old letters and no one talking things with the other party and all that accomplished was a sharp decline in my overt interest. The incredible amounts of tension built up to that took a while to climb back to their previous heights (my shoulders were literally riiiight under my earlobes), but climb back they did. I may complain - slightly - about the extended lull midway but the ending was entirely satisfying. It was tension-wracked and emotion-filled and thoroughly engrossing. I am dutifully impressed by this book, even though I won't reread it. My nerves can't take it....more
So many good ideas and golden opportunities were wasted or ignored over the course this supernatural story set in Chicago. I had high hopes for this - I own the first two books in the author's Kronos Chronicles series and have been meaning to get to them for months - but The Shadow Society never lived up to its blurb and my expectations. Promising originality, suspense and intrigue, the book I read delivered nothing of the sort. Instead I got the same old cliched approaches and ideas so generic in the young-adult genre: the oh so attractive though antagonistic love interest, the sketchy and unfulfilled world-building glossed over in favor to focus on a romance with the lonely girl who feels out of place, etc. It's certainly very a readable novel - I will give it that, this is a book that is hard to put down - but that doesn't necessarily translate into it being a good book.
Despite starting out with a bang in a well-done and intriguing prologue, the novel falters soon out of the gate and never really regains the initial excitement. Formulaic, and occasionally predictable the author fails to make the most of good ideas and themes touched upon too rarely in The Shadow Society. The concept of the novel is strong and noteworthy, but the execution of various plotlines AND of the cast of characters is rough, clumsy, and often unengaging. Or just disappointing - the climax particularly stands out as massively anticlimactic and not worth sloughing through 400+ pages to reach. The Shadow Society moves along at a decent clip, so it's never boring, though it is a bit short in the action department for the majority of the narrative.
Darcy is mostly drawn well, but also caused problems with my involvement with the novel. Subject to some of my least favorite tropes of the genre (the love triangle, the fact that 3 boys love her oh so much, her inability to make smart decisions), they end up detracting from her better traits. I liked that despite the views from both sides of the human/Shade conflict, nothing was as black and white as it appeared. There is some depth to the conflict Rutkoski creates for the novel, but it feels entirely shortchanged by how easily the author chose to conclude everything. It's too neat, too simple of an ending for the scenario that has been use up over the course of the book. The secondary characters mostly shine - especially the spunky Lily and the earnest and hilarious Jims - but they're not given enough screen time to make up for the lack of tension, atmosphere or world-building.
So much unnecessary filler, so many failed opportunities, so much left superficial, a cop-out of an ending, and a cloying romance made for a less than enthusiastic read. I finished the novel, but more out of a feeling of duty than of want. If this were a series rather than a standalone, it would not be one that I chose to pursue past this first novel. Too generic and undeveloped for my taste, I will read Rutkoski's first series and try to forget about this one. ...more
I knew pretty early on that I was really going to enjoy this fairly short novel - and I was repeatedlyRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
I knew pretty early on that I was really going to enjoy this fairly short novel - and I was repeatedly proven right while reading this charming debut. Though Hannah Barnaby and therefore Portia's tale is a bit short on action and long on character (like another recently released circus themed novel...), I was hooked from chapter one and Portia herself. I felt that the final conflict lacked a bit of emotional pull or immediacy but nearly everything else from this look into Mosco's Traveling Wonder Show was pure fun to read. I'm happy to say that Hannah Barnaby emerges from her first novel as a solid and compelling storyteller with a flair for the dramatic and the unique - just like her indomitable lead.
Portia is a flawed but very likeable protagonist; though her story is mostly told in third-person omniscient and occasionally oddly features other first-person perspective important characters, Portia is the strongest, most developed character of the lot. While I truly disliked the shifts between first and third perspectives it's easy to fall into any narrative in the story, be it P's or the Jackal, or Gideon or even Mosco. Portia made me laugh, but mostly and most importantly, Portia made me care about her story; made me invest in her happiness and actively cheer for her success and lament over her losses. Her inquisitive nature and love of words ("Stories came easily to Portia. Lies came even more easily and more often." - p. 13 ARC) endeared her to me rather quickly and her adventures with Aunt Sophie and subsequent misadventures at the McGreavey Home for Wayward Girls only impressed me with her spirit and liveliness.
While the 'freaks' advertised for the Gallery of Human Oddities didn't quite live up to the hype of the synopsis and blurb, I am not disappointed; rather instead, I believe that is the whole point of Wonder Show - that those who society considers freaks are really just people like us, living the hand they are dealt. In fact, the only truly freakish character within the entirety of Wonder Show is the antagonist of the piece, ominously referred to only as "The Mister" - someone not hidden away and hated on principle but someone trusted with power and the futures of young girls. The other characters, thoguh they don't compel like Portia or creep you out like Mister, each have believable and distinct voices. Like Portia, the population of the Wonder Show is at large on the run from something/time/one they'd like to forget, or change. While no two characters plot was the same outside of Portia I found the Jackal and the deteriorating Marvel family to be the most accessible. In fact, while I was far from a fan of the weirdly switching POV's used to alternate character inner monologues (not person to person but 3rd omniscient to 1st), I wouldn't have hated an even longer look into those characters.
Though I was expecting to be more involved and invested in the ending, I felt it was solid but very much not the climactic, epic tête-à-tête I had been craving because Mister needed his ass kicked anticipating. And I have to admit that though this is a middle-grade novel, it doesn't read like one and I feel that people of all ages would enjoy the adventures and marvels that make Wonder Show so fun to read in the first place. This is a quick read with a large reward for your minimal efforts; full of charm and adventures, Wonder Show is welll... quite wonderful indeed.....more
This entire review is going to get a lot SPOILERy, so stay away unless that's good with you!
Unfortunately, this is series that never quiiite panned out for me; I liked it but that is the sole extent of the feeling inspired by these books. I hesitated to start my ARC of the first book (for months...), but finally dove in and was mildly surprised by the complex worldbuilding and the original ideas that present amid an otherwise uneven debut. However, after my unexpected experience with The Traitor's Daughter, neither its direct sequel The Ruined City, or this, the trilogy's conclusion, lived up to the sheer awesome potential that a fantasy series based on a magical upheaval and zombie apocalypse could should have been. With the amount of and mix of genres and ideas that The Wanderers has within the four hundred page length, some plotlines/characters are inevitably neglected to the detriment of the overall impression of the novel and series. While I obviously walked away from this genre-blending series much less enthused than I'd hoped to be, I will definitely stay tuned to see what else this author comes up with in the future.
The tension and danger is supposed to be at its utmost level here, having theoretically built up a large confrontation between the Overmind and the humans/arcanists over the last two novels. But... no, not really. I never really felt the suspense build to anything credible, nor was I really impressed with the zombies (aka the "Wanderers" of the title), "plague-wraiths" and all else used to induce fear in the characters themselves. the narrative jumps around from story to story; from Jianna's mad (heroic!) plans to her father/uncle's expedition to the deteriorating city of Virtisi itself, supposedly illustrating the increased antagonism. The idea of the Overmind as an alien opponent is really a good one - the same with the alternating polarity of magic. Unfortunately, the execution of the threat of the Inhabitants/Pockets is somewhat lacking in retrospect (the Pockets, especially seem devoid of threat or malevolence). What Paula Brandon does well, really very well actually, is in the history and worldbuilding behind her medieval-ish Veiled Isles. Faerlonne is a vaguely recognizable as an homage to the Italian city-states of real-world Earth, but is an utterly original, conquered nation with its arcanists, humanoid amphibian slaves called Sishmindri. Each successive novel in the series does a more than considerable job advancing the knowledge about Faerlonne and Taerleez - something I greatly enjoyed.
Both the characters and dialogue are still very rudimentary and repetitive in the third novel. I was more forgiving of these in the first, but the weighted down dialogue, full of exposition, never really goes away and it gets old. While Jianna has grown and changed, it doesn't feel authentic. For example, she now supports the resistance and Faerlonnish freedom from their oppression but the idea of Sishmindri independence is abhorrent to her. Love interest Dr. Falaste Rione is still stereotypically perfect and for that unfortunate reason I can't buy into the romance between the two or in any chemistry between him and the young "maidenlady". The voice of each character can be stilted and wooden - the third person perspective feels appropriate especially when the book focuses in on the city storyline, but it does Jianna and Aureste themselves no favors. I first found Aureste to be a delightfully morally-grey and conflicted character with a murky personal history - over the course of the last two novels his characterization degenerated into a mindless and often oblivious bully. The same is true of the still now-unnecessary Yvenza, the secondary antagonist from The Traitor's Daughter. Since the end of that book she has drifted along in each sequel, serving no real purpose behind transparent plotting and scheming.
Aside from all that bitching above, my main issue with The Wanderers is just how easy and simple the resolution to every single plot line is. Seriously. There's no real struggle for the main characters. The final conflict between the beleaguered arcanists and the Overmind to "cleanse" the Source was utterly underwhelming and rushed - Aureste at least had a battle worthy of a zombie-apocalypse-novel finale, but I was very disappointed in just how lamely it was executed. Jianna and Falaste's ridiculous escape from prison also smacks of deux-ex-machinas or just "terribly convenient." I would've applauded the author if she had carried through, but there are other ways to rescue her doomed lovers than the laughable manner chosen here. For the hundreds and hundreds of pages (415 + 384 + 416 = 1215) accrued to reaching these final pages and epic "once every several generations" conflict, it simply wasn't the impact and fight promised. The only slight exception is Aureste, but from Nalio's easy escape (so everyone's cool with the fact that he was gong to let Jianna be executed when he could've stopped it? Yeah? Okay then...) to Onartino's less than exciting final appearance there was a certain lack of ooomph.
An uneven series that started out strongly and faltered more and more as it approached the end, there's still a lot of originality at play in the Veiled Isles trilogy. The Wanderers, especially, didn't quite manage to live up to my expectations, but Paula Brandon has proven herself to be an inventive new author with creativity to burn. In a genre where a lot of novels go for the same predictable fantasy tropes, Paula Brandon constantly tries for new ideas and angles, and even if they don't quite pan out, it's worth a try to venture into her fertile imagination. ...more
Once again returning to the simmering pot of trouble and magic that is the fantasy land of the Veiled IRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
Once again returning to the simmering pot of trouble and magic that is the fantasy land of the Veiled Isles, Paula Brandon's second effort in the series is a sadly rather mixed one with The Ruined City. A larger worldview and a focus outside of main character Jianna certainly allows for more options and ideas, twists and turns, all to varying degrees of success. With plagues, intelligent automatons, revolution, amphibian humanoids, the walking dead, star-crossed love, betrayal and the prophesied return of an alien race looming, it's easy to feel that the author bit off a bit more than she could chew in this genre-blending exercise. While some aspects do better in the frame of the second novel (the Faerlonnish resistance versus Taerleezi occupation plotline gets much more traction than previously seen), others felt ignored or simply tedious in their execution, like the interminable journey Aureste/Innesq/Vinz are on together for 300 out of 384 pages. This is a resundingly second novel in a series - plotlines advance, there's little to no true resolution to anything and as a result, large chunks of this can come across as filler. Whatever else it may be, The Ruined City is definitely an ambitious fantasy novel - one with an author totally unafraid to try and incorporate new ideas to varying degrees of success.
Even the title of this direct sequel is a clue that this series isn't just going to focus solely on the eponymous character of The Traitor's Daughter, Jianna Belandor. The Ruined City is a novel that is more concerned with illustrating the upheaval this world is undergoing as its unpredictable magic shifts and changes; a novel with more attention paid to the emergence of the evil Overmind than with the personal storylines of many characters. This may be a benefit in disguise because, on the whole, I found the cast here to be rather stifling and uninspiring. With the exception of a few delightfully flawed individuals, there's not a whole lot of originality to be found this second time around the Veiled Isles. Jianna's story is important and featured but not to the extent it was in the first novel. Jianna herself still has a lot of growing to do as a person. As a character, she is serviceable (moderately smart, reasonably capable) but her tendency to try to maneuver and manipulate others (instead of just being honest) got old. She also needs the personal growth to realize she is not the center of the world. Aureste's characterization was mystifying here as well (the woman that abducted and held his daughter for months, whom Aureste has still not yet seen, is with him for the whole book and he says/does nothing? That's not the Aureste of The Traitor's Daughter.) The previous minor antagonist of Dowager Magnifica Yvenza is still present but less of a force - I found her addition to the expedition story and her machinations while there to be entirely obvious, ham-handed and rather frustrating to read. The deterioration of her malevolence is quick and disheartening - what was the point of her at all?
I do have to give props for all the strong female characters shown in the two books thus far published. This is a world where women are subservient, expected to adhere and obey any and all of their husbands/father's wishes and they are regarded as possessions to be bartered and traded at will. However in the middle of all this patriarchy, Paula Brandon goes out of her way to illustrate many different forms of strong female characters. Some are evil, or wronged (like Dowager Magnifica Yvenza), some are spoiled but resourceful and determined (Jianna), some are quietly unyielding and steadfast (Sonnetia), and some are zealots and patriots (Celisse). Whatever the case may be, it's a rare fantasy series where the women are as equally impressive and rounded out as their men - I mean, for much of the novel it is the "maidenlady" Jianna is trying to save Falaste instead of the typical other way around. As I've said before, both characters of Jianna and Yvenza were sadly underutilised here in round two, but their respective continued presences add family drama and unpredictability to the plot. Yvenza may not be truly necessary as a secondary foil with the Overmind stepping up antagonism and zombification as the novel progresses, and her cruelly manipulative "talks" with Vinz felt more like filler than most else in the book.
This is very much a middle-of-the-trilogy novel, with all the implied problems that such books inevitable encounter - it is solid but not spectacular and often tepid and bland in execution. The worldbuilding shown here is still on par with the best I've come across (So complete! convoluted!) but now lacks the originality that helped it stand out so much in The Traitor's Daughter. Much less action-packed than its immediate predecessor, I even found the final conflict herein to be entirely underwhelming - so much so that I knocked this down from a 3.5 to a 3. While I found the first book's narrative cut off at a near-perfect spot, with resolution of some plots and an overarching problem that easily lent itself easily and naturally to the sequel, the same cannot be said of The Ruined City and its final conflict and denouement. A bit unsatisfying and lacking the original oomph that was so alluring in the first book, The Ruined City suffers a bit from its place in the line of publication but there is enough here to keep fans of the first engaged and reading....more
You may not know Matryona Grigorievna by her first two names, but you will recognize her last, infamousRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
You may not know Matryona Grigorievna by her first two names, but you will recognize her last, infamous name: Rasputina. The daughter of either Russia's most famous eccentric and healer or her most prolific sham, depending on who is asked, Masha's unique and by turns sad, very strange and moving story of life after her father's abrupt (and excessively violent) murder is a sure-to-please strong-female-character-powered novel. Enchantments was exactly what I wanted from another Russian historical fiction set about the same time (The Last Romanov) and didn't get: a fresh, compelling point of view, set during a popular and dangerous time period (the fall of the Romanov dynasty), a slight hint of romance that doesn't overpower character and/or plot development and (hopefully) amply furnished with enough accuracy to keep the tension high and the audiences interest consistently piqued. Veteran author Kathryn Harrison gracefully executes all these disparate parts to their utmost, with clear and tactile imagery and compelling prose. This is a darker novel in tone, for obvious and unavoidable reasons, but the intensity of the setting, the crackling tension and the characters desperation make for a moderately fast read.
I enjoyed almost everything there was to Enchantments. I did find the plot a bit lacking in some extended areas, but this is a novel that is carried by the strength of its cast. Harrison has a dab hand for foreshadowing ("There are those people who cannot be transplanted from one age to the next."), incrementally building up tension, and in setting up crucial, expected scenes without veering into predictability. Though the fate of the Romanov family is well known, Harrison makes their years-long journey to the House of Special Purpose compelling and touching. The unique POV perspective distinguishes this novel, as does the fact that Enchantments is more concerned about tsarevich Alexei's final days than either his brood of sisters or his parents. This is one of those historical fiction novels that makes a reader want to know more about the source material. As a ardent history major and freak, I was already well-versed in a lot of Romanov and Bolshevik Revolution lore, but Harrison's thoroughly developed and rounded versions of these real, flawed people reignited a previous cultural fascination with Russia and her Imperial family - I was Googling away on a vast array of subjects, people and events that had impact on this story.
As I intimated earlier, it really is the characters that make this particular so compulsively readable. While Harrison sticks to facts for the bulk of her work, Masha's romantic entanglement with young Alexei provides a light spot in an overwhelming sad life. I appreciate the light hand used for the relationship - it felt natural and right for both characters, while not overpowering the more dramatic and worldly plotlines of the novel. The author also avoids the issue of characterizing Rasputin outside of his role as a doting father - while his life obviously impacts his daughters, Harrison never takes a side in the debate about his role as healer or heretic. Masha, obviously, believes in the power of her mystic father, and her belief is compelling but not convincing. Worshiped by some, reviled by others, but only truly understood by his devoted eldest daughter, Rasputin's magnetic pull is in evidence largely in absentia and its continued affect on Masha's life after his death.
To get a bit less positive about the novel, I will say that I found the shifts between the past and the present to be a bit disorientating. The flashbacks themselves are well-timed and chock full of historical detail and data without weighing down the overall plot and increasing intensity. Even when the expected end comes for Alexei, OTMA and the Imperial pair, Masha's dispassionate voice manages to convey her deep sorrow while keeping her emotional distance. I found the last part of the novel — with Masha apart from the Romanovs — lacked the dynamic of the previous chapters. I struggled slightly through the later, introspection-heavy pages devoid of interaction with the other players. But despite those few issues, there isn't much to malign here in Enchantments.
The unique, fresh approach of Rasputin's daughter, the finely and intricately drawn backdrop of Imperialist Russia, the wonderfully realized characters all made for a great historical fiction novel. People now tend to view Rasputin with the benefit of hindsight, often confusing the man with whatever he did or did not to to aid the downfall of the Tsars. Kathryn Harrison's Enchantments, through the eyes and ideas of his tale-spinning daughter, is singular in that it shows Russia's Mad Monk as a person, as a dad even, to great effect. Every choice Masha makes is influenced by her father and his desires for her and reading her life story as imagined by this author is a nice piece of historical escapism.
The famous "Will Scarlet" as a girl - I was hooked from the moment I read the synopRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
3.75 out of 5 stars.
The famous "Will Scarlet" as a girl - I was hooked from the moment I read the synopsis alone on GoodReads. There's a lot to enjoy in this rather short foray into the woods of Sherwood and the realm of the Lionheart, like an enveloping atmosphere from the start and also a lot to lament as well, like overdone and superfluous elements for the book. The good does outweigh the bad in this inventive tale and there is thankfully much to be enjoyed in this fresh and interesting retelling of a beloved and popular legend. A little more length and an editor with a big red pen would've gone a long way to establishing a firmer debut, but new author Gaughen has a unique gem of which to be proud with Scarlet.
The dialect/accent that Scarlet uses is going to be a big deal with this book - it comes off as suitably 'common' but its veracity of use is much in questions. It's certainly distinct, and it works for the most part with Scarlet's persona. Readers will either go with the flow from the outset or hate it egregiously immediately, is my personal prediction. I found myself not minding too much in the beginning, but the repeated and abundant misuses of correct verb tenses did get a bit wearying after two hundred pages, especially when only Scarlet talks that way. Though imperfect, the stylized way of speaking does make for a striking style that A.C. Gaughen uses quite well to illustrate her sense of place - the words do call to mind medieval England, correct or incorrect as the assumption may be. Take this paragraph for instance (from the ARC so small changes might be made before final copies are printed):
"Sherwood were the king's forest, a protected land meant to be his hunting grounds. But England were a country without a king. King Richard, him they called the Lionheart, had taken his lion paws over to the Holy Land. He were off fighting infidels while his people -- my people -- starved. There would be no game left for hunting when he returned. 'Stead of deer, England would be full up of wolves, the biggest among them Prince John."
See? The author's style is very visually striking, all the while setting the scene for the biggest conflict in the novel - the outlaws against the hated thief taker, Guy of Gisbourne (who's characterization is subject to the same abuses of grammar as the rest of the novel: "He were wrapped in violence like it were clothes." p. 82, ARC).
Scarlet, though the main character, is inscrutable and shadowy for most of the book - even though it's all from her perspective. From her first sentence about being "Rob's secret" and a "shadow in dark places", one immediately gets the impression that backstage, unseen and unknown are where she prefers to be (as well as touch of foreshadowing about Mr. Robin Hood's relationship to her). As is obvious from her marauding as a man, Scarlet is a woman with much to hide and who wants to be hidden herself. Though a prickly woman (I'm saying some girls slap, but I have knives." p. 220, ARC) , and someone who had broken Four Commandments before a hundred pages, Scar is surprisingly relate-able despite her time and mystery. Scarlet's voice, though marred by her word choices, is strong and clear. Scarlet's backstory and personal history are one of the main components of the plot: Just who is she? How and why did she end up with Robin Hood? I thoroughly appreciated the author's steady hand with the characterization of this prickly woman; her life isn't infodumped expediently and easily, but rather allowed to unfold slowly, with subtle allusions and dialogue for the greatest dramatic impact. I have to say, I absolutely did NOT call the big twist concerned with "Will Scarlet" (outside of the whole woman-parading-as-a-man thing).
This is a retelling, and the bare bones we all know and love about Robin Hood are represented here. Present and account for: Friar Tuck, Little John though here he's called John Little, Much the Miller's Son, Guy of Gisbourne, The Sheriff of Nottingham and that mythic wood, Sherwood Forest. There are differences in the roles these characters are perpetually cast as: Friar Tuck is a drunk innkeeper, Will has a facility with knives instead of swords and is obviously, a woman. Another change to chemistry of the cast: the unnecessary inclusion of a love-triangle between three of the band. Not only does it bring out a side to Robin that I vehemently disliked (the "whore" comment seemed out-of-proportion to the action and just unlike the Robin of this story), but it's just superfluous. Scarlet's attraction to Rob is obvious from the start; her 'interest' slight as it may be, in John Little doesn't feel authentic or relevant to the plot. It adds no forward momentum, doesn't reveal anything noteworthy about any of the characters and is just plain annoying. I wanted to read about the band's escapades - not about John Little's unrequited and too forceful feelings for Scarlet. All the triangle accomplished in the end was a marked increase in my level of antipathy for the character of John Little - Robin himself emerges as the better man easily.
Gaughen's version of the disenfranchised noble is very similar to the tract he's kept for centuries. Haunted by his actions during the Crusade with Richard I of England, betrayed by his regent Prince John in his absence, Robin is still a man who thinks of the people. Though his earlship confiscated, his duty to his people is his touchstone; it is what keeps him steady in a rocked world. His motivation to help his beleagured subjects is both noble and brings trouble - without his refusal to abandon the peasants of Huntingdon, Guy of Gisbourne would not have come out of London. I also loved Rob for Scarlet - his love for her obvious, even if she is too stupid to see or too self-loathing to believe, and their chemistry is palpable. They are two broken people, Robin because of the Crusades and Scarlet for her past, that both fit well together and have actual spark between them.
The voice was strong and consistent, of that I have no complaints. I only wish I could say the same about the the pacing and action of the book. I have no complaints - whatsoever - with the dramatic tension of the novel. That was rather roundly and nicely handled, unlike the action scenes. I say "action" but for the most part, there's very little of that in the novel. Saving the conflict for the very end makes for a compelling ending, but for several stretches of rather dry reading as well. I did like that Scarlet was far from a typical or even Maid Marian-like damsel in distress; this is a girl that prefers to do the rescuing to being rescued herself - and does so pretty often throughout Scarlet.
Though the door is firmly closed on the main plotline of the novel revolving around Gisbourne, the author leaves a delicious amount of wiggle room in the ending for several characters. Though this is over, it is not final. I hope the author continues the story begun here - not only is 304 pages a short book for such invigorating reading, but there's plenty of life left in this old legend for Gaughen to give it another go. This is one novel I'd love to see spun into a series. ...more
I went into this UF/PNR pretty hopeful: spunky heroine, a secret wizard organization, HurriRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
2.5 out of 5
I went into this UF/PNR pretty hopeful: spunky heroine, a secret wizard organization, Hurricane Katrina, and an undead sexy pirate. What's not to love, besides the Louisiana location (seriously, hasn't another paranormal series coughSookiecough dominated that locale for the last 7 years?)? Well, if you're an apparently unsatisfied reader like me, three out of those four items did not live up to expectations. DJ failed to impress me throughout her misadventures, and the much-advertised Hurricane Katrina lacked the emotional pull the author was aiming for, and this is no Harry-Potter level of wizardry. Suzanne Johnson has the large and unenviable task of setting up a series from this introductory book, and based on the "strengths" of Royal Street, I wish her much luck and patience. '
It's never a good sign when you can't even agree with the heroine on the nickname she gives herself. Drusilla Jaco prefers to go by "DJ" but in my head, she was always Dru. As in, "Dru, why are you doing that?", "Really, Dru, really?!" and "Don't you want to maybe think that through before you do it, Dru?" Dru is a deputy sentinel and is oh-so-very aware of the first word in her title. She doesn't believe in herself or her abilities and feels crippled when her mentor goes missing in the aftermath of Katrina. My problems with this novel really began with Dru: despite my chummy nickname, this is not a character I invested in, even marginally. I managed to finish this because I was powered by an interest to see how everything would wrap up, rather than a desire to see Dru grow and change as a person. She's also mind-numbingly slow to put things together - example: (view spoiler)[when her supposedly dead mentor appears to her and tells her to lie to everyone, especially the authorities, she doesn't take this as a sign of something bad. She just blithely accepts his word and goes along. (hide spoiler)]
In an ironic twist, it's not DJ, or her partner Sentinel Alexander that is the character with the most life. No that honor goes to Jean Lafitte, a pirate who is technically...dead. He's a bastard alright from the first moment he speaks, but damnit, at least he is an interesting and dynamic one. In a cast of so few, where I dislike most of the few, Jean was the one character I would root for continually. He didn't add the most to the story, but when I wanted to slap Dru for her wishywashy romantic love triangle BETWEEN COUSINS, Jean was the only tolerable part of the page. The love-triangle isn't as pronounced as some UF/PNR novels, but is fairly shameless and stupid on DJ's part. Within pages, Dru decides she doesn't want Alex, and goes on a date with his cousin Jake, only to be jealous of a girl looking at Alex while she is on the date with Jake. What? Really? At that point, I just thew up my hands and accepted that DJ was not a girl/character to whom I would ever relate.
If it was all just characterization issues with Royal Street, I could've easily seen a 3or maybe even a 3.5 rating for this novel. However, the twists and turns of the story are sadly predictable and telegraphed to the reader prematurely. I foresaw the resolutions to the main plot as well as most by plots easily and early on - I mostly continued reading to corroborate my correct guesses and see in what capacity Jean LaFitte would sidle into DJ's life. Perhaps best along with Jean, the villains of the piece are worth reading about. Unlike their cliched main character counterparts, Marie Leaveau and Baron Samedi are interesting and unpredictable for the duration of the novel. The murders committed at the heart of the mystery are semi-interesting but tend to get lost in the endlessssss searches for Gerry and the non-ending back-and-forth reporting to the Elders and waiting for a response. So much of this book is research or reporting or waiting that I got bored and would set it aside for several hours before returning to the story.
The world that Johnson has envisioned for her characters to play within is barely sketched out. It seems to be the same world as the one we actually live in (notable appearances: Louis Armstrong, Marie Laveau), but with wizards, vampires, undead, ghosts and other supernatural ilk. The wizards themselves were given a bare framework to illustrate the mechanics of the Sentinels program that was slowly fleshed out as the novel progressed. I liked the separation of talents into different spheres of influence (green congress versus red congress, etc.), though it does severely limit the possible scope of Dru's abilities. Also: (view spoiler)[ I also have to wonder why other European sentinels did not come to help with the influx of supernaturality after Hurricane Katrina. It is mentioned that American sentinels went to Europe in 1976 for the "Wizard War", so why is no help forthcoming in this apparently most drastic of times for New Orleans, with 'pretes' and historical undead just waltzing into the city? Holes like this, in the logic of the main plot of the entire novel, just distract me. I kept wondering why the author would mention a possibility to fix every thing (call them in to help with the pretes AND finding Gerry! Both plotlines wrapped up in thirty pages) and then ignore it for the rest of the book. It was...odd. (hide spoiler)]
This is the first in a series, and one I doubt I will pursue. Though my first impression formed ("I like that dead, dastardly pirate!") was one of the few favorable ones I took away from Royal Street, I believe this is a novel that will find a wide audience. Dru is far from a horrible protagonist, and some will genuinely like her wide-eyed and innocent approach to life - this is just not for me. 2/5 stars and a "no, thank you" - I will wonder what Jean LaFitte gets up to in his afterlife on Earth, but curiosity won't make me pick up book two when its out. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Lex is the hard-edged and foul-mouthed teenage main character of Croak, and if you don't like LeMore of My Reviews On My Blog: Ageless Pages Reviews
Lex is the hard-edged and foul-mouthed teenage main character of Croak, and if you don't like Lex, chances are that this is not the book for you. Lex takes the stage early and that made Croak's beginning one of the weakest I have come across - I nearly set it down when "retard" came out to play as an insult early on. The reader's immediate, first impression within two pages of starting this is that this 17-year-old hellion is violent, volatile, impolite and frequently out-of-bounds. With a name like Lexington (plus twin sister Concord -- how cruel is that?! I'm a huge history nerd/double major and even I wouldn't do that to my kids!) and the attitude of a bear with four sore teeth, this is a highly individual character, and ultimately, one I truly loved. Lex battled her way into my esteem, slowly creeping up in my estimations.
Lex will certainly appear of any list of mine for favorite/memorable heroines. This is a funny girl with her own sarcastic, rough type of humor, and while I didn't love every single bon mot that fell from her lips, I absolutely, and more than once, literally laughed out loud several times at what she has to say. Even her name, taken from a battle that kick-started the American Revolution, unkind as her parents were to stick her with it, is a subtle reminder about how much this novel revolves around death. I also liked the symmetry present in the name: the battle of Lexington that began off a years-long war, and Lex's personal arrival in the town of Croak sets of a series of deadly events. Be warned, Lex is is rough shape at the beginning/middle: she's offensive, unrelentingly childish and overdone teenage cliches abound. What bothered me most, outside of the 'retard' comment, was Lex's double standards with her fellow Croakers. She constantly accuses everyone else of being cryptic and elusive with details, but sees no hypocrisy in shielding her own secrets and knowledge. But eventually, she evolved into a character that I could greatly appreciate and maybe even understand.
I really enjoyed the lore and mythology the author created for her world, especially since it was creative and original. What got me truly involved in Croak was...well, the town of Croak itself and the Afterlife. I thought the Killing/Culling pairs were a bit unwieldy and unlikely, but the structure reinforces the friendships between the teams so I can't complain too vociferously. The organization of the Grims is highly regimented, and seems like a viable plan for the tasks they must undertake (Ha! Death pun!). Croak itself is fun to read: from Slain Lane, Pushing Daisies flower shop (now I want to watch the tv show. I heart Ned!) to Dead Weight (a gym), death puns and wordplay appear and add and element of fun to an understandably less-than-teeming city.
Let's talk about the Afterlife - very visually striking in the narration, very tactile in description. But what I liked best, out of the whole damn book, was the version of Edgar Allan Poe that Damico has crafted. He's morose, moody and just plain hilarious. I would read a book about his adventures in the Afterlife anyday. His rivalry with Teddy Roosevelt ("Where's your big stick now, Teddy?!") was one of the aspects of Croak that kept me vastly amused and coming back for more. In fact, this whole book is "lol-worthy" - so much so that it inspired me to make a shelf named just that for future novels in the series/other books.
Like Lex's, the uncle she lives with has a name that is a harbinger of death, though not nearly as subtle: his name is Mort. Mort and most of the other GRIMs (Gamma Removal & Immigration Managers - a bit of a reach for that acronym, no?) lacked the wholly rounded personality of Lex, but weren't total cartoon caricatures either. What I liked best about Mort was his repeatedly demonstrated ability to put Lex in her place, often and firmly. With a character like Lex, so full of heedless anger and self-righteousness, Mort's calmer, steady personality balanced out her high emotions. Despite a blip of character continuity, Mort is the responsible, smart member of the group, but his control over Lex is tenuous, which leads to their fractious, though loving, relationship. I could have done without the whole romance element, slight as it was, because it just seems superfluous (thought I am told it packs the feels in later books). With Lex's tude, the whiteeye deaths, navigating being a Grim Reaper, couldn't the two just be friends? Is it that unheard of for two teens of opposing sexes to just be friends for a while? Damn - also, the picture "reveal"? I found it creepy, not adorable. And (view spoiler)[: shouldn't Lex recognize a picture of herself when she sees it several times? (hide spoiler)]
Though it begins with a slower introduction, Croak happily gathers steam midway and eventually makes a more-than-favorable impression with its strong, complete ending. Besides Lex's overdone teenage tude, and a cliched villain monologue at the end (seriously, I swear it was Syndrome making a cameo) detailing every last element of the grand evil plan, this is enjoyable to read. And, BONUS!, this fun little death-centric book is only $7.87 for Nook. The next book and direct sequel, Scorch, is due out later this year in September, but is already available for pre-order now. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Aaaand another one drowns in the water? one bites the dust. Yet another victim of the dreaded Sequel SyRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
Aaaand another one drowns in the water? one bites the dust. Yet another victim of the dreaded Sequel Syndrome, wherein a follow-up to well-loved first novel can't execute or maintain that level previous level of excellence, Deep Betrayal was a miss for me. My last read for the year of 2012, I was rather disappointed with how this anticipated novel turned out. I was a big fan of the eeeeevil mermaids from Lake Superior in the first book Lies Beneath, but that was far from the case with Deep Betrayal. I gave the first one 4 out of 5 stars; I hesitated to award this one even the grudging 2 I finally went with. I had high hopes and expectations for Anne Greenwood Brown's latest, and they came crashing down by page one hundred.
I can't deny that the same elements from the first are present here in the second: evil mermaids with vengeance, an often creepy and remote love interest, Lily's struggles with her parents. What was new was that it was all missing the spark, the fun that was so evident in the previous book. Yes, Calder's sisters are evil and revenge-driven, but damnit, they were so entertaining in Lies Beneath! I had fun reading about them and their plots and plans for vengeance on the hapless humans. For the majority of my two-day read of this book, I was flat-out bored....which was the least-expected reaction I'd have thought. I honestly could've finished this in one day, but I was put off by a lot of what doesn't happens over the course of the novel, I just had to take several breaks and watch Psych instead.
The murder mystery that is supposedly a big part of the novel's main plot takes a backseat to A LOT of angst. Especially for the begining over the novel: Lily's annoying angst over Calder's 31-day alienation from Lily (I'm sorry... you knew him for all of a month before and now you're miserable without him? Shades of Bella Swan don't look good on anyone trying to create a strong, likeable female protagonist). First-person does her no favors, either; every time she brought up Calder, I wished she was a real girl so I could smack some sense into her. The girl is separated from her family (with her father the target of a murderous plot) and who does she whine and miss? That's right, the murderous merman who lied and manipulated her for half the time she'd known him. I can forgive a lot if I like the characters, and while I admit that Lily wasn't my favorite from Lies Beneath, at least I didn't have to read her inner monologue. I missed Calder's self-deprecation and ambiguity. Lily, for me, is exactly what she reads as: a boy-crazy vapid girl.
Deep Betrayal could be summed up best for as easily as this: Lily whines about Calder. Lily whines about her dad. Someone dies mysteriously. Lily whines about her lack of mermaidness. Boy drama. Lily whines about Calder. Rinse, repeat for 330ish pages and voila! You just saved yourself from an exercise in boredom and frustration. These are, or were, interesting characters. The author just needs to do more with them than romantical bullshit to make this a good book. I can only take so from much love-triangles (it's hinted at enough to frustrate), miscommunications and pure angst.
I did give this book two stars for the only reasons that saved it from being a DNF: I honestly didn't know who the murderer was, and consequently, Brown's talent for writing a good mystery. Brown, technically, is a fairly decent author. It's just her characters and plot that I take major issues with. I was intrigued by the origin story revealed for the mermaid species, but as I feared, it was mostly glossed over to focus on Lily's issues with her maybe-boyfriend and her distant father. I had so much hope for this, but now I doubt I'll be continuing the series at all.
Deep Betrayal just wasn't the book for me. A lot of people, like me, loved the first and hopefully will have the same reaction for the sequel The weakness of the heroine and the insipid nature of her narrative were too hard for me to overcome, but at the heart of the book, I could see why/if others would find more fun in the pages. But for me personally, I have to say boredom is a killer when it comes to reading books, and boy did this one slay me. ...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
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
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
Sequel Syndrome strikes again! I had been looking forward to reading this direct follow-up to Callihan'Read This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
Sequel Syndrome strikes again! I had been looking forward to reading this direct follow-up to Callihan's engaging and fun first novel, Firelight, for months now. Upon randomly stumbling across and loving the first in the Darkest London series earlier this year, I was eager to see where Callihan would take her version of London run amok with the supernatural. First seeing this up on NetGalley, the anticipation of a good book when I was approved.. all added up to a lot of pressure and excitement on my part...which never really panned out here in Moonglow. A lot of the charm, the fun, the inventiveness that made the first so memorable and easy to read is missing here. I must admit that I really struggled to finish this, through the predictable plotlines, the meandering plot, the boring sections when nothing happens, though my ARC was only 300 pages. I've gone back and forth with my rating for this - from a 1.5 to a 2.75 to a 2.5 and then finally settli9ng a "2". It's not horrible, but it's just not good, either. Other fans of the first and the series don't seem to be nearly as disappointed as I was, but this is going down as my biggest let-down in months. It had so much potential, so much momentum from the first, and Moonglow utterly squanders both.
I hate the disappointment that often comes so easily to a series of books, usually right where Moonglow is in sequence - the volume between the first inception of a series and the finale of it all. The concepts that were so creative in the first book of Darkest London, just don't have the benefit of the originality, and so it falls to the characters and plot to make up for the lack. That never happens here. Never. Instead of the fresh concept of paranormal curses like what plagued Archer, Moonglow is just another romance novel werewolf tale. I wanted to like the two lead protagonists in Daisy Ellis and Ian Ranulf, but I never invested or connected with either person. It, that ineffable quality some characters possess to make you like themeven against your will (see The Hound, Jaime Lannister, etc.), just wasn't there for me. Not for Ian the charismatic, dark anti-hero of Benjamin Archer that I so easily fell under the sway of before. From a villain in the first book to the hero of the second, MacRanulf just fell entirely flat in his presentation, his character and his actions. I also couldn't buy his motivations and change of character from one book to the next. An anti-hero or a man with a dark past is one thing, but the Ian from Firelight was an ass, one I hated, and I therefore couldn't (wouldn't?) buy into his Poor Noble With A Troubled Heart act here in book two. Callihan did her work too well with the first novel with his character for me to see him as sympathetically as she tries so hard to paint him here.
Daisy, his obvious love interest from the first book, had plenty of sass but it felt forced, and disjointed when with her lover. Their tart, acerbic banter could be amusing on occasion, but for the most part, left me cold and disbelieving of their affections for one another. I don't even have a lot to say about Daisy. She was there, she did what she had to move the book along. She's blah, meh, milquetoast to the tip of her blonde head. I missed Miranda's fire, excuse the pun. The third person POV doesn't really do any favors for either lead: perhaps had I read inner monologues and thoughts I would've cared at all more. I certainly liked that Daisy was independent and had a mind of her own, but I just couldn't connect with her. I wanted both her and Ian to mature the hell up and act like adults instead of the "I like him/her so I am going to be as rude, inscrutable, cold and mysterious as possible" act that went on for far too long. This isn't young-adult literature, people. This is a romance novel with supernatural elements: please stop with the teenage melodrama and wishy-washy bullshit.We all know you're going to fall in love and bang - please don't make the read there unbearable. When the romance finally did happen along, proceeding as we all knew it would, I had issues; partially due to their weird interactions leading up to that point, but I wasn't into it. The two complement each other well, sure, but I just didn't care about their love lives, their sex scenes or, above all, their angst over the other. If I don't care about either character independently, why would I care when they're together? Oh right: I don't and I didn't.
The mythology of the weres and the lycans is weak. I can't think of another way to put it. It's not explained nearly enough and seems to be ridiculously arbitrary. (view spoiler)[ Why are female lycans and weres so rare? If they as a species reproduce so infrequently, how come there are so many mentioned? How did the clan come into being? Are all the weres/lycans supposed to be alone their whole lives? Are they homosexual by nature? Then how does the breed survive? Why doesn't the bite of a werewolf turn a human? And if the bite is so weak, how could the disease be passed so easily? (hide spoiler)] See? I have many, many questions upon finishing this...none of which are even close to be answered. All that mess adds up to a very unsatisfactory read, full of holes and problems; showing a novel that doesn't take the time to flesh out its own world and lore. I also have to note that this has a Scottish werewolf pack with members named Maccon, Conall, and a beta named Lyall. That doesn't sound at all familiar to fans of Gail Carriger's delightful Parasol Protectorate series, does it? Noo, not at all. Coincidence, or homage? Either way, it's too close to home for yet another alternate supernatural history of England to name their wolfen members such names.
Too much of the plot here was predictable, when it even cared to make an appearance (which was rarer than the female lycans mentioned in passing.) I called two of the key twists long before they happened, to my immense chagrin. I don't remember the first novel's plot as being this transparent and was surprised at how obvious a lot of the "mystery" was to the reader. A little more authorial sleight-of-hand to camouflage the clues would've gone a long way. Long stretches of boredom permeated my one-day read of the novel; sections filled with the annoying back and forth of the main character, with absolutely no plot advancement. Seriously, for like 75 pages, everyone forgets there is a mad, murderous werewolf on the loose. Other elements just felt stuffed in, randomly, like the GIMs, who don't serve any real purpose til the end... (view spoiler)[ when they really do become deux-ex-machinas, or ghosts in the machine. (hide spoiler)] That whole bit just seemed like lazy writing to me - an easy out to fix a plot point. I expected more from what was there - without the side filler and angst, this would've been a much stronger, more enjoyable read.
I'm torn. I like to finish what I start, but I don't know if I will be continuing the Darkest London series with the third Ellis sister installment: Winterblaze. Kristen Callihan has an easy style, but I was not happy with this latest effort. Much weaker, much less original, much less detailed, and with much more off-putting leads, than Firelight, Moonglow was big swing and a miss. Callihan is 1 for 2 so far, and only time will tell if I give my disappointment time to cool.... and choose to pick up the third.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I loved this. Absolutely. Frikkin. Loved it. I tried to draw out the experience and couldn't make myselRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
I loved this. Absolutely. Frikkin. Loved it. I tried to draw out the experience and couldn't make myself stop reading the second day. Without a doubt, this impressive second novel in the newer Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series is going into my "best of 2012" shelf as well as my much less used "all-time favorites." I think I may even have loved this book like I love my hallmark series of steampunk, Gail Carriger's formidably funny and inventive Parasol Protectorate series. I literally have nothing to complain about here, and that is rare. That's a lot of praise for a book to live up to, but The Janus Affair is that rare novel, the one that manages to be delightful, zany, action-packed and original from inception to execution. Please excuse and recognize my blatant and epic fangirling for what it is -- that classic kneejerk reaction of happiness that happens right after finishing an unexpected treat - not everyone in the world will be wowed with this foray into Edwardian steampunkery but boy I was. Though the first novel Phoenix Rising wasn't quiiiite as perfect, this is the steampunk series everyone should be reading now that Alexia has wrapped up her five novel arc hung up her written parasol duties. While the main events of book two of the MoPO were neatly and explosively wrapped up without my predicting the outcome (once again, thanks to the amazing Eliza Braun), I will count the minutes wait patiently until I can get my grabby little hands on whatever else next springs from the fertile minds of Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris.
By far and away, a third of my love for this book is due entirely to the two main characters at the heart of everything, Eliza Braun and Wellington Books. (The other 2/3rds are reserved for steampunkery, excellent/unpredictable and intelligent antagonists and sheer madcap adventure.) Their banter and genuine camaraderie are prone to bustups and petty fights, but it's the underlying respect and genuine feeling of friendship between that makes reading these two feel less like characters and more like real people. It helps that Eliza is a heoine to shame most other heroines - she's brash and coarse and willful and exactly whatever she wants to be. I love Eliza - I always liked her, from the first chapter of book one, but midway through this, I knew I loved her. (This was the exact moment: "In New Zealand, there had been such sweetness to their courtship, but back then she had been quite a different person. Still a little reckless, but in the way of a young woman not yet as familiar with black powder and explosions.") Her characterization is seemingly blunt and obvious (EXPLODE ALL THE THINGS!), but through interactions and over time and pages, with her Ministry Seven, Welly, and the women she relentlessly helps, Eliza is revealed to be much more than just a mere colonial or pistol-loving walking armoury. Wellington Books has been my absolute favorite character from the start and that is only reinforced through his evolution during the last two novels, but The Janus Affair particularly illustrated him as a man of many facets. His dry humour is still very much in tact ("Once more into the breach.." "Sorry, Welly, what was that?" "Shakespeare. I always recite it just before placing my career in harm's way.") but other, less...gentlemanly aspects of his character are brought to the fore. These are definitely not stagnant characters - they grow and change, make mistakes and adapt, and most importantly, they help one another. The working relationship between the two has evolved to be effective and natural - Books can more than count on Eliza to save him from danger as many times as he saves her.
Steampunk itself seems to be evolving to blend quite naturally with two other, less fantastical genres - mystery and romance. The Janus Affair does have more than a bit of both and handles each element quite admirably - as Books would say, with aplomb. I never felt that one was cheated at the expense of the other - never does any romantic entanglement supersede the plot, nor does the mystery overwhelm the sense of compatibility and chemistry between the Sherlockian main characters. I have to think that these two authors work together more cohesively than any other pairing I've yet come across - Tee Morris and Pip Ballantine complement each other naturally. Though a lot of steampunk novels have the secret organization paired with "agents" used to protect Old Blighty from the supernatural (Parasol Protectorate, Newbury & Hobbes Investigations) and solve paranormal crimes, co-authors Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris go to extremely awesome lengths to create a wholly enveloped and imagined alternate universe for their characters to play within. (They even have a ton of novellas - often by other authors - in the same universe with different characters! There are editions you can purchase, or as free podcasts.) Much like their imagined version of 1800's Britain, the steampunk machines and gadgets used by the cast are wholly original, fun and useful without becoming deux-ex-machinas. I especially liked that something from the first book was referenced and used as a slight part of the plot for the second (the "aethergates" anyone?) - it reinforces the feel that this version of England is an ongoing world, not just unconnected vignettes into random episodes.
The Janus Affair, simply put, is a book that has a lot to offer across a wide variety of areas. Original plotting, genuinely twisty and murky mysteries with a high body count, several strong female characters, amusing banter, original and highly creative use of steampunk and gadgets, veeery smart and fully capable antagonists, the slight but oh-so effective romance, double agents, explosions and more. As I said, the main events and plot of this book have been neatly and effectively wrapped up, but there are some few exceptions to the rule. I don't want to spoil anything from the novel because this really is a fun mystery to try and solve independently, but there are juicy, unresolved plot tendrils enough to ensure that readers from books one and two will want to read the planned third to figure out the Maestro's plans.
I bought the first book, Phoenix Rising, on sale for Nook for a $1.99 late last year and waited several months to dig in. (I guess I like to wait on my books before I read them? Sit on them like a dragon with its hoard, jealously guarding any potential enjoyment I might have when/if I start...? I have 100+ bought and waiting to be read...I'm crazy.) The publishers were generous enough to send me an ARC copy of The Janus Affair just in time for me to realize how much I was going to love this book, series, characters and how much I needed the sequel the second I finished book one. After the last 800 pages with Wellington Books (whom I always call "Boots" in my head before I realize) and Eliza, I can say that I will be buying my own physical copies of both these books because I love them that much. Hey now that I've finished book two, any chances of a draft of book three? Philippa? Tee? Anyone? Please? In the meantime, I'll have to go read the short stories and wait patiently for whatever these creative authors are cooking up for round number three....more
That was... odd. Weird. Uncomfortable. Utterly not what I thought I was getting: a book about ballet daRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
That was... odd. Weird. Uncomfortable. Utterly not what I thought I was getting: a book about ballet dancers at an exclusive academy. This made me think quite often of last year's movie Black Swanexcept the whole thing where ballet is not the focus at all: the sexualized teacher-student relationship, the unhealthy obsession with food and thinness, the messed-up family dynamic at home. This is not a dance book at all: this is a book masquerading as dance book, and probably even masquerading as YA as far as I'm concerned. Now, at a second glance, having read this, even the title seems like a double entendre - and not one I like.
Georgia's fixation on her ballet instructor is as unsettling as it is perplexing. Georgia is supposedly a 14-year old girl, or a Grade 9 at the academy at which she studies. Interestingly, Various Positions reads nothing like a 14-year-old girl: far too mature-sounding (especially as Georgia is very, very naive), far too educated, this reads like the thoughts of a twentysomething. Basically: Georgia expresses herself beyond the capabilties of her years: it feels false, and it was quite jarring to read about (view spoiler)[ a 14-year-old ballerina googling sex phrases and then studying the poses of pornstars. While it totally could, and probably has happened, it didn't read like the perspective of a bareeeely teenaged kid. (hide spoiler)] I don't have an issue with the sexual aspect, or even the fact that there is a lot of focus sex within the book: sex is natural, part of every teen's life. What I do mind is how Georgia relates to all of the above. It's not believable, nor I think, accurate. I also have large issues with the message sent about girls that do have sex.
There are absolutely no healthy relationships between the characters of Various Positions. None - strained? Check. Full-out dysfunctional? Check. Secretive/mysterious? Check. Shady? Checkcheckcheck. Siblings, parents, friends: all Georgia's interactions are limited by her immaturity and her selfishness. Georgia cares about Georgia, and dance and how Georgia looks while dancing. She has zero friends: the closest she comes is a charter "named" Laura. Named is in quotes because all through the novel, she is never called anything by the narrator other than her audition number from the first chapter - Sixty. Georgia's interpersonal skills are so underdeveloped she frequently and alarmingly misinterprets many actions of many, many characters throughout the book. From a man on the subway, to her dad, to her teacher, Georgia is too naive to understand basic human interaction. Georgia's parents might lend an interesting perspective on her fixation on her teacher: as Georgia slowly realizes the similar patterns between her parents history and her current situation, her delusions/justifications become intensified and more urgent. It's also easy to point out Georgia has a strained relationship with father/father-figures, as her own dad is controlling, demeaning, distant father - an attitude mirrored in Roderick's approach to Georgia at the school. I just wish either Georgia had been aged up a bit, or all the sexual undertones and themes could've been toned down. It just really didn't work for such a young protagonist (view spoiler)[or was Georgia the antagonist? He was kind of a jerk, but he is the victim here. Or his career is. Either way: no (hide spoiler)].
The other ballerinas, though largely ignored so much as to be set pieces, are a piece of work. From an unhealthy and uncomfortable focus on weight - one girl, one of the few to receive their own name, is outcast and shunned because she has thicker thighs! - made it hard for me to like anyone from this 300+ page book. The repeated and recurring label of "sex girls" versus virgins/prudes to distinguish within the group also set me off a bit; here to Georgia, to Roderick, ballet is art, utterly asexual and anyone that dares own her femininity is a "sex girl" and deserving of any and all bad things sure to come her way.
This is just an odd read. Two stars for now, but it could possibly go lower the longer I think about this and just why I was so disquieted while reading. Those looking for a light YA read about ballet, look elsewere. I've added Bunheads as an alternative option in my search for a good ballet book; Various Positions missed the mark. I've had a hate-on for this for several paragraphs so I will say this: not all is bad or uncomfortable in Various Positions. The writing itself is deceptively easy to sink in; though not much happens at all throughout, this is never a boring read. I'm sad that this ended up to be such a disappointment, but this wasn't the book I thought I was getting, and I disliked the book it was. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Firelight is a great read! I didn't have high expectations going in, but I am glad to say that I was on the wrong foot when starting the gem that is tFirelight is a great read! I didn't have high expectations going in, but I am glad to say that I was on the wrong foot when starting the gem that is the first in the Darkest London series. One I am both enthusiastic about after finishing and also feel comfortable, almost eager, to recommend to others. With two such dynamic leads as we have in Archer and Miranda, an enthralling and very fast read, further coupled with a fresh take on 1880's London, Firelight adds up to a prime recipe for both easy reading and instant enjoyment. This is a retelling of the classic tale of Beauty and the Beast, but with a unique supernatural bent. The subtle and/or dry humor spiced throughout ("Think of England, darling.") is a nice touch added to balance the darker story of murder, mystery and betrayal that permeates through Ms. Callihan's evocative read.
The writing of the novel immediately caught my eye - in a very favorable way. Sentences like:
"Mud-thick fog hung low on the ground, refusing to drift off despite the crisp night breeze. It never truly went away, ever present in London, like death, taxes, and monarchy."
appear often and early. Ms. Callihan can certainly set a scene and her version of London at the turn of the century is both compelling and amusing. Most of the time the writing in the novel is pretty and flows with remarkable ease. However, this is a first novel and it is not free from errors. While I just stated my love for the prose, I have to admit at times it did wax occasionally florid with descriptions and dialogue -which is, by rights, a small complaint when the majority of the novel is carried so well. The beginning of Firelight is also a bit rough in comparison - cliches abound and might scare off less forgiving readers, but Callihan hits her stride early on and rarely veers off course after. Firelight may stumble out of the opening gate, it more than gathers steam (and steamy scenes!) as it progresses.
One of the things I enjoyed so much about Firelight right from the beginning is that the book makes it quite obvious that the beloved story of Beauty and the Beast (even the original La Belle et la Bete) is itself a retelling of the legend of Psyche and Eros. Many retellings are either unaware of the genesis of the story or gloss right over the origins without a nod - which I mean clearly, I am being nitpicky here as such details are not required - just enjoyed by myself. But Callihan does it so well, without detracting from the forward momentum and I liked the subtle allusions and reminders the author inserted into Miranda and Archer's tale. Archer himself is the best part of the whole novel: reimagined and intriguing London and mysterious powers having no claim on the charismatic but tortured hero. I was more iffy on Miranda, especially at the beginning (Aaah - the cliched girl in pants! Can we just please retire this trope already?!) but her strong-headed independence and good attitude quickly catapulted her high in my estimations. Both Archer and Miranda are wonderfully realized characters for the most part: neither one is perfect and neither one should be taken at appearance value. I did have issues with the immediacy and the passion of Archer's feelings for Miranda based on little but looks - it smacks of insta!love - but happily, and against all expectations, their relationship much more complicated than it appears initially. Miranda, perhaps for the first time, sees in Archer someone that will value a true equal, someone who looks beyond her outside and finds value within. For Archer, Miranda represents acceptance and love in a world that has spurned him - really, the two complement each other quite well and have a relationship to root for.
I enjoyed this so, so much. I think I read the entire thing with a smile on my face, or actually giggliRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
I enjoyed this so, so much. I think I read the entire thing with a smile on my face, or actually giggling (out loud!)at what the characters said. This was exactly what I was looking for after such an emotionally wrenching read, like the one I just finished (The Legacy of Eden by Nelle Davy). This is the perfect kind of bubblegum book - tasteful, not too lengthy and just so adorable. As soon as I closed the metaphoric cover (as this was an e-galley) I went online to see when/if any sequels were planned. Lucky me (and you, should you dear reader, take a chance on this hidden gem) there's at least one other adventure set in this series to be had: That Touch of Magic, though it is not due to be released until 2013(!).
Olivia takes the cake as one of my all-time favorite heroines. Not only can this girl banter with her love interest (I love witty back and forth, something Olivia does ably and often), she's smart, snarky, self-aware and interestingly flawed. Nearly every chapter Liv would do/say something that just utterly reinforced my love for her. My personal favorite bon mots and sentences from this spunky waitress with a waffle addiction:
"Spontaneity without commitment is just wishful thinking."
"[Skinny jeans] are the jeans that you buy that are too small so that someday you can wear them and feel awesome." "There are so many things wrong with that sentence. I don't even know where to start. " "It's okay. This is advanced self-loathing. You'd have to be a woman to understand it at this level."
"While I had the standard waitress's upper body strength, I sadly lacked the standard waitress's thirst for blood."
"I don't care what Edward did in the Twilight books, watching a girl sleep is just creepy."
It's easy to tell I invested in this character both immediately and abundantly. It's very easy to relate to the 28 year old waitress: Liv's voice is strong, enjoyably consistent and lively from the outset. This is just a fun book to read - it's almost effortless. Liv is a great character, and one of the few female leads that seems to have her head on her shoulders, romantically speaking.
Speaking of the romance, I must add that I absolutely adored everything about Tobias and Olivia. In a novel that is more character-driven, as is the case here, the characters need to strong, realized people to hold up the novel's weight. Ms. March has done so accordingly here: not only Liv is rounded out and characterized: Tobias, Peach, Stacy, Millie - all are unique with interesting facets. I must admit that besides Liv, Tobias is my favorite. What helps his case is the dynamic between him and Olivia: these two have chemistry and both amusing and snarky dialogues often (Olivia: "Why are you looking at me like that?" Tobias: "This is my standard expression when staring into an abyss."). Their alternatively relaxed and charged interplay, the give-and-take of the "will they, won't they" were all very well handled: this never felt like a shallow romance or a ploy for drama. It's a believable attraction, easy to root for and all the more engrossing because I actively wanted the two together, despite all obstacles.
Though I've labeled this as a "supernatural/paranormal fiction" type of novel, the magic aspect is quite shallow and underdeveloped - while I liked the information and details that were provided about the 'Magicals' and conjurers of Olivia's world, there just wasn't enough. The system of 'day magic' and 'night magic' is an interesting twist on abilities and powers, but what exactly determines which allegiance a Magical belongs to? (view spoiler)[ If it's dependent on genes and family traits, how did Olivia have day magic and her sister Holly night magic? (hide spoiler)] How exactly do these powers work? Where do they come from? Questions aside, Olivia's animating magic created some of the cutest-sounded but odd pets I've heard of: a mug bunny, a bat phone, a trashcan lid dog. . . at least the author went off the beaten path - I definitely appreciate the may and varied touches of individuality throughout the story.
I loved the ending. I loved the beginning. The middle had its moments of weakness and predictability (especially in regards to the big reveal/Tobias's reticence) but overall, it held up well and tied together the delightful endpieces of the novel. Though the magic aspect may leave a little to be desired, the wonderful, cute characters more than took up the slack. I want more, and I want it now. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Sometimes, with entertainment like books and television shows, it's good to take in the pure fun side oRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
Sometimes, with entertainment like books and television shows, it's good to take in the pure fun side of things, the guilty pleasures one doesn't necessarily advertise as favorites. I for one, am a biiig fan of hilariously bad television, like Glee, and GCB. Much like GCB, new young-adult offering Gilt isn't the most sophisticated adaption of its source material but it is hard to stop reading from the get-go. Also like the ill-fated GCB, this historical fiction jaunt into the 16th century isn't a long-lasting endeavor; though Gilt clocks in at nearly 400 pages in the official hardback edition, those pages fly by in the unputdownable telling of Katherine "Kitty" Tylney's narrative. I definitely didn't expect to enjoy this as much as I need, nor that I would rate it 4 stars when finished, despite the anachronisms and issues that do plague the novel. However, the expansive amounts of entertainment I gleaned from the few hours it took to read more than make Katherine Longshore's Tudoor historical debut one of the best guilty pleasures of 2012.
I found the friendship between Cat Howard and Kitty Tylney to be compelling, in a very sick and twisted fashion. Many of Cat's maids were warped by the Queen's manipulations, but it is poor, desperate and unloved Kitty that takes the cake. Even by looking at the nicknames chosen for each girl (by Cat, no less), it's an obvious power-imbalance between the two, with Kitty being the pale reflection of Cat's vaunted life. Gilt takes pains to make clear fairly early on how callous and dumb Cat is, and Kitty's dependence on the whims of an overly petulant child spell doom from the first chapter on. Katherine Tylney was a real courtier at the court of Henry VIII, but very little is known about her, either before or after the trial of Queen Catherine. Whoever she might have been, I have to hope that the real woman had more backbone than the one shown here. While I thoroughly and completely enjoyed her narrative, Kitty herself is a limp dishrag, a doormat who refuses to speak up for anything. It's hard to root for such a limp, weak person but the growth and self-worth her character needs is delayed but there. Eventually. Cat is compelling to read about in her hell-bent cruise for destruction - even knowing what happens to nearly every character before starting, Longshore made the ride to the expected end indelibly her own.
Despite Gilt being a debut and the first in a new series, you wouldn't know it from reading it; it flows admirably well, the looming and known demise hanging offsides and off screen. Katherine Longshore easily and quickly establishes herself as quite the natural storyteller, with the appropriate touches of foreboding and lightheartedness. Though Kitty may defy basic rules of human anatomy for 95% of the novel (because she lacks a spine... ba dum dum ch!), her story and life as Cat Howard's shadow is entirely compelling. The quick-moving pacing of the novel does it many favors as well, for as the Court moves house fresh dangers and problems await at each new locale. The author also has an obvious and natural hand for evoking a feeling of atmosphere using her words - one can really feel the tension and fear build and build as the novel progresses. A note on the title of this - I cmopletely love it; it's absolutely perfect for the novel of intrigue and backbiting it announces. I love that one single word manages to be double, and even triple-layered with meaning for the novel itself and the characters therein. Subtly alluding to the glamor that masks the danger as well as the guilt of its main characters for their respective misdeeds, the title more than compensates for the less-than-ideal cover. If the language used in the book had been more accurate and less modern ("bitchy" and "shut up"? Really?), Gilt could very well have been a 4.5 or a 5 for me, so much so was my love for the majority of this novel.
With just the right touches of drama, romance, and betrayal set amid a glittering Court of jewels and lies, Gilt is sure to find a wide audience. Though it may not be the most high-brow of historical/Tudor fiction, it is obvious that the author has done credible research and knows her source material quite well. Outside of the dialogue and vocabulary misused, there is little to complain about and a lot to enjoy. I can't wait for more from this author and this series. ...more
C.J. Daugherty has several things going for her in her debut novel and the first in her Night School seRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
C.J. Daugherty has several things going for her in her debut novel and the first in her Night School series: a chilling, thoroughly Gothic vibe, an interesting and just-convoluted-enough conspiracy theory, and a somewhat rounded main character. Unfortunately for both Night School and its readers, Daugherty loses sight of what she should write about and focuses on mean girls, petty high school drama, "mysterious" boys, and an obnoxious love trianle with Allie at the center. There are kernels of good ideas at play in the novel, but but so much of what's worth time and attention gets lost in the morass of overwritten drama that takes center stage.
Allie is a...decent protagonist. She's serviceable, I guess. That's the best I can do with what Daugherty gave me. She had her moments where I wanted to shake her (any time she is swooning over either a creepy or a borderline abusive love interest) but she also had moments where she took a stand (at the dance? With Sylvain? Hell yeah. Unfortunately as the even gets further behind her, Allie gets more forgiving...) and I found myself caring about her. Still, there are multiple issues with Allie's characterization. Of course two totally hot, mysterious and unattainable guys are in love with Allie. Of course. How utterly unexpected. It's just so trite and overdone, and Allie's interactions with both highlight how much more interested Night School is in silly romance and teenage relationships than it is in crafting a taut thriller/conspiracy novel.
It also doesn't help Night School that there are so many plotlines left open and questions unanswered by the final page. It's a frustrating experience for a reader to invest so much time in a four-hundred page novel that, due to those unsatisfying factors, ends up being nothing more than a lengthy introduction; one with little to no resolution. I had trouble with this until very close to the end. The endless mysteries and secrets that EVERYONE besides Allie is in on, the unexplained caste system between the Night School students and the regular students... it did nothing for me. My experience did get slightly better, towards the very end but the utter lack of any resolution is very, very frustrating.
I have Concerns about Cimmeria Academy. (First: what kind of school would provide alcohol - their own brand! - to students at a school dance, hosted at the school? What?!) The author deliberately paints the school in broad strokes; all the better to make her audience curious about its endgame with the students. What is Night School? Why are only some students involved? How are they picked? What do they do? -All of which set up more with expectations than the actual reveal can deliver. When you find out the point, or the barest outline of the point of Night School that is shown in the first book, it's a let down, pure and simple. There's not enough there there; the knowledge imparted to Allie is minimal, and laughable. It comes across as a desperate ploy to ensure continued reading and frustrated me even more.
The complete lack of a reason for the antagonists motivation also is ridiculous. Readers are just supposed to get that he wants Something and It Is Very Dangerous and he will do anything to get it. Why? What lead up to that and what he does in the book? If you haven't even cracked the cover, you know just as much as I do, four hundred pages later. No one - at least no one interesting and worth reading about, is evil for evil's sake. Give me a villain with reasons, intelligence and believable motivations and you've just upped the appeal of your book. For all that, the minor antagonist? From the events at the dance? That revelation did manage to surprise me, and even if I can't wholly buy into why they did what they did (again: no answers, no real motivations shown), I can appreciate how ably the author pulled it off.
There are some obvious issues with Night School. For all that, I did enjoy aspects of it. The Gothic vibe works well for the story, Allie isn't a complete waste of space, and it's a pretty readable novel. It may be more work that its worth, but then again, I can't promise I won't be drawn into reading the sequel, Legacy, when it comes out. The contents of the first Night School novel can't quite live up to the premise (or that awesome cover) but it's not a complete mess. It just gets lost in the mundane and neglects the ideas and themes that could have made it truly original. ...more
In what world would this series of events really happen? Self-indulgent wish fulfillment, thy name is Dash and Lily's Book of Dares.
I had wanted to read this for years -- but friend reviews were all over the place, so I adjusted my hopes to a more reasonable level. It turns out that even that readjustment wasn't enough -- "disappointment" doesn't even begin to describe how much of a let down this was.
My issues came early: I thought Dash was unfailingly pretentious and Lily was so twee that she made my teeth hurt. He's smarmy, she's cutesy. He's a hipster and she is so peppy I don't even know what to do with her. The way the notebook was passed back and forth was believable enough, until the two meet. And the plot turns into some kind of wacky romantic comedy. I know books are up to interpretation, but REALLY. This book strained credulity in so many ways: that someone as hipsterish as Dash would get along with goofy Lily, that what happens with Boris would fall out that way, that this many quirky people would act just so perfectly for the plot to get moving.... It just does not work.
The only thing that saved this from a one-star was that rarely there would be a line or dialogue that felt real, or read nicely. But for a book I expected so much from (I've really loved Levithan's other novels! Cohn has so many fans!), Dash and Lily's Book of Dares was a wash. Based on this, I don't think I will be reading either of these two author's other collaborations (Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, Naomi and Eli's No Kiss List). This book was just so... irritating. The POVs, the personalities, the plot, etc. It all grated on my nerves and just made me disdainful. Dash and Lily were not characters for me and this was not the book for me. ...more
Another solidly impressive journey into the life of Marie Antoinette, Grey again proves, with her second novel in a planned trilogy, that she is a skilled writer, able to evoke time, place, and characters with equal vivacity. Beginning two weeks after the first novel, Becoming Marie Antoinette, ended, Grey immediately relaunches herself and the reader into an opulent, turbulent world with her title character more prominent than ever in French society. In this detailed, rich novel, full of eye-popping descriptions of everything from le Petite Trianon to the poufs that adorn Marie's head, both the narrative and the letters from the Queen to her family at home in Austria all serve to form a comprehensive picture of life in Louis XIV's France. Formerly the Dauphine, transitioning now into the role of the Queen of France, Marie finds herself with prestige, but little actual power. Iconic, but politically impotent, bereft of the love and attention she desperately craves, Grey provides ample reasons (that actually work!) for the reasons behind the monarch's spendthrift ways. Much like the evolution she underwent in the first book, this well-rendered version of Marie Antoinette is far from stagnant, but makes choices, for good or ill, that will drastically affect the people and country she governs.
The Marie so carefully cultivated by the author is much more than the villianess that most of history remembers her as. Spoiled, yes. A glutton for fine things? Yes. But evil, intent on harming the common folk and abusing them? No. The vivid woman shown here in Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow is a more mature, more intelligent version of the girl she used to be and Grey takes care to paint her protagonist as realistically as possible. For all that Queen Marie is remembered and vilified as a one-sided caricature of vice, selfishness, and greed, Grey shows a multitude of other facets of her personality. Kind, lonely, funny, maternal, the author is deft in her portrayal in all the facets of this fascinating woman from the good to the bad. Her Marie Antoinette is always not wholly sympathetic ("For what is money, with happiness at stake?"), but she is often understandable in her opinions and attitudes. With her well-meaning but often oblivious husband Louis balancing an already-taxed treasury with the wants, demands, and rights of the people he rules by divine right, Marie and her coterie of noble ladies find themselves skewered by cartoonists, and resented for the life of grand palaces and sumptuous gowns they use once and discard, despite the Queen's good intentions.
Louis plays a larger role in the second novel than he did in the first; the King is much more directly involved with the plotline of this novel than the previous. More peripheral in the introduction of the series, here in part two, now, married and reigning as King, this Louis indulges his wife's flights of fancy, and spending as a concession to make up for the lack of intimacy and input he offers her in their private life. With the Queens of France traditionally have prestige but no real governing power, Louis is very Gallic and rigid in his role, a devoted adherent to the traditions his wife so dislikes. Louis is a good foil for his spendthrift femme; often shown trying to reign in the out-of-control treasury, his royal brother's profligate attitudes about women and coin, to little or no avail. He is not developed as Marie, but he is shown in realistic views - and Grey even tries to rectify his reasons for a lack of a royal heir (for seven years after marriage!) with a possible, plausible medical condition. His (unknown?) rival for Marie's affections in the Swedish Count of Axel von Fersen adds even more intensity and tension to a novel thick with conflict. Though there is a love-triangle of sorts in Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow, Juliet Grey is able to pull it off with aplomb, without making it halt the plot's momentum or the characters involved tiresome. Each man appeals to a different side of the complicated Queen, and though she may be more her father's daughter than she thought to be, Marie's attractions to both came off as authentic - as did her actions.
For the most part, I thought that first-person POV was an excellent choice to showcase the plot and varied characters of this story. It allows for a closer view of Marie and how she works internally, and reading Marie's well-intentioned inner monologue helps to firmly create the three-dimensional version of the character. It is easy for feel for the entitled Queen, even as she haplessly carries herself and her friends toward a grisly end. With factions all around her vying for favor (Polignac vs. Lamballe, etc) even among her dearest friends, Marie Antoinette is a commodity, a property, to be used and controlled for position, power, and money. Her narration helps humanize her and separate this version from the historical, as even her own family-in-law undermines her with the people. The only places the narrative stumbled for me were the thankfully rare occasions that abruptly jumped to third-person narration - like Emperor Joseph's meeting with du Barry, or Jeanne de Lamotte's cunning deception of the Grand Almoner, Rohan. A nice flow, and even pacing across long periods of time, coincide with the well-chosen point-of-view, and all add up to a thoroughly enjoyable, eminently readable historical fiction novel.
Juliet Grey ably paints a vivid, frenzied look at Marie's troubled, occasionally vapid existence of self-interest and whim. Between the constraint of etiquette steeped in outlandish traditions and little privacy that she found so oppressive, and Marie's subsequent alienation of certain powerful nobles, and with the French-monarchy-supported American Revolution giving the French people new ideas, wants and seeding deep doubts about the right of divine rule, the foreshadowing is subtly woven into the novel and reminds readers of the royal family's ultimate fate while still leaving them wanting more. A fully realized scenario of the French country and economy as it stood in Louis XIV's reign, the atmosphere of Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow grows ever bleaker and more ominous with her chapter. It's a hard to put down book, but one that is easy to involve yourself with the goings-on even as that fateful day in October looms ever closer.
Juliet Grey delivers a solid, engrossing, completely entertaining sequel. One that is filled with fleshed-out versions of the historical personages known so well, even into the modern age. Not mere stereotypes or villains, but real, plausible renderings of people who have left a mark on history. What Becoming Marie Antoinette started, Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow ably continues - a tradition of well-written, thoroughly detailed, engrossing historical fiction novels centered on one of the most interesting times and people in history. I personally cannot wait to see how this talented author will chose to recreate the last years of Marie Antoinette's life, and the fall of the Bourbon dynasty to the French Revolution with the trilogy's conclusion, The Last October Sky. ...more
The Queen's Vow is a great first introduction to a well-known and well-recommended historicRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
4.5 out of 5
The Queen's Vow is a great first introduction to a well-known and well-recommended historical fiction author. I've heard and seen C.W. Gortner's name bandied about frequently as one of the best for compelling, researched and still original novels and every claim is only reinforced by my reading experience with this novel about Castile's complicated and dramatic queen. Without condescension or annoying repetition, this mostly-factual story of 15th-century hotbed of war, religious strife and rebellion in what is now known as simply Spain, is riveting from start to finish - once The Queen's Vow, and the formidable Isabella, hit their stride, it is nearly impossible to put down. Told with an even pace and a clear voice, this four-hundred page, multi-part novel pretty much guaranteed that I will be reading more by this author, and soon. In a genre that can often seem quite overbloated with English and French-situated books, this exploration into the fertile and sunbaked lands of Spain is a welcome and exciting change.
The most remarkable aspect of the entire endeavor is the main character of Isabella herself. With the advantage of perspective and history on our side, it's clear that the infanta of Castile is a woman of complicated nature; someone that is sadly often naive in her religious judgments, but one who is conversely amazingly progressive in terms of women's education and rights (see her intransigence on the rights of her daughters/Castile's and her own sovereignty from Aragon/Ferdinand until an heir is born). C.W. Gortner is a skilled writer that somehow manages to paint a fully-realized and wholly fallible version of the renowned and reviled monarch while still rendering the final character likeable and authentic in her determined role and behaviors. Accepting both good and bad facets of her personality and her reign, The Queen's Vow offers up possible reasons for the cruel decisions Isabella made for her realm without diverging too far from the roadmap of history. It's easy to both root for Isabella in her desperate times and to curse at her when she is so easily manipulated (Carrillo, Enrique, Torquemada, even Ferdinand.) Throughout all her trials and even her mishaps, it cannot be denied that this Isabella has life and is never boring to read.
It's a credit to both the author and the novel itself that because Isabella is a historical figure largely ignored on her own noteworthy merits (maaaybe vaguely known to the general populace because of the connection Christopher Columbus) her story here is completely fresh and engaging. Unlike the Tudors/Borgias, who have been done over and over (with varying degrees of success), this view into the overlooked Trastamara royal family is happily unreminiscent of any other historical fiction I've read. The tertiary characters are a bit hard to keep track of initially due to my lack of experience with this setting, but the author eases the reader comfortably into the Castile he has reimagined. The endless wars and battles, the required Court intrigue, the drama - all were evenly and uniformly handled in The Queen's Vow. Despite the fact that war was pretty much the normal state of being for Isabella and her husband, the novel is careful to mix the battles between many other historical events so as not to sacrifice the principles' characterization or plot advancement. Time easily speeds by while turning the pages - for the real world as well as the pacing of the book. The novel can breeze over years at a time with a sentence, which didn't bother me so much as streamline the narrative of a real person.
The Queen's Vow is a going to a hit with historical fiction lovers. There's a lot to love - the sweet but imperfect marriage between the "Catholic Monarchs", the tried and true lure of Court intrigue and betrayal. The novel terminates before the end of Isabella's life, leaving it somewhat open-ended in regards to the main character, if not the final conflict. If you're looking for a well-written and engaging novel with a strong, fallible character, look no further. ...more
Revealing Eden has the benefit of containing one of the most original premises I've come across for a melding of both post-apocalytpic and dystopic fiRevealing Eden has the benefit of containing one of the most original premises I've come across for a melding of both post-apocalytpic and dystopic fiction into a young-adult novel. It's such a shame that such a great premise was not delivered upon. Eden is a difficult protagonist - one it's hard to root for, empathize with or even read for an extended amount of time. I was hooked by the idea of reading a novel about a racially constructed dystopia - that's the only reason I was drawn to this, honestly - but instead of a struggle for equality, I got a meandering book about a Jaguar Man and a lousy romance. This is not a novel I would recommend for anyone searching out a dystopia/post-apocalyptic novel. There are so many in that particular subgenre, this one can really be passed over without notice.
Let's get to both problem number one and one of the most irritating parts of the 307 pages in this first in a planned trilogy: Eden herself. EdenNewman, to be specific. Again: what is it with authors and the painfully obvious names/sur names? A protagonist named Eden Newman in a novel supposedly about a controlled dystopia with a population issue? It's both too on the nose and just kinda silly. Eden herself is silly, ridiculous, among other kinds of unfavorable descriptors. Her emotions whip around at the speed of light, often without any kind of valid reason for the whiplash - just reading her inner thoughts about her love interest, Bramford, manages to be both annoying and repetitive. While Eden can inspire a bit of empathy and curiosity while in REA/the Combs, out in the wild shows her true (nasty) colors. Eden pretty much ticks off every marker on my "Things Not To Do As A Main Character" list: she complains no one trusts her but trusts no one herself, acts suspiciously and gets angry for being called on her sketchy behavior, and most of all, she ignores what she is expressly warned not to do.
Speaking of Eden let's return to her boss and "love interest" Bramford. Right off, I hated the dynamic, the interplay and finally the "relationship" the two had for Revealing Eden. Bramford is too perfect, as shown by his "98% mate-rate" and the way the author writes him. Bramford also is a controlling bastard for much of the book: he orders Eden about with no reasoning or explanation, and is just kind of an ass because he can be, as a 'Coal'. Their "relationship" is a joke: neither can be bothered to trust the other, listen to the other or even just be nice. Eden is constantly on the look-out for something bad about Bramford or his motives - or even just something she can spin to seem like it's bad about Bramford. It's exhausting to read: " I love him!" "I hate him!" ad nauseam, with very little variation. The stupid, pointless bickering between the two is very repetitive. They also have zero chemistry together, so I found heir motivations/actions after discovering it to ring false. I can't buy that Eden does things out of love for Bramford because I can't buy that Eden really does love the part man, part jaguar part anaconda part eagle.
Almost all the twists and turns of the novel were telegraphed early on, or ridiculously easy to call. The writing as well could do with a bit of sharpening. Transitions especially need work here; the changes can be quite confusing with the often clumsy wording used. My dissatisfaction with the plotting was compounded by the poor worldbuilding and the nonexistant details about the science of the novel. Since so much of the novel focuses on Dr. Newman's experiments - and not the post-apocalyptic/race issues - I expected at least some kind of backghround info into the "Adaption" other than: science happens and BAM! Anaconda-harpy eagle-jaguar man! The father just "does science" in his lab and it's not enough to build believability for the resulting being. The only lip-service paid to the "dystopia" aspect are the mood enhancers, mind-numbing drugs, 'Life-Band', and 'World-Band' - all of which are referenced frequently, but never explained. I need worldbuilding, people. A good dystopia has detailed worldbuilding - none of which is to be found within the covers of Revealing Eden.
A muddled plot with flat characters and zero worldbuilding pretty much doom the first of the 'Save the Pearls' trilogy, Revealing Eden. There are kernels of good ideas here - the race-orientated society is both uncomfortable and compelling to read - but the good gets lost in the mire of miscarried ideas. This is sadly another case of "good ideas, faltering/poor execution". The race factor hardly matters for the duration - except for Eden's single-minded focus - which feels like a missed chance. In a choice between a book about a dystopia centered on race or a book about an adapted animal-man, I'd pick the first every time. The amusing thing is, when I started this, the former is what I thought I'd be getting and the second is what it really was. Caveat emptor! But seriously, steer clear of this one. You're not missing out on anything besides a headache.
Is there any London figure more re-imagined, re-invented or rebooted than Jack the Ripper? I loRead This Review On My Blog -->Ripper
3.5 out of 5
Is there any London figure more re-imagined, re-invented or rebooted than Jack the Ripper? I love Ripper novels, macabre as they might be. I've read several fiction and literature takes on the murders, and am always on the lookout for a creepy mystery revolving around his spree in the 1880s. Even the young-adult genre isn't free from multiple different versions of the serial killer; in addition to this soon-to-be published historical fiction, there is also another book version of the infamous monster penned by Stefan Petrucha, due out the beginning of March. The question I was most curious about during my read of Ripper was deciding whether or not Reeves version of the nightmare in human form succeeded on its own merit or whether it was a pale shadow of another version. While several parts of Ripper were quite diverting, creepy and fun, the strength of the novel rests on the mystery at the heart of it and the surprisingly strong and likeable main character of Arabella Sharpe.
Abbie is 17, newly orphaned and at the mercy of ton-loving and strict grandmother. Unlike her society grandmother, Abbie is more concerned with doing what she wants than what society expects her to do. She's easily likeable, an obviously good egg, but not the most distinguishable main character/heroine I've ever come across. As the grand-daughter and ward of a titled noble, Abbie's non-traditional and nonconformist ways lead to repeated and heated confrontations with her elderly guardian, but damaged family history keeps the two together despite their differences. Abbie struggles throughout the book with more than just figuring out the culprit of the East End: the memory and legacy of her dead mother is an issue that Abbie fixates on, a marker by which she is constantly judging herself and finding herself wanting.
Outside of Abbie, the cast is functional if not spectacular. I didn't walk away from reading Ripper with a new book-boyfriend or even a book-crush. One of the problems therein is that there is, of course, a love triangle at the heart of Abbie's romantic life. Even though I failed to believe the attraction to either male party, I have to admit it wasn't as much of a focus in the novel as I had initially feared. Both William and Simon do seem a bit too perfect to be real/believeable (Simon's manners and William's knowledge particularly) but, for once, they each appealed to unique and distinct aspects of Abbie's life. Simon represents the old life, the society, money and rules that Abbie has resisted for years, while William represents freedom, choices and the ability to determine her own rules. Both have their own strengths and weaknesses, and honestly, both would have clicked well with Abbie. While I will never be a fan of the love-triangle in a novel, especially YA novels, it is refreshing to read one where all parties have chemistry and a different appeal for the main character. It's not just a question of "who is hotter" or "Team [X]" but an actual decision Abbie must make with maturity, and hopefully, finality. No back-and-forth, wishywashy undecidedness between the two, thank you, please.
Victorian London is the perfect backdrop for such a murderous and mysterious tale - a society rigidly controlled and mannered while a madman flouts all civil convention right in the face of the populace. It illustrates perfectly that no matter how refined the world becomes, there is always danger lurking unseen. I admit to being someone that is fairly easily creeped out - I have a low scare threshold - and Ripper honestly got to me a few times. While it wasn't the bonechilling, look-over-your-shoulder-every-two-minutes experience like I had with reading the English-set Long Lankin (dear christ, that is a creeeepy book) Ripper does quite well at continually building up tension in the atmosphere as Abby races to solve the mystery. The only thing that struck a discordant with the setting and location of this novel is that none of the characters' speech patterns, slang or dialogue felt authentically 19th century London, All of which read like very modern (American?) English, and ruined any 1880's vibe the rest of the story carried.
One of the problems I had while reading this, is that the author tends to spell out emotions and character's inner feelings instead of showing them. Phrases like, "I could tell by Grandmother's demeanor that she respected Simon and seemed particularly fond of him, " abound instead of allowing Grandma Charlotte to show such herself. I also found the addition of the supernatural elements to be lacking: no reason is provided for why Abbie gets them, where they come from, or if they're just connected to the Ripper. It's odd that the fantasy element is so vague when the rest of the novel is a straight-forward historical fiction; I wish more effort had gone into explaining how the talent will relate to Abbie's life.
Though I was disappointed by areas of this historical fiction, I would read another novel by this author featuring these characters. The ending, though a bit rushed in comparison to the pace of the bulk of the book, was action-packed and thoroughly satisfying. While some of the murderer's motivations are on the thin side of things, there's more good than bad in Amy Carol Reeves novel. ...more
Hype is a strange beast, and one that is certainly no stranger to this long-anticipated fantasy novel gRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
Hype is a strange beast, and one that is certainly no stranger to this long-anticipated fantasy novel geared towards young-adults. It can prime the pump for a well-deserved novel, or it can drag down an otherwise entertaining but not very well executed novel with unfulfilled expectations, as is the case here for my read of Maas's Throne of Glass. Advertised as a "Game of Thrones" for teens meets an assassin version of The Hunger Games, the similarities and comparisons to other young-adult fantasy novels (particularly Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder -be sure to check out Amanda's great comparison review!) are unavoidable and lamentable. In addition to the misplaced hype and the whole "been-there-done-that feel", Throne of Glass suffers from a wide array of issues that kept me from loving this. I've had several days to digest and work out my-not-so-happy feelings towards this (and vacillate on my rating!), and while I will inevitably pick up the sequel, I do think Maas has a lot to learn about the fantasy genre, writing a credible romance, and crafting a better method of authorial sleight-of-hand.
Celaena Sardothien is a complex character, that is without a doubt, but one that is a little too enamored of her own looks, instead of worrying about, oh I don't know, LIVING. Even Katniss, for all her faults and flaws, doesn't worry about her good-looks when confronted by the people who ruined her life, and oppressed her people. I think Celaena will be divisive among readers: some will respond to her hard-edged confidence and others will be much less enthused with her inability to look at the bigger picture. There are many sides to her personality, and I will admit that she is admirably flawed and realistic for a YA protagonist. She's a strong, smart, capable, and decisive young woman, while only slightly suffering from Special Snowflake Syndrome. She's also arrogant beyond belief (though I didn't start to dislike that aspect until her arrogance about her skills was never backed up by her actions! One sparring match does not a Master Assassin make! And, after all, how many times, exactly, can Dorian sneak up on Celaena before she loses all credibility as The Greatest Assassin Ever?), cunning, deadly, and way, way, too invested in the superficial facets of Court life. The sheer amount of time clothing, especially Celaena's and Dorian's wardrobes, are described, lusted after, and compared is simply exhausting and dry.
Another main issue I had while reading this was the clear and present focus on romance, a love triangle and angst instead of THE ASSASSIN-TASTIC DEATH MATCH. It's supremely frustrating to be told that Celaena is an amazing assassin and then see no proof of it, outside very few isolated events. What is the point of a Hunger Games death match between assassins if it's all offsides and offscreen? For almost the entirety of reading about the tournament, I was thinking "KILL SOMEONE, DAMNIT. Prove you're what you've been so enthusiastically saying about yourself." It's too much telling about Celaena's prowess, and far too little actual "showing" on Maas's part. The Tests and trials are glossed over, or focus on the least-actiontastic events (a poison ranking? Really? Harry Potterish much?) to the overall detriment of what was actually the most compelling aspect of the whole novel. Instead, the author ignores the good stuff in favor of awkward flirting, and endless descriptions of what every character is reading. It's a shame and a glaring misstep for any novel that seeks to be compared for the bloody and dark Game of Thrones.
Maas is a capable author, but sadly not one readers will be able to call subtle after reading first-in-a-series Throne of Glass. Celaena's mysterious past and real identity are both easy to suss out, and it's remarkable that none of the other characters manage to do so in the 400+ pages of the final edition. The super-obvious plotting and writing, the easy-to-spot red herrings, and not to mention the heavy-handed approach to the love-triangle that takes up 75% of the novel, make for a very predictable novel. The "mystery" of who is behind the competitors death...isn't. It's both obvious from the start and then subsequently, hilariously frustrating how long it takes Celaena to cotton on to the real culprit. (view spoiler)[ Celaena's whole "Nehemia has a secret! Therefore, she must be the killer or maybe just politically savvy. Never mind that I've been lying the entire time we've known one another!!1!" subplot is particularly dumb. Be smarter than that, Celaena. Respect your readers more than that, Maas! (hide spoiler)]
Third-person omniscient makes it easy for the POV to rotate around Celaena, Dorian, the Crown Prince of Ardalan, and Chaol Westfall, the earnest and awesome Captain of the Guard, and show a wider view of the world. It also caused me to feel a bit distant from the characters and kept me from fully investing. (Exception: Chaol. MOAR PLEASE.) Were the other two perspectives really needed? No, but nor do they detract from the narration. The love triangle manage to do that allll on its own. You can see it forming from the first chapter, and Maas never makes it worth reading about. It's all overwrought glances and touching, with little real emotion to back up the overused trope. It's not used to illustrate that Celaena is torn between two men who genuinely appeal to vastly different sides of her character, but rather to show how beautiful and alluring she is. No, thank you. The writing itself can be bloated with over-description (the clothes! the glass castle! WE GET IT!), but Maas does reign it in occasionally to let a plot emerge.
Fun, but very flawed is my final verdict. Great ideas need great execution and that is not at all what happened here with Throne of Glass. Though Throne of Glass has been grossly overhyped and is quite often amateurish in its presentation, I can't deny that there are moments of great entertainment... but, sadly, they are not enough to earn this novel more than 3/5 stars. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more