Wow. That was one of the most boring waste-of-potential I've ever read. I made it to about 65% and them skimmed to the end, and kids? It wasn't pretty...moreWow. That was one of the most boring waste-of-potential I've ever read. I made it to about 65% and them skimmed to the end, and kids? It wasn't pretty.
"Do you know what it's like to be a girl pieced together by appetite and impulse?" - All Our Pretty Songs, p.18
This review is probably going to end up quite short -- I don't have a lot to say about All Our Pretty Songs and almost none of what I do have to say is good.
All Our Pretty Songs has a great premise. It also can boast some truly amazing prose. When the mood strikes/the planets align/etc,. McCarry can create some truly visual and lovely writing. But that's only about 30% of the time. The other 70%? You get overwrought melodramatic teenage angst all over the place. You can't win them all, right? But it doesn't even seem like McCarry is trying half the time.
The characters are flat. Underdeveloped. One-dimensional. And? They're pretty obnoxious, or boring, or obnoxiously boring. Unfortunately for us, the readers, and for the book itself, the awesome premise isn't enough to make up for the less-than-inspiring way it is carried out. The lack of a plot for a quarter of the novel makes for a lot of aimless stream of consciousness narration from our unnamed narrator - none of it particularly riveting or engaging.
McCarry wants this novel to be the punk retelling of Orpehus. And she is not too subtle with presenting her theme throughout the short story contained in All Our Pretty Songs. As the characters struggle to decide what they value most, what they will sacrifice, the suspense does build into a somewhat interesting final conflict. But it's not enough to save the rest of the novel from being utterly underwhelming. It's too little too late and the end is too confusing (and open-ended!) to provide any real sense of satisfaction.
Ashleigh Paige's comparions of All Our Pretty Songs with the lyrical and creepy Imaginary Girls could not be more accurate. McCarry wants that magical realism Nova Ren Suma crafts so easily and so well to work here, badly, and it just never solidifies into anything remotely like it. It's a failed Another Little Piece. It's a brave attempt to create something original and suspenseful, but with the weak supports of cardboard characters and a flimsy plot, All Our Pretty Songs just doesn't cut it. The prose can be outstanding, or laughable, and McCarry never finds a happy medium. It's great or it's just bad.
So it boils down to one star for premise, one star for the prose that I was impressed with for All Our Pretty Songs. I really don't see how this could be expanded another two books - the plot is thin already - and I doubt I will be reading to see what happens next. Maybe McCarry will try to tackle a new myth, but high expectations won't be a part of it.
I guess I had more to say than I thought. This was a severe disappointed. An intriguing premise meets underwhelming (less)
Clever use of mythology, though the plot itself is fairly generic for the YA market. An interesting idea, and the Maori lore is truly the highpoint of...moreClever use of mythology, though the plot itself is fairly generic for the YA market. An interesting idea, and the Maori lore is truly the highpoint of the entire novel.(less)
4.5 out of 5 stars. I loved this! It was unexpectedly charming and clever and just plain fun even when (e...moreRead This Review And More Like It On My Blog!
4.5 out of 5 stars. I loved this! It was unexpectedly charming and clever and just plain fun even when (especially?) at its most twisted. Kill Me Softly is a wholly engrossing and enjoyable read. This is one of those surprising books that went above and beyond my expectations; in fact, I passed this over a couple times on NetGalley because it seemed so been there, done that at first glance and I've been trying to control the amount of requests I make there. Then, pretty much the next week reviews on GoodReads started popping up - 4 stars, 4.5 stars, 5 stars - and who am I to fight the tide? I learned my lesson around December when the same sort of thing started happening with another book that I initially dismissed and which ended up becoming immensely popular (coughAngelfallcough). So with this I didn't hesitate; the day of reading those reviews, I downloaded and began my journey to Beau Rivage, Sarah Cross's imagination and quite possibly some of my favorite fairy tale retellings ever in Kill Me Softly.
To put it the most succinctly, Kill Me Softly is charming, clever and just plain fun. There's a lot to enjoy from this book - a fairly feisty heroine, a unique angle on fairytales in a modern-day scenario, and the clever allusions and asides to popular tales we know and love. I have to admit, the darker and more unsettling this novel became, the more and more I loved it. Kill Me Softly is most definitely at its best when it takes an unexpected, usually foreboding, turn, or reveals a truth very cleverly hidden behind the author's sleight of hand. Sarah Cross is quite adept, more than adept really, at setting the perfect scene and atmosphere for her cursed characters to populate and on occasion, I was really struck by the imagery in her words. I don't want to get spoilery since there's secrets and curses and mysteries aplenty to uncover and figure out, so I will just say that Sarah Cross finds a way to make both a love triangle between brothers and extreme instalove palatable.
Another aspect of this that I greatly appreciated was the author's tendency to show her fairy-tale world within a world and its rules, and instead let them evolve naturally rather than line them all out in an introductory info-dump. Sure, for a while the curses and Blue don't make a lot of sense, but given time and attention, the details emerge. Kill Me Softly is a very readable and quickly engrossing book - the kind you pick up for a chapter and somehow emerge 97 pages and several very interesting plot-twists later. There are double meanings and hints staring out at you from the page that slowly click and make a bigger picture - several times I wanted to hit my forehead and say "duh! Of course..." The author excels at providing the reader with clues and hints but not spelling out the answers desired. I won't go so far to say Kill Me Softly is perfect, but it is damn near close, and only a few slight quibbles keep it from making it to my best-of-2012 shelves.
I found the final (? temporary?) conflict with the main antagonist left me feeling rather underwhelmed. It takes Mira so long to clue in and then it's kind of... over in a flash and without much depth. There are sequels/companion novels confirmed to be written so I am sure the villain will reappear along the line but I wish the entire plotline of Kill Me Softly had been resolved in one novel. I vehemently support the idea of a sequel for another character from the fascinating world of Beau Rivage; I wouldn't be nearly as enthused for a return to Mira's plotline from the first/launching point of the series. (less)
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. (less)
It's hard to duplicate a success - countless series and books that follow-up first-in-line beloved stor...moreRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
It's hard to duplicate a success - countless series and books that follow-up first-in-line beloved stories can easily attest to how hard a feat that is to accomplish. Happily, that is so far from the case here with Catherynne Valente's second foray into her magical, modernish fairytale series with The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There. Told once again in the same wistful, cheeky tone, and with the same immediately immersive feeling as the first one, but with a more mature September and a more convoluted journey, Catherynne Valente once again proves how imaginative and capable a storyteller she is. Set a year after the first novel wrapped up, readers will have all new marvelous adventures, new anthropomorphic creatures, more wondrous and weird locales to sink into as they go along with September in her fight to once again save Fairyland.
These two books have been absurd, funny, poignant, and filled to the brim with odd, hard-won wisdom. The second adventure with September in Fairyland and Fairyland-Below has lost none of the originality or charm that so defined the first. Without a single doubt, this newest novel from the author is another winner from prosemaster Catherynne Valente. I loved this. Even more than the first, which I would've bet wouldn't've happened before I got a chance to read an ARC of the eagerly-awaited second.
With the same narrator, who frequently breaks the fourth wall to directly address his audience about the goings-on of September and her "new" motley band of misfits, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There is as highly imaginative, and uniquely told as its predecessor. Though told in the same inimitable and thoroughly cheeky prose brimming with deeper meaning, Valente has a subtle way of intertwining hard-won wisdom amid her world of absurd and wonderful creations. With just as many quotable sections as the first, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland... benefits from a larger focus on plot than the novel before. The novel still reads more like episodic vignettes than a straight-forward novel, but the overarching need to save Fairyland from Fairyland-Below drives September ever on.
The first September novel came across as an original and compelling mix of a modern fairytale, with a lot of ideas and events borrowed from the ages-old Persephone myth. The forced return for eating food, the regular mention of pomegranates further reinforced that feeling for me as I progressed in my read. Here in the second, I caught vibes of the Orpheus myth - someone sent into the underworld to retrieve something vital to her/others. Though in The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland..'s case, it is not someone but something that must be retrieved. So far, both novels in this hopefully-ongoing series have uniquely and successfully blended adult themes, ideas into an easily readable and immensely enjoyable, highly original take on fairy tales. This is a series and book like no other.
More mature, and darker than the first novel, September's journey shows how much the main protagonist has grown and her battle with her darker self will appeal to readers of all ages. Filled with "mad and savage beasts", September's journey to save the world and put herself right easily blends classic fairytale ideas with new, more modern adaptations. With hints at a third, and more secrets than previously imagined, I anxiously hope that this is not the final adventure with September, Ell, Saturday, and everyone else. Full of brilliant prose, multilayered meaning, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There is another winner from a very talented and original author. These books -and this author - are nothing short of remarkable.
"The sky glowed deep blue and rose, and a little yellow star came on like a lightbulb in the warm evening. That's Venus, September thought. She was the goddess of love. It's nice that love comes on first in the evening, and goes out last in the morning. Love keeps the light on all night."
"[September] did not know yet how sometimes people keep parts of themselves hidden and secret, sometimes wicked and unkind parts, but often brave or wild or colorful parts, cunning or or powerful or even marvelous, beautiful parts, just locked up away at the bottom of their hearts. They do this because they are afraid of being stared at, or relied upon to do feats of bravery and boldness. And all of those brave and wild and cunning and marvelous and beautiful parts they hid away and left in the dark to grow strange mushrooms – and yes, sometimes those wicked and unkind parts, too – end up in their shadows.”
"A book is a door, you know. Always and forever. A book is a door to another place and another heart and another world."
The Accused: The Chaos of Stars' cast, writing, plotting
The Offense(s): Criminal waste of time, cover fraud, squandering a great premise, using cliches and juvenile writing
The Prosecution: Jessie, a disappointed reader
Opening Argument: Ladies and gentleman, I present to you a blurb that promises Egyptian gods, a creative new take for young adult supernatural fiction, and an interesting plot. The Chaos of Stars delivers Egyptian gods, sure -- but shallow, lifeless representations of them. Instead of a new, fresh plot, the same old tropes and themes are trotted out to the reader's exasperation. It is a boring affair - full of instalove, a cheesy romance, and lackluster execution.
Exhibit A: Isadora's lack of personality. Surliness and self-absorption do not a character make. She doesn't even qualify for antihero status. She's boring, she's immature, judgmental, and impossible to care about. If it doesn't directly concern Isadora herself, she is uninterested. It's hard to stomach such a badly-written character.
Exhibit B: The Chaos of Stars uses the same theme so many other young adult novels fall prey too - magical girl, who is beyond gorgeous (of course) must wrestle with familial expectations while trying to figure out what she wants from life. If you're going to use the Egyptian gods as your main characters, make use of them. Don't make them fade into the background until it's too late.
Exhibit C: The writing. It's juvenile. It's unpolished. There's no subtlety, no depth or any real emotion evoked in the nearly 300 pages of the book. You can skim the last 50ish pages and miss nothing. That is not good. There should be ethos, pathos, building tension, a dramatic conflict. There is sadly none of that to be found here.
Exhibit D: The plot. Where was it for most of the book? Your guess is as good as mine and I read the damn thing. For the most part, White focuses on a romance with an impossibly gorgeous Greek boy who is more than he seems to be (think about that for more than two minutes and you will have figured out a twist.) and who is in love with Isadora because...well... who knows.
Closing Argument: I was disappointed by this book from the beginning. For so much potential, the premise is neglected and the execution is lackluster. The characters are one-dimensional AND unlikeable or wooden, and the conclusion lacks emotion.
Verdict: Do not waste your time. It's not worth it, and you're honestly not missing anything by skipping this. Don't be lured in by that cover, or the promise of something original. There's none of that to be found in The Chaos of Stars.(less)