So so so soooo good. If the plot in the second half had been less concerned with the pageant, I'd be 5-starring this. It' still 4.5 stars,YES TO THIS.
So so so soooo good. If the plot in the second half had been less concerned with the pageant, I'd be 5-starring this. It' still 4.5 stars, though. Wonderful, and about so much more than weight. It's about growing up, growing apart, becoming independent, recognizing your self-worth... etc.
There are also some excellent kissing scenes.
Recc'd for: fans of Fat Cat and 45 Pounds (More or Less)....more
Well, if I liked the first, I pretty much loved this. Slower pace, more intricate plotting, better characterization, LESS ROMANCE (which makes the shiWell, if I liked the first, I pretty much loved this. Slower pace, more intricate plotting, better characterization, LESS ROMANCE (which makes the ship actually sail.)
"I both dreaded and feared to reach so high. It only meant I had further to fall." The Secret History, ARC p.254
Stephanie Thornton proves that not all debut novels have to feel and read like debuts. The Secret History is a dense, detailed, atmospheric, and just an endlessly fascinating look at one of history's forgotten women. In a time where a woman was property, with little to no power of her own, this pleb-turned-patrician created her own opportunities and seized power for herself and her husband. Thornton ably recreates Theodora's tumultuous life from early age, steeped in poverty, to her triumphant, if troubled, reign as Augusta of the Byzantine Empire. Though this passionate and intelligent Empress has been largely overlooked by most historians and historical fiction writers, and even though I already knew her life story before reading The Secret History, this is a book that makes reading this unlikely pauper-to-princess tale firsthand utterly compelling.
This is a book that takes many harsh turns over the course of its 450 pages; there is rape, abuse, torture, prostitution, and endless extramarital affairs. However this is not a salacious novel - whatever Theodora had to do to survive, she did. Though she was many things - intelligent, stubborn, secretive, pragmatic, quick-tempered, brave, arrogant - above all, she was a survivor. Cast into poverty by her father's death and her abandonment by her political faction, Theodora and her sister Comito become actresses to help their mother and younger sister live. Her life may not always be easy to read about (from the clinical, cold loss of her virginity, to her abuse and abandonment in a foreign port at only 16) but Thornton builds from these desperate situations to recreate a version of the woman who was smart and wanted much more than to be a pawn of the men in her life and bed. From those who loved and supported her to those her saw her as no more than an up-jumped whore, you could not deny that Theodora was always a woman to be reckoned with.
Theodora as the main character and first person narrator is the best part of The Secret History. Through her observant eyes, the reader gets a vivid look at life in different stations during Constantinople under the reign of three different Emperors (Anastasius, Justin, and her husband Justinian). From poverty to notoriety to infamy, Theodora could not be ignored by her society as she made her way toward Justinian and eventually the throne. She is captivating and compelling, even when she is at her worst or when she makes the wrong decision. The characterization of Theodora evolves deftly throughout the narrative; from the beginning it is obvious that Thornton has a passion for crafting well-defined and multi-dimensional characters. Her Theodora is smart and strong-willed, but she is far from perfect and thus much more interesting to read about.
There is an abundance of well-defined characters in the book. The secondary characters of Antonina and Justinian especially reap the benefits of Thornton's strong characterization. The relationships the Theodora forges with each are complicated - Anotinia evolves from a one-note antagonist to a close friend and helpful supporter. Stephanie Thornton takes extra time and detail to craft a faithful but interesting representation of the Emperor Justinian. Of all the things shown about this ambitious man, his love for Theodora is paramount and The Secret History subtly takes care to show how his regard for his wife both helps and hurts his goals as Emperor. Their relationship goes through phases of struggle and accord, but through it all, Thornton shows Theodora to be the equal of her imperial husband in every way. Even when they find themselves at odds, the relationship between them is complex and engaging to read about.
Politics play a huge part in the life of Theodora and in the main plot of the novel. Weaving in historical events - the Nika riots, the general Belisarius's threat to her/Justinian's reign, etc. - within the narrative frame, the author recreates political intrigue with personal struggle equally well. A huge strength of The Secret History is that the story is just as compelling when it focuses on the machinations and schemes of those factions that surround the Augustus and his Augusta. The details and aims for opposing factions can make for a bit of drier reading, but the author doesn't linger overlong on ancient political agendas. And though Theodora is remembered for her support of Miaphysite Christianity, religion is also not a huge aspect of the novel.
Stephanie Thornton skillfully interweaves fact with fiction, supposition with authorial discretion, all to the benefit of the novel. As the immensely readable author's note says, Thornton takes history into her own hands to fashion a better narrative for her readers. Certain characters have liberties taken with their actions and history, but it fosters more conflict for Theodora to contend with as the novel winds to a close. New reasons are created for actions not explained historically, and the decisions Thornton makes allow for a more cohesive view of Theodora and Justinian's lives.
The first in a series about some of history's "forgotten women", The Secret History is impressive. It's a great launching point for such a series and under this author's talented vision, I have complete faith the sequels (about Hatshepsut, and Genghis Khan's wife and daughters) will be just as detailed and engrossing. A full 5/5 stars, for while minor issues pop up (pacing), this is one of the best historical fiction novels I've had the pleasure to read. Ever. Readers will be entertained by this interesting, complicated, powerful woman who seized the opportunities that came her way, regardless of how society thought she should behave. Theodora is a fascinating woman and Stephanie Thornton's version is a well-rendered and thoughtful depiction of both her and her remarkable life. ...more
This is just so so good, from start to finish. I'm still having a hard time putting coherent thoughts aRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
This is just so so good, from start to finish. I'm still having a hard time putting coherent thoughts about it together, but If I Lie made me cry, oh, once every 75 pages or so. It's gripping, and touching, and altogether beautiful in several ways. This is a book that made me feel things (All the feelings!), that made me care intensely about its wide cast of multi-dimensional characters people; all in all, this is a damn good book and I literally have zero complaints. It and the themes and issues explored in those 276 pages brought to mind The Scarlet Letter and another novel I recently read, Speechless by Hannah Harrington, on how inaction and silence can be as harmful as telling secrets. And, however much I was initially reminded of those novels, this is very much its own novel. Corrine Jackson is undoubtedly an author to watch and she more than proves her talent with this contemporary debut. Though I read an ARC of this, I fully plan to buy my own copy when it's available. Heart-breaking in a variety of ways, If I Lie is easily one of my best of 2012 reads.
This book is so much more than the blurb seems to let on. It's not the same tired old highschool angst and melodrama about a girl caught in a cliched love triangle. If I Lie is anything but that. It's heartfelt and emotional. In the end, it's about hope, love, trust, family, and ultimately, what it means to be your own person. It's about growing up, moving on, and learning how to live with curveballs life can and does throw at you. Though I called the secret even before starting, the heart of the novel isn't uncovering what happened those two days before Carey shipped out, but in watching how that secret affects and continues to impact the characters various lives after he's gone.
Main character and chief protagonist Sophie Topper Quinn is one of those few and far between heroines: she's strong, passionate, honorable, stubborn, flawed, and real. I absolutely loved Sophie and reading about her life, through her ups and downs, her stubbornness and her pride. This is the kind of character I can care about, root for and invest in heavily. Her voice is... real, organic -- it gets under the skin and makes you care about her and her life. She has hopes and dreams, is an active protagonist, even if some of what she does is more harmful than goo in the long run. This book is a great example of how first-person POV can be used effectively to make a reader identify closely with the narrator. I felt what Quinn felt, her full spectrum of emotions caught me early. Her inner monologue is just so realistic and further reinforces how authentic and grounded this character is. Corrine Jackson has this characterization, voice, plot all down pat here in If I Life, and I was impressed even as tears were streaming down my cheeks, multiple times.
Though my family isn't nearly as military-oriented as Quinn's is shown to be, I do have a brother who is a Sergeant in the Marines, and who has served two tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. And while, thankfully, he has never been MIA or wounded in action, the actions of the characters in this novel really hit home for me. The simple fact of not knowing where they are or how your loved one is is stressful and can lead people to do things they otherwise wouldn't. I'm not just talking about Quinn here (though her case is obviously not the same as others), but Carey's parents and friends as well. While their actions towards Quinn can be and often are abusive, I understand how it is to act out of fear for someone you love but cannot do anything to help. Corrine Jackson's skillful writing and my personal experiences makes it so that I understand them, even if I disagree with how they act. One of the best things, out of a multitude of options, about If I Lie are how human all these characters are, even the antagonists of Jamie and the Breens. They're practically alive with their flaws, mistakes, and errors.
I picked this up yesterday morning, intending to read a few chapters before I went to work out. I ended up pushing back my workout by several hours because I absolutely could not, and did not want to, put this down. If I Lie is compulsively readable, even as it repeatedly shatters your heart and wrangles all your emotions. Though the ending is more open-ended than anything, I choose to see it as a hopeful finale, for Quinn, for Blake, (view spoiler)[ for Quinn and Blake together as a couple after the summer ends (hide spoiler)]. It's perfect. This is a great book. Read it and love it. I can't recommend it highly enough. Well done, Corrine Jackson. You have made a fangirl out of me with just one novel alone and I eagerly anticipate whatever else you publish.
Eventually, I did get to my gym. But first, I went to see my brother and gave him a big hug and a 'thank you' for all he has done. Though the military is far from perfect, I am eternally grateful for what they all - every branch and every individual servicemember - have sacrificed for this country. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...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
And a "well done" to both Kaufman and Spooner for bringing it with book two in their shared series. With better plotting, a great female lead, a well-And a "well done" to both Kaufman and Spooner for bringing it with book two in their shared series. With better plotting, a great female lead, a well-written romance, I think This Shattered World was an improvement on its predecessor These Broken Stars. ...more
"An unexpected delight" were the immediate words to pop into my head upon my all-too-soon completion ofRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
"An unexpected delight" were the immediate words to pop into my head upon my all-too-soon completion of this historical remake of America in the Dust Bowl - with fairies! Teaching me once again that assumptions are flawed from the outset, both early and often Dust Girl exceeded my expectations. I got a thoroughly developed and humanly flawed heroine, a likeable rogue for a possible love interest, a fresh envisioning of the oft-used Seelie/Unseelie Courts of fae and a very unique background in which all these elements operate: Oklahoma, 1935 right in the grips of the Dust Bowl. From the first page I was taken completely by the story Sarah Zettel has crafted so skillfully and truthfully? I didn't want to end - the potential for awesome shown just in the creativity behind the ideas extends itself as well to the contents of the book.
Calliope referred to as "Callie" and her mom are barely making do in their dying town of Slow Run, Kansas. With a long-gone dad and a struggling mom, Callie is older than her age, mature and self-aware. Her personal evolution progresses right along with her travels to both find her mother and figure out her future - the more Callie sees and understands the more she matures and figures things out independently. She's a smart protagonist and it's easy to root for her with such a sympathetic voice. Callie is also one of the few non-white main characters in YA I've come across lately (Shadows on the Moon's Suzume and The Immortal Rules's Allison are the only others I can recall), but thankfully that is not the forefront of her characterization. Callie's mixed race does play a part in the plot of the novel but it by no means defines who she is as a person or character. (I also wish cover more accurately portrayed how Callie is described... )I also appreciate the subtlety in which Callie's race was used as a reminder of the horrendous state of American prejudices without Zettel overdoing it. But what else doesn't define Callie? Her offbeat and thoroughly charming-in-a-rogueish-way love interest, Jack.
Jack is a great addition to the story. He balances out Callie's personality traits with flair, history and wit of his own. I have to admit one of the things I liked best about Jack was that he's not immediately introduced as some swoon-worthy love-interest, nor is his and Callie's connection all about teenage fluctuating hormones. In this very action-packed novel, Jack and Callie make for an unusual but oddly complementary pair. They work well together, despite the occasional bickering (who hasn't been "ready to kill him stone dead" referring to someone they care about?), and I liked them for one another... not that anything progresses to that kind of crux. (view spoiler)[They are two people used to hiding who they are: Jacob for his religion, Callie because of her multiple hidden heritages. They make sense for one another: they don't have to hide but can freely be themselves. (hide spoiler)] Those looking for a romance-charged YA novel, this is not that book. And I love Dust Girl even more for not going that predictable and inevitably boring route. If anything, what happens between the two main characters is more of an age-appropriate "puppy love" than anything else and it is adorable, and doesn't rely on cheap tricks love triangles to create affecting problems for the two..
The atmosphere/background of the novel is complete and stretches to every aspect of the book. I thoroughly believed I was in the 1930's, and the dialogue reads like how I would expect for an impoverished girl/boy at those times ("I got nothing." "A crazy Eye-Talian", etc.) It feels authentic without patronizing. Zettel also has a unique and charming way with words to paint a vivid but not overdone tapestry of locations throughout Dust Girl. As Callie and Jack move across the dust-covered lands, each different locale springs to life with very tactile but not overly descriptive prose. It's obvious that research has gone into crafting as authentic a representation as possible and Zettel succeeds with flying colors. I also liked the sprinkles of other mythlogies and lore within this tale of fae and fairies: Baya the Coyote familiar to many Native religions, and even Callie's own real name "Calliope" was a player in ancient Greek mythology. These inclusions don't feel odd in the middle of such an America-centric novel, but rather more mesh seamlessly within the larger scope of Zettel's novel of magic. The 'magic' aspect of this could've been expounded upon more (and one of the reasons I rated this a 4 instead of 5 stars is because it wasn't detailed to my satisfaction) but what was there, was serviceable. And creepy. (view spoiler)[Particularly the Hopper family. I have a fear of grasshoppers (don't judge me! My brother used to hide them in my bed under my covers.) so as soon as Callie figures out what's so odd about the hungry family I got majorly squicked out. (hide spoiler)]
The other main reason why this a 4 star review and not a 5 like I'd love it to, is that the ending leaves a little to be desired. While there are two more novels left to conclude this series, everything seemed a bit too easy and simple at the resolution. It was satisfying in the most part, but I expected more about the fae/magic/the Midnight People. I guess I will just have to be patient and wait for book #2.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Theodora was one of the most influential women of her time. As a poverty-stricken dancer,Read This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
3.5 out of 5
Theodora was one of the most influential women of her time. As a poverty-stricken dancer, as the most celebrated actress/whore in Constantinople, as a penitent nun in a commune in the desert, and as the wife of the most powerful man in Christendom, she commands attention and vast amounts of interest. Defying social strictures and traditions of her day, Theodora rose from a common birth and life to the most exalted position available: Augusta of "New Rome" also known as Constantinople, the "sparkling gem in a Christian crown" in in 527 AD. Stella Duffy writes an easy-to-read and well-crafted and rounded tale of the infamous woman in one of the most interesting periods of the Roman Empire.
Born the second daughter of three to Acacius and an unknown woman, named Hypatia for this novel, Theodora was born into showbusiness as it was then. Her father was the bear trainer at the infamuous Hippodrome of Constantinople. It is the Hippodrome that is the most important place in Theodora's life: her earliest memories, the death of her father at the hands of his beloved bear, and eventually the site of the greatest triumph of her life: her coronation. Duffy writes Theodora as a determined, intelligent and capable young woman. Not the best singer, not the best dancer or even the prettiest girl, Theodora commands attention and awe from her presence, her wit, her spirit and her sheer ambition. Though the novel begins at age eleven for the protagonist, it is never immature or boring: I was captivated from the start.With a singer for an older sister (Comito) and a beautiful younger sister (Anastasia), Theo turns to her true talent: comedy. With it she makes a name, a fortune and a life she always believed was beyond her. I liked Theodora a lot: I actually wished this was a first-person novel rather than third, though I did get to see and enjoy insight into Justinian as well. She was the only female character I enjoyed, the rest seeming rather hard-bitten and begrudging of Theodora's success, even her sisters. I enjoyed - and believed - the growth and maturity Theodora grows into, especially on her travels from Constantinople. She learns humility, grief and even experiences for the first time a sense of equality while in the desert. For the first time, regardless of her sex or past professions or infamy, Theodora was what she has always sought to be: an equal. It's also terribly interesting to read about a indomitable woman who experiences such a wide range of life: from a whore to a penitent nun in an ascetic community, Theodora remains herself and full of fire. From failed love affairs, to child abandonment issues, Duffy presents Theodora as a complex woman. There is no easy answer to the hows and whys of what Theodora did historically, but the reasons Duffy fabricates/infers are more than adequate and totally believable for her version of the Empress.
Let's talk about Justinian, the Emperor. Presented as a bookish, scholarly but kind man, I initially didn't invest in the relationship between the two. Born Flavius Petrus Sabbatius, he was not from Constantinople, an ambitious "foreigner" with a thirst for power "born of a desire for change." A man of strategy rather than force, Justinian quietly emerged as a strong and very likeable character. While their marriage is portrayed initially as more of an alliance to harbor amity between both sides of the religious debate (they were on openly opposing sides of the heated religious debate), it grew into a nice, steady affection and love. The two characters brought out the best in each other: I liked their dynamic and relationship more and more as the novel progressed through their lives together. There is a nice dichotomy between the eventual August and his Augusta as well: Theo is of the City, poor and therefore "one of the people." Justinian represents the other classes of the varied, multi-national Empire: foreigner of the City, rich and royal. Justinian helps Theodora evolve from anti-government to actually being the government, an interesting and hardly believable tale based on fact.
This is a fairly easy read for a historical novel. I found the prose to be a bit stuffy and overloaded from time to time, the dialogue occasionally stilted and unrealistic, but neither issue overwhelmed my enjoyment of the rest of the book. Constantinople itself was one of my favorite parts of the entire thing: it springs to life as much as Theodora and considerably more than the rest of the characters. It is a vibrant city, teeming with life. Contradictorily the Christian capital of the world but still fighting an internal battle over divinity of the Christ, Constantinople is in a constant flux of religious dogma, a microcosm of the entire empire. With the Western side extolling the belief in Christ's humanity AND divinity and the Eastern parts of the Empire contesting He is wholly divine, a schism seems imminent. Between the religious debates and the constant political turmoil and maneuvering of the Blues and the Green, it's easy to see the cracks in the foundation. Duffy does a more than admirable job of explaining the different opinions/beliefs and the reasons for the tensions in the novel without a massive infodump. I will say I didn't like the jumps in the chronology at all: the barely glossed over times ("in those two years....." "For the next three....") because I was interested in a lot of the events/times skipped over.
Love her, hate her, despise her for her less savory acts but you cannot deny Theodora had an impact. On the world, on her Empire, and on religion. An influential woman who refused to stay in her place and do what she was told, I think many historical fiction fans will have fun with this easy-to-read, easily enjoyable novel. Her life began and ended at the famed Hippodrome, but Theodora's legacy and memory still reaches out over 1500 years after she died at the age of approximately 48....more
Good, but not great. Has a few moments where the narrative excels, but for the most part, the magic of the earlier (but later in the chronology) booksGood, but not great. Has a few moments where the narrative excels, but for the most part, the magic of the earlier (but later in the chronology) books is largely missing. ...more