Decent, but I gave up on this series after the fourth book. So no real connection or investment in th...more
The Dark Tower: The Little Sisters of Eluria: 3/5
Decent, but I gave up on this series after the fourth book. So no real connection or investment in the short story for the series.
Discworld: The Sea and Little Fishes - 4/5
I always enjoy a visit to Pratchett's Discworld and Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg are big favorites.
The Sword of Truth: Debt of Bones - 1/5
A short story from a series I really do not like. I can't stand the way Goodkind writes women (or antagonists, or protagonists, or humans) and I dislike the world he created.
Tales of Alvin Maker: Grinning Man - 1/5
I am no fan of Card's, but I couldn't even make it through this short story... and it is one of the shortest additions to the anthology.
Majipoor: The Seventh Shrine - 3/5
I can't say I really understood everything that went on here (as I have never read any his work), but the ideas were creative and strong.
Earthsea: Dragonfly -- 2/5
Confesson: I've never finished Le Guin's most popular series. I gave up early in book one, so this was not a story for me.
Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn: The Burning Man - 3/5
Like most of Williams' work, this just leaves me cold. Ehhhh.
A Song of Ice and Fire: The Hedge Knight - 4/5
The first Dunk and Egg story. The whole reason I wanted to read this and that Danielle sent it to me. And I wasn't disappointed. So many infamous figures were shown - Aerion, Dunk, Egg, Baelor Breakspear, Maekar.... It was an entertaining read.
Pern: Runner of Pern - 3/5
Confession: I've never read Pern either. I am not coming off too well as a fantasy fan, huh?
The Riftwar Saga: The Wood Boy - 3.5/5
I have a lot of fondness for the Riftwar books and this was a nice, short reminder of why Feist's books are so fun to read.
The Wheel of Time: New Spring - 3.5/5
I'd read this before but it features one of my favorite characters (Lan) so it's always worth a reread. It's a bit long, but the story of Lan and Moiraine's meeting and friendship is a good one.
All in all, a very satisfying anthology and I look forward to reading Legends II.(less)
I have a hard time rating novellas - of any length - more than three stars. As fun, interesting or detailed they might be, I always find them to lack real depth, emotion or plot.
That said, The Assassin and the Empire, the last of the the four prequel novellas, deserves those full four stars.
I had read and moderately enjoyed the first full length Celaena Sardothien novel last year. I didn't love it - I wanted more assassinating, less love triangle; more strength and less indecision - but I was curious enough to keep my eye out for the sequel. When Gilly B said the prequels add to the experience of reading Crown of Midnight, I bought all four.
And I am glad I listened. These short stories, full of murder and betrayal, and exposition have helped me to like Celaena a lot more than I did at the close of Throne of Glass. I maybe even understand her better. I don't begrudge her her liking for fine things, or her arrogance, because now I can see there is more to the character than that. I can see where she has come from, what she has gone through, and what she has learned in order to become the person she is during the full-length novels.
The mystery angle is a bit obvious and predictable, and needs work. It's a consistent problem for Maas to write with subtlety, and it shows in all four novellas and especially in Throne of Glass. That said, these prequels, the last especially, show a marked improvement in Maas's writing ability, both in terms of plot and character. Celaena especially comes across more vibrantly, and the chance to see Sam as real character, rather than a memory, provided real depth and emotion to Celaena's grief for him.
I sped through all four ebooks in one day, and it was a great way to get pumped up and excited for Crown of Midnight.
There had just be copious amounts of Chaol. That's all I saying.
I chose to DNF at 23% after the following infuriating quotes pushed me over the "to finish or not to finish" edge:
"It is every man's nature to take ad...moreI chose to DNF at 23% after the following infuriating quotes pushed me over the "to finish or not to finish" edge:
"It is every man's nature to take advantage of a woman's frailty. But most of us are able to resist the impulse when required."
"Barren women have no [sexual] appetites."
To those I say:
I utterly reject that all women are inherently frail and up for ravishment, as well as that "all men are just animals who have no brains aside from SEX. How flattering." (That quote is from the lovely Renae because I am too frustrated to formulate real thoughts.) Am I supposed to like these characters? Root for them? Because any chance that Sweyn would remain anything but a source of aggravation ended as soon as those quotes came into the story.
Also: the idea that women unable to bear children are free from sexual urges? NO. Sexuality has nothing to do with the ability to bear children. None. Whatsoever.
A valid point may be made that the author may be trying to convey typical thoughts from the first millennium (the novel is set in 1040's England), but to my mind there are better ways to do such a thing without being anachronistic. Godiva herself could have made more of an effort to refute both claims, but abandons the effort to focus instead on a pseudo-seduction of the man who uttered both.
Godiva does focus on some very fascinating and forgotten characters in English history (King Edward the Confessor, Godwin, Earl of Wessex), but they alone are not enough to convince me to go on. I have Google for that. I've read Galland before, but this particular story was a wash for me. I wasn't a huge fan of The Fool's Tale, but it didn't irritate me to the point of not finishing.
Besides the quotes, I had a few issues that rapidly became more and more problematic as the novel went on. Godiva herself tried to be an empowered woman who uses her sexuality to further her husband's and friend's goals, but it came off as uncomfortable and far too obvious a ploy. There is no subtlety to be found in her machinations around the court's noblemen. Her friend from childhood with royal ties and a bleeding heart for the poor managed to be too sanctimonious, even for an Abbess. Godiva's husband's approval of Godiva's use of flirtation and manipulation didn't ring true for the attitude of a powerful English nobleman.
No rating because I didn't make to 50% (where I usually feel a rating is warranted even for a DNF). This was just not for me. (less)
Stephanie Lehmann tries for something new with her fifth novel, telling the stories of two oddly similar women who just happen to live a century apart. With her characters of Amanda in 2007 and Olive in 1907, Lehmann casts a detailed and visual look at both the city of New York itself and feminist issues at different points in time. Astor Place Vintage is about the past, and about progress and change. Though the timelines are separated by a wide margin of years, Lehmann uses both her protagonists creatively and well. The author fully and subtly showcases how both similar and different Amanda and Olive's lives are through the parallels that pop up in each character's plot.
The dual narrative structure makes for compelling storytelling and is evenly matched between modern Amanda and vintage Olive. Both women are interesting and well-drawn, and their lives create a dichotomy that will make readers - especially women - think about how far feminism has gotten our gender. There are a lot of similarities between the two perspectives: they each struggle to secure a place to live, both have gone through life with absent parent(s), and each, in her way, goes about refusing to adhere to society's intransigence on how a woman should live her life. Both women (Olive as a shopgirl, Amanda as a single female business owner) exist in roles not exactly approved of by their respective societies and struggle mightlily because of that. Both women live in turn of the century decades and fight to find their footing on their own, with as little help from outside sources as possible.
For all their connections and similarities, Lehmann makes sure to give each woman a unique characteristics and different voice. They may be more alike than different, but there are several things that set them apart from one another. Notably one such instance is sex, and how each character relates to it and men. A woman of her time in that regard, Olive is far from a sexually liberated woman, and is without the barest knowledge about sex or her own body. The lengths society went to in order to keep women caged, ignorant of their own bodies is frightening to look back on, and Lehmann shows how frustrating and even scary that situation would be. Amanda is an empowered woman of the 2000s, but takes monetary help from her married lover --- something Olive expressly would never do, despite having far fewer chances for sources of income than Amanda. Be it premarital sex or extramarital affairs, the way Olive and Amanda relate to the men their lives could not be more different. The author takes pains to not cast judgement and say which character is "right" in her opinions and actions, which leaves the door open for reader interpretation of who is the more "modern" woman.
It's more than obvious just how much time and research Stephanie Lehmann put into her story. This is obviously an author with a deep and abiding love for the Big Apple, and it is apparent on the pages of her novel. From the black and white pictures to the architectural details woven into the story, both versions of her New York come alive with ease. An enjoyable story in its own right, Astor Place Vintage gets an extra little boost from the inclusion of the photographs showing New York as it grew and changed during the time that Olive would have lived in the city. The setting comes to life as only New York can - a sprawling, expanding beast of a city that changes immeasurable over the 100 years between the two storylines.
I enjoyed this novel from the beginning, but I did have a few issues with some of the plotting as the novel wore on. The magical realism, or the trances that Amanda has due to her hypnotism felt misused and like an unnecessary inclusion. For such a strong novel about real issues and problems during the turn of the centuries, Amanda's visions were too melodramatic for me. I would've preferred a novel that was a straight historical fiction/contemporary and though the interludes were few and far between, they detracted from my overall impression of Astor Place Vintage.
This is a solid, well-written, and obviously researched piece of fiction. The ending was perhaps too open-ended to provide full satisfaction, but Lehmann leaves hope for both her characters without being to definite on what happens after the final page. Astor Place Vintage is a nostalgic, smartly-woven tale of two likeable and flawed women just trying to make it own their own. I absolutely recommend it to historical fiction readers, especially those that like a little feminism in their fiction. (less)
This was coasting along; a decent, if shallow, alternative history steampunk.... until that non-ending reared its head to frustrate me. Her Ladyship's Curse has an intriguing enough premise - a supernatural steampunk story set in "Toriana" (Provincial Union of Victoriana), a version of the United States where the Revolutionary War failed - but execution was shallow if serviceable. For the most part... but I will get to my severe dissatisfaction in just a minute.
I wanted more from the worldbuilding early on. The idea at the heart of the novel is a good one - far too few steampunk novels turn their focus outside of Great Britain - but the author failed to provide enough detail to flesh out her alternative history. The book is decent if far from stellar at several things: plot, pacing, writing, and creativity. However, the author's clear lack of detail works against Her Ladyship's Curse. The mystery element is pretty weak, but since Kit is a dry, amusing protagonist I was content to ride along with her and see where it all ended up.
And then, after two hundred pages of nondescript writing and very little characterization - which I was more than willing to look past because the novel was engaging enough - we get to that "ending." And I am being generous with that description. The last chapter is utterly frustrating. The cliffhanger resolves NOTHING. There is NO resolution to the main plot, just a clear ploy to buy book two. UGH. It was a cheap way to end a novel - regardless of how short the book may be. There are no answers, just an interlude THAT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE PLOT that just.. terminates. It's over, and it's far from a good stopping point.
I can't say I will pick up His Lordship Possessed because of how terribly Her Ladyship's Curse ended. There are plenty of supernatural steampunk mysteries already published to keep me busy, and at least they are concerned with satisfactorily wrapping up plots before attempting to solicit more money from their readers. What had been a shaky 3-star read quickly downgraded into a 2/5 and just convinced me to never pick up this series again. (less)
A deft, intricate novel that encompasses two storylines of two similar women, The Last Camellia is a charming, mysterious, and fresh novel. This was my first Sarah Jio novel, and it definitely was a good first impression. A novel that reads both easily and well, it's remarkably easy to get caught up in the atmospheric feel of The Last Camellia from the very first page. With the twinned, compelling stories of Flora in the 1940s and Addison in the early 2000s, the similarities and parallels between the two women add another meaningful layer to the themes and ideas subtly woven into the narrative. With a story comprising murder, betrayal, affairs, and con men, there's clearly a lot going on in this shorter novel, but Jio pulls it off with finesse and aplomb.
I hadn't read anything from this author before, though I have seen her work more and more in friends' reviews and book buys during the last year. If any of them had though to tell me how reminiscent of Kate Morton Jio's novels were, I might've gotten around to reading them before now. Both Morton and Jio like to parallel two different women in different time zones, often with a secret or a mystery. I say Sarah Jio is Kate Morton-esque, because she is far more direct and forthright with her plotting. There may be mysteries afoot for nearly all the characters, but it takes Jio far less time to wind up her story and tie everything together. Morton remains one of my favorite authors, but the favorable comparison and similarities to this prevalent and productive author were an unexpected boon.
The enveloping atmosphere evident in The Last Camellia is one of its many strong points. From the moors of Clivebrook, to the orchards of Livingston Manor itself, the feel of the novel is omnipresent and lends well to the suspense that is introduced later in the novel. The fact that Jio takes the time to show the same location in different periods of its history (the 1940s with Flora and 2000 with Addison) create a vibrant sense of place. The intrigue and suspense that begin to built early on only add to the engrossing nature of the novel; as the pages race by, the reader is caught up in the world this author took such time and care to cultivate. The gardens, orchards and camellias come to life the most and had me googling to learn more about these gorgeous but under-appreciated blooms.
Both Flora and Addison tell their tales in first person, with alternating chapters. From the different fonts used, it's immediately obvious who is narrating, but the diverse, independent voices created for each does much more to distinguish between the two characters. Including a 60-year mystery connecting the two protagonists, the threads that tie the two women to each other are numerous and subtly shown as the stories progress. Their perspectives are used to show the theme of how the past can affect the future, often literally. Both the near past and the distant have direct impact on Addison's storyline in particular.
Mysteries and secrets are another key facet of the multiple stories being woven through The Last Camellia's pages. Nearly everyone - past or present - that lives at Livingston Manor has a secret that defines their life and their actions during the novel. The central mysteries that propel the plot - what happened to Lady Anna? How and why did she die? What did Addison do that haunts her so? What is happening to all the missing girls from the village? - are bigger pieces of the story, but from Mrs. Dilloway to Desmond, there is more going on with these people than what is immediately apparent. The reveals, while some could be predicted ahead of time, almost all made for pivotal moments in the story's main plot.
There is a lot to be said about The Last Camellia. It can be suspenseful, charming, and always enjoyable. There may be a bit of a formulaic aspect to the plot, but that doesn't lessen the entertainment I felt while reading. With a tidy conclusion that wraps up nearly every plot thread, while leaving a key few open to reader interpretation, I thoroughly appreciated how ably the novel was ended. I don't know why I waited so long to read a Sarah Jio novel, but I do know it won't be so long before I read another.(less)
I liked this quite a bit. I didn't love it, but Amy Gail Hansen pulled me into her story easily and early. The mystery is intriguing, the characters are well-drawn, and the writing itself is sold. Part mystery, part thriller, the author blends together the various aspects of The Butterfly Sister into an interesting and compulsively readable novel. Fast-paced, with several, unexpected twists and turns, readers will find themselves drawn into Ruby Rousseau's complicated life. This is a short-ish novel, but Hansen packs a lot of punch into her three-hundred pages.
Ruby is a compelling protagonist - she's complicated, a mess, a shadow of her former self. She also believes herself to be mad, and with an attempted suicide in her recent past, it's easy to believe in her confusion and pain. Though the majority of the story is focused on the "now" timeline, there are frequent flashbacks interspersed to a year before, when Ruby was at college, and in a seemingly-better mental state. Both the past and the present narratives are connected in unexpected ways, and as Ruby tries to find Beth and figure out what happened to her a year ago, she comes to realize that life at Tarble was not exactly as she remembered. Her romance with an older man is nicely written and fraught with drama, if a bit squick-imducing when it's revealed her love is only three years younger than Ruby's own parents.
The disappearance of Beth is key to the plot, and as Ruby uncovers more about her former friend, the similarities between the two women become more and more apparent. Both were only children, both lost their fathers, and both made ill-fated romantic relationships. But while Ruby may be metaphorically lost, Beth is literally lost. The theme of feminine depression encompasses both women's lives in surprising ways -- Ruby herself is depressed, and while Beth remains unafflicted, another woman's depression has dire implications for her own life. Hansen handles the theme well, and without prejudice. Her even-handed depiction of depression is forthright and real, and never veers into political incorrectness. It helps that Ruby is shown to be a very smart woman, and a thorough researcher. She is much more than her illness, and it doesn't define her.
The final chapters of the book were weaker than the introduction. The mystery flags as the culprit is revealed and leads the characters on an increasingly hard-to-believe series of events. As it went on, The Butterfly Sister lost a bit of the subtlety that it had maintained earlier in the story, but I still couldn't put the book down. It wasn't perfect, but Hansen's first novel is an easy read that will definitely keep readers turning the page. It's unusual, compelling, and a bit weird -- and absolutely memorable.(less)
Gated is a pretty good, fairly solid and easy to read novel. It's not your typical YA book, though it does contain some of the tropes found in that age group (love triangles, love at first sight, etc.). It's got more than its fare share of action, especially as it nears the final few chapters but Parker relies on introspection, psychological thrills, and a slow build rather than a nonstop action-packed adventure to see her story through. Lyla is caught between the home she has known for ten years and increasing evidence that not all is as it seems in Mandrodage Meadows, which add up to a intense and exciting story
Parker has a simple style, which fits both Lyla's narration and the kind of secluded life she leads in the Doomsday cult. It's easy to get caught up in the first person perspective, and the subtle hints and allusions of wrongness build up naturally as Lyla learns more about her own community. The beginning is a bit dry and slow-moving, but Parker shows enough potential that reader will be engaged enough to keep reading until it gets good. The story really hits its stride just after the halfway mark, when Lyla is exposed to life outside of the Compound and begins to truly think for herself.
Breakdown by percentage:
1% - 50% - not enough going on 50% - 90% - just enough going on 90% - 100% - too much going on
I could have done without the romances. I could have done without the love triangle between the boy Pioneer picks for her and the mysterious boy on the outside. Honestly, if the story had been solely about Lyla breaking free from the severe "us vs. them" mentality ingrained over 10 years, it would've been a tighter, more engrossing read. It also would have been far more original. All of the love stuff feels so unnecessary, and so reminiscent of other YA novels.
Pioneer is both a benefit and a detriment to how Gated's story is caarried. In the beginning, his mystery, allure, and power over the group is unexplained and unquestioned. The way he approached Lyla's family when they were weak, scared, and isolated is a perfect example of what kind of man he is - opportunistic, cunning, and without morals. He camouflages his hunger for power for years under a facade of geniality, until Lyla begins to act differently than he would wish. His break down from pillar of the community to unhinged antagonist is authentic, but could use some polish. I main issue is that the story went on, and his control started to slip, he never really became more than a one-note villain. Parker never really shows why he is the way he is, or why he created Mandrodage Meadows -- whether it was for pure control, to swindle the families, etc. I don't know what led to his creation of the cult, and that felt like an oversight.
All in all, Gated had a few flashes of brilliance, but the one-note villain, the slow start, and the insane last few chapters took away from the overall impression. The story had been building neatly over the course of the novel, but I think the ending got away from Parker. There just way too much going on, much too fast. Simplifying the climax would render the whole more believable and fit with the rest of the novel better. That said, Gated makes for a complete diversion. It's a fast-reading, engaging story unlike most other YA novels out there.(less)
Originality is something that should be noticed and rewarded. When it seems like every idea has been re...moreRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
Originality is something that should be noticed and rewarded. When it seems like every idea has been recycled, redone, or revamped to try and tempt it into a new shape, the few books that try for something truly new stand out. That ingenuity is one of the reasons behind the hype and hoopla building behind Beukes' newest novel, The Shining Girls. The other is this: a time-traveling serial killer. I didn't really need to hear anything after that - I was hooked on the synopsis alone. Happily for me, Lauren Beukes delivers with this mashup of genres.
The Shining Girls is fairly straightforward story, told in unadorned prose. It's an enterprising mix of several genres, but it works -- all to the credit of the author's talent. Beukes dispenses her tale in a third person narration, sharing out narration amongst several disparate POVS. There is Harper Curtis, the killer, Kirby the girl who lived, Dan Velazquez, a washed up homicide reporter, and Mal, a streetkid who sees more than others want. Some POVs are stronger than others (twisted as he is, Harper's chapters are easily the most engrossing), but all add something to the story of the shining girls. I found Mal's additions the most ill-fitting, but even he has a bigger role to play than immediately apparent.
There's no explanation, technologically or otherwise, for how/why Harper can do what he does. It just is. That's it. There is a magical House that allows Harper to go sometime else, in order to target his victims. He closes "the circle" and jaunts back and forth, from the depths of the Depression-era Chicago to the 1950s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. Either the reader can buy into the premise of a time-traveling house or you can't. Suspension of disbelief is key to enjoying this tale. If you go looking for concrete answers or why, you'll be disappointed. Beukes focuses tightly on the plot, and the characters to a lesser degree. The plot holds up as long as you can accept the otherwordlyness of the plot devices.
Despite its good aspects, there are issues within The Shining Girls. A large portion of the plot, i.e. Kirby's major addition the story, ends up... less important than the time spent developing it would have you think. And for a novel centered on an unhinged time-traveling serial killer there is a surprising lack of suspense. Partly derived from knowing ahead of time which girls are doomed takes away some of the tension, but there is a lack in Beukes' depiction. That isn't to say the murder scenes aren't horrifying (and horrifyingly graphic) - they can be and often are. There are many horrible things in this novel, and reading them from Curtis's POV can be a chilling experience. However, the dearth of any real atmosphere around his actions is a big miss.
If a time-traveling serial killer piques your interest, The Shining Girls is definitely worth a read. A cut-and-dried style works well for Beukes' obvious talents and for crafting a uniquely appealing story. If a plot-driven thriller novel, with slight sci-fi elements and with fairly well-realized characters is your thing, this also is a book for you. Be warned: when I say there are some hard scenes to read, I mean it. This book isn't afraid to rack up a body count, and get gory. All that said, this is a taut thriller with an interesting hook. It's unlike anything else I've read and that, combined with Harper Curtis's maniacal agenda, will make it memorable long into the future. (less)
Inspired by real-life caged-in graves found across the country, Dianne K. Salerni weaves a tale of lust, desperation, and hidden motives set during the 1860's Pennsylvania. The Caged Graves is an evocative and atmospheric young adult historical fiction read, but it's also one that sadly fails to execute the plot with complete satisfaction for the audience. The suspense and mystery that is built up over the course of the novel's three hundred thirty pages is enveloping and interesting, but the reveal and final twist fail to live up to the standard set by the rest of the book.
Verity Boone is the main character for The Caged Graves, and she is a good one. One of the strongest aspects of the novel is this main character. She's likeable, smart, fallible, and complicated. Away from home for the fifteen years since her mother died, Verity comes home to an engagement, an unknown place, and her mother and aunt's caged graves. Unsatisfied with the answers the town offers, kept apart from their secrets and history, Verity begins to dig into what happened to Sarah and Asenath's deaths. Amid whispers of witchcraft and unnatural happenings, Verity begins to understand the horrible truth that lead up to the loss of two young mothers so long ago.
The romance(s) is where The Caged Graves really began to falter from me. Before the introduction of a second love interest and an obvious (and very unnecessary love triangle), this had been coasting along; an engrossing and dense read based on Revolutionary lore. However, once the two boys Hadley and Nate emerge as rivals for Verity's affections, it became much less fun to read. Far too much time and too many pages are devoted to Verity trying to decide between the two love interests. The book is far more original when concerned with unraveling the caged graves mystery and far too reminiscent of so many other YA novels when it comes to the tepid romances. Uneven courtship and confusion aside, Nate is a more rounded character than his counterpart, but there is still not a lot to recommend either.
A fictional story inspired from minor historical facts, Salerni's debut has some originality, a three-dimensional lead character, and some suspense to recommend it. Unfortunately, I was very disappointed with how the author chose to conclude her story. The mystery that had been so carefully laid out ended up being rather ordinary (and even slightly laughable) when all is said and done. The Caged Graves moves along nicely, and is well plotted and paced but I felt very ambivalent upon finishing it. I wouldn't go so far to not recommend it to a friend, but I would suggest that they would borrow from a library rather than buy it outright.(less)
With Blood Between Queens, the fifth book in her Tudor-era series centered on the fictional...moreRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
3.5 out of 5
With Blood Between Queens, the fifth book in her Tudor-era series centered on the fictional Thornleigh family, Barbara Kyle again shows she is no newcomer to the historical fiction genre. Her grasp on the history, on the characters and historical figures involved and on plotting are top notch and ably showcase a well-developed and thought-out novel. Though it is far from the first in the popular and long-running Thornleigh series, Blood Between Queens works well as a standalone novel;one that readers who have not read the first four can still easily pick up and immerse themselves in. A strong novel, with an invented but intelligent main character, this latest Thornleigh adventure ties in action, pirates, secret love affairs, family feuds, treason and rebellion all neatly into a detailed plot that never really lets up.
Justine Thornleigh, née Grenville, is young, smart, secretive and conflicted young noblewoman with a secret past she fears being revealed. Caught between her adopted family and the father who abandoned her eight years before, her life winds up being a key element in a far more dangerous struggle than the deadly family feud that has entrenched her birth family and her adoptive one since before her birth and later illicit adoption. Between two strong-willed cousins, who both happen to be Queens, Justine finds herself with an expected sympathy for the plight of the thrice married and twice widowed Queen of Scots. At odds with her upbringing and family belief in the rightful rule of Queen Elizabeth, Justine's actions complicate more than just her own life, but the fate of England itself. Deftly handled, the maneuvering and manipulation of Justine from several sides keeps tension high and the outcome, even for those familiar with the history, interesting.
Barbara Kyle is also adept at intermixing fact with fiction, period details with key plot elements. The mixing of fictional and real, both characters and events, adds a fresh element to a story that has been told dozens of times before. Her ability to create a vibrant world, in which her characters operate, provides a well-realized and described version of the Tudor court. It, and these characters, may be well-trod territory, but Kyle keeps it interesting with new developments and some slight twists on the mythos of the Virgin Queen. Under this author's pen, the conflicts of Justine to find the right path, of Elizabeth to do right by her fellow monarch without sacrificing her sovereignty, of Mary to be treated as she wishes, are universally well-written and fresh, despite the familiar ground.
There are several side plotlines that help to propel the novel - there's the missing seafarer Adam Thornleigh, the murder of a friend of Justine's - but the main focus of the novel is on Justine, as she is caught between her past and her future, her Queen and the woman she feels an unanticipated kinship for, her birth father and the man who raised her. A fast, adventure-filled read, with Blood Between Queens, Barbara Kyle will not disappoint longtime fans of her Thornleigh series, and managed to create a new one. The first four are also fairly cheap for ebook, so this is one series I will continue, due to how much I enjoyed the latest offering.
(Even watching that trailer now, after the fact, I am excited and impressed. And then I remember. And then woe.)
The book sadly doesn't live up to the awesomeness that advertised it. I'm not even a fan of book trailers, but the promotion department for this book deserves a big raise. The editing department might not. But, if you're just now hearing about this YA/MG fantasy about fairytales and witches and princesses, this might end up being the book for you. It's a tad long, a tad overwrought, but it's got a lot of heart and, at times, can be very entertaining. Soman Chainani creates a vibrant world with two interesting and diverse leads, and I can say they paths and plots he takes them through isn't predictable, though it can be a tad pedantic at times. The comparisons to Gregpry Maguire's work is apt and appropriate and I can see his fans enjoying this less adult look at magical children.
The School for Good and Evil reminded me of a younger Harry Potter at times. There's the obvious: magical children spirited away for their edification (for either good or ill), there's the obvious good guys, the obvious bad guys, magical beings like werewolves, fairies, and a multi-headed dog inside a mysterious, hidden castle(s). There are pranks, a ball, a love story that is not what you expect, and in the end, a grand battle for the school itself. That all sounds well and good and like fun, and it can be. The main problem is that The School for Good and Evil takes too long to get anywhere. It becomes too predictable to shock readers and the final conflict... well, veered on deus ex machina. That's never a good way to resolve a story readers have spent so much time investing in.
This is a looooong book for almost any genre (I'm looking at you, Epic Fantasy), but for a very young YA/verging on MG fairytale, 496 pages is just much too much. The pacing lags, events feel drawn out or stretched beyond feasibility, and the plot takes too much time to really form. There's a lack of tension and suspense before key events because the author takes too long to develop any sort of meaningful conflict. Outside of plotting and pacing, Chainani is an obviously talented, very visual, writer. Scenes pop and creatures both big and small, humor or non, all burst from the page. The School for Good and Evil can project an image, but fails to deliver real substance to go with how pretty/evil everything is on the surface.
The main characters are adaptable, and pretty well-rounded. There's more to both Sophie and Agatha than what meets the eye, and the author's switcheroo can be pretty clever. However, like most things in this novel, the realizations that come to both girls about their roles in future fairy tales takes far too long to foment into something meaningful. I could have done without the romances that pop up and complicate the girls' relationship and the plot, but Prince Charmings (and Not So Charmings) are to be expected in a novel so concerned with fairytales. The characters are another strong aspect of the novel, and I'm curious to see what will happen after the final events of book one.
The School for Good and Evil isn't a bad book by any means. It's just not as good as you, or I, or that book trailer want it to be. Those looking for a saccharine-ly sweet Disney tale should look elsewhere, and readers in search of a vibrant setting with complex and contradictory characters will find The School for Good and Evil a good fit, if not a particularly memorable one. There's some room for improvement, and editing, but Soman Chainani has a satisfactory beginning to his new series.(less)
The Ghost Bride is an evocative, eerie tale of one girl in 1890's Malaya (now known as Malaysia). Debut author Yangsze Choo writes with authority and with clear prose that lends well to picturing the important port town of Malacca. Part historical fiction, part supernatural tale of the Chinese afterlife, The Ghost Bride is a slow-moving but deftly written piece of fiction. Memorable and unique, Choo creates a vivid setting, peopled with interesting characters for readers to enjoy and explore. A small mystery plays its part in propelling the plot, but the experiences of Li Lan, both real and spiritual, are what makes the book special.
The first part of the novel is rather slow-moving and possibly the most difficult part of reading Li Lan's story. It can be hard to get into and I struggled to keep read initially. The slow pace, the meandering plot, and an admitted style of "telling" can hinder the reader's first impression. However, once Choo hits her stride and the plot emerges as more significant, The Ghost Bride greatly improves. Choo's style leans towards descriptive and detailed, and while that fosters a strong sense of place, it's hard to get a read on characters for a bit. Thankfully, that problem is remedied as the story progresses and the characters get more time and attention. I can't say that the entire cast is uniformly rounded or interesting as individuals, but Li Lan, her Amah, and her father, especially, feel real and complex.
As a historical fiction, The Ghost Bride excels. Where it fell apart for me was when the extended supernatural section began. I hadn't expected such a long experience in "the afterlife" with Li Lan comatose in the real world. She is still an active protagonist, but it failed to read as interestingly as her actions when awake. Choo picks and chooses, as well as invents parts of the Chinese afterlife to fit her story, but not enough information is provided for me to really follow all the rules and customs that govern Li Lan's actions while there. It was intriguing, but not fleshed out enough to satisfy. The mystery flags a bit as well in later chapters, and seems to conclude rather too simply and easily.
For all that, I greatly enjoyed this novel. Choo is a talented storyteller with a fresh and inviting style. Li Lan's story is fresh and unlike other novels I've read. The Ghost Bride is a neat, creative bit of fiction, and one that I feel good about recommending to friends who are fans of historical fiction and/or supernatural fiction. The writing is especially strong, and occasionally quite beautiful. For a debut author, Yangsze Choo acquits herself admirably. Several genres are meshed together, and while not all were carried off perfectly, Choo is more than capable of making them all work together rather well.
Bonus: As a fun note, the author's website has Choo's story about personally recording the audiobook for The Ghost Bride. Her thoughts on the process of recording the story were fascinating to read, and she also provided the entire first chapter in audio form on the site. I'd listen to that to see if this is the type of book you would enjoy.(less)
A fascinating look at the events during the reign of France's Philip IV, and which directly led to the...moreRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
A fascinating look at the events during the reign of France's Philip IV, and which directly led to the Hundred Years War between England and France. A bit dry, but long on detail and intrigue, and with an impressively large cast, The Iron King's influence on later novels, across genres, is undeniable. Widely read and recognized, Druon's epic work has been published and republished in the 50 years since it first came to be, but its story is as fresh and fascinating as ever. Anyone who enjoys descriptive and detailed historical fiction about France, England and the Hundred Years' War will find a lot to enjoy here.
Much has been made of its particular impact on the popular fantasy world of George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series (or A Game of Thrones if you're solely a fan of the tv show). Spanning seven volumes, with a large, disparate cast - from kings to bankers to heretics - the numerous parallels between Druon and Martin's work are easy to spot. While there are (sadly) no dragons to be found in the Iron King, there are she-wolves, betrayals, family curses, torture, court intrigue, and ambition to keep things interesting. Historical fiction is at its best when it makes you curious about the people and times portrayed, and Maurice Druon captures these particular times and these complex people so well, it's hard not to be inquisitive about them once the novel is over.
A Game of Thrones has rival families: The Starks and the Lannisters. The Iron King has the royal rival families of the French Capets and the English Plantagenets. George R. R. Martin wasn't lying when he said his Starks and Lannisters had nothing on the Capets and Plantagenets. Both families are filled with fools, ambitious men, capable and deceptive women, and more. While the first Accursed Kings book lacks the amount of sheer drama that A Game of Thrones packs into one novel, it is admittedly much shorter (by hundreds of pages!). But, thankfully, the author manages to infuse those too-short 275 with enough machinations and manipulations to make Littlefinger himself proud.
A Game of Thrones has the stalwart and rigidly serious Ned Stark. The Iron King has the severe and authoritarian Philip "the Fair" IV of France. Both men are descended from a noble and respected lineage (Ned - Brandon the Builder; Philip - Saint Louis aka Louis IX of France) and both take their responsibilities as leaders very seriously. The comparisons between the two are inevitable for those that have read both works, and it's easy to see how Ned was inspired (and improved upon) Druon's French king. Ned is easier to like, and more personable than the more remote and dispassionate Philip, but they are two men cut from the same cloth.
A Game of Thrones has a family matriarch with steel and determination in Catelyn Tully. The Iron King has Isabella, She-Wolf of France (and reigning Queen of England with Edward II). You may know her best (and inaccurately) as William Wallace's weepy lover in the 1995 movie Braveheart, but that film does her character a disservice. Cold, calculating, and highly intelligent, Isabella and her actions have more of an impact on the history of two countries than one would guess. Much like Catelyn, Isabella has goals and ambitions of her own - for her children, she will start a war that will kill thousands of people before it is all said and done. Both Isabella and Catelyn are remote and hard to like and can be traced as the initiators of huge struggles, but each are thoroughly fascinating to read.
A Game of Thrones has Cersei Lannister, a woman determined to have the love she wants regardless of the constraints society - and marriage - would put upon her. The Iron King has Marguerite of Burgundy, who, like Cersei, is unfaithful (and eventually found out) to her royal husband, which casts the paternity and thus the rights of her children in serious doubt and helps set off the series of dynastic disputes. SPOILER for later ASOIAF novels: And, like the Lannister lioness, Marguerite finds herself imprisoned against her will, without hope of freedom or redemption. Cersei may be easier to label as outright evil rather than selfish and short-sighted, but the similarities between the two women are apparent.
A Song of Ice and Fire is set to be published in a series of seven novels. Druon's series The Accursed Kings is a seven volume work. They are hard to come across, especially in English, but Harper Collins seems to be in the long process of republishing them in 2013. I, for one, am eagerly awaiting the day I can continue this series and see how it all plays out in Druon's version of the Hundred Year's War.
The story that has begun to unfold here in the first novel continues in book two, The Strangled Queen. If it is anything like its predecessor I will be a big fan.
The Ward was a fun read. It was a breath of fresh air in the post-apoc/dystopia genre that...moreRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
3.5 out of 5
The Ward was a fun read. It was a breath of fresh air in the post-apoc/dystopia genre that seems to retread and reuse the same ideas and themes over and over again. Catastrophes hitting the US with dire consequences are not uncommon, but the "Wash Out" event that left New York and Jersey underwater is. This is a fun, fast-paced, fresh and creative; Jordana Frankel has hit the ground running with her debut novel. Full of adventure, intrigue, and even a bit of mythology, Frankel takes her readers to a waterlogged and dangerous futuristic New York. I had a good time reading this from start to finish. For the first time in a long time, The Ward manages to be a post-apocalyptic scenario, that if imperfect, still manages to be both believable enough and entertaining.
Ren is a mostly likeable, but flawed main character. Her story isn't too original for a post-apocalyptic set-up - a withdrawn and angry orphan with a chip on her shoulder and a dependent- but she grows and develops into more than a cliche early on in the book. Ren is a woman in a man's world in her sport of choice, and that just made me like her more. She's unafraid to do what she wants and how she wants, though the sexism she faces almost constantly in racing can be dispiriting as a female reader who enjoys typically-male sports. Either way, Ren carries the novel, for the most part ably, until the narrative works its way around to her romantic entanglements. I had the most issues with the way both plotlines about the boys involved were setup and executed.
Let me just say, I'm so, so tired of love triangles. In any genre they muck up an otherwise good book, but they are at their worse in the young adult field. They're just overwrought and always obnoxious, and often, just lazy writing and plot points. Thankfully, it's not as overt as it could have been here in The Ward, but believe me, my love-triangle senses started tingling as soon as the character of Callum is introduced. It doesn't help that the other love interest, Derek, does nothing worth making him desirable. I couldn't root for either character for two reasons: 1. I didn't care about them individually, and thus, even less so for Ren and 2. I liked Ren best on her own, without needless attractions to mysterious boys.
The Ward may not have had me thinking over deep messages and overarching themes after I finished, but it was pure entertainment for the day it took me to inhale. Frankel sucks you in with the few few chapters and you don't want to leave until it's all over and the race is won. The worldbuilding detailed through the book is minimal and, yes, honestly it could with some strengthening and expansion, but it didn't doesn't detract too much from the overall experience. There are moments of greatness to be found in The Ward - the ambiguity of the antagonists, the creation of the awesome omnimobiles, and the unexpected (and somewhat off the wall) twists and revelations - but sexism, the trite love triangle, and incomplete worldbuilding can cause it to falter.
The Ward isn't going to please all those who try to read it. It's more post-apocalyptic than dystopia, though a few elements of the later pop up throughout the narrative. Some readers won't be able to excuse the unnecessary romance, or the lack of clear worldbuilding, and that's totally okay. It's completely understandable, even. I've picked apart other novels for just those reasons. This isn't a book for everyone. It's a thrill ride, coasting along on the strengths of a complicated main character in an oppressed and dangerous waterworld. (Now try not to think about that awful Kevin Costner movie. You're welcome.) I was undecided on a rating right after finishing, still caught up in the tension of the climax, but after a few days I can see the book's faults more clearly. That doesn't mean I didn't like this book - I liked it very much. It just could have been slightly better. As it is, I had a great time reading it. I would definitely recommend this to a friend - but maybe suggest they borrow it from the library, if not buy it. (less)
In my and the book's defense, I thought I was getting Dirty Little Secrets - a very closely-titled YA novel about mental issues and hoarding. Instead, Echols's later-released Dirty Little Secret is about music, and boys, and bitterness. I have friends who love Echols' novels, and friends who aren't fans. I might have to join the latter group, based on my experience with this book. I can clearly see why people would and will like Dirty Little Secret, but I can't join them in that enthusiasm. I also think this novel might fall under the heading of the "New Adult" label as Bailey's age and vocabulary fit more in that area than in a truly YA novel.
Bailey is pretty unlikeable character, and speaking stereotypically, that's fine. I can do unlikeable characters, even schadenfreude-ly enjoy them - if they're interesting, or justified in being so difficult (see: all of Courtney Summers's books). Unfortunately for Bailey, her 'tude and the reasons behind it didn't ring true for me. First of all: I don't buy that anyone's parents could be so blatantly biased towards one child at the expense of the other. Their actions, and Bailey's reactions, had me disconnecting from this novel early on. I also didn't think Bailey was as much of a badass as she clearly thought. Sorry hon, hair dye and a few piercings =/= toughness. Her arrogance, and her presentation made Bailey a hard sell for me from the first page. I grew less and less interested in her and the plot as the pages went on.
Once the reason for Bailey's familiar exodus was revealed.. I rolled my eyes. That was my big reaction to the big event and subsequent drama.Seriously - what an overreaction - for everyone involved. Like I said before, the interactions between Bailey, her sister and her parents didn't come off as authentic. The separation serves as a way to have Bailey on her own without using Missing Parent Syndrome, but it feels too cheap and easy. She's 18 -- she could have easily moved out early, or been preparing for college, etc. The ridiculous "tension" and reasons for it just didn't work.
I must admit that the music aspect of the novel is fairly strong. It's obvious that the author loves music, and the one thing that was authentic for Bailey's characterization was how she felt about bluegrass, and playing her fiddle. Her summer job playing with various cover bands showcases Bailey's talent in different areas, but it mainly serves as a meet-cute for her love interest, try-hard badboy/heartbreaker Sam. Sam, ooohh Sam. Another character I was supposed to be interested by, but was completely bored whenever he was around. Too pushy, too wannabe, and too cliche for me, Sam added nothing to Dirty Little Secret. The ups and downs of their relationship just felt calculated, following an obvious trajectory to a predictable outcome.
This isn't a bad book. It's just not as good as it could've been. The characters need more dimension, the plot more originality, the themes more nuance. It all just feels so rehashed or shortchanged. I've read variations of this book so many times before. The one thing that works, that stands out, is the bluegrass music, but that never held as much focus as it should have. I obviously didn't care for it, hence the two stars, but what doesn't work for me might fit perfectly for others. If you're a fan of Echols' previous work, I'm sure this will be a hit. If you're a newbie or on the fence about trying this author, this might not end up being the book for you.(less)
This book is a whirlwind of emotion. It's got plenty of heart, a great voice, dry humor, real emotion, and a memorable main character. Leila Sales knows how to write a thoroughly compelling and totally flawed protagonist that still makes you sympathize and empathize with as she struggles to find a place in her world. A vast improvement on her fun but shallow Past Perfect, This Song Will Save Your Life takes a familiar YA plot and adds in originality and flair to create an engrossing, raw, heartfelt and impossible-to-put-down novel.
The depiction of Elise is the best thing about This Song Will Save Your Life. Hands down. She is so genuine and real, it's pretty much impossible to not recognize some aspect of yourself in her. I loved this character so very much, and Sales hit her difficult characterization with precision. Elise grows and learns and changes over the rather short course of the book, but it takes time, experience and thought to get Elise to where she needs to be. Her foibles and flaws make her all the more interesting (and compelling), and her humor keeps things light enough to keep this from being a total downer for the first half. Socially awkward, smart ("precocious"), Leila Sales nails what it is to be an outsider with no real place to fit in.
Besides Elise, the author packed This Song Will Save Your Life full of real, dimensional secondary characters. With the exception of the pack of mean girls at Elise's school (and also the only reason this is a 4.5 instead of a full 5-star rating), Sales imbues these characters with personality and problems. They are all so real - the mom's obsession with fairness? I get that. The friends Elise feels are not good enough? I loved that they were shown to be so much more than Elise had assumed. This book takes a lot of tropes and stands them on their heads and is so much better than its contemporaries for doing so. First loves aren't perfect. Mysterious aloof guys aren't always the ones you should be with.
This is a short book, and though I have so much love for it, I don't want to say too much and spoil the experience for other readers. Bullying plays a key part in the plot, but there is more to This Song Will Save Your Life and Elise herself than a simple story about being bullied and ostracized. It's about growing up, moving on, finding yourself and being okay. It's a wonderful novel and I hope it finds the wide audience it more than deserves.(less)
The Fairest of Them All is a fairytale retelling that combines two well-known and often-told stories - that of Rapunzel and that of Snow White - and asks, "what if Rapunzel was Snow White's Evil Stepmother?" It's an intriguing idea and one that lends originality to such famous stories, but one that sadly lacks subtlety and pathos. Carolyn Turgeon does an able job of melding the two separate stories into one cohesive plot, but her characters lack agency and can come off as rather bland.
The premise is obviously one of the strongest aspects to the story of The Fairest of Them All. We've all seen the Disney and/or Pixar movies, we've read the Grimm versions, so a new idea on both Rapunzel and Snow White (don't even mention that Kristen Stewart failure) feels like a breath of fresh air for retellings. The way that Turgeon introduces both stories, both apart and together, feels organic. It's not hard to believe that these two women came to be directly involved with each other's lives. The story is told in pretty straightforward and nondescript prose, but the author isn't afraid to whip out some pretty big gamechangers before it's all said and done.
My main problem lies with characterization. Rapunzel was the best character -- she's desperately flawed, but she's more interesting and compelling for it. Both Josef, her King, and Snow White, his daughter by his first Queen, come off as blandly beautiful. The King is shown to be somewhat imperfect - his philandering, lack of attention for Rapunzel once he has her - but he has such little presence it makes almost no difference. Snow White is where I really struggled. She's too perfect here, as she is in almost every representation you find of her tale. I had hoped that The Fairest of Them All would do for her what it did to her counterpart - Rapunzel is unlike any other version before. But this Snow White is ripped right from Disney: she's beautiful and perfect and thus inspires jealousy easily. I was disappointed with her one-note personality, and never really grew to care about her the way I did for her "evil" Stepmother. (Yes, Rapunzel does horrible things. But she grows and learns and evolves before/after.)
Despite Snow White's perfection, Turgeon isn't afraid to go to dark places with her story. It's more along the lines of the Brothers Grimm than old Walt. Murder, enviousness, jealousy, betrayal, revenge, rape and more are all part and parcel to the plot. The author deviates from the norm several times - the apple appears but functions in a new way, the seven dwarfs are a group of bandits, Rapunzel's hair has powers besides being able to bear weight - and it works for the story. The infusions of originality keep these old stories feeling fresh and unique, rather than a retread of what has been done before.
The Fairest of Them All is an involving, interesting read. It has a few faults with characters, but overall, makes for an entertaining new take on some of the world's most popular fairytales. It's dark, it's full of surprise(view spoiler)[incest! (hide spoiler)] that will keep readers guessing. All in all, this was a promising introduction to this author and I would definitely read more from her. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I really, really wanted to love this novel. Middle grade fantasy can be really inventive and fun, but after several days and 300 pages of struggle, I had to call it. A fantasy with a lighter tone, with The Flame in the Mist Grindstaff weaves themes of courage and endurance, but it never really resonated with me. Younger readers will probably find more to love with Jemma's story, but I needed more subtlety and originality in order to click with this book.
I didn't read the last 150 pages, but I did skim it to see if I was missing a turn for the better. Grindstaff does take some risks and uses some darker elements as the story wraps up, but for me it was just too little to late. So much of the story at the heart of the novel is wrapped up in fantasy genre tropes. There's: a prophecy hundreds of years in the making, a "Chosen One" who doesn't know they are special, and the antagonists are one-dimensional for the majority of the novel.
Jemma isn't a bad protagonist - her humor and charm are obvious - but she is somewhat flat in the beginning. And also really really lucky. Several times she is in just the right spot to hear very detailed plans of the evildoers that directly pertain to her. It's very... convenient that a family which has kept a secret for 12 years would start discussing their nefarious aims in an area Jemma could very easily be. The plot hinges on some very ridiculous turns and reveals, all of which I found to be too obvious or just predictable.
There are a ton of four and five-star reviews out for this already, so my apathy is uncommon. It seems to be a "it's not you, it's me" situation. I wanted to like this, but there just wasn't anything that grabbed me. The writing is decent, if simple, but the target audience generally won't mind. The Flame in the Mist would be an excellent introduction to the fantasy genre, bur for readers already accustomed to it, it will make less of an impression.(less)
Life in Outer Space is a romcom in YA book form. It's cute, it's sweet, it's adorable, and it's predictable. It's a fun, fast read that doesn't demand attention but provides a lot of entertainment and pop culture references. It's full of interesting, if slightly under-characterized characters, and Keil spins her story rather well. Life in Outer Space is funny, authentic and full of great moments, though it does falter when it comes to secondary characters especially.
Where the book floundered the most for me was where the female love interest, Camilla, was concerned and how Sam acted around her. It's not a spoiler to label her the love interest because long before Sam has his "a ha!" moment, the reader is acutely clued into his feelings for her. There is a real connection between the two main characters. It just took Sam way way too long to catch on to what he wanted. Though I appreciated the slow-building of a real relationship between the two, it made the storyline feel stretched rather thin. The romance is sweet, and funny, but it could've been tighter.
-Quirky and idiosyncratic? Check. - Wild hair choices and unique approach to fashion? Do Leia buns count? I say they do -- check. -Opens up the love interest to a wider experience of (high school) life? Double check. -Fixated on the main character from the start? Oh yeah - but not in a creepy way.
There's more to both the trope and to Camilla, but she fits within the designation fairly well.
She does differ from the trope in that Camilla has a realized inner life and struggles of her own. She struggles with family issues, abandonment issues, and more. The fact that Keil fashioned her into a more evolved MPDG is what saved both Camilla and the love story. I liked her, despite how she was occasionally presented. She was interesting, she wasn't dependent on Sam for meaning, and she was funny.
The other side characters aren't as defined as Camilla and Sam. Mike seems to be sadly defined by his homosexuality, despite the author's clear attempts to do otherwise. Adrian never evolved into more than comic relief, and though the parents are featured, they lack presence. They're likeable enough, but they aren't memorable. They just seem to exist in the periphery of Sam and Camilla's love story and lack any agency on their own.
There's angst, there's romance, there's a high school dance. All in all, Life in Outer Space constitutes pretty typical contemporary fare, but it's fun to read and the nerdery of the main characters makes for a fresh feel. It could have been more original, and the secondary cast could have used some more time and definition, but it was a fun and pretty adorable read. I'd read it again, and I would recommend it to a friend looking for something light and quick. (less)
Fun, funny, and charming, How Zoe Made Her Dreams... is a book of so much fluff, it might just float of...moreRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
Fun, funny, and charming, How Zoe Made Her Dreams... is a book of so much fluff, it might just float off a bookshelf. It's a fast and entertaining read, full of surprisingly developed characters, but unfortunately How Zoe Made Her Dreams (Mostly) Come True is just not on the same level as Smart Girls Get What They Want. I liked it, but it just didn't have the same impact as Strohmeyer's first. Zoe struggles with some serious issues, and I might have teared up once or twice when she confronts her issues, but the emotional pulls are few and far between. For ninety percent of the story, this is a fluffy piece, with a silly plot, operated by characters that are pretty generic, if certainly likeable.
Fans of the author's other books, and epecially Smart Girls Get What They Want will find similarities between the novels, but Zoe ultimately ends up a pale copy of its predecessor. I don't mean to knock the author's newest because I was certainly entertained while reading, but anyone who has read Smart Girls before trying this will find it just not quite as good. A lot of my issues stem from the plot and the setting - the competition among the Princes and Princesses for the grant money comes across as frivolous, and often laughable. It's charming and amusing, but never really sells the competition as a serious plot device. As a result, all the drama and suspicions set up around the Dream & Do failed to make me care about its ultimate winner.
Strohmeyer can certainly write a credible teenage voice, however. Zoe, through all her present struggles and past heartaches, comes across as authentic and consistently real teen girl. Her voice is strong and likeable, and the author's style works well for a silly but fun read. Zoe's relationship with her cousin is another strong point; the two girls have a real bond and love another. It's all too rare to find such real, strong friendships between teen girls in YA, but so far, in each novel, Strohmeyer has taken the time to build such remarkable and meaningful friendships for her female characters. For that alone, this novel is a winner. I wish Zoe had more female friends, maybe made during her time at Fairyland?, but I will not take her relationship with Jess for granted.
For a novel of such fluff, it's heartening how well characterized Zoe (and her love interest) are shown to be. While I loved Gigi, I do think Zoe ends up being the more rounded and dimensional main character. Zoe has a lot of facets to her personality, and amazingly, who she likes doesn't define her or her actions during the novel. The romance might not be as endearing as I thought Gigi's was in Smart Girls, but I have to admit I was rooting for the two kids before the end of the novel. It's a light read, and the love interest is pretty great, but I wasn't overtly involved. I just wanted more substance and depth to the plot. If I'd had that, How Zoe Made Her Dreams (Mostly) Come True could have easily been a four-star read.
If you're looking for a charming fluff read, this is a perfect fit. A "done in one day" read, Strohmeyer's capability for writing YA is evident and lends itself well here in her second YA offering. An amusing plot with a couple twists en route make for a fun few hours spent in the company of this cast of Princes and Princesses and furries. How Zoe Made Her Dreams... may not be the best book of 2013, but it's a great diversion for a few hours of pure fluff.(less)
Sam Thomas is a historian with a talent for the fictional side of writing, which is much to the benefit of his first novel, The Midwife's Tale. With a clever plot that will keep readers guessing about the culprit until the end, and with a keen eye for the details of the period, this is a book that will keep its audience more than entertained until the last page turns. Politics, misogyny, murder, history, revenge and love all collide to picture a time of civil unrest and personal uncertainty under the author's skilled pen. In the midst of a town under siege, in the middle of a war between England's King and it's Parliament, midwife Bridget Hodgson tirelessly works her trade for the better of all she knows. A novel that manages to keep the mystery element on par with the abundance of detailed information and period particulars, The Midwife's Tale is a worthwhile entry into the historical fiction mystery subgenre.
Bridget is a complicated woman, and Thomas takes care to showcase many aspects of her personality. I did feel that some of the side characters were occasionally flat or one-dimensional in how they were presented during the narrative (particularly the minor antagonist of Tom), but I never got that feeling with main character Bridget. She has a past full of grief (that is slowly revealed to the readers and her story progresses), a stalwart and admirable dedication to her chosen profession, an ironclad sense of who she is and what she does, as well as refusing to be put in her place as a woman. I loved reading Bridget - she's feisty and smart and not afraid to get rough with others if she has to, and as she demonstrates more than once. No wallflower, Bridget faces life head-on and ready for whatever it - or anyone else - throws at her. Rather than enjoy life a wealthy widow, Bridget is the most talented and formidable midwife York has to offer. Her connections, amongst politicians, wives, gossip help to foster her investigative endeavors as well as flesh out the several minor subplots the novel contains. Her story felt natural despite its fantastical twists and turns, which makes sense as the author mentions in his interesting note at the end, her character was based on a real York midwife of the same name.
As much as I enjoyed Bridget, Sam Thomas is at his best with describing the setting and the details it takes it create a vivid, real sense of place. The Midwife's Tale is without a doubt deftly written, as is Bridget, I was always excited to see what else Thomas would reveal about York, or about the role of a midwife in that time period. I personally hadn't read much about 1640's England (I tend to stick the the War of the Roses - Tudor dynasty in my reads), but this was a welcome introduction to a tumultuous and vastly interesting period for the English. The politics angle of the plot was well-handled; introduced neatly and so someone without a background in the area could grasp the subtle interchanges and what they meant for either side, it added an extra layer of tension to the goings-on, both for Bridget's investigation and for its more violent representation in the battle for York outside the walls.
Fast-paced, engaging, and featuring a mystery with enough missteps and red herrings to keep the outcome a surprise until the grand reveal, there's a lot to enjoy about Sam Thomas's first foray into the historical and mystery genres. I can only hope the small hints of further investigation featuring Bridget and her Joan-of-all-trades servant Martha will result in at least one sequel featuring these two feisty women. Fans of historical fiction should pick this up for a fast, engaging read with a complex protagonist with a headstrong mind of her own.(less)
"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. (less)
Wow. Impressive. Rich. Emotional. Heartbreaking. These are only some of the words that come to mind aft...moreRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
Wow. Impressive. Rich. Emotional. Heartbreaking. These are only some of the words that come to mind after finishing this short but powerful novel. Emily Murdoch writes with the authority, care, and subtlety of a much more experienced storyteller. If You Find Me is a strong, sad and quietly impressive debut from a very talented new author; one that promises more good things to come in the future from such a writer. Beautifully written, with an amazingly strong, compelling survivor for a narrator, this is one novel that I won't be forgetting anytime. Read in one day, in under three and a half novels, I can easily say that If You Find Me grabs the reader from page one and won't let go. It definitely will leave a lasting impression, from the well-drawn characters to the unique and wonderful writing.
If You Find Me is quiet and subtle, a novel that doesn't lay all the answers or reasons out for the reader. You have to work to understand what has happened to Carey and her sister Jenessa. And, even before the end, it's worth the effort. The kind of lives these two intelligent but abused children have had to lead, hidden from the world in the backwoods of Tennessee, is compelling and wholly heartbreaking . The bond between Carey and her selectively mute sister provides the emotional heart of the novel. Carey is the only real mom her sister has ever known; one who provides for her and protects her from the evil of the world their addicted mother has brought them into.
Emily Murdoch is an author that can get under your skin. An unflinching look at child abuse, and to a lesser degree, the impact of drug addiction on children, her debut novel is by turns heartbreaking, charming, and hopeful. With the kind of suspense that slowly builds as the book progresses, the final reveal of what happened on the worst night of Carey's young life is shocking, and yet, given the few flashbacks, not wholly surprising. Murdoch manages to take a revelation that could have felt predictable and still make it a moving, harrowing event. I won't say much more for fear of spoilers, but even if you called how it all plays out before the end, Murdoch will still manage to tug on your heartstrings with skill.
I'm impressed. I'm eager to see what else this author will produce, because this was one of the best debuts I've had the pleasure to come across in a long, long time. With hard subjects, great characters and an unrelenting look at both the good and bad sides of human nature, Murdoch isn't afraid to go dark places with her story. And what's more, is that while it may not always be fun to go there with her, her novel is rich and rewarding and worth all the feelings it will arouse in its readers. (less)
"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)
Venturing into the fertile field of medieval Italy, Tinney Sue Heath's novel is a careful a...moreRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
3.5 out of 5
Venturing into the fertile field of medieval Italy, Tinney Sue Heath's novel is a careful and detailed look at one of the most famous feuds and vendettas, hailing from the city of Florence. For my taste, I thought A Thing Done could be a little too focused on minor details, like clothes or the set up of a nobleman's room, and occasionally came off a bit flat in the narration. However, overall, this was a solid historical fiction effort that kept my attention. It certainly doesn't hurt that the plot of the novel is fascinating, and based on historical fact, as are the majority of the characters. Focused on the beginnings of the infamous and long-lasting Guelph/Ghibelline struggle in Italy, A Thing Done is a novel about love, vendettas, and history.
I could tell from the great first line of the novel ("It was a fool that began it, but it took a woman to turn it murderous") that the narrator of the novel was going to be one I liked. Corrado is a fool, both for his profession and also in some of the things he does over the course of the novel. He was smart, likeable and forthright, all the while making being manipulated into tense situations and bad decisions. It's easy to root for the little guy, and in A Thing Done, it doesn't get smaller than Corrado. Heath does a good job of presenting a nicely flawed main character with the Fool; he may have to juggle the machinations of two great lords without the other knowing, but his personality was well-defined from the start. An unwilling participant in the feud between Great Families, this working-class peasant is in an untenable situation from the first page and his journey to be free of "the people with surnames" (as he calls the nobility) and their endless scheming is both tense and engaging.
The beginning was admittedly the toughest part for me to get involved in. There are a lot of families, names, factions and agendas flying around Corrado and his friends; sorting out who is who and who wants what can take some time. By about 75ish pages in, I had adjusted to Corrado's sometimes dry attention to detail and figured out the main plotlines and characters at play. For those reasons, it's a bit slow at the start, but the rest of the novel is more than worth the time it takes to get a grip on the various Donatis, Buondelmontis, Ubertis, Fifantis, and Amideis running rampant with plots and maneuvers. Corrado's role as unwilling accomplice to each (unknowing) party makes for an itneresting back and forth between the two major factions, and helps to illustrate how much this minor insult turned a city on its head and instigated a major feud.
Tinney Sue Heath has more than proven she knows her history very well with this novel. Replete with a large cast and detailed plot, A Thing Done goes to lengths to provide a fulfilling, if short, glimpse into Florentine life in 13th century Italy. It may not be the asiest novel to get into, but the journey and end payoff are more than worth the few hundred pages it takes to conclude. The denouement was a bit abrupt, but serves adequately to wrap up the lives and tales of the story's most prominent, surviving, characters.(less)
I've always wanted to go to Europe - Italy, and France in particular, which is a big part of why histor...moreRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
I've always wanted to go to Europe - Italy, and France in particular, which is a big part of why historical fiction is such a favorite of mine. I'm a a major, unrepentant history nerd, and getting to read and see these fascinating locales in new ways through new books, especially ones so vividly drawn like Florence here with The Sign of the Weeping Virgin, is always a highlight of reading for me. Alana White's novel of Renaissance Florence is a strong, well-written and full of life, from the characters to the streets they walk. From the first page, the reader is caught up in the life of Guid'Antonio Vespucci, his famous nephew Amerigo Vespucci, and that of Il Magnifico - Lorenzo de' Medici. With a detailed, informative style and a clear voice, White's story is enveloping and vivid; a dense read but one that is rewarding.
The disappearance and assumed death of a young, beautiful Florentine wife, the "miraculous" appearance of the tears from a painting of the Virgin Mary, and the ongoing struggle with Pope Sixtus IV are all important factors to the plot, and the the struggles of the protagonist, Guid'Antonio. A Medici man through and through, one literally haunted by his failure to protect Lorenzo's murdered brother, Guid'Antonio finds himself charged with finding out whether there is a conspiracy to incite Florentines to revolt against their unofficial but powerful Medici leader. Guid'Antonio is a strong protagonist - full of principle, but also internal conflicts and doubts. He didn't develop as much as I would have liked, but this was a solid, intelligent lead for a strong mystery novel.
The Sign of the Weeping Virgin is consistently very evocative of Renaissance Florence. That's a very good thing, and what kept me coming back when I would struggle with the mystery. The vivid imagery is the strongest aspect of the novel, and Florence really comes to life under White's pen. From the neighborhoods and churches, to the Medici palace, White clearly knows her way around the City of Flowers, and it shows in her sensory language. The characters are solid, even if the secondary personages need a little more definition, the plot is compelling and fresh, and the mystery not easily uncovered, but it is the setting that really makes this novel stand out.
I did think the novel stalled a little bit in the middle. Guid'Antonio understandably has a lot of leads to run down, questions to be answered and people to be found and the pace slowed down enough to make my reading progress a bit difficult. I didn't want to stop reading The Sign of the Weeping Virgin, but I did want some faster revelations or progression on the mystery. The mystery is itself well-constructed; the red herrings few but believable until Vespucci disproves them, but it did feel a bit stretched (or ignored, as when Maria's mother takes over the story) at times. However, White is a more than capable author and she found her storytelling footing soon enough and kept me engaged til the end.
If you're a fan of Italy, or of the Italian renaissance, or interested in papal politics, or in the fascinating life of Lorenzo de' Medici, you cannot pass on Alana White's impressive The Sign of the Weeping Virgin. Good, convoluted historical mysteries with interesting characters and creative plots can be hard to come across and it will be a while until I find one that measures up to the caliber of White's first novel. Impressive, well-written, and with an excellent use of place-as-character, The Sign of the Weeping Virgin was a hit with me.(less)