This is my first review this year. So, let's make it an angry one, shall we?
The Dolls is, without a doubt, one of the biggest wastes (of time, paper,This is my first review this year. So, let's make it an angry one, shall we?
The Dolls is, without a doubt, one of the biggest wastes (of time, paper, money, etc.) I've read in my entire life. I'm trying to remember a more spectacularly insipid, preposterously vapid, profoundly shallow and endlessly frivolous novel and I simply can't. By the end of this self-imposed torture, I simply could not understand the why: why I have chosen to read this book or why had possessed me to pick it up and buy in the first place, and I, especially, could not understand why this book was even published in the first place.
Harsh, I know, but seriously, this is the type of idiotically pointless, flat and hollow and trivial crap that flooded shelves after Twilight. You know which type I'm talking about: super special, perfect, clueless girl is abruptly moved somewhere else where she meets a perfect stranger who seems to hate her for no reason, because it turns out she's strangely connected to some bizarre thing that only happens in this particular new, mysterious town, and there's some stuff going on in the background (usually an endless parade of murdered girls) and there's some paranormal crap that's supposed to be guiding the plot and some generic antagonist that threatens everyone's existence, but who cares because Makeover! Love triangle! Mean girls! Prom! Longing gazes! Stolen kisses! Taciturn, borderline bipolar love interest who is forbidden to love the main character for some half-assed reason that usually has to do with some selfish notion of honor or self-restraint!
The Dolls ticked every single item in that checklist. The paranormal aspect was nothing but a flimsy excuse to disguise, not even subtly, what is simply a "forbidden romance" cliche between one-dimensional perfect people who are remarkable in no way whatsoever and yet so, so special. Every single character in this novel was painfully forgettable, the plot dragged on and on, meandering with no clear direction in sight, the twist was entirely too predictable and, I kid you not, 75% of the entire novel was spent describing "fashionable" clothes. And it is so. freaking. boring. Repetitive to the point where I actually had to look at the page numbers several times because I actually thought I was going back and reading the same part over and over instead of moving forward.
Forgive me for thinking that YA had grown out of this stagnant, painful phase of vanity, shallowness and total meaninglessness. It's not that every book I've read since has been fantastic, but at least the criticism I leveled against them didn't go straight into the basics of simply being so utterly pointless and trivial and flimsy. This is outright generic, uninventive, and insufferably mediocre. The Gothic setting and atmosphere and theme are wasted, because nothing else matters in this story besides the contrived forbidden romance.
Another thing that bothered me immensely about this novel is the racial politics at play here. Don't get me wrong, I don't think this book is profound enough to deliberately present any sort of racial message, but, being the impressively dumb and senseless thing it is, this book actually does accidentally represent how racial politics still work in YA.
In this book, we have a New Orleans setting, a voodoo theme and a link to slavery, and not only is the main character extremely white, but she's also the leader "Queen" of a circle that deals in a branch of voodoo. And out of the three members of this circle of voodoo practicing "Queens," 2 of them are white, both described as having strictly white European characteristics. Only 1 (ONE!) of them is black. Think about that for a second and tell me it is not preposterous to even imagine a voodoo legacy story set in New Orleans where only 1 out of 3 characters is black, and where this single black character is not even the most powerful or central one. Look at this book and then dare to tell me this book doesn't perpetuate the terrible tradition of stealing culture from minorities and giving them to uninspiring white characters who are still better than every other colored character in the novel itself.
And there's the romance. It is particularly upsetting for me that interracial romances in YA are exceedingly rare, and it's even worse to think that most of them do not happen outside of "issue" novels where the races of those involved is crucial to the point of the novel itself. So, trust me when I say that interracial romances usually earn the novel I'm reading a lot of brownie points in my book. I know it was the intention of the author to showcase an interracial romance in this novel, but I personally didn't see it like that because of how whitewashed the love interest was. Do not give me a "black" guy with skin so light he passes as white with sky blue eyes, a guy people actually refer to in the novel as the "light-skinned black guy," and then pat yourself in the back for your progressiveness and openness. And this is not the first time I've encountered this type of love interest. Quite frankly, most of the times I've encountered a colored love interest, it was under the same description, because apparently, you cannot conceive the idea of your precious lily-white main character kicking it with anyone of color who is not an exception to the rule, who is special precisely because of how little he resembles his racial group and how much it resembles your own.
This book is so bad all by itself that its mediocrity almost overshadows the problematic elements it presents. Ultimately, there's little to no redeeming elements that make this novel worthwhile, much less that would make me even consider picking up whatever sequels this storyline can vomit into existence. It's one thing to offer a generic, mediocre story, but it's another entirely to present a product so unnecessary, so pointless and unremarkable, that is nothing short of a waste in basically every aspect possible. ...more
It would be very hard not to compare this one with Vengeance Road as they both have similar settings and essentially follow almost the exact3.5 stars
It would be very hard not to compare this one with Vengeance Road as they both have similar settings and essentially follow almost the exact same plot line for the first 50 pages or so. But that's about as long as it lasts as they quickly diverge and turn into very different novels that I enjoyed immensely. While Vengeance Road stays true to old Western stories of revenge, guns and gold, Walk of Earth a Stranger uses the Western background to tell a story more full of magic and survival that reminded me of the many stories that populated literature during the period of Realism.
Having being only mildly impressed with Carson's debut novel The Girl of Fire and Thorns, it was with immense satisfaction that I realized Carson had no intention of making of this novel anything similar to her popular debut series. While they both do share a focus on survival and making long, arduous and extremely dangerous travels through hostile lands, Carson's craft is a lot more refined here, the writing tighter and the story more structured. Like with her first novel, there is a bit of a loose plot working as the spinal cord of the story and it does feel sometimes like the actual story has yet to begin, like this is an introduction to what the real novel is supposed to be, but unlike TGoFaT, I can't say that either bored me or bothered me.
This novel certainly builds up slowly, but the pace was consistent and takes off after a couple of pages that make the considerable bulk of the novel go by unexpectedly fast. Carson presents and exceedingly well-researched world that feels authentic, and chapter after chapter you can appreciate the painstaking detail that she gave to each and every single aspect of this world. For the most part, it feels very realistic which contrasts rather strongly with the small paranormal edge given to the story through Lee's ability to sense and find gold. You can tell that will be important later in further installments, but aside from being what propels the plot in motion, there's really no particular emphasis on her power and it sometimes feels a bit tagged on to the story. Sometimes I would even forget she had this power, only to be reminded by some of her inner dialogue or a small scene where she would use it because it doesn't play much of a role in the overall story except for the manufactured complications where it became a necessity.
Lee is a really fantastic main character. She's brave and smart and a character that's really easy to like. I really enjoyed experiencing this novel through her voice and I particularly loved the emphasis the author gave to Lee's observations about how this world was built upon the backs of women, how it abused them and then discarded them. There was a focus on the power of women, on their quiet strength even when they are invisible, and their capacity to survive almost anything. There was a lot of power in the way the novel talked and portrayed women, but I felt like a particular choice regarding one of the other female characters towards the end tarnished the overall idea and the message it was trying to convey, especially because of that character's inclusion in the small romantic tension in the novel.
Speaking of which, there is a small spark of romance in the novel, though it's of the very slow-burn variety and remains as something barely more tangible than a promise for next installments. I liked that particular choice because, considering what these characters have to go through in this novel, any instance of actual romance here would've felt forced and out of place. I'm glad Carson decided to sacrifice the romance for the integrity of the survival aspect in the novel, but I do wish she had spent more time with the secondary characters who remain fairly static and stereotyped all throughout the novel, with only one or two standing out as a bit more complex than the rest.
Walk on Earth a Stranger is a very enjoyable novel in spite of its grittiness (or maybe even because of it in my case) and a surprisingly engaging first installment in a series. This is a compelling novel that manages to be realistic and sometimes even brutal without ever losing the spark of hope, a story that made a commendable effort in showcasing diversity and notions of social progress even stuck in what was one of the most oppressive and intolerant periods in recent history, and, ultimately, a great effort that definitely succeeded in making me commit to the series. ...more
Juvenile writing, an insufferably idiotic and boy-obsessed main character, lack of world-building, age inappropriate writingThis book was unreadable.
Juvenile writing, an insufferably idiotic and boy-obsessed main character, lack of world-building, age inappropriate writing and dialogue, a maddening fixation on the boring romance, generic characterization, a frustratingly slow pace, and a complete disregard for the impact of rape on a character.
I have nothing else to say about this book. ...more
I thought it would be very difficult to read, never mind enjoy, A Thousand Nights shortly after having read and deeply liked The Wrath and th3.5 stars
I thought it would be very difficult to read, never mind enjoy, A Thousand Nights shortly after having read and deeply liked The Wrath and the Dawn. But both books were wildly different experiences, on a subjective and objective level. While TWATD focuses on mesmerizing romance, seduction and revenge, A Thousand Nights is a character-driven, slow-paced and empowering exploration of mysticism and women, the power they wield and the bond that unites them. There's no romance in this novel, no heart-pounding action, no double-crossing or twists and turns. There aren't even names in the story. A Thousand Nights is a more mature, almost literary take on the classic that uses magic and myth to slowly and thoughtfully weave together a tale of quiet but powerful feminism.
This book reminded me quite a lot of my experience with Sorrow's Knot. Both novels use fantasy to delve deep into historically rich and complex cultures, respectfully borrowing elements from them to create wondrous new worlds with strong and compelling cultures that serve as the stage to subversively showcase and explore the strength of women. This novel is focused almost entirely on the strength of sisterhood (blood and otherwise), the bonds that binds the women experience, and the great capacity for fierce love and sacrifice in women. Most importantly, this novel is concerned with the strength, power and bravery of the unnamed, how the unrecognized and unclaimed truly carry the weight of progress and change. That most of these unnamed have been women throughout history is exactly the subtle message of this novel.
A Thousand Nights is a very slow novel that's not concerned with entertaining or being enjoyable - or with explaining anything thoroughly. The pace is unhurried, the story unfurling delicately and gradually, taking its time to thoughtfully consider and explore and challenge. It is a very well written novel, with a very lyrical and contemplative style that I found compelling, though I will admit is dangerously close to boring for some. Our nameless main character is fascinating in the sense that she seems to personify womanhood, to represent each and every single one of us, and she did it wonderfully. Brave, smart, strong, and caring, the novel and its main character speak to the idea of female weakness inherent to the softer nature that has been assigned to us for ages and subverts it entirely, beautifully showcasing the iron strength in it, and that it does it through the retelling of a classic, sexist tale is quite amazing.
This book might be short, but it is dense and very slowly built. If you like more literary, atmospheric and contemplative works, I'm sure you'll be pleased with what Johnston achieved with this retelling. It is a very elegant and beautiful novel, a subtly powerful one that blew my expectations away because of how different, compelling and thoughtful it was. I was an unexpectedly exquisite experience and I can't wait to see what else this author has in store. ...more
One can always count on Rachel Hawkins to deliver great doses of fun and charming entertainment, as well as reliable, engaging heroines that are realiOne can always count on Rachel Hawkins to deliver great doses of fun and charming entertainment, as well as reliable, engaging heroines that are realistic, strong and very easy to root for. Sure, her stories are not exactly a fountain of originality and, truth be told, there's very little substance behind all the fluff, but her books never fail to remind me that it's perfectly acceptable to think a book's good even when it is solely pure entertainment and it doesn't take itself too seriously. But ultimately, while this one was certainly fun, it failed to live up to the promise of the first one.
Rebel Belle was a bit of a surprise for me because, although I already expected to be entertained, I did not expect the brain candy to also be absolutely badass and engaging the way it turned out to be. There were many elements about the story that I expected to be irritated by, but, somehow, it all turned out great. So I had some expectations of Miss Mayhem, and though it certainly delivered the appropriate levels of fun and sassyness, Miss Mayhem seem to just stumble along from beginning to end, balancing on a very thin thread of a plot that felt like a filler in the series.
Miss Mayhem was slightly similar to Rebel Belle in content. School drama, love triangle issues, BFF complications and a single social even where hell breaks loose, but, somehow, it wasn't as engaging as the first one, mostly because this one felt forced to some degree. The story felt slightly disjointed from what the first one had already established, not because it didn't follow the original, but because it didn't flow naturally from it. By giving it a similar structure to the first one, this one felt repetitive and, truth be told, rather pointless.
I didn't connect with the characters in this one, made harder by how supremely exasperating and silly they were at points, and their issues seemed overdramatic and ridiculous to me. Their actions didn't go with the characters, which means that for most of the novel, the characterization was all over the place and all so that specific events could happen to turn up the teenage angst to the max. For some reason, the love triangle kept shifting back and forth, turning into a love square and changing parts out of nowhere. Most characters didn't even play an important role in the story when it came down to it, and they all seemed to run around in circles with no idea where they were supposed to go, just hoping for the whole thing to be over. There was just something missing from the group dynamic and the whole thing just ended up feeling forced. Every single obstacle in their way felt deliberately placed there and that made it really hard to feel invested in these characters and their story because the whole thing felt contrived and strained, very much like this was a middle book and some things absolutely needed to be set for the big finale no matter what.
I don't feel like this novel contributed much to be mythology at work in this story, nor to the characterization of the main cast. The antagonist in this one felt cliched and didn't participate much in the story, and the conflict behind the novel was very unfulfilling, half-baked and anti-climactic as it was. Additionally, the writing was definitely not Hawkins best.
Unfortunately, Miss Mayhem was yet another victim of the middle book syndrome. It failed to meet the effortless entertainment and cleverness of the first one, and it's nothing more than an obvious, shaky platform for the third one. As a sequel, it's weak and unsatisfying, by itself it's flawed and rather pointless. It admittedly offers enough mindless entertainment and fun that works great with its short length and lighthearted content, but as a whole, the novel falls short from what it should've been. ...more
An Ember in the Ashes is a very ambitious project that had about as many things working against it as it had working in its favor. Yes, it sounds uniqAn Ember in the Ashes is a very ambitious project that had about as many things working against it as it had working in its favor. Yes, it sounds unique and exciting and epic, but those very things can make a book fail when left in the hands of an author with far more inspiration than talent. I’ve seen it happen a hundred times to debut novels that get caught up in the encompassing scope of their stories, forgetting about the technical aspects of the novel, which, ultimately, are the underlying foundation of a book that works and give structure to whatever epic showdown the story is rearing to deliver. It was quite a surprise for me when An Ember in the Ashes, was not only an incredibly engaging novel, but also a book that never quite felt to me like the first offering of a debuting author.
An Ember in the Ashes is amazingly well-written, fascinating, riveting and thoroughly entertaining. It delivered its promised tension, action and romance, all without sacrificing the integrity of the plot or the characters. It was a very satisfying read, with a well-constructed atmosphere, fantastic world-building, and a very exhilarating plot. I think the author really captured the essential element of the Roman culture it wished to emulate, but still made this militarized and brutal world her own. Although, I would’ve appreciated for the names of the tribes and different cultural groups within the novel to be named by something more original than the general activity they dedicated themselves to (Scholars, Martials, etc.), much like it bothered me in The Selection with the family names or Divergent with the factions.
That is not to say, however, that the book is perfect. The book is engaging and highly entertaining, and it definitely doesn’t face many of the struggles most YA debut novels face, but there were some recurring themes in the novel that I found to be highly problematic. Case in point: the constant and relentless threat of rape. I know rape was a rampant issue in the societies and times this novel took inspiration from, but, regardless of historical accuracy, it was just too much in this novel. I don’t mind having to read through some really difficult topics, and I like it when authors don’t ignore the existence and severity of rape, but in this novel rape ranked as a plot device. It served for confrontations with antagonists and to highlight even more how despicable they were, it was used to make a connection between the two main characters, and it was even used to save Laia’s life. Even worse, it was used to submit, torment, and psychologically torture the two main female characters, strong women in their own right, brought to their knees by “evil” people solely through the threat of rape. Not only was it employed and referenced to far too consistently throughout the story, no important point about how horrible it is was ever made. Yes, there’s the general “this is horrible, and only bad, bad people do it”, but it was mostly shrugged away by the characters, relegated to the background as some element of the world-building. I didn’t expect for the author to turn her novel into an anti-rape PSA, but, considering how prominently it figured into the story, I would’ve appreciated a stronger message against it.
We get two different perspectives in this novel: Laia and Elias. Tahir did an impressive job when it came to their different, individual voices and their characterization. It was admittedly mostly due to their different circumstances, but the characters felt different, I never confused their narratives, and even more surprising, I was invested in both of them. There is an undeniable unevenness when it came to their stories, though. They might’ve been both interesting, but Elias’ side of the narrative was, by far, a lot more compelling, intense, entertaining and engaging out of the two of them, particularly throughout the Trials. Ultimately, both characters are fascinating, but they do suffer from the typical specialness that characterizes most YA heroines and heroes. Tahir handled that very well, though, I have to give her that. Yes, they were special, but she put a lot of effort into showcasing in pretty convincing ways the reasons why they were special, from their backgrounds, their values, emotions and psychological states, it all made sense and felt right. Tahir’s writing allowed for the raw emotions of the characters to surface effortlessly from their respective narratives and the effect was really powerful.
I liked a couple of the secondary characters, one or two in particular came across a fleshed-out, and I really enjoyed the fact that the author didn’t shy away from balancing brutality with humanity in some of the antagonists, but for the most part, the latter group went largely unexplored, especially when it came to Marcus, who felt too cartoonish and stereotyped to fully function as the evil antagonist he is supposed to represent.
The moment this novel stumbled for me, in terms of the story, was when the two main characters came together. Up until that point, which was about halfway throughout the novel, the characters had been struggling with their own issues, which of course, included complications with romance, but I had actually been very intrigued by the possibility of the main characters never becoming romantically linked. I found myself loving the idea that they would just be allies and friends, especially when one considered the inappropriateness of entangling the romance aspect even further under the highly dangerous circumstances Laia and Elias were living, and also because their respective romantic problems were complicated enough (falling for someone she maybe shouldn’t trust – clichéd, but not made a big deal of in the story; dealing with the unrequited love of his best friend). But then they did come together, and of course, the romance was forced, and although there was some chemistry between them, it didn’t feel right. Now both of them were struggling with romantic triangles of their own, a veritable, and highly unnecessary, love square. Laia and Elias clicked, but I would’ve preferred if they had been pushed together in further installments in the series or if their connection had been hinted at but not acted upon.
The plot is complex and multi-layered, not entirely unpredictable and sometimes uneventful, but compelling. There were some holes in there, and the subplot concerning the rebellion was given a forced resolution that might make sense within the story, but fails to fully convince. There’s also the huge cliffhanger at the end. The novel technically has no end, which is kind of problematic when you consider this one was sold as a stand-along novel. I think it’s highly probable that this will get a sequel, if the hype and the high ratings for it are any indication, but, for all intent and purposes, all of the plot threads were left blowing in the wind, which kind of gave the novel the feeling that it was setting the stage for the actual novel and story.
It takes a pretty impressive novel for me to forget about these issues and still give it a fairly high rating, and An Ember in the Ashes is definitely one of those. The scope of the story, the way it was weaved together, how she brought the characters and the conflicts to life, and, considering the size of the story, how she still managed to keep it entertaining and compelling all the way through, it all showcases an amazing talent in the author’s part that deserves to be watched carefully. I sincerely hope the novel gets a sequel. I wholeheartedly believe this story deserves a second installment and that each and every single one of my complaints will find no place in the type of sequel a novel like An Ember in the Ashes promises. Riveting and thrilling, An Ember in the Ashes is more than just an impressive debut, it’s simply a pretty good novel. ...more
Sisters' Fate is probably one of the finales I've been looking forward to the most this year. The series is not without its flaws, but someho3.5 stars
Sisters' Fate is probably one of the finales I've been looking forward to the most this year. The series is not without its flaws, but somehow, it became one that I hold really dear to my heart, probably due to the mix between how weird it is that I've loved a series about witches so much and how well Spotswood has infused her novels with the type of feminism that seems to fly right by the great majority of authors in YA. In the end, Sisters' Fate was a perfectly acceptable conclusion to the series and a book that I enjoyed, but there's a slight feeling of disappointment that I can't shake because the book was just too safe.
I understand the massive undertaking that it is putting an end to a series. Looking for a way to tie all the loose ends, bring together sub-plots and send characters on the final path they'll ever walk. When it comes down to it, Sister's Fate did very well on all of these accounts. It combined the fight against the Brother's oppression of both, women and witches, with the inevitability of the prophecy and the struggle for power that took place in the Sisterhood and the rivalry between the sisters, and wrapped it all up with a series of exciting events and even a scene or two I did not expect. Spotswood definitely succeeded in bringing a nice and definitive ending to her series, but call me a skeptic because it was just too nice for me.
Moreover, while the arrangement of the events might've brought a couple of surprises, the core events of the novels were actually quite predictable. I never had any doubt that this was exactly how the series would end, even though I hoped it wouldn't be because this was the safest way too wrap it all up. The ending had a few very emotional moments that I didn't expect, but for the most part, it was slightly anti-climactic as a whole and most of the main issues in the novel were dealt with surprising ease.
But that's basically my only complaint on this final book. As expected of this series, the book was beautifully written and featured engaging and very strong characters, most of them written with an ambiguous duality to them that I found absolutely compelling. That anyone can have a character like Maura, so exasperating and trying and infuriating, and still make me like her and see there's more to her, is very telling of the kind of talent an author has. As usual, I loved the quiet but potent feminism in the novel and the way that placed all women on the same side, fighting the same battle as a single unit, regardless of their personal feelings for each other.
This is a very satisfying conclusion to the series. I expected a bit more, perhaps for more risks to be taken, but I can't say I didn't enjoy the book or the way this beautiful story was wrapped up. ...more
Slow-paced and meandering in terms of plot, the strength of Star Cursed, like with Born Wicked, lies on the honest strength of Cate, the rela3.5 stars
Slow-paced and meandering in terms of plot, the strength of Star Cursed, like with Born Wicked, lies on the honest strength of Cate, the relationship between the three sisters and the bonds that bind all these women together. This book is rather uneventful until the last third of the story and it does feel kind of repetitive for the firs two thirds of the story, but the tension between Cate and Maura, the tenderness of Cate and Finn's romance and the threat of the Brotherhood's brutality more than kept me interested even when, admittedly, there wasn't much to be interested in.
Like with Born Wicked, this is a character-driven story, to the point that this whole prophecy thing went to the back of my mind because I was a lot more invested in the relationship between these girls. I liked how different Spotswood made them, how she bound them together and gave them importance regardless of whom they were and if they stood with or against the main character. This is one of the things I loved the most about this series: it never has to say the word "feminist" in order to make it clear that this novel is all about women standing together, supporting and helping each other against what's unfair for all of them, regardless of their personal feelings towards each other.
I liked Born Wicked slightly better than I liked this one, but this was still a strong second book with a shocking ending and a great foundation for a fantastic final book. ...more