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
This is the third book I've read this year with analogous style and premises, the other two being The Boy Meets Girl Massacre and Diary of a Haunting, both of which similarly employ the diary/journal device to tell the story of an unreliable girl's horrifying paranormal circumstances, and for the most part, I think The Dead House is marginally more successful than the previously mentioned because of the better quality of the writing and plotting. But while The Dead House provides with a much more satisfying and technically superior execution, it loses control of the story halfway into the novel and ends up being far too long-winded for its own good. By the time the climax rolls around, my excitement had dwindled considerably, almost to the point of exasperation and boredom.
All in all, The Dead House is a decent novel as far as YA horror goes. It provides a unique angle to the tired journal device by layering the storytelling with interviews, notes, video transcriptions, psychological and police reports and newspaper cut outs, effectively providing an interesting clinical and seemingly objective tone to the entire narrative and allowing the story to expand beyond the narrator for a more complex cluster-fuck of a read. The downside to all of this is that it becomes repetitive, and after the techniques lose their newness as the story goes on, they become fairly tedious to get through as well.
I understand and commend the author's intention in wanting to develop her main character's insanity/horrors and to give space to all these background information to settle and provide the reader with a dual perspective on the story that could easily go either into psychological or paranormal explanations, which, for the most part, worked pretty decently. But I think the novel is far longer than it needs to be and that worked against the quality of the story because it started to rely on the same devices, character interactions and actions over and over, turning the scenes that were supposed to be disturbing, unsettling and horrifying into crutches to move the story forward.
The Dead House does provide with fairly entertaining thrills and nicely-written scenes of terror and violence. But the in-betweens make the story drag and ruin the effect of some of the scenes, plus, it over-complicates what is a fairly simple story that doesn't want to settle in what exactly it wants to be, jumping far too much from psychological thriller to horror without as much cohesiveness and conciseness as it should've had. It's weird, but by the time I finished this novel, I felt like I had read about 4 book's worth of content.
And for a novel with so much time spent on seemingly meaningless character interactions, most of them ended up being little more than puppets as far as their complexity and definition went. We had vague descriptions of who they were physically, a handful of lines dedicated to their emotional and mental states, and so their actions throughout the story felt jerky, pulled only by the strings of the author's desire and needs. There isn't much reason why anyone in this novel do the things they do. We are supposed to just label them crazy, damaged, disturbed or simply slaves to their teenage desires and that's it. Two fairly important secondary characters, Naida and Ari, always appeared ridiculous to me, their characterization, motivations, actions and conversations far too outrageous and forced into the narrative of the story. The romance, likewise, felt strained, forced and underdeveloped.
For the first half, this book was actually very enjoyable and engaging, but as the story dragged, the pages went on and on and on with basically the exact same scenes and conversations, my feelings for the novel changed drastically. There are some really decent plot twits in there, but the novel is so single-mindedly focused on delivering twist after unexplained, underdeveloped twist that even that grows tired after a while. Moreover, some sub-plots were left hanging and no clear answer is given at the end for, well, anything at all.
The novel is okay, entertaining to a degree and surprisingly engaging. It's too much of a cluster-fuck, too needlessly convoluted and complex, and it drags too much, but still, a decent read, all in all. ...more
The Suffering is the perfect example of how much an author can grow and learn between books, how experience can be a wonderful teacher if the person iThe Suffering is the perfect example of how much an author can grow and learn between books, how experience can be a wonderful teacher if the person is willing to develop and work their craft. About a year ago, The Girl from the Well left me feeling disappointed. It showed promise and was a decent debut novel as a whole, but there was potential wasted and it ended up being a slightly underwhelming novel. So it was with no small amount of apprehension that I approached The Suffering. As it turns out, I had absolutely nothing to worry about.
With a more structured plot, more focused storytelling and meticulous writing, Chupeco fulfilled with the Suffering the promise her debut novel had, ultimately delivering with this one the great novel that The Girl from the Well should’ve been. Instead of shifting back and forth between multiple points of view, The Suffering concentrated on the narrative of Tarquin alone. Of course, reading from the perspective of Okiku sounds more appealing, but the flow of the story worked a lot better this time around by fixating only in Tarquin’s POV, and stranger still, Okiku was even more compelling a character through the eyes of Tarquin as well. The result reminded me of Anna Dressed in Blood to some extent, as they are both told from the perspective of a teenage boy with a mystifying connection to a girl ghost that enjoys tearing people apart – not to mention the inclusion of the infamous Aokigahara forest in Girl of Nightmares, which is the setting of most of the action in The Suffering as well – but that’s where the similarities end.
Tarquin is a decent narrator, perhaps not as compelling as Okiku was in the first novel (ignoring the slightly frustrating and repetitive bouts of fractured narration, which are successfully contained in this novel, resulting in a more satisfying use of that technique), but a very engaging and solid point of view nonetheless. He carries the weight of the novel well, and what’s interesting is that even he is aware that he’s hardly the most important or fascinating point in the novel, so a lot of attention is given to Okiku, their relationship and the horrors they are experiencing, as opposed to a more introspective look at his life and what he feels. There were certain points where he failed to come across as a believable teenage boy to me, but it was still a commendable effort on the author’s part, and in any case, fulfilled its intended point extremely well. His voice conveyed beautifully the confusing, disturbing but ultimately touching nature of Tarquin and Okiku’s relationship, which I loved to see developed in this novel. The writing, likewise, is fantastic, a bit repetitive a handful of times, but perfectly suited to the style of the novel.
The Suffering is legitimately creepy and a very well-executed YA horror novel as a whole. It was chilling and disturbing, and it delivered flawlessly the Japanese horror atmosphere while maintaining the due respect and loyalty to the culture. Unlike the first one, the introduction to Japanese culture didn’t take over the narrative and plot, and instead was worked seamlessly into the story. Chupeco never left the reader blind to what was happening and dealt important – and very fascinating – information about the customs and background that shaped the atmosphere of the novel without it ever feeling like info-dumps. Moreover, it was all so mesmerizing. I love Japanese culture and learning about these dark bits of history (real or inspired by reality, both) was immensely fascinating and riveting.
This novel kicks off strongly and it remained a thoroughly gripping read from beginning to end, never once relinquishing its complete hold on my attention or lagging in any way or form. The story is fast-paced and wildly entertaining, but never is the complexity of the novel sacrificed in exchange for breakneck speed and enjoyment. It dealt twists into the story that melded together almost perfectly, and I didn’t even mind the seemingly disjointed first third of the novel that deals with a situation in America rather than Japan, because it all fit together so well. Chupeco managed to keep the intensity of the story all the way through, keeping me focused and entertained even in the most passive of moments in the story. This is a book that I positively did not want to stop reading, and I can’t remember the last time that happened to me.
The entire half of the novel dedicated to the Aokigahara forest, the dolls, the Hell’s gate and the ritual was very near perfection to me. Chupeco didn’t hold back with the horror, death and disturbing brutality, and still, somehow she managed to intersect legitimately touching moments of love, friendship and bravery. The climax and ending of the novel were amazing. I had my doubts about it when I saw it coming, but the result was unexpectedly satisfying, very different from what other novels would’ve done, and provided for a perfect ending to this series, perpetuating the morally ambiguous and anti-hero air of the novel that set it apart from others in the genre from the very beginning.
In spite of the rocky start that was The Girl in the Well, I am very sad to see this series come to a close. The Suffering was a fantastic book in its own right, but it excels as a sequel because of the way it managed to take the good from its predecessor and deliver a superb continuation to the story that tops the original in every single way. Chupeco’s growth as an author is palpable all throughout this novel and firmly positions her within the group of authors I am keeping a very close eye on from now on. In all likelihood the best Japanese-inspired YA horror novel I’ve read, The Suffering is an excellent conclusion to a solid duology and one of my favorite novels of the year. ...more
What a waste of a perfectly good story. The first 50 pages or so are very engrossing, but then the mystery, the characters and the story itse2.5 stars
What a waste of a perfectly good story. The first 50 pages or so are very engrossing, but then the mystery, the characters and the story itself fall through the cracks that being overly ambitious left in this book. The book should've settled in just one of the two POVs. There was no need for both of them, and the shifting between the two hurt the suspense in the novel for no purpose whatsoever. I understand the allure of both characters for both of them were interesting enough to warrant attention to their stories, but by choosing both, neither got the development they needed. Emily remained a fairly static character that contributed nothing to the narrative and Damon's increasing psychological unrest felt manufactured and forced. Neither ever truthfully contributed to the tension in the novel with their unraveling psyches, and to force some blossoming attraction between them added nothing to the novel and was far too strained, even though it was barely developed in the story.
The novel loses momentum far too soon, decelerating abruptly and slowing down to a repetitive crawl. No effort whatsoever was made into hiding the actual culprits and secondary characters were brought back into existence and then quickly forgotten whenever it was necessary. Emily and Damon made for some pretty boring leads, even though they started the novel as the complete opposite. The rest of the characters aren't even worth mentioning for they left no impression whatsoever. The only semi-interesting character in the novel was the dead girl as she was presented through memories and flashbacks, but I hated the way in which she was characterized. The only remarkable character in the entire narrative and she was given barely any characterization at all, just enough to subtly demonized to the point that it felt like the story itself was saying, not only that she was partially responsible, but that she deserved what happened to her. And that's it for female characters. The other three female characters besides the MC are a backstabbing ex-best friend, a random Muslim girl (only character of color in the entire novel) that has one line in the entire novel, and the MC's drunk mother. Yay for female representation. Not that the male representation fares any better as they are all equally flat and uninspiring, but at least a bit more effort and numbers were given to them.
Deliberately short of details to prolong a predictable mystery, an overwritten story that still left characters vastly underdeveloped, and an emotionally bereft narrative make The Killing Woods a very underwhelming book that truly had the potential for so much more. ...more
I started this novel with some pretty low expectations. The blurb had led me to believe this was yet another half-assed YA thriller that woul3.5 stars
I started this novel with some pretty low expectations. The blurb had led me to believe this was yet another half-assed YA thriller that would focus entirely on the romance and semi-love triangle and then deliver a predictable and underwhelming conclusion, patting itself on the back in undeserving, smug self-satisfaction for a derivative, mediocre work while I raged all alone in my room. I was wrong. The Devil You Know is a very strange novel. Not in content, but in the way it deals with the story. This is the type of narrative that makes for some cheap movie thrills on a horror blockbuster during October, the type of story that might've easily felt familiar, recycled and uninteresting, but due to Doller's commendable writing skills, it was none of the sort.
The Devil You Know certainly offers the tropes and cliches of the genre, but Doller wove them into the story so masterfully, it made for a very engrossing read, regardless of predictability. Moreover, in a small amount of pages and with the weight of the story actively working against her, we were given an unexpectedly engaging and capable protagonist that I could root for in spite of the amount of stupidity behind her choices. It's a strange thing to see yourself liking someone who makes such monumentally idiotic choices, to feel actual dread instead of self-righteous satisfaction to see her struggle against the terrifying situation she placed herself in. Acadia's characterization was done so well, I never actually held against her the consequences of her choices. She certainly makes terrible decisions, but they never felt forced or uncharacteristic to her character. Every stupid choice she made actually felt natural within the context of her characterization and what we'd seen of her life. It was truly incredible thing and it perfectly shows the skill this author possesses, that I am actually praising a character that deliberately placed herself in this situation without a care.
I was actually pretty stunned as well by the way the romance was handled. Sure, it was insta-love to a certain degree, but I believed the connection between Noah and Acadia and it was all due to the palpable chemistry between them. The intensity of their connection felt natural, never forced. And the fact that they never tried to play it as love, as anything other than intense attraction made their bond feel even realer. Moreover, this novel had some pretty progressive things to say about just almost every important female topic right now. It was refreshing to see Acadia talk so maturely about women's issues, about the effect of the patriarchy on the perception of women and how it inhibits their sexuality and its healthy expression. Sure, I wouldn't go out of my way to declare Acadia a feminist icon, but after all the rampant girl-on-girl hate and slut-shaming I see in YA fiction almost every day, it felt good to see a character, and therefore an author, advocate so strongly for the liberation of female sexuality.
I do think the novel was a bit too forgiving with some of the male characters, particularly one whose behavior bordered on sexual harassment far too often, one Acadia forgave for thinking of him as a brother. But I think Doller handled the two main guys pretty well and gave them believable psychologies that were crucial to making the mystery in the novel realistic or believable enough. She did, however, sort of painted herself into a corner when it came to the mystery and it all ended up being far too predictable, in spite of her best attempts to make the plot twist a big surprise.
This novel is surprisingly engaging and entertaining. It's not perfect, of course, and it is slightly problematic, but it's very well-written, unexpectedly so, and Doller made it all work, tropes, cliches and deliberate character stupidity aside. This was a pretty enjoyable thriller and the fact that I get to say this at the end in spite of my initial underwhelming expectations, makes this novel deserve those rounded up four stars. ...more
After a beautiful start, Donnelly and I have had a very rocky last two years. I fell in love with Revolution and A Northern Light, which always seemedAfter a beautiful start, Donnelly and I have had a very rocky last two years. I fell in love with Revolution and A Northern Light, which always seemed to me like gorgeously written and very sensitive books about realistically complex girls. I ached for those two main characters, different from each other but equally compelling and believable, and I believed their pain and their world and the things they had to do to overcome their circumstances. Donnelly conveyed their lives with a sensitivity that showcased amazingly human emotions and made it really easy for me to connect with them, to root for them and believe their every emotion. I think those two are extraordinary novels that speak to YA audiences like mature, intelligent persons capable of understanding the nuances of a life full of tragedy and difficulties, lives that shaped young women into heroines, not always understandable and certainly flawed, but strong and worth caring about.
And then Deep Blue happened, a huge disappointment that I let slide because the book was aimed towards the middling line between Middle Grade and YA. Still, my faith of Donnelly was shaken enough that I was wary of These Shallow Graves, but not enough to dissuade me from reading it. I already knew she could write beautifully, that historical fiction is certainly her forte, and that writing once more for a strictly YA audience, I could trust her to deliver another tough, strong and realistic heroine fighting her way through everything. As it turns out, Donnelly brought the general gist of story to YA standards again, she just forgot to bring the rest of her craft, including the main character.
First off, there is absolutely no reason for this book to be 500 pages long. Absolutely NONE. I understand that the purpose behind this was to deepen the mystery, which admittedly worked somewhat, and to show the way this situation affected all aspects of Jo's life, both her life as a NY socialite and her more private life, but what it lend itself to was for a very repetitive and often uneventful narrative. Something was consistently happening in the novel, which saved it from being dreadfully boring, but the same things would happen over and over with just the smallest of differences. We got Jo pondering the same things over and over, engaging in the exact same actions and interactions with other characters, and, in the end, it was all extremely unnecessary, for it didn't add anything to the actual core and quality of the story and only padded the book far beyond what was needed. Moreover, this also had the unfortunate effect of making the story predictable. I appreciated the effort into making the mystery a lot more complicated and complex, but it made the twists evident since the very start. This was all the more frustrating because of how unbearably naive the main character was.
Jo is an exasperating, willfully ignorant, reckless and irritating main character. She was a study in contradictions, and not the good kind. Jo is 17 years old, and yet she behaves, thinks and speaks like she's 12. Everybody around her treated her like she was such a smart woman, so mature and intelligent, but nowhere did she ever act like anything more than a child. She was outstandingly ignorant, jaw-droppingly naive and frustratingly slow to catch everything that went on around her. She constantly needed someone else to spell things out for her, and that would've worked with her characterization of a sheltered socialite groomed to be nothing but a proper wife and mother, but the story itself attempted to sell her as a sensitive, knowledgeable, intelligent, driven and conscious girl that wanted to break with social norm, find herself, pursue a career that most society would frown upon and fight social injustices. Needless to say, Jo failed to uphold any of that.
Jo was competent sometimes simply because the story forced to be. As a main character, she lacked complexity and profundity, and she wasn't even interesting. Unlike previous Donnelly heroines, Jo lacked the strength to carry the book by herself, whereas the first two books I read by Donnelly could well afford to take away from the strength of the plot because reading about the main character made it all worth it. This resulted in Jo becoming simply a placeholder, a figured needed to make things happens, but not someone anybody would glance twice at, nor someone anybody would care about, which, needless to say, makes for a very poor main character and heroine.
My three biggest complaints about YA are: the rampant girl on girl hate, the shallow standard for heroines, and insta-love. My problem with insta-love in YA is not so much that it may happen quickly - I can certainly understand two people feeling an immediate connection or the strong bonding of people after a particularly strong and emotionally taxing event. Heck, I experienced that myself, as my boyfriend and I pretty much fell in love in the course of one week when I was 17 and we've been together for 8 years now. Is not so much a matter of quantity as it is of quality. You want me to believe your two characters loved each other almost instantly? Okay, I can handle it, but you have to give it something that gives meaning to the connection, you have to make me believe that something happened so strongly between these two that time doesn't matter. That's exactly what didn't happen in this novel.
Jo and Eddie's connection came pretty much out of nowhere. There was not a single aspect of this novel that made their relationship believable. Realistically speaking, these two people would never fall in love. Maybe Jo could develop a crush on Eddie, but he would never return it, and so it never felt natural when these two started proclaiming their love for each other. First of all, like I mentioned before, Jo's naivety made her come across as a child, whereas Eddie always felt like very much an adult. That he, in his maturity, was able to be sexually and romantically attracted to Jo, who was essentially a 12 year old in all aspects but physical to the point that I often forgot that she was 17, was nothing short of creepy. Moreover, there was no spark, no sincere connection between them except for the fact that the author willed it so. From one moment to the other, poof!, love. And the worst part is that it took over the plot and made it so irritatingly melodramatic, which also led to the series of cliched and ridiculous scenes I've read in dozens of other YA novels.
In this novel you can find the classic "we accidentally got stuck together in a tight, confined space and we are forced to be extremely close together, close enough to kiss and feel each other's breaths on our faces, and just as we are about to kiss, somebody lets us out", also the tragic "I saw you with someone else that I immediately thought was a beautiful lover but was really family and so I'm going to make a horrible decision out of anger that will ruin our relationship because confronting you about it just won't do", and the much beloved "we are just too different, we come from different worlds, go with that other guy you don't love because this relationship needs some angst".
The romantic relationship in this novel isn't the only one that's not believable in the slightest. Jo developed friendships out of nowhere and for no other reason than because the plot required it. People just don't go around forming instant bonds with others, bonds strong enough you'd risk your life for, simply because you talked to each other once for a couple of minutes and you didn't kill or rob each other. Secondary characters would swoop in and out of the plot wherever it was required. Longtime friends would be mentioned once and then discarded, family members would disappear when convenient, and characters that were built up in the novel, would just never show up again for anything.
This novel tried to be so many things, to include so many different aspects of that society, that it failed to keep hold of any of them. I appreciate the message of female empowerment, of a girl fighting against the ridiculous constraints imposed on all women that would have them being nothing but gloried and submissive servants to the whims of men - hell, I love that, but it was so heavy-handed in this novel, that it was exasperating. Unsubtle and ham-handed, the sexism of the times was thrown at the reader's face at every opportunity, regardless of how appropriate it was at the moment, because the only thing that mattered is that the reader understood that Jo had to suffer through SEXISM, even though it was fairly obvious since the beginning and without the need of having it thrown at my face with all the subtlety of a jackhammer. The worst part is that the book would hammer that on the reader's face, along with some issues like poverty and crime, and then did absolutely nothing about it.
The mystery itself was interesting enough to keep me reading well past what my patience allowed, but it was predictable. Had it been a shorter novel, it would've probably gotten a better rating. The writing was okay, the mystery engaging enough, the epilogue surprisingly satisfying, the historical background perhaps the best thing in the entire novel. But this story was stretched far beyond what it could, and what would've been an unremarkable but decent reading experience got turned into a constant struggle with frustration and a fight to finish. I think this is where I part ways with Donnelly. Maybe in the future I can give some other book of hers a chance, but for the moment, I've gotten all the disappointment I can handle. ...more