The only thing I want to know about this book is: who bribed/extorted/threatened/blackmailed Diana Gabaldon into, not only providing a blurb for thisThe only thing I want to know about this book is: who bribed/extorted/threatened/blackmailed Diana Gabaldon into, not only providing a blurb for this book, but praising what is, for all intent and purposes, a blatant ripoff of her series - and a vastly inferior one at that?
It's not just that this book is as generic as they come within the sub-genre, it's also that there's legitimately nothing even remotely original about it if you've ever been within throwing distance of a YA novel. The only redeeming element of this mess of a book is that, for absolute crap, it's actually surprisingly entertaining crap. But seriously, this book could easily work as a point-by-point guidebook on how to write a YA novel because it has every single regurgitated character stereotype, character interaction, plot point and plot device known to humankind.
Of course Hope (very subtle, author) is super special and unique and misunderstood and Not Like Other Girls(™), and just generally clueless about how special and unique and perfect she is. Of course she gets thrown into mysterious circumstances because of some special link she has with [insert random paranormal phenomena] and she is the only one who can do [insert special thing here]. Of course there's a special, perfect guy solely focused on her for no discernible reason who decides to throw absolutely everything away for some random, unremarkable girl who he met 2 days ago and had 1 conversation with. Of course she's going to befriend the lovable manic-pixie-dream-girl who makes the political statement that the author wouldn't dare have the main character make (usually being a lesbian, but here we'll apparently settle for dating the only black guy in the book). Of course the line between good and evil is clearly drawn between the characters, because you will have no trouble identifying the good guys (the ones with the main character) and the bad guys (the nonsensically sadistic and violent ones that will, for some reason, throw their heads back in laughter and cackle evilly whenever something bad happens or they do something bad). And, of course, our main character will be too focused on loving this guy she cannot be with instead of focusing in the amazing new reality she is living right now or generally getting things done in any way whatsoever.
You know this book, I know this book, literally everyone knows this book because it is the exact same book we've had to slog through hundreds of times in order to find one that doesn't make us want to pour bleach all over our eyes.
It is hilariously depressing how much this books lacks any self-awareness and how that permeates pretty much everything about it. From the concept to the execution itself, this novel would have you think its cursory knowledge of history is enough to be perfectly believable as a story set for a large portion of the book almost a millennia ago. Some random clipped words, the overuse of certain letters and a shitload of apostrophes, along with some wigs and dresses, and suddenly a couple of teenagers are prepared to take on the 12th Century and pretty much succeed in passing for someone who lived then. And the time travel itself was made out to be so ridiculously complex in order to cover up how stupid and nonsensical the whole thing is. This is so patently absurd, so hilariously preposterous, I don't even know how anyone proof-reading this novel thought that any of this was anywhere near enough to make the whole thing convincing considering, you know, that the time travel is only the very backbone of the novel.
Moreover, not only does this novel not seem to realize it is derivative drivel, it actually thinks it's a feminist, girl-power kinda novel because it's centered around a super special girl, meanwhile ignoring entirely all of those instances of clear and outright slut-shaming and rampant misogyny. The book goes out of its way to bring an obscure female historical figure that was apparently super important for the promotion of women's rights, actually makes a point of detailing just how progressive this woman was and how much it had inspired the fictional women in the novel, all the while having its Strong Female Protagonist(™) talking about how she's not like "all those other sluts" cheerleaders with blonde hair and big breasts.
Hope is a treat, really. Between all the super special garbage she was born with (not trained or anything, she was just literally born being more capable and better than everyone ever), the whole not knowing how beautiful she is, the holier-than-thou attitude, the rampant slut-shaming and general condescension, it's really shocking I did not fall as hopelessly in love with her as everyone else did.
The only remotely positive thing I can say about this whole thing is that it is, quite frankly, strangely readable, in spite of dragging on and delivering the promised time travel far into the novel and generally being concerned with focusing on literally everything besides the truly fascinating or important bits. But being slightly readable doesn't make up in any way for the disaster that the rest of the novel is, because as mildly entertained as I may have been, the entertainment that kept me going did not make the effort of reading and now having this story in my head worthwhile in any way. ...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
What a strange, lovely novel Belle Epoque turned out to be. Not a particularly fun or entertaining novel, definitely not as profound as it co3.5 stars
What a strange, lovely novel Belle Epoque turned out to be. Not a particularly fun or entertaining novel, definitely not as profound as it could've been, but still, thoughtful and original in a sense that YA rarely is. Instead of focusing on the romance or getting lost in the beauty of the times, instead of using the story to bring another tiring, perfect main character who does nothing wrong, the author didn't shy away from giving us a flawed and average main character in a strange, emotionally and psychologically taxing situation who ends up being, essentially, the eyes through which we learn about situations and characters a whole lot more interesting than herself. That in itself was a pretty big risk. I commend the author's commitment to the story where she would rather make a point than make up this ridiculously perfect main character that never grows, develops or makes mistakes, but, ultimately, Maude herself suffered as a character because, pretty much, everyone else was more interesting than she was and it was a bore sometimes to go through her scenes of introspection.
At times, I really liked that the author purposely made Maude so average and unassuming so that we could better enjoy the strong characters around her, but at others, I struggled with actually caring about Maude at all. What I appreciate the most about this, however, was that this was a perfect technique to avoid the infuriating girl-on-girl hate that pervades in YA, but it had the downfall of making Maude rather uninteresting and, for some reason, also softened the impact of her emotions on the reader. Maude felt like such a passive observer for so much of the novel, than when it was her time to deliver on the big emotions and make big leaps in characterization, it almost fell flat for me. It wasn't that I didn't care about her, but simply that I didn't care enough to make a difference. I did generally like what the author did with Maude as a character, and I enjoyed that Maude was allowed to grow and develop by making mistakes, by making bad choices and turning into a unlikable person because it made for great characterization and it felt natural. I really enjoyed the way Maude got caught up in the fantasy of living this life that was never meant for her, which is when she came off as the most realistic for me.
What struck me the most powerfully about Maude was her need to survive, how she was willing to do anything to hold on, and her development as a character felt natural, and I know there aren't many authors out there willing to tarnish the perfection of their main characters so they can learn. But, ultimately, Maude was still a two-dimensional character at times. Aside from her need to survive and prove the people from her past wrong, the other big emotion I perceived from her was the emotional blow working as a repoussoir had on her self-steem, which I suppose is the very point of the novel, certainly, but never went as deep as I would've liked it to go and was mostly static and repetitive.
There's not a particular focus on romance in this novel, which was a refreshing change, and a definite spotlight on friendship, which was one of the strongest aspects of the novel for me. While not developed further more than was necessary, Marie-Josée and Isabelle were two very compelling and strong characters that reinforced the message of the novel. Far more interesting that Maude herself, they often carried the weight of the scene, the chapter and even whole sections of the story. They even embodied the message of the novel more strongly than Maude herself. They were not fully-fleshed and sometimes even felt like a draft of their own characters, but reading about Maude in their company were often the most engaging parts of my reading experience.
Belle Epoque is a very original novel with an unusual take on what could've been a recycled story. I was expecting for Maude to have a Cinderella story, for her to go from ugly duckling to beautiful swan like many other novels, and I was very pleased when, not only did that not happen, but when I realized that setting itself apart from that was one of the points of the novel. Slightly heavy-handed in delivery, sure, but this book still made very important points on beauty and shallowness, in personal strength and self-steem, in fighting for your dreams and yourself as a human being with feelings and dignity, and all that endeared me to the novel.
Definitely slow, Belle Epoque could've used a bit more liveliness, a more engaging current to Maude's narrative and more emotional strength behind her voice. It's not a novel that will have to reading deep in to the night, not one that will deliver thrills or excitement. It's a slow, thoughtful process the reading experience for this novel, and I think that was precisely the point. I think it could've been better, but that's just me wanting to derive more enjoyment, more meaning from this novel, to make it a whole lot more memorable and give it a lot more impact than it had, because, in the end, I think Belle Epoque is exactly the type of novel it wants to be and that, even if it does not make me love it as desperately as I wanted to, it does deserve my respect. ...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
You can trust Mindy McGinnis to never beat around the bush or sugar coat anything. If her first two books, Not a Drop to Drink and In a Hand2.5 stars
You can trust Mindy McGinnis to never beat around the bush or sugar coat anything. If her first two books, Not a Drop to Drink and In a Handful of Dust, were any indication of what I could expect of this novel, then I knew that, regardless of the central theme she chose to explore, McGinnis would not shy away from darkness and human brutality, that she would give us a main character with an an indomitable will to survive, and also, that the story would drag the main character through the ground in the most horrifying of ways. On those accounts, I can't say I'm disappointed. A Madness So Discreet is certainly a rough read, one that does not shy away from showcasing human brutality and insanity; in fact, the opening of this novel is one of the most viscerally horrifying I've ever read. The problem is that all that (and what we were promised in the blurb) lasts for about a third or less of the novel. After that, the story devolved into a strange Sherlockian mystery with a handsome, misanthropic detective, a strange invitation to assist in the unraveling of mysteries and dead bodies all around.
It's not so much that this abrupt change in the story was not entertaining or well-written, but it was an odd change of theme and pace - and it definitely wasn't what I had expected. It's almost like the novel was divided into three different stories that were then forcibly brought together: the asylum, the detective mystery and then a trial (not related to the detective mystery). It was almost jarring to go from one part to the next while I read this novel. I could see the connection between the plot points, but it was still a very brusque change in the narrative. Moreover, I felt like, in the process of including so many different plot points in an already complex narrative, the story tended to forgo or brush over the most compelling parts of each part in the novel.
For example, through the first part of the novel, there was a subtly feminist message driven home by looking at the horrifying conditions society pushed on their women for the sake of appearances and propriety, particularly where mental health was concerned, and though this was more or less a consistent theme through the story, it faded to the background. Similarly, the second part presented a mystery that offered very little excitement to the point that the story itself didn't seem all that concerned with it and didn't really try to build up the discovery of the culprit or the resolution, and finally, during the trial, the book concerns itself with exploring the boundaries of ethics and morality, doing what's right and wrong and the instances when doing wrong is justified for the sake of what's right, but it all just sorts of fizzles out.
It was all very frustrating. I kept switching back and forth between being enamored with the elements of the novel and being put off by the execution and the part all these elements played into the story. At this point, I still can't precisely point out where the novel went south for me or clearly distinguish why what I liked about the novel still didn't work for me to a certain extent. Likewise, I can say that I adored the characters in concept, but, for some reason, I can't say they were memorable or all that compelling within the story. This was a very odd reading experience, and I believe that's due to the fact that the execution was underwhelming and failed to live up to the truly extraordinary concept the way it aspired to. Under any standards this novel is perfectly okay, but you can feel in a very visceral level that there was something missing, that this novel should've been outstanding rather than just okay.
The novel drags on and in a seemingly haphazard manner. I liked the themes McGinnis introduced with this novel, but I'm not all that certain I cared much for the way she chose to explore them. Ultimately, this is a very strange read overall, satisfying to a certain degree, but still, in the end, a tad underwhelming. However, I am very thankful for the complete lack of romance in the novel, which I think benefited the characters and the story immensely. As expected, McGinnis nailed the atmosphere and she did a commendable job with the historical setting and the writing. Even though everything didn't quite fit into place and the experience as a whole didn't exactly meet my expectations, I still think this novel will be a great read for the right audience, and personally, I'm still excited for whatever else this author writes. ...more
If you had asked me a couple of years ago what I thought of anything Western related, I probably would've derisively snorted away your question. ThenIf you had asked me a couple of years ago what I thought of anything Western related, I probably would've derisively snorted away your question. Then I was forced to watch True Grit and suddenly I didn't even know myself anymore. Come Vengeance Road followed shortly by Walk on Earth a Stranger, and now I'm fairly certain everything I know is a lie because, dammit, apparently I do like Western related things.
Vengeance Road is gritty, rough, brutal and merciless. Basically, what you should expect from a Western story set right smack in the middle of the Gold Rush. I don't know much about Western stories besides guns, saloons, sand, gold, stetson hats and tumbleweeds, but Vengeance Road pretty much checked every single box in what I've seen in other works and felt like a real Western adventure, one that had me riveted from beginning to end. It is definitely a very refreshing change in YA, especially because Bowman didn't shy away from more mature staples of the genre for the sake of keeping it traditionally YA.
This is a revenge story, and the greatest part is that it stays that way from beginning to end. This is not a redemption story, one that starts with vengeance and ends with forgiveness, and this is definitely not a cautionary tale. All the way throughout the book, the only goal is revenge and retribution and Bowman gave us a perfectly capable, brave and thoroughly engaging main character more than up to the task. Kate's moral ambiguity and unflinching honesty made her a fascinating and very engaging narrator and main character. It was extremely satisfying to finally read about a YA main character that doesn't try to disguise her intentions, that doesn't try to justify her actions or attempts to make herself seem better than she is. That is not to say that she was an unfeeling pillar of badassery. Kate still had some flaws, doubts and concerns that humanized her and made a great balance with her single-minded pursuit of revenge. She wasn't always the nicest person, she did worry about shallow, petty things, and she did show grief, but to me all those things strengthened her as a character.
I enjoyed the technical choices Bowman made for the novel, particularly the dialect. She handled with impressive success the dialect of the times and that enriched the setting and the atmosphere of the novel. If Saba's narrative annoyed you in Blood Red Road, then be warned, a similar technique was used here, though I personally enjoyed it a whole lot more and thought it perfect for this novel.
The novel is somewhat slow at points, but the pace picks up after a while. Personally, I was never bored, but there were some repetitive bits in the story. I'm still not sure about my feelings for how the novel introduced and used Native Americans. Don't get me wrong, I loved their presence and I'd love to see more and more of them in many other YA novels, but it seemed to me like the novel was portraying them in the slightly stereotypical "noble, mystical savage" way and I do wish they'd had more of a role in the novel that just been a necessary plot device for a particular scene in the story. Just one character stood up from them and that was mostly because she spends part of the journey with the main characters, and I did liked her a lot. I just wish they had amounted to a whole lot more in the novel.
There is some romance in this novel, though it builds up very slowly. What I liked the most about it was how reluctant to it both parts were and it was a very refreshing change to see how their attraction worked even against their own intentions. I thought romance would feel forced within the context of this novel, and while it was not perfect or ever felt entirely natural, I did like how it developed, how it grew at a slow pace and turned into something that felt right with both characters. I particularly enjoyed the imperfection of it, how it manifested itself through the characters and made them choose paths that added layers to their characterizations, particularly towards the end.
There was a twist towards the end that I'm still not entirely sold on. It didn't hurt my overall impression of the novel as a whole, but it did leave me feeling unconvinced and almost unsatisfied with the climax of the novel. It demanded a bit too much suspension of disbelief on my part and, personally, I felt like it didn't add much to the novel besides some shock value. I didn't feel entirely discordant in the novel, but it didn't entirely fit into it either, at least to me.
Vengeance Road was a great reading experience. I didn't expect to like it much, so it was a great surprise for me to enjoy reading it so much and actually being sad about finishing it and knowing that there would be no more. It is a very quick and engaging read. It is well-written and well-plotted and Bowman did a pretty great job with the story. I'd never read anything by her before, but if her other books are like this one, I'll be getting into them immediately. ...more
The Ghosts of Heaven is as mystifying, riveting, brilliant, unsettling and complicated as you can expect from Marcus Sedgwick. What Sedgwick4.5 stars
The Ghosts of Heaven is as mystifying, riveting, brilliant, unsettling and complicated as you can expect from Marcus Sedgwick. What Sedgwick accomplished with this novel transcends genres and breaks down barriers. He gives us four completely different and yet eerily similar stories that go deep into the mysteries of the universe, of life and the human mind, all within the short amount of pages given to each story. This is a gorgeous work of fiction, but also of philosophy, psychology and history, all wrapped up in Sedgwick's trademark profound, intelligent and gorgeous prose.
Having said that, I honestly don't think this book is for everybody. I was absolutely mesmerized by the novel, but these stories are all about the symbolism rather than about action or even the characters themselves. The four stories are connected through certain symbols and ideas, and the focus of the novel is mostly that, in the shifting and mysterious meaning of the spiral, of its perpetuation through time, of the endless cycle of human life and a person's capacity for darkness. This is one of those books that wants to make you think, not just entertain you. Quite frankly, if one jumps into this novel just expecting to be entertained, one will miss what makes this novel so amazing and will probably just be bored instead.
In this volume, Segwick takes us on a journey through time. First we met a brave, motivated girl in prehistoric times that wants to be more than what her tribe wants her to be, then another clever and strong girl stuck right in the middle of dangerous Puritan times, followed by a troubled young man working at an asylum in the 1900's where strange procedures and ideas are being born, and finally, into the far future, where a disturbed man begins to discovers mysteries about the universe, and himself, that perhaps would be better left untouched. Every single one of the stories is spectacular in its own right. Each one featured a distinct narrative style, a unique tone and atmosphere, each one rich in details and all of them connected through the symbolism of the spiral, which seems to be followed all through time and even space by tragedy and human depravity. Although Sedwick says in his introduction that the stories are written in a way that allows you to read them in whatever order you like, I would recommend reading them in the order they were printed, since reading them randomly will most likely spoil another one of the stories.
The stories are all relatively simple, but exquisitely written and detailed, and they all carried, in their own unique way, the mystery of the spiral, the eternal loop of human curiosity, the unending circle of time, the unfathomable depth of endless darkness and the unknown, and the never-ending pursuit of knowledge. Sedgwick explored this metaphor in many different ways, places it in different contexts and considered it from shifting points of view, and by the end, I had like 12 different theories, but that's exactly the point of the novel. It doesn't present you a problem with a clear solution. It wants you to think further, to look around and consider it under a different light, to see the swirling, unstoppable mystery of the world alive all around us. It's simply fascinating, and as usual with a Sedgwick book, I feel like I got something really important from reading this novel. Plus, more obscure Edgar Allan Poe fun facts, which are always an awesome thing to take from a Sedgwick novel.
I found myself somewhat disconnected from two of the stories, which was a slightly jarring experience after being so profoundly invested in one that either preceded it or followed it, but I still enjoyed these stories immensely and thought them brilliant by themselves and as a whole. This is a very intriguing novel that goes deep into themes rarely seen in YA. The Ghosts of Heaven goes beyond just presenting a story and getting the reader to care about some characters, and it rarely bothered to explain every single part of the mysteries because it wanted to leave that up to you, the reader. Sedgwick is very clever and hesitant when it comes to the strange and seemingly impossible in the novel. He makes you wonder about it all and neither confirms nor denies the possibility of the magical, leaving the decision of what's real and what's not, what's right and what isn't all up to you. The ending of the fourth story sort of puts a mind-bending, incredible end to that debate, so whatever order you finally decided to read these stories in, I really recommend reading the fourth story last. The impact of the twisty ending is that much stronger that way.
As expected from Sedgwick, The Ghosts of Heaven is an utterly fascinating, unbelievably clever and absolutely riveting volume. ...more
Truth be told, I picked up this book because it was short. I have such limited amounts of time left to read now, that I want to make the most4.5 stars
Truth be told, I picked up this book because it was short. I have such limited amounts of time left to read now, that I want to make the most of it, and I thought that, this one being so short, I could finish it in no time and pick another one up immediately. While this was definitely a very quick book to read and I read it almost entirely in two hours, I stopped myself, something I rarely do while reading, because I didn't want to finish it. This book is such a strange, lovely, compelling book, I didn't want it to end.
As wondrously beautiful as it is heartbreaking, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is quite possibly the best YA book of magical realism I've read. Gorgeously written, this mesmerizing story takes hold from the first page and refuses to let you go. This is a very visceral experience. I felt it all, page after page. I laughed out loud unexpected one moment, and the next my heart would be be crushed under the tragedy of what this curious family experienced. Life was so cruel with them, and yet they had the most beautiful lives, and all because of love. I adored how this novel represented love, in all of its forms and shapes, be it good or bad, and that made the novel so achingly realistic, as hard as that might seem to believe.
The book wasn't perfect and there were a couple things that I struggled with, some paths the novel took that I could've done without, but the final product was so beautiful, so wonderful and lovely, all of my complaints seem irrelevant. Magical realism tends to be either a hit or a miss with me, but this one is an utterly gorgeous, wonderful and strange book that found its way into my heart and refuses to leave my mind for, what I'm sure, will be a long time. ...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
We're not even halfway through 2014, and I'm almost certain this has been my biggest 1-star year to date. True, most of it is due to the facts that, aWe're not even halfway through 2014, and I'm almost certain this has been my biggest 1-star year to date. True, most of it is due to the facts that, a) the more I read YA, the more my standards go up and my tolerance threshold for BS and stupidity lowers, and b) the more time I spent in GR, the less afraid I am of giving out 1 stars. I don't think it's entirely up to me, though. This year has come packed with an avalanche of pretty bad YA books. This year alone, I've read offensive books like They All Fall Down, infuriating ones like Dear Killer, thoroughly disappointing ones like Suspicion, appallingly bad ones like Of Monsters and Madness and Amity, and insufferably generic ones like One Past Midnight. And then there's Conversion. Where does Conversion stand? Well, Conversion achieved the impressive feat of falling into every single one of the aforementioned categories.
This book is offensive, infuriating, thoroughly disappointing, appallingly bad and, yes, even insufferably generic because, instead of focusing on the, I don't know, maybe that super weird thing that's happening to the girls in the school that no one seems to be able to explain, we instead get to find out about the marvels of Colleen's eternal pursuit to intellectually demean everyone around her, especially her friends and love interest, as she goes about on her quest to take for herself what seems to be the only spot available at Harvard this year. And I understand where the author is coming from and that she tried to portray the stress of being a teenage girl in a highly competitive background, but it simply did not come through. Instead of driven and competitive, Colleen was insufferably immature, judgmental and petty, not competitive in an intellectual way but in the generic YA way of hating on other girls just cuz. I didn't think it was possible, but Colleen came out of nowhere and safely positioned herself in the group of the most unbelievably irritating, hateful, petty, hypocritical, judgmental, immature, childish, bratty, privileged, self-entitled and disgusting YA "heroines" I've ever had the displeasure of reading about. She almost took the crown right off of House of Night's Zoey for the worst YA "heroine" it has been my misfortune to become acquainted with.
The book is just pages and pages of Colleen describing things in the irritating and endless monotone of a 10 y/o, giving you the entire life story of every single person that crosses the door, and then criticizing and demeaning every single one of them in her head as she saw them as competition. I like a smart girl. I love reading about smart girls in YA and I wish every single author in YA portrayed each and every single one of the main characters as smart girls, not because a hot guy comes along and tells them, but because they know it, because they've worked for it and because they are proud of it. But there's a clear line between pride and entitlement, ego-centrism, selfishness, pettiness, obnoxiousness and pretentiousness, and Colleen crossed that line, set it on fire and the danced on top of it. And the worst thing is that she really isn't even smart at all. She reminds you time after time of how brilliant and clever she is, and yet the most painfully obvious things and details fly just right over her head. Moreover, she thought she was entitled to intellectual superiority rather than actually working for it, as perfectly exemplified by this scene in which the goes into a quiz without having studied, acknowledging she's going to flunk, and then ranting at the teacher when she gets a failing grade. That's not how you show someone under stress because she wants to be the best; that's how you show how much of a spoiled, entitled brat a character is.
If she hadn't already annoyed the hell out of me with her obnoxious, immature, childish and unsubtle way of telling the story, the way she saw the world from her privileged, pretentious and egocentrically superior standpoint would've done the trick because I honestly didn't care about anything in this book, never managed to put any effort into feeling anything for any other aspect because my hate was so fiercely concentrated in this awful main character.
And it's not so much that I wasn't able to like her. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I don't need to like a main character in order to be invested in her story, but what I do need from a main character is to be interesting and interesting Colleen was not - she wasn't even a decently written character with dimensions and personality. Even stuck in the middle of a strange series of events that no one can make head or tails about, Colleen is the most appallingly boring person in the entire planet. This girl could make the end of the world sound as mind-numbingly boring as staring at a piece of cheese until it rots. There is no suspense in this novel, no atmosphere, and it was definitely not a thrilling, deep and psychological study in the events that take place in the novel and those in the Salem Witch Trials. By far, the most interesting thing in this novel was the dual POV that takes place during the actual witch trials, but even that was overdone, dragged for far too long and tediously boring.
Each and every single character in this story is painfully generic, extremely shallow and awkwardly stereotyped. Worst of all, not a single one of them was interesting in the slightest. Everything in this novel was mind-numbingly boring, and it's not because of the slightly literary style of the novel, but because the narration focused on everything besides the truly interesting event, which was the mysterious condition of these girls, and when it did concentrate on it, it was boring, repetitive and rather pointless.
There wasn't a single aspect of this book that I enjoyed. Even if I had managed to look beyond the unbelievably boring pace and the bad writing, the sheer ridiculousness of the characters and the narration's unwillingness to focus on the truly important matters would've still made this reading experience a terrible one. It's almost like the whole thing was dumbed and watered down because it's supposed to be YA. Whatever shred of interest I may have had in the mystery of this book was brutally stripped away by the tediousness of the pace, the boring development of the story, the insufferable main character and the lack of dimension to the characters and the plot. ...more
A lyrical and utterly gorgeous novel full of magic and romance, set in a fascinating world that's half history, half fantasy and entirely wondrous. ItA lyrical and utterly gorgeous novel full of magic and romance, set in a fascinating world that's half history, half fantasy and entirely wondrous. It's absolutely amazing. I was mesmerized by this book from the beginning. It features a highly competent, independent and multi-layered protagonist, a swoon-worthy love interest, breathtaking mythology and background history, outstanding world-building, wonderful magic, intense relationships and gorgeous writing. To me, this book was absolute perfection, but there's a catch: This book will break your heart. It is cruel and unfair, and it will take your heart and break it into a million pieces and then step on them and set them on fire, but for me, it was worth it. This book is not for everyone. I can't go into more details for that would spoil some of the story and this is definitely one to be experienced in its entirety, but it is not for everyone and yet I can't help recommending it. If you liked The Brides of Rollrock Island or When the Sea Is Rising Red, maybe even Inland, then this book is for you and you will probably love it with every single piece of your broken heart. ...more