Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca is one of my all-time favourite books, and the elements I feel that made it such a powerful b...moreThis one did not work for me.
Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca is one of my all-time favourite books, and the elements I feel that made it such a powerful book are wholly missing from Harbison’s adaptation. While Rebecca’s lingering presence was chillingly palpable in DuMaurier’s novel, her New Girl counterpart – Becca – has all the menace of a Bratz doll. (Creepy, but not in the way you’d think). Similarly, the supporting character fall flat in this retelling: Max is entirely forgettable and doesn’t produce any of the conflict in the reader as does Maxim de Winter, and Dana Veers is a cartoonishly hysterical Mrs Danvers.
Essentially, while the basic plot of New Girl is transplanted into a modern North American setting, none of weight and resonance of Rebecca has been retained. What should be disturbing is merely histrionic, mean girl shenanigans and cheap thrills by means of a lot of sex and drinking. And no, it’s not the beer pong and casual hook ups I find offensive – I really don’t – it’s the fact that the author seems to have attempted to soften up the original story into a sort of Rebecca-for-The-Gossip-Girl-Generation, which if I find kind of insulting.
The protagonist is much more assertive and forthright than her predecessor, which results in she (New Girl)(view spoiler)[her name is revealed at the end of the book, unlike in Rebecca(hide spoiler)] and Becca wrestling for the narrative so we get two insipid characters as opposed to two points of stark polarity. Also, giving Becca a voice actually results in undermining much of the power she wielded in Rebecca. Rather than being a largely unknown quantity, Becca’s threat is almost instantly rendered ineffectual by the attempt to “explain” her, and why she acts the way she does. Perhaps it was Harbison’s intention to point out that Becca is not an entirely unsympathetic character, to reveal the reason for her manipulative and messed up behaviour – but it isn’t handled particularly well, especially considering the heavy content of her backstory. (view spoiler)[Rape treated as a mere plot device really bothers me. (hide spoiler)]
Further, in what seems to be an effort to make Max a more appealing love interest, (and spoiler warning here but sorry I’m not sorry) (view spoiler)[Harbison chooses not to have him carry out Maxim’s heinous actions. It’s okay to like him! He’s not a murderer! Unless he bores you to death, which is entirely possible. (hide spoiler)]
Is it unnecessarily harsh to measure New Girl by holding it up against Rebecca? Should I be weighing it on its own merits? I still don’t believe my opinion would alter very much. Harbison’s writing is accessible and fluid, but the story itself is let down by the characters. Even if I didn’t know Becca was Rebecca and New Girl was the new Mrs de Winter, I’d find it difficult to feel particularly invested in their melodramatic and petty story.
There’s a lot to work with in the novel, there are several complex themes here, but none of them are given adequately considered treatment and are left basically unexplored. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
This one was slower for me than the previous two instalments in the Rosie Black Chronicles - initially the action felt a little tedious and repetitive...more This one was slower for me than the previous two instalments in the Rosie Black Chronicles - initially the action felt a little tedious and repetitive.
That said, I like the way Morgan chose to wrap the series up and where she left the characters. A good conclusion to a fun futuristic trilogy.
(Just to clarify, this is a good three stars, not a reluctant 3 stars, so maybe 3.5 is more accurate. Or 4. I don’t know, I can’t decide.)
Rage Within...more(Just to clarify, this is a good three stars, not a reluctant 3 stars, so maybe 3.5 is more accurate. Or 4. I don’t know, I can’t decide.)
Rage Within opens three months after the earthquakes, with Aries, Michael, Mason and Clementine hiding out in Vancouver with a group of survivors. The Baggers are becoming organised, their homicidal rampage now punctuated with hunting down and rounding up the uninfected. Nobody is safe – whether it’s from the Baggers, or the threat of their own darkness inside.
This time around Roberts delves deeper into the group dynamics, the tenuous balance of trust and fear that exists amongst the survivors. In a world overwhelmed by evil, the danger of betrayal looms large. Each of the characters have reason to question each other, while at the same time having to rely on them for survival. Throughout Rage Within, this fragile combination of reliance and distrust is challenged, along with the system of order and relationships that have emerged in the group. Michael’s actions in Dark Inside cause him to doubt his ability to protect others. Aries questions her role as a leader. Clementine is consumed by her vow to find her brother. And Mason knows there’s something different about him..
Like Dark Inside this is a brutal, action-based novel – but Roberts has built on the charactisation in the first book, further developing each member of the core group. In this respect I found it a better book than the first. The situations and choices the characters face in the sequel are more complex, the ramifications more severe, and their actions occasionally less sympathetic. While Dark Inside introduced the characters and set up their individual journeys, Rage Within is concerned with their interactions as a unit, and how their internal conflicts not only parallel the violence that surrounds them, but threaten their relative security. A question that underpins the novel is whether the biggest danger to the group is from within.
Roberts’ characters feel more fleshed out in Rage Within. Even though it’s also written in multiple points of view, the sequel has the added advantage of allowing the reader to see each character through the eyes of the others. Being able to observe from different angles allows a fuller picture of each character to emerge, particularly in how they relate to each other. I appreciated how Roberts chose to write Clementine and Aries – highlighting their individual strengths as well as their friendship. They’re both great female characters: tough, relatable and not stereotypical. (I love that Clementine is a cheerleader and yet she never reads like a trope.) Of the central four, I thought Michael was the least developed. Or rather, that his story felt the least compelling to me. (Which is probably a horrible thing to say considering what’s going on in the poor guy’s head.) On the other hand, Mason’s dilemma feels the most vital to this story. It’s his internal conflict that provides much of the unease that fuels the story.
As in the first book, the plot of Rage Within is tense and fast-paced. Granted, I did see some of the climactic events coming (view spoiler)[e.g. Daniel (hide spoiler)], but these had been fairly heavily foreshadowed so I’m not sure they were supposed to be a huge surprise. That said, Roberts did throw some curveballs at the end that I was unprepared for, keeping this series wide open in terms of where it’s heading.
While the premise of this series requires some suspension of belief, I think Roberts uses her concept more successfully than some other apocalyptic YA of late. The idea of the earth routinely purging itself by unleashing evil and causing human civiliation to cannibalise might sound too out there, but Robert’s balances the obvious horror with a more subtle form. In a violent, self-destructing world, she zeros in on very real and human fears, which makes this series all the more powerful. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I’ll be blunt, shall I? I’ve read cereal boxes that were more exciting than this book.
I might have been able to chalk this up to just another case of...moreI’ll be blunt, shall I? I’ve read cereal boxes that were more exciting than this book.
I might have been able to chalk this up to just another case of Insta!Dystopia and moved on, but my disappointment is compounded by the fact that I’ve read Crossan’s The Weight of Water, and it’s really good. So I expected more from Breathe. And it did not deliver.
Something called The Shift has caused oxygen levels to plunge and as there are no trees, the drastically reduced population live inside a Pod city. Society is divided into a caste system, with Premiums at the top being able to afford extra oxygen to do things like exercise, dance and have sex whenever they want to. The Auxiliaries, on the other hand, are basically underlings who have their lifestyle strictly curtailed by their inability to purchase extra oxygen. Quinn is a Premium with a powerful father. Bea is his Auxiliary best friend who spends a lot of time gazing at him longingly. Alina is a member of a rebel group, creatively named The Resistance, who do incredibly subversive things like stealing cuttings and growing plants, because it turns out this worldwide oxygen famine is pretty much a BIG. CONSPIRACY.
I found the worldbuilding unconvincing. Crossan gives a very bare bones explanation for the state of the world in Breathe and it made no sense to me. I don’t think it’s a bad premise, but I do think the flimsy way it’s presented undermines reader investment in the concept. When the book’s response to any probing questions is basically: “Because THE SWITCH”, I stop being interested. Breathe raises more questions than it answers, and while it’s arguable that the premise will be expanded upon as the series progresses, I really think it was necessary in the first book. I won’t believe an earth-altering cataclysmic event unless you give me a reason to. Otherwise, it seems like lazy writing. If you’re going to take shortcuts on the worldbuilding, expect that I will poke holes in it.
The story is narrated in first person by Alina, Quinn and Bea, who unfortunately sound identical. Perhaps third person perspective might have been more successful, because first person was simply bland and confusing. Despite the differences in their circumstances, and ostensibly their personalities, there wasn’t much here to differentiate between them and make their individual motivations clear. While Quinn’s perspective includes some helpful cues like how he enjoys staring at Alina’s arse, the voices of the main characters feel interchangeable.
In contrast, the secondary characters seem almost caricature-like. The Pod Minister, whom I assume is the main antagonist, is cartoonishly exaggerated and rendered ridiculous by clunky dialogue and a contrived whiskey-drinking habit that is just bizarre. Other characters, including Quinn’s mother and Alina’s helpful neighbour, appear to exist solely as plot devices, cropping up when the story needs a helping hand.
With such patchy characterisation, it’s difficult to care about their predicament, or the relationships between the characters. Quinn, Bea and Alina brave the outside world in search of the resistance, with dwindling oxygen supplies, the threat of capture and a generous helping of unrequited love serving to for dramatic tension. But honestly? I felt apathetic about all of it. There was something so wooden and flat about this entire book, that even the action scenes felt stilted at best and comical at worst. (When someone shouted “Fight with gusto!” I actually laughed. Apparently, I’d make a poor rebel.)
Despite what might have been an interesting premise, Breathe lacked depth. The complex environmental issues are not explored in any meaningful way, and the climax and resolution felt too convenient. Even the final battle scenes are sort of skimmed over, brushed aside for a neatly wrapped ending and obligatory segue to the sequel.
I know I’ve come down hard on this book, but I expected more from it than it ultimately was. After enjoying Crossan’s verse novel, I had anticipated good things from Breathe as a character-driven, intelligent dystopia. Unfortunately, I don’t think it was either of those.
My edition looks a little different to this one - the cover art matches this pretty lady:
Diana F+ Sahara
Not a lot here I didn't already know in terms...moreMy edition looks a little different to this one - the cover art matches this pretty lady:
Diana F+ Sahara
Not a lot here I didn't already know in terms of Diana's history, but some of the "vingettes" are lovely, especially "Lizzie the Antique Shop Spelunker" and "Goddess of the Hunt".
"Many people have a fault of treating people like objects, but Lizzie possesses the fault of treating objects like people. This is just the way she relates to the world." - Sarah Zucker, p103
"..armed with her fragile plastic soultrap. She had moved on from the things she knew to the things she didn't, still equipped with her keen eye for story and her lust to steal the world away and tuck it into her heart of hearts." - Regina Belmonte, p133
I’m not familiar with And Then There Were None, though I understand that it served as the basis for this contemporary story of teen murder du...more2.5 stars
I’m not familiar with And Then There Were None, though I understand that it served as the basis for this contemporary story of teen murder during a weekend house party. Now I kind of wish I’d read the Agatha Christie first, and not completely spoiled myself with Ten, as I have it on good authority that the original is brilliant.
Which is my roundabout way of saying that this was not brilliant.
But not terrible either. Being unaware of the plot twists made me curious enough to read Ten quickly, though I suspect if you’ve read Christie’s novel you’ll find it far less compelling. There’s a great, creepy atmosphere in the setting and use of the elements -(okay, so the storm was an obvious choice, but still, it works) and McNeil does a decent job of injecting some unease into the story from the get-go. Everything feels slightly wrong, off kilter, as Meg and her best friend embark on what’s meant to be a weekend of youthful debauchery. And truth be told, I kind of love the teen-slasher-flick vibe, where you know it’s going to be slightly be ridiculous, but find yourself sucked in by the mounting tension anyway. Seem I can’t resist a bit of “OMG the power’s out!” style panic.
I had the killer pegged fairly quickly, although to McNeil’s credit she threw me off the scent a couple of times with some well executed red herrings. That said, there are also some broad hints as to why the killings might be happening, and I was surprised it took Meg so long to cop on. Coupled with a few clunky horror allusions which weren’t necessary to dial up the tension, the novel at times feels like it’s trying too hard to hammer home the scariness. I think this could have been demonstrated more subtly through stronger writing, as opposed to simply signposting the moments we’re supposed to find tense with obvious, telling statements.
The writing in general felt a little like first person narration dressed up in third-person. There were some awkward sections of exposition that seemed better suited to Meg’s internal voice. Given that there’s also a relatively large cast of characters (ten! Surprise!) for a short novel, there’s not a lot of time for deep characterisation. That means that we get amplified, shorthand versions of each character, their personalities cranked up as loud as possible for maximum impact in an abbreviated amount of time. It’s not completely successful either. I found myself briefly thinking ’who the heck is Lori again?, which somewhat lessens the effect of the later scenes.
Also, the “silver lining” mentioned at the end of the novel? Seriously? No. I’m willing to suspend all manner of belief in terms of the killer’s action and motivations, but I still expect realistic responses from the characters. And the whole “look on the bright side!” element of the ending really annoyed me. Not that I’m opposed to that particular eventuality, just that it seemed distasteful to plonk it down it right there in the aftermath of a murderous rampage.
Gripes with the execution aside, this was actually pretty diverting and kept me turning pages quickly. (less)
It’s not a good sign when I can’t concentrate on a story because all I can think is this:
I believe that there’s a time when most writing rules can be...moreIt’s not a good sign when I can’t concentrate on a story because all I can think is this:
I believe that there’s a time when most writing rules can be broken, or at least bent to a certain degree, but this was not the occasion to disregard that pithy advice to “kill your darlings.” Reinhardt’s darlings are not only alive and kicking, they appear to be multiplying at an alarming rate. This book is riddled with similes. And analogies. And overworked descriptions. The writing is laboured to the point of being distracting from the actual story, a problem that might have been fixed or at least curbed with tighter editing.
By way of example:
“His voice is a midnight cannonball into a winter-frigid lake, and the chills that rush up and down my spine leave me shaky.” – Can anyone tell me what a midnight cannonball actually is?
“.. for a second Winch does nothing at all, which makes relief and sadness tango cheek to cheek in my heart.” – My feelings must have two left feet.
“My voice whips out and smacks at the lazy night air. His eyes, so dark denim blue, feel like they’re soaking up the puddle of all my crazy emotions.” - I suppose denim is pretty absorbent.
“Brenna’s laugh is the chocolate fudge, whipped cream, and double cherry on top to the sad vanilla boringness of my life.”
“He talks like he’s some blue-face-painted warrior used to commanding legions.” - I can’t even talk about that one.
“He’s the path lined with wildflowers, and I’m Red Riding Hood. I’ve been warned, but I just can’t resist the blossom and perfume that calls me over.”
“My heart is a pod of dolphins beaching themselves on the rocky shore for no apparent reason.” - There was no apparent reason for that sentence.
“My heart had been warming like a surfer’s contained bonfire, but his words are the gasoline that’s exploded it into an arsonist’s wet-dream.”
“His eyes snap at me, like your loyal dog trying to warn you there’s danger ahead, willing to bite to make you listen.”
“I take my furry foot back out of the trap and get ready to hop into some clover.” –Honestly, this one went on so long I tuned out. Something meaningful about rabbits and traps..
“I look up at her face, but she hasn’t recognised the ugly constellation for of all the dull stars I’ve thrown into her sky.” – I hate when people throw ugly stars in my sky. Bitches.
“If she wasn’t so damn beautiful, I’d say he looked like a bull I just waved a bigass red cape at.” – I wouldn’t, Winchester. (WINCHESTER.) I really wouldn’t say that if I were you.
“Brenna’s like a little kid drooling over her favourite candy in the bright store window. I’m like the dentist randomly showing up with a drill to remind her she has a mouthful of cavities.” – Because dentists often show up randomly. (Also, Brenna was such an insufferable twit in this book.)
“A lazy-afternoon sunshine glow unfurls low down between my hips and blooms up my spine, climbing fast and high as a magic beanstalk to my heart.” – Well which is it, a sunshine glow or a beanstalk? Also, growing a beanstalk in your nether regions sounds like cause for alarm to me.
“That our relationship won’t be a tug-of-war or bumper cars or a roller coaster or any other kind of fairground/theme-park analogy my brain can concoct.” – Oh come on Evan, I’m sure you can come up with another one.
“I smile at her tendency to hyperbolize when things get bad.” - Okay, now that’s just the pot calling the kettle black.
“I force the sugared-up tween hopping from foot to foot in my secret heart to cut her happy dance short.” - Nothing is more annoying than a pesky internal tween doing a jig.
Then there’s the repetition: emotional as hell, boring as hell, hot as hell, honest as hell, strong as hell, sure as hell, pissed as hell, slick as hell, scared as hell, depressing as hell, scruffy as hell, tired as hell, wounded as hell, crazy as hell, rude as hell, funny as hell, hard as hell, sexy as hell, determined as hell, tough as hell, confusing as hell, dirty as hell, fast as hell, nervous as fucking hell. Are you sensing a pattern?
While ostensibly this book has a plot (family secrets and obligations! A girl with bad boy issues!), it feels like it was written BECAUSE SEX THAT’S WHY!** And that’s fine.
I just expected more.
If you enjoy plot lines of the “I want you but we can’t be together” type, back and forth misunderstandings, and several instances of near-sex before the.. main event, then by all means, go right ahead. But I got to a point in this novel where I simply didn’t care anymore. I had no investment in the conflict and the plot, and the question of whether the characters would surmount their difficulties became completely uninteresting to me. It doesn’t help that the secondary characters all feel like plot-devices, poorly developed and popping up when necessary to prevent Winch and Evan getting into each other’s pants happily ever after. The story asks that you buy into a slightly absurd premise, (view spoiler)[that Winch always takes the fall for his drunken trainwreck of an older brother’s misdemeanours and criminal activity, by dictate of The Family (hide spoiler)], which might have worked better had it not been so thinly developed, serving more as filler in between the lengthy make out scenes.
However, those are merely my personal issues with the book and they won’t be a problem for everyone. I suspect that many will enjoy this book for precisely the reasons I didn’t. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I recently came to a realisation about my book and film tastes that, while obvious in hindsight, was a bit of a 'Eureka!’ moment for me. It happened w...more I recently came to a realisation about my book and film tastes that, while obvious in hindsight, was a bit of a 'Eureka!’ moment for me. It happened while watching some action movie with a friend, and by watching I mean spending two hours scratching my nail polish off because I was bored to tears. It hit me that no amount of blowing things up or chasing things on screen or on the page will hold my interest if the characterisation isn’t there. For me, stories are about the characters, above all.
The first time I read Finnikin of the Rock I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. I wasn’t a big reader of fantasy and I had a sort of deep, emotional attachment to Marchetta’s contemporary novels. I grew up reading Looking for Alibrandi in the school library. I found comfort and empathy for my own experiences in Saving Francesca. I cried ugly tears over On The Jellicoe Road (and I do mean ugly).
Then I read Finnikin and I felt as if someone had pulled that nice, comfortable, contemporary carpet out from under me. I’m probably a classic example of something Marchetta has spoken about openly: the way the US audience initially embraced her fantasy novels more readily, while her Australian readers were more reticent, clutching their copies of Alibrandi and giving Finnikin the side-eye for a while.
On reading Finnikin of the Rock for the second time, however, it finally clicked for me that rather than just writing “contemporary” and “fantasy” novels, Marchetta writes about people. Whether her setting is Sydney’s western suburbs or the imagined Land of Skuldenore, whether her plot incorporates bridesmaid dress shopping or a blood curse, the stories are first and foremost about the characters: who they are, what they want, what drives them.
For that reason, I think this subsequent reading really solidified in my mind what a strong novel Finnikin is. Because all of these characters feel like real people. They are fully formed and vital on the page. They are engaging and relatable. And their stories resonate. Fantasy setting aside, the conflicts and relationships with which Marchetta fleshes out the novel are relevant and familiar, and they transcend the parameters of a single genre. This time around I felt I had a better handle on the world, and it was the relationships that struck me, the bonds between the characters that Marchetta carefully constructs and grows as the story progresses.
Without discrediting the intricacies of the plot and world building, which are considerable, if I could reduce my summary of the novel down to a few words, it would be that this is a book about displacement and hope. A people removed from their homeland and families, subjected to atrocities at the hands of enemies and prolonged exile – and how this affects them both collectively and individually. How they respond when they are broken down, scattered, compelled to live as fugitives or refugees. How language and culture unite a people. And how the struggle between hope and fear plays out in a people divided, dispersed and grieving.
It’s probably fair to say that my appreciation of this novel has increased on rereading it. Whether that’s because I just paid more attention this time, or I’m simply more used to the concept of “Marchetta-fantasy” now, I don’t really know. But I do understand now what a strong, complex book it is, and why its widespread love is deserved.
* * * * * This is actually a re-read, but I removed it from my "Read" shelf so I count it in 2012.
“The heart's in it then, spinning dreams, and torment is on the way. The heart makes dreams seem like ideas.”
Being familiar with the film adaptation of Winter’s Bone, I had a hunch that I was going to like Daniel Woodrell’s novel, particularly if it turned out that the characters I’d found so compelling on screen were a faithful rendering of their written counterparts. Had I known that I would love Daniel Woodrell’s writing so much, I think I might have sought it out sooner.
This is a book I can see myself returning to often, finding something different to examine and admire every time, some new angle from which to appraise it. It’s a book I could open at random and still find a passage or a page striking in its power, even without the context of the larger story surrounding it. Woodrell’s writing is evocative, and he creates a rich sense of place in his prose that permeates the narrative. There’s a chill and a certain harshness ingrained between the words, yet also savage beauty and an acknowledgement, if not a respect, for the strong loyalty and values of a community embattled by poverty and substance abuse.
Ree Dolly simultaneously goes head to head with, and also embodies, this rigid (and at times, brutal) moral code. Bearing the brunt of the responsibility for her family’s welfare, Ree is a resolute, strong character, yet also one with depth of emotion and a capacity for compassion. She is the heart of this story, a young woman driven to do what must be done to protect her own. Yet she is more than a stoic figurehead – we see glimpses of her desperation and tenderness, and of her vulnerabilities in several senses of the word. She’s a fierce and sympathetic character, without a doubt one of my favourite literary heroines.
Despite the grace of the writing, Woodrell doesn’t romanticise the realities of Ree’s life. The cycle of poverty and violence, the isolation and physical hardships of the winter, as well as the effects of crystal meth production all have a bearing on the story and are presented in stark clarity. This is community in which abuse, misogyny, abandonment form part of the fabric of life – deeply entrenched and perpetuated through generations. Even those who abide by the unwritten laws are not immune from the cruelty of the system – particularly Ree who, as a woman, is often the object of suspicion, blame, even physical harm. Yet Ree navigates this complex and fraught network of clanship and honor and uses it to her advantage, though not without cost to herself.
In it’s own way, this is a survival story. Not only of survival in a system of violence, or survival of a family under threat of poverty, but also of survival against the elements and the eponymous winter that is an almost tangible presence throughout novel. Woodrell threads the weather through the novel, both its harshness and its haunting beauty, and it serves to accentuate not only the gothic atmosphere, but the urgency of the plot.
Though bleak and somewhat morally ambiguous, this is a story of Ree’s struggle through the season, and of the gift it ultimately grants her.
I didn’t expect to love this book, but I do. For all that it’s unsettling and vicious, it’s also beautiful. (less)
“There's a Spanish proverb," he said, "that's always fascinated me."Take what you want and pay for it, says God.'""I don't believe in God," … "but...more “There's a Spanish proverb," he said, "that's always fascinated me."Take what you want and pay for it, says God.'""I don't believe in God," … "but that principle seems, to me, to have a divinity of its own; a kind of blazing purity. What could be simpler, or more crucial? You can have anything you want, as long as you accept that there is a price and that you will have to pay it.”
In spite of the fact that the premise of The Likeness requires a certain amount of suspension of belief, I loved this book and I can say without reservation that I’m a big fan of Tana French.
Shifting to a new narrator, Detective Cassie Maddox, French injects The Likeness with enough variance from In the Woods to keep it fresh while retaining her beautifully intricate style. Cassie’s voice is different to Rob’s – but her storytelling is equally engaging, vaguely hypnotic, drawing the reader into her strange and slightly claustrophobic story.
Once again, this isn’t a dry police procedural but a dark, psychological thriller that is engaging, yet elusive, never quite giving full answers and constantly moving one step ahead. French’s concept, while arguably unrealistic, is chilling enough that the probability of these events occurring never seems to matter all that much. (Also, the theory of the doppelganger is filed under “Things That Freak Me Out to an Unreasonable Degree” in my brain, so yeah, there was no chance of me brushing this book off.)
The story is unsettling, particularly in the atmosphere French creates in Whitethorn House. There’s something seductive and appealing about this small, isolated world – the bubble of seclusion sheltering its unusual family unit - yet also slightly off. The balance is beautifully executed, never veering into heavy-handed theatrics, but imbued with a slightly gothic ambience.
French weaves together two stories: Lexie’s and Cassie’s, twisting them around each other until they’re inseparable. Lexie’s death and Cassie’s life take on an almost symbiotic nature – the further the mystery of the murder is unravelled, the deeper Cassie is pushed into her own internal issues, and the lines between the two women blur and shift.
”I used to think I sewed us together at the edges with my own hands, pulled the stitches tight and I could unpick them any time I wanted. Now I think it always ran deeper than that and farther, underground; out of sight and way beyond my control.”
I still can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s something about French’s books that crawls into my head and makes me not want to put them down. I’m no judge of crime fiction, but I think I can appreciate good writing, and I think this is it. (less)
It’s been a while since I’ve found it such a struggle to finish a book. I’m not going to sugarcoat this, I wouldn’t have reach...more1.5 stars
It’s been a while since I’ve found it such a struggle to finish a book. I’m not going to sugarcoat this, I wouldn’t have reached the end of Defiance without resorting to pep-talks, a bit of page-skimming and outright bribery. ”You can do it! Finish this chapter and then you can eat all the chocolate in the house!”
Is anyone able to clear something up for me? Does Defiance take place in the future of our world, or an alternate world? Because if it’s ours, and Redwine is suggesting that the modern world was destroyed by fire-breathing reptiles and within fifty years surviving mankind has returned to swords and “Cursed Ones”, I have a hard time swallowing that. And it’s not even the burrowing, wingless dragons I take issue with – if you want to get all Tremors on your fictional word, by all means go ahead
2. But the thin allusion to a world of advanced technology that is completely obliterated within five decades and replaced with a system of self-styled warlords and walled cities is too flimsy for me to buy into.
Further, Baalboden – the city where our main characters reside – and possibly the greater population, has adopted a strict social system in which women are under the direct care and authority of a male Protector. They are not educated except in housekeeping and entertaining skills, are not permitted to leave their homes unchaperoned and are “Claimed” or married off in a transactional ceremony in which they have little to no agency. Okay, fine. But why? Explain it to me. Show me why the world is this way. This is a poorly built world and it felt illogical too me – there are too many holes in the reasoning, or rather, no reasoning at all.
And much of the novel is like this. Redwine has good ideas, but little follow through. Logan, the orphaned protégé of Rachel’s father, is ostensibly an apprenticed Courier. But really, he’s a sekrit “inventor”. We know this because Logan has lots of plans lying about and ink-stained fingers and does a lot of tinkering around with gears and wires. Yet there’s nothing to substantiate Logan’s alleged genius. Sure, if comes in handy when they need tracking devices and or some MacGyver-style explosions, but besides vague references to sonar and acid, it all just seems more convenient than believable. There’s an attempt to distinguish Logan’s voice as pragmatic by detailing his assessments of “best case scenarios” and “worst case scenarios” as he narrates, but this is more annoying than particularly character building.
The romance is probably the most developed element of the story, and it’s constantly in the background of the plot, yet it was also the undoing of this novel for me. The slow burn between the characters was somewhat spoiled by the way it was overwritten. “Until the distance between us can be measured in breaths” is fair enough once, say it twice and I’m just going to roll my eyes. Logan and Rachel vacillate between irritation and attraction to each other, and we’re treated to numerous scenes of catching breath and heated exchanges and lingering touches, all described in fulsome, detailed prose.
This was my biggest problem with the novel: the writing. It’s bloated with unnecessary description, phrases that are overly “pretty”. And so many “something’s”. “Something like bitterness”, “something like hope” etc are used constantly to describe the manifestation of emotion. Just say what it is! Direct statements are avoided by dancing around them with purplish musing, and the pacing of the story suffers for it. I can only describe the writing as gluggy: my brain my kept getting bogged down in Logan and Rachel’s angsting, and getting through pages began to feel like a chore.
Anyway, Rachel and Logan are separated, eventually reunited, do some travelling, make some friends with “tree people” (I’m not going to start on it here, but so much about the characterisation of Quinn and Willow made me uncomfortable), Rachel becomes a vengeful BAMF – or Redwine tries to convince us that she does – there’s some kissing, and then there’s some Pied Piper of Baalboden action
3. There a nice, big, sign-posted moment of FORESHADOWING about Logan’s past. Logan doesn’t like the way Tree Person Quinn is looking at Rachel (of course) and a shit-tonne of people die, but no doubt our intrepid couple will be back in the sequel to fight the power and wave their weapons around.
Or something like that. And good luck to them, but I’m done here.
 Tamara, ILY!  See: Blood Red Road by Moira Young  Which had the unfortunate side effect of making me dredge Sisqo’s Unleash the Dragon up from the recesses of my brain. You’re welcome. (less)
I love this book in the same way I love shouty post-hardcore music of the late 80s, wearing jumpsuits of any kind, and the smell (and when I was littl...more I love this book in the same way I love shouty post-hardcore music of the late 80s, wearing jumpsuits of any kind, and the smell (and when I was little, probably the taste too) of Clag. Which is to say: unashamedly, unreservedly and somewhat incongruously with my usual predilections.
I generally like my contemporary YA on the messy, introspective side, with hefty doses of realism and minimal use of “teen speak”. So colour me surprised to find this book sort of adorable, despite the presence of a mildly scoff-worthy set of circumstances and enough repetition of the words “totes” and “blates” to give me an eye-twitch.
In lieu of a review, (and because, you know, ALL THE REFERENCES) I’m just going to list 10 Things I Love About Adorkable:
1 Michael Lee
2 Dialogue that made me laugh out loud (yes, LOL, really).
3 Characters with actual chemistry that made me want to smoosh their heads together and make them kiss.
4 Characters with actual flaws who behave like actual teenagers (aside from the whole media empire thing, which is not exactly typical) and actually develop throughout the story! Huzzah!
5 Sidestepping the Manic Pixie Dream Girl stereotype by making Jeane, well, kind of horrible sometimes and not ridiculously twee despite the ball gown wearing and whatnot.
6 Irrational emotional breakdowns set off by uncooperative inanimate objects.
7 Moments of honesty and sadness tucked away like little Easter eggs. Little, emotional Easter eggs, if you will. Yeah, I choked up I’m not made of stone, ok.
8 Aside from being hilarious, it’s also smart and witty and has Things to Say without being all being all up in your face with “An Important Message For Teens”.
9 Recognition of the fact that being a dork is awesome.
10 Michael Lee. Yes I know he’s on here twice shut up it’s my list.
(Bonus points for the absence of a Breakfast Club style reveal that the ‘weird’ girl is actually (gasp) beautiful! There’s nothing like reinforcement of the idea that you need to look like everyone else in order to be considered attractive to bring on a rage-blackout in this reader..)
So in summary, how I feel about Adorkable:
(Sorry, I've been on a Summer Heights High bender this weekend and I'm only communicating in Ja'mie King gifs for the foreseeable future. Review to come.)(less)
”And then, too, I had learned early to assume something dark and lethal hidden at the heart of anything I loved. When I couldn't find it, I responded, bewildered and wary, in the only way I knew how: by planting it there myself.”
While Tana French’s debut is full of equally powerful and beautiful writing, I chose this quote for two reasons. Firstly, because it spoke to me in a very direct manner as an idea I can relate to all too well. And secondly because it speaks to French’s mastery of characterisation, and her eloquent, insightful grasp of human nature.
I’m guilty of bypassing entire sections of bookstores because I assume there will be nothing in them that will interest me. I have an unfair notion of crime shelves as the habitat of clichéd, paint-by-numbers “thrillers” and grisly, hard-boiled detective fiction. Happily, I can admit when I’ve been a presumptuous idiot.
Given my confessed disinterest and ignorance, you might assume the odds of my expectations being exceeded were already high. But I’d been primed for great things on the basis of Catie, Tatiana, Emily May and Nataliya’s reviews, so I don’t think it’s a cop out to say that this book kicked my expectations in the face. I thought it would be good. I didn’t expect to feel borderline obsessive about it.
Have you ever been so completely ensnared by a book, had its plot and characters and writing so twisted into your brain that you emerge from it feeling off-kilter and disoriented? (Just me?) This was one of those all-consuming reading experiences. It’s an intensely psychological book, almost relentlessly dark, and all the more so for the moments of brightness and humour that punctuate the story.
The novel centres on the investigation of the murder a twelve-year-old girl, her body found in the same woods where Detective Rob Ryan’s two friends disappeared 20 years ago. Ryan, found alone in the woods with blood-soaked shoes, has no memory of the events. Drawn back to his former home by the child murder case, Ryan is forced to confront the possibility that it may be linked to his own unresolved past.
I’m no judge of mysteries but this one worked for me. French executes her twists beautifully and when she reveals her hand, it’s shocking and fraught with tension. As the pieces fall into place, elements of the story take on new, stomach-turning significance. What was murky becomes chillingly clear, all the more so because the truth was there all along, hiding in plain sight. What was already an unsettling premise becomes utterly disturbing.
Beyond the past and present mystery plotlines, this is book about deeply messed up people and complex bonds. French takes care and time to construct fully-fleshed characters with exquisitely nuanced relationships, then tears them apart - ripping open old wounds, exposing vulnerabilities, breaking characters down. It’s difficult to read. We accompany the narrator into the darkest parts of his mind, we watch as he self-destructs. It’s almost horrifying to read, yet completely and heartbreakingly believable.
Although French’s writing leans on the verbose side, she never relinquishes control of her prose. It’s dense with imagery, heady with emotion; her narrator is complex and flawed. It’s the kind of writing that demands concentration, yet doesn’t feel painstaking to read. It’s the attention to detail in the writing, the astute observations on relationships and the unflinching portrayal of people held hostage by their personal demons that make this novel so devastating, yet ultimately so moving.
However, a caveat: there’s an unresolved element of this story so big you could drive a bus through it. You will either be okay with this, or you’ll want to hurl the book at the nearest wall. I can honestly that say that despite an initial crestfallen moment when I realised what Tana French was going to do with this particular storyline (I might have actually wailed), I think it was the right choice. There’s something about the bereft feeling it stirs that I think complements the journey of the particular character involved. That sensation of hollowness, of deprivation, works with this story, where a firmly closed door wouldn’t. I actually feel that complete closure would ring false, and rob the story of its full, haunting impact.
* * * * * My head has that weird, soupy feeling from reading basically non-stop all day, but that in itself says something about this book, and how it wouldn't let me go.
Part way through Pushing The Limits, I put down my kindle and thought: Am I (gasp) too old crotchety and cynical for this? I wanted to like t...more2.5 stars
Part way through Pushing The Limits, I put down my kindle and thought: Am I (gasp) too old crotchety and cynical for this? I wanted to like this book, but ultimately I just ended up feeling like I’d been caught in a stampede of drama llamas.
Contemporary YA is probably my favourite genre. And I like books that challenge me emotionally. But while I had no real problem with Noah and Echo’s respective Issues-with-a-capital”I”, something about this just felt off to me. It didn’t feel sincere, and therefore it didn’t resonate with me.
Don’t get me wrong – McGarry’s characters have valid, realistic obstacles and conflicts to contend with. It was just something about the execution that didn’t work for me. It felt too overwrought, too obvious, too overwhelmingly angsty for me to really engage with the story. The treatment of several of the (abundant) issues fell flat for me – it read more like an grab for an emotional reaction than a really nuanced discussion of serious topics like mental illness and abuse.
On a scale of Elkeles (Chain Reaction) to Echols (Going Too Far), Pushing The Limits falls somewhere in the middle for me. There’s probably a time when I would have adored this book, and I can honestly see why others love it, but it was a problematic book for me on a few levels. The lack of subtlety for one (which is probably just a personal taste thing), and the reliance on over-used clichés for another. I feel like I’ve met all of these characters before, I’ve heard the same bad-boy meets former popular girl angst too many times before.
(Also, Noah’s repeated use of expressions like “siren”, “nymph” and “seductress” produced more snort-laughs than swoons from me. For example:"A ghost of that siren smile graced her lips as she tilted her head closer to mine, creating the undeniable pull of the sailor lost at sea to the beautiful goddess calling him home." If that quote just made you melt, go read this book immediately. However if, like me, you just stifled a pterodactyl-like screech of hysteria, this book might not really set your loins on fire. )
I still don’t know what the colour of trouble is, but the colour of this book is beige. An inoffensive enough shade, but one I feel completely indiffe...more I still don’t know what the colour of trouble is, but the colour of this book is beige. An inoffensive enough shade, but one I feel completely indifferent to which does not make for easy reviewing. I can’t get enthusiastic about beige. Or even ranty about it. Beige is… boring.
Maddy is a fifteen-year-old artist set on notoriety. She’s already painting, making clothes, skip-diving, and running a small business with her best friend Darcy – but it isn’t enough. Maddy wants to make waves. So when she finds a rare, seemingly discarded painting on throw-out day, she hatches a plan to make a name for herself in the art world. Of course, there’s always a downside to notoriety.
I love creative, artistic characters in YA.. but this is no Graffiti Moon. My biggest gripe about The Colour of Trouble is that it so obviously reads like an adult writing about teenagers. There is an awkward disconnect in the dialogue and the characterisation that makes the author’s presence in the novel all too apparent. I couldn’t fully immerse myself in the story or care about the characters because I couldn’t ignore how wooden it all felt.
If you’re after a laundry list of things the “quintessential” (cough) creative teen would be into though, you’ll find it here: Frankie, Moleskine notebooks, skip-diving, etsy, tumblr, busking, urban art, shirts with lilies painted on them… (apparently). This is part of the reason the book didn’t work for me – the references don’t feel organic - I felt like I was tripping over them where they stuck out from the story.
The writing itself is serviceable but not really remarkable. There’s a lot of telling rather than showing, especially in terms of the characters’ emotions, which gives the story a bit of a detached, stilted feel. I feel like there was a real missed opportunity in terms of Maddy’s synaesthesia, which goes largely unexplored and under utilised in the writing. Instead, we get awkwardly inserted mini info dumps, making for some pretty dry dialogue:
”…I can’t stop thinking about that colonial painter we learned about in class who did all the forging.” “Joseph Lycett?” “Yeah, what a guy. He was sent over as a convict for forging money and ended up being one of the most famous early painters.”
Did you enjoy that little bit of Australian art trivia? You’re welcome. Frankly it that conversation nearly put me to sleep.
Perhaps I’m being a little hard on this book, which some might find an endearing and fun lower YA read. Yet I can’t help but feel frustrated that The Colour of Trouble missed a great opportunity here. (less)