While this book definitely felt like a series opener, and a set-up for biggerReview originally posted on A Keyboard and an Open Mind 22 August, 2016:
While this book definitely felt like a series opener, and a set-up for bigger things to come later, the setting and characterisation were both fresh and original and drew me in completely.
Tallow has grown up as a candle maker’s apprentice in Serenissima, a place we now know as Venice. Her strange eyes have always bothered people, but it’s not until a stranger shows up at their door that she learns she is one of the last Estrattore, a race able to extract and distill the feelings of those around them, and who were exiled and killed by the Church hundreds of years before. Under Katina’s tutelage, she begins to learn how to control her power, but she soon also learns that even using her powers for what she perceives to be good can have dire consequences.
The world-building is definitely the highlight of this book, and the books that follow. It is rich and sensual and makes the reader feel like they are really there, too. The descriptions of the various regions of Serenissima, the canals, Carnivale, etc, were all vivid. Italian language is peppered throughout the story, which also served to remind us where we were.
Tallow is a well-constructed character. She is eager to please, eager to help and horrified by the attention she begins receiving when people start attributing certain things to her (“his” – she is disguised as a boy for the majority of the book) candles. Her guardians, Pillar, the candle-maker, and his mother, Quinn, are also very thoroughly characterised, though I never especially warmed to any of them. Katina is really the only Bond Rider we meet in this book, and she makes a very good mentor for Tallow, and her world-weariness comes across well, too.
There is a bit of romance in the novel, and I actually enjoyed it a lot more than I usually do in YA books. I think this is because it is actually realistic – Tallow and Dante meet by chance, and there is no “I laid eyes on him and immediately knew he was the One/special/whatever else”. Instead, they continue to spend time together and slowly fall in love, though neither acts on it until right at the end, because Tallow is worried about revealing her powers to Dante, and Dante thinks Tallow is a boy.
There are also several subplots, including one with some Venetian nobles who go on to play a larger part later on in the series, and also with a queen of Farrow Fair (somewhere in Albion; on the audio book, she’s read with a French accent so I’m not exactly sure where she’s supposed to be from), who is also on the lookout for an Estrattore. The problem was, these characters were visited so infrequently that I tended to forget their side plots even existed when I wasn’t following them. They also made the book a lot more drawn out than it needed to be, especially as they were both being set up to play larger parts in the later books, rather than actively having much of an effect on the events of this book.
In spite of all that, the world and main characters did win me over and I had the next book downloaded before I had even reached the ending of this one....more
This was an enjoyable book, set in the Australian bush at a time when AustrReview originally published on A Keyboard and an Open Mind 05 August, 2016:
This was an enjoyable book, set in the Australian bush at a time when Australia was just becoming a nation, but I felt it could have been half the length. There was a lot of meandering and repetition, but it did (eventually) work its way towards a satisfying conclusion.
It’s 1901 and Berylda Jones is finishing up her first year at Sydney University, and dreading travelling back to Bathurst, to where she and her sister live with their abusive uncle. Meanwhile, botanist Ben Willberry’s mother has just died, and to honour her final request, he is travelling to western New South Wales to track down a flower she remembered from her youth. They meet by chance and form a strong connection, but can Ben stop Berylda from crossing a point of no return?
The story unfolds in chapters that alternate between Ben and Berylda’s points-of-view. Berylda is not the most likable of characters, but she has reason to be hardened the way she is, and to be reluctant to let anyone into her confidence. There were times when I rolled my eyes a bit because she didn’t entirely think through her actions, but I did sympathise with her and her plight the majority of the time. Ben was my favourite, he was so derpy and awkward, but a total sweetheart all the while. It is love at first sight when he meets Berylda, and from then on he knows he will do whatever he has to, to get her out of her awful life situation.
As I said earlier, the story meanders on quite a bit. The majority of the story only takes place over about three or four days, but the book is quite long, and a lot of time is spent in the characters’ heads over this time. I don’t know how many times I listened to Berylda think about what she was going to do to her uncle for everything he had done to her and her sister, Greta, or how many times Ben waxed lyrical about Berylda’s lovely eyes. I would say it probably picked up in the final third, as this is when most of the action takes place.
I don’t know that I would recommend the audio book, but I have a feeling this would be a quicker read in print form. As I said, I did ultimately enjoy the story, but I think the writing might be more effective when one is reading than listening....more
This is the second book I’ve read by local author Cassandra Page, and I have toReview originally posted on A Keyboard and an Open Mind July 29, 2016:
This is the second book I’ve read by local author Cassandra Page, and I have to admit, I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to reading books set in Canberra (even if I do love recognising the locations).
At a seance on Halloween, Isla receives a strange message from a ouija board regarding her long-dead mother: “SHE IS NOT DEAD”. Soon after, she starts having strange dreams and develops a strange aversion to her father’s iron statues. Could her mother still be alive? And is she even human?
This book hosts a great cast of characters, from Isla and her dad, to the extended family who Isla lives with when she’s attending school (her father lives on a farm some distance away). There’s also Dominic, her new boyfriend, and Jack, a friend/mentor character who helps Isla come to terms with her newly-discovered identity.
The romance between Isla and Dominic happened quite quickly, but I did appreciate the fact that there was no typical mooning over the crush, like there is in so much YA. There is a bit of a Dominic/Isla/Jack love triangle in upcoming books. I’d like to hope the story doesn’t go down that route, but both some things that characters said and did are giving me that distinct impression.
The book is very easy to read, though it was one of those books were I flew through it, only to realise that not a whole lot had happened. The stakes never feel especially high, but having said, it moves along at a good pace and as you can see from the dates above, I finished it in under 24 hours. Judging by the ending, which was a little bit abrupt, the second book probably has more going on, and this one was really doing the setting up.
Overall, I can’t really say that I feel compelled to continue with the series, but I didn’t feel like I was wasting my time reading this one....more