I first read this book when I was 15, less than a year after the death of my mother from a heart attack. The isolation that Zoe experiences as she deaI first read this book when I was 15, less than a year after the death of my mother from a heart attack. The isolation that Zoe experiences as she deals with her mother's impending death from cancer spoke volumes to me.
As an adult rereading an old favorite, I wish that I could capture that first fascination with the text again. Listening to it as an audiobook drew my attention to Klause's stylistic choices as a writer that I might have ignored if I were reading it on paper.
I still really like this book, but now I can easily see that it is a first published novel. There are moments of brilliance and moments of extreme awkwardness. (Sometimes, as with Simon's observations of the city, they're the same moment.) Overall, I still have to think that Klause made several brave choices in this book, and that Zoe's emotions as she watches her mother die are some of the most realistic that I've read in YA fiction....more
I wasn't that thrilled with the prior book in the series--I hate when characters are separated and the plotlines feel unrelated.This book was intense.
I wasn't that thrilled with the prior book in the series--I hate when characters are separated and the plotlines feel unrelated. In this book, Maas was able to bring the stories together into a web, one that I truly enjoyed.
A few thoughts:
(view spoiler)[Reviews of the first book pointed out that Celeana seemed to engage in slut shaming when referring to Lysandre. That criticism has been met and answered here: both of them were being manipulated by Arroban. Finally, they unite against him. Seeing Celeana become friends with women was one of my favorite parts of the novel. (hide spoiler)]
I loved the new characters, by the way.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
After my second read of this book, I can say that I was able to connect the dots of the stories sooner than before and recognize Bray's foreshadowing.After my second read of this book, I can say that I was able to connect the dots of the stories sooner than before and recognize Bray's foreshadowing. I could also pay more attention to her technique as a writer. On this second read, I simply have to continue with my original rating of the book. I still think it's remarkable.
I'm almost afraid to read the sequel, now that it's out. I'm worried that lightning might not strike twice. I know it's silly, but it's still how I feel. Will it stop me from buying the book? No. But I might wait a little longer in the hope that it'll be offered as a Whispersync for Voice title. I like the freedom of moving back and forth between text and audio....more
I received an advance copy of this book for review through Netgalley. Rarely have I ever so deeply regretted requesting a book.
The story itself does hI received an advance copy of this book for review through Netgalley. Rarely have I ever so deeply regretted requesting a book.
The story itself does have some charm. Georgie is a frightfully intelligent (if also clueless) teenager. She gets into scrapes all the time where she tests a theory without properly considering all of the angles (such as when she made her own glider). After having caused a devastating fire with one her experiments, her family drops her off at the Stranje School for Unusual Girls. The scene where her family abandons her there is pure theatre--Georgie's parents are shown medieval torture devices with the implication that these devices are used on the girls to "educate" them. (Of course, that's not true.) Georgie runs off and gets lost in the building--and stumbles on two men discussing the need for invisible ink. By chance, Georgie was working on a formula for invisible ink when she burned the barn down. . .
As quickly becomes clear, the Stranje House is not what it seems, and neither are the girls inside. Each one has some sort of talent--for observation, for bonding with animals--something that makes it difficult for them to fit in with society. Here, they are able to learn the proper modes of behavior while also being useful in the fight against Napoleon. Yep, Napoleon. England's greatest spy resources are a group of underage girls.
I've read far more than my share of novels written during the Regency. I am very familiar with the racism of the time. Thomas De Quincey, in his "Confessions of an English Opium-Eater" from 1822, describes a "Malay" that came to visit him as having "sallow and bilious skin," "small fierce restless eyes, thin lips, slavish gestures and adorations." The extreme focus on the man's appearance--as well as the terms De Quincey uses that express both a vague intrigue and disgust--are typical of the racism of the time. When a contemporary writer sets a novel in the past, she has a choice. She can choose to represent the racism of the time somewhat faithfully. Do do so usually triggers disgust in contemporary readers. She can have an "enlightened" character (and therefore one that is most definitely anachronistic) condemn the racism. She can ignore it and pretend that there was no racism.
Baldwin, unfortunately, takes a variation on the first option. The novel is told from Georgie's first person perspective, so her voice is narrating the story to us. Therefore, we're privileged to read her thoughts about one of the instructors at the school, Madame Cho. Unfortunately, Georgie is never called out on her racist thoughts, so they remain in the book, normalized by their very presence. Let me walk you through a few examples.
The first time Georgie meets Madame Cho, the reader is told "A small Oriental woman padded silently out of the shadows and whacked the mummy case [see comment above about torture devices] several times with a bamboo stick, setting off a sickening chime" (300*). First, people are Asian. Rugs and vases--objects, in other words--are Oriental. Second, the stereotype of her walking--how she "padded silently"--is also disturbing. It ties into images of Asian men and women as dangerous and untrustworthy--racist ideas that were present at the time. Later in the same page, we're told that Madame Cho "looked as crafty as a black cat" (305) and that she moved "swift as a thief" (308). Finally, we're told that she has a "lizard's" eyes (309).
Madame Cho is not the only person to be talked about in a racist fashion. One of the other students is an "exotic creature" named Maya Barrinton (581). She's a "half-caste" daughter of an Englishman and an Indian woman (587). Georgie wonders "How had [Maya] blended into the shadows so perfectly and moved with such quiet stealth? A delicate girl, with dark shining eyes, smooth whiskey-colored skin, she was draped in a swath of cinnamon brown fabric trimmed in filigreed saffron" (582). Later, the "musical quality of [Maya's] voice, or her gentle nature" convinces Georgie to follow the other girls in exploring the house (670).
Sadly, the way that Baldwin writes about Maya is actually more disturbing than the somewhat overt racism of her treatment of Madame Cho. The emphasis on Maya's beauty, on how exotic she is in comparison with these English girls, is yet another racist stereotype. Instead of being the sneaky Other, she's the entrancing, enchanting Other.
Both of these introductions occur fairly early in the text, so one might expect that Georgie would learn better throughout the narrative. Even if she's never confronted with her racism, she can learn to see both Maya and Madame Cho as individuals, can she not? Well, the answer to that seems to be "not". Consistently throughout the rest of the book, Madame Cho is referred to as the "old dragon" (619, 627, 1289, and 2730). She is also referred to as "Madame Dragon" (2286) and as a "sneaky fox" (650). Madame Cho "slithered" into rooms and stared at Georgie with "her cold lizard eyes" (1289-90). Maya remains consistently beautiful, exotic, and sweet.
It should be noted that Madame Cho does nothing to deserve to Georgie's spite. She is simply there. All of the quotes, above, are not dialogue. They are Georgie's mental narrative--the exposition of the book--literally, the words the character uses to describe woman to herself and to her readers.
Georgie herself is a deeply unpleasant character. She never listens to anyone around her. They warn her to take care to avoid haste and dangerous actions--and she does whatever she wants anyway. The romantic relationship is ridiculous in the extreme--the sort of insta-love one typically only sees in a paranormal novel, not in an arguably historical fiction.
I am deeply sorry that I requested this book. I read it from beginning to end, in the hopes that it would improve and that I would be able to leave a positive review. But I cannot.
I consider the book to be bad in both writing and characterization. But I consider it to be dangerous when it comes to race and racism. The casual racism of this text--especially since it is never confronted and recognized as such--is insidious and awful. Too many of our young people do not understand racism well enough to recognize it in this context. Instead, they might find it funny, laugh at "Madame Dragon," and not realize the ideas that they're internalizing.
I have never met Kathleen Baldwin. I do not mean to impugn her character in this review. I simply wish she--and her editors--had made better narrative choices. As it stands now, I do think I can recommend this book to anyone.
*All numbers refer to text locations in my Kindle advanced reader's edition. They have not been checked against the final draft, but the sheer number of them indicate that it's unlikely they will have been edited out....more
This was a fun book that rather reminded me of a weak sauce version of a screwball comedy set in post-Napoleonic Scotland. It's not bad, butUm, yeah.
This was a fun book that rather reminded me of a weak sauce version of a screwball comedy set in post-Napoleonic Scotland. It's not bad, but I feel like it was striving to be something better than what it actually was and failing.
To put it simply, I just finished the book and I can't recall the main character's name. This could be a sign of advancing short-term memory loss on my part. However, since I'm only approaching 40, that seems unlikely. She's silly, funny, and tries to make decisions of her own about her future (although those decisions tend to be made by deceiving everyone around her), but she's lacking a strong enough personality to attach a name to her in my mind. I remember the hero, Logan, very well. But she's just not solid enough....more
I received a copy of this book for review from Netgalley.
By this time, I have read several books by Jennifer E. Smith. I've loved all of them to varyiI received a copy of this book for review from Netgalley.
By this time, I have read several books by Jennifer E. Smith. I've loved all of them to varying degrees. This book is probably her most ambitious, and perhaps her best yet.
As the novel opens, Clare and Aidan are meeting in order to spend their last night together before both of them head off to college the following day. They've been dating for two years and are in love with another. However, they also question whether they should remain dating while they head for two very different different schools (Dartmouth for her, UCLA for him). Clare is the one that is forcing them to make this decision--Aidan loves her and is perfectly willing to remain in a relationship. However, Clare is concerned about whether or not their relationship can handle a cross continental distance, whether they should invest their time and hearts in a relationship started while they were so young, and ultimately, whether or not confronting these questions are the easy or "hard" thing to do. Would it be easier to gradually drift apart? What would the jealousy of knowing that they are meeting other people (whether romantically interested in them or not) do to their bond? What does it mean to enter college in a relationship?
While all of this may seem overdramatic, Clare is concerned with very real-world issues. She's forcing them to confront this head-on rather than ignore the issues. While I hate the term "relatable" as a judge of fiction, I think this book may be relatable for most first-year college students. Either they, or someone they know, will have had to make these decisions. I have a hard time seeing them make the same series as Clare, but the situation is likely to be familair.
In terms of Smith's writing, I was a little put off by her use of present tense. I'm not fond of it as a narrative choice, for one thing. For another, it seemed very distracting. However, it also worked to convey the sensation that I, as a reader, was living these moments alongside Clare and Aidan.
What this book does really well is dialogue. All of Smith's books have been dialogue-heavy, but this one is far above the rest. In some ways, it reminded me of a Robert Altman film where everyone talks over each other and no one listens. Here the characters do listen, but what they say is often at cross purposes with what they mean, and they can't stop talking. They are constantly talking, trying to fill the void and make sense of their feelings through words.
Ultimately, I found myself stressed and caring deeply about these two young people as they sought to make thoughtful decisions about their lives and relationships. There are probably better YA novels out there, YA novels that deal with war and death and horror. But we need YA books like this, too, books that both understand and legitimize the pain of becoming an adult....more
Hmm. This is neither a good Lackey or a bad Lackey--it's rather something of a middling Lackey. If I'd been moved to like any of the characters any moHmm. This is neither a good Lackey or a bad Lackey--it's rather something of a middling Lackey. If I'd been moved to like any of the characters any more, it might have been good, as the world of Brighton was rather well developed. But Katie is boring, and her love interest is also uninteresting.
Further, this one has gigantic plot holes. Just why did Katie marry her abusive husband? She states that she was in something of a daze after her parents' deaths (which are never well explained, either). Her husband, Dick, seems to have the ability to make people like him (despite the evidence of their own eyes that he lives up to his name), but that ability is never really addressed either.
The most engaging part of the this book--the theater--had the least influence on the plot, oddly enough. So, it's a middling Lackey--not bad enough to inspire rage and not good enough to reread....more
I am not the correct audience for this book. As an agnostic, I do not see the hand of God in my daily life, and I could not empathize with charactersI am not the correct audience for this book. As an agnostic, I do not see the hand of God in my daily life, and I could not empathize with characters that centered their lives so deeply upon following what they perceived to be God's will in their lives....more
Rereading Phoenix and Ashes and subsequently talking about the Elemental Masters series with Kate has inspired me to go back and read the books that IRereading Phoenix and Ashes and subsequently talking about the Elemental Masters series with Kate has inspired me to go back and read the books that I have missed in the series.
With this one, I was very happy that I did.
This is the 8th book in the series, so if you're reading this review, I have to assume that you've read at least one book in the series so far. Therefore, I feel no need to spoiler tag this review.
The book focuses on Mari, a young woman living on the Welsh coast with her father. Unbeknowst to her, her family has had a Bargain for several generations with the local Selchie (think Selkie--but their native state is human-shaped rather than the seal form of the Selkie). The terms of the Bargain are simple. Each Prothero, upon reaching adulthood, will marry one of the Selchie. They will have two children. When one of the children is able to swim independently, the Selchie spouse and one of the kids will return to their seal states. The human child will be raised by the human parent, and take on the Bargain upon reaching adulthood. In return for giving up both spouse and child to the water, the Protheros will have great luck at fishing and never drown. For generations, it's been seen as a good deal. Mari doesn't see it that way.
In addition to Mari, the book is also told from the veiwpoint of Nan and Sarah, returning characters first met in The Wizard of London.
Structurally, I really liked the moves Lackey made in this book. The Elemental Masters series always has a touch of romance in it, and the book is often told in alternating viewpoints from both partners in the romance. This time, she switched from Mari to Nan and Sarah. There is still a romance in the book, but since we never see the world from the eyes of the romantic partner, the friendship among the women becomes the focal point. I liked that.
Also, I have to say that I really liked that the world was not at stake in this book. The battles are smaller in scope (perhaps because they don't happen in London? And the major characters are not peers?). But they still have emotional resonance.