For every book that excels, there’s another that falters. For every book that realizes its own potential and soars, there’s another that limps along l...moreFor every book that excels, there’s another that falters. For every book that realizes its own potential and soars, there’s another that limps along like a gazelle with a busted femur. Killer of Enemies has an awesome premise. It’s a post-apocalyptic retelling of an old Apache legend about a hero who kills monsters. It’s a freaking awesome premise that boasts an amalgam of hot-button elements sure to delight a discerning reader. There’s a Native American female protagonist who’s adept with guns and knives, a legend with history that remains unfamiliar to the general public, really wicked monsters, and crazy-as-a-fox totalitarian leaders. Despite these elements, Killer of Enemies fell far short of my expectations. I’m going to attempt to explain what went wrong, so be prepared for some spoilers.
Before reading this book, there was very little I could say about it. If pressed, I would probably mention...moreOriginally posted at http://www.shaelit.com
Before reading this book, there was very little I could say about it. If pressed, I would probably mention the promise of Egyptian mythology, because I have loved Ancient Egypt from a young age. I would probably also make a general comment about the pretty cover. Other than that, there wasn't much for me to say. Just based on the description, Isadora sounded bratty, her problems petty. Even the cover, while gorgeous, doesn't tie in to the actual book, so my overall expectations going in were meh at best.
Hooray for being proved wrong!
The beginning, while lovely, was confusing. It's a very confusing feeling to be so comfortable in a setting and yet utterly lost as to where or even when I was.
I felt like Andre Dawson in that State Farm commercial.
Let me sneak in and unravel things for you, so you won't get hung up in the beginning like I did. Isadora is the mortal daughter of Osiris and Isis, Egyptian gods from ancient times. They're pretty much the head honchos and have been ever since Isis stole power from Amun-Re, the sun god. They, along with several other divine members of Isadora's family, live in an invisible temple(?) in modern-day Egypt. I think. The modern-day part is nailed down, but Isadora doesn't spend a lot of time describing her home. I know it has a throne room/judgement room for her father, Isadora's room, a modern kitchen (that she designed), and Isadora's future tomb. You don't really need to know more than that, so don't worry about it.
From the beginning, I liked Isadora. I connected with her. Sure, my parents aren't gods (insert your own joke here, Mom). My dad isn't king of the Underworld. My mom doesn't have a new kid every twenty years like clockwork. My half-brother isn't a jackal-headed creep. And I don't have to struggle with the fact that everyone I know and love seems content to continue on in their immortality without me. While I think everyone knows what it feels like to be neglected at some point, I connected with Isadora on a much smaller, more personal level. Her favorite constellation is Orion (mine too!), and her mother often tells her to be "quick as a bunny," a phrase Isadora and I both LOATHE. It's not a big, meaningful connection, but it was all I needed.
Isadora is fiery and sharp-tongued, a byproduct of the anger and hurt she's been carrying for the last three years. I suppose it's possible that some readers will find her annoying, but I never did. It's one thing for a normal teen to have an attitude against her parents, but when the parents in question are powerful, ancient deities, the corresponding 'tude is bound to be outsized to make an impact. Isadora can't stand being at home, surrounded by family members who can't be bothered to make her immortal or even learn her name. (Her mother has a bad habit of naming all children with a variation of either her or Osiris' name, which makes it hard to keep track.)
When her mother announces that she's pregnant with Isadora's replacement four years ahead of schedule, Isadora pushes for the chance to leave Egypt for good. Recent dreams of danger push Isis to agree, and Isadora is sent to San Diego to live with her fully mortal brother, Sirius. She doesn't find out until she gets there that 1) Sirius married without telling her, and 2) Isis has arranged for Isadora to work at a local museum where a shipment of Egyptian antiquities are to arrive (provided by Isadora's mysterious and obscenely wealthy parents, of course.)
Neither development thrills Isadora, nor is she pleased to meet Ry, a preoccupied poet with unbelievably gorgeous blue eyes. Sure, he's cute (incredibly so), but Isadora has rules against getting too close to people. People die. Relationships break apart. Why bother to create anything when they're doomed to end? But of course Ry is the one who is the most help when someone starts to target Isadora. And Ry has secrets of his own. (Because what boy with unearthly blue eyes and a penchant for poetry doesn't?)
They're Chris-Pine Blue, I assume.
Yes, the majority of the plot is predictable. There's the normal teenage angst and family crises (albeit covered in the unique wrapping of gods and goddesses), the normal nice-but-pushy new friends, the normal hot boy, the normal wisecracking protagonist. Ms. White does not color outside the lines in this book. However, one does not need to color outside the lines to be vibrant and enjoyable inside them.
Chaos was light and cute and so very fun to read. I love the way Ms. White brought the various Egyptian deities to life. Each chapter started with a snippet of Egyptian mythology, usually capped with a snarky comment straight from Blue's mouth. It was strange and wonderful to revisit the ancient tales with the understanding of the key players' own blood relative. It's one thing to read about Isis' sister disguising herself to sleep with Osiris. It's another to read how your aunt tricked your own dad to sleep with her so she could give birth to your half-brother. It's safe to say that storytime at Isadora's house could get a little tense.
I also squealed when another element of mythology was introduced halfway through the book. I can't say what it was, though it should be fairly obvious to observant readers. All I can say is that I thought it rocked and that I'd love to read another book within this universe Ms. White has created that deals with Isadora's ever-expanding world.
I only had a few issues. First, I don't completely understand why Isadora's parents needed her rememberance. Surely one person isn't enough to keep them alive. And even if that were true, what about the museums all around the world that help people remember Isis and Osiris? If remembering a deity is what keeps them going, wouldn't the exhibits and books and articles and scholarly papers be enough? Also, I thought the characterization was a bit light. While I enjoyed the various characters, I thought they could have used a little more substance to keep them from becoming caricatures.
Despite its flaws, I am pleased to have read this book. Though the end ties up neatly, I would gladly return for a sequel. Any excuse to visit Isadora's and Ry's families would be a joy. And now, I must dance.
Points Added For: Mythology(!), Thoth, being so deliciously fun, Isadora's talent in interior decorating (how unique!).
Points Subtracted For: Shaky world-building, Ry's blue eyes being mentioned a MILLION times, sketchy characters.
Good For Fans Of: Mythology, family drama, decorating and color schemes.
Notes For Parents: Light language (I think only one or two instances), family drama, murder, adultery.
Note: I received a digital ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
I'm afraid I was less than pleased. I wanted to like it. No, I wanted to love it, but so many of the stories fell flat. None of them made me shiver. None of them made me gasp. Very few had any strong connections to the rhyme chosen (okay, the one based on Hickory Dickory Dock did a pretty good job both at being interesting and connecting to its rhyme). Only a handful made me wish for a full-length tale based on the characters presented. In most cases, the authors seemed to think that having someone die qualified the tale as "dark." As someone who has read and reread Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Stories That Scared Even Me, I beg to differ. Now THAT is a dark anthology.
Note: I was given an ARC of Two and Twenty Dark Tales by the publisher for review via NetGalley. (less)
Sometimes I get the strangest ideas stuck in my head. I won't bore you with the different delusions I've suffered under throughout my life, save one, the one that affects this review. For whatever reason, I spent the last few years convinced that I wouldn't like the Percy Jackson series. Some of the blame, I suspect, lies at the feet of the movie no one seemed to like. Whatever the case, I didn't read The Lightning Thief - despite owning it - until this past December.
Guess what? (I'm sure you can guess.)
I loved it!
Percy Jackson is a troubled kid. He's not dark or brooding, but he's been diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia, his stepfather Smelly Gabe hates him, and he's been kicked out of every boarding school his mother's ever managed to sweet-talk him into. Now he's at his last resort school on a field trip with a kleptomaniac teacher's pet, a vicious Georgia peach of an algebra teacher, and a wheelchair-bound Classics teacher who won't get off his case.
Percy thinks he's got it tough, but that was before his algebra teacher sprouted scales and wings and tried to kill him. Turns out he's a half-blood, half-human and half-god, and his algebra teacher was actually a Fury sent to kill him for stealing Zeus's master lightning bolt. Whisked away to Camp Half-Blood, Percy has to form alliances and train to become a proper hero in time to begin his first quest: steal back Zeus's lightning bolt from Hades, god of the Underworld. Now that's tough.
I completely understand now why the kids in my store rave over Rick Riordan. His MG voice is spot-on. I never felt like Percy sounded like anything other than a sixth-grade boy. Humorous and likable, Percy faces the obstacles in his path with a believable range of emotions. He's easily frustrated and more than a little confused, but he also is admirably stubborn when it comes to saving his mom and credibly conflicted when it comes to pleasing his absentee immortal father.
The story itself was also a joy to read. While I found many of the twists and surprises easy to guess in advance, I loved the pace of the story and the way Mr. Riordan managed to thread Greek and Roman myths throughout. Some of the characters Percy and his friends meet are well-known (hello, Medusa!), while others were outside my knowledge. I adore books that make me want to run to the nearest library for additional research.
There were, of course, plot holes and leaps of logic, but nothing that hindered my reading. I don't know if I'll review the rest of the series on the blog, but do know that I'll be reading them ASAP. I can't wait to see what quest Percy and the gang receive next.
Points Added For: Percy, a great repackaging of various myths, Grover and his awesomeness, a fantastic voice.
Points Subtracted For: Easy-to-guess twists, a few plot holes.
Great For Fans Of: Greek and Roman mythology, other Rick Riordan books, Harry Potter (so I've been told).
Notes For Parents: One mean stepparent (who drinks beer, smokes cigars, and gambles), violence, all of the campers at Camp Half-Blood are born out of wedlock and have absentee parents, so there's some tension.
With its unnecessary prologue and stereotypical evil foster mom, Furious almost lost me in the very beginning. Fortunately, I did stick around and finish the book. Objectively, what I found was an interesting philosophical study. Subjectively... well, I'll get to that in a second.
What is true justice? Is it the eye-for-an-eye practice of ancient times? Is it the more benevolent justice refined by acts of forgiveness and mercy? How is justice enacted? Who enacts it? It's an interesting puzzle, if a bit muddled in the climax. Ms. Wolfson does a fabulous job of showing the seductive nature of vengeance. At first, vengeance feels right. It might even create something good. Attractive and addictive, the desire for revenge makes the justice-seeker feel powerful and in control. But instead, those who hunger for revenge are no more in charge than a junkie seeking her next fix.
So yes, from a philosophical standpoint, Furious was interesting. However, despite Ms. Wolfson's best efforts, I found I didn't care about the fates of the girls or their victims. I never connected with Meg, and I certainly had nothing in common with vindictive tree-hugger Stephanie or pugilistic surfer Alix. It is for this reason that I have very little to say in this review. However, I urge you all to try it for yourself, for I suspect the story and the characters will connect with you much better than they did with me.
Note: I received a physical ARC of Furious from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.(less)
Note: If decimals were allowed, this book would receive a 2.75
If I were to give my reviews fun, unique titles, this one would probably be titled "In Which Shelver Rips Apart A Perfectly Fine Book." Because Vengeance Bound really was perfectly fine. It was better than I expected, and I enjoyed myself. However, making me enjoy myself comes with a great cost. If I have low expectations that are barely met, then I continue to expect very little from the book in question. I don't demand much, and I analyze very little. If, on the other hand, a book takes me for a good ride, the parts that irritate me stand out in high relief.
Vengeance Bound has been described as Greek mythology meets a teenage Dexter. I've never watched or read the Dexter series (about a man who murders serial killers), but I think the description is pretty apt.
The book opens at St. Dymphna's, the mental institution where "Cory" has been locked away. (Her real name is Amelie, and Irritation #1 is that the synopsis addresses her by her alias, one that she doesn't adopt until several chapters into the book. Irritation #2 is that her "golden hair," which is a key detail, is absent from the cover.) Drugged into a near vegetative state by her evil shrink, Cory and another patient are planning a daring escape. But first, Cory wants to kill her evil shrink.
It's an incredibly exciting chapter. Given the setting and the outrageous premise of a girl being controlled by mythological creatures, I had been very skeptical that said creatures were real. A book about a girl with mental issues who kills serial killers would be okay, too. However, not only are the Furies very real, but they physically manifest beside Cory in the moment before she kills her target. The target SEES the Furies! I was very excited.
Really, the book does a lot of things correctly. The scenes where Cory is hunting her prey are squicktastic, the death scenes appropriately bloody, and even the puzzler about why a Fury-controlled killing machine would bother to go to high school is handled logically. I was fully engrossed in Cory's hunts, as well as her battles with the Furies as they try to take over her mind. Mythological creatures aren't known to play nice, especially when one is a half-crazed hawk-lady and the other is a sinisterly cool serpent-woman.
But again, the more my expectations are surpassed, the easier it is for me to notice things that really, really bother me. Take, for instance, the fact that the Furies only ever target men. They read the thoughts of all males with whom Cory comes in contact and reads off their sins to Cory, the trivial and the revolting alike. But never is a woman revealed, not even the mean girl who targets Cory (more on that later). This unbalanced quirk is never explained satisfactorily, which irked me greatly.
Also, the Furies only seem to target men who have committed sexual sins. The men in question kidnap women, rape them, think dirty thoughts, or even look at them the wrong way. But the Furies never target, say, a serial killer who only kills other men, or a white-collar crook who bankrupted millions, or drug dealers, or anyone like that. I suspect some of this may have to do with Cory's own past, but the connection is never fully explained or rationalized.
While the crimes of men against women are a hot button topic and one worth exploring (especially given recent events), I found myself grumbling, "Is this really the ONLY evil They believe men capable of?" If we're supposed to believe, even for just a short while, that the Furies are truly concerned with justice, then why don't they ever take care of justice as a whole? I, for one, would have much rather followed a Dexter-like story that was a little more balanced in the criminals chosen, rather than only lowlifes in bars.
I look forward to reading reviews by those more scholarly and analytical than I am. I half-suspect that Vengeance Bound is trying to make a point regarding feminists or women in general or how women view men, though I can't tell if that point is for or against. With the exception of Niko and one other male, all named males in this story are viewed as pigs. Even if they haven't committed actual crimes, the Furies make sure Cory knows all their bad, bad thoughts. Even a police officer who comes to interview her after an incident is caught looking at her (clothed yet underage) chest! Yeesh. The Furies are only too happy to point out the sins of each and every man, and even go so far as to hunt a man who has done no wrong. His only crime is being a man accused of something evil, who cannot be innocent, because, as one of them states gleefully, "No man can be innocent." (pg 207 of the ARC)
Also, the Furies can be calmed by two things: exercise and chocolate. After all of my doubts above, perhaps I'm just being too thin-skinned, but what the heck? Bit stereotypical, don't you think, that the raving, vengeful (hormonal?) woman can be calmed by chocolate? Wish Cory had thought of that when dealing with Amber, the Mean Girl who takes a violent hatred to Cory for no reason whatsoever and continues to hate her and bully her throughout the book with no explanation given. You hear that, Cory? Just give that uptight woman some chocolate!
I wish I could say that the romance saved the book for me, but it didn't. I had a sinking feeling the moment that Niko appeared that I wouldn't like him, for he was the perfect Special Snowflake Boy from the Edward Cullen School of Unrealistic Romantic Attachments. You know the type. Their eyes meet. There is instant attraction, though they both fight it. But she is so pretty and intriguing. He is so handsome and mysterious, as well as being the only person in the whole world capable of silencing her demons with a mere touch.
Blah blah blah. Niko is a nice guy and all, but I never connected with him. He was just there, a placeholder of sorts. I'm sure other readers will adore him, as he does some amazingly romantic things for Cory, and he genuinely seems like a nice guy. However, there was no real relationship between him in Cory. They had had maybe one or two actual conversations before they started sucking face. As far as I could tell, the only basis to their relationship was physical attraction, which doesn't explain Niko's devotion AT ALL. And my gosh, if either of them talked about love one more time, I was going to hurl.
Of course, part of the point of having a love interest was that it kept Cory in touch with her humanity and taught her how to love again, etc. etc. etc. But I think that instead of going the well-worn path of unrealistic romantic entanglements, Niko would have been much better served as Cory's best platonic guy friend. The power of love is a big part of Vengeance Bound, but nowhere is it stated that the love in question is romantic love. I'd move mountains for my best friends, and I don't love either of them romantically. I think using Cory's platonic yet no less fierce love for Niko as the agent of change in her life would have been such a refreshing twist. Instead, we're stuck with an unfulfilling, unrealistic, half-baked romantic love that pulled me right out of the story.
At least the book ended on a semi-satisfying note. It wasn't completely satisfying (I would bet money Ms. Ireland is leaving the door open for a companion novel), but it was satisfying enough to soothe a few of my ruffled feathers. I will say that the romance and Niko-must-save-the-girl aspects were given a refreshing enough twist that I was surprised.
Goodness. I guess I was more frustrated with this book than I realized. In any case, I do suggest you all read it, if only so you can form your own opinions.
Points Added For: A fun premise, great action, a decent ending.
Points Subtracted For: The odd male-female dynamics, Special Snowflake Boy, a completely uncompelling romance.
Good For Fans Of: Greek mythology, Furies stories, insta-love, bloodshed.
Notes For Parents: Language, violence (duh), making out, underage drinking, abduction
(For the record, I'd really give this a 3.5 or 3.75 if Goodreads allowed such a thing.)
Here's the big take-away up front: I liked this book, but it took some doing getting into the story, because it wasn't nearly what I expected. So, in order to be a kind reviewer, I'm going to try to prepare you all in a manner that is as spoiler-free as possible (which isn't to say absolutely spoiler-free).
I don't even know where to begin. I can't even think of one point where things went the way I expected. I mean, Tiger Lily and Peter Pan were in it, yes. That's one thing. But beyond that? And even with that point, the book is about Tiger Lily, but it's narrated by Tinker Bell. Oh, and that's not her real name, but rather the name that Peter gives her.
I mean, when you hear that there's a book about Peter Pan out, what do you expect? Magic? Adventure? Happiness? Child-like joy? Was that just me, then? Because there's none of that in this story.
Oh, but don't stop reading. I was so flummoxed by my thwarted expectations that I nearly tossed the book aside. I almost did, and I'm glad I didn't.
When I first started, this book didn't feel like a YA book to me. It felt like an adult book. Someone much smarter than I am might be able to succinctly express the difference in tone between the typical "adult literature" book and the typical "young adult" book, but I can't. To me, adult books tend to wax philosophical. They talk about lofty things in a back-of-the-nose voice and deal in many more abstract ideas than YA books. Not that YA books don't do those things also; they just devote less time to them. Well, except for Tiger Lily, because Tiger Lily (the first half, at least) felt very "adult."
This is a very bleak book, mainly because there is no magic. Everything magical from the original story is explained. Everything. The boys flying, how the Englanders get to the island, the ticking crocodile, even how Hook lost his hand. There are only three spots of magic: the fairies, the mermaids, and the fact that Neverlanders don't age past a certain point. But even these three points are treated as matter-of-course rather than something special. The fairies and mermaids are simply species, like dragonflies and trout, nothing special The fact that the people don't age is just like the fact that hair grows. It just happens, that's all.
There also is no one who is 100% good or 100% bad. Actually, the lack of absolutes is a key theme in the book (which irks me just a bit, but that's another matter). If you're looking for Tiger Lily to be a true-blue heroine, forget it. Peter? Nope. The only one who comes close, surprisingly, is Tinker Bell. Yes, that jealous little punk we all know and hate. (Just me? Was I the only one who hated her in the original story?)
I loved Tink by the end. The nicest thing about retellings is they force the reader to study the story presented from a different viewpoint. I'd never considered before who was shaping the original Pan story, but I realized while reading Tiger Lily that the "who" must have been Wendy. I took her word that Tiger Lily was a vixen, that Tink was just a jealous little twit, that the boys really needed her, that everything would turn out okay. But, according to Tinker Bell and Ms. Anderson, none of that was really true - Wendy only believed it to be true.
I'm going to have to stew over this book a few days, I think. Once I figured out what to expect of this book, I really enjoyed it. There was danger and intrigue and betrayal. I also had to work on separating the story from the beliefs Ms. Anderson tries to push (about right and wrong, ethnocentrism, colonialism, gender issues, etc.).
If you want a more concise and clearcut list of what to look for, try Bookalicious' ( http://bookalicious.org/2012/06/revie... ) review. Really, I was pouting a bit that she did her review before mine, because she nails it.
So now that you know what to expect, I say read the book. It will make you sad in places, destroy your fantasy in places, and make you mad in places, but it's worth it. But dagnabit, between Tiger Lily and Code Name Verity, I have GOT to get my hands on a copy of the original story again.
Lastly, I leave you with my favorite quote from the book:
"I'm not myself," she offered, guiltily. She softened around Tik Tok, and when she did she was, for those rare moments, girlish. He smiled. "You can never say that. You're just a piece of yourself right now that you don't like."
Points Added For: Tinker Bell, Peter Pan (really, he's spectacular), a depressingly realistic Neverland, giving me some happiness in the end.
Points Subtracted For: Being a mite preachy, adding a few irrelevant threads (was Belladonna really necessary?), thwarting my expectations.
Good For Fans Of: The Peter Pan tale, melancholy coming-of-age stories, seeing magical stories translated into real life, murderous mermaids.
Notes For Parents: I don't remember any language, but there is some violence (people die), suicide, murder, and drinking. There is also a brief paragraph that hints at a sexual assault, but the description is vague. One character is transvestite, and various beliefs are espoused concerning gender, societal norms, etc.
Disclaimer: I won my paperback ARC from Harper Collins.
When I told my mom I was reviewing a YA sci-fi/dystopian retelling of Jane Austen's Persuasion, she was not impressed. Actually, I'd put her a bit closer to horrified. She couldn't understand why anyone would muddy such a beautiful classic with all that sci-fi/dystopian stuff.
Truth be told, I wasn't sure how well I would like FDStS either. Persuasion, with all of its romantic tension and love deferred, is a classic for a reason. Messing with it via a sci-fi retelling is one thing? But using a dystopian/post-apocalyptic bent? Meh.
But then I met Elliot and Kai.
FTDStS takes place in a post-apocalyptic world. Pre-apocalypse, genetic tampering ran rampant. Nothing - not crops, not animals, not even people - remained untainted. Then it all fell apart. The Luddites (shunners of technology, just like present-day Luddites) hid in the earth and watched as the world disintegrated into chaos. Altered crops poisoned lands. Wars raged. Those changed by genetic tampering gave birth to Reduced children - basically a race of mentally handicapped individuals unable to speak in anything more than monosyllabic words. Out of spite, the few remaining turned their technology to the sky, destroying communication and navigation by screwing with the Earth's magnetic field.
As the only group with unaffected genes, the Luddites rose from the ground and took control. They assumed their positions as the moral gatekeepers and the protectors of the "poor" Reduced. However well-intentioned, the system eventually decayed into a scenario resembling the American Antebellum South. The Luddites rule their farms (plantations!) from their upholstered parlors and control the Reduced with an iron fist. Even the birth of mentally sound Reduced children (called Children of Reduced or Post-Reductionists) does nothing to change the status quo.
Elliot, a Luddite, and Kai, a Post, have been connected to each other from birth. They and another girl, a Reduced named Ro, were all born on the same day. Kai and Ro's mothers died. Elliot's mother lived, thanks to her status as a ruling Luddite. Despite their differences in class, all three children managed to find a way to remain friends and to watch out for each other.
For me, it helped to have read Persuasion first; otherwise, I think I may have had a problem with Elliot. Actually, I did have a problem with both Elliot and Kai at first, because they were introduced to the readers through their childhood letters to each other, and I couldn't tell which was male and which was female! I'm very stubborn about not reading the synopsis again once I've started a book, and, to me, Elliot is a boy name. Curse you, male-to-female naming trend! (Yes, I know, it's a nod to Persuasion's Anne Elliot. I still think it's confusing.)
Once I untangled the identities, however, it was simple enough to keep each character separate. Ms. Peterfreund was very careful with Elliot and Kai's voices, making sure their diction reflected their educated and working-class backgrounds, respectively. They also have distinctive personalities from the get-go. Elliot is tamer, much more eager to please, and understandably naive regarding Kai's way of life. Kai, on the other hand, is eager to learn, far more reckless, and often dangerously brash.
Actually, most people would think calling Elliot "tame" is a bit of an understatement. She comes across as a walking doormat. She's cowed by her father, bullied by her sister, and, when Kai returns as successful Cloud Fleet Captain Wentforth, she lets him run roughshod over her as well! At least, so it appears. Elliot has far more spunk than even she gives herself credit for. She routinely deceives her father for the good of her Reduced in her care, and befriends Reduced and Post alike, despite it being against social conventions. Yes, she's an awful sap for Kai (or Malakai, as he's now called), but she's been in love with the boy for years, and it broke her heart when he left.
Ah, Malakai. Rude little jerk that you are, I still love you. Again, I can enjoy the dynamic between the two characters because it so closely mirrors the one in Persuasion. Kai alternates between lashing out at Elliot, ignoring her, and - on occasion - protecting her. Elliot, for her part, hides her hurt as best she can and tries to put her feelings for Kai aside with a heartsick tenacity that would make Taylor Swift proud. Okay, maybe not. She's more nuanced than the golden-haired one, but if she had a guitar, you'd be safe in betting there'd be teardrops on it. (What? I'm hip! I know pop culture!) It's the same tension that I adored between Anne and Frederick in Persuasion. Okay, yes, I did want to sock Kai in the jaw a few times, and his back-and-forth with Elliot felt more juvenile (they're a decade younger than their Persuasion counterparts, after all), but it was still so lovely.
Really, I loved all the Austen throwbacks that Ms. Peterfreund included. The Cloud Fleet Posts differentiate themselves from the somberly dressed Luddites by parading around in brightly colored clothes, with scarlet coats being their favorite article. (Get it? Redcoats!) Kai chooses the surname Wentforth, Ms. Peterfreund's obvious nod to Captain Wentworth, but also a clever play on words. Kai, after all, was the boy who left the North estate and went forth to make his way in the world. Many of the major plot points from Persuasion are reimagined rather cleverly. I especially like how she orchestrated the fall at Bath. (You Austen-lovers know what I'm talking about.) Also, the childhood letters between Kai and Elliot that are sprinkled throughout the book not only give us a sense of their forming personalities, but also echo the use of various letters in Persuasion, including The Letter. (That is, the letter from the scene that made me fall head-over-heels for Persuasion in college.)
Amid all the Austen love, much of the sci-fi falls by the wayside. Yes, various futuristic things crop up, giving us a sense that this new world is far different from our own. However, I never really got a true sense of Elliot's world. It felt like a simple stage, set with props and moving facades for the characters to act out the Persuasion tale upon. I would have preferred a world with a bit more heft to it.
For me, this was a story more about the reader's emotions than the reader's mind. If you come to this book expecting a fully realized world, intricate supporting characters, or a nuanced ending, you'll be disappointed. However, if you're willing to chuck it all aside and let yourself be swept away by the conflict between Kai and Elliot, I believe you will enjoy yourself immensely. Just try not to punch Kai. He's a good guy, I promise.
Points Added For: Austen-y awesomeness, sweet and wonderful Ro, those lovely paper gliders (really, I think the cover should have featured them instead), the conceit of the Luddite sanctuaries, making me want to watch the 2007 version of Persuasion again.
Points Subtracted For: A fail on the reimagined William Elliot character (really, he was so flat), a mediocre world (despite having an awesome premise), an ending that was just too neat and tidy, that stupid cover that looks NOTHING like Elliot. [Note: I don't know if anyone with experience with mental handicaps would find the depiction of the Reduced offensive or not. Clearly, their treatment by most Luddites is appalling, but I'd like to hear what you all thought of the "correct" worldview espoused in the end.]
Good For Fans Of:Persuasion by Jane Austen, fraught romantic relationships, angsty leading men.
Notes For Parents: Other than general bad attitudes on the part of the Luddites, I don't remember anything.(less)
Just a warning upfront: I'm about to eviscerate this book. That supposed "rule" that some people quote to make bloggers play nice? Not going for that here. If I think a book sucked, I'll say so.
Guys, this book sucked.
Really, I'm angry at myself for being drawn in. I don't have a great track record with either Egmont or Talia Vance, but I couldn't help myself. I mean, look at the title. SPIES and an obvious reference to Pride and Prejudice. How could I resist? Also, the book is blurbed by Veronica Rossi, whom I adore. (Not that I saw the blurb until just now, but somehow it makes the betrayal seem more painful.)
And really, the book started out decently. As I explained to someone on Twitter, I was two pages in and hadn't tossed the book aside yet, so life's good. The heroine, Berry, is spying on a cheating boyfriend with her best friend Mary Chris. Though not a spy (strike #1), Berry does help her father with his private detective business, which means she spends most of her free time photographing cheating spouses. Yay extracurricular activities?
While trying out Mary Chris's eavesdropping gadget, Berry overhears two hot guys discuss her and Mary, with the hottest describing Berry as "not amazing." Our Darcy-type for the book is a rich, way-too-handsome lad named Tanner. Despite putting down our Elizabethean heroine, he's clearly smitten, nearly as smitten as his (supposed) stepbrother Ryan (Bingley) is with Mary Chris (Jane). So the characterization is a bit thin. I'm fine with that.
At least, I was fine with it until Berry opened her mouth and refused to close it again. Seriously. Berry is way more Darcy than our Darcy-type Tanner ever is, though saying so is an insult to the true Darcy. At least the true Darcy is only accidentally rude, while Elizabeth Bennet is often unthinkingly sharp. Berry is neither, instead choosing to be unrelentingly caustic. I found her first one-liner mildly amusing but quickly soured on her entire character. If I were Tanner and I was faced with Berry's toxic and unwarranted attitude, I'd gladly ditch her for someone with a shred of human decency. Maybe some people will find her funny or plucky, but I wanted to snarl when I compared her to the true Elizabeth Bennet.
And therein lays (lies?) one of the biggest and most avoidable problems of this novel. There was zero reason - ZERO REASON - to tie this book to Pride and Prejudice. Yes, the four teens follow the Darcy-Elizabeth-Jane-Bingley archetypes, but so do a dozen other books out there. It's a set archetype that has permeated literature. By explicitly tying the book to P&P, I'm going to judge each character FAR more harshly than if they had simply been presented as the two-dimensional gasbags that they are. Also, I can then use the formula to predict how everything will turn out, including whether to trust the third guy who wanders into Berry's life. (Clearly a Wickham type, so duh, no.)
This whole book is a mess. It's sort of about Berry's quest to find out whether her mother committed suicide or was murdered, but then there's this thing thrown in with a hallucinogenic soda and corporate espionage and teenage contract security, because that's SO realistic. As if that weren't enough I'm forced to endure a bevy of other irritating details. For instance, Ms. Vance decides to name her heroines Strawberry Fields and Mary Chris Moss. Haha, not. She also throws in a Caroline-type wicked cheerleader who shows up for all of a page and then disappears, never to be used again. (At least her little clique is amusingly named.) Throw in a Charlotte-type flamboyantly gay best friend (in theater, sings soprano, is way too into moisturizer, and is the perfect little shopping buddy) and I'm so done.
Oh, and of course Tanner's reason for being so socially awkward and jerky is because he's homeschooled. Because we ALL know that homeschoolers have zero social skills. (In case you can't sense the heavy sarcasm, let me just state that I was homeschooled up through high school graduation.) And it's totally his fault that he and Berry don't get along, except when it's Berry's fault because she's "damaged." The obstacles used to keep them apart were so obviously fabricated that I wanted to gag.
I powered through just so I could finish and move on, but I was so over this book. I still can't tell you the various characters' motivations. The plot holes were so painstakingly obvious that Matthew McFayden and I could waltz right through them. At least dancing with McFayden would have made the time I spent reading worthwhile.
Because look at dat widdle face
I like to think that there's an audience out there for every book. I'm sure someone somewhere will adore this book and carry it around everywhere with them. Maybe even one of you. But not me. Never EVER me.
Points Added For: Mary Chris. Despite her stupid name, she's at least not an idiot. Also, the name of the clique The Dead Presidents. (But not the clique itself. They were pointless.)
Points Subtracted For: Everything else
Good For Fans Of: Caustic and unbearably rude heroines, overbearing and claustrophobic relationships
Notes For Parents: One instance of language, adultery, homosexuality
Note: I received a finished copy of this book from the publisher via LibraryThing in exchange for an honest review.
Note: I would actually give this book a 3.70, but GR only allows whole numbers.
I apologize for any lapses in coherency during this review. I finished Splintered less than twenty-four hours prior to reviewing, and I don't think I have ever before loved a book that has confused me so much.
Rather than waste time trying to recap the synopsis (which you all are perfectly capable of reading for yourselves), I'm going to dive straight in in an attempt to sort my own feelings. I'm leery of Alice retellings/follow-ups, so I went in with guarded expectations. The story opens with Alyssa pinning dead spiders to a small sheet of plaster. She's an artist, and she uses her art to shut up the whispering bugs. I was hooked. Over the next several pages, we learn of Alyssa's family curse, which dooms the females of the family to insanity. By eight pages in, I was thoroughly enraptured.
Usually, when I love a book, I have a whole list of things I loved and a few minor considerations that bothered me. However, Splintered, much like its protagonist, displayed a dual nature. For everything I loved, there was always an element that made me pause. Here are some examples.
I liked Alyssa. I found her spunky and exciting. Any girl who can turn dead bugs into art is a friend of mine. She's a dutiful daughter, and I thought both her loving relationship with her father and her affectionately strained interactions with her mother were refreshing. She's headstrong, opinionated, and rocks the angsty Avril-Lavigne-in-the-Wonderland-video look better than most heroines I've read.
However, despite Alyssa's flashes of independence (usually all at the wrong moments), she allows the boys in the novel too much leeway to manipulate her. Oh, she tries, or at least she makes noise like she's trying. She yells at them, pushes them, tells them to bug off, but often comes across as more flash than substance. Also, she spends a good deal of time talking about how she won't steal another girl's boyfriend (admirable), but these talks often come before and after making out with said boy.
Ah, Jeb, Alyssa's best-friend-turned-secret-crush-turned-knight-in-shining-armor. He's a keeper, that Jeb. Handsome, ambitious, kind, smart, and courageous, he's also capable of making every emo-girl's heart go pitter-patter with his swishy black hair, tortured past, gothic fairy art, and pierced lip. Outwardly, not really my type, but I'm a sucker for a guy who knows how to be a good friend and a good crush. I also like that while he does choose to date the cliched Witchy Arch-Nemesis of Alyssa, he has reasons for his choices, and he's much more committed to staying faithful than Alyssa.
Unfortunately, for all his faithfulness, Jeb had one glaring flaw. What I think was supposed to be his protectiveness instead came across as possessiveness. If he violently forced the other boy in the equation to stop touching Alyssa one more time, I was going to hurl the book. Or Jeb. Into a wall. Whether Alyssa wants to have physical contact with the other boy is her choice, not Jeb's, hidden jealousy or no. Speaking of the other boy...
Actually a shapeshifting netherling, Morpheus was by far the most interesting character of the trio. Unlike Edward Cullen, who falls into the trap of actually being a creepy old man in a teen's body, Morpheus physically, emotionally, and mentally becomes the age of whichever form he chooses to inhabit, thereby making his attraction to Alyssa far more palatable. Like Jeb, he also falls in line with emo ideals by adorning himself with inked eyes, blue hair, tight pants, and a jaunty fedora. Not that I mind. While Jeb is safety and security, Morpheus is adventure and risk. He appeals to Alyssa's "darker side" and is her less-than-trustworthy guide throughout her quest.
He's also a manipulator, a liar, and startlingly unconcerned with boundary issues. As far as characters go, I'm always more interested in the "bad boy" with good qualities to be burnished than the supposed "good boy" with elements that need to be squashed. However, past his introduction, Morpheus is such an unreliable and shifting character that I soon lost him beneath his different facades. I understand wrapping a character in mystery, I understand keeping his motivations hidden, but when I have nothing but scraps to hold onto, I as a reader soon become disenchanted. Not completely, of course, because he's Morpheus and awesome, but disenchanted enough.
The other characters
Again, we have a mixture of hit and miss. For the most part, Ms. Howard reimagines the denizens of Wonderland brilliantly, twisting the already twisted characters into such frightening characters that I vacillated between awe and horror. The flowers, for instance, were perhaps some of my favorite nightmares. Ravenous, mobile, and humanoid, I would love it if their kind appeared in other worlds and other books, as their time in Splintered was right for the story yet still too short for me. The octobenus, or Walrus as he's known in the original story, was perhaps the scariest of them all, perhaps competing only with Sisters One and Two. I'll let you discover their details for yourself, but wow, what scary freaks of nature.
About so many other characters, however, I have very little to say. Their motivations shifted as frequently as Morpheus's, making it difficult for me to connect with any of them. All of the royals, despite their varying importances, were as flimsy as their card soldiers, and dear Cheshire Cat, though talked about a lot, barely made an appearance at all.
Adventurous, imaginative, and exciting, the story kept me flipping pages long after I should have gone to bed. Splintered takes many of the familiar scenes from Alice and flips them on their head and turns them inside out in a way that would have made the March Hare (not his real name, according to this story) jealous. While most everything is familiar, Ms. Howard is breathtakingly creative in her reimaginings. I never thought that the White Rabbit could be so horrific or Mr. Caterpillar (as Morpheus) so devious.
The story kept me turning the pages, but I admit that most of the time I had little idea what was going on. The denser the twists and turns became, the more I felt like I was trapped in an Underlandian maze. I think there might have been plot holes - several of them, in fact - but I can't be sure. After a certain point, it was all madness and hijinks. It may be that everything made sense (or at least as much sense as things can in Wonderland), but it'll take a few more rereads on my part to be sure.
Sparks of brilliance here with the writing. Ms. Howard uses beautiful imagery and turns of phrase that kept me smiling. The entire book had a very cinematic quality to it that I enjoyed. I very rarely think in terms of film options and actors and such when reading a book, but Splintered would make a GREAT movie. Movie execs, get on it.
Where Ms. Howard stumbles, though, is Alyssa's voice. There were moments or even large swathes where Alyssa felt less than organic. I don't like people who complain and then don't give specific instances, but that's what I must be. I just know that I felt like the voice itself could use more polishing. Additionally, all of the ellipses needed to go. Now.
I know this all sounds dire. Most people, myself included, enjoy a balance more heavily weighted toward the pros than the cons. But don't you see? I loved this book. I loved it. I rushed through my day to get to the parts when I could get back to Alyssa's story. I stayed up far too late and then spent the night trying to get the characters out of my head so I could get some blasted sleep. That's despite all the cons, all the things that annoyed me. Just think about what that says about this book. And just think of the most fascinating fact of all: this is A.G. Howard's debut. I can't wait to see where she goes from here.
Points Added For: Morpheus being sexy and fly, those creepy flower people, Jeb (in his good moments), the crazy twists and liberties taken with the original tale.
Points Subtracted For: I'm not going through this again. Read the dang post.
Good For Fans Of:Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, crazy retellings, love triangles.
Notes For Parents: I don't remember any language (Alyssa says "son of a bug" a lot), but there is a fair amount of makeout sessions. Also, people die and commit adultery.
Not a particularly bad book, but I didn't enjoy it. Emma bounces back and forth between both worlds. She enjoys both, but I feel comfortable in neither. I didn't care what happened to Emma or the extra characters in either setting. Only once we get to the end when Emma defends her thesis do I understand the vibe I'm receiving. It feels like the thesis was, in fact, the author's, and the story was an elaborate device mixed with fan fiction to further promote her point of view regarding the treatment of women in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. Again, not a bad book, but it wasn't for me.(less)
So maybe it wasn't the best idea to plow through the climax of this book at midnight. I strongly recommend not doing that... unless, you know, heart palpitations are your thing.
I've written about this book in my Wishlist Wednesday meme and even joined Gretchen McNeil's Army of Ten. You can read all my reasons for being excited about this book in those posts. To sum up: Agatha Christie = awesome. Her book And Then There Were None = Head Honcho of Awesomeness. Therefore, a YA thriller loosely based off aforementioned Head Honcho book is going to be AMAAAAAZING!
At least, that was my theory. But as I promised in my Army of Ten post, I will review Ms. McNeil's work as objectively as possible, so here it goes.
The book opens with Minnie and Meg traveling to the island. They've lied to their parents and ditched all supervision to attend a weekend house party hosted by the coolest girl in school. Because that always turns out well.
At the party are eight other teens. They vary in degrees of squickiness from the super-scuzzball Nathan and the control freak Vivian to Minnie's ex Gunner (Mr. "Gun Show" himself) and Meg's secret crush T.J. I'm not going to spend a lot of time of the characters, because they were a secondary consideration for me. Since we know they're going to be killed off one by one, I didn't bother to make much of a connection. Also, most of the teens are purposely easy to dislike (or suspiciously angelic), so I spent the first few chapters going "Wait, who was Lori? And is Kumiko a girl or boy?" Not to worry, though; the characters' individual impressions grow stronger the longer they live.
Though the teens arrive expecting a weekend of drinking and debauchery, their plans are about to go seriously awry. While in search of a good movie, they come across a DVD and pop it in. The video plays, eerie music tinkling in the background. Red slashes count from one to ten, and then the words VENGEANCE IS MINE scrawls across the screen.
I gotta admit, Ms. McNeil did a great job at layering on the spooky atmosphere from the beginning. Even before the teens start to get an inkling that something's wrong, we the readers start getting bad vibes. Meg doubts the wisdom of lying to her parents and going to a secluded island, the ferrymen warn her to be careful, and even though there's another house party going on at the same island, the house the teens are at is separated from the rest of the island by a rickety wooden bridge.
Then things do go wrong. The bad things start almost innocuously, a careless accident, it seems. I loved it. I can't say what "it" was, due to spoilers, but I loved the nod to the first death in And Then There Were None.
Really, spoiler-wise, I can't say too much at all. I will say that the first and second deaths didn't bother me too much. But the third on out? Again, reading at night probably isn't the best idea. Make no mistake, this isn't a happily-ever-after, everyone-gets-out-alive sort of book. People die. Teens die, and they die badly.
After the second death, the situation devolves rapidly. Red paint slashes mysteriously appear in the hallway, tallying the deaths as they happen, leaving no doubt that the dead teens were purposely picked off. Inevitably, the suspicion and finger-pointing escalates. Who is targeting the teens? Is it one of their own, or someone else hiding in the house?
There are several plot holes that made me worry my bottom lip just a bit, but I was willing to gloss over them. If you can't ignore gaps for the sake of the entertainment, then it's probably best to skip the book. Luckily, I don't have that problem. (Yes, I'm a bit smug about my handy mental blinders.)
The hook for Ten is the same hook from And Then There Were None, and it's a good one. What would you do if you found yourself trapped in a house with a ruthless murderer? And what if that murderer was someone you knew?
There's nowhere to run. If you hide, he (or she) will find you. The only way to survive is to hope that you're just that much stronger, that much smarter than the person hunting you... and that you'll be able to react quickly enough in that brief moment when the murderer is revealed.
I can't tell you whether Meg was strong enough or smart enough or quick enough. I can tell you that though I guessed the murderer (I credit multiple rereads of ATTWN), I found the big reveal to be utterly exhilarating. When you reach the climax and honestly can't way whether the heroine will come out alive, you know you're reading a great thriller. Judging by how white my knuckles were by the end, Ten was a pretty great thriller.
Points Added For: Some awesome ATTWN homages, a fantastic climax, what we learn about the other house, making my toes curl.
Points Subtracted For: Having a few plot holes, not really having a character I could connect with fully.
Good For Fans Of:And Then There Were None, teen slashers, a murderer with a score to settle.
Notes For Parents: Clearly, there's carnage. There's also language, sexual innuendo, bullying, drinking, and mention of other illicit activities.(less)
Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorite fairy tales, so Melanie Dickerson had big shoes to fill. I did like the twists she put on the story. Annabel (haha, get it?) is sent to work for the disfigured and "beastly" Lord Ranulf to save her ungrateful family from indentured servitude. Like Belle, she is kind, well-read, and patient, though she does have a temper. Unlike Belle, Annabel's dream is to join the convent. In the place of Gaston is a handsy baliff, and Lord Ranulff's housekeeper fills in admirably for Mrs. Potts.
I wasn't overwhelmed by giddy feelings or anything, but the retelling was fairly decent. There were strong Christian overtones, of course, but they didn't hamper the story. This is a respectable, middle-of-the-curve story.(less)