**** Magic Gifts probably has major spoilers of the relationship variety and minor spoilers of the plotReview originally posted on my book blog here
**** Magic Gifts probably has major spoilers of the relationship variety and minor spoilers of the plot variety for anyone who hasn't read the first five books. ****
The Premise: Kate and Curran are out for a nice dinner at a local restaurant when a gift of a necklace at a nearby table ends in death and mayhem. Tracing the origin of the necklace before its latest victim, a seven-year old boy, can die, while also dealing with owning a business, being the Beast Lord's consort, her grumpy best friend, and the politics of the Mercenary Guild, and you have your typical week in the life of Kate Daniels.
My Thoughts: At 97 pages (how long the pdf was on my nook with small text), this felt like a nice long novella, and fit much of the style of the previous books. As usual, Kate has her hands full in all aspects of her life. First, there is her struggling business at Cutting Edge Investigations. Her best friend Andrea is handing a big case and is off the page much of the time, but there is clearly something going on there that will be expanded in Gunmetal Magic. Then, there is the Mercenary Guild. They want Kate to settle a dispute about Guild leadership, and Kate isn't eager to be the deciding vote.
While those distractions are going on (the Guild business takes up a lot of Kate's time), the meat of the story is about the necklace. This is a series that does not stick to one set of mythologies -- we've seen Celtic deities, Indian demons, and Russian witches. This time, the mythology is of a Nordic flavor, which made me think I was seeing nods to Tolkien, but now I think it's the Norse mythology he used in his books. Kate has to consult the Neo-Vikings for their expertise, and we get to see another new monster as part of the investigation. As creepy-crawlies in the Kate Daniels universe goes, I found this one quite nightmarish, thank you, but other than that, the impediments to solving the case were relatively minor, and this felt like a condensed but still substantial, version of the full-length books.
Overall: Quite satisfying and met my expectations of what a Kate Daniels story should be. If you are already a fan, you won't be disappointed by this one. If you are not, I suggest you begin with the first book and work your way through the series before you get to this novella....more
This is a retelling of a lesser-known fairytale (Maid Maleen) that I have been meaning to get my hands on for some time. I finally found a copy while perusing a new used bookstore in Sedona, AZ (where the parents and in-laws live) and read it over the end of last year.
The Premise: Dashti is a mucker girl who gets a job as a lady's maid on the very day that her lady is imprisoned in a tower for seven years. This is because Lady Saren refuses to marry Lord Khasar, claiming a prior engagement with another nobleman - Khan Tegus. While Lady Saren's father shouts and the other maids run away, Dashti vows to stay beside her lady. The two girls are holed up in a small tower, and Dashti begins a journal detailing their days. Both Lady Saren's suitors come by: Lord Khasar to taunt and torment them, and Khan Tegus to speak, but Lady Saren commands Dashti to impersonate her with Khan Tegus. As months go by and turn into years, the food supply dwindles and Lady Saren settles into a dark depression. Only Dashti's no nonsense attitude and faith in her gods keeps her from losing all hope herself.
My Thoughts: This is a epistolary novel told through Dashti's entries in her journal, which she names "The Book of A Thousand Days". From the get go, Dashti proves to be a heroine familiar with having to persevere when times are tough. She is a mucker - used to a nomadic lifestyle that depends on things beyond human control. She's weathered a few hardships before selling her last animal for a job in Lady Saren's household. When Lady Saren, a young girl like Dashti herself, is put in a tower by her own father, Dashti is the only servant willing to take care of her lady.
My lady was squeezing my arm so tightly now, my fingers felt cold. One of her cheeks was pink from his slap, her brown eyes red from crying. She reminded me of a lamb just tumbled out, wet all over, unsure of her feet and suspicious of the sun. She'd be alone in that tower, I thought, and I remembered our tent when Mama died, how the air seemed to have gone out of it, how the walls leaned in, like to bury me dead. When Mama left, what had been home became just a heap of sticks and felt. It's not good being alone like that. Not good. Besides, I'd sworn to serve my mistress. And now that her hair was fixed and her face washed, I saw just how lovely she was, the glory of the Ancestors shining through her. I felt certain that Lady Saren would never disobey her father lightly. Surely she had a wise and profound reason for stubbornness, one blessed by the Ancestors. "Yes," I said. "I'll stay with my lady." Then her father up and slapped me across my mouth. It almost made me laugh.
I liked Dashti a lot. Not only does she have skills for survival, but she also knows how to write and how to sing mucker healing songs. She's self-sufficient, unlike her lady, who falls apart inside the tower. Dashti is the one looking at how much food they have and rationing it, worrying about the mice, cleaning, fetching water, and going about the day to day tasks of survival. Faced with a problem, Dashti doesn't sit around - she does something. She's just as worried as Lady Saren is that they may not survive, and yes, every so often she cries and despairs, but she picks herself up and carries on.
Day 528 Today I thought I would like to die, so I went into the cellar and smacked a few rats with the broom. It helped some.
As much as Dashti has skills that her lady does not, Dashti considers herself a servant and of a lower class than her lady. The class boundaries are very clear in her mind, and while others would think ill of Lady Saren for her uselessness in the tower, Dashti does not. Dashti believes in the gods and that the gentry have the mark of the Ancestors on them. It is Dashti's job as a servant to obey and make her lady's life easier. In many ways, Dashti's unwavering belief make her something of an innocent, but I found her faith and heart endearing. It made her character very pure of heart, which fit well within the fairytale structure of this story.
When Lady Saren's suitors pay them a visit at their tower, Dashti begins to realize why Saren refuses to marry Lord Khasar and prefers Khan Tegus. While Khan Tegus is likable, Lord Khasar is terrifying. Lord Khasar is a power hungry ruler who wants to take over all the Eight Realms. In this fairytale retelling, Lord Khasar is very clearly the bad guy while Khan Tegus is the Prince Charming of the tale, but the story puts a little twist to both the concepts. There is both a romance and a vanquishing in this story, and I don't want to go into it and spoil anyone's fun, but I have to say that both had me cheering. I think that the structure of the story, as a series of journal entries, forces the narrative to sometimes focus on the mundane details over action, but I never found myself bored. Instead I was charmed by Dashti's voice and her evolution from an ordinary lady's maid into someone who could be the Hero of the story. I couldn't predict what way the story was going to go, but I loved the way it unraveled.
I also loved that this story had a Mongolian influence. The Eight Realms and the Gods as Dashti knows them are clearly from Hale's imagination, but the clothing, the animals and landscape, and many other details are very Asian. There are also a lot of charming drawings that pepper the text which underline that these characters have Asian features. I really enjoyed reading a story that was so steeped in this sense of place.
Overall: This could be my favorite Shannon Hale story. I like a lot of Shannon Hale's stories, but The Book of a Thousand Days had such an endearing heroine: a maid with a big heart who is determined to take care of her lady. It was heartwarming to see such a good character get her happy ending. This hit the right "fairytale" note while mixing in fantasy and Mongolian inspired story elements. I'm calling it a keeper....more
This is a 99 cent eBook that was for a brief time over the end of last year, free, so I pounced on the(Review originally posted on my book blog here)
This is a 99 cent eBook that was for a brief time over the end of last year, free, so I pounced on the chance to try this new-to-me Romance author.
The Premise: Ten years ago, Evan Carlton, Earl of Westfield realized that the cutting remarks he used to cover up his huge crush on Lady Elaine Warren was actually turning the vibrant girl he liked into a subdued social pariah. Ashamed of himself, Evan left England. Now he's back, and he finds Lady Elaine unmarried and still the object of mockery, and she does not like him. Evan wants to apologize, but Elaine does not trust him, nor can a mere apology erase what he had done. This is a bitter thing, but Evan has to try, because now that he is older and wiser, he knows that he's head over heels in love with her.
My Thoughts: This story begins at a ballroom. Evan Carlton is back from abroad and can see firsthand what he has done to Lady Elaine. While his cousin still snickers and pokes fun, Evan has gained a lot of maturity in his ten years away, and watching Lady Elaine, he bitterly regrets his past and her current exclusion from society. For her part, Lady Elaine thinks that Evan's return is a personal nightmare and wonders what other games he has planned for her. He was the worst tormentor of them all, and she had made herself sick because of him.
This is a story where the hero has clearly wronged the heroine, but the excitement of reading it is all the raw emotion that the past stirs in both characters when they meet again in the present. The narrative hints at the person Evan was as Elaine reacts and his cousin Diana gleefully resumes their old habits, and the person he is, as he tries to tell them both that he is different. At the same time, we also glimpse Elaine's state of mind - her worrying over the guest list at the party, her shock that it is not as "safe" as she wanted because Evan and his cousin are there, and her determination to laugh her awful laugh to show that they have not won. I adored the tension of the first few pages as Evan tries to apologize, and Elaine suspects everything he does is a trick. Of course, running through all their interactions is an undercurrent of attraction that Evan is only too aware of, and Elaine interprets as something else. Evan has to make a dramatic gesture in order to get any trust.
I loved the first half of this story, which dealt with Evan's return and his first attempts with Lady Elaine. I found their every interaction charged with Evan's longing and Elaine's wariness, and it was delicious reading to see what Evan does to try to get past Elaine's walls. I'm one of those people who loves the slow build-up of a relationship over time. Evan and Elaine's interactions were just charged with unresolved emotions and I was eager to see them gradually understand one another. Unfortunately, in a novella, there is no time for gradual relational development and this story takes a short-cut. It novella skips ahead in time after the premise has been laid out. The second half of the book has these two in a new, better phase in their relationship, although Evan secretly holds hope for more. The story continues from their in the way you would expect.
Overall: If you are a fan of unrequited love and heroes who have to prove themselves, this novella fits the bill. It showcases the juiciest parts of the romance (first meeting, a bit of drama, and a happy ending) and a lot of people will love Unlocked for it. But... the relationship journey is my favorite part, and I wish that part in the story wasn't fast-forwarded, especially after the emotional undercurrents at the beginning. I didn't take to the second half of this novella the way I took to the first after that. On the other hand, a novella is only so long. 99 cents is a bargain for what you get here.
Courtney Milan has published books through HQN, and Unlocked looks to be her first self-published effort (although I see a couple more since)....more
So I have never read Maggie Stiefvater before. Despite the lovely trailers and generally good reviews, IReview originally posted on my book blog here
So I have never read Maggie Stiefvater before. Despite the lovely trailers and generally good reviews, I just haven't been interested in the teenagers and werewolves or the teenagers and the faerie. But, killer seahorses? I am interested in that. I picked up a copy of The Scorpio Races as BEA, and still, for some reason or another, I held off on reading the book until the reviews started to trickle in and everyone whose taste I trust loved this book. Finally, finally, I started to read it, and was so happy to find that it lived up to all the hype. I loved this one.
The Premise: Every November on the wild and remote island of Thisby, there is a race. Every year, tourists and locals watch riders race deadly water horses known as the capaill uisce on a small strip of beach. And every year, someone dies. The Scorpio Races can mean a lot of money if you are lucky and skilled enough to win, but injury, or more likely, death, occurs for the not-so-blessed. For three of the last four years, Sean Kendrick has won the race for his employer, Benjamin Malvern, the most wealthy man on the island. Sean's father died at the races, but Sean has worked at the stables since he was ten and is the island expert when it comes to the capaill uisce. This year, Puck Connolly has also decided to join the race, even though she never had an interest in the races nor any love for the creatures responsible for her parents' deaths. No interest until her brother Gabe announced his intention to leave the island, making Puck desperate for any excuse to keep him around. Puck has no experience, no capall uisce, and no idea what she is in for.
My Thoughts: The Scorpio Races begins with a prologue where Sean Kendrick is a ten year old boy who watches as his father is trampled in the annual races. The images of crowds of men and flesh-eating capaill uisce, then his father's body lying on the beach are violent and memorable. Sean's reaction, that fear was his father's mistake, lingered in my mind long afterward. Clearly, Thisby is not a place for the weak of heart.
The island is a harsh and unyielding locale, and those who live on Thisby are no strangers to death and heartache. People often move to the mainland, where work is safer and more profitable. Sean lost his mother to the mainland, and his father to the Races, and has been working at the Malvern stables ever since. A man of little words, Sean keeps to himself but is respected for his way with the uisce and for being the returning champion. There is only one living thing he really loves: Corr, the water horse that he rides for his employer. On another part of the island, Puck Connolly elks out a meager living with her older brother Gabe and younger brother Finn. Her story has a similar tale of loss - both her parents were out fishing when they were killed by the uisce. Puck just wants to keep what's left of her family together, but making a decent living is hard, and Gabe wants to leave. That's when desperation takes over and Puck announces she'll be riding in the Races.
The story takes its time, alternating viewpoints between Sean and Puck. Usually, I am not a great fan of alternating viewpoints but in The Scorpio Races it was done very well. I loved how this place is reflected in Sean and Puck's characters and in so many people in Thisby. This wasn't a story where I'm told something is dangerous but nothing dangerous ever happened. No, here, people die, bad things happen, and you hold your breath while reading because the story is often a hairbreadth away from something awful. The capaill uisce are the real deal. Yet, these terrifying creatures are a part of Thisby - the only place in the world where these creatures come to shore. Sean muses that it is because this is the only place where they are loved. I think that Stiefvater succeeds in creating an atmospheric setting, one that feels magical but also very real and dangerous, but also made me believe people would pick the island and flesh-eating water horses over safety.
As Sean and Puck prepare for the races, their reasons for wanting to win become more serious, and both have big obstacles in their way. I won't get into these reasons or obstacles, but let me say: I couldn't decide who I wanted to win more. And as they meet and get to know each other, I don't think Sean and Puck know who they want to win either. Along the way, they've begun an attachment that is of the quiet but deep variety. Theirs is a romance of little words but their gestures speak volumes. A single touch or a family dinner carries great meaning and had me swept up in their relationship. When Sean does speak and make his move, it hits you like a ton of bricks.
All of this atmosphere and quiet romance and struggle culminates in one thing: the Scorpio Races themselves. This is the part of the story where I was feverishly flipping the pages, and it is over quickly, but oh, is it awesome. I finished off this story with a mix of elation and contentment.
Overall: The Scorpio Races is quiet perfection. It was one of my top reads of last year (honestly, it ties for number one). This is an incredibly well-crafted tale set in a fierce and beautiful island, with just the right touch of the otherworldly and steadfast characters that persevere. It's a story that is thoughtful and gradually builds up it's characters and relationships, and it's not for those that require instant gratification. My kind of story....more
The Premise: Anya Kalinczyk is a Lantern, a special type of Elemental with an affinity for fire and the aReview originally posted on my book blog here
The Premise: Anya Kalinczyk is a Lantern, a special type of Elemental with an affinity for fire and the ability to consume spirits. Her day job is as an arson investigator for the Detroit Fire Department, but on occasion Anya gets a call from DAGR (the Detroit Area Ghost Researchers) and uses her abilities to help people with their ghost problems. Detroit is a place of unrest. Low employment and crime drives more people out of the city every day while ghosts seem to overrun it. Keeping up with a rash of arson as well as with driving out malicious spirits is wearying work, and other than her fire salamander sidekick, Anya is very alone. Now, a serial arsonist is leaving mysterious symbols with his work, and the spirits have begun to talk of something big coming. Something big and associated with fire, and with Anya's special abilities, she may be the only one able to stop it.
My Thoughts: I've been interested in Embers for a very long time, but it's been one of those books that I'd planned to read if I ever ran into a copy and it took a while for that to happen. When I finally had a copy in my hands, I fell easily into its pages. Anya's life is a fascinating one. An ex-firefighter, Anya now spends her days in the charred hulks of buildings investigating whether or not a fire was actually arson. Every so often she gets a call from DAGR, a ragtag group of mediums and ghost hunters when there is a particularly stubborn spirit that needs removing. By her side is Sparky, a fire salamander that only she can see (who stole the show every page he was on).
Unfortunately for Anya, her life is a weary one, especially lately. The calls for DAGR are becoming more frequent as their usual methods aren't working like they used to. Every spirit she consumes takes it's toll on her, but this isn't something DAGR's leader Jules seems to grasp. And while Sparky is a lovable and rambunctious supernatural pet, Anya is isolated from human connection. Her abilities and Sparky aren't things Anya can exactly explain to a your Everyday Joe, and letting people near her always seems to end in someone getting hurt. The closest thing she has to a friend is Katie, the DAGR witch (and baker by day) that Anya sees only occasionally, and then there is Brian, a sweet and geeky guy who Anya always pushes away.
Sparky is the only constant companion Anya has ever had, but her loneliness is just one facet that makes Anya human. She's not your kick-ass urban fantasy heroine, she's just a tired woman trying to make things right. Right now, making things right looks like finding and stopping the supernatural arsonist terrorizing Detroit. But with Anya lonely and tired, she is also vulnerable, and the lines get a little blurry. I felt like Anya wandered into a gray area in a way that I found surprising and yet so-human, and this was a strong point of the book - the meeting of opposing sides that were fascinated with each other. I don't think I can recall the last time I read a book with such a sympathetic bad guy. I liked it! The only wish I had was that Brian, Anya's possible romantic interest, could have had as much character development as the arsonist.
Overall: In the end, I was pretty satisfied with this urban fantasy. The investigation parts were straightforward but Anya and her opponent had a deliciously conflicting relationship that upped my enjoyment. It's obvious too that Anya has a lot to learn about who she is as a Lantern and that she needs to drop her walls when it comes DAGR, so I expect more character development and world building to come. This is a promising start to a series and I can't wait to see what's next.
I have also been informed that the author has an alter-ego: Alayna Williams. More books for me to check out....more
Shannon Stacey has gotten a bit of buzz online amongst the romance reviewing community since she debuted with Exclusively Yours, which was published as an ebook by Carina Press, Harlequin's e-only imprint. Now, her books are going to be in print too (from HQN). I stumbled on Exclusively Yours on netgalley a few months ago and requested it based on the good reviews. I'm always on the lookout for good contemporary romances and this seemed to have a great premise.
The Premise: Keri Daniels is a journalist, who unfortunately, has a boss obsessed with the reclusive author Joe Kowalski. Joe Kowalski happens to be Keri's high school boyfriend - the guy she dumped when high school ended. Keri would like nothing more than to never see Joe again, but when her boss finds out Keri's long held secret, it's either get an interview or lose her job. Now Keri is back in her hometown and living her worst nightmare. Joe says he will answer her questions, but for a price. All she has to do is join him on the Kowalski family camping trip, and for every day she survives with his siblings, their spouses, his parents and a rowdy bunch of Kowaski offspring, she can ask one question. Keri was never a camping sort of girl, but now she has to spend time with a family that has every cause to dislike her, especially Joe's twin sister, Terry, her one time best friend who now holds a monumental grudge.
My Thoughts: With the premise of Keri's ex-boyfriend being in the position to make Keri really suffer on the camping trip, I was expecting a lot of back-and-forth friction between the ex-lovers, but this story surprised me. Other than his idea of the camping trip, Joe seems rather forgiving of his ex-girlfriend that broke his heart and sent him into such a dark depression that he took to drinking. In fact, he looks at Keri with much the same appreciation as he used to in high school and is pretty much a nice guy about the whole breakup. The rest of the Kowalski's are pretty zen as well. Except for Terry, who has her own reasons to be angry at Keri, no one seems to hold a grudge. This was a little weird, as I was expecting SOME resistance to Keri, and maybe some hurt feelings on Joe's part, but it was also refreshing to have a not-so-predictable plot.
Instead of the expected drama of Keri's inclusion to the Kowalski camping trip, much of the story focuses on the personal dramas of Joe's siblings amongst the woods and ATVing. His sister Terry is dealing with hurt feelings because her husband moved out. She can't help herself from reliving her husband's departure and wondering what went wrong. She's in no mood to deal with Keri, her once best friend that phased her out, then broke her brother's heart. You can't help but feel like Terry is taking out all her pain on Keri, just because she is a convenient scapegoat, and this would be right. Terry's complicated situation and the way she acts out was well done. I didn't particularly like Terry, but I understood why she acted the way she did, and I liked the secondary story of her marriage woes (I had quibbles with how this was resolved, but nothing major). While Terry has her problems, Joe's brothers also have theirs. Kevin is a bachelor and bar owner who just got out of a bad divorce. Mike is a family man with four boys and who doesn't want any more kids, but his wife Lisa, wants one more. This leads to some spectacular spats.
Compared to the drama going on among the people around them, the drama between Keri and Joe feels relatively tame. The biggest issue starts off as the conflict between Joe keeping his secrets (a mysterious engagement, his subsequent shunning of the limelight), and Keri needing a juicy story. But as the story continues Keri realizes that she has the same choice to make as before: whether she should choose Joe and her hometown, her career and L.A. Along the way of course, there is also the sexual tension they have to contend with, and much of the camping trip involves the dance between two obviously attracted people. Joe sees Keri and feels just like he felt about her in high school, and Keri feels like getting involved with Joe again would just be a big mistake. I liked the relaxed banter and the adult way that the hero and heroine acted throughout the book, and their obstacle to a happy ending felt more realistic than some of the others I've read in contemporary romance.
Overall: An enjoyable contemporary romance with humor and likable protagonists. I would say that it was a nice romance but the sense of family (their shenanigans and tribulations) and the well developed secondary characters brought Exclusively Yours up a notch from the average 'fun romance read'. I'm interested in reading the next in the Kowalski series - this time about bar owner brother Kevin....more
The Premise: All Sydelle Mirabel has known her entire life is her village, a place far from the beaten paReview originally posted on my book blog here
The Premise: All Sydelle Mirabel has known her entire life is her village, a place far from the beaten path and suffering under ten years of drought. Then one day a rogue wizard named Wayland North arrives in her desert, bringing with him rain and warnings. Sydelle's village is caught on the cusp of a war, and Wayland has to return to the capital to prevent their country being drawn into needless fighting. When asked for what he wants in return for ending their drought, Wayland chooses Sydelle. Before she knows it, Sydelle is traversing the country with the somewhat disreputable and secretive wizard and trying to dodge the efforts of Wayland's enemy. Despite a rocky start, Sydelle begins to discover all of Wayland's secrets, including the ones about herself, and she's not just the simple weaver she thought she was.
My Thoughts: I went into this book expecting a fantasy story with adventure and perhaps romance and while this is enjoyable and has these elements, it doesn't quite meet my expectations. But before I go into what didn't work for me, let me go into what did. The world building was of your typical fantasy fair (and a very wholesome one at that), but the magic systems and beliefs of Palmarta and its neighbors were nice ideas. It liked discovering how magic worked alongside Sydelle as Wayland use his different colored capes to cast spells. It was interesting to have Sydelle's perspective - that magic is a gift from their goddess, clash with Wayland's, who doesn't pray or think that his gift is for defeating wicked things. I also liked the idea of ranking amongst wizards and how the wizards they met upon their journey would more often than not pompously declare their ranking number. The non-ranked, hedge witches who came into existence because women were not allowed to be ranked was another thoughtful detail, as was Sydelle's own connection with magic.
The big problem was that although I found the story enjoyable, it always felt a little superficial - like I was catching glimpses of what the story could be, but wasn't. It just didn't feel like the execution matched the promise. Maybe part of that is the pacing of the story - Wayland and Sydelle are on a journey and have little time on their pit stops to their final destination. Instead we get a blurry impression of places before their goal or their pursuer pushes them to rush to the next place. Still, I should expect to feel a connection to Wayland and Sydelle from following them on their journey, and I don't. I got the impression that Wayland is supposed to be something of a mischievous charmer, but instead he came off as just young and irresponsible. Yes he can do magic and is trying to prevent a war, but he also gets drunk at the drop of a hat (in the middle of his mission), can't be straight with Sydelle about what's going on, gets sullen when confronted with his mother and goes off to sulk when Sydelle hugs another man. When Wayland's secrets are revealed in the story, for me, they didn't quite explain away his behavior. For her part, Sydelle tries to be Wayland's conscience and proves to be a heroine who acts bravely in bad situations, but she also get upset in ways that felt more than the situation warranted. She got annoyed at Wayland at one point and ran into the rain by herself in a strange town. I should understand why she is so upset and feel a connection to her feelings when she is going through this, but I don't. Instead I feel like she's overreacting because it seems to happen out of the blue. Maybe she's only sixteen and Wayland is just eighteen and it shows, but I don't think that it's just that I'm too old to relate to them. I think there just isn't enough there to relate to.
While I found Wayland and Sydelle difficult to connect to, the secondary characters were just one dimensional. There's the jolly friend, the evil (and physically scarred) bad guy, the young queen, some throw-away side characters. I felt like they were mostly there for convenience to carry to story forward and none left me with much of an impression. I wanted more there, especially Wayland's mother, who I think could have an interesting back story is just as cardboard - horrible one minute, then having a convenient change of attitude the next.
The romance felt like it lacked that initial spark. I think that I'm supposed to infer some attraction when Wayland swoops into Sydelle's life and whisks her away within his cape, but it felt like his magic was magical to her, not his presence. When Sydelle gets angry at Wayland, it is not the banter of two people falling in love. It is a scared, half-hysterical girl redirecting her anger at only person she can. Still not romantic. Then suddenly, Sydelle likes Wayland, and Wayland is touching her hair and getting possessive. I wished I could have seen more behind this relationship, but if I put that aside, there are sweet moments, and the story does end on a nice romantic note. I just (again) wished for more there.
Typing out this review, I feel more critical of the book now than when I was actually reading it. While I was in the middle of Brightly Woven, I found it a pleasant read even though I wasn't connecting to the characters. The writing is good and there's a lot of promise. It's not there yet, but the bones are. I liked the concepts and what there was, I just wanted more.
Overall: This is a young adult fantasy that is a light and a pleasant diversion, but it didn't fully meet my expectations. While enjoyable, it felt underdeveloped in many ways and I felt a lack of connection to the main characters. That said, there are a lot of people that loved this one, and I do see enough in this book that I liked to understand why. ...more
In Austenland, actors play courting gentlemen and cater to fantasies of Mr. Darcy and other Austeneque heroes for rich female customers. AustenlandIn Austenland, actors play courting gentlemen and cater to fantasies of Mr. Darcy and other Austeneque heroes for rich female customers. Austenland was about a reporter working on a story about this place, and I enjoyed it, so I was excited to see that Shannon Hale was releasing a follow-up, Midnight in Austenland. This is a review based on an eARC copy.
The Premise: Charlotte is a nice and practical woman who is also rather clever. She has two children, a nice husband, and a flush retirement account, thanks to her business sense. Then her husband James became not-so-nice. He slowly pulls away from their marriage until one day, Charlotte finds herself divorced, older, and a little bit lost. With her kids staying with their father and his new wife for three weeks over the summer, Charlotte decides to book a vacation. Admitting to the travel agent that she'd love to be in an Austen novel, Charlotte finds herself with a booking at the exclusive Austenland.
Unfortunately for Charlotte, she can't stop her clever mind from chugging along. Worrying about her kids is driving her crazy, so instead she focuses on the people around her. Wondering if Miss Gardenside's sickness is real or feigned, what is stressing out Mrs. Wattlesbrook, and if Mr. Mallery is sexy or sinister keeps Charlotte busy until she discovers a dead body. At least, she thinks that's what it was, but she can't prove it. Suddenly everything and everyone in Austenland is suspect.
My Thoughts: Charlotte is a very likable heroine - successful in her online landscaping business, a protective mother, and just a little bit of a over-thinker (in an endearing way). For a long time, she felt her husband moving away from her, but no matter what she did to try to mend their marriage, nothing worked. I felt for her as the only person trying, while James had already checked out. When she finds herself single again, her self-consciousness about not knowing what to do with herself. She worries about what the divorce will do to her teenage daughter and her young son, and she tries to date (and fails miserably). Even in Austenland, where Charlotte can pretend that she's someone else, she realizes that she can't stop being the person she is.
So to distract herself from her usual worries, Charlotte begins to look at the guests and actors she's surrounded by in Austenland. These characters are sketched quickly but distinctly. The gentlemen/actors courting the three guests are her friendly pretend brother, Mr. Edmund Grey (Eddie), the affable Colonel Andrews, and the dark and broody Mr. Mallery. The guests: repeat visitor Miss Charming, the sickly Miss Gardenside (who Charlotte recognizes as a pop singer her daughter adores), and her nurse, Mrs. Hatchet. Then there is household staff, including Charlotte's lady's maid, Mary. And finally Mr and Mrs. Wattlesbrook, the owners of Austenland. With all these personalities before her, and with the parlor mysteries that Colonel Andrews devises, Charlotte has plenty keep her imagination going. That is, until one of the games takes a dark turn and the story becomes less about Charlotte on vacation and more about Charlotte solving a mystery.
Because of this mystery, Midnight in Austenland was a very different story than Austenland. If Austenland is chick lit with shades of Pride and Prejudice, Midnight in Austenland is a suspense-comedy reminiscent of Northanger Abbey. Charlotte's thought process is a funny thing, and she can't decide at first if she really felt a dead body or not. Was it part of the game? Was it her imagination? Or was it a man's corpse? There's no way to say for sure until she gets to the bottom of things, so she uses her clever mind to investigate. In the meantime, Charlotte finds herself extremely aware of the dark and mysterious Mr. Mallery (and the feeling appears mutual). This is a man so at home in Austenland, Charlotte can't imagine him anywhere else. If Mr. Mallery is the bad boy of the place, Eddie, her 'brother', is the nice guy. While Mallery exudes danger, Eddie is safety, even if Eddie seems to treat Charlotte's strange behavior as a joke or product of his 'sister's' overactive imagination.
This is a fun romp with some humor and suspense, and an interesting cast of characters. I enjoyed that Charlotte was not the typical chick lit heroine (twenty-something young working girl), but a older, divorced suburban mom with a brain she can't stop from churning. But it's also not a story with huge surprises. It's clear early on who is behind things and who Charlotte should be with. The mix of the Gothic mystery in the modern day makes the story humorous for some, possibly too farcical for others. For those who want a romance, the mystery leaves less room for the relationship to develop. This also felt like a really short book. Now, my nook has 189 pages for the eARC, while the publisher says the hardcover is 288. Maybe my ARC is missing some scenes added on later? I enjoyed what was there, but it all ended a little quickly for me.
Overall: Charming but not what I expected. Don't expect this to be your typical chick lit or to be the same type of book as Austenland was. This is more Northanger Abbey than it is Pride and Prejudice, but it was a nice little romp. I wished for a little more romance and a little less farce, but I also went into this book expecting something in the same vein as Austenland. If I hadn't had this expectation, I think I would have fared better. If I reread this book knowing what I now know, I'd like it more....more
I’ve been dying to read Who’s Afraid of Mr. Wolfe ever since Sabrina reviewed it at About Happy Books and gave it a very positive review. I’ve been dipping my toes into British Chick Lit more lately after Sarra Manning’s Unsticky just bowled me over this year, and Sabrina is my go-to girl on all that is Chick Lit-y (without being too Chick Lit-y). The only thing holding me back from hitting that buy button was the Ol’ TBR pile, but I eventually gave in (as I inevitably do).
The Premise: Ellie Somerset is a copywriter in a London advertising agency where the big bad Mr. Wolfe has just arrived to shake up and streamline the company. There isn’t a woman at the agency immune to Jack Wolfe’s broody Healthcliff aura, but Ellie is convinced that under it all, Mr. Wolfe doesn’t deserve all the fuss. She’s determined to stay above the fray but can’t seem to help using her sharp tongue to make little jabs at the boss. As for Jack, he doesn’t know why he’s noticing Ellie, who has a problem with authority and dresses like she’s still in college (nothing like the usual elegant women he dates). As time goes on these two people, each with their own relationship baggage find themselves drawn to one another despite their best efforts. Jack is in panic mode because Ellie brings up feelings he doesn’t want to deal with, but he can’t seem to stay away.
My Thoughts: Ellie is half of a two woman creative team. She brings the words and her partner, Leslie brings the art, and together they produce fresh new ideas. Unfortunately, if they think out of the box too much, they’re usually shut down by higher ups afraid of pushing the envelope. At home, Ellie’s life has similarly stagnated with her long time boyfriend, Sam, who is often too busy entertaining clients to spend time with her. The only unexpected element in Ellie’s life is her great aunt Edith, who lives life loud and to the fullest, and has eccentric habits like playing scrabble with dirty words. While Ellie has a great relationship with her aunt and with Leslie (who has become her best friend), all in all, Ellie is in a very “comfortable” but unexciting place in her love-life and work.
Then Jack Wolfe arrives and shakes up her life.
Jack is basically what you’d expect from his name – the wolf of the office. Everyone is abuzz when he arrives and in short order begins to cut out all the laziness and uninspired thinking that kept the agency back. His tall frame, dark broody looks and Yorkshire accent paired with his confidence has colleagues swooning and calling him Heathcliff. Ellie is the only hold out. She’s convinced the culling will soon stop the silliness over “a guy who looks like a six-foot-three, permanently scowling, sharp-nosed wolf.” When they interact, it’s a battle of wills as Ellie feels compelled to take Jack down a peg, and Jack enjoys deliberately unsettling her. Jack recognizes Ellie and Leslie’s ideas as good ones and challenges Ellie to do more for her career, but Ellie only ends up feeling defensive and picked on. Their attraction (which both try to deny) only muddies the waters further.
Even though this plot is one that is fairly typical (contentious coworkers who really are attracted to one another, the gay best friend, an obstacle to their happiness), it was still so delicious to read and see how Ellie and Jack would succumb to the inevitable. While I wasn’t surprised by how the story unfurled (for example, I fully expected Ellie’s boyfriend to go and was not surprised when he did – I doubt this is a spoiler to anyone), it managed to feel unpredictable and nuanced. Osmond added just the right touch of emotion and seriousness to the story to keep it from being just another frothy read, and I liked that while this was mostly a heady, romantic story, there’s pain and loss in here. I frowned over Jack’s track record, or how he acted when things got more serious than he could handle, but the story peels back his granite facade to reveal what is really going on there. So Ellie and Jack both have their emotional moments that trigger erratic behavior, but I understood why, and got to see what happened as a result.
I loved the glimpses into what made the characters tick, and boy, I could really feel their emotions and got caught up in their every drama. I loved Ellie’s quick and sharp sense of humor and her kindness and love for her aunt. And Jack’s presence just stole the show any time he was on the page. I think if I understood exactly what a Yorkshire accent was, I would be even more under his spell (I used youtube to figure it out, but I don’t think it’s the same). For North & South fans, if you need an excuse to read this one, the author gives Richard Armitage a nod: “because without his cravat and scowls there would be no Jack Wolfe”. Just sayin’.
I also quite liked the colorful secondary characters of Who’s Afraid of Mr. Wolfe, particularly great-aunt Edith and her naughty Scrabble. I got a chuckle at imagining this diminutive lady doing what she wanted and looking how she wanted. I think she got a kick out of surprising her niece, just a little. Leslie, the once intimidating, edgy artist that’s now Ellie’s best friend and creative partner was another character I enjoyed. Leslie and Ellie’s easy banter, their perfectly in sync partnership, and the sweet way Leslie acts around the girl that is her One made their friendship a lovely one to read.
Overall: Despite the 490 pages, I think I read this one in about a night and a day. I was looking for a feel good romance and this delivered just that. The plot is familiar – two contentious coworkers falling for each other despite themselves, but Who’s Afraid of Mr. Wolfe expands it so it feels like the book equivalent of the extended version with deleted scenes. So if you like the Alpha male of the office falling for the plucky young up-and-comer storyline, this book delivers a generous serving peppered with humor and emotion....more
I’ve been interested in reading Wolves, Boys, & Other Things That Might Kill Me ever since I read Holly’s review where she said her “expectations held up from the first page until the last”. Yup, it was grabbed on an impulse at a bookstore when I was in Southern New England, and I settled into it quite happily when I got home.
The Premise: When the wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National park, it was to put the park’s ecosystem back into balance, but for the locals that live around the park, many of them farmers with herds of animals to keep safe, the wolves are a threat to their livelihood. KJ grew up in West End, Montana, and has always been the gawky girl who kept her head down, but lately that has changed. KJ is suddenly getting noticed – both for growing out of her awkwardness, and for speaking out about the wolves. Everyone has an opinion on this hot topic, and not everyone is happy with KJ’s involvement. Even KJ’s taciturn father, and Virgil, the boy she has a crush on, don’t always see eye to eye with her on the wolves. The more KJ tries to make things better, the worse it seems to get.
My Thoughts:Wolves, Boys & Other Things That Might Kill Me is a YA that stands out from the pack. Yes, it is a coming of age story like a lot of YA out there is, but I felt like there was a different air to KJ’s character than your typical teen-aged girl. Maybe it was her upbringing in Montana with a gruff and outdoorsy father, or maybe it’s the many embarrassing experiences already under her belt, but in this story KJ has a quiet assurance that she never seems to lose. For example, when she comes back to school her junior year looking less “like a Peppermint Patty” and gets comments from friends, she may be perturbed at first, but soon moves on. It was so nice NOT to read about a teen girl who sweats over what other people think or want. That’s not to say that KJ doesn’t come across as the young and inexperienced kid she is – she does that plenty. It’s just that being self-sufficient and following her own council are not things she needs to work on.
Instead, for KJ, growing up involves discovering her passion for the wolves reintroduced into Yellowstone. It’s not really KJ’s intention to be associated with the debate, but she has no choice on the matter when she’s assigned to write a column about the wolves for her school’s newspaper. Her innocuous article that doesn’t condemn the wolves’ presence (and may instead romanticize them), creates a stir from the local farmers. As more livestock is killed, the anger and frustration increases. Wolf-friendly overtures are met with violence. It’s easy to paint the farmers as narrow-minded hicks, and that’s something KJ thinks at first, but the more she gets involved the more she has to look at the story from the other side and understand where the anger is coming from. KJ’s straight-talking voice captures the complexity of the whole situation. A cast of characters from Virgil’s wolf researcher mother to the class jerk whose family owns a farm bring perspectives from all sides. There’s even some friction between KJ, Virgil, and her own father over the whole thing
Wolves, Boys & Other Things That Might Kill Me doesn’t have pat and perfect answers. It simply shows the muddle that is human life. Even KJ’s romance with the zen new kid, is not immune. It was nice to see KJ and Virgil’s relationship blossom amongst the wolves and controversy, but they’re also two kids in high school. Like all things in this story, their interactions manage to be special and yet grounded in the real world.
I also have to make a mention of the special relationship KJ had with her dad. I loved all the shades of their relationship. He’s tough on KJ and is difficult to have a conversation with (KJ has learned to read her father based on body language and the occasional monosyllable), but he’s also protective. I adored their unique partnership, and for me one of the strongest father-daughter relationships I’ve read in YA. I actually wished there were more scenes with them alone.
I’d say that this book was one that quietly laid out the situation and left it at that. Much like KJ, it has no big flashy agenda, it just tells it like it is. I liked this, but it is a subtle sort of strength, not one that makes a obvious impression. For that reason, I feel that not everyone is going to be affected by this story. The other minor criticism I had is that KJ read much younger to me than sixteen. I had her pegged as a pretty independent twelve or thirteen until I was corrected by the jacket copy which says she’s a junior in high school. I think I would have liked this book a tad more if KJ felt more like a sixteen-year old to me while I read it.
Overall: You know the saying “still waters run deep”? I feel like if you take that and apply it to a teenage girl, you have KJ, and that is funneled into the story told in Wolves, Boys, & Other Things That Might Kill Me. I was charmed by the unassuming style of this one, and I liked that it told a self-discovery story that felt real and nuanced. But I also feel that its strength is subtle, easing back from rather than lingering on the dramatic and emotional scenes.
This review will have minor spoilers for the first book, so iOriginally posted on my book blog (wordpress / livejournal)
Review of eARC from Netgalley.
This review will have minor spoilers for the first book, so if you are interested in this series, I suggest you start there.
The Premise: A few years have passed since Finnikin lead his people back to their beloved homeland, but Lumatere is still struggling with the horrors its people have seen.The new King and Queen focus on rebuilding and starting afresh, but have a desire for justice still burning in their hearts. They know that the ones behind their country’s ‘five days of the unspeakable’ and the ten year aftermath is the kingdom of Chayrn. So when Charynite refugees and resistence fighters say they have a plan to kill their despot king, Lumatere sends in one of their favorite sons – Froi, to do the job. It seems that Lumatere is not the only country with a curse, for Charyn is suffering its own form of hell which may or may not be broken by its loony princess Quintana. Not quite understanding this curse, but seeing an opportunity, Froi impersonates a Last Born and infiltrates the palace. In the meantime, there is unease in Lumatere as those closest to the border, the Monts, deal with a slow and steady influx of refugees from Charyn and must battle with their own latent hatreds.
My Thoughts: In this second book, things are somewhat different from the first. It’s much longer (a little over 600 pages on my nook) and wider in its scope.The main character is Froi, but the book constantly switches its focus from him back to individual Lumaterians in Lumatere – mostly Lady Beatrice, Lucian of the Monts, and Phaedra, Lucian’s Charynite wife. This is a book that’s about Charyn and Lumatere.
But since the book begins with Froi, I’ll start with him. His character is that of a unlikeable boy-thief rescued from the streets who has now grown into an accomplished young man. He still has trouble with his temper, but he is loved by those who raised him and eager to prove his loyalty to his Queen. When the opportunity to kill the Charyn king who was behind Lumatere’s years of grief presents itself, Froi is the one to go.
It’s from Froi’s point of view that we are introduced to Charyn, and it is a dark place. The people are desperate, the king is a tyrant, and it has a recent history of a terrible genocide. When I read Finnikin of the Rock, rape was alluded to, but not directly shown. Here, rape and sex with questionable consent is a common trope. In order to alleviate Charyn’s curse, princess Quintana, an obviously mentally ill girl must have sex with the last born sons of Charyn. I was pretty disturbed by this. I continued to be disturbed when I read the description of Quintana’s lack of care (unwashed hair, often wearing the same dress), coupled with her childlike airs and the voices she hears. The prologue described in heartbreaking detail her penchant for disconnecting during the sex act by making shadow figures on the wall. To warn those who avoid rape in the books they read: Quintana is raped in a scene that squicked the heck out of me, and she is of course, hated and called a whore by her whole country. I don’t think I can begin to describe the way reading this affected me.
While Quintana is introduced as a character who is abused, she is also clearly set up to be Froi’s love interest. This is a very difficult thing to achieve, because on her side, we have an abused, mad child, and on his side, Froi is the person who in the last book tried to rape Evanjalin/Isaboe. Part of me has a very, very hard time rooting for Froi after this act, but this story does not try to rewrite history or deny that Froi is a dark character. He is a person tainted with the darkness of his past, and in many ways his darkness makes him a match for Quintana’s own demons. But it was very difficult for me to connect personally to these characters and their romance. I think that while I rooted for their happiness, I could never really love them. They were too alien for me. Quintana is too shifting in her moods and manner, and Froi too self-serving. I did believe Froi’s attraction to a dirty, mad princess with dark calling to dark, but on a logical, not visceral level.
I also think that the romance was difficult to get lost in with all that happens in the story. This was an incredibly heavy book. A sense of either shocked horror or utter despair pervaded my whole experience. As the story continued, I hoped for better things to come, but one calamity seemed to follow the next. When innocents are not being killed in Charyn, we’re treated to the problems in Lumatere and its border. This includes the drama of unfinished business between Beatrice and Trevanion, who are letting their pain stand between them, and the constant friction between Monts and the Charyn refugees. Lucian of the Monts struggle as a leader and husband through an arranged marriage was particularly compelling and at times heartbreaking. I think that there is room here for things to eventually turn out right, but as a reader I felt the balance of this installment of the story slide more towards hopeless over hopeful. When things started on an upward swing, it wasn’t for long. And if you are someone sensitive to rape, this book is a hard hitter. While Quintana’s rape is on the page, she is not the only one. There are at least 4 other characters that have had this experience, and it is common for the females to be labeled as sluts and whores. This left me full of anger, which I think is the point. I don’t think that Marchetta wants to keep the reader cocooned from the horrors of war and strife, but I was pretty worn out emotionally. There ARE bright spots in the story (like when Finnikin and Isaboe make cameo appearances), but overall, I found this to be a grim book.
As with Finnikin of the Rock there are revelations in Froi of the Exiles which are alluded to by prophecy. Again, these secrets weren’t too difficult to guess, but I did have fun being right. The truth of what brought about Charyn’s curse wasn’t as much fun though. More horror and needless killing by the corrupt, basically. It got to the point where I was numb and unsurprised by the evil of those behind the curse, but it was disheartening to read about the past pains of the characters who lived through Charyn’s dark history.
OK, so I’ve talked a lot about how dark this book was. Is this a dealbreaker? I think it depends on the reader. Froi of the Exiles ends on an unfinished note, but I am glad I have a year to recover for the next one. I do plan to read it. I wouldn’t have found this story so dark if I wasn’t so caught up by these people and their struggles, and I really want to see all of this end in something good. I’m not eager to reread this book, but I am eager for a happy ending. I hope to see one in the next book, Quintana of Charyn.
Froi of the Exiles comes out in March 2012
Overall: Compelling but not for the faint of heart. Froi of the Exiles continues where Finnikin of the Rock left off but brings more heartache and strife to the tale, making this story more painful than enjoyable. It widens the scope to focus not just Froi and the kingdom of Charyn, but also on multiple characters still coping in Lumatere. Now the story is no longer standalone and the darkness will hopefully make way for better times, but we’ll have to wait for the next installment to get to them....more
This is a review of an eARC obtained through GalleyGrab.
The Premise: When Isobel’s mother meets a man on the internet and marries him three months later, “appalled” doesn’t begin to cover Isobel’s reaction, especially since it means uprooting in her senior year and moving into his creepy estate. Isobel misses her friends, finds her step-father Richard smarmy, and her gorgeous new step-brother Nathaniel hates her. Then weird things start to happen and Isobel begins to think she has bigger problems: either her she’s seeing ghosts, or she’s starting to show signs of the schizophrenia that runs in her family.
My Thoughts: Isobel is a grumpy teen narrator, who has nothing but snark when it comes to describing the adults around her. Next to her mother’s sunny, somewhat oblivious outlook on her new life, Isobel is a dark little cloud, and she recounts her mom’s new marriage and their move to Nairne Island with an amusing lack of enthusiasm. I understand that can be a very fine line between sounding like a typical teen questioning authority and sounding like a snotty brat, but for me, Isobel comes down on the right side of that line because of the adults around her. The biggest red flag is one that we get practically on page one: Richard (Isobel’s stepfather) had a wife and daughter who died seven months ago. Isobel’s mother seems willing to overlook this, focusing more on her new marriage as a chance to remake herself with little thought to Isobel’s feelings on the matter.
Yes, this is a book with Bad Parents. On one hand, this trope works here because without Isobel’s parents’ choices, there would be no story. We wouldn’t read about Isobel’s trials and tribulations on Nairne, including a stint trying to fit in at school with the popular crowd, or her run-ins with Nathaniel, the other teen in the same dysfunctional boat. On the other hand, their characterization was very convenient to the story. Isobel’s mother was incredibly unaware while Richard was just so self-serving. While I wished for some more depth to Isobel’s mother and step-father, at least their interactions with Isobel rang true, especially between Isobel and her mother.
Isobel and her time adjusting to her new life felt realistic, and the mystery/ psychological thriller aspect of the story was seamlessly interwoven into it. At one moment, Isobel may be calling her best friend to rant about her new life, the next she is having a strange experience that she can’t explain. Things begin to appear in her room which her mother and step-father insist are put there by Isobel herself. She doesn’t know if they are right and begins to investigate the house while fearing for her own sanity. This felt like a modern version of a Gothic thriller complete with the haunted mansion and secrets in the attic, but it was a very simple story without any huge, surprising twists in the plot. I think the biggest strength was the interesting mix of the Gothic, psychological element with the modern teenage voice.
The problem I think was that the story didn’t feel like it went far enough. The beginning was very promising, but by the end I wanted more to Isobel’s adjustment to school and her relationship with her step-brother, and at the same time, I wanted more on the mystery of what Isobel was seeing in her new house. These two plots began with great promise but took a very safe and ultimately very bland route. I never really feared that Isobel was sinking into madness, and there was no real mystery of who the bad guy was. Nor is there any emotional depth in the secondary characters. I enjoyed Isobel’s growth in dealing with her genetic predisposition, but I lamented the way in which Nathaniel went from a brooder with issues to becoming a rather generic character. He lost his personality somewhere along the way. If this story was deeper and darker, I think it would have pushed it to a higher level.
Overall: A really quick, entertaining read. I found the narrator amusing and I liked the mix of contemporary YA with Gothic thriller in Unraveling Isobel, but I think it loses something by not pushing the envelope more. It was fine brain candy for an afternoon....more
The Premise: When Finnikin was a boy, he lived an idyllic life in the kingdom of LumatereOriginally reviewed on my book blog (wordpress / livejournal)
The Premise: When Finnikin was a boy, he lived an idyllic life in the kingdom of Lumatere. His father Trevanion, was heroic Captain of the King’s Guard. His childhood friends were Prince Balthazar and the prince”s cousin, Lucian of the Monts, and they dreamed of being heroes and ruling the kingdom. Then ‘the five days of the unspeakable’ happened. The royal family is murdered, Balthazar is missing, a false king is placed on the throne, and Travanion is imprisoned. A curse hangs over Lumatere, closing it off from the outside world. Half the kingdom is trapped inside a dark and impregnable force. The people who escaped before the kingdom was sealed are miserable refugees left wandering in lands where they are not welcome. Ten years later, Finnikin is apprentice to Sir Toby, who was once advisor to the murdered king and now looks out for the Lumaterian refugees. One day, they get a message to travel to a remote temple. There they find the novice Evanjalin who claims she walks the sleep of the people still living within Lumatere and who may be the key to bringing Lumaterians back home.
My Thoughts: There was a little bit of a learning curve getting into the story (the prologue took me a little time to understand), but by the time I reached the ‘five days of the unspeakable’, I was up to speed. Present time is now ten years after Lumatere was shut closed, and Finnikin, Sir Topher, and Evanjalin find themselves traversing the neighboring kingdoms as they progress in their desire to help Lumatere. The world building is fairly generic (mostly semi-Medieval societies with the exception of the tribal Yuts) with religions and magic that isn’t explored with great detail. What sets Finnikin of the Rock apart was its unique take on displaced people.
With such a serious message, Finnikin of the Rock has some aspects that are darker than your typical YA – rape, torture and suffering are things alluded to, if not directly described. The story tended to hold back from going to far on most things, but the plight of the refugees was very affecting. In particular, there is a pretty surreal scene within a fever camp that is mind-numbing. There is also an attempted rape which left me cold. Do not let this dissuade you from reading the book! I tend to avoid these things and didn’t find this book as disturbing as I think it could have been. And on the flip side there is a lot of love and hope in this story too. Finnikin was raised by his father and his men when his mother died in childbirth, and the love and protectiveness that the hardened killers feel for this boy as he grows into a man is a reoccurring theme. Finnikin is a product of their hope for Lumatere – outwardly cynical because of what he’s seen, he is still soft when it comes to what he loves. It takes some time to see his character, but it is one of the stronger ones in the book.
Evanjalin on the other hand, is not always so easy to read. Secretive but sharp, she feels no remorse in holding back or bending the truth to “do what needs to be done”. What she hides eventually comes to light, but while I understood the need to keep some things a secret, by the time I was halfway through the book I was tired of her hiding things after there didn’t seem to be a reason to. I found her strong for keeping her own counsel, but on the other hand, too much of it made her overly secretive when she didn’t always need to be.
There was a similar problem with the romance being more complicated than was necessary. I could allow for a little less getting-to-know-each-other time than I’d like because the romance was rather sweet, but I couldn’t overlook the number of unnecessary roadblocks. There were hang ups and hesitations when just talking to one another would have solved the issue. It is disappointing not to see deeper communication because it took away from a romance that was thisclose to being very good.
Another problem I had was that the story seemed to propel forward during the traveling portions so the characters would be in a new country or town without a sense of how far they traveled or how long it took. I understand that this was to condense the story to the important parts, but the transitions felt too sudden.
Maybe I’m sounding very critical of this story, but I did enjoy it. Following the fulfillment of the curse/premonition and the struggle of the characters was compelling stuff. There’s something about Marchetta’s writing that makes me eager to read more. I want to see what happens in the next installment, Froi of the Exiles, which will follow the adventures of a character introduced in this book, and I do plan to read more Marchetta.
Overall: This is a fast moving young adult fantasy with a romantic subplot that I liked, but hesitate to recommend it to others because of its sometimes abrupt transitions and over complication of certain parts of the story. If there was time spent on developing intimacy between characters I would have been a lot happier. I did end up enjoying the serious Finnikin and self-assertive Evanjalin, loved the way Finnikin’s father loved his son, and was invested in Lumatere’s survival. Your mileage may vary....more
After the first two installments of The Inheritance Trilogy, The Kingdom of the Gods wasOriginally reviewed on my book blog (wordpress / livejournal)
After the first two installments of The Inheritance Trilogy, The Kingdom of the Gods was one of my most anticipated reads this year. I requested (and received!) a copy for review from the publisher.
Unlike the previous book, I don’t think you can read The Kingdom of the Gods without reading the first two books in this trilogy. There’s a lot that happens in the earlier books that has an impact on the characters, so if you haven’t read them, I recommend you skip back to a review of the first book.
The Premise: Sieh is the oldest of the godlings – the first child created by the Three. As such, he has loved his parents as gods love one another, but knows that he could never be part of what they have. More and more, he’s felt a loneliness which he cannot fill but tries to keep hidden, and one day during one of these episodes, Sieh returns to Sky, his prison for many centuries. Here he encounters two Arameri children in the now-empty spaces within the palace. This innocuous meeting turns out to have surprising consequences, particularly within Sieh. This is not well timed nor well-advised. The children, twins Shahar and Dekarta, are the heirs to the Arameri throne and not the best playmates for a god. Meanwhile, an enemy Sieh never knew he had is gaining power when Sieh may be at his weakest and most vulnerable.
My Thoughts: Sieh was a character first introduced in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, book one of this trilogy. In that book, Sieh has an innocence that comes from his being seen through the eyes of the narrator, Yiene who has motherly instincts towards the godling. Now, with Sieh as narrator, we get a very different perspective.
Sieh is the embodiment of the abstract concept of Childhood. For a being that is hundreds of thousands of years old, Sieh’s very essence is to be immature, and he does act like it. He considers himself a trickster, but his tricks are the petty pranks of a thoughtless child with a horrifying amount of power. Sieh can only really focus on what’s happening to himself or what is in front of him. He doesn’t pay attention to anything outside that limited view, and so, has a black-and-white view of what happened between his parents. In Sieh’s mind, Itempas was wrong and Sieh cannot forgive him.
This at least the mindset where Sieh starts the narrative with. As the book continues, it becomes apparent that Sieh is no longer what he once was. He has begun to change.
The change begins with Sieh and his unique relationship with the Arameri heirs, Dekarta and Shahar. I looked at the back blurb for this book, and it suggests that Shahar is the main character alongside Sieh. This is sort of misleading. Sieh has relationships with Shahar and her brother Dekarta. It all begins when Sieh meets the two when they are children, makes a profound impression on them both, and agrees to see them again in a year and to grant one wish. That wish is what begins Sieh’s transformation.
When I look at this trilogy as a whole, they’re rather disjointed by the change in viewpoints in every book, but there is a cohesion because each installment does influence the next one. With three narrators telling different parts of the same story, each one of the books in the trilogy has a different feel. This installment feels to me the most character driven. It’s all about Sieh’s growing pains. The current looming disaster that threatens to end the world is part of the story, and it does concern Sieh, but it feels very secondary to the story compared to Sieh’s own issues. Maybe that is intentional – as Sieh grows and matures, the story focuses more on the fate of the world, but before that, it’s all about Sieh.
What’s clever is that Sieh’s problem brings a lot of introspection and interaction with other Gods and godlings. This means a lot of new details about Gods, godlings, demons, and the War of the Gods. I especially liked the worldbuilding here, and I liked that this was a story about the Gods and their evolution. It felt like what began with the death of Enefa was getting a proper resolution in this installment because Sieh has a unique perspective of his parents. I was also happy to get answers to questions I had about characters in earlier books, like what happened to the man who was once Nahadoth’s vessel, and what became of the daughter of Itempas and Oree Soth.
I liked Sieh a lot as the narrator. He doesn’t give off the same grounded feel that the last two narrators did (he’s more of a brat, really), but I liked that we got an unvarnished view and saw Sieh with all his many imperfections. I could see him rubbing other readers the wrong way, especially since he is old enough to know better, but I thought that his selfishness was in character. He is also a god and thinks and acts like a god, even if he looks like he’s eight or eighteen or eighty. He’s more flexible in his ideas about sex for instance (incest is not a problem for gods). There were times that his actions were alien to me, but I empathized with him when things began to go south. I had a suspicion about who Sieh’s enemy was early on in the book (I was right too), and it made me very anxious on his behalf. I lay awake in bed, thinking of the possibilities. There were so many.
I am not sure how to describe what didn’t quite work for me in this story. I think the problem was how the story was laid out – focusing on Sieh for the majority of the book, and then in the last third, on the possible destruction of the world. There was something that felt unbalanced in this, and I would have liked more time spent on the secondary plot. As part of this, the relationships with Dekarta and Shahar felt like it could have been further developed than it actually was. I felt that the love and complicated feelings that Sieh had for his three parents clearly, but I did not feel like I had enough time with Dekarta, and Shahar to be convinced of their bond. Lastly, I found the climax very abrupt. The real ending seemed to happen in a epilogue-ish bit, and I think this just added to my general feeling of unbalance. Even though this book was long, I would have liked a longer ending, if that makes any sense.
Overall: This is just a great series and I’m really happy I read it. Gods as central characters, influencing and wrecking havoc on a world and its people – it’s fascinating stuff. I loved visiting this world and the cast of unique characters, and I’m a little sad that this is the last book. This installment was a little more divided in its focus than I would have liked, but it does satisfactorily conclude the series and tied up loose ends.
Look out for a short story that answered that last lingering question I had after The Broken Kingdoms, and an excerpt from the beginning of Jemisin’s new series....more
Emily and her Little Pink Notesrecently called this book "LIKE CRACK". Needing some sort of book crack, I checked out the Goodreads reviews and discovered a staggering number (over 1270 as of today) 5 stars. Pretty great for a self-published effort. Looking more closely I also saw a lot of criticisms for the story - cheesy characters, a man-whorish love interest, a lot of ridiculous drama. Despite this, people admitted feeling addicted to turning the pages - and hating themselves afterward.
The Premise: Abby Abernathy is a freshman at Eastern University, where her plan is to stay off the radar and be a upstanding college student. Only her best friend America, another transplant from Abby's hometown, knows who Abby is, and that's how Abby wants it. Everything is going according to plan until Abby is noticed by the legendary Travis Maddox: genius, tattooed bad boy, fight champion, and the biggest player on campus. Abby takes one look at Travis and is not impressed. She's not going to be another one of his conquests. Unfortunately, her lack of interest only makes Travis more intrigued. Somehow the two become friends, but things get complicated when Travis and Abby make a bet. If Abby loses she has to live with Travis for a month, and if he loses, he will be abstinent for that amount of time. After this wager, the drama truly begins.
My Thoughts: OK, I understand those reviews in Goodreads now. The book begins with Abby and Travis meeting in a dramatic way that sets the scene for the rest of the story. Abby is a spectator at an underground fight with America and America's boyfriend, Shep. In the chaos, she's pushed forward toward the fighters and her pink cashmere sweater is sprayed with blood as Travis' opponent is KO'ed. As the crowd continues to surge around her, Abby comes face to face with Travis:
"A pair of heavy black boots stepped in front of me, diverting my attention to the floor. My eyes traveled upward; jeans splattered with blood, a set of finely-chiseled abs, a bare, tattooed chest drenched in sweat, and finally a pair of warm, brown eyes. I was shoved from behind, and Travis caught me by the arm before I fell forward. "Hey! Back up off her!" Travis frowned, shoving anyone who came near me. His stern expression melted into a smile at the sight of my shirt, and then he dabbed my face with a towel. "Sorry about that, Pigeon." Adam patted the back of Travis' head. "C'mon, Mad Dog! You have some dough waitin' on ya!" His eyes didn't stray from mine. "It's a damn shame about the sweater. It looks good on you." In the next moment he was engulfed by fans, disappearing the way he came.
The next time Abby sees Travis, it's at the cafeteria where he's:
"[...] followed by two voluptuous bottle-blondes wearing Sigma Kappa tees. One of them sat on Travis' lap, the other sat beside him, pawing at his shirt". "I think I just threw up a little bit in my mouth," America muttered. The blonde on Travis' lap turned to America. "I heard that, skank." America grabbed her roll and threw it down the table, narrowly missing the girl's face. Before the girl could say another word, Travis let his knees give way, sending her tumbling to the floor. "Ouch!" she squealed, looking up at Travis. "America's a friend of mine. You need to find another lap, Lex." "Travis!" she whined, scrambling to her feet. Travis turned his attention to his plate, ignoring her. She looked at her sister and huffed, and then they left, hand in hand. Travis winked at America, and as if nothing had happened, shovelled another bite into his mouth.
I think those snippets give a pretty good idea of what the writing is like. On one hand I'm scoffing at the dialog and the actions of the characters (and the nickname 'Pigeon'), on the other, the drama of what's going on is riveting. Reading this feels like the literary version of watching a Jerry Springer show. I'm fascinated in a sick way. It's like I'm doing anthropological research on a culture where strange double standards and inconsistencies abound. Travis comes off as some sort of stud who disrespects most woman (because it's easy to get into their pants), and respects a select few (basically America and Abby). Abby is affronted by Travis, but he explains that it's not like he's tricking anyone before they "spread eagle on my couch", so this makes it somehow excusable. America sneers quite a bit at the girls who throw themselves at Travis, but not really at Travis. On one page she warns Abby to keep away, but on the next says they should be together.
Abby insists that she and Travis will never get together, but to the reader, it's inevitable. It doesn't happen quickly of course, and there's plenty of drama along the way. The story finds some ways to conveniently push the two characters together, then in similarly, pulls them apart again. Abby continues to insist that she and Travis are just friends even after the bet where has to sleep in Travis' bed (necessary because there's no where else to sleep, of course). Abby begins to date a clean cut guy who doesn't like her arrangement with Travis, but a bet is a bet! In the meantime Travis stops sleeping around and gets very moody, but Abby has no idea why. Rumors fly and so does Travis' temper. He beats up a guy for teasing Abby and there are no consequences.
If the story so far sounds on the crazy side, that's just the tip of the iceberg. Abby and Travis' relationship is a trainwreck. Travis proves to be manipulative, stalkerish, and codependent. Abby goes back and forth between actually liking this and running away, which makes Travis flip out. Then there is the out of right field subplot of Abby's past that involves Luck, Las Vegas, and The Mob. Dude. I could not look away.
Overall: Serious OMGWTFBBQ territory. I feel the same sense of shame in reading this in it's entirety as I feel in watching episodes of Rock of Love or eating a quart of ice cream by myself¹. It's bad and I know I should stop, but I can't. I think it only took me three hours to read. When I think about how much is wrong with this story, from the dysfunctional relationship and cheesy dialog to the poor portrayal of women, I feel regret that I paid money to read it. On the other hand, the drama was so compelling. Don't blame me if you read this and can't look yourself in the mirror afterward.
¹Just as an example. I haven't actually eaten a pint of ice cream by myself. Nor do I watch Rock of Love, really. But same principle....more
**spoiler alert** Eh. Not as tightly written as THE MAN SHE LOVES TO HATE. The needing a woman to pretend to be a wife for a week was a bit far fetche**spoiler alert** Eh. Not as tightly written as THE MAN SHE LOVES TO HATE. The needing a woman to pretend to be a wife for a week was a bit far fetched, but better done than I expected, even though I still don't see a woman in this day and age leaving her job to pretend to be a man's wife for a week in Hong Kong, after just meeting him (and not telling anyone she's doing this either!). It was the way Hallie was so impressed by the size of Nick Cooper's feet that bugged me. A big deal is made over this with her even pressing her hands on his shoes to see if he really fills them out. A little eye rolly. THEN we later find out [spoilers ahead!!!!]...
...that Hallie is a virgin. Eh? What virgin is obsessed with a man's equipment like this? Just.. strange.
The romance itself didn't really work for me. There was no real conflict, no real character building. Hallie was your cliched only sister with 4 protective brothers; red haired; handful. Nick was your cliched good looking successful businessman. Then suddenly, they're in love.
The Premise: Katherine Roberts is a university lecturer going to an annual Jane Austen weekend at PurleyReview originally posted on my book blog here
The Premise: Katherine Roberts is a university lecturer going to an annual Jane Austen weekend at Purley Hall, Hampshire. For the past three years she's been invited to talk, but this year, she'll also be meeting romance novelist Lorna Warwick for the first time. Lorna and Katherine have been exchanging letters for a while and have developed a close friendship through their mail. What Katherine doesn't know is that Lorna Warwick is really a man named Warwick Lawton. Warwick never expected a fan letter from Katherine to turn into such a great friendship, and from his side, love. He's panicked that when Katherine finds out he's Lorna, all that they share will be destroyed. The Jane Austen weekend is Warwick's chance to meet Katherine and tell her the truth, but when he sees her, he may not be able to go through with it.
Going to the same conference is Robyn Love, a Austen fan whose boyfriend Jace is completely insensitive to her and her interests. Her hope for a nice weekend by herself is thwarted when Jace invites himself to her trip at the last minute, and then expects her to rearrange her plans to spend time with him. When Robyn meets Dan at Purley Hall, it brings her incompatibility with Jace into sharp contrast. While Jace has completely different interests and can't stand Jane Austen, Dan shares her love of animals and the country, and he's willing to read Jane Austen. On the other hand, Jace wants to take their relationship to the next level and has been with her through a bad time. It all leaves Robyn very confused about what she should do.
My Thoughts: This is a story told in the third person, but it is a very intimate, confiding type of third person, often revealing the streams of consciousness of each of the characters as the story goes along. The three people that the narrative centers around are Katherine, Warwick, and Robyn. Katherine is a university lecturer tired of lying boyfriends (one caught with an ex-girlfriend, one caught with a wife!), Warwick is a popular romance novelist afraid of telling the world his real identity, and Robyn is a sweet Austen fan stuck in a bad relationship.
This is the first in a series called the Austen Addicts, and for good reason. When the book begins we are allowed a brief glimpse of Katherine, Warwick, and Robyn's everyday lives, and then the setting changes to Purley Hall, where their three fates converge. Their reason for being there is of course the Jane Austen weekend, so a lot of the book is about the conference, which includes the lecture Katherine gives, the various events they go to, and general conference goings on. It is all Jane Austen, all the time! I enjoyed this to some extent. The conference was a good way to show the characters meeting and getting to know each other over a shared passion for Austen and mutual dislike over the caustic Mrs. Soames. I was also really interested in some of the creative ways that Austen was celebrated at the conference.
The issue was that after a while, I wanted the story to be more about the individual characters instead of going into every minute detail of the conference. It got a little tedious, especially since, on top of the conference, the characters muse about Jane Austen whenever they can. At first it was cute when Robyn packed her Jane Austen books and went into detail about the state of each of her reading copies (of course she has more than one copy of each book), and when Katherine thinks about how her period drama DVDs got more use after a bad break-up. But over the course of the book, when Austen was referred to in every other page, and some small part of their life would begin a long internal monologue on Jane Austen, it felt like repetitive "filler", and I started to feel irritation when the narrative went on another Austen-related rumination.
Warwick, Robyn, and Katherine were all likable characters, but I wanted to know more about them, and less about Jane Austen. The bones were there for what could have been an interesting set of characters: Warwick's reasons for hiding the truth of his identity to Katherine, Katherine's reasons for being wary of lying men, and Robyn's conflict between what she knows (Jace), and what she wants (Dan). The story maintains a sort of light touch when it came to going into these issues. I think of all the three characters, Robyn's story is what went the furthest, but it still felt like it could have gone a lot further. I felt like the narrative was playing things safe by focusing on Austen and the conference so much and avoiding character development.
Overall: This felt like one for the Austen-super-fans, because it's a love letter to Jane Austen. The Austen conference in a beautiful country house and characters who can't help thinking about their favorite author is great for a Janeite who wants to live vicariously, but as a chick lit novel, A Weekend with Mr. Darcy isn't very substantial. The plot and character development were on the simple side of the spectrum. Once the charming setting wore off, I found the story flat....more
I was sold on this one by the promise of fantasy with a touch of romance in it. AlsoReview originally posted on my book blog (wordpress / livejournal)
I was sold on this one by the promise of fantasy with a touch of romance in it. Also – look at the cover. A guy. A girl. A griffin. It looks a little like a video game poster, but it’s pretty. Sadly, my expectations of romance and a swash-buckling adventure fantasy were not met with this one. Let me tell you why.
The Premise: Captain Vidarian Rulorat, scion of a well-known sea-faring family, is asked by the fire priestesses to transport one of their member, Ariadel Windhammer, to a water temple far away. A trip through dangerous waters is made more perilous by those pursuing Ariadel for what she knows. Vidarian would love nothing more than to decline and be on his way, but because of an agreement his grandfather years ago, Vidarian is forced to take Ariadel where the priestesses want. Of course, things do not go well, and before long Vidarian finds himself embroiled in world-changing events. Events that involve the Goddesses and their elements and could change the way magic in the world works.
My Thoughts: This book begins in fairly typical fantasy style with the start of a journey. Vidarian meets with fire priestess Endera, who offers him two sun emeralds, nearly priceless stones, in return for passage for someone on his ship. Vidarian would be set for life, but he says no when he realizes the passenger would be a fire priestess. That’s when Endera reminds him of the pact his grandfather made many years ago, and Vidarian has no choice but adhere to it.
Sun emeralds. Fire priestesses. Perilous sea journeys. All by maybe page five. Great in theory, but unfortunately, I was already confused. I found it difficult to grasp Endera’s status amongst the priesthood (leader? spokeswoman?), why Vidarian would say no to allowing a fire priestess on his ship (superstition? politics? actual danger?), or what exactly his grandfather’s pact was (????). And I’m afraid those details aren’t really directly explained ever (unless I count the back blurb which explains more than the story did). This is a repeated pattern for the rest of the book. Maybe I missed it or I’m supposed to make some educated guesses (which I did), but the story just swooped off to the next scene, making my questions moot.
Without much transition, the story moves to the sea, and Ariadel is on the ship. I was hoping that during the time at sea we would get to know Ariadel and Vidarian’s characters, but there is no time for any character development. Weeks go by in a blink and then the ship is attacked. Vidarian and Ariadel are forced to travel by land. There were a lot of details about Vidarian’s ship and crew that we learn along the way, but much of it ended up being irrelevant to the plot because we hardly see them ever again. After that, I wasn’t sure what to pay attention to and what not to. I tried to orient myself by looking at the map provided in the book, but the locations mentioned in the story were more often than not, not on the map. This isn’t very far into the book so I am using it to give you an example of the general trend of the story. Variations of “journeying”, “interrupted by outside forces”, “reacting”, “change journey plans” are repeated over and over until the book ends.
When I look at other reviews of this book, people say that it is fast moving. I would say that this is true, except that it felt to me that the only thing that kept the story moving was that the characters were always reacting to something which kept them doing something. But the plot had no clear direction to the reader until we get to the end of the story. Because the goal of the characters was abstract (their plans were undecided before they got to their destination), I had trouble caring. And speaking of uncaring, I have never felt so much apathy towards characters as I did with this book. Vidarian is a ship’s captain, who loves his ship and the sea. That is pretty much his character. Ariadel was a young, relatively inexperienced, fire priestess. They seemed like nice people, but I never got a chance to get to know their personalities. When they start a relationship, it felt like it came out of left field. I had no idea either was even interested in one another because there was zero build-up.
What actually kept me interested is that there are a lot of great ideas and pieces of world building in here that I really liked. The griffins and their accoutrements were fascinating. And because the book was short (277 pages) and I had read 100 pages already, I stubbornly shouldered on hoping the story would become more clear. Unfortunately, so many ideas were tossed into the pot I felt like I was reading the fantasy equivalent of everything and the kitchen sink. New and pivotal characters and concepts are introduced late into the book, and older ones are discarded. Things changed at breakneck speed. Fierce editing and focusing more on character growth would have helped this story a lot.
Overall: Almost a DNF. I wanted to like this one, but I just couldn’t get into it. The characters had no development and I was always confused by what their goals were. I didn’t like how the story’s momentum was all forced and that so much was thrown in there with little pause. That just got boring after a while. With little to keep me connected to the story, I struggled to keep reading past the midway point. What kept me from disliking the book completely was a detailed and imaginative world, but I wish that the world building didn’t compete so much with the plot that it was hard to tell the difference between a plot point and backdrop....more
I enjoyed Beastly when I read it last year, so was happy to find a copy of another YA modern fairytale retelling by Alex Flinn, this time a riff on Sleeping Beauty.
The Premise: Princess Talia is the sheltered daughter of the King and Queen of Euphrasia, gifted with beauty, musical talent, and intelligence, but also burdened by a curse. She will prick a spindle on her sixteenth birthday and she and the whole kingdom will fall into a magical sleep until True Love’s kiss awakens her. All her life, Talia has been cautioned against spindles and her terrified parents have made sure she’s never alone. Talia may be cossetted, but she’s also confined. Then the day comes when despite all her parents’ efforts, the inevitable happens. Almost three hundred years pass before Talia wakes up to find Jack, a American teenager (from Florida) standing over her. Talia is horrified to find out how much has changed: boys can kiss girls without meaning to marry them!
My Thoughts: The perspective in this book goes back and forth between Talia and Jack, and while both have humorous voices, neither make the best first impression. Talia comes off as somewhat spoiled in the sense that she knows that she’s a princess and smart and pretty and accomplished, and she has a chip on her shoulder about her treatment because of her curse. Jack comes off as ungrateful about his luck as well: his parents have sent him off on a trip to Europe by himself over the summer, and all he can do is complain about how bored he is, how his girlfriend just dumped him, and how little his parents want him around. Jack convinces his friend Travis (also sent on the same trip) to sneak out of the tour and go to the beach. Of course, being rather obnoxious to the locals, they get deliberately wrong directions and end up looking at a wall of brambles.
When Talia and Jack meet, the huge culture and generation gap lies between the two: Jack doesn’t understand Talia’s old-fashioned values, while Talia is shocked by Jack’s casualness about a kiss. Dungeons and armor are alien to Jack, while technology like watches, cell phones, and air planes blow Talia away. Jack just wants to go home and has no intention of marrying Talia, while she is sure he’s her destiny – how else could he wake her? So Talia sneaks off with Jack to his world, telling him she just needs a guide to ease her into the modern age, but really planning to make him fall in love with her. Their escape was a bit of a stretch to my suspension of disbelief, but I think this is the part of the story where I began to warm to the two characters as they alternatively clashed and bonded on their adventures.
For the first time, Talia is free from restrictions as a princess and can speak to people without her rank being an issue. I liked that her upbringing was brought into the story as she uses her diplomatic skills to win over Jack’s family, who are surprised by her arrival at their home. She also brings a fresh outsider viewpoint into Jack’s life and helps him evaluate his relationship with parents and with a manipulative ex-girlfriend. Talia shows how perceptive and thoughtful she is while Jack proves to be a nice guy who has interests which he stifles for fear of his parents’ disapproval. Both seem to share a similar tense relationship with their parents, but while we get to see some resolution to Jack’s issues, Talia’s are not returned to, which added to the general feeling that the plot could have been a bit tighter.
My favorite part of the book ended up being the climax, where the curse and all that lead up to it come back to haunt the young couple. I liked the way magic and fairytale traditions were brought back into the story here. The backstory of the curse was introduced in an interesting twist, and we get some perspective from the so-called evil fairy/witch. I really wish the book had stopped there and not continued onto an epilogue. I want to remove the epilogue, which felt like took this magic and stuffed it into a cheesy commercialized package, from my memory.
Overall: I ended up not enjoying this one as much as Beastly (for some reviewers, the opposite is true). While this had a lot of elements that I liked about that book, including some great twists to the original fairytale and a relationship that wasn’t InstaLove, the story felt like it could have been more tightly plotted. I wished the characters hadn’t made a bad first impression because it seemed at odds with how they behaved the rest of the book, I wanted a bit more character depth, especially with the secondary characters, and there were some fridge logic, but I really liked the climax of this one, which sort of makes up for some of these detractors (and I’m going to pretend that epilogue didn’t happen)....more
Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day came to me from the publisher for the purpose ofOriginally posted on my book blog (wordpress / livejournal)
Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day came to me from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing it. Although I love the cover (the sea, the sky, a tentacle, and a spaceship!) this is a book that I wouldn’t have found on my own. So chalk it up as one of the nice things about book blogging – getting to read good books outside your usual purview.
Now, how do I describe this book? The one sentence summary is that this is a set of weird little stories. Very short, simple stories that feel like someone is relating a dream to you. Nameless and indistinct figures are the central characters. There was “a man”, “a woman”, “a moose”, “a tree”, “a boy”, or “a girl”, and then this very strange thing happens to them. Maybe they encounter an alien, or an ominous hat starts following them. Maybe they find a fish in their teapot. The story continues from there, and you keep reading because you have no idea how the story is going to end, and with 40 stories in 210 pages, each story is only a few pages long. And you have to know. Then you begin the next story. It’s the literary equivalent of eating potato chips. Before long, you’ve eaten the whole bag.
This book grew out of a horror writing class, but I didn’t find any of the stories very frightening, there’s just the dread of the unknown about some of them. They end in a way that suggests something bad has just happened without explicitly telling the reader what that was. To tell you the truth, most of my favorites had this sort of end. My other favorites were the stories that were just about living life – the stories in which someone or something decides to see the world, and what happens when they do, or the stories that had characters finding a friend or a love. I liked the sweet endings and the uncertain endings, although there were of course the endings that were neither.
Most of the stories were good, but every so often I hit one that fell flat. Usually these were the ones where I just didn’t get their point and as a result they became forgettable. I feel like either I’ve failed as a reader for not appreciating the meaning in the story, or the story has failed to actually convey a meaning. I can’t decide which.
Overall: I’d say I liked this one and it is a compelling read, but I also felt a little bit like these stories rely on a sort of Quirky-Kooky formula. It would have been nice to have stories in the mix that did not rely on this. I’d recommend it to people who have an appreciation for the offbeat....more
I don’t know what it is but I was in the mood for a mystery, and the perfect choice was rigOriginally posted on my book blog (wordpress / livejournal)
I don’t know what it is but I was in the mood for a mystery, and the perfect choice was right on my TBR – an ARC copy of The Dark Enquiry picked up at BEA. This is one of my favorite series and I’m happy that I got a chance to meet the author two years running to get a signed copy. One of the highlights of BEA.
This is a series where relationships are built upon from book to book, and I strongly encourage you to start at the beginning if you haven’t started already. Here’s the lineup until now:
Book 1 – Silent in the Grave Book 2 – Silent in the Sanctuary Book 3 – Silent on the Moor Book 4 – Dark Road to Darjeeling
**** This review has spoilers for earlier books, so if you haven’t read up to book 4, you read it at your own peril ****
The Premise: Back in London after their travels overseas, Lady Julia Grey and Nicolas Brisbane are settling into a new, combined household and a new partnership. This is not without its growing pains – finding new housekeeping staff and a cook that will stay is proving to be difficult, and Brisbane has trouble balancing his protectiveness of Julia with his promise to let her work with him. In fact, Brisbane tries to keep Julia out of his newest case, forcing her to engage in trickery to learn about it. She’s shocked to see her brother Bellmont leave Brisbane’s offices. Julia’s oldest and most conservative sibling is in trouble and has turned to her husband for help. He’s being blackmailed, but it is not a simple blackmailing – if Bellmont’s secret gets out, it could topple the government. Tracking the blackmailer leads Brisbane and Julia into the deadly intrigue surrounding The Spirit Club, where the wealthy consult the dead.
My Thoughts:The Dark Enquiry starts off with our characters, Julia and Brisbane settling into London. Julia is eager to learn what she can so she can become a productive member of Brisbane’s business, so we find her mixing powders and causing minor explosions in her fervor to become a firearms expert. Plum is moving in, and is engaged in what looks to be a simple case of a missing Emerald necklace for Lord Mortlake. Brisbane looks to be resigned to letting his wife help, and has made the business more high tech with the installation of a telephone and buying Julia some expensive photography equipment. He’s even letting her join Plum on his trip to the Mortlakes. That is until Julia realizes that Brisbane is a little too eager to get her out into the country and away from London, and she schemes to stay and see what Brisbane is up to. This is when she finds her oldest brother, Bellmont visiting her husband.
I felt like the story doesn’t really start until Julia disguises herself and arrives at The Spirit House to aid Brisbane in whatever he’s doing for Bellmont. Then the story goes into real Mystery mode, with a murder and blackmail and Julia and Brisbane having no idea who is behind it. Things become more intense when there are indications that the culprit is aware of the investigation and has designs on Julia in particular.
Unfortunately, for me, this was the weakest Julia Grey mystery in the series. In the past, every mystery has been very personal, with Julia trying to protect either herself or her family with a strength tinged with desperation. In The Dark Enquiry, I didn’t feel the same vested interest in solving the case, even though Julia’s brother Bellmont was directly involved. The threat that Parliament could topple because of Bellmont’s indiscretion was, in my opinion, a far-fetched one, and I didn’t feel like I cared very much if they found out who Bellmont’s blackmailer was. Maybe it was because Julia barely sees Bellmont, and when she does, he acts like a general ass. Maybe I feel this lack of connection because the stable of beloved secondary characters merely make brief, cameo appearances (the most connection we get is with Madam Fleur and with a new character introduced as a Grey relative). Maybe when the story tries to make the threat more immediate (when there’s a implied threat to Julia), it felt like a case of too little, too late. Or maybe, the mystery itself takes it a step too far, and is too ambitious or left-field in its scope.
What I think should have balanced this was the relationship growing pains Brisbane and Julia are going through. This could be why we see little of the secondary characters, but what there is of Julia and Brisbane’s relationship was.. awkward. It starts off well with a clash between the two when Julia discovers her brother is in trouble and Brisbane discovers that Julia has been sneaking around and putting herself in danger. There is some lovely relationship discussion about love and respect and obedience, which looked like it would move these two forward as proper partners. Yet, they both do things after this that suggest that they still don’t understand one another! It felt like the story I was reading the same argument over again, with the same “acceptance” at the end, only for the same argument to come back but from a different angle – now we’re not talking about love, we’re talking about “protectiveness”. I feel like throwing my hands up but I’m cautiously optimistic. I will allow that they are talking and there does seem like some sort of forward momentum because of these talks, but I am sick of the same talk over and over again. It reminds me of I Love Lucy where Lucy keeps asking to be in Ricky’s show. Ricky, just put her in the damn show!
What frustrated me further was that Julia is uncharacteristically idiotic this whole book. I would have liked her to be described as someone doing well in her efforts to help Brisbane instead of someone constantly bungling and getting caught. Things literally explode in her face, and it frustrated me to have a female character that I like becoming a sort of bumbling fluffy-headed woman. Even after discussions about the danger and how Brisbane feels about her, and how she will be honest with him about what she’s doing, she turns around and does the very thing she said she would not do – go investigating on her own without telling him! Wow. WHY?! Was this so that Brisbane could be right about his side of the argument? I really hope that some of these frustrating things I’m running into are in the ARC and not the finished copy. To make matters worse the climax involves a sort of thrown-in-there tragedy and the wrap up glossed over it in a strange way, so the last impression I have of the book was a sense of confusion.
Overall: I ended up putting this down in the same category as most books I have lately – in the good range. I thought it was OK. But writing the review, I find myself more frustrated by it than I thought I was when I read it. I guess I was disappointed in this one because I’ve been extremely impressed by the books before it. This one had a weaker mystery, the relationship drama felt somewhat of a rehash even if it does look like things are progressing, and the characterization of Julia in particular felt off. I really hope Julia and Brisbane find their footing in the the next one....more
This is a book that landed on my radar last year when The Book Smugglers rec'ed it in one of their reviews for another book. Curious about a mystery series with a plucky Victorian parasol-wielding heroine, I kept it in mind, and pounced when I did see it for sale at a library book sale.
The Premise: Amelia Peabody was a middle aged spinster, the sole sibling of six willing to take care of her aging father. They lead a quiet life pursuing academia until her father dies, leaving Amelia with half a million pounds and her brothers apoplectic. At first, Amelia is amused by the her family's sudden interest in her life now that she's wealthy, but eventually her no-nonsense personality reasserts itself. She decides to leave England before she becomes a cynic and embark on a trip to see all the ancient cities that her father studied. Along the way Amelia rescues Evelyn Barton-Forbes, a fellow Englishwoman that has fallen on hard times after being disinherited by her grandfather. Amelia hires Evelyn to be her traveling companion, and they make their way to Egypt. Here, their adventure begins. On a trip along the Nile, the two women join the Emerson brothers (affable Walter and brooding Radcliffe, aka 'Emerson') at their archaeological site, and strange goings on begin to haunt their party.
My Thoughts: This story had a little bit of an old fashioned mystery feel to it. Published in 1975, it's more modern than the Agatha Christie novels that I love, but it has that same British feel and is set in the past - in the Victorian era. Amelia Peabody is ahead of her time, she's an independent woman who does as she wants, but she is also a product of her time in her unflappable belief in British superiority, especially when she sees the conditions that the Egyptians live and work in.
Actually, Amelia comes off as a bit of a know-it-all. Her personality is like that of a steamroller, she's just formidable and sure of herself. At first I wasn't sure what to make of this, because growing up in a developing country, I was offended by Amelia's constant tut-tutting over dirt and sanitation while she was in Egypt. So, I didn't like this aspect of Amelia's personality, her smug sense of superiority, but I felt like I could let it go because the story was set when it was and it wasn't overt. When I put this part aside (and it happened less when the story got going), I found Amelia's bossy practicality amusing and was able to warm to it, particularly when her personality clashed with that of the explosive Emerson.
Amelia and Evelyn first meet Walter and Emerson while visiting the museum of Boulaq, where Amelia decides that a statuette needs dusting and demonstrates this to her companion:
A howl- a veritable animal howl- shook the quiet of the room. Before I could collect myself to search for its source, a whirlwind descended upon me. sinewy, sun-bronzed hand snatched the statuette from me. A voice boomed in my ear."Madam! Do me the favor of leaving those priceless relics alone. It is bad enough to see that incompetent ass, Maspero, jumble them about; will you complete his idiocy by destroying the fragments he has left?"
Evelyn had retreated. I stood alone. Gathering my dignity, I turned to face my attacker.
He was a tall man with shoulders like a bull's and a black beard cut square like those of the statues of ancient Assyrian kings. From a face tanned almost to the shade of an Egyptian, vivid blue eyes blazed at me. His voice, as I had good cause to know, was a deep, reverberating bass. The accents were those of a gentleman. The sentiments were not.
"Sir," I said, looking him up and down. "I do not know you- "
"But I know you, madam! I have met your kind too often – the rampageous British female at her clumsiest and most arrogant. Ye gods! The breed covers the earth like mosquitoes, and is as maddening. The depths of the pyramids, the heights of the Himalayas – no spot on earth is safe from you!"
He had to pause for bream at this point, which gave me the opportunity I had been waiting for.
"And you, sir, are the lordly British male at his loudest and most bad-mannered. If the English gentlewoman is covering the earth, it is in the hope of counteracting some of the mischief her lord and master has perpetrated. Swaggering, loud, certain of his own superiority…"
My adversary was maddened, as I had hoped he would be. Little flecks of foam appeared on the blackness of his beard. His subsequent comments were incomprehensible, but several fragile objects vibrated dangerously on their shelves.
I stepped back a pace, taking a firm grip on my parasol. I am not easily cowed, nor am I a small woman; but this man towered over me, and the reddening face he had thrust into mine was suggestive of violence. He had very large, very white teeth, and I felt sure I had gotten a glimpse of most of them."
Compared to the very nice (and civilized) relationship Walter and Evelyn have, Amelia and Emerson are loud and clashing, but I adored them much more. It was just so much fun watching these two dance around each other and generally acting like the other got on their last nerve. I had many a good chuckle at their grumpy banter, Emerson's explosions, and Amelia's tactic of purposefully annoying Emerson at strategic moments. They seemed (to me) well matched and I was curious if their real affections for one another would ever come to light. It was one of the reasons I kept turning the pages.
The mystery itself is a very theatrical one - figures in the darkness, sabotage, superstition, kidnapping and sickness, all in the Egyptian desert. Something about this (the archaeological backdrop, the tombs, the curse of Pharaohs), felt very familiar to me. I feel like maybe I have read this book, but it was so long ago that only the residue remains. I didn't think that the mystery was very difficult to figure out, but there were a couple of twists in the end that I didn't predict, so overall I was happy with it, but the mystery itself wasn't the main draw. That was Amelia and the small cast of characters, and the sense of place - the Egyptian backdrop. Those things made this story special.
Overall: Another one in the "good' category. And by "good" I mean somewhere in the "OK to Great" range. There's something comfortingly old-fashioned about this story, and it's well written and has humor and a fascinating setting. On the other hand, I wish that the mystery was a bit more complex and that there were more characters. In the end, I really liked Amelia and Emerson and I hear that this series only gets better so I plan to continue to read about their adventures....more
Eloisa James is an author I've never tried before, and I have to be in a certain mood to read a historical romance, but when I heard that When BeautyEloisa James is an author I've never tried before, and I have to be in a certain mood to read a historical romance, but when I heard that When Beauty Tamed the Beast was a Beauty and the Beast retelling, and the hero is a nod to Gregory House, I had to get it. This was a book picked up at BEA.
The Premise: Linnet Berry Thrynne is incredibly beautiful but rather unlucky of late. After being caught kissing a prince, she's shunned by high society and rumors fly that she's pregnant. The prince who was once so attentive doesn't stick around to dispel the nasty whispering, so to regain some control of the situation, her father and aunt devise a scheme for Linnet to regain her reputation by marrying Piers Yeverton, the Earl of Marchant. Piers' father, the Duke of Windebank is desperate for an heir, and a woman pregnant (by a prince no less), would be the perfect thing for his son. All that needs to be done is for Linnet to charm Piers into marrying her, so she goes off to his castle in Wales, but when the man is known as Beast because of his vile temper, of course he's going to be a challenge.
My Thoughts: So I was in the mood for a plain ol' fun romance without too many complications and this fit the bill. I noticed that there was a blurb from Julia Quinn in the front inset cover and I think this is was a good choice. Both authors inject enjoyable humor into their historical romances that is sort of in the same type of vein (though I find James' a bit more situational and Quinn's more about the dialogue).
With Piers, as the Beast, modeled after House, I was expecting a lot of angst, but surprisingly, there was less than there could have been. Yes, he walks with a painful limp (caused the same way House's was), has issues with his father, and he is very moody and abrupt, but I didn't feel like Piers was truly beastly in the way the Beast was in the original fairytale. He's a doctor and his anger is mostly for ineptness and fools who kill their patients. I didn't feel like he really needed redemption (although, perhaps his father did). When Linnet first meets Piers, she thinks him a bully, but moments later, they're getting along quite well:
They reached the stairs leading down to the main floor. "If you want to keep holding onto me, you'll have to move to my left side," Marchant said. "Though, of course, there's always the possibility that you could descend the stairs all by yourself." Linnet moved to his left side, just to irritate him. She curled her fingers under his arm this time. She rather liked all that muscle under her hand. It felt as if she were taming a wild beast. "I suppose you think I'll fall in love with you," he said. "Quite likely." "How long to you give yourself?" He sounded genuinely curious. "Two weeks at the outside." And then she did give him the smile--dimples, charm, sensuality and all. He didn't even blink. "Was that the best you've got?" Despite herself, a giggle escaped, and then another. "Generally, that's more than enough."
Linnet herself is used to men falling for her very quickly based on her looks, but she has the brains to go along with it. This means she usually finds herself with men who are smitten but unable to keep up. With Piers being rather impervious to her charms and rather tetchy about it, I think Linnet is actually delighted to find someone with which she doesn't have to hold herself back.
Since Pier's is not so easily beguiled by Linnet's beauty, she figures that that's the end her scheme to get him to marry her. On Piers' side, he isn't willing to marry a woman his father picked out, no matter how lovely she is. The two settle into what they think is an amicable relationship based on that, and even start a daily routine. Piers begins to give Linnet swimming lessons in the morning, and Linnet begins to take an interest in the hospital that Piers runs at his castle. While there are parts that strain credibility (Linnet getting into this situation in the first place, the swimming lessons), I was able to overlook these and just enjoy the story.
The romance kind of grows of it's own accord as the days pass. There are subplots that have to do with Piers' family history (when his mother arrives at the castle, that ignites some drama with his father), and with Linnet's improvements to the hospital (I could have done without these, but I guess she had to have something to do all day). The real drama happens towards the end of the book, and it is not your typical Big Misunderstanding or Bad Guy suspense plot. I liked the unique way this one brought up the suspense and added difficulties to the romance before the HEA.
As Beauty and the Beast retellings go, this was very loosely based. If I were pressed about it, I could make arguments that "her father sent her to the beast in his stead" sort of happened, and that the traditional ending sort of happened (with a twist), but mostly the biggest similarity was that Linnet is a Beauty and Piers is the Beast. I thought that the similarities with House where much greater, with Piers stomping around with his cane, brilliantly diagnosing patients with his team of doctor-students.
Overall: Good. There was nothing that I actively disliked about it, and there were was plenty to like - humor, unique characters, plot, and setting (I particularly loved the seaside pool). Logically, I would call this a fun book, but viscerally, I feel strangely neutral about this story. I am not sure if this reaction is due to my mood, or because I'm not usually a historical romance kind of girl, or if it's something else. I can't put my finger on it. I do recommend it for historical romance fans though....more
The Premise: Carly is a nineteen year old college dropout who works as a cook so she can work nightsReview from my book blog (wordpress / livejournal)
The Premise: Carly is a nineteen year old college dropout who works as a cook so she can work nights and evenings and spend her days out on the waves. She has no ambitions other than to keep covering the necessities so she can surf as much as possible. There's a dark reason for Carly's step back from her family and friends, her move close to the ocean to surf, and why she generally wants to be left alone, but despite Carly's painful awareness of her own inability to be "normal" around others, there are people inching their way into her life. It is up to Carly whether she will find a way to move on from her past, or if it will pull her back from real relationships forever.
My Thoughts: Carly's life seems so simple: surf, work, sleep, wake up, and do it all again. The book starts off with a typical day for her, plopping the reader next to her on the ocean. As she matter-of-factly describes her runs on the waves, I let the talk of coastal conditions, territorial disputes, and surf culture wash over me as if it was a foreign language. Surfing is followed by a shift at work as a cook, and later time at home with Carly's neighbor, Hannah. This should be an easy read, and it is, but at the same time, there's something slowly and quietly weighing the story down, and that is Carly herself. It's quickly evident that she is just surviving day-to-day, throwing herself into surfing and avoiding people.
Since the story is told from her point of view, her feelings of awkwardness and of being "uptight" are clear and powerful. I really empathized with her, and It's not long before I understood the reason behind Carly's skittishness. It really hit me when I did. I read a few reviews of Raw Blue that didn't really say what had happened to Carly, and I usually try to avoid stories that deal with rape, so I wanted to warn others if this is something that they just can't handle. Had I known, I may have never read Raw Blue, but now that I have finished it, I will tell you this: I think I would have missed out.
Even though Raw Blue took a little more out of me than most books, giving me a sense of impotent protectiveness for Carly, there was always something, whether it was surfing or the people around Carly, that kept me from getting completely wrung out. The story seems so unassuming, the pace: subdued and straightforward. At first the window into Carly's life is mundane with surfing as the highlight, but then somehow, those ordinary details that aggregate into Carly's life ARE the story. Oh-so-subtly, between her hours on the water, her time in the kitchen and her small, seemingly minor nothing-conversations with her neighbor Hannah, openfaced teen Danny, and of course Ryan, Carly has made connections to other people. It's these small human connections that save Carly and elevate the story.
I really liked that the three people that Carly connects to the most were people who looked at quiet Carly and wanted to know her anyway. They all let her be herself but they also nudged her a little more into the world by their example. Danny, who just decides who he likes with his own synesthesia barometer, Hannah, separated from her husband but enjoying men, and then there's Ryan, who looks at Carly and thinks she's a good thing. It's Ryan who has the biggest impact. When Carly first meets him, he seems so inscrutable, but when they get closer, he has amazing sense of when to push and when not to. He'd almost be too perfect if not for the unsureness that he lets slip every so often. I loved their slow, halting steps toward one another. I was on tenterhooks I tell you.
And that ending. It wasn't what I imagined, but made me feel really good all the same. It was just right.
Overall: Not an easy read, but still a very rewarding one. It's a quiet story about personal pain but it's also a story about living. Something about it just crept up on me and made a lasting impression of the good kind. And I like that....more
The Premise: Some time has passed since Toby has survived her latest near-death experienceOriginally posted on my book blog (wordpress | livejournal)
The Premise: Some time has passed since Toby has survived her latest near-death experience and annoyed the Queen of Mists. Now trouble is brewing with the fae neighbors bordering her Queen's lands. This time the children of the Duchess of Saltmist, have been snatched up from the waters along the California coast, and a familiar enemy may be behind it. Toby has to rescue these boys soon, before war erupts between the land and the sea.
My Thoughts: Well, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, let me speak yet again of the delicious breadcrumbs left throughout these books. Those readers paying attention get to play a little game of "guess what THAT means". Keen-eyed readers probably noticed the foreshadowing of this latest brouhaha in the last volume, and had some questions cleared up in this one (although new clues bring new questions). I admit, I'm like a dog with a bone when I have a puzzle to chew over, so that side of me is really happy when reading a October Daye book. I am not saying the puzzles are diabolical, but they are there if you like that sort of thing.
But if you aren't the kind of reader to obsess over the details, the progression of Toby's story and her character growth is reason enough to read these books. In One Salt Sea Toby is stronger in a lot of ways. Her detecting skills and her understanding of the fae has improved so Toby misses less and regroups faster. She is surrounded by allies, so rather than being alone, now she has a posse she can rely on - from her roommate May, teen proteges Quentin and Raj, to Tybalt and other fae friends with useful skills. (And this is a series with well developed side characters. Even Toby's cats have distinct and lovable personalities). Toby is also beginning to understand her own power, and she's starting to use it.
All these things make the actual investigation feel much smoother than it has been before. Toby is still herself, but she takes charge in a way that has the force of her recent experience behind it. All of the past books inform on the present book, from the knowledge Toby has gathered to cameos from characters Toby has helped.
Most of the story deals with piecing together what happened to the two missing boys, but Toby's life is also a big part of the story. There may be a lot of improvements to her life, but she still has a lot to work through. Toby's mother has hidden things from her, she still hasn't found the enemy who took twelve years of her life, her love life is a bit messy, and she has a family in the human world who have moved on. Not all of these issues are addressed in One Salt Sea, but there are significant events that impact some of them. The October Daye series is one where the hero doesn't have the power save everyone. Knowing that there is the potential for real heartache despite Toby's best efforts is what makes this series so compelling. One Salt Sea is not alone in having it's share of shockers and emotional moments, but I felt like I was able to accept them and wonder what effect they will have on the rest of the series.
The next book, Ashes of Honor won't be out for another year. I got spoiled by the 2 book a year schedule that the October Daye series has been on, but these books are worth waiting for. There are a couple ofother series that could tide a fan over.
Team Tybalt: And now a message for those on Team Tybalt. If you are on another team, you may skip this section (is there another team? really?). The thing that worried me the most about this book, especially when I saw the cover (Toby as a mermaid!) was that Tybalt wasn't going to be in it very much. I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong. Anyone else with the same fears: you can stop worrying.
Overall: Another good one, of course. I feel like I should just cut and paste what I always say because it applies to every book: the way these books build upon each other is extremely gratifying and long running story arcs are cleverly integrated with each self contained mystery. I should probably also mention that there's plenty of wry humor, a cast of three dimensional side characters that grows as the series progresses, and wonderful world-building. I am so addicted....more
If you’ve been following my blog for a while you will see that I tend to avoid self-published books. The exception has been if it was an author I read and loved already. Another exception is that I see a review from a blogger I really trust. Chachic’s review and her description of a slow burn romance (my favorite!) really had me interested, and $3.99 for a novel length e-book is well priced for giving it a shot. I actually ended up liking this one so much that I bought the book again in hard copy form so I could physically flip through it’s pages. That should tell you something right there.
The Premise: Upon arriving in Boston and discovering that the apartment she rented through Craigslist is actually a burrito restaurant, stranded college freshman Julie Seagle is saved by her mom’s college roommate. Erin Watkins let’s Julie move into her son’s old room, and soon Julie is immersed in the lives of the eccentric Watkin family. Parents Erin and Roger are very nice when they are around, but more often than not, leave their children alone in pursuit of academia (one’s a professor at Harvard Law, another is a oceanographic researcher). Their three children are all uniquely bright, but somehow something is not quite right. Middle child Matt is working on two majors at MIT: physics and math, and while he’s a sweet guy, he shuts down at odd times. Youngest Celeste is thirteen but dresses as if she was eight, talks with a high vocabulary but without contractions, and has a dependence on a life-sized cardboard cutout of her brother that she calls Flat Finn. And then there’s Finn, the good-looking and gregarious oldest son. Out traveling the world, he’s only available to Julie via Facebook, text messages, and email, but he offers some insight into what’s wrong with the Watkins. Over time, Julie’s long distance exchanges with Finn become something more, but it’s very easy to get mixed up between your feelings and reality.
My Thoughts: Julie is a bit of a rare fish in her hometown: social but with an interest in learning that she doesn’t think her friends will understand. So when she arrives in Boston and ends up living with a family that is academic and intellectual to a fault, despite their smarts, Julie manages to fit right in. Soon she’s bantering with the younger Watkin siblings and trading one-liners and sharing facebook statuses. There were some too-perfect zingers in the bunch but most of the conversations felt real enough to forgive this. The Watkin awkwardness trumps all, particularly with regard to the elephant in the room:
“ [...] what struck Julie the most about Celeste had to do about what-or who?-was in the chair next to her. ‘Oh, Julie! I didn’t introduce you properly, did I?’ Celeste chirped happily and then turned to the seat next to her. ‘Flat Finn, this is Julie. Julie, this is Flat Finn.’ Erin poured herself some sparkling water, and Roger continued daydreaming about brine, but Julie was sure she heard Matt catch his breath. She eyed the seat again. Frankly, she’d been hoping to get through dinner without having to address this issue. No one else had mentioned anything for far, but this must be what Matt had started to tell her about: A life-size cardboard cutout of their brother Finn leaned stiffly angled against the chair, his gaze fixed rigidly on the ceiling’s light fixture.”
Of course, Julie being the fixer she is, she sets out to help Celeste with her obsession with Flat Finn and with her not-quite-fitting-in-with-her-age-group problems. But it turns out that Celeste is the Watkin with the most obvious problems; the other members of the family are just better at hiding that something is off . Erin and Roger are often gone, leaving Matt to take care of Celeste and the house. Matt is antisocial and over-protective of his little sister, and tight lipped about what caused Celeste’s attachment to her cardboard brother-figure in the first place. So Julie lives with the Watkins and tries to help out with what she understands. In the meantime, she goes to class, tries to figure out her major, begins casually dating, and continues to develop a friendship with Matt in person and Finn online.
Finn’s charm and ease with Julie online is incredibly magnetic, and knowing that she’s in his room, sleeping on his bed, just adds to the allure. It isn’t long before Julie has a serious crush on the eldest Watkin, and she suspects that he may feel the same way. Finn is who she goes to to confide in and to ask advice on the other Watkins.
I loved the way that the romance unfolded in this story. It’s more about emotional connections, not physical ones, and it’s a slow courtship that spans from the first day of college, through Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years, into Julie’s second semester and ends at the beginning of a new school year. It hit some of my soft spots including love from afar, the dependable good guy, and a couple more of my favorite tropes. Flat-Out Love put its own spin on these though with it’s use of social media peppered throughout real life interactions. All of these have plenty of humor in them, and the weirdness and vulnerability of the Watkins added an extra dimension. I correctly guessed the family’s dark secret, but not all the details. When it all comes out, oh, what a deep and turbulent well of emotion that was. I was very invested in finding out how Julie’s relationship with the Watkins (and one Watkin in particular) would end and I wanted so badly for things to be alright. I adored how things were handled.
Also kudos on the quality of the copy editing in this book. This wins the prize for having no obvious typos, which I’m sorry to say, I see a higher number of in self-published books.
Overall: Loved it. You know those books where you’re excited to tell the world about? I think this is one of them. The more I think about Flat-Out Love the more I feel this “I need to pimp this book” feeling. It’s so funny and romantic and heart-wrenching all at once. Yes, when I think about it, I had a couple of “I beg to differ” moments (example: the girl hates twitter and loves Facebook), but when Julie and the Watkins are amazing and overachieving, something had to balance them out. It was nice to see a book that integrated social media into it’s plot so well, and that has a main character that is in college. And the sweet romance with an emotional connection left me very satisfied.
(Page 362 killed me. Page 384 killed me in a different way. Go read this and then we can talk. On twitter!)...more