Steampunk is still something that I’m iffy on. If it wasn’t Scott Westerfeld I can’t guarantee that I would have started thiPosted to Almost Grown-up:
Steampunk is still something that I’m iffy on. If it wasn’t Scott Westerfeld I can’t guarantee that I would have started this series, nor can I guarantee that I would have finished it. I don’t know what it is about the genre that took me some time to get into. The first book in the series, Leviathan took some adjusting, but had me interested enough to pick up the sequel, Behemoth. By the time I finished Behemoth, I was eagerly anticipating the release of Goliath.
World War I is an interesting story even when it is not tampered with, but in this series it is even more so. The world’s powers tend to be one of two things: Darwinists, who make living, breathing creatures that suit their means (such as messenger lizards who can repeat what is spoken to them), or Clankers, who use heavy machinery (such as Walkers, giant machines that they can “walk” inside over long stretches of terrain). And Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose assassination really did set WWI in motion, has a son in this series who is sheltered aboard the living airship Leviathan.
Goliath is, as the others have been, an adventure. But it’s also the culmination of a love story. Deryn’s secret is revealed and Alek has to come to terms with that and trust her, but also with the feelings that she has for him.
Quite beside the trust issues, there are also the issues of loyalty. Deryn’s soldier for a Darwinist power. Alek, a Clanker. Alek believes in destiny and fate intervening. Deryn believes that you make your own destiny. The end comes to sort of a melding of both of their belief systems, and I truly believe that the “compromise” was the right choice.
Overall rating: 4/5. If you enjoy steampunk or can adjust to it, this was a very enjoyable war and love story....more
While listening to the audiobook of The Sweet Far Thing, I laughed. I swooned. My heart pounded with fear. And I wept. LibbaPosted to Almost Grown-up:
While listening to the audiobook of The Sweet Far Thing, I laughed. I swooned. My heart pounded with fear. And I wept. Libba Bray broke me.
As with the other books in the series, Gemma has so much to deal with. There’s her various family issues, the Realms, the Order, the Rakshana, her friends, society. It seems that everyone expects something of her and she can’t work out what she should expect of herself.
All of it can get a bit overwhelming, but c’est la vie, non?
I am never sure that I like most of the friendships in this series. Though they have their moments where I sympathize with them and even feel proud of them sometimes, largely speaking, I dislike Felicity, Ann, and Pippa and fail to understand why Gemma holds onto the bonds of friendship with them. But since she has, I understand the responsibility she seems to feel to help them. Though I’d say Gemma has the greatest burden to bear under the title of the “Chosen One,” the others’ problems are no small matter.
My favorite scenes? No question. The ones with Kartik. He made me feel all warm inside.
And my least favorite? If you’ve read or listened to it, it’s not too hard to guess. It’s the scene in which, as I said earlier, Libba Bray broke me.
Josephine Bailey’s narration in this audiobook is flawless. Each character that she voices, she does so with such distinction that one is never at a loss for wondering who it might be. As scenes grow more weighted, her narration perfectly reflects it. I know that when I read the books again myself one day, I will hear Gemma’s voice echoing in my head as Bailey voiced her.
A long book and by extension a long audiobook at 20 hours and 29 minutes, but if you’ve got the time, you won’t regret it.
Overall rating: 4.5/5. Hands down my favorite book in the Gemma Doyle trilogy, even if it broke my heart....more
This was my first Libba Bray book. What? you cry. How can that be? You blog mostly about YA! I know, I know. But somehow I just hadn’t gotten around to it before, despite Bray’s stellar reputation. But when I saw this on the library’s shelf, I had to grab it and it did not disappoint.
Oh my goodness, I loved Gemma. I loved that yes, she lives in the Victorian era and understands their values, but she’s also sassy. Tragedy befalls her family, which ultimately shapes the path that she finds herself on, but she doesn’t let it define her as a person. She’s still a teenage girl who thinks about gossip and boys and scandal… and okay, yes, these weird powers she finds herself with.
I enjoyed how the friendship with Gemma’s friends Felicity, Pippa, and Ann come about in a typical teenage girl fashion. Gemma keeps a secret and she’s “let in” to the club, but drags her roommate along with her.
I’m also looking forward to seeing more of Kartik. We hardly see him at all in A Great and Terrible Beauty but I’m looking forward to more of him in the next book!
What I didn’t like: Half of the girls who wind up becoming Gemma’s friends were so odious in the beginning that I half-groaned every time they showed up on the page. The power-hungry Felicity and attention-seeking Pippa in particular were just awful. But, like any author worth her salt, Bray reveals some of their backgrounds that helps you to understand why they are the way they are and helps them to grow to be somewhat likeable in the end.
So, do I rec it? You bet! Libba Bray’s reputation is well-deserved. I Loved it....more
If you're looking for Second Book Slump, look somewhere else.
We thought at the end of A Great and Terrible Beauty that Gemma had triumphed over the evil Circe though it came at a price. That she had saved the magic in the realms properly. Not so, we learn in Rebel Angels. Instead she has only bound it.
In this second book, we not only get a closer look at the realms, but we also learn more about a few characters and what makes them tick. I found Felicity's past, in particular, to be the most intriguing. And other characters that we caught only a glimpse of before are explored more fully in Rebel Angels. People like Gemma's brother, her father, her grandmother...
But most importantly?
Yes. Swoony, swoony Kartik who is conflicted over the mission that the Rakshana has bestowed upon him. Gemma finds herself drawn to him over and over again despite finding a much more suitable match.
Bray is a deft hand with pacing and structure, a master of the unexpected, and a cultivator of the red herring.
I can't wait to pick up the final installment.
Rating: 4/5. I liked the first book in the Gemma Doyle trilogy (A Great and Terrible Beauty), but I think that this one may have trounced it in a Victorian alley somewhere. ...more
Louisa Cosgrove does not behave “appropriately” for Victorian society. She finds gowns and porcelain dolls frivoPosted on Page Turners Blog on 9/1/11:
Louisa Cosgrove does not behave “appropriately” for Victorian society. She finds gowns and porcelain dolls frivolous, she doesn't get along well with her mother, she dreams of becoming a doctor in a time when women are told that they should simply be wives, and she has absolutely no interest in marrying a man. When her beloved father dies, Louisa tries to help her family cope, but finds herself smuggled away to Wildthorn Hall: a hospital for the insane. The story progresses with Louisa trying to convince someone, anyone that she is perfectly sane and that she does not belong there. But as the mystery unravels, we discover that it is no mistake that she has been admitted to Wildthorn; someone she knows has betrayed her.
I love stories that mess with your head. You know the ones I mean. Stories that confuse you until you're not sure what is right and what is wrong and what is real or not real (yes, that is a Hunger Games shout out). Wildthorn was a really interesting story in that aspect, though our main character largely manages to hold onto her sanity despite the horrors she goes through.
Another aspect of the story that I loved was the issue it puts back in Victorian times. It's so easy to forget that the conflicts LGBT teens face aren't exclusive to modern day, so this was a very interesting take
I feel like I need to speak about this book in a hushed whisper because my respect for it is so great.
This book had been on my TBR for a while, but I tended to pass it over for "shinier" books. You know... happier ones. I finally got around to picking it up thanks to the FYA book club this month. And it's not a happy book, but it's certainly a beautiful one.
The Holocaust is a difficult subject for some obvious reasons, but I'm recommending this book anyway. I wouldn't change a thing. There were so many "quotables" and the prose is just perfect. And the last 50 pages or so of the book completely undid me. I was sobbing hysterically while reading.
This is a short review but the reason for that is simple: This book is too amazing. I don't have the right words for it. I am so glad that I read it.
Overall Rating: 5/5. This is an absolute masterpiece. I hope it's one of those books that is/becomes required reading in schools....more
What I liked: One of the things that I (and my wallet) loved about the first book in the series, Waterfall was that it was bPosted to Almost Grown-up:
What I liked: One of the things that I (and my wallet) loved about the first book in the series, Waterfall was that it was both free and wonderful. After finishing Waterfall, I couldn’t wait; I had to buy Cascade for my Kindle right that moment.
And I am happy to say that I don’t regret a single penny of that purchase.
I was afraid of the “Second Book Slump.” It’s happened before. I’ll love the first book in a series, but be disappointed by the next one. Cascade was not affected by this phenomenon.
Gabi and Marcello do strange things to my heart. From the moment that they’re back together, spying each other shortly after Gabi, her mother, and her sister travel back to the1300s, my insides are twisting painfully: in the best kind of way. At the end of Waterfall, they realized that they both felt the same way about each other, but in Cascade, things don’t get boring because the lovers are still overcoming obstacles, like um… the impending war between Siena and Firenze?
The little historical details lend authenticity to this book and Bergren doesn’t shy away from the nitty-gritty details of battles and the war games of the 14th century. Gabi undergoes horrific tortures and makes decisions that turn her stomach, but she does it because she has to.
I love Gabi’s voice, the dialogue with the other characters, just… I love this book. I really love this book. What I didn’t like: …Sorry guys. I got nothing.
So, do I rec it? What, did my gushing over Waterfall and the words above this not convince you? YES. Go get this book! This was another one that I Couldn’t Put Down. This series continues to please!...more
It’s very hard to review this book without spoiling it for you, but I am going to try.
The problems that Gabi and Lia have faced since arriving in medieval Italy have worsened. Castello Forelli has been taken, the war between Siena and the Fiorentini has increased, and Gabi’s nemesis Cosmo Paratore seems to have regained an influential position. But there’s an upside to things. Gabi and Lia’s dad is back and that makes all the difference, despite the perils that they’re going through. Again.
Gabi explores her feelings for Marcello still further and her questions rang very true for me– she is, after all, only 17 and being faced with some decisions that will affect both her life and the lives of those she loves. As always there is a plot to capture the Ladies Betarrini and as always there are many tales of valor, derring-do and twists that are unique to this book’s plot. And as always Marcello had me sighing over him and his love for Gabi. I know.
This review was vague, but I don’t want to spoil anything for you! I haven’t made any sort of secret out of the fact that I loved the River of Time series from the first book Waterfall to the second book Cascade, and now the stunning Torrent. Lisa is an absolutely masterful writer. ...more
The very concept for Robin (R.L.) LaFevers’s Grave Mercy sets the bar high. We’re promised a unique novel full of strong femPosted to Almost Grown-up:
The very concept for Robin (R.L.) LaFevers’s Grave Mercy sets the bar high. We’re promised a unique novel full of strong female characters. Not only are they strong females, but hellooooo, they’re assassins. NUN assassins and therefore all kinds of original and bad-ass.
But it’s not only the assassins (NUN ASSASSINS!) who are strong women in Grave Mercy. The duchess of Brittany, Anne, is another shining example of a strong female. Despite her young age, she deals with betrayal after betrayal and the multitude of responsibilities thrust upon her shoulders.
The main character Ismae, a novice of the convent of St. Mortain, is not someone I’d ever consider weak, though she doubts herself upon occasion. She goes on a very personal journey wherein she learns to trust people beyond the nuns who saved her from a future of abuse and trained her to defend herself.
What I found captivating about the character of Ismae was that she’s so consumed with remaining under her own power and thinking of herself as strong that it almost blinds her to her to that very power. She blindly follows the instructions of her abbess and her convent, and by the end of the novel she’s grown so strong, both physically and emotionally that she isn’t afraid to think for herself.
LaFevers’s Grave Mercy is steeped in history, and she brings it to life with amazing authenticity. It’s easy to imagine that some of the characters who were real people undergoing some of the very real events portrayed in Grave Mercy possessed the traits and personalities she bestows on them.
The details and setting are also well-imagined. In fact, the novel feels almost decadently atmospheric.
I love courtly intrigue and Grace Mercy boasts scads of it, made extra awesome with the authenticity factor. Whose loyalties lie with who? Who wants what outcome? What motivates them? What the friggin’ hell are all of their schemes and plotting and what on earth are they up to? LaFevers pulls it off beautifully.
And then we have the romance. Bada-bing, baby. LaFevers sealed the deal for me by winding all of the other element that I fell in love with around a romance that developed– NAY, BLOSSOMED– over time and believably. And HOORAH for a non-douchey male lead, who doesn’t stalk a main character and claim that it’s because she is denying her attraction for him.
Overall rating: 5/5. Basically, I fell in love with Grave Mercy in every way possible. If you’re looking for a stellar historical novel with a touch of paranormal, THIS is it. It made me want to seek out more recs (*cough* comments please). I need a finished copy of this book sitting on my bookshelf. New. Series. Obsession.
P.S. I’m not always a fan of “girl in a dress” covers, but this one actually fits the book inside....more
The name Chime may ring a bell. Though the National Book Awards this year were surrounded by controversy, it was a nominee (Posted to Almost Grown-up
The name Chime may ring a bell. Though the National Book Awards this year were surrounded by controversy, it was a nominee ( it was confused, at first with Shine by Lauren Myracle).
Both books immediately went on my TBR list.
I despaired over Chime at first. I mean, it was beautifully written and Billingsley chooses moments to “break the rules” of writing (POV for instance), and manages to pull it off admirably, so it was easy to say how the NBA nomination happened. The first 100 or so pages were difficult for me to get into though.
But after I passed that benchmark? OH MAH GAW.
Briony is such an amazing character. She’s convinced that she’s wicked and wonders what it might be like to be a normal girl. In the hands of a different writer, I might have felt the martyrdom of it to be irritating, but Billingsley has such an amazing talent, that it worked. She uses words and descriptions that never would have occurred to me, but are perfect.
Chime ended up being a novel that I not only admired, but envied. Billingsley’s writing is masterful.
Overall rating: 4.5/5. If I had felt as strongly about the first 100 or so pages as I did about the rest of the book, it would have been a 5/5. Easily....more
MERMAIDS. They’re apparently the new fallen angels which were the new fairies which were the new vampires. Do I have that inPosted to Almost Grown-up:
MERMAIDS. They’re apparently the new fallen angels which were the new fairies which were the new vampires. Do I have that in the right order? Who cares?
Because forget the mermaid craze, guys. Not that I haven’t liked preeeetty much every mermaid book I’ve ever read, but Elizabeth Fama’s Monstrous Beauty blew them all out of the proverbial water.
What it really comes down to is that Monstrous Beauty has truly gorgeous prose. You can actually hear the poetry in some sentences when you read them aloud. The words themselves echo the things they describe, and they have a rhythm and (in some cases) alliterative quality to them that nearly made me weep with the beauty of them.
And the prose carries a story that is just as wonderful. In alternating chapters, we get to know modern teen Hester and mermaid Syrenka of the 19th century. They each carry a burden, and Hester’s present and future seem tied to Syrenka’s past. It’s both a haunting and mesmerizing story.
One of the strongest aspects of the story for me was that as the story advances in the past, Hester is pulled to it. She almost forgets herself in what becomes an obsession with this past mystery. To me, despite murder, mystery, deadly mermaids, and hauntings, that is the scariest part of the story. I felt like Hester started to lose herself.
The only thing that nagged me about the book was the fact that Hester didn’t always sound like a teen of our time, asking questions like “What year did it occur?” It just struck me as an odd word choice, but it can be excused with Hester’s job as a character in a sort of living history museum. (Also: it’s important to note that this is a review of an ARC, so that might have changed anyway.)
Overall rating: 5/5. In this case, the tiny thing that I had to criticize didn’t detract one bit from my enjoyment of such a beautiful novel. Elizabeth Fama’s Monstrous Beauty is a masterpiece....more
I didn’t realize at first that Sisters of Glass was a novel written in verse. Some might find this a point against its favorPosted to Almost Grown-up:
I didn’t realize at first that Sisters of Glass was a novel written in verse. Some might find this a point against its favor, but for me, it was a point for it. I’ve never been a fan of poetry– I respect it as an art form, of course, but my tastes don’t tend toward it in reading or writing. Instead, I thought it read as smooth, but simplistic prose.
I was taken in by Luca and his attitude toward Maria. He didn’t treat her as delicately as the rest of the family and considering how trapped she feels, I don’t blame her for falling for him.
It’s certainly an easy and quick read, and I felt swept along by the prettiness of it all. Venice, glassblowing, art, lovely singing… it’s easy to fall into if you’re a romantic as I am.
My largest problems with the novel were that I felt Maria’s sister Giovanna or “Vanna” to have the wildest behavioral shifts. She went from loving to sneering and back to loving without any explanation. I didn’t feel like I could trust her when she was suddenly nice again.
My other major problem was that everything at the end was tied up very conveniently and with very little fuss. It felt totally unrealistic and I didn’t buy it. No one’s feelings got hurt and it was just… too easy.
Overall rating: 3/5. A quick read and well-suited for someone looking to dip their toe into the pool of verse novels....more
I don’t even know where to begin to review Code Name Verity. My hopes were high as I began reading due to all of the hype surrounding the title, which always feels like a bit of a gamble. But my hopes could have been even higher and Code Name Verity would not have disappointed me.
The phrase from the summary– “intricately woven”– is amazingly apt. As Verity writes her confession, trading her knowledge with the Nazis for a few more precious days, I felt vaguely ill, imagining the horrors that were to come. When Verity, referring to the war, “You always feel a little bit sick inside, knowing the worst might happen at any moment,”* it felt as if Elizabeth Wein knew what I was going through as I read her book.
Though seemingly a traitor, Verity is an amazingly brave and sympathetic character. Her captors are breaking her as best they can with the knowledge that her best friend has died, the screams of other prisoners, and her own torture. But she’s obviously angry over the great injustice taking place and she still she seizes on small moments of defiance. She also has her moments of caustic humor and times when her incredible intelligence comes through.
Historical novels– well-done ones– are a weakness of mine. and Code Name Verity absolutely qualifies. Elizabeth Wein did a clear amount of research to bring the terrifying times of World War II to life in excruciating detail.
Elizabeth Wein is also the master of surprise. I found myself sobbing rather violently through Code Name Verity’s resolution as she took me on a rollercoaster plummet of emotions.
Overall rating: 5/5. Masterfully written, Code Name Verity is a World War II novel that will break your heart....more
In the aftermath of the French Revolution, The Academie draws children of influential people across the world, including EliPosted to Almost Grown-up:
In the aftermath of the French Revolution, The Academie draws children of influential people across the world, including Eliza Monroe, the daughter of the future president, Hortense de Beauharnais, stepdaughter of Napoleon Bonaparte, and Caroline Bonaparte, sister of the very same– the original short man with short man syndrome.
On the fringes of society, Madeline, a Creole actress at the Comedie Francaise, lives abused by her mother and head-over-heels in love with Hortense’s brother, Eugene.
I was prepared to be a little obsessed with this book because, well, of three reasons mostly: 1) BOARDING SCHOOL 2) Historical fiction (and thus INTRIGUE POTENTIAL) 3) FRANCE. Oh, frenchy french France. But, alors, I cannot say “J’adore.”
The Academie is written from 3 points of view: Eliza, Hortense, and Madeline. Despite occasionally revelations of their different maturity levels and obviously different situations, all three girls sound relatively the same, which didn’t really fit for me since they’re from completely different walks of life. As I was getting introduced to them, I didn’t always keep track of which point of view I was reading, since I wasn’t familiar enough with their situations.
As things went on and I understood them separately, each girl had the potential to win me over completely. Eliza kind of made me want to pat her on the head, Hortense had my respect, and Madeline my sympathy.
Different areas of the plot held my attention more than others. I read most avidly during Napoleon’s overthrow of the standing government (that totally doesn’t count as a spoiler, guys, it’s HISTORY). But a great deal of the novel felt rushed. Each girl had a love interest (or two) and with 3 points of view it was overwhelming.
I loved the inclusion of historic details. I really did, but sometimes it felt like some details, while interesting, simply took away from the plot that Susanne Dunlap was trying to weave in The Academie.
And the ending– well, it totally threw me off. I was so sure I knew what was going to happen, but I was wrong. Sometimes that’s cool, but in this case I don’t think it would have been a bad thing if I was right. The ending left me unfortunately unsatisfied.
Overall rating: 3/5. The Academie was more of a guilty pleasure historical fiction novel than anything else, but kind of all over the place....more
The back cover of Gods and Warriors by Michelle Paver boasts that it’s “perfect for fans of Percy Jackson.” I qualify underPosted to Almost Grown-up:
The back cover of Gods and Warriors by Michelle Paver boasts that it’s “perfect for fans of Percy Jackson.” I qualify under that category MOST ARDENTLY, so I was really really excited to begin reading. I don’t think it’s really perfect for Percy Jackson fans… but it might just be perfect for me.
One thing Gods and Warriors does have in common with Percy Jackson is the way that young kids have these really awful things happen to them and wind up in this impossibly huge situation.
But, like Rick Riordan, Michelle Paver still manages to make them sound their age. These are kids who would be in middle school in our era and they sound like it… to an extent. I mean they don’t sound anachronistic, but they sound like kids. There’s more than one point-of-view in Gods and Warriors, but they’re all necessary and advance the plot.
If there’s one thing that I admire, it’s the ability to bring a world to life. And Michelle Paver EXCELS at that in Gods and Warriors. It’s in little things from the way that Hylas refers to certain plants to the way that people from different places refer to things differently. Revolutionary, I know.
But the history of Gods and Warriors is brought to life so perfectly that the research that Michelle Paver conducted is evident. I love historical fiction, but I’ve never been particularly interested in the Mediterranean Bronze Age. I am now.
The language is simple, but really effective. The whole book is so tuned in with nature and spirituality that it’s absolutely beautiful sometimes.
Overall rating: 4.5/5. If all MG books made me like them so much, I’d read a whole lot more of them. Happily, Michelle Paver has many other books for me to dive into in the future....more
I said in my last review of this series how much I LOVED this series and that didn’t change when I read The Body at the TowePosted to Almost Grown-up:
I said in my last review of this series how much I LOVED this series and that didn’t change when I read The Body at the Tower by Y.S. Lee. True, the spy an mystery aspect felt a little weaker in this one, but Y.S. Lee added yet another plot point that I love: a girl disguised as a boy.
The setting remained atmospheric and historically accurate and James and Mary are EVEN CUTER than they were in the other book. The heat! The KISSES!
3.5 I think. Solid mystery, solid story, but couldn't help but compare it to others in the series and... though there was some banter and kissing, the3.5 I think. Solid mystery, solid story, but couldn't help but compare it to others in the series and... though there was some banter and kissing, there wasn't quite enough for me. Still love the series though....more
Historical fiction is a genre that I rarely pass up the chance to read, and when Allison Rushby’s New Adult novel The HeiresPosted to Almost Grown-up:
Historical fiction is a genre that I rarely pass up the chance to read, and when Allison Rushby’s New Adult novel The Heiresses was likened to Downton Abbey, I knew it was a book that I’d be reading.
Initially, the book started off strong and the hook will have Downton Abbey fans experiencing sad flashbacks to a depressing point in the series. I was eager to get to know Thalia, Ro, and Clio and see how they bonded together. But that’s where a big part of the book fell flat for me. I’m a person who really needs to like a main character (or main characters) in order to like the book. I didn’t get that in The Heiresses. The sisters are so often out for themselves and make decisions that I rarely respected.
Further, Allison Rushby’s The Heiresses was originally published as an e-serial and sort of suffers from what I’m going to call “Soap Opera Syndrome.” Each “episode” is overly dramatic and the overarching plot suffers as a result.
I did enjoy the history present in The Heiresses. The Roaring Twenties, whether in America or England, are fascinatingly decadent to me and I liked what I saw of that in this one. There was also one character (Clio) that I did care about and I genuinely felt invested in her romance and problems, but unfortunately, she was often overshadowed by her sisters– who I just plain didn’t like....more
I think that I’m one of many, many people who find Russian culture all kinds of fascinating. And like those many, manyPosted to The Bevy Bibliotheque:
I think that I’m one of many, many people who find Russian culture all kinds of fascinating. And like those many, many people, the Russian revolution and Romanov family is of a particular interest to me. Even if Tsarina was written by someone else and J. Nelle Patrick wasn’t the penname of a favorite author of mine, Jackson Pearce, I would have found my way to this book.
There’s something vaguely Gemma Doyle-ish about the beginning feel of Tsarina. I think it comes from the friendship between two girls from a wealthier class, and the magical tumult. It may have been added to by the character of Leo, who both opposes and supervises Natalya and her friend Emilia, but is kind to them. I was reminded in very slight ways of Kartik’s character.
The sense of danger and mysticism is palpable in Tsarina, and Patrick lays out the landscape of Russia in a lovely prose that readers of her work as Pearce have come to expect. I was very pleased with it in that regard.
But, although I did really enjoy, Tsarina, there were a couple of aspects that fell flat for me. I was a bit disappointed by the romance in this book. It’s not that it couldn’t be seen coming, but I didn’t feel the chemistry, so it didn’t work for me. And well… the ending was another thing. It’s another thing that you can see coming, but it just doesn’t quite work. Some of it is too convenient, and the pacing feels a little abrupt.
Still, those complaints are minor ones for me. Patrick gave me Russia and magic. She gave me hints of the Romanovs and a strong female friendship. She gave me lovely words and interesting characters. Tsarina was a read that I really enjoyed.
Have you heard? There’s a rumor this book is pretty good.*
“It is so hard trying to say what you mean.” -Elizabeth Wein, Rose Under Fire
How very true that quote is and how very fitting for Elizabeth’s Wein’s work, which I could not possibly do justice with my own paltry words. I feel like it’s akin to tearing myself open to write this review.
Though Code Name Verity struck me more in the feels as I sobbed over its pages, I think Rose Under Fire is just as powerful and flawless. And perhaps– more important. Elizabeth Wein is a mastermind. That is an all-too-simplistic way of putting it. Rose Under Fire is an harrowing narrative of one girl’s time under unthinkable conditions. It’s mind-boggling and devastating.
In today’s day and age, it’s impossible to imagine that people once did not believe the accounts of torture and inhumanity that took place in Nazi-occupied Europe, behind the fences of concentration camps. That some people still don’t. Because, really: they’re unthinkable. They seem like fiction, like propaganda. It is heart-breaking to be with Rose as she realizes the truth.
Though fiction, Rose Under Fire is a testament to those people and those times. It’s an important read because, as Elizabeth Wein stresses in her afterword, she “didn’t make up anything about Ravensbruck [...] It was real. It really happened to 150,000 women.” These are the kinds of stories that are important to tell. To “tell the world.”
The characters in Rose Under Fire make me tear up just thinking about them, especially Roza, who’s been experimented on and in captivity since the age of 14, and copes with it all through her own particular brand of macabre humor. In fact, many of the characters deal with their horrific situation with that humor. Grasping at anything to lighten their horrible days. Making families from their comrades.
There is a part of me that want to talk about what a triumph of the human condition this story is. In a sense that’s true, but in a sense it could not be more false. It’s a story of how far humanity can fall. Of ordinary people moved to the worst and best of extremes, as some turn to evil and some struggle simply to survive, like clawing their way out of hell.
The fact that people made it out of camps like Ravensbruck is extraordinary. Poetry lovers will weep over the fragile, heartbreaking poems that Rose creates and recites. At first, as someone who is not a poetry aficionado, they took me out of the moment, but later I clung to them as a small beautiful thing among the desolate landscape of Elizabeth Wein’s words. I held fast to those crumbs of hope.
Hope. It’s one of the most powerful forces in the world. It can bolster or betray, but without hope, other people, and a degree of courage that seems impossible, Rose and some of her friends would not have made it through.
Rose Under Fire is just so important. I want to tie it up in a ribbon with Code Name Verity and deliver them to every teacher I know.
“Hope is treacherous, but how can you live without it?” – Elizabeth Wein, Rose Under Fire...more
My first inkling that I was going to be in for an emotional wallop with Lady Thief came when I tweeted about starting it in the need of some escapism, and Gillian responded with “LIGHT, ESCAPIST FARE. #sarcasm.” Many others heaped on their agreements.
They were not wrong.
It took me about three weeks to get through Lady Thief and it wasn’t because of any lack of enjoyment, but because of an abundance of pain. I had to take breaks in my reading because, oh my goodness, friends, Lady Thief hurts so good. Our characters are suffering from the events of the first book, Scarlet, and my does it show. There is guilt and there are nightmares. There’s pain, anger, longing, and resentment.
But there’s honor too. And there’s love.
It struck me how well Gaughen doles out her doses of happy moments amongst characters riddled with (not-undeserved) angst. I clung to them. Robin and Scarlet have precious few happy moments, but when they shine together, it’s a blinding affair. I nearly had to be caught as I fell to the ground from swooning and shipping so hard.
And that’s big for me because while I really loved Scarlet, I remember not being overly impressed with Robin– I liked him well enough as a character, but not as a love interest. His jealous streak and commands didn’t do it for me. Nor did the love triangle between them and John, which thankfully was resolved early in Lady Thief. But now… Robin loves Scarlet so much and it’s way easier to understand his protectiveness when he’s not fighting her tooth and nail on each decision.
As the summary tells us, Scarlet returns to court as Gisbourne’s wife, the Lady Marian Leaford. And guys, Gisbourne was kind of… interesting this time around. He has moments that verge on niceness. The layering of his character as anything other than pure, unadulterated evil was interesting and worked. It didn’t make him sympathetic by any means (dude’s a legit villain), but it did make him a more dimensional character.
Since we’re talking about Gisbourne, let’s talk about some of the abuse dialogue that Gaughen skillfully wove in. Gisbourne asks Scarlet why she “makes him hurt her” and she rightfully responds that she doesn’t make him do anything. Similarly, Scarlet speaks of an injury as the first time she’s hidden one of the injuries: “it seemed like I were ashamed they’d done it.” Seamless writing and encouragement for abuse victims that the abuse is never their fault and they’re far from the ones who should be ashamed. Brava.
Another beautiful thing about Lady Thief: courtly intrigue. And a tournament! Huzzah! I can get behind mysteries and power plays, guys. I can get behind powerful ladies bonding and keeping secrets (I sort of guessed said secret and I was so proud). For fear of spoiling you, I’ll say no more, but the secret hints are dropped in a way that’s semi-obvious but not all IN YO FACE. It works.
I really also enjoyed Scarlet struggling to be the Lady Marian Leaford again and sort of giving up on that. She knows who she is and speaking differently doesn’t change who she is or how she sees the world. I loved her take on the tournament and court life.
Aaaaand finally… we have to talk about the ending because I swear to baby Jesus I am still upset over this. In the way that Gaughen intended, but still. Still. The action (and naturally this isn’t the only instance of action, but it stands out particularly in my mind) is written so well in this final climax. People are crashing together, there’s chaos, and then…
THEN I WAS SCREAMING.
And then there was a bit more as I begged Lady Thief to reverse the pain, REVERSE THE PAIN.
And then Lady Thief ended.
And I was left reeling.
Basically what I’m saying is this was an amazing book. All the feels.