Sometimes I have so much to say about a book that I have to force myself not to think about it. Other times, I have very few words yet my thoughts are assaulted by my feelings even days after finishing a book. The Truth About Riley falls into this second category, though when I first finished it I had the urge to slam my laptop shut in frustrated petulance. Once I’d calmed down a bit, though, I realized that this quiet little novel, despite eliciting a tantrum at its abrupt ending, was one of the better romances I’ve read lately, so much so that I bumped up my rating by another point and now stare at my blinking cursor, trying to put into words why I loved this story so much. It’s by no means perfect. Even I, a reader who lives for character development and dialogue over exposition and plot arcs, found myself skimming some of the lengthier conversations between Cam and Riley. The story could have used more editing, fewer endearments, and definitely more closure. Many other readers have lamented the fact that this novel ends on a cliffhanger. I wouldn’t characterize it as a cliffhanger ending – we know what is going to happen, and if one is willing to accept imagination rather than elaboration, it’s fulfilling enough – but given the fact that all that was needed was perhaps another chapter (hell, another sentence) to flesh out the final moments, I can’t help but think that Clarke was trying to squeeze out another book deal by holding the final few moments hostage. A follow-up was promised for early this year, meaning that Clarke contemplated more between these two characters; I can only assume part of their continuation would include angst, in which case I’m happy enough to content myself with this novel alone. Still, I would have loved to have seen Cam’s relationship withRiley’s family explored further, as well as seeing Riley assimilate into Cam’s inner circle of friends. Still, despite these flaws, I found myself completely engrossed in the slow unraveling of Cam and Riley’s story, tothe point where, even though I have very little to say, I can’t deny that thecharacters remain with me days later. Also, for the records, this novel has one of the best first kiss scenes I have ever read, hands down.
Oh, Isla. Where to begin?
I’m predicting that I will be in the minority of reviewers who don’t come out of this reading experience singing Isla’s praises. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy it. Isla is a thoroughly enjoyable book, written with the same easy flow that make Anna and Lola such accessible reads. This book has been three long years in the making, and in that time, more readers have come to discover Perkins’ debut and sophomore novels and have fallen in love with her innate ability to place readers squarely in her characters’ shoes. For good reason; when I first discovered Perkins’ work, for a few blissful hours, I was Anna and Lola. Particularly with regard to Anna, her experiences were related so organically that I never once felt like I was being told a story. Perkins wasn’t feeding us lines designed to make us swoon; she was tapping into every secret thought that we have ever had about our own love lives.
Isla is a good story, but unfortunately for me, I never lost myself to it like I have with Perkins’ previous works. Overall, I found Isla to be an engaging protagonist, and I admire Perkins’ decision to let her remain somewhat of a wallflower. Anna and Lola both have such vivid passions and personalities that, with Isla, it was nice to see the shy girl get the spotlight for a change. I related to Isla’s struggles regarding her future. I had those same conversations at many points during my late high school years and early twenties, and I still struggle with the fact that, while I tend to get obsessive about my interests, they never develop into anything that I could truly consider a passion or a calling or anything that allows me to identify myself. I would have loved to delve further into Isla’s doubts, in fact, but unfortunately we never get that chance. What we get instead is a whirlwind, quixotic romance that could have been just as fulfilling as Anna’s and Lola’s respective tales if it had been fleshed out a bit more.
I understand that Perkins wanted to give us a different type of love story. In Anna, we got a slow-burn friendship-turned-more; in Lola, a resurrected romance. Isla offers up something suspiciously close to instalove, though thankfully she avoids delving into those waters full-force. Isla has yearned for Josh for years, and I believe we are to assume that Josh has reciprocated those feelings, despite the fact that they have barely spoken to each other. Once they do strike up a tentative friendship, though, there is enough genuine connection between them that I bought the relationship, even if it moved at a rather quick pace. Still, while reading, I couldn’t help but shake my head at the plausibility (and validity) of falling in love in a month. For those of us jaded by having already weathered our teenage and twenties years away, Isla’s urgent, awe-struck voice felt too naïve at times. I believe that love can be found and experienced at any age, and that a relationship is of no less value simply for being formed during the tumult of youth. I don’t discount anyone’s ability to love, but I do take issue when I’m told, repeatedly, of that love when I don’t see the groundwork for its formation. During the few conversations that Isla and Josh have, I was sold on their chemistry, but there simply wasn’t enough. I’d all but written off the inevitable falling-out halfway through the book as the obvious consequence of two young people who are mistaking lust for love, or at least the desire for love for the real thing.
And then, on my way to work this morning, I remembered something; I once fell in love with a boy after having dated him for four weeks, and we have now been happily together for six years. That being said, I am intimately privy to the conversations and glances and touches that comprised our discovery of each other during those four weeks leading up to the big romantic revelation. And I’m sure that Perkins intended for her readers to assume a similar getting-to-know-you period for Isla and Josh; she just didn’t let us see it. And to be honest, I’m not quite sure what filled up the majority of the book’s narrative, because it felt as if this book was at once entirely focused on the romance between Isla and Josh (to the detriment of fleshing out secondary characters, as was done so well in her first two books) and yet, having finished their story, I’m still not entirely sure who either of them is. I don’t know why Josh was drawn to Isla from the beginning, or what made him fall in love with her now. Inadvertent breast-gazing and strolls through bookstores are cute fillers, but there wasn’t one single conversation between the two that allowed me to see how a connection fueled by outward attraction could be sustained in the long run. What’s more disappointing, while Perkins focuses so heavily on the supposed attraction between these two, none of their interactions gave me butterflies like the ones I got during the movie theater scene in Anna, or when Anna calls St. Claire Etienne for the first time, or when Cricket helps Lola fix her hair. The spark was so close to being there, but it never ignited for me.
I think that, had Perkins expanded this story out past her main characters a bit more to focus on the other people in Isla’s life, or even on Isla herself, I could have forgiven what I see as a somewhat overworked romance story. I get the sense that Perkins spent a bit too much time worrying about getting all of the pieces to fit together neatly, and the aftermath of serious editing is that the story lost some of its heart. I like Isla and Josh, but until I am more fully convinced of why they love each other, I simply can’t love them as a couple.
That being said, Isla is far from a bad novel and is perfectly delightful in its own right. Perhaps if Perkins hadn’t had two truly remarkable titles leading up to this one, a lack of comparison would have made me more inclined to love this book.
PS- I truly hope that we one day get an alternate narration of one particular scene that occurs toward the end of the book. You’ll know when you get to it.
Charm & Strange is a funny little book, and by funny I mean sly and dry and twisted up into all sorts of uncomfortable and nebulous corners of our narrator’s consciousness. I’ve not read a lot of young adult fiction lately, let alone new releases, yet I feel confident in saying that Kuehn’s debut stands apart in the pack. Those who read a quick blurb or glance at the cover will undoubtedly come into this novel with certain expectations, and I’m loathe to spoil anything for those readers. Usually I am the queen of spoilers; I rarely start a book unless I’ve already read the last page and been comforted by the conclusion I glimpse there. Yet I accepted Charm & Strange for review somewhat spontaneously, despite the fact that I don’t have time to give it a thorough review.
But for once, that’s probably for the best, as going into any great detail on thisbook would only ruin the experience for those who have yet to read it. Charm & Strange doesn’t read like most of the young adult fiction on shelves nowadays, and honestly, I believe it (like many of its peers) could easily make the jump to adult fiction were it not for certain readers’ and reviewers’ hangups on teenage protagonists delivering anything but age-appropriate stories. Kuehn’s writing felt at times like Meg Rosoff’s, at others like a young Melina Marchetta. It wasn’t necessarily an enjoyable read, but it was a good one, and one that I feel is important for the genre right now, especially given the propensity for many to dismiss young adult completely based on certain traits (vapid love-triangles, unnecessarily drawing out self-contained stories into series, self-insert new adult) that are becoming increasingly more prevalent.
Kuehn doesn’t deliver a protagonist who is easy to identify, or identify with. I didn’t relate to Win, but I believed his struggle (even as I suspected there was an unreliable narrator in my presence). The secondary characters could have been more fleshed out, maybe should have been, but part of me feels as if that would have undermined another crucial element of Kuehn’s narrative. I felt removed from Win’s story in a way that would usually make me drop a book within the first few chapters, but here if felt integral. I hope readers persevere as I did; the payoff was quiet and a bit bleak, but made the journey worth it.
I knew it would take a special book to get me back into the swing of blogging, even if only temporarily, but it took nearly three-hundred pages for me to realize that The Sea of Tranquility would be that book. In fact, I nearly gave up on it a dozen times in the first hundred pages. Millay’s debut novel showcases writing superior to many emerging in the genre nowadays, but unfortunately it took her longer to convince me (and likely many other readers) of this than it should have. As the story unfolds into a dual narration account of two high school students’ respectively tragic lives, there is little that can be called innovative. Granted, most YA heroines today don’t employ full-on Hot Topic regalia, but Nastya’s cultivated bitterness and self-proclaimed trashy appearance did little to endear her to me early on. It’s a shame, too, since I welcome any deviation from the norm, generi-goth or no; given my own predilections for the strange and unusual, I actually relate far more to the offbeat protagonists than to those who surf the mainstream. Unfortunately, Nastya’s dive into the dark side never felt genuine to me, even after Millay begins to peel back the layers of Nastya’s painful past. Her mask is convenient, a curiosity, but a mask all the same, without the underlying depth that could make me forgive use of such literary contrivance.
Still, I continued to read despite my initial inclinations and was pleased when Nastya and Josh’s interactions began to gain more substance at the halfway point. I fear that writing too much about the actual substance of the plot will give away the mystery, but this is a story in which the plot isn’t the driving force anyway. Oddly enough, neither are the characters when considered alone; I’ve already lamented my disappointment in how Millay handled Nastya’s character, and while I found Josh to be infinitely more appealing and interesting, he still doesn’t compare to some of his literary peers. Yet, and this is the part where my semi-coherent ramblings come fully undone, for this is a book in which my brain and my heart diverge in opinion, but somehow, when Nastya and Josh are together, Millay managed to make me feel in a way that I haven’t while reading for some months now. Their relationship holds all the angsty hallmarks that I tend to hate, but it was believable and woven together in stolen moments that had me holding my breath even as I knew where things were heading. I’ve seen several other reviewers despair at writing down their emotions for this novel, at having to mold feelings into words, and I find I’m having the same trouble, which doesn’t make for a particularly compelling review to read, but it does speak to the strength of Millay’s novel that, despite flawed characters and bungled plotlines (which I won’t get into both for spoilers’ sake and because I am still too angry at certain characters to discuss them rationally), this book had me too wrapped up in the story’s heart to care about its flimsy structure.
The Sea of Tranquility is not one of the best books I’ve read this year (and yes, I have been reading despite my lack of blogging activity). But the fact that it inspired me to write about it, even though I have nothing much to say, speaks to its strength as a story.
Last year, Dawson’s debut novel Wicked As They Come introduced one of the most unique and delightful landscapes I’ve come across in the paranormal genre for a long time. The world of Sang is dark, twisted, wonderfully irreverent and impossibly sexy. In this novella, Dawson plunges readers back into her world, and I couldn’t be happier to return.
The story is rather short yet surprisingly well-developed for its truncated page time. Dawson effectively balances the necessity of reuniting us with past characters (because what Blud book would be complete without an appearance from Criminy?) with further developing the characters and creations that populate her fantasy world. I was so pleased with the pace of the worldbuilding with this novella, as it allows us a better glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes in the caravan as well as a taste of life in the cities. I adored Mr. Murdoch and could have read twice as many pages recounting the various inventions he has contributed to the circus. Madam Morpho’s talent is equally as enchanting, and while I won’t spoil some of the surprises that are in store by going into detail about how her show really works, I will say that Dawson has succeeded in emphasizing the steampunk underpinnings of her story in a way that I haven’t seen before.
As for the characters, I didn’t connect as strongly with Madam Morpho as I had
with Trish, which proved to be somewhat of a struggle as I read, but her chemistry with Mr. Murdoch more than made up for any shortcomings I found in her character. I wish we could have gained a bit more insight into Mr. Murdoch’s psychology, as it plays quite an important role in the story and I felt that the story ended on a rather unresolved note. Yet in this regard Madam Morpho‘s ending was rather similar to the resolution of Tish and Criminy’s story in the previous book, and Dawson has shown that she is willing and eager to revisit their storyline, so I’m hoping that further installments in the series give us more insight into how Madam Morpho and Mr. Murdoch’s relationship allows each character to grow past their insecurities.
Overall, The Mysterious Madam Morpho is a great installment in the series and makes me greedy to get my hands on the second book, Wicked As She Wants, next year.
I was lucky enough to win a copy of This Is Not a Test the week it was released, though based on the wonderful reviews it was receiving, I likely would have gone out to purchase a copy regardless. Though I’d heard praise for Summers’s contemporary young adult, I’d never read any of her works. Still, descriptions of This Is Not a Test as a “contemporary-with zombies,” rather than a zombie book, had me intrigued despite Summers’s reputation for writing rather somber stories.
For those hoping to read about gore and bloodshed, you won’t be entirely disappointed by This Is Not a Test. I can’t say the above-mentioned description got it completely right, as this story contains enough disturbing material to make those wary of the zombie genre shy away. Yet, ultimately, this book truly isn’t about what’s beating on the doors to get in; it’s about the demons that already live inside us. Summers’s decision to narrate the story through the voice of a suicidal teenager was simple yet quite brilliant, as the stark questions raised by the fight for survival
become all the more uncomfortable when viewed with a sense of detachment. A particularly beautiful effect of this approach was the highlight on survival not merely as a solitary endeavor, but as one in which the fight to live is endured as much for others as for oneself.
It’s rare that an author can sustain such a large cast of characters without allowing any single one to come to the forefront as someone to root for, yet Summers has achieved the nigh-impossible. I didn’t identify myself with any of the characters, didn’t feel the queasy nervousness of their dubious survival, yet I sincerely wanted them all to be alright. I’m not sure I would like to be friends with any of them, yet I cared about them. In an environment that brings the best and worst of people to the surface, Summers unerringly reminded us of the large expanse of gray in which most people live their lives, though shades of black and white might flitter at the periphery.
Ultimately, there was only one place that this story could be headed, and Summers doesn’t shy away from it. The end scene is a tad ambiguous, and the effect rather deprives readers of closure, but any other ending would have seemed far too disingenuous. While some might be displeased with the direction this story takes, I loved the journey that Summers takes us on from start to finish. This Is Not a Test is one of my top reads for the year. I’ll definitely be checking out Summers’ back-catalogue when I get the chance.
Throne of Glass certainly seems to be one of the standout young adult fantasy titles this year. When I first caught wind of this release, my excitement owed as much to the fact that the story had first appeared on Fictionpress.net as it did to the intriguing premise. I’m a huge fan of sword and sorcery novels, particularly those in the vein of Maria V. Snyder’s Study series, so a novel with a female assassin protagonist sounded right up my alley. Ultimately, Throne of Glass didn’t enthrall me as I had anticipated going into the novel, but having perservered through a somewhat rough beginning, I’m glad I stuck with it.
As Throne of Glassopens, we are introduced to Celaena Sardothien, self-proclaimed (and universally acknowledged) master assassin. It took me a good while to warm to Celaena. A cool, calculating demeanor is only to be expected of an assassin, yet I wasn’t a fan of Celaena’s seemingly unflappable confidence, which I more often than not interpret as mere arrogance in literature. Yet, there have been a number of series where it took me many chapters, indeed, sometimes an entire book or two to feel sympathy for a seemingly acerbic heroine; Ilona Andrews’s Kate Daniels series and Jeaniene Frost’s Night Huntress series are excellent examples. I’m glad to say that Celaena ultimately fell into this category, as Maas went down an unexpected route in the characterization of her protagonist. As we get to know Celaena, her haughtiness becomes more subdued (presumably due to her increased comfort with her surroundings and companions). It’s all well and good to assert that you’re the
best assassin in the world, but to me, the more you feel the need to proclaim your status to all you encounter, the more I tend to doubt your abilities. Luckily, Celaena quickly disavowed herself of the need to remind others of her experience, and I soon found myself rooting for her despite my initial disinclinations. What’s more, Maas imbued Celaena with an inherent girlishness that complemented the severity of her killing nature. Celaena might be ruthless when need be, but she’s also a woman and enjoys certain frivolities and vices. I particularly loved the Yulemas scene in which she receives and proceeds to eat a massive amount of candy, as it serves to contrast the harshness of her maturity with the innocence she is still capable of displaying. However, the thing I loved most about Celaena was the fact that she wasn’t afraid to admit when others were right. There is a particular scene in which she is told that, in order to win, she must forsake her pride. While most heroines would doggedly adhere to their convictions regardless of the wisdom such action would entail, Celaena laughed it off and conceded that the strategy was a good one. I loved that she was confident enough in herself to acknowledge when others had the right in the matter.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t as impressed with most of the other characterizations. I’ll admit, the love triangle is shaping up to be an interesting one, and for once, I’m not quite sure who I think would be the better choice for Celaena in the long-run (though I believe I know who her endgame will wind up being). Chaol is a good idea of a character, but we didn’t get to know him nearly well enough for me to really root for him at this point. I felt that Maas’s brief transistions into his point-of-view actually hurt the story by removing some of the doubt and ambiguity. I would have preferred to learn of his feelings gradually as Celaena did rather than having them gift-wrapped and hand-delivered to us. Dorian was a bit more interesting, yet I feel that he, too, served a limited purpose. His resistance toward his father’s method of ruling and belief in marrying for love felt too neat and did little to create depth of character; rather, they merely served to make him a stereotype for the ideals that Maas hopes to champion throughout the series. Still, I enjoyed Celaena’s interactions with both men and look forward to seeing how Maas maneuvers these relationships as the series progresses.
For the first half of the story, there were few magical references save mention of some fantastical creatures who inhabit the forest. I was glad to see Maas incorporate a heavier fantasy element in the second half of the story and felt that she handled the magical system she created well. We saw just enough to keep us intrigued while holding back ample material for sequels to explore. Overall, the world Maas created is an interesting one that, while not particularly unique, nonetheless manages to combine oft-used elements into an attractive whole in which action and magic meld together. Throne of Glass is a solid contribution to young adult fantasy, yet I’m hoping that Maas focuses more attention on creating depth in her characters in upcoming installments. If she manages to do that, I believe that this series could shine above many of its peers.