Review: The Truth About Riley by Henrietta Clarke

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 18103276development 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.

4cuprating

Review: Unravel by Calia Read

Let me preface this review by stating that I waited to write down any of my thoughts until I had reread this book cover to cover. I never do that. Ever. To say anything about this book would be to spoil the experience of slowly uncovering its secrets. It is for this reason that I begin with a disclaimer that I do not want anyone who has not read this book to read past this paragraph. Go read this book. It is good New Adult. It is good Fiction. Read it. That being said, I feel I can reveal to you that, even going into this book knowing the twist within a twist, I STILL couldn’t figure out what was going on.  This is not a dig at Read’s skills as a writer, but rather a testament to them.  Unravel is a perfect name for Naomi’s story, as Read has crafted a truly immersive tale that keeps you guessing even as you start to suspect the endgame.  While I did have a few issues with some of the narrative threads and lack of resolution regarding how they ultimately played a role in Naomi’s reality, the story and writing are strong enough that I can forgive the remaining ambiguity in favor of hypothesizing to fill in the gaps myself. One of the reasons I enjoyed this book so much is that I enjoyed Naomi.  I related to her, not because I’ve been through anything like what she has been through, but because she felt like a real person that I might know and like. This is a trait that is startlingly absent from so many of the books I read nowadays, the New Adult genre in particular.  Yet while this novel is undoubtedly focused heavily on plot, it is likewise a character study, one whose purposely convoluted structure means that I had a difficult time connecting to certain characters upon the first reading.  I rarely reread a book right after I’ve finished it, but in this case it was almost necessary, and I’m so glad I did, because it enhanced my impression of the characters that Read has created and created a level of depth that makes the story even stronger.

Many are confused about Max’s role in Naomi’s illness. Was he Lachlan the whole time? Did the Unravel by Calia Readrelationship actually happen, just with faces/names swapped in Naomi’s mind, or did she imagine the whole thing? I think it is pretty clear that Naomi’s relationship with Max was the actual progression of her relationship with Lachlan, a fact brought home by his confusion when she confesses to him that she has been seeing “someone else.”  Lachlan is not concerned that she has been seeing someone else because it is apparent to him that she HASN’T been. She has been seeing him, and only the fact that she doesn’t seem to realize this fact is upsetting.

Where the juxtaposition of reality and imagination becomes blurred for me is in Lachlan’s treatment and knowledge regarding Namoi’s rape.  Reconstructing the timeline, it seems probable that Lachlan was clued into the fact that she was not a virgin the first time they had sex; her reactions and responses, while not unheard of for one’s first experience with sex, nonetheless are far enough outside the normal experience as to alert Lachlan that it might not actually be the first time. It’s understandable that he wouldn’t have put things together by then; even if he suspected that Naomi wasn’t a virgin by that point, there is no reason to assume that the loss of her virginity was connected with unusual circumstances.  When Lachlan has the conversation with his mother, I believe he was at least alerted to the fact that there were issues he should watch out for, which leads me to believe that he was at least somewhat aware of Lana’s true nature at this point or soon thereafter. Then Max/Lachlan sees the google search. Now, at this point, even if he still had reason to assume that Lana was an actual friend of Naomi’s whom he’d never met, he would have known that Michael was not Lana’s father, but rather Naomi’s. Lachlan did business with the man, was acquainted with him.  This is the part of the story where I start to make assumptions in order to fill in the gaps. Naomi never tells Max/Lachlan that Lana is the victim of the rape; I have to assume he believes it was Naomi, and why wouldn’t he assume the “real” daughter to be the victim rather than the daughter’s friend? Yet, in Naomi’s mind, Max/Lachlan accompanies both Naomi/Lana to go apartment hunting; again, I have to assume.  Either Max/Lachlan is aware of at least part of Naomi’s disorder by this point and is playing along by pretending that Lana exists, which in my mind is less likely, or rather, he doesn’t realize that the apartment is for Lana, nor that Lana is there with them.  Rereading that passage in particular, the intentional omission of names suggests that Max/Lachlan understood the apartment to be for Naomi, in order to help her escape from her own situation, and that he mistook any pauses or silences during which she was “talking” to Lana as simple silence, nothing more. Yet while I can content myself with all of the foregoing explanations, I still have two issues with the story. First, as I stated before, I have to assume Lachlan knew that Naomi was the real victim, which means that he initiated sexual relations with her even after he was aware of the rape.  In most cases, this situation would make me somewhat wary, and I would want him to use more discretion in allowing her time to heal.  Now, perhaps he truly did see her split personality as a protective mechanism and believed that by sleeping with Naomi, he was not injuring the part of her that had experienced the rape.  But if he wasn’t even aware of her split persona, or the extent to which it operated, and thus wasn’t sure whether the Naomi persona hadn’t experienced the rape…this is a gray area that I won’t explore too much for fear of delving into an area that I know too little about to render an opinion. The second issue has to do with infidelity. It is a huge red flag for me. I hate it. And whether Max really was Lachlan or not, the fact that Naomi didn’t know this means that she chose to be with someone who wasn’t Lachlan. I got the feeling that Read was trying to promote the idea that it wasn’t really cheating since she was drawn to Lachlan’s essence, but sorry. That doesn’t fly with me.  I would have liked to have seen this issue, and Lachlan’s reaction to it, dealt with in more depth, but I guess Lachlan was willing to forgive Naomi her faults given the extreme stresses and difficulties she was facing.  That might be his call to make, but it still leaves me unsatisfied. Ultimately, the power of this story is Read’s willingness to give us a book unafraid to delve into ambiguity.  Upon finishing the book, I felt that more questions than answers had been delivered- until went back and reread and realized that the clues are all in the omissions.  While some might guess at least one twist before the big reveal, I doubt that most readers will have worked out all of the mysteries.  However, while the plot was gripping enough to keep me glued to my seat for four hours straight so I could devour this story in one go, it’s the characters that will bring me back to this story for future rereads.  Some passages suggest that Read intends for Lachlan to be a sort of metaphor- the fact that Naomi needs both Max and Lachlan in her life showing that she subconsciously needs to reconcile the two halves of her consciousness. I’d rather not reduce Lachlan’s character to a mere symbolic vehicle.  Truthfully, even while I assumed that Read had drawn me into an unwelcome love triangle, I connected to the characters enough to make me hope for the impossible- a happy resolution.  Upon my first read-through, I was perplexed why I had found Unravel sitting on the romance shelf. It is clearly first and foremost a psychological thriller. The romance came second only to Naomi’s struggles, and while I liked the characters in and of themselves, as far as the relationships were concerned, what romance was there didn’t really do it for me. I’m not a huge fan of established relationships or instant attraction, and those seemed to be the foundations for Naomi’s relationships with both Lachlan and Max. Then I had the idea to reread her interactions with both chronologically, and suddenly I found myself immersed in a wonderful love story, slow burning and passionate in her encounters with Lachlan, and playful in the development of that relationship with “Max.” Unravel was one of my favorite titles this year to date.  I encourage anyone who dislikes New Adult to forego their aversion and give this title a try.  I think Read hit it out of the park by creating a story that can appeal to readers of so many different genres.  If you do give it a go (or hopefully already have if you’ve just read my spoiler-riddled review), let me know what you thought. 4cuprating

Review: Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

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.IslaHappilyEverAfterSmall

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.

threecuprating

Blog Tour and Series Cast: Quintana of Charyn by Melina Marchetta

I’m delighted to be participating for the Quintana of Charyn blog tour. As we all eagerly await the US release of the last in Melina Marchetta’s stunning Lumatere Chronicles series, I couldn’t help but ruminate a bit on all of the characters that we’ve come to know and love in Finnikin of the Rock and Froi of the Exiles.

I can’t help but cast characters in my head when I’m reading. Here’s how I imagine the characters in the Lumatere Chronicles series. (Warning: The pictures in my head often don’t match up to character descriptions. But it’s my vision, so change it if you don’t like it).

Finnikin

Isaboe

 

Froi

Quintana

Phaedra

Lucian

Check out the rest of the stops on the blog tour here.

Review: The Mysterious Madam Morpho by Delilah S. Dawson

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

The Mysterious Madam Morpho by Delilah S. Dawson

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.

Review: This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

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

This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

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.

Review: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

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

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

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.