I do not have time to read, but the books just keep getting stuck to my face. UF, HF, YA, fluffy romance, whatever. I love it all.
But I might judge you if you hand out five stars all willy nilly.
My grandmother fell in love three times before her nineteenth birthday. My mother found love with the neighbor boy when she was six. And I, I was born with wings, a misfit who didn't dare to expect something as grandiose as love.
...my story, like everyone's, begins with the past and a family tree. The following is the story of my young life as I lived it…. I have traveled through continents, languages, and time trying to understand all that I am and all that has made me such.
I have been processing my feelings on this book for two days and I am still not quite sure what to say or if I can explain how it was for me. It is, on the one hand, one of the most beautifully written books I've read in a very long time, and on the other hand, also melancholy and so very strange. Reminiscent of movies I've seen that feature magical realism (e.g. Big Fish, Amelie, The Mysterious Case of Benjamin Button) it is at once captivating and disconcerting.
The synopsis on this book promises "Magical realism, lyrical prose, and the pain and passion of human love haunt this hypnotic generational saga,"and omg, does it deliver.
In the same way that fairytales do not explain how magical things happen, but presents them as fact, this strange and beautiful story of Ava Lavender and her strange and beautiful family is unapologetically magical.
It is the story of three generations of the Lavender family, their loves and losses, and all the events that lead up to the sorrowful climax of young Ava's life. It is told in a matter-of-fact way, as though Ava is conversing with you, but sprinkled with prose that plucks at your heartstrings with delicate and earnest beauty.
Happiness had a pungent scent, like the sourest lime or lemon. Broken hearts smelled surprisingly sweet. Sadness filled the air with salty, sea-like redolence...
If she thought of her love as a commodity and were, to say, eat it, it would fill 4,745 cherry pies… if she were to drink it, she'd drown.
This is a book that I would have given ten stars to when I was seventeen, the age when melancholy and angst and gloriously beautiful tragedy made my heart sing. At that age, when I carried a marked-up, dog-eared, crinkle-covered copy of Romeo & Juliet everywhere with me and gleefully wept for days over movies that captured the beauty and heartbreak of love, I would have eaten this story up with a spoon.
For a moment, she saw in him a common soul and smiled at the thought of spending the next fifty years sleeping in the crook of his long arm or walking together in stride…. but then she remembered… all those months spent waiting for a love that never returned, and she wrapped her heart in its burial shroud once again.
Sadly, though, I'm not seventeen anymore, and while I fully appreciate the unique beauty in the writing, my rating comes down to this-- did I actually enjoy myself while reading this book?
I don't know.
I don't believe every book has to give you warm and fuzzies, and sometimes an unpredictable and introspective read really hits the spot, but you have to be in the right mood for it. For me personally I found myself marveling at the writing and wondering where it was going, but it wasn't until the last 15% that it really got a rise out of me. The climax in this book was shocking and dark, horrifying really, yet the author came through in the end with enough resolution for some of my favorite characters to satisfy me and just enough hope to save this from being an utterly depressing read.
I would recommend this for people who enjoy generational sagas, coming-of-age stories, and particularly for those who know they like magical realism. This is a beautifully written book and I think it will strike a chord with many people, but it may leave others wondering what the point of it all was.
I keep wanting to click the four stars button, because the things I liked I really liked, but 3 stars just feels more honest.
I will say, though, that not only would I read another book by this author, but I will be looking forward to whatever she puts out next. Bravo.
Amazon has been trying to get me to read this book for about six years now, and for about six years, I honestly thought this was a book about two kids who have some sort of drunk driving incident and meet each other in rehab. FYI: that is not remotely close to what this book is about. Like, so far apart those two plots are not even on the same planet. I have no clue where I got that impression because yeah…. this book was actually light, funny, introspective and not dark at all. Silly me for putting it off for so long because I wasn't "in the mood to be depressed." My bad, no hard feelings, m'kay?
So this is actually a coming-of-age story told from the perspective of Quentin in the latter part of his senior year. After a wild night of pranks with his one-true-unrequited love, Margo, she up and disappears off the face of the earth. The police won't look for her because she's 18, and her parents won't look for her because she's run away before and they are fed up, so it is left to Quentin and his two hilarious sidekick friends to follow the clues Margo left behind and figure it all out… or not. They are really hard clues.
First things first, audio is the only way to go on this. Trust me when I tell you that the teenage male narration you will do in your head will not come close to the teenage male impression this narrator can pull off, especially when Ben gets sh*tfaced and drunk dials Quentin. It is freaking hilarious. My favorite parts of this whole story were the interactions between Quentin and his friends and listening to the narrator bring them to life magnified my enjoyment. I don't even know if I would have been interested enough to stick it out through the whole book if I had read it, but I loved this as an audio book.
It was a little slow in parts, and the end was sort of anticlimactic and overly introspective, but overall I liked it. John Green is kind of up there with Rainbow Rowell in my mind, in that I am pretty sure I will enjoy just about whatever they write. I love how their brains work and listening to their characters make general observations on life is my favorite part of the journey. You know what is also fun? Following both Rainbow Rowell and John Green on Twitter and getting little doses of their wit on a daily basis. And you know what's even better than that? When they interact with each other on Twitter: no containing the awesome. But if you're not into Twitter and you need a dose of John Green, get this one on audio and go to town.
Ha! Get it? Paper Towns? It's a pun.
So this book was not at all what I expected.
It didn't have any NA cliches. It didn't have any over-the-top gritty angst that makes me crazy. It didn't even have any sex… for real, a NA book with no sex.
This is somewhat mind boggling because most NA hitting the market is the 21st-century version of the bodice-rippers my grandma read by the pool (she was a sassy thing), but with more past trauma and ridiculousness. The cover with the sexy side abs fooled me, so I was even more surprised when this turned out to be a story with a surprising amount of heart and way more 'inspirational fiction' than a typical NA.
It's told in two phases: what came before, and what came after. It's the story of Fern, the ugly duck in high school, who has always loved Ambrose, the beautiful boy with the beautiful voice and the heart of gold (no snark when I say that, I really did like Ambrose) and Fern's best-friend/cousin Bailey, who's battling a deadly disease.
The sweetness in this is what surprised me most.
"She was the kind of girl who didn't care about pulling up to a party in a mini-van rigged for a wheelchair. The kind of girl who had been giddy to just be asked to play a stupid game. The kind of girl who had come back to say goodbye to him, a boy who had treated her like dirt. And he wished, more desperately than he had ever wished for anything before, that he could change it."
It is also the story of what came after Ambrose and his four best friends enlisted in the army and went on tour in Iraq. He comes home a different person, damaged physically and emotionally, and Fern is different as well. It's the story of them finding each other, and the person they loved from the notes in high school, and the journey they go through to get there.
Overall, I really did enjoy it. It's a touching story, which is reflected in the fact that it has an unbelievable rating of over 4.6 from over 5000 reviews. I think that speaks to the fact that a poignant and moving story is really what most people are looking for in their romance, and a lot of authors get that confused with "tragic." This story does have some tragedy and it did make me tear up on several occasions, but the overall message was one of hope.
So why just 3.5 stars? Well, if I'm being honest, I felt a little let down with how PG the romance was after all the build up between Ambrose and Fern, and I wanted a little bit more from them at the end. Also, there were some parts that came across as a tad bit preachy. While I actually like that stuff, when I'm expecting it, it got a little heavy-handed in parts for my taste. I wanted her to just show me the events and tell me what they said, and then let me take from it what I got out of it, rather than being told what I should get out of it. Take that with a grain of salt because I think I'm the only person who felt that way, but it did bring down my rating a bit.
All in all, 3.5 is not a bad rating. I was pleasantly surprised by this book and I do think it was worth reading. Great characters, good writing, and a touching story. This is going on the "NA I actually liked" shelf.
In a nutshell: the audio version was beautifully done and I truly enjoyed listening to it, but I doubt I would have made it through if I'd tried to read it myself. I probably would have been bored out of my mind.
So, I've had this book in my to-read pile for a while, probably for the same reasons that many of you do: it has stellar reviews, it's been on the best seller lists, I think I even saw it at Costco. Clearly, this book had to be something special. But the synopsis was sort of weird (a book about a golem and a jinni?) and there wasn't any promise of any kind of romance, so I wasn't sure it was going to be for me. Now that I've finally
read listened to it? What did I think?
I have no idea whether I'm recommending it or not. I think it depends on what you are looking for. This is the story of Chava (Hava), a woman made of clay who is built to be the wife of a man who is immigrating to New York City in 1899. When he dies during the voyage, she finds herself newly alive and wholly alone, uncertain of who she is or what she is meant to do. Upon arrival in New York, she is discovered by an old Jewish Rabbi who befriends her and takes her under his wing, teaching her to pass as human and helping her make her way in the world.
Meanwhile, a metal worker across town is repairing a copper flask when suddenly a naked young man appears. He is a fire jinni who has been trapped in the flask for a 1000 years and is still bound to his human form by the sorcerer who put him there. This book is about how Chava the Golem and Ahmad the Jinni make their way in the world, the people they encounter and the relationships that are formed. It is the story of how they chance to meet, what happens after they do, and how the encounter forever alters their respective course.
On the one hand, it was exactly what I expected. Lovely imagery communicated in a flowing style that made me want to keep listening for the entire 18 hours. I never once considered not finishing it. I listened to it relatively quickly and I definitely wanted to know how it would end. It is just the sort of audiobook that I enjoy while folding laundry or taking a walk. It's easy to listen to and interesting enough to keep my mind from wandering, but without any gut-knotting angst. It was easy to shut off when I needed to do other things, but I always had the desire to turn it back on when I got the chance. The narrator was perfect and listening to him read this book felt… calming. Like sitting by the ocean on a warm and breezy day.
On the other hand, while the listening experience was enjoyable and I liked the majority of the story, in the end it left me feeling somewhat empty. There were very few ways for this story to end happily, so overall I would say that I am content with where it went, but there was something lacking for me. Maybe it was that some of the characters got a lot of screen time but were ultimately expendable and didn't change the course of the story all that much. Michael, Sophia, the ice cream man… so much time was spent telling me their backstory and building up their place in the story, but at the end of it all I'm left wondering what the point was. They could have been left out and would I have really noticed? I was happy with how the author resolved everything, but it felt a little anticlimactic… similar to the climax in The Night Circus, for those that have read it. A lot of build up, but instead of an eruption you just get a fizzle.
There wasn't a direct love story, although Ahmad did have a fling and he and Chava did have some sort of chemistry. It was all very PG and any love scenes were of the "fade to black" variety, which makes this book suitable for many different types of readers, but if you're looking for a great romance, this isn't your book. This is more of a peek inside the lives of many different people in 1899, immigrants of all different nationalities and class, as interpreted through the eyes of two characters who are learning what it means to be human.
I found it interesting, especially while folding laundry and washing dishes, but it may not be for everyone. Basically, if I had actually sat down and tried to read this book to myself, I am pretty sure I would have never had the patience for it, but it worked well for me as an audio choice. I had a similar experience with Life of Pi. I wound up truly enjoying that book, it's narrator, and the story, but I most likely would have never actually read it.
So, out of my Goodreads friends who have read this book, the percentage who have loved it?
One Hundred Percent.
Which makes me feel like this:
The odd man out.
But I'm not gonna lie: me and this book had a rough go. I don't even know if it's the book's fault. It could just be me, and the fact that I'm pretty sure all the books I've considered high fantasy have actually been more like romances with magic. I can't deny my need for romance and lurve!
Soooo… that was fun!
This series is still one of the ones that I hate that I love, with the waxing poetic in nonsensical ways and the whining whining whining… but, I love it. I do. I'm happy with how it ended and I'm happy I read this book, which I can't say for every series. I'm not going to sum it up or even spend much time telling you about it, because if you're reading this then you're probably already familiar with the series and you're either going to read it or you're not. But here's my thoughts on how it wrapped up.
Girlfriend, I was worried for a bit. The first 5% of the book had me concerned that you were going to spend the last book in your trilogy crying and feeling sorry for yourself and spouting meaningless drivel.
And there was some of that.
"I feel my face flush so fast that for a moment I’m surprised I’m not standing in a toilet."
Yep, she really said that.
But, I'm actually proud of her. She shrugged it off, and grew up a bit and finally realized who she is and what she wants and took ownership of her abilities and overall came through in all the ways I wanted her to.
She even, dare I say it, grew a sense of humor. I'm giving Kenji and Warner the credit for it, but I was pleased with this.
“You know, I can sort of control it now,” I tell him, beaming. “I can moderate my strength levels.”
“Good for you. I’ll buy you a balloon the minute the world stops shitting on itself."(interaction between Juliette and Kenji)
What can you say about Kenji other than he is the epitome of what a fantastic supporting character should be. He's funny, a good friend, and not just a prop for the author to kill off if she needs something dramatic to happen. He not only added to the story, he had a starring role in my mind. Love love love Kenji!
“Hey, um, I’m sorry to bother you, but I’m looking for a friend of mine,” he says. “Have you seen her? She’s a tiny little thing, cries a lot, spends too much time with her feelings."
Kenji clears his throat. “Hey—guys? Your loin passion is grossing out the little ones."
The Love Triangle
One of the problems with love triangles is that they can be fun in the beginning but are almost always a bitch to resolve. The back and forth and the angst and the lack of resolution just drives me nuts. I'm actually very happy with how this one went, but if you're on a different team than I was you will probably be disappointed.
I don't even know what happened to Adam in this one. I didn't read the last novella because I'm not an Adam fan, but I'd heard some things about it and was prepared for him to be a little different. I was not prepared for him to be a complete and total jerk.
“No—you don’t understand anything,” he snaps. “You don’t understand me, you don’t understand yourself, and you don’t understand that you’re acting like a stupid child who’s allowed herself to be brainwashed by a psychopath."
Did I waste any time feeling sad over it? Nope. Didn't ruin the story for me in the least. Sorry, Adam fans.
And this brings me to:
I just love him. Can't help it. Don't want to.
"Warner thinks I’m strong and smart and capable and he actually values my opinion. He makes me feel like his equal—like I can accomplish just as much as he can, and more. And if I do something incredible, he’s not even surprised. He expects it. He doesn’t treat me like I’m some fragile little girl who needs to be protected all the time."
I have loved him ever since Destroy Me. I thought his character growth was perfectly done, if a little sappy at times, but overall, in my mind he is the total package.
In the end, the series wrap up was a bit weak on plot (things came together too easily and rather late in the game and then didn't fully resolve enough for me) but I'm happy enough with it to still feel good about the series and glad I read it. Juliette will never be one of my favorite heroines, but what she lacked Kenji and Warner made up for in spades. Seriously, they just stole the freaking show and those two alone make the read worth it. If you've read the first two books, definitely finish it out. This was a worthwhile finish to a fun series.
11% through the book: "I like Chess, but I gotta know... Does she get off drugs at some point?"
41% through the book: "So, she has mentioned a few times that Terrible looks like Elvis (with the sideburns and the bowling shirts). Young Elvis right? Not jumpsuit Elvis?"
61% through the book: "One thing I appreciate about this story is that at least when Chess gets injured, she stays injured like a normal person. She got popped in the nose and the next day she looks like crap, which is kind of nice. Only superheroes should have super healing."
72% through the book: "Aughhhhh wtf is this situation with her hand?!"
Review after finishing:
So I'm surprised to be giving this book so many stars. Should it be three? Maybe, but it doesn't matter.
What matters is that I liked this book at all considering the following:
1. I don't like ghosts or ghost stories. They freak me out and make me feel like I need to go to church.
2. Speaking of church, this book is set in a dystopian future where ghosts have the ability to kill humans and at some point they tried to take over the world. The debunkers, the witches who could control ghosts, saved the world and now have the power. They call themselves the Church and have outlawed religion. This is also super creepy. Chess (Cesaria) is a witch in the employ of The Church.
3. Chess has a serious drug problem and is popping pills left and right throughout the whole book. This bothered me a lot in the beginning but I either became desensitized or she is just such a high functioning addict that I forgot about it. I would very much like to see her go to fictional drug rehab though and get clean. Maybe she and Lex and Terrible can all go together.
4. The downspeak is crazy and hard to adjust to. I gave up on The Black Dagger Brotherhood partly because their speech and words are so ridiculous, so this is a hurdle for me. One I think I can overcome because I like the characters and it makes sense in the context of the world they are in, but still a hurdle. Not sure how Chess snuck by with her plain and modern perfect English when she's surrounded by people who talk like Shortie from Indiana Jones, but whatev. I'm glad my narrator doesn't speak pidgeon because that would just be way too much.
Even with all that, I still couldn't put the book down. I wanted to know what happened next, even when it freaked me the heck out. I don't do horror movies at all, not even wussy horror, so I kind of feel proud for getting through it. It's not like terrifying or anything, just creepy and suspenseful and there was a bit with worms that caused me to flip my lid (see above status update at 72%).
In spite of the unsettled feeling I had for the first half of the book, I think I could like these characters. I'm intrigued with Chess and Terrible's weird chemistry and I have a small crush on Lex, so yes-- I will read the next one. This is grittier urban fantasy than I'm used to, in a darker world, but I like the writing and I am willing to give this series a fair shot. I liked it more than I expected to.
I have always had a fascination with the Civil War and pre-20th century America. It's hard to imagine that just 160 years ago, a horrifically bloody and devastating war tore through this country and caused fellow Americans to massacre one another. It was a brutal time in history and I have read many books examining it from different points of view.
Yet in all the books I previously read, I never learned that there were women on both sides of the war who disguised themselves and fought alongside their men: fought alongside their husbands, their brothers, their fathers, their fiances. Over 200 of them are known to have infiltrated the ranks, and this book is a fictional account of what it would have been like to be one of them.
Young Rosetta Wakefield has just married her sweetheart Jeremiah, with whom she has big plans to head west to Nebraska and have their own farm. They were young and in love and the sweetness of their wedding and honeymoon felt so authentic, it made me long for simpler times. Shortly after their wedding, though, Rosetta wakes to find a letter from her husband informing her he has gone to join the Union army. He is certain that he will only have to serve for a few months and then will be back home with enough money to fund their dream.
Rosetta is understandably heartbroken and angry to be left behind at her in-laws farm, and she is lonely and afraid for her husband. A series of events pushes Rosetta to lop off her hair, don men's clothing, and make the daring decision to follow Jeremiah. She successfully enlists and becomes a soldier, taking on the name of Ross Stone, and there the adventure begins.
There were many things in this book that were beautifully done. The dialogue rang true and the culture and landscape of the 1800's really came to life in the capable hands of Erin Lindsay McCabe. The prose wasn't overly flowery or purple, yet every once in a while a line would be so perfectly worded I would have to read it two or three times just to let it soak in.
"Jeremiah is like cloth that has been washed to a softness, where James and Jesse are stiff and dark like fabric fresh off the bolt.
Through Rosetta's eyes we experience what it would be like to march with the Union army: the long periods of waiting followed by bursts of intense action, the pain of losing friends along the way, the grief and confusion of fighting men who don't seem that different from you.
Something heavy settles into my belly when the stain blooms on that soldier's chest, the hole in the line, the tear in the fabric of some other family.
McCabe made me smell the smoke and feel the clods of dirt raining down and really brought the tragic sadness of the battle to life.
The cries of wounded men pierce through everything else and then, from behind that embankment, the shriek of the dead comes, a sound that is wolf howl and rabbit scream mixed together, raising gooseflesh on my arms, coming, coming not twenty yards away and they are coming and everything inside me goes to pounding and shaking.
Perhaps because the writing was so good and because it delivered what the synopsis promised, telling the story of a woman soldier in the civil war, that I have a hard time really critiquing the book itself. I can admire this book for what it contributes to the historical fiction genre, bringing a unique perspective to this time in history, but I still don't know that I particularly care for the story itself.
It is based on true events, so I can't really hold the author responsible for Rosetta's decisions, though I frequently disagreed with them. I understood not wanting to be left behind and wanting to be near her husband, but there came a part in the story where I had more empathy and sadness for Jeremiah. He was not only burdened with the horror of war, but also with the fear of having his wife there with him and trying to keep her secret and safe, which was a fairly impossible task. This made it hard for me to sympathize with Rosetta's reasons for being there.
I also struggled with the turn that Will's character took in the latter part of the book. Since he was purely fictional I feel more comfortable voicing my complaints about him.
Anyways, this was an interesting story with solid writing and I think that it's going to appeal to people who would like to know more about this time in history. It had some cameo appearances from other well-known Civil War women, such as Rebel Rose and Clara Barton, and it did manage to make me cry, so I cannot claim I was unaffected. I did have to press through some boggy parts where I felt distracted and lost interest, but I think that with the right reader this book will really shine.
My record with NA books is not so hot. Most of them make me crazy. But this one has a rating average of 4.6 out of 5000+ reviews. It's not possible for all of them to be from biased rabid fangirls, right?
So I'm going in! Hopes high! Fingers crossed! Let's do this thing.
Before this book I really believed...
* Dystopian novels worth reading were a flash in the pan that began with The Hunger Games and ended with Divergent.
* Heart-stirring stories need to include a significant romantic thread.
* Books written by men, from a man's POV, are mostly action with not enough heart to keep my interest.
Red Rising made me eat my words.
I don't even want to tell you what it's about, because it's so much better to go in knowing nothing. Have no expectations for the direction the story will go, unless it's to expect an epic adventure. Stop reading reviews (except this one, you can finish reading this one) . All you really need to know is that this is a book that has all the passion of Braveheart, the intensity of Gladiator, the intrigue of The Matrix, and the loyalty and insurrection of Spartacus. If you enjoy watching Survivor for the strategy and the social game, you will be just as glued to Darrow's situation and trying to strategize along with him. I know I was.
Pick up this book when you want to read a book that will grab you from the first page, with zero fluff and filler. A book that clips along briskly and will not bore you. It has flawed characters who grow into heroes throughout the book.It's set on future Mars, which has been terraformed into a beautifully habitable planet unbeknownst to the lowest class of people slaving away in the mines below ground, and I found this fascinating. The author really made me believe that this is possible and I could tell he did his research and thought everything through.
It has unexpected twists and turns, as well as situations in which the characters are faced with truly difficult choices and I learned something from the decisions they make. There were horrifying injustices but also deep friendships and I loved so many side characters just as much as I loved Darrow. The story was told through his eyes, yes, but there were many other strong, likable, detestable, remarkable and memorable characters. This story had heart.
Is there romance? No.
Is there a triangle? Emphatically no.
Is there love? Yes. Emphatically, yes.
"We grew together, and now are grown. In her eyes, I see my heart. In her breath, I hear my soul. She is my land. She is my kin. My love."
"I live for the dream that my children will be born free. That they will be what they like. That they will own the land their father gave them."
"I live for you," I say sadly.
She kisses my cheek. "Then you must live for more."
This is not a YA book. That label is honestly a little insulting. Too often YA is a parent-friendly way of saying "teen romance." Darrow is technically 16, but he is more like a 30-year-old in a 16-year-old's body, already married and hardened by a life as a helldiver in the mines of Mars. Aside from the occasional mention of his age, I forgot all about it.
This book falls outside of genre boundaries. It's a dystopian that people of all ages and genders will appreciate, much like the Hunger Games, but I would say it's even more relatable and relevant than The Hunger Games. It is fiercer, more ruthless, and more cunning. It has moments that are shocking and violent, heartbreaking and painful, but none of it is gratuitous. I didn't feel things were just thrown in to rattle me, and it wasn't overly graphic. The harshest parts of the story were muted and that kept me from getting too bogged down with the weight of it. Pierce Brown didn't hold back or spare his characters grief, but it all felt necessary to the story being told.
This is the easiest five stars that I've given in a long time. This book exceeded my expectations and surprised me with how much I enjoyed it. I didn't think a book without an overt love story could keep my interest, but I was up till all hours of the night finishing this one. As long as you go in expecting a dystopian adventure along the lines of Braveheart and Gladiator, and not a dystopian carried by romance (e.g. Divergent), you will not be disappointed.
Had I not already read and loved this book, and I was seeing all the comparisons to manly-man movies, I might still be on the fence-- so I want to emphasize again that even though this is not a romance, it will speak to your heart. It is a story worth reading. It made me think and had more underlying observations on the human condition than most books I've encountered.
I am so tired of book hype letting me down, and authors starting out strong and then peetering out at the end of the book. Pierce Brown, much like Darrow, has earned my trust and I am confident he knows where this series is going.
"You do not follow me because I am the strongest... You do not follow me because I am the smartest... You follow me because you do not know where you are going. I do."
*all quotes taken from an uncorrected proof and may be subject to change in the final copy.
So all that hype coming down the pipe for Red Rising? I'm starting to believe it.
Oh, man, here I go again, standing on the outskirts as all my friends love a book and I flounder. *sigh* I don't even seem to be on the same page with the other two-star reviewers. The things that brought the story down for other people are the things I liked most about it, and the things other people liked most are what brought it down for me.
So let's list them and get it over with, shall we?
What I loved:
1. The first 92 pages. There was an opening scene with a mage girl trying to fix a ruined light elixir, and she calls down lightning to do it. The prince of the realm sees the lightning from far off and recognizes it as the signal that the prophecy is about to be fulfilled and the helper he was promised, the one who can bring down the dark forces of the kingdom, has arrived. There were wands, and spells, and vaulting (teleporting) and flying dragon-horse creatures, and a one-time-use trunk that will transport the person inside it to an unknown location in another dimension. This section had 100% of my attention and I couldn't put the book down.
2. The writing. The blurb on the back of my book claims that Sherry Thomas immigrated to the US from China and didn't learn English until she was thirteen, yet she wields the language with subtle yet impressive strokes. It was the simple things that caught my attention. Her words were expertly chosen and the voices she gave her characters fit both the Domain, which was an alternate dimension, as well as 19th-century London, which is where the trunk took Iolanthe in the beginning of the book. I don't know if I've just read a lot of badly written historical fiction lately, so it stood out more to me, but the language and dialogue felt very authentic and I loved the way the characters spoke. The narration and the dialogue were all seamless, and I appreciated that.
3. The Domain setting. I really enjoyed this world and I wished the whole book had been set here. I didn't find it poorly built, as some of the other reviews stated, I just think we wern't able to spend enough time here. The majority of the story is set in a London boarding school for boys, which paled in comparison to the Domain. Hmmm….okay, that's all I've got. Moving on.
What I didn't like:
1. The boarding school setting. Let's face it-- I'm not the target audience for this book. I get it. Most 15/16-year-old girls are going to be intrigued with the boarding school setting. A school filled with boys! One girl hiding out among them, aided by a spell that somehow makes everyone believe they were already friends with Archer Fairfax (Iolanthe's alter ego). I know that school settings are popular with some people, but they really don't do anything for me aside from reminding me I am no longer 16. They make me feel like an adult reading a YA book, which nobody likes to be reminded of. This is not the book's fault. It's my fault for getting old. I also found the setting boring because nothing much really happens in the school aside from a few cricket matches, where we discover that Iolanthe is some sort of athletic cricket savant despite never having seen it played or knowing any of the rules. Boring.
2. Lack of substantial supporting characters. As much as I loved the alternating narration between Prince Titus and Iolanthe, I became bored with them. There were other characters in the book, but I didn't connect with any of them. There were some attempts to show a growing friendship between Fairfax and some of the other boys at the school, but I couldn't see the point in it. There were no Zusana's, no Kenji's, no Froi's.
3. The training missions in the Crucible. So, they have this thing called the Crucible, which is either a cup or a book, I don't even know, and it takes them inside something sort of like Star Trek's holo-deck, where Iolanthe is supposed to be working on her elemental magic skills. I should have been more intrigued with these missions, but I found them boring and pointless. She didn't really learn anything from them, they just seemed like an opportunity for the author to throw out some different scenarios she had thought of for the book but couldn't quite work into the story.
4. The romance. Again, I'm not the target audience for this book. I've come to the conclusion that if a book has a love story, the protagonists need to be at least 17 for me to get on board. Anything younger than that feels like puppy love to me. There are a few series that are technically YA, yet they fall more in the NA bracket, and they are the ones that have resonated with me. Titus and Iolanthe were good characters. I liked them. I appreciated that it wasn't insta-love and it had to grow over time, but I still wasn't into it.
Final Thoughts This book was well-written and the characters didn't piss me off… I just feel sort of 'meh' about it all. I think it's going to do very well and have a large fan following, particularly with the teen set. I even think this is going to be a 4 to 5 star book for a lot of people. But as an adult reader of YA fiction, it just wasn't for me. I'm not directly comparing it to other books, because the stories are nothing alike, but if I had to give examples of YA fantasy that had everything that I want, I would point to Daughter of Smoke & Bone and Finnikin of the Rock. The first 92 pages of this book made me hope I had found a book that could stand alongside them, but once the boarding school setting hit it went downhill. I can't put this book on the same shelf with the greats, and I really did struggle to get to the end, and that is is why I regretfully am not able to rate it any higher.
When I was a kid, I was obsessed with My Little Pony. Best toy ever made. I only had a couple, but I loved them. My neighbor down the street had like 50. Every color of the rainbow. She even had the water ponies that were like mermaids. Only, she never played with them. Or if she did, it was just to brush their hair or whatever. I always felt like, "If you don't know what to do with those things, give them to me! I could so work with that!"
That's how reading this series was for me.
I loved this world Sandy Williams created. I loved her characters and I loved how different it was from other UF I've read. And mother of god, I loved Aren, that hot little snarky stud muffin.
But that was book one.
After book two, I was confused. Perplexed as to why an author would solve the love triangle conundrum, and solve it beautifully I might add, and then resurrect it. Didn't she have enough to deal with with the human brothels, and the sight serum killing McKenzies best friend, and bringing Kelia back from the dead for Naito (yes, I honestly expected that to happen), and securing Lena as queen, and bringing healing to the to'rum? There were enough loose threads that she could have written three more books.
But as it is, I'm relieved it's done.
I was skimming this one like a fiend, and once it became clear that not only was she not going to solve the many mysteries she'd created, but she had wasted my time by even bringing them up, I completely lost interest. And this has to be the WORST outcome of any love triangle ever. There is no resolution, and Aren and Kyol got royally screwed. Who on what planet gets their cake and eats it too? And eats it while shouting, "Suck it, Kyol!"
They should have left her alone and let her be a librarian. Or Kyol should have let her die on the battlefield from the wounds she got leaping in front of a fireball for no reason, and then he should have gone and made a life bond with that nice boring Fae chick.
I wound up losing all affection and respect for McKenzie, a character I had really enjoyed in the first book. I still like the world, and I even like her writing, but I am super disappointed with what Sandy Williams did with these characters and I wish I would have quit after the first one and just enjoyed my happy contented feeling. The conclusion left a bad taste in my mouth towards the series, so I will no longer be recommending it *sigh*
So I'm actually surprised to be rating this book as highly as I am, for two reasons.
1. I'm not a big fan of re-tellings.
2. Wonderland freaks me out.
In order to succeed in telling me a story I already know, you have to change it up and make it your own and give me a reason to be interested. For example, have Alice come back from Wonderland carrying a curse, which causes all of her female descendants to hear the whispers of bugs and flowers, and have them all go rather crazy because of it. Then have Alice's great-great-great granddaughter track down the rabbit hole and face her darkest fears in order to break the curse once and for all. That's a good start.
A stunning cover also helps.
Then for good measure, just to make sure I'm paying attention, throw in a character that looks rather like this:
That ought to do it. Attention granted.
I really did enjoy most of this story. It had me turning pages quickly and I finished the book without drifting away to check Facebook or my Goodreads notifications, which is what usually happens when my book is boring me. I really liked the beginning in particular, with Alyssa's mother having gone to an insane asylum because of her delusions, and Alyssa living in fear that the same thing was going to happen to her. There were creepy voices and faces in mirrors and the suspense of not knowing where or how Wonderland would enter the picture.
Honestly, for at least half the book I was so excited to see where it was going. I especially loved the anticipation leading up to her finding Morpheus, who was my favorite character. I showed you what he looks like, right? Yummy, in a blue-haired-crazy-Johnny-Depp sort of way.
Unfortunately, and this has happened to me a lot lately, the YA-ishness of the story brought it down for me. Alyssa is a high school student (junior, almost a senior?) and Jeb was her best friend/secret-crush-who-already-has-a-girlfriend. Morpheus is the mysterious Wonderland character who has been trying to lure her back all her life. I don't know if there is a YA handbook that says everyone must include a love triangle, but it's been standard operating procedure for the last few years and it's rare to find one that works. I liked that the characters in this book were at least a little older (17 to 20-ish), so I was willing to go along with it, but the story towards the end became a little sappy, a little crazy, and a little over-the-top Wonderlandish.
Jeb's character didn't really do anything for me and I was sort of annoyed he even came along at all. I would have enjoyed the story much more if it had just been Alyssa going to Wonderland and the tension came from the story and figuring out whether she could trust Morpheus, rather than from her conflicted girly feels.
Overall, it was a nice little afternoon adventure and I had fun reading it.
Am I clambering for the sequel? Not really.
Will I read it if the reviews are all glowing and amazing?
Especially if Alyssa goes back to Wonderland without Jeb and she and Morpheus become the king and queen and make weird little Netherling babies. Let me know if that's what happens, m'kay?
Bully, for me, was compulsively readable. As in, I could not put it down even though I felt guilty for enjoying it. I was impressed when Penelope Douglas was able to take a character that I hated (Jared) and turn it around enough for me to root for them at the end. I never fully understood his motivations for his cruelty to Tate, although he did cough up an excuse at some point, but I liked Tate and I enjoyed the overall ride of the story so I gave him a pass.
And then, I read this book.
Penelope's writing is still compulsively readable, but after spending some time in Jared's head, not only do I not understand or forgive his actions, I have greater clarity on just how toxic he is. For some reason, when I read Bully I was under the impression that Jared treated Tate horribly freshman and sophomore year, but felt regret over it and it just took them half the book to work up to him saying he was sorry. Jared's behavior was not misinterpreted. He really hated Tatum… when he wasn't lusting after her.
"I wanted her to hurt. I didn’t want her to hurt. I hated her. I loved her. I wanted to violate her body in a hundred different ways. I wanted to keep her safe."
He wants to violate her body in a hundred different ways?
Ummmmm, that is not ok.
Jared's thoughts about Tatum were dark and scary and not thoughts that a healthy person would be having. He actively sought out her best friend in order to start up a relationship (a fake-ish one, but Tate didn't know that) with the express intent for Tatum to find out and be hurt by it. He got upset about stuff and destroyed his house. Like, literally, with a baseball bat.
"Every picture that my mother had of me smiling and every fucking figurine that gave the impression that we were a happy household was destroyed. In two hours, the house was ripped apart from top to bottom as I got lost and exhausted."
You guys, Jared was a nut job. Yes, I understand that he had a traumatic experience and his father damaged him and that he was upset when he came home and discovered his mother was spending time with Tatum and her dad at the park. Boo hoo. He is not a vampire. He does not get a free pass to turn off his humanity switch. And don't even get me started on all the girls he used like disposable tissues in this book while reviling them in his head, or how ridiculous his visits with his dad were. He was purposefully malicious and cruel to Tatum for years on end, and he never had a valid reason. He was still having dark and twisty thoughts about her even after she got home from France. I'm not sure what about this was supposed to make me swoon, but I'm not feeling swoonish. I'm feeling really bummed that this is considered romantic. After reading half the book, I am fully convinced that Jared never needed a girlfriend. This poor boy needed therapy. And possibly a restraining order.
Okay, so this book is what you would get if you crossed:
with You've Got Mail:
Only, it's these two best friends emailing each other:
and he's spying on their email conversation (because that's his job… he's the 'no personal email at work' enforcer guy) which causes him to accidentally fall in love with one of them.
And also, Tom Hank's character lives with his mother and plays Dungeons & Dragons on the weekend.
Seriously, though-- this was a cute read! I didn't swoon for it as hard as Fangirl, and I took a few breaks, but I also laughed, or at least smiled a little, on every single page. I wasn't shocked by the ending, it was sort of inevitable, but Rainbow Rowell made me work to get there and every time I thought something was going to happen, she faked me out. Just strung me along, forcing me to snatch up bread crumbs to get to the very worthwhile finale.
There is just something about the way that Rainbow writes that makes you feel as though she knows everything. She knows how people think and how they communicate and she is able to capture it with words. She is witty and her characters always feel authentic. This isn't my favorite book of hers, but I'm still a big a fan. I'm adding it to my 'Cotton Candy Reads' shelf because it's light and sweet and enjoyable without being heavy.