Reading (Willow)
  • mierke

Brigetta Schwaiger – Her Nowhere (2/5)

Once upon a time I thought I was brave. Life won’t let you believe that for long.


Genre: Drama

This is the book for you if you like:
- Organic farming
- Books about grief
- Love stories that aren’t about romance

Summary: (from author’s website)
Anna Broxton’s marriage to the top Tommy John surgeon in the West and their idyllic ranch life in the Flathead Valley of Montana makes most women envy her. That is, until one simple moment changes her family forever.

Unable to bear the presence of her once adored husband, she abandons her life and finds "her nowhere" a small organic farm on the Southern tip of Sweden. There, she tills the soil, plants seeds, learns to pickle cucumbers, and fights her attraction to a younger man.

Her unlikely friendships with two unique women awaken her to suffering other than her own and help her face her part in the tragedy. She returns home to find her husband has found his own nowhere and must fight for whatever love remains in the gaps of their shattered family.

Her Nowhere is a tearjerker about relationships and what they can survive—if we let them. It is appropriate for book club discussion about our own unique tragedies, how we respond to them, how they shape us, humanitarianism, organic farming, and the imperfection of motherhood.

First sentence:
The simple, true work of hand weeding a pre-irrigated crop was a salve; the kind that covered so thick the wound seemed to disappear.

Why did I read this book?
I once downloaded this book while it was free on Amazon, because I thought the synopsis sounded like the kind of story I like: women who forge unlikely friendships and from them, grow and heal. The cover itself gave that same kind of message, of beauty found in dirt. The title implies a story about being lost, and that’s always a sentiment I like to read about.

Characters:
Anna got on my nerves so much. She is so incredibly self-centred. I can’t fault her for running away when her life fell apart; that made sense. But even when she was getting better, when she was healing, when she set out to try and get back the life she’d lost, she still only thought of her own pain, her own tragedy. And when she’s looking to others, it’s with so much judgement in her eyes.

I liked a lot of the side characters, though. Lena’s quiet strength and Clara’s youthful resilience really made the first parts of the book for me. I would have loved a story about either of them, instead of the story we got. Seriously, I wanted to know all about Lena from the very first time we met her. And even though we got snippets of her story, kind of the CliffsNotes version, I wanted a book about her.

Kai, her husband – whose name means ‘rejoice’, which I like for the irony, since in this story he’s really a source of pain – didn’t really make enough of an appearance for me to form an opinion of him. Even through Anna’s eyes he was quite nondescript.

Setting:
The first four parts of the story (taking up about six months) takes place in a small farm in Sweden, kind of sheltered away from the real world. It’s a place Anna needed to gather her bearings, and it’s a place that had a huge impact on the story. After a short interlude in the United States, the sixth part and the small epilogue takes place in Honduras. The entire story, including the epilogue, takes up about 14 months.

General opinion:
This is a story about how organic farming saved the world.

Wait. It isn’t?

While holding the soil in my hands, I yearned to get closer to it, to let it soak into me. I glanced around and then made my body prostrate in the soil, settling the right side of my face to the earth. I pulled my shirt up and let the coolness touch my belly. It felt like life to me. It was malleable, forming to the contours of my face. There was something comforting about the act. Perhaps because I knew there was life in the soil, that it contained organic properties of living matter, that it was filled with microbes and nutrients that nourished life and growth.

According to the "Book Group Discussion Questions", this is essentially a love story. I guess in a way it is true; through the people around her, Anna has to learn how to love herself again, and how to carve a place into her life for the husband she’s left behind but still loves. But that story got buried deep underneath a layer of ever returning praise of organic farming, and it kept me from connecting to it. It wasn’t, excuse the pun, included organically in the story at all; instead, it felt like organic farming propaganda. It started to really irritate me after a while.

I caught Lena watching [Torbjorn], a smile in her eyes. She was admiring him, loving him.
I gasped and eyes turned to me. I shook my head. The look in her eyes was what got me.

Granted, it wasn’t just the organic farming. I think parts of what kept me at a distance was the way the book is written. It’s all very clinical, very detached. Plus there is a huge emphasis on people’s looks – from Kai telling her that if she had been ugly, he wouldn’t have agreed to help her, to Anna commenting on her mom’s ‘lovely figure’.
And there was an undercurrent of racism that made me very uncomfortable. At one point, she talks with a guy on the phone, and she “imagined he was a big, black man” (…what?), a woman who won’t listen to her must be ignoring her because “she appeared to be very white, very English speaking”, and of course the one absolute villain in the story is “a large man who looked Samoan, with black eyes and a shaved head”. Stereotypes abound all over, such as the Irish guy on the farm who calls her “lass” every other sentence.

Looking forward had become as painful as looking back.

It’s unfortunate, because the story itself was interesting! Seeing someone crawl back from the depths of despair, especially in a way that isn’t instantaneous or sudden or saved by romantic love, is a great story. Her background slowly unfolds through flashbacks and memories, but I’m glad they didn’t take up the biggest part of her story. Her journey from where she came to where she’s going, that’s the interesting bit.
My favourite part was the fourth part, at which point we are allowed to know what happened – it got annoying that she kept it hidden away, as if the tragedy she’d survived didn’t scream at you from the very first chapter – and she’s starting to look to the future. I think this was the most healing part; after this, she’s just scrambling to get her old life back, as if she was the only one who had to change and leave something behind.

Will I read other books from this author?
Nope.

Overall rating: 2/5
Reading (Willow)
  • mierke

Michelle Alstead – One Last Try (3/5)

If there’s one good thing that comes from this, let it be that you find yourself.


Series: Bright Lights #1

This is the book for you if you like:
- Ladykiller in Love (after a ton of meaningless flings, the hero really falls in love)
- Two broken people learning to love together
- Age difference (he’s 44, she’s 35, though it isn’t explicitly discussed)

Summary: (from author’s website)
They had only one thing in common. And it was the last thing either of them wanted.

Jane Caulfield's first love went missing one dark night, turning her heart cold, and leaving her to face the fight of her life alone. After a demotion at work and a string of dead-end relationships, she heads to her grandmother's Iowa farm in search of something more than a life filled with apathy and her best friend's meddling.

Jag Winchester is a handsome actor with a successful but unremarkable career. Tired of meaningless flings, Jag longs for a woman that sees him as more than a ticket to Hollywood premieres. As he prepares for his next movie role, Jag receives devastating news that shatters every plan he ever had. With nowhere else to turn, he flees to the family farm in Iowa.

When Jag and Jane meet under the most difficult of circumstances, they fall hard and fast, awakening hearts that had forgotten how to love. Just when happily ever after seems like a sure thing, tragedy strikes and painful secrets are brought to light. Will Jag and Jane’s love endure, or does fate have other plans?

First sentence:
The digital clock next to his bed glowed blue in the dark.

Title:
I quite like the title. It fits with the desperate hope in the book.

Why did I read this book?
Couple of reasons, actually. I got it because it was free on Amazon and I really liked the idea of two broken people trying to find themselves getting together. I started reading it now because I was looking for a book with “One” in the title for the BARC Sequential Numbers reading challenge.

Characters:
Eva Longoria. She’ll be the one to spit on my cold, dead body. I never should have dumped her on that street corner in Santa Monica. If I’d known the next part she’d get was Desperate Housewives, I would have dumped her after a couple of bottles at the Trio.

Jag is a jerk. We meet him on the day of his 44th birthday, where he talks about how he lies his way through a relationship with a woman for about six months until she wants more of a commitment at which point he says he wants no commitment at all (which apparently he’s unable to communicate beforehand?) and shames all the women around him for their ‘enhancements’ and ‘filler-injected lips’, while simultaneously doing everything he can himself to stay in shape. There’s also a whole lot of name-dropping, which is probably meant to make him seem interesting, but really just made him seem less competent. We’re supposed to believe woman fall all over him, but I can’t really see why. Not exactly my kind of hero. I guess I warmed up to him a little throughout the rest of the book, when Jane and his cancer starts taking up all of his thoughts and he at least gained some awareness of what a jerk he was. I can’t say I was cheering for him, though.

Jane is far more sympathetic. While both are at a rough point in their career for reasons they can’t help – Jag for getting too old, Jane for getting cancer – Jane’s rough patch hit me much harder. She comes across as capable, hurt but not broken, and most of all not as willing to take her issues out on the people around her. She’s scared, but unwilling to give up. She’s had to do it all on her own so far, and she could really, really, use someone to take care of her for a change (which is why it’s too bad that she’s the one doing the caring for during the entire story).

There are a couple of side characters – Cole as Jag’s caring best friend is the best character in the whole book, Betsy as Jane’s unhappily married best friend is a character I can’t quite grasp, Jane’s family consisting of her aunt and grandmother are the stereotypical busybodies and Jag’s father who is pretty much just... there.

Setting:
The story takes place in Iowa, though that could have been pretty much any small town anywhere. The fact that it’s a small town is important; you couldn’t have written the same story in a big urban environment.

General opinion:
“Cole’s the kind of guy that would drop everything to help a friend,” [Jag] said instead.
[Cassandra] faced him, nodding slowly. “He would.”
“I don’t want that.”
“But is it really your choice?”

Hidden among the love story, there’s a story here about the ethics of making choices for other people, and how that affects both your life and theirs. That’s what made this interesting, and that’s what gained it 3 stars despite my absolute dislike of the hero.

Amazon has it on the Women’s Religious & Inspirational Fiction and Christian Contemporary Fiction best seller ranks. That calls to mind a much more religious story than it is; while it does have that wholesome feel, and there’s no sex (Jane wants to wait until marriage), God is only mentioned 8 times in the book, and only 5 of those in reference to the main characters.

It’s also labelled as Medical Genre Fiction, which really does fit. One of the things that I liked about the book is that it doesn’t shy away from the grittier aspects of cancer. I also really liked where Alstead chose to end their story.

The book was well edited, well written. There were a couple of time jumps that felt a little jarring to me (it’s really written in four parts and in my opinion it could have used that division), but that’s nit-picking.

Will I read the other instalments in this series?
Probably not.

Overall rating: 3/5
Reading (Willow)
  • mierke

Amy Reed – The Nowhere Girls (5/5)

Some things are just too big to be afraid of.



Genre: YA Drama

This is the book for you if you like:
Honestly, everyone should read this book. But especially recommended if you like:
- Girls reclaiming their power
- Diverse main characters
- Multiple POVs

Summary: (from author’s website)
WHO ARE THE NOWHERE GIRLS?
They’re everygirl. But they start with just three.

GRACE SALTER is the new girl in town, whose family had to leave their former community after her southern Baptist preacher mom turned into a radical liberal.

ROSINA SUAREZ is the queer punk girl in a conservative Mexican immigrant family, who dreams of a life playing music instead of waitressing at her uncle’s restaurant.

ERIN DELILLO is obsessed with two things: marine biology and Star Trek: The Next Generation, but they aren’t enough to distract her from her suspicion that she may be an android.

Grace wants nothing more than to be invisible at her new school, but when she learns that Lucy Moynihan, the former occupant of her new home, was run out of town after accusing the popular guys at school of gang rape, she convinces Rosina and Erin to join her mission to get justice for Lucy. They form an anonymous group of girls at Prescott High to resist the sexist culture at their school, which includes boycotting sex of any kind with the male students. As the Nowhere Girls grow in numbers, their movement becomes about more than sex and transforms the lives of its members, their school, and the entire community.

THE NOWHERE GIRLS ARE EVERYWHERE.

First paragraph:
Prescott, Oregon.
Population: 17,549. Elevation: 578 feet above sea level.
Twenty miles east of Eugene and the University of Oregon. One hundred thirty miles southeast of Portland. Halfway between a farm town and a suburb. Home of the Spartans (Go Spartans!).
Home of so many girls. Home of so many almost-women, waiting for their skin to fit.

Why did I read this book?
It was on Riveted, and the summary fascinated me. Both for its structure – I love stories told form differing perspectives – and for its content.

Characters:
Grace had always yearned for something else. Different town, different school, different people. And now that she finally has the opportunity to possibly get it, she realizes she’s terrified. She realizes she had no idea what she actually wants.
What’s worse? Lying about who you are, or not knowing who you are at all?

Grace is an unassuming daughter of a bigger-than-life pastor, who’s trying to find out where she fits in life. Instead of choosing the easy way out, when she discovers writing of the girl who occupied her room before her, she opts to go after the story. Grace is a girl who is just filled to the brim with caring, which made it really easy to root for her. She’s brave in so many different ways.

Erin is, unapologetically, a science geek. She knows this is an Asperger’s stereotype, as are many other things about her – the difficulties expressing emotion, the social awkwardness, the sometimes inappropriate behaviour. But what can she do? These are part of who she is. It’s everyone else wo decided to make them a stereotype.

Erin is trying to feel safe in a world that seems alien to her. Her mom is trying to fit her into what ‘normal’ looks like (which hurt, every single time), but Erin has long since discovered that won’t keep her safe. She was the one who felt the most relatable to me; her journey the one that affected me the most. Seeing her grow in the direction of her choosing at the time of her choosing, growing into her own person instead of who the world wanted or needed her to be, made me grin like a lunatic at times.

Rosina doesn’t want to believe [that Lucy’s name matters]. That would mean caring about something she can’t do anything about. She doesn’t want to say the girl’s name out loud, because that would make her real, and what’s the fucking point of that?

Rosina is a fighter, a girl whose entire world seems set on destroying her. She’s also Mexican, and queer, and every single one of these aspects influences her character. She’s trying to figure out whether this world even has a place for someone like her.
Rosina took the longest for me to connect with, as if her propensity to keep the world at bay even affected me as the reader. In the end, though, I cheered her on just as loudly as the other two girls, and I desperately wished for her to get a chance at being happy.

Setting:
This story is set in Prescott, Oregon, but really could have happened anywhere.

General opinion:
Because the girls are unstoppable. They are a force. They are a single body.

The Nowhere Girls should really be obligatory reading in every single high school. It is a look inside a world that society so stubbornly tries to hide; a world where boys get away with the ugliest things because they know the right people, a world in which girls need to stand together if they want to make a difference. A world in which too many adults, women and men alike, all too happily work to keep the status quo going, even when change is on the rise.

It shows that a difference can be made – not by promising happily ever after, but by showing how little steps can affect a lot of people. This is not a book about perfection, it’s more harsh, more real, than that. Not everyone is included easily in the Nowhere Girls, not every voice is heard as clearly. Sometimes people fall apart. But there are people who try, and people who care.

The girls all have romantic subplots. Really small, which is important in a book like this, but noticeable, especially remarkable because none of them are your usual romance heroine.

I had goosebumps at some scenes, got nauseous at the excerpt from the misogynistic “Real Men of Prescott” blog and cried my eyes out towards the end. This really ran the gamut of my emotional palette.

Will I read other books from this author?
Definitely

Overall rating: 5/5
Reading (Willow)
  • mierke

Heather Sunseri – Mindspeak

You’ve only tapped into a small facet of what your mind was modified to do.

Series: Mindspeak #1

Genre: YA Science Fiction Romance

This is the book for you if you like:

- Uncommunicative heroes

Summary: (from author’s website)

She was created for a purpose so revolutionary, someone was willing to kill for it.

Seventeen-year-old Lexi Matthews keeps two secrets from her elite boarding school classmates—she’s the daughter of a famous and controversial geneticist, and she can influence people’s thoughts.

But after new student Jack DeWeese heals her broken arm with an anything-but-simple touch, he forces Lexi to face a new reality—her abilities reach much further than speaking to the minds of others.

After Lexi’s father goes missing and she receives threatening emails, she can’t decide whether to fall into Jack’s arms or run and hide.

As Lexi seeks answers to what she and Jack are, she discovers a truth more unsettling than anything her science books can teach. And letting Jack into her life of secrets is not only a threat to her very existence, but it just might break her heart wide open.

First sentence:

I couldn’t believe Coach had called a six a.m. practice.

Title:

Well, the title was what drew me to the book, so I guess points for that.

Why did I read this book?

I love boarding school stories, I love mind-reading. This seemed right up my alley!

Characters:

Lexi is pretty smart. When her world falls apart around her, she’s desperately searching around her for answers; okay, yes, sometimes she does stupid things, but never in a way that seemed unrealistic or out of character. I didn’t emotionally connect with her, but that was more my personal opinion and less the way she was written.

Fred must have borrowed eyeliner from Georgia. His deep set, darkly decorated eyes matched his black hair, and both contrasted starkly with his fair skin. Underneath the makeup existed what I was sure was a good-looking guy near the same age as Jack and me.

And then there is this. Diversity is not something you’ll find in any positive light in this book, and Lexi has a huge case of I-am-so-much-better-than-all-of-you.

Her ability of influencing people’s thoughts is really creepy, and a slippery slope; I like that the story doesn’t shy away from that, and makes her use her ability at some points in ways that were not even close to being ethical. It would have been really easy to make her Miss Perfect, and I think most stories would have gone that route, but this one didn’t.

The relationship between Lexi and Jack was pretty much your standard YA romance fare, electric shocks and all. I remember texting my best friend at one point and showing her this quote:

One smoldering look from him ignited electric shocks in the synapses of my nervous system and traveled from the center of my brain to the pit of my stomach, then on to the tip of my big toe.

Why can love in YA novels never be gentle and soothing, instead of this shock that threatens your welfare? Though, granted, that’s a commentary on the genre, not so much this particular novel. Even so, despite myself, their relationship did draw me in, which I can’t really explain, because Jack himself was one of the most erratic love interests I’ve ever encountered. He refuses to tell Lexi anything (all the while insisting that she should trust him) – in fact, most of the plot revolves around Lexi trying to find out what Jack won’t tell her – he thinks he gets to control her schedule and her choices, and still I got the sense that he truly did care.

Setting:

Mindspeak mostly takes place at and around Wellington, a boarding school for the rich and famous. I have to admit, the way it was set up was very intriguing.

General opinion:

When I was younger, there was this influx of books written by people worried about test tube babies, and how scientists/doctors could mess with them however they wanted. Mindspeak read like one of these books – except this was written in 2013, and as such, feels ridiculously outdated. There’s even a lot of the “this goes against God’s will” floating around in a book that has a main character who happily throws around ‘oh Gods’, and every time the ‘abomination’ argument came up it felt so incredibly jarring. When the acknowledgement started with the author thanking God at least that made a little sense, but still – if your main character is so worried about being a freak of nature, please give her a religion, because there was absolutely nothing to indicate Lexi is religious at any other point in the book.

The story revolves mostly around Lexi finding out where she came from, and who she is – and, like I mentioned, could be about half as long if Jack would have just told her what he knew from the start instead of pretending to be open and honest with her – and ends in a huge cliffhanger that left me absolutely convinced to not read the next book. There’s nothing in here that makes me interested in the deeper story, mostly because I’m not convinced there is one.

Will I read the other instalments in this series?

I will not.

Overall rating: 2/5

Reading (Willow)
  • mierke

Shaun David Hutchinson – The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley (5/5)

Falling in love would complicate my life.

Cover:

Genre: YA Drama

This is the book for you if you like:

- Gay main characters whose story isn’t about their sexuality
- Stories that focus on emotions rather than actions

Summary: (from author’s website)

Andrew Brawley was supposed to die that night, just like the rest of his family.
Now he lives in the hospital, serving food in the cafeteria, hanging out with the nurses, sleeping in a forgotten supply closet. Drew blends in to near invisibility, hiding from his past, his guilt, and those who are trying to find him. His only solace is in the world of the superhero he’s created—Patient F.


Then, one night, Rusty is wheeled into the ER, half his body burned by hateful classmates. Rusty’s agony calls out to Drew like a beacon, pulling them both together though all their pain and grief. In Rusty, Drew sees hope, happiness, and a future for both of them. A future outside of the hospital, and away from their pasts.


But to save Rusty, Drew will have to confront Death, and life will have to get worse before it gets better. And by telling the truth about who he really is, Drew risks destroying any chance of a future.

First sentence:

The boy is on fire.

Thoughts on covers:

The book has only appeared with one cover, and I’m… not a big fan of it. It’s so very nondescript.

Title:

I love the title. It immediately invokes the five stages of grief, so you know what the book is about; and I love how it uses Andrew’s name, which is so important in the story. Hiding in plain sight, even in its own title.

Why did I read this book?

It was on Riveted, and I really liked the summary.

Characters:

Rusty’s hazel eyes grow wider, then relax. He hasn’t got the strength to fear me. But his grip is still tight. He’s crushing my bones, and I let him. What do I need my fingers for, anyway? If Rusty wants to transfer some of his pain to me, so be it.

I really liked all of the characters in this novel. Drew is… caring. Hurting. It was so easy for me to feel for him, to live his life. Rusty is funny. Scared. Seeing these two reach out to each other, find some balance in the other person that simply weren’t able to find in themselves, was amazing. Their first scene together shook me to the core.

The side characters were all great too; Lexi and Trevor made for a great couple, Steven was so caring even though he was only on the page a few times, Emma and Jo so lovely took Drew in. Even Arnold and Grandma Brawley found a way into my heart.

“Then what are you saying?” I won’t give Father Mike the satisfaction of me turning around to face him.

“Only that… someone who goes to such great lengths to avoid death and save people who aren’t even really his family – he isn’t acting out of guilt alone. He’s punishing himself.”

I hesitate, then glance back over my shoulder, almost afraid to look at him. “Punishing himself for what?”

Father Mike shrugs. “It’s your comic. You tell me.”

I can’t forget to mention Father Mike, who I think was my favourite side character. His wisdom tinged with a little more worldly insight than you’d expect form a priest, especially in fiction, truly made me love him.

Setting:

The book is set in Roanoke General, a hospital. The tight confines work to make this all the more pressing, the atmosphere so much more grim. It isn’t even about the fact that it’s a hospital; it’s more the fact that this is Andrew’s entire world. There’s nothing else for him.

General opinion:

I loved this story so much. I always find it really hard to put in words why a story that’s so emotional touched me. Part of it was how real the environment felt; how real the threat of Death hanging over Drew felt to me as a reader, how I desperately wanted him to escape. As his despair builds along the course of the book, so did my involvement in him.

The thrum of his voice and the way it curls around the edges makes me think of the whitewater rafting trip my dad took us on last summer. Of this one waterfall that tumbled us all over the edge, leaving us soaking and laughing so hard. When Rusty speaks, it reminds me of a time I was happy. How could I not like that?

Another part was the love story. I didn’t classify this as a romance, because I think it is more about grief and learning to move on than it is about love. But it was romantic, and paragraphs like the one above were just so beautiful to me.

I should also mention the comic book pages; I really liked them, but the didn’t really work so well on Riveted. One day, I’ll pick up an actual hard copy of this book, to have a version of this story that does it justice in its entirety.

The only thing I wasn’t entirely satisfied with was the ending; it really was an epilogue style ending, and I’m sure there was story for at least two more books in the last couple of pages. That said, I also understand why it was written the way it was, because it does work beautifully within the concept of the story and the comic. I guess I’m just a little greedy!

Will I read other books from this author?

Yes, I will!

Overall rating: 5/5

Reading (Willow)
  • mierke

Cassandra Clare – Clockwork Angel (4/5)

There's plenty of sense in nonsense sometimes, if you wish to look for it.

Series: Infernal Devices #1

Cover:

 

Genre: YA Steampunk

This is the book for you if you like:

- Doctor Who
- Book-loving and -quoting main characters

Summary: (from author’s website)

Magic is dangerous—but love is more dangerous still.

When sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray crosses the ocean to find her brother, her destination is England, the time is the reign of Queen Victoria, and something terrifying is waiting for her in London’s Downworld, where vampires, warlocks and other supernatural folk stalk the gaslit streets. Only the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the world of demons, keep order amidst the chaos.

Kidnapped by the mysterious Dark Sisters, members of a secret organization called The Pandemonium Club, Tessa soon learns that she herself is a Downworlder with a rare ability: the power to transform, at will, into another person. What’s more, the Magister, the shadowy figure who runs the Club, will stop at nothing to claim Tessa’s power for his own.

Friendless and hunted, Tessa takes refuge with the Shadowhunters of the London Institute, who swear to find her brother if she will use her power to help them. She soon finds herself fascinated by—and torn between—two best friends: James, whose fragile beauty hides a deadly secret, and blue-eyed Will, whose caustic wit and volatile moods keep everyone in his life at arm’s length…everyone, that is, but Tessa. As their search draws them deep into the heart of an arcane plot that threatens to destroy the Shadowhunters, Tessa realizes that she may need to choose between saving her brother and helping her new friends save the world…and that love may be the most dangerous magic of all.

First sentence:

The demon exploded in a shower of ichor and guts.

Thoughts on covers:

I don’t really like any of the covers, actually, except the Slovak one (right). That one is pretty amazing, and gives a good feel of the atmosphere, I think.

Title:

I really like the title. It’s both different enough to grab your interest, and it truly means something within the story (both emotional and practical).

Why did I read this book?

It was on Riveted, and I’ve been wanting to try out one of Cassandra Clare’s books since forever.

Characters:

Tessa, our main character, is… really annoying to me. I usually have a pretty high tolerance for main characters, but I had a hard time liking Tessa. She was such a snob, thought she knew everything, puts so much importance on looks (and then chides Jessamine for wanting to look good!)... She’s utterly unable to put herself in another's place, which is something even she herself admits. Granted, she did get a bit better towards the end, but not enough to get me to really like her. The only thing I did like about her, was that she doesn't like chocolate (you know how hard it is to find someone else who doesn't like chocolate?!)!

“Are you the Magister?”

“Magister?” He looked mildly surprised by her vehemence. “That means ‘master’ in Latin, doesn’t it?”

“I…” Tessa was feeling increasingly as if she were trapped in a strange dream. “suppose it does.”

“I’ve mastered many things in my life. Navigating the streets of London, dancing the quadrille, the Japanese art of flower arranging, lying at charades, concealing a highly intoxicated state, delighting young women with my charms…”

Tessa stared.

“Alas,” he went on, “no one has every actually referred to me a ‘the master,’ or ‘the magister,’ either. More’s the pity…”

“Are you highly intoxicated at the moment?”

This is the scene in which we meet Will, who is absolutely fascinating to me. He’s hilarious, for one. But there's so much underneath that surface of sneer and derision, and though we don't get to see much of it, it is so obvious that it is there. There is a real sense of otherness to him, from the very first time he and Tessa meet.

It is as great a thing to love as it is to be loved. Love is not something that can be wasted.

This is Jem in a nutshell. There are innumerable differences between Will and Jem, but the thing that really sets them apart is their attitude, the way they look at the world. Where Will never really seems to live in the same reality is everyone else, Jem is so very human, treating everyone around him, Tessa included, as people first, and magical beings second. It made me really love him from the very first scene.

I feel like the female characters in this book deserved more than they got.

Charlotte was fierce and awesome, but only got to be vulnerable in the sense that Will and Jem worried about her. I would love to see the story from her perspective, because the way it is written, she hardly seems to have any agency, which doesn't make much sense as she has been leading the Institute for a while. Sophie got the most personality of them all, standing up for herself the best she knows how in her role as servant. Even the female vampire we meet is nothing more than a woman scorned.

I really liked Jessamine, but that was more despite of the way she was written, than because of it. Her interest in getting *out* of the Institute is somehow twisted in a perverse, arrogant obsession with looks, as if there is no real fear or danger lurking beside its walls, as if wanting to get out of that sort of life isn’t a natural feeling. Everyone is so annoyed with her that it got on my nerves, especially because when absolutely needed, she did what she had to do.

Setting:

Technically, The Infernal Devices trilogy is a prequel to The Mortal Instruments. However, I haven't read The Moral Instruments before reading this one; I checked Cassandra Clare's website to see whether it was necessary, and she said it wasn't. I gotta give it to her - I totally didn't feel like I was in over my head. In a way, I feel like it might even have heightened my ability to connect with the story, since Tessa as well tumbles into a world she knows nothing about.

The story is set in London, in 1878. In a world where normal human beings are protected from Downworlders, scary supernatural beings, by the Shadowhunters or Nephilim.

General opinion:

While my feelings about the characters are mixed at best, I thought the story was absolutely fascinating, and that's what kept me coming back to the pages. It has a real Doctor Who vibe, which is no doubt part of the reason why I enjoyed it so much. Granted, part of that is the fact that it's London, 1878, and something weird with machinery is going on, but part of it is the general atmosphere and the character of Will. His mixture of sadness and folly would fit right into the DW universe (as would all of Henry's contraptions). At one point Tessa describes his look as ‘as if he found everything in the world both infinitely funny and infinitely tragic at the same time’.

Will I read the other instalments in this series?

I might eventually come back to this series. While I would love to know what happens, for now my irritation with Tessa is somewhat too high for me to invest more time in her.

Overall rating: 4/5

Reading (Willow)
  • mierke

Jennifer Donnelly – Revolution (5/5)

“It’s time to start the revolution, baby!”

Genre:

YA Drama

This is the book for you if you like:

- Stories about struggling with suicidal ideation
- Magical Realism
- Some history infused in your fiction

Summary: (blurb)

Andi is broken. She is failing school and failing her life. Since the death of her brother, all she cares about is music. Taken to Paris by her estranged father, she makes a discovery there that could transform everything. Hidden in the compartment of an old guitar case is a lost diary from Revolutionary France…

Alexandrine is a street performer who is trying to save a young life from the devastation of war. She writers her deepest thoughts in her diary, hoping that one day someone will read them and understand.

These two girls, though centuries apart, are tied together by more than just the diary. As its words transcend paper and time, Alexandrine’s past becomes Andi’s present and lives are changed for ever.

First sentence:

Those who can, do.
Those who can’t, deejay.

Thoughts on covers:

I love how prominent the key is on most of the covers. I really think the original cover misses the mark here; because while yes, this is a story about two girls centuries apart, I feel like it’s much more a story about finding your place in this world, finding the key to your existence, hence giving the key, next to having an actual role in the story, a symbolic meaning that ties in with the whole book.

Title:

The title was interesting enough for me to pull the book from the shelves, so it certainly grabs your attention.

Why did I read this book?

I found it at a book fair. The title grabbed my attention, and the blurb promised a protagonist struggling with life, music and a hint of time travel. These are all things that I love to read about, so this truly seemed like the perfect fit for me.

Characters:

Andi, our main character, only cares about two things: music, and her mother. With the death of her brother heavily weighing on her, it's really the only things she can afford to care about, and even those are just barely enough to help her hold on. It's the moments where she's playing that you can really see her character shine through: creative, inventive, enthusiastic. She was so real. I felt connected to her from the get-go.

I also really loved Alexandrine. This Parisian heroine from the time of the Revolution has one thing on her mind and one thing only: the boy that is locked and mistreated in the tower. Her insistence to be there for Louis-Charles in any way she can, even at the risk of her own life - how can someone not love a character like that? Donnelly managed to make it make sense as well; this wasn't some random interest in a random little boy, this was familial love without sharing the same blood.

Setting:

Revolution starts in New York, but is really mostly set in Paris, both current Paris and the Paris in the time of the Revolution. I don’t know anything, really, about France at that time, and this book really managed to get me interested in it. It all felt so real.

General opinion:

Donnelly has divided the book into three parts – hell, purgatory and paradise. That ‘hell’ is the longest part tells you all you need to know about the heavy atmosphere of the story. Struggling with suicidal ideation myself, Revolution was an almost therapeutic read. The despondency that is bogging down Andi is written so realistic that it wasn't hard at all to connect to her. The way she goes from passive recklessness to active suicidal planning was very true to life.

I hear tires screeching. I turn and see a car bearing down on me.

Everything inside me is screaming at me to run, but I don't move. Because I want this. I want an end to the pain. The car swerves violently and screeches to a stop. I smell burned rubber. People are shouting.

The driver's on me in an instant. She's crying and trembling. She grabs the front of my jacket and shakes me. "You crazy bitch!" she screams. "I could have killed you!"

"Sorry," I say.

"Sorry?" she shouts. "You don't look sorry. You-"

"Sorry you missed," I say.

This was not an easy read, at all. Donnelly doesn't pull any punches, doesn't sugar-coat any of this. I had to really set time aside for this, but I am so glad I did.

While I definitely wouldn't categorise this as a romance (the romance is really too much of a B-plot for that), it is one of the most romantic YA novels I have ever read. Instead of wasting time on love triangles and with only the slightest miscommunication, the way Andi and Virgil connect and especially their late night/early morning phone calls are one of the most romantic things ever written.

Will I read other books from this author?

Definitely! This is one of the best books I’ve read this year.

Overall rating: 5/5

Reading (Willow)
  • mierke

Mia Archer – Spring Break (1/5)

“This might be our last hurrah, and we need to make the most of it!”

Genre:

Drama

This is the book for you if you like:

- Friendship-to-lovers angst
- Short stories

Summary: (from Amazon)

The end of an era. The last spring break with her friends. A last chance for a week in the sun relaxing and forgetting about life after college.

A last chance in the sun with Michelle.

It was supposed to be the perfect vacation. Saying goodbye to college and hello to the rest of their lives. The only problem? Lisa is pretty sure she wants Michelle to be a part of the rest of her life, and we're talking more than BFFs.

And she's also pretty sure Michelle is throwing back the same signals she's sending out.

A beach vacation is about to get a whole lot hotter as Lisa walks the dangerous line between friendship and romance. Will the two best friends be able to handle the heat and become so much more, or are they about to get burned?

First sentence:

“I can’t believe we’re here!” Tanya squealed.

Title:

The title brings to mind a fun romp down romance lane. That’s probably exactly what Archer intended, so yay title!

Why did I read this book?

There are too few lesbian romance stories written, and this was free on Amazon, so I really wanted to give it a try.

Characters:

I did not like Lisa at all. At 7% I was already done with her “I shouldn’t look at my best friend this way” monologue, because it just kept repeating over and over. She kept talking about how much she wanted things to change, but she didn’t do anything to change it. And I mean, I get it, anxiety, it’s a big thing – but there comes a point where it’s an excuse. I also really didn’t like the way she treated her friends. After the night out in which she lets herself be dragged along by Tanya and Kara – mind you, she had a chance to say no, but she didn’t – she wakes them the following morning to… get her revenge? For some reason? Even though she had a good night and even admits to it being a “hell of an interesting night” right in the middle of the scene in which she’s vindictively (again, her word) waking them. And she dishes on her last boyfriend for being “too into Star Wars for his own good”. That didn’t exactly endear me to her.

The word “Michelle” is mentioned 351 times – and still, all we know about Michelle is that she “had a job at a pharmaceutical company doing something complicated in their chemistry department”, that she is gorgeous (as they all are), and that she’s kind and more level-headed than Lisa (which is not saying much, really). That is literally all the personality she gets. I couldn’t tell you how I feel about Michelle, because I don’t have an opinion about Michelle.

Kara is definitely the sanest one of the group, and the only one I actively liked. We are told she’s in law school, and that I totally believe. Granted, we only see glimpses of her, but she seems smart, pointing things out to Lisa that she should have thought about but totally didn’t. She’s totally cool with her body and her sexuality. And, last but definitely not least, she’s Lisa’s biggest cheerleader.

Tanya seems to only exist to move the plot along. There is absolutely nothing to indicate why she and Lisa are friends; all Lisa does is complain about her crazy ideas and how ridiculous she is.

Setting:

They’re somewhere in Florida. If it’s specified where exactly, I can’t remember. It also doesn’t really matter, this literally could have taken place anywhere.

General opinion:

First of all, no matter how much “a lesbian romance” is part of the title on Amazon, Spring Break is not a romance. This was an “OH MY GOD I might be gay” drama. Literally the first three quarters of the book is Lisa repeating various variations on this theme, more and more interspersed with “I should talk to Michelle” without actually talking to Michelle. There’s so much lesbian angst she even feels wrong for looking at the competition in the wet T-shirt contest they’ve entered in (which I’m pretty sure is something every single girl in that competition is doing to figure out their chances).

Another reason why I can’t possibly bill this as a romance, is because that would require there to be two characters. I have no idea who Michelle is, other than that Lisa is obsessed with her. Even worse, I feel like Lisa has no idea who Michelle is! Mind you, this is supposed to be Lisa’s best friend. Her and Lisa have been best friends since elementary school and Lisa doesn’t know the name of the guy Michelle’s been dating. There is absolutely nothing to indicate that these two are best friends. I can’t tell why Lisa liked Michelle, or why Michelle likes Lisa. That’s not much of a romance story, is it?

I also wasn’t a fan of the writing. At all. It should have been edited – even with just reading through it, I could easily spot six typos (“han” instead of “hand”, “steeling a glance” instead of “stealing” etc), and another look at the tenses used would also have been useful.

Another thing that really stood out was how much Mia Archer loves repetition. There are a lot of paragraphs that use the following structure:

And I was starting to think that maybe those looks I kept seeing on Michelle weren’t wishful thinking. There was something there. There had to be something there. Otherwise I was going to go crazy because I needed there to be something there, damn it.

And I get it! Every once in a while, a paragraph like this is the perfect way to denote what you are saying. But I wouldn’t be surprised if this occurred in every one of the 19 chapters.

Another example of her love of repetition:

“I told you it’d be worth it to join that competition,” Tanya said in an “I told you so” voice that was always so annoying.

At times it seems like Archer was just padding the word count – which, looking at the book itself, hasn’t really worked, since at 66% of the Amazon e-book you’re at the end of the story (the rest is a preview of one of Archer’s other stories).

And finally, the sex was simply awful. There was a lot of dancing around the actual words, instead using phrases like “I couldn’t believe it, but she was absolutely doing what I thought she was doing over there” when Lisa catches Michelle masturbating, and at one point the sex is described as:

I didn’t know how long her touch lasted. She moved her lips back up to mine and they parted and we tasted one another as our tongues danced and her fingers worked their magic. My hips churned and moved up and down and around as she moved her fingers and created magic between my legs.

To make matters worse, both sex scenes ended on “Then/Finally we were done.” Very sexy.

Also, final tiny bit of annoyance: you don’t use the word “girlfriend” to denote someone who’s a girl and also a friend, but not your partner. Not ever, but especially not in a lesbian novel. That doesn’t make sense.

Will I read other books from this author?

I will not.

Overall rating: 1/5

Reading (Willow)
  • mierke

Kaye Thornbrugh – Flicker (2/5)

“There are paintings in you, little one, in your heart and in your hands.”

 

Series: Flicker #1

Genre: YA Fantasy

This is the book for you if you like:

- Magic descriptions
- Stories that follow the traditional gender lines

Summary: (from author’s website)

Lee Capren’s life is perfectly ordinary, thank you very much—right up until she’s spirited away by faeries and forced to serve them as a portrait artist. She escapes with the help of Nasser, a human boy whose magic has always been more of a curse than a gift. But what felt like a night in Faerie spanned years in the human world, and Lee returns only to find that her old life is gone.

Now living above a shop that caters to the city’s beguiling magical crowd, Lee doesn’t think her life can get more complicated. Then again, she never expected clashes with Filo, her prickly new roommate and unwilling magic tutor, her growing feelings for Nasser—or the cunning faerie bent on dragging her back to the world she just escaped.

First sentence:

“Did you see that?” Lee asked, raising her voice a little to be heard above the pounding party music, so loud and insistent that she could feel the bass vibrating in the soles of her feet.

Title:

While I get why the book is named Flicker, I feel like that only really applies to the first chapter. Once you’re past that, there’s… not much flickering anymore. And that the shop is named Flicker just doesn’t make sense. I also feel like as a title, it’s pretty bland? All in all, taking cover and title together, not a book I would have picked up from the shelves.

Why did I read this book?

It was free on Amazon for a while, and the summary sounded very urban fantasy for young adults.

Characters:

Lee, our main character, is… very hard to like. She’s hysterical and pretty stupid at times. While I probably should cut her some slack for being kept by faeries for all this time, her ridiculous notion that being gone for seven years shouldn’t change anything for her family and friends really grated on my nerves. And even when time goes on and she starts to accept that, there’s this idea in her head that the world revolves around her (something Nasser obviously only reinforces).

Nasser has the biggest knight in shining armour complex I’ve ever read. Not only does he for some reason trade in his name (a Big Deal if there ever is one) to save Lee, but he still think his younger brother is totally useless and needs to be kept ignorant in order to be protected. He was really annoying.

Filo is quite interesting, actually. In the beginning he’s a bit too petty and bad tempered, but as the story goes on, you get some insights into his personality. The moment he starts allowing Lee to stay, you realise there’s more to him than initially thought, and he actually grows throughout the book. His happiness turned out to be the only thing I cared about in the end.

My favourite story in this by far has to be Neman, one of the Faeries who raised Filo. Presumably her name is a reference to the Irish goddess, who, or so Wikipedia tells me, personifies frenzied havoc of war. This Neman definitely likes chaos; her amusement at just watching whatever is happening with the kids play out is only contrasted with her actual care – in her way, obviously – for Filo. There was definitely some love between him and Neman, as he shortened her name, while he didn’t do the same with Morgan.

Setting:

Flicker is set in a world that is linked to the Otherworld where the Fay live. While the summary sounds very urban fantasy, it’s definitely a fantasy story; there’s not much talk of the city at all. That said, the setting was definitely the best part of the book. I especially loved the way magic was described, and Lee’s magic lessons had me actually enjoying the story for a while. It’s this part of the story that saved it from a one star rating.

The book switches between POV’s, which is something I really like. The switches are fast in this one, but I never felt confused as to through whose eyes I was seeing (which isn’t always the case!).

General story:

The story pretty much starts when Nasser rescues Lee – and that sets the tone for the rest of the book. During the entire story, it very strictly follows traditional gender lines. I kid you not, even the ‘woman are tidier than man’ makes an appearance. When Lee has found her place in the apartment, she starts to clean up, and Filo notices:

He had to admit it: The apartment and shop looked much better now that Lee was living here. […] These days, beds were always neatly made, clothes were folded and put where they belonged, and books and other supplies were squared away.

Because obviously, Filo is a boy and as such can’t be expected to keep his own freaking shop clean. On top of that, our main villain, Byrony, is a faerie who acts out of jealousy and possessiveness. Seriously, you couldn’t write this stuff more gender-traditional if you tried.

Back to the Nasser/Lee romance: It’s very much boy-meets-girl, boy-falls-instantly-in-love (even though Lee’s magic sick and as such, not really much of a personality), boy-recues-girl, girl-falls-for-boy (because of course she does). While the book was mostly an easy read, their romance had me rolling my eyes so hard it hurt at times.

Will I read the other instalments in this series?

Oh no, definitely not.

Overall rating: 2/5

Reading (Willow)
  • mierke

Margaret Peterson Haddix – Just Ella (4/5)

“Now, there’s one who will live happily ever after.”

Series: The Palace Chronicles #1

Genre: YA Fantasy

This is the book for you if you like:

- ­Fairytale retellings
- Quick reads (it took me just under two hours)
- Kickass Cinderella’s

Summary: (from author’s website)

In this continuation of the Cinderella story, fifteen-year-old Ella finds that accepting Prince Charming’s proposal ensnares her in a suffocating tangle of palace rules and royal etiquette, so she plots to escape.

First sentence:

The fire had gone out, and I didn’t know what to do.

Title:

I love the title, though I feel like the Spanish version (“My name is Ella”) packs even more of a punch. The title immediately brings a disconnect from Cinderella to mind, and I love how it twists into a disconnect from the name that’s bestowed upon her as a princess after you’ve read the story.

Why did I read this book?

It was on Riveted, and I’ve got a soft spot for fairytale retellings.

Characters:

Ella is our main character, and as far as Cinderellas go, she’s pretty kickass. There’s no fairy godmother in this story and no magic; everything Ella achieves, she achieves because she makes it so, because of choices she herself has made – and she’s proud of it:

I’d done something everybody had told me I couldn’t. I’d changed my life all by myself. Having a fairy godmother would have ruined everything.

She was a little naïve at times, and there were a couple of pages where I wanted to shake her for being stupid, but on the other hand, she’s only 15 – and she often realised herself how stupid she’d been being a couple of pages later, so that was okay. She’s not perfect, but I actually prefer it that way, and she does grow. She’s definitely different at the end of the story from who she was at the beginning.

Jed, the main love interest, was really cool. It’s so easy to see why Ella falls in love with him; he’s the first one to treat her like an actual human being in so long, how could she resist? He enters her room to take over his father’s teachings, after his father has had a heart attack during Ella’s last lesson. His introduction is enough to warm any commoner-turned-princess’ heart:

“I’m Jed Reston. I’m sure someone told you – I’m going to be teaching you because my father is… er, dang it, I’m not used to talking to princesses. What words am I allowed to use to tell you what happened to my father?”

He might not get that much of a personality beyond being authentic, but hey, a fairy tale retelling is still a fairy tale… and he’s got more personality than most fairy tale princes. Besides, their love story gets to be way more realistic than your average fairy tale, and when they finally do touch, after Jed hears news of his father’s death, there’s nothing magical about it:

And then I hugged him, and he hugged me, and it wasn’t the least bit romantic – not like dancing under the stars on a rose-scented night – but it was still the most romantic moment of my life.

Mary must be my favourite character, though. She’s absolutely adorable and I loved every minute she appeared on page:

As the days passed, I decided that the servant girl, Mary, was another [person I could talk to]. She began springing up at odd moments with odd bits of information about Lord Reston (“Criminy! Would you believe he heaved his pillow at the wall yesterday? And him a lord and all?”) or touchingly eager offers of help. (“You don’t need anything, do you? Because if you did, I could get it for you. I’ve dusted the whole castle since breakfast, seems like, and now me mum says I’m allowed to do whatever I want.”)

More than that, she helps Ella in the face of all the rules and etiquette that forbid her from doing so, making her a truly warm and amazing person.

The palace people are written quite flat, which would have been okay aside from the way Haddix handled them in the end. I didn’t mind the etiquette lessons, and I didn’t mind the dim-witted lady-in-waitings, and I didn’t mind the complete lack of intellect and any spark in Prince Charming, because honestly, those pretty much spring to mind when I think of fairy tale royal families as well. But the character of Quog and the dismissive cruelty and disregard for human life the royals display at the end of Ella’s time in the palace pushed the palace inhabitants from stereotypical into ridiculous, and from flat-but-believable into downright laughable.

Setting:

A land far far away. Just Ella starts at the end of the fairy tale, when Cinderella is at the castle and waiting for her wedding.

General story:

I loved the opening. Loved, loved, loved it. Ella’s in her room and the fire’s gone out – she’s so lost in a world of etiquette and servants, and the idea of treating other people the way she’s always been treated is so alien to her, that she’s cold because she simply doesn’t know what to do (she’s not allowed to light the fire, she can’t bring herself to ask a servant to light a fire). And that coldness is so palpable it seeps in your bones. It’s a coldness that’s accentuated by how unhappy Ella is; happily ever after, that’s what the fairy tales promise you, but the first chapter ends with the question “This was happiness?”

That is in se what this story is all about; what happens when the happily ever after isn’t all that happy at all? Life might seem magical from the outside, but it’s in the inside that happiness is found. I really liked the emphasis on choices and on how life is shaped by how we define it. Contrary to what fairy tales might have us believe, love at first sight isn’t a solution to anything, and that’s something we as readers can learn alongside Ella.

There’s a lot of humour in the way Haddix writes her story, especially in her descriptions of the people. The first time Ella’s decorum instructor, Madame Bisset, shows up in the story to berate Ella for lighting her own fire, she’s described as follows:

If it had been someone else, I would have said she was disheveled and flustered, but of course, Madame Bisset never allowed herself to be anything but absolutely perfect in bearing and dress. Every gleaming silver hair was in place, every one of the fifty-two tiny mother-of-pearl buttons that marched up her dress was precisely fastened in its loop. But she looked as though she’d given thought to appearing disheveled, as though circumstances might warrant it from anyone else.

I had quite a lot of giggles while reading this book.

Last sentence:

I turned from my window and went back to work.

Will I read the other instalments in this series?

I’m not sure; I liked this book well enough, but apparently the others in the series aren’t fairy tale retellings and that’s one of the things that attracted me to this story.

Overall rating: 4/5