September 30th, 2016

Sing

by Vivi Green

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In this irresistible beach read—perfect for fans of Jenny Han and Zoella’s Girl Online—America’s favorite pop goddess flees the spotlight to Maine to recover from her latest breakup. Only to fall head over heels for a down-to-earth local guy and be faced with an impossible decision: him or her music.

After getting her heart shattered for the thousandth time, multiplatinum pop icon Lily Ross is escaping her high-profile, crazy life and heading to an island in middle-of-nowhere Maine with her best friends. She has three months to focus on herself, her music, her new album—anything but guys. This summer is going to be different.

That is . . . until Lily meets sweet and charming Noel Bradley, who is so different from anyone she’s ever dated. Suddenly Lily’s “summer of me” takes an unexpected turn, and she finds herself falling deeper and harder than ever before. But even though Lily loves Noel, she loves her music and her fans, too. And come August when it’s time to leave Maine and go back out on tour, she will be forced to choose between them.

Ah, September… that month of brilliant days and cool nights, of wide blue skies and golden haystacks, of blooming asters and changing leaves. Those of you who– like me– deign to call yourself students know that September means the official kickoff of the academic year, as if at some point during that post-Labour day rush the sands of time themselves haltingly resumed their flow, once again subject to the constraints of Deadlines and Commitments in the fading summer sun. But there are also those of you who– like me– lag behind the change in calendar, the stragglers who refuse to bid a perennial farewell to the dog days of heat and unchecked lazing, refuse to remove your oversized rose-tinted sunglasses, refuse to trade Fantasies and Sci-Fi’s and Contemporaries for that non-fiction gibberish of academia until the last possible moment.

If you fit this criteria and are indeed on the lookout for that last epic summer weekend, Sing may be the concomitant novel for you. This newfangled gem by neoteric author Vivi Green is the literary embodiment of all things summer: beachy, star-studded, and dry as the high midsummer sun.

When I picked up Sing from my cherished local Target– 20% off the cover price! What fun!– I was anticipating the sweet, sentimental contemporary its blurb screamed. I was hoping for something sappy yet amusing, tired yet convivial, stereotyped yet worth every last penny. In other words: I was expecting a prototypal YA romance. I mean, if Jennifer E. Smith wrote six… it really shouldn’t be too much to ask.

Never have I been so wrong. If anything, Sing was a chore to read– a far cry from the dreamy escape horse on which we all hedged bets. (Unless, of course, you prefer to vacation in bland woolly spaces, preoccupied by someone else’s processed melodrama and other such fabricated problems, in which case by all means read on.) The characters are relentlessly self-absorbed and wholly vapid, lifelong best friends who keep secrets and resent one another behind closed doors. The plot itself is simply boring. I remain unimpressed by the romance and unhappy with the bottom line.

2/5 stars– not terrible, but a disappointment nonetheless. In the eternal words of Sir Winston Churchill, Sing has all of the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire. Read at your own risk, and be warned– I expect no stupefaction when you find that this songbird is in fact dead in the water.

 

I’ll keep you posted,

September 8th, 2016

Awake

by Natasha Preston

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From the publisher:

Scarlett doesn’t remember anything before the age of four. Her parents say it’s from the trauma of seeing her house burn down, and she accepts the life they’ve created for her without question—until a car accident causes Scarlett to start remembering pieces of an unfamiliar past.

When a new guy moves into town, Scarlett feels an instant spark. But Noah knows the truth of Scarlett’s past, and he’s determined to shield her from it…because Scarlett grew up in a cult called Eternal Light, controlled by her biological parents.

And they want her back.

Scarlett’s biological parents and their effulgent cult may indeed want her back, but I, for one, would be happy to never hear of her again. To put things simply, Awake was a a bad idea and waste of time. The writing is amateur; the plot is worst. Suspense kept it in motion until the halfway mark, at which point everything went downhill (as in, down the rabbit hole and into the territory of complete lunacy.) The storyline is problematic and dubitable; the peripeteia are painful and contrived. There is no question that the novel falls flat (as in, reading this book is the spiritual equivalent of falling flat on your face and suffering a particularly nasty ensuing traumatic brain injury.) In other words: avoid at all costs.

The characters are uncannily automatous and altogether displeasing. Scarlett and Imogen are best friends– Scarlett shames Imogen; Imogen undermines Scarlett. Scarlett and Noah have only just met– Scarlett is smitten with Noah; Noah is planning their future. For a novel rife with outcries against GMOs and profound support of organic food items, Awake certainly contains copious amounts of unnatural additives: the classic new boy at school, the fated chemistry partner pairing, the inescapable and tangible attraction, etcetera, etcetera. The romance alone probably contains enough aspartame to power a small Diet Coke factory for several years. (Every cloud, they say, has a silver lining.)

Unfortunately, the novel’s ending condones this unorthodox romance– as if, because Noah has ultimately redeemed himself, the preface of their love becomes unimpeachable. No one mentions that Scarlett drove herself into an unhealthy position, that she made poor choices, fooled by pretty words and spruce profiles. No one mentions that she abandoned her friends for a comely boy, isolating herself from the remainder of her social life. No one mentions that their relationship hit a sizeable volume of red flags before cartwheeling into cult-inspired gibberish. To all young readers of Awake: this is not okay, and whatever you do, do not let Preston delude you into believing that it will somehow lead to a happy ending.

In a dazzling display of dynamic authorial skill, Awake works itself slowly but surely from a hesitant, vacillating thriller to a zealous, overwrought romance to a sheer, twenty-four carat fantasy over the course of its 314 pages. Based on preconceived notions of madmen and cults, this novel will have you questioning the constraints of reality (as well as the author’s credibility) in no time. One can safely assume that it was built on a plethora of misconceptions and zero research. Yes, dear readers, this is a thriller that tests the limits–  the limits of my straining patience; the limits of widely accepted scientific knowledge; and the limits of one’s imagination, striving to envision a dubious plot in a disjointed reality.

Evidently, I was viciously tempted to lay down arms, throw in the towel, drop Awake like a hot potato–  scrawl Did Not Finish on its abortive gravestone and wash my hands of it, end of story, Rest in peace. Nevertheless, against all reason I plowed forward doggedly, my soul consumed by an omnipotent kind of morbid curiosity, a sickened fascination, utterly determined to authenticate the eventual veracity of my sinking suspicions. Needless to say my theories were corroborated, leading to clashing feelings of sharp disappointment and winded relief. Indeed, I would say that the ending was predictable had I not been so bafflingly unsure that any one person could so effectively string together such a laboured series of clichés in one physical space. Say what you will about Preston, but in any case she boggles the mind.

All things considered, Natasha Preston’s latest will indeed keep you awake, be it with late-night binge-reading or bloodcurdling nightmares about late-night binge-reading. In the end, who’s to say? 0.4/5 stars.

 

I’ll keep you posted,

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From the publisher:

Every story needs a hero.
Every story needs a villain.
Every story needs a secret.

Wink is the odd, mysterious neighbor girl, wild red hair and freckles. Poppy is the blond bully and the beautiful, manipulative high school queen bee. Midnight is the sweet, uncertain boy caught between them. Wink. Poppy. Midnight. Two girls. One boy. Three voices that burst onto the page in short, sharp, bewitching chapters, and spiral swiftly and inexorably toward something terrible or tricky or tremendous.

What really happened?
Someone knows.
Someone is lying.

This is a story of knights in dull armour and sweet, vindictive maidens. A story of wolves in sheepskin; dragons with cherubic smiles, honeyed ringlets, wild eyes. A story of Orphans and Unforgivables and tiny saccharine strawberries devoured on the summer grass. Most of all, this is a story of pretty white lies and cracking white smiles, written as a gentle reminder to us cosmopolitans that we are all Heroes and Villains and Wolves.

Wink Poppy Midnight is an unconventional thriller written in purple prose. Wink is an eccentric nobody. Poppy is a haughty bully. And Midnight is a beautiful boy caught between a rock and a hard place. When their respective threads tangle together  beyond repair, these three striplings inadvertently rediscover not only each other but themselves.

The three alternate narrators prove to be immensely confusing at first, so confusing that you’ll find yourself turning pages back and forth just to get your facts straight. The fundamental problem with the execution is this: these three distinct characters and personalities are written in precisely the same style, and therefore have precisely the same voice. However it is extremely difficult for me to work up sufficient energy to be bothered by this small hindrance, truly it is, because really this is my favourite kind of narration: the kind where you can’t extract the reality from the distortion and everyone lies. The truth becomes indeterminate when everybody fabricates their own personal illusions. What’s the point in reading a thriller, anyway, if you don’t struggle to some degree at the outset?

Tucholke’s writing is the foremost argument to read this book. It’s written like a fairy tale and a lullaby and a ballad all at once– three for the price of one. Although suffused with obscure literary references and countless key words in the triplicate– good things come in threes– not even these vitiations could dampen its lyrical beauty. (They could make you feel particularly inclined to bang your head against a brick wall on occasion, but that’s another story altogether.) Tucholke writes straight into your heart and doesn’t let go, until the timber of her words are the only reason you’re turning pages.

[...] that dark, empty part in my chest where my heart had never been, it started beating, beating, beating and I felt joy, red and dripping. (p. 112)

I wasn’t built for missing things. I was built for winning and getting what I wanted and not for trying to be better, not for trying to be the best version of myself, it wasn’t working anyway, god, it wasn’t working at all.

I had Midnight eating out of the palm of my hand, it was all so easy, so ridiculously easy. I was barely trying. He thought he was going to betray me, as if had the cunning, what a notion, as if, as if. (p. 113)

And I mean the only reason. The plot could have been better, to say the least. The paramount expanse of the novel consists of an unorthodox love triangle and Midnight’s multiple comparisons of Poppy’s creamy white skin vs. Wink’s freckles. It lagged frequently in the middle and the ending could have been so much bigger, better, shocking. It wasn’t a supreme letdown, per se, but it wasn’t a miracle or even an Event by anyone’s standards. It was only a moderate disappointment, a trifle of a washout blanching in the face of what might have been, if only this psychological thriller had been remotely thrilling. Therefore if you’re going to invest in the merger 247 pages that is Wink Poppy Midnight, I recommend that you read it all in one sitting– set aside a rainy Sunday or lazy summer afternoon and be done with it all in one fell swoop.

Recommended to poets and artisans, liars and frauds. 2.9/5 stars.

 

I’ll keep you posted,

August 27th, 2016

Cruel Beauty

by Rosamund Hodge

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From the publisher:

Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom—all because of a reckless bargain her father struck. And since birth, she has been training to kill him.

Betrayed by her family yet bound to obey, Nyx rails against her fate. Still, on her seventeenth birthday, she abandons everything she’s ever known to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, disarm him, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on her people.

But Ignifex is not what Nyx expected. The strangely charming lord beguiles her, and his castle—a shifting maze of magical rooms—enthralls her. As Nyx searches for a way to free her homeland by uncovering Ignifex’s secrets, she finds herself unwillingly drawn to him. But even if she can bring herself to love her sworn enemy, how can she refuse her duty to kill him?

Based on the classic fairy tale Beauty and the BeastCruel Beauty is a dazzling love story about our deepest desires and their power to change our destiny.

As far as retellings of Beauty and the Beast go, Cruel Beauty flourishes. (Perhaps unfairly, I have only A Court of Thorns and Roses with which to compare it, but in any case Hodge emerges victorious.) The traditional fairy tale is recast here in an entirely unique fantastical world, and yet somehow Hodge has indited it gracefully, seamlessly entwining Greek mythology with elements of that classic narrative we all know so well. Although the world building is sometimes halfhearted and feeble, the world itself remains bewitching. Gothic and sumptuous, it is the fairy tale setting we all may have known as children had Walt Disney given way to more Grecian Brothers Grimm.

A belligerent revolutionary, Nyx is a colourfully authentic breath of fresh air in the world of YA. Like Ignifex, I like a girl with a little iniquity in her heart– Mary Sues can be so cloyingly tedious, can they not? Protagonists who are not everlastingly preoccupied with doing right until blue in the face always provide a much-needed interlude from the pervasive stodginess. Nyx, ever the individualist, is the proprietor of soul so fractured that it has effectively split down the middle; every facet of her nature, therefore, becomes antithetical to another. She is loving yet resentful, responsible yet reckless, noble yet a yellow-faced coward when it matters the most. This explicitly is why one trusts her from the very first page: she is flawed, and she knows it.

Regrettably, one of these very flaws involves spray tan love to a distressingly aggravating extreme. Shockingly, this egregious romance implicates not only one but two love interests, thereby forging a brand-new tribute to that immemorial YA custom: the love triangle. You may be asking yourself, and rightfully so, what exactly our warrior protagonist is doing in neglecting her righteous duties by using her exceedingly limited time to fall in love with two major heartthrobs. After all, we readers signed up to discover the tale of a hero, not a lovesick idealist. (Just as Nyx signed up to screw her courage to the sticking place and stab some demons– not lay down her wits and virgin knives to swan off into the sunset with her immortal lover(s) at the drop of a well-placed hat.) Alas, you can’t always get what you want (but if you try sometime, you’ll find that Hodge may give you exactly what you need.)

The writing is standard. Although not particularly horrendous by any means, it’s no natural wonder of the world either– although it does have its own poetic moments, after a fashion. As for the plot, I’m still unsure if Cruel Beauty‘s ending is evidence of an elaborate loophole in the clause of the plot itself totally beyond the scope of my understanding, or merely an unimaginative deus ex machina meant to stun us and shut us up. I suppose we’ll never truly know. Regardless, it’s fast-paced, highly gripping, and packs one helluva twist.

A big thanks goes to Rosamund Hodge for emerging onto the literary scene to give our dearest Tale as Old as Time a brand-new facelift. Belle always was one of my favourite Disney princesses, and Nyx just might live up to her reputation. Recommended to fans of revamped French fairy tales and walking paradoxes. 3.3/5 stars.

 

I’ll keep you posted,

August 22nd, 2016

The Siren

by Kiera Cass

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From the publisher:

Love is a risk worth taking.

Years ago, Kahlen was rescued from drowning by the Ocean. To repay her debt, she has served as a Siren ever since, using her voice to lure countless strangers to their deaths. Though a single word from Kahlen can kill, she can’t resist spending her days on land, watching ordinary people and longing for the day when she will be able to speak and laugh and live freely among them again.

Kahlen is resigned to finishing her sentence in solitude…until she meets Akinli. Handsome, caring, and kind, Akinli is everything Kahlen ever dreamed of. And though she can’t talk to him, they soon forge a connection neither of them can deny…and Kahlen doesn’t want to.

Falling in love with a human breaks all the Ocean’s rules, and if the Ocean discovers Kahlen’s feelings, she’ll be forced to leave Akinli for good. But for the first time in a lifetime of following the rules, Kahlen is determined to follow her heart.

In her latest novel, HarperTeen author Kiera Cass delves beyond her usual gowns, crowns and handsome royalty to bring you an exciting new twist on your favourite aquatic creatures. The Siren features a band of girls from various epochs serving their sentences as sirens under the care of the bloodthirsty Ocean. Indeed– this isn’t just any 99-year-old woman meets surfer dude kind of story. Regrettably, through Cass’s own personal authorial charm, its characters become harbingers of death not only to all imprudent mariners but also to anyone foolish enough to read their novel.

Let us begin, therefore, with afore-mentioned centenarian: our protagonist. A hopeless romantic of wishy-washy character, Kahlen’s principal ambition in life is marriage.  She has no burning passion for philanthropy or other such altruistic causes, no profound desire to achieve self-actualization, no fervent yearning to engage in any remote kind of vocation. She has no yearning at all, actually, save for tying the knot and pledging to devote the remainder of her years to that time-honoured tradition of holy matrimony. That is all. Now, when Henry David Thoreau advised us to Go Confidently in the Direction of our Dreams, I don’t believe that grand illusions of housewifery were quite the strain of aspirations that seized him, but then again we’ll never know. Perhaps he intended for all of his adherents to be rescued by their own respective prince charmings.

You may be wondering, then, exactly who the lucky guy is to be so deserving of her perpetual adulation. The truth abides, however, that Kahlen has no such significant other in mind at the outset of The Siren. No, instead she pins the full extant of her hopes and dreams on a man whom she has never met. And that, ladies and gentleman, is taught helplessness: depending on a total stranger for your eventual happiness. And here– here exactly– in stripping her female lead of any self-sufficiency, any at all– is how Kiera Cass effectively voids any semblance of girl power excited by the notion of a powerful female myth.

Fortunately for Kahlen, her painful lonesomeness is short-lived. Entering stage right and kick-starting our story’s action is Akinli, the new and improved take on the classic boy next door. Ever the trooper, Kahlen refuses to be intimidated or deterred by the constraints of her verbal communication, and lets this poor sucker get about three sentences in edgewise before the lovesick infatuation sets in. Nevertheless, the young couple is only able to engage in one episode of cake-baking before being tragically separated through their own fallacy.

Needless to say, their connection was so heartfelt and tender that the very thought of never setting eyes on Akinli again sends Kahlen into a lasting depression. To me, this is not only dubious (sorry, Kahlen, but spending three hours with someone does in no way appoint him as your eternal lover– no, not even if he has shaggy blond hair and a violently outlandish first name) but also absolutely and grievously appalling. For that is the only true tragedy here: that a girl should throw away her very joie de vivre for such a fleeting moment.

For that’s all Akinli should have been: a passing fling. The first male entity with whom Kahlen has had contact in roughly a century should in no way have been her one true love. Because honestly, if nailing down a guy with whom to bake a cake is all you need to fall head over heels, I don’t see why more of us aren’t abducting dashing young men in aprons and stockpiling on Pillsbury.

In other words, as any good siren should know, there are other fish in the sea.

Unfortunately for us, Cass misses her mark on nearly every other level of the novel as well. Her female supporting cast is recalcitrant and contrary, each character a one-dimensional variant of the other. The company includes our token harlot, creative soul, and brooding rebel. Furthermore, I’m not sure if the young East Indian girl introduced later on was meant to be progressive or theatrical, but either way she comes off as a caricature of her culture. Where Cass could have expounded on the theme of female friendship– which one would think might be implied given the presence of a siren sisterhood– she chose to isolate her protagonist from her comrades in what I can only assume is an effort to make her more misunderstood and special.

The plot is no better. To put things simply, it revolves around dramatic lovelorn lamentations, a deus ex machina of a grand finale, and perhaps one appealing moment involving a notable Kafka short story. Sadly, even this Bohemian gem is not enough to redeem the plot as a whole from its own total vapidity.

Although the sap award does in fact go to me for never being able to resist a seaside story in the summertime, Cass comes in a close second and owns every last inch of it. Hopelessly insipid and painfully romantic, The Siren reads like a bad Barbie movie– minus the Girls Can Do Anything tagline and the talking cats. 0.4/5 stars.

 

I’ll keep you posted,

From the publisher:

This book is about how to finally give up on feeling bad about yourself and discover the best person you can be.

An interactive experience, How to Be You invites you to make the book your own through activities such as coloring in charts, answering questions about how you do the things you do, and discovering patterns in your lives that may be holding you back. Through Jeffrey’s own story of “growing up fabulous in a small farming town”–along with the stories of hero/ines who have transcended the stereotypes of race, age, and gender–you will discover that you are not alone, can deepen your relationship with yourself, and find the courage to take a leap that will change your life.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

First things first: How to Be You is definitely not right up my usual alley. It’s not fiction (it’s a self-help exploit with an edifying dash of autobiography), and it’s not YA (well, maybe it is a little, but it’s a middle grade venture at soul). With my two cut-and-dried literature cornerstones notably absent, the amount of bookish enjoyment anyone is guaranteed to get out of this volume is questionable right off the bat. That being said, Jeffrey Marsh does eventually prove to redeem himself. He pulls through with the help of some hilarious one-liners, spontaneous artwork, and legions of drama.

A lovely innovative concept from which many self-helps could likely benefit, the interactive piece is well done and probably the best part of the book. As a former earnest advocate of personality quizzes and crayons, I self-professedly enjoyed the colouring and fill-in-the-blanks.

Furthermore, Marsh’s personal anecdotes were unbelievably trying; my kudos go to him for enduring them and walking away all the stronger. If nothing else, they will remind you that if he could withstand his own demons,  you can doubtlessly survive whatever trials you’re currently facing.

It’s obvious that this book is intended for a younger audience. It reads easily and repetitively; Marsh reiterates each and every one of his messages over and over again, as if his use of different wording would obliterate the previous occasions from your memory. Fortunately, although occasionally vexatious beyond belief, this signifies that there is effectively no way one could escape How to Be You without some level of understanding.

It’s not perfect– there is such a thing as too much Wonder Woman to achieve any semblance of perfection– but I’m sure it’s all aces in its own niche. Whether or not that particular niche is for you is up in the air. Recommended to desolate youths seeking inspiration and all those wholly fed up with Chicken Soup for the Soul.

 

I’ll keep you posted,

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From the publisher:

The New York Times bestselling “taut, sophisticated thriller” (BCCB, starred review) packed with twists and turns that will leave you breathless.

They say Delia burned herself to death in her stepfather’s shed. They say it was suicide.

But June doesn’t believe it.

June and Delia used to be closer than anything. Best friends in that way that comes before everyone else—before guys, before family. It was like being in love, but more. They had a billion secrets, binding them together like thin silk cords.

But one night a year ago, everything changed. June, Delia, and June’s boyfriend Ryan were just having a little fun. Their good time got out of hand. And in the cold blue light of morning, June knew only this—things would never be the same again.

And now, a year later, Delia is dead. June is certain she was murdered. And she owes it to her to find out the truth… which is far more complicated than she ever could have imagined.

Sexy, dark, and atmospheric, Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls will keep you guessing until the very last page.

In picking up the Macbook, Moleskine, or whatever other writing apparatus suits their particular eclectic taste, every YA author enters into an implicit contract with their readers. The contract is as follows: I, the reader, will forfeit a handful of hours of my treasured youth in exchange for (at worst) a mediocre read and (at best) one helluva roller coaster of euphoria, glee, and other such sweet emotions. If occasionally and for any reason the author finds this to be impossible under the circumstances, that is tolerable. I am willing to accept the gamble– it’s an occupational hazard, after all. That being said, at the barest minimum I deserve a sense of closure. If I’m going to regret picking up your book, you had better damn well not waffle about the ending.

Lynn Weingarten has breached this contract.

I should have known that Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls was a dreadful idea as soon as the alarm bells started softly pealing in my head– I knew I had heard her name before. For this is the same Lynn Weingarten who wrote The Secret Sisterhood of Heartbreakers back in 2012. You won’t find its review on my blog, because as a rule I don’t pass judgement on books I DNF not twenty pages in. But from what I remember, it was terrible.

I’ll give her this: her writing is spectacular. I’d almost call it a cross between that of Lauren Oliver and Tahereh Mafi– like a stream of consciousness, if your thoughts were more coordinated and you had a poet’s soul. Hands down the best part of the novel, it was at times my only motivation to keep reading. Weingarten was even able to accomplish incorporating multiple flashbacks interpolated throughout the chapters set in the present day, a feat that many more skillful than her have tried and failed to achieve.

Her characters are remarkably rendered, as well. June has all of the grit of a dandelion in November, while Delia seems to have been a force to be reckoned with, a hurricane of a teenage girl. Together, they drive the theme of friendship off the beaten path and down towards darker territories: codependency, need, poison.  Unquestionable loyalty and unfaltering love cannot be virtues when each stakeholder is a miasma to the other. Female friendship is a theme so seldom explored in the world of YA that my kudos must go to Weingarten for her peerlessness. She may not be breaking any glass ceilings, but she has moxie, and that’s a trait I admire.

Where she fails without question is the plot. Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls sets off to a slow start and refuses to improve from there on out. The twists will either knock you off your rocker, or you’ll see them coming from a mile away (before you even pick up the book, if you read the blurbs). The ending is laughable. We’ve stuck with these characters throughout over 300 pages and are left with what? A vague allusion and a cryptic note. That is all.

I suppose we are intended to decide how it ended for ourselves. The denouement could go one of two ways, and we are left to judge which series of actions transpired. I am the person who abstains from doing math problems if I cannot check my answers at the back of the textbook, so you can only imagine to what extent this amateur venture drives me out of my mind. Suffice it to say that in my eyes, the last chapter effectively decimated the novel as a whole.

So in the end, it does seem that Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls is merely belles-lettres, after all. Or is it? It’s on you. 2/5 stars.

 

I’ll keep you posted,

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From the publisher:

She stole a life. Now she must pay with her heart.

When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she knows about only from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.

As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow over the faerie lands is growing, and Feyre must find a way to stop it . . . or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.

I’ve spent the past week gorging myself on the complete works of Sarah J. Maas. Needless to say, Throne of Glass is one of the best fantasy series I have ever read. I simply couldn’t stop reading until I got every single published instalment out of my system (there’s six so far if you include the series’s prequel novellas, which I so obviously do).  Indeed, calling the series alarmingly addictive– and highly badass– would be putting things lightly. It seems, however, that even the greats don’t hit it out of the park every single time. To my utter disappointment, I’m afraid that there is simply no parallel universe in which A Court of Thorns and Roses is anything but a very garrulous, very stupefying thorn in my side.

My foremost problem with the novel happens to be its protagonist: I simply don’t like Feyre. There’s no other way to put it. Remorseless and whiny, she spends the vast majority of her ample time complaining about her life’s general state of affairs and preening herself on her apparent moral high ground. What does she actually do all day that makes me mad as a March hare? you might ask. The answer is elementary, really: she spends her time sitting on her ass like a glorified medieval trophy wife. In other words: she paints. While her big, strong boyfriend prowls the grounds, risking his life for the collective safety, while her peers are off battling the “blight” that imperils their very world, Feyre stays shuttered inside, all art and no spine.

She doesn’t even bother to inconvenience herself by accepting a certain someone’s many pointed offers to teach her poor, misguided soul to read. It seems that she’s far too busy making snarky remarks towards anyone who is remotely kind to her, and being ungrateful towards any characters who continuously save her worthless hide, to waste any time at all ameliorating her illiterate self. You’ll have to forgive me if, as a reader, I take this as a rather grave offense.

What’s more is that Feyre foolishly endangers her life quite frequently, I would say. And this would not be a transgression in and of itself– if there’s one vice I understand, it’s living your life with reckless abandon– were it not for her refusal to fight back against whichever rapscallion currently has her in their clutches. Because where would be the reason in resisting? Those fairies are so big and evil, she wouldn’t stand a chance, anyway! Evidently, if you are looking for even one whit of Celeana Sardothien in A Court of Thorns and Roses, prepare to look further. You will find no hellcats here.

Her love interest, our darling Tamlin, is really no better. Standoffish and arrogant, he communicates mainly by serial grunting. But of course, he and Feyre will fall in love. (Didn’t you know that this was a Beauty and the Beast retelling, and thus that true love would conquer all?) The spray tan romance was further enhanced by the little hitch involving Tamlin being a beast in absolutely no conceivable way, except perhaps if we are counting that endearing charm. To the contrary, we are subjected to multiple wordy descriptions of his irresistible good looks and lengthy reveries concerning the upper half of his face, concealed at all times by a magic mask.

A Court of Thorns and Roses even encloses numerous plot holes, which I in no way expected from the illustrious Sarah J. Maas. I’ll give you only one example– my favourite– which I feel easily typifies the novel as a whole: despite being magically knocked out every time she’s made the journey previously, Feyre is somehow able to find her way back to her beloved’s enchanted mansion without thought or difficulty, and all this in a matter of sentences.

My recommendation: turn back while you still can. Avoid A Court of Thorns and Roses at all costs. This is a romance masquerading as fantasy with nothing to anchor it to singular fiction save a handful of good fight scenes and some very tautly stretched fairy lore. And the best part? It’s rife with names impossible to pronounce except by means of a pronunciation guide inconveniently located at the end of the novel which, chances are, you won’t even know exists until you’re slamming closed the back cover and hurling the book across the room. 1.4/5 stars.

 

I’ll keep you posted,

August 2nd, 2016

The Young Elites

by Marie Lu

Ana's Rating


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[Twitter]

From the publisher:

Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of the blood fever. A decade ago, the deadly illness swept through her nation. Most of the infected perished, while many of the children who survived were left with strange markings. Adelina’s black hair turned silver, her lashes went pale, and now she has only a jagged scar where her left eye once was. Her cruel father believes she is a malfetto, an abomination, ruining their family’s good name and standing in the way of their fortune. But some of the fever’s survivors are rumored to possess more than just scars—they are believed to have mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites.

Teren Santoro works for the king. As Leader of the Inquisition Axis, it is his job to seek out the Young Elites, to destroy them before they destroy the nation. He believes the Young Elites to be dangerous and vengeful, but it’s Teren who may possess the darkest secret of all.

Enzo Valenciano is a member of the Dagger Society. This secret sect of Young Elites seeks out others like them before the Inquisition Axis can. But when the Daggers find Adelina, they discover someone with powers like they’ve never seen.

Adelina wants to believe Enzo is on her side, and that Teren is the true enemy. But the lives of these three will collide in unexpected ways, as each fights a very different and personal battle. But of one thing they are all certain: Adelina has abilities that shouldn’t belong in this world. A vengeful blackness in her heart. And a desire to destroy all who dare to cross her.

It is my turn to use. My turn to hurt.

I picked up the novel’s sequel, The Rose Society, immediately upon capping The Young Elites, so you’ll have to forgive me if throughout this review the books begin to bleed together. I’ll endeavour to limit my jive to the series debut, but I make no guarantees.

Set in a loose rendition of Renaissance Italy, The Young Elites features the survivors of a blood fever that ravaged a world. In Kenettra, those who were untouched by the disease remain pure of heart. Those who contracted the illness and lived to tell the tale, however, are malfettos: they are disdained, they are resentful, and they are waiting. For there are those among them who possess gifts beyond imagination, and despite being a new fantastical translation of the Island of Misfit Toys, they are ready to fight back.

In this sense, at least, The Young Elites is teenagedom to the nth power: dark and angsty yet burning brightly, a fantasy wherein every event is the apocalypse and every ex is Beelzebub himself. Within these pages Marie Lu has perfectly captured the essence of (smells like) Teen Spirit, complete with hoarse vocals shouting at us to turn off the lights.

The romance is conceivably the most transcendent component of the novel. Or perhaps I should say the lack of romance– indeed, Marie Lu does in no way grace us with even a modicum of spray tan love. We are left instead with a swarthy prince on the rebound, a beautiful male courtesan not currently occupied in a love interest-type position, and a silver-haired sweetheart who just wants to be loved. The results? Minimal (although extant) amounts of pining, kissing, and other such youthful debauchery. Many of you may find this to be thoroughly tragic, although personally I was quite (wickedly) pleased. Because as Marie Lu herself might tell you, given the opportunity and hopefully vast expanses of caffeine, our Adelina has enough on her plate without adding relationship melodramatics to the mix. She’s already struggling with a missing eye, unconstrained power over all human senses, and an accidental patricide issue with a dash of autocratic reign. She simply does not have the time nor the inclination to rewrite her story of epic villainy as a sensual romance.

Yes, The Young Elites is above all a tale of antiheroes. There is no right, no wrong, no moral of the story. There is only power, and the lengths to which one may go to achieve and maintain it. This makes all of our characters fundamentally interesting, Adelina the most so. For she is karma incarnate, the right hand of revenge, and her wrath knows no bounds and no apologies. And yet we as readers are asked to sympathize, to understand the whys and wherefores of her actions, and ultimately to accede them. For this reason, Adelina cannot be a villain in the strictest sense of the word, for we readers are perpetually aware, in some dark corner in the back of our minds, of where our loyalties should lie– and that is with the protagonist.

The narration is quirky and at times hard to follow, but I like it, and will keep coming back for more. It is with breathless anticipation and no small supply of apprehension that I await the trilogy’s conclusion, to be published October 11th. Until then, Marie Lu, I wish for you copious mirth and perhaps a trifle of humour for your toolbox. You never know when you’ll need them.

Recommended for fans of tortured souls, macabre downfalls, and eyepatches. 4.3/5 stars.

 

I’ll keep you posted,

July 21st, 2016

The Glittering Court

by Richelle Mead

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From the publisher:

A dazzling, romantic new fantasy series set in a mix of Elizabethan and frontier worlds from Richelle Mead, #1 internationally bestselling author of Vampire Academy.

Big and sweeping, spanning the refined palaces of Osfrid to the gold dust and untamed forests of Adoria, The Glittering Courttells the story of Adelaide, an Osfridian countess who poses as her servant to escape an arranged marriage and start a new life in Adoria, the New World. But to do that, she must join the Glittering Court.

Both a school and a business venture, the Glittering Court is designed to transform impoverished girls into upper-class ladies capable of arranging powerful and wealthy marriages in the New World. Adelaide naturally excels in her training and even makes a few friends: the fiery former laundress Tamsin and the beautiful Sirminican refugee Mira. She manages to keep her true identity hidden from all but one: the intriguing Cedric Thorn, son of the wealthy proprietor of the Glittering Court.

When Adelaide discovers that Cedric is hiding a dangerous secret of his own, together, they hatch a scheme to make the best of Adelaide’s deception. Complications soon arise—first, as they cross the treacherous seas from Osfrid to Adoria, and later, when Adelaide catches the attention of a powerful governor.

But no complication will prove quite as daunting as the potent attraction simmering between Adelaide and Cedric. An attraction that, if acted on, would scandalize the Glittering Court and make them both outcasts in wild, vastly uncharted lands. . . .

Unwilling to marry an itchy cousin to save her family from mounting debt, the young Countess of Rothford decides to run away and join the Glittering Court. This ladies’ finishing school is designed to pass off common girls as ‘New Nobility’, in order to sell them  as wives to men in the New World. Now, from  a purely objective standpoint, the rationale behind Adelaide’s decision is perfectly sapient. Embracing one’s deep-seated sense of adventure by abdicating one arranged marriage to barrel into another, all the while flying the proverbial familial coop and abandoning exactly one (1) bereft grandma, is what we all would do in such a situation, I’m sure. And you haven’t even heard the best part! In her reckless abandon of cousin Lionel, Adelaide surrenders all pretenses of modern decorum and trades a tactfully (although questionably) arranged marriage for something much baser: glorified human trafficking.

Which brings me to my next point: the world inaugurated by Mead in this startling series debut spins on an axis of misogyny and prejudice. Not only is the society portrayed in The Glittering Court imbued with sexism and other such crimes against humanity, but its plot is built on these elements, and could not exist without them. Mead has spun a tale so deeply entrenched in the degradation of women that her protagonist would fail to have a story in its absence. Unfortunately, this is not a matter of dowries or gold diggers or even star-crossed love between castes; this is about an organized, lawful business whose primary mission is the sale of women.

Adelaide, naturally, is rescued from this harrowing enmity only by true love’s kiss. Oblivious to the inequity surrounding her, she chooses instead to invest the entirety of her energy and attention into the spray tan love for which YA is so notorious. And thank God for that, because what ever would she do without a big, strong man to save her? (Never mind a tall, dark, and handsome one!) By accepting the incredible misogyny widespread throughout her culture without so much as lifting a finger– or raising a voice, or shaping a thought– against it, it seems obvious to me that Adelaide condones it. It is my pressing belief that this is a you’re-either-for-us-or-against-us situation. And it seems that our darling Adelaide, dear readers, too preoccupied with the sweep of her hair and the hue of her gowns, is against us.

I’m not wholly sure of the terminology, but I’ve heard The Glittering Court addressed as a half-fantasy; part Victorian England, part Belle Époque France, and part colonial America, with none of the magic to see it all through. Mead showers her plot in various elements and values stemming from each of these eras with no apparent common thread to tie them together, and nothing of value to add to them. Needless to say, the world building fails. The geography is preliminary at best, the social hierarchy is grandly detailed and yet still ostensibly boring, and the theocracy borders perfunctory. If you’re going to blame a dystopia on a constitutional lack of laïcité, please feel free to give the religion in question some substance.

Additionally, Mead tempts us to read on by dangling promises of deep, dark secrets to come from each of her secondary characters like apples in front of a horse. For instance, no one knows what Tamsin has at stake, Mira is withholding the basis for her nightly jaunts, and Cedric is harboring a secret that may very well cost him his head. In the end, we never do discover the nature of Tamsin’s collateral; Mira’s enigma is easy enough to piece together, if seemingly extraneous; and Cedric’s big secret is honestly just trite. There’s no way around it– I couldn’t imagine a bigger anticlimax in that regard if tried.

I’m told that the reason we learn so little about Tamsin and Mira in this installment is that The Glittering Court is slated as a companion series; these ladies will feature as protagonists in their own novels. I couldn’t tell you for sure, though. I certainly don’t plan on reading them.

I will say this: The Glittering Court is a fast-paced read and a lovely romance. Although these features in no way compensate for its faults, they did provide me with much needed satisfaction and regalement.

Recommended for all those unwilling to rage against the machine. 1.4/5 stars.

 

I’ll keep you posted,

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