Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The Beautiful by Renee Ahdieh

Summary from Goodreads:
In 1872, New Orleans is a city ruled by the dead. But to seventeen-year-old Celine Rousseau, New Orleans provides her a refuge after she's forced to flee her life as a dressmaker in Paris. Taken in by the sisters of the Ursuline convent along with six other girls, Celine quickly becomes enamored with the vibrant city from the music to the food to the soirées and—especially—to the danger. She soon becomes embroiled in the city's glitzy underworld, known as La Cour des Lions, after catching the eye of the group's leader, the enigmatic Sébastien Saint Germain. When the body of one of the girls from the convent is found in the lair of La Cour des Lions, Celine battles her attraction to him and suspicions about Sébastien's guilt along with the shame of her own horrible secret.

When more bodies are discovered, each crime more gruesome than the last, Celine and New Orleans become gripped by the terror of a serial killer on the loose—one Celine is sure has set her in his sights . . . and who may even be the young man who has stolen her heart. As the murders continue to go unsolved, Celine takes matters into her own hands and soon uncovers something even more shocking: an age-old feud from the darkest creatures of the underworld reveals a truth about Celine she always suspected simmered just beneath the surface.

At once a sultry romance and a thrilling murder mystery, master storyteller Renée Ahdieh embarks on her most potent fantasy series yet: The Beautiful.
So, there were things I loved in this book and things I hated. And I guess I’ll sort out all my feelings by the end of this review because I’m feeling a little mixed up right now.
I’ll start with the good. I loved the setting. If you’ve ever been to New Orleans, you know it would be the perfect backdrop for a YA paranormal romance, or a teen show on the CW. There’s just something supernaturally off-putting to the city. It’s the perfect place to go on a ghost-tour. I totally went on a ghost-tour there and had a ball. It was also the perfect place to go on a mini vacation with a group of girlfriends (art, drinks, ghosts, oh my!) And, Ahdieh really got that about this city. She wrote about the alleyways and the churches and the grittiness of it all, but also got into the indulgent spectacle of it too, with eh fancy hotels and masquerades. She really did a great job writing New Orleans.
I also loved the time period. I remember learning about girls who traveled across the ocean to do what Celine did. Ahdieh did her research. The convent, the jobs, the matchmaking, and all of that really added to the story for me. And it’s been a while since I’ve read a good historical fiction novel. I also love that Celine has this strong background in fashion. So, there’s a lot about dresses, costumes, and needlework. I wasn’t expecting any Project Runway with my vampire story, and it was an added bonus for me.
I loved the friendship story in here too! It wasn’t all about the love story all the time! Yes, major points for making other things important too.
I hated the lack of originality in regards to the vampires. I know everyone makes fun of how the vampires sparkle in Twilight, but at least that author came up with that on her own. Ahdieh seems to have taken a lot from Twilight (not the sparkle). The whole thing with the certain vampires with special abilities really was setting off Cullen alarm bells in my head. Also, the setup with the wolves, really? I would liked this book so much more, and maybe given 1-2 stars higher a rating if the author did not setup a “love triangle” at the end with a potential werewolf character. I put love triangle in quotes because like in Twilight, it’s clear who the main character is “meant” to be with.
I hated the repetition. We get it. Sebastien is like the devil. And a phantom. That metaphor got so tiring. Unless he actually goes by the name Devil, I really don’t want to hear it any more. Also, for a book that doesn’t show who the vampires for at least half of it, referring to a certain character as the devil and his friends as dark creatures….kind of gives it all away. Either let us know they are all dark creatures earlier on, or don’t.
I also hated the romance. It was instant. And besides the fact that both characters are extraordinarily beautiful, brave, and strong, I don’t really feel like they ever have enough time together to get so fully in love. I wanted to ship them more, believe in them more. Stuff happened at the end, and I just had no emotion at all about it.
All in all, I loved the concept of this back. I love vampire stories. I adored the New Orleans setting. I liked the friendship story and the bits about historical fashion. I wish this author strayed a little further from Twilight than she did. She is so great and original. Why did she have to throw the werewolf storyline thing in? Why? I would have given this a higher rating if not for that. I also wasn’t buying the romance so much. It needed more development. I guess I have kind of mixed feelings still. I give this one a 6/10.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Charlotte Bronte before Jane Eyre by Glynnis Fawkes

Summary from Goodreads:
Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!--I have as much soul as you,--and full as much heart!

Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre is a beloved classic, celebrated today by readers of all ages and revered as a masterwork of literary prowess. But what of the famous writer herself?

Originally published under the pseudonym of Currer Bell, Jane Eyre was born out of a magnificent, vivid imagination, a deep cultivation of skill, and immense personal hardship and tragedy. Charlotte, like her sisters Emily and Anne, was passionate about her work. She sought to cast an empathetic lens on characters often ignored by popular literature of the time, questioning societal assumptions with a sharp intellect and changing forever the landscape of western literature.

With an introduction by Alison Bechdel, Charlotte Brontë before Jane Eyre presents a stunning examination of a woman who battled against the odds to make her voice heard.
I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this one as much as I did. I’m not a huge nonfiction reader, but I ate this one up. It helps that it was super short, and the artwork was gorgeous. But, also, I have to own up to really loving the story of Jane Eyre. So, that definitely plays a role in my overall enjoyment and high rating of this book.
I didn’t know a lot about Charlotte Bronte going into this book either. I knew a little more about her sisters than I did about her. So, I was pleasantly surprised to learn so much about her. I did not know about the stories she came up with her brother or her involvement in writing with her sisters. I learned about how she really set the path for her family. And I had no idea how much hardship she overcame in regards to death and loss.
I also had no idea how closely linked her story and the character of Jane’s were. I knew there must be some similarities, but I didn’t know the extent of them. And I guess, this made me love and appreciate Jane Eyre even more. And I’m itching to go back to the classic for a re-read. I’m actually thinking about setting a reading challenge for next year (2020) to go back and re-read a whole bunch more classics. I’ve been missing them, as English Majors probably all tend to do.
I found Charlotte’s story inspirational and powerful. She had such tenacity and strength in a time when it would have been so easy to give up. I can’t imagine not having Jane Eyre, so I’m so glad she never gave up. I was impressed with her story. And I was impressed with the simple artwork (which almost allowed for the spotlight to remain on the story more than the pictures). The simplicity really paired well with what was happening. I recommend this book to all the Jane Eyre fans out there. I’m not sure readers who have not read the classic, would really appreciate this book. It’s definitely aimed for those who have already it. I give it an 8/10.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Mooncakes by Wendy Xu and Suzanne Walker

Summary from Goodreads:
A story of love and demons, family and witchcraft.

Nova Huang knows more about magic than your average teen witch. She works at her grandmothers' bookshop, where she helps them loan out spell books and investigate any supernatural occurrences in their New England town.

One fateful night, she follows reports of a white wolf into the woods, and she comes across the unexpected: her childhood crush, Tam Lang, battling a horse demon in the woods. As a werewolf, Tam has been wandering from place to place for years, unable to call any town home.

Pursued by dark forces eager to claim the magic of wolves and out of options, Tam turns to Nova for help. Their latent feelings are rekindled against the backdrop of witchcraft, untested magic, occult rituals, and family ties both new and old in this enchanting tale of self-discovery.
This book was adorable. Mix together the sweet manga-ish cover with a summary of witchcraft, bookstores, and childhood crushes returning, and well this book and I just had to meet. Little did I know it was also full of awesome LGBT rep, fantastic family drama, ghosts, Miyazaki-level cute forest spirits, and fantastic artwork.
I loved it. I pretty much read this in one sitting. It’s probably my favorite graphic novel of the year, and I feel like I’ve been reading a lot of graphic novels lately. There’s some definite flashbacks in it to Sabrina and Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver series, but in a good way, and with it’s own modern, magical twist.
The world created here is just so fun. The ghosts, the magic, the books, the forest, the creatures, the characters that know about it all, all just make for one remarkable setting that I’d love to read more about. Normally, I feel like setting is lacking in graphic novels because there just isn’t the same amount of time/space to cover it, but here it really felt developed and interesting. I felt like I was there, watching it all happen.
I also loved the characters. I would watch them in a tv show in a span of multiple seasons, and can easily see this becoming a series. I hope Xu and Walker do more together. I’m definitely going to keep my eyes open for more. I give this one a 9/10.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell

Summary from Goodreads:
The story is supposed to be over.

Simon Snow did everything he was supposed to do. He beat the villain. He won the war. He even fell in love. Now comes the good part, right? Now comes the happily ever after…

So why can’t Simon Snow get off the couch?

What he needs, according to his best friend, is a change of scenery. He just needs to see himself in a new light…

That’s how Simon and Penny and Baz end up in a vintage convertible, tearing across the American West.

They find trouble, of course. (Dragons, vampires, skunk-headed things with shotguns.) And they get lost. They get so lost, they start to wonder whether they ever knew where they were headed in the first place…

With Wayward Son, Rainbow Rowell has written a book for everyone who ever wondered what happened to the Chosen One after he saved the day. And a book for everyone who was ever more curious about the second kiss than the first. It’s another helping of sour cherry scones with an absolutely decadent amount of butter.

Come on, Simon Snow. Your hero’s journey might be over – but your life has just begun.
Rainbow Rowell, I love you. Seriously. Carry On and Wayward Son are so brilliant. Just the concept for these stories are amazing. Then add in fantastic characters, slow burning romance, magic, and battles, and well, what else can you possibly want in a book?
As I mentioned on Goodreads: This was fun. It’s kinda what I wanted Cursed Child to be like. I wanted the story directly after stuff finished with the trio. This book was directly after the end of the last Simon Snow story. And it’s a road trip across America! And it’s more Simon and Baz! And it’s magic ren fairs! And rescue missions in Las Vegas. And vampire cults. Weirdly, it didn’t grab me immediately, but it eventually made up for that. I cannot wait for more.
This book had a slow beginning. I kept putting it down. To be fair, Simon is depressed in the beginning. He has no magic. He has wings and a tail. And he never leaves the couch. He’s also kind of messing things up with Baz, and I could not tolerate that happening.
But, then it picks up when they travel to America. They go from Chicago to California via convertible (or at least mostly by convertible…eventually they have to switch vehicles). There’s new magical creatures, vampire cults that are experimenting with magic, kidnappings, gunfights, epic adventures and battles, and so much rebelliousness, it’s just un-put-down-able. They magic money, and bottomless gas tanks, and disappearing wings. And they make friends with a new character, who is a Normal. He kind of reminded me of Jacob Kowalski from Fantastic Beasts mixed with James Dean….Weird combo, I know.
I liked the point of view shifts because it allowed for amazing character development, what Rowell excels at. And I didn’t love the new character at first, but of course I grew to love him. I’m excited to see where he goes in book 3. I’m not going to lie; the reason I most loved this book was the romance between Simon and Baz. I wish there was more. I wish they were less afraid to be in love with each other. But, I loved their moments in the back of the truck, at the beach, and surviving terrible things together. I need more.
It was also cool to learn more about vampires in this world. Baz, and everyone else didn’t know much, so it was nice to get more of a feel for how they work. Also, it totally explains how shady Las Vegas can seem! All in all, I ended up loving this. It kept me happy during a week of immobile ankle pain and crazy migraines. It’s just what I needed. And I’m so excited to learn that there will be another one too. I give this a 9/10.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

The Bees by Lauline Paull

The Handmaid's Tale meets The Hunger Games in this brilliantly imagined debut.

Born into the lowest class of her society, Flora 717 is a sanitation bee, only fit to clean her orchard hive. Living to accept, obey and serve, she is prepared to sacrifice everything for her beloved holy mother, the Queen. Yet Flora has talents that are not typical of her kin. And while mutant bees are usually instantly destroyed, Flora is reassigned to feed the newborns, before becoming a forager, collecting pollen on the wing. Then she finds her way into the Queen's inner sanctum, where she discovers secrets both sublime and ominous. Enemies roam everywhere, from the fearsome fertility police to the high priestesses who jealously guard the Hive Mind. But Flora cannot help but break the most sacred law of all, and her instinct to serve is overshadowed by a desire, as overwhelming as it is forbidden...

Laline Paull's chilling yet ultimately triumphant novel creates a luminous world both alien and uncannily familiar. Thrilling and imaginative, The Bees is the story of a heroine who changes her destiny and her world.

I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting to like this one. I read it because it’s going to be my library’s One Book, One Town choice for January 2020. I’m in the process of booking bee programs in January, and I figured I should read the book that’s inspiring all of these programs. I wasn’t expecting to love it because I have never really enjoyed a book written in the perspective of animals. This includes Animal Farm, Watership Down, the Erin Hunter books, the Redwall books, etc. I just struggle to get into them.
This book was no struggle at all. I got sucked into this incredibly unique story. And now I want to research bees and see how much of this is based on truth. It really did have the feel of The Handmaid’s Tale. There’s a definite dystopia vibe going on, and maybe that’s why I got so into the story.
The hive is a giant cult of queen worshipping bees, stuck in their castes and unable to ask questions or think for themselves. Flora is of course unique. But as the story goes on, you realize she isn’t as unique as you think. Others think differently too. The politics, the hierarchy, the worship, and the infrastructure of the hive was just unbelievably interesting. I could not get enough of this world.
The characters were great too. I like that certain bees weren’t just mentioned once for the sake of a plot-line. They come back again and again, making the story flow. I think mostly what appealed to me in this book though was that I never had any idea for what was going to happen. I’ve never read anything like this book before. So, I couldn’t really foresee where things were going. I loved this. I loved being surprised, again and again.
All in all, I can’t say too much without giving serious things away. But, I loved this. I read it quickly and I would love to see what this author comes up with next. I give it a 9/10.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The Book of Dust, Volume 2: The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman

Summary from Goodreads:
It is twenty years since the events of La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust Volume One unfolded and saw the baby Lyra Belacqua begin her life-changing journey.

It is seven years since readers left Lyra and the love of her young life, Will Parry, on a park bench in Oxford's Botanic Gardens at the end of the ground-breaking, bestselling His Dark Materials sequence.

Now, in The Secret Commonwealth, we meet Lyra Silvertongue. And she is no longer a child . . .

The second volume of Sir Philip Pullman's The Book of Dust sees Lyra, now twenty years old, and her daemon Pantalaimon, forced to navigate their relationship in a way they could never have imagined, and drawn into the complex and dangerous factions of a world that they had no idea existed.

Pulled along on his own journey too is Malcolm; once a boy with a boat and a mission to save a baby from the flood, now a man with a strong sense of duty and a desire to do what is right.

Theirs is a world at once familiar and extraordinary, and they must travel far beyond the edges of Oxford, across Europe and into Asia, in search for what is lost - a city haunted by daemons, a secret at the heart of a desert, and the mystery of the elusive Dust.
It’s kind of hard for me to wrap my brain around this book. It was both amazing and slightly disappointing at the same time. After finishing it, I was unable to open another book for about a week. I had a serious book hangover from this one. And it took me a little bit of time to really determine why that was.
For starters, I have to say that I am a HUGE fan of His Dark Materials. I was obsessed with that series and have re-read those books many times. And while the ending of The Amber Spyglass was devastating, it felt so final to me. Having this chance to revisit Lyra was both so exciting and also terrifying. So many authors are going to back to past stories lately, and I feel like these new stories are either amazing or terrible. I really needed this book to not be terrible. I enjoyed the first Book of Dust, but it was a prequel. No one really dreams of prequels coming out. We dream of sequels. This was the book I had dreamed about for 16 years.
I got sucked in immediately. Reading about Lyra and Pan again was like connecting with an old friend. I got sucked into the mysteries of the roses and the feud between Lyra and Pan. I soaked up this magical version of Oxford. And I got lost in the politics of the Magisterium and the schools.
But, this was also kind of hard to read. Lyra and Pan were separated for most of the book. And they hated each other…and that didn’t make a ton of sense to me. They were fighting over philosophy and books. And Pan was upset that Lyra seemed to have lost her imagination. Lyra did seem rather melancholy for the whole story. What happened at the end of The Amber Spyglass greatly affected her. And I guess, knowing what I already knew about dust and daemons, it felt like Lyra was so divided and mad at herself more than anything.
This isn’t the youthful, dramatic, storyteller of the previous books. This is a smarter, wiser, more realistic Lyra that knows that sad things happen, and getting answers takes a lot of hard work. She’s a scholar and still knows how to pull out the charm when necessary (like when a friend is upset or when she needs help). But, she doesn’t use this charm at the drop of a hat any more.
And then there’s Malcom, a character I loved in the first Book of Dust, but now, not as much. There’s a definite love story in the works between him and Lyra, and I just hate it. He changed her diapers as a baby, and later taught her as a teacher. It just feels icky to me –nothing like what she had with Will. And I kept hoping for some outcome where she could reunite with Will. It is fantasy after all. Anything can be possible. But, we don’t get to see him at all in this book. Maybe in the next one?
I also don’t like that there’s this horrific scene near the end where Lyra is attacked by soldiers on a train. I just don’t feel like it was necessary for the story. It felt out of place and again like the love story with Malcom, just wrong. It took me out of the story in a bad way, and almost prevented me from finishing this. I know bad things happen and she’s not a child any more, but this still felt out of place. If it’s not needed for the story to continue, why is it in there?
I did love the writing. The writing is the same as it always was: descriptive and addicting. The world was fascinating. We get to travel east in this one (though I kept hoping for a trip north to a certain bear). There’s so many more levels of history and mythology and science, it was hard to put this book down (most of the time). I loved getting to know Lyra as an adult. I just didn’t love the love story. And I didn’t like that one scene at the end. And I still have so many questions. There was a definite cliffhanger. I need more. I cannot wait for book 3! I give this one an 8/10.

Monday, October 28, 2019

A Good Week in Books (210)

I’ve had another great book week. I’ve finished 3 books since my last post. And I have received a lot of books for review (Thank you Macmillan and Hachette). I’ve also rescued a few books from the discard pile at work. I will read them and give them a good home.
So much happens so quickly. Since my last post, I’ve attended Leaky Con (in Boston), which was awesome –says the girl sitting at home in the afternoon in her Harry Potter pajamas. I’ve also sprained my ankle (for the 6th time!). I had a birthday (I’m now 33 years young). I met my good friend’s new baby. I’ve gone wine tasting. I’ve celebrated and I’ve spent many a hour cursing my stupid ankle. Thank goodness soar ankles don’t distract me from reading.
The new books:
City of Beasts
by Corrie Wang
The Last True Poets of the Sea
by Julia Drake
Deadly Little Scandals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
And I Darken by Kiersten White
Bright We Burn by Kiersten White
Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee by Jeff Zentner
The Trials of Apollo Book 4: The Tyrant’s Tomb by Rick Riordan
Loki: Where Mischief Lies by Mackenzi Lee
Light at the Bottom of the world by London Shah
Conceal, Don’t Feel by Jen Caonita
10 Blind Dates by Ashley Elston
Houdini the Handcuff King by Jason Lutes and Nick Bertozzi
Charlotte Bronte before Jane Eyre by Glynnis Fawkes
This is all without me buying a single book at Leaky Con! I did come home with a few t-shirts, some artwork, and a tote bag though…