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.