Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

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

With no choice but to fulfill her duty, Nyx resents her family for never trying to save her and hates herself for wanting to escape her fate. Still, on her seventeenth birthday, Nyx abandons everything she’s ever known to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, destroy his enchanted castle, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on her people.

But Ignifex is not at all 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. Even if she could bring herself to love her sworn enemy, how can she refuse her duty to kill him? 

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“I do like a wife with a little malice in her heart.”

Nyx has known all her life she will die for family and country. Armed with the security of this and all the ancient knowledge of the magical laws that govern her land, she is ready when the day comes to face her destiny: her wedding day.

But marriage to the beast of a lord isn’t at all what Nyx has been warned about. Ignifex is cunning and malicious, true, but these aren’t the flaws of the wicked she has spent a lifetime in training to end.  All too soon it becomes clear that if Nyx truly wishes to be a hero, it might be worth finding out more about what she’s been fated to save.

Regardless of all its vicious intent, Cruel Beauty was not without charm. This was an ambitious undertaking—lush with intrigue, imagery, and a detailed world and history—and I can only be impressed by how well author Rosamund Hodge did in braiding the barest of details from such varying mythology and lore around the story she wanted to tell.

Even more, I was floored by the formation of her characters. Where usually reviewers would praise authors for taking care to leave every figure at least one redeemable quality, here the opposite is true: Hodge is sure to spotlight the poison at the heart of each personality, and further than that, she makes the reader sympathize. Everybody hates. Everybody’s a monster.

Everybody’s human.

Yes. YES, I say.

That’s not to imply that the characters are evil or without positive qualities, but I can’t say that there are any pure of heart here, and I’m glad. I’ve never been one for the martyr or unquestioned hero.

That being said, this is not a tale without faults of its own.

I loved Nyx, but we didn’t even get to see one thorough, carefully plotted assassination attempt before the romantic elements were introduced—elements which left me with a bit of a case of whiplash, to be honest. I wasn’t even really out the gate and already the protagonist was throwing the word “love” around. This is not what I showed up to the party for. The summary told a tale of danger, and I keep being promised novels about female assassins . . . who fail to kill anyone. Even as I came to understand the direction this story was taking, I admit there was disappointment.

This book is Beauty and the Beast. This is the tale of Bluebeard. This is Rumpelstiltskin. This is Cupid and PsycheThis is Sparta. This is so many other bits and pieces of Greek/Roman mythology that I can’t even begin to name them all.

The line between fantasy and detailed, researched fact can be a fine one to walk, and much of this book straddled it with unflinching grace. Set in an imagined offshoot of Greek history, many of the folktales and rituals reflected so, but eventually it all became too much. There were so many ancient names dropped and stories inserted that they became white noise, and when thematically applicable myths were discussed, I didn’t realize I was to take note or apply them to my reading until their purpose was revealed.

The high fantasy elements of the world, sadly, overreached. Hodge tried to create an intricate system to replace the laws of physics, and I did see where she wanted to go. I think she just didn’t give herself enough time to get there, and I understood very little of the sorcery’s workings. It reached the point where when I didn’t comprehend, I could just write it off as, “Oh, right. Magic.” It required some forced suspension of belief, but it made the book much more enjoyable than had I wasted time rereading the passages for some semblance of coherency.

All in all, this was an extravagant read which overdosed and unfortunately became somewhat difficult to follow. Hodge shows promise in so many areas, but moving into the future it will be necessary for her to separate them or, at the very least, grant herself more time to complete such a project.

Is it still worth reading? Maybe. Go into this looking for rich world-building, lovable but unsavory characters, and nods to many of your favourite childhood tales. Do not expect to understand what you just handed your two hours over to.

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I Sort of Haven’t Been Here

Annnnd I can’t really promise how much I’ll be around in the year to come.

Honestly, I don’t do a great deal of blogging on this site that isn’t related to writing, books, and publication, but my personal life has become a hinderance in even that much getting posted, so it’s probably time to address it. There’s always the lazy to contend with, but unfortunately the past couple years have fallen to the wayside under something heavier: depression.

It’s not a diagnosis I’d ever want to throw around lightly, and with a family history like mine I know all too well how big it can be—which probably contributed to the amount of time I let pass under the mantra, This is not too much. I’ve seen those dealing with too much. This is not too much.  But there comes a point where you look around and it’s no longer just about anxiety or apathy; you’ve just . . . ceased.

I’ve done that. I ceased to write. I ceased to read. Those are only superficial symptoms, though. What’s become scary is how I’ve ceased to function and commenced with the self-destruction. And apathy about what might happen is one thing. Apathy about actively hurting yourself is entirely another. So is constant anxiety about hurting everyone around you.

That actually is too much for me.

So I’m changing it. I’m slowly working my way through the appropriate medical and therapeutic channels. I’m writing every day, forcing myself to churn out at least one work a week that I deem finished and leave behind for something else. I’m reading, and yes, I’ll be trying to review. But not everything is going to happen at once, and I have to realize that upfront. I can’t let this blog keep being something I feel guilty about neglecting and so avoid—I have enough of those; I don’t need what should be an outlet to be another.

Basically, this is me making room on this site where I can waltz in as I please.

So hello. I’m here now, and I did manage to get through a few novels in 2013. Care to hear about some favorites?

Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt
In the happy times, in the tell-me-again times, when I’m seven and there are no stepbrothers and it’s before the stepfathers, my mom lets me sleep in her bed. Her bed is a raft on the ocean. It’s a cloud, a forest, a spaceship, a cocoon we share. I stretch out big as I can, a five-pointed star, and she bundles me back up in her arms. When I wake I’m tangled in her hair. 

I’ve read dozens of reviews about this book, pored over reason after reason it’s been so negatively received: Anna’s voice as the narrator never really progressed past that of a child, even after she was a teenager engaging in regular sex; the sex scenes seemed too graphic without real motive; the book didn’t seem to have any real point, it never illustrated what could have been done to help this poor girl, and we were offered little to no resolution in the end.

(Also, something about the cover being deceptive? Seriously?)

But for every reason others wrote this off as a good-intentioned attempt falling all over itself, I loved it. Anna was an abandoned, emotionally stunted little girl. Yes, she grew and adapted. Yes, her voice would have changed over time. But this book was never about the Anna that grew; this was about the terrified child underneath any facade she may have constructed, and the simple, fragmented narration only reflected that. The sex scenes weren’t about being graphic. They were point of fact. Did they make the reader uncomfortable? No more so than Anna.

This book didn’t need to tell you that someone should have helped this poor girl, noticed her, that something needs to change. Scheidt doesn’t assume her reader is heartless or unaware. Of course all of those things are true, but what’s not realistic? The idea that they often happen. This was a campaign, a public service announcement on the late-night bus; this was here to make you look. Everything about this book makes you want to throw up? Good. Look.

The Nightmare Affair by Mindee Arnett
This was just fun! True, it wasn’t as I expected—when the synopsis promised a Nightmare as the protagonist, I definitely thought there would be more of a creepy tone, but I was immediately drawn in by the humor and caustic wit of exactly the sort of teenage girl I remember being. A cut and dry mystery but set within an expansive paranormal universe full of well-drawn characters, this book definitely put Mindee Arnett on my radar. Note: A copy of this title was provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

World After by Susan Ee
Do I really have to write things to convince people to read this? Can I not just fangirl like every other rational reviewer? The first in this series, Angelfall, was the self-published sensation that grabbed a movie deal before the second book even had a release date, and in my opinion, rightfully so. These books are all about plot-driven, character-motivated action, and where Susan Ee’s somewhat novice writing begins to weigh too heavily, the story is quick to shoulder the burden and carry the reader along. World After loses no momentum, and the most common complaint I’ve seen is that Ee took two years to pen a novel that most of us inhaled in a matter of hours. It’s going to be a long wait for another quick fix.

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Books I need someone else to write for me. Preferably yesterday.

I am the veritable master of the hot-button topic. I don’t have a problem writing about them, heaven knows I’ll share my opinions on them, and there’s not a subject I’ve come across that’s prompted me to set down a book because it’s just “too much.”

In the last couple years of really examining the YA market as I decide where my own work could best fit, I feel like I’ve run the gamut: stockholm syndrom, rape, transphobia, cult activity, pray-the-gay-away movements, terrorism, suicide, the list goes on. Early on in this journey, I remember stumbling across a novel on the incestuous relationship of a brother and sister and thinking, “Good for this, being so popular! This is about as taboo as it gets.”

Apparently not, because there’s a pretty obvious gap in my list.

Where are all the abortion books?

Scratch that. Let me try again: Where are all the focusedrecognized abortion books?

I can plug “YA books dealing with abortion” into Google, and there will be results. I can get the self-published one and the ones nobody’s heard of. I can get that one that’s really well-known, but further investigation reveals the pregnancy and subsequent termination are symptoms of the plot, not root themes. I can get that one that’s sort of popular because it’s told from the boyfriend’s POV (And don’t even get me started on what I think of that).

And oh, sweet, holy Batman knows I can find dystopians on where abortion laws are headed.

There’s the abortion story fake-out, where we find out towards the end of the book that a character elected to have one some time in the past, and of course there are so many books on teenage pregnancy which don’t go the abortion route that I could spend all night linking to them.

There’s no shortage of books which mention abortion, just those that are about or even really include it. It’s a subject which the entire industry seems to have deemed off-the-page story action.

And isn’t that just a quaint, little reflection of reality. Even in the most tolerant of communities, there’s not much room for a woman to own a decision like this. There may be general agreement that abortion is an option, but go, get it done, and move on with your life. Keep it off the page.

What I keep scrolling through list after list hoping to stumble upon is the novel that I would want to turn to as a holy shit completely terrified nervous, probably somewhat confused teenage girl. Where is it? Where’s the book that follows this journey from conception through to the clinic? The one where a we see a character drowning in those tumultuous feelings of guilt and shame and relief—you know, those same emotions thousands of young adults out there are experiencing? And then they have to go back to school and the one person they confided in accidentally let it slip, and the whole school knows. The whole town knows. The whole world seems to know and ostracize them for being a “baby killer.”

Where are the books for those girls? Chances are they really need them.

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Dualed by Elsie Chapman

The city of Kersh is a safe haven, but the price of safety is high. Everyone has a genetic Alternate—a twin raised by another family—and citizens must prove their worth by eliminating their Alts before their twentieth birthday. Survival means advanced schooling, a good job, marriage—life.

Fifteen-year-old West Grayer has trained as a fighter, preparing for the day when her assignment arrives and she will have one month to hunt down and kill her Alt. But then a tragic misstep shakes West’s confidence. Stricken with grief and guilt, she’s no longer certain that she’s the best version of herself, the version worthy of a future. If she is to have any chance of winning, she must stop running not only from her Alt, but also from love . . . though both have the power to destroy her.

Buy It Now: U.S. | Canada | International

“I don’t want to have to save your life,’ Chord says softly. ‘Not when you can do it.”

For all the high-intensity action and moral ambiguity of the premise in Elsie Chapman’s Dualed, this book sort of just . . . exists. And that’s all there is to it. I hated nothing, but I couldn’t find a thread of connection either, and by the end I was left trying to grasp the point of telling such a  story.

In a war-torn America, the north-western colony of Kersh has become a sanctuary. Society can’t afford to further the weak and wasteful in such tempestuous times, and so each individual must prove themselves, a sentiment echoed by their government in various media campaigns:

Be the one. Be worthy.

In the ultimate test, each member of Kersh has an Alternate—an individual born with the same DNA as them—that they grow up training to battle to the death. Upon winning, one matures into a complete member of society and is granted full privileges previously forbidden to them.

Whether or not the science of splicing genes from four parents to create two individuals that are “alternates” of one another is feasible, the logic behind this world doesn’t seem to be. Living in Kersh is supposed to be preferable to the outright war of the rest of America, and yet killing’s not only encouraged by the government, but arranged? I think I might take my chances elsewhere. Not much is actually known about the wars outside the walls of the city, but the Darwinian games within don’t exactly promote an aura of safety. 

Our protagonist, West Grayer, knows this. She’s lost her entire family to these barbaric practices, and yet still manages to defend the policies. Stricken by grief after the tragic death of her last brother, West goes looking for further information on how to defeat her own Alt when the time comes and is subsequently recommended to a group of for-hire assassins known as “strikers.”

This is a transition I didn’t fully understand, and I wish Chapman had expanded upon West’s thought processes. Yes, human beings are known for taking reckless chances in the throes of grief, but how did West rationalize the choice to herself? By her own admission, she’s worried she’s not well enough prepared for her own assignment, but she thinks she can handle killing those that aren’t even her problem?

Which leads me into further issues with the ethics/laws of the society. West’s brother dies because he is unable to defend himself without shooting  a friend’s Alternate—a practice known as an “assisted kill” that is not only frowned upon, but can lead to grave repercussions. As far as I can understand it, completing a mission as a striker is a type of assisted kill, but while still unseemly, society just sort of looks the other way. Why? The ring of strikers seems to be well-known and not really difficult to contact, so why aren’t the police busting down West’s door?

This book did keep me turning pages, though. The action was well-paced and intense, whether in the general sense of plot or the arc of a fight scene. However, because of West’s choice to be a striker, there was little more than action. It was easy to identify with her fears and choices  to procrastinate, but I still never really connected with her on a level that had me worried about the outcome of the book. I’m sad about this, because I liked West, and I think with some character exploration I could have become really involved with her story.

I vaguely realized that this was the first in a series going into Dualed, but was forced to double-check upon its conclusion. This is a series, I’m just not sure what it’s about. The ending is pretty definite, with not only no loose threads, but no real growth in any certain direction. The characters know nothing more about themselves or their world at the end than they did at the start, and while that certainly leaves Chapman a plethora of options, I can’t help but feel wary as a reader continuing into the next installment with perhaps less information than I started with.

A copy of this title was provided for review by the publisher (via NetGalley).

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Reached by Ally Condie


So what are we talking about here? The Giver as performed by the cast of Twilight. No one sparkles.

Sounds sort of interesting! What’s the problem? Meh, I say. Meh! The construction of the resistance movement in these books interests me and I’m excited for the final rebellion, but we’d have to, you know, get to it. I just don’t have the patience to drudge through, and that’s more an issue with me than with Reached. I’m skipping around on novels a lot right now, looking for something that demands my attention.

How far did you make it? <100 pages.

Any chance you’ll pick it up again? Eventually, yes. I didn’t read the first two books to not know how it ends. A slow day will come, and I’ll push through to the fun, page-turning stuff.

Well, should others give it a try? Oh, I’m certain there are enough readers out there dying to know which boy  Cassia will choose that I needn’t bother convincing too many to pick this one up, but science fiction fans should take caution with this series. The references amuse me and I can take a joke, but this is by no means The Giver. There’s a lot of pointless romance and teenage angst, and it sometimes gets a little heavy even for me.

Did-Not-Finish Fridays are a weekly post highlighting books I couldn’t complete because of time constraints, personal tastes, or for various other reasons. Inclusion in this series is not in itself a bad review or meant to reflect poorly on the work, nor will it prevent me from writing a full review at a later date.

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Asunder by Jodi Meadows

Ana has always been the only one. Asunder. Apart. But after Templedark, when many residents of Heart were lost forever, some hold Ana responsible for the darksouls–and the newsouls who may be born in their place.

Many are afraid of Ana’s presence, a constant reminder of unstoppable changes and the unknown. When sylph begin behaving differently toward her and people turn violent, Ana must learn to stand up not only for herself but for those who cannot stand up for themselves.

Ana was told that nosouls can’t love. But newsouls? More than anything, she wants to live and love as an equal among the citizens of Heart, but even when Sam professes his deepest feelings, it seems impossible to overcome a lifetime of rejection.

Buy It Now: U.S. | Canada | International

This review contains spoilers for Incarnate, the first book in this trilogy; you can find my review of that here.

There was something off about Janan. Inside the temple, he’d called me a mistake, which implied that he had a plan. He’d also said I was “of no consequence,” which implied that he didn’t view me as a threat.

I aimed to be a threat.

Ana, girl, you and I need to have a little chat. Ready?

We are done with the self-pity. We were done yesterday.

After kicking ass and taking names at the end of Incarnate, I thought we had arrived. Ana found the strength in herself to face dragons, deities, and even her parents. She saved Sam’s life. She rescued a great number of the citizens of Heart. Now, it didn’t surprise me that certain townspeople continued to be ignorant and fear-mongering, and of course Ana should have self-doubts that lingered. These aren’t the types of problems you see disappear overnight. What I was hoping to see in Asunder?

A new storyline. Because this novel followed the same basic outline as it’s predecessor: Ana is presented with a mystery. Ana gets distracted. Ana hates herself. Romantic quandary! ALL THE CLUES A GIRL COULD ASK FOR. Nope, don’t care; romantic quandary! Self-hatred! Oh, better check up on that mystery. Holy smokes, look at all this information just lying around! Maybe I could—PERSONAL CRISIS. Annnd look at the entire mystery unfold. How coincidental.

Yes, plenty of these are tropes seen in many a novel. There aren’t many great stories without a dash of coincidence and misdirection, but the problem here is that Ana’s devolved from a character with an obvious hamartia into a simple unreliable narrator. She’s so busy concerning herself with her status as a newsoul that her perception of her world suffers, and the reader is left frustrated by her inability to pick up on the obvious. I wasn’t only aggravated by her inattention to plot points (The sylph! Menehem’s research! You can’t devote the entire opening to a subject and then not have the main character look into it), but was confused as to whether I’m even supposed to sympathize with her anymore. Her treatment of Sam throughout Asunder was, to be plain, pathetic.

It’s made clear from the first chapter that Sam will be the same patient, devoted love interest he was constructed as in Incarnate.

“I have to get out,” I told Sam. “I need to get away? Will you go with me?”

“Anywhere,” he said, and kissed me.

While he has his own pressures to deal with, he always puts Ana first. Such a big deal is made about the fact that Ana can’t reply when he first tells her he loves her, but he can wait for her to be ready.  I assumed it was because he could see that Ana loved him, and so in the wisdom of his 5000 years wasn’t going to perish without the assurance (And because he’s just a genuinely sweet guy), but if love was there, I didn’t see it. Instead only Ana’s perceptions counted, and so it was nothing her to callously disregard his opinions and even his presence.

Boy, I know this is a female-dominated genre and you’re supposed to be all about the girl, but you don’t have to put up with that. Kick her to the curb.

I praised author Jodi Meadows characterizations so highly in my previous review that the lack of growth here astounded me. Secondaries that were more well-rounded before actually seemed to regress in this sequel. Steph, in particular, while obviously still in love with Dossam and jealous of Ana throughout Incarnate, let those feelings manifest as a protective but slightly aloof nature. Her role’s now been reduced to little more than that of the jealous harpy after Ana’s man. A new character brought into the mix, Cris, is presented as an obvious important addition to the story, but we go on to really only dance around his history and witness surface interactions before his duty as a plot vehicle becomes evident.

Still, I continue to be intrigued by the concepts behind this series and  how Meadows is sure to explore not only the ramifications of immortality on the souls themselves, but the universe as a whole. When things did begin to happen, I was constantly surprised by the directions the story took and the elaborate histories of the world. Even so, I’ll be going into this trilogy’s conclusion frustrated and all too wary of how I might be left wanting.

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I wrote something. (Week 4)

750 Words words written every single day. One post a week, unedited. 

If I write only crap, I’ll have to post crap. 

This will end so very badly.

She was her daddy’s little bubblegum girl—soft, sweet, sixteen. She’d grown up some, of course, with the rock band posters and the dark purple eye shadow, but she still kept her earrings in the ballerina music box he brought back from a business trip ten years before. She’d still hum “My Only Sunshine” under her breath as she floated down the stairs each morning on her way to breakfast.

She was still one hundred percent sure she’ll never be as pretty as Mama. Mama, with her strawberry waves cascading down her back, singing “Addicted to Love” into a wooden spoon that should have been stirring oatmeal. Mama and her gypsy hips—gypsy blood—swaying around the kitchen, just begging Daddy to sweep into the room, sweep her into his arms and dance.

“Hey, sugar-sugar,” her mother sang each morning, no matter what the day looked like. No matter how bleak the night before might have been.

And when she hit thirteen, there were many bleak days and nights. She wondered for awhile if someone had come overnight and stripped all the pink from the world—maybe the Tooth Fairy?—but no, it was there. Just blurred. Peaches and peppermints and salmons. And the pink she wanted wasn’t just pink anymore; it was bubblegum.

Bubblegum was childish.

And she didn’t want to be that. She wanted to be grown-up pretty like Mama, with gypsy blood that sparked bright like sea glass and ink.

She didn’t like to admit it, but the problem was that purple scared her. Purple was the colour of fading twilight and a wasted day, of flowers that bled when pressed between pages.

Of Mama’s blood blossoming beneath the surface of her skin.

“Hey, sugar-sugar,” Mama would say, and it was the wrong sort of pretty in her voice. The pretty of raging forest fires and the blackened path following a volcanic eruption. She was devastated beauty. Mama’d place the oatmeal before her, but she’d do it without the twirl across the kitchen from the stove, without the flourish.

And Daddy would sweep in without fail on days like this, his briefcase swinging, the opening snatches of “Addicted to Love” coming from somewhere (But not from him, never him. Daddy didn’t sing).

He’d twirl Mama around the kitchen with her head tucked under his chin, and he’d weave words like flowers into her hair. He’d promise to bring spring back to Mama’s smile.

He never did though. The seasons shifted on their own, and when he left for work, Mama’s irises were still tidal blue, still swimming in the sea of purple skin around her eye.

Purple was the colour of drowning.

The colour of a woman.

So the little girl dusted just a bit above her eyes, violet drawing out cobalt blues and making her hair so dusty-darling blonde she was almost like a doll. Some days she even rosed her cheeks for the added effect.

Mama thought it was lovely. She’d greet her “Hey, sugar-sugar” before she looked up and wish her a “Good day, pretty lady,” by breakfast’s end.

Daddy told her to wash that paint off before she set foot outside his house. On good days, Mama’s laugh tinkled like a sugar-plum fairy and Daddy scowled good-naturedly. “Our little girl’s becoming a lady, Ivan,” she’d say, and then her father wouldn’t look so good-natured. He’d purse his lips. He’d mumble.

Little mumblings that made gypsy Mama laugh all the harder until Daddy wasn’t smiling.

When things were bleak, her mother bit out a “What for?” and Daddy did smile. Daddy said little more than “You know where I’m coming from, Luce,” as he cupped her cheek in his hand. He’d say “Take care, my lovelies” and kiss Mama on the forehead, and then he was gone.

Those were the days that Daddy would let her leave the house with all the purple she wanted, but she never did. She went upstairs and found her daisy dress, the one with the buttons down the back. She went upstairs and found all her bubblegum pink and put it on like a shield before she went back down.

Then Mama cried, but only then.

And she’d come home from school to find the purple dusted along Mama’s own skin, all the bleak of the day branded onto her. All the purple she couldn’t carry on her own, Mama held for them both.

Mama would give her more time to be Daddy’s little bubblegum girl.

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Boundless by Cynthia Hand

Since discovering the special role she plays among the other angel-bloods, Clara has been determined to protect Tucker Avery from the evil that follows her . . . even if it means breaking both their hearts. Leaving town seems like the best option, so she’s headed back to California – and so is Christian Prescott, the irresistible boy from the vision that started her on this journey in the first place.

As Clara makes her way in a world that is frighteningly new, she discovers that the fallen angel who attacked her is watching her every move. And he’s not the only one. . . . With the battle against the Black Wings looming, Clara knows she must finally fulfill her destiny. But it won’t come without sacrifices and betrayal.

Buy It Now: U.S. | Canada | International

This review may contain spoilers for Unearthly and Hallowed, the first two books of this trilogy. You can find my review of Hallowed here.

“We are all connected, everything that lives and breathes in this world, and glory is what binds.”

Next thing he’ll be talking about the Force, I know it.

Oh, boy. This was good. This was well-written, well-paced, and obviously plotted with care right from the very beginning of Unearthly.

I wish I could be happier with it.

It started out strong, as always, with Christian and Clara’s arrival at Stanford and their preparation for the battle to come against the Black Wings. This part I always trust Cynthia Hand to know how to do. Clara’s not one to wait around for action to come to her; she’s training, she’s snooping, she’s pestering anyone she can think of for some answers. This series is not one that believes in standstills.

I’d been a bit worried at the end of Hallowed about the loss of Meg, Clara’s mother—her opinions and influence were a large part of the narrative—but, although no substitute, the introduction of Michael and his subsequent appearances in Clara’s life did well in allowing her the parental figure she still needed (He had that “I love you, but I can’t tell you anything” thing down just as well as her mom ever did). As an added bonus, Michael and Samjeeza’s knowledge of Meg’s mind and history kept her a part of the story and provided both Clara and the reader with an insight we’d never of had otherwise.

Oh, yes: Samjeeza. Ms. Hand’s bringing the whole gang back.

And the character development was immense in this conclusion. We finally see Jeffrey and Angela really enter the plot as their roles in the battle not only become clear, but make it known they were there all along. Even if I was a bit disappointed that neither got as active a part as I’d have liked, I couldn’t deny that Hand wove them in with such finesse I was awed. It’s still unfathomable to me how I didn’t pick up on some sort of foreshadowing in the preceding books.

That was the first 65% of this novel: suspense and intrigue and a delicacy of detail that had me reveling in every reveal.

Then came—are you ready?—the love triangle.

I mentioned when I reviewed Hallowed that I had great hopes for where this might go. Cynthia Hand acknowledges the stereotypes surrounding this dynamic, and moreover, she made Clara do the same. I’d hoped with such self-awareness we could avoid the basic pitfalls so many paranormal romances succumb to. Apparently not.

One boy gets everything, and the other isn’t even permitted a denouement for his poor, broken heart.

Further than that, the circumstances which allowed Clara to finally make her choice were  somewhat . . . contrived. So much so that it’s seemingly pushing that destiny—that God—had always willed it to end so, which rang a bit preachy to me and was infuriating after three novels struggling along with a character for some free will.

(Highlight for spoiler:)
In addition, the entire way in which Angela’s pregnancy was handled was infuriating. Here is a girl who has little desire to be a mother, a strong drive to not end up trapped, and she goes through with a pregnancy because God wants her to.

I won’t lie. I considered putting the book down.

In the end, though, I am satisfied. Boundless had its low points, but what Hand did right she was sure to do very right. Was I blown away? No, but this was a conclusion that threaded its loose ends, and what wasn’t stitched up, I’m perfectly capable of making up my own mind about.

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Just One Day by Gayle Forman

When sheltered American good girl Allyson “LuLu” Healey first meets laid-back Dutch actor Willem De Ruiter at an underground performance of Twelfth Night in England, there’s an undeniable spark. After just one day together, that spark bursts into a flame, or so it seems to Allyson, until the following morning, when she wakes up after a whirlwind day in Paris to discover that Willem has left. Over the next year, Allyson embarks on a journey to come to terms with the narrow confines of her life, and through Shakespeare, travel, and a quest for her almost-true-love, to break free of those confines.

Buy It Now: U.S. | Canada | International

“Are you coming down with something?” Mom asks.

And just for the tiniest of seconds, I wonder what would happen if I told them the truth. That school is nothing like I imagined it would be. That I’m not the girl in the catalog at all. I’m not a Happy College Student. I don’t know who I am. Or maybe I do know who I am and I just don’t want to be her anymore.

Gayle Forman can string prose like pearls. She can build up a three-dimensional character that I’m rooting for, that I’m hoping is granted their heart’s desire . . . that is, just as soon as I’m given the gratification of someone slapping some much needed sense into them. She writes honest stories about what it is to flirt with decisions and responsibilities as an adult, and as someone still straddling that line in the sand, I applaud her. Young people—we—need these books.

That doesn’t mean I have to be a fan. Honestly, I had a feeling before I even started Just One Day that I wouldn’t be. That’s okay. You know who might absolutely love this? You.

As far as I can figure, I’m the anomaly here. Without spoiling Forman’s previous works for the uninitiated, you know all those scenes in If I Stay that had you sobbing like your favorite Ben&Jerry’s flavor had just been discontinued? Yeah, I didn’t cry. And during Where She Went when your nerves were set on the edge of going supernova? I maybe skimmed a bit. It was never because Forman isn’t able to convey the emotion (She definitely is) or because the characters don’t embody every gut-clenching aspect of heartache and joy (They most certainly do).

The fact is, I don’t want to read about how a girl discovered herself in the throes of young love when I know an author can do better without even including the boy (Or vice versa). And Forman’s got this down.

Allyson Healey is not that much of a good girl—yes, she maintains her grades, and yes, she calls her mother when she’s supposed to, but she can be spontaneous. She can have a drink. She can even, if the mood strikes, convince her best friend to skip out on a parent-chosen, tour-approved performance by The Royal Shakespeare Company to follow a boy’s smile. Allyson just knows who she is, and she doesn’t need to be bothered pretending to be something she’s not.

But she’s in Europe of all places, and come fall she’ll have every opportunity to get on with reality at college, so what’s one day? One day to be anyone and anything she can think of, with no strings, no consequences.

So she gets on a train with a boy that doesn’t even know her name one morning, and she wakes up the next heartbroken.  Everything goes so spectacularly wrong, but she sort of knew it would, and she has a life waiting for her back home—a real life for the real her.

And this is where I wish Day had begun, because while that “real life” is most definitely there, and the outlines of the “real her” are still something she could fit into, Allyson’s suddenly tired of it all. She’s tired of motions and words, tired of acting a part she doesn’t even like because that role is supposedly her. Any concerns about a boy seemed so trivial in comparison to this, to the character’s realization of herself and her potential, that when the book switched gears again and tuned back in to the romantic element, I was . . . disappointed.

To be blunt, I really didn’t care.

So I can’t tell you if Willem is certifiably h4wt, and my opinions on the ending of this book are . . . not positive, but I’m far from a romantic. I’ll still be telling many an eighteen-year-old to pick it up, because whether this was a “swoony” read or not, the meat of this story appeals to the hearts of girls, and if I can get up on my pedestal, maybe to a more important part of their hearts—the part just for them.

The part that boy at your side or no, you discover and keep for yourself. That’s always worth reading about.

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The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern


So what are we talking about here? In fair Verona where we lay our scene . . . Okay, not exactly, but family grudges and star-crossed love are in no short supply here. Celia and Marco have been brought up knowing it’s their destiny to destroy the other in a fierce display of sorcery and illusion, and step right up, ladies and gents. It’s going to be a magical show.

Sounds sort of interesting! What’s the problem? This is the book darling of 2011 that I gave myself an entire year to try and push through. It’s not going to happen. Pretty words are nice and all, but they do eventually need to go somewhere.

How far did you make it? <150 pages.

Any chance you’ll pick it up again? Nope. I’m chalking this one up as all hype and moving right along.

Well, should others give it a try? For a certain reader, The Night Circus might be a fantastical tale. The prose is  ripe with imagery and sorcery. There were entire passages that I enjoyed just rolling around on my tongue. But go into this one with your eyes open: there is little action here, practically no intrigue, and you will read more about the appearance of a circus tent than you will about character motivation.

Did-Not-Finish Fridays are a weekly post highlighting books I couldn’t complete because of time constraints, personal tastes, or for various other reasons. Inclusion in this series is not in itself a bad review or meant to reflect poorly on the work, nor will it prevent me from writing a full review at a later date.

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The Assassin’s Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Ananna of the Tanarau abandons ship when her parents try to marry her off to an allying pirate clan: she wants to captain her own boat, not serve as second-in-command to her handsome yet clueless fiance. But her escape has dire consequences when she learns the scorned clan has sent an assassin after her. 

And when the assassin, Naji, finally catches up with her, things get even worse. Ananna inadvertently triggers a nasty curse — with a life-altering result. Now Ananna and Naji are forced to become uneasy allies as they work together to break the curse and return their lives back to normal. Or at least as normal as the lives of a pirate and an assassin can be.

Buy It Now: U.S. | Canada | International

Sometimes you got to trust the one one person you don’t want to trust.
Avoid lying whenever possible.
Know how to sneak.
Escaping’s always easy. Staying escaped is the hard part.
Never trust beautiful people.

I’m worried I’m being overly harsh on this one, but from the first line, The Assassin’s Curse and I had a problem with one another.

Pirates? Assassins? Blood magic? Oh, heck yes.

Intrigue, action, adventure? Unfortunately, not so much. As fun as the premise is, I was left somewhat disappointed by this book. It was a quick read and some brain candy, but far from satisfying in any way, and I know exactly where it fell flat for me.

Ananna was raised on the sea, knows how to pick a pocket, and will press a knife to your throat before you can even touch her. She’s also one of the most self-involved protagonists I’ve ever come across. Now, I’m all for characters having real faults, and it’s refreshing when authors are willing to let their female characters be less than savory, because let’s face it, YA has a problem with making girls a little too compassionate and sweet and just nice. The thing is Ananna isn’t meant to be viewed as inherently flawed, but more of a free spirit, an independent thinker in a world where she’s to be traded off to some man or another.

Let me be straight: this girl may be a bit of a feminist, but she’s also a prejudiced, hypocritical little thing. Case in point, her reaction to her arranged fiancé upon their first meeting.

Tarrin of the Hariri looked just like one of those paintings. Golden skin and huge black eyes and this smile that probably worked on every girl from here to the ice-islands. I hated him on sight.

Ananna doesn’t trust attractive people and is insulted that Tarrin thinks so little of her clan, even as she has disparaging thoughts about his own. So she leaves, and in breaking her contract of betrothal sets the assassin Naji on her trail.

When she comes face to face with Naji, Ananna accidentally saves his life, activating an ancient curse and indebting him to her. There’s quick agreement that neither of them is interested in his following her around for the rest of their lives, so they’ll work together, if begrudgingly, to find a way to lift the curse, and from here it’s two hundred pages of wandering about and bickering and both characters needing to just take two seconds and consider one another’s points of view, but of course that doesn’t happen. Ananna continues to make rash decisions in the name of being independent that nearly kill both of them on several occasions. Naji hoards information for the sake of being mysterious and broody.

No one learns anything, and we end on a cliffhanger that’s not a cliffhanger, just the book cutting off pretty much mid-scene.

There are of course commendable aspects to Curse. The characters are snarky and far from perfect, the settings lush with intrigue and magic, and the plot—if slightly hollow—is at least well-paced. It’s not a book I’ll be dissuading anyone from picking up. Everything that drove me nuts about these characters very well may ring true with another reader, but when I’m promised bloodthirsty pirates and sorcery, I don’t want to be distracted away from that.

I won’t be picking up the sequel to this one, but I do hope to see more YA books in this vein that perhaps are drawn-out just a bit better. Give me your pirates, cowgirls, trained assassins, and female characters that aren’t all sugar and spice, but as with any character, make them more.

And this isn’t allowed to affect my rating, but . . . Ananna? As in pineapple in French? Okay then.

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I wrote something. (Week 3)

750 Words words written every single day. One post a week, unedited. 

If I write only crap, I’ll have to post crap. 

This will end so very badly.

In Granville, young boys didn’t believe in things like blood pacts and witches in the old house by the side of the lake. A boy got to be a man through a series of tests, and that’s all they were called. Not tribunals. Not initiation rights. Just tests, and they were a freely acknowledged phenomenon.

Jamie Glenns got assigned his first task at the tender age of nine: he had to kill his own pet frog. He gave it too much time, too much devotion, and a real man knew better. A real man could prioritize his life, could slot where his emotions fit in most neatly. Jamie would soon know there was no room for a frog of all things.

So he did it, and he far from thought of crying. It was the middle of the night, because even if everyone in town knew what was going on, no one wants to see a boy pinning his best friend to the ground and slowly peeling his skin off like long ropes of fruit roll-up. The ditch by the side of the highway smelled like gasoline—he couldn’t kill Frogger in his own backyard, he just couldn’t—and even if there were no flames, Jamie thought of it as his pet’s very own viking funeral. He reached between the folds of flesh and skeleton wire to grasp the amphibian heart, still and silent and ghost thump-thump-thumping in his palm. It was the proof Kaleb Walter so vehemently demanded, and Frogger was a warrior now, Jamie thought. He was a martyr.

They left him alone for a long time after that night, when he deposited his sacrifice in Walter’s outstretched hand and let them all watch as he neatly secured the braided rope of frog skin to his backpack. If you weren’t there to see him do it, you’d never know why boys in the hallways at school nodded at him as he passed and told the younger maggots not to bother fucking with Jamie Glenns. With so little information being circulated, he couldn’t be a legend really, just a mystery.

It was manly, he assumed.

He couldn’t be let be forever, however, and it didn’t shock him when his name was offered up over the summer of his fifteenth for the annual game of chicken. The rails the four boys who’d become contestants followed were iron, no rickety wood in sight, but Jamie didn’t feel better. Their stage was set at the drop-off of a steep hill, where track became beamed bridge, and they wouldn’t be able to run or throw themselves into grassy banks to avoid the trains headlights. They would jump. They would probably injure themselves.

Bonus points for a broken limb, he thought.

Jamie didn’t break a limb, and he didn’t emerge victorious either. But he was next to last still on the tracks, after Randy bolted and Lee tripped William, causing him to roll with a sickening crunch-crunch-crunch down the dirty, grass-stripped hill-face. Second place was a respectable standing, especially with the reputation he already had, and even if Lee was fearless, Jamie was sensible. Jamie did what had to be done and he didn’t fuck around.

Boys feared that. Men respected that.

Granville didn’t ask much more of James H. Glenns. He got a job, he married a girl, he slotted his emotions. There was an appropriate amount of affection for the wife, enough hatred for the job, and all the pride in his town he could muster. James was a man who controlled his emotions. He was everything Granville raised him to be, and when he had to go to the battlefront, he didn’t give one hot damn about thrusting a bayonet up under the ribcages of those Jap fuckers. He watched what little pallor they had drain from their skin, and he saved no sentiments for them. He gave them no viking funerals.

The army doctors worried a bit, the candy-asses that they were. Some used words like “suppression.” Others liked “sociopath.”

The General was a Granville man, and he told them all to go to hell with their theories and prodding and poking. Glenns was a good soldier, a better man.

So James went home and he took his medals and he gave them to the wife to do what she would with them. She kept them in the closet, brought them out for company. They always came down from the top shelf already spit-shine bright, though, and he once or twice spared a thought for how often she must clean them. She pulled them out of storage for good when James Jr. was born, and she placed the damn things in his son’s room, a framed homage above the little boy’s bed.

Jamie bought the boy a frog.

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