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Bitsy's Books

Note: I'm uploading my books from Goodreads and since there are like 200+ it's going to take awhile. The uploading seems a bit wonky too, so hang with me as I fix things. Also there may be spoilers until I can make all the appropriate tags.


I'm an ex-English Major who, sick of reading classics after college, decided to read all the trashy books I didn't before because I was too snobby. Since graduating, I've entertained myself with comics, YA, and romance novels, finding out they can not only be decently written, but superbly written. I've since recovered from my classics aversion, but I'm now more open-minded reader willing to read from any genre. If a book has kick-ass heroines and/or witty banter and/or takes place in a different time or place (including fantasy settings), I will most likely fall in love with it. My favorite authors are Jane Austen, Shakespeare, E.M. Forster, Meljean Brook, Sarah Rees Brennan, Rachel Hartman, Catherynne M. Valente, and Aliette de Bodard.

Currently reading

The Blue Fairy Book
Andrew Lang
Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet
Jennifer Homans
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making - Ana Juan, Catherynne M. Valente 5 out of 5 StarsWhen September, a young girl from Omaha, is offered a chance to take a ride on a flying leopard, she finds herself in Fairyland. But all is not well as the strict Marquess has been imposing rules upon the colorful inhabitants. As September tries to complete a quest to recover a spoon, she doesn’t only change herself, but Fairyland as well.The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making has the whimsical and witty tone reminiscent of Lewis Carroll and other Victorian children’s authors. However, Fairyland is more contemporary, heartbreaking, and self-aware than Alice in Wonderland, and September is much more willful and worldly than Carroll’s protagonist. She is a clever, fearless, and resourceful heroine, yet she doesn’t seem to fall straight out of the “middle-grade heroine” mold. She makes mistakes, makes sacrifices, and has to do (in her childish brain) some terrible things. September doesn’t become an adult – she still maintains her childlike understanding of the world – but she does grow.Of course, this type of quest story hinges on the success of its colorful secondary characters, and this is where Valente shines. September meets a wyverary (the love child of a wyvern and a library, whose knowledge only goes to the letter L), glashtyn (hideous creatures with horse-heads), and many other unique creatures. To reveal too many characters would spoil things and it’s always a delight to see what Valente comes up with next. Valente also includes many helpful female side characters because all too often, side characters in children’s stories tend to be solely male (Disney, anyone?). Valente manipulates her voice to mimic these classics, but cleverly brings real world adult insights to characters and inanimate objects, so that September is very much navigating the ridiculous rules of adulthood as well as the strange landscape of Fairyland. Fairyland has shades of our own world, as September is forced to understand absentee parents, war, slavery, homesickness, etc. This is a book that can be enjoyed by an adult as much as a child, and possibly only fully understood by an adult. While a child may be caught up in the magic of the story and its characters, an adult can understand the meaning behind the silly sayings and friends September meets.This review would be incomplete without mentioning the fantastic illustrations by Ana Juan that begin each chapter. She helps bring the characters and the world of Fairyland to life. Her illustrations are the perfect blend of expressive and abstract, a wonderful compliment to Valente’s writing.While a mouthful of a title (but isn’t that a bit of its charm?), The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is one of those books that will enchant young and old alike. It harkens back to previous children’s classics, but gives its own modern twist. Valente has created a world that, like September, readers will want to visit again and again (and of course, we can because she has written at least two other Fairyland books :D).
Teeth: Vampire Tales - Tanith Lee, Garth Nix, Ellen Datlow, Catherynne M. Valente, Christopher Barzak, Kathe Koja, Ellen Kushner, Suzy McKee Charnas, Jeffrey Ford, Emma Bull, Terri Windling, Kaaron Warren, Nathan Ballingrud, Steve Berman, Cecil Castellucci, Melissa Marr, Genevieve Valentine, Lu Overall: 2.5 StarsI'm burnt out on vampires for the foreseeable future, but since I've made it my quest to read everything Catherynne Valente has ever written, I just read the stories of authors who I like/am interested in. Sadly, out of the stories I read, the only story worth reading was Valente's. Everything else felt like a rehash of stories and tropes I've read before. There may be other nuggets in this collection I didn't read, but I think only die hard vampire fans will enjoy this.Favorite: In The Future When All Is Well by Catherynne ValenteWorst: Everything else I read (except the Clare/Black story)"Bloody Sunrise" by Neil Gaiman1 StarI've never read Gaiman and this is not the work to convince me of his brilliance. It sounds like an emo-poem of some vampire-obsessed 14-year-old. I'm sure Gaiman is talented, but this poem doesn't showcase it."Vampire Weather" by Garth Nix1.5 StarsAmos has lived in his isolated village his whole life as protection against the vampires. However, when he meets an outsider girl, his life changes forever.This story was well written, but it's unoriginal. This is the second story I've read this year set in an isolated religious community where a boy's developing sexuality over some spesul girl has negative consequences. But instead of some ham-fisted knock-you-over-the-head theme, this story was just pointless. Unless the point is sexy girls are evil because the female character made no damn sense and acted more like a plot device than a person. And the cult in the story resembled the Amish a little too closely. The Amish aren't a cult and are very friendly, so the correlation made me uncomfortable."In The Future When All's Well" by Catherynne M. Valente5 StarsScout, a high-risk (for turning into a vampire) teen, muses about how the world has changed with vampires and contemplates her future.Leave it to Valente to take something overused and make it fresh. Scout's voice is the most authentic teenager voice I've read, probably because she's judemental and bitchy and *GASP* swears. She appears immature at first, but as the story progresses, she is able to see through bullshit and is wise beyond her years. The story is about accepting change and reading through the lies society will tell. Of course, there is Valente's trademark knowledge of folklore and the occult, her unusual but true insights, and black humor. Valente, in one short story, does YA better than most YA authors. I haven't seen such a thoughtful exploration of vampires since Team Human. "Transition" by Melissa Marr1.5 StarsSuffering from serious headaches, Eliana starts living the fast life to escape the pain. However, her suffering may be connected to strange vampiric fantasies...Once again, decent writing, but plot I've seen before wrapped in every bad YA trope. Sooper spesul female protagonist who does nothing profound and is kinda boring, but is treated like the fucking messiah? Check. Weird territorial jealousy and "mate" talk found in every cookie cutter paranormal romance? Check. Plot devices stolen from other popular vampire properties? Check. Creepy patriarchal overtones (male lead making life-altering decisions for her, him causing her to have sexual fantasies because God forbid she know where her vagina is before a man shows the way)? Check. Protagonist "punished" for having sex and using drugs? Check. An ending done first and better in "The Most Dangerous Game?" Check. Check. Check."The Perfect Dinner Party" by Cassandra Clare & Holly Black3.5 StarsBrother and sister vamps invite an their next unsuspecting victim to dinner. However, things don't go as planned.I think Cassandra Clare is crack to me, because while her stuff never lives up to expectations, I find her emensely readable. The set-up was interesting and I loved the narrator's voice - I really got a feel for who the character was in a short amount of pages. There were a lot of interesting ideas and intruging characters (even if they seem a little Louis/Claudia/Lestat-ish), but the story was over before it really took off. I think maybe a novella might have been a better length. This story had promise and ambitions, but didn't quite deliver on any of them.

A Brief History of Montmaray

A Brief History of Montmaray (The Montmaray Journals) - Michelle Cooper 2.5 out of 5 StarsPrincess Sophia FitzOsborne has always lived in the crumbling castle on the island nation of Montmaray with her eccentric family and villagers. Yet, sixteen-year-old Sophie chronicles her dreams of England and balls and falling in love in her diary. However, the outside world may be closer than Sophie thinks, as political clashes across Europe threaten another world war and Montmaray itself.I would have loved A Brief History of Montmaray as a young girl – a historical tale about growing up in an isolated place with Gothic and supernatural overtones. However, I am an adult now and I was unimpressed. The novel isn't lacking in the intriguing, isolated, and slightly spooky atmosphere that infatuated my young self (and even a part of my older self), but my adult mind quickly started questioning the logistics of such a place. How could a tiny little island of about 500 people (and when this story is set, barely 10 people) survive for so long? How do they have any sort of sway in the international arena? How have they not been invaded before now? And when all the villagers eventually leave, how the hell can these people even have a kingdom when THERE ARE NO PEOPLE TO RULE OVER??? And Sophie and her family seemed incredibly well-informed and worldly for people who had never left the island (newspapers and books can only go so far). If Cooper had made Montmaray more of a very small country like Monaco, I would have been able to buy the story. But as is, I just couldn't believe a minuscule country like Montmaray could have survived for hundreds of years.Montmaray also suffers from the biggest problem of most epistolary novels – lacking an overall plot structure, the story becomes very episodic. And Cooper more than once goes for the most grandiose and unbelievable plot point. Crazy murderous uncle! Plane crash! Evil Nazis! Secret heir! Holy Grail quest (I shit you not. For a few moments I thought I was in The Da Vinci Code)! The book was at its best when it dealt with the politics of pre-WWII Europe, but sadly it does so rarely and superficially. I thought the Nazis would play a bigger role in the narrative, but they just came in to cackle evilly, create drama, and then cause a really improbable ending. Don’t the Nazis have better things to do like invade Czechoslovakia and Poland? I don’t think they’d care about some tiny island country in the middle of the ocean with no political power.The characters were alright, but none were out of the ordinary or groundbreaking.I think A Brief History of Montmaray is an enjoyable if far-fetched book that, had I read it 15 years earlier, I would have loved. As is, I couldn't suspend disbelief or care about the fate of Montmaray or its royal family.
Mind Games - Kiersten White 4.5 out of 5 StarsOrphaned sisters, Annie and Sophia, each have special gifts. Annie is blind – but she can see the future. Sophia has perfect instincts – in the spur of the moment, she always makes the right choice. Both are being used by the Keane Foundation. If Fia doesn't complete her missions, Annie, will pay the price. However, when Fia's latest mission goes wrong, the sisters may have the chance they need to escape, but not before their relationship is tested.Mind Games is a love-it-or-hate-it kind of book. The book starts out with lots of action, but the focus is more on the fucked-up psyche and relationship between the two sisters. Fia and Annie’s relationship is a complex one, with both sisters trying to save and protect the other. In a reverse of usual roles, Fia, the younger sister, feels obligated to take care of Annie, the elder, because she is blind. To protect Annie and keep her happy, Fia is forced to do some terrible things using her perfect instincts. While Fia’s mental health deteriorates and Annie realizes what is happening, which sister is taking care of whom becomes more murky.The voice is in first person narration, and every two chapters switches between the sisters while every chapter switches between the past and present. This was annoying at first - as soon as I was interested in one thread, the narrative would shift. But when I realized this was more of a psychological book than an action book, I didn't mind as much. White uses stream-of-consciousness to illustrate Fia’s need to constantly live in the present. As a survival mechanism and because she knows no other way to live, Fia eventually becomes a creature of instinct. It fit with the character and her mental state, but I could see this really irritating some readers. Fia is probably the more interesting character, but Annie’s parts (and the dips into the past) underscore how Fia’s work for Keane has damaged Fia and her mind. Also, both girls see the world in different ways. One person whom Fia likes Annie hates – and vice versa – and makes it difficult for the reader to know who the sisters can trust (and I still have some doubts even by the end of the book).There is a bit of a love triangle, but it serves to highlight Fia’s feelings and how Fia navigates them, not to detract from (or be) the story. Adam represents the “good” – the girl she could be and the happy life she could have (but doesn't feel she deserves) and James represents the “bad” - the Keane foundation and her messy bloodstained past, but an acceptance of her for who she is, knowing what she’s done. Mind Games is a different type of book. It probably will disappoint those looking for traditional YA, and bore those who were looking for an action/thriller. But those who are willing to go along with the ride will find an intelligently crafted story about two sisters, their violent messed-up captivity, and how their relationship struggles to survive.
Dueling Magics (Kat, Incorrigible, #1.5) - Stephanie Burgis 3.5 out of 5 starsA cute, clever story set in the Kat, Incorrigible world. I love the catty, yet realistic relationship between the sisters. Though, I feel Kat's disregard for convention is becoming a little too anacronistic for my taste.
Kat, Incorrigible - Stephanie Burgis 3.5 out of 5 StarsKatherine Ann Stephenson’s sister, Elissa, has delusions of a Gothic Novel Heroine, but Kat won’t sit around and let her marry someone who may have murdered his wife! Kat will have to use all her resourcefulness and newly-discovered magic to stop the engagement, while dealing with her other sister’s witchcraft, her oh-so-proper step-mama, and annoyingly persistent tutors.If I could use one word to sum-up this book, it would be CUTE!!!!! Kat, Incorrigible is a frothy light read that combines witchcraft, magic, and Regency England. A sly dry wit runs through the book (with a few slapstick moments) that kept a smile on my face while reading. Kat is every plucky, resourceful, smarter-than-adults heroine found in most middle-grade novels. What really made Kat stand out is her relationship with her older sisters. Their relationships felt very authentic. Burgis captures the love, care, annoyance, anger, and all those mixed-up emotions of growing up with siblings.The history in the book isn’t incredibly accurate. It takes cues from Regency England, but isn’t afraid to break from historical accuracy. Because the setting is in an alternate world with magic, I gave any inaccuracies a pass as part of the world-building.The book starts out with a bang and ends with a bang (I couldn’t put the last 50-pages down), but the middle section falters. I wasn’t sure where the book was going. There is a vague quest to save one of Kat’s sisters from a terrible suitor, but I wasn’t sure HOW the book was going to get there. Everything clicked into place at the end, but the middle section, instead of keeping me guessing, had me floundering.The book doesn’t rise above middle-grade tropes such as the EEEEEEVIL older woman who is feminine and a bit sexual, the precursor to the EVIL! Blonde Cheerleader McSlutface in YA. However, most bothersome is the elevation of tomboyish characteristics over more traditionally feminine characters and traits. The more feminine and proper characters, such as Kat’s older sister, her step-mama, and the EEEEEVIL lady, were portrayed as negative because of their femininity as opposed to the more “modern” and “liberated” Kat. I’m tired of more feminine characters being somehow less competent or worthy than male characters or female characters who reject femininity. Someone can be badass and assertive while feminine at the same time. This is more of a fault with the genre than the book itself, but it is a disturbing trend (I do take off points for the EEEEEEVIL older woman).Overall, Kat, Incorrigible was a very cute book with memorable characters, dry wit and humor, and a wonderful exploration of relationships between sisters. While, not really bringing anything new to middle-grade or breaking the mold, it’s a frothy fun story. Perfect for any child (or adult) who likes history, spunky heroines, and a bit of magic.
Deathless - Catherynne M. Valente 5 out of 5 StarsWhat an amazing, exquisitely written, and powerful book. Probably one of the best books I've ever read.ReviewMarya Morevna and her affair with Koschei the Deathless and Ivan the Fool is brought to life in this fantastical tale blending Russian folklore and Soviet history. A young Marya retreats into the world of magic during the Russian Revolution, until she is stolen away by none other than Koschei the Deathless. But Koschei, the Tsar of Life, is fighting his own war with Viy, the Tsar of Death – a fight that mirrors the political shifts of Eastern Europe in the early half of the 20th century.I don’t know even what to say about this book because it is perfect. Yes, I’m sure there are faults that, if not blinded by enthusiasm and amour, I would see. But I feel Valente has written a book, much like a classic novel, that transcends its faults. Deathless is a mixture of legend, history, literary study, and fantasy that still manages to be an engrossing read. This novel is so well planned that when I reread the prologue, I caught symbols not introduced or explained until later in the book. The care and planning it must have taken to create this is astounding and Valente is a very careful and intelligent writer. Valente has a deep understanding of fairy tales and uses and manipulates this understanding to create a modern story. For example, she uses repetition, each time changing the adjectives and adverbs to tell the tale of the Russian Revolution – from the Imperial Army to the White Army to, finally, the Red Army. She uses characters recognizable to Russian children to tell the heartbreaking tale of Soviet Russia and the hardships faced underneath Stalin. To illustrate when Russians were forced to share houses after the revolution, domoviye, household spirits in Russian folklore, form committees espousing Leninism. There is also an underlying theme running through the book of the role dominance and submission play in love and marriage. I had jokingly called it BDSM Russian folklore-style in my status updates, but this is intentionally weaved into the story because the original tale is actually kind-of kinky. Marya’s identity and loss of identity, her relationships with Koschei and Ivan revolve around the idea of “Who is to rule?” – a topic brought up by many female mentors in Marya’s life. Marya is not only uncertain of her identity with Koschei and his kingdom of Buyan, but her identity in society in Revolutionary and Soviet Russia – a world where she doesn’t fit in. Marya has to learn to recognize her own power and how to exert her will upon others and her own life if she is to survive Koschei and Soviet Russia.The story is a masterpiece of craft and an understanding of literary predecessors. It also is an emotional and heartbreaking tale as well as a fantastical one. But despite the bleakness of the story (as any story about Soviet Russia is wont to be), there is a glimmer of hope at the end, a promise that magic will not die and that everything is cyclical.It probably helps to have some knowledge of Russian history, folklore, and fairy tales before reading. I have a little knowledge from a class and my own interest in Russian culture and history. I would be curious what a person who doesn’t know much about these topics would think. I feel Valente does a good enough job creating the fantastical world in Deathless that someone unfamiliar with Russian folklore would have fun reading it as strictly a fantasy novel with new creatures. I do think those who are familiar will enjoy seeing how she incorporates various characters and tales (including a quick reference to Vasilisa the Beautiful that made me laugh).Anyone who loves literature and books that deconstruct literature and stories, those who love fantasy, myth, fairy tales, and legend, those who love Russia and Russian history, or just anyone who enjoys a great book, should read this. Deathless is a masterpiece.
Warm Bodies - Isaac Marion I first became interested in this book after hearing about the movie. I love me some Nick Hoult (have you SEEN A Single Man?) and the unique premise of a Romeo and Juliet-based zombie romance made me pick it up. However, the pretentious prose with the very lazy story structure and character development (Julie is textbook Manic Pixie Dream Girl) made for strange reading. It’s a great first book, but it’s exactly that – obviously a writer’s first book. So while I think Warm Bodies is an interesting book that definitely deserves to be read despite it's faults, my Book ADD caused me to drop it.
North and South - Elizabeth Gaskell, Patricia Ingham When her father leaves the Church of England, Margaret Hale and her family must move from pastoral southern England to the manufacturing town of Milton. Margaret first suffers from culture shock, but soon finds herself caught up in the politics of the town, and between her sympathy for the poor workers on strike and her feelings for the enigmatic mill-owner, John Thornton.I loved this book, but I just got caught up in other books and lost interest. I liked how Gaskell showed both sides of the strike and showed how both sides were right and wrong. Definitely was interesting to see how businesses were run in early Victorian England, and how unions and worker's rights have changed so much! Margaret was a wonderfully strong heroine and although I might not like his politics, John Thornton was swoon-worthy. Hopefully I'll be able to pick it up again. Maybe I'll be inspired if I watch the mini-series with the lovely Richard Armitage?

Saving Juliet

Saving Juliet - Suzanne Selfors

1 out of 5 Stars


Mimi Wallingford is destined to be an actress…against her will. . Mimi would prefer to be a doctor, but her overbearing mother won’t hear of it. She’s stuck performing in Romeo and Juliet with teen heartthrob Troy Summers until she and Troy are magically transported to Shakespeare’s Verona. There Mimi meets the real Juliet and realizes they both have more in common than she realized.


I studied Shakespeare in college and even did an independent study on the guy. I probably re-read Much Ado About Nothing at least once a year and I always discover something new. So needless to say, I’m a fan. I love Romeo and Juliet and I think the play is unfairly maligned. I was hoping this book would explore the beauty and depth often ignored and shed new light on the play, but alas that wasn’t to be. Selfors manages to make rounded Shakespearean characters shallow and flat and many of the characters are inconsistent with their Shakespearean counterparts. Juliet in the play is an incredibly mature and clear-sighted, while this Juliet is immature and foolish. In the play, Benvolio is the peace-maker and voice of reason; in this book, he’s a hot-headed creepy womanizing rapist (seriously WTF? DO NOT INSULT MY SHAKESPEARE BF!)


Benvolio from Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet

Yes, I have a Shakespeare boyfriend. Don't judge.


The research is incredibly poor (she keeps mentioning codpieces when they were out of fashion by 1590 – and this story takes place in 1594) and makes me question if she read the play (at one point she states that Tybalt was killed at the end of the play, when he was killed in Act III, Scene I – right smack in the middle of the play). The characters speak in modern English slang (‘totally’ is used every other word), but why the do so is never explained satisfactorily.


Tybalt/Romeo duel scene from Zeffirelli's R&J with lots of codepeice

I understand the obsession with codpieces and tights. Truly I do.


In fact, Juliet is hardly in the book. The book, despite the title, mostly focuses on Mimi. Mimi facilitates from being a fairly vacuous fill-in heroine to completely annoying and judgmental. The rest of the modern day characters aren’t much better. They’re just as shallow as Selfor’s Shakespearean characters. Do I need to mention the flamboyant Hispanic who speaks in broken English who is Mimi’s make-up artist? Yeah, the characterization is THAT BAD.


The tone is confusing. There is a lot of immature humor befitting 11-12-year-old tween, but Mimi obsesses constantly over her virginity and at one point checks out Troy adjusting his junk, which feels more in line with a 16+ audience. It doesn’t help that Mimi is narrating the story from the future. She’ll randomly say things like ‘I should tell you what it looked like’ or ‘this is what happened next’ at the most inappropriate times. Besides being really clunky, it interrupted the flow of the story.


What upset me most about this book was the attempted rape by Benvolio.


Benvolio looking at Rosalind in Zeffirelli's R&J

Benvolio is a gentleman. He respects the laydeez.


I was a little peeved that my favorite character in R&J was being maligned, but this could have been a warning about how even nice guys and people you know and trust can rape. However, since Benvolio is first characterized as a romantic hero, then possessive, and then a womanizer – aka “a bad man” – the take away was only ‘bad evil people rape, not heroes!’


A really really silly Old Skool romance novel cover

Pictured: NOT Benvolio. And as a Pittsburgher, the title makes me laugh.


The attempted rape isn’t exceptionally graphic, but there are enough details to make it disturbing and it would be emotionally scarring for Mimi to say the least. Mimi does have feelings of shame and distrust immediately afterwards, but a minute later she’s falling into Troy’s arms. NO. NO. NO. It felt like the teenage version of the magical healing peen. Not even hours later, Mimi’s referring to her experience flippantly. ‘Oh yeah, you know that time I was almost raped. Blah blah.’ You do not have an experience as horrendous as rape, even if it wasn’t completed, and just hand wave it away like it’s nothing.


I did like how Romeo’s emotional honesty was painted as a positive thing. It’s the only thing that made me look at a character differently.


A picture of Zac Efron and the guy who played Romeo in Zeffirelli's version. Seriously they're like twins. It's creepy.

This blew my MIND.


But the author had to mess that up by stating that Romeo had depression. Sighing over a girl because she doesn’t like you is not depression. Depression isn’t magically healed when you fall in love, as Romeo’s “depression” is when he meets Juliet. If falling in love was the cure to depression, I think modern psychology would be jumping on that STAT.


The characters were shallow and the craft was very amateur. Saving Juliet was at best uninteresting and uninspired, and at worst downright offensive. With such a rich well to draw from as a Shakespearean play, this book didn’t even try to skim the surface. It’s forgettable and not worth your time.


Another picture of Benvolio from Zeffirelli's R&J. Because he's so damn cute.


The Name of the Star - Maureen Johnson American Rory Deveaux travels to London to study abroad. However, her arrival coincides with the murders that mysteriously coincide with the infamous Jack the Ripper murders. Rory herself becomes entangled in the investigation when she sees someone no one else can see...Confession Time: I have a morbid curiosity when it comes to serial killers, especially Jack the Ripper. Add in a boarding school, ghosts, and mystery, and I was ready to love this book. However, The Name of the Star is a textbook case of 'great idea, bad execution.' The spooky and creepy prologue really grabbed me; however, most of the book is told in Rory's first-person narration. Rory is pretty nonchalant about everything - she doesn't really care about and can be downright unfeeling of the murders happening IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD AROUND WHERE SHE LIVES. It's an odd choice to make for a narrator/protagonist considering mystery/suspense books lives or dies on atmosphere and tension. Narration sets the tone of a story and since Rory doesn't really give a shit, neither does the reader. Therefore, there is no dramatic tension, despite the "creepy" background of serial killers and ghosts. Rory herself is chronically incompetent in everything she does. I guess publishers and authors think this is 'relatable' to a teenage girl, but can't we give girls more credit than that? The rest of the characters fall into various character-stereotypes and none of them are interesting or compelling. The one interesting character proved to have little part in the story when I flipped ahead. And Charlotte, the “mean girl,” isn't that mean at all, just an overachiever and a bit by-the-book. Her actions paint her as rather nice, with Rory and the other characters reading disapproval into her actions, showing more of their own insecurities than Charlotte being judgmental. It made Rory and her gang look like the “mean girls” themselves. The characters do some really dumb and nonsensical things much of the time. Characters and story serve the plot, not the plot serving the characters and the story.All in all, The Name of the Star was just BORING – boring characters, incompetent heroine, and a dull mystery. How can you possibly make the creepy gruesome Jack the Ripper murders boring? I didn't even get to the paranormal ghost part before I quit at about 40%. I hate DNF-ing books, but from flipping through the rest of the book and reading some spoiler-y reviews it didn't seem like the book improved. Sadly I’ll have to get my suspense/mystery/Jack the Ripper fix elsewhere.
Seraphina - Rachel Hartman 5 out of 5 StarsIn a world where humanity’s peace with dragons is still new, one of the royal prince’s of Goredd is found with his head missing – the sign of a dragon kill. Seraphina, the assistant to the court composer, is swept up in political intrigue and investigations with the dangerously shrewd Prince Lucian Kiggs. However, this murder may prove closer to Seraphina than she knows – a truth that might reveal her true identity.This book kept popping up on ‘Best of 2012’ lists on the book blogs I read, so I decided to give it a shot. And I am eternally grateful to all those blogs. Seraphina comes damn near close to perfection – especially impressive considering this Hartman’s debut. Seraphina reminds me of all the amazing things I love about Tamora Pierce – complicated world and politics, interesting and unique characters, complex relationships, and many great female characters. However, Hartman has a voice all her own that is simply beautiful.If you are interested in this book, I’d recommend going into it blind. I can’t review this book without giving away some minor spoilers, so you have been warned. Every character is fantastic and none fall into YA stereotypes (and if you think they will, they don’t). When I started worrying the book would fall into such-and-such YA trope trap, Hartman would circumvent it and end up doing something unique and different. Like all great stories, even the “bad” guys have their moments of sympathy and shading, and the good guys aren’t always perfect or heroic. I love how honest the characters are. All are pretty self-aware and don’t lie to themselves or others for too long. Many authors use self-denial to create tension, but Hartman manages to create tension without resorting to such tricks. Hartman has an understanding of human psychology – not just her own, but others as well. So often writers force characters to do things that are out of character, but Hartman always stays within the character’s personality. Seraphina feels so natural and mature. Her bravery and conviction never feel forced, but something that comes from her sense of honor and compassion for others. She’s a badass without ever having to resort to violence. She’s smart and can save the day with her brain, not her fists. Her relationship with her uncle, Orma, is so wonderful. Rarely are positive parental relationships portrayed in YA (especially if the parent or parental figure is alive or around), but Seraphina and her uncle are very close and care for each other in their own way. Orma plays a huge role in the story and has as much to hide as Seraphina.Kiggs is unlike any other YA hero I’ve read. He’s intelligent and perceptive, but also vulnerable. His relationship and the development of his love for Seraphina is so beautiful and heartbreaking – a real meeting of the minds. Phina and Kiggs are impressed with each other’s intellect before they fall in love. And they fall in love slowly. You really feel Phina’s and Kigg’s love for one another. I also like how Seraphina takes initiative in the relationship. Glisselda is an awesome character. She appears at first to be the silly, flighty rival for Lucian, but she ends up being an amazing friend and a great ruler. She grew up sheltered and spoiled, but she’s smart and willing to listen and grow. I like how it’s a girl-guy-girl love triangle, and it’s messy, like real life love triangles tend to be.You can tell so much thought went into every aspect of this. Hartman also smartly based things off of countries in our actual world, so it’s a bit easier to follow along and she doesn’t have to explain everything. Seraphina’s world is still heavily populated by male mentors and friends, but she does have important relationships with Glisselda, Dame Okra, and her dead mother.I had a few issues. I thought a few chapters in the beginning could be rearranged. There was an annoying tendency to keep information from the readers for a skosh too long, even when that information was incredibly obvious. Luckily, Hartman did not drag it out though the whole book. Also, a couple plot events were questionable. There were some disturbing instances where Seraphina welcomed unsolicited attention from men that bothered me. Finally, I was pretty much able to guess what most of the twists were, but like any great book, it’s not the twists themselves, but how the reader arrives that’s important.There is a character glossary and term glossary in the back of the book. The term glossary was helpful, the character glossary maybe not so much, but it’s a cute and witty read after you finish the book.I can’t recommend this book enough. It is books like these that make me wonder why I ever thought I had enough talent to write in the first place. It’s beautiful and complex and wonderful and everything that is great about YA fantasy. Or YA in general. Or fantasy in general. Or just books in general. Seraphina is a gem and an absolute must read.GO READ NOW!
The Audition (Seraphina, #0.5) - Rachel Hartman A short interlude before the events of Serphina, detailing how she got her job as assistant to Viridius, the court composer. It reads more like a missing chapter from Seraphina, explaining more about Viridius and Glisselda and their contentious relationship, which was hinted at but never shown. I still reccomend reading it after Seraphina because it spoils some of the surprises of the novel. It's beautifully written and unexpected, just like the novel it preludes.And Princess Glisselda is the awesomest.
The Chocolate Kiss - Laura Florand 3.5 out of 5 StarsMagalie lives on the Ile Saint-Louis in Paris, running La Maison des Sorcieres, a small chocolate shop with her aunts. Emotionally scarred from her past, Magalie has created walls around herself. However, her small isolated world is shaken when the top Parisian patissier Phillipe Lyonnais comes bowling into the island, planning to set up his own shop selling pastries and chocolates. Magalie brushes Phillipe off and begins a war between the two. But is anger the only thing feeding their feud?The Chocolate Kiss is an enemies-to-lovers story with magical elements. It reminded me of a mix of Practical Magic and Chocolat in contemporary Paris. I loved the comparisons to Magalie as the fairy tale witch and Phillipe as the fairy tale prince. It was a beautiful story watching two enemies ignore and realize their sexual attraction for each other.But then they got together and the whole book went to hell for me.This book was a strange roller coaster ride. Originally I loved it to pieces, and then I hated it with a firey passion, and finally ending on a neutrally mediocre note. I love enemies-to-lovers stories (some of my favorite books are Pride and Prejudice and Much Ado About Nothing), but sadly, more often than not, these books fall flat for me in the romance genre. Most of the time, these books purport that the heroine’s worldview is incorrect compared to the hero’s. Unlike Pride and Prejudice or Much Ado, where both characters realize their mistakes and short-comings, and work separately to become better people, The Chocolate Kiss, like so many romance novels, is about a man forcing his “correct” worldview on a woman and all the individual growth is done within the boundaries of the relationship. The Chocolate Kiss is hardly the most egregious example, but I never felt Magalie had enough time to contemplate herself, despite the lip-service paid.Since so much of the book is spent in this antagonistic relationship, when Phillipe and Magalie do get together, they Speedy Gonzales through the whole getting to know each other and falling in love part. Phillipe tells Magalie he loves her the first time they sleep together (and of course it's implied she's emotionally stunted for not responding in turn). All I could think was ‘we've got a stage five clinger.’It didn’t help that we hardly knew anything about Phillipe. There are a few vignettes featuring his family and some hints of tension between him and his father, as well as his own issues with selfishness and arrogance. However, his ego is later passed off as cute and ‘oh that’s just him,’ even when Phillipe starts pulling a bunch of ‘ME MAN, YOU WOMAN’ shit, including CHANGING THE LOCKS ON HER APARTMENT WITHOUT TELLING HER. Super cute, amirite? I get it, ‘its soooooooo romantic! He cares sooooooooo much about her safety!’ when all I see is ‘RUN! RUN NOW! SUPER POSESSIVE STALKER ALERT!’ The book plays it as though Magalie is in the wrong getting all bent out of shape for daring to question the protective instincts of a man. So Phillipe gets a pass on his personality failings, but Magalie is a heinous bitch for hers? The original problem – will La Maison des Sorcieres survive if Phillipe’s shop exists – is hand waved away in a terrible deus ex machina. It belittled any issue that Magalie had and trivialized the entire conflict. Why would her aunts just not TELL her that information? Oh their eccentric. Right because eccentric = making no fucking sense.Magalie does eventually come back to herself and recognizes her power in the relationship, but it honestly felt like lip service and was too little too late. It’s pretty telling when the last chapter features Phillipe and her aunt talking about Magalie like she’s some little girl they need to coddle and protect. The whole vibe of the scene was super creepy. Magalie started the story as a witch, a woman with power of her own and power over her life, and ended the story as a princess, a woman who has no identity outside of a man. She’s a topic to be discussed, not a person to have a discussion with.I loved the set-up and the first 3/4ths of this book. The prose is beautiful, magical, and sensual, fully invoking Paris and the world of pastries and chocolate. However, the book never transcends the tropes that much of the romance genre falls into. I tend to be much more sensitive to unequal power-dynamics and over-bearing alpha heroes than most readers of the genre, but I’m angry because this book showed so much promise only to become a stereotypical ME MAN YOU WOMAN romance novel in the end. Many readers love The Chocolate Kiss, but all I could feel was disappointment.
Anya's Ghost - Vera Brosgol 4.5 out of 5 StarsAnya hates her life. She doesn't have a supermodel body, the boy she likes doesn't know she exists, and she's constantly trying to hide her embarrassing Russian heritage. Things can’t get any worse until she falls down a well and meets a ghost. The ghost, Emily, follows her home and strikes a deal with Anya – Emily can stay with Anya if she helps Anya change her life. But are these changes really for the better?Anya’s Ghost is a fantastic YA graphic novel that starts out with your typical high school drama with a paranormal twist and then becomes something much darker and deeper. Its style and tone remind me a bit of the Rockett video games put out by Purple Moon back in the late 90’s (and that’s a very high compliment): deep exploration of characters from different cliques and mostly non-judgmental story-telling. I loved the exploration of the difficulties of immigrant children of being brought up in a culture different from their parents and fitting into a homogeneous American suburb. Unlike most books and TV shows depicting high school, Anya’s Ghost never takes the easy road; instead it paints a more realistic view. Anya herself is a great character that’s completely relatable in her antics (who themselves hasn’t pulled something Anya has at one point?).The art has a unique simple “cartoony” style, but don’t let the cutesy simplistic nature of Brosgol’s work fool you. Her art conveys the complex emotions of the characters and can be terrifying when necessary. I got chills at the climax.Anya's Ghost is a stylish book with a great story and protagonist not normally seen in YA. Vera Brosgol is definitely a name to watch in the growing YA graphic novel subgenre.
Cinder - Marissa Meyer 4 StarsIn futuristic Beijing, Cinder works as a mechanic supporting her adoptive family. If life wasn't hard enough, Cinder is also a cyborg, making her second class citizen with few rights. Cinder’s step-family rejects her because of her “monstrosities” except for Pearl, her excitable younger step-sister. When Pearl contracts the deadly letumosis virus, Cinder’s step-mother volunteers Cinder for the cyborg-draft used to find a cure for the virus. However, the scientists are shocked when they learn Cinder may be the key to the cure…or something even more dangerous.Cinder is one of those books where I can see all the problems, but I LOVE it. Craft is important (and Meyer is a skillful writer), but at the end of the day, a book engages a reader on a visceral level. Something can be held up as a paragon of literature and you absolutely abhor it (ask me my feelings on Anna Karenina) or something can be imperfect or downright amateur and you love it to pieces (my inexplicable love of Clockwork Angel – though Meyer is a much better writer than Cassandra Clare).Cinder is a clever story and Meyer has a great voice for storytelling – perfect for a modern fairy tale. Cinder’s story and the “twists” aren't exactly earth-shattering: you know where the story is going to go before it gets there. Enjoyment comes more from how the story gets there. Meyer’s voice just grabs you and draws you in. One scene flows to the next, keeping the reader enthralled. It’s wonderful seeing how Meyer adapts the various facets of the Cinderella tale to her globalized sci-fi world.Cinder is a great character. She’s determined and smart, living in a world that hates her for what she is. Meyer doesn't shy away from Cinder’s identity as a cyborg – in fact the first few paragraphs are about Cinder replacing her old foot with a new one. Cinder’s cyborg identity is very much a part of her and plays an important part in the story – it isn't lip-service later forgotten. It felt ballsy, because while YA (and the romance genre and one could probably argue fiction in general) readily accept a male protagonists/love-interests as physical monsters/other (think back on all those vampire/werewolf/paranormal creature books that were so popular a few years ago, it rarely embraces female protagonists as physical monsters/other. I especially loved that while Cinder receives help along the way, Cinder is the master of her own destiny. Unlike Cinderella in the original fairytale, who relies on her fairy godmother and the prince in order to have her happy ending, Cinder creates her own story in order to save the day. Cinder has her moments of self-doubt and makes a few dumb decisions, but overall, she’s a smart resourceful girl.The supporting characters are a bit flat, since the focus of the book is on Cinder and her hero’s journey, but they are colorful and interesting, as befitting a fairytale. I loved Iko, Cinder’s robotic companion, who dreams of balls and dresses, but has a biting tongue that gets her in trouble. I liked the romantic interest of Kai, but while likable and relatable, he was a bit bland and his relationship with Cinder boiled down to insta-love. While their relationship isn't the crux of the story unlike the original fairytale, it was a bit of a let-down.And holy crap, the villain? Queen Levana? Good luck defeating that shit, Cinder. That bitch has some serious Emperor Palpatine-level head-fucking scary face going on.However, despite my love of the story, my biggest problem with this book was the lack of cultural detail and the whitewashing (?) of many characters. The book takes place in New Beijing, but it could have taken place in London, Nairobi, or Rio de Janeiro for all the culture that was infused in the book. Throwing in a reference to bamboo or chopsticks does not an Asian setting make. It felt more like appropriation instead of incorporation. There is some background stating that after World War IV, everyone was so devastated they just kind-of conglomerated these country-continents together, mixing different cultures. So we get a very Japanese-sounding society in China (plus a few references to wontons and jade). What about India? Thailand? Malaysia? Korea? These are Asian countries as well, but none of their culture has assimilated? Why is Japanese culture the predominant culture? The cultural world-building seemed very phoned-in, especially compared to the rich sci-fi details of the world.When I started reading, I had assumed that Cinder and all the characters were Chinese. However, as the story progressed it’s revealed that Cinder is European. I have to admit I was disappointed because I thought I was reading an Asian protagonist, but instead I got the pale brunette Caucasian of every YA ever written ever. Many characters have very European characteristics like curly hair. It seemed strange to set a story in Beijing if most characters aren't going to be Chinese. Granted, most of the characters aren't explained in any sort of detail, except blanket statements like ‘handsome’ or ‘plain.’ I think the author was trying to portray a completely multi-cultural globalized world, but that honestly felt like lazy world-building. A bit off topic, but I found out while reading that the author used to write Sailor Moon fan-fiction and it doesn't surprise me. It’s not like Cinder steels anything from Sailor Moon, but there is this feeling, this Sailor Moon-y vibe I can’t explain. Maybe it’s the Sailor Moon-type of girl empowerment? Or maybe it’s just I feel some sort of sisterhood to another Sailor Moon fan.Cinder isn’t an in-depth character study, nor is it really a sci-fi novel (maybe a very soft sci-fi novel). But it is an adventure tale with colorful characters and an interesting (if a bit sloppy) world and it succeeds damn well at what it is. On a craft level, I’d give it 4 Stars, but my personal reaction is 5 OMGSQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! Stars.