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The Swan Kingdom

The Swan Kingdom - Zoe Marriott It's so hard for me not to compare any retelling that even touches on swans (The Wild Swans, The Six Swans, doesn't matter) without comparing it to Daughter of the Forest, so I was really worried going in that I would unconsciously (or even consciously) be setting The Swan Kingdom up to fail. But it amazed me how little I felt myself needing to compare. This isn't to say I didn't compare, because I definitely did, especially when it comes to the depth of the story (in which case I compared it to Marillier's DOTF and to Shadows on the Moon, another of Zoë's works.). But it stood on its own, and I was pleasantly surprised by that.Shadows on the Moon was an engaging and quick read, and a good expansion of the fairy tale "The Wild Swans," with a bit of "The Ugly Duckling layered in, which I found interesting. I liked the main character, Alexandra. Alex is someone you can easily root for, and her narration pulled the story along at a steady, easy pace. I especially liked how things progressed with the villain, particularly in the end. I was even a bit shocked by the last little piece that falls into place at the end, and would kind of love to see that story told in full - that backstory and progression could be really fascinating in its own right.I did wish for more struggle and lengthening of the tale; there's a certain ease with which everything happens, from the relationship with the romantic interest to Alex's struggles and ultimate awareness of herself, that ended up being the key reason I found myself compelled to compare - both to how Marillier layerd Daughter of the Forest, but also to how Marriott herself created this complex, painful struggle in Shadows on the Moon. This is not Shadows. But you know what, that's okay. It's easier and far less dark; but though it's not as complex or powerful as Shadows, the skill and the voice are still there. The Swan Kingdom is a first book and it shows how much she's grown, but that's not to say she didn't start off strong.  Again, I know I always say I try not to read reviews of things before I write my own, but as I did with Strands of Bronze and Gold, I just couldn't resist seeing what a friend (who had also read Daughter of the Forest and Shadows on the Moon) had to say about this one. In this case, it was Heidi from Bunbury in the Stacks, and I'm gonna go ahead and quote her because I think she nailed how I felt about the writing:When working through an author’s backlog, I have rarely seen such evidence of growth in their work–in a way I can take The Swan Kingdom and pinpoint what facets Marriott has since improved, and which were the foundations indicating how wonderful she would become.So, while I would have appreciated a story that lingered more and took the time to build Alexandra's world and struggles with more detail and depth, I still found myself really enjoying this, and appreciating how far Marriott has come in her writing and her ability to push a story and its characters. And I still definitely recommend giving this one a try. =)

What Would Mr. Darcy Do? (Pride and Prejudice Continues)

From Lambton to Longbourn: A Pride & Prejudice Variation - Abigail Reynolds Note: marking this for a reread; I actually read the paperback version, which I reviewed HERE.

First Frost

First Frost - Liz DeJesus Okay.I think, before I begin, that I need to warn you of just how nit-picky I can be. And that a good chunk of this review is going to be me nitpicking. Which is probably not fair, because I enjoyed First Frost well enough, but the nit-picky things are the things that stay with me, so there you go.  But I'm going to start with the positives, because there were positives - this is not a hated-it, why-did-I-read-this? review at all, so I don't want you guys to leave with that impression.So first, the good:There are some really, really cool concepts in First Frost, like the idea of "Happily ever after" being a typo (actually, fairy tale characters lived in a different world, called Everafter, so the sentence should read "happily IN Everafter"), or the idea that the Grimm brothers wrote the fairy tales as warnings, because people in our world were having issues with creatures and witches from Everafter - people being cursed, children going missing, etc. Thus, the tales give you the basics of Everafter magic, so you know what to look for and how to protect yourself, but they leave out key elements so people in our world can't take advantage of the magics and use them in bad ways themselves. And of course, the fairy tale museum and all of its artifacts is a great concept, and done in a fun way. I especially liked the applications that some of the artifacts can be put to (their own story-related powers, essentially), and the fact that the museum itself came about as a result of the Great Depression, when Bianca's grandfather decided to showcase his family's magical wares out of necessity. Things like this are nice real-world touches that root a story, and I always appreciate that.I also thought that there was a fun, light tone to the story that worked. Bianca's best friend, Ming, is super fun, and I really enjoyed the camaraderie between the two. They really did interact like people who have known each other for ever, and who will always be there for each other, while also always giving each other grief. There's humor in their interactions that, when DeJesus got it right, she really nailed. There were times, too, when the villains of the story were perfectly villainous, saying or doing something perfectly evil, obsessive and dark, but with this little undercurrent of sympathy - the reader has the knowledge, however slight, that they weren't always this way, and probably didn't intend for things to turn out as they did. (Of course, there were also times when I found the villains too over-the-top for my tastes, and the magics of both sides a little too easy. I want balance in all things, so if you're going to lob fireballs, I need to know that you really have to work at it, or there's some huge drawback to spellcasting, etc. A "natural" approach to magic (it just happens) doesn't work for me unless it has some major side-effects, or something.)First Frost was a very quick read, and for the most part, remained engaging throughout. But it also felt like a first pass, or the work of a young writer, which is where my nit-picking comes in.As you probably know by now, sometimes my inner editor comes out, and she just won't shut the hell up. So even while this was enjoyable, Editor Misty was saying things like:Why would hide in a hollow tree from a strange man, only to decide moments later (when he asks where you are in a singsong voice), that he's probably safe, and to go ahead and come out? Don't you know that a) singsong voice always means creep, and b) stranger danger? And why bother hiding to immediately crawl back out of that hiding spot, into the hands of the person you hid from? Why? Oh, you figured it was something else chasing you, and not the strange men on horseback... Wait, what? The strangers on horseback are not the ones chasing you?OrSo, your mother has just told your father - who you've thought was missing or absentee since your childhood - was actually turned into a bear, and you say "When did this happen?" Not, what? Not, how is that even possible? Not, what are you on? AND THEN, when she says "Don't you remember when your father went missing?" you say "I meant was it during the day? At night?" because somehow that's the key piece of info in the your father's been turned into a bear discussion...It's silly little non-incidents like this - which don't seem like much, until they're piled all together - that break my connection to the story and characters. I talk a lot about ease in storytelling, and how I never want things to be too easy.  This is true not just of the tension and struggles of the story, but also how a character reacts to things. I need characters to react more naturally to huge scenarios - and though sometimes in a crisis, you may burst out with the stupidest thing you've ever said, in general, a person's natural reaction to something paradigm-changing is to be incredulous, questioning, hesitant, scared and/or angry first. They may come around, and they may even come around quickly if they have no choice, but there should at least be a moment in there that is full of "WTF?/This isn't happening!"Another thing: I said that Mette Ivie Harrison's writing is sometimes missing the connective tissue; if that's the case, then I think Liz DeJesus' writing suffers from too much connective tissue.  I sometimes felt like scenes and/or dialogue was throw-away - like it's what the author needed to work through to get where she was going, but then which should have been left on the cutting room floor. Readers don't need every single link, every useless succession of events or unnecessary bits of dialogue, to get where you want them to go. Don't "Canadian Film Festival"* us; if the import of a scene  or a bit of dialogue is that it isn't important ("I don't mean to cause you any harm - so I won't. The end."), then don't bother.Actually, I take that back. It's not that it suffered from too much connective tissue, but that it was in the wrong places. So we would have scenes that seemed overly-long and pointless, with the type of unnatural conversation that usually gets edited out, but then there would be bigger things happening with no real urgency to them. I don't know what you do when your mom is kidnapped by an evil witch and you need to break into another world to get her back, but when this happens to my mom, I generally don't go to work like everything's fine for a few days, hire a handyman for quick home repairs, or veg out in front of the tv with my bestie.  These are things I wanted to tighten in edit. I wanted so badly to say "Leave the window broken, close the shop, find the book and get a move on! This is a crisis situation, the day-to-day can wait."Ugh. And now I've spent more time than intended on the nit-picky things, and I know I'm going to leave you guys with a negative impression of this book. Can we just say, I have no control over Editor Misty and her endless desire to red-pen, and I never know when she's going to come out, but that doesn't mean you won't enjoy First Frost, which at its core is a light, fun book with some really cool fairy tale concepts? Can we just leave it at that?


Escorted - Claire Kent I blame Allison.

Lips Touch: Three Times

Lips Touch: Three Times - I think it's already been decided that I'm a Laini Taylor fangirl. I can't help but fall for her gorgeously lush writing. But that said, there's always a slight worry with me when I pick up something different by an author - what works in longform may not work in short; her prose is gorgeous, but how well would it adapt to novella style?Clearly I needn't have worried. Taylor's writing is as gorgeous as ever, and she packs a lot of punch into stories that are short and sweet - perfectly-sized to devour in one sitting.Each of the stories has a distinct feel, which is especially nice in a set centering around the same thing (so it doesn't feel like three successive "I just read that"s), but they all flow into one another and work together as a whole. Through the three stories, Taylor gives different sides of the same coin, using the central theme of the power of a kiss to explore very different worlds and characters, and their reasons for - and reactions to - a kiss. My favorite would of the three would probably change on any given day, purely based on mood, because they are all fantastic and memorable. But I think there's something bright and vibrant - and deeply melancholic - about Goblin Fruit that instantly appeals to me. Plus: goblins. (And I've already said how I feel about them.)Her prose, as always, is evocative and gorgeous, creating elaborate, memorable worlds out of thin air. It is enhanced by the accompanying artwork, which is fricking fantastic. Each story is preceded by a series of illustrations that aren't simply scenes from the story, but rather scenes in addition to the story. Sort of artistic prologues to each of the three novellas; Jim Di Bartolo didn't just illustrate the story, he expanded it. The color palette is great, the whole thing feels very unified and cohesive, and the art, rather than being distracting or tacked-on, really adds a layer. It's an extra little something to pore over and savor, along with the gorgeous writing.So far, Laini is 3 for 3...(So the marriage proposal stands.)

The Corner of Bitter and Sweet

The Corner of Bitter and Sweet - Wherrrrrrrrre are they getting the Gilmore Girls comparison?


Entwined - Heather Dixon I waffled back and forth between a 3 and a 4, so 3.5Review to come.


Siege - Sarah Mussi If I don't shout maybe I can save myself, save the rest of us. But I don't know how I can just look on and watch a murder. Can you do that? Can you look on and do nothing? It feels like I ought to do something. It feels like all of this was because we all just stood by and did nothing, in the before time, in the time when we had every flipping day to sort out all the Connors and all the Jases and all the Lucases ever born.I went into this with some trepidation, because I think we'd all agree, this is a tricky subject to take on. To make this powerful and meaningful, to show the horror of the situation, but also any hope - slim hope, slim humanity - to avoid sensationalism and finger-pointing...it all just seemed like too much to ask.  And briefly in the beginning, I was worried that it was going to be too much to ask. But Mussi somehow pulls it off, despite all of the times it could have gone wrong. Siege is powerful and effecting and so very, very horrific, but I never felt like Mussi was just going for shock-value or trying to fulfill a quota on bleak atrocities.But my god, her success with Siege makes this a hard review to write. When I finished the book - in the middle of the night, mind you - I wanted nothing more than to just get up and record a vlog for you guys, a sort of impressions video, 1/2 review, 1/2 discussion. Because frankly, I needed to talk it out. But as it was the middle of the night, and as I was essentially a shattered mess, that didn't seem like the best idea.  But now I'm stuck wondering how do I write about this? How do I discuss this without being raw, and without giving too much away?What makes this book work so well is Leah Jackson, the smarter-and-braver-than-she-could-have-ever-realized main character.  The way the story is filtered through her experiences - who she  is, her need to help and fix and save and live - and her fear that her brother may somehow be involved, is what makes the story so powerful. Mussi evolves Leah's character very well throughout the story, from the beginning panic and confusion, through her disgust and her questioning and examining, and all of her realizations and revelations; Leah grows tremendously in a very condensed time frame, and the reader is led along at break-neck speed, thinking the same thoughts Leah does at the same time she thinks them.  Leah's adrenaline practically drips off the page. This is a visceral read; it gets you in the guts. My heart pounded - literally pounded - reading this. That just doesn't happen to me. I get butterflies when something is really good, yes, but heart-pounding, physical, nervous anxiety is a rare one for me. And of course the way I felt completely gutted in the end... there was that. All of this happens through Leah and her somewhat stream of consciousness narration, and it makes for a really compelling read.But this is part of what will make it a very difficult book for some people to read. There is no break from Leah's voice, and she is in the thick of things right from the start. There are no little side jaunts with other characters, no forays into the outside world for reactions - nothing to give the reader a break from the relentless anxiety and stress that Leah is under, both physically and mentally. Leah witnesses a lot of things no one should have to witness, and is forced to contemplate things or act on things that no one should have to face. I wouldn't call Siege gratuitous, necessarily, and I don't think Mussi descended into sensationalism and useless violence, but she doesn't flinch away from the true horrors of a situation like this. But I think everything is done with an eye to being honest to the story and the situation, and (more importantly) to the whole of the situation, all of the little things that lead to something like this. Most readers will know within pages - if not even before they start the book - whether Siege is the right type of read for them, but for those that can handle it, I think they'll find it a really compelling read with a lot of fascinating gray area to explore. And I think they'll find it surprisingly - perhaps uncomfortably - relatable.I will say, I was really, really leery of the use of government presence in this. There came a point early on where I started to have suspicions, and as I was slowly proven right, I kept asking myself whether this weakened the story or strengthened it. I don't want to give anything away, but there's an element of the Grand Government Conspiracy here, and I'm still not sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, it (sadly, scarily) is believable for the world that has been set up. Even more sad and scary, is that there are definitely people who believe these Grand Government Conspiracies are happening here and now in relation to shootings. Seriously. Google "Sandy Hook conspiracy theories" and you'll see what I mean.  So even though this particular instance is believable and works for the story, and even though it sort of parallels the way people search to impose meaning on senseless acts, I could never really decide if I felt it was a necessary element, and whether it added or detracted from the central issues of the story. It worked in the end, and maybe even won me over; I think Mussi certainly handled it better than many would. But I think there are readers who are going to find it one thing too much in a book that already begins as a struggle for some to read.The only other thing I want to touch on - and that, only briefly - is the ending. I really can't say much because I don't want to give a single itty, bitty thing away, but I think some readers will be very bothered by at least one aspect of the ending - and really, there are a few to choose from. Personally, I was not bothered, and it's one of the things that had me sitting up late into the night, talking myself down from the book, and thinking that it would make for a really intriguing group or book club read. In some respects, I think things happened in the only way they really could, but at the same time, the end leaves so much to talk about and think over, and - if you're brave enough - feel, and after all the stress and tension of the book, these last few twists of the knife might be a bit too much for some readers. Personally, I think feeling it is good; being bothered by it is good. This is a book to be discussed, not reviewed. [And I'm going to be completely honest with you and tell you that, not only did I have a really good cry when I finished (an interesting book-cry, not just sad, but sort of drained and hollowed out), but I also teared up a few times writing this review, as it all came back to me. It's not just the things that happen in the book, but the way Mussi makes you feel, and the way a story like this - at least for me, an American woman who hears about these things far too often, and who for a long time intended to be a teacher - really hits home.]

Handbook for Dragon Slayers

Handbook for Dragon Slayers - Merrie Haskell Previously: Saw the cover for this tonight at Written in the Mitten. Gorgeous (though now all I'll be able to think about when I see it was the discussions it caused on horse and dragon proportions and genetics (ish)...)=DAnd then: Just for my own records, my copy has 320 pages, not 240. 320 glorious pages. This is 2 lovely, perfect books in a row now; I am decidedly in Merrie Haskell's corner.Review:A couple of days ago, I gushed about The Princess Curse, which is sort of loosely connected to Handbook for Dragon Slayers. Though it may not be a fairy tale retelling as The Princess Curse was, it has a lot in common with that charming middle grade book that took over my brain. They have similar worlds (separated by some centuries and location, yes, but with a generalized medieval Easter European setting), and there are also subtle little "easter eggs" that link the two books more fully. Both feel complete as stand-alones, but also work as companion pieces in the larger framework of Haskell's two (so far) apprentice stories. But what they share most strongly is their excellent, plucky, admirable main characters.I talked a bit in my review of TPC about how Reveka was exactly what I wanted - and needed - in a female protagonist as a kid, and how she's the type I still immediately fall for now. Tilda, the main character of Handbook, is much the same. Haskell has a way with plucky, awesome characters, girls with strength and determination and spirit, and a passion to make them memorable. You can't help but root for and love Haskell's characters; they're fresh and vibrant and thoughtful. And most importantly to me, they're smart - not in an obnoxious, precocious way, but there is a subtle layer to both characters that tells the reader (ie mostly young girls) that these girls are smart and talented, and they use those smarts and talents to follow their passion, and that's what makes them awesome. At the risk of sounding boring and cliched myself, they're role models - but they're not boring and cliched. [See what I mean about how Haskell's books were exactly what I wanted/needed when I was a kid?]On a similar note, Handbook's main character, Tilda, has a clubfoot. This is a painful-enough affliction on its own, but in medieval times when modern medicine and pain relief are hard to come by, if not non-existent, and you're a princess who's supposed to be seen as strong leader material? Needless to say, this is a huge plot point for Tilda, and I thought it was handled really well. Tilda suffers, but she isn't a whiny martyr; it does have an undeniable influence on who she is and how she reacts to the world around her - and how she expects the world around her to react to her, but in the end, she won't let it define her. I thought Haskell made a lot of smart choices in the handling of Tilda's disability, and the fact that there's no magical resolution was an excellent choice for me. Not only does it make her more relatable and sympathetic, and add a great deal of "interestingness" to her character, but to have a magical, fantastic story that doesn't wave a wand and do away with any "unsavory" bits is exactly what I would want, and what I think is needed. Having a clubfoot doesn't make Tilda less, and though she has this brief moment where she thinks (hopes, longs for, wonders if) maybe she could be magically cured, I think it was an excellent choice on Haskell's part not to.There's a lot going on in this story...many, many plot points, and to some it may feel chaotic or confusing. I never found it too much to keep track of, and I think the points played well off of one another, but I can see why, to some, it may make it harder to follow, or make them feel like the story was rushed or scattered. But to me, it's a sprawling adventure story in that grand way that you only seem to get in kids books, and reading it brings back some of that irrepressible eagerness and energy that comes with being a kid. As a middle-grader, I would have been completely engrossed and would, without a doubt, have fallen in love with Haskell's world, her characters, and their adventures. As always, highly recommended for those who like middle grade, have middle graders, or want a fun historical fantasy/adventure with a strong, likable female lead.

Strands of Bronze and Gold

Strands of Bronze and Gold - I'm always on the lookout for fairy tale retellings that take on lesser-known and lesser-used tales, so of course when I heard there was a Bluebeard retelling, I was all over that. Fortunately for me, Strands of Bronze and Gold didn't disappoint. Jane Nickerson has placed the "Bluebeard" tale in antebellum South, using a Southern Gothic style to create a retelling that is gorgeously atmospheric and lush. I thought it was such a great idea for Nickerson to place the retelling on a plantation in the south. I mean, think about it: "Bluebeard" is essentially a story of a man doing what he wants with impunity - what other era and location better exemplifies that than a pre-war plantation? This setting is perfectly suited to take Sophie out of her element and keep her on her toes, and to give Monsieur Bernard exactly what he would have most wanted - complete control. Antebellum South = mecca for a man as obsessive, controlling, manipulative, paranoid and violent as Bluebeard/Bernard. It's a really clever setting.*By nature, the Southern Gothic style may be slow for some, but it was exactly what I wanted. It's very slow-burning, taking time to set the scene and build the reveal of who Bernard really is, so as to have the most impact. The reader isn't rushed into things, but instead gets to know and understand young, naive Sophie, and see Bernard's charm at work. I think this builds a good reveal for those unfamiliar with Bluebeard, but also keeps everything tense and ominous for those who know the story. Some, too, may be bothered the time spent on description; the architecture, the grounds, Sophie's wardrobe and her jewelry and gifts from Bernard - things like this can be pet-peevy to some, and sometimes even to me. What made it work, though, is that they serve purposes: Bernard's gifts and ostentation help daze and charm Sophie in the beginning, and when she begins to see through it, they help him control and guilt her. (They also help demonstrate his considerable ego and skills at emotional abuse.) At the same time, they help us understand just how naive and shallow (in the way of the young) Sophie is, so we have a point from which she can grow - which she does. Monsieur Bernard is perfectly creepy, utterly controlling but able to charm away people's misgivings. He demonstrates all the hallmarks of an abuser or a sociopath, and he absolutely made my skin crawl. Everyone else is in the story is background to the two of them, but frankly, that's the way it should be. The tale is only ever about Bluebeard and his curious wife, and for it to work with the same level of tension, there needs to be the same feeling of a very insular, oppressive world, to make Sophie's situation more precarious.Though only thing that I really had a problem with was some of the more paranormal aspects at the end. The book begins to take on a somewhat magical realist feel, which I both liked and didn't. It felt a little jarring to have the book begin to skew paranormal after the more straight-forward, lush historical feel, and though I didn't hate that it went slightly paranormal, I think it would have worked just fine with Sophie just using her brain and figuring things out or investigating hunches, without being helped along.*Now.Some things I'm going to address that I really hadn't intended to address.I generally don't read other people's reviews until I've written my own, because I don't want to be biased. But April of Good Books and Good Wine tweeted hers or shared it on Facebook, or something, and I just had to know what she thought - which is how I realized that some people have a much deeper issue with this book. Some people, it seems, are very bothered by the issue of POC characters in this book, and though I did notice some of the things that bothered them (essentially a "stock" quality to black characters in the book, and not enough on the issue of slavery), I didn't have nearly the problems they have with it.Here's the thing: some people have a problem with the depiction of the slaves in the book - not that they're there, but that they're not as fleshed out as Sophie or Bernard. But nobody is. And I don't think they should be. Everyone is background, and some people may hate that, and want to cry foul and say the book/Nickerson doesn't do enough to address race or privilege. But I don't think it would have worked otherwise - all of the characters, no matter their race, culture or social class, have to be background in a story like this because the female main character has to feel alone. And to be fair, all of the white characters in the book are stock and not as fleshed out as Sophia and Bernard, either... Again, they need to be - Sophie has to be isolated and feel like she doesn't really have anywhere to turn. I think it bears repeating: all of the characters, black and white alike, are static characters meant to either help keep Sophie isolated or facilitate her growth. This includes the (black) slaves, the (white) housekeeper, Sophie's (white) family, Sophie's (black) former-slave friend, and Sophie's (white) new love interest. Every one of them is a flat counterpoint to Sophie's isolation and eventual growth. Like it or not, this story is about her - it isn't about them.The other racially charged argument I saw was that people weren't happy in particular with the character of Anarchy, a kind, older former slave who plays a sort of motherly role to Sophie, when she can. Some people cried "Mammy!" and though I'm not saying you can't sometimes end up with a completely flat, stock, "token" character, it also shouldn't mean that an author can never have a nice/old/motherly black lady without someone calling her a "Mammy." Because it has become a cliche, there aren't allowed to be any nice old black ladies in books or movies ever again?  There are all types of people in the world, including nice elderly black ladies, and I'd say in Southern historical fiction especially, it's near inevitable - any lady over a certain age is going to fall into that motherly/voice of wisdom role. Can you make a case for a character "falling" into a role being laziness? Sure. But does that automatically also make it nefarious or insensitive? No. Being sensitive and politically correct is one thing, but there does come a point where political correctness and sensitivity stop being beneficial and instead become stifling and counter-productive...Maybe this will bother some of you, so I guess it bears mention. But for me, Nickerson did what she set out to do, which was to retell Bluebeard, focusing on a story of obsession and control. The book may have slavery in it, but it isn't about slavery. And I don't think every book that has slavery, or any other problematic/disturbing theme, setting, etc., should have to be about that setting or theme. Not all stories should seek to right every wrong or explore every nuance of a very complex problem. And an author who hasn't set out to do a thing, shouldn't be attacked for not doing that thing.Some stories will just be stories.

Shadowlands (Shadowlands (Hyperion))

Shadowlands - Kate Brian 2.5ish territory, but this one has a pretty fluid rating, I think - apt to change depending on my mood.Okay, Shadowlands...I feel like I would write a different review of this every day of the week. Frankly, I'm really torn, and have even held off giving it a rating on Goodreads.  Here's the thing:There are going to be people that are so shocked and amazed by the way this ends that they'll love it.There are going to be people that are so shocked and dismayed by the way this ends that they'll hate it.There are going to be people that find this gimmicky and disjointed, something that relies too heavily on a twist (and today, at least, that's where my opinion is hovering.)This is a difficult book to talk about without spoiling something, but essentially, Shadowlands is a contemporary thriller that reads like a movie trying to be a book. And that doesn't really work. Things that work in movies often don't work so well when they're written out because your brain processes them differently. Fog, for instance; fog rolling up right at the opportune (or inopportune) moment, there at the height of tension and then gone - seeing that on a screen works, even if later you think it's cheesy; we sort of process it in the background. But when in writing, it ceases to work because it's being pointed out; you are forced to focus on it, which gives you the time to reflect on it, realize how cheesy it is immediately, roll your eyes, and then begin to question everything. It jars you out of the flow a little, and each time this happens, you get further and further away from connecting with or believing in the story.  Things like this, and the unrealistic way characters react and/or interact with each other, kept eating at me. But this is where it becomes tricky, because those same things can actually be kind of interesting by the end.  I spent the first half of this book being really frustrated with damn near everything, laughing and rolling my eyes when I should have been, I don't know, shivering in sympathetic terror, I guess. And then there came a point right about the middle when I thought, you know what would be kind of neat? If this had a twist ending where [big fat spoiler]. And then I started to think that the only thing that could redeem the book and make me look at all of my little annoyances in a different light would be that [big fat spoiler].  But the book kept going on and on, and though things got a little weirder, and then occasionally less-weird, I started to doubt the book would be redeemed. But wouldn't you know it? [Big Fat Spoiler] right there at the very last second. Well, I'll be.  And so there is was, the BFS, and I'm sitting there thinking 2 things:1. This gives the book interesting reread potential, which is funny because I didn't think I'd want to finish it, let alone reread it; and2. This is going to piss people off. Or maybe amaze them. Or mostly piss them off, but amazingly so.So it happened, the one thing I thought could maybe save this and make me like it, and for that, I have to kind of smile at Kate Brian and admit that there's a part of me that likes this. But I have to wag my finger at her, too, because she really drew it out to the very last minute, and is it too little, too late? Well...sorta, yeah; there needs to be a balance. In the end, the things I didn't like about it made sense and even seem almost necessary, but to get to a place where it works, readers have to make it all the way to the end. In an often-frustrating book, that may not always happen. If this weren't fairly engaging and quick, I probably would have given up on it, and I never would have known that things worked for the world. You have to give the reader a reason to go with it, and if you don't, it doesn't matter how snazzy or perfectly-suited your twist ending is. If you give me piece of pie and the first few bites taste like crap (or even just bland and pedestrian), you can't be surprised when I don't want to finish it, even if you insist that the last few bites will totally change my mind. I want the whole slice to be good, dammit. There are a lot of calories in pie. Each bite should be worth it.I've gotten offtrack.*What I'm trying to say is, I'm TORN.  A twist ending is 10% of a book, tops. I need to care about the other 90%, too. So, yes, part of me likes this in hindsight, and even thinks it will make for an interesting reread; but part of me thinks it's just silly and slapdash, and full of really unlikable characters and unlikely events, that is hastily (but interestingly) pulled together in the end.  Personally, I could have done with a lot fewer cliches and a lot more slow-burning thriller. There could still have been unlikable or questionable bits that click into place in the end, but with something more worthy to pull me along. But this would make a good movie, I think, and I have to wonder if perhaps it was written to be? A lot of authors seem to be writing things with the goal of having it optioned and potentially making bank on a franchise, and though that's another pet peevish trend I do want to discuss someday, I'm not going to use Shadowlands as a platform to do so. In the end, this book is truly going to come down to each individual reader, and I find it nearly impossible to predict which side of the fence any one person will fall on. Maybe it comes down to whether you figure out twists waaaay too f*cking far in advance (like me =/) or whether they sneak up on you. I dunno. I will go so far as to say that I'm curious enough about the setup for the rest of the series - and more specifically, the main character's reaction to it - that I may even read book 2.So there's that.But there are a lot of pages in a book. Every page should be worth it.See, it all comes back around...OH! OH! OH! AND: This cover? Pretty much nothing to do with the book.*Have you guys ever noticed how many food metaphors I use? Lest you think I'm some binge-eating, calorie-counting, obsessive foodie**: 1. for a long time I thought I was going to be a chef; 2. everyone eats. Food is something we can all relate to, so it's a good go to.At least, that's what I'm going to tell myself the next time I compare a book to food.**Okay, I sort of am an obsessive foodie. But not of the binge-eating type, and certainly not of the calorie-counting type. shudder.

The Princess Curse

The Princess Curse - Initially: I realized today at work that I wouldn't be coming home and reading this today because I finished it last night, and that made me sad. There is no surer sign of a 5-star book for me, so yeah, I friggin loved this.Review:I feel like I've been talking about this book non-stop for all of 2013. And really...I kind of have. Every now and then there are books that come along that you expect to like, and hope to love, and that is enough. But sometimes, you pick up a book, and you're pretty confident you're going to like it, and then something happens, some magical, alchemical thing, wherein the book is clearly meant to have permanent space in your brain. You can't really explain it - it might not be the best written book you've ever read, or the most universally praised; it might not even be something you'd feel the same about, were you to read it at a different point in your life. But for whatever reason, at this moment, it's right. It pushes all your buttons. Ticks your boxes. Fills your gaps. You and The Book, sitting in a tree, forever.And for whatever reason, The Princess Curse was one of those books for me. It's one I know I will reread, probably for a while to come. And because of that, and because I've been talking about it almost non-stop since reading it in January, I kinda don't even know where to begin.There was something just so engaging and lively about the story, and about the heroine, Reveka, especially. She's exactly what I wanted in a female protagonist as a kid (and still want now) - she's smart and competent, and she has a passion, which always fleshes out a character nicely; she approaches her world intelligently and fearlessly, even when she's scared (and I know that sounds like a contradiction, but you know what I mean). She's not flawless, she's not a Mary Sue, but she is a great heroine to connect to, both age appropriate and smart/relatable for readers beyond that age. She's curious and willful and a little fierce. As a character, she's kinda perfect; I don't know what else I could even ask for.And Reveka leads us into a really great, memorable world, a sort of Eastern European mdeieval setting that draws on real historical figures and cultural traditions and beliefs of the time to build a great sense of place. Added to this is Haskell's take on the magical underworld of the story, Thonos, which is based in known myth and fleshes the fairy tale - and Reveka's world - in a really enjoyable way. Though most of the story is spent above ground for Reveka, the pieces of Thonos that we do see are gorgeously evocative, incorporating the known and typical underworld aspects of the fairy tale, but expanding it, working in other traditional depictions of underworlds, and playing them off of each other to make something really intriguing. The two worlds play off of each other very well, and it's something I'd love to explore more (she says, crossing her fingers that a second book will come to be).Also - and I don't want to give anything away here, but - there's an excellent  bit of mash-up going on! I love a good mash-up, and Haskell begins to incorporate some Beauty and the Beast elements at the end that could really be explored in a second book (ohpleaseohpleaseohplease). Sometimes mash-ups can seem chaotic and piecemeal, but Haskell uses the elements of both stories judiciously, along with the pieces of the mythology, as mentioned, choosing the ones that work best together and kind of blending one into another, to make something that seems more effortless and real.As is clear from this review, there is room to grow into second book - or dare I say series? - and though I'm really hoping that happens because I don't want to be done with Reveka and her world, the book is not necessarily open ended. Things are wrapped up nicely, and one can end this book feeling like it's complete, with the reader given an idea of what Reveka's future will hold. This is nice for the imagination to play with, but also nice because it leaves open the possibility for more of this fantastic world and these fantastic characters, and I know I'm not alone in saying I would truly LOVE to see how Reveka and Frumos interact when she's older.So if it's not clear, I'm saying: Pick this one up. Read it, love it, share it around. It's definitely worth your time.And bonus factor: Botany*.*No, but seriously, though? Am I the only one who gets a little giddy when botany plays a part, especially in a fairy tale? I love me some characters who garden, man...

Godmother: The Secret Cinderella Story

Godmother: The Secret Cinderella Story - Carolyn Turgeon 4.5 This was much darker than I thought it was going to be. Review to come.

An Old-Fashioned Girl

An Old-Fashioned Girl - Louisa May Alcott *marked for reread

Daughter of the Forest (Sevenwaters Series #1)

Daughter of the Forest  (The Sevenwaters Trilogy, #1) - Juliet Marillier Holy hell, I love this book.This edition marked for reread. Actual review on this edition.


Wallbanger - Alice Clayton You ever have those late nights where you can’t sleep and you find yourself being sucked down the rabbit hole? No, I don’t want to say sucked. Everything sounds dirty now... Where you find yourself making bad decisions...Like buying crap from infomercials. Texting people you shouldn’t text. Reading bad books because the reviews crack you up...I found myself reading reviews of this, and then I found myself reading a few pages, just to see, and then a few hours later, I found myself ending the book and saying, Well - that was...that.Here's the thing: this is not great writing. I doubt this is up for debate. It has a strong tendency towards cheesiness, and some of the euphemisms are pretty cringe-worthy. BUT it's actually sort of hilarious. And not in the, this book is crap, unintentional way. Clayton - and her desperate-for-an-O main character - are genuinely funny. As silly as it all is, it's engaging. So while it may not be great writing, it is good storytelling. So now, at 4am, feeling like my eyeballs are going to dry up and roll out of my head, as silly and cheesy as it could sometimes be, I don't find myself regretting falling down this particular rabbit hole. It was worth it for the surprising laughs and fun voice. So. That happened.[Also, for those of you put off by the fact that it started as Twilight fanfic, I can honestly say - don't be. These characters and their plots had to have similarities in name only, because nothing here really resembles Twilight. I'm not saying there's no resemblance, because I guess it peeks through a teensy bit now and again, but really - I could not have bore the last few hours if it had been Bella moaning about her lost O and Edward being a control freak. I really think Twilight must have just been a jumping off point to get Clayton writing, because this isn't a Twilight regurgitation with the, ahem, banging of walls...]