Talon

by Julie Kagawa

2/5 stars

I picked this up because it’s been a while since I read Seraphina, and the sequel doesn’t come out for months still. I figured this would be my dragon fix. Really it made me appreciate Seraphina all the more. I have admittedly only read one Kagawa novel previously, the start of her Iron Fey series (for a lot of the same reasons I didn’t dig this one in terms of character and world building). I didn’t really dig it. And when I saw devout Kagawa fans on goodreads, fans of the same series I didn’t enjoy, disappointed with this novel, it maybe should have been a clue. But it also could have gone the other way that out tastes were just on different ends of the spectrum and I actually would love this novel.

Ember and Dante are twin dragons, and having a sibling as a dragon is a big deal, because it happens so rarely. They’re both still hatchlings by dragon standards, even if they match up perfectly with our teens. They are sent to a remote California town to train in blending in, and experience some form of freedom become they get their assignments for Talon, dragon society. Things are complicated when a rogue dragon starts lurking around, and there are rumors that the Order of Saint George, or the dragon hunters, are also skulking about.

Dragons have a secret society, because of course. I love secret societies. Secret societies are fun. Too bad we never get to see it. So all of Ember’s whining about “Talon” is a whole lotta hogwash to me because I don’t know what she’s talking about. Aren’t we just hanging out at the beach all day with some breaks for Ember to train with an evil teacher training lady? Gosh forbid we establish something so that the reader knows what we are breaking away from. Ember tries to tell the reader what she’s fed up with, but I want to see it. I’m tired of Ember telling me things. Let me experience some action please. I mean, come on, there are dragons, I thought that was a free admit one ticket to action.

The characters are like vague stereotypical sketches of people. I get no real sense of Ember at all, even as she seems to suffer from fascinating person syndrome for all the boys around her. For me she comes across like a spoiled, entitled girl with no conception of the world. Which is fine because growth and imperfect characters and compelling, but this doesn’t seem to be the point. Everyone around her loves her on sight, am I supposed to love her too? Because I don’t. I really don’t. Also they make a big deal out of her new beach friends that might as well be named Friend 1 and Friend 2, who I don’t even remember if there are more friends, for all that they really get to develop personalities. So much potential just sitting there in the form of Friend 1. Garret is this teenage perfect soldier boy with no real backstory to explain it. Ember’s brother Dante may be the most compelling character in the book for me, if only because he seems to have a lick of sense (after all, I have no reason to know why we’re “rebelling”). Also they spend all this time talking about how rare is is for dragons to have siblings. This is interesting. Give me more. I want more sibling stuff.

Oh, also, love triangle. The blurb got me because it seemed to indicate a Buffy/Angel dynamic with Ember and Garret. Dragon and dragon hunter. Still cliché, but if done right it can be awesome. Which can also be said of love triangles (hello Cassandra Clare Clockwork trilogy), but at this point the love triangle needs to be something really compelling to get me. Your characters and your story better earn that love triangle. Spoiler alert, they don’t, especially with these boring as all get out characters. Also her attraction to the other guy basically boils down to the fact they can fly together. It’s like, “oh look at that, we are the same species and you are not my brother. I like you.”

I am just frustrated because Kagawa comes up with these amazing ideas full of so much potential to be everything I want. I want to like her books so bad. But the development just hasn’t been there fore me. Maybe this just isn’t my cup of tea. I was going to try Kagawa’s Immortal Rules books, but now I just don’t know. If you had good luck with ‘em talk to me about them.

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Curtsies & Conspiracies

by Gail Carriger

3/5 stars

I’d rather be loyal than right.

Sophronia is back, and is about sixth months into her schooling. That means its time for exams. Even as her exam results throw a wrench in her life, she’s still trying to figure out the answers to the mystery of what that mechanical piece she saved at her sister’s coming out actually does.

While I am not usually one for book trailers (because usually they’re awful) this is delightful:

Carriger offered up a good lot of fun again. The tone remains light and fun while pushing forward the action at a clipping pace.

It was fun to see things progress this go-around. The plot built up from the first book nicely, with some of the world getting flushed out a little more in terms of the politics. I’m very intrigued to see where how the vampires continue to come into play, and if the next books will bring the werewolves into a more active role as well (the description for Waistcoats & Weaponry seems to hint yes to this).

The female relationships are still great here. When Sophronia found herself ostracized at the beginning of the book it felt like real girl dynamics, but the characters still behaved fairly well considering. It was nice to watch Sophronia recognize why her friends were acting the way they were, and wait for them to come around rather than to get petulant about it. In fact many of the ways Sophronia though about things throughout the book, much more pragmatic than we often see, was refreshing. And even if she sometimes did things she regretted, she forced herself to live out the choices.

I can’t wait to see what Waistcoats & Weaponry will bring.

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Made for You

by Melissa Marr

3/5 stars

Eva is one of the most popular girls in town. Although she’s not really concerned with popularity. She is concerned about her crush on her old friend Nate. Too bad Nate isn’t really talking to her anymore, though he never really told her why. Eva’s life is complicated when she is hit and run by a driver and wakes up being able to tell how people will die if they touch her. Soon she realizes her accident was purposeful, and she must try and stop the person responsible before more of her friends are hurt.

I was glad to see Marr back in YA. The tone of this book was much more on par with the Marr I came to love through the Wicked Lovely series. It’s somewhat dark and gritty, while still rooted in reality (although I did have trouble with parts of that reality here).

Much in the vein of Rebel Belle, I loved that there was a popular character here and she was not punished for it. She’s not perfect, and she knows it, but she’s not a “mean” girl. She isn’t reformed through a romance with Nate, who is more of a social outcast. And the romance aspect of this book a good build. I liked seeing teen characters being open about their feelings and communicating with each other in an honest way.

I loved the concept of seeing how someone will die. I wanted to play with that a little more. I’m glad we stayed tightly focused on the plot of the book, tit just never felt fully explored.

I was disappointed with the psychology behind our “villain.” It didn’t feel rooted in reality to me. It wasn’t explained or explored much, and felt over the top. There was a lot of potential there that I would have liked to see rooted in more reality. This would have made it even creepier. There’s an attempt to explain but it’s not fully flushed. There’s room to explore this more that is not utilized.

All in all, I enjoyed this go around much more than some of Marr’s more recent adult fiction offerings.

Hunting the Spy

by Tyler Flynn

2/5 stars

First off, to take a page from fanfiction: this is a review of M/M romance novel. Don’t like, don’t read.

Nathan Kennett’s attempts to stop spy plots involving the trade of British secrets to French agents has Kennett coming face-to-face with ex-lover Peter. Even with Kennett’s suspicions that Peter may be involved with anti-British spy activity, they are soon working together to deliver valuable information to London.

I wanted Flynn to set the scene more. This is Britain during the French Revolution. This is prime Scarlett Pimpernel-type territory. Only with less foppish hereos. Set the scene. Make me feel it. One of the reasons I picked up this book was because it was a male/male romance novel amidst French Revolution spies. How often does that come around? Own it! This is a romantic spy novel. This leaves tons of room for action all over the place. There were plenty of events at the top, but I wanted to be shown more than told. It’s not like Flynn is just plain telling, but there’s the opportunity to craft the action into scenes a more.

Kennett’s bitterness against the aristorcacy gets somewhat old rather quickly. Mostly because for a long time it only strikes one note. We get it. Kennett doesn’t have money/power/social standing. He thinks many of those that do abuse it. But for me to really care it needs some more depth. And by depth I do not mean a backstory in which when they had their original fling Kenneth got all up in arms because Peter offered to buy him a coat. Let go of your pride dude. Let the man buy you a coat. The instinct is great. It gives us some conflict between Peter and Kennett. Kennett has to get over what he thinks Peter represents and see the person beyond and whatnot. But it’s hard to have sympathy when he’s being a grumpy Gus throwing Peter’s social position back in his face every other minute.

For a romance, there didn’t feel like there was all that much development between Kennett and Peter’s relationship. The characters changes a bit. Good. They should be doing that. But they just didn’t spend that much time together talking about themselves as people. Mainly Kennett was accusing Peter of being a spy. Then they did some spy things that were somewhat haphazardly developed in terms of plot.

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Texts from Jane Eyre

and Other Conversations with Your Favorite Literary Characters 

by Mallory Ortberg

4/5 stars

What if your favorite literary characters had the ability to text? From Medea and the Odyssey to Sweet Valley High and Harry Potter, and most of the high points in-between, Ortberg explores just this.

I devoured this collection in one sitting. But it’s the kind of book that I want to revisit again and again. I’ll read my favorite bits if I have a moment. I wanted to organize a reading with friends because I think it would be hilarious to read/act out. It’s just fun. Because of the layout and the amount of just “flipping through” I knew I would do with this book I made sure to get it in print.

I’ve tried to pick out my favorite parody from the collection, and as of now I can’t. Too many are just gold. There are some that didn’t strike much of a chord with me, but I’m sure this largely comes down to personal preference. This isn’t high literary criticism. This is smart, quippy humor.

If you’re a fan of classical literature, or making fun of classical literature this is for you. If you follow Better Book Titles on tumblr, this is for you. If you think Heathcliff and Cathy are just a little bit insane, this is for you. If you think the transcendentilists kind of cheated, this is for you.

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Belzhar

by Meg Wolitzer

3/5 stars

“We’re talking about the novel, right? But maybe we’re not. We’re talking about ourselves. And I guess that’s what can start to happen when you talk about a book.”

Jam hasn’t recovered from the death of her boyfriend, and is sent to the Wooden Barn, a therapeutic school in rural Vermont. She finds herself placed in a special topics in English class with a small group of other students. This class focuses on one writer a semester, and this go around they’re reading Sylvia Plath. Soon the students discover there’s more to this class, and their assignments than may first meet the eye.

This was one of the books I was most excited for this fall pub season. Meg Wolitzer’s first foray into YA. Sylvia Plath and a special topics English class. That cover. I was expecting lots of deep emotional explorations. Some confessionals. Bonds created between members of a class, and their teacher.

I was slightly disappointed. I think most of this disappointment sprung from a lack of depth in a lot of places. While I appreciate Wolitzer allowed her narrative to breath, and she didn’t try to be prescriptive about anything, I wanted more in depth exploration of a lot of things: the characters, the Special Topics in English Class, Belzhar itself.

There was a great opportunity for parallels with Plath’s work here that never really established itself. If I was a teen reader who had never really encountered Plath I don’t know that I would have a better feel for her. I didn’t feel like a part of this class throughout the novel. I wanted them to discuss things more. I wanted to watch them argue, learn about who they were more from their point of view. I wanted them to grow together from these discussions.

I enjoyed that Jam’s secrecy made her an unreliable narrator, but it became tiresome because it never felt full. I was able to guess some major plot points before they happened. She was balancing somewhere between wanting to be an unreliable narrator and wanting to be the likable kind of character that everyone can relate to. She would have been more interesting, and relatable, if I’d seen her as an unreliable narrator throughout.

All of this could have been developed as the novel is incredibly short. The prose here is still great and the themes are lofty so Wolitzer doesn’t really suffer from the traditional pitfalls of adult authors writing for YA. Still, everything could have been developed more, without losing any nuance.

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Congratulations to Jacqueline Woodson for a well deserved National Book Award for Brown Girl Dreaming!

(Quote images via the Penguin Teen tumblr)

Unmade

by Sarah Rees Brennan

4/5 stars

It’s not about what I think. It’s about what I choose.

I was a little terrified to read Unmade. I follow Brennan on twitter and after the book’s release she was constantly retweeting people talking about how the book made them sob, usually in public. Even knowing how PR machines work, I knew I had a vested interest in this series and the characters. I had justification to be wary.

Was there a somewhat heartbreaking plot point? Yes. But it carried that power because Brennan did it right. We’re not just making drastic choices willy-nilly here. But did I expect it? No.

Plot wise it pushed through, even if it didn’t necessarily feel as dire as the previous installments, even as the stakes were as high as they’d ever been. Truthfully, being enmeshed totally in the supernatural world bogged me down a little. I missed the characters going to school and writing their newspaper and doing everything in the shadow of this supernatural occurrence. Additionally, I began to feel a little bogged down by the romantic plots. I knew where these characters romantic loyalties were. I just wanted them to get there.

Was it perfect? No. But it was a great ending. And Brennan makes it so much fun. Her pacing is spot-on. I never feel like we’re lingering too long on something. This was a novel driven by action in the way they should be. And, like I mentioned in my Halloween reading post, this is grade-A banter. It’s a little bit like some distilled Buffy.

I honestly don’t feel this series has gotten the attention it deserves. Read it!

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Blue Lily, Lily Blue

by Maggie Stiefvater

4/5 stars

There is no good word for the opposite of lonesome.
One might be tempted to suggest togetherness or contentment , but the fact that these two other words bear definitions unrelated to each other perfectly displays why lonesome cannot be properly mirrored. It does not mean solitude, nor alone, nor lonely, although lonesome can contain all of those words in itself. Lonesome means a state of being apart. Of being other.

Blue and our Raven boys continue their quest, and relationships are still complicated by curses and feelings all around. Unlike The Dream Thieves, this does not micro-focus on one particular character, zooming back out to let us view everyone as a whole.

In terms of plot, this one didn’t feel as tight as the other installments, or more likely I was wanting more to happen. Some of this might be that if there’s a “middle” book for this series, this is it. Stiefvater has to connect what she’s set up in the first two books, and prepare us as readers for the conclusion. I was just expecting more forward momentum than this. Big things still happened in our characters lives, they just didn’t feel as big next to all the things packed into the first two books. This is not to diminish anything; Stiefvater has many things at work here. And she’s great at subtly so there’s a lot that will prove important in the future I’m sure. This series still packs a punch and the momentum is still moving steadily forward, it just feels slightly different than the others. For one, the plot heavily played with the Gray Man’s boss, and this felt like a distraction to me. I just wasn’t as interested in that plot line. That doesn’t mean it isn’t important.

Also there’s a moment where Adam learns about street harassment and why it’s not okay. This is obviously the most important scene in the book.

Despite this, as usual, it’s Stiefvater’s brilliant character work that really shines here. I just want to see these characters doing things.  There is also some create character growth from Adam. I was worried about him. Now I’m still worried about him, but he’s in a better mental place. I loved that there were a few scenes were we got to see more of the dynamic between Blue and Ronan. Stiefvater plays our heartstrings in terms of the romantic business at play, but she never lets us forget, or belittles, that this is a story about friends.

The plot and relationships offer a strong potential for angst in this novel. Stiefvater gives us a chance to feel these feelings, but never dwells on them. Characters get to feel angry, upset, worried sick, but they soldier on. And they do it with a sense of humor that should never be underestimated. The banter in these books makes them as good as they are. A sense of humor is imperative. Like with romance novels, it’s no use taking oneself too seriously, or at least, that’s not what I’m attracted to in my fiction.

I must admit, I’m a little afraid to come to the end of this series. Not because I’m worried about the ending, I trust Stiefvater on that. She’s got the chops, and I know she’s going to produce the best ending for her story. Rather, there has been all this mythology and anticipation building up to finding Glendower, and like Gansey at certain parts of this book, I just can’t imagine it all coming to an end. I don’t want to let these characters go. I would read many books of them just doing mundane, ordinary things as long as they were talking to each other.

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Isla and the Happily Ever After

by Stephanie Perkins

4/5 stars

Do adults realize how lucky they are? Or do they forget that these small moments are actually small miracles? I don’t want to ever forget.

Here we are, at the end of Perkins’ fun, modern romance series. Isla and the Happily Ever After marks our return to Paris. You’ll remember both Isla and Josh from Anna and the French Kiss. Josh was St. Clair’s slacker best friend. Isla helped Anna out of a jam, and is also memorable for the moon eyes she made at Josh. And their first interaction in Isla and the Happily Ever After, Isla happening upon Josh in a NYC café while she happens to be hopped up on pain meds from getting her wisdom teeth pulled.

As with Perkins’ other novels, Isla offers up a lot of bittersweet moments wrapped up in the warmth of a fun, quippy tone. If your not paying attention, the depth of these characters will sneak up on you. Are they perfect? No. Do I often want to hit them over the head to make them recognize something I consider obvious? Yes. But, 1) I’m not living it, I’m observing from the outside and can see a lot you wouldn’t in the eye of the storm. 2) Perkins makes me care enough to want to hit things.

Our characters get together fairly early here, and Perkins reminds us that what may have been “happily ever after” for her other characters, may be only the beginning of the story for others. This was hard because at times I wanted to scream “this is not a healthy relationship.” But then I was like “calm down, that’s the point.” These are young characters discovering themselves they fit in the bigger world. They get to make mistakes (everyone does). This is a book about a relationship, but it’s really about Isla accepting herself and her feelings. And Josh has to stop running away from things.

Also, in terms of the relationships in this series, I recognize that my views of romance have grown and changed. These are exceedingly mature romances for the young adult audience in terms of the ideas they present in such an accessibly way. Perkins never talks down to the passions of the teenage experience, while also being completely honest about how things play out.

All of this is fairly par for the course in terms of what I was expecting. What surprised me in the best possible way was when I realized that Perkins had written a realistic and relatable autistic character. I almost screamed from joy. Also because his being autistic was not the most important thing. It was a fact in his life, but first and foremost he was Isla’s best friend. Was he on the more functional side of the autism spectrum, yes. But you don’t get autistic characters too often, especially the way it’s treated in Isla.

Finally, this novel wraps up the loosely tied together series well, even if one plot bit at the end made me go, “whaaaat? I don’t know about that.” Regardless, we get to see all our friends again, and the references throughout to the Olympics coming up was a fun way to connect back to Lola. After all, Josh and Isla’s history with St. Clair and Anna already gave us that connection.

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