[review] Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry

After the death of her mother leaves her an orphan, Kira returns from mourning to find the only home she’s ever known is gone. Considered a drain on her small community because of a birth defect, the women of the clan want to leave her to the beasts. Will her strange knowledge of weaving save her?

12936Do you know that feel classic books have? That kind of timelessness and universal truth-ness that makes it so easy to settle in, to relate, to enjoy? Gathering Blue is that kind of book. A gentler precursor to the female-led dystopian novels that have currently saturated the YA field, Lowry’s novel will sweep you into a world cloaked with secrets and barely veiled violence.

Kira as a protagonist is amazing to me because there is very little that is particularly spectacular about her. She does what she needs to survive. She’s practical. She does not tend to question her surroundings too much nor is she particularly brave or strong. However, she accomplishes amazing things. She is full of compassion despite rarely witnessing that particular character trait. She lives with the daily pain of being an outcast and of her birth defect, a “twisted” leg, but she does not complain and she does what she needs to in order to accomplish her tasks. She’s a beautifully constructed character, and I would love the opportunity to watch her continue to develop.

The story itself is fairly simple. Seasoned readers are sure to pick up on any possible twists early on, but despite that I enjoyed the story. It was soothing in a way that is difficult to describe. I found myself being completely entangled in the story, in the setting, and in its characters. I’m finding this to be something more rare the more I read, and I can only assume that Lowry is some sort of word magician. No matter how long it’s been since I’ve picked up The Giver, I’m glad I decided to continue with this companion novel.

Don’t just take my word for it!

“While I didn’t get the answers I was looking for, I still found the book to be enjoyable.” – Jules’ Book Reviews

“And it was all that I expected but nothing that made me go OMG. ” – Boarding with Books

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[review] Touching Darkness by Scott Westerfeld

Warning: Possible spoilers for The Secret Hour.

The Midnighters’ danger is only beginning. While the two couples worry about their new romances, Dess struggles with a problem that could unravel the secret  of their past.

24767The increase in action is much appreciated, but much like in The Secret HourI wasn’t exactly impressed.

The speed of events affected the character development, which I found to be severely lacking, though this may be due to the fact that it’s been over a year since I read the first book. The fact that I was able to fall back into the story without too much difficulty is proof of Westerfeld’s story telling ability, even if I’m not super impressed by this particular story. There were some interesting twists, and I would love to see more of the golden time of Bixby back before the Midnighters disappeared.

I feel as if this story is written more for a young-teen age group (I’m thinking 13-15), and unfortunately the older I get, that young adult verging on middle grade story telling no longer works for me. Younger readers, however, who are not quite ready for Uglies and feel like they’re a little too old for Leviathan may want to give this series a try.

I just started the third in the trilogy, Blue Noon, and the focus so far is on character development, so I once again find that I have hope.

Don’t just take my word for it!

“…it is good but I feel most of it was just as set up for the third book after we got the character introduction from the first book.” – Misheal @ Book in the Bag

“The action throughout is nicely spaced out, just the right amount to keep things moving without being so fast paced you can’t keep up.” – A Trillian Books

“Westerfeld creates his characters as effectively as he creates his world.” – Fyrefly’s Book Blog

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[review] Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

TW: Suicide.

When Robin is given her next temp job, she wasn’t expecting to be fulfilling her childhood dream of working for a PI and she definitely wasn’t expecting down-on-his-luck Cormoran Strike. Strike wasn’t expecting another temp, and with money running low he doesn’t see how he’ll be able to pay her, but then John Bristow, adopted brother of tragic supermodel Lula Landry, arrives with questions about his sister’s apparent suicide.

16160797I haven’t read a detective novel since my first year of university when I took a class on detective novels, so when I heard that J. K. Rowling had written The Cuckoo’s Calling the first thing I did was purchase my copy. Okay, my review may have a slight bias to it considering my life has been irrecoverably changed by Ms Rowling and her words, but even so I would like to offer my recommendation of this book despite it being my least favourite of all of her novels.

Rowling follows many of the conventions of a detective novel, but I feel she fleshes out her characters in a way that the old hardboiled novels did not. Strike has both emotional and physical scars. Several of her characters have mental disorders. They’re creatures of their surroundings instead of being unaffected by them.

This is something that I’ve found that Rowling always does well. Rowling understand that people and thus characters don’t exist within a vacuum. They’re affected, created by their surroundings: by their social class, by the people who raise them, by the events that occurred around them. I feel like she only brushed the surface of this in Cuckoo’s Calling unlike in The Casual Vacancy where the theme of social classes took centre stage.

Other themes she brushed across include racism and the identity difficulties faced by adopted children and particularly black children in white households. I wish this topic had been dealt with more in-depth. Sometimes I’m impressed with how Rowling can cover so many issues, but other times I get disappointed by how little she goes into these topics. Then again, if she did, I’m not sure how much room would have been left for plot, so I guess I understand.

They mystery itself was satisfying. I guessed the ending early on though I didn’t really believe it could be the truth. All the clues were there, so the big reveal didn’t feel fake or forced or as if the detective had been hiding something from the reader, which is the worst thing when it comes to stories with any kind of mystery/reveal.

All in all, I’d recommend this book to older readers. Friendly reminder that this is not Harry Potter (as nothing will ever be Harry Potter), and the sex, violence, etc. is not framed in a way for young readers. Older readers however will be in for a comfortable yet gritty read as they fall into another beautifully crafted story by dear J. K..

Don’t just take my word for it!

“This novel has all of the star qualities of Stieg Larsson’s novel and BBC’s Sherlock.” – Scott Reads It

“It is no Harry Potter, but it is engrossing.” – Watching the Words

“It’s a cut above your average mass market crime fiction writing-wise – J. K. Rowling still has that efficient turn of phrase – but I do think that there are much better literary crime books available.” – ‘Ow Am Yau

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[review] MaddAdam by Margaret Atwood

Warning: Possible spoilers for Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood. TW: rape. 

Survivors of the man-made plague that has made humans an endangered species must protect themselves and the newly discovered Crakers from two painballer veterans while trying to find others from their group they hope have survived. The final pieces of Crake’s life are revealed as a new world begins.

MaddAddam (MaddAddam Trilogy #3)If you only ever choose to read one dystopian series, I must insist that it be this one. MaddAdam is the perfect conclusion to the story begun in Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood. The world she’s built is one of the most interesting I’ve ever had the fortune to read. Her prose is a beautiful mix of humour and shocking bluntness. If there is one weakness it might be in the secondary characters who don’t seem to stand out much from each other, but with several primary characters to keep the reader occupied this is not much of an issue.

Every detail in the MaddAdam world is so vivid that I feel as if I’ve lived within the world myself. Perhaps that is because I live in a world very much like it. The world Atwood describes is our world a couple steps forward and tilted slightly, but not as slightly as we may like to believe. It is a world of dwindling resources, a widening gap between the societal classes, and an increasing thirst for more: more danger, more blood, more sex. It’s not difficult to understand why Crake felt it was best to wipe the slate and start again. Now I’m not condoning mass-genocide and I don’t think Atwood is either, but I think she does a good job of making the entire situation believable and my feelings towards Crake and his choices have definitely shifted drastically throughout the three books.

This has a lot to do with Atwood’s narration style. My inner-English nerd is trying so hard to write an essay about this narration styles, folks, like you don’t understand how glorious her narration style is and she mixes it up and the narrator’s are so unreliable and complex and I love it all so much okay. But in interest of time, let’s just say, Atwood is a master story-teller. Her years of practice really show and make me want to read some more novelists with a couple dozen novels under their belt.

I had to really search for something that could be improved on (in interest of a balanced review), and all I could think of were how unattached I was to several of the secondary characters. I don’t normally have a hard time keeping track of characters, but this book’s large cast flits between names and don’t seem to have many distinguishing qualities, except for maybe Swift Fox. I would actually love to read some short stories from their perspectives: maybe get another look into Paradice from someone who was on the science side of things instead of the word side like Jimmy. Especially from the women because women doing science-y things is like candy to me, and it might help counter some of the less awesome women interaction that was happening with the survivors (i.e. Toby. See also: what the heck happened to you girl?).

This review is too long already and I didn’t even have the chance to get into the feminism stuff, but I do want to say that I have mixed feelings about the treatment of rape and abortion. More than once a character called a gang rape that took place a “cultural misunderstanding” which is unfortunately accurate but still made me feel ill. On the other hand, the Crakers quickly learned that even if they are receiving signals that made them believe the women wanted to have sex with them, the verbal communications of these women that said otherwise were to be taken above all else. I also liked that any talk of abortions was from the lens that the woman’s mental and physical safety was the most important thing. Overall, I liked the way that Atwood handle these topics, and I think a more in-depth reading would help me unravel my feelings towards it.

One more quick thing I have to mention is this has some serious awesome commentary on religions and how they can begin. That has been a running theme since book one but it becomes particularly obvious in book three and was just super interesting to me. I tend to avoid the higher-thinking level books because when I read it’s for fun but Atwood combines the two seamlessly so I didn’t realize I was being entertained and thinking until I’d reached the end.

In short, read this book. Read this series. It is one of the best things I’ve read in my entire life. This is not an exaggeration. Seriously. Read it.

Don’t just take my word for it!

“There’s enough urgency to both narratives to keep you turning the pages, and Atwood’s prose is clear, fluid, and flecked with her trademark dry humour.” – Your Hidden Shelf

“While Maddadam was slightly disappointing, I would nevertheless recommend it to readers, especially those who read and loved Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood.” – Browsing Bookshelves

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[review] A Touch of Scarlet by Eve Marie Mont

Warning: Possible spoilers for A Breath of Eyre.

From GoodreadsEmma Townsend is back at prestigious Lockwood Prep, but her world has altered immeasurably since her tumultuous sophomore year. The best change of all: her boyfriend, Gray. And though Gray is leaving for Coast Guard training, Emma feels newly optimistic, even if the pain of her mother’s long-ago death still casts a shadow.

Yet Emma isn’t the only one who’s changed. Her friend and roommate, Michelle, is strangely remote, and old alliances are shifting in disconcerting ways. Soon Emma’s long-distance relationship with Gray is straining under the pressure, and Emma wonders if she’s cracking too. How else to explain the vivid dreams of Hester Prynne she’s been having since she started reading The Scarlet Letter? Or the way she’s found herself waking in the woods? As her life begins to echo events in the novel, Emma will be forced to choose between virtue and love. But can she forge a new future without breaking her heart.

15814202As the length of the summary might hint, A Touch of Scarlet has a lot of threads. Unfortunately, I don’t feel that these plot threads were woven well together nor did they seem to move towards any kind of point. Furthermore, I think my lack of knowledge of the novel this story is based off of, The Scarlet Letter, made it hard me to enjoy that aspect of the story.

I have a lot of trouble pinning this book down. I can’t decide whether or not it can be categorized as part of the supernatural genre or not, and this makes it difficult to understand when I’m supposed to suspend my disbelief or whether I should do that at all. Is Emma hallucinating or is there some sort of genetic thing with her mother? As this seems to be the main plot of the book (also difficult to tell whether this is true or not because it doesn’t seem to actually play a huge part in this book…), I would expect this to be clearer (or at least more focused on). Another plot point I had trouble with is Michelle’s side story which seems tacked on. I don’t want to give anything away, but it’s something that I feel should have been referenced in the first book.

If I could do it again, I would probably pass this series by. I’d rather rewatch a different retelling of The Scarlet Letter,  Easy A, instead.

Don’t just take my word for it!

“All in all, “A Touch of Scarlet” is another excellently-written and insightful literary work from Mont who encourages readers to follow their hearts even when it’s safer to remain a nameless face in the crowd.” – Reading for Pleasure

“Now, it’s not horrible that A Touch of Scarlet spends much more time within Emma’s own time, but I feel like the fact that she travels into these books is the major concept of this series, and I felt a bit let down by the fact that it wasn’t as big of a part of this book.” – The Overstuffed Book Case

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[review] Of Triton by Anna Banks

Warning: Possible spoilers for Of Poseidon.

Emma’s situation has gone from bad to worse as she discovers the truth behind her family. Meanwhile, her new family is put in danger as the entire foundation of the mermaid society is threatened from the inside.

15513156I am not the gentlest of readers when it comes to sequels. When I read a sequel I expect to see growth from both the characters and the author as a story teller. Unfortunately, I don’t feel I saw that growth in Of Triton. If anything, I felt it did the opposite of grow (shrunk? de-aged?). The characters felt thinner, the plot felt choppier, and the romance that had me tingling all the way to my toes in Of Poseidon felt dead.

The characters and the relationships between them fell flat for me this time around. The plot seemed to take centre stage, but in my opinion, plot can only get you so far: it’s your characters that carry a story. Despite the frequent internal reflection by Emma (some of which felt like I was being hit in the head by Mr. Obvious. Repeatedly.), I didn’t see any growth on her part. At one point she reflects on the death of her friend Callie, and those of you who have read my review of Of Poseidon may recall that I was very disappointed by this death and Emma’s reaction (or lack thereof) to it. I was hoping that this was a sign of character growth to come. Perhaps some actual emotional trauma. But nope. Nada.

Whenever I have a novel with characters with whom I cannot connect, I have to cling to the plot to get me through. Sadly, this plot did very little for me. Problems are solved with a hint of foreshadowing and a whole lot of lacking of consequences. There is one fairly significant consequence at the end of the book. I am holding out hope that it will have an impact in book three, but at the same time I won’t be holding my breath. I didn’t feel so much as if this book had a quick moving plot, like the kind you would find in novels like The Hunger Games, so much as it felt as if we were jumping from one climax to the next, one problem to the next, and then being dropped as the resolution didn’t live up to the build up.

Finally, despite the addition of two new “romances” and a lot more kiss-y faces, I didn’t feel the heat at all. Neither of the previously settled couples made me feel anything. And there was kissing. I like kissing. I felt nothing from the kissing. This is not a problem of the writing of the kissing as I actually quite like Banks’s prose when she’s not writing internal monologues: this is a problem of me feeling nothing for these characters.

All in all, I was disappointed to find I did not enjoy this novel as much as I had hoped. I will read the final novel in the trilogy, Of Neptune, if for nothing else but to figure out why it’s called that (a third royal family, perhaps?). Maybe I’ve finally outgrown the YA supernatural romance genre. I hope not, but judging by my reaction to the last few novels of that genre I’ve read, I truly fear I might have.

Don’t just take my word for it!

Of Triton will surely break some waves this summer!” –Midnight Bloom Reads

“Though Of Triton was significantly shorter than Of Poseidon, it was filled with a bit more action.” – Books Take you Places

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[review] The Wicked Years by Gregory Maguire

Warning: Possible spoilers for Wicked: The Life and Times of The Wicked Witch of the West or Son of a Witch.

3124249A Lion Among Men and Out of Oz are the third and fourth book in The Wicked Years series by Gregory Maguire. Continuing the story of Oz after the death of Elphaba and the departure of Dorothy, in A Lion Among Men get to see the life of the Cowardly Lion through his telling to Yackle, an elderly maunt whose strange life is even more strangely connected with Elphaba’s. In Out of Oz we get to see what happened to all of our favourite characters, including Glinda, Liir, Candle, the Lion, and the keepers of the Clock. They’re books rich in history and details, and honestly it could have probably been trimmed down to one book if the author had really tried.

10594929Everything I said in my Son of a Witch review applies with both of these books. The pacing still leaves quite a bit to be desired. The writing still has a strong wit and satirical value to it. There are even a few easter eggs for fans of the musical in Out of Oz, and this might be part of the reason if I were to compare the two I would prefer Oz to Lion. Honestly, if you wanted to, you could skip Lion completely. It’s more of a side story, and any references to it in Oz are explained enough that you don’t need to have read it.

On the more social justice, gender, sexuality, etc. equality side of things I’m pretty split. Maguire does a great job of providing multiple types of peoples and couples. We have our run of the mill heteronormative couples, but we also have some exploration of bisexuality with Liir, inter-racial relationships with the Lion, and a character who is transgendered (though we do not get to explore that character nearly enough). On the other hand, I find that some of his characters, especially his female characters, can verge on the flat side. And I remember once or twice wincing at the sexism Glinda was spouting off.

Satires are difficult for me to read. I can never really tell what is supposed to be a caricature and what is supposed to be commentary. For those who are better at figuring this out and enjoy the story of Oz, this series will be for you.

Don’t just take my word for it!

“Overall, I felt as if Maguire took a very long time to tell a not so long story.” – Alyssa @ Books Take You Places

“While heads and shoulders above A Lion Among Men, Out of Oz still proves that Wicked is unmatched, especially given its tepid strength as the epic conclusion to the series.” – The Literary Omnivore

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