Category Archives: Reviews

Marie Lu

Marie Lu is a popular Young Adult writer whose works always seem to be hovering about my to-read list never getting read. I finally decided to change that and over the past week or so read the first books in her two trilogies: The Young Elites and Legend. Unfortunately, neither overly impressed me. 

The Young Elites has an X-Men, fantasy feel. Certain survivors of a deadly fever start developing superhuman abilities. Society fears and alienates them. A few band together and become rebels, openly opposing and attacking the corrupt, inefficient government. I did not particularly care about any of the characters and this removed a lot of the emotional punch from the story. The writing style annoyed me. In the end, this book was more creative than Legend, but never enough to win me over.

With Legend, I liked the characters separately but was driven to distraction by their awkward insta-love. This is an unoriginal, dystopian novel that relies heavily on the usual trope but doesn’t particularly add anything. The writing style annoyed me so much I nearly gave up after the first two chapters. There is certainly some possibility here but it lacks the world-building necessary to be something really interesting. 

I might try her third series when it comes out but I probably won’t go out of my way to read it. 

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Charles Dickens

It took over 30 hours, but I finished Bleak House on audio book. I had high hopes for this one but I didn’t like it as much as I expected. There were some really memorable characters, but also some mediocre ones. Esther, the main narrator, is perfect in every way. Her companions are equally wholesome, and if they aren’t, they get epic death scenes. The plot is typically convoluted with the usual absurdities. 

When it comes to Dickens, I tend to give his books either 5 stars or 3. I either really like his books, or feel unenthusiastic about them. Bleak House falls in the 3 star category. My favorites from the 5 star category are:
Our Mutual Friend
David Copperfield

A Tale of Two Cities
A Christmas Carol

Whereas the 3 stars include:
Oliver Twist
Great Expectations
Little Dorrit 

Still on my to-read list are:
Hard Times

Nicholas Nickleby
The Pickwick Papers
Pictures from Italy 

Any favorites I should add?

 


Hunted by Meagan Spooner

I love fairy tale retelling and unique twists on traditional stories so when my Goodreads friends started freaking out about Hunted by Meagan Spooner, I knew this was a book I needed to find. In this retelling of Beauty and the Beast, Beauty is a hunter with one goal: killing the Beast who killed her Father. 

No magic roses or ballroom scenes here! Unfortunately, neither is there quite as much adventure or action as I had hoped. The beginning is incredibly slow. While the ending picks things up and ties everything together, I almost didn’t make it that far. The third person, past tense writing style places a barrier between the reader and the characters that is hard to overcome. Despite being a hunter and fueled by hate for the majority of the book, Beauty lacks personality. Most of the characters do. They fulfill their roles but little else.

However, I like how the author handles the Beast. She both shows and describes his dual nature. The story does a lovely job with magic, fairy tales, and mythical creatures. If the whole book were more like the last quarter, I really would have enjoyed this one. 

As it is, I didn’t dislike Hunted. I’d give it 3.5 out of 5 stars. Considering how well worn this story line is,  the author does something creative and really gives it a fairy tale feel. It is a nice addition as a Beauty and the Beast retelling, though perhaps less interesting as a stand alone novel. 


Laura by Vera Caspary

Remember my enthusiasm when I found out my favorite movie was first a book? Well, it finally came in at the library! 

Plot: Laura Hunt’s mysterious death has shocked New York. The ambitious young woman has been found dead, shot in the face in her apartment. Lieutenant Detective Mark McPherson has been assigned to the case. As he uncovers more about Laura, he becomes increasingly obsessed with her. Soon he realizes he’s been seduced by a dead woman—or has he?

Thoughts: I love this movie. I could probably quote most of it.  There is something about the scene where McPherson, played by Dana Andrews, is staring at the portrait of Laura and falling in love with her even though he thinks she is dead that wins my heart every time.

I set such high expectations on this book that I don’t think it ever could have lived up to them. It was a really good read and yet not quite what I hoped for. It was wonderfully written. I liked the changing viewpoints. I liked the story. The twists are good. Yet, it wasn’t the movie. The pacing felt off. Lines were delivered in different settings and certain, critical scenes from the movie are non-existent in the book.

However, separating the book from the movie…it was a solid read. It was one of the most enjoyable noir reads I’ve found in a long time. The author uses light and darkness, shadows and storms, flowers and foreshadowing, to highlight scenes and create atmosphere. There were many themes laced throughout the story. The romance was somewhat more believable than the movie (oops, not comparing those two anymore) and I thought the balance of the three suitors and what they represented to Laura was interesting. Laura herself is a very complicated character. We get glimpses of her from a few different perspectives and it is interesting to try and figure out what is false and what is real. Womanhood itself gets examined in this story. Is Laura a doll? Dame? Femme fatale? Society woman? Country girl? Are the women around her grasping, slutty, innocent, or confused? This isn’t so much a whodunnit as a examination of human character. I think that is why there is less “shock value” with the final twist at the end. The point isn’t so much “Who killed Laura?” as “Who was Laura?”
I liked the ending. It was somewhat different than the movie. 

Overall, I would give the book a solid 4 out of 5 stars. I really enjoyed it and might have loved it if I didn’t know the movie so well. 


#TBT Skulduggery Pleasant

In the spirit of re-reading more, I thought it might be fun to do a few #TBT (Throwback Thursday) posts with books I really enjoyed but never re-read. The first one I chose was Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy. Unfortunately, I think I hyped this one up too much to myself over the years. It wasn’t nearly as funny as I remember it being. I originally rated it 3 stars and I think that is fairly accurate. 

Plot: When 12-year-old Stephanie’s uncle dies, she inherits his entire estate and the friendship of the very strange Skulduggery Pleasant. Skulduggery is a skeleton. He should have died centuries ago but he never did so, instead he became a detective. When Stephanie’s new possessions put her in the path of her uncle’s killer, she teams up with the skeleton detective and enters a hidden world of magic to stop an evil maniac bent on destroying the world. 

My thoughts: This is a very creative story with lots of snappy dialogue and unique characters. The action starts right at the beginning and never lets up. Considering that hidden, magical worlds are not exactly new territory, this is book manages to stay fresh and fun even when handling occasionally old tropes.

However…I never found my care-factor fully engaged. Ultimately, I blame the constant action. Someone is always being kidnapped or betrayed or tortured or shot at. There is hardly a moment to catch your breath and actually process what is all going on. The characters are clever and snappy but experience very little character change. It isn’t that I would want this book to be longer, it is already too long, but it needs to be a bit more developed to appeal to a wider audience. Then again, perhaps it has no plans to appeal to a wider audience, and is simply aimed at the Middle School crowd. 

Originally I wanted to re-read this entire series but I don’t think I will. My former reviews and ratings of this series get lower as the books progress and there are other series better worth re-reading. It is a pity, really. I remember this book being so funny. However, I don’t think I laughed out loud once. It merely amused me. 


Re-reading The Witch of Blackbird Pond

I have blogged at length before about my love of The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare. When forced to pick a favorite book, I usually default to this one. I’ve read it countless times. In fact, I wore out two copies of the book before graduating high school. However, it has been a while since I last read it, so I decided to pick it up again. I forgot how good The Witch of Blackbird Pond is. I really, really, really love this book. 

One reason I enjoy re-reading Georgette Heyer’s novels is that I always discover something new. She uses such subtlety with her characters that I constantly find I have missed something in my earlier reading. This is not the case with Elizabeth George Speare. However, that is not because The Witch of Blackbird Pond lacks subtlety. I have just read this book and daydreamed about it and analyzed it so many times that I almost think I could quote parts of it. Kit and Nat and Mercy and Judith are all old friends to me. I don’t think I could find a new side to them. 

Re-reading this book after a long break, I’ve been struck by how much my enjoyment is mixed up with my familiarity with the story. I find a sense of identity and pleasure as much in remembering reading it as I do in actually reading it. 

It is just like the Cornelia Funke quote in Inkspell:

“Isn’t it odd how much fatter a book gets when you’ve read it several times?…As if something were left between the pages every time you read it. Feelings, thoughts, sounds, smells…and then, when you look at the book again many years later, you find yourself there, too, a slightly younger self, slightly different, as if the book had preserved you like a pressed flower…both strange and familiar.”

This is exactly the reason I added a “re-read” section to my challenge. It is so nice to re-read favorite books. Now if you will excuse me, I have almost reached the scene where Kit discovers the meadow, one of my favorite parts! 


Kimchi & Calamari by Rose Kent

I stumbled upon Kimchi & Calamari by Rose Kent while browsing at a local library and I am so glad I did. The book was surprisingly charming and adorable while also handling real life issues in a believable way. 

The plot follows 14-year-old Joseph Calderaro, Korean by birth but raised Italian by his adopted parents in New Jersey. He doesn’t fee like he belongs in either world. When his social studies teacher assigns an essay about heritage, Joseph struggles to merge his two worlds and discover who he truly is. 

The book’s main focus is adoption, but also balances the struggles of middle school, girls, and the meaning of family. I like that the ending doesn’t get corny and wrap up with a perfectly written essay or something. I really thought it would. While it has a “happy” ending, Joseph’s struggles are never underplayed or overplayed. They were realistic. He is a middle school kid who just wants to figure out where he comes from. 

I definitely recommend this one for older grade school/middle school readers and anyone interested in adoption, Korean/Italian culture, or just a good, “coming of age” story.