Book Review: The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorani

32766747Title: THE LIBRARY OF FATES
Author: Aditi Khorani
Release Date: 2017
Pages: 315
Publisher: Razorbill
My Rating: ★★★★☆(4/5)
Review on Goodreads

This is a strange little book. I had wildly different expectations going into it; the blurb makes it seem like more of a political thriller (of sorts) but in actuality it is more like an extended folktale. There have been comparisons with The Star-Touched Queen, and I suppose in theme the two are quite similar, but this book is actually rather fast-paced, more of an adventure/journey story.

It begins with Amrita, princess of Shalingar, waiting on the arrival of Sikander, her father’s old friend turned enemy who she is to be married off to in an attempt to secure an alliance. Things fall apart, however, when Sikander makes it clear he has little interest in peace. Amrita finds herself on the run with an oracle named Thala, on a journey to save her nation from Sikander.

It starts off as your typical adventure fantasy novel, but it veers wildly into folklore territory, which I was not expecting! The novel’s ending, which left me undecided as to whether it was happy or tragic, deals with themes of fate, loss, and sacrifice. I was really surprised by the direction this took, but I loved it too. This is not something often seen in YA fantasy lit, and I was pleasantly surprised at the large, overarching themes discussed here.

Central to the story is something else not frequently seen in YA, which is the friendship and partnership between Amrita and Thala. Though the two girls come together almost by coincidence, they end up relying heavily on each other. Romance features in this book, but only on the periphery; it is tangential to the main plot.

My one complaint is the characterization. Perhaps this is because the book is written as a folktale, but I thought that several of the characters were blank slates. I struggled to connect with Amrita; I just couldn’t get a read on her. With Thala it was a little easier, but I still found the pair somewhat forgettable. Even their bond, which I appreciated, felt superficial.

Other than that I really enjoyed this tale. Standalone fantasy novels are few and far between, so this felt like a quick little treat. I also have to mention the writing, which was lovely; the author does a superb job utilizing sensory writing. Her descriptions of various settings were lush and vivid, bringing this folktale to life.

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Book Review: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

18245Title: WAR AND PEACE
Author: Leo Tolstoy, Anthony Briggs (Translator)
Release Date: 1868
Pages: 1357
Publisher: Penguin Classics
My Rating: ★★★☆☆(3/5)
Review on Goodreads

There are two things I want to say upfront before I (try to) get into the meat of an actual review.

First, having completed this book, I must say it is highly unlikely I would have picked it up or enjoyed it in the slightest had I not arrived at it by way of Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812. It is only with the musical’s vibrant characters in my mind that I was able to maintain my motivation to keep reading. That said, however, I will say that I hardly ever found the “peace” chapters dull or hard to get through. I just couldn’t connect with the characters very well. They were engaging, but I never cared about them as much as I hoped to (except for Helene, and possibly Anatole).

Second, what brings that book down to three stars for me is the insufferable, pedantic detail of the “war” chapters. Apparently Tolstoy is praised for his description of these battles. He does bring a certain realism to the forefront. However, I think that realism could have still been maintained even if huge chunks of these war chapters were pared down. There is just so much detail about random characters and random battalions and flanks and canons and other things I just could not bring myself to care about. And then of course there’s Tolstoy’s own philosophical interjections every now and again which I struggled to read without my eyes glazing over (Part II of the Epilogue…was an ordeal). I’m not going to go into Tolstoy’s philosophical beliefs or his views on history; I think his theories are best left to group discussions than book reviews (suffice it to say, if I understand Tolstoy correctly, I think I heartily disagree with many of his points).

The characters are the meat of this book. Tolstoy writes them well: they are all complex and varied and so different from one another you never had trouble telling them apart (well, the main characters at least!). And they are all so human in all their doubts and flaws. Despite the enormous cast of characters, I would say that there are really 3-5 main characters, in order from most to least importance/screentime: Pierre, Andrei, Nikolay, Natasha, and Marya (to my eternal disappointment, the Kuragins are really only very minor characters).

There are chapters upon chapters dedicated to Pierre and Andrei’s philosophical musings on life, which I found extremely irritating. It read like stream of consciousness at times. Andrei, as I’m told, is considered the Fitzwilliam Darcy of Russian lit, but I personally couldn’t stand him. I found him arrogant, brooding, and self-righteous. I know I’m supposed to have liked Pierre, and I didn’t dislike him, I just found his storyline meandering and dull (his whole thing with the Masonic Society was really weird and pointless). I’m rather ambivalent about Nikolay. I liked Marya a lot; I think she’s a fascinating character who really tries to embody goodness. And Natasha – the original Manic Pixie Dream Girl! Perhaps that’s a bit harsh, but I wasn’t at all fond of Natasha’s characterization. She almost always seemed to be described in terms of her affect on other people, particularly men, who were drawn in by her seduction and oddities, and yet her own inner life seemed strangely bereft. Perhaps this is an issue with the translation, but often I found her thought process and dialogue meandering and dramatic to the point of irritation. It was like she was written more as a spectacle, a phenomenon, than a character.

The two characters who intrigued me the most were not featured as much: Anatole and Helene. From the moment they are introduced they are fascinating and contradictory. Anatole is described as kind and generous and yet simultaneously utterly oblivious to the wants and needs of others, or to consequences. Helene enjoys a reputation as a clever high-society woman and yet is thought of as stupid by her husband, whom she seems to despise but tolerates for his ability to raise her status in society. In the musical we get many interactions between Anatole and Helene that show their intense sibling bond; in the novel, however, they barely interact. Rather than being shown we are told about their strong (perhaps incestuous) bond, yet we see very little to convince us of this.

Perhaps that is my issue with the whole book and why I had such trouble connecting. So much of it is told to us. I know it’s probably futile to talk about “show don’t tell” when it comes to an epic like War and Peace. Not just because it’s an epic, but because literary conventions have shifted so much since this novel’s publication that I as a reader am certainly influenced by my own expectations. But alas, my enjoyment of these characters was definitely hindered by my modern day conventions and expectations of literature, and I wanted to see so much more than I was told.

But still much of the novel was engaging and entertaining, though the war chapters did nothing for me whatsoever. The agonizing dullness of the war chapters may have been salvaged by beautiful writing, but the writing is plain and ordinary. Again I hesitate because this is a translation, and perhaps other translations capture a more lyrical tone, but in the case of the Briggs translation I found the writing rather dull and unadorned. It is certainly easy to read, but it also leaves you unaffected. Not once did I pause and admire the beauty of a particularly written sentence or paragraph.

I’m glad to have read this, and I did enjoy many parts, but overall this isn’t a novel that will stick with me or affect me in any way. I wish I felt what so many people do upon reading this novel – which is apparently some kind of grand appreciation for the human condition or something – but I don’t, sadly.

Book Review: Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker

33574211Title: EMMA IN THE NIGHT
Author: Wendy Walker
Release Date: 2017
Pages: 320
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
My Rating: ★★★★☆(4/5)
Review on Goodreads

It’s difficult to find a thriller that doesn’t rest its laurels on the shocking twist at the end. Don’t get me wrong, shocking twists are great, and Emma in the Night certainly came through with that. However, I also found it to be quite an introspective book, detailing the harm inflicted on children by terrible, narcissistic, and incapable parents.

Emma and Cassandra Tanner’s lives are a medley of dysfunction and sexual impropriety, due not only to their narcissistic mother, but their gross stepfather and stepbrother, both of whom are sexually attracted to Emma. It is this dysfunction that seemingly leads a pregnant Emma to run away, with her younger sister Cass in tow. Three years later, Cass, and only Cass, returns, with a story about being held captive on an island with her sister Emma and Emma’s baby daughter. With the help of Dr. Abby Winters, a forensic psychologist with a narcissistic mother of her own, Cass’s story unravels and is put back together, and Emma is found in an unlikely place.

Like any good thriller, Emma in the Night is compelling, forcing you to ask questions and try to figure out what the heck is going on. But it is a sort of character study as well. Emma, the titular character, is a kind of vulnerable seductress, an insecure teenage girl utilizing the only power she thinks she holds. Her relationship with her narcissistic mother becomes is revealed to be more and more horrific by the second. Hunter and Jonathan Martin, the aforementioned stepbrother and stepfather, are both arrogant, privileged, and misogynistic men whose presence in the girls’ lives screws up their family even more. Their biological father, despite genuinely loving his daughters, is weak and cannot fight for them like they deserve. The girls’ mother, Judy, suffers from narcissistic personality disorder, and therefore is not a mother at all to her daughters, more like a rival.

And finally, Cassandra, the narrator, is a very quiet character, a young girl who has been fractured by the trauma in her past, but healed and became stronger because of it. I liked Cass way more than I thought I would. She is clever and manipulative, stoic and calculating, loving and loyal. Her relationship with her older sister Emma is frustrating and heart-breaking; it is at times sweet, at times utterly cruel, but the blame is to be laid at the feet of their mother, who does her best to break the girls apart so that they are not united against her.

Emma in the Night is a tragedy, the sad tale of two young girls’ whose lives are destroyed by their parents. It will keep you guessing until the end, and the final twist is maddening in its simplicity. There are certainly criticisms that can be levied at this book: the plot is somewhat convoluted, the actions of some of the characters at the very end are unbelievable and were moved only by plot, the story is conveyed through a lot of literal telling and very little showing, but ultimately those flaws work in the story’s favor, elevating it to wildly dramatic heights. With its colorful cast of characters, its dramatic twists and turns, and Cassandra’s soliloquy-like narration, and the allusion to the mythical Cassandra at the very beginning, this book nearly reaches Shakespearean levels of tragedy.

Book Review: Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert

25062038Title: LITTLE & LION
Author: Brandy Colbert
Release Date: 2017
Pages: 336
Publisher: Little, Brown
My Rating: ★★★★☆(4/5)
Review on Goodreads

Little & Lion is a sweet but hard-hitting story about a young black, Jewish girl coming to terms with her bisexuality while also struggling to do the right thing regarding her brother’s mental illness.

Suzette is back home from boarding school for the summer, after her parents sent her away in the wake of her brother Lionel’s diagnosis of bipolar disorder. She wants desperately to integrate herself back into her brother’s life, for things to be the way they were before, but Lionel is struggling to – he’s still adjusting to his mental illness and being on medication. Suzette is also fresh of a messy break-up at boarding school, and the guilt of it plagues her.

While this seems like your run-of-the-mill book on the surface, I thought it was a really powerful and emotional exploration of mental health, sexuality, racism, microagressions, and sibling relationships. But the best thing is that while the book does delve into all of these heavy subjects it never feels heavy-handed, like it’s preaching or trying to teach me something. It never feels artificial. It’s just this group of teens trying to deal with some very real issues while living their lives.

Brandy Colbert’s writing is lovely – too often in contemporary YA authors will rely on the plot itself to carry the book through, but it is clear Colbert has put careful consideration into her writing. Her words fly fast, and the book is engaging, but it’s not simplistic or juvenile. The many characters are all given ample room for self-expression; Suzette in particular feels so very real, a young girl trying her best to do the right thing while fighting off the way the world sees her. I also appreciated that her love interests were so different from each other – Rafaela in particular felt very realistic and actually inspired feelings of dislike in me. Not that she was a bad person, but her personality clashed with my own, which I enjoyed! I love it when characters make me feel something, even if it’s dislike; it means they’re well-fleshed out.

Something else that greatly affected me is the setting. The book takes place in Los Angeles, and perhaps this is this is the romantic in me (I…idolize California in a weird way though I’ve never been), but I thought Colbert did a spectacular job capturing the vibe of living in LA. The weather, the mountainous setting, the strip malls with their neon signs, the lazy summer nights. This book is hella atmospheric, and it made me feel like I was right alongside the characters in LA.

Creating atmosphere like that is difficult to do in general, but it’s especially difficult to capture in a huge, thriving city like LA. The way Colbert framed this story it was almost as though it were taking place in a separate, intimate pocket of reality, and that made me feel like I was a part of the story.

Book Review: The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter

6919721Title: THE HISTORY OF WHITE PEOPLE
Author: Nell Irvin Painter
Release Date: 2010
Pages: 396
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
My Rating: ★★★☆☆(3/5)
Review on Goodreads

This is a difficult book for me to accurately assess, since I am trying to be objective regarding the book’s content while also expressing my disappointed expectations.

Objectively speaking, this book is a powerful scholarly work, a history of whiteness as determined by White Europeans. Painter delves into obscure European anthropological and sociological tomes on racial classification. This is part of why my interest started to wander; Painter spends way too much time on these European scholars and their works. In excruciating detail, she chronicles the lives of these European racists (I use this term more as a shorthand than anything), their relationships with each other, the circles they ran in, and the impact of their work. It results in a very rich historical tome, but not exactly what I was looking for.

To give you an example of what I mean by this laborious detail, Painter spends three chapters on Ralph Waldo Emerson. These chapters certainly touch on the development of racial theory at this time, but the bulk of them is devoted to Emerson’s life, his impact, and the memory of him in American society. To me it read like a rather lengthy tangent that could have been adequately summed up in a single chapter.

One of the major strengths of this book is how well it elucidates just how much of racial “science” was actually pseudoscience – complete bullshit, in other words. Painter pulls direct quotes from these racial “scientists” that indicate that they had no understanding whatsoever of the scientific method, and their science was utterly flawed and nonsensical. Essentially, Painter is building up to an important face: race is not biological, and it never was. Race is, and always has been, a social construct. That is the crux of this book, the point it is trying to make by painstakingly detailing the work of European racial thinkers.

I was disappointed that European racial thinkers take up the majority of this book. I had been hoping to see, as a contrast, scholars from outside of Europe and how they thought of race and “whiteness.” And yet, this is hardly touched upon. There were other significant issues I thought should have been discussed in greater detail. For example, there is no mention at all of the pivotal trial of Bhagat Singh Thind, where an Indian man was declared racially ineligible for US citizenship. There is no mention at all of similar trials that followed, of Syrians and other Middle Easterners, whose classification at the time depended sometimes on their skin color, sometimes on their religion, and sometimes on the political classification of their origins. In other words, it was a complete mess that illustrates the fallacy of racial classification quite well.

Middle Easterners and North Africans are hardly mentioned, which I think is a serious detriment to the argument of the book. As a group, MENA are legally classified as Caucasians, but there is so much confusion regarding this classification that it is essentially worthless. MENA folks occupy a vague racial category that can sparks fierce conversations on the meaning of race and ethnicity, and yet that is never mentioned in this book. Painter spends more time talking about racial divisions among white people (or those that are today considered white, such as Slavs, Irish, Italians) than the racial categories we know today.

Again, I want to say that I am trying to balance what this book actually is versus my personal expectations. Objectively, it is an excellent, impressive work of scholarship that details centuries of European racial thinking. I just found it disappointing in its hyper focus on European thinkers and the details of their lives. I ended up skimming many of these parts, as I had no interest whatsoever where this particular European racist went to school or what he accomplished in his life.

In sum, this is an important, significant work of scholarship that needs to exist, certainly, but I probably should have adjusted my expectations of it sooner.

Book Review: This Savage Song by V.E. Schwab

23299512Title: THIS SAVAGE SONG
Author: V.E. Schwab
Release Date: 2016
Pages: 464
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
My Rating: ★★★☆☆(3/5)
Review on Goodreads

This Savage Song is an urban paranormal dystopia (which I did not realize going in, actually). It takes place in a post-War US that has split into several territories with weird names like Verity and Prosperity. After something called the Phenomenon happened, it seems that violent acts are now begetting monsters, of which there are three types: Corsai, Malchai, and Sunai. Corsai eat you alive, Malchai will drain you of blood, and Sunai…are more like avenging angels, who play a song to suck the life out of you, but only if you yourself have committed a violence that has begotten a monster.

It’s an intriguing premise, but one fraught with unnecessary add-ons. Why do the Sunai need music to bring forth a soul? It just seemed like window dressing to an already interesting concept…then again, this may just be a personal hang-up, as I tend to really dislike music in my stories. The dystopic US world was poorly explained, and I was left unclear as to what exactly the dangerous “Waste” is or whether these monsters exists everywhere in the world or just in the territory of Verity. I hope it’s not the latter, because if so, why doesn’t everybody just leave? Why even stay in a city that, if not beset by monsters, has already been literally split at the seams due to a territory war between two men with different ideas of how to lead it?

The crux of the story focuses the children of the two men fighting for control over the city: Kate Harker and August Flynn. August, however, is not really anyone’s son, but a Sunai created in the wake of a school shooting. Kate is desperate to win her father’s approval, so she returns to V-City and puts her best brutality on display. Her father, Callum, has the monsters of Verity under his control, and in his part of the city citizens pay for protection. How and why Callum has the Corsai and Malchai under his control is unclear…did I miss that in my reading? Also, is Callum the governor of this city? Is there any other government in place? I needed more from the worldbuilding here to truly get a sense of this world.

Speaking of worldbuilding, it was odd how this seemed to be almost a post-racial society. There is one mention of one character being “dark-skinned” but otherwise everyone is white, with standard Anglo-Saxon names. Apparently Verity is meant to be the aftermath of the Midwest, but that still doesn’t explain all this abundant whiteness. It’s rather strange especially given that the text doesn’t only hint at pre-dystopic US, it explicitly tells us about the former United States (which apparently disbanded after the Vietnam War, for reasons that are not explained very well), so I’m not sure why there are so few cultural markers left over.

I guess the story is meant to focus more on Kate and August; I would definitely say this book is more character-driven than plot driven. August wants to be more human, Kate wants to be more monstrous. I guess there’s meant to be poetry in that, but it just struck me as rather cliche. Their characters were fine, I suppose, though they struck me as washed-out versions of Lila and Kell (of Schwab’s other series), and I didn’t enjoy them as much.

This is shaping out to be a really critical review, so I do want to emphasize that I did enjoy this book! It was definitely intriguing enough for me to read through it rather quickly; at no point did I even consider DNFing it. Schwab is definitely a talented writer, and this book is decently constructed. It just left me cold and indifferent.

What do you guys think? Did I miss something here? Does the sequel improve?

Book Review: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

29283884Title: THE GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE
Author: Mackenzi Lee
Release Date: 2017
Pages: 513
Publisher: Katherine Tegan Books
My Rating: ★★★★★ (4.5/5)
Review on Goodreads

The first time I heard about this book I was attending a MadCap Writing Cross-Culturally Retreat. It came up when one of the presenters wondered whether there were any YA books that actively critiqued white male privilege. That’s really all I knew about the book, but I added it to my TBR. Discovering it was an adventure romp though 17th century Europe featuring two queer protagonists was an added bonus.

This book is unabashedly queer, and I love it for that. Perhaps it’s anachronistic, but I don’t even care. Henry “Monty” Montague, privileged son of an earl, is heading off for his Grand Tour of Europe, along with hist best friend Percy (a biracial young man) and his younger sister Felicity. Things don’t go quite as planned, however. After Monty pulls an embarrassing stunt, he and his company are set on by bandits. As they flee, they end up caught in an alchemical conspiracy which leads them to run from Marseilles to Barcelona to Venice to Santorini.

Part of the fun of this novel is the descriptions of all these cities – Mackenzi Lee has visited most of them, and it’s clear in her writing. Her details just feel authentic, vividly bringing to life these wildly different places frequented by the gang. In addition to her spectacular writing, her dialogue is absolute fire! There are so many entertaining conversations between these characters. And of course I have to mention the narration itself – it’s first person POV and being in Monty’s head is like being at a comedy club run by a rather sardonic fellow.

I loved Monty. I loved him in the way you have to love rakes and scoundrels and unlikeable characters (to the Great Comet crowd: he reminded me of Anatole!). He grows over the course of his adventure, with the help of Percy and Felicity, who are constantly calling him out on his privilege. I adored sweet and sensible Percy as well! The pair balanced each other quite well and their romantic scenes together were so sweet (and sexy). And of course, Felicity! To illustrate how badass she is, let me tell you that at one point she nonchalantly begins stitching herself up without even wincing. I loved her friendship with Percy and the bonding moments she had with her brother Monty. I’m so excited the sequel is going to be about her.

This was an absolutely wild ride from start to finish, but it’s also a book with substance. Not only does it tackle issues of race and gender, but it looks at mental illness as well. None of it feels forced, either. Sure, the conversations the characters have regarding these issues might be a bit anachronistic, but I don’t care. They’re executed well and they only serve to improve the characters’ relationships. This was such great fun!

Book Review: Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

33151805Title: INTO THE WATER
Author: Paula Hawkins
Release Date: 2017
Pages: 386
Publisher: Riverhead Books
My Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5)
Review on Goodreads

Into the Water is the sort of book that would make an incredible BBC series, in the vein of Broadchurch. It’s set in a tiny and beautiful English town with a river running through it, which would provide us with ample gorgeous scenery. It’s a murder mystery, sort of – the main focus is this river/pond that women have drowned in throughout the years, stretching back to witchhunts in the 1700s. It also doesn’t focus on any one single character, but rather has something like ten different POVs.

I would say that is my one major criticism – there are way too many different POVs here. It works in something like epic fantasy, when you’re spread across different areas, but this is a tiny English town. We didn’t need to be in all those characters heads; several of the POVs (like Mark’s or Josh’s) added little to nothing to the plot. This would have been a much better, tighter book had it only focused on perhaps three characters (in my opinion the characters should have been Jules, Erin, and Lena, the latter two ended up being my favorites). The characters’ development would have been so much more satisfying, because I think the author truly has some great characters in Jules, Lena, and Erin. My other pet peeve regarding the POVs is that they alternated between third and first person. I’m not saying this can never work – N.K. Jemisin and Marie Lu have both done it well – but here it was simply jarring.

My other criticism – which goes hand in hand with the aforementioned – is that I think the author could have delved more into the mystery and symbolism of the drowning pool. I really loved the aesthetic of this novel; the few times the author delved into the meaning and metaphor of the pool and what it means to be in the water I felt like she was on the precipice of something truly profound, but she could never quite get there. I feel like there was so much more she could have explored particularly regarding water’s symbol as a purifier – but I suppose, in the end, this is a thriller, not a philosophical tome.

And thrilling it is! At the beginning of this book, it’s not even clear that there is a mystery to be solved: Jules receives a call that her older sister Nel is dead, but most people think it’s a suicide. It’s only after more and more secrets are dug up (mainly because of the determination of Erin, a newcomer to the small town) that the suicide turns into a murder investigation. The mystery is gripping and the reveals are all interconnected and layered atop one another, with one thread uniting them: the cruelty of men towards women.

Misogyny was explored pretty openly in this book, and while some people might think it was heavy-handed, I actually liked that it was tackled head-on. It felt very realistic to me and it was satisfying to see the book ending with a rather healthy relationship between two women who both need each other for support.

In general, I liked this much better than The Girl in the Train. While the two books share some similarities, I think Into the Water is more realistic, with the kind of reveal that makes perfect sense in a sad, quiet sort of way.

Book Review: Here and Gone by Haylen Beck

32336395Title: HERE AND GONE
Author: Haylen Beck
Release Date: 2017
Pages: 287
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
My Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5)
Review on Goodreads

This is not normally the type of book I would read, so I went in with little to no expectations, and I was very pleasantly surprised! This is a book about a motherhood, and corruption, and the abuses of men, told in multiple points of view.

The book begins with Audra Kinney on the run with her two young children. For days she has been driving across the country from New York to escape her abusive husband. In Arizona, Audra is stopped by the sheriff seemingly for a minor traffic stop. The sheriff then “finds” a bag of marijuana in Audra’s trunk, arrests her, and then has his deputy pick up her kids. When the sheriff takes Audra to the station and she asks him where her children have been taken, he looks at her flatly and asks, “What children?”

And so Audra’s nightmare begins. She is denounced by the press and cops who assume she killed her children. She finds an ally in Danny Lee, a Chinese American man whose own wife endured Audra’s situation years ago. Together Danny and Audra attempt to save her children. They make a fun team; Audra is tough and resilient, and Danny is a deadpan hard-ass entangled with the Chinese mafia.

Honestly, I can’t believe this book was written by a white man. There are so many women in this book, of varied complexities, some strong, some weak, some corrupt. The book portrays the bonds between women and how they can trust and support one another. Not that all the women here are saints – again this book portrays layered, nuanced characters. And then there’s Danny, who could have easily been a white man but wasn’t, and that meant that the narrative presented certain questions about race that added depth to the story.

The story is tense and gripping and wastes no words; it moves quickly, the entire story taking place within the span of two days, which lends it the urgency of a thriller. But it doesn’t just rely on cheap thrills: Beck’s writing is gorgeous, elaborate and vivid, bringing to live the scorching, desolate Arizona desert and a dying small town. I finished this book in a single day because I was so drawn in by the plot and the writing.

This is not something I would have ordinarily picked up on my own, so thank you to Blogging for Books for providing me with a copy in exchange for a review!

Book Review: Shimmer and Burn by Mary Taranta

32333246Title: SHIMMER AND BURN
Author: Mary Taranta
Release Date: 2017
Pages: 352
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
My Rating: ★★☆☆☆ (2/5)
Review on Goodreads

I should have liked this book…in fact, from the very first chapter it felt different than most YA fantasy. Faris, a motherless young woman, already has a love interest. They are both trapped in the country of Brindaigel (which gave me serious Brigadoon vibes) by their king, who claims to be protecting them from a magical plague in the neighboring kingdom. Tragedy strikes fairly quickly for Faris and her beloved, and she ends up being blackmailed into taking a dangerous journey into the plague-ridden kingdom.

Faris is also not the only major female character; in fact, her companion on her dangerous journey, Bryn, features in equal amount. This too is unusual in YA and should have been spectacular, particularly as Bryn and Faris do not get along at all. But Bryn is…a weak attempt at crafting a villain. Everything about her is too bombastic and over the top; I get that she’s ambitious and wants to be queen, but I never really understood why.

I think my dislike of this book comes down to one thing: it’s hella confusing. I don’t know if this was just me, or if I wasn’t paying enough attention, but I frequently found myself having to go back and read paragraphs three or four times just to understand what was happening. The plot was ridiculously convoluted (honestly…I couldn’t even explain it to you if I tried) and the magic system made absolutely no sense to me whatsoever. It kept getting harder and harder for me to keep track of characters’ motivations. Not only that, but big reveals are staged poorly and cryptically, so that I was never really sure if we had actually figured out something significant or not. By the end I found I did not care one whit what happened to anyone because I had no idea what was going on or why anyone was doing anything.

The basic idea here is…fine, I guess? It’s your standard “magic corrupts” and “kingdom poisoned by magic” only this magic apparently turns people into zombie-like creatures or…addicts? Or were they the same thing? I’m not sure; to be honest I stopped paying much attention halfway through the book and began to skim huge chunks. Like, it’s not a bad idea, but I’ve seen it around before and its execution here was pretty cut-and-dry. Also, magic is…transferred via skin to skin contact? Or something? And there’s four different types of magicians? But their powers aren’t always distinct? Or something? Again, major confusion, and I’m a seasoned fantasy reader, so I’m used to having to take on complex world and magic systems. This was just messy.

The other thing is that the bulk of Faris’ motivation is that she wants to save her sister Cadence, who is being used as collateral to guarantee her loyalty to Bryn. Unfortunately, we don’t get a chance to see them interacting. The single chapter/scene where they interact shows Cadence being kind of bratty and Faris somewhat annoyed. I mean, in conjunction with some other scenes this would have been fine, but on its own it doesn’t really showcase a beloved bond that Faris would risk her life for. I felt little for either of these characters, even though on paper I should have liked Faris. The only character I was interested in was the king’s executioner, Alistair, but he features for only a couple of chapters.

Overall I really did not connect with this book at all. I found it to be a run-of-the-mill YA fantasy complete with instalove, and I really struggled to get through it, The only things I appreciated were the writing, which was often beautiful if somewhat inscrutable, and that Taranta is not shy about blood and gore, which gave this a more mature feel than it would have otherwise had.

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this book!