Book Review: Miss Mayhem, by Rachel Hawkins

Sometimes you just need a sweet, fun little read. Miss Mayhem fills that role perfectly. It may not hit as many high notes as its predecessor, Rebel Belle, but it still manages to be a pleasant read. Miss Mayhem picks up a few months after the events of Rebel Belle. Harper is trying to balance her role of Paladin with that of girlfriend, daughter, friend, ex-girlfriend. Oh, and she is also beginning a set of trials to test her skills as a Paladin that, if failed, may result in her death. No big deal.

Harper is still smart, strong, and funny, and the flip on stereotypical gender roles, having the female protagonist save the man, is still exciting and refreshing. This book also doesn’t continue to focus on the love triangle set up in Rebel Belle, which again is refreshing. Readers of YA have seen the love triangle done every which way, so it is great to see a triangle set up and resolved in book one, and then not revisited again in book two. This book also focuses more on friendship, both on Harper’s budding friendship with her ex Ryan, and on the re-cultivation of her friendship with her newly returned best friend, Bee.

The pacing of this novel is a little odd. It feels like not much happens plot wise, but there isn’t a whole lot of world/character building happening either. At the end of the 250 plus pages I felt like there should have been more, but at the same time the story felt sufficiently resolved. Needless to say, I did enjoy the ending. It gives the reader enough closure, while also providing a great setup for another story. (Also, Harper’s reaction to the events at the end of the story is perfect.) If we do see another installment of this series, I will likely pick it up. Miss Mayhem proves the sweet, Southern charm of this series still holds true.

Book Review: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

We Were Liars was one of those books that sat on my to-read list for quite some time. My previous knowledge of E. Lockhart (I was a fan of the Ruby Oliver series), combined with the rave reviews this novel was getting, made this a must read for me. Well, I finally got around to reading it, and let me say the praised heaped on this novel is well deserved and what they say is true, the less you know about this book the better. So I will add my praise to the pile, while making it as succinct and vague as possible.

This novel hits that rare sweet spot of both wanting to devour the pages for thrilling plot, while also wanting to slowly take in each delightful phrase. That being said, the novel is not very long so it is best consumed in one sitting, perhaps over a long afternoon, in an attempt to satisfy both of those urges.

One complaint this novel has gotten is in regards to the writing style, but I found myself drawn in from the very first passage. It is quite lovely in parts and feels perfectly suited to the story being told.

There isn’t much else to say, save that I truly enjoyed the experience of reading this novel. I highly recommend it to anyone, even those who don’t normally read Young Adult fiction. And I promise that you can trust me, I wouldn’t lie.

Book Review: Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

I stumbled across Seraphina by Rachel Hartman while perusing YA reviews on Goodreads, and I am ever so glad that I did. It has fantastic, detailed world building, a smart, capable heroine, and a love story that doesn’t feel recycled and cliche. It ends with the perfect balance of closure while still leaving the door open for a continuation of the story. A few years have passed and Rachel Hartman has gifted us with Shadow Scale, book two of Seraphina’s story!

For the most part Shadow Scale delivers on the promise of its predecessor. We get to see the world Hartman created in Seraphina on a larger scale as Seraphina travels outside of her homeland to find her fellow half dragons. Each of the places she visits has its own language, culture, and customs. This novel also delves deeper into the mythology surrounding half dragons. There is a good balance of detail in order to build a complex world, without drifting into info dumping. Seraphina herself is still strong and witty, and though she makes quite a few mistakes on her journey she remains likeable. The villain in this story is pretty terrifying. I cannot say much more without giving too much away, but it definitely has you on the edge of your seat near the climax.

One of my favorite parts of this novel, as well as Seraphina, is the way it deals with the romance. It isn’t insta-love, it takes awhile for the relationship to form and it is based on mutual admiration and respect. Seraphina also doesn’t give up on her family or goals to be with this love interest. Most importantly the “rival” isn’t depicted as a villain, in fact she is an admirable, likeable character. The ultimate resolution of this love story is unique, unexpected, and refreshing. In a genre where many of the love stories can feel unimaginative and trite, Shadow Scale offers something different, and it works.

I also have to note that the romance is not even the most powerful relationship in this novel. It is the relationship between Seraphina and her Uncle Orma which stays with the reader long after the book closes. Their relationship is written with such detail and love, and this novel shows the reader another, unexpected side of Orma.

The only complaint I have is that parts of the story felt rushed. Specifically the journey near the beginning of the novel and the final showdown near the end. This may just be that I wanted more time in this world and with these characters. However, the book is fairly long as it is and if more time was spent with these moments perhaps it would have felt overlong, but I wouldn’t have complained.

Overall, Shadow Scale was a fun, sweet read and a good followup to Seraphina. If you loved Seraphina, you’ll enjoy reading the conclusion of her journey.

A few of my favorite things: books edition

As I mentioned in an earlier post I am currently taking a writing class focusing on personal writing. One of the prompts for this week was to write about your five favorite things, books, movies, music, etc. I thought, wow this will be easy and perfect for the blog! Though I think I could write about my five favorite of any of those, I am choosing books because I believe there is a direct correlation between my desire to write and my love of reading. So why not write about the books I love to read! So here they are my five favorite books.

  1. Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell. When someone asks me what my favorite book is this is the first title I throw out. My first copy of Gone with the Wind was a paperback I purchased at a library sale which cost me a whopping fifty cents. If I had heard of the book or the movie at that point it was only vaguely, so I am not sure what initially drew me to this book. Perhaps it was the dramatic cover featuring Rhett grasping Scarlett, while Atlanta burns in the foreground (after seeing the movie for the first time it is apparent the cover figures on this particular edition were modeled after Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh, which only makes me love it more). I’m sure the back cover synopsis also played a role. A story that takes place during the Civil War with a strong headed heroine as the central figure. Sold! If I had to sum up why exactly I love Gone with the Wind I would say it’s that it is truly an epic. The span of this story is part of what contributes to this, it takes place over the course of more than a decade, but it’s also the story of the downfall of a society and the end of a way of life. Of course it was entirely necessary for this society to fall, it was based on  a morally corrupt and reprehensible system, but the story of this downfall and how the characters who lived within this society, the perpetrators of the crimes of this system, respond to it makes this story an epic. The fact that the heroine is flawed and mostly unlikable, only adds to the appeal for me. It isn’t an easy book and it certainly has its issues, for example that the author seems at times to be writing a troublesome love letter to the Old South, but I think you can use this romance about a young woman surviving the Civil War as a way to launch a discussion about the larger picture of slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction. If nothing else, it is a captivating story with memorable characters, and certainly a piece of American literary history.
  2. Anything by Jane Austen. Okay so this isn’t a specific title, but I felt this list had to include something by Austen and I couldn’t quite bring myself to choose just one. Pride and Prejudice is the first Jane Austen novel I ever read, and it is probably the novel I have reread the most times, but I truly love her entire body of work. The books are romances, yet they are also sharp critiques of the society in which Austen lived and women’s role in it. Plus, they are legitimately funny. Her heroines have a wide array of traits and personalities, but each of them is the hero of her own story and that is so refreshing.
  3. The Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling. Again not a single book, but this story is a series and I think it is best discussed as such. I am a part of the generation which grew up with Harry Potter. I remember reading books one and two in 5th grade and I attended a midnight release for the 7th book the summer after I graduated from high school. It is because of this that these books will always hold a special place for me. It also happens to be one of the first series of books I ever read. The anticipation of waiting for the next book to come out, the sadness when the series that you have spent the past several years with has finally come to end, the first time I really experienced these feelings intensely was with Harry Potter. Of course it also helps that it is the story of regular boy who ends up saving his world, and that is a story that will always appeal to me.
  4. A Song of Ice and Fire Series, George RR Martin. I know, I know I keep counting multiple books as one entry on this list, but I feel this is legitimate when it comes to a series of books. They are generally one overarching story told over many installments. One story, one entry. I started reading this series the year the fifth book came out. I devoured all five of these monstrous tomes in about two months. To say I enjoyed them is an understatement. The thing I love the most about this series is the thing that everyone loves most, the characters. George RR Martin has created these vivid, flawed, realistic characters and everything from their histories down to the smallest bits of dialogue is captivating. Another great aspect of these books is a cultural one. You can sit and discuss and dissect these novels for hours (and believe me, I have). Anything that brings fellow readers together in such a way deserves a gold star in my book. (Note: Yes, yes the show is amazing too, however I strongly believe everyone who loves the show should check out the books. But don’t worry, not in a snobbish ‘the books are better’ way…though in this case I do think they are).
  5. This fifth slot is a tough one for me to fill. Not because I cannot think of another book which I love, but because there are so many other books that I love. The first four entries came to mind immediately when I was thinking about my list of favorite books. They are the ones that will always be at the top of my list. But when creating a list of merely five, the fifth slot seems more difficult to fill. It fluctuates depending on my mood and what I am reading at the time. Classics, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Modern fiction, Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson. Contemporary Young Adult, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta. Fantasy Young Adult, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. Genre Fiction, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I read a lot of books and there have been many that have touched me in some way, many which have inspired me to read more and to write. So I am saving this slot for whatever book I fall in love with next.

Book Review: The Kingdom of the Gods by N.K. Jemisin

The final book in a series always seems to be the most difficult to review.  They tend to be a mixed bag of emotions. Happiness because the ending truly does the series justice, combined with the touch of sadness because it has come to end. Or disappointment, combined with a dash of anger if the less than stellar final book has tarnished the memory of earlier, better books. Kingdom of the Gods falls somewhere near the middle of this spectrum for me, but leans more towards the former. It has many of the same qualities I loved in the first two of the series, great writing and compelling characters, but it lacks some of the magic, especially when compared to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.

In Kingdom of the Gods we get a story from the perspective of the oldest godling Sieh, god of childhood and mischief. Without giving too much away, I can say that the plot revolves around Sieh befriending two mortal children. Two Arameri mortal children, descendants of those who kept him enslaved for centuries. This friendship ends up of having a ripple effect across both the god’s realm and the mortal world, as well as irrevocably changing Sieh.

Sieh was a favorite character of mine from the first book, so it was fun reading a story told from his perspective. Shahar and Deka, the aforementioned children, are interesting as the strong willed sister who vows to be a good ruler and the quiet, kind hearted brother who must learn to protect himself. Though they could have been developed a little further, especially Deka. These three provide the sexy undertones that we’ve come to expect after the first two novels of the series. The best part of this novel however, is the way it brings the series full circle. The mythology of the world is explored more deeply, and there is a recreation of several elements from the first two novels, which is a joy to see played out.

The plot does drag a bit more than the previous installments of the series and there are some bits towards the end that are slightly convoluted, but N.K. Jemisin’s writing is so lovely, and the world she has created so magnificent, that these faults can be easily overlooked. All in all, the final installment of The Inheritance Trilogy left me feeling quite satisfied. And I would certainly recommend the series as a whole to fantasy fans, lovers of great writing, and anyone who likes their stories a tad sexy.

Reading rut

Every avid reader has been there. You think about the books you’ve read most recently, you glance over your to-read list. A pattern emerges, the same authors, the same genre, similar themes, similar stories. You’re in a reading rut.

I found myself in such a rut a little over a year ago. The genre: Young Adult (side note: I could write an entire treatise in defense of this genre. Granted, it has already been tackled on both sides in The Guardian, Slate, the New York Times, and countless other places. I may still write my own piece one day, but in sum: No, it does not begin and end with Twilight. No, it is not about people wanting relive their youth. It is about deep and meaningful stories, which allow the reader to relate much more than many other genres because the themes of finding yourself and discovering your place in the world are things we continue to grapple with throughout our lives).

Now, I don’t think there is anything wrong with having certain genres that you love. Ones that you come back to over and over again. Even within the most well trodden of genres, you can find someone who is subverting old themes or doing something new altogether. But I also think it is important to broaden your horizons a bit every now and then and read something outside of your comfort zone. To get exposure to new ideas and different writing styles, but also to keep your reading skills in tip top shape. So what can be done once you’ve realized you’re in a reading rut? I set some reading goals for myself.

Goal One: read more modern, literary fiction. The reason behind this is twofold. By reading works that are more modern I can be part of the discussions which always surround new books. Book clubs, book reviews, online communities, the forums for discussing books are plentiful, and everyone seems to want to discuss the ‘hot new book’. Second, by focusing on the literary end of the spectrum, I can give myself a bit more of a challenge, and who doesn’t need that?

Goal Two: read more graphic novels. Graphic novels are EVERYWHERE. They are infiltrating every aspect of pop culture. And with topics ranging from World War II told through mice, to a young girl’s experience in post revolution Iran, to (of course) Superheroes, there seems to be something for everyone.

Goal Three: revisit my love of the ‘classics’. I found Jane Austen in high school, and thus began my love affair with the classics. Dickens, Shakespeare, Fitzgerald, the Bronte sisters, I devoured many of the authors whose works are typically deemed classics. But there are still many more sitting on my to-read list. Plus much of what I have read is very euro-centric, and it is far past time that was corrected.

The realization of my reading rut was over a year ago, so how have I done on these goals? Goal One has been a minor success. Marisha Pessl, Gillian Flynn, and Sarah Waters have all been added to my read pile and my list of to-read in this category is ever growing. Goal Two has been a bit slower. I did finally find a graphic novel series that really clicked with me and which proved to me that there are stories which are best told as graphic novels (The Sandman Series by Neil Gaiman, in case you were wondering). Plus, through the help of some friends and the Internet, I have many more which I am eager to read. Now Goal Three, honestly I have not been successful with this one, but I did start re-reading an old Austen favorite the other night, just to get a taste of the old favorites. All in all, two out of three isn’t bad.

Setting a few reading goals was good for me. I discovered new authors and genres, and read things I may not have picked up before. I now find myself adding new goals in my head (read some Science Fiction and adult Fantasy, try short stories, crack open that copy of selected poems by Lord Byron). Will I accomplish all of these? Probably not, but having them has made me a better, more rounded reader (and hopefully it will ultimately lead to me becoming a better writer). So c’mon, let’s all set some goals. Happy reading!

Book Review: The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

The Broken Kingdoms, book two in the Inheritance Trilogy, resumes the story ten years after the events in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. This time our protagonist is Oree Shoth, a young blind woman living in the Shadow, a city filled with godlings and priests, heretics and pilgrims. Oree may not have the power of sight, but she does have the ability to see magic and create a bit of her own. When she lets an odd, quiet man with strange magic into her life she becomes embroiled in a plot involving the murder of godlings. Along the way she learns the secrets of her own magic, and finds that she may be the only one to stop these murders before all of Shadow pays the price.

Now the big question regarding any sequel, is it as good as the first? Not quite. But I still immensely enjoyed this novel. The writing style is similar to the The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and still lovely, but it’s slightly more contained. It’s first person again, with the same mix of plot narrative and stories of Oree’s past, but it has a little less of the ‘stream of consciousness’ style of the first novel. I still love N.K. Jemisin’s writing, but I think I preferred the more wild, uncontained style of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.

Now when it comes to characters, The Broken Kingdoms does well in matching its predecessor. Oree is an interesting and unique protagonist. She may have a disability, but she is just as capable as any other heroine. She fights for for her independence and freedom throughout the novel. Plus, she is comfortable with her sexuality and her body, which is so refreshing to see in any work of fiction. Anyone who read the previous novel will immediately know the true identity of ‘Shiny’, Oree’s mysterious new companion. He is not that likeable and certainly not a hero, but he sees immense growth throughout the novel. By the end of the story he has changed, while still holding on to the core aspects of himself, or perhaps by returning to what he once was. There is a fun new set of secondary characters, mostly godlings with a wide array of powers and traits, as well as appearances by characters from the first novel.

With the shift to a new heroine we get to see the events from The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms from an outsider’s perspective, and with the jump forward in time we get to see the effect those events had on this world. Where the first novel is dark and sexy, this novel is more of a slow burn. The tone of each novel is truly an embodiment of the god at the core of each story. If you liked the world and writing style of the first novel, I think you will enjoy The Broken Kingdoms. In fact, anyone who had problems with the writing style of the The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms will most likely enjoy this novel more. In the end, The Broken Kingdoms solidified my new found fandom of N.K. Jemisin, and I cannot wait to read the conclusion of this epic fantasy.