By: Rosamund Hodge
Release Date: January 28, 2014
Rating: 5 stars
|Summary: Graceling meets Beauty and the Beast in this sweeping fantasy about one girl’s journey to fulfill her destiny and the monster who gets in her way-by stealing her heart.
Based on the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, Cruel Beauty is a dazzling love story about our deepest desires and their power to change our destiny.
Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom-all because of a foolish bargain struck by her father. And since birth, she has been in training to kill him.
With no choice but to fulfill her duty, Nyx resents her family for never trying to save her and hates herself for wanting to escape her fate. Still, on her seventeenth birthday, Nyx abandons everything she’s ever known to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, destroy his enchanted castle, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on her people.
But Ignifex is not at all what Nyx expected. The strangely charming lord beguiles her, and his castle-a shifting maze of magical rooms-enthralls her.
As Nyx searches for a way to free her homeland by uncovering Ignifex’s secrets, she finds herself unwillingly drawn to him. Even if she could bring herself to love her sworn enemy, how can she refuse her duty to kill him? With time running out, Nyx must decide what is more important: the future of her kingdom, or the man she was never supposed to love.
Review: So the first part of the “Graceling meets Beauty and the Beast in this sweeping fantasy” is a bit of a stretch, but who the heck cares. It was beautiful. It was amazing. And it was absolutely wonderful. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)
If you think this is your typical adaptation of the classic fairytale, think again. “Cruel Beauty” is a beautifully written masterpiece that tells the amazing tale of duty, love and betrayal, where Hodge has managed to weave in the concepts of ancient kingdoms and haunting shadows and demons with the folklore of traditional and elaborated Greek mythology. It will truly transform the way you’ve always viewed “Beauty and the Beast” with so much more.
One of the reasons why this book was so great was because it didn’t start out with an innocent Cinderella who remains pure-hearted and selfless despite her cruel and unfair situation. While she remained composed, Nyx’s heart was full of built-up anger and resentment – and who could blame her. And I admired how, despite her frightening surroundings, Nyx never put up with any nonsense from Ignifex or anyone else.
You would think that you’d know how the story would go, but this book was far from predictable. Right off the bat, I was thrown into the twist called “Shade,” and it really bugged me (in a good way) that I couldn’t figure it out or couldn’t decide if I could trust.
And that wasn’t the only puzzle. Hodge had masterfully woven in stories that we grew up with – Greek mythology, lesson-teaching tales, anecdotal folklore – giving “Cruel Beauty” so much more meaning. The stories were told at just the right time, truly symbolic of the situation at hand. And what’s more, Hodge dropped hints all throughout the book – some you pick up on and some you don’t – leading us to believe that she took careful planning to this intricate plot she has set forth. And when you figure it out – either way before or when it’s actually presented – you’re left with this sense of awe.
It wasn’t hard to be emotionally wrapped up with the characters in this book. I loved Nyx – her spunky attitude, her wittiness, her desire to do what’s right despite the consequences. And no matter what, I couldn’t hate Ignifex. He had a great mix of cockiness and sincerity. Even Shade and Astraia – I understood their role in the book and sympathized with each and every one of them. So when it came time for Nyx to leave, my heart just broke. And it broke a little more each step of the way.
I can’t tell you the way it ended, but the last few scenes really brought the whole story home. It was then that you learn about everything that you had missed and you realize just how truly how amazing this story was and how perfectly Hodge had set up everything leading up to this moment. It was truly magical.
All in all, I’m sure you can’t possibly tell how much I loved this story from all the gushing I just did. It was truly one of the best books I have read in a while – not only because of the story, but also because of the beautiful way it was written and the intricate details and symbolic anecdotes that Hodge took such great care in weaving into the story. This was a truly a masterpiece, and I am more than eager to read Hodge’s future works.
The Lost Girl
By: Sangu Mandanna
Release Date: Augustus 28, 2012
Rating: 5 stars
|Summary: Eva’s life is not her own. She is a creation, an abomination—an echo. Made by the Weavers as a copy of someone else, she is expected to replace a girl named Amarra, her “other”, if she ever died. Eva studies what Amarra does, what she eats, what it’s like to kiss her boyfriend, Ray. So when Amarra is killed in a car crash, Eva should be ready.But fifteen years of studying never prepared her for this.Now she must abandon everything she’s ever known—the guardians who raised her, the boy she’s forbidden to love—to move to India and convince the world that Amarra is still alive.What Eva finds is a grief-stricken family; parents unsure how to handle this echo they thought they wanted; and Ray, who knew every detail, every contour of Amarra. And when Eva is unexpectedly dealt a fatal blow that will change her existence forever, she is forced to choose: Stay and live out her years as a copy or leave and risk it all for the freedom to be an original. To be Eva.From debut novelist Sangu Mandanna comes the dazzling story of a girl who was always told what she had to be—until she found the strength to decide for herself..|
Death is beautiful when seen to be a law, and not an accident. It is as common as life.
– Henry David Thoreau
I have to admit, I was not hooked from page one. I even put the book aside for a few days. Yeah I know, unimaginable. I don’t know if it was me or the book though, so in this case I’m going to use the line “it wasn’t you, it was me”. When I picked it up again, some days later, the story had me entirely captivated. I swear, if anyone would’ve come near me and my E-reader I think I would’ve growl, maybe even bitten.
I still don’t know how to categorize this book because apparently it’s not really dystopian (sorry not a pro). But to be frank I don’t care. This book is so much more! Indirectly, Mandanna kept throwing questions to my head. Mainly questions about life and death, which -even now, days after I finished the book-keep haunting my thoughts.
“Don’t be afraid your life will end; be afraid that it will never begin.”
– Grace Hansen
Eva, Amarra’s echo, was created -“stitched” by a weaver- so she can replace Amarra if one day something happens to the latter, something life-ending. Can you imagine yourself living your life waiting until someone dies? And when you get the change to replace that person, it’s just that, a replacement. Living the life of someone else. Pretending you are someone else. Or will the pretending stop after a while? Will it become your own life?
While the weavers are searching for a way to refine echo’s, Eva is still an “imperfect” version. She has her own feelings, opinions, thoughts, her own dreams and desires. She proofs she’s an individual by giving herself a name. In my opinion that is Eva’s way to stand up for herself, to go in against the ridiculous laws and to give the middle finger to the Loom.
I admired how Eva tries to search her own identity but also accepts her place in life without complaining. And although she accepts her fate, living the life of someone else, she fights for her own life the moment it is threatened. What made me sad is that although Eva spends years to prepare herself to take over Amarra’s life, it doesn’t feel good when it eventually happens. It is said that the life of an echo starts when the “other” dies, but I believe Eva already had a life. It is obvious that her guardians genuinely love her. My heart went out to all of them when Eva had to leave to start her life in India.
Once in India, although the start was not easy, everything is not that bad. I liked Neil. He is down to earth, sober, and tries in his own time to get to know Eva. Sasha and Nikhil stole my heart right away. I was touched by how they accepted Eva so easily and gave her the chance to be herself around them. I believe all of them, even the mom who so desperately wants that Eva really is Amarra, are capable of giving Eva a place in their family. And with that it might even be possible that there is a life for Eva in India after all.
“How terrible it is to love something that death can touch”
I guess you can say that Alisha and Neil turned to extreme measures out of fear to lose their children one day. At first I didn’t really care for Amarra, but I think that’s normal considering I lived the story through Eva’s eyes. But while reading, questions slowly started to make an entrance inside my head: what would I do if someone is waiting for me to die? Waiting to take over my life, my family, stealing my boyfriend and friends. Would I just accept that? Writing in my diary like a good girl, tell my copy everything? And that’s when I started to understand Amarra and her repulsion for Eva. Cause although my heart hurt for Eva when I read about the sleeping order, I understood Amarra’s reasoning behind it. The only thing that I might blame Amarra is that she never tried to talk with Eva, try to see past the monster, just like Nikhil does with his echo. And this is exactly what makes Mandanna’s writing style stand out. The author is capable to let you feel so many things at the same time and to sympathize with all sides and not just Eva’s. Let’s take Ray for example. When he snitched to the hunter about Eva, I was furious. I thought that Eva started to grow on him, that they were finally becoming friends. Maybe I even saw a tiny chance for more. So how the hell could he do that?! Then realization, and with that understanding, sunk in. Knowing that Ray did it because he loved Amarra so deeply and he was convinced he could get Amarra back that way, how could he refrain from trying? Wouldn’t you try to defeat death to get your loved one back?
To be honest, the world Mandanna created frightens me. The idea that there is somewhere walking an exact copy of myself doesn’t make me feel comfortable (and I’m sure I can easily find some other people who don’t like the idea of a second me either…).
But in the end, I don’t know what scares me most: being an echo and have to wait until your “other” dies to fulfil your only truly task in life: take over their life. Or being born as a “normal” person but to be afraid your whole life that something bad might happen to you because there’s an exact copy of yourself lurking somewhere, waiting to take everything that’s yours.
To conclude there is the ultimate question : sequel or no sequel? The main reason why I would say definitely! is because I loved this book so so much. The writing Mandanna does is so beautiful and captivating that I just want more. And there are still some unanswered questions and things that can be explored. The ending gives room to use your own fantasy and in general I don’t like open endings. The reason is simple: it can drive me entirely mad not knowing what will happen. For me, when it isn’t written then it isn’t there. My own fantasy isn’t good enough. BUT in this case I’m in doubt. I will definitely get more closure if a sequel gives me a “real” ending. However, I’m quite sure that one of the reasons why this book keeps haunting me is the open ending, the not knowing for sure. I keep speculating what will happen now. Will Amarra’s parents accept Eva for who she really is? Will Eva and Ray try to have a relationship? And if so, will it work? Will Eva stay with Ray because she wants to and not because it is expected from her? Can Ray love Eva for Eva and not because she’s all he has left of Amarra? Or is a relationship between those two bound to fail and will Sean and Eva find a way to be together?
Because of all those questions I still have, this book keeps invading my thoughts, and isn’t that exactly what makes a book so exceptional and memorable?
The Golem and the Jinni
By: Helene Wecker
Release Date: April 23, 2013
Rating: 5 Stars
|Summary: A marvelous and absorbing debut novel, an enchanting combination of vivid historical fiction and magical fable about two supernatural creatures in turn-of-the-century immigrant New York.
An immigrant tale that combines elements of Jewish and Arab folk mythology, Helene Wecker’s dazzling debut novel tells the story of two supernatural creatures who arrive separately in New York in 1899.
Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life to by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. When her master-the husband who commissioned her-dies at sea on the voyage from Poland, she is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York harbor in 1899.
Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop. Though he is no longer imprisoned, Ahmad is not entirely free-an unbreakable band of iron around his wrist binds him to the physical world.
Overwhelmed by the incessant longing and fears of the humans around her, the cautious and tentative Chava-imbued with extraordinary physical strength-fears losing control and inflicting harm. Baptized by the tinsmith who makes him his apprentice, the handsome and capricious Ahmad-an entity of inquisitive intelligence and carefree pleasure-chafes at monotony and human dullness. Like their immigrant neighbors, the Golem and the Jinni struggle to make their way in this strange new place while masking the supernatural origins that could destroy them.
Surrounding them is a colorful cast of supporting characters who inhabit the immigrant communities in lower Manhattan at the turn of the nineteenth into the twentieth century: the café owner Maryam Faddoul, a pillar of wisdom and support for her Syrian neighbors; the solitary Ice Cream Saleh, a damaged man cursed by tragedy; the kind and caring Rabbi Meyer and his beleaguered nephew Michael, whose Sheltering House receives newly arrived Jewish immigrants; the adventurous young socialite Sophia Winston; and the mysterious Joseph Schall, a dangerous man driven by ferocious ambition and esoteric wisdom.
Meeting by chance, Chava and Ahmad become unlikely friends whose tenuous attachment challenges their opposing nature-until the night a terrifying incident drives them back into their separate worlds. But a powerful threat will soon bring the Golem and the Jinni together again, challenging their existence and forcing them to make a fateful choice.
Marvelous and compulsively readable, The Golem and the Jinni weaves strands of Yiddish and Middle Eastern literature, historical fiction and magical fable into a wondrously inventive and unforgettable tale
Every once in a while, a book comes along that just humbles me as a reviewer. How can I explain the rich tapestry of themes, show the meanings and emotions I see, when the brilliant, interweaving threads have left me in a jumble of thoughts? And how do I do it without ruining the effect, when examining the threads and marveling at the skill of the weave forming such an incredible picture is such an integral part of the experience? I don’t know, I probably can’t, but here goes.
Chava is a golem. Ahmad is a jinni. This is not a story of their chance encounter and subsequent whirlwind romance among century ago New York’s immigrant community. No, this is one of those books. The ones that ponder the meaning of life and examine what it means to be human, to have free will and faith and hope, using the eyes of the least human among us to do so. It’s a mix of historical fiction and Gilded Age myth, Jewish mysticism and Arab folklore, combining elements ofFrankenstein and Aladdin in a seamless narrative that’s both timeless and modern, insightful yet moving.
I’ll admit, I didn’t think The Golem and the Jinni would be thatbook when I first started. Helene Wecker’s writing style leans more toward fairy tale than historical, almost as if there’s a surreal quality that makes her book difficult to place in its nineteenth century setting early on, but, as I would later realize, also lends an idealistic, romantic air to a city and a story that very well needed it. The first chapter is probably also the weakest, explaining Chava’s origins in that no nonsense, fairy tale way that leaves very little to the imagination, compounded by a story that’s slow, very slow, if affectionately crafted.
Yet, as the narrative unfolds, as Chava loses her ‘husband’ to appendicitis and finds herself, alone and masterless, in the urban jungle that is New York City even then, it’s obvious that Wecker quickly turns those weaknesses into elements of strength. Chava, desperately trying to pass as human for her own survival, is taken in by the elderly Rabbi Meyer, and although he’s not unkindly towards the golem, the uncertainty, both for him and for her, of whether she can go against her violent nature hangs in the air. And it’s Chava, created to serve the needs of humans yet trying to understand how to behave like one, who forms half the story. There are deep, profound moments about private thoughts and human nature, and whimsical moments with Chava testing the limits of her body, even eating food and trying to figure out where it goes, and the entire effect is that this wonderfully complex, incredibly compelling character slowly emerges, trying to pass for human out of necessity, yes, but also showing what it means to be one, maybe even a bit about the meaning of existence itself. Needless to say, I celebrated her triumphs, felt for her losses, understood her apprehensions, and hoped for her survival, all as she’s trying to find her way in the world.
The other half of the story is Ahmad, a creature very different from, potentially even the opposite, of Chava. Chava is of the earth; Ahmad is a being of fire. Chava is days old, innocent to the world; Ahmad is centuries old, jaded by his imprisonment. Chava doesn’t understand what it means to be human; Ahmad has the wrong ideas. Yet even before they meet, Wecker has created the perfect foil for the golem, a jinni who’s not less than human, but more, someone as wild and eternal as the desert air bound by flesh and blood, now a fraction of who he was. In contrast to the golem’s uncertainty, his is a restless anxiety that chafes at the limits of human freedom, yet I felt his despair at the constraints of humanity as much as I felt Chava’s fear of the limitlessness of humanity. And in a way, their intertwining stories form a reminder, I think, to the rest of us that, like Chava and Ahmad, we’re all trying to find ourselves between these two extremes.
Lest I forget, there is actually a plot. Chava and Ahmad don’t spend the entire book wandering the streets of New York, discussing the human condition while forming the unlikeliest of friendships, even if I guess my review does give that impression. Sure, a lot of it is about fitting in, being human, some of it a celebration of the immigrant experience through culture, faith, community, even the hope of Lady Liberty followed by the realities of working class New York, but connecting Chava and Ahmad’s story is also one Yehudah Schaalman, evil Kabbalist. The suspense of Schaalman’s machinations adds a bit of urgency to a story that otherwise really doesn’t have any – beyond flashbacks from Ahmad’s point of view slowly revealing his past while forming parallels with his present situation, but it’s Schaalman, mostly in the background, ominous and foreboding, who brings Chava and Ahmad’s story ultimately to its conclusion. I’m not entirely satisfied with the (somewhat rushed) ending, particularly with Sophia Winston’s role (though I do see how it mirrors Fadwa’s, a character from Ahmad’s past) and I feel Schaalman as the villain is a weaker aspect of the book than the exploration of human nature, but the epilogue is such a bittersweet parting I still deeply respect what Helene Wecker has done.
In a word, The Golem and the Jinni is a masterful look at the meaning of life through the eyes of two supernatural beings living in nineteenth century New York. Just by their everyday attempts to understand themselves, Chava and Ahmad, their story, says a lot about all of us.
The Eternity Cure (Blood of Eden 2)
By: Julie Kagawa
Release Date: April 30, 2013
Rating: 5 stars
|Summary: Allison Sekemoto has vowed to rescue her creator, Kanin, who is being held hostage and tortured by the psychotic vampire Sarren. The call of blood leads her back to the beginning—New Covington and the Fringe, and a vampire prince who wants her dead yet may become her wary ally.
Even as Allie faces shocking revelations and heartbreak like she’s never known, a new strain of the Red Lung virus that decimated humanity is rising to threaten human and vampire alike.
Review: Aghhh! Julie Kagawa. I love you. No, I hate you. Gah, really, I love you.
I thought the first book started out really slow until the last third, but this one kicked ass all the way through. It was a very intriguing story with a good mix of action, humour, seriousness, romance, betrayal (especially obnoxiousness from that twerp that just made my blood boil) and mystery about the virus and Eden.
1) If you ask if this book is really different from most paranormal-dystopian novels, probably not too far off. But Kagawa just had a way of sucking you into the story anyway.
2) Allie was a badass. Allie continued to be a badass. Too often, I see a strong, determined, no-nonsense fighter go through a period of uncertainty and lose themselves for a while and, quite frankly, annoy the hell out of me. Allie did go through a period where she was unsure of who she is and what she wants, but not once did she waiver from that firecracker she has always been.
3) For those who are wondering, yes, Zeke does return. And yes, even though I knew he would, I did experience the heart-stopping “oh my god” moment. Oh yeah, this book was worth reading.
4) Kanin is still the awesome, well-respected Master, showing strength even at his weakest moments.
5) Kagawa did an AMAZING job writing Jackal and Sarren. You just never know to expect with Jackel, and Sarren was just so psychotically twisted that I want to read more about him to see what he’s going to come up with next.
And the end. Left. Me. Breathless. Argh, I can’t wait for another year!
By: Cassandra Clare
Release Date: March 19, 2013
Rating: 5 Stars
|Summary: THE INFERNAL DEVICES WILL NEVER STOP COMING
A net of shadows begins to tighten around the Shadowhunters of the London Institute. Mortmain plans to use his Infernal Devices, an army of pitiless automatons, to destroy the Shadowhunters. He needs only one last item to complete his plan: he needs Tessa Gray.
Charlotte Branwell, head of the London Institute, is desperate to find Mortmain before he strikes. But when Mortmain abducts Tessa, the boys who lay equal claim to her heart, Jem and Will, will do anything to save her. For though Tessa and Jem are now engaged, Will is as much in love with her as ever.
As those who love Tessa rally to rescue her from Mortmain’s clutches, Tessa realizes that the only person who can save her is herself. But can a single girl, even one who can command the power of angels, face down an entire army?
Danger and betrayal, secrets and enchantment, and the tangled threads of love and loss intertwine as the Shadowhunters are pushed to the very brink of destruction in the breathtaking conclusion to the Infernal Devices trilogy.
From the desk of someone who apparently is a much better judge of these types of books than I:
Message from a concerned Will Herondale fan (not me obviously, I’m still getting pitchforks and torches thrown at me from said fan after my review of Clockwork Prince):
Please. It’s gotta be Will. Please. PLEASE. You just don’t understand. PLEASE?
If I had my way, Cassandra Clare would be writing nothing but steampunk. And I do mean that in the nicest terms possible, I’m a guy who looks at books based on individual merit, and she’s been awfully uneven over the years. There was that first Shadowhunters series which shall remain nameless but (*gulp* I am so getting flayed alive for this) almost turned me off her books for good, then Clockwork Angel surprised me with how much Clare’s writing suited the Victorian era London setting, while Clockwork Prince, eh, better not get into that one, but the gist of it is that I’ve enjoyed The Infernal Devices far more than I ever expected, even if (*has that uneasy feeling again*) I’ll continue to insist The Mortal Instruments are borderline unreadable.
Clockwork Princess though, I’m genuinely surprised at how much I liked, no loved, this bittersweet end to the series. Those who have been following me for awhile now will know I’m not actually really a fan of the Will or Jem relationship drama, I’d much more rather read about the mythology behind the series, the interplay between the various forces, angelic and demonic, Shadowhunter and Downworlder, and in particular the looming threat of the Magister’s clockwork army and the tension between the mechanical and the divine, you know, the stuff that makes the plot cool rather than ending with me basically handing tissues to my friends or watching with one eyebrow raised as they run in place screaming into a pillow, but lucky for me this last installment is a huge improvement over Clockwork Prince in that respect. I don’t think it’s a perfect balance, the Will and Jem drama is a bit too much for me and drags in places (maybe because I’m already dreading the combination of awwws and squees incoming in 3…2…1…), but, you know,
once in awhile even I can be a sucker for the melodrama even I’m not immune to the appeal of these characters.
But you know what? I think Tessa explains it way better than I ever will:
“You know that feeling when you are reading a book, and you know that it is going to be a tragedy; you can feel the cold and darkness coming, see the net drawing close around the characters who live and breathe on the pages. But you are tied to the story as if being dragged behind a carriage, and you cannot let go or turn the course aside.”
See? That’s exactly it, I like these characters that I’ve gotten to know over the course of three books, and once I started liking them I started to care about their problems, Jem dying, Will and Jem’s friendship, heck even Tessa’s heart torn in half, so it didn’t really bother me that there are chapters of Tessa and Will pouring their hearts out over Jem’s health or Tessa angsting over her engagement to Jem while having feelings for Will – it works because it’s exactly as Tessa says, I’m tied to their story and just can’t look away – who knew I’d be so invested in what some would describe as pointless, needless suffering and pain? And not just with Tessa and Will and Jem, I’ve always maintain the best books are the ones with supporting characters you’d want to root for as much as the main ones, so here’s my shoutout to Charlotte and Henry, Gideon and Sophie, Gabriel and Cecily, even Jessamine who doesn’t deserve what’s coming to her but I can see why Clare took that direction with her character.
Of course, as I’ve already said before, my favorite aspect of the series has always been this strangely fascinating mix of steampunk and angel lore that Clare’s created. A demonic clockwork army on its own will instantly grab my attention, but when it’s backed up by this frightening message:
THE INFERNAL DEVICES ARE WITHOUT PITY.
THE INFERNAL DEVICES ARE WITHOUT REGRET.
THE INFERNAL DEVICES ARE WITHOUT NUMBER.
THE INFERNAL DEVICES WILL NEVER STOP COMING.
Woah! Barely kept myself from flipping to the end to see how that ominous note plays out, but I’m glad I didn’t, because the creepy clockwork army delivers. Even more than that, though, Clare knows how to tie together references and events from her various books, and in a way that doesn’t even require reading her other series; all the endless speculation and theories have been a lot of fun, and although many of them turn out to be correct, like say the identity of the mysterious Brother Zachariah, Tessa’s origins , heck, even the ending of the book, some of them are also wrong, and which are right versus which are wrong may certainly be very surprising. And Clare certainly knows how to bring events full circle, the origins and purpose of Tessa’s mysterious clockwork angel, the series’ namesake, is finally revealed and I’m a huge
sucker fan of moments like that, perfectly fitting on so many levels.
Clockwork Princess is most likely going to be the last Cassandra Clare book I’ll ever read, as I have no interest in returning to The Mortal Instruments or trying Clare’s next Shadowhunters series, but I’m glad it ends the series in a satisfying, self contained place. My only advice? Concerned fans of Will Herondale should most definitely skip the epilogue 😉
Go to Mitch’s review on Goodreads.
By: Clare Vanderpool
Release Date: January 8, 2013
Rating: 5 Stars
|Summary: At the end of World War II, Jack Baker, a landlocked Kansas boy, is suddenly uprooted after his mother’s death and placed in a boy’s boarding school in Maine. There, Jack encounters Early Auden, the strangest of boys, who reads the number pi as a story and collects clippings about the sightings of a great black bear in the nearby mountains.
Newcomer Jack feels lost yet can’t help being drawn to Early, who won’t believe what everyone accepts to be the truth about the Great Appalachian Bear, Timber Rattlesnakes, and the legendary school hero known as The Fish, who never returned from the war. When the boys find themselves unexpectedly alone at school, they embark on a quest on the Appalachian Trail in search of the great black bear.
But what they are searching for is sometimes different from what they find. They will meet truly strange characters, each of whom figures into the pi story Early weaves as they travel, while discovering things they never realized about themselves and others in their lives.
Reading Navigating Early, I totally see why Clare Vanderpool won the Newberry last year. Hers are books that fall within that special category of middle grade fiction that speak as well to adults as to children, capturing not only the magic of childhood but also the hard hitting realizations of growing up. Even more impressively, I have to say her skillful yet subtle exploration of the themes of friendship, loss, and self discovery really snuck up on me here, and only serves to make this even more powerful.
What impressed me most of all though, is that this is a book with an incredible amount of depth. There are so many things going on here I’m hard pressed to explain it all, so I guess I’ll start with the obvious – on the surface, Navigating Early is a story of friendship between a new kid at a Maine boarding school and a fellow student who’s autistic as they go on a journey of discovery. Even though that alone would’ve made this a worthy read for me, beyond that, Navigating Early is really two character studies written in parallel, and that’s where this book really shines. The narrator, John Baker, is dealing with the recent death of his mother, while his friend Early Auden is dealing with the death of his brother Fisher. Let’s just say there’s something really compelling about John’s growth as a character, from his initial reaction to his mother’s death – a mix of grief and guilt because he failed to look after her – to his slow acceptance of her death over the course the story as he learns more about the meaning of loss from Early. And there’s something equally compelling about Early, outcast despite or maybe because he’s the younger brother of the school’s dead golden boy, even though Early’s convinced Fish is not really dead. So the two go on an expedition into the wilds of Maine to find Fisher, and the rest is history.
Along the way, there’s also a story within a story at work, the story of Pi. First of all, I can’t believe how imaginative Ms. Vanderpool is coming up with a story for an irrational number, but more than that, there’s something really poetic about the way she writes it. Not only did I find it totally believable that this would be the story Early would come up with and tell to explain the connections in his life in an orderly, mathematical way, but Pi’s adventures also serve a dual purpose, on one hand allegorical to symbolize John and Early going on this journey to try to find their place in the world, on the other, as a sort of counterpart to their journey that cleverly foreshadows a lot of the events. I absolutely loved all the different connections between the stories and how Pi’s story mirrors the boys’, and found the whole thing oddly appropriate once I understood the point of Pi. That said, some of the connections, while entirely appropriate, are a bit weird – there’s one, for example, with pirates, and I wouldn’t expect pirates in upstate Maine, but they also remind me of boyhood adventures in the tradition of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, so I still came away with a nice feeling in the end.
For me, I loved the characters, the writing, the depth, but the best part of the book by far though is the powerful, realistic emotions throughout. John and Early don’t hit it off right away; in fact, John thinks of Early as that weird kid at first, and it’s really what John does during one regatta scene that seals the deal and really shows character growth as it should be, not just some realization at the end of the book, but a slow, steady change over the course of the story. There are all the things John learns about Early, about other characters, and most importantly, about himself, over the course of the story. Of course, there’s also what John learns about his relationship with his father, who left John and his mother to go to war; I appreciated how his father’s absence shaped John’s attitudes at the beginning of the story and how they changed at the end, especially how it’s reflected also in Pi’s story. And of course, the ending, I said this is a book about self discovery and finding one’s place in the world, so even though I saw everything coming and knew what the story had in store for John and Early, that doesn’t take away from the lessons learned.
Overall, Navigating Early is a most excellent read that really shows that, just because a book is middle grade, doesn’t mean it can’t have depth. Clare Vanderpool doesn’t take her characters, their development, or anything else for that matter for granted and it really shows in her writing.
Through the Ever Night (Under the Never Sky #2)
By: Veronica Rossi
Release Date: January 8, 2013
Rating: 5 Stars
|Summary: It’s been months since Aria last saw Perry. Months since Perry was named Blood Lord of the Tides, and Aria was charged with an impossible mission. Now, finally, they are about to be reunited. But their reunion is far from perfect. The Tides don’t take kindly to Aria, a former Dweller. And with the worsening Aether storms threatening the tribe’s precarious existence, Aria begins to fear that leaving Perry behind might be the only way to save them both.
Threatened by false friends, hidden enemies, and powerful temptations, Aria and Perry wonder, Can their love survive through the ever night?
In this second book in her spellbinding Under the Never Sky trilogy, Veronica Rossi combines fantasy and dystopian elements to create a captivating love story as perilous as it is unforgettable.
Whew. I am stunned because I didn’t like Under the Never Sky at all and had my doubts about continuing this series, but I am so glad I gave this book a chance because, turns out, Through the Ever Night is the best book I’ve read in months. Very impressive. As a note, this review is mostly aimed at my fellow Under the Never Sky unenthusiasts, because for fans of the first book, I think the only thing I need to say is this sequel is so worth it.
For me, the problem with Under the Never Sky wasn’t the shoddy world building, that I can live with – rather, it was Veronica Rossi’s haphazard writing style and kitchen sink storytelling mentality. She has a great concept, a sheltered girl’s kicked out of the relative safety of her domed existence, cut off from the crutch of her virtual world, and forced to fend for herself in a dangerous dystopian landscape, but the way Rossi did it, by throwing every single generic dystopian element she could think of at me – in no particular order – just didn’t work. I didn’t like the extremely thin connections between Aria’s Reverie troubles and Perry’s Tides problems, I didn’t like the random seemingly pointless characters like Marron and Cinder, and I sure as hell didn’t like the cannibals. Thanks to all the randomness, the plot ends up being just this big, aimless, jumbled, incredibly boring mess with really no character development whatsoever – Perry was just your standard noble savage, Aria was just your average pampered princess tossed to the wolves, and frankly, none of the other characters stood out for me at all besides Talon, who’s basically a MacGuffin. In short, I was bored out of my mind.
And then I read Through the Ever Night. Let’s just say mind blown, because Through the Ever Night is such a better book, it’s like day and night. The first thing I notice? The tight plotting. I’m no longer reading about disparate storylines like Aria needing to survive outside the dome, Perry needing to get Talon back, sniffing and menstruation or all the random events that keep arising to impede their goals, because in this book, everyone – Perry, Aria, heck even Commander Hess – are all focused on one thing and one thing only – finding the Still Blue, the fabled safe zone from the Aether. And the advantage of having everyone focused on the Still Blue is simple – it’s immediately obvious what the endgame is, so that focus really helps keep the story on track without me feeling like the plot keeps wandering around or treading water. Plus, the action sequences are handled way better – rather than the cannibal attacks or aimless wandering through the wilderness as before, Rossi actually uses the postapocalyptic disaster setting she’s created to challenge and develop her characters, something I would’ve never expected from reading Under the Never Sky.
Take Perry, for example, who takes on a shit load of new responsibilities now that he’s the Blood Lord of the Tides. The last book was a lot of him complaining about how Vale’s doing it all wrong, but now that he’s stepping up to the challenge, he actually becomes an interesting character with quite a bit of depth. Those struggles to provide for his tribe kind of lacked that extra punch when he was just the leader’s brother – they were more like a generic struggle for survival in a harsh dystopian landscape than anything else, but now that he’s in charge, he’s at the forefront, worrying about his people, doing things, risking his life confronting the threat of the Aether, and it all makes him a far more active and compelling, if not more relatable, character than before. Even if he does behave like a nut job at one point. And the same kind of praise can be said about Aria. I didn’t like her before, but now, with Perry’s leadership position and her outsider status weighing on their relationship, and her being tasked to track down the location of the Still Blue, she really grew on me over the course of the book in a way I really felt was missing from the first book. In fact, it’s not really a stretch to say the character development here more than made up for the disappointment of Under the Never Sky.
Actually, looking back, I’m still not enthusiastic about Under the Never Sky, but I have to acknowledge that book, no matter how random and boring it was, absolutely did a good job setting up this one. Turns out, so many of the events that I’d dismissed as pointless previously really fit well into the overall story here – people like those six guys Perry gets to join him towards the end of Under the Never Sky who just felt randomly tacked on and out of place, well Reef and company are back and not only do I feel they just naturally slip into the roles of Perry’s bodyguards and advisors and moral support so well, but I actually liked them. Or Cinder, he was just that weird kid with the crazy what the hell power before, but now, his role actually makes sense in the bigger picture, the search for the Still Blue. Or Roar, who goes from the dull sidekick character into someone with a fully fleshed out tragic back story who I ended up genuinely liking. Even Marron, another random character from the first book, fits like a glove in his new role here, so much so I think I’m actually questioning why I questioned Rossi’s plans for these characters, that’s how much improved they all are here.
My only word of warning is that for anyone unsatisfied with the explanation of the Aether, well Rossi tries again, but her added explanation is still only one sentence long and not much to go on. Personally though, I don’t mind ambiguous world building where it works, and it certainly works here, because even if the characters can’t give the most lucid explanations for the Unity, I can’t argue with the results. Not when I’m reading about dangerous weather phenomena that actually plays a big role in the character development. And makes for wicked cool action sequences too, of course. Plus that ending, wow, wow, I thought Under the Never Sky really missed the boat with the theme of people being too overreliant on virtual worlds, but like so much else that comes roaring back with a vengeance. What happens to Reverie and particularly the stuff with Aria’s friends is just too poetic for words and has to be read.
I think I’ve raved enough about how much I enjoyed Through the Ever Night despite my reservations about Under the Never Sky. But when a book is such a massive improvement over its predecessor, it’s well deserving of a second chance.
Longtime readers of my reviews know I only give five stars to books that absolutely blow me away. Through the Ever Night is such a book. GO READ IT!!