A Breath of Eyre by Eve Marie Mont

Publication year: 2012
Genre: Young Adult
Time and place: 2012 US/the pages of Jane Eyre
Narrated in: first-person
First sentence:There was no possibility of taking a swim that day.
Verdict: Hated it with a passion.

Summary
Emma’s life is going less than well. She and her step mother have nothing in common, the rich girls at the boarding school where she has a scholarship treat her bad, she has a crush on not one, but two unavailable guys…

A lighting strike relieves her of all her cares though, as she finds herself transported right between the pages of the book she was currently reading, Jane Eyre. Mrs. Fairfax and Adele think Emma is Jane, and after a while she herself starts believing it and even falls in love with Mr. Rochester. Her real life is calling, however, and…

General impression
Jane Eyre is my favorite book. I love the language, I love the story, and most of all I love the characters. Which is why this book annoyed me so: it managed to get both Jane and Edward wrong, painting the latter in such a bad light it left me shaking my head in disbelief. The least thing I expect from a ‘reteller’ is to be acquainted with the original story; this one certainly wasn’t.

Dear author, in case you ever read this,
Rochester had married Bertha because he was young, and she was beautiful, and he thought himself in love. Yes, his father had arranged this marriage because the bride was rich, but Edward was not told about the money part. After the wedding she has shown her true colors (“a nature the most gross, impure, depraved“) and life with her was hell; Edward even thought of a divorce, but he couldn’t since by this time the doctors (yes, author, he did consult doctors) have discovered that she was turning mad. Mad as her mother and her younger brother — because you see, author, madness ran in her family. Little by little the fact that he was now hopelessly tied to a lunatic drove Rochester to despair; he even wanted to kill himself. Only the idea of shutting her up in the attic (well cared for, as he couldn’t bring himself to harm her in the littlest way), while he could pose as an unattached man saved his life. And it is only at this stage (with her already mad for quite a while) that she brought her to Thornfield — there is no plausible way to think that the imprisonment was the cause of her insanity. Edward is not a perfect man, far from it, but he is not the monster that you make him seem.

As for Jane, you seem to think that she left Edward because she could not forgive him for what he’s done. But she loves him and she understands him, and I see her above such petty things as being unable to forgive. She loves him dearly and she fears that he will harm himself after she’s gone — and yet she does go, because she cannot abide to live with him and not be his bride. Such were the morals of the age, such were her principles, and she preferred tearing her heart out to breaking them (“I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad—as I am now. Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth?“). This choice that Jane has made is one of the reasons I respect her the most, and you, author, have torn it away from her without a thought.

You know, I think this book would have been many times better if there had been no connection with Jane Eyre. Standing on its own it might have been a cute story (perhaps with a few hidden parallels, like Gray trying to make Emma jealous, or her being able to feel when he was in danger, or whatever). As it is, there are quite a few problems with it that did not let me properly enjoy it even in the few moments when I could get over the part where Rochester was turned into a monster. Not to mention that I didn’t very well get what was the purpose of Emma’s foray into the pages of Jane Eyre: show spoiler

Random considerations:

  • Emma must be both quite unlucky and indestructible, as she is very near to dying no less than four times in the course of a few months. And after each of these adventures she ends up good as new in the space of a few weeks;
  • She was also sort of too silly for my taste (I lost all the respect I had for her when she at one time says about her teacher, “How dare he condescend to me just because he was older and had seen more of the world?“, when the guy was giving her some advice — I get that she is supposed to be a teenager, and that is the way most teens think, but I really cannot admire a silly child);
  • I think it’s very, very hard to do Jane Eyre justice in a YA book. The original is a piece of beautiful literature, and simplifying it means letting go of the very things that made it special. This book is no exception, it felt at times like a child’s attempt to make a copy of Gioconda.
  • The most important challenge for the author I thought was the fact that Emma had to both know about the book and still be in the dark about what is to happen. At first this was quite well approached, as when Emma enters the book she has only read a part of it, not all (she has read long enough to know how things end up between her and Rochester, but no more). As Emma loses touch with her own reality and her non-Jane life, this could still have worked. She falls in love with R., she is heart broken when she sees Blanche, that sort of thing. Up to now, it all was believable enough. But then Emma goes back to her life and manages to finish the book. Not only that but when she returns between the pages she now has her full memories — when R. asks her where she has been she remembers that in the book Jane has been away to visit her sick aunt. A mere moment after that she gets upset that R. still plans to marry Blanche — so she remembered a tiny detail of the book but didn’t remember that a central theme is R.’s love for Jane and no other?
  • Another challenge I think was the part where Gray — Emma’s love interest — had to have a terrifying secret of his own, to mirror Rochester’s. As in the previous case, I thought the author was very close to finding just the thing, but unfortunately she didn’t; I thought her choice was veering a bit towards the ridiculous as I couldn’t help thinking that no one in their right mind could actually blame Gray for what happened, and as such the secret lacked the strength it needed to make it count.
    show spoiler
  • in the sequel Emma will get into the pages of The Scarlett Letter, and I am almost considering picking it up because, while I absolutely love Jane Eyre and was personally offended by the changes made to it, about Scarlet Letter I could not  care less. Sadly, the third book will have Emma into The Phantom of the Opera, which is also one of the books I love.

Thoughts on the title
Loved it + it’s the reason I picked up the book.

Thoughts on the ending
Happy ending, yay. Although considering I didn’t care too much about Emma it was no big deal.

Also,  in my opinion the whole bit about the feminist essay about Bertha would not have been missed at all if it weren’t there.
show spoiler

Recommend it to?
YA lovers who wouldn’t mind having Jane Eyre butchered in front of their eyes.

Buy this from amazon.com | Buy this from bookdepository.co.uk | Eve Marie Mont’s website | Eve Marie Mont on Twitter

The Company of the Dead by David Kowalski

Publication year: 2007
Genre: time travel / dystopia
Time and place: mostly 2012, an alternate version of US (actually, the US does not exist as it has seceded into North and South a few decades before); also, some 1912, on board the Titanic
Narrated in: third-person omniscient
First sentence:Jonathan Wells stood by the starboard railing, a gaunt figure in a dinner jacket.
Verdict: It has its good parts but on the whole it’s not for me.

Continue reading

Dirklus by Ahsumma Beach

Genre: Fantasy
Main characters: Annah, Dirklus
Time and place: the kingdom of Archonia, unspecified time
First sentence:King Archon had a notorious reputation for ordering maids to his chambers against their will to satisfy his carnal appetite.

Verdict: Funny :)
It even made me laugh out loud in public.

Summary
For the last ten years casting has been prohibited in Archonia; the casters have been hunted down and killed. As the book opens Dirklus is a baby-soon-to-become-a-powerful-caster, and together with Annah, his also-baby friend, has been entrusted to pirates to be taken to safety. Thus they end up in the house of master Nilis, a capable albeit quite grumpy magician.

Twenty more years pass, Annah and Dirklus grow up. As their peninsula is threatened by the Archonian king, Dirklus is sent on a quest. He doesn’t go alone however — not only Annah comes along, but a large percentage of the villagers, having a bone to pick with the invaders, joins forces with him for most of the way.

General impression
There were some confusing moments but overall I enjoyed the writing style :)

The book definitely is perfectible, and yet it is funny enough to make me want to recommend it to people. It reminded me of T. Pratchett’s Color of Magic, his first Discworld book, entertaining despite being less polished than his future works. I hope this author keeps writing and finds a good editor to fix the lesser parts — there is quite a bit of potential in his (or her?) work. I suspect that won’t be the case, however, judging by the chosen pseudonym (rather close to “a summer beach”), but I hope I am wrong.

Full disclosure: I received this book as a gift from the author. However, anything I say about it is my own opinion, uninfluenced by that.

Setting
While the story starts out in Archonia, the part of the world most of the action takes place in Westburg, a city on a peninsula owned by a wannabe-reclusive caster, Nilis. The inhabitans — the Burgese — are shrewd business people with an interesting cultural quirk: prior to getting married all females work in brothels, calling themselves ‘wives-in-training’ :)

The most important product of the island are the Westburg Sweets, a very sought after type of… onions. These are very beloved to the inhabitants, being their main commodity but also their weapon of choice — expensive as these onions are, the Burgese never hesitate to rain them on the enemies when the situation calls for a fight. :)

Characters
Annah!! I love Annah :)

I think she is the perfect fantasy heroine. She’s independent, spunky, knows what she wants and she’s not afraid to reach for it, and more important none of these traits are present in excess, as she also knows when it is time to listen and obey. She seemed to have loved Dirklus since forever, despite the fact that Nilis told them they were related, and come hell or high water she is decided to get him.

Dirklus was clumsy and naive, in a sweet kind of way. He’s also very enamored with Nooki, the most profitable wife-in-training in Westburg, and dreams of one day marrying her. The fact that he’s a very powerful caster is unknown to him, as he cannot access any intermediate spell (nor any of those above intermediate, of course), plus he has trouble controlling his power. A detail that will of course change throughout the course of the book :)

Relationships
As it is mentioned in one of the first few pages that Annah and Dirklus are soul mates, it comes as no surprise that they end up together.

This is of the weak points of the novel (I wonder how old the author is; plus it makes me believe the author is a he), the way the relationship between Annah and Dirklus appears all of a sudden. One moment Dirklus wanted to marry Nooki, and the next one he was head over heels in love with Annah, simply because he show spoiler

I will say however that the parts prior to A & D’s becoming all lovey dovey were very funny, what with Dirklus ready to do anything for Nooki, and with Annah always jealous of this. Ah, her lines were at times priceless :)

Plot
Now that king Archon’s campaign to rid his lands of casters is at and end, it is time for the hunter — a caster herself — to share their fate. She disagrees to this idea, however, and she mercilessly finishes off the army that the king has sent for her. As the only two survivors return to the king with the news, they unknowingly bring into the castle something else: a species of vermin that ends up destroying the king’s cache of Royal Sweets (ordinary Westburg Sweets, but with a more imposing name). King’s men are sent far and wide, in search for new sources of Sweets, to replace the lost ones.

A ship ends up finding Nilis’ peninsula, and the army on board wants to annex it to Archonia. The Burgese fight valiantly, despite being hindered by Dirklus’ inability to cast a proper spell. The enemies flee, taking Nooki with them and swearing to return soon, with a bigger army, to make Westburg theirs. And here is how Dirklus’ quest begins, as Nooki must be rescued and the land defended :)

What I liked most
Ages ago, when the first few Harry Potter books came out, I ignored them altogether because I believed them a fad. And then curiosity got the best of me and I started on the first one, fully expecting it to let me down. And I still remember how surprised I was by the care JKR has taken in adding to her world all sorts of ingenious little details — the pictures in the newspapers that talked back at you, for example –, so unexpected and as such very enjoyable.

I am not saying this book will be the next Harry Potter, however I was delighted to find in its first few pages a bit of the same thrill I found then, a set of small, unexpected ideas that I have very much enjoyed. Examples:

“Those coins have ears. Breathe a word to anyone of our encounter, and they will find their way back to us quicker than they can be spent.” Adayla stepped toward the tavern door with Sunlit close behind. Ratsai slit his eyes to examine a gold coin and observed large ears embossed on both sides.

The large amulet around her neck glowed as mysterious symbols danced across its metallic surface. Murky checked Dirklus and found a nearly identical treasure. He concealed the amulets within the infants’ blankets and escorted Maulvin around the bar into the back office. “Did you get a load of all that gold? They’re rich,” Murky whispered. “We’re rich!” He dug through the blankets and took another look at the amulets. The mystic symbols reacted to Murky’s intense scrutiny and burrowed into the precious metal. Murky bit down on an amulet and his front teeth glowed.

And a bit that’s really fun to picture:

Haggle raised his hands and clapped twice. The Burgese merchants fell silent, as did the playful sounds from the brothel as the women peered out the windows. “Burgese! To the beach! New customers have arrived!” In an instant, Burgese merchants snatched back their wares from current browsing customers and packed up their stands, carts, wagons, and boutiques as fast as humanly possible. They mobilized for the beach in an orderly manner, marking up prices on the go.

Also, the sword that Dirklus is quested with finding is named Boots :)

What I liked least
The writing felt somewhat clunky at times, and in need of a good editor. It seems to me that while the author writes interesting, captivating, funny scenes in general, he or she has problems when it comes to transitioning from one scene to another. There were quite a few times that I had to go back and re-read the beginning of a chapter, because as the ‘stage’ changed it wasn’t always obvious into what, and my mental model differed from the intended one.

The same goes for the introductory scenes at the beginning. I spent the first quarter of the book wondering who Tinacia actually was, and why she was the only accepted caster (only to realize later that this wasn’t the case, since Captain Grave was a minor caster too). The peninsula’s whereabouts could have been a little bit better introduced too, as it’s not entirely clear how the Burgese first ended up on Nilis’ peninsula.

On a second read, paying a lot more attention, I admit that the Tinacia bit was explained, albeit in very few words, that made sense after I already knew all about her. The peninsula bit however remained a mystery.

Thoughts on the title
Well, it’s obviously a name :)

The mystery is… the name of who/what?

This may be both an advantage and a disadvantage, as each potential reader will affix to it a meaning, and then become interested or not in the book, accordingly. I thought at first it was a planet, or something sci-fi anyway, and since sci-fi is not among my favorite genres, had I seen this in a store I wouldn’t have taken a second glance at it. As it happens, it was sent to me by the author, and as such giving it a try was the very least courtesy expected; and then I discovered that Dirklus was actually a caster in a fantasy book, and oh, fantasy I do like.

Thoughts on the ending
To be continued…

Minor villains are defeated, major villains aren’t. I expect there will be a sequel one day. What is it with series nowadays, it seems like no one can ever write a single book :( (of course, I still stand by what I said, that I would like to read more from this author, but I am getting quite fed up with sequels nowadays; yet on the other hand there’s also the Discworld, as an example of books sharing an universe, so here’s to hoping this author plans something similar instead of a classical trilogy or whatever)

show spoiler

Recommend it to?
Those with a great visual imagination. Those who love Pratchett and aren’t afraid of some imperfections.

Buy this from amazon.com | Buy this from bookdepository.co.uk

Out of Time by Deborah Truscott

Genre: Time Travel / Romance
Main characters: Kathleen “Kathy Lee” Finlay, Colonel Robert Christian Upton
Time and place: contemporary US
First sentence:I buried Earl shortly after Valentine day.

Verdict: Enjoyed it :)

Summary
At thirty-two, Kathy Lee’s marriage is in shambles. It’s time for her to take a deep breath and address the problem head-on. However, before moving away and asserting her independence, there is one more thing she has to do: sell the house she has inherited from her uncle, the house she is quite fond of but knows she will never use.

As she was planning to get ready the grounds for the potential buyers’ visits, she went to the shed to get a rake. There was something else in the shed but tools however: a man, strangely dressed and just as surprised to find himself there as she was. More so actually, since he is very convinced that it’s the autumn of 1777, and where did the wall he was just sitting on go?

General impression
An nice book that started out okay and got better as I read on.

Characters
I wasn’t fond of Kathy Lee for most of the book. I didn’t dislike her, she seemed nice enough, but she also seemed more like a placeholder for a person. I cannot pinpoint why I felt like that, because the author has been really thorough with her, giving her a family, back story, and even a cat. The feeling subsided in the second half of the book but in the first few pages Kathy seemed to exist simply because someone had to be there to meet and greet the colonel, and no more. She also seems a bit too selfless to be true, particularly at first, when she first meets Robert and she radically alters her own plans to include him, although he was a total stranger: “We’d simply stay here as long as it took to get the Colonel back, and if it took longer than we thought I’d tell Lila I had decided to keep the house after all. That I would live here. And then we’d set up camp — the children, me, and, um, oh hell, Uncle Robert. And hope to God that no one came to visit us.”

On the other hand Robert, the colonel, felt sort of opposite: a character I rapidly grew attached to, which is an interesting thing if we consider that we only see him through Kathy Lee’s eyes. The fact that he was a British soldier fighting the Americans-to-be was a particularly nice touch :) Sure, he does adapt to modern times and morals blazingly fast, but that is sort of a given in a TT book, else the protagonists could hardly understand one another. Furthermore, the trip to this century has addled his senses a bit, a thing that can also account for some of his flexibility. Overall he’s a nice guy, smart, handsome, and with a troubled past — all the quintessential traits of a romance hero — and yet he didn’t feel cliché.

Relationships
One of the parts I liked most was the relationship between Kathy Lee and Lila, her mother. Lila is a historical romance writer five-times divorced, whose mental issues made her spend some time in a hospital while Kathy Lee grew up. As the latter puts it, “Until I went away to college I spent a good portion of my life never really understanding what was going on around me or what was going to happen next“. Even now the two are not very close, and Lila feels guilt for all the times in Kathy Lee’s childhoos that she was away. And yet all throughout the book it is obvious that Lila loves Kathy, and Kathy loves Lila despite it all. show spoiler

As for the main relationship, it started out a bit less that ideal, especially as for the first bit Kathy Lee acted like she was the mother and Robert her unruly child. However, as pages flew by and our hero and heroine grew used to each other, the relationship between them got cozier, making a romance between both desirable and believable.

Plot
The book revolves around the way Robert gets to adapt to his new environment, as well as his attempts to go back home. There is a bit of element of suspense, as there may be someone, an enemy, that is after him, but it is mostly hinted at than presented outright. I personally was far less interested in the ‘Robert adapting’ part than any of the rest.

What I liked most
The way Robert just had to explain the etymology of the names of the things he discovers in the present day. I didn’t realize there are so many things with Greek/Latin names surrounding us. Also, his infectious curiosity about how everything works, even convincing someone at one time to open up a lawn mower to show him what’s inside. I’ve seen the ‘man from the past discovers modern technology’ trope quite a few times until now (a thing that’s only natural, given my penchant for time travel-ly stuff) and I can say that this author has dealt with it very, very well.

What I liked least
A nitpick, but I couldn’t help feeling that there was no place for the parenthesis that appeared now and then (this may very well be the only book with parenthesis in it I’ve ever seen). Why yes, I know that I too am guilty of parenthesis overuse, but it feels a bit different to find them in a novel, especially as there were times there wasn’t an actual need for them. It made me feel like the book lacked an editor, which is a pity because other than this and a few typos here and there the book was rather okay written1.

Thoughts on the title
Quite generic, as I imagine it would fit more or less any time travel book out there. However, I must admit it was the thing that attracted me to the book (since I am such a fan of time travel stories and all) so it must be doing something right too.

Thoughts on the ending
Nicely done :)
show spoiler

Recommend it to?
Anyone in the mood for a light time travelling romance.

Buy this from amazon.com | Deborah Truscott on Facebook

  1. ah, sad sad times, when we consider a few typos to be nothing bad. I cannot help remembering how, eons ago, even one typo in a book was quite a big deal :( []

Girl in the Arena by Lise Haines

Genre: Young Adult
Main characters: Lyn (G.?), Uber
Time and place: Boston in an alternate version of our reality; the year is ours or close to ours, I think
First sentence:In 1969 there was a young widower named Joseph Byers who lost his only child, Ned, to the war in Vietnam, when Ned tried to dodge the draft.
Verdict: Not what I was expecting.

Summary
The daughter of seven neo-gladiators, Lyn is now eighteen and a minor celebrity of her time. Her mother, Allison, is very devoted to gladiator culture, and expects her to have a bright future as a gladiator wife. Lyn is not entirely certain this is what she really wants, so she takes her time, weighing her options. But then Lyn’s last father, Tommy, is killed in the arena, and the family’s situation changes overnight. What’s worse, cultural circumstances force Lyn to marry her father’s killer, or her family will be thrown into the streets. By now however she is certain she does not want to be a ‘glad wife’, so she makes the only choice that seems available to her: challenges her husband-to-be to a duel in the arena, to the death.

General impression
For some reason the title made me think of one of those books, Hunger Games-like, where a bunch of people are stranded in a situation where they are supposed to claw their way out, most likely stepping on their adversaries’ bodies in the process. Well, this book is not it. Our main character only spends a few pages at most in the actual arena, and unfortunately I didn’t find the rest of the story strong enough to make up for it.

Setting
It all started out like a good idea:

Joe Byers introduced neo-gladiator sport into American life to involve teenage boys in a new form of competition that would be exhilarating while releasing energy in a safe, clean way. He hoped there would be less need for war over time, especially for useless, savage wars like Vietnam.

As time passed, however, the balsa wood weapons the boys trained with became real ones; their matches became sport events broadcast on a national scale. Gladiator schools were formed; in time they were followed by a Gladiator Wives College (“where young women learn in two intensive years to be perfect Glad wives“). A Gladiator culture was formed, with its own set of rules. And somewhere along the way killing one’s opponent became not only accepted but the norm.

Characters
I didn’t actually get Lyn. I cannot put my finger on the why, but I could not relate to her, and I don’t think I liked her very much. It’s not like she was bad or anything, she just felt… bland. There was nothing about her that truly stood up, she was just there.

And then we have Lyn’s mother, who most of the time seems to be in various stages of depression, and as such I couldn’t relate to her either. And there’s Thad, Lyn’s autistic brother, who seemed like a plot device more than anything else — there had to be someone depending on Lyn’s choices, to force her on a certain path, and what better way to do that than ‘attaching’ a younger brother to her? And then, why not go for an extra touching factor and make him unable to ever fend for himself. But hey, why make him ordinary? Let’s make him an oracle, of all things. How in the world did Thad know the future, and why did we need a foreteller in the book anyway? That’s never explained. One more thing for me to wonder about I guess.

On the other hand, there is Uber. A born-in gladiator (meaning that his father was a gladiator too), and the current arena champion (which means he was the very best in his field at the time). He could have been such a great character. Too bad he borrows a little from Allison’s way of seeing the world, and as such he’s always dejected or something similar. A bit strange if one thinks about it, after all this was his moment and he had the world at his feet, but there it is. He felt like something carried away by a breeze; he goes where he’s expected to go and does what he’s expected to do, with hardly any initiatives of his own. And to think he had so much potential *sigh*

Relationships
It felt like all the relationships in the book that had any potential at all were underdeveloped, while much fuss was made about those I cared nothing for. It’s like the author had a good idea somewhere — a love triangle between a girl, her (guy) best friend who’s loved her since forever, and a new guy that everyone pushes her towards, despite the fact that he is responsible for her family’s misery. Lyn could have oscillated a bit between the familiar and the new, between her duty as a daughter and the fact that Uber was in fact rather likable; Mark could have fought tooth and nail to keep her to himself; Uber could have been obsessed with leaving the country to get rid of the gladiator life, or… I don’t know, something, anything. As it is, everyone seems a little too mild. Mark loves Lyn but does nothing to keep her other than mildly telling her so. Uber mildly tells Lyn that he loves her and he wants to leave the country one day and that is that. He never takes a stand, he even fights her in the arena, and even hurts her a few times; how’s that for being in love? As for Lyn, she never knows what she’s feeling and she doesn’t care enough to find out. She may have feelings for Uber, but, like in everyone else’s case, they never go beyond mild. And… I likes books that are intense, I like to read about feeling that blow my mind, I can’t say I much care about mild *sigh, again*.

Plot
The book felt like there was a plot somewhere in there but it kept eluding me. I was quite interested to see how the relationship between Lyn and Uber will evolve, and whether the two of them will manage to beat the system, and how. These things however kept taking a backseat, as the focus kept being on other secondary characters — mostly Lyn’s mother and brother. There are pages after pages describing Lyn’s interactions with Thad, their routines, and I kept feeling they added nothing at all to the story. Ok, I got that Thad was very attached to Lyn and Lyn loved Thad in one of their first scenes together, I did not need any more of them as they seemed repetitive after a while. There are also many pages about Alison, and her reactions to various things. And yet none of those pages allowed me to grasp the essence of the character — or perhaps I did grasp it but kept thinking there must be more to her. But there are so very few pages about Uber, and how Lyn deals with the fact that he killed her current father (surprisingly enough, Allison made such a big deal of having lost her best husband but seems to have nothing but benign feelings for his killer). I kept wanting more, I kept looking forward to things getting to actually develop… but they never did.

What I liked most
The whole backstory of Glad culture (how it came to be, how it evolved to its current state) was quite well done, in my opinion. While on the whole I doubt that there are that many people willing to die in the arena to get the trend started at first, there is nothing in the author’s depiction of events that challenges my suspension of disbelief — it’s one of those improbable but not implausible things that I could actually see happen, should stars align in a certain way. And yeah, I thought that was cool :)
show spoiler

Also, a fun detail I enjoyed, also in the course of presenting the timeline, there’s this:

Then four things happened: Chuck Palahniuk, 9/11, the war in Iraq, and a self-help book selling in the millions called The Mystery. Drawing on the self-actualizing techniques of The Mystery, Caesar’s Inc., a holding company located in New York City (not to be mistaken with the Las Vegas group), recognized an opportunity.

A self-help book called The Mystery, get it? ;)

What I liked least
As much as I liked the backstory of it all, there were a couple elements I heartily disliked.

First, the premise of the book (that Uber had ‘captured’ Lyn’s dowry bracelet and in their culture this means they had to get married) seemed to me very contrived. Not only because I cannot imagine how such a custom ever came to be (who, male or female, would ever want to have such an important choice stripped from them?), but also because I find it a bit too silly on Lyn’s part to offer the thing that could imprison her for life so carelessly to someone else. Last but not least, the concept was insufficiently explored (no details were ever given about the bracelet — how did the tradition started? How/when did a girl get hers? etc), and so the whole thing felt like a gimmick to force the two main characters together. Yawn.

The second is more of a pet peeve and it has something to do with the Living machines. Leaving aside the fact that I don’t quite see how they got developed in the first place, in a society so similar to ours (gladiators aside, the pop culture is mostly the same; they even have Second Life and youtube), the ‘implementation details’ are a bit fuzzy to me. Let us assume that having a sentient copy of someone else is doable. But projecting a 360 degrees 3D image without a projector in sight (also, more than one such character walks from one place to another, from example Tommy appears outside and then comes into the house) is… well, not something I see happening in the next centuries. And then they eat!! How in the hell can a projected image physically interact with the physical world? Not in the least, why did the author felt the need to include this tidbit anyway? It’s not like it had any relevance to the rest of the story, yet it jolted me right out of the moment. Why yes, I work in tech, why do you ask? :)

Thoughts on the title
Well, there was a girl. And an arena. And even a girl in the arena for a short while. I imagine it can be called appropriate (although as previously stated it was rather misleading to me).
(also, can I pretty please complain about the cover? Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful cover, and I love love love the girl’s hair. It’s only that in the book Lyn’s scalp was shaved)

Thoughts on the ending
Wow. It’s been ages since I read a book whose ending I simply did not understand. And to think people criticize the lack of fighting in Breaking Dawn. If there was a prize for most useless climax ever, well, this book would take it.
show spoiler

Recommend it to?
Young Adult & Dystopia fans I guess. While the book fell short for me in some ways, this doesn’t mean that a true fan of the genre cannot find it enjoyable. Or so I think :)

Buy this from amazon.com | Buy this from bookdepository.co.uk | Lise Haines’s website | Lise Haines on Twitter | Lise Haines on Facebook

Where She Went by Gayle Forman

Genre: Young Adult
Main characters: Adam Wilde, Mia Hall
Time and place: New York, 2011
First sentence:Every morning I wake up and I tell myself this: It’s just one day, one twenty-four-hour period to get yourself through.
Verdict: Three point five stars out of five.

Summary:

Up onstage, in front of eighteen thousand fans, alongside the people who, once upon a time, were part of my family, I felt as alone as I do in [the recording] booth.

It’s been three years since Mia’s accident, two and a half since she has gone off to Juilliard and away from everything in her previous life. So many months that Adam has spent wondering why she has left him without a word, without ever coming back. He’s now a famous rock star, with an even more famous girlfriend, but he feels that his life is getting out of hand. He cannot stand his current band members, he has no patience for the press, and the mere thought of the tour that’s about to begin tires him to no end.

So, this is how it’s become? This is what I’ve become? A walking contradiction? I’m surrounded by people and feel alone. I claim to crave a bit of normalcy but now that I have some, it’s like I don’t know what to do with it, don’t know how to be a normal person anymore.

And then one evening, his last one in the States, he accidentally wanders near Carnegie Hall. There is a concert there, Mia Hall’s. And he cannot resist the temptation of seeing her again, after all this time…

General impression
I’ve read this one in a single sitting too :) That is how impatient I was to see how the book will end. Other than that though I was somewhat disappointed by it. Not that it’s a bad book, it’s quite a good one; my expectations were just so very high. It’s written in the same style as If I Stay (present day scenes alternating remembered ones), it still had an emotional impact on me, and yet… something I cannot pinpoint felt a bit off. Perhaps because I could no longer ‘get’ the characters as perfectly as I could in the first book? Perhaps because every single thing that made the first book stand out for me is now gone?

Characters
In the first book both Adam and Mia were like two innocent children, and it was one of the things I have liked most about them; now that innocence is gone, at least in Adam’s case (the story is narrated by him, so we have lots more details about his past life than Mia’s). Sure, his past years have been rather tame for a rock star, and he does a good job of explaining away all his mistakes — when all is said and done he’s still a decent human being, perhaps even a better one after all his challenges. I very much admired the way he’s been by Mia’s side during her recovery months. I cannot say I did not like him anymore, because he is still likable, and yet there was something missing compared to the previous book. Or maybe it just was a bit harder to have a famous rock star as a hero than an ordinary one (the more things in common I have with a character, the deeper I get into the story, I guess).

In a way I had the same problem — too few things in common — with Mia. She has obviously changed, which is very understandable given that she’s been through a lot. She is now a mystery to Adam (at least in part), and, given that the POV is his, she is somewhat a mystery to the reader too. I liked her still, for old times’ sake; I wonder how I would have felt about her had this been the first time we met.

One thing I did like is the way the author has chosen to depict Bryn, Adam’s current girlfriend. She is flawed, but a decent human being overall (usually in these cases the other woman is a harpy of sorts, and I was glad the author has stayed away from the cliche).
show spoiler

Relationships
Like in the characters’ case, the relationship between Adam and Mia has been almost a disappointment. Not ’cause it was badly written (it wasn’t), but because it lacked the real-world-relationship feeling it had in the first book. In this one their past, everything Adam remembers, seems a tad too perfect. I am the first one to be saddened about the comparison; normally I am a sucker for perfect relationships, but the one depicted in ‘If I Stay’ felt real, felt worth the effort A & M put into it, and in contrast the perfect one felt too easy, and as such less.

Plot
Over and over while reading I was reminded of Before Sunrise. Boy meets girl, a chance encounter. They cannot bear to part, so they roam the streets of the city, officially for sightseeing’s sake, but in reality all they see is each other. Just like in the movie, Adam and Mia have to leave for different horizons in a few short hours. A relationship between them seems impossible now… and yet, what if it isn’t so? As previously stated I couldn’t put the book down :) All signs were pointing towards them saying goodbye to one another, having had closure and explanations, and all that. It would have been a very plausible ending… and yet I kept reading one page after another, well into the early hours, hoping that eventually they’ll realize what each of them has in the other, while at the same time fearing they will part ways.

Thoughts on the title
Complex :)
My issue with it is that the first book was titled ‘If I Stay’. Mia chose to stay, so Mia did not go anywhere (she remained on this plane of existence I mean) — so why does this title imply that she has chosen to go, instead of staying?

Thoughts on the ending
show spoiler

What I liked most
One thing I was glad to notice is the fame component of Adam’s life. I don’t know why it appealed to me so much, the fact that when he walked through the streets, his head filled with his thoughts and troubles, he also had to be wary of people recognizing him. May be because I find rather cool the idea of a chance encounter with a celebrity, on a subway or anywhere else. Or maybe I just like the consistency of it, the fact that the author always remembered to take into account the fact that her main character was famous & recognizable :)

The inclusion of lyrics from the album Adam has written when dealing with his grief, the album that has propelled the band to fame, was also a nice touch. I loved the way everything is rather abstract, filled with metaphors that take on new meanings when one knows what the story behind the words is.

My favorite:

There’s a piece of lead where my heart should beat
Doctor said too dangerous to take out
You’d better just leave it be
Body grew back around it, a miracle, praise be
Now, if only I could get through airport security

What I liked least
The vague supernatural element introduced. Sure, I was expecting Mia to remember the time she spent in a coma; her being able to have her parents around her at all times was a bit stretching it, but an okay way for her to keep on living without them I guess. However anything other than these two (such as the hint of memories Mia had from years before she was born) could have been very well skipped.

Recommend it to?
Anyone who read the first book and is curious what happens next :)

Buy this from amazon.com | Buy this from bookdepository.co.uk | The series’ website | Gayle Forman’s website | Gayle Forman on Twitter

This book is a sequel to:
If I Stay

You Are My Only by Beth Kephart

Genre: Young Adult
Main characters: Emmy Rane; Sophie Marks
Time and place: 2004 and 1990, US (small towns I guess)
First sentence: “My house is a storybook house.”
Verdict: Beautiful.

Summary:
A story of then and now. One fateful September day Emmy Rane left her four-month old baby girl alone for a few minutes, while she went to get a blanket. She returned to find Baby missing, a lonely yellow sock left behind. Years later, young Sophie resents that her mother keeps her away from people, although she has been taught from an early age that this is done to protect her from the No Good out there. This is the story of Emmy, the story of Sophie, told in alternating points of view.

General impression
At last, my first Kephart book. Interesting writing style. And yes, another NetGalley book. I don’t know why they market it as Young Adult (is it the length? the young protagonist) as it probably could stand on its own as a book for ‘not-young adults’ too.

Setting
Sophie and her mother are poor, and have been moving a lot throughout the years. Their current house is a rundown one (“A huff-and-a-puff-and-they’ll-blow-it-down house“); most of their furniture has been found in the streets, or has been left behind by previous tenants. One can almost touch the oppressiveness of the environment, especially for a child of fourteen who is never allowed out.

Emmy lives under a different regime. Her prison is a small town, and an abusive husband that she fears. And then, after Baby is gone, Emmy’s attempt to rescue her lands her in a mental hospice, a place filled with unfeeling people and doctors that could not care less.

Although separated by time and space, both characters have in common a need to be free, a need to somehow someway escape their environment and follow their own hearts’ desire; and this is made all the more pregnant by seeing what a prison each of them lie in.

Characters
The story is told from the point of view of our two main characters, Sophie and Emmy, and as such we get to know their way of thinking and their innermost feelings. I thought they were both very well done. Emmy’s sense of loss and longing for her daughter, her need to find her, coupled with her fear of her husband and a shade of regret for not having married someone else. Sophie’s first contacts with people other than her mother, the two friendly aunts, treating her like family, and Joey, the curly-haired boy that gives her her first kiss.

I very much liked the small family next door, the aging lesbian couple who loved art, and literature, and learning new things; their young nephew Joey, their dog Harvey and Minxy, their cat. Sophie has been very lucky indeed to have them as neighbors :)

As a sidenote, I have found interesting the way there is very little said about Emmy other than her missing her daughter and her dead mother. I think this is so in order to make it all the easier for the (not-young adult) reader to put herself in Emmy’s shoes — or maybe that is how it seemed to me, since I am long past the age where I could have identified with Sophie herself :)

Relationships
One interesting relationship is the one between Sophie and her ‘mother’, Cheryl. For more than a decade there’s been only the two of them, up against a world filled with ‘No Goods’. Cheryl is a harsh person, but I do believe she loves Sophie the best she can. And Sophie too shares her feelings, especially as she remembers brighter days, when her mother was healthier and easier to live with.

Plot
The book, I think, is about discovery. Emmy’s efforts to discover what happened to Baby. Sophie’s discovery of people, and the world around her, and a bit of personal history along the way. Perhaps it doesn’t sound like much, but I found the characters sympathetic enough to make me keep reading on, curious about what will happen to them next.

Thoughts on the title
‘You are my only’ is the thing Emmy’s Mama used to tell her when she was small; these are the words Emmy associates with a mother’s love, and as such with her love for her Baby too. These are the words Emmy wishes her baby were there to hear from her, or else “she’ll never know. You are not a mother if your daughter never knows“.

Thoughts on the ending
A few pages too short, I would have liked to see more show spoiler

What I liked most
The fact that we are allowed to see glimpses of Cheryl’s mind. The villain of the story, she nevertheless has had her own demons to fight (her need for perfection, what happened to her own family earlier on), and she has done so the best way she could think of.

The writing style was one of the things I was very pleasantly surprised of. One of my favorite quotes is this:

And I couldn’t breathe, and I couldn’t swallow, and I held a hand against my chest, so that all the broken pieces of my heart wouldn’t bleed the space between us.

The fact that the end-of-book acknowledgement included a thank you to Amy Riley and a nod to the book blogging community was also pretty nice :)

What I liked least
I am probably out of touch with the times, but I wasn’t comfortable with Joey & Sophie’s kisses. Sure, they had a lovely relationship, but it seemed to me to be a bit too ‘serious’ for her age. I totally loved the “We had a million things to say and nothing needing immediate saying.” part, and the way he was always being so protective of her — and yet I would have liked it better if they had been just a year or two older.

How old was Sophie anyway? The blurb says she’s 14, but Cheryl’s Book of Thoughts is from 1995, and Sophie’s part happens in 2004. I couldn’t find her age anywhere in the book (perhaps it’s there and I just missed it), which makes me free to imagine her being say 15 or even 16. Problem solved :)

Recommend it to?
Anyone. It’s rather a short read, but beautifully written and full of feeling.

Buy this from amazon.com | Buy this from bookdepository.co.uk | Q & A on the author’s site | Beth Kephart’s blog | Beth Kephart on Facebook

Two Moon Princess by Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban

Genre: Young Adult
Main characters: Princess Andrea de Montemaior :)
Time and place: mostly the kingdoms of Gothia and Suavia, on the planet Xaren-Ra; their own time, roughly happening at the same time with our present day
First sentence:The arrow knows the way.
Verdict: The first half was merely okay, some good parts and some bad. The second half was a lot more interesting, I ended up reading while walking because I didn’t want to put it down. Three stars.

Summary:
Princess Andrea is nearing her fourteenth birthday, and her dream is to become a squire. She has trained hard, and yet her parents refuse to allow her to do anything but learn to behave like a proper lady. The day she accidentally travels to another planet (a strange place called Earth, with only one moon, paler and smaller) she uncovers one of her family’s best kept secrets: her mother and uncle were actually from that world, and the uncle still lived there, together with his own daughter, a cousin Andrea didn’t know existed. As Andrea’s family allowed her to extend her visit, Andrea — who’s actually seventeen in Earth years — enrolls to college, makes friends, and falls in love. Until one fateful evening when both she and the guy of her dreams were transported back to the two-mooned world.

General impression
Again, thank you NetGalley for this review copy :) (ever since I got my Kindle it seems I cannot stay away from NetGalley, which is why my last few reads have all been from there).
Interesting premise, well enough executed. It had some moments that needed suspension of disbelief (e.g. how fast Andrea was able to learn English, and completely adapt to a world so different to her own). For me it felt like two different books, one that was ‘meh’ and one that was captivating :) I am quite curious how much time has elapsed between the author’s writing the first few chapters and the last ones, as the writing is visibly improved between the former and the latter.
Bottom line: having read on the author’s blog that a sequel has already been written I discovered I am looking forward to reading it. Which means the book definitely did something right by me, as I am usually picky regarding sequels. :)

Setting
The two-moon planet of Xaren-Ra sounds like an interesting place, with its longer months and two moons (Athos being the golden one, and Lua the copper) larger than our own. Its history sound more or less like the history of the American continent: a small Spanish army accidentally discovers it, then settles there and, centuries later, their descendants are everywhere while the native people no longer exists. I was a bit disappointed though to find their level of technological advancement to be only about medieval age (if I am not mistaken, almost the very age the conquerors came from). Wouldn’t it have been great if that society had advanced just as much as ours, only in a completely different direction? :)

Characters
Andrea starts out like a pouty child, acting too young and knowing way too little for her age (although I did admire her dedication and hard work when it came to following her dream). And then she ends up in California and everything changes: not only she suddenly becomes seventeen (and to think she acted too childishly for fourteen), but she also gathers her wits around her, learns a new language, starts going to college, and quickly adapts to a world more complicated than her own. As the book progresses we see her striving to do good and put things right; alas, her choices and deeds aren’t always the smartest, but she always had good intentions and never shied away from her responsibilities. I liked the way she grows more mature throughout the book, ending up a far cry from the child in the beginning:

“Farther down the lane, I could see a company of men gathered around a campfire, laughing and singing. How many times, back in my father’s castle, had I watched them from the ramparts, yearning to join them? But this time their songs of heroic exploits and glorious battles spoke to me only of blood and pain.
[...]
Somehow I was scared of my wishes. I had wished to go to my uncle’s world and had brought war into my own. I had wished to date John, and I had almost gotten him killed. I had wished to be a warrior, and now I could not get rid of all the blood I had seen.”

Unfortunately some of the rest of the cast was too bordering on cliche:
Sabela started out quite interesting; I liked how she defied her mother to be with the person she loved, yet ultimately she did put her duty ahead of everything else. It was a pity she didn’t appear more as she was my favorite sister in the bunch. Ruth was the quintessential “careless beauty”, trampling people’s feelings without a thought; Margarida was her exact opposite, the good sister, beautiful, perfect in every way. As for John, unfortunately he turned out to be the kind of guy who takes himself way too seriously, and truth be told I didn’t find him particularly likable even before that.

Someone I really didn’t know what to make of was Andrea’s mother. She treats Andrea distantly and coldly most of the time. And yet she too used to be the rebel type: born in our world, she was studying to become a doctor when her now husband proposed to her. To think that all this time she lived in medieval times by choice, without bringing forth any tidbits of knowledge from her world! I so wanted to like her, but she never let me.

show spoiler

Relationships
I wasn’t particularly fond of the relationship between Andrea and her parents; sure, she was their fourth daughter, and as such perhaps a disappointment, but they very rarely treat her kind. Lovingly, even less so.

Ruth’s falling in love with John was sorta meh, a bit far fetched since she was engaged to a king, and he was merely a nobody. While I can buy her trying to turn his head, for her vanity’s sake, I was somewhat surprised that everything became such a serious matter to her. Oh well.

show spoiler

Plot
The plot was fresh and mostly unpredictable (of course after a while it becomes obvious who will end up with whom, but there is still the matter of how :) ). There is not a single big arc to the story, but many smaller ones, as each situation develops from the precedent one.

Thoughts on the title
Descriptive & intriguing :)

Thoughts on the ending
Aaaaaaawwww :) :)
Again, it bears repeating: I found quite amazing the difference between Andrea at first, and Andrea of the last pages. I am not complaining, however a less brusque transition (Andrea starting out less childish?) would have been somewhat better.
show spoiler

What I liked most
The premise. The very idea of having a civilisation on another planet that is derived from lost Spanish/Visigothic people of ages ago. And King Roderic actually existed :)

What I liked least
Two minor annoyances and a pet peeve:
Annoyance 1: the golden arrow.
While I did find it a nice touch that Andrea has turned her precious archery prize (a golden arrow) into an accessory. However I found it a bit jarring to imagine it as a barrette (wouldn’t it have been too heavy?), and then see it used to unlock doors (shouldn’t the arrowhead be too thick for that?), while also having it sometimes used as a weapon (I’ve never studied arrows in particular, but those I did see were not sharp enough for that).
Annoyance 2: there were two Dons with very similar names (Alfonso and … I cannot remember the other), and when they were both mentioned in the same scene I had to pay particular attention to which of them was doing what (which kinda ruined my immersion).
And the pet peeve: the random Spanish word thrown in when Gothia people talk among themselves. Don’t get me wrong, I do speak Spanish and I have nothing against the language itself. However I hate to see words in a foreign language mentioned when we already know the characters are speaking in that language. I mean, why stop at mentioning just a few words? Either keep everything in the original language or translate everything to English; the talking character is not changing languages midway, so why does the author insist to? As said, it’s a pet peeve of mine, something I never understood; granted, this author is less guilty of this than others, but it bothered me nonetheless.

Recommend it to?
People who like young adult stories set in medieval settings. :)

Buy this from amazon.com | Buy this from bookdepository.co.uk | Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban’s website | Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban’s blog | Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban’s Goodreads profile | The arch that inspired the one in the book (the top left picture)