Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig

Genre: Paranormal
Main characters: Miriam Black
Time and place: present day, US (some of it is North Carolina, but there’s more)
First sentence:Car lights strobe through busted motel blinds.

Verdict: Okay but forgettable.

Summary
Miriam Black has a strange ability: the first time her skin touches another person’s skin she sees how that person will die. At first, she tried to act on it, prevent unnecessary deaths. It didn’t work. So now she’s sort of going with it, sometimes trying to be there when people die so she could steal their money.

And then one day she met Louis. A truck driver, “sweet, sad, damaged“. She likes him, and the feeling is mutual — and then she accidentally touches him and sees that he will be brutally murdered very soon. And apparently she will be there when it happens. She cannot warn him, of course, and she knows that the future she sees cannot be changed… but she has to do something, right? If only she knew what that something was.

General impression
I picked this up from NetGalley (thank you NetGalley!) on a whim, as I thought the premise quite interesting. A quick read, I finished it in less than a day. I have no idea why I thought it YA, but it is definitely not so — it has lots of foul language and some gore. Thing is, it was quite interesting, and yet I kept feeling like it was missing something I cannot put my finger on, hence the “okay but forgettable” verdict mentioned above.

Setting
You know how sometimes I read some books and notice that all characters were kind and nice, and I like that about them? This book is the very opposite: everyone in it is “damaged goods”, having faced traumas that more often that not turns them psychotic. The language, the actions, everything is brutal, and people are getting maimed or murdered without a second thought. Everything feels… gritty, for lack of a better word. Not precisely my cup of tea, yet the book was well written enough, and the world building was good enough for me to read on.

Characters
Miriam is quite an interesting character. In her own words, she’s “a bad girl, not a bad person“, which I think it’s the perfect way of putting it. She grew up with a very religious mother, and her upbringing reminds one of Stephen King’s Carrie. One wouldn’t know this by seeing her today, as Miriam has every ‘small’ vice there is: she smokes, she drinks a lot, she curses like a sailor, she enjoys casual sex and has a violent streak (admittedly, this comes in very handy when she needs to defend herself, but there is at least one instance when she physically hurt someone for the sake of it). She steals dead people’s money for a living, taking advantage of her peculiar gift that allows her to be present at various death scenes. She doesn’t sound like a very sympathetic character so far, does she? There are some parts of her I really did not like.

And yet, despite her flaws and despite the fact that I could have done with less foul language, I ended up rooting for her. She’s been through a lot, and was damaged in the process, but underneath the outer layer she is neither mean nor evil. She could make a fortune exploiting her gift, and yet she is not fully without scruples, and I liked that about her. She has witnessed countless deaths, and yet she has not become indifferent to it, even as the people involved are total strangers. And, of course, what I liked most about her was her inner struggle regarding Louis — should she save him? Can she save him? Should she even care? After all, people die all the time, don’t they, and the future cannot be changed. But she cannot sit around and not even try to do something either, can she? And so on. It would have been so easy for her to just let go of the idea, but she doesn’t (or at least not for long), and herein lies the source of my appreciation for her, such as it is.

Which is funny in a way because I am not sure I actually liked Louis. As far as these characters go, he is definitely the sanest and the nicest of them all — and yet, it felt to me that the crazy, dark, gritty setting dirtied everything in it (ah, and the language, of course, never helped), which is why my interest in Louis never got past the idea that he has to live because Miriam wants him to. I didn’t much care for him otherwise, although he probably was nice enough to be likable if I had given him a chance.

As for the rest of the cast, they’re interesting, as the author has provided some of them with backgrounds that partly justify their current inclinations, but… let’s just say we didn’t click, take from that what you will. Perhaps “I hated all of them, and Ashley most of all” would be a better way to put it :)

A quote, showcasing both Miriam’s wry sense of humor (which I liked) and her somewhat violent approach to life (which I wasn’t a fan of) :

[Ashley comes and sits at her table and she is not pleased to see him]
“I’m just going to pretend you’re a pink elephant. You’ll kindly take this opportunity to get up and slink out of this place like a rat before I open my eyes, because if I open my eyes and still see you there, oh Figment of My Diseased Imagination, I’m going to stab you in the neck with my fork.”

I probably should write a bit about Ashley too, after having mentioned him quite a few times already. Thing is, he’s nothing but a small time crook, cocky, rotten to the core, and with no redeeming qualities at all. Meh.

Relationships
Miriam is attracted to dangerous people. And alas, I am not a fan of dangerous people, who don’t give a damn about other people’s feelings. Which means it should go without saying that I did not approve of Miriam’s relationship choices (except, of course, when she got close to Louis, whom, while I did not perceive as nice, at least had the potential to be so, which is far more than I can say of Ashley). Sort of a waste of time, this part, although I did like the way Louis grew on her despite the fact that she did not want him to.

Plot
Someone is on the run and there are killers after him and Miriam ends up caught in the middle. Louis too is unwittingly dragged into it. And that’t about it, plot wise. To be honest I didn’t care all that much about any of it (how could I, given that I couldn’t stand any of the people involved), all I cared about was seeing how things with Miriam’s vision would unfold — will she be able to change the past and save Louis? If so, how? The rest was more or less background noise.

What I liked most
There’s something else out there. After having her vision of Louis’ death, Miriam starts being haunted by his ghost (despite the fact that he is still very much alive). At first she thinks he’s nothing but a figment of her imagination, but sometimes it turns out he knows things she doesn’t. Whatever he is, I liked both the mystery (the fact that I get to theorize about what he may or may not be :) ) and the way the relationship between ghost Louis and Miriam evolves — sure, he’s very creepy-looking, but since he always showed up in times of crisis I think that Miriam actually welcomed his company near the end; when times are tough any company being better than no company at all and all that. Also, another reason why I think she grew quite comfortable with him (notwithstanding the way he looked) is that he is able to know what she’s thinking, so around him she never needed to pretend she was anything else. Sounds like a comfortable dynamic, and I enjoyed discovering this one more than I did the one between Miriam and the real, live Louis.

What I liked least
The nitty-gritty of the way Miriam’s power works is revealed to us via her answers to an interview, of all things. Try as I might I cannot imagine why someone with her strange power and not-quite-pleasant personal history would want to see any of these revealed to the world. Sure, nothing is printed in the end, but all I could think of while reading was what a bad, bad, bad idea this was, for all sorts of reasons.

Also, this is of course a personal preference and YMMV, but I wasn’t entirely comfortable with the imagery in the book. Okay, I get the reason for the foul language, as someone as damaged as Miriam and the rest of the cast would probably talk like that, if not worse. However, some of the things that the author chooses to conjure via the said language were a bit too aggressive for me — like saying that a car “gallops forward like someone’s trying to stick a riding crop up its a**“, or that the traffic was “locked up tighter than a handful of tampons crammed up a nun’s a**hole“. Eeek.

Thoughts on the title
I actually loved the title :)

Blackbirds [...] are cool birds. Symbols of death in most mythology. They say that blackbirds are psychopomps. Like sparrows, they’re birds that supposedly help shuttle souls from the world of the living to the world of the dead.

Although I am not quite sure why the plural form was preferred, since as far as we know now Miriam is the only person with these abilities. Or perhaps the term should be expanded to include all killers?

Thoughts on the ending
Somewhat far fetched and a tad overdone. Reminded me of the movie The Ring, in a way.

show spoiler

Recommend it to?
The book’s current Goodreads rating is 4.20, so despite the fact that I felt it lacked something to make it truly memorable, I encourage anyone who is not put off by foul language and/or some physical violence to give it a try.

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  1. Admittedly, this is only a theory of mine, that can turn out to be disproven in the next books. Until then however… []

Moonstone by Marilee Brothers

Genre: Young Adult
Main characters: Alfrieda “Allie” Carlotta Emerson
Time and place: present day, Peacock Flats, Washington
First sentence:I’ve been wondering… is there a normal way to become paranormal?
Verdict: Just not my kind of book.

Summary
One minute, I was on a ten-foot ladder adjusting the TV antenna on the twenty-four-foot trailer behind Uncle Sid’s house [...]. The next minute, I sailed off the ladder, grazed an electric fence and landed face down in a cow pie.

Apparently a minor accident, no more. Allie is unharmed, and yet her life will never be the same: some part of what happened unleashed the paranormal abilities she never knew she had. What’s more, when she tells the story to Kizzy (her best friend, having Gypsy roots), the woman does not seem the least bit surprised. Later, she gives Allie a strange present: a pendant with a blue stone, called a moonstone, and she tells her about a prophecy that threatened death and disaster if Allie would misplace it.

Mere days later, Kizzy is found beaten almost to death. The message is clear, someone is after the pendant. Will Allie be able to protect it, and herself?

General impression
I am not sure how I feel about this book. I think it has some good parts, but somehow they are poorly tied up to one another. There were all sorts of jarring details that kept me from losing myself in it. The subject, while not a very original one — a prophecy, a Chosen One, secret societies — could have been the foundation for an interesting novel, but for some reason everything felt to me rather flat.

I have received this and the other three books in this series from NetGalley (thanks!), but at the moment I don’t think I will read the rest.

Characters
Growing up without a father and with a less-than-stellar mother, Allie has nonetheless turned out remarkably fine, given the circumstances. She’s a straight A student, and quick to intervene when someone is in need of help — and I liked her because of that. Her heart is in the right place (which is one of the things I like most in a character), and yet I couldn’t like her 100% because of her inner voice (the story is told in first person POV). Most of the time she’s okay, but sometimes her reactions were a bit odd — such as when she’s at Kizzy’s bedside, and Kizzy slips back into a coma. Allie’s inner monologue: “She closed her eyes and began to snore gently. Lights out! I continued to sit with Kizzy…“. It may be my not being a native speaker, but to me the exclamation did not make sense in the context (as an exclamation, I mean; as a normal sentence it would have been somewhat better).

It’s really a wonder that Allie has turned out to be a decent kid given her mother, Faye. She loves her daughter, but that is the one good thing I can say about her. Alas, we probably started out on the wrong foot, as the book opens with Faye trying to collect social security for a non-existing illness, and words cannot say how much I despise people who do that. At least her request was declined (yay!). Her reaction to that was kinda strange — she took a mail-order catalog with pictures of bulls (in her defense, that was the only catalog she had available), tore it to pieces, and wrote “I HATE BIG ED1” on each bull(!), then sent Big Ed the pieces. Was that reaction supposed to make any sense? Had she forgotten she had no actual right to social security, not being sick? In her defense, she does say that this was a wake-up call, yadda yadda, and then she promises she’ll stop pretending she’s sick and will get a job, but by now the harm was done and I couldn’t be bothered to like her.

There’s also a guy present in the story — Allie’s ‘love interest’ of sorts. Junior Martinez is quite interesting, a reformed gang member, and I liked how there was a sort of intensity to him, in some of the things he says or does. Unfortunately we only get to see him through Allie’s eyes, and she knows little about him (when the book starts rumor has it that Junior has a baby, and Allie thinks “apparently he’s already reproduced. Extremely uncool.“); the things don’t get much better later on, as Junior is not the type to talk about himself other than explaining the very basics2, and so I, the reader, had quite a limited view of him too.

Relationships
While the two main characters are not in love by the end of the book3, they do end up a lot closer than they initially were. Which would have been nice for me, as I liked them both, only there’s little to no transition between their initial state (acquaintances, on speaking terms but not much more than that) and the state things are in near the end (close friends, most likely a bit more — they even talk about one dumping the other, despite their not being actually an item). The day Allie finds out about Kizzy’s accident Junior follows her in his car, having left classes for her (why? no explanation for his sudden interest in her is given) and gives her a lift to Kizzy’s house. After that it’s like he no longer has a life of his own — he’s either with Allie or doing some arrangements to help Allie. While of course I was happy to see Allie having someone to help her, the relationship between them did seem a bit… not optimal, and forced.

Setting
The world Allie lives in is pretty much our own world, so there is not much world-building involved. The difference is that some people have psychic abilities; magic is infused in some objects too. Some people are born with “a star located somewhere on their palms” — they’re part of a secret society called the Star Seekers, a society set on protecting the world from evil. For centuries their word of mouth tradition included the story of a prophecy, “the story of a powerful gemstone and the maid who is meant to have it“, and they are determined to see the prophecy fulfilled (although, funnily enough, the prophecy says nothing about what the maid is supposed to do with it, or anything at all that might give a clue why in the world is it so important for everybody that the moonstone stays with Allie). The ‘counterpart’ of the Star Seekers are the Trimarks, whose palms bear the sign of an inverted triangle. These Trimarks’ apparently want wealth above all (I cannot but wonder in what way their being present at the crucifixion of Christ helped their purposes), and they would stop at nothing to get it. What they want now is the moonstone4, and it is up to Allie to protect it (because, while the Star Seekers are so very determined to see the prophecy fulfilled, they are apparently not determined enough to actually care what happens with the stone or the maid).

Plot
The plot is more or less the classical good vs evil struggle. The good side has something (the moonstone) that evil wants, and, of course, the evil will stop at nothing to get its hands on it. The conflict felt somewhat artificial though. At one point, the bad guys have concocted a story according to which the reason they are after the moonstone is that it can make them rich — now that is a tangible motivation, that I can understand; I may or may not agree with it, but I can understand its appeal. However later on we’re told that no, it was all a lie, the real reason why the Trimarks want the moonstone is… for evil. “Hoping that they’ll profit from it“. That’s it. An idea that was so overly simplistic I could not resonate with it. And then, of course, Allie knows that, were she to lose the moonstone, there will be chaos, death, and destruction. A single person standing between the world and its destruction — so cliche, especially as the details, those that could have brought the idea to life, are almost completely missing. Which isn’t to say that the plot was completely boring — I liked Allie and as such I rooted for her and was curious to see how she will pull through –, it’s just that it was way less that it might have been, had the flesh of the story been filled in.

What I liked most
There have been a few nice touches, like Allie reading the mind of a boy she liked (actually, the mind reading parts in general were cool, my favorites, I was sorry to see so few of them), or the part where Trilby, the one who had the moonstone a few decades earlier, was punished to spend her time in the SeaTac airport for using the moonstone for selfish purposes * insert long discussion about free will, and was it really Trilby’s fault that she did what she did? either way, I thought the punishment quite funny and original :) *.

What I liked least
This is more of a minor squabble but it nagged at me all throughout. At one point Allie receives a mysterious package, containing a cell phone with a pre-programmed number that, when called, recited the story of the two secret societies (good vs bad) in existence. And I couldn’t for the life of me understand why had the author chosen to use a cellphone (with a pre-programmed number, no less), when a simple tape player/CD player/iPod would have done the job quite as well, or better. Especially as there is no mention of the said cellphone later on (and keep in mind that Allie is a poor kid, that has never had a cellphone of her own — yet she treated it like it was nothing out of the ordinary at all). A minor thing in itself, but it made the story feel… half baked, as if the author couldn’t be bothered to think everything through, jumping instead at the very first idea that crossed her mind.

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Thoughts on the ending
The ending was, predictably enough since this is part of a series, the classic you-have-won-a-battle-but-you-have-not-won-the-war trope. Quite an okay one, if it weren’t for one thing.
show spoiler

Recommend it to?
People who like Young Adult books featuring prophecies and a Chosen One. There are many positive reviews out there so if the summary sounds to your taste by all means do give it a try.

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  1. Big Ed was the lawyer that was supposed to help with her case []
  2. It wasn’t his kid. He left the gang. Nothing at all about his thoughts/feelings on matters. []
  3. a good thing too, since Allie is only fifteen []
  4. how come they didn’t want it until now? It’s been centuries since the prophecy has surfaced []

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

Genre: Young Adult
Main characters: Theseus Cassio Lowood, Anna Korlov
Time and place: Thunder Bay (Ontario, Canada), present day
First sentence:The grease-slicked hair is a dead giveaway–no pun intended.
Verdict: Captivating. Want sequel now. :)

Summary:
I think of her again. Anna. Anna Dressed in Blood. I wonder what tricks she’ll try. I wonder if she’ll be clever. Will she float? Will she laugh or scream?
How will she try to kill me?

Cas Lowood is a ghost killer, like his father and his father before him. He dedicated his life to this pursuit, moving around with his mother and cat to any place he finds out there’s a ghost in need of sending to the other side. At first, his next mark didn’t seem like much. A sixteen-year old girl, savagely murdered in 1958 on her way to a school dance; she bled so much that the white dress she was wearing was soaking red. Her name was Anna. She was known from then on as Anna Dressed in Blood.

However, as Cas is about to find out, Anna is not an ordinary ghost. She is strong enough to tear people’s limbs apart. Cas is no match for her, physically. So, much as he hates involving ‘civilians’ in this kind of matters, Cas must try something else…

General impression
An interesting book with just enough horror elements to make it captivating without making it too frightening to enjoy. And yes, I read it at night, in the dark :)

Reading a few reviews, I noticed that people generally are not fond of Cas and his confidence. For me it was the other way around: one of the things I liked most in the book is Cas, and the way he never questions his ‘job’ and his ability to see it through. Although he’s not yet out of his teenage years, Cas already has his life figured out. I imagine he’s not particularly fond of his gruesome task, but he accepted that he is who he is; the job needs to be done, very few people in the world can do it but him, so the matter is settled. And if this means forsaking almost all others — he cannot make friends as he keeps moving around — then so be it. I thought it very mature of him, and I enjoyed his unselfishness1 and total lack of doubts.

And then there’s his first day in his new school. His confidence never wavers — I wouldn’t have liked it any other way. After all the things and adventures he’s been through, after getting beat up by dead people quite a few times, having to fit in at a new school should be a breeze, especially if, like Cas, one does this for the n-th time. It’s only natural to become jaded after a while. On the whole, Cas is quite the good guy, surprisingly normal for a kid who lost his father when he was seven and he has spent his life moving from one place to another ever since. And did I mention I liked his self-confidence very, very much? :)

Anna is somewhat of a paradox: a killer ghost, and an innocent girl all at once. She cannot leave her own house, and she’s compelled to kill everyone who enters — and she does so, violently. She does not know why she’s the way she is, why she experiences that unstoppable thirst for blood and revenge, yet deep inside she still is the same girl who all those years ago made her own dress, dreaming of going to a dance. Anna the ghost is very strong; she’s also aware that she’s dead and that few things can actually harm her. Even before she died she was a courageous girl, who stood up for herself. Now she is fearless and untouchable, her confidence level being as high as Cas’s.

There’s chemistry between these two: they are a good match, and their values are surprisingly similar. I very much liked the way their story developed. At first, she’s just another ‘mark’ for Cas, yet another ghost to be taken care of. Then, when he tries to kill her, they have their first conversation. Cas doesn’t let the fact that he finds her cool and intriguing get in the way of doing his job, but Anna is so strong she swats him effortlessly, like a fly. Despite actually liking her, Cas knows his duty is to destroy Anna; she becomes all he thinks about. He interacts with her again and again; he never found girls his own age truly interesting, but Anna is something else. Cas doesn’t even realize when he stops thinking of her as Anna Dressed in Blood — the feared name on everyone’s lips — and starts giving her pet names (“Anna, my strong, terrifying Anna“) in his head.

Speaking of Anna, I loved the way the author imagined her:

Anna is descending upon me, coming down the stairs without taking any strides. Her feet drag horribly along like she can’t use them at all. Dark, purplish veins cut through her pale white skin. Her hair is shadow-less black, and it moves through the air as though suspended in water, snaking out behind and drifting like reeds. It’s the only thing about her that looks alive.

She doesn’t wear her death wounds like other ghosts do. They say her throat was cut, and this girl’s throat is long and white. But there is the dress. It’s wet, and red, and constantly moving. It drips onto the ground.

While Anna does not always look like this — when she’s not angry she usually looks the way she did while alive — I found all the descriptions of Anna that involve her transformation to be actually beautiful. Sure, if they were in a movie they’d probably have me scared, all the dark veins creeping on her face, and all that; yet in my mind’s eye they look great.

As for the rest of the cast, they’re all promising, yet far less interesting than Cas and Anna. I liked Carmel, the beautiful, popular girl, who’s more than her high school persona. There’s also Thomas, a teenage witch who can read minds, but only in the right circumstances — sadly, this talent of his goes mostly unused. Perhaps we’ll get to see more of it in the sequel :)

Thoughts on the title
Hands down, one of the best titles ever. So very cool.

Thoughts on the ending
I cannot decide whether I like it or not. Scratch that, I think the way things ended is the best thing for everyone involved. It’s the fact that the author decides not to let things alone and hint at a sequel that has me less than satisfied.
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Recommend it to?
Anyone who can handle ghosts and a bit of violence. I usually shy away from mentions of ghosts with eyes sewn shut, but at the moment this particular character was introduced I was way too engrossed in the events of the book to care :)

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  1. he’s basically giving away all his life for the sake of others []

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

Genre: Fantasy
Main characters: September Morning Bell, the Honorable Wyvern A-Through-L
Time and place: Fairyland, unspecified time (in terms of our world September is from Omaha, Nebraska, and runs from home sometime during WWII)
First sentence:Once upon a time, a girl named September grew very tired indeed of her parents’ house, where she washed the same pink and yellow teacups and matching gravy boats every day, slept on the same embroidered pillow, and played with the same small and amiable dog.
Verdict: Lovely :) (I gave up trying to quantify my impressions by stars)

Summary:
Readers will always insist on adventures, and though you can have grief without adventures, you cannot have adventures without grief.

When September is asked by The Green Wind whether or not she wants to take a trip to Fairyland with him, she jumps at the opportunity to leave her boring home and get to have adventures. She soon stumbles upon a quest, being asked by the witches Hello and Goodbye to bring them the spoon that the Marquess, the evil ruler of Fairyland, has stolen from them. She also makes some friends among the way, such as A-through-L, the self-proclaimed Wyverary (a cross between a Wyvern and a Library, that is), and Saturday, the blue skinned Merid child who can fulfill wishes if defeated in fight. She also meets her Death, almost gets turned into a tree, loses her shadow and, of course, circumnavigates Fairyland in a ship of her own making.

General impression
When I started this book it had a 4.11 rating on Goodreads, so one can say I had quite a few expectations from it.1
I opened it with a flutter of anticipation and a slight fear of disappointment. And then I read the very first words (a chapter title), and I just knew I was going to love it.2

And I was right. The writing style was lovely, with a beautiful prose and a beautiful turn of phrase. The events were just the right blend of fantastic and plausible, with just enough grief thrown in3 to make it more than an average children book. At times it reminded me of Lewis Carroll and Alice in Wonderland, while at others it had a touch of The Neverending Story mixed in :)

Setting
Ah, Fairyland. Prey to an evil ruler, who tries to impose bureaucracy and other nonsensical — for Fairyland — things. People still remember fondly the previous Queen, Mallow, who was nice, and gentle, and loved by all. The world building is one of the things that bring magic to the book, as Fairyland turns out to be a place full of whimsy and wonderful things. There is a house that takes anyone looking for the capital city by surprise, appearing suddenly in front of them. There are migrating herds(?) of bicycles. There are… ah, so many enchanting things. And everything is enveloped in a beautiful language that is a pleasure by itself.

Characters
September is twelve, and born in May. Her favorite color is orange, as “[o]range was bright and demanding. You couldn’t ignore orange things.“. She’s also described as being an “ill-tempered and irascible enough child“, right at the start. However, as time goes by and her adventures in Fairyland unfold, September, although she tries to take courage from the fact that someone once considered her ‘ill-tempered’ turns out to be nothing of the sort. She is smart, and kind, and brave, and loyal to her friends, and ready to make sacrifices in order to help others. She turns out to be quite my ideal character, and I couldn’t but love her as the pages rolled on.

My favorite ‘castmate’ was the Wyverary, A-through-L, who had a brother and a sister with names like M-through-S and T-through-Z. He was convinced that his father was a Library, and when he meets September he was just on the way through the capital, to find his grandfather, the Grand Library. He’s also quite an expert in all things with names starting with letters A through L :) Although a Wyvern, he looks just like a dragon, being big, red, winged and able to breathe fire; yet on the inside he is a very gentle creature, a bit shy even, and loyal to the core.

And then there are the (supposedly-but-not-so-much) inanimate objects, which are, in this world, infused with a personality of their own. Such as the green jacket, who tries her best to protect September from the weather, changing its shape and size when necessary to do so. Such as the little key brooch that followed September everywhere, just in case she (September) might find herself in need of a key :) Not to mention the Tsukumogamis, who, albeit not friendly, there were quite a nice touch:

But when a household object turns one hundred years old, it wakes up. It becomes alive. It gets a name and griefs and ambitions and unhappy love affairs. It is not always a good bargain. Sometimes we cannot forget the sorrows and joys of the house we lived in. Sometimes we cannot remember them. Tsukumogami are one hundred years old.

And let’s not forget Saturday, the Marid boy. We do not get to find out much about him, other than his being peaceful, and shy; however I was enchanted by the very concept of Marids and the way they relate to time:

Our lives are deep, like the sea. We flow in all directions. Everything happens at once, all on top of each other, from the seafloor to the surface. My mother knew it was time to marry because her children had begun to appear, wandering about, grinning at the moon. It’s complicated. A Marid might meet her son when she is only eleven and he is twenty-four, and spend years searching the deeps for the mate who looks like him, the right mate, the one who was always already her mate. My mother found Ghiyath because he had my eyes.

Just one last tiny quote and I will move along :) this one fascinated me because it managed to make me fond of the character it refers to, in just a handful of words:

Now, jackals are not the wicked creatures some irresponsible folklorists would have children believe. They are quite sweet and soft, and their ears are clever and enormous.

The last six words did the trick. I don’t remember ever being drawn to a new character after a mere six words, but this is precisely what happened here. Unfortunately for me this was a character that appears only briefly, but I am very hoping to see her (it was a girl) again in a next book.

Relationships
At first, September is Heartless. All children are, explains the author, as they have not yet grown a heart. Faced with a choice later, at a crossroads, she chooses the path with ‘lose your heart’ as a consequence, without thinking too much about it.

And this is how we, the readers, see September grow throughout the book. Bit by bit, adventure by adventure, she transforms — from a child who did not much care about others, and who did not think twice before leaving home without saying goodbye to her mother, into someone aware of others’ plights, someone who cares and cannot remain indifferent. In short, she grows a heart. One of my favorite things in the book.

Plot
The plot is not that much taken by itself — a classical tale of a questing hero that faces the villain with the help of some friends. However, everything else in the book (the characters, the world itself) is so very fascinating that I don’t think anyone will be bothered by that. Alas, many things may be said of this book, but accusing it of lack of originality is absolutely and definitely not one of them.

What I liked
I liked that the author does not overly protect the main character, as September does have some difficult things happen to her. Sure, everything turns out all right in the end, but I think that this shade of grey sometimes cast upon September makes the book one that is addressed to adults too, rather than being oversimplified for children’s (sort of) sake alone.

Huge list of quotes to follow. Alas, this is one of those books where I have to restrain myself to keep from quoting half the book, if not more.
Starting with some small ones:

It is well known that reading quickens the growth of a heart like nothing else.

Short yet irresistible :) (I share the same opinion but I could never have put it so beautifully)
About the earth:

The earth, my dear, is roughly trapezoidal, vaguely rhomboid, a bit of a tesseract, and altogether grumpy when its fur is stroked the wrong way!

About the Marquess:

“You may be ticketed, or executed, depending on the mood of the Marquess.”
“Is she very terrible?”
The Green Wind frowned into his brambly beard.
“All little girls are terrible,” he admitted finally, “but the Marquess, at least, has a very fine hat.”

Next, the inspirational ones:
One about courage:

“When you are born,” the golem said softly, “your courage is new and clean. You are brave enough for anything: crawling off of staircases, saying your first words without fearing that someone will think you are foolish, putting strange things in your mouth. But as you get older, your courage attracts gunk, and crusty things, and dirt, and fear, and knowing how bad things can get and what pain feels like. By the time you’re half-grown, your courage barely moves at all, it’s so grunged up with living. So every once in awhile, you have to scrub it up and get the works going, or else you’ll never be brave again.

And one about dreams/wishes:

“For the wishes of one’s old life wither and shrivel like old leaves if they are not replaced with new wishes when the world changes. And the world always changes. Wishes get slimy and their color fades, and soon they are just mud like all the rest of the mud, and not wishes at all, but regrets.”

One of my favorite things is the oblique reference to Schrodinger’s Cat and the observer effect:

The casket is really quite clever. I received first marks for it. How shall I explain? It is both empty and full, until one opens it. For when a box is shut, you cannot tell what it might contain, so you might as well say it contains everything, because, really, it could contain anything, see? But when you open it, you affect what is inside. Observing something changes it, that’s a law, nothing to be done.

And then there is something that makes one think of Plato’s theory on soulmates:

A lady stood uncertainly by, looking as if she might run at any moment–if indeed she could run, for the lady was truly only half a lady. She was cleanly cut in half lengthwise, having only one eye, one ear, half a mouth, half a nose. It did not seem to trouble her any. Her clothes had been made to fit her shape, lavender silk trousers with only one leg, a pale blue doublet–or singlet–with only one padded sleeve. Half a head of hair tumbled down her side, colored like night.
[...]
The lady ran full tilt towards a young man, tall and half-formed just as she was. His trousers, too, were silk and purple, his collar yellow and high. The two joined–smack!–at the seam, and she turned to face September. A glowing line ran down their bodies where the join had been made.

This particular idea will develop into something else than I initially thought, but I still find it brilliant :)
One last concept I found too interesting not to mention here, this time in a spoiler box, just to be on the safe side:
show spoiler


And to think that all these are but a few of the interesting things in the book :)

Thoughts on the title
While this has to be one of the longest titles I have encountered, if not the longest, it is nonetheless a very intriguing and also descriptive one. I love it, although September gets to experience a lot more than simply travelling around Fairyland on a ship4 :)

Thoughts on the ending
The book ends hinting to a sequel, and it does so in a beautiful language:

“All stories must end so, with the next tale winking out of the corners of the last pages, promising more, promising moonlight and dancing and revels, if only you will come back when spring comes again.”

While I already knew a sequel is in the making, and am very looking forward to it, I am somewhat against this ‘buy my next book’ practice some authors engage in. I do admit that as far as these things go this is a very tame attempt, but I was a bit sad to see it nonetheless, on principle.

As for the rest of the ending, long spoiler to follow:
show spoiler

Recommend it to?
Everyone. It is so nicely written and has such imaginative elements that I think everyone will find at least something in it to enjoy.

Buy this from amazon.com | Buy this from bookdepository.co.uk | Catherynne M. Valente’s website | Catherynne M. Valente on Twitter | A sort of a prequel to the book (the story of Queen Mallow) | how the book came to be (an inspirational moment in itself)

  1. I usually try to avoid looking at ratings ever since I discovered my tastes aren’t precisely similar to the general trend, seeing as I found some titles (Shiver, Graceling, The Iron King) not as enjoyable as their surrounding hype made me believe. And yet when I do see the ratings I cannot quite ignore the fact that the mixed opinion of almost 2000 people marks this as a way above average book. []
  2. “Exeunt, on a leopard”. Why, ‘exeunt’ is one of my favorite words. And a leopard is even better than a bear, is it not? :) []
  3. one cannot have adventures without grief, remember? []
  4. a ship she herself has fashioned out of fairy gold scepters tied together with her own hair, no less []
  5. this was one of the moments I was looking forward to the most, having Ell’s chains removed from his wings :) and when it happened it turned out to be even nicer than I imagined it, due to the involvement of the travelling Key []

I Dream of Genies by Judi Fennell

Genre: Romance
Main characters: Eden the Genie and Matt Ewing
Time and place: present-day New York / Al-Jannah, the magical djinn city
First sentence:Scheherazade, the famed Arabian storyteller, had to come up with a thousand and one nights’ worth of tales to save herself.
Verdict: Has flaws, yet a cute story on the whole :)

Summary:
Eden is bored. Understandably so. There are only so many things one can do while trapped in a bottle for close to two thousand years. And to think that there’s one thousand more to go until her punishment for (accidentally) killing a mortal was through.

Thank the gods for the small blessings though. Like Obo the cat, the only one Eden can chat with and reminisce about the old days. Like Matt Ewing, the eye candy — er, the jogger who each morning passes by the shop window where Eden’s bottle is displayed.

The jogger who’s in for a big surprise: one day Eden’s bottle is accidentally smashed, leaving Eden senseless onto Matt’s lap. And Matt, who always saved whoever needed rescuing, took her straight to his home, as it was closer to them than any hospital.

General impression
Ah, romance. Why do I keep coming back to it although I keep saying I’m not into the genre? Well, in this case I have a great excuse: free Kindle book :D And, as the first book in Mrs. Fennell’s Mer series has been on my TBR list for ages now, I was glad of an opportunity to discover her work. To be honest, the book didn’t start out particularly promising; and yet, page after page, as I got to know the characters more and more, I actually started caring for them and got immersed in the story and enjoyed it.

Setting
The story starts out in the ‘mortal’ world, and progresses straight to the other, more magical, side: Al-Jannah, the hidden city. The city where all sorts of magic can be found :)

He shoved his way through harlequin clowns, medieval knights, a few Darth Vaders, and a legion of Roman soldiers, then hopped over a goat—no, make that a man. A satyr, of all things. Shouldn’t surprise him. Not with flying carpets, unicorns, and the way the minarets were spinning above buildings along the route, roofs changing colors like a disco ball, or dragons doing loop-the-loops in and around them, or baby strollers with no wheels that hovered inches off the cobblestones. Nah, satyrs were par for the course.

Characters
I was happy to see that none of the characters were the damsel-in-distress-looking-to-be-rescued kind. Take Matt, for one. He’s been struggling with the changing economy lately. His small business isn’t earning enough; he feels he has a responsibility towards his one employee and his family, as all of their livelihoods depend on this job. His family life isn’t much to be happy about either: his girlfriend has left him a while ago, going back into her previous boyfriend’s abusive arms; his step father and step brother are nothing short of perfect in his eyes, making him feel even more of a failure in comparison to either of them. And then, all of a sudden, Matt finds himself with a genie in his arms. A genie who offers him one wish, out of gratitude. And Matt refuses it, because he wants to solve all his problems himself :) A wise move? Perhaps not. But I respected him a lot more after that.

As for Eden, I think it’s hard to write a strong heroine without going overboard. Mrs. Fennell has managed to do so, though. Eden has not had an easy life, her parents have died when she was still very young, and then she had to go into The Service (serving as the ‘genie in the bottle’ we know from pop culture / stories). And now, all of a sudden, she finds herself a rogue, and on the run (it’s either this or going back into her bottle, and she cannot stand the thought of that anymore). Not to mention she needs to fight her attraction to Matt before it develops into something she really does not want or need. Yet she never complains (as she likes saying, she doesn’t do pity parties :) ), she always soldiers on. All throughout the book, she alternates between being the rescuer and the rescued; she is no wall flower, and I liked that.

The villain too is a bit of a achievement: most villains of non-horror books are evil in name-only — they consider themselves evil, they proclaim their evilness with any chance available, but at the end of the day they hesitate doing anything evil whatsoever. Faruq, the vizier who’s after Eden, is… not unlike that (he never actually harms anyone), but he manages to do so without harming his believability. One knows that, while in his interest not to kill Eden, he would really make her sorry about what she did; if only he would get his hands on her, of course. Ah, the suspense of it :)

Relationships
I have seen a few reviewers complaining that the love story happens too fast. Perhaps it did, but it did not seem so to me. After all, Eden has had a crush on Matt for years; adding to that the fact that she’s been so very lonely (both in the physical and mental sense) for the best part of two thousands years, I didn’t think it any wonder at all that she came onto him since the very first moment. As she was a beautiful woman, and Matt too has been single for a(n albeit much shorter) while, is it any wonder that the things progressed the way they did? :)

This was one of my favorite parts actually: the relationship between the two, the way it progressed. The way Eden kept trying to convince herself that this cannot mean anything in the long run (doing so would mean her losing her powers and immortality), and yet she fell a bit deeper for Matt every few pages. This kind of thing is difficult to pull off just the right way, but in my opinion the author has managed to do just that.

Thoughts on the title
I like it, both as a reminder of the series it references, and because of its own, stand-alone poetry. I don’t know why I find it so poetic (especially as no one dreams of genies in the book — Matt wasn’t exactly the kind who sits around, dreaming about magical things falling down from the sky) and yet I do :)

Speaking of I Dream of Jeanie, I was quote amused by the names of the characters: Eden, as in Barbara Eden, who played Jeannie in the series (I do wish the author had considered her readers smart enough to make the connection on their own, instead of mentioning it) and Matt Ewing, sharing a last name with the character that made Barbara Eden’s co-star famous worldwide (I’m thinking of Dallas’ J.R. Ewing, of course :) ).

Thoughts on the ending
The ending stretches the limits of believability a bit, but it does so in a non-jarring manner; I was happy to overlook that, since I liked the characters and all :)
show spoiler

What I liked most
There are a bunch of details sprinkled around the story that made me smile. Such as the vizier preferring a literal “flying platter” to a flying carpet. Or the High Master owning a moving picture and being grateful to J.K. Rowling for the idea. Or this:

Green tea leaves were green. And shaped like a T. They grew beside plants with leaves shaped like tiny alarm clocks that smelled like thyme, and a bush of yellow, snapping dragons with little orange flames puffing out of their snouts just like Humphrey.

Also, the talking cats :) Particularly Sheba, at the end (it does beg the question, why was she able to talk? Obo used to be a human, was that Sheba’s case too? Either way, her behaviour was so cat-like I couldn’t help liking her :) ).

What I liked least
The fact that the author didn’t bother to get her world straight. I mean, Eden lives in a bottle and Eden can materialize anything she wants and yet Eden shops? Why, and more important how? How do all the things she buys get into her bottle, I mean. I had the same issue with the vizier, who is happy that eBay exists because he can buy stuff online — but why bother buying stuff in the first place anyway? Also, TV & a working satellite dish? In a bottle?

And then there’s the bottle. Much fuss has been made of the fact that the magic that kept Eden inside was very strong, and that the bottle didn’t break in 2000 years despite being dropped a few times on purpose. And yet some pressure applied to it (mind you, not enough pressure to break it either) suddenly did the trick?

Add to that a bunch of editing(?) errors (Eden’s bottle has been in the same display window for forty-five years and a few pages later we’re told she’s been watching Matt ever since her bottle was set in that display, and Matt is thirty-four; when Eden wants to convince Matt that Obo can talk, Obo does say things but Matt cannot hear him, and yet he can hear both Matt and Sheba later on; at the beginning we are told that ‘the harem girl’ costume has nothing to do with reality (“no self-respecting genie would be caught dead in this little get-up while in The Service“), but in every costume-related scene after that the very same costume is considered traditional garb for those in Service).

And can I also complain that there were one too many sex scenes? :D That’s one of my pet peeves: hero & heroine having sex in circumstances where they have more pressing things to worry about (such as, you know, their lives).

Recommend it to?
Romance lovers, I guess. It’s a light and cute book, a fun way to pass an afternoon or so.

Buy this from amazon.com | Buy this from bookdepository.co.uk | Judi Fennell’s website | Judi Fennell on Facebook | Judi Fennell on Google+

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Genre: Young Adult
Main characters: (according to Goodreads) Mia Hall, Adam Wilde, Kim Schein (I didn’t get their full names)
Time and place: Portland, Oregon; 2010s I guess
First sentence:Everyone thinks it was because of the snow.
Verdict: Five stars out of five.

Summary:
If I stay. If I live. It’s up to me.

Mia has a decision to make. After a car accident that has killed her parents and little brother, Mia’s spirit is left to wander the rooms of the hospital her comatose body is in. Still coming to terms with her loss, she revisits her most precious memories, about people that are gone, and people still around, getting ready to decide. If she stays. If she goes.

General impression
Wow. I liked this book so much I read it all in one sitting (admittedly, the fact that it’s not very long kinda helped). I can’t help thinking it would make a wonderful movie, it had a cinematic quality that would very much fit the medium.

Characters
One of the reasons I enjoyed this book so much is that all the characters are so likable. They are not perfect, but they all care about one another and they are all down-to-earth and basically good people.

Mia is seventeen when the accident happens, and a talented cellist with a high probability of being admitted to Julliard. Her love for music is one of her defining traits, she lives and breathes it; she’s also smart, mature, quiet, respectful, and has a good sense of humor. She’s very close to her family, especially her baby brother, whose birth she got to witness first hand (he was born looking into Mia’s eyes).

Other than her family, the two people Mia cares for most are Kim, her best friend and aspiring photographer (whose strength under the circumstances I couldn’t but admire) and Adam, her boyfriend. What I liked most about the latter is that, although he’s the lead singer of a band well on the way to fame, he always acts like a normal person, never putting on airs or anything like that. He has his own fashion sense, and he is effortlessly cool; he never acts in a certain way, and doesn’t pretend to be anything other than himself.

I cannot stress enough how refreshing it was for me to have these kids as characters. In an age where getting wasted at parties seems like a must, and acting snippy or sarcastic most of the time is also very much encouraged, having some sensible characters was quite a treat (don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against sarcasm per se, but lately I find it can be, and is, quite overused).

It’s interesting to note that in this book it’s the adults, Mia’s parents, that show a rebel, non-conventional side (“They were married by a lesbian justice of the peace while their friends played a guitar-feedback-heavy version of the “Wedding March.” The bride wore a white-fringed flapper dress and black spiked boots. The groom wore leather.“). Sure, now that they’ve had their second child, Mia’s parents have had to make some serious adjustments to their lifestyle. Mia’s father used to be the drummer of a mildly successful band, now and then going on small tours.

But when Mom had gotten pregnant with Teddy, she’d put her foot down. Enough, she said. Dad seemed to understand that something had changed. He’d stopped arguing and had gotten a driver’s license. He’d also gone back to school to get his teaching certificate. I guess it was okay to be in arrested development with one kid. But with two, time to grow up. Time to start wearing a bow tie.

On the whole, I couldn’t pinpoint a particular reason why, but I find Mia’s parents to be the best drawn parenting couple in the whole YA literature that I have read (admittedly I have read less than many, as I am not particularly fond of the genre, but quite a bunch of books nonetheless). Their kids mean everything to them, of course, and yet they are more than just parents, they are people of their own, with feelings, and interests, and previous lives; it is quite rare to have that in a YA book (for lack of space if not for nothing else).

Relationships
I loved the way Mia & Adam’s relationship was not a perfect straight line, but had its ups and downs. They loved each other tremendously (my favorite thing about them was how they liked to spend some quiet time together, each reading a book, and yet feeling not isolated but close to one another), but they also fought now and them due to their different dispositions.

Mia is the only one in her music-loving family with an inclination for classical music. This, together with the fact that all her family is blonde while she’s black-haired, plus a recurring joke of her father’s, about her having been likely switched at birth, left her with a tendency to feel an outsider, even in the middle of her close knit family. A tendency she has to struggle with all the more where Adam is involved. He likes crowds and being surrounded by people at his concerts, he wants Mia to come see him play, to involve her in his world; however she has an aversion to that, as she feels very much out of her depth, and not fitting in. And that’s just one aspect of the differences between them. A relationship is work, but their relationship it’s also worth it — and I like that the book sends this message rather than the tired cliche of a relationship being rainbows and unicorns, and nothing but.

Now that I think about it, all the couples in the book are in love with one another: Mia’s parents, their family friends, even the Grandma and Grampa turn to each other in these hard times. Too perfect? Maybe. Did I like it? Why yes, of course I did. I’d take a couple in love over a bitter couple any day of the week. :)

Plot
There is not much of a plot, as the whole book is basically a series of vignettes, allowing us to get to know a group of people — Mia, her family, and her friends. It may sound boring, but it isn’t, far from it; as our characters slowly reveal themselves, the reader gets more and more emotionally invested. And page by page, the more one cares, the more gripping the book becomes.

Thoughts on the title
A bit too spoilerish perhaps? When I read the accident scene, the way it was introduced made me wish I had no idea what the book was about; it would have been a perfectly introduced surprise, and I was sorry to miss it. Although admittedly, title or no title, it’s a bit hard to have any kind of blurb about the book and not mention the fact that there is a car crash somewhere.

Thoughts on the ending
Sort of predictable, but I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. It made me cry nonetheless.
show spoiler

What I liked most
There are plenty of things I have loved about this book so it is hard to pick just one, but I will nominate here Mia’s passion for her cello. The way she unexpectedly fell in love with it, because it seemed to her almost human-like, and ready to share secrets. The fact that she was so passionate about her music that she wasn’t ready to give it up despite wanting to :)

Also, a quote (what Mia’s grandfather told her when he had the chance; it may not seem like much but it was really touching in the context):

“It’s okay,” he tells me. “If you want to go. Everyone wants you to stay. I want you to stay more than I’ve ever wanted anything in my life.” His voice cracks with emotion. He stops, clears his throat, takes a breath, and continues. “But that’s what I want and I could see why it might not be what you want. So I just wanted to tell you that I understand if you go. It’s okay if you have to leave us. It’s okay if you want to stop fighting.”

What I liked least The book was lovely and I have nothing to complain about. Other than the premise of the next book! Why oh why do show spoiler

Recommend it to? Anyone. I liked it that much. :)

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

Next in the series:
Where She Went

Pride & Passion by Charlotte Featherstone

Genre: Historical Romance
Main characters:Lady Lucy Ashton and Adrian York, Duke of Sussex
Time and place: late 19th century, London
First sentence:“Beyond the mists, the darkness and shadow, he waits, reaching out through a veil of gossamer threads — ‘your future,’ he whispers, ‘your destiny.’”
Verdict: Meh.

Summary:
Lucy, the offspring of a loveless family, has only one use in her father’s eyes: she has to marry well. And what better catch for her other than a duke? The Duke of Sussex, that is. Lucy is truly desperate as the news: she wants to marry for passion, just like her cousin Isabella, and in her eyes the duke is a stuffy bore that will never do anything less than ducal. They have even kissed once, and his lips felt like a dead fish. What is she to do?

General impression
First of all, thank you NetGalley for the book. This is not one of my favorites from the site, but hey, it is not their fault I ended up not liking it. The reason I requested this was that it had glowing reviews, and I was looking for something to pass the time until the next Turner book (as yet unscheduled) will come along. Unfortunately it ended up touching on too many of my pet peeves for me to truly enjoy it.

Setting
A bit unexpectedly, the ton isn’t a part of the setting, as everything happens outside the Season (how cool, this may be my first book where that’s the case). What we have instead is a mysterious society, the Brethren Guardian, consisting of three people that are tasked to guard three ancient relics, in order “to protect the world from an evil they had no idea lurked amongst them“. And there’s of course a villain, supposedly the descendant of a missing fourth Guardian (or was it Guardian wannabe?), who lets nothing stand in the way of his destroying the Brethren. For yes, the duke does want Lucy to be his, but there are other pressing matters vying for his time and attention too.

Characters
I didn’t much like Lucy. While I can buy her interest in the occult, I couldn’t get many of her reactions. I found her to be a bit of a drama queen, as the author keeps insisting on how brittle she was on the inside, how she has given up all her dreams after her father has chased away the boy she liked, how she is hiding everything of her behind a mask, etc etc; by the third repetition I did kinda get tired of it. However, in Sussex’s eyes she can do no wrong, as he takes every reaction of hers and spins into something unique and wonderful (the funniest such part being when she bluntly tells him she has no feelings for him, and he thinks something along the lines of ‘other women may have tried to soften the blow’, implying that she’s too wonderful to do that, namely to care for other people’s feelings). In her defense, she’s not all bad, as she does have a few good moments, but still I did not like her overall.

Sussex, on the other hand, is the mysterious, brooding kind that is the perfect fit for such a book. He hides many secrets but carries his burden well. His determined tenacity accepts no obstacles, and his behaviour in society is (mostly) flawless. Oh, and his whole face changes when he smiles, the rigid demeanor set aside. Unfortunately he has chosen Lucy as the target of his affections, and so my lack of interest for her kinda expanded over him too (it’s hard to respect a guy who’s so hang up on someone like I think Lucy is).

As for the villain, Orpheus, it’s like the author cannot decide on his level of mysteriousness. The Brethren are supposed to be chasing him, he should be hard to find. And yet he’s basically the old-fashioned equivalent of a select night club owner. Lots of people know about his ‘lair’, and lots of people manage to gain admittance too (the whole thing is supposed to be a secret and yet there’s more than one person willing to bring a random lover inside the inner circle). Sure, he is not always in his club, but there are times he is; at times ceremonies are sometimes organized, and everyone there knows he will attend. Let’s just say this isn’t how I would have expected a guy like him (on a mission, and with something to hide) to act.

There were some characters that I did like. Such as Elizabeth, Sussex’s blind sister, who is strong and determined and everything Lucy isn’t (she too has had a harsh disappointment years before, she too has had a much unfeeling parent, but you don’t see her complaining about not daring to have dreams anymore, and oh how brittle she is, and more such nonsense). And then there’s Alynwick, another of the Brethren, and also Laird of the Clan Sinclair (*sigh*), a conflicted spirit and a notorious rake, who just begs for a love story of his own :) (and I do believe the next volume will be all about him). My favorite couple in the book :) (although they are not exactly a couple per se)

Relationships
A source of frustration for me, from the very first page Sussex is very much in love with Lucy. However we are not told how, or why that happened. He keeps dreaming about her physical qualities, and that’s about it. It’s a relationship that I do not get to see being born, and growing; I’m just told it exists and I’m supposed to believe it. And it seems like an easy cop-out of the author’s, ‘the relationship’s there because it’s there, now deal with it’, and it kept me from getting emotionally invested in the story.
(to be fair, this is actually explained later on, the when and the why of Sussex’s falling for Lucy; however this is done near the end of the book, and I had all the pages until then to be frustrated by this)

Plot
The book opens with Lucy having just found out that her former artist lover, whom she thought to have died in a fire, is actually alive. He’s also in the way of a secret society whose members are after him. And lo, one of those members happens to be Lucy’s arranged husband-to-be. At this point I believe that the reader is supposed to care both for Lucy and her as-yet-unmet beau — unfortunately (and besides the fact that I didn’t much care for Lucy at this stage, and as such her plight meant nothing to me) on the next pages we get to see the situation from Sussex’s point of view: according to him, Lucy’s beloved Thomas not only has killed someone, but he may also be the very enemy of the Brethren. So I sided with Sussex, wanting to kick Lucy with a shoe every time she daydreamed about her unfortunate connection. Even funnier is that, after starting out with Lucy very decidedly caring for Thomas (she even played with the occult just to be able to contact him once again), the perspective changes in a few pages, as she starts thinking that ‘hey, I didn’t care all that much for Thomas because after what happened to my first love (hint: not Thomas) I was left too shattered to be able to really love again’. Oh, and she was twelve when this ‘first love’ thing happened (it didn’t involve anything physical; however, is it plausible for her to be left so shaken that many years later, as an adult, she still has issues stemming from it?). Bottom line, I didn’t care about Lucy & her love story, I didn’t care about the whole Brethren business either (because I didn’t understand where it came from, and why it was so important), I did care for Sussex but in a rather limited amount, as I didn’t quite get his regard for Lucy — is it any wonder the book fell flat for me? There are some really good scenes now and then, but by themselves they didn’t feel enough to carry the whole book.

Thoughts on the title
I found it somewhat misleading, as the alliteration made me think of this being yet another version of Jane Austen’s novel. This book has nothing in common with the original P&P however, and, with this out of the way, the title does manage to stand on its own. Both ‘pride’ and ‘passion’ are, in a way, the things that stand between our H and h. Pride, because it is one of her main traits (in a very ‘tell, not show’ way, as she doesn’t act particularly proud, yet we are told repeatedly that her pride is considerate in size), and one of the reasons she rejects Sussex is that her pride is hurt that her father has arranged their marriage. And passion, because it’s the one thing Lucy looks for in a marriage (a bit at odds with her self-proclaimed inability to love again), and it is the very thing she thinks the ‘priggish’ duke of Sussex lacks :)

Thoughts on the ending
A HEA hinting that more things may happen (alas, a pet peeve of mine right there, ending on a cliffhanger so that the readers will buy the next book).
show spoiler

What I liked most
The way the author has managed to explain something :) (basically the last two sentences of the spoiler above)

What I liked least
First of all, I could have done without the ‘mystic’ part. One of my pet peeves, having supernatural stuff happen in books that are not fantasy or the likes. But let’s say that’s just me. (Speaking of the mystic, another scene I found rather funny was when Lucy goes to see her for the second time, and has her palm read; she is predicted a long happy life, with four children and a happy marriage based on a love so strong not even death could mess with, or something of the sort. And one of the next things the mystic says is “I begin tae think that maybe yer future is not yet fixed, and that ye might be the fortunate sort to change what it might be.“. Which basically means we have different definitions for the word fortunate :) to recap, Lucy was told her future is fixed, and she will live the perfect life, and then she was also told that perhaps she is fortunate enough to change it? :) :) )

Another thing that bothered me is the whole secret society part. It didn’t feel like something that fitted in, just a plot device to make things happen (I mean, secret relics? From where? Why does the secret society only have three people, and these particular three people at that? At one moment their cause is being presented as ‘a cause worth risking life and limb for‘ — what made it so important? etc). There are too many things unexplained about it (or perhaps they were explained in the previous book, but since I have not read that one…) to make it feel believable. Not to mention that the actual level of mysteriousness is very vague, to say the least. At one point Sussex thinks about how only him and his ‘brethren’ know about their society and relics; however a few pages earlier Lucy is mentioned as having had one of them in her hands (how come?), and Lizzy knows something of it, and Anastasia. Not to mention there’s Orpheus, their enemy, and his people (and he couldn’t have wanted the relics if he hadn’t known he existed, right?).

Another complaint:
show spoiler

Last but not least, what was Lizzy’s seeing-eye dog doing with Sussex and Lucy? If that (the scene with Rosie at the inn) didn’t sound contrived I don’t know what did. And to think it could have been easily fixed by making Rosie Lucy’s dog from the start, instead of Lizzy’s. Or at least dwelling a bit less on how much Rosie helped Lizzy manage her daily life, so it would be less pressing to think how is Lizzy to manage without her canine friend.

Recommend it to?
People who really like romance books, I guess. This wasn’t my cup of tea but, if you don’t mind any of my mentioned issues with it, by all means give it a try. It has a rating over 4 on Goodreads! :)

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