Top Ten Books I Just HAD to Buy…But Still Have Yet to Read

top ten tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a fun weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Top Ten Tuesday is officially on hiatus until March 7th, so I decided to go back and do an older topic that I hadn’t yet completed.  The one I selected is “Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I Just HAD to Buy…But Still Have Yet to Read”.  This one is perfect for me because I’m the worst impulse buyer on the planet when it comes to books.  I could have 1,000 books on my TBR, but if I see a book I want on sale, I can’t help myself.  I really blame the Kindle Daily Deals for many of these purchases because $1.99 is just irresistible to me, haha!  Anyway, here are 10 books that I couldn’t stop myself from buying but still have yet to read yet.  I swear I’m going to though!

Top Ten Books I Just HAD to Buy…But Still Have Yet to Read

* * * * *

1. AND I DARKEN 

by Kiersten White

* * * * *

2. THIS SAVAGE SONG

by Victoria Schwab

* * * * *

3. THE SUMMER THAT MELTED EVERYTHING

by Tiffany McDaniel

* * * * *

4. A LITTLE LIFE

by Hanya Yanagihara

* * * * *

5. RUINED

by Amy Tintera

* * * * *

6. THE RAVEN BOYS

by Maggie Stiefvater

* * * * *

7. MY BRILLIANT FRIEND

by Elena Ferrante

* * * * *

8. THE GRAVEYARD BOOK

by Neil Gaiman

* * * * *

9.  IN A DARK, DARK WOOD

by Ruth Ware

* * * * *

10.  WHEN WE COLLIDED

by Emery Lord

Question:  Are you an impulse buyer when it comes to books?  What books did you just HAVE to buy but somehow still haven’t gotten around to reading yet?

Book Review: A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

Book Review:  A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. MaasA Court of Mist and Fury (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #2) by Sarah J. Maas
Also by this author: A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #1)
four-half-stars
Series: A Court of Thorns and Roses #2
Published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens on May 3rd 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 624
Also in this series: A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #1)
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis:  Feyre survived Amarantha’s clutches to return to the Spring Court—but at a steep cost. Though she now has the powers of the High Fae, her heart remains human, and it can’t forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin’s people.

Nor has Feyre forgotten her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court. As Feyre navigates its dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms—and she might be key to stopping it. But only if she can harness her harrowing gifts, heal her fractured soul, and decide how she wishes to shape her future—and the future of a world cleaved in two.

With more than a million copies sold of her beloved Throne of Glass series, Sarah J. Maas’s masterful storytelling brings this second book in her seductive and action-packed series to new heights.

My Review:

I have to confess I’ve been putting off reading A Court of Mist and Fury, partly because I loved A Court of Thorns and Roses so much that I just didn’t think the second book could possibly live up to the impossibly high expectations I had for it.  I finally broke down and read it this week for the Beat the Backlist challenge I’m participating in and all I can say at this point is WOW and OMG, how long do I have to wait to get my hands on the third book?!

I had actually managed to avoid spoilers for ACOMAF so I had no clue what to expect going in and man, was I shocked! Based on the events of ACOTAR and the direction I was anticipating the series moving in, in my mind, this entire book was a giant plot twist.  And what a glorious plot twist it was! I truly loved pretty much everything about it.

Here are a few of the biggest highlights for me:

 

Rhysand!

Rhysand was actually one of my favorite characters from the first book and I remember lamenting that I wished there had been more of him in that story. Well, I got my wish in A Court of Mist and Fury because Rhysand and the Night Court feature prominently in this book.  As much as I adored him as the handsome but amusing rogue we met in A Court of Thorns and Roses, my love for him grew tenfold as we got to actually learn more about him and the sacrifices that he has made for his people.  He may present himself as a devilish figure, but there’s really just so much more to him than that.  He’s a fierce warrior, a loyal friend, and a compassionate ruler.

Theme of Female Empowerment:

The theme of female empowerment really resonated with me in this book.  As much of an epic romance as Feyre and Tamlin seemed to have in A Court of Thorn and Roses, they are clearly not the same two people they were after everything they went through “under the mountain” at the hands of Amrantha.  After nearly losing her, Tamlin becomes so overprotective of Feyre that their relationship takes a very unhealthy turn and he basically imprisons her in his home, perhaps the worst thing he could have done to someone who is already reeling from having been imprisoned and forced to do things she never thought she would have to do.  As sad as it was to see their relationship fall apart, I liked that Maas had Feyre make a conscious choice to walk away from the unhealthy relationship that is practically suffocating her.  I thought that was a positive message for Maas to send out there to her female readers.

And even though she does end up in another relationship, this time it’s a healthy relationship where she is allowed the freedom she needs and where she is treated as an equal, not as some pretty plaything that needs to be protected and sheltered.  Plus, it wasn’t as though she just rushed from one to the other; it took nearly the entire book for her to embrace the idea of beginning a new relationship.  I found the way the relationship developed to be very realistic and I really loved Feyre that much more once she evolved into an even fiercer version of the Feyre we met in the first book.  She’s a real badass by the end of A Court of Mist and Fury!

Rhysand’s team:

OMG, I love these guys so much!  One of the things that really makes a book work for me is when the author creates a fantastic group of secondary characters and Maas really outdoes herself here. ACOMAF probably has one of the best I’ve read in recent years with Mor, Cassian, Aziel, and Amren.  I loved the dynamic between them.  They could laugh and poke fun at each other in one breath, but when it mattered, they would clearly fight to the death to protect one another.  They are so much more than just the High Lord’s chosen team; they are his family.  Each character was so unique, fascinating, and so well fleshed out that I found myself wishing Maas would give each of them spin-off series of their own.  I’d totally read them if she did!

So Much Action!

I don’t want to give away any details, but this book clearly isn’t just about Feyre recovering from what happened to her in the first book and finding love with a different man than we were expecting her to.  If you like lots of action, epic battle scenes, unexpected betrayals, and lots of plot twists, you’re going to love this book because it’s all here.  The book starts off at a fairly slow and steady pace as we watch Feyre begin her recovery, but once she leaves Tamlin, the pace really picks up and by about the halfway point, I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough!

Anything I Didn’t Like: 

As I said, I loved pretty much everything about the book. That said, however, I was a little disappointed in the direction that Maas chose to take Tamlin in.  He wasn’t my favorite character by any stretch in the first book, but it bothered me that he was made so unlikeable in this one.   I kept wondering if that was really necessary.

Who Would I Recommend A Court of Mist and Fury to?

I’d recommend this book to pretty much anyone who enjoys fantasy that is filled with action, adventure, and complicated relationships.  I’d personally probably only recommend it to older readers of YA fiction just because it does contain some pretty graphic sexual encounters.  It’s a great read though so I’d highly recommend it to anyone else.

 

Rating:  4.5 Stars

four-half-stars

About Sarah J. Maas

Sarah J. Maas is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Throne of Glass series and A Court of Thorns and Roses series, as well as a USA Today and international bestselling author. Sarah wrote the first incarnation of the Throne of Glass series when she was just sixteen, and it has now sold in thirty-five languages. A New York native, Sarah currently lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and dog. Empire of Storms, the fifth Throne of Glass novel, released on September 6th, 2016.
She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Hamilton College in 2008 with a degree in Creative Writing and a minor in Religious Studies.

ARC Review – Piper Perish

ARC Review – Piper PerishPiper Perish by Kayla Cagan
three-half-stars
Published by Chronicle Books on March 7th 2017
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 416
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Goodreads Synopsis:  Piper Perish inhales air and exhales art. The sooner she and her best friends can get out of Houston and into art school in New York City, the better. It’s been Piper’s dream her whole life, and now that senior year is halfway over, she’s never felt more ready. But in the final months before graduation, things are weird with her friends and stressful with three different guys, and Piper’s sister’s tyrannical mental state seems to thwart every attempt at happiness for the close-knit Perish family. Piper’s art just might be enough to get her out. But is she brave enough to seize that power, even if it means giving up what she’s always known?

Debut author Kayla Cagan breathes new life into fiction in this ridiculously compelling, utterly authentic work featuring interior art from Rookie magazine illustrator Maria Ines Gul. Piper will have readers asking big questions along with her. What is love? What is friendship? What is family? What is home? And who is a person when she’s missing any one of these things?

* * * * *

 

My Review:

Kayla Cagan’s debut novel, Piper Perish, is what I would consider to be a coming of age story.  It follows high school senior and artist Piper Perish and her best friends, Kit and Enzo, also artists, as they navigate the trials and tribulations of that final year of high school and prepare for what comes next.  As the novel opens, we’re already at the halfway point of their senior year, and we learn that Piper, Kit, and Enzo have devised a plan where they will all leave Texas after graduation and move to New York City to attend art school together.  While it sounds like a fantastic plan in theory, it leaves a lot to chance.  What if they don’t all get into the schools they apply to? Will they be able to afford it, etc.?  All of the ‘What ifs’ weigh heavily on Piper’s mind throughout the novel because moving to New York to study art has always been her dream. She doesn’t know how she’ll cope if things don’t go according to their plan.  I know it sounds like a heavy read at first glance, but don’t let that fool you. It’s actually quite fun.  The bright, artsy cover was what initially caught my eye and,  after reading the synopsis, I picked it up because I was looking for a light contemporary read to offset all of the heavy dystopian fiction I’ve been reading lately and it sounded like Piper Perish would fit the bill.

What I Enjoyed:

I’d have to say that Piper herself is probably my favorite part of the book.  Piper’s passion for art, her obsession with artist Andy Warhol (She’s totally a ‘What Would Andy Do?’ kind of girl), her quirky flair for fashion, among other things, just make her someone that you wish you knew and could just hang out with.  Written in the form of a diary, the novel really lets us inside Piper’s head and heart as she pours all of her thoughts, dreams, and frustrations, into her diary. I thought Cagan did a tremendous job of creating an authentic high school experience and in giving Piper an equally authentic and vibrant teenage girl voice.  As I read Piper’s thoughts, I was transported back to my own high school senior year and could vividly remember going through so many of the same experiences.  Piper is a very relatable character precisely because she does represent so many things that we all went through in high school:  the dreams, the worrying, the self-doubt, and so on. I found myself starting to care about her from that very first page and really wanting her to push through all of the obstacles standing in her way so that her dreams could become a reality.

What I especially liked about Piper was watching her really grow up and mature throughout the second half of her senior year.  She is definitely not the same girl at the end of the novel that she is when we first meet her. Yes, she’s still quirky, fun, and lives and breathes art, but she’s also braver, more willing to stand up for herself and fight for what she wants, and she definitely has a greater sense of who she is and where she belongs.  I really liked the evolution of her character.

Aside from Piper, I also really liked all of the themes that the book covered. In addition to the everyday dramas of high school, it also tackles bigger themes like friendship, family, and love.  Piper spends much of her senior year learning what it means to be a friend through thick and thin as she and her friends each encounter obstacles, some of which put them at odds with each other.  Piper also spends a lot of time reflecting on the different degrees of love as relationships around her evolve and change  – the love of a boyfriend and girlfriend, the love between friends, the love of family members no matter how frustrated you get with them (or in the case of Piper’s sister, Marli, how much they deliberately try to make you miserable).

The discussion of art also fascinated me as I read this book.  I’m about as artistic as a rock, so I loved watching the creative process at work as Piper, Kit, Enzo, and their fellow classmates worked to create their senior projects.  I actually found myself wishing I had a paper copy of the book rather than an e-galley as well because there are little sketches here and there throughout the novel that I’m sure are much cooler in full color.

Anything I Didn’t Like:

I have to say I wasn’t big on the way the book was put together. I did love the first person point of view because I think it really helped me connect with Piper better. The diary style just didn’t really work for me.  It did at first because it really felt like I was reading the diary of a teenage girl, but then it started to feel less like a diary or journal and more just like a standard first person narrative broken up by dates. I never kept a diary or journal myself, but I still just couldn’t imagine that one would contain whole conversations between people quoted verbatim or that it would contain complete emails that Piper was receiving from her friend Silas. I can’t say that it took away from my enjoyment of the story at all, but I did feel like it had me pondering the structure of the book more than I would have liked.

I hate to say it, but I was not a big fan of either Piper’s sister, Marli, or of their parents.  Marli, who has just moved back home because she got pregnant while away at college, spends the bulk of the novel storming around screaming and yelling at anyone and everyone who crosses her path, especially Piper, who seems to be her favorite target.  I found it incredibly frustrating that Piper’s parents basically allowed Marli to verbally abuse Piper on a daily basis and that all of them, including Marli’s baby daddy once he moved in with them, simply tiptoed around her to try to keep the venomous raging to a minimum.  Most of the time their parents just chalked her outrageous behavior up to pregnancy hormones, but every once in a while particularly when Piper was really about to lose it and really go off on Marlie, then they would admit that Marli has been like this her entire life.  My question at this point is then why haven’t her parents done more to get her help – her behavior is clearly not normal.  I’m not a psychologist or a therapist, but it seems like Marli is living her life with an undiagnosed mental illness.  I was sympathetic to Marli in that sense and really wanted something to happen to acknowledge that she was going through some kind of mental health issue. Nothing did though so I ultimately just found her very hard to stomach because as she was presented, she was little more than a constant source of over-the-top drama.

As much as Marli bothered me, I think her parents actually bothered me more — not just because of how they let things go with Marli, but also because they were overall so unsupportive of Piper and her dreams.  Throughout the course of the book, they were probably the biggest obstacle that Piper faced because everything Piper wanted took a back seat to Marli and her drama and then to her parent’s poor planning when it came to their children’s college funds.  If you know your daughter has been dreaming her entire life of moving to New York City to study art, and she is clearly a gifted artist, wouldn’t you be doing everything you possibly can to try to make that dream a reality?  I hate to judge, but I was just very disappointed in their parenting abilities.

One other minor quibble I had with the storyline was how conveniently some obstacles were wrapped up in the closing pages of the book.  I can’t say much without giving away major plot points, but I just thought that what happened to Piper was something that would never happen in real life.  Younger readers will probably love it, but the jaded old lady in me was just like ‘Umm no, that would never happen in real life.’

Who Would I Recommend Piper Perish to?

I would most definitely recommend it to teenagers. It’s a fast and entertaining read, and I think teens will easily related to Piper’s journey.  I honestly can’t decide if this is one of those YA books that translates well for older readers though. I could see some older readers finding it a little over dramatic at times and thinking  “Kid, you think your life is stressful now, wait until you’re out on your own.”

Thanks so much to Netgalley, Chronicle, and Kayla Cagan for allowing me to preview this book in exchange for my honest review.

 

Rating:  3.5 Stars
three-half-stars

About Kayla Cagan

Kayla Cagan is from Houston, Texas. Piper Perish is her debut YA novel, with a second novel on the way from Chronicle Books in 2018. Her short plays and monologues have been published by Applause Books and Smith and Kraus. She has also contributed comics and essays to assorted collections, including Girl Crush Zine, Womanthology, and Unite and Take Over: Stories Inspired by the Smiths. Cagan lives with her husband, screenwriter Josh A. Cagan and their dog, chihuahua Banjo L. Cagan, in Los Angeles.

Discussion Post: How I Write Negative Reviews

 

I had set as one of my blogging goals for this year to write more discussion posts, so here’s my first attempt for 2017…

Writing negative reviews is my least favorite part about being a book blogger.  Seriously, is there anything worse than settling in to read what you hope will be a fantastic book, only to find yourself disappointed?  But I do pride myself on writing honest reviews, so if I have to write a negative review, I have a few rules that I try to follow. I won’t even go so far as to call these tips or suggestions.  I’m a Libra and I’m all about being fair and balanced, and these are simply the steps I take to try to achieve the balance I’m looking for while writing those dreaded negative reviews.

 

  1. Be Honest but Still Respectful.  Maybe it’s the Libra in me, but no matter how much I dislike a book, I’m just not one who is going to write a scathing negative review.  I try to always remember who my potential audience might be – fellow readers, authors, publishers, etc. – and write in a tone that I feel will be honest yet still professional as I point out why a book just didn’t work for me.
  1. Be Constructive with Criticism. Don’t just rage about how much I hate it. I always try to keep in mind when I’m reviewing that just because a book wasn’t for me, that doesn’t mean others won’t love it.  There are many times when I don’t connect with a book for whatever reason, yet I can see that it has thousands and thousands of 4 and 5 star reviews on Goodreads.  Clearly there are plenty of readers out there who don’t share my quirks and personal preferences when it comes to certain books.  That said, if I think one of my criticisms is stemming from one of my own personal quirks, say maybe my hatred of love triangles, I’m quick to point that out in my reviews (i.e. “It might just be me who has a problem with this…”).  Sometimes I’ll even go a bit further and suggest a way that it could have been presented so that I might have enjoyed it more.
  1. Offset the negatives with a few positives, if possible. Even if I really disliked a book, I try to come up with a few positive things to say about it.  I think this is a carryover from my teaching days. My students were always more open to what I had to say about their writing if I was able to point out strengths as well as weaknesses.  Plus, again, just because a book isn’t for me doesn’t me another reader won’t love it.  I also usually start my reviews with what I did like about a book before I launch into the negatives. I prefer the tone that sets rather than starting with the negatives and then saying “But wait…not everything about this book sucked. I did like a couple of things.”
  1. Be Careful with Tagging. I don’t typically tag authors when I post my reviews on social media anyway, but I definitely will not tag them if I didn’t like their book.  For me, tagging them would be like saying “Hey, I really hated your book and I want to make sure you know that!”  If authors come across my negative review on their own, fine, but I just don’t go out of my way to shove it in front of their faces.

There you have it, folks. Do you follow any of these steps or have any tips you’d like to share on handling those dreaded negative reviews?

Waiting on Wednesday – Spotlight on Royal Bastards by Andrew Shvarts

New WoW“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, which encourages fellow bloggers to spotlight upcoming releases that we’re excited about.

My “Waiting On” Wednesday selection for this week is Royal Bastards by Andrew Shvarts. What first caught my eye about this book was of course the title, which made me chuckle as soon as I saw it.  Reading the synopsis really sealed the deal for me because it has me envisioning this book as perhaps something similar to My Lady Jane – a humorous, yet exciting and dangerous adventure.  I’m curious to see if I’m right, but regardless, I’m looking forward to reading Royal Bastards.

Royal Bastards

by Andrew Shvarts

Publication Date:  June 6, 2017

From Amazon:

Being a bastard blows. Tilla would know. Her father, Lord Kent of the Western Province, loved her as a child, but cast her aside as soon as he had trueborn children.
At sixteen, Tilla spends her days exploring long-forgotten tunnels beneath the castle with her stablehand half brother, Jax, and her nights drinking with the servants, passing out on Jax’s floor while her castle bedroom collects dust. Tilla secretly longs to sit by her father’s side, enjoying feasts with the rest of the family. Instead, she sits with the other bastards, like Miles of House Hampstedt, an awkward scholar who’s been in love with Tilla since they were children.
Then, at a feast honoring the visiting princess Lyriana, the royal shocks everyone by choosing to sit at the Bastards’ Table. Before she knows it, Tilla is leading the sheltered princess on a late-night escapade. Along with Jax, Miles, and fellow bastard Zell, a Zitochi warrior from the north, they stumble upon a crime they were never meant to witness.
Rebellion is brewing in the west, and a brutal coup leaves Lyriana’s uncle, the Royal Archmagus, dead–with Lyriana next on the list. The group flees for their lives, relentlessly pursued by murderous mercenaries; their own parents have put a price on their heads to prevent the king and his powerful Royal Mages from discovering their treachery.
The bastards band together, realizing they alone have the power to prevent a civil war that will tear their kingdom apart-if they can warn the king in time. And if they can survive the journey . . .

* * * * *

I’d love to hear what upcoming book releases you’re waiting on this Wednesday? Leave me your link in the comments below and I’ll stop by and check out your WoW selection for this week. 🙂

Top 10 Tuesday – 5 Books That Blew Me Away & 5 Books That…Not So Much

top ten tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a fun weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is “Ten Books I Loved Less/More Than I Thought I Would (recently or all time) — or you could do something like books I liked more/less than everyone else.”

Okay, so I struggled with this topic a bit. I couldn’t think of 10 books I loved more or less than I thought I would, so I split it down the middle and did five of each.  What I went for here are books I read in 2016 that either far exceeded my expectation or else didn’t meet my expectations at all or live up to the hype that surrounded them.  In other words, I liked them well enough; I just didn’t love them like I was sure that I would.  Let’s start with the good…

5 BOOKS THAT BLEW ME AWAY

* * * * *

1. THE MARTIAN by Andy Weir

To this day, I still can’t get over how much I truly loved this book.  The only reason I even picked it up was because of the Matt Damon movie and my rule about always reading the book first.  I ended up devouring it in less than a day.  It fed both my inner geek and my inner smart ass and I loved every page of it.  Talk about exceeding expectations – if you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it!

* * * * *

2. A COURT OF MIST AND FURY by Sarah J. Maas

I’m actually finishing this book as we speak and cannot believe how quickly I’ve blown through 600+ pages.  This is one of the few books I’ve read in the past year or so that really lives up to all of the hype that has surrounded it and as much as I enjoyed A Court of Thorns and Roses, I think this book far exceeds that one.  I’ll be reviewing this book soon so don’t want to say too much, but  I’m beyond ready to get my hands on the third book!

* * * * *

3. MY LADY JANE by Cynthia Hand Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

I truly had no idea what to expect when I picked up My Lady Jane but it ended up being one of my favorite reads of 2016.  Written in the vein of The Princess Bride or perhaps Monty Python, if you love random and quirky humor, definitely put this one on your TBR. It’s truly laugh-out-loud funny!

 

* * * * *

4. THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE by Katherine Arden

I honestly chose this book because I thought the cover was so beautiful and because I was intrigued by the idea of a retelling involving Russian folklore.  I was thrilled to find that the writing inside is just as beautiful as the cover outside.  Truly exquisite. This is a title that I hope receives the acclaim I believe it deserves.  I still can’t believe it’s Arden’s debut novel.

* * * * *

5. LILAC GIRLS  by Martha Hall Kelly

I’ve always been drawn to historical fiction so I picked this book up as soon as I heard it was centered during World War II and focused on a women’s concentration camp.  Lilac Girls is a powerful exploration of how women in particular were impacted by the atrocities committed by the Nazis during WWII. The primary setting of the book is the Nazi concentration camp Ravensbruck and its primary focus, the women — primarily Polish political prisoners — who were detained there, with special attention paid to those known as the “Ravensbruck Rabbits”, a group of prisoners who were experimented on against their will by Nazi doctors.  One of the most compelling qualities of Lilac Girls, in my opinionis its moving portrayal of the strength and courage of the Ravensbruck prisoners. Up against inhumane treatment and almost certain death, they demonstrated such resilience, determination, and even at times, defiance, that it just blew me away. I found the sisterhood they created for themselves within the camp very moving as well – the way they worked so hard to keep hope alive, no matter how hard the Nazis tried to dehumanize them and strip that hope away.   I knew it would be a compelling read and an educational one, but I still wasn’t prepared for just how much it would blow me away.  Lilac Girls was a 2016 Goodreads Choice finalist and it’s my most recommended book of 2016.  It’s an important book because of the story that it tells and it’s also an incredibly well written book.

* * * * *

5 BOOKS THAT … NOT SO MUCH

* * * * *

6. THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD by Colson Whitehead

underground railroad colson whitehead

I liked this book, but I hate that I didn’t completely love it, especially considering the widespread acclaim it has received. I thought Cora’s story was very compelling and that Whitehead’s writing is powerful in the way it exposes so many of the horrors of slavery. I also loved the imaginative idea of the Underground Railroad as an actual physical railroad — Cora’s journey on the various stops was probably my favorite part of the novel. That said, there was still just something about this book that made it a difficult one for me to get through. I’m thinking maybe it was something stylistic or maybe the point of view, but I just wasn’t as riveted by what was going on as I would have expected to be. It took me nearly two months to finish the book, which just isn’t like me at all.

* * * * *

7. HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD by John Tiffany, Jack Thorne, and J.K. Rowling

I don’t know if there was anyway this could possibly live up to the hype, but I found it to be a real letdown.  I’m sure it’s a phenomenal play, but that’s the thing. It’s meant to be seen rather than read.  I found the script to be just too bare bones for my liking and many of the characters that should feel familiar just didn’t.

* * * * *

8. THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins

I guess maybe I was just already over the hype of “The Girl….” books with unreliable narrators and unlikable characters by the time this one came out, but The Girl on the Train just didn’t do much for me to live up to all of the hype it was generating.

* * * * *

9.  MODERN LOVERS BY EMMA STRAUB

This was another super-hyped book that just didn’t do much for me.  I literally saw it on every “Most Anticipated”, “Must Read” books list I came across last year and after I read it, I just sat there like “I don’t get it. What was all the fuss about?”

* * * * *

10.  RED QUEEN by Victoria Aveyard

I have a love-hate relationship with the Red Queen series. It’s one of the most fast-paced and entertaining series out there, which is why I love it, but it also has Mare and her endless distracted behavior when she’s around her crushes. And don’t even get me started on the love triangle/love square thing she has going on in the first book.  What the heck?  I soooo want this to be a 5 star read because so many parts of it are so epic, but every time the love gets in the way of the rest of the storyline, I want to scream and so I end up rating it as a 3 star read.  I’m still hoping for that 5 star amazing-ness when the next book comes out later this year though!

Question: What books have blown you away recently or have let you down?

Book Review: Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

Book Review:  Practical Magic by Alice HoffmanPractical Magic by Alice Hoffman
Also by this author: Faithful
three-stars
Published by Putnam Adult on June 13th 1995
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 244
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis:  The bestselling author of Second Nature, Illumination Night and Turtle Moon now offers her most fascinating and tantalizingly accomplished novel yet — a winning tale that amply confirms Alice Hoffman’s reputation not only as a genius of the vivid scene and unforgettable character but as one of America’s most captivating storytellers.

When the beautiful and precocious sisters Sally and Gillian Owens are orphaned at a young age, they are taken to a small Massachusetts town to be raised by their eccentric aunts, who happen to dwell in the darkest, eeriest house in town. As they become more aware of their aunts’ mysterious and sometimes frightening powers — and as their own powers begin to surface — the sisters grow determined to escape their strange upbringing by blending into “normal” society.

But both find that they cannot elude their magic-filled past. And when trouble strikes — in the form of a menacing backyard ghost — the sisters must not only reunite three generations of Owens women but embrace their magic as a gift — and their key to a future of love and passion. Funny, haunting, and shamelessly romantic, Practical Magic is bewitching entertainment — Alice Hoffman at her spectacular best.

My Review:

Practical Magic is the second book that I’ve read from Alice Hoffman. I read her 2016 release Faithful last fall and fell in love with it, so my sister, who is a huge Alice Hoffman fan, loaned me this book as well as several other Hoffman novels. I chose Practical Magic since it was the one I had heard the most about, primarily because of the movie of the same name.

Practical Magic tells the story of Sally and Gillian Owens, two sisters who are orphaned at a young age and are taken in by their eccentric aunts. We soon learn that the seeming eccentricity is actually magic and that the aunts are apparently witches of some sort.  They are, for the most part, shunned by the people in the community, unless of course, someone is desperately seeking help in the form of perhaps a love potion or some other magical concoction.  Superstitions abound when it comes to these aunts and, as Sally and Gillian now live with them, the superstitions soon surround them as well and they spend their time either being mocked relentlessly or else avoided entirely by their classmates.  That is, until they hit puberty and Gillian, in particular, becomes quite the magnet for boys.  Without even trying, she practically has them falling at her feet. At first, this comes across a little silly and over-dramatic until it clicks that these girls probably have some magical powers of their own that they’re unaware of.  Gillian eventually runs off with one of her many suitors and begins her adult life basically moving from city to city, following man after man when each relationship doesn’t ultimately work out.  Sally, who spent much of her time in Gillian’s shadow while she was living at home, eventually finds someone who falls madly in love with her as well and they live happily with the aunts and begin their own family. But then tragedy strikes and the young man is killed. Looking for a fresh start and a “normal” life for her children, Sally too leaves the aunts behind and moves to a new city.  Sally grieves for her dead husband for a long time but eventually starts to feel more like herself and starts living again. All goes smoothly until one fateful night when Gillian shows up on her doorstep unannounced, bringing a world of trouble with her.

 What I Loved:

What really stood out for me in Practical Magic, even more so than the actual magic, is the authentic portrayal of the sisterly relationship.  In these relationships, Hoffman is a master of really getting the reader inside the mind of her characters and then perfectly capturing all of the emotional complexities of what it feels like to have a sister: the love, the jealousy, the rivalry and competitiveness, the protectiveness and loyalty, and even the occasional disappointment that sisters feel for each other.  Sally is often jealous of Gillian because of her incredible beauty and her ability to attract male admirers without even trying.  When Gillian leaves home and basically falls man after man around the country, Sally is incredibly disappointed in her and is not at all happy when Gillian turns back up on her doorstep years later looking for help.  But ultimately that sisterly love and sense of loyalty wins out and Sally takes her sister in.  The relationship between Sally’s daughters, although a minor part of the book in comparison, is still portrayed with that same sense of authenticity.

I also really liked the book’s main theme, which centers around the importance of family.  No matter how hard Gillian and Sally try to avoid their past and escape from the embarrassment of being associated with their aunts and whatever magic they may possess, they still ultimately need them when the going gets tough.  And even though both girls basically abandon their aunts because of that embarrassment, the aunts come running, no questions asked, as soon as they hear the girls are in trouble and need their help.  Just like no matter how upset Sally is at Gillian for showing up on her doorstep and bringing trouble with her, she still loves her and would do anything for her, without question, even if it means turning her own life upside down.  That’s what family is all about.

When it comes to this theme, I actually found the synopsis of the book to be quite misleading.  Practical Magic is described as “funny, haunting, and shamelessly romantic.” That’s not how I would describe the story at all.  While I did find it to be haunting and almost eerie at times, especially because of the trouble Gillian brings to town, I didn’t find the book to be especially humorous at all. As I’m sitting here thinking about the story, I can’t even recall a single funny moment actually.  And while the two sisters were definitely seeking love, I can’t say that I found this to be “shamelessly romantic” either.  The synopsis makes it sound like it’s going to be a light-hearted romantic comedy, but I found it to be a much heavier, more dramatic read, which for me is a good thing since I’m not typically big on romantic reads or chick lit of any kind.

Misleading blurb aside, another element of Practical Magic I loved was the writing itself.  Hoffman’s writing is just atmospheric and mesmerizing– vivid and lyrical – but without being overdone or overly wordy.  The writing doesn’t move at a fast pace, but the sentences just glide from one to the next, smooth as silk.  As I was reading this story, I kept wondering if she has ever written any poetry because if so, I’d certainly love to read it. I’m sure it’s absolutely beautiful.  Below are a few sample lines from Practical Magic:

“Do you ever just put your arms out and just spin and spin and spin? Well, that’s what love is like; everything inside of you tells you to stop before you fall, but for some reason you just keep going.” 

“You can never tell about a person by guessing…that’s why language was invented. Otherwise, we’d all be like dogs, sniffing each other to find out where we stood.” 

“Some things, when they change, never do return to the way they once were. Butterflies for instance, and women who’ve been in love with the wrong man too often.” 

What I Didn’t Love So Much:

 I have to say that I didn’t particularly care for the way the novel was structured.  Instead of being broken into manageable chapters, it was organized into 4 or 5 lengthy sections.  Since the read isn’t a fast-paced read, I found myself getting a little bored at times and wanting to find a good stopping point.  Since there were so few natural breaks in the story, I often found myself just leaving off mid page at the end of a random paragraph because I’d just give up trying to make it to one of the breaks.  The section titles – Superstition, Premonitions, etc.  – were great in the sense that they really added to the book’s slightly supernatural atmosphere, but I still definitely would have preferred more chapters.

The structure also tended to make the different points of view more confusing to follow than I think they would have been if the story had been organized differently.  The point of view jumped back and forth quite a bit between the different characters so that I sometimes had to backtrack to see who I was reading about and, in some cases, to figure out if the event being depicted was in the present or if it was a memory.  I had that problem several times with Gillian as she kept randomly thinking back on her time with her abusive ex Jimmy.

Who Would I Recommend Practical Magic to?

From other reviews I’ve read, many readers who have watched the movie Practical Magic think that the movie is actually better than the book.  I haven’t watched the movie so I can’t attest to that, but I saw similar comments enough to say that I’d probably recommend the book to someone who hasn’t seen the movie yet.  Even with my issues with the way it was structured, I still found Practical Magic to be a solid and entertaining read with realistic characters and relationships but also with that little added magical twist to spice things up a bit.  It’s also such an atmospheric and, at times, almost spooky read that I kept wishing I had saved it to read in October.  It would make for an excellent Halloween read.

 

Rating: 3 stars

three-stars

About Alice Hoffman

alice hoffman

Alice Hoffman was born in New York City on March 16, 1952 and grew up on Long Island. After graduating from high school in 1969, she attended Adelphi University, from which she received a BA, and then received a Mirrellees Fellowship to the Stanford University Creative Writing Center, which she attended in 1973 and 74, receiving an MA in creative writing. She currently lives in Boston.
Hoffman’s first novel, Property Of, was written at the age of twenty-one, while she was studying at Stanford, and published shortly thereafter by Farrar Straus and Giroux. She credits her mentor, professor and writer Albert J. Guerard, and his wife, the writer Maclin Bocock Guerard, for helping her to publish her first short story in the magazine Fiction. Editor Ted Solotaroff then contacted her to ask if she had a novel, at which point she quickly began to write what was to become Property Of, a section of which was published in Mr. Solotaroff’s magazine, American Review.
Since that remarkable beginning, Alice Hoffman has become one of our most distinguished novelists. She has published a total of twenty-three novels, three books of short fiction, and eight books for children and young adults. Her novel, Here on Earth, an Oprah Book Club choice, was a modern reworking of some of the themes of Emily Bronte’s masterpiece Wuthering Heights. Practical Magic was made into a Warner film starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman. Her novel, At Risk, which concerns a family dealing with AIDS, can be found on the reading lists of many universities, colleges and secondary schools. Hoffman’s advance from Local Girls, a collection of inter-related fictions about love and loss on Long Island, was donated to help create the Hoffman Breast Center at Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, MA. Blackbird House is a book of stories centering around an old farm on Cape Cod. Hoffman’s recent books include Aquamarine and Indigo, novels for pre-teens, and The New York Times bestsellers The River King, Blue Diary, The Probable Future, and The Ice Queen. Green Angel, a post-apocalyptic fairy tale about loss and love, was published by Scholastic and The Foretelling, a book about an Amazon girl in the Bronze Age, was published by Little Brown. In 2007 Little Brown published the teen novel Incantation, a story about hidden Jews during the Spanish Inquisition, which Publishers Weekly has chosen as one of the best books of the year. Her most recent novels include The Third Angel,The Story Sisters, the teen novel, Green Witch, a sequel to her popular post-apocalyptic fairy tale, Green Angel. The Red Garden, published in 2011, is a collection of linked fictions about a small town in Massachusetts where a garden holds the secrets of many lives.
Hoffman’s work has been published in more than twenty translations and more than one hundred foreign editions. Her novels have received mention as notable books of the year by The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, Library Journal, and People Magazine. She has also worked as a screenwriter and is the author of the original screenplay “Independence Day,” a film starring Kathleen Quinlan and Diane Wiest. Her teen novel Aquamarine was made into a film starring Emma Roberts. Her short fiction and non-fiction have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe Magazine, Kenyon Review, The Los Angeles Times, Architectural Digest, Harvard Review, Ploughshares and other magazines.
Toni Morrison calls The Dovekeepers “.. a major contribution to twenty-first century literature” for the past five years. The story of the survivors of Masada is considered by many to be Hoffman’s masterpiece. The New York Times bestselling novel is slated for 2015 miniseries, produced by Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, starring Cote de Pablo of NCIS fame.
The Museum of Extraordinary Things was released in 2014 and was an immediate bestseller, The New York Times Book Review noting, “A lavish tale about strange yet sympathetic people, haunted by the past and living in bizarre circumstances… Imaginative…”
Nightbird, a Middle Reader, was released in March of 2015. In August of this year, The Marriage Opposites, Alice’s latest novel, was an immediate New York Times bestseller. “Hoffman is the prolific Boston-based magical realist, whose stories fittingly play to the notion that love—both romantic and platonic—represents a mystical meeting of perfectly paired souls,” said Vogue magazine. Click here to read more reviews for The Marriage of Opposites.

Waiting on Wednesday – Spotlight on Marlena by Julie Buntin

New WoW“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, which encourages fellow bloggers to spotlight upcoming releases that we’re excited about.

My “Waiting On” Wednesday selection for this week is Marlena by Julie Buntin. This book first caught my eye because I love books that explore friendships, and based on all of the glowing advance reviews, it sounds like Marlena is going to be a beautiful, powerful, and heartbreaking read. That’s a combination that I’m a sucker for, so I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on this book. It sounds like it has the potential to be one of the best debuts of 2017.

Marlena

by Julie Buntin

Publication Date:  April 4, 2017

From Amazon:

An electric debut novel about love, addiction, and loss; the story of two girls and the feral year that will cost one her life, and define the other’s for decades

Everything about fifteen-year-old Cat’s new town in rural Michigan is lonely and off-kilter, until she meets her neighbor, the manic, beautiful, pill-popping Marlena. Cat, inexperienced and desperate for connection, is quickly lured into Marlena’s orbit by little more than an arched eyebrow and a shake of white-blond hair. As the two girls turn the untamed landscape of their desolate small town into a kind of playground, Cat catalogues a litany of firsts―first drink, first cigarette, first kiss―while Marlena’s habits harden and calcify. Within the year, Marlena is dead, drowned in six inches of icy water in the woods nearby. Now, decades later, when a ghost from that pivotal year surfaces unexpectedly, Cat must try to forgive herself and move on, even as the memory of Marlena keeps her tangled in the past.

Alive with an urgent, unshakable tenderness, Julie Buntin’s Marlena is an unforgettable look at the people who shape us beyond reason and the ways it might be possible to pull oneself back from the brink.

Advance Praise for Marlena:

“The gifted young writer Julie Buntin has written a novel of deep and exquisite intelligence, humor, and riveting sensitivity. A terrific debut.”–Lorrie Moore

“Julie Buntin captures that unique moment at the precipice of adulthood with emotional honesty and insight. She writes the kind of piercing, revelatory sentences you have to read to whomever is near, sentences you find yourself remembering years later.”–Jonathan Safran Foer

“Marlena is absolutely lacerating. The most accurate portrait I’ve read about angst, lust, boredom, and the blindness of youth. It isn’t merely a friendship chronicle, nor is it a profile of a doomed, beautiful girl. It’s the story of a haunting, about the ghosts that never release us and continue to define us. Julie Buntin’s command of her craft is so flawless you forget that it’s fiction. I binge-read Marlena – sick to my stomach, with equal parts fear and nostalgia- stunned that any of us made it out of our adolescence alive.” –Stephanie Danler, author of Sweetbitter

“The true magic of Julie Buntin is she writes stories that feel like your own. This gorgeous, assured debut captures the romance of young friendship, cutting deep with the finest touch.”–Julia Pierpont, author of Among the Ten Thousand Things

“Marlena slayed me. Gorgeously written, with a sense of place so perfect I didn’t even have to close my eyes to pretend I was there, this novel is rich and sensuous and beautifully conceived. Buntin writes about the all-consuming bond between teenage girls with urgency and suspense and despair. I loved every word.”–Anton DiSclafani, bestselling author of The After Party and The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls

“In Marlena, Julie Buntin revitalizes a classic story making it all her own with sensuous, vibrant prose and a narrator who feels deeply even as she feints certain painful truths about herself. In these pages I not only saw my own story, I came to understand it better. Many readers will too. This is a fierce and gorgeous debut.”Edan Lepucki, bestselling author of California

“Sensitive and smart and arrestingly beautiful, debut novelist Buntin’s tale of the friendship between two girls in the woods of Northern Michigan makes coming-of-age stories feel both urgent and new. . . .Buntin creates a world so subtle and nuanced and alive that it imprints like a memory. Devastating; as unforgettable as it is gorgeous.”–Kirkus, starred review

“A keenly observed study of teenage character. . .poignant and unforgettable”
–Publishers Weekly, starred review

“[A] vivid debut. . . .Buntin’s prose is emotional and immediate, and the interior lives she draws of young women and obsessive best friends are Ferrante-esque.” –Booklist, starred review

“I tore through this stunning debut. . . .maddening, complicated, beautiful, essential. . . .Buntin beautifully captures that time in our lives, when our reliance on our friends feels as profound as our need for water or air.”NYLON, 50 Books We Can’t Wait to Read in 2017

“A novel that’s as invigorating and devastating as an intense teenage crush, Marlena is about the people we encounter in life ― no matter how briefly ― who leave a permanent mark. Julie Buntin’s stellar debut has the emotional sophistication of only the very best coming-of-age novels, so it’s no wonder it comes with a glowing blurb from Who Will Run the Frog Hospital author Lorrie Moore.” -Vulture, 25 of the Most Exciting Book Releases for 2017

“A buzzy debut that melds psychological suspense with pure literary fiction, Marlena revolves around the death of the title character, who drowns in just a few inches of icy water as a teenager, and her friendship with the narrator, Cat. “Tell me what you can’t forget,” Cat begins, “and I’ll tell you who you are.” It’s Marlena, and what she did or didn’t do to save her friend, that Cat can never forget or escape ? a constantly expanding conundrum of responsibility, guilt, and self-loathing that novel explores” Huffington Post, 2017 Book Preview

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I’d love to hear what upcoming book releases you’re waiting on this Wednesday? Leave me your link in the comments below and I’ll stop by and check out your WoW selection for this week. 🙂

Top Ten Tuesday: My Top Ten Favorite Realistic Couples in Literature

top ten tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a fun weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is “All About Romance Tropes/Types — top ten favorite hate-to-love romances (from books or movies or tv), top ten favorite (or least favorite) instalove romances, favorite slow-burn romances, favorite starcrossed lovers, etc. etc. Can go so many ways with this one).”

Okay, so I actually groaned a little bit when I read this week’s topic since romance isn’t really my thing when it comes to reading. I don’t like love triangles, instalove, or basically any romantic situation that I see as a distraction from the main storyline of a book.

That said, what I do very much enjoy are realistic portrayals of relationships – the slow build from strangers to friends to lovers, or maybe even from hate at first sight to friendship to something more. I love witty banter, fights, going through tough times together and coming out stronger than ever, or maybe even a couple drifting apart and eventually finding their way back to each other. I even love reading just the evolution of an established relationship over time.  So yeah, realism is definitely my thing when it comes to romance.  So what I went with for this week’s special Valentine’s Day Top 10 edition are my Top Ten Favorite Realistic Couples in Literature.  I think each of my selections in some way embodies what I’ve just described in terms of a realistic relationship.  As you’ll see, Jane Austen’s novels figure prominently in my list as I consider her to be one of the masters of creating a realistic relationship.

MY TOP 10 FAVORITE REALISTIC COUPLES IN LITERATURE

* * * * *

1. BENEDICT AND BEATRICE

from Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

* * * * *

2. ELIZABETH BENNETT AND FITZWILLIAM DARCY

from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

* * * * *

3. RON WEASLEY AND HERMIONE GRANGER

from the Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

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4. AUGUSTUS AND HAZEL

from The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

* * * * *

5. ELINOR DASHWOOD AND EDWARD FERRARS

from Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

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6. WILL TRAYNOR AND LOUISA CLARK

from Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

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7. IFEMULU AND OBINZE

from Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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8. ANNE ELLIOTT AND FREDERICK WENTWORTH

from Persuasion by Jane Austen

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9.  CINDER AND KAI

from Cinder by Marissa Meyer

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10.  ELEANOR AND PARK

from Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

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Question:  What literary couples do you find to be the most realistic?

ARC Review of Gilded Cage

ARC Review of Gilded CageGilded Cage (Dark Gifts, #1) by Vic James
three-stars
Series: Dark Gifts, #1
Published by Del Rey Books on February 14th 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Goodreads Synopsis:

Not all are free. Not all are equal. Not all will be saved.

Our world belongs to the Equals — aristocrats with magical gifts — and all commoners must serve them for ten years. But behind the gates of England’s grandest estate lies a power that could break the world.

A girl thirsts for love and knowledge.

Abi is a servant to England’s most powerful family, but her spirit is free. So when she falls for one of the noble-born sons, Abi faces a terrible choice. Uncovering the family’s secrets might win her liberty, but will her heart pay the price?

A boy dreams of revolution.

Abi’s brother, Luke, is enslaved in a brutal factory town. Far from his family and cruelly oppressed, he makes friends whose ideals could cost him everything. Now Luke has discovered there may be a power even greater than magic: revolution.

And an aristocrat will remake the world with his dark gifts.

He is a shadow in the glittering world of the Equals, with mysterious powers no one else understands. But will he liberate—or destroy?

My Review:

Vic James’ debut novel Gilded Cage is a novel that I’ve been looking forward to reading for months now.  The premise – that a form of slavery is alive and well in England and that the ruling class uses magic to keep this unfair, dehumanizing system in place – intrigued me from the moment I first read the book’s synopsis and so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.  Thanks so much to Netgalley, the publisher, and Vic James for providing me with an e-galley of Gilded Cage in exchange for my honest review.

So, what did I think of it?  Well, honestly, my thoughts about Gilded Cage are a bit all over the place.  There were definitely plenty of things I liked about the book, but that said, I also encountered a few problematic areas.

Let’s start with the good.

What I Liked:

Slavery vs. Rebellion:  I was intrigued by the class-based society where magic-wielding “Equals” ruled over a non-magical citizen body and where each member of the non-magical citizenry is required to submit to a decade-long period of servitude called ‘Slavedays.’  While serving a Slavedays term, an individual basically relinquishes all of his or her legal rights as a citizen and becomes a slave to the Equals until your ten years are up.  The concept of the Slavedays was quite fascinating because although the decade-long sentence of slave labor is mandatory, each citizen is able to choose when they serve their sentence. Some choose to serve fresh out of high school or college, while others choose to postpone it as long as they can. Families, if at all possible, are also allowed to serve their sentences together, and even if it’s not possible to keep all family members together, young children are required to be kept with a parent.

James’ readers get to see Slavedays up close and personal as we are introduced to some of the novel’s main characters, Luke and Abi Hadley, as they and their family members prepare to enter their Slavedays.  Older sister Abi has deferred her acceptance to medical school to go ahead and serve her sentence and, as part of her deal, has managed to secure her family a pretty decent gig serving out their Slavedays at Kyneston, a magnificent estate owned by one of the most prominent Equal families in England, the Jardines.  Compared to the alternative, a grungy, smog-filled industrial city called Millmoor, Kyneston sounds like a dream.  Things don’t go according to plan on the day they are supposed to depart for Kyneston, however, when what appears to be a clerical error separates Luke from the rest of the family and he is sent by himself to Millmoor.  We thus get to see both Millmoor and Kyneston as we follow both Luke and Abi on their very different journeys into Slavedays.

As expected, Millmoor is pretty much a nightmare filled with cruel supervisors, back-breaking labor, unhealthy food, and just an overall demoralizing atmosphere.  What I liked about seeing the inside of Millmoor though was that the reader is immediately presented with covert signs of rebellion.  I was so glad to see this because up until this point, I had been sitting here thinking “Why the heck are these citizens just voluntarily giving up ten years of their lives, selling off their homes and possessions, just because some uppity ruling class says that’s the way it is?”  It was great to see that some folks weren’t just lying down and taking it without offering any kind of resistance.  As Luke joins the resistance, we get to see more and more brazen acts of defiance and it’s pretty exciting to read and root for this band of underdogs that Luke has joined up with as they are clearly gearing up for a rebellion.

In contrast to the horrendous living and working conditions Luke and his fellow Millmoor inmates are  subjected to, Abi and her family are given fairly nice housing to live in at Kyneston, ample food to eat, and their workloads are quite manageable as well as respectable, especially considering they are serving the same kind of sentence Luke is.  Abi works as an administrative assistant to one of the Jardine brothers, her mother works as a nurse for an elderly family member, her father does maintenance work on vehicles on the property, and little sister Daisy is providing child care for Gavar Jardine’s daughter.  Apparently all Slaveday terms are not created equally.

Politics:  In addition to seeing that Slavedays is quite different depending on where you are assigned, we also get to see the flipside of things as we follow Abi and the rest of the family into the heart of Equal society and all of its political games.  I’m a bit of a political junkie anyway so I found the goings on within the Equals’ ruling body to be quite fascinating. There are apparently a lot of ambitious and ruthless people within the Equals. There are power plays to be Chancellor, a small but vocal faction who supports the abolition of Slavedays altogether, and all sorts of other exciting things at play as Parliament is in session.  If you’re into reading about politics and all of its behind-the-scenes machinations, there’s definitely a lot for you to enjoy in Gilded Cage.

Cloak and Dagger:  I also really liked how James kept me guessing as to what side many of the characters in Gilded Cage were even on.  It was never safe to assume any particular character was pro- or anti- slavery just based on their standing in society.  There were several jaw-dropping surprises throughout the novel as it became clear that the rebels weren’t necessarily who I thought they were.

What Didn’t Work for Me:

Too Many Points of View:  Where I’m somewhat conflicted about Gilded Cage has more to do with how the book is structured and the lack of explanation about certain key elements. First of all, there are so many points of view that without the book’s synopsis singling out three characters, I really had a hard time distinguishing who the main characters were supposed to be. You have the points of view of several members of each class –  Abi and Luke, who are regular citizens beginning their period of servitude, and then you have several points of view from those who are considered Equals, such as Silyen and Gavar Jardine, who are brothers in one of the most prominent Equal families. While it was definitely interesting to see the class dynamic and the rebellion from both sides, it just made for a confusing time trying to keep track of everyone and it also made it hard to really connect with any of the characters.

Why Are Characters Doing What They’re Doing?

Characters’ motivations also weren’t clear to me. Aside from the general wrongness is the idea of mandatory servitude, why is Luke so quick to jump on board with the rebellion? Even though we’re in his head seeing what he’s doing from his point of view, there is still no real explanation for why he starts participating. It’s basically just one minute he isn’t, the next he is.

There were similar instances with the Jardine brothers as well. Silyen is, by far, the most fascinating character in the book and all of his schemes are so intriguing. He almost appears to be playing both sides against the other, but it’s not entirely clear why he’s doing what he’s doing. Is he truly an abolitionist even though he’s an Equal? Is he trying to create chaos and disruption so as to stage a power play and overstep his older brother to become his family’s heir? I’m hoping all of this will be become clear in the next book because I definitely found Silyen to be the most interesting character in Gilded Cage.

Abi’s Inappropriate Flirtation:

So those who regularly follow my reviews know I’m not big on romances randomly being inserted into a storyline where it’s unnecessary.  To James’ credit, it does take a back seat to the rest of the action of the story but it’s still there so I have to comment – mainly because again, her motivations are unclear.  Abi works very closely with one of the Jardine sons and becomes attracted to him. First of all, it’s not appropriate since it would basically be a master-slave relationship. Second, she is supposed to be working diligently to try to get her brother out of Millmoor and back with them, so why is she sitting around letting herself get distracted by a cute boy?

I’m all about strong female characters so in this sense, Abi was kind of a letdown if she really is supposed to be one of the main characters. She does do something risky and heroic at the end of the novel though so I’m hopeful this means she will step up and be the strong character I want her to be as the series continues.

The Verdict:

All in all, I found Gilded Cage to be an entertaining if somewhat confusing read.  With a few of the kinks worked out regarding point of view and starting to explain why some of the characters are behaving as they are, it’s got the potential to be a great series.

Rating:  3 Stars

three-stars

About Vic James

Vic lives in London’s Notting Hill, but her life is more action-adventure than rom-com.

She studied History and English at Merton College, Oxford where Tolkien was once professor. Relocating to Rome, she completed her doctorate in the Vatican Secret Archives (they’re nothing like The Da Vinci Code), then spent five years living in Tokyo where she learned Japanese and worked as a journalist. She now writes full time.

Vic has scuba-dived on Easter Island, camped at Everest Base Camp, voyaged on one of the last mailboats to St Helena, hang-glided across Rio de Janeiro, and swum the Hellespont from Europe to Asia. But there’s little she loves more than lying in bed till midday with a good book and a supply of her favourite biscuits.