Review: Cruel Beauty

Review: Cruel BeautyTitle: Cruel Beauty
Author: Rosamund Hodge
Publisher: Balzer & Bray
Release Date: January 28, 2014
Genre/Age Group: Fairy Tale, High Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult
Source: Purchased
Add it: Goodreads
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Graceling meets Beauty and the Beast in this sweeping fantasy about one girl's journey to fulfill her destiny and the monster who gets in her way-by stealing her heart.

Based on the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, Cruel Beauty is a dazzling love story about our deepest desires and their power to change our destiny.

Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom-all because of a foolish bargain struck by her father. And since birth, she has been in training to kill him.

With no choice but to fulfill her duty, Nyx resents her family for never trying to save her and hates herself for wanting to escape her fate. Still, on her seventeenth birthday, Nyx abandons everything she's ever known to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, destroy his enchanted castle, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on her people.

But Ignifex is not at all what Nyx expected. The strangely charming lord beguiles her, and his castle—a shifting maze of magical rooms—enthralls her.

As Nyx searches for a way to free her homeland by uncovering Ignifex's secrets, she finds herself unwillingly drawn to him. Even if she could bring herself to love her sworn enemy, how can she refuse her duty to kill him? With time running out, Nyx must decide what is more important: the future of her kingdom, or the man she was never supposed to love.

MY THOUGHTS

Once upon a time, in a land much too far away from Henrietta, Virginia, a classics nerd with a funny accent screamed her way through the first 32 pages of a fairy tale/Greek mythology retelling titled Cruel Beauty. Not that this isn’t completely normal behaviour when it comes to gorgeously written books with stunning covers, but the main reason was this: in the categories of impressively excellent research and excellently impressive world-building, this book was found to be perfection.

Firstly, this was expressed in the specific writing style the verily talented Rosamund Hodge used. For her prose was found to be so Roman in its storytelling, with a penchant for hyberbole, enigmatically and almost sparingly relating to events of the past, and an overall sense of aggrandising and mythologising this past, when it came to the mythological basis of this world. As if this wasn’t already enough of a classics nerd’s wet dream, this clever author decided to complete her mastery of the language of Roman epics with the use of epitheton ornans (!!) Why, Virgil himself would have been proud and, let’s be real here, probably a bit envious of her technique, for the implicit mythology and world-building present in the language earned itself quite a few nerding-out sessions.

On a second level, this author constructed a society that perfectly fits into the Graeco-Roman creation story and has unfortunately (for them) devolved into the iron age. The research extends from the actual mythologies and stories to linguistic accuracy and to what these stories signify in terms of the social-anthropological context and need out of which they were created, and it understands all these elements so perfectly and makes them part of Nyx’s story. Here the blend of inspirations and genres becomes of import, because instead of creating a typically epic (coded: male) hero in this world, Hodge opts for a fairy tale heroine.

So when the line “if telling fairy tales would help anyone” rolled around, the funnily-accented reader completely lost her shit in the best possible way because the tradition of the fairy tale as a genre in which uncommon and unexpected heroes triumph is actually very much of significance for the girl who’s fated to die. Having those stories as an inspiration actually really would help her, pathetic excuse for a father figure, especially seeing as how Nyx was brought up on hate, anger and resentment, while her sister was told to live for love.

And then to think tHAT SHE FEELS FOR FEELING IMPIETY TOWARDS HER MOTHER. IMPIETY. WHICH IS POSSIBLY THE NUMBER ONE MORAL CRIME WHEN IT COMES TO ANCIENT ROMAN SOCIETY AND THEIR IDEOLOGY BECAUSE THE ROMAN HEROES AND IDEALS WERE SUPPOSED TO BE PIUS (PIOUS) AND HAVE PIETAS FIRST OF ALL BECAUSE THE GODS WERE EVERYTHING AND THAT’S WHY VIRGIL CREATED AENEAS BECAUSE HE WAS SUPPOSED TO REPRESENT ROMAN MORES.

Hodge could have used other words, such as disrespect or disobedience or disappointment but SHE WENT WITH IMPIETY WHILE JUXTAPOSED WITH THE SECTION ON THE LARES A.K.A. THE ROMAN GODS THAT WERE SUPPOSED TO PROTECT EACH HOUSEHOLD AND I AM NOT OKAY BECAUSE THIS IS SO VERY SIGNIFICANT BUT ALSO SO VERY EASY TO MISS. Because in the end this is a fairy tale heroine dropped in an epic world with more or less everyone betting against her but then she wins everything and stomps on that supposed male supremacy of the traditional Graeco-Roman epics and I can never adequately explain how important this intersection is.

And then she throws in the sexy-ass demon lord Ignifix, who can honestly get it every day of the week with those demon eyes, but this is also where it all went a bit wrong. Because how are you going to promise us hot demon sex in the sky and then NOT SHOW IT. And wouldn’t it have been so much more interesting if our fairy tale heroine had decided to become The Demon Lady? I think it would have. And maybe the last 10 pages shouldn’t have happened because then the book would have ended much more tragically, but also rather beautifully in its sadness? I think so. The resolution was a bit of a dud. Shade and his irrelevant ass never should have gotten the page time that they did. That made Nyx seem unnecessarily naive and damn it, I’m still slightly bitter over the fade-to-black demon sex in the sky.

MEMORABLE QUOTES

“I’m your wife! I burn for your touch! I thirst for your love!” I didn’t know where the terrible words were coming from, but I couldn’t stop them.
“I’ll do anything, I’ll-”
I realized he was laughing.
“You don’t do anything by halves, do you?” he said.
“I didn’t even get halfway with killing you, but give me the knife and I’ll fix that.”

Review: Jellicoe Road

Review: Jellicoe RoadTitle: Jellicoe Road
Author: Melina Marchetta
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: August 26, 2008
Genre/Age Group: Contemporary, Young Adult
Add it: Goodreads
Rating: 5 Stars

Taylor is leader of the boarders at the Jellicoe School. She has to keep the upper hand in the territory wars and deal with Jonah Griggs - the enigmatic leader of the cadets, and someone she thought she would never see again.

And now Hannah, the person Taylor had come to rely on, has disappeared. Taylor's only clue is a manuscript about five kids who lived in Jellicoe eighteen years ago. She needs to find out more, but this means confronting her own story, making sense of her strange, recurring dream, and finding her mother - who abandoned her on the Jellicoe Road.

my thoughts

I know all of you are familiar with those books that seem to transcend time– the ones that people continue to talk about and quote and recommend long after the publication hype has died down; the books that are held up as an example of the excellence of a particular genre; the ones that people continue to read years after publication and say why did I wait so long to read this book! Most recently, that book for me is Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta. I could kick myself for waiting so long to read this amazing book and experiencing the reason that everyone yells “Melina Marchetta!” when asked who their favorite author is (ahem, my cobloggers). A few weeks ago, with the support of our resident Jellicoe Road fangirl and book-pusher Ellis, Judith read this book and ADORED it. So when Ellis surprised me with my own copy, I knew I HAD to read it immediately. I just. This book. DLKBOIJELKSRGKL!!! <—- that basically sums up my feelings better than my words can.  You can read Judith’s review here, and quite honestly, she sums up my feelings perfectly, but I couldn’t resist yelling about it some more! This won’t be a traditional review insomuch as a review of my reading experience because, trust me, reading Jellicoe Road is a glorious and unique experience!

Thank goodness that Judith and Ellis had already read Jellicoe Road because that made a major difference in my enjoyment of it! I was able to text them when I needed to yell about what was happening in the book, and they would sympathize with my feels explosions and humor my theories.  I would read 2-3 pages and send 10 texts. Haha. Honestly, I understand why Jellicoe Road is a difficult book for a lot of people– it’s slow getting started. I was prepared for this, thanks to the pep talk my cobloggers gave me before I started reading, but for about 100 pages, I was confused as hell and wasn’t sure if I cared what happened to Taylor or Raffy or the Cadets or the weird stalkerish Brigadier. *gasp* Forgive me, book gods, I can’t believe I just admitted that about what is now one of favorite books ever. But I feel like I owe it to future readers to tell them the truth, so that MAYBE they will stick with it too and fall in love with this beautiful book like I did. Unlike Judith, it took me a while to figure out what was going on, and I was hopelessly confused about everything. However, after about 100 pages, something changed, and I went from mild interest to completely invested to I WILL NEVER PUT THIS BOOK DOWN EVER. As things started falling into place, I started to understand all of the yelling and fangirling and crying over Jellicoe Road. Now I’m part of the fan club for life.

Jellicoe Road is a mystery, in a way. I had heard a lot of people refer to the big “surprise” in the book, so as I read, I was waiting for THAT MOMENT, the one I would immediately know was what everyone had been talking about. I guess I was expecting it to be one paragraph, or even one sentence, that would deliver this shock, but the truth is that the entire book is leading up to this surprise– there’s no single OMG moment, instead it’s more like one big “I wonder if… surely not! But could it be?” moment. Just trust me when I say that, as Taylor tries to piece together her past, it feels like you have been punched in the gut. I don’t think I have ever wanted to reach out and hug a character more than I did Taylor. Or maybe sweet little Jessa, who is a minor character in this book (who believes that everybody is a serial killer. haha). Thankfully, Marchetta adds some humorous moments with the territory wars and minor characters like Jessa and Chloe P. who are very young and gullible and just so darn cute that I just wanted to adopt them. Then there’s the romance. The romance is not even the forefront of the story, but holy hotness Batman, it may just be my absolute favorite YA romance ever. Did I really say that? The fact that a Taylor/Jonah quote I just re-read nearly brought me to tears is an indication that it’s 100% truth.

Melina Marchetta is a queen. She’s able to write all of these heartbreaking moments that make you want to find your nearest family member or friend and give them a big hug (a gross icky hug because trust me, you’ll be sobbing), but in between those she includes some of the most heartwarming moments that I’ve ever read in fiction. It’s perfect, this balance between grief and hope and love in Jellicoe Road. I’ve never experienced an author who can make me sob, then smile, then laugh out loud in a five page span! I adore this book. I adore these characters. They will stay with me for a long, long time. And now, when someone asks me the favorite book/favorite author question, I will yell JELLICOE ROAD and MELINA MARCHETTA at the top of my lungs.  ;)

memorable quotes

Obviously, I could not show restraint when choosing my favorite quotes. You’re welcome ;)

“They’re my best friends. I’m going to know them until the day I die.”

“I look at the faces of the girls around me and wonder who would look that grief-stricken for half of them. If something happens to me, whose face will be on the front page of the paper begging for me? Is a person worth more because they have someone to grieve for them?”

“Hold my hand,” she said, sobbing against him. “Hold my hand because I might disappear.”

“Never,” [Jonah] tells me in a tone full of ice, “underestimate who or what I care for.”

“What do you want from me?” he asks. “What I want from every person in my life,” I want to tell him. “More.”

“I remember love. It’s what I have to keep on reminding myself. It’s funny how you can forget everything except people loving you. Maybe that’s why humans find it so hard getting over love affairs. It’s not the pain they’re getting over, it’s the love.”

“Do you ever wonder how someone our age can possibly be dead? There’s just something really unnatural about it.” I watch his face as he tries to explain. “If you saw the photo you’d understand. You’d want to say to the kid in it, ‘Why weren’t you strong enough to resist death? Didn’t that look in your eye stop anything bad from happening to you?'”

“So, like I asked, what’s with the nightie?” “It smells like what I always think mothers smell like,” I tell him honestly, knowing I don’t have to explain. He nods. “My mum has one just the same and you have no idea how disturbing it is that it’s turning me on.”

“If you weren’t driving, I’d kiss you senseless,” I tell him. He swerves to the side of the road and stops the car abruptly. “Not driving anymore.”

“I’m here because of you. You’re my priority. Your happiness, in some fucked up way, is tuned in to mine. Get that through your thick skull. Would I like it any other way? Hell yes, but I don’t think that will be happening in my lifetime.”

Griggs looks up at us. “What happens when she’s not my memory anymore? What happens when she’s not around to tell me about his belt leaving scars across my two-year-old brother’s face or when he whacked her so hard she lost her hearing for a week? Who’ll be my memory?” Santangelo doesn’t miss a beat. “I will. Ring me.” “Same,” Raffy says. I look at him. I can’t even speak because if I do I know I’ll cry but I smile and he knows what I’m thinking.

“What are you so sad about?” Santangelo says to me. “We’re going to know him for the rest of our lives.”

Top Ten(+) Tuesday: Diverse Books

ttt

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and Bookish

Hi! It took me (Ellis) a while before I figured out how I wanted to do this post because I didn’t just want to list ten books and consider it done. The topic and representation of diversity deserves so much better than that. So I decided to split the books up into groups. The first one is made up of excellent books that deserve some more exposure. The second one contains book that I think are relatively popular but for some reason they feature relatively prominent issues that are not often talked about. Then I made a small group of books in which the diversity of the characters isn’t an issue, even though I’ve changed my mind a bit on the non-issue attitude since Robin Talley’s post on it. And then finally I decided to add some diverse books that haven’t been released but that I’m REALLY REALLY REALLY looking forward to.

(This is going to be a long one, because it was written by me, and there won’t be fancy graphics, because Judith is on holiday.)

read more…

Review: The Wrath and the Dawn

Review: The Wrath and the DawnTitle: The Wrath and the Dawn (The Wrath and the Dawn #1)
Author: Renee Ahdieh
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Release Date: May 12, 2015
Genre/Age Group: Young Adult, High Fantasy, Romance
Source: Purchased
Add it: Goodreads
Rating: 3 Stars

A sumptuous and epically told love story inspired by A Thousand and One Nights

Every dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. So it is a suspicious surprise when sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid. But she does so with a clever plan to stay alive and exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and countless other girls. Shazi’s wit and will, indeed, get her through to the dawn that no others have seen, but with a catch . . . she’s falling in love with the very boy who killed her dearest friend.

She discovers that the murderous boy-king is not all that he seems and neither are the deaths of so many girls. Shazi is determined to uncover the reason for the murders and to break the cycle once and for all.

my thoughts

I think what went wrong with me and this book is that I was never as immersed as I expected to be. It’s not so much a cheated by the hype kind of thing. It’s just that for some reason I constantly alternated between being very into what was happening, complete with internal and external yelling, and wishing I was more into what was happening. I wish I could explain it better, but as I was approaching the end, I was waiting to be completely destroyed and I never was. It has some very legit moments, like the tiny cucumber debacle, and I wish The Wrath and the Dawn had progressed more in that vein to balance out the intriguing hints of something darker and more ambiguous, but instead it decided to go with these heavy-handed, overwhelming, and slightly sappy declarations that were just happening too soon and started to annoy me.

On the one hand I get it, and Shazi and Khalid both coming on so strong so quickly is a very accurate portrayals of teenage hormones. On the other hand, I’m really worried for Khorasan because they’re so very wrapped up in their dramatic romance that I can’t help but wonder who the hell is taking care of this caliphate in the meantime. That, for me, was one of the main flaws. This is supposed to be a fantasy novel and there was barely any of that. The world-building is restricted to the description of fruit and clothes, which are more thoroughly explained in a glossary at the back. Sure, there is a curse, but it’s there to the extent that it’s recapped in two pages and then nothing. Sure, there is magic, but you’ll have to be content with a single scene in which seeing a carpet fly, being like “huh”, then rolling it up and never thinking about it again seems like a logical course of action (IT’S NOT OH MY GOD THE FRUSTRATION), with some extra fuckery towards the end. All the elements are HERE but no one seems to be interested in doing anything with them and I’m just ????

IT’S JUST SO FRUSTRATING BECAUSE IF I COULD DO THAT I’D BE LIKE FUCK TORTURED BOY KINGS AND EXPERIMENT FOR DAYS UNTIL I COULD SINGLE HANDEDLY SUMMON RAIN OR SOMETHING. That might take more than a few days to master but you get the idea.

I really like Shazi and the elements are there for her to become a character I will love by the end of the series, but she’s also the only character that had more than one discerning trait. Jalal, Tariq, and even Khalid fall back on these figures between stereotypes and archetypes. There’s nothing particularly special or memorable about them. I can see why it might be alluring to make Khalid into this elusive presence, and it’s part of what drives the main conflict and mystery, but it was never taken far enough for me. There are moments when he really does look half mad and I wish those had been longer or explored more, or just something that didn’t feel as anticlimactic. I also wish it had taken more than a few days for him to decide Shazi wouldn’t be a sacrifice after all. If it had taken her a week longer to sidestep his executions, there would have been more story and it would speak in favour of her resourcefulness and cunning. As it stands now, Khalid just suddenly decided to fixate on her to an alarming degree and without any explanation whatsoever and the whole thing feels off.

This takes me back to the weird sex that was happening in the beginning. The first two nights, Shazi decides to sleep with him, but neither seems to be particularly into it. Shazi does initiate it but then she spaces out and just wants it to be over, Khalid tries to get it over with as soon as possible, and I’m just here left wondering what the point was, especially because it’s mentioned from the beginning that this isn’t required of her or that this is even the custom. The only explanation I can come up with at this point is that she was trying to placate him or distract him so she could fill the time until dawn without him noticing and then survive another day. Her whole plan to invade the palace and kill the caliph seems like a spontaneous outburst of vengeance rather than an actual plan, so it would fit, but I’m unimpressed that the one time they actually want to have sex without detaching themselves from reality, the scene is completely fade to black.

Another thing that didn’t make sense for me were the chapters with Tariq. Just in general, the focalisation felt off. A single scene would repeatedly alternate between Shazi and Khalid’s perspective, for example, but Tariq’s chapters felt so unnecessary. He’d travel somewhere with a (half-assed) plan and then once he reached his destination the chapter would end. There’s all this drawn-out build-up and barely any pay-off and I feel like the space for his chapters would have been better used to flesh out the story and characters within the palace. The small bits of information we did get through him could have been revealed in the sequel, and the overall story still would have made sense.

My review is probably way more negative than my rating, but there are so many missed opportunities and I’m frustrated. I’m also pretty sure I could have forgiven almost any of these critiques if I’d just been more invested in the overall story and romance. I genuinely liked Shazi’s friendship with Despina and wish that had gotten (even) more page time. The story is very readable and there are a few memorable moments that got some interesting sounds out of me, like Shazi shazi-ing around the palace or getting in the Sultan’s face, and Khalid quietly playing with her bracelets or having wordless conversations with her. Their relationship was so good from a distance or when it was seen through someone else’s eyes but up close it was a bodice ripper. The language itself tends to be on the dense side, and I often had to reread passages before I really knew what was going on, but I didn’t particularly mind that. I wanted to take my time with my book and I just wish I’d loved it more. I’m going to arrange playdates for Zoraya and Chainsaw, though.

memorable quotes

“Two days after the caliph returned Amardha, Shahrzad was ready to put her plan to action. Enough was enough. It did not matter that Musa-effendi had hinted about a tragic past. It did not matter that this world was far from as simple as she might have thought. And it absolutely did not matter that her heart was . . . misbehaving. She had come to the palace with a clear purpose. The Caliph of Khorasan had to die. And she knew just how to do it.”

““By Zeus, Shahrzad!” Despina cried. “Is this what happens when I leave you alone? You get into a sword fight with the captain of the guard?”
“You don’t have to apologize, Despina. I did not get into a fight with Jalal. We’re merely trading a few . . . lessons. Apparently, I am not that gifted with a sword. There are, in fact, limitations to my greatness,” Shahrzad jested.
“Thank the gods,” Despina mumbled.”

Review: How to Love

Review: How to LoveTitle: How to Love
Author: Katie Cotugno
Publisher: Balzer & Bray
Release Date: October 1, 2013
Genre/Age Group: Contemporary, Young Adult
Source: Gifted
Add it: Goodreads
Rating: 4 Stars

Before: Reena Montero has loved Sawyer LeGrande for as long as she can remember: as natural as breathing, as endless as time. But he’s never seemed to notice that Reena even exists…until one day, impossibly, he does. Reena and Sawyer fall in messy, complicated love. But then Sawyer disappears from their humid Florida town without a word, leaving a devastated—and pregnant—Reena behind.

After: Almost three years have passed, and there’s a new love in Reena’s life: her daughter, Hannah. Reena’s gotten used to being without Sawyer, and she’s finally getting the hang of this strange, unexpected life. But just as swiftly and suddenly as he disappeared, Sawyer turns up again. Reena doesn’t want anything to do with him, though she’d be lying if she said Sawyer’s being back wasn’t stirring something in her. After everything that’s happened, can Reena really let herself love Sawyer LeGrande again?

my thoughts

It’s been a while since I read How to Love and I’m only now getting around to reviewing it, so bear with me while I try to get back into the story. First of all, I keep switching my rating for this book, because while I really loved it, I’m not quite sure if it is a favorite, but on the other hand, I am so impressed with Katie Cotugno’s writing and the way she wrote these characters that I’m not sure if 3.5 is actually a good enough rating. I just don’t think this is really a book I’m able to rate. Anyway, I did really like How to Love and I absolutely flew through it. The story is about Reena and Sawyer, but mostly about their love story, and it is told in chapters alternating between “Before” and “After”. That can be quite tricky, because when done wrong, it will just be very confusing (looking at you, Far From You), but Katie Cotugno did it wonderfully. I really wanted to keep reading in both timelines, so that’s a good thing.

“Before” Reena has been in love with Sawyer, the son of family friends, for as long as she knows it, but her best friend Allie likes him too. “After” Reena is stuck in her hometown at eighteen with their child, while Sawyer hasn’t been in touch for two years. This is both the story of their “Before” and their “After”, their story leading up to them being together and their story trying to figure out how to be around each other when they have a child to deal with. As dramatic as that already sounds, I can assure you that there is so much more drama in this book than you would be expecting – at least, that was the case for me. There was a lot going on in this book, but for me, it wasn’t too much. It just made sense. It’s as dramatic as two teens from families who own a business together falling in love and dealing with teen pregnancy can be, and then some. And yet it really worked, and I couldn’t get enough of this story.

What I was mostly impressed with, though, was the way Cotugno wrote these characters. They were all completely realistic and very complex characters who, yes, were assholes at times and were all a little fucked up in their own way, but also really trying. I honestly think it’s such a good portrayal of humanity in general and it was fantastic. I loved Reena, and I love that she could take care of herself and her baby. Surprisingly, I also liked Sawyer. A lot of people have commented about how much they hated him and think he’s an asshole and yes, he pulls some asshole moves throughout this book, but to me, he was just very confused – and I can relate to that. “Before” Sawyer was just completely messed up, and towards the end of the book, you really get a good sense of why he acted the way he did (View Spoiler ») and I do really think that Reena and Sawyer should be together. It just works.

I’m having difficulty recalling what else happened in this book but here are some memorable moments: Reena standing up to their families, her best friend whose name I’m blanking on right now telling her that she’s better than any guy (truth), confused teens being even more confused together (because it’s so realistic), the way Cotugno deals with View Spoiler » and the portrayal of teen pregnancy. I really, really wish there had been some more scenes with just Reena and Hannah, though, because as much as this book revolved around Reena’s pregnancy, it also never really did, if that makes sense. For me, more Hannah would have made this novel considerably stronger, because it felt like she was just a prop at times. Other than that, I think Cotugno portrayed teen pregnancy really well, though, because it was something that may have put Reena’s life on hold for a little bit, but never actually defined her life or her future

Summing up, How to Love is one of the most impressive YA novels I have read. It’s not always easy to read, and it’s not always fun, but holy shit, does Katie Cotugno write realistic stories well. I ended up getting swept away in Reena and Sawyer’s story and actually really rooting for them to be together, but I also loved seeing how independent Reena was and how important family and friendship were in this novel. I’m not sure if it’s quite a favorite, but it’s definitely one of the more memorable stories I have read lately, and I can’t wait to read more from Katie Cotugno.

memorable quotes

“You’re my family, too.”

“My first reaction is this totally irrational embarrassment on behalf of my fifteen-year-old self, although – what with our kid being big enough to walk and talk – it’s probably a little late to feel humiliated at the idea of Sawyer knowing I had a crush on him back then.”

“He’s looking at me like he’s known me forever. He’s looking at me like I surprise him every day.”

View Spoiler »