Uprooted

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I was so ready to fall in love with Naomi Novik’s Uprooted. I have not read anything else by her, but I’d heard a lot of good things about it and it sounded like something I would enjoy. I didn’t dislike it or hate it, but I certainly didn’t fall head over heels for it either. I don’t even know how to explain the plot, but I’ll try to do it as brief as I can. Every ten years the Dragon, a wizard who lives in a tower in the valley, takes a girl to serve him for ten years. When the girl’s ten years are up so always chooses to leave the valley. Our main character, Agnieszka, is surprisingly selected as his chosen girl. Adventure and mystery ensues!

The plot sounds interesting enough to pick up, but vague enough to leave a reader curious. Somehow as I read… I became really bored. The action in the book starts pretty quickly and the first half of the book is fast paced. There is a problem and then by the end of the chapter they solve it, but another problem crops up in the next chapter. It was a little exhausting for me and for some reason I didn’t want to pick the book up. Halfway through the location of the story changes and I became horribly bored. I like stories of kingdom politics (I love Game of Thrones), but this back and forth of the warring countries had little depth. I will say that the plot got very interesting in the last fifty or so pages, but it was kind of too late by then to make me love the book. I wished that more of the plot line in the last fifty pages dominated more of the book. It was the best part, but felt hurried and unclear. The plot dragged for me even though the constant action tried to make for a fast read.

I love character development so much. Sadly, this book had very little! Let’s start with Agnieszka. She might have grown as a character a little. Maybe. I thought she would be a lovable, clumsy main character. She was for me at times. She had a cute side. She bludgeoned a prince over the head with a metal tray and they way it was portrayed made me laugh out loud. But really, that was about it. She was kind of a “Mary Sue” (as much as I hate that term). Everything happened to her, she was the special child with magic that she nor anyone else every noticed in her, she could cast crazy powerful spells with little training. It goes on. She was simply OK.

Then there was the Dragon. I love a character who you can kind of hate and yet love. Novik set the Dragon up to be just that kind of character. I was ready to love him, but he fell short too! He didn’t seem to change at all through the novel. He was always mean to Agnieszka even though they began a romance (which felt one sided and had no basis). He still scowled. He didn’t really show a loving, soft side. He did very subtlety, I had to look for it and maybe even imagine I saw it at times. (Like him saving her from getting pierced by arrows or casting a difficult spell to drag her out of certain doom.) I wanted him to change and be lovable in a grating way, but he just stayed grating.

Agnieszka has a best friend, Kasia, who everyone thought would be chosen because she was beautiful and talented. I thought Kasia would go away once Agnieszka was chosen and sent away to the Dragon’s tower, but no. She stuck around through the whole book and I didn’t feel like she had any life to her! She was beloved by Agnieszka and we were told how wonderful and perfect she was, but I didn’t see it. I didn’t care she was in trouble. She meant nothing to me. She was just an occasional plot device to carry the story. She felt hollow.

I could really go on. I wanted to love this book. The back and cover of the it was filled with authors I know and enjoy telling me how great it was. I am disappointed. Maybe my hopes were too high. I wanted to love it so badly! I came away just feeling unfulfilled. I’m not saying I’ll never read anything from Novik again, I may. I’m just so sad that Uprooted was just OK to me!

Vengeance Road

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Now this is how revenge is done! (Unlike The Wrath and the Dawn from last week…). Lately young adult literature has just been boring. Everything is some kind of romance with a love triangle and more often than not the main character is a girl who needs a man in her life to “fix” her problems. Am I sounding a little too feminist? Maybe, but Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman is a breath of fresh air in this genre and it’s pretty darn good too.

The actions starts quickly. The books opens with Kate coming home to her house burnt and looted and her father swinging from a noose. She sets out to find who did this to her father and why. She poses as a boy for her own safety and finds out that her father was killed for gold and greed. The investigation leads her to learn a little too much about her father’s past. She makes some good friends along the way and learns about life, people, and herself. It is an exciting read and has some good twists and turns. There is a romance, but it is (thankfully) in the backseat of the plot. Kate makes it clear she doesn’t need anyone even if she sometimes wants someone. This is understandable since feels lonely after her father, the only family she had left, dies.

I found myself wishing there was a little more to the adventure. It starts fast and ends fast. It’s a little over 300 pages and it goes by quickly. I think there could have been more details and plot points, but I liked it. I didn’t think it was perfect or absolutely amazing, but it was fun and actually pretty gritty. I’d recommend it to anyone who thinks it sounds interesting. I wish there were more strong females and fresh plots in young adult books like this.

The Wrath and the Dawn

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The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh is a retelling of One Thousand and One Nights. There was a lot of hype around this book. I heard about it everywhere and everyone seemed to love it. I liked it to be sure, but I definitely didn’t love it. For starters, the book is well written. I liked the writing and the descriptions were great. The characters were merely OK though and that’s where my problems with the book begins.

The majority of the plot was centered around the love story and to be honest I just didn’t buy it. Every night the Caliph of Khorasan, Khalid, took a new bride and every dawn she was executed. The main character, Shahrzad, volunteered to be one of his brides in order to kill him. Shahrzad’s best friend was one of the brides that were killed. This was what spurred her to volunteer- revenge. However, not long into the whole ordeal Shahrzad fell in love with him. For me, it happened entirely too fast to be believed. I wouldn’t care how beautiful a guy was or how amazing his “tiger eyes” were… he killed my best friend. I risked my life to go into the lion’s den for pure revenge and then I fell in love so quickly? It didn’t feel real. I would have liked to see her internal struggle with revenge and love more. I wanted to see why she out of all the girls before her was so special to him. Khalid and Shahrzad mostly annoyed me with the over dramatic romantic and jealous reactions too. Maybe I’m just cold hearted (to be fair I’m not much for romance), but I don’t think I’m wrong here. Maybe if I were a young teenager and not the cynical old crone I am I would have been whisked away by the romance, but sadly I am what I am!

At the moment there is at least one more book after this one. I am interested enough to read it. Near the end of the novel there were things that sparked my interest. There were hints of magic and some subplots that had promise.

Dragonfish

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Robert Ruen is an Oakland policeman who is still in love with his mysterious Vietnamese ex-wife, Suzy. When he finds out that her new husband, Sonny, brutally injured her he goes to rough him up in return. When Suzy disappears Sonny contacts Robert and blackmails him into searching for her. He finds out a lot more than he bargains for, but he also uncovers more questions that need answers.

First off, Dragonfish by Vu Tran is a good book. That being said, it wasn’t quite what I thought it would be. I’ve been trying to find another book that scratches the itch left behind after reading The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larson. I was hoping Dragonfish would alleviate this craving a little. The inner flap promises a suspenseful noir novel, but after reading it I am a little disappointed at the “suspenseful” part.

There is no sense of urgency in Dragonfish. I think this is because most of the novel contains stories being retold or remembered. Most of the action happens in the past. We are told about events by other characters or see things through flashbacks. Other times important points are told through letters recounting what happened years ago. Very little actually happens in the present. I was expecting a crime mystery to unfold, but it feels like a lot of backtracking. The novel is less about crime and more about learning who Suzy is than anything else.

I found Suzy to be a very interesting character so learning about her is not a bad thing at all. The other characters are a little flat though. We see everything through Robert’s eyes and he is lacking character depth. For as many memories as he recounts to the reader I didn’t feel any real connection to him. The supporting characters are quite good for the most part. I want to know more about them, but maybe it is the mystery of them that I find most alluring.

I liked the book, but I didn’t love it. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but it was an enjoyable read. It was well written and quite good for a debut novel. I will probably keep an eye on Vu Tran in the future.

The Darkest Part of the Forest

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Hazel and Ben grew up in small town surrounded by a faerie-filled forest. The forest and its inhabitants draw in tourists, but also danger. In one part of the forest there is a glass coffin with a sleeping horned boy inside. Hazel, Ben, and generations of townspeople have fantasized about what would happen when the boy wakes up, but that is only a fantasy, right?

When I read about Holly Black’s (co-writer of The Spiderwick Chronicles) The Darkest Part of the Forest it sounded like a creepy urban fairytale that would be perfect for Halloween. Well… it isn’t that creepy to begin with. In fact I almost wanted to put the book down after I was a quarter of the way through it. I found the main character, Hazel, to be very annoying. We’re constantly told that she is a flirt who kisses all the boys. Though she has a (rather flimsy) reason for doing so I got tired of hearing about how many hearts she’s broken. Maybe I’m just getting old, but I didn’t feel like I signed up for angsty high school drama when I picked up this book. Where’s my dark fantasy? The world building and plot also lacked depth. I had many questions about how all of it worked and they were left unanswered.

The first half of the book is almost entirely setup information, flashbacks, and a lot of telling-not-showing. No real action or creepiness happens until halfway into the novel. Despite all the backstory I didn’t feel like I knew the characters very well and they still fell a little flat. If you stick with the novel it does get more interesting, but all the action seems to happen all at once near the end. We suddenly get all the information we need and then things get resolved. After the lengthy and descriptive setup I was let down that the interesting parts of the story were so rushed. The novel had a nice message about lying and sibling love, but it wasn’t as satisfying as I had hoped for in the fantasy aspect.

Out of the Easy

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Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys intrigued me for many reasons. For one, it is set in the French Quarter of New Orleans in the 1950’s. It is also a murder mystery and a coming of age story. The combination of it all together in one book had me raising an eyebrow.

Our main character is Josie Moraine… the daughter of a prostitute. She is a smart girl who did very well in high school, but she doesn’t the money to go to college. She could go to a decent college in New Orleans, but everyone knows her mother’s “career” and she’s tired of being judged for her mother’s actions. More than anything she wants to leave New Orleans and start over. Her plans to leave town are suddenly interrupted when she gets caught up in a murder case and a trail of little white lies.

Despite the novel dealing with prostitution it was kept classy. Of course there were references to the “business,” but I never found it disgusting and it wasn’t very detailed. The important part of the novel didn’t deal with prostitution. It was merely part of what was tying Josie down and making her life difficult. How she grew, overcame her mother’s reputation, and her financial situation was the meat of the novel. Josie wanted a better life for herself more than anything. She was a believable character with flaws and she made mistakes. As the novel progressed she learned to stand up for herself and overcame obstacles with the help of a colorful cast of characters.

All of the characters were well written. Josie was great, but the supporting cast really won my heart. I loved the way Sepetys portrayed her characters. She wrote them in a way that captured their small movements- the way they chew gum, smoke a cigarette, or glance around- and it succeeded in bringing them to life. The only thing I didn’t like about the characterization was the small love triangle. However, I did like the resolution in the end. I think my main issue is that I’m a little tired of young adult romance. The feelings the characters had made sense, but the story didn’t absolutely need it to feel complete.

I really wanted to know what would happen to Josie and her personal problems, but the murder mystery part of the novel unfolded rather slowly. I was reading along and wondering when I’d hear more about the murder. Then suddenly a newspaper article would crop up and mention a new tidbit of information. That’s fine of course, but from the blurb on the book I was expecting more of the mystery and less of the coming of age story. That is not necessarily a bad thing because it was a wonderful heartfelt story that I really, really enjoyed. My expectations were a little off, but I was teary eyed by the end. I loved the book and I will definitely be checking out Sepetys’s previous novel and her new release coming soon!

The Sleeper and the Spindle

The Sleeper and the Spindle written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Chris Riddell is a graphic novel about Snow White going off to rescue Sleeping Beauty. That’s a really basic description, but you get the idea. It is an interesting spin on the stories. There are no prince charmings or kings. Just some dwarves and a few ladies on an adventure. The book is gorgeous and very short (~70 pages).

There’s really not a whole lot to say about it. I like it a lot, but I wish there was more. It is short and not very deep, but it is written like a fairy tale. No one has names, the story is straightforward, and the language is simple. It is good, but too short! I recommend it to fans of the author/illustrator or if you really like the fairy tales because it might be pricey for what it is. It’s so gorgeous though! Did I mention it was gorgeous?!

The Night Circus

Imagine if Tim Burton made a movie that involved a mysterious circus, a love story, and an elaborate game of magical strategy. That will probably determine if The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern will interest you or not. I was reminded a lot of Tim Burton’s Big Fish while I was reading. To put it very simply the book is about two magicians who were raised and taught from an early age to compete in a competition. The competition takes place in a mystical circus which both magicians help build. However the competition is a lot more than it seems and soon many people are caught up in the intricate details. Though the last magician standing wins the game it might be better to lose.

The back of the book might imply it is some epic battle between the two magicians, but don’t be misled. This is not an action packed book. It is more of a slowly unfolding mystery. This may leave some people unsatisfied with the relatively simple (at least on the surface) plot. Often a different chapter will have a different character’s point of view which may be confusing until you get to know the characters. There also isn’t a character I dislike. They all feel different and alive. Some are better written than others, but the supporting cast are especially endearing. My favorite is Tsukiko. I either want to be her or just have more of her in the book! I was swept in by the characters and their stories mainly. The plot itself might be a little weak, but I was particularly interested in how it would all unfold.

The author uses such creative and gorgeous imagery. Her descriptions are a bit long which might be a turn off to some people, but a good word to describe the novel is atmospheric. The novel has a very certain style in the way it is written and the way everything is said to look which may not be to everyone’s taste. If you’re a Neil Gaiman fan you might find that this book feels a bit like something he might write. There are a few very short (1-2 pages) chapters that are written as if you are the one seeing the circus. She tells you what you’re seeing and what is happening around you. These caught me off guard, but for something so small it really roped me into the story.

Some readers may not like the dark fantasy-like style, description heavy passages, or the slow pacing. For me it is beautiful, page turning, and dreamlike story. Even though I was exhausted I powered through the last 200 or so pages because I couldn’t sleep without knowing how it ended. I couldn’t wait until morning to finish it. It is probably the best book I’ve read in a long time.