The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

The Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud, was published in 2013 by Hyperion.

For more than fifty years, the country has been affected by a horrifying epidemic of ghosts. A number of Psychic Investigations Agencies have sprung up to destroy the dangerous apparitions. Lucy Carlyle, a talented young agent, arrives in London hoping for a notable career. Instead she finds herself joining the smallest, most ramshackle agency in the city, run by the charismatic Anthony Lockwood. When one of their cases goes horribly wrong, Lockwood & Co. have one last chance of redemption. Unfortunately this involves spending the night in one of the most haunted houses in England, and trying to escape alive.

I don’t know whether to be pleased or disappointed that the fantastic humor of Stroud’s Bartimaeus series was lacking in The Screaming Staircase. There’s a bit of humor thrown in by George, and this book desperately needs humor because of the tension and overall scariness of the atmosphere, but what I was expecting—Bartimaeus-like humor, etc.—was not what I got. I suppose I should be pleased, since it shows that Stroud can write more than one style, but I’m also slightly disappointed–although I know it’s unfair of me to expect every book Stroud writes to be like Bartimaeus.

I really liked the characters, despite the fact that nothing they did particularly stood out to me and they were overall extremely generic. George’s humor, as mentioned above, was much needed, and I liked the dynamic between the three of them (even if it was predictable due to their character types). I think the “Intelligent, Often Closed-Mouth Protagonist With The Mysterious Past” is way overdone, but I couldn’t help but like Lockwood despite of it.

I did really like the mystery, even if, like the characters, it was predictable. I’m glad that Stroud connected the first part of the plot with the second (although I think the killer’s identity is too obvious), and I love both the atmosphere that he sets up (the Red Room was the creepiest thing) and the world overall. Lucy has a spectacular moment at the end when her thoughts and mine completely matched and she did exactly what I wanted her to do and it was awesome. I hope she gets more dimensionality to her in future books, because I can see her completely stealing the show from Lockwood.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Ghosts and ghouls, scary situations and imagery.

Genre: Supernatural, Mystery, Young Adult (maybe mature Middle Grade if they can handle scary)

With the nail of my middle finger, I tapped the side of the glass; at once the smoke awoke, rippling outward from the point of impact, becoming thicker, more granular as it did so. As it separated, it revealed the object in the jar: a human skull, brown and stained, clamped to the bottom of the glass.

The ripples of smoke contorted, twisted; they took on the horrid semblance of a face, with blankly rolling eyes and gaping mouth. For a moment the features were superimposed upon the skull beneath. I jerked back from the glass. The face devolved into streamlike ribbons of smoke that swirled about the cylinder and presently became still.

Overall Review:

The Screaming Staircase has characters and a plot that are a little too generic for me to really love it, but despite that I still like the characters and what Stroud did with the plot. I really liked the spooky, ghostly atmosphere, though, and the world that Stroud has created. I wish he had done a little bit more to make the characters stand out, however.

You can buy this here: The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood & Co.)

Advertisements

Pulse: I Want Back The Time I Spent Reading This Book

Pulse is written by Patrick Carman. It was published in 2013 by Katherine Tegen. It is the first book in the Pulse trilogy.

With the help of her mysterious classmate Dylan Gilmore, Faith Daniels discovers that she can move objects with her mind. This telekinetic ability is called a “pulse,” and Dylan has the talent, too. In riveting action scenes, Faith demonstrates her ability to use her pulse against a group of telekinesis masters who are so powerful they can flatten their enemies by uprooting streetlights, throwing boulders, and changing the course of a hurtling hammer so that it becomes a deadly weapon. But even with her unusual talent, the mind—and the heart—can be difficult to control. If Faith wants to join forces with Dylan and save the world, she’ll have to harness the power of both.

I’ve read Patrick Carman’s Land of Elyon books, which is why I picked up Pulse. But reading this actually shocked me, because I didn’t remember Carman writing as badly as he writes in Pulse. Maybe’s he’s experimenting with a new style, or maybe my memory is just bad and I can’t remember the way Elyon was written, but I almost stopped reading 30 pages in.

I can’t even describe why his writing was so bad. It’s something that you have to read for yourself to understand. The viewpoint was all over the place, often switching from sentence to sentence, and the writing itself was so mechanical. There’s only so many times you can listen to descriptions like “She examined it like a scientist” before you want to go read something else. There were also way too many “Faith didn’t know it, but…” or “If Faith knew what blank was planning, she would have thought twice about blank.” Also, Carman tries way too hard to dump meaning into a single activity: “There was no doubting an artistic ability that blossomed most powerfully during times of grief. There had been a lot of grief lately, and her work had turned darker and more mature. It was sad, really, that the world had to turn so dark in order to bring out her true talent.” Yes, we get it. Just start playing the violins already.

Also, all the worldbuilding information is dumped at you in one conversation in the middle of the book, which is a really clunky way to worldbuild. Also, the summary’s description of the action scenes as “riveting” is hilarious. They’re about as riveting as watching paint dry.

Honestly, this book had me alternating from being bored to tears to wanting to never read a single word in it. It was that bad. So bad that I can’t even bring myself to give you a quote because I don’t want to subject you to the terrible prose.

Rating: 1/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Sexual situations, psychic teenagers.

Genre: Dystopian, Supernatural, Young Adult

Overall Review:

I never want to look at this book again, or read another one in the trilogy. It’s a shame, because I like Carman’s Land of Elyon books. I don’t understand why his writing style changed so drastically (if it did at all; it’s been a while since I’ve read Elyon).

You can buy this here: Pulse

In The Afterlight: Solid Finish, But Predictable

Note: Possible changes are coming! Don’t be surprised if the entire look of the blog changes.

In The Afterlight is written by Alexandra Bracken. It was published in 2014 by Hyperion. It is the final book in the Darkest Minds trilogy. Also check out my reviews of the first book, The Darkest Minds, and the second, Never Fade.

Spoilers for the series.

Summary/Blurb:

“Ruby can’t look back. Fractured by an unbearable loss, she and the kids who survived the government’s attack on Los Angeles travel north to regroup. Only Ruby can keep their highly dangerous prisoner in check. But with Clancy Gray, there’s no guarantee you’re fully in control, and everything comes with a price.

When the Children’s League disbands, Ruby rises up as a leader and forms an unlikely allegiance with Liam’s brother, Cole, who has a volatile secret of his own. There are still thousands of other Psi kids suffering in government “rehabilitation camps” all over the country. Freeing them—revealing the government’s unspeakable abuses in the process—is the mission Ruby has claimed since her own escape from Thurmond, the worst camp in the country.

But not everyone is supportive of the plan Ruby and Cole craft to free the camps. As tensions rise, competing ideals threaten the mission to uncover the cause of IAAN, the disease that killed most of America’s children and left Ruby and others with powers the government will kill to keep contained. With the fate of a generation in their hands, there is no room for error. One wrong move could be the spark that sets the world on fire.”

Thoughts:

Bracken’s trilogy as a whole is fairly formulaic, but enjoyable nonetheless, and In The Afterlight, while pretty predictable, is a solid end to the series. Snarky Chubs is my favorite and Cole continues to be an intriguing character, although what I thought was going to happen with him didn’t actually happen. And Bracken never explained why he was the way he was.

I do wish that the romance had been a little more original. There was the usual “fall in love with guy, break up with him for reasons, get back together but have trouble trusting/agreeing/etc.” with the inclusion of “guy and girl sleep together and all their problems are solved.” Yeah…there’s nothing wrong with that portrayal of sex at all…

Books like these are best read close together, but it’s been a while since I’ve read Never Fade and as a result I think my connection to the characters faded a little bit. Ruby and Co. seemed to be really connected to characters like Zu, a connection that I just didn’t feel. Also, Vida’s connection to Cate didn’t make sense to me. Perhaps I would feel the connection more if I had a fresher memory of the events of The Darkest Minds.

The one glaring mar of this book was the ending. Everything was wrapped up a little too neatly, I thought, and Chub’s speech at the end almost completely ruined the book for me. You shouldn’t need one of your characters to give a speech talking about what your book is really about, because 1.) what happens in the book should have conveyed that already and 2.) it makes the message seem really shallow. I also had a really hard time buying what Chubs was saying because it made absolutely no sense. It was so unsubtle and out of place that it was really jarring, and it made the message lose a lot of depth.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Warnings: Violence, graphic imagery, death, swearing, kissing and non-graphic descriptions of sex.

Genre: Dystopian, Supernatural, Young Adult, Realistic

Passages/Quotes:

My hands shook like crazy as I tried to work the handle on the front door, the enormous metal indentation popping and protesting. There was so much adrenaline running through me, it was amazing I didn’t rip the whole thing off its hinges. “Liam? Liam, can you hear me?”

He turned toward me slowly, coming out of his stupor. “I told him it would roll.”

I almost sobbed in relief as I reached through the window and kissed him. “You did.”

“I told him.”

“You did, I know you did,” I said, low and soothing as I reached in to unbuckle his seatbelt.

Overall Review:

In The Afterlight is a solid finish to a formulaic and slightly predictable, yet fun trilogy. I didn’t buy some of the connections the characters had, but I am putting that down to the length of time that passed between my reading of each book rather than to any fault of Bracken’s. I absolutely hated the ending, however, since I thought it cheapened the book’s message and made Bracken sound like a cheerleader.

You can buy this here: In the Afterlight

Mind Games: Enjoyable If You Don’t Mind A Shaky Premise

Mind Games is written by Kiersten White. It was published in 2013 by Harper.

Summary/Blurb:

Fia was born with flawless instincts. Her first impulse, her gut feeling, is always exactly right. Her sister, Annie, is blind to the world around her—except when her mind is gripped by strange visions of the future.

Trapped in a school that uses girls with extraordinary powers as tools for corporate espionage, Annie and Fia are forced to choose over and over between using their abilities in twisted, unthinkable ways…or risking each other’s lives by refusing to obey.

Thoughts:

I had two main problems with this book. The first is that, while the book is engaging, there’s a lack of worldbuilding that is really noticeable. Why are there people like Annie and Fia at all? If Fia is the only person that Keane has encountered with perfect instincts, why are he and his cohorts expertly able to manipulate her as if they’ve done it before? How did Fia manage to do half of the things they first told her to do (such as slipping something into someone’s purse) with just perfect instincts (perfect instincts doesn’t mean perfect sleight-of-hand, perfect reflexes, etc. For that matter, instincts aren’t really tied with right and wrong, either, since right and wrong is morality, unless we’re talking about simply the “feel” of the situation, but even then conscience has a say in that as well as instincts)? How did Keane get that powerful? Adding to my confusion was the emptiness of the world: even when the characters are supposed to be around lots of people (in school, in a city, in a club, etc.), it feels like there’s no one around except for them, like they’re the only people there.

My second problem was that I felt that the punch of the end was ruined by having Annie have a vision of it beforehand. Yes, even with the additional twist that White throws in, the whole ambience was ruined. Also, Fia’s thought of “this will always be wrong, but it’s the right sort of wrong” and “we’ll do wrong to make things right” was just…ugh. You should have stayed with Adam, Fia. (Also, if the endgame is James/Fia, I will scream).

What I did really like about the book was Fia’s overall “broken bird” personality, especially the breakdown in her language as the book progresses. In the flashbacks, it’s especially noticeable how fragmented her thoughts get over time. I thought that in particular was really well done on the part of White.

Rating: 2/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Sexual situations, kissing, violence.

Genre: Supernatural, Realistic, Young Adult

Passages/Quotes:

Before I say anything, John/Daniel speaks. “You feel sick about this? Can you describe the feeling?”

“No, I can’t describe the feeling,” she snaps. “All I know is that this is a bad idea and you’re a liar and I should keep Annie far, far away from you and your stupid school.”

~White 27

Overall Review:

I did enjoy Mind Games, although I felt the worldbuilding was not developed enough and left too many questions. I actually got really mad when Annie had her vision that spoiled the ending plot twist (although not really, but close enough that the overall punch was still ruined), and overall I thought the book would have been better if it had been a little more developed and a little more polished. I did like the look into Fia’s state of mind through the fragmentation of her thoughts on the page, though.

You can buy this here: Mind Games

Doll Bones: I Didn’t Use To Think Dolls Were Creepy

Doll Bones is written by Holly Black. It was published in 2013 by McElderry Books. Black’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“Zach, Poppy and Alice have been friends for ever. They love playing with their action figure toys, imagining a magical world of adventure and heroism. But disaster strikes when, without warning, Zach’s father throws out all his toys, declaring he’s too old for them. Zach is furious, confused and embarrassed, deciding that the only way to cope is to stop playing . . . and stop being friends with Poppy and Alice. But one night the girls pay Zach a visit, and tell him about a series of mysterious occurrences. Poppy swears that she is now being haunted by a china doll – who claims that it is made from the ground-up bones of a murdered girl. They must return the doll to where the girl lived, and bury it. Otherwise the three children will be cursed for eternity…”

Thoughts:

I knew next to nothing about this book before I read it, although I suspected, given Holly Black’s other works, that it was a fantasy/supernatural book. So, when I started reading it, I thought, “Hmm, this is a neat little book. It’s a coming of age story.” Cue Zach’s dad throwing out his action figures, cue me thinking, “Yep, coming of age.”

Then the Queen came in, and things got really creepy, really fast, leaving me looking like this:

But the great thing about this book is that, despite the creepiness of it, it’s still a coming of age story. And the supernatural element is the type, like I mentioned way back when I reviewed Frost, where it could actually be just a natural explanation. The Queen’s not a ghost, it’s just the kids’ active imaginations and the circumstances that the weird stuff occurred. Or is the Queen really a ghost, after all? It could be either, which is what I like about this type of supernatural story. There’s also a subtler, supernatural element to the kids’ game, as well, although again, that could be explained as just a product of their active imaginations and storytelling skills.

For an MG novel, it gets really grisly at the end. Like, blood and murder grisly. It also just fuels the “dolls are creepy and will come alive and eat your face” fear. And the moment when the story goes from “La dee la, coming of age, poor Zach is sad,” to “BONES AND ASH IN A DOLL” creeped me out, so it may very well scare a younger person.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Supernatural, Realistic, Middle Grade

Passages/Quotes:

“Her bones?” he finally echoed.

“Did you know that bone china has real bones in it?” Poppy said, tapping a porcelain cheek. “Her clay was made from human bones. Little-girl bones. That hair threaded through the scalp is the little girl’s hair. And the body of the doll is filled with her leftover ashes.”

~Black 63

“Your blond friend sounds pretty hungry,” he said, coming out from behind the counter with a pink-glazed donut on a paper plate. He placed it down in fornt of the odll. “Here. On the house. It’s Pepto-Bismol flavored. We’re trying it out to see if it gets on the regular menu.”

As the man walked back into the kitchen, Zach could only stare after him. “Did he—?” Zach whispered.

“It was just a joke,” Alice said quickly, but she looked nervous. “You know, because we had a doll. He was pretending it was real.”

~Black 129

Overall Review:

Doll Bones starts out as a cute coming-of-age story, then very quickly transforms into some sort of doll Nightmare Fuel supernatural story, with the coming-of-age still quite prominent in all the doll creepiness. But despite the grisliness and the Queen, Doll Bones communicates the “growing up but not leaving all of childhood behind you” message quite well.

You can buy this here: Doll Bones

Never Fade: The Trilogy Format Strikes Again

Never Fade is written by Alexandra Bracken. It was published in 2013 by Hyperion. It is the sequel to The Darkest Minds. The last book of the trilogy is due out in October. Bracken’s website can be found here.

General spoilers for The Darkest Minds and Never Fade

Summary/Blurb:

“Ruby never asked for the abilities that almost cost her her life. Now she must call upon them on a daily basis, leading dangerous missions to bring down a corrupt government and breaking into the minds of her enemies. Other kids in the Children’s League call Ruby “Leader,” but she knows what she really is: a monster.

When Ruby is entrusted with an explosive secret, she must embark on her most dangerous mission yet: leaving the Children’s League behind. Crucial information about the disease that killed most of America’s children—and turned Ruby and the others who lived into feared and hated outcasts—has survived every attempt to destroy it. But the truth is saved in only one place: a flash drive in the hands of Liam Stewart, the boy Ruby once believed was her future—and who now wouldn’t recognize her.

As Ruby sets out across a desperate, lawless country to find Liam—and answers about the catastrophe that has ripped both her life and America apart—she is torn between old friends and the promise she made to serve the League. Ruby will do anything to protect the people she loves. But what if winning the war means losing herself?”

What I Liked:

I’ve been waiting to read this book for so long, ever since I read The Darkest Minds and absolutely loved it. And this book is a worthy successor: it has plot twists/reveals spread all throughout the book, it has enough revelatory information that it doesn’t seem like all just set-up for the last Bam, Plot! book (coughAllegiantcough), and Ruby, while still struggling with her powers, seems to be heading in a direction that won’t lead her to self-angst anymore.

I was totally expecting Ruby to completely destroy Clancy at the end, as a sort of turning point for her character, but upon reflection, her turning point really came with Rob in the truck. It made her longing for a cure that much more powerful at the end.

Interesting development with Cole. I wonder if we’ll see more people like him in the next book…?

I don’t particularly like self-empowerment plots; the last sentencing of the summary makes me cringe: “But what if winning the war means losing herself?” Yeah, okay, because “losing yourself,” whatever that means, is so much more detrimental than a destructive war that is killing people. But before you start wondering why this is in “Like” rather than “Dislike,” I found that this plot is actually pretty bearable and more interesting than most. Or perhaps I’m too invested in the characters and the situation to care too much. We’ll see what happens in the last book.

What I Didn’t Like:

CLIFFHANGER NOOOOO! Dislike for two reasons: one, because it means I have to wait probably a year or so before I get to read the next book, and two, because I am so sick of the FSASCH (for the unaware: First Stands Alone, Second Cliff Hangs) formula. A good book shouldn’t need a cliffhanger to want people to read the next one; and doubly so because this is the second book. If people were likely to stop reading, they would do so after the first one. If they read the second book, they’re probably in for the long haul (not always, of course. It was the second book of the volcano eruption survival book, Ashen Winter, which made me stop).

I don’t like when authors establish character purely through language use. Vida’s vocabulary was almost entirely swear words, and to me it just seemed like Bracken was using profanity as a crutch; i.e. as an excuse not to show Vida’s character in other ways. I’ve always felt that the use of profanity in books is a crutch or an excuse, but it really stood out here with Vida. You shouldn’t have to depend on profanity to establish character.

I’m kind of annoyed that Liam’s mind wasn’t completely wiped and that he remembered Ruby in the space of about five seconds (hyperbolically). I think there would have been more potential character development in Liam’s “amnesia” then in the fact that he remembers and is mad at her for it.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Warnings: Swearing, violence, kissing, graphic imagery, death.

Genre: Dystopian, Supernatural, Young Adult

An appropriate description of both books (and I just couldn’t resist)

Passages/Quotes:

My brain was firing at a rapid pace, drumming up one horribly possibility after another. “So the intel on that flash drive—it was research that you stole?”

“Yeah, something like that.”

“Something like that?” I repeated in disbelief. “I don’t even get to know what’s on the stupid thing?”

He hesitated long enough that I was sure he wouldn’t actually tell me. “Think about it—what’s the one thing every parent of a dead kid wants to know? The one thing scientists have been after for years?”

The cause of the Psi disease.

~Bracken 82

Knox had made sure to warp him up real pretty in a series of robes and chains. There was a bandanna over his mouth, clenched between yellow teeth, and all I could think was, I wish they had covered his eyes instead.

Rimmed with crust and lined with bruises, his eyes pierced through the shadows between us, black and bottomless. He was looking at us, straight through us, into us.

I knew what Olivia had been calling out to me now. I could hear her voice ringing high and clear in my mind.

Red, Ruby, Red.

Overall Review:

Never Fade continues the high-paced action, the reveals, and the cool powers of the previous book. However, I had more problems with this book, such as the getting-old-fast cliffhanger ending and Liam’s convenient “my mind isn’t wiped after all” situation. I still can’t wait for the last book, though.

You can buy this here: Never Fade (A Darkest Minds Novel)

Emerald Green: All The Time-Traveling Shenanigans You Could Want

Emerald Green is written by Kerstin Gier. It was first published in 2010 in Germany and then in 2013 by Henry Holt, translated by Anthea Bell. It is the third and final book in a trilogy, of which the first two books I reviewed here and here. Gier’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“Gwen has a destiny to fulfill, but no one will tell her what it is.

She’s only recently learned that she is the Ruby, the final member of the time-traveling Circle of Twelve, and since then nothing has been going right. She suspects the founder of the Circle, Count Saint-Germain, is up to something nefarious, but nobody believes her. And she’s just learned that her charming time-traveling partner, Gideon, has probably been using her all along.”

~Inside Flap

What I Liked:

Okay, so remember all those doubts I discussed in my review of Sapphire Blue? I am happy to say that none of them came true, and that this book is an amazing finish to the trilogy. Tons of things happen (including, yes, Gwen delivering the note, helping to conk Gideon over the head, and stopping herself from being discovered), the romance is cute, there are some truly hilarious moments (check the second quote below for one of my favorites) and the ending reveal was pretty surprising!

So, first things first. The time travel was so well-executed here, and really has been throughout the trilogy. I loved the “crossing the streams”/Back to the Future aspect and all the little plot advances made. It’s so interesting to have Gwen’s second visit to Lady Tilney happen four years before her first visit to Lady Tilney, so really she’s meeting Lady Tilney for the first time in her second trip rather than her first. Also, it’s never explicitly mentioned, but I have to mention it because I thought Lucy/Paul/Gideon/Gwen’s plan with the chronograph was brilliant—the reason Lady Tilney gave Gideon her blood was obviously because however many years before they had come up with the plan and she had to give her blood to complete it. It’s mind-boggling stuff, and it’s great!

I was hesitant about the romance in the first two books because I was afraid it was overshadowing the plot, but Gideon’s “Gwenny’s” won me over. Also, it wasn’t overshadowing the plot, after all. And they’re cute.

As I said, the end reveal was pretty surprising; I was definitely not expecting it. I like the unexpected!

It was also super cute to see a different side of Lady Arista when Lucas was still alive.

What I Didn’t Like:

Um, so, what’s up with that immortality thing? That was random. And a little cliché and convenient.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Violence, swearing.

Genre: Realistic, Science Fiction, Supernatural, Historical Fiction, Young Adult

For some reason, I LOVE the German cover art

Passages/Quotes:

My grandfather wiped the palms of his hands on his trousers. “I’m beginning to feel too old for these adventures,” he said.

My eyes went to the chronograph. To me, it looked exactly like the one that had sent me here, a complicated device full of flaps, levers, little drawers, cogwheels, and knobs, covered all over with miniature drawings.

“I don’t object if you contradict me,” said Lucas, sounding slightly injured. “Something along the lines of but you’re much too young to feel old!”

“Oh. Yes, of course you are. Although that moustache makes you look decades older.”

“Arista says it makes me look serious and statesmanlike.”

~Gier 84-85

“Don’t be scared,” said a voice behind me.

Those must certainly fall into the category of Famous Last Words, the sort that are the last thing you hear before your death. (Along with “it isn’t loaded” and “he only wants to play.”) Of course I was terribly scared.

~Gier 194

Overall Review:

Emerald Green ends the time-traveling trilogy with all the twists, time-traveling shenanigans, and cunning plots you could want. Gideon and Gwen are really cute, and Gwen proves she’s not just a clumsy, mediocre girl. The immortality was strange and felt a little cliché and out of place, but otherwise, a fun trilogy.

You can buy this here: Emerald Green (Ruby Red)

Sapphire Blue: Definitely A Middle-Of-The-Trilogy Book

Sapphire Blue is written by Kerstin Gier. It was published in 2010 in Germany and then in 2012 by Henry Holt in the US, translated by Anthea Bell. It is the sequel to Ruby Red. Gier’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“Gwen’s life has been a roller coaster since she discovered she was the Ruby, the final member of the time-traveling Circle of Twelve. When not searching through history for the other time travelers and asking for a bit of their blood (gross!), she’s been trying to figure out what all the mysteries and prophecies surrounding the Circle really mean.

It’s not easy when a secret society, a dangerous Count, and her own time-traveling partner, Gideon, are determined to keep her from the truth. Especially since Gwen can’t decide whether Gideon really believes she’s a traitor to the Circle or might actually be on her side—and creeping into her heart.”

~Inside Flap

What I Liked:

This book is highly amusing. The entire scene where Gwyneth drinks too much punch and Gideon is speechlessly disapproving was great (even though it distracted slightly from the Count), and there were some other bits of amusing dialogue that were fun, too.

Overall, I thought the romance angst was played very well. I mean, Gideon is the obvious “Guy-Who-Pretends-To-Love-A-Girl-And-Then-Really-Does” but his hot/cold nature is interesting.

The time-traveling aspect is very interesting, especially since several things have happened that the characters haven’t actually done yet, so I’m excited to see some “crossing the streams” in the next book (Gwyneth has to presumably help someone knock out Gideon, she still has to keep herself from being discovered behind the curtains, she has to give Lucas the note, etc.).

I’m also very curious to see what the big secret is behind the Circle, and now that there are some prophecies in play, to see the fulfillment of those.

Two cover arts! I prefer the one on the left, myself, if only because it mostly avoids the “generic girl in a dress” YA trend.

What I Didn’t Like:

Besides Gwyneth and Gideon, none of the characters are very fleshed out at all. Charlotte’s character is the typical Jealous, Spiteful Rival, Lesley is the Spunky Sidekick, and the mysterious Guardians and the Count just seem to be the usual, run-of-the-mill mysterious villains.

The plot developments are so slow. Nothing much really happens in this book. A lot is going to have to happen in the next. Nothing was developed in the case of Paul and Lucy, no developments were made about the secret of the chronograph, Gwyneth still has no idea about anything. The only thing that was developed was the romance, and there were some vague hints thrown around about the Count’s sinister nature, but nothing of much import or necessity. It’s still all just set-up, and all the set-up should have been mostly finished in the first book. It makes me worry that not everything is going to be resolved in the third book, and that the plot is being set aside to forefront the romance.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Swearing, violence.

Genre: Supernatural, Science Fiction, Historical Fiction, Young Adult, Realistic

Scene from the German movie

Passages/Quotes:

“I can do a really good trumpet imitation too,” said the gargoyle. “And a tuba imitation. Do you have a dog?”

“No!” I took a deep breath. I was going to need nerves of iron to cope with this little guy.

“Couldn’t you get one? Or a cat would be better than nothing, but they always look down their noses at you, and it’s not so easy to wind a cat up. A good many birds can see me, too. Do you have a bird?”

“My grandmother can’t stand pets,” I said. I was about to say she probably wouldn’t have much time for invisible pets either, but I swallowed the words again. “Okay, now let’s start over again from the beginning: My name is Gwyneth Shepherd. Nice to meet you.”

“Xemerius,” said the gargoyle, beaming all over his face. “Pleased to meet you too.” He climbed up on the washbasin and looked deep into my eyes. “Really! Very, very pleased! Will you buy me a cat?”

~Gier 45

“But that…that’s not magic!” I whispered, shocked.

Lesley sighed. “Not in the sense of hocus-pocus magical rituals, maybe, but it’s a magical ability. The magic of the raven.”

“More of an eccentricity, if you ask me,” I said. “Something that makes people laugh at me—and anyway no one believes I can do it.”

“Gwenny, it’s not eccentric to have extrasensory perception. It’s a gift. You can see ghosts and talk to them.”

“And demons,” Xemerius pointed out.

~Gier 203

Overall Review:

Sapphire Blue has the same fun and humor as Ruby Red, but unfortunately the fact that nothing much has happened by way of plot development/resolution has me a little worried that the romance is the main object of this series, rather than an interesting, complex plot. The romance is actually pretty well done, and the plot is certainly interesting, but a lot has to happen and considering the slow pace of the first two books, I don’t know if the third book will be able to deliver.

You can buy this book here: Sapphire Blue (Ruby Red)

Ruby Red: Never Judge A Book By Its Cover (Or Its Summary)

Ruby Red is written (in German!) by Kerstin Gier and translated by Anthea Bell. It was published in 2009 in Germany and in 2011 in the U.S by Henry Holt. Gier’s website (in German) can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“Sixteen-year-old Gwen lives with her extended—and rather eccentric—family in an exclusive London neighborhood. In spite of her ancestors’ peculiar history, she’s had a relatively normal life so far. The time-traveling gene that runs like a secret thread through the female half of the family is supposed to have skipped over Gwen, so she hasn’t been introduced to the “the mysteries,” and can spend her time hanging out with her best friend, Lesley, watching movies and talking about boys. It comes as an unwelcome surprise then when she starts taking sudden, uncontrolled leaps into the past.

She’s totally unprepared for time travel, not to mention all that comes with it: fancy clothes, archaic manners, a mysterious secret society, and Gideon, her time-traveling counterpart. He’s obnoxious, a know-it-all, and possibly the best-looking guy she’s seen in any century….”

~Inside Flap

What I Liked:

Okay, so I read the blurb for this book and thought I was in for a terrible time (the whole “best-looking guy” thing…blarg). But I’m actually kind of really obsessed now (sorry for all those modifiers). This book was fun, much more involved and complex than I thought it would be, and not nearly as “swoon over the beautiful guy” as it sounds. In fact, Gideon is kind of interesting, in that he seems to grow attached to Gwyneth really quickly, which sets off all kinds of warning bells about his potential villainy in the next two books (yes, it’s a trilogy). One minute he thinks she’s a nuisance, the next they’re kissing in a confessional booth (okay, not that quickly, but still…). I can’t help but think that something more is going on, but maybe I’m just desperate for a romance that’s more nuanced and interesting than the norm.

Cover Art

It was apparent to me from the very beginning of the book who Gwyneth really is, but the intrigue that is developed because the characters don’t know is really well-done. There’s a sort of mystery quality to this that I really love.

Gwyneth has just the right sort of snark that I really like; she has a really great inner monologue going on most of the time and it is wonderful.

I feel like this is going to be a series similar to Kelley Armstrong’s Darkest Powers, in that it may not be the best in terms of writing or character or plot or whatever, but it is fun, and that’s important (to me, anyway).

What I Didn’t Like:

Like I mentioned above, Gideon seems to really do a 180 in regards to his feelings about Gwyneth in the span of about fifty pages and one time-travel. I’m still hoping that there’s something more going on, but this could be yet another super-quick romance and I am disappointed if that’s the case.

This book was all mystery and build-up, with not a lot of development or revelations, but a whole lot of questions and suspense. Essentially, it’s a set-up for the rest of the trilogy, which isn’t necessarily bad. It just takes an awfully long time for things to happen, and so not much actually happens in this book. Gwyneth doesn’t take a controlled trip back into time until almost two-thirds of the way through the book. It just made it feel much more “hey, this is a trilogy” than most trilogies, if that makes any sense.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Science Fiction, Supernatural, Historical Fiction, Young Adult (yeah, I can’t really decide what it is)

Apparently the book is popular enough in Germany that it got a movie adaptation!

Passages/Quotes:

When I could see properly again, I noticed a car was coming around the corner—a real old-timer—and I was kneeling on the pavement shaking with fear.

Something was wrong with this street. It didn’t look the same as usual. Everything had changed so suddenly.

The rain had stopped, but an icy wind was blowing and it was much darker than a moment ago, almost night. The magnolia tree had no flowers or leaves. I wasn’t even sure whether it was still a magnolia at all.

The spikes of the fence around it were gilded at the tips. I could have sworn they’d been black when I’d seen it not a moment before.

Another vintage car came chugging around the corner. A strange vehicle with tall wheels and shiny spokes. I looked along the pavement—the puddles were nowhere to be seen. Nor were the traffic signs. The paving was bumpy and out of shape, and even the street lamps looked different. Their flickering yellowish light hardly reached the entrance to the next building.

Deep down inside me, a nasty idea stirred, but I wasn’t about to entertain it seriously yet.

~Gier 40-41

“We’ll see what kinds of tasks she may be suitable for,” said Mr. de Villiers.

“We have her blood,” said Gideon. “That’s all we need from her. She can come here and elapse every day as far as I’m concerned, and then everyone will be happy.”

What was that he said? Elapse? It sounded like one of those difficult words Mr. Whitman used to confuse us with in English lessons. “In principle not a bad effort at elapsorating the crux, Gordon, but try for a little more elaboration next time, please.” Or had it been elucidating the crux? Well, anyway, neither Gordon nor I nor anyone else in the class had ever heard of it. Except, of course, for Charlotte.

Mr. George saw how baffled I was looking. “By elapse we mean deliberately tapping your time-travel quota by setting the chronograph to take you back into the past for a couple of hours. That prevents uncontrolled travel.” He turned to the others. I’m sure that after a little while Gwyneth will surprise us all with her potential. She is—”

“She’s a child!” Gideon interrupted him. “She has no idea about anything.”

I blushed scarlet. What a nerve he had! And the scornful way he was looking at me! That stupid, conceited…polo player!

~Geir 165

Overall Review:

Ruby Red definitely was not what I was expecting, and I love it for that reason. The one mar is Gideon, a.k.a the typical handsome love interest, but I’m still holding out hope for a bit more nuance than usual. This is one of those books where I finished reading it and immediately ordered the second from the library. It’s looking to be a fun trilogy and I’m excited to read the rest.

You can buy this book here: Ruby Red

Coming Up Next: Saturday & Sunday, Summer of Redwall; next Wednesday, The Always War by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Daughter of Smoke and Bone: This Actually Disgusted Me. I Fear For The Future Of YA Lit.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is written by Laini Taylor. It was published in 2011 by Little, Brown and Company. It is the first in a, yes, you guessed it, trilogy. Taylor’s website/blog can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.
In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grows dangerously low.
And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherworldly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she speaks many languages—not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.”
~Inside Flap

What I Liked:

Kudos to Taylor for the worldbuilding, which was really quite impressive. The writing was decent, too, when I didn’t have a problem with it.

Cover Art

What I Didn’t Like:

So, where do I start?

I knew on page 18 that I would not like this book. On page 18 Karou is described. The moment I read that description, I immediately thought, “Uh-oh.” Just take a look at this: “Creamy and leggy, with long azure hair and the eyes of a silent-movie star, she moved like a poem and smiled like a sphinx” (18, emphasis added). Who describes someone like that? Seriously? What the heck does it mean to “move like a poem?” What type of poem? What exactly are silent-movie stars’ eyes like? Which silent-movie star? Karou is also about as perfect as you can make someone while still trying to stay marginally realistic, which only adds to the Mary Sue vibe. Really, the girl has no flaws.

I hated the fighting scenes. By that point, though, I didn’t really like Karou, so it only makes sense that seeing her fight so…perfectly…would make me grit my teeth. Oh my goodness, those fighting scenes. She’s beautiful and mysterious and she can hold her own in a fight (even against supernatural forces)? Blarg. Excuse me while I try to erase all the bad fanfiction vibes I’m getting.

Really, this whole book screamed “bad fanfiction” at me. Karou is exactly the type of protagonist you would find in a (bad) Harry Potter or a Lord of the Rings fanfic. Blue hair and all, because normal hair color is so last year. I mean, blue hair. BLUE HAIR. Just…why?

It depresses me to post fan art of this novel, but here it is…

The italics killed me. Taylor really went overboard on them. I never realized I could hate the use of italics so much. What’s wrong with using an adjective every once in a while? I got so sick of hearing about Karou’s “lostness.” Why must everything—and I mean everything—be italicized for emphasis and repetition? That last sentence was an example of how Taylor utilizes italics in the book. Really. That was another example.

The romance—sorry, the lust and soul-mate-y business—made me want to vomit. I am so tired of reading about sparks and tingles and aches. One of them should have been ugly. It would have been so much better.

Some of the dialogue was cringe-worthy. It was meant to be slick/witty/funny/charming, but it just sounded all wrong.

Didn’t really appreciate how all the hunters were depicted as Gross, Sleazy Men because they kill Poor Defenseless Animals. Karou even calls them “subhuman.” No, I don’t think so. What’s terribly ironic is that Karou later describes “inhumanity” as “the absolute absence of mercy.” Not being very merciful to hunters, now, are we? Also, “the invaders are always the bad guys?” I’m surprised you didn’t start ranting about colonialism, Karou, since that’s obviously what you were trying to imply. And no, the invaders are NOT always the bad guys, my dear. Also, “She had the dead eyes of a jihadist?” What is that supposed to mean? Have you seen a jihadist’s eyes to qualify that they are, in fact, “dead”, instead of, say, “fevered” or “passionate” or “crazed” or any number of words that could describe a jihadist’s eyes?

Rating: 1/5

Recommended Age Range: 16+ (although I recommend not letting anyone even touch this book, least of all a teenager)

Warnings: Kissing and sensual scenes and descriptions, violence.

Genre: Supernatural, Young Adult

Passages/Quotes:

On the surface of the door was a large black handprint. That wouldn’t have been so very strange, except that it gave every appearance of having been burned into the wood. Burned, but in the perfect contours of a hand. This must be what the rabbis were talking about. She traced it with her fingertips, finding that it was actually scored into the wood, so that her own hand fit inside it, though dwarfed by it, and came away dusted with fine ash. She brushed off her fingers, puzzled.
What had made the print? A cleverly shaped brand? It sometimes happened that Brimstone’s traders left a mark by which to find portals on their next visit, but that was usually just a smear of pain or a knife-gouged X-marks-the-spot. This was a bit sophisticated for them.
~Taylor 46

At the same moment, though Karou didn’t know it, across the world, at every door emblazoned with the black handprint, fires raged. They couldn’t be doused, and yet they didn’t spread. Flame ate away the doors and the magic that clung to them and then swallowed itself, leaving charred holes in dozens of buildings. Metal doors melted, so hot was the fire, and witnesses who stared at the flames saw, in the nimbus of their dazzled retinas, the silhouettes of wings.
Karou saw them and understood. The way to Elsewhere had been severed, and she was cast adrift.
~Taylor 138

Overall Review:

Daughter of Smoke and Bone made me never want to read another book about angels/demons again. I should have learned my lesson from Hush, Hush. What an absolute terrible book. The problem is that it’s disguised as a good one.

Coming Up Next: Aunt Maria by Diana Wynne Jones