Chime by Franny Billingsley

Chime, by Franny Billingsley, was published in 2011 by Dial.

Rating: 3/5        

This is one of those books where the cover art really doesn’t do the book any justice. In fact, the cover art is downright misleading, in my opinion. The cover suggests some sort of dark, brooding novel with Gothic undertones and maybe some paranormal activity mixed in. And, okay, the book is somewhat like that, but I don’t know…I felt a bit betrayed by the cover.

Chime is a book that certainly isn’t for everyone. It kind of isn’t really for me. The reason is that Billingsley’s prose is so lyrical and descriptive that it either draws people in or alienates them. I’m not a huge fan of prose like this, but I’m not against it, either, so I was really okay with it except in some parts where it got a little too nonsensical and poetic for my tastes.

The biggest selling point of Chime is the plot, really. Briony, convinced she’s a witch and destined to doom everyone around her, angsts and frets her way through most of the book, while falling in love with the town’s newest arrival, Eldric, and having to deal with the Old Ones (i.e., supernatural beings a la animism) in the swamp. Yet Billingsley draws a really nice balance between Briony’s angst and her strength, and the plot itself is really interesting, though perhaps a little too focused on Briony’s past rather than the present. Not everything is really made clear, such as the nature of Rose’s injury and its effect on her, and it gets a little too courtroom-drama-esque at the end, but the majority of it is woven beautifully together.

I’ve actually read this book before, while I was in college (I think), and I remembered it fairly well (though not the prose, strangely). It was not a surprisingly fantastic reread, but neither did it make me change my mind about the book. I enjoyed it when I read it then, and I enjoyed it now. Billingsley’s way of writing is really not my favorite, but the story itself—Briony’s struggles, her realizations about her past, and her relationship with Eldric—is beautifully done. 

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy/Supernatural

Full Ride by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Full Ride, by Margaret Peterson Haddix, was published in 2013 by Simon & Schuster.

Rating: 2/5

I devoured Haddix’s works as a middle-schooler; she and Caroline B. Cooney defined my reading as a 12-year-old. However, now that I’ve read a couple of books by her as an adult, I find her novels very underwhelming.

Full Ride is okay—much better than either The Always War or Under Their Skin, but not as nostalgic as Just Ella—though the book is probably about a hundred pages longer than it needed to be. There is just so much of Becca having inner monologues all the time about her feelings. And crying. And running. And internally yelling at her criminal father.

The plot was decent, though it seemed highly farfetched in several areas. Not even the author’s note where Haddix talks about how carefully she researched helped. I guess it’s because the whole plot revolves around con artists, so it’s harder to swallow because some areas are just so ridiculous that you can’t help thinking that something is fishy. And, unfortunately, sometimes things seem so ridiculous because the characters do ridiculous things or react in strange ways or interact in scenarios that seem unrealistic.

The best part of this book is probably the friendship between Becca and the group of high-achieving budding scholars. That was the most realistic aspect, and the interactions seemed natural. Everything was a lot less stilted and dramatic when those characters were together, so perhaps that’s why I enjoyed that part the most.

There are a lot of authors that I read in my childhood that I adore, but Haddix is not one of them anymore. I’ve so far thought of her books as no more than mediocre. I’m tempted to read Cooney to see if I feel the same about her. Sometimes there are just certain authors that you grow out of, I suppose!

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Young Adult, Realistic

The Singing by Alison Croggon

The Singing, by Alison Croggon, was published in 2008 by Candlewick. It is the sequel to The Crow.

Rating: 2/5        

I’ve discovered why I’ve struggled to get through these books—there’s very little action. Perhaps that’s why The Crow, the book with the most action, was my favorite. The Singing is, as all the books are, far too long, and there’s too much talking and introspection and not enough danger and suspense. Even the final “showdown” at the end with Sharma was anticlimactic.

Maerad also develops far too much power too quickly. There is not a very good balance to her growth in magic; she goes from somehow defeating a giant Elemental (within the range of what we know about her strength) to a glowing person who leaks magic and can destroy bad guys with a single breath, after merely sitting for ten minutes and thinking—or something. I’m not sure what was happening because my eyes were glazing over.

I honestly think if the books were much shorter, and if there were only three books instead of four, the whole effect would have been much better. But there are whole chapters of this book that are unnecessary, or scenes that go on for far too long, and after a while Croggon’s writing style really starts grating. And it’s clear she doesn’t know how to write action, so she limits it as much as she can, which is why so much of the final confrontation is inward rather than outward—but because everything is delivered in the same exact tone, there’s no suspense or tension to the scene. There’s practically no struggle, either.

Hem remains the only interesting character; Maerad is too flat and boring, especially in this book. The problem with making your character super-powerful is that it also makes them super-boring without conflict or struggle to make them interesting. Hem, who was more normal, seemed more alive than Maerad, who spent most of the last half of the book in a daze that wasn’t really all that important to developing any part of her character.

The Singing, and the Pellinor series in general, tries so hard to deliver on epic fantasy, but falls short in terms of pacing, action, characterization, and intrigue. There’s no politics, barely any struggle, and there wasn’t enough editing done to help mitigate that. I’m a bit sorry I spent so much time on these books, honestly, but what’s done is done, and now I know that I can’t stand them (except for The Crow. That one was okay).

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Obsidio, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, was published in 2018 by Alfred A. Knopf. It is the sequel to Gemina.

Rating: 3/5

I really enjoy the format of these books, I do, but the two books after Illuminae have been incredibly underwhelming in terms of plot and characters. It’s like Kaufman and Kristoff were so enamored with what they created in Illuminae that they decided to recreate it two more times in Gemina and Obsidio—and in Obsidio, it really shows.

Let’s start with the characters. Just like in the first two books, it’s a boy and girl who are romantically linked. Except this time, neither character is interesting in the slightest. In fact, the book barely focuses on Asha and Rhys—most of its concern is taken up with Kady, Ezra, Hannah, and Nik, the protagonists of the first two stories—and they are incredibly flat characters. Rhys was cardboard. Asha was barely better. Their actions are predictable, as is the plot.

Speaking of the plot, I suppose there’s really nothing wrong with it at its core, but I’m not thrilled with the way the authors go about revealing things. Kaufman and Kristoff play the same plot tricks they did in the first two books, meaning each reveal is blindingly obvious. They pull the “That person died!—Or did they?” trick several times, even though the format of the book and what was revealed previously immediately proves it wrong. They attempt to obscure the characters’ plan to get rid of Evil Corporation, but there are so many out-of-character moments that it’s incredibly obvious that they’re playing a part (the most prominent example being Rhys’s “betrayal” of Asha—it’s incredibly obvious that it’s part of the Obsidio plan. If you kill four people to protect your girlfriend, you’re not going to turn on her because your buddy died in an explosion that your girlfriend insisted she knew nothing about).

The most interesting character by far is AIDAN, since it represents all of the moral dilemmas that run throughout the book (mostly consisting of doing bad things for good reasons). AIDAN is a great example of how logical evil acts can be. To be honest, it’s a bit disturbing to scroll through Goodreads reviews and see people gushing about how much they love AIDAN. I think they mean they love the characterization of AIDAN, not that they love mass murderers (I hope); I found AIDAN interesting, and probably the best character in the book (though some parts were really dumb, like its overly descriptive speech (why?) and the “AIs can have feelings too” subplot), but I certainly didn’t love it.

So, overall, I think Illuminae was the strongest by far of the three books. Gemina was a weaker repeat (with some new and interesting things) of the first, while Obsidio revealed just how much Kaufman and Kristoff were relying on old plot tropes to pull through. I can’t help but feel that I read the same book three times, or at least the same idea of a book three times.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Lots of (censored) swearing, sexual innuendo, violence.

Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult

Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Gemina, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, was published in 2016 by Alfred A. Knopf. It is the sequel to Illuminae.

Rating: 3/5

Kaufman and Kristoff work hard in Gemina to both continue the same tone and format that made Illuminae so unique, and to add new elements to tell the story in—in this case, a journal as well as some different forms of chatrooms. In addition, they ramp up some of the other formats with pictures and other visual elements, making for some rather beautiful pages.

The plot is virtually the same as Illuminae, except a bit less thrilling, less interesting characters, and now-stale gimmicks. Instead of a virus threatening to turn everyone into raging manaics, there’s alien predators who make you basically comatose. They’re kinda scary, but mostly just distracting from the real villains, the hit squad who come to the station to murder/cover up the tracks of the villainy caused by Evil Corporation. Except the hit squad gets summarily dispatched one by one by said alien predators and three teenagers.

Hanna and Nik are the “required” boy/girl protagonist love interests of this novel, though the romance is completely unnecessary and even distracting at times. It adds nothing to either the characters or the plot. It’s like the authors think that because the protagonists are a girl and a boy, there must be a romance between them.Far more interesting is the relationship between Hanna and Jackson, her boyfriend at the start of the novel (Hanna suddenly falls in love with Nik instead along the way).

Another gripe I have with the book is the fact that the authors pulled so many bait-and-switches that the end felt cheap. For one brief moment I wondered if Kaufman and Kristoff were actually going to do what I initially thought—and I was both disgruntled and thrilled that they would do something so daring. Instead, though, they pulled something they did in the first book (more plot repetition) and reversed everything (twice, really!), which left me feeling just disgruntled.

I did like Gemina, I really did, but if the third book is a repeat of plot and character tropes like this one was, then I might stop enjoying this series.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Lots of (censored) swearing, sexual innuendo, violence.

Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult

You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2phGy86

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Illuminae, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, was published in 2015 by Alfred A. Knopf.

Rating: 4/5

Illuminae is one of the most unique books I’ve read in years. Not unique in terms of plot, which in this book, to be honest, isn’t anything groundbreaking or even unfamiliar, but in terms of format. The novel is told entirely through e-mails, messages, posters, reports, dossiers, transcripted surveillance camera footage, and the code of an oddly poetic artificial intelligence.

On paper, the plot is tired and old: planet is attacked, people flee for their lives, now they’re on the run with a mutating pathogen and a rogue AI to deal with. Yet, in this format, it transforms into a compelling, suspenseful story. Somehow Kaufman and Kristoff manage to pull off plot twist after plot twist despite the format (or perhaps because of it, as it is easier to get small details past the reader).

Plus, the conflict and moral dilemma at the heart of the novel is complex and not at all straightforward. Is AIDAN doing the right thing or the wrong thing? What about Syra Boll? This book emphasizes the fact that moral decisions are hard to make and that there’s more than one way of looking at things—something the authors tried to get across, I think, with their characterization of AIDAN, the AI who is trying to save everyone by killing everyone, or something. And the scary thing is that I get it. Almost everything Aidan (and Boll, and the other captains) does to try and stop Phobos from spreading—I understand. Do I agree? That’s a trickier question. That’s the great moral dilemma at the heart of the story.

And it’s a moral dilemma that Kady, the main character, tends to trivialize—one of the major reasons I disliked her. She was smug, self-righteous, always sure that her way of thinking was the right one. I mean, it’s basically a great portrayal of a teenager, but I could barely stand her even so. And the romance—ugh. The older I get, the less I can stand teen romance. There were so many more clever things that the authors could have done with Kady as a character and for the romance, but they chose to hang their hat on their format and add in a tired, stereotypical romance that was the main reason I didn’t rate this book 5 stars.

Another reason is that I got very confused at the end with why the percentage of Phobos afflicted was dropping (but by an incredibly small margin). Was it supposed to symbolize AIDAN malfunctioning or something??

What shines from Illuminae is the format, which transforms an average plot into something that even this science-fiction hater finds intriguing. I never thought I would be so involved in a YA SF book, but this book, even with its annoying main character and romance, proved that is possible—with the right set-up!

Recommended Age Range: 15+

Warnings: Lots of (censored) swearing, sexual innuendo, violence.

Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult

You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2VelBqM

Wolf Wing by Tanith Lee

Wolf Wing, by Tanith Lee, was published in 2002 by Dutton. It is the sequel to Wolf Queen.

Rating: 3/5

Wolf Wing is the last book in the Claidi Journals series, but it feels like it didn’t need to be. In fact, the only thing it contributes, beyond love angst and Girl Power, is resolution about what’s been going on in the House for the past three books.

It’s not that I didn’t dislike the book. I liked it fine. Claidi has as unique and funny a voice as always, and the addition of Thu made for some great fun. We also learn a lot of things about Claidi that are kinda neat, in a “that wasn’t really necessary, but all right, that’s cool” kind of way. And she and Argul finally get married (and then only exchange about ten words to each other, it seems like) and have their happy ending, so there’s that.

However, the whole book just…isn’t that necessary. There are a lot of characters brought back, and a lot of resolution for them, but that all happens very quickly. The majority of the book is Claidi wandering through Ustareth’s created continent by herself, feeling lonely and jealous—or at least that’s what it felt like. Even before that, Claidi was alone, despite marrying Argul. And Lee throws so much stuff at the reader in the end that the whole pace of the book is thrown off. Nothing that was revealed in this book really changes anything from the first three, and it mostly just seems that Lee really wanted Claidi to be someone special, so she wrote a whole book about it. I can’t say that Wolf Wing is bad, as I did enjoy it. But I found it, ultimately, underwhelming and unnecessary.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2lxF0FJ

Ghostly Echoes by William Ritter

Ghostly Echoes, by William Ritter, was published in 2016 by Algonquin. It is the sequel to Beastly Bones.

Rating: 2/5

Something happened to these delightful Jackaby novels, and I’m not quite sure what. The first two books were fun and charming. Ghostly Echoes, though…I struggled to immerse myself in it. It started off promising enough, but then characters appear simply to voice author messages and political/social stances, and the pleasant supernatural mysteries explode into a malevolent evil plot, complete with a trip to the Underworld.

I think what I liked about the first two Jackaby books was that they were urban fantasy/supernatural lite. There were supernatural elements, sure, but those were intertwined with “normal” 1800s life. Yet this book suddenly decides to introduce immense supernatural content (such as the aforementioned Underworld, and a sinister Dire Council) with the mystery taking the backseat.

Perhaps this is simply my dislike of supernatural books talking, much like how I struggle to enjoy science fiction. I also started disliking Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys when she started ramping up the supernatural. Or perhaps it’s my dislike of authors using characters merely as mouthpieces, which is what happens in this book with the character of Lydia Lee, who serves absolutely no purpose beyond plot convenience and soapboxing. Make those characters more interesting!

Whatever it is, my enthusiasm for Jackaby has dimmed so much that I wonder whether I’ll even read the last book. To be honest, I have no desire to find out what happens next. That disappeared when Abigail took a trip to visit the dead.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Young Adult, Urban Fantasy

You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2NYzYxD

The Crow by Alison Croggon

The Crow, by Alison Croggon, was published in 2006 by Candlewick. It is the sequel to The Riddle.

Rating: 4/5        

I anticipated that The Crow would be my favorite of the Books of Pellinor so far, and I turned out to be correct. The absence of Maerad and pages of pages of her and Cadvan doing absolutely nothing helped make The Crow more interesting, though still just as massively long. This time, though, the book is cram-jam full of action, from the siege of Turbansk to Hem infiltrating the child army of Den Raven.

That’s not to say the book was perfect. It was still way too long, and this time there was so much crammed in that there was almost no time to pause before being slapped in the face with tension and action all over again. I also really didn’t like the plot convenience behind Hem getting his hands on the second half of the Treesong, and the fact that his trek across the country to rescue Zelika was a complete waste of time (except for that previously mentioned plot convenience—or should I say incredibly obvious plot machination??).

Speaking of Zelika, she was a bit annoying, and I’m sure many people probably don’t like where her character goes and how her character is used in the book, though it didn’t bother me as it was realistic. I just am not fond of brash, headstrong characters who do stupid things. Hem was better, though he got a bit annoying at times, too. I liked him more than Maerad, as he seemed more normal and acted in a more understandable fashion than Maerad’s odd weak/strong, passive/assertive ping-pong personality. He also used more magic in one book than Maerad seemed to use in two, so Hem definitely seems the more Bardic of the two and also seems to understand more about many things than Maerad does, though perhaps my memory of the first two books is simply failing me.

Despite the problems with the book, I still enjoyed The Crow for being much more fast-paced and action-y than the first two books, as well as less clumsy in delivery. The characters were more interesting and realistic, though I wasn’t fond of Zelika and Hem had his bad moments, too. The worst part of the book is the obvious plot manipulation in the last third, which made all the other manipulation stand out even more.

The last book promises to bring together Hem and Maerad in one last attempt to free the Treesong and defeat the Bad Guy before he destroys everything. I remember not liking the ending, so we’ll see how it goes!

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2ZxY84d

Wolf Queen by Tanith Lee

Wolf Queen, by Tanith Lee, was published in 2001 by Dutton. It is the sequel to Wolf Star.

Rating: 4/5

Wolf Queen solves lots of the mysteries that were set up over Wolf Tower and Wolf Star and sends Claidi and Argul off on a happy ending, finishing up the Claidi Journals on a sweet, sentimental note—or, at least, that’s what the book wants me to think.

See, this isn’t actually the last Claidi book, though it’s the last one I read. Lee wrote one more, though apparently wasn’t planning to, based on the blurb for this book. I’m excited to read it to see what happens, as that one will truly be a “blind” read for me. This book, Wolf Queen, wasn’t quite as jaw-dropping as it should have been, since I’ve read it before and knew the big twist already. However, it was nice to read it to see all the hints Lee dropped beforehand.

Claidi’s voice is as delightful and unique as always, and even though this book introduces some truly outrageous (in a good way, I think) fantasy/sci-fi elements, her voice made everything somehow more plausible and realistic. I wish it was explained more as to how, exactly, a lot of the magic/technology works—we’ve got clockwork people, which I understand, but then all there are also powerful items that operate on a “don’t pay too much attention to the mechanics” level. Ustareth’s ring is one of those, of course, and it did bother me a bit that there was no explanation as to how it can do half of the things it did.

I wish each book didn’t hinge quite so much on “Claidi gets taken places,” but, again, Claidi’s voice is so delightful that she could probably stay in one room the whole book and it would still be interesting. These books lack a bit of something that I can’t really explain—they’re interesting, and I like them a lot, but they don’t grip me like some books do. However, Claidi and Argul are adorable, and the draw of the books is Claidi’s voice, not complexity of plot or stellar worldbuilding. I can deal with that—and I’m looking forward to exploring Wolf Wing, the book I never read, and seeing if Lee can surprise me.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2HhAtP8