Good Reads #36: Belle Époque

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I am a sucker for period pieces; I love being taken a place that I myself can’t go today. So call your book Belle Époque and promise to show us this time in a new light? I am there. And Elizabeth Ross doesn’t disappoint. She takes us there and she gives us a really interesting set up at the same time: what if someone had an agency that hired ugly (or in the case of our protagonist Maude, plain) girls to make those of the middle and upper classes look better? How would that impact the girl’s esteem? How does that impact the relationships you make with the people that you are working and even the ones you aren’t?

For the most part, she handles this well. You really do get the sense that’s hard on the ego and you can see how easy it would be to start feeling that you are a part of the world when you still really aren’t. This alone makes the book definitely worth a read.

I do think the book falters at the end. I’ve never hidden the fact that I am a feminist, but I do think the ending of this book is too feminist. Both in terms of the end aspirations of Maude’s client and the actions that Maude herself takes. I also think it wraps a bit too neatly.

Still, this is a great first novel and I’m definitely looking forward to her next.

Verdict: Borrow it.

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Good Reads #35: The Crown

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I actually finished this book back on Wednesday night I think but for some reason I keep not getting around to posting this thing. In a way, I think that it reaffirms my views of this book: enjoyable enough to where I’ll read the sequel, but not so great I’m running out to grab it right this second.

So what drew me to this book was the unique setting. It’s set during the reign of Henry VIII, circa Jane Seymour. Sister Joanna is a novice Dominican Nun who comes from the disgraced Stafford family, an old noble family that fell on the wrong side of the King’s wrath for their beliefs.

After a beloved cousin is burned at the stake for treason, she is arrested and taken to Tower of London. Her father is also captured and a Bishop has a deal for her: find the Crown of Athelstan that is supposedly hidden in her priory or her father will be tortured to death and since this deal was made after she was already forced to watch him on the rack, naturally, she says yes.

It’s the character of Sister Joanna and the setting of the Dartford Priory that make the book worth reading. The search for the Crown and the murder that occurs at the priory all at the same time are competent enough, and I do like how the threat of the priory being closed hangs over the book for a good part of the time, but it’s still pretty standard stuff.

Sister Joanna is a compelling character. She is clearly devout in her faith, but she’s also convincingly human; doing what she knows is wrong to save her father and yet also trying to find ways to slip out of the deal she made because she feels so dirty for it. There are some decent side characters in the cast as well, especially amongst the nuns. There is someone that is set up to be a potential love interest for her. He’s an okay character, but I could have done without it. The book also makes good use of both Catherine of Aragon and Princess Mary and the sequel is set up in such a way that I suspect we’ll see more of the latter.

As I said, this book is worth a read for the setting and our protagonist. The mystery is fun, but nothing to write home about. If you don’t like or don’t normally read mysteries (I myself rarely read them) this isn’t going to convert you. I’d say if the setting doesn’t intrigue you in some way, shape, or form you could probably skip it.

Verdict: Borrow it if the setting grabs you.

Good Reads #34: The Gameboards of the Gods

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This is a difficult book for me to review. This is one of those novels where there are a lot of great parts, but I’m not sure that they come together cohesively.

All the parts of a good novel are here: the protagonists are interesting, the world building is interesting, the murder mystery is good, the parts about the Gods trying to find their way back are great but do they come together well? I’m not so sure that they do. Like, I honestly think that the books would have been better without the Gods trying to claim humans. I thought it kind of distracting. Also distracting was this notion that the Patricians – the aristocracy – are those that are “genetically pure” people who haven’t intermixed, despite the fact that it was the intermixing that saved humanity from the disease that nearly wiped them out. It does play into the story and they aren’t revered or anything, but it’s there. And kind of a disturbing notion. I don’t know. All I know is that it did serve as a low-level distraction for me and it might for others as well.

I think I’m going to check out the Vampire Academy series and see if this kind of thing works better there, but in the mean time I’d recommend borrowing it. The societal structure and the way that the male protagonist talks to what appear to be voices in his head maybe be off putting enough to give it a pass.

Verdict: Borrow it

Good Reads #33: Siege and Storm by @LBardugo

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My discovery of Shadow and Bones is easily one of the best books I’ve ever found by simply wandering the library YA shelves and picking up something that caught my eye. I loved the setting and I loved both the heroine and the villain. With a love that strong, I admit that I had some worry that she wouldn’t be able to keep my interest over a second book.

That was silly of me.

While the book took a slightly different turn than I expected, I really liked the changed. Rare is it in any book where we get to see what it’s like when someone has been turned into a living saint by the masses. The stories of Kvothe’s exploits in Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fears are widely told, but not really believed to be true. Harry Potter is seen as the Boy Who Lived, but the masses turn on him as regularly as they revere him. Here, Alina has been turned into a living saint by the Apparat and it’s honestly rather scary. While I had brushed him off as a minor, if slightly creepy character in the first story, I was pleasantly surprised at how much purpose he’s actually served the story, not only in terms of her deification by also in guiding her in her quest to find the remaining amplifiers and all mostly from a distance.

I also like her struggles with trying to take control of the Second Army. She knows its necessary, but she also knows that she can’t trust almost anyone around her. The author does a fantastic job of conveying that sense of loneliness and otherness that most ruling people must have: surrounded by tons but close to and trusting of few.

I do think the book stumbles some when it comes to the relationship of Alina and Mal. I get that they are childhood friends, and that her not wanting to be separated from him is what was holding her powers back in the first book, but they really seem to have little in common and given how much else she’s thinking very smartly about what she needs to do to save Ravka,  she’s not here. And I get that she’s young and all that, but I still find it a distraction and I honestly kind of hope they don’t end up together at the end…though I know that they probably will.

Overall, this is one of those rare YA novels that has a sense of maturity and depth rarely seen in the genre that I think would allow it to gain a following of adult fantasy readers. I rather hope that it does get to that point eventually.

Verdict: Buy it (just so you know, I may have initially borrowed Shadow and Bone but right before the release of this I went out and bought the book to show my support for the author. That is exactly the first time I’ve ever done that)

Good Reads #32: The Maze Runner

ImageThis is one of those books where what you see is what you get. The premise is straight forward, delivered in a straightforward way, and the ending is absolutely expected.

The premise here is that our protagonist Thomas wakes up in an elevator not knowing who he is (beyond his name) or why he is in said elevator. The elevator dumps him off in “The Glade” a small colony made up of about 50 boys or so that live in this glade surrounded by a large maze. The one who run it, “The Creators” send them supplies once a week and they have running water and electricity which they use to run a full fledged farm while Runners go into the maze trying to solve it (but never doing so). His arrival throws the colony into chaos as some have vague senses that they know who he is and is somehow evil, and even beyond that the next day a girl arrives stating she is the last one. The thrust of the book, of course, is trying to find a way out and figure out who “The Creators” are.

Honestly, in a premise like this you don’t have too many scenarios for who could be responsible: usually some kind of government or private corporation or something along those lines. I won’t spoil who did it or why, but you won’t be terribly shocked by the ending.

As for characterization: the kids…they’re there. They aren’t total cardboard cutouts, though I wouldn’t say they’re much beyond that either. Thomas feels an affinity for another character named Chuck and I never got the sense that that affinity was earned, that it’s there because it wanted to show Thomas was human and a good guy at heart (which is relevant plot wise).

As for the lone female character Teresa, I still don’t get why she had to be female or have the gift she had. The entire colony was male, and there was nothing about what she did that made her have to be female. The only conclusion I can come to is that he intends for a romance in one of the later books. The gift that she and Thomas share remain unexplained by the end of the book causing it to ultimately feel like a Deus Ex Machina device.

Finally, the author decided that he wanted to swear. But this is a young adult novel where such things are frowned upon so instead of shit you have “klunk” (the sound it makes when it hits the water) and instead of fuck you have “shuck.” It’s freaking distracting. More distracting than had he just used the words that he clearly wanted to. There are a few other slang words sprinkled in, so you could make the argument that he was trying to show that the boys had developed their own language, but I stand by my original assessment.

At the end of the day, this book wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t remarkable or particularly memorable either. I wasn’t in a rush to pick it back up, but when I did I finished it easily. It’s just I won’t be going after the other books in the series.

If the premise intrigues you and you’ve got nothing else going on it might be worth a look.

Verdict: Borrow it.

Good Reads #31: The Elite

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Generally speaking, whenever I read a book I try to write two reviews – one for the site and one for Good Reads, because I know that I use readers reviews when looking for a new book to read and reviews speak much louder than ratings which can be arbitrary.

This time though, I couldn’t quite bring myself to do it, oddly enough I didn’t want to be unfair to this book. And having read this the morning after finishing The Wise Man’s Fear, I can’t help but shake the feeling that I would be unfair because after reading that book, the weightlessness of this one becomes all the more apparent.

To be fair; this series was never intended to be anything deep or meaningful. It’s The Bachelor meets any number of YA titles of a post-Apocalyptic America where Prince Maxon’s wooing of the ladies of the Selection is used as an opiate of the masses to keep them all compliant. The first book was light and frothy, but the protagonist America was smart and fiery. Here, she seems to take a step backwards. She keeps telling Maxon that she doesn’t know if she returns his love, yet keeps getting jealous every time he spends time with another girl. She sees one of the Elite get caned and thrown from the Selection to the ranks of the Casteless for making out with a palace guard, and yet still seems to carry on an affaire de ceour that she’s not even realizing is such with a guard from her own past.

Towards the end of the book there are signs that the America I enjoyed the first time around is coming back, and I hope that is the case. I’m still planning on reading the final book when it gets released next year, but next time I’m going to be more careful with my timing. This series is still perfect beach reading, it just doesn’t hold up well when you pair it with something so dense and rich like one one of the best high fantasy series of the past twenty years.

Verdict: Borrow it.