Review: The Wishing Thread by Lisa Van Allen

The Wishing Thread

The Wishing Thread by Lisa Van Allen
Read: September 17, 2013
Advance reading copy.

Many thanks to Net-Galley and Random House Publishing (Ballantine) for providing me with this advance reading copy!

Goodreads Book Blurb: The Van Ripper women have been the talk of Tarrytown, New York, for centuries. Some say they’re angels; some say they’re crooks. In their tumbledown “Stitchery,” not far from the stomping grounds of the legendary Headless Horseman, the Van Ripper sisters—Aubrey, Bitty, and Meggie—are said to knit people’s most ardent wishes into beautiful scarves and mittens, granting them health, success, or even a blossoming romance. But for the magic to work, sacrifices must be made—and no one knows that better than the Van Rippers.
When the Stitchery matriarch, Mariah, dies, she leaves the yarn shop to her three nieces. Aubrey, shy and reliable, has dedicated her life to weaving spells for the community, though her sisters have long stayed away. Bitty, pragmatic and persistent, has always been skeptical of magic and wants her children to have a normal, nonmagical life. Meggie, restless and free-spirited, follows her own set of rules. Now, after Mariah’s death forces a reunion, the sisters must reassess the state of their lives even as they decide the fate of the Stitchery. But their relationships with one another—and their beliefs in magic—are put to the test. Will the threads hold?

My Opinion: I really enjoyed this book, as evident by the fact that I read it in its 400 page entirety in one day. It reminded me a lot of Sarah Addison Allen, and I actually thought the two authors might be related.

This book is a delightful romp through Tarrytown, New York steeped in magical realism and knitting. We follow three sisters and are immersed in their relationships with each other and those around them. I really loved how multi-faceted the sisters were, and their relationships reminded me a bit of the sisters in Practical Magic. (The movie. I haven’t read the book yet)

One thing about the characters is that because we spent so much time learning about the different characters, I didn’t feel particularly drawn to any one of the sisters. Another thing plot-wise was that I didn’t find myself caring much about the town council plot line. I wanted to know more about The Stitchery and the sisters.

The prose was well written, but light. I think this really helped the story, since it is such a light and warm story. Pretentious or purple prose would have ruined it beyond repair.

Bottom Line: I feel bad because I read this book long enough ago that I don’t remember everything I loved about it. But I remember that I liked it a lot.

Advertisements

Review: When Stars Die by Amber Skye Forbes

When Stars Die

When Stars Die by Amber Skye Forbes
Read: September 7 – September 9, 2013
Advance reading copy.

Many thanks to Amber Skye Forbes, whom I follow on Tumblr. She provided this review copy in exchange for an honest review. I don’t normally review Amazon-only books, but I did this time, as Amber is something of a friend.

Publication Date: October 22, 2013
Price: $3.99
Format: Amazon e-book

Goodreads Book Blurb:  “Yet, even when stars die, they leave a lasting impact through their light, their diamond brilliance as they scatter their material to form new stars. When people die, they leave the same impact with the footprints they leave on people’s hearts. Even the ones who feel insignificant go out, leaving behind dust that can nourish the world anew.”

Amelia Gareth’s brother is a witch and the only way to save her family from the taint in his blood is to become a professed nun at Cathedral Reims. However, in order to become professed, she must endure trials that all nuns must face.

Surviving these trials is not easy, especially for Amelia, who is being stalked by shadowy beings only she can see. They’re searching for people they can physically touch, because only those they can touch can see them. Amelia soon learns why she is being stalked when she accidentally harms her best friend with fire during the third trial. Fire is a witch’s signature. The shadows are after witches.

Amelia must decide what to do: should she continue on her path to profession knowing there is no redemption, or should she give up on her dream and turn away from Cathedral Reims in order to stop the shadows who plan to destroy everything she loves?

My Opinion: Ok, I really agonized over writing this review. Amber is, as I mentioned, something of a friend. We were following each others’ personal Tumblrs long before she was working on releasing When Stars Die. I read the book, and then I was confronted with a very serious concern. How do you tell a friend that you didn’t like their book?

I offered not to publish the review, but Amber, being an awesome person and very reasonable author, recognized that not all of her reviews would be positive and encouraged me to go ahead. And then I got really sick and in a bit of a blog slump, so I am only NOW writing the review. I am SO sorry it took so long, but here we go.

There wasn’t much that I liked about When Stars Die, unfortunately. I really wanted to like the book, but there were just too many things that rubbed me the wrong way, as a reader.

The few things I did like? The setting was every well flushed out. The world had a very interesting premise, if it was a little religiously heavy-handed for my tastes. Amber’s prose, I found, tended to be a little on the purple side. But there were a few phrases that just shimmered and made me think that with more polish and more writing, the prose could be taken from where it is, which for me was a bit of a hot mess, to something elevated.

And now, the things I didn’t like.

Amelia was not a likeable character for me, at all. Her motives change partway through the book. First she wants to stay at Cathedral Reims for her little brother, but then she wants to stay for herself all of a sudden. It would be an OK shift if it didn’t happen in the span of a page or two.

The other big issue for me was that the style and even some of the phrasing was very modern, yet the book is set in the 1800’s. In that time, they wouldn’t have known what happens to stars when they supernova, or that most of the stars in the night sky are actually dead. They wouldn’t be using matches, which weren’t invented until the mid 1800’s in reality, not to mention when they became used widely.

Adding the above two notes to the general unpolished state of the prose, and I had a hard time finishing the book.

Bottom Line: A really great book in theory, but lacking the polish and execution to take it to the necessary level.

NetGalley Review: A Thousand Perfect Things by Kay Kenyon

A Thousand Perfect ThingsA Thousand Perfect Things by Kay Kenyon
Read: August 11 – August 18, 2013
NetGalley selection.

Many thanks to Premier Digital Publishing for sending me a review copy of this book via NetGalley!

Goodreads Book Blurb: In this epic new work, the award-winning Kenyon creates an alternate 19th century with two warring continents on an alternate earth: the scientific Anglica (England) and magical Bharata (India). Emboldened by her grandfather’s final whispered secret of a magical lotus, Tori Harding, a young Victorian woman and aspiring botanist, must journey to Bharata, with its magics, intrigues and ghosts, to claim her fate. There she will face a choice between two suitors and two irreconcilable realms. 

In a magic-infused world of silver tigers, demon birds and enduring gods, as a great native mutiny sweeps up the continent, Tori will find the thing she most desires, less perfect than she had hoped and stranger than she could have dreamed.

My Opinion: Where do I even start with this book? Well, let’s go with the beginning. Everything in Anglica was really cool. I followed it, and I enjoyed it. I like steampunk alternate settings. And the bridge was a really neat idea, though I got tangled in imagining our world as it is. No bridge would connect England and India in our world, as there are continents in between. But apparently not in this world.

This was the second book I read recently that made me wonder about constructed patriarchies. This one, being alternate history, probably had a little less wiggle room, but it still had some. And why is it that every time a woman wants to be her own woman she has to not want to get married? I am married, and I am still my own woman!

However, feminism is one of the lesser things that Kenyon tackles in A Thousand Perfect Things. Once the characters find themselves in Bharata, we are confronted with the heavy subject matter of cultural appropriation, which is rampant in today’s society. While I feel like this book was a decent staging ground for the battle, I found it bogged down the prose at times.

To be completely honest, most of what happened in Bharata was completely confusing to me. I think it got to a point where it was just… silly almost. By the end of the book I was skimming.

Tori was likeable enough in that she knew what she wanted, but I really hated her club foot. It was a crutch, both to make her imperfect and to give her something that needed healing. As someone with disabilities, I found this very unnerving.

Kenyon has a gift for description, and the scenery of A Thousand Perfect Things came alive for me… but that was pretty much it.

Bottom Line: I was lost after the characters left Anglica, and Kenyon began speaking of cultural appropriation and religion. It was too much for me, and bogged down the story.

Review: The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

The Knife of Never Letting GoThe Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
Read: August 7 – August 11, 2013
Personal read.

Goodreads Book Blurb: Prentisstown isn’t like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts in an overwhelming, never-ending stream of Noise. Just a month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd and his dog, Manchee — whose thoughts Todd can hear too, whether he wants to or not — stumble upon an area of complete silence. They find that in a town where privacy is impossible, something terrible has been hidden — a secret so awful that Todd and Manchee must run for their lives.

But how do you escape when your pursuers can hear your every thought?

My Opinion: In the beginning, and for most of this book, I had a really hard time engaging. The prose is written in a convoluted mess of grammar and spelling, in an effort to convey how little Todd knows about reading and writing. For me, this took me out of the story as I was constantly irked by the errors. I think this is very polarizing, and readers will either not care, or care very much.

Todd is a very naive character, and it varied between being an endearing quality and an annoying one. I found that his interactions with other characters, Manchee especially, made this feel like it was driven more towards young boys as an audience than anything. I got really tired of reading about how much Manchee had to poop, personally.

I can’t comment on Ness’ writing from a technical standpoint, because it was stylistically made to be full of grammatical and spelling errors. In the sense of storytelling, Ness knows how to hit you where it hurts, let me tell you. And then he kicks you while you are down, just for good measure.

I spent a lot of this book really hating the characters, in a broad sense. I just wanted them to not be so… stupid? I wanted them to fight for themselves, to not make the obvious mistakes that they did anyways. There were so many times I heard myself screaming “NO” in my head, but of course the characters didn’t listen to little old me. Later in the book, we are told why they behave the way they do to some extent, but it was still one of the most aggravating things, and plot-wise it didn’t entirely make sense to me.

If I was going to colonize a new planet, I would send a mixture of people, not all of one certain type. But that, again, is just me.

The ending is what bumped it up from an OK book to a book I really enjoyed. I actually got a book hangover, almost entirely due to that ending.

Bottom Line: A dark dystopian science fiction that has a questionable young adult label on it. Written in a very specific style that will take some getting used to, but you will be rewarded for your efforts. I definitely recommend this book, and I will be continuing with the series.

NetGalley Review: Tumble & Fall by Alexandra Coutts

Tumble & FallTumble & Fall by Alexandra Coutts
Read: July 12 – July 17, 2013
NetGalley selection.

Many thanks to Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group for sending me an advance copy for review via NetGalley.

Release Date: September 17, 2013
Price: $17.99 USD
ISBN: 9780374378615

Goodreads Book Blurb: A novel about the end of days full of surprising beginnings. The world is living in the shadow of oncoming disaster. An asteroid is set to strike the earth in just one week’s time; catastrophe is unavoidable. The question isn’t how to save the world—the question is, what to do with the time that’s left? Against this stark backdrop, three island teens wrestle with intertwining stories of love, friendship and family—all with the ultimate stakes at hand.

My Opinion: In theory, this was a great book for me. In practice, it was anything but.

The biggest thing I really missed in Tumble & Fall was a sense of urgency. The world is ending in a week, and while there is nothing anyone can do about it, that doesn’t need to translate into a lack of urgency. Even if there was nothing I could do about it, the impending end of the world would send me into a tizzy.

The characters were a little thin, and I wasn’t entirely sold on their reactions. Part of this could be the narrative style Coutts chose, opting for a three-way shared narrative. If a two-way shared narrative makes it hard to connect to the characters, a three-way was even worse. And the connection between the narrating characters was tenuous at best.

I didn’t find anything groundbreaking in the prose in Tumble & Fall, though there wasn’t anything technically bad. The words were right, the grammar was correct, but the story lacked the sparkle and magic that makes stories come alive and live within the reader.

One thing I did really like was the ending. Normally I hate endings that don’t tie everything up nicely, but I was so intensely afraid that Coutts was going to end Tumble & Fall with something akin to “And the asteroid missed Earth. Hooray!” that I was pleasantly surprised with the ending. This was also a spot where I feel like Coutts finally came into her strength with prose, and the final twenty pages or so read very hauntingly.

One plot hole I found really aggravating. If the asteroid is large enough to do damage akin to ending the world (or so they think) and is aimed for a direct hit… wouldn’t it be visible to the naked eye?

The Bottom Line: Not an end-of-the-world/apocalypse book by any real stretch. That whole plot point could be removed with minimal rewrites and no real damage to the main stories. Triple narrative makes the characters hard to connect to, and their motives hard to follow. The whole book lacks urgency.

If slow-paced contemporary romance is your thing, I would suggest checking this book out when it is released. For me, that is very much not my thing, so I found little enjoyment in Tumble & Fall.

Review: The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

The Name of the StarThe Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson
Read: June 7 – June 9, 2013
Personal read.

Goodreads Book Blurb: The day Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux arrives in London marks a memorable occasion. For Rory, it’s the start of a new life at a London boarding school. But for many, this will be remembered as the day a series of brutal murders broke out across the city, gruesome crimes mimicking the horrific Jack the Ripper events of more than a century ago.

Soon “Rippermania” takes hold of modern-day London, and the police are left with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. Rory spotted the man police believe to be the prime suspect. But she is the only one who saw him. Even her roommate, who was walking with her at the time, didn’t notice the mysterious man. So why can only Rory see him? And more urgently, why has Rory become his next target? In this edge-of-your-seat thriller, full of suspense, humor, and romance, Rory will learn the truth about the secret ghost police of London and discover her own shocking abilities.

My Opinion: I liked, but did not love, this book. I love historical fiction. I loved the idea of a paranormal young adult book set around Jack the Ripper. I went into this thinking it would be a thriller, and I was really disappointed on that front.

The big problem with The Name of the Star is pacing. A large portion of the book is taken up with the mundane frivolities of the main character moving to a new city and settling into a new school. The tension didn’t build in the first little bit, and I didn’t feel any real connection to the characters to make the boarding school setting one I was dying to read about.

Also, can I just say… Jazza? Not loving that name. Boo was a little more bearable, because it was an obvious short-hand. But Jazza kind of drove me crazy.

Johnson writes well, I won’t dispute that. I found nothing that made me really glower when it came to prose – stylistically that is. It was just the flat characters and the pacing that made this a three day read instead of a one day read.

The last 50-100 pages of The Name of the Star do pick up considerably, and I blew through those. I really liked how Johnson wrote the romance (because all YA has romance). It wasn’t the “you are my soulmate” that permeates so much YA these days, but rather “I really like you, so let’s make out”. I seem to recall it was a little insta-love for my tastes, but there were also some difficulties, which was appreciated.

The Bottom Line: I don’t know if I will continue with this particular series. I personally found that the tension and thrill was lacking. This makes me think that perhaps Johnson’s contemporary YA may be better suited to her strengths. So that is where I will turn my attention next with this author.

Review: The Stepsister Scheme by Jim C. Hines

The Stepsister SchemeThe Stepsister Scheme by Jim C. Hines
Read: June 2 – June 5, 2013
Personal read.

Goodreads Book Blurb: You know how all those old fairy tales take you through lots of scary adventures till you finally reach that inevitable line: “And they lived happily ever after…” Guess what? It’s not true. Life in never-never land isn’t all sweetness and light. Cinderella – whose real name is Danielle Whiteshore (nee Danielle de Glas) – does marry Prince Armand. And (if you can ignore the pigeon incident) their wedding is a dream-come-true.

But not long after the “happily ever after,” Danielle is attacked by her stepsister Charlotte, who suddenly has all sorts of magic to call upon. And though Talia – otherwise known as Sleeping Beauty – comes to the rescue (she’s a martial arts master, and all those fairy blessings make her almost unbeatable), Charlotte gets away.

That’s when Danielle discovers a number of disturbing facts: Armand has been kidnapped and taken to the realm of the Fairies; Danielle is pregnant with his child; and the Queen has her very own Secret Service that consists of Talia and Snow (White, of course). Snow is an expert at mirror magic and heavy-duty flirting.

Can three princesses track down Armand and extract both the prince and themselves from the clutches of some of fantasyland’s most nefarious villains?

My Opinion: This was such a fun read, I just want to jump up and down and squeak about it. Yet at the same time something didn’t quite grab me about it.

I had been hearing such amazing things about Mr. Hines as a person, so I finally took it upon myself to check out one of his books. He definitely has a knack, and I really adored that the fairy tale aspect in these books is not entirely the watered-down version we get via Disney.

The characters in The Stepsister Scheme were likeable enough, though a little too one-dimensional for me at times. They each had a stereotype or flaw and they stuck to it pretty steadfast, and it made them a little flat. Snow was a flirt, Talia was distrustful, and Danielle was insecure. At times they became these qualities, rather than characters with these qualities.

The action was very fast paced, if a little uneven. There were points where I wasn’t sure exactly how we had traversed the space from point a to point b, but there we were. The sad thing is, though, I didn’t care enough to go back and re-read to find out. I think if I had been more invested in the story and the characters, I would have.

Bottom Line: A fun read, and a series I am looking forward to continuing. However something was off, and I didn’t fall madly head over heels for it.