Before I get into the (non-spoilery) review, I just want to say I wish all of my students would read this because it has one of the best examples of tragic irony I have read in a long, long time. I mean, seriously. It is super great. In that horrible tragedy way. You know what I mean.
If I’m to be ruled, may it be by those who see.
The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats is different from most books I read. For one thing, it’s historical fiction–set in 13th century Wales. And, well, really that’s all that makes it different. I don’t think I’ve ever read historical fiction set in this era before and certainly not in that particular locale.
The basic premise is that Cecily’s dad moves them to Caernarvon from Edgeley Hall. She is none too pleased by this since she has to leave her best friends and potential suitors behind. You know who else isn’t pleased? Gwenhwyfar, the Welsh servant who has to wait on Cecily and her dad.
What I Liked
– The setting. Like I said, totally new to me. I was unfamiliar with the historical context/time period so it was fascinating to think about how the British went around imposing their imperial will on oh so many countries and not just the US and India and parts of Africa, etc.
– The language of oppression is the same all the time and everywhere.
– Something Coats really brought to life for me was just how unjust, humiliating, and unbearable the taxes imposed on the Welsh were. I teach Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” almost every semester and when he talks about how the English have taxed the Irish into starvation, I have a general understanding of what that means, but Coats makes me SEE and EXPERIENCE it. So for that alone the book was worth reading for me.
– I really like the way Cecily and Gwen’s relationship is handled and especially the way the narrative is shaped around the two girls. The book shifts between both of their points of view, and through that narrative structure, Coats shows how invisible servants and lower class people are to those they serve (unless they screw up, of course). Cecily rarely, if ever, mentions Gwen even when the reader knows Gwen is around. However, almost all of Gwen’s sections are explicitly reactions to or mentions of how she is treated by Cecily.
– There’s this sense of impending doom in the narrative. The reader knows it’s a pressure cooker situation, but Cecily is so blind to what’s going on around her. What I like about this approach is that (a) it shows Cecily’s privilege, but (b) it also shows how much she’s kept in the dark. She’s willfully ignorant in some ways, but in other ways, she is clueless and her father fails to inform her of all kinds of things about the way her new town works as opposed to her old.
– Cecily’s relationship with her father is handled brilliantly.
– If you wonder why women were called busybodies, etc., just take a look at the fact that Cecily has nothing to do during most of the narrative because she has no education so can’t read/write, and she has no trade/job. She spends most of her time bored and then starts stirring up trouble just because she can. The narrative never explicitly says anything about her lack of education, but if the reader starts wondering why Cecily doesn’t read a book or something, it’s like a little lightbulb moment. She has needlepoint. That’s it.
– I love the tension between the nouveau riche (Cecily) and her more established neighbors who find her unmannered–adds some levity and garners some sympathy for Cecily.
What I Didn’t Like
– Cecily is a hard character to like. The saving grace here is that I could tell she wasn’t privy to what was going around her, which doesn’t make her sympathetic but does add a layer of mystery to the text that kept me reading. I wanted to know when she would figure it out and how/if knowing would change her.
– I mentioned that the narrative switches points of view, which is fine. What isn’t fine is that the only marker of the change is that the font shifts. That’s it. No chapter headings, no label at the top of a new section with the girls’ names. Nothing. It didn’t take me long to figure out, but it was completely jarring.
One of the members of the book club I’m in read on her Kindle and the font change doesn’t even show up on there, so it was even more jarring for her.
– While I was fascinated by the look into all of the characters’ lives and relationships, I never really fell in love with any of the characters.
In conclusion: Well written historical fiction with excellent world building and characters, focusing on a time and place I rarely read about in fiction.
Before I get to the review, I just signed up for Bloglovin’, so feel free to follow my blog with Bloglovin. Which I know you could do anyway, but still. It’s, like, official now or something.
Like any person, an ugly woman’s looks are transformed by her conversation, humor, intelligence, and even grace. But all this reverses during the selection process. When a client enters the salon, I’ve seen a girl change from her giddy, laughing self to her repoussoir guise in an instant.
I was so excited to read Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross. For starters, the premise speaks to my soul. Some dude starts a service for rich women to hire less attractive women so they can appear more attractive. Which, hello, totally speaks to my life experience of always having pretty friends but feeling like I fade into the background when I’m around them because I’m not even a fraction as cute as they are. Then, the main character (Maude) is hired as a beauty foil for Isabelle, but Isabelle doesn’t know that Maude is the help because her mom wants her to think Maude is her friend, which also adds female friendship stuff and mother/daughter drama. So excited!
But then the book was a total letdown, sigh.
First, while the premise is excellent, Maude is so, so boring. She moves to Paris to follow her hopes and dreams! She reluctantly becomes a repoussoir because it pays a whole lot more money than working in a laundry! And then she fades in the background whenever Marie-Josée or Isabelle are in the same scene. What I’m saying is that I wasn’t particularly interested in Maude or her journey.
Second, I don’t understand why this story isn’t told from Isabelle’s point of view. Maude really doesn’t do anything. Yet, Isabelle has all these interests and is full of personality and gets betrayed by her mom and Maude and is courting and and and. I’m not saying Maude couldn’t have been an interesting character whose arc through her relationship with Isabelle could have taken the reader someplace interesting; she just wasn’t. Isabelle seemed to have the true conflict. I think part of the problem is that Maude is just so passive.
Third, the relationships are not well-developed at all aside from Isabelle/Maude and Isabelle/her mother. Maude’s closest friend at the agency is Marie-Josée except I don’t think they’re really friends. M-J serves as a mentor to Maude, yes. Maude wants to run things by M-J. But I get no idea whatsoever of why Marie-Josée would be disappointed because Maude has to work on Christmas. Seriously, why does she care? Because I didn’t feel like I as a reader would be missing out on M-J’s dinner nor did I feel betrayed that Maude blew it off.
The same goes with the love interest. They have maybe three or four interactions and suddenly he’s pissed at Maude and disappointed in her, and she has to apologize. And I was honestly like, “Who cares what this drunk dude that I’ve spent maybe three scenes with thinks?” But I guess the reader is supposed to, which means that relationship was shallow at best.
Fourth, Maude goes to a lot of parties and balls and thinks a lot. That’s really what happens in the whole book. Oh, and she’s kind of taken with the glamor of it all. I guess there was some kind of conflict with Maude thinking she might one day belong in that world or something? I don’t know. I didn’t really care about her.
Fifth, the love interest is so terrible. He’s drunk all the time, and he’s judgmental, but he’s nice once or twice, so I guess that’s all that matters.
Sixth, I wanted to stop reading about 3/4 of the way through, but I really did want to know what happened to Isabelle at the end.
Also, is it wrong that I wish Maude had really been ugly instead of plain? I guess that would have made her more interesting.
SO DISAPPOINTING. The language is lovely, and the premise is great, but the underdeveloped relationships made it difficult for me to like this one. I did enjoy Isabelle a lot, though, so there’s that.
Which is why I’m really, really bummed that I didn’t like it that much. Oh, I liked elements of it just fine. But I never really connected with the story. Mostly because Meg didn’t do anything except react (mostly internally) to her mom running for President and then becoming President. And she spent most of that time moping.
I feel like the story would’ve been better told from Steven’s point of view because he was actually involved in activities that conflicted with the campaign.
That doesn’t mean there weren’t some nice moments in the book. It was well-written and an interesting look at life on the campaign trail. I loved every single exchange Meg had with her best friend Beth. White also does some nice things with the mother/daughter relationship.
But, really, this was a bathroom book. And now Jasmine hates me. (She’s mean that way.)
Good luck 2nite.
Think it may kill me I write back.
Let me just say that I know (I know, I KNOW) that The Girl in the Wall by Daphne Benedis-Grab isn’t the best written novel. For one thing, the alternating first-person narrative isn’t distinctive enough (Sera and Ariel sound exactly the same). For another, it’s more plot- than character-driven which isn’t normally my thing.
But. BUT. It’s an action novel that hinges on two former best friends learning to trust each other again so they can survive. In fact, on Goodreads, I said the book was like Die Hard. Which it is if John McClane were two teenaged girls who haven’t spoken in nine months and four days.
In case you haven’t guessed, the main reason this book works for me is the estranged best friends! Learning to work together again for survival! Their love/friendship must overcome all! Plus they are kind of badass (not unrealistically so) and though there are two boys in the story, the boys don’t take over the action and the girls figure out/plan how to get out of the bad situation themselves. I mean, yes, some chivalry is there, but mostly the girls save themselves (and save the boys sometimes too).
Love interests are around, but they’re realistic as can be given the circumstances. Think Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves in Speed (and I know I’m dating myself with all of these action movie references, SORRY).
What else? Oh, right. I thought Benedis-Grab makes the story as plausible as possible (I believed why Ariel would automatically run, I believed the two girls missed each other, I believed the love interests). Could’ve used a bit more show than tell, but overall a fun ride.
Also, this book would make an AWESOME movie. As long as they didn’t try to give all the awesome stuff to boy characters. In which case, yuck.
“What are these stains? You an intern for Bill Clinton or something?”
Ditched: A Love Story by Robin Mellom is a prom story. I love prom stories! This one follows Justina who wakes up in a ditch by 7-11 (home of the Slurpee! There are no 7-11s around here and it makes me sad) and recounts her prom experience for a patron and employee of said 7-11.
What I Liked
– I love the pacing of the story and the way the plotting is handled. We start at the end with Justina using the stains, bruises, and tattoos (!!!) she received as a road map for detailing her disastrous prom night.
– Another reason I like the framing device of Justina talking to the two women at 7-11 is it allows the insertion of two grown-up voices into a pretty neurotic teenaged angst-fest. I’m not saying the two women are founts of wisdom or anything, but outside perspective is always nice.
– I like that there’s a reason for Justina’s bad decision making–namely, that she has low blood sugar. As someone who tends to get super cranky when I haven’t had enough food AND has a daughter who tends to get hyper emotional when her blood sugar dips into the dangerously low range, I found it plausible. I also like that we’re reminded constantly that Justina hasn’t eaten, so (some of) her idiotic behavior makes sense.
– I think this would make a fun movie. It reminds me of Can’t Hardly Wait.
– Outstanding supporting characters. And when I say that I mostly mean the Mikes and Serenity. LOVE Serenity.
– Someone on Goodreads or Amazon complained about the contradictions in Justina’s character, but I think Mellom handles her characterization well. Justina claims not to care what other people think, but everything she does is to not draw attention to herself because she does care what people think. Also, the other characters–particularly Ian and Hailey–call her out on her false bravado throughout the entire novel.
– The situations Justina gets in are so ridiculous, but so fun. Also, drunk people are idiots. FYI.
– I didn’t think I would, but I bought the love story. I even found myself smiling and giddy about it. This is pretty spectacular considering…
What I Didn’t Like
– …Justina got on my nerves throughout pretty much the whole book. Yes, low blood sugar. Yes, kind of insecure. But she was seriously neurotic like Mia from The Princess Diaries AT HER WORST. Yeah, Justina was that kind of neurotic, and I didn’t have several books of goodwill preceding this one. I mean, this book is it!
– Also, I didn’t feel like I knew Ian that well outside of some kind of romantic ideal. AND considering the fact that he left her alone most of their prom night made me spend most of the book wondering whether or not her describing him as a Professional Boyfriend was completely unwarranted. I didn’t trust Ian is what I’m saying.
But, in spite of both of those points, I really did fall for them as a couple in the end, and I guess that’s all that matters.
– Not enough Hailey! She’s Justina’s best friend, and we don’t meet her until a quarter of the way through the novel and then she disappears when prom starts. I mean, I guess if she were around, Justina wouldn’t do a lot of the dumb stuff she does, but still. What a waste of awesome best friendness. Sigh.
In conclusion: Fun and engaging read with a plot that overcomes its main character, perfect for a study break.
There is only one thing I fear now–love.
For I have seen it and I have felt it and I know that it is love, not death, that undoes us.
Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly manages to be two novels in one. It’s the story of Andi, a girl consumed by grief. It’s also the story of Alexandrine, a girl from the French Revolution whose journal Andi finds and reads.
What I Liked
– I love a good story within a story, and Donnelly definitely pulls it off here. Alex and Andi are both fully realized characters with clear plot trajectories and character growth. Both stories are well-handled, and, although the parallels are not always obvious, Andi’s fascination with Alex makes perfect sense.
– Fantastic characters. Not just Andi and Alex, but the supporting players, too. Andi’s parents and friends, the different people Alex encounters. Love Vijay–I wish we got even more time with him.
– Virgil. Virgil is amazing fantastic and everything a love interest should be.
– Andi is a musician, and I love the way music is used in the story. I’m not that keen on Virgil’s mad rhymes, but they serve a purpose and are well used, so I’ll accept them. Just like I’ll accept the focus on how music connects us and is a universal language in this novel (and real life!).
– Alex is an actress (“player”) and she uses her art in the same way. Love.
– This is a book about grief and trauma and how both transcend time and class.
– I also super love the importance of connection, and, more specifically, how reading fosters a connection and can help us feel less alone.
– I found Andi a little whiny, rich girl in the beginning, and I think that Donnelly manages to make her more relatable as time goes on. Stories about depression are always hard to read anyway, and this book would have been a lot harder to bear if I just found Andi annoying, so I’m glad that issue is solved right away.
Think you only kings have power? Stand on a stage and hold the hearts of men in your hands. Make them laugh with a gesture, cry with a word. Make them love you. And you will know what power is.
What I Didn’t Like
– Purgatory. I just really could not get with this part of the book. I don’t want to spoil anything, but it just did not work for me.
– I also felt the book could be a little shorter. But, again, that’s probably because I didn’t like the purgatory section.
– The book starts a little slow (see above comment re: whiny, rich girl) but once it got going, I was completely interested and invested.
– Okay, please excuse me as I vent a little about my own issues. I love the trope of the vacation romance in general. Well, at least I did until I realized that, you know, it’s a repeating trope that has no basis in my reality. It is so not real life, and I feel like Andi finding a hot guy in Paris that wants to deal with her and all her brokenness is just one of those things that continue to make me feel inadequate because I haven’t had a vacation romance. Why can’t I meet a Virgil is what I’m saying. DEAR TEEN LIT, STOP IT. IT’S NOT FAIR.
In conclusion: Very engrossing story with with great characters and a great plot, though it is a little sad.
YA Reading Challenge: 23/20; Support Your Local Library: 26/30
Once, I died.
I was really looking forward to reading Abandon by Meg Cabot because over at her blog she has talked at length about her love for the Persephone myth and how she has, basically, been wanting to tell this story since high school.
So believe me when I say that this book is a mess.
The biggest offenders:
– Nothing happens. NOTHING. Main character and narrator Pierce spends the entire book riding around an island on her bike and flashing back to when she died and referencing an “incident” that happened. I really don’t understand why this book wasn’t just told about her death and the years following. I mean, seriously. That’s what Pierce spends all of her time talking about anyway.
– The love interest has NO PERSONALITY. His name is John, and he’s a death deity. That’s all I can tell you about him. And, of course, there comes a point when Pierce realizes that she’s been fighting her attraction to him. But why? Because he has a scar? He does NOTHING. What I’m saying is: you don’t go from Michael Moscovitz or Rob Wilkins to John the boring death deity.
– Pierce is selfish and not in the fun way. She supposedly thinks of others before herself, and that’s what attracts John to her, but seriously. What kind of person ditches her cousin to hang out with people he expressly says he doesn’t like? Especially when said cousin has been living in the town forever and it’s her first day. I mean, is it POSSIBLE that her cousin has valid reasons for not liking these people? And even if he didn’t, would it still behoove Pierce to maybe not WALK AWAY from her cousin to talk to said people after he very explicitly says he doesn’t want to be around them? At least he left her there (he was her ride home). I mean, seriously.
– The biggest issue I have with the book is that it’s not a complete narrative. The book does NOT stand on its own at all. I have no interest in even reading the rest of the books until all three are out now.
(Yes, I will read the rest of the books. I am hoping they will be better as a whole. Hoping.)
It’s not all bad. The book is a breeze to get through, and is very readable. I would find myself reading huge chunks at a time, and it wasn’t until I was close to the end of the book that I realized nothing would really happen in the story. I thought the setting was cool, and the ideas/plot hints that are dropped in the narrative are intriguing, and I want to see how they’ll all come together. I just wish there had been one plot thread followed all the way through here.
Also: it’s better than Jinx. So there’s always that.
Support Your Local Library: 19/30; YA Challenge: 13/20
I kept looking at Ashley Packard and saw her as a little girl entering kindergarten all those years ago. I saw she’d been in charge from the first day she set foot in the sandbox.
I keep trying to think about how best to summarize Princess Ashley by Richard Peck because it’s a book about several things at once, so I’m going to just take my cue from the title and say it’s about what happens when Chelsea becomes enamored with/worships popular and rich Ashley.
What I Liked
-Peck does a good job showing what happens when people are more concerned with appearances and the need to belong than with how people are treated. Chelsea is all about protecting her idea of cool and the people considered cool that she ignores Ashley’s manipulating ways. Even when confronted with the reality of Ashley’s true colors, Chelsea still fights hard to hang onto the ideal she has of Ashley. For Chelsea, Ashley is talented and sweet and honest and decidedly not the type of person who, say, pretends not to know a shy girl, yet buys that girl’s poetry to pass off as her own.
Chelsea also has that same attitude towards Ashley’s boyfriend, Craig. There’s this awesome, awesome scene between Chelsea and her mom after one of Craig’s pranks leads to a violent act towards and total humiliation of another student. All Chelsea cares about is if Craig will get in trouble, and if that will affect her status with Craig and Ashley. Nothing matters except that Craig keeps his title as king of cool–not even what becomes of the other boy. And her mom just calls her right on it. So awesome.
Peck, through Chelsea, also points out the way teens tend to be blind to their own attitudes in their quest to be cool/different. Chelsea attempts to get in with Ashley by imitating the way she dresses and wears her hair, yet she makes fun of younger girls who mimic the chosen cool girl in their grades. I just guess it’s different when Chelsea does it.
So, in that way, it’s a really nice look at peer pressure, and the delicate subtleties it often presents.
– Pod. Oh my word, I love me some Pod. He has his own affectation (his schtick is being a cowboy), but he drops it when it’s time to get serious. He sees every character exactly as they are, and he doesn’t play into Chelsea’s fairytale when she tries to defend Ashley or Craig. At the same time, he doesn’t berate Chelsea or treat her like she’s stupid.
Also, he hangs out with her parents and they love him. Pod! I think he might be treading on literary boyfriend ground here.
– This book is thoroughly ’80s. From the first page:
Was it the Michael Jackson year or the Prince year? No, it was the Madonna year, because I was wearing Madonna earring–with a sleeveless sweatshirt over cutoff jeans.
Then Peck mentions Sheila E.’s “The Glamourous Life“! Because without love? It ain’t much. It ain’t much.
I think I died at that part. That’s just how happy it made me.
– The end was predictably unpredictable by which I mean it was pretty clear how it was going to end, but there were some things that happened that I didn’t expect. In that way, the overall message wasn’t too heavy handed.
What I Didn’t Like
– The book covers a lot of time, and while I get a sense of the characters, I don’t feel like I actually know any of them, not even Chelsea.
– There’s also a narrative distance maintained, and I don’t know if that’s on purpose (it certainly could be because it works), but I don’t get a clear sense of the relationships either. There’s an inevitability to Pod and Chelsea, but I’m never really quite sure if she actually likes him or not. It’s weird.
– NEEDS MORE MAKING OUT. Geez.
In conclusion: A really good look at peer pressure and the need to belong without being too heavy handed or anti popular girl. It’s more about how these behaviors go unchecked and implicitly supported. If there wasn’t so much narrative distance, I would love it instead of just finding it okay.
YA Reading Challenge: 27/75
Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.
A friend of mine said Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson was a good book, so I picked it up at the library book sale, probably for ten cents. It’s the story of two babies who look remarkably alike even though one is a slave and one is his master. Their caretaker (and one of the baby’s mother), a slave, switches the babies’ places so that her son cannot be sold down the river. Her son is then raised as Tom Driscoll and the white baby is raised as Valet de Chambre. The title character, Pudd’nhead Wilson, is the only other person besides Roxana who holds the key to their true identities.
Oh, Mark Twain, you do wear the hat of cleverness! I cannot tell you which part is my favorite, but, ultimately, what I loved is that this is the story of nature vs. nurture and that the white man’s story doesn’t matter. Like, everything is about Tom and his mom and their effects on the town. And then when the opportunity to tell Valet’s story, Twain is basically like, “Eh, who cares?”
****draws sparkly hearts around the story and Mark Twain****
I just wonder how many people get that. I mean, he so emphasizes that Tom is rotten because of the way he is raised and that Valet is insignificant/ineffectual/unable to engage with white society because of the way he is raised. It has nothing to do with their actual races and everything to do with the access to privilege they have.
Mark Twain! I less than three you. All the way.
POC Challenge: 17/15