Mackenzi Lee – The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

With a cover and synopsis like that, who could resist this book? I personally was hoping for some fun, light entertainment with a little bit of romance and a lot of bickering. Plus an epic road trip through Europe. While I didn’t enjoy the second half of the book as much as the beginning, it still delivered on most of those points and had me giggling for a few hours.

THE GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE
by Mackenzi Lee

Published by: Katherine Tegen Books, 2017
Hardcover: 513 pages
Series: Guide #1
My rating: 7/10

First sentence: On the morning we are to leave for our Grand Tour of the Continent, I wake in bed beside Percy.

Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed. The finest boarding schools in England and the constant disapproval of his father haven’t been able to curb any of his roguish passions—not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men.
But as Monty embarks on his Grand Tour of Europe, his quest for a life filled with pleasure and vice is in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.
Still it isn’t in Monty’s nature to give up. Even with his younger sister, Felicity, in tow, he vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt that spans across Europe, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.

Henry “Monty” Montague is a scoundrel who gets into trouble very easily but has a lot more difficulty getting back out again. His relationship with his father is strained, to say the least. As a bisexual young man in the 18th century, his escapades – be they with young men or women – are not something his father approves of, especially since he was to inherit the estate. Until the baby brother came along, that is. Now Monty has one last chance to prove he can be a responsible adult – a Grand Tour of Europe with his best friend Percy and, much to their dismay, a chaperone who is to show them the wonders of all the greatest cities on the continent.

It’s hard to dislike Monty, despite his really being an irresponsible, ungrateful young rake. He cares about very little in the world (mostly himself, his secret love Percy, and copious amounts of alcohol), but you can tell right from the start that he has a good heart and just needs to grow up a bit. The Tour seems just the right time for that. While things start out pretty much as planned (by his father, that is), Monty gets into deep trouble pretty soon. He, Percy, and Monty’s sister Felicity don’t even reach the halfway point of their journey when they are set upon by highwaymen, have to flee, discover truths about each other that they didn’t even suspect, and must work together as a team to get out of this adventure alive!

We’re not courting trouble. Flirting with it at most.

This book had everything I had hoped for at the beginning. Quippy banter, a budding romance between Monty and Percy, lots of fun adventures and not-so-fun danger. Things dragged a bit when the group reached Spain and begin an entirely new adventure, but because the characters were so lovely, I didn’t mind too much. Percy’s being dark-skinned may not be an issue for Monty or Felicity, but 18th century Europe has other ideas and it is frequently shown that even though he is an English gentleman, Percy faces a lot of challenges because of the color of his skin. Felicity, in turn, is sent to an finishing school from where she is supposed to emerge a skilled young lady. Skilled, that is, in the arts of singing, stitching, and other stuff she doesn’t have the least interest in. Monty is just Monty, wanting to drink and party and sleep with beautiful people. In the beginning, at least.

When someone close to him is revelealed to suffer from a disability, Monty’s thinking slowly changes. He realises what’s important in life, and who he wishes to be loyal to. As light as it may be, as funny as his scrapes are, this is truly Monty’s coming-of-age story and he doesn’t grow up all at once. It’s a slow process with more mistakes to make and misunderstandings to clear up. But I was very happy to see that, by the end, Monty had indeed grown. He’ll perhaps never be a gentleman of utmost perfection but he learns to do the right thing, and to consider the feelings of others – especially those he loves.

While the writing in this book wasn’t very special, I adored the dialogues and the more romantic scenes. Monty and Percy have a particular relationship that makes it maybe even harder to start something more than friendship than if they had serendipitously met on Monty’s Tour. Having grown up together, often sleeping in the same bed, sharing almost everything with each other, there is already so much intimacy between them, that it seems like such a small step to just fall in love. Mackenzi Lee did a beautiful job of letting these two find their way to each other slowly, through many obstacles, and start something more substantial than one of Monty’s flings.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book and I am so excited that there will be a second part following Felicity’s further adventures. She started out as an annoying side character but grew on me so much that I consider her as one of the gang. By the end, she is probably the most kick-ass of the trio (Hermione, anyone?).

MY RATING: 7/10 – Very good

Second opinions:

Advertisements

Sad but beautiful: Adam Silvera – They Both Die at the End

I suppose everybody has their own coping mechanisms when it comes to loss and grief. That reading is one of mine may not be a surprise but I was myself a little weirded out by the fact that I found myself actively looking for books about death or people dying. Having already read The Fault in Our Stars, this one came to mind because everybody was talking about it and I really liked the cover. So, I tackled this adventure (if you want to call it that) and I got pretty much exactly what I expected. And for what it’s worth, it helped.

THEY BOTH DIE AT THE END
by Adam Silvera

Published by: Harper Teen, 2017
Ebook: 384 pages
Standalone
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: Death-Cast is calling with the warning of a lifetime—I’m going to die today.

On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today. Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure and to live a lifetime in a single day.

Mateo Torrez gets the dreaded call that everybody will get some day. He knows from the ring tone that Death-Cast is on the line, informing him that he has less than 24 hours to live. Death-Cast knows when people die. They don’t know how or when exactly, but within a 24-hour-frame, they know and let you know so you can make arrangements.

The synopsis (and title!) should have prepared me for at least some of what was to come but those very first pages already hit me in the guts hard. Many people don’t know when they die and they won’t be informed in a timely manner so they can say their goodbyes, maybe write a will, or give away their beloved dog to someone they trust. But with my own recent loss, it went somewhat similar. Doctors informed us my grandmother had “not much time left” – without science-fictional/magical companies – which are never explained, btw – that’s as close as we get in the real world. Everybody got to say their goodbyes, talk about what was going to happen after she was gone, she got to give away her stuff to her preferred people.
And just a few weeks later, I find myself reading about someone, an 18-year-old kid, with his dad in a coma and his mother long dead, in the same situation my grandmother was. Except he didn’t have a lifetime of memories to look back on. In fact, Mateo is such an anxious teenager that he didn’t leave the house much and lived more through internet forums, games, and books than through his own experiences. As a fanatic reader and a big fan of the couch myself, I can relate.

The other of the titular “both” is Rufus Emeterio, and his entrance into this story is a little misleading as to his character. He is in the process of beating his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend to a pulp when his own phone rings with that terrible, dreaded ring tone. Recently orphaned himself, he only has his found family – consisting of his best friends and ex-girlfriend – to say goodbye to, but even that goes wrong. Rufus may be way more outgoing and open than Mateo, but the loss of his parents and sister left deep scars and changed who he was in a matter of heartbeats. Discovering who these boys were and what made them tick was the one part of the book that could be called fun, although the dark cloud of their impending death hangs over everything.

In a world where some big company knows when everybody dies, there is also an app for Deckers (people who already got the call) to make their last day count. The Last Friend App is supposed to connect people, have a last adventure, have a last night of wild sex, do whatever they please so they don’t have to be alone in their final hours. I kind of loved how touching this idea was, and how it uses technology for something good. But Adam Silvera has been on the actual internet and gives us glorious examples of all the messed up shit that can be found literally everywhere. When Mateo first tries the app, he gets messages that range from careless and insulting to immoral and disgusting. People looking to score cheap furniture from the soon-to-be-dead, others looking for sex without consequences, some looking to sell drugs, and yet others that just seem to be intrigued by the idea of chatting to people who are about to die – it’s all there and it’s all sickening.

But, as the cover suggests, Mateo and Rufus do connect via the app and, after getting to know each other a little and checking off Mateo’s to do list, they actually become friends. Mateo’s goodbye from his best friend Lidia and her daughter Penny made me cry more than anything else in this book. While Rufus tells his friends immediately that he is going to die and wants a funeral (while he’s still here) with eulogies and goodbyes and everything, Mateo keeps it secret, not wanting to burden Lidia or ruin their last day together. But that’s the thing about people who truly love you: they know when something’s wrong.

I won’t go into the details of what Mateo and Rufus do on their last day because the things themselves are actually meaningless. Sure, there’s a little VR adventure, going out of their comfort zones in different ways, opening up about their secrets, and talking about their lives and the ones they’ll leave behind. What really matters – and we all know this already, deep down – is the people you love. Thinking about death and dying, I mean really thinking about it, is hard enough, but doing it when you’re only 17 or 18 is just heartbreaking. Five stages of grief aside, it just feels so unfair! There wasn’t enough time to experience so many things. And I don’t mean big stuff like travel the world or see your grandkids grow up. Even little things like fall in love for the first time, get your first kiss, graduate from school, have sex. Plus, all of the more individual stuff, no matter how silly. If I died tomorrow, I would never find out how A Song of Ice and Fire Ends which may well be the least of my worries, but still!

It’s a bit slow to start but once the book finds its footing, it is a powerful story that hurts a little more with every new chapter. Apart from Rufus and Mateo’s point of view chapters, we get others from side characters. People the two boys meet on the street, their friends, people who work at Death-Cast… They are short chapters, but they flesh out the world a bit and remind us that Rufus and Mateo aren’t the only ones in it and not the only ones suffering. Many others got the call the same night they did, and someone had to make those calls. Famous people die too. Money does not equal happiness. People react very differently to finding out they’re about to die… Lots of small in-between chapters make this novel more accomplished, more than “just” the story of two teenagers who are about to die. They also give more meaning to Rufus and Mateo’s last day because they show that little things have an impact on others, whether it’s giving money to a beggar, smiling at someone on public transport, or any of a million other tiny things you might do without even noticing.

I half-expected this book to be cheap, to use teenage death, which is obviously a big tear-jerker, as a selling point. But I doubt that the author intended that because of how delicately he handles the topic. The boys’ last day doesn’t go perfect. They don’t get to do all they wanted to. They get to do some of it. They even get to experience new things, discover something about themselves, grow so much in such a small amount of time. And the more I read about them, the more I found myself hoping (just like they did themselves) that the title was just there to mislead us readers. They were going to make it, somehow. Death-Cast made a mistake, they can change their apparently pre-destined fate. And I won’t tell you what does happen at the end, whether the title is true or a lie, because I think that little bit of uncertainty, that sliver of hope, is not only what made this story richer. It’s also what keeps us going every day.

MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent!

Second opinions:

Save

Save

Save

Maggie Stiefvater – The Raven King

This is it, guys. I know all of you have probably read this book ages ago when it came out but I’ve been drawing it out. Ending a book series is always hard, but when the ending seems to be pre-determined from the very first chapter of the first book, that makes it even harder. But, as I can’t keep away from Ronan and the other Raven boys, I did eventually read the book. I may not have loved it as much as The Dream Thieves (do I ever love anything as much as The Dream Thieves?), but it is a worthy and beautiful ending to a truly amazing YA series.

raven king

THE RAVEN KING
by Maggie Stiefvater

Published by: Scholastic Press, 2016
Hardcover: 439 pages
Series: The Raven Cycle #4
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: Richard Gansey III had forgotten how many times he had been told he was destined for greatness.

Nothing living is safe. Nothing dead is to be trusted.
For years, Gansey has been on a quest to find a lost king. One by one, he’s drawn others into this quest: Ronan, who steals from dreams; Adam, whose life is no longer his own; Noah, whose life is no longer a lie; and Blue, who loves Gansey… and is certain she is destined to kill him.
Now the endgame has begun. Dreams and nightmares are converging. Love and loss are inseparable. And the quest refuses to be pinned to a path.

divider1

Don’t be me. Don’t try and draw out this book just to make it last longer. First, you will fail anyway because this book refuses to be put down, and secondly, it takes away from the emotional punch when you do force yourself to put it away. Because guys, this is it. This is the end. And it is an amazing, perfect ending to a brilliant series that defies all the tropes of YA books. As a long-time YA avoider, I can only say that – like probably any genre or type of literature – there are bad books and there are good books. And then there are gems like this series. Don’t condemn an entire section of the book store just because you had one (or ten) bad experience.

Just like us, the characters in this story know that the end is coming. At least the end of something, of their search for Glendower, their quest, their big destiny. Blue and Gansey continue to be a lovely couple, despite their difficulties (no kissing, remember), but it was – again – Ronan who got all my attention. I’ve been in love with this guy since day one, but in The Dream Thieves, seeds for a romance started growing that I’d hoped so very much would work out. Having just read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, I know that not all authors are willing to go with their characters’ “organic” love interest (if you’ve read the play too, you’ll know what I mean), but Maggie Stiefvater is amazing and just lets her characters be who they are. Whew, writing this without spoilers is becoming more and more of a tightrope act and if you haven’t read this series at all, I won’t make much sense. Also if you haven’t read this series, what are you doing here? Go read The Raven Boys!

Having established a larger cast throughout the previous three books, I found that some characters were left behind a little or didn’t get as much attention as I’d have liked. The inclusion of the fairly newish Henry Cheng felt forced, although I did end up liking him a lot. I don’t really see why, if he was essential, he couldn’t be introduced earlier or at least more naturally. It almost read like he was added as an afterthought. So I’m not quite sure about him, especially as his presence takes precious page time away from Noah, or Ronan’s brothers, for example. There were some great moments involving Noah and Blue in the previous books, and that was completely missing here.

raven king wrap around

But let’s get down to what everybody’s been waiting for. The search for Glendower and – more importantly – Blue’s prophecy. No spoilers, I promise! Both plot strings reach a conclusion. I found both pretty satisfying, if you can say that when your heart has been ripped out a billion times along the way. But yes, of all the endings I could have imagined, Stiefvater deliverd one that both surprised me and didn’t make me mad. I honestly didn’t think that was possible.

However, with the subplots adding up throughout the series, something got lost as well. I believe The Raven Cycle reached its peak with The Dream Thieves, which had just enough going on to be fast paced but also put the right amount of focus on character development and the complex relationships between this group of young people. In The Raven King, with several threats raining down on these guys, and many other viewpoint characters who get their own chapters, there simply wasn’t much time for the quiet, more contemplative moments. Those are my favorite parts so I was sad to miss them. I would have gladly dropped some side characters – or at least chapters focusing on them – in favor of more Raven Boys and Blue.

Now I’m done bitching about this book not being exactly what I wanted it to be, let me repeat some things I’ve said about the other books in the series. Maggie Stiefvater is a wizard. She expresses more in one sentence than other writers do in entire books; her word choice is delicate and sometimes you only understand just how clever she is many chapters later. I can’t wait to re-read the Raven Cycle because I’m convinced this is the kind of story where re-reads pay off and let you see a whole different side of things.

The development these characters went through is honest and raw. They have each grown into themselves, they have sacrificed and learned, they have learned to deal with life when it doesn’t go their way (and when it does), and most of all they have all found each other. This chosen family with its many, many kinds and facets of love makes the Raven Cycle one of the best young adult book series I have ever read.

All things considered, I enjoyed The Raven King and how it toyed with my emotions. But most of all I liked it because it’s the final chapter in a bigger story that I ADORE. After all, it introduced me to the world of Aglionby sweaters and psychics, big flashy cars and sinister prophecies, ravens and trees that speak Latin. This series was my first foray into Maggie Stiefvater’s world but, boy, it won’t be my last. I’ll gladly let her break my heart over and over again.

MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent

divider1

The Raven Cycle:
  1. The Raven Boys
  2. The Dream Thieves
  3. Blue Lily, Lily Blue
  4. The Raven King

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Zen Cho – The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo

I don’t remember how I stumbled upon this little book but the cover and premise both intrigued diversiverse3me enough to go buy it, no waiting on the wishlist required. And since it’s #Diversiverse time, this was the perfect moment to read the story – also, I’ve never read anything by a Malaysian author before and that needed to be remedied. Zen Cho’s story had some aspects that I loved and others that left me very disappointed.

perilous life of jade yeoTHE PERILOUS LIFE OF JADE YEO
by Zen Cho

Published by: self-published, 2012
Ebook: 81 pages
Standalaone novella
My rating: 6,5/10

First sentence: I had tea with the intolerable aunt today.

 

divider1

For writer Jade Yeo, the Roaring Twenties are coming in with more of a purr – until she pillories London’s best-known author in a scathing review. Sebastian Hardie is tall, dark and handsome, and more intrigued than annoyed. But if Jade succumbs to temptation, she risks losing her hard-won freedom – and her best chance for love.

divider1
Jade Yeo is a young Chinese woman, making her way in 1920s London by writing for a newspaper. She deals with her insufferable (and very rich) aunt and learns, for the first time, what it is like to fall in love and fall in lust.

Since it’s the first thing mentioned in the synposis, I need to adress the time and setting of this novella. The Roaring Twenties are somewhat of a buzz word that makes me happily buy a book. Except there isn’t really much roaring or twenties in The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo. Sure, the time period becomes somewhat apparent in how women are viewed by society, how Jade’s insufferable aunt things Jade should behave, what is considered proper and what makes a scandal. But for everything else that’s there, this could as easily have been set in the 1950s.

The story is set in London and as a Chinese woman, Jade has to deal with some degree of cultural misunderstanding and prejudice. I don’t know if it’s because of her practical, witty character that we don’t see much of it or because the author didn’t want to turn this novella into a novel, but I expected Jade’s life to be much, much harder. A young, unmarried woman whose proper name people can’t pronounce, whose family values are completely different from what she sees on an everyday basis… there should have been more problems for Jade than just paying the rent.

Taking into consideration, however, that the novella is written as Jade’s diary, she may just not be telling us everything there is to know. And  I must say that I adored her voice. She is a practical, surprisingly modern woman with a sense of humor and a hunger for life. When famous author Sebastian Hardie makes advances on her, she just goes with it. Because hey, adventure! She knows she isn’t in love but having an affair is just so damn interesting. The problems I had with the time and the setting are probably due to the fact, that Hardie – as well as his wife – are equally practical modern people. The arrangement that married couple has would be frowned upon by a lot of people, even by today’s standards. For clever, adventurous Jade to fall into the hands of such a freedom-loving couple is unlikely and lessens any drama there could have been given other circumstances.

But the writing and characterisation are spot on. Jade has something of a Jane Austen in her, with her clever observations, her quick comebacks, her overall view on humanity. She’s charming and funny and at the same time vulnerable and real. And she has fun with words which makes me love her infintely more.

A nice Indian servant gave me a drink (I wish I could have spoken to him). I skulked in a corner clutching it and trying as hard as I could to look inscrutable and aloof, but feeling scrutable and loof as anything.

This is a novella that basically reads itself. It happily goes along, without much risk for the protagonist or much impact. Jade may think she’s in trouble but that same trouble is resolved within a matter of a few pages. Zen Cho hints at some heavy subjects but because everything turns out well for our heroine, and everything is so easy, they are somewhat lessened. Come to a different country all aloneperilous life of jade yeo, having (and enjoying) sex as an unmarried woman,  and unwanted pregnancy are just a few things that feel like they were drizzled over the story to give it some depth. Except they don’t feel like issues because EVERYTHING FALLS INTO PLACE SO DAMN EASILY. As soon as a problem arises, somebody goes “Oh that? Don’t worry, here’s a neat little solution.”

At the very end, when Jade realises that she has fallen in love (rather predictably, one might add), that’s the only time where cultural differences really present obstacles. Of course Jade is determined to overcome them and make their love work somehow, but at least we get a glimpse of the difficulties they will face on the way to marital bliss. And even that discussion is over within minutes. But at the very least, there isn’t an immediate, pretty solution. They talk about the issues at hand and promise to find a way to make things work. But we, the readers, know it’s not going to be simple and it’s going to alienate people. Traditional, conservative families whose child wants to marry someone from a completely different culture, will be up in arms. They know this, we know this, and there’s no easy way out.

There were so many things I loved about this story, the protagonist’s voice the foremost among them. I can’t really say anything bad about it except that everything was too easy and happened too fast. A novel-length version of this story with some stakes for the characters would be perfect. If the solutions to Jade’s problems weren’t as quick to arrive, for example, that would have already made this more interesting. If her future hangs in the balance for a mere (short) chapter, I won’t get overly excited. If, however, her uncertainty and at some points, her helplessness were to last longer, that would make it memorable. That would make her little troubles real problems. I commend her for wanting to do everything herself and not relying on the help of others but again, help does come and it pretty much gets her out of any situation without much fuss.

This was only a nice and very quick read that keeps your heartrate at a steady level. No sizzling romance, no danger for our heroine, but a lot of interesting people with surprising views on love, sex, and culture. It’s a peasurable read but not one that will stay with me for long, I suspect. Who would have thought I’d ever say it but here it is: I need a little more drama in my fiction. If I don’t feel with the characters I’m not likely to remember their stories for long.

divider1

Rachel Bach – Fortune’s Pawn

Do you know that feeling when you are incredibly thirsty and you finally get that ice cold glass of water? That moment of “aaaaah” afterwards. Yeah, that’s the feeling I was having while reading this book. It was pure fun and relaxation and I am so pleased that I have the entire Eli Monpress series by the same author still ahead of me.

œF$¿Æ‘$8Òò¤»däå¸R8BIFORTUNE’S PAWN
by Rachel Bach

Published by: Orbit, 2013
Ebook: 368 pages
Series: Paradox #1
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: “You’re quit­ting the Black­birds?” The shock in An­thony’s voice was at odds with the fin­ger he was lan­guidly slid­ing over my naked back. “Why? You just made squad leader last year.”

All her life, powered armor mercenary Deviana Morris has wanted one thing: to join the Devastators, the most elite armor unit on her home planet of Paradox. But it’s hard to get noticed on a planet of billions. To speed things up, Devi takes a job aboard the Glorious Fool, an trade ship so dangerous that one year of service on its security team counts as five anywhere else. The ship’s terrible record doesn’t worry Devi at first, but when the captain starts sending her into impossibly dangerous situations no trader should ever get into, she beings to suspect that the Glorious Fool’s problems are more than bad luck. But with her career on the line, Devi’s determined to keep her nose down, despite her growing concern about the captain’s strange missions, his creepy silent daughter, and the ship’s insufferably sexy cook, Rupert Charkov, who is definitely more than what he seems. Maybe even more than human.
With the mysteries piling up and life on the Fool getting more dangerous by the second, Devi’s knows she’s going to have to get some answers fast, before all the secrets send her home in a body bag.

divider1

After a difficult book like Ancillary Justice (not oh-noes-we-are-too-dumb-for-this difficult, just making you think a lot difficult) this was exactly what I needed. A light, fun, acion-packed read with just the right amount of romance and one hell of a mystery that remains yet unsolved.

Devi is a heroine to my liking. She’s aggressive, she knows her life will probably be short and so she makes the best of it. If she likes a man, she doesn’t play around for long, if she wants a job, she does whatever it takes to get it. In this case, her ambition of joining the elite Devestators, this means working as a security guard for Brian Caldwell, a captain who is cursed with bad luck.

If you liked Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica, you will have no trouble following Devi on her crazy adventure. Apart from her being a wonderful character, I was stunned by how well balanced the different elements of this story were. On the surface, you get an action adventure complete with fighting aliens, awesome power suits, space travel, and living at close quarters with crew mates. There also happens to be a little romance but it didn’t overshadow the story until the end. Go deeper one level, and you will find quite a thrilling mystery. This being the beginning of a trilogy, not much is revealed and the ending is rather abrupt.

fortune's pawn banner

Rachel Bach does a wonderful job of keeping her readers entertained. Action doesn’t just follow action. There are quieter moments in between, there is room for character development, and – my favorite part, in case you hadn’t guessed it yet – there are hints, here and there, to the bigger picture. I can’t really say anything here without giving too much away and spoiling your potential pleasure at reading this.

I’m not a big romance reader, but if you throw a love story into my fantasy or science fiction, I usually roll with it. The attraction between the protagonists  in Fortune’s Pawn is immediate and tangible. The descriptions of Devi’s feelings toward Rupert just pull you in and make you feel as giddy as a teenager. I thoroughly enjoyed those magic moments of tension and final relief. That said, I just didn’t buy the love story. It started as lust, which I can totally buy into, especially the way Rupert is described. But Devi and Rupert didn’t spend enough time with each other that – to me – justified their sudden outburst of One True Love-ness. Sure, you grow attached if you live on the same ship, but I was missing the scenes where the two of them just talk or bond or joke or do something other than eyefrak or kiss. Again, not that I minded the kissing…

That is a relatively small complaint, all things considered, and the second I finished this book – after shouting “What?! That’s where this ends?” – I found myself eager to continue. This is one of those books that could go on forever and you would neither notice nor mind. It has been compared to Battlestar Galactica and Firefly. While it has neither of those shows’ depth, it definitely delivers the fun, the action, and the sexual tension between two highly interesting main characters.

I can’t wait for part two, Honor’s Knight, which Goodreads tells me, is scheduled to come out in February 2014. I guess I can survive that long, but let me tell you – this is a book I will buy on publication day!

THE GOOD: A great protagonist, lots of action, powered suits that are beyond cool, aliens, battles, and a mystery that kept me guessing on every page.
THE BAD:
The “love” story never surpassed a lust story for me, the ending is not quite a cliffhanger, but feels like somebody chopped one story into shorter bits at a random point. Forgivable, seeing as the next book comes out in a few months’ time.
THE VERDICT: Highly recommended. A quick read that is just So Much Fun, and not a single boring page in sight.

MY RATING:  8/10  – Excellent

divider1

Review: Jacqueline Carey – Kushiel’s Avatar

Hmm… After having read 967 pages fairly quickly, does it still sound convincing when I say I’m not impressed? As much as I loved Kushiel’s Dart, I was already very disappointed with the sequel, Kushiel’s Chosen. Too much travelling, too little plot – it felt like a story merely thought up to showcase the world Jacqueline Carey has built. And so does this third part.

kushiels avatarKUSHIEL’S AVATAR
by Jacqueline Carey

Published by: Tor, 2003
ISBN: 0330420011
Paperback: 967 pages
Series: Kushiel’s Legacy #3

My rating: 6,5/10

First sentence: It ended with a dream.

***SPOILERS FOR BOOKS ONE AND TWO IN THE TRILOGY***

Ever since Phedre no Delaunay was sold into servitude as a child, her path has taken a strange, and often dangerous course. She has lain with princes and pirate kings and battled a wicked temptress still determined to win the crown at any cost. All this time Phedre has had at her side the devoted swordsman Joscelin, who has never violated the central precept of the angel Cassiel: to protect and serve. Now Phedre’s plans will put his pledge to the ultimate test.

For she has never forgotten her childhood friend Hyacinthe, and has spent ten long years searching for the key to free him from his eternal indenture to the Master of Straits. To redeem Hyacinthe, Phedre and Joscelin embark on a dangerous journey that will carry them to far-off countries where madness reigns, and to confront a power so mighty that none dare speak its name.

divider

Having finally finished this trilogy, the overall story arc has left me rather underwhelmed. I will always love Kushiel’s Dart but there were many things wrong with its sequels.

Most importantly, the novelty has long worn off, Phèdre’s extraordinary gift – feeling sexually aroused by pain – as well as her profession as courtesan, is an old hat by now. We’ve spent almost 2000 pages with her, we know what it means to bear the mark of Kushiel. The romance part was pretty much resolved in the first book except for some force drama in the second novel, and that middle volume did little to resolve the open plot threads. That doesn’t mean I didn’t get some enjoyment out of this novel. Carey’s language is as beautiful and flowery as ever, the world of Terre d’Ange and beyond (far, far beyond) is brimming with life and mythology. Discovering new areas on the map, new religions and cultures was a true pleasure. But the book didn’t need to be anywhere near as long as it is.

Certain scenes (and by “scene” I mean a good 100 pages) were so thrilling that they could have made a story on their own – I would have gladly read a novel entirely devoted to Phèdre’s stay in that harem. Wow! However, most of the novel is spent travelling. We are told in minute detail of everything that happens not only on the journey to a new place but also back. There is no need for that and it was mostly these scenes that stretched the novel to its unnecessary lengths and were quite tiresome to read.

What truly intrigued me about the first novel was the relationship between the characters, the dynamic bond between Phèdre and Joscelin, or her and Hyacinthe, her devotion to Anafiel Delauney, her dangerous attraction to Melisande… I didn’t think I would say that, having grown to hate her, but there was far too little Melisande in Kushiel’s Avatar. The lack of Hyacinthe was felt sorely as well and almost all the new characters – while fully fleshed-out and interesting in their own right – were introduced and dismissed rather fast. They were friends for a short period in Phèdre’s life and didn’t have any longterm impact, like Phèdre’s Boys or Quintilius Rousse, side characters I’ve grown to love. That said, I must mention Imriel who is probably the best thing in this book. I hear the second trilogy set in the same world centers around him – which is why I’ll definitely check those books out.

One thing in particular I have noticed that leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. Phèdre becomes a major class bitch! Joscelin, his oath still swearing him to protect and serve her, is the truest, most loyal character you can imagine. And Phèdre – while always having good excuses of course – risks his life on numerous occasions, forces him (knowing his oath well enough) into dangerous and terrifying situations, having him follow her around like a dog. And she knows it, too. I used to love her independence and how she showed us that female protagonists can very well exist without a male counterpart – but this went a little too far for my taste. I’m also not sure at all how I feel about Joscelin now for never opening his fucking mouth or simply saying No. Oath or no oath, he should be able (and allowed) to tell his girlfriend that she is going too far… I have been having this discussion in my own head for a long time and it may actually have added to my reading pleasure.

For those curious to find out if it was all worth it in the end: The plot threads left open in books 1 and 2 are resolved, although it felt almost as if that part had been a chore to write, rather than pleasure. As I read this, I got the feeling that Jacqueline Carey simply wanted to explore her own imaginary world. As great as it is, world-building alone does not make a good story. With some editing, as well as tightening of the plot, this could have been a much better book.

dividerTHE GOOD: Beautiful writing, the characters feel real, certain scenes left me at the edge of my seat.

THE BAD: Large parts of the book are simply boring, unnecessary, full of details of travel without furthering the plot (of which there isn’t all too much anyway).

THE VERDICT: I suppose if you’ve come this far, you’ll want to know how it ends. Despite its lengths, this is a good read that showcases the author’s great ability for world-building and character development.

RATING:   6,5/10 – Quite good

The Kushiel’s Legacy trilogy:

  1. Kushiel’s Dart
  2. Kushiel’s Chosen
  3. Kushiel’s Avatar

 

Review: Sharon Shinn – Jenna Starborn

Why did I pick this book up? It certainly wasn’t because of the cover. I may be shallow when it comes to a book’s fashion sense, but really, if the story interests me, I don’t care. So this ugly specimen entered my hallowed halls of reading because the SF Squeecast made me. These guys truly deserve their Hugo and I love their podcast to bits. Such good recommendations!

jenna starborn

JENNA STARBORN
by Sharon Shinn

Published by: Penguin US, 2002
ISBN: 9781101549643
ebook: 384 pages

My rating: 6,5/10

First sentence: You would think that if someone commissioned your conception, paid for your gestation, and claimed you immediately after your harvesting, she would love you with her whole heart; but you would be wrong.

Jenna Starborn was created out of frozen embryonic tissue, a child unloved and unwanted. Yet she has grown up with a singularly sharp mind—and a heart that warms to those she sees as less fortunate than herself. This novel takes us into Jenna Starborn’s life, to a planet called Fieldstar, and to a property called Thorrastone—whose enigmatic lord will test the strength of that tender and compassionate heart.

divider

Any retelling of Jane Eyre is walking the plank by default. Charlotte Bronte’s original story is not only universally beloved but also one of my very favorite books ever. I have read it many times, listened to it on audiobook, watched pretty much all the movie and TV adaptations (The BBC’s version from 2006 is the best), and generally never seem to tire of the tale. Setting the story in a science fiction universe, with interstellar travel a routine, every house equipped with a PhysiChamber to fix any diseases its residents may have, and people being grown in gen-tanks, there is still (or again) a huge gap between the classes. Not every resident of the galaxy is automatically a citizen, and citizenship comes in different levels.

jenna starbornSo… a science fiction retelling of Jane Eyre, huh? Having just finished this book, let me say that while I enjoyed reading it very much, I am also left a bit underwhelmed. Sharon Shinn stays very close to the original and we almost get a scene-by-scene retelling, simply set on the planet Fieldstar. However, since Thorrastone Park – this alternate Thornfield Hall – is built “inspired by” old English estate manors, the setting doesn’t really have much impact on the story. Jenna works as a technician, taking care that the force field that creates a breathable atmosphere, doesn’t break down. She still spends a lot of time with Mr. Ravenbeck’s ward, Ameletta, and even teaches her a thing or two about nuclear reactors. However, apart from traveling in hovercars instead of carriages, there really wasn’t much to set this story apart from the original.

Maybe I am being unfair. If I had read this without knowing (and loving) Jane Eyre, I probably would have adored this book. But knowing the original, and knowing it quite well, I couldn’t help but compare. On every single page. I found myself waiting for certain scenes to happen, wondering how Sharon Shinn would translate them into a universe with space travel, women working “manly” jobs, wearing men’s clothes, etc. In the end, while I found the romance believable and I really enjoyed what the author did with the games Ravenbeck and his guests play, it didn’t really work for me.

The characters, at least, are true to themselves. They are clearly recognisable as their 19th century counterparts and I cared deeply for Jenna and Ravenbeck. The one new character that is introduced feels, while equally likable, a little misplaced. What this book did for me was show just how perfect Jane Eyre is. Not only is it a gripping story of love and class division, but it is also beautifully constructed. Every puzzle piece sits in its place and if you change one thing, you’d really have to change all the others to make it work. I believe that’s why Shinn was so careful, didn’t really change anything.

Apart from one long ride on a space ship, the science fiction element fell short for me as well. I haven’t read a lot of hard sci-fi (I can’t remember any, at least) but I really would have enjoyed more descriptions of Jenna’s work as a technician. Give me all the details about the gadgets and cables she has to take care of.

In conclusion, this was a book worth reading and it showed that the author knows her craft. She evoked emotions in me, made me care about the characters, and even made Jenna tell her story to us, her “reeders”.

THE GOOD: Come on, it’s Jane Eyre!
THE BAD: Not enough science fiction, really just an almost exact retelling with no new twists.
THE VERDICT: A good book retelling one of the most beautiful stories ever. Just not what I was expecting or hoping for.

MY RATING: 6,5/10 Quite good

 

Review: Diana Gabaldon – Outlander (Cross Stitch)

I’m not a great reader of romance novels. But I do like historical fiction, especially if it’s interspliced with some fantasy. And since it’s incredibly hard to find bad reviews of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, I thought I’d give it a try. And I loved this book. I never made it through volume 2 but I could reread Cross Stitch immediately.

CROSS STITCH/OUTLANDER
by Diana Gabaldon

Published: Arrow, 1994 (first: 1991)
ISBN: 0099911701
Pages: 864
Copy: paperback
Series: Outlander #1

My rating: 8,5/10

First sentence: People disappear all the time.

In 1945, Claire is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon in Scotland. Innocently, she walks through a stone circle in the Highlands, and finds herself in a violent skirmish taking place in 1743. Suddenly she is a Sassenach, an outlander, in a country torn by war and by clan feuds.

A wartime nurse, Claire can deal with the bloody wounds that face her. But it is harder to deal with the knowledge that she is in Jacobite Scotland and the carnage of Culloden is looming. Marooned amid the passion and violence, the superstition, the shifting allegiances and the fervent loyalties, Claire is in danger from Jacobites and Redcoats – and from the shock of her own desire for James Fraser, a gallant and courageous young Scots warrior. Jamie shows her a passion so fierce and a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire, and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.

I own the UK paperback with the incredibly cheesy cover shown above. But I came to love this by now tattered thick paperback so much. While Claire isn’t what I’d call a contemporary characters, she still comes from a time far more advanced than mid-18th century Scotland. Her knowledge in medicine doesn’t just help her out in some dangerous situations, it was also very interesting to read and – while no expert in the field at all – it felt like Diana Gabaldon has done her research well. Claire was easy to love and identify with and maybe that is why this book is so dear to so many people. Because while you read it, you are Claire, and like her, you are torn between the desire to go back to your time and your wonderful husband, and this exciting new world of adventure and passion for Jamie Fraser.

Knowing nothing much about Scotland, I dove into this novel and was blown away by the imagery of the Scottish highlands, the political tension, and the day-to-day life one used to lead. The author has managed to bring the setting to life on the pages and suck you into a time you really shouldn’t want to live in but kind of do… I must admit the political aspects of the book were less intersting to me (probably because of my ignorance on the subject) but I could still fear for Claire and Jamie whenever there was a fight or the threat of danger. They don’t always get out unscathed and it’s wonderful to see their characters develop and changed by events like getting married, severely injured, or kidnapped. Yes, there is a lot of action in this book.

My biggest surprise was probably how much I cared for the romance. It is not so much the thought of “Will the good guy get the girl?” because – and that’s not a spoiler – that happens fairly quickly. It is watching these two people grow and develop a true relationship. Anybody who has ever been in a romantic relationship can relate to certain scenes, be they in the bedroom or little every day fights. To me, it felt believable and tore my heart out several times.

The only thing that bothered me in this entire, chunky novel was probably one fantasy element that I could have done without. I won’t say which one for fear of spoiling but when it happened, I had to hold back chuckles, it was so ridiculous – and unnecessary! I wish I could say I have devoured the entire series but I didn’t. I started on the second book right after finishing this one but it lacked the quick pace and easy-to-follow story arc of its predecessor. Nonetheless, I can recommend this wholeheartedly to anybody who’s ready to fall in love with Scotland and a certain redhead highlander.

I may buy the graphic novel adaptation of Jamie’s perspective of this story – or read the spin-off series about Lord John. Because I really don’t want to give up completely on this universe yet.

THE GOOD: A gripping tale of romance, rich in history and adventure, as well as edge-of-your-seat action.
THE BAD: Hardcore feminists won’t like this.
THE VERDICT: A wonderful book that will not let you do anything but read for a while. And I dare you not to fall in love with Jamie Fraser!

RATING: 8,5/10  Excellent

The Outlander Series:

  1. Outlander
  2. Dragonfly in Amber
  3. Voyager
  4. Drums of Autumn
  5. The Fiery Cross
  6. A Breath of Snow and Ashes
  7. An Echo in the Bone
  8. Written in My Own Heart’s Blood

Related posts: