Overhyped and disappointing: Stephanie Garber – Caraval

See, the thing about books that are as overhyped as this one is that the disappointment when it’s not a great book (or not even a good one) is felt all the more keenly. This may have been a neat idea in the author’s head, but the execution is a disaster. This is a book just like its protagonist: pretty on the outside, absolutely vapid and without personality on the inside.

caravalCARAVAL
by Stephanie Garber

Published by: Hodder & Stoughton, 2017
Hardback: 402 pages
Series: Caraval #1
My rating: 3/10

First sentence: It took seven years to get the letter right.
Continue reading

Charlie N. Holmberg – The Master Magician

I’ve been putting this off for a while… at first I didn’t know what to write, then I wasn’t sure if I should waste a post about this at all. Should I tell you about all the ways this book is a fail? Or focus on just one or two? Should I just leave it altogether? But the completionist in me refused to stop reading after book 2, and after pushing through the entire trilogy, I feel I can do you, dear readers, a service by warning you. If you want brainless entertainment, the first book is okay. But do yourselves a favor and just stop after that.

master magicianTHE MASTER MAGICIAN
by Charlie N. Holmberg

Published by: 47North, 2015
Ebook: 226 pages
Series: The Paper Magician #3
My rating: 2/10

First sentence: Ceony, wearing her red apprentice’s apron over a ruffled blouse and plain brown skirt, stood on her tiptoes on a three-legged stool and stuck a square of white paper against the east wall of the Holloways’ living room, right where the wall met the ceiling.

Throughout her studies, Ceony Twill has harbored a secret, one she’s kept from even her mentor, Emery Thane. She’s discovered how to practice forms of magic other than her own — an ability long thought impossible.
While all seems set for Ceony to complete her apprenticeship and pass her upcoming final magician’s exam, life quickly becomes complicated. To avoid favoritism, Emery sends her to another paper magician for testing, a Folder who despises Emery and cares even less for his apprentice. To make matters worse, a murderous criminal from Ceony’s past escapes imprisonment. Now she must track the power-hungry convict across England before he can take his revenge. With her life and loved ones hanging in the balance, Ceony must face a criminal who wields the one magic that she does not, and it may prove more powerful than all her skills combined.

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Oh boy. Let’s just get all the terrible problems out of the way before my head explodes. The lack of research for the historical period from the first two books continues here. Everything feels so very modern, so very American, that I kept wondering why the author wanted to set this in London and in the past. She clearly didn’t care enough to have anyone proof read the book to find all the glaring anachronisms. That is the least of this book’s problems, though.

Ceony, who was plucky and fun an in the first book, albeit a walking, talking stereotype, has now gone full-on idiot. Not only does she do forbidden and dangerous things – after TWO books of exactly this behaviour almost getting her killed and actually getting her friend killed – seriously, does this woman never learn? She may talk like a modern day woman but her ideas of gender roles are straight out of the stone ages. Women cook, men do… everything else I guess? Women, of course, are also supposed to be beautiful, but only so long as Ceony approves of their type. She shows distate on several occasions when other women act stereotypically feminine (wearing frilly dresses, giggling, being girly), but when she herself turns all 50ies wife or giggles, it’s okay. You know why? Because she is SPECIAL!

The story here is not just lame, it’s even lame in-universe. The villain from the second book – remember, the only Indian person in a cast so very, very white – has escaped and is now the villain of book number three. He is a villain because… the plot calls for something to fight, apparently. He has no agency, no personality, no motives – all he has is dark skin, an accent, and a desire to do evil for evil’s sake. I can let a lot of things slide but when an author so clearly doesn’t take the time to question what she writes, when research is deemed unnecessary, the book that comes out of this reads as if a five-year-old wrote it. And I’d hazard a guess that my imaginary five-year-old could have at least come up with a more interesting (and less offensive) villain. Hell, why not put a big monster in there for Ceony to fight?

Even if I could ignore all of that (which I couldn’t), the author decided to overhaul her entire magic system. Sure, Ceony found out in the previous book what NOBODY HAS FOUND OUT BEFORE: that magicians can break their bond to their chosen material and switch between materials as they wish. All they need to do is say some words… if this weren’t stupid enough already, suddenly Ceony can not only bond to all man-made materials – which was the whole premise of this trilogy – but to fire. I don’t know about you, but my interpretation of fire is not exactly that it’s a man-made material. Yeah, we can strike a match and “make fire” but it’s not the same as paper, plastic, or steel. This was a major moment of fail that breaks the entire internal logic (haha!) of the series.

If, at this point, I had cared about any of the characters, I would probably still have groaned and rolled my eyes at the blatantly obvious ending. Of course it ends with a marriage proposal. Because that’s the one thing Ceony needs, right? For her master magician to finally make a married woman out of her, so she can cook his meals officially, without society frowning upon it. Her discovery of new magic, her job application to the crime department, those are just background. What she really needs is other people’s approval for her need to feed her man.

So, the bad stuff is out of the way. That leaves me with – nothing. Sorry. Everything in this book is a mess. There is no plot, there are no stakes, there is nothing I cared about, and nobody I wasn’t annoyed with. Be it the forcefully inserted story about Ceony’s jealous younger sister, the pretend difficulty of her magician test (come ON, it’s all sooooo obvious, a baby could solve it!) or the hunt for the villain. There are the soppiest of soppy moments, there is the lame and unoriginal love story, there is no substance whatsoever. My God, am I glad that this is now over.

MY RATING: 2/10 – So very, very bad!

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Second opinions

Alethea Kontis – Dearest

Well, this was a mess. I have squeed like a little girl about the Woodcutter Sisters series and, naturally, was looking forward to meeting Friday Woodcuter, reading about her romance. I knew what to expect by now. A very child-friendly, very light love story interwoven with a gazillion fairytales and featuring a wonderful loving family. Except this time, it really didn’t work.

dearestDEAREST
by Alethea Kontis

Published by: HMH Books for Young Readers, 2015
Hardcover: 288 pages
Series: The Woodcutter Sisters #3
My rating: 3/10

First sentence: Conrad slowed his pace, not because he lacked energy, but because the hard calluses on his feet had cracked and started to bleed.

Readers met the Woodcutter sisters (named after the days of the week) in Enchanted and Hero. In this delightful third book, Alethea Kontis weaves together some fine-feathered fairy tales to focus on Friday Woodcutter, the kind and loving seamstress. When Friday stumbles upon seven sleeping brothers in her sister Sunday’s palace, she takes one look at Tristan and knows he’s her future. But the brothers are cursed to be swans by day. Can Friday’s unique magic somehow break the spell?

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Let me preface this rant with a few words: I adore Alethea Kontis and her love for fairy tales is obvious for anyone who follows her on twitter or has watched her Fairy Tale Rants. And I am very sorry about the harsh things I am going to say below. Okay, now that’s out of the way, lemme get going…

Dearest is the third in the Woodcutter Sisters series and deals with the third-youngest daughter, Friday. I always found her to be the most boring sister but her kindness, patience, grace and persistence reminded me of Beth from Little Women. And she’s a Woodcutter, so amazing things were bound to happen to her. When Saturday displaced an ocean in Hero, this magical mishap had serious consequences. I loved that Dearest picks up with these consequences, namely Friday almost drowning.

The suddenly-there ocean also has repercussions on the kingdom at large which leads to the first big problem these books still have. Arilland is now ruled by Sunday and Rumbold, both incredibly young and incredibly inexperienced. So naturally, when the population flocks to the castle for shelter and food, they have no idea what to do about it. So far, so understandable. But then they ask the children if they have any idea how to feed all these people and these children – CHILDREN – have to tell them that there’s an orchard and some onions and all sorts of other edibles all around the castle, ripe for the plucking. The scene I’m referring to was sweet, no doubt, but it made all the adults (or barely-adults) look so stupid, I have no words. The simplicity of these books was charming so far but when a queen, who surely has advisors and knowledgable folk surrounding her, has to ask random kids for help “simple” doesn’t cover it. One could argue that fairy tales use politics in a similar way but that doesn’t make them any more interesting to read about.

So. Friday’s at her sister’s castle. She takes care of the children, turns chores into games, Mary-Poppins-style, and stumbles across a flock of swans (is it flock?) which – surprise – turns into boys at night. I had known this was a retelling of “The Six Swans” so I had been waiting for this moment most eagerly. Except then Kontis does what she’s always been doing, only a gigabillion times worse. Friday sees one of the swan-boys and – poof – they’re in love. Literally in love. Not in lust, not attracted, not slighty crushing on each other – but earth-shattering, sacrificing-everything, fuck-my-family-you-are-my-life-now love. Urgh.

Which was made all the worse by the set of wholly boring and flat characters, none of which I cared about. I had 300 pages of pure tedium on my hands. There came the point where I only continued reading to see the swans’ curse lifted. As curses go, this is one of the harsher ones. The girl can only save her brothers by (1) remaining silent at all times, and (2) picking stinging nettles, making thread, weaving that thread and sewing a shirt for each of her swan-brothers. Only then would they be turned back into humans and she would be allowed to talk again.

But the fairy tale is turned onto its easiest possible setting in that the sister doesn’t have to spin, weave, and sew the shirts alone. She gets help. In fact, the entire castle helps. I’m not saying it isn’t still hard work but, come on (And why her nickname is Rampion – as in Rapunzel – is anyone’s guess). Even with a whole army of people spinning for her, the fairy tale still has some sadness in store. One of the shirts is not completed in time and and so the curse is not fully lifted. One boy has to live with a swan’s wing after being turned human again (in some versions he remains a swan). Which is a bummer. What happens in Dearest? He turns into a fucking angel. Seriously. Man with wings. A full set. Plus two working arms. Needless to say, the swan/boy in question is Tristan, Friday’s newfound but eternal love. I know this is for children but this felt like such a cheap cop-out I kept screaming at the book like a crazy person. It cheapens everything, all the hard work that went into making the shirts. If a piece of cloth turns the brother into an angel, why bother making a full shirt at all? Just throw some nettle-rags at them and there you go. Angel brothers.

Usually, the Woodcutter books focus on one fairy tale but throw in references to many, many others in clever and subtle ways. In Dearest, three of Friday’s charges are called Wendy, John, and Michael. This has no importance for the plot whatsoever, so to me it’s nothing but a gimmick. Peter Pan doesn’t show up (although this might have improved the book). Friday’s magic had the same gimmick-y feel to it, showing up when it’s useful and moving into the background when not. Magic shouldn’t make sense – that’s why it’s called magic – but the internal worldbuilding was just a mess. Puzzle pieces were forced together and if they didn’t fit, they were made to by any means necessary. The author seems to have always picked the easy way to solve a problem instead of surprising her readers. She even went for a literal deus ex machina at the end.

dearest fanart

The biggest strength of these books has always been the Woodcutter family dynamic. Put any three of them into a scene and, usually, fun ensues. In this volume, we get to see Monday and Sunday, although mostly in their capacity as Amazing Beauties or Queenly Queens. Nobody has any personality. Even the evil guy is so evil that he just doesn’t make sense. Take over a kingdom and burn everything to the ground? Then kill most of the population? Well… that doesn’t really work out, does it. Now you own destroyed, burned lands without any people to rule over. I have no problem with a baddie who is evil because he enjoys it. But give them some sense.

Since this has turned into a rant without any structure or sense, let me add that the sheer number of mentions of the word “dearest” is staggering. All of a sudden, characters feel compulsed to call Friday “sister, dearest” or “dearest” or “darling dearest”.  YEAH, I GOT IT OKAY???

I think it’s safe to say that this was the worst book in the series and one of the more terrible YA books in general. I really hope Princess Alethea finds back to her old form and improves her writing (no more insta-love please, no matter how much you tell me it’s Magic or Fate). Dearest was a disappointment of gigantic proportions. It does everything wrong you could have done wrong, taking any darkness or difficulties away from the fairy tale and turning it into a flat, dull, tedious book.

MY RATING: 3/10 – Really Bad!

P.S.: And everybody is beautiful. No normals allowed.

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Other reviews (mostly more favorable than mine):

Bennett Madison – September Girls

Neither cover nor synopsis would have convinced me of buying this book – our friendly neighbourhood Booksmugglers, however…. September Girls is surrounded by an interesting kind of buzz and seems to divide its readers into two rather extreme camps. On the one side, people call it incredibly sexist, and on the other, it is hailed as a wonderfully feminist book that examines gender roles and puts a spin on them. Wait, what?
This sounded like something I had to read myself, and boy, do I wish I hadn’t.

newbirdSEPTEMBER GIRLS
by Bennett Madison

Published by: Harper Teen, 2013
ISBN: 9780062201294
ebook: 352 pages
Standalone

My rating:  3/10

First sentence: The summer following the winter that my mother took off into something called Woemn’s Land for what I could only guess would be all eternity, my father decided that there was no choice but for him to quit his despised job and take me and my brother to the beach for at least the entire summer and possibly longer.

In September Girls, Sam is spending the summer in a beach town filled with beautiful blond girls who all seem inexplicably attracted to him. But that’s not the only reason why he thinks the Girls are strange. They only wear flats because heels make their feet bleed. They never go swimming in the water. And they all want something from him.
Sam finds himself in an unexpected summer romance when he falls for one of the Girls, DeeDee. But as they get closer, she pulls away without explanation. Sam knows that if he is going to win her back, he’ll have to learn the Girls’ secret.

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Having spent the last few weeks with this book, the overwhelming feeling I get at the end of it is relief that it’s over. I actually made it through… at a few points, I didn’t think I would. This book begged to be thrown against a wall, then suddenly showed a spark of imagination, then wanted to hit the wall again.

Many people have said it all comes down to interpretation, and that is absolutely true. (Read the following quotes from the book and tell me how many ways there are of interpreting them, exactly…) Between the chapters told by Sam and the short chapters from the Girls’ point of view, there is a world of differences. Not only are the latter actually well-written, they do examine stereotypes and gender roles, and they do so without being blunt or preachy. Not so the rest of the story. Here’s the (spoiler-free) plot: Sam goes to the beach. Tons of gorgeous, yellow-haired beauties want him. He thinks about All The Things. The mystery – obvious to anyone who reads the first chapters with even the most fleeting attention – gets “revealed”. Sentimental end. Nothing’s changed for Sam.

Let’s take a look at the handful of characters we get to meet in this strange book.
Enter Jeff, Sam’s brother, with one of his smart ideas about the beach full of Barbies.

“Oh, who gives a fuck,” Jeff  said. “The point is they’re hot and they’re here. I just hope they’re already drunk when we get to the party. I hope they’re ready for a piece of this.” He groped his croch obnoxiously […]

Mmh… yes, I can hardly resist. But let’s not be too hard on Jeff – he’s actually alright (because silent) most of the time. Instead, please also look at Sebastian, Sam’s absent best friend, who is a particular brand of asshole:

Sebastian always advised me to ask questions when in doubt. “Girls like to talk about themselves. If you can’t think of anything to say, just ask some dumb questions about nothing, and if you’re lucky she’ll go off and you won’t have to say anything else for another ten minutes and she’ll think you’re a great listener.

Apart from truly understanding women, Sebastian also would offer Sam this gem of wisdom. And don’t I love it when people use female genitals to describe a douchebag?

I actually thought about calling Sebastian for advice, but I could practically hear his voice: Wait, this is all over some girl? Don’t be such a fucking vagina, dude! I mean, dude! You go to the beach for a month and you turn into a human tampon.

Hell, even the women hate women. Here’s DeeDee talking about the bible:

“I like the parts about hos, even if they always come to a bad end. Eat a fucking apple, you’re a ho. Open a box, you’re a ho. Some guy looks at you: turn to stone, ho. See you later, ho. It’s always the same. The best one is Lilith – also a ho, but a different kind of ho. She went and got her own little thing going, and for that she gets to be an eternal demon queen, lucky her. No one likes a ho. Except when they do, which, obviously, is most of the time. Doesn’t make a difference; she always gets hers eventually.”

I understand that the author doesn’t share those views but created the characters to serve a purpose within the story. What that purpose is, other than to spit abuse at women, escapes me. Because 90% of the time, Sam swallows all the crap Jeff and Sebastian tell him, without reflection, without questioning it. In fact, he seems to think along the same lines, especially after his brother actually comes to care for Kristle, one of the girls (highlight by me):

After the brief initial foray into the subject of our insane mother, we were now pointedly avoiding all matters of substance, which included the topics of DeeDee, Dad, and Jeff’s recent queerification at the hands of Kristle.

Charming…

The remaining 10% of the time, he realises that DeeDee is not “a ho” and also not like all the other girls – because she is SPECIAL! The only regular (read: non-supernatural) woman to play any role in this ridiculous story is Sam’s mother who is basically the Evil Feminist who left her family all alone because she discovered Facebook and Farmville and stumbled across the SCUM manifesto – yeah, Sam seriously blames Farmville for his mother leaving. Because, remember this, people who read this book: Feminists are evil and will all leave their poor family to cook and clean for themselves!

She does come back but except for a few tattoos and a new passion for life, nothing much seems to have changed. I honestly don’t understand her part in the story. If there’s a lesson here, I don’t see it. If there is a message – feminist or otherwise – I didn’t catch it.

september girls kiss

If we leave all of these issues aside (and trust me, it’s hard to do) and simply take a look at the story, we won’t find much. My best guess is that this is supposed to be Sam’s coming-of-age tale, not just because he loses his virginity but because there is nothing else here. Reading 300 pages about a rich white boy’s problems in a voice that rivals Holden Caulfield’s is not my idea of fun. The only thing left is the “mystery”. Sam and Jeff see a naked girl stumbling out of the sea on their first night at the beach. Then, DeeDee drops this line (as a Disney fan, I actually smirked):

“Look at this stuff,” DeeDee said. “Isn’t it neat?”

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what the Girls are. They are all thin and blonde and beautiful, and for some reason they all have their eye set on Sam. Well isn’t this a 17-year-old’s wet dream? But the suspense (which isn’t there) hinges on this being a mystery, a secret to be discovered. For two thirds of the book, Sam is clueless, and when all is finally revealed, it is as anticlimactic as you can imagine – excepting, of course, Sam’s actual climax because he finally gets to use his magical penis (and I’m not kidding, it is magical).

The bulk of the story is Sam’s thoughts about the world, his penis, the beach, the Girls, and his penis. A lot of people had issues with Sam thinking about masturbation or his penis. I had no problem with that, whatsoever. It’s sad if I have to explain this, but everybody masturbates. It is a natural, healthy thing to do and I totally get that – as a 17-year-old boy – Sam sometimes just has the urge to be alone so he can have a quiet moment with himself… so to speak. I also didn’t mind the cussing, but then I never do. What did bother me was the overall style of the language. If characters use “like” as a filler in dialogue, that’s fine and probably accurate. But please, don’t use it in descriptions!

There wasn’t like a whole thing or anything.

The same goes for everybody saying “dude” all the time. Do people really talk like that? Even without the “dudes”, the language just didn’t make sense. The pseudo-poetic blah-blah got on my nerves pretty quickly but when I stumble across things like this, it’s all over (highlight by me):

[…]from blond to blondest, all with full, glossy lips and eyes that floated an inch in front of their faces, suspended in deep pools of liquid liner.

What? Eyes that float in front of faces?? That’s not poetic, that is just dumb.

Why, if I hated the book that much, did I continue reading then? Because, every so often, between two chapters of Sam’s boring, douchebag ramblings, there were these special chapters. Chapters told from the point of view of the Girls. In these short interludes, they talk about beauty as the only weapon left to them, they talk about learning to make themselves fit into this world they were thrown into. These chapters are the only thing I interpreted as remotely feminist, and had this been a story written in that voice, with these characters, dealing with the issues at hand in that way, I would probably have loved the book. Sadly, we get Sam.

Like I said above, I am glad it’s over and I don’t have to deal with the bland, two-dimensional characters anymore. If this was supposed to be a romance, it failed. I cared about none of the characters – except in the Girls’ chapters, where I cared about all of them – and couldn’t get behind the sudden outburst of love. Sam doesn’t really grow much, even though he says he did, and still enjoys his friend Sebastian’s pick-up-artist level hate for women.

Ultimately, the question I have to ask myself is: Do the few well-written short chapters redeem the blatant sexism, misogyny, lack of plot, and flat, douchebag characters? The answer, for me at least, is no.

THE GOOD: The chapters in italics, told by the Girls.
THE BAD: Read what I wrote above and take your pick.
THE VERDICT: A waste of time and money. An incredibly boring, pretentious story that spews hate for women on almost every page.

RATING: 3/10 – Really bad.

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Second opinions:

Lavie Tidhar – The Bookman

Lavie Tidhar just won a World Fantasy Award for his novel Osama, but I felt more drawn to his steampunk trilogy about the mysterious Bookman. I started reading with high expectations but ended up having to plough through most of the novel due to its lack of depth, interesting language, and – most of all – character development. I am so disappointed I could cry.

bookmanTHE BOOKMAN
by Lavie Tidhar

Published by: Angry Robot, 2010
ISBN: 9780007346615
ebook: 416 pages
Series: The Bookman Histories #1

My rating: 3/10

First sentence: Orphan came down to see the old man by the Thames.

A masked terrorist has brought London to its knees – there are bombs inside books, and nobody knows which ones. On the day of the launch of the first expedition to Mars, by giant cannon, he outdoes himself with an audacious attack. For young poet Orphan, trapped in the screaming audience, it seems his destiny is entwined with that of the shadowy terrorist, but how? Like a steam-powered take on V for Vendetta, rich with satire and slashed through with automatons, giant lizards, pirates, airships and wild adventure, The Bookman is the first of a series.

dividerSometimes I wonder if my expectations are too high or if, by covers alone, I hope to find something in a book that simply isn’t there. In the case of The Bookman, I was disappointed on pretty much every level. The story starts out interesting enough. Alternate London, a young man called Orphan, his friend Gilgamesh, a police inspector called Irene Adler, Prime Minister Moriarty, and the mysterious Bookman. I loved the initial whacky mix of classic literature that seems to have permeated this version of England. But what Jasper Fforde does brilliantly, Lavie Tidhar fails in a rather embarrassing way. It soon becomes apparent that no real world-building has been done. Names are thrown around, mostly so the readers will feel they already know a character and the author doesn’t have to bother actually giving them personality.

Nobody has personality! Orphan is the blandest, most passive, most painfully boring character I’ve read in a long time. The initial plot device – his girlfriend Lucy dying in a terrorist attack staged by the Bookman – is the starting point for his “adventures”. On these adventures, which take him to the mysterious Caliban’s Island, Oxford, the London underworld, a pub, a museum, and tons of other places, Orphan never does anything by himself. He is told to do things, threatened if he doesn’t do things, other people explain why it would be a neat idea to do yet another thing, you get the idea. Most of the time, things happen to him. And the worst thing is: There are certain mysteries (painfully obvious, might I add) that Orphan finds out is told and although they pretty much change every aspect of his life, he just stores them away, never to be mentioned again.

The wonderful Lucy, dead from the beginning, is mentioned a lot in Orphan’s thoughts, but we never get to see why he loves her so much. She is a damsel-in-distress kind of stand-in, so he has something to do  be told to do. As for side characters, don’t even get me started. The handful I remember were there for exposition, info-dumps, and to nudge Orphan along when – again – he’s standing around passively and completely useless.

There is a fair amount of stuff happening, considering this is not an extremely large book. But stuff happening is still not plot, no matter how hard some people try to make us believe that. In fact, everything that happens to Orphan was so disconnected and so badly anchored in this strange, unfinished world, that it is nearly impossible for me to pick out the red thread of what this story was actually about. It’s not about the Bookman, despite its title. It’s not about the world – which would have had so much potention to be something great, what with lizard royalty and conspiracies and Jules Verne saving Orphan in a hot air balloon… none of it was realised.

Whenever there is the chance of a scene becoming thrilling, Orphan being in danger or something being at stake, the scene is cut or ended abruptly by “and then he got out”. Thanks for building up to nothing. To make things worse, the writing in general wasn’t stellar, either. Sentences are mostly short, when there is description, it is unoriginal, and the story and its setting lacked atmosphere.

He crashed into the warm water with a huge explosion. His lungs burned. He had the sense of dark, heavy shapes moving below him. He kicked out and broke back to the surface. He looked at where he was. He was in a large pool of water.

You see, writing like this is okay if it happens only occasionally and to emphasize how quickly something happens. But every school kid learns you don’t start every single sentence with “He”. Sadly, this happens a lot throughout the novel, much to my disappointment. This also shows nicely how Orphan’s “dangerous” adventures don’t really get a chance to become interesting.

The Bookman is crammed full of Stuff – we never get to fully enjoy any one thing, because there have to be Lizards and pirates and a ship voyage, and airships, and bombs and a shuttle to Mars and a secret island and the underworld and automata and Orphan’s secret history and characters that show up so they can tell him something, never to be seen again, and millions of references to other books. I was quite pleased that Princess Irulan’s book In My Father’s House was a real thing in this world. But that’s about it.

It felt like the author had a number of great ideas, threw them all into a pot, stirred lightly and dumped it on a plate, for me to enjoy. Unfortunately, I enjoy good characters, a story that makes sense, set in a world that at least adheres to its own rules. This was such a strange reading experience with only a few fun bits that aren’t enough to be called a silver lining on this drab, colorless, endlessly boring sky of a “story”.

THE GOOD: Some great ideas, incorporating fictional characters into this story’s reality. Great potential for world-building.
THE BAD: Potential completely wasted. Terribly bland, cardboard characters, the plot is all over the place, mediocre writing and, ultimately, nothing in this story makes sense.
THE VERDICT: What a vast disappointment! I won’t be reading the rest of this series (which, btw, is not really steampunk) but I may give Osama a chance. I can’t believe everybody else loves Tidhar so much. This book was in bad need of editing, world-building, tightening of plot, and – most of all! – characters who feel like they are people, not puppets.

RATING: 3/10  – Bad

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The Bookman Histories:

  1. The Bookman
  2. Camera Obscura
  3. The Great Gamebookman histories

Laini Taylor – Daughter of Smoke and Bone

I know, I know. My forays into recent YA fantasy have been mostly devastating (with the exception of Patrick Ness, who is awesome) and it seems that I keep falling for the same kind of hype. But Laini Taylor has been praised not only by voracious YA readers but by pretty much everyone, and I feel reluctant writing off a new (to me) writer just because the hype seems insincere (again). You know the feeling, right?

daughter of smoke and boneDAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE
by Laini Taylor

Published by: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2011
ISBN: 0316192147
ebook: 391 pages
Series: Daughter of Smoke and Bone #1

My rating: 2,5/10

First sentence: Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well.

Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.
In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grown dangerously low.
And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.
Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”; she speaks many languages–not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.
When one of the strangers–beautiful, haunted Akiva–fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

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Oh boy… it is at times like these that I am grateful I don’t have a lot of followers. Or at least not the kind of followers who will rip me apart for disliking a beloved book. Let’s do this! Karou is a young girl who goes to an art school in Prague. What her quirky best friend Zuzana doesn’t know is that Karou leads a second life. A life of running errands for the only family she has – a group of chimaera, monsters if you will, with bodies that are part human and part animal. Karou knows almost nothing about the chimaera or their magic which makes for a great premise and immediately drew me into the story. Unfortunately, the author doesn’t really focus on these interesting bits enough. Instead, she has other things in mind. Let me explain with this quote:

Karou was, simply, lovely. Creamy and leggy, with long azure hair and the eyes of a silent-movie star, she moved like a poem and smiled like a sphinx. Beyond merely pretty, her face was vibrantly alive, her gaze always sparkling and luminous, and she had a birdlike way of cocking her head, her lips pressed together while her dark eyes danced, that hinted at secrets and mysteries.

This is worrying for two reasons. One, nobody is that perfect. Personally, I like my heroines flawed – physically as well as otherwise – and except for photoshopped supermodels, I have never seen a woman who could be described like this. I only quoted this one part, because it shows just how über-perfect Karou is and how clunky the language in which she is described. But there are numerous occasions on which Karou’s perfection is highlighted. Her ballet-dancer figure, her shiny hair. Every single girl and woman I know has in some way suffered because she didn’t fit the current beauty ideal. Having struggled with my own weight and a pimply face for quite a few years, I find it much easier to sympathise with protagonists who are in some way like me. Give her too bushy eyebrows, a potato nose, crooked front teeth – something to make her more realistic. I should also mention, that everyobdy in this book is of otherworldy beauty. I’ll grant that some of these characters actually are supernatural and I’ll forgive them their perfection, but with everybody being beautiful, the word just lost its meaning.

The second reason this paragraph struck me as awful was that this is a third person limited narrative. Meaning, we see and know only what Karou sees and knows. That is essential to the plot, because for the most part of the story, she is rather clueless. Then I read this paragraph and wonder how full of oneself a person has to be to describe herself in such a manner. Had another viewpoint character spotted her and thought these things, everything would be peachy, it would be his perception of her. The way it was done? Not ok. On a sidenote, the other viewpoint character does see her and describes her in equally flowery, cheesy language. So there you go.

Having gotten the author’s obsession with physical beauty out of the way, there were other things that rubbed me the wrong way.  As the story progresses, Karou stops thinking about her love life and starts thinking more about survival. But there is a clear line between her adventures concerning the chimaera world and Karou’s real world life. The latter never offers more than conversations about boys, idiotic stereotypical girl characters and – you guessed it – more talk about how beautiful everybody is. This became worse and worse, especially when the male romantic lead shows up. It was at that point that the writing took a terrible spin for wanna-be-poetic, but ended up being clunky and, a lot of times, illogical.

[…]when I saw her smile I wondered what it would be like to make her smile. I thought… I thought it would be like the discovery of smiling.

Apart from strange and not very elegant sentences like the one above, there are tons of continuity and logical mistakes in this book. Remember, this is third person limited. However, when we switch between the two protagonists, Akiva knows things that Karou only thought to herself in the last chapter, never said out loud. He has information that he couldn’t possibly have – unless he’s also a mind-reader. Frequently, you will find moments of head-jumping in the middle of a chapter. Generally, that’s ok. It is the inconsistency that bothered me. The author couldn’t make up her mind whether to use a third person limited or third person omniscient perspective. The fact that you never know what you’ll get in a given chapter is massively annoying.

But speaking of Akiva… oh boy. If you’re a Twilight fan, you will probably find him cute and strong and protective and whatnot, but let’s face it. He is 50 years old. He stalks Karou, watches her sleep, and – without warning, by the way – falls in love with her. Well, the only “warning” we get is that Karou is beautiful. That’s enough, right? Apart from being a creepy, old stalker who falls in love with a girl who could be his dauther, this felt wrong to me on so many levels. If at least there had been an actual romance, a getting to know each other and slowly falling in love, maybe (though probalby not) I wouldn’t feel so strongly about this. But it’s insta-love. And just because it is insta-love on second sight doesn’t change that fact. Karou is also most taken with Akiva’s beauty. At least people are equally shallow in this story – men are worthless if they don’t look pretty just the same way women are.
The bottom line is: A 17-year-old girl and a 50-year-old man fall in love because of how pretty they are. I am disgusted.

At pretty much the exact point the “romance” starts, Laini Taylor apparently decided to entirely drop all plot. Everything that we get to read in the second half of the book is how two impossibly beautiful people are in love after only a few minutes together. The last third was definitely the worst, though. Not only because the prose reaches levels of cheesiness that I thought were impossible but because the story is interrupted for flashbacks. Flashbacks that tell us – in minute and achingly boring detail – things we already know! In somewhat decent foreshadowing, we were given all the information we needed. But it seems that we get the prequel included in this first of a trilogy. Needless to say, it slowed down what was already a very loose plot to a standstill.

Let me mention the few things that were done well. In the first half of the book (this is vital, the second half is pure torture), the story was actually quite immersive, and hard to put down. It promised to show us a world of wonder, a world filled with monsters and dark magic – all of which was unceremoniously dropped for a lame romance between a child and an oldish man and for flashbacks with more gorgeous people telling each other how perfect they are.

Another thing I liked (again, only in the beginning) was Taylor’s sense of humor. Zuzana, who was mostly there for comic relief, always had something funny to say. Even Brimstone came up with the occasional chuckle-worthy sentence.

I don’t know many rules to live by,” he said. “But here’s one. It’s simple. Don’t put anything unnecessary into yourself. No poisons or chemicals, no fumes or smoke or alcohol, no sharp objects, no inessential needles – drug or tattoo – and… no inessential penises, either.”

I could rant much more because this could have been a great book. If somebody had dared to tell the author to stay on track with the plot and to tune down the descriptions of beauty and flowery language a bit, it could have worked. This way, the book was just horrible. A fresh idea wasted on somebody who lacked either the will or help to execute it well.

THE GOOD: A great idea and a thrilling beginning.
THE BAD: Every character is of unnatural beauty, the language is clunky, there are logical mistakes galore, the romance is revolting, the plot gets dropped mid-book. Plus, cliffhanger (for those who care what happens).
THE VERDICT: Not recommended. Dear YA authors. Not every story needs a forced romance, especially between an old man and a teenage girl. Age is not just about how old you look, it is about experience and maturity. This was a pretty terrible book.

RATING: 2,5/10 – Terrible

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assassins curse

Cassandra Rose Clarke – The Assassin’s Curse

Oh boy… Sadly, I can not at all recommend this book. For a while I thought, maybe this will appeal more to younger children but in the end, I wouldn’t put my kids through this experience.

THE ASSASSIN’S CURSE
by Cassandra Rose Clarke

published: Angry Robot, October 2012
ISBN: 1908844027
pages: 416
copy: ebook via NetGalley

my rating: 2/10

first sentence: I ain’t never been one to trust beautiful people, and Tarrin of the Hariri was the most beautiful man I ever saw.

Ananna of the Tanarau is the eldest daughter of a highly-ranked family in the loose assortment of cutthroats and thieves in the Pirate’s Confederation. When she runs away from the marriage her parents have arranged for her, they hire Naji, the assassin, to murder her. Fortunately, Ananna inadvertently saves the assassin’s life in the skirmish, thus activating a curse that had been placed on him a few years earlier. Now, whenever her life is in danger, he must protect her – or else he experiences tremendous physical pain. Neither Ananna nor the assassin, Naji, are pleased about this development. Follow Annana and Naji as they sail across the globe, visiting such mysterious places as the Court of Salt and Waves, in their desperate effort to lift the curse. Soon they will discover that only by completing three impossible tasks will they be able to set themselves free.

I feel guilty for saying it but I hated this book. I’m not unreasonable and I realise a story written for children will probably not have the same depth as, say an adult fantasy novel. However, there were so many things wrong with this that I would have stopped reading very soon. But this is a review copy I received, so the secret reviewers’ code holds me to my honor and I did finish reading it. It wasn’t much fun, mind you…

Let’s start with the characters. Our protagonist, Ananna, starts out well enough. She is strong-willed and doesn’t take anyone’s crap. Especially not her parents’ who want to marry her off to some pretty boy pirate. So she runs away. More precisely, she runs away and stays in the same city? Yeah. It turns out pretty quickly that Ananna, despite what she tells us about herself, is actually very, very stupid. She doesn’t listen to people who are smarter than her, puts herself in danger constantly simply by being too naive to understand it. And – seriously? – when encountering a sort-of-villain she spills the beans about Naji’s secret and just tells everything. Is that smart? I don’t think so. And personally, I have a hard time rooting for a heroine who is that dumb. My biggest problem with her is that she doesn’t have any drive. Sure, she wants to get out of an arranged marriage but after that? Nothing. She’s unfortunately tied to this assassin and follows him around. But she’s so passive in everything she does and we don’t even learn if she had any plans or dreams of things she wanted to do after getting out of that wedding.

Naji, supposedly mysterious and entrancing, is kept so vague that I can’t say much about him. He fulfils the character trope of never giving away any information – and for no reason that anyone can see. He would have been so interesting to explore, feeling terrible pain whenever Ananna gets herself in danger again or even when she walks away from him too far. This dual problem of feeling physical pain and feeling guilt for inflicting such pain would have been a great idea, had it been better executed. Or executed at all. Mostly Ananna just comes back from one of her walks and says something like “Oh, I’m sorry. Are you okay?”.

The language of the book is very simple, very basic. I did get the feeling that the author was trying to sould poetic in her descriptions of the sea and the smells of a marketplace. Despite the cover and the mention of a desert, I had great trouble imagining the surroundings. We’re told there is a desert right outside the city of Lisirra, where the story starts. People wear white toga-like robes – so I put this somewhere hot and deserty but really, that’s all we get. My biggest problem, though, is when they get to a range of islands set in or near the ice sea. It’s supposedly very cold and yet Ananna and Naji walk around an area that is lush with trees and running water. To say the least, I was confused. A bit more description would have helped, as well as some clearer notes on what the different countries and political factions are. There is talk of the Confederation, of which the pirates make up a part, but not really who they are opposing. Everything is left very vague and I’m not sure if that is because the author doesn’t know her world herself or because she was too lazy to tell us or because she thought her readers would be overwhelmed with that kind of information. If it’s the latter, I can only repeat myself: Children are not idiots.

I had the feeling that the author was terrified of boring her readers. That is a great thing, in my opinion. But to sacrifice character growth, a proper set-up and the creation of atmosphere for action and speed? Not so great. Also, a lot of stuff happens but there is no real plot until almost half of the book is over. There was no story arc to be detected from beginning to end. If you can call that an ending…

As I got an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley, I’m not going to take the spelling mistakes and occasional missing words into account here. I’m sure an editor is going to read over the story before it’s going into print. They did interrupt the reading experience but I don’t feel it would be fair to take points away from the novel for that. What this author has to learn – and i’m surprised nobody told her – is to SHOW, NOT TELL. Or at least if you tell, then also show the same thing and not the opposite. For example, Ananna talks about making a bunch of jokes to cheer Naji up. We as readers don’t get to see a single one of those jokes. Why? So for us these are just two kids walking around the desert and one tells us that she’s being funny. She also constantly tells us how street-smart she is and how her parents taught her this and that – but really, she can’t get the simplest things right. She does manage to kill a few people but those “action scenes” were so bland and boring and there was no sense of real danger because there was no struggle. Someone lunges at her, she sticks a knife in them, done.

I painfully made my way through this novel because I felt some loyalty towards the publisher. And I was hoping the ending would make up for the rest of the story. But. There is no conclusion to this story at all. It doesn’t just feel like part one of  a trilogy or series, it simply stops mid-plot. Now I don’t really mind because I don’t care about these characters anyway but I imagine people who did like the story will be majorly pissed off about this. As they should.

If you want good pirates, or pirates that behave like pirates at all, read some Robin Hobb. If you want a good children’s book that doesn’t assume your child is a literary moron, read Catherynne M. Valente – oh and those you can read as an adult as well.

THE GOOD: Very fast-paced, the language is simple and easy to understand.
THE BAD: We’re told, not shown. The characters are bland and stupid. Plot is all over the place and has no conclusion.
THE VERDICT: If it hadn’t been a review copy I would have stopped reading about a quarter into the book. There are clichés galore, I disliked the style, hated the progatonist and wasn’t interested in the plot. Sorry, this is just a lot of wasted potential.

RATING: 2/10  Two assassins mostly for a good idea.

The series:

  1. The Assassin’s Curse
  2. The Pirate’s Wish (2013)

Other reviews:

redshirts

John Scalzi – Redshirts

Oh boy. Let me say this first before the hordes of Scalzi-enthusiasts come and stone me. I don’t blindly adore John Sclazi. I’ve only read Old Man’s War and while it was a fun and quick read, the characters were so shallow that I can’t say I find Scalzi to be a great writer and the book didn’t leave a whole lot of impression. But there is potential. Here’s the second thing: I’ve never watched Star Trek or any of the movies/TV shows/spin-offs. I have seen an occasional episode so I know enough to recognize a redshirt when I see one.

The reason I picked up the book in the first place was Luke Burrage’s podcast review (there’s spoilers but the review is really great!). And if you don’t want to read what comes now, you might as well listen to Luke’s review. Because I agree with it wholeheartedly.

REDSHIRTS
by John Scalzi

published: Tor, June 2012
ISBN: 1429963603
pages: 320
copy: ebook

my rating: 3,5/10

first sentence: From the top of the large boulder he sat on, Ensign tom Davis looked across the expanse of the cave toward Captain Lucius Abernathy, Science Officer Q’eeng and Chief Engineer Paul West perched on a second, larger boulder, and though, Well, this sucks.

Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It’s a prestige posting, and Andrew is thrilled all the more to be assigned to the ship’s Xenobiology laboratory. Life couldn’t be better… until Andrew begins to pick up on the fact that (1) every Away Mission involves some kind of lethal confrontation with alien forces, (2) the ship’s captain, its chief science officer, and the handsome Lieutenant Kerensky always survive these confrontations, and (3) at least one low-ranked crew member is, sadly, always killed. Not surprisingly, a great deal of energy below decks is expended on avoiding, at all costs, being assigned to an Away Mission. Then Andrew stumbles on information that completely transforms his and his colleagues’ understanding of what the starship Intrepid really is… and offers them a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives.

A “redshirt” is a stock character in fiction who dies soon after being introduced. The term originates with fans of Star Trek (1966–1969), from the red shirts worn by Starfleet security officers who frequently die during episodes. Redshirt deaths are often used to dramatize the potential peril that the main characters face.
Wikipedia

Andy Dahl may be a redshirt but in this book he’s our protagonist. Not that that means a lot. He is the one we follow as he notices that things are weird. His group of friends – who are all similarly-named (Dahl and Duvall, Hanson and Hester) and have so little personality that it’s hard to tell them apart at all – are told by another crew member what the deal is. As somebody who knows the Star Trek trope of killing off the poor fucker in the red shirt to create some action and up the stakes, we of course already know what’s going on. It would have been nice to have our main character figure it out too. But no, he is told by someone smarter, but not much more three-dimensional than him (at least then.).

Now we know the author is bad with characters. That’s why I found Old Man’s War not at all memorable and don’t remember a single name, because I didn’t feel an emotional attachment to the characters. I didn’t even dislike anyone, they didn’t have enough to them for that. I literally nothinged them. And I nothing every character in this book. Jenkins is the only one with some meat to him – character-wise, that is. And while I say that, he is still a very, very flat character.

Here’s the thing though: It becomes clearer towards the end of the story that the bad writing is on purpose. It’s impossible to talk about this without spoiling so I’ll be vague. The characters realize they are the redshirts and, naturally, try to escape their fate of useless death. They are also told why they are redshirts and that this implies them having little backstory and next to no personality or reason for existence… phew, I hope that was vague enough. You get the idea, though. There is a reason why the characters and the dialogue are so bad.

Still, I cringed at the irony of a character with no personality at all calling another character (who she’s talked to for one minute) “not hugely full of personality”. WTF? That happens in the first dialogue between Dahl and Duvall which is not only painfully badly written (everything ends in “Dahl said” or “Duval said” – you learn in elementary school not to do that) but also just not funny. I thought Scalzi would be playing with the tropes and clichés of the genre, poke fun at the Enterprise – in a clever way. What he does is just give us a boring story that’s been done better many times and to top it off, it is incredibly badly written. If this were his first novel, I doubt he would make it to become a bestseller. Instead of writing a satire or a smart and funny book about what it’s like to be the redshirt, the token guy who has to die to show how dangerous this planet or that alien species are, and to break the cliché by giving these characters personality and a life of their own, he spits the trope right back in our faces. Example: The characters’ entire “backstory” can be (and is) wrapped up by another character quite accurately:

You were a novitiate to an alien religion. You’re a scoundrel who’s made enemies across the fleet. You’re the son of one of the richest men in the universe. You left your last ship after having an altercation with your superior officer, and you’re sleeping with Kerensky now.

You may think this is just a summary of big events that have an impact on all of their lives. It’s not. This is all the information we’re given, none of which actually defines any of their actions or how other people react to them. Nobody treats Hanson different for being rich, Dahl’s knowledge of some alien language has no impact or importance on anything in the plot and the rest ist really just tropes so these guys have more than a name to them. But not much.

Additionally, the book is made up entirely of dialogue. There are absolutely no descriptions. Now even for a Star Trek fan I can imagine that’s annoying. How are we supposed to know what anything looks like, especially the characters. And their “personalities” are interchangable (even males and females don’t have any difference in their behaviour, mannerism or looks). We don’t know what they look like, most of the time we only get their last names, not even being able to tell if a woman or a man is talking. Ending every single line of dialogue with “xyz said” is also not helpful. When the entire group of redshirts were having a one-liner discussion going back and forth, I just skipped the “xyz said” and just inserted “yeah that guy or whatever” because it really didn’t make a difference. Really, John Scalzi, why should I care if these cardboard figures get killed off, anyway?

The novel does have some redeeming qualities to it, though. Towards the very end of the main story, it does get a little better. Kerensky, while his only trait is being quite silly, at least stands out as a character in the dialogue while the others are just a big, mushy group talking at each other, trying to be funny and failing. And surprisingly, we are introduced to a few characters shortly before the end that we actually almost care about. The three codas that come after the main plot, while not groundbreaking or filled with better dialogue, are much better written. You can tell that Scalzi is actually like one of his own characters – not a bad writer, just producing bad writing.

He’s being very meta about all of this. But being meta does not excuse you from being a decent writer. And we know Scalzi (while not great with characters) can do better than this. I got the feeling that he was just too lazy. He knows his name will sell no matter what. So why not just poop out a NaNoWriMo novel and publish it however it comes out? The fact that it’s a bestseller speaks for itself. So was the painful and boring journey through this short book worth it? No. I will not buy any more Scalzi books. I’ll read the ones I already own but I’m not throwing any more of my money towards this guy. I don’t like being made fun of by authors. Fuck with somebody else, you should respect your readers more than that!

THE GOOD: The idea of writing a story about redshirts is good. The idea of the meta-element is excellent (if not original) and the codas are actually well written.
THE BAD: Basic language, cardboard characters, bad writing, clichéd dialogue and not very funny. Also, I feel (as the Germans would say “verarscht”) like he’s laughing his ass off about me for getting away with this and making money off his readers’ hopes.
THE VERDICT: Has been done much better in other stories (listen to Luke’s podcast, he talks about this in detail) and other than make me angry, this book really didn’t do much for me. No food for thought, no memorably characters. And a cheesy ending.

RATING: 3,5/10  Bad but not without some merit.

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A.C. Gaughen – Scarlet

While, strictly speaking, this is not a fairy tale retold, Scarlet is an alternate version of Robin Hood. And yet another tale that everybody knows and that is possibly best known by me for its Disney adaptation. After a while I found it almost a blessing that my head kept picturing friar Tuck as a badger and Robin Hood as a fox. Because there isn’t much originality in this novel. Man, fairy tale retellings month is letting me down!

ScarletUS.indd

SCARLET

by A.C. Gaughen

published: Bloomsbury USA, February 2012
ISBN: 0802723462
pages: 292
copy: Hardcover

my rating: didn’t finish

first sentence: No one really knows ’bout me.

Posing as one of Robin Hood’s thieves to avoid the wrath of the evil Thief Taker Lord Gisbourne, Scarlet has kept her identity secret from all of Nottinghamshire. Only the Hood and his band know the truth: the agile thief posing as a whip of a boy is actually a fearless young woman with a secret past. Helping the people of Nottingham outwit the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham could cost Scarlet her life as Gisbourne closes in. It’s only her fierce loyalty to Robin—whose quick smiles and sharp temper have the rare power to unsettle her—that keeps Scarlet going and makes this fight worth dying for.

I know a few versions of this story. The Kevin Costner movie, the Disney adaptation of course, and I saw one episode of the BBC show (I think). I wouldn’t call myself a Robin Hood savvy person and other than the basic names of his band of thieves, I really don’t remember any details. The idea of turning Will Scarlet into a girl sounded intriguing though and, let’s be honest, reading about thieves and criminals is usually fun. Sadly, my bad luck when picking YA novels seems to continue.

Yet another fail in book-picking, this book was a terrible bore, despite its short chapters and easy readability. Not only is there nothing new to this story, what is there, is incredibly lame and none of the capers, awesome thievery and outwitting the sheriff that I was hoping for, was delivered.

The language is very basic, which is due to Scarlet being the first person narrator. The author susbstitued every single “was” with a “were”, I’m guessing to make Scarlet sound less educated and more like a scoundrel. The problem with that is that otherwise  she uses almost perfect grammar. I got annoyed with the many “were”s extremely quickly and it diminished the reading pleasure a lot. A sad mistake because it could have been remedied by some simple editing.

The plot utterly failed to engage me. Nothing really happens and the initial spark that’s supposed to set up the plot is Guy of Gisbourne appearing in Nottinghamshire to catch Rob and his crew. However, as I didn’t care about Scarlet one bit, and Robin is only there to make her blush whenever he smiles, I also didn’t really care if this particular version of Robin Hood gets caught.There is some mystery surrounding Scarlet – the fact that she’s a girl is never a secret – but the solution is blatantly obvious to anyone with imagination (or anyone who’s read a handful of books before). So I kept asking myself (instead of paying attention to the book) why I’m still reading this? All we find out in the first half of the novel is how wonderful Scarlet is. Robin, Little John and random townspeople simply can’t stop mentioning just what makes her special. Be it her pretty long hair, how quickly and silently she moves, how tough she is and her deep-down kindness. Perfect characters don’t interest me. Even if they’re rude and can’t speak properly.

Genderbending alone does not make a retold tale interesting. So Will Scarlet is a girl, a nice idea. It opens the road to romance not invoving Maid Marian but even what little romance there is, is badly executed. All Scarlet seems to do is blush furiously (14 blushes only in chapter 4!) and speak English badly. After about a quarter of the book I was ready to lem it… I struggled on until about half but if a book still hasn’t gripped me at the 50% mark, it’s just not meant to be. Bear in mind though, that this review is only for the first half. Who knows? The book just may turn awesomesauce in the second half, though I stronlgy doubt it…

THE GOOD: Will Scarlet as a girl is a cute idea.
THE BAD: I was bored to death, the writing was bland, the protagonist’s style infuriating and there was no plot I could detect.
THE VERDICT: Did not like it. In fact, it was so boring, I actually didn’t finish it. The characters are one-dimensional and since there was nothing happening, I don’t feel I missed anything.

RATING: Didn’t finish the book.  What I did read was a waste of time.

After all that negativity: Big thumbs up for having an original song written for your debut YA novel, though. It’s called “Scarlet” by Jenna Paone. While it’s not entirely my kind of music, I had it on in the background while reading and it did add to the atmosphere. It’s certainly awesome that you can download or listen to it for free here.

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hourglass

Myra McEntire – Hourglass

I probably would have completely ignored this book if it weren’t for the reading group on Literaturschock (German). While I still believe it’s always good to keep an open mind, in this case, I wouldn’t have missed much. This turns out to be just another pointless, wannabe YA romance with fantasy elements. *sigh*

HOURGLASS
by Myra McEntire

published: Egmont USA, 2011
ISBN:1606841440
pages: 394
copy: ebook
series: Hourglass #1

my rating: 2,5/10

first sentence: My small Southern hometown is beautiful in the haunting way an aging debutante is beautiful.

The blurb: For seventeen-year-old Emerson Cole, life is about seeing what isn’t there: swooning SouthernBelles; soldiers long forgotten; a haunting jazz trio that vanishes in an instant. Plagued by phantoms since her parents’ death, she just wants the apparitions to stop so she can be normal. She’s triedeverything, but the visions keep coming back. So when her well-meaning brother brings in a consultant from a secretive organization called the Hourglass, Emerson’s willing to try one last cure.But meeting Michael Weaver may not only change her future, it may change her past. Who is this dark, mysterious, sympathetic guy, barely older than Emerson herself, who seems to believe every crazy word she says?Why does an electric charge seem to run through the room whenever he’s around? And why is he so insistent that he needs her help to prevent a death that never should havehappened?

What I thought:
Emerson, our emotionally damaged herione, meets a tall dark stranger and finds out she can actually time travel. Yay!  Let me say first and foremost that this is pretty much it. There is very little plot to this story and the time travel element, which I was really looking forward to, is left unexplored and sadly explained in a very bad way. You need the time travel gene (fair enough), something called “exotic matter” (I had to look this one up on wikipedia) and – here’s the bummer – an object, usually a ring, made of duronium, a mysterious type of metal. Now I know this isn’t hard science fiction and I’m fine with that. But rather than come up with a ridiculous explanation like that, the author should have just left it vague. Time travel gene, click your heels and  – boom! – you’re in the past, would have been better than this. That’s just my opinion.

So, if there’s not much plot, what are those almost 400 pages about, you ask? Weeeeeell, about the characters of course. This book focuses on the relationships which happen both way too fast and are very much lacking credibility. Maybe because the characters are simply stand-ins for one trait each. Michael stands for “mysterious hot guy”, Kaleb stands for “slightly more open hot guy”, there’s the BFF hot girl, the competition hot girl, the physicist hot woman and an evil guy who is virtually never present. This actually led to me mixing up the names of the evil guy and the man they set out trying to save. Everybody’s hot, everybody’s kind of the same – except for Emerson, who’s just weird and has aggression issues.

We are thrown into a very small world, populated by just these few and way too perfect characters. As world-building goes, I’d say this is the bare minimum. Settings are secondary, characters’ looks are the focal point of McEntire’s writing. The heavy dialogue almost comes as a relief after too many descriptions of muscular bodies, six-packs and gorgeous women with endless legs. Not a single person in this story seems to look like a regular person. Sure, this is the Hollywood approach, but I personally love books because you still meet flawed characters. Physical as well as character flaws are what draws readers in and in Hourglass, these were simply missing. Also, I did a search for “muscle” in my ebook and it comes up a whopping 15 times. And that’s just the world “muscle”. Not considering “abs”, “six pack”, or “bicep” which are also used to describe any male character.

Em’s first person narrative tries to be witty but ends up being unoriginal and gravely misunderstanding her own personality. She thinks of herself as this bad ass karate kid who’s tough and pulling through hard times. But the way she acts shows us that she’s quite sensitive and frail, if very aggressive and easily jealous. Of course, she has no idea how beautiful she is. What’s worse though is that none of the characters have any drive for doing what they do. For me, pretty characters without personality are just not enough. I want to identify or at least care about the characters. I want to feel that spark between the lovers, not bluntly be told “They’re in love other after two weeks of knowing each other”.

There are two plot-twists towards the end, one of which was painfully predictable. The ending as such was not satisfying at all. Too many coincidences come together, side plots are introduced or hinted at and then abandoned (I’m assuming, for use in later books) and success was much too easily achieved.

If there’s no conflict and no plot and no proper time travel, why did I read this book in the first place? Because it’s a quick read. There may not be much happening and I may not have liked any of the characters but the writing is fast-paced and you can finish this book in a day. I think Myra McEntire has potential as a writer, this book was just below avarage for me and I’m not sure if I’ll read the second one in the series.

I don’t know what it is lately with me picking really bad YA books. But I’m going to leave this particular genre be for a while and read me some grown-up books by authors who know their craft. I’m really yearning for characters with flaws and stories with plot.

THE GOOD: Fast-paced, easy read.
THE BAD: One-trait-characters, everybody’s beautiful. Not much time travel going on.
THE VERDICT: Not a book you have to read. If you want good YA time travel, read Kerstin Gier’s Ruby Red trilogy.

RATING: 2,5/10  Not complete rubbish but close enough

The Hourglass series:

  1. Hourglass
  2. Timepiece
  3. not published yet