Heidi Heilig – The Girl From Everywhere

If you want a really nice YA time travel novel with complex characters and beautiful relationships, look no further than this. I still have not completely healed my relationship to YA fiction with girl protagonists and inevitable love triangles, but that makes me all the happier when I find a good one among all the crap. And Heidi Heilig is definitely and author to watch!

THE GIRL FROM EVERYWHERE
by Heidi Heilig

Published by: Hot Key Books, 2016
Ebook: 469 pages
Series: The Girl From Everywhere #1
My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence: It was the kind of August day that hinted at monsoons, and the year was 1774, though not for very much longer.

Sixteen-year-old Nix Song is a time-traveller. She, her father and their crew of time refugees travel the world aboard the Temptation, a glorious pirate ship stuffed with treasures both typical and mythical. Old maps allow Nix and her father to navigate not just to distant lands, but distant times – although a map will only take you somewhere once. And Nix’s father is only interested in one time, and one place: Honolulu 1868. A time before Nix was born, and her mother was alive. Something that puts Nix’s existence rather dangerously in question…

Nix has grown used to her father’s obsession, but only because she’s convinced it can’t work. But then a map falls into her father’s lap that changes everything. And when Nix refuses to help, her father threatens to maroon Kashmir, her only friend (and perhaps, only love) in a time where Nix will never be able to find him. And if Nix has learned one thing, it’s that losing the person you love is a torment that no one can withstand. Nix must work out what she wants, who she is, and where she really belongs before time runs out on her forever.

When you life your life aboard a time-travelling pirate ship where your father can Navigate to (almost) any time and place if only he has the right map, things get pretty exciting. And Nix’s story starts off pretty exciting as well, in India, on a sort of side quest to complete the bigger mission of rescuing Nix’s mother from dying. In the past. 17 years in the past…

Right from the start, Heidi Heilig shows that she didn’t just have one neat idea and kind of wrote a novel around that. The characters are complex and their relationships not as simple as they may first appear. Nix and her father, Slate, have an especially difficult relationship. On the one hand, they are father and daughter and they love each other. On the other hand, Slate is absolutely obsessed with saving his love – without knowing what will happen to Nix if he changes the past that drastically. Will this Nix, the one we’re reading about, still exist, alongside a second baby-Nix? Will one Nix just disappear, having never existed? Will Nix be stuck in time somehow? And most importantly: Will Slate sacrifice his only daughter to save his wife?

You see, there’s a lot going on right from the start, and that’s just in addition to the action-packed, fast plot. Me being me, I am mostly drawn in by characters and language, and Heilig did an excellent job with that. Apart from Nix and Slate, I immediately fell in love with Kashmir, Nix’s crew mate and friend (and possibly more). There is tension between these two, there is flirting, a constant back and forth of bantering and sweet gestures. Needless to say, I was hooked and rooting for these two the entire time.

I’ll leave the morality for those that like the taste of it. I always preferred bread.

But please don’t think this is merely a romance set on a ship. Once the first missions are done, the crew sets course for Hawaii and most of the plot takes place there. And this is where both romance and politics comes into play. I loved how Heilig managed to convey the beauty of the islands and the brewing political tension without ever slowing down the plot or sacrificing character development. She effortlessly paints a picture of paradise, but a paradise that cannot possibly stay that idyllic forever.

We were sailing toward the edge of the map of Calcutta under a sky so starry it looked sugared; the night would never be as beautiful after the Industrial Revolution.

Time travel stories are always filled with problems because… well, time travel. Putting a new twist on it is important and I really enjoyed the idea of having to use maps – and very specific ones – to be able to travel through time at all. Some maps just don’t work, some maps aren’t authentic, and even when the map is fine, you still need a Navigator like Slate. The whole Navigation thing felt a little cheap once it is explained, but I had not trouble just rolling with it because by that time, I was so taken in by the characters that this was just a little detail that didn’t detract from an overall enjoyable novel.

It’s also refreshing to see a diverse cast of characters as the center of a story. Nix is biracial, her crew mate Bee is a lesbian who talks to her departed spouse and it’s the most heart-breaking and hopeful and lovely little detail in the book. Kashmir is Persian (and did I mention AMAZING?) and Slate is wonderful because he is so very flawed. I didn’t really connect with Rotgut but there’s always the sequel, and final novel in the duology, to look forward to.

This was such an enjoyable book. It feels like a light read and the pages just fly by. Without noticing, suddenly you’re done and you have that satisfying feeling of having just read a wonderful story. If you don’t like series, this book is pretty self-contained so don’t have to read the sequel. But seeing as how much I fell in love with the characters and how comforting this book was, I will totally get my hands on The Ship Beyond Time.

MY RATING: 7,5/10 – Really good!

Second opinions:

 

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Neil Gaiman – Fortunately, the Milk

I have been insanely busy lately, so this slim and heavily illustrated children’s book by Neil Gaiman came at the perfect time. Finally, I could sit down with a book and read it in one sitting without such annoying things as work interrupting me.
It was fun, it was silly, and I would have loved to have read this as a child.

fortunately the milkFORTUNATELY, THE MILK
by Neil Gaiman

Published by: Harper Collins, 2013
ISBN: 0062224077
Hardcover: 128 pages
Standalone
My rating: 7/10

First sentence:  There was only or­ange juice in the fridge.

“I bought the milk,” said my father. “I walked out of the corner shop, and heard a noise like this: T h u m m t h u m m. I looked up and saw a huge silver disc hovering in the air above Marshall Road.”
“Hullo,” I said to myself. “That’s not something you see every day. And then something odd happened.”
Find out just how odd things get in this hilarious story of time travel and breakfast cereal, expertly told by Newbery Medalist and bestselling author Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Skottie Young.

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When a motherless-for-the-weekend family find themselves in lack of any milk for their breakfast cereal and tea, one brave father steps outside to buy some at the corner shop. The children find that it takes him surprisingly long to return. What they don’t know, of course, is that their dad went on a wacky, time-travel adventure featuring dinosaurs, aliens, wumpires, and piranhas. The father’s absence is explained in full and reminded a bit of The Usual Suspects for kids.

This is clearly a children’s book. Not only is it full of illustrations and has fun with fonts, but it is also a very simple story that is probably as much fun being read to as reading for oneself. That said, I commend Neil Gaiman for putting so much time travel in this book. Sure, you never have to remember for longer than a few pages what time the protagonists have just left and when a second version of themselves suddenly show up to steal the milk – or give it back. But, being an adult, I scrutinized the logic behind Gaiman’s time travel (and don’t go telling me time travel can’t be logical in its own way) and it all holds up.

There are some wonderfully quirky bits, some parts that will be funnier to adults than to children, and – my favorite thing about the entire book – gorgeous illustrations. The UK and US editions of Fortunately, the Milk are illustrated by different artists. While you will find Chris Riddell’s wonderful art in the UK version (I loved his images in The Graveyard Book to bits!), the US version shows off Scottie Young’s amazing skill. His drawings are intricate and full of flourishes and twirly bits… I stared at them for minutes at a time.

fortunately the milk piranhas
Scottie Young’s characters are little more than stick figures with big heads on top, but their faces are expressive and wonderful and just fun – just look with how much love for detail the hair is drawn. The only thing that would make this an even better book would be full color illustrations.

Now that I got all of the praise out of the way, let me tell you what disappointed me a little. Neil Gaiman is a master of his craft. His books are atmospheric and dark, they cleverly play off genre tropes, they show us old things through a new lens. This, however, wasn’t any of that. I enjoyed it because of how it celebrates the joy of storytelling, of making things up, of going along with silly ideas that children suggest – all of these things are important to me, and the fact that a big name like Neil Gaiman can reach millions of people with it makes me happy. If your own children ever come up with a tale like this, don’t shut them up. Let them tell you about the stegosaurus in the hot air balloon!

But for all of that, it was maybe too simple, maybe a bit too predictable. I honestly can’t say if I feel that way because I am not the target age group or because I am a spoiled book brat. Having read such amazing children’s books as Catherynne M. Valente’s Fairyland novels or Ysabeau S. Wilce’s Flora Segunda books, I have come to expect more of children’s novels than a silly adventure with everything and the kitchen sink.

To me, children’s books truly show a writer’s talent. And an author who manages to write a children’s book that can entice both children and adults is a true genius. Neil Gaiman charmed me for an hour, but ultimately, the story will be gone from my memory very soon. The pictures… now, the pictures may stick around for quite a while longer.

RATING: 7/10  –  Very good

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Lauren Beukes – The Shining Girls

I’ve been wanting to read Lauren Beukes for a while now but I always thought I’d start with Zoo City, whose description somehow spoke to me the most. Then I listened to the book review and interview with the author on Speculate! and the decision was made. “Time travelling serial killer” sounded too good to be left on the TBR.

shining girlsTHE SHINING GIRLS
by Lauren Beukes

Published by: Harper Collins, 2013
ISBN:0007464568
Hardcover: 391 pages
Standalone

My rating: 8/10

First sentence: He clenches the orange plastic pony in the pocket of his sports coat.

The girl who wouldn’t die, hunting a killer who shouldn’t exist…A terrifying and original serial-killer thriller from award-winning author, Lauren Beukes. ‘If you’ve got a Gone Girl-shaped hole in your life, try this’ Evening Standard “It’s not my fault. It’s yours. You shouldn’t shine. You shouldn’t make me do this.” Chicago 1931. Harper Curtis, a violent drifter, stumbles on a house with a secret as shocking as his own twisted nature – it opens onto other times. He uses it to stalk his carefully chosen ‘shining girls’ through the decades – and cut the spark out of them. He’s the perfect killer. Unstoppable. Untraceable. He thinks…Chicago, 1992. They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Tell that to Kirby Mazrachi, whose life was shattered after a brutal attempt to murder her. Still struggling to find her attacker, her only ally is Dan, an ex-homicide reporter who covered her case and now might be falling in love with her. As Kirby investigates, she finds the other girls – the ones who didn’t make it. The evidence is …impossible. But for a girl who should be dead, impossible doesn’t mean it didn’t happen…

divider1This book shows beautifully that you can get me to read anything if you just promise me the tiniest speculative fiction element. The idea of a time travelling serial killer immediately appealed to me (in a I-want-to-read-about-it way only, of course) because we’ve all seen movies where the police hunt a serial killer. Usually, these killers fit into a psychological profile, killing their later victims more violently than the first ones, and so on. But Harper travels randomly through time, so nothing about him makes sense to the modern police. It is assumed there are several murderers and some of them are even in prison (with only the readers knowing of their innocence).

The story is told alternately from the points of view of Harper, Kirby, the other victims, Dan, and occasionally a random person who gets involved in Kirby’s hunt. Being the only girl that survived Harper’s attempt to murder her, Kirby carries a lot of scars with her, and not just visible ones. She is almost obsessed with finding her almost-killer and bringing him to justice. After the police didn’t really help her, she starts an internship at a newspaper and works her way through old clippings of murders similar to hers. Her boss Dan, who is kind of falling in love with her, was a wonderful (and sane) counterpart to obsessive Kirby and her relationship with Harper.

We follow both Harper and Kirby’s storylines in a linear way. However, since Harper disocvered his time-travelling house, he jumps wildly in time, popping up in the 1950ies, then again in the 30ies, and then in the 80ies. Lauren Beukes does an excellent job of bringing each of these time periods to life. When Harper sees a television for the first time, he just stands there and watches ads for half an hour. But his goal are and always will be his Shining Girls, whom he sometimes “visits” when they are still young to tell them he’ll come back for them later. Invariably, he returns to kill them when they are in their early twenties.

shining girls 2I have to watch my vocabulary here because saying I enjoyed or liked getting to know Harper’s victims just sounds wrong. I loved that the author gave them a life of their own, a backstory with hopes and dreams, and didn’t just leave them to be pretty corpses on a policeman’s wall. Of course, as soon as we read a chapter about one of the Shining Girls, we know how it is going to end – which makes it all the more tragic that the girls themselves make plans and think about the future. We know there is no future for them. But, and this made me insanely happy, we get to understand why they are Shining Girls – because each of them shines in their own field, be it science, social work, or art, they are talented, promising young women.

I was also impressed by the diversity and range of characters we get to meet. There is a young black mother, working hard to feed her children, a woman working for an (illegal) abortion clinic, a brilliant young scientist, a dancing girl who painted her body so it would glow in the dark, and of course Kirby with her sharp wit and lovable personality, despite the bitter edge whenever someone talks about her scars.

Any novel about a serial killer will have a certain amount of violence in it. Let me say right away that I didn’t feel it was gratuitous at all! Most murders Harper commits aren’t described in detail at all. We get the glimpse of a knife slicing through skin and fiber, a crumpling body, sometimes only a sensation of pain and then darkness. In other cases, we do learn Harper’s preferred mode of killing his victims and, yes, it is gruesome and horrible. But I felt that Lauren Beukes kept it to a minimum and let us know just enough to properly hate Harper.

Apart from the police (or journalist) procedural nature of the book, Kirby’s story was interesting on other levels as well. Her relationship to Dan intrigued me, his careful attempts to make the right steps. How do you treat a girl who has been through something that horrible? Dan grew on me very quickly and I was hoping throughout the novel that Kirby would come to see that she has a true friend and ally in him.

All things considered, I am very impressed, not only because I couldn’t put the book down, but because in addition to a thriller, it offered a glimpse into different periods of the 20th century. The historical aspects, and Kirby’s journey, were at least as gripping as the hunt for Harper. Lauren Beukes is an author to watch out for, and I personally can’t wait to pick up another of her books.

RATING: 8/10  – Excellent!

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Lauren Beukes in front of her "murder wall". http://laurenbeukes.com/

Lauren Beukes in front of her “murder wall”.
http://laurenbeukes.com

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:

Delia Sherman – The Freedom Maze

I’ve been wanting to read the complete shortlists for the Hugo and the Nebula but it’s hard with so many good books lying around here, beckoning me to read them first. But I thought it’s about time and this is just a short novel that sounds delightful. And, for the most part, it was.

THE FREEDOM MAZE
by Delia Sherman

published: Small Beer Press, 2011
ISBN: 1931520305
pages: 258
copy: Hardcover

my rating: 7/10

first sentence: Sophie Martineau looked out the window of her mother’s 1954 Ford station wagon and watched her life slide behind her into the past.

Thirteen-year-old Sophie isn’t happy about spending summer at her grandmother’s old house in the Bayou. But the house has a maze Sophie can’t resist exploring once she finds it has a secretive and playful inhabitant. When she makes an impulsive wish, she slips one hundred years into the past, to the year 1860. Once she makes her way, bedraggled and tanned, to what will one day be her grandmother’s house, she is taken for a slave.

Delia Sherman’s voice immediately enchanted me. Sophie’s trip to Oak Cottage in the stuffy, rainy heat was described so well that I crawled into the story, only to come out when I absolutely had to. Our heroine, Sophie is a very likable young girl, even though her behaviour reminded me more of a 10-year-old than a girl nearly 14. Then again, children grew up at a different speed in the 1960ies. They focus on being proper ladies, not showing your naked legs and obeying your parents. Sophie, who’s not a fan of either of these, much prefers books – which is a character trait that gains any protagonist a million points from me. A girl who reads passionately can’t really be bad.

Once Sophie gets magically transported 100 years back in time, when the plantation was still running and slaves were working for the white masters of Oak River, it gets a little overwhelming. Almost all of the slaves are named after continents, countries, or islands – which is a quirky little idea but made it very hard for me to keep track of them. Some stand out more than others, Antigua and Canny (short for Canada) being my favourites, but the others felt a lot like random stand-ins. Uncly Italy, Germany, Europe, Flanders, you name it, I connect a vague picture with some of them – mostly what gender they were – but I couldn’t really tell you who they are. Then again, maybe that is not so bad in a children’s novel. The white people are painted in shades of darkish grey, all being – to a degree – unlikable (after all, wanting to  “own” a human being is not a nice trait) but not all are the same amount of hateable. Mrs. Charles and her spoiled brat of a daughter, being pure witches, were the easiest to dislike. Old Missy on the other hand, shrewd in the way she deals with her servants, is easier to understand but still not excusable.

I love how Delia Sherman tells a story about slavery without stepping into any cliché traps. Her characters, flat as some may be, are never all good or all bad. And Sophie, innocent at first, makes up her own mind about what her mother taught her and what she learns to be real. Working first as a handmaid, then even as a working hand in the sugarhouse teaches her more than manual labour. It makes her grow up in a way she never would have exptected.  Wheter it’s about character development or action, Sherman paints wonderful pictures with her prose. Her language is clear and simple, yet not treating her readers as if they were dumb. Too many YA and children’s authors make the mistake of thinking their readership unintelligent.

There are some mentions of rape and violence in this story – as a story about slavery is bound to contain – but I believe it’s suitably handled even for younger readers. I felt there was a bit of a slump in the plot towards the middle but once Sophie finds out what she was sent back in time to do, the pace picks up again and ends on a hopeful note with a heroine who has grown, not only in inches.

THE GOOD: Lovely prose, believable characters, likeable protagonist.
THE BAD: Some things remain unresolved (personally, I didn’t mind), bit of a slow part in the middle.
THE VERDICT: A novel to remind us how some parts of human history can be written about any number of times and still teach you something new.

RATING: 7/10  A very good book

What other people thought about this book:

Kerstin Gier – Ruby Red, Sapphire Blue, Emerald Green

I’ve been reviewing a lot of well-known books and series and some recent publications, so I thought it would be time to explore some maybe not so well-known books. Being a German native speaker, I’d like to introduce you to a YA trilogy that is everything a novel for young people should be. Fun, thoughtful, engaging and equipped with beautiful covers. (And for those of you who are wondering: The name is pronounced CARE-stin GEER)

The first teaser trailer is up and you can watch it HERE.

RUBY RED
by Kerstin Gier

original title: Rubinrot
published: Henry Holt and Co. 2009
ISBN:0805092528
pages: 324

my rating: 8/10
goodreads rating: 4,14/5

first sentence: I first felt it in the school canteen on Monday morning.

Gwyneth Shepherd’s sophisticated, beautiful cousin Charlotte has been prepared her entire life for traveling through time. But unexpectedly, it is Gwyneth who, in the middle of class, takes a sudden spin to a different era! Gwyneth must now unearth the mystery of why she has inherited the time travel gene instead of Charlotte, brush up on her history, and work with Gideon – the time traveler from a similarly gifted family that passes the gene through its male line, and whose presence becomes, in time, less insufferable and more essential. Together, Gwyneth and Gideon journey through time to discover who, in the 18th century and in contemporary London, they can trust.

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These books are just so much fun! Gwyneth (who is called Gwendolin in the original books) is a hilarious narrator and instantly lovable. While she is easy to identify with, she is not flawless, says really silly things sometimes and has no idea what to do with this handsome boy she has to work with now. Gideon, as the male protagonist, is seen through Gwyneth’s eyes, so the reader’s esteem for him will grow as slowly and steadily as does Gwyneth’s. But the love story is really not the main plot of this story. Although giggles and girly noises may ensue once you’re in book 2, Sapphire Blue.

Time travel and young adult books only go well together if the author trusts their readers to have brains. Who in turn are willing to use them. And Kerstin Gier clearly does. She thought up a wonderful idea of how and why time travel is possible, with its own set of rules, pros and cons. Not everything is peachy if you have to travel in time every single day due to a genetic mutation… Her language and wit makes this one of my favourite summer reads. You can just fall into these books and become a little girl again, remember your first love and kind of wish you could travel through time – though maybe in a less rigorous way.

I should warn you that while these books are sold as a trilogy, they are really one long story told over three volumes. Every book ends with a huge cliffhanger and scenes are simply cut in the middle. Lucky for those of you who hear about these books for the first time, the trilogy is completed and the mysteries are resolved. The ending, while a little overdone in parts, was highly satisfying and offers explanations for all questions raised. The epilogue even holds a little surprise that made everybody I know smirk for a long time. It’s like a goodie bag right at the end of the story. But I will say no more.

Kerstin Gier also has a knack for creating side characters that serve a certain purpose without feeling cardboardy. Xemerius is everyone’s favourite, he makes sure even the dire scenes offer some comic relief. This little talking gargoyle accidentally spurts water whenever he gets too excited. What’s not to love? Gwyneth’s best friend on the other hand is a smart girl who loves to solve riddles – and there are more than enough of those. But even random classmates who only get a couple of lines have their own personality and are, in their own way, memorable.

Gwyneth’s story takes place in modern London, a setting many authors have tackled. Kerstin Gier, as a German, has done a fantastic job of bringing the city to life in modern times as well as in the past. It’s not just wigs and fancy dresses (though there are some of those), it’s her descriptions of ballrooms and gentlemen, horse-drawn carriages and pianofortes that make for vivid surroundings. These descriptions are never too much and don’t stop the plot from moving forward with lightning speed. It’s very hard to lose attention – which is just as books for children or young adults should be.

If you read these books, you won’t find an extremely deep tale about life and death, good and evil, morals and humanity. But you will have uninterrupted fun, discover an original time travel idea, and fall in love with the cute characters. And you might even pick up some history – because light as the read is, Kerstin Gier did do her research.

There’s also a (German) movie in the making. For more infos, check out the homepage: Rubinrot, der Film.

THE GOOD: Adorable characters, a fast paced plot, great time travel ideas, suitable for young adults, highly accessible.
THE BAD: The ending was a little over the top.
THE VERDICT: The perfect gift for teenage girls, a gateway book into fantasy/sci-fi and just a fun and funny read you shouldn’t miss.

RATING: 8/10 Excellent trilogy overall (part 2 being my favourite)

The Ruby Red Trilogy:

  1. Ruby Red (also published as Girl About Time)
  2. Sapphire Blue
  3. Emerald Green

About that movie…

19th September 2012 RUBY RED MOVIE TRAILER

Yesterday I paid one of my very rare visits to the homepage for the upcoming Ruby Red movie. And there is an announcement for today at noon – when the movie trailer will be shown for the first time. I do hope we’ll get to see it right away because the few pictures you can find on the homepage look quite promising. My faith in German movie-making is not exactly overwhelming but I am starting to hope that this will actually be a good film.

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