Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side (Jessica #1)

Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side (Jessica #1)by Beth Fantaskey

If I were a movie, what would I be rated? PG-13

Any spoilers in this review? Yes.

Summary: Marrying a vampire definitely doesn’t fit into Jessica Packwood’s senior year “get-a-life” plan. But then a bizarre (and incredibly hot) new exchange student named Lucius Vladescu shows up, claiming that Jessica is a Romanian vampire princess by birth—and he’s her long-lost fiancé. Armed with newfound confidence and a copy of Growing Up Undead: A Teen Vampire’s Guide to Dating, Health, and Emotions, Jessica makes a dramatic transition from average American teenager to glam European vampire princess. But when a devious cheerleader sets her sights on Lucius, Jess finds herself fighting to win back her wayward prince, stop a global vampire war—and save Lucius’s soul from eternal destruction.

It wasn’t really my intention to read this book again. See, I remember this book. I remember liking it a lot when I was younger, gobbling it up and reading it with guilty pleasure. Probably because it was paranormal. I remembered a rich romance and lots of wittiness. I ran across it in a used book store and I bought it because of nostalgia mostly.

A couple days after buying it, I got an irresistible urge to read it about 30 minutes before midnight. You may see where this is going.

Anyway, I had to get up at 6:15 for work and finished reading around 3 a.m. The problem was that it was a very easy read and the chapters were short. It was far too easy to say, “One more chapter…” And so, there you go, I read it. I hadn’t even intended to.

So. That happened. Now, onward.

The writing was eh. The characters were all a bit… flat, if strikingly realistic for a teenager at times. I liked how Jess clung to her facts and science and had a brain for it. I didn’t like how cliche the other supporting characters were. You have the Witch Cheerleader, Jess’ rival. The ultimately flat hick character: sweet, handsome, and no match for the bad boy love interest. The somewhat ditzy best friend who was literally there at one point just to help Jess get ready for a dance. They were all… eh. Lucius was cliche was well. In the beginning when you met him, he was rather over the top with his accent and his overbearing conceit. That disappeared rather quickly to make him more palatable. And by palatable, I mean cliche.

Now, the plot was interesting. If you peel away the YA romance and look at what the plot actually could’ve been… you get duty vs freedom. Lucius was influenced by American culture while visiting and that was an interesting aspect. His letters certainly drove it home and the book would’ve been a lot worse if we didn’t have his letters to read.

It came down to this: do you have a duty to do something you have no choice in? To stop a war that might technically break out? Do you marry to fulfill an engagement you never had a choice in, or do you let the adults figure out how to end a possible future war without forcing you, their offspring, to marry?

Now, I’m sure women and men suffered with this question way back then, with politics being what they were, but it’s an interesting concept today in our individualist culture, isn’t it?

In the end, Lucius fell for Jess and got self-destructive when he realized he loved her enough not to force her into a marriage that might ultimately kill her. Having made that decision, he left a future war to possibly happen and countless lives to be lost, but Jess free of him.

And then Jess wanted to fulfill the engagement, because she realized she loved him. And that’s the entire reason I think the book went downhill for me. She wasn’t doing it to be self-sacrificing or to save countless innocent vampire and human lives if a war broke out. She wasn’t doing it because she wanted to change the backward sounding—Lucius had quite the abusive childhood—vampire world and better it. She didn’t do it because she thought she would be a good ruler, even with no training. She did it because she realized she wanted to marry Lucius and actually loved him. Not because of what was at stake. (Ha. Stake. Because vampires? Sorry.)

Now, I understand that Lucius figured out the Real Plot and that’s also why he didn’t want to marry her. This is a noble enough reason not to marry her. But… there was a potential for an interesting, lovely little political twist where they both went in knowing the Real Plot and did their own thing anyway. Or maybe he could’ve brought Jess back with him later—long engagement they talk everyone into—and put their future marriage on hold to train her some to to protect herself. All kinds of things.

Lucius grew up with all these people. And after his experiences in America, I like to think he had some clarity going back about who he could actually trust.

Of course, they get married anyway. Despite her being more of a burden and risking her entire clan being wiped out and all the political ramifications of her not being trained or ready to be a ruler at all. Because love. Sure, they avoided a possible vampire war. But they also made the inner politics of that world a whole lot more complicated and war, because of bad blood, possibly still possible. And much more difficult to spot, though, because now their clans are “united.” Problem sloppily, and not completely, solved.

All I’m saying is I wanted a more… cunning approach to this vampire world. They’ve been around eons. It’s all about politics and ending bloodshed and, in the case of the Bad Guy Vampires, it’s all about consolidating power with their clan only. A brief war, a decent amount of worthless human lives (to them) lost, and the inferior clan would be gone. No need to sully their prince’s line with a crude, American raised, vampire princess. And, reading about Jess’ clan, Jess’ clan really didn’t seem in a position be able to put up much of a fight if it came down to that, so why the pact was still even on is beyond me. The Bad Guy Vampires don’t seem the type to just keep their word if it doesn’t serve them.

There was so much Potential wasted, you know? Ah, well, it was an interesting idea and an interesting walk down memory lane. I don’t think I’ll pick up the next book. My understanding from reviews makes me think it’ll be disappointing.

What some people might be uncomfortable reading about in this book because of personal opinion or belief: as may be expected, the talk of blood drinking eventually does get sensual in nature. The biting sounds like it happens most naturally around, or during, sex. It’s about your average paranormal YA book basically.

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The Alchemy of Smallness

The Alchemy of Smallness, by Venetta Octavia

If I were a movie, what would I be rated? PG-13

Any spoilers in this review? Nope.

Summary: This is a book about trauma, so the appropriate trigger warnings apply. There are 5 poems inside, 1 of which has appeared on her tumblr.

I’m too young to be this old / too sick to be this alive*

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this. Then I read the line “my father’s mouth” and it was like a horrible understanding, dark and terrible, was suddenly in front of me in the form of a monster I didn’t know existed and now can’t ignore.

Poetry is a tricky thing. Octavia has a hazy, veiled voice. I mean that as a compliment. And I hope she’s okay.

What some people might be uncomfortable reading about in this book because of personal opinion or belief: it is about trauma, as the description says. I had no problems, but others might. I discovered this book on tumblr.

*line from The Hive

Unmythologize

31353550Unmythologize, by Arlen C.

If I were a movie, what would I be rated? PG

Any spoilers in this review? Nope.

SummaryA collection of 12 poems inspired by Greek mythology. Featuring the stories of Icarus, Artemis, Persephone, Andromeda, and more.

and this is what the poets don’t tell you:

you don’t need to die to be a martyr.

sometimes, crushing your soul to tatters

in your fist is enough.

I’m glad Atlas got a beautiful line like that. We don’t hear about Atlas enough. Lovely take on various Greek myths. If you enjoy modern, freestyle poetry and myths, this is probably right up your lane.

What some people might be uncomfortable reading about in this book because of personal opinion or belief: well, it centers on Greek myths, so if you have any issues with that then don’t read this.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue (The Raven Cycle #3)

17378508Blue Lily, Lily Blue (The Raven Cycle #3), by Maggie Stiefvater

If I were a movie, what would I be rated? PG-13

Any spoilers in this review? A couple. I blacked them out.

Summary: Blue Sargent has found things. For the first time in her life, she has friends she can trust, a group to which she can belong. The Raven Boys have taken her in as one of their own. Their problems have become hers, and her problems have become theirs. The trick with found things, though, is how easily they can be lost.

When I put an effort into it, I try and address three aspects of a book: the writing, the plot, and the characters. So, we’ll start with the writing, so by the time I get to the other two, I’ll hopefully be a little more articulate and less sprawling ramble and/or possible incoming rant.

The writing was as lovely as always. It’s a step above your average YA novel, in my opinion, because she has some really good turns of phrase and descriptions. It’s pretty without turning into purple prose.

The plot was… a tiny bit more fleshed out. This almost felt like a filler book, pushing and maybe clarifying what we already gleaned from the other ones. The main weakness is how slow paced it is, which is fine in some cases, but you don’t get the impression that anything is really being pushed either. Even after finding a sleeper. It felt mildly anticlimactic. What greatly compounded this issue was Greenmantle being quite the disappointment. After all the scariness of him looming in the background of book one and two, it was a letdown. The description of a spider in a web was good, but as a person? He lacked the weight of, say, the Gray Man’s very solid, but not overbearing, presence. The Gray Man didn’t seem like a caricature, unlike Greenmantle. And then Piper took center stage and she was, although interesting when we first met her, a cliche villainess. They were both disappointing by the end. This made the plot suffer, because the “villains” of this book weren’t scary.

This brings me more fully to the characters.

I can’t tell if I’m old or if I just don’t have much patient with teenagers or romances in YA. I know they’re teenagers. But I feel like if you’re going to throw around what’s supposedly true love—when they’re 18-ish?—then it should actually be a whole lot less selfish than it comes across. I don’t agree with the following reasoning, but I could at least get behind it if they lived as if they were going to die and kiss anyway because why not. I’d be completely behind Blue if she purposefully kept her distance from Gansey to protect his and her heart because she knows her kiss can kill him and he’s dying in X months. Instead we have this weird middle ground where they angst over each other and Gansey still doesn’t know that her kiss will kill whoever she loves. And yet she still allows herself to exist in his life, causing angst and turmoil, without explaining it to him.

I’m just so… over it. Gansey deserves better. I’m not entirely sure why he likes Blue. She’s cute and pretty and… unique? I guess? (Bordering on maniac pixie dream girl?) But outside that they usually have a butting of heads about—something. Anything. And it’s usually Blue who’s far too defensive when she doesn’t need to be. That’s not sexual tension, that’s a difference in basic personality that wouldn’t lend itself to an easy or healthy relationship.

Basically, I feel like all my complaints are the same as book 2. So I won’t rehash it here. Instead, here’s a link to book two’s review. Warning: it’s very ranty. To sum up my issues with the characters: so many interpersonal problems could just be solved if they, you know, talked to each other. But no.

What some people might be uncomfortable reading about in this book because of personal opinion or belief (beware of spoilers!): if you got through the other books, you can get through this one. Violence might’ve ticked up a bit, but that’s it.

Poison

1331529Poison, by Chris Wooding

If I were a movie, what would I be rated? PG-13

Any spoilers in this review? Yup! I quote enough it would be hard to make this review spoiler safe. Apologies.

Summary: Poison has always been a willful, contrary girl, prone to being argumentative and stubborn. So when her sister is snatched by the mean-spirited faeries, she seeks out the Phaerie Lord to get her back. But finding him isn’t easy, and the quest leads Poison into a murderous world of intrigue, danger, and deadly storytelling. With only her wits and her friends to aid her, Poison must survive the attentions of the Phaerie Lord, rescue her sister, and thwart a plot that’s beyond anything she (or the reader) can imagine…

Alright, so this book came out of the left field. I read it ages ago, so my memory of it was mainly an impression of profoundness and really, really enjoying it. This didn’t mean much, though, because my opinions and standards have changed since I read this oh-so-many years ago.

We’ll start with the plot, which is basic enough. Her sister gets kidnapped and she goes to get her sister back. However, the simple plot morphs over time. Frankly, by the end it felt like a bait and switch, as if Wooding realized the plot was a wee bit too simple, so turned it into a murder mystery, then a coming of age, and then wrapped it up. Simple plots can be good, though, and it did a small disservice to the book to change it by the end. After all, the drive Poison had to get of Gull and just to save her sister was wonderful in itself, simple or not.

Now to the characters, which also were… basic enough. Poison bordered on a Mary Sue at times—what with her special violet eyes and tough, no nonsense, “everyone wants to be a princess; it’s boring” (page 115) character. I found myself at least once thinking with a little bit of disgust “yes, you’re special little snowflake.” But there’s no need to diss princesses. There’s no shame in being a princess, and it doesn’t make you cooler to scorn being one. But Mrryk points out on page 115 that at least they’re not the overused warrior, sorceress, and thief trope. And we can be happy for that. However…

There’s a line you can cross when pulling off this style of storytelling. Wooding almost crossed it. As an author, you can point out the flaws and the weak plot points via characters sometimes. It’s a way to acknowledge that, yes, you see how ridiculous X is and, look, the character recognizes it too! And sometimes that’s okay. But sometimes it’s a wee bit shoddy. Pointing out the flaws yourself as the author doesn’t justify their existence. Melcheron did it to Poison a few times in their conversation, either about her own character and reactions or about a past plot point—like Mrryk and how he never needed to eat even after 100 years.

Overall, it didn’t get too heavy handed. And Wooding didn’t lean on it as a crutch, which was good. But his characters did feel like various archetypes. Like, of course Poison began to care for Peppercorn. And of course Peppercorn was flighty and emotional, a good foil for Poison—to show that Poison did care, but also that Poison was much more on top of things compared to Peppercorn. And of course there’s a vague father figure in Bram. That kind of thing. It wasn’t terrible or overdone, but it was headed in that direction.

But there was a reason for Mrryk and Melcheron pointing out the things they did, even though it got a bit annoying at times. It worked towards the meat of the plot, which is actually where I had some trouble. Because the worldview taken to it’s full extent is… a little scary. And I didn’t like the conclusions it, I believe, unintentionally came to. Especially as the plot—the Hierophant angle—can easily be a real life worldview.

Here’s an excerpt from page 203:

Poison would have shed a tear then, if she had any left. “You’re fictions, all of you. Just like me.”

“How can you think that?” Fleet cried, suddenly spurred to animation. “We feel, we love, we cry, we bleed, we sacrifice. . . . If that is not life, then what is? What’s your definition, Poison? How can you think that the Hierophant is controlling you somehow? Don’t you make your own choices? Didn’t you choose to come on this quest?”

“But did I? I don’t know,” she said, sinking back to the pillows. “If ever I needed proof that my choices are illusions, you have just given it to me. Look what happens when I refuse to do as he wants. The story is fading around me. Why can’t I choose to give up?”

Ok, that’s skirting some very fine lines about suicide here. And it can so easily be applied to real life. So, if you’re reading this book and don’t have an opinion on where you end up after you die, I just… taken to the full conclusion, what’s the point of living? It’s more powerful to take your own life and prove you have control than living in a world—real or fictional—where you’re not sure you control your own destiny. And that, anyone-who-reads-this, is a very, very sketchy ground to trod on in stories. Especially for the audience age group this is for.

The turn around happens on pages 205 to 207.

“You’re fictions . . . ” she protested weakly.

“Yes, yes, I’ve heard that, too,” he snarled. “Fictions. Ridiculous! I’m as alive as you, and you’re as alive as the Hierophant. We’re all alive, Poison. By any definition you have, we’re alive. Even if you think we’ve been given life by someone else. We all have dreams and ambitions, we all have plans and wishes, and you’re taking them all away from us.” He stood up, making a gesture of disgust with one gloved hand. “Didn’t you ever believe in a god, Poison?”

“When I was young . . .” she croaked.

“Then how is this different?”

“Because then I believed . . . I had control of my own destiny. . . .”

“But don’t you see?” Bram cried. “You’ve proved your point! You do have control over your own destiny. You’re choosing to die, choosing to kill us all with you. Nobody has stopped you; nobody can stop you except yourself. It doesn’t matter what the consequences of your choice are, but you made it yourself.”

Poison was frankly surprised that Bram had thought that up himself. “That’s . . . good enough,” she said, wiping the lank strands of her hair away from her face. “If the only way to make the world right . . .  is to do what he wants me to do . . .  then it’s no choice at all.”

“You don’t have the right to kill us all!” he cried.

“How do you know . . .  you’re even alive?” she countered.

“How does anyone? How does anyone know anything? There’s never any true answers, Poison. Everything is uncertain. That’s life. We can only deal with the world as we are presented with it. Don’t you appreciate that? All I want from life is to get back home, to buy that house in the mountains, and to never have to think about phaeries and Hierophants ever again! You’re robbing me of that dream, Poison! What gives you the right to decide whether all of us deserve to live?”

“Because . . .” she whispered.  “Because you’re all dying. Because you’re all dying because I’m dying. What gives you the right to make me live? How can you make me responsible for the whole world?”

“You are responsible for the whole world!” Bram said, suddenly triumphant. “And do you know what that means?”

Poison frowned. “I don’t . . .”

“It means this is your story, you fool!” he cried.

[…] “It means you have power over it just like the Hierophant does!” Bram cried. “If I die, if Peppercorn dies . . . well, the world will go on as normal. But because you’re dying, the whole tale collapses. Don’t you see? You’re the heroine! This is your story. Without you, it doesn’t work.” Bram’s eyes were flashing now with manic enthusiasm. “So if this is your tale, then take control of it! Fight back! Do something!”

“Do what?” Poison said weakly. “How can . . . how can I fight?”

“I don’t know!” Bram said, stamping around the room. “You’re the clever one. You’ve overcome everything that he’s thrown at you so far. Fight back, and there’s a chance, a chance you can do something about your situation. Are you willing to throw your life away—all our lives!—without being certain? Try! And if you fail, you can always give up again.”

So, I don’t even know where to begin with dissecting the logic Bram puts forth. And I realize that this story is fictional, and fantasy at that, but all stories have some foot in the real world. And the reasoning used here, applied to real life, is… well, I find it a bit horrifying? Especially Bram’s last line.

(Side note: Bram read OOC in that entire scene and the entire time all I could think was, “Yes, you know why you’re so surprised at Bram’s character change, Poison? Because this is a last ditch effort by some Hierophant somewhere to save everyone’s skin and they’re using Bram to be their mouth.” Honestly.)

The writing style and everything about this felt like it was directed for the younger side of the middle school age group, despite mostly seeing it on YA shelves on Goodreads. It’s a clever little story, but because of the worldview, I’d be incredibly wary letting just anyone read it. Read at the wrong time, it could drive someone into a downward spiral. Or maybe I’m just being overdramatic. I certainly didn’t pick up on it from what I can remember reading it ages ago, but I was and am entirely oblivious to some things at times. I just don’t want to underestimate the power of the written word. So the worldview in this alarmed me.

Overall, because of plot, the book felt a bit… meh. Indecisive, especially with the way it all wrapped up and Poison never did get to see her sister again. I can’t decide if I’d recommend this or not, but if you read it because of this review, drop me a comment or such with your thoughts. Or link me to your review. Whichever.

What some people might be uncomfortable reading about in this book because of personal opinion or belief: less than five curses at the most, kidnapping, death threats to the main character—anything you’d expect in a fairytale retelling, since this definitely has a fairytale vibe through most if it. PG-13 at the most, for disturbing images, some violence, and dangerous situations. Some of the antagonists were very disturbing. (Looking at you, Lady of Spiders.) There was no sex or romance.

The Dream Thieves (The Raven Cycle #2)

17347389The Dream Thieves (The Raven Cycle #2), by Maggie Stiefvater

If I were a movie, what would I be rated? PG-13

Any spoilers in this review? Sadly, yes. Spoilers for book 1 and spoilers for book 2, because I ranted a lot. (And here’s a link to my review of book 1, if you’re interested.)

Summary: Now that the ley lines around Cabeswater have been woken, nothing for Ronan, Gansey, Blue, and Adam will be the same. Ronan, for one, is falling more and more deeply into his dreams, and his dreams are intruding more and more into waking life. Meanwhile, some very sinister people are looking for some of the same pieces of the Cabeswater puzzle that Gansey is after…

Aight. I have two complaints. I’m sure you’re all dying to hear them, so let us begin.

1. Blue. Blue, girl, you and I need to have words. I could get behind you in the first book, but this? This ruined it.

Listen to me very, very closely. I don’t care how much you want a normal life. I don’t care if you want a boyfriend. I don’t care if you want to kiss someone. The foundation of your life is that psychics can be real. Specifically, the ones who raised you and love you are bonafide psychics. And they tell you that the person you kiss will die. So you know what you don’t do? Kiss anyone. And you definitely don’t start dating someone—someone who believes in psychics and the supernatural—and not tell them that little detail.

It’s absolutely ridiculous. Is it fair that Blue has this particular prophecy/reading about her love life when all she wants is a boyfriend and to be kissed and to be normal? No. But guess what? She has a prophecy/reading about her love life that’s less than convenient but she has to deal anyway.

Because you do not date someone and not tell them that. You don’t risk their life like that. If it were someone more cavalier than Adam, the boy could’ve easily leaned in and given her a random smooch as the mood called for it. Yes, I believe in consent. But they’re dating. At some point they’d be comfortable enough it’ll seem natural to Adam to lean in and kiss her, right?

I have absolutely no pity for Blue after she completely shut down—angrily and dumbly, at that—Adam when he tried to bring it up.

Oh, and then you get to this scene on page 365 with Gansey:

Gansey turned to her, his eyes bright. He just nodded.

Why, she thought, agonized, couldn’t it have been Adam?

She said, “If you find out, will you tell me?”

He’s going to die, Blue, don’t—

“I don’t know if we’re meant to find out,” he said.

That… sounds terrible. Absolutely terrible. “Why couldn’t it have been Adam?” Like, what the utter heck, Blue? I know you’re in the throes of emotional teenage angst, but that’s horrible. Why couldn’t it have been Adam who’s going to die in X months? That solves nothing! You still can’t kiss Gansey because of your kiss of death!

1.5 Again, with Blue. Every time something comes up, she’s far too quick to get up in arms. And her conversation in the car with Gansey, sometime during the scene on top of the mountain overlooking the city, was just painful. Gansey kept having to add these disclaimers like “not that I’m saying—” and “I’m sorry, that’s not what I meant and you know it and” and honestly, Blue, just chill? Gansey’s not sexist. He’s just very awkward with his friends, let alone with you and your/his budding crush. I.e., he’s human. There are ways to gently correct if he’s obviously in the wrong. And he wasn’t trying to call you weak or trying to sound sexist. Honestly. I just… honestly.

A good example of her getting up in arms too quickly is the beginning of chapter 21. Blue says they should take Ronan to have a consultation with her family. Ronan said no. There’s some confusion. And then Blue “icily” says, “This is a religion thing, isn’t it?” And, ok, A) this is Ronan, so what did she expect? But B) Blue is utterly… horrible about it? Totally, overly, snarlingly defensive? Surely she’s met skeptics of psychics in her life. But of all the things to have a problem with, Ronan having a religion that doesn’t agree with her beliefs shouldn’t—like, if they actually want to hang out and/or be friends to a certain degree or even run in the same circles, Blue needs to loosen up and realize not everyone is going to believe her or her family. Discuss it like rational people if it’s such a big deal.

Religion is an especially touchy subject today. And I don’t like how Blue dealt with it, however brief the scene was.

2. Ronan and what happened with Gansey’s car. Now, you can argue until you’re blue (ha—see what I did there?) in the face that it’s just transit and it’s just a car and Gansey could get any other, but Ronan himself said several times that Gansey wanted his Pig. Not a different, fake car. His Pig. Setting aside whether or not Gansey should be that attached to his possession, it’s clearly something to matters to him.

So it absolutely boggles my mind why Ronan would be so careless and so… inconsiderate when it comes to Gansey’s Pig. Gansey who he loves, even if he doesn’t respect at all/in a noticeable way. The Pig is so much more than a car and yet Ronan wanted to street race with it and I just cannot fathom it. It’s one thing to want to race a particular car. It’s another if it’s Gansey’s Pig. Knowing how Gansey felt about the Pig should’ve neatly put the Pig “off the market” of street racing, as it were.

I have a friend whose car means a lot to them. Just like Gansey and his car. And my friend has made it pretty clear that they really appreciate having wheels and their own car and such. And I respect that. A lot. I love my friend. And because I know how much their car means to them, when I visited them, even if they had offered, I probably would’ve refused to drive it. I would’ve been so stressed about driving it I would probably get in the very wreck that I was worried I’d get in driving their car in the first place. And it’s not even getting in a wreck that would bug me so much as I ruined their car. After they hypothetically trusted me with something that matters to them.

Gansey didn’t let Ronan drive the Pig for pretty obvious reasons.

I just can’t fathom how little respect for Gansey that translates into? For the sake of plot, he crashed the Pig, but still. He literally dreamed keys, accidentally or not. He literally waited for Gansey to be out of town and without the Pig to go race it. When he knows how Gansey feels about the Pig and street racing in general.

Listen, if we’re going to have a misunderstand, woe-is-me, “heart of gold” bad boy character, at least give more proof that his heart, frankly, actually exists? I shouldn’t have to look for it. I don’t like how Ronan treats his friends. He’s cruel and harsh. He said something to Adam that made me furious, to the effect of “yeah, not all of us were born in hell though” and you just… don’t say that to someone from an abusive home? Whose dad you punched because you saw him beating Adam up?

I understand Ronan to a certain degree, but I certainly don’t agree with him on everything and I’m not sure I like the light Stiefvater is showing him in. It’s a bit too positive, if that makes sense. I’m still wary of Ronan and I could also really do without Stiefvater’s love affair with street racing sprinkled in.

I feel like people may say that he gets better in future books and there are examples of his good in said future books, but… I should be seeing his worth as a friend now. I shouldn’t have to wait for his heart of gold to manifest from his bad boy persona. Especially in a book centered on him and one that should give us a better idea of what’s in his head.

3. I’m disappointed with the plot. It kind of… stuttered and trickled along. And then the most random plot point of all was introduced. Kavinsky and his obsession with Ronan. And the dramatic “if you’re not with me, you’re against me.” And the kidnapping of Matthew. It all felt so forced and fake. Meanwhile, Adam’s got magic in him. An ancient and old magic that I want to know more about. I want to learn more about Cabeswater instead of this stalling Stiefvater does. I’m half tempted to say, out of pure cynicalness, that the plot stuttering is all about dragging out a series for more moolah. Honestly, I do like all the characters. They’re real and flawed. (Very, very flawed.) And they give me anxiety. But! Amazing character development—not romance! Character development! The romance sucked!—can only carry the book so far. There needs to be more Muchness to make a truly great book.

This one lacked its Muchness. The plot is very sketchy right now. Purely from an analytical angle, the Kavinsky-kidnaps-Ronan’s-brother-in-a-fit-of-jealous-rage plot felt very random. As if only to add some drama to the book and have a scene with nightmare creatures from dreams fighting in “real” life.

Overall, I enjoy Stiefvater’s writing and I enjoy the characters. They’re all flawed which, while it makes them more real, also frustrates me. I’m looking at you two, Blue and Ronan.

Three stars because of plot and the Blue/Ronan frustrations that I don’t feel were dealt with properly. I do hope the rest of the series picks up.

What some people might be uncomfortable reading about in this book because of personal opinion or belief: enough cursing to rate an R if it were a movie (thanks, Ronan); talk of kissing but nothing was ever too crude; hints of bisexuality/homosexuality on Kavinsky and Ronan’s part, which are enough that you should steer clear if that’s not your cup of tea; and there’s a hitman who, you know, kills people. YMMV.

~

Quotes I liked:

“I know you think you’re a punk,” Declan said, “but you aren’t nearly as badass as you think you are.” —93

By the time they had tamped the last pile of dirt over the hole, they were soaked with rain and sweat. There was something warming, Ronan thought, about all of them burying a body on his behalf. He would’ve preferred it to stay in his dreams, but if it had to slip out, this was better than the last out-of-control nightmare. —152

Gansey ran over the memory until he no longer felt the thrill of hearing Glendower’s name whispered in his ear and then instead gave himself over to feeling sorry for himself, that he should have so many friends and yet feel so alone. He felt it fell to him to comfort them, but never the other way around. —132

Mechanica (Mechanica #1)

13455099Mechanica (Mechanica #1), by Betsy Cornwell

If I were a movie, what would I be rated? PG

Any spoilers in this review? Yes. But because it’s based off a fairytale, it’s largely predictable so I didn’t block out any spoilers in particular. I’d have to block out the entire thing, then.

Summary: Nicolette’s awful stepsisters call her “Mechanica” to demean her, but the nickname fits: she learned to be an inventor at her mother’s knee. Her mom is gone now, though, and the Steps have turned her into a servant in her own home. But on her sixteenth birthday, Nicolette discovers a secret workshop in the cellar and begins to dare to imagine a new life for herself. Could the mysterious books and tools hidden there—and the mechanical menagerie, led by a tiny metal horse named Jules—be the key to escaping her dreary existence? With a technological exposition and royal ball on the horizon, the timing might just be perfect for Nicolette to earn her freedom at last. Gorgeous prose and themes of social justice and family shine in this richly imagined Cinderella retelling about an indomitable inventor who finds her prince . . . but realizes she doesn’t want a fairy tale happy ending after all. 

My complaint for most books is that it was an okay book, but the potential was all there for a great book. Sadly, that’s my complaint again for this. Frankly, because it was a fairytale retelling, it lost some of it’s magic. I feel like the story of Cinderella it was based loosely on narrowed and brutally cut down on all potential it had to be a good novel in itself. That’s the challenge behind writing fairytale retellings. You want it to be a fairytale retelling—either because you really, really love fairytales or you really like it as a selling point—but you also want it to be original and for there to be unexpected twists.

The beginning of the book was especially interesting, what with the politics and upheaval because an entire race is blamed for an assassination and kicked out of the country entirely. Magic, for all its usefulness, is banned. The interactions between the two races, even in the background and seen through the main character’s young eyes at the time, were interesting. But, again, because it was a fairytale retelling, all the world building and interesting aspects like that took the background and almost disappeared into obscurity as the Cinderella plot took front and center.

So, here’s where that leaves us. For characters: The Steps were about as classically evil as they ought to be in Cinderella retellings. Nic grew over the story, sort of. It was an awkward, gangling growth, but she did grow—mainly in how she interacted with characters. At first, she was uncertain and scared to a certain degree to go out to a fair and sell her wares, but by the end she was doing it almost all on her own and was confident. Her treatment of Fin left something to be desired, but I was ridiculously relieved by her choices. Caro stood out to be somewhat stereotypical, but an achingly good friend, especially in how happy she was for Fin and Nic when she thought they were getting married. That honest happiness, even if she didn’t end up with someone she loved (their relationship was an off-again-on-again kind, apparently), was wonderful to see. Fin… Fin was a copy and paste love interest. I was not at all excited by him. I think he was supposed to be a Special Cookie because of how he viewed magic and wanted a fairy ambassador but as he didn’t actually do anything about it, it was all talk.

Plot: The plot was… everything you expect it to be. It was a bit weak and could’ve done with some fluffing. Like I mentioned in the beginning, I feel like the story suffered because it was so entrenched in the label of “Cinderella retelling.” It missed out on some great world building possibilities and plot options. (Mr. Candery is the boss and I wanted him to come back, dang it. I wanted to see fairyland and actual magic and true blue fairies. Not just speckled skin, dang it!) I really could’ve used more plot, like somehow including the Steps. It was a very slow and lethargic plot, for such an average sized book. It didn’t keep you glued to the pages.

Writing style: The writing was ok. I liked how some of the descriptions seemed purposefully mechanical. Like describing her heartbeat like the “ticking” of her heart or little things like that. It did get a bit repetitive, but it wasn’t terrible overall.

It was a rather solid story, however shakily it stood on a weak and predictable plot. There are two passages I wanted to comment on, though. One of them is from page 264-265. This is while Nic is sneaking into Stepmother’s room while Stepmother is sleeping to put back her dress:

Stepmother never let me do her hair. I straightened Chastity’s and curled Piety’s after every wash, and I had the burn marks on my hands to prove it. But Stepmother insisted she needed no help with her ablutions. She sailed downstairs every morning looking as cold and perfect and iconic as ever.

Was this why, this bit of gray at her temples? It was beautiful, a bright silver gleaming under my candle and in the thin moonlight coming in between her curtains.

And then the Stepmother actually murmurs Nic’s father’s name under her breath. Just as, Nic realizes, she had done at night too while “knowing no one would come” to her. And Nic goes on to say:

I told myself to back away. If I stayed, I would start to care for her. If I stayed, I would start to think about how alone she would be, with only the silly daughters she’d made, after I left. I couldn’t begin to think of Stepmother that way. I had to be able to leave her.

See, that passage was just… it hurt. It was well done. It showed how abusers can be human and how that can confuse the abused and I wish that that angle could’ve been capitalized on. But by the end, the Steps weren’t really in the story. So even the scene where Nic punched Chasity lost it’s punch—ha, see what I did there?—because it could’ve been better built up to. It would’ve made the Chasity-getting-punched scene more intense and emotion filled.

The other scene was on page 259-260, when thinking of Fin being in love with Caro:

All the things I’d learned from novels, from Faerie tales, from Piety and Chastity’s gossiping and storytelling and swooning, silly as they were, had taught me that the love I’d thought I’d found in Fin was the best to be had. That the reason behind all life and all love in the first place was to find someone, love him, and let that love become the foundation of the rest of your life.

And I had found not only a kind, charming, handsome young man whom I could love, but also a prince, the Heir of all of Esting! No story could have asked for a better ending than the one that—just for a moment—I’d thought my love for him would give me.

But what was I, without that ending?

No less me, no less myself. No less loved than I had ever been, not really.

And of course Fin did care for me in his way, in a way that I tried to tell myself might be better, if I could only learn to see it so.

And that, my friends, was the absolute best thing I’d read in the story up to that point, because her obsession with Fin was driving me up a wall. (She met him less than five times in person, but talked to him in her head. So, obviously that leads to true love.) The absolute clarity in that passage! It was the turning point and I loved it. Which made Fin’s later proposal and Nic’s lack of… fury and anger frustrating. Nic fully acknowledged she was in love with the idea of him more than him, basically, and had been building a version of him in her own head that wasn’t true to life. To me, if there was any other way to prove that he wasn’t the one from her head, his proposal was it.

Oh, guys. Guys, the proposal. I’m still furious about it. Fin had the gall to basically say, “Yeah, I’m in love with someone else, but let’s get married for the country! And you can have someone on the side, too!” I was just—he just—argh. The entire thing made me furious! Nic was broken up about the proposal, but at least had the sense to say no. It would’ve been perfect if she could’ve also been furious about it, but her infatuation of him blinded her. She was convinced it was love, though, despite her acknowledging in the previous passage, to summarize, that it wasn’t love and she’d built up a different version of him in her head and…

In conclusion, the potential was there for a really great novel. As it was, it fell flat and was a bit frustrating to read because of how obsessive Nic got over Fin. Definitely could’ve been better.

What some people might be uncomfortable reading about in this book because of personal opinion or belief: There’s no cursing and only a few slaps or punches. The only things people may find strange/uncomfortable would be how the fairy family relationships are described at one point and how none of them have genders. (This isn’t throughout the whole book, but it is mentioned.) Otherwise, someone insinuates that the MC should marry them even if they don’t love them because it’ll be fine and they’ll meet someone else. (I.e., adultery. I.e., let’s have our own honeys on the side and get married in name only. I.e., I’m so glad Nic said no to Fin.)