5. THE LOST THORN, BY JOSHUA P. AGUAYO
I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
I REALLY enjoyed reading this book. It was fast-paced, funny, thrilling, fresh, with amazing characters and very imaginative world building. I love the amalgam of sci-fi with fantasy and I felt like it was quite well done. Some things weren’t as well explained as I might have wanted them to be, but that makes sense in the context, considering the story is told in first person from Sam’s perspective, and she doesn’t strike me as someone who would bother with this kind of detail.
Sam is such a rich and well written character. Every aspect of her personality is vividly portrayed in her behavior, from her drug addiction to her eagerness to appear tougher and more aggressive than she really is. There is some mild misogyny, but it’s also part of her characterization as a teenage girl trying desperately to appear independent and invulnerable. *SPOILER ALERT* I did feel like her mental illness should have been better foreshadowed, though. It came as too much of a surprise in the end; there should have been some hints along the way. *END SPOILER*
The plot works, and the character’s motivations are clear and well established. I particularly loved how, as full of bluster as Sam may be most of the time, during the fights and action scenes she is actually terrified and just reacting to what happens around her. It was a very fresh take, and it makes for interesting and captivating writing. The final part, though, after she storms ClearSight, felt a little bit rushed and not as well resolved as the rest of the story. *ANOTHER SPOILER HERE* There is no explanation as to why, since they erase the memories of every mage after making experiments on them, Aly still had all of her memories. Especially since she said that they had done experiments on her.*THIS SHOULD BE THE LAST ONE*
One thing that deserves particular not is that, even though this book could be considered YA, there is NO LOVE TRIANGLE. That alone had me jumping up and down in happiness. There is some romance, but it’s definitely secondary to the story. And it’s not the childish, lazy, contrite, type of romance I’ve learned to associate with YA, it feels very mature and real. *OK, LAST SPOILER, I PROMISE* I live for genuine, non-fetishized, and non-stereotyped girl-on-girl romance. *NOW I’M DONE*
Lastly, just because I can’t let it go: this book BADLY needed a proofreader. There were way too many typos and small grammar mistakes; I don’t feel like any of them actually take any merit away from the writing itself, but the sheer amount of them is suggestive of carelessness. It got to a point where it was disrupting the flow of the narrative, not because it didn’t have pace (it has, and to spare), but because I kept stopping and mentally correcting them. Even when someone is writing on their mother language, it’s still good practice to hire somebody to go over their finished manuscript and polish the language; that’s even more vital when it’s a foreign language, no matter how fluent you may be in it.
Up next: Empire of Bones, by Liz Williams
4. THE VISITORS, BY SALLY BEAUMAN
This was a strange book, and therefore difficult to rate. Overall, I have to say I enjoyed it, but it dragged on many places, and the last third or so felt unnecessary... Still enjoyable, I did like reading it, but it felt like it didn’t belong in the book.
It’s essentially a coming-of-age story with the famous archaeological expedition as background. The protagonist, Lucy, isn’t directly involved in the research; she’s more of an interested bystander who happens upon it by chance. She observes what is happening from afar, and the story centers on her life.
The book is rife with interesting and captivating characters (most of them not directly involved with the expedition either; god, those archaeologists were annoying... a bunch of grown men acting like pissbabies, throwing mantrums all the time) but I was somewhat disappointed in the end. After they open Tutankhamen's burial chamber and find him intact (at about 70% of the book), everything else seems extra. Maybe the beginning of the book focuses too much on the expedition, or maybe Lucy’s interest is too vivid, but it feels like the book should have ended there, and there is very little interest in what happens afterwards. Because the characters were so good, I did enjoy reading the rest, but more as a matter of course than because I really wanted to know what happened.
The writing is beautiful, and the language used is amazing. The research is all there, and it definitely pays off; the portrait of the time and place is quite vivid. The characters, as I said, are well written and interesting. But it’s not a very gripping book, it won’t keep you up at night, turning pages in a frenzy. It’s more of a reflective kind of story, and sometimes you have to stick with it, force yourself to read the boring parts to get to the good ones.
Up next: The Lost Thorn, by Joshua P. Aguayo
109. BEING LIGHT, BY HELEN SMITH
Another one I couldn’t finish. And this one was very short, so I can hardly say I tried... But I have to admit, this one is almost entirely due to my own preferences. I won't even rate it, since I'm sure I'm being very subjective.
Ever since I left my teens and stopped trying to impress other people with how cultured and witty I was, I also stopped having time for quirky and deep books. That is not to say, of course, that there is anything wrong with liking them; I’m sure there are plenty of people who genuinely love this kind of book. The issue I have is that I never really enjoyed them, but for many years I’ve forced myself to read them, and the result is that now I can’t stand the sight of them.
My personal impression was: way too many characters who do impossible things (better yet, have those things happen to them, they actually do nothing) and who then proceed to do absolutely nothing about it. I’m sure there must be thousands of metaphors for stuff, but I’m really not into it. I like trash. I like books that have no pretension other than be entertaining.
Someone also told me that this book was supposed to be funny... Honestly, I didn’t get it. Maybe it was something very British, or maybe it was because of the language barrier... Either way, I would hardly categorize this as “humor.”
Up next: The Visitors, by Sally Beauman
108. LADY OF THE BUTTERFLIES, BY FIONA MOUNTAIN
Couldn’t finish it. And I tried, by God, did I try. Had to give up about 50% in; by then I was already mourning the time I had wasted on it. It’s not a horrible book: there are many problems, but, mostly, it just wasn’t my thing. My review will be based solely on what I did read (obviously).
First, the good part: it is very well researched. She paints a beautiful picture of the time and place. Her style of writing is very poetic and the language is beautiful. Romance isn’t really my thing (actually, that’s not true, I love romance; but I’ve come to learn that I like, specifically, adult literary romance, and every other kind falls pitifully short in my eyes) and I absolutely abhor love triangles -- they’re boring, childish, unnecessary, objectifying, and one of the laziest plot devices an author can use. That having been said, the setting and the limitations imposed on the characters justify the love triangle’s existence, and I have to give her some points for that. (Still didn’t enjoy reading it, though.)
Now, the bad part. I thought this was going to be Historical Fiction... I knew there was romance, but I didn’t know it was the main part. I thought the book would focus on Eleanor’s life and achievements, I wasn’t prepared for the amount of pining and swooning. Plus, I said it in the last paragraph, but it bears repeating: I HATE LOVE TRIANGLES. This, however, can be filed under “my own personal preferences”, and it isn’t really a problem of the book.
This is, though: the book is boring. There is no suspense at all, nothing that makes you want to keep on reading. After the first three chapters, I actually had to read the best and most positive reviews this book had, just as an incentive to try and finish it. As far as I read, the only source of conflict is the romance, and it takes Eleanor more than 100 pages to start romancing her first beau. Another 150 until she meets the other one. And even when it does start, it’s stilted and awkward, completely disconnected from the rest of the chapters -- even the sex scenes are awkward and off-putting (and a bit confusing, too, it felt like she wasn’t sure if she was writing historical fiction or a Harlequin romance).
There is way too much exposition. Endless descriptions of everything. A lot of “telling instead of showing” and “as you know, Bob”. I had to fight to keep my eyes open; after a while, even looking at the cover was enough to make me sleepy.
Even the romance itself was badly done. The characters have no chemistry at all and the attraction between them is simply unbelievable. Eleanor falls madly in love with the first man of her own age and social class she meets; she starts having doubts as soon as she meets another. Richard and Edmund are two-dimensional polar opposites that only exist for Eleanor to pine over. (Eleanor herself is a much more developed character, even if, at the beginning, I had to use a lot of my will power not to throw the book out of the window every time I read “she was not like other girls” *groans* and “she didn’t think she was beautiful, she was petite instead of voluptuous and tan instead of pasty” *gags*.)
In the end, I was very disappointed. The story I wanted to read was the one in the blurb: an entomologist, a scientist, trapped by the constrictions of her time. That was not what I was given. Not even the expectation of the protagonist being accused of witchcraft could keep me going.
Up next: Being Light, by Helen Smith
1. MAYHEM, BY SARAH PINBOROUGH (Book 1 of Dr. Thomas Bond)
Starting off the year with a book I loved because of the cover. I like historical fiction, and the overall theme of the book also interested me, but this cover is just fantastic. And it does a very good job of representing what the book has to offer...
This is a very nice read, quite well written and vastly entertaining. There is enough suspense to keep the reader interested, and the supernatural elements do not seem absurd (which can be quite hard to do in this kind of novel). The characters are all believable and well constructed.
I’m not very knowledgeable about London at that time, or of Jack the Ripper, more specifically, but as far as I can tell this is historically accurate enough. The atmosphere and portrayal of the time and place deserve special compliments, they’re masterfully done.
If there is one thing I would complain about, it’s that, for a book with a doctor as the protagonist, there is remarkably little medicine. Yes, I know that this isn’t a book about medicine or diseases, and there is really no call for sciency talk, but it is one of my main interests, and I can’t help but be a bit miffed whenever I expect it and am denied.
Up next: Lady of the Butterflies, by Fiona Mountain
106. MY NEW AMERICAN LIFE, BY FRANCINE PROSE
Recommended to me by my two-year-old niece. She hasn’t read it, she still doesn’t know how to read, but she said the lady in the cover was pretty and I should read it because of that. Yeah, she still has to learn not to judge a book by its cover... Though, in this case, she wasn’t completely wrong.
Synopsis: Lula, an Albanian immigrant, works as something like a nanny to a 19-year-old boy in a suburban house. Her boss tries very hard to keep everything together, even after his wife left him on Christmas eve; he’s the kind of person who always wants to do what’s right and proper. Lula’s life working for this family descends very easily into a stifling routine, which is shaken when three strange Albanian men ask her to hide a gun for them.
Overall enjoyment: It was a bit satirical, light, and entertaining. The characters are vivid and interesting, and they manage to hold a somewhat weak plot. A nice read for a lazy day.
Plot: There are some holes, some things that are too convenient or that happen at too convenient times, but overall, it works.
Characters: Lula is delightful. She is very realistic in her ennui and yearning for something different, while being afraid of losing what she has. The other characters work very well alongside of her.
World/setting: Lula rarely leaves a very restricted segment of the suburbia. In fact, she rarely leaves the house at all. She feels oppressed by it, wanting to escape, but she also somewhat sees it as home.
Writing style: Light, quick and funny.
Representation: Lula is an Albanian immigrant, and she also serves as a nice portrait to immigrants in general. She’s not overly romanticized nor stereotyped, just a person doing her best with what she has.
Political correctness: There are some instances of slut-shaming, over-awareness of body images, some light homophobia. Those are all the views of the characters, though, hardly sustained by the book itself.
Up next: Mayhem, by Sarah Pinborough
105. A STRANGER IN OLONDRIA, BY SOFIA SAMATAR
Recommended to me by an old friend, who I hadn’t seen in a long time.
Synopsis: Jevick’s father decides to hire an Olondrian tutor for him. Olondria is a faraway land, much different from Jevick’s birthplace, and seems like a fairy tale to him. When his father dies, Jevick gets an opportunity to visit this land, where he becomes haunted by the spirit of a girl and entangles himself in a political revolution.
Overall enjoyment: It’s a hard decision, to be honest. It was very poetic, and had interesting bits, but, for the most part, I didn’t really enjoy reading it. Maybe if, instead of telling me this is a novel, somebody had described this book as a short story and poem collection with a very thin thread to tie them up, I would probably have enjoyed it a lot more; however, as beautifully written as it was, I just can’t ignore the fact that it was haphazard and hurried in everything but its language, and I was very disappointed. Plus, it was incredibly forgettable; I literally just finished reading it, and I already can’t remember the names of most characters… Or, to be quite honest, what happens in most of the book.
Plot: If the story I described on the synopsis seems a bit strange, then it reflects this book’s plot well. It is more like a travelogue, there is no logic to whatever happens. Of course, logic isn’t always needed in fiction, but I’m talking about internal logic, and you would be very hard pressed to find an interesting plot that doesn’t follow it. The main story, Jevick’s, feels like a simple gimmick to connect the little short stories and poems together, and as such, whatever happens to Jevick is whatever is needed for him to meet a particular person who will tell him the tale (and the book will promptly abandon Jevick while this tale goes), or sing him a song, or recite a poem, or whatever. Those snippets are much more interesting and well rounded than the main story.
Characters: They’re not badly written at all, but they range from boring to dislikable. Jevick is a walking yawn (his only reason for existing is so people can tell him their life stories); the ghost girl (can’t remember her name, can’t be bothered to look it up) is insufferable, I wanted to slap her most of the time.
World/setting: You can tell she put a lot of work in this. The world she created was very beautiful, amazingly described, very cohesive. I’d even go as far as to say that it was too much: there was too much world-building and not enough story and content to occupy it. I have the impression that, while she was imagining this world, she came up with folklore and myths and some nice stories for the background; and she liked them so much she decided to force those stories into the book, whether they fit or not.
Writing style: It was very beautiful, quite poetic. That can be a valuable asset, but, to me, flowery language, no matter how beautiful, never makes up for lack of content and structure.
Representation: The people from Jevick’s homeland (can’t remember what it’s called) are all dark skinned.
Political correctness: The short stories inside were very interesting, but the main story is so empty and disconnected it’s hardly worth talking about.
Up next: My New American Life, by Francine Prose
104. TOUCH, BY CLAIRE NORTH
Recommended by Julian. I should know better than to judge a book by its cover by now, but, before I started reading it, I thought it would be a YA sci-fi. Maybe it was because the eyes look somewhat feminine and young, maybe it was “YOUR LIFE HAS ALREADY BEEN TAKEN”, maybe it was the fact that it was tagged as “science fiction” and “paranormal”, maybe it was the fact that Claire North is a pseudonym for Catherine Webb (even though I’ve never read any of Webb’s books, I know she’s famous as a YA author), probably it was all of those combined with some internalized misogyny of my own; the fact is that I fully expected some dystopian future when our brave heroine had to fight for survival/freedom/family while falling in love with some random boy. I could not have been more wrong...
Synopsis: Kepler is an entity that can travel from body to body with a touch. This isn’t always a forceful procedure, Kepler can come to agreements with the hosts, and even come to love them. Josephine Cebule is one such, and, when she is murdered, Kepler realizes that Josephine was not the murderer’s only target.
Overall enjoyment: I was pleasantly surprised when I found this book wasn’t a childish romance posing as science fiction, and then became enthralled with the story, the suspense, the characters, and the hypothesis. This is a very satisfying book to read, and kept me turning the pages to the very end.
Plot: It’s very well thought out and developed. There is tons of suspense, many twisty plot twists, all of them connected and foreshadowed. It is an actually thrilling thriller, where the characters go out and do stuff, instead of just watching things happen around them (I’ve read way too many of the latter recently...).
Characters: Quite well developed, especially Kepler. I especially enjoyed the relationships and reactions, they all felt very real.
World/setting: It wasn’t very science-fiction-y. However, I don’t think this book is science fiction at all... The “paranormal” category would be the most adequate for it, but it’s still not quite right because of the romance that is immediately associated with it. I’d have to go with psycho-thriller with *some* fantasy elements. Anyway, the setting is modern and urban; not much weird stuff going on with the world itself, only Kepler is special.
Writing style: Straightforward and clean. Very adequate, easy to read and adds urgency to the text.
Representation: Kepler, being able to inhabit any body, is very fluid when it comes to sexuality and gender. I love that she simply doesn’t inform you if, when Kepler was alive, they were a woman or a man. It just doesn’t matter, since Kepler is both and neither. Kepler loves people regardless of their gender, too.
Political correctness: Not only was Kepler an interesting character, but she also plays with questions of gender and sexuality around them. A very nice and intriguing read.
Up next: A Stranger in Olondria, by Sofia Samatar
103. BEASTKEEPER, BY CAT HELLISEN
Yet another fairytale retelling, this one recommended by a friend I hadn’t seen a long time ago. I’m really enjoying these, it’s curious I hadn’t discovered them before...
Synopsis: A loose retelling of The Beauty and The Beast story. Sarah’s mother leaves, which triggers a descending slope for her father. Unable to take care of her, he takes her to live with her grandmother, where she discovers nothing is as she assumed.
Overall enjoyment: Sweet and fun, very beautiful and quick. The ending could have been better, though.
Plot: It is pretty well rounded; there aren’t any loose threads or unknown motivations. Maybe there could have been more suspense, or Sarah could have taken longer to figure out what was going on, but then the book would probably be much longer, which, I think, would take some of the urgency out of it.
Characters: Very well constructed. Sarah feels very much like a 13 year old girl. I especially liked the care she took with the grandmothers’ personalities, so similar to traditional fairytale characters, and yet a lot more human and real.
World/setting: It seemed like a fascinating place, but there wasn’t much describing. The rules are about the standard for fantasy places, so, if it isn’t all that original, at least she didn’t have to waste time explaining it (and risk making it boring in the process).
Writing style: Quite straightforward and easy to read. It flows nicely, but there could have been more poetry to it, considering the setting and subject. Although, the tween POV might explain this lack.
Representation: There are very few characters, and all are of the same family, so I suppose it’s understandable that it’s quite poor on representation.
Political correctness: It was very sweet and touching. I think it was a nice take on the original story, especially the adaptation of the original curse. It did become more interesting, and when it comes to Sarah it’s even better. It’s a nice take on such a difficult subject as the possible fickleness of how one person might feel about the other. It would have been interesting, though, if Sarah had been turned back into a human at some point on those six years she spent living with Alan. Six years living together in harmony is more than enough for a very loving friendship to flourish. Romantic love isn't the only love that exists, and the curse didn't specify, it just said "love". It would have been nice if the book didn't reinforce the idea that romantic love is the be-all end-all of a person's life.
Up next: Touch, by Claire North
102. CITY OF THE BEASTS, BY ISABEL ALLENDE (Book 1 of Eagle and Jaguar)
This was my first full-length novel to be read in Spanish! That alone should cause me some happiness... It was recommended by a friend of mine who said it would be adequate for its purpose -- you can’t start off in a language by reading classics, or very complex books; the language has to be somewhat simple, so you won’t have too much difficulty or be discouraged, and it has to have something of a pace, so that you will feel compelled to carry on.
Synopsis: Alexander Cold, an average American boy whose mother is suffering from cancer, is forced to go live with his paternal grandmother. She takes him with her in an expedition to the heart of the Amazon jungle, where he meets Nadia Santos, a precocious Brazilian girl, and they both embark in a jungle adventure.
Overall enjoyment: It served its purpose vis-à-vis getting me through a whole book in Spanish. It was a bit standard, though. It ticked all the boxes for a YA adventure, but didn’t do much else. It was very simplistic and over-explained, and followed something like a standardized formula: bratty boy teams up with much cooler girl, they face dangers, and he grows up in the process. It was very safe and kinda boring. Running the risk of sounding corny, I’d say it lacked heart.
Plot: I’ve already surmised it above, formulaic YA stuff. I know it’s also a characteristic of YA, but things are very over-explained. To the point where it sounds a bit ridiculous, with characters discussing plot points when it makes no sense for them to do so. Also, some threads are resolved very hurriedly and in a haphazard manner. Could’ve been better.
Characters: Quite stereotypical. They don’t go much further than two dimensions. And Alex starts off seeming way too young: he’s too bratty, clueless, insensitive, and sexually unaware to be a 15 year old boy; he seems to be 12, at most. I realize she wanted to show character growth, but it could have been more subtle. Or, she could have developed her characters better...
World/setting: The Amazon jungle, and then the mythical El Dorado. It was... standard. I’ll give her credit for, at the very least, doing some research and not putting lions and elephants on it; the animal and plant species she mentions are geographically correct. The tribe she mentions doesn’t really resemble any particular South American native tribe, but they’re close enough in general to be a fictional tribe.
Writing style: Like I said, this was the first time I’ve read a book in Spanish. I really don’t think I’m familiar enough with the language to judge style, yet. It was easy enough to understand; there weren’t many figures of speech or any complex syntax.
Representation: There were a few natives. But, in general, very poor.
Political correctness: Well... It was the standard YA adventure novel. With all its problems, too. To start with, she’s Chilean, she’s writing in Spanish, the book is set in the frontier between Brazil and Venezuela; why the hell is the protagonist American? It’s not necessary to the plot, or anything. Then, you have the “indians” being consistently and unironically described as “primitive”; the protagonist not really being involved with his surroundings, but rather seeing everything as “exotic” and “alien”, and the classic Tarzan formula. With the exception of Walimaí, who is a shaman and very much alien, the whole tribe is treated as a whole, you have no “indian” characters. And I don’t even want to get into the feminist analysis of if, with such stereotyped female characters and a possible future love interest for Alex who actually is 12 (but it’s okay, she’s so precocious!) and who is compared to every woman in his life.
Up next: Beastkeeper, by Cat Hellisen
101. THE THIEF TAKER, BY C. S. QUINN
This is a bit of a mixed recommendation. The person who recommended it did so with the words “read it so we can discuss how awful it was afterwards”. It has to be said, though, that she’s a History researcher who specializes in 17th century (1600s) England.
Synopsis: Charlie Tuesday is a thief-taker, something like a 17th century private investigator. His business is dwindling with the outburst of plague that threatens to empty the entire city -- both because of people fleeing and because of people dying. A beautiful woman offers him lots of money to investigate her sister’s death, and Charlie is compelled to accept her offer, but once he sees the body he realizes the crime might have much deeper connections with his own life.
Overall enjoyment: I actually liked it, to the despair of my friend. I’m no historian (although I do appreciate well-done research) so the historical inaccuracies didn’t really bother me, I only cared about the story’s development. That is not to say it didn’t have problems; it did, and many, but for a first novel I thought it was a very good effort. I’ll definitely read the next one (I just found out today that it is a series...)
Plot: There is some nice suspense, and it mostly holds true through the end. I’d say it’s probably a lot more thriller than historical fiction. The story kept me turning pages until it was done. It could have been better foreshadowed, there were some inconsistencies, and sometimes the motivations aren’t very clear, but overall, it’s good enough.
Characters: Charlie is interesting, and nicely developed. Maria needs A LOT more work, though. And the other characters, nobility and commoners, are quite shallow and a bit stereotypical. The main problem here were the inconsistencies, but I’m hoping there will be less of those in future books.
World/setting: Here, I’m going to have to heed my friend’s words and give the book a negative mark. Apparently, the history is all over the place. And so is the geography. I always get suspicious of historical fiction books that don’t have a “historical note” in the end, detailing the author’s research, what liberties they took, what is historical fact, what was adapted, and what was downright made up. This book doesn’t have one, and, according to my friend, for good reason. Even when you don’t take history in consideration, there are still many inconsistencies: they are so afraid of the plague at first, but after a few chapters they will walk in plague-infested streets without taking any precaution, stuff like that.
Writing style: Pleasant enough, I suppose, although it could have been more fluid. One thing that really bothered me was how she built the romance between Charlie and Maria... Namely, there are several instances when Charlie smells her perfume, or her hair. Dude, you’ve been on the road for days. You haven’t bathed since. In fact, it’s the 1600s in Europe, so the both of you probably haven’t bathed in months. Are you seriously trying to tell me she smells good?
Representation: Not very good.
Political correctness: It’s kind of the standard thriller. The girl is only there to serve as support and love interest to the male character. She may be smart, but she’s also stupid enough to provide them with timely obstacles whenever the story needs it. She’s brave, but she doesn’t miss an opportunity to shake in fear and cling to him fetchingly (and give him a nice whiff of her perfume in the process). She’s so stereotyped she’s even supposed to smell good under the circumstances she’s in.
Up next: City of the Beasts, by Isabel Allende
100. THE LAST ILLUSION, BY POROCHISTA KHAKPOUR
Recommended by a friend who I’d rather not name. He is a very pretentious sort of person... I do like him, and I’m only saying this here because I’m confident he will never read this, but he is pretentious, and a literary snob. And it shows.
Synopsis: Disgusted by his light skin and hair, Zal’s mother decides to raise him as a bird. She locks him in a cage, feeds him bird food, and never teaches him to speak or be a person. He is rescued and adopted by a behavior scientist, who sets about turning Zal from a feral child to a “real person”.
Overall enjoyment: God, this book is so pretentious I had to make a conscious effort not to roll my eyes at every phrase. Everyone is so Different, and full of Quirks (yes, both capitalized), there is hardly any space left for actual characterization and plot. It’s absolutely forgettable; I’ve read it less than a week ago and I’ve already forgotten how it ends. A year from now, all that will be left is a condescending smile and an eye-roll.
Plot: There isn’t one. Really. There is something about a magic number, and some romantic subplot, something that might, on the right light and with lots of good will, pass for a coming of age... But none of those are really worth noting.
Characters: Ugh. You know the fake-deep thing? Stuff (and characters) that aren’t deep at all, but try so hard to be... Asiya (white girl, of course), the romantic interest, is the classic Manic Pixie Dream Girl, down to the romanticized eating disorder. Zal is bland and indefinite. None of the characters have true depth, but they have Quirks a-plenty in an effort to hide it.
World/setting: Doesn’t have any importance in the story. Near the end of the book she tries to make different references to 9/11, and there are so many of them they start to get wild and unintentionally funny.
Writing style: Again, you know when something isn’t deep but tries so hard to be? There is no substance, so she plays tricks to make up for it.
Representation: Zal is supposedly Iranian, but he’s light-skinned, with blue eyes and blond hair.
Political correctness: There is an attempt at reflecting what makes a person “normal” and, specifically, what makes a man a “man”, but it’s very much lost among all the pretentiousness. And the (very little) science she tries to use as background is factually incorrect.
Up next: The Thief Taker, by C. S. Quinn
99. HALF WORLD, BY HIROMI GOTO
Recommended by Juliana. It was a breath of fresh air after Three Princes... A book that promises something different and actually delivers it!
Synopsis: Melanie, an awkward, chubby, and socially inept teenager, arrives home from school to discover her mother has disappeared. She receives a creepy phone call from a man calling himself Mr. Glueskin, and he gives her a set of instructions to follow if she wants to rescue her mother. Not knowing what to do, she seeks the help of her neighbor, Ms. Wei, and embarks on her adventure.
Overall enjoyment: It was very good. Some parts were a bit rushed, this is one of those rare books that would’ve been better if they were longer, but overall it’s very refreshing and imaginative. Not to say this is a light read, though...
Plot: It is quite well constructed, but it could have been better developed. There are two prologues, and I can’t help but feel that they could have been worked into the story proper, so the reader could piece the information together, rather than given at the beginning. As it is, the story takes a while to start, and some things that could have been plot twists (because Melanie has to discover them) are already known to the reader and you just have to roll your eyes and wait patiently until she figures it out. Also, the quest in itself, the tasks that Melanie has to perform to achieve her goal, are over too soon. She could have fleshed this part out a little bit, have Melanie work for it more. It’s traditional in a quest story, isn’t it? There is one kind of plot hole, though (and not really a plot hole, just something that REALLY should have been explained and isn’t).
Characters: They are well developed enough. Melanie can appear bratty and inconsiderate at times, but that’s just how her character is. Others, like Mr. Glueskin, are supposed to be stereotypes. Once again, there could have been a better development if the book had been longer. I sure would have loved to read more about the Half-World people.
World/setting: There is some amazing world building in here. The three planes of existence are clearly based on Buddhism, but she doesn’t concern herself much with the higher level (or the mortal level, for that matter). The story is set in Half-World, a dreary place full of monstrosities but no color at all. This is an amazing world, even if violent and grotesque.
Writing style: Very concise and straightforward.
Representation: It’s a book about a Japanese character, based on Japanese mythology, written by a Japanese author.
Political correctness: No big gaffes in here. Like all good coming-of-age stories, it tries to give some idea on big concepts, like death, suffering, loss, and justice.
Up next: The Last Illusion, by Porochista Khakpour
98. THREE PRINCES, BY RAMONA WHEELER
Another recommendation from Maria, plus it has awesome cover art. This one was a miss for me, though.
Synopsis: In an alternative reality, where the Egyptian Empire flourished and went on to dominate the world by what would be our 16th century, Lord Scott Oken is a spy for the Empress against her enemies, Victoria and Albert, who want to bring the empire down. Along with his mentor Mabruke, he is sent to the New World of the Inca Empire to investigate strange happenings.
Overall enjoyment: It was a bit pointless. There was so much that could have been done here, with the supposed steampunk setting plus the alternate history, but those two elements almost weren’t used. They are basically bright lights to advertise what, in the end, is a poorly constructed, quite unoriginal, and, frankly, very boring spy story.
Plot: It takes a really long time for the story to start, and it drags all the way to the end. Scott and Mik are supposed to be superspies, but they actually do nothing at all, they only watch as the story unfolds. The third prince, who is the one who brings the start of the action with him, only appears halfway through the book, and leaves right afterwards. The events are disconnected and there is no suspense at all.
Characters: Scott is a brushed-up James Bond who doesn’t play cards. All he does is objectify, seduce, and abandon women who, of course, can’t help but sigh when they think of him for missing him so much. Mik is likable, and that is his only true asset as a spy. All the characters are shallow stereotypes, and I couldn’t care less about any of them.
World/setting: My biggest disappointment. It should have been where all the work was truly done -- you have both steampunk and alternate history going on here -- but it was just used as a gimmick to get attention and there was no depth to it at all. There is no explanation, or even a hint, as to how Egypt managed to dominate the world; or how, for that matter, the Inca Empire survived (in our reality they had already been destroyed by the Aztec at this point, but in the book the Aztec aren’t even mentioned). There are some flying machines, but calling this book steampunk is a really big stretch. Overall, there is lots of decoration but very little foundation: she spends pages describing how the women paint their breasts, how they dress, the appropriate form of address, the decoration of the houses, and what the flying machines look like; and very few or no pages at all telling us how the machines actually work, or how it was that this society became possible, or how it works in practice. Any engineer can tell you that you have to lay the foundations first and then build upon that, otherwise the whole thing will fall down on your head.
Writing style: It wasn’t too bad, considering how bad the other stuff was.
Representation: The Incas could be considered dark-skinned, I suppose. And she hints that Mik may be gay. She misses a couple of perfect opportunities to make lesbian couples, though. (And it’s not just that she could have put them together but chose not to, the story would actually have been better and the plot neater if they had been couples.)
Political correctness: This reads exactly like a James Bond novel, especially in the misogyny, hypocrisy and self-importance. I won’t even bother listing all the problems I had with this, I’ll just leave a general comment: argh.
Up next: Half World, by Hiromi Goto
97. THE ANATOMY LESSON, BY NINA SIEGAL
Recommended by Nina. She’s an art student who has a lot of interest in the history of famous paintings. After she recommended it to me, she was infuriated to discover this was the fictional, and not just fictionalized, story. I decided to read it anyway, since I’m not as hung up on true historical facts as she is…
Synopsis: The fictional backstory to Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, starring Aris Kindt, an unfortunate boy with a tragic story who could never get a break, and who also had been Rembrandt’s neighbor in their childhood, as the body.
Overall enjoyment: It was nice. Not one of the best books I’ve ever read, but not one of the worst, either.
Plot: The plot really isn’t the most important thing here. She’s mostly trying to paint a picture herself, of the particular moment when this painting was made. I’ll admit that there wasn’t a lot of engagement for me. There is an attempt at suspense with Flora’s story, and her wanting to save him/get his body, but that’s mostly ruined because you know from the start that she will fail.
Characters: They are mostly well constructed. Flora’s character, though, which I was hoping would be a good one, was too much of a stereotypical angelic woman. I do like that there are no evil characters, just a few people who can’t be bothered to care about people they don’t know.
World/setting: This was probably the best part of the book. The portrayal of the time and place was vivid and colorful, even in its repression and puritanism.
Writing style: The whole book is told in first person, but the narrating character changes from chapter to chapter (sometimes within chapter too). The problem I had here is that they all sound like the same person talking, not like different people at all. She uses some very few markers on each different character (like having Flora say “were” every time she means “was”) but those were so few and incongruent (Flora would use it in very complex and refined phrases; that would be the only grammatical error she would make) they seemed gimmicky and fake. It honestly would have been better to just have them all talk the exact same way.
Representation: Quite poor, as you would expect.
Political correctness: I did not like Flora’s character. I had very high hopes for her, and she turned out to be a stereotype. It’s even worse because Flora is the only female character (if you don’t count Tulp’s wife, but she’s even more stereotypical than Flora).
Up next: Three Princes, by Ramona Wheeler
96. TENDER MORSELS, BY MARGO LANAGAN
Recommended by Maria. I have never read/heard the Snow White and Rose Red story; had never even heard about it before, to be honest. The only Snow White story I know is that one with the evil queen and the hunter. I’m a bit reluctant to try and read it now, because I’m afraid I might be too disappointed. This book set a really high bar…
Synopsis: After having a very difficult life, Liga is offered the opportunity to live in the world of her dreams. She raises her two daughters in there, protected from the world that has treated her so badly. But bears and dwarfs invade her safe haven, disturbing her peace.
Overall enjoyment: Like I said, I didn’t know the original fairy tale, so I didn’t have anything to compare it with. I did enjoy it immensely, though. It is very lyrical and full of sensitivity, even though it deals with heavy and disturbing ideas. The beginning was very hard to get through.
Plot: Even though the book is not really plot-driven, it is well supported. The true plot is actually the development of the characters and that is done beautifully.
Characters: Amazingly complex and well rounded. Each one is a world within themselves.
World/setting: She creates a magical land for Liga’s heaven that has a lot of fairy tale atmosphere to it. I love how she points out the flaws in it, too. It works beautifully with the counterpoint of the real world, which is ugly, and stinky, and violent, but real and complete.
Writing style: It’s almost poetry in prose form. Delightful to read.
Representation: Urdda is dark-skinned, although she suffers no prejudice for it.
Political correctness: It is, basically, the story of Liga healing from her trauma and of how her daughters have been affected by her fears. It has wonderful elements to it.
Up next: The Anatomy Lesson, by Nina Siegal