Book Review: Fiendish [Plus: Half Lies]

What can I say? What can I even say about this book. I don’t know, I don’t know. But it stole my heart and I can’t imagine not having picked it up on a whim that day at the library. It’s just so good.

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Fiendish

  • Author: Brenna Yovanoff
  • Publisher: Razor Bill
  • Year: 2014
  • Shelved in: Still on the new shelf. Might end up in paranormal romance, or stay near the fantasy/adventure section.
  • Genre vibe: Southern Gothic, a little bit of Atmospheric Horror
  • At a glance: Clementine has been trapped and sleeping in the cellar for a long time. Fisher finds her. Turns out there is magic everywhere, and now they’ve set off a heck of a lot more of it.

The Good Stuff

I love this book. I ate it up and absorbed it into the music of my mind. Yovanoff’s writing is so spectacular. I see hints of Maggie Stiefvater in it (probably because they are best friends + critique partners) and it’s so concise and descriptive and it’s one of those writing styles that has a taste. Like oranges sometimes, or like dust.

It’s so readable. Sometimes you read a book because you want the story, or because you love the characters. But sometimes there’s a book where the writing quality is just so stellar that it almost ends up being your favorite part. Those kinds of books where you really, really enjoy the actual act of reading the words. Those are my favorite kinds of books. This is one of the best.

On top of that, the atmosphere is just fantastic. Remember how I said Beware the Wild was just barely lacking? Fiendish was not. Fiendish was perfect. It scared me a couple times, and made me melt a couple more, and altogether absorbed me just as much as I was absorbing it. I finished it a week or so ago and I still feel like I’m . . . stuck inside this book. And I will be forevermore.

I feel like this review shouldn’t be as short as it’s going to be, because this book was so darn good.

And now we come to my favorite part: the characters.

Everyone in this book is my precious. If you harm them, I have the right to protect them, and I don’t feel that particular way about very many characters.

When I first found out about this book, read the synopses, etc., I was really…doubtful. I’d heard some things about how Clementine was “not like any other heroes” and side-eyed it a bit thinking it’d be a Girl Preachy book. But it wasn’t. Clementine was amazing, and people were right, she wasn’t like very many other protagonists in her genre. But she was also a part of her story, through and through, and that I think was my favorite part about her.

And then Fisher. Fisher Fisher Fisher. I think, honestly, one of my favorite parts of this book was that none of the characters really truly fit all of the requirements for their “type” to really be included in a trope or stereotype. Like they were almost the Bad Boy, almost the Rebel Girl. But there was something poking out on the edge that made it . . . different. That made them find the crack in the mold just enough to bend it a little.

I liked that. I liked that a lot. I’m all for subtlety in the “breaking cliches” department. Because then you’re at least honoring that the cliche is…a thing.

Story-wise everything was on point. Just. So so good. So so so so so so good.

Questions, Comments, Concerns?

WHY ISN’T THERE ANOTHER BOOK.

Not really, it ended fine.

I just want to read it over again.

Overall

  • Rating: 5/5 stars
  • Recommended to: Fans of Southern Gothic, Atmospheric Horror, really good characters, subtle mold breaking, and really good romance subplots.
  • Lasting impression: Roots wrapped around my face, and imagined kisses that taste like summer sunshine.

Additionally, on Christmas Eve I read this little gem

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the Half Life trilogy is probably my second (third?) favorite series as of right now. I’ve read Half Bad twice and excepting Raven Boys IV, Half Wild is my most anticipated read of 2015.

So when Sally Green announced on twitter that she had an e-book short story for me, well, I may or may not have shrieked.

I have many many emotions. Half Lies is a prequel story about Gabriel and his sister, set pre-Half Bad and filled with feelings of every sort. I cried, as only Gabriel seems to make me do. And while I usually dislike things told in journal form, like this was, Green’s prose is…pretty darn great, I must say.

(also, come on, cover art, anybody? I die a little every time I see any of these covers. So good.)

So, overall:

  • Rating: 4/5 stars
  • Recommended to: People who like Half Bad, of course
  • Lasting impression: Gabriel, my precious, why must you hurt so much.

Stay tuned for a 2014 wrap up…

Book Review: Keturah and Lord Death

So, I have my other Southern Gothic to review.

But I finished this five minutes ago. So I’m writing this one first. Because I am overcome.

And let me preface with: I don’t like fairy tales.

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Keturah and Lord Death

  • Author: Martine Leavitt
  • Publisher: Front Street
  • Year: 2006
  • Shelved in: Teen fantasy? Possibly romance.
  • Genre vibe: Fantasy/fairy tale romance.
  • At a glance: Young Keturah has a brush with Death — literally. She meets young Lord Death in the forest, and tells him a story. It is a story of the truest love that can be. But, she says, I won’t tell you the ending unless you let me live for one more day. Death says alright, but you will die tomorrow unless you find this true love you speak of for yourself. Things unfold from there, requiring Keturah to find her true love and continue spinning tales for Death.

The Good Stuff

I don’t like fairy tales. I don’t like things in the style of a tale, like this book, I don’t like retellings, I barely like the actual Snow-White-Cinderella-Little-Mermaid-et-cetera tales.

But this book.

Maggie Stiefvater (hero, author, human being) recommended books for the holidays. And so, well, I thought, I must read some of these. Beware the Wild and Fiendish were already, wonder of wonders, on my book stack. (Good job, self, you are connected with your inner channeling-your-favorite-author spirit.)

But then I saw this one.

And, okay, really though, who can resist a story about Death’s personifications? It’s one of Teen Lit’s favorite things, and it’s always one that’s for a purpose and done so, so well. A personification of Death is one of the most poetic and bookishly-aesthetically pleasing things ever to happen to books. And this one doesn’t disappoint.

Keturah as well has got to be one of my favorite characters ever, and I don’t have many. She’s beautiful, strong willed, even headed, completely set in her story. I fell in love with her as easily as everyone else did.

Even the writing! Remember, I don’t like fairy tales, I don’t like the feel of them. This is a fairy-tale-feeling book, just by nature. But it is so beautiful. You can tell that the protagonist is a storyteller, and that the author herself is a master one. Every bit of prose is incredible. It’s like reading poetry, without having to phrase the stanzas as you go along.

Character arcs are astonishing as well, and the thing is only two hundred pages long. There’s development everywhere, every page. The setting is beautiful. So many things happen, but I was not once confused.

And the pacing. And the characterization. And the general writing finesse that Leavitt presents. The question of Keturah finding her true love is about half the story goal (along with continuing to rescue her town from Death with her clever ways) but all along the way, it’s never…worried about. Keturah doesn’t say anything in so many words, though she does procure a charm in order to help her find her true love. There’s showing everywhere, and very very clear character motivations from Keturah, and just…everything you could want.

It was…beautiful. Just beautiful.

I don’t have anything negative to say about it, I really don’t.

Overall

  • Rating: 5/5 stars
  • Recommended to: Everyone, although I guess if you don’t like any kind of fantasy at all or really didn’t like romances I wouldn’t tell you to read it.
  • Lasting impression: Warm, strong arms and a sharp heartbeat and the smile of your one true love.

Book Review: Beware The Wild

This was one of those things where you have that friend that has the book, and you think of this fact at just the right moment…which is right in time to snatch it from the library.

And then after, you’re really, really glad you did.

…And you grab another semi-related one to go with it. Just. You know. To keep the theme going for a bit.

In other words, this book was amazing, and I always forget how much I like Southern Gothic.

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Beware The Wild

  • Author: Natalie C. Parker
  • Publisher: Harper Teen
  • Shelved in: Technically it’s still on the “new” shelf, but I think it’ll probably end up in the Fantasy/Adventure aisle.
  • Genre vibe: Southern Gothic.
  • At a Glance: The swamp in Sticks, Louisiana is not like other swamps. It is at first glance, and people wish it really was, and it’s scary and icky and sometimes it eats people. Then it eats Sterling’s brother, and well, after that more bad things happen. Like a swamp girl showing up to replace Missing Brother.

The Good Stuff

Honestly, this book is beautiful.

When you first arrive, you’re immediately given strange happenings. What is wrong? Phineas, Sterling’s beloved brother, has run off into the swamp (of all places) and has not returned.

Standard, right?

WRONG, cries Sterling. But her momma says come on Sterling, you and your sister need to wash up for dinner.

…Sister?

Sterling does not have a sister. Sterling knows this.

But everyone else thinks otherwise. To every other person in Sticks, Lenora May has always been Sterling’s sister.

Every other person, that is, except Heath Durham.

See the setup? Missing brother, missing memories, magic, a hungry swamp, Mr. Guarded-and-Handsome…

It’s like a list of all my favorite things just waiting to be mixed together into something thick and soupy and wonderful. And that is exactly what Beware The Wild did.

To top it all off, the narrative was incredible. Writing-style-wise, I have something else to say. But Sterling’s voice was probably one of my favorite parts about this book. I don’t normally take to a first-person-POV female narrative except for in this kind of genre, but Sterling even went above and beyond. I loved her as much as I loved Heath, maybe even a little more. That’s kind of rare.

The pacing was bumpy and strange just like it ought to be. I loved it.

Questions, Comments, Concerns?

While the narration from Sterling was incredible, the voice from the author was a little bit…well, dusty. It got the atmosphere across, but it told me to go there instead of taking me there.

Possibly this is just because I like my Southern Gothic atmospheres to be ridiculously saturated. But it also made the book as a whole a little less memorable than it could have been, and so it’s something that I definitely wanted more of the whole time I read it.

Overall

  • Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended to: Fans of a good Southern Gothic, but won’t be upset if the atmosphere is a little lacking. People who enjoy really good character chemistry and really cool magic.
  • Lasting impression: Poetry about the love of a brother, the pressure of a too-hot summer day.

Book Review: We Were Liars

Rich kids? Private islands? Misery? Despair?

Yes please.

I suffered through being seventeenth on the hold list at the library to read this book. And I wasn’t…disappointed. No, I wasn’t disappointed. I just didn’t realize what I was getting into at first.

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We Were Liars

  • Author: E. Lockhart
  • Publisher: Delacorte Press
  • Year: 2013
  • Shelved in: Teen fiction
  • Genre vibe: We’re not saying it’s ghosts but it’s ghosts, inspired, atmosphere, the thrill of summer
  • At a Glance: There is nothing wrong with the Sinclairs. Never has been, never will be. Cadence, her two cousins, and the friend of one who tags along are the Liars. They are inseparable, immortal. But nothing is ever what you think it is, apparently.

The Good Stuff

WRITING. WRITING WRITING WRITING. After the atmospheric let-down of Belzhar, this was like drinking water after being parched. Lockhart’s prose is flawless . Part poetry, part lyrical composition, part plain old human speaking. I want to dive in and drown. And drown  some more. And then be buried in the words once I’m gone.

Atmosphere was amazing. I want to live on that island, in a fictional way. As in, I just want to keep reading books set there. In Lockhart’s writing style. Please. Pretty please. That’s all I want.

And the characters. I’m so in love. With all four of them. From Cadence to Johnny to Mirren (my precious) and Gat, too. I can’t imagine anyone better to spend some time with than the Liars. I absolutely loved the complexity of all of them, and how consistent they were, and how full of life.

I read for characters. Every time. And these were good ones. Very, very good ones.

Questions, Comments, Concerns?

Spoilers beyond this point

This story was messed up. I’m not even going to try and say that I liked it, because I didn’t.

I’m noticing a slight trend either in not-contemporary Teen, or just in what I’m picking up recently. That trend is the “MC has amnesia, all of that story was a lie” trend.

I dislike it.

Cadence suffered a head injury and now suffers migraines and amnesia.

Or so we think.

This is a lie.

All those people you hung out with all summer?

Dead.

That’s right.

Weird, isn’t it? I wanted to like it so badly, but then…she stole it from me. I was given figments. Ghosts. But not real ghosts. The carpet of reality was pulled out from underneath my readerly self and replaced with something that was not real – or that was real, but shouldn’t have been real.

It was very disconcerting.

I’m still not a fan, and I finished this book a week ago.

Overall

  • Rating: 4/5 stars because I like to be generous and 3 ¾ is weird
  • Recommended to: Lovers of the lyrical prose that can handle a major reality change
  • Lasting impression: Folly, and the sweet smoke of summer.

Book Review: Belzhar

When the EpicReads facebook page posted this book, I died a little inside. It was so pretty. I needed to read it this second.

So I waited a couple of months until an opportunity came along, and snatched it up.

I don’t regret it, honestly. But I mean that more in the. . .I’m saying that because I don’t regret it, and if it had been a little better I would’ve said “I loved it” instead.

Make sense?

Belzhar

  • Author: Meg Wolitzer
  • Publisher: Dutton
  • Year: 2014
  • Shelved In: Teen fiction
  • Genre vibe: not-supernatural, inspired, almost…indie? In the music sense.
  • At a glance: The Wooden Barn is a boarding school for teens who have been through (or are going through) some stuff. The main character is crazier than you originally think. Nothing is quite as it seems. There are not-magic-but-magic journals.

The Good Stuff

I love the concept of this book. I have since I first heard about it. Jam and her classmates in the hand-picked Special Topics in English class are reading Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, and their strange yet endearing teacher, Mrs. Q, says they ought to write journals along with every thing else.

Everyone is confused. There are six kids in this class, what’s up with that? How weird.

Things get weirder, sorry guys.

Once they start writing in the journals, they’re taken to a place (a state of mind? no one’s sure) that they grow to call Belzhar. In there…well, all that stuff they went through? Never happened.

Pretty cool right? Back-woods boarding schools for the troubled where there’s no internet or cell phones allowed and every year this one teacher picks out special kids to read a book. It’s awesome. I really liked the atmosphere that ended up coming out of this book, though it wasn’t one I expected.

I went into it wanting…surreal, slightly paranormal, we’re-not-saying-it’s-magic-but-it’s-magic feelings just oozing out of the pages. What I got was a somewhat drier version of that, but it was still good. It transported you, even if the writing was…sub-par.

There was emotion, there was character development, there were awesome brother-sister relationships even if we never saw them on screen. This book had some great fixings and some awesome features. I enjoyed it.

It’s just that, as a whole, it wasn’t. . .astounding.

Questions, Comments, Concerns?

I’m really kind of sad that this is what my conclusion was, but…

Great concept. Less than great execution.

It needed to be longer, it needed to be told from the POV of someone other than Jam. It needed a little more…fluff. Everything got right to the point. Which, the point was nice, but the point also wasn’t enough.

And then that ending.

Just…

No? Maybe?

We needed another POV that wasn’t just Jam. Then it would’ve been alright.

As it stands, though. Not bad. Not great. Such, such a pretty cover. Don’t regret it.

Overall

  • Rating: 3/5 stars
  • Recommended to: Fans of boarding schools, really cool concepts, people who don’t mind some heavier subjects being told instead of shown.
  • Lasting Impression: The hardwood floor of the Special Topics classroom, a hazelnut candle, and a dusty goat barn.