Monday, July 28, 2014

Review: Dreams of Gods and Monsters

“Dreams of Gods and Monsters (Daughter of Smoke and Bone #3),” by Laini Taylor. The Goodreads summary:
By way of a staggering deception, Karou has taken control of the chimaera rebellion and is intent on steering its course away from dead-end vengeance. The future rests on her, if there can even be a future for the chimaera in war-ravaged Eretz.

Common enemy, common cause.

When Jael's brutal seraph army trespasses into the human world, the unthinkable becomes essential, and Karou and Akiva must ally their enemy armies against the threat. It is a twisted version of their long-ago dream, and they begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people.

And, perhaps, for themselves. Toward a new way of living, and maybe even love.

But there are bigger threats than Jael in the offing. A vicious queen is hunting Akiva, and, in the skies of Eretz ... something is happening. Massive stains are spreading like bruises from horizon to horizon; the great winged stormhunters are gathering as if summoned, ceaselessly circling, and a deep sense of wrong pervades the world.

What power can bruise the sky?

From the streets of Rome to the caves of the Kirin and beyond, humans, chimaera and seraphim will fight, strive, love, and die in an epic theater that transcends good and evil, right and wrong, friend and enemy.

At the very barriers of space and time, what do gods and monsters dream of? And does anything else matter?
I love this series. I just really, really do. And I wouldn’t have expected that from the first book. I liked “Daughter of Smoke and Bone,” but I don’t know that I was necessarily drawn in by it. But oh boy was I drawn in by the second book, and this third book as well, though the fact that its page count tops 600 did test my dedication a few times. Not because it wasn’t well paced or something, but because I have this unexplainable thing against long books.

But my prejudices against long books aside, I do realize that it had to be that massive, because the author took on A LOT. Happily, I felt that it managed to stay just on the right side of biting off more than it could chew, but it felt like a dangerously near thing at some points. Because not only do you have the story of Eretz and the war between chimera and angels, but you also have Karou and Akiva’s story, and the Stelians’, and on top of that Razgut’s and Eliza’s, and it all approached being a bit much at times. But I think the author generally managed to keep her grip on all the storylines and didn’t let it get out of control. I did feel like the story of the angels vs. chimera got left a bit by the wayside amongst all the other storylines, which left me hanging a little since it was the entire focus of the second book, but there were enough other things to make up for that lack, I thought.

The characters . . . the characters in this series are so great. Which is another thing I didn’t really pick up on in the first book. But in the second and third, other characters are introduced, and I just got so, so attached to them. Like Liraz. Like Ziri. Oh my gosh, I love those two. So freaking much. And of course, Mik and Zuzana were still in this last book which made me smile, because Zuzana is hilarious.

Karou and Akiva—I really liked the approach the author took with them in this book. In the first book, their relationship is all insta-lovey, which I was not all that big of a fan of. But in this book, I think their relationship takes on some more depth. Yes, they’re still basically soul mates and wildly attracted to each other, but they also realize that after everything they’ve both been through, love isn’t a given for them. And there’s uncertainty and wariness and a whole host of other emotions that have to be sorted through and worked at before they can be together. And even then, events conspire to throw wrench after wrench into their plans for happily ever after. In other words, I loved every second.

Overall, a fantastically well-written book that’s gripping and involving while still having these moments of humor that kinda totally make the book for me. It’s such a strong series that ended up nowhere near where I thought it was going to after I finished the first book.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Other books in this series:
-Daughter of Smoke and Bone
-Days of Blood and Starlight

Monday, July 21, 2014

Review: Up a Road Slowly

“Up a Road Slowly,” by Irene Hunt. The Goodread’s summary:
The Newbery Award-winning novel

From the author of Across Five Aprils and No Promises in the Windcomes her most beloved story of a girl's coming of age.

After her mother's death, Julie goes to live with Aunt Cordelia, a spinster schoolteacher, where she experiences many emotions and changes as she grows from seven to eighteen.
First of all, the copy I read didn’t actually have the cover above. But I saw this one on Goodreads and totally fell for it. I’m not usually big on ‘80s covers, but there’s something totally compelling about this cover and I found myself going back to it more than a few times. So I chose it for this post. Obviously.

As for the book itself, it was first published in 1966, and it shows. Like, you can definitely tell from the get go that not only does the story take place a while ago, but it’s definitely written in that young-adult style of the past. Do you know what I mean? To me, the stories and characters in most YAs from 20+ years ago feel more removed—like, the emotions feel more sugarcoated and distant or something. Anyway, while there’s nothing wrong with that style, it did take me a while to get into the book because of it. Everything just felt like I was seeing it through the haze of the years rather than living it with Julie.

And really, that could’ve been entirely deliberate on the author’s part, since the story is written as Julie looking back on her childhood and teenage years, which she spent living with her older, unmarried aunt. To me this story felt a bit like the “Anne of Green Gables” series. Nothing too crazy happens—rather it’s a year-by-year account of her growing up and the normal adolescent things, good and bad, that she goes through as she matures.

The story generally felt quaint and sweet, and I thought it would stay that way throughout. And it does, but towards the end, you get a few glimpses of Aunt Cordelia and Uncle Haskell that give them surprising but much needed depth. And I think that depth catches Julie herself off-guard a bit, as she’s used to seeing them through the eyes of her childhood rather than the eyes of a near-adult. And that depth towards the end made it all more satisfying than I think I would have found it otherwise.

Overall, a book that’s short and charming, if a little slow. If I had a 10- or 11-year-old daughter, I think this is the kind of book I’d want to read out loud with her.

Rating: 3 / 5

Monday, July 7, 2014

Review: In the Shadow of Blackbirds

In the Shadow of Blackbirds, by Cat Winters. The Goodreads summary:
In 1918, the world seems on the verge of apocalypse. Americans roam the streets in gauze masks to ward off the deadly Spanish influenza, and the government ships young men to the front lines of a brutal war, creating an atmosphere of fear and confusion. Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black watches as desperate mourners flock to séances and spirit photographers for comfort, but she herself has never believed in ghosts. During her bleakest moment, however, she’s forced to rethink her entire way of looking at life and death, for her first love—a boy who died in battle—returns in spirit form. But what does he want from her?

Featuring haunting archival early-twentieth-century photographs, this is a tense, romantic story set in a past that is eerily like our own time.
The best thing about this book was the setting: San Diego in 1918. Besides the fact that San Diego’s where I grew up, I liked it as the book’s location because I feel like I haven’t read too many books set in that city. And 1918 . . . my goodness, I never fully realized what a perfect time period that would be for a ghost story. Because, I mean, not only is there WWI going on, but there’s also the Spanish Flu epidemic. I knew prior to reading this book that the flu killed a lot of people that year, but holy hannah did this book bring the fear and paranoia and suspicion that went along with it to life.

Mary Shelley was a likeable main character for about the first half of the book, and then she started getting on my nerves. I can’t even pinpoint what it was exactly—probably something to do with the fact that she thinks it’s weird that everyone else thinks it’s freaky when she gets possessed by a ghost. Or maybe how she refuses to follow anyone else’s advice because she always thinks she knows what’s best. She just starts getting really full of herself, I think. But whatever it is, she started annoying me hard core.

The whole mystery with the ghost . . . it was a little predictable, but not enough for me to be 100 percent sure I knew what the truth really was. I didn’t think Stephen made a particularly likeable ghost, but I feel like I can’t really complain about that since I don’t think he was necessarily supposed to be likeable—we’re supposed to pity him, I think.

Overall, while the setting was awesome, the other aspects of the book were slightly less so. It does make me want to read more books about the Spanish Flu, though.

Rating: 3 / 5
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