#21 = Asylum by Madeleine Roux

asylum cover

ASYLUM by Madeleine Roux

jacket flap blurb

Once you get in, there’s no getting out.
For sixteen-year-old Dan Crawford a summer program for gifted students is the chance of a lifetime. No one else at his high school gets his weird fascinations with history and science, but at the New Hampshire College Prep program, such quirks are all but required.
Dan arrives to find that the usual summer housing has been closed, forcing students to stay in the crumbling Brookline dorm—formally a psychiatric hospital. As Dan and his new friends Abby and Jordan start exploring Brookline’s twisty halls and hidden basement, they uncover disturbing secrets about what really went on here…secrets that link Dan and his friends to the asylum’s dark past. Because it turns out Brookline was no ordinary psych ward. And there are some secrets that refuse to stay buried.
Featuring haunting found photographs from real asylums, this mind-bending reading experience blurs the lines between past and present, friendship and obsession, genius and insanity.

thoughts
Let’s begin by setting the scene. Dan (short for Daniel) is the adopted son of some people with a different last name. He kept “Crawford” because that’s what he’s always had, and he was adopted as a teen (or possibly slightly before double-digits). He has never wondered about his birth parents.

And Dan has some sort of wacky mental issue where he suffers from semi-frequent dissociative episodes where he acts normal (presumably) but can’t remember anything about them later. He’s also an introvert, which brings up the first major problem with this book: characterization.
Dan’s “introversion”/“social shyness”/“social anxiety” or whatever it is he’s meant to have is pretty much a joke. There are some instances where he feels awkward in public forums of various kinds, such as with his new friends, in the lunch room, his classroom, etc etc. But mostly it serves no point, plot-wise, and it actually contradicted at times during the plot.

Like with his new friends, Abby and Jordan. Abby is his love interest, and Jordan is the “other friend.” He met and bonded with Abby on the bus they took to get to the College Prep program, and Abby closer to him than Dan is. But no worried, love-triangle-fearers, Jordan is gay.
And yes, there actually is a plot reason for this that is not guys-and-girls-cannot-be-friends angle. You see, Jordan’s parents don’t actually know he’s at this summer program. They think he’s at some other program, somewhere else in the country, getting de-gay-ified. So, quite naturally, Jordan is afraid of getting kicked out. But besides adding conversation fodder (again and again and again), this fear is never developed in any real way.

When Dan and Abby explore the Forbidden Zone (my name) of Brookline and Jordan doesn’t want to go—because he risks expulsion followed by parental tantrums —the three of them argue and Jordan eventually gives in and goes with them. This happens every time they go or talk about going to the Forbidden Zone. In fact, the vast majority of conversation in this book revolves around Abby and Jordan arguing about something and Dan trying to mediate while also not insulting Abby, because she’s his love interest.
The dialogue basically sucks.

Other characters that contradict Dan’s social phobia-ness = his roommate, Felix; Jordan’s roommate, Yi; one of his teachers, Professor Reyes; and various other individuals Dan talks to without any trouble whatsoever. No physical symptoms, no mental symptoms, no nothing. Basically, there is nothing wrong with Dan, but there is an overwhelming feeling that the author wants there to be something wrong with Dan—besides the dissociative episodes, I mean.

So, yeah, character-wise, it feels like it’s written for a younger audience than it’s actually targeting.

Then there’s the plot. The plot is confusing. Apparently, the last warden of Brookline was an ancestor of Dan Crawfords. This warden was also named Daniel Crawford, and he was a megalomaniac freak who did awful shit to his patients deep in the underground bowels of the asylum.
One of his patients was a little girl named Lucy. She happens to be Abby’s aunt, a fact neither Dan nor Jordan initially believe. I don’t know why they don’t believe it, because it seems perfectly reasonable; Abby had an aunt who was “sent away” as a child, Lucy’s date of birth and date of admission match up, and Lucy has Abby’s last name. Also, Abby’s middle name, Lucy, came from her aunt.

So there’s really no reason for Dan or Jordan to disbelieve her. But they do. I suppose because the author was tired of writing the same conversations over and over and decided that the three of them need to split up for a while. Or perhaps she split them up to show that insta-friendship is not without it’s hardships. Or something. I don’t know, but it felt forced.

Another patient was Dennis Heimline, a serial killer known as the Sculptor. Interestingly, when Dan, Abby, and Jordan go down into the Forbidden Zone and find a bunch of old patient notecards, Dennis’s is one of the ones they read. They also read Lucy’s, which is how Abby knows the dates match up for Lucy to be her aunt. But anyway, while most of the notecards list “Homicidal: Y” and “Recovered: N”, Dennis’s notecard lists “Homicidal: Y” and “Recovered: Y”.

This is an intriguing fact that is never elaborated on. In fact, quite the opposite. What happens is, Dan blacks out more and more. He keeps getting these semi-creepy letters written in Warden Crawford’s handwriting (side note: one of these letters said, I’m paraphrasing, How do you kill a hydra? / You cut out its heart. This is “scary” because one of the teachers called Dan, Abby, and Jordan “the Hydra” when they came in late to class one time. It’s never elaborated on). He also keeps having these weird hallucinations/dreams where he is Warden Crawford.

During one of Dan’s blackouts, a man named named Joe who is tasked with keeping kids out of the Forbidden Zone, something he is spectacularly bad at, is killed and posed. Almost like the Sculptor had come back and done it. Of course, the police don’t think a dead serial killer had anything to do with it.

And here is where we learn that Dennis’s body was never found! And some townspeople don’t believe he’s actually dead! More on this later.
The police then arrest some random dude who had, in his possession, a bloody garrote that matched as the murder weapon. We never find out how he got it, but he’s not actually the killer. Oh, no. Nothing so mundane. What’s actually going on is that Felix is being possessed by Dannis. Felix, Dan’s wacky roommate. This isn’t totally out of the blue. When we first meet Felix, he’s very organized and he has a stiff way of speaking. He’s not the sort of person you’d imagine has a lot of friends, and he’s not the sort of person you’re likely to want as a roommate.
But then, Dan notices Felix has been working out. He does various exercises in their room. He goes on runs. He advises Dan to take it up as well, because he says it makes him feel more energized. Now, this is odd, but not noteworthy, because it seems just like something Felix would do. But, in hindsight, I think it’s supposed to be foreshadowing.

Now, about the possession. We come to realize Dan’s being possessed, at times, by Warden Crawford. This is presumably because of the Warden’s connection to Dan. But why did Dennis pick Felix? Was Felix doomed because he was unfortunate enough to be Dan’s roommate? Did Felix have some relation to Dennis? Who knows. And why, in the end, was Dan able to shake off Warden Crawford and emerge unscathed while Felix went crazy after his possession by Dennis?

And why (coming back to Dennis) did the author bring up the idea that Dennis might not be dead if she wasn’t planning on doing anything with it? As a red herring, it was unnecessary. She was writing a horror story about an asylum that once housed a serial killer and now somebody’s died—obviously the reader’s gonna think, “oh, Dennis’s ghost?” or “oh, Dennis didn’t die?” Red herrings are supposed to be distractions. They aren’t supposed to feel like dangling plot lines that didn’t get cleaned up during revision.

Also regarding the end: the climax revolves around a historical scene in which Warden Crawford is preparing to cure (somehow) Dennis before an audience. Dennis is strapped down on the operating table. Various nurses and doctors are watching. And then the police come in and break it up and the Warden is arrested and Dennis goes missing. In the climax, Dennis!Felix reverses the scenario. He straps down Dan on the same operating table in the same room. Abby is also captured and strapped down near by. But before Dennis!Felix can go to work on Dan, Jordan saves the day by turning off the lights and unstrapping Dan and Abby. Then Dan and Abby manage to subdue Dennis!Felix.

My main issue with this scene is that card way back at the beginning of the book. It listed Dennis as “Recovered: Y”. But if Warden Crawford had already cured Dennis, then why was he about to cure him in front of the audience?

And then, and then, at the very end, Dan gets another note. At this point, he’s been assuming Felix gave him all the notes—something that Dennis!Felix somewhat confessed to. And at this precise moment we realize the book is not, in fact, a standalone. So I suppose the author put in all that weird stuff with Jordan (like the photograph of Jordan, Abby, and Dan in Jordan’s room where Jordan scratched out Dan’s face, and then Jordan’s increasing obsession with some unsolvable math problem) so she’d have something to do in the next book.

But when I was reading this book, I was expecting it to wrap up at the end. Until that note came, it was wrapping up at the end. It wasn’t the end of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone where he still has to defeat Voldemort and crap. The story was over. Besides Jordan’s weirdness, which felt more like crappy characterization than anything else, there’s nothing more to do.

The only truly good thing about this book is the setting. Brookline is so cool.

rating out of five stars
★☆☆☆☆

is it worth reading?
I wouldn’t re-read it, but was engaging enough to finish.

want to read it for yourself?

Buy at Amazon Buy at Powell’s
Advertisements

#20 = Tin Star by Cecil Castellucci

Image

TIN STAR by Cecil Castellucci

jacket flap blurb

I knew where I was. I was on a remote space station, sixteen light years from Earth. I knew where I was supposed to be —on the colony ship, heading for a new planet. And I knew what Brother Blue was thinking as his boot came toward me—that my body was no longer his problem.

Severely beaten and left for dead, Tula Bane finds herself abandoned on an alien space station far from Earth. Here, she must adapt to the extraterrestrial way of life—by outsmarting and trading with the natives. Luckily, she befriends Heckleck, an alien who helps her survive in the deep underbelly of the station As Tula gets back on her feet, she thirsts for revenge, and when the perfect opportunity presents itself—in the form of three humans crash landing on the station—the itch to escape is irresistible. But as the maps of the galaxy change, Tula discovers that things are much more interconnected than she thought. Vengeance will not be easy.

thoughts

Everything works together so well in this book. All the pieces fit perfectly, like the walls of an Inca palace. The tone is part wistful, part nostalgic, and part hopeful. It’s about a human girl named Tula. She was born on isolationist Earth in a universe that is full of different species. Most are Minor Species. But those with a certain number of successful colonies are Major Species.

The problem is, there aren’t very many hospitable planets and colonizing them is an arduous process. Many colonies fail, and teleporting from one spot in the universe to another is not always successful, meaning some ships never even make it to their destination.

Unlike most sci-fi books, in Tin Star humans are not a major power. Quite the opposite. They are new to the galactic playing field, and barely qualify as a Minor Species.

Tula’s mother became involved with a cult called the Children of Earth. It was led by a man named Brother Blue—those high up within the cult organization are “Brothers” and “Sisters.” The Children of Earth send out colonies. Tula is taken with her mother and her sister to be one such colony on the colony ship called Prairie Rose. If successful, it would be the fifth human colony among the stars.

Or so they think. In actuality, there are no colonies. There are simply skeleton crews on the supposedly-inhabited planet who keep the ruse going. A force called the Imperium, made of the five Major Species and a variety of Minor Species supporters, is gaining power. Brother Blue wants Earth to be in a position to ally with the Imperium once they gain full control. But to be in that position, they have to have colonies.

And that’s where his elaborate ruse comes in. The Prairie Rose is forced to make a detour to a space station called Yertina Feray, supposedly for repairs after a malfunction. In reality, Brother Blue plans to a) sell the grain the colonists are taking to start their colony and b) provide an area where he can split off from the colony, claiming there are issues he must deal with back on Earth and they will no doubt be successful without him.

Yertina Feray is pretty awesome setting. It is a space station that orbits the planet Quint. Quint, and thus Yertina Feray, were once a major figure on the galactic scene. But eventually Quint was mined to the bone, and with the mining boom over, the planet was barely inhabitable and essentially useless. Yertina Feray clings to life only as a way station, a place where ships from the center areas can stop before teleporting on to elsewhere in the galaxy (or vice-versa). Yertina Feray is almost completely ignored by the major galactic powers.

When Tula notices the grain is not on the Prairie Rose when it is time to leave, she points it out. At first to other colonists. And then, because she speaks halting, but passable Universal Galactic, to the aliens in charge of putting everything on the ship. But they say there weren’t instructed to put the grain on. Eventually, Brother Blue hears what’s going on. He takes her to a secluded location and beats her until he’s convinced she’s dead. Then he tells her family she’s going with him, not onwards with the colonists.

And this is how Tula Bane ends up stranded on Yertina Feray. Because humans are so rare, and the ones that exist are nomads, going from one place to another with no colony or purpose and forbidden from returning to Earth (because of Earth Gov’s isolationist stance, all who leave are forbidden from returning), aliens have a bad opinion of them. For many of them, Tula is the only human they’ve ever encountered.

The doctors on the station patch Tula back up and send her to Constable Tournour. Constable Tournour says they are not responsible for her. He advises her to stay out of trouble and disappear. But then, in a moment of mercy, he allows her to steal some objects from his office. She uses the money to go the Ministry of Colonies and Travel office, where she hears that the Prairie Rose never made it to its destination. It was destroyed during a faulty teleportation.

By chance, she ends up befriending and working for/with an alien called Heckleck. She comes to understand the body language of the aliens (at least the species that live on Yartina Feray and pass through) and their ways. She learns to live like Heckleck and so many others in the underguts, by bargaining one thing for another. Learning who can be bought, who needs what, what prices to ask and what prices to refuse.

But through it all, she wants revenge on Brother Blue. She wants to go home, even if she doesn’t know where that would be, seeing as she can’t go back to Earth. She tries to contact other human colonies, but receives no answer and doesn’t know that the colonies don’t truly exist. And then, as Heckleck says, the map of the galaxy changes.

The Imperium gains control. Earth allies with them. And Imperium ship comes to Yartina Feray and offers work and free passage to residents. Many go. All of them are Minor Species which are not allied with the Imperium. Why? Well, the Imperium is racist. They believe some species are good and deserve good work, and those that don’t meet up with their standards end up with the bad work.

When three humans crash land on Yartina Feray, that’s when things really get changed up for Tula. On one hand, they are human and she wants to go to them and get to know them. But on the other hand, she’s been the only human for three years now, and she doesn’t feel entirely comfortable with her own kind. Not to mention, her experiences with humans (*cough* Brother Blue *cough*) haven’t exactly been positive. And in addition, the other aliens don’t like the new humans, and Tula isn’t sure about them either.

This is getting long so I’ll try to wrap it up before I just tell you the entire story. Tula, Heckleck, Tournour, and Thado feel very real. I understood the psychology and emotions behind their actions, especially Tula’s internal conflicts. I also liked the characterization of the three humans, Els, Reza, and Caleb, and how it was revealed bit by bit, slowly, and realistically. And I was quite thrilled when, at the end, my Tula/Tournour ship turned into canon.

So what didn’t I like? Well, I thought the beginning could have been better. At times, in the beginning, Tula seemed disgruntled with the Children of Earth and Brother Blue. It seemed she was only there to be with her family. But at other times, she talks about how handsome Brother Blue is, and how much she trusts him and thinks he’s worthy of trust. She daydreams about one day getting called “Sister + color.” She comes up with colors in her head. Gray. Lilac. Teal.

I think it could have been better clarified how she felt about the Children of Earth when she was with them. I got the feeling she did believe in the Children of Earth, and in Brother Blue, but then she saw the grain, suspicions she’d been pushing back started to come to the surface. And then they realized fully when Brother Blue beat her, and she saw how he’d manipulated them.

But other than that, I loved the book. I loved how nothing was wasted. Nothing was brought up without a reason (hochts, for instance, and the miner robots). And I liked how it ended. It was sort of open-ended, in a way. Brother Blue is still out, making an increasing name for himself, and Tula misses her chance to kill him. But the end still feels like a success, because of other reasons. It ends on a hopeful, determined note, with a plan in Tula and Tournour’s minds to bring Brother Blue and the Imperium down.

It feels like there could be a sequel, but not like there has to be a sequel. In fact, I don’t think there should be a sequel. It might ruin it.

rating out of five stars

★★★★★

is it worth reading?

Absolutely.

want to read it for yourself?

Buy at Amazon Buy at Powell’s

#19 = The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason

Image

THE CLOCKWORK SCARAB : A Stoker & Holmes novel by Colleen Gleason

jacket flap blurb

“Tonight, I ask, on behalf of her Royal Highness, the Princess of Wales: will you do what no other young women are called to do, and place your lives and honor at the feet of your country?”

Evaline Stoker and Mina Holmes never meant to get into the family business. But when you’re the sister of Bram and the niece of Sherlock, vampire hunting and mystery solving are in your blood, so to speak. And when two young society girls disappear—one dead, one missing—there’s no one more qualified to investigate. Now fierce Evaline and logical Mina must resolve their rivalry, navigate the advances of not just one but three mysterious gentlemen, and solve a murder with only one clue: a strange Egyptian scarab. The pressure is on and the stakes are high—if Stoker and Holmes don’t figure out why London’s finest sixteen-year-old women are in danger, they’ll become the next victims.

thoughts

Despite saying “a Stoker & Holmes” novel on the front, this is, in fact, the first of a series. A series which I will not be continuing with, for a variety of reasons.

Firstly, I should go over what works. The world is this steampunk alternate history thing with a lot of a really cool world-building touches, such as the steam gun. It was interesting and neither overshadowed the plot nor got lost within it.

Of course, part of this is because the plot is so iffy. There are a lot of characters who seem to serve precisely two functions. One for plot and one for love interest. For instance, Inspector Grayling. He is, essentially, Lestrade for Sherlock Holmes, representing the Scotland Yard end of things. His other purpose? To be Mina Holmes’ love interest. Well, one of them.

The other live interest is Dylan, who mysteriously time traveled from the future. Or possibly an alternate reality future, which is identical to our own (he has an iPhone, for instance). Besides being a love interest, he exists to provide mystery. He was transported via Sekhmet statue—the same Sekhmet statue that the Society of Sekhmet is using to, supposedly, raise Sekhmet herself (this Society is headed by an androgynous figure known as the Ankh).

I didn’t find Grayling very interesting, and to be honest neither was Dylan. The only love interest who seemed to have an ounce of depth was Pix, Evaline Stoker’s love interest. He is also a mystery figure who speaks with a fake Cockney accent (we know it’s fake because at one point he accidentally drops it in surprise). He appears in all sorts of strange places and seems to have a personality and life outside of Stoker, Holmes, and the Society of Sekhmet plot.

Other, less important characters include Irene Adler, Sherlock Holmes, and Mycroft Holmes. Mycroft doesn’t appear in the story, but he is mentioned. He’s Mina Holmes’s dad. Her mother apparently walked out of their life when Mina was a child and she isn’t given a name.

Sherlock appears entirely for the purpose of fanservice. He gets one scene that takes place over one page worth of text. He is shown with a group of police, but I guess he must be working on another mystery that isn’t mentioned because he vanishes from the story thereafter. You’d think, if he was working on the Society of Sekhmet mystery, he’d come up again. And possibly solve it before Mina. But no.

It leads to the question, why is he even in the story? Why wouldn’t the author have had him die before the story begins, thus cutting out his potential to usurp Mina or otherwise get involved in her dealings?

And then there’s Irene Adler. She’s mentioned as being just as intelligent as Sherlock, and just as crafty, yet she displays none of this supposed skill. She is the one who recruits Mina Holmes and Evaline Stoker to work on the Society of Sekhmet mystery, and she is essentially their handler. But her part in the story is so small it’s practically inconsequential. You could cut her out and leave an astonishingly small number of loose ends.

If I were writing this story, I would cut her. I would have Mycroft take her place. It brings him into the story, gives a new angle and tension between Mina and Mycroft. Mycroft (to my knowledge) is a manipulator, but he’s also very nationalistic. He would put the needs of the country above Mina’s, and use her desire to please him to get her to do what he wants (like teaming up with Evaline Stoker, who Mina initially dislikes).

And Mina would enjoy the fact that she’s allowed to do all this “male” stuff like science and investigating, but she’d also want Mycroft to be at least a little concerned for her, because he is her father and she’d want some proof that he cared about her as his daughter.

In addition, if Irene Adler were Mycroft, her absence in parts of the story could be explained by Mycroft’s numerous other duties.

Now, onto Evaline Stoker. On the surface, she sounds interesting. A vampire hunter from an illustrious family. Desperate to prove herself as a vampire hunter in a world where vampires are nearly extinct. Afraid of blood, but can still kick just about anyone’s ass with her combat skills and super-senses.

But, in reality, she’s just not as engaging as Mina Holmes. The way she narrates isn’t as interesting (though the author gets points for trying to make them distinct voices) and, generally, the things she picks up on aren’t as relevant to the story. She seems fixated on Pix. Besides giving an outsider’s view on Mina and trying to figure out what’s up with Pix, Evaline doesn’t seem to do much.

Possibly, though, this is because I couldn’t attach to her as well as I attached to Mina. The first couple chapters are all in Mina’s perspective. By the time we get to Evaline, the stage has already been set. Not to mention, her first portion consists entirely of internal monologue and a meeting with Pix.

But on to the plot.

Ah, the plot.

Where do I begin? How about the fact that from around the halfway point to the end of the book, absolutely nothing changes. Not our understanding of the characters, not the power position of the villain, nothing. The only change is that Mina and Evaline grow a tiny bit closer—or, rather, they realize they don’t hate each other anymore. It’s pretty clear to us readers by the halfway point.

Mysteries at the halfway point: Who is the Ankh? How did Dylan time travel? Who is Pix? What happened with Mina’s mom?

Mysteries at the end of the book: Who is the Ankh? How did Dylan time travel? Who is Pix? What happened with Mina’s mom?

Not to mention the lesser mystery of Jack the Ripper. He is mentioned several times. Is he going to end up part of the plot? Are these just throwaway comments to help with world-building?

The only thing that happened at the end was that one girl was saved. That’s it. That’s all. After half a book of buildup, not a single major mystery has been revealed. I felt cheated. I mean, I read this whole book and I don’t even get a single answer? What was the point of the last half of the book?

I have no problem with book series where the entire series is all about one major problem. Like the Lynburn Legacy by Sarah Rees Brennan, and the Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson. Or how about Broadchurch, the TV show detailing one investigation? Those were all good (well, the Lynburn Legacy isn’t over, but the first two have been good).

But this, this is not good. It’s like the author took their story and stretched it out too far. There’s no sense of accomplishment at the end of the book, but nor is there any sense that things have gotten any worse.

rating out of five stars

★☆☆☆☆

is it worth reading?

Not really, but your mileage may vary.

want to read it for yourself?

Buy at Amazon Buy at Powell’s

#18 = Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Image

FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell

jacket flap blurb

Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan, but for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

thoughts

Rainbow Rowell, I have only read two of your books (Attachments and Fangirl) but I have adored both of them. I will forgive your ridiculous first name (I will admit, I did hesitate to read a book by Rainbow somebody. But I’m glad I did).

I’m not sure there’s much to say about this book. The characters are fantastic. Cath (short for Cather), Wren, their father, Levi (Levi), Reagan, Professor Piper, Jandro (short for Alejandro), Laura, and even Nick. Oh, and, of course, Baz and Simon. They all felt so real. And the writing was gorgeous. It was funny sometimes and serious sometimes and always engaging.

But there’s only so long you can write about how great something is before you dissolve into a puddle of loving adjectives. So I’ll skip to the one thing I didn’t like. I didn’t like not knowing whether Cath finished Carry On before the eighth Simon Snow book came out or not. Maybe I just missed it, or something, but I don’t think it was said.

And perhaps that was intended to be meaningful, a show of Cath putting real Levi before fictional Baz and Simon. But I completely understood why Cath felt she needed to finish Carry On (her fanfiction novel of the eighth book) before book eight came out. I totally got that part about if book eight came out first, it wouldn’t be the same. Cath’s say wouldn’t matter. The real author of the Simon Snow books would close the cover, roll the credits, end the story. No more imagining what might happen, because all the lines have been said, all the plot threads tied off.

And yeah, you can keep imagining what could have happened (plenty of people do with Harry Potter), but it’s not the same. Someone, it’s not as real of a story after the real author cuts in and says no, this is what happens. This is canon.

So I really wanted to know if Cath finished Carry On before the deadline. Yes, we got our, does the author see Baz as Cath and so many others see Baz? Or is she going to close his story with so much of him unfulfilled, unwritten? moment where Baz switches sides. And yes, that was part of Cath’s fear of what the real author would say in the final book and how it would compare to what she so desperately hoped would happen, but still. I would have liked to know.

But other that that one thing, it was brilliant. All the relationships were fantastically written and well thought out. I loved how no, Cath was not forced into reuniting with her mother in a painfully wishful, sappy scene. I loved her relationship with her sister, Wren, with Levi, with her father, with Reagan, with Nick. I loved everything about Cath, really. As a writer (though not of fanfiction) with social anxiety, I really connected. I loved how she kept wanting to say no to Professor Piper, but just couldn’t do it because she got so nervous. The social anxiety was done marvelously (you see what I mean about puddle of loving adjectives?), and the plot felt very realistic. Very…human, I guess.

rating out of five stars

★★★★★

is it worth reading?

Yes, yes, yes, yes. Yes.

want to read it for yourself?

Buy at Amazon Buy at Powell’s

#17 = Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan

Image

UNSPOKEN by Sarah Rees Brennan

jacket flap blurb

Kami Glass loves someone she’s never met…a boy she’s talked to in her head ever since she was born. She wasn’t silent about her imaginary friend during her childhood, and is thus a bit of an outsider in her sleepy English town of Sorry-in-the-Vale. Still, Kami hasn’t suffered too much from not fitting in. She has a best friend,runs the school newspaper, and is only occasionally caught talking to herself. Her life is in order, just the way she likes it, despite the voice in her head.

But all that changes when the Lynburns return.

The Lynburn family has owned the spectacular and sinister manor that overlooks Sorry-in-the-Vale for centuries. The mysterious twin sisters who abandoned their ancestral home a generation ago are back, along with their teenage sons, Jared and Ash, one of whom is eerily familiar to Kami. Kami is not one to shy away from the unknown—in fact, she’s determined t find answers for all the questions Sorry-in-the-Vale is suddenly posing. Who is responsible for the bloody deeds in the depths of the woods? What is her own mother hiding? And now that her imaginary friend has become a real boy, does she still love him? Does she hate him? Can she trust him?

Sarah Rees Brennan brings Gothic romance kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century with a heroine who can take care of herself, a boy who needs to be saved, and the magical forces that bring them together and tear them apart.

thoughts

I loved Kami’s narration. She’s witty and clever and logical. No matter what, she always tries to stay grounded, look at things objectively. But at the same time, she’s a reporter to the bone. She can’t stay away from a mystery. She has to know. She the definition of an assertive narrator—as opposed to a passive one, who only responds to situations and doesn’t take the lead. Kami’s all about taking the lead, taking control, making things happen. She’s very enjoyable to read. She has a lot of determination, a lot of spunk.

I didn’t like Jared quite as much. Compared to Kami, compared to Angela, to Holly, to Ash, Jared is a bit flat. He’s a thrill-seeker, to a certain extent (he likes to fight, he likes to make a scene, to ride his motorcycle dangerously fast). But he’s also obsessively in love with Kami, and wants to keep her safe and keep her out of danger. I feel like his love for Kami defines his character. And yes, yes, he has this horrible backstory: his mother hates him, his father beat him, he accidentally killed his father, blah blah blah.

But still. Who is he? He loves Kami. He likes his motorcycle. He’s a moody, delinquent, bad-boy. He wears a leather jacket and hates his cousin. He sees the world in black-and-white. He feels guilty when he gets pissed and someone gets hurt/something gets broken (hurt people’s feelings, damage physical property). But it just seems like without Kami, there isn’t much left to drive his character. What does he want? What does he care about, besides Kami? I don’t know. And I feel like I only care about him because Kami cares about him, and I care about her.

Another thing: I think there was supposed to be some sort of love triangle going on between Ash, Kami, and Jared. But I’m not totally sure if I, the reader, was supposed to be wondering if Kami would go for Ash over Jared or vice-versa. Because, frankly, I didn’t think Ash fit well with Kami.

I like Ash’s character (plot spill = his evil dad family-first/I-will-finally-be-proud-of-you-style guilts him into being a bad guy, but in the end he can’t go through with it). He’s complex and sympathetic, wavering along the line of morality. He’s kind of like Draco Malfoy, actually, but less of a douche bag. But I don’t think Kami would ever he happy with him. He’s not…enough. He’s not passionate enough, he’s not curious enough, he’s not enough.

So If I had any advice for revising this story, I’d probably tell the author to sort out Kami’s feelings about Ash. Does she like him, or does she like the idea of him (i.e.: someone nice who she’s not mentally linked with)?

And now for other characters. One is Angela. She is Kami’s best friend, and she kicks ass. She’s also a (spoiler) lesbian, and has a crush on Holly. Holly is another friend of Kami. She’s someone Kami wasn’t especially friendly with until recently, and after they started talking, Kami had this sort of realization that she’d been avoiding Holly’s attempts at friendship really for no reason, because Holly’s great. But Holly also…ahem…developed (aka got boobs and curves) earlier than the other girls in their small town.

Kami is already insecure about her appearance. For one thing, she’s part-Asian in an all-white town. For another, Angela is super-pretty. Like, Twilight vampire-level beautiful. So I think part of the reason Kami stays away from Holly is because Holly is a boy-magnet, and known for it (unlike Angela, who basically hates people). So she feels a jealous. But she gets over it. Probably because Holly is so wonderful (and bisexual, I think. I know that she likes Angela back, so she does like girls. It’s unclear on the boys. Personally I think she’s bisexual).

And then there is Rusty. Rusty is Angela’s brother. He’s kind of a side character. But he’s great. I would have liked to see more of him, actually. He’s a cross between friend and big brother to Kami—which is cool, because you don’t see boy-girl friendships very often.

Oh, and then there’s the Lynburns. Rob, husband of the sisters Lillian and Rosalind (and thus not actually born a Lynburn). Everyone thought he would marry Rosalind, but he ended up going for Lillian. So for, Rob doesn’t have a very deep character. He wants revenge for the previous Lynburns killing his parents (why? well, Rob’s oh-so-lovely mom and pop were killing townspeople in their basement for power) but that seems to be his only motivation at this point. Maybe he’s just a power-hungry murderer. Apple-doesn’t-fall-far-from-the-tree and all that.

Rosalind’s much the same. She was pissed and heartbroken when Rob picked Lillian over her. She dislikes her sister. Beneath it all, she actually does care whether Jared lives or dies. So there is depth, there, but I think it could have been done better.

Lillian, however, is another story. She’s arrogant. She sees the town as her kingdom, and herself as a queen—but not in a Louis the Sun King kind of way. She takes her family’s ancient role as protector of Sorry-in-the-Vale very seriously. She’s a very interesting character. An interesting blend of likable traits and unlikable traits.

As for the plot…I loved it. Murder and mystery and magic and action. The end left me wanting more and wasn’t a cliff-hanger. The ending was surprising, but believable. I guessed that Kami and Jared’s connection would have to be cut, but I didn’t see their conversation at the very end coming. I have the second book on hold at the library already.

On a final note, there are a few parts written from Jared’s point of view. While I wasn’t sure if they were necessary in this book or not, I feel like it’s setting something more necessary up for the second book. It didn’t bug me, but I think if the second book’s going to have a more even Kami-Jared distribution, Jared really does need to be a more complex, engaging character.

rating out of five stars

★★★★★

is it worth reading?

Without the tiniest ounce of hesitation.

want to read it for yourself?

Buy at Amazon Buy at Powell’s

#16 = Perfect Ruin by Lauren DeStefano

Image

PERFECT RUIN by Lauren DeStefano

jacket flap blurb

On Internment, you can be anything you dream—a novelist or a singer, a florist or a factory worker….Your life is yours to embrace or to squander. There’s only one rule: you don’t approach the edge. If you do, it’s already over.

thoughts

This book put me in such a bad mood. The writing style was so engaging, and there were so many great moments and details and talking about the sky and the edge and the festival…but I ended up disliking it. The protagonist is Blandy McBlandbland big time. She’s so incredibly Disney princess perfect, it drove me nuts.

I don’t want flawless honor and moral perfection, this utopia girl. I don’t want this girl that looks on her parent’s murderer and doesn’t want to cause him any pain, doesn’t want to see him pay. I don’t want this girl who doesn’t feel anger, who’s always kind and good and considerate.

I want a protagonist who’s real. I want a gritty girl, I want a flawed girl. I want a girl who chafes at the limitations of her world and herself. I want a girl who needs, who wants, who yearns. I want reality, in all the shades-of-gray and ruthless passion, that it is.

Morgan is not that girl. She is the faultless one, the fake one. The one who is endlessly forgiving when any rational person would be howling for blood. Her best friend, Pen, feels, breathes, lives. Morgan does not. Pen’s betrothed, Thomas, does not. Morgan’s betrothed, Basil, does not. So many characters are flat, existing to power on a plot that was lost long before their world fell apart.

And that brings me to the plot. It is forced. I read it and I see in my head the author, plodding along in their vision, forcing their characters to act in order to further that vision, and loosing sight of who they are what she has made them.

Internment is a floating island bordered by a globe-wall of wind. Get to close to the edge, and for no reason that is ever explained, you go just a little bit crazy. Oh, and you end up with some physical disability. Internment is presented as a utopia, or at least a near-utopia.

So what happens? A girl is murdered. A boy named Judas is blamed. Morgan’s dad is a patrolman (police officer). Morgan runs into Judas, who has escaped custody, and hides him. For no particular reason, she doesn’t think he murdered the girl, despite the fact that her dad is a police officer and you’d think she’d trust his judgement. She seems to trust her world, trust Internment. Believe in it. And yet she hides Judas.

As it turns out, Judas did not kill the girl. The king had her killed because she was speaking against the accepted religion, challenging the way things are in Internment, and planning to fly a “bird” (some sort of plane thing) to the highly-forbidden ground. We learn that the king has had many rebels killed in the past (something which caused Morgan’s father great angst, which he never acted on)—however, most of those were made to look like accidents.

We’re given a reason why the girl, Daphne, was made to be murder, but it doesn’t really make sense. Supposedly, it was to help quell any rebellious thoughts among the populace. Because making people realize the city they thought was safe and perfect actually has a murderer running around is the best way to get them in line.

Anyway, Morgan, her father, her older brother and her older brother’s wife, and her mother are all poisoned via medication that they’ve been taking. The brother, Lex, and his wife, Alice, escape death because they actually just pretend to take the medication. Morgan escapes death by apparently magical means. Her father and her mother—who is completely irrelevant to the story, anyway—are killed.

After this, Morgan, Lex, Alice, Basil, Judas, and a couple others hide out underground in the bird/plane. Lex, Alice, Judas, and the others because they were all rebels. Basil because he goes with Morgan. Then Morgan decides to sneak away during the night to see Pen and to murder the king (she is, as per usual, quite serene through this rash decision). She meets with Pen, and they are promptly captured by the prince and princess, who take them to the castle and lock them up without anyone else knowing (namely, the king). Their goal, find the bird/plane. It’s not clear why.

Morgan and Pen escape, and during the escape Pen thwacks the prince over the head with a brick. They run back to the safety of the bird/plane. Not long after, the bird/plane starts burrowing down, because the bird/plane is also part mole. The plan is to dig to the bottom of Internment and then just fly off to the ground. Only, they don’t have to dig the entire way, because of this wacky, unexplained vortex inside part of Internment called “the swallows.” It sucks them down, and then they’re spat out into the sky. How convenient. How inexplicable.

And then, mid-flight, guess who appears? Yes, the princess. She somehow stole aboard, with a hostage. And this hostage is (wait for it) Thomas, Pen’s betrothed. Aw. Morgan, ever the diplomat, convinces the princess to let Thomas go and give up her weapons (and not once during the conversation does she want to throttle the princess. Oh-so-virtuous Morgan does think of such things like violence, or anger).

The bizarre party manages to land their contraption and step out just in time to be surrounded by ground-dweller vehicles. End of book one.

Oh, and did I mention the author is clearly trying to set Judas, Morgan, and Basil up for a love-triangle? Kill me now. Or better yet, kill them.

All in all, a plot that acts like all the ridiculous elements (I’m looking at you, swallows, and you, wind-barrier) are actually totally plausible and realistic and this is just another alternate-reality/dystopia novel, and a main character less interesting that tepid oatmeal. Which especially sucked, because the premise is so fascinatingly wonderful and the writing so elegant and beautiful.

rating out of five stars

★☆☆☆☆

is it worth reading?

Only for the writing.

want to read it for yourself?

Buy at Amazon Buy at Powell’s