Review: Splintered

Splintered
Splintered by A.G. Howard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

*3.5/5*

Fun fact: I am not a fan of ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND. Okay, small correction: I’m not a superfan of that novel. Lewis Carroll and his surreal, nightmarish tales about the little girl named Alice are not quite my cup of tea. Needless to say, the large number of people that exhibit an extreme obsession with that general fandom are those with whom I clash. That being said: if you like the WONDERLAND stories, good for you! You can have them because, again, they’re just not for me.

So why on Earth, you’re wondering, did I read a book that was a spin on the famous story? Honestly, word of mouth. Consistent, word of mouth — and not just from people who admit upfront that they like the WONDERLAND stories. This book continued to pop up, especially in the wake of the recent release of its final installment and so, you could say, I was worn down.

And surprisingly enough: I actually enjoyed it a little. Well, I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. There were some fascinating ideas explored and more than a few gothic horror elements that are well thought out and perfectly pitched between creepy and grotesque. My primary issues, as always, is the love triangle. While certainly better than others and played beautifully for laughs/snark, it spirals down into melodrama come the third act. I found it frustrating, but think that A.G. Howard is one of the few YA authors I’ve seen pull off a triangle like this so well. It’s not perfect and frustrating to me only because I’m sick of love triangles — if it weren’t for that second fact, I could see myself eating it up.

Shout out, though, to Jeb: that boy’s snark was ON. POINT. It was the perfect humour-style to cut through the gothic darkness of this book. For his quips alone I would continue the series.

*Note: When I say ‘gothic’, I mean more of the Hot Topic kind of darkness and less of the classic Stoker/Shelley/atmospheric kind. Not always to my taste but, again, well done here.

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Review: A Desperate Fortune

A Desperate Fortune
A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**Thank you so very much to SOURCEBOOKS Landmark and NetGalley for providing me with a digital ARC copy of this novel.**

I can finally award Ms. Kearsley another 5-star rating for a novel! Perhaps you don’t realize how excited I am over this prospect. Quick background: I first read Ms. Kearsley’s THE WINTER SEA last month and absolutely loved it. After that, I just as quickly devoured three more of her novels — THE ROSE GARDEN, MARIANA, and THE FIREBIRD — but none of them grabbed me the way that first novel had and, so, I awarded them all betwee 3-to-4-star ratings out of 5. Nevertheless, when I heard that Ms. Kearsley was to release a new novel, I was ecstatic: her ability to blend fact and fiction while crafting enjoyable characters (usually) within a quasi-magical realism twist is something that I very greatly enjoy.

Guys, I think I liked this book from the get-go and for good reason: Sara Thomas, our modern-day heroine, is probably Ms. Kearsley’s best. A young woman on the spectrum — she suffers from Asperger Syndrome (AS) — Sara is hired for a small little cryptoanalysis job in the form of breaking and translating the diary of a young Jacobite exile, Mary Dundas. From here, we have many of the staples of Ms. Kearsley’s previous novels: shifting time periods, parallel (or contrasting) romances, international locations, and journeys of self-discovery. Fans of her previous novels will not be disappointed in this latest release.

I was swept away into the world of this novel, and while I’ll admit that I sometimes found Ms. Dundas’ portions a little slow to follow, I nevertheless felt equally compelled by both heroines. THAT is what I missed from the novels I read post-THE WINTER SEA: equal compulsion. But I got it here, and I can’t wait for everyone else to read it as well.

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Review: A Court of Thorns and Roses

A Court of Thorns and Roses
A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**A massive thank you to both Bloomsbury and NetGalley for providing me with a digital ARC copy of this book for the purposes of review**

First off: WOW. I mean, it’s hot outside already but DAMN. It just got hot, hot, HOT in here!

Okay, so, let’s get serious. I love Sarah J. Maas’ writing and storytelling ability — I fell in love with her THRONE OF GLASS series from chapter one and think that she has continued to hone her craft with each successive installment in that series. The same goes for this book; only this time Ms. Maas is flexing her more erotic muscles. Warning: yes, this is shelved under YA, but it’s definitely for an older YA audience due to some slightly-more-explicit sexual content. If you’re not into that, you’ve been warned.

The hardest part of trying to do a spin on BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is that the original story feels dated and uncomfortable to us living in such a pro-feminism age. We can all shout until we’re blue in the face about the whole Stockholm Syndrome thing. The flip-side of the argument is that it’s a fairy tale: one is meant to suspend their disbelief. What Ms. Maas does is balance an assault/update upon some of the less-appealing aspects of the tale — our beauty isn’t originally all that interesting — while maintaining a few romantic elements that require a little suspension from the reader. She also ramps up the erotic undertones to be far more than just undertones, and brings to life a fairy court that is equal parts sexy, deadly, intricate, and downright cruel.

Worldbuilding is one of Ms. Maas’ fortes, as demonstrated with THRONE OF GLASS, and this book is no exception. The creation of the multiple fey courts, their societal and aristocratic/monarchical hierarchies, and even the intrigue amidst fey family members is perfectly balanced within the novel so that it never feels like a massive information dump/overload. Like Feyre, we are plunged violently into this world and discover it behind curtains, through glamours, and with a lot of trial and error.

There’s enough left open at the end of this novel for the sequel(s), and I’m more than ready to see what will happen to these characters. Also, yes, I do recommend reading this with a glass of wine and some dark chocolate — consider it perfect for helping to set the mood.

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Review: Clash of Eagles

Clash of Eagles
Clash of Eagles by Alan Smale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**Thank you to Del Rey Spectra, a part of Random House, and NetGalley for providing me with a digital ARC copy of this book for review**

Alright, this book pulled a fast one on me. It took me a couple days of sporadic reading to finish but, I’ll be honest, for the entire first quarter of this book I wasn’t certain I was going to enjoy it. Here’s why: the first quarter — really the first third — of this novel felt very much like a “Dances with Wolves” meets the Roman Legion story. I was pretty much dead certain I knew exactly how it was going to end, and I found that frustrating, which meant my reading pace slowed down.

And then something happened. I’m not sure exactly where or when it happened, but something did happen: I fell in love with this book. Perhaps I just needed time to fall into the cadence of the story, maybe I just needed to take a step back from it for a day, but all of the sudden I was in — and I tore through the rest of this story. I think I can chalk it up to one big thing: character. Marcellinus, our Roman protagonist, is alright (if not a little conventional) on his own, but it is in interaction with the child characters of the novel that he truly shines and develops. I fell in love with the children and with every moment Marcellinus spent with them. These are the best moments of the novel.

It’s amazing that a novel that could have so easily derailed and become utterly generic maintains its brilliant alternate history plot while forging the phenomenal characters that it does. While the ending felt a little abrupt, I found out after finishing it is because there are to be more books following this character. EXCELLENT! I eagerly await them.

This book was gritty, brutal, and hypnotically beautiful. I recommend it highly as a piece of compelling, well-written, and thoroughly researched fiction.

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Review: Shadow Scale

Shadow Scale
Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**Thank you to Random House Children’s and NetGalley for providing me with a digital ARC of this novel**

I won’t lie: SHADOW SCALE was one of my most anticipated releases of 2015. I’ve waited two years for this novel. To have it in my hands was an amazing feeling. Also, knowing that this was a sequel, and not the second book of a trilogy was just as wonderful a feeling. I knew that I was getting a definite conclusion.

Honestly: this book was brilliant up until its climax. Rachel Hartman is meticulous in her construction of this novel from top to bottom. The complexity of the plot not only continues where the predecessor, SERAPHINA, left off, but continues to build in intricacy and intrigue. Even more importantly, Ms. Hartman takes her time — she neither fluffs nor pads her narrative, but simply recognizes that it’s a slower-moving story. Is it sad that I have to say this seems a rare occurrence in YA literature? It’s refreshing, and I loved it — I actually noted to myself around the 47% mark of this novel that I was amazed at the sheer volume of things that had happened and I was hardly even halfway through the novel.

As always the characters are phenomenal, building and growing throughout the course of the novel and there are plenty of things that are revealed about all of the characters, good and bad alike. Aside from the world-building of SERAPHINA’s world, the characters have always been the strongest element of this series: they’re infinitely complex and human, even the dragons. Their struggles, their wants, their fears — all of these are fascinating, even down to the side characters. Pair that with Ms. Hartman’s incredibly well thought out and familiar-but-not-quite-so world, and you have just incredibly engaging and entertaining reading.

However, if there is one stain upon this book, for me, it was the climactic action: it felt a little too much like a deus ex machina. For two books that had been so delicate and intricate in building their world, leaving nothing unturned, always taking the more realistic — for a fantasy — route when it came to resolving conflict, this climax was actually a little bit of a letdown. It was too abrupt, too easy. I felt like it needed more. I was left wanting and more than a little frustrated.

As for the epilogue: I can understand how some readers may end up being a little upset at its bittersweetness. I, however, find the decisions made by the characters perfectly in line with who those characters are/have been throughout the series. I wasn’t too terribly surprised, and I think that Seraphina’s line about the situation sums it up perfectly. I like to imagine in my head that behind closed doors things were (hopefully) a little different.

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Review: His Majesty’s Dragon

His Majesty's Dragon
His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book took me longer than usual to finish. It’s a fun premise — hey, what if they had dragons for the purposes of aerial combat during the Napoleonic Wars? — with enjoyable characters, but a wicked slow pace. And I think that’s what I both liked and disliked about it.

The slow pacing comes from not only Novik’s writing style, but the fact that much of this book is trying to read like the Master and Commander novels by O’Brien. For those of you who haven’t read those novels, they’re historical-military fiction focusing upon the naval combat during the Napoleonic Wars from the perspective of the English — specifically, an English naval commander named Capt. “Lucky” Jack Aubrey. They’re entertaining, but slow due to being chock-full of naval and historical information.

His Majesty’s Dragon is like that. Did I enjoy it? Yes; it’s not my favourite book I’ve read involving dragons, but it is quite clever. Will I continue the series? I’m not sure. Probably, but at the moment I’m on the fence.

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