Given to the Sea: Mindy McGinnis

Given to the Sea was one of the more eagerly-anticipated novels coming ’round this year. I remember catching glimpses of it on Goodreads; the cover is beautiful, and you know of my love affair with covers. Although I really should learn to stop hoping for a good story based off of a cover. Mindy McGinnis, the author, is known for her Not a Drop to Drink series, which I tried reading but couldn’t get very far into. I thought I might try GttS because it’s been a while since her debut, and authors tend to get better as they gain experience.

This book is confusing. I’m pretty good at following alternating points of view; Streams of Babel had the same format, and it’s one of my favorite books of all time. Code Name Verity did too, though it didn’t switch characters so abruptly. My problem with Given to the Sea is that the problems in its world, and the characters that play a part in the story, aren’t introduced to us at all. Instead, we’re thrust right into the middle of things. The book begins with Khosa, who gives us a spiel about the role of the Given and how dangerous the sea is, but after that there are no more introductions. All of these random people show up and it’s like you’re already supposed to know who everyone is. Madda, the seer, Prince Varrick, the philandering noble, Donil, the Indiri twin, Milda, the baker’s daughter, like who are all these people and why am I supposed to care about them?

Everything in this book revolves around sex and pregnancy. You wouldn’t think so, but seriously: the main problem in the story seems to be that Khosa has not yet gotten herself pregnant, which means that she can’t be sacrificed to the sea because she has no heir who will be sacrificed ages afterwards. There was some minor character who lasted for a few chapters– Khosa’s friend, who offers to impregnate her, and has already done so with two other village girls. Apparently sex is a very casual thing in this world. Then there’s Prince Varrick, who can’t keep his pants on, and Prince Vincent, who likes to pretend that he is a “normal boy” by bedding the baker’s daughter every now and then.  The Pietran soldiers cannot stop making dirty jokes. Then there’s Dara, the Indiri girl, who wants to find an Indiri man that she can make Indiri children with. Do you see what I mean? They talk about sex constantly. This is all in the first twelve chapters. It seems like not all– but many characters’ goals revolve entirely around reproduction. Literally anything that Khosa was involved in was tangentially related to her trying to find a man to get pregnant by.

There’s a lot of dialogue. There were entire passages, pages, that were just dialogue, and that can be horribly tedious to read. Most of this book was difficult because I was either trying to figure out which character was speaking, or why what they were talking about mattered to the plot, or what they were even talking about in the first place.

I lasted for twelve chapters but each one felt more boring than the first. I hate to be harsh, really and truly, but this book just didn’t catch my attention. There were too many unnecessary characters, and those introduced to us in the beginning weren’t beguiling enough to keep me reading. Khosa is beautiful. Dara is fierce. Vincent is reluctant. Donil is a joker. Then there’s the mysterious Witt, who is a killer. Witt never even interacts with the other characters. I don’t even know why he’s in this story. I really don’t understand what’s going on, or why all of these things that are happening, are happening (like some war?? That a neighboring kingdom or something? Is waging? But there’s no explanation as to why).

Also, from what I can garner by skimming through the next few chapters… everyone is falling in love with everyone. Vincent likes Khosa. Dara likes Vincent. Vincent likes Dara. Khosa likes Dolin. Dolin likes Khosa. What the heck. No love triangles for me, thanks. Actually this is even worse because it’s like a love circle? Whatever it is, I’m done.

Wildwood Dancing: Juliet Marillier

I’ve always had a soft spot for fairy-tale retellings; hence my love for The Lunar Chronicles, Beauty, so on and so forth. It’s fun to see how authors re-imagine the words of ages-old writers, or how they toy with the constraints set in place by The Brothers Grimm and other storytellers. Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier follows the time-old story of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, except there are only five of them (which is probably for the best; imagine having to remember twelve characters) and they’re merchant’s daughters, not royalty.

The girls live in Transylvania, in a mysterious castle that is already fraught with superstitions and strange lore. Romanian culture was heavily laced into the story, from the food to the names to the words, but I’m not sure that the author quite accomplished what she was going for. When I read the book, it felt like I was being told over and over again that they were Romanian, when I should have understood this from context. The “Romanian-ness” was blatant, but it should have been subtle; you know how in grade school, English teachers would always tell you to “show, not tell”?
So the girls live in this castle with a few servants and their father. Tati is the oldest, and an ethereal beauty; Jena comes after her, and she’s the protagonist of the story, who is known for being sensible; then it’s Iulia, I think, the flirty one, then Paula, the scholar, and finally Stela, at five years. Oh yeah, their ages range from 16 to 12, I think, with Stela as an outlier. That made it a little frustrating at certain parts (like when Tati insists that she’s in love with a man that she’s known for a week), but since this is set in what, the late 1800s – early 1900s, I tried to suspend my disbelief.  The merchant father is working with a cousin of his (the girls’s uncle) on a business venture, and that cousin has a son named Cezar.

Recently I’ve stopped writing up synopses for the books that I read because honestly, it’s such a boring task. I’m way too meticulous when I try to recall the events, and it gets really miserable. So I’m just going to cover the highs and lows of the book in depth, as I usually do. If you want to know what happens: there are five girls — they go dancing in the Otherworld on full-moon nights — their father, the merchant, is very sick and has to go away for a while, leaving them in their uncle’s care — their uncle is killed, leaving the girls in Cezar’s hands, and he’s kind of a tyrant — Cezar is a misogynistic pig who knows the girls are somehow sneaking out — Jena’s pet frog, Gogu, turns out to be a man — Tati and her vampiric lover, Sorrow, manage to end up together; Costi, who is Cezar’s supposedly-dead older brother, turns out to be the real identity of Gogu, and he was under a supernatural curse doled out to him by Draguta, the forest witch. He marries Jena and their father comes home, hearty again, and everything is fine and dandy.
See, I’m not good at explanations.

Cezar was a good antagonist. There were times when I wanted to put down the book and cry because he was frustrating me. There are so many sexist stereotypes ingrained into him, and he demonstrates just how useless he thinks women are several times. Cezar looks for a damsel in distress, in Jena, and grows angry when he isn’t able to find one– which makes him dangerous. Jena maintains diplomacy with her childhood friend, failing to shut him down when needed, which I found annoying; but nearer to the middle of the book, when Cezar’s advances became more aggressive, I realized that it was probably because she didn’t want him to go ballistic on her. He’s huge, strong, and intimidating– definitely not the type you’d want for an enemy, especially if you’re a fifteen-year-old girl.

I liked the camaraderie between the younger sisters, though I’m excluding Tatiana from this because for most of the story, she was the lovelorn maiden mooning into the night sky, wallowing in self-pity because she can’t be with her week-old lover. I didn’t like her at all. But I get that she had to be included in the story, because she’s one of those quintessential fairy-tale characters.

Jena maintains that she is the “sensible” sister throughout the story, and her practicality shines in every one of her decisions. She refuses to allow Cezar to feel like he is in control. She warns Tati away from Sorrow, a member of the Night People, who are notoriously dangerous. She chooses not to trust Gogu after he turns into a man– understandable, because her frog just turned into a man. Her reasoning behind this, though, irritated me a little: the vampiress Anastasia drags her to “Draguta’s Mirror,” which is a pool of water that will apparently show you your future. Jena sees Man-Gogu (Costi) attacking her sisters. Firstly, I don’t understand why the heck Jena believes the mirror that this woman introduces her to. Anastasia has been suspicious since her initial appearance in the Otherworld; the Night People, whom Anastasia belongs to, are known for playing cruel tricks on people, and Jena even claims several times that the Night People are attacking the villagers in an attempt to turn the villagers against the woodland fey. So why, Jena, would you suddenly believe that Anastasia is being truthful when she claims to have something like “Draguta’s Mirror”? And secondly, why would you believe anything that Draguta’s Mirror shows you? It was introduced to you by a vampire, specifically one who has some kind of grudge against you, and being the sensible sister, shouldn’t she have some sliver of doubt about everything she observes? This was one point where I felt that Jena lost her practicality for the sake of the plot. Even when she was explaining to her sisters about why she believed Anastasia, she was faltering and it was out-of-character.

The Otherlands were interesting, and I’d love to see more of their world. The Queen, Ileana, Draguta the Witch, and all of the other quirky characters were fleshed out just enough so that we cared about them. Ms. Marillier could have skimmed over this cast without paying too much attention to them, but I’m glad that she delved into the fairy creatures and the weird residents of the woodlands because it helped the reader understand why the sisters are so disillusioned with the human world, and why they want so much to keep the Otherlands thriving despite Cezar’s threat to tear them down. I also like how aloof the woodland creatures are to everything going on in the mortal realm; they don’t care that Cezar has a vendetta against them. They’re very laissez-faire about the whole situation, which would seem to be the appropriate response for magical beings.

One thing I noticed is that this book is long. That’s not good. When you’re reading something lengthy, you should never notice that it’s lengthy, because that means you’re not enjoying it… that’s what I think, anyways. Because if you’re totally engrossed, you won’t even notice.

Also: the ending left me with a lot of questions. It wrapped up in a very anti-climactic manner. Cezar, who is the bane of their existence? He realizes he’s messed up his own life and walks into the forest. What happens to him? That isn’t revealed. I hoped he had joined the Night People and would throw a curveball at them, and I was waiting for this, but nope. He just… vanishes. Then also, what happens to the Night People? I felt like she was building up this huge secondary, or maybe primary antagonist, but they just vanish at the end of the story. Ileana banishes them or something, even though they had this whole plan to take over the Otherworld… that plot was left as loose threads.
The story moves slowly, but that’s because Ms. Marillier fleshes out her world very meticulously. Overall, I believe that it’s sub-par as a fairytale retelling because it doesn’t bring anything new to the table in regards to The Twelve Dancing Princesses, not really.  The re-read value is low, too. But if you like fairy-tales and you’re interested in Romanian culture, maybe check it out. I’m thinking about continuing the series anyways because the next book features Paula, who is honestly, in my opinion, the best of the sisters. She actually seems to have a good head on her shoulders and is very down-to-earth. But we’ll see. My bookstacks grow taller every day and I don’t have enough time to get through them all, haha.

Happy reading!

Creature of Moonlight: Rebecca Hahn

I only just finished reading Creature of Moonlight like five minutes ago, and I’m so relieved to have finally found a book that I seriously enjoyed. This is Ms. Hahn’s debut novel, featuring a young princess, a dragon, and a kingdom rife with conflict. There were so many aspects of this novel that I really enjoyed, and the fact that it was her first book is especially impressive. I’ll try to keep this concise, but I’ve said that before and it never really happens, so we’ll just see where this goes.

Marni is a flower girl, living on the edge of the forest with her grandfather. They tend to a gorgeous garden, serving the nobles of a neighboring land, with the mysterious woods lying just shy of their backyard. Now, Marni’s parentage is unusual; her mother was a princess who fled into the woods (renowned for swallowing up young women, never to return) and came back, alive– but round with little Marni in her belly. Marni’s uncle, the current king, murdered his sister supposedly in a fit of rage, and Marni’s grandfather, the old king, threw himself in front of her tiny toddler body to protect the girl from her uncle’s sword. He gave up his kingdom for his daughter’s daughter.

Marni is inexplicably drawn to the woods; she’s wandered in and out her whole life, never straying too far for fear of losing herself. It’s the memory of Gramps that always brings her back out; she needs to be there for him, like he was there for her. Creatures of the woods try to seduce her into staying: there’s an enchanting woman who calls for Marni, better known as Tulip among the woodland creatures and the townspeople; little fairies and goblins; and a medley of other puzzling residents who tempt Marni back. But she never stays for long.
This all changes when she returns home one day to find her grandfather dead. But because of circumstances, rather than running to the woods, she makes her way to the castle.

I don’t want to reveal too much more about the plot, but I can laud the characters. Especially Marni.

I think that Marni is an avant-garde example of a strong female protagonist. It’s not that she’s particularly powerful; nor is she some chosen one, born to slay the dragon or something like that. Marni’s powerful because she stays true to herself throughout the entire book; her whole character arc is about making choices. Marni moves at her own pace despite peer pressure to conform to a standard. She knows what she wants, and she strives to achieve what she wants, when she wants it. When she chooses to go to the castle rather than the woods, its because she knows that she wants to avenge her mother, and the best way of going about it is by sticking close to her uncle. She doesn’t go to the castle because it’s what the mysterious Count of Ontrei wants her to do; she goes because she wants to.

I don’t know if I’m doing her justice.

I guess the best example I can think of, with Marni’s insistence on sticking to her decisions and doing what she believes is best for her, is in regards to her love life. From the beginning of the novel, we learn that she has reached marriageable age and has had suitors, both villagers and nobles, peasants and lords, wandering to her door to ask Gramps for her hand in marriage. One of the things that I appreciated was the fact that Gramps left the decision up to Marni; even when the powerful Count of Ontrei comes to ask for her hand, despite the fact that he is seriously considering giving Ontrei his blessing, Marni is the one who steps up and refuses him. And Gramps sticks by her side. He doesn’t try to convince her by telling her of the Lord’s wealth and influence; he simply apologizes to her suitor and turns him away.

Anyways, I was talking about her choices: so through the book, due to various circumstances, Marni comes to live in the castle and forges and alliance with the Count of Ontrei. They grow closer, of course; they spend many long evenings together, and he’s the only one of her suitors that she befriends. The Count of Ontrei woos her determinedly, and he inches his way into Marni’s heart, but she knows to hold him at a distance. She knows that he might be in it not for her, for love, but for the throne. Since Marni’s uncle, the king, and his wife, are barren, she is the only heir to the kingdom. The Count of Ontrei’s courtship, while enjoyable, is highly suspicious.
Also, he proves to be very arrogant despite his relatively good nature. There are several occasions in which he simply states that they will marry, and she quickly calls him out on it. The first time it happens, he had misunderstood their deal and assumed they would wed in order to solidify the alliance. Marni says no, but they grow closer. The Count continues proposing and while I would usually think that this is annoying, Marni doesn’t seem to mind. The book recalls that sometimes his proposals are offhanded and silly; sometimes they are serious, and they make her stomach twist with anticipation and her heart flutter with hope. But always, she refuses him.

There is one time where, after a romantic evening in which he kisses her for the first time and then she quickly kicks him out of the room after realizing how scandalous it is for them to be alone in her room, without an escort, where she begins to treat him coldly. The Count finally catches up to her and they discuss what happened, and I believe that an argument arises between the two. Lord Ontrei, loudly, says something along the lines of “we’ll talk about this later and I’ll see you in your rooms tonight,” which, as you can imagine, is humiliating for her. There are lords and ladies all about the place, all of them gossip-mongers and watching the exchange with the eagerness of vultures to carrion. Marni recognizes this (righteously furious) as Lord Ontrei staking a claim on her; dominating her. He informs them that he can come in and out of her rooms as he pleases. He paints her to be coy, but assures the world in so many words that he has her exactly where he wants her.

Marni punches him in the nose.

That was my favorite part of the story. It was such a defining moment for her– she will not take BS– and it fleshes out both characters so much. Marni, up until this point, is fairly non-confrontational and composed, but reveals just how fiery she can be. Lord Ontrei is cocky and charming, but shows us that not everything about him is goodness and light. He has a shade of darkness staining his pallet, just like every other character. I like how after this incident, he apologizes through his actions and Marni forgives him. Their love story was interesting for a YA novel because Ontrei was not entirely good, or at least, he didn’t come off as so. And it’s not like Marni hated his advances; she falls in love with him, as much as a girl of sixteen can, and he makes her happy for sure. And I think that he was starting to love her. But still, she never consents to marriage, and though he tries to persuade her, he never succeeds.

That’s one more thing to note: no one in this book is completely good or completely evil. It translates well into real life. The character closest to pure goodness is Marni’s aunt, the queen, but she does have her reservations about Marni when times get tough and doesn’t help her when the king is actively trying to assassinate her. Lord Ontrei, as we saw above,  is steadfast and loyal to Marni, but can be blind with imperiousness and has on more than one occasion, revealed a sinister sliver of his personality that Marni clearly sees. The king, though he killed Marni’s mother and grievously injured her grandfather, only murdered her because he was afraid of the forest completely engulfing their lands. He had to protect his people, his kingdom, and he knew that his father wasn’t strong enough to do so. Maybe years of being king have hardened him, and he’s justified himself so much that he no longer feels guilty but I think, rather than simply not regretting the the way he slew his sister, his lack of anguish was due to a coping mechanism. Maybe he would have gone crazy if he kept thinking about what he had done. The dragon, while painted as evil for most of the book, reveals himself to be a fairly neutral character. He only takes girls into the woods who want to escape. He loved Marni’s mother the way an immortal, magical creature could love a human, but it wasn’t enough.
I found that it made the characters all the more human and relatable, and I was able to empathize with them much more than I would have a flat, evil/good person.

The Queen’s role in this story as a sort of guiding figure and mother for Marni was very sweet. Rather than siding with her husband and accusing the girl of being entirely responsible for everything wrong in the kingdom, the Queen welcomes her into the palace with open arms. She even argues with her husband about his treatment of Marni. It’s nice to see a queen who isn’t the main character, but also has autonomy. She doesn’t agree with the king, who is this constant threat to Marni’s presence; instead, she takes the exact opposite route and tries to protect Marni, even freeing her when the king sentences her to die. Also, she calls this scary antagonist Roddy, and that’s real cute.

Lastly, I want to talk about the woods: the way that Ms. Hahn paints them is so gorgeous and vibrant that I felt like I could see everything clearly. She takes great pains in making sure that the woods are not gorgeous, innocent, guileless; their beauty is eerie. It’s dangerous. The creatures that inhabit the woods seem pure, but, being otherworldly and unbound by human nature, are treacherous. The lost-girls-turned-griffins-and-pheonixes are stunning, uninhibited by mortal worry, screaming across the sky as free as they can be. The two years that Marni spends in the woods are described vividly; not so much every single thing she did, but in the emotions she felt while she was unfettered, liberated from the castle and the villagers. I wish I could put it into words but there’s really no way to understand how exquisite this sequence is, other than to read the book.

I hope that you pick this up. I think that it’s so beautiful, really reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland or fairy-tales or folklore from long ago. The beginning chapters are a teeny bit slow but by chapter three, I was hooked. And I love the female lead, the power given to the female lead, and the depth of her story. Marni’s trying to find her home in a place where dozens are offered to her, but none fit quite right. She’s a simple character, yet utterly complex; I don’t know how to define her. Read the story, because it’s an adventure that you have to traverse by yourself.

 

Mosquitoland: David Arnold

I took a month long break from reading to celebrate the end of classes– I think my brain was just totally fried after final exams, and I really didn’t have time with all the other stuff in my life going on. Recently, though, I made a trip to the library and picked up a few books that looked interesting, so I’m excited to get back on the train!

Mosquitoland was the first of these books; written by David Arnold, it features a young girl named Mim running away from home to find her mother in Cleveland. It’s a coming-of-age story and not your typical one either, with a cast of eccentric characters and some antagonists who are frightening for rather insidious reasons.
Because I took such a long break from reading, I managed to finish this in a day. I’m sitting here and trying to formulate my thoughts now; it feels like it’s been forever since I read the book. I think that’s how you can tell when a book didn’t really sit with you– when you can’t really remember much of it. I mean, take Six of Crows; I read that a month, two months ago? And I remember everything.

Well, this was a good book but it wasn’t my favorite.
I read it on recommendation from a good friend, who absolutely loved the story; I don’t know why it didn’t sit with me. I guess I’m not one for coming-of-age stories in general, and especially road-trip books. I’ll go into more details, but that’ll be the gist of my review: it was okay.

Let’s talk about the cast. Mim, as I stated earlier, is the main character. Her name is Mary Iris Malone, but she goes by “Mim”– her acroname. It’s like an acronym, but for a name. She reminds me a lot of the “quirky weirdo” trope, and I really dislike those types of characters. Do you know what I’m talking about? Like any of the guys from a John Green novel?
Mim’s too pretentious. She’s very condescending: “I swear, the older I get, the more I value bad examples over good ones. It’s a good thing, too, because most people are egotistical, neurotic, self-absorbed peons, insistent on wearing near-sighted glasses in a far-sighted world.”
What the heck, Mim. Who peed in your cereal?
It’s stuff like this that annoys me; and she uses these massive words in all of her introspection, then seems to imply that she only does that because she’s so much smarter than everyone else she knows. I don’t like Mim. She also contributes to the “I’m not like other girls” stereotype, as seen when she and another character, Beck, see a group of teenage girls having fun together, and proceed to have fun by making fun of those girls. Like jeez, guys, get those sticks out of your butts.

I feel bad for her situation; her parents are divorced, her mother, whom she has placed on a pedestal for all of her life, won’t even contact her… and is apparently locked away somewhere in Cleveland. And might have a disease that’s tearing her apart. So I can empathize with her demonization of step-mom Kathy, whom her dad cheats on her mother with (as we find out later). She also feels guilty, like she’s the reason that Kathy was dragged into her lives, because she asked to go to Denny’s one day and there was Kathy in all her glory. Her dad wouldn’t have met Kathy if she just hadn’t asked to go to Denny’s. 

There’s a lot of bad stuff happening to Mim; that doesn’t excuse her, quite frankly, bitchy behavior. She’s a total misanthrope.
Her dad is kind of awful, too. He embodies the overprotective parent, in the worst way possible. Their family has a history of mental illness, and his younger sister Isabel committed suicide in their basement when Mim was young. Mim found the body. From that point on, her father obsesses over the idea that something is inherently wrong with Mim, with her psyche, and makes decisions for the girl that she really should be making herself. He literally goes to the library, reads some books on psychology, and then decides that he knows what treatment Mim needs more than her therapist does. There are bad therapists; but when your daughter, who is the client, prefers one therapist over the other— I would say that you should defer to her.
We can’t antagonize Mim’s dad entirely. He really does it out of love, but that doesn’t make it okay. This whole family needs to work on their communication issues.

I’ve talked about how Mim is a selfish character, but I want to point out that she does help the people that she deigns to care about. Beck, her love interest, has his own goals. Mim goes out of her way to make sure that these objectives are completed. Walt, the (autistic? I’m pretty sure) young man that Mim encounters on her journey, is all alone and with nowhere to go; he shows her some kindness, and Mim realizes that she can’t leave him behind.
She does have a pretty good sense of who to trust. We see that when she puts her life in Ahab and his boyfriend’s hands; also, when she chooses to trust Walt despite the sketchy circumstances. And she knows, upon first meeting, that Poncho Man is someone she should stay away from.

Poncho Man, I think, is one of the reasons that I added another star to this book (because I would totally give it a 2/5, otherwise). I hated him; he’s a horrible antagonist because he’s someone that you can envision in real life. An awkwardly creepy attorney, Mim meets Poncho when she first chooses to run away. He’s got glossy eyes and she hates him, instantly, because he won’t stop talking to her. I was kind of doubtful of her behavior at first; he was annoying, sure, but instead of shutting him down so harshly, couldn’t she be a bit more polite? But girls: no. If you ever feel like you don’t want to talk to someone, you don’t owe them a polite goodbye. Especially if they’re as annoying as Poncho Man. Besides, Mim is right about this perv: it turns out that he’s a child molester, and he corners her in a bathroom at one point of her journey. Mim is able to escape, but he snags another girl later on in the book. It’s heartbreaking.

So overall, I guess this was an alright novel. I wouldn’t recommend it, not unless you enjoy philosopher teens with worldly knowledge that honestly seems beyond them. Or Bildungsroman books. But it broke my out of my funk, so that was cool.
Let’s hope that I can recommend the next novel with more gusto.

 

The Hating Game: Sally Thorne

So, surprise surprise! This isn’t YA fiction. I guess I’d classify it for adults. Also… it’s a romance novel. (・□・;)
I don’t read romance novels, usually. They aren’t a genre that I enjoy, plus I will freely confess that I am a squeamish person and while I can be clinical about sexual health and education, I hate hate hate sex/arousal scenes in media. They make me super uncomfortable. I can appreciate that a lot of other people enjoy them, but it’s not my thing at all.

So, then, Pratyu, you dummy. Why did you pick up this book? I totally judged a book by its cover, that’s why. It’s because the Goodreads algorithm suggested it to me, and I thought it was a slice of life book about a girl fighting for a promotion in her publishing company. Turns out that the person she’s competing against is the irresistible Joshua Templeton, a golden-skinned, dark-haired, dusky-eyed heart-throb.
I would have been really condescending towards this book, which follows a lot of romantic tropes, but it’s actually very progressive for the genre. That’s why I went ahead and tried to read until the end, though I skipped like 75% of the book because it was graphic arousal-and-sexual-tension stuff. It got even worse towards the finale, with the graphic scenes. Even the kisses went on for like a page and a half… yeah, there was stuff that I ignored entirely, but I don’t think it detracted from my overall understanding of the plot.

I really like Lucy Hutton, the protagonist. She’s funny (“Want a phone book to sit on? How’d you get so small?” / “I shrank in the wash.”) and excitable, and a bit immature. She collects Smurf dolls. She would be dangerously toeing the line of manic-pixie-dream-girl, but she doesn’t have the air of pretentiousness that those characters lean towards. Lucy’s really stubborn and says way too much– she really should think before she speaks– but for all intents and purposes, her introspection reads easily. Maybe that’s why I like her, because she’s honestly a very simple person. She enjoys food. Books. She wants to work hard and be as cool as her boss one day. Her biggest fault lies in the fact that she’s a bit of a doormat because she wants to make everyone happy.

Also, she’s very self aware: “Immediately, I give myself a little mental slap. Fishing for compliments is a cardinal sin.”

There are sappy parts of the book where Lucy starts to pore over the details of Joshua, like his eyes and his hands and his freckles and all of that stuff. It’s pretty cute; her intentions are entirely innocent. She’s just admiring this person that she believes is the most handsome man that she’s ever seen. She genuinely wants to make him feel good about himself, and she wants to appreciate his beauty. It came off as very sweet and further drives how sincere she is in everything she thinks and does.

Joshua Templeton is a bit more difficult to pin down as a character. I can’t bring myself to fully like him because he’s sort of the embodiment of toxic masculinity. He’s this big, powerful manly guy, who’s so scary and intimidating that it’s mentioned once or twice in every few chapters. ((But his name is Joshua. lmao))
I don’t want to deride him for perpetuating what I believe to be a stereotype. In fact, I write in my own time, and I have a few characters– actually, a lot– that are just as hyper-masculine. So it’d be hypocritical of me to be such a harsh judge.
I’m going to try to examine him with a positive bias. Aside from his strapping macho beefcake aesthetic, he’s got a softer part to him. Which is also kind of cliche, now that I think about it. He’s not a bad character, just emotionally obstructed and with probably an entire tree up his ass, what with the businesslike, cutting, frowny-no-man tendencies. He’s also got territorial issues– when a guy named Danny starts displaying interest in Lucy, he gets all growly and back-off with him, and just becomes a jerk in general, which I didn’t really like.
Around Lucy, when they start opening up to each other more, he finds himself constantly surprised by her lack of a filter. Also, I think that her constant compliments make him a bit shy, which is funny. He’s an asshole to everyone but he tries hard to be nice to her, though he ends up offending Lucy a few times– but she grows from the experiences. For example, when he claims in front of his boss that he won’t need help beating her (sometime after they’ve established their interest in each other); she’s crushed that he still doesn’t consider her to be a worthy opponent. Joshua tries to recant his words but she’s hurt for a while, until she decides to stop wallowing in self-pity and get her act together and show him just how much he’s underestimated her. I like that about Lucy. “Don’t get mad, get even.”

Another small thing that I liked– Lucy isn’t this slender, tall, supermodel person. She’s small and (I imagine) plump. She eats a lot, and she enjoys what she eats. In the book, near the wedding, she puts on support underwear “to smooth out any lumps,” and it’s refreshing to read. Although in retrospect… when I first read that line I thought it was maybe a body-positivity thing, but later she takes her dress off and the support underwear is described as like sexy lingerie, so maybe the author was just setting up for a sex scene… :’-) aw man. Totally misconstrued that.
Half the book is sex & arousal & romance; a quarter of it is them hating each other; and the last quarter is Lucy fawning over food.

An interesting thing about Joshua is that he’s been objectified in most of his relationships. This presents an actual problem in his life: he’s handsome, but with the personality of an angry dish-rag. This takes a toll on his sense of self-worth, and he starts wondering if maybe he isn’t meant to be end-game for anyone. Maybe he’s just the fun, one-night stand. The mysterious bad-boy who’s good for a few months of wild, sex-filled passion, before moving onto husband material. His self esteem, by the time he meets Lucy, is nearing rock-bottom.
Lucy’s guilty of objectifying him too– she tells him, constantly, about how hot he is and all of that stuff, and he confesses to her later on in the book about how he’s unfamiliar with anyone wanting him for more than a good time. I thought that this was an interesting reversal of the common “pretty-woman” trope, where the hot chick is only ever sought after because… she’s hot. Anyways, Lucy makes it a point to stop being so creepily and obviously carnal around him, which I think is beneficial to their relationship. It helps Joshua understand that she’s not after him for the same reasons.

Also, it’s revealed that he’s very shy towards the end of the book. Up until now we think that he’s mean to strangers because he’s just an ass by nature, but Lucy realizes while giving him a long diatribe about how rude he’s being at his elder brother’s wedding that he’s actually a very awkward person. He’s not “shy and soft,” he’s “shy and covered in military-grade armor.” or something like that. It was an example of good labeling by the author; usually I encourage allowing the reader to think for themselves, but in this case, Lucy affirms our beliefs. Also, it’s funny that rather than painting him as a stoic, Ms. Thorne reveals that he’s just a bit demure.

It got harder to read towards the end because there was so much yeah. They were falling in love and there was even an entire chapter that was just a sex scene, and then most of the end was a sex scene. I was skimming through their dialogue to figure out what happened with the promotion situation, and I think I caught something like Joshua had accepted a position at a different company– which was kind of disappointing. I wanted to see who would win, but oh well. It was a good way to save their relationship and keep him in a high-ranking job. Verryyyy convenient.

Also, there were hints of a love triangle but they were avoided; that tension only came up once or twice during the book. Lucy has another suitor, Danny, from graphic design, and he pisses Joshua off. Actually, Joshua’s like a rabid raccoon when it comes to Danny; hissing and spitting. It’s kind of off-putting. But Lucy likes it, so whatever, I guess. And she’s not interested in Danny after confirming that Joshua likes her, and she didn’t date him to spite Joshua– she did it because she made up a whole thing about having a date and was worried that he’d tease her if he found out that she was lying, so she roped Danny into this mess. Poor Danny, though, the guy spends a Saturday working on a project for her and Joshua chews him out on the phone (though I guess he was being a little creepy– “What are you wearing?” and so on, so maybe J was justified.)
There’s a kind of weird part where Joshua’s like “I want you to kiss Danny and tell me which one of us was better,” which… I don’t really know if that was supposed to be a sexy thing? Or if he was just feeling competitive? Or if his ego needed stroking? But that was bizarre. I mean, don’t take my word for it, I found a lot of this book bizarre.
Then there was Mindy, who was shoehorned in at the end to introduce jealousy on Lucy’s part. Mindy’s the tall, tanned blonde of Joshua’s dreams– supposedly. And she’s marrying his older brother. Lucy is rightfully appalled at the fact that Josh brought her as his date, to his ex-girlfriend’s wedding. That was a screw-up of abysmal proportions but they talk it out and it’s fine, and it’s okay in my opinion because the love triangle mess only lasts for like, a chapter.

Man. I’m realizing now that maybe I’m just generally terrible at romance. That would explain a lot, actually, ahaha. ٩(͡๏̯͡๏)۶

I said earlier that this book is progressive for the romance genre, but I think that’s a rash statement on my behalf, because as I said before, I haven’t read that many of its books. It’s not fair of me to judge these stories harshly just because they’re romance novels; they have their own merits. So I’m going to say that it was progressive, in general.
I thought that the story was good, though I missed out on a lot of it… haha. I’m loathe to give it a numerical ranking because I don’t really have any idea what to compare this book to. I guess that if you’re into romance, you could check it out– but if you’re a prude like me, it might be too much :’-)

This was the author’s debut novel so I want to take a moment to appreciate her writing style: it flowed together, there was a lot of internal monologue, and it never felt like she was stalling the story. There were a lot of situations that seemed weird to me, and like they were too timely to be coincidence, but I mean… it’s a romance novel. It had to have some of those situations, like oh no, this hotel has no more rooms so we’re stuck together. So I guess that it’s appropriate for the genre.

All in all… I personally wouldn’t recommend this book. I’d feel weird doing so, to any of my friends. But if you like romance novels, then I would say that it’s not a bad one to read. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s progressive and the characters are multifaceted. Josh is still kind of a caricature, but he’s okay as far as love-interests go… even in YA fiction, you’ve got the broody bad boy. Except he’s not actually a bad boy, I guess; he’s the number-crunching assistant to the CEO of a publishing company. So the furthest thing from a bad boy.

Anyways, I don’t think I wasted my time reading this book, as I felt after trying out The Golden Braid or Hotel Ruby, so it was a fairly successful endeavor. I wish I hadn’t skipped so much of it but… yeah.
I hope I helped someone out with this review, LOL. Happy reading!

Pratyu’s Favorites: Girls Supporting Girls

I’m gonna start a new segment.

So I’ve been told that my favorite books appear to be very random. There’s no mode or method to my selection of novels. I think so, too. I’m going to try to put down some of my favorite themes in a series of posts, so we’ll see how that goes.

One of my favorites is, as the title says: girls supporting girls. Strong friendships between women, be they strangers or sisters or whatever. And, I mean, you could argue that some of the romantic relationships that crop up between female characters in stories are “strong relationships”; but what I’m talking about is completely platonic. Girls supporting girls because of solidarity, with no other motives. Not because they think, hey, that girl is cute; not because they see her and go, huh. She could be useful to my mission. I like the relationships that crop up solely because these girls have a genuine interest in creating camaraderie. I think that it’s a really important thing to uphold, and I’m glad to see more authors that forge friendships between their female characters rather than pitting them against each other.

So let me go ahead and mention a few that I can think of right now:

The Lunar Chronicles: Marissa Meyer

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[Ages 12+]

These books feature strong ties between multiple female characters: Cinder, Cress, Scarlet, Winter, and Iko find themselves growing more and more interdependent as they continue on their mission to defeat the Lunar Queen. Sure, there are boys. There’s romance; but I think that at the core of these books is deep and loyal friendship, and that’s what makes them really heartwarming.

 

The Goose Girl: Shannon Hale

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[Ages 12+]

This book is based on one of my favorite fairy tales, but it also features Ani and Enna, two girls from completely different social situations: Ani is a princess, only, she’s been betrayed by her handmaid (these sequence is one of those female friendships that goes sour…) and needs to take refuge. Enna is the girl that offers her the warmth of friendship while she’s hiding from her bloodthirsty handmaid.
Though the book doesn’t focus too much on Ani and Enna’s relationship on purpose, there are lots of instances between the two that soften even the hardest of people. Enna proves over and over again that she’s the most trustworthy person in the world, and even though she’s only known Ani for a short time– she’ll protect her. Ani, reciprocally, shows herself to be a good person in a bad situation, but she recognizes the sanctity of Enna’s friendship, and the girls support each other through the trials and tribulations they face over the course of the novel.

 

Code Name Verity: Elizabeth Wein

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[Ages 12+]

When a British plane crash-lands in Nazi-occupied France, only one of the two girls inside will survive. “Verity” is a young woman arrested by Nazi soldiers and subsequently forced to tell her story: how she became friends with the pilot, named Maddie; her role back with the Allies; and why she left Maddie to burn in the wreckage of the crash. Each new revelation brings with it a tangle of new secrets, tainted with betrayal but sweet with the hope of escape.

Code Name Verity is one of my favorite books of all time despite being historical fiction, which isn’t my genre of choice. It’s a gorgeous story, one filled with tragedy and loss and laughter and hope, and it all centers around a friendship that grows between these two girls, despite the war ravaging the world. Despite the fact that they have lost one another. I love it especially because it’s written in a diary format, with the first-person perspective, which allows for a more intimate look into the characters. Plus, also, the story’s amazing.

 

The Second Guard: J.D. Vaughn

[Ages 12+]

I’m really enjoying this series, with its training school and enthusiastic students; a conspiracy that’s bound to drown them all in darkness; and four little rebels who refuse to bow down to greater powers, in hopes of restoring peace. It’s a light read and it’s fun, with intriguing subplots, dynamic characters, and an overarching main story that ties everything together.

The story takes place in a land called Tequende, where the second-born child is given to work in either the Queen’s Guard or become an indentured servant. Sun Guilder Talimendra has dreamed of this moment for her entire life– to finally work with the brave soldiers that make up the Guard– and arrives at Alcazar, their school, with unbridled delight. Despite the blood and tears shed, she forges strong friendships and quickly begins to establish herself as an admirable pupil– only for everything to come crashing down when a terrible secret is discovered.

Although the relationship between Tali, Zarif and Chey is the most established one, there’s also the matter of Tali and Brindl– who was Tali’s roommate for all of ten minutes before absconding to work as a kitchen maid. The two girls dislike each other at first; Tali thinks that Brindl gives up too easily, and Brindl feels defensive and annoyed with Tali’s entitlement. Still, as the mystery behind Alcazar draws them more deeply into a conflict zone, Tali and Brindl are forced to make nice. Their relationship is expanded upon in the second book, The Shadow Guard, which is told from the point of view of Brindl herself.

 

Streams of Babel: Carol Plum Ucci

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[Ages 13+]

I’ve read this book over and over again, and every single time I do, I’m swept away by the story. Streams of Babel is, well… I’m not really sure what genre it would fall under. It goes like this: in the peaceful neighborhood of Trinity Falls, New Jersey, everything is fine and dandy until suddenly, two women die of brain aneurysms within twenty-four hours. The government determines that a deadly biochemical agent has been released in the water. From there, the story follows five main characters: Scott and Owen, the golden boys of Trinity Falls; Rain, dream girl extraordinaire; and Cora, shy and invisible, but suddenly thrust into the limelight.

Cora and Rain are from opposite ends of the social spectrum, which is what makes their subsequent friendship so interesting. Rain is a bombshell, vivacious and full of spunk. Boys follow her wherever she goes; she is the sun and the sky. Cora, on the other hand, likes to think of herself as a mouse. She’s reserved, distant, and makes it a point to take up the least amount of space possible. Sad and sweet, she believes that no one notices her but we learn later that she’s merely too intimidating to be talked to; an ice queen. Fire and ice are forced together as a mutated virus  devastates their bodies, making for a beautiful story and a solid rapport between these two girls.

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I think that’s a good list for now. I know I probably repeated “I love” and “my favorite” so many times throughout this piece but honestly, it’s all genuine. I think that I learned a lot about friendship from the aforementioned novels as well; about what it means to be a good friend. Who says you don’t learn anything from fiction?
I hope this list finds its way to anyone who needs it. ❤ Happy reading! ❤

Six of Crows: Leigh Bardugo

I’ve actually read this book twice over; once in 2015, then again about a month ago, and despite having read it before, I was still completely engrossed in the story. I think that’s how you know you have a good book: re-readability value. And this book ranks very high on my re-readability list.
Six of Crows is probably my favorite book out of those published in the last five years. It’s got everything I love: charming thieves and con-men; a intricately-established world with all sorts of quirky details; and an undercover mission. What’s weird is that I tried out the Grisha trilogy (? I think there are only three books?) by Ms. Bardugo, but I just couldn’t get into them. On the other hand, SOC was one of those books that I made myself read slowly so that I could really analyze each chapter. It was such a gorgeously derived story, and its fame is well-deserved.

I think that going through the summary would be gratuitous because everyone should read the book for themselves. I’ll just talk about the things that really made this book for me, instead.

I’ve read several book that try to establish beloved villainous characters, but I think that Six of Crows is the most memorable success that I’ve ever encountered. Kaz Brekker is your main baddie; he’s an enigma of a man, but deadly and terrifying. He’s only seventeen years old, but he’s got all the reputation of a mob boss. Brekker doesn’t dish out second chances; he acts out of spite and vengeance, but somehow manages to always be ten steps ahead of his enemies; he’s cold and calculating and sadistic, but he’s so witty that it’s hard not to love him. It’s hard not to be in awe of him. And as a reader, you delve more into his background, so you get attached quickly. Brekker is someone that you want on your side, but you certainly don’t want to underestimate or trust. He’s like chaos incarnate.

Inej is his right-hand man (woman?), kidnapped as a young girl of nine and sold to the owner of the Menagerie, which is a brothel especially made for those with foreign tastes. Inej endures a hard year there before encountering Brekker, a patron of the brothel for reasons more industrial than sex, who buys her off of the Madam’s hands and employs her as his wraith. As the wraith, Inej sneaks around the twisted streets of Ketterdam, gathering secrets for Kaz to use to his advantage. She’s a ghostly thing: quiet, serious, and grounded, but as the story goes on we’re exposed to a more vulnerable Inej. One who laughs and cries and hurts and smiles. She’s quick to capture your heart… and the hearts of her supposedly-heartless partners.

Kaz and Inej were, by far, my favorite characters, but I definitely appreciated the other characters, too: Jesper, the lighthearted sharpshooter with a damning gambling addiction; Wylan, the baby of the group and a demolitions expert, dealing with his own shameful secrets; Matthias, a Fjordan and former grisha-hunter (by the way! The grisha are these powerful, magical people from a country called Ravka, who have been demonized and hunted down by Fjordan grisha-hunters; kind of like the Crusaders of olden times) who has been imprisoned in what could be described as a more intense Alcatraz; and Nina, a sassy Grisha heart-render, who has the power to control your blood and your heart and who is very deeply in love with someone that she shouldn’t be in love with.

The whole team works together really well. If you’ve been reading my reviews for a while, you probably know how much I appreciate stories that revolve around friendship. Six of Crows is interesting because all of these people are swindlers and crooks, and they definitely shouldn’t be so close but they have to depend on each other for the sake of the job. It’s an interesting position to put them in: their lives are on the line, and there’s no room to mess up.

The book, as I mentioned above, also has these dazzling descriptions of each setting. I felt like I could see Ketterdam right in front of me; Ms. Bardugo fleshes out her world with so much care that you can taste the salt in the air of Ketterdam, feel the biting chill of Fjorda, smell the tang of metal and blood in Hellgate.

And the plot never feels slow or contrived. Everything fits together like a perfect jigsaw puzzle, and the ball keeps rolling. I think it was Stephen King who said in his book, On Writing, that one thing many authors get wrapped up in is their power of description. They forget that the ultimate goal is to move the story along. Six of Crows flows beautifully in that aspect; you get tons and tons of description, but it never gets tiresome because the story doesn’t ever stutter or come to a halt.
Okay. I’m going to end my review of the book there because I could honestly go on for pages about why you should read it. This is the one book in my review blog that I highly recommend to anyone, because if you enjoy a good adventure story, prison-breaks, thievery, underhandedness, betrayal, and incredible world-building, you should love this book.

If you’re still not convinced, check out the official character art by illustrator Kevin Wada; his work was so on-the-button that I got all nostalgic just looking at the images:

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They’re super gorgeous.

Okay. Also, I wanted to highly recommend that if you enjoy this book, you should definitely try out Dishonored by Arkane Studios. It’s such a beautiful game and it’s got this incredible atmosphere that I found really similar to Ketterdam. I truly believe that playing this game and exploring Dunwall before starting out Six of Crows contributed immensely to my enjoyment of the book. Here’s my review of Dishonored, if you want to find out more. Even if you don’t enjoy the game, you should definitely try listening to the music while reading the story; it’ll enhance your experience 1000%.

Happy reading! I really hope everyone enjoys this story as much as I did! 🙂

[ARC] Retribution Rails: Erin Bowman

Erin Bowman is a master at crafting endings.

I finished an ARC of Retribution Rails only moments ago and I’m sitting here with a big, dumb smile on my face because it was the perfect amount of closure and such a gorgeous tribute to the first book. By the way, you could totally read Retribution Rails without reading Vengeance Road first, but I wouldn’t recommend it. There are quite a few cameos that made me do the dumb grin, and I don’t think you’d have the same overall experience if you hadn’t read Ms. Bowman’s prior novel before trying this one.
First, let’s get the disclaimer out of the way: I received this book free, from NetGalley, in exchange for my honest and unbiased review. Now onto the review.

Retribution Rails, rather than being a sequel, is a companion novel to Vengeance Road. If you’d like a refresher, here’s my review of the latter.
The story follows Charlotte Vaughn and Reece Murphy, two young Westerners trapped in unfortunate situations. Reece—better known as “The Rose Kid”—is a renowned outlaw and feared for his supposed cruelty. He works with The Rose Riders, a gang who introduced themselves in Vengeance Road, but this faction runs under Luther Rose, the half-brother of Waylan. Reece has been forced to ride with the outlaws for years, all due to an unfortunate mission that leaves him at the mercy of Luther.

Charlotte Vaughn is a young, aspiring journalist, determined to make a name for herself despite her conniving Uncle, who has stolen credit for everything good and credible that her family has done. With the death of Charlotte’s father, the owner of a mine and an investor in several large projects including the A&P Train Line, Uncle Gerald has sunken his fingers into the remains of the Vaughns’ fortune, and it’s up to Charlotte to thwart his plans.

We’re reintroduced to several familiar settings, like Prescott and Wickenburg, and two very dear characters: Kate and Jesse Colton. That was such a welcome surprise; I figured that the two of them would make a cameo appearance, but they’re very much central to the plot and have an active role for at least three quarters of the story. Also… they’re expecting! It’s so fun to see Kate as the hardcore pregnant lady, a baby in her tummy and two guns in her hands.
We get to look into their family dynamic, ten years after the events in Vengeance Road, which I thought was really sweet on Ms. Bowman’s part. She totally could have written them off—“Oh, Jesse and Kate are fine and living somewhere and they have two kids,” but no. She fleshes out their story even further, and I’m glad for it.

I’m dying because I don’t want to give away too much information, but also I want to talk about everythingggg. It was so good!

Let’s talk villains. Luther is just as dastardly, just as driven, and just as unforgiving as his deceased brother; but rather than going after money, like Waylan, Luther operates off of a skewed sense of love and loyalty. He truly loves Reese Murphy as a son, though his way of displaying that love is horribly twisted. Kate states in the first book that “money makes monsters of men,” but Luther’s motivation is stated clearly and on his own terms: “Love makes us do odd things.” And I think that this quote encompasses the theme of the entire book. Every character in this story is working out of compassion: Reese, to make right his sins. Charlotte, to save her family. Jesse and Kate, to protect the safe-haven that they’ve created together. Gold is an afterthought in this story, which I thought was a good decision on Ms. Bowman’s part, because not only do we explore a new set of characters that are fundamentally different from the cast of Vengeance Road; we also get to observe aspects of characters whom we are already familiar with, so we don’t get tired of them. Not that I could get tired of Kate and Jesse.

Another cool thing about this story is that Kate and Jesse were really young in the first book; I think something like seventeen and around twenty, I’m not sure. In this one, they’re each ten years older. They’re adults. They deal with the situation with all the experience and confidence of adults. I’m not sure exactly how to describe it, but you can tell that they aren’t the same since the events in Superstition Canyon and everything that happened afterwards.

While I initially found Charlotte pretentious and a bit whiny, her character development is stunning. She’s an admirable person from the beginning: as a journalist, she wants to chase the truth. By the end of the novel, her desire to state the facts and reveal the truth to the world remains, but she’s come to understand that humans are complex beings, not entirely black and white, and this affects her world-view greatly. Reese is also incredibly dynamic, but what I found most interesting is that he starts off as a character who very much craves death but by the end of the tale, he’s learned that in order to move past everything he has done, he’s got to face his demons. A lot of gorgeous moments of character maturation crop up, especially when Reese has to betray his gang, who are pretty much the only family he’s had for the past few years. And there’s a ton of introspection that plays into both characters, which makes them much more relatable and much more sympathetic.

What was most noticeable for me was the rapid change in dialect. Charlotte speaks like a journalist: her words are clear, free of the if’ns and yers and the western accent that’s so tangible in any other character’s speech. She also strings together long sentences that are full of analogies, metaphors, and description. I remember thinking that her thoughts read like a novel, and I think it’s an interesting detail that Ms. Bowman included on her part. I appreciated it. And that ending. Oh my goodness. She kept me on my toes even after all the action was over.

I’ve already said so much and I want people to form their own opinions, so that’s it for my review. I really, really loved this book, and I thought that it was a perfect way to end the story of Jesse and Kate, while also introducing us to a new cast of equally intriguing characters. I think that she could definitely do more with the series, focusing on the Native Americans or perhaps another aspect of the Wild West, but I highly recommend this series to anyone with interest in the gun-slinging, fast-paced, high-octane-high-stakes adventures of cowboys and outlaws.

[ARC] Witchtown: Cory Putnam Oakes

Ugh, I feel like I’ve been writing so many downer reviews lately and I’m sorry about that. I don’t want to; if I had a choice, I wouldn’t write these at all, but I’m obligated to since I received the book for free from NetGalley, in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.
So moving on. I’m going to try to be concise, and I’m going to make it a point to write about the things that I did like. This is Ms. Oakes’s first book, so there are going to be some kinks, but I commend her for having the drive to write an entire novel in the first place. It’s not an easy thing  to do.
So… onto the review, I guess.

I recently finished up an ARC of Witchtown, the debut novel of Corey Putnam Oakes, and I have to say that I did not find it very immersive. The story follows Macie and Aubra O’Sullivan, a mother-daughter duo of thieves who infiltrate “havens,” which are like real-world reservations but for witches, and rob them of every penny they have.  Macie’s starting to experience some doubts about their lifestyle, but she doesn’t have much of a choice in the matter. Her mother is a powerful witch (a Natural witch, born with powers, as opposed to a Learned witch, who learns how to use magic) who won’t take “no” for an answer, as she recently found out in their last escapade, where a Very Bad Thing happened to someone that she loved very much.

This is another case of “the premise of the story was good; the execution was not.”

Macie wasn’t fleshed out much; we barely see into her past. The only things that we’re made aware of are the facts that she had a boyfriend in the last town, and things went down terribly; and she has no powers, which has affected her for pretty much her entire life. Also, who is her father? We never find out, but that’s a thing, too. He’s barely mentioned and doesn’t seem to make much of an impact on her character. Aubra is the personification of narcissism and abusive to boot, so she’s a terrible person—not even a likeable villain, which isn’t bad, because you can’t always root for the villain in a story. The rest of the cast, which consists of the members of Witchtown, are forgettable save Talya and Kellen, the only two people that are somewhat fleshed out after being designated Macie’s friends.

My problem with this story is that it wasn’t cohesive. The first three quarters of the book are made up of random subplots that are strung together, like Macie buying some supply depot in the market-place and struggling with an angry poltergeist that haunts it (what was that even about, I don’t understand why this was included in the story), and Macie struggling to hide the fact that she’s Void (she has no powers) from the other townsfolk, and Macie getting magic lessons from Kellan (who refuses to believe that she’s Void,) and, you know, random slice-of-life stuff. Of course, it all comes together in the end, but the links are weak and far too flimsy to make for a good M. Night Shyamalan-esque twist.

The last quarter is when the main plot—let’s steal everything this town has—comes into play. Macie decides that she doesn’t want to do this anymore. She goes to Aubra and demands that they settle down in Witchtown, and Aubra basically laughs her off. Then Aubra gets it in her head to burn the town down and steal the insurance check, so the game changes drastically, and it’s up to Macie to stop her.
The main point of the story did like a backflip at the end. It changed, not completely, but enough to make obsolete the buildup from the first half of the book. And there’s so much weird stuff going on in the story that no one, other than the immediate main characters of Talya, Kellan, the mayor and Macie, acknowledge. Like the swarm of locusts that invades the town, or the depot, which is constantly burning down, or the rowan-laced water.

I’m also kind of annoyed that the summary lied to me. I was promised this cool story about witches and thievery and robbing a town, but the story was actually a coming-of-age, escaping-the-abuse tale. That wouldn’t be bad, if the blurb had been forthright about it. I guess I expected Six of Crows and I got something resembling Matilda.

There are some loose threads at the end of the story: Witchtown is still broke. Though Macie saves it from being burned to the ground, the books are still forged and the town is still running on fumes. I guess that Percy was a big detractor to their welfare, having staged a lot of the problems that were occurring like with the rowan in the water and stuff, but that never is explained. Talya likes some guy in the book whose name I can’t remember because he only crops up once or twice, but he’s still attached to Autumn, another side-character, and there’s no resolution in that. Also, this guy has something about him because Talya, apparently, gets this wonky, distant gaze when she looking into his past (Talya’s power is being able to see people’s secrets, which is a seriously cool power, but is rarely utilized), and that’s never explained. Aubra just vanishes in the end. She leaves behind all her money, but she disappears without a trace. What happened to her? And what was with the poltergeist, Bradley, who haunts the depot? Is he just going to stay there forever, or is his husband going to crop up sometime? They mention Stan like once, and then never again. I’m guessing that Ms. Oakes is writing a sequel or a companion book—I hope she does, because there’s potential for another story there.

My last complaint is about all the deus ex machinas. Lord, the worst one was when Kellan summons the ghost of that old woman who died in the beginning, the only other Natural witch in the town. He literally throws her ashes into this magic trap that Talya makes (speaking of which, how does Talya know how to do these things? She was far more interesting than Macie, but all we ever learn is that she was abandoned in Witchtown by her parents) and starts mumbling in Latin and then boom—there’s a ghost. When asked about how on earth he did that, he just shrugs and says something about making it up as he went along.
Kellan! You summoned a ghost! The ghost was able to choke a living woman! This ghost could touch people! That seems really powerful!
And the explaining away of what happened with Macie. I’ll appreciate that there was buildup, with the moonstones and the weirdness over her lack of power at the beginning, but the buildup was really weak. Also, the whole thing about the moonstones clouding Macie’s memory seemed to be put in the story as an afterthought.

Another thing was that Macie is so afraid of being revealed as a Void witch and being marked and turned into an outcast. Apparently, that happens—Void witches are branded and shunned from both Witchy and human society. But then, Talya is also rumored to be Void, but nothing bad happens to her. She works for the mayor in the archives, I mean, she’s totally fine. She interacts with the other townspeople and other than thinking that she’s a little strange, no one does anything about her. It’s possible that I missed a line where this is explained away—that she’s keeping it a secret, too—but then it’s stated that first of all, Macie knows, and second of all, the mayor’s ex-secretary, Lois, was the one who spread rumors about Talya being Void. So why isn’t there any repercussion to that? Talya is a free woman, for all intents and purposes. Witchtown does nothing to their only supposedly Void witch, which leaves the question of why is Macie so terrified of being found out? They won’t do anything to you, kid.

I did appreciate the worldbuilding. There was a lot of thought put into Witchtown, like the whole concept of being totally independent, eco-friendly, etc. Ms. Oakes lay out the town so that it was easy for the reader to imagine. I think that one thing that I would have appreciated would be a map in the beginning of the book, so that we could kind of see exactly what she had envisioned. There was good LGBT representation; there was a lesbian couple (one of the Elders and the baker, which was kind of funny,) and then the poltergeist and his husband, although… I guess the “bury your gays” trope is subverted because the Elder and the baker are alive and well. And the baker, I think her name is Gayle, makes an impact on the story despite not being as fleshed out as any of the main cast members.

The characterization of witches in the book was interesting, with the whole idea of the caste-systemy style of power in play, with the Learned witches being less sought-after than the Natural witches. Also, the weakness of Learned witches to rowan, and Natural witches to angelica. Also, Macie’s flair for herbology was a good character trait that presented itself naturally, rather than feeling contrived.

Darn. I said I would keep this concise. :’-)
I wish that I could give this book a higher rating, but it really didn’t hold my attention. There were parts of the story that were really good, but it didn’t get interested until the last three chapters. Everything before that felt like fluff, like the kind of stuff that goes between chapters of a romance-y, finding-your-way-through-the-world sort of story. Anyways, my review could be totally different from someone else’s. I do hope the author the best with the release and thank you so much to HMH Books for the free copy of Witchtown.

Graceling: Kristin Cashore

The cover reminds me a bit of Ruined (Amy Tintera), doesn’t it? Since this book came out earlier, I’m guessing that Ms. Tintera’s designer took a cue from this book.

Graceling is the first of the Graceling Realm books, a series by author Kristin Cashore. It follows Katsa, the niece of a cruel king, graced with the ability to kill any man with her bare hands since the tender age of eight. By the time the book starts, she’s around seventeen (I think) and very much miserable under her uncle’s strict rule. She works as his thug: going around to kill, torture, and maim those whom he deems disrespectful or conniving. Katsa hates this life, but doesn’t see what else she could do—that is, until she meets Prince Po.

First off, I’m gonna confirm that this is a shining review; I really, really loved this book. At first, I was kind of thrown off by the sheer power that Katsa possessed—it’s not something typical of a YA heroine. And it was amazing. She’s literally going around, throwing people to the ground, cutting off limbs; she’s like the scary thug that gets featured in these fantasy YA novels, but… it’s Katsa herself. The heroine. Our protag. It was fantastic. All of her fight scenes had me going “YEAH YOU BEAT HIM UP” even though I’m very much an uncombative person.

Superhuman power aside, Katsa’s really atypical for a female character. She’s blunt—to the point of robotic—but unlike, for example… I can’t think of any examples. It’s past midnight. Anyways, unlike most of the aloof, blasé femme fatales of YA fiction, Katsa’s more of a gentle giant. She’s not a giant, but she’s got the heart of one. Ahaha. My point is, Katsa’s the type of powerful thug that is ruminative, contemplative, wonders about the magic in the world. She’s innocent, for all of the blood on her hands, but she’s practical, which is probably why she’s survived for so long in the king’s court.

Katsa’s best friend is her cousin—the king’s son. You’d think that this would mean a budding romance between the two, but that’s not true; they’re just friends. And I know you’re probably like PRATYU WHAT THE HECK THEY ARE COUSINS. I just realized this as I was typing it. That they are cousins. Duh, there wouldn’t be a romance.  You dumbo, Pratyu. I guess I just didn’t connect those two things together BUT keep in mind that this is kind of a medieval-y setting. It wouldn’t be that mind-blowingly weird for two cousins to get married during ~then~.
Still, I recant my previous statement. I guess it’s not so cool that they were just friends—but it was relieving? I don’t know, I feel like my foot is in my mouth now. LET’S MOVE ONNNN.

Prince Po! He’s fun. He’s kind of the manic pixie boy to Katsa’s tired thug persona. But this isn’t a bad thing. I think I say that a lot in my reviews, “this isn’t a bad thing,” but it’s not! I swear! He’s really fun and he’s charming, and he’s the only one thus far that can hold his own in a fight against Katsa.
Their initial meeting is… memorable. Also.
I like that the characters all keep their own secrets and that these secrets are revealed to us through the story. There’s no third-person-omniscient-knowledgeable-about-all-thing going on here, we’re just as clueless as the reader. For example, the antagonist is not who you would expect to be the antagonist, and his power is incredible as well. There was a lot of thought going into what these character’s abilities are and how that affects their personalities and motivations—how it’s reflected in their personalities and motivations.

Honestly, while I was reading this book, I was like huh. I’d give this 4/5 stars. But THEN. I got to the part with King Leck—and that changed the game entirely. I was so thrilled! It was nice.

Alsoooo the introduction of BITTERBLUE who is the sweetest little usurped-and-hardened little queenling that I’ve ever… read. Read? Sure. I loved her! I really loved all of the characters in this book, and that’s an impressive feat. I’m not saying that I’m hard to impress, but to get the reader to care about all of the characters in a novel is difficult. Miss Cashore managed it.

I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a kickbutt female protagonist, an adventure story that twists and turns like a Shyamalan movie, a truly terrifying antagonist… anyone who enjoys a good book. Please, do yourself a favor and pick it up!