The Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand
Published: October 24th 2017
Format: Paper Book
Length: 385 pages
Genre: Young Adult, Urban Fantasy, Christmas, Romance
Rating: 4.5 stars
On Christmas Eve five years ago, Holly was visited by three ghosts who showed her how selfish and spoiled she’d become. They tried to convince her to mend her ways.
And then she died.
Now she’s stuck working for the top-secret company Project Scrooge–as the latest Ghost of Christmas Past.
Every year, they save another miserly grouch. Every year, Holly stays frozen at seventeen while her family and friends go on living without her. So far, Holly’s afterlife has been miserable.
But this year, everything is about to change. . . .
I am not a romance reader. I’ve stated many times in my book reviews that the most annoying aspect of young adult books is always, always, the romance angle for me. There is always some trope to the romance that I can’t stand. (The boy is an asshole because he’s trying to protect the girl and the girl loves the boy despite the fact she knows she should hate his guts because he’s acting like an asshole. I want to claw my eyes out every time I read this and it is everywhere in young adult books.) But The Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand is a romance that does not use those much loathed tropes. It is a romance that did something different and I actually liked it. I know, it was shocking to me too.
This is a great Christmas book and I love the idea. The Scrooge Project uses the Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol as a blueprint to try and rehabilitate a single person every year. It uses some pretty snazzy tech to do it too. Like the Go Room, that allows the Ghosts to travel to the Scrooge’s home, and the Time Tunnel, which allows the Ghosts to travel in time to show the Scrooges the error of their ways. And we can’t we forget the Hoodie? Capital letter most definitely needed. The Afterlife of Holly Chase has the same fun and silly tone of My Lady Jane and just the right mix of paranormal fun and seriousness to entertain.
I liked all of the characters. Yes, Holly starts out as the consummate brat, the character you love to hate, but she grows. I loved all the characters at the Scrooge Project. The other Ghosts and all of the tech people helping run things behind the scenes. I even liked Blackpool, the grim and intense Ghost of Christmas Future. I would have liked a bit more development between Holly and Ethan. I see no reason why Holly should love Ethan so much after just seeing a photo of him. Lust, maybe, but not such deep love. That’s my biggest complaint with romance stories. No reasonable build up, in my opinion. The supposed depth of emotion just happens far too fast for me.
When it comes down to it, The Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand is a romance book and the first romance book that I’ve actually liked in a long time. If, like me, you are a bit anti-romance, I suggest you read this one. It’s a perfect read for the holiday season and Cynthia delivers her signature quirky, imaginative brand of writing that I so enjoy.
My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
Published: June 7th 2016 by HarperTeen
Format: Paper Book
Length: 512 pages
Genre: historical fiction, fantasy, magic, shapeshifters, royal drama
Rating: 4.5 stars
Goodreads | Amazon
Edward (long live the king) is the King of England. He’s also dying, which is inconvenient, as he’s only sixteen and he’d much rather be planning for his first kiss than considering who will inherit his crown…
Jane (reads too many books) is Edward’s cousin, and far more interested in books than romance. Unfortunately for Jane, Edward has arranged to marry her off to secure the line of succession. And there’s something a little odd about her intended…
Gifford (call him G) is a horse. That is, he’s an Eðian (eth-y-un, for the uninitiated). Every day at dawn he becomes a noble chestnut steed—but then he wakes at dusk with a mouthful of hay. It’s all very undignified.
The plot thickens as Edward, Jane, and G are drawn into a dangerous conspiracy. With the fate of the kingdom at stake, our heroes will have to engage in some conspiring of their own. But can they pull off their plan before it’s off with their heads?
I was prepared to give My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows a pass when I first heard of it. I usually find period historical royal drama books dull and pretty cringe worthy. Then a copy of My Lady Jane arrived in the June Owl Crate subscription box and I figured since I had it, I should give it a read. I’m glad I did. I expected something stuffy and sluggish but My Lady Jane is a hilarious, clever reinventing of English history with a heavy helping of magical highjacks. It was so much better than I could have anticipated.
Ah, the Tudors. Never a more dysfunctional royal family will you find. In case you need a refresher, this is the period of time where Henry VIII broke with the Catholic Church just so he could marry 6 different women. (His wives kept ending up dead, for some reason.) His son Edward VI, by Jane Seymour (wife #3), was brought up a Protestant, while his half-sister Mary, by Catherine of Aragon (wife #1), was brought up a Catholic. Both were struggling for control of the English throne. It is into this political stew pot that our story unfolds. Our authors take the religious tensions of the day and switch them over to a magical prejudice system between shapeshifters, the Edians, and those who despise them, the Verity. Our story is set in 1553, just as young King Edward was about to die from tuberculosis (as history tells us). Only Edward doesn’t die, much to everyone’s frustration. Throw in a royal coup d’état, other dastardly plots, and a horse and you have My Lady Jane in a nutshell.
For the amount of political drama that is the setting, My Lady Jane is a silly historical comedy full of puns and mockery of the sexist attitudes and ridiculous social graces of the time period. It’s funny and tongue-in-cheek. It’s entertaining. My Lady Jane is the type of easy, undemanding book that you can relax with. The romantic relationships, especially between Jane and G, are done spectacularly, with a believable evolution. The humor is clever and sarcastic. It is the exact tone I love to read. The characters are interesting. I especially like Jane. I really identify with her. She has so much book smarts but it’s hard to translate that usefully into the real world. The plot is well-written and the blending of history and fantasy is splendid.
My only real complaint is that it jumps between three POV’s, making it slightly irritating when we switch over to another person and have to backtrack to cover what was happening to them during a time period we’ve already covered from a different POV. I find changing POV’s incredibly jarring to the reading experience, making it hard to really settle into the flow of the narrative. However, I would have never guessed there were three authors. The writing style doesn’t change throughout the book and the tone never shifts. Our authors blended seamlessly together. I have to assume they wrote different parts but you could never tell. There are some portions that drag but the action picks up quickly. I was pleasantly surprised by how NOT annoying the romances were. My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows is a fun, witty rump through Tudor history turned on its head that I recommend anybody looking for a good chuckle and some sweet romance should read.
Some books coming out this month that I thought looked good.
The May Queen Murders by Sarah Jude
Publication: May 3
Stay on the roads. Don’t enter the woods. Never go out at night.
Those are the rules in Rowan’s Glen, a remote farming community in the Missouri Ozarks where Ivy Templeton’s family has lived for centuries. It’s an old-fashioned way of life, full of superstition and traditions, and sixteen-year-old Ivy loves it. The other kids at school may think the Glen kids are weird, but Ivy doesn’t care—she has her cousin Heather as her best friend. The two girls share everything with each other—or so Ivy thinks. When Heather goes missing after a May Day celebration, Ivy discovers that both her best friend and her beloved hometown are as full of secrets as the woods that surround them.
The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North
Publication: May 17
All the world forgets me. First my face, then my voice, then the consequences of my deeds.
So listen. Remember me.
My name is Hope Arden, and you won’t know who I am. We’ve met before – a thousand times. But I am the girl the world forgets.
It started when I was sixteen years old. A slow declining, an isolation, one piece at a time.
A father forgetting to drive me to school. A mother setting the table for three, not four. A teacher who forgets to chase my missing homework. A friend who looks straight through me and sees a stranger.
No matter what I do, the words I say, the people I hurt, the crimes I commit – you will never remember who I am.
That makes my life tricky. But it also makes me dangerous . . .
The Sudden Appearance of Hope is the tale of the girl no one remembers. But this gripping story – of love and loss, of hope and despair, of living in the moment and dying to leave a mark – is novel that will stay with you for ever.
Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes
Publication: May 17
From the author of The Art of Lainey and Liars, Inc. comes a fresh, contemporary story about one girl’s tragic past and a boy who convinces her that maybe her luck is about to change. Perfect for fans of Sarah Dessen or Jenny Han.
Maguire knows she’s bad luck. No matter how many charms she buys off the internet or good luck rituals she performs each morning, horrible things happen when Maguire is around. Like that time her brother, father, and uncle were all killed in a car crash—and Maguire walked away with barely a scratch. But then on her way out of her therapist’s office, she meets Jordy, an aspiring tennis star, who wants to help Maguire break her unlucky streak. Maguire knows that the best thing she can do for Jordy is to stay away, but staying away may be harder than she thought.
Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee
Publication: May 24
San Francisco, 1906: Fifteen-year-old Mercy Wong is determined to break from the poverty in Chinatown, and an education at St. Clare’s School for Girls is her best hope. Although St. Clare’s is off-limits to all but the wealthiest white girls, Mercy gains admittance through a mix of cunning and a little bribery, only to discover that getting in was the easiest part. Not to be undone by a bunch of spoiled heiresses, Mercy stands strong—until disaster strikes.
On April 18, an historic earthquake rocks San Francisco, destroying Mercy’s home and school. With martial law in effect, she is forced to wait with her classmates for their families in a temporary park encampment. Mercy can’t sit by while they wait for the Army to bring help. Fires might rage, and the city may be in shambles, yet Mercy still has the ‘bossy’ cheeks that mark her as someone who gets things done. But what can one teenaged girl do to heal so many suffering in her broken city?
Modern Lovers by Emma Straub
Publication: May 31
Friends and former college bandmates Elizabeth and Andrew and Zoe have watched one another marry, buy real estate, and start businesses and families, all while trying to hold on to the identities of their youth. But nothing ages them like having to suddenly pass the torch (of sexuality, independence, and the ineffable alchemy of cool) to their own offspring.
Back in the band’s heyday, Elizabeth put on a snarl over her Midwestern smile, Andrew let his unwashed hair grow past his chin, and Zoe was the lesbian all the straight women wanted to sleep with. Now nearing fifty, they all live within shouting distance in the same neighborhood deep in gentrified Brooklyn, and the trappings of the adult world seem to have arrived with ease. But the summer that their children reach maturity (and start sleeping together), the fabric of the adults’ lives suddenly begins to unravel, and the secrets and revelations that are finally let loose—about themselves, and about the famous fourth band member who soared and fell without them—can never be reclaimed.
Straub packs wisdom and insight and humor together in a satisfying book about neighbors and nosiness, ambition and pleasure, the excitement of youth, the shock of middle age, and the fact that our passions—be they food, or friendship, or music—never go away, they just evolve and grow along with us.
A good mix for the month of May! Most of these are large books, near or over 400 pages. The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North is 480 pages. I hope all these big books are worth reading.
The Night Parade by Kathryn Tanquary
Published: January 5th 2016 by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Format: Paper Book
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Spiritualism, Mythology, Religion, Japan, Journey
Rating: 4 stars
Goodreads | Amazon
The last thing Saki Yamamoto wants to do for her summer vacation is trade in exciting Tokyo for the antiquated rituals and bad cell reception of her grandmother’s village. Preparing for the Obon ceremony is boring. Then the local kids take an interest in Saki and she sees an opportunity for some fun, even if it means disrespecting her family’s ancestral shrine on a malicious dare.
But as Saki rings the sacred bell, the darkness shifts. A death curse has been invoked… and Saki has three nights to undo it. With the help of three spirit guides and some unexpected friends, Saki must prove her worth – or say good-bye to the world of the living forever.
I adore Japanese culture and was very excited to read The Night Parade by Kathryn Tanquary. Spiritualism for Asian cultures is a bit different than anything Western society usually deals with. For them, spirits are close at hand and a part of everyday life. It’s hard to explain the duality of the world in Asian cultures and how they see the spirit world and the human world very close together. Modern society and the youth are a bit removed from this but their spirituality is much closer to their daily lives than Western society would experience. It helps if you watch a lot of anime. (points at self) I’m rather surprised Tanquary did not use the word ‘yōkai’ to describe the spirits. Yōkai is a blanket term for the spirits like the ones found in The Night Parade, although it loosely translates into ‘demon’ or ‘monster’. Other Japanese vocabulary is sprinkled around the text, so it seems odd to me that ‘yōkai’ wasn’t used. The foreign vocabulary is probably going to confuse younger readers. No young kid is going to be culturally savvy enough to know what a torii gate is but I digress.
The Night Parade is your standard ‘journey’ plotline. The main character goes on a journey and becomes a better person for it. Saki is a brat and just the type of kid I would have smacked across the mouth if I meet them. It’s with her journey through the spirit world and dealings with the creatures there that she is able to grow up and overcome her selfishness and gain respect for others. My real enjoyment of The Night Parade came from the Japanese mythology and creatures. I adored the imagery and the descriptions of the spirits. Most of the reviews I’ve read compare The Night Parade to Spirited Away, and I guess if that is your only source of Japanese culture, then it’s pretty accurate. I much prefer xxxHolic or Mushishi or even Natsume Yuujinchou. All of them deal with the spirit world interacting with the human world and how each affects the other.
The plot is familiar and unoriginal. It is the Japanese setting and culture that elevates The Night Parade above merely mediocre for me. Our main character can be annoying but the supporting cast, especially the three guides and the other spirits, are interesting and appealing. The Japanese setting and culture is fascinating and beautiful. The book’s atmosphere and environment were better than its execution, in my opinion. The novel feels slow in parts and I really wanted to know how Saki was going to handle the return to Tokyo after defying her horrible best friend Hana but we are left hanging in that respect. Most of my enjoyment of The Night Parade by Kathryn Tanquary came from the Asian culture, rather than the characters or the writing. It’s nice to see more diversity but the story still felt kind of jumbled.
The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
Published: October 6th 2015 by HarperTeen
Format: Paper Book
Length: 317 pages
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal, Romance, GLBT, Urban Fantasy
Rating: 2.5 stars
Goodreads | Amazon
What if you aren’t the Chosen One?
The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?
What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.
Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.
Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions.
Award-winning writer Patrick Ness’s bold and irreverent novel powerfully reminds us that there are many different types of remarkable.
I seem to be stuck in a string of books where I have great expectations but end up with lackluster results. The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness has an awesome premise. What are the ordinary kids, the kids who aren’t ‘The Chosen One’, doing during those end-of-the-world adventures? It’s kind of like checking up on the rest of Sunnydale High School while Buffy and her crew were off stopping the hell-mouth from opening. They are just trying to pass math and not get eaten by a vampire. It focuses on the average, rather boring kids on the sidelines. These are the kids not in the spotlight but having to deal with the consequences of the big throw-down between the heroes and whatever evil that they are fighting this time. The problem with this is you end up with a story that is average and rather boring.
It is a clever and fascinating concept but the execution falls flat for me. For one thing, even if they are the average kids that the big, epic story is not happening to, there should still be a story. There is no plot in this. Just a meandering slice-of-life narrative that is pretty bland. Don’t get me wrong; I feel for the characters. The only saving grace of The Rest of Us Just Live Here is its characters. It’s painful to read about Mike’s OCD and hate for himself. That takes skill to write and I found myself most invested in the emotions of the characters. The cast is a diverse set of characters and they are the most interesting thing about this book. Too bad nothing interesting is done with them. I guess that may be the point; The Rest of Us Just Live Here is about the uninteresting lives that ordinary people live, as messed up as they are. But it doesn’t make for a very entertaining book.
I’m probably not the right person for a book like this. I like my books a bit more thrilling. Contemporary novels aren’t really my favorite but I was hoping for something special from this concept. I would have been happier with the clichéd and incredible campy book we see in the blurbs at the beginning of each chapter. The chapter pages was where Ness gave us an update on where the epic showdown between good and evil was progressing so we’d know where the events of our ordinary joes ran parallel. Like narrowly missing the gym being blown up during prom and then not so narrowly missing the whole high school being blown up during graduation. Epic showdowns between good and evil are very hard on schools.
My point is, that you have to enjoy character driven stories to enjoy The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness. I don’t. These characters are some of the best I’ve ever seen written. They are having a tough time with life, evil trying to take over the world notwithstanding. They are real and true and evoke strong emotional responses in the reader with their problems and anxieties. It hurt to read Mike. It hurt to read Mel. It called to my own anxieties and messed-up-ness. I applaud Ness on his characters. It was the plot that was lacking and made for an overall unexciting novel.
Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen
Published: February 3rd 2015 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Format: Paper Book
Length: 208 pages
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade, Magic, Fairytale, Beauty and the Beast
Rating: 3.5 stars
Goodreads | Amazon
Sarah has always been on the move. Her mother hates the cold, so every few months her parents pack their bags and drag her off after the sun. She’s grown up lonely and longing for magic. She doesn’t know that it’s magic her parents are running from.
When Sarah’s mother walks out on their family, all the strange old magic they have tried to hide from comes rising into their mundane world. Her father begins to change into something wild and beastly, but before his transformation is complete, he takes Sarah to her grandparents—people she has never met, didn’t even know were still alive.
Deep in the forest, in a crumbling ruin of a castle, Sarah begins to untangle the layers of curses affecting her family bloodlines, until she discovers that the curse has carried over to her, too. The day she falls in love for the first time, Sarah will transform into a beast . . . unless she can figure out a way to break the curse forever.
Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen is a beautiful, simple read that takes the Beauty and the Beast tale and twists the characters and events into a new story that delves deeper into the nature of curses and three generations of a family caught in the snare of magic, pride, and jealousy. Beastkeeper is a small book. It barely cracks 200 pages long. While I like stories that don’t overreach themselves and become rambling and unfocused, I do feel as if Beastkeeper could have been a little bigger. There are so many interesting characters that we learn so little of, that I wish the book had been longer just so they could have been fleshed out more. It’s a tease and we end up wanting more with no hope of getting it.
I liked Sarah as a character. She feels true to her age; as in there is a lot of crying when she feels overwhelmed and moments where she wants to give up and leave but the story won’t let her and she’s forced to grow up a little and deal with everything. Beastkeeper is dark for a children’s story. The ending is less a happy ending and more a balanced ending. The dead stay dead and the characters move on and deal with their fates for the most part. This is not your everyday fairytale revision. Hellisen creates an atmosphere with her writing that perfectly matches her story. From the cold in the forest to the twisting maze of the tower, her writing is magical and sets the tone for beasts and witches alike.
I found Beastkeeper in the young adult section of my library but the story is much better suited to a middle grade genre. The age of the main character and the tone of the romance angle are better aimed toward younger audiences (and adults like me who just like middle grade books for the stories they offer). Plus, there is the absolutely gorgeous cover. I’m seriously in love with it. I spent several minutes picking the hidden creatures out of the trees. I highly recommend Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen for anyone who enjoys stories based in folklore and fairytales that have a touch of darkness to them.
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Published: October 6th 2015 by St. Martin’s Griffin
Format: Paper Book
Length: 522 pages
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, GLBT, Paranormal, Magic
Rating: 4 stars
Goodreads | Amazon
Simon Snow is the worst chosen one who’s ever been chosen.
That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right.
Half the time, Simon can’t even make his wand work, and the other half, he sets something on fire. His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there’s a magic-eating monster running around wearing Simon’s face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here—it’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up.
Carry On is a ghost story, a love story, a mystery and a melodrama. It has just as much kissing and talking as you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell story—but far, far more monsters.
I am unbelievably torn with Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. On one hand, I adore fanfiction. I read fanfiction and I write it. For me, the Simon Snow fanfiction bits of Fangirl were the bright spots among what turned out to be a rather slow and boring book. So when Rainbow Rowell announced she was going to write a proper book using the Simon Snow characters and world we caught little glances of in Fangirl, I was super excited. I wasn’t even put off by the 522 page count. But then I eagerly cracked my new copy of Carry On open and my heart sank. Rainbow Rowell had committed one of my biggest peeves; the changing POV. Every chapter, and sometimes ‘chapters’ were a couple of sentences long, was told from a different character’s point of view. I almost threw the book out the window. No. Just, no.
I’m not fond of first person narrative either. Add in the changing POV and I was incredibly annoyed. Each chapter would backtrack to retell the events that had just happened from another character’s point of view. So, we were getting each scene from a different person two or three times depending on who was there. Redundant and pointless. The length of the book was starting to make sense. I was about ready to pull my hair out. But, I’m a dedicated fanfiction shipper and I pushed through and read the whole book. (I don’t know why some person, an editor or proofreader, didn’t point out how much people dislike first person narrative and changing POV. They’re the number one and two criticisms on fanfiction or books in general. Why, Rainbow!? Why!?)
Being a fangirl and shipper often means that you are willing to read utter crap as long as it has your fandom and the characters you like. You have to wade through a lot of mediocrity to find those hidden gems in fanfiction. I’m used to it but I was disappointed to find it in a proper published book. If Rainbow’s goal in writing Carry On was to keep the fanfiction feel of the story, she accomplished that. But she accomplished it by keeping the worst traits of fanfiction, the stuff I personally have to look past to be able to enjoy a story. References to events before this book, in earlier school years, are sprinkled around the book and since we have no way to read those earlier books, this is just madness inducing. The plot was a bit muddled and could be confusing in places. It is also slow and meandering in the first half and a little rushed in the second half. The magic system is very creative and the details of Simon’s past and how the Insidious Humdrum was created are fantastic. In all, I loved the story and the characters of Carry On by Rainbow Rowell but the manner it was written in was not my cup of tea.
Urban Epics is running a major giveaway with 10 signed YA books, plus a $200 Amazon gift card, plus a vintage Remington typewriter. It does not get more awesome than that.
The books up for grabs include;
Winter by Marissa Meyer
Soundless by Richelle Mead
Proxy by Alex London
Unbreakable by Kami Garcis
Dangerous Deception by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl
The Heir by Kiera Cass
Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard
Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
You’ll get all of those books, signed by their authors, plus a $200 Amazon gift card, plus a Remington typewriter. That is quite a haul!
The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black
Published: January 13th 2015 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Format: Paper Book
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Fantasy, Fairytale, Magic, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult
Goodreads | Amazon
Children can have a cruel, absolute sense of justice. Children can kill a monster and feel quite proud of themselves. A girl can look at her brother and believe they’re destined to be a knight and a bard who battle evil. She can believe she’s found the thing she’s been made for.
Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once.
At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking.
Until one day, he does…
As the world turns upside down, Hazel tries to remember her years pretending to be a knight. But swept up in new love, shifting loyalties, and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough?
Fairfold has a fairy problem. The citizens of this town have lived side by side with the Folk of the woods, maybe not completely peacefully, but at least successfully. Obey the rules and don’t act like a tourist and you’ll be fine. But something has upset the balance and now Fairfold finds itself under attack. I was really excited to read The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black. I was ambivalent about her Curse Workers series but adore The Spiderwick Chronicles. (Yes, I’m an adult and I read The Spiderwick Chronicles in my 20’s.) So I knew I had a 50/50 chance of liking The Darkest Part of the Forest. Anything with fairies is an attention grabber for me. I was ready for a good old romp in an unspecified medieval European setting and was very pleased to find that The Darkest Part of the Forest was set in modern times, complete with cellphones and IPods. It makes the setting and characters easier to identify with. The characters were amazing but the pacing of events was a little frustrating.
The world-building and storytelling were delightful. The way in which Fairfold and the forest are crafted with modern and fairytale elements is fascinating. People of Fairfold drive cars and use cellphones but at the same time follow a set of fairytale rules like a Grimm story, wearing Ronan wood charms and carrying oatmeal and iron nails in their pockets. It’s an interesting amalgamation of two very different themes and I loved it. It took me a while to get into the characters. Hazel, the main female character, started off as a character I didn’t much like, kissing boys like it was a game and breaking hearts right and left with no remorse, but this quickly falls to the wayside as the story progresses and she gets less annoying and more interesting. We get a bit of a fake out with the horned boy. For as much significance placed on him in the beginning, it’s actually another fairy boy who features more in the story. But that would be telling…
I must congratulate Holly Black on a masterful use of a homosexual character, Ben. Why do I call it masterful? Because it’s not thrust into your face, like the author is crowing that she included a homosexual character in her book. Ben is an important character; his sexuality is kind of secondary to the chaos that is going on. In fact, Ben ends up with the fairy prince and it’s done without fanfare. I want to hug Holly Black for not making Ben a joke or holding him up as an oddity to be gawked at. Not a single aspect of Ben as a gay man is trivialized by some ignorant stereotype. Nothing unusual to see here, people. Move along.
I did have problems with the pacing of events and there was a lot of information bumping. I know it’s hard to get information out there in a fairytale because a lot of the information is oral, told through spoken stories. It’s not like anybody wrote down the fairy prince’s story for Hazel to find but it’s always a little disappointing when information is just dumped into your lap. It’s anticlimactic. The pacing of events was very uneven. Things would start happening and I would think the book was finally picking up steam only for it to flag again. It was frustrating being jerked around like that. Kind of like running into a wall when you’re trying to sprint.
The Darkest Part of the Forest is a creepy and sinister fairytale. There is no Tinkerbell here, people. The Folk are creatures unlike any cute, childhood story you may remember. I liked that. The Fey are nothing to joke around with and it’s nice that Holly Black didn’t shy away from the darker creatures that are cruel and murderous. There are a couple of tropes that made me roll my eyes a little and I felt like the secondary characters could have used a bit more fleshing out. The fairy prince and the monster at the heart of the forest were kind of left in the dust. Maybe there were simply too many characters and too much focus on Hazel being a special snowflake. The romances were rushed, dull and, it felt, stuck on there just for appearances sake. The atmosphere of the story was incredible but the plot was chaotic and kept me from really loving it. The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black has fantastic world-building but fails in the execution a little.
Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.
Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.
The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.
But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.
I won an ARC of Uprooted by Naomi Novik from Goodreads and, to be honest, I put off reading it because of its size. It is 435 pages long. I’m the type of person that believes if you can’t tell a story in under or close to 350 pages, then you need to edit down. Longer books tend to be slow or rambling and drive me crazy. I end up losing my patience and giving up waiting for something interesting to bloody happen. But I was reading such good things from other reviewers that Uprooted piqued my interest and I gave in. And, man, am I glad I did! While Uprooted was a bit slow in places and the Dragon is a jerk without any redeemable characteristics, it wasn’t enough to completely put me off because the rest of the book is just that awesome in my opinion.
You have to understand that my taste for romance in books has soured over the years. So much so that I’d rather stab myself in the eye with a letter opener than read one more young adult book where the male is an asshole for mysterious brooding reasons and the female is a twit merely because of her gender. I’m sick of it. It’s completely put me off of YA books as a whole. But it is also very hard to find the stories that I find entertaining in the adult genre, where the romance is a little more palatable in my opinion. That’s why I was doubly pleased to find that Uprooted was being marketed as an adult genre novel. I saw the light of hope at the end of the dark, annoying romance tunnel.
Agnieszka and the Dragon are complete opposites and while a type of halting, grudging romance does develop between them, it does not take over the book or hinder Agnieszka in any way. The romance between them falls to the background and the main plot with the Wood and the history of the valley and its people takes center stage. There is more focus on the sisterly relationship and loyalty between Agnieszka and Kasia then the budding feelings between Agnieszka and the Dragon. In short, I don’t end up simmering in frustration and impatience because the main female character is so focused on the main male character being a jerk to her that the story stalls while we waste time on poorly contrived emotional angst. Agnieszka does not spend time pining for the Dragon but rather gets on with things. Thank god…
My peeves with this story are that the Dragon (who does have a name but that isn’t revealed until late in the book and so I won’t use it here) is a big old jerk. He has reasons for being a jerk but that just makes him fall into my loathed ‘asshole for mysterious brooding reasons’ category. If the Dragon was more of a driving force in the story, I probably would have liked it less. The beginning interactions between Agnieszka and the Dragon are also a little long and could be tightened up so the pace doesn’t slag. Same thing with Agnieszka and the royal palace and other mages. We all get that something fishy was happening under the surface of political intrigue and court maneuverings but that part could have sped up as well. Uprooted could have gotten a little more editing and been better off for it.
The fantasy genre has been growing by leaps and bounds the past couple of years. All you need to do is browse through a list of popular novels and TV shows to see that fantasy is becoming mainstream. And I am so thankful for that. Uprooted is firmly in the fairytale-esque tradition, playing off the whole ‘dragon kidnaps a princess for evil purposes’ story so familiar to us from childhood. But the story is so much more than that. It is so refreshing to see a capable, tenacious heroine in Agnieszka and a story rich in history, detail, and imagery. The malevolent Wood seems to have a life of its own within the story and the sense of creepy, malicious awareness reaches out to send cold chills up the reader’s spine. Everything in Uprooted is so vivid that putting down the book at the end of the day was a physical pain.
Uprooted by Naomi Novik captivated me. It was a touch slow but once the characters returned to the valley to confront the Wood and its far-reaching, evil manipulations and sorrowful past, the story picked up and I could hardly turn pages fast enough. The Wood is a character in itself in the book, much more than the flimsy creations in other fairytale novels. I was amazed by every detail and twist. The story telling in Uprooted is masterful and weaves a brilliant tale with excellent world-building and interesting characters. If you are looking for romance, you might be disappointed. But if you are looking for a fantasy fairytale novel suited toward adults, then Uprooted is definitely for you. Uprooted sinks its teeth into you and doesn’t let go until the end. Despite its failings, I completely enjoyed it.