[The Suffering Tree] Elle Cosimano

Warning: I discuss cutting and the inclusion of it in The Suffering Tree in this review.

This cover is really nice. The colors are so lovely.

When I finished The Suffering Tree and read reviews of it I asked myself if I read the same book as these other reviewers because I absolutely do not have feelings of this being a five, four, or even three star book. The initial look at the book, aka the summary, had me hooked. It seemed right up my alley: it has a curse, a mystery, and a character coming back from the dead coupled with the outsider / outcast aspect. That summary was what led me to request an ARC on NetGalley. Sadly the summary led me astray.

The things I liked about this book are slim compared to the problems I had with it. It’s exceedingly frustrating as a reader to have most of the excitement about the book explained in the summary, because I found the actual book quite slow and boring at times. Even though the writing had beautiful and sometimes poetic moments, I couldn’t shake the disconnect from the characters despite following Tori throughout the entire novel.

Normally this is where I’d go into talking about the characters to keep with the flow of my writing, but I wanted to talk about the things I had issues with in order of importance. Because all of my issues with the characters and the points of view pale in comparison to this:

Using cutting as a way to have magical things happen is a HUGE problem

There was no indication going into The Suffering Tree that Tori self-harmed. Like this review here, I agree that self-harm is not something that should be completely erased from young adult books, but it does need to be done in a way that doesn’t glorify it the way that I felt The Suffering Tree did. The inclusion of self-harm was completely unexpected. I’ve read a few other books with self-harm in them, and generally there’s something in the plot summary that indicates to the reader that it will be discussed in the book.

I hated that other characters, namely her mother and brother, seemed to ignore that Tori was hurting. Tori had been caught before and was required to talk to someone (she no longer is talking to someone ) and Tori’s mother counts the knives in the drawers, but there’s just something so dismissive about how it was handled in the book. They just scurry out of her way in their attempts to not talk about it.  With the death of Tori’s father, subsequent eviction, and move to a new home and town, you’d think that Tori’s mother would be aware of the stressors in Tori’s life that would lead to more cutting. There’s absolutely no discussion about how Tori is doing and there’s no therapy, even though the discussion of therapy is halfheartedly made later on. Nothing comes of it, however.  It made me feel like the author just used it as a way to further the story rather than call attention to the real harm it can be.

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[The Bone Witch] Rin Chupeco

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The Bone Witch was a novel with a nice premise but the execution was not strong enough to keep my interest. Told in two perspectives, The Bone Witch follows Tea, a Dark Asha, as she discovers her powers in the past and in the present as she tells her story to a banished storyteller. Her story begins when she accidentally brings her brother back from the dead and soon she is fully entrenched in her new life as a Dark Asha, one of the rare witches who can raise and command the dead, both human and daeva. Her training means that she gains more control and she must make decisions that will affect her future and that of those around her.

There were things I really liked about this novel. I thought that the fantasy part of it–the idea of it, at least–was something that was creative. I liked that the main character was ostracized even by other witches because of her powers and that she didn’t have control over them at first. I particularly liked the idea that you couldn’t hide the feelings in your heart–unless you literally hid it behind something–because you had a heartsglass that swirled with color. The little touches like this were really well done, but ultimately The Bone Witch fell too much to the side of information dumping.

The world, when it should have been interesting, was full of too much information at one time. Despite the amount of information given to me, I don’t feel like I know much about the world. Few things really stood out. I know a little bit about the daeva, these monster-like creatures that are reborn every so many years, terrorize the general populace, and need to be put down by the Dark Asha again. Then there are all of these places that were mentioned multiple times and are likely important, but I couldn’t keep any of them straight. I’m not sure if it was because of the information dumping, the point of view, or the storytelling itself, but I just couldn’t distinguish one from the other.

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[The Dream Protocol: Descent] Adara Quick

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What would a world be like if dreams were controlled by the government and your place in life determined at age 15? What would a world be like if nightmares were weaponized and you could be punished for anything they determined were wrong? In The Dream Protocol, your life is lived in a grey world and your only escape is the dreams that you can afford. Then at age 35, you’re no longer wanted and you take your Descent. Deirdre is no longer content with living this way. As her mother’s Descent creeps steadily closer, she begins to rebel against the norm. When who she loves is threatened, she discovers that she will do anything to protect them–even if it means putting herself in danger.

So I will begin by saying that I’ve never had a novel length story published. But I have written and read a lot of stories, particularly young adult ones, in the last year and a half or so, so I know what I like to see in novels such as these. The Dream Protocol has everything that I like to see in a dystopian novel, but sadly, they all never go beyond the idea. I felt that this novel was built around the bare-bones of a plot, but was never fully fleshed out. As it’s the first novel in a series, perhaps this is explored in the next novels. However,  because it’s a first novel, the fact that it’s full of big ideas that aren’t fleshed out kind of damns it.

There are so many interesting things that are introduced in The Dream Protocol but never pan out into something more. There’s a prophecy, but we’re never shown how it’s connected to Deirdre and her family. We’re teased with hints of what the Dream Protocol truly is as we’re given accounts and reactions periodically throughout the novel, but this never expands into something more. One of my big disappointments was that I wish it had been described more. Instead, we’re given small details that don’t really flesh out the world. Everyone wore grey, the walls were grey, there was no sky…grey overwhelmingly describes the blandness of the book.

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[Throne of Glass] Sarah J. Maas

 

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Throne of Glass is the first novel in a series about Celaena Sardothien, an assassin who has been toiling in the slave mines of Endovier for a year when she is suddenly released under one condition: she must fight in a competition to be the King’s Champion. Only then will she win her freedom. As Adarlan’s Assassin, she strikes fear into the hearts of people who know her name; as Celaena, she’s only a girl to the men in the competition and easily brushed aside. As the competition continues, Celaena proves that she’s not easily ignored, but soon that’s the least of their worries. Something is killing the competitors–and it’s only a matter of time before it comes for her.

If you only read the synopsis of the novel, it sounds pretty good. It’s only when you open the pages and read the first few chapters that you realize it’s not that great. This novel came out a few years ago when I was still working at a bookstore, and I remember picking it up and dismissing it as something that I wouldn’t enjoy. That opinion held true to some extent. I still read through this book because I’d heard from several reviewers that I follow that this is one of their favorite series and that subsequent books are far better. This meant that as much as this book was overwhelmingly meh to me, I had to read it to see if the series is as good as everyone says.

That said, there were things that I did really like about this book. The idea of a female assassin was great, if poorly executed. I just didn’t believe that Celaena was that horrifying assassin. She focused entirely too much on sweets and outfits. There were more descriptions of the intricacies of Celaena’s outfits rather than her actions in this competition. That is what I was interested in. It made Celaena’s vanity–and frankly, stupidity–the focus of her character rather than her supposed talents of assassination. I do like that she is vain because it is a strange flaw for an assassin to have, but it became too much when I was looking for other aspects of her personality to shine through. I just didn’t buy that she was this feared assassin, even if she couldn’t come out and say it. However, I do think that it showed her age. She was vain and childish because she is a young character. It’s just too bad that I didn’t feel that I saw much of her mature side.

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[Ghost House] Alexandra Adornetto

19486754Chloe thought that the ghosts that used to haunt her were gone. She thought that she was strong enough to push them away, but in the days following her mother’s death, they come back in force. They’re harder to push away. Dealing with her mother’s death, the ghosts, and her father’s grief, Chloe doesn’t know how much longer she can keep it together. Whisked away to England by a worried grandmother, Chloe’s abilities draw her into a 157 year old mystery and the ghosts that have the answers.

I was super intrigued by the premise of Ghost House. It promised that there would be “hungry dead  [eager for] a chance to claim her for their own, ” and that there was a mystery at its heart. Chloe can see ghosts and is able to ignore them most of the time, but then she suddenly can’t push them away. She’s drawn into this world that exists alongside her own. Chloe struggles to figure out her place in both of the worlds because she’s torn between them. Due to the poor execution, I didn’t feel that this was the result of the book at all. This was very much a novel where the summary and publication team works really hard to make this seem readable. For most of my time reading it, I kept looking for that zest that made it as exciting as the summary sounded. It wasn’t there.

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[The Graces] Laure Eve

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The Graces is a story about one girl’s obsession. To fit in. To discover their secrets. To find her father. River and her mother recently moved to a small town where they can start over after River’s father left them. It is there that she first sees the Graces.  The Graces have perfected the art of appearing above it all. They’re friends only with themselves, their parents are mysterious, and all of them have odd behaviors. River knows that she needs to get in with them if she wants to have a chance at getting her father back. But things aren’t always what they seem. Everyone says that the Graces are witches; but are they? Obsession can lead you into dangerous places without you even realizing it.

It’s hard to review books like The Graces because I don’t want to reveal too much. So a lot of the wording in this review is going to be roundabout and vague intentionally. This novel follows the popular trend to have a thriller with an unreliable narrator. Unfortunately, the “thriller” aspect of this novel wasn’t there for me. I just didn’t find it very thrilling. If anything, the things that are meant to set it as a thriller just came off as a bit flat. This is because I didn’t feel that there was much or any set-up for most of the things that occurred in the novel, giving it a very disjointed feeling regarding the action. It just happened and I was expected to believe it. In retrospect, I do think I can pinpoint when and what were meant to be the “hint-hint-nudge-nudge” moments of the book, but I still don’t feel that it was strong enough. Because of that, I didn’t feel that there was much action in this book in the plotting sense.

The majority of the novel was viewed through the protagonist’s eyes, but it was like she wasn’t engaging, which was frustrating. Much of the novel was pure dialogue and the lack of action tags made it difficult to keep up with who was talking at times. River was an unreliable narrator, so while we knew that she was keeping things from the Graces, she was also keeping them from the reader. It sometimes works. I didn’t feel that it worked in the case of The Graces. I did enjoy reading River’s gradual slide into full on obsession. She manipulated the Graces by keeping things about herself secret and being a mirror for their feelings. By becoming the ultimate listener, River learned things about the Graces that other people hadn’t. Everything they told her only made her more obsessed with them. She felt that she found people who understood her. This happened right away in the beginning of the novel when River introduces herself. She’s never felt like her birth name describes her, something that Summer Grace understands. Because there’s a focus on being who the Graces expect her to be, the reader never finds out what River’s birth name is, making her more of an enigma.

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[Henchgirl] Rita Stradling

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Dakota, our protagonist, works for her grandfather, who is part dragon. Her job is to use her powers to manipulate her grandfather’s underlings; to remind them that her grandfather holds all the power over them. Dakota can manipulate emotions in people, bending them to her will. When Wyvern, an annoying yet mysterious almost-adult comes to the island, hiding who she is from the people around her gets more difficult. All she wants is for things to go back to normal. But was her life ever really normal to begin with?

This is one of those books that had a good idea, but poor execution. I can see why there’s a lot of fans of this book, however; it’s urban fantasy, it has its own set of legends, and it has a smoldering love interest with the added benefit of enemy-turned-lover. I like that angle. What I didn’t like was the instant-love that happened in this book. Dakota, the protagonist, goes from someone who loathes Wyvern, to a kissy-kissy moon-eyed girl who completely lacks any agency. You’ve known him for about a day and a half. Calm down. She could have been this powerful character–she had the powers for it–instead she worried if his feelings for her were real. Oh, and the missing girls–that’s bad, I guess. The true issues of the world took such a backseat that they felt forgotten.

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