[Heartless] Marissa Meyer

I love the cover of my edition.

I love the cover of my edition.

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Heartless is the story of the Queen of Hearts before she was the Queen of Hearts, before she was cold and angry, before she called incessantly for the heads of those who had wronged her. Before she was the Queen of Hearts she was Catherine, a girl who daydreamed about falling in love and of starting a bakery full of the treats she had created by her own hands. Renowned for her cakes and tarts, she’s caught the eyes and the heart of the foolish King of Hearts, who is not what she envisions for a future husband at all. Unfortunately for Cath, her mother and father desire something more for her than a floured apron. As her future comes closer, Cath starts running out of options. If she wants to avoid her fate, she must try to find another path.

I was really excited to read Heartless because The Lunar Chronicles is a really good young adult series. Perhaps it’s because Heartless is a standalone, but I really didn’t find it as engaging as her series. I didn’t feel bored, exactly, but I felt a little like I was reading just to pass the time, rather than reading for pure pleasure. In fact, I ended up setting the book aside for a week because of work and didn’t feel a drive to return to it. Not in the way that The Lunar Chronicles had me going back.

This book is well-written but I’m left feeling underwhelmed at its overall content. I don’t know if I went into it expecting more than it was able to give, but I didn’t find this quite the page-turner that I expected it to be. I loved Meyer’s first series and had high hopes that I would enjoy this one just as much, but ultimately it’s only just okay.

The idea of before in Heartless was really interesting. I liked that it was an origin story of a character who is traditionally viewed as a villain. Catherine’s descent into the familiar red-faced Queen of Hearts was, for the most part, well thought out and written. But somewhere around the middle the book just dragged.

The first half of the book consisted of Catherine focusing on her dream and how she would gain it. When she meets Jest, the new court Joker, it should have gotten more interesting.  Heartless claimed to be about a secret courtship between them. What I got was an indecisive girl that didn’t know what she wanted and was torn between dreams and the reality of what her parents wanted. She was very whiny.  I also didn’t feel that Jest was very well-developed, so compared to Catherine, he was kind of bland. His backstory was interesting and I would have loved to see more of it, but there just wasn’t time in the novel.

I think that it’s sometimes difficult to keep readers interested in retellings when they kind of already know the story. I felt that inevitability in Heartless. It dragged down the story at times because it was inevitable who she was going to become, that the Jabberwock was going to be problem, that there was going to be something in Cath’s life that made her turn toward anger.

While the characters are familiar, only parts of their characterization are to me, because I’ve yet to read the original story. Obviously, the Hatter has to be mad, but I liked the way that his madness was explored and explained. Along with Jest, I would have really liked to see more of their lives before they met Cath. Something that The Lunar Chronicles excelled at was making a reader care about the secondary characters.

Even though I was a little slow to get through the book, I ended up really liking the ending. So much so, that I was actually disappointed that it was the end. I wanted to see more of this new Cath. The buildup into her character as a villain was worth it. This moment was perfect–just the right amount of darkness. It was just unfortunate that it was at the end, because I felt that the real strength of the book was here. You could really see that Meyer had been building to this point. More of those feelings would have benefited the book in the pages before it.

I think that this is a good retelling, it just wasn’t for me. I really loved the fact that it focused on a villain rather than Alice (who I think was only mentioned in passing). There were familiar characters who were expanded upon and it made the story richer. I only wish the novel had gotten to the good stuff sooner.

3 stars.

[Wintersong] S. Jae-Jones

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Wintersong is the story of what happens when you make wishes and promises to a mysterious stranger and they come to collect. Liesl is nineteen and dreams of composing, but she’s put her desires on hold in order to help out at her family inn, train her brother for a position as a violinist, and indulge her younger sister in her vanities. Liesl has to content herself with snatched moments and hidden scraps of her compositions as she acts as the strong, older sister. But when her younger sister is stolen by the Goblin King, Liesl has to remember the songs and stories of her childhood in order to save her from a Goblin King who deals in riddles and trades. Suddenly, Liesl finds herself in a precarious position deep underground in the world of the Goblin King. It is there that she discovers more about herself than she ever allowed herself to learn. As she passes the threshold from innkeeper girl to adult composer, Liesl has to make a choice about just how much she is willing to sacrifice.

Wintersong had an extremely strong start. Jae-Jones introduced us to her world slowly using beautiful language reminiscent of music. The story promised touches of the fantastic that is often found in fairy tales. I truly enjoyed reading how Jae-Jones used words to construct a familiar yet fairy tale-esque world. The inclusion of Christina Rossetti’s poetry at the beginning of each part of the book also set the stage for what was to happen perfectly without giving too much away. Threaded throughout the story was the language of classical music. Sadly I didn’t understand this as well as I understood the poetry due to the fact that I never studied music in the way that Jae-Jones seems to have. I thought it was a really unique way of writing. It wasn’t something that I had seen before. I was glad that Jae-Jones used it to enhance her writing rather than overwhelm her story with it.

I really thought that using music as a way to create more stunning imagery was wonderful. It’s one of the reasons why the writing style was so engaging for me; even though I struggled to get through the second half of the book at times, the writing kept me reading. The one downside to using music so much is that any time something sexy or sexual came up, music was used as a metaphor. There was a fair bunch of cringey lines that were repetitive or just plain corny. I much preferred when it wasn’t used that way, because I just could not see anyone ever using these lines on their romantic interest.

The thing that is really odd about Wintersong is the way that the book is split in two. Other reviewers have mentioned it and I feel compelled to as well. There is a clear divide between part one and part two, and for me, there wasn’t much of a bridge between the two of them. I understand the connection, but character-wise, it was like I was reading another book or a book where the characters, namely Liesl, weren’t fully realized.

Honestly, I was far more interested in the first half. It focused on family and Liesl’s love of them. Even though she had given up her dreams in favor of her brother and sister’s, even though her mother and father didn’t really believe in her the way they believed in her brother, you could see the love that she felt for all of them. I liked that part one was a love story to her family. Liesl was desperate to protect both her brother and her sister, but she couldn’t divide her time equally. Focusing on her brother’s future nearly lost her sister’s future; when Liesl realizes this, the love she feels for her sister demands that she engage in the impossible task of saving her.

Her journey into the Underground was a wonderful blend of familiar and unfamiliar myth. I have a very surface level understanding of Goblins and their Underground, so I’m not sure how much was of Jae-Jones own design and how much was the usual spiel. I loved that there was an element of sacrifice, which further showed just how desperate Liesl was to get her sister back and how much she loved her sister. Everything Liesl did in the first half marked her as an incredible and incredibly interesting heroine who was spunky and wouldn’t take any garbage from anyone around her, particularly when she’s Underground. She was so interesting and she easily made the first half of the book a  4 or 5 star read.

That’s why the departure from this is the second half of the novel was so disconcerting. She was, technically, still spunky and outspoken. But too many times it became her throwing a tantrum or refusing to act like an adult, while at the same time complaining about not being treated as an adult. I was confused, because Liesl didn’t seem like the Liesl that had been present in the first half of the book. She became less of a heroine and more of a whiner who near-constantly thought that there was something wrong with her or complained about the Goblin King not liking her enough. It became a mope fest.

Something that part two also introduced was the idea of this novel as less of a young adult novel and more of a new adult novel. I read both, so it didn’t bother me that there was sex scenes in the book. What did bother me was that I felt kind of blindsided by this. It just seemed out of place. Honestly, I felt that the sex scenes weren’t really necessary. They furthered my annoyance with Liesl because I didn’t feel that she was the same character that she was in the first half. She became obsessed with her love interest, and that wasn’t cool.

Throughout the majority of the second part I wished that it would go back to what I had loved about the first half: the exploration of the Underground, the love she felt for her family, and the willingness to go to hell-and-back for her sister. That was where Jae-Jones’ storytelling really shone and where she could weave her mythology about the Goblins and the Goblin King. I really liked that humans were often tricked into positions by the Goblins. Even knowing this, Liesl is often tricked by both them and the Goblin King. Her naivety in the first half is because she doesn’t care what she has to do to rescue her sister; her naivety in the second half is because she is blinded by a relationship. Throughout the novel there are stories of both the brave and the beautiful (re: stupid) girl–Liesl manages to be both.

There is talk of a sequel that will be out at some point in 2018, so perhaps some of the loose ends of the story will be concluded in that. I can never decide if I like loose ends or not. What it usually comes down to is if the author manage to portray the loose ends in a way that I personally like and it’s often very arbitrary. So while I liked the conclusion of Wintersong,  I am also curious about what is going to happen in the sequel. I also wonder if it will end up being a sequel or a companion novel because I’ve read rumors about that too.

There are so many different nods to things in Wintersong that I think it’s welcoming to a variety of readers. Fairy tales, and not necessarily the happy ending ones; Labyrinth, which I’ve never seen (so I’m not sure if this is a good or a bad thing); poetry, some of which I was familiar with; and music. The music was my absolute favorite part. I thought it was lovely to pull that theme through the entirety of the novel and made the writing exceptionally beautiful. I really think this is going to be popular for people who like all or some of those things.

Despite really liking it, the partial disconnect I felt between the first half and the second half of the novel really threw me off and brought my rating lower.

3 stars.

Wintersong will be available on February 7th, 2017. I received an ARC from the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

[Three Dark Crowns] Kendare Blake

There is a minor spoiler regarding the “romance” in the text below.

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On an island mysteriously shrouded in mists, three triplets are born every generation. And every generation when they come of age, they have to kill their sisters or be killed themselves. Such is the world of Three Dark Crowns. Three Queens, each possessing a valuable magic, will soon turn 16. They are each sequestered in their towns and homes, training with their magic in order to present themselves as the strongest Queen and win the support of their people. As the days tick down, each begin to question their place on the island and what they’ve been told they must do for their entire life. Will they be able to confront the reality of killing their sisters when they still feel the lingering connections of their sisterly bond?

So much of Three Dark Crowns was spent building up to the main part of the story–which took place in the last third of the book–that not much happened in the way of conflict. As the story progresses, we learn more about the three sisters and the people around them–whether they are their adopted family, their advisers, or others vying for their attention and favor–but we don’t really learn much beyond that.  Blake really built a world where you can feel the pressures that are on each girl and her companions, but the effect is that it creates three separate bubbles that don’t really interact with each other for the majority of the book. And that makes it dull. There are “rules” in place that says you can’t harm the other sisters until a certain time, but I have a hard time believing that they wouldn’t be more curious about each other. That they wouldn’t sneak out more.

Instead, we get a focus on them building their powers–which could be interesting, but I felt like there weren’t many times when we actually saw the powers happen. We’re told about them, of course, but when there’s an Elemental, a Naturalist, and a Poisoner, I expected more. Even with two of the sisters being weaker than the other, I didn’t feel like I got to see a lot of Mirabella’s Elemental nature.

The names alone conjure up power, but because two of the sisters are struggling to master their talents, every time I read their chapter I was kind of bored. There’s only so many times I can read about Katherine getting sick or Arsinoe being unable to call her familiar. Even though a lot of time was spent with them, I still kind of feel like I don’t really know much about them because the narrative kept going around in a circle.

That said, I really enjoyed how each of the groups were distinct. I liked reading about all of the different lifestyles they had and how they approached the upcoming struggle for the crown. I wish we were given more on that, because I think that was where the novel was the strongest. Even though each group was powerful with magic, there are alliances and betrayals forming behind the scenes. They’re partially shown to the reader but there’s still an element of unreliability because you don’t know how much of it is talk and how much of it is real.

For having an interesting premise and with the majority of the book spent building up to the climax of the novel, the world was surprisingly bare. Nothing really stood out from the world-building. It relied pretty heavily on the fact that it was a fantasy novel. I felt like I was expected to fill in the blanks with generic fantasy world building blocks. I hope that there are more details on the world and how the powers fit into it in the next novel.

Something that I loved about Three Dark Crowns is the amount of female characters who had important roles. While the bulk of the book did focus on the sisters, there were other female characters who also had political power. I enjoyed reading those parts where side characters were shown to be orchestrating much more than just the upcoming announcement of the Queens. Unfortunately for the book, because all of the side female characters were also strong, it really put light on the weakness of the protagonists. I found I was more interested in Jules, Arsinoe’s best friend, than I was in Arsinoe. It would have been a different book if it had been Jule’s point of view. I would have liked to see how “normal” people dealt with the upcoming Crown games.

The split between the three points of view caused a little bit of a problem for me. It didn’t help that it was also third person present tense, which I don’t think I had ever seen until this book. I don’t feel that I truly had a read on any of the characters until late in the novel, at which point I had already decided that I cared more about Jules than about any of the main three.

Romance was a problem in this book. I didn’t understand the main pairing, which didn’t really initially have anything to do with the three Queens. I usually don’t explicitly talk about spoilers in my reviews, but I feel I have to in this case. This is your last warning, if you care.

Spoilers in the next paragraphs:


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I get that love triangles are a thing. It’s an extremely popular way to get your readers to continue reading your series as they hope that their preferred pairing is the end game. That is not what happened in this book. What happened is that a character who did nothing but be kind to everyone around her, including her boyfriend, was treated like garbage by the author. And then when the character had a chance to forge on alone, the author dragged her back into this toxic, damaging, and abusive relationship.

Jules and Joseph have known each other since they were children. When they finally reunite, they can’t spend a moment apart any longer. And that’s the way it works, for awhile. Aaannd then Joseph has to go off on business. And he nearly drowns when his boat capsizes. And he’s rescued by Mirabella, who just happens to be traveling at the same time. And naturally, the only way to “save” him, is to get naked and share body heat. And then, despite the fact that we’ve been told over and over just how much Jules and Joseph belong together, just how much they love each other, he up and has sex with this complete stranger because he thinks that it’s a dream. I cannot explain how much this just does not make any sort of sense at all. It’s absolutely ridiculous.

I was furious. I still am when I think about how the aftermath was handled. He doesn’t tell her right away, instead opting to lie. Then he tells her and breaks her heart, yet they’re still sort of together. Then when she finally decides that he’s not worth her time anymore she…changes her mind. Because even though he went off and unapologetically had sex with Mirabella multiple times in less than a 24 hour period (I can maybe maybe write off the first “I had sex with you because I thought it was a dream / thought I was dead,” but not the subsequent times), she still wants him to be her first. What. He’s an asshole. Just ugh. I could write so much more on how angry this “triangle” makes me, but then it would become even more of a rant. To Joseph: You knew her for like a day! Jeez! To Jules: Not worth it. He doesn’t care about you.

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Spoilers over.

It’s not often that I read a twist and legitimately like it. I actually didn’t see it coming (or at least, not quite the entire thing), and I thought it was a brilliant way of using the last pages of the novel to really pull in the readers for the sequel. It makes complete sense in the world of the narration, although I also am struggling with the fact that it was missed in the first place. I couldn’t quite suspend my disbelief. However, I will be finishing the series because I do want to know what will happen to all of our characters. So good job on pulling me in, Kendare Blake.  I’m so glad this is a duology and not a trilogy or more.

3 stars.

 

[A Torch Against the Night] Sabaa Tahir

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Right then. This is the continuation of the An Ember in the Ashes series that nearly everyone seems to gush over but me. I’m not sure if it’s just the over-hype or the fact that it takes a long time for me to get into the story, but I feel like this series is kind of…boring. Which bums me out. It has all of the hallmarks of what I should like in a series, but for some reason I just can’t lose myself in it. I thought that this one would be better than the first because Ember was a debut novel, but A Torch Against the Night was only marginally better for me. I keep reading them because I want to see what it is about them, but once I finish the book I’m not really enthusiastic about it.

A Torch Against the Night begins where Ember left off, with the results of the Trials and the flight of Laia and Elias. They’re desperate to get out of a city where their descriptions are known, desperate to try to rescue Laia’s brother from the dreaded Kauf prison. Though they’re unlikely allies, Laia and Elias work together because they both don’t believe in the Martial Empire. When the burden of the journey falls heavily on Laia’s shoulders, she has to decide if she will allow it to break her or if she will rise above the hardships and be reforged anew.

Torch is a book that deals in the reforging of characters. Whether you’re a slave Scholar, a ruling Martial, or a free Tribeswoman, the choices that you make thrust you toward a new self. Often the characters would fight against the inevitability of their breaking point, other times they would run toward it because they knew they needed to change. Actions have a lot of consequences in this book, even more so than what I remember from Ember. It ups the ante a little bit by pitting former friends against each other. I liked how the characters all related to each other because of this reforging of self. Additionally, the different paths that the reforging could take was explored with each individual character. Not all of them made it to the other side whole.

Parts of their reforging are really well done in concept, but not really expanded on in a way that makes me feel like it’s true character growth. For example, I think it was extremely important that the idea of choices and being able to make your own regardless of the danger or potential consequences was realized in Elias’ point of view. He’s constantly a protector, but you can’t always protect everyone. And you certainly can’t hold people back from making their own choices or block them from making their own choices. When he realizes this, I thought that it was going to be a pivotal moment of growth. Instead, I feel like he realized it, and then we’re sped along to another moment. And later he seems to have forgotten this entirely.

The strongest character in regard to this reforging concept was clearly Helene. I am so glad that her point of view was included. She is by far the strongest character in general. I loved reading how she really struggled with her duty to the Empire and her love for Elias and her family. Again, though, there were moments when the tragic aspect of her character–being stuck in the worst of rocks and hard places–wasn’t really expanded upon. She ended up being the only character I really cared about.

Both Laia and Elias have changes to their characters as well. While Helene’s point of view deals a lot with the mundane world of the Empire, the other two delve into the territory of myth. I know that Ember had jinn and ghuls, but there was just something so odd about it. I complained about the lack of world-building in Ember; that problem continues in Torch and becomes even more problematic when I consider the attempt at creating a mythology. I just couldn’t see it. I felt that the expansion upon the world of myth as connected to the real world was purely to explain why Laia and Elias are special and Meant For Great Things. Again, like character building, if I’m not given enough about the world, I don’t really care about it.

I feel like Elias and Laia are archetypes and not characters. They just do what their archetype drives them to do. Laia is the one who will somehow (eventually) overthrow the Martials, but we don’t know just how special she is yet. Elias continues to be a blank-slate who wants to protect all of the helpless people in order to atone for his sins as a Mask.

Another character who suffers from a lack of character development is the Commandant. In Ember, we were told that she did in fact care for Elias briefly rather than leaving him the desert alone as we were initially told. That glimpse of her as a multi-faceted villain was completely dropped in Torch. She is 100% evil in this book and there is absolutely nothing redeeming about her character. I can’t even see her as a great villain because I haven’t seen enough of the motivations behind her actions in Torch. The only thing she doesn’t do is laugh manically. Villains and heroes are more than just their role. Write that.

Again, the romance that was in the novel served merely to check the box that all young adult novels need to have a “love triangle.” Completely a case of instant-love because they all think the person of their affection is pretty. There isn’t much more to say about it. It’s there, it happened–and I still  don’t see why they like each other.

So, this review has been chock full of negativity, but  finished the book and enjoyed it once it finally got into the action.  I had hoped that the issues that had been present in Ember would have resolved themselves by Torch but was disappointed. I know that this will continue to be a favorite series for many, but I don’t think that I will ever devour this series with the intensity that others feel. The problems outlined above will likely continue into the third novel. While it’s not as bad as the last one, I have problems with books that take so long to get into the action like this one does. There are two more books planned for the series and as I don’t really understand how there’s going to be enough plot and conflict for two more books, I’m dropping this one.

3 stars.

I received this book as a book club book, so thank you!

[A Darkly Beating Heart] Lindsay Smith

This is a book I wrote off as one I’d have to read after it was published. I was pleasantly surprised when I was given an ARC by the publisher and NetGalley, so this became an unexpected October read. Perfect for Halloween, because the book deals with a lot of darkness. A Darkly Beating Heart is going to be published next week, so now is the perfect time for a review.

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I love this cover.

Reiko didn’t go to Japan to enjoy herself. Packing herself away to a country where she doesn’t speak the language, Reiko allows the rage she has inside about the events preceding her senior year to fester. Consumed by thoughts of revenge, she manages day by day only because she is planning how to best get back at everyone. Comfortable with her routine, when her summer job requires her to go to an Edo-period town in Gifu prefecture, Reiko initially believes that leaving Tokyo is the worst thing that could have happened. It throws all of her revenge plans out the window.

Finding herself in a town with a curfew and deeply-rooted traditions, Reiko struggles with maintaining her revenge plot and coping with the anger that fills her head. Then she discovers a long-forgotten makeshift temple. It pulls Reiko back into the past into a time period rife with dangers. The connection that she feels with Miyu is immediate, her anger even more explosive than Reiko’s. But Miyu is keeping things from Reiko. And if Reiko doesn’t discover them in time, it’s not just Miyu’s time that will be affected.

This is a book that is odd to review. Lindsay Smith writes beautifully; the scenes she creates are so vivid that it’s very easy to see them in my mind’s eye. The setting just jumps off the page. Of course, it helps that I live in Japan. This book isn’t one that is “set in Japan,” where the setting isn’t realized. This setting is, and I loved it. This would have made me really nostalgic for Japan had I already moved back.

The world of modern day Tokyo and that of the Edo period were so clearly written that I had a very easy time picturing them. I’m such a fan of the Edo period of Japan that I was thrilled to read a story set in it. Or half set in it. Reiko is connected to both, and the differences and similarities in the town she finds herself in–and the times–is done really well. I liked how they both kept getting closer together and the connections that were being discovered. Despite the speed of the plot, the setting was built slowly and when it made sense for the readers to be given the information.

The writing itself is stunning. Each page seemed to have a beautiful description of a place or a spot on look at Japan or the characters that Reiko was spending time with. I was incredibly impressed with Smith’s writing style. It wasn’t too flowery or unnecessarily bogged down with details that didn’t matter. It was an absolute pleasure to read. When I first started reading this I was sure that I would love the book. However, beautiful writing is not the only thing I look for in a book.

That isn’t to say the story or premise wasn’t interesting. I just found that I was more interested in the Edo period parts rather than the modern day parts. While both are incredibly detailed, I’ve found that historical fiction novels are increasingly becoming some of my favorite books to read. I understand why the plot was divided between the two times, but I ended up wishing that the novel was completely set in the Edo period and was about Miyu. That was the story I was really interesting in. Whenever it switched back to Reiko’s point of view in the modern day, I was tempted to skim a little in order to get back to her.

The connection of the past to the present in this little Gifu town was done really well. There are a lot of places in Japan that place importance on the past, but Kuramagi takes it to the extreme. Something isn’t quite right about this town. They bury power lines (which actually does happen in some of these Edo-period towns), have a curfew, and place an emphasis on keeping the town as period correct as they are able. I liked that the town was the center of why the two different time periods were converging. I just felt like a great story was rushed.

A Darkly Beating Heart is a relatively short story, and that is where it fell a little flat for me. Because it’s short, a plot that I personally think should have been drawn out more feels rushed and half realized. In a book where the setting, writing, and emotions of the protagonist are written so well, a rushed plot (especially one that is actually really interesting) was disappointing. I did appreciate the element of Reiko missing half of Miyu’s story–I enjoyed that she only knew what she learned when she was in Miyu’s body and had to figure out what she had missed when the story had progressed without her–but ultimately I thought that it jumped back and forth too much without giving readers enough information about the two time periods and the conflicts in them.

I thought that the way that Reiko was pulled back into the past was really well done. There’s always an element of leeriness that I have when I go into a book that involves some form of time traveling, but I thought that the two story lines and the different time periods were perfectly intertwined. The time travel remained consistent throughout the story and it wasn’t made overly complicated just for the sake of making it complicated. More is revealed as Reiko shares a body with Miyu and becomes more comfortable with the past and I appreciated the effort that Smith made to show that there are consequences for every action.

Reiko as a character is…interesting. The entire time she is plotting revenge: on her family, the people around her, her former girlfriend. Things have happened to her that are given to readers IV drip like, and that was part of my eagerness to read. I really wanted to know where all this anger came from, because I have never read a book where the protagonist is this angry. It was really uncomfortable at times because Reiko is constantly thinking about harming herself and others. Yet, I found myself continuing the book, despite this darkness. Her anger wasn’t swept under the rug when it became inconvenient or when the novel ended. She is able to work through some things but also realizes that her life is far from perfect. But she learns how to manage her anger even as she still has it.

It makes sense that she connected so quickly with Miyu because of her anger. Miyu also functions as a way for Reiko to understand that holding in all of that rage will consume her to the point of no return. Although Miyu is also a different character, because they had shared experiences I felt like they were the same. That’s a reason why I wish the book had been longer. I think it would have benefited the plot to explore more of what Miyu was going through.

Smith also had a handle on the sometimes dual nature of those who are bilingual. Reiko overemphasized the negative nature of bilingual characters because she is so blinded by her rage. Moments where Reiko is treated kindly (in English) but later is treated cruely or like a child (in Japanese) is unfortunately familiar, though rare. This is an element of passive-aggressiveness that foreigners sometimes experience. However, I do think that Reiko is being overly judgemental and Akiyo and Mariko are viewed harshly through this lens of anger she has. Reiko reconciles with this issue by the end of the novel, suggesting that much of her interactions with these characters had been so tainted by anger that she wasn’t getting a proper read on them. There was closure with the promise to try harder to resist these moments in the future.

A Darkly Beating Heart had amazing words that had it sitting at a 5 star rating. Due to the rushed nature of the plot and what I believe could have been a longer story, I’m rating it a bit lower than that. I really recommend this for readers because it does have a very vivid setting and an interesting story that is plotted well. The only caveat I give is to be prepared for Reiko. Maybe I don’t read many stories with dark protagonists, but her nature was hard to read at times. She had a lot of issues that were very serious and may turn off some readers.

3 stars.

I received a copy of A Darkly Beating Heart from NetGalley and the publisher. A Darkly Beating Heart will be published on October 25th, 2016.

[Last Seen Leaving] Caleb Roehrig

 

Flynn’s girlfriend January has disappeared. Flynn has a secret. The cops think the two are connnected. Last Seen Leaving is a coming-of-age novel that is wrapped up in a mystery. Did January disappear or did someone take her? Feeling that the cops are looking in all the wrong places, Flynn embarks on an investigation of his own by talking to people that January was close to. Along the way he discovers that what she shared of herself with him was not what she shared with others. How can he know what she would do–this friend of years–when he’s discovering that he may not have even known her himself?

Last Seen Leaving was a quick, straightforward read. The mystery was a little light for me; I felt that it was rather obvious what was going to happen at several moments of the novel but it was still an enjoyable read. Honestly, even though this was a mystery, I felt like the bulk of the plot focused on Flynn growing up. Flynn had to deal with issues of identity while dealing with the larger problem of what happened to January. It made things really difficult for him and it was a nice way to have his character grow.

Although this book has many characters in it, it’s really only about Flynn and his various discoveries. Part of the problem and reason for this is that the book is written in first person. I didn’t feel that Flynn really looked beyond the surface at his friends, family, or the strangers that he interacted with. As a result, they were very flat and I didn’t much care for any of them. I wasn’t given a reason to. They existed for Flynn to have character growth or for him to uncover things about January, rather than for the characters to have their own growth.

The plot was primarily why I finished the book. Although I felt that parts were obvious, it wasn’t that much of a deterrent. I wanted to know if I was right about the secrets that weren’t immediately solved and I wanted to see what would happen to Flynn at the end. It had a readability that allowed me to read it quickly and enjoy it. It wasn’t slow at all. It was, however, very tidy. Everything was neatly tied up at the end, even though some of it was not entirely concluded. Another issue I have with the plot is the reactions of the characters. People are missing or possibly murdered, and I feel like no one really reacts loudly to that. They just seem to go about their normal days.

The thing I found strange about this novel is that it almost seemed to be for older teens, yet the protagonist was only 15. Flynn’s worries seemed a little more grown up than his 15 years. It could be that I ran with a different crowd than he did (mostly I kept to my books and hung out with my friends in their basements), but I couldn’t quite wrap my head around his age. It left me feeling disconnected from the story a bit because I couldn’t jump over that hurdle. I’m hoping that it’s because I’m older and therefore slightly out of touch with what it was like when I was 15, but I do suspect that readers around this age will enjoy this book. While this isn’t my favorite thing I’ve read this year, I do think that Caleb Roehrig’s technique was spot-on for what he wrote about in Last Seen Leaving.

3 stars.

I received a copy of Last Seen Leaving from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Last Seen Leaving will be available on October 4th, 2016.

[Dandelion on Fire: Greene Island Mystery I] Sherry Torgent

I recently became a reviewer for a small publishing company located in North Carolina called Blue Ink Press. Dandelion on Fire is the first novel I’ve received to review from them. Blue Ink Press was founded in 2015. Their aim is to represent and publish young adult authors, but they also represent local authors from their area. I’m very excited to work with them!

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Hardy only wants one thing: to make it through his senior year of high school unscathed so he can escape Greene Island for college on the mainland. Unfortunately for Hardy, things never go the way he plans. When a mistake lands him in community service with a strange new girl named Darcy, things begin to unravel. Darcy has a secret. And suddenly, that secret connects Hardy and Darcy in ways that begin to spiral out of control. Everyone says that Greene Island is cursed. Hardy is starting to believe it.

The plot of Dandelion on Fire was steady throughout the novel. Unfortunately, steady doesn’t always make for quick reading. I felt very relaxed while reading this, even during the moments that were meant to be fast-paced and nerve wracking. There was a calmness to the writing style. The plot did pick up toward the end of the novel, but because of the earlier meandering of the plot, it didn’t feel very balanced. All of the action was clustered at the end. As a result, I ended up being a little surprised at the conclusion because it seemed so sudden. I expected more pages.  The action at the end made me excited about what Sherry Torgent was doing with the story. It was just unfortunate that it hadn’t been included earlier.

Dandelion on Fire is a mystery with slow pacing. There weren’t enough moments where Hardy and Darcy discovered something that gave answers toward the larger mystery; instead, I felt that it focused on the mundane moments of Hardy’s day-to-day life too much. Something exciting would happen, and I would think “this is it, this is when we find out– –” but then it would seem to backtrack. Hardy would be concerned about a senior picnic instead of being worried about the murder that had taken place on the island. The book also  has a supernatural element to it. For some reason, the Curse of Viola has given certain individuals powers. Throughout the novel, these supernatural things are mentioned, but never really focused on. I hope that a more solid explanation is given to us in the next novel.  Like much of the action, the supernatural points of the novel were clustered at the end. Because of that, the ending seemed abrupt. There’s no return journey to “normality” with a greater understanding of what has happened to Hardy.  There were a lot of questions, both about the supernatural and the mystery, but few seemed to be answered. It’s a good start to a series because we’re not given the complete answers in this first book. It pushes readers to check out the next book in the series.

The book focuses on Hardy and Darcy, with a few side characters that come in and out of the action. It’s a novel about them as much as it’s a mystery. Hardy was a straightforward, very simplistic character. He longed for a return to normality and often had to be dragged about by Darcy. Gradually this began to change, but as a result of his initial actions I felt that he was kind of boring. He didn’t want to take charge of his protagonist status. Contrasting him we have Darcy, who was far more interesting and engaging. It’s really too bad that she wasn’t the one telling the story. Darcy has a bit of a mystery surrounding her, and we weren’t given any answers about her. Not really. I hope that the next novel goes into more detail about her. She went headfirst into possibly dangerous situations because she was curious; that curiosity drove much of the story and plot for me. I liked how the friendship between Hardy and Darcy progressed. At first, the difference in their ages bothers Hardy. I remember feeling that way as a senior in high school when looking at the new faces of the freshmen. But then Hardy, like everyone at some point after they’ve graduated from high school, realizes that the age doesn’t matter. As soon as he decides that, their friendship really bloomed as they became more engaged with the mystery around them.

It may not have been as fast-paced as I would have liked, but I have to admire what Sherry Torgent did with Dandelion on Fire. Namely, the fact that it’s clean. Granted, that’s not something I’m overly concerned about because I tend to read a variety of young adult novels of varying content. It was interesting to read a novel that didn’t have sex as an underlying tension. Dandelion on Fire reminded me of a wholesome family movie: good for everyone. While it may not be something that older readers will scramble to read, I do think that it will be really good for the younger side of young adult readers. It’s interesting, has a mystery, romance, and supernatural elements, and ends in a way that is hopeful and moderately well-rounded (to the extent that you could maybe read it as a stand-alone novel). It’s possible that the mystery started in Dandelion on Fire is not quite concluded and will continue in the second book, but it’s also possible that an entirely new mystery will start.

3 stars.

I’d like to thank the publisher again for providing me with a copy of Dandelion on Fire in exchange for an honest review. Dandelion on Fire was first released on January 31st, 2015. A sequel, The Curse of Viola, was published March 13th, 2016.