[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.

[When the Moon Was Ours] Anna-Marie McLemore

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I love that this looks like a screen print.

When the Moon Was Ours is a beautiful book that read like a fairy tale but had a firm place in today’s world. It follows Miel and Sam, two friends who met when she fell out of the town’s decaying water tower. They have only grown closer as they grow older and navigate their lives. A boy who paints moons and a girl who has roses growing out of her wrist, the two are viewed as strange by the townspeople but are largely left alone. When the Moon Was Ours is partially a love story between friends and family, a fairy tale, and a coming of age tale.

What I particularly loved about When the Moon Was Ours was that while McLemore was very upfront about what this book was trying to do, it wasn’t forcing it down the readers’ throats. I’ve read books that go this route and it ends up giving the book a poor taste and ultimately doesn’t succeed. McLemore succeeded in my opinion. Yes, there is a character who doesn’t identify as what they were born as, but the novel was deeper than that.  It was a very caring look into who they were as people, as a whole, rather than purely focusing on one part of who they are. McLemore is teaching through sharing moments of her personal life, and I could really see that as I was reading. It was extremely intimate. The novel takes its time revealing how this has affected the characters and how they are trying to figure out who they are. It is part of the story rather than the whole of the story, which I thought was a very important and natural way of telling it.

I thought that all of the characters were very dynamic and very carefully crafted. The characters who were good had their moments of bad, and the characters opposite of them weren’t all bad. Everyone, no matter where they fell on that line, had reasons for their actions. And often the cause of their actions were because of a fear that they had: fear of discovery, fear of not being enough, fear of being ignored…that made the characters all the more real to me. I really connected with the characters, even the ones who functioned as the “villains” in this fairy tale. I may not have felt as much for them as I felt for Miel and Sam, but it was really easy to see why they acted the way they did. I had sympathy and pity for them.

The character growth in this novel was amazing. There’s the concept of the good and the bad in this novel, and they all grow. I feel like that doesn’t often happen. The bad characters weren’t forgotten. They also traveled to the other side with our two main protagonists and all of them were able to come to an understanding both of their own self and of that of the others. I wasn’t left wondering why the “villains” were like that and what happened to them after the story was over. Everyone had a conclusion.

Magical realism wasn’t a genre I’ve read until recently and to be quite honest there were some moments in the beginning where I wasn’t sure if this book was going to work for me. While I loved the opening pages, there was also a bit of disconnect when the language was too flowery, which muddied up what McLemore was trying to say. As I kept reading I reached an understanding with the language and was able to enjoy the story and the language. It really made the story more fairy tale-like and enjoyable.

I’m not sure what more to say about this novel because I feel that other reviewers have been able to praise it better than I ever could. I also don’t want to say anything that could potentially spoil the experience because I want every reader to enjoy this the way that I did. When the Moon Was Ours was a beautiful novel and one of my favorite reads of 2016. I wasn’t sure if I would like it at first because I had heard that the writing was hard to get through, but I read this in a short amount of time. The characterization and setting was amazing. I highly recommend it for its caring portrayal of those who don’t identify as their outside appearance. The opening lines and the closing author’s note were extremely touching. This book deserves your time and your attention.

To the boys you get called girls, 
the girls who get called boys,
and those who live outside these words.
To those called names, 
and those searching for names of their own.
To those who live on the edges, 
and in the spaces in between. 
i wish for you every light in the sky. 

4 stars.

[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.

[All We Have Left] Wendy Mills

People were living their lives, doing everyday things, when suddenly the planes hit, and time ripped into two pages titled ‘Before 9/11’ and ‘After.’ With their clumsy stories, they are saying: ‘We all felt it. We remember where we were when the world changed.’

But what about those of us who could not remember that day? I’ve seen the footage, watched the big, clumsy planes crash into the towers like some sort of low-budget action film. Which is worse? To know that things used to be different, or to have never known that more innocent day at all?* 

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All We Have Left is a story about two girls affected by one of the most infamous moments in US history, the attacks of September 11th. Although they don’t know it, that day left its mark on them in ways that will bring them together 15 years later. Alia and Jesse’s stories are woven together through past and present, before and after. All We Have Left brings up the questions that many dealt with in the aftermath of 9/11: whether they were there, like Alia; someone who lost a loved one, like Jesse; or one of the many who just remember. What do you do when the world has changed and you can’t understand why? What do you do when your family has been fractured out of your control?

Although September 11th happened 15 years ago, the setting is very contemporary. All We Have Left is divided into the two periods, the now and then. The “then” is very vivid, even before it gets into the events of that day. I felt that it was the strongest of the two settings, even though I thought that the characters were weaker. The “now” is up to date with what’s going on in the world, especially in relation to racism, terror, and the way that they’re sometimes horrifically connected. The characters in the “now” setting were initially very bland and typical of a young adult high school setting. I was glad that it switched between the two.

Both Alia and Jesse grew on me as I continued to read. At first, I only liked Alia. There was tension in her family and changes that she was going through against the backdrop of a historical event. In contrast, Jesse came off as a whining brat. She had a hard time growing up with the shadow of the death of her brother hanging over her and her family, but I didn’t feel that it was portrayed very well at first. Part of this was due to the fact that the book began slowly. It only allowed Jesse’s storyline to be the cliched high school one. Eventually as the story continued I found myself eager to see what would happen next with her. I ended up being interested in what Jesse did because she was a character who was alive during this event, but too young to remember. I liked that the author used her as an example of the many people who were young during this time. There’s a definite disconnect from not being conscious of the event at the time. Jesse is interesting because although she was too young, she does have that anger and sadness from losing a loved one. I liked that both sides were inside of her character.

Something that I thought Wendy Mills did well was her presentation of Islam in the book. I’m not sure how correct it is because I only know as much as I’ve learned in the few religion classes I’ve taken. I really liked how Adam and Alia looked at the world around them. Adam especially, because he had to deal with people treating him differently due to prejudice after September 11th. Even though there was this prejudice against them, they both looked at the world in a clear way. I really enjoyed that he was able to teach Jesse (and hopefully the reader) about how he saw the world.

All We Have Left, although written in a dual narrative, is primarily about Jesse’s growth. Because her brother died when she was really young, she’s not really known life any differently. I liked that Wendy Mills charted how she came out under the shadow of that and the way that it had fractured her family. We as readers know that Alia and Jesse’s brother are connected, but it takes a long time for Jesse to discover that. The mystery of why her brother was in the Towers is something that has so haunted her family that it was interesting to read as Jesse went about solving it. Another thing that I appreciated was the fact that Mills didn’t let the little romance that was in the book cheapen the more important aspects of it. I would have felt very annoyed and cheated had this book changed tact.

The hardest part about reviewing this book is trying to understand how much of it was I genuinely liked it and how much of it is the emotional connection I had to the characters and my past. It’s hard to read and review a book when it makes you emotional. I’m not sure if I’m emotional because of the book or because it’s about an event that was a shocking part of my childhood. I feel like it masked issues I had with the book, which is why I’ve taken so long to get my thoughts together on it. While it was a good book and I thought that the characters, both main and supporting, were written well, I do think that I was blinded a bit by my own personal memories of that day.

What was good about this book is that the ending leaves Jesse and the reader with hope that she will find peace. Through Jesse, hopefully the reader has found a little bit of peace as well. Although the world is oftentimes full of horrible things, people will always stand up to help and support the others around them. I found the ending very emotionally touching.  I recommend this book for readers who like dual narratives and who maybe want to discover a little bit about how the world around them still needs to change for the better.

3.5 stars.

I received a copy of All We Have Left from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All We Have Left will be available on August 9th, 2016.

*Quotes come from an advance reading copy and may be different in the final release. 

[Iron Cast] Destiny Soria

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As one of my friends tells me that I “always write negative reviews,” (which is only sometimes, by the way) I’m very happy to inform him, and anyone looking for a review to read, that I loved this book. It’s not often that I want to replace an ebook copy with a physical one (because I don’t need two copies), but that is the case for this one.

Iron Cast is set in 1919, when the United States is just on the cusp of passing prohibition. As it is, hemopathy, the ability to create illusions through art, music, or words, is already banned. Hemopaths are being snatched from the streets and thrown in an institution for their “protection”–or worse. Naturally, underground clubs are thriving. Ada and Corinne are two such hemopaths, friends for so long that one struggles to exist without the other. They’ve trained their gifts for so long that they can react unconsciously to cues that the other gives. When their patron disappears, Ada and Corinne realize how precarious their situation in Boston is. They decide that the only thing they can do is to solve the mystery themselves in order to save the Cast Iron, the only place they’ve truly felt at home.

This is a great historical fiction novel. Every place that Destiny Soria takes the reader is vividly described, from the Cast Iron, to Corinne’s family home, to the institution. I have absolutely no complaints about it. The setting really sets the tone for the events of the novel. There are the glittering places where the rich go and the less-rich perform and they’re side-by-side with the grittier sides of the city. I was really able to visualize what was going on at all times in the novel. I liked when the characters had to go from the speakeasy-esque clubs and gangster inhabited world to that of high society for wedding preparations. I really appreciated the detail that Soria went into in order to really develop this world. Settings can sometimes make or break a book, and it one hundred percent made this novel for me. It made the tense moments of the novel even more so because I really felt like I was in Boston during this time. Iron Cast was also an alternative history novel, so it was cool to see the familiar things but also have a fantasy aspect to the world.

The setting was supplemented by amazing characters. Of course, Ada and Corinne, our two protagonists, are the most developed, but Soria didn’t let the supporting characters fall by the wayside. The character building was wonderful. Ada and Corinne come from completely different backgrounds. Ada grew up with a Portuguese father and a mother from Mozambique. She’s been treated badly by outsiders for most of her life because of her skin color, and initially she thought that Corinne–a girl from a wealthy family–was going to be the same. That changed when they both realized that they could be each other’s support in a a world that doesn’t accept their differences. Both are hemopaths, an affliction that isn’t understood but is feared by many. When they work together they can make people believe just about anything.

Ada and Corinne have probably the strongest friendship I have ever seen between two girls in young adult literature. Too often friendships between girls in young adult literature becomes catty and fractures over something stupid, or are presented as ways to slut-shame girls compared to the protagonist. Not so with Iron Cast. These girls loved each other. They were loyal to each other. They were sisters united against the hardships of their world, defending and protecting each other when the other couldn’t protect themselves. Their relationship was so believable that moments between them brought me to tears.

The other characters like Gabriel, Saint, Corinne’s brother, and the mob bosses of the clubs were very well-rounded. They didn’t exist solely to move the plot along and then to vanish when they were no longer useful. They had their own motives and desires that were expressed, and they didn’t always line up with our protagonists’. I particularly loved the portrayal of family in the novel. Both girls were concerned about how their actions affected their families and tried to keep them from harm. The misunderstandings between them were relateable; so too, was the acceptance of them when they made mistakes.

I couldn’t stop reading this book, either. The plot was engaging and was always building toward something, even during the quieter moments. Oftentimes things occurred that I wasn’t prepared for, which is a rare thing for me regarding young adult literature. Things are sometimes done so heavy-handedly that the surprise is completely gone when it comes down to the event. That was not the case with Iron Cast, and it was so nice. It allowed me to truly be immersed in the story.

Another thing that kept me in the story was the lack of a focus on the romance. There was romance, but the book didn’t suddenly become only about the romantic interests the way that some novels sometimes do. It was just a part of the overall novel and it was done beautifully. It allowed me to be invested even more in the characters and the plot when there was unrequited feelings coming into play. Because the romance was not the focus of the novel, the romantic moments were far more sweet and achingly lovely.

I absolutely loved Iron Cast and am going to recommend it to anyone who likes historical fiction with a little bit of fantasy, romance, and intrigue. It has great characters and a detailed setting. I emotionally connected to the characters and had a hard time reading certain parts. It’s not often that books make me cry, but when they do I know that I really like them.  I’m really looking forward to what Destiny Soria comes up with next, because she’s now on my favorite authors list.

5 stars.

I received a copy of Iron Cast from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Iron Cast will be available on October 11th, 2016.