The Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby (3 stars)
I just happened to pick this up from a random shelf while I was at the library with the girls. The cover and the blurb immediately made me think of The Night Circus, although I later found that there wasn't much else the two had in common. The story is interesting; I liked the Bluebeard overtones, but I think that there were some gaps, in character development and plotting, that were detrimental to the story. I would've preferred the entire story to have been told from one POV, rather than employing a variety of shifting narrators and short chapters. This was a fast read, though, and the author's prose was one of the true highlights here.
The Fitzosbornes in Exile (The Montmaray Journals #2) by Michelle Cooper (4 stars)
Book 2 of this series follows the Fitzosbornes to London after their island of Montmaray is bombed by the Germans. There's some tying up of loose ends from book 1, before things get really underway as the cousins adjust to life under Princess Charlotte's thumb. Sophie has obviously matured, which is evident in the voice of her journals -- this book was much easier to read in that sense. I found the balance between real historical events and fictional events to be handled wonderfully well, and I think this is just a great historical fiction novel that hugs that line between YA and adult fiction.
The Rivals by Daisy Whitney (3 stars)
After finishing this novel, I can definitely say a couple of things: 1. I don't like Alex's character (which was an issue I had with the first novel, and I find it repeated here).2. I'm not really a fan of Whitney's writing style. It's okay, but that's as far as I'd go.3. I am, however, impressed by the topics that Whitney takes on in these books. Even with this one, I think she's writing autobiographically, so that has to be considered when you think about how some things just don't fit (the lack of input from parents or teachers really seems contrived in both books). Still, these are big issues, and she handles them well.
Ubik by Philip K. Dick (3 stars)
I read this because we're using it as the central text in a curriculum framework we're building at work. I'm familiar with Dick's work in a fringe manner -- I know who he is, I've seen a couple of movies, I've read some of his short fiction. Long story short, I thought the concept and ideas were excellent but the writing/style is terrible. That's how it ended up being just an okay read for me.
The Summer I Learned to Fly by Beth Reinhardt (3 stars)
This was a quick read, thanks in part to Reinhardt's lovely prose. That's what caught me up and carried me along for much of the novel, but underneath, there were little rumblings of "something's just not right here." By the end, I had determined that while Reinhardt's novel is a lovely read, the bones of the book are weak and end up really undermining the overall effect. Many of the characters are just one-dimensional, and despite all the lovely turns of phrase, we're told too often how we should view them, rather than being allowed to come to those conclusions as readers ourselves. I thought there were some holes in the plot, too, which bothered me not because they created continuity issues or anything like that, but just because there was nothing there to fill those spots. I often felt like I just missed something on the way from Point A to Point B. Still, there's a lot that's beautiful and heartbreaking about this story, and I would still recommend it fully, despite the technical shortcomings.
Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel (3 stars)
I received a digital ARC of this book via Netgalley.
The premise of this book drew me in immediately: Great Depression-era historical fiction paired with the constant clashing of the Fairie Courts in their search for the heir of the Midnight Throne. What a great combination, and one that we've seen in only limited doses (but in exceptionally well-done doses, by authors like Midori Snyder, Patricia Wrede, and Neil Gaiman -- which might be why I set the bar so high here.)
Everything here is adequate, and that's as far as I can go. Adequate writing -- clunky at times, confusing at others, crystal clear in places. Adequate characters -- there are times when I feel myself rooting for Callie, but for the most part I didn't feel connected to her at all. There definitely wasn't any connection with any of the other characters, and their motivation remained murky for much of the novel. The setting is fairly well-done, although there are some historical bobbles that I'm hoping will be fixed before final release (since this is an ARC); otherwise, one of them quite early on almost completely undermined my faith that this author knew what she was talking about.
The author tackles some bigger issues here -- identity is the most obvious one. The main character is searching for her identity, of course, as she discovers that she's not completely human. But there's also the issue of her being a mixed-race child, with a white momma and a (to all appearances) black daddy. And that's one thing that I can't decide how it settles with me: it's never completely clear but I believe, based on what I picked up, that the Midnight Court (or the Unseelie Court) are all black characters. Zettel is deftly playing with the politics of the time period, especially because the Unseelie Court is often thought to be the "bad" court or the "low" court, which would be reinforced by notions of race during the Great Depression. However, there's the question throughout the entire novel about who the good guys are, so that takes the preconceived notion and turns it upside down. The problem is that I'm not sure just how successfully Zettel pulls this off -- obviously we have two more novels in which to decide.
The Strange Case of Finley Jayne by Kady Cross (3 stars)
I adore steampunk. Who knew that a dose of magic and some amazing technology (even better if it is Darwin-influenced) was all it would take to make me fall in love with Jane Austen's world? HA! Anyway, this short piece is a prequel to Cross's The Girl in the Steel Corset. It's a quick, light read; the writing is average, and even the plot is pretty standard. Obviously the author draws a number of influences from Shelley's Frankenstein -- I just wish she'd gone deeper with them. My biggest issue is that Finley's "blackouts" don't happen here in the same way they do in the first novel. Even though these events happen before the ones in the first novel, Finley seems to have a better understanding of herself here than she does in the first novel. There are some real inconsistencies with her character and that has nothing to do with the Jekyll/Hyde comparison made in the second novel. It's just obvious that, while this story is set prior to the first novel, it was written after it. And that actually makes quite a bit of difference here.
The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross (3 stars)
This isn't a bad read -- as long as you are willing to overlook some inconsistencies and to not take it too seriously. Basically, I described it to my husband like this: It's like someone took The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and turned it into a movie (I know, I know, that already happened) AND THEN wrote a book based on the movie that was based on the graphic novel. Oh, and they made the main characters teenagers instead of adults and threw in a love triangle. And the steampunk inventions aren't really steampunk, because I expect my steampunk to be something new and cool, not just taking our current technology and inserting it into Victorian London. But anyway...yeah, I thought this was a light and fluffy read. A little draggy in one part, but not bad.
The Girl in the Clockwork Collar by Kady Cross (4 stars)
I received an ARC (digital version) from Netgalley.
I've read all three of Cross's novels (well, two novels and a prequel/short story) in this series, and I think they've been a lot of fun. On the technical side of things, I think Cross's style is just average -- she's not a flowery writer, but her prose doesn't stand out much, either. Sometimes an author can really grab you with a spare style, but that's not the case here. Cross writes serviceable prose, clear enough to set the scene and make her point -- and that's about it. Character development is pretty basic; obviously more time is devoted to Finley's perspective, though we spend a good bit of time in Griffin's head too. Both of these viewpoints work in favor of the romance (though I'm a little disappointed that we don't have Jack Dandy in this book to liven things up a bit).
This book featured a number of things I've come to expect from steampunk, as well as a bonus: Nikola Tesla, who is one of my very favorite historic characters to show up in steampunk/alternate history novels. The New York setting is a great touch, though I wish the author had spent a little more time really describing the setting.
If I had to make one complaint about this book, it would be this: the pacing was really weak, particularly when it came to the climax of the book. The big "showdown" at the end took all of three pages to happen, and the scenes cut to each other too quickly. I felt like there was a lot that was left out and it all just felt so anti-climactic, especially after a buildup of almost 300 pages. There's one big plot point that's just left flapping loosely as well -- of course, I have my suspicions about what is going on, but obviously I'll have to wait until book #3 to see if I'm right.
Still, this is a fast, fun read -- almost like a chicklit version of steampunk.
Auraria by Tim Westover (4 stars)
It's always something of a risk, requesting ARCs from Netgalley, particularly books by authors whom you've never heard of. But the blurb contained enough interesting details to pique my interest -- this sounded like a great cross between John Crowley's Little, Big and Charles de Lint's Appalachian stories, like A Circle of Cats.
Westover proves himself right off as a talented writer with surehanded prose, deft descriptions, and an ear for strong dialogue. I was easily caught up in the setting and time period; there are enough details to provide a sense of location and time period, but also just a tinge of vagueness so that the story takes on an almost otherworldly sense as well at times -- as though the characters have been pulled out of their actual time and location and dropped into another world. That's a hard trick to manage, but Westover does it well.
In fact, he does it almost too well from the start. While all the characters are interesting, it's Holtzclaw whom we are partnered with from the beginning, and I wasn't sure I bought into his total acceptance of the folklore of Auraria. At first, it's obviously because his character is so blindly set on obtaining the land his employer demands, but at some point his eyes are opened more clearly, and he just accepts things so naturally. I'm not sure if readers are supposed to just accept that he had acclimated to the place so quickly that he could do nothing but accept what was going on around him. His character seemed so uptight in the beginning that I really expected more of a freakout from him, but that never happened.
The various characters are amusing, interesting, and varied; the plot moves along quickly, with just a few lapses in a couple of spots. There were one or two chapters that seemed out of place -- almost like small, stand-alone chunks of folklore or old stories tucked into the larger story being told. There were wonderfully written, like everything else here, but they disrupted the flow of the story for me, and it took a bit to get back into the rhythm of things.
Westover has written an enjoyable novel, with just the right combination of historical fiction and Georgian folklore to keep readers of a variety of genres interested. This is one that I'm glad I took a chance on at Netgalley, and I'll be recommending it to readers upon release.
Note: I received an Advanced Review Copy in e-book format from Netgalley.
The Little Woods by McCormack Templeman (2 stars)
I received an ARC (digital copy) of the book via Netgalley.
I wanted to like this book -- I requested it specifically because it fits into one of those sub-genres that really appeal to me (boarding school, YA, mystery with a hint of magical realism/supernatural). But I just couldn't get past a couple of things: #1, the author's overuse of big words from her thesaurus that just make no sense in the context of the sentence (and worse, don't fit with the character's voice or the tone of the passage as a whole)*, and #2, inconsistencies with each of the characters, their motives, their reactions with and to other characters, and their voices.
The romance doesn't make sense in terms of the development of the story -- I don't mean that it doesn't make sense to have romance in a story like this, but I just don't buy why Cally was even involved with Alex, for example. There's nothing believable about their relationship or their conversations.
And then there's the whole murder mystery. Had this unfolded more subtly and at a slower pace, I think it would've worked well. But instead, we get Cally feeding huge chunks of the story to the reader, shoved in between the other scenes, and it just feels too much like telling instead of showing.
There was a lot of promise and potential in this book, but the execution failed miserably.
*See my status update for a perfect example: "I'm on page 72 of 336 of The Little Woods: Someone needs to take this woman's thesaurus and burn it. "Expactorated" is never a fitting alternative to the word "said." NEVER. — May 22, 2012 11:18pm"
The City's Son by Tom Pollack (3 stars) -- coming in July
Shadowfell by Juliet Marillier (4 stars) -- coming in September
The Curiosities: A Collection of Stories by Maggie Stiefvater, Brenna Yovanoff, & Tessa Gratton (5 stars) -- coming in October
I received digital review copies of all three of these books from the publishers via Netgalley, and they've requested that reviews not be posted until closer to the release dates of these three books. I went ahead and posted my ratings, but you'll have to wait a few months for details.