Thursday, January 28, 2021

Review - Dare to Love Again

Original Title: Dare to Love Again
Series: The Heart of San Francisco, #2
Author: Julie Lessman
Published: January 7th, 2014

Publisher: Revell

*THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*

This is a great book. Honestly, I really liked it. It’s definitely better than the first one in the series, and although it’s not perfect, there were moments in which I found myself giggling, and fangirling, and I think that speaks volumes (especially when I read that the next instalment will be focused on Meg and Bram’s relationship).

I truly grew fond of the characters in this one, as they are alive and feel totally human, with both virtues and flaws, and overall, the complexity of real life, with its comings, goings, ups and downs. This is especially visible with the female characters, as all of them are strong, and not to be messed with, from Caitlyn McClare herself, in her position of power, to the humble Miss Penny, who takes care of the orphans by sheltering and feeding them, as well as with a shotgun in her hands. It’s really well done.

Allison McClare –Cassie’s cousin from the previous book– is the heroine in this one. I loved her, and more than once I felt that I could have been friends with her, to the point in which, by the second half of the book, she gets her heart broken once again and is crying her eyes out, and I just wanted to hug her, and comfort her. The best about her was that I had been promised a spunky, courageous heroine, and that is what I got, unlike in the first book in the series, in which the heroine, apparently, was like that, and I ended up disappointed with her constant weepiness, instead of her doing what she said she would (such as hog-tying Jamie like cattle, for being a jerk). Although it bothers me that Allison managed to fall in love no less than four times, and didn’t seem to have learned anything from past pain, she’s still a great character. I loved her attitude, her courage, and her determination to demand respect from people, and to be independent in order to find her own self in the world (which, back in the early 20th century, was a big deal for any woman). I mean, this girl wants to learn martial arts, for God’s sake! That is too cool. It sets her apart from any other character I’ve read in historical fiction. Bravo, Julie Lessman!

Plus, when she sets her mind to something, nothing can dissuade her. I liked that strong will, and her passion about teaching the girls in the school everything she wishes she had learned as a child. She has this fire inside that makes her an active person, that she translates into every task she takes over, and although she falls in love, Nicholas doesn’t become her whole world, to the point that she forgets about everything else (which is more than I can say from many other characters I’ve read). Although sometimes she can act like a spoiled little brat, and it’s annoying, I think it adds to her character, because we are reading about a woman who was raised in a privileged home (as Nick says, with a silver spoon in her mouth), but through teaching in the city’s red district, she gets to know a different way of life, and different people, who dwell in a world so unlike her own. So, the book is her transition from rich, naïve girl, to strong, independent woman. And it is really well done.

As for Nicholas Barone, the hero, I really liked him. His enemies-to-lovers relationship with Allison was a lot of fun to read, thanks to the name calling, and the stick whacking, that made sparks fly between them. It’s really beautiful how he slowly starts letting go of his bitterness and pain, after having lost everything and everyone he cared about, in a mysterious past that only he knows about. However, although most of the time he’s a big, old grump, with a strong temper, he’s also snuggly as a teddy bear, with a heart of gold that moves him to be the sweetest of men with the girls in Miss Penny’s orphanage. And I liked how the author was able to write both sides to the character in perfect balance, deepening his complexity, because, on the one hand, it’s understandable why he and Alli clash all the time, but at the same time, his moments with Lottie are incredibly heart-warming, and a pleasure to read.

After he was shot by the mobster’s henchmen, I truly felt worried, I just wanted the author to stop talking about Alli and the McClares, and go back to him, to tell me what had happened after everything went black. But when he comes back, the explanations about his true identity felt a little rushed. I mean, after we are left wondering whether he he’s dead or alive, he suddenly returns and spits out everything he didn’t say in a book that is over 400 pages long, in the span of only a few of them. I do understand he’s meant to be this shady person, with a lot of things to hide, but the revelations felt a little too rushed for my taste. It bothered me that he expected Alli to do as if nothing had happened, after breaking her heart and making her suffer for three months, but I liked that her attitude towards him wasn’t like he had never left. She always demands respect, and it wasn’t different with him.

Also, I felt it was very convenient that when he comes back, he has inherited his uncle’s fortune, and he’s no longer a penniless cop from the wrong side of the tracks, but a rich detective that now can marry an equally wealthy lady. It felt a little too miraculous and sudden, after he spent the whole book in poverty. But I can overlook it, because the character development was really well written.

The only thing I wasn’t totally happy about, was the constant reference to Nick’s stomach distress. I get it, the guy has ulcers and acid reflex, and his breath smells like animal crackers. Stop saying it.

Oh, and I absolutely loved the scene in which Alli uses her jiu-jitsu skills, in the dark alleys of the Barbary Coast. It was kind of oddly satisfying to read about her knocking down the thug that was holding her, and escape. You don’t see this too often in a historical fiction book set during the Belle Époque, and involving aristocrat ladies. The only thing I felt was missing, was Alli’s reaction upon finding out that Logan had secretly hired Nick to be her bodyguard, and follow her without her noticing him. She would have hated that; after all, what she sought was self-reliance, and the opportunity to fend for herself.

As for Logan and Cait’s relationship, I liked it, but also found it a little tiring, with so many comings and goings, as for them, one step forward means three steps backwards. Don’t get me wrong, though. Theirs is a realistic portrayal of a deep, complex relationship, built in the background of the book’s main plot, and I really liked how Julie Lessman wrote it, to show us that the characters have many layers and different aspects in their lives that demand their attention. Even though their story drips passion, because they never truly got over each other, in despite of their mistakes and lies, in this one, Logan understood that when Cait says no, it’s no. He now has a deeper respect for her, and lets her have the final word when it comes to their courting, which he should have done in the previous book, back when he forced a kiss on her.

In this trilogy, family is a strong point. However, at certain point I felt there were too many scenes with the family gathered together, playing cards or billiard, and mostly talking about random things that did not help to further the plot. I have nothing against such scenes, they were happy, heart-warming moments that help us see the family going through both good and bad moments, but some things were just too much. Also, the last quarter of the book has so much crying! Everyone is brokenhearted, and tears flow like waterfalls every time Alli or Cait are in a scene. But Julie Lessman managed to make it painful for the reader too, because you are able understand the character’s sorrow as you go on.

Now, about things that I didn’t like, or felt that were too much, I have to mention the scene with Maddie’s sudden disappearance. Even though everyone’s worry is really well done, and you can truly feel their raw despair, I felt that the whole thing could have been cut from the book, and the plot wouldn’t have been disrupted. I know it is meant to bring Logan closer to God, but it didn’t fully convince me, because after he was relieved that she was ok, the book says nothing more about him having a stronger faith, or anything of the sort.

Also, I couldn’t help noticing that Alli’s story was very similar to Cass’, in the previous book. Both start their stories fresh from a heartbreak caused by men, they thought, loved them, when in fact they were just a couple of gold-diggers. Both are focused on moving on, determined not fall in love again, and failing miserably at it. Even though their stories and their love interests are different, I couldn’t help noticing that it is basically the same plot (although better done than in Love at Any Cost, starting with a more interesting heroine).

But all in all, I really liked this book, especially because it gave me the chance to visit old San Francisco, and its different areas, like Nob Hill, Chinatown, the Barbary Coast, the cable cars… It’s just great. Clearly, the author did her research, to get the historical facts and the geography, correctly. And she did an awesome job with it.

***
Thank you so much for stopping by!
See you soon!


Monday, January 18, 2021

Review - Love at Any Cost

Original Title: Love at Any Cost
Series: The Heart of San Francisco, #1
Author: Julie Lessman
Published: April 1st, 2013

Publisher: Revell

*THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*

This is my very first book by Julie Lessman, and I have to say, I’m a little disappointed. I have this habit of not putting down books I don’t like as I read, in despite that I wanted to do that with this one every few chapters, so I just had to finish it. But the truth is that I found myself wanting to be over with it, when I hadn’t even reached the middle of it. I was honestly expecting more from a book that had such high ratings, and so many positive reviews.

Overall, I liked Julie Lessman’s writing style. However, the book itself, with that overly complex plot, just didn’t do it for me. Some things just felt out of place, like the language; it’s supposed to be 1902 San Francisco, but the words that were frequently used, sounded too modern for the time period. On the other hand, I got a little tired of Cass’ use of the Texan slang. As I’m not American myself, I can’t tell if that is well done, but yes, it gets a little repetitive (she uses the word “polecat” a lot).

Also, the names the author chose! A little variety wouldn’t hurt. This is highly personal, but honestly, having a main couple whose last names are McClare and Mackenzie, got me tripping over who was in the scene, or being mentioned, most of the time (which also happened with the two main female characters, nicknamed Cass and Cait). Again, this is just me, it may not happen to other readers. But the plot wasn’t very entertaining, so finding myself reading absently-minded most of the time, may have contributed to this.

Let’s talk about the heroine for a minute. The book opens with Cassidy McClare, stepping out from the train in San Francisco, fresh from a broken engagement to a man named Mark, who left her when he found out she didn’t have any money. In the first couple of chapters, this guy gets mentioned over and over again –albeit vaguely, and even though Cass doesn’t want to talk about him–, and at certain point I found myself thinking, either you give me more details, or you stop talking about him! The lack of information and insight in this, oh, so painful breakup, led me not to care about it, even though it is, precisely, the origin of the plot. There wasn’t enough about it as to connect with this woman whose journey I’m bound to follow through the pages. And moreover, she says over and over again that she’s done with pretty boys and their sweetened lies, which, as we find out, doesn’t stop her from falling in love for, literally, the first man she encounters.

I wish I was joking. *face-palm*

On the other hand, Cass is supposed to be this badass Texan cowgirl, who wouldn’t hesitate to hog-tie the first guy who crosses the line with her, but all that attitude was left in words. I wanted to see her doing what it was hinted she was capable of, if pissed. But other than making her good at card games and billiard, it’s like the author forgot to back up her “badassery” with actual actions.

As for the love interest, Jamie Mackenzie, he was a sounding NO for me. It’s ok that he has a temper, doubts about his faith, and at the same time, he’s willing to do anything in his power to help his family. It’s totally human, and relatable. However, I don’t like men who kiss women without their consent, and I’ll never be able to find it romantic. Their first kiss is not sweet at all, because he doesn’t listen when she says no (not once, but many times), and even struggles to get away. He takes it as she’s playing hard to get, and keeps going after her, forcing himself to make her realize that she’s in love with him, too. And this is just wrong, it sends a horrible message. Moreover, at one point, Cass’ cousin brings up the old “he bullies you because he likes you” garbage, and that is, precisely, something that even today is being fought by feminism and equality. The time period is not a justification enough for it. I honestly despise that concept.

I mean, I get that you don’t choose who you fall in love with, but Jamie is a selfish person with a too high opinion of himself, which doesn’t make him swoon-worthy at all. Moreover, he tends to contradict himself, because at certain points, he punches a man who was beating a prostitute friend of his, and later, he asks a dance from this random girl who was crying, after she was rejected, letting on that he doesn’t tolerate bullies. But he’s a bully himself, in the way he treats Cass! And her, I mean… why would you feel attracted to a man who doesn’t respect you, doesn’t listen to you, nor cares about what you care about? It’s nothing short of an unhealthy relationship. I honestly would have preferred if she had ended up with Zane, he definitely was the kind of respectful person she needed.

Plus, we are not too many chapters into the book, that it says:

She was absolutely, unequivocally, everything he’d ever wanted in a woman”.

Really? Already? Don’t you think it is too soon? You don’t even know the woman, who, by the way, said over and over again that she didn’t want to be involved with you! And when she agrees on their courtship, she comes up with some terms he has to respect in order to go further with it, one of them being that he gets closer to God, because she won’t take a husband who doesn’t share her faith. And I think, wonderful. Nothing makes a romance sweeter than a solid, well-thought set of rules.

Great. *sarcastic applause*

Also, that horrible attitude of pressing the woman to convince her that she loves him back, gets repetitive, because it is a part of the other main relationship in the book, Caitlyn and Logan. He is her late husband’s brother, and, just like Jamie, he pushes too hard, forcing himself on the woman he supposedly loves, not respecting her when she, loud and clear, says no. What’s with the author and the lack of consent?

Plus, I thought this book had a little too much lust for a Christian novel, because one thing is admiring a woman’s eyes, and another one, drooling over the shape of her legs, over and over again. I understand that Jamie’s journey is supposed to be a redeeming arc, turning him to God, and letting go of his anger and his womanizing habits, but it didn’t work for me. The conversion scene lacked the most essential element of all, that is Jesus, and His sacrifice in the cross, turning Him into the bridge between humankind and the Lord. And because of that, it is incomplete, and not fully believable.

As for the plot twists, I think most of them were okay, but we could have definitely been saved the whole “we are cousins, but we are not cousins” thing, by the end. It’s too far-fetched, like taking an extra, unnecessary turn when you are almost at your destination, for no valid reason.

Thanks, but no thanks.

On a positive note, I liked that both Cass and Caitlyn have interests that go beyond the men they love. They believe in women, and their potential beyond marriage, both willing to dedicate themselves to teaching, and Caitlyn, doing everything in her power to help women in the Barbary Coast, especially those forced to work on brothels. Some things about both things were left unsaid, but I guess we will know more in the next books in The Heart of San Francisco series, which I’ll continue reading. I just hope they get better than this one.

That’s it for this review! Thank you so much for reading!
See you soon!

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Review - Taking Flight

Original Title: Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina
Series: -
Author: Michaela DePrince, Elaine DePrince
Published: October 14th, 2014

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers

Damn, what a story.

I’ve been meaning to read this book for a long time, but I kept postponing it because I’m not a huge nonfiction reader. However, every page of this memoir was worth reading.

First of all, it’s necessary to mention that both authors, the ballerina Michaela DePrince and her mother, Elaine DePrince, are not writers per se, but simply two people who felt that sharing their journey was worthy. That is why the writing style feels kind of cozy, making me feel like I’m with both of them sitting in a coffeehouse, while they tell me their story, in a friendly, intimate way.

Even thought Michaela’s story is heartbreaking, it is still inspiring, in so many ways! Without recurring to the huge words and poetic prose of professional writers, she simply tells us her story, and let us know about the truth she lives by. And although it definitely isn’t a fairytale, I can’t help thinking that the episode around the magazine cover seems to have a certain magical realism quality on it, being both incredible, and moving. Practically a miracle, because, what are the odds that a gust of wind, and an old magazine published in 1979, that we will never know how it even got to that far corner of the world, could define a four year-old war orphan’s identity, giving her hope when she had nothing else in the world? Michaela, by then going by Mabinty Bangura, would cling to that picture and the happiness it promised, only to find out, years and years later, that she was the European/American ballerina Magali Messac.

This is the cover of that magazine.


It’s chilling, isn’t it? Even hard to believe, but true, nonetheless. Anything in her life going differently than it did, would have never seen her becoming the person she is today. It’s nothing short of unbelievable.

One of the things that moved me the most about this book, is the amount of love in it, in every possible way. Michaela’s adoptive parents, Charles and Elaine DePrince, are worthy of a standing ovation, because even after going through terrible pain and loss, they did not let that crush them, as the love in their hearts moved them to adopt these neglected little girls from war-torn Sierra Leone, giving them the unique chance to have a family and be happy, rescuing them from a place that would have surely see them dead in the short-term. Their huge hearts and endless compassion, in my opinion, makes them heroes in their own way, deserving the utmost respect. Although it’s sad that the girls say that there’s certain fears that will never leave them, like the sound of loud male voices, that remind them of the rebels that committed those terrible atrocities in front of them, the work done by Charles and Elaine is everything every parent in the world should do, teaching love, and encouraging children to open their wings instead of clipping them. It’s worthy of admiration. That is the kind of love the world should be filled with.

Another thing this book got me thinking about is how I can’t take my surroundings for granted. Michaela and her sisters witnessed things, while in the orphanage, that no child should, ever, and nowhere. Things many of us can’t even imagine. And although no country is perfect, nor Heaven on Earth, it’s essential that we reconsider how lucky we are living in a free one, where, if you want, you can freely practice your religion, or pursue any art form, without the fear that it will get you killed, or deported. Where education is enough for people to understand that a harmless skin condition –like Michaela’s vitiligo–, or being left-handed –like Michaela’s sister, Mia– are not synonymous with being cursed, and that you should not blame an innocent child for things like the rain not coming that year, or failing crops (sounds medieval, but it happened in the 90s). I honestly felt a renewed appreciation for my own country, and for all those things we take for granted, but are still a huge blessing.

Also, after reading this, it’s understandable how and why countries like the US, the UK, Spain, Australia, France, or even Argentina itself, become beacons of hope for so many immigrants and refugees. I know I’m not the first person wondering this, but, when will the world understand that wars lead nowhere? That they solve nothing? That there are no winners, only survivors, and that kids like Michaela and her sisters are the real victims? Because those who start and lead the wars rarely suffer for it. Those who play no part in them are the ones who end up paying the steepest of prices, being stripped from things they don’t even have yet, like an identity, opportunities, and hope. Plus, the fact that we don’t know what it is to live in a country torn apart by war, treatable diseases, and starvation, with access to clean water with the turn of a tap, is a true blessing we have to be grateful for, every morning we wake up. Because although we consider them basic things, they are still denied to a lot of people around the world, who struggle for them every single day. Michaela’s story is a devastating proof of it, as she tells it with raw honesty, and smashing your heart into a million pieces in the process.

Moving to America with her new parents gave both Michaela and Mia a second chance, and so they could start discovering their artistic sides. Through her story, Michaela tells us how her ballet journey started, and so, we learn that it is way more than just beautiful costumes and pointe shoes. It is years and years of practice, injuries, and sacrifice, being considered the most difficult dance form for a reason. All the beauty that we see on stage, has a price, and Michaela doesn’t hold anything back, telling us about the pros and cons of this magnificent art form, all the while exuding an intense passion for it. You can’t deny she loves every step of it, and that she truly is what she was meant to be, in despite of her difficult life. It’s wonderfully done.

By the way, you can find her videos on YouTube, she’s an amazingly graceful ballerina. I picked this one because she talks about it in her book, it’s a variation of La Esmeralda, when she was only 13 years-old.


Beautiful, isn’t it? Love the costume.

But also, Michaela uses this book to bring awareness around a matter that most of the time gets overlooked, that is the discrimination in the world of ballet. I hadn’t realized, until I knew about her, that ballet has, in fact, a very small number of black dancers, and when you look further into it, you know it wasn’t even meant for them in the first place. Already from something as easily unnoticeable –but huge at the same time– as the colour ballet footwear comes in, traditionally pink or nude (but never brown), the message is very clear. Michaela herself tells us that she heard a teacher saying that they never put a lot of effort on black dancers, because they tended to get fat, so there’s rejection right from the get go. But I’m glad that thanks to people like her, that is changing nowadays, because dancing (and art in general) is for everyone, no matter how you look like. Besides, any person out there who decides to take ballet has my instant respect, because it’s not easy at all.

The only thing I criticize about this book is that, at certain points, when Michaela talks about her different auditions and dance training, she gives entire paragraphs like this:

For example, in Level 1, you might be expected to do a combination of dance steps like: tendu to second, relevé, demi-plié, return to first. But in Level 3X you would be expected to do a combination like: fondu front en relevé, close; fondu back, inside leg en relevé, close; fondu outside leg to second en relevé, then plié with the standing leg while the working leg is at forty-five degrees, then go to passé. Repeat in reverse.

These steps and specific ballet position are okay, they have to be there. And is fine if the reader is a dancer too, but that is not my case, so all those terms do not make any sense to me. However, this is isn’t frequent and doesn’t not affect the purpose of the book at all.

In general, I think that this memoir sends a great message, not only about war and poverty, but also about how your dreams are valid, and how important it is to follow them, no matter what, especially in a world that, right from the get-go, tells you not to, that those are not your spaces, and that you should settle for things that are “more suited” for you because of how you look like. Also, it brings awareness of the importance of representation in the different fields (that being art, science, etc.), of how significant it is to see someone that looks like us in the media, doing all those things we could, or want to do. Not opening these circles with the same amount of effort and support, to every single person who wishes to access them, is contributing to the deepening of problems such as a depression, bullying, and low self-esteem, cutting people short in the process of following their passions and finding their true identities, just because of what is, essentially, a whim, a stupid attitude of pointing fingers and saying “you can, but you can’t”.

I want to punch people who do that. Let’s not contribute to it, please.

So, in short, it’s a great read, and I recommend it to anyone who likes memoirs, because it’s a story worthy of being told. Also, if you want to hear it from Michaela herself, I’ll leave her Ted Talk here.


***

Thank you so much for reading!
See you soon!

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Review - The Cursed Sea

Original Title: The Cursed Sea
Series: The Glass Spare, #2
Author: Lauren DeStefano
Published: December 18th, 2018

Publisher: Balzer + Bray


*THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*

It took a while, but I finally reached out and grabbed this book. It was long overdue; I dragged my feet for too long before finally deciding to read it, and get some closure on this story.

In general terms, I think The Glass Spare duology is one of those fantasy series meant to end up underrated. However, after an intense, promising first instalment, I’m not happy to say the next one fell short, and that it definitely could have been better. Although as a whole, it’s not bad, and the writing is absolutely gorgeous, I still believe that the story would have worked perfectly well as a stand-alone. A long one, that is, but a stand-alone nonetheless.

As I have said before, Lauren DeStefano’s writing is amazingly beautiful, she has this poetic way of saying things, the way they are perfectly understandable, and still stir something inside of you. Although things may twist and turn in the span of a few pages, they still make sense for the reader to understand what’s going on, and that is honestly well done. For example, I truly felt the scene in which Wil is dying after being stabbed by Loom, under Pahn’s control; I mean, my goosebumps, my accelerated heartbeat, and my true concern, were not fictional at all. However, that isn’t exactly constant in the entire book. Sometimes, the writing would get so flowery, that I would find myself losing track of what was happening in the scene. Again, the style is really beautiful and I really admire it, but it can (and does) get a little exhausting from time to time.

Also, I think the story would have greatly benefited from a first-person narrative, instead of a third person one (more so, with the dual perspective). Although you can perfectly follow Wil through her transformation, seeing how she may be alive, but her old self definitely dies as the story moves on, and she can’t go back to being the kingdom’s princess just like that, I still believe that a raw, intense narrative from her own perspective would have made the story ten times better.

In general, the character development is well done. Although there’s a small cast of them, the author makes sure everyone plays a part. Wil is a strong heroine, perfectly capable of surviving on her own, and even though she’s deeply in love and feels everything so intensely that the reader feels it too, she doesn’t let that stand in the way of other important things in her life. As for Loom, I liked him, and admired how his willingness to sacrifice anything for his kingdom’s wellbeing –even his own right to the throne–, in despite of having been banished by his own father. Both him and Wil are selfless and have a strong sense of duty towards their people, like any self-respecting royal should, and that’s really well written.

The only character I wanted more from was Zay, as she played such a big part in the first book, being a fiercely strong badass, but practically becoming background noise in this one. She’s only there to steer the ship, and I frequently forgot she was there.

On the other hand, in this book we got a lot more on Espel, the princess from the Southern Isles, turned into a deadly weapon by her own father. She’s the statement that monsters are not born, but made, and that it doesn’t matter who you were born to, but who and what you grow to be. Raised to consider her own brother an enemy, we learn that Espel’s life is mostly a façade, her cruelty hiding her most vulnerable point, which is being in love with Masalee, her personal guard. I think it is well done how Loom let her be the one to take their father’s life, and thus appoint herself queen, not only exacting revenge on what he did to her, but also, making her own decision for once, instead of following orders, and basically acting as his puppet. I just wished we could have gotten a glimpse of her on the throne, because I’m sure she would not want to rule the way her father did.

As I said, the character development is well done, and it’s visible in the love story. Wil and Loom take their romance to the next level, and you can tell they truly love each other. Their moments together are beautifully written, and when they finally sleep together, the author knew how to write it for us to be focused on their feelings, instead of making the whole thing overly physical and graphic, which is always a bonus point for me. But, as always, when these happy, peaceful moments take place, it’s not difficult to guess that something horrible is about to happen. And I wasn’t wrong. Things went downward from then on, and I liked how Lauren DeStefano was able to imbibe the story with the gloomy darkness she uses to describes the crude Northern Arrod winter. It’s like you are there, and the environment is also noticeable in the storyline itself, everything being colder and darker with each turn, just as winter settles. Bravo, Lauren!

Overall, this book seems to be some sort of steampunk fairytale. At one point it strongly reminded me of Snow White, and specially, the Evil Queen. Through a series of dreams, Wil learns the reason behind her kingdom’s curse, and upon reading it, I had mixed feelings about it. I mean, come on, cursing an entire kingdom and dooming an entire family, because your wife cheated on you? I get that people do crazy things over a heartbreak, but killing an innocent little girl who’s done nothing wrong, after years and years of bitterly ruminating his pain… It’s the childish attitude of “I’ll make everyone miserable just because I’m unhappy.” It’s exaggerated, self-centered, and it speaks of a person who isn’t mature enough to be king. I mean, his wife cheated on him, and him alone, right? That is why I want to slap the guy and yell “grow the hell up!”. Your descendants have not even born yet, and you are still going to make them pay the price of your tantrum when things didn’t go your way!

*face-palm*

Ok, the worldbuilding… I was left with some questions about it, because, although the story isn’t exactly set in our own world, in this dimension, they still divide the calendar in our twelve months, as it is said Wil was born in October, during the Northern Hemisphere’s fall. And I wonder, which is it? Ours, or a completely different, made-up world? It’s not the most important part, but I didn’t know where to draw the line. I guess this is a little too nitpicky of me, but I couldn’t help noticing.

One of the things I didn’t like about this book is how the story jumped back and forth all the time, getting confusing at certain points. Because, when Wil comes back to Northern Arrod, she says that her power doesn’t fully work, because the kingdom is cursed. Later, she tells Gerdie:

Usually, if I can’t use my curse, there’s a horrible pressing feeling like there’s an animal trapped in my blood that wants to burst free. But it isn’t there now.

Perhaps this is me, misreading or missing something, but how can the curse not work, when in the previous book, the very plot starts because Wil accidentally kills her brother Owen with her crystallizing power? In her kingdom. The very one that later prevents her from fully using it. So… which is? How is it? It’s difficult to ignore the lack of clarity in that regard.

Also, Baren! What happened to him? Things were going great, because he was a dark, mind-twisted character, in a position of power, with a lot of potential for further development (something that his own grandmother saw, but apparently, not the author herself). Lauren DeStefano was clever enough to reveal, as a slap in the face, that his attitude and behaviour were the product of his unhappiness, origin of a fragility that their grandmother used to manipulate him and exact her revenge. He didn’t have much of a personality, and as his family didn’t pay attention to him, he was the perfect pawn in the game of others. However, DeStefano built so much around him, telling us about his attitude, his fears, his mental instability, his bad relationship with his siblings, how much he hated Wil… And by the epilogue, the last thing we knew was that he was king, as the rightful heir being the second son, and suddenly, Addney (a character who is barely there) has both given birth to Owen’s daughter, and taken the throne as regent queen. So? Knock knock. Is someone there who can tell where the hell Baren is? What happened to him? Did he leave? Is he dead? Did he forfeit the throne just like that? Please, tell me something! Anything!

And on that note, that is one of the things that most bothered me about this duology: the lack of details when the reader most needs them. So far, the author has told me all about curses, bloodlines, places and feelings, in full detail, but when she had to wrap up the story, she delivered a rushed ending that left me with more questions than answers, that I needed to patch up the plot holes scattered all over the place. On the bright side, it’s not your typical ending, even when at one point, you think that’s where the story is going, upon Wil finding her family dead, and hence being the rightful queen. Lauren DeStefano did a good job avoiding that cliché, but still, I think the ending as a whole could have been better written.


***

Anyway, that’s it for this review!
Thank you for stopping by, and I wish you a great start of the new year!
‘til next one!


Friday, October 9, 2020

Review - Wishful Thinking

Original Title: Wishful Thinking
Series: Wish, 2
Author: Alexandra Bullen
Published: April 1st, 2011

Publisher: Point


*THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*

Ok, what to say about this companion novel?

It’s nice, and lovely, but it’s definitely enough. I don’t think the concept of magical dresses that grant wishes to lonely girls could be exploited any further, so I’m glad the author stopped the series with this one. I was hoping to find a book that would be better than the previous one, and in the end, I found them to be rather similar. That is why it is a solid three GoodReads stars to me. Not terrible, but not amazing, either. An okay read.

Overall, Wishful Thinking is a book focused on family and friendship, in the context of time travel, which, honestly, isn’t the best I’ve ever read. At first, I thought, how come no one notices that Hazel is dressed differently, and has this camera that obviously is not from the present time, but then I thought, no one is going to say “this girl came from the future”, so I’ll let it sly. But, I do question Rosanna’s instant trust in her, hiring her without inquiring anything about her past, or her family, or even her last name? Later she says she never believed what Hazel said, about her parents being traveling in Europe, but it was weird that she never asked anything about the real story. Like, ok, she wouldn’t pry on things that were not her business, but before hiring someone who came out of nowhere, and bringing her to live in your property, you should find out a thing or two about her, don’t you think?

One of the things I liked the most about Hazel was that she has photography as a well-defined passion in her life, instead of spending the whole book whining about how sad her life has been. Just like Rosanna tells her, she had a lot of potential even before knowing it, a way to find beauty in unexpected places, which is, at the end of the day, some sort of survival mechanism in a life in which happiness is so scarce. That is well done, because, even with strangers that weren’t from her own time and place, Hazel was able to find her own value and recognize parts of herself she always took for granted, but were what made her special.

As for the others characters, my favourite was, actually Rosanna Scott, with her passion for art and her decision of not letting her sickness determine her decisions. Jaime, Reid and Luke weren’t really of my liking, specially Reid, because of his attitude when he knew about the pregnancy, immediately abandoning both Jaime and her baby, and ditching the responsibility for his actions. He wasn’t really the father Hazel deserved. As for Jaime, I think she was the most realistic character in the book, because all her reactions were understandable. Scared upon finding out about the baby, not knowing what to do about it, going back and forth between keeping it, or giving it away for adoption… It’s a natural reaction to an unplanned, teen pregnancy. Just, the outcome isn’t very clear, because, at one point, Jaime tells Hazel she will keep her baby, but when she returns to the present, she hasn’t kept her word, because nothing has changed since she left.

The romance was really not for me. I’m never into insta-love, and this is not exception. I honestly didn’t care about it, since they jumped into love at the two months of knowing each other, and if we think about it, Hazel had told Luke absolutely NOTHING about herself. And I just can’t wrap my head around the fact that you can say you love someone you virtually don’t know, and after such a short time. So, no, this just didn’t work for me.

The ending was bittersweet, I really was left wanting a reunion, once Hazel found out who Jaime was, and that she had another child, her half-sister. I would have loved to read about Jaime’s reaction when Hazel told her “I’m your daughter”, but it never happened. Plus, just like it happened with Wish, I think the whole book would have benefited from a first-person narrative instead of the third-person, to live the experience along with Hazel, in a more personal way.

I think the overall message of this book is good. Hazel didn’t have a happy life, moving from one foster home to another, without really belonging anywhere, but her experience teaches her a valuable lesson. Even when it’s not easy nor nice to learn that you were an unwanted baby, it’s important to know that who your parents were doesn’t have to determine who you are, that finding yourself and giving value to your own talents and passions, it’s still worthy, and that your past doesn’t have to determine your future. Plus, Hazel learns to value those who were there in her life, instead of constantly suffering for those who weren’t –or wouldn’t–, like Wendy, her dead foster mom, who saw her dream of having a child come true when she adopted her, but couldn’t enjoy it for long, and Roy, who didn’t have to take care of her, but did it, anyway.

So, I guess it was a good book, even when it could have been better. Overall, I liked the concept of Posey and the magical dresses, but I would have liked to know more about both. Yet, I think the charm lies in not knowing everything, and letting the magic flow.

Do I recommend the duology? Yes. It’s great for those fairytale fans and contemporary fantasy, even when it’s not perfect. It’s a nice read to pass the time, and they will keep you entertained for a little while.

***

Thanks for reading!
See you soon!

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Review - Wish

Original Title: Wish
Series: Wish, 1
Author: Alexandra Bullen
Published: April 1st, 2010

Publisher: Point

*THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*

Here we are, again with a book that was never on my TBR. I guess I was just curious, and in need of a fairytale, and that’s why I went for this one. And what can I say? It’s an ok story. Not the best ever, but not a complete disaster, either. The first thing I thought when I finished it was that it definitely lacked a certain spark that would have made it better.

One of the most prevalent aspects of this book is its narration, which I often thought, was poorly chosen. Even when the grieving aspect is well written, and the portrayal of the brokenhearted Larsen family, trying to move on after their terrible loss, is realistic, with both parents trying to unsuccessfully drown their pain in work, I still think that the third-person narrative was not the best way to go. If instead we could have been in Olivia’s mind, through a first-person narrative, her raw experience through loss and emotional swings would have been a lot more intense, and would have felt more as a personal journey than a mere plot device to justify their moving to San Francisco (not that it is, though).

For me, the best character in this book was definitely Violet, the dead twin. Through the wish Olivia makes while wearing the magical dress, she’s allowed to come back as a ghost, and immediately, you can tell her personality is completely different from her sister’s. And I think it was lacking in that aspect, as Olivia felt, more often than not, really flat as a character, without enough depth as for me to believe she could actually be a real person. That’s why I liked Violet better, as she is strong and direct, never feels sorry for herself, always takes the lead, and is virtually the driving force that leads Olivia to change her life and start to move on, finding her own self in a life in which she mostly depended on her sister to make decisions. Violet was the risk taker in opposition to the careful, restrained Olivia. Yet, I think the sisterly bond is really well written, and I liked how, by the end, Violet is the one who pushes Olivia to be herself, and find her own identity, separated from the life they had together before the tragedy.

As for the romance, I really didn’t care a lot about it. It felt a little forced, because Olivia falls for Soren without even really knowing him. I liked that he was the listening kind of guy, and that he had the nice gesture of taking her to see the stars, thinking it would make her happy. But we never really get a real reason why he suddenly breaks his solid, year-long relationship with Calla –a person who has done nothing wrong and is actually very nice to Olivia–, for a girl he has known for a couple of weeks and is in the middle of a terrible grieving process. It makes no sense. At one point, Olivia asks him what is that he likes about her, but the answer is vague and not very believable, and I was left really unfazed by their relationship, not really caring if it worked out, or not. Plus, it felt really out of place that, in one moment, Olivia is thinking that she doesn’t belong and never will in her new world, and not two paragraphs later, as she talks to Soren, she suddenly feels she does. What?

Also, at certain points, I honestly didn’t know where the plot was going, as it felt like it was rambling on and on without really leading somewhere. Although it was obvious that Violet would be gone by the end of the book, in general, she was the most interesting character, because none of the others had much of a personality. In many cases, I could have taken them out of the story, without disrupting the plot. Like the girls, Lark and Bowie. Or Miles, who’s intervention only helps to solidify the metaphor from Virginia Woolf’s book, in which the protagonist finishes her painting and moves on, as a reflection of Olivia herself. Even though I think this symbolism could have been introduced without bringing yet another character to the plot, I still think it’s well done. Just as Woolf’s character, Olivia feels she’s nothing without her sister, but not having her anymore is what has to push her to build her own life, separated from Violet’s personality. She needs to close that chapter of her life –a.k.a, finish the painting–, even if she thinks the grieving process will last forever, at the end of the day, it’s necessary to unstuck herself and continue living her own life.

As for Olivia’s parents, I think their portrayal was realistic, and well done. Doing their best to hide their pain after their loss is a natural, self-protective reaction, but I kind of hated that they didn’t seem to remember they had another daughter that needed them, and was in as much pain as them, having not only lost her sister, but also having been uprooted from everything she knew, leaving her life behind to start anew. Some family therapy was immediately needed there, no doubt. But I liked that, by the end, the family didn’t try to hide their pain anymore, choosing, instead, to do their best to remember Violet with love and joy, even if losing her was terribly painful. It’s never easy to go through such processes, but the way is described is honestly well done, for a children’s book.

And, finally, I would have really liked to know more about Posey and her grandmother, and their unusual ability to sew magical dresses. It’s definitely interesting, as it speaks of a parallel world of magic I would like to know better. Still, the fact that we do not know much about them helps to create this mysterious aura around them, so that way, it’s nicely done.

So, in short, it’s a lovely book, but it definitely could have been better. I will read the next one in the duology, and I just hope it’s good.

***
Thank you for reading!
See you soon!