Bachelor Boys

Bachelor BoysBachelor Boys by Kate Saunders
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After a rather depressing experience with the umpteenth vampire book, I was looking for some shallow, vapid, preferably British chick lit that would hopefully keep occupied only 2 neurons of my brain.
I picked up this book, hoping that the cherries on the cover would be a sure sign of what I was looking for. And up to a certain page, it actually was kind of what I expected.

The premises were all there: we meet Cassie, an overachieving editor at a literary magazine and her boyfriend Matthew, an overachieving, controlling and boring lawyer with a balding tendency. Cassie comes from a family of academics who never showed her a crumb of affection and has spent her childhood being looked after by her family's neighbors - Phoebe, Jimmy and their two boys, Fritz and Ben.
When Cassie receives a phone call from her beloved and terminally sick surrogate mother Phoebe, asking for her help to marry off her bachelor and hopelessly gigolo boys, Cassie can only consent, though rather reluctantly - the boys are really hopeless, total slackers; no job, no money, no property... nothing. She therefore starts her quest for possible candidates, while trying to make the two slackers presentable.
Up to this point, I found the plot rather amusing but stupid. Who would seriously agree to such a deal? Maybe Cassie, but certainly not Fritz and Ben who were two total gigolos and supposed to get married within mere months.

As I settled more comfortably on my couch, letting the two neurons roam free inside my skull, everything changed. The plot developed but, most importantly, the characters came alive and literally ripped the pages of the book.
What sucked me in was the touching relationship between Phoebe and Cassie, the love between a mother and a daughter she never had and who is helping her to die. I might be extremely sensitive about this topic for personal reasons and I might be particularly sensitive to death in general, but I thought Saunders did a great job taking me through the final, bittersweet moments of life of a person who is rather comically preparing herself and those around her for death. I can't deny I shed some tears - and that is NOT what I expected from my chick lit.
A book that was meant to be shallow and banal suddenly demanded an increasing number of my neurons to properly cope with the real plot(s): love - in all its shapes, be it motherly, brotherly or between a man and a woman, death - and how it permeates every aspect of our lives because it is inevitable, yet so very natural, and friendship - because chemistry at first sight is possible but love has to go through a few, sometimes rather painful, phases to be genuine.

So the main asset of this book is certainly characterization: well developed, REAL characters presented to us by means of a cunning and unrushed narration where, chapter after chapter, they become more and more defined, we get to know them, to appreciate them in their imperfection, to identify with them. And with Cassie identify I did. There were so many things she said and thought in the book which could easily have come out of my mouth.

The snob in me registered that there were no books [in the house] except photograph albums, and no pictures. Evidently Mrs Batty [...] did not like clutter..

This is, like, the first thing I notice when I go to somebody's house: the absence or presence of books. And it IS totally snob. But this is just one example of many and I think that when an author manages to make me, reader, identify with one of the characters, it is no small conquest. It is actually what every author should keep in mind when creating a character: readers need to relate, to empathize with at least one of the protagonists; if I do not care for the hero/ine of the book, how am I motivated to go on reading?

It would have been a 5 stars for sure if not for the fact that, end in end, it HAD to have something of the chick lit: a highly predictable plot, some gender-related stereotyping, a few rather excessive sappy moments (I almost got cavities). None of these though detracts from the beauty of this book which is, obviously, so much more than I expected.

I highly recommend it if you're looking for an easy read - but one with heart, depth and very good storytelling.

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Queen of Shadows

Queen of Shadows (Shadow World, #1)Queen of Shadows by Dianne Sylvan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Color me shallow. I must be to like this book.

Let's start with what is wrong.

First this:  

And then this:

Notice any similarities? No? Then look at this:

and this:

I'd like to compliment the editor for the original choice of the cover.

Unfortunately the similarities with the Chicagoland Vampires series do not end with the cover. Miranda and Merit (from here on M&M's) are both humans who get attacked in the first chapters of the book. While Merit dies immediately and gets Turned, Miranda "only" gets raped but both are saved by their future love interest. David and Ethan are both heads of this "CSI Vampire" show. While David is a PRIME, Ethan is a LIEGE, where one is blond, the other is dark. Both fight off some vampire integralists. So yeah, I'm not going to point out all the similarities in this book but there are a tad too many.

Second. This must be the most predictable book ever written in history. So predictable that you know how it's going to end just by looking at the cover (you see Miranda wearing the Signet that signifies she is the Queen) and reading the title (if the Signet hanging on her neck was not a sufficient explanation, a caption is added to enlighten readers: "Queen of Shadows"). So, apparently, no need to read this book - more kudos for the cover choice.

There's a plot inconsistency about halfway through the book where Miranda falls into a creek, badly sprains an ankle and after a few minutes packs up her stuff - when there is no talk whatsoever of her leaving - and trots outside by herself carrying her suitcase. I think there must be half a scene missing there or there is something I didn't get.

I'd also like to ask Ms. Sylvan why vampires do not have central heating in the huge mansion where they live, where the supreme vampire head is also a technology geek. They live with fireplaces, how romantic is that? (and they love ICE CREAM!)

So why, WHY did I read this book till the last page and even cheered at the end?

I think it was because of David and Miranda. I loved them. Both.

Miranda starts off like a total weak, passive character but she seriously grows some balls during the book. Also, there's never the "loves me, loves me not" gut-wrenching bit we find in so many other books to keep up the suspense. She lives a truly terrible situation at the beginning, grieves and then moves on, taking everything that she is left with and making the best out of it. She gets a bit too much superwoman at the end but at that point I was already cheering too much and loving her too much to notice.

David is my favorite. Finally, finally a non-macho hunk. Rest assured, he is hot and powerful. But, for once, we also see him cry, grieve, give in to his desperation and be fragile. I liked him being a computer geek.

I also liked the fact that they don't exactly fall in love with each other at first sight, he even fucks around a little bit - and to this, I would have totally objected to because she DOES NOT, and it would have only been fair if not for the fact that she had just been raped.

There are some seriously interesting secondary characters, Kat the human friend (cool), Faith the second in command (cooler) and Sophie the fighting mentor (kick-ass cool). Action packed, decent dialogues, this book was worth my money and kept me highly entertained for a couple of nights. I think it completely fulfilled its function.

So yes, I will definitely read the second installment when it comes out (I'm already preordering) and I also recommend it. If you're looking for a light read with heart, action and your usual suspects the vampires, this is a good book.

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The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (The Inheritance Trilogy, #1)The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Here goes my favorite sentence of the book:

"There's truth even in tainted knowledge, if one reads carefully."
"Only if one knows the knowledge is tainted in the first place."

How true. How relevant to every aspect of our modern society, be it school, religion, mass media. Especially religion. But this has nothing to do with my review of the book.

This is a great fantasy/mystery book. Oddly enough, that's what it is. Yeine, our heroine, is ennu (chieftain, priestess) of the Darren people, a population living in a far off, poor province of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. She is summoned to Sky, the capital, by the king (her grandfather from her -recently assassinated - mother's side) where she shockingly discovers that she has been named heir to the throne, in competition with two other cousins that she never knew she had. Thrust in a vicious game of politics, lies and violence, Yeine fights for her life and for the truth behind her mother's abdication and murder.

My rating of this book fluctuated between 4 and 5 stars until about the final scene.
What struck me as exceptionally well done is the world building. As I found myself walking with Yeine along the corridors of the Sky palace I realized her descriptions are very precise, meticulous and visual, from the language of the people of the Kingdoms, to races, to local food and lore. I loved the gods' presence, especially Sieh, and I found myself increasingly drawn to the story as pieces of the puzzle finally clicked into place and characters became familiar.
The plot is quite complicated though, and the way in which the author chooses to structure the chapters doesn't make it any easier to understand what is going on. Yeine is the narrator but you're never sure of that until almost the end and that makes it a bit confusing, you're constantly asking yourself what is going on, who is telling what, what did I miss... Furthermore, flashbacks randomly placed in a stream of consciousness style result quite distracting, more than once I had to go back a few pages to pick up the ends of what was being said before.

This could all have been easily overlooked, if not for the final scene of the succession, which has this "The Matrix"-ish flavour I did not like. Too superhero, too Hollywood, it kind of clashed with the general tone of the book. This sentence, in particular, struck me as oddly alien to the Yeine's character and more suited to a rockstar kind of character:

My gown swirled about my ankles, an annoyance. A flick of my will and it became a Darren warrior's garments, tight-laced sleeveless tunic and practical calf-lenght pants. They were an impractical shining silver but - well, I WAS a goddess, after all.

The last little problem I had with this book, which I anyway recommend reading because it's good fantasy, is the title. An explanation about the meaning of why this world is called The Hundred Thousands Kingdoms is never given, much to my dismay. I'd have liked more info about the origin of why it is called like that. Or did I maybe miss something? Also, a bit of mapping would have been helpful, if not fundamental.

Even though this is a stand-alone (no cliffhangers!), I know this book is part of a trilogy. I'm not going to run to the shop right this moment to get the sequel, but I will most probably read it.

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City of Fallen Angels (The Mortal Instruments #4)

City of Fallen Angels (The Mortal Instruments, #4)City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I did not enjoy reading this book, not only because it wasn't good. I think its release came with so many expectations, with such a hype, it kind of jinxed itself. Well, most of us readers actually expected something better, seeing as we all liked The Mortal Instruments.

Basically, this book should never have seen the light. With City of Glass I was happy; we left Clary Fray/Morgenstern/Fairlchild and Jace Wayland/Morgenstern/Herondale/Lightwood (WTF?) in their happily ever after and that's where they should have stayed. There, in honeymoon, having carrot-haired runed Shadowhunter babies. At least, that's where I pictured them, with whatever surname they chose.

But no, I pick up CoFA and I am catapulted into a world where Clary and Jace are STILL MAKING OUT.... like, he doesn't even get to unclasp her bra. Nooooooo! It totally felt like a step back in the story, not forward. In fact, for this reason, this book left me so indifferent I kind of feel like I have been reading nothing for the past 3 days.

So plot-wise, it was totally boring. Maybe it would have made a nice short story or a graphic novel (because that's what it was meant to be) but, by making a whole new novel (not to talk about a whole new trilogy, I'm horrified to read two more books where Clary and Jace are still only making out) the plot stretched so thin it snapped like an elastic band and it was PAINFUL. There were so many loose ends, scenes left there hanging without apparent reason that it just didn't make sense... well, it does if you need to fill up two more books and have no clue what you're going to talk about.

Nothing really happens in this book and, apart from the final scene which had a bit of action, I can't even get myself to give you a synopsis, because... er.. I don't remember. I have little recollection of what happened, apart from...  yes, the make out scenes.

I liked the previous books mostly because of Jace: aloof and snarky, he was a nice character, he appealed to me. In this book, there's no Jace. He is like a shadow of himself, a passive and rather unreasonable spectator watching his doom slowly approaching. His punch lines are not even funny. What happened to him?? Maybe he's sexually frustrated, and with good reasons, I'd say.

Halfway through the book, I had the sudden epiphany that Clare had changed her editor. But no, I checked in the acknowledgements. So what's with the stupid mistakes and awful sentences?

Simon stared down at the phone as the full horror of the situation buzzed around his brain like a ghoul buzzing around the outside of a house, begging to bel let in.   AWFUL

" What kind of guardian are you? Shouldn't you have gone to the bathroom with him?" Isabelle demanded. 

Jordan looked horrified. "Dudes," he said, "do not follow other dudes to the bathroom".

...the Coca-Cola sign flashing blood-red and navy-blue down onto the black water...     That's PEPSI, Clare.

And so on. They're pretty endless, especially when we get to the grey warmup suits and grey sneakers men...

Not to talk about the huge fat laugh I had when I read that Clary, when Jace was fighting with Lilith, was hiding the whole time behind a hedge... quite the Shadowhunter, huh?

I was quite appalled, also considering that fact that Holly Black must have read this stuff for sure. And I like Holly Black's writing. What a dilemma. What happened here, exactly?

I don't really know what to expect from the following books and I don't know whether I will be reading them or not. I've got time to ponder till next year. But no wait. Clockwork Prince is coming out soon. Oh my.

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These Things Hidden

These Things HiddenThese Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I have been debating whether to give this book one or two stars for a while now but, in all honesty, I did not like this book. I wanted to like this book, I struggled to get to the end to see if there was some redeeming last minute revelation but, alas, it never came.

The story rotates around 4 women, - Allison, an ex convict, Brynn, her sister, Charm, a nurse to-be and Claire, a bookshop owner - a little boy and a terrible secret that seems to connect them all. I didn't see the terrible secret. Not because it wasn't terrible but because it didn't seem that much of a secret to me. I know this novel was meant to address the issue of newborn children abandonment and promote Safe Haven program but I honestly think it could have been dealt much better in a pamphlet. Or something.

This is what I'd call a book of stereotypes.

All characters are so cut out from some pre-printed cliché that this book gives a whole new nuance to the meaning bi-dimensional. As in made of paper. All characters are pushed to the excess, all black and white with no shades of grey. This is so not realistic. Allison is the monster who is secretly a saint, Brynn is the psycho, Claire is Perfect Mom, Charm is just plain St. Charm, Gus is the dying martyr. Charm's mother is the Bad mother and even Allison and Brynn's parents come out like "the source of all evil". This is less feasible than Urban Fantasy, for god's sake. Other characters like Christopher and the girl's Grandma are so barely sketched and superficially introduced that I didn't even understand their reason for being in the book.

Aside from the stereotyping factor, there were some major inconsistencies in the book that had me in brow furrowing mode repeatedly. So this Allison girl lives in Linden Falls, Iowa - not New York, mind - and goes to jail for manslaughter for abandoning and drowning her newborn baby daughter, fruit of a secret and illicit relationship with a college guy (Mr. X, he's so flat). Now, I live in a town of 30,000 people and I have no idea how bigger Linden Fall could be - i think it is a fictitious town - but I reckon it would take several hundreds of thousands more inhabitants, NOT to know who the mommy/murderer/teenage's identity is. Even if she's underage and her name hasn't been disclosed. If something horrible like what happened in the book happened here, not only would it go on national news but everybody in town would know who the girl is, the family, where they live. It's normal, people talk. But apparently, when Allison comes back to her town after a mere 5 years NOBODY recognizes her. She starts working in a bookshop and NOT ONE single client says: "Hey, isn't that that child murderer girl......?" NOBODY. This is a bit unlikely, considering she is repeatedly referred to as Linden Falls' golden girl, therefore popular, an overachiever.

Then, in a weird attempt to create a shocker I think, Allison never mentions Joshua until she meets him and suddenly she can't think of anything else but him. That's too much of a humongous detail to overlook, isn't it? Which only makes me think of a cheap strategy concocted by the author to.... yeah, create a shocker. It didn't work, it felt like a black eye, it was so obvious.

Furthermore, stylistically, the alternating 1st/3rd person POV didn't work for me. I'm not referring to the difficulty of keeping track of who was telling what because that was made pretty clear by the heading of each chapter. I'm referring to the continuous 1st/3rd person switching. First of all.... WHY? Why tell all Allison and Brynn's parts in 1st person and Claire and Charm's in 3rd? Was there some recondite meaning I totally didn't get? Second, it didn't work. The 1st person parts were ok but the 3rd person parts were awful, flat, devoid of personality.... pretty much like the characters. It was like reading a bad newspaper article.

Finally, this book was just not for me. There was too much drama, too many people with issues crammed together in a single space, their greek drama was all over the place. Actually, it just dawned on me that, in a way, they all had their kind of psychosis going on. Even Perfect Mom.

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The Sky Is Everywhere

The Sky Is EverywhereThe Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Yesterday, searching for something "light" to read, I picked up The Sky Is Everywhere. Funny how I needed to relax and ended up not being able to put it down until I finished the last page, at 2am.

Lennie Walker is a teenage clarinetist whose beloved sister, Bailey, suddenly dies of a heart failure. This is the story of her journey through grief and loss, through teenage hormones and love, through family and friendship, in the quest to eventually find her true self and survive her sister's death.

I loved this book on so many levels I need to organize my thoughts on a list. So I am going to give a star to every thing I liked about it:

1 star goes to the book itself because it is gorgeous.
My edition came in the style of a diary, with the little elastic band lengthwise to keep it closed, a rough cover, a used look. Not to talk about the whole book being printed in blue ink. I fell in love instantly.

1 star goes to the writing style.
This author, this woman, is a published poet. I felt bad for so many other authors whose books I've read lately and don't stand a chance when compared to this. Her writing style is musical, evocative, colorful, humorous, snarky, visual.... just the way I like it. And let's always remember that we're talking about YA lit here. Her descriptions are so intelligent and to the point I couldn't help but note them down. One for all, when Lennie describes Joe Fontaine's cheerful character:

the guy's life-drunk, I think, makes Candide looks like a sourpuss. Does he even know that death exists?

It struck me so, because I thought about myself and realized how until a few years ago, I thought I was immortal or close to it. Then you have children and all you can think is that you'll die soon.
But apart from this, there are so many great passages in the book, you just need to pick it up and read it.

1 star goes to the notes inserted in the book.
Lennie, after her sister dies, starts to write little notes and poems to Bailey and about Bailey, snapshots of their life together. She writes them on anything she can find, candy wrappers, abandoned coffee cups, toilet walls, tree barks and then she just leaves them there for everybody -or nobody- to find. All these handwritten notes are printed out at the beginning of each new chapter throughout all the book, with a note on where they were found but not by whom. It's like they're a little book within the book and their purpose comes clear at the end.

1 star goes to the plot.
This book is not about flawless characters - even though, end in end, it seems to be about flawless love and that's the part I liked least - because Lennie does many stupid things in the story. She is part of a family of weirdos, where her uncle is a giant, a pothead and about to get married for the 5th time, where her mother abandoned her and her sister at birth never to be seen again and where her grandmother is a miracle gardener/painter/hippie whose roses are known to have aphrodisiac powers on people. This would all be extremely hilarious if not for the fact that the family is totally submerged in grief for Bailey's death and does not have a clue how to cope. Lennie's response is shocking: she starts a relationship with Bailey's boyfriend while falling in love with Joe. And she makes a total mess out of it, of course.
Note: even devoid of one single sex scene, this book is way steamier than others where sex is explicit - I'd say my imagination works rather well at least.

My last star goes to the way death is treated in this book.
I thought it was true, realistic and very honest. Her descriptions of how she felt left behind, of all her grief, of the unjustness of a broken life and of her guilt and loneliness at being the one who survived, really touched my heart. Lennie writes on a note:


I wouldn't know how to express loneliness in a better way.

Highly recommended.

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Winter's Passage (Iron Fey #1.5)

Winter's PassageWinter's Passage by Julie Kagawa
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is a short story that can be downloaded for free till the end of this month at the author's website - and I don't know why is selling it already for 2$ and change if it's still free.

It takes place right after The Iron King and deals with Meghan and Ash's journey to the Winter Court. Meghan is upholding her contract and acquiesced to follow Ash to see the Winter Queen, Mab, but she asks Ash for a slight detour to see Puck, who is unconscious but recovering inside a tree of the dryads, after being shot in the battle with the Iron King. They are being chased by a mythical and terrible creature who turns out to be none other than.... well, read and see but it was pretty hilarious to me. I was, like: "Seriously?"

I was a bit annoyed by the quite extensive recap of the events of the previous book, which I know sometimes is necessary but annoyed me nonetheless, especially because I had just finished reading The Iron King. Finally, once again, even in this short story, I was struck by a deja vu right out of the 80s and I am wondering if Kagawa is doing this on purpose or not. The scene where the Hunter reaches Ash and Meghan in the cave reminded me very much of The Neverending Story, when Atreiu/Ash encounters the wolf.... is it just me?!

Interesting to read to "fill in the gaps".

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North of Beautiful

North of BeautifulNorth of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've been thinking about this book for a few weeks now and decided I needed to re-read it and give it a better review since the one I wrote before didn't do it much justice.
I loved this book, even more so the second time around. True, it's got most of the clichés of YA fiction (girl with issues meets perfect boy, love triangle, HEA, blah, blah...) but the story was developed so well and with so many subplots that I think it is worth giving it a special place in the chaos of YA lit.

Terra is a beautiful girl, her beauty marred - only - by a port-wine stain on her face. She is part of a dysfunctional family, where everybody and everything rotates around an emotionally abusive father - the worst kind, difficult to rebel against.
On her way back from the umpteenth medical treatment to try to remove her stain, she literally crashes into Jacob (sliding on ice, bit of a Twilight deja vu here but that's where the similarities end) an Asian looking Goth boy who is going to turn her life pretty much upside down.

Terra and Jacob, though both remarkably handsome teenagers, both have a physical problem that doesn't make them fit in. Terra has a rather big port-wine stain on her face while Jacob, apart from having a cleft lip, is also an adopted kid from Asia with a stunningly blond mother. So they are both different from others but where Terra tries to mask herself and her insecurities behind cosmetics and look like others while replicating beauty through her art, Jacob interprets his diversity by exasperating it and camouflaging - as a Goth, for example. I like when he says:

" People stared at me whenever I went out with my parents. I mean, you might expect little Chinese girls to be adopted, but not boys. So I figured if people were going to stare at me anyway, then I would choose the term of their staring. I can dictate what they see.

I liked his attitude.
So, while the both have problems, Terra is the one who is truly lost. The "spatial" theme permeates every part of the book. Terra's name, the fact that her father is a cartographer, her being directionally challenged, the geocaching game, her journey to China with Jacob; these are all parts of the puzzle that is Terra looking for her direction in life, her True North, which she finally finds thanks to Jacob, who becomes, eventually, her compass.

All characters were extremely well developed, up to Terra's father, the ultimate bully. With his psychotic behavior,  he influences the lives of so many people. Terra's insecurities are thanks to him, her mother has become his doormat and finds her means of escape in food, her brothers have both disappeared and are slowly turning into some facsimiles of their father.

So, while the book can be considered YA and a light read for its romantic content, I loved it because it has a lot of substance, it goes deep into the fragile balance of relationships within a family and even Terra and Jacob's story didn't sound the idiotic love-at-first-glance-and-forever kind of love. True, Jacob is a bit too perfect to be true even in his imperfection, he seems to me like the projection of what women want from men but will never attain - at least, i've never met such a man. I also thought the scene in the orphanage was a bit too melodramatic and sappy, both when Jacob finds his ahma and when Terra finds the little girl. But again, minor imperfections in an incredibly well written, enjoyable and thought-provoking book.
Will be looking for other books by this author.

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