Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Orpheus Clock - Simon Goodman

The Orpheus Clock: The Search for My Family’s Art Treasures Stolen by the NazisSo, I have a thing about history and stolen art, mainly because during this class in college I read a book called The Rape of Europa which was about the rampant art pillaging that went on during World War II.  Then I read The Monuments Men, about the group of Allied soldiers who were supposed to find and protect things during WWII, including but not limited to art.  And then I read another book about going undercover to recover art stolen from museums.  Basically, art is valuable, relatively easy to move, and relatively hard to track, which means it ends up getting used as currency in all kinds of transactions and then surfacing at some point with its provenance not really being on the firmest ground.  This is basically what The Orpheus Clock is about.

After Simon Goodman's father died, Simon and his brother Nick got all of these boxes containing documents about what their father had covertly been doing for the past half century: running around trying to recover the art and belonging that had been stolen from his family by the Nazis during WWII.  After realizing exactly what the scale of it was, Simon (and to some extent Nick, though he features much less prominently in this book) took up his father's search.  The Goodman family, then spelled "Gutmann," were Jewish in heritage though not really practice and were living in the Netherlands when the war started.  Generations of being banking magnates meant the family, in all its branches, was pretty wealthy, and Simon's grandfather was keeper of the family trust, which was massive.  There was a big house and lots of silver and fancy paintings.  And then, of course, because the Gutmanns were Jewish, the Nazis took it all and sent Simon's grandparents to a concentration camp, from which they didn't return alive.  Simon's father and aunt survived because they were living in England and Italy, respectively.

Now, reparations from the Holocaust are a really tricky subject because there's not a firm good way to handle them.  Here's the thing.  A lot of these belongings have popped up over the years with seemingly good providence, and so someone buys one of the things thinking it's okay.  And then, BANG!  It turns out it's not okay, that it's actually loot.  But the person who has it now still likes the thing, for the thing itself and not the history attached to it, and paid a lot of money for the thing, so obviously they're not so keen to give it up.  But the family that originally owned the thing wants it back because it shouldn't have been taken away from them in the first place.  Is there a good way to deal with this?  No, not really.  It's much easier when it's the government that still has the thing, because then at least it's not private individuals tangled up in it.

What this book does well is lays out the complexities of how hard it actually is to get back items that were taken during the Holocaust, because many of them have been scattered to the winds and then surfaced all over the place with seemingly clean backgrounds.  Did people look too hard at these backgrounds?  No, not really.  But then, if you look at the backgrounds of a lot of art, they're not really as clean as we'd like, which makes art trading in its entirety a very dirty and complicated business.  But I couldn't help but wonder why Goodman was doing this the whole time, and yes, I confess, he came off as a bit greedy, because his family didn't even want most of the stuff and ended up selling it immediately after they got it.  I know, I know; it's more complicated than that, because the money is rightfully theirs anyway, and so on and so forth.  That's fine; they're entitled to it.  But I feel like there could have been a better way to convey that than how Goodman did it.  It was the language he used about it, being so smug about items selling for much more than their appraisal values and such, and how he seemingly wasn't willing to work with people who thought they were buying (or receiving, in the cases of donated pieces) "clean" art.  It was...I dunno.  It just had a dirty feel about the whole process, when really it shouldn't have.  Them getting the stuff back from the Dutch government was much "cleaner" feeling to me, because it was really freakin' wrong of the government to keep all that stuff for all that time when they had a pretty good idea of who it had belonged to.  It's when people who didn't know and didn't have reason to got involved that it all had a sort of icky feel to it.

Also, more than half of this book isn't about getting art treasures back at all.  It's a multi-generational history of Goodman's family which wasn't entirely necessary for the book.  I think all of that could have been condensed to a chapter or two, at most, and then the rest of the book focused on the retrieval process, because that's what the book purports to be about.  I get that Goodman has discovered this incredibly lush and complex family history and wants to include it, but if that's the case the publisher should have looked into titling the book more accurately, because it was pretty misleading reading about bankers for 180+ pages (out of a 320-page book) when I thought I was going to be reading about art recovery.

3 stars out of 5.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Rumors - Anna Godbersen (The Luxe #2)

Rumors (Luxe, #2)Yes, we're back to this: the books with the pretty girls and dresses on the cover that are basically turn-of-the-century (nineteenth to twentieth) versions of the Gossip Girl or Pretty Little Liars books.  Why?  Because they're delicious, that's why.  I'm not saying they're literature, but then, this isn't a blog about high literature (most of the time; I do get a tad literary every now and then, I suppose).  This is a blog about books I read and whether or not I like them, and this fits that!  So.

Rumors is Godbersen's second Luxe novel, following the events of The Luxe.  It picks up in the months following Elizabeth Holland's "death," and we learn what her family, friends and frenemies, and Elizabeth herself have been up to.  Diana has been torn from Henry by the tragedy of her sister's disappearance, because it would be unseemly for her to be seen cavorting about with her "dead" sister's fiance, no matter how they actually feel about each other.  Henry also feels their separation keenly but isn't really able to do much about it.  Meanwhile, Penelope has managed to turn herself into the picture of the perfect young woman in an attempt to snare Henry once more--he's now up for grabs, after all, since Elizabeth has vanished.  And then there's Lina, who's living the high life off the money Penelope gave her for the Holland secrets, but is starting to worry about it running low.

This isn't a very eventful book.  Most of it really involves Diana worrying about her mother's health and the family's declining fortunes while trying to manage to get back together with Henry somehow, Penelope also trying to get Henry, and Lina trying to figure out how to not only continue living in the style she has become accustomed to, but also how to become an "accepted" young lady in New York.  The main drama comes from the continuing tension between Diana and Henry and the buying and selling of secrets by several parties; indeed, secrets more than currency appear to be the actual currency of the Holland, Hayes, and Schoonmaker's social sets at this point.  There are a few chapters with Elizabeth, but she's so removed from the real drama of New York that her part isn't particularly interesting until the end.

The most frustrating part of this book for me, though, was not the lack of real forward movement, but the stupidity that some of the characters seem to suffer all the time.  I'm not sure why it had to be such a secret that Elizabeth was still alive, and what she had done, once the story actually started to get out on its own.  Diana might have very well been able to tell Henry, avoiding that whole problem, and if Penelope was going to tear the Hollands down using that secret, well, her complicity in the whole matter would have meant they could drag her down with them.  Godbersen tries to pin it all on Mrs. Holland's emphasis on family honor, but honestly they're all so much in the muck at this point that it really shouldn't have mattered.

Still.  This book is the print equivalent of a period teen drama on TV, and basically that means that you're expected to look past any plot holes like those mentioned above and just enjoy the dramatic tension.  I did enjoy it, but not as much as I enjoyed The Luxe.  Still, I want to finish the series...which means I'm going to have to request paperbacks from the library, because they only have The Luxe and Rumors in e-book form.  Sigh.

3 stars out of 5.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Airman - Eoin Colfer

File:Airman.jpgAirman by Eoin Colfer tells the story of Conor Broekhart, a young man living in the fictional mini-nation of the Saltee Islands.  (The Saltee Islands are a real place, but they are unihabited and everything about the Saltees in the book is fictional.)  All his life, Conor has been best friends with the Saltee princess, Isabella, and he has been tutored by a Frenchman obsessed with things such as fencing, karate, and above all aeronautics.  Conor is perfectly okay with this, because he was born in a balloon basket and flying is apparently his destiny.  Hm...

Okay.  I like Colfer.  At least, I remember liking Colfer; I read the Artemis Fowl books when I was younger and enjoyed them quite a bit, though I believe a few more have come out since then.  Those have a very different feel to them than Airman, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing.  Airman is...well, I guess it's kind of historical fiction, but it's also kind of steampunk.  All of the apparatuses Colfer includes are real, or closely based on real machines/inventions, but the setting of the Saltees, the prison, the diamond mind, etc. definitely gives a steampunk flavor.

Story-wise, I enjoyed this but it did not shine.  The plot revolves around Conor being thrown into prison for his supposed involvement in the death of King Nicholas, though really it's because he knows the truth behind the King's death and the Lord Marshall of the Islands, Bonvilain, wants to shut him up while maintaining control over Conor's family, who are very prominent in the Islands and could mess things up for him.  So, at the age of fourteen, Conor ends up in prison, befriends an inmate or two, and begins plotting his escape--which only takes up about half the book, because of course after he's free he has to make things right in the Islands.

Conor himself was an excellent character, as was Linus Wynter, the blind musician who becomes Conor's close friend.  Both seemed well-rounded with specific motives for everything they did, and Conor in particular changed in accordance with his experiences in prison.  That was good; he didn't exhibit any naivete that I might have expected from the hero of a YA novel.  The rest of the cast, though... Bonvilain was weak as a villain, really, because he wasn't any different from any other fictional villain.  He had no original twists, nothing, though I think Colfer TRIED to spice him up by making him part of the Knights of the Holy Cross (Knights Templar).  Isabella was supposed to be an excellent queen, but she kind of fell flat, literally needing to hold someone's hand in order to address her people or her employees.  And then suddenly at the end she's threatening to slice someone in three with a samurai sword.  Uhm, what?  Where did that come from?  And while we were meant to fell sympathy for Conor's parents, they really didn't get enough page time to build up their pain, and all we really saw was Conor's father magically recovering from his grief to aid Isabella.  There were an excess of comically inept side characters, ranging from Otto, the inmate whose greatest pride is his hair; to Pikes, Bonvilain's essentially useless sidekick; to Uncle, a boy who won't take a bath.  The side character with the most potential was probably Sultan, Bonvilain's poisons expert, but he was sadly underutilized and underdeveloped.  I also didn't feel like Isabella and Conor's relationship was believable; it was just kind of stated that it was there, and then Conor came back a completely different person and Isabella didn't have anything to say about that?

And what HAPPENED to Otto and all those diamonds, anyway?!

Overall, enjoyable but lacking some characterization.

3 stars out of 5.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Reading Challenge Update!

So, we're almost done with the first quarter of 2016, and I wanted to do a quick update on the books I've read for my reading challenge.  This includes both the Popsugar Reading Challenge categories for 2016, and a few more categories I pulled from another challenge.  Here are the updates, and if I do do say myself, I don't think I've done too bad!  I have a few more titles checked out from the library, too, so I should be making some more progress soon.


-A book written by a comedian.  I read Mindy Kaling's Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? for this.  Mindy is charming but, as with most memoirs, I can't help but wonder what's not on the page, and I had a few frustrations with some of her views on various subjects. That said, this was a fun, quick read.

-A New York Times bestseller.  I took on The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith/J.K. Rowling for this, and while I think it's interesting, I was puzzled by how slow it moved for a mystery.  Still, Rowling has a way of creating wonderful characters, and I'll definitely continue with the series.

-A book set in Europe.  Following up on Elizabeth bard's Picnic in Provence from last year, I read the book that actually preceded it, Lunch in Paris.  I enjoyed it, despite some frustrating tense-flipping that I absolutely cannot understand--how did that make its way into the book?  How?  Still, a cute love story and memoir of time in Paris, food and all.

-A book about a road trip.  Road trips annoy me, so this category didn't thrill me, until I realized halfway through Rae Carson's Walk On Earth a Stranger that it fit the bill!  Hah!  Walk on Earth is not your typical road trip, though, as it takes place during the early days of the California Gold Rush in the mid-nineteenth century.  It was much more interesting than a normal road trip story.  Carson is such a great writer, and I can't wait to see what's next from her.

-A book that's under 150 pages.  For this I read Goldenhood by Jessica L. Randall.  It was a short read but not as engrossing as I had hoped; but then, I think Randall's writing has matured a bit since she wrote this and I'd be more than open to reading another fairytale adaptation from her pen.

-A book with a blue cover.  Years after reading Maria V. Snyder's Study series, I finally read Sea Glass, the second book in her Glass series which uses a secondary character from the Study series as the main.  While I think Snyder has an interesting world, I think she sometimes tries to do too much at once and ends up dropping threads of plot, and she keeps trying to push this super abusive relationship as being romantic, which I do not like.  Still, I'm planning on finishing the series with the hope that she'll put that straight to bed as a "wow, that was not healthy, what was I thinking?" sort of thing.

Still To Come

-A science-fiction novel.  This is where I'm going to use Wool by Hugh Howey.  I think it tends more toward straight sci-fi than dystopian, anyway, and I'm excited to read it.

-A book based on a fairy tale.  I adore fairy tales, so this category had a whole bunch of possibilities for me!  I settled on Gregory Maguire's Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, which is quite clearly an adaptation of Cinderella from the stepsister's point of view.  I read Wicked in high school and found it good but weird, so I'm interested in seeing how this one plays out.

-A National Book Award winner.  I don't really know much about book awards, as I tend to ignore them in favor of reading whatever interests me at the time.  So I had to pull up the list of National Book Award winners to have something to go off for this one.  Most of them didn't really intrigue me (who decides what makes a book award-worthy, anyway?) but I eventually picked The Shipping News off the list as looking at least mildly interesting.

-A book you haven't read since high school.  This is hard.  I tend to re-read books that I like on a fairly regular basis; hardly a year goes by when I don't re-read most of Tamora Pierce's works in a one-week binge.  That said, I know that the last time I read Peter Dickinson's The Ropemaker was in high school, because I then lent it to someone who never returned it.  So I'll read that for this category.

-A book set in your home state.

-A book translated to English.  I'm thinking Toilers of the Sea for this one.  Les Miserables, which is probably about on par with The Hunchback of Notre Dame for Victor Hugo's most famous book, is one of my favorites, so this should be a good one while adding in another classic for this list.  However, I also got Becoming Marta for free through the Kindle First program, so I might end up reading that instead.

-A book recommended by someone you just met.  I asked the NaNoWriMo Facebook group what they thought I should read this year; one reply was already on the list (Grave Beginnings) but the other was not; therefore, I shall be reading The Machinery by Gerrard Cowan for this category.

-A self-improvement book.  I don't really know what a self-improvement book is, other than a self-help book, and I don't really think I need a lot of help from books, so this one was a bit challenging.  So I went to Google and pulled up a list of best self improvement books!  An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth jumped out at me because one of my friends from college read it recently and rated it quite highly, so this one it is!

-A book written by a celebrity.  Okay, so I saw Elixir by Hilary Duff ages ago, probably when it first came out, but I didn't read it because I was skeptical.  I mean, celebrities writing?  Who does that?  And I'm always convinced it's really a ghostwriter doing the real work.  But now it seems like it's a good time to try this one out.  I was going to read Tina Fey's Bossypants for this, but I'm already reading a comedian's book for another category, so I didn't want to double-dip.

-A political memoir.  Now, politics really annoy me in general, so this category was not very exciting.  However, after some deliberation, I've decided to read Malala Yousafzai's memoir, I Am Malala.  While Malala isn't a politician who goes about campaigning for office, she is definitely a political figure due to the causes she represents and the consequences she has faced because of them.

-A book at least 100 years older than you.  I'm actually going to get around to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea for this one, because I want to read one of the steampunk novels that started it all as research for my own writing.

-A book from Oprah's Book Club.  After much perusal of the complete list (found here) I've settled on Malika Oufkir's memoir Stolen Lives, because the categories this year are sorely lacking in nonfiction and this seems like one of the better titles on the list in general--at least among those that I haven't read yet.

-A book recommended by a family member.

-A graphic novel.  I love Neil Gaiman but am not a huge fan of graphic novels, so I've avoided his Sandman series up until this point, despite buying my boyfriend the entire series for various occasions.  Now seems like a pretty good time to give them a go and start in Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes.

-A book that is published in 2016.  After reading The Orphan Queen, I want to finish up the duo with
The Mirror King, which is due out on April 5th.

-A book with a protagonist who has your occupation.

-A book that takes place during summer.

-A book and its prequel.

-A murder mystery.  For this, I plan to read R. R. Virdi's Grave Beginnings.  Virdi is a member of the 20,000-person NaNoWriMo group I'm in on Facebook, and this book has gotten great reviews from other group members, so I'm going to give it a shot!

-A book of poetry.

-The first book you see in a bookstore.

-A classic from the 20th century.  I'm going to do Lolita for this one, because I feel like I need to squish a Russian novel in here somewhere.  What really makes a classic, anyway?  I don't know, but this list that I found says Lolita is one.

-An autobiography.  I picked up Papillon by Henri Charriere at a used bookstore in New Jersey (Broad Street Books in Branchville, if anyone out there is in the area; it was absolutely lovely and I look forward to going back the next time we're in the area) but put it down in favor of another title.  Now I wish I'd bought it!  Charriere wrote this book about his wrongful conviction for a crime and his subsequent escapes from prison.  Most autobiographies bore me on principal, but this one actually sounds interesting.

-A book about a culture you're unfamiliar with.  I'm thinking...something about Japan?  I'm not familiar with Japanese culture, but it does really fascinate me (especially about the food) so I'm hoping to find something good!

-A satirical book.  Randall Munroe, the author of the popular webcomic XKCD, recently put out a book called Thing Explainer, which is a book of diagrams that explain how complicate things work using only the "ten hundred" most common words in the English language.  It's definitely  meant to be satirical, and would likely be a fast read, so I'm thinking that will be my choice in this cateory.

-A book that takes place on an island.

-A book that's guaranteed to bring you joy.  This is easy.  A College of Magics is one of my favorite books ever.  The beautiful Ruritanian-romance aspects of it (bodyguard/client!  one of my favorites!) blend so wonderfully with the fantasy elements that I find it pretty much irresistible, and this is a great excuse to re-read it.

-A book you've been meaning to read.  I've had Street Fair on my Kindle for a while now, but keep prioritizing library books over it because they have due dates and it doesn't.  I'll have to make sure I get to it for this category!

-A book recommended by your local librarian or bookseller.

-A book you should have read in school.  This I'm going to fill with The Odyssey, which every other English class in my high school read, but my class as a whole did not because our teacher was too busy having raptures about the hero's journey in the Star Wars series to actually assign it to us.

-A book chosen for you by your spouse, partner, sibling, child, or BFF.

-A book published before you were born.  Let's face it: most of history is before I was born.  This means that I have a very wide scope of titles from which to choose.  I'm going to go with the classics and choosing Wuthering Heights for this one.

-A book that was banned at some point.  Maybe now that I have a public library card I can finally get my hands on Perks of Being a Wallflower.  I meant to use Perks for the banned book category last year, but could never get it from the library, so hopefully this is my year!

-A book you previously abandoned.  I'm planning on using Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell for this one.  I've had this book for years, and started it at one point, but I just couldn't get into it.  I'm hoping that time will have improved it some for me, just like how I liked Vellum much more when I returned to it years after first purchasing and attempting to read it.

-A book you own but have never read.  I picked up The Mapmakers at the Smithsonian nearly a year ago, but haven't read it yet.  It...or the 400 other books on my Kindle...but I'll use The Mapmakers for this one.

-A book that intimidates you.  I admit it, I don't understand this category.  Beyond books full of advanced theoretical physics, I don't think there are many books that are downright intimidating, so I'm not sure what to make of this category.

-A book that you've already read at least once.  This is the third category that calls for repeating a book.  I'm going to pick Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets for this one, because it gives me an excuse to continue reading my lovely box set while still counting the book toward something for this year!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Sea Glass - Maria V. Snyder (Glass #2)

8161853I continue to be confounded by Maria V. Snyder's books because I remember Poison Study being SO GOOD and the rest just...aren't.  I remember thinking that Magic Study and Fire Study weren't as good as Poison, but I also don't remember them skittering from place to place and dropping plot threads and introducing terrible ideas all the time like her other books do, and that must them very frustrating reads.

Sea Glass continues the story of Opal Cowan, who first appeared in the Study series and then starred in Storm GlassSea picks up where Storm left off, with Opal traveling back from Ixia with Janco and some other guards and Devlen, who is in Ulrick's body.  Devlen is by far the worst part of this series, not because of who he is as a character (really nasty characters can be really good characters to read, even if you'd never want to actually encounter them in real life) but because of what Snyder continues to try to do with him.  Namely, she continues to try to make him a viable love interest for Opal, a counterpoint to the ever-awesome Kade.  The problem with this, of course, is that Devlen is evil.  He insists he's not, that he's changed our ways, and Snyder tries to convince us of this in several different manners, but the fact of the matter is that he tortured Opal, repeatedly, and not because someone else made him and he had to do it to save her life or anything.  No, he did it of his own volition, and there's really no coming back from that to be a "good guy."

Opal herself is the second worst part, because she continues to be a weak character in pretty much every manner.  She is literally only useful at like two points in this book; she keeps blundering into trouble and traps and setting herself up for failure and needing to be rescued, but suddenly at the climax, BAM!  SHE IS THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN SAVE THEM.  Considering how the rest of the book went, with Opal pretty much being a screwup, I found that really hard to believe.  She doesn't trust anyone, despite having plenty of reasons to do so, and when something doesn't go the way she'd planned--you know, maybe because she went rogue for a while or something like that--she immediately assumes she's being persecuted and that no one cares about her, blah blah blah.  When she (slightly) comes to her senses later, at various points, she goes, "Oh, well maybe it's because they didn't consider x," but then never actually tells them x so that they can consider it.  She creates all of her own problems, and while watching a character struggle is supposed to be one of the joys of reading because struggles can make characters grow so much, I really just wanted to slap Opal upside the head or across the face for most of the book because she is so stupid.

And then there are the plot lines.  The central plot of this series seems to be with Opal's glass magic and Devlen & Co.'s blood magic, all of which make things difficult for everyone.  But Snyder keeps throwing in other plot lines, like the actual sea glass plot in this book, which lasted for about two chapters and then was completely dropped without any sort of conclusion.  Someone making sea glass that drives people crazy, and who lives in a weird oyster-harvesting cult?  Cool!  This must be the central plot, considering the book is called Sea Glass!  Let's go investigate!  Oh, never mind, it turned out to be nothing and now we're just chasing our tails around again...  The rubies in glass animals, Opal's experiments with her diamonds, and her search for other glass magicians can also be included in the category of "things that could have been promising plot points but never actually developed into anything."  I think Snyder has an interesting world here, and she is aware of it--but she tries to do too much at once and ends up dropping most of it along the way, which means that the story isn't as tightly-knit as it could or should be, and instead ends up reading as very scattered.

For now, I'm going to keep going with Snyder's books; I only have one more Glass book left, and I have the fourth Yelena book, Shadow Study from the library.  But I've put in a request for Poison Study, too, so that I can re-read it and hopefully determine if Snyder's first novel really was better, and that there might be hope for the future, or if I'm just looking on it with nostalgia and should just give up.

2 stars out of 5.

This book also fulfilled my "A book with a blue cover" category for my 2016 reading challenge.

Friday, March 18, 2016

An Ember in the Ashes - Sabaa Tahir (An Ember in the Ashes #1)

An Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes, #1)Laia wakes one night to find her brother sneaking in with a sketchbook full of pictures of Martial weapons--which Scholars like them are forbidden to know of.  Minutes later, the Martials show up and kill Laia's grandparents and take her brother prisoner; Laia runs for her life, hoping to find the Scholar Resistance and convince them to free her brother from the Martial prison on the basis that it was resistance members who sold him out, and that they are the children of the Lioness, the resistance's former leader.  Meanwhile Elias, a Martial training to be a Mask, one of the Martial Empire's fiercest warriors, plans to desert his post the day after his graduation from the hellish school known as Blackcliff, where his mother reigns supreme as Commandant and seems to want to kill him, along with pretty much everyone else.  But Elias' plans are shattered when the Augurs, immortal "people" with magic that can read minds and tell the future, proclaim that they are going to select the next Emperor from among four of the newest graduates--and that one of the four is Elias.  Trapped in the Trials, he can't escape if he wants to live, but by staying he risks becoming everything he hates.  And when Laia is sent to Blackcliff to spy on the Commandant for the resistance, their lives start to intersect and intertwine, and they might just be able to bring down the forces aligned against them.

I really liked this book.  I liked both Laia and Elias as main characters and narrators, and I liked the setting that Tahir lay out.  I guess I can see the "ancient Rome" influence that the blurb totes, but it's not really a strong influence.  The fighters in this aren't slaves locked to arena combat, and the arena-style combat that happens isn't really like gladiator combat at all.  This has stronger influences of the Middle East, with creatures like jinn and efrits that lurk in the shadows and come calling at the most inopportune times.  There are a lot of "school" fantasies out there, but this one doesn't follow the normal route of them in that this school is one that the students, and pretty much everyone else, are desperate to escape.  The book also brings up issues like racism, and how Scholars are considered inferior by the Martials, confined to one quarter of the city (like a ghetto), enslaved, and sexually assaulted without most people actually caring about it.  There's also a lot of violence in this book (I'd say it's definitely not for sensitive readers) and considerations of what that violence means, and what it can turn people into, and how good people can also be bad people in different circumstances, and so on.

This isn't high fantasy; the fantasy element does get more pronounced as the story goes on, with the appearance of Augurs, supernatural creatures, and unusual abilities, but the emphasis is on the gritty elements of death and survival rather than on the fantastical ones.  The main characters, for example, don't possess any unusual abilities (at least not yet) and instead have to use their wits, strength, and relationships in order to pull themselves through.  There's a sense that not everyone is who they present themselves as, and the "chosen ones," though that term is never really used, might in fact not be so chosen.  I think there are a lot of interesting dynamics swirling around in the background here, and they come together to make a well-woven story--for the most part.

There are, of course, some flaws.  Tahir seems focused on having not a love triangle, but a love quadrangle, or possibly a love pentagon, which are most definitely even worse than the triangles.  There are some logic flaws, such as why would Blackcliff leave a trail leading directly into the school unguarded, even if it is annoying to use, when they guard every other entrance?  And the trail can't be that annoying to use because two teenage girls use it several times without too much difficultly.  What was up with Laia in that chapter after the third trial?  Why was she even there?  I don't know why the Augers would have done that.  And the timelines can be difficult to follow, too; the chapters jump back and forth between Laia and Elias narrating, but that means that sometimes more time passes in one than in the other, and the narrative has to jump backward in order to catch up instead of just progressing.  I found myself going, "Wait, what's going on with Elias/Laia at this point?" several times because the chapters don't line up as neatly as they should; having a few in a row from one narrator or the other wouldn't have hurt the book at all, and would have made it easier to follow.

Still, the flaws don't detract that much from the overall reading experience, and overall this a great book.  I'm definitely looking forward to reading the sequel.

4 stars out of 5.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Goldenhood - Jessica L. Randall

GoldenhoodWhen I saw that Jessica L. Randall had a fairytale adaptation to her name, I was super excited.  I liked the charm of her Obituary Society book (I have the second one and just need to get around to using it) and was thrilled to see her turn her pen to a fairytale.  Granted, it was Red Riding Hood, which isn't the most exciting to me, but still.  So, how did it hold up?

It was okay.  The story is about Elise, who comes from a family where the women are said to be witches.  Her grandmother supposedly set wolves on her grandfather, killing him; her mother walked off into the woods and was never seen again; and her aunt serves as the village wisewoman, trying to put aside any witchy tendencies, but the townspeople won't really let her.  Elise herself is inexplicably drawn to the woods, and only the golden cloak she wears--a cloak that was once her mother's--keeps her tethered enough to resist the forest's call.  But as she begins having dreams that hint that something is hiding in the woods, waiting for her, farm animals begin showing up dead and a massive wolf is spotted around the town, Elise might not be able to resist the woods after all--not if she wants to survive with her family intact.

This wasn't a terribly twisty book; everything is laid out all nice and neat and there aren't any big surprises.  There were a few times when I went, "Really?  Oh, okay," but nothing that had my jaw dropping in shock or awe.  Elise is a nice girl but not, I think, a particularly intriguing one; her little sister, Rosie, might have actually been more interesting had she been a bit older.  (Rosie is Red Riding Hood, paired with Elise's Goldenhood.)  Most Riding Hood adaptations tend to have one thing in common, which is werewolves, because that's the obvious place to go with it, and this isn't really any different in that respect.  There's a light romance story line, but nothing too series; one sweet kiss is really as far as it goes.  I thought the end would tie up a bit more neatly with Elise wanting to embrace magic and the title of witch or showing the villagers how things could be, with care, but it didn't go that way; instead, everyone tells a bunch of conflicting stories that everyone believes anyway, and no one questions any of the weird stuff that happened, which was kind of strange.  Okay, really strange.  That was a bit of a plot hole, really.

This is a short book, at 129 pages, which was another reason I picked it up; it helped fill in my "A book under 150 pages" category for a reading challenge.  But I think Randall could have taken the time to add some more pages and flesh things out a little more, and the story would have benefited from it.  It also would have benefited from another round of line edits; there are multiple instances of quotation marks in random places and typos such as "ee'll" instead of "we'll".  It's nothing major, but enough to show that the book isn't really as polished as it could have been.  Overall, it's not my favorite short fairy tale adaptation.  That title still goes to Jill Myles' The Scarecrow King.  But this was good, and I'd be interested in seeing other adaptations from Randall now that she has a bit more experience under her belt to work with.

3 stars out of 5.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Heir of Fire - Sarah J. Maas (Throne of Glass #3)

Heir of Fire (Throne of Glass, #3)I have to admit, Sarah J. Maas surprised me with this one.

At first, I thought I was going to hate Heir of Fire.  The book starts with heroine Celaena, an unstoppable assassin and secret princess, yadda yadda yadda, basically reduced to the status of a drunk wallowing in her own self-pity.  This is not a flattering depiction, obviously, and since Celaena spent most of the first two books in the series entrenched in a "woe is me" act, I was convinced that I was about to see an escalation of it on a massive scale.  This did not hold much appeal to me, and I actually put the book aside for a bit to read something else because I was so frustrated.  But I've always thought that Celaena's story as a whole had a lot of potential, even if the girl herself was pretty much insufferable, so I went back and started reading again.  And what do you know?  I liked it.

Heir of Fire finds Celaena in Wendlyn, the continent across the ocean from Adarlan.  She's been sent there to kill the royal family and find a way for Adarlan to invade through Wendlyn's supposedly-impenetrable barrier reefs.  Instead, she has decided to wallow in her self-pity for not being able to save her friend and her country and all of the stuff that happened in her childhood and Crown of Midnight.  But then!  But then Rowan, a Fae under the orders of Celaena's many-times-great-aunt Maeve, the Fae queen, shows up and drags Celaena off to meet Maeve herself, who tells Celaena she'll answer her questions, but only once Celaena proves herself worthy by mastering her magical abilities.  Maeve sweeps off, and Rowan starts trying to whip Celaena into shape.  For the most part, this is not an interesting process (which is probably why Maas bulked it out with all the other story lines) but the idea behind it is fascinating, because this is where I think Celaena actually started to become a likable character.  It's like Maas realized how insufferable Celaena was and spent the later half of Crown breaking her down so that, in Heir, she could rebuild her.

Granted, this isn't an entirely successful rebuilding.  When I finally got to the deep, dark thing that Celaena swears will make her snap if she faces it, I was left going, "Huh?  That's it.  Lame.  So many worse things have happened to you, and you've done so many worse things yourself, and that's your dark secret?"  She certainly still has her whiny, bitchy moments, her extreme pettiness that hurts the people around her for really no reason at all.  But for the most part, I think Celaena has actually become a character with potential and who can carry a story all on her own, without the need of a cast of characters supporting her every action--a transformation that was necessary because she was the only main character in Wendlyn.  Everyone else was still back in Adarlan.

Let's talk about those Adarlan people for a minute.  We have Chaol and Dorian, of course, at odds after the events of the second book, but we also have three new characters: Manon, the heir of the Blackbeak clan of Ironteeth witches; Aedion, Celaena's cousin who is now one of the King of Adarlan's prized generals; and Sorcha, a healer who works in the palace.  As things begin to unravel and wind together at the same time, we learn that Manon's job of becoming a wyvren rider, along with the rest of the Ironteeth witches (who were very cool in general) might be revealing her to have more of a heart and conscience than she would like to admit; that Aedion isn't all that she appears; and that Dorian isn't still hopelessly hung up on Celaena, which was nice to see.  I like when characters have relationships that don't work out, and move on to other people, because that's how life is.  In the first two books of this series, I really felt that these other characters were the people who made the story likable in the face of Celaena's awfulness; now, however, I found them to be, overall, pretty boring, and I always wanted to skip ahead to see how Celaena's transformation was going instead.  There were some intriguing bits in Adarlan, mostly at the end, but the Adarlan-based stories weren't nearly as compelling as the process of Celaena actually becoming a heroine.

I also think that this book could have ended about fifty pages sooner, total.  There were some really dull denouement bits at the end for all the story lines, and while some interesting things happened, I think they could have been backed up into the earlier parts of the book and the boring bits chopped without it really suffering any damage at all.  I guess Maas didn't want to leave readers with a cliffhanger, which I respect because cliffhangers are the worst, but I think it could have been worked out to have a conclusion, if maybe an implied one, without all the outright revelations at the end.

Still, I think this book was much stronger than the first two on the basis of Celaena alone.  The story greatly diverged from the Fictionpress version here (which made me a little sad, because I liked poor crazy Cindrillion, who dressed her mice and bird friends by breaking their limbs so that they'd fit into the clothes she made them; disturbing, yes, but also an interesting Cinderella dynamic) but I understand why Maas is going farther and farther away from the draft, still taking a few key things that happened but weaving what's pretty much an entirely new story from them.

I just wonder if the ending will be the same...

4 solid stars out of 5.

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Water Knife - Paolo Bacigalupi

The Water KnifeThe Water Knife is basically a story of the people of the American southwest and what happens to them when water starts drying up, droughts begin taking over, and the scramble liquid becomes all-encompassing.  The "water knife" of the title is not an actual knife, but the main character, Angel.  He is a water knife in the sense that he "cuts" water; that is, he works for a woman named Catherine Case, known as the Queen of the Colorado River, who enforces the water rights of Las Vegas vehemently.  Angel is one of her posse who goes out and takes down anyone who's trying to siphon Case's water away, cutting off the flow by any means necessary and leaving people and places to die in his wake.  He is very, very good at what he does, which makes him the perfect candidate for a mission Case wants completed: find out what's happening with a rumored score in Arizona, and if there are water rights up for grabs, grab them.

Our other two main characters are Lucy and Maria, who live in Phoenix--Angel's destination.  Phoenix is slowly being devoured by the desert, dust storms coming more frequently and lasting longer, the water only for the very wealthy; those who aren't wealthy are basically living off the mercy of the Red Cross.  Everyone with sense and ability is getting out, but getting out is hard because the other states have closed their borders to refugees from the waterless states.  Maria is originally from Texas, which has been completely destroyed by natural disasters, and she wants to leave Arizona, too, but can't afford a "coyote" to smuggle her across the border into another state.  She and her friend Sarah are basically doing all they can just to stay afloat--Sarah by working as a prostitute, Maria by selling water from Red Cross pumps at hiked-up prices at a construction site.  Lucy, on the other hand, can leave whenever she wants; she's not from Arizon, but has moved there to further her career as a journalist and document Phoenix's descent, which she does quite faithfully via the hashtag #PhoneixDownTheTubes.  But Lucy gets more than she bargained for when one of her friends, who'd spent recent days talking about a big score and a way to California, turns up dead.  Furious, Lucy aims her pen at everyone she's resisted targeting for so long, completely disregarding her own safety in a city that has basically become a dog-eat-dog world.

As Angel searches for water rights and Lucy searches for the truth, their paths and that of Maria begin to weave in and out of each other.  It's an extremely dangerous place, Bacigalupi's Phoenix, People get shown, blown up, fed to hyenas, and all sorts of other unpleasant things.  This is a very violent book; I'd really say it's not for the faint-of-heart.  There is also an "attraction" plotline, which I hesitate to call a real romance because the characters like each other, are intrigued by each other, and are definitely attracted to each other, but they're still also perfectly willing to stab each other in the back if necessary, and neither of them is really sure what their involvement is.  "Romance" typically implies some sort of resolution, which this didn't have and I don't think will have, given that, to my knowledge, there's not going to a Water Knife #2.

The path of this book is twisty and turning, with things spiraling in around each other but everything still interlocking quite well.  I didn't see any gaping plotholes; Bacigalupi's world seems very tight.  This is, however, a book that lacks a lot of resolution.  There's no world-saving going on here, so if you're the type of person who likes to leave a book with everything wrapped up in a neat little package, this is not for you.  It's definitely a "it's the journey, not the destination" that counts type of book.  In the end, the world (or at least the American southwest) is still pretty much screwed, but I'd come to care about the characters and have hope for their individual futures more than I did for the world at large.  It was a type of ending that, yes, would suck if it were reality (which it very well could become; that is the scary part about books like this) but I think fit the narrative perfectly.  It also read, to me, as basically a prequel to Dust by Hugh Howey.  Put together, I think the two are a really good sci-fi story about what might happen when we start running out of water.  It is not, however, a book that goes along with the misleadingly-titled (but lovely) What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us.

An excellent book, but a violent one and one that is scary in its foreboding of a likely reality.  Sensitive readers be warned!

4.5 stars out of 5.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Wrath & The Dawn - Renee Ahdieh (The Wrath & The Dawn #1)

The Wrath and the Dawn (The Wrath and the Dawn, #1)Here is the thing: I absolutely love the story of Scheherazade.  It's not a very known tale, so for those of you not following along, I'll summarize.  Once upon a time there was a caliph who found his wife had been unfaithful to him.  As punishment, he beheaded her, and every day after that he took a new bride and beheaded her the following morning.  Eventually, the daughter of one of his viziers, Scheherazade, volunteered to become his next bride.  The night before her planned death, she begged the caliph for a chance to say goodbye to her sister.  He granted her request, and as he waited in the next room, Scheherazade began telling her sister a story.  By the time the dawn came, she'd reached a cliffhanger.  The caliph, entranced by the tale, demanded that she finish the story, but she refused, saying it could only be told by night.  Begrudgingly, he allowed her to live until the next night so she could finish the story and he could know the ending.  The next night, she finished the story...and began a new one, also ending in a cliffhanger at dawn.  The cycle repeated itself for a thousand and one nights, at the end of which the caliph had fallen in love with Scheherazade and did not kill her, instead letting her live on as his queen.

I've been longing for a good Sheherazade story for a long time, but there have always seemed to be a few problems in the way.  First off, it's pretty hard to make a guy who wants to kill the heroine for something someone else did a viable love interest.  That's really, really difficult.  He has to have damn good reasons for that, and maybe not even then will that be okay.  Second, Scheherazade's whole story is stories within the story, which means the bulk of her story isn't even actually about her.  While this can give an author a lot of room to create, it also means there isn't much of a framework to use as a guide.  I think Ahdieh managed to conquer these roadblocks very well and create what is, for the most part, a very intriguing story.

Ahdieh's Shahrzad, aka Shazi, volunteers to become the next doomed bride of the caliph (constantly and annoyingly referred to as the boy-king) in order to avenge her best friend, one of Khalid's former victims.  She plans to make him put off her execution for long enough to find a way to kill him instead.  Shahrzad is, of course, good at pretty much everything.  Wall-climbing, witty banter, archery, all falls within her grasp (except swordplay, though she picks that up within the course of a few paragraphs, too).  These skills are all put to use in keeping herself alive--until she doesn't really need them to keep herself alive anymore because Khalid falls in love with her pretty early in the story and then she's not really in danger anymore.  There's still danger around, and intrigue, because she still doesn't know why he killed all those girls, but her own life isn't directly on the line which does tend to lower the tension a bit.  The story is bulked up by the introduction of Shahrzad's former love interest, Tariq, who vows to rescue her from Khalid's evil clutches, and the integration of magic into what was initially portrayed as a Ruritanian-type setting; you know, a fake kingdom, but this time in the Middle East instead of in Europe.

I think this book had a lot going for it.  There are some great kissing scenes, some scenes that blatantly allude to other stories (particularly Aladdin, which we are all, of course, more familiar with from the Disney adaptation than from the original Arabian Nights story, which is actually set in China), and the elements of Scheherazade that prove so problematic are adapted to make the whole story much more palatable, though it takes a while for them all to come out--for much of the book, I was going, "Okay, I get that part, but this whole thing is still not okay."  In the end, it's kind of a moral quandary, which I'm sure Ahdieh's going to tie up in a bow in the second book, The Rose and the Dagger (due out in May).  That said, I still had a few issues with this.

First, Shahrzad's clothes are a topic of constant discussion.  Now, I love pretty clothes as much as anyone and probably more than some, and I think discussions of pretty clothes have their place in books like this.  Clothes are used to shock and awe, and to bulk up a character's appearance to others or make a character appear like something they are not.  However, there are times in this book when Shahrzad's clothes have no bearing on what is happening and still are described at length; for example, there's a part where she's basically pacing in her room and Ahdieh spends several paragraphs describing her clothes and jewelry.  I thought, at first, that this was going to tie into the Bluebeard story integrated into the narrative, because Bluebeard's last wife (in some versions) wears a diamond necklace that falls into a pool of blood and therefore betrays her for doing something she was told not to do.  That didn't happen, and it left the whole outfit description thing pretty pointless.  I don't think these descriptions should have been cut entirely, but I think they could definitely have been narrowed down; we didn't need a day-by-day account of what she was wearing.  "She dressed and went to do blah-blah" could have easily fit in for "She dressed in this and that and the other, with a necklace made of and a belt of and bangles of..."  Do you get my point?

Second, I hated Shahrzad's handmaiden, the Greek girl who I despised so much that I have entirely blocked her name out of my mind.  (It's Despina, I think?  Maybe?)  She was supposed to be this complex side character with a personality and story of her own, which she was, but she was also this really terrible example of how stereotypes can come alive in books.  Despina is in Khalid's service as a slave, even though there's absolutely nothing slave-like about her, and she comes from Enlightened Greece which is apparently completely different from places like Khorasan where they still have things like slavery anyway!  Gasp!  And she's always saying things like "Hera help me" or whatever, which were annoying...her whole "Greek" thing was really stupid and made me really, really hate her.  I don't know why Greece even had to come into it other than as a way to introduce a "civilized" country where rulers don't chop off the heads of their wives every morning.

Third, there is a lot of waffling here.  I hate waffling unless it's done really, really well.  And there's a lot of refusing to tell people about important things for really stupid reasons, too.  "Tell her!" "I don't want to!" is about the gist of it.  Which, of course, leads to a lot of misunderstandings.  This is very much a book where communication is the key to all of the problems; the problems could have been worked out a lot sooner if the characters had just talked to each other.  Hell, the story could have been avoided entirely if Khalid had just talked to his people.  Granted, he probably would have been offed, but hey, you gotta do what you gotta do in order to preserve your kingdom, right?  And it ended with a lot of waffling in a really weird place.

There was some really lush storytelling here, in places, and some good handling of the original story's central problems for being a viable retelling/romance, but I think Ahdieh added in her own problems that kind of even the scales for it.  I'm still eager to read the second book, but I hope some of these problems are resolved in it.

3.5 stars out of 5.

Monday, March 7, 2016

The Luxe - Anna Godbersen (The Luxe #1)

The Luxe (Luxe, #1)Anna Godbersen's Luxe series is one that I started years ago, when I was still in high school and all the books hadn't been released yet.  I read the first three, but by the time the fourth one came out it wasn't on my radar anymore, and I consequently missed how the whole dramatic affair ends.  Because that's what this series is: a dramatic affair.  Basically, it's a soap opera for teenage girls set in 1899 and the first year or two of the 1900s, with New York high society playing all the leading parts.  It's definitely a drama more than a romance, because while there are romantic elements the real intrigue is all of the plotting and scheming and double-crossing the character do to each other.

Our main characters are four young ladies in their teenage years: Penelope Hayes, sisters Elizabeth and Diana Holland, and the Hollands' maid Lina Broud.  Penelope, Elizabeth, and Diana are all high society, while Lina is of the servant class and is left looking from the outside at all of their grand doings.  The story begins and ends with Elizabeth Holland's funeral, and the middle bits fill in all of the events leading up to it.  The Holland family, recently out of mourning for the late Mr. Holland, has been ruined by the mess of debts that Mr. Holland left behind.  Mrs. Holland informs Elizabeth that it's her duty to marry someone filthy rich in order to preserve the family.  This has a dual negative effect: the man Mrs. Holland has picked out is Henry Schoonmaker, who Elizabeth's best friend Penelope wants to marry (though she hasn't told Elizabeth this yet) and it also interferes with Elizabeth's own ongoing love affair with the family coachman, Will.  And Will is also the (unknowing) object of Lina's affections, and Lina hates Elizabeth because Will loves Elizabeth and not her!  Scandal!  Scandal all around!  And then, to add even more scandal, when Henry shows up in the Holland home, he and Diana become ridiculously attracted to each other!  Gasp!  Swoon!

Let me be clear: this is not a complicated book, nor a serious one, nor is it something that should be read for serious historical consideration.  This is basically what I imagine a turn-of-the-twentieth-century Gossip Girl would look like (though I have never read Gossip Girl; it just seems to give off that vibe).  It's something that's light and fluffy but filled with drama.  There are no real twists and nothing that's going to make you scratch your pretty little head in an attempt to understand it.  All of the characters are pretty much abysmal people in one way or the other, with the exception of Diana who is overall a very nice girl and is really too good to be mixed up in all of the dramatic back-stabbing and double-crossing surrounding her.  But--and this is key--it's pretty evident that they're all terrible people from the beginning.  There's no leading you on and then having one person slap someone with some terrible action.  Everything is very obvious which I think is important when you're writing terrible characters but you also want people to like your book, unless you're writing a mystery or thriller (which have more leeway in this department because TWISTS) which this is most definitively not.  If there is a real heroine of this series, it's her.  The writing is, consequentially, exactly what you'd expect from this type of book aimed at teenage girls.  It's nothing stellar, and at least in the e-book version there are some serious formatting issues with dialogue that can make it very hard to tell who's talking at some points; I can't remember if that's the case in the print version or not.  But I still think it's perfectly readable and enjoyable, and overall is exactly what it's meant to be.  I can't wait to finish this series and also start on Godbersen's other period series, which I expect to be filled with just as much drama as this.

Four stars out of five.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Fire and Hemlock - Diana Wynne Jones

Fire and HemlockDiana Wynne Jones used to be one of my favorite authors when I was younger, but for some reason I never actually read Fire and Hemlock or the Howl's Moving Castle books, which might arguably be her most famous due to the Miyazaki move that drew inspiration from, but was not a direct adaptation of, the first of the series.  Fire and Hemlock popped up on my radar fairly recently when I read a rather scathing review of Sarah J. Maas' A Court of Thorns and Roses, which is part Beauty and the Beast and part Tam Lin.  That reviewer (Nenia Campbell, the review is here) rather thought ACOTAR sucked, and recommended Fire and Hemlock as a Tam Lin retelling in its place.  I rather liked ACOTAR, but I've generally found books that Nenia recommends to be excellent, so when I saw this was available as an e-book from the library I was pretty excited.

While I think that this was a well-written book, with everything woven together very well, I would not recommend it for people looking for something similar to ACOTAR.  Fire and Hemlock is much more middle-grade than ACOTAR, which is very definitely young adult verging on adult.  Fire and Hemlock is set up differently, with Polly trying to figure out why she's suddenly realized she has two sets of memories and what she can do to fix it; much of the book is told in a sort of series of prolonged flashbacks, detailing Polly's "hidden" set of memories.  These heavily feature Mr. Lynn, who Polly ran into when she was ten and accidentally crashed a funeral.  Their lives got tied together then, and they kept associating with each other.  Polly developed feelings for Mr. Lynn which was a weird sort of dynamic because she was fifteen at the oldest when she saw him last, and he was an adult from the very beginning.  When she eventually figures out what happens, she goes off to fix it, of course, just as any proper young spunky heroine would.  This has a lot of cool fantasy elements to it, but it lacked the one thing I was really hoping to find (and, given Polly's age in the book, this is a good thing): romance.

Here's the thing: ACOTAR is sexy.  Fire and Hemlock is not.  This is, in reflection, a good thing, because a sexy element in Fire and Hemlock would be very Lolita-esque, which is super super weird and not okay.  That said, when the book opened with Polly being nineteen, I thought I was going to be in for a good romance, though not necessarily a steamy one like Maas'.  After all, Fire and Hemlock dates to 1985, and Wynne Jones never struck me as a particularly steamy writer to begin with.  But I thought there'd be something sweet here, and really, I was a bit befuddled by how the whole thing came together.  Because Polly's crush is apparently actually true love, and its reciprocated?  Again, the whole age thing just made this super weird for me, and I couldn't really enjoy it as much as I wanted to.  I think that, had Polly been older for the duration of the book, this would have worked much better for me even without a strongly-pronounced romantic element.  As it was, it just kind of creeped me out a bit.  Age-gap romances can have a lot going for them, but not really when one of the participants is ten.  Granted, the "romantic" element grows as Polly gets older (she doesn't fall head-over-heels for Lynn from the beginning) but she's still young enough that it's disconcerting.

Diana Wynne Jones is a fantastic author, and I definitely still intend to read the Howl's Moving Castle books, but Fire and Hemlock was not for me.  It had some really intriguing elements, like the dual sets of memories, but some of the things (like how Polly always knew what to do "by instinct") didn't convince me and the relationship aspect weirded me out far too much for me to really enjoy the book.  The last bit, when Polly was older, was much more comfortable than the majority of it when they were in the flashback phase.  It was just kind of icky, even though nothing icky actually happened.  I don't know.  It just didn't sit well with me.  I won't be reaching for this one again.

2 stars out of 5.