Back again for more reviews on my Reading Challenge!
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir.
I'd seen so much hype about this book. I'd read the raving reviews and when my library ordered it, I made sure to be one of the first to get my hands on a copy.
Unfortunately, I was just so bored with this book.
I still remember the day I sat down and told myself, in a very stern voice, that I was going to read at least three quarters of it before finally putting it down. And for the first few chapters it seemed interesting enough and I had faith that it would eventually pick up in terms of pace and characters. But it really didn't, it just kept on with pointless parts to the story and characters with zero emotional impact. There was a terrible, truly terrible storm the day I was reading this book, and my power went out for 5 hours and it was sweltering and uncomfortable in my home and I was reading this book at the same time. Still, when I finally put the book down and chose something else to read, I realized it wasn't the conditions I was in that made this book so difficult, it was just the book itself.
The book follows Laia and Elias, who are both a part of the Martial Empire, a world that takes its inspiration from ancient Rome. Both are at the Empire's greatest military academy, Elias as a student, and Laia as a servant with the intent on spying for the rebels who want to take on the Empire. Laia has agreed to be a spy in exchange for help from the rebels in rescuing her brother. Elias is one of the greatest students at the academy but he's starting to question his world.
And they were both so boring. Laia made dumb decisions that got her into situations that meant Elias had to rescue her. Elias caught one glimpse of Laia and couldn't get her out of his head. He also never came right out and said that he disagreed with the way the Empire runs things and he seemed pretty oblivious to facts about his best friend. I understand that given Laia's background, she wasn't going to be all super spy awesome but sometimes I wondered if she had any inkling of self-preservation considering the conflicts she found herself in. What it all comes down to is that this book was like every other YA release, with a pair of special characters who happen to be different from the rest of their peers and who end up working together to change the world, except there was no real emotion for me to this book. I felt like it dragged and I'm not interested in reading the next one.
Rating: 3 Stars
Mary: The Summoning by Hillary Monahan.
What's that? A book about Bloody Mary? Sign me up.
What's that? This book featured terrible, stupid characters? Well, I wish someone had told me that before I started reading this.
I stumbled across this book and decided to give it a shot. I do love urban legends and I liked the idea of an author trying to flesh out the story, giving it an origin and then giving it a modern setting to give the reader new thrills. While the parts with Bloody Mary seemed interesting enough, I couldn't get over the truth about how terribly disgusting and disappointing the characters were.
The story follows Shauna, whose best friend Jess has done extensive research and has convinced Shauna, and their friends Kitty and Anna, to help Jess summon Mary in a mirror. Jess knows all the right parts to make the ritual work and she wants her friends to help her. So they do as she asks, they have the mirror in a dark room, a candle, salt and the four them holding hands and it works, Mary appears in the mirror. But Jess is obsessed and she gets her friends to do the summoning ritual again. Except one time they summon Mary and it goes wrong, their circle breaks and Mary comes through, determined to pick the girls off one by one. Shauna has to work with her friends to figure out what happened to the real Mary, once known as Mary Worth, and how she came to be what they see coming after them, the bloodthirsty spirit hellbent on revenge.
All of that sounds all well and good but the fact of the matter is that when all is said and done, Shauna, Anna and Kitty eventually figure out the truths to Jess, what she's been hiding from them and why she's obsessed with Mary Worth, and it's not good. Jess is a despicable character, a sociopath in the making. She's willing to sacrifice anyone to get what she wants and she feels no remorse or regret for the harm that comes to her friends. I was disgusted by her actions again and again but I eventually came to expect it from her. There was nothing too horrible for Jess in the end and I came to accept that. What I couldn't accept was Shauna forgiving her friend for her terrible actions. I've seen this in another book, The Creeping by Alexandra Sirowy, which had another pair of supposed best friends locked in toxic relationship. I can see similiarities between Shauna and Jess compared to Stella and Zoey in The Creeping. Both of these books feature a lead who lets her best friend walk all over her. Although, to be fair, Jess proves to be the worst of both books as her actions get others close to death.
Honestly readers, I hope it's not common to let these types of situations develop in real life. Just because you grow up with a friend, and you remember them as the cherubic little kid they were that made you want to be their friend in the first place, it doesn't mean you get to ignore their newfound tendency to let harm fall to others. If your best friend seems to be okay with letting others die just to get what they want, you need to get away from them before you become the next victim. Every time I see this in a book, I'm left wondering at the lead character's stupidity instead of paying attention to the main plot. There's a second book to this series. I don't care enough to try reading it.
Rating: 1.5 Stars
Heart's Blood by Juliet Marillier.
I love me some Beauty and the Beast and I was determined to read this when I found out it was based on my favorite fairytale.
Caitrin has fled from her home, hoping to find a safe haven, and has arrived at Whistling Tor, where Anulan and his people live with a curse over them, their home crumbling and forces living in the woods around them. Caitrin works to find a place for herself and to solve the mystery of the curse that has affected Anulan's family for generations before it claims the rest of Whistling Tor for itself.
What made this book stand out from other Beauty and the Beast inspired stories was the curse and the background that Marillier set up for her story. The curse made this book incredibly tragic and moving, opening the door for great emotional impact. The details of the curse and who it affects made for poignant storylines and sympathetic characters. I cared for everyone in this book and wished for them to get the best that they deserved. I thought Caitrin was intelligent and I loved how much she wanted to help Anulan and his people, her determination to save them and solve the mystery of the curse because she could empathize with their pain.
The romance was subtle, and because of the fairytale the story is based on, of course it had a bit of romance, but the majority of the story didn't depend on that development. As a result, when the romance started to creep up and take shape, it felt realistic and it made me smile. It wasn't overwrought and it didn't stick out like a sore thumb compared to the rest of the story's developing shape. It all worked, from the supernatural elements to the last stand fight to save Whistling Tor. This book made me determined to read Marillier's other works, specifically her Sevenwaters Trilogy, starting with Daughter of the Forest. I have high hopes for it to be spectacular.
Rating: 9.5 Stars
Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley.
I wanted to love this. I read so many rave reviews and I was exepcting to be wowed by this release. Instead, I was left wondering about Aza Ray's intelligence because I figured things out ages before she ever did, IF she ever did, that is.
The book is about a girl named Aza Ray, who suffers from a mysterious lung disease that none of her doctors understand, a disease that makes it difficult for her to breathe year after year. Aza Ray is quite literally drowning on dry land, and she lives her life knowing that the end is near. One day she sees a ship in the sky, something no one else sees, and while her family doesn't believe her, Aza Ray is sure that someone on that ship is looking for her. It turns out that above the clouds is a world called Magonia, where the people live on ships and where Aza Ray really belongs. She learns where she's from and what she can do before realizing that while she can finally breathe and live, Magonia and Earth are about to collide in ways that Aza Ray can hopefully prevent before it's too late.
Parts of this book were really wonderful, the ideas about the world of Magonia and the people that live on ships that sail the skies. But that was it for what I liked about this book. I have notes somewhere, which have since been lost in boxes during our move, where I kept questioning Aza Ray's ability to put 2 and 2 together. The way I understood the writing, it was in first-person, meaning there were a bunch of Is and mys in the wording. Everything was I this or my that, so it had to be from Aza Ray's own mind. And yet Aza Ray didn't seem to understand what was going on around her.
For instance, when she first wakes up on the ship in Magonia, she overhears a conversation as she comes in and out of sleep. What she hears seemed important to the story and necessary for the reader to pay attention to, in the sense that the two speakers are questioning Aza Ray's connection to her best friend Jason and what it means for her as a member of Magonia. And yet, when that little tidbit comes up again in the story, in a conversation between Aza Ray and one of the original speakers of that conversation, she takes that person at their word that she has a connection with this other character and not Jason after all. Actually, Jason isn't mentioned; I'm only repeating it because that was the connection that I, as a reader, understood, and what I questioned about the whole exchange. What was the point of Aza Ray overhearing the conversation if she wasn't going to take that information in and use it to question the motivations of the people around her? Also, why is Aza Ray going to believe some guy she just met when he says they share a special "connection" that means big things in their world without questioning it just a little? I thought she was strong and tough and could think for herself? Instead, she let some guy tell her a "truth" and that was it.
This happens again later in the book. Aza Ray and the young man with a "connection" to her are watching as the Captain of the ship, Aza Ray's mother, captures another Magonian and ties her up. Said character starts going on and on about what is really going on in the story, what the Captain's true motivations are, what the real conflict is going to be. The character reveals EVERYTHING and Aza Ray says nothing about what she hears. I went back and forth through those pages, trying to see if maybe she'd been hit in the head and it affected her hearing, or maybe she was distracted, but again, FIRST PERSON NARRATION means that Aza Ray has to be there to hear the dialogue and relate it to the reader for her story. So fine, I sat with that stewing in my mind and waited for Aza Ray to spring her trap and stop things before the conflict hit and instead I got Aza Ray standing flabbergasted when the villains showed their real colors and Aza Ray couldn't understand what was going on.
Did I miss something? How does that even make sense!? She heard the whole conversation! Yet somehow, she was still blind-sided in the end when the truth comes out. I wanted to drag Aza Ray by the ear back to the pages where the captured character revealed everything and demand that she tell how she could be so dense that she didn't hear the truth nearly 100 pages before the conflict hit the high point and Aza Ray had to save everything.
And that was it for me. I could forgive Aza Ray missing that small thing about the connections between Magonians or whatever that storyline was but I can't forgive her for being so dumb that she didn't hear the truth when it first came out and before it made her look like a big idiot. It was ridiculous and a big oversight in the writing. If she'd questioned it a bit during the book, I could have accepted it, but she never mentioned those facts again after she heard them. I just don't understand how that even works which results in me looking at this book with a scowl on my face every time I see it. I'm not interested in reading the next book and seeing more of how naive and gullible Aza Ray really is and how everyone around her takes advantage of that. It's just not my cup of tea.
Rating: 1 Star
Back soon with more reviews!