BOOK REVIEW: The Graces, by Laure Eve

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BOOK REVIEW: The Graces, by Laure EveTitle: The Graces by Laure Eve
Series: The Graces #1
Published by Amulet Books
Published: September 6th 2016
Genres: Young Adult
Pages: 352
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

It was a stupid, pointless thing, anyway, to try and make people love you. Everyone was alone. We were bone alone and we died alone. Whatever we did in between was nothing but a series of attempts to stave off the darkness we knew was always waiting for us.

Laure Eve’s The Graces will appeal to a younger set of YA readers. I think I was a bit too old to find most of this novel entirely believable, but it’s supposed to be, in a way, a little out there and a little fantastic. River meets a family (the Graces) in her new town and, after hearing the rumors about them, decides (obsessively) that she wants to get to know them. After getting to know Summer, River becomes obsessed with trying to be one of the Graces.

I don’t often read much contemporary YA, mostly because I find myself unable to relate to many of the high school situations, hierarchies, and dramas because I was homeschooled, and this is probably one of the reasons why I failed to really connect with the novel. The characters often are too flat or too melodramatic. It tries to be “edgy” without much depth. But that might be because we’re seeing it through River, the “edgy,” melodramatic teen girl obsessed with the Graces, rumored to be witches, and Fenrin Grace, the boy everyone wants.

As the novel unfolds, we learn that River’s obsessions and behavior have severe consequences in her past and present, and she ultimately has to face what she does. Some of the ideas I liked in this novel were that there is something to be said for intention and that there needs to be truth in that intention and that bisexuality (while not named directly) is brought up and treated relatively well in a YA novel by the younger set of characters.

The Graces reads almost like a melodramatic eighties teen film but with more melodrama, if that is even plausible because let’s be real. Teen films from the eighties were sometimes over the top. It wants to be Heathers with witches but it fails to meet the Gothic complexities it wants to have. But The Graces is fast-paced and easy to read and will appeal to readers who enjoy a high school drama with a taste of the paranormal.

This book was provided to me by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Smoke, by Dan Vyleta

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BOOK REVIEW: Smoke, by Dan VyletaTitle: Smoke: A Novel by Dan Vyleta
Published by Doubleday
Published: May 24th 2016
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 448
Format: eBook
Source: Edelweiss
Goodreads

England. A century ago, give or take a few years.
An England where people who are wicked in thought or deed are marked by the Smoke that pours forth from their bodies, a sign of their fallen state. The aristocracy do not smoke, proof of their virtue and right to rule, while the lower classes are drenched in sin and soot. An England utterly strange and utterly real. An elite boarding school where the sons of the wealthy are groomed to take power as their birthright. Teachers with mysterious ties to warring political factions at the highest levels of government. Three young people who learn everything they’ve been taught is a lie—knowledge that could cost them their lives. A grand estate where secrets lurk in attic rooms and hidden laboratories. A love triangle. A desperate chase. Revolutionaries and secret police. Religious fanatics and coldhearted scientists. Murder. A London filled with danger and wonder. A tortured relationship between a mother and a daughter, and a mother and a son. Unexpected villains and unexpected heroes. Cool reason versus passion. Rich versus poor. Right versus wrong, though which is which isn’t clear.

Dan Vyleta’s Smoke is what you would get if you crossed Henry James with Philip Pullman and is set it in some post-apocalyptic Victorian-ish England in which Smoke is the manifestation of humanity’s emotional existence – the soul, the spirit, some other sublime aspect of ourselves. London itself is a cesspit of Smoke and Soot, running rampant with all sorts of behavior. There is a lot of interplay with levels of class, with the ideas of right and wrong, and with adhering to social expectations of propriety or letting go and running with base emotions.

Smoke is never fully defined with no origin story or full resolution by the end. Readers looking for a solid beginning and end will not find that here. Smoke is something that came into existence a few hundred years before this story began, and society’s leaders rewrote history to include the existence of Smoke as if it has always existed. The upper class are allowed to rule and govern because they are pure and restrained, while the lower class must rot in Soot and Smoke. But it’s discovered that the upper class, especially the ones who control the power with money and influence, have ways in which to control the Smoke through special candies developed to absorb all release of the body’s Smoke. Conversely, the upper class have devised a cigarette in which one can enjoy the pleasures of Smoke without entirely being consumed by it (at great expense, of course).

Three school-aged people – Thomas, Charlie, and Livia – discover the lies in which their society lives and go to great lengths to find some kind of resolution. It might seem a bit anticlimactic to those who are unfamiliar with British literature and/or culture or the Gothic genre, but it is quite liberating if one is on the side of the young ones. Embracing the Smoke, ultimately embracing emotion (passion, anger, yearning, courage, etc.), is where one finds personal freedom.

I should add that the description advertises a love triangle. Without any spoilers, it’s the first time I’ve been wholly pleased with the outcome of that love triangle at the end. Writers, take note.

Vyleta’s immensely detailed descriptions evoked that style of Henry James, the social commentary reminded me a bit of Dickens, and the use of the elements and religious tyranny with children discovering the truth reminded me of Pullman. Stir in a pinch of Collins, a dash of Doyle, and a handful of soot, and you’ve got Smoke. It’s one of the best books I’ve read all year.

Thanks to Edelweiss for the review copy!

BOOK REVIEW: Passenger, by Alexandra Bracken

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BOOK REVIEW: Passenger, by Alexandra BrackenTitle: Passenger by Alexandra Bracken
Series: Passenger #1
Published by Disney-Hyperion
Published: January 5th, 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Pages: 486
Format: eBook, Hardcover
Source: Netgalley, Library
Goodreads

Passage, n.i. A brief section of music composed of a series of notes and flourishes.ii. A journey by water; a voyage.iii. The transition from one place to another, across space and time.

In one devastating night, violin prodigy Etta Spencer loses everything she knows and loves. Thrust into an unfamiliar world by a stranger with a dangerous agenda, Etta is certain of only one thing: she has traveled not just miles but years from home. And she’s inherited a legacy she knows nothing about from a family whose existence she’s never heard of. Until now.

Nicholas Carter is content with his life at sea, free from the Ironwoods—a powerful family in the colonies—and the servitude he’s known at their hands. But with the arrival of an unusual passenger on his ship comes the insistent pull of the past that he can’t escape and the family that won’t let him go so easily. Now the Ironwoods are searching for a stolen object of untold value, one they believe only Etta, Nicholas’ passenger, can find. In order to protect her, he must ensure she brings it back to them— whether she wants to or not.

Together, Etta and Nicholas embark on a perilous journey across centuries and continents, piecing together clues left behind by the traveler who will do anything to keep the object out of the Ironwoods’ grasp. But as they get closer to the truth of their search, and the deadly game the Ironwoods are play­ing, treacherous forces threaten to sep­arate Etta not only from Nicholas but from her path home . . . forever.

We protect ourselves by playing the roles fit for the year we’re in.

Let’s just get this out of the way: I love time travel novels. I’m a huge sucker for them, and I always have been. Had this been released when about ten or fifteen years ago when I was at the age to which this is marketed (god, I’M SO OLD), I would have been all over this and would have given it a thousand and one stars. It still gets a solid rating from me, which comes as a positive thing after reading so many disappointing novels lately.

Etta, on the night of her big violin performance, is transported back in time onto a ship captained by Nicholas, a black pirate of sorts. Obviously there’s a romance brewing between the two, and even though it felt a little forced sometimes, I’m hoping it develops more in the next novel. It wasn’t necessarily an instant romance sort of thing, but the relationship seemed to progress quickly over a span of pages (even if those pages spanned several days). The romance progression felt typical for a YA novel, and that’s completely all right by me!

What I enjoyed most was the commentary on society then and now. Sophia, the other female time traveler whose original time is in the 1920s, says this really amazing thing to Etta about a hundred pages in:

So cling to your rights, your beliefs, your future – but know that none of them will help you here. You haven’t been forced to survive in the same way as the centuries of women who came before you. You know nothing of the impossibly small weapons we must use to carve out knowledge and power.

If I had read that ages ago, I think I would have shifted my thinking much earlier than it did, so I’m really pleased that Bracken is bringing to light the difficulties women have been facing for centuries to a young, modern audience. Not that her audience isn’t aware of it, but I’ve noticed lately in the classes I teach that some of the young women believe that they’ve always had the rights and advantages they have now, and I have to explain to them that within the last thirty or forty years we’ve progressed so much and that we still have so much to work for.

This is a super enjoyable romance-y time travel (with some logic!) novel that’s sure to appeal to fans of Sarah J. Maas, Susan Dennard, and Marissa Meyer.

I received a copy from Netgalley for my honest review.

BOOK REVIEW: 2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas, by Marie Helene Bertino

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BOOK REVIEW: 2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas, by Marie Helene BertinoTitle: 2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino
Published by Broadway Books
Published: October 27th 2015
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 288
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Blogging for Books
Goodreads

An enchanting and staggeringly original debut novel about one day in the lives of three unforgettable characters  Madeleine Altimari is a smart-mouthed, rebellious nine-year-old who also happens to be an aspiring jazz singer. Still mourning the recent death of her mother, and caring for her grief-stricken father, she doesn’t realize that on the eve of Christmas Eve she is about to have the most extraordinary day—and night—of her life. After bravely facing down mean-spirited classmates and rejection at school, Madeleine doggedly searches for Philadelphia's legendary jazz club The Cat's Pajamas, where she’s determined to make her on-stage debut. On the same day, her fifth grade teacher Sarina Greene, who’s just moved back to Philly after a divorce, is nervously looking forward to a dinner party that will reunite her with an old high school crush, afraid to hope that sparks might fly again. And across town at The Cat's Pajamas, club owner Lorca discovers that his beloved haunt may have to close forever, unless someone can find a way to quickly raise the $30,000 that would save it.   As these three lost souls search for love, music and hope on the snow-covered streets of Philadelphia, together they will discover life’s endless possibilities over the course of one magical night. A vivacious, charming and moving debut, 2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas will capture your heart and have you laughing out loud.

If you are anything other than humbled in the presence of love, you are not in the presence of love.

Marie-Helene Bertino’s writing is incredibly fresh and free-flowing, almost like jazz itself. It feels timeless it the sense that this story could have happened in the fifties or sixties or in contemporary times. There are very few details that suggest that this novel happens in the 2010s (I think there is only one mention of a touch screen phone). Because of that timelessness, the novel reads like a dream sequence. It’s effective and transporting.

This novel takes place over the span of a single day, from seven in the morning of Christmas Eve eve to seven in the morning of Christmas Eve. It follows a handful of interconnected characters, but it seemed to lack a deeper focus in characterization. When it ended, I wanted to know more about who these characters are and what happens in the coming year. I wanted to read more about Madeleine, the nine year old girl who doesn’t take shit from anybody. I’d really like to read about who she becomes when she grows up, because I think it would be a fascinating companion piece.

Overall, I enjoyed it. It’s a great novel about what happens between ends and new beginnings, and sometimes that’s exactly the novel we need to read.

A copy of this book was provided for review by Blogging For Books. All opinions are my own.

A Lyrical Reimagining; Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time

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A Lyrical Reimagining; Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap of TimeTitle: The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson
Series: Hogarth Shakespeare #1
Published by Hogarth
Published: October 6th 2015
Genres: Fiction, Retellings
Pages: 273
Format: Hardcover
Source: Blogging for Books
Goodreads

Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time is a modern reimagining of William Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale. None of the names or situations in Winterson’s novel reflect those from Shakespeare’s play, but thematically it felt very Shakespeare. I remember reading A Winter’s Tale forever ago in my Shakespeare course in undergrad. What I remember  from that reading of the play are themes of family and jealousy, and those themes are heavily prevalent in Winterson’s reimagining.

While at times I thought the story felt a little too contrived, I recalled that Shakespeare’s plays feel the same way sometimes too. They’re constructed to explore a certain aspect of humanity, and that construction must be tight enough for a staged production with a wide audience. Some suspension of belief must be used. Everything in Shakespeare’s plays happen for a reason, and I think Winterson worked with that well. It’s also incredibly poetic and felt like I was reading an amazing dream.

I read this in a single day. Something about it was so engaging that I literally could not put it down. I like that; Shakespeare’s plays can be read in one sitting.

Hogarth, a division of Penguin Random House, is publishing a series of books (The Hogarth Shakespeare) written by critically acclaimed authors reimagining and reinventing Shakespeare’s famous plays. Winterson’s The Gap of Time is the first. Coming in 2016 are Howard Jacobson’s The Merchant of Venice, Anne Tyler’s The Taming of the Shrew, and Margaret Atwood’s The Tempest. I am so looking forward to Margaret Atwood’s! You can read more about the series and the other authors participating at Vintage’s website!

This book was provided to me by Blogging for Books for review. All opinions are my own.