15 Day Blogger Challenge - Best Blog Posts

Friday, October 18, 2013

 I was late to know about this awesome challenge out together by Good Books and Good Wine, so when a friend wanted to start it late, I jumped it. There are several of us joining in - every Friday for 15 weeks, Christina of A Reader of Fictions, Lili of Lili's Reflections, Mickey of I'm A Book Shark and I will post our challenge answers. Stop by their blogs to see their answers!

I don't post a lot of "fun" discussions or ideas --- I mainly review, feature, and talk about what I've bought/received over the last few days. That said, there are a few reviews that I am rather proud of writing. I've said before that is painful and hard for me to read my own writing so these ones are rather special for me.

My review for Kinslayer --- aka Lotus War #2, aka One of My Favorite Books.


I am here to tell you that Kinslayer, book two in this Lotus War series, is even better. You want more death, destruction, struggle? You got it, in spades. The scale is bigger, the stakes are higher, and this is an author that can, and does, improve on his already-impressive first book. If you liked what Kristoff had to offer in Stormdancer - chainsaw katanas, a fresh and inventive take on steampunk technology, an incredibly well-drawn world, betrayals, secrets, conspiracies, rebellion, action aplenty - then you'll love what he serves up for round two. The Lotus War is a story told on a grand scale and one that doesn't shy away from making readers flinch.
While in book one we were told, "the lotus must bloom", now the rebels have modified it to the more ominous, "the lotus must burn." This is a darker book. The lines have clearly been drawn and a civil war is on the brink. Yukiko wrestles with her role, with what she has done, and with what she will do. People die. People you like will die. People you like will surprise you -- and not always in a good way. The risks that Jay Kristoff takes with his plotting and characters more than pay off. He creates suspense with ease as well a genuine fear that no one -- and nothing -- is truly safe with Shima on the brink. He writes with a clear eye for the visual and a lot of the action scenes read cinematically. The detail is dense, the worldbuilding intricate and complete, and it all serves to create an Empire that feels dangerously real and frighteningly familiar.

My review for Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow by Juliet Grey -- aka the review that was quoted in another book.


Another solidly impressive journey into the life of Marie Antoinette, Grey again proves, with her second novel in a planned trilogy, that she is a skilled writer, able to evoke time, place, and characters with equal vivacity.  Beginning two weeks after the first novel, Becoming Marie Antoinette, ended, Grey immediately relaunches herself and the reader into an opulent, turbulent world with her title character more prominent than ever in French society. In this detailed, rich novel, full of eye-popping descriptions of everything from le Petite Trianon to the poufs that adorn Marie's head, both the narrative and the letters from the Queen to her family at home in Austria all serve to form a comprehensive picture of life in Louis XIV's France. Formerly the Dauphine, transitioning now into the role of the Queen of France, Marie finds herself with prestige, but little actual power. Iconic, but politically impotent, bereft of the love and attention she desperately craves, Grey provides ample reasons (that actually work!) for the reasons behind the monarch's spendthrift ways. Much like the evolution she underwent in the first book, this well-rendered version of Marie Antoinette is far from stagnant, but makes choices, for good or ill, that will drastically affect the people and country she governs. 
The Marie so carefully cultivated by the author is much more than the villianess that most of history remembers her as. Spoiled, yes. A glutton for fine things? Yes. But evil, intent on harming the common folk and abusing them? No. The vivid woman shown here in Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow is a more mature, more intelligent version of the girl she used to be and Grey takes care to paint her protagonist as realistically as possible. For all that Queen Marie is remembered and vilified as a one-sided caricature of vice, selfishness, and greed, Grey shows a multitude of other facets of her personality. Kind, lonely, funny, maternal, the author is deft in her portrayal in all the facets of this fascinating woman from the good to the bad. Her Marie Antoinette is always not wholly sympathetic ("For what is money, with happiness at stake?"), but she is often understandable in her opinions and attitudes. With her well-meaning but often oblivious husband Louis balancing an already-taxed treasury with the wants, demands, and rights of the people he rules by divine right, Marie and her coterie of noble ladies find themselves skewered by cartoonists, and resented for the life of grand palaces and sumptuous gowns they use once and discard, despite the Queen's good intentions.

My review for Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas -- aka the Glass Throne #2, aka Chaol-Time


I wasn't expecting to have such an emotional, visceral reaction to this book. I readily admit that I went into it with a lot of trepidation. Though there were things I enjoyed from Throne of Glass (Chaol, strong female characters, hints of magic, Chaol), there was a lot of room for improvement as well. Celaena herself was a bit of trope, she didn't assassinate nearly enough people to back up her incredible arrogance, the mystery tied into the plot was overt and way too obvious, and don't even get me started on the love triangle. But, here in the series' second outing, almost none of those issues reappear. Maas has grown into a much more deft and subtle author; I understand and can empathize with her characters better; Celaena's romantic life is an important facet of the story but not a main focus.

Crown of Midnight may not be technically perfect. I can see some of the technical issues others will have, but my rating is 4 stars for the writing, plot, characters and another star for how much I was engrossed and captivated by the entire novel. This book left me feeling so very many things. Vindication because I called it - a big reveal. Despair because Maas whiplashed me from joy to despair so many times in just 440 pages. Anxiety because I don't have a sequel in my hands waiting to be read. Excitement because Celaena kicks so much more ass in this installment. Hope because I refuse to give up. Envy because this book is so good and I know I will never write like this. Worry because I absolutely can't predict where the story will go from here.

My review for The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker


The Golem and the Jinni is an usual, original and creative fantasy. Unlike most fantasy stories, which feature human protagonists in strange and magical worlds, Helene Wecker's debut has two strange and magical beings exploring the human world in 1900's New York. Both "Chava" - the golem - and "Ahmad" - the Jinni -  find themselves adrift and purposeless in a world they're utterly unprepared for; one full of wants and needs and pressures they are completely unfamiliar with and struggle to deal with as hiding their true nature takes its toll. Each character's experience with the human condition are unique; Chava is newmade, a person literally without a history. Ahmad, with hundreds of years of life behind him and centuries more to come, has incalculable history and experience. Chava is modest, considerate, and always aware of the damage she could wreak. Ahmad is again her opposite - utterly unconcerned with the personal impact he has on mortals that cross his path. Despite their obvious and numerous differences, the two supernatural creatures are drawn together and form a friendship that bolsters their morale.
The relationship between Ahmad and Chava is a complex, and one that evolves later in the story, though it is pivotal to both their lives and the plot that Wecker has so subtly woven around them. Though they each encounter a different spectrum of experience as they try to make their way in a large, industrial city, their respective struggles for recognition and a purpose are much the same. Forced to lie, pretend, and hide their natural impulses with nearly everyone else, in each other the golem and the Jinni find a confidant; someone who knows the truth of them and does not flinch, abuse them for power, or flee in terror. They really, truly need one another - their relationship is authentic and real, because only with the other can they truly be themselves. I really enjoyed the depth of their relationship - by no means is it an easy and perfect connection. Chava struggles with her nature and what she needs in life to feel complete, and Ahmad struggles with the limited abilities of his forced form. They bicker, fight, and argue between themselves about how to live as supernaturals in a natural world. Their experiences and struggles fully showcase how frightening it would be to find yourself overwhelmed by circumstances and to have to live without control over your destiny.
Both subtly magical, and mythical, The Golem and the Jinni excels at crafting a wide array of characters, as well as showcasing 19th century New York. The occasional flashbacks, though not as common as I'd hoped, were excellent additions to the current story and illustrated Ahmad's tumultuous past in the deserts of ancient Syria. The hints of culture and history that are integrated into the lives of the people around them (Ahmad is taken in by a Syrian metalsmith, and Chava by a Jewish Rabbi) are both woven into the story, and each culture shapes the creatures in their current life. Though the Golem and the Jinni focuses closely on the eponymous pair, the larger cast shown around them is a lively and three-dimensional bunch. I can't think of two more different cultures than Syrian and Polish Jews, but Wecker intertwines the two seamlessly.

My review for The Chaos of Stars by Kiersten White -- because while the book was a disappointment, writing this review was fun.


The Accused: The Chaos of Stars' cast, writing, plotting
The Offense(s): Criminal waste of time, cover fraud, squandering a great premise, using cliches and juvenile writing
The Prosecution: Jessie, a disappointed reader
Opening Argument: Ladies and gentleman, I present to you a blurb that promises Egyptian gods, a creative new take for young adult supernatural fiction, and an interesting plot. The Chaos of Stars delivers Egyptian gods, sure -- but shallow, lifeless representations of them. Instead of a new, fresh plot, the same old tropes and themes are trotted out to the reader's exasperation. It is a boring affair - full of instalove, a cheesy romance, and lackluster execution.
Exhibit A: Isadora's lack of personality. Surliness and self-absorption do not a character make. She doesn't even qualify for antihero status. She's boring, she's immature, judgmental, and impossible to care about. If it doesn't directly concern Isadora herself, she is uninterested. It's hard to stomach such a badly-written character.
Exhibit B: The Chaos of Stars uses the same theme so many other young adult novels fall prey too - magical girl, who is beyond gorgeous (of course) must wrestle with familial expectations while trying to figure out what she wants from life. If you're going to use the Egyptian gods as your main characters, make use of them. Don't make them fade into the background until it's too late.
Exhibit C: The writing. It's juvenile. It's unpolished.  There's no subtlety, no depth or any real emotion evoked in the nearly 300 pages of the book. You can skim the last 50ish pages and miss nothing. That is not good. There should be ethos, pathos, building tension, a dramatic conflict. There is sadly none of that to be found here.
Exhibit D: The plot. Where was it for most of the book? Your guess is as good as mine and I read the damn thing. For the most part, White focuses on a romance with an impossibly gorgeous Greek boy who is more than he seems to be (think about that for more than two minutes and you will have figured out a twist.) and who is in love with Isadora because...well... who knows.
Closing Argument: I was disappointed by this book from the beginning. For so much potential, the premise is neglected and the execution is lackluster. The characters are one-dimensional AND unlikeable or wooden, and the conclusion lacks emotion.
Verdict: Do not waste your time. It's not worth it, and you're honestly not missing anything by skipping this. Don't be lured in by that cover, or the promise of something original. There's none of that to be found in The Chaos of Stars.

And, just for fun -- 

My Top Five Most Popular Posts (in terms of hits/views): 

(I do not want to speculate on what search terms lead people to this post)

(written by Danielle so therefore and obviously fantastic)

(inexplicably popular)

(again, no idea why this is so often read)

1 comment:

  1. My oldest hated The Chaos of Stars. Like chuck the book across the room hated it.


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