“And I Darken” by Kiersten White

I picked up “And I Darken” thinking it was fantasy. Much to my surprise, it turned out to be more historical fiction. This turned out to be pretty sweet.

This epic novel was inspired strongly by Ottoman and Romanian History, which fascinates me since my education neglected these countries and time periods. However, where the novel really shines are the characters.

The three powerhouse characters are:

1) Lada, the Wallachian ruler’s daughter. She is fierce and vicious, angry and cruel. Strongly independent, she bows for no one – especially men. Sometimes her unlikeable personality made her a difficult character to read about. However, she is placed in difficult circumstances when her family is forced to flee her country. Her father leaves her brother and her in Edirne with the Sultan, as agreement to support the Ottoman Empire. This somewhat excuses her dreadful behaviour. Also, she grows on you.

2) Radu, Lada’s younger brother. He is the most likeable of all the characters. Gentle and empathetic, he always thinks about other people over himself. He is a perfect foil to his violent sister. Although sometimes his softness also drove me crazy, since occasionally his failure to stick up for himself or say what he wants got on my nerves.

3) Mehmed, the third and least favourite son of the Sultan. He values friendship and loyalty, and often has to make difficult choices about who to trust and how to act. His personality really comes out when he interacts with either Lada or Radu. Without them, he is aloof and distant and barely has any personality at all.

These three characters drive the plot. There are some turbulent romantic moments that shine through the brutal betrayals and back stabbing and wars. The religious dialogue is fascinating, but it always comes back to these three. How they interact. How their views contrast. Whether they will support each other or come to blows.

In terms of writing style, the chapters and sentences are short, direct, and clear. Even though the book is fairly large, the pacing is fast.

I’m very much looking forward to reading the next in the series.

 

 

“Alex and Eliza” by Melissa de la Cruz

Love stories are universal. Everyone at some fundamental level wants to love and be loved. Novels about love and romance are somehow the most human and the most hopeful.

Unsurprisingly, I love a good romance – one that has you desperately hoping for the couple to get together the entire way. There has to be a first meeting full of such chemistry that you are swooning and later a list of painful obstacles that the couple has to overcome with each obstacle more impossible than the last. If only, you think, if only.

Which brings me to “Alex and Eliza.”

I loved it. It’s a historical fiction set in the good old USA – mostly Albany, New York and Morristown, New Jersey – from 1777-1780. Even though the setting takes place during the American Revolution, the times definitely have a Jane Austen like feel of propriety. It’s been awhile since I took a history class, and even then I definitely had more of a Canadian focus in school. However, you don’t have to remember your history to enjoy this novel.

The star really is the romance. And this story definitely isn’t as prudish as Jane Austen. Thank god. Haha.

Eliza is a strong, intelligent, patriotic young woman. She is dedicated to the revolution and her old money family. Alex is a handsome, proud, and literary. He has no family and is a self-made man. Since they are of different classes, however will they marry?

(And trust me, once you meet the characters, you’ll want them to marry.)

Of course, Alex and Eliza don’t hit it off right away. Alex reluctantly shows up at Eliza’s family party to inform her father he must appear in court. Not exactly the best foot to set off on.

However, when Eliza visits her Aunt in New Jersey and delivers the small pox vaccine Alex’s army encampment, things become more interesting. The obstacles the couple encounters are untimely and challenging and definitely transform this romance into a page turner.

Will they prevail and end up together? Or will their romance never come to fruition?

Read “Alex and Eliza” to have all the feels!

 

“City of Bones” by Cassandra Clare

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve listened to Cassandra Clare’s “City of Bones” audio book three times in the past three months as I fall asleep. I’ve also awoken in the middle of the night to a scream of “JAYCE!” with the headphones still dangling from my ears. This doesn’t mean I find the book so boring that it puts me to sleep. Nothing could be farther from the case!

And the reviews on Goodreads seem to agree with me. People just can’t put this book down. I recommended it to someone a while ago, and she still can’t take it out of the public library because the demand is so high – and this book was written in 2007 peeps! That’s some serious staying power.

Although, I’ve read some scathing reviews on Goodreads about this book too. Anything from Clary being a Mary Sue character to “City of Bones” being a blatant Harry Potter rip off to the similes being too frequent. The truth is: I don’t care.

“City of Bones” works. It works so well that I am willing to listen to it time after time again. And that is testament to something that is pretty kick-ass.

So why is “City of Bones” so awesome?

This, my friends, is why:

1) The characters. You walk away from “City of Bones” thinking something along the lines of “why is Simon so annoying?” “Will Jayce and Clary ever end up together?” “Why can’t Alec just accept that he is gay and Jayce is straight?” “Could Jayce be gay? That’d be kinda hot.” “I wish I could be as badass as Isabel.” “Why isn’t Clary as badass as Isabel? Girl, get with the Shadowhunter program!!!”

2) The relationships. You become seriously invested in who ends up with who, and the betrayals, man. The betrayals.

3) The setting. Urban fantasy works on so many levels, because wouldn’t it be nice if this world right now contained magic and demons and warlocks and shadowhunters and possibilities? The reader sees themselves in Clary’s world right away. Urban fantasy takes “what if” to a level grounded in reality.

4) The action. “City of Bones” has a nice amount of fighting where the stakes are high.

5) Jayce. Is. Seriously. Hot. This books also is clearly inspired by anime with the whole demon fighting bad boys type thing. I don’t know what it is about the bad boy character, but jeez can they work the dialogue. I actually laughed more than once when listening to this book the first time. Also, the dialogue itself is excellent as a whole.

So, without trying to spoil this book too much, where does it fall flat?

The whole middle section involving a rat goes on for too long. Also, the big twist at the end that may remind you of Star Wars – you’ll know what I mean when you read it – nearly stopped me from reading the rest of this series. However, the desire to know what happened next trumped the annoyance with the plot and I did read the rest of the books.

In conclusion, I think virtues of “City of Bones” far out way its flaws and that it is worth a read for its dialogue alone.

“Dream On” by Kerstin Gier (The Silver Triology)

I greatly enjoyed German author Kerstin Gier’s Ruby Red Trilogy, and since her most newly translated series has hit the shelves, I’ve been reading them avidly. Fans of Ruby Red, the Silver Trilogy doesn’t disappoint!

What if you could travel the dream world while asleep and enter other people’s dreams? The Silver Trilogy takes lucid dreaming to a whole new level.

“Dream On,” the second book in the Silvery Trilogy carries out the whimsical themes of the dream world and the absurd humour that is so typical of Gier to perfection. Even though I enjoy my books dark like my soul, Gier’s writing has a lightheartedness to it that I truly appreciate.

Liv and her sister Mia make a hilarious duo as they adapt to living with their mother’s new boyfriend and his two teenage kids. Add a crazy extended family tea party to the mix and you have a very believable family dynamic which definitely made me laugh.

The nasty school gossip blogger, Secrecy, also makes a nice commentary on cyberbullying. The interlude of blog posts in between chapters is a funny and sarcastic summary and I’m still trying to guess which character is the blogger’s identity!

Also, Liv’s boyfriend Henry is equal parts cute and mysterious. The second book definitely leaves you wondering why he is so private about his home life and why he won’t reveal what he’s up to. I guess we’ll have to read the third book to find out.

My one complaint, and this is typical of second books in series, is that the threats in the dream world did not seem overly threatening. With Anabel behind bars, the new villain isn’t quite as harrowing, but still towards the end it did turn into quite the page turner. Also, I was left with a lot of questions, but as I’m sure the third book will reveal all, I guess I have to wait to discover the answers!

“Vampire Academy” by Richelle Mead

I must be the last person on the planet to read “Vampire Academy.” I know it came out a while ago, but holy crap is it good. Rose is such a kick-ass heroine and Lissa is such a gentle soul. Their halfway mind connection, where Rose can see her best friend Lissa’s thoughts but not vice-versa is a nice plot technique.

The world building of vampires with their damphir bodyguards (half-human, half-vampires who have serious martial-art skills) creates a lot of exciting action sequences. But it’s not all blood and guts. There is some serious romance.

Damphir Rose balances her bad attitude with loyalty to for friends. And her attraction to her older teacher Dmitri is H-O-T. Of course, maybe I have a slight bias towards shipping them, since I met my husband in a teacher-student relationship. Just like Dmitri and Rose, my husband-to-be was seven years older than me. But he didn’t teach me martial arts. He taught me calculus, which also led to some potentially lethal lessons, haha.

Anyway. I shipped Dmitri and Rose. Hard.

Also, this series has a unique approach to discussing mental illness. Lissa is a vampire who has an unusual power called spirit that is poorly understood. She basically has healing super-strength, which is great for other people, but not so great for herself. Using her powers, even though she often wants to, causes her to feel depressed. Even though Lissa is strong, she has to learn how to balance self-care with caring for others. Bringing the dialogue on mental illness into the fantasy arena surely will help reduce stigma for readers who suffer from the same conditions.

So yeah. “Vampire Academy” isn’t just about fighting and kissing, it has some additional depth. Although, honestly I like the violence and romance just as much as the deep parts.

 

“Winter” by Marissa Meyer (The Lunar Chronicles)

I just read Marissa Meyer’s “Winter” and it did not disappoint. Ever since “Cinder” stole my heart with her cyborg awesomeness, the Lunar Chronicles have made a serious impression on me. There’s a strong message of being yourself no matter your background and abilities. Each novel in the series introduces a new character and romance to the cast to overthrow the cruel Lunar Queen. And each is loosely based on a popular fairytale – Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White.

“Winter” is the final episode in the battle against the Lunars and is a hefty volume at 823 pages. Of course, the cast of characters at this point in the series has become quite large, so Meyer needed a fair amount of space to describe each of their contributions.

At first I found Prince Kai’s participation in the plot a bit tiresome – how many times must he attempt to bait the Queen into a marriage that will make her empress over the Commonwealth? And then, it hit me over the head with the brilliance of it. This complaint is usually one I have for female characters. Why is Princess So-and-so only valued for her marriageable eligibility and sex appeal? Why is her only plot device the betrothal and the wedding?

Here, Prince Kai is the sex muffin who is traded around in marriage, a typically female role. His love interest, Cinder is the one who has to save him – a girl who’s part cyborg, part human. Now, I’m back to remembering why I love this series so much. The feminine empowerment is incredible.

Winter, the newest character in the cast, suffers from mental illness. In spite of her struggles, she triumphs. Cress overcomes her shyness. Scarlet tames the beast. I found the parallels between the long list of couples to cause characters to become indistinct at times, however this didn’t freeze my heart to “Winter.” The message of loving someone despite of their flaws is a good one.

Will they all live happily ever after?

Read “Winter” to find out.

 

“The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks” by E. Lockhart

E. Lockhart is known for her feminist writing, and Frankie does not disappoint as a heroine who challenges conventions on how women are expected to behave. How? Frankie takes on the old boys club in her boarding school, directing a male secret society thorough a series of pranks with a political agenda. Only problem: the boys don’t know that she is the mastermind.

The dialogue between Frankie and her boyfriend Matthew is excellent. In fact, all dialogue in this book really shines. It’s like you really hear the characters speaking in the room with you.

I grew up reading PG Wodehouse – slightly stained, yellowed copies that smelled of vanilla and glue – purchased from secondhand bookstores. My favourite was “Leave it to Psmith” where a particular fire alarm prank at a boarding school had me in stitches every time I read it.

I’m not sure how popular PG Wodehouse is with the younger crowd. It certainly wasn’t popular when I was reading it. But even if you don’t get the PG Wodehouse illusions and english boys boarding school traditions, it is not necessary to enjoy “The Disreputable History…” In fact, I was not in stitches with the “The Disreputable History…” as it is more of a social commentary.

The novel asks elite education systems if they include all religions, all cultural practices and women as well as men. It asks why we’re still holding onto a male dominated view of education? Why women can’t be devious, intelligent prankers, as well as men?

And honestly, I’m not sure exactly how important this fight is since the setting, again, was in an elite boarding school. Frankie knows that her future opportunities are pretty much guaranteed whether she runs the secret society or not. And yet… even though Frankie is incredibly privileged, “The Disreputable History…” suggests that there are still inequalities even among society’s upper crust. Will Frankie make it to the top of the world? Or will some men’s club keep her out?

Does this matter? Or is this extreme privilege in society a problem onto itself?

 

“The Boy’s Manual to being a Proper Jew” by Eli Glasman

This book deals with religion and sexuality in a painfully honest, nothing held back kind of way. Even though the narrative follows Yossi, gay Jewish boy living in Melbourne, and how he reconciles the restrictiveness of his religion with accepting his sexuality, this book is far from regional Australian fiction. “The Boy’s Manual…” leads to universal questions:

Why does religion often spread hate instead of love?

Why is God so concerned with who you love instead of what kind of person you are and how you treat other people? Homosexuality seems a rather pale sin in comparison with discrimination and exclusion.

Why are religious institutions so set on shaming people for genetic traits they cannot control?

How does practicing the religion in question deviate from the relevant religious texts?

If you deviate from your culture, will you still be supported by your friends and family? What is the cost of being yourself? Do the benefits outweigh these costs?

Needless to say, this book really made me think. In a good way.

As someone who attended a big gay United Church as a teenager, I have seen many facets to religion. I have seen a gay minister ordained and a lesbian couple have their son baptized. However, I also have seen a university Christian group refuse to answer publicly their stance on homosexuality. They insisted that the student contact them privately – no doubt because they weren’t accepting.

It’s funny, because religion creates a sort of paradox. By being part of a religion you are necessarily separating yourself from others, even if the goal of the religion is to treat others well. Can an religious institution ever be fully inclusive and still be classified as practicing that religion?

I’m not sure. But I know you don’t have to be Jewish to ask these questions.