Tag Archives: romance

Review: The Book of Life

I’ve been (voraciously) reading Deborah Harkness’ All Souls trilogy this month, and now I’ve reached the end of the final volume: The Book of Life. No spoilers for book three in the review below, but please read both A Discovery of Witches (book one) and Shadow of Night (two) before continuing below.

thebookoflifeAbout the book: Matthew and Diana are running out of time–the Congregation is closing in, their enemies uniting, and the Book of Life seems more impossibly lost than ever. More secrets are uncovered, threatening to divide even trusted friends. Phillipe’s blood vow that marks Diana as a de Clermont must be recognized by her adoptive siblings or be lost forever in insignificance. With tyrannical Baldwin nosing into affairs as the head of the de Clermont family and Marcus taking lead as the grand master of the Knights of Lazarus, Matthew must follow orders instead of give them. Diana, pregnant with twins, is more vulnerable than ever, but while Matthew settles matters regarding the future of his family she must seek the book alone, both of them simply hoping against all odds for the best. If they don’t find the manuscript and secure enough support by the time the twins are born, the births may be a death sentence for them all.

“I see you, even when you hide from the rest of the world. I hear you, even when you’re silent.”

First, I want to take a break from the complaints I’ve had about these books and say that this was the story I’ve been waiting for since I opened the cover of book one. Here are some of the reasons this book seems so superior to its predecessors:

  • The dialogue is more abundant, and more excellent. All of the important characters from every scattered time and place that Diana and Matthew have been are coming together. Every conversation is rife with discord and excitement that unfolds in delicious banter.
  • There are more perspectives. Diana and Matthew are still the main focus, but we see their piece of the story as one part of the whole. Again, all of the significant characters are back, and Matthew and Diana are finally sharing center stage in a way that’s beneficial to the story as a whole.
  • The pacing has increased–by which I mean, no more long descriptions of wine and food and furniture. Instead of hundreds of pages of thoughts and planning, the events of this book move adeptly from one plot point to the next in constant forward motion.
  • Matthew is getting his protectiveness/dominance under control. He’s got more progress to make, but he’s proving that it’s possible and he’s working toward it.

“Don’t worry. Matthew won’t be able to stay away for long. It’s one thing to wander in the darkness because you know no different, but it’s quite another to enjoy the light only to have it taken from you.”

I absolutely devoured this book. The plot and characters are more exciting. There are improvements in the layout–the aforementioned multiple perspectives, as well as sections divided by blurbs about the zodiac signs that foreshadow the next chapters. Mysteries are at last being solved instead of multiplied. There’s an actual villain, rather than a vague idea of “many people won’t like this, they might get organized and become a problem.” But, alas, for all its successes, The Book of Life is not perfect.

The biggest issues I have with this final volume are threads left dangling. Though the story as a whole is concluded adequately, a few matters are left open-ended. For some books, this is a great possibility for an ending. But generally, to keep the reader satisfied, open-ended questions must be guided with clear A, B, and maybe C options so the reader can choose a side and still feel that the story has come full circle. This book doesn’t even present options for some of its unanswered questions.

For example: what becomes of Gallowglass? Something is revealed about him in The Book of Life that helps explain his willingness to aid Matthew and Diana’s quest for the manuscript. When that secret becomes a problem, he just disappears. By the end of the book, the problem has not gone away, and there’s still no sign of Gallowglass, who has become a significant character.

Additionally, there’s a big vote held by the Congregation that is supposed to decide whether Matthew and Diana are to be helped on a certain matter. I won’t give more details about the specifics of the vote, and I won’t even say which way the vote goes. But after the suspenseful verdict has been reached, there seems to be no indication of help or hindrance from the Congregation on the matter in question. What was the purpose of the vote, in that case? How will that affect all the other matters they’re still voting on at the end of the story? The Congregation and its future is left irritatingly vague.

And finally, there’s the biggest unanswered question of all: what the heck is going to happen with Matthew and Diana’s epic romance in light of the fact that one of them is immortal and the other is not? The only clear detail surrounding Diana’s mortality is the fact that she will probably not become a vampire. But is there some other way to extend her life? Are they both just going to accept that she’s going to live a few more decades and then Matthew will carry on alone? Can he even carry on alone? The Book of Life was rumored to hold secrets about the philosopher’s stone, which grants some sort of immortality. Is that a philosophical immortality alone–the answer to the continued survival of their species? Or is there some way for Diana’s longevity to be increased? There are too many questions left. Even if she’s satisfied with her mortality and everyone’s planning to let her die peacefully at the end of her mortal life, I wanted to read that answer in these pages. Instead, I’m left wondering how Diana’s longevity apparently went undiscussed through three long books in which Matthew is constantly consumed with worry about her safety. I cannot fathom why this isn’t properly addressed by the end of the trilogy. I needed more closure.

“Did you know that nothing you see on the Internet ever dies, Diana? It lives on and on, just like a vampire.”

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. I haven’t been this obsessive about a guilty pleasure series since I read all of the Outlander books over a year ago. In a lot of ways, Harkness’ books remind me of Gabaldon’s. This third volume is by far my favorite, and I would recommend that if you have any interest in this series at all you should stick it out through the first two and be sure to pick this one up. I’m glad I did.

Further recommendations:

  1. Let me reiterate my recommendation of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander for Deborah Harkness fans. It’s got as many possible similarities as I believe two series can have while narrating different subjects. Outlander is a cross between romance, history, and magic, like the All Souls trilogy. There’s even a would-be pickpocket apprehended and turned family, like Jack. There’s torture and politics and treason and travel. If you like A Discovery of Witches, pick up Outlander. The third book in this series also is especially worth the time it takes to get there.

What’s next: I’m currently finishing up with Danielle Paige’s Dorothy Must Die, a crazy YA tale about a backwards Oz and Amy Gumm, the second girl to leave Kansas via tornado. I’ll have a review posted soon, and it’ll be back to regularly scheduled programming from there. Meaning I’m finally back to my original June TBR after my All Souls divergence!

Do you prefer reading books of a series back to back, or with breaks between volumes? I generally prefer breaks, to savor the series more, but it doesn’t always work that way.

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Review: Shadow of Night

Despite some issues I had with Deborah Harkness’ A Discovery of Witches, I was addicted enough to throw part of my June TBR out the window to binge on the series. So instead of reading anything I actually had planned for this month, I stopped what I was in the middle of as soon as I made it back to my library to check out book two in Deborah Harkness’ All Souls trilogy: Shadow of Night. It’s a guilty pleasure read for me, and I often find it best to just gorge on those to get them out of my system, so here we are. (Warning: there are spoilers from book one ahead.)

About the book: Matthew and Diana shadowofnightare still searching for answers and fighting for the right to love each other. Book one left them on the verge of time travel to 1590, with the surprising knowledge that they might be able to conceive children together. Now, back in Matthew’s past, future Matthew has to juggle all of his 1590 responsibilities that he thinks will lead to helpful connections in their ongoing searches for Ashmole 782 and a teacher for Diana. He insists on taking the lead, and makes some questionable choices which threaten not only the pair’s survival but the peace between them. Diana sets out to make connections of her own, and finds new friends and enemies in the process. Neither of them are sure when they should try going back to their own time, or if it’s even possible with Diana’s current skill level. As past and present collide, vampire and witch are tested anew–they must decide what they can afford to lose, and fight to the last  breath for what they can’t.

Stop regretting your life. Start living it.”

About the layout: This book is divided into parts, which mostly feature Diana (in the first person) and Matthew (in the third) on their many adventures. At the end of each part is a chapter featuring a different perspective from the present (circa 2010). These sections provide clues and connections between our main characters in the past and the ongoing story line in the “future,” but they’re confusingly brief. New characters are introduced only to be shuffled out of significance for the rest of the book. Perhaps they’ll be back in the final volume, but either way the amount of page time given to each of them seems odd–I think they’ve been given too little attention if they’re going to be significant, and too much if we’re already done with them. I think there’s real potential for this series in opening up the narration to multiple points of view, but that potential goes unrealized in this volume.

“Change is the only reliable thing in the world.”

Let’s examine the mystery of Matthew’s power. I dislike instances in fantasy when a supposedly powerful being calls on the influence he’s got stored up from the past and provides little to no evidence of how he became so influential in the first place. In these first two books, Matthew is calling in old friends, using his standing and money and family sway to win victories–but how did he become so intimidating in the first place? There seems to be no indication of how Matthew earned his high status in the creature world, which makes him seem less powerful than everyone claims. It’s a discrepancy of balance that goes back to the “show don’t tell” rule of writing. The single murder he committed in book one didn’t explain to me why even vampires are intimidated. I, for one, need more proof that he can back up his threats.

“Stop worrying about what other women do. Be your own extraordinary self.”

There are times when this book seems like it wants to be a feminist kick-ass tale of a female witch mastering impressive power. I’m not sure if it’s the traditionally possessive vampire in the story or something else entirely that prevents it, but Diana doesn’t present as a strong, independent woman, no matter how often Matthew tries to insist she is. Despite the words being spoken, there are so many instances that prove otherwise–for instance, there is a scene in this book when Diana finds herself alone and threatened, and in that time she seems capable of fighting for herself–but as soon as a would-be rescuer arrives, she’s eager to give the fight to someone else. It’s frustrating that she could be strong player but is always so eager to be rescued.

“There were times when Matthew behaved like an idiot–or the most arrogant man alive.”

And there’s the truest statement in this book. Matthew is bossy and domineering, always making assumptions and decisions for his underlings. But the narration seems to understand that he’s making bad choices and acting like a pompous ass, which suggests to me that Matthew will also realize it at some point and change his ways. It would help if Diana didn’t put up with it, but I keep thinking that eventually he’s going to learn he can’t rule the world–and then he could be a pretty great character. In the meantime, he’s almost a villainous love interest, and his most compelling aspect is his horde of secrets.

Additional small annoyances:

  • Vampire servants. Why would anyone want to spend their immortality serving someone else? I’m not saying it’s not possible, but what’s the reasoning?
  • Multiple marriages. How many times can one couple be married in different ways and then say “this time we’re really married” before the reader can no longer stand it? I’m setting the limit at four.
  • Difference in life spans. This is an interesting dilemma, but I’m still waiting for the narration to address the fact that Matthew is immortal and Diana is not.

My reaction: 3 out of 5 stars. I didn’t like this one quite as much as A Discovery of Witches, though it had some different pros and cons. I didn’t meant for this whole review to become a rant about the dissatisfying aspects because I did like some things about it–spoiler things that I don’t want to mention. I have a new favorite character who appears unexpectedly in this book, for example. But in my opinion sequels are hardly ever as good as books one and three, and I think that’s the case with this trilogy. I’m still determined to read book three and hopeful that it will be an improvement. I’ll probably be delving into it sooner rather than later.

Further recommendations:

  1. Bram Stoker’s Dracula would be a good choice for fans of Deborah Harkness’ books. I hesitate to recommend books I haven’t read (yet), but this one’s mentioned within the text of Shadow of Night, and I feel confident recommending the quintessential vampire story. Dracula is my classic of the month for October, but reading this trilogy has left me eyeing the book on my shelf lately with more longing than usual, and I think it would make a perfect companion to this vampire-filled trilogy.
  2. Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses is the first book in a faerie romance series with some strong comaprisons to the All Souls trilogy. The creatures in this one are more fantastical than the traditional vampires, witches and daemons in Harkness’ books, but the characters and their fight for love and answers strike some similar chords.

What’s next: Yesterday I started reading both Harkness’ The Book of Life, the final book in the All Souls trilogy, and Danielle Paige’s Dorothy Must Die, from my actual June TBR. Dorothy Must Die is a YA tale about a backwards Oz and a new heroine from Kansas who must set things back to rights before Dorothy gets too carried away. These will be my next two reviews, in undetermined order.

What do you do when your TBR goes off the rails? Do you push it back on the track or go wherever the train takes you?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Update: you can now read my review of the next book in this series, The Book of Life!

Review: White Fur

The new selections for Book of the Month Club are perfection this month. I wanted to be reading them all at once, but since I only have one set of eyes I had to choose–and I chose to start with Jardine Libaire’s White Fur. I would classify it as a romance, although it’s unlike any romance I’ve ever read.

whitefurAbout the book: Jamey and Elise are from different worlds. Jamey, the heir to a multi-million dollar corporation, has been raised with a lot of cash and little emotion. Elise, who has only ever had enough to get by and sometimes not even that, falls deeply in love with him at first sight and has enough emotion to carry them both. At first it’s a battle to prove Jamey really does love her, but the real battle comes later–when neither of their previous lives will fit them both and the only way to survive is to start over and locate middle ground. For Jamey and Elise, it’s never been about the money, but their friends and family seem incapable of overlooking the difference in their social classes and the only people who can accept their relationship are each other. Is that enough? And even if it is, how will they escape the loud opinions of the masses?

“He grew up thinking you’re supposed to work till your eyes bleed, be exhausted all the time, get money, get houses, get prestige, do good, be important, be busy, get on the board, run out of time, cancel lunch with friends, run out of gas. Why? Why did he believe them when they said that? Why did he believe anything they said?”

I must admit, the premise of this book worried me. Rich guy falls for broke girl, and tries to make uppity family accept her? There are so many ways that story has already been done, some of them with less success than others. But even though those things happen, they’re not what this story is about. Elise doesn’t want any part of Jamey’s money or power or prestige–she won’t even accept them other than to acknowledge that they’re some of the building blocks that make up Jamey’s life. Jamey isn’t trying to raise Elise’s monetary standing, to bring her up into the world of plenty–he sees good things in her character that have been lacking in his own life, and considers himself the poor party in their relationship. It’s about the money for everyone else, but for Jamey and Elise, it’s about finding where they fit in the world and finally taking the chance to choose for themselves instead of letting their families lay out their futures.

“You go through life thinking there’s a secret to life. And the secret to life is there is no secret to life.”

About the layout: the book starts in June 1987, with a single scene charged with catastrophe and heartbreak. There’s a gun. There’s love, and the questioning of love. And there’s potential for murder. From that scene, the narration goes back to January 1986. Each month is its own labeled chapter. There are further divisions within these chapters that switch back and forth in third person narrative between Elise and Jamey, and the months progress chronologically until we reach that same dangerous motel room scene in June 1987 to finally see its conclusion and aftermath. As Jamey and Elise clash and collide through the rest of the timeline in the book, much of the tension lies not in whether they will fall in love and stay together, but in discovering how they came to be aiming firearms at each other, staring down death and searching for the limits of love. For this reason, the nuances of the relationship keep the reader’s attention: every gesture and thought, every lie and truth and silent action begs to be weighed in the balance against that startling opening scene. Every kiss is a clue.

“What’s the point of anything? Why did we make it this far, she thinks, through hours in our own lives before we met, even after we met, when we were sure we were worthless, but we somehow got to the other side of those times, holding it together, ashamed to be hopeful but being hopeful, when we had no protection and no direction but we kept going anyway, and then we got rewarded, and now it’s being ripped out of my hands?”

Speaking of kisses and romance, I’d like to note that White Fur is a fairly explicit book. It’s solidly categorized as adult literature, and it’s worth mentioning that the physical side of Jamey and Elise’s relationship is often front and center. If you can’t stand reading sex scenes, this isn’t the book for you. White Fur is no Fifty Shades of Gray though. There are R-rated scenes set in bedrooms and beyond, but that’s just one part of the book. It’s the proof that prejudice and class divisions are constructions of the mind, not the heart. The sex is just evidence supporting the underlying messages of the need for equality and love’s perpetual attempt to conquer all. It’s there in abundance, but it’s not the main focus of the book.

“Nothing can ever stay strange for long.”

About the setting: I can’t offer any concrete explanation as to why this book is set in the 1980s rather than present day. I suppose the past offers a bit more anonymity, which allows the characters to move more freely through this world when they’re trying to hide from their opponents, and I suppose also that prejudices were stronger and louder then than they are today. The details of the story fit the time perfectly, but there didn’t seem to be a lot of point to the differences. I don’t think this story would have been impossible to transpose into the world of the 2010s, which made the choice of setting seem a little strange, despite being handled well.

About the characters: White Fur has quite a cast. There’s so much detail given to everyone and everything that each character feels real. I liked that about them, though I don’t think I would choose any of these characters as my friends in real life. Many of them are not bad people. They aren’t unlikable in the way I usually describe characters who seem to have been constructed to alienate the reader, and yet I didn’t particularly like them either. I remained neutrally interested in where they were headed.

“So much of life is about standing on the curb, willing to see what rolls up.”

My reaction: 3 out of 5 stars. That opening scene hooked me right away, and with that fresh in mind, the beginning of Jamey and Elise’s relationship remained pretty interesting. Some of the stuff in the middle, after the “I love you’s” and before the gun came back into the story, was much less engaging for me. It was interesting enough that I didn’t have hesitancy about continuing, but the excitement I expected after that opening scene took longer to reappear than I would have preferred. I felt a little deceived. But I don’t regret the time I spent reading White Fur, so it ended up pretty middle-of-the-road for me.

Further recommendations:

  1. Lucky You by Erika Carter is another gritty book about escaping life’s oppressive constructs, but it’ll take a certain audience to appreciate its subtle messages and futility. I think that audience will overlap nicely with fans of White Fur. It’s grimy and brutally honest, with a little romance and a lot of idealism, but it hits failure and the stickier sides of human nature in a way that takes a patient mind and a willingness to accept that not all endings are happy, or even necessarily endings.

What’s next: I started a second book while i was in the middle of White Fur, so I’ve already got another book finished and in the process of review. After reading A Discovery of Witches earlier this month, I basically threw part of my June TBR out the window in favor of continuing the series. So in addition to White Fur (hence the review coming later than I planned, sorry guys), I’ve also finished reading Deborah Harkness’ Shadow of Night, the second book in the All Souls trilogy. This one’s much like book one, plus time travel and the potential for witchy vampire babies, and if that’s not enough to intrigue you then we have nothing in common.

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Review: A Discovery of Witches

I’ve always enjoyed fantasy books, and  every now and then I have a craving for vampires–they’re such tortured souls. Immortality, apparently, can be burdensome.  I found Deborah Harkness’ A Discovery of Witches at my library recently, and although it turned out not at all as I’d expected, I realized pretty quickly that I was in it for the long haul. (This is the first book in the All Souls Trilogy, each volume hovering just under 600 pages.)

It begins with absence and desire…It begins with blood and fear. It begins with a discovery of witches.

About the book: Diana Bishop is a historian. adiscoveryofwitchesShe’s also a witch. Her parents–more witches–died brutally when she was seven, an event which convinced her of the dangers of magic, and prompted her to abandon hers. As an adult witch pretending to be human, she’s researching old alchemical texts for a keynote speech in Oxford, resisting the urge to use her buried sixth sense to learn more about the ancient manuscripts she studies. But she stumbles upon one volume that practically drips magic from its seams–and in handling it, she moves one of the biggest mysteries of her world into focus. As a horde of “creatures” flock to the library–and ultimately to Diana–to learn more about the book and gain access for themselves, her lack of control over her magic becomes a problem and she’s thrust into danger she doesn’t understand and can’t fight. The first vampire on the scene, Matthew Clairmont, understands better than everyone else that to open the ancient, lost book means protecting Diana–the only person who’s been able to access it in centuries. Love between species is forbidden by law, but something much more ancient and inevitable is at work with Matthew and Diana. The unlikely pair must find answers in each other, as the world around them crackles with erupting secrets and the first signs of war between the species emerge.

About the layout: Diana, our main character, narrates most of this book’s chapters in the first person. There are also a few chapters woven in that feature third person narration and move around between focus on different characters–usually Matthew, but not always. There’s always more to his story than what he shows on the surface, which makes him compelling to read, though Diana’s lack of magical knowledge makes her a better guide for the reader through the discoveries of this first book.

Marcus knew that a vampire’s life was measured not in hours or years but in secrets revealed and kept. Vampires guarded their personal relationships, the names they’d adopted, and the details of the many lives they’d lived.”

A large portion of this book seems highly concentrated on vampires and their role within this world, even though our main character is a witch. There are four branches of “creatures,” as they’re referred to, in this trilogy: humans, vampires, witches, and daemons. They all make appearances throughout the text, but without doubt there’s more information on vampires and their habits and current standing in this world than any of the other species. Eventually, as the reader knows she must, Diana stops trying to deny that she’s a witch and the vampire stories are mixed with details of how witch magic works and how it pertains to Diana. But it’s worth noting that this is a vampire-heavy novel. I think it comes down to Matthew and Diana’s relationship–from the very beginning, she makes concessions for all his odd behaviors because he’s a vampire and he’s been that way for a long time, while she’s planted herself between a witch’s life and a human one, which leaves her on uncertain ground. Thus, we see a lot more of her emotions and her acclimating to the presence of a vampire than anything witchy because it takes so long for her to commit to being a witch at all. And while she’s not learning about being a witch, she’s asking Matthew questions about vampirism, and the focus of the book is often pointed in that direction. Luckily, Matthew’s lived enough years that his vampire secrets are interesting.

“I wasn’t the same creature then, and I wouldn’t entirely trust my past selves with you.”

On romance: love between Matthew and Diana is not one of this book’s surprises, and it’s something I wish I had known before reading. I went looking for a fantasy book, but through hundreds of pages I found myself wondering whether the novel was a romance disguised as fantasy. There’s definitely fantasy, but it generally comes second, and the romance is immediately, utterly obvious. From the very beginning, the narration is clear on what’s building between our two main characters. Diana is startled and mildly frightened at being addressed by a vampire (seemingly the most dangerous of the four species), but she takes the time to note that he’s unbelievably handsome. He invites her to dinner and hints that he might see her around Oxford in that creepy vampire way that indicates he’ll probably be stalking her and creating “coincidental” meetings between them. The first time the narration focuses on him, he admits that he’s intrigued by Diana and he wants to stay close to her, but he absolutely definitely is not in love with her. These details (and many, many more) indicate that there’s going to be romantic intrigue here. If you don’t want to read a romance, this isn’t the fantasy book for you. That said, there’s not much sexual detail in this romance, it’s almost entirely gestures and looks and conversations, so it’s not raunchy in the way I would expect of a true romance, either.

Some things I didn’t like:

  • There’s way more description of meals and teas and wines than necessary.
  • Diana is sometimes okay with being ordered around and stalked and otherwise controlled by Matthew because she loves him.
  • For someone who claims not to be (and is also told by Matthew that she is not) a damsel in distress, Diana requires a lot of rescuing.
  • For a witch, even one who doesn’t want to use her power, Diana knows remarkably little about the “creatures” of her world.
  • Everyone is concerned about or in awe of Diana’s super magical witch powers, but she can’t use/control them. There’s an imbalance in the attention and the worthiness of attention.
  • Completely coincidentally, Diana finds a new abilities she can’t harness but can use for some emergency just at the time when she needs them.

Hence, I admit to problematic elements–mostly in Matthew and Diana’s relationship, in which Matthew wants all the power. But other than all the description of food/beverages, the narration does make attempts to explain most of the problematic areas, and I was left with the impression that some of these things might be fixed in the upcoming novels of the trilogy. I believe this is a series that demands to be read in full, if you’re determined to start at all.

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. I’ll admit this trilogy is 100% a guilty pleasure. Romances are often guilty pleasures for me because I don’t read them for the reasons I usually read other books. This one repeatedly gave me the impression: “Twilight on steroids” a few times, which was worrisome, but the story kept me engaged regardless. I’m committed to finishing the trilogy because I think some of the issues I had will be addressed going forward, and I’m curious about where the plot is going, since there are many mysterious threads and a lack of answers in this first book.

Further recommendations:

  1. Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander is the first (long) book in a (long) series that’s similar to A Discovery of Witches in that it’s a mix of fantasy/sci-fi and historical fiction. And romance, of course. An intense but challenging romance that’s very similar (minus the vampirism) to Matthew and Diana’s relationship.

What’s next: I’m currently reading White Fur by Jardine Libaire, one of my Book of the Month Club choices from their June selections. After nearly 600 pages of adult fantasy I’m ready for some lit fic. This one’s a (steamy for summer) star-crossed romance set in 1980’s New York.

What are you reading to kick off the summer?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Update: You can now read my review of the next book in this series, Shadow of Night!

Review: A Court of Wings and Ruin

Aaaagh it’s finally arrived! I will admit this series (Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses series) has been a guilty pleasure for me from book one, but just like everyone else who read ACOMAF in 2016, I had to find out what was going to happen in book three, this new May release, A Court of Wings and Ruin. As usual, no spoilers ahead for book three, but you should check out A Court of Thorns and Roses and A Court of Mist and Fury before reading further, as it’s pretty impossible to do a series book justice without mentioning things that have happened earlier.

About the book: Feyre is spying on Springacourtofwingsandruin Court, pretending to have preferred Tamlin all along, with Rhysand and the rest of the Night Court’s Inner Circle preparing for war back home and worrying about their new High Lady. The snags in Feyre’s plan come in the form of Lucien’s suspicions about her lies, and Ianthe’s outright evilness and determination to ruin everything for Feyre. Plus, of course, there’s Tamlin, who’s trying to be less controlling but still has too many strikes against him. Feyre does have an opportunity to get closer to some key players in Hybern’s army, though, who are using the Spring Court as their portal both to Prythian and, through the wall bordering it, into the mortal realm. But even if she can pull it off and escape the dangers Spring Court poses for her, will the information she gleans be enough to give the Night Court an edge in the coming battles? Hybern’s forces are enormous–the Night Court will need all the allies it can get, and deciding who to trust presents a whole new set of risks and challenges. Deals must be struck. Bargains must be upheld. Monsters must be unleashed. Hybern’s people fight for a single cause, while the High Fae would rather be at each others’ throats than stand together for their common interests. And nothing–absolutely nothing–can prepare Feyre for the war set in motion, and the losses it will bring.

There’s a lot of pressure for greatness on A Court of Wings and Ruin after the phenomenon that was ACOMAF. Without making this too much of a comparison between the two, I’ll attempt to answer whether ACOWAR lives up to the challenge.

First, a note on the layout: I didn’t feel that there was much to gain in the sections at the beginning and end of this book written from Rhysand’s perspective. Rhysand’s chapter at the end of ACOMAF felt more vital to that story–he was in a different place than Feyre, and was telling his Inner Circle something new pertaining to the plot. But in ACOWAR, though it was nice to see how Rhysand’s thoughts lined up with Feyre’s and with the things that he told her, they felt like…gold foil, some extra decoration on top of the real substance of the book, and I, personally, would always rather have the gritty substance than the gilded fluff on top of it. Is that just me? Am I the only one who skims superfluous detail, all the place description and the clothing and material objects, to pick out the kernels of plot and character? Either way, I don’t think Rhysand gives the reader anything new with his narration in this book.

Next, I’d like to acknowledge that this is basically a whole book about a man (okay, faerie) saying, “I want women to be equal to men, starting with you, you can do whatever you want,” set in a fantasy world (albeit with equality between humans and faeries also up for debate). And yet, even with all that promotion of female power, there is definitely not as much character growth in this volume as in the previous two (thought the characters are still just as irresistible). I would even go so far as to say that the potential character growth I expected to see in this book with a lot of the secondary characters feels postponed. I think it’s important to keep in mind while reading this book that there are three more books expected in this series; although those next three books will be presented from other characters’ perspectives rather than through the eyes of the now-familiar Feyre, there are a lot of loose ends left in ACOWAR that suggest to me those next three books are going to be more coherent to the main plot than traditional companion novels. Of course, I don’t know anything for certain about the future books, but I hope that those next books in this series are going to answer some questions about Feyre’s family and friends because none of their stories are resolved by the end of ACOWAR.

But back to the main plot. I thought it was funny that basically everything I’d heard about this book before I started reading revolved around Feyre spying at Spring Court, pretending to Tamlin that her time with Rhysand was a lie. She’s spying and sewing seeds of discord and doing all her Feyre things, sans Rhysand, but that only lasts about100 of the 700 pages. She’s at Spring Court for a quick matter of weeks, and then she’s thrown back into the preparations for war she began with Rhysand and the Night Court in book two. By the time I got to the end of the book, it hardly even felt like those first hundred pages were part of book three because so much else was going on afterward. Basically, all hell breaks loose, but it’s difficult to talk about without spoiling the survivors and the battlefield surprises. In the end, this is a book of war, of fighting for equality and freedom and safety, and the strength it takes to win those battles.

“Even for an immortal, there was not enough time in life to waste it on hatred. On feeling it and putting it into the world.”

“Remember that you are a wolf. And you cannot be caged.”

I was worried that after ACOMAF this one would let me down. I tried to manage my expectations. While I didn’t like ACOWAR enough to call it a new favorite, it didn’t disappoint me, either.

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. I believe that’s the same rating I gave A Court of Thorns and Roses, but without a doubt I would say I liked ACOWAR better than book one. And neither of them compare to book two. But…I am completely on board for book 4. It’s going to be an easier wait than the wait for ACOWAR was, but I’ll be ready to pick it up as soon as it’s published. And in the meantime…I may even pick up Throne of Glass. I’m under the impression that the Throne of Glass series is not quite as beloved as Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses series, which makes me hesitant. Should I read more Sarah J. Maas? Or just wait patiently for the next ACOTAR release in 2018? (Patiently, ha ha, what a joke. This is why I prefer to read the entire series at once, usually starting right before the last book is published when it’s really popular still but I won’t have to wait.)

Further recommendations:

  1. Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy kept creeping into my thoughts as I was reading ACOWAR, and I think it would make an interesting read in comparison with the first three ACOTAR books. I was surprised how many similarities I saw–are all the fantasy trilogies so alike nowadays? Anyway, these first three books in Bardugo’s Grishaverse (starting with Shadow and Bone) feature a girl thrust into a new world of power who must form new alliances while preserving old relationships, and fight for her own independence as well as the salvation of the man she loves. If you’re a Sarah J. Maas fan who hasn’t read Leigh Bardugo’s books yet… what are you waiting for?

What’s next: Now that I’ve finished rereading all the good parts of ACOMAF (basically all the parts, to be honest) and put Feysand away, finally, I’m starting my other much-anticipated May release, Paula Hawkins’ new thriller, Into the Water. I’m excited to see where the popular The Girl on the Train author is going with this new novel.

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Review: Landline

Rainbow Rowell’s books are a relatively new discovery for me, but I’ve been enjoying them enough that I picked up my third Rowell novel this month, an adult book titled Landline. I thought this romance story would make a great read for February, but after diving in without even reading the synopsis I discovered it would’ve made an even better December read, as it sports a Christmas timeline. I definitely still enjoyed the book regardless of its seasonal setting, and would recommend it for any time of year, though I do think it would be particularly resonant around Christmas.

About the book: Georgie McCool (yes, that’s landlineher real name, and no, it’s not the first time she’s been asked) is on the cusp of a high point in her TV career. Unfortunately, to finish the scripts for the comedy show she’s been working on with her best friend for nearly twenty years, she’ll have to miss Christmas with her husband’s family in Omaha. The very first day of his absence, however, though her dream is finally in sight, she begins to wonder if she’s made a mistake. She misses her kids, of course, but her biggest concern is that Neal was in a worse frame of mind than she realized when he left her at home. Georgie’s mom seems to think he’s not coming back at all. Georgie calls her crazy, but then Neal won’t answer her calls. He’s never around, and if he is, it’s only to fight with her or pass her off to the kids. Mostly, he doesn’t pick up at all. Until she plugs in the old landline phone in her childhood bedroom at her mother’s house and suddenly finds herself talking to a Neal of the past–1998 Neal, who’d broken up with her before Christmas that year by leaving her behind when he drove home to Omaha. Is it future Georgie’s job to fix past Georgie’s mistakes in her relationship with Neal? And even if she can salvage what was broken fifteen years ago, how will she repair the present damage without being able to talk to present Neal?

“Georgie always said ‘I love you,’ and Neal always said it back, no matter how perfunctory it was. It was a safety check, proof that they were both still in this thing.”

Worst aspect: I did not know there was any sort of magical realism in this book when I started reading, so the use of the landline phone as a conduit to the past really caught me by surprise. While I found I did like the idea of this scenario, and the writing here is possibly the best Rowell writing I’ve come across so far, it threw me off to have a magical element in the midst of this otherwise ordinary contemporary romance. Maybe if I had read the synopsis beforehand I would have enjoyed that element more, but I think what it needed most was some sort of explanation for the rules of the landline. It fits well into the story to see the two comparable Christmases Neal and Georgie spent apart, but “Christmas miracle” isn’t quite enough rationale for me in such a realistic story. This confusion over the magical element of the phone was the biggest obstacle for me in rating Landline.

It’s also worth noting that I was able to predict exactly what Georgie would do to save her marriage from the first layout of the problem in the opening chapters. Nothing in the middle of the book was predictable, and I had no idea how Neal would react to Georgie’s reaction, but I had no doubts through nearly 300 pages about what she’d do in the end. Still, guessing part of the ending didn’t bother me as much as the lack of explanation for the magic phone. And that’s a pretty small detail, too, I suppose. The book is about the romance, not about possible time travel of the vocal chords.

“If you were standing next to the person you loved more than everything else, wasn’t everything else just scenery?”

Best aspect: The ups and downs of Georgie’s and Neal’s marriage. There’s so much tension and love between them that every anecdote, as well as every new encounter, is a complete mystery when it’s introduced. The reader never knows whether to expect a happy or sad end to each section, and every emotion is portrayed with the same importance. The hardships are just as significant in this romance as the triumphs, if not more.

“She always fell for the guy in the room who seemed the least interested in her. The guy who was toxically arrogant or cripplingly shy. Or both. The guy at the party who looked like he’d rather be anywhere else.”

Also, shoutout to the characters’ healthy response to Georgie’s sister dating a girl.

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. Every single section of this story felt real and emotional. I was pulled in completely from the very beginning and kept me wanting to read every detail of Neal’s and Georgie’s relationship. The only complaints I had with this story were minor details. It was nearly a 5 star read for me. The romance pulls readers right in. If you’re looking for a cute (but also substantial) Valentine’s read, consider Landline.

Further recommendations:

  1. If you want to pick up another Rowell book and don’t know where to start, check out Eleanor & Park, my favorite Rowell read so far. This one’s a contemporary YA romance that hits on some hard topics and is also full of a diverse cast of characters and real-life challenges of modern teens. Whether you’re a teen yourself or looking back on those days, Eleanor & Park has some great messages to share.
  2. Colleen Hoover’s It Ends With Us is another adult romance that deals with a problematic marriage, as well as other difficult topics that occupy modern relationships. This one’s less cute and more powerful, but the heart-warming romance is definitely still there.

What’s next: I’ve just finished Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go, an adult thriller packed with tragedy, love, and killer plot twists. While I work out my spoiler-free thoughts for that review, which I’ll post early next week, I’ll also be working on a writing update that I’m planning to post tomorrow about the progress I’ve made on my novel. Stay tuned to see how my writing project is going, and come back Monday for more reviews and book lists (coming soon: my Top 25 Favorite Books of All Time)!

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Review: The Sun is Also a Star

I headed to my library a couple of weeks ago to pick up my first Nicola Yoon read, and choose The Sun is Also a Star. I’m also planning to read Everything, Everything before the upcoming movie release, but for now I want to talk about the diversity, love, and equality between the gorgeous covers of The Sun is Also a Star.

About the book: Jamaican Natasha is about tothesunisalsoastar be deported with her family when she meets Korean American Daniel, who’s unsure where he stands between the future he wants for himself and the future his parents expect him to pursue. It’s a big day for both of them, but for some reason they can’t seem to let go of each other. Daniel believes it’s fate, but Natasha only believes in science. Besides, she doesn’t have time to fall in love because she’ll be living in another country in less than twenty-four hours.

“Secretly, in their heart of hearts, almost everyone believes that there’s some meaning, some willfulness to life. Fairness. Basic decency. Good things happen to good people. Bad things only happen to bad people. No one wants to believe that life is random.”

First, let’s look at the layout. The Sun is Also a Star is filled with alternating chapters in Natasha’s and Daniel’s perspectives, mixed in with which are snippets of other characters’ backgrounds and abstract details about culture that tie in with our main characters’ lives and thoughts.

Honestly, the extra sections feel pretty random at times. Some of them, the parts about the main characters’ parents, for instance, pertain to the story. Some of the others feel like informative but probably unnecessary lessons that are tied in to the story with only a few sentences at the end. Some of these sections even say things like “Natasha didn’t know this, but…” which emphasizes the feeling of the section not entirely belonging there. Books with unusual formats are exciting, but the format still needs to have a point. Instead, I felt at times that this book was trying to be too many things at once. Other times, it hit right on the mark.

Next, the diversity of this book is definitely a plus. The main characters come from vastly different backgrounds, and yet they’re so accepting of each other and the other people around them. Equality for the win. Despite how comfortable they are, though, they also make some important observations about equality in general that help the reader keep things in perspective:

“America’s not really a melting pot. It’s more like one of those divided metal plates with separate sections for starch, meat, and veggies.”

The best part about this book is that while the characters are unique and have their own cultures and habits, they’re very relatable people. I think that’s the point, really, of any diverse book–to prove that we’re all the same at the core. We all have fights with our families or friends, we all have dreams or goals, we want to feel like we belong somewhere. Some of the details may be new to some readers, but the emotions are familiar.

“It’s hard to come from someplace or someone you’re not proud of.”

Unfortunately, it’s a very predictable story. Of course the main characters are falling in love when love doesn’t fit into their schedules. There’s no mystery about the romance in this book. The beginning sets up the story. The middle is an exploratory section of what love and equality mean for these characters. And finally in the end we have some answers to the questions we’ve been waiting for since reading the synopsis. I could’ve loved this book so much more if it hadn’t been so predictable.

And yet, it’s an endearing tale.

“Maybe part of falling in love with someone else is also falling in love with yourself.”

While the romance is heartwarming, I also had some dissatisfaction with the instalove. Daniel’s infatuation-at-first-sight I didn’t mind. What I minded was Natasha being so adamantly against falling in love, and having good reason to be, and then suddenly thinking “this is something big, bigger then anything else, and I can see now that I’ve been wrong all along about love and this is it.” This is not a direct quote, but it’s the gist. It’s such a fast shift, and it comes too early. She seems like a person of strong convictions, and this is where she stands at first:

“We tell ourselves there are reasons for the things that happen, but we’re just telling ourselves stories. We make them up. They don’t mean anything.”

I realize things have to happen fast for a book whose timeline fits inside one day, but with over 300 pages I did expect a more gradual shift in emotion.

Can we also talk about the fact that the epilogue is labeled as “An alternate history”? Part of me is really tortured by the fact that “alternate” means it may not be what really happened; but another part of me–I think a bigger part–loves that it’s left a little uncertain. You never know what will happen. Whether its the universe or science or God or Fate that you believe in, you never know where it’ll lead you.

“Some people exist in your life to make it better. Some people exist to make it worse.”

And they all have a place.

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars? There’s a lot to love about this book. I had a few small issues with the presentation, but I adored this story and the messages it sends. I appreciated the bittersweet ending, because fiction needs a little bitter and a little sweet to feel closer to reality, and this one truly feels like life. Not my life, but that’s why I read. It keeps me aware. I definitely recommend this one not only for fans of YA contemporary romance, but anyone who’s looking to read a little more diversely this year.

Further recommendations:

  1. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell is another fantastic YA romance full of real-life problems about equality between races and genders, as well as other themes like poverty. Expect to learn a little about the world, but also to fall completely in love with the adventures of Eleanor and Park.

What’s next: Although Rainbow Rowell’s adult romance Landline was next on my TBR, I squished in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists between my TBR novels, and I’ll be sharing some brief thoughts on Adichie’s essay tomorrow. Although even the word “feminism” alone might be enough to turn some readers away, I think this essay is something every human being should read, as it focuses primarily on correcting popular misconceptions about the term “feminism” rather than arguing that women should rule the world, or some such. Check back tomorrow for more info–I’m excited about this one.

Are you planning to read more diversely this year? What are some of the books you’ve picked up already or plan to pick up to diversify your 2017 reads?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant