Bites

Pub Date: October 10, 2017
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

Here is a thing everyone wants:
A miracle.

Here is a thing everyone fears:
What it takes to get one.

Any visitor to Bicho Raro, Colorado is likely to find a landscape of dark saints, forbidden love, scientific dreams, miracle-mad owls, estranged affections, one or two orphans, and a sky full of watchful desert stars.

At the heart of this place you will find the Soria family, who all have the ability to perform unusual miracles. And at the heart of this family are three cousins longing to change its future: Beatriz, the girl without feelings, who wants only to be free to examine her thoughts; Daniel, the Saint of Bicho Raro, who performs miracles for everyone but himself; and Joaquin, who spends his nights running a renegade radio station under the name Diablo Diablo.

They are all looking for a miracle. But the miracles of Bicho Raro are never quite what you expect. (goodreads.com)

Here’s the thing: I have kind of a love/hate relationship with Maggie’s writing. I HATED the Lament series and as a result didn’t even attempt The Wolves of Mercy Falls series. I read THE SCORPIO RACES and thought it was pretty good. I no (haven’t read the last one yet). And now we get to ALL THE CROOKED SAINTS.

Meh.

I feel like this was a book where the publisher was like, Maggie write a book because you word good. And Maggie gave them a book with words and they published it. I didn’t think it was necessarily overwritten. I did like the fairy tale-esque sort of style she was going for. But I felt it was really rambly in a trying-to-be-quirky sort of way that I really wasn’t digging. This felt like sort of an experiment she was trying and for me it didn’t quite click.

All those rambly, dangly loose ends do end up tied up at the end, and rather nicely. Everything felt far less rambly and random and scatterbrained at the end and I actually rather liked the end. Just not thrilled with the road she took to get there.

I liked the world she developed so close to my own home (Arizona, this story is set in southern Colorado) so I felt pretty rooted in the setting itself. I liked the sort of magical realism she dabbled in with the miracles and the process through which people have to go through in order to come out the other side of them. I just didn’t feel all that connected to any individual character because she kept hopping all over the place to tell everyone’s stories.

It’s a whimsical story in its darkness and light, but for me it was read from a distance. I didn’t feel invested in anything. But that’s the trouble with fairy tales, isn’t it? Personally I think they’re a gamble in that you can tell a tale that either sucks a reader in or leaves them at a distance. Then again that’s really true of any writing. But doubly true to these kinds of tales.

Maggie paints a good scene. She’s descriptive in ALL THE CROOKED SAINTS without being overwritten. I just didn’t connect with the particular style she was going for. Didn’t love it; didn’t hate it. Just kind of meh. I look forward to her Ronan books though. Absolutely.

3.5

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

August 8, 2017

Published: September 4, 2016
Publisher: Self
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

Rhianwyn of the Caderyn is conflicted about giving up a warrior’s life to become a wife and mother, but her love for her new husband is enough to at least make her consider it. However, with the conquering Gaians moving ever closer to her homeland a peaceful life may no longer be an option, for Rhia or for any of her people. With rival tribes, old suitors, and the dangerous General Lepidus to contend with, Rhia soon finds her new family in unprecedented danger, and her choices now must be about more than just herself… (goodreads.com)

It’s a LONG book, that’s for sure. But even with that I didn’t find myself bored with the story. It’s not a fast-moving plot. It’s a slow burn that takes its time developing the world and the characters. It definitely has more plot than something character-driving, but a lot of time is spent on the characters as well and how they react and deal with the situations that arise around them. I was really afraid it was going to be a slog, but it wasn’t. I didn’t begrudge reading the story at all, and I thought Harker balanced detail with story excellently.

Rhia is an incredibly self-aware woman who adapts to change really well despite everything. She’s brutal but sympathetic, able to be demure when the situation calls for it, but not afraid to speak her mind when it’s rendered either. She’s a dynamic character who is a breeze to follow from one situation to the next.

The story itself is vividly painted. I was able to picture everything that happened, down to details, without actually being inundated with them. Sometimes with these books you get authors who go LOOK AT ALL THE RESEARCH I DID and instead of weaving those details seamlessly into the story you get great big heaps of unnecessary detail-dumping. That didn’t happen here. I felt the world-building and the story wove together seamlessly. Some of it was a little strange, like the communal bathing where Rhia’s dad was just hanging out with her and her friends while they bathed, all tits out and making vague sexual innuendos. Not sure how necessary that particular scene was, or how historically accurate, but at least it was a one-off. For everything that happens there isn’t any gratuity in the story, sexual or violent.

Harker created some excellent characters that were really easy to follow and blended them into a great story that felt like nothing to read despite how long it was. Personally I think that’s a sign of a good writer, someone who can write these longer books without having them FEEL like longer books. The only issue I really had was the WHY of the world. The blurb says it’s influenced by Iron Age Britain, which would have heavy Roman influence. Except 95% of this wasn’t influence, it WAS Roman and old Britain. There’s a hint of magic toward the end and I’m wondering if that element of the world is fleshed out better in the next book. But as WILDCAT stands I didn’t really see a reason why it couldn’t have just been set in that real world time period and the magical element thrown in. Not like artists haven’t taken liberties with history before. Just that thought kind of dogged me throughout the book. I couldn’t help but think that a book like AN EMBER IN THE ASHES is Roman influenced. It’s a vague homage, but the author really went her own way with it. WILDCAT isn’t influenced. It’s too heavily and too closely Roman/Britain to be just influenced. It didn’t make the story bad, but it did linger a question mark over my head about it.

Ultimately it’s really good, slow burn story that begs you to take your time reading it. Harker’s taken a lot of care in researching and developing this world and he’s created some really great characters doing it. I look forward to the next book!

4

I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Published: August 1, 2011
Publisher: Arthur A Levine Books
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

Selene grew up in a palace on the Nile under parents Cleopatra and Mark Antony – the most brilliant, powerful rulers on earth. But when a cruel Roman Emperor takes the country and whisks the princess to Rome against her will. She finds herself torn between two young men and two possible destinies – until she reaches out to claim her own. (goodreads.com)

Whatever you do don’t read CLEOPATRA’S MOON and CLEOPATRA’S DAUGHTER by Michelle Moran too close together. They’re the same story. Luckily it’s been long enough since I’ve read the latter that I can’t remember details although I did remember some of the big details. For instance I knew how the story ended before I got there. Granted if you’re more familiar with the history you’ll know it already anyway. Two excellent authors writing the same story. Other than I loved the latter I won’t be comparing the two because I don’t remember enough detail.

That being said, CLEOPATRA’S MOON was excellent. Shecter did a fantastic job of inserting all of this historical information and making it a part of the story instead of piles of unnecessary information for the sake of having done the research. The world became its own character, weaving itself into the story and thriving around the characters themselves. I saw, smelt, and felt everything Shecter was writing.

The story itself was incredibly moving. It truly is heartbreaking watching what is rightly a child (although don’t tell her that) struggle to remember where she came from and grasping onto the last shreds of her life while being thrust into such terrifying unknown. And the ending, major historical event aside, was fantastic for Cleopatra Selene’s dawning realization. It was exactly what she needed. I certainly found myself tearing up in spots. Shecter has a knack for drawing feelings out of characters and making you feel every little bit of what they do. Little Ptolly. Ugh. My heart.

I loved how Cleopatra Selene fought for her mother’s and father’s memories every step of the way. She never let anyone sully her memory of her parents even when Augustus tried to drown out their excellence in his own smear campaign in order to make himself look better. It’s the author bucking against history too and I love it. History smeared Cleopatra into the dirt and the more books, fiction or non-fiction, that we can get that attempt to erase that craven vixen image the better.

If you want history to come to life before your eyes and read an excellent story with finely crafted characters while you’re at it, read CLEOPATRA’S MOON. You won’t want it to end.

5

Published: June 14, 2016
Publisher: ROC
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, a shadowy organization that collects important works of fiction from all of the different realities. Most recently, she and her enigmatic assistant Kai have been sent to an alternative London. Their mission: Retrieve a particularly dangerous book. The problem: By the time they arrive, it’s already been stolen.

London’s underground factions are prepared to fight to the death to find the tome before Irene and Kai do, a problem compounded by the fact that this world is chaos-infested—the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic to run rampant. To make matters worse, Kai is hiding something—secrets that could be just as volatile as the chaos-filled world itself.

Now Irene is caught in a puzzling web of deadly danger, conflicting clues, and sinister secret societies. And failure is not an option—because it isn’t just Irene’s reputation at stake, it’s the nature of reality itself… (goodreads.com)

I absolutely adore this book. I don’t adore books often, but when I do I ADORE them. Cogman has balanced whimsical, dark, funny, daring, crushing, romantic tension, suspense, and thrills fantastically. And the world she’s created OMG I love it. LOVE IT.

After coming off of Rachel Caine’s book with a similar concept of an all-powerful library controlling the world, I was a little skeptical. I wasn’t sure what to expect. But this idea that at the center of these multiverses sits the most expansive library ever (we’re talking like it could literally take you years to walk from one end to the other) and within it are highly trained librarians who are sent out into these various worlds to hunt down books that would be beneficial to the library to have . . . Evie would be jealous.

And then these infinite number of multiverses branch out from the center of this library like spokes from a wheel and only Librarians, who have their own powerful language, can traverse the universes and none of the universes know about each other or the Library itself. Time stands still in the Library and people don’t age. If Librarians happen to have children (which they don’t very often) they have to send them to school in one of the universes so they’ll grow up. If someone is injured and tended to in the Library they have to go into one of the universes to heal. People live for literary hundreds of years within the library and when they’re ready to retire (aka die) they choose a universe and go and live out the rest of their days there. I just . . . I love it.

Most of the Librarians are recruited from the various worlds, including Irene’s student, Kai (who is totally dreamy and I don’t normally get book boyfriends but he’s one of the few I do have). She’s assigned to take him on this mission to retrieve a very specific copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales from a world overrun by Chaos. In this book Chaos is a malevolent force that usually brings with is very disruptive fairies and other insidious creatures that overrun the world, but which the occupants ultimately view as normal, effectively corrupting people. And if a Librarian is corrupted by Chaos in some way, they’re not allowed back into the Library until the corruption is removed, which is what happens to Irene and Kai and their mission ends up going tits up real quick.

The mission ends up evolving well beyond anything they, or the Library, could have expected and things get rough. Cogman does get pretty dark, but the tone she maintains throughout the book is, like I said above, practically whimsical. But it’s not pretentious nor does it invoke some kind of Austenian flare. It’s just light and lends itself to some drier humor despite the things happening in the story.

I loved being in Irene’s head because throughout the story she’s this very composed, very professional woman that plays everything by the book. Yet in her head she’s effectively drooling over Kai and cursing people left right and center. But she filters all that out by the time the thoughts get out of her mouth so she always appears to be the air of professionalism, or whatever her cover requires her to be. She thinks fast on her feet and always at least gives the appearance of having a solution even though she might not.

Totally adding the next book to my reading list. Because things were left off at the end that I really need answers to and the little snippet of the next book there totally got my attention. Ugh. I haven’t felt like this about a book in a long time. It’s a great feeling. Read THE INVISIBLE LIBRARY immediately. If you’re a book lover you will love it. If you’re a world-building lover you’ll love it. If you have eyes you’ll love it.

5

I received a copy of this book from the publisher through Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Published: July 7, 2015
Publisher: NAL
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

Ruthless and supremely powerful, the Great Library is now a presence in every major city, governing the flow of knowledge to the masses. Alchemy allows the Library to deliver the content of the greatest works of history instantly—but the personal ownership of books is expressly forbidden.

Jess Brightwell believes in the value of the Library, but the majority of his knowledge comes from illegal books obtained by his family, who are involved in the thriving black market. Jess has been sent to be his family’s spy, but his loyalties are tested in the final months of his training to enter the Library’s service.

When his friend inadvertently commits heresy by creating a device that could change the world, Jess discovers that those who control the Great Library believe that knowledge is more valuable than any human life—and soon both heretics and books will burn… (goodreads.com)

INK AND BONE is a fun, exciting book if you’re not familiar with Alexandria’s, or Egypt’s, history and don’t think about the world-building too much. Otherwise it’s an alternative history where A LOT has been set aside and not even touched or expounded upon for the sake of telling a story. So I’m torn on this one.

On the one hand I did enjoy the story. I thought the development of Caine’s library as this outwardly sentient being being run by corrupted men from behind the curtain was interesting and unique and wholly refreshing in a market of broken dystopias or supernatural worlds. It offers something different, where literacy and knowledge have gone to an extreme so much so that’s it’s reversed back over itself and knowledge is, once again, fully controlled for the sake of “protecting” the population.

I enjoyed the characters, each and every one of them, especially Jess’s teacher there, whose name escapes me at the moment. All were incredibly lifelike and jumped off the page and held their own. While some were less appealing than others, they all brought their own special brand of life to the table that was hard to ignore, especially as the story progressed and everyone was thrown into battle and forced to protect each other.

The world itself is incredibly intriguing if considered on its own, mutually exclusive to anything even remotely historically accurate. If you view it from within a bubble and don’t associate it to anything, it’s spectacular and imaginative and compelling.

However, taking the story into historical context it completely falls apart. There’s no why or how answered at all. In fact everything is pretty much brushed aside except for the concept of “the library at Alexandria never burns.” The implications of that are massive yet the world we get is vaguely Victorian. It’s set in the future, but our current technological path never happened and everything’s a bit more steampunky with elements of magic if we’re talking about the people who run the library. And then there’s some random war between Wales and England that felt really contrived and set entirely for the sake of creating a hardship for the characters. Not sure what was going on there.

To call INK AND BONE alternate history is kind of a misnomer. It assumes that historical context is even considered. It’s not. Literally it’s just the concept of “the library at Alexandria never burns.” It ignores literally everything else and aside from a couple of poignant known historical inserts like Gutenberg, it skips ahead a couple thousand years to give us the current story.

I liken this book to the Red Dawn remake. If you take it on its own, not related to anything else, it’s a good movie. But the second you relate it to its predecessor it just goes up in smoke. INK AND BONE does the same thing. Taken as its own self-contained story in a world that’s entirely made up except for the library at Alexandria and it’s a good book. But the second you actually try to relate it to its real thing it turns to sand and blows away. Look, I liked the book enough that I want to read the next one. But this is not alternate history. There was not nearly enough care taken to make this an alternate history. It’s a futuristic steampunk dystopia with an ancient library at its core. The name merely makes it relatable. It could have been named something entirely fictitious and it still would have worked. And I wouldn’t have bugged out about the world nearly as much, if at all.

3