Sunday, September 29, 2013

Review of Shiloh, by Helena Sorensen

Goodreads Summary:

In a world of perpetual darkness, a boy is born who wields remarkable power over fire. Amos is no more than seven when he kills a Shadow Wolf and becomes a legend in Shiloh. He would be destined for great things were it not for the stories his father tells about a world beyond the Shadow and a time before the Shadow. Only madmen hold to such tales, and in Shiloh, they have always come to bad ends.

Amos is fearless. He walks with easy confidence, certain that the Shadow cannot touch him. Even his family is in awe of him. His father marvels at his skill with the bow, his mother thanks the gods that he has all the courage she lacks, and his sister, Phebe, worships him for saving her from an attack of the Shadow Cats.

On a trip to the village of Emmerich, Amos rescues the Magistrate’s son, Simeon, from the village bullies. Simeon, fair-skinned and pale-eyed like other Dreamers in Shiloh’s history, becomes Amos’s constant companion and dearest friend. Simeon becomes a part of Amos’s family, listening to fireside stories told in a way he’s never heard them before and learning to wield a bow and arrow.

The year the boys turn twelve, they are itching to prove themselves. An impetuous plan to steal a beautiful lantern goes miserably awry, and the lantern’s owner prophecies that Amos will be devoured by the Shadow. For the first time, a seed of fear is planted in Amos’s mind, and when his father is killed by a Shadow Wolf on the last day of the Great Hunt, the fear takes hold. If so great and brave a man as his father could fall to the Shadow, what hope has he?


I received a review request from this author a while back. (I'm embarrassed to admit when.) I started it shortly after it showed up in my inbox, but every time I picked it up, I couldn't bring myself to read more than twenty pages at a time. Honestly, if it weren't for the fact that I promised the author a review, I probably wouldn't have finished it at all.

I'll start by saying what I liked about Shiloh. Stylistically, this book is good (minus a few instances of purplish prose). I liked how all of the characters, including the main characters, spoke with peasant accents. (You always see minor or supporting characters with accents, but never protagonists.) And I liked Simeon, Phebe, and Isolde. (The description makes it sound like Amos is the protagonist, but that's not the case--which is a good thing, because I found Amos flat, boring, and unrelatable.)

Now here's where I list the problems:

First of all, I was incredibly bored. Stuff happened. Sometimes. But there was very little by way of I-need-to-know-what-happens-next tension. Up until the last 60 pages or so, there wasn't much of a plot. No stakes. No goals or obstacles. The characters were basically just going about the motions. And when something cool did happen, it was either rushed or skipped over. (A fight with a dragon! Why didn't I get to see the fight with the dragon?)

There was also the mythology problem. There were far too many myths and stories and songs (see this post), and it finally came to the point where I was skipping over all of them. If it's not immediately relevant to the story at hand, then it needs to be condensed as much as possible.

There was also the fact that this story covered too large a timespan. It starts with a seven-year-old who kills a Shadow Cat. I don't care how much of a special snowflake he is, I refuse to believe that a seven-year-old can accomplish something like that. Did he have to be seven? At the very minimum, I would accept twelve. (And yes, the story could have easily been edited so that Amos started as a twelve-year-old and still finished the story as a teenager.)

I was also confused about a lot of the worldbuilding and magical elements (ie, the whole deal with the Hall of Shadows). Oh, and the "perpetual darkness" part. Like, how "dark" are we talking? The story references the absence of a sun, but that can't be possible--the descriptions are all very visual, there is a distinction between night and day, and the characters are capable of embroidery, fine metal forgery, and distinguishing colors. From the way I pictured things, it couldn't have been worse than rainy-day grayness. But if that's the case, where is this light coming from? It can't all be from campfires/lanterns.

So overall, I'm sorry to day that this book was not successful for me, and I apologize to the author for taking so long to review it.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

So here's the deal:

I have a galley of The Republic of Thieves (book 3 in The Gentleman Bastards series) sitting in my computer. I've been waiting over a year for this book.

But I have things I must do. I have responsibilities to other writers and responsibilities to myself. So by the end of the weekend, I will accomplish all of the following:

1. Finish and review Shiloh.

2. Finish writing interview questions.

3. Watch the last 2 histology lectures. (I'm not a slacker--I was sick for a week. And histology is bad enough when you're healthy.)

4. Finish reading medicine-and-culture articles.

5. Finish The Edge of Normal.

5. Make twice-baked potatoes for my roommate.

6. Oh yeah, and there is that histology exam I have on Wednesday that I should probably study for...

All of this sounds kind of exciting, actually. Minus the histology stuff.

And then when I finish all of this, then I can read The Republic of Thieves. Yay!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Book Recommendations: "The Raven Boys" and "The Dream Thieves"

Today I finished The Dream Thieves, the second book in The Raven Cycle series. Since I finished both of these books within a month of each other, I decided to review them together.

The Raven Boys:

I listened to this on audiobook. I'm usually not a re-reader, but this is the sort of book that I could listen to again and again. The style is beautiful and evocative, with just the right amount of cleverness and wit. I loved how distinct Blue and all four of the boys were--how they had fully fleshed-out personalities and contradictions and tiny details that reflected everything about their personalities. I loved the character of Henrietta and how the author actually managed to evoke the sense of mystery and supernatural that seems to elude most writers of paranormal fiction.

The one issue I have with the two books I read by Maggie Stiefvater is that her villains tend to fall flat. I was also confused by the implications of Adam's decision at the end of the book--but that's something that we'll probably come to understand in The Dream Thieves.


The Dream Thieves

I got my ARC of The Dream Thieves at BEA. I hadn't yet read The Raven Boys, so I almost didn't bother, but then the girl in front of me offered to hold my place in the Harlequin line so that I could grab a copy from the Scholastic booth. I'm SO glad I did. I absolutely love both books in this series.

The Dream Thieves differs from The Raven Boys in that it mostly focuses on Ronan. But that's okay, because Ronan is awesome enough to have a whole book to himself. This book has a bit more action and romantic hints than its predecessor, but like the first book, it's really the characters, the mystical setting, and the writing style that win you over.

However, I am still waiting for a decent villain. This book almost had one, but [spoilers].


The Dream Thieves is out today.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Sometimes, you don't have a name

There are some emotions that don't have a linguistic equivalent in certain languages. One of those emotions is the one that keeps me from being a productive writer.

It's not fear, I don't think. For a while I thought it was dread, but that would imply that there was something unpleasant about it, which isn't usually the case. If anything, it's more closely related to uncertainty.

Writing is all about putting sentences together, but how can I do that if I don't know which sentence comes next?

Is there a specific name for the feeling that prevents you from doing something you don't know how to do?


I've handled this before. I'm at least 80,000 words into this book. It's one of those things that gets figured out eventually.


Right now, the best solution might be to skip this scene. It's a smaller scene that works within the plot, but has little importance of its own. I'm worried that if I put too much into it early on, I'll make it longer than it actually should be.

Friday, September 13, 2013

New Release Review: "Rose Under Fire" by Elizabeth Wein (recommended)

[companion novel to Code Name Verity, which you absolutely have to read first]

Goodreads Summary:

While flying an Allied fighter plane from Paris to England, American ATA pilot and amateur poet, Rose Justice, is captured by the Nazis and sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious women's concentration camp. Trapped in horrific circumstances, Rose finds hope in the impossible through the loyalty, bravery and friendship of her fellow prisoners. But will that be enough to endure the fate that’s in store for her?

Elizabeth Wein, author of the critically-acclaimed and best-selling Code Name Verity, delivers another stunning WWII thriller. The unforgettable story of Rose Justice is forged from heart-wrenching courage, resolve, and the slim, bright chance of survival.


[some spoilers for Code Name Verity]

It's impossible for me to discuss this book without comparing it to Code Name Verity. Both have a similar premise: young woman captured by the Nazis and living under horrific circumstances. Both center on strong friendships between female characters. (A relationship that is severely under-explored in YA/NA literature.) And both are stories of incredible bravery and desperation in the face of cruelty.

In terms of voice, this book was very different from its companion novel. In contrast to Verity's snark and wit, and Maddie's terseness, Rose's voice is almost too straightforward, though its interspersed with bits of poetry. I'm not a huge fan of poetry, though it grew on me by the end of the book.

One element that I really appreciated about Rose Under Fire was the aftermath. The story didn't end with Rose's liberation. Much of the book is devoted to Rose and her companions' re-learning how to live after their experiences in Ravensbrück. How do you regain your sense of self after that kind of experience? How do you 'tell the world' when you can't even bring yourself to speak about it? We often talk about the horrors of concentration camps, but what about the people inside them? How do you come back to being a person when, for months or years, you were treated as anything but?

[But seriously, was it really necessary to name the protagonist "Rose Justice"?]

Thursday, September 12, 2013

September Update

I just got through my first onslaught of exams, and wow, medical school tests are hard. (Apparently, it's totally fair game for anatomy teachers to test you on stuff you never learned in class.) But I passed everything (I think), so all turned out well in the end.

A lot of the books I snagged at BEA are coming out in September. I won't have time to finish all of them this month, but I will try to review as many as possible. Rose Under Fire, the companion novel to Code Name Verity, came out last week, and I plan to have it finished and reviewed tonight. It's not as good as its predecessor, but that's admittedly an impossible bar to set. I still like it a lot, an the poetry is growing on me.

The Edge of Normal came out yesterday. It's a New Adult thriller about a young woman who is recovering from a kidnapping experience. I only read a few pages of it, but it's very engaging, and I'm going to finish it soon after Rose Under Fire. The Dream Thieves, the sequel to The Raven Boys, also comes out this month. I listened to The Raven Boys on audio and absolutely loved it. I'm not a big re-reader, but it's the sort of novel you can read/listen to over and over again. As you can imagine, I can't wait to pick up The Dream Thieves. Also, I keep hearing really good things about All the Truth That's in Me.

There's also one other book I've been meaning to finish for a long I should do that soon..

So that's what you can look forward to review-wise. Peace out.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

New Release Review: "Duplex: A Novel" by Kathryn Davis

Goodreads Summary:

Time, place, and mind all bend in extraordinary ways in this new novel from the acclaimed author of The Thin Place and Versailles 

Mary and Eddie are meant for each other—but love is no guarantee, not in these suburbs. Like all children, they exist in an eternal present; time is imminent, and the adults of the street live in their assorted houses like numbers on a clock. Meanwhile, ominous rumors circulate, and the increasing agitation of the neighbors points to a future in which all will be lost. Soon a sorcerer’s car will speed down Mary’s street, and as past and future fold into each other, the resonant parenthesis of her girlhood will close forever. Beyond is adulthood, a world of robots and sorcerers, slaves and masters, bodies without souls. In Duplex, Kathryn Davis, whom the Chicago Tribune has called “one of the most inventive novelists at work today,” has created a coming-of-age story like no other. Once you enter the duplex—that magical hinge between past and future, human and robot, space and time—there’s no telling where you might come out.


I had very mixed feelings about this novel. I loved how surreal it was: the story of suburban neighborhoods where women walk their dogs and get seduced by sorcerers while girls gossip and trade cards with their robot neighbors. It was the type of story that combined everything without drawing any attention to the strangeness of it: past meets present meets future; suburban monotony meets apocalypse; fiction meets reality in a way that the two are indistinguishable.

It's a very weird, experimental story. And while I loved that element, I couldn't bring myself to love the actual story. The characters felt flat, and it was hard to relate to them or even see them as real people.

This is the type of book that will appeal to only a small subset of people. Can I recommend it to anyone in particular? Not exactly. But if you're looking for something very different, then I would give Duplex a shot.


Duplex is out now.
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