Library Loot #12

  • Library LootLibrary Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post — feel free to steal the button — and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.

Now that finals are over and classes have ended, I find myself swimming in ample reading time. The fact that I’d been looking forward to this moment for months doesn’t matter, because I’ve used this time not for reading but for tossing out note cards, trying and failing to figure out where my texts books should go, and napping. Precious, beautiful sleep. No more staying awake until 3 or 4 in the morning working on some paper that’s bent on ruining me. No more reading chapters about diseases and medical terminology. No more cursing test dates with they coincide. No more classes and now more college-stress. At least not for the next three months–a thought I’m still basking in.

In the mean time, I moseyed on down to the library earlier this week — only two books this week, but they’re books I’ve been eager to start:

Library Loot

My list of books for review just hit the double digits, and the publication and archive dates are all cramped around each other. That being said, I have no idea if I will have time to read these, yet alone review them — though of course I prefer to do both! I was lucky that my request for Openly Straight put me in at number one for holds, so I’d hate to walk away from Konigsberg’s book. Eleanor & Park is one I’ve come close to buying a few times, and while I’ve sided against a purchase for now, I’ve had my eye on it since before it was released. I had hoped to have a “Rainbow Rowel reading week,” but the requests on Attachments spiked and… I’m waiting and waiting. Patiently.

With my new library books checked out–not to mention those ARCs and my current re-read–I have a lot of reading planned out. Which book(s) do you plan on reading this weekend?

Happy Friday and happier reading, everyone!

Raya
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Waiting on Wednesday #2

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases bloggers are eagerly anticipating.

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Breaking the Spine, which spotlights upcoming releases that bloggers are eagerly anticipating.

The Bone Season The Bone Season (Scion #1) by Samantha Shannon
Release date: August 20th, 2013

The Bone Season (Scion, #1)

Goodreads summary:

It is the year 2059. Several major world cities are under the control of a security force called Scion. Paige Mahoney works in the criminal underworld of Scion London, part of a secret cell known as the Seven Seals. The work she does is unusual: scouting for information by breaking into others’ minds. Paige is a dreamwalker, a rare kind of clairvoyant, and in this world, the voyants commit treason simply by breathing.

But when Paige is captured and arrested, she encounters a power more sinister even than Scion. The voyant prison is a separate city—Oxford, erased from the map two centuries ago and now controlled by a powerful, otherworldly race. These creatures, the Rephaim, value the voyants highly—as soldiers in their army.

Paige is assigned to a Rephaite keeper, Warden, who will be in charge of her care and training. He is her master. Her natural enemy. But if she wants to regain her freedom, Paige will have to learn something of his mind and his own mysterious motives.

The Bone Season introduces a compelling heroine—a young woman learning to harness her powers in a world where everything has been taken from her. It also introduces an extraordinary young writer, with huge ambition and a teeming imagination. Samantha Shannon has created a bold new reality in this riveting debut.

| B&N • The Book Depository • Author WebsiteBook Website |

I’ve kept this book near the back of my mind like a post-it note, not too far so that I forget all about it, but I didn’t realize how soon The Bone Season‘s publication date is! (Not too far away, now, is it…?) This hooked me the instant I read the summary, and I know ARC reviewers have not been disappointed. The Scion series has not only struck a seven-part series deal, but it’s also acquired people’s attention in the film industry. All the more to get excited! Like anyone, I loathe waiting on new installments to book series, but I look forward to becoming engrossed in fantastical dystopia that moves beyond the average trilogy.

ARC Review: Some Quiet Place by Kelsey Sutton

Some Quiet PlaceSome Quiet Place by Kelsey Sutton
Release date: July 8th, 2013
| GoodreadsB&NThe Book Depository |
My rating: ★★★☆☆

*This is a review of an uncorrected proof, and quotes/excerpts may therefore differ from the final copy.

As someone who very rarely reads books from the young adult paranormal category—and I do mean rarely (read: mostly never)—I approached Kelsey Sutton’s Some Quiet Place with a strange mix of apprehension and anticipation. It is only recently that I’ve begin to warm up to this genre, and even so, I’ve opened myself up to a mere few, such as the likes of Kendare Blake’s Anna Dressed in Blood. I have to face it: my paranormal shelf is a pathetically small. I suppose that is partly why I became interested in Sutton’s book. I wanted to expand my tastes and shatter misconceptions I have about this genre, but I also found the premise genuinely interesting.

I don’t know what it is to feel.

I can’t experience the freedom of grief, the abandon of ecstasy, the release of fury. And of course I can’t be curious about these experiences.

I don’t have the luxury of people around me. I can’t weep, I can’t lust, I can’t cower in terror, I can’t celebrate. Not in a true sense; I’ve grown talented in the art of pretending. The only sensation I’m capable of—not an Emotion but something physical—is a sort of … nothingness that’s always there.

Elizabeth Caldwell can feel no Emotion, not since she was a hit by a car as a child. While Emotions don’t affect her, she does, however, see them. On the day of a car accident, something in Elizabeth changed. Her eyes made discernible what no other human can see: Elements, like Fog, or Emotions, like Courage or Regret. As real as anyone, they roam the earth as invisible beings. One touch from an Emotion is enough to affect humans, but not Elizebath—and they’ve given up on ever influencing her. All but one: Fear. He’s determined to find the cause of what prevents Elizabeth from feeling, and when an evil presence begins stalking her, uncovering the truth may be Elizabeth’s only key for survival.

Because Elizabeth lacks any ability to feel, I worried. I worried because although Elizabeth doesn’t feel, she falls back on pure logic to understand people and the world she lives in. I wondered how little room—if any—this would leave for a personality. As much as I welcome smart characters, I won’t stick around if they’re sucked dry of life, but Kelsey Sutton shattered those worries on page one. Sutton impressed me, and quite instantly, because Elizabeth proved shockingly rounded. More than that, the prose puts evocative language to such good use that the main character’s resigned and muted qualities failed to bother me.

“You were going to live next door and we would grow old in the same nursing home. Chuck oatmeal at each other and watch soap operas all day in our rocking chairs. That was my day dream. My perfect life. I don’t want to keep asking myself why until the end, but…” A lone tear trails down her sunken cheek. This time I don’t reach out to wipe the water away; I let it go. Down, down, until it drips off the side of her jaw. This is humanity. This is life and death in one room.

For a good while, I believed Some Quiet Place would get a four-star rating out of me. The writing has quality and, for the most part, characters are complex and interesting. They’re solid and never hollow, and while the book is not perfect, I wanted to love it and let it enchant me. But then, slowly, the novel wore off its charm, and I looked passed Sutton’s well-written sentences. A little dismayed, I hate to say that I began noticing bothersome aspects.

If there is one predominant feature through all of young adult literature, it has to be love triangles. It’s tough enough trying to find young adult novels that don’t pair main characters up with at least one love interest, and it’s just as challenging—if not more—to stay away from love triangles. They’re rampant with no hint of dying out, and it surprises me how many authors choose the same romantic route. Some Quiet Place starts out well, like a nice showcase of good writing and the possibility of something more blooming between Elizabeth and Fear. Unfortunately, Kelsey Sutton introduces Joshua Hayes, who unknowingly becomes a wrecking ball. This is a problem, and for obvious reasons.

Scooting aside the issue that love triangles are annoying, I’m frustrated by a lack of committed relationships in young adult literature. Elizabeth Caldwell could have had something solid with either Joshua or Fear, yet her absence of feeling complicates her relationship with both boys. It’s Fear, though, whom she shares the most with, and it always felt like they had stronger compatibility. (I should also admit my inclination toward Fear over Joshua. Fear is “the bad boy,” while Joshua remains the opposite. Fear displays a disturbing quality a few times that screams possessiveness, and that didn’t go unnoticed by me. At the same time, Joshua’s character bored me while Fear proved more interesting.) The idea that Elizabeth will, for some reason, “need” Joshua in the end—which is what Elizabeth believes—constantly pops up as if to remind the reader why he’s there. This made the love triangle feel strained and forcefully added in.

We’re silent, a fragmented pretense of belonging, and we all know it.

Some Quiet Place is not, however, a paranormal romance—at least it doesn’t feel that way. There is little to no lusting or yearning, which has much to do with Elizabeth’s unique situation, and there are other issues besides romance that Sutton tries to address. Issues such as bullying, abuse from Elizabeth’s father, and the great mystery that surrounds Elizabeth’s accident. These other issues, however, feel somewhat like background noise. Take Maggie, for example. She is Elizabeth’s only friend who is dying of cancer, but her role didn’t feel as important as it’s meant to be. It’s true that Elizabeth’s own disconnect contributed to my own, but Maggie seems insignificant if she can’t mean anything to the main character. And when Elizabeth should be uncovering the truth about who and what she is, Joshua becomes a distraction or she’s thinking about Fear. While there were moments where I wasn’t sure who Elizebeth would end up with—Fear or Joshua—it is unfortunate that the romance out-does the book’s other conflicts.

This book starts out on good footing, but as the story progresses, it trips over its own feet. Despite that and slow pacing, I can’t deny the talent in Kelsey Sutton. She can write, and she does write—perhaps with more overshadowing romance than I prefer or deem necessary, but potential for growth is there in an already good writer. For that reason alone, I look forward to seeing more from this author and intend to read her future work.

The truth is, I hide my real nature, because if I don’t, my nothingness would consume me. I would become a wondering creature, with no connection and no soul. My life in Edson isn’t perfect at all, but it is a life—the only one I’ll ever have. So, even though I can’t hold any feeling for my place in this family or this town, I will hold onto it because I can.

Thank you to NetGalley and Flux for providing a free copy of Some Quiet Place in exchange for my honest review.

ARC Review: Underneath by Sarah Jamila Stevenson

UnderneathUnderneath by Sarah Jamila Stevenson
Release date: June 8th, 2013
| GoodreadsB&NThe Book Depository |
My rating: ★★★☆☆

*This is a review of an uncorrected proof, and quotes/excerpts may therefore differ from the final copy.

I’m in the zone, quiet, just me and the other end of the pool beckoning me, coming inexorably closer with every stroke. My happy place. One of the reasons I swim. Really, the only reason I—

ohgod, ohgod—
NO! no. no. no. no—

It sounds like a scream, and I pop my head up, my legs floundering in the pool. Who’s dead? My hands go reflexively to my ears as I try to block out the sounds threatening to drown me.

The wake of the person in the next lane washes over me, pushing chlorinated water into my nose and mouth. I cough and sputter, my sinuses burning, and take a quick glance around. But I’ve realized by now that nobody was screaming. It was all in my head.

Having odd, New Age parents might, under certain circumstances, interfere with a child’s popularity status, but Sunshine “Sunny” Pryce-Shah is admired and accepted by her peers. Above all, she has her older and well-liked cousin, Shiri, to guide her and confide in. Or she used to, and now Sunny’s world is slowly beginning to fall apart. In the stir of Shiri’s suicide, amongst hurt and heartache, a frightening ability awakens within Sunny: she can hear people’s thoughts, or—as Sunny calls it—“underhearing.”

What I expected from this novel was complete uncertainty, not knowing whether Underneath and I were a destined match. I did, however, find the premise curious enough to not only dip a finger in but take a full-body dive. In the end, what I am left with is a back-and-forth bounce, questioning if I like Stevenson’s novel. I did, in fact, enjoy the story, but do I really like this? Well, yes… and no.

If there is one thing I can say about Sarah Jamila Stevenson, it’s that she knows how to write. Her characters are nothing if not rounded, all in coexistence with quality writing and good humor. Because humor—sometimes subtle and quiet, but always evident when mingled in—can easily overthrow critical aspects, I’m thankful that this is not the case. What I find is a balance between easy-flowing text and important issues. This provides an appropriate mood, acknowledging important issues without side-stepping them. With so many troubling tensions laid down—from death and abuse to more trivial problems—what worried me, then, is how Stevenson would handle each one.

More often than not, I find books with jagged pacing. Either quickened or dragged out, the uneven quality lacks a true sense of closure. When an abundance of conflicts arise, I only hope that the author neatly resolves each one. And so I waited. I waited for Stevenson to whip out the ironing board and work out all these crinkles. As I came closer to the last page, however, I began to doubt Stevenson’s intentions in smoothing the storyline in time for the conclusion. Yet in the moment I read the last page—truly, not realizing it was the last page—relief escaped me.

Dearest Sarah Jamila Stevenson: You did it.

The way Stevenson approaches and handles conflict is what I appreciate most about this novel. Nothing feels unesessarily drawn out or lugged at an erratic speed. Sunny contends each issue separately and with a clear head, or as clearly as possible in light of Shiri’s death. Not to forget, of course, Sunny’s mysterious new talent. Rather than mope or blow matters into a hurricane of melodrama, she often suffers quietly but strives for solutions. One of the obvious challenges Sunny faces is how to move on from Shiri’s death, which has left her scared and feeling alone in the world—emotions that her underhearing amplify.

Events that follow Shiri’s funeral prove sour as life takes a plunge. Unable to control her new ability, isolation and worry plague Sunny after discovering what her so-called best friend, Cassie, really thinks of her. This becomes a turning point for Sunny, as the incident ends their friendship. Dejected and booted out from her own herd, tentacles of isolation start to creep and envelope Sunny, but they retreat once she integrates into a new circle. While I feel that such occurrences among friends and “frenemies” prevail in the high school setting, I am left confused.

I wonder why the two former best friends remain fixed in opposition toward each other. It is, after all, a petty tiff in which little—virtually nothing—is said. What is underheard, however, would be a slap to anyone’s face. In this regard, I understand Sunny’s dejection and avoidance, but where does this leave Cassie? Is she simply mean-spirited to use a small argument as enough reason to turn against a friend? I can’t help but toy with the idea of drama here. If more drama about Cassie’s self-absorption, or at least a confrontation, had been added, I think the relationship’s end would have solid ground. As it stands, Cassie might be a complex individual if you peel her layers, but it is in the way she conducts herself that show shallow character.

Two subject matters that bear heavier weight in Underneath surround not only the aftermath of Shiri’s suicide, but the fragility of family. One of the more resilient characters, notable for her growth, is Auntie Mina: Shiri’s mother. Described as submissive and weak—traits that often frustrated a more independent Shiri—I was happy to watch Mina flourish into independence. Her journey is not an easy one, and the death of her only child is something that will either kill or help push her into a brighter direction. With the support of family, Mina finds an inner-strength and—standing tall with dignity—fights her demons.

Family, in fact, plays an important role in the novel. The Pryce-Shah household thoroughly charmed me, and I haven’t felt as amused and touched by a fictional family in some time. Truly, the Pryce-Shahs sparkle with a kind of refreshing quality that can only make me smile. During a time that must be one of the family’s more difficult periods, I loved seeing each member band together. It’s everything a family is and should be: protective and loving, as well as supportive enough to know when it’s time to let go.

I open the front door.

I sense my mother and Auntie Mina both standing behind me, and my mom grabs my arm, but I pull away. I glance at her; she’s holding a golf umbrella.

“Just in case,” she says, the tiniest wry smile twitching at her lips. “I don’t think we’ll need it, but you never know.” I show her the phone in my hand, the numbers 9-1-1 already punched in. She squeezes my shoulder gently this time.

After all that’s been said, why, then, don’t I love this novel? Because while I do enjoy Stevenson’s writing, there are a few aspects that prevent me from feeling enthralled by it. There are some books, while likeable and easy to jump in to, I struggle to find a connection with. Underneath is one of those books. As a character, Sunny’s level-headedness and maturity impress me. At the same time, she does feel overdone in a clean-cut role, especially when it comes to her morals. It’s during such instances—as well as some others—that I feel the writing turns stiff and contributes to my lack of emotional attachment. It’s not that don’t find the characters unrealistic or unrelatable, because I found enjoyment in the time I spent reading Underneath. As much as those small dull moments do little to woo a reader, however, my unattachment is also to blame.

Underneath comes across as a light novel, yet it also grapples with several issues that span from Shiri’s death, Sunny’s underhearing, hopeful romance, betrayals, and domestic abuse. Stevenson conveys the seriousness and discomfort that arises from these conflicts, but through use of humor and steady resolve, she doesn’t allow them to fray the plot. As one can see, Underneath contains a paranormal element, but the novel as a whole comes across as realistic fiction. Although there are times when the story and Sunny’s character fall flat, Underneath is a delightful novel about the pains of loss and relationships. It’s a novel that inspires, because despite life’s hardships, there is always a tomorrow.

We’ll always have yesterday… and today, and tomorrow.

Thank you to Netgalley and Flux for providing a free copy of Underneath in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta

Saving FrancescaSaving Francesca by Melina Marchetta

My rating: ★★★★★

I don’t remember the last time anyone looked me in the eye to speak to me. I’m frightened to look at myself in the mirror because maybe nothing’s there.

I miss the Stella girls telling me what I am. That I’m sweet and placid and accommodating and loyal and nonthreatening and good to have around. And Mia. I want her to say, “Frankie, you’re silly, you’re lazy, you’re talented, you’re passionate, you’re restrained, you’re blossoming, you’re contrary.”

I want to be an adjective again.
But I’m a noun.
A nothing. A nobody. A no one.

If I could admit to having read a shelf full of Melina Marchetta books, then I would happily name her as my new favorite author. That’s how confident I am in her writing, because after reading her second published novel, Saving Francesca, it’s nearly impossible to imagine any one of her books disappointing me. Saving Francesca is a charmer, and an addicting one at that. Not since my love affair with Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina, and books like Between Shades of Gray, have I felt so drawn to a character that I sacrifice an entire night of sleep. With Marchetta’s novel, however, it’s not merely the main character that hooks me into the story. Just like the aforementioned titles, it’s everything these pages offer. It’s the characters, their relationships and stories, and the palpable world they live in.

Lucky Francesca Spinelli, for she is one of thirty girls attending St. Sebastian’s—only Francesca and her fellow female peers aren’t so lucky. Formerly an all-boys school, St. Sebastian’s has only recently opened as co-ed. What might appear as a paradise for teenage girls is anything but, as Sebastian’s becomes a breeding ground for sexism. The girls, if not ignored, are treated like inferiors and often seen as dolled-up eye-candy. The boys are far from suave, romanticized sex gods, but rather offensive with only a few male students who show redeeming qualities. A lonely, cruel place, Francesca must feel that Sebastian’s is a punishing institution worthy to be deemed a nightmare.

As Francesca’s old St. Stella’s clique attend a different school, she feels her closest friends slipping away. But were they ever her friends when they discourage the very essence that makes Francesca likeable? If they never call or invite her out? Hanging around such a scrutinizing bunch didn’t exactly ring Francesca dry of her buoyant personality, but she did bury it beneath an instinct to blend in. It’s a misfortunate characteristic to learn, and feeling friendless and miserable and confused over her mother’s sudden depression doesn’t make life at Sebastian’s easier.

“Tell me the story about when I almost drowned?” I ask her, so then she can be the hero and it’ll make her feel better. But she says nothing and I switch on the television and I pretend that what we’re watching is funny. It’s a sitcom about a family, two kids, a mum, and a dad. Their idea of tension is an argument about who gets the cottage out back. At the end, everyone’s happy because that’s what happens in television land. Things get solved in thirty minutes.

God, I want to live there.

But splitting up with “the Stella girls” is one of the best things that can happen to Francesca, because who needs judgmental “friends”? Slowly and surely, Francesca’s old friends are replaced by new ones: Tara Finke, the feminist, or simply the ‘Speak Your Mind About Anything-ist’; Justine Kalinsky, the solid and dependable accordion geek; and Siobhan Sullivan, reportedly “the Slut of St. Stella’s” and Francesca’s long-time-ago best friend. Then, by some shock and surprise, even a few boys turn up: Jimmy Hailler, who wouldn’t want to be anywhere else than at a Spinelli dinner; Thomas Mackee, always plugged into his Discman; and finally Will Trombal, Francesca’s giant crush.

“Forget it,” he says, walking away angrily.

“And what’s the name for people who kiss other people when they’ve got a girlfriend?”

He stops and turns around, looking me straight in the eye.

“A weak, spineless prick.”

Oh great, I think. Take the right to call you names right off me, you… weak, spineless prick.

Marchetta’s strength resides in her characters and her ability to write life. Her characters are perfect in the ways they are imperfect, not only likeable but relatable. They feel as real as you or me, because I believe—without a moment’s hesitation—that somewhere out there in the world is a Francesca Spinelli, a Will Trombal, and a Tara Finke and Thomas Mackee. Marchetta writes with depth, lighting up every crevice of their personalities. These are fully rounded characters, each and every one. Not even secondary characters can avoid this writer’s prowess—even if they are mentioned once never to be heard from again. As real as I believe these characters to be, however, I also recognize their own strengths.

I know from experience that high school isn’t easy, and it can be a challenging place to tackle. Feeling alone and unattached, having no group to belong to, doesn’t make it any more inspiring. Throw depression into the mix, and it all as well might seem hopeless. Depression itself is a bleak situation of its own, affecting not only the person who suffers from it, but those around the depressed individual. When depression strikes Francesca’s mother, it nearly rips the Spinelli family apart, but Francesca is stronger than she thinks—and so is her mother.

Saving Francesca isn’t a book about ideals, as the characters and their problems are far from that. What this book does have is sensibility and a resounding support system that fills me with envy. As Francesca’s mismatched group comes to accept each other, they display resourcefulness to help themselves and support their friends. They accept each other, flaws and all, with such genuine care and love that I find it difficult not to feel affected.

“I was born seventeen years ago,” I tell him. “Do you think people have noticed that I’m around?”

“I notice when you’re not. Does that count?”

Saving Francesca has more to it than the typical young adult contemporary novel, and I believe this has much to do with how realistically Marchetta writes from the teenage perspective. This is a book about moms and daughters, platonic love, and finding your spot among a crazy, intimidating herd. This is Francesca Spinelli’s story toward finding her own strength—strength to save and free herself, to let go of inhibitions—just as much as it is about personal growth. Equally heart-wrenching as it is heart-warming, Saving Francesca is peppered in pure, sincere emotion with delightful humor. It’s a book that will make you laugh and spill tears, and I am betting that it will be a book you’ll want to read all over again.

A great feeling comes over me. Because for a moment, I kind of like who I am.

Book Review: The Gathering Storm (Katerina #1) by Robin Bridges

The Gathering StormThe Gathering Storm by Robin Bridges

My rating: ★★★☆☆

This is a review of an ARC edition and quotes/excerpts may therefore differ from the final copy.

May contain minor spoilers.

I have sat on the idea of reviewing Robin Bridges’ The Gathering Storm for more than a month, partly due to the dire feeling of complete ineptitude that only college can arouse. Yes, tiredness and the resounding urge to do nothing are pests that have bothered me—again—these last several months, but to find the motivation to review this book is not at all a good descriptor for my reading experience. Unlike the amount of time it took for me to scrap slivers of inspiration aided by an impulsive push to review, I was quick to saddle in and whizz through Katerina’s journey. The experience sped by quickly, if only because I find Bridges’ writing both addicting and fun. That is not to say, however, that The Gathering Storm is without flaw.

Set in an alternate Imperial Russia, in which we encounter illustrious monsters of night—vampires, ghosts, werewolves, zombies—and faeries, The Gathering Storm follows young Duchess Katerina Alexandrovna. Apart from her debutant life, caught in the glitz and glam of royals and high society, Katerina desperately wishes to pocket away her “curse.” Since childhood, Katerina has known that she possesses a necromancer’s power; though it is considered a malignant ability—a skill that risks great consequence should anyone discover it. But with one selfless act—an attempt to spare the Tsarevich from a wicked spell—she acquires attention from few unwelcomed parties who learn her secret. The lengths some will go, as Katerina learns, to have necromancy in their grasp while others rebuke it…

The royal family and bloodlines become prey of an old but rising evil as it builds through St. Petersburg, a threat to the Tsar himself. Stuck in the midst of it all—feuds and falsehoods wrapped in conspiracy—stands one particular Katerina Alexandrovna. Mysterious and terrifying events follow as the dead awaken and death strikes the Imperial Order of St. John. Amongst crossfire, Katerina struggles to embrace an unnatural power that may be the key in protecting innocent lives. But how can she accept this dark magic as a part of her when others condemn it (and her) so willingly?

This was horribly wrong. I ran inside, ignoring the mud on my nightgown, ignoring my dirty bare feet. Too frightened to step quietly, I made a terrible racket racing up the main stairs and knocked one of Maman’s favorite cloisonné-studded icons from the wall. I did not stop to retrieve the broken frame. I just kept running.

If I am to take an issue with The Gathering Storm, the abundance of minor characters is the first target I shoot at. However trivial, too many names tossed in bunched clusters not only makes it difficult to follow, but frustrating as well. They exist in numbers that form a giant wave daring to damper the plot, pacing, and reader interest. The set of these characters fail to bear significance to the plot or main cast, and as such, I quickly learned to discard them. Now, where there is a wealth in characters, I also find a fantastical world that lacks in richness.

What I took note of as I read is this book’s potential. It screams out from the page, and I can see how—perhaps if Bridges spent more time developing not only her world, but the characters and creatures—The Gathering Storm might have met its readers a few levels up from where it resides. In no way am I saying this book is poorly constructed, but there are certain instances where the story falls flat or where characters lack range and expansion. Sprinkle in extra thought to the writing process and scratch pages up in revision lines, and I think a stronger story could be told. By power of Almighty Pen & Ink, give me development! Give me variety!

Take, for example, Prince George. Although I look upon his character with fondness, I only spot two extremes with nothing in between to explain how he moves from one end to the other. How can he feel such strong repulsion for another person yet still find himself attracted? Because if he isn’t busy reminding Katerina how dark magic has tainted her, he is showing her faint signs of warmth and concern. If anything, I hope to see more of him the following books if only to see his character mature. …Well, there is that, and there is also the matter of Katerina’s love triangle, which—I must say—doesn’t exactly feel like a love triangle. (Regardless, my Team George merchandise is ready.)

In few ways, I feel grateful toward Robin Bridges. How often do readers encounter the frustrations of love triangles? Instead of watching Bridges’ protagonist run back and forth between two suitors and alternating affections, it’s a matter of: One-sided love… or not?

Charmed by Prince Danilo, Katerina is locked under his spell, but she has the wits to resist and even reject his marriage proposal. From thereon, it turns into an issue of Danilo forcefully making the Duchess comply to his will. It is, after all, her necromancy that he truly seeks. Isn’t it? It is clear that Danilo and Katerina share no mutual feeling other than loathing, at least in this book. The question becomes, then, whether or not Prince George will ever tolerate Katerina’s presence.

Katerina herself is wonderful character to admire as well. Although her opposition toward learning about her ability frustrated me, I respect her strong will. She is a steaming little firecracker with a kind heart, who loves her family, and who has a mind of her own. Katerina can think for herself and fights for her dream to be a doctor—a profession deemed inappropriate for women by old traditions—and these are qualities I like in a heroine. If only, if only—Robin Bridges!—Katerina’s strengths had been of use in the end battle! It feels like this scene was written in haste, which results in a rushed conclusion where the main character did not shine.

I still recommend other readers give The Gathering Storm a try anyhow. In particular, I especially suggest this for fans of Susan Dennard’s Something Strange and Deadly or of Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone. Of the three, I believe Bardugo has the strongest writing, but the similarities between Bridges’ book and the previously two mentioned novels is undeniable: fast, addicting, Russian-based, high class, and necromancy. The Gathering Storm essentially comes out as mash-up of the two.

Like Dennard’s novel, Bridges plunges readers into her world. Either this will work for you or not at all, but with such a light, quick pace and style, I found myself hooked. Addicted. One moment my eyes were glossing page one, and before I knew it I’d happily finished the book. If you so choose, I hope you discover that you enjoy The Gathering Storm as much as I do despite its flaws.

Death would be dancing with us at the ball that night.
I crossed myself and prayed it would touch no one I loved.

Recommend a… (book with a character who plays a sport)

Recommend A… is a weekly meme run by Chick Loves Lit. Click here to check out future prompts and take part!

I looked and looked, and I have yet to see a book I have read in which a character plays sports! Predictable. I suppose Harry Potter is a possibility (“And here is how one plays Quidditch…“), but I prefer — most of the time — suggesting books that receive less attention. Hence, this week’s recommendation might be considered somewhat of a cheat. The main character refers to his “sport” of preference as a “mental sport,” but I hope no one minds, as it is an enjoyable book.

The Cardturner: A Novel about a King, a Queen, and a Joker by Louis Sachar
Published May 11th, 2010 | Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Young Adult Fiction

Summary from GoodReads:

From Louis Sachar, New York Times bestselling author and winner of the Newbery Medal for HOLES, comes the young adult novel THE CARDTURNER, an exploration of the human condition.

How are we supposed to be partners? He can’t see the cards and I don’t know the rules!

The summer after junior year of high school looks bleak for Alton Richards. His girlfriend has dumped him to hook up with his best friend. He has no money and no job. His parents insist that he drive his great-uncle Lester to his bridge club four times a week and be his cardturner—whatever that means. Alton’s uncle is old, blind, very sick, and very rich.

But Alton’s parents aren’t the only ones trying to worm their way into Lester Trapp’s good graces. They’re in competition with his longtime housekeeper, his alluring young nurse, and the crazy Castaneda family, who seem to have a mysterious influence over him.

Alton soon finds himself intrigued by his uncle, by the game of bridge, and especially by the pretty and shy Toni Castaneda. As the summer goes on, he struggles to figure out what it all means, and ultimately to figure out the meaning of his own life.

Through Alton’s wry observations, Louis Sachar explores the disparity between what you know and what you think you know. With his incomparable flair and inventiveness, he examines the elusive differences between perception and reality—and inspires readers to think and think again.

Yeah, yeah, no real sports! I’m sorry. Yes, I present a book entirely void of any physical exertion, unless I count Uncle Trapp — the old man tires simply by walking, but he is an amazing bridge player. I should hope the card game does not throw anyone off, because the story itself — the true heart of it — has less to do with bridge and much more to do with character history and relations.

I found Alton’s narrative voice difficult to dislike, as Sachar makes an agreeable character out of him. The atmosphere is notably light and fun, yet balanced by sincerity. The romantic aspect flickers faintly most of the time, just at the edge somewhere in peripheral view, but the emotions are there and felt. The main focus centers on Alton’s developing relationship with his uncle, Trapp, as well as Trapp’s history. As the reader, I loved learning Trapp’s backstory: a tale that involves bridge, of course, but elaborates on a different and tragic love that I think can fill a novel of its own. Reading The Cardturner turned out to be a relaxing experience that holds more than one gripping attribute. I recommend Sachar’s book for fans and players of bridge, and even to those who are not. (Only the former party will show greater appreciation, and for obvious reasons.)

  • You can read my review here.

Since my book list falls short in sporty characters, I’d love to hear recommendations — if you’ve got any.