A Book Review Blog

Category: Romance Page 2 of 5

Born in Fire by Nora Roberts

I think I needed a break from books almost guaranteed to hurt me (in a good way). So part of me is relieved that the next installment of the Gentleman Bastard series isn’t due to come out until next year, at least giving me some time to recover. In the meantime, I returned to my actual reading list and settled on reading another of the books that I picked up on a whim from a charity shop. Born in Fire sounded like just the sort of romantic mush that would allow me to relax a little.

Born in Fire follows Maggie Concannon, a glass blower living out in County Clare. She is making a modest living by selling her work when she catches the eye of Rogan Sweeney, the owner of several art galleries who is interested in promoting home-grown Irish artists. While the idea of needing an agent to sell her work needles at Maggie, she is more tempted by the potential for enough money to set up a home for her mother and, in the process, freeing her younger sister from their parent’s anger and bitterness. But what starts as a business arrangement soon becomes more personal as Rogan and Maggie’s personalities clash in a big way.
This is a curious book to review. In many ways, I would consider it well written and containing some surprising depth. In other ways, it jabs at me with little things that just don’t mesh right. So instead of discussing pros and cons as has been my wont more recently, I’ll pick elements and take them apart.
Oddly enough, the first thing that comes to mind is the setting, if only because of what I feared it could well have ended up. When I read the first couple of chapters, I got a horrible sinking feeling that this would end up being a horribly quaint, sanitised version of Ireland, very much the American view of what Ireland is. I am aware that parts of Ireland are very quaint and romantic, but there is always a part of me that sort of braces itself when I see depictions that brush away the darker aspects of the country. Maybe it’s having grown up in Britain, but it always strikes me as intensely naive and at times intentionally ignorant when a whole bloody history is conveniently forgotten in favour of some harmless national stereotypes. But, thankfully, the actual setting is a lot more nuanced than I had feared. Indeed, central to Maggie’s character arc is her relationship with her mother, which is unavoidably marked by Ireland’s issues in regards to pregnancy outside of wedlock, given its large Catholic population. While it has moments where the depiction is squarely in the quaint, I can’t find it in me to begrudge the author these moments, as the tone is overall pretty balanced and it isn’t really meant to be a terribly grim and gritty book.
The other thing I’d like to focus on is the characters and their relationships. Most obvious to look at would be the romance between Rogan and Maggie, seeing as it is one of the book’s selling points. It’s okay, but really nothing that stands out amongst many other romantic novels. A part of the reason that I’m so lukewarm to it might be that there isn’t really any tension around them getting together. Their main issue is instead commitment and exclusivity, which could have been really interesting. That is if it weren’t juxtaposed with the far more absorbing family drama. Following the death of Maggie’s father, she and her sister Brianna have to deal with taking care of their mother, a bitter and twisted hag of a woman who makes no secret of the fact that she believes her late husband and children to be the causes of all of her unhappiness. Maggie in particular is loathed for being the child conceived out of wedlock, and the deep personal issues that this and her parents’ obviously deeply unhappy marriage cause is really well developed. Additionally, I do have a bit of an issue with the ending of their romance.
I found that Maggie’s complete turnaround from swearing off marriage entirely to accepting Rogan’s marriage proposal a little weird. While I am a firm supporter of marriage (being currently engaged, it would be a tad strange not to be), I am also well aware that it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I have known people for whom it has turned out very badly, and for whom it is an archaic formality that they would rather forego. For Maggie, it made complete sense for her to believe that she was not suited for marriage considering the example that she grew up knowing. As a result, I find it more than a little in bad taste for Rogan to listen to her reasons for not wanting to get married and then continue to emotionally manipulate her into accepting his proposal anyway. It might not make the picture-perfect romance story ending, but a big part of me would have preferred if she stood her ground and tried to make the relationship work without marriage as an end goal.

All in all, a bit of a mixed bag. If you’re looking for a romance primarily, I’d look elsewhere as it’s average at best. If you’re more interested in a complex family drama, then this is a pretty good place to look. Also, if you’re looking for a depiction of Ireland that isn’t the Americanised vision of shamrocks and leprechauns, then this is a nice tone that has hints of the country’s darker side without it sliding hopelessly into a story about the troubles. 3.5/5

Next review: Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe by Jenny Colgan

Signing off,

The Death House by Sarah Pinborough

Hello, another guest post by yours truly! This was the second book in the collection sent to me by Gollancz, a book whose description I wouldn’t normally pick up. The line tagged onto the end of the blurb, “Because everybody dies, it’s how you live that counts.”, really didn’t help. Cliché and predictable, I was worried the book would be full of the same.

Our protagonist is a young boy called Toby. He, and a group of other children of varying ages, have been sorted into one of the houses at the titular Death House. As the oldest he becomes the “leader” of the house. We follow Toby’s story exclusively, all told through first person, but have chapters occasionally look at his life before. These really only follow the few days lead up to his forced move.

So what is the Death House? By the end of the book we’re still not entirely sure. It’s a place where children deemed to have the Defective Gene are taken, basically to die. They stay in this house with the rough semblance of life until they become sick, at which point they’re whisked away in the night to the Sanatorium, and never seen again. This aspect was particularly eerie, as all their belongings, their bed, and every mention of them also vanishes into the Sanitorium. This whole Defective Gene is never explained fully. It appears to be some form of genetic predisposition that the world in the book has had for a long time. It used to be a big deal, but now there are tests and Death Houses for people who test positive. Toby hints that if he were to turn he’d be a risk to people around him, but the symptoms are different for everyone in the story. Some develop illnesses, some develop bruising, and they’re always taken to the Sanitorium before anything happens.

Life at the Death House is, as I mentioned, a charade kept up to keep the children quiet. There are classes, nominal free time, meals provided, and several function rooms (music, reading etc.). All of the children know it’s a farce, and the staff seem to be aware of this as well, as all lessons are taught in a drone with nobody even chastising students from staring out the window. At night they’re all given “vitamin supplements”; sleeping pills. Toby knows they’re sleeping pills and so regularly doesn’t take his but spends his nights wandering and being alone.

Everything is in a state of equilibrium until a new delivery of people arrive, one of whom is Clara. Immediately Toby hates her for her attitude; she doesn’t seem to care and is living lightheartedly and in the moment. Everyone else lives with the perpetual fear hanging over them, but she doesn’t seem to let it affect her. Despite being the tough head of his house, this hits Toby hard and brings up how afraid he is in a rather uncomfortable manner.

The rest of the story follows the romance that builds between the two. Clara also doesn’t take her “vitamins”, and so they meet in the night. At first Toby sees this as the ultimate affront, Clara is barging into his nighttime space. Eventually they begin to spend time together in secret, and form a relationship.

It’s difficult to talk about anything in the end of the book without spoiling it, and I really don’t want to do that. For a book about kids waiting around to die, it’s superbly written. The story is suspenseful and feels claustrophobic until Clara begins exploring outside the house. The characters all feel like rounded people, and the younger children remind you that these are just kids, no matter how brave a face they put on. There are a few scenes with a nurse who actually treats them like people, and the way several children instantly gravitate towards her as a mother figure is written perfectly.

The ending isn’t what I’d call a happy one. It does feel like the right one, but it’s not happy. The last half introduces information that punches you in the gut over and over until it’s all done, but would I recommend reading it anyway? Most definitely. It’s a book that’s stuck with me for quite a while now whilst I formulated how to write this review, and I have a feeling it’ll stick with me for longer still.

The Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer

It was a couple of months ago that I first read a book by Georgette Heyer, namely one of her crime novels, Footsteps in the Dark. I wasn’t terribly struck by it, so when I remembered that I’d received one of her Regency novels as a present I wondered whether she would benefit from a change of genre. Plus, up until this point, I hadn’t read much, if any, Regency Romance. The fact that it was quite a short book just decided the matter. So, was my second foray into Georgette Heyer’s work any more successful?

The Convenient Marriage starts with the Winwood sisters, members of a proud but impoverished family in a rather difficult position. The Earl of Rule, a wealthy and eligible bachelor, has made an offer for the hand of the eldest sister, the renowned beauty Elizabeth. Unfortunately, she is head over heels in love with her childhood sweetheart, the equally impoverished army lieutenant Edward Heron, so the proposal has only succeeded in making her incredibly unhappy. The youngest sister, Horatia, decides that this just can’t stand, and convinces the Earl that he would be just as satisfied marrying the youngest sister as he would the oldest. It’s not as if this is a love match right? So they are married, and find themselves becoming more fond of one another whilst a long-time enemy of Rule’s attempts to bring them to ruin.
I’m not sure how I really feel about this book. While I enjoyed this overall, there are a few things that prevent me from loving it wholeheartedly. The positive things first though. First, I absolutely adore the main heroine, Horatia. When I think Regency romance, the thing that comes into my head is the image of someone wholesome enough that they can win and change your stereotypical rake into upstanding husband material, most likely being the epitome of English Rose in looks. Horatia is a spirited and headstrong 17-year-old girl with enough naivety to propel her into making some decisions that are less than well thought-out. She states her mind quite openly and is a prolific (and generally unlucky) gambler. Her looks are described by others as essentially the sort of face that only family could love, with her primary physical feature being her “preposterous” thick eyebrows. And, to top it all off, she is the only main character that I have ever seen with a stammer. She is utterly glorious. Second, the plot becomes surprisingly humorous as it gets towards the end. It very much reminded me of The Marriage of Figaro at times, if not in terms of events then in regards to tone. It was a lot more farcical than I expected it to be, and very skillfully pulled off too. Third, the villain of the piece, Lethbridge, is a fascinating mix of cold, calculating and incredibly charming. His downfall is a fantastic scene that brings excitement just before it turns firmly onto the more romantic comedy parts.
So, now to the things that I wasn’t so fond of. First, a minor point. I think that having a working knowledge of aristocratic fashion would really help. While I was aware of the general tendency that fashions took at the time (skirts as wide as a bus and big powdered wigs), it meant absolutely nothing to me when I was told things like Horatia’s hair being styled a la capricieuse. I presume that the narrative is talking about different hairstyles, but I couldn’t tell you what it meant in terms of actual visual description. And since Horatia is very fond of indulging in her husband’s wealth, it means that there’s a bevy of descriptions of clothes and fashion styles and the uses of what must be several miles’ worth of ribbon. But they become less frequent as it goes along, so it’s not too egregious. Second, for as much as I love Horatia, I found myself largely bored by Marcus, the Earl of Rule. I can see what Heyer was trying to do with his character: self-indulgent and mischievous, but with a good heart and surprising seriousness lurking beneath the veneer. But instead of a romantic hero, he put me more in mind of a father figure, which is technically the point in some ways. The hero and heroine of our story are 35 and 17 respectively, so for much of the narrative Rule acts in a weird hands-off but benevolent paternal figure. I’m all for depicting romances with age gaps, I mean I’ve tried writing a couple myself, but it’s difficult to set up their relationship as quasi-paternal at the beginning to only then make the father figure to morph into a lover figure. Related to this, I wasn’t quite convinced by the change in the main romantic relationship from marriage of convenience to love match, simply because the two didn’t really interact enough. When they did interact, it was usually Rule gently admonishing his wife for associating with the wrong people or for gambling away the allowance that he’d given her. Admittedly, they were shown to get on from the day that they met and Horatia did find her husband attractive throughout, but there wasn’t really a noticeable change in their behaviour. We’re just supposed to agree that at some point Rule begins to love his wife, though I couldn’t for the life of me point out where his eureka moment is supposed to be.

Overall, a bit of a mixed bag but mostly enjoyable. A feisty main heroine, a sinister but charming villain and surprisingly good humour save it from being an entirely disappointing romance. If you’re looking for passionate romance, this isn’t for you. If you’re looking for something a bit more focused on married life in a convenience match, then you’ll have better luck. 3.5/5

Next review: The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens

Signing off,

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice

This book was something of an oddity for me to pick up. I knew that I had read The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets before, I knew that I had finished it in a matter of days and I knew that I had enjoyed it. Could I remember a bloody thing about it? Not on your life. And that really puzzled me. I know that I tend to have a better memory of things after I’ve written about them, but even so, to forget so completely what the book was like was a feat of some magnitude matched only by my patchy recollection of my dad reading The Hobbit to me when I was very young. I picked this up mainly to find out what on earth my memory was playing at.

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets follows Penelope Wallace, a young woman in the mid-1950s, as she tries to navigate her life with some semblance of decorum and just a little bit of daring. At home, she must contend with her pop-music obsessed younger brother and her incredibly beautiful and petulant widow of a mother on top of increasing debts that threaten to evict them from their ancestral home. But things start to change after she meets and, on a whim, decides to share a taxi with the chaotic Charlotte. She is in turn introduced to Charlotte’s flamboyant aunt and her cousin Harry, who enlists Penelope’s help in trying to win back the American woman he was previously wooing.
I think there are two main reasons why this book failed to stand out in my head. First, it’s very much a slice of life sort of book. I have nothing against this style of narrative, but I personally find them a bit difficult to keep straight in my head. With the majority of plots, there’s a clear progression of events and tangents tend to be few and far between, so it’s easy to keep them neat and segmented in my mind. Slice of life narratives tend to lack these a little, so the story becomes fuzzier and vaguer in my head as time goes on; I’ll remember little bits, especially as I approached them in the narrative, but the whole picture is patchy at best. It also makes plot summary paragraphs really difficult to write, so thanks for that.
The second reason that The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets was almost entirely forgotten was because it was, for lack of a better word, safe. There wasn’t really anything that stood out as daring or exciting or really felt like it would have consequences. Instead it seemed to take place in a magical rose-tinted version of the 1950s, where youth and beauty is all you need to get ahead in life, where all the people that Penelope meets are utterly fabulous in some manner, and where all our aristocratic main leads aren’t quite impoverished enough for surprisingly regular trips to Harrods to be out of the question. It has no real bite to it, but I don’t think that this is necessarily a bad thing. I have used the term “popcorn book” before, and this is a prime example of that. It’s not a book that you have to try particularly hard to read and can be perhaps inconsequential. It is a vital part of being a reader though, because it can get immensely tiring to always be reading intense, challenging books. And this one? As inconsequential as they come, but fun and charming enough that it doesn’t matter at all when you’re reading it.

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets is a gentle, charming book that will work perfectly for you if you’re looking for a quick read to switch your brain off for. There’s no real bite or staying power with it, but it’s a nice experience while it lasts. If you’re a fan of romance or the aesthetics of the 1950s, then you’re likely to enjoy this, if not remember it afterwards. 3.5/5

Next review: Velocity by Dean Koontz

Signing off,

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith

I got Pride and Prejudice and Zombies at around the same time as Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, for largely the same reasons. In comparison to the book that I reviewed earlier though, this has taken off in a big way, to the point where there’s actually a film adaptation coming out soon. I guess I decided to read this now because I wanted to see if there was any reason for the difference in general reception.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies follows the Bennet sisters, a group of young ladies who are as proficient in the deadly arts of zombie slaying as they are in more traditionally feminine pursuits. The second sister, Elizabeth, is a particularly skilled warrior and as such derives great pride from her duty to slay hordes of unmentionables. She derives an equal amount of annoyance from her mother’s constant attempts to marry off her and her sisters. In their mother’s latest attempt, they are obliged to meet with their new neighbour, Mr Bingley. Whilst there, Elizabeth is insulted by one of their new acquaintances by name of Mr Darcy. While her warrior’s sense of pride demands that she rend his head from his shoulders and crush his still-beating heart in his chest, she refrains out of respect for her older sister’s new affection for their new neighbour. In the course of her association with Mr Darcy, Elizabeth may find that first impressions can be deceiving.
I wasn’t as fond of this one as I was of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. In my previous review, I stated that if you like the concept then you will probably like the book. While I still think that that point is relevant to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, there are a couple of things that I thought were done significantly better in the sea monster version. Firstly, the zombie addition was kinda poorly implemented. While saying that it could be taken out entirely is something of a redundant statement, I think that the zombies could have been used in a more interesting way. In Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, the monster attacks were used to underscore moments of emotional conflict and contrasted nicely with the characters’ more frivolous concerns. In Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the zombies just sort of turn up whenever and don’t really pose much of a challenge. I guess I’m so used to seeing zombies used as a metaphor for some fear of humanity’s that I was expecting something a little smarter. It screams of a first attempt really badly. Secondly, some of the humour is a bit off-colour for my tastes, mainly the parts involving vomiting. It might fit with the zombie thing, but it wasn’t funny at all, just kind of crude and distracting.

Overall, while I enjoyed reading this, I think the parts that I enjoyed most of all were largely from the original Pride and Prejudice. The zombies could have been really fun, but ended up not really lending themselves to the plot well. Additionally there was some humour that wasn’t really to my taste. A bit of a disappointment really. 3.5/5

Next review: The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice

Signing off,

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Ben H. Winters

I got Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters mainly because it looked just the right amount of silly. With a title like that, it couldn’t be anything else, right?

The story follows the Dashwood family, comprised of three sisters named Elinor, Marianne and Margaret, and their widowed mother, as they attempt to make their way in a world where an alteration in the world has caused aquatic creatures to become actively aggressive against humanity. After their father is eaten by a hammerhead shark and evicted from their childhood home, the Dashwoods find a new home on Pestilent Isle where they meet both new friends and strange eldritch creatures. While Elinor must face the prospect of being parted from her beloved, Marianne finds herself courted by both the dashing treasure hunter Willoughby and the wise if tentacle-faced Colonel Brandon. Meanwhile, Margaret finds herself drawn into the mysterious goings-on around the island.
As you can probably guess from my summary, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters is a very silly combination of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and something very reminiscent of the Cthulhu mythos. It was about as ridiculous as I had initially expected it to be, but also surprisingly cutting and in some ways a lot smarter than I had given it credit for. Still thoroughly stupid though, so if you’re in the mood for something a little bit surreal and deliberately uneven in tone then this is definitely going to whet your appetite. I don’t know quite how this would read to huge fans of Austen’s work, but it didn’t have a particularly reverent feel to it. It’s odd, but this is quite a difficult book to review. Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters does exactly what it says on the blurb, and if that concept sounds great to you then you will most probably enjoy the book itself. Personally, I loved it, but I feel like this is very much a love it or hate it sort of book.

In conclusion, I loved this book, but it is the sort of novel that will appeal to some and leave others utterly cold. If you like Regency romance and eldritch abominations of an aquatic nature, then the combination of the two will probably tickle you. If the concept doesn’t appeal, then there’s not much chance that reading it will change your initial perception of it. 4.5/5

Next review: The Stand by Stephen King

Signing off,

The Lord of the Sands of Time by Issui Ogawa

I got The Lord of the Sands of Time at around the same time as All You Need is Kill, when I was really heavily into my anime. This one has been less widely publicised in the meantime, so I had very little impression of what it would be like, as compared to the latter novel which has the Americanised film version that I still cringe at the thought of. I remembered trying to read it when I first got it, but that first impression has been long lost in my memory. So, an essentially blind read, how did it fare?

The Lord of the Sands of Time follows Messenger O, a cyborg that has been sent into the past following a devastating alien attack that has annihilated all life on Earth. The last pockets of mankind that is left on the off-planet settlements give him the mission of going to a time where the aliens have not reached Earth yet and unite humanity in an attempt to stop the alien invasion before it has a chance to begin properly. In doing so, O must face up to not only leaving behind the woman that he loves, but potentially erasing her from time entirely.
This is a simple enough novel to read if you’re familiar with time travel in science fiction. The chapters alternate between Messenger O’s battles in the Iron Age era of Japan and the other eras that he has previously fought in, with each era reaching back further and further into the past. The year and location of each chapter is clearly stated at the beginning of each chapter, so it’s easy enough to keep everything organised as the plot progresses, and yet it also boasts some of the more in-depth looks at time travel problems that usually crop up within this genre. In particular, I liked the fact that the numbers of cyborgs who can fight this threat is constantly changing due to the changes that they make to the timestream that they currently inhabit. When they interfere, certain events happen differently, meaning that different individuals live and die; sometimes an ancestor of some of the cyborgs’ creators will die and thus erase the circumstances of their creation, while at other times new cyborgs will be sent back as creations of people whose ancestors had previously never lived to reproduce. It’s an interesting dynamic that I haven’t ever seen happen in a time travel story before. Additionally, it’s nice to see the whole “history repeating itself” thing come up. I hadn’t really considered it before, but it really makes sense that the Messengers end up having to travel back so far in time, because in all of the modern eras, humanity essentially dooms itself because of the far-reaching conflicts and endless amounts of red tape that can be thrown down as a barrier to progress. It was an interesting, if somewhat alarming, assessment of our current ability to actually unite effectively against an aggressive outside threat. The one thing that did sit weirdly with me was the ending. The threat keeps mounting in the fight in Japan, until all seems utterly hopeless, only for things to basically come to a stop. I had hoped for a more definite resolution, but instead it just runs out of steam and settles for a stopping point. Disappointing, but far from a game-changer.

A definite recommendation to anyone who likes time travel, especially the ones that present some form of interesting play on the conventions. It is quite grim in tone, if a little detached when it comes to details of battles. The ending is kind of weak, but it doesn’t detract too much from a really solid piece of writing. I’d most certainly pick up more of this author’s work. 4/5

Next review: Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Ben H. Winters

Signing off,

Persuasion by Jane Austen

I’ve been put off reading Jane Austen’s books for a long time, because I tried reading Pride and Prejudice when I was probably too young. But, as I’ve grown older, I’ve heard nothing but praise for her work, and so my university self couldn’t help but pick up Persuasion. Why this one in particular? I had heard very good things about it, and I found myself warming to the idea of a shy and ignored heroine.

Persuasion follows Anne Elliott, the daughter of a baronet whose vanity and desire for high living far outweigh his finances. As a result, he finds it necessary to move his family to cheaper accommodation in Bath and rent out their ancestral home to bolster their finances. Anne is not consulted in this or anything else, and so it is with dread that she finds out that their new tenants will bring her back into contact with Captain Wentworth, the man that she was persuaded to reject by friends and family who thought he wasn’t rich or important for her attention. Eight years have passed and she finds that she hasn’t found his equal in all their time apart, but will he have any affection left for her after being so thoroughly rejected? 
The main positive point to be made about Persuasion is undoubtedly our protagonist Anne. She’s a refreshingly sensible and perceptive character, surrounded by people who only really listen to her in times of crisis. And while she wants more than that, wants to feel the love and connection that she felt in her youth with Captain Wentworth, and it’s something that she most definitely deserves. But it’s nice to see a character in a romance story who doesn’t seem to feel entitled to their love interest’s romantic attentions; in fact, for most of the book she’s convinced that the man she loves has his attention turned elsewhere. I also like that she’s a character in her late twenties, positively an old maid by the standards of the time it was written. Captain Wentworth is a little harder to comment on, as he’s in surprisingly not a lot of the book all things considered. I was kind of expecting him to have a much bigger presence in this, but the biggest impression I got was of how disappointing other people seem to Anne in comparison. Which kind of works. Kind of. I’d have liked to get more certain an impression of him, but what I got was thoroughly likeable and sensible enough to match Anne, though maybe not as perceptive. 
The writing overall was very enjoyable to read and there was a general pleasantness that was refreshing after a fair few books that were either serious or grim in tone. I found myself getting caught up in Anne’s slowly repairing relationship with her first love and the scheming of other, older nobles in their intentions for their children’s marriage prospects. There are a few other couples getting together that add extra notes of sweetness throughout the plot, which were perhaps a bit predictable, but nonetheless heartwarming. My only real issue is that once the main romantic conflict, that of Anne and Wentworth being aware of one another’s rekindled feelings, has been resolved, the other plot threads are neatly summarised in a few pages. Apparently the extended schemings of people who are less than well-intentioned are a pathetic challenge to the power of a couple wanting to get married. Literally, everything is solved by them going up to the people who rejected their match years before and saying, “Hey, still want to get married, and he’s rich now.” It seems a tad too simple, especially after one character was so hyped up as a villain. But it’s far from a deal breaker. 
A very gentle romance that is nothing but a pleasant experience from beginning to end. While I’m not a fan of the very brief ending, I would still readily recommend this to any fan of classic literature who hasn’t read this yet and to romance fans looking for something quieter and considered. 4.5/5 
Next review: The Affair of the Bloodstained Egg Cosy by James Anderson 
Signing off, 

A Long Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan

I knew very little about this book when I first received it, other than what could be gleaned from the blurb. The only other thing that I had to go on was that the person who gave it to me was so liberally applying praise that I was almost surprised she didn’t get tongue-tied. I’ll admit, the memory of her enthusiastic take on the book was the main thing that stuck, as the blurb was not really enough to make me pick it up otherwise.

A Long Long Sleep follows Rosalinda Fitzroy, a girl who wakes up from stasis to find that 62 years have passed. Her presence forgotten after the deaths of her parents, Rose must now navigate a world in which not only are her parents and her first love gone, but has also gone through some pretty major upheaval after a series of pandemics have ravaged the human population. While she tries to adapt to this new life, she may have to confront what is left of her past before one of the remnants comes back to take whatever she has left to lose.
Holy cow, I did not expect this to be so good. It’s a bit of a slow start, as both the reader and Rose have to get used to a strange new world that we’ve been basically dropped in, but the writing is surprisingly engaging and lures you in slowly but surely. By the end, I was crying like a little girl. That might well be because the ending decides that after all the excitement is through, it’ll batter what’s left of you with all of the feels. ALL of them. It is a tad on the predictable side, although I wasn’t able to completely foresee all of the twists, so it kind of met a nice balance of surprise and making me feel smart. The only real problem I have with it is that some of the plot’s details are revealed towards the end in a way that doesn’t make much sense; it kind of feels like the author got stuck on how she was meant to reveal the main bad guy and applied a liberal dose of handwaving and desperate hope.
The characters are the main strength of A Long Long Sleep, and it’s the desire to see them come out okay that makes it as emotionally powerful as it is. The three main people to talk about are Rose and her two school friends, Bren and Otto. I could talk about her first love, Xavier, but that could very easily stray into spoiler territory, so I shall refrain from doing so here. Rose is our main protagonist and the narrator of the majority of the novel. She starts off very fragile and passive, qualities that I first assumed were because of the shock of waking up to find that over 60 years have passed. But as the novel goes on, you begin to realise that there’s a lot to Rose’s personality that she denies herself and the main plot largely corresponds to her internal journey to understand what made her this overly passive, self-loathing person and how to grow out of it. The descriptions of what made her this way were probably what endeared her to me most, because, while I may not have gone through situations anywhere near as awful as she did, I completely understand what it feels like to think that you’re worthless after people tell you this constantly. It’s not a comfortable journey to read about, but I personally found it to be an incredibly cathartic one.
Possibly the most fascinating character is Otto, a boy who was part of an experiment involving genetically modified human embryos and has had to fight his whole life just to be considered human. I found him particularly interesting because the combination of the whole “having to fight a legal battle to be granted personhood” and the fact that he is effectively mute, communicating primarily through touch telepathy and instant messaging, reminded me really strongly of some of the politics that I’ve come across in researching autism and other disabilities. Earlier in the year, I was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum; since then, I’ve been looking more closely at a community that I had had tangential connection with all my life, but never really knew a huge deal about. As a result, I’ve found a lot of politics involving trying to prove to particularly stubborn and bigoted people that autistic people are just as able to live full and healthy lives as their neurotypical brethren and should be allowed to do so unmolested. I imagine that anyone who could be considered disabled, particularly those with invisible disabilities, would find Otto’s story particularly engaging, but I can, of course, only speak from my own experience. In particular, I liked the way that his telepathy is handled. After briefly communicating with Rose in this way, he refuses to touch her throughout most of the book, because he finds her mind frightening and overwhelming. It very much reminded me of the reactions that I’ve gotten in response to sensory overload and that deliberate withdrawal from the offending stimulus felt very real to me.
The only one left to really discuss is Bren. He was most definitely the weakest out of the main characters. He’s an overall nice guy, dependable, reasonably pretty. He fit the kind of Prince Charming role and had the hint of an underlying inner conflict about what he wants his future to be, but he seemed kind of underdeveloped compared to Rose and Otto. Basically he’s inoffensive but bland.

Definitely a flawed novel in regards to plotting and some of the characterisation, but it packs one hell of an emotional punch. I would recommend it simply for the joy of getting to know Rose and Otto. It’s a good place to start teen readers with science fiction, especially those who are less concerned with worldbuilding and more with engaging characters. If you get triggered by scenes of emotional abuse, you might want to skip this though; it can get pretty scary at times. 4.5/5

Next review: The Guardians by Andrew Pyper

Signing off,

Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

I’ve been looking forward to this book for quite a while now. Why? It was the first fantasy that I had ever seen that was set in an Arabian-style world, as opposed to yet another generic pseudo-Medieval, pseudo-European excuse for lazy writing. It meant different customs, different kinds of heroes and heroines. And I was really in need of a change.

Fire and Thorns is the first book in a trilogy of the same name, in which we follow the adventures of Princess Elisa. She lives in a world where once every century, God bestows upon someone a Godstone, a living jewel in their navel, that acts as a sign that they have been chosen for an act of great heroism and faith. Elisa is the current bearer of the Godstone, and at sixteen she has done little to prove that she is worthy of God’s faith. She does little but pray and study ancient texts, and her crippling feelings of inferiority regarding her own abilities expresses itself through comfort eating. The first scene in the book is her ripping her hastily sewn wedding dress through bulk alone. She only feels worse when she is given away in political marriage to a man who won’t even acknowledge her as his wife in his home country. But she finds that her time of service is much closer at hand than she ever imagined, and that she is in possession of greater strengths than she ever dreamed.
There is something incredibly comforting about having the main protagonist be an obese teenage girl. Not only is the humiliation of not fitting into your own clothes realised here in uncomfortably familiar detail, but it actually addresses something that you don’t really see in much fiction. Fat people very rarely being the main protagonist, or in the main cast at all, and all that jazz. It confronts a weird social perception that people seem to make between weight/body shape and skill/intelligence. When Elisa starts the book, she is treated with condescension, with people more impressed than should really be warranted when they realise that she has an incredibly sharp academic and strategic mind. She has spent her entire life learning about classical texts, including texts on military strategy, and yet they’re surprised by the evidence that is presented to them. Because of events in the text that I shan’t spoil, she slims down quite drastically by the end. At which point she is suddenly everybody’s favourite person and taken much more seriously. Admittedly, her actions up to that point must have had some impact, but maybe not quite so drastic. I guess I was just really charmed by Elisa, who really comes into her own over the course of the narrative, though I did feel somewhat predisposed towards liking her.
The plot is pretty cool, with a nice mix of political intrigue, adventure, quest and even a little bit of romance. It’s pretty slow in the first part, where it’s mainly courtly intrigue, but that has never really been much of an issue for me. I love courtly intrigue, so I was loving it. The second part ups the pace a fair bit and moves away from the intrigue and more towards the adventure and military sort of aspects. It took me a bit longer to warm to this bit, but still enjoyable. The romance was the most obviously weak part of the narrative. There are two main love interests, but neither go anywhere. The first is her much older husband Alejandro, which, given that she’s sixteen, puts him maybe in his 30s or 40s. Either way, he’s incredibly beautiful and charming, but initially has no interest in her and is pretty spineless. The second is a comrade that she meets in the second part, who seems to love her almost from the start, despite his friends’ doubt in her. He’s pretty sweet. Neither go anywhere and the endings of both romantic sub-plots is pretty swift and brutal. More realistic I guess, but at the same time just a tad bit confusing. My gut wants a romance sub-plot to be realistic-ish, but with an ultimately happy ending. Fire and Thorns sort of started the sub-plots, then did take-backsies and I don’t know how to feel about it. In either case, the romance aspects seemed more rushed than other parts of the narrative even when they were there, so I wasn’t too gutted when they were abruptly cut off.
The fantasy elements were really cool. The way that the Godstone instinctively acts towards friendly and not-so-friendly intentions, the way that Elisa can activate it through prayer, the further-reaching consequences of previous bearers’ Godstones now that they aren’t part of a living body. The main enemy of the narrative, the Inviernos, were kind of interesting, but not really explored much. I wanted to know more about them, what they wanted, how they lived and such. But nope. All we got was “they’re pale and burn people with evil blood magic.” Kind of took a page from Dragon Age there, huh? Maybe more will turn up in the following books, but it would have been nice to get a little bit more concrete info than “they’re evil, run with it”.

A very well written book, if a little simple at times. Definitely something to get teens into fantasy, especially girls. I would have killed for a protagonist like Elisa when I was younger. I’ll probably pick up the next book in the series if I see it, although this does stand on its own quite nicely. 4/5

Next review: A Long Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan

Signing off,

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