Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Age of Miracles

by Karen Thompson Walker

I bought a beautiful hardback copy of this book, signed by the author, in a little New York bookshop on my recent trip back East. I know they say not to judge a book by its cover, but I believe that the outside of a BOOK often reflects the style and story telling ability of the author... and so I do judge by the cover and title. So I have to say that I was predisposed to like this book, based on my first impression. And I will say that Walker's debut novel did not disappoint me.

The story follows young Julia and her Southern Californian family as they face the everyday complications of life and love, all while dealing with the "slowing" of the earth. After years of destruction, the planet has finally slowed its rotation, meaning that the sun now stays out for days, and nights may last for weeks. Plants can no longer thrive, gravity has changed, and societal structures are fluctuating.

There are some conflicting reviews of this book, but I find that most of them are due to the fact that unaware readers were expecting some high paced, apocalyptic novel. Rather than the "2012" end of the world story, Walker delivers a coming of age story in a completely unique scenario. In fact, I find that the slow pace of Earth's destruction is more terrifying than any sudden end. For example, Julia's young love interest Seth, is fascinated by death due to his mother's lost battle with cancer. They frequently play the "Would you rather...?" game, and Seth always chooses the quickest way to go, believing that the waiting is the hardest part. And just as his mother fought for years, so too will every character in our story. They go on with their lives, day in and out, but with the knowledge that there might not be many days left.... that they will have to fight for each and every day that they get. And somehow, they become accustomed to this struggle. The story focuses not on the end of the world, but on family dynamics, and how individuals respond to situations that test their character. Julia simply relates the events of the initial slowing of our planet, with hints as to what the future may bring for humankind.... but in the end, many questions remain unanswered.Walker's storytelling manages to be both whimsical and somehow melancholy, and although I finished this book several days ago, I have been haunted by the grief for the world Julia once knew, and the life she may never have.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Mortal Instruments (#1-3)

by Cassandra Clare

I had been debating whether or not to pick these books up, after reading glowing reviews of them from YA fiction fans.... and seeing them featured in any and every store that sells books. Then a couple of weeks ago, one of my avid reader friends at work just happened to finish the last one in the original trilogy (books 4 & 5 were not originally planned) and recommended them. And so one day after work, I raced myself to the nearest Target and picked up a little light reading (three books worth).

Our story begins by following the heroine Clary Fray, as she discovers there is an invisible world interacting with her own - a world where demons, warlocks, vampires, werewolves & angels exist. In fact, it turns out (don't worry, no major spoiler here), that Clary is actually a Shadowhunter. They are the descendants of angels, created to battle the evil forces in the world. When her mom goes missing, Clary, her best friend Simon, and her new found gang of Shadowhunters begin a journey to fight the "big bad" AKA Valentine. In the midst of all this, Clary also finds an instant attraction to the arrogant and talented Jace Wayland.

One of the things that I admire in this series, is Clary's transformation. She does not come into this world as an instant demon killer who has clearly been meant to do this her entire life. At times in the beginning, she seems defenseless, thrown into an unfamiliar territory. But as the books progress, Clary begins to come into her own - with the help of special training, and her own exceptional gifts. All the characters show character progression, and are believable, although they exist in an unbelievable world. To be a successful YA fiction novel, there always has to a be a forbidden romance... and this series has plenty of that! In fact, it has several love triangles (including hetero and homosexual dynamics), secret relationships, betrayals, and true love.

These books are definitely entertaining, although I would recommend spacing them out a bit.... and not devouring all of them in the space of one week like I did. They can seem a little formulaic, and it led to me skipping over a few scenes that I found tedious. Also, I started having nightmares about demons. Maybe don't read them before bedtime. I'm just saying. On the whole, they make up a unique young adult fiction series that genre fans will enjoy... and as soon as book six finally comes out, I will read the second half of the trilogy.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Ugly Duchess

by Eloisa James

Well, let me start this post by reminding you all of how I swoon whenever I hear the term "pirate" in relation to a historical romance novel (http://breadofbooks.blogspot.com/2011/11/scandalous-desires.html).  Ahem.

This is the fourth installment in Eloisa James "Fairy Tale" series, and is based off of its' namesake, "The Ugly Duckling". As always, I have to preface this synopsis with a SPOILER warning. SPOILER. Red alert. Our main characters are Theo (AKA Daisy), and James. After growing up together in the same household they are surprised to find passion together, only to be torn apart by the shocking realization that James only married the "ugliest" girl in town (our Daisy) due to the fact that his father had been embezzling from Daisy's fortune. Gasp! Daisy kicks James out of their home, and he takes to the high seas. He joins forces with another ton pirate, only attacking other pirates or slave ships. Swoon. Meanwhile, Daisy transforms the estate into a thriving enterprise.... and is taken completely by surprise when her husband (presumed dead) makes an appearance at his funeral seven years later. The remainder of their story consists of the characters determining what their future relationship will be, and regaining the trust and balance that was so quickly lost.

I think that readers will be swept away by James and Daisy's romance... while still being rooted to the ground with empathy for Daisy's insecurities. Widely known as the "Ugly Duchess", Daisy faces a world in which she is a social pariah. A world in which she must transform herself to be socially accepted, and is exhausted with the effort. No matter how successful she becomes, or how she is touted as a fashionista, there always seems to be something missing. It seems like a role that many women will relate to... Who can honestly say that they've never felt misunderstood or underappreciated? That they've never felt unattractive or lonely? It's only when she sees herself through the eyes of someone who truly knows her, that she seems to accept herself.

My only qualm with this story is the ease with which Daisy seems to forgive James for being MIA for SEVEN YEARS. C'est la vie.... true love!