Tag Archives: fiction

And I Darken by Kiersten White

andidarken-cover “I am your father. But that woman is not your mother. Your mother is Wallachia. Your mother is the very earth we go to now, the land I am prince of. Do you understand?” Lada looked into her father’s eyes, deep-set and etched with years of cunning and cruelty. She nodded, then held out her hand . “The daughter of Wallachia wants her knife back.” Vlad smiled and gave it to her. ~p. 12

Radu and Ladislav (Lada) are born into a world of conflict–they are the children of Vlad Dracul, who rules Wallachia, an outlying province/principality of the Ottoman Empire. They are as different as night and day–Lada can be a terror, a bully, but she is also strong and fiercely protects what she considers to be her own (such as Radu). Radu is quiet, bullied, but kindness and cunning are his gifts. When their father, Vlad Dracul, allows them to be held hostage by the emperor, Murad, who rules the Ottoman Empire all to keep his throne in Wallachia, Lada remains fiercely loyal to Wallachia, if not her father, while Radu is ready to eschew everything about his former life. Radu loves the Ottoman Empire, Islam, and most of all their friend, the emperor’s son Mehmed. The bonds of their friendship are tested again and again as they grow up and Mehmed takes the throne. Mehmed will need both Lada’s ferocity and Radu’s quiet cunning to help him gain and keep the throne. But what of Lada’s destiny, and her strange place in society as a fighting woman, a woman who refuses what traditional womanhood means? While they are so different, both Lada and Radu don’t quite “fit” into the roles society has given them–Lada desperately wants to rule and protect Wallachia, and Radu desperately wants Mehmed–a desire that he knows is somehow forbidden though no one speaks of it. In the end, what will each of them be willing to sacrifice for what they want?

I have to say that I absolutely loved this book. I loved how bravely the author posed the question, what if Vlad Dracula (Vlad the Impaler) was a woman? How would this story change? Fair warning though, if you like your protagonists to be straightforward good guys, this might not be the book for you. White does an excellent job of complicating both Lada and Radu. And what a love triangle! I see that this is going to be a series and I can’t wait to read the next installment. I enjoyed the writing (subtle and sharp as Lada’s hidden knives), the characters, and even the setting of Wallachia and the Ottoman Empire. And I Darken earned my wholehearted recommendation.

 

 

 

 

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Emma by Jane Austen

emma Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her. ~Chapter 1, Vol. 1

I first read Emma when I was in high school, and I can’t say that I finished the book just absolutely loving or hating it. I can say that as I’ve grown older, I’ve noticed that Emma is very far from a favorite heroine of Austen’s, but that Mr. Knightley is generally one of her most popular heroes. Yet Jane Austen didn’t title the novel, Mr. Knightley, so on this re-reading I decided to pay more attention to Emma–what was it about her that made me dislike…or simply like her less than my favorite heroines (Anne Elliott, Fanny Price, Elizabeth Bennet, Elinor Dashwood). Upon first impression, Emma is spoiled, privileged–her help does more harm than good to Harriet Smith and for most of the novel she ignores Jane Fairfax, who would have made a better BFF. But you know what, I found that I liked Emma–she may not be the Austen heroine most in tune with reality–she often has her own vision of things, but she does care for her friends and family. And I have to say that I think Highbury/Hartfield is one of Austen’s best settings. It is much less stuffy than Mansfield Park and certainly better than any of the settings poor Anne Elliott must endure (“smoky” Bath, her sister’s and brother-in-law’s house–her only reprieve, really, is Lyme). The familiarity of Ms. and Mrs. Bates, Emma’s father (overly anxious about his health and the health of everyone else), Mr. Perry, and though we never meet him–the William Larkins that Emma teases Mr. Knightley about. I think Austen crafted some of her most lovable and equally frustrating characters in Emma and I am certainly glad I gave it a second chance!

 

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An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

emberintheashes “You are full, Laia. Full of life and dark and strength and spirit. You are in our dreams. You will burn, for you are an ember in the ashes. That is your destiny.” ~Sabaa Tahir, pp. 400-401

Note: does contain spoilers

 

I thoroughly enjoyed An Ember in the Ashes. I thought Tahir’s fantasy world was original and well-crafted and even more important–it was interesting. Her world of Martials (very similar to the Roman Empire) and Scholars (based on Sufis) and the Scholar resistance to Martial dominance all makes for a fascinating background to the central story–the story of one Martial (a Mask, or fully trained warrior from an illustrious family, no less) who hates the ways of the Empire and it is the story of a Scholar girl who is willing to become a slave and spy in order to bargain with the Scholar Resistance in order to save her brother. Elias and Laia have a lot to learn about each other, about trust, and how two very different people can be more alike than they know.

I was particularly interested in Elias’ story, of the tension with Helene and his mother’s own hatred of him. The chapters go back and forth between Laia and Elias’ points of view, which makes for some nice tension throughout the novel. One thing that bothered me–just a bit–was how Laia’s parentage was revealed to the Resistance. At the moment when they are ready to kill her–she reveals that she is the daughter of two of the most famous Resistance fighters. Perhaps I’m being persnickety, but that is just REALLY convenient.

However, overall I enjoyed the story, was fascinated by the world that Tahir built, and would definitely be willing to read the sequel.

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The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

darkestpartoftheforest
My love for Holly Black’s books began when I was in high school and read Tithe for the very first time. Tithe is a dark, gritty, and grim fairy tale set in modern day New Jersey. It is a compulsively readable book that I could just not put down (even when I wanted to).
Over the years, I’ve read Black’s other books (White Cat, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, Valiant, etc.) and loved them all. In this book, she returns to fairies. The Darkest Part of the Forest is in some way a dark, fairy tale epic. It’s about a brother and sister living in a secluded, small town that is surrounded by fairies and the fairy world. Oh sure, it’s a little bit dangerous (fairies are tricksters and have a different sense of morality than human beings), but nothing has really harmed the townspeople (just a couple of tourists each year go missing or are found not alive)…until now. Can Hazel step up to the plate and be the champion, the knight that she’s always dreamed of being? Can Ben, with all his magical musical ability, face the truth about his feelings and save both his sister and the person he has loved the longest?

In the Darkest Part of the Forest, Ben and Hazel will no longer find the Horned Boy in the glass coffin–tourist attraction and main character in all of their favorite stories. In the darkest part of the forest, our heroes will find adventure, their heart’s desire (though it always comes at a price), sorrow, pain, and the truth about their world and the harsh realities of their peculiar childhood.

I particularly enjoyed the way Black weaves many different fairy tales into the world of this novel.

I recommend to anyone who is a fan of Holly Black or is looking for a good YA fantasy novel.

You might also be interested to see my review of The Coldest Girl in Coldtown.

 

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The Oxford Inheritance by Ann A. McDonald

Oxford“Too soon, the next set of visitors arrived. These weren’t quite so temporary. They came bearing crisp new textbooks and fat induction packets, shined shoes and wide eyes, weighed down as much by their own hopeful expectations as the brand-new possessions they pulled behind them in overstuffed cases. Summer was over and it was time for a new generation of students to take their place in the hallowed roll call of Oxford’s great academic legacy.” ~p. 4

The Oxford Inheritance by A.A. McDonald is your quintessential summer murder mystery/academia/dark magic read. Everyone has those, right? Well I certainly do. This book met all of my own personal requirements for a great novel.

The following, by the way, are my criteria for a great contemporary novel:

  • Set in England: check.
  • Professors in tweed: check.
  •  Tough-as-nails yet brilliant heroine with a shady past: check.
  • Complicated love triangle: check.
  • A supernatural twist: check.

I wouldn’t say The Oxford Inheritance is going to turn your world upside down. The writing is decent: fast-paced and intriguing (as a supernatural mystery/thriller should be). There were definitely a couple of weak spots. Cassie’s cop friend Charlie being one of them–I felt that he accepted Cassie’s story way too quickly. Unless he already believed in the supernatural or had had an experience with it before (which was never explored), I just found his acceptance to be a bit too quick and easy.

I did like that the ending wasn’t quite neat and tidy. Cassie gets what she wants, but there’s a price and no doubt about it. However, since the tagline of the novel is “Privilege has a dark price” it didn’t come as too much of a shock.

I would recommend this for anyone looking for a good, intriguing mystery with a bit of supernatural thrown in. I certainly enjoyed that the setting is Oxford and you as a reader get to slip into the Oxford world (the author is an alumna).

All in all, I’m glad to have added this to my bookshelf!

 

 

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The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

therook Myfanwy Thomas (pronounced “Miffany” to rhyme with Tiffany, instead of the traditional Welsh pronunciation) wakes up surrounded by dead people wearing gloves with no idea who she is or what has happened. Her only clues are the letters her predecessor, the Myfanwy Thomas who inhabited her body before the complete amnesia, has left her. Pre-amnesia Myfanwy has also left her a high ranking position in Britain’s most top secret government agencies: The Checquy. The Checquy deals with supernatural threats and also acquires supernaturally gifted individuals for their various positions. They are given titles that correspond to chess pieces. Post-amnesia Myfanwy now has to pretend like nothing has happened and resume her post as a Rook with only the knowledge Myfanwy has left her in the letters, all the while continuing the investigation into which other high-level operative betrayed her and took her memory and her personality.

Personally, this book is 110% my cup of tea. It meets all of my requirements for an excellent fantasy novel. Intriguing main character? Check. Magical powers? Check. Girl power? Double check. Set in London? Check. Secret organizations that deal with magical threats? Check. Vampires? Check.

Besides being insanely fun to read and fast-paced in action, I really came to admire what O’Malley was doing in interspersing old Myfanwy’s letters into new Myfanwy’s story. It provided a break with the traditional, linear story of new Myfanwy and also some first person, epistolary narrative to break up the close third person. It also really made me like pre-amnesia Myfanwy just as much as the present heroine, post-amnesia Myfanwy. Come to think of it, it is actually quite brilliant that O’Malley managed to have two different heroines in one body–the perfect opposition for one of the bad guys, who is one consciousness in several bodies!

There are many cases of this quiet brilliance throughout the novel. I say quiet because I didn’t notice all the of the awesome things he is doing plot-wise and with the narration and dialogue and structure because I just had so much fun reading it! There are, of course, tons of jokes and references to other fantasy and supernatural series that complete nerds like me will totally enjoy. Perhaps the only flaw I found was that sometimes the dialogue is clever at the price of being realistic. But for me, that was just part of the charm of O’Malley’s style.

Anyway: the case is closed. I thought this book was brilliant and I recommend it to anyone who likes a little supernatural mystery to go with their afternoon tea.

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Persuasion by Jane Austen

persuasion “Who can be in doubt of what followed? When any two young people take it into their heads to marry, they are pretty sure by perseverance to carry their point, be they every so poor, or ever so imprudent, or ever so little likely to be necessary to each other’s ultimate comfort. This may be bad morality to conclude with, but I believe it to be truth…” p. 175

I’m not sure I’ll ever meet with a piece of writing by Jane Austen that I do not like, whether or not I agree with what she is saying. I am so glad that I decided to read Persuasion at this very moment in my life, rather than when I was younger and would have missed being able to empathize, at least just a little bit, with Anne Elliot. This is a shout out to all the single ladies my age, who are in their late twenties. It may be the twenty-first century, but I’m not so sure the attitude toward single women nearing their thirties has really altered outlandishly from Britain in the nineteenth century. Not saying it’s exactly the same, but I do think there’s some similarity in being told to hurry up, your eggs are dying as we speak and Anne being considered the “old maid” because she’d rather read than party it up in Bath. She is also not quite as pretty or social as her sister Elizabeth, who seems to have decidedly better chances at marrying even though she is older.

I know that both Anne Elliot and Fanny Price have a bad rap (or little rapport, since we’re talking Jane Austen here) with critics because they are so self-sacrificing and seem to be in cahoots with the infamous Angel in the House–a later, Victorian literary stereotype of women that caused a lot of issues. But just like for Fanny, I will stick up for Anne. Anne is not as vivacious or witty or winning as Elizabeth Bennet. Perhaps she is not as easy to love because she seems to cower in the shadow of her vain and silly older sister (cue Ashlee Simpson song “Shadow”). I hated that she took the advice of Lady Russell, but at the same time…how could she not? Lady Russell was basically the only person with any sort of common sense that Anne knew. But you know what, we’ve all made mistakes, am I right? And who wouldn’t like a second chance to remedy those mistakes or those rash decisions we made 7-10 years ago? And that is what we, as readers of Jane Austen’s glorious novel, get to experience in Persuasion. Thankfully, Captain Wentworth is the one that got away that also comes back (Hello, Sailor!–for all my peeps who watched Gilmore Girls). I did enjoy the chapter where Anne and Captain Harville basically have a fight over who is more generally faithful/loving in relationships, men or women, and all the while Captain Returns-A-Lot is writing Anne a passionate letter about how he never forgot her and how he still has the same feelings for her as he did when they were formerly engaged!

I think Persuasion is very much so a masterful novel and I am excited to next (at some point) re-read Emma, which I haven’t read since I was in high school.

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