Top Ten Book Pet Peeves

Hey everyone!  So, while being annoyed with a book I was reading (and looking at other books I wanted to read next), I started thinking about my pet peeves when it comes to stories–what will absolutely drive me nuts?  There are kind of a lot.  (As someone who reads a lot–and notices patterns–I tend to see the same things over and over and over in books.)

With this post, I’m merely talking about cliches and tropes, not the annoying person who dog-ears books or the person who destroys your books before giving them back.  (Those are legit annoyances, though.)

So let’s see if any of these match yours, ok?  Also, I may have roasted a few books/authors/TV shows along the way…

Top Ten Book Pet Peeves

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1. Love Triangles

Let’s start with the mama (and papa and third wheel) of pet peeves: the love triangle.  Admittedly, some stories can handle it quite well for one reason or another (here’s looking at you Hunger Games), but for others, all it does it add melodrama.  Unnecessary melodrama.  The girl agonizes over which guy is more special to her when both of them kiss her and make her light up like Christmas trees and sparklers and explosions all in one.  Dear Apollo, I’m retching already.  The point is, most love triangles in stories are unnecessary.  If they are necessary to the story, then fine.  I can buy into it for the story (most often, this is in stories involving multiple worlds, where one lover is in one world and the other in another).  But in a high school?  #GetOverYourself  #LetHimGo

2. Insta-love

I’m cringing already.  Again, some stories can do this well (Romeo and Juliet is one because characters acknowledge the absurdity of it), but many do not.  Yes, I remember being a teenager and feeling like I saw a hot guy and was in love with him.  But never ever was that actually love.  I might have come to love the guy as I got to know him more, but that initial feeling wasn’t love.  And I personally believe that perpetuating the idea that it is real to young girls is damaging.  We already have so many unrealistic love goals that we don’t need to keep bringing this one up.

3. Too much needless dialogue/description

Good writers walk this fine line between providing the right amount of dialogue and description.  Great writers do it so well you forget you’re reading a book because you can see everything in your head and hear the characters’ voices.  Bad writers give you dialogue that sounds like it was stolen from a crappy soap opera and descriptions that either don’t tell you enough or tell you waaaay too much.  We’ve all read books like this that make us cringe.  Or bore us out of our minds (*cough* Victor Hugo *cough*).

4. Aliens

Ok, bear with me.  The reason I absolutely hate alien stories is because nearly every shred of scientific knowledge is checked at the door on the way in.  First of all, why is every alien a carbon-based biped life form like humans?  What’s to say an alien wouldn’t look like a blobfish or a Sphinx?  Heck, aliens may even look like a Pegasus.  We don’t know!  And every time I read about aliens that look like humans, I can’t help but think how egotistical it is of us to imagine that other intelligent life forms outside of earth must look like us.

5. Too many characters

I’m finding this happening more and more, particularly within series that have an element of fantasy to them.  But this isn’t exclusive to them either.  When I read, I like to feel invested in the characters.  As series grow and expand, I expect there to be more characters.  But if your book requires a list of characters to keep everyone straight (The Diviners, And I Darken, Walk on Earth a Stranger), then you’re probably overdoing it.  I start not caring after a while because I’m spending more brainpower trying to keep track of everyone and not enough about the story.

6. Series that peak too early

You know what I’m talking about.  You’re psyched out of your mind about a series, totally not sure how the author is going to up their game from the previous book.  You stay up all night reading…and then it kind of sucks.  Maybe not a terrible book by any means, but not as great as the previous books.  I’d pretty well classify the Hunger Games series as this and I’m tempted to add the Throne of Glass series as well.  The last few books haven’t been as good as the early books.  This is probably more heartbreaking than it is annoying.  Like watching a child grow, you really want this series to do great things, but it’s maybe not finding its rhythm.

7. Plots that dddrrrrraaaaggggggggggg

Look, if the book jacket says the story has a mystery, I’m expecting a mystery.  And, because of that, I’m also expecting clues along the way.  If I’m not getting the mystery or the clues, then it feels like the plot isn’t going anywhere, like an episode of Seinfeld.  It’s just a story about nothing.  We’ve all read these stories that feel like they’re going nowhere.  It’s horrible.

8. Jarring narrator jumps

When I read a book, I really like to sink into it.  And that takes time.  So when stories have very rapid narrator changes (usually in romance novels, where each narrator is part of the couple), it distracts me.  It disrupts my flow.  I can’t follow the story because I’m too busy trying to get into each character’s head space.  The narrator jumps are supposed to give us more information about the story; ironically, when they happen too quickly, I feel like I know less.

9. Continuing a series that is effectively over

When authors plan books out well, they wrap up the loose ends at the end of a series.  So what happens when those authors decide (for one reason or another) that the series isn’t over?  They have to invent loose ends that didn’t actually exist.  It makes the following books feel fake or forced.  (I’m looking at you, Shatter Me.)  Why mess with something that was so good and wrapped up so well?  I feel like this is the Star Wars effect.  “Let’s resurrect This Thing and make it trendy again!  …Oops, we may have made it worse.”

10. Misrepresenting a book through the cover, book jacket, etc.

I know the saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover” so well I should have it tattooed on my forehead.  (My students try to apply that “theme” to Every. Single. Story. Ever.)  But the point of covers/marketing is to tell you about the book.  If two book have the exact same title, like let’s say Beautiful Lies (I made it up, but it probably exists), you don’t know what genre it is until you see the cover.  It could be a romance, a suspense thriller, a psychological thriller, a political exposé, or a memoir.  You. Don’t. Know.  When I look at a cover and read the book jacket, I kind of expect to get what I’m seeing.  When that’s not the case, I get annoyed.

Rant finished.

What about you?  What are some of your book pet peeves?  Drop a comment below!

The Beast Is An Animal

Image result for the beast is an animalFirst Lines: The Beast is an animal/You’d better lock the Gate/Or when it’s dark, It comes for you/Then it will be too late. / The Beast is an animal/Hear It scratch upon your door/It sucks your soul then licks the bowl/And sniffs around for more. / The Beast is an animal/It has a pointy chin/It eats you while you sleep at night/Leaving nothing but your skin.

I found this at the library and, I’m not going to lie, I thought it might be some kind of dark retelling of Beauty and the Beast.  (To be fair, I think that about anything with “beast” in the title.)  It’s not, but I wanted to read it anyway.

Alys was seven when she first saw the soul eaters.  At first, the energy of the twin sisters excited Alys.  It was only later that she realized that power was connected to The Beast and that it had the power to destroy.  By fifteen, Alys knows all too well about the lure and danger of soul eaters.  She lives in a world where adults fear their power, hiding behind gates and strict rules in an attempt to save themselves.  Fear rules their lives, and they fear those that might have the power of The Beast among them–within girls like Alys.  Alys hides the fact that she has a connection to the soul eaters and The Beast, something she can’t reveal to anyone.  As the threats from the soul eaters grow, Alys must undertake a journey into the depths of the fforest to confront what is there.  But what if the danger isn’t in the forest…but inside Alys?

I nearly quit reading this story multiple times early on. I just couldn’t get into it. It was strange and because it spans Alys’s life from 7 to 15, it takes a super long time to get started. I mean, there’s so much backstory that it just seemed to take a long time before the plot really got going. Even 100 pages in, I was still asking myself if I wanted to be reading this.

But I kept at it, especially once fear came more into the story through the soul-eaters started terrorizing villages. Then, admittedly, it got more interesting, especially since Alys wasn’t as affected as everyone else.

The story is supposed to be a story of showing how no one is entirely good or evil (at least according to my book jacket). And it’s true–it does show that. It just wasn’t compelling. The writing style van Arsdale has reminds me of old classic novels, which seem to always be distant from the characters and emotions. You never really feel the story the same way you can in novels now. And that was my problem here. It seemed like it was trying so hard to be this moral story that is sacrificed emotion to get there.

And frankly, most of the characters are unlikable. For some of them, I get it. They aren’t meant to be characters we like because they’re mean to Alys.  And as a study of good and evil, it makes sense that people walk that line.  But there’s not much kindness from anyone in this story and it’s hard to want to keep reading when you find so little to look forward to.

I will say that I liked the setting. There’s something vaguely Welsh about the whole thing, from spellings (fforest) to names of towns (Gwenith, Defaid) that seem too similar old Welsh kingdoms to be coincidence. That was kind of interesting, even if it wasn’t actually Wales or wasn’t supposed to be historically accurate in any way.

There wasn’t a whole lot that I came away liking from this, but it wasn’t a terrible story. I just didn’t enjoy it as much as I would like to have.

Compare This! Alice in Zombieland vs. Splintered

Hey everyone!  So for whatever reason this summer, I’ve been pretty much obsessed with everything Alice in Wonderland.  (My guess is because it’s the ultimate escape from reality, especially since Wonderland makes about as much sense as the news lately.)  So for this week’s Compare This! I decided to go thematically rather than by an author’s works.  These are two very different series, but they are based on the same source material.  Also, why not?

So let’s get the show on the road!

Alice in Zombieland series (by Gena Showalter)

VS.

Splintered series (by A.G. Howard)

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Alice in Zombieland series by Gena Showalter

Summary: Alice “Ali” Bell’s family has always been eccentric.  Her father always insisted that monsters were real and were out to get them.  When his guard dropped, Ali realized he was right: monsters do exist.  To avenge her family, Ali needs to learn to fight.  To survive, she needs the help of the baddest boy in school, Cole Holland.  But Cole has secrets and if she’s not carefully, Cole could be more dangerous than the zombies.

Pros:

  • I absolutely adore the characters in this series.  They are so different, in many respects, from characters you usually see in YA.  While being driven to protect those who can’t protect themselves, these guys are downright dangerous.
  • Let’s not pretend the idea of mixing Alice in Wonderland with zombies is not intriguing.  (And it’s done well!)
  • I liked the subtlety of many of the connections to the source material.  If it hadn’t been called Alice in Zombieland, it might not be as obvious what it was based on.  So if you like feeling smart by finding Easter eggs throughout a novel, this is for you!  Things like the white rabbit, time, madness, etc., find their way into the story from time to time.
  • These zombies are not your run-of-the-mill dead guys eating brains zombies.  They’re a unique kind of zombie I’ve never read about before and I am having a hard time putting into words what exactly they are.  But it’s cool.
  • I very much enjoyed the writing style of this series.  Ali’s voice is clear and strong.  You know it’s her because she’s always voicing her (strong) opinions about everything.  It’s something I don’t always notice, but when it’s done right?  I’m going to shout it from the rooftops.

Cons:

  • While I really enjoyed the first and the fourth books (the 4th book has a different narrator and it’s, pardon my 90s slang, DA BOMB), the 2nd and 3rd books kind of hit a little bit of a slump for me.  They started becoming predictable.
  • I also felt like the longer the series went on, the more unnatural the plot twists became.  It felt like a soap opera after a while.  But we are talking about a story involving zombies, so “unnatural” kind of comes with the territory, I guess.
  • If you’re really looking for a good retelling of Alice in Wonderland, this isn’t it.  As I kind of mentioned above, it’s really more of a spin-off that’s loosely based on the classic story.  Sometimes this is good, other times it’s not.

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Splintered series by A.G. Howard

Summary: Alyssa Gardner hears bugs and flowers talking to her.  It’s the same thing that got her mother locked up in a mental hospital.  The family curse stretches back to Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland.  Alyssa’s managing for now.  But when her mother’s health takes a turn for the worse, Alyssa learns that what she thought was just a curse is a terrifying reality.  Wonderland is real, and more twisted than Lewis Carroll ever revealed.  To save her mother, Alyssa must undo Alice’s mistakes and set Wonderland to rights.

Pros:

  • Now this is a bona fide Alice in Wonderland retelling.  Alyssa’s family is totally Mad Hatter-crazy if they deny Wonderland long enough.  And because this is a retelling, we’re visited by many of the characters we’ve come to love from the original story.  It’s a new spin on an old story, so you still never quite know what’s going to happen.
  • I really liked the characters, particularly the inclusion of Jeb, a childhood friend of Alyssa’s who’s looking for more.  He really helped pull the story together, grounding it in a reality that wouldn’t have existed otherwise.
  • The story is incredibly clever.  It takes quite a bit of skill to weave all of this together, the old and the new.  There’s also a lot of word play, foreshadowing, etc.  Kudos to anyone who could do that well.
  • There is tons of action in this series, mostly in the form of mind games but occasional fight scenes.  I don’t know about you, but I enjoy a good puzzle.  I liked trying to figure everything out before Alyssa did.

Cons:

  • I did think there were times when the story took the easy way out or over-foreshadowed something.  The ending of at least two of the three books felt too convenient for what the series had set up.  So while I was happy with what happened, I just wished it hadn’t been that easy.
  • Y’all, I read the first two books in this series and couldn’t have told you what even happened.  It encompasses all of the madness of Wonderland so well that I was constantly getting confused and not sure what was happening.  (I’m interested to see if, upon rereading it, this is still the case.)
  • Personally, I don’t like the feeling of realizing that everything I thought I knew about a story is suddenly wrong.  This happened in multiple ways throughout the story (rules get rewritten on a whim by characters, betrayals, etc.) and it just rubs me wrong.  But that’s my own irritation and I know that.  Some/many of you will not probably have this same problem.  I just like to trust that what the author tells us.

 

My Winner: Alice in Zombieland

Why?  I like it for multiple reasons.  First of all, I found I liked those characters better than I liked the characters in Splintered (though sometimes it was a close call).  I liked the zombie angle because it was easier to understand than the return to Wonderland.  I liked Showalter’s writing style and her sense of humor.  And I felt like I got into the emotion of the story more.

It’s not that Splintered is not worth a read.  It completely is.  It’s utter madness and I have yet to find another YA book that is quite so mad.  It’s fascinating.  It’s just really weird and hard to understand.  But I encourage you to try it.

Thoughts?  Did I pick the right series?  Is there another Alice in Wonderland-based series I should try?  Let me know in the comments!

Dramatically Ever After (Ever After, #2)

Image result for dramatically ever afterFirst Lines: My last word echoed just slightly in the bathroom-turned-recording studio and, when I looked up, Phoebe and Grace were looking at me with identical expressions of awe.

I am always game for a cute contemporary romance, so when this series caught my eye a few weeks ago, I continued the love with this second installment.

Senior year is shaping up to not be the dreamy, amazing year Em Katsaros wanted it to be.  With her leading man five thousand miles away in Germany and her dad getting laid off his job, Em is struggling.  Especially since her dreams of becoming a famous actress will die if she can’t get a scholarship to study acting in college.  In the hopes of turning things around, Em enters a speech contest and wins a spot for herself at the US Youth Change Council national round.  She’ll spend a week in Boston and, if she wins, come home with a huge scholarship.  Everything’s great until Em’s nemesis, the egotistical and stuck-up class president Kris Lambert, is also going.  Weirdly, Kris is being nice in Boston.  But Em knows this game–lull the enemy into comfort and then strike.  So Em decides to beat him at his own game and ups her flirting and niceness.  Only, soon it’s hard to remember what’s acting and what’s real.

So far, I’m finding this series rather adorable.

While it’s solidly YA contemporary romance and packed full of fun cliches, there’s something about each of these books that has felt new, in its own way.

In this book, Em is entering into a speech competition for a scholarship she desperately needs to prove to her parents that the arts are what she wants to study–not getting a safety job in accounting or business or whatever other idea they come up with. She’s dramatic and confident on stage. But off stage, she’s self-conscious and afraid. She’s something of a perfectionist, and when she gets stressed, she micromanages the lives of those around her to feel in control.

In other words, Em is very flawed. But I did like seeing some of her better qualities. Her passion for history, her desire to help others in small scale ways, her ability to fight for what she believes in. She was kind of awesome, and not in small part because she is so flawed.

The story itself sometimes gets a little slow, simply because most of it is focused on Em’s fears about the competition, college, Kris, etc. But it was still a cute story.

There are also some really interesting themes in this, particularly about who we are and who we want to be.  This is a Youth Change Council, after all.  The whole contest is about how people can change the world, in one way or another.  So there’s a lot there about humanitarian work, government, art, etc.

Oh, and the history!  Em is a huge history buff, like me, and being in Boston is #NerdParadise for the both of us.  It was so cool to see her reacting to the history around her in the same way I wanted to.

I just found this book to be adorable and I can’t stop saying that over and over.

Top Ten Cutest Couple Covers

I have been on a bit of a lovey-dovey kick lately (not that you’d probably know that from what I’ve been reading lately…) and I was just finding some funny trends in the covers I was looking at.  So I decided, why not do a top ten about covers?  We all love good ones, so I went hunting and found the cutest couples to ever grace YA covers.

You’re welcome.

Top Ten Cutest Couple Covers

1. Last Year’s Mistake by Gina Ciocci

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2. P.S. I Like You by Kasie West

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3. My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick

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4. The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler

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5. All I Need by Susane Colasanti

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6. Crash Into You by Katie McGarry

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7. Dare You To by Katie McGarry

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8. Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

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9. Forget You by Jennifer Echols

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10. Rules of Attraction by Simone Elkeles

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Why Beauty and the Beast Endures: An Essay

I was recently in a conversation with someone and, while I was discussing my latest watched movie (Beauty and the Beast starring Emma Watson), he admitted that he had never seen it.  Any version of it.

As I was telling him about the absolutely awesomeness involved in this roughly 300 year old fairy tale, I realized there was a lot about it that makes it special.

Image result for gabrielle suzanne de villeneuveLet’s start with talking about fairy tales.  Whether you’re reading the Grimm brothers or Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villenueve (the original author of Beauty and the Beast in 1740), the point of a fairy tale is to do two things: entertain an audience and teach some kind of lesson.  What lesson depends on the story.

In the original Beauty and the Beast, that lesson really revolved around Beauty’s virtuous qualities as a model to other young women about how to act.  She was the most beautiful of her sisters (yes, she had 2 sisters), and her father was a poor merchant.  Beauty was kind, with a warm heart for anyone in need.  She was selfless, when her sisters were selfish.  This is why she stays with the Beast.  This is why she ultimately sees past his looks to the person he is underneath.

And while that is certainly admirable, other qualities of Beauty are frowned upon in today’s society.  She definitely fit the 18th century model of a woman: quiet, submissive, meek.

So why didn’t this story disappear, as so many others do when society changes?

Because it adapted.

Here’s what’s truly fascinating about fairy tales: every successive generation puts their own twist on the stories.  It all depends on who is writing the story and what that generation values or fears.  Even the Grimm brothers changed their fairy tales as their purpose changed.  Originally, they were merely collecting old German folk tales, but when they realized children were fascinated by them, they rewrote many of them to make them less disturbing.

With the advent of television and film, those changes have been happening ever faster.  A simple IMDB search reveals 52 titles for Beauty and the Beast–not counting names of episodes of shows.  Some of these are silent films from 1912-1913, some are TV series, and some are feature films.

I will not pretend that I’ve seen all or even most of them.  What I can say is that in some of them, it’s very obvious what changes they decided to make.

Image result for beauty and the beast 1987Personally, I think Beauty and the Beast‘s real rebirth began in 1987 with the very cheesy TV series of the same name.  It updated and urbanized the story, making the Beast a lion-like man named Vincent who lives in the tunnels below New York City and Belle is Catherine, an assistant DA.  After rescuing Catherine one night, she becomes drawn to Vincent and his underground society.  (In many respects, this show is the precursor to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  They’re oddly similar, in my opinion.)

But the point is that this show brought the story back to the forefront in a way that people could relate to.  It talked about the violence of big cities, the pain of being “different” when society values uniformity, the knowledge you can find in books.  (Interestingly, Vincent is the avid reader in this show.)

Image result for belleOf course, the revolution for this story belongs firmly in the hands of Disney.  Their 1991 masterpiece made it nothing short of mainstream.  With inanimate objects suddenly coming to life and catchy songs, it became a household name and ushered in the Golden Age of Disney in the 90s.  (I don’t know if you know this or not, but Disney as a company was struggling badly before the success of The Little Mermaid in the late 80s.  Beauty and the Beast proved it wasn’t a fluke, that Disney was actually on to something again.)

The success of the Disney movie brought with it at least one sequel, dozens of knock-offs, a Broadway show, video games, action figures and dolls, and the 2017 remake.

Now, this is where it really gets fascinating, since both the 1991 and the 2017 movies are both created by the Disney company.  (It’s a bit like the same author rewriting a story after 26 years.)

Having been born in 1991, let me just say that it doesn’t feel like it was all that long ago.  It certainly doesn’t seem like it should belong to a different generation.

But it does.

Belle always felt like the most unique princess to me.  She was a reader, she was different, she had heart.  She was able to see someone’s worth beyond their physical appearance.  Everyone sort of treated her badly but she never let it bother her too much.  But there were also elements I didn’t quite care for.  She made little to no effort to save herself and she was a bit whiny without doing anything about it.  As for the movie itself, I had problems with how quickly the plot moved and how stupid they made Maurice, to show how easily he could be taken advantage of.

The 2017 remake is, without question, of my generation.  In only 26 years, you can easily see the changes, what society now values.

Image result for belleBelle has more agency in her own life.  She is more clearly ostracized because she’s breaking gender norms–inventing a washing machine so she doesn’t have to do the work herself, being ok with the idea of being a spinster rather than marrying Gaston, being an educated woman when few others are.  This obviousness showed the value Belle and Maurice placed on education and on being yourself.  These are things are society has placed a large emphasis on right now–particularly on being yourself.

On the flip side, it also clearly shows our fears as a society.  The Beast goes from being a handsome prince who had it all to a marred nobody that everyone except his staff forgot existed.  Gaston is egotistical, intolerant, and yet so much more charming than any other character.  He can literally convince the villagers to commit murder in 10 seconds with a few well-placed words.  Personally, this Gaston is leaps and bounds darker than the originally Disney villain.

And this goes to show our fears: in an age of social media, we fear losing our beauty and being forgotten.  But we also need to be cautious of the people who say pretty things but do ugly deeds.

But there are also elements completely new in this version that show how the story is evolving.  There is the inclusion of gay characters, for one (even though those moments are incredibly small and inconsequential to the story as a whole).  Still, I don’t think there’s ever been a mass marketed version of this story with gay characters.

Image result for beauty and the beastThe other change is the evolution of Le Fou.  His introduction to the Beauty and the Beast canon comes with the 1991 film.  (Gaston also didn’t exist before that, though some versions do give the Beast a rival for Belle’s affection.)  Le Fou, in French, translates to “the fool,” a role he has always played.  Subsequent stories usually have someone fill his role as well, the comic relief and sidekick to the villain.  But in this version, he becomes less of a fool than he ever has previously.  He is friends with Gaston because they share a past.  But as he starts to see Gaston’s true nature, he starts to question who is actually the monster–Gaston or the Beast.

It is this transformation that moves me the most, out of everything else.  Of course I’m delighted that Belle is more of a feminist.  Of course I adore that the story has found a way to answer questions we were left with in the 1991 film (like where’s Belle’s mother?).  But seeing Le Fou think critically and change is the moment it all comes full circle.  This character, who was making fun of Belle for being well-educated in the beginning, is now becoming educated himself.

The power of a story, what gives it enduring qualities, is how well it relates to its audience. While it’s still entertaining, a lot of us would have a hard time seeing the original tale as much more than a charming but outdated story.  I’ve seen a number of people giving that same opinion to the 1991 film.

This story endures because of its core.  At its roots, it is a story of at least one person (traditionally the Beast, now Belle as well) who does not fit in to society.  They are “other,” they are a pariah.  It is the story of acceptance, even acceptance by one single person.  It is a story of compassion for someone who may not look like you do.

This is why this story lasts.  Because no matter how many hundreds of years pass, there will always be misfits.  There will always be people who are different.  And there will always be a need for compassion.

Best!

~Holly

Now I Rise (And I Darken, #2)

Image result for now i riseFirst Lines: Hell was a party.  At least, Radu was fairly certain that whatever hell there was would certainly resemble this party.

So my Twitter feed has been blowing up lately with the release of the 3rd book in this series.  I mean, there’s only so many times you can see it before you go, “Gee, I suppose I should catch up on that.”  Voilá!

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Lada Dracul has lost nearly everyone she could call a friend or ally for one reason: she is determined to call the Wallachian throne her own, no matter the costs.  She has the loyalty of her soldiers, which she deeply values.  But lately, she’s started noticing that brute force isn’t getting her what she wants.  Thinking of Mehmed, the sultan of the Ottoman Empire and her sort-of love, only make her hurt.  What she needs is her brother Radu, who could charm a saint to sin.  But Mehmed has sent Radu to Constantinople as a double-crossing spy.  Mehmed wants the city at any cost, and he trusts Radu to help.  When Radu learns Lada wants his help, he feels torn and rejects her plea.  If she dies, he’ll never forgive himself–but if Constantinople doesn’t fall, will Mehmed ever forgive him?

When I think back on the first book of this series, I remember it being slow and taking forever and not having nearly as much action as I had wanted.

This was the book I had been waiting for.

In this book, Lada and Radu are off on their own story lines. Lada is fighting her way through Hungary to claim the throne of Wallachia. Radu has been working closely with Mehmed to make Constantinople fall, eventually getting to the point where Radu works from behind enemy lines. Both of these stories were equally fascinating because of the action and the differences in the characters.

I’d almost go so far as to call Lada an anti-heroine. She’s brutal and vicious and vindictive. She betrays people that trust her and she kills without a second thought. When you step back and look at everything she’s done, it’s kind of hard to like her.  (She is supposed to be the female version of Vlad Tepes/”Vlad the Impaler”, the historical inspiration for Dracula.) But what this hides is that she’s determined to make a better country than the one she left as a child. She wants to help the poor and she’s driven toward her goal with an intensity she can’t hide. Everyone is either with her or against her and she will act accordingly. And she’s equally determined to prove that women can do great things and be great–without being stuck in the role of wife.

Radu is the far more sympathetic of the two. He is in love with Mehmed, though he can never admit it. It just means he’ll do anything for Mehmed and the Ottoman Empire. He’s religious and kind-hearted. However, he has some darker traits too. He’s also skilled at betrayal because he’s an excellent liar. He’s clever and knows how to maneuver people to just where he wants them for a plan to succeed. It’s just that his intent is never to kill or harm–he’s too kind for that.

Action throughout the story is almost constant between these two. Lada has to do most of her fighting early to even have a shot at the throne. Radu’s comes later after he’s established himself behind enemy lines. So between them, there was always something going on.

I will admit, though, that it took me a while to get into the story. Even with notes, I had a hard time remembering who everyone was beyond Mehmed, Lada, Radu, and Nazira (who became my favorite character in this book). In then end, it almost didn’t even matter. The story reminded us of a lot of what we needed, but since the first book was a lot of Dracul backstory, it just didn’t impact this as much.

This ended up being really good and I’m glad that I (accidentally) waited to read this until the last book was coming out.