The Afterlife of Holly Chase

Image result for the afterlife of holly chaseFirst Lines: The first thing you should probably know is that Yvonne Worthington Chase was dead.  It was all over the news when it happened, the entertainment shows, the newspapers and magazines, even the trashy tabloids.  A sudden tragedy–that’s how the media described it, because she was only fortysomething when it happened, plus Yvonne was famous, so her death was considered a much bigger deal than an ordinary person’s.

I was so excited to see this book come out.  1) Cynthia Hand has never steered me wrong before.  2) It was a Christmas story and I freaking love Christmas stories.  3) The main character shares my name.  I was stoked to read this.

On Christmas Eve five years ago, Holly Chase was visited by three ghosts who showed her how selfish and mean-spirited she was to those around her.  They tried to get her to change.  She didn’t listen.  And then she died.  Now, as a ghost herself, she works as the Ghost of Christmas Past for Project Scrooge, a company that tries to reform one Scrooge-esque person each year.  Every year, it’s the same thing–and old miser, a sob story, three ghosts, and a new outlook on life.  And it’s been miserable for Holly.  But this year…things are about to change…

This book was absolutely wonderful.

A modern retelling/spin on A Christmas Carol, Holly Chase is a Scrooge. She only cares about herself and how many Instagram followers she has. It doesn’t matter that she’s mean to the help or that she blows off her dad all the time–it only matters that she looks good while doing it. And when three ghosts visit her on Christmas Eve…Holly doesn’t learn her lesson. And dies months later. But that’s not the end of her story. In fact, she now has to take the place of the Ghost of Christmas Past and try to help others who are just like her avoid her fate.

The ties to the original Dickens tale are very present but not Easter Eggs. Actually, they’re a large part of the story. With every Scrooge they focus on, they try to find a way to make their story fit the Scrooge narrative–where’s the Crachit? Where’s Tiny Tim and Belle? I liked that it wasn’t hidden but was actually woven creatively into the story.

Holly, as you would expect, starts off fairly unlikable. But after she becomes the Ghost of Christmas Past, she starts to change and she’s more manageable. Even when she was being really mean, I still found that I understood her, and I think that’s a sign of great writing.  You understand that a part of it is an act, something she’s been taught to do rather than actually how she truly feels.

And the writing got so much better from there. Descriptive and subtle, it was the kind of book I didn’t want to put down. I stayed up past my bedtime to finish it and didn’t regret it. Yes, there are parts that are predictable, but I found myself making my predictions and then anxiously waiting to see if I was right. I was always excited to see what would happen next.

And the ending…keep some tissues handy is all I’ll say. It was so so good and I spent so much time thinking about it even after I finished the book.

Read this. It’s so worth it.

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Puritan Girl, Mohawk Girl

Image result for puritan girl mohawk girlFirst Lines: “Listen!” Eunice said, sitting up straight.  “Don’t you hear that rustling sound out by the summer garden?”  It was midnight.  Beside her in the little wooden bed, her older brother Stephen lay snuggled beneath a heavy quilt.

When I was at the library about a month ago, I took a quick spin through the YA section (I already had way too many books checked out as it was, but I couldn’t resist).  This book was on a display in an attempt (I think?) to get people ready for Thanksgiving.  (Puritans, Native Americans…I think that was the point.)  As a history buff with a specialization in colonial America, I saw this and had to grab it.

Conflicts between the English colonies of America, the French colonies of Canada, and the Native Americans raged through the early 1700s.  Eunice, a young Massachusetts girl, has been lucky so far.  Raised by a preacher father in a loving family, she’s never really encountered the Natives before.  But then they arrive in her town and burn it to the ground, taking the survivors to their villages as captives.  She’s adopted into a Mohawk family and raised on their ways.  She’s taught their language and she makes new friends along the way.  But when a stranger comes to the village and offers to take Eunice back to Massachusetts, Eunice will have to make a choice between the family of her birth and the family of her rebirth.

There were a few things about this I absolutely loved: it was based on a true story and thus entrenched in real history (something I nerded out over) and it showed a much different perspective than we usually see of colonial America.  This actually looks at the Native Americans in a sympathetic, understanding light.  It looks at their culture as a valid culture, rather than inferior to the colonists.  I adored that.

But let’s just get it out of the way now: it’s pretty obvious pretty quickly that fictional writing is not Demos’s wheelhouse. The prose feels fairly lifeless throughout the story. Someone dies or something big happens and it’s explained more reactionary: “Eunice cried herself to sleep” rather than something more like, “A sob bubbled up in Eunice’s throat, the emotions choking her.” You get my point, I hope. It felt elementary, like a child relating the day’s events to a parent.

Which, in some ways, actually worked for the story. When it starts, Eunice is seven and that type of storytelling made sense, even if the narrator sort of made an appearance from time to time with some pointed comments about race and morality. But as Eunice got older, it felt like it should have changed more, but it didn’t. It’s pretty emotionless.

But the story (and the actual history it’s built on) is really interesting. Eunice Williams was a real person.  She was a young Puritan girl growing up in the early 1700s Massachusetts. She was actually kidnapped by Native Americans and adopted into the tribe of her kidnapper (which was a standard Native American custom–the newcomer was taking the place of someone who had died in the tribe). And this outlines her story really well, filled with notes at the beginning and end about her life. I’m definitely going to read more about her.

I will not claim to be an expert on Native American tribes and customs, but from what I do know, this was pretty darn accurate. Things about the Mohawks, things about relations with the French and English, etc. I found no faults with the research. Just the writing style.

This is definitely a fast read and kind of a launchpad for introducing yourself/someone to early 18th century America through the French, English, and Native Americans in America and Canada.

Lady Midnight (The Dark Artifices, #1)

Image result for lady midnightFirst Lines: Shadow Market nights were Kit’s favorite.  They were the nights he was allowed to leave the house and help his father at the booth.  He’d been coming to the Shadow Market since he was seven years old.

My decision to read this book was unique for a couple of reasons.  First, it was something I hadn’t planned on picking up–ever.  Not until a number of you here recommended it to me in the comments of a post over the summer.  (A few months later, my 16 year old cousin recommended this too.)  Second, I don’t like to pick up a book when I know I’m not up-to-date on the series.  I stopped reading Clare’s books after Infernal Devices ended (and I never read the last 3 books of Mortal Instruments).  And I don’t remember a whole lot about either series, but I hoped it was enough to pass through this.

In the Shadowhunter world, a parabatai is a sacred thing–a friend you tie your life to, a person you trust with everything you have inside you and they to you.  But the most important rule is that you can never fall in love with your parabatai.  Emma Carstairs is one of the best warriors of her age and, with her parabatai Julian Blackthorn at her side, she’s nearly unbeatable.  But war looms on the horizon as other supernatural creatures–vampires, werewolves, faeries–all chafe under the rule of the Shadowhunters.  When bodies start turning up in the same mysterious fashion as Emma’s parents five years earlier,  an uneasy alliance is formed to try to get to the bottom of the mystery.  It’s Emma’s chance at revenge and Julian’s chance to get his brother Mark back.  They have to solve the murders in two weeks–and before the murderer makes them targets.  But each clue leads to more secrets.  Who killed Emma’s parents?  Why are they killing again?  What is Julian hiding from her?  And why is it that parabatai are forbidden to fall in love?

Reading this was a little like slipping back into an old favorite high school sweatshirt: comfortable, nostalgic, but also noting how you’ve changed since you wore it last. (I’ll explain that soon.)

The story itself is really interesting. The plot was always fast-paced and action packed, with a touch of romance and a mystery underlying the whole thing. The mystery was good and I particularly relished the fact that Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee” was always the chapter titles. (I’ve taught that poem for 4 years–by the 3rd chapter, I’d noticed the trend.) But I just want to point out that it seems like every one of these Shadowhunter books seems to follow the same format when it comes to the romance.  That kind of made things a little boring at moments.

While I don’t remember Emma or Julian from any of the previous books, apparently they were there with the amount of times they talk about Clary and Jace. Emma is a brash, adventurous, impulsive lead. She has vowed revenge on the person who killed her parents five years ago, not believing the Clave’s assertion that Sebastian Morgenstern was responsible. But her impulses are tempered by Julian, her parabatai. Julian is responsible, reserved, and fiercely protective of his family. With his parents dead and his elder brother and sister taken away in the wake of the Cold Peace, it’s fallen on him to raise his four younger siblings (who were adorable, by the way).

I very much liked the characters and the fact that a number of them from the previous series came back. But having been so long since I’ve read the previous books (and the few I’ve skipped) made it feel like, at times, that I was missing something.

As is usual for Clare, she blends a lot of story lines together throughout this story. So on top of following Julian and Emma, we also get Julian’s older half-fey brother Mark telling part of the story. And we get Emma’s new friend Cristina’s perspective. (Cristina is from an Institute in Mexico, and she’s spending a year abroad in LA’s Institute. But Cristina’s also running from something in her past.)

And Clare mixes in a number of heavy themes and ideas. Betrayal, love (familial, forbidden, etc.), revenge, heartbreak, trust, murder. There’s a lot going on. And, as is also usual for her, a few of her characters are LGBT+. Not all, but a few.

I really did enjoy the story…but like I mentioned earlier, I can tell I’ve changed a lot since I read the last books. Something happened to Emma and Julian in this book that was very similar to something that happened to Clary and Jace in the first series. And I remember my reaction to that. My reaction to Emma and Julian’s problem was vastly different. I was much more “You’re doing the right thing” than “NO! What are you doing?! STOP!” It was just…it was a little weird for me.

I felt like an adult…it was an icky feeling.

I’ve also recently discovered that this series, as of my writing this, has now been completed, which is awesome.  I so hate trying to remember complicated stories over a long period of time.  Hopefully now I’ll quickly read the next two!

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein

Image result for the dark descent of elizabeth frankensteinFirst Lines: Lightning clawed across the sky, tracing veins through the clouds and marking the pulse of the universe itself.

I’m a fan of pretty much everything Kiersten White writes, most recently the And I Darken series, which reimagined the legend of Vlad Dracul as a woman.  With this take on Frankenstein (a book I’ve read twice), I had to check it out.

Blurb: Elizabeth Lavenza hasn’t had a proper meal in weeks. Her thin arms are covered with bruises from her “caregiver,” and she is on the verge of being thrown into the streets . . . until she is brought to the home of Victor Frankenstein, an unsmiling, solitary boy who has everything–except a friend.

Victor is her escape from misery. Elizabeth does everything she can to make herself indispensable–and it works. She is taken in by the Frankenstein family and rewarded with a warm bed, delicious food, and dresses of the finest silk. Soon she and Victor are inseparable.

But her new life comes at a price. As the years pass, Elizabeth’s survival depends on managing Victor’s dangerous temper and entertaining his every whim, no matter how depraved. Behind her blue eyes and sweet smile lies the calculating heart of a girl determined to stay alive no matter the cost . . . as the world she knows is consumed by darkness.

Y’all, I’m not going to lie.  This was a rare DNF for me.  I couldn’t do it.

The initial problem I ran into was that I just couldn’t get into the story with its constantly jumping timelines.  It seemed like for every five paragraphs in the present, there were two pages of flashbacks.  I get what it was doing, but I just could not get into a groove with the story.  I was reading like 2 pages a day because that was all I cared to do.

But what got me was the darkness.

I thought I’d seen White’s ability to go dark with Bright We Burn, but she’s outdone herself.  It was so vicious and dark that I legit thought I would throw up while reading this.  There was a section that basically amounts to vivisection (dissection while the subject is still alive) and I couldn’t even finish reading that before I knew I was done.

It’s getting a lot of critical acclaim, from what I can tell.  Maybe it got a lot better after that.  But OMG, it was just too disgusting for me.

Sherwood

Image result for sherwood meagan spoonerFirst Lines: He wakes to the sounds of steel and fire, and the distant wailing of a Saracen woman.  His sword is in his hand before he’s on his feet.  He’d been dreaming of rain on leaves, of the sound and feel of a wet day in Sherwood.

I was lucky enough to get a copy of this ARC from Edelweiss to read.  (Releases March 19, 2019.)  After seeing how Spooner tackled my favorite story, Beauty and the Beast, with her version in Hunted, I absolutely had to see how she tackled my favorite hero.

To get this right, I’m going to copy in the blurb: Robin of Locksley is dead. 

When news comes that he’s fallen in battle at the King’s side in the Holy Land, Maid Marian doesn’t know how she’ll go on. Betrothed to Robin, she was free to be herself, to flout the stifling rules of traditional society and share an equal voice with her beloved when it came to caring for the people of her land.

Now Marian is alone, with no voice of her own. The people of Locksley, persecuted by the Sheriff of Nottingham, are doomed to live in poverty or else face death by hanging. The dreadful Guy of Gisborne, the Sherriff’s right hand, wishes to step into Robin’s shoes as Lord of Locksley, and Marian’s fiancé. Society demands that she accept her fate, and watch helplessly as her people starve.

When Marian dons Robin’s green cloak, and takes up his sword and bow, she never intended that anyone should mistake her for Robin, returned from the Holy Land as a vigilante. She never intended that the masked, cloaked figure she created should stand as a beacon of hope and justice to peasant and noble alike. She never intended to become a legend.

But all of Nottingham is crying out for a savior. So Marian must choose to make her own fate and become her own hero…

Robin Hood.

I am a major Robin Hood fan. From Howard Pyle’s 1883 classic The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood to the more recent BBC series Robin Hood, A.C. Gaughen’s Scarlet series and Mel Brooks’s Robin Hood: Men in Tights, I’ve read and seen a lot of this tale all my life. Robin is the classic hero who can do no wrong, right the injustices of Nottingham, and win the lady.

So it just about killed me to read this when the first words on the book jacket are that Robin is dead.

Spooner totally did this story justice, though. If you’re looking for easter eggs relating to the original stories, they’re here. Will Scarlet, Little John, Alan-a-Dale, the Sheriff of Nottingham, Friar Tuck. Even the less well-known but still expected characters of Much and Guy of Gisborne are present. Admittedly, that was at least 60% of why I read this book. I just absolutely adore these characters, and all for different reasons.

As the trend has been for the last twenty years or so, women, like Marian, play a much larger and more important role in the story. Marian is a firecracker, a girl with too much fire for anyone to contain. When she learns that her beloved Robin is dead, she decides she needs to step up to protect the people she always knew were going to be hers to watch over. Especially when the dark and scarred Guy of Gisborne is meant to take over Robin’s holdings and make Locksley his own–and Marian with it all. Her senses of justice and loyalty are very strong and admirable, even though her biggest fault is that she’s reckless. I think that’s what makes her a great character–she’s not perfect.

The plot itself is also worth the read. It takes a little time to really get into the story because, even though we know all about Locksley and Nottingham and the evil of the Sheriff, it all still has to unfold. We have to see what pushes Marian to do dangerous things. But once the ball gets rolling, the story gets quite clever. And it’s full of action–archery contests, outwitting guards, prison breaks, etc. Your typical Robin Hood action, and I expected no less.

The absolute only reason why I did not rate this a 5–and I totally would have barring this–is that I did not, in the least, understand the love story in this. It was odd, misplaced, and a bit forced. Contextually, it didn’t make much sense. It seemed like there was nothing and then suddenly it was this Thing. Or perhaps my particular biases (including my besotted love of Robin) made me blind to the signs. Either way, I didn’t care for that part.

Otherwise, this was brilliant. It puts a modern spin on a classic tale while still retaining those classic moments we’ve come to love so much.   I’m hoping that Spooner tackles another in this same manner.  Crossing my fingers for King Arthur and Guinevere!

The Defiant (The Valiant, #2)

Image result for the defiant lesley livingstonFirst Lines: Cleopatra, Queen of Aegypt, was bored.  And so I found myself hanging from the deck rail of a galley, cursing loudly in the moments before my vessel was rammed again by an enemy ship and I was thrown into the waves, sparkling with sunlight, far below.

When I discovered The Valiant a few months back, I was rather taken aback by it.  Set in Ancient Rome with female gladiators (who were often stronger and smarter than the men around them), it was fun and exciting.  I was itching to read the sequel and see where the story went next.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Fallon was warned.  By becoming a favorite of Caesar’s, she gained enemies that she doesn’t even know about and many people are waiting for her to fall from grace.  Thrust into a vicious conflict with a rival gladiatrix academy, Fallon finds so many things she holds dear on the line: her sister, her friends, her love, even Rome itself.  When treachery and power threaten the newfound freedom of the gladiatrixes, the only thing that might help save Fallon and her sisters-at-arms is the long forgotten myth of the Amazon warriors.  The only problem is, the Amazons may just kill Fallon first and ask questions later.

What I enjoyed so much about the first book in this series was that Fallon was strong, loyal, and tough. I also enjoyed the history–Caesar, Cleopatra, and the numerous tribes that melded together to make the Ludus Achillea with their interesting histories, languages, and customs.

This book still retained a good amount of all of that, though less so on the history front. As a history buff, I would have liked more than that, but I can’t complain much.

This book takes a little while to get the ball rolling. Sure, there’s action straight away and there’s a lot of fighting (obviously), it’s a little slow to get to the plot. And even when it does, it seemed like sometimes it was still moving slow.

There were a few twists in all of this, though. Some of them I didn’t see coming, and a few of them I did. I much preferred the unpredictable ones.

I guess I just don’t really know what to say about this one. It was entertaining and I found myself wanting to read more just to find out what happened next, but I wasn’t completely swept away by it. It has a lot in common with other books I read so it’s not totally unique except for its setting. Still, I find myself looking forward to the next book.

A Court of Frost and Starlight (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #3.1)

Image result for a court of frost and starlightFirst Lines: The first snow of winter had begun whipping through Velaris an hour earlier.  The ground had finally frozen solid last week, and by the time I’d finished devouring my breakfast of toast and bacon, washed down with a heady cup of tea, the pale cobblestones were dusted with fine, white powder.

You guys know I’m a Sarah J. Maas junkie, and I especially love this series.  But I tend to naturally stay away from novellas in a series just because.  However, I’ve learned my lesson with Maas: usually what happens in the novellas becomes big in the later books.  So I needed to read this.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Feyre, Rhys, and their friends are trying to rebuild the Winter Court.  It was destroyed in the wake of their last war, and everyone is ready to put the past behind them and continue on.  But the Winter Solstice is coming and with it a nice break from the stress of rebuilding a devastated city.  Still, a festive atmosphere isn’t enough to banish the shadows surrounding them all.  And soon, she learns that some of those nearest to her are still harboring some very real wounds.

Ok, maybe it’s just me, but this felt like a miss. Maas is usually top-notch, spot-on with nearly every book she writes. But this?

Nothing happened.

It was basically a fluff Christmas story (though they called it Solstice). Characters walked around, observing how their world has changed since the war. They love each other, they try to buy Solstice presents, and some of them fight/make life difficult. Other than that, literally nothing happens.

Oh sure, there’s some stuff here that’s absolutely going to pop up in later books. No doubt about it, if her other series is any indication, since that includes info from the novellas all the time. But oh my God, I just kept waiting for some action. And I don’t mean the sexy kind. I mean the fights, because these have been killer thus far.

But…nothing. Like, I can’t even tell you what the plot of this book is. I teach my students to write a story that builds to a certain point, a point where the conflict has been building to. I couldn’t identify plot, climax, none of it.

The only nice thing was that it was good to see these characters again. The bad thing is that it was all just snippets, like watching the trailer for the next movie in a saga. You see pieces of what’s to come, but not enough to really even entice you.

I’m really disappointed with this. And if the next book that comes out is a novella as well, then this could really start dragging.