Rambling Reviews: Secondborn

**This contains a few spoilers, though — as I’ll go into more below — nothing really felt like a “big reveal” enough to qualify protecting the details**

For July’s “Kindle First” book, I chose Secondborn by Amy Bartol. An aside — Kindle First is possibly my favorite part of being an Amazon Prime member, since I get a free book each month before it’s released to the public. It’s currently $4.99 otherwise.

I love the concept of the story: Firstborns are basically royalty, secondborns are servants and soldiers, thirdborns are illegal and therefore destroyed. Of course, Secondborn follows one such secondborn, Roselle, as she acclimates to her new life as a member of the Fates Army. Since she’s the daughter of one of the highest leaders of the society, she’s something of a celebrity, making her transition into the ranks that much harder.

Bartol’s world-building is pretty phenomenal. I love the different “trees” everyone lives in, and the imaginative technology. After finishing this book, I read that she is well-known for her fantastic worlds, and this time was no exception.

World-building aside, this book felt more like a rough first draft than anything. The relationships are hurried and there is very little depth to Roselle. I liked Hawthorne as a potential love interest, but as soon as I’d thought that, he was declaring his love and they were in this intense physical relationship that just felt strange. Then a year passes (denoted by “one year later”), in which an actual relationship could have developed more naturally between them — complete with the slow, delicious build up of more and more physical affection — and I might have felt more invested when he was suddenly ripped away from her.

She seems to attract every handsome male in her vicinity. That didn’t exactly bug me — after all, her life had been broadcast since a child, and it’s insinuated she’s very pretty — but I couldn’t tell how she felt back. There’s a lot of exposition and “telling” rather than showing, but I don’t feel like I ever really saw inside Roselle’s head.

The whole thing ends rather abruptly, in what feels like the middle of a conversation. There’s no resolution of a goal — and in retrospect, I’m not even sure what Roselle’s goals as a character were for this story. Too many questions were left unanswered, and more cropped up with such a quick ending.

All that being said, if the second book shows up as a free option, I might check it out. There’s so much potential for a great series. The characters can be fleshed out more, given actual motivations and backstory and their relationships and interactions to flow more naturally. The underlying concept of the story has potential to generate enticing plot lines. And like I said earlier, the world itself is fascinating. The first book was just too rushed and disjointed for me to recommend it.

Rambling Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood was very hard to read. Not because it was poorly written or boring — that’s not the case at all. The story was intriguing and I was invested in the narrator’s plight. The end felt like such a cliffhanger that I audibly yelled “are you serious!” which scared my husband, but then I realized there was more to the story in a new section with a different perspective (so if you hit a snag near the end, keep reading — it’s not just end of book acknowledgements!).

No, the reason this book was so hard to read was its terrifying plausibility. Most dystopian novels are set in a far off future, after wars and bombs and viruses and apocalypses have utterly changed the face of the earth and how society runs. Some dystopian novels are a chilling commentary on where the world could be headed (think: 1984), but this is so much more immediate. The changes, the leeching of power from the people — or from certain types of people — are so subtle at first, so insignificant that by the time enough people start to question things, it’s far too late.

In a lot of dystopian stories, there is one dictator or a small group of “bad guys” lording it over the masses. The majority of the people don’t agree with their leadership, but are too downtrodden and tired to fight back. In The Handmaid’s Taleplenty of people agree with the new society. There are rumors of underground movements, sure, but most people seem supportive of the new order’s ideals.

The story is both intense and detached, told by a narrator who has nearly given up on everything that mattered to her in the world before. It is both resigned and angry, rebellious and cautious, disgusted and apathetic. It is a desperate warning wrapped up in inevitable possibility.

I had to take a lot of breaks while reading this one. It isn’t something you’ll binge-read for hours or enjoy while lounging on a beach. It’s a tale best told in snippets and whispers, with long silences to digest each piece of new information. It’s heavy with real-life foreboding, but I’m so glad I read it.

Rambling Review: Garden of Thorns

Recently, I’ve been reading more “adult” books (Slaughterhouse-Five, The Handmaid’s Tale — reviews to come), modern classics that make me sound more cultured and grown up than the usual YA fiction I prefer. I do feel more well-rounded, but I’ve missed the adventure and angst and inevitable romance that all winds together into nearly every young adult novel.

Garden of Thorns by Amber Mitchell popped up on my Amazon recommendations, and I couldn’t resist. In all honesty, I was fully prepared to re-read any one of my favorites I already own, but currently they would need to be fished out of boxes, and Garden of Thorns was only $3.99 on Kindle, so I figured I’d take a chance on it.

The story is about a girl, Rose, who is part of a traveling entertainment troupe called the Garden — in which the Flowers dance and the Wilteds are punished for any infraction the Flowers make. The Gardener is cruel and abusive, and very early on we get to see just how devastating life in the Garden can be. Rose manages to escape, only to find herself in a rebellion against an emperor every bit as cruel and emotionless as the Gardener. All she wants is to free her sisters from the Garden, but first she has to prove herself worthy of the rebellion’s help.

Her growth throughout the novel is a beautiful thing. She struggles with trust issues and hope, vacillating between the two nearly constantly. Frustrating and relatable, it sometimes seems like one step forward is met with two steps back. I soared with her triumphs and screamed (internally) when she seemed to have run out of chances for success. As a reader, her fears seemed objectively ridiculous but also extremely valid at the same time. The frequent reminders of her past felt repetitive at first, but were necessary to continuously explain her hesitations.

I’m not sure if this is a stand alone novel or part of a series. Unlike most series, the ending was satisfying and didn’t hint at another story waiting to be told. I’d be perfectly happy with this as its own novel, but I can’t deny I’d love to see Rose and the others back for another adventure.

Rambling Review: Angelfall

angelfall

Full disclosure right up front: I bought Angelfall by Susan Ee in paperback and it’s been a little while since I’ve read it. However, it’s showing up free on Kindle for Prime members, so I feel justified reviewing it, because even if I might be a little hazy on all the details, I loved this book.

First off, I like the name. Titles are great in that way, aren’t they? This story is about a teenage girl — Penryn — who is trying to keep her family together in post-apocalyptic California. And I mean post-biblical-Apocalypse. Angels have taken over the earth as a battleground with demons, and humans are caught in the middle. Penryn teams up with the [dreamy] angel Raffe to try to save her little sister from the angel’s stronghold. Adventures ensue.

In a literary fantasy world filled with vampires and werewolves and witches, it was refreshing to find a story with similar themes, but with angels instead of the other more typical mythical creatures. The descriptions of the angels and explanations of the world Susan Ee created are well-done and believable. And that Raffe — gotta love a vulnerable, sexy angel with a vendetta and a great backstory. Both he and Penryn grow as characters throughout the book and the series. The other characters, like Penryn’s mom especially, are well-written, too.

The writing is a little choppy, at least in the beginning. Never enough to frustrate me, but I do remember thinking there were parts that weren’t very well-written. That being said, the story is phenomenal and well worth forgiving any awkward phrasing.

If you are not a Prime member, Angelfall is $4.00 on Kindle, $6.69 for paperback (and like $18 for the series). It’s well worth the price for either, in my opinion.

Let me know what you think in the comments if you decide to check it out!

Rambling Reviews

A friend of mine had the great idea that I should include book reviews on my blog. Great as in, I love to read, I love to tell people about great books I’ve read, and I love the excuse to read more. I’m not so sure about the actual “review” part; writing carefully thought-out and constructive feedback has been a struggle for me as far back as my creative writing workshops in college. Either I fall into a story or I don’t. There are plenty of things that can pull me out of a story (not connecting to the characters enough, not interested in the plot enough, poor writing/bad mechanics), but a good story is so seamless all I’m left with at the end is impressions and adoration and all the beautiful, painful feelings art is meant to elicit.

She also asked if I’d read any of the Kindle books that are offered free, and if I thought they were any good. So here’s my plan: I’ve picked a few out that seem interesting, and I’ll write about what I think.

A few things to know about me (because what strikes me as fantastic — or not so much — is not necessarily guaranteed to knock your socks off — or ruin your day –just because it did for me):

I really like young adult fiction. YA is my favorite, because they deal with the struggles of finding your place in the world and growing up and making tough choices to find out who you really are. They’re more relatable (relateable? Why is spell check insisting this isn’t a word?) to me, even as a twenty-something.

Other genres I prefer are historical fiction (because I like learning history while I read) and mysteries/thrillers. I’m not as big on horror or sci fi/fantasy (except it seems a ton of YA fiction these days is somehow fantastical, and I haven’t hated it). I do not like non-fiction. Sorry about it. I prefer my lessons learned through fictional characters.

As a writer myself, I notice the mechanics of writing at the beginning. For some people, the writing itself isn’t as noticeable or important. For me, it can be distracting. If it’s a great story, I won’t notice anything but the characters and plot and setting after the first few pages. If halfway through the book I’m still mentally editing, it’s hard to stick with. I will say, I believe almost every book that’s started deserves the chance to be finished. I’ve only ever given up completely on two books, and only because the writing was so distracting.

OK, so if you’re looking for some reading suggestions and think my recommendations may be worth reading, stay tuned for my thoughts. I doubt I’ll be following any set “review template,” but I’ll try to include in each post why I chose the book, what my overall impression was before and after, and anything that really stuck out to me. I hope you enjoy!