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Saturday, July 5, 2014
Kiersten White & Jim Di Bartolo
April 29th, 2014
For Review from Scholastic
Synopsis via Goodreads
From the remarkable imagination of acclaimed artist Jim Di Bartolo and the exquisite pen of bestselling author Kiersten White comes a spellbinding story of love, mystery, and dark conspiracy, told in an alternating narrative of words and pictures.
Cora and Minnie are sisters living in a small, stifling town where strange and mysterious things occur. Their mother runs the local boarding house. Their father is gone. The woman up the hill may or may not be a witch.
Thomas and Charles are brothers who’ve been exiled to the boarding house so Thomas can tame his ways and Charles can fight an illness that is killing him with increasing speed. Their family history is one of sorrow and guilt. They think they can escape from it . . . but they can’t.
When I first got this book in the mail, I had never heard of it before. This is especially shocking since I am a worshiper of the goddess that is Kiersten White. Needless to say that when I saw the lovely cover and Kiersten's name, I got pretty excited. I was a little wary of the whole mixed media thing (told through both written narrative and illustrative narrative), but when I started reading it, I was like, "Hey, this is kind of cool." As I got further into the book, I grew to like it even more. And by the end? I was in love, finding that In the Shadows had gradually, but surely, secured a special place on my heart's bookshelf. It is always so great when a book can surprise you with it's awesomeness.
In the Shadows is told from the perspective of five different characters: Cora, Millie, Thomas, Charles, and Arthur. Cora, the elder daughter, used to be fun and outgoing but, after an unfortunate incident and the death of her father, grew cautious and reserved. I loved that we actually got to see this scene happen, as it occurs before the rest of the story. I had a great deal of sympathy for Cora, though I wished I could have seen a little more of what she was like before, possibly through a couple of brief flashbacks via Millie. Millie is the polar opposite of Cora, possessing a sort of wildness and curiosity about her with a penchant for story telling. Thomas, the elder brother, was similar to Cora in that he wasn't much of a talker or adventurer, but I got this sense that he had a wild side back home, and I hated that I didn't get to see any of that in him at the boarding house; I wanted to know more about his past. Charles, his younger brother, is gravely ill but full of humor, charisma, and a live-life-while-you-can, no worries attitude that I adored. He loves a good problem to solve and Millie proves the perfect challenge for him. Then we have the broody and mysterious Arthur, who was, quite frankly, probably my least favorite of the group, but I came to appreciate him towards the end. Finally, we have our little group of villains. There is Mary, the crazy woman (witch?) that lives in the scary house on the hill. I actually really liked what was done with her character and found her to be surprisingly dynamic. Then there was Alden, who very thoroughly and effectively played the role of evil villain. And Constance, who is also, you know, evil. However, she had this deceptively sweet charm about her that I just loved. All of this being said, if there was one thing I had to pick as a weakness for the book, it would be the characters. They all had such great, distinct personalities, but they weren't given a lot of time to fully develop their potential. This bothered me some, because I wanted more, but I found not nearly as much as it would have bothered me in other books.
In the Shadows is told in two alternating story lines. One follows the lives of the aforementioned characters through the written narrative, taking place at a boarding house in Maine. Then there is the illustrated story line which follows a mystery man on a dangerous journey into the future and across the world as he searches for the society. I had a couple of characters that I was considering for the role of this mystery man, and in the end, the one I was most sure of was correct. Seriously though, this book had it all: a dash of romance, action, intrigue, and some mild horror. Seeing the two story lines play out in juxtaposition was thrilling and revealed information in some of the most fascinating ways that kept me guessing throughout. White and Bartolo made a very wise decision in how to go about writing the two stories in terms of plot timelines. All of this is why I wasn't too upset by the shortness of character development. This book was all about telling a story, and I could imagine sitting at the foot of a rocking chair while listening to some wise elder telling it to me. I could see and hear this story.This would make an awesome frikin movie if it weren't for the fact that it would probably get butchered.
Kiersten White's writing was just magical, but no shocker there. The style of this story was quite different than the Paranormalcy books, and her writing style adapted quite nicely to fit In the Shadows. It was lyrical, descriptive, and full of haunting and mesmerizing imagery. I enjoyed the third person (on the fence between omniscient and limited) perspectives, as it really added to the fact that the focus of this novel is to tell/show a story. However, I felt that this, combined with the fact that we had five perspectives, contributed to a lesser development of the characters. The written sections were often brief, and I sometimes had a hard time knowing who the focus was on. Honestly, I think this novel could have used a little more of the actual written sections to balance out the illustrated portions. This book could have easily been around 450 pages. Moreover, what was there did suffice to tell the story that needed to be told.
Jim Di Bartolo's illustrations were lovely and very versatile, though never in a way that felt inconsistent or disjointed. The dramatic lines, use of colors and shading did an excellent job of getting across the more eerie aspects of this story. At the same time, there would be panels that had me going, "Wow, this is really exquisite." Bartolo's illustrations worked so cohesively with the written narrative when it came to reflecting both In the Shadow's dark and beautiful sides. They also did a very efficient job of fulfilling their responsibility for their half of the story. They weren't pictures to simply be glanced over and moved past; they demanded to be looked at more closely for full appreciation and understanding of the story being told. And I loved this about them; they had good looks and a brain.
As this book was drawing near its end, I could see a pretty clear connection between the two stories being told, but I also still had a ton of questions. More questions than I thought could be answered in what remained. But I was wrong, and the stories ended up pulling together to create the perfect conclusion. I'll admit, there were a couple of small questions that lingered about, but I was able to answer them for the most part by going back through the illustrated panels. In the Shadows wasn't a book that I finished and just put down; I took my time going back through, looking for things I might not have noticed the first time around, and it was great. Everything made so much sense going back with enlightened eyes. This book works excellently as a standalone novel (and let's face it, we could use more standalone books), but if another book came out following more closely the story that was told via the illustrations, I'd buy it. Cause I was left craving more.
Characters: Great, distinctly varied cast of characters, but could have been more developed.
Writing: Magical. But what else should I expect from Kiersten White? Would have liked to have seen a greater ratio of writing sections in contrast to the illustrated ones.
Plot: Exciting, palpable, and brilliantly plotted.
Illustrations: Beautiful, dark, and creepy.
Ending: Perhaps a bit rushed, but wrapped things up wonderfully.
Enjoyment/Likability: I didn't fall head over heels in love right off the bat; instead, it took its time winning me over. And what girl doesn't like to be properly wooed on occasion?
Recommendable: OMG, yes. Read it! Perfect for a dreary, rainy evening.
Overall: This book had a couple of small flaws but, overall, was an exceptionally pleasant surprise, and I'm so glad that Scholastic sent it to me. Because of the format, this may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I highly recommend giving it a try, even if it is out of your comfort zone. In the Shadows is a masterpiece of a story, a work of art that only two truly great minds could have executed so seamlessly. This book has reaffirmed my love for Kiersten White's writing, and it has also given me a new illustrator to keep an eye out for. Mad props, you two.
Cover: Frikin' gorgeous. The picture doesn't do it justice. The pattern around the edges and stuff is raised. The book is even pretty naked. ;)
Buy In the Shadows
Amazon / Kindle / B&N / Nook / Book Depository
Posted by ~The Book Pixie at 7/05/2014 11:35:00 AM
Sunday, June 29, 2014
January 10th, 2012
Bought on Kindle
Synopsis via Goodreads
Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel's story is about to be completely rewritten.
*takes a deep breath* So, this review is neither raving nor scathing (well maybe some of the latter), but somewhere in between. I was really enjoying The Fault in Our Stars when I initially started it. But the further in I got, the more it seemed to just...leave a bad taste in my mouth. Especially the more I contemplated what I had just read upon finishing it. I find myself understanding why there is so much hype about it; at the same time, I'm not so sure it deserves it. After all, it is easy to play the right, and best, hand when you've got cards stuffed up your sleeves. (No, I'm not calling John Green a cheater. Just, he knew exactly what elements this story needed to be a big hit, and he used them all: dying teenagers; last chance, whirlwind romance; snark; irony; metaphors; a lot of frikin' metaphors made to make the reader feel smart and the characters seem deep and profound.)
Alright, so, I liked the characters, generally speaking. They were snarky, fun to read about, and I found myself rooting for them overall, though not especially invested in them emotionally. Unfortunately, their personalities were so similar that it was almost as though they were the same person/character/idea represented in male and female form. They made a big show of "not being their cancer" and the whole time I was like, "But you are!" They, and their family, were almost solely defined by the fact that both Gus and Hazel have cancer. I realize something like cancer tends to take over your life and all; I watched my dad die from cancer, so please don't try to tell me I don't know what it is like. However, for example, we know Hazel is taking college classes; why not include more of that area of her life in the story? Even if just a little more. I found it hard to believe that Hazel's one friend from the high school (nope, don't remember her name) was the first person her mom thinks of for Hazel to spend her birthday with, and yet she's almost never around. If she's that important, I would have liked to have seen more of her and what there was of her friendship with Hazel. I didn't feel as though any of the characters under went all that much growth throughout the story. They would appear to, at times, but then were right back to how they were.
As for the overall story line, I felt like it was trying to capitalize on everything that makes a book a bestseller. (See first paragraph). Hazel seems to pride herself on giving an honest, and somewhat brutal portrayal of what cancer is really like. And I'm sitting here thinking, "So it is normal for kids with cancer to fall in love with a hot fellow cancer dude at support group *spoiler* and lose their virginity together in fucking Austria *spoiler*?" Someone please tell me how this is in any way a realistic portrayal of a teen with cancer. I am perfectly willing to admit that my view of this book is probably tainted by the fact that I have personally dealt with losing one of the two most important people in my life to cancer. Although, I actually feel as though I am more enlightened by it, rather than tainted. Because I have seen how ugly and awful the reality of cancer is first hand. And this, this was a very romanticized picture of it that wouldn't have bothered me so much if it would have just owned up to being so instead of trying to tout itself as some eye-opening breakthrough in YA literature on the subject of cancer. (I don't entirely blame John Green for this and realize this has more to do with the marketing of the novel.)
The writing was nice, the pacing very fluid and consistent, with parts of it being very beautiful. I say parts because some of it felt like it was trying way too hard to be deep and profound, while others were genuinely...well...great. That said, even though there were sections of writing that I loved, the words did not feel believable coming from a couple of teenagers (or much of anyone, for that matter) who are supposed to be coming up with this stuff off the top of their heads and using it in everyday conversation. No, they read like a man sitting at a computer, or lying in bed, working over that section of thought countless times in his head until it is perfect. In other words, John Green's writing read like writing, and I often found this to result in my being pulled out of the story as I think, "Who the heck, teenager or otherwise, says stuff like that?"
Moreover, there were times throughout this novel that were prime for hardcore, heart wrenching emotion that were wasted because of a somewhat arrogant obsession with "beautiful, deep, and profound metaphors". I felt Green was too concerned with making things sound pretty and poetic in these emotionally wrought moments, causing the true, and ugly pain of the situations to leave me feeling next to nothing.
The ending, well I saw that coming from a mile off and was not the least bit surprised. When I went to turn the page on my kindle, only to see I had finished, there was a brief "Where's the rest?" moment, but I quickly recovered and shrugged it off like, "Well, yeah. Figures."
This review has ended up being more scathing than I initially intended. I liked the book fairly well while I was reading it. But the more I have thought about it since, the more I want to stick the killing thing between my lips and give it the power to kill me. In other words, it was a very in the moment read for me that I never should have given much thought to upon finishing.
Characters: Snarky and witty, but not very well rounded/developed. I wanted more depth, as opposed to the illusion of depth.
Writing: Occasionally gorgeous and clever, but felt ill utilized in places. Read quickly and smoothly.
Plot: Prided itself on being honest, but didn't feel all that brutally revealing. Very caught up in the romance.
Ending: Predictable and just...meh.
Enjoyment/Likability: I liked it most the time I was reading it. It was decent. Laughed a lot. Never found myself moved to tears though.
Recommendable: Let's face it, you've either read it already, never plan to read it, or know you will read it at some point, regardless of what I've written above.
Overall: In short, this is a good-ish book. Really. Especially if you take it for what it is, see it for what it isn't, and don't dig too deeply. I am definitely a subscriber to the "It's Overrated" club. Despite it falling short of my expectations (seriously, I've been hearing people sing this book's praises since before it ever officially released), I'm glad I read it, and it did get me out of my reading slump. My main issue with this book was that it seemed more concerned with being a bestseller than telling a meaningful story. (Fire up the torches.) I will be reading more of Green in the future, though, starting with Looking for Alaska, which I have heard is better. Also, John Green, I think you are a super cool dude and all. Nothing personal. I just didn't like this book.
Cover: Umm...simplistic? Sure, we'll go with that.
Posted by ~The Book Pixie at 6/29/2014 07:08:00 AM
Tuesday, January 21, 2014
~Between $3.00 and $4.00~
Posted by ~The Book Pixie at 1/21/2014 09:11:00 PM
Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Danielle L. Jensen
April 1st, 2014
The Malediction Trilogy, #1
Synopsis via Goodreads
For those who have loved Seraphina and Graceling comes another truly fabulous fantasy...
For five centuries, a witch’s curse has bound the trolls to their city beneath the ruins of Forsaken Mountain. Time enough for their dark and nefarious magic to fade from human memory and into myth. But a prophesy has been spoken of a union with the power to set the trolls free, and when Cécile de Troyes is kidnapped and taken beneath the mountain, she learns there is far more to the myth of the trolls than she could have imagined.
Cécile has only one thing on her mind after she is brought to Trollus: escape. Only the trolls are clever, fast, and inhumanly strong. She will have to bide her time, wait for the perfect opportunity.
But something unexpected happens while she’s waiting – she begins to fall for the enigmatic troll prince to whom she has been bonded and married. She begins to make friends. And she begins to see that she may be the only hope for the half-bloods – part troll, part human creatures who are slaves to the full-blooded trolls. There is a rebellion brewing. And her prince, Tristan, the future king, is its secret leader.
As Cécile becomes involved in the intricate political games of Trollus, she becomes more than a farmer’s daughter. She becomes a princess, the hope of a people, and a witch with magic powerful enough to change Trollus forever.
So, trolls. That's pretty new. I like new. The premise definitely has grabbed my attention, though the name for the city, Trollus, bugs me. This story has the potential for some amazing and unique world building that I look forward to experiencing. What do you think?
Posted by ~The Book Pixie at 1/15/2014 07:30:00 AM