Thursday, 8 August 2013

City of Bones - Cassandra Clare

When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder—much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air. It’s hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing—not even a smear of blood—to show that a boy has died. Or was he a boy?

This is Clary’s first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. It’s also her first encounter with Jace, a Shadowhunter who looks a little like an angel and acts a lot like a jerk. Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace’s world with a vengeance, when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know. . .

I'd never been much interested in reading the Mortal Instruments series. Not so much because it didn't sound interesting as supernatural teenagers are usually totally my thing but because I used to be big into fan fiction (don't judge, you know you love it) and I remember the plagiarism scandal that surrounded Cassandra Clare back in 2006. When she published her first book (this book, in fact) in 2007, all I could think about was how she was that plagiarizing woman and didn't pick it up. 

However, with the movie coming out soon and a good friend who wanted to see it (and a nice employee discount at my bookstore), I picked it up for a quick read post-Rathbones.

Oh, I wanted to like it. I really did. My life would be so much easier if I did. I just couldn't do it, though. The characters were so boring, the plot line was so predictable and the whole story just felt like a lump. I think I could narrow my main problems down to two big factors, though.

Number One: Incest. There is an incest-y plot line in this book and it made me uncomfortable. I understand that that's what it's supposed to do (I guess?) and I've read other works that had uncomfortable "we're in love but oh no! we might be related!" plot lines before that dealt with them in an interesting and heartbreaking way. It added depth to the character and tragedy to the plot. This one … doesn't. It mostly just serves to make you feel creepy and icky especially as it does not get wrapped up before the end of the book. If this were just a minor plot line, it could be easily overlooked or even found to be a great addition to add a little tension. Instead, by ending the novel with them still in that uncomfortable in-between phase, it just made the reader (or at least, this reader) wonder why they spent so much time becoming invested in these characters' relationship if it was going to eventually end in inbreeding. 

Number Two: Dubious characterization. This comes from my earlier point of Cassandra Clare's fan fiction. She was famous for years before her publications for writing Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings fan fiction which I do not in any way judge her for (because there may be a bit of fan fiction by myself out there on the web.) What does seem suspicious, though, is how closely some characters seem to mirror Rowling's. Let's explore:

Jace Wayland: Jace has fine wavy dark golden-blond hair and dark gold eyes. He has a slim, muscular build, and is about 5'11". His face is described as being pretty and angular, and Clary often refers to him as beautiful and leonine, with a narrow mouth. … For most of the books Jace's sarcastic, cold remarks and behavior hides his tortured and angry soul. (Description from Wikipedia)

I don't know how many of you read fan fiction but this is a classic example of fanon Draco Malfoy. Which is especially not surprising as this was a trope she created in her  fan fiction opus, The Draco Trilogy, which took her six years to complete when it ended in 2006. 

Clarissa "Clary" Fray: Clary is five feet tall with curly red hair, green eyes, pale skin, and freckles. She is said to look like her mother - who is described as beautiful and small. She is rather petite and very thin. She is described by Jace many times throughout the series as "delicate". (Description from Wikipedia)

Did I mention that in her opus that Draco ends up with Ginny? And we did notice that her name is Clarissa "Clary" Fray which sounds a lot like Cassandra Clare? Good. We're on the same page.

There are so many other little things like her best friend Simon who has messy black hair and glasses and is just not as cool as Jace and the fact that all the main character's parents were in a mysterious club that's basically the Marauders mixed with Death Eaters when they were young but it feels a bit petty going through them all. Although, I will admit, the bookish father figure werewolf seems a bit too obvious, even for me. 

Also, in doing research for this review (if you're going to badmouth something, you always need to double check), I found that she had written a fan fic in 2004 called The Mortal Instruments that was Ron/Ginny which I suppose explains the incesty things. The more I learn, the more uncomfortable I feel.

I'd like to end this review with a quote from Cassandra Clare's fan lore page because I think it sums up what I'm trying to say perfectly:

"Though Moral Instruments and the Draco Trilogy do not share a plot, some fans believe that Clary and Jace are based on fanon versions of Ginny and Draco. Additionally, one passage from Draco Veritas, which tells the story of Draco's pet falcon, appears word-for-word in City of Bones: the only differences are minor punctuation changes and the amendment of "Draco" to "the boy" (now referring to Jace).

Wank ... did occur when the published author put out her first novel, which involved both media fandom and science fiction fandom, but in general the allegations of plagiarism and bad behavior against the fan[dom] are not well known among people who interact with the published author."

So I suppose the lesson is, as long as no one knows your story was originally fan fiction, you'll sell. See: Fifty Shades of Grey.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

The Rathbones - Janice Clark

A literary adventure set in New England, Janice Clark's gothic debut chronicles one hundred years of a once prosperous seafaring dynasty.

Moses, the revered patriarch of the Rathbone family, possessed an otherworldly instinct for spotting the whale. But years of bad decisions by the heirs to his fortune have whittled his formerly robust family down to just one surviving member: a young girl, left to live in the broken-down ancestral mansion that at one time had glowed golden with the spoils of the hunt.

Mercy, fifteen years old, is the diminutive scion of the Rathbone clan. Her father, the last in the dynasty of New England whalers, has been lost at sea for seven years-ever since the last sperm whale was seen off the coast of Naiwayonk, Connecticut. Mercy's memories of her father and of the time before he left grow dimmer each day, and she spends most of her time in the attic hideaway of her reclusive Uncle Mordecai, who teaches her the secrets of Greek history and navigation through his collection of moldering books. But when a strange, violent visitor turns up one night on the widow's walk, Mercy and Mordecai are forced to flee the house and set sail on a journey that will bring them deep into the haunted history of the Rathbone family.

Inspired by The Odyssey and infused with beautifully detailed descriptions of the realities of coastal and ship life reminiscent of Moby Dick, Janice Clark's magnificent debut is a spellbinding literary adventure.

Last week was a sea shanty kind of week, with Melville's birthday a key factor and so I read the new The Rathbones. A stunning debut with a whole mythos behind it, I was very impressed.

The Rathbones follows Mercy Rathbone, the last of the Rathbone clan that was once the greatest whaling family in all of New England. She lives in the remains of what was once a great mansion with her mother who awaits a lost father at sea and her cousin who lives in the attic and teaches her of whales and science and life. After a strange encounter with a man on the widow's walk one night, Mercy and her cousin leave the house and begin an Odyssey-esque journey around the area where Mercy slowly begins to learn the true history of her family. 

Although it did take a chapter or two to settle into as the tone is very unique, I greatly enjoyed The Rathbones. It feels like reading a great myth, a mixture of The Odyssey, Moby Dick and various Old Testament narratives. As you start to unravel how the Rathbone clan went from a lone whaler with seemingly supernatural powers to a crumbling dynasty, you both fall more in love with Mercy while being enraptured by the tale. It's not a page turner in the typical sense but it did make me want to keep reading to uncover more secrets.

Another thing that I thought was clever in the narrative was that every time Mercy learned of a new generation, a small family tree would be updated before moving on to the next part of the journey. This both helped the reader follow along and also gave a connection to Mercy who was the one sketching the tree. 

All of the characters were unique and interesting, my personal favorite being cousin Mordecai, the basically albino brilliant relative in the attic. Despite spanning generations, each character is unique, except for the few who are supposed to seem interchangeable. 

If any of this appeals to you, I would definitely say to check out The Rathbones. It comes out today from Doubleday. Check it out!

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Sisterland - Curtis Sittenfeld

Curtis Sittenfeld, New York Times bestselling author of American Wife and Prep, returns with a mesmerizing novel of family and identity, loyalty and deception, and the delicate line between truth and belief.

From an early age, Kate and her identical twin sister, Violet, knew that they were unlike everyone else. Kate and Vi were born with peculiar “senses”—innate psychic abilities concerning future events and other people’s secrets. Though Vi embraced her visions, Kate did her best to hide them.

Now, years later, their different paths have led them both back to their hometown of St. Louis. Vi has pursued an eccentric career as a psychic medium, while Kate, a devoted wife and mother, has settled down in the suburbs to raise her two young children. But when a minor earthquake hits in the middle of the night, the normal life Kate has always wished for begins to shift. After Vi goes on television to share a premonition that another, more devastating earthquake will soon hit the St. Louis area, Kate is mortified. Equally troubling, however, is her fear that Vi may be right. As the date of the predicted earthquake quickly approaches, Kate is forced to reconcile her fraught relationship with her sister and to face truths about herself she’s long tried to deny.

Funny, haunting, and thought-provoking, Sisterland is a beautifully written novel of the obligation we have toward others, and the responsibility we take for ourselves. With her deep empathy, keen wisdom, and unerring talent for finding the extraordinary moments in our everyday lives, Curtis Sittenfeld is one of the most exceptional voices in literary fiction today.

As I quite liked Prep when I read it a little over a year ago, when I read the back of the new Sittenfeld novel, I was eager to read it. I love novels that deal with the paranormal and the ambiguities with the social acceptance of it. The idea of these two sisters fighting on opposite sides and dealing with their lives in their own ways sounded really interesting and with the skill that I knew Sittenfeld had, I was happy to try the book out.

The book weaves in and out of the "present" narrative (which is actually three or so years in the past) and the story of Vi and Kate as they grow in a world where they have powers other people don't. They get teased in school, they know things they shouldn't and they deal with an absent mother and a distant father. Kate just wants to be normal, the horrible teasing she goes through in middle school scarring her from embracing her gift while Violet, not great at making friends, finds a guardian spirit (whom she calls Guardian) that she trusts in and fully embraces her gift. 

Kate's family, from her relationship with her father and her sister to her family dynamic with her husband and two children, are very well drawn and feel real. I especially love the way her two year old daughter Rosie's dialogue is written. It's cute and young and innocent without sounding too much like an adult writing a child's voice. 

I was absolutely absorbed in this novel from the first and I eagerly read it before bed and at breaks during work. However, about fifty pages before the end, there was a sudden plot twist that kind of ruined the book for me. I'm a very open-minded reader (as you can tell by looking at all the genres I cover in this blog) but there is one thing that I just absolutely hate reading about and avoid in all my media. And then bam! There it is! In the middle of the book I was really enjoying.

Did this ruin the book for me forever? No, I suppose not. But it did sour the ending of it for me and knock it down a peg. I would have given this a solid four stars had it not been for that plot twist but now I give it more of a three. I loved it. I really did. I just didn't like where it took me.

Monday, 29 July 2013

The Returned - Jason Mott

Jacob was time out of sync, time more perfect than it had been. He was life the way it was supposed to be all those years ago. That's what all the Returned were.

Harold and Lucille Hargrave's lives have been both joyful and sorrowful in the decades since their only son, Jacob, died tragically at his eighth birthday party in 1966. In their old age they've settled comfortably into life without him, their wounds tempered through the grace of time ... Until one day Jacob mysteriously appears on their doorstep—flesh and blood, their sweet, precocious child, still eight years old.

All over the world people's loved ones are returning from beyond. No one knows how or why this is happening, whether it's a miracle or a sign of the end. Not even Harold and Lucille can agree on whether the boy is real or a wondrous imitation, but one thing they know for sure: he's their son. As chaos erupts around the globe, the newly reunited Hargrave family finds itself at the center of a community on the brink of collapse, forced to navigate a mysterious new reality and a conflict that threatens to unravel the very meaning of what it is to be human.

With spare, elegant prose and searing emotional depth, award-winning poet Jason Mott explores timeless questions of faith and morality, love and responsibility. A spellbinding and stunning debut, The Returned is an unforgettable story that marks the arrival of an important new voice in contemporary fiction.

The Returned was really being pushed at BEA this year and as I thought the concept sounded interesting, especially after having watched the French La Revenants earlier this year, I happily picked it up. I was also told that it had already been picked up as a television pilot. 

I can easily see where this would make a good television show. For one, the French have kind of already done that. Secondly, this story is huge with tons of possibilities for ways to go. When you write a novel that has such a massive scale like this, there are so many stories you can tell. In fact, that was my favorite part of the novel: the short interludes between chapters that would tell you a little bit about another person in the world who had come back. Scenes like the painter who had become famous posthumously, the Nazis that had come back but where just young boys, the parents that couldn't accept their child. I think that was my favorite part of The Returned and a tv show based around that would do well.

The main narrative of the novel, centered around the Hargrave family was both heartbreaking and kind of a lull. The idea behind it, that a son who died as a child comes back when his parents are elderly, is beautiful and painful. The actual execution of it, however, came across kind of, well, not boring but not as deep or meaningful as it could be. I found myself constantly wondering about other characters and what was going on with them. The brief flashes we got of other townspeople dealing with their grief (the pastor who's childhood love came back, the family who came back after being the sole murder of the town) were great and I wish we could have had more with them (especially the family) and a bit less of the Hargraves.

What I found hardest about the novel, though, was the ending. What happened with the returned, as they're called, makes sense and I'm alright with that. It's the other actions of the climax that, when the tension has died down, don't sit right with me. I feel like the ending didn't bring any sense of closure to the Hargraves and actually did them more harm than good, something that seems the antithesis of what the novel wanted to show.

Mott's writing is sparse and lovely, creating mood and atmosphere effortlessly. I would happily read something else by him. This novel is exceptionally well imagined; I simply wish it were better plotted. I love the world he has created, the thoughts he's evoked, the moral quandaries that he's provoked. I just wish he'd spent more time exploring this new and mysterious world.

The Returned comes out in September 2013 from Harlequin MIRA.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

The Burning Sky - Sherry Thomas

It all began with a ruined elixir and an accidental bolt of lightning…

Iolanthe Seabourne is the greatest elemental mage of her generation—or so she's being told. The one prophesied for years to be the savior of The Realm. It is her duty and destiny to face and defeat the Bane, the greatest mage tyrant the world has ever known. A suicide task for anyone let alone a sixteen-year-old girl with no training, facing a prophecy that foretells a fiery clash to the death.

Prince Titus of Elberon has sworn to protect Iolanthe at all costs but he's also a powerful mage committed to obliterating the Bane to revenge the death of his family—even if he must sacrifice both Iolanthe and himself to achieve his goal.

But Titus makes the terrifying mistake of falling in love with the girl who should have been only a means to an end. Now, with the servants of the Bane closing in, he must choose between his mission and her life.

The Burning Sky is the first in a new YA trilogy which looks to be very interesting. Iolanthe Seabourne, our herione, is feisty and powerful, just coming to realize what the scope of her powers might be. It's dangerous to be too good a mage in The Realm and when she accidentally summons a bolt of lighting, everything normal in her life comes crashing down around her.

Our other hero, Prince Titus, is refreshing in that he's completely not perfect. Although he's prepared for this his entire life, when he finds out that a girl is the promised mage and not a boy, he freaks out a bit. He'd been preparing all his life for what he thought would be his greatest friend, someone he could finally share his secrets with. A girl was completely unexpected.

The reason Iolanthe being a girl is so pointed is because of where she and the Prince have to go to hide out: non-magical Victorian Eton. I loved this plot point and I feel like it brought a lot to the story. Iolanthe has to pretend to be Fairfax, a boy Titus has manufactured for years, and live up to all the expectations the boys have come up with for him, as well as not give the game away. Beyond that, they have to keep training to be ready to fight the Bane, an evil overlord that has pretty much taken over their Realm. 

One other point I thought was particularly nice was that Iolanthe and Titus don't fall in love, at least right away. Although it's quite clear that that's going to happen eventually, Titus does a few things in the beginning that do not endear him to Iolanthe and her quiet loathing of him was a refreshing twist on the genre. It kept the plot moving and made their burgeoning friendship, once it got started, all the more poignant. 

I really enjoyed The Burning Sky and will be looking out for the next book in the trilogy hopefully next year. The characters are interesting and fresh, the plot is original and it's a great read. Check it out if you fantasy ya.

The Burning Sky comes out September 17 2013 from Balzer and Bray. You can read the first chapter on Thomas's website here.

Monday, 22 July 2013

The Ocean at the End of the Lane - Neil Gaiman

Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn't thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she'd claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly's wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark.


I love Neil Gaiman. He's a great man that writes interesting stories that touch hearts, make you laugh and press buttons. Ocean at the End of the Lane is not as intense as some of Gaiman's other works but its mythic qualities set it apart.

Told in retrospective, the mind of a middle aged man remembering his seven year old self, the story becomes a fable quickly in both plot and style. Emotions run high as they would for a child but the world is quick, unfathomable and immediate, ever changeable. Some moments are truly scary, such as a certain scene between the narrator and his father, while others let you remember the innocence of childhood. 

Lettie Hempstock is great character, full of wit and unplumbed depths, both protecting from and luring our narrator to a mysterious evil that can be found in the most  common of places. Her voice is new and echoes her gran's, Old Mrs. Hempstock, who speaks in a delightful rural accent while summoning great powers to herself. 

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a modern fairytale, telling a tale of survival while handing out a warning about memory. It lulls you in and doesn't let you back out until you've finished the narrow volume. At less than two hundred pages, the book goes by in a flash but remains in your mind and your memory, as all good tales do.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

My Notorious Life - Kate Manning

his sweeping, evocative, and absolutely unforgettable novel about the charismatic and passionate Axie Muldoon who changed the lives of countless women was inspired by a real midwife who became one of the most controversial figures in Victorian New York City.Set in gritty New York City in the last half of the nineteenth century, My Notorious Life is a vibrant portrait of Axie Muldoon, a plucky orphan who becomes one of the most successful—and controversial—midwives of her time. Told in a magnetic voice, pulsing and vivid, Axie recounts how she is separated from her mother and siblings, apprenticed to a doctor and midwife, and how she later parlays the sale of a few bottles of “lunar tonic for female complaints” into a thriving midwifery practice with her husband and fellow orphan friend, Charles G. Jones. But Axie is on a collision course with one of the most zealous, censorious characters of her era: Anthony Comstock, founder of the Society for the Suppression of Vice, and it will take all of Axie’s power to outwit him and save both herself and her family from ruin. 

A love story, a family saga, and a brilliant rendering of a historical time, this is also a moving and nuanced commentary on an important topic: women’s control of their bodies. But ultimately, it is the story of one woman making her indomitable way in a difficult world; with her fierce and vibrant spirit, Axie Muldoon is an indelible heroine for the ages.


To be honest, I picked up this book on the character's name alone. I'm Molly Muldoon and it's not often I see my last name in print. As I like to say, Muldoon is stereotypical Irish but not common. I was pretty pumped for a heroine with my last name and settled down to read it.

It's a little hard to get into at first as it's written in a vernacular that tries to place you immediately into Axie's head. It's annoying for the first few pages but you slowly grow accustomed to it and over time, as Axie grows and learns more, the grammar and turns of phrases become more regular. After the first twenty or so pages, I was quite keen on it. It creates character through the experience of reading and I liked that.

Axie is a strong lead and you can't help but feel for her. Put in a tough situation pretty much from birth, she picks herself up by her bootstraps and becomes a wealthy woman, mostly on her own with only a bit of help from her husband. She's vivacious and strong and insecure and tough rolled up into one intense package and I loved her from page one.

All of the characters are unique and lively. From Axie's missing little sister Duchess to her friend and future husband Charlie, to the women that nurture her and teach her the medical ways to the German girl next door that becomes a best friend, all the characters are immediate and real, adding to the narrative and pulling Axie one way or another. 

The story deals a lot with the morality of abortion, not so much through arguments but through actions and characters. Comstock, Axie's rival, as she calls him, becomes a symbol of male patriarchy and misunderstanding of woman and it couldn't have felt more timely. A lot of things Axie finds herself up against are the same sort of things male politicians have been saying in the past year on the same debate. Despite the over hundred year difference, the arguments feel just as fresh and frustrating as if they came off the front page.

Oh! Did I mention this is based on a true story? Axie is fictional version of a real woman and Comsock is almost painfully real which just adds to my argument.

I tore through this book and found the twists and turns not always unexpected but definitely full of impact. Axie's struggles to provide for herself, protect her new family, find her old family and make a life for herself ring true to the reader, despite the Victorian setting. I would recommend this book to any woman who loves strong female heroines and is fed up with the current 'war on women.' It's a timely book with a good message and a kickass female lead.

My Notorious Life comes out in September 2013 from Scribner.