The Books I Couldn’t Finish

Magonia (Magonia, #1)
Author: Maria Dahvana Headley
Genre: YA Supernatural
Publisher: HarperCollins
Year of Publication: 2015

Characters: The only character I stuck around long enough to meet was Aza, the main character. Her “clever” thoughts were more than enough to convince me to put the book down.

The Good: There was a glimmer of hope that Aza’s snarkiness might get me to continue reading. The premise was so unique that I really wanted to like this novel enough to read it.

The Not So Good: The narrative prose was about as focused as if someone took all the thoughts they’d ever had, wrote them on slips of paper, and then drew them out of a hat to write a story. I tried to make it through the first chapter, but the writing style was so disruptive that I skipped to the second chapter in the hope that adding dialogue would change up the writing. It was no better.

Why I Didn’t Finish It: I couldn’t stand this character. The writing style was choppy and disorganized, and not in an artful way. Manipulating grammar and punctuation once in a while to make a line stand out is one thing, and I definitely encourage it if it’s the best way to get your idea across. Needlessly breaking convention with every other sentence is a huge problem, and can be highly off-putting to readers. I’m honestly surprised anyone was able to finish this book. I suppose there’s a reader out there for this type of writing, but it just isn’t me.

The Lost Girl of Astor Street

The Lost Girl of Astor Street
Author: Stephanie Morrill
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: HarperCollins
Year of Publication: 2017

Characters: The characters grated on my nerves. The main character (Piper) couldn’t stop dwelling on the past long enough to see what was going on around her. These characters were boring, even in moments when they should have been intriguing. They each had a very specific role to play and that was simply all the depth they had. They were not relatable and their relationships and conversations felt contrived.

The Good: The concept would have made an interesting novel. I can tell that the author put some effort into the concept, especially building the world and the backstory for each relationship.

The Not So Good: This book was set in Chicago during the Jazz Age. As a Chicagoan, I thought I would love reading a book set in my city, as that has been a major draw for me with other novels. There was not a single Chicago-like thing in this novel within the first seventy-five or so pages that I managed to read. There was a reference to the Chicago River, but that was the extent. Also, there were far too many characters introduced too soon. I didn’t even have time to get a read on one before another was thrown my way.

Why I Didn’t Finish It: I had no connections to any of the flat characters the author created. The plot never picked up, and the setting felt so stilted that I knew the book would not hold my interest. I do see the thought that the author put into creating the main plotline, but the subplots were littered with clichés and she failed to bring the story to life. I saw that this book was rated highly, so I am disappointed that I didn’t enjoy it. Perhaps I just didn’t stick it out long enough to get to the good part.

The Accident Season

The Accident Season
Author: Moira Fowley-Doyle
Genre: Supernatural YA
Year of Publication: 2016

Characters: I could not stand the characters in this book. All of the children were brats and the adults were irresponsible and worthless, especially the school staff.

The Good: This was a great setting for a spooky novel. The air of mystery was right on cue, and the timeline only increased my anticipation.

The Not So Good: Maybe I’m overreacting, but the one thing that bothered me outside of the major plot was the main character’s budding romance with her step-brother. A girl deciding to start a relationship with someone who was raised as her sibling in the same home by the same set of parents was not something I enjoyed reading. I’m sure that some people wouldn’t bat an eye, but it made me uncomfortable. As far as Elsie, her role was disturbing and the girls’ inability to leave Elsie alone passed weird and ended up at stalking. Once I took a sneak peek at the end, I rolled my eyes. It was a strange concept that didn’t appeal to me and actually kind of creeped me out, so I decided this one wasn’t worth my time.

Why I Didn’t Finish It: Simply put, this book just kept giving me reasons why I was uncomfortable reading it.



ForbiddenForbidden by Eve Bunting
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Author: Eve Bunting
Genre: Historical YA
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Year of Publication: 2015

Main Character: Josie—(3/5) Josie was a little naïve, but what she lacked in intuition, she made up for in bravery. Although Josie picked up that something was off about her new home, she was oblivious to the clues that are obvious to readers.
Secondary Characters: None of the secondary characters were very engaging or interesting, but they each served their function within the story quite well.
Pacing: The pacing on this one is difficult to explain. The story itself was set at an anxious pace, the plot moving along hurriedly and unceremoniously. Within the scenes themselves, the narrative would sometimes drag. You’d have to read it to understand.
Accuracy of Publisher’s Synopsis: The synopsis was dead on, though the narrative was lackluster in comparison.
Resolution: This was hands down the best part of the book. The last major scene resulted in embarrassing laughter and vindictive cheering on my part. And I am not ashamed.

The Good: The setting, particularly Bunting’s description of it, was very well conveyed and made the story seem tangible. One of the odd points was that the overall timeline of the book moved rapidly, although the narrative within each scene felt drawn out. Overall, this book had an interesting concept that I haven’t read before. The combination of supernatural elements with historical fiction was surprisingly delightful and original.

The Not So Good: On the whole, the plot was underdeveloped and failed to live up to the excitement and mystery promised by the synopsis. The story, which takes place in a mere forty-eight hours, was set at a rapid pace, which was offset by the lengthy descriptions that interrupted scenes frequently. This all would have been fine by me had I felt that Bunting had brought the story to its full potential. However, how much character development can be done in just two hundred pages over the span of two days? The love interest aspect was downright neglected. Eli and Josie only met maybe two or three times. Perhaps Josie’s constant thoughts of Eli were supposed to make him seem more present? But fantasy and worries are no replacement for scenes and real interaction. To be in love with someone you just met yesterday is a little farfetched for even a YA fantasy book.

Overall Impression: I had hoped this book would be a mysterious, action-packed quick read. For me, only one of those points was truly met. If Bunting had slowed down and given the plot its due, this could have been a fairly good novel.

Would I recommend it? I probably wouldn’t recommend this one. Not because it was poorly written or a bad story, but because it felt like an outline rather than a published book. Nevertheless, it’s well suited to anyone who loves to read, but doesn’t have much time.

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Now I Rise (The Conqueror’s Saga #2)

Now I Rise (The Conqueror's Saga, #2)Now I Rise by Kiersten White
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Author: Kiersten White
Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Year of Publication: 2017

Main Characters: Lada—just as ruthless as ever, and somewhat foolish. Radu—breaks my heart in every chapter.
Secondary Characters: I fell in love with several of the secondary characters in this book. First and foremost, we finally meet Hunyadi! I was expecting him to be unkind (he is a pretty fierce guy), but I was surprised by how normal and compassionate he was, even to the son who wanted nothing to do with him. Nazira is the best thing that ever could have happened to Radu. She was indispensable to his mission and a great partner, although I wish we could have followed her more. Last, but not least, we have Cyprian. I adored Cyprian, and think he is a perfect match for Radu. He is brave and caring, and can offer Radu everything Mehmed refuses to.
Pacing: Having two perspectives in the first book added another layer to the plot. In this book, I felt that it was disruptive, because Lada and Radu were in completely different settings. Also, the alternating chapters were not taking place at the same pace, so I felt stuck in a time warp. The only things connecting the siblings were their thoughts of Mehmed and Constantinople.
Accuracy of Publisher’s Synopsis: This synopsis was rather vague, but the last sentence about empires toppling and thrones being won and lost summed everything up succinctly.
Resolution: Now I Rise ended the only way it could while remaining true to history.

The Good: I got some good laughs out of this book. I particularly enjoyed Radu’s interactions with Mehmed at the end. Radu was not about to let Mehmed resume their relationship like he hadn’t just put Radu through hell. I am so proud of Radu for everything he accomplished and his commitment to doing the right thing, no matter what the cost. In that way, he is far braver than Lada. I thought it was a nice touch for Radu and Lada to think about how much each missed the other and could use their expertise. I appreciated White’s evoking the sibling bond despite the physical distance. There is an unkind part of me that enjoyed Lada’s inner struggle with her femininity. She was forced to tackle a lot of normal female issues and come to terms with the fact that while her femaleness is not avoidable, it is something she can learn to exploit.

The Not So Good: Lada was a disappointment to me in several ways. I already thought it was reckless to try and take back her old country with just a small band of soldiers, but her meeting with Mehmed proved her immaturity to me more than anything else. If Mehmed knew the only way to lure Lada was by offering her what she really wanted, why would he even bother to come if he wasn’t prepared to offer it to her and only wanted to ask her to marry him again? I need to understand it from his viewpoint, because it seems like a waste of his valuable time. Also, Lada killed everyone. Some of those killings were unnecessary and made me cringe. One would think that with the trail of bodies she leaves behind her, her reputation would have preceded her into Tirgoviste; I was confused that while the guards were quaking in their boots at seeing her, the boyars treated her like a petulant child. On a side note, I do not approve of Lada using Bogdan to replace Mehmed.

The war was a little monotonous to me. I wish Radu had spent less time fighting and more time scouting and sneaking around, or maybe getting a little closer to Cyprian. I was disappointed that Radu didn’t really build any strong relationships with anyone in this book. He cared for Cyprian in his own head, but he only acted on his attachment briefly, when Cyprian’s life was in danger.

Overall Impression: Predictably, Lada acted without thinking and Radu sacrificed his happiness and safety for a man who couldn’t return his feelings. There was a lot of pain and suffering, but there was also hope and love. Now I Rise had fewer layers than the first book, but more potential, as if it were building up to something. The ending held the promise of a great final installment.

Would I recommend it? I could go either way. I enjoyed this one more than And I Darken, but I felt that there was very little going on for Lada and Radu in their personal lives. They were more soldiers than people, and their growing weariness was palpable.

What I would like to see in the final installment:

1. I was just dying to read some part of this book from Mehmed’s perspective. I hope White either adds him in to the last book or writes a novella from his point of view. Otherwise, I can only guess at his thoughts and motives; he never shares his true reasoning.
2. Lada, for goodness’ sake, learn to be diplomatic. If you just kill everyone you meet, you will have no one to rule over.
3. Radu needs his love life sorted out. That includes talking to Mehmed about his feelings and making amends with Cyprian, provided Cyprian made it out safely.
4. Mehmed, it’s time to give up on Lada. Mehmed is a weakness for Lada, but she will never give him what he wants, so it’s a moot point. And please, stop using Radu for your dirty deeds; he deserves so much more than that.
5. I need Radu and Lada to see each other again. They are polar opposites who truly make a whole when put together.

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And I Darken (The Conqueror’s Saga #1)

And I Darken (The Conqueror's Saga, #1)And I Darken by Kiersten White
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Author: Kiersten White
Genre: YA
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Year of Publication: 2016

Main Character: Lada—(3/5) She started out as an impressive (somewhat terrifying) heroine. Unfortunately, she got a little lost and I stopped agreeing with her choices. Radu—(4/5) Surprisingly, half of the book is written from his perspective. I sure didn’t mind, as he was more realistic and relatable than his sister, and his choices were wiser.
Secondary Characters: The secondary characters were highly distinct and multi-faceted, as would be expected from a book this complex. And then Mehmed….I’m kind of ambivalent about him. As a young boy, I thought he was sad and lonely, so when he and the siblings developed a charming bond, I was all for it. As they all aged and both siblings became obsessed with Mehmed to the point of abandoning their own goals to stay at his side, I found myself resenting him. Lada and Radu have too much potential to squander their lives fighting each other for a place in Mehmed’s bed (which is apparently somewhere every woman has been. EW!).
Pacing: This book was long and complex. All the same, everything White included served a purpose, which was what kept me engaged.
Accuracy of Publisher’s Synopsis: Misleading, but not inaccurate. Most synopses only focus on the first third or so of the book, but this one skipped the entire setup of the plot. I spent two hundred frustrating pages reading about Lada and Radu as children and wondering when I would hit the main action.
Resolution: I suppose it’s a good starting point for the next installment, but I have to say I was a little disappointed in Lada. She wasted years that could have been spent achieving her own goals instead developing her relationship with Mehmed and sacrificing for him. Then when she finally gets the opportunity to reap the benefits of her new life, to be powerful and rule beside a man who would do anything for her…she does the dumbest thing she ever could and throws that away, too. So now she’s no longer safe or secure and she has abandoned her family. Just when she starts to see the value in moving forward with the new life she chose, she decides to go back to the old one that doesn’t want her.

The Good: Although this book was long, every event had meaning to it. There was no point when I simply wanted to throw the book across the room screaming about senseless chapters filled with unnecessary narration. Every character was important, each act had a consequence, and everything came full circle. I can’t say much bad about this book because the aspects I disliked had more to do with the premise than the plot or the characters. The villains in the book were properly nefarious without being unrealistic; they were just selfish people who had too much power. As for the main characters, I so loved Radu and found both his struggle for purpose and his war against his nature to be heartbreaking and endearing. Lada was fierce, but we got to see the doubt and fear underneath it all. The siblings even managed to maintain their strong family bond in spite of their differences, and they sacrificed so much for each other. For people so young, they were tough and determined in a way most adults never are.

The Not So Good: I understand that the author wanted to retell history. However, when you can take liberties with the social and political realities that defined that time period, it becomes less authentic. Given that, a couple of aspects of Radu’s narrative bothered me because they simply seemed implausible. Firstly, given religious tensions at the time, I find it hard to believe that Radu would so easily be swayed to the faith of a country he grew up watching his family fighting against. I’m glad that Radu found it easy to settle into a different culture and that it gave him the sense of purpose he was missing, but I don’t see how it could have ever happened so quickly and willingly. I also question the prevalence of discussing homosexuality during the time. I doubt that Radu would have come across so many who shared in the same struggle as him and that they would actually admit it. But, I am willing to overlook those couple of confusing points, because there is one thing about this book that made me feel ill. Why on earth was a thirteen-year-old boy hanging around in a harem having sex? There is no explanation that will lessen the disgust I felt when reading about Mehmed and his many women. And the fact that he had two children with his concubines even though he had someone he actually loved within reach repulsed me. I felt terrible for Lada. It cost her so much to admit her love, even indirectly, and he was impregnating other women all the while. I hope things change, because I can’t root for a strong female character to end up with a misogynist.

Overall Impression: This book was complex and has the foundation for a popular series—the kind that gets adapted for a movie or TV show (which I would totally watch). The characters were well defined and resilient, while the plot was rife with shock and controversy. The amount of sacrifices made is not to be believed. I appreciate the historical aspects of the setting, but would like the characters and plot to stay truer to the time. There is so much potential for this series, if it’s played out strategically.

Would I recommend it? Tough question. I wouldn’t say that this book met my expectations. Most books that are this highly publicized are more compelling than this one. However, I do see potential for this series to grow, so I would have to say it depends on where White takes the story.

What I would like to see in the next installment:

1. I would like to avoid a love triangle between Lada, Mehmed, and basically any other character.
2. I really hope Radu either gets the attention he deserves from Mehmed or finds it elsewhere, preferably in someone trustworthy.
3. Lada better get a chance to prove herself on the battlefield. I didn’t spend so many pages reading about her arguing with every man for the right to fight just for her to never see a war.
4. Halil Pasha has to go. I don’t really care how or when, but I am so over him.
5. Radu and Lada need to find identities for themselves that are not derived directly from their relationships with Mehmed.
6. I don’t really want Mehmed to target Constantinople, but I also really would like to stop hearing about it. He either needs to let it go or get it done before the end of the next book.

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