Saturday, August 31, 2013

Books of Note: August Reads

Well, I didn't get to read as many books as I was planning on this month, but I did read 36 books since July, being able to count that as my summer reading! I even finished the giant stack of books I got from the library at the beginning =) August is always a busy month for me, so I didn't really read all that many, and I somehow managed to write reviews for only a few of the books, but there were still some good reads this month, so here were some that I liked best.

In 1918, the world seems on the verge of apocalypse. Americans roam the streets in gauze masks to ward off the deadly Spanish influenza, and the government ships young men to the front lines of a brutal war, creating an atmosphere of fear and confusion. Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black watches as desperate mourners flock to séances and spirit photographers for comfort, but she herself has never believed in ghosts. During her bleakest moment, however, she’s forced to rethink her entire way of looking at life and death, for her first love—a boy who died in battle—returns in spirit form. But what does he want from her?

Featuring haunting archival early-twentieth-century photographs, this is a tense, romantic story set in a past that is eerily like our own time.


Thoughts on the Overall Book: If I'm going to read a paranormal romance (as I assume this book would be classed as) this is the kind of story I expect and want to read. This book was exciting, dark, and had a great mystery that totally shocked me when the culprit was revealed, all with a lovely gothic feel.

Cover--Yea or Nay: Yes! I really love this cover, in fact, it might go on my favorite covers of 2013 list. Not only is it awesome because it's a picture from the book, but I really think it catches Mary Shelly's character well. (And I love her goggles)

Characters: I was just a little worried about Mary Shelly in the first couple chapters because she seemed to come across just a little too importunate, but very soon, she evened out into a really awesome character with a quick wit, and enough stubbornness to be admirable, but not too much to make her have the Attitude. And, though I am not a science geek (history buff, I am and always will be) I really liked how she had a love for science, it made her a great character, probably because she was kind of an outcast because of it. I also really liked Stephen, he was quiet and gentle but not without a little fire in his soul. As a ghost, I just seriously wanted to give him a hug. His half-brother Julius, was a very fun character to hate. Yes, he kind of fluctuates in the story, but I always hated him, and I think Mary Shelly felt the same. I'm still not exactly sure how I felt about Aunt Eva. She didn't really bother me, but sometimes she could really get on my nerves. I actually liked her better initially, because I thought she was going to be kind of a tough, wartime woman, but unfortunately, once I got to know her, she kind of drove me up the wall on occasion with all her worrying and screeching.

The Romance: Since Stephen is a ghost, and Mary Shelly is a smart girl, the romance didn't really bother me. Her love for Stephen is obviously what drives the story and her need to help him, but there's not all that much time for romance per se in the book.

Writing Style: I really liked the writing style. First person past tense (thankfully) from Mary's point of view. She's a good protagonist and narrator, and I didn't mind being in her head at all. The author was somehow able to conjure up a very dark, dingy world and I found I could picture it all very well. I actually did something with this book that I have never done before and that was picture it all in sepia, or black and white. It just seemed more appropriate, and I did it subconsciously without knowing I was doing so. Now, I NEVER read plague stories, in fact, I hate them with a vengeance, and if there wasn't a paranormal aspect to this book, I would not have read it, but as it was, I though the Spanish Influenza made a good gothic backdrop to the story, and you can't change history either. There were some weird parts in this book too, and I'm going to warn potential readers about that now, because sometimes there were moments of what just happened??? but they all make sense in the end. I was thankful that a friend of mine read this book first and warned me because otherwise it would have shocked me much more. What I really liked about the feel of this book, was the fact that while everything was brutally real and seemed so, there was also lots about this book that felt very fantasy, or more sci-fi. I liked all the stuff about the ghosts, which apart from them being real, was all historically accurate. I also liked how there were parts, like where Stephen talks about his nightmares, where the reader is never sure whether to take things literally or figuratively. I'm not going to spoil the surprise.

Accuracy/ Believability: The time period is very sound from what I know. I'll admit most of my knowledge of WWI is military, and British/European, but from what I do know of the home front, it seems legitimate. The dialogue, and people's feelings about the war and other things, are also very accurate. I liked how, while Mary Shelly thinks that the war is a total waste of life, and pointless, the author never makes it seem like she's trying to jam that into reader's heads. Although, that might have been because I feel very much the same as Mary Shelly about WWI.

Unfortunately, everyone's perspective on PTSD (or shell-shock) in this book was accurate as well. It makes me sick to think of all those poor men coming back home broken, and no one knew how to fix them or even wanted to. And they were marked as cowards for it when it really should have been classed as a sickness.

Problems/What bothered me: Nothing, it's kind of one of those books that you just have to go along for the ride.

Conclusion: 4 stars. And can I just say that the conclusion of this story made me shout out loud? I honestly did not guess what was going to happen or who was responsible. I was so sickened and angry at the cause of Stephen's death, that I was totally smacked to find out the killer. Very well done, I must say. It's been a long time since I've been that surprised by an outcome to a mystery. I was going in probably every other direction imaginable.

Recommended Audience: Girl read, older teens (17 and up) due to content. The flu is painted pretty well, and there is some definite brutalness--things that made ME sick, and that's saying something. Also there's some more intimate scenes between Mary and Stephen, but they don't last too long.

Magic has been in a sad state in the Ununited Kingdom for years, but now it’s finally on the rise and boneheaded King Snodd IV knows it. If he succeeds at his plot, the very future of magic will be at risk! Sensible sixteen-year-old Jennifer Strange, acting manager of Kazam Mystical Arts Management and its hapless crew of sorcerers, has little chance against the king and his cronies—but there’s no way Kazam will let go of the noble powers of magic without a fight. A suspenseful, satirical story of Quarkbeasts, trolls, and wizidrical crackle!


Thoughts on the Overall Book: Like the first Chronicles of Kazam book, "The Song of the Quarkbeast" was a very fun, witty, escapist read. Not a huge amount of action or plot, but enjoyable and never boring.

Cover--Yea or Nay: Yes, I like the cover; it looks like a modern day fantasy novel, and I think reflects the overall feel of the book.

Characters: Jennifer continues to be an awesome protagonist, and pretty much the same as in the first book. I still love Tiger and the other cast of Kazam as well. We aren't introduced to a lot of new characters, but the ones we do get to meet, such as Once Magnificent Boo, ex sorceress turned Quarkbeast rescuer, I enjoyed reading about. Blix was a good slimy kind of fellow who you enjoy hating and, even though he only made a cameo appearance, I really enjoyed the King's Useless Brother. He was pretty hilarious and kind of endearing in his own way.

The Romance: None, unless you count Perkins crush on Jennifer, which I didn't have a problem with. She's too sensible to make it a problem.

Writing Style: Jasper Fforde's writing style is what makes these books. Jennifer's narration is always matter of fact, witty, and very enjoyable to read. I find myself laughing a lot reading these books, and I really love the satirical style the author uses. Like the first book, the real plot doesn't really show up in this one until the middle of the book, which would bother me if the plain stuff in these wasn't so engaging. As it is, while I could stop reading and put the book down easily enough through the first half, I was never bored with it, and it never felt like it lagged. I think the fact that the plots of these books aren't so desperately earnest is what makes them good escapist reads, and they always do make sense in the end, so I won't complain.

Accuracy/ Believability: Not applicable.

Problems/What bothered me: Not really any problems. We still haven't figured out why the Kingdoms are Ununited, but I've come to the conclusion that it's not important, and I'm thinking it's just part of the satire of the book.

Conclusion: 3 stars. Very enjoyable book, and one that's great to sit down with after a long day with a cup of coffee or tea. I look forward to future installments of the series.

Recommended Audience: ages 13 and up, guy or girl read. Again, I think readers of Patricia C Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles would enjoy these.

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