24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

Month: January 2019

Abby Reads: Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood

Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood
Speak, 2012, 352 pages
Young Adult Fantasy

Full disclosure: I work with Jessica Spotswood. I wasn’t coerced into reading her work; it was something that would have interested me anyway. My thoughts here are my own and have no bearing on Jessica as a person, who is lovely. Onward!

Having assumed responsibility for her sisters following the death of her mother in the face of a father who doesn’t know his daughters are witches, Cate Cahill has more to worry about than just being found out for her magic. In Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, a group known as the Brotherhood has 11715276striven to drive witchcraft out of society. Cate and her sisters live in a world that is an alternate history of our own, but with careful world-building and plenty of borrowing from the real-life Salem Witch Trials of the Seventeenth Century, Spotswood achieves a story that feels realistic despite its fantasy and will be a fun read for those who love teen romance stories.

With a specific kind of world-building to achieve and loads of exposition to provide, Born Wicked does feel slow at parts. Cate is reluctant to allow a governess into their home in the absence of their father and, while this conflict is one of the central conflicts of the story, its arrival in the narrative is a late one. Meanwhile, the threat of the Brotherhood, while certainly real, does not feel terribly heightened. The reality is the Cahill sisters have managed their threat for the duration of their lives, including three years without the protection and guidance of their mother — why is this threat suddenly so much greater? The Brotherhood does scrutinize Cate a little more carefully now that she is nearing their prescribed age of marriage and the uncertain presence of the governess makes the sisters uneasy, but neither of these things seem to quite warrant the panic Cate seems to feel around being found out.

Naturally, with a prescribed age of marriage comes potential suitors. Somewhat predictably, Cate finds herself at the center of a love triangle involving an old friend and a young man Cate’s acquainted with but doesn’t know well until he begins working on her land at the direction of Cate’s father. Despite the predictability of the existence of the love triangle itself, Spotswood executes it in such a way so as to make it feel somewhat new. The dynamics of the characters work in a way that freshens the trope in some aspects and does cast doubt as to with whom Cate will end up.

Character dynamics are something Spotswood does well in a variety of places. Known for her stories of sisters, Spotswood doesn’t make an exception here. For all its romantic love, witchcraft, and ostracism, Born Wicked is primarily a story about sisterhood. Each sister is uniquely developed and has her own interests. While Cate is the focus of the story, her sisters play interesting and important roles nonetheless and Cate is well aware of it. Other characters, too, have their own personalities and motivations with well-developed and defined characteristics.

Cate’s narration style does provide some roadblocks. Employing a vocabulary and sentence structure that attempts to indicate an antiquated world with various inflections and exclamations, the prose often feels put-on. Taking on this kind of stylized speech is a challenge, no doubt, and it didn’t always work in Born Wicked. A book written in speech more typical of modern times, however, might have more easily confused readers, so there might not be a “right” answer here.

Born Wicked is a fun read, if slow in parts, for readers who are looking for witchcraft without a dark or spooky element. It’s a novel of pastels and lace from the start, so if you’re looking for something a little more lighthearted, if in some ways heavily political (and politically relevant), this is a good place to start.

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Monster by Michael Grant

Monster by Michael Grant
Katherine Tegen Books, 2017, 432 pages
Young Adult Science Fiction

I received this eBook from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. Monster is available for purchase as of the writing of this review.

Years after the FAYZ has been eliminated, many of those who lived through the harrowing events of the original Gone series are struggling to live normal, healthy lives in Michael Grant’s Monster. But to make matters worse, the alien virus which kicked off those events has returned and with greater strength in the form of projectiles from space. As they land all over the world, kids and teens are exposed to the virus — both purposefully with the intent of gaining superpowers and by mistake — and the United States government wants to intervene. With both familiar26082351 and new characters, Monster brings a new level of thrill to fans of the Gone series.

Grant has a history of being called out for being problematic. He and Debbie Reese have come up against each other multiple times, particularly over his depiction of Native American characters. I have an opinion about the whole situation, but it’s not useful or valid to hear more white people talk about it, so I’ll just inform you that it’s a thing that’s been going on and you can decide whether or not you want to engage with Grant’s work from there. I’ll take one more beat to note that Monster features characters who are absolutely transphobic and homophobic, so be aware of that if you choose to read Monster. The remainder of my review will assess the book as separate from the author and these issues.

As in the original series, Monster has an excellent cast of characters, all of whom have strong, well-defined motivations, interesting and complete backstories, and personalities that are varied and play well against and with each other. Given the number of books Grant has written, I am always astounded by how thoroughly the characters are developed, both as characters, period, and how they actively develop on the page throughout the narrative. Without being heavy-handed, Grant manages to clearly trace back inciting events and circumstances to explain the actions of his characters and this helps bring a level of realism that is necessary for his high-intensity science fiction world.

Along with the intangible realism Grant provides in his novel is the visceral gore he continues to excel at writing. This signature style was one that really elevated the Gone series for me, and its presence in Monster is just as appreciated. Grant’s skill in depicting the grotesque and horrific lies in his ability to do so without cliche and with a great deal of specificity without becoming overly clinical or repetitive. The tedium isn’t held quite as well during fight scenes — of which there are many in Monster — but by the end of the book, it’s clear these moments of physical conflict are leading to something much bigger in a book yet to be published. Monster is, essentially, the first few chapters of the spinoff series, so it’s logical that it sometimes must play the part of exposition.

Grant includes interesting pieces of what I’ll call “mixed media writing,” particularly toward the end. These passages include a speech from the President of the United States and tweets. Like the characterizations and gore, Grant somehow finds a way to make these sections heighten the realism rather than cheapening the book, which, from many other attempts I’ve read, is a real challenge to do.

For all I’ve mentioned Gone, it’s possible to read Monster (and, presumably, its follow-ups) without reading the original six novels. It’s not entirely clear whether Monster is, in fact, part of the original series (Amazon and Wikipedia would have you believe it’s Gone #7) or truly a spinoff (the narrative and characters seem to suggest this — and I feel like Grant himself has indicated this status as well), but Monster includes enough detail about the events of Gone and its sequels that readers new to the world could easily hop on board without reading Gone (though, why you wouldn’t want to read the incredible first six books is beyond me).

Monster holds up to Grant’s previous work. It’s just as well crafted as an exciting story with originality, excellent characters, and striking realism within a fascinating science fiction world. The novel is a tough one to put down most of the time, even as a piece that is introducing a new storyline and requires a lot of explanation and exposition which sometimes means sections that feel a little slower. If you enjoyed Gone, Monster is absolutely worth the time and the space on your bookshelf.

❤❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Ever by Gail Carson Levine

Ever by Gail Carson Levine
HarperCollins, 2011, 288 pages
Juvenile Fantasy

When her mother is sick and nearing death in Gail Carson Levine’s Ever, Kezi and her family will do just about anything to spare her. When her father makes a promise to sacrifice the first person who congratulates him on his wife’s healing — assuming their god grants them Kezi’s mother’s health — it’s not long before the mother improves and Kezi’s aunt visits. Just as she’s about to congratulate Kezi’s father, Kezi jumps in and does it herself, thus 2204464dooming herself as a sacrifice. But nearby is the self-made outcast known as Olus who is a god unknown to Kezi and her family. His presence has been periphery since his arrival as a tenant of Kezi’s father, but he’s about to become more.

Apparently drawing from many existing mythologies, Levine does an impressive job building her world and new mythology. Though the reader isn’t overwhelmed with details (this is, after all, a juvenile novel), the universe and explanations for it still seem quite complete. I don’t pretend to know of every religion or mythology out there and, in fact, checked quickly to be sure that Levine was not pulling solely from one existing faith or cast of gods. The world in which she works here feels well-established and seems to exist beyond the pages the reader is given.

Levine lacks this skill in her development of Kezi and Olus’s relationship. Perhaps due to the target audience of the book, the chemistry between Kezi and Olus is practically nonexistent. Neither character, it seems, is developed enough to warrant feelings for the other. Kezi’s character is wrapped up in her love for her family and dance while Olus is mostly concerned with his identity of a god. Beyond this, neither character has a personality enough that there’s any substance for the other to fall in love with. While both characters are young, this does not fully explain the lack of character development and the consequential lack of chemistry. Though mythology and fables are often populated by characters with little definition as characters, for a novel-length work, this shortcoming has bigger consequences.

Throughout the entirety of the story, Levine uses a stylized prose which helps to build the world and explain the lives of the characters. In alternating first-person perspective, both Kezi and Olus have similar — though not identical — voices. That said, the style is a little distracting and melodramatic. Though its richness might be appropriate for a less observant, younger audience who needs something with a stronger flavor, the strength of the prose style is such that it might be distracting for older readers.

Ever likely would have worked better for a young adult audience, though the plot might have been a little more trite in that space. While the world is well-developed, Levine falls short with her characterization, chemistry, and, in some ways, the prose. The conflict at times feels contrived rather than natural and this is underlined by a similarly contrived-feeling solution to the conflict. Ever is pleasant enough, but isn’t a stellar novel for any audience.

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Ticknor and Fields, 1851, 240 pages
Fiction

In the generations that follow the Salem Witch Trials, one family continues to experience what they believe is a curse placed upon their ancestor by one of the accused in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s gothic classic The House of the Seven Gables. Now caring for the house that belonged to the accused and was 90192taken into possession by her ancestor, Hepzibah Pyncheon has found herself near poverty and must open a shop to offset the costs of living in her old New England town. It seems that various forces are trying to get her out of the house, including her relative who has an interest in owning the house himself. Meanwhile, a young cousin, Phoebe, arrives to Hepzibah’s home and finds herself courting Hepzibah’s tenant, a man by the name of Holgrave. Their connection, however, is more than it appears and the question of the curse continues to linger over the household.

I’ve had an interest in reading this novel for a long time — ever since I visited Hawthorne’s home in Salem, Massachusetts, which is widely believed to be the structure upon which the house of this novel is based. While I tried to read it last October, the prose proved to be too dense for me at that time, so I held off and returned to it this year in the spirit of Halloween. I expected The House of the Seven Gables to have a creepier feel to it, and found that the supernatural elements of the book are more ambiguous and the descriptions less grotesque than I expected, but still found many of the societal horrors Hawthorne portrays chilling.

Hawthorne is surprisingly socially aware, particularly for his time. While you shouldn’t expect anything to the level of Black Lives Matter in Hawthorne’s work, like The Scarlet Letter, The House of the Seven Gables explores themes of the marginalized. In this case, those in poverty. While the story’s aim, it would seem (never assume author intent!), is primarily one of entertainment, these comments on society find their way into the narrative and Hawthorne finds excellent ways to illustrate the effects of systemic, generational poverty and how it is perpetuated.

Additionally, Hawthorne’s awareness extends into the philosophy of perception, in that while readers are first introduced to Hepzibah Pyncheon essentially through her eyes, her reliability and sanity come into greater question as the perspective shifts to be more from cousin Phoebe. This subtle move brings interesting questions into play about truth, reality, and, of course, perception in a way that is strong without being overbearing or distracting from the story.

Like its contemporaries, The House of the Seven Gables is full of rich prose, which can at times make the novel especially slow. The narrative itself is a bit of a slow burn with subtle plot points and a conflict that, frankly, is not terribly exciting. Still, Hawthorne maintains his readers’ attention with astute observations couched in a style that is fun to unravel and roll around in the mind. And, too, like a Dickens novel, this work slowly builds a case that is revealed in the end — at least in some plot aspects, while others remain shrouded in mystery or up to the reader, depending on what kind of reader you are.

The House of the Seven Gables is about what you can expect insofar as Nineteenth Century classics go — a little on the slow side; full of dense, flowery prose; atmospheric; and philosophical. Although the plot is not full of excitement and drama, it’s still an interesting one and the book as a whole provides a fascinating study of life in Salem, Massachusetts in the 1800s.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore

Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore
Kathy Dawson Books, 2017, 464 pages
YA Science Fiction

After her Aunt Magnolia makes her promise to accept any invitation to a house known as Tu Reviens, Jane of Kirstin Cashore’s Jane, Unlimited finds herself the recipient of just such an invitation from her former tutor, Kiran. With her umbrella-making supplies in tow and her heart still broken by the 32991569death of her Aunt Magnolia, Jane heads to Tu Reviens where a strange cast of characters, from the owner of the house to Kiran’s twin brother to the housekeepers, all seem to have something to hide. While odd things happen around Jane, she’s not sure who to trust and where to go. It all comes down to making the right decision — but what is it?

The feeling I got from Jane, Unlimited was, in short, this: (perhaps inspired by E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars), Cashore had a gimmicky idea and placed the importance of that concept over the actual quality of the book as a whole. Like We Were Liars, it’s difficult to talk about the shortcomings of Jane, Unlimited without giving away the bulk of the book. The book is not realistic fiction, but instead mixes fantasy and science fiction in pursuit of the concept in a way that doesn’t feel entirely natural. And, due to the construction of the idea, the idea itself is never fully developed in a meaningful way.

So, the gimmick wasn’t executed well and the prose Cashore seats it in doesn’t help. Cashore employs third person, present tense in the novel, combined with a style that I haven’t quite wrapped my head around. Something about the sentence structure is incredibly deliberate and, consequently, distracting. Much of it made the narrative drag even more. While present tense often serves to amp up the tension (ha) and immediacy of a plot, here, though it was necessary for the concept, it seemed only to slow things down. The development of the concept, meanwhile, requires a significant amount of exposition, which further slowed down an already-sizable book at 464 pages.

Another aspect bogging down Jane, Unlimited was the sheer number of characters. Although many individuals live and work at Tu Reviens (and, indeed, a party is one of the central plot points of the story), the house always seemed to have an empty feeling. I suspect this was partially by design, but further emphasized by a challenge of character development — again, the victim of the concept of the novel. Too many characters inhabit the story and, without getting to know many of them, the narrative falls short. This, however, has another side — Jane knows as much about the characters as does the reader. Her confusion and such, then, is more palpable and easier to invest in, in some ways.

Cashore’s ending — again, a complicated term, given the concept of the book — felt insufficient. Without a better development of the concept, the concept is unable to be resolved and the ending provided by the narrator and all of the frustration built up over the course of the book doesn’t pay off in a way that matters.

Jane, Unlimited might do interesting things with allusions (especially Jane Eyre, from my perspective), but the gimmick of the book ultimately provides an excuse for all the flaws in the novel without making up for the flaws. With all the excitement over the book, I was pretty severely disappointed in this one. As one Goodreads reviewer, Sarah, wrote, “I’ve been walking around for days thinking that I don’t like reading anymore.” And, truly, that was my experience with Jane, Unlimited, too. Don’t buy the buzz on this one.

❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

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