& Reviews: The Love That Split the World by Emily Henry

The Love That Split the World by Emily Henry. Publisher: Razorbill January 2016

The Love That Split the World by Emily Henry. Publisher: Razorbill January 2016

The Book Itself: Quite pretty, really. Watercolors and a curling font. You know this is a romance right off the bat, from the title alone. But the cover helps reinforce that idea.

My Review: Natalie’s last summer in her small Kentucky hometown is off to a magical start…until she starts seeing the “wrong things.” They’re just momentary glimpses at first—her front door is red instead of its usual green, there’s a pre-school where the garden store should be. But then her whole town disappears for hours, fading away into rolling hills and grazing buffalo, and Nat knows something isn’t right.
 
That’s when she gets a visit from the kind but mysterious apparition she calls “Grandmother,” who tells her: “You have three months to save him.” The next night, under the stadium lights of the high school football field, she meets a beautiful boy named Beau, and it’s as if time just stops and nothing exists. Nothing, except Natalie and Beau.

I have a hard time relating to high school aged characters these days. Not that I am SO worldy and wise and educated now that I am several years out of school, but I have been reading a lot of science fiction/fantasy books or other fiction that deal with a lot higher stakes and themes: government powers, interplanetary or civil war, deaths of family and friends and characters you come to love. So seeing your quarterback ex-boyfriend at a tailgate party just doesn’t read as dramatic to me. Or going on a family road trip. If you’re going to write a book about everyday worries, I want them to seem larger than life, that they are important, to the character and also to the reader. And I just didn’t identify well with the characters in this story.

What does interest me is possibly living in an alternate dimension or timeline from someone else, and having a strong connection with them. That is the intriguing part of TLTSTW. But it’s not incredibly clear or well structured.

Natalie has thought she’s maybe a bit crazy her whole life. She’s had horrible nightmares and visions for much of her childhood, and a figure she calls Grandmother (but suspects is actually some manifestation of God), pops up sometimes in the middle of the night to tell her stories and fables steeped in Native American lore. Plus, she starts slipping into another world.

Adding to that, she has broken up with a longtime boyfriend, is graduating high school and is about to leave for a college across the country, separated from her best friend. Now let’s add hormones into the mix and a boy with a Southern accent from the wrong side of the tracks. FUSTERCLUCK.

First: the love interest. Beau does not overly appeal to me. Diff’rent strokes for diff’rent folks, but allow me one scene in particular to demonstrate. A friend that both Natalie and Beau know (in different worlds, of course), gets in an accident in which alcohol plays a big role. Natalie runs into Beau’s arms and notices that he too, is drunk. He’s also been driving all over the place. Beau starts to lament that he too is an alcoholic, and Natalie soothes his fears by saying “But you drink to travel between worlds. It’s different.” Um…no, Natalie. Drunk driving is still drunk driving and that should not be attractive to you. Neither should eating cereal in beer, but apparently that works for you, too. The crotchety old lady in my head shaking her finger at “kids these days” doesn’t really like the picture Beau paints as an object of affection for anyone.

Next: traveling between worlds. I so wanted this to be better than it was! The entire situation is told very confusingly and revealed so slowly that it is difficult to see it being meaningful. We don’t truly understand what the “worlds” are and what Natalie has to do with Beau and vice versa until about 20 pages before the book ends. It’s too long to wait before a payoff. And when the reader does understand something, Natalie is too far behind. She doesn’t understand why her ex-boyfriend would pretend to not know who she is when she has clearly already established that there are two different worlds, and he probably genuinely doesn’t know her in one of them.

Third: secondary characters. The psychologist Natalie finds to help her figure out the whole different worlds thing is incredibly flat. Natalie’s best friend has some quippy replies in conversation, but she doesn’t spend a whole lot of time becoming a real character. She’s just an instrument to make Natalie sad more than anything. We get Natalie, and we get Beau. Everyone else is just scene dressing.

Finally: the storytelling theme. I liked this bit. I liked the vast differences in stories from different Native American tribes and backgrounds. I liked that story was a theme that tied Natalie and Beau, and Natalie and her hometown, and Natalie and her relationship to her parents, friends, classmates, etc. The book really is a story within a story within a story, and that complexity, however clumsily executed, is ambitious.

The ending is (probably intentionally) vague, but it is also frustrating. We are given the meaning of the worlds, and Natalie goes out to Fix Everything and then…fade to black. I’m sure that we are supposed to stitch together our own ending: what do you think happened? What do you think it means? But it seems to incomplete, too untidy for such a story.

Add to that some clumsy metaphors like: “Growing up, being stretched and stamped and squeezed though life like homemade noodles cranked through a pasta maker.” (pg. 248) and “She’s like a silverware divider with a conscience, trying to keep us all separate and safe without making the forks feel bad about not being spoons or the spoons feel worried the forks shouldn’t be so poky.” (pg. 253) and this book just wasn’t my favorite.

My Grade: C-

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& Reviews: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. Young Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy. Publisher: Henry Holt and Company September 2015

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. Young Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy. Publisher: Henry Holt and Company September 2015

The Book Itself: You can’t see it from the cover photo alone, but the pages are trimmed in black, making for a very cool effect, and an awesome addition to a bookshelf. The crow on the cover is really ingenious, too, with the wingtip forming the spires of a city.

My Review: Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

A convict with a thirst for revenge.

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.

A runaway with a privileged past.

A spy known as the Wraith.

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Kaz’s crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.

My best friend raved about this book and pushed it into my hands. I was reading the first two books in the Gentleman Bastards series (read reviews on The Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Seas Under Red Skies here and here) at the time, and the synopsis of Crows sounded like a too-similar story arc in young adult form. So I put it off.

I am glad I finally picked it up after a couple of palate-cleansing books. It is incredibly well-written and structured, and despite it having a boggling number of protagonists, I felt like I got to know each one.

Leigh Bardugo also wrote the Grisha Trilogy (Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising). I read the first of that series in 2014, but for some reason didn’t continue. I liked the book, and it built a really complex villain and love triangle, but perhaps I just got wrapped up in other books or it wasn’t quite what I was looking for at the time.

Well, Six of Crows is set in the same world. Upon seeing a list of Grisha on one of the first pages, I called my friend in a panic “Do I need to go read that whole series before I get to this one?!”

“No,” she reassured me. “It stands on its own.”

And it certainly does. Not only did I immediately understand what the Grisha were and how they fit into the world (this book is set after the events of the other series, so you might get a couple spoilers about the aftermath of the series’ events), but I fell into it and just kept reading. You get steeped in the action right away, from multiple characters and multiple sides of the story. And at first, having these six+ people as your guides for the rest of the novel seems overwhelming: each chapter cycles narration between them, and you have to get them straight, as well as feel like you know them and their motivations.

And I don’t know quite how Bardugo managed it, but the pacing and structuring is so well done! We get flashbacks and backstory for each and every thief/thug/sorcerer (or sorceress). And it is done in such a way that I didn’t feel that it detracted from the main plot. Which, speaking of plot, is fantastic. We have the formation of our dream team: teenage thieves and weapons specialists (I automatically age them in my mind because it just seems weirdly implausible that they are in their teens), we have the formation of The Mission, we slowly set up the stakes for The Mission for each character, and we carry out The Mission. I didn’t feel taken out of the story at any point, I didn’t detest or even dislike any one character – the ones you feel have bad intentions to start with turn into complex people with beliefs that differ from others in key ways.

I am finding that I am drawn towards crafty main characters. The kind that always seem in a bind, but they are only in a bind because they planned it that way. And just when you think all hope is lost, they reveal the secret to the magic trick, and they wiggle their way out of trouble. It makes the plot interesting, and a bit unpredictable. Even though I know this character and know that this is probably a ruse that they have orchestrated to get something that they want, I want to learn how they did it, and how exactly they are going to get away. Kaz Brekker, the leader of our motley crew, is one such character. He always has something up his sleeve. But he’s complex, and his backstory is pretty heartbreaking.

So, it is safe to say that I liked it. A lot. Crooked Kingdom, the sequel, comes out this September, and it is already on my calendar. The worldbuilding is strong, any romance is a nice background, and not the cloying focus, and you will love this ragtag bunch of misfits.

My Grade: A

& Reviews: Their Fractured Light by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

Their Fractured Light by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner. Publisher: Disney-Hyperion December 2015

Their Fractured Light by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner. Publisher: Disney-Hyperion December 2015

The Book Itself: Another installment of the Starbound series another pretty, pretty dress! These covers try very hard to stand out, to wow people. They’re a little dramatic, but effective.

My Review: A year ago, Flynn Cormac and Jubilee Chase made the now infamous Avon Broadcast, calling on the galaxy to witness for their planet, and protect them from destruction. Some say Flynn’s a madman, others whisper about conspiracies. Nobody knows the truth. A year before that, Tarver Merendsen and Lilac LaRoux were rescued from a terrible shipwreck—now, they live a public life in front of the cameras, and a secret life away from the world’s gaze.

Now, in the center of the universe on the planet of Corinth, all four are about to collide with two new players, who will bring the fight against LaRoux Industries to a head. Gideon Marchant is an eighteen-year-old computer hacker—a whiz kid and an urban warrior. He’ll climb, abseil and worm his way past the best security measures to pull off onsite hacks that others don’t dare touch.

Sofia Quinn has a killer smile, and by the time you’re done noticing it, she’s got you offering up your wallet, your car, and anything else she desires. She holds LaRoux Industries responsible for the mysterious death of her father and is out for revenge at any cost.

When a LaRoux Industries security breach interrupts Gideon and Sofia’s separate attempts to infiltrate their headquarters, they’re forced to work together to escape. Each of them has their own reason for wanting to take down LaRoux Industries, and neither trusts the other. But working together might be the best chance they have to expose the secrets LRI is so desperate to hide

I read These Broken Stars and adored it. I read This Shattered World and felt let down and disappointed. I picked up Their Fractured Light, the last in this trilogy, hoping it would be more of the former.

And it was good, maybe even great, but maybe I just need to return to the whole trilogy to read it all together at a later date.

Perhaps I just have a bad memory for characters and events in stories after I read them. But it felt like I needed to read these ones back to back in order to really understand and appreciate the conclusion. At one point, all of the main characters from all of the books, including some secondary ones, were interacting and saying and doing things that I felt totally lost when reading. Who was that again? How do these two people know each other? That name is probably supposed to be significant, but I can’t remember why…it all took me out of the story a little.

But seeing as that is my fault (I hate waiting for an entire series to be out before I read it, though! THE WAIT IS TOO LONG!!!) this time we are introduced to our star-crossed lovers, Gideon and Sofia. Let me just say: FINALLY SOME NORMAL NAMES! Lilac and Jubilee as names just didn’t sit well with me. Even if Jubilee is often referred to as “Lee,” I had this fierce aversion to the name so that it didn’t help my reading experience. Gideon is a hacker, Sofia is a thief. They spend a lot of time in the book not trusting each other and worrying about not trusting one another when both are inherently untrustworthy. Those aren’t typical vocations you look for in a significant other.

But I digress. The action in this one starts off right away. We are immediately thrown into a plot-altering situation that has implications throughout the story, and we learn about our protagonists on the fly. Again, if I were reading the books back to back, this would have been more seamless. As it was, I had to reacquaint myself with the world as I read, trying to remember references to places and planets and events that happened in the previous installments. This installment focused a lot on an underground city for the less wealthy, and a city on the surface bursting with wealth and affluence. This is kind of a trope in a lot of dystopian/sci-fi, so it felt a little stale. But I did appreciate moving through the scenery, and even taking it into space.

The book’s action doesn’t stop. I don’t think I ever really lagged reading it because there was always something interesting going on. And these two authors know how to stop a chapter so you can’t help but continue to read.

But I can’t help but feel like Lilac and Tarver’s story (names aside) was always the most strong. Even in this novel, they felt like a big focus. Lilac plays a MAJOR role in the inciting incident that kept me turning pages until the end. I like their relationship, their backgrounds better than any of the couples, and a part of me wishes the series just followed them.

BUT the series was well wrapped up. This series is going down on a lot of people’s lists as a “Favorite Series of All Time,” and maybe if I read them all together I might feel more like that, too. But where I felt the first book was strong, the second one weak. This third and last installment was interesting, well-paced, and well-written, but I felt outside the story because I hadn’t heard from the characters in a while. This might be one I have to return to in a year or two.

But if you haven’t read them yet, I highly recommend reading them now. Back to back: don’t wait a year to read the next one 😉

My Grade: B