Book Review: Shatter

Shatter (Glitter, Bk. 2) by Aprilynne Pike
Random House, 2018, 373pp.

Trigger warning: This book contains disturbing thematic material that may be unsuitable for all ages.

I finally finished the duology that is Glitter, and I can say that as a reader, I appreciate that the story can be summed up in two books, rather than dragged out for the overused trilogy or even-longer series of titles. That is not to say that I don’t understand or appreciate the appeal of series books (in fact, I often enjoy them), however, stretching out a story longer than necessary is as grave a literary sin in my opinion as is making a trilogy out of a single book. Fantasy lovers are more than welcome to speculate which film series I mean here.

Shatter opens two days after Danica’s wedding day to King Justin, the one she never intended to participate in. Further embroiled in court life, Dani realizes she must master the games of nobility if she is to secure her freedom, and that of her beloved, Saber. To do so, she will have to beat a mastermind of evil with his own stratagems and risk her own soul in the process. Shatter asks us, is the price worth paying?

This is an emotionally difficult book to read and I had to set it down for a couple of weeks before picking it up again and finishing it finally. After deciding to blog about my reads (even the ones that turn out to be negative), I wanted to compose my thoughts to share with you while they were still fresh in mind. And this was a doozy.

Dani struggles with the consequences of her actions and the toll it takes on her physical body, her sanity and her soul — how far is too far? When do the ends not justify the means? I really liked how supportive Saber is but he’s far from a submissive doormat. He stands up to her. He balances her out and is her anchor that gives her meaning. He is quintessentially, the central character and driving force of the novel.

A bride by blackmail, Dani’s silence ensures her life and that of her father, even as she will try to find a way to fight her way to freedom, and yes, that may mean getting her face bloodied in the process. Dani’s journey is by no means an “easy, breezy read”, and perhaps not suitable for all audiences. If you enjoyed Glitter then I would recommend you pick up a copy of Shatter and give it a try. If you do, be sure to leave a comment and let me know what you think.

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Book Review: Glitter

Glitter (Glitter, Bk. 1) by Aprilynne Pike
Random House, 2016, 367pp.

Trigger warning: This book contains instances of self-harm. No matter what you are going through, you don’t have to be alone. Reach out to someone near you that you trust. Ask for help to get through your situation. Don’t abuse yourself.

In an alternate timeline of the present day, everything in France is normal, except that in the palace of Versailles, the monarchy is very much alive, and ruled by a corrupt, young king, who has just committed murder. When the sole witness to the crime, a teenager named Danica, is blackmailed into becoming his future queen, she will do anything to escape her fate, even if it means cooperating with a drug dealer to smuggle the latest craze, Glitter, into the hands of the court elite. But as Danica will learn, blackmail and murder are only the beginnings of danger in these gilded halls.

This was a great book. I loved it. The world is just close enough to ours that it sort of defies genre classification. It’s a bit of a romance, a lot of adventure, and a bit of science-fiction. It’s got a contemporary feel with a moody twist (readers who enjoyed The Selection, will understand). It has the aesthetic of a period film like Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette. It’s got an otherwise ordinary person forced into extraordinary actions out of desperation…in other words, a compelling motivation to read.

It’s not really giving the plot away to discuss the method of distribution for the drugs — they’re mixed inside of cosmetics. They’re also NOT disclosed in the list of ingredients, so, it’s easy to unknowingly get hooked and the product itself becomes crazy-popular. I thought this was a unique way to introduce narcotics into a closed group like the court, where historically, 17th century makeup and skincare would have contained harmful elements like lead and mercury. Learn more about 17th century beauty treatments at Wonders and Marvels. The integration makes it both believable and alarming, as Danica resorts to more and more ambiguous means to free herself from the depravity of the king.

The palace itself is huge and Danica’s movements evading being caught in her transgressions could easily become bewildering to follow and overwhelming, but fortunately for us, someone did the tremendous amount of work of including a detailed floor plan of the palace, and labeling some thirty-plus rooms, plus antechambers, courtyards and cabinets, the perfect spots for plotting and assignations.

Glitter is the first of a two-book series, the sequel, Shatter, was published in 2018, and at the time of this writing, I’m looking to order a copy to read what I am hoping will be quite the conclusion. Already a fan of Glitter or ready to give it a try? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think of it. I look forward to hearing from you.

Love Comes Calling by Siri Mitchell (Against All Expectations #1)

love comes callingEllis Eaton, a young actress who dreams of Hollywood stardom, takes on her toughest role yet when she agrees to pose as a friend and temporarily work at the telephone exchange. If she succeeds, she’ll earn the funds she needs to skip town and make her dream a reality. When Ellis overhears a threat to Griffin Phillips, the boy everyone assumes she’ll settle down with, she commits to foiling the plot to hurt Griffin while avoiding his romantic advances.
 
Siri Mitchell ventures into the Roaring Twenties with a charming, but scatterbrained, heroine in Ellis whose mad-cap escapades will have you laughing at her misadventures. Mitchell’s book is well-written and has moments of (surprising) depth with a pulse on class relations and the dark side of Prohibition. Featuring a gorgeous Art Deco-influenced cover, the book also includes end notes on Prohibition and the real gangsters of Boston in the 1920’s and discussion questions for book clubs or classrooms.

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This review first appeared in the August 2014 issue of Historical Novel Review. I received a copy of the book for the purposes of a fair review.

Every Tear a Memory by Myra Johnson (Till We Meet Again #3)

The Specs:

EVERY TEAR A MEMORY by Myra Johnson (Till We Meet Again, Bk 3), Abingdon Press, 2014, $14.99, pb, 320pp, 9781426753725

every tear a memory

Joanna Trapp leaves her old life in France behind when the war ends and family calls her home. But civilian life as a switchboard operator in Hot Springs, Arkansas, doesn’t have the same appeal as her formerly adventurous life as a Hello Girl for the Army Signal Corps. Thomas Ballard is a semi-successful businessman at the Arlington who was medically ineligible to serve, and although he seeks a quiet life, he finds himself attracted to Joanna’s daring spirit. The question they must answer together is whether there’s room for love when they differ in values.

Johnson continues her post-WWI series, which follows female protagonists who served during the war and the Ballard men who love them. The plot here is full of flawed characters, poor choices and misunderstandings that stand in the way of love and keep the emotions relatable, whether it’s teenage angst over a boy, or the desire to be respected amongst one’s family and community. The book also has a refreshing emphasis on purity (without being preachy), making this a romance appropriate for younger readers. If you enjoyed Sarah Sundin’s WWII books, you should look into reading this series.

This review first appeared in the November 2014 issue of Historical Novel Review. I received a copy of the book for the purposes of a fair review.

Hope at Dawn by Stacy Henrie (Of Love and War #1)

The Specs:

HOPE AT DAWN (Of Love and War, Bk 1) by Stacy Henrie, 2014, Forever (an imprint of Grand Central Publishing), $8.00/C$9.00, pb. 384pp, 978-1-455-59880-9

hope at dawnLivy Campbell is the daughter of an all-American family; with two brothers fighting overseas, she desperately wants to help her family and accepts the first job she’s offered, as a schoolteacher in Hilden, Iowa. Friedrick Wagner, a handsome German-American living in Hilden, just wants to provide for and protect his family, but the fear and prejudice against people like him makes that increasingly difficult. Complicating things is his growing attraction to Livy, a match that can never be. With an uncertain future ahead of them, Livy and Friedrick must tread carefully to retain their faith and their freedom.

Condensing a timeline of real events in 1918-1919 including the liberty loan drives and a language law passed by the Governor of Iowa in 1918; Henrie sets the fictional town and characters of Hilden in a hotbed of anti-German sentiment and fear. While the romantic tension could be stronger and Friedrick’s rival more developed, Henrie keeps the plot simple and familiar. At its most ordinary, this is a romance novel that doesn’t whitewash the persecution against German-Americans during WWI, at its best; Henrie offers a compelling look at the danger of xenophobia, especially during times of war.

This review first appeared in the November 2014 issue of Historical Novel Review. I received a copy of the book for the purposes of a fair review.

The Pelican Bride by Beth White (Gulf Coast Chronicles #1)

pelican brideIt is an age of exploration where men, out of greed or naked courage, fought for their own destinies and their women helped shape  a civilized community out of the marshes. Southern native Beth White is no stranger to the historical genre but she enters new territory with The Pelican Bride, the first in a series of romantic adventure novels set in eighteenth century French Louisiana.

Huguenots in flight, Geneviève Gaillain and her sister Aimée, escape France and journey to the New World where they’ve each agreed to marry a settler. As both girls wade through the murky waters of finding a good spouse and surviving the difficulties of Colonial life, the secrets they brought with them may drown the community.

Following the fates of the “Pelican Brides” of 1704, we discover with them the joys and disappointments of matrimony, and the faith and courage that is a lifeline in the midst of brutality and tragedy. In other words, this is not your typical mail order bride story. With a fast-paced plot full of dynamic characters inspired by the real settlers of the Gulf Coast (and a liberal dose of artistic license), White has fashioned a richly layered and engrossing tale.


This review first appeared in the August 2014 issue of Historical Novel Review. I received a copy of the book for the purposes of a fair review.

 

The Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert

swan_gondolaThe World’s Fair of 1898 was the biggest thing to ever hit the Western town of Omaha. The Fair was held in conjunction with the Indian Congress and included a visit by President William McKinley and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Fair-goers flocked to Omaha from miles around, and with the promise of their purses came thieves, opportunists, prostitutes, and performers setting up shop along the fair’s Midway and the Grand Court.

When a hot air balloon stolen from the Fair crashes on the farmhouse of the Sisters Egan, they take in its injured pilot, Ferret Skerritt. Ferret, a ventriloquist and con, weaves them a tale of his grand love affair with Cecily, a beautiful actress closely guarded by a one-eyed witch. The deeper the sisters are drawn into his fable, the more the magic of the fair is unveiled, complete with spiritualists, masquerades, a Chamber of Horrors and other surprises.

The Swan Gondola is a beautiful portrayal of love and loss set against a glorious backdrop so vivid, it becomes an entire world. The Fair is described in such exquisite detail that you feel that you are walking along the colorful tents and booths of the Midway and sailing down the length of the 2000-ft. lagoon in a gondola on a moonlit night. Schaffert, a Nebraska native, takes some of his inspiration from Baum’s classic novel, The Wizard of Oz, and cheerfully admits to the allusions. Although this is not a retelling or an origin story, I enjoyed discovering the allusions for myself. Schaffert’s novel is a romantic, breathtaking work of literary fiction, and an absolute treat. Highly recommended.


This review first appeared in the February 2014 issue of The Historical Novel Review. I was provided with a copy of the book for the purpose of a review.

 

A Match of Wits by Jen Turano (Ladies of Distinction #4)

The Specs:

A MATCH OF WITS (Ladies of Distinction, Bk 4) by Jen Turano, Bethany House, 2014, $14.99, pb, 348pp, 9780764211270

match of witsThe Wild West had better watch out when Agatha Watson comes to town! Cooling her heels after a hot story earned her more than a few enemies, the last thing Agatha expected to uncover in the Colorado territory was Zayne Beckett, the man who broke her heart two years ago. Zayne is in no condition to be left on his own and since Agatha always knows best, she’s determined to bring Zayne with her back to New York, whether he likes it or not. But her time away hasn’t made her any less of a target and Zayne thinks he’s man enough to keep Agatha out of danger, but he didn’t count on risking his heart in the process.

Turano’s knack for comic timing shines in her latest book and many of the borderline absurd situations Agatha finds herself in are laugh-out-loud funny, especially if they involve a certain P-I-G named Matilda. In many ways, this feels like a series finale because we finally see how Agatha Watson and Zayne Beckett get together, but Turano keeps her options open with a new generation of irrepressible heroines waiting in the wings, who will be, perhaps, future leaders in the Progressive Era.


This review first appeared in the November 2014 issue of Historical Novel Review. I received a copy of the book for the purposes of a fair review.

Truth Be Told by Carol Cox

The Specs:

TRUTH BE TOLD
Carol Cox, Bethany House, 2014, $14.99, pb, 350pp, 9780764209574


truth be toldArizona Territory, 1893. Amelia Wagner loved the summers spent alongside her father, working at his newspaper business in Granite Springs, dedicated to bringing truth to light as the masthead states. So when it’s Amelia’s turn to take over the business, it comes natural to her to pick up her father’s investigation into the Great Western Investment Company. Befriended by Benjamin Stone, one of Great Western’s newest employees, has Amelia found an advantageously placed ally or are Benjamin’s attentions just a distraction? Because something is going on in Granite Springs and someone doesn’t want Amelia to learn the whole story.

Cox returns to her beloved Old West with another inspirational romance. Like her other novels, this one packs a lot of warmth, a dose of adventure, and humor, but the crisis is a bit too pitch perfect (real phrase?) for the genre – once you’re there, you know how it all plays out. With the investigative element in the plot, fans of Trouble in Store and Love in Disguise may also enjoy this latest offering by Carol Cox.

This review first appeared in the November 2014 issue of Historical Novel Review. I received a copy of the book for the purposes of a fair review.

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge (Cruel Beauty Universe)

cruel beauty_rosamund hodge

Graceling meets Beauty and the Beast in this sweeping fantasy about one girl’s journey to fulfill her destiny and the monster who gets in her way-by stealing her heart.

Based on the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, Cruel Beauty is a dazzling love story about our deepest desires and their power to change our destiny.

Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom-all because of a foolish bargain struck by her father. And since birth, she has been in training to kill him.

With no choice but to fulfill her duty, Nyx resents her family for never trying to save her and hates herself for wanting to escape her fate. Still, on her seventeenth birthday, Nyx abandons everything she’s ever known to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, destroy his enchanted castle, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on her people.

But Ignifex is not at all what Nyx expected. The strangely charming lord beguiles her, and his castle-a shifting maze of magical rooms-enthralls her.

As Nyx searches for a way to free her homeland by uncovering Ignifex’s secrets, she finds herself unwillingly drawn to him. Even if she could bring herself to love her sworn enemy, how can she refuse her duty to kill him? With time running out, Nyx must decide what is more important: the future of her kingdom, or the man she was never supposed to love. (Goodreads description)


The Specs
ISBN: 0062224735, hd, 352pp, 2014 Balzer + Bray


This was such a complex book. I really wanted to like it. I adore the “Beauty and the Beast” story too; it’s my all-time favorite fairy tale.  That doesn’t mean that I’m closed-minded about new interpretations, far from it.  That’s what storytelling is all about so when I heard there was going to be a new version released where Beauty (here called Nyx) is going to marry the Beast (a demon lord named Ignifex) and then try to kill him to save her people, I was like, “Yay!!!  They’re totally going to fall in love. Let’s do this!”

I know, I’m a little odd.

So this story is not only “Beauty and the Beast” but there’s also elements of “Bluebeard” and “Taming of the Shrew” too.  Ignifex’s castle is a labyrinth of locked rooms, some of which she has keys for and some that do not, and heaven help her if she finds a way into the rooms where she should not go.

I love that Nyx, who of course is intelligent, is almost an empowered heroine, educated and lethal.  Her anger and resentment towards her twin sister, Astraia, makes her more flawed and interesting.

Another element that I really liked was the presence of servants in Ignifex “The Gentle Lord”‘s castle.  In other iterations of B&B these servants are personified as magical, dancing objects, severed hands wielding candelabras or figures that move within paintings.  In Hodge’s universe, the servants are shadows, living under a cursed enchantment but still capable of expressing some emotions which Nyx uses as a way to alleviate her loneliness.  Great plot decision, loved it.

Okay, now for the bad.

What really bothered me the most about this novel (and why I rated it lower) is the conclusion of the book.  It felt rushed.  I was left feeling confused.  There was so much that was crammed in that I lost track of what was actually happening.  I rarely re-read a book when I’ve immediately finished it (though favs I’ll go to again and again). So, you’ve got to get my attention the first time around and Hodge lost me completely. I’m sorry!

Without giving away spoilers, I didn’t care for the way it wrapped up and was left feeling somewhat unsatisfied.  If you’ve read Cruel Beauty and you understand what I mean, or maybe you understood the conclusion better, or maybe you think I’m completely wrong, sound off here.

I’m willing to give the title another round, and a different rating.  So there you go. If you think Cruel Beauty deserves a higher rating, and another chance, let me know.  As it was, I was rather disappointed.