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.

The Girl in the Clockwork Collar by Kady Cross (Steampunk Chronicles #2)

Character List from The Steampunk Chronicles series:

Finley Jayne – a former ladies’ maid whose dual natures of light and darkness battle for dominance. The darkness manifests itself as extraordinary strength, combat abilities and an attraction to danger and the criminal world.

Griffin King – an orphaned duke with unlimited financial resources at his disposal. Griffin is the leader of a group of misfits and has the ability to act as a conduit for the Aether.

Cordelia, Lady Marsden – Griffin’s aunt, a powerful telepath.

Sam Morgan – Griffin’s best friend. He’s incredibly strong and able to heal quickly, in part because he’s part machine.

Emily – possibly Finley’s closest friend. She’s an inventor extraordinaire and has a secret crush on one of the boys. Shhh!

Continue reading

Fiendish Schemes by KW Jeter (Infernal Devices #2)

fiendish-schemesIn 1987, K.W. Jeter coined the term “steam-punks” to refer to the cyberpunk variant of literature that he, and others, had begun to write, novels set in an alternate Victorian England with advanced steam technology. Considered one of the founding fathers of steampunk, it is only now that Jeter has returned to the genre, picking up the threads from Infernal Devices.

London is a world much-changed since we left George Dower, son of a mad inventor of all things gadgetry. The advent of steam has created a craze for the application of its technology and the aesthetic, a commentary on the vibrant counterculture which has emerged in the twenty-first century. Dower’s financial woes may be solved if he can help a man from his past find and fix one of his father’s technologies, the Vox Universalis. When Dower agrees to help, we are swept into the bizarreness of Jeter’s invention, a world where a lighthouse can uproot itself, specialized brothels cater to London’s steam-obsessed haut monde and sentient Cetaceans are proselytized.

Fiendish Schemes is a darkly humored portrayal of Victorian London written in the style of the period and is not for the faint of heart.


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

The Elite by Kiera Cass (The Selection #2)

cass_eliteCover Design:

I absolutely adore the crown emblem used in both books’ titles.  It conveys ‘beauty pageant’ and ‘contest’ without saying anything else.  Book covers should tell the story for you before you crack the cover open.  This one tells me that this fiery-haired beauty (who we learn is America Singer) is in a competition where she stands out from the rest. That makes me interested.

The dress is fabulous too, oh my gosh yes!  The competition is heating up and with it, the girls get some trial by fire as the rebel groups approach.

America Singer is the new girl on fire!

Hunger Games fans will understand the comparison, but for those who don’t, here’s it in a nutshell.

Both series’ are set in a post-America dystopian society.  Of course, the quashed rebellion in Panem was punished with ‘the hunger games’.  By contrast, in Illea, every generation of Crown Prince is married to one of the people (like the old idea of the Crown marrying the Land) in a Bachelor-like contest called ‘the selection’.  Kiera Cass’ “make love, not war” approach is a fresh alternative to Suzanne Collins’ runaway hit.

Plot:

Prince Maxon’s decision becomes more difficult as his choices narrow and America sits on the fence between her feelings for him, and for the boy-she-left-behind-but-is-actually-there, Aspen.  Shame on you!  That secret’s the smoking gun of the series, America.  It’s gonna come back to bite you.  Watch out.

It’s fun watching how the girls are eliminated (and how!) and you will be surprised by some of the developments that arise. Here’s hoping that the rebels have more of a role in the third book.  I want to learn more about what they want and where they see the country heading.

A plot point that is very much overlooked in both The Selection and The Elite is the presence of America’s parents in the story.  Usually, parents are absent, dead, or have no role in fantasy novels.  One thing Cass gets right is giving America roots.  Her mother pushes her towards entering the contest in the first place.  America’s father takes a supportive role of whatever her decision will be – to marry Prince Maxon or to leave the competition and have a better life as a Two.

Unless I’m completely mistaken (and we’ll find out next year), America’s father has a greater role in the story than at first appearance.  I’ve got to apologize here because for the life of me, I can’t find out what his name is on any of the wikis. Let’s call him AF.

AF displays an unusual amount of interest in America’s stories about palace life and his knowledge of Illea and its politics, despite being a humble artisan caste, makes me think he is a rebel sympathizer.  I would love to see this overlooked factor brought to the fore in The One.

Example ~

America has discovered where her heart belongs, but when Prince Maxon learns who Aspen is, he changes his mind about her.  As the rebels storm the palace, America finds her heart torn between family loyalties and the future planned for her.

Something like that.

That’s the story I want to read.

Romance:

Some people are going to argue with me on this. The romance heats up with the love triangle between American, Aspen, and Prince Maxon.  I’d be shocked (SHOCKED) if this has not inspired some GLBT fan fiction by now. Anyway… .  I like that for a YA novel, Cass keeps it clean. This love triangle appeals to two very different types of females.

You’ve got your good ol’ boy next-door, Aspen, and the exotic, mysterious bad boy who pulls you from your whole world, Prince Maxon.  For the purposes of plot, these are essentially their roles but they are a bit muddied.  Prince Maxon rebels against his father (spoilers!) and he doesn’t play fair between America and some of the other contestants.

Aspen comes off as a bit of a limp noodle as he doesn’t get a lot of time on the page. Cass gives more attention to Prince Maxon and getting to know the other girls better.  Still, the moments we see Aspen, we can tell that he genuinely cares about America.  He’s too passive of a character though. I think he should be more actively pursuing America if he really wants to win her.

I know it sounds like I’m advocating for #teammaxon here but he’s no great prize either.  Both males need to man up.  Someone take the lead, please, and show a girl you care.  Thoughts on this?  Am I completely off here?

Here’s your call to action, ladies: are you #teamaspen or #teammaxon? Grab a cuppa and let’s chat!

For more on the world of The Selection and The Elite, check out Kiera Cass’ website or this great, comprehensive wiki created by fans. The final book of the series, The One, will be published on May 6th, 2014.

All Men of Genius by Lev AC Rosen

all men of genius book coverLabyrinth basements, talking animals and abandoned automatons are a few of the wonders waiting at Illyria College for the next generation of Her Majesty’s best scientific minds. Illyria’s closed-door policy means that Violet Adams, a promising scientist, cannot set foot inside, until she decides to impersonate her twin brother, Ashton. Hijinks ensue as Ashton and their best friend, Jack Feste, teach Violet how men behave in private and the Duke’s ward, Cecily, falls for Violet’s persona.

Rosen’s humorous debut novel recreates Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest in a Victorian setting and offers a lighthearted look at several beloved characters from both plays. The gears, gild and gentrified manners add to the steampunk ambiance as Violet learns to portray a man and discovers her womanhood. Rosen’s work is a gentle commentary on homoeroticism and gender biases against women.

The Selection by Kiera Cass (The Selection #1)

cass_selectionIn The Selection we are introduced to America Singer, who comes from a musical family and is in one of the poorest castes imaginable, a Five.  Although America is in love with Aspen Leger, a Six, marrying below your caste as a female is not only frowned upon by society, it dooms you to a poorer, harder life than the one you’ve known growing up. When America is ‘selected’ to be a part of the competition to win the heart of Prince Maxon, it’s the opportunity to lift her family out of poverty forever and lose her only love in the process.  What’s a girl to do?

If it sounds at all like this book reads like The Hunger Games meets The Bachelor, you’re right.  Cass has pinpointed her audience and this book does a great job of presenting a modern-day Esther beauty pageant within a science-fiction future.  Cass doesn’t overwhelm us with exposition right away but dishes it out over the course of the book and foreshadows a large conflict still to arise, probably in the sequel, probably involving secret alliances.

Cass raises questions in the reader that (hopefully) will be answered in the next book, and sets America, Aspen, and Prince Maxon, up for a sudden, yet inevitable betrayal, sometime in the sequel.  In its favor, we have a genuinely stubborn, independent female who knows what she wants, is honest, and who refuses to sabotage the other contestants.  America is a great subject in this fish-out-of-water experience and the reader will feel compassion for her thwarted love and danger that surrounds palace life.

To his credit, Prince Maxon is not a Disneyfied (is that a word?) prince.  He may be tall and charming but unlike most Disney heroes, he actually has a range of emotions, gets more than a few sentences in, and we are really unsure at times whether or not he will send America home.

I tore through this 327-page YA novel in a matter of hours.  It’s that good and comes highly recommended by me.  If you prefer to wait for the whole series, the sequel, The Elite, is going to be released on April 23rd this year and is now available for pre-order at Amazon.com.

Have you read The Selection yet?  What did you think? Grab a cuppa and let’s chat!

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games #3)

collins_mockingjayWhat can I say about Mockingjay, the third and last act in the explosive Hunger Games Trilogy … it’s a piece of work.

Catching Fire Spoilers!! [spoiler]Katniss and Peeta have survived the Quarter Quell but Peeta is now (essentially) a prisoner of war in the Capitol, tortured and used to talk down Katniss and District 13 from the rebellion that’s  ‘caught on like fire’.[/spoiler]

Katniss’ family, including Prim, her mother, and the annoying cat, Buttercup, are safe in District 13. Prim has grown up so fast and is now walking in her mother’s footsteps as a nurse.  Gale is there too and we finally get to see what could happen between him and Katniss if left to themselves.

The only hope of saving Peeta from President Snow is to become the mockingjay, placing Katniss in a place where she just might get to engage in real combat, or better yet, become the assassin to kill Snow herself. In doing so, she places herself and the citizens of District 13 at great risk.

Also, all the other successfully rescued winners, including Beetee and Finnick, are trained to become real soldiers for the Rebellion.  Any of the tributes (like Peeta) remaining in the Capitol, are now the enemy.

The crucible of combat in the road to the Capitol is alarming, shocking and tragic. Any moment may be (and sometimes is) the last for your favorites in the series.

My Thoughts:

Mockingjay was a different sort of book from its predecessors The Hunger Games and Catching Fire.  Appropriately, it is a culmination of both of these books in a very visceral sense. The girl who was on fire literally becomes a girl on fire and she carries the scars and burns and internal trauma that accompanies this tragedy.  The attack on the Capitol in its arena-like defense system is the greatest hunger games scenario and no-one is exempt from the mine ‘pods’ that are a harbinger of the death that follows.

Mockingjay is not a light read.  It certainly doesn’t have the happy ending I hoped for, but was warned not to expect, by some over-eager Amazon.com reviewers.  The warning was well-heeded and while reading this book I looked for the tell-tale signs of trouble ahead. What I found was less of a YA novel and more of a treatise on the nature of warmongering.

Some of the very adult topics that are present include: post-traumatic stress disorder; psychological warfare on POW’s, which Suzanne Collins names ‘hi-jacking’; the nature of blitzes in a war campaign; building a better mouse trap to inflict the most damage (i.e. casualties), and what’s perhaps the oldest question in warfare, where to draw the line so the violence can finally end  We also see characters struggling with drug and alcohol abuse, grief, disillusionment and the desires for vengeance and murder.

And that’s why I’m really conflicted about this book.  This is the sort of book that I would never write because of its graphic depictions of war scenarios and combat situations (something that I don’t enjoy reading).

I do respect Suzanne Collins for tackling some severe issues and admire her ability to create a ‘worldbuilding’ series.  The series’ lasting value to YA literature may be its examination of the effects that war has on us all, a timely subject for young Americans growing up in a nation at war.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about The Hunger Games Trilogy and what you liked best (and least) about the books.  Who were your favorite characters?  Did you agree with Katniss’ final decision on Peeta and Gale?  Drop me a note and let’s talk.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games #2)

collins_catchingDuring the tour, we are reunited with Effie, Haymitch and Peeta, Cinna and the fabulous fashionistas, and we meet some of the past winners including the cunning Finnick.

This year is the 75th annual Hunger Games and as a special treat, the contestants this year will be drawn from each district’s pool of past winners.  In District 12, there is only three living winners: Haymitch, Katniss and Peeta. Katniss will be back in the arena.

[spoiler]Katniss resolves that this time, there will be only one winner, Peeta.  It is the only thing she can give him after his unrequited love.  Katniss, who has promised to keep no secrets from Peeta this time round, strikes up a secret bargain with Haymitch to protect Peeta at all costs.[/spoiler]

The second and third part of the book deals with the preparation for the Hunger Games as well as the games itself.  Since this year’s games is so different, a new approach is necessary.  Just like sports teams study other team’s behaviors, Katniss, Peeta, and Haymitch spend the summer studying past winners, their techniques, strengths and weaknesses.  They must also impress the judges more than ever if they are to get sponsors, and more importantly, allies in the arena.

Normally sequels fail to live up to the original book but Catching Fire was absolutely fantastic.  We’ve been to the games before.  We don’t need to spend as much time there as last time to understand the turbulent feelings Katniss and Peeta are facing with re-entering the fray.  The time spent in the preparations introduces us to other characters and reveals glimpses of the ongoing struggle of the Rebellion.  This book will keep you up late reading, all the way to the shocking, explosive ending.  Do not skip ahead and read the ending first.

I am revved up and ready for the last book in the series, Mockingjay.  Keep reading and let’s finish The Hunger Games Trilogy, hand in hand.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games #1)

200px-Hunger_gamesA friend first told me how great the Hunger Games was and I dismissed it, prematurely, as a YA novel, much in the same vein of Twilight as fantasy YA books goes.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The country is divided into the capital (based in the Rockies) and thirteen districts, each in charge of a type of industry that benefits the whole country. Seventy-something years earlier, District 13 rebelled and was crushed by the capital. It no longer exists. To commemorate the Capitol’s victory and reinforce the dominance of the Capitol over the other districts, every year, the country participates in the Hunger Games.

When twelve-year-old Primrose Everdeen is selected as District 12’s female representative in a lottery selection process, it means certain death.  Then the unthinkable happens, her older sister, Katniss, volunteers to take her place.  The male representative is Peeta Mellark, the boy who once saved Katniss’ life.

Although Katniss expects certain death, she finds an unlikely ally in her mentors, Effie, a pink-haired Capitol Type-A personality; and Haymitch, the only living winner from District 12 and a drunk to boot.  Haymitch’s unorthodox methods, Effie’s military-like efficiency, Peeta’s likability factor, and Katniss’ stubborn, sometimes borderline rebellious, personality (along with some great stylists) combined will give them an edge over the competition and immediate media exposure.

But the biggest complication may end up being Katniss’ friendships — the ones she made back home and the ones in the Hunger Games arena.  After all, there can be only one victor.