In My Mailbox (13) / Mailbox Monday (21) – BTVS Edition

mailbox

Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week. (Library books don’t count, but eBooks & audiobooks do). Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists!

Mailbox Monday was created by Marcia at The Printed Page, who graciously hosted it for a long, long time, before turning it into a touring meme (details here). This month it is hosted by I’m Booking It.

In My Mailbox is hosted by The Story Siren.

In My Mailbox

Welcome to In My Mailbox / Mailbox Monday – Buffy, The Vampire Slayer (or BTVS) edition. Why is it called that way, you ask? Well, because I got some pretty cool goodies from the Buffyverse in the form of…yeh, you guessed it right. Season Eight Comic Books!

All the review copies were provided to me by Dark Horse Comic Books through Netgalley.

Title: BTVS: The Long Way Home (Season 8, Vol. 1)
Authors: Joss Whedon, Andy Owens, Georges Jeanty

Since the destruction of the Hellmouth, the Slayers – newly legion – have gotten organized and are kicking some serious undead butt. But not everything’s fun and firearms, as an old enemy reappears and Dawn experiences some serious growing pains. Meanwhile, one of the “Buffy” decoy slayers is going through major pain of her own. Buffy creator Joss Whedon brings Buffy back to Dark Horse in this direct follow-up to season seven of the smash-hit TV series. The bestselling and critically acclaimed issues #1-5 are collected here for the first time, as are their covers by Jo Chen and Georges Jeanty.

Title: BTVS: No Future For You (Season 8, Vol. 2)
Authors: Joss Whedon, Brian K. Vaughan, Georges Jeanty

Eisner award-winning writer Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina) tackles Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight with “No Future for You.” When a rogue debutant Slayer begins to use her power for evil, Giles is forced to recruit the rebellious Faith, who isn’t exactly known for her good deeds. Giles offers Faith a clean slate if she can stop this snooty Slayer from wreaking total havoc – that is, if Buffy doesn’t beat her to it. Georges Jeanty (The American Way) remains at the top of his game as series artist, and Whedon stays on as “Executive Producer” in this direct follow-up to Season Seven of the smash-hit TV series.

Title: BTVS: Wolves at the Gate (Season 8, Vol. 3)
Authors: Joss Whedon (Productor), Drew Goddard (Illustrator), Georges Jeanty (Author)

Vampires that, at will, can transform into wolves, panthers, insects, or fog invade the Slayer base of operations in northern Scotland, and not only walk away unscathed, but in possession of Buffy’s scythe, the symbol of Slayer power worldwide. Buffy and the Slayer-legion travel to Tokyo in order to learn more about their dangerous new foes, as Xander journeys to Transylvania to solicit the only person they’ve ever known to possess such power – Dracula!

Title: BTVS: Time of Your Life (Season 8, Vol. 4)
Authors: Joss Whedon (Productor), Jeph Loeb (Illustrator), Karl Moline (Author)

Willow and Buffy head to New York City to unlock the secrets of Buffy’s mysterious scythe, when something goes terribly awry. Buffy is propelled into a dystopian future where there’s only one Slayer – Fray, the title character of Joss Whedon’s 2001 series, the first comic he ever wrote. Their uneasy alliance falls apart, leading to the death of a major character from the TV series, while back in the twenty-first century, the Scotland base falls prey to a mystical bomb courtesy of the Biggest Bad – Twilight!

Title: BTVS: Predators and Prey (Season 8, Vol. 5)
Authors: Joss Whedon, Jane Espenson, Steven S. DeKnight, Andy Owens, Cliff Richards, Georges Jeanty, Drew Z. Greenberg

Buffy’s world goes awry when former-classmate-turned-vampire Harmony Kendall lands her own reality TV show, Harmony Bites, bolstering bloodsucking fiends in the mainstream. Humans line up to have their blood consumed, and Slayers, through a series of missteps, misfortunes, and anti-Slayer propaganda driven by the mysterious Twilight, are forced into hiding. In Germany, Faith and Giles discover a town where Slayers retreat from a world that has turned against them, only to find themselves in the arms of something far worse. A rogue-Slayer faction displaces an entire Italian village, living up to their tarnished reputation as power-hungry thieves. And finally, with the help of a would-be demon lover, Dawn addresses her unfaltering insecurities.

Title: BTVS: Retreat (Season 8, Vol. 6)
Authors: Jane Espenson (Author), Georges Jeanty (Illustrator), Andy Owens (Contributor), Michelle Madsen (Contributor), Jo Chen (Illustrator), Joss Whedon (Productor)

Buffy Season Eight Volume 6 showcases the first failure of the Slayer legion. Vampires have solid footing at the top of the totem and Slayers have been crushed to the bottom – in short, no one likes Buffy anymore… least of all this season’s mysterious Big Bad, Twilight, who is hot on her magical trail! Now that it’s the world against Slayers, Buffy must find a way to return the status quo to… status quo – and keep her girls alive long enough to do it! Enter Oz, the only person/werewolf Buffy knows who is down with the suppression of magic, and can take the Slayer army off of Twilight’s magic-specific radar. With Oz’s assistance the Slayers and Wiccans try to become “normal” through meditation and hard labor – although, not everyone sees the advantage of being magicless, namely, Willow, Giles, and Andrew. And they could be right; after all, is a peaceful life for a Slayer even possible?

Title: BTVS: Twilight (Season 8, Vol. 7)
Author: Brad Meltzer

Buffy Summers and her Slayer army have suffered heavy losses throughout Season Eight and faced scores of threats new and old, but the one mystery connecting it all has been the identity of the Big Bad Twilight!
In this penultimate volume of Season Eight, New York Times bestselling novelist and comics writer Brad Meltzer (The Book of Lies, Identity Crisis) joins series artist Georges Jeanty in beginning the buildup to the season finale in the story line that finally reveals the identity of Twilight! In the aftermath of the battle with Twilight’s army, Buffy has developed a host of new powers, but when will the other shoe drop, and will it be a cute shoe, or an ugly one? Still reeling from the losses of war, Willow goes looking for missing allies, and discovers a horrifying truth about several of the Slayer army’s recent ordeals. Adding to the mayhem is the unexpected return of Angel, in his Season Eight debut!
This volume also features two stories from series creator and executive producer Joss Whedon! In the Willow one-shot, Whedon and Fray artist Karl Moline reveal for the first time what Buffy’s witchy best friend was up to between Seasons Seven and Eight, with a mind-blowing cameo by a frequently requested character. And in “Turbulence,” Joss spotlights the complicated relationship between Buffy and Xander with a conversation that changes it forever.

Title: BTVS: Last Gleaming (Season 8, Vol. 8 )
Authors: Joss Whedon, Jane Espenson, Georges Jeanty, Karl Moline

The Season Finale is here, and Buffy must face the ultimate betrayal! Seems like a perfect time for Spike to come back.
Series creator Joss Whedon writes the final story arc of Buffy Season 8, taking his greatest characters to places only he can! Teamed with series artist Georges Jeanty, Joss reunites the dysfunctional gang of Buffy, Angel, and Spike, in the thick of it together for the first time since Season 3, and gives the Scoobies their gravest challenge ever – defending reality itself from an onslaught of demons. It’s the biggest Buffy finale ever!

You know what this means, right? You feel a Buffy The Vampire Slayer Theme Week coming up? Well, so do I…

So, what did you get in your mailbox this week?

Book Review: Wither by Lauren DeStefano

8525590Title: Wither (Chemical Garden #1)
Author: Lauren DeStefano
Genre: Dystopian, Fantasy, Young Adult, Romance
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: March 22nd 2011
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository | Author Website
Rating: 4,5 stars
Review copy purchased by yours truly.

What if you knew exactly when you would die?

Thanks to modern science, every human being has become a ticking genetic time bomb—males only live to age twenty-five, and females only live to age twenty. In this bleak landscape, young girls are kidnapped and forced into polygamous marriages to keep the population from dying out.

When sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery is taken by the Gatherers to become a bride, she enters a world of wealth and privilege. Despite her husband Linden’s genuine love for her, and a tenuous trust among her sister wives, Rhine has one purpose: to escape—to find her twin brother and go home.

But Rhine has more to contend with than losing her freedom. Linden’s eccentric father is bent on finding an antidote to the genetic virus that is getting closer to taking his son, even if it means collecting corpses in order to test his experiments. With the help of Gabriel, a servant Rhine is growing dangerously attracted to, Rhine attempts to break free, in the limited time she has left.

Ever since Wither was first released on March 22nd, I’ve been dying to read it. With dying I mean, literally suffocating under the aomunt of sadness I had to cope with thanks to the fact it seemed almost impossible for me to get my hands on this book. Problem number one: I was as broke as people can get, thanks to my latest contest – an Iron Fey giveaway – and I had barely enough money to buy food (I’m slightly exaggerating to get my point across). Problem number two: my Mom was fed up with me ravishing through my cash account to buy books from Book Depository, and she threatened to put me in a mental asylum if I ordered one more book. Thankfully the problem solved itself, because last week I magically stumbled across a dutch version of Wither in the local book store. Coincedence? I think not, I believe God has finally answered my prayers. I didn’t necessarily want a dutch version, but hey, one cannot complain about Godly interferences. So I managed to buy the book without my Mom’s knowledge and I have devoured it in one day. Was it everything I hoped? Certainly.

Wither is set in a dystopian world much alike our own, but in the future. Humans have experimented with immortality and not-aging and eugenetica and cloning people. And not only have they experimented with that – they’ve actually succeeded. Now the problem is that while the first generation suffers from nothing and manages to live extraordinary long lives, that the second generation does not. They are prone to a virus so devestating that it kills all men at age twenty-five and all women at age twenty. With so little left to live for, and only roughly twenty years to spend on this earth, Rhine really doesn’t want to spend what little time she has left locked up in a mansion with a husband she cannot trust nor love, and without her twin brother and only living relative, Rowan. After her capture, Rhine solemly vows to escape, a vow that might be hard for her to maintain, as her new husband’s father, Master Vaughn, turns out to be a far more dangerous person than at first expected, and he is not inclined to let his son’s new wife leave that easily…

The premise is extraordinary, as we are once again faced with humanity’s greatest flaw: our desire to play God, although we are well aware from history and logical reasoning, that this can only lead to our own destruction. The fact that Lauren DeStefano does not only focus on Rhine, our protagonist, or on the other girl’s nearing death – like Rose”s, a minor character and Linden’s (Rhine’s husband) first wife – but actually expands the topic is highly intriguing. She lays the focus not on one individual’s perish, but on the end of an entire world, the self-destructive nature of humanity led to the point where our entire world is dying. It is a fact almost too large to grasp. Secondly, the title of the trilogy, Chemical Garden, is most fitting. As we learn from the novel, most of nature has already perished on this strange dystopian world that seems so close to heart. Underwater, we see holograms of fish and sealife, but in reality, all of that is gone. Chemicals substitute for flowers and trees, simple ways of procreating have been replaced by cloning and other scientific methods. Nothing is natural anymore, everything is fake, false, delusional. We see that monstrosity portrayed in all its rawness as we take a look at Linden’s mansion – there is beauty in it, but it is a deformed, fake beauty, horrible in all its monstrosity. Rhine and her sisterwives laugh, play and enjoy themselves occasionally here: pathetic attempts of happiness in the midst of events that can only be described as horrifying. Vaughn’s basement, and the terrible things he does in there, from mutilating corpses and possibly even killing infants, hidden behind the charade of finding a cure and a beautifully-looking mansion, is probably the most significant example of the twisted beauty this world holds.

Rhine is a charming heroine, but not an easy one to understand. While her choices always appear to be rational, they also come off as cold and distant. When she hears a girl being shot, she flinches and feels anger towards the people who did it, but otherwise her reaction is quite unemotional. She feels sick and disgusted when finding out what Master Vaughn has done to Rose’s body, but hardly enough to take any measures against Master Vaughn, or to confront him on the matter. She is a passive, practically dispassionate character. It is believable that she acts this way because the circumstances she lives in do not leave a lot of room for choice, but still, I would have liked her to stand up for herself once. At the beginning, I thought her behavior to be smart and calculated: in a situation where others would have pleaded, run, screamed or tried to escape right away, she adapts to the situation, manipulates Linden from day one, and awaits the right moment to escape. But somewhere along the way, any normal person would just freak, or scream or rage, or let go of that calm, passive behavior at least once. Rhine doesn’t, which is unfortunate, because it would have made her more believable as a character.

The most intriguing thing about the story, despite from the imaginative dystopian world Lauren DeStefano created and the highly original plot, is the relationship between Rhine and her sisterwives. That’s really the heart of the story. As Rhine is forced to marry Linden, a wealthy twenty-year-old man, she is not the only forced to do so. On the one hand, you have quiet and detached Jenna, who cares deeply for Rhine and Cecily, but hates Linden with a passion, blaming him for the murder of her sisters, who happened to be some of the girls who were shot earlier on in the book. On the other hand, there’s Cecily, who is young and hopeful enough to live in the fantasy created at Linden’s mansion, who does not see through the beauty and luxury to notice the harshness and coldness lying underneath. She is, by all accounts, a child, innocent and trusting, and she is eager to please Linden in every way, willing to do whatever it takes to make this fantasy reality. Although all three of them are different, they learn to trust each other and count on each other, and what starts off as a fragile and rocky friendship soon turns in true sisterhood, love and care. It is beautiful and heart-warming to see them interact. All of their personalities are well-developed, distinct and fitting, and together they make a team truly worth rooting for.

On the other hand, I do have to mention that the male characters unfortunately lack personality. Linden is a presence, not a real character. He appears to be stupid, eager to trust people who hardly deserve his trust, and way too easy to manipulate. It got to the point where I felt like slapping him occassionally. Gabriel on the other hand, proves to be no better than Linden. He is dispassionate, emotionless and unwilling to fight even for the things he supposedly cares about. He needs Rhine to drag him along, because he himself will not do anything. He seems to have accepted his fate, as one of the other wordless, unknown servants in the mansion, whereas he could be so much more. I would have liked to see more of his inner struggle, especially when he suddenly vanishes for about one hundred pages.

And then the bad guy in the book, Master Vaughn. Whereas he is portrayed as being a vile criminal who cannot even leave the dead be, I would have liked it more if he had been sketched as a tragical villain instead. Because if you think about it, there is something tragic about him anyway. He has already lost one son due to that wrecked virus, and he is going to lose another in four years time. He is supposedly working on a cure against the virus, which would naturally put him in the good guys category. On the other hand, he kidnaps brides for his son, does things with Rose’s body after her death, and there are some other horrible things later on in the book that can be accounted to him. But then my question is: why? Never once in the book do we see an explenation as to why Master Vaughn is making these choices. I refuse to believe it’s simply because he’s evil. He needs to have other motives. I would have loved to see his inner struggle as to what things have to be done and whether or not he should go through with that. I would have liked the villain to have a human side, rather than just being portrayed as ‘the monster’.

That said, Wither had a lot of potential, and lives up to it in most of the occassions. The plot is solid, fast-paced and highly original. The world-building is exquisite. The main characters are well-developed and have interesting personalities, which become even more interesting in their interactions with each other. Unfortunately, the supporting characters have no personality whatsoever, and are merely ‘there’ without actually contributing anything. The villain is flat and shallow, and could have been better developed. Luckily for the reader, those flaws go unnoticed as the story unfolds and you feel yourself more and more drawn into the highly disturbing but endlessly intriguing world Lauren DeStefano created in this book. I would recommend it to all fans of dystopian and/or young adult novels.

Book Review: Eutopia: A Novel of Terrible Optimism by David Nickle

9802336Title: Eutopia: A Novel of Terrible Optimism
Author: David Nickle
Genre: Literature, Horror, Suspense, Adult, Historical Fiction
Publisher: ChiZine Publications
Publication Date: May 3rd 2011
Rating: 4 stars
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository
Review copy provided by the publisher through Netgalley.

The year is 1911. In Cold Spring Harbour, New York, the newly formed Eugenics Records Office is sending its agents to catalogue the infirm, the insane, and the criminal – with an eye to a cull, for the betterment of all.
Near Cracked Wheel, Montana, a terrible illness leaves Jason Thistledown an orphan, stranded in his dead mother’s cabin until the spring thaw shows him the true meaning of devastation – and the barest thread of hope.
At the edge of the utopian mill town of Eliada, Idaho, Doctor Andrew Waggoner faces a Klansman’s noose and glimpses wonder in the twisting face of the patient known only as Mister Juke. And deep in a mountain lake overlooking that town, something stirs, and thinks, in its way: Things are looking up.
Eutopia follows Jason and Andrew as together and alone, they delve into the secrets of Eliada – industrialist Garrison Harper’s attempt to incubate a perfect community on the edge of the dark woods and mountains of northern Idaho. What they find reveals the true, terrible cost of perfection – the cruelty of the surgeon’s knife – the folly of the cull – and a monstrous pact with beings that use perfection as a weapon, and faith as a trap.

Eutopia: A Novel of Terrible Optimism is horror in its purest form. It takes us to the darkest corners of the human mind, to our never-ending thrive for perfection, our feeble search for heaven on earth, and the many traps we encounter by doing so. It explores the parts of our mind that are searching for our own Utopia, and exposes this as our true weakness. With an accurate and beautifully displayed historical setting (early 20th century America) and interesting main characters, David Nickle offers a novel that turns the horror genre upside down, not only featuring evil supernatural creatures, but also madness and insanity, gruesome murders and perhaps the most frightening thing of all: how humanity manages to hide all of that behind the justification of an Utopian world.

Eutopia focuses on two protagonists. The first is Doctor Andrew Waggoner, who we first meet when he’s nearly killed by the local members of the Ku-Kux Klan in the small community of Eliada. Although he manages to escape thanks to some well-aimed gunshots by Sam Green, he does witness the hanging of a man named Mr. Jukes, who is accused by the Ku-Kux Klan members for raping a girl who died a couple of days prior due to some complications with a self-inflicted abortion. Or so, Andrew thought at first. By the actions of the Klansmembers and the miraculous survival of the man referred to as Mr. Jukes however, he is not so certain of that anymore. While he must fight his own personal wars with Dr. Bergstrom, the senior medical staff member who seems to dislike black people like Andrew, and who has an own set of morals that both scare and digust Andrew, the latter must also try to figure out what exactly is going on in Eliada.

In the small town of Cracked Wheel, Montana, young Jason Thistledown is forced to witness the death of his mother, his last living relative, or so he presumed. He stays in the mountains, and close to his mother’s grave, until one day a strange woman arrives at his home and tells him she’s his aunt Germaine. Although Jason hasn’t heard of any aunt before, he is willing to accept this explanation as she offers to take care of him, and take him out of this place. Furthermore, she lets him know that not only did his mother die due to this mysterious illness, but so did the entire town. Every single person in Cracked Wheel is dead. It’s a terrible revelation for Jason, and one he can barely grasp as he leaves with his aunt to go to this mysterious little town called Eliada.

While arriving there, and getting a less than proper treatment by Dr. Bergstrom, ending up in Jason spending a night at the quarantaine quarters of the hospital, the young man immediately knows something is going on around here. Something evil. What he sees in that quarantaine room might just change his life forever. While struggling with who to trust and who not to trust, and trying to fight the evil thing that is slowly taking hold of Eliada, Jason might learn a lot of things he never wished to learn to begin with.

Eutopia: A Novel of Terrible Optimism starts out promising enough. Both Dr. Andrew Waggoner and Jason Thistledown are very interesting character. Whereas the doctor is a man struggling with his position of being both a doctor and a black person, and not being accepted in the community he wanted desperately to be a part of, Jason is the opposite. He couldn’t care less about what other people think about him, he’s honest and straight-forward, and not afraid to look danger in the eye. He’s independent, perfectly capable of relying only on himself to get things done, and a very rational person. That’s what makes it so interesting to see this strong, intelligent man’s reaction towards the irrational, the impossible, the unimaginable. I instantly felt a connection with both main characters, and I liked them from page one, especially Jason. I felt sorry for him for losing his mother, which made me feel instant sympathy towards him.

The setting is probably one of the best things about this novel. Eutopia takes place in the small town of Eliada, Idaho in the year 1911, a good thirty years before World War II and before the world finally learned that things like eugenetica and the breeding of the perfect race of people, was a horrible utopy that could only lead to madness, pain and devastation. What is going on in this small community, is basically a crazy doctor working on his own race of super-people. If a person is simple-minded, they should be sterilized so they cannot procreate and give birth to other simple-minded children. If someone is black, like Dr. Waggoner, they should be killed. That’s the view of Dr. Bergstrom on things, and I must say that he is by far the most interesting character. Not because I support his views – of course I don’t – but because he actually has these opinions and is crazy enough to act upon them. In Dr. Bergstrom we see the true idealist at work, the true eugenetist, practically one of Hitler’s camp doctors long before Hitler or those camps even existed. And what the insane doctor hides in that quarantaine room, is probably the most horrible thing of all. But I cannot help it that I hardly feel Mr. Juke is as scary as Dr. Bergstrom is. The first one is an imaginary being that sprung from the mind of the author, and lives like a parasite, feeding on humans and impregnating human women. The latter is an actual human being with a messed-up mind and the ability to act as his mind is telling him to. He can get away with those actions, which is more fearsome than an imaginary creature, in my opinion.

I have to say that I didn’t like the general idea of the Jukes. First of all, I thought Eutopia could have been scary enough with the mixture of eugenetica and utopia, rather than adding any supernatural creatures to it. The Jukes children feeding on the human woman after they gave birth to them, or even when in the womb, didn’t frighten me in the least. So it might have been disgusting, but the really scary part was when those Jukes got into the human’s minds, and whispered things to them. Now that’s scary, because it could be real. It could be real hearing voices in your mind telling you what to do, telling you what to believe. I always think that the true horror is in what could truly happen: in madness, insanity, in humanity’s ideas of evolution, utopia and procreation, rather than in made-up creatures, no matter how horrendous they are, and no matter how evil and vile their intentions.

I must say that I found the title very stricking. Eugenetica is basically the science of striving to create the perfect human being. Utopia on the other hand, is striving to create the perfect community, state or country. In both of these things lies our own thrive for perfection, or own desire to reach it. Mixing those two together indeed provides you with a terrible optimism from our side, and a terrible sense for perfection that can only go wrong.

Eutopia was beautifully written, and David Nickle’s writing voice is definately something I could get used to. Although he doesn’t linger on details, he does manage to create a beautiful, vividly painted environment and an accurate historical setting. He also strikes me as a very brave author, for daring to go where no one dares to go anymore. With the horrible things that happened during World War Two, and Hitler’s own battle for his own Utopia and his dream to create the perfect people, hardly anyone dares to go back to the time before we learned how terrible this optimism can be, and to the time that everyone was still seeing the benefit of it.

There were two things I didn’t like about this novel. The first one is that at times, the plot dragged. I literally skipped pages here and there only to get the book moving a bit. There’s a lot of explaining going on, a lot of talking, and not always that much action. Secondly, I found the storyline containing the Jukes to be quite boring. Why bring religious faith and some old God returning into this? If this is for the purpose of creating the feeling of a general psychosis in the community of Eliada, then I can see its purpose, but somehow I doubt that. If it’s for the horror element, then take it from me that ancient gods, no matter how many women they impregnate and murder by doing so, aren’t exactly what I would call scary. I find ordinary doctors gone crazy, or people working for Eugenetics Offices a whole lot scarier, to be honest. I would have preferred it if David Nickle had stayed with the original plotline, and worked out the insanity and madness of some of the characters more, than focusing on make-believe monsters. It could be that I’m entirely missing the point of the Jukes here, but then again that’s probably because I only skimmed through the pages that involved them.

And a third point, I immediately knew about aunt Germaine. That’s a big no-brainer, since it was quite obvious. That said, she’s the second interesting character next to Dr. Bergstrom, and I would have liked to learn more about her personality, and about why she did the things she did.

The writing style is bold, straight-forward and highly addictive. The storyline is well-thought-through, innovating, refreshing and at its core, deeply terrifying. Although I wasn’t actually scared while reading this novel, it did make me think about perfection, and the high cost of it, and how ignorant and stupid we all are at times. I loved all the characters, even the villains (well, not really “loving” them, but I thought that David Nickle did a marvellous job at portraying them), but I have my doubts about the addition of supernatural creatures to a novel I believe is scary enough without any supernatural occurences. Sometimes the plot felt boring and a bit dragging, but once you get through that, you’ll notice that at its core, Eutopia really is an intriguing novel, that will take you to the darkest corners of the human mind, and beyond. What we all wouldn’t do for perfection…

Book Review: Random Magic by Sasha Soren

6773540Title: Random Magic
Author: Sasha Soren
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Humor
Publisher: Beach Books, LLC
Publication Date: January 1st 2010
RMT Tour – Pirates! | Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 4 stars
Review copy provided by author.

When absent-minded Professor Random misplaces the main character from Alice in Wonderland, young Henry Witherspoon must book-jump to fetch Alice before chaos theory kicks in and the world vanishes. Along the way he meets Winnie Flapjack, a wit-cracking doodle witch with nothing to her name but a magic feather and a plan. Such as it is. Henry and Winnie brave the Dark Queen, whatwolves, pirates, Struths, and fluttersmoths, Priscilla and Charybdis, obnoxiously cheerful vampires, Baron Samedi, a nine-dimensional cat, and one perpetually inebriated Muse to rescue Alice and save the world by tea time.

I was contacted about Random Magic a couple of weeks ago, and I was quite excited to be part of the tour. It was only when I visited the RMT Tour – Pirates! website that I realized the author has been touring with Random Magic on and off for the last year. It must have really taken a lot of time and effort, and I find it pretty amazing and wonderful that someone goes through all that trouble to promote their book. It shows that the author really loves his work, and is still as passionate about it as in the beginning. After I signed up for the tour, I got an entire package in my mailbox approximately a week later. In the package there was the book (of course!), but much more as well. Naturally, I didn’t get the references at first, but it became clear enough when I read the book. There was a rubber ducky, a garland with hearts, a pirate card, a beautiful red feather, a wonderful bookmark and much more. It was quite the surprise, and I felt very happy with it. Not every author puts together an entire box full of goodies referencing to their book. It was highly original, and it raised my expectation for the book.

Just a warning ahead, I promised that I would do a dual language review for this book, as a special bonus feature for the Pirates Tour. This is a one-time occassion though, and I’m not going to write dual language reviews for every book I read from now on. One time occassion, people, so enjoy it while it lasts 😉 My English review will be first, and then I will add my review in Flemish/Dutch below. There’s also an additional bonus feature, which is an extremely cool Pirate’s Game! I made an extra post for the bonus feature.  Aye, matey! Which reminds me of how very suitable this is, a pirate-theme post, right in the release week of Pirates of the Carribean 4: On Stranger Tides. On another note, go see that movie. It’s amazing. And now, on to the review.

English Review

I had trouble deciding whether Random Magic was actually, as the title suggests, completely random, or, as I have been inclined to believe after reading the book, utterly brilliant. I vote for random brilliance. And I must admit that this is one of the most difficult reviews I’ve had to write in like, ever. It’s hard trying to put my thoughts into words, because in all honesty, my thoughts about the book are probably just as random as the book itself.

First, there’s a reference to haunted houses, which doesn’t really make all that much sense, but is hilarious all the same. Next, we see that the family sollicitor has been called because Henry Witherspoon has been missing for three weeks. While his friends worry about his whereabouts, a young girl comes strolling in, a girl who looks exactly like Alice from Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland. She tells Henry’s friends not to worry, because he is exactly where he should be, in a place where he has been before, and where he always wanted to return. It’s pretty clear by now that Alice loves to talk in riddles, or that she has a very awkward way of explaining herself. She then confides them with the story of how Henry first travelled to Edgeland, a land between the pages of a book, because Professor Random – who is everything his name suggests him to be – was stupid enough to put Alice back in the wrong book. Unfortunately, the professor puts Henry in the wrong book as well, Myths and Legends rather than Alice in Wonderland. And Henry, who probably thinks his luck must have run up a long time ago, ends up in the middle of the mob scene, the mob’s target Winnie Flapjack, a self-proclaimed doodle witch. What Henry doesn’t know is that he probably ran into the person most capable of helping him find his way in this strange, mystical world. Because if someone can take Henry to find Alice back, then it’s probably Winnie Flapjack.

After escaping the raging mob, solving riddles to cross a chasm, riding on the back of a whatwolf, visiting the castle of the notorious De Morgue’s family and having a rendez-vous with none other than the Muses, they are only half-way in their adventures. They still have to cross the Peculiar Sea, get rid of a bunch of annoying Pirates, find the house of the Baba Yaga, escape a floating city where people turn into hideous monsters, defeat the Red Queen in a chess match…and that all before tea time.

The creativity of Sascha Soren knows no boundaries. She finds inspiration in Greek mythology (the muses for instance, but more about them later), today’s urban legends (vampire, the De Morgue family), Alice in Wonderland itself (the riddles, the Red Queen), folklore (Baba Yaga) and her own imagination. How much more funnier and interesting can it get? This by far the most original novel I have ever read. It would not surprise me if teachers were talking about it in their literature classes ten years for now, and call it something like the “random genre”. I know that there’s currently this movement in poetry, of poets slapping random words together to make a poem, and I can well imagine Random Magic being the first prose work in the “random genre”. It fits with the 21st century style of wanting everything and getting nothing, our lives itself being a mismatch of all different things. No one is “something” anymore, we are all several “somethings”, randomly put together in constructions that miraculously work. Random Magic works a bit like this as well. It’s mostly dialogue-driven, and at first it seems utterly random and hard to make something out of it, but then it all clicks together and you realize you’re looking at a piece of utmost brilliance.

Sascha Soren takes Lewis Carroll’s sparkling, bright and imaginative story of Alice in Wonderland, and practically puts the lightbulb on. We see a world that’s even more crazy, even more random, even more unreal, and all the more fun than the world we have grown accostumed to. Just take a second to imagine it: rubber duckies changing into actual submarines, a real-life chess game with actual people as the pawns that can only be compared to the chess game Harry Potter was submitted to in one of the first books in the series, the muses actually come to life, a strange and peculiar family that reminds you instantly of the Adams Family. As soon as you open Random Magic, you’re in for a rollercoaster of events, all equally bizarre and yet strangely familiar. Searching for the references to classic works of literature or more modern things like TV shows and popular book series of nowadays, is basically a sport on its own. The humor is amazing, and I had a smile on my face from page one till the very end. Of course, it’s completely and utterly random – but that’s the fun of it.

Winnie Flapjack is a cheerful, determined and intelligent character. I instantly liked her, with her quirky attitude and light-hearted humor. And she’s a doodle witch. Is there anything remotely more interesting than a doodle witch? I don’t think even Baba Yaga can beat that in terms of coolness. Henry on the other hand, is of course unfamiliar with the strange world he has been trapped in, and is constantly wondering “why this” “why that”, while he should probably just shut up already and let Winnie do the talking. They’re an odd pair by definition, equally random as their surroundings, and their friendship turning into love seems a random event as well. I was glad to see Henry finally becoming more independent towards the end of the book – it was about time! Their adventures are hilarious, their interactions ranging between “kill Henry now” and “aawww, so cute”, and they fit the rest of the theme of the book. Random.

I must admit that there were two scenes I enjoyed the most in this book. The first being the scene at the house of the muses. May I introduce you to H.P. (Lovecraft, for the non-litterate amongst us), Shakes (Shakespeare), Bauds (Baudelaire), Poe (Edgar Allen Poe), a bunch of gloomy Russian poets, quite a few Georges, and other notables, who hang around the House of the Nine Muses. Also, all of the muses have nicknames, some of which are so random, they will make you crack up with laughter. Note also that H.P.’s comment on just about everything is “ghastly”, and Bauds actually says “zut alors” occasionally. The second of my favorite scenes was the scene at the home of the DeMorgue family. I’ve always loved the Addams family, and the DeMorgue’s made me think back about how much fun it used to be to watch an episode of the Addams family. That said, the DeMorgues are probably even more ghastly and gaunt.

There’s an additional chapter added at the end of the book describing how Lady DeMorgue got into the state she is now. I really enjoyed reading that chapter, and although it’s several tones darker than the light-heartedness of the rest of the book, I found it highly amusing and extremely original as well. How many times can one cheat death, or challenge someone as terrifiyng as Death itself or the God of the Underworld? Anyway, I must agree with the author’s and editor’s decision that adding that chapter in the book would have made the pace slow down significantly, but it was a nice bonus at the end.

Now, there’s a reason why I gave this book four stars rather than five. I felt like I couldn’t get an actual grasp of the characters because they were a bit too random. As their surroundings, they’re a mismatch of feelings and emotions, and it was hard to actually understand some of their actions. I also felt like sometimes the plotline was lacking (it’s all about the journey here, not the destination) and there were too many secondary characters to keep track off. Also, the cover really doesn’t fit the book. It’s too normal, too ordinary for that. Not that I’d make any book lose points because their cover isn’t great, but it’s just a note I would like to add.

If you’re tired of literature the way it’s always been, and you’re up for something so completely random, so completely hilarious and so completely mind-blowing that it’s going to change your perspective on books forever, then Random Magic definetely is the rigth book for you. It offers everything from an imaginative plot to hilarious characters to brilliant dialogues and references to popular authors, musicians, myths and legends. I would recommend it to everyone who’s not afraid of something new and shiny, and isn’t wary of the peculiar and the strange.

Flemish/Dutch Review

Het was moeilijk voor mij om te beslissen of Random Magic nu eigenlijk, zoals de titel suggeerde, compleet willekeurig was of, zoals ik neigde om te geloven na het boek gelezen te hebben, subliem en brilliant. Mijn stem gaat uit naar willekeurige ‘random’ genialiteit. En ik moet toegeven dat dit ook een van de moeilijkste recensies was ooit om te schrijven; het is lastig om mijn gedachten in woorden om te zetten omdat ze, als ik eerlijk ben, bijna net zo ‘random’ zijn als het boek zelf.

We beginnen met een referentie naar spookhuizen, wat niet veel belang heeft voor de rest van het verhaal, maar toch een zeker niveau van hilariteit bevat. In het volgende hoofdstuk zien we dat de advocaat van de familie is opgeroepen omdat Henry Witherspoon, één van de hoofdpersonages uit het boek, al drie weken spoorloos is. Terwijl zijn vrienden zich zorgen maken over waar hij nu weer uithangt, komt een jong meisje argeloos binnenwandelen. Dat meisje lijkt sprekend op Alice uit Wonderland, uit het gelijknamige boek van Lewis Carroll. Ze vertelt Henry’s vrienden dat ze zich geen zorgen moeten maken, omdat hun vriend precies is waar hij behoort te zijn en met wie hij behoort te zijn. Het wordt al snel duidelijk dat Alice graag in raadsels praat, en dat ze een nogal vreemde manier heeft om zichzelf uit te drukken. Ze vertelt de bezorgde vrienden een verhaal over hoe Henry de eerste keer een reis maakte naar Edgeland, een land dat zich bevinden tussen de pagina’s van elk boek. De reden waarom Henry zo’n bizarre reis maakte was omdat professor Random – die alles is wat zijn naam betekent – niet oplettend genoeg was, en zo Alice in het verkeerde boek terugplaatste. Blijkt dat Random nog steeds niet leerde uit zijn fouten, want hij slaagde erin ook Henry in het verkeerde boek terecht te doen komen. Henry, die tegen dan van mening was dat hij het minste geluk had van wie dan ook in de hele wereld, komt terecht in het midden van een achtervolginsscène door een uitjouwende massa. Winnie Flapjack, een doodle heks, is degene naar wie de massa op zoek is. Wat Henry echter nog niet beseft, is dat hij net die persoon is tegengekomen, die het meeste kans heeft om hem in één stuk terug naar huis te krijgen. Want als er iemand is die Henry kan helpen Alice terug te vinden, dan is dat wel Winnie Flapjack.

Nadat ze ontsnapt zijn van de woedende massa, raadsels opgelost hebben om een brug over te steken, gereden hebben om de rug van een whatwolf, een bezoekje gebracht hebben aan het kasteel van de beruchte familie DeMorgue, en terechtgekomen zijn in het Huis van de Negen Muzen, zijn ze nog maar halfweg hun avonturen. Ze moeten nog steeds de Vreemde Zee oversteken, een bende bloeddorstige piraten verslaan, het huis vinden van de Baba Yaga, ontsnappen uit een drijvende staf waar mensen veranderen in afschuwelijk monsters, en de Rode Koningin verslaan in een spelletje schaak…en dat allemaal voor theetijd.

De creativiteit van Sascha Soren is eindeloos. Ze vindt inspiratie in de Griekse mythologie (bijvoorbeeld de negen muzen), hedendaagse urban legends (de vampires, de familie De Morgue), de originele versie van Alice in Wonderland door Lewis Carroll (de raadsels, de Rode Koningin), folklore (Baba Yaga), en haar eigen inbeeldingsvermogen. Hoe grappiger en interessanter kan het nog worden? Dit is het meest originele boek dat ik ooit gelezen heb, en het zou me niet verbazen moeten leerkrachten hier binnen tien jaar in hun literatuurlessen over praten, en het dopen als het eerste boek in het ‘random genre’. Op het moment is er een beweging aan de gang in hedendaagse dichtkunde waarin de dichters willekeurige woorden samenplakken om zo tot een gedicht te komen, en ik kan me goed genoeg inbeelden dat Random Magic het eerste proza-werk zou worden om tot dit genre te behoren. Het past ook goed in de 21e eeuwse stijl van alles willen en niets krijgen, onze levens zelf een subliem voorbeeld van hoe men dingen kan samen gooien om met iets origineel en ‘random’ op te proppen te komen. Niemand is één iets, we zijn allemaal verschillende dingen, op een willekeurige manier samengesteld in constructies die op wonderbaarlijke wijze toch werken. Random Magic werkt een beetje op hetzelfde principe. Het zijn vooral de dialogen die het boek maken, en in eerste instantie lijkt het enorm willekeurig en moeilijk om er iets van te maken, maar op een bepaald moment klinkt het allemaal samen en kom je tot het besef dat je werkelijk een briljant werk aan het lezen bent.

Sascha Soren neemt Lewis Carroll’s prachtige, creatieve en originele verhaal van Alice in Wonderland, en het lijkt alsof ze plots de grote lamp aansteekt. We zien een wereld die nog gekker, nog willekeurig, en nog surrealistischer, en des te hilarischer, is dat de wereld die we al kennen uit het originele boeken. Beeldt het je gewoon eens in: rubberen badeendjes die veranderen in onderzeeërs, een spelletje schaak met echte mensen in plaats van pionnen een beetje zoals Harry Potter moest ondergaan in het eerste boek in de gelijknamige serie, de musen die als het ware tot leven komen op de bladzijden van het boek en een vreemde familie die je doet deken aan de Addams Family. Van zodra je Random Magic openslaat, kom je van het ene avontuur in het andere terecht, allemaal even bizar and toch op een rare manier bekend. Zoeken naar de referenties naar klassieke literaire werken of meer moderne dingen zoals TV Shows en populaire boekseries, wordt een sport op zichzelf. De humor is fantastisch, en ik had een lach op mijn gezicht vanaf de eerste pagina tot aan het einde. Natuurlijk is het volledig willekeurig – maar daar zit dan ook de humor.

Winnie Flapjack is een positief ingesteld, vastbesloten en intelligent personage. Ik mocht haar graag vanaf het begin, met haar positieve instelling en luchtige humor. En, ze is een doodle heks. Henry aan de andere kant, is natuurlijk niet bekend met de vreemde wereld waarin hij terecht komt, en stelt continue vragen zoals “waarom dit” en “waarom dat”, terwijl ik het gevoel had dat hij beter kon zwijgen en Winnie aan het woord kon laten. Per definitie zijn ze een vreemd paar, beiden net zo ‘random’ als de wereld waarin ze zich bevinden, en hun vriendschap die verandert in liefde lijkt eveneens willekeurig. Ik was blij om te zien dat Henry zich meer en meer onafhankelijk gaat opstellen naar het einde van het boek toe – dat werd tijd! Hun gezamenlijke avonturen zijn hilarisch, hun interacties variëren tussen “doe Henry nu dood” en “awww, zo schattig”, and ze passen precies bij het thema van het boek. Willekeurig. Random.

Ik moet toegeven dat er twee scenes waren die ik het leukst vond in het boek. De eerste was de scene in het Huis van de Muzen. Mag ik je voorstellen aan H.P. (Lovecraft, voor de niet-literaire fanatice onder ons), Shakes (Shakespeare), Bauds (Baudelaire), Poe (Edgar Allen Poe), een groep melancholische Russiche dichters, een handjevol Georges, en andere noemenswaardigen, die rondhangen in het Huis van de Muzen. Ook hebben alle Muzen bijnamen, waarvan sommige zo willekeurig zijn, dat ze je meteen in lachen doen uitbarsten. Let er ook op dat H.P.’s commentaar op bijna alles is “ghastly”, en dat Bauds geregeld terugvalt in “zut alors”. Mijn tweede favoriete scene was de scene in het huis van de DeMorgue familie. Ik ben altijd al een fan geweest van The Addams Family, en de DeMorgue’s lieten me terugdenken aan hoe leuk het altijd was om naar een episode van deze serie te kijken.

Er is een extra hoofdstuk toegevoegd op het einde van het boek, dat weergeeft hoe Lady DeMorgue geworden is zoals ze nu is. Ik vond het echt heel leuk om dat hoofdstuk te lezen, en ook al is het dan verschillende tonen duisterder dan de luchtigheid van de rest van het boek, ik vond het vrij interessant en origineel. Hoeveel keren kan men de Dood te slim af zijn, of iemand uitdagen die zo afschrikwekkend is als de Dood zelf of de God van de Onderwereld? In elk geval, ik moet het wel eens zijn met de beslissing van de auteur en de editor dat het toevoegen van dit hoofdstuk in het boek zelf, het boek significant zou vertragen. Het was toch een leuke bonus op het einde.

Er is wel degelijk een reden waarom ik dit boek vier sterren geef in plaats van vijf. Ik had het gevoel dat ik geen echte grip om de personages kon krijgen omdat ze een beetje te random waren. Net zoals de wereld rondom hen, zijn ze een samenloop van gevoelens en emoties, en het was moeilijk om sommige van hun acties te begrijpen. Ook had ik soms het gevoel dat het plot te wensen overliet (het belangrijkste is de reis, en niet de bestemming), en er waren teveel personages om ze allemaal te onthouden. De kaft was ook niet perfect voor het boek: ik vond hem veel te normaal.

Als je het beu bent om literatuur te lezen die normal en alledaags is, en je ziet het wel zitten om iets te lezen dat zo volledig willekeurig, zo volledig hilarisch en zo volledig fantastisch is dat het je perspectief op boeken voor eeuwig zal veranderen, dan is Random Magic zeker een geode keus. Het biedt alles van een creatief plot tot hilarische personages, briljante dialogen en referenties naar populaire auteurs, muzikanten, mythen en legenden. Ik zou het aanraden aan iedereen die niet bang is van iets nieuws en anders.

In My Mailbox (12) / Mailbox Monday (20)

mailbox

Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week. (Library books don’t count, but eBooks & audiobooks do). Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists!

Mailbox Monday was created by Marcia at The Printed Page, who graciously hosted it for a long, long time, before turning it into a touring meme (details here). This month it is hosted by I’m Booking It.

In My Mailbox is hosted by The Story Siren.

In My Mailbox

Title: Wither (Chemical Garden #1)
Author: Lauren DeStefano
Genre: Dystopian, Fantasy, Young Adult, Romance
Review copy purchased by yours truly.

What if you knew exactly when you would die?

Thanks to modern science, every human being has become a ticking genetic time bomb—males only live to age twenty-five, and females only live to age twenty. In this bleak landscape, young girls are kidnapped and forced into polygamous marriages to keep the population from dying out.

When sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery is taken by the Gatherers to become a bride, she enters a world of wealth and privilege. Despite her husband Linden’s genuine love for her, and a tenuous trust among her sister wives, Rhine has one purpose: to escape—to find her twin brother and go home.

But Rhine has more to contend with than losing her freedom. Linden’s eccentric father is bent on finding an antidote to the genetic virus that is getting closer to taking his son, even if it means collecting corpses in order to test his experiments. With the help of Gabriel, a servant Rhine is growing dangerously attracted to, Rhine attempts to break free, in the limited time she has left.

Title: Forbidden
Author: Tabitha Suzuma
Genre: Drama, Young Adult, Sensitive Topic, Romance
Review copy provided by S&S Galley Grab.

Seventeen-year-old Lochan and sixteen-year-old Maya have always felt more like friends than siblings. Together they have stepped in for their alcoholic, wayward mother to take care of their three younger siblings. As defacto parents to the little ones, Lochan and Maya have had to grow up fast. And the stress of their lives—and the way they understand each other so completely—has also also brought them closer than two siblings would ordinarily be. So close, in fact, that they have fallen in love. Their clandestine romance quickly blooms into deep, desperate love. They know their relationship is wrong and cannot possibly continue. And yet, they cannot stop what feels so incredibly right. As the novel careens toward an explosive and shocking finale, only one thing is certain: a love this devastating has no happy ending.

Title: Possession
Author: Elana Johnson
Genre: Dystopian, Fantasy, Drama
Review copy provided by S&S Galley Grab.

Vi knows the Rule: Girls don’t walk with boys, and they never even think about kissing them. But no one makes Vi want to break the Rules more than Zenn…and since the Thinkers have chosen him as Vi’s future match, how much trouble can one kiss cause? The Thinkers may have brainwashed the rest of the population, but Vi is determined to think for herself.
But the Thinkers are unusually persuasive, and they’re set on convincing Vi to become one of them…starting by brainwashing Zenn. Vi can’t leave Zenn in the Thinkers’ hands, but she’s wary of joining the rebellion, especially since that means teaming up with Jag. Jag is egotistical, charismatic, and dangerous–everything Zenn’s not. Vi can’t quite trust Jag and can’t quite resist him, but she also can’t give up on Zenn.
This is a game of control or be controlled. And Vi has no choice but to play.

Title: The Map of Time
Author: Félix J. Palma
Genre: Historical Fiction, Drama, Thriller
Review copy provided by S&S Galley Grab.

Set in Victorian London with char-acters real and imagined, The Map of Time is a page-turner that boasts a triple play of intertwined plots in which a skeptical H. G. Wells is called upon to investigate purported incidents of time travel and to save lives and literary classics, including Dracula and The Time Machine, from being wiped from existence.
What happens if we change history? Félix J. Palma explores this question in The Map of Time, weaving a historical fantasy as imaginative as it is exciting—a story full of love and adventure that transports readers to a haunting setting in Victorian London for their own taste of time travel.

Title: Random Magic
Author: Sascha Soren
Genre: Fantasy, Humor, Young Adult
Review copy provided for the RMT Tour – Pirates! I received a complete fun package in my mailbox, along with a rubber ducky, bookmarks, a feather, a nice pirate card, and much more. Thank you so much!

When absent-minded Professor Random misplaces the main character from Alice in Wonderland, young Henry Witherspoon must book-jump to fetch Alice before chaos theory kicks in and the world vanishes. Along the way he meets Winnie Flapjack, a wit-cracking doodle witch with nothing to her name but a magic feather and a plan. Such as it is. Henry and Winnie brave the Dark Queen, whatwolves, pirates, Struths, and fluttersmoths, Priscilla and Charybdis, obnoxiously cheerful vampires, Baron Samedi, a nine-dimensional cat, and one perpetually inebriated Muse to rescue Alice and save the world by tea time.

Title: Eternal Knight
Author: Matt Heppe
Genre: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy
Review copy provided by the author. Visit the author’s website.

Hadde of Landomere is a huntress who has sworn to protect and provide for her people. But when the Wasting brings famine and destruction, she must leave the forest of Landomere to seek aid in the distant Kingdom of Salador. The return of the Orb of Creation and an unlikely alliance with a Saladoran prince transform Hadde’s mission from one to save her village to one to save the world.

Title: Daimon (Covenant #0.5)
Author: Jennifer L. Armentrout
Genre: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult
Review copy downloaded for free at publisher’s website.

For three years, Alexandria has lived among mortals—pretending to be like them and trying to forget the duty she’d been trained to fulfill as a child of a mortal and a demigod. At seventeen, she’s pretty much accepted that she’s a freak by mortal standards… and that she’ll never be prepared for that duty.
According to her mother, that’s a good thing.
But as every descendent of the gods knows, Fate has a way of rearing her ugly head. A horrifying attack forces Alex to flee Miami and try to find her way back to the very place her mother had warned her she should never return—the Covenant. Every step that brings her closer to safety is one more step toward death… because she’s being hunted by the very creatures she’d once trained to kill.
The daimons have found her.

Title: Chasing the Ghost
Author: A. Grams
Genre: Ghosts, Supernatural, Drama
Review copy provided by the author.

A love that swells to obsession, time travel achieved through unbreakable resolve, genuine intentions jaded by hypocrisy.
When a woman is consumed by the compulsion to change the life of her lover, her devotion will defy time itself. She shadows his life as she attempts to eradicate all pain from his existence, not knowing that it his pain that is the very foundation of their relationship.

Science fiction, philosophy and a dark, tragic romance haunt in this premiere novella by A. Grams.

Book Review: Endlessly by C.V. Hunt

10562661Title: Endlessly
Author: C.V. Hunt
Genre: Supernatural, Paranormal Romance, Vampires, Urban Fantasy, Horror
Publication Date: February 19th 2011
Author’s Website | Goodreads | Smashwords | Amazon
Rating: 3,5 stars
Review copy provided by the author.

When Ashley walks into a shop run by the vampire, Verloren, they both get the surprise of their lives. Ash is about to learn that she’s not just another pretty young woman, while Verloren is astonished to find himself falling in love. But how can a vampire love a human? And what if the human isn’t as human as she seems? When Ash’s true nature reveals itself, the entire power structure of the world’s outsiders teeters on the brink of destruction. Verloren and Ash become more and more terrified as they grope their way toward the ultimate truth: that they hold the key to something much larger than their own survival.

Verloren is a vampire in a world where vampires, werewolves, witches and other supernatural beings live alongside humans, ruled by The Quatre. But Verloren isn’t any normal vampire, since he can sees auras, which is a talent vampires don’t naturally have. He’s leading a fairly secluded life, terrified to do anything wrong since he has run into The Quatre once already, and it didn’t end very well. He runs a shop and works there together with a werewolf and witch, but he also gets along with his nextdoor neighhour who is a human. That’s not to say Verloren doesn’t drink human blood because he does, but mostly prostitutes and other people who won’t be missed. Our vampire is up for the scare of his life though, as one day a girl stumbles into his shop. Although he doesn’t know the girl and has never seen her before, he does feel an instant connection to her, and he knows right away that she’s an incarnate, a supernatural being. He befriends the girl, and promises to help her find out who – and more importantly, what – she really is. But that promise might have desastrous consequence for the both of them.

After reading the back cover of Endlessly, I was worried that the story might be too familiar, since there was nothing there that I hadn’t heard before, or read before for that matter, or that seemed even remotely original. Don’t let it misguide you though. Endlessly offers a very original take on vampires that I’ve never read before, and even for that alone, this book is definately worth reading.

In the world described by C.V. Hunt in this novel, incarnates and born knowings roam this earth alongside with humans, while the latter are unaware that the first even exists. Vampires aren’t necesserily dead – what? you say, but it does work out quite well – and sunlight doesn’t burn them in an instant. They don’t sleep in coffins, and when they have sex it tends to get very messy, and possibly even deadly, especially if their partner is not a vampire. Werewolves aren’t bound to change once every full moon, but they can change whenever they want. Moreover, they devour their victims in a most gruesome way. But vampires, werewolves and witches…that’s just the top of the pyramid. Imagine dragons, leprachauns, trolls, every single supernatural being you ever encountered, all mixed together in this novel. It tends to be a bit too much, especially while regarding the rather small size of this novel. And just under 200 pages, it’s a lot to explain and talk about at once. And although I do think the world-building is very original, especially in regards to a Quatre existing of a vampire, werewolf, shaman and faerie ruling all supernaturals, I also believe the author should have either focused on less beings at a time, or expanded the novel. The overflow of knowledge is overwhelming at times.

That said, Verloren makes an interesting protagonist. At first, he appears to be another lonely, lost vampire bound by the orders of The Quatre, and looking for something meaningful in his life. Then it turns out that he isn’t. He actually kills people. And here I was, thinking I’d met another veggie. Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for vampires killing and slaughtering humans, since that’s just about what vampires do. The only thing I find that repulsing about Verloren is that while he goes out to kill humans at night, he communicates and befriends them at day. It made me have complicated and mixed feelings about him. On the one hand, I wanted to like him, because it feels natural for me to like the protagonist of a story. On the other hand, I felt like hating him because he’s the most ignorant hypocrite in the history of vampires. If he communicated with people, but didn’t like them at all, and only did so because he had to, then I would have understood his actions, and why he did choose to kill people for their blood. But since he actually genuinely likes people, his actions raised many question marks in my head. I mean, I know he has to drink blood or else he dies, but he could have at least shown some remorse then, or indicate that this wasn’t really what he wanted to do. This behavior just made him seem very hypocrite, but it did make him interesting. At least he wasn’t the goody-two-shoes type you see all too much in novels, or the standard bad guy we often deem vampires to be.

I liked the overall premise and storyline, of Verloren meeting his soulmate, then finding out who and what she is, and having to run from the Quatre. But there were some minor things that just didn’t make sense. When reading the way Ash reacts to the Quatre in the end – which I’m not going to mention, for the sake of not spoiling anything – it seems stupid for them to have fled the Quatre in the first place. Jessica’s dead seems pointless as well, especially after reading that scene. Also, Ash’s reaction to growing horns, a tail and wings seems very unrealistic. If it were me who grew those things overnight, I’d probably be screaming in anger and frustration. She takes it rather calmly, but then she does burst into tears when other people deem her a monster for the way she looks. That doesn’t really add up.

I would have liked to see a more well-developed storyline – like not running from The Quatre when in the end, things work out the way they do (I sure am being mysterious here, eh?) and a bit more depth to the characters. I especially would have liked to read more about Ash’s thoughts after she is changed. I wish Jessica didn’t have to die, because she did offer some possibilities, being a born knowing and all. And although I did like the romance between Ash and Verloren, and I felt the obvious chemistry between them, I could not help but feel that everything was a bit rushed. Some parts of the storyline are blurry are unnecessary, and the characters could have had more depth. I found the way they handled the loss of Chris and Jessica for instance quite repulsing. Verloren’s best friends just died and the only thing on his mind is making love to his new girlfriend. I would have liked him mourn their deaths more, as it would have made him more likeable as a character.

That said, Endlessly is C.V. Hunt’s debut novel, and it does make a really nice debut. There is some polishing up to do, but I have complete confidence in the author succeeding in that in the sequel, Legacy. On the one hand, I would have liked more plot-building and character-depth, and I couldn’t help but feel that the novel was a bit rushed. On the other hand, I was thoroughly impressed by the world-building, the fast-paced plot and the way this novel glued me to my chair from start to end. It’s a very enjoyable read, and a nice way to spend an otherwise boring evening by reading a different take on vampires, werewolves and supernaturals in general. For originality and being a fresh breeze in urban fantasy, this novel definately gets some extra points. I hope to see the characters evolve and grow in the next novel, and I hope that the storyline develops into something even more interesting. I would definately recommend this novel to vampire fans, and to fans of the supernatural in general. I myself am already looking forward to the sequel.

Book Blogging Project #1: So, you want a book blog, eh?

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The Book Blogging Project, thanks to lack of a more suitable and less cheesy sounding title, is a project in which I will take newbie book bloggers on a journey through Book Blogger land. In this series, I will cover everything from why you would want a book blog, to how you can receive ARCs in the mail, get people to comment on your blog posts and write quality reviews. Inspired by Book Blogging 101 written by Parajunkee, and feeling obligated to do this due to the rather large amount of newbie bloggers emailing me questions, I have decided to write my own series covering the how-to’s and the how-not-to’s of book blogging.

The Book Blogging Project is featured every thursday on I Heart Reading with a new post and new but exciting content!

You feel like you have been reading since beyond the beginning of time. There is no book in your local library you haven’t read, or at least glanced at, and you feel like it’s time for the bigger work. Inspired by the huge amounts of book blogs on the internet (trust me, some days I think there are more book blogs than there are people in the world), you decided that you want a book blog yourself. Well, good for you. Now you can join us here in Book Blog land, and quarrel with the other book bloggers over who has the most followers and who you have to kill around here to get an ARC. No worries, I’m just kidding. Sort of.

First of all, you have to ask yourself why you want a Book Blog. Now, here are all the wrong reasons why you’d want one:

  • Your best friend, book junkie #1478978 has one.
  • You want FREE books, of course! Because, you know, they’re like, FREE!
  • J.K Rowling is your idol, and since you didn’t find of any other suitable way to contact the most famous author in the world, you’re pretty confident that book blogging is the way to go! I mean, she will know it when you write a review for Harry Potter, won’t she? Won’t she?

Regardless of what you might think at first, creating and maintaining a Book Blog, is a lot of work. If you want a consistent reader base, you will literally spend hours a day writing up new posts, participating in memes, commenting on other people’s blogs, twittering, marketing your blog, emailing authors and publishers, and scratching your head wondering where all your spare time went. If, on the other hand, you are happy with a smaller reader base, and you’re confident that your Book Blog will grow enough over time, then you might only have to spend an hour or so a day working on your Book Blog, and perhaps even less. Just don’t expect the readers, followers and authors to just come strolling in. The Book Blog community is way too large for that.

The other classical idea newbie bloggers have about Book Blogging isn’t true either. We don’t get tons and tons and tons of FREE books. And even if we do eventually receive a couple of review copies in our mail, those books aren’t free. They were send to you by the author or the publisher in exchange for an honest, and hopefully constructive review. It’s not saying you have to review every single book you find in your mailbox, but if you own a small blog and are just starting out, you better review every.single.one. Because if Publisher X sends you Book Y and never heard from you again, you can be positively sure they’ll never send you another book again. Publishers, contrary to popular belief, aren’t idiots.

Another myth I want to dispose is the “it’s my chance to meet my favorite author ever’ one. Occasionally an author will reply to my review of their book (especially if the author was the one sending me the book in the first place), and I can tell you that when Gretchen McNeil commented on my Waiting on Wednesday post in which I mentioned her upcoming novel Possess or when Maureen McGowan commented on my review of her novel Sleeping Beauty: Vampire Slayer, I was on cloud nine. But I’m not delusional. I have written reviews for novels by authors like Lauren Kate, Suzanne Collins, Julie Kagawa and Raymond E. Feist. They haven’t commented on my blog yet, and I’m pretty sure most of them never will. But that’s alright. Because I’m not blogging in the vain hope one day J.K. Rowling will notice me and send me a fruit basket.

Alright, so now you know all the wrong reasons, let’s take a look at some of the right reasons:

  • You LOVE books. You actually live, breathe and eat books. Yummy.

Yep, that’s all. Or well, that’s enough. Loving books is enough reason to start a Book Blog. If it’s a good enough reason to keep up the Book Blog, now that’s another question entirely. If you want your Book Blog to become successful, there will be other qualities you’ll have to possess as well:

  • You will need to be assertive. You have to market and promote your own blog on all sorts of outlets: Facebook, Twitter, BookBlogs.ning. At some point in your Book Blogging career, you will have to contact authors (and in an even worse case scenario, publishers) and actually ask them for a review copy of their book. Don’t wait until authors/publishers/other book blogger come to you. Contact them, let you know of your very existence, and get them to visit your site.
  • You will need a giant amount of professionalism. You can’t just email an author and say “Yo! I want to review your book, yo!” or something along those lines. You can’t risk to ask author interview questions like ‘What is the color of your underwear?’ and most of all, when someone (author, publisher, other book blogger) makes a fit about a particular review, your website, or anything else that makes you feel personally attacked; you need to remain professional enough to handle the issue without causing even more e-drama.
  • You need to be a social, outgoing person. And if you’re not, then you have to pretend to be. The Book Blogging community is all about giving and taking. You follow, they follow back. You comment, people comment back.
  • You need to be as interesting as possible. Imagine the most interesting person you know. Now try to be just as interesting. Be catchy, fun, entertaining. And not only when you’re writing blog posts or book reviews, but also when you’re talking to other book bloggers on Twitter, book groups, etc. If you want your visitors to return to your website, you will need something that interests them enough to come back.
  • You need a lot of patience. Rome wasn’t built in one day, and a Book Blog isn’t built in one month. You won’t get +1000 unique visitors a day after one month of blogging, and you won’t be added to HarperCollins’ regular reviewers list (if there’s even such a thing). Consider yourself very lucky if you receive your first ARC and have 50 Followers after one month of blogging.
  • You need discipline. If you blog one day, and then don’t blog for another two weeks, you will see your number of visitors dropping faster than flies. You need to be consistent and disciplined, and if you cannot be, then you need to schedule a couple of posts beforehand. Blogging regularly is the key to success.

Book Review: Die For Me by Amy Plum

9462812Title: Die For Me (Revenants #1)
Author: Amy Plum
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Young Adult, Paranormal romance
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: May 10th 2011
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository
Rating: 4,5 stars
Review copy provided by the publisher through Netgalley.

My life had always been blissfully, wonderfully normal. But it only took one moment to change everything.
Suddenly, my sister, Georgia, and I were orphans. We put our lives into storage and moved to Paris to live with my grandparents. And I knew my shattered heart, my shattered life, would never feel normal again. Then I met Vincent.
Mysterious, sexy, and unnervingly charming, Vincent Delacroix appeared out of nowhere and swept me off my feet. Just like that, I was in danger of losing my heart all over again. But I was ready to let it happen.
Of course, nothing is ever that easy. Because Vincent is no normal human. He has a terrifying destiny, one that puts his life at risk every day. He also has enemies . . . immortal, murderous enemies who are determined to destroy him and all of his kind.
While I’m fighting to piece together the remnants of my life, can I risk putting my heart—as well as my life and my family’s—in jeopardy for a chance at love?

Everyone and their pet chihuahua seemed to request this book from Netgalley, and I decided to ask it too and see what all the fuzz was about. I’ve heard a lot of people in their reviews saying that after the dissapointment offered by Starcrossed and Hereafter – both of which I haven’t read yet I’m sorry to say – they felt like Die For Me was a nice change, and a fresh breeze in YA paranormal romance. Albeit familiar, with supernatural creatures roaming our earth, and a teenage girl falling head over heels for one, I have to agree that Amy Plum’s take on the whole supernatural thing offers an original concept and a refreshing idea. If you’re tired with vampires, werewolves, witches and every other well-known nightly creature passing the revue, then you will probably find Die For Me a nice change. I certainly thought it was interesting, entertaining and at times, even heart-melting.

Kate Mercier is just your average teenage girl. She is pretty, but not popular, and a bit too self-conscious to truly accept her own good looks. She enjoys reading books and visiting museums. Since her parents only recently died in a car accident, she keeps a lot to herself, and suffers from depression and a sadness so grave even the beauty of Paris during summer cannot solve. One day, while reading a book in one of the local cafés, she stumbles into a guy named Vincent, who is there accompanied by his two friends Jules and Ambrose. Although Kate feels an instant connection towards the gorgeous stranger, she also realizes that he might be dangerous – especially after she sees his best friend Jules getting killed, and Vincent not even blinking, or looking sad afterwards. Confused and pained, Kate has no idea what’s going on. When she stumbles into Jules – who was supposed to be dead – a couple of days later, her confusion reaches an entirely new level. She realizes that Vincent may not even be alive, and that, in any case, he probably isn’t human. But as Vincent explains her true heritage to her, and reveals that he is in fact a Revenant, a person who keeps coming back to live after dying and die to save others, Kate must find a way to deal with the truth and her feelings for Vincent. But on top of that, there’s this law in the universe that says for every good guy, there has to be a bad guy…

Let me start by saying that although some parts of the storyline might be predictable (like Kate falling for Vincent, that’s a big no-brainer), there are some parts that are truly intriguing, fascinating and original as well. I loved the mythology after the Revenants, and I was constantly wondering why no one had ever used the concept of people coming back to life after giving their own life to save others in YA paranormal books before. The concept was original enough, and highly entertaining and interesting, and for that alone, I would have kept reading. Except that Amy Plum offers a lot more than just an original, refreshing story in her novel: she offers great quality writing, extraordinary characterization skills and a protagonist who you will grow to care for like a sister.

The setting is Paris. I’ve been there before, one on a rainy weekend in autumn, and once on a sunny day in August. There’s a big difference between Paris in summer, in which the city comes to life, with vibrant colors, plenty of people, lovely and cozy cafés and this special vibe that screams “I’m the most romantic city in the world”, and Paris when the wheather is grim, dark and unsettling. Amy Plum manages to cover both sides of Paris beautifully, and her descriptions of the city made me reminisce my time there, and made me want to take the first train in that direction. She makes the city come to life on the pages of her book, and she blends the main characters in with the decor, as if they belonged there all along. Georgia, Kate’s sister, albeit born in the South and raised in New York, makes the perfect parisienne socialite, obsessed with going out, always to the trendiest clubs in town, and practically conquering the entire city as she goes along. Kate on the other hand, is the perfect example of the bohemian artist vibe the city still portrays: the girl reading paperback novels while sipping lemonades in a local café, or the art collector strolling seemingly random through the different museums. I liked the contradiction in the girl’s personalities, as they appear to be representatives of the contradiction in the nature of the city itself, and I thoroughly enjoyed how, despite their many differences, they managed to get along just fine. I loved their interactions, their fights and struggles, and their unconditional love for each other.

Another bonus point is that Vincent is the perfect French gentleman. He is considerate, caring, sweet, and just heartbreaking. I really wanted him for myself, but since Kate is such an amazing and kind-hearted person, I’m willing to share. No, but really. There are a lot of guys in YA paranormal books that are so-called bad boys, or they treat girls badly and yet the protagonist still manages to fall for them, or they’re stalker-material like Edward in Twilight (that’s not to say Vincent doesn’t have the whole stalker-concept going on, because he does at times, but I can forgive him for that). No, on the contrary, Vincent is the boy your parents would want you to take home. He has a lot of qualities, and seems like a genuine and caring person, which gives Katy plenty of reason to fall for him besides his extraordinary looks. I also enjoyed the fact that Kate and Vincent actually went on a date – that’s one of the first time I’ve seen this happen in books of this genre – and that they actually took the time to get to know each other better. They laughed, flirted, joked around, and worked on building a friendship to strenghten their romantic feelings for each other. It was great, and a very mature take on things, which you probably would expect from a Revenant like Vincent, and from a person who recently lost so much like Kate did.

Jules and Ambrose were interesting characters as well, and both were equally charming. I must admit that I really liked Charlotte as well. I thought it was good for Kate to have a female friend, and the same thing counted for Charlotte as well. She’s also a very interesting character, and I would like to see more of her in the next book in the series.

As I already mentioned, Amy Plum’s writing style is absolutely fantastic. I was mesmerized by Kate’s trials and adventures from page one, and I stayed like that till the very end. Then why only rate a 4,5 and not a 5 stars, you ask? Well, I would have liked the author to completely shred all YA paranormal romance clichés, and take the Revenant twist a step further. I would have liked the bad guy not to be that obvious – I knew from the moment we met him in the story – and to make the romantic feelings between Vincent and Kate even more believable and realistic. I was very proud of Kate to think about the consequences of their relationship, and to even try to turn him away when she noticed she might not be able to handle it, but she gives in easily enough when he keeps on trying. I would have loved it if they had taken things more slowly. Also, I feel like the mythology of the Revenants could be a bit better developed.

Die For Me has a lot to offer to potential readers, that distinguish this novel from other books in the same genre. It offers a protagonist you will sympathize with almost instantly, who has real, honest human emotions, and who has to deal with a lot of grief, and has her own way of coping with that. It has one of the most beautiful cities in the world as its main setting. There’s an original take on supernaturals, introducing a whole new breed of them called Revenants, and telling us of their mythology and personal history. The romance is sweet, and not all that “girl sees guy and falls head-over-heels with him” crap we see all too often. Considering all of those qualities, I would definately recommend this book to everyone who enjoys paranormal romance, or young adult novels in general. It’s a most enjoyable read, and I’m already looking forward to the sequel.

Book Review: The Alchemist’s Daughter by Katharine McMahon

23503Title: The Alchemist’s Daughter
Author: Katharine McMahon
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance, Drama
Publisher: Three Rivers Press
Publication Date: January 31st 2006
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository
Rating: 3,5 stars
Review copy purchased by yours truly.

There are long-held secrets at the manor house in Buckinghamshire, England, where Emilie Selden has been raised in near isolation by her father. A student of Isaac Newton, John Selden believes he can turn his daughter into a brilliant natural philosopher and alchemist. Secluded in their ancient house, with only two servants for company, he fills Emilie with knowledge and records her progress obsessively.

In the spring of 1725, father and daughter begin their most daring alchemical experiment to date – they will attempt to breathe life into dead matter. But their work is interrupted by the arrival of two strangers: one a researcher, the other a dazzling young merchant. During the course of a sultry August, while her father is away, Emilie experiences the passion of first love. Listening to her heart rather than her head, she makes a choice.

Banished to London and plunged headlong into a society that is both glamorous and ruthless, Emilie discovers that for all her extraordinary education she has no insight into the workings of the human heart. When she tries to return to the world of books and study, she instead unravels a shocking secret that sets her on her true journey to enlightenment.

Emilie Selden is the sheltered, mysterious daughter of John Selden, natural philosopher and student of none other than the great Isaac Newton himself. Although Emilie is a girl, John decided to enlighten his daughter about the mysteries and wonders of natural philosophy, mathematics and alchemy anyway. But whereas John definately succeeded to give Emilie the necessary knowledge about the sciences to get through life, he failed to provide her with all the rest, ranging from social insight to the way relationships and love work. Her incapability to live and function in the real world makes her ill-prepared for the lies and half-truths Aislabie, the first man who ever showed her any interest and breaches the solitude of her home, told her. She marries him in a whim, and makes the gravest mistake of her life. Because Aislabie is about to take everything away from her, everything she ever loved. Her father, alchemy, and maybe even her own home.

The Alchemist’s Daughter gave me plenty of mixed feelings. The setting is wonderful, 18th century England with The Enlightenment on its way and Isaac Newton and other famous scientists changing the way everyone looked upon the world. The author describes this world most beautifully, in vivid, lifelike colors and sounds, like you just stumbled upon a portrait or even in the middle of a genuine scene from the 18th century. These descriptions happen in a most humble, natural-sounding way and made me fall in love with this book from the first few lines. They’re what really made the book, and they really made it come alive in my opinion. But it has to be said that all the rest wasn’t all that good.

Emilie started out as a very promising character. She was an intelligent young woman, practically brilliant for her era, and although she never challenged her father in terms of upbringing and personal choices, she did challenge him on an intellectual level. I genuinely thought that this was the beginning of her own rebellion, her own dive into alchemy and Emilie actually taking a stand against her father. Reverend Shales, the first man who appears in Emilie’s life, is a natural philosopher as well, and seemed like a very good companion for her. I was hoping that she would eventually build up enough courage to confront her father about her feeilngs for Shales, and then maybe even get the ol’ man’s permission to marry the reverend. Emilie and Shales would have been a good team of natural philosophers, each with their own distinct area of interest, but capable of working together as well. The premise certainly did sound promising.

In comes Aislabie. He offers nothing really to Emilie, because he is a bit of a con-artist and hardly knows anything about real natural philosophy, let alone alchemy. He’s more interested in Selden estate than he is in the Selden daughter, in my opinion. Although he fails to challenge her intellectually, or even meet her half-way, Emilie is immediately swept away by Aislabie’s appearance. He’s very good-looking and he manages to act like he’s a smart duck – which he isn’t. I have to grant him the fact that he knows his way in the world, and he knows how to persuade people how to do his bidding, but that’s it. Against all reason, Emilie falls madly in love with Aislabie. One day, in the garden, the fellow practically rapes her. Yet she still loves him! And when he asks her father for her hand, she is happy, releived and glad to marry Aislabie. How sheltered can one be to go marry a guy who just raped you? Although I felt more than enough anger towards both Aislabie – for doing it – and Emilie – for allowing it – for these actions, I felt that maybe I couldn’t really blame Emilie for anything. After all, she was pretty sheltered, so I gave her the shadow of the doubt. But it got only worse.

By the time Aislabie turns out to be a cheating bastard – sorry for the word choice, but he really is – and has destroyed half of Selden Manor, Emilie still can’t figure out the fact that he’s an absolute idiot, a joker, and that she should get rid of him as soon as possible. Now I know Emilie hardly ever rebelled against her father either, and took everything with a nod and a half-hearted smile, but that’s no longer an excuse. If my husband went to tear down my house, especially my labatory and the room my own mother died in, I would shout, scream, hit, bite, fight…in other words, do whatever I possibly could to stop him from doing it. Emilie just stands there, like a rag doll, and although she complains about it towards Aislabie, she is totally not convincing, and she doesn’t even treaten him. For god’s sake. She’s the daughter of an alchemist, a man who studies not only the natural philosophy, but also the “forbidden” science, a man whose ideas are very modern for the era, revolutionary even. And there she stands, like a statue, letting herself getting bullied by her own husband. I was constantly urging Emilie to get up and do something. And with that I don’t mind trying to kill herself and burn her own god-damned legs. I meant actually doing something against the monster that is Aislabie. Hit him, slap him, kill him for all I care. Make a poisonous drink and feed it to him while he sleeps. Lock him up in a room and make something go boom. Make him stumble down the stairs and claim that it’s an accident. Anything. But don’t let him get away with it!

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Emilie does. Her failure to react very emotionally towards anything, except than the emotion of self-destruction and self-pity, makes her distant and cold as a character. I lost every ability to relate to her. I know that women were supposed to be weak little lambs in that era, but I don’t buy it that a person as rational and intelligent as Emilie would just shrug it off if a fellow as stupid and ignorant as Aislabie were to tear down her entire home, simply because he sleeps with her at night or kisses her passionately. If my husband were to come to me after tearing half my house down, he would certainly NOT be getting any sex, and he wouldn’t get kisses either. That she disregards her own feeilngs simply because he sleeps with her, is unimaginable and sounds just plain stupid. Either Aislabie gives the most amazing sex ever – which still wouldn’t explain things – or Katharine McMahon’s characters’ credibility really takes a turn for the worst here. I’m putting my money on the latter.

Emilie starts out as a promising character, but fails to deliver. Her own history, her love for alchemy and natural philosophy and her initial ambitions make her appear interesting at first. Her interests in the young men who walk into her life, first Shales and then Aislabie, are understandable, and I would let McMahon get away with marrying Emilie off to Aislabie as well. But then, when the latter starts with Selden Manor Demolition Day, all Emilie’s credibility as a genuine person melts away. She reacts in a shallow, emotionless, and just plain stupid way. Aislabie is a more realistic character – that’s not to say I like him, I’ve probably haven’t felt as enraged towards a character as I feel towards him in a long time – with his lies, half-truths and incredibly ambitious and greedy personality. He is portrayed as a villain, and he plays that role well, because I actually hate him. Shales is the good choice, the choice Emilie should have made from the start, and I instantly liked him. I would have liked it if I had gotten to know him better, because he is so much more interesting than Aislabie could ever be.

I was really impressed with Katharine McMahon’s research in the world of natural philosophy and alchemy. She describes the experiments of John and Emilie Selden to the utmost detail, the language she uses feels genuine for the era and the profession, and the experiments sound real enough. That alone was enough to keep me reading. I would have liked it if Emilie managed some interesting, life-changing break-through in either natural philosophy or alchemy, and was deeply dissapointed that this didn’t happen. I fail to see the point of adding in any science at all if it’s not plot-altering or at least very appropriate. The way the story works now, they could have easily called it The Hermit’s Daughter and just focused on the daughter of a guy whose only particular personality traits is that he enjoys seclusion from society.

When Selden was demolished by Aislabie and his crew of airheads, I was practically crying. I felt more attachment towards the beautiful hallways of Selden Manor, the secret passageways, the laboratory, the library and the several sitting rooms, than I felt towards the characters. I felt like wringing Aislabie’s neck when he tore down what seemed like one of the most beautiful houses ever.

I know that my review is a very mixed one. On the one hand, I’ve gone on and on about why the character of Emilie lacks credibility, and why Aislabie is my new number one enemy, but on the other hand, I do enjoy the alchemy-aspect of the novel, the beautiful setting of Selden Manor and London, the descriptive and era-appropriate narrator’s voice that really sketched the scenes and era for me in a most intriguing way and the over-all storyline. The story wasn’t really unpredictable, but there were some surprises along the way. If you enjoy historical fiction, this book really is a nice choice. It offers genuine scientific research and a well-defined and realistic setting. Just don’t hit me when you are as furious with the characters as I am, or when you find yourself plotting schemes to murder Aislabie by the end of this novel. The Alchemist’s Daughter has a promising premise, but it fails to deliver completely. It is interesting and entertaining and an emotional rollercoaster, but it is neither outstanding nor brilliant.

In My Mailbox (11) / Mailbox Monday (19)

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Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week. (Library books don’t count, but eBooks & audiobooks do). Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists!

Mailbox Monday was created by Marcia at The Printed Page, who graciously hosted it for a long, long time, before turning it into a touring meme (details here). This month it is hosted by I’m Booking It.

In My Mailbox is hosted by The Story Siren.

In My Mailbox

Title: Eutopia: A Novel of Terrible Optimism
Author: David Nickle
Genre: Horror, Supernatural, Thriller, Historical Fiction
Review copy provided by the publisher through Netgalley.

The year is 1911. In Cold Spring Harbour, New York, the newly formed Eugenics Records Office is sending its agents to catalogue the infirm, the insane, and the criminal – with an eye to a cull, for the betterment of all.
Near Cracked Wheel, Montana, a terrible illness leaves Jason Thistledown an orphan, stranded in his dead mother’s cabin until the spring thaw shows him the true meaning of devastation – and the barest thread of hope.
At the edge of the utopian mill town of Eliada, Idaho, Doctor Andrew Waggoner faces a Klansman’s noose and glimpses wonder in the twisting face of the patient known only as Mister Juke. And deep in a mountain lake overlooking that town, something stirs, and thinks, in its way: Things are looking up.
Eutopia follows Jason and Andrew as together and alone, they delve into the secrets of Eliada – industrialist Garrison Harper’s attempt to incubate a perfect community on the edge of the dark woods and mountains of northern Idaho. What they find reveals the true, terrible cost of perfection – the cruelty of the surgeon’s knife – the folly of the cull – and a monstrous pact with beings that use perfection as a weapon, and faith as a trap.

Title: His Majesty’s Dragon (Temerarie #1)
Author: Naomi Novik
Genre: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy
Review copy purchased by yours truly.

Aerial combat brings a thrilling new dimension to the Napoleonic Wars as valiant warriors rise to Britain’s defense by taking to the skies . . . not aboard aircraft but atop the mighty backs of fighting dragons.
When HMS Reliant captures a French frigate and seizes its precious cargo, an unhatched dragon egg, fate sweeps Capt. Will Laurence from his seafaring life into an uncertain future–and an unexpected kinship with a most extraordinary creature. Thrust into the rarified world of the Aerial Corps as master of the dragon Temeraire, he will face a crash course in the daring tactics of airborne battle. For as France’s own dragon-borne forces rally to breach British soil in Bonaparte’s boldest gambit, Laurence and Temeraire must soar into their own baptism of fire.

Title: Throne of Jade (Temeraire #2)
Author: Naomi Novik
Genre: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy
Review copy purchased by yours truly.

When Britain intercepted a French ship and its precious cargo–an unhatched dragon’s egg–Capt. Will Laurence of HMS Reliant unexpectedly became master and commander of the noble dragon he named Temeraire. As new recruits in Britain’s Aerial Corps, man and dragon soon proved their mettle in daring combat against Bonaparte’s invading forces.
Now China has discovered that its rare gift, intended for Napoleon, has fallen into British hands–and an angry Chinese delegation vows to reclaim the remarkable beast. But Laurence refuses to cooperate. Facing the gallows for his defiance, Laurence has no choice but to accompany Temeraire back to the Far East–a long voyage fraught with peril, intrigue, and the untold terrors of the deep. Yet once the pair reaches the court of the Chinese emperor, even more shocking discoveries and darker dangers await.

Title: Black Powder War (Temeraire #3)
Author: Naomi Novik
Genre: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy
Review copy purchased by yours truly.

After their fateful adventure in China, Capt. Will Laurence of His Majesty’s Aerial Corps and his extraordinary dragon, Temeraire, are waylaid by a mysterious envoy bearing urgent new orders from Britain. Three valuable dragon eggs have been purchased from the Ottoman Empire, and Laurence and Temeraire must detour to Istanbul to escort the precious cargo back to England. Time is of the essence if the eggs are to be borne home before hatching.
Yet disaster threatens the mission at every turn–thanks to the diabolical machinations of the Chinese dragon Lien, who blames Temeraire for her master’s death and vows to ally herself with Napoleon and take vengeance. Then, faced with shattering betrayal in an unexpected place, Laurence, Temeraire, and their squad must launch a daring offensive. But what chance do they have against the massed forces of Bonaparte’s implacable army?

Title: Forsaken (The Demon Trappers #1)
Author: Jana Oliver
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Romance, Young Adult
Review copy was a present from my boyfriend.

Riley has always wanted to be a Demon Trapper like her father, and she’s already following in his footsteps as one of the best. But it’s tough being the only girl in an all-guy world, especially when three of those guys start making her life more complicated: Simon, the angelic apprentice who has heaven on his side; Beck, the tough trapper who thinks he’s God’s gift, and Ori, the strikingly sexy stranger who keeps turning up to save her ass. One thing’s for sure – if she doesn’t keep her wits about her there’ll be hell to pay…

Title: Midnight (The Vampire Diaries #7)
Author: L.J. Smith
Genre: Paranormal Romance, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult, Vampires
It took ages for this book to arrive. I preordered it, and was literally jumping in anticipation, but I was getting worried it would never arrive as well!

Elena Gilbert returns, in a brand new, three part, vampire diaries sequence…
Elena returns from the Dark Dimension, having freed her vampire boyfriend Stefan Salvatore from imprisonment… but not without consequence. His salvation will demand a high price. Whilst still reeling from this latest shock, they are forced to confront the demons that have taken over Fell’s Church.
Elena must make a decision that will cost her dear:
Damon or Stefan…?

Title: The Coming of The Third Reich
Author: Richard J. Evans
Genre: Non-Fiction, Scientific Research
Review copy purchased by yours truly. I don’t normally read non-fiction but this series just seemed too interesting not to read it. I chose to portray the Dutch cover here, because it looks a lot more interesting.

In 1900, Germany was one of modernity’s great success stories: The most progressive and dynamic nation in Europe, it was the only country whose rapid economic growth and innovation rivaled that of the United States. Its political culture was far less authoritarian than Russia’s and less anti-Semitic than France’s. Representative institutions thrived, and competing political parties and elections were a central part of life. How, then, could it be that in little more than a generation this stable modern country would fall into the hands of Adolf Hitler and the violent, racist, extremist political movement he led, a movement that would lead Germany and then all of Europe into utter moral, physical, and cultural ruin?
There is no story in twentieth-century history more important to understand, and Richard Evans has written the definitive account for our time. A masterful synthesis of a vast body of scholarly work integrated with important new research and interpretations, Evans’s history restores drama and contingency to the rise to power of Hitler and the Nazis, even as he shows how ready Germany was by the early 1930s for such a takeover to occur. Its citizens were angry and embittered by military defeat and economic ruin, and its young democracy undermined by a civil service, an army, and a law enforcement system deeply alienated from the new order. The electorate was beset by growing extremism and panic about communism; and the small but successful Jewish community was subject to wide-spread suspicion and resentment. In the end, though nothing about what happened was preordained, Germany proved to be fertile ground for Nazism’s ideology of hatred.

Title: Miserere: An Autumn Tale
Author: Teresa Frohock
Genre: Fantasy
Review copy provided by the publisher through Netgalley.

Exiled exorcist Lucian Negru deserted his lover in Hell in exchange for saving his sister Catarina’s soul, but Catarina doesn’t want salvation. She wants Lucian to help her fulfill her dark covenant with the Fallen Angels by using his power to open the Hell Gates. Catarina intends to lead the Fallen’s hordes out of Hell and into the parallel dimension of Woerld, Heaven’s frontline of defense between Earth and Hell. When Lucian refuses to help his sister, she imprisons and cripples him, but Lucian learns that Rachael, the lover he betrayed and abandoned in Hell, is dying from a demonic possession. Determined to rescue Rachael from the demon he unleashed on her soul, Lucian flees his sister, but Catarina’s wrath isn’t so easy to escape!