Monday, March 25, 2013

Cheap Thrills: The Dark Wife & The Prince

So here on the bloggybloo, I decided to create a new little series.  Cheap Thrills features novels, novellas, anything you can read that costs less than five dollars.  This will hopefully include mostly self-published authors, so we can explore this wonderful new way to support authors and read new stories!

Today I have two reviews for you!

The Dark Wife
By Sarah Diemer

Genre: fantasy, supernatural, retelling, queer, young adult, romance
Price: 4.99

This is a young adult retelling of the wonderful Persephone myth.  The Persephone myth has been transformed to YA readers before, but never quite like this. In Diemer’s novel, Hades is not a god, but a goddess like Persephone.  This change begins a lesbian retelling of a familiar tale. Persephone is a soft-spoken and eager young goddess who chooses to go to Hades’ underworld in order to escape having to live on Olympus with her horrific father, Zeus. 

The writing of the novel is vibrant and detailed, while occasionally veering into prose a little too purple for my taste.  However, it’s rather fitting for the storyline so I was willing to mostly overlook it, although a few times it is so dreamy that it drags.  

Despite some promising plot points, where the novel really fails is in the characterization of Hades.  She is so sickeningly sweet that she gets a little boring.  Never once does she get angry, even when it would have been appropriate for her to be.  She is completely perfect: loving, caring, understanding, fair, queenly, romantic.  Hades doesn’t have a single flaw.  For such a character-driven romance, it’s a huge problem.  Persephone is a realized character- likeable, but with an arc and flaws.  Her romance with Hades, while sweet and caring, lacks an equal partner in that.

Overall, I think this novel is very important.  As a straight, white, middle class girl, I never had to search for representation in my young adult literature.  I was represented constantly- perhaps the most currently famous YA heroine Bella Swan and I even share a hometown! But for queer girls and boys, there are so few supernatural YA novels with representation.  So even though I think there were problems in the novel, I think it is incredibly important and refreshing to have a supernatural novel with queer characters.  If you’re interested in reading more like these, Diemer has plenty to try!

The Dark Wife is a dreamy, lovely novel about two young women falling in love in a mythic world.  Despite characterization and prose flaws, this novel's unique tale is important for representation in the young adult genre. 



3 out of 5 stars

The Prince
Kiera Cass

Genre: young adult, castles, princes, dresses, dystopia, romance
Price: 1.99

The Prince is a novella (less than a hundred pages) set in the same universe as Cass’s the Selection, which we previously reviewed here.   The Prince examines the life of Prince Maxon, one of America’s love interests.  It chronicles some brief moments in his life, particularly rejecting a girl before America, and then his meeting with America.  It gives his perspective on some of the events that happen in The Selection.

Honestly, I forgot how much I disliked The Selection until I started reading this novella.  It is so… annoying.  The beginning isn’t terrible- although the rejection scene is eye roll inducing and the characterization of the prince who is just misunderstood by his ruthless king father is definitely overly familiar. 

It gets bad when America shows up.  The amount of girl-hating is ridiculous.  Cass puts America up on a pedestal, constantly pointing out how she is not like those Other Girls- gross, femininity! She is tough and unique and she is Different!! The way she (and in a more subtle way, Maxon) puts down the other girls in the novel is constant.  At one point, she even directly points out that she doesn’t like something because everyone else likes it- which in my opinion, is as bad as liking something because everyone else likes it.  I don’t mean to put down girls who are tomboys or outspoken, but there is no wrong way or right way to be a girl.  Putting down other girls just because they’re- or you’re- different is wrong and hurtful.  Putting it in a YA novel for other girls to see and learn from is a fast way to make me dislike your novel.

Anyway, besides my rant, the novella doesn't really give us anything new. Maxon is still mostly a bland but fairly sweet prince.  He is much less stiff in this novella than in the actual novel, which does serve an improvement.  It gives the impression that his formality is a mask, and that is a great characterization.  I wish we saw more of that, though- he serves mostly just to think about how remarkable America is.  

Overall, unless you loved The Selection, skip this book.  It gives very little new plot details or characterization of Maxon.  



1 out of 5 stars

--reviews by laura

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Joint Review: Oscar Nominated Movies Based on Books

Unsurprisingly, the Best Picture race is filled with films that were based on the book because the human race has probably used up all of its remaining creativity just short of using up all the oil and ozone (I kid, I kid! Positivity right?). We are kind of obsessed with both books and the Oscars, so here is a brief review of each book and movie (and whether or not you should read v. watch) after the jump.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures

  Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures

By Emma Straub
Genre: Historical fiction, Realistic fiction

Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures is a decent book, but it is just that- a decent book.  It’s not great or terrible.  Although I decided it was a good book, there are so few risks taken that it ultimately ends as a totally forgettable one as well.

            I’ve been trying to write a review on Laura Lamont for a while now, but it was a disappointing read for me and I have been trying to find a way to word my disappointment.  It started with great promise with some beautiful writing about a little girl and her family’s small theater in a town called Door County in Wisconsin.  Laura begins the book as Elsa Emerson, a precocious child with two older sisters.  Her relationship to her sisters is easily the most interesting part of the novel.  Although I understand the purpose they serve in the novel, I wish the author had delved deeper into their relationships and how they shaped Laura’s life.  The beginning of the book is wonderfully written, with turns of phrase that gives us a perfect child’s voice.  I could have read an entire novel with this setting and with Elsa.

            The book then travels with Laura as she makes her (new) name in Hollywood.  The book does include some fun golden age Hollywood characters, but they don’t last long enough to be truly entertaining.  There are actresses that are clearly based on some famous actresses- Laura’s best friend is a redheaded funnylady who makes a sitcom with her husband- but they don’t delve deep enough to be very interesting.  Laura’s husband and the love of her life is a bland, flat character whose only quality is that Laura loves him. 

            Additionally, the book promises to be about a fantastic and famous actress and her downfall.  It doesn’t really work like that.  Laura’s acting career isn’t nearly as impressive as the back of the book says, and her downfall is more of a slow amble into obscurity.  Maybe it is realistic, but it’s also boring.  It’s the last third of the book that truly disappoints. Although I understand that the author wanted to portray Laura’s whole life to mimic a true biography, it only serves to drag the narrative.  The book loses all its steam with her later life. 

            While Straub clearly has talent as a writer and the book beautifully written passages, it ultimately disappoints and, dare I say it, bores.


2.5 out of 5 stars
review by laura


Saturday, January 5, 2013

Cloud Atlas 
By David Mitchell

Genre: fiction, movie books, scifi, mystery, thriller, dystopian, drama, fantasy, prize winner, British, novel

Let me start out by saying that I read this because of the movie. I SHOULD have read this years ago. But I didn't, so here I am with the rest of America falling prey to another book adaptation fad.

But let me also tell you that this is one of the best fads I've ever been swept up in. Reviewing this book is extremely ambitious feat, so really what I'm going to offer here is my heartfelt suggestion that it is something you should read as well. I've also seen the movie, and while it isn't the same, I can guarantee you that reading the book will 100 percent help you understand the movie better (whether you decide to like the movie or not) and that it may even change your understanding of the reading (Because it definitely made me rethink a few items. It was sort of like having a discussion with Wachowski Starship about their interpretation).

Cloud Atlas is a series of six stories about six different people in different places and in different times. Mitchell bravely goes forth to tackle this ambitious structure, creating six very different voices, lives, languages, settings, etc. Each story is reminiscent of a genre, there's the story of Luisa Rey, the classic small journalist vs. the "man," an evil corporation, there's Somni-451, the dystopian future where corporations are government, there's Zachry and the Valley, a post-apocalyptic world where radiation has destroyed the earth and humans once again rely on survival instinct and their faith.

Each main character has a peculiar comet-shaped birthmark that links them to their past-life. Each briefly comes into contact with their past lives, a forgotten diary, letters, a story, a recording, etc. and feels an attraction and familiarity to it, but clear recognition (a Proustian moment, if you will) to their past is never made. And I think that is the beauty of it. Each story builds on another. The stories of these different characters aren't the exact same person, but there's something in them, the same soul or the buildup of molecules, that makes them make the choices they do. Is it the revelations they've had in their past life? Perhaps. But I think Mitchell relies heavily on human nature and eternal recurrence. That everything happens over and over, that as humans we're all driven by these unseen forces, and that we are made up from the same stuff, like clouds that are reformed over and over again from the same water, just in different shapes, sizes, and at different times.

But I digress. I've probably confused any readers who haven't read the book yet. Mitchell does all of this without being pretentious, which is always the danger of the modern novelist. Mitchell admits to us that he isn't sure what to make of the six-story structure (that it could be brilliant or terribly cliched) through one of his characters, Robert Frobisher, a composer, who writes The Cloud Atlas Sextet:

"... a "sextet for overlapping soloists": piano, clarinet, 'cello, flute, oboe, and violin, each in its own language of key, scale, and color. In the first set, each solo is interrupted by its successor: in the second each interruption is recontinued, in order. Revolutionary or gimmicky? Shan't know until it's finished, and by then it'll be too late, but it's the first thing I think of when I wake, and the last thing I think of before I fall asleep..."

When I first read the book I felt a little let down, like somehow Mitchell failed to execute all the build up of these 6 stories. The organized person in me wanted everything to mesh perfectly, an "AHA" moment where everything made sense. It is left up to the reader to interpret the book as they understand it. Is it genius or a cop-out? Once again, left up to the reader. For me? It is refreshing. Mitchell hasn't tried to force anything down my throat, not really, and I'm free to talk about it on end and continually understand it differently, which I think is entirely the point.

Cloud Atlas is a marvelous, inventive, and imaginative read that will challenge, amuse, and definitely required reading to really understanding the Wachowski's Hollywood adaptation.


5 out of 5 stars

review by casie

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Joint Review! The Selection by Kiera Cass

We both read The Selection by Kiera Cass and spoiler alert, we did not like it. Below is a quick summary followed by a late-night IM discussion of what we couldn't stand.

Genre: YA, young adult, castles, princes, dresses, pretty covers, dystopia, love triangles

Set in a dystopian future with a caste system, royalty, and something to do with a rebel force, The Selection is the story of America Singer, a whiny teenage girl in one of the lower castes in love with a boy in an even lower one. Drama! It gets even more dramatic when the kingdom holds a competition for any eligible young lady to compete to win the princes hand. America enters to spite her boyfriend who breaks up with her because he “wants a better life for her” and… *SPOILER ALERT* she becomes one of the “The Selected” to marry the prince. Now, a silly decision has her roped in to all sorts of activities that she’s just not interested in. She could care less about the prince, but changes her mind once she meets him because he’s just so darn nice and understanding. Who will she chose!? This is the first of three-part series by Kiera Cass.

Casie: So Laura. To start, what are your biggest issues with The Selection

Laura: I don't even know where to start. The writing was terrible; the plotline seemed hot glued together. Ah! My biggest problem was how much I hated the main character, America.

C: Agreed. She was a lot like Bella Swan in a lot of ways to me, an empty shell of character that somehow I was supposed to relate to, despite her being a nothing-person.

L: She had no discernible character traits, but she continuously disliked and spoke down to and about the other female characters, even the ones that were supposed to be her friends. She struck me as a really negative character.

Thursday, October 25, 2012


Terrible news, readers!  Someone has released the first book in a Series of Unfortunate Events online for FREE!  This terror is available on Facebook, if you dare to test your bravery on such a woeful tale. 

Lemony Snicket's series is personally one of my favorite book series of all time.  It's filled with humor, wit, literature references, horror, and true sadness and pain.  I think it is one of the most creative literary projects, with the author and narrator becoming another character in the series and taking this character past the series.  If you're interested in one of the most fun reading experiences ever, log on to Facebook and start reading!

Click here to read THE BAD BEGINNING.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Fault in Our Stars 
By John Green
Genre: Young Adult, Realistic Fiction, Coming of Age, Tearjerker, Sad Stuff

The first thing that you need to know about this book is that it’s a Cancer Kid Book. I know the genre fairly well- I went through this whole Lurlene McDaniel phase. I don’t want to talk about it. Anyway, the Fault in Our Stars is about a young girl who meets a young boy at a cancer support group. There is a whole lot of cancer in this book. It’s initially what made me not want to read about this book, but I am such a fan of John Green’s video blogs that I decided to give it a chance. (I should point out I haven’t read any other of John Green’s novels, so I have no idea how similar/dissimilar they are.)

Sixteen-year-old Hazel suffers from thyroid cancer, despite the fact that her tumors have been “miraculously” shrunken. She goes to a cancer support group where she meets super dreamy one-legged Augustus Waters. They become close and talk about life and death and books. In particular, one book called An Imperial Affliction by a reclusive author who lives in Amsterdam. Hazel and Augustus travel to Amsterdam to ask their favorite author questions, and get closer in the process.

The best part of The Fault in Our Stars is the writing. It’s funny and witty and incredibly sad. There are wonderfully written phrases and realizations as Hazel thinks about books and life and love. One of my favorite lines in the book is written by their favorite author: “Witness also that when we talk about literature, we do so in the present tense. When we speak of the dead, we are not so kind”.

 The characters in the book are so much fun despite of all the sad going on around them. Hazel has familiar traits- watching endless hours of reality television, adoring and resenting her parents at the same time, crushing on and being confused by a cute boy, obsessing over a novel and what it means to her. Like so many kids I know, she integrates part of her favorite book into her life: quoting it, adapting its ideas, even dressing like the main character. Augustus is funny and flawed. Hazel’s parents are funny and kind but they are still frustratingly parents. Isaac, Augustus’s best friend, has his own illness, but he also has overwhelming teenaged angst that drives home the point that these are just teenagers. Sure, he has cancer, but his teenaged problems are no less painful. And this is one of Green’s strongest messages in this book: Cancer Kids are still kids. They’re still teenagers. They’re not magically wiser or deeper or “better” than other teenagers because they’re sick. They make mistakes, they say the wrong things, and sometimes they’re annoyingly angsty.

There are problems in this book. No matter how hard Green tries to avoid it, no matter how much Hazel calls out Cancer Kid Books, this remains a Cancer Kid Book. The plot is predictable and you can see the twists coming a mile away. It gets melodramatic, it gives you the same Cancer Kid Sad Moments. Despite this, despite knowing what I was getting into from the first time I read the bookflap, I still cried when those familiar punches were pulled. Green definitely faults in his attempts to reinvent the genre in his hip, ironic way, but the book still hurts.

This book makes mistakes. It has errors and flaws and it is by no means perfect. At the same time, neither are the kids in this book. Neither was the girl it was dedicated to, Esther Earl, a real-life teenaged friend of Green who had joy, angst, and cancer. This book is painful and it is hopeful and it makes a point to say that it is okay to be both things at once.

The Fault in Our Stars is a well-written and touching novel about being a teenager with cancer, but ultimately fails to surprise.

4 out of 5 stars

review by laura