Kate’s Review: “Don’t Breathe a Word”

9581507Book: “Don’t Breathe A Word” by Jennifer McMahon, Lily Rains (Narrator)

Publishing Info: HarperAudio, May 2011

Where Did I Get This Book: Audiobook from the library!

Book Description from Goodreads: Two young lovers find themselves ensnared in a seemingly supernatural web that ties them to a young girl’s disappearance fifteen years earlier in this dark and twisty tale from the New York Times bestselling author of Island of Lost Girls and Promise Not to Tell. Jennifer McMahon returns with a vengeance with Don’t Breathe a Word—an absolutely chilling and ingenious combination of psychological thriller, literary suspense, and paranormal page-turner that will enthrall a wildly diverse audience including, among others, avid fans of Keith Donohue (The Stolen Child), Laura Lippman (I’d Know You Anywhere), and Tana French.(In the Woods).

Review: I have had very mixed results with Jennifer McMahon. Before I started “Don’t Breathe a Word” I had read three other books of hers. I liked “The Night Sister” and “Promise Not To Tell”, but I wasn’t impressed by “The Winter People”. I was looking for a new audiobook, and decided to try this one. I had pretty high hopes for it as I started it, walking around my neighborhood at dusk. I was taken in by the story of Phoebe, a woman with a dark past, and her lover Sam, a man whose sister Lisa disappeared fifteen years prior when she was twelve and he was ten. Lisa had been obsessed with the idea of fairies, and thought that she had been chosen to be the next Fairy Queen to Taylo, King of the Fairies, and she disappeared without a trace. But then Sam and Phoebe get a phone call from a woman claiming that she is Lisa, and has returned from the Fairy Realm. So now Phoebe and Sam are trying to find out if this is Lisa, and if so, where she had been all this time, because fairies can’t be real, right?

Well don’t ask MacMahon, because she kept changing her mind about that little fact. And this probably isn’t actually what happened, but as I was listening to this book the evidence kept jumping between being something supernatural going on, or something very real and very insidious. While I think that it’s fine if a writer does these things occasionally to raise questions,  making the reader keep jumping back and forth between these questions gets tiresome. Eventually I didn’t even care anymore if it was actual fairies or some creep who preyed on a young girl, and that’s generally not a feeling you want your reader to have. I also had a hard time with the characters in this one, as none of them were particularly likable. Phoebe made terrible and stupid decisions, Sam was two dimensional AND something of a jerk to Phoebe a good chunk of the time, and Sam’s cousin Evie, a mysterious presence in the story, wasn’t threatening enough OR sympathetic enough, both things that her character needed to be depending on what the reader was supposed to believe at the time. The one character who seemed the most authentic was Lisa, whose perspective we got as well in the weeks leading up to her disappearance. I liked those parts more than the modern ones, as that was the only part that didn’t shift back and forth about whether or not this was a story about fairies or a story about evil people. For Lisa’s parts, it was about the dysfunction of her family and the tragedy that befell her because of it. I was mostly on board for her parts, and could forgive the rest of it…. But then…..

SPOILERS. SCROLL DOWN IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW

Okay I am going to just talk about the ending, because that is where I just completely wanted to toss my phone out the window. So the book spent a lot of time making you wonder if fairies took Lisa, or horrible people. It turns out that she was kidnapped by her aunt Hazel, Evie’s mom, who was raped by her grandfather, and gave birth to a secret son who was part Fairy (as Hazel’s grandfather was rumored to be a Changeling fairy). So Lisa was held in captivity by her aunt, not taken to the fairies to be a bride to Taylo, but to be breeding stock with her cousin. SUPER YUCK, but okay. I was satisfied with that solution… BUT THEN, Phoebe and Sam have a baby, and MacMahon decides that “Oh wait, Taylo is actually real and he set up Phoebe and Sam through his influence and magic and he wants their baby and steals her away, replacing her with a changeling”. I was livid. You had an ending. You can’t just change your mind in an attempt to pull the rug out from under the reader!!!

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There is no other way to describe how I felt.

END SPOILERS

But I do want to say that Lily Rains, the narrator for this book, did a pretty good job. She changed her voices for every character and had a lot of life and passion in her voice.

The end pretty much ruined the rest of the book for me, and I really hate it when that happens. “Don’t Breathe a Word” had potential, and I do like MacMahon enough to give her another chance. But definitely skip this one in favor of “The Night Sister” or “Promise Not To Tell”.

Rating 4: A strong start, a shaky middle, but then an end that unraveled everything before it.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Don’t Breathe a Word” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Changelings”, and “WTF Endings”.

Find “Don’t Breathe a Word” at your library using Worldcat!

Serena’s Review: “A Court of Thorns and Roses”

A Court of Thorns and Roses Book: “A Court of Thorns and Roses” by Sarah J. Maas

Publishing Info: Bloomsbury’s Childrens, May 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description from Goodreads: When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.

As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow grows over the faerie lands, and Feyre must find a way to stop it… or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.

Review:  Last year our bookclub read “Throne of Glass” by Sarah J. Maas. The series was wildly popular with young adults, so we were diligent and added it to our list. Long story short, I was not a fan. I’ll refrain from getting on my soapbox for that book, but I make no promises that it won’t get pulled out again later in this review! Either way, when I saw that Maas’s next book was going to be a fairytale retelling, and one of my favorites, I decided to give her another go.

Fairytale snob moment: this book is often referred to as a “Beauty and the Beast” retelling. But actually! It is more accurately retells the fairytale “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” (“Beauty and the Beast” is a more recent retelling of this older story) in which a girl is stolen away by a polar bear king, and after failing to save him from his curse (in the traditional version she actually makes things worse), she must travel to an ogre queen’s castle and perform three impossible tasks to rescue her prince. It’s all quite lovely and romantic. I’ve always been particularly fond of this fairytale, especially the fact that it boils down to the prince being a damsel-in-distress who must be saved by the heroic maiden. Fun times!

So, first off, I really liked that aspect of this story. It does follow the fairytale in many ways while also adding its own creative twists. There were large segments in the middle and sections of the end where I was just breezing along enjoying the heck out of the story. Feyre is a great main character. She is flawed, but courageous. Her prejudices against fairies are given the proper amount of time to recede, and her emotional journey is believable. I particularly enjoyed a moment in the book where she has to completely readjust her opinions of her two sisters. In the beginning of the story, they are presented as the typical evil sisters that we are used to seeing in these kind of stories, and I was very disappointed that the book seemed to be going the “other women characters must be bad to make the heroine even more special” route. But, much to my surprise, this gets turned on its head in a way that is very emotionally satisfying.

The love story had the potential to be insta-love, but it was able to just walk that line enough that I bought it in the end. Your own tolerance level for that kind of thing will largely determine how successful this aspect of the story is. Tamlin is your typical hero, not much to say there, really. I honestly liked his companion Lucien much more.

But, as much as I loved parts of this book, I equally hated other parts. It was a very uncomfortable pendulum swing, honestly. I’m going to try to limit my rants, but man, some of the choices made in this book were so frustrating. First, there were small choices, like referring to women as “females,” that were so jarring that I almost put the book down.

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What is this decision? What does it add to the story overall to use this type of terminology that is so inherently dehumanizing? I mean, is it as simple as that? Some weird attempt to not use the word “woman” as a way to differentiate them as fairies rather than humans? If so, it doesn’t succeed. Especially when it is paired with another one of my biggest complaints about the book.

This might be a spoiler, but the section I’m going to talk about now ultimately has no affect on the plot, which is actually a large part of the complaint itself. Towards the middle of the book, Maas sets up this whole fairy festival which essentially boils down to Tamlin being “taken over” by magic until he’s a sex-crazed beast who must choose from a line of fairy females to sleep with that night to replenish the kingdom’s magic. It is so awful! Pair this thought with the overuse of the term “female” throughout the book. Maas has essentially lined up a bunch of fairy women, reduced them to “females” with no characteristics other than their function as a sex objects, and had her hero lose his humanity to beast magic, then select one of these women (she has no choice if she’s selected) to breed with. And Maas go further! Having Lucien explain the ritual to Feyre as unpleasant because Tamlin “won’t be gentle.” Umm…so icky. And at the end of the whole bit, there is zero, I repeat ZERO, impact on the ultimate story by having this scene. Other than, maybe, giving Tamlin an excuse to go all “dominant” and bite Feyre on the neck when she wanders out of her room the same night as this festival. Can you say “not worth it” loud enough? Especially since he goes back to being the sweet, caring love interest the reader is used to the very next day and for the remainder of the book. The whole thing is just gross.

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And sadly, this type of weird sexual objectification continues towards the end of the story with Feyre herself. I’ve always loved the ending of the original fairytale with the heroine attempting to complete her three impossible tasks. And, again, when this story is sticking to these origins, it’s very strong. I loved the tasks that were set up and Feyre’s struggles with them. So, why?! Why do we need to introduce what I can only assume is going to be the third character in the seemingly required love triangle, Rhys? A character who, even while helping Feyre through the tasks, in the mean time, has her dressed in lingerie each night, has her entire body painted so that he can tell if anyone else touches her, refers to her as his property, and then drugs her with fairy wine so she loses her senses and seductively dances in front of the entire fairy court and sprawls around on his lap. Again, I say, why?! What does any of this add to the story? Maas has already set up the fact that this court is terrible, and that Feyre is suffering getting through these trials. What does it add to have this element?

And, as these books can never just be stand alones, there is going to be a sequel, which this book sets up to strongly feature Rhys. Ugh. And this is where my main problem with this type of love triangle lies. Love option one: a man you’ve grown to love over months of time spent with him, someone who has proven his love to you through self-sacrifice and respect, and a person who you’ve now literally gone through hell to save. Love option two: a man who has, sure, helped you out a time or two, but in repayment has forced you to become his “love slave” essentially for two weeks every month for all eternity, and has dressed you up, drugged you, and humiliated you in front of hundreds of people. Yeah. Those are equal options. How could she ever choose?! It’s obnoxious. And yes, I see the clever Persephone/Hades thing you’re setting up there, Maas. It’s not cute.

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Ok, that was long. All in all, I was more upset by the fact that at times I was thoroughly enjoying this book. Honestly, if you just took out these bits I’ve mentioned you’d have a kickass fairytale retelling that I’d probably be raving about. But these other parts kept hitting like buckets of cold water being repeatedly dumped on my head throughout the story. Very disappointing.

Rating 4: The bad parts were a 1, but the fact that there was so much potential and parts I truly enjoyed, I bumped it up. Sadly, I couldn’t get past these flaws.

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Court of Thorns and Roses” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Best Retellings of Beauty and the Beast”and “Best Books about Faeries.”

Find “A Court of Thorns and Roses” at your library using WorldCat!

Bookclub Review: “City of Bones”

City of Bones

We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last year and a half. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Books with Movie Adaptations.”

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for bookclub. We’ll also post the next book coming up in bookclub. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own bookclub!

Book: “City of Bones” by Cassandra Clare

Publishing Info: Margaret K. McElderry Books, March 2007

Where Did We Get this Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder― much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air. It’s hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing―not even a smear of blood―to show that a boy has died. Or was he a boy?

This is Clary’s first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. It’s also her first encounter with Jace, a Shadowhunter who looks a little like an angel and acts a lot like a jerk. Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace’s world with a vengeance, when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know…

Serena’s Thoughts:

As the professed fantasy-lover on this blog, I feel like it’s a bit unfortunate that this happens to be the first fantasy novel I’ll be reviewing. Ah well! I will blame my bookclub friend who chose this as her selection for bookclub and leave the regret with that.

I approached this book with what can by only described as extreme trepidation. It’s a staple in the YA fantasy genre and one I knew I should be getting around to, even now, many years after its publication. Cassandra Clare is nothing if not prolific with her writing given the number of sequels and prequels she’s rolled out! And, alas, my trepidation was warranted. While I love fantasy and young adult novels, “City of Bones” was not my cup of tea, and by the end I was frankly skimming along.

Positives first! I can definitely see why this book took off the way it did. Clare’s writing is fast-paced, her characters are witty, and the story includes every fantasy angle a reader could ask for. Negatives? The writing is so fast-paced that the story seems frenetic, ALL the characters are eerily similar in their witticisms, and the story includes every fantasy trope there is in the book. Vampires! Werewolves! Zombies! Hidden fantasy world in a major city! Heroine is more than she seems! It was a bit much. Don’t even get me started on the tired love-triangle trope. *sigh*

And, full disclosure, I came into this book having heard about the trials and tribulations of Clare’s fanfiction history. And while I’m not here to delve into that, I read a good amount of Harry Potter fanfiction in my day, and Jace? Jace was fanfiction!Draco. Clary’s connection to Ginny was harder to spot which was only a disservice to Clary, as Ginny is by far a more appealing protagonist. Clary did grow on me towards the end of the novel, but it was a bit too little, too late. And honestly, “Twilight” has forever biased me against a YA novel where the heroine describes herself as “clumsy” within the first 20 pages.

If you haven’t read this book by now and are a completest about YA fantasy series, than purely for the sake of popular relevance, you might want to check this book out. But for me, I won’t be continuing on.

Kate’s Thoughts:

Gosh, I’m not even certain of where to begin with this book. I had heard of it around the time that it first came out, but since back in 2007 I hadn’t really discovered YA Fiction and since it hadn’t really taken off yet as its own industry I wasn’t interested in reading it. But then it was picked for our YA Book Club and I found myself finally about to fill the void that not having read it admittedly left in my YA repertoire. But having gone through it now, I think it probably would have been just fine if that void had not been filled.

My main problem with it is that even though it was probably one of the first series to do the things that it does, coming in almost ten years after it was published made the themes and tropes seem VERY old hat. I can’t say that I was a fan of Clary being not only the point on a love triangle, but also a ‘chosen one’ figure AND incredibly snarky and witty and quirky. These themes are so commonplace now that I can hardly abide them anymore. I do think that there is some potential in this world, however, as I think that the magical system does have a pretty strong foundation. The Shadowhunter mythology is something that does intrigue me. It’s just that the focus is too much on Clary and how special she is when she was convinced that she wasn’t special at all. I liked Jace enough as a character, though knowing that this story is derived from a Harry Potter Fan Fiction that Clare wrote made it all the more clear to me that Jace is really Draco Malfoy, at least what he is seen as within the Harry Potter Fan Fiction Fanon. It’s too bad, because I wanted to see more ‘Jace-ness’, less ‘Draco-ness’.

The most intriguing character to me was Isabella, a female Shadowhunter (apparently such things are rare in this world. Hi, mild sexism, how are you?) who comes from an elite family and is used to all the male attention being on her. So of course she’s going to be threatened by Clary, who is so plain yet all the boys love her. What I liked about Isabella is that she did have glimmers of being pretty interesting, and it was evident that she cared about her cause and those around her. I have nothing bad to say about Isabelle, and I would probably read the entire series if it was about her. I can definitely see why this book could and would appeal to teenage readers, though. I know that when I was a teenage girl living a pretty normal, sometimes stressful, life, I would have loved the idea of having a completely different life, with two hot guys in love with me and a set of special powers to boot. And besides, I’m pretty sure that this book wasn’t written for me. So all in all I can’t fault it too much for being what it is. I just think that it could have been better.

Serena’s Rating 3: Too many YA fantasy tropes, not enough substance

Kate’s Rating 4: Predictable and shallow, but had some merits

Book Club Notes and Questions:

We also watched this movie, per the instructions of this bookclub season’s theme. It was what one would expect. The cinematography was beautiful, it adhered to the plot as much as a movie can within its time frame, and it had many of the same failings as the book did. It also bombed in the theater which is actually a bit of a surprise given the series’ popularity and the fact that most popular YA book-to-movie adaptations have been met with success. Sadly, since a sequel is not in the works, movie-goers will be forever left with…that ending…you know the one I’m talking about…

  1. “City of Bones” came out in 2007, and is nearly ten years old. Given that YA literature has changed so much in that time, do you think that this story would follow a similar path if it were written today? If not, how do you think it would change?
  2. What did you think of the magical world and magical system that Clare created for her series? Did it feel well thought out and complete? Did you want more?
  3. Was Clary a relatable protagonist for you? Did you find it easy to sympathize with her? If not, how could she have been more relatable?
  4. If you have read the book and watched the movie, how do they compare? Were there choices that the movie improved upon? Failures of omission?
  5. This book was influenced by Cassandra Clare’s very popular Harry Potter fanfiction writing. Were there resemblances between this world and the Harry Potter world that were easy to spot? Did it stand well enough on its own?

Reader’s Advisory:

“City of Bones” is included in these Goodreads lists: “All The Great Guys Books Have to Offer”, and “If You Love Harry Potter, Read These!” 

Find “City of Bones” at your library using WorldCat!