“If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again,
there is no use in reading it at all.”
- Oscar Wilde
So there I was, lying in bed reading this book when I suddenly started hearing angry, loud & expletive-riddled yelling through my open window. And I literally thought to myself for a second, who would be behaving like that in Sycamore Falls? It took me another moment or two to remember that Sycamore Falls existed in my book and I had never even lived in a small town. No, I was smack dab in the middle of Washington, DC, where I've lived for almost a decade.
I had been so transported to this small town that the reality of Washington, DC had completely fallen away from me.
That's the mark of a good book. One that can transport you to another time or place.
But that's not all this book had going for it. Oh no. There was Lucas. Oh Lucas.
Has there ever been a more patient, loving, supportive, protective, adoring man? I challenge you to find me one! Anyway, all you need to know is he is all of these things, and amazing, and everyone should find themselves a Lucas.
Were Lucas and Sarah sometimes sickeningly sweet? Yes. And I loved every second of it!
Now to get to the heavier stuff. Playing out against Lucas and Sarah's romance was a lot of drama. They are both teachers, having moved to Sycamore Falls after leaving previous teaching jobs in big cities for different "scandals." SPOILER Sarah witnessed the school shooting of a gay student and Lucas had been accused by a student of getting her pregnant. They move to this small town hoping to start over, but small towns aren't immune to similar events.
What's interesting about this book was that it was set in a high school, but was from the POV of adults (teachers) rather than students. So the events of the high school "drama" play out from a different perspective than one would usually see. And it deals with some pretty big issues - bullying and homosexuality. And I think it does a really good job of conveying so much of that and teaching a lesson, but without ever seeming preachy, because it always remains a story more than anything. And that's where it's success lies. Did I agree with the opinions of most of the characters in the book? No. Not even Lucas and Sarah 100% of the time. But the message of the book raised the discourse above the right or wrong of something like homosexuality to just the importance of treating everyone with respect and kindness regardless of race or sexual orientation.
Now for what kept this from being a full 5 stars. While I felt like I was presented with a realistic depiction of life in a small town, I didn't think Lucas should have fitted within that mold as much as he did. Don't get me wrong, I LOVED him. But I would expect someone who was raised in NYC to be a little more "worldly."
The other thing was that Sarah was a bit of a watering can. She seemed to cry through half the book. Not that she didn't have cause to be emotional, but I after a while I was wondering why Lucas would stick around with someone who was clearly having some issues. But that's also what made Lucas so amazing so it's a bit of a wash. ;)
Overall, awesome-sauce and I will be looking for Ms. Logan's other books.
Now having watched only two or three episodes of Games of Thrones, it is pretty obvious this is basically fanfiction of the Khal Drogo and Danaerys storyline. But you know what, if it's done well, that's fine. What I was more worried about was reconciling to myself the idea that the hero rapes the heroine in the first few pages of the book.
And I was somehow able to make it through the initial rape, but what continued to make it difficult was that Lahn continues to rape Circe for the next 3 days! And I don't care that she just lies back and doesn't fight him. Still rape. Anyway, by the fourth day she decides she has to do something and she tries to talk to him, but this time once he gets a hold of her he makes her come...and after that everything changes. By the next day she is calling him "baby" and "honey" and they are getting along pretty swimmingly.
Stockholm Syndrome anyone?
And when they come up against a cultural divide? Have an argument? Language barriers? Etc? Well don't worry! That's nothing a good orgasm can't fix!
Using sex in books to solve problems and make everything flowers and unicorns again makes me rage so hard. And just to give you an idea of how often this is used, in the 33% of the book that I read (roughly 140 pages), I can think of six separate sex scenes off the top of my head.
Um, waiter? I'd like some plot with my sex scenes, please! kthxbai.
All and all the few good moments in the book were not able to keep down my inner ragebeast and I have no desire to waste my time. Now, being my first Kristen Ashley, a book like this would normally mean it was my last by that author, but in fairness to a plot that probably wasn't for me, I may try one of her books again at another time.
Full disclosure: I skipped book two in the series. The plot sounded a little too angsty for me and not something I would like so I decided it was best for all if I skipped it (neither myself or the author would enjoy a low rating). The author was nice enough to respond to my inquiry about how advisable this was and recommended against it, but said it was probably possible. There were a few times that I suspected something was being referenced that happened in book two, but I got through okay. In fact better than okay. This book made me feel things:
And I mean this in the best possible way. Yes, parts of it were sad, but I frickin loved it!
Surprisingly my favorite character wasn't Ben or Ainsley, but Eliza (Ben's grandmother). She had a smaller part than she did in Firefly Hollow, but she was so much funnier in this one! She was sassy. She provided a good comic relief and I loved her.
I have to admit, that while I liked Ben and Ainsley, it wasn't their romance that made this book so enjoyable for me. It was the Campbell clan. I tend to love the dynamic of big, tight-knit families in books. Ben's parents (who I loved from Firefly Hollow) are still larger than life characters here. Ben's relationship with his siblings, and his sisters in particular, were entertaining and endearing. And it is the mark of a great writer when they get you to love the secondary characters as well as the main ones - and this is because the secondary characters are fully developed themselves. This may have something to do with the fact that many of this secondary characters have their own books in the series.
And to that point, what's really interesting in how Haddix has set up the sequels of Firefly Hollow, is that the timelines of the sequels overlap and you get glimpses of the other stories.
For example, book 2 (Butterfly Lane), is about John (Owen and Sarah's oldest son) and his wife Zanny as they go through a rough patch and almost break up. Now in Dragonfly Creek, from Ben's POV we see when John and Zanny separate for a while. Their story actually happens at the same time that Ben's unfolds and we see them overlap.
And then in book 4 (Cattail Ridge), it's Emma's story and we know she has a daughter. Well in Dragonfly Ridge, again from Ben's POV, we find out about Emma getting pregnant and are with her when she has the baby - essentially setting up the scene for the next book. These overlapping timelines and stories all woven together is really neat and I don't think I've ever see anything like it. It's really very cool and very well done!
Now, while Ben and Ainsley are my second favorite couple from the Campbell clan so far (yes, that's out of two), I did still enjoy their romance. As I've said, Haddix creates characters you can become invested in and love.
"If being pure of heart and merciful were conditions of getting into heaven, Ainsley figured her mother was probably feeling toasty."
I had high hopes for this one based on the rave reviews, but apparently I should have read them more closely because half of the 5 star reviews seem to be from people who know the author.
This book had a lot of potential. It was a meaty subject matter that should have pulled at the heartstrings. But unfortunately it fell a little flat. And I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that when we are introduced to Oliver he is getting his diagnosis and then goes around feeling "numb." And consequently he then had no personality. I didn't know who Oliver was. And when I came to know him as a young man with cancer, he was kind of bland unfortunately. His situation evoked sympathy, but no sense of who he was. Hannah on the other hand had tons of personality and I liked her.
But everything in general happened too fast. The entire period of when Oliver is getting his cancer treatments was rushed over. As he and Hannah are getting to know each other and fall in love, we only get short peeks into what is happening. Half the book, which is a novella to begin with, takes place after Hannah has returned to school and Oliver goes into remission. I think if the author had stretched this out into a full length novel and spent the time on character development this could have been much stronger.
And then the ending didn't work for me. Hannah's claim that she had fallen in love with Sick Oliver and didn't know Healthy Oliver actually felt accurate. Oliver had finally gotten some personality in the second half of the book and therefore did feel like a different character to me. I would have found it more believable if they did start from scratch to get to know each other again like Oliver had pretended. But he made a speech and that was all she wrote.
Some of the language near the end about living life being more than just being alive was rather poetic and shows some promise in the author's writing style. Unfortunately it came too late.
It's interesting to read through some of the reviews for this book. Everyone seems to like a different aspect. One person likes the voice of the narration and POV, another the romance, another the mystery, and another the characterizations and emotional depth, etc. etc. It's as if there is something for everyone. And considering all this book has going on/for it, that's not surprising. Because it is part romance, part history, part mystery, part poetry, part self-discovery, [fill in the blank]...
And it is due to all of these different things that makes this book so original.
First the narration: Second person is hard to pull off. But Julie Berry has managed to do it. The story is told by Judith as if she is addressing her childhood friend and love, Lucas. And it's her unrequited love for Lucas that makes this such a vulnerable and illuminating perspective.
This story kept me guessing. This is not a run of the mill book. I kept trying to guess what would happen next and I was wrong every time.
The story begins when Judith is nineteen and is made up of mini "chapters." Throughout the book some of these "chapters" would be flashbacks that slowly revealed Judith's childhood and relationship with Lucas or her family or what had happened to her when she was missing. These random, unexpected jumps back and forth in time normally would have bothered me as I like a more chronological timeline, but I was so curious about her past and what happened to her that I didn't care. Every "chapter" revealed something knew and I just wanted to know!
So it worked.
Now, what kept this from being 5 stars? Sometimes the writing was a little vague. Things weren't always fully explained and I would have to re-read a line or two to make sure I was grasping what the author (or Judith) was trying to say. And I think because of this I sometimes didn't fully understand Judith's reasoning or motivation. I literally don't want to spoil anything so I won't give examples. But this is the main thing that held this book back for me.
Still, serious brownie points for originality! I really enjoyed this one.
"They were once my neighbors and friends, even if I am no longer theirs."
"You're a flood, a baptism I'd forgotten, and the force of you leaves me breathless."
"Why does everyone presume that I, as damaged merchandise, forfeit any claim to happiness?"
"I have loved you too long Lucas."
"Too long?" you say. "No such thing."
In my second round of "Kindle Roulette" I managed to pick another winner!
*Maybe this is how I should make all of my decisions*
Anyway, this book is the sequel to Daddy Long Legs (possibly can be read as a standalone, but I wouldn't recommend it), both published in the early 1910's. So it's not filled with sex and doesn't rely on sensationalism. It's just a well told story. And funny. The humor from the turn of last century might be a little more sophisticated, but it still resonates with a modern reader. As long as you like really dry humor. And can get past some political incorrectness. Not a lot, but as long as you keep in mind when this was written, you can get past it.
Like DLL it is written entirely in epistolary form, and like Judy in DLL, Sallie (our narrator) has a young, fresh and fun voice. She writes predominately to Judy, having just been appointed by Judy and her husband as the superintend of the John Grier orphanage (where Judy grew up and her husband is the trustee/president). Despite having been born into luxury herself, Sallie is kind and compassionate. Though she starts off as more frivolous, from working at the Home, she comes to love the kids and finds her true path in life. Characterizations of the different characters come out more in the stories that Sallie tells rather than in us being told anything (because Sallie's descriptions are always clearly prejudiced anyway). But its easy to separate Sallie's opinions from the true characterizations of everyone.
As Sallie learns the ropes of the John Grier Home she has help from the local Dr. McRae, who she immediately doesn't get along with - Sallie being free and open and fun and Dr. McRae being more formal and stoic. As Sallie says she cannot trust a man who never smiles. She takes to calling him Sandy (not totally sure why - I think this is some reference that I don't understand) and Enemy. There's a much larger cast of characters as well including many of the children and staff of the orphanage, the trustees, old friends and family and the locals. All vastly entertaining.
My one criticism would be the author's writing of accents. Sallie loved to try to imitate the doctor's Scotch accent, and sometimes adopt an Irish one herself, and it was incomprehensible to me. I understood maybe every other word. Sometimes less.
But bottom like, like DDL, what really drove the story were Sallie's entertaining interpretation of events and life. And her just deadpan one liners.
"And also, no matter what the doctor wants, so positive and dictatorial is his manner that just out of self respect one must take the other side."
"The more I study men, the more I realize that they are nothing in the world but boys grown too big to be spankable."
"I do wish that mice and snakes and toads and angleworms were not so portable. You never know what is going on in a perfectly respectable-looking child's pocket."
"Suppose that I should retire and marry and have a family. As families go nowadays, I couldn't hope for more than five or six children at the most, and all with the same heredity. But mercy, such a family appears perfectly insignificant and monotonous. You have institutionalized me. Reproachfully yours, Sallie McBride."
Started off potentially strong and then it became uneven for me. And then the ending picked up and finished with a cliffhanger.
The story starts when Margaret is in her early twenties and married to her second husband. She desires to write her memoirs so she hires the reluctant Brother Gregory. After that the story jumps between the "present day" and the story of Margaret's life, beginning when she is about 11.
Until the very end, I had very little interest in the "present day" storyline as not much happened, but we are given glimpses of the kind of person Brother Gregory is and what Margaret's life is like and the type of person she has become.
I found Brother Gregory somewhat infuriating due to his extreme views about women and their incapacity for independent thought (and this is not an exaggeration. I know that women were considered inferior in the middle ages, but Gregory's stance still feels extreme. And highly offensive to a modern woman obviously). I know his character was supposed to be more funny than aggravating (i.e. his constant quest for Humility, despite his constantly arrogant thoughts and thick-headedness), but despite the intended irony, I still wanted to slap his face. Obviously this was all set up so we could witness his change due to Margaret's influence. But that literally didn't come about until like the last 10 pages and, according to the synopsis, seems to manifest itself more in the sequel.
The story of Margaret's life was the more interesting part to me, but even then the story had its peaks and valleys and there were parts that were rather slow moving in between the interesting ones.
Usually when I read medieval fiction I have no problem imagining the scene in my head as I read, but despite the author's extensive use of descriptive language, I found that I had a hard time creating that picture in my head during this book. And I'm not quite sure why.
I highly caution anyone that picks up this book because they think its a romance. Its historical fiction. It sounds like the sequel may be more of a romance, but this one certainly was not. I only bring this up because I've seen it described as a romance in certain places and people that pick this up for those reasons will be disappointed. I went into it thinking it was more historical fiction and I liked it, just did not love it.
I guess I'll start with my favorite part about this one. And of course, it's the dynamic between Raffe and Penryn! Was their banter this funny in this first one? I do not remember it being so freakin' funny! I freakin' loved it!
“Don’t talk. You’ll just spoil my fantasy of rescuing an innocent damsel in distress as soon as you open your mouth.”
“She [Raffe's sword] wasn’t made to be alone.”
“I guess none of us are.”
Our eyes meet and an electric tingle runs through me.
“She missed you,” I say in a whisper.
“Did she?” His voice is a soft caress. His gaze into my eyes is so intense that I swear he sees straight into my soul.
“Yes.” Warmth flushes my cheeks. I… “She thought about you all the time.”
The candlelight flickers a soft glow along his jawline, along his lips. “I hated losing her.” His voice is a low growl. “I hadn’t realized just how attached I’d gotten.”
“I’m revoking your warrior status,” he says as he watches Clara and her family.
“I had warrior status?”
“For about thirty seconds.”
“What heinous crime did I commit to lose my exalted status?”
“A true warrior would have retrieved her sword first before doing personal business.”
“I’m all about personal business. Every battle I have is personal.”
“Hmm. Good answer. Maybe you’ll eventually regain your status.”
“I won’t hold my breath.”
"I miss the days when females could be ordered around and they'd have no choice."
"Sure that wasn't just a myth? I'm pretty sure nobody ever ordered my mom around - ever."
"You're probably right. The unruliness of the women in your family must go back for generations. You're like a plague upon the land.”
Ah, I could keep going! I mean, there were so many good ones! And this all happened in the last 30% when they had finally met up again. The ending made up for the few kind of slow moments in the first part. That's not to say I wasn't enjoying myself throughout, but there were parts that slowed things down a little for me although I had been enjoying learning more about Raffe through his sword's memories.
Anyway, the other great part of this book was the final battle scene. The fight between Penryn and Burnt may have been THE most kick ass scene EVER!
I don't think I've ever loved a fight scene more!
I'm basically rating this entire book on the last 30%, but I don't care, it was that good and I enjoyed it that much. Susan Ee is a great writer. In the hands of another author I definitely wouldn't enjoy this nearly as much as I did since dystopia/paranormal isn't my usual genre.
Fingers crossed though that there is only one more in this series because I'm not a patient person and I don't like long series.
“Bow down to me Pooky Bear, who has only two other equals in all the worlds.”
“My dad once told me life would get complicated when I grew up. I’m guessing this isn’t what he meant. My mom, on the other hand, agreed with him, and I’m guessing this kind of thing is exactly what she meant.”
"We're going back to high school where our survival instincts are at their finest.”
As much as I've enjoyed many of Kathryn Loch's books in the past, at 8%, this one had hit too many of "buttons" already.
1. A hero that is so beautiful he must be an angel fallen to earth or something. (I've never understood this btw, its basically just a bad pick-up line.)
2. what basically amounts to inst-love
3. behavior that does not belong in the time period. (or in this case, was unrealistic given the situation, no matter the time period).
So this is going to have to be a pass for me. :(