Books of the Week

Well, I was really hoping I would have written some other post between the last BotW post and this one, but that’s kind of the way my life has been these last couple of weeks. I figure if I can at least stick to one weekly feature and be faithful to it then at least I have something to build on.

Anyway, on to the books!

Enchanted by Alethea Kontiss (YA Fantasy)

The gist: Sunday Woodcutter is the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, but that doesn’t mean that her life is grand or adventurous, like that of her older brother Jack or her sister Thursday, the Pirate Queen. In fact, Sunday’s life is pretty boring, other than the tendency for all of the stories she writes to come true. That all changes when Sunday befriends an enchanted frog, Grumble, and begins to fall in love with him. But Grumble is really Prince Rumbold, heir to the troubled kingdom of Arilland–and the hated enemy of Sunday’s family. As Sunday and Rumbold fight to make their love story come true, secrets are revealed, magic is discovered, and the very fate of the kingdom hangs in the balance.

My take: It was next to impossible not to compare this book to The Amaranth Enchantment by Julie Berry, which I read last week. I picked both books up at the local library at the same time. They’re both YA fantasy with heavy fairytale overtones, with curlicue font and pretty girls in dresses on the covers, and of course, they have very similar titles. It might not be a fair comparison, but I couldn’t help myself from making it. Of the two, Enchanted was definitely my favorite. I loved the kitchen-sink approach to the fairytales that Kontiss took and the way so many different stories, or pieces of stories, were woven throughout the tale. I could definitely tell that the author loved fairytales as much as I do. The beginning parts of the book reminded me of Patricia Wrede’s The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, with their parodic approach to beautiful princesses, heroic knights, and other fairy tale tropes. However, as it went on, the tone grew more serious and the story more layered and complex, until it reminded me more of a Robin McKinley retelling, like Spindle’s End or Beauty. It wasn’t flawless. Unlike The Amaranth Enchantment, which hooked me from the beginning, I found it a little hard to warm up to. There’s a lot of info-dumping in the early chapters and Sunday is a bit of a bland narrator. By the end of the story, there were so many plot threads that it was a little hard to keep track of them all and I wasn’t sure that all of them had been neatly tied up by the end of the story. A few characters in particular, seemed set up for greater significance than they ever achieved in-story. But overall, it was a charming, touching, enchanting story that reminded me of all the things I like best about fairytales.

My rating: four and a half stars

Regency Pirates: The Pirate Next Door by Jennifer Ashley (Historical Romance)

The gist: Alexandra Alastair survived one disastrous marriage and she’s determined never to suffer through another. But since she wants nothing more than a family full of children, the single life is not for her either. So she and her friends have compiled a list of suitable gentlemen for her to select from. Anyone of them would make her a proper, respectable, boring husband. And then Grayson Finley moves next door. Wild, outlandishly, improperly dressed, and devastatingly handsome, he’s unlike any man Alexandra has ever met. When she overhears his life being threatened, she dashes to his rescue, only to get caught up in Grayson’s deadly world of pirates, spies, cutthroats, and kidnappers. He is exactly the kind of man a demure young widow should stay away from, but she can’t resist putting him on her list…or giving him her heart.

My take: Okay, with a title like The Pirate Next Door, I wasn’t exactly expecting a subtlety or restraint. Sure enough, The Pirate Next Door is a bold, swashbuckling romp that plays fast and loose with history and societal rules at every opportunity. That didn’t bother me; I knew what I was getting into beforehand. What did bother me was…pretty much everything else. Where do I even start? The heroine, I suppose. Alexandra is supposed to be a very proper widow who survived an emotionally abusive and neglectful marriage. Now, Alexandra is the one calling the shots, and I liked the way she knew exactly what she wanted out of life and how to get it…and then she lets her entire world be torn to shreds because she can’t seem to close her legs to her devilish neighbor. From their very first meeting, she allows him extremely unseemingly liberties–not exactly in private either–and it only gets worse from there. Alexandra practically flaunts her affair with Finley to the world…and then gets her feathers ruffled when her peers assume she is a “merry widow” instead of the marrying kind. That was far from my only beef with her. She’s also ridiculously goodhearted–she tries to talk things out between sworn enemies, one of whom had kidnapped her, and repeatedly forgives a man who kidnaps and forcefully kisses her. She even invites him to her soiree! Of course, she also invites the men who proposition her for a threeway to her wedding, so possibly she just doesn’t have enough friends. I also was increasingly annoyed at the number of men throwing themselves at Alexandra’s feet–besides  Grayson and her long list of suitors, not one but TWO of Grayson’s pirate frenemies propose to to her, mostly because she’s so pure and angelic that they fall in love on the spot. I don’t normally apply the term “Mary Sue” to romance novel heroines, but I’ll make an exception for Alexandra.

If Alexandra was annoyingly perfect, then Grayson was just the opposite. I like a roguish Alpa Male as much as the next gal, but Grayson really bothered me. His whole approach to his relationship with Alexandra was totally selfish. He starts their acquaintance off by kissing her against her will–okay, so she doesn’t really protest, but she sure didn’t consent!–and that’s pretty much indicative of their relationship. Alexandra’s association with Grayson draws the attention of dangerous men, so instead of doing the noble thing and staying away from her so that his enemies won’t have any reason to go after her, Grayson sequesters her aboard his ship–completely against her will–where he proceeds to sex her up. This scene REALLY bothered me, because Grayson’s already holding her against her will and he already knows that Alexandra plans on marriage and a family–which he cannot give her. He doesn’t rape her in any sense of the word, but it’s hard not to feel that he’s taking advantage of her. He continues in similar self-serving actions throughout pretty much the entire story. It’s telling that Alexandra sacrifices her entire social identity to be with Grayson, and Grayson sacrifices…nothing.

I’ll try to summarize the rest of my problems with the story: an overemphasis on physicality over romance, plot moppets (children which serve no purpose other than to show that the love interest is good parent material and then are quickly shooed offstage), and a disturbing fixation on broken marriages. Alexandra has a neglectful, philandering dead husband, Grayson has a slutty dead wife who left him (in retrospect, maybe he shouldn’t have married his best friend’s whore),  minor character Vanessa Fairchild had a boring and unsatisfying marriage (which is apparently supposed to justify her affair with one of her husband’s students)…this is a romance novel for pete’s sakes! I don’t read the things to hear about horrible marriages!

My rating: Two stars

The Cardturner by Louis Sachar (YA Realistic Fiction)

The gist: Seventeen year old Alden Richards isn’t exactly having an ideal summer. His girlfriend just left him for his best friend and now his gold-digging parents want him to chauffeur his blind-but-filthy-rich great-uncle Lester Trapp to his bridge club four days a week. But despite himself, Alden starts to get interested in the game of bridge and in his crusty, and extremely talented uncle for whom he serves as “cardturner”. He’s also interested in Toni Castanda, Trapp’s ex-cardturner and protege, and the mysterious secrets of the past that bind Toni’s family and Alden’s together.

My take: I didn’t go into this book expecting to learn anything about bridge…and I didn’t. Having played card games like hearts and pinochle gave me so basic background knowledge to draw on, but even so I was very quickly out of my depth. Bridge is complicated! However, Sachar does a good job of conveying the storyline–good situations, bad situations, dramatic situations–even when you don’t understand the details, and the story is a gripping one, combining the drama of high-stakes card games with rich interpersonal relationships between a cast of vividly drawn and completely human characters. I found it very similar to the manga series Hikaru no Go (which focuses on the ancient game of Go) in that you can know nothing about the game at its heart and still very much appreciate and enjoy the action.

My rating: Four stars

Curricle and Chaise by Lizzie Church (Regency Romance)

The gist: Upon the untimely death of her parents, Lydia Barrington is forced to become dependent on her unpleasant, but wealthy relations, the Abdales, including her spoiled, naive, but goodhearted cousin, Julia, her meanspirited, autocratic aunt, her absentee uncle, and her handsome slimeball cousin Charles. Between Aunt Abdale’s attempts to crush her spirit, Charles’ underhanded manuevering, and the distraction of the two handsome, well-off brothers next door, Lydia has her hands full. Luckily, she’s got pluck, spirit, and common sense enough to meet every challenge with her head held high.

My take: This is a hard book to review because it is so much like a Jane Austen novel. Church imitates not only the characters and settings of Austen, but her plots and her very language. In some ways, this is wonderful. At a point when I was sick to death of supposedly proper heroines ripping off their roguish heroes clothes off at the least excuse, it was so refreshing to read a story that preserves the spirit and sensibilities of the era. The historical detail is impressive, the heroine is plucky and likable while coming across as a real Regency lady instead of a modern woman, and the plot is interesting without being outlandish. Unfortunately, the whole faux-Austen (Fausten?) thing is a two-edged sword. The pacing feels glacial at times, the language can be a chore to wade through, and you long for just a bit of chemistry between the leads. Let’s face it, if Pride and Prejudice were published today, we would all hope that Jane would use modern language and modern stream-lined writing techniques. But we struggle through and tolerate the hard bits of Austen’s writing because it’s great literature and because it was written long ago. But Curricle and Chaise was not written long ago and it’s not great literature…it’s just an imitation of it.

My rating: Three stars

Currently Reading:

Witch and Wizard by James Patterson and Gabrielle Chabronnet

To Be Read:

Asenath by Anna Patricio

Wild for You by Sophia Knightly

The Wild One by Danielle Harmon

BlackBringer by Laini Taylor

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~ by Morgan Star on September 23, 2012.

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