The Elite – Book Review

  • Title: The Elite
  • Author: Kiera Cass
  • Series: The Selection
  • Genre: Young Adult
  • Format: Kindle
  • Source: Own
  • Reviewed by: Emma – The Accidental Writer – Guest Reviewer
  • Rating: 3 out of 5

 

Description: The hotly-anticipated sequel to the New York Times bestseller The Selection.

Thirty-five girls came to the palace to compete in the Selection. All but six have been sent home. And only one will get to marry Prince Maxon and be crowned princess of Illea.

America still isn’t sure where her heart lies. When she’s with Maxon, she’s swept up in their new and breathless romance, and can’t dream of being with anyone else. But whenever she sees Aspen standing guard around the palace, and is overcome with memories of the life they planned to share. With the group narrowed down to the Elite, the other girls are even more determined to win Maxon over—and time is running out for America to decide.

Just when America is sure she’s made her choice, a devastating loss makes her question everything again. And while she’s struggling to imagine her future, the violent rebels that are determined to overthrow the monarchy are growing stronger and their plans could destroy her chance at any kind of happy ending.


Review:  

After enjoying The Selection more than I anticipated, I have to confess I found this one to be very vanilla. Nothing really captured my imagination or moved me on an emotional level. Well, other than the negative emotions that America engendered in me due to her insufferable ignorance, indecisiveness and blatant stupidity. Everything that made her a likeable character, someone you rooted for in The Selection, seemed to have been eradicated and replaced with a contrived love triangle, a girl who doesn’t seem to mind kissing two guys and a fairly hard to read but spineless prince. It felt to me like this book is filler, stuffing, to pad out what should probably have been one book, maybe two, into the holy grail that is “The Trilogy.”

All that being said, the writing’s not bad, very simplistic and easy to read and the story finally got going in the last 20%. I probably will read book 3 at some stage, mostly to find out what, if anything, is going on with the rebels.


The Rosie Project ~ Graeme Simsion

  • Title: The Rosie Project
  • Author: Graeme Simsion
  • Genre: Mainstream
  • Format: Paperback
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: Olga
  • Rating: 5 out of 5

Description:  An international sensation, this hilarious, feel-good novel is narrated by an oddly charming and socially challenged genetics professor on an unusual quest: to find out if he is capable of true love.

Don Tillman, professor of genetics, has never been on a second date. He is a man who can count all his friends on the fingers of one hand, whose lifelong difficulty with social rituals has convinced him that he is simply not wired for romance. So when an acquaintance informs him that he would make a “wonderful” husband, his first reaction is shock. Yet he must concede to the statistical probability that there is someone for everyone, and he embarks upon The Wife Project. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which he approaches all things, Don sets out to find the perfect partner. She will be punctual and logical—most definitely not a barmaid, a smoker, a drinker, or a late-arriver.

Yet Rosie Jarman is all these things. She is also beguiling, fiery, intelligent—and on a quest of her own. She is looking for her biological father, a search that a certain DNA expert might be able to help her with. Don’s Wife Project takes a back burner to the Father Project and an unlikely relationship blooms, forcing the scientifically minded geneticist to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie—and the realization that love is not always what looks good on paper.

Review:
I loved this book, loved everything in it: from its rosy title (pun intended) and its vulnerable protagonist to the subtle, slightly twisted humor, simple plot, and complex psychology.

The novel starts with the hero Don preparing a lecture on Asperger’s syndrome. According to his research (and mine), most of Asperger’s symptoms are “simply variation in human brain function that had been inappropriately medicalised because they didn’t fit social norms—constructed social norms—that reflected the most common human configurations rather than the full range.”

The deviations have to do with the social milieu. Simply put, Aspergers are dismal at social interactions. Their empathy is askew, and as a result, many consider them odd and undesirable as companions. Aspergers don’t fit in almost any company, and neither does Don. He knows he is inept at communications and dismal with women, but despite being a brilliant genetics scientist and an extremely smart person, he doesn’t recognize Asperger’s in himself. He just knows that he is different and lonely and he wants to share his life with a good woman.

Alas, dating has never worked for him. He’s never even had a second date, so instead he decides on the scientific approach: he constructs a 16-pages questionnaire of multiple choice questions and posts it online, hoping that at least one suitable applicant will answer all his questions correctly. He calls it a “Wife Project.”

Then Rosie enters his life. She is a psychology student and totally unsuitable, according to his questionnaire. Her every answer is wrong, she is opinionated and sarcastic, chaotic and emotional. And she smokes. Nonetheless, Don feels happy whenever he is with her. Unfamiliar with the feeling, this usually detached man stumbles like a toddler, breaks all his routines, belatedly learns to navigate the emotional landscape, and fails again and again. And still he wouldn’t give up.

Don’s personal journey is sad, poignant, and uplifting, almost painful in its intensity and honesty, but the book is so full of humor, so light and hopeful that reading it feels like flying. You’re dizzy from the quick visceral transitions, from the juxtapositions of the incomparable. One moment, you laugh hysterically, riding the mirth wave, the next you swallow a lump in your throat, plunging into Don’s despair.

Sometimes, both feelings interweave and you can’t separate them: like when Don practices cha-cha dancing with a skeleton, on loan from the Anatomy department. Or when he practices sex with the same skeleton, exercising different positions from an illustrated manual.

When his friend Gene talks to Don about sex, you wince and laugh and shake your head and squirm with pity for the poor schmuck. That twisted Asperger’s chemistry in his brain is really screwing his life.

‘You have had sex before?’
‘Of course,’ I said. ‘My doctor is strongly in favor.’
‘Frontiers of medical science,’ said Gene.
He was probably making a joke. I think the value of regular sex has been known for some time.
I explained further. ‘It’s just that adding a second person makes it more complicated.’
‘Naturally,’ said Gene. ‘I should have thought of that.’

Don’s intelligence and erudition are amazing, but his inability to discern symbolism, to identify colloquialisms is equally astounding.

‘If I find a partner, which seems increasingly unlikely, I wouldn’t want a sexual relationship with anyone else. But I’m not good at understanding what other people want.’
‘Tell me something I don’t know,’ said Rosie for no obvious reason.
I quickly searched my mind for an interesting fact. ‘Ahhh…The testicles of drone bees and wasp spiders explode during sex.’

No wonder, he is stuck on sex theme. The guy is head over heels in love with Rosie but doesn’t know how to express himself. His psychological deficiency hampers him, makes him socially and emotionally lame.

I know the feeling; it resonates with me. When I read about Don’s bumbling romance, the zing of recognition was very loud. Like Don, I have Asperger’s. Like him, I’m schooled in self-damnation: ‘Nothing would change the fault in my brain that made me unacceptable.’ Those are his bitter words, but I couldn’t take my eyes off them. Those are my words too.

The love story of Don and Rosie is written beautifully, without melodrama or clinical aloofness. The writing flows like a stream and carries you along the ups and downs of Don’s life. The plot moves fast, and the characters are all 3-dimentional. But Don stands out among his book-mates. He is the real hero, and his courage in overcoming his affliction, in ‘rewiring’ his brain, makes this multilayered book much more than a comic romantic caper. It’s also a tale of his profound transformation, a painful quest to find his place among all of us… and keep it.

This was one of the best books of the past year. Highly recommended.


Rosemary and Rue ~ Seanan McGuire

  • Title: Rosemary and Rue
  • Author: Seanan McGuire
  • Series: October Daye #1
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Format: Audio book
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Description:  October “Toby” Daye, a changeling who is half human and half fae, has been an outsider from birth. After getting burned by both sides of her heritage, Toby has denied the Faerie world, retreating to a “normal” life. Unfortunately for her, the Faerie world has other ideas…

The murder of Countess Evening Winterrose pulls Toby back into the fae world. Unable to resist Evening’s dying curse, which binds her to investigate, Toby must resume her former position as knight errant and renew old alliances. As she steps back into fae society, dealing with a cast of characters not entirely good or evil, she realizes that more than her own life will be forfeited if she cannot find Evening’s killer.

Review:  Rosemary and Rue is the first book of the October Daye urban fantasy series. It is also the first time I’ve experienced any books by author, Seanan McGuire. For a first book, it holds a lot of promise.

The story follows reluctant fae investigator October “Toby” Daye. She is a changling, half fae, who has tried to distance herself from her heritage and hide away from her problems in the human world. Unfortunately, she is compelled to investigate the murder of a close friend and member of the fae royalty or risk her own life.

Toby’s character fits into the fragile strength mold. She is wounded and flawed, but her intelligence and resourcefulness carry her through. The author keeps her focused on the mystery at hand, although she does occasionally drift off into the land of woe is me. While she is not a stand-out character, she has enough potential for the reader to root for her.

In addition to Toby, we are introduced to entire of ensemble of vibrant characters, who I suspect will turn up in future books. Many of these characters are cast with ambiguity, leaving a lot of room for the world to grow and blossom. She also casts many of the fae in a very anthropomorphic fashion. Take for example Tybalt, Lord of the Cats, a character for which I have a particular fondness. His self-interest manifests itself in a fashion totally fitting feline fashion, as do his speech patterns and mannerisms. I sense this cat-like character has at least as many hidden layers as a cat has lives.

The world building uses the basic framework of fae mythology and then diverges into McGuire’s interpretation. She focuses a lot of attention on the challenges faced by the changlings who fit into neither the human nor the fae realm. Again, there is nothing particularly striking about this world, but it has potential.

There is enough adventure in this book to make it fun. Plus, McGuire does a good job of weaving in elements of future intrigue. It is enough to throw the reader off the trail to solve the mystery at hand, yet not so much that it leaves one frustrated by lack of closure at the end. There is clearly more story to be told, as you would expect with the start of a series.

Heirs of the Body ~ Carola Dunn

  • Title: Heirs of the Body
  • Author: Carola Dunn
  • Series: Daisy Dalrymple, #21
  • Genre: Cozy mystery
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: Olga
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  The Daisy Dalrymple series continues. When one of four potential claimants to the title of Lord Dalrymple dies a sudden, nasty death, the question on everyone’s mind is, “was it murder”?

In the late 1920s in England, The Honourable Daisy Dalrymple Fletcher is recruited to help her cousin Edgar — i.e. the Lord Dalrymple. About to turn fifty, Lord Dalrymple decides it is time to find out who would be the heir to the viscountcy. With the help of the family lawyer, who advertises Empire-wide, they have come up with four potential claimants. For his fiftieth birthday, Edgar invites those would-be heirs — along with Daisy and the rest of the family — to Fairacres, the family estate.

In the meantime, Daisy is asked to be the family’s representative at the lawyer’s interviews with the claimants. Those four are a hotelier from Scarborough, a diamond merchant from South Africa, a young mixed-raced boy from Trinidad, and a sailor from Jamaica. However, according to his very pregnant wife, the sailor has gone missing.

Daisy and Alec must uncover a conspiracy if they are going to stop the killing.

Review:  The latest installment in the Daisy Dalrymple series, this cozy murder mystery was a delight to read. As always, Daisy and her husband Alec Fletcher, the DCI from Scotland Yard, are in the thick of it, but this time, the action takes place too close to Daisy’s heart – in her ancestral home Fairacres. After her father and brother’s death, the estate now belongs to a distant cousin Edward, but unfortunately, he and his wife are childless.  

As Edward’s 50th birthday approaches, his lawyer starts looking for an ‘heir of the body’ to ensure primogeniture. Four contenders show up, each with his own story and the supporting set of documents, and all are invited to Edward’s birthday celebration.

Daisy is there too, of course, and the deadly game commences, starting with trifling accidents and escalating to murder. Someone is set on eliminating all the heirs, or maybe all but one? Daisy and Alec investigate.

Daisy is her own charming self, compassionate and acute. She notices the details others might overlook, but her kindness moves her sometimes in unexpected directions. It’s hard to write about her after 20 previous novels. I don’t have any new insights to offer, but I was glad to read her new story. Like an old friend, Daisy comes into my life only occasionally, but with every new book, she becomes more and more familiar, and she never fails to make me just a little bit happier for meeting her.

The book is fast, light, and original. Daisy’s interactions with her disgruntled mother, the Dowager Lady Dalrymple, provide some humorous dialog snatches, while the bountiful red herrings kept me guessing the identity of the culprit to the very end.

I’m accustomed to finding unfamiliar words in Dunn’s novels. This one was no exception.      
Celerity – swiftness in acting or moving
Snook – the gesture of thumbing one’s nose in defiance or derision. Cock a snook at – used to indicate contempt by this gesture

 

City of Ghosts ~ Stacia Kane

  • Title: City of Ghosts
  • Author: Stacia Kane
  • Series: Downside Ghosts #3
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Format: Audio book
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating:  5 out of 5

Description:  IT’S A THIN LINE BETWEEN ALIVE AND UNDEAD.

Chess Putnam has a lot on her plate. Mangled human corpses have started to show up on the streets of Downside, and Chess’s bosses at the Church of Real Truth have ordered her to team up with the ultra-powerful Black Squad agency to crack the grisly case.

Chess is under a binding spell that threatens death if she talks about the investigation, but the city’s most notorious crime boss—and Chess’s drug dealer—gets wind of her new assignment and insists on being kept informed. If that isn’t bad enough, a sinister street vendor appears to have information Chess needs. Only he’s not telling what he knows, or what it all has to do with the vast underground City of Eternity.

Now Chess will have to navigate killer wraiths, First Elders, and a lot of seriously nasty magic—all while coping with some not-so-small issues of her own. And the only man Chess can trust to help her through it all has every reason to want her dead.

Review:  Stacia Kane has created a rich world full of interesting characters for her Downside Ghosts series. City of Ghosts, the third book in the series, gets started with a bang. From the very first scene, this book is filled with thrilling action that will keep the reader on the edge of their seat.

Chess Putnam, Church Witch and Debunker, has earned a reputation for solving tough cases. As a result, she has been loaned to the Black Squad to work on a case so sensitive that she must be bound to secrecy. Of course, this case is so far reaching that it impacts Downside, as well. Chess is forced to lay it all on the line to try or everything she may lose everything that she holds dear: her freedom in Downside, The Church itself, Terrible, and possibly her life.

Kane has set the stakes so much higher in this book. She has evolved the magic in her world-building by tapping into the Elder magic accessed by the binding spell. She does this brilliantly, creating more depth, while staying within the confines of the magic system that she has created. This magic also reveals even more about Chess, her pain is almost palpable as she struggles through the binding.

Chess burns bright in City of Ghosts, as we feel her isolated shell start to crack and fragment, revealing some of hidden depths of her character. She starts to let others in just a little bit, and yet her self-loathing makes every step agonizing, especially the conflict between Chess and Terrible. I felt that this was really well-written, because the core of this struggle was a unique trust and friendship at risk, rather than simply some mystical insta-love pull that so many authors rely upon these days.

The tension in this book was literally breath-taking. I would often find myself holding my breath, waiting to see what would happen next. I don’t just mean the inter-character dynamics. The danger was so much greater and the intrigue so much deeper. So much of the story was balanced upon a knife’s edge; the result was a thrill to read.

City of Ghosts is what dark urban fantasy should be, an intense adventure starring a cast of charismatic personalities. Well done, Ms. Kane. Well done.

 

The Merchant of Dreams ~ Anne Lyle

  • Title: The Merchant of Dreams
  • Author: Anne Lyle
  • Series: Night’s Masque #2
  • Genre: Historical Fantasy
  • Format: Paperback
  • Source: Own copy
  • Reviewed by: Erica
  • Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Description:  Book Two of the Night’s Masque series, sequel to The Alchemist of Souls

Exiled from the court of Queen Elizabeth for accusing a powerful nobleman of treason, swordsman-turned-spy Mal Catlyn has been living in France with his young valet Coby Hendricks for the past year.

But Mal harbours a darker secret: he and his twin brother share a soul that once belonged to a skrayling, one of the mystical creatures from the New World.

When Mal’s dream about a skrayling shipwreck in the Mediterranean proves reality, it sets him on a path to the beautiful, treacherous city of Venice – and a conflict of loyalties that will place him and his friends in greater danger than ever.

Review: I’ve been mulling over this review for a while now, and I’m still a bit stumped and unsure how to keep it from being really short.

Let’s get the basics out of the way: I liked it, though not quite as much as I liked the first book in this trilogy. It was well-written, it read smoothly and there was not a moment where I felt bored and thought ‘yeah yeah, just get on with it already’.

The plot is a bit convoluted. We learned in the first book (spoilers!) that the mysterious beings called skraylings have souls that move to a nearby unborn infant when they die. Since they come from the New World and they often die far away from any other skraylings in England, this means that many of them have ‘reincarnated’ into human bodies, even though the very act of doing so is anathema to the skraylings. Our hero Maliverny Catlyn and his twin brother Sandy share one such soul between them, though Sandy got the larger part. Through this soul they are both able to perform certain skrayling magics, and because of this Mal learns of a party of skraylings who were on their way to establish a treaty with the republic of Venice.

The book covers a number of other characters apart from Mal, such as Mal’s girl-disguised-as-boy manservant Coby, Mal’s friend Ned and Ned’s lover Gabriel. Initially they’re more or less all over the place, but the plot eventually converges in Venice with a suitably exciting grand finale.

Where the book loses a few half stars is in both the characterisation and the sometimes all too convenient coincidences that hold the plot together. (Mal’s elder brother Charles is a known drunk and gambler, yet he waited 25+ years to sell a necklace in Venice just so our heroes can then retrieve it? I don’t quite buy that.) Ned seemed a bit nastier than in the last book, Mal a bit more petulant here and there, a little too fixed on his own wants rather than on what would be the smart thing to do. Certain events that happen are barely explained afterwards, or explained too late, even though the characters ought to be wondering how on earth that just happened.

Still, overall it was an enjoyable read, and a book which kept me effortlessly entertained from start to finish, and which made me go straight into the third book of this trilogy.