Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Mini Reviews: This Savage Song, Finnikin of the Rock, Friends With Boys, A Night Divided

In which I cobble together a bunch of short reactions I've posted on Goodreads, because I don't really write proper reviews. And there is absolutely zero theme to this collection.  Intense YA sci fi, noble and romantic high fantasy, a MG cold war novel, and a graphic novel with a ghost.  We'll start and end with the best ones.

This Savage Song by Victoria E. Schwab

What an adrenalin rush! 

I'm glad it wasn't my first Schwab, because it takes a pretty long time to work out what the hell is going on, and if I didn't trust her so much, I might have lost steam. But I knew it would all come together in a great way, and boy, did it ever.

I marked it "alternate history" because at one point there's a class discussion of how things went to hell after the Vietnam war, and it kind of made sense to me that it was set in a world very different from ours, but with really similar technology. Like, cell phones and cars, only some of which have keyless entry. So the last 40-50 years have gone wildly off rails in this world, as opposed to it all taking place centuries into the future, as with many other dystopias. 

I've seen some reviews that have either rejoiced or mourned the lack of romance, but hello? Total chemistry between our warring protagonists. Still, props for not rushing it, for not elevating romance over survival, and for not even a whiff of triangle. An enthusiastic four stars.

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

Well, that was...interesting.

I'd heard that this was a great fantasy novel, so I tried to read it a few times, only to be put off by the ponderously epic tone of the first bit. When I saw the book on CD at my library, I thought I'd try listening to it, as that can sometimes help me get into a more serious book.

And clearly I enjoyed it, because after listening to about half of it during my commutes, I read most of the rest the other night, then finished it up today in the car again. I wanted to know what would happen. There were great moments of both humor and adventure. But there was also a lot of stuff that was just weird.

It's a really rape-laden story. Prisoners, novices, ladies--everyone's getting raped. Off-screen, so to speak, but still. The male/female interaction was also weird in other ways. I felt like I was reading something written in the 1970s, not in this century. Lots of male posturing and boys-will-be-boys (Hey! Let's all go sleep with prostitutes while our female traveling companion travels to help people dying of fever!). Even a strong woman who appears to hate men, except maybe the one she's sleeping with, who used to torture her when they were kids. Like, literally TORTURE. Men were all masculine and gruff and aggressive and a bit simple-minded, while women were lovely, and sneakily powerful, and far more sophisticated. 

Far less problematic, but still kind of strange, the geography and culture felt strangely squashed. Entire kingdoms seemed to be rather smaller than the average US county, but contain a continent's worth of peoples. Also, Lumenere of the prologue is this glorious Camelot of happy, united people, but the rest of the universe is a dirty, nasty place. What is up with that? How could this little bubble of Utopia have ever existed alongside the slave trading prison mining, xenophobic, disease ridden countries that surround it? And if they were so great, why did they tear apart their own country in a matter of days? And WHY was everyone so obsessed with their own birthplace and lineage? I love my state, but if it were to disappear behind a magical poisonous cloud, I could live happily somewhere else too. The author is Australian, so I'd think she'd be familiar with the concept of immigration. 

I'm giving it three stars only because it kept my interest for those many long pages.

Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks

I'm all over the place on this one.

The title is really misleading. There are a lot of boys in the protagonist's life, but most of them are her brothers. I'm also a bit frustrated by the lack of resolution--or, frankly, any development at all--with the ghost storyline. And somehow I kept thinking SOMEONE of the many different boys who were giving each other baleful glances at every turn would turn out to be in love with one of the other boys.

The non-ghost storyline was very sweet and relatable. I still tend to focus more on the words than the art in graphic novels, but there were a few times I slowed down enough to catch some of the great bits that were strictly visual, from the evolution of the mom's facial expression in the years of family pictures to the details on Maggie's map of her new high school. The family felt very well rounded, like they have a whole history and life beyond the limits of the book. I see that the author has three big brothers and they were all homeschooled, so that may explain why!

So--3.5 stars?

A Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielsen

I listened to this on audiobook, so I really have a distorted sense of the timing. I can't think it would have taken more than a few hours to read, but it took days and days to listen to. I say this because the only two issues I have with the book could be direct results of this.

1. The first few chapters felt really slow. It was basically an info-dump about the situation in East Germany in the early sixties. I imagine that most MG/YA readers might need that background, but since I didn't, I thought it was pretty boring. I nearly stopped listening.

2. Things eventually picked up pace, and I wound up REALLY getting interested and invested. But the constant barrage of obstacles and problems thrown at Gerta and her family started to get to me. I figured from the tone and audience that it would all end successfully eventually, so every time disaster struck, I was both anxious (which is good) and exasperated (not so good). I wonder if this would have seemed so obvious and frustrating if I'd been reading at my regular pace.

All that being said, it's a very good book with a very gripping story. As a presidential candidate talks big about building a wall at our borders, I think this fall will be a good time to read this book to my classes and give them something to think about.
 Four stars.


  1. Great reviews! I just bought This Savage Song, so I hope I like it.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

  2. This Savage Song was my first Schwab book, but I actually loved it. It convinced me to read many more!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction


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