Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Review: Dark Aemilia by Sally O'Reilly

Title:  Dark Aemilia: A Novel of Shakespeare's Dark Lady
Author: Sally O'Reilly
Publisher:  Published May 27, 2014 by Picador
ASIN: 9781250048134
Pages:  448 pages
How I Read It: eARC
Genre: historical fiction, fantasy
Find it at Goodreads


The daughter of a Venetian musician, Aemilia Bassano came of age in Queen Elizabeth’s royal court. The Queen’s favorite, she develops a love of poetry and learning, maturing into a young woman known not only for her beauty but also her sharp mind and quick tongue. Aemilia becomes the mistress of Lord Hunsdon, but her position is precarious. Then she crosses paths with an impetuous playwright named William Shakespeare and begins an impassioned but ill-fated affair.

A decade later, the Queen is dead, and Aemilia Bassano is now Aemilia Lanyer, fallen from favor and married to a fool. Like the rest of London, she fears the plague. And when her young son Henry takes ill, Aemilia resolves to do anything to save him, even if it means seeking help from her estranged lover, Will—or worse, making a pact with the Devil himself.

In rich, vivid detail, Sally O’Reilly breathes life into England’s first female poet, a mysterious woman nearly forgotten by history. Full of passion and devilish schemes, Dark Aemilia is a tale worthy of the Bard.

Our Thoughts:

The synopsis for this book suggests a complex, multi-faceted and captivating tale. It is indeed multi-faceted; however, many of these facets are woefully underdeveloped or abandoned completely, while others are so overdone as to feel tired and redundant. The themes of repression of women and their struggles during this time period, as well as the squalor and less than savory living conditions experienced by many, while well-expressed, are covered so thoroughly and so repetitively that it seems the author would have been better served by delving deeper into other plot points rather than revisiting these ideas so frequently.

The blatant vulgarity and crude sexual references become distracting in much the same way. Although they may be historically accurate for the period, these frequent crass references are somewhat jolting, and we feel more sparing use of such descriptions could have set the scene just as well without disrupting the reader’s attention.

Aemilia, though not always the most likeable character, is certainly an intriguing one. She is well educated, ambitious and resilient, but sadly, despite all of her much touted intelligence and spunk, she exhibits a startling lack of growth. She continually fails to learn from her mistakes and remains stubborn, rash and often unthinking throughout the novel.

At one point Shakespeare asks Aemilia:

"But what are you? A scholar or a mistress? A temptress or a wife? An angel or a witch? I cannot say."

Similarly, this book seems to struggle to define itself and develop a clear direction. It introduces a wide array of interesting ideas, but in failing to develop depth to so many of them, leaves the reader wanting more. There is great potential here in both the source material and the author’s clever fictional imaginings; unfortunately, due to the rather superficial execution, much of that potential goes unrealized. While not altogether unworthy, this book could have been so much better and left us feeling a bit underwhelmed.

Our Rating

Monday, May 12, 2014

Review: Daughter of Smoke & Bone Trilogy by Laini Taylor

The Daughter of Smoke & Bone Trilogy

From master storyteller and National Book Award finalist Laini

Taylor comes a sweeping and gorgeously written modern fantasy

series about forbidden love, an ancient and epic battle, and hope

for a world remade.


Title:  Daughter of Smoke & Bone/Days of Blood & Starlight/Dreams of Gods & Monsters

Author: Laini Taylor
Publisher:  Little, Brown Books for Young Readers  Sept 2011/Nov 2012/April 2014
ISBN:  9780316134026 / 9780316133975 / 9780316134071
Pages:  424 pages/517 pages/613 pages
How I Read It: ebook
Genre: fantasy, paranormal, young adult

Book One: Daughter of Smoke & Bone

Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grown dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real, she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious "errands", she speaks many languages - not all of them human - and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When beautiful, haunted Akiva fixes fiery eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

Our thoughts:

Here we go, another young adult fantasy book – but wait! This is not your average angel (good) versus devil (bad) story. In fact, this novel is so complex and cleverly composed that it brings to light how something can be perceived as evil just because it’s different. And what of those born and raised into the hatred of a race just because, well, that’s how it’s always been? Laini Taylor has written an incredible and touching story that explores prejudice and war as well as romance in one of the most amazing fantasy worlds we have yet to encounter.

For you see Taylor, unlike numerous other young adult authors out there, is so far removed from the stereotypical, with writing that holds a magical flair and a sophistication that is not only rare but an absolute pleasure to read. Her stories are richer, her characters more highly developed and so very interesting. In fact, her style is bordering on art.

This story tells the age-old tale of forbidden love, but with an amazingly mythological twist. Karou and Akiva are portrayed as Romeo and Juliet – but unlike any other you’ve come across. Taylor creates an incredible fantasy world of humans, seraphim, and chimaera with the mythology being so sophisticated and storylines that are truly thought provoking. We were captivated by her literary prose – it was just exceptional. We loved the geographical descriptions of Prague, Marrakesh, and Elsewhere – we walked the streets, ate the goulash and spoke to the vendors right along with the characters. We were shocked by the severe punishments for fallen angels like Razgut; intrigued by the magic system; and listened to the individuality as each character had their own unique voice and message. On top of all that, one cannot forget the forbidden love; the young adults we once were read enraptured:
“Love is a luxury.”
“No. Love is an element.”
“An element. Like air to breathe, earth to stand on.”
 And, in spite of the divided and war-torn world Taylor has created, she also presents an undeniably optimistic underlying tone:
“Wishes are false. Hope is true. Hope makes its own magic.”
 Utterly and absolutely spellbinding, this isn’t a book; it’s an experience, deserving to be read by anyone of any age who truly appreciates quality writing and storytelling.
“Madrigal’s hands started to shake. She didn’t understand, quite, but something was starting to take shape, out of magic and will. Smoke and bone.”
 Our Rating

Book Two: Days of Blood & Starlight

Art student and monster's apprentice Karou finally has the answers she has always sought. She knows who she is—and what she is. But with this knowledge comes another truth she would give anything to undo: She loved the enemy and he betrayed her, and a world suffered for it.

In this stunning sequel to the highly acclaimed Daughter of Smoke & Bone, Karou must decide how far she'll go to avenge her people. Filled with heartbreak and beauty, secrets and impossible choices, Days of Blood & Starlight finds Karou and Akiva on opposing sides as an age-old war stirs back to life.

While Karou and her allies build a monstrous army in a land of dust and starlight, Akiva wages a different sort of battle: a battle for redemption. For hope.

But can any hope be salvaged from the ashes of their broken dream?

 Our thoughts:

A book as amazing as Daughter of Smoke & Bone was bound to be a hard act to follow, and we have to admit, Days of Blood & Starlight does suffer from that 'middle trilogy lull' at the outset. However, as you can see by our rating, it is still a wonderful read! The somewhat slow pacing at the beginning is definitely offset by a fantastic finish that leaves you wanting to dig right in to the final book. Taylor is on a winner here, and her writing is so very eloquent on such a range of issues and settings. It is no mean feat to change points of view and lose yourself in the variety of characters this story contains. This installment witnesses the maturing of our favorite leads as they become independent yet weighed down with responsibilities. The naivety has gone, but will it be replaced with a stronger understanding of each other and the worlds around them? Well, that is where you have to move on to book three with fingers crossed for some type of happy ending - we hoped.
"Light coursed through Karou and darkness chased it - burning through her, chilling her, shimmer and shadow, ice and fire, blood and starlight, rushing, roaring, filling her. Shock and disbelief. And rancor. And rage."

Our Rating

Book Three: Dreams of Gods & Monsters

In this thrilling conclusion to the Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy, Karou is still not ready to forgive Akiva for killing the only family she's ever known.

When a brutal angel army trespasses into the human world, Karou and Akiva must ally their enemy armies against the threat--and against larger dangers that loom on the horizon. They begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people. And, perhaps, for themselves--maybe even toward love.

From the streets of Rome to the caves of the Kirin and beyond, humans, chimaera, and seraphim will fight, strive, love, and die in an epic theater that transcends good and evil, right and wrong, friend and enemy.

 Our thoughts:

WOW! What an incredible finale to an outstanding series! Full of Taylor's trademark poetic writing, all of our favorite characters along with a few new faces, a full spectrum of emotion, conflict, twists and turns and revelations, we found this to be a brilliant and utterly satisfying conclusion to this remarkable tale.
 "As for myths, some are made up, nothing but fantasy. But some myths are true. Some have already been lived. And in the drift of time, eternal and entire, some haven't."
"Some myths are prophecy." 
Our dear friend and best reading buddy, Amanda, absolutely blew us away with her eloquent description of reading this book. We simply had to have her join us as a 'guest reviewer' so we could share her insight with the rest of you, as well. Here's what she had to say:

"I think reading this book, for me, was like running down the side of a heavily forested, dark and damp mountain side ... you start jogging along with the story until you are forced to run to keep up. You race along with branches slapping you in the face as you go, tears tracing your cheeks with every heartbreak the MC face. Down, down, faster and faster ... careening out of control, trapped in the arms of a story that sweeps you up and holds you tight. You think there is light ahead, and you burst through a clearing and think, "At last! The light!". BUT your momentum drags you forward, back into the dark forest. Faster....faster! Until at last you are expelled from the story with an unbearable pop of emotion, your heart in your mouth and tears drying on your cheeks."

We couldn't agree more! We loved this book, and this series, and give it our highest recommendation!
Our Rating

 Overall Series Rating
This is, without a doubt, one of the best young adult series we have ever read!