Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Book Review: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke

I'll just come right out and say it: I was intrigued ever since I laid my eyes on the cover. In fact, 'intriguing' is the perfect word to describe April Genevieve Tucholke's debut novel "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea"--there couldn't be a better word for a story that works its sinuously delicious, gothic magic on you as you flip through its pages. Trust me, just because it's summer, doesn't mean you can't get shivers down your spine! This book certainly proved that right.

Hardly anything exciting happens to Violet White in the sleepy seaside town of Echo. That is, until the mysterious River West comes along. When River rents the guesthouse behind Violet's crumbling estate, eerie things start to happen, making Violet wonder just who this boy with a crooked smile is. Violet's grandmother has always warned her about the Devil, but she never said it could be a charming, dark-haired teenage boy who packs picnics, likes coffee, and kisses you in a cemetery...and makes you want to kiss him back. Even though it's only been a few days, Violet's already fallen deeply in love with him, too deep to see straight. And that's just how River wants it.

"Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" is rich in its gothic atmosphere, with rickety, sprawling mansions and grim superstitions about darker powers. I've read quite a few gothic YA novels, ripe with the uncanny and romance, but I don't think many of them really had me enraptured like this one did. Of course, one of the most crucial components to gothic literature is the terror--that pleasing sort of terror that thrills you just as much as it gives you the heebie jeebies. This book definitely has the terror part down. I mean, all of the children in the town suddenly amassing into a grim stake-wielding, cross-bearing army? Or people rallying together to burn red-headed 'witches'? There's a lot of dark stuff going on in the story, from horrific sadism to crippling addiction, and Ms. Tucholke has definitely done and excellent job in crafting the perfectly eerie atmosphere for the story. I can't even count how many times I got the chills!

What I liked even more than the grim, gothic atmosphere of the novel was its great cast of characters, especially Violet. She is without a doubt a unique protagonist, with quirks like wearing her deceased grandmother's clothes and reading classics like Faust and Auden. Despite this, she never struck me as weird. Instead, Violet is an endearing heroine who's strong, compassionate, and has the ability to see ordinary things as a little more magical, something which can be seen in the subtly beautiful descriptions of Citizen Kane, the grand estate she and her twin brother, Luke, live in together. Violet's also very responsible, which did great things to not make her yet another one of those heroines who end up falling head over heels for the mysterious, hot stranger. Which, of course, brings me to the mysterious, hot River. My feelings toward River are pretty mixed. I think as the story progressed, they went from 'ooh hello good looking' to 'he's kind of a player' to 'what on earth, you're clearly messed up, get away from me' to 'ah, I guess I kinda understand you, you're not too bad after all'. If you had a hard time following along with my nonsensical train of thought, the long story short is that River's a complex character, and a pretty messed up one at that, too. But as the story progressed and we saw more of his past and his true feelings, I felt more and more sympathetic towards him, so maybe he's not too bad after all.

The other characters in the novel also played instrumental roles in making the book as great as it is. You have Luke, Violet's twin brother who plays all manly-macho, but has a soft side to him. And there's Sunshine, Violet's neighbour-and-sort-of-best-friend, who likes to show off her boobies, and whose thoughts are slow and calm like a babbling brook. There's also Neely, and all these other characters, who all make the book all the more exciting and vibrant. But I think my favourite character is definitely Freddie, Violet's grandmother. Despite the fact that she's long dead by the beginning of the book, her presence is strong throughout the novel, and it's one heck of a presence at that! Instead of your standard cookie-baking, sweater-knitting grandma, Freddie is eccentric and kind of...sensual, as gross as that sounds when you're describing a grandmother. I mean, there are nude paintings of her hanging around Citizen Kane! If that's not sensual, I don't know what is. I also thought the relationship between Freddie and Violet was really sweet, and gave even more life to her character.

Overall, "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" is a hauntingly enchanting story, with a rich, gothic atmosphere, a quirky, likable heroine, and a great cast of characters. I definitely recommend this novel for anyone looking for a thrilling read, and I can't wait to see how things develop in the sequel!

Rating: 4/5

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Mini Review: The Iliad of Homer, translated by Richmond Lattimore

Note: This is just a mini review because I've only read the first half of the poem as part of my summer reading for college!

Greek myths have always had a tight grip on my interests, especially when they're retold from a completely different perspective. There's something about the myths that speak of heroes and values of the past, and, of course, there's the magic that plays such a dominant role in all the stories. I've always thought of "The Iliad" as a sort of prequel to "The Odyssey", never expecting that it'd be a captivating story all on its own!

When I first found out that we'd be reading "The Iliad" in its original epic poem form, I was a little daunted. Sure, poems are great to read, but a 600-page epic poem? Even "The Odyssey", which I'd read back in eighth grade, was the high-school-ified prose version. Once I cracked open the book, however, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I began to enjoy reading the poem! I think there are several reasons behind this little epiphany. First, the story itself was exciting to read about. I mean, one of the greatest wars of all time between Troy and Greece? Yes please! Behind the action, however, lies the central theme of human nature, from our desire for glory to the common fate that binds us all together: death. Second, the gods themselves were made relatable and even amusing through the descriptions of their jealousies and squabbling and pouting. The fact that even such almighty, immortal beings are subject to human follies really shed some more light on that theme of human nature, and it's almost enlightening to read about. Third, Richmond Lattimore's translation really made it a smooth read. I expected obscure "art thou", "thy shan't" language, but instead, Mr. Lattimore used everyday, understandable language and syntax, whilst sticking to the words and essence to Homer's original poem.

I know this review is relatively short and not as detailed, but trust me when I say you should really give "The Iliad" a shot! Not only do you get bragging rights and the intellectual sensation of having read a classic epic poem (!), but you also learn so much about the way humans are, even if they lived thousands of years ago. Also, if you pick up Mr. Lattimore's translation, I highly recommend reading the foreword by Richard Martin--it illuminates the central themes of the poem and gives you things to look out for as you read "The Iliad".

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Book Review: The Defiance by A.G. Henley

I remember reading "The Scourge" last year and completely falling for its believable, unique characters and its thrilling storyline. It felt like I was in the forest with Fenn and Peree as they uncovered secrets long hidden, listening to the sound of animals and inhaling the scent of summer. Long story short, I loved it! (You can find the review here!) So when I read on A.G. Henley's blog that the sequel, "The Defiance", in the "Brilliant Darkness" series was being released just last week, I knew I had to get my grubby little hands on it. Of course, I squealed a little in excitement when I got to the cover page, and squealed a little more when I reached the ending! But lemme just start from the beginning.

Not long ago, Fennel and Peree have discovered the impossible truth: the much feared Scourge, and their world, are not what they seem. Now, the Sightless Groundling and the Lofty Keeper are determined to guide their people to the safety of the village of Koolkuna, even if it means exposing the lies their lives were built on--a task more difficult than they'd imagined. And when someone nails animal corpses to Fennel's wall, Fenn and Peree know that not everyone will accept change so easily, even if it means living in constant fear and danger. With the fragile peace between the Groundlings and the Lofties unraveling, Fenn must decide how much she's willing to sacrifice for the happiness of her people--and herself.

I loved Fenn's character in "The Scourge", and I continued to do so in "The Defiance". She's an undeniably strong, compassionate heroine who dedicates so much to her people, even if they were the reason she is Sightless. Her unwavering loyalty is also present in her relationships with her family and friends--her love and protectiveness over her little brother Eland is sweet and understandable, and evokes a lot of emotion as you see their relationship throughout the book. On top of all that, Fenn also possesses some killer wit, which makes her all the more endearing! Who doesn't like a funny protagonist? Despite her strengths, however, Fenn also struggles with her weaknesses, from her inner battle between staying behind as the water bearer for her people and leaving to Koolkuna with Peree for a life of happiness, to her dormant terror of the Scourge, whom she learned to fear ever since she was born. These shortcomings are what make Fenn a truly realistic and engaging main character, and you just cannot help but like her.

Of course, Peree can't go unmentioned here! If I liked Peree in the first book, I absolutely loved him in the second. While in "The Scourge" you saw the development of Peree and Fenn's feelings for each other, in "The Defiance", you see just how strong their relationship is in the face of obstacles as they search for a way to find happiness together. Peree is unfailingly understanding and supportive of Fenn as she struggles with her losses and questions the worth of leaving her home, and knows when to be there for her, or when to let her have some breathing space. I do have to admit, I was a little surprised by how quickly the whole 'intended' thing went, especially toward the end of the novel--they're just teens! But maybe that's just how the Groundlings and Lofties do it...

The plot of "The Defiance" was fairly compelling throughout the length of the novel. There's definitely tension woven into the storyline, like when Moray and Fenn have their little spats, or when Fenn discovers more truths that lead her to question the Council of Three. However, I felt like there was too much time spent on the lead-up to the actual crux of the plot, with the whole preparations for the journey and whatnot. The pace might've been a little quicker and the plot even more engaging if Ms. Henley had condensed the first half or so of the novel, but other than that, the storyline was interesting and exciting--especially at the end! I knew something like that would happen, I just knew it!

Overall, "The Defiance" is a great second installment to the "Brilliant Darkness" series, with incredibly likable and engaging characters, a believable, strong romance, and a pretty exciting plot. Fans of "The Scourge" will definitely love this book, and I cannot wait for the next book!

Rating: 4/5

Thursday, August 1, 2013

August '13 Releases!

Summer's passing by way too quickly! There's only one measly month left before school begins... Luckily for me, I have college to look forward to! The end of August will herald a new beginning for me, chock full of excitement and new things to try and see and experience. Despite all this craziness, I know I'll always have my ever-loyal companion by my side: books! Which, of course, reminds me (cue slick segue into this month's releases)... August also means new releases as well, and some really exciting ones too!

"Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock" by Matthew Quick
Release date: Aug. 13

"Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" by April Genevieve Tucholke
Release date: Aug. 15

"Perdition" (Dred Chronicles #1) by Ann Aguirre
Release date: Aug. 27

"Origin" (Lux #4) by Jennifer L. Armentrout
Release date: Aug. 27

"Crown of Midnight" (Throne of Glass #2) by Sarah J. Maas
Release date: Aug. 27

"The Bitter Kingdom" (Fire and Thorns #3) by Rae Carson
Release date: Aug. 27