An original idea in the mash-up genre of paranormal alternative history from the man who created the category, but I’m not convinced this is a great novel, or even a compelling read. It’s more of a sensationalist fad past its prime and the unusual premise does not follow through with an interesting or even particularly well-crafted story.
The largest problem is the format that Grahame-Smith chose for telling his tale. A faux alternative biography of the 16th president’s life means that much of the book read like a dusty American history textbook. There were times when the author tried to spruce things up and strayed into story-telling mode, but to do so he had to take liberties that would not be accepted in a true posthumous biography. These liberties included descriptions of what other characters were thinking (things that Lincoln was not privy to and would therefore not have been able to record in his secret diaries, which were the biographer’s only source material) or quoted dialog of conversations between characters. Unless Lincoln recorded exact transcriptions of his interactions in court-reporter style, then these dialogs had to be fabricated by the biographer. These liberties might have been things that an author could reasonably guess from Lincoln’s journal, but it pulled me out of the illusion of the story because I couldn’t get over the thought of “how would the writer KNOW this?”
I also feel that Grahame-Smith failed to write the excerpts as believable journal entries. The reader is asked to believe that Lincoln wrote religiously, but parts of his journal read like stories told well after the fact. It is true that we are told that Lincoln did not detail certain events until many years later, but almost all of his journal reads as if it were written as an autobiographical summary at the end of his life, with long sections of his life summarized in a few paragraphs. What was he writing daily from the time he was 12 then? I’ll try to find some examples of this in the book as this point is hard to describe, but the point is I didn’t buy the excerpts as believable journal entries.
In his journal, Lincoln also frequently cuts himself off mid-thought (or mid word) to tell about a sudden intrusion or disturbance at the time that he was thinking that thought, but that doesn’t read like something someone would actually write in a journal entry. Perhaps your reflection on your mother’s death was interrupted by a noise in the barn, but a journal entry later would not include the truncated musing. It’s not believable to cut yourself off in the middle of a word while recounting the story in a journal later.
The story is not particularly compelling. It is a history and reads like one for most of the book, as one would expect. The vampires are added here and there in his life, sort of like salt sprinkled on dinner. There is no real story arc involving them other than the fact that they exist. Abraham’s life isn’t even really that affected by them; he takes a few breaks here and there in his campaigning to off the odd blood-sucker before returning to his political work but the story line of his life is not much altered by the addition of supernatural beings in his reality. I am glad I read it, but only because it is an usual bit of pop-culture that everyone is talking about and that I couldn’t really judge the praise or criticism until I had read it, but it wasn’t as entertaining an experience as I had hoped.
It was an interesting premise to be sure, but poorly executed. It had a fast-paced start but it was not enough to keep my interest once I hit the middle. There was little suspense and the mystery was solved too early, leaving just head bashing for the end of the book. Nothing built, there was no emotional attachment or evolution and it felt a little like I was reading a comic book.
I did not for one minute believe they were in the time period they were supposed to be and there were gross inconsistencies in the social behaviour throughout the book. They couldn’t decide if they were in conservative Victorian London, or a present-day high school in LA. The dialog was not consistent enough to tell and the characters at certain times adhered to the repressive social behaviours of the 1800′s and at other times ignored them. If the world she was creating was meant to follow the social rules of modern-day then she needed to be more consistent to successfully portray that.
The writing style was terribly annoying. She used the third-person narrative for this book and failed to execute it well. The inner-narrative was not consistent and it was jarring to see something from Griffin’s point of view and in the next sentence be privy to the inner thoughts of his attacker. If you are going to switch points of view, do it consistently at understandable break points. It would have been better to show a scene from one point of view and then go back and explain from another’s, or to omit small points such as how a person looked in Finley’s eyes when nothing else in the scene was from her point of view.
The dialog was slightly boring and the characters were not completely flat, but not as filled out as they could have been. In addition, the inner-narrative was written poorly and consisted of the characters asking themselves a lot of questions. This is a good technique to portray a character’s confusion or curiosity, but it was used too much and the characters ended up sounding like dumb cartoon versions of themselves. I particularly hated Sam who seemed to have the wits of an uneducated thug and absolutely no redeeming qualities.
The premise could have been interesting if it was better written and if more was added to the plot. Cross has creativity but creating a world like this requires a lot of detail and full-immersion for the reader and perhaps she would be better served by writing novels set in the current, urban known world where she does not have to work so hard to paint a fictional setting.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The bottom line: I enjoyed reading this book, but I had a few issues with it. I got what I expected and was entertained.
I opened this book knowing it was a Young Adult Paranormal and that’s what I got. Some reviewers complained about the insertion of what they saw to be a pointless romance, but that is part of the framework of this genre. I don’t mind it following the framework, as long as it is well written and believable, the characters are well formed and the author make us care about them. I didn’t expect it to be a Tolkien epic.
I loved a lot of her quotes and her dialogue actually felt natural. Yes, the characters make some suggestive comments and a few dirty jokes, but they’re teenagers, they’re flirting and he’s supposed to be a bit of a Cassanova so turning a harmless comment of hers into an innuendo about fellatio is actually a pretty accurate thing for him to do. There was little swearing in the book, but where it was added it was effective. I never get used to the squeaky-clean way that teen protagonists speak in many books and it seems artificial. Here there were a few F-words, but in places where you would expect them to be (like when REALLY angry, or when you think you may have accidentally just killed someone) but not thrown in everyday sentences in an attempt to capture “authentic teenage angst.”
The characters were fairly likeable, and I enjoyed reading about Mara, but she didn’t inspire a great deal of love or sympathy or any other emotion in me. She wasn’t exactly flat; Hodkin did a fairly good job of creating a fully fleshed-out person, she just wasn’t very interesting. I feel Noah was drawn to her only because of his previous connection and not because he was particularly attracted to anything about her. I liked Noah in spite of myself, arrogant and lecherous as he may be. I loved her younger brother. Daniel, her older brother, was so nice that he bordered on being boring and unbelievable, but I still liked reading about him. The rest of the characters were a little empty, especially the token “mean girl.”
I liked that Hodkin manages to keep us guessing about whether Mara is actually crazy or if something paranormal is happening to her. I loved the prologue and the first half of the book, but after that the action, suspense and most of the mystery sort of dropped off. I wasn’t sure how I wanted it to end and I am still not convinced that I like the way it did, but both possibilities (either Mara is crazy or supernatural) had their associated problems. Noah seems to lose his personality in the second half of the book as well, completely dropping his charmer attitude, but not replacing it with anything substantial. He turns into a bit of a lost puppy and I think that Hodkin simply did not pay enough attention to his development near the end as she was wrapping up story lines.
Throughout the book Mara experiences flashbacks of the fateful accident that she cannot remember, but I don’t feel that the flashbacks were that effective. They didn’t provide great insights or add anything to the plot except to explain the reason that Mara was so upset right before her friends die, but that was something that could have been explained in one flashback, not three or four meaningless ones.
This book might have been a bit predictable and cliche, but it was still a better written version on many of the same books in this gene. I was entertained while reading it and will continue to follow the series.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a nice light paranormal mystery that reads fast and has a reasonable amout of mystery and, yes, romance.
I have to admit that at the beginning of this book I did not like it at all, though my opinion changed by the end. I found the start of the book to be confusing and a little boring. Harkness tries to build up mystery about the book’s focus of interest, a manuscript called Ashmole 7-somethngorother, but it doesn’t come out as mysterious, just jumbled. We don’t get a sense of what it important about this manuscript, why all these other supernatural beings are hanging around the library and (most importantly) why everyone interested in this manuscript doesn’t just check it out of the library themselves like Diana did. We learn later why that is but at the beginning it isn’t clear and instead of adding suspense it just adds frustration. In addition to that I got tired of reading about Diana’s day-in day-out pilgrimage to the library, broken up by occasional trips to dinner with a vampire, which didn’t feel natural. I mean besides the fact that dinner with a vampire wouldn’t be natural at all, but the relationship in the beginning felt forced.
But the book progressed and I was quite happy with the rest of it. It is true that it may be called a bit like “Twilight for grown-ups” but as long as you know that’s what you’re getting into, it’s well done. The writing is interesting for the most part and I especially loved reading about Diana’s haunted house. I enjoyed the characters and they were unique, interesting and well written. I am happy with the ending knowing it is the first in a proposed series and it left me interested in reading the second when it comes out.
A little video I made of Noah learning to crawl.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
There were things about this book that I loved fantastically, but on the whole it was a slower read than I would like. It seemed to be all that was missing from The Girl in the Steel Corset, however it was missing everything that book did well, such as pulling you in from page one and keeping the story interest throughout the entire book.
The world presented by Hodder was meticulously researched, thoroughly crafted and well-written. It was consistent, believable, and all the character dialogue and descriptions were fitting with the style. It was fantastical and creative and weird and very steampunk. The alterations to Victorian history we usually see in Steampunk creations are steam and clockwork-driven machines and, though this book did showcase some great examples, it seems to focus on the biological creations of this alternate history, which is unique. Genetic experimentation and mutation are the showcase of this story and the author ties it in well.
I was moderately impressed with the characterization and though the characters are unique and interesting, they aren’t built up as much as I’d like. I did like the use of well-known historical characters from our world such as Oscar Wilde, Florence Nightingale and Charles Darwin as characters and even antagonists and it did add interest to their identity, but not enough to get me emotionally involved about any of the characters and at times felt a little like a gimmick (“Hey! I know who that is! I studied him in school!). I liked reading about them to an extent, but I didn’t really care what happened to any of them.
Mark Hodder manages to builds the mystery throughout the book, leading to a “tell-all” scene where the full truth finally comes out which really helps add interest (I love that part in a good story, where you finally find out what the hell is going on), but it was fairly easy to guess the large part of the truth before the great reveal. Still, it was enjoyable to read about the build-up, and the explanations did clear up a lot of questions I didn’t manage to guess the answer to.
What I didn’t enjoy about this book was the pacing. It was very slow at the beginning and I had to try more than once to start the story as I couldn’t get past the first few chapters on early attempts. The story does pick up later and the end is nice and action-packed, but it takes a while to get to that stage. It even took a while to get Algernon Swinburne involved in the story and I was wondering for a good part of the book why the series was called “Burton and Swinburne” if Swinburne was only around for a few scenes, and drunk in those few appearances. He did finally make a more substantial contribution to the investigation and a partnership (of sorts) was established, but it took much too long get to the interesting part and the only thing that kept me reading in the beginning was the very creative world Hodder planted his less-than-thrilling story in.
It’s finally time for solid food! Noah’s first lunch of rice cereal and smushy bananas. He seemed to like it… eventually.
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
I really hated this book.
I expected a typical neat and tidy ya paranormal thriller so when the book began and we were reading through the eyes of a gritty street-wise teen with a tragic past who rarely goes to school and has no friends I was excited that maybe there may be more to this book than the “nice” books common to this genre. I was charmed at first by Jem’s tragic life and London street dialect, but the charm soon wore off. Absolutely nothing happens in this book and I hate all the characters.
My first issue is with the plot, or lack thereof. It’s a great premise and the synopsis sounds exciting, but it was a great let-down. The terrorist attack that the book jacket made sound so interesting was not. She saw that a bunch of people were going to die, she ran, they died and that was it. She didn’t use her ability for anything exciting, there were no follow-up attacks to prevent and nothing further happened except that they ran through fields for three-quarters of the book.
If a book is not plot-driven, it may be character-driven but, sadly, this book failed on that account as well. Jem is bitter because of her past, I get that, but she is annoying, boring and super selfish. I did not care AT ALL what happened to her. Ward tries to write about her growth during the events of the books but she doesn’t grow that much. She makes a pretty speech at the end but the only thing that finally makes her into a decent person occurs in the epilogue and we don’t see it, just the result. Spider was sweet at times, but in her attempt to make a nitty-gritty real book she made Spider so “real” he was repellent. I really did not want to read over and over about how much he smelled, how stupid he was, the poor choices he made and his uncouth eating habits. The relationship between the two main characters was unrealistic considering the fact that she spent most of the book observing how gross he was.
All in all it was a promising, but ultimately disappointing read.
I remember every detail of the first time I saw Buddy. There was a tuft of his fuzzy brown head poking out the top of the red plaid gift bag that our close family friend, Robert D, held out to me with one hand. “You can call him what you want, but his name’s Buddy,” He said, in his characteristic style, at once both caring, and uncomfortable with all the required mushiness that comes with caring for two little girls as much as if they were your own. I looked at the bag Robert D had given me and then back at him before opening it to pull out the furry brown body. I gave Buddy a test hug and it was love at frst squeeze.
It’s been 24 years since that day and Buddy has spent every day of those 24 years on my bed, propped between the two pillows by day, and tucked under my arm at night. I’ve rested my head on him when I needed a prop, smooshed my face into him to stifle my tears and fallen asleep smelling his weird, warm laundry and lipgloss scent. Any embarrassment I may have had at still having a Teddy Bear has faded with my adolescence and though I know I don’t need a bear to sleep with, I still tuck him under my arm even now. He’s warm and full of memories that float out every time I squeeze him, and his little worn body is molded perfectly to the contour of my arm. To me he represents everything about being kid that I want to remember and perhaps that is why I love having him around, even now. To remind me of the things I never want to outgrow.
Someone asked me recently if Buddy would now be Noah’s and even though I want to give him everything I can, I said no. Buddy is full of my memories, not his, and a ratty old bear wouldn’t mean the same thing to him. Besides, I wasn’t done with Buddy yet.
But Buddy had a twin named Teddy, who was under the care of my little sister all these years. Although she played with and talked to Teddy all the time, she never slept with stuffed animals and so Teddy has weathered the intervening years in better shape physically than poor Buddy. This past Christmas was the first time in over ten years that the two bears were re-united. You see, my sister, knowing what Buddy meant to me, wanted Noah to start from scratch and have the chance to have a bear that would be to him what Buddy was to me. Tia nobly handed over the care of Buddy’s long lost brother Teddy into my son’s tiny hands. If anyone is trying to find a Christmas gift that will make your sister cry, this is it.
Putting Buddy and Teddy side by side shows the toll that 24 years tucked under an arm can make on a poor bear. I hope this year marks the start of Teddy’s new journey and that in another 24 years the stories he will be able to tell will be just as good as Buddy’s are.
I forgot to write about it, but I made Noah some winter hats a few weeks ago. Being a preemie, he is still too small to fit any of the winter hats sold in stores, so it was easiest to just make him some. He is growing way faster than I realized though. The half-finished hat fit him fine one night, but was too small by the time I finished it and tried it on him the next morning. I am absolutely sure that is because he grew a whole size over night, and not because I may have missed an entire row of increases from my pattern while making it.
I had to take the pictures while he was sleeping because it’s the only time he sits still long enough to get a clear shot.