Melodrama can be fun

A Discovery of Witches is a book that I am not convinced is good, but you can bet I devoured it and will read all three books in the trilogy. The question is: why?

First, let’s get the basic plot out of the way. Diana is a witch, but she doesn’t use her powers, nor is she interested in using them. She’s perfectly happy being an American history professor at Oxford. Until she calls up a book from the archives: Ashmole 782. This book, it turns out is enchanted, and everyone from the three non-human races (vampires, witches, demons, all of whom look conveniently human) is interested in reading it. Alas, she’s already sent it back to the stacks. Don’t bother with why everyone wants it. Ashmole 782 is the book’s macguffin. Everyone is suddenly after Diana.

One particular vampire, Matthew Clairmont becomes more entranced with Diana than the book. He turns out to be French nobility, because of course he is. They fall in love very melodramatically – the whole book is very melodramatic – and he protects her as they have adventures and he awakens the witchy part of her. Of course he does.

Which brings us back to the question of why do I like this book? I’ve admitted to enjoying romances, and the romance aspect is part of it. I’m much more partial to a story about relationships than a story where people are horrible to each other. There’s enough horror in the world.

But it’s not like this is a happy book – there’s kidnapping and torture and death. There is Good – Diana and Matthew and their families – and there is Evil – the Congregation, a group of people who want to keep Diana and Matthew apart, who also want Diana to bring the book back so everyone can learn what’s in it for their own advantage.

It’s melodrama, a genre that is so over the top that it’s practically camp, and A Discovery of Witches is definitely taking itself seriously. And that might be why I devoured it: the heightened emotions, the very clear good vs evil, putting family first, and the love story. There is something appealing about that, especially when it’s on my television screen or in a novel.

And so yes, I will read the second book in the series, which involves time travel, and probably the third, too. And I might tell you to read them too.

Read The Sun is Also a Star

The Sun is Also a Star is easily one of my top books of the year. Like the other Nicola Yoon I recently read, it’s a YA romance. This is her second book and the writing style is slightly less linear and definitely choppier – the two main characters, along with others, share the storytelling responsibilities – and it works well.

Natasha is the child of illegal immigrants from Bermuda, and is probably going to be deported at the end of the day, unless a miracle occurs. Daniel, the son of Korean immigrants, is on his way to a college interview at Yale (second best university, after Harvard, according to his parents). They meet and their story is almost entirely contained in that day, with the exception of the epilogue.

It strongly reminds me of Before Sunrise, never a bad thing. Their romance is electric, delightful, and potentially doomed.

I am definitely recommending this book to almost everyone.

A delight of a YA romance novel

Everything Everything is a very sweet YA romance that I quite liked. There’s a girl, Maddie, who is allergic to everything and can’t leave the house. Ever. She is shockingly well adjusted and ok with this – she knows it keeps her safe and alive. But then a Boy moves in next door and everything changes. They communicate via text and email and then he comes over and she decides she needs more.

It’s a delightful, specific story about two people falling in love for the first time, and if you like romance novels, it’s a good one.

Myth and romance

I loved The Song of Achilles. It’s a retelling of the Iliad and some other related Greek myths through Patroclus’ eyes. It’s his view of history, his love of Achilles, their relationship, what it was like for them to grow up together, what it was like to go to war together, and what it was like in the camp.

But mostly: it was just a gorgeous love story. I’m a sucker for them, really. And Madeline Miller told this one so well. It’s highly recommended.

Sometimes entertainment is good

If you are looking for entertaining brain candy, The Royal Runaway is your book. Princess Thea gets caught up in an international investigation when her fiancé just doesn’t show up at the altar during their wedding. Well, he doesn’t show up at all – they don’t make it to the church. Everyone thinks he’s a cad, she nurses a broken heart, and four months later she’s getting on with things. Until someone starts investigating exactly what happened to her former fiancé.

It’s got old-school James Bond style investigative fun and intrigue and it’s all told from Princess Thea’s point of view so there’s none of that icky misogyny.

Recommended for when you need something to escape from the real world.

K-i-s-s-i-n-g

Iron Duke

What’s it about? 
This review is actually going to be for the part of The Iron Seas series that I’ve read so far: The Iron Duke, Riveted, and The Kraken King. So: what are these books about? They are steampunk romances. In this world, Genghis Khan’s hordes made it all the way to Europe, and his Mongolian Empire never fell. The Horde is mechanically inclined and has learned how to mechanically graft things on to people – so, for example, if they decide you’re going to be a miner, you might lose your lower arm and get a shovel or a pick-axe grafted on instead. They don’t sound like particularly pleasant rulers. But it is the late 1800s now; the Horde never took over Scandinavia, and Britain has just successfully rebelled. Europe, however, is a no-go zone and Japan is firmly entrenched Horde territory. One of the books takes place in London and Africa; one is in North America and Iceland; the last is Australia – where the Japanese fled when the Horde invaded.

Why should you read them? 
I am generally skeptical of romance books. I’m not personally great with emotions, and I’m not so much with the stories that are all about the back-and-forth of your romantic intentions. But this NPR’s summer books theme this year is romance and I like steampunk and Meljean Brook was highly recommended. And I was looking for an audiobook I could check out from my library. Riveted fit the bill.

And I was impressed. Riveted was a good adventure, the heroine was strong, it dealt gracefully with social issues (hitting both gay and disabled issues) and the hero wasn’t an ass. The Kraken King’s hero was shockingly emotionally intelligent. The Iron Duke… sigh. He can’t express his emotions *and* there’s a rape scene. Not so much with that one. Oh, and the portrayal of evolution is more than a little appalling.

So: I have gotten over my disdain of romance novels enough to thoroughly enjoy these. I plan to read the rest of the series.

Ghosts and London and adventure

the shadow cabinet

What’s it about? 
The Shadow Cabinet is the third in The Shades of London series. They are not stand-alone books. The premise of the series is that a young woman, Rory, has been sent to London to boarding school. After a near-fatal accident, she can see and talk to ghosts. This is A Thing in the series: she ends up joining a little-known branch of the London police made up of three other people who can also see ghosts. Sometimes the ghosts are good, sometimes not. They sort it out and take action when needed. In this episode of the story, they uncover more about the cult that Rory has discovered in the second book. It doesn’t end the series (I’d thought it was going to be a trilogy. It’s not.)

Why should you read it?
It’s not a book to read on its own. Start at the beginning with The Name of the Star. You should read the series because it’s a good adventure – Rory leaves her Louisiana home for London and is almost instantly plunged! into! adventure! The story is scary enough (says the person who hates being scared, ymmv) and the mystery is the right amount complicated. Overall: I enjoy it. (Plus Maureen Johnson has a fabulous twitter account. You should follow her.)

A cute distraction

Let It Snow

What’s it about?
Let It Snow is three stories/novellas that focus on different characters that are all tangentially related to each other. The through-line of all three stories is that there is a snowstorm. A train gets stuck in a snowdrift. A teenaged girl, a teenaged boy, and a group of cheerleaders all leave the train to go to the nearby Waffle House. The first story is about the teenaged girl (written by Maureen Johnson), the second story is about friends of the  Waffle House employees (written by John Green), and the last story is about the teenaged boy (written by Lauren Myracle).

Why Should You Read It?
Because you need brain candy. I tossed this one off quickly while I had a cold and only a little brainpower. My tween-aged daughter enjoyed it, but I don’t think will be re-reading it like she does her favorite books. Still: an adorable distraction.

What’s a synonym for charming?

Isla and the Happily Ever After

What’s it about?
Isla and the Happily Ever After is a YA romance. Which means there’s a boy and there’s a girl and it takes place in freaking Paris. Of course. That said, it’s also about impostor syndrome. Josh and Isla, our couple, get together quickly for a romance. Most of the rest of the book is Ilsa convinced that her own insecurities make her an unworthy person. She is unique in the Stephanie Perkins books in that she doesn’t have a driving passion in her life, and that makes her feel less than worthy. So the rest of the book is about her learning to love herself.

Why should you read it?
Isla and the Happily Ever After could easily be schlocky, but it’s not. Isla isn’t as charming as Perkins’ other heroines (they’d be Anna and Lola), but the book is noticeably better written. Anna was a charming book, but you could see the outline in the story. Isla is slightly less charming, but a much more robust book. If you’ve read the first two, it’s worth picking up.