House of Reckoning by John Saul

To be honest, I expected more of this book. It seemed pretty interesting and as a teenager, I enjoyed John Saul. I remember reading Nathaniel and loving it (although if asked what it was about now, I’d be hard pressed to answer).

House of Reckoning was underwhelming at best. Basically, it’s the story of a fourteen year old girl named Sarah Crane who is the biggest Mary Sue that I’ve ever seen in a published fiction. Ever. Sarah’s mother died of cancer half a year ago and her daddy hasn’t been the same. He spends all of his time getting drunk and letting their farm fall into ruin. One night, he goes out drinking and he kills a man in his drunken rage. Driving back home–still drunk–he hits his own daughter with his truck, crippling her. Doesn’t this already sound ridiculous? I mean, this is stuff a newbie writer comes up with. I know I’m supposed to feel sorry for Sarah, but all I did was roll my eyes repeatedly. It only gets better.

So, daddy gets arrested and thrown into prison and poor little Sarah is pushed into the foster care system. I’m sure you can already see where this is going. Yep. Sarah gets stuck with a horrible, terrible, no good, awful family called the Garveys. The dad is an ass, the mom is a bitch, the kids are spoiled brats. They only want Sarah for the county money and they treat her like Cinderella. She has to cook and clean and barely gets any food and she has to feel “grateful” for everything they give her. Yeah. Seriously.

School is torture, where everybody makes fun of her being a cripple and as you’d expect, she makes friends with the other outcasts of the town; an art teacher everybody calls a witch and a crazy boy who hears voices (only they stop whenever he’s around her). The three of them are all tied together and it has to do with the house the art teacher lives in. Which was once a penitentiary for the criminally insane. As you can expect from a Saul book, it features troubled kids with issues who can use an ability. Well, the girl draws things that the boy sees. I’m not even really sure how the three tie in together with the house, other than the fact that it was always owned by the art teacher’s family and a sordid secret later divulged in the book.

The book was written well enough. A few times the POV shifted to somebody who wasn’t currently narrating, which was slightly annoying. But other than that, it wasn’t a badly written book. It was just the fact that the plot was contrived and the characters didn’t elicit any real attachment from me. All in all, I’d say this book was dull, as the whole first half of it read like a pre-teen’s roleplay character history and the second half was actually somewhat rushed and didn’t quite make sense (to me, anyway). I wouldn’t recommend this book to anybody but previous Saul fans and people like my mother, who eat this sort of thing up.

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Other by Karen Kincy

Other is a book about a half-pooka girl who finds herself being hunted by a killer. In this world, it’s the modern world with a “what if” twist; what if otherworldly creatures existed? What if the rest of the world didn’t like them? (Which would certainly be the case.)

This book was interesting on a few levels. It reminds me of something I would write, in terms of dialogue and unflowery descriptions. That part was a plus. Some of the characters were interesting; Randall was the most interesting to me. But a lot of things in this book irritated me.

The main character is, of course, a red-haired girl who feels different. I have a vendetta against red-headed girls in fiction as it is (although there are a select few I do like) because authors seem to go “Ooh, redhead! How exotic!” The idea of golden eyes with red hair was a little iffy for me, but that’s just aesthetics, so who cares? The thing that bothered me the most was that I didn’t really connect with or especially like the main character. Even now, I can’t define any super outstanding personality traits. She was a bit too bland for me. I suppose realistic, but I recall reading that a character in fiction should be a little above ordinary so that they stand out a little more. If nobody’s said that and I just made it up, I still like it better than just having a bland main character.

Even more annoying was the way the boyfriend was handled. I knew instantly when Tavian was introduced (even when he was just the Asian boy who draws anime) that he was going to be the real love interest and for some reason, that irked me. Maybe because it was transparent, maybe because I’m tired of seeing this story hashed out a thousand times. I mean, seriously, go check out some stories on fiction.press and you’ll see what I mean. Especially the YA or Manga sections. Red-haired girls falling for Japanese boys everywhere. I kid you not. Plus, I knew he’d be kitsune the moment I knew he was Japanese and drew anime. It just sort of screamed obvious.

Now, the boyfriend bit. I felt like the break up was contrived. It didn’t feel real to me. Maybe because I knew it was a plot convention to get Tavian and the main girl hooked up or something. Whatever the case, it’s like watching a movie and seeing the strings. I don’t want to see the strings. I want to be transported wholly into your world! Rawr! Even worse, near the end, when we find out who the real killer is, the boyfriend’s reactions are completely stupid and unreasonable. Nobody chooses the girl they dated for a year over their brother. Just… nobody. What bullshit.

Other than all those glaring problems, a few things were likable. Tavian turned out to be likable, though my favorite character was Randall. The writing style was quite enjoyable, too. Very fresh and easy to digest. If only the main character was more, I don’t know, main character material? Give her some interesting attributes please! She bored me and I couldn’t help thinking the romance moved much too quickly. Yuck. In the writer’s defense, though, it’s hard to write a good, believable romance when you’re trying to write a mystery, too.

That’s another thing. I bought the book because I thought it was a mystery, but it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. It just felt like a paranormal romance in a mystery disguise. Like the mystery was on the side. All in all, I’m curious to see what else this author has to offer, despite a few hiccups in Other.

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Chalice by Robin McKinley

Chalice by Robin McKinley is a fantasy novel about Mirasol, a beekeeper who suddenly finds herself in the prestigious position of Chalice. In the realm of this fantasy world, Chalice is second only to the Master of the demesne. As for the Master, he’s a Priest of the Fire, which means that he gives his life over to the element of Fire. Once a Priest passes the third level, they are said to be unable to live amongst humans. When the Master is called back from the Fire, he has just crossed the third level, and he is unable to fully control himself. He is described as having blackened skin and red fingertips and eyes. He scares most of the people in his demesne, even Mirasol at first.

The book’s story revolves mostly around Mirasol and the Master learning to work together and how they combat the Overlord and the man he staked as the demesne’s Heir. This man fully intends on marrying Mirasol and forcing her to have children with him to solidify his position, and most of the people of the Circle–which works as their governing body–agree with having this outblood Heir to take the place of their dangerous Fire Priest Master. Only one appears to side with the Master, and the Master himself doesn’t even believe he’s right for the place until he realizes that Mirasol believes in him.

I love Mirasol as a character. She isn’t all peppy and plucky. She’s shy and smart and confused. She spends most of her time with her bees or reading. She reminds me a lot of Belle from Beauty and the Beast. To be honest, this entire story reminded me of Beauty and the Beast. Book smart farming girl falling in love with misunderstood scary looking dude with meanie trying to marry her? Yep. Sounds like Beauty and the Beast.

My absolute favorite scene in the entire book was when the Master came down to Mirasol’s home for the first time and requests honey. She brings it out and she is staring at his eyes and blurts out the question: “Do you see any differently?” His response is that he sees colors, but he sees in heat. He describes it as human or pony shapes with little life forces within. Mirasol wonders what her bees look like and he tells her that they look like hundreds of tiny golden sparks glittering in the sun. She replies that it sounds beautiful and she wistfully tells him that she wishes she could see them the way he does. There is a moment where she feels embarrassed for saying as much, but when she looks over at the Master, he is wearing a surprised expression on his face. This scene endeared both characters to me and though it was in the middle of the book, it still stands out the brightest to me.

I think the writing was done brilliantly. It was poetic without being too much and I like that she goes ahead and turns those dusty rules on their heads. She sprinkles the story with no-nos like contractions at the start of a sentence, ellipses, sentence breaks, fragments, and adverbs. It comes across as easy to digest, but definitely not overly simple. She’s also highly skilled at evoking a scene without going into boring detail.

All in all, I’d say I loved Chalice by Robin McKinley and will continue to read her books in the future.

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