Ageless Pages Reviews

Because Good Books Never Get Old.

 

Cleverly disguised as a responsible adult.

 

I like books. A lot. I buy them when I should buy clothes, or you know, food. I like to talk about books. A lot.

 

I review at Ageless Pages Reviews with Danielle - one of the most kickass people I know.

 

I'm on twitter as @msjessieee.

I ramble on there a lot. There is also a lot of CAPS and puns in my timeline.

 

Say hi, and let's talk about books!

 

 

More Than This

More Than This - Patrick Ness

Patrick Ness, I want to live inside your creative, weird, different brain.

 

Review to come.

Dash & Lily's Book of Dares

Dash & Lily's Book of Dares -  'David Levithan', 'Rachel Cohn'

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In what world would this series of events really happen? Self-indulgent wish fulfillment, thy name is Dash and Lily's Book of Dares

I had wanted to read this for years -- but friend reviews were all over the place, so I adjusted my hopes to a more reasonable level. It turns out that even that readjustment wasn't enough -- "disappointment" doesn't even begin to describe how much of a let down this was.

My issues came early: I thought Dash was unfailingly pretentious and Lily was so twee that she made my teeth hurt. He's smarmy, she's cutesy. He's a hipster and she is so peppy I don't even know what to do with her. The way the notebook was passed back and forth was believable enough, until the two meet. And the plot turns into some kind of wacky romantic comedy. I know books are up to interpretation, but REALLY. This book strained credulity in so many ways: that someone as hipsterish as Dash would get along with goofy Lily, that what happens with Boris would fall out that way, that this many quirky people would act just so perfectly for the plot to get moving.... It just does not work.

The only thing that saved this from a one-star was that rarely there would be a line or dialogue that felt real, or read nicely. But for a book I expected so much from (I've  really loved Levithan's other novels! Cohn has so many fans!), Dash and Lily's Book of Dares was a wash. Based on this, I don't think I will be reading either of these two author's other collaborations (Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, Naomi and Eli's No Kiss List).  This book was just so... irritating. The POVs, the personalities, the plot, etc. It all grated on my nerves and just made me disdainful. Dash and Lily were not characters for me and this was not the book for me.

Don't Turn Around

Don't Turn Around - TRUFAX.(That should say "go down". I am the best tweeter ever.)

Fire

Fire - Kristin Cashore A strong sequel, though Fire does engage in a little too much hand-wringing and selfishness, to the detriment of the novel. That said, I loved the plot, the romance, the new "monsters", and the new location. All in all, it was an entertaining read and left pretty excited to buy Bitterblue.

The Fairest of Them All

The Fairest of Them All: A Novel - Carolyn Turgeon

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The Fairest of Them All is a fairytale retelling that combines two well-known and often-told stories - that of Rapunzel and that of Snow White - and asks, "what if Rapunzel was Snow White's Evil Stepmother?"  It's an intriguing idea and one that lends originality to such famous stories, but one that sadly lacks subtlety and pathos. Carolyn Turgeon does an able job of meddling the two separate stories into one cohesive plot, but her characters lack agency and can come off as rather bland.

The premise is obviously one of the strongest aspects to the story of The Fairest of Them All. We've all seen the Disney and/or Pixar movies, we've read the Grimm versions, so a new idea on both Rapunzel and Snow White (don't even mention that Kristen Stewart failure) feels like a breath of fresh air for retellings. The way that Turgeon introduces both stories, both apart and together, feels organic. It's not hard to believe that these two women came to be directly involved with each other's lives. The story is told in pretty straightforward and nondescript prose, but the author isn't afraid to whip out some pretty big gamechangers before it's all said and done.

My main problem lies with characterization. Rapunzel was the best character -- she's desperately flawed, but she's more interesting and compelling for it. Both Josef, her King, and Snow White, his daughter by his first Queen, come off as blandly beautiful. The King is shown to be somewhat imperfect - his philandering, lack of attention for Rapunzel once he has her - but he has such little presence it makes almost no difference. Snow White is where I really struggled. She's too perfect here, as she is in almost every representation you find of her tale. I had hoped that The Fairest of Them All would do for her what it did to her counterpart - Rapunzel is unlike any other version before. But this Snow White is ripped right from Disney: she's beautiful and perfect and thus inspires jealousy easily. I was disappointed with her one-note personality, and never really grew to care about her the way I did for her "evil" Stepmother. (Yes, Rapunzel does horrible things. But she grows and learns and evolves before/after.)

Despite Snow White's perfection, Turgeon isn't afraid to go to dark places with her story. It's more along the lines of the Brothers Grimm than old Walt. Murder, enviousness, jealousy, betrayal, revenge, rape and more are all part and parcel to the plot. The author deviates from the norm several times  - the apple appears but functions in a new way, the seven dwarfs are a group of bandits, Rapunzel's hair has powers besides being able to bear weight - and it works for the story. The infusions of originality keep these old stories feeling fresh and unique, rather than a retread of what has been done before. 

The Fairest of Them All is an involving, interesting read. It has a few faults with characters and could do with a bit more polish, but overall, makes for an entertaining new take on some of the world's most popular fairytales. It's dark, it's full of surprises that will keep readers guessing. All in all, this was a promising introduction to this author and I would definitely read more from her.

Graceling

Graceling - Kristin Cashore THIS WAS SO GOOD. I am five years late to this party, but damn, that was a helluva good book.

Life in Outer Space

Life in Outer Space - Melissa Keil

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Life in Outer Space is a romcom in YA book form. It's cute, it's sweet, it's adorable, and it's predictable. It's a fun, fast read that doesn't demand attention but provides a lot of entertainment and pop culture references. It's full of interesting, if slightly under-characterized characters, and Keil spins her story rather well. Life in Outer Space is funny, authentic and full of great moments, though it does falter when it comes to secondary characters especially.

Where the book floundered the most for me was where the female love interest, Camilla, was concerned and how Sam acted around her. It's not a spoiler to label her the love interest because long before Sam has his "a ha!" moment, the reader is acutely clued into his feelings for her. There is a real connection between the two main characters. It just took Sam way way too long to catch on to what he wanted. Though I appreciated the slow-building of a real relationship between the two, it made the storyline feel stretched rather thin. The romance is sweet, and funny, but it could've been tighter. 

I liked Camilla - but she does stray into Manic Pixie Dream Girl territory often throughout the novel.
  
Let's run a checklist, shall we?

  • Quirky and idiosyncratic? Check.
  • Wild hair choices and unique approach to fashion? Do Leia buns count? I say they do -- check.
  • Opens up the love interest to a wider experience of (high school) life? Double check.
  • Fixated on the main character from the start? Oh yeah - but not in a creepy way. 


There's more to both the trope and to Camilla, but she fits within the designation fairly well.

She does differ from the trope in that Camilla has a realized inner life and struggles of her own. She struggles with family issues, abandonment issues, and more. The fact that Keil fashioned her into a more evolved MPDG is what saved both Camilla and the love story. I liked her, despite how she was occasionally presented. She was interesting, she wasn't dependent on Sam for meaning, and she was funny. 

The other side characters aren't as defined as Camilla and Sam. Mike seems to be sadly defined by his homosexuality, despite the author's clear attempts to do otherwise. Adrian never evolved into more than comic relief, and though the parents are featured, they lack presence. They're likeable enough, but they aren't memorable. They just seem to exist in the periphery of Sam and Camilla's love story and lack any agency on their own.

There's angst, there's romance, there's a high school dance. All in all, Life in Outer Space constitutes pretty typical contemporary fare, but it's fun to read and the nerdery of the main characters makes for a fresh read. It could have been more original, and the secondary cast could have used some more time and definition, but it was a fun and pretty adorable read. I'd read it again, and I would recommend it to a friend looking for something light and quick.

The Translator: A Novel

The Translator: A Novel - Nina Schuyler This just wasn't for me. I wanted to like it more than I actually did. I hate when that happens.
Amy & Roger's Epic Detour - Morgan Matson Fun, a bit shallow, but still a good read.

Gated

Gated - Amy Christine Parker

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Gated is a pretty good, fairly solid and easy to read novel. It's not your typical YA book, though it does contain some of the tropes found in that age group (love triangles, love at first sight, etc.). It's got more than its fare share of action, especially as it nears the final few chapters but Parker relies on introspection, psychological thrills, and a slow build rather than a nonstop action-packed adventure to see her story through. Lyla is caught between the home she has known for ten years and increasing evidence that not all is as it seems in Mandrodage Meadows, which add up to a intense and exciting story.

 

Parker has a simple style, which fits both Lyla's narration and the kind of secluded life she leads in the Doomsday cult. It's easy to get caught up in the first person perspective, and the subtle hints and allusions of wrongness build up naturally as Lyla learns more about her own community. The beginning is a bit dry and slow-moving, but Parker shows enough potential that reader will be engaged enough to keep reading until it gets good. The story really hits its stride just after the halfway mark, when Lyla is exposed to life outside of the Compound and begins to truly think for herself.

 

Breakdown by percentage:

1% - 50% - not enough going on

50% - 90% - just enough going on

90% - 100% - too much going on

 

I could have done without the romances. I could have done without the love triangle between the boy Pioneer picks for her and the mysterious boy on the outside. Honestly, if the story had been solely about Lyla breaking free from the severe "us vs. them" mentality ingrained over 10 years, it would've been a tighter, more engrossing read. It also would have been far more original. All of the love stuff feels so unnecessary, and so reminiscent of other YA novels.

 

Pioneer is both a benefit and a detriment to how Gated's story is carried. In the beginning, his mystery, allure, and power over the group is unexplained and unquestioned. The way he approached Lyla's family when they were weak, scared, and isolated is a perfect example of what kind of man he is - opportunistic, cunning, and without morals. He camouflages his hunger for power for years under a facade of geniality, until Lyla begins to act differently than he would wish. His break down from pillar of the community to unhinged antagonist is authentic, but could use some polish. I main issue is that the story went on, and his control started to slip, he never really became more than a one-note villain. Parker never really shows why he is the way he is, or why he created Mandrodage Meadows -- whether it was for pure control, to swindle the families, etc. I don't know what led to his creation of the cult, and that felt like an oversight.

 

All in all, Gated had a few flashes of brilliance, but the one-note villain, the slow start, and the insane last few chapters took away from the overall impression. The story had been building neatly over the course of the novel, but I think the ending got away from Parker. There just way too much going on, much too fast. Simplifying the climax would render the whole more believable and fit with the rest of the novel better. That said, Gated makes for a complete diversion. It's a fast-reading, engaging story unlike most other YA novels out there.

Tumble & Fall

Tumble & Fall - Alexandra Coutts A very frustrating read, especially when I had spent so long anticipating this. Review to come.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane: A Novel

The Ocean at the End of the Lane: A Novel - Neil Gaiman

I liked this, but I never really fell in love with it. It's strong -- especially for how short it is -- but I can't say it's among Gaiman's best work.That said, his writing is always the best kind of weird and odd.

45 Pounds (More or Less)

45 Pounds (More or Less) - K.A. Barson Ah, Ann, you wonderful girl you. No review because a. I'm sickly b. behind on reviews I have to write and c. I just finished this and am still basking in the awesomeness of it. 45 Pounds tackles so many things head on -family, body image, friendship - and carries them off with aplomb. It's a short, sweet, sad, funny book that more people should read.

The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars - John Green

I can take or leave John Green.

 

I enjoy his books but they aren't my favorites. Of the three I've read, one has been a 3 (Looking for Alaska), one was a four (this), and only one was a 5 (Will Grayson, Will Grayson). You won't find me amongst his nerdfighters, but nor does he irritate me as much as the small but vocal group of detractors he has amassed. Yes, he can be pretentious. Yes, a lot of his characters act the same, think the same, etc. But still, he can turn a phrase. He can make you care about his MPDGs.

 

I think the key to enjoying his books is to space them out. I read about one a year, and it keeps me from noticing (too much) the similarities between them all. Another reason this is rated so highly is purely personal. I read it on the anniversary of the death of someone I loved immensely. Someone who died at 19 - way too young. Someone who was funny, handsome, and full of life. So I am not the be the most objective in how I feel about The Fault in Our Stars, but Green knows how to write grief. It got to me, it resonated with me, and this book will stick with me for all these reasons.

The Secret Keeper

The Secret Keeper - Kate Morton

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I love this book wholeheartedly. Kate Morton rocketed to my absolute favorite author list last year on the strength of The Distant Hours and The Forgotten Garden, but this latest novel absolutely cements and guarantees her continued place there. The Secret Keeper blew my mind. Honestly, it might even rival The Distant Hours for my all-time favorite Kate Morton and mystery novel. It's just that good great; it's more of what Kate Morton does so very very well. All the time taken and careful preparations of the plot, scene, characters clearly show, and add up to make this novel a compulsive read filled with vibrant and flawed characters. I wanted to stretch out my reading experience - it's one of those few times when 480 pages seems like too little for a novel rather than a good size. For all my restraint and desire to keep this going as long as possible, I inhaled this novel in 14 hours - eight of which I was sleeping. An impressive fourth novel from a very talented author, fans and newcomers alike will eat The Secret Keeper up.

When I first started this, I was sure I was going to like it, but it didn't immediately grab me the way her first two novels had. I was curious, and intrigued where the multiple plotlines across various periods of time would eventually go, but it wasn't until about 100 pages in that I was truly gripped and aware that I was reading something truly special. The tension slowly builds as main character Laurel uncovers more and more about her mother's life before children and marriage, evoking both intensity and curiosity as her revelations show a very different woman than the mother she had known her whole life. The shifting perspectives of various characters (Laurel, her mother Dorothy, and a woman named Vivien) from 1941 to 1961 to 2011 allow for a wide view of the plot across the many eras that impact the story. The merging of the different plotlines and timeliness works so well under this author's capable hands. I did not want to put this down to eat, to sleep, or anything. It's hard to write this review because the reveal and payout are so rewarding, and I don't want go give anything - ANYTHING - away that might spoil the deft authorial sleight of hand that Morton has going. 

I had high hopes going into reading The Secret Keeper, and if anything, this book exceeded any and all expectations I had for it. Morton's obvious and immense talent for prose, for setting, and for crafting such realistic, concrete characters to operate upon the page - alive in all their wishes, hopes, pasts, flaws, and mistakes - marks her as one of the best authors I have ever had the pleasure to read. With twists and turns and huge reveals that I never predicted and never once came off as hackneyed, this is an author that continually proves she knows how to write a story, as well as a truly mystifying mystery. An impressive storyteller with talent across the board including an-all-too-rare talent for subtlety and foreshadowing, her latest novel is heavy on detail, inner observations, and contemplation, but is never slow or boring. Themes of unexpected consequences, and desire are explored with caution and care, further adding to the complicated plot of the novel. With one of the top three best endings I've ever had the surprise of reading, The Secret Keeper is thoroughly satisfying and totally unpredictable. 

Kate Morton is amazing. I am a huge fan, and I won't let too much time go before I dig into the only novel of hers I've yet to read - The House at Riverton. Her style is uniquely her own, and her ability to create such detailed, well-characterized novels truly sets her above most other authors. Nuanced, emotionally involving, original, and completely wonderful, The Secret Keeper further proves that my fangirling extreme love for Kate Morton's novels is more than founded - it's necessary. I haven't had such a strong reaction to a novel in far too long; I cared intensely about the characters, I was caught up in every timeline shown. This is an author who will be a favorite for a long, long time. I can only hope that a fifth novel is on the horizon for this immensely talented writer.

Mariana

Mariana - Susanna Kearsley
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This was very, very good. I was surprised by the level of my reaction to this: I was invested near immediately never wanted to put it down and was sad to finish reading the last page. I don't read a lot of "time slip" historical fiction (read: any before this), but if they're like Mariana that rule might need to change. ASAP. First up on that list:every other such book by this author. I was very impressed with both parts of the narrative and the strength of the voice shown throughout the novel. Though Mariana is a bit lengthy at near 375 pages,  this suspenseful and affecting tale never bores. For a detailed, immersive read but not one that is exactly an action-packed historical, that is saying something indeed.

The strength of the book largely lies in the eponymous character Mariana - both in her 1660's body/life of Mariana and as more modern Julia Beckett. That's not to say that the rest of the characters aren't interesting and diverse; they are but it is Mariana herself who makes the novel special. Though the two POV's present are both first-person and both largely the same in tone and voice despite the centuries between them, both Julia and Mariana are fully dimensional, rounded characters who provide a rich, full narrative to dive into. She's charming and detailed as a narrator: Exbury, both past and present versions, definitely carried the feel of an old, full-of-history English village. Though there is quite a lot of focus on the romance angle of the novel, I wasn't turned off or frustrated; Mariana's and Richard's courtship is actually quite charming and I found myself rooting for de Mornay and the spirited commoner.

This paragraph might get a bit SPOILERy so be warned and stay away if you don't want to know! Seriously, people. There's a mystery at the heart of the novel, but it's not the most involving or mystifying. Even the secondary subplot of treason lacks the emotional pull of the characters themselves; this is truly a character-driven novel. Even some of the surprises lacked the oomph that could be expected -(Johnnie! D: John?!) </SPOILER> because I was so keyed in on the main characters of Mariana/Julia and Richard/?? themselves. I have to side with Julia in that the past has a lot of allure here in this version, and her attraction to Richard it is very understandable. Love, destiny and fate all play a key parts in the meanderig plot, and the characters but it doesn't feel forced or hackneyed. Mariana comes off with a sweet but not saccharine aftertaste. I did think the camouflaging of Richard's soul was well done - only the hints of Shakespeare really made me sure. 

Mariana is an engrossing and rewarding, lengthy read - fans of time-slip historicals will love and even new-to-the-subgrenre people will find a lot to enjoy about this alternate 1660's and modern of reincarnated love. Susanna Kearsley is an impressive and detailed storyteller - I look forward to reading more of her books very soon. This is one that went above and beyond any and all expectations I had before starting.

Currently reading

Endgame
Ann Aguirre
Progress: 150/338 pages
The Shogun's Daughter
Laura Joh Rowland