WoB Talk

November 13, 2016

Review: Claudia Gray’s A Million Worlds with You

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kari Maaren @ 9:01 pm

A Million Worlds with You (Firebird, #3)A Million Worlds with You by Claudia Gray

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Million Worlds with You closes out Claudia Gray’s Firebird trilogy. I gave each of the previous works 3 stars and have been bouncing between 3 and 4 on this one. I’d say 3.5 would be fair. Bits of the novel work extremely well, while other bits are still bothering me. All in all, the final book in the series constitutes a fairly strong conclusion.

Dimension-hopping “perfect traveller” Marguerite Caine here picks up exactly where she left off in the cliffhanger of the second novel: trapped in her own body, which has been stolen by “Wicked,” the worst of the alternate Marguerites. However, Wicked’s visit is a brief one because Paul apparently has Marguerite-Sensing Superpowers and can identify any Marguerite in any body (sigh). Wicked escapes on a wild journey across the dimensions, with Marguerite on her tail. The plot is oddly video-game-like; Marguerite must continually hop into versions of herself that Wicked has recently set up to be killed, figure out the traps, and save herself and often other people from death. Wicked’s scheme is both vengeful and purposeful, as the more Marguerites she murders, the less chance Marguerite and her allies have of saving the dimensions Wicked’s grief-stricken parents are trying to destroy in their “Monkey’s Paw”-like quest to put their dead daughter Josie back together again. (Side note: I’ve got to admit I’m disappointed that Gray never mentions “The Monkey’s Paw,” even obliquely. The Josie plot is pure W. W. Jacobs.)

The tour of the dimensions continues to be fascinating. Though most of the dimensions aren’t that different from Marguerite’s own, her alternate selves frequently find themselves in wildly divergent situations. As well, some of the dimensions are different enough to provide great set pieces. I won’t give anything away, but there’s one dimension in particular that allows Marguerite to…well…really get to know herself. A lot of the time, the difference is made by whatever field Marguerite’s scientist parents decided to go into in a given dimension. Marguerite, who is becoming increasingly comfortable as an interdimensional traveller, seems endlessly fascinated by the new worlds even as she struggles to save them.

However, she is also discovering the costs of her travels. This element is one of the book’s strongest. The previous volumes have Marguerite beginning to realise how much damage she may be doing, but the lesson is driven home here as the Marguerites start to die and even the ones who survive may find their lives irrevocably altered. Wicked also demonstrates to Marguerite that her own good intentions have the potential to be twisted out of shape, as does her artistic gift. Marguerite’s ultimate antagonist here is not Wyatt Conley, the villain who pops up throughout the previous books but who barely appears in this one; it’s instead a damaged version of herself. Her coming of age is tied inextricably to her ability to know and understand her own worst self.

As with the other books, one of the weak links is Marguerite’s love life. It’s increasingly hard to care about her relationship with Paul. There are points where Paul’s stony refusal to admit that he may not always be broken as a result of his “splintering” experience works, but a lot of the time, he may as well just be announcing that he’s drawing out the suspense so the love plot doesn’t conclude too soon. The romance is often a distraction from the more interesting things going on, to the extent that it’s a relief whenever Marguerite jumps away on her own. It also makes me grit my teeth a bit to see an eighteen-year-old character so extremely convinced that she will be with the same man forever and ever, but maybe that’s just me.

Yet the love plot is often less distracting here that it is in the other books; it is not what almost drove me down to three stars again. This time, the biggest problem is that Gray seems to have lost track of her own story. There are a lot of inconsistencies, starting with the method Wicked’s cronies use to destroy dimensions (didn’t the characters in the last book say they hadn’t quite figured that out yet?). Many of the inconsistencies constitute spoilers, so I won’t get any more specific, but while I was reading, there were several points at which I thought, “But…!” The ending also seems a bit rushed, with plot points tumbling over each other and characters changing their behaviour for the sake of what seems like plot convenience rather than genuine development.

In the end, the Firebird trilogy is somewhat uneven but worth reading. Marguerite develops as a character over the course of the trilogy, especially in the final book, and her adventure is exciting and imaginatively described. I’m still not a huge fan of the love triangle, but the closer focus on Wicked in A Million Worlds with You almost makes up for it.

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November 6, 2016

Review: Kasie West’s P.S. I Like You

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kari Maaren @ 10:53 pm

P.S. I Like YouP.S. I Like You by Kasie West

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Let me just start by saying this is not my kind of book.

I don’t really care for romances. If a novel that belongs to some other genre has a romance in it, I’m okay with it as long as it’s unobtrusive and doesn’t stop the actual story dead in its tracks. My ideal romance subplot would probably be the relationship between Sam Vimes and Lady Sibyl in Terry Pratchett’s Guards! Guards! All the romance beats are there, but the lovers, if they can be called that, are a down-on-his-luck drunken policeman and a large, cheerful spinster devoted to training pet swamp dragons. There is nothing not awesome about that romance.

YA non-SF romances, on the other hand, are just not written for me. They weren’t even written for me when I was thirteen. However, I subscribed to the monthly OwlCrate box this summer. OwlCrate is devoted to YA fiction, which works for me because I’m interested in the genre, and when I bought the subscription in August, I thought I was too late for the August box and was aiming for the September box, which contained a book that looked intriguing. However, I was just in time for the August box. It featured P.S. I Like You, which has a pink spine and a cutesy title and a jarring cover featuring two real teenagers who basically look like the worst people in the world. I had nightmares about this kind of book when I was ten.

Since I’ve made a bet with myself that I’ll read and review all the OwlCrate books, I must start with this one, even though the September and October books are much more my sort of thing, as is the pending November book. Ah well.

Rules of the review: I write this in full recognition of the fact that this book is not for me. I’ll try to be relatively objective.

The novel follows high-school junior Lily Abbott, a young hipster who wants to be a songwriter, though she hasn’t yet gathered up the courage to show anyone her lyrics. She has a large, noisy, artistic family that is living paycheque to paycheque, though there’s no sign anyone else at her high school isn’t well off. She has a crush on a senior named Lucas and a vendetta against her best friend Isabel’s former boyfriend, Cade. One day, in Chemistry (which she hates), she scribbles some lyrics from one of her favourite songs on her desk, and someone replies. She and the mysterious other student begin exchanging letters they wedge under their shared desk. The story then progresses as a mild mystery: who is the letter writer? Which boy is Lily slowly falling for? Will her family ever leave her alone for two seconds so she can finish a song for a songwriting contest? Why is Lucas so cute? Why is Cade so annoying?

For what it is, the novel is…well…all right. Lily is a pretty engaging narrator, though she indulges in a fair amount of self-pitying whining. Her family is quite fun. I want to know more about her mom and dad’s bizarre jewelry-making rivalry, and I think everyone should have a blind pumpkin-pie-tasting contest at Thanksgiving. I do find that the minor characters are pretty sketchily drawn. Lily’s sister Ashley gets a bit of a personality, but her two little brothers, whom she calls Thing One and Thing Two, are considerably less defined than the actual Thing One and Thing Two. Isabel’s boyfriend has almost nothing to do, and the boyfriend’s friend David seems to exist for no particular reason; he vanishes quietly once he’s expended his plot-related usefulness.

I won’t give away the identity of the letter writer, but it didn’t surprise me even a little bit. I guessed it immediately. West’s red herrings are a little transparent. The romance works best when Lily and her admirer are still exchanging letters; the letters do genuinely sound as if they were written by a couple of slightly pretentious teenagers. Once the two meet, however, the story just keeps going and going and going and going, even though there’s not much of a point. The whole thing is a little predictable and not particularly memorable. It is nice that when Lily finds herself in a pickle, she’s saved not by her True Love but by her siblings.

While I would rather focus my wish-fulfilment fantasies on trips to magical lands populated by monsters, not on That Cute Boy I Like, I’m sure a lot of kids will enjoy this book. The three stars are for them. I doubt I’ll ever read it again, but I did binge the last third, so I guess that’s something.

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