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I’ve just finished a couple of books.  The first one, Mira, Mirror by Mette Ivie Harrison, was pretty good.  This book is fairy tale-ish along the lines of Snow White.  But instead of re-telling the fairy tale, the story follows the wicked queen’s magic mirror.  The story begins with two peasant girls, apprentices to a local witch.  The girls think of themselves as sisters but the first sister only seems to care about beauty.  She becomes more and more power-hungry and evil, eventually trapping her sister in a mirror. 

The rest of the book is about the mirror’s journey.  Not just her physical journey, but her emotional one, too—how she enters the lives of two other girls and as she helps to change them, she herself changes and learns what love is. 

I found the writing in this book quite good.  It flowed very well and it must have been hard to show everything from the point of view of a wood-and-glass mirror that has to be carried everywhere, but it was wonderfully done and didn’t feel contrived for the most part.  The story was fascinating and made me want to keep reading.  The characters seemed real and fun and interesting.  The mirror’s gradual change in feelings and beliefs was done pretty well; there were only a few spots where I was pulled out of the story to think, “Where did that come from?  That was sudden.”

When I finished the last page last night I closed the book, puzzled.  It was not a very satisfying conclusion.  Yes, there’s redemption and a form of happiness, I suppose.  But it felt very rushed and not complete.  I wanted to see much more of Mira, after all her long years of waiting. 

Final grade: B+

 

Deeper by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams

I also (finally) finished Deeper this week.  It’s a sequel to Tunnels, which I read last year and found very different, boring in some parts, and quite scary/freaky in a lot of ways.  I was interested enough to read the sequel, I guess.  These books follow two teenage boys who stumble upon a mysterious Victorian society deep under the streets of London.  In Deeper, the boys go…where else?…deeper underground, many miles below the surface of the earth.  They encounter strange plants, animals, giant bugs, lots of dirt and dust, really evil bad guys, and a plot to take over the earth.

It took me a really long time to read this book…nearly two months.  That’s because I found a large part of it really boring.  It’s far too long, for one thing—I love long books if the story is a page-turner, like Harry Potter.  I can’t get enough.  But for this book, most of it felt like all they did for several hundred pages was wander around in the dark, exploring yet another dusty, hot tunnel.  643 pages of this can get pretty old.  I think I only kept plodding through it because after 300 pages I thought, “I can’t bear to waste all the time I already spent…I might as well finish.”  So I’d read in brief, 10-minute stints.  The characters are okay, but really annoying at times, and they do things that don’t really make a lot of sense.  They’re not completely believable.   The authors also seem to have a goal to be as gross as they possibly can…gory stuff, really disgusting stuff, they don’t seem to care as long as it’s nasty.  Perhaps they think this really appeals to teenage boys?

That said, though, it did get more exciting toward the end, and I’ll probably force myself to read Freefall, the next book, when it is published in the U.S.  (It’s already available in the U.K.)  I do feel vaguely interested in the fate of the characters.  But if you have to “force yourself” to read something, that kind of speaks for itself.

Final grade: C+

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Every time I finish a book (and that’s quite often…I usually read two or three novels a week), I write a review in my head.  It’s not even conscious—I just automatically re-play the best scenes and tell myself what I liked or didn’t like.  I always intend to write down the reviews but never actually get around to it.  Soon the finer points of the book fade from my memory as I read the next story.

Today I’m actually going to do it.  I recently read two pairs of books that were quite alike in some ways, and perfect for contrasting and comparing in reviews. 

The first pair is a sort of Regency-era historical romance type, kind of like Jane Austen. 

                                

Bewitching Season by Marissa Doyle was the first one I read.  Here’s a summary from Marissa’s website:

In 1837 England, young daughters of viscounts pined for handsome, titled husbands, not careers.  And certainly not careers in magic.

Twins Persephone (Persy) and Penelope (Pen) Leland are anticipating their first London season with mixed feelings.  Pen can’t wait for the balls and parties and crowds of handsome young men to flirt with, but Persy would far rather stay home with their governess, Ally, and continue her magic studies.  The only thing drawing her to London is the prospect of seeing Princess Victoria, her and Pen’s idol.

But then Ally disappears from a busy London street and the twins are drawn into searching for her…and find that her disappearance is linked to a dastardly plot to enchant the soon-to-be Queen.  Persy also discovers that a good lady’s maid is hard to find, that one should never cast a love spell on anyone after drinking too much brandy punch at a party, that pesky little brothers can sometimes come in handy, and that even boys who were terrible teases when they were twelve can mysteriously turn into the most perfect young men.

Sounds fun, yes?  It was.  It was a nice, light book, fun and Austen-y without much to detract from the story.  The characters were fairly realistic; the author did a good job portraying Regency girls but making them relatable to modern girls, too.  The story/plot was engaging and moved along at a good pace once the book got going after the first couple of chapters.  I liked the magic.  As a fan of both fantasy and Jane Austen, this book had just the right touches of each.  It was a lot of fun. 

The cover is beautiful, though the girl resembles Kiera Knightley and has quite a lot of makeup, and the title is appropriate.  I really liked the historical details and the plot about Princess Victoria and Sir John.  It was so interesting, in fact, that it prompted me to do some reading and research about Victoria and John to find out the whole story about that point in Victoria’s life.  You hear a lot about “Queen Victoria” but not a lot about when she was young.

I read this book a few months ago so the details are a bit hazy, but I think the main criticism I had was that it took a little while to get into the story.

 

Next, here’s The Season by Sarah MacLean.  Here’s the summary from her website:

Alexandra Stafford and her two closest friends, Vivi and Ella, weren’t much looking forward to the London Season of 1815…but, between dress fittings, glittering balls, a murder that only they can solve, and the little fact that Alex’s heart is very much in danger of being stolen…this is one season that is shaping up to be unforgettable!

It’s funny how similar the titles of these two books are.  The cover of this one was not very appealing to me—the girls look very fake and made-up with very modern gown fabric, especially the blond one.  She looks like she belongs on a teen drama TV show.  I was fully willing to give it a chance, though, and plunged right in.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t a very fun swim.  The book makes a good attempt to portray a loving and deep friendship between the three girls, but it was very lacking for me.  Alex’s two best friends really didn’t serve much purpose to the story at all…they were very similar and mostly sounded like an echo of Alex, the protagonist, when they could’ve been an effective counterpoint to her crazy ideas and whims.  Alex herself was very annoying.  She spouted off constantly about her political and historical views to anyone who would listen.  Her friends joined her.  I understand the author’s intent, I think—to show that this trio of girls wasn’t your typical husband-hunting Regency socialite, that they have thoughts and opinions and are free-thinkers—but it really didn’t work very well.  I found myself annoyed by all three of them but especially Alex.

Another thing that didn’t particularly work was the romance.  The author spent so much time setting Alex up as a guy-hater who wasn’t interested in marriage and thought “the season” of balls and parties a total waste of time…yet suddenly, she’s in love?  It wasn’t very believable.  I do believe that stories of this sort can work if the author is careful, but in this case, it didn’t work.  The love interest was likable enough but I didn’t feel very drawn-in to their relationship. 

The characters were all pretty flat.  The touch of mystery was ok but not very consistent or making me want to keep turning pages.  I also really didn’t like the slang and very modern-American-way of talking the characters had at times.  It kept pulling me out of the novel and the time period.  

I much preferred Bewitching Season in this pair and would recommend it as a good, fun read. 

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