Desire and Indian Folklore in “A Star-Touched Queen”

Roshana Chokshi’s A Star-Touched Queen was a New York Times bestseller for good reason. Steeped in Indian folklore and myth, Chokshi’s YA fantasy novel brings a world of romance, heartbreak, intrigue, and untold secrets to life.

Maya, a princess who has been told from birth that she was cursed to bring death and destruction to those around her, knows she will probably never marry. However, her father’s desire to bring hasty end to a years-old war sets her up to marry a man who not only seems to love her, but who draws out parts of her she didn’t realize she had. As she sets out to untangle her new husband’s mysteries and the mysteries of the seemingly empty kingdom over which he rules, she discovers her own immense power, desire, and a past she didn’t know she had.

Told with vibrant descriptions, I fell in love with the world and the characters almost immediately. The characters drew me into their lives, their dreams, and their desires. I found myself passionately involved in relationships and outcomes of even the smallest characters. Maya in particular, really kept me invested. Her struggle to know who she is, in and out of a relationship is very relatable. It can be so difficult to know where you stop and your partner begins and vice versa, and the fear of losing yourself can be very real.

I loved this story of love, desire, and trust, and would not only recommend it, but I would urge you to read the sequel too. It was AWESOME!

 

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“Jane, Unlimited”: A New Novel by Kristin Cashore

Jane Unlimited by Kristin Cashore is an interesting novel about the significance of seemingly insignificant choices. Written in a style originating from the choose your own adventure story, this third-person-present POV novel follows Jane, a young woman lost in her life, in her sexuality, and her finances. Working at a bookstore and barely scraping by after dropping out of college, Jane runs into an former wealthy acquaintance, Kiran, who invites her to come to her family’s private island for as long as she wants to stay.

As she arrives, several mysteries unfold, and Jane is faced with a seemingly innocuous choice, which leads to several dramatically different endings.

While I found the premise of this story intriguing, I was disappointed in the actual product. While well-written, Jane Unlimited felt too much like a very thorough and drawn-out writing exercise.

Each ending was unique and original, but it was disorienting to have to go back after each ending to the same place after such exciting developments, not just with plot but also with characters.

It was difficult to go from reading about a Jane who, for example,  loves and cares about a dog, about her art, and is confident in who she is, to a Jane who is insecure, unsure about everything, and doesn’t know who to trust again. I really enjoyed the first ending because there was a great lead up and it flowed really nicely and everything felt natural. The ending had payoff. But when I had to return to the middle of the story again, I had forgotten a lot, and the Jane I was now reading about was not the Jane I’d come to love, and I had to start over again. By the third ending I was feeling pretty fed up, and I really only skimmed the fourth (which seemed to be the weakest of the endings anyway). But the fifth did feel a little fresher, and I enjoyed it almost as much as the first.

On another note, there was quite a bit of language, mostly at the beginning of the book, but sprinkled throughout. So if swearing bothers you, I would pass on this book. Also, as a general note, the main character struggles a little bit with figuring out her own sexual preferences throughout, and this does play a part in character development, if not plot.

I enjoyed Jane’s character, and many of the others, but it was hard to keep my feet under me throughout this book as it seemed like a realistic mystery novel at the beginning and transitioned to a highly fantastical novel by the end, and kept jumping back and forth in the in-between parts. It felt inconsistent and just plain odd. I would rather have had it all realistic or all fantastical.

The jumping back to the middle annoyed me as well. I would much rather have had a linear story that incorporated all the plot points, and mysteries that the various endings addressed. But maybe “choose your own adventure” stories just aren’t my thing.

Overall, I would rate this a 3/5.

“Silent” a Historical Thriller

Silent by David Mellon is a suspenseful story of a young woman, Adi, who unknowingly offends a certain man, a man who kidnaps her twin brothers in an act of vengance, leaving her only a watch and two riddles to direct her to where her brothers are. In a race against time, Adi struggles to solve the riddles before her time is up and her brothers lost forever. Set in 1914, Silent takes place in the time leading up to, and during World War I.

A story, or plot, driven book, Silent did a great job of keeping me invested, not only in the mystery, but also in the characters. I found them all interesting and believable.

The villain, always a determining factor in such books, was creepy, sometimes otherworldly, and coldly calculating. But he also very human in surprising ways. He made me curious, and drew pity, even sympathy, from me at times.

While this is a YA novel, I would really recommend this compelling novel to anyone middle grade or older. Personally, this book held me captive from beginning to end. While there were a few lulls near the middle of the book the initial premise and promise of the novel pulled me through and I found it well worth the time and effort of seeing it through to the end. 4.5/5.

 

Welcome to “The Night Circus”

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern has given me withdrawal. Since finishing it, I find myself pining after a story that has sadly ended. I know I should move on, but instead I spend keep thinking of all the nuances of the story, the characters, the writing.

The Night Circus is a beautifully crafted story of a circus, two magicians, romance, and fate. Written in first, second, and limited third person, The Night Circus brings the circus to life through the written word, with complex characters and a mysterious story line.

I loved the gorgeous prose. Each chapter and section of prose was carefully and purposely placed, bread crumbs that when added together create a beautiful and delicious cake (I know that’s not how it really works, but just roll with it). If you are in a rush to read, then it may seem a bit slow at first. But if you are in the mood to savor each lengthy, yet beautiful description with little thought for plot, this is the book for you. If you aren’t in the mood for a slow book, but you still want to read The Night Circus, then read the first third of it as quickly as you can, and enjoy the wonderfulness that is this book.

A large part of what makes this book so awesome is the characters. Morgenstern has done an excellent job of creating complex and realistic characters, many that we love, some that we hate, but all that we believe. The main characters Marco and Celia have unconventional childhoods, and we see how their upbringing affects the rest of their lives, allowing us to also understand their actions. Each side character is detailed in such a way as to allow us to get a good grasp of who they really are and how they are important in the story. Because each character, no matter how small their role, is incredibly important to the storyline. If a character is included, they are important.

I absolutely loved this book. While I was somewhat disappointed by the ending, the journey was incredible enough that it made up for it, and I can’t say that much for a lot of books. Normally the ending makes or breaks a book for me.

The magic in this story is contagious, it refuses to stay contained within the pages it was written. I find myself thinking about the world of The Night Circus, wishing I could visit. If you are looking for a beautiful work of art with gorgeous descriptions, you will definitely enjoy this book.

**FYI: For those who are more sensitive to language, there is one strong swear word in the first chapter, but after that it is completely clean of swearing.**

 

Vango—Historical Fiction at its Finest

Well-written, exciting, action-packed, set between WWI and WWII, and excellently translated, Vango: Between Earth and Sky by Timothée de Fombelle, and translated by Sarah Ardizzone, is currently contending for a spot in my top five favorite YA books of all time.

A historical fiction mystery and adventure novel traverses most of Europe, exploring surfacing tensions during the 20th century following the rise of Hitler, Stalin, and preceding the start of WWII. This book, the first of the two-part series,  explores themes and motifs of fate, divine intervention, sacrifice of relationships in return for protection for loved-ones, corruption, and communication. Between Earth and Sky follows Vango, a boy with a mysterious past, an innocent boy suspected of murder. Featuring an ensemble cast, this book expertly balances character development with plot development.

It takes great skill to jump between ten plus characters and still have a balanced narrative with a clear main character, and an engaged audience. While the sheer number of characters forces the novel to sacrifice an intimate reader relationship with the main character, the complexity of the storylines compensates, and even works the absence of intimacy to its advantage. Because the reader is unable to identify intimately with Vango, the mystery of his past and his character becomes an increasingly alluring, drawing the reader further into the mystery.

I thought at one point in the book that the large array of characters would be superfluous by the end of the novel, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that each and every character served a distinct purpose, everything and everyone included within the storyline felt purposely placed in order to better serve the story. de Fombelle’s calculated way of writing both led and misled the reader through giving the clues necessary to solving the mysteries of the novel, but doing so in a way that the reader was either unaware of the importance of the information, or misinterpreted it. While this could have resulted in a confusing and disastrous effect, I found the end result delightfully complex and satisfying.

It has been a long time since I have enjoyed a book as much as I enjoyed Between Earth and Sky, and it was also largely due to the quality of the translation. Had I not known beforehand that it had been translated from French to English, I would never have guessed. Not a single sentence felt out-of-place or awkward. Ardizzone, did an excellent job of translating de Fombelle’s beautiful novel. The figurative language was fresh (I particularly enjoyed the many metaphors), and imaginative, and each sentence felt beautifully crafted.

I highly recommend this book. I absolutely loved it. However, if you do decide to give it a try, I would recommend taking it in slowly, and savoring it. The complexity of the many storylines can get confusing if you aren’t paying close attention.