Long Black Veil by Jennifer Finney Boylen

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Long Black Veil
By Jennifer Finney Boylan
Publisher: Crown
ISBN13: 9780451496324
Pages: 304
Genre: Fiction/Mystery

Synopsis:

Long Black Veil is the story of Judith Carrigan, whose past is dredged up when the body of her college friend Wailer is discovered 20 years after her disappearance in Philadelphia’s notorious and abandoned Eastern State Penitentiary. Judith is the only witness who can testify to the innocence of her friend Casey, who had married Wailer only days before her death.

The only problem is that on that fateful night at the prison, Judith was a very different person from the woman she is today. In order to defend her old friend and uncover the truth of Wailer’s death, Judith must confront long-held and hard-won secrets that could cause her to lose the idyllic life she’s built for herself and her family.


my-thought

Long Black Veil is rather unique in what it brings to the table. What essentially begins a mystery centered around the loss of a friend develops into a detailed exploration of the lives of Judith and 4 other individuals forever connected by their past.

“You carry the past with you. Even if there’s a before, and an after, in your life. It’s still the same life. The trick is to build a bridge between that and what comes later.”

20 years ago Judith and 5 other college friends decided to visit Eastern State Penitentiary. Only 5 of them would ever leave. It was a day that would forever alter the course of their lives. Now events from that tragic day have resurfaced, and Judith finds that she must return to face a past she left far behind or a friend may be charged with a heinous crime he did not commit. But returning also means possibly sacrificing everything that she values in life.

I hesitate to label Long Black Veil as a mystery. There is an unsolved disappearance at the core of the story, but this is a beautiful examination of characterization and life.  Through an eccentric ensemble of cast, we are exposed to the trials of Judith’s journey into self acceptance and happiness. Judith is a refreshing protagonist the contributes many valuable and attractive variables that solidified the success of this story for me. It is unfortunately impossible to discuss the heart of what makes her so profound and fascinating without spoiling the book’s most rewarding and surprising facet.

“I think it’s very human, the hope that an all-encompassing love will change us into someone else, someone better. That this hope usually turns out to be false makes it no less human; the world is full of hopes far more unlikely than being transformed by love.”

While the setting is credible, this a character driven novel that relies heavily on the thoughts and actions of each individual in order to tell a complex story. The narration shifts from past to present and frequently passes between characters. But each transition is clean and easily defined, creating a fluid experience.  However, I find it fair to warn that due to the larger number of individuals involved, I found it took several chapters to acclimate myself. But once I did, it was impossible to put Long Black Veil down. This is the sort of book that beckons you to turn the light back on and read one more chapter.

Boylan’s writing is elegant and immersive. Her words carry you effortlessly through each page, creating a hauntingly lavish experience with a welcomed element of diversity that begs to be devoured. I have read reviews of those who flaws with the author’s approach to certain topics, but I cannot be counted among them, nor do I recommend reading them before approaching the book. I am enthusiastically recommending Long Black Veil to anyone who seeks an engaging and personal reading experience.

*I would like to thank Crown Publishing and Blogging for Books for supplying this copy in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

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Red Queen by Christina Henry

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Red Queen (The Chronicles of Alice #2)
By Christina Henry
Publisher: Ace
ISBN13: 9780425266809
Pages: 291
Genre: Retelling/Horror

Blurb:

The author of Alice takes readers back down the rabbit hole to a dark, twisted, and fascinating world based on the works of Lewis Carroll…
 
The land outside of the Old City was supposed to be green, lush, hopeful. A place where Alice could finally rest, no longer the plaything of the Rabbit, the pawn of Cheshire, or the prey of the Jabberwocky. But the verdant fields are nothing but ash—and hope is nowhere to be found.
 
Still, Alice and Hatcher are on a mission to find his daughter, a quest they will not forsake even as it takes them deep into the clutches of the mad White Queen and her goblin or into the realm of the twisted and cruel Black King.
 
The pieces are set and the game has already begun. Each move brings Alice closer to her destiny. But, to win, she will need to harness her newfound abilities and ally herself with someone even more powerful—the mysterious and vengeful Red Queen…


my-thought

Red Queen is the second and final book of the The Chronicles of Alice. This dark and delightfully contorted retelling pick-ups where we last left off with Alice and Hatcher. While there is a prologue, I do not recommend reading this title out-of-order or as a standalone.  For that reason, I am not going to be providing a recap during this review.

“Once, there was a girl called Alice, and she lived in the New City, where everything is shining and beautiful and fair. But Alice was a curious girl with a curious talent. She was a Magician. Do you know what a Magician is?”

The Chronicles of Alice easily fall within my favorite of  retellings. Fast paced, gritty and beautifully re-imagined, Henry gives new life and breath to a loved classic with Alice. I was filled with elation to immediately discover Red Queen was no exception and would follow in the shining footsteps of its predecessor.

We are now accompanying Alice and Hatcher on their journey to find Hatcher’s lost daughter Jenny. But alongside of our familiar heroine and her “somewhat” unstable companion, we are introduced to some new and rather eccentric individuals. This includes Pen the giant and the denizens of their current surroundings. Each encounter provides additional insight into Alice and Hatcher’s quest and the Red and White Queens. The author cleverly relies on this new ensemble to convey the history and fill in many blanks.

The world building maintains the previously introduced, bleak yet imaginative setting that manages to effectively pique the curiosity and encourage further exploration. While the environment is a more limited in this adventure, I did not find it to be any less appealing. It was well-tailored to the direction of the story and serves its purpose.

It is fair to mention at this point that Red Queen is not as dark and graphic as Alice. Do not approach this portion of the story expecting the exact same action packed experience or you may miss all that it actually has to offer. Here we are gifted with a rather unique but welcomed change of direction or turn of events. The tale is now very much character driven and the pacing has slowed but not without justifiable reason.  Through fragmented memories, we are exposed to Alice’s past and family life. Any pre-existing questions are answered and the veil is finally lifted from Hatcher as Henry thoroughly examines Alice’s relationship with him. This is Alice and Hatcher’s story.

The writing continues in that very straight-forward, crisp manner that I have come to expect with Henry’s storytelling. She effortlessly manages to balance all elements providing just enough detail to fuel the story but continue to play on and encourage the reader’s own imagination. The end result is an adequately pleasing conclusion that I would recommend to anyone who found appreciation in Alice.

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Strange the Dreamer ~ Buddy Read

strange

the-book
Strange the Dreamer (Strange the Dreamer #1)
By Laini Taylor
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
ISBN13: 9780316341684
Pages: 544
Genre: YA Fantasy

Blurb:

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

BuddyRead

This was a buddy read with Debby @Always Booking. She seems to be the only human being capable of convincing me to share my reading time. We decided we would explore this title a little differently, so we came up with 5 key questions for each other regarding Strange the Dreamer. The plan is to share tour responses and then follow with a brief recap of my overall experience. You can find Debby’s personal take here.

*I have chosen to hide Debby’s potential spoilers. You can highlight to reveal them if you feel like taking a risk. But I do not allow those dirty little things on my page 😉

Debby’s Answers to My Questions:

1.       Describe your personal experience with Strange the Dreamer please.
 
Frustrated… I think that is my personal experience.  I wanted to like it, there were times that I thought the book it would redeem itself and it didn’t. ugh just frustrusted…
 
2.       How well do you feel like you connected with the characters and why?
 
I really only felt connected to Lazlo aka Strange through most of the book since he is our main character.  He was really personable throughout the whole book with his shyness, yet his wanting to fit in with everyone.  Lazlo had such an old soul about him that you just wanted to bring him home with you and keep him forever.  Towards the end I started feeling more of a connection with other characters but it wasn’t like the connection I had with him.
 
3.       Can you describe the author’s writing in this particular book?
 
Very slow, I was expecting that though seeing how in her previous series it was also very slow.  Nothing really ever happens… until it does.  It’s really hard to explain unless you have read the book.  I ‘m more of a person who likes to get the information as things are happening.  Laini Taylor likes to just write information, and more information and more information.  This makes the book a little too slow for my taste.
 
4.       Was there one specific aspect of the book that you really did or did not enjoy?
 
Fair warning spoilers ahead… The dream scenes. I loved the vividness of the dream scenes.  How they could change them how they wanted them on a whim. Wouldn’t it be amazing to take a nightmare and turn it into a lightning bug in a jar?  Or take your favorite book and just go there in your sleep?  I thought that was an amazing idea.  Of course otherwise it wouldn’t be titled “Strange the Dreamer”
 
 
5. Did you find the conclusion to be satisfying and will you read the next book?

No the conclusion wasn’t satisfying .. again spoilersI wanted that crazy little witch to die.  Of course she didn’t, it had to be the other one L  How horrible?!?!?!?! All the action happened at the end and it ended on a sort of cliffhanger I guess.  I don’t know if I’ll read the next book I just feel really frustrated toward the whole experience.

My Answers to Debby’s Questions:

1.       Which character was your favorite and why?

This is easily and undoubtedly Lazlo. He was not only likable, but the only character I felt was given enough depth. The most enjoyable aspect of Strange the Dreamer for myself was Lazlo’s growth and evolution.
2.       If you could have one “Godly” power what would it be??
I think I would actually pass. Yes, that is an honest answer. The pressure and burden that comes with having any form of super power has to be incredibly heavy. I am not sure that I would be the best candidate for that much responsibility and obligation.
3.       Did you like the flow of the writing style in this book?
The writing style was very much what I expected based on my previous encounter with the Laini’s work. It was fluid and elegant, but at times overly descriptive. I am not sure that I loved it, but I certainly found an appreciation for several aspects of it and can understand how she has developed a solid following within the book community.
4.       After reading this book are you tempted to pick up a Laini Taylor book again?
Okay, this is the answer that will make some cringe or scowl at me, but long version short: not right now. The story telling is almost a bit too rich for my tastes. I found that certain scenes drug on for pages,yet I realized that so little was happening. Maybe a fair statement is that it is slower than I prefer right now. But I am not writing her books off completely.
5.       If you saw Strange the Dreamer in the store would you be tempted to pick it up based on the cover??

I would be tempted, but would not because I have learned my lesson on those impulsive cover buys. But it would draw me in enough to read the synopsis. And that was effective in hooking me. So mission accomplished with cover!

My Final Thoughts..

Laini Taylor’s writing is in a category of its own. She has a way with taking the simplest sentence or description and turning it into something beautiful. Strange the Dreamer was no different in terms of writing.  This series will amass a following, I have no doubts.

However, I did encounter multiple personal challenges during my time with Strange the Dreamer. A lot of this was centered around just how much time is committed to setting a stage that we are never quite allowed to fully explore. It was like placing a cake on the table but only being able to view it. As a fan of fantasy I do not take world building lightly, but eventually there has to be a story that adequately accompanies the setting.

For the amount of characters and sub-characters introduced, there was a surprising lack of development or growth with the majority of them. While the concept (see blurb – I am not recapping for this) is teeming with promise, there were too many marks missed for my tastes. At 544 pages, this really felt really long. Again, a too much design and too little actual evolution. I would read 100 or so pages only to realize very little had happened.

I am giving a nice nod to the author for avoiding all of the typical tropes/clichés I was honestly expecting in this one.  I was surprised at how original every aspect of this felt, even at its slow pace. I also found the ending to be more agreeable than Debby. So extra points for that.

I think that if you go into this expecting more of an introduction or slower read, then you are more apt to find a true appreciation for all that it has to offer. For myself, it read as a very long prologue that never made it to those initial first chapters. Maybe this will be easier recommended to die-hard, established fans of Taylor’s work that do not mind the wait.

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