Wide Sargasso Sea

Jean

“Have all beautiful things sad destinies?”

Born in the Caribbean, Antoinette Cosway has been protected and secluded her entire life from the villagers in Spanish Town who despise her family. When the family home is burned down and her mother refuses to see her anymore, Antoinette is married to Mr. Rochester, a visiting Englishman, for a price. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys is a heartbreaking backstory in discovering who “Bertha” was before she simply became known as the madwoman in the attic in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.

*Review may contain spoilers*

It’s been years since I’ve read Jane Eyre, but I remember the basic plot and how I felt Mr. Rochester was pure scum. And though Mrs. Rochester did interest me I never found myself thinking, “I’d really like a prequel telling me how she ended up in the attic.”

I learned of Wide Sargasso Sea a few years ago, but it never caught my interest until of late when I read an article about Jean Rhys and her personal story. Interested, I decided on WSS because it was critically acclaimed and looked to be a quick read.

From what Charlotte Brontë explained in Jane Eyre Mrs. Rochester was from Spanish Town, Jamaica, and Mr. Rochester was pushed into marrying her for money without having a single conversation with her. Claiming he wasn’t warned about the violent insanity in her family, and due to her deteriorating health, he brought her to England where she was imprisoned in the attic room for ten years. Despite feeling trapped and lied to, Jane Eyre tries showing Mr. Rochester still cares for his wife, even going as far as trying to save her when she sets Thornfield Hall on fire.

Wide Sargasso Sea takes this a step further.

Told in three parts and told from Bertha (original name being Antoinette Cosway in WSS) and Mr. Rochester’s point of views, focusing on the factors that drive Antoinette’s decent into ‘madness’, and the lengths Mr. Rochester takes to justify his actions toward Antoinette.

I have to give Jean Rhys credit for wanting to give Antoinette the story she deserved, showing her to be human and not just a ‘madwoman in an attic.’

But, I found myself struggling, trying to connect and care for these characters when there wasn’t much reason to.

The entire story is a little under 200 pages and the writing style is a simple, stream of conscious for both Antoinette and Mr. Rochester. The Jamaican atmosphere is well written, allowing for the sticky heat, the cool nights, and pre-colonial tone boost the story into the magical, dream Mr. Rochester claims it to be.

However, characters come and go as they please, making such little impact I had to go back multiple times to remember who was who, such as Sandi and Tia. They seemed to blend together, especially those who worked at the house, once Antoinette married Rochester and a new group of characters were introduced. The only ones I felt were fleshed out were Christophine and Grace Poole, the latter having been created by Brontë. Even Antoinette and Rochester felt little more than one-dimensional, as Rhys needed to propel them into becoming the characters we know from Jane Eyre, causing the story to fall flat since she couldn’t do much else with them without veering away from the original source.

I’ve tried coming up with a word or phrase to describe how I feel other than let down, but nothing comes to mind.

If anything I appreciated how Antoinette felt England was a dream, while Rochester thought the same of Jamaica. It was interesting to see how the two ideas propelled their differences throughout the book. I also liked how Rhys didn’t make Rochester a tortured soul sworn to duty, as in Jane Eyre, but the torturer himself.

I don’t know if I would recommend this be the first Jean Rhys book for others to read, but I have a feeling I’ll visit her writing again someday in the future.

Homegoing

Home

“You want to know what weakness is? Weakness is treating someone as though they belong to you. Strength is knowing that everyone belongs to themselves.”

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi follows the descendants of two half-sisters from 18th century Ghana. Unaware of the other’s existence, one will marry an Englishman and live at Cape Coast Castle, while the other is imprisoned there and sold into slavery. Through eight generations readers are shown the lifetime consequences of slavery on those taken from Ghana and those who stayed, shaping each family member with the memories left behind and what the meaning of captivity means to them.

*Review may contain spoilers*

I don’t believe I’ve ever been this captivated by a story for quite some time. With so much praise surrounding this book I’m glad to say I couldn’t agree more.

To be honest, I didn’t write any notes while reading only because I was too engrossed to do so. From beginning to end my eyes were glued to the pages, desperate to know what the next generation of the families would bring.

There’s something about generation stories I can’t get enough of. I love seeing how generations impacts the next and so on, especially when it deals with historical content, such as how one side of this family sells slaves and the other are slaves. It’s a unique and heartbreaking plot and it had me by the heartstrings.

Homegoing deals with many themes from slavery, segregation, to cultural changes, but my personal favorite was the discussion of history. From the personal history of the characters to worldwide, I was completely taken in when Gyasi explains how different perspectives on events shape what is considered truth and what isn’t.

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with history, since it’s usually written by the ‘winners’ and unpleasant realities are set aside for the most part. Despite this, I can value the information even if I don’t agree with it. And, Gyasi emphasizes this struggle time and time again; especially with the family in Ghana and the effect their slavery dealings have on how they’re viewed by their peers and the double standard the rest of the world has.

The only major problem I had was how the book was separated into parts. I felt it disconnected the book and I wasn’t as engrossed in the second half as the first because of it. Had it just continuously flowed with no separation I wouldn’t have made a fuss, but it was enough to make me notice a slight change in tone and pace.

I also wish there had been a bit more to each character, especially toward the end, or at least more time with them. The chapters were easy reads, but for some characters their time in the spotlight was too short to fully satisfy.

In the end, my personal favorites were Effia, Esi, Ness, and H., with shout outs to Quey and Yaw.

I will revisit Homegoing again and again in the future with its beautiful story, diving deep into the emotional and physical scars of each character, and with such a unique voice I can’t wait to see what Ms. Gyasi has in store next.

The Ice Twins

Ice

“Maybe nothing could extinguish the yearning of human love; maybe it traveled on forever, through the darkness. Like the light from dead stars.”

Sarah and Angus’ identical twins, Lydia and Kirstie, are the apples of their eye, but when Lydia dies in a tragic accident the family dynamic shatters completely. Trying to piece their world back together they decide to move to a tiny Scottish island and things seem on track until Kirstie claims she is Lydia, and Kirstie was the one who died. In The Ice Twins by S.K. Tremayne Sarah is forced to come to terms with the past, her relationship with her surviving daughter, and what really happened on the day of the accident.

*Review may contain spoilers*

On Instagram, I follow someone who wanted to read creepy books involving children, and this was one of them. I don’t know if she did a review or not, but I was in the mood for a creepy child story as well. And who doesn’t like one about identical twins?

First off, there was so much potential and the premise caught my attention immediately. I’d never heard of a story like this before and was getting some serious Shinning vibes with the twins, a family moving to an isolated location, and not really knowing what’s real and what isn’t.

But as the book continued the characters, dialogue, and storyline hit a brick wall headfirst and never recovered.

S.K. Tremayne wants readers to understand Lydia and Kirstie are super, super, super identical and everything physical about them is the same and there’s no way for anyone to tell them apart.

In my dad’s family, there have been three sets of twins (all fraternal) with my dad being the eldest of the third set. At one point, I did some research on twins on my own time and discovered there is a way to identify them, especially when they’re babies.

Belly buttons.

Unlike eyes or hair color, belly buttons aren’t genetic. Basically, they’re scars that heal after the umbilical cord is cut, and unless the doctor tries real hard they are hardly ever cut the same way twice, allowing for twins to be identified.

But, Tremayne doesn’t seem to know that, assuring readers there is no possible way for Sarah and Angus to know which twin is which and they did all the tricks from nail polish to color coordinating, but with a little research that clearly isn’t the case. I was disappointed. After all, Tremayne is a journalist and he should know all about conducting thorough research, right?

Luckily, that’s the least of the problems.

I don’t want to end up ranting, but I don’t see how anyone could end up liking any of these characters. Honestly, if I had to choose, I’d pick the dog.

Sarah is simply a mess with no true personality and such a worrywart I wanted to shake her. Had she been diagnosed with anxiety at the beginning I could see it working (and helping that awful twist at the end), but she worries over every little detail and becomes obsessed with being right, coming to conclusions without using any common sense.

Angus was useless. The only thing he contributed to the story was the island they move to. He’s an alcoholic and extremely unreliable character (and the switch from first to third person doesn’t help him or the plot either.)

Overall, the entire marriage and their attitude toward one another is horrendous. There are so many double standards, unbelievable sexism, which Tremayne seems to support in a sly way, and such glaring unhealthy issues they could star in their own soap opera. It’s completely unbelievable that these two have been together for ten years, especially with all the affairs (and don’t even get me started about Angus’ because it’s bullshit.)

And because the story dedicates 90% of it’s time on the marriage and issues of Angus and Sarah the daughter is cast aside, and ultimately dismantling the creepiness tone altogether.

Then, if that isn’t enough, the dialogue starts choking the story dry after it becomes exceedingly clear Tremayne has no idea how people actually talk.

Dialogue can be tricky, but when explicit after explicit is used as filler and to make the characters “human” it shows a lack of skill. It also helps if the dialogue actually moves the story along, not hinder it by supplying nothingness time and time again.

Finally, the ending; obvious, and so anticlimactic I didn’t care about anyone or anything, but the dog even though the explanation for that mystery made me roll my eyes into the back of my head.

All I can say is that it was a letdown. It reminded me too much of Novel About My Wife and though this isn’t how I’d like to end this review if I say anything more I’ll end up ripping this book in half.

A Conjuring of Light

light

“She took up so much space in the world- in his world -it was hard to imagine her being so slight. In his mind, she was made of stone.”

Darkness has fallen over Red London. Kell, with the help of Lila, friends, and enemies alike, must save the Maresh Empire before it bows to a new king. In the final installment of the Shades of Magic trilogy, A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab, Kell cannot face this darkness alone but must come to terms with himself and what it means to be an Antari.

*Review may contain spoilers*

I can’t remember the last time I’ve truly fangirled over a series. Like, maybe The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo since Lisbeth is a badass motherfucker, which was three years ago, so it was bound to happen again, eh?

But, before I dive into this, I’m going to be brutally honest. I don’t know why I like this series so much (after all, I find myself harshly criticizing it at every turn) and this one didn’t do the series final justice.

First off, the beginning half of the story could have fit in with A Gathering of Shadows, allowing that one to end on a higher note than just a cliffhanger that wouldn’t go anywhere.

Secondly, most of the plots were fluff.

The initial conflict is good with a poisonous fog, a dreamlike castle and the most annoying ‘King’ in existence (seriously, he’s a pain in the ass, exuding bad guy tropes left and right.) Thing is, Schwab introduces this then pushes it off to the side for sub plots and trying to justify character actions from the last two books.

I get it. More time with characters, (Alucard and Holland anyone?) to realize they aren’t the assholes we believed them to be is progressive and getting more of Rhy’s POV helped, but at the same time, didn’t.

In my AGOS review, I clearly stated I did not care for Alucard due to his actions toward Rhy, and Holland wasn’t that much of a threat, so why do I need flashbacks of these two? Holland’s, sure, I can see the point, but it could have been done in conversation with Kell or something, not dragged out in memories. And Alucard’s secret could have stayed secret until the mirror scene to make me realize, ‘oh, shit, I didn’t see that coming (even though I did because it’s pretty obvious)’ instead of learning about it nonchalantly to a character who doesn’t care.

Rhy lost his charm in this book. There were inklings throughout, but it’s like he and Kell switched places and Rhy faced the whole emo phase in this one. And there’s only so much interest I can muster in reading about him walking around and being attacked every other chapter.

Which brings me to the stupidest sub plot of all.

Cora.

It’s so petty, useless, and took time away from the real plot. Had this threat been present, and I mean blatantly so, in AGOS it might have worked out better.

Throughout the series, I have to say I found Kell and Lila least frustrating in this one, though when they’re separated I still can’t handle them for long. Maybe it was due to their relationship finally being confirmed, or Lila becoming an equal to Kell, I don’t know, but it was nice.

That being said, Kell’s (sweet, idiotic, Kell) plotline suffered and not even from the main story. It was the one that wasn’t told, hinted at for sure, and dangled in front of readers then taken away for wanting it: his true parents and backstory.

I’d been psyching myself up from AGOS for this information. I really, I mean really, wanted to know the truth and came up with a convoluted plan he was the true heir to Black London, related to the royal family somehow, or something. But, alas, it was all for not.

AND I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHY.

This also applies to Lila, not as transparently, but why did she end up in Grey London? What happened to her eye? Who is she? Who were her parents? I want to know!

But, instead, I’m forced to read about how Rhy’s essentially dead inside and the stupidity that is Cora, leading to a lack of character development that desperately wanted to shine through, but couldn’t with the circumstances.

The problem with series is authors become attached to their characters and don’t want to kill them (again, Holland anyone?) That’s great and all, but they overcompensate by having their characters stupidly run into harm’s way at every corner and almost die each time. And authors tend to gravitate toward one way of killing.

V.E. Schwab really likes to stab characters.

Lila, Kell, and Rhy, each suffer stabbing wounds at least once, and more than half of the other characters we do know die by that method as well. Which would mean something, if the main characters didn’t recover from their injuries like it was a simple paper cut. Kell and Rhy face more pain than any of the others, but holy gods above, there’s only so much stabbing that should happen in one book before going stale.

If there was one part I wanted more of it was Maris.

Her ship of trinkets and ability to stay young was so intriguing I was angry it hadn’t been introduced earlier. It’s very much like the black market town from AGOS, a great concept with so much potential, but given too little time. Had Schwab concentrated on what she really wanted to reveal and admire about this world I believe the series wouldn’t have suffered so much.

I have to say that ADSOM was my favorite of the series and would have done well as a standalone, but as a series, there was too much focus on the trivial for me to be fully satisfied.

But as I write that I can’t help but think I’m glad I have taken the journey with these characters. I was taken with the parallel London’s, the magic, and world building, which made me enjoy this series immensely. If anything Schwab definitely knows how to capture someone’s attention.

P.S.: My absolute favorite line was on page 388, spoken by Alucard, and made me die laughing for really stupid reasons 😀

A Gathering of Shadows

Kell2

“Kell would say it was impossible. What a useless word, in a world with magic.”

Four months have passed since Kell and Lila defeated the Dane twins and sent the bad magic back to Black London. Lila, having joined a pirate crew, has started discovering her own magical powers while Kell struggles in Red London where everyone seems afraid of him. But when the illustrious Element Games are underway they’ll be brought back together as unforeseen danger looms in A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab.

*Review may contain spoilers*

If parallel travel, pirates, royal balls, and an elemental tournament between magician’s sounds like your cup of tea I present the second book in the Shades of Magic trilogy.

Unlike its predecessor A Gathering of Shadows has more substance as it explores the culture of Red London and the surrounding countries. It also furthers understanding of the magic in the world, how to wield it, and the effects it has if used carelessly.

But it feels more or less like Lila’s book rather than an equal partnership between her and Kell as ADSOM did. The trouble comes from having so many other POV chapters, which weren’t much more than exposition. Granted, Rhy’s chapters were nice, considering how I wanted more of him, but I wish Schwab had stuck with the structure of ADSOM.

The book focuses on the Elemental Games and makes a big deal about them, but trying to avoid being a spinoff of The Triwizard Tournament from The Goblet of Fire, Schwab ended the games prematurely; making sure her characters didn’t become the victors. And though I appreciated the change I wish Kell, Lila, and Alucard had faced each other in the three-person fights at least once.

And, honestly, Kell’s reason for being in the games, to release all the tension and anger he has bottled up, was rather concerning. Like, no, he needs to talk to someone about these feelings, not almost kill people with magic. I’m ashamed to say that emo phase came to mind multiple times when reading his sections.

Lila’s reason to join is a bit meh too, but at least it was something different with her, allowing development throughout the entire book and making me want her to become Queen of Black London or something in the future, which would be E-P-I-C.

Compared to the other problems Alucard Emery was the biggest of them all.

In the beginning I thought he’d become a saucy, loveable secondary character. But forcing himself onto Rhy, then learning of their past relationship, made him into this grimy, asshole I wanted killed during the Games. I can’t believe anything this character does is genuine and though I wanted a same-sex relationship I did not want it to be like this.

Just, ugh. No, thank you.

If anything I didn’t see much point to the Games other than showing off Lila’s abilities and showing how much weight Kell, sweet, idiotic Kell, has on his shoulders. I understand its importance, but does it really have to take up so much time and halt the plot so much?

I’m excited to read the final book, A Conjuring of Light, and seeing where the series will go and how it all comes together, but most of all learning of where Kell came from, and even Lila for that matter, will be the real interest for me.

A Darker Shade of Magic

Kell

“There’s Dull London, Kell London, Creepy London, and Dead London,” she recited, ticking them off on her fingers. “See? I’m a fast learner.”

Kell is a magician with the ability to travel between parallel universes, which all have a city named London, though that’s all they share in common. He travels as an ambassador, being one of the last of the Antari, and smuggles trinkets when it suits him. But when Kell finds himself in possession of a trinket coated in bad magic he must destroy it before it devours the London’s and himself entirely in A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab.

*Review may contain spoilers*

I wasn’t looking for a new series to read, having just finished The Angel of Darkness, while The Mapmaker’s War series stares me down from the bookshelf, but I couldn’t pass this one up. After all the hype I’ve heard, with the third installment coming out earlier this year, I just thought why not jump on the bandwagon and get it out of the way?

V.E. Schwab has written mostly YA and it’s made clear throughout this book, but it didn’t hinder the book too much (more elaboration on certain things would have been nice, but not entirely necessary.) The pace is quick and the information is gradually learned, helping the characters and story ease into life. Schwab also takes care to keep focus solely on Kell and Lila. In a way, it reminded me of the Chronicles of Narnia with the light tone and just ‘matter of fact’ attitude toward the magic in the world.

A favorite aspect of mine was that Kell put a personal touch on ‘naming’ the different London’s (Grey, Red, White, and Black) and didn’t complicate things by trying to dive too deep into the political and magical aspects of each place allowing me to understand each London’s mindset in a matter of pages.

Kell. Sweet, idiotic, Kell.

There were times I wanted to hug the life out of that boy and other when I wanted to slap some sense into him. He was smart for the most part, I’ll give him that, but sometimes, and especially when he faced Holland multiple times, I was amazed at how naïve he was. Holland wants to kill you, sweetheart, not have tea in the garden and talk about how hard being an Antari is.

Which is why Lila came in handy. Though she has her own issues, like attacking every person she sees and tiptoeing into the ‘badass, orphan/pirate chick’ cliché, her abilities and attitude compliment Kell’s so well, which allowed for neither to get under my skin for too long.

The one character I wish was more involved was Rhy. I understand why he was left on the sidelines, but from what little we got I laughed every time. He’s definitely the highlight of Red London.

And, I’m embarrassed to admit this; until we discovered he and Kell were related I hyped myself up thinking they would be a same-sex couple and was so up for it that when the relation was revealed it was the same awkwardness when I watched A New Hope for the first time and thought Luke and Leia would make a good couple.

One thing I wish we’d gotten more of, and coming from me this is really weird, was the politics of both Red and White London. I know that White is a blood feast mess and Red is supposed to be this accepting, magic loving place, but I wanted more about the rulers.

I don’t know if this is because of A Song of Ice and Fire and all the information I can get about Westeros in a quick Google search, but I wanted more than ‘these are the good guys’ and ‘these are the bad guys.’ It might have made me care more at the end to know something when the shit storm began.

I’m so excited to read the next one and see what will become of Kell, Lila, and Rhy that I’ve begun re-reading ADSOM just to sedate my ridiculousness. It’s safe to say I’ve sold my soul to this series and won’t be looking back anytime soon.

The Heirs

heirs

“No,” she said, dropping her query, knowing she’d never get an answer. “I am still attached to him. And I’m not finished with him.”

Rupert Falkes has died of cancer, leaving behind a widow and five grown sons. As they come to terms with their grief they are hit by an unforeseen betrayal as a woman sues Rupert’s estate, claiming to have two sons fathered by him. As the family struggles to come to understand that, perhaps, not everything was as it seems in Rupert and Eleanor’s marriage they must decide how to keep the family together in The Heirs by Susan Rieger.

*Review may contain spoilers*

I’ve never read The Godfather and have only seen the movie once, maybe twice (yes, I know, I’m a horrible Italian) but when I read the description of The Heirs I made the terrible mistake of thinking the two would be somewhat similar. Obviously, this book isn’t about Italian mobsters who might have been inspired by ancestors of mine (I have no actual proof, but either way never go against a Sicilian *wink wink*) but, hey, who doesn’t like family drama?

First things first: there’s a reason The Godfather was about mobster Italians and not just rich, white people.

Every character in The Heirs fits the mold of bland, repeats we’ve seen time and time again. The father had to work for everything to get where he was, the mother, from a well to do family, has known nothing else except childbearing, each son is ‘almost’ perfect, and the rest filled in with ex-lovers and societies wealthy.

I don’t mind stories about rich, white people. F. Scott. Fitzgerald is a favorite author of mine, and he’s practically the King of fictional rich, white people, but I do mind stories about whiny, unappreciative, white people. Again, Fitzgerald doesn’t help, but at least his characters have depth.

At first, I thought I could handle all the different POV’s and find at least one character to like. But there are so many of them, blending together like a vanilla bean Frappuccino because no one has any discerning traits.

Honestly, I can’t even remember all five sons names, let alone differentiate them or what they contributed to this story. Or who Eleanor was really in love with because she has no emotion past cool as a cucumber and she’s the damn main character.

And though Rieger tried to be modern with a gay character it’s clear she only did it for appearances because Sam leaves his partner (who’s only purpose is to be a blatant bad guy with no character development) not even halfway through the book to live with his best friend and have a baby with her.

Yeah, you read that right.

If the characters don’t put readers off it doesn’t help every conversation is either about 3 things: 1. How Rupert and Eleanor weren’t anything like their sons remembered, 2. How life-shattering Rupert’s affair is, and 3. How awful their lives are because they went to Ivy League schools, have family money, and don’t know how to act like real human beings.

Meanwhile, the main conflict is supposed to be about whether or not these two sons are actually Rupert’s, which not only never gets solved, but is also barely present in the entire book. And nothing else happens leading to no climax whatsoever and a blasé ending.

The entire book is heavy-handed on telling, rather than showing, and it might have been sufferable if most of the conversations didn’t have ‘he said, she said, he said’ after every line making it sound like a child was telling the story.

Rieger is a Columbia law graduate and though I don’t know much else about her upbringing I can’t imagine it’s far off from the ones portrayed by her characters. Her writing shows how limited her social views are and the things she believes are important to society and families, which translates into money and prestige.

Look, I know the saying is ‘write what you know’, but is it worth it at the expense of a good plot and decent characters?

I know I am in the rarity, disliking this book, but I cannot find anything to like. There needed to be less pity party and more concentration on the story promised to readers, which might have helped the book be something other than white, bland, and boring.