Review: The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein

Title: The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein

Author: Kiersten White

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Pages: 287

Format: Hardcover

When Madame Frankenstein takes Elizabeth Lavenza away from the poverty and abuse she’s lived in, she tells Elizabeth that she must be a special friend to Victor Frankenstein, a brilliant but solitary boy. Elizabeth, knowing her salvation lies in fulfilling the request, does just that: she becomes Victor’s closest friend and a gentling influence to his sudden and violent outbursts. The two children become inseparable, with Victor becoming more and more obsessive about her. Elizabeth lives her life as an actress, learning to use her beauty and charm to manipulate those around her. When Victor leaves for school and then disappears, her place in the household grows precarious. She knows the only way to keep her place is to bring Victor back. But when she finds him, she discovers unimaginable horrors that she knows she has to cover up, lest she lose Victor forever.

I really liked this book a lot, and I liked it because it was so completely horrifying. It wasn’t even the whole Frankenstein plot that made it horrifying, but Victor and his possessive and controlling nature. He was terrifying even before Elizabeth reveals some things that were kept hidden early in the book. It was also horrifying because of how helpless Elizabeth was. As a young child, she was abused by her caretaker and then taken in by the Frakensteins, who tell her she has to calm their violent son. She twists her whole personality and life around Victor. She goes out of her way to protect him from the consequences of his actions. She never seems to worry about it being right or wrong in the grand scheme of thing; her whole worry is on her safety and security. She’s one mistake away from being flung into the streets and she knows it. She has to tread carefully.

I wish I had reread Frankenstein before I had read this. It was perfectly understandable without reading it, which is a definite plus, but I wasn’t familiar with the characters and couldn’t remember what was going to happen. In some ways, it was fine, because it was shocking when things happened, but I think having that sense of impending doom from knowing what was going to happen would have enhanced the experience, too. Maybe, some day, I’ll reread the original and then this to see how it goes.

This book was very well done. The characters, especially Elizabeth, were amazing. I love her strength and resilience. I love how she would catch herself reacting in a way that wasn’t working to get what she wanted and would course correct. I liked her relationships with the other characters, especially Justine and Mary. I also like the twisted, sick relationship she had with Victor. It was not healthy and it was wonderful to read, if that makes sense. It added to the ambiance and sense of wrongness.

Review: City of Ember

Title: City of Ember

Author: Jeanne DuPrau

Publisher: Yearling Books

Pages: 270

Source: Library

Lina is twelve years old and eagerly looking forward to her assignment. When she picks Pipeworks, she’s dismayed. The last thing she wants is to be stuck underground all day, fixing pipes. She’s even more disheartened when Doon, a classmate, picks Messenger, the best job, and throws a fit… until he offers to trade. Now Lina has the job of her dreams, running around the city of Ember and delivering messages all day. Sure, time are rough; there shortages of everything from food to clothes and the power goes off all the time, leaving the entire city in total darkness. But the mayor will know what to do, right?

Then, Lina discovers a box in her apartment that contains a message. It’s been ruined, but she can tell it’s important. Together, she and Doon work to decipher the message and find a way to save the city of Ember for good.

This was an interesting book with a fascinating concept. It’s a children’s book, so there are things that were very obvious to me that may be a surprise to a kid. I think I was also spoiled for part of it by my mother, who recommended the book for me, too, but that didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the book.

I liked the character of Lina. She’s twelve years old and she reads like a twelve year old. A lot of time, it seems like young characters read a lot older, but she was believably her age. I like that she wanted nothing more than to run around all day, delivering messages. I also liked her love of drawing. Doon read as slightly older to me, with his concern with the city and how it was failing and his seriousness. However, there are children who are serious and concerned about the world, so it wasn’t unbelievable.

I thought the plot was solid. Lian finds a message left by the Builders, but her baby sister chews on it so all that’s left are parts of words. I liked how Lian and Doon worked together to decipher the messaged, recognizing words parts and connecting them to the world.

The book ends on something of a cliffhanger, and it was intriguing enough for me to want to read the next book. I’m interested in seeing how the story unfolds.

Review: The Elite

America Singer is part of the Selection, a competition to win the heart and hand of the prince of Illea, Maxon. Once, there were 35 girls, but now it’s been narrowed down to the Elite few, and America is one of them. Despite the rocky start she had with Maxon, the two of them have made a deep connection that puts America on top of the girls for his hand and the crown. The only problem is her first love, Aspen, is a guard in the palace, and despite her deepening feelings for Maxon, America can’t help but learn for the familiar and loving Aspen. With increasing attacks from the Rebels, an ever close competition, and her own inner conflict, America isn’t sure she’ll ever know her own heart, or even if she has what it takes to be the princess.

I didn’t review The Selection because I didn’t have much to say about it. It was enjoyable and I had a good time reading it. I liked the characters and interactions, I thought the world was interesting, and I thought it was a cute romance.

I had a lot more trouble with The Elite. Part of it stems from the love triangle. I don’t particularly care for Aspen because I don’t feel he has much personality outside of “loves America.” And, the more I think about it, Maxon doesn’t have much of a personality either. He has more of one because he’s in it more, but I don’t really feel I know his likes, his desires, or what he wants out of his life/rule. And, therefore, I don’t really think I’m rooting for one over the other. Plus, I hate, hate, hate when characters put themselves in danger for love, which is what America is doing. I especially hate it when I can’t figure out why she’s in love with Aspen other than he’s her childhood friend and first love. The constant waffling back and forth is annoying, boring, and very frustrating.

I did like the mounting tension among the girls. I liked how America thought she was making friends, only to have the other girls remind her that, no, this is a competition. She entered the competition not really planning on competing, and even when she started falling for Maxon, that attitude didn’t change. I liked the reality check and I also liked her commitment when she decided she was really going to try to compete. I wish there had been more on her lessons and what she was learning after those started.

What I’m really interested in is what the book spends the least amount of time on: the rebels and the politics. This is America in the future, with the population divide into castes. There’s some hints on how it got this way, but not enough. Same with the rebels: we’re told there are 2 kinds and there are attacks by both, but we don’t get more than that. My interest in the politics and the rebels is why I’m going to read the next book, because I’m getting tired of the romance and the triangle. I hope that the politics are explored more in the next books.

So, I’m waffling on what to rate this. I rated The Selection three stars, but I don’t think The Elite is a three star books. I think I’m going to rate it 2.5 stars because I still like America and the world, but the book overall fell flat and I didn’t really like it all that much. However, despite not liking the book that much, I’ll l give the next a try because I want to know what’s going to happen.

Review: With the Fire on High

Title: With the Fire on High

Author: Elizabeth Acevedo

Publisher: HarperTeen

Pages: 400

Format: e-book

Emoni Santiago’s life is full of tough choices. She’s a senior in high school trying to decide what colleges she should apply to, she’s raising her baby daughter; she’s working at the local Burger Joint; and she’s helping her abuela run the household. The only place she feels she can truly be free is in the kitchen, where her cooking turns into magic. When her school starts a cooking elective, she’s thrilled… and a little apprehensive. Does she really have what it takes to cook professionally, or will her magic stay among her family and friends forever?

This book was really so very well done. It’s written beautifully. The character were all so real and understandable. I could feel what Emoni was going through and I rooted for her the whole time. Even when I could see what was going to happen in her cooking class, I was on her side and hoping she’d work it out and achieve her dreams.

It was a really soothing book. A slice of life that takes you through the Emoni’s year. I really liked how short the chapters were, just enough to entice you and keep you reading more. I read almost half the book in one sitting because it flew by so fast. The pacing was really good.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. There were a few places where my eyes glazed over, but they were few and far between. I liked characters and the relationships between them. I really enjoyed how Emoni’s world had such a strong female presence with her daughter, her abuela, and her best friend. I love reading stories about loving relationships between women and this delivered on that front.

Review: Shatter Me

Title: Shatter Me

Author: Tahereh Mafi

Publisher: Harper

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 338

Juliette’s been locked up for 264 days. Two hundred sixty-four days since she’s talked to anyone, seen anyone, touched anyone. The last time she touched someone, they died. Now, the Reestablishment has plans for her and her power, plans she wants no part of. But how can a monster like her ever be truly free?

I liked this book. At first, it was hard for me to get into because of the frequent lines crossed out and the disjointed way it was written, but once the plot got started, I enjoyed it. I felt for Juliette and her horror and disgust at herself. I loved Warner and how he wanted to use her to his own ends. I also loved his twisted possessiveness over her. I’m less sure about Adam and his intentions. The romance fell a little flat for me as well, but I could see why Juliette fell so hard and so fast. She’s desperate for salvation and love and her love interest seems to be a way to get that.

I admit, I think I would have liked this better a few years ago when I was deep into dystopians. The world in this book is a mess. People starving, animals are dying off, the atmosphere has been destroyed and the weather is out of wack. Because of this, the Reestablishment has taken over and is determined to wipe the slate clean and recreate humanity from the bottom up. We didn’t get a whole lot of them in this book, but the vague outlines were threatening and there.

This was a solidly entertaining read with some good characters and a fun villain. The plot was interesting and moved along quickly. I enjoyed it.

Book review: Caraval

Title: Caraval

Author: Stephanie Graber

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Format: paperback

Pages: 409

Scarlett Dragna has dreamed of attending Caraval–a magical show where the audience are participants in the game–since she was a child. She’s been writing the organizer, Legend, every year in hopes of an invitation. Now, merely days away from her wedding, Scarlett receives and invitation from Legend inviting her, her sister, and her fiance to the game. Desperate to escape her abusive father, but terrified of putting her wedding–her guarantee of escape–in jeopardy, Scarlett despairs of going until a mysterious sailor, Julian, gets her and her sister off the island and takes them to Caravel. Once there, Tella, Scarlett’s sister, is kidnapped by Legend and becomes the focal point of this year’s game. Although Scarlett has been warned time and again not to believe anything and not to get swept up too much in the game, for that way lies madness, she can’t help become hopelessly entangled. Now, time is running out. Will she find her sister in time? Or will this game claim another victim?

I loved this book and couldn’t put it down. Scarlett was just such a great character. I loved how she looked out for her sister and did whatever she could to keep her safe. I loved that she was so driven to follow rules and her confusion and frustration at this new world that refused to give her anything concrete. I enjoyed her journey in the world of Caraval, how she figured out how to play the game and her methods of figuring out the clues to find her sister.

The world was amazing, too. I liked the mystery and magic of the world. It had a few things I haven’t seen before and I loved the magic system. It was just so intriguing and richly imagined. I wish I had half the imagination that Stephanie Graber has.

I also liked the relationships between the characters. Julian, the sailor who takes the sisters to the island, was a great mystery to unravel. I admit, I thought I had him figured out early on, only to be thrown through many loops as the story went on. I was disappointed I wasn’t right, but the actual reveal was very satisfying.

Overall, I thought this was a solid book with a great premise. It was entertaining, it was magical, and the characters were fantastic. I greatly look forward to the sequel.

Book Review: Emergency Contact

Title: Emergency Contact

Author: Mary H. K. Choi

Publisher: Simon& Schuster Books for Young Readers

Format: Hardback

Penny Lee is heading to college and glad. High school wasn’t for her, and she’s happy to be spreading her wings and staring her journey to being a writer. Her first day, she meets Sam, her roommates “uncle” and is immediately attracted. Meanwhile, Sam is overwhelmed with the idea his ex-girlfriend might be pregnant and not in the best place in his life. When a panic attack causes him and Penny to cross paths again, they agree to become each other’s emergency contact and start texting each other. The more they text, the more attracted they are toward each other, but each is unsure if they’re ready to take the next step.

I struggled with this one. I just found Penny to be so unlikable. She judges everyone from her mom to her new roommate and just… I don’t know. Isn’t very nice. Now, I know characters don’t need to be nice to be likable, or a character doesn’t need to be likable for a story to be good, but in this case, it was detrimental to the plot. 

However, I think Penny’s likability was part of her journey as a character. The more Penny and Sam communicated, the more understandable Penny became. She opened up to the world, she faced her flaws, and she became more well rounded.

Sam didn’t go through quite the same journey. He had issues that he had to work through, and he did, and was changed from the beginning, but I don’t feel like he experienced quite the same growth and awakening as Penny did. I liked him better than Penny, but I wasn’t as invested in him.

This book overall was interesting. The characters went through growth and helped me relate to and understand them better. I struggled in the beginning, and I feel there were some threads that were left unfinished or hanging, but it was a solid read with a good ending.