Friday, May 8, 2015

Book Review: Red Glove

Book Review: Red Glove by Holly Black 

Goodreads Description: After rescuing his brothers from Zacharov’s retribution, Cassel is trying to reestablish some kind of normalcy in his life.

That was never going to be easy for someone from a worker family that’s tied to one of the big crime families—and whose mother’s cons get more reckless by the day. But Cassel is coming to terms with what it means to be a worker, and he’s figuring out how to have friends.

Except normal doesn’t last very long. Soon Cassel is being courted by both sides of the law and is forced to confront his past—a past he remembers only in scattered fragments, and one that could destroy his family and his future. Cassel will have to decide whose side he wants to be on, because neutrality is not an option. And then he will have to pull off his biggest con ever to survive….

My Review: I had picked up Red Glove a long time ago and it took the right mood before I was able to read it. What intrigues me about this series is the world itself, the way the magic works at the touch of a hand and the whole mobster and criminal backing to it, which creates room for a great deal of conflict. Cassel's character has developed quite a bit since the previous book, and the loss of his naivety and innocence really improves the overall feel of the story. What I didn't enjoy about the first book was that Cassel seemed too naive to have grown up around criminals and mob families. After learning everything from the first book, Cassel becomes a bit darker and a bit more reserved, which made for a much more pleasant and believable read.

Along the line of characters, I really enjoyed getting to see Lila and her character progression throughout. She came into her own in a way she didn't-- and probably couldn't-- in the first book. She went from some mysterious and wonderful thing in Cassel's mind to a real character, which was nice to see.

Most of my sighs in this book just comes down to fundamentals. I feel like Holly Black spends too much time trying to build up the mystery and doesn't leave enough time to let the resolution of it hit home. The entire book the plot focuses around this woman in red gloves who murdered Cassel's brother, and the resolution to that plot is shoved into half a scene at the end. There was no satisfaction to the resolution because it almost felt tacked on, a secondary thought to the plot between Lila and Cassel, which ends on a tense note.

Which leads me to another annoyance. I have yet to make any conclusions until I read the final installment, but that final scene between Lila and Cassel felt like the most exciting part of the book, which made the rest feel like fodder and set up for the finale. I suppose that's my own grievance more than anything else.

The writing style is very straight to the point, and at times, I find rather bland. Because of this, when the author describes anything, it becomes painfully obvious that it's going to play a part in the story, even just a minuscule one, as opposed to describing an entire scene and leaving the 'smoking gun' hidden among other details. It makes the narrative feel predictable at times.

All in all, Red Glove is an easy, smooth read, though not at all "dark" or "noir," unless you consider PG13 noir. I'll be looking forward to the finale, at least to see how this all comes together.

TL;DR: 3/5 stars. An interesting idea but a not so interesting execution.

Book Review: Mister Death's Blue Eyed Girls

Book Review: Mister Death's Blue Eyed Girls by Mary Downing Hahn 

Goodreads Description: Based on an actual crime in 1955, this YA novel is at once a mystery and a coming-of-age story. The brutal murder of two teenage girls on the last day of Nora Cunningham's junior year in high school throws Nora into turmoil. Her certainties, friendships, religion, her prudence, her resolve to find a boyfriend taller than she is - are shaken or cast off altogether.

Most people in Elmgrove, Maryland, share the comforting conviction that Buddy Novak, who had every reason to want his ex-girlfriend dead, is responsible for the killings. Nora agrees at first, then begins to doubt Buddy's guilt, and finally comes to believe him innocent - the lone dissenting voice in Elmgrove.

My Review: It's taken me a bit to actually write this review, mostly because Mister Death's Blue Eyed Girls left me in such a funk. It's an incredible book and so different from what I'm used to seeing in YA that it was a stark breath of fresh air. The story followed Nora in the days leading up to and the weeks after her friends' murder. The whole town is abuzz, certain that one of the girl's ex-boyfriend, Buddy, was behind it, though Nora isn't quite so sure. Aside from the fact that this story is based on a true crime, the events feel so starkly real. Not in the murder or the reactions of people, which were all very well done, but in the little minute details most writers easily overlook. We get to see our MC "fall" for nearly every guy who pays her the time of day, we see our MC and her friend badmouthing their murdered friends before they realize what has happened to them. We get to see the complexities of emotion-- like how Charlie really likes Nora, and yet can't be around her after the incident due to the conflicting feelings and memories. Yes, all of these little tidbits may look unfavorable on a character, but the reason they stood out so strongly is because they were true to being human. Teenage girls don't meet "the one" off the first bat. They fall in love with anyone, (or at least that's what it felt like), they turn to sharp words easily because they don't realize the lasting effect, and most of all, the feeling of confusion and uncertainty remains strong throughout the teenage years. The little negative characteristics creeping out really brought that dose of reality in. The character felt like real people because of, not just what they experience, but how they experienced it.

Mister Death is a powerful loss of innocence tale and a strong period piece. Through every moment in that book, the time period bled in and didn't let you forget it. Records are playing. Long shorts have been introduced. The girls talk about how it sucks that James Dean passed away. Some writers may think they're being overbearing when trying to set a scene or time period, but this book only proves that you simply cannot overdo it. Adding more to instill scenery or setting really has a big impact. Aside from the time period, even just the way the author described the town and the summer heat left a lasting impression and made the setting come alive like another character. As well, the loss of innocence is stark. The first few chapters we get to see our MC, Nora, and all her friends living their lives as normal, which allows for the sharp contrast to what happens when the murders take place. Because of this, most of the characters can come off as a little bit like boy-crazy bimbos in the beginning, but I believe this is more reflective of the time period and their naivety than anything else.

This book is strongly character driven and best when you're in more of a reflective mood. Aside from the murders, there isn't a whole lot of action that goes on, and it is a story of a personal journey and discovery. The only thing I would complain about is having a bit more closure with the actual killers. The book spends time alternating between POVs and we get the chance to see things through the killer's eyes. However, I felt like it was left a little unfinished and would've liked to see one or two more scenes from them. Other than that, the relationships in this story are really what's gold, my personal favourite being the relationship between Buddy and Nora. There's something really beautiful in their scenes together, and not in a lovey-dovey way, but in a way that speaks to the truth and mystery in human relationships.

I would greatly encourage anyone to pick this up, especially if you've ever faced some sort of tragedy. Though not a lot happens, the pace is swift and makes for a quick and invested read.

TL;DR: 4/5 stars. A great period piece and a strong loss of innocence story with some intense ideas explored.