Monday, March 18, 2019

Review: Rule by Ellen Goodlett

Rule by Ellen Goodlett
Rule (Rule #1)
By Ellen Goodlett
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley

To Sum It Up: Zofi, Akeylah, and Florencia are strangers to each other until King Andros of Kolonya summons them all to court. Upon their arrival, they learn that the ailing king is their father, and they are all potential heirs to his throne. Each sister, however, carries an explosive secret that, if discovered, could result in execution. When the girls start receiving threatening messages, it seems that someone already knows what they’re hiding, and the sisters must band together to find their blackmailer.

Review: It’s been a while since a fantasy blew me away, and unfortunately, Rule left me less than awed. The premise sounds promising: three young women who would otherwise continue leading disparate lives suddenly discover that they’re daughters of the ailing king. Only one of them can inherit his crown, and each sister is hiding a secret that could get her executed. Zofi, Akeylah, and Florencia are all naturally wary of each other since only one of them can rule Kolonya, but the sisters may have no choice but to work together after all three begin receiving messages threatening to expose their secrets.

My biggest issue with the book was how thinly sketched everything was: the plot, the characters, and especially the world building. War figures heavily in Kolonya’s past and present, but the details are sparse and delivered through telling instead of showing. Despite a magic system based on tithing one’s blood to temporarily gain enhanced abilities, there isn’t much of a fantasy feel here. The story focuses more on the girls’ efforts to stop their blackmailer amidst a treacherous court where no one can be trusted.

The book is also repetitive, as we’re constantly reminded that the girls must do whatever it takes to keep their secrets safe, even from each other. A plot point that could have used some hashing out instead of belaboring the secrets thing was the big reveal of the sisters’ paternity. All three accept the news that their father is the king with relative ease. The girls then move swiftly on to resuming their worries over what they’re hiding.

As much as I’d hoped that Rule would be an engrossing fantasy read, it spent too much time on its non-fantasy plot as well as went down the YA trope road with some insta-love and a potential love triangle. I considered DNF-ing this, but there was something about the pacing that still made Rule compulsive to read. As much as I’d also hoped that there would be some resolution to the girls’ blackmail situation, alas the book ended on a giant cliffhanger which I’m not invested enough in to see the outcome of in a sequel.

All in All: Rule has some really good pacing, which spurred me on to read what otherwise would have been a DNF. The other aspects of the book, however, are not as strong. The plot is all about the sisters keeping their misdeeds hidden in a world that isn’t fully fleshed out.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Review: The Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand

The Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand
The Afterlife of Holly Chase
By Cynthia Hand
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased

To Sum It Up: Holly Chase is a failed Scrooge. After receiving a visit from three ghosts on Christmas Eve warning her to change her ways, Holly completely ignores them and a few days later, she dies. Then begins Holly’s afterlife as an employee of Project Scrooge, the company that tried to reform her. Holly is Project Scrooge’s Ghost of Christmas Past, a job that she’s not entirely keen on until the team begins planning for this year’s assignment: Ethan Winters, a Scrooge whom Holly takes a particular interest in when she starts to realize how much his life experiences mirror her own. As Christmas Eve approaches, Holly’s duties as the Ghost of Christmas Past increasingly take a backseat to what her heart wants.

Review: I’m a huge fan of Cynthia Hand’s angel series Unearthly, so I was very excited to read her modern take on A Christmas Carol. Hand’s version tells the story of Holly Chase, who failed to be swayed by the efforts of Project Scrooge, a secret company that tries to save one Scrooge-like individual every Christmas. After being visited by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future à la Dickens’s classic tale, Holly ignores all of the ghosts’ warnings and subsequently dies. Her afterlife consists of being a Project Scrooge employee, as its current Ghost of Christmas Past. Holly is less than thrilled about this purgatory/hell she’s landed in and hasn’t changed much, if at all, from her days as a mortal.

It doesn’t take long to realize why Holly was selected as a Scrooge: she’s selfish, materialistic, and mean. A good portion of the novel sees Holly put her responsibilities as the GCP on the backburner as she falls for the current Scrooge, Ethan Winters. Holly’s recklessness is sometimes cringe-worthy, yet it also builds suspense. Will Project Scrooge discover what she’s up to? Will she put Ethan’s future in jeopardy by not doing her job?

I found the middle section of the book, which focuses on Holly meeting Ethan in secret when she should be carrying out her GCP duties kind of slow moving. I wasn’t really sold on the romance here. My investment was in whether or not Ethan would be another failed Scrooge thanks in large part to Holly’s egregious breaking of Project Scrooge protocol.

I admit that I was prepared to be a bit disappointed with this one until—and I must squeeze in a bad Christmas pun here—things started wrapping up. I loved the book’s conclusion; it was extremely satisfying with just the right amount of closure, yet without being hokey. Although I would have enjoyed the book even more if the middle part had been as strong as the finish, overall this was a solid retelling as well as a solid holiday read.

All in All: I struggled some reading through the romance bits, but the ending was totally worth hanging in there for.