fiction review

The First Book of Calamity Leek – Paula Lichtarowicz

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The First Book of Calamity LeekCalamity Leek is a young woman who knows how the world works.  All men are demons and she and her chosen sisters will bring the first wave of war against the demonmales and the sun.  But when Calamity’s sister Truly dies after trying to look over their protective wall, the sisters’ world begins to unravel.

In concept, this book felt a bit out there.  The official logline I got was this: “Books tell you what to believe.  Books explain the world around you.  What if a book had been written to explain a world constructed only for you?  What if that world suddenly fell apart?”  When I started reading, I thought I had stumbled onto a very strange, inventive novel.  I was right, but not in the way I thought. The First Book of Calamity Leek is a breath of fresh air in a world filled with the same stories retold.

The execution of the story (which I am going to try and not spoil, because Lichtarowicz is great at letting it unfold slowly) needed to be incredibly well done to work, and it did.  Pieces fall into place, and as Calamity writes, you pick up the tidbits that she is blind to.  The book is written by Calamity, from her own point of view of events.  She was a treasured daughter and niece, and knew everything about the way their world works; Aunty even made sure that Calamity disseminated information to her other sisters.  Calamity’s confidence in her unique place is almost unsettling.

The First Book of Calamity Leek is written in Calamity’s vernacular.  This aspect of the novel, while providing more character insight and depth, did not quite work for me.  Though set in North Wales, Calamity’s voice sounded almost Southern (American Southern), and it’s weird cadences turned me off of the book at first. [I should note here that I strongly dislike most dialectic-narrative books.  They are choppy and I always have a hard time adjusting to the voice, so it’s not really an indictment on Lichtarowicz but more of my own distaste for the style.]  Once I got used to it, however, I could not get enough of Calamity Leek and her sisters, or even of crazy Aunty who watches over them.

There were a few points that I felt did drag the novel down, though.  I could not at all tell you what age Calamity Leek or her same-age sisters were.  When I began the book, I would have said 8-10, based on the context and the naivete.  But later in the book, other hints suggested she is in her teens.  I felt the voice was really too young for a teen, and while I can understand an exact age not being given in this concept, Lichtarowicz could have narrowed it down for her readers better.  The dialect not sounding location-appropriate (North Wales), also bugged me.  There are a few things that might explain it in the book, but I didn’t feel any of that was enough.

Despite its flaws, The First Book of Calamity Leek is an inventive, unique debut novel that will either enrapture you or push you away.  I can easily see this as being one that divides readers; however, if you give it a chance and keep reading, Calamity and her confidence will get you in the end.

Rating: 7.5/10

Available now on Kindle. Buy The First Book of Calamity Leek.

Reached – Ally Condie

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Reached Matched TrilogyIn the conclusion to Matched and Crossed, Cassia thinks she will finally get everything she wants, but first she and Ky must do their part for the Rising.  While she lives in the Capital and waits for news, Ky works on the outskirts.  Xander, also in the Rising, helps the rebels usher in the one thing that will make those in the Society trust them.  With narration shifting between the three main characters, will the Rising accomplish its goals and will Ky and Cassia find each other again?

One of the things that I found most intriguing about the Matched trilogy was Condie’s narrative style.  In Matched, our only narrator is Cassia.  In Crossed, the narration is shared between Cassia and Ky.  And with Reached, Xander joins the other two in the story-telling.  It’s quite poetic, the 1, 2, 3, narrators in books 1, 2, and 3.  And while I was a bit hesitant about the narration, I found it easy to tell each three apart; they all had their own unique voice.  While Cassia’s voice remains poetic and involves more thinking and less action, Ky’s is antsy, almost pessimistic.  When Xander joined in I figured he would sound a lot like Ky, but instead he is grounded, easily led, and more matter-of-fact in his telling.  It’s tricky enough to balance one voice in a novel, especially across three books, and yet Condie is able to make it with three.

In the dystopian fiction trend, you often see Hunger Games style rebellions, with those same types of consequences and fallout.  I was expecting something similar from Reached, but was pleasantly surprised by the unexpected direction of the story.  It was honest about the implications of a rebellion, and so they went with a route that provided little violence and no grand overtures – just choices.  Considering Condie’s Matched trilogy is about the importance of choice, this rebellion that provides with the people a chance to choose it or not fits right in with the theme.  I also appreciated the theme of love as a choice; Cassia chose who she fell for, who she gave her all to.  She could have easily been happy with either Xander or Ky, but she makes the choice to be happy with one of them.  This mature approach also means there’s a lack of teen love-triangle melodrama.  That is really refreshing in any Young Adult novel, and with one as popular as Matched others might follow.

Over all, Reached was not what I expected, and I loved that.  Condie managed to draw me in within sentences (I picked up the book intending to read only the first chapter and ended up reading several).  It is an engrossing conclusion to a mature trilogy.  With great technical writing and different approaches to a similar problem, Condie and Cassia manage to make you believe in the human race and their ability to choose good when they have the option.

Rating: 8/10

Storm Front – Jim Butcher

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Storm Front opens with Harry Dresden getting mocked by his mailman, because Dresden is a professional wizard.  You can find him in the phone book.  He helps the police out with some of the more mysterious cases, finds lost items, and generally uses his magic and knowledge of the supernatural for good.  He’s a private investigator, but with a magical twist.  The first in the Dresden Files series, Storm Front follows Harry as he hunts down the most powerful sorcerer he has ever gone up against, a man with a penchant for ripping the hearts out of his victims from miles away.

Written like a hard-boiled detective story, Jim Butcher has created a very unique series with Harry Dresden.  Between Dresden’s thirty-pound cat Mister and the skull-residing spirit Bob, Butcher sets Dresden up with a fantastical home life with a more modern take.  The magic in Storm Front focuses a lot on energy, mental capabilities, and a lot less on wand-waving.  It’s sort of like Harry Potter for adults, you know, if Harry never married Ginny and had three kids he obviously named himself.  Dresden has a great self-deprecating humor that keeps him from feeling too grandiose or self-righteous.  He has his flaws, but he also knows he has better control over his innate powers than many of his peers.  Dresden himself is a great, deep character who keeps you engaged in the series.

Alongside Dresden is his Chicago PD contact, Karrin Murphy.  Short and hardly physically imposing, Murphy deals with crimes of occult nature.  She calls Dresden in regularly to assist on cases, and she is just as much a match for Dresden as a character.  A strong female counterpoint for Dresden, Murphy more than holds her own in Storm Front.  Couple her with reporter Susan Rodriguez, and you get a surprising amount of female power for a fantasy detective novel.

Fool Moon and Grave Peril follow in the series, and both are better than the previous book.  Storm Front really builds a world you want to learn more about, a character and companions that you want to keep following.  I read the first three books in just a matter of days, and there are about nine more in the series I need to catch up on.  First released in 2000, Storm Front may not be the newest series out there, but it is definitely worth checking out.  With the increasing interest in different-slanted fantasy (especially due to TV shows like “Grimm” and “Once Upon a Time”), the Dresden Files are ahead of the curve.

Rating: 8/10