Book Review: Trial by Fire by Josephine Angelini

23310784Trial by Fire

Josephine Angelini

4/5 stars

Release Date: September 2, 2014

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo

Synopsis on Goodreads:

The exhilaratingly seductive new series from the author of the bestselling Starcrossed series

Love burns. Worlds collide. Magic reigns.

This world is trying to kill Lily Proctor. Her life-threatening allergies keep her from enjoying many of the experiences that other teenagers take for granted…which is why she is determined to enjoy her first (and perhaps only) high-school party. But Lily’s life never goes according to plan, and after a humiliating incident in front of half her graduating class Lily wishes she could just disappear.

Suddenly Lily is in a different Salem – one overrun with horrifying creatures and ruled by powerful women called Crucibles. Strongest and cruellest of all the Crucibles is Lillian . . . Lily’s identical other self in this alternate universe. This new version of her world is terrifyingly sensual, and Lily is soon overwhelmed by new experiences.

Lily realizes that what makes her weak at home is exactly what makes her extraordinary in New Salem. It also puts her life in danger. Thrown into a world she doesn’t understand, Lily is torn between responsibilities she can’t hope to shoulder alone, and a love she never expected.

But how can Lily be the saviour of this world when she is literally her own worst enemy?

Review:

Trial by Fire incorporates Salem witches, spirit walking, and alternate universes. Alternate universes are my absolute favourite and Angelini doesn’t disappoint – it’s creative and well-done. Lily lives in our world but is brought to an alternate Salem through her other self, Lillian. What’s worse, Lily learns magic and witches reign supreme and Lillian is the ruler and villain of this new world. Angelini gives us an incredible world that I loved reading about!

The book starts off in our world, introducing Lily, her family, and best friend Tristan. Lily is frequently sick and diagnosed with more allergies than she can count, so her social life consists mainly of Tristan. Lily’s had a long-time crush on Tristan, which I found a bit cheesy especially when the reader learns Tristan is the school’s most popular boy. The author doesn’t have enough room to make this popular trope unique so in my personal opinion it should have been avoided. Before the start, the two had a steamy kiss, but they hadn’t discussed where their relationship lies so when Lily see’s Tristan making out with his ex at a party, she runs off with a broken heart. This creates the perfect opportunity for Lillian to bring Lily to her world – Lily has to willingly agree to leave and of course, she’d like to be anywhere but here.

The world-building is phenomenal and my favourite aspect of the book. I was actually expecting a pre-1800’s Salem, but I think it’s set in or around present day because technology exists, although influenced by magic. You have things like bioluminescent trees and giant walled cities – the cities are reminiscent of the Thirteen colonies. When it comes to science and magic there’s a really interesting dynamic. The growth of science is controlled by the ruling coven so that it can’t become bigger or independent of magic. If a citizen needs clean water or medicine, they have to hire a witch because using science for something like that is illegal. Ironically magic is more expensive than science, so this further divides the witches and non-magic people.

I loved Angelini’s version of witches and magic. Everyone has a Willstone, which is a small rock usually worn as a necklace and acts as an extra limb. A Willstone also allows a witch to bond with other people and share their magic. It’s very sensitive so if destroyed or in the wrong hands can be very painful for the witch. There’s also people called Mechanics, someone a witch is expected to bond with and is supposed to make sure the witch’s body and soul is in good condition. In exchange, they get a lot of magic to use at their own disposal. Outlanders like Rowan, people born outside the city walls and therefore not a citizen, fear bonding with a witch because there’s a chance the witch will control their thoughts and use them like a puppet.

When it comes to the Outlanders, there wasn’t the same sort of creative development like with witches and magic. It borders really close to “Native Americans are savages and the Europeans civilized” and other racist, misperceptions. It makes the author look like A: did not do a lot of research on Native American history and/or doesn’t feel like they need to because it’s an alternate universe largely focused on Salem witches and B: a product of the American education system that isn’t overly focused on teaching accurate Native American history.

I loved Rowan and the romance between Lily and him. Some characters like Juliet (Lily’s sister) and Tristan exist in both worlds, but there’s no Rowan in Lily’s world so both the reader and Lily get to learn about this person at the same time. We find out Rowan and Lillian used to have some sort of romantic relationship so I’m not 100% sure how I feel about that when it comes to the romance between him and Lily, BUT I still ship the latter.

I expected to see a lot more of Lillian and as this great villain she’s been advertised. I like reading about the villain and seeing their POV because things aren’t just black and white. She’s presented as a person who’s resorted to the no-other-option to save her world and I just wish we’d seen her more as the villain and interacting with Lily. The reader learns about her dark acts from other characters so I hope we get to see more of her in the sequel.

Something that wasn’t made clear is whether Mechanics are only males and if females can become Mechanics, but it’s just rare. There are male witches, but not many and most probably don’t know they’re witches. I was also disappointed with the lack of female characters. Lily didn’t interact with any on a regular basis, other than maybe her sister, Juliet and doppelgänger Lillian. Even in her own world she didn’t seem to have any female friends. It’s really important to me that a heroine of a book have at least one good female friend.

Overall I loved this book and will be reading the sequel (already bought it). Cheesy parts aside, the world-building is incredibly strong and Angelini’s world stands out so much to me. If you’re looking for a new original take on Salem witches and magic, this book is for you. There’s so much about the world that I loved and it’s impossible to write about it all in a review, so read the book!

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Review: All The Broken Things by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer

CBCbooks-CanadaReads-2016-longlist

One of my goals for 2016 is to read the entire Canada Reads 2016 Longlist and with this post, I’m sharing my thoughts on the first one: All The Broken Things by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer. I’m sure you’re asking yourself, what is Canada Reads? It’s basically an annual “battle of the books” competition, organized and broadcast by CBC. Five Canadian panellists champion novels based on a specific theme. This year’s theme is ‘starting over’ and you can read more about that and the panellists here.

I’d also love to invite you to read one, some or all of the books, from either the shortlist or longlist. It’d be great discussing these books with others and deciding which one deserves to win Canada Reads 2016!

2016 Shortlist (top 5 books that will be part of the debate):

shortlist
Birdie | Bone and Bread | Minister Without Portfolio | The Hero’s Walk | The Illegal

2016 Longlist:

The Outside Circle by Patti LaBoucane-Benson & Kelly Mellings

Swamp Angel by Ethel Wilson

All The Broken Things by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer

Birdie by Tracey Lindberg

Bone and Bread by Saleema Nawaz

Buying on Time by Antanas Sileika

Landing Gear by Kate Pullinger

Minister Without Portfolio by Michael Winter

Niko by Dimitri Nasrallah

Sitting Practice by Caroline Adderson

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Sweetland by Michael Crummey

The Amazing Absorbing Boy by Rabindranath Maharaj

The Hero’s Walk by Anita Rau Badami

The Illegal by Lawrence Hill


17834903All The Broken Things by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer | 4/5 stars

Release Date: January 14, 2014

Publisher: Random House CA

Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo

Synopsis on Goodreads:

A novel of exceptional heart and imagination about the ties that bind us to each other, broken and whole, from one of the most exciting voices in Canadian fiction.

September, 1983. Fourteen-year-old Bo, a boat person from Vietnam, lives in a small house in the Junction neighbourhood of Toronto with his mother, Thao, and his four-year-old sister, who was born severely disfigured from the effects of Agent Orange. Named Orange, she is the family secret; Thao keeps her hidden away, and when Bo’s not at school or getting into fights on the street, he cares for her.

One day a carnival worker and bear trainer, Gerry, sees Bo in a streetfight, and recruits him for the bear wrestling circuit, eventually giving him his own cub to train. This opens up a new world for Bo–but then Gerry’s boss, Max, begins pursuing Thao with an eye on Orange for his travelling freak show. When Bo wakes up one night to find the house empty, he knows he and his cub, Bear, are truly alone. Together they set off on an extraordinary journey through the streets of Toronto and High Park. Awake at night, boy and bear form a unique and powerful bond. When Bo emerges from the park to search for his sister, he discovers a new way of seeing Orange, himself and the world around them.

All the Broken Things is a spellbinding novel, at once melancholy and hopeful, about the peculiarities that divide us and bring us together, and the human capacity for love and acceptance.

Review:

I think Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer is a fantastic storyteller; her writing has a very lyrical aspect to it. She’s able to combine several important issues without overwhelming the reader. When it comes to All The Broken Things, everything is connected and flows really well. Kuitenbrouwer brings out a very emotional response from the reader and presents two ways of looking at things.

I instantly liked Bo and thought the author did a very good job of pushing the reader to be sympathetic towards him. Fourteen year old Bo is a very lonely person – he deals with bullying and prejudice on a daily basis, so his home life is mainly made up of his four year old sister, Orange, when their mother is at work. Orange was born severely disfigured from the effects of Agent Orange, a herbicide used during the Vietnam War. The reader witnesses what seems like Bo’s most confusing time of his life and being in his head, reading what he’s observing, is very fascinating. For one, Bo is extremely frustrated at his mother. She’s not home a lot and is trying to adopt a Canadian lifestyle. Bo doesn’t recognize it, but his mother seems to have depression. When she came to Canada, she didn’t expect for her husband to die on the journey and for Orange to be born disfigured – for her, this is shameful to live with. Ultimately, she doesn’t have a positive outlet. This pushes Bo to accept a job in the bear wrestling circuit – if his mother can be home with Orange, all the better for his family.

There was one thing I disliked about Bo: he’s a bit juvenile for his age and I don’t think the author has a complete picture of how a teenager acts. Bo is portrayed as smart and observant; even when he doesn’t understand something, he still gets a good or bad feeling from it. This is an adult book with a fourteen year old protagonist and the one reason it wouldn’t work as a YA book is because the author doesn’t fully believe in Bo the teenager. There were moments when Bo didn’t understand something that I feel a teenager would. Make no mistake, I loved Bo and thought he was a great character, but I question the author’s idea of a teenager.

Kuitenbrouwer illustrates important issues of 1983 Toronto and I found myself in disbelief at the sort of things that were happening. When you learn new things like this, it paints a whole new perspective. There were issues ranging from discrimination and animal abuse re: circus/entertainment to poverty and suicide. The only thing I disliked about this was the author never seemed to focus on just one. When there are issues like these, I feel the author should create a solid discussion and not rely on the reader to start it. I also found troubling the lack of police action and the author doesn’t make clear if this was common in the 80’s.

I loved the relationship between Bo and his bear, Bear. It’s one of those things where you end up wishing for the same (yet different) deeply, connected bond with an animal. Even better, it makes me want to write about such a bond between human and animal (Life of Pi), or animal and animal (Two Brothers, The Lion King). Adding to that, the plot is fantastic and never fails to draw you in. I think I came off more harsh than my rating would suggest, but I really enjoyed this novel. I whole-heartidly believe you can both love a book and question it. Kuitenbrouwer is a beautiful writer and I definitely recommend this book!

January Wrap-Up Post

IMG_9400I can’t believe it’s already February! I read a total of seven books last month and according to Goodreads I’m one book ahead of schedule 🙂 so January was a great reading month. As I explained in my 2016 Goals & Resolutions post, I’m trying to stick to four different categories. Here are the books I read:

Category Two: Books added to my TBR pile in 2015 – it’s so easy clicking that “Want to Read” button on Goodreads.

 

  • Alice in Wonderland High by Rachel Shane
  • The Burning Hand by Jodi Meadows
  • Rabbit Ears by Maggie de Vries
  • All The Broken Things by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer
  • The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
  • Vampire Knight Vol. 2 by Matsuri Hino

Category Three: Books added to my TBR pile before 2015 – I seriously have so many!

  • The Assassin’s Blade by Sarah J. Maas => I finished the first two novellas in December and only had to read the last three

What books did you get to last month? Did you meet or exceed your expectations?