Post Book Hiatus: Ongoing


I hope everyone had a good holiday. Remember when I said that I would have a post ready by November 25? Yeah, that clearly didn’t happen. My brain short circuited several times this last week/weekend, what with the turkey, the family, and the cluster-fuck of people shopping along with maintaining a poor diet and exercise routine that extended for several days and eventually sent me spiraling down a deep, cavernous Low, which I’ve only recently recovered from. It wasn’t until Sunday that I realized, “oh, it’s Sunday…which usually proceeds sometime after Wednesday…”

Even if I had remembered, I wouldn’t have had anything to offer. I’m still chipping away at the lovely mess called ‘writing.’ The book review I originally wrote on Marie Lu’s The Rose Society was just plain awful. It sort of read like someone pumped with adrenaline who couldn’t muster anything except a cacophony of squeals and squeaks from a kid going to Disney world for the first time. I wouldn’t subject anyone to that kind of torture.

Now that I have submitted and completed my applications for graduate school (yay!), I have nothing except time…sort of. Let’s just say that my free time has been spent catching up on other things that I’ve neglected…such as binge walking the premiere of Marvel’s Jessica Jones (it was amazzzzzing!), the new season of Once Upon A Time (kill Zelena for the greater good already!), Supergirl (verdict is still out on this show), and The Man in the High Castle (only two episodes but I like it so far). There’s also Anime like Owarimonogatari, Steins Gate, and other shows I’m screening at the moment. While I realize this is a lot of TV watching, I figure slacking off on my book reading for a week isn’t going to kill me, but it’ll be the death penalty if I continue to watch TV for the rest of my life, for my bones and brain.

What I can offer are updates on things to look forward to in the next several weeks, however.  Post will resume on Wednesday, December 9.

Coming Soon!!!

My Week with Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince Part 6

Trigger Warnings and Microaggressions

Book Review: Marie Lu’s The Rose Society

Book Review: Alison Brosh’s Hyperbole and Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened

 My Week with Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 7

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Bird Box“It’s that time of year and what better way to celebrate the season with a book that will try its best to play tricks on you. No mind games (maybe a smidge), but when you’re not allowed to see anything, everything around you is your enemy,” is everything I would have wrote if I had published this BEFORE Halloween; yet, here we are, days after the best time of the year with a novel ripe for this breezy, chilly, foggy season.

Debuting last year, Josh Malerman’s Bird Box is a suspenseful, mysterious novel that’s an infectious read. You’re compelled to keep reading, whether it’s to learn more about a) the mysterious creatures that cause people to ‘erase’ themselves b) what happened four years that left Malorie, our female protagonist, the lone adult survivor in the house with her children Boy and Girl [not at all emotionally detached] c) if Malorie can survive long enough to reach her destination while blindfolded, her only defense against the creatures.

After a one-night stand, Malorie discovers that she is pregnant, and as it so happens, there’s a bigger catastrophic phenomenon sweeping the planet known as the Russian Report, thought to be where the phenomenon occurred. People go insane, sometimes committing murder, but always ending with the infected person committing suicide.

When the disease hits Alaska, Malorie along with her sister Shannon take refuge in their house, knowing that to survive, they must board up their house to prevent whatever it is that’s causing people to, as the media calls it, ‘self-destruct’. After Malorie’s sister dies, Malorie leaves to seek help at a house occupied by a few survivors. It becomes more apparent though that the people of this new world have lost more than the luxury of their sight.

In way of its narration, Malerman disperses with two time lines: four years after the Russian Report and the days leading up to Malorie’s pregnancy. Immediately, we are introduced to the chaos and horrors of the new world coinciding with her unexpected pregnancy (a not so subtle metaphor.) There’s rarely a moment to pause to consider anything for very long.

Malerman invents an intriguing yet isolating world. He takes the one aspect of everyday life that we take for granted and undermines our own security. Having read John Wyndam’s The Day of the Triffids, a global plague of blindness that infects anyone witness to the meteor shower, Malerman’s novel similarly evokes the chilling fear and helplessness, but unlike Triffids, Bird Box is more abstract; the creatures are never revealed and much about what happens to the world remains unanswered. Identifying and knowing what we’re afraid is one thing, but not having an idea of the monster’s shape or its thoughts is another. And this is assuming that there were creatures at all.

While Bird Box is not the most descriptive of novels considering its premise of taking refuge in a safe house and wearing a blindfold when going outside, it’s rapid firing sensory descriptors triggers just the right imagery and appropriate tension. The characters’ vulnerability is palpable when they’re feeling their way through the backyard or to a house next door. Without sight, the emotions are intensified, leaving a lot of the characters and their reactions to situations raw. Subsequently, Bird Box is left with the bare minimum, its characters skeletons and metaphors flimsy.

With its excellent pacing and its white-knuckling moments, Box inadvertently forgoes any real character development. Malorie, although undergoes significant trauma, is an observer, who oddly surfaces as the reluctant leader-drill-sergeant mother. This is not to belittle her experiences (her experience with giving birth made my insides and my vagina lurch: never, ever, EVER, having kids,) but the glut of character development is lost, which usually occurs in most post-apocalyptic stories when the circumstances of the new world subsume the plot and characters’ own lives. Auto drive sets in and characters’ ambitions are abandoned for survival. Malorie embodies this notion as does her housemates. To my disappointment, I can only describe each character with one word.

Most of what I loved about the style and fluidity doesn’t compensate for its clumsy symbolism, i.e., the bird box. While the image itself is spectacular, Malorie and the children under a canopy of mad birds, there’s hardly anything else. Even the bird imagery, which potentially has several meanings, feels awkward. It’s the one part of the novel that feels out of place. Usually I love when a novel’s title finds its way onto the pages, yet this may be a rare instance when I wish it had just stayed as the book’s title. It ends up being more literal than a metaphor.

Box had only two viable conclusions, which is something I usually don’t enjoy.  This is very much a novel about survival, testing one’s limitations, and what part of your humanity are you willing to discard. With few surprises, Bird Box is still entertaining and creepy and will fill up your afternoon with excitement; however, if you’re susceptible to these kinds of stories (like me), do yourself a favor and keep it away from your nightstand before going to bed. One of the last few passages of the books is one that’ll haunt anyone with a reproductive system.

Just saying.

Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel

Are you my motherWith Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir, Are You My Mother?, some might believe the appeal extends only to those with parental problems and acts as a self-prescribed dose of therapy. Everyone has mommy and daddy issues to some varying degree, but Bechdel is hardcore when it comes to confronting these issues. She applies psychological, austere theories and literary references to microscopically examine her relationship with her mother, thereby, to extrapolate some kind of profound meaning to make sense of who she is. Are You My Mother? won’t take it easy on you. Readers can expect a challenging yet difficult story when they dive into the malleable mind of Alison Bechdel.

The premise is simple enough: it’s Alison Bechdel’s analysis of her relationship with her mother. Mother significantly contrasts with Bechdel’s first book Fun Home (and if you’ve never read Bechdel’s Fun Home, do yourself a favor and get on that.) Mother ostensibly seems like a sequel because it covers events later in Bechdel’s life, but while the events that occur have some overlap with Fun Home, the two memoirs are fundamentally different in style and content. In fact it’s fascinating that Bechdel has almost adopted an entirely new persona in her second book. Mother is a self-contained piece that utterly immerses itself in psychoanalysis and delivers an untidy confessional of her inner child and of her subconscious.

To say the least, Mother underscores the effects of having an emotionally negligent parent. Bechdel’s feelings toward her mother surface while she’s researching and working on her first graphic memoir Fun Home, which is interesting to say the least. Bechdel divides her graphic memoir into sections and introduces each piece with a dream sequence capturing some kind of untethered, abstract emotion related to her mother. Mother avoids a linear chronology, which actually makes for a very coherent telling. Rarely do any of us study our relationships from beginning to end, and I think it works really well for a subject presented with already the challenges of the murkiness of the human mind.

It’s also subsequently that her graphic memoir, buried in exhaustive psychoanalytical theories, sometimes feels more like a psychology course than a memoir. The theories of Donald Winnicott, Sigmund Freud, and other psychologists should only act as footnotes but end up overshadowing a glut of the content, waterboarding us with theories and studies that Bechdel’s own story is lost.

Bechdel is an interesting person. It’s not necessarily her circumstances and influences that draw us to her story, although significant considering [spoiler: her father was a closeted-gay man who may or may not have (but probably) committed suicide.] Bechdel’s own interpretations are outstandingly critical and leave her vulnerable. It’s not something many of us would be willing to expose ourselves to; yet, Bechdel’s own treatment to her life has always felt like an experiment. Revealed in Mother, she avidly records and archives everything, preserving as much of her experiences as possible. The art of memoirs are rooted deeply in the author’s perception of those experiences and obscures accurate retellings. She references this same phenomenon in Fun Home when she tries to retell what happens but frustratingly knows that her own biases and emotions will ultimately interfere. With Mother, it’s very much about Bechdel’s reception of these events and lack of affection.

Mother evokes a dream-like ambiance with the color stripped to the most relevant. Red jumps out at us and usually the first color we register, so it’s clever Bechdel how she sparingly incorporates this into her illustrations. Bechdel enacts a kind of curious eye that makes us gravitate toward certain images with her use of color, with it also being more symbolic. When a chapter is complete, the last remaining panel is reduced in size and framed by a flat black, suggesting the memory is returning to the black regions of our subconscious. There are layers of meaning behind each of her illustrations that, when I take a second glance at them, I discover something different.

Mother accumulates extensive and reasoning and originally sets out to explain who Bechdel is today through a cause-and-effect argument, but it doesn’t pan out. What’s more is Bechdel’s epiphany won’t change who her mother is, even though many of us harbor this delusional notion (myself included) that when an epiphany knocks at your noggin, then everything changes around you–or so it feels. It’s a slow and sometimes painful realization, but alas that’s really the only option when finding closure.

For fans of the Fun Home, Mother sets a different criteria and aims to explore what is arguably one of the hardest, contentious topics to discern. Much of what is discussed is theoretical, no more proven than the existence of the Jersey Devil. With that said, it’s also the lack of evidence that bolsters the graphic memoir’s ability to probe such an intriguing subject and yield gratifying answers.

Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray

Lair of DreamsAt long last Libba Bray’s Lair of Dreams, the sequel to her Roaring 20s Young Adult, supernatural thriller The Diviners, finally came out this year, and I, among many others I’m sure, was doing my clam dance when it arrived in my mailbox. It’s by far my favorite YA book of 2015, and while we still have three more months to go and more books releases to come, I’ve been waiting nearly three years for the sequels debut. It’s a package of everything of love: the ambiance of the 20s, supernatural powers, and things that go bump in the night.

Dreams meets all my expectations. This time around, we’re exploring deeper into the uncharted territory of the dream world and a new threat spreading through the city that no one could have foreseen—unless there’s a Diviner out there with the ability of clairvoyance, which there probably is. Dreams is a perfect read for this time year.

After Evie O’Neill outed herself as a Diviner (her Iron Man rendition), Diviners are cropping up everywhere, and New York City can’t enough of them, or America’s Sweetheart Seer, Evie’s radio persona. She’s climbing her way to fame through a radio show and is continuing her line of work by reading objects for her guests. She gets herself into a mess when her friend Sam Lloyd off-handily jests to a news reporter that he is engaged to the Seer. Instead of refuting the claims, Evie plays along with the rumors as it boosts her career and her celebrity status. In other words, meet the new Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald! Yet Dreams’ rotation of characters gives Ms. O’Neil a much needed step back from the spotlight and focuses more on the supporting characters.

We are introduced to Ling Chan, a young Chinese girl with the ability to speak to the dead through her dreams. She’s also a girl who’s recently lost the use of her legs and has to use crutches for the rest of her life. She encounters Henry Dubois (to jog your memory: he can dream walk and has the ability of suggestion.) It’s through their dreams that they meet a young betrothed girl named Mao, which subsequently leads Henry to reuniting with his lost love Louis, who Henry’s been tirelessly searching for ever since he had to flee from his homophobic, controlling father in New Orleans. The two of them, Ling and Henry, excessively spend their time leisurely escaping into the dream world while in the real world, a disease called the sleeping sickness is mysteriously infecting people and randomly killing people. Ling and Henry, however, are truly happy for once in their life. But staying in the dream may just prove too high of cost.

And in the meantime (because this book already does so much): Memphis’s healing powers are awakening, Project Buffalo is turning out to be a global science project, Theta Knight’s powers are becoming more unstable, and Uncle Will Fitzgerald is somewhere in the world doing X-files business.

Dream is loaded with a canvas of characters. Not all of them play a significant role in the novel’s overall plot, but they do magically assemble (Avengeresque style) during times of crisis. Though some may feel let down that their characters didn’t receive more attention (more Theta Knight, pls), it’s alluded in brusque passages and in its epilogue that these characters’ stories will surface in the third installment in the series.

Aside from adjusting the emphasis on certain roles, Bray continues to authenticate her characters by having a diverse mix. Despite the novel being a paranormal thriller series, it couldn’t be more reflective and accurate of what our population actually looks like. Wedged in Bray’s series is not only mystery, flappers, and consumption but social criticism on several issues prevalent today: sexism, racism, and bigotry. Bray intrepidly writes characters’ encounters of adversity and discrimination, punctuated more so with the main conflict of Dream, the sleeping sickness, which leads to the eventual quarantine of Chinatown. Bray never shies away from making these issues loud and known.

In light of how well written these characters are, certain romantic comedy plot devices have emerged. You know. That pesky love triangle thing.

I’m referring to the diabolical construction blooming between Jeremiah, Evie, and Sam. It’s the MOST common trope used, and I’m less than excited about the idea of plodding through texts of Evie swaying between the two boys and inadvertently hurting them and her friends along the way. Although part of the ongoing Diviner series, it’s not as pronounced, taking a backseat for the characters’ own personal demons, a reoccurring theme applied to all the characters.

While Evie hasn’t come to terms with her brother’s death (if he’s even dead or perhaps he’s the Crow Man!), Ling and Henry escape into dreams, both oppressed, one in a bitter cycle of denial and the other painfully hiding in fear. None of these characters feel a sense of belonging or feel fulfilled, which is something I think most people can relate to, whether you’re a teenager or an adult. These characters are not only complicated, but they’re identifiable.

Dreams’ gives us a tour through Chinese urban legends and superstitions. Chilling and haunting imagery floods our minds. Compared to its predecessor that takes a hard look at the frightening ‘Naughty John,’ Dreams antes up the creep factor. The culprit in Dreams is more obscure and tragic. It’s an evil produced not by some inherent carnage to inflict and terrorize others with, but it’s born out of deprivation, subjugation, and alas, the cruelty of never having your dreams realized. I had more sympathy for the perpetrator with this one, but due to my own personal fears of white, porcelain, flakey skin girls crawling out of wells, I was too freaked out to maintain that feeling of remorse for long.

Bray’s writing does not disappoint. It’s like candy we can’t get enough of.  Her descriptions, especially of the macabre figures, are so fantastical and morbidly gorgeous. There’s no question that Bray is a brilliant and entertaining writer. When the story reaches its big reveal, it’s not long until everything falls into place. The pace drastically picks up  and the tension sharpens. Bray’s writing coalesces with the story’s tempo and suspenseful plot. And fans who’ve read Bray’s other well-known works will positut~ely gush over the reference to her Gemma Doyle trilogy, which now I’m wondering is all in the same universe…?

If I had to find one flaw, it would be with myself and not the book. I’m so impatient when it comes to incomplete book series and having to wait for the next book to release.

There’s so much that we don’t know and the second book did seem to segue from the main story. We’re still not sure if Diviners are a natural evolution or a result from Project Buffalo. Not to mention, there are still characters’ arcs that feel like they’re complete. Characters are reaching closures way before the novel has reached its final conclusion, and I don’t want to see potential development be hacked away and turned to fodder. Do I think Libba Bray would do that? Probably not.

Ah the problems with reading incomplete book series.


The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train ImageA cheating husband, the other woman, the other other woman, and a woman whose life is so devoid of purpose that she lives inside her head 85% of the time and then projects her fantasies onto strangers.

This veneer may convince you that this is a ripped page out of a soap opera, but it’s not. It’s most definitely a morose, psychological, white-knuckling story with gut wrenching tension found on every page.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins has been compared to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, both having unreliable narrators and dealing with marital problems. Train is navigated by three, suspicious narrators: Rachel, the divorced ex-wife of Tom; Anna, newly wed wife to Rachel’s ex-husband Tom and subsequently the woman Tom had an affair with while he was married to Rachel; and Megan, a woman who ostensibly has no connection with any of the other characters, except that she lives in the same neighborhood as Anna.

Train begins with Rachel, divorced, an alcoholic, and unemployed. She rides the train almost every day and on her commute to nowhere, she passes the house of Jess and Jason, her perfect, doting couple. She doesn’t actually know them though. Rachel has dreamt up a whole world where these two live the life Rachel always wanted. One day, Rachel sees Jess, or rather Megan, but she’s not with Jason; she’s kissing another man. This permanently shatters Rachel’s illusion and after getting stupid drunk seeks out Megan to confront her. When Rachel wakes up the next morning though, she can’t remember anything from that night but learns that Megan has gone missing. What starts out as innocent curiosity (sort of) quickly morphs into obsession and dangerously leads Rachel through a macabre of events which may not only spoil Rachel’s image of Megan but also uncover a few other dirty secrets.

Hawkins’ novel surprisingly assimilates halves of insanity and acumen to make for a seemingly ordinary story. Contrary to Flynn’s Gone Girl, a novel very much about manipulating people’s perceptions and the use of artifices, Train is based more off the idea of the Rashomen Effect. Gone Girl, as I pointed out in my review, is an interesting reading experience that feels like the work itself is fully conscious while you’re reading it. Train simply relies on the fact that these characters are heavily biased towards each other and are being influenced by other elements (people or substances).Train organically gives us a hazy impression of events that is believable and reflects what a series of eye witness accounts would look like.

What bolsters the effect of this story is its delusional and hardened characters. Although there’s virtually nothing to see except women assuming traditional matriarch roles, i.e. Rachel, barren, Megan, stay-at-home wife and (possibly) emotionally battered woman, and Anna, a stay-at-home mom, we see these characters transform from repressed and broken to liberated and independent women.

Extrapolated from Train is a not so subtle allegory of overturning patriarchy and an extreme hostile feminine uprising. There’s a clear distinctive man v. woman conflict that emerges as a constant struggle in each of the woman’s lives. It’s not to say that these woman sole priorities were their male partners, although it plays a significant role, these women are clutching for something indescribable and missing from their lives. Even when they might have everything, except for Rachel, they’re restless and not quite happy.

It’s almost impossible to extricate myself from these characters with each of them possessing a certain toxic personalities that you’re able to identify with. Even when you don’t like these characters, they’re interesting. Megan exaggerates and self-victimizes. Anna is the self-involved woman, and Rachel is an addict and aimless; she cannot stop drinking or thinking about her husband long enough to focus on her own life.

Possibly one of the least credible characters but having the most coverage in the book, Rachel lends to the novel a weird dichotomy between sympathy and revulsion. At times, we feel for her but the intensity of her character, the lack of boundaries, filters our impressions and casts off any remorse we have for her. The book maintains this yo-yo effect and preserves it mostly within her character. It’s this juxtaposition that makes her so complicated; she’s by far one of the most complex characters I’ve come across this year and is simultaneously one of my least favorite characters—it’s really hard to love her when she essentially bar hops from one guy to the next.

Train doesn’t have the cutting, immaculate prose that Gone Girl has, but it is pronounced. I can only described it as a gem under rubble. Its works so well with the characters’ voices and adds a certain nervous, desperate edge to them.

Yes, the story starts out with a girl on a train (or rather a woman but I can argue semantics at a later time) but it diverges and becomes more. Train reels you back from its high intense moments back to a semblance of average-day life, with the characters cured of their afflictions and some secrets staying secrets.

Inferno by Dan Brown

Inferno CoverPacked with fun and craftiness, Dan Brown’s Inferno originally debut in 2013 and was well received overall by critics. Lost during the four hundred and eighty pages of Robert Langdon trotting through Italy though is any kind of deviation from the structured plot stringent to the tropes of the mystery and thriller genre. It makes everything extremely predictable. Inferno is not a loved or hated book but it’s so specifically mapped out in its stories and characters, which Brown also applies to his other novels, that it makes for a mediocre story with few punches but an ending that will knock you right in your polar vortex.

Robert Langdon wakes up in the hospital with no memory of the last few days. He’s in Italy with some kind of head wound. He meets the talented, resourceful (beautiful, of course) Sienna Brooks. Not long afterwards, they are running for their lives from a mysterious organization who seem to perceivably want Langdon dead. In the events that unfold, Langdon soon finds himself caught in the middle of a plot in which he must piece together clues to help not only prove his innocence but also save the population from a catastrophic engineered virus.

One of the book’s selling points is the references to Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, which as you would expect, coincides with nearly every part of the story and also prompts us to try and solve the next clue. Here Langdon is in his element and where the story feels strongest and self-confident, but then the story begins to wobble; it tries too hard to misdirect us and undermines some of the novel’s setup and we’re suddenly in a different kind of story.  There are no villains here, but apparently there are a number of heroes and dark knights. Everyone’s motive is quintessentially for the greater good, and although that thought is an interesting concept, Inferno simply pastes these ideas together without really exploring it.

And while the art references are certainly one of the highlights of novel, it’s also hinders it. The art exposition morphs into fodder towards the end. Langdon’s commentary on the art pieces, which he’s supposedly seen on more than one occasion, should be treated more like footnotes instead of being incorporated into the main story. They just don’t elevate the story or its characters–other than to reaffirm that Robert Langdon is an art historian and, yes, he loves art. I don’t know whether if he’s aplomb or if he’s just extremely desensitized by this point in the story. And let’s not forget to mention how Mr. Robert Langdon was disorientated from his initial ordeal; yet he seems to function just fine at solving the mystery, as if it’s just a game of cross-word puzzle to him. Granted he is a smart man, but it feels too convenient for him and too much of a stretch for me to jump on board Langdon’s art knowing wizardry. The idea itself is silly, but without it, the story would be less entertaining, which is the sole purpose of reading it considering the plot ends up being a wild goose chase.

Sienna Brooks, however, is an exceptional, strategic, and compassionate woman. It’s hard to believe she’s only sidekick material though. She possesses an incredible amount of tenacity and intellect that surpasses Langdon. Knowing her involvement in the story, it’s a surprise she’s downgraded mostly to a supportive role. Complicating this is Inferno’s conventional story and character growth. Boxed in by a formulaic plot, the character development is contained; hence, Sienna Brooks provides just enough smarts and conversation to move the story along.

Inferno wears you down eventually and you’re ultimately sucked into its absorbing plot in saving the world from a mad scientist bent on dealing with the overpopulation problem, which is possibly my favorite part. It ends up being more unexpected than you would think considering how everything is so neatly placed.

But Brown’s style of writing has its own problems, employing short chapters that end with ‘suspenseful’ cliffhangers. I’m well aware that this story is a mystery/thriller; yet I feel it’s disabling the writing and content. Most of these chapters are sprints. Anything significant is held for the very end and then wraps up at the beginning of the next chapter. This tactic is done in nearly every chapter and quickly loses its effect.

We also see this in some of Inferno’s miscellaneous characters. Although some are intriguing, it just doesn’t serve to highlight them, especially when their only purpose is to open the door for the two main characters to make their getaway. Just—why? To appreciate the Average Joe by reinforcing the notion that Average Joe can only do average things? Need I remind that buried in these pages is an ostensible threat to kill off most of the population?

A banal story, Inferno still serves its purpose in distracting our attention and leading us toward a conclusion, and it does so in the most entertaining way possible; however, there is little satiating substance that can be found in its story and characters. It’s a novel not worth taking too seriously but can pacify your boredom on a Sunday afternoon.

Trial by Fire, Josephine Angelini

18530258A world that parallels our own and a protagonist warring against her tyrannical, anti-science Witch alternate self, Josephine Angelini’s Trial by Fire is a precursor to what seems like an exciting and entertaining read. It piques ours interests by lavishly explaining the concepts of Crucibles and Mechanics, and the functionality of Witches. It introduces a world where the citizens are feuding with its sovereign government influenced by the privileged and magically inclined officials. It even provides an expository on the principles and laws of magic. With all these components in one book, Trial seemed like it was on its way to an amazing start, but after a while, the things about the world and magic is the only real meat that this novel offers, which isn’t a lot. Trial is inchoate and relies mostly on its egregious cliffhanger to keep readers interested and lure them into reading the next book. Even if it is part one of a series, it still has to have its own conclusion.

Trial starts off slow by beginning in present day Salem, Massachusetts. Our protagonist, Lily Proctor, is pretty much allergic to everything, which is explained later due to her dormant abilities as a Crucible/Witch (although you would think because Lily was born in our world without magic that her chemical makeup would be free of magical properties. I guess that’s what makes her special.) Her mother suffers supposedly from Schizophrenia and has been known to talk to herself. None of that particularly fazes Lily because her childhood-best-friend-and-reformed-playboy Tristan is her boyfriend now, and they’re officially an item.

Thankfully it doesn’t take long for this relationship to implode.

Tristan hooks up with another girl, and Lily ends their friendship entirely. When Lily suffers an allergic reaction and is emotionally vulnerable, Lillian, the alternate version of Lily, gains Lily’s permission to take Lily from her world and to teleport her to an alternate world, a blend of medieval, modern, and diverse cultures. Lily meets Lillian, who informs Lily that she brought her to this world for a reason, but doesn’t tell her what that reason is; it’s on a need-to-know basis. Like a sane person, Lily bolts and encounters Lillian’s former Mechanic, Rowan, which leads her to meeting the alternate version of Tristan and a group called the Outlanders. As war is about to erupt, Lily just wants to go home.

Though the synapsis intrigues us with its allure of grand battles and romances, Trial doesn’t quite deliver. The minor problem is Trial meanders around its own story; its story establishes the magic and the characters. And from a marketing standpoint, I could understand advertising the romance and war aspects of the novel to sway sales. Despite the novel having the advantage with its third-person perspective, there’s only action when Lily is involved and that’s as long as Lily is conscious and clear-head enough to witness and/or partake in the battle. Reading Trial for its action-filled plot will leave you looking elsewhere.

The most intriguing character is Lillian Proctor. I admit I’m partial to strong, powerful female characters, but when there’s a character that’s as audacious as Lillian, she catches my attention. As much as the characters paint her as a malevolent villain, I suspect there’s more to her character. She’s intelligent and ambitious, which aids in her appearing cruel (and she is,) but she’s a character with secrets leading me to believe there’s more to this genocidal overlord. When she exposes her plans, it will determine the level of complexity of her character. Her counterpart, Lily Proctor, is less interesting.

Credulous and compassionate, Lily is a sharp contrast to Lillian; however, they are also similar. Lily possesses the same intelligence and gifts as Lillian, which is evident near the end of the novel. This is apparent to the other characters that are wary of her. Trial alludes to Lily’s potential and possible darker side. Although Angelini is wonderful at creating characters with duplicity, her male characters fall short of this. Rowan and Tristan are flat, banal characters. They are as interesting as cradle balance balls that only cause tension when they hit each other. The love triangle is sometimes distracting and meaningless, put into place for unnecessary drama.

The romance among the characters is awkward and borders on paternal feelings at times. Mechanics, which is what Rowan is, are what their names imply. They monitor and manage the Crucible or Witch they are assigned/bonded to. This entails knowing when their Witch is low on nutrients or energy and providing them with what they need. Along with being Lillian’s former Mechanic and lover, Rowan easily adapts to being Lily’s Mechanic, thus, begins to take care of her. It’s a likable quality in a guy, but it’s also in the form of how a parent nurses a child. It’s hard to be jazzed about a relationship like that.

Angelini’s writing is descent, but there are descriptions, such as a “pregnant pause” that makes me raise an eye brow. The style of the writing is more or less consistent and fluid. But there are still moments where I have to give pause and ask if this is incredibly clever or just terrible. If I have to give it that much thought, it’s probably not a good sign.

The ending evokes frustration and disappointment. The story and characters come to fruition right as the novel abruptly ends. It’s as we would imagine a TV show ending, except this cliffhanger would be more forgiving in a show versus a novel. The conclusion deprives not only readers but the overarching story itself. The conclusion is more broken than a part of something, which is a shame considering how much potential the overall story has. Needless to say, part two is not high on my bucket list.