top 5 tuesday: Book Worlds I Want to Live In

This month’s Top 5 Wednesday prompts aren’t really up my alley, so I’m going to temporarily jump ship and do a couple from Top 5 Tuesday, hosted by Bionic Book Worm. We’re starting out with a sort of difficult one, because I don’t read a lot of fantasy, but let’s see what I can come up with!

AUGUST 1ST – Top 5 book worlds I want to live in

3Harry Potter.  I mean, this is almost too obvious to even mention, but I have to say it anyway.  There is no fictional universe that I have ever wanted to be a part of more than the Harry Potter world.  Touring the Leavesden Studio in London was one of the most magical experiences of my life.  (Tragically, I was always too practical to be ‘waiting for my Hogwarts letter.’  I knew it was fictional.  Kid me wasn’t much of an idealist.)

11388429When the Sea is Rising Red by Cat Hellisen.  I had some problems with this book, but one thing is for sure: I loved the atmosphere.  This is a vaguely Victorian paranormal fantasy with a moody, evocative, sultry vibe, and it was awesome.  I mean, granted, I’d much rather be rich in this universe than poor, but that’s true of most places, isn’t it?

 

9361589The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.  I read this book almost two years ago, and I still can’t decide what I thought of it.  Sometimes I think it’s gorgeous and compelling and beautiful, and sometimes I think it’s underdeveloped and overrated.  But again, there is absolutely no arguing that the atmosphere in this novel is stunning.  I don’t even like ‘circus stories,’ usually, but damn did I ever want to dive straight into these pages and visit the Night Circus.

51yqc21t3nl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Fire From Heaven by Mary Renault.  This is usually my answer to the ‘which historical period would you visit’ question.  What I wouldn’t give to go back in time and see Alexander the Great in action.  He’s a historical figure who’s practically become mythologized, so you can’t help but to be curious about what the real person was like.

 

30319086If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio.  I can’t help it, I love the aesthetic of elite academia.  I would love so much to attend Dellecher Classical Conservatory, Rio’s fictional school of higher education, where students study theatre, Shakespeare, dance, art, etc…  I can’t remember if classical languages is a department at Dellecher, but if it is, that’s definitely what I would do.  Continuing my studies of Latin in a vaguely pretentious environment like that is the aesthetic dream.

Which fictional universes do you want to be a part of?  Comment and let me know!

book review: When the Sea is Rising Red by Cat Hellisen

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WHEN THE SEA IS RISING RED by Cat Hellisen
★★★☆☆
US pub date: 2012
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
My review on Goodreads

I’m sure I raised a few eyebrows when I added this to my currently reading shelf. If I’m not into YA and I’m not into fantasy, I am really not into YA fantasy. However! I am someone who’ll read anything that’s been suggested to me, so in an effort to expand my reading horizons, I heeded the recommendation of my friend Hadeer and decided to give it a go. And I’m glad I did!

When the Sea Is Rising Red is a paranormal fantasy with a vaguely Dickensian vibe. Think Oliver Twist or A Christmas Carol, and then throw in some magic and vampires. This is a moody and evocative book whose real strength lies in the atmosphere that Cat Hellisen creates. And on top of that, the world building in this novel is impressively extensive. Hellisen has a really phenomenal imagination.

The problem is, she wasn’t always able to translate her visions into a cohesive narrative. There are so many incomplete elements to this novel that are full of promise, but they just… never manage to come together in a satisfying way.

For about 90% of this book, nothing happens. And that was fine with me, because I’m someone who prefers character-driven stories to plot-driven stories anyway. My problem is that most of the characters were paper-thin, and that the ending was incredibly rushed and dissatisfying.

The heroine of the novel, Felicita, is easily the most three-dimensional character. She’s understandably youthful and naive, and I like that after she runs away from home she frequently considers going back. It’s just realistic that a girl who grew up being waited on in a lavish home wouldn’t be aware of just how difficult it is slumming it, sleeping on a hard floor and scrubbing dishes for ten hours a day. Her feelings toward her two potential love interests, the charismatic low-born Dash and the vampire Jannik, are likewise believable. She’s a solid protagonist that holds the story together nicely.

But really, she’s the only character I even begin to understand. I’m left with so many questions that I doubt will be answered in the sequel, all having to do with secondary characters’ loyalties and allegiances. If you’re going to sacrifice plot for the sake of depicting character dynamics, your reader shouldn’t be left wondering what the characters are thinking, or how they feel about one another.

One of the worst examples of this is the relationship between Felicita and and her brother Owen, which was disappointingly underdeveloped. I didn’t understand the impetus behind Felicita’s decision regarding Owen at the end – it involves a change of heart that’s never fully examined. The whole ending was wrapped up entirely too quickly and neatly – it’s like the whole book was building up to a scene that ended up lasting about two paragraphs.

But ultimately, I enjoyed reading this. Hellisen’s prose is incredibly mature for YA, and the world she creates here is rich in history and mythos. On the surface level, this book is gorgeous and strange and unique and fascinating. It’s in the details that it starts to fall apart. Regardless, I’ll probably be interested in checking out the sequel at some point.