Monday, December 6, 2010

Book Review - A Great and Terrible Beauty

So a few months back I won a contest on Sheri's blog (link), and I chose a copy of A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray from the prizes.

You might recognize Bray's name from her award-winning 2009 book Going Bovine.

The premise of Bovine sounds hilarious to me--kid gets mad cow disease, starts having hallucinations, and sets off on a Don Quixote style journey. I'd be interested to read a review of it.

As for her 2003 debut A GTB, well, I didn't really love it. But I think I'm in the minority saying that.

There's a movie in the works, and it was on the NYT bestseller list. And there are like 400 raves for it on Amazon. So I'm sure the problem was all mine. Here's the (link) to reviews and how you can buy it if you're interested.

Just fyi, here's my review:

A GTB opens in a busy marketplace in Victorian India. There's a quick series of events culminating in main character Gemma seeing her mother die in a vision to protect Gemma from "Circe," an unseen evil spirit.

Gemma's immediately sent to a boarding school in England where she continues having visions. Then she learns she's a portal to another spiritual realm where she is warned Circe could be lurking.

She's warned by this fellow Kartik, who follows her back from India. He's a member of some ancient order that isn't clearly explained, and he's constantly (inexplicably) appearing in the forest around the boarding school watching her and warning her to stop.

Problem: she brought three friends over with her, and they beg her to take them back because it's a place where all their dreams come true. Gemma's mother is also there, and Gemma longs to see her mother again.

So they keep going back until bad things start happening, and they start to lose control.
* * *

It sounds really action-packed, but the truth is, I found the book slow going. And I gotta be honest, while I cared about Gemma, her behavior was often inexplicable--and not in the "I'm a teenager, I don't always make sense" kind of way.

I didn't buy her friendship with the other three girls. Bray sets her up as fiercely independent, and then has her manipulated by them in ways that were inconsistent with her character.

But it's a beautifully written book. Bray adores luxurious description, and it's not hard to read. Still, more than once it seemed like an exciting event was lost in all the lush detail.

Perhaps I wasn't in the right mood for it.

There were a few disturbing scenes and tense moments, and there was a hint of romance, although it wasn't deeply explored. I did get a thorough knowledge of the four main girls, and I did want to know what was going to happen to them...

And I love the cover. It's absolutely gorgeous~

So I give this book a solid B.

If you're a fan of historic paranormals or gothic novels along the lines of Jane Eyre, or if you liked that movie The Craft (remember that one?) you'll probably like it.

It's not a super-fast page-turner, but it has its moments of intrigue, which got me thinking about something completely different.

Personally, I love a good page-turner, but at the same time, I hate it when a good story ends. (Don't we all?)

JRM says J.K. Rowling is a master of the long novel. (I only read the one, so I don't know.) He said all those later Harry Potter books were long, but Rowling kept the story moving and readers engaged.

That's very much a goal of mine as a writer: To master the art of the long page-turner.

What do you guys think? Yes, long books? No to long page turners? I guess my house does get super messy when I find a good, long book I can't seem to stop reading...

I'd love to hear your thoughts. Til Thursday~ <3

31 comments:

Vicki Rocho said...

This is one of those books I stole from my daughter. She LOVED it. I liked it enough I read the rest of the series. I think I'd agree with your B grade. There were moments of brilliance (it's been awhile, though so don't pin me down with examples), and then moments where I couldn't help but think WTF?

Anne said...

It sound a little out there. Going Bovine seems intriguing though. I might check that one out.

salarsenッ said...

Hmmm...interesting question. I think I'm stumped. I love a page-turner, but then hate when it ends. lol

DEZMOND said...

he he what a super hilarious book cover on GOING BOVINE :))

Stina Lindenblatt said...

The romance heats up with the other the two books.

I didn't like how the series ended. It was the right ending, I guess. I just wasn't a fan of it. Loved the books, though.

Haven't read Going Bovine. The story doesn't appeal to me. Just goes to show, it isn't just about who the author is. The book can be by one of my favorite authors, but that doens't necessary mean I'm going to buy it.

Matthew Rush said...

Long books? Yes, please.

Laurel Garver said...

I like long page turners. My favorite adult author, Susan Howatch, does them well. I think one of the very key things to mastering it is lush, interesting subplots. That's something Rowling does well, so her work is worth looking at closely and analyzing.

Sorry it's taken me a few weeks to visit you back! You have a fab blog!

Old Kitty said...

I love long literary books - A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth comes to mind - for me it just was not long enough!!! Beautifully written and evocative - I wanted the family saga to continue!!!!! Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel is another one - this was pretty hard going though but rich in detail and character and one to savour over weeks and weeks!!

Thanks for your review of A Great and Terrible Beauty!! The book cover is lovely isn't it?? Take care
x

Lydia Kang said...

I really soaked up the prose and so for me it was an A book, but I can see how it would also slow things down. And yes, the cover was maaavelous.

LTM said...

Lydia! THANKS to you (and Stina!) for balancing out the discussion. I was conflicted about posting a middling review (but I figured it's not going to hurt Bray any! ;o)

I like beautiful writing, but I just had a hard time caring about these characters. But as I said, I'm in the minority on this one~ <3

Colene Murphy said...

I really had the same problems with GTB. I want to read Going Bovine but I don't have any interest in continuing with Gemma...

Patti said...

Thanks for the honest review about what you liked and didn't like. I like long page turners. Keeps the enjoyment going.

Carolyn Abiad said...

Thanks for reviewing GTB. I was on the fence about spending the time on this one or another. It reminded me Secret Garden grows up...and I wasn't sure if growing up was the right thing. :D

Shannon said...

Sounds like I have more to add to my already growing TBR list. Is there any way I can slow down time long enough to catch up on my reading?

Rayna M. Iyer said...

I love long books (any surprises there?), but this is one I am going to avoid. I normally stay away from books set in India, and not written by Indians.

Melissa said...

This series was good enough for me to finish but the slowness your talking about? Gets worse each book. And I was terribly unsatisfied and disappointed at the end of it all.

I'd love to be a master of a long page-turner!

Jennie Bailey said...

Fine with long books as long as they are page turners. I can read fast. I hate when they're long and slow, though. I'm struggling to get through the latest in the Wheel of Time series for this reason. It suddenly seems so slooooow. Probably because I've been reading so much YA lately with all the hooks and the fast pace fun.

Jennie Bailey said...

I wasn't finished!!! So, NaNo, I wasn't going for the loooong page turner, but it's turning out that way. However, I think I'm going back to my first book and rewrites on that. Will return to writing the long page turner (not so sure I'll be mastering it, but it's a worthy goal!!!) next year sometime!

So yes to reading at the moment, but holding off on writing. JK IS the master of long. I read Deathly Hallows in under 24 hours.

LTM said...

I can email most of you, but a few I can't~
@Rayna--I can understand that, although the India part is just in the first chapter and never really mentioned again. Still... ;o) <3

@Melissa--wow. I just... no words. :D
Yes, the long page-turner. I've got to practice MY patience~ ;p <3

Dawn said...

I am currently reading Going Bovine and while it started out with such promise, it's falling a little flat on the back side. I will likely skip this one, but appreciate the comments.

I love long page turners - but it has to hook me from the start and keep me there. I get bored quickly - usually in the first 50 pages. I understand agents a bit better now :-)

Jessica Bell said...

I love long page turners. AS LONG as they're page turners. ;o) Cool. I think I just played with words unintentionally ... ;o)

Clarissa Draper said...

I love long books, if and only if they're exciting. Who wants to read pages and pages of narration and description. I want action and can stand lots of it. If not, keep it short.
CD

Julie Musil said...

This was the first YA book I read, and I liked it. I liked the pretty descriptions, and the teen drama. Plus, I really like historical fiction. I believe there's a sequel, right? I haven't read anything but the first.

I have no problem reading a long book if it's really good. I haven't read any of the Harry Potter books. Not my thing at all! (I know, I'm crazy that way)

Pk Hrezo said...

I enjoy both types of books. I love a good page turner or nail biter. But I can also lose myself in a long, extravagant story like LOTR. TV/ Movies have made us impatient with stories, but I tend to be old school when it comes to a good story.

Milo James Fowler said...

Sounds intriguing. I'm all for long books, as long as I can return them to the library in time. I'm 100 pages into THE PASSAGE right now, and it's due next week--with 600 pages left to go!
in medias res

Nick said...

"Going Bovine" - a good read, with a glass of milk.

Creepy Query Girl said...

I love long books. I tend to go through books really fast so the longer the better- but yes, as long as the story keeps me engaged. Thanks for the honest review!

LTM said...

@PK--I have to admit, I'm reluctant to pick up a long book unless I'm pretty confident it's going to be fast-paced... I know! That's why it's a goal.

@Milo--you'd better get reading! :D (is it good?)

@Nick--Actually, that might be more of w/a nice hamburger~ ;p

Ellen aka Ella said...

I can only handle a long page turner if it really engages me. Sometimes I think the author could tighten up the story, but sometimes it works.
I am more for the medium page turners. I don't want short with that feeling, why didn't the author go there. I want somewhere between the two. I think you are right it is an art form and one has to work hard to be able to master it~

Thanks for the review, I have picked this book up several times, before, but didn't buy it.

Stephen Tremp said...

I love character development as much as the next person. But the story has to keep moving along. There needs to be conflict, action, red herrings, twist and turns in the plot, murders, etc. For me I need events to move quickly. Sure, there needs to be downtime between action events, but even the downtime needs to move quickly and add something significant rather than idle chit chat.

LTM said...

@Stephen, I agree completely. I need action--Three Muskateers. But Laurel touched on the key I think to the "long page turner"--the engaging subplots... the Dobby stories. Yes? :o) <3