Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater

So I read Shiver and really enjoyed it.  By a stroke of luck that rarely occurs for little old me, I won a copy of Ballad from the wonderful Angieville.  Intrigued, I grabbed Lament from the library (Ballad‘s predecessor, although both can be read as stand-alones without too much confusion, I think) and got reading.

Lament was great, although I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as Shiver – it just seemed to be missing that unidentifiable something.  I enjoyed the Celtic edge it had to it, and Stiefvater’s use of faerie lore.

After reading so much about Dee and Luke, I was disappointed to find that we really don’t get much about them in Ballad, except through Dee’s unsent text messages to James.  I know this is supposed to be his story, and more of a companion novel than a sequel, but I found myself wondering about them quite a bit.  Also, although I really liked Dee in Lament, I found myself disliking her a bit here – from James’ point of view she seems incredibly selfish.

For whatever reason, I wasn’t a huge fan of reading from James’ POV – I’m not really sure why, since I love him as a character.  I have a tendency toward the bad boy rather than nice guy characters, but Luke (although I did like him) just seems so superficial in comparison to the depth and character that James has.  Nuala’s POV was always entertaining, especially as I watched her go from thinking about James as a victim to thinking about him as someone she cares about.

It also seemed like all of the action and all of the big reveals were clumped together at the end – there were some great scenes, but they might have been a little more effective if they were spread out.  I love the world she’s created though, as well as her characters – Mr. Sullivan in particular.  I’ll be interested to see where James and Dee’s relationship goes from here – it seems to be left a bit open for another book featuring them (perhaps the events of Ballad from Dee’s point of view?), and if there is another, I can’t wait to read it.  As it stands, Dee’s entanglement with Faerie as the cloverhand doesn’t seem like it will be over anytime soon.

Overall, an enjoyable read.  Great ending, too.  If you like Stiefvater’s style, you won’t be disappointed with this one.

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Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

5826 Beautiful and tragic. I love the way time almost disappears in this novel – I couldn’t believe when I was halfway through and they were still in the house, although I don’t know where else I expected them to go. The book moves along nicely and flows wonderfully.

This book has been staring at me from the shelves at work for months and months, and I even picked it up and read the back a handful of times. I’m so glad I finally brought it home to read. It always amazes me when I read a book that I’ve been aware of for a while – it’s like all of those beautiful words and that fantastic story have been sitting there, waiting for me between those covers, and all I had to do was open it up and let them out – why on earth didn’t I do it sooner?

This novel is so subtle, and yet so powerful at the same time. The characters are developed gradually, and are nicely filled out by the end. Patchett’s pacing is almost perfect. You feel as though you’re trapped in the house with these characters, watching how they interact and change over time. You become an observer to an incredible example of human emotions and relationships.

I was a bit disappointed with the end – it seemed a little thrown together – but the rest of the novel makes up for that. One of the best I’ve read in the last year or so. It’s one of those books that leaves you thinking for days about the characters, the plot, why things happened the way they did, and what might have happened if they hadn’t. I really didn’t want to close it when I got to the end. Beautifully written, and a great study on misunderstanding, human interaction, and love.