Review of The Forbidden Orchid by Sharon Biggs Waller

TheForbiddenOrchidCoverThe Forbidden Orchid
By: Sharon Biggs Waller
Release Date: March 8th 2016
Publisher: Viking
Format: Print ARC
Source: Publisher

A copy of this book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

My Rating:
star

Summary:
Staid, responsible Elodie Buchanan is the eldest of ten sisters living in a small English market town in 1861. The girls’ father is a plant hunter, usually off adventuring through the jungles of China.

Then disaster strikes: Mr. Buchanan fails to collect an extremely rare and valuable orchid, meaning that he will be thrown into debtors’ prison and the girls will be sent to the orphanage or the poorhouse. Elodie’s father has one last chance to return to China, find the orchid, and save the family—and this time, thanks to an unforeseen twist of fate, Elodie is going with him. Elodie has never before left her village, but what starts as fear turns to wonder as she adapts to seafaring life aboard the tea clipper The Osprey, and later to the new sights, dangers, and romance of China.

But even if she can find the orchid, how can she find herself now that staid, responsible Elodie has seen how much the world has to offer?

My Thoughts:
This was the first book I’ve read by Sharon Biggs Waller and I went in with high expectations because of all the amazing things I’d heard about this author’s prior book, A Mad, Wicked Folly. Overall, I found this book to be an entertaining read and enjoyed the storyline and adventure. I did have some issues with the characters but I’ll get to that in a bit.

First, let’s talk about the things I did enjoy. The setting was lush and I felt the descriptions lent themselves to very clear imagery and helped progress the story for me. The novel was told in first person from the main character, Elodie’s, point of view. I really enjoyed that the novel’s progress was split into three sections, one in England, aboard a tea clipper and then the final, in China. My favorite section was the shortest, aboard the tea clipper. I felt that Waller did an exceptional job describing the boat and how it would feel to be Elodie traveling across the ocean for the first time.

Where I had issues with this book was in the character representations. I felt like they were all caricatures of themselves. It’s hard to explain but I’ll try…some of the characters felt like they played on a stereotype rather than on an in depth character. The two most obvious to me were Deacon Wainwright and Ching Lan. Wainwright was described and acted so much like Mr. Collins (of Pride and Prejudice) to me. He was bumbling, homely and sexually repressed. He seemed so typical of a clergyman it stood out to me. It wasn’t enough to really deter from the book but it was something I noticed.

As the story moved to China I noticed other characters feeling more stereotypical than well developed. I have zero knowledge of this time period or culture but certain things (language mostly) sort of felt…I don’t know, cliché? It’s hard to put my finger on it but it was bothersome for me personally. It left me feeling like more could have been done to bring something deeper to Ching Lan’s character rather than her exotic description, concubine plight or her expressions of ‘wah’ and ‘ai yah’ I felt there was an opportunity missed to create a well developed, diverse character.

My favorite character was Elodie’s father. I felt he was possibly the most interesting character of them all and I enjoyed that he had elements that made him not the greatest man or father. Elodie herself was a decent main character though at times her character did aggravate me with her naiveté. There are several examples of her making decisions I found to be incredibly frustrating such as trusting someone when she had every reason not to and wearing completely inappropriate clothing for where she was.

Those wondering about the romance- there was one (no triangle) and it was done fairly well. I was able to feel the character’s chemistry and I felt it was believable. I think most readers will enjoy the relationship and how it develops.

Final Thoughts:
Though The Forbidden Orchid had some strengths-certain weaknesses stood out so strongly I had trouble looking past them. I wished that the author would have taken the opportunity to create a better diverse character and also give her main character some worldly sense. I wonder if you read this book yet did these things trouble you? Am I alone?

Review of Tangled Webs by Lee Bross

TangledWebsTangled Webs
By: Lee Bross
Release Date: June 23rd 2015
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Format: Print ARC
Source: Publisher

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

My Rating:
star

Summary:
London, 1725. Everybody has a secret. Lady A will keep yours—for a price. This sumptuous, scandalous YA novel is wickedly addictive.

Lady A is the most notorious blackmailer in the city. With just a mask and a gown to disguise her, she sweeps into lavish balls and exclusive events collecting the most valuable currency in 1725 London—secrets.

But leading a double life isn’t easy. By day Lady A is just a sixteen-year-old girl named Arista who lives in fear of her abusive master, Bones, and passes herself off as a boy to move safely through the squalor of London’s slums. When Bones attempts to dispose of his pawn forever, Arista is rescued by the last person she expects: Jonathan Wild, the infamous Thief Taker General who moves seamlessly between the city’s criminal underworld and its most elite upper circles. Arista partners with Wild on her own terms in the hopes of saving enough money to buy passage out of London.

Everything changes when she meets Graeden Sinclair, the son of a wealthy merchant. Grae has traveled the world, has seen the exotic lands Arista has longed to escape to her whole life, and he loves Arista for who she is—not for what she can do for him. Being with Grae gives something Arista something precious that she swore off long ago: hope. He has promised to help Arista escape the life of crime that has claimed her since she was a child. But can you ever truly escape the past?

My Thoughts:
I tend to love historical YA so when I read the summary to Tangled Webs I was captivated and knew I’d want to read it. I had hopes that this book would be romantic, atmospheric and addictive. Sadly, I didn’t end up enjoying it nearly as well as I hoped.

Though this book took place in 1725 London the setting never felt all that historical to me. I didn’t feel swept back in time nor did I get a clear visual of this world that Lady A/Arista lived in. There were some pretty descriptions and I did enjoy a scene taking place at a masquerade ball. Really though, masquerade balls are always a hit with me.

I enjoy a story where the main character is leading a double life so I did like seeing the way Arista handled that aspect of the story. I felt like it gave the reader a good picture of the character and added much needed dimension. Though I felt a slight connection to Arista I didn’t much care for her character. I didn’t necessarily need to like her to enjoy the story but for this book I found myself annoyed with her more often than not. For being the most notorious black-mailer she seemed a bit lost when it came to anything sneaky- yes she is only 16 but if she’s touted as the best I want to see evidence.

Sadly, I never was able to really connect to any of the other characters. I thought I was going to like Nic, Arista’s childhood friend and crush, but he really only came around when it was convenient to move the story along. Grae was easy to like but not easy to really care about. I wasn’t overly concerned about what happened to him or any of the characters throughout the story.

Because of my constant disconnect I wasn’t able to really get behind the romance which really impaired my enjoyment since it was a pretty prominent factor in the book. I never felt chemistry between the romantic leads and honestly everything between them felt rushed. It all seemed pretty insta-love. I really wouldn’t have minded the instant attraction if I’d have been able to feel it while reading.

Final Thoughts:
The summary for Tangled Webs sold me on romance, a historical setting, a girl dressing as a boy–all things I love in YA fiction. Sadly, none of these really felt executed all that well. I do think readers who can connect to the characters and the romance will enjoy this far more than I did. And I must say, this arc was absolutely beautiful as I’m sure the hardcover will be as well.