Monday, October 27, 2014

Review: Stray

STRAY
Four Sisters #1
Elissa Sussman
Young Adult/Fantasy
384 pages
Greenwillow
Available Now
Source: ARC from publisher for review

THE STORY (from Goodreads)
Princess Aislynn has long dreamed about attending her Introduction Ball, about dancing with the handsome suitors her adviser has chosen for her, about meeting her true love and starting her happily ever after.

When the night of the ball finally arrives and Nerine Academy is awash with roses and royalty, Aislynn wants nothing more than to dance the night away, dutifully following the Path that has been laid out for her. She does not intend to stray.

But try as she might, Aislynn has never quite managed to control the magic that burns within her-magic brought on by wicked, terrible desires that threaten the Path she has vowed to take.

After all, it is wrong to want what you do not need. Isn’t it?


MY THOUGHTS
Stray is a quick read, one where the flipping of pages comes swiftly and easily, but it’s also a story that keeps us as readers at a distance. The first page instantly draws us in, introducing us to a distressed and disheveled Aislynn before moving us backward in time so that we can fully see just how she came to be so precariously situated. Though we’re engaged early on, once we settle into the story we find ourselves scrambling for purchase, talk of kingdoms, wicked queens, and fairy godmothers mentioned without much context or explanation. We’re left then only with Aislynn to cling to, but without an idea of what she’s up against or how magic works in this world, it’s hard to emotionally root for her journey.

Perhaps the main issue preventing us from throwing ourselves wholly and completely into Aislynn’s social demotion from princess (of which there are apparently many, complete with a hierarchy of royal houses that is not detailed for us in any way) to fairy godmother is the fact that we’re denied reasons for why magic in this world is so feared. We’re told of a Wicked Queen, but she remains nothing but rumor–quiet whispers in dark corners–and we’re given no details as to why her use of magic has had such a profound effect on the raising of every woman in the surrounding kingdoms. We therefore feel no anxiety over Aislynn’s ability or inability to access her magic, no sense of mounting tension as we wonder if her magic will either reveal her or fail her at just the wrong time, and so the emotional threads connecting us to her predicament remain thinner than we might like.

Additionally, it’s unclear where the story itself is headed given no prominent villain, romance, friendship or foil of any kind for Aislynn presents itself to help point us in a clear direction. We’re given snippets of friendships, a touch of romance, and the barest hint of dark things on the horizon, but they all remain largely background elements as we follow Aislynn in her day to day activities at the school where she’s training to be a fairy godmother. As a result, we stay largely on the surface of Stray, longing to extend our claws and really dig so that we can uncover all the wonderful fantasy elements this story has the potential to bring to life.

We’re left on the final page much as we existed for much of the book–a bit off kilter and unsure of where we might be headed moving forward. That being said however, Stray is by no means a bad book, it’s simply lacking a bit of cohesiveness and direction to help us form the bond with characters and story that is the reason we crack a spine in the first place.

Rating: 3/5


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This book was sent to me by the publisher free of charge for the purpose of a review
I received no other compensation and the above is my honest opinion.

40 comments:

  1. Hmm ... yeah, I can see how it's probably a good book despite what it's lacking. I'm not sure if I'll read this or not, but great review, Jenny.

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  2. Ah too bad it wasn't as good as you thought at first. It seems like it's a little confusing at times. Not sure I'll try it I confess, it's the second mixed review I read about it.

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    1. I just never really felt like I had my footing in this world. I didn't understand the fear of magic beyond the fact that someone perceived as wicked uses it, so I didn't feel nervous when Aislynn's magic malfunctioned.

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  3. I would say that I need a better bond with my characters than this

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    1. I had hoped for a little stronger bond!

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  4. I've read several reviews fort Stray and all of them say same thing about world building and all issues you might have while reading. I had the opportunity to read this as well, but now I'm glad that I passed it. I would have same problems with it like you did.
    Great and honest review, Jenny!

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    1. I liked the world itself, I just felt like I was outside looking in for most of the book. Maybe that will improve as the series continues though!

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  5. I haven't read this one, Jenny, but the reviews I've read have all mentioned that the worldbuilding isn't as detailed as it could be. I'm still thinking of giving it a try though because I love fantasy, but I'm in no hurry to do so and will go in with lowered expectations.

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    1. I really love fantasy too Z! And I might check out book two and see where that leads:) It may be on of those series that just gets better as it goes!

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  6. Hmm…it sounds like I should maybe borrow this book from the library if I am interested in checking it out. Bummer that it lacked cohesiveness and I'm not too happy with the fact that there' s no real romance or villain. I'm not sure this one would hook me. It's a shame, because I love that cover! Thanks for the honest review, Jenny!

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    1. There's a slight romance, which was fine, I just felt like there were a lot of elements but not one of them stepped up to really guide the plot. It felt directionless at times:(

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  7. I am sad this was kind of disjointed and confusing Jenny. I was really hoping it would be a solid stand out read. It does sound like it has potential though.

    Wonderfully written review Jenny!

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    1. It definitely had potential, and I think the series as a whole does as well, so I'll be curious about book 2!

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  8. You know, I rated this book 3.5 stars, but I think someone mentioned afterwards that this would feature different characters potentially in each book, so knowing this, I wouldn't have rated it that high.
    Like you said, most of the book felt like an introduction, which seems to be the case with many series debuts this year.
    I'm sorry this didn't work as well for you, Jenny.
    Lovely review!

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    1. Hm. I didn't know that! I assumed we would continue Aislynn's journey since it felt unfinished. Maybe she'll play a role still - like the Lunar Chronicles:)

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  9. Nothing drives me more crazy than a lack of information, Jenny, and it sounds like Stray suffers from that in spades. =/

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    1. Yes. I almost felt like I had missed a prequel - something to introduce me to the world and help me understand its inner workings:)

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  10. Oh, hiiii pretty cover! <33 Hmm, so you wished for more explanation and information? (though, I really must admit, the talk of kingdoms and wicked queens has me dying to get my hands on this book!) Yeah, seems like this story is a tad disoriented? Not getting clear in its focus? I'm sorry you didn't love it, but I'm glad you liked it regardless of your worries and problems with it. (Also, Jenny! As always, I'm so in love with how you manage to give constructive criticism so well. J'adore this review!)

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    1. I just felt like I was wandering through it with no clear direction. I didn't know what Aislynn was ultimately working toward (defeating the Wicked Queen? Getting control of her magic?), and without an endgame in sight, it was hard to get caught up in the journey.

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  11. I like the sound of Stray and overall it sounds like a fun escape read, but I'm thinking I would feel the same about wanting to "sink my claws in." I need a prominent villain, or romance as well to sink into. Lovely and thoughtful review, Jenny :)

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    1. YES KIM!!! Give me one really strong element to connect with and I'm good to go. This just didn't have that for me.

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  12. Hmmm. I'm going to stay away from this one I think. I really like the cover and it sounded interesting, but lack of context/ world building, not being able to connect to the MC and no romance (you know, I like those), is all disappointing. We usually read similarly, so unless this picks up in the next installment - I'm assuming there's a sequel? I'm going to stay away.

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    1. Yes, it's a series, but as Nick just informed me, the next couple books apparently focus on different characters which is unexpected since Aislynn's story didn't seem finished.

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  13. I like the premise of this one but the lack of direction and character connection puts me off. I am going to skip this one as I am innundated with books anyway. Thanks for the helpful review.

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  14. At first Stray really interested me Jenny but I've heard so many mixed things I don't know where I stand with it anymore. That being said I can see how this one could definitely still work despite some of it's issues. Lovely review Jenny!

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    1. I liked the setup of the world Lily, I just needed to feel a stronger emotional connection to the events. I needed a villain to fear or a more epic romance to get swept up in:)

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  15. I don't mind learning as I go alongside the heroine, but in this particular instance, it doesn't seem like the author did a good enough job of keeping readers in the loop. This is Elissa Sussman's debut novel though, so there's bound to be some growing pains.

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    1. Yes, I was definitely out of sorts in places, especially with regard to the Wicked Queen and the fear of magic. I didn't understand the correlation between the two and that seemed key for Aislynn's journey.

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  16. Hm... I think I'll pass on this one. I have read a few books where I'm just not connected to the character. The book isn't bad but... Maybe in the future, but it is a no for now. Brilly review.

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    1. I need some kind of connection Melissa! Let me love the bad guy at least if I can't get on board with heroine! That just didn't happen here. I see potential for sure though:)

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  17. Very insightful review. Sometimes a story needs more of the puzzle pieces to be satisfied with the whole picture.

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  18. I was initially so excited to read this one but I've read several reviews that had the same issues you had. I like the idea of this book but I think I'd be lacking that connection I need to the characters (good or bad) that would keep me coming back rather than losing interest and putting off finishing it.

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  19. I started this one months ago and set it down because I grew bored. Now I'm glad because it seems like it was just fairly stagnant the whole way through. I need some drama, some flare, some HEAT.

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  20. I think lack of answers and explanations would get to me a little. I guess I'll skip it for now. Thanks for the review!

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  21. I can picture myself being so frustrated with this book because of the lack of answers and failed execution in the writing. This one is definitely not for me. I hope your next read is much better for you, Jenny!

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  22. Hmmm, I've read some mixed reviews for this one but from your review I get the feeling this is one of those introductory books upon which others might expand the world and bring more to the fore.
    This one I'll leave in the wish list for now.
    Great review, Jenny!

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  23. Awesome review! I really enjoyed this one myself and I wouldn't mind reading the next book.

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  24. Wow, GREAT review! i was waiting for someone to review this book! i guess it is going to my TBR pile :)

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