Review — The Curse Workers Trilogy by Holly Black

Synopsis

White Cat — Cassel Sharpe uncovers a plot planned by his brothers that involve him, the head of a mob family, and Lila, the girl he killed three years ago.

Red Glove — Cassel Sharpe returns to Wallingford as a normal student . . . until the Feds show up with some disturbing news involving his brother Philip.

Black Heart — Cassel Sharpe, having caught the interest of both the mob and the government, must choose which side he wants to spend his life working for.

Thoughts

There are several things I love about this series, and I will discuss each of them in full here. Starting with Cassel.

Cassel Sharpe
This kid. This kid. I love this kid. As his grandfather said, “Clever as the devil and twice as pretty.” He’s got a crooked smile for that crooked soul of his– he should know, he practices in the mirror.

His simplistic narration drives the story forward in a way the reader won’t notice. The mood of the scene is dependent on his word choice, and it is so carefully crafted that the reader feels his stress, their stomach curls with Cassel’s, their body temperature rises when he’s making out with his love interest. I love how he’s conscious of his dumb decisions and he makes them anyway. But most of all, I love how he is neither strictly good or strictly bad.

In the third book, Cassel struggles with this good vs. bad duality as seen with the book’s Big Choice. Should Cassel turn on his family, who had been involved with the mob for generations, to go straight and work for the Feds? Or should he work for the mob where he would be treated like royalty? If you pay attention, you can see him struggle with the same ideals throughout the books.

Holly Black gets kudos for making Cassel non-white. This isn’t an explicit detail in Cassel’s description, but he describes his skin color as fairly dark without saying where his family is originally from. In fact, his family’s origins are up in the air–his great-grandfather who had immigrated to the United States told a lot of stories.

World Building
There are two things I love about this: the actual world and it’s portrayal.

I didn’t make it clear in my synopses, but the Curse Workers Trilogy is an urban fantasy mob story. The fantasy aspect comes from workers, select individuals with power in one of seven areas: dream, emotion, physical, memory, luck, death, and transformation. With a single touch, a memory worker can make you forget the exact sum you owe them; a dream worker can give you regular nightmares, an emotion worker can make you fall in love with anyone. Not all of these are fatal, but they can be. A dream worker can make you sleepwalk off the edge of a building, for instance. Working is a dangerous pastime in this world, which is why workers are typically involved with the mob. In the story, gloves are the protection against working–everyone is required to wear them and people flip out you walk around in public with bare hands.

Cassel does a fantastic job immersing the reader into this world. He talks about his family doesn’t wear gloves in their homes because “families should be able to trust each other.” When he’s sitting in an interrogation room with a couple federal agents, he feels vulnerable despite being gloveless. The reader is subtly reminded about gloves throughout the story when Cassel describes the color of his friend’s gloves or draws attention to amulets that protect against working.

There is also a lot of background noise that portrays the world and gives it a more real edge. The biggest instance is the political drama happening behind-the-scenes regarding a certain proposition in New Jersey. We’re given most of this information through Daneca, Cassel’s friend who comes from a privileged family but fights for the rights of those who live otherwise.

Characterization
Awesome characterization isn’t limited to Cassel. We can all name someone in our lives similar to Daneca mentioned earlier. The same goes for Sam, Cassel’s roommate who loves slasher films and special effects. We don’t see much of Philip after the first book, but we do see a lot of Barron and how he changes from following orders in Book 1 to accepting the life his little brother conned him into in Book 3. Nothing is directly stated, and I love that about this series.

Final Thoughts

The Curse Workers Trilogy is fantastic. Seriously, go read it. You won’t be disappointed.

MEDIUM: Books
SHELF: Library

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Review – The Friday Society by Adrienne Kress

Released Dec. 6, 2012 by Dial

SYNOPSIS

Cora Bell is the assistant of Lord White of the House of Parliament who likes to secretly invent things in his spare time.

Nellie Harrison is the assistant of The Great Raheem, a popular magician in London’s high and low societies.

Michiko is the assistant of Callum, a self-defense instructor who works in London’s high society.

On one fateful night after a gala, all three girls meet over a murder. They band together to not just solve the murder that brought them together, but to save London.

MY THOUGHTS

I read a post by Adrienne Kress on John Scalzi’s The Big Idea segment featuring this book, and what Ms. Kress had to say intrigued me. Girls who can kick butt without giving up their femininity? I’m on board. When I finally read the book, the tropes felt very familiar. The best I can phrase this is by using the Powerpuff Girls. Cora is Blossom, the leader and smart one who holds the trio together. Nellie is Bubbles, prone to smiling and much more than a pretty face. Michiko is Buttercup, direct and more likely to use a fist to solve things.

Now take these tropes and put them into a London steampunk setting, add a little 90’s Girl Power flair, and you have this book. It is a fantastically fun book to read. The prose and dialogue are very modern, which I don’t mind. I feel writing this book in Victorian-era jargon would have not only been lost on today’s teenaged audience but felt like the book was hitting you in the head with feminism.

Although the book is littered with 90’s tropes, I still found The Friday Society very entertaining. There’s some witty dialogue, some romance on the side (though it wasn’t overpowering, thank goodness), and the hint that there could be more adventures in the future. In a way, it’s almost a blast to the past, paying homage to the wave of feminism where a woman can kick your butt then fix her lipstick and replace the stiletto heel she lodged in your chest. The book does not dismiss femininity in order to have kick-ass female characters, and I really appreciate that.

In the end, I only managed to predict one plot twist (out of two). That makes me happy.

This is a very fun read; I wouldn’t recommend it if you are looking for something heavy or in-depth. The Friday Society is a book to read in the small pieces of time you get throughout your life–waiting for the bus, on break at work, while you eat a meal, waiting for your henchmen to laugh at your jokes, etc.

MEDIUM: Book
BOOKSHELF: Library

Bookshelf Wish List

This is a list of the books (in alphabetical order by author last name) that are mysteriously missing from my shelf given that I love them so much. Feel free to send them my way if you happen to have a spare lying somewhere.

Fullmetal Alchemist (volumes 19-end) by Hiromu Arakawa
I started collecting these after college when I had a full-time job for a few months. I then stopped for reasons I care not to indulge, but I really want the rest of the series. Nothing can rub my feels the right way quite like Fullmetal Alchemist. Bonus: Hiromu Arakawa’s humor in the extras restores my faith in humanity mostly because she pokes fun at her own story and characters.

The Keisha’ra Omnibus by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes
My favorites are Snakesharm and Wolfcry, and thematically the series as a whole is somewhat of a letdown, but I still want it because I love the concept of the world and teenaged nostalgia. I suppose I can write a whole post about this series, so keep a lookout for that.

Chime by Franny Billinsley
A young woman who thinks she’s a witch finds herself in an adventure that includes a magical swamp, a trial, a twin sister with secrets, and fanciful prose. It’s a wonder this isn’t on my shelves just yet. I think I swooned at the magical creatures, not because they’re overly romantic, but mostly because they’re so magical and clever.

Sailor Moon (volumes 8-end) by Naoko Takeuchi
Although I’m collecting these mostly for childhood nostalgia (Sailor Moon introduced me to anime), I am also anticipating the release of the new anime series coming out this summer. This is why the manga is being re-released, after all. Anyone else excited for the new anime series? Because I’m literally bouncing on my couch in excitement.

Arata: The Legend (volumes 3-end) by Yuu Watase
I only have the first two volumes on my shelves, but I read up to volume 10 from the library, and they’re fantastic.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
This book is mysteriously missing from my shelves as well since it pretty much embodies the epitome of everything I want to write. But telling you what I want to write means spoiling the story which I don’t want to do because this book is amazing and should be enjoyed spoiler-free. In fact, it’s best to go into it knowing very few details about it. All you need to know is it is set during World War II and is about two best friends, one is a pilot and the other is a spy.

10 Favorite Books on my Shelf

Just for fun, I made a list of my ten favorite books/graphic novels on my shelves (in alphabetical order by author last name) and why these are my absolute favorites. If you ask for a book recommendation, I will most likely recommend one or more of these. Otherwise, you can totally judge my reading habits by this list.

The Curse Workers Trilogy by Holly Black
Follows the adventures of young Cassel Sharpe as he discovers his family has been keeping a Really Awesome Secret from him most of his life. Features mob connections, lots of gloves, an east coast boarding school, and a main character who knows he makes dumb decisions but makes them anyway. This book is totally my thing.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Businessman Richard Mayhew does a kind act and finds himself wandering London Below with a girl named Door, a bodyguard named Hunter, sometimes with a man named the Marquee de Carabas, and the fantastical representation of parts of London. First read this when I was studying abroad in that very city, so it was very exciting to me when I first read it. Recently listened to the BBC radio adaption starring James McAvoy and Benedict Cumberbatch. Love both book and radio drama.

Hawkeye by Matt Fraction and David Aja
I’m collecting the issues, and they’re always fun to read. Drawn in a vaguely 60’s James Bond-style (David Aja) with lots of purple and sardonic humor (Matt Fraction). The issues are episodic, so it’s easy to follow along even if you miss a month. The adventures are more misadventures when Hawkeye isn’t being an Avenger. Trying to get my older brother to read it, but he’s not biting.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
There’s a lot in this book, but it’s essentially how a young teenager exceeds the expectations the people around her impose on her because she’s a pretty girl. She reveals at the beginning of the book that she is the criminal mastermind behind various socio-political pranks executed by a boys-only “secret” club. It’s been a while since I actually read it, but I still aspire to be that awesome when I grow up.

The Realm of Tortall Books by Tamora Pierce
I don’t have a completed series by Tamora Pierce, as I’m collecting all her books from second-hand stores. The world is essentially medieval European-esque with modern day views on human rights and sexuality. I’m a huge fan. My favorite series are The Protector of the Small (own 3/4) and Terrier (own 2/3).

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling
I have the rest of the Harry Potter series as well (even have Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone — the British version with the adult cover because they have different covers for adults and children over there). However, this is the book that really got me reading. My fourth grade teacher read the first three Harry Potter books to us at the end of the day. At first, we were all kind of meh about it, but by the time we got through the first book, we were all hooked. I read Prisoner of Azkaban before my teacher read it aloud to us, and I followed Harry on his journey ever since.

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
An old man joins the army and speculates about all the science that goes into his life, which is now a military space opera. He finds his should-be-dead wife in the third act. One of the first adult science fiction books I read, and one of the best I’ve read so far.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone/Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor
Laini Taylor essentially took dark myths about fairy tales, angels, and demons and made it her own in a modern-day urban fantasy. I love the magic system and the idea of Angels running on a dystopian government and the imagination behind all the chimeras. Most of all, I love the prose. I wrote down all the titles of the chapters of put them on the bulletin board above my desk because I couldn’t put the entire book up there. Ms. Taylor has also written two books for children (about faeries, they’re awesome, read them) and a collection of short stories called Lips Touch: Three Times (read that one too).

Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra
This is pretty much the graphic novel that got my interested in graphic novels. This is also the graphic novel that demonstrates that graphic novels do not have to be about superheroes. Obvious feminist/equal rights messages aside, this book is fantastic and funny and everything I want in a story about a post-apocalyptic road trip. People look at me weird for reading it, but they do not know the joys of Yorick Brown.

***note: I was torn between Saga and Y: The Last Man for Brian K. Vaughan because I love his graphic novels so. Given that Y: The Last Man is a completed series and my introduction into the land of graphic novels, I decided to go with that. But know that Saga is fantastic and imaginative and go read it right now because I think my heart just burst at the end of that last issue.

Arata: The Legend by Yuu Watase
I have to admit, the only reason I have the first two volumes of this series is because the back of the first volume mentioned a boy disguising himself as a girl to save his life. It’s usually a girl disguising herself as a boy to do something badass, but it’s the other way around for this. The story is much more engaging beyond this, but I love the reversal of this trope. It disappears for a while after volume 1, but it totally comes back in the best way possible. We also have two characters switching worlds, the Chosen One and His Epic Quest, and two main characters who are supposed to look alike but their hair color is totally different (why don’t people notice that?).

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In the comments, tell me your favorite book(s) and why they are so.