Friday, May 30, 2014

{ARC Review} Curses and Smoke: a Novel of Pompeii: Vicky Alvear Shecter

Rating: 3/10
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance, Young Adult,
Publication Date: May 27, 2014
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books

Page Count: 336
Format: eARC
Source: Netgalley

Goodreads Synopsis: When your world blows apart, what will you hold onto? TAG is a medical slave, doomed to spend his life healing his master's injured gladiators. But his warrior's heart yearns to fight in the gladiator ring himself and earn enough money to win his freedom.

LUCIA is the daughter of Tag's owner, doomed by her father's greed to marry a much older Roman man. But she loves studying the natural world around her home in Pompeii, and lately she's been noticing some odd occurrences in the landscape: small lakes disappearing; a sulfurous smell in the air. . . .

When the two childhood friends reconnect, each with their own longings, they fall passionately in love. But as they plot their escape from the city, a patrician fighter reveals his own plans for them -- to Lucia's father, who imprisons Tag as punishment. Then an earthquake shakes Pompeii, in the first sign of the chaos to come. Will they be able to find each other again before the volcano destroys their whole world?

Do you know what time it is *does awkward dance that would get her thrown out of places* Backstory Time! If you have been visiting my blog for even a smidgen of time, you will know I am nearly famous for going off on tangents about how I got the book, why I read it, and so forth. This book.... this book sounded AMAZING. I am known to enjoy a his fic (historical fiction novel) every once in a while, and I thought this would be my perfect fix for the next month or so. When I saw it on Netgalley, my click-happy self requested the book, and I got accepted. Let me just tell you a little preview of my feelings. 

You know in those movies where they go into the scary house, or dangerous situation and know that something is wrong? Well, that's what happened the moment I started reading C&S. I could not put my finger on that something, and like that lovely GIF up above, I thought, "If I ignore that something, it will go away." 

So I kept reading.... and reading.... and reading.  

Fast Forward to around 20% or 70 pages of C&S, well that something wasn't disappearing, and that something now had a name. If you fast forward my reading experience to the end of the novel, that list of somethings is LONG. A few weeks ago, I posted my top 10 list of "Books I Almost Put Down, But Didn't" Curses and Smoke needed to be on that list, and the side of the list of the books I wish I had put down. Truthfully, I kept holding on and on by a thin thin thread (Maroon 5 song -Sad). I kept wishing I would get over that precipice of boredom and distraught. 

I didn't.

Where do I even start with this book? It might just be an "it's me not you" thing, but I had issues with the plot, originality, pacing, characters, romance, and especially the writing style.

Plot/Originality: Remember on twitter when I was talking about writing short stories and putting them into books for an assignment? Well one of my classmates wrote a love story set in Pompeii. I could get into how weird that is (immature teenage boy writing a love story), but that has nothing to do with this review. Anyway, he is not the best writer, and certainly not the most creative. Yet, he wrote a story with a plot line almost exactly following Curses and Smoke. I also know for a fact that he is not secretly a book blogger that receives ARCs. So.... that flushes the plot line and originality for Curses and Smoke down the toilet. Obviously, the star crossed lovers living in opposite classes is a universal theme, and one used often in historical fiction, but I honestly think that Shecter could have done something interesting with it.

Characters: Tag and Lucia made me want to rip my hairs out one by one. You know the phrase "still waters run deep"? Well how about "still waters are stagnant and that's all there is to it"? The characters were shallow, so not personable (not a word), and were almost like slabs of rock. The only case in which this would work with characters is if it was some high authority figure who seemed to be untouchable and whose walls seem unbreachable by anybody else. This was completely not the case. I didn't feel like I knew who they were at all, or that they had some storied past, or anything else. I literally had more connection with the destruction that the volcano made than with them. 

Romance: Their romance was freaking cliche. It was as if it was a scene from a play that went like this, "Hi, I'm Tag, I'm madly in love with you but we can't be together because I am a slave and you're the rich Domina that could have me executed if you wanted." The two of them together didn't seem like such a good match either because they didn't balance each other out, or were similar. They seemed a lot like Romeo and Juliette wannabes, stealing "amazing kisses" (from Lucia) in the woods, and wanting to run away together. Yay them *rolls eyes*. 

Writing Style: What got to me so much was the writing style of Curses and Smoke. This is a historical fiction novel. That means they are in the past. They are not supposed to sound like 21st century teenagers. I admit they didn't say, "Whatever" or "Duh," but it came pretty close to it with phrases like, "I got it." It was so seemingly modern, and frankly, poorly written. The description of action sequences,  who the characters were, and the emotions people felt.

Pacing: All you need to do is read my backstory to understand my issues with the pacing, paired with all of the other factors. I believe, that with the interesting premise, I could have given the book a higher rating if the pacing had been quicker, and the plot developed quicker. 

***Mini-Spoiler About Ending***
So, I was in the car on the way home from running, and I was telling my mom that books have gotten so cliche, your heart wrenches, you clench your fists, and you cry. All for what? The characters live, they get what they want, "they all live happily ever after." I love happy endings, if I love the characters, and sad endings make me want to punch authors. However, a majority of novels I have read in the past few months have had happy endings, and I just didn't want that to happen with Curses and Smoke. The synopsis sets everything up for a happy ending, but for the first time in forever (another song reference), it is sad. I am so sorry to admit this, but I was quite happy with the ending. I was like, "YAY! One of the MCs died!" This proves just how much of a connection (or lack thereof) with the characters I had. Everything about it was rushed, and if I had enjoyed C&S, I would have thought of it as a WTF moment.

Conclusion: I was highly disappointed with this novel because of the amazing premise, but the characters, plot, and writing style disappointed me.

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