Sunday, September 30, 2012

Midnight City (review)

2.5/5 stars

Midnight City is a book that frustrated me.  It advertises itself as a dystopian, alien-invasion science fiction novel.  And while it's most certainly a dystopian and there seem to be aliens, it's by no means a science fiction novel.  Instead it's a melding of dystopian alien with fantasy, yet it refuses to acknowledge that.

Science is one thing. Magic is another entirely.  I love them both but you have to know which one you are writing. Key to this novel are these things called"artifacts" that are made from "Strange Land" objects.
"It takes three types of artifacts to make the most basic combination," Mira began.  "First you need a power source which is always two Strange Lands coins of the same denomination. The higher the denomination the power powerful the artifacts. Coins also determine the 'polarity' of the artifact combination. Placing them with the same sides facing out is 'negative'.
I'm sorry that's not science. It's not even believable fake-science.
"The artifacts were the closest thing the world had ever had to magic."
That's because they are magic.  It doesn't matter if Mira studied them or if they use words like polarity, there is no other explanation for the artifacts.  Yet the book continues to say there is no magic, or they don't believe in magic, when everything key to the book has absolutely no scientific explanation.  Even the climax of the novel depends upon this shoddy science/magic and that frustrated me.

This is not the only problem with the book.  I had trouble believing the characters as well.  Holt Hawkin's is supposed to be this gruff, tough bounty hunter.  For someone who's personal mantra is "survival dictates" (this phrase gets annoying) he's a bit of a pushover.  For him to survive to age 20 (a rarity) in this post-apocalyptic world, especially being an experienced bounty hunter, it seems like he would need to be a little harder.  The fact that a girl with pretty eyes can effect him so much makes it difficult to believe his backstory as a bounty hunter.

The writing is also lackluster and clunky.   Take this phrase for example: ""Did you see them? They were red!" Mira yelled down at him from the tree on the incline."  Placed plop in the middle of an action scene, it bogs everything down.  It would be better with less words, especially since the tree being on an incline isn't necessary to the plot.  It feels like the author is trying to force you to see the same image that's in his head even when it's not important.

There was time when this book got the pacing right and it was readable, but overall it just didn't feel worth it.  When I read a science fiction book I expect science.  New dystopians need to be GREAT because they are following in the footsteps of The Uglies, Hunger Games, Chaos Walking and everything that comes before.  You need characters that sweep you off your feet or mind-blowing revelations or something special to make your novel stand out.  This one just doesn't.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Follow Friday - Big words

Follow Friday is a feature created by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read.  It's a fun blog hop where you meet other book bloggers and find people to follow.
Question: What is the BIGGEST word you've seen used in a book lately -- that made you stop and look it up? Might as well leave the definition and book too.
When I saw this question last night I thought CRAP.  I had absolutely no clue.  I'm quite good at reading context clues so I can often skip words that I don't know without stopping to look it up.  Sometimes I'm not even aware that I do this.  I'm actually not a fan over overly complicated language.  I studied journalism and always think "Why use a 500 dollar word when a five dollar word will do?" (One of my professor really said that and it's stuck with me).

But today I'm driving along and listening to my audiobook.  The main character is a freshman in an advanced english class.  He's writing letters to his unborn sibling and intentionally including his vocabulary words.  It's actually really well done and quite funny in this book.  The first was garrulous which means "excessively talkative, esp. on trivial matters.

The book is Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie and so far it's fun and well narrated.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Enchanted (review)

2/5 stars

Enchanted is one of those books that tries too hard.  I am potentially the biggest sucker for fairy-tale retellings.  I have to talk myself out of fairytale stories on a regular basis.

To some extent, this is the retelling of The Frog Prince.  The main character Sunday, the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, meets a talking frog at the fairy well behind her family's house.  They become friends first, then quickly she falls in love with the frog.  One day she gives him a kiss then goes home.  After she leaves he transforms back into Rumbold, the crowned prince.

But this is not really a simple retelling.  This is a fairytale mish-mash that feels a bit like an ADD fest, and not in a good way. It doesn't always make sense, but the author tries to shove in references to practically every fairytale.  It's distracting, hard to follow and by the end downright obnoxious.  Sometimes I found myself trying to figure out "Is this a fairytale references or a weird detail?" It became hard to distinguish the difference by the end.

This book tries to use clever turns of phrase that just don't work.  For example.  "He held a silver shoe the same size as the hole in his heart."  It's very awkward wording.  If your true love has left leaving only a shoe, is that really the size of the hole in your heart?  What at first might sound cute doesn't make sense when you actually think about it.

One of the biggest flaws of this novel is that it almost feels like a sequel.  As far as I can tell it's supposed to be a stand alone, but the whole story keeps referencing Sunday's dead brother Jack.  The book references his life and death so many times without ever fully explaining. They do explain Jack's significance at the end of the novel but by that time it's too late and you still feel like you're missing details.

For me this book was just frustrating.  There was too much going on and too many side story-lines.  Enchanted would've done better to tell a simple fairytale retelling.  Not every fairytale can fit into one book, and trying to fit them all just creates chaos and confusing.  The beauty of fairytales is their simplicity and that was completely lost in this book.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Follow Friday - Lived up to hype

Follow Friday is a feature created by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read.  It's a fun blog hop where you meet other book bloggers and find people to follow.
Question: What hyped up book was worth all the fuss?
As I said last week, I rarely buy into hype.  It makes me more suspicious than anything.  That said I can think of two books this year that really lived up to the hype.

The Fault In Ours Stars by John Green was brilliant.  It made my heart hurt, made me cry and I am SO not normally a cryer.  Here's a quote from my review
"It's a book that asks the Big Questions. Questions about what it means to be human, what it means to be alive and what happens after death.  It's a thought provoking novel, where cancer is the driving force but not he whole story."
This book stands out as one of the most-hyped, most worth-it books I've read.  You can read the rest of my review here.

Another that really lived up to the hype for me was Seraphina by Rachel Hartman.  My expectations going into this novel were SO BIG that I was worried it couldn't possibly live up to them.  Luckily it did.  Here is a quote from my review.
This is Tamora Pierce-esque fantasy.  It's got the drama of court politics, the romance of first love and an overaching story with a mystery to solve.   The women are smart and strong. 

Read the rest of the review here. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Stormdancer (review)

4/5 stars

Stormdancer was a book I was doomed to love.  It has too many of my favorite things.  With a kick-ass sword-wielding heroine and a snarky animal side-kick how could I not?

The story took me a little while to get into.  I'm not very knowledgeable about Japanese culture and the novel throws names and titles at you like you're supposed to understand what's going on.  It took me awhile to figure out who the people were and how they were connected.  But I did figure it out.

Once they start on their adventure, a quest to find a presumed-extinct Thunder Tiger (I think it's a griffin), on an airship I really began enjoying the story.  The steampunk world was richly different from most that I've read (mainly because almost every steampunk book seems to take place in London or thereabouts).  I liked seeing how steampunk could work elsewhere in the world.

The main character was a spunky teenage girl with the ability to mind-speak with animals.  After their airship crashes she finds herself alone in the jungle with only an angry Thunder-tiger they'd captured as a companion.

The relationship that develops between Buruu and Yukiko is my favorite part of this novel.  Their communications are believable and sometimes hilarious.  Their bond changes them both, the beast learning sarcasm and humanity while Yukiko starts to channel the rage of a tiger.

This book isn't really about capturing a Thunder-Tiger.  A potential revolution, with all the brave speeches and conspiracies needed, are the central plot-line.   The book has just enough twists to keep you guessing, but not so many to feel contrived. When I thought this book was going down a path I didn't like, Kristoff turned it around in a way that worked for me.

All the female characters are stronger and more complicated than they first seem.  Especially coming from a male author this made happy.
"Women in this city, on this island, we do not seem like we are important.  We do not lead armies. We do not own lands, nor fight in wars. Men consider us nothing more than pretty distractions. Do not for a second believe this means we are powerless. Never underestimate a woman's power over men."
I love strong female characters. I love books set in different cultures. I love talking animals.  Even though it started slowly and was a tad too descriptive at times, this was just as Cassi-book through-and-through.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Monstrous Beauty (review)

4/5 stars

When I first started Monstrous Beauty I was practically begging "please don't be just another paranormal romance, please!"  Mermaids are probably my favorite mythical creature andI have long searched for a good mermaid story.  Most mermaid books just don't work for various reasons.

When the book started I was worried.  The book begins in 1872, following the mermaid Syrenka who has fallen in love with a human.  The book gets really dark really quick, setting a tone that lasts throughout the novel. I liked the darkness.  The immediate lovestory worried me.  But the story wasn't actually about Syrenka and Ezra.

What may have seemed like a romance for the first few pages changed.  It fast forwarded to modern times and started following Hester.  The mystery took center stage--inexplicably rancid communion bread, an unsolved triple murder in a church crypt and stories about the church being haunted.  From that point onward I couldn't put the book down.

Monstrous Beauty is a dark creepy paranormal.  There is some romance, but it's more of a secondary plot.  The story focuses on Hester as she unravels the dark secrets in her family's past. Hester's mother died shortly after childbirth, as did her grandmother before and great grandmother before her.   In Hester's mind love and death are interwoven, so she has decided to shut herself down against even the possibility of being in a relationship.

The story jumps between present day in the 1872, revealing Hester's families past piece by piece.  Both timelines are necessary and relevant to understand the mystery.  Pieces of the past are revealed as Hester discovers them so that the reader can began to piece together the puzzle along with her.

The book is well written, allowing you to sympathize with both Hester in the present and Syrenka in the past.  Also, the human "villains" are not simplistic, but complicated characters who's motivations you understand and even sympathize with at times.  I always appreciate when all the characters are believable.  Too often the heroines have understandable motivations, but the villains are just evil for the sake of being evil.  But in this book almost everyone is doing what they think is right.  Good and evil is not completely black and white.

Though there is a love story, which of course is my least favorite aspect, but when everything is revealed it actually makes sense.  It never overwhelms the rest of the story, the mystery to unravelling the past is always the central plot-line and the romance advances the story.  I may not like it but I understand it's purpose.

This is the best mermaid book I've read by far.  What's more, is it's not just good in relation to other mermaid books, but actually a good book.  If you're looking for a paranormal that's more creepy than lovesick then this is the book.

I received an ARC of this book from Southern Book Blogger ARC tours.  If you live in the South and haven't signed up you should!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Follow Friday - Didn't live up to hype

Follow Friday is a feature created by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read.  It's a fun blog hop where you meet other book bloggers and find people to follow.
Question: What hyped up book do you think was not worth all the talk?
I tend to be really skeptical of books that get a lot of hype.  One thing blogging has taught me is that I'm not your average YA blogger.  There are lots of super popular books I haven't read because when I see descriptions like "star crossed lovers" "destined to to be together" it makes me want to stab my eyes out.  That would be unfortunate since eyes are useful for reading.

But since I'm supposed to pick something, I'm going with Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater.  It was too slow, too mopey, the dialogue too unrealistic  and it just seemed to try too hard.  Too much of the book was spent with the two main characters being all lovesick and staring into each other's eyes.  It reminded me of Twilight to be honest.  I can be a hard-ass when it comes to paranormals, especially ones that are fairly romantic focused. They need to be excellent and this just wasn't.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Hanging by a Thread (review)

2/5 stars

Hanging by the Thread tried to have a somewhat unique concept.  The main character Clare is sorta a physic detective.  Only she doesn't get her visions of the future, she gets visions of the past...from vintage clothing.  For me, this concept didn't work.  There's a whole story about how it was passed down in her family because a dress-making ancestor was murdered.  But to me, getting flashes when you touch someone's t-shirt but not when you touch the person, just seems odd.

Of course Clare likes to design repurposed fashion.  There wouldn't be much of a plot if she wasn't into used clothing would there?  Rather than being an oddball, like most people who make their own clothes in high school, she is embraced by the popular crowd as their personal seamstress.  She goes to beach party, flirts with boys and adds losing her virginity to her summer to do list.  Because Clare is such a fashion maven, the reader is treated to long unnecessary description of everything that everyone wears.

A lot of things about this novel didn't work.  The main character falls in insta-love with another character after an angry encounter on the beach which led to a make-out sessions.  This is the second time they've met, and he immediately starts confessing his personal life problems to Clare.  The relationship lacked any real development.  It went from "oh he's cute" to "oh we're kissing" to "oh let me tell you about my dead father" in literally two encounters.

The whole plot of this novel revolves around two murders on consecutive July 3rds.  With the anniversary looming, the town is gossiping about the possibility of a serial killer and another murder.  When a junk-sale jacket starts speaking to Clare, she feels like she's meant to solve the 2 year old crime.

Her way of solving it seems to be making out with a guy, talking to her best friend, driving up a fire service road with someone that she barely knows (real safe there!) and breaking into someone's house.  For the record, I hate when people try to solve crimes on their own without a logical reason.  It's stupid and dangerous!  This book tried to explain it, using an awkwardly placed scene where a police officer made her pick up litter.  Clearly they are incompetent!  Or they just hate litter...

Some books are just shallow.  The storyline, the relationships, the characters don't have the depth that a novel needs to be compelling. This is one of those stories.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Shadowfell (review)

3/5 stars

Shadowfell is the story of Neryn, a girl with the unusual canny ability to see faeries.  Neryn has spent years running for the King's Enforcers, a group of soliders sent out to destroy any hints of magic.  Her grandmother, who also had a canny gift, was greviously injured and later died because of the annual Cull.  Her brother died fighting for freedom.  All that's left of Neryn's family is her father.  Once a good man, he's no longer much of a father, turning to drinking and gambling to deal with his loss.

When her father loses Neryn in a gambling match, a mysterious stranger saves Neryn from the other gamblers and the King's forces.  He wants to offer her a choice, but she flees before he has the chance to explain.  Neryn heads north, towards Shadowfell, a place she's never been.  At Shadowfell, people with canny magical abilities can be safe.  At least that's what Neryn's heard.  She has no idea if Shadowfell even exists.

The journey takes Neryn across the countryside, where she encounters the Good Folk nearly everywhere.  They tell her that she might have a destiny if she can prove herself in a series of tests.  As a reader,  the tests are a bit tedious because it's obvious fromt he beginning that she's going to pass them all.  Books with journey quests are always the same.  The main character encounters all the tests and pass them, usually struggling with at least one.

As for the romance in this book, I'm torn about how I feel.  I saw it coming from a million miles away.  There was no surprise or twists.  It had a lot of tropes that bother me, such as "You'll hate me if you know what I am," that I feel like I've seen a lot, particularly in paranormal YA, as well as the main character claiming that nothing is going on when something is clearly going on.  But at the same time, the romance did develop slowly and by then end I was happy they were finally acknowledging it.  Partially because at least the characters would finally stop denying it, but also because the romantic lead gradually grew on me.

Now that I'm writing this I'm realizing predictability was the biggest flaw in this novel.  Yes there were obstacles, but I always knew the main character would overcome them.  I was never surprised by what happened or by a characters behavior.  The book and the characters behaved exactly as expected throughout the whole book.

However, I will still say I enjoyed this novel and will probably read the next in the series.  I'm a sucker for Marillier's use of mythology, her fantasy worlds rely heavily on Irish folklore, and I love that.  I just know that Marillier can write better books because I've read them.  There is nothing horrible or bad about this book, just the sense that I always knew what was coming and could've read the beginning and skipped straight to the ending and it wouldn't have really mattered.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Shadow on the Mountain (review)

3.5/5 stars

Shadow on the Mountain is set in WW2 but it's not one of the stories we're used to hearing.  It's not about Germany, death-camps and Jews are only mentioned a couple of times.  This is the story of occupied Norway during WW2.  I always enjoy books that give me a new perspective on history I thought I knew.  If Norway was covered at all in any of my world history classes, it was just a footnote.

There's a lot to like about Shadow on the Mountain.  The story is engaging and interesting, while being grounded in real history.  Even when occupied, the Norwegian resistance continues undermining the German authority.  Sometimes it's in small ways, refusing to complete a ski race the Germans made mandatory, but as the war continue the main character Espen becomes more and more involved.  He starts by carrying illegal newspapers for the resistance, helping keep the Norwegians informed about the real news not the Nazi propaganda.

The biggest flaw in this book is that the character reads much younger than he is.  Throughout most of the book Espen is nearly 16, but until someone mentioned his age I was convinced he was 12.  Maybe the author intends for a younger audience to read this book, I don't know, but Espen never felt his age.  His youth is emphasized so many times early in the book, he's the youngest on his soccer team, the resistance talks about how young he is, he seems baffled by girls, etc.  The age-confusion hurts character development.

The way time passed in this novel did not help my confusion about Espen's age.  Within a few pages a day could pass or a year could pass.  At the beginning of chapter headers there were occasionally years, but one chapter could take place in 1940 and the next skip to 1942 in a blink of an eye.

This book handled the Nazis well.  The writer took effort to humanize them, showing that they weren't all just mindless drones but often conscripted soldiers and people.  This is not to say that it minimized that evil that happened.  The book showed guards who would look the other way while Ingrid fed prisoners, and she sympathized with how lonely they must feel when the Norwegians ignored even polite conversation.  I tend to think the world isn't completely black and white, and the novel showed Nazi soldiers who were still human.  Part of me wishes the main villain, a Norwegian boy who joined the Nazis, had been more humanized.  He was more simplistic and cruel for the sake of cruelty than I would like.

Though there are some flaws in this book, it was a really interesting read.  It managed to tell a new story about WW2 while being engaging, at times funny and completley readable.

An advance reading copy of this book was provided by the publisher through Netgalley.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Follow Friday - Reading Now

Follow Friday is a feature created by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read.  It's a fun blog hop where you meet other book bloggers and find people to follow.
Question: What books are you reading right now? What do you think of them?
Well that's a very easy question for a change.  I'm currently reading Shadowfell by Juliet Marillier.  It's a slow moving book but that was expected.  Sometimes I'm hit and miss with Marillier.  There are some that I've loved, some that I've been meh about.  This one I'm liking so far.

I'm listening to Breadcrumbs, which has been a very pleasant surprise  It's middle-grade.  I would call it magical realism more than fantasy.  I'm not sure what's real and what's Hazel's imagination.  I like the way it captures the childhood blurring between fantasy and reality.  The book has a male narrator.  When I saw that it seemed like an odd choice, but the narration really works for the book.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Beautiful Lie (review)

3.5/5 stars

A Beautiful Lie is written for a younger audience than I anticipated but I like the idea of this book for a middle grade reader.  It's set in the days leading up to the Partition in India.  I've always found India fascinating (the colors, the food!) but frankly aside from all the classic children books that use it as a backdrop, I know nothing about it.  (I.E. Little Princess, Secret Garden).

In the waning days of NAME OF MC's father's life, India is quickly unravelling.  A muslim who grew up in a multicultural, multinational trading village, MC's father loves India as it is.  He refuses to believe that India will ever change.

But it's changing, rapidly, and his son wants to protect him from that knowledge.  Along with a group of his friends, he tries to protect his father from the truth.  They create an eleborate system of steering visitors away to keep the lie going.  The longer he lies, the easier it becomes to MAIN CHARACTER.  He's feels guilty for lying to his father and everyone else, but can't bear to let his father know that India is faltering.

The story is a sad sweet story about a boy who is losing his father and his home.  The love between father and son is so central despite the rarity of that you actually see the father.  This is also a story about friendship, between MAIN CHARACTER and his friends, all different but all united in this project.

At times the book drags, there are some confusing sections and it feels quite young.  Yet I enjoyed reading it.  It's a small sliver of life as it's effected by the greater portion of history.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Revolution (review)

3/5 stars

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly tells the story of two girls living centuries apart, one in the present and another during the French Revolution.

Andi, struggling with the death of her little brother, is failing out of her expensive private school and struggling with thoughts of suicide.  In an attempt to help her graduate, her father institutionalized her mentally ill mother and takes her on his business trip to Paris.

In French Revolution, Alexandrine is an actress and street performer working for the royal family.  Her only job is to make Louie, the little prince of France, smile.  That becomes increasingly difficult as the french revolution escalates.

My biggest problem with this book is Andi.  She's angry, lashing out at everyone she knows and very prickly.  It's understandable.  She's angry and blames herself for her brother's death.  She's suicidal, taking more pills than she should to try to stop the urges.  She's difficult to like.

The problem is that everyone around her still seems to like her.  She meets an extremely hot french taxi driver who happens to be a musician (just like her!).  Despite the fact she's unreliable and prone to hysterics, they immediately start building a relationship.  For me, the relationship is not believable and takes me out of the book.  I can't imagine this hardworking, talented guy putting up with Andi's crap.  Maybe if he'd known her for years, before the accident that took her brother's life.  But they just met and he goes out of his way to help this unstable girl that he doesn't even know.

I was also irritated by the music in this novel.  I hate when books reference current music.  In no time this book will be outdated.  (Maybe it already is! I don't really know since I listen mainly to audiobooks).

On the flip side, I absolutely loved the French Revolution sections of this story.  I find Alexandrine's friendship with Prince Louie completely believable.  Originally her motivations aren't pure.  She sees working for the royal family as a path to fame and fortune on the french stage.  She is selfish.

Then when everything starts falling apart she discovers that she's grown to care for the little boy.  She puts herself in danger to help him even after he's imprisoned.  Every night she goes undercover to set-off fireworks, hoping to cheer his heart and help him survive his unjust imprisonment.

The history was fascinating.  The French Revolution was such a tumultuous and horrid time, there are stories upon stories that could still be told.  There was so much conspiracy, betrayal and death.  While that makes it one of the darkest sections of history, it also makes it an excellent setting for a fictional story.

If somehow I could just recommend Alexandrine's story, while telling you to avoid Andi's I would.  However the way the two stories are interwoven that's not possible.  As a reader you have to ask yourself, can I put up with Andi's story while still enjoying Alexadrines?

The audiobook narration was quite good.  If you're interested in giving this a chance I recommend, checking it out on audio.

If you're like me & find the French Revolution fascinating check out this Crash Course video.