Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Review - Incantation

Incantation
by Alice Hoffman
Date: 2006
Publisher: Little, Brown Young Readers
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 166
Format: e-book
Source: library

Estrella is a Marrano: During the time of the Spanish Inquisition, she is one of a community of Spanish Jews living double lives as Catholics. And she is living in a house of secrets, raised by a family who practices underground the ancient and mysterious way of wisdom known as kabbalah. When Estrella discovers her family's true identity--and her family's secrets are made public--she confronts a world she's never imagined, where new love burns and where friendship ends in flame and ash, where trust is all but vanquished and betrayal has tragic and bitter consequences.

Infused with the rich context of history and faith, in her most profoundly moving work to date, Alice Hoffman's first historical novel is a transcendent journey of discovery and loss, rebirth and remembrance.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Incantation is a short novel about a time and place that I haven't encountered very often in my reading choices.  The setting is Aragon, Spain in the year 1500.  We're told the story from 16-year-old Estrella's point of view.  The book is somewhat light on plot, but it still manages to pack quite a bit into its 166 pages.

The strength of this book is the writing.  There is such a sense of place about the novel that I could almost smell the lime flowers on the breeze.  At first, I thought the characters were a bit underdeveloped, but then I realized that Hoffman had managed to bring just enough depth to all of them, to help the reader know them and come to care about them.  This seemed especially true for the secondary characters; I almost felt like I knew them better than I knew Estrella herself.

The one thing I did find odd was the use of italics (rather than quotation marks) for dialogue.  However, this stylistic choice didn't detract from the flow at all.

It's a decent book, and fans of historical fiction will probably really enjoy it.  For me, though, it was just a bit underwhelming.  I could not relate to some of Estrella's thoughts and conclusions (especially at the end), and I felt like I might have been able to understand those parts of her a little better had the middle section of the novel been developed a bit more.  All in all, Incantation was neither amazing nor awful; it was just average.

Plot: 4/5
Characters: 3/5
Pace: 3/5
Writing: 4/5
Editing: 4/5
Originality: 2/5
Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.29 out of 5

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Review - The Hallowed Ones

The Hallowed Ones (The Hallowed Ones #1)
by Laura Bickle
Date: 2012
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 311
Format: e-book
Source: Amazon

Katie is on the verge of her Rumspringa, the time in Amish life when teenagers can get a taste of the real world. But the real world comes to her in this dystopian tale with a philosophical bent. Rumors of massive unrest on the “Outside” abound. Something murderous is out there. Amish elders make a rule: No one goes outside, and no outsiders come in. But when Katie finds a gravely injured young man, she can’t leave him to die. She smuggles him into her family’s barn—at what cost to her community? The suspense of this vividly told, truly horrific thriller will keep the pages turning.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This one had so much potential.  Why?  It's a post-apocalyptic novel involving the Amish and vampires!  How could that not be great?

Unfortunately, it fell really flat for me.  While I appreciated the attempt at world-building, I thought it took up far too much of the book.  The book either needed to be longer (to include more action), or some of the everyday Amish stuff needed to be cut back.  After reading this, I feel disappointed.  It seemed that there was so much build-up and not enough payoff.  The final showdown was little more than a few pages, and we were left with an ending that did little more than usher in a sequel.

I also wasn't taken with the characters.  Katie, the narrator, came across as way too non-Amish at times (granted, I'm not sure how real Amish would speak... but she seemed awfully worldly for someone who had grown up in such a community).  Alex, the young man she finds injured in a field, was obviously the love interest from the moment he stepped onto the page... and yet, I sensed no real chemistry between the two of them.  Perhaps that was because he was kind of a mixed-up character, not quite sure if he wanted to be flirty and teasing or serious and philosophical.  I honestly never got a feel for him, even though there were plenty of opportunities to develop his character.  (His ex-girlfriend was presumably torn apart by the vampires... and we really don't know how he feels about it!)  I thought that Katie had more chemistry with Elijah, her childhood friend, before he went through a sudden (and rather unbelievable) change in character, for no apparent reason.  The Elders and the Bishop were also problematic for me; they seemed to exist only to provide some much-needed conflict.  They were overly proud and dictatorial, and I question whether some of their actions would even be contemplated by true Amish folks.

The vampire aspect was interesting and suitably gory (and I mean really gory; those with weak stomachs should give this one a pass).  It was probably the most well thought-out part of the whole book.  The reveal at the end, when some things are explained, made sense.  However, that scene was just too short and easily resolved, which made me feel cheated, and like I had just read 300+ pages for nothing.  Aside from getting a few answers, readers are just shunted off to the next book, hoping that something more exciting will happen there.

Plot: 3/5
Characters: 3/5
Pace: 1/5
Writing: 2/5
Editing: 3/5
Originality: 3/5
Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.43 out of 5

Monday, August 26, 2013

Review - Wild Awake

Wild Awake
by Hilary T. Smith
Date: 2013
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 375
Format: e-book
Source: library

Things you earnestly believe will happen while your parents are away:

1. You will remember to water the azaleas.
2. You will take detailed, accurate messages.
3. You will call your older brother, Denny, if even the slightest thing goes wrong.
4. You and your best friend/bandmate Lukas will win Battle of the Bands.
5. Amid the thrill of victory, Lukas will finally realize you are the girl of his dreams.

Things that actually happen:

1. A stranger calls who says he knew your sister.
2. He says he has her stuff.
3. What stuff? Her stuff.
4. You tell him your parents won’t be able to—
5. Sukey died five years ago; can’t he—
6. You pick up a pen.
7. You scribble down the address.
8. You get on your bike and go.
9. Things... get a little crazy after that.*
*also, you fall in love, but not with Lukas.

Both exhilarating and wrenching, Hilary T. Smith’s debut novel captures the messy glory of being alive, as seventeen-year-old Kiri Byrd discovers love, loss, chaos, and murder woven into a summer of music, madness, piercing heartbreak, and intoxicating joy.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

It's kind of cool to read a book that's set in a place that you know quite well.  That's why I was kind of excited to read Wild Awake, which takes place in Vancouver, British Columbia.  You don't often see that city in young adult books... especially not the Downtown East Side.  (Early on in the book, Kiri takes a bike trip into the area and promptly gets lost, which led to me wanting to shout at her like she was some doomed heroine in a horror movie: "No!  Don't turn down that needle-strewn alley!")  The downside of reading a book about a place you're familiar with is that any mistakes the author makes are glaringly obvious and distracting.  I don't know much about Hilary T. Smith or about how much time she spent in Vancouver.  But I have my suspicions that she's not a local.  I twigged when Kiri repeatedly referred to "ninth-grade girls".  A Vancouver teen would most likely say "Grade Nine girls".  Awkward, yes.  But it's one of those little details that are so important to get right if you want to convince readers that your character actually lives where you say they live.

And speaking of details, there were a few that were so weird that they took me out of the flow of the story repeatedly.  I don't know how Kiri learned to eat a pomegranate, but you don't bite it like an apple, suck all the fruit off the seeds, and then spit the seeds out.  When a cat walks on a hard floor, you generally don't hear its claws.  And melatonin is not a tranquilizer that'll knock you out for eight hours.  I got the feeling that so many of the quirky little touches were added into the narrative just to make it seem hip.  When they were wrong (like in the examples above), it was jarring.  Most of the rest of the time, though, the writing just came off as pretentious.

Kiri's sudden shifts from normal, semi-responsible teen to erratic, mentally ill pothead really threw me.  I kept thinking, "What is wrong with this girl?  This is not normal behaviour."  And that was kind of the point.  In this book, mental illness is a major theme... and yet the Goodreads synopsis makes it seem like a sweet coming-of-age story with a murder mystery thrown in for good measure.  Had I known what this book was really about, I probably wouldn't have read it.  Not that mental illness isn't an important topic, or that it can't be addressed well in books for teens.  I was just expecting something entirely different.

I don't think this angsty, literary wannabe was for me.  But then, I'm not the biggest fan of contemporary novels.  It's more of a character-driven book than anything else, and I was looking for more plot.  If you like books about teenage angst, mental illness, and drug abuse written in flowery prose, you might get something out of Wild Awake.  But I have to say that I wasn't really wowed by this one.

Plot: 3/5
Characters: 3/5
Pace: 2/5
Writing: 3/5
Editing: 3/5
Originality: 3/5
Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.71 out of 5

Review - Pivot Point (DNF)

Pivot Point (Pivot Point #1)
by Kasie West
Date: 2013
Publisher: HarperTeen
Reading level: YA
Pages: 343
Source: Amazon

Knowing the outcome doesn’t always make a choice easier...

Addison Coleman’s life is one big “What if?” As a Searcher, whenever Addie is faced with a choice, she can look into the future and see both outcomes. It’s the ultimate insurance plan against disaster. Or so she thought. When Addie’s parents ambush her with the news of their divorce, she has to pick who she wants to live with—her father, who is leaving the paranormal compound to live among the “Norms,” or her mother, who is staying in the life Addie has always known. Addie loves her life just as it is, so her answer should be easy. One Search six weeks into the future proves it’s not.

In one potential future, Addie is adjusting to life outside the Compound as the new girl in a Norm high school where she meets Trevor, a cute, sensitive artist who understands her. In the other path, Addie is being pursued by the hottest guy in school—but she never wanted to be a quarterback’s girlfriend. When Addie’s father is asked to consult on a murder in the Compound, she’s unwittingly drawn into a dangerous game that threatens everything she holds dear. With love and loss in both lives, it all comes down to which reality she’s willing to live through... and who she can’t live without.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This book was just boring.  It shouldn't have been.  Just look at that synopsis!  Unfortunately, Pivot Point has a number of problems that made my reading experience less than enjoyable.

I took a few days off from this book, and when I came back to it, I'd forgotten what was going on.  That was probably because nothing memorable was going on.  The chapters alternate back and forth between two boring scenarios: Addie living with her mother in the Compound, and Addie living with her father on the outside.  I hit the 31% mark, and so far it's been little more than a blow-by-blow account of Addie eating Cheerios, going to school, folding her laundry, being oblivious to one boy's flirting, and stalking another boy because she needs a new best friend.  I still haven't gotten to the main meat of the plot (which, judging by the synopsis, is probably to do with the murder in the Compound).  I'm almost a third of the way into the book, so I don't think it's unreasonable to expect the main plotline to have started developing.

The lack of plot might not have been so bad if I'd been enjoying reading about Addie's world (or, really, her two worlds).  Unfortunately, the world-building is not that great.  It's actually kind of confusing.  I can't get a sense of time or place.  The Compound has some pretty advanced technology... but those on the outside are still renting DVDs.  (Is this historical fiction?)  The kids in the Compound school play football and use their mental superpowers to turn it into a somewhat different game... and yet they supposedly play teams on the outside, and even go to colleges outside the Compound to play Normal football.  I don't quite understand how a super-secret Compound is supposed to stay super-secret when their kids are out in the Normal world.  Doesn't anyone ever ask about where these kids go to school?  Or why none of the games are ever played on their own turf?

The characterizations are also pretty bad.  Addie -- the narrator -- is pretty dense (she couldn't figure out why Duke kept throwing a football at her).  Duke -- the Compound's football star -- is pretty immature (his idea of flirting is throwing a football at Addie's head).  Laila -- Addie's best friend in the Compound -- is an annoying best-friend stereotype.  Trevor -- presumably Addie's love interest on the outside -- is pretty much a blank so far; all we know is that he's got a bum shoulder and he thinks Dickens is boring.  Addie's mother uses really weird syntax (her response when Addie dyes her hair with temporary dye in a fit of rebellion: "Go away from me."  Who talks like that?) and is a one-dimensional character whose only purpose seems to be to provide complications to Addie's social life.  And Addie's father... well, he's probably integral to the story later on, but at the moment he's kind of a faceless nothing who's only made a couple of appearances.

Maybe this gets better later on, but I'm not enjoying it enough to give it any more of my time.

So, in the final analysis, the reasons why I didn't finish Pivot Point are as follows:
  • weak world-building
  • weak characterization
  • excruciatingly slow pacing
  • nothing interesting was happening

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Things That Make Your Life As A Reader/Book Blogger Easier

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted at The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's topic is Top Ten Things That Make Your Life As A Reader/Book Blogger Easier:

10. a good dictionary - I like to think I have a decent vocabulary, but I'm still forced to look up words from time to time.  It's always fun to learn something new!

9. gift certificates to book stores - So I can put more books in the TBR pile!

8. crappy offerings on network TV - This gives me an excuse to read in the evenings.  Rot my brain with reruns or escape to a new world in a book?  The latter, please!

7. book blogs - How else am I going to find out about awesome new books to read?

6. the e-library - I can't afford to buy a ton of books, so it's nice to occasionally find stuff I've been yearning to read on the library's site.

5. not being in school - When I was in school, there was usually assigned reading.  Nothing took the joy of the printed word away from me more quickly or easily than being forced to read boring books.  Now I can read whatever I want... and I love that.

4. Goodreads - It's got all the publishers, publication dates, page counts, and synopses... in short, all the information that I need for my reviews, all in one place.

3. the explosion of the YA category - Most of what I read and enjoy is young adult, so it's great to have so much choice.  I guess this could also be a negative, though; sometimes there's too much choice!

2. e-book reading software - Adobe Digital Editions, Kindle for PC, and Kobo...  I wouldn't be reading any e-books if it weren't for these three programs.  (My Kobo e-reader is currently buried under a stack of physical books... with a dead battery.)

1. earplugs - I'm not one of those people who can read with lots of noise and distractions all around them.  If I didn't have a way to block out the world, I wouldn't get much reading done at all.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Review - The Sweet Dead Life

The Sweet Dead Life (Sweet Dead Life #1)
by Joy Preble
Date: 2013
Publisher: Soho Teen
Reading level: MG
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 244
Format: e-book
Source: library

“I found out two things today. One, I think I’m dying. And two, my brother is a perv.”

So begins the diary of 14-year-old Jenna Samuels, who is having a very bad eighth-grade year. Her single mother spends all day in bed. Dad vanished when she was eight. Her 16-year-old brother, Casey, tries to hold together what’s left of the family by working two after-school jobs— difficult, as he’s stoned all the time. To make matters worse, Jenna is sick. When she collapses one day, Casey tries to race her to the hospital in their beat-up Prius and crashes instead.

Jenna wakes up in the ER to find Casey beside her. Beatified. Literally. The flab and zits? Gone. Before long, Jenna figures out that Casey didn’t survive the accident at all. He’s an “A-word.” (She can’t bring herself to utter the truth.) Soon they discover that Jenna isn’t just dying: she’s being poisoned. And Casey has been sent back to help solve the mystery that not only holds the key to her survival, but also to their mother’s mysterious depression and father’s disappearance.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I'm getting too old for this.

I could not connect with this book.  It tries to be sweet and cute and entertaining, but by the end of it, I just found it annoying.  The main issue I had is that this book doesn't know what it wants to be: middle grade or young adult.  Jenna is fourteen and a straight-A student in the eighth grade, something that the author really should have thought about a little more; I spent much of the first half of the book wondering why she'd been held back a year.  I eventually decided that her grade level was to try to shoehorn this book into the middle grade category.  And it's a weird choice, considering the language Jenna uses (she alternates between swearing and using phrases like "apropos of nothing"... seriously, what 14-year-old says "apropos of nothing"?), the fact that the boys in her middle school are potheads, and her best friend dresses like a hooker.  Have things really changed that much since I was in the eighth grade?  Are 14-year-olds really that grown-up?  Or did the author just get it very wrong?  (I thought about the characters in another middle grade book as I was reading this.  The narrator of Ingrid Law's Savvy is thirteen, just a year younger than Jenna... but Mibs reads more like a child, relatively innocent and homespun, all excited about her yellow birthday dress with the purple sash.  There is a huge difference in the apparent ages of Jenna and Mibs... and I'm not sure that there should be, considering it's only one year separating them.)

I also wasn't impressed by the story.  It was a little far fetched, but that wasn't what bothered me.  What drove me nuts was the fact that the villain was so obvious that I figured it out very early... and then had to slog through the rest of the book, waiting for these knuckleheads to catch up.  I also wasn't impressed with the whole angel angle.  Jenna's brother died trying to save her, and it was really of little consequence because he was still around.  Sure, he can make poop noises and have wings sprout from dark nubs on his shoulder blades (this was probably the most disgusting angel-wing description I've ever read), and he's supposedly now swoon-worthy (for the readers' benefit, obviously), but I thought a pretty heavy situation was glossed over and made light of.  Casey is dead.  And even by the end of the story, we still don't know much about what's going to happen to him.  For the moment, he's still in high school.  What... are angels required to get high school diplomas?

The writing was also sub-par.  There were lots of typos, and the author couldn't figure out how to pluralize or make possessive a family's last name (there were two mistakes relating to this).  There were also too many irrelevant descriptions of what people were wearing; I was reminded of the author's other book, Dreaming Anastasia, where the main character had to mention the love interest's blue eyes more than 30 times (sadly, I'm not exaggerating).  I don't know if that kind of repetitiveness would bother most middle-grade readers, but it bothered me.  I just wanted Jenna to stop waxing poetic about her boots and get on with the story.

All in all, The Sweet Dead Life is not a great angel book.  Nor it is a good mystery.  The tone made me think that it was trying to be something like Wendy Mass's Heaven Looks A Lot Like the Mall, a book which successfully managed to blend humour and the afterlife with a lot more heart.  The Sweet Dead Life tried too hard, and came up short in almost every way.

I'm afraid I can't really recommend this one.

Plot: 3/5
Characters: 2/5
Pace: 3/5
Writing: 2/5
Editing: 2/5
Originality: 3/5
Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.43 out of 5

In My Mailbox (55)


Borrowed from the library:
Daughter of Smoke & Bone
by Laini Taylor

Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grown dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious "errands"; she speaks many languages not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When one of the strangers—beautiful, haunted Akiva—fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

The Sweet Dead Life
by Joy Preble

“I found out two things today. One, I think I’m dying. And two, my brother is a perv.”

So begins the diary of 14-year-old Jenna Samuels, who is having a very bad eighth-grade year. Her single mother spends all day in bed. Dad vanished when she was eight. Her 16-year-old brother, Casey, tries to hold together what’s left of the family by working two after-school jobs— difficult, as he’s stoned all the time. To make matters worse, Jenna is sick. When she collapses one day, Casey tries to race her to the hospital in their beat-up Prius and crashes instead.

Jenna wakes up in the ER to find Casey beside her. Beatified. Literally. The flab and zits? Gone. Before long, Jenna figures out that Casey didn’t survive the accident at all. He’s an “A-word.” (She can’t bring herself to utter the truth.) Soon they discover that Jenna isn’t just dying: she’s being poisoned. And Casey has been sent back to help solve the mystery that not only holds the key to her survival, but also to their mother’s mysterious depression and father’s disappearance.

Wild Awake
by Hilary T. Smith

Things you earnestly believe will happen while your parents are away:

1. You will remember to water the azaleas.
2. You will take detailed, accurate messages.
3. You will call your older brother, Denny, if even the slightest thing goes wrong.
4. You and your best friend/bandmate Lukas will win Battle of the Bands.
5. Amid the thrill of victory, Lukas will finally realize you are the girl of his dreams.

Things that actually happen:

1. A stranger calls who says he knew your sister.
2. He says he has her stuff.
3. What stuff? Her stuff.
4. You tell him your parents won’t be able to—
5. Sukey died five years ago; can’t he—
6. You pick up a pen.
7. You scribble down the address.
8. You get on your bike and go.
9. Things . . . get a little crazy after that.*
*also, you fall in love, but not with Lukas.

Both exhilarating and wrenching, Hilary T. Smith’s debut novel captures the messy glory of being alive, as seventeen-year-old Kiri Byrd discovers love, loss, chaos, and murder woven into a summer of music, madness, piercing heartbreak, and intoxicating joy.


What was in your "mailbox" this week?


In My Mailbox was started by Kristi of The Story Siren.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Review - Daughter of Smoke & Bone

Daughter of Smoke & Bone (Daughter of Smoke & Bone #1)
by Laini Taylor
Date: 2011
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 418
Format: e-book
Source: library

Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grown dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious "errands"; she speaks many languages not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When one of the strangers—beautiful, haunted Akiva—fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I just have one thing to say about this book: How on earth did I miss this when it came out two years ago?

Okay, so I probably have more to say about it than that.  But I just finished the book, and I kind of feel like I've been hit by a truck.  Now that, authors, is how you end the first book of a trilogy.  Rip the reader's heart out and leave them begging for more.

This is an angel book.  I didn't really realize it when I found it at the local e-library.  I downloaded it because I'd seen the cover before and vaguely remembered some decent reviews... but mostly because it was one of the only books that was available for download that wasn't the second book in a trilogy.  Had I known it was an angel book, I might not have picked it up; I've read two books in this genre recently, and part of a third that I couldn't finish, and I figured I was suffering from angel fatigue.  But this...  Any book that can make me sit and read more than 400 pages in two sittings... I don't care what kind of supernatural beings it has.

Laini Taylor has one heck of an imagination.  The world-building was pretty amazing.  Between the fantasy world inhabited by the chimaera and the seraphim, and the present-day back alleyways of Prague inhabited by human creatures almost as fantastic, it wasn't hard to get a feel for every setting and every character in this book.  There is a history to everything, and it all unspools at just the right pace, revealing tidbits of information at the most exquisitely appropriate times.

Unlike the other angel books I've read recently, this one has angels as I imagined them to be: beautiful but terrifying.  I can safely say that Akiva falls into that category.  In comparison, he makes some of the other angel characters I've recently encountered look like petulant little boys with homemade, strap-on wings.  The author definitely struck the right balance with this guy.  He comes across as real.  All the characters do, really... even the ones who -- in the hands of lesser authors -- would come across as silly fantasy caricatures.

Readers who enjoy fantasy, paranormal elements, great world-building, and well-developed characters will probably find something to like here.  I'm just glad my case of angel fatigue didn't deter me from reading this one.  I really would've missed out.

Plot: 5/5
Characters: 4/5
Pace: 4/5
Writing: 5/5
Editing: 4/5
Originality: 5/5
Enjoyment: 5/5

Overall: 4.57 out of 5

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Books with X Setting

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted at The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's topic is Top Ten Books With X Setting.  I've already seen a bunch of lists for "boarding schools" and "dystopias", so I'm going to choose something different.  So many books are set in the United States... so, for this list, X is going to stand for "other than the U.S.A.":

10. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry - Set in Denmark in 1943.

9. Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder - Set in Norway in the present day.

8. Word to Caesar by Geoffrey Trease - Set in Imperial Rome in the 2nd century.

7. Jane of Lantern Hill by L. M. Montgomery - Set in Prince Edward Island in the 1930s.

6. Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden - Set in Australia in the present day.

5. The Lost Crown by Sarah Miller - Set in Imperial Russia during World War I.

4. Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare - Set in Sicily in the 1500s.

3. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith - Set in England in the 1930s.

2. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs - Set in Wales in the present day.

1. Tiger Moon by Antonia Michaelis - Set in India in the early 1900s.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Review - Beastly

Beastly
by Alex Flinn
Date: 2007
Publisher: HarperTeen
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 304
Format: e-book
Source: Amazon

I am a beast.

A beast. Not quite wolf or bear, gorilla or dog but a horrible new creature who walks upright--a creature with fangs and claws and hair springing from every pore. I am a monster.

You think I'm talking fairy tales? No way. The place is New York City. The time is now. It's no deformity, no disease. And I'll stay this way forever--ruined--unless I can break the spell.

Yes, the spell, the one the witch in my English class cast on me. Why did she turn me into a beast who hides by day and prowls by night? I'll tell you. I'll tell you how I used to be Kyle Kingsbury, the guy you wished you were, with money, perfect looks, and the perfect life. And then, I'll tell you how I became perfectly... beastly.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I'm a bit late to the game, as this book came out almost six years ago, and the movie adaptation is already a couple of years old (I haven't seen it yet, by the way).  But a book is good or bad, no matter how old it is.

Was Beastly any good?  Yes, actually, it was.  I haven't read a lot of fairy-tale retellings.  I should probably find and read more of them, as I tend to enjoy them.  As far as I can recall, this is the third "Beauty and the Beast" retelling that I've read, the other two being Beauty by Robin McKinley and Crazy Beautiful by Lauren Baratz-Logsted.  Beastly fell somewhere in between those two books for me.

The plot is... well, the plot.  Flinn didn't deviate too much from the versions of this story that most of us are familiar with.  The setting is New York City in the present day, with teenagers taking the lead roles.  I liked reading the story from the beast's point of view.  Kyle was a pretty good narrator, and we got to see his character develop and change over the course of the novel.  You can't help but feel a bit sorry for him when he's cursed and loses everything... even though he really did bring it upon himself.

I also liked the inclusion of the online chats of the fairy tale creature support group.  It didn't add a lot to the story, but it was kind of fun.

I quite enjoyed this book overall, but I didn't really like the ending.  It felt a little rushed and empty to me, and the following epilogue was just a little too sappy for my taste.  But I'm not going to fault the whole book for one weakness at the end; we all know how this story ends, after all, and I'm sure it was a challenge to come up with something that wasn't syrupy enough to give the reader a sugar rush.  It's a good book, though.  The message is classic, and one that desperately needs to show up in more YA books (even if it's not the main focus): looks aren't everything.

If you like fairy-tale retellings, you'll might enjoy Beastly.  I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it... in spite of its weaknesses.

Plot: 4/5
Characters: 4/5
Pace: 3/5
Writing: 4/5
Editing: 3/5
Originality: 4/5
Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.71 out of 5

In My Mailbox (54)


Bought from Amazon.ca:
Beastly
by Alex Flinn

I am a beast.

A beast. Not quite wolf or bear, gorilla or dog but a horrible new creature who walks upright--a creature with fangs and claws and hair springing from every pore. I am a monster.

You think I'm talking fairy tales? No way. The place is New York City. The time is now. It's no deformity, no disease. And I'll stay this way forever--ruined--unless I can break the spell.

Yes, the spell, the one the witch in my English class cast on me. Why did she turn me into a beast who hides by day and prowls by night? I'll tell you. I'll tell you how I used to be Kyle Kingsbury, the guy you wished you were, with money, perfect looks, and the perfect life. And then, I'll tell you how I became perfectly... beastly.

Coffeehouse Angel
by Suzanne Selfors

From the author of Saving Juliet comes a romantic comedy that is good to the last drop. When Katrina spots a homeless guy sleeping in the alley behind her grandmother’s coffee shop, she decides to leave him a cup of coffee, a bag of chocolate-covered coffee beans, and some pastries to tide him over. Little does she know that this random act of kindness is about to turn her life upside down. Because this adorable vagrant, Malcolm, is really a guardian angel on a break between missions. And he won’t leave until he can reward Katrina’s selflessness by fulfilling her deepest desire. Now if only she could decide what that might be...

Feed
by M. T. Anderson

Identity crises, consumerism, and star-crossed teenage love in a futuristic society where people connect to the Internet via feeds implanted in their brains.

For Titus and his friends, it started out like any ordinary trip to the moon - a chance to party during spring break and play with some stupid low-grav at the Ricochet Lounge. But that was before the crazy hacker caused all their feeds to malfunction, sending them to the hospital to lie around with nothing inside their heads for days. And it was before Titus met Violet, a beautiful, brainy teenage girl who has decided to fight the feed and its omnipresent ability to categorize human thoughts and desires. Following in the footsteps of George Orwell, Anthony Burgess, and Kurt Vonnegut Jr., M. T. Anderson has created a not-so-brave new world — and a smart, savage satire that has captivated readers with its view of an imagined future that veers unnervingly close to the here and now.

Outcast
by Adrienne Kress

After six years of “angels” coming out of the sky and taking people from her town, 16-year-old Riley Carver has just about had it living with the constant fear. When one decides to terrorize her in her own backyard, it’s the final straw. She takes her mother’s shotgun and shoots the thing. So it’s dead. Or … not? In place of the creature she shot, is a guy. A really hot guy. A really hot alive and breathing guy. Oh, and he’s totally naked.

Not sure what to do, she drags his unconscious body to the tool shed and ties him up. After all, he’s an angel and they have tricks. When he regains consciousness she’s all set to interrogate him about why the angels come to her town, and how to get back her best friend (and almost boyfriend) Chris, who was taken the year before. But it turns out the naked guy in her shed is just as confused about everything as she is.

He thinks it’s 1956.

Set in the deep south, Outcast is a story of love, trust, and coming of age. It’s also a story about the supernatural, a girl with a strange sense of humor who’s got wicked aim, a greaser from the 50’s, and an army of misfits coming together for one purpose: To kick some serious angel ass.

Pivot Point
by Kasie West

Knowing the outcome doesn’t always make a choice easier...

Addison Coleman’s life is one big “What if?” As a Searcher, whenever Addie is faced with a choice, she can look into the future and see both outcomes. It’s the ultimate insurance plan against disaster. Or so she thought. When Addie’s parents ambush her with the news of their divorce, she has to pick who she wants to live with—her father, who is leaving the paranormal compound to live among the “Norms,” or her mother, who is staying in the life Addie has always known. Addie loves her life just as it is, so her answer should be easy. One Search six weeks into the future proves it’s not.

In one potential future, Addie is adjusting to life outside the Compound as the new girl in a Norm high school where she meets Trevor, a cute, sensitive artist who understands her. In the other path, Addie is being pursued by the hottest guy in school—but she never wanted to be a quarterback’s girlfriend. When Addie’s father is asked to consult on a murder in the Compound, she’s unwittingly drawn into a dangerous game that threatens everything she holds dear. With love and loss in both lives, it all comes down to which reality she’s willing to live through... and who she can’t live without.


What was in your "mailbox" this week?


In My Mailbox was started by Kristi of The Story Siren.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Review - InterWorld

InterWorld (InterWorld #1)
by Neil Gaiman & Michael Reaves
Date: 2007
Publisher: HarperCollins
Reading level: MG
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 239
Format: e-book
Source: Kobo

When Newbery Medal winner Neil Gaiman and Emmy Award winner Michael Reaves teamed up, they created the bestselling YA novel InterWorld.

InterWorld tells the story of Joey Harker, a very average kid who discovers that his world is only one of a trillion alternate earths. Some of these earths are ruled by magic. Some are ruled by science. All are at war.

Joey teams up with alternate versions of himself from an array of these worlds. Together, the army of Joeys must battle evil magicians Lord Dogknife and Lady Indigo to keep the balance of power between all the earths stable. Teens—and tweens and adults—who obsessively read the His Dark Materials and Harry Potter series will be riveted by InterWorld and its sequel, The Silver Dream.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

In the afterword, the authors say:

... we started trying to explain our idea to people, telling them about an organization entirely comprised of dozens of Jo/e/y Harkers, trying to preserve the balance between magic and science across an infinite number of possible realities, and we would watch their eyes glaze over.

If people's eyes glaze over when you merely tell them about an idea, what do you think is going to happen if they read a whole book about it?  Maybe that should've been their first clue right there...

I've had this book sitting in my TBR pile for ages.  I've bought quite a few new books recently, so I thought I should chip away at the existing pile as well.  This was a short read, so I thought it would be fast-paced and fun.  It was neither.  InterWorld reads like the script for a really bad Saturday-morning cartoon show... one that you probably wouldn't want to watch the next week, either, because it was dumb enough the first time.

In theory, the idea of infinite versions of one boy forming an organization to control the balance of magic and science in the universe isn't that bad.  In practice, however, it didn't work.  I could not connect to Joey, nor to any of his alternates.  Part of the problem may be that, because they were all Joeys, it seemed like an ultra-exclusive private club that was only important -- and relevant -- to those people.  This reader felt like she was on the outside, looking in.  Add to that the fact that I didn't find any of the Joeys particularly appealing or even interesting (aside from one who only appears in a small part of the book), and the fact that it was really difficult to tell them all apart since they all had names that were variations of the same: Jay, Jai, Jo, Jakon, Josef, Jerzey, etc.  And the main Joey... what an idiot.  I know fourteen-year-old boys can be dumb at times, but if this is the kid who's going to save the universe, we're all in major trouble.  When someone tells him not to go near a mysterious multidimensional life form because it's probably dangerous, what does he do?  I'll give you one guess, but I think you can safely assume that it's not: Listen to the more experienced person and stay the heck away from the probably-dangerous multidimensional life form.  For crying out loud...

The rest of the book was like a juvenile mish-mash of ideas and DalĂ­-esque images that had me rolling my eyes and wishing for the over-the-top villains to win.  Despite what this synopsis says, this is not a young adult book.  The narrator is fourteen, so it's clearly a middle grade title.  It most likely got bumped up to the young adult bracket because of one particularly sesquipedalian character: Jai.  Every time he opened his mouth, I had to open a separate browser window with a dictionary to figure out what he was saying.  The only time he didn't talk like a walking thesaurus was when he was about to die or be boiled by space pirates.  (Because they're all versions of the same character, Joey used a lot of unfamiliar words, too.  It was like being trapped in a bad science-fiction TV show and not having any idea what people were talking about.  I still can't figure out how a kid who can't understand, "Don't touch that!" can understand things like "chirality" and "eschewing obfuscation".)

I really don't know who I would recommend this book to, if anyone.  I really don't know why the authors thought it would be a good idea to write a book that nobody seemed interested in.  And I really don't know why there's a sequel.  It was a disappointment, all around; I thought that, with Gaiman as co-author, this would have been a lot better.

Plot: 3/5
Characters: 2/5
Pace: 2/5
Writing: 3/5
Editing: 3/5
Originality: 3/5
Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 2.43 out of 5

A to Z Bookish Survey

I saw this at Respiring Thoughts, who got it from The Perpetual Page-Turner, and I thought it looked like a lot of fun.  I haven't done a survey in a while... and since it's Saturday and I don't have much else to do, I thought I'd give it a go:


Author you’ve read the most books from:

That would probably be Beverly Cleary... and I read most of those books decades ago!

Best Sequel Ever:

I'll let you know when I come across a halfway decent one.  Sequels are usually pretty disappointing (maybe because I have such high hopes for them).  Well, maybe I could say Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling.  It was probably my favourite book of that whole series...

Currently Reading:

InterWorld by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves.

Drink of Choice While Reading:

Water.  Or HINT Water.  But, often, I get so engrossed in reading that I forget to drink at all!

E-reader or Physical Book?

A few months ago, I probably would have picked the physical book.  But the last few books I've read have been Kindle editions that I've read on my laptop.  So I'm not sure anymore.  If I'm enjoying the story, I don't really care what format it's in.

Fictional Character You Probably Would Have Actually Dated In High School:

Well, I can certainly tell you that it wouldn't have been one of the drop-dead gorgeous, supernatural hotties that populate today's YA scene.  Even if they had existed, they probably wouldn't have been interested in a plain, studious, superpower-less girl like me.  (You can tell I read mostly YA paranormals, can't you?)

Glad You Gave This Book A Chance:

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion.  I'd pretty much sworn off zombies when I heard about this book.  It was such a delightful surprise; I'm so glad I gave it a chance!

Hidden Gem Book:

Tiger Moon by Antonia Michaelis (quite literally, a "hidden gem" book; if you read it, you'll understand what I mean).

Important Moment in your Reading Life:

When an author killed off a beloved main character in the second book of a trilogy.  Before that, I didn't even realize that was possible.  My thoughts were along the lines of, "Is he allowed to do that?!"

Just Finished:

My most recent read was a DNF.  The last book I actually finished was Coffeehouse Angel by Suzanne Selfors.

Kinds of Books You Won’t Read:

I'm not really interested in erotica, adult chick-lit, horror, Christian fiction, terminal disease books, mysteries, or books about the LBGT experience.  That's not to say I won't read any of those (because I have read books in a few of those categories); they're just not things I normally gravitate towards.  If something is getting really good reviews, I might get curious enough to check it out.

Longest Book You’ve Read:

That would probably be Passage by Connie Willis.  And it was too long.

Major book hangover because of:

Warm Bodies.  I still haven't come down off that five-star high.

Number of Bookcases You Own:

Technically, just one.  But my books are also taking up shelf space in my closet, on (and in) my nightstand, and on my windowsill.

One Book You Have Read Multiple Times:

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner.  And I rarely re-read anything.

Preferred Place To Read:

In bed.  Or at the computer ('cause trying to hold a laptop above my head makes my arms really tired).

Quote that inspires you/gives you all the feels from a book you’ve read:

I'm terrible at remembering quotes.  I'm sure there are some that I really like; I just can't recall what they are.

Reading Regret:

Reading Mockingjay.  I really didn't like how it wrapped up the series.  But I had to find out what happened next!

Series You Started And Need To Finish (all books are out in series):

The Wolves of Mercy Falls... Hush, Hush... His Dark Materials... Abhorsen... Jenna Fox Chronicles... The Queen's Thief...  As you can see, I'm terrible at finishing series.  To be fair, though, I've tried to finish four of these series and I lost interest along the way.  But I would still like to finish them one day...

Three of your All-Time Favorite Books:

Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones
Tiger Moon by Antonia Michaelis
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Unapologetic Fangirl For:

Warm Bodies.  I will apologize because I'm sure people are sick of hearing about how much I loved this book.  But I won't apologize for liking it.

Very Excited For This Release More Than All The Others:

I don't let myself get that excited about new releases anymore.  I've been disappointed too many times.  I am looking forward to reading Laura Whitcomb's Under the Light, though.

Worst Bookish Habit:

If I'm reading a hardcover with a dust jacket, I use the jacket flaps as my bookmark.  It's not so bad when a book is short... but long, thick books tend to curl the flaps.

X Marks The Spot: Start at the top left of your shelf and pick the 27th book:

A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb.

Your latest book purchase:

Outcast by Adrienne Kress.

ZZZ-snatcher book (last book that kept you up WAY late):

That would probably be one of the last physical books I read (which was The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff).

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Review - Outcast (DNF)

Outcast
by Adrienne Kress
Date: 2013
Publisher: Diverson Books
Reading level: YA
Pages: 322
Source: Amazon

After six years of “angels” coming out of the sky and taking people from her town, 16-year-old Riley Carver has just about had it living with the constant fear. When one decides to terrorize her in her own backyard, it’s the final straw. She takes her mother’s shotgun and shoots the thing. So it’s dead. Or … not? In place of the creature she shot, is a guy. A really hot guy. A really hot alive and breathing guy. Oh, and he’s totally naked.

Not sure what to do, she drags his unconscious body to the tool shed and ties him up. After all, he’s an angel and they have tricks. When he regains consciousness she’s all set to interrogate him about why the angels come to her town, and how to get back her best friend (and almost boyfriend) Chris, who was taken the year before. But it turns out the naked guy in her shed is just as confused about everything as she is.

He thinks it’s 1956.

Set in the deep south, Outcast is a story of love, trust, and coming of age. It’s also a story about the supernatural, a girl with a strange sense of humor who’s got wicked aim, a greaser from the 50’s, and an army of misfits coming together for one purpose: To kick some serious angel ass.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Doesn't that description make it sound like a cool story?  Yeah.  Too bad that description is about some other book.  It must be.  I got through one-fifth of this thing and didn't really see any hints of themes like love, trust, or coming of age... unless you dig really deep through Riley's internal monologuing/infodumping (but, to be honest, those passages kind of made me zone out).

In the past few days, I've read Angelfall by Susan Ee and Coffeehouse Angel by Suzanne Selfors, so I thought I'd keep the angel theme going and read Outcast.  I knew it would be different from the other two books (which are very different from each other), but I didn't realize that I wouldn't even be able to finish this one.  That's too bad, because I think the premise and story here could have been turned into the best book of the bunch.

I should have known reading this book would be painful when I started noticing (and bookmarking) technical errors at page six.  Yes, page six.  It only got worse from there.  The author seemed to be afraid of commas, because there were lots of places where they were missing.  There were also quite a few places that gave away the fact that there was no editor.  For example:

Maybe the girl who shot him in the face maybe?

At least, I mean, at least for me it was.

Then a character's name changed (Jonah Richards to Jonah Robinson).  I searched my Kindle copy, only to find that Jonah was mentioned a mere three times.  Three times... and you can't make his name consistent?

Those are the types of mistakes that I find in my own writing from time to time.  But I usually find them, because I proofread -- even if it's just a blog entry.  The fact that this book made it through all the stages of publication without someone with a red pen saying, "Hold on a minute!" makes me shake my head.

Riley was kind of a blank for me.  Despite the fact that she tells us (yeah, she tells us... we're not actually shown much in this book) that she's smart and "objectively" pretty (whatever that means) and wears dowdy sundresses all the time even though she feels dowdy in them (okay... is she really as smart as she thinks she is?), I didn't have much of a feeling for who she was after reading 20% of a book that's told in the first person with so many sentence fragments I almost swore this was a verse novel.  As for Gabe... don't even get me started on him.  He talked like I think the author thinks 1950s jerks are supposed to talk, but it came off as kind of ridiculous to me.  I don't want to read the words "dollface" or "sweetheart" for a while.  Oh, and there was also the fact that he was supposed to be this hot, sexy guy with chiseled abs and nakedness that Riley couldn't stop thinking about.  We weren't given any more than that at first, so my mind went ahead and decided what he looked like.  Because I recently read Angelfall, Gabe took on a similar appearance to that book's angel: dark-haired, dark blue-eyed.  Then, all of a sudden, we were informed that Gabe had sandy blond hair and "those bright blue eyes", as if it had been mentioned before.  It hadn't.  I can take vivid character descriptions, or I can leave them... but waiting to release that kind of information until after your reader has already formed a mental image of the character isn't a good move.  It's jarring and disorienting.

There were other parts that had me thinking that the author couldn't remember what she'd previously written.  Like when Riley shook Gabe's hand and stated that it was the first time they'd ever touched.  I guess she forgot about hauling his unconscious, naked body into a wheelbarrow and then trussing him up in her father's toolshed.  Because that sort of thing is easy to forget.

Sorry about the snark.  I'm just really disappointed in this one, because it could have been as awesome as the synopsis made it sound and the cute, professional-looking cover led me to believe.  Unfortunately, the writing was just so bad that I couldn't enjoy this one at all.  The only real enjoyment I got out of the book was writing down my issues as I went along and posting some snarky status updates on Goodreads.

So, in the final analysis, the reasons why I didn't finish Outcast are as follows:
  • too much telling, not enough showing
  • bad writing, riddled with mistakes
  • characters that were too boring and/or irritating to care about
  • inconsistencies that took me out of the story

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Review - Coffeehouse Angel

Coffeehouse Angel
by Suzanne Selfors
Date: 2009
Publisher: Walker Childrens
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 276
Format: e-book
Source: Amazon

From the author of Saving Juliet comes a romantic comedy that is good to the last drop. When Katrina spots a homeless guy sleeping in the alley behind her grandmother’s coffee shop, she decides to leave him a cup of coffee, a bag of chocolate-covered coffee beans, and some pastries to tide him over. Little does she know that this random act of kindness is about to turn her life upside down. Because this adorable vagrant, Malcolm, is really a guardian angel on a break between missions. And he won’t leave until he can reward Katrina’s selflessness by fulfilling her deepest desire. Now if only she could decide what that might be...

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Well, that was... cute?  It's the type of book I probably would have enjoyed when I was fourteen.  But as an adult, I'm afraid that it didn't really impress me that much.  It reads like a romantic comedy intended for young teenagers... complete with a few fart jokes.  And, unfortunately, because it was supposed to be romantic, it really didn't work for me.

What was the problem?  Katrina is an okay character.  She actually describes herself (she's not really an "insert-yourself-here" sort of heroine), though parts of that had me shaking my head.  (Note to the author: Five foot eight is not that tall for a teenage girl... unless all the teenage boys in that town had stunted their growth by drinking too much coffee.  But I digress.)  Despite the fact that Katrina doesn't really know what she wants to do after she graduates, we get a good sense of her character because of how she interacts with the other people in her life: her best guy friend, Vincent; her best girl friend, Elizabeth; her grandmother, Anna; the old men who hang around her grandmother's coffee shop; and the Darling family, with their overachieving daughter and smarmy father (who just happens to be in direct competition with Anna's grandmother's coffee shop).  However, her relationship with Malcolm, the "guardian angel" (more on him in a moment), really fell flat for me.  Those two had absolutely zero chemistry, so when Katrina inevitably starts spouting about how much she loves him, it comes across as kind of phony.  The internal monologue she gives us about how it's impossible to know how love works only makes it worse.  These two people supposedly loved each other, and I had no idea why.  Saying "they just do" is a cop-out.

There was something else about this book that bugged me.  The synopsis on Goodreads (and on the inside of the book) both refer to Malcolm as a "guardian angel"... but he's only ever referred to as an "angel" in the book.  The thing is, he's actually neither.  He's a messenger, and he wears a pair of talaria... which puts him closer to the Greek god Hermes (or the Roman god Mercury... whatever floats your boat).  He's called an angel because a Catholic nun decides he is.  And I guess so the book could have a cute title.  Coffeehouse God sounds... well, silly.

The plot was okay and the story unfolded at a decent pace... but I just couldn't feel much for these characters.  Even the climax was a little disappointing, as it was resolved extremely quickly (and almost too easily).  Like I said earlier, this book might appeal to the younger end of the young adult age group... but those looking for more sophistication in their novels aren't going to find it here.

Plot: 4/5
Characters: 3/5
Pace: 3/5
Writing: 3/5
Editing: 4/5
Originality: 3/5
Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.29 out of 5

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Books I Wish Could Have Had Sequels

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted at The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's topic is Top Ten Books I Wish Could Have Had Sequels.

This is a tough one.  Usually, when I really like a book, it's because it's self-contained and there's no need for a sequel.  But there are definitely some characters and settings that I would like to visit with again:

10. Jolted: Newton Starker's Rules for Survival by Arthur Slade - This was a book that I thought was tailor-made for a sequel.  Its setting, characters, and situations had me wanting more.  I'm not sure why this book is a stand-alone title, when it could so easily have been made into a middle-grade series.

9. Tiger Moon by Antonia Michaelis - This book wrapped everything up pretty well, and I don't know if a sequel would even be possible (or necessary).  But I grew to love the characters and setting while I was reading it.  Maybe I just wish this one had been a little bit longer...

8. My Name is Memory by Ann Brashares - I really enjoyed this book, and the ending certainly left the door open for a sequel.  But I've read that, because the first book wasn't a huge bestseller, there probably won't be a sequel.  How disappointing!

7. The Fetch by Laura Whitcomb - There are a lot of storytelling possibilities with the premise that the author brought forward in this book.  I wouldn't mind reading another book about Calder, either continuing the story that was begun here, or with an entirely new set of characters.

6. Draw the Dark by Ilsa J. Bick - The way the ending of this one was written, I thought there was going to be a sequel.  The fact that there isn't makes the ending all the more unsatisfying.

5. Ramona's World by Beverly Cleary - The last of the Ramona books was published in 1999, so it's probably safe to say that there won't be any more.  It's a shame, too, because there were so many more possible stories to explore with this fun cast of characters.

4. The Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee - I read this book years ago, and thought the story was both heartbreaking and memorable.  I really wanted a sequel!  Twenty-four years after the first book, the author did publish a sort of quasi-sequel (a book which made reference to the earlier characters), but as far as I know, it wasn't that well received.  According to Wikipedia, there may be a third book which would return to the original characters.  We can hope.

3. Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman - A sequel to this book would probably push the age level into another bracket, so it's probably not going to happen.  Still, I would have liked to see how Birdy dealt with the aftermath of the events of the first book.

2. Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion - The sequel is coming (yay!) for those of us who couldn't get enough in the first book.  There's also a prequel novella, but I haven't been able to get access to it.

1. The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner - Yes, I know this book has a sequel.  Three, actually.  But I just couldn't get into the second book in the series.  I loved Gen in the first book, and I think part of that was the first-person narration.  The other books didn't have his witty voice.  I would've much preferred a sequel that followed the same format as the first book.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Review - Angelfall

Angelfall (Penryn & the End of Days #1)
by Susan Ee
Date: 2011
Publisher: Feral Dream
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 283
Format: e-book
Source: Amazon

It's been six weeks since angels of the apocalypse descended to demolish the modern world. Street gangs rule the day while fear and superstition rule the night. When warrior angels fly away with a helpless little girl, her seventeen-year-old sister Penryn will do anything to get her back.

Anything, including making a deal with an enemy angel.

Raffe is a warrior who lies broken and wingless on the street. After eons of fighting his own battles, he finds himself being rescued from a desperate situation by a half-starved teenage girl.

Traveling through a dark and twisted Northern California, they have only each other to rely on for survival. Together, they journey toward the angels' stronghold in San Francisco where she'll risk everything to rescue her sister and he'll put himself at the mercy of his greatest enemies for the chance to be made whole again.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Whew!  Well, that was a wild ride.  I'm actually kind of exhausted.

I'd read some mixed reviews about this one, so I wasn't sure quite what to expect.  I read the book in two sittings, which suggests that I was really into it.  Though I did have a somewhat amusing, vacillating series of reactions to the whole thing, swinging from, "Holy crap, that was stupid!" to "Must keep reading!"

The strength of Angelfall is definitely its plot.  Plenty of stuff happens, and the author manages to combine Bibilical mythology with dystopian worldbuilding and a sweet story about the power of sisterly love into a cohesive whole that keeps the pace humming along nicely.  However (and it's a pretty big "however"), the book does have its weaknesses, too... and unfortunately, those weaknesses are the characters and the writing.

I feel like we were hit over the head by an awful lot of telling.  We didn't need to be repeatedly told how unbelievably beautiful and sexy Raffe was.  (I mean, it was downright eye-roll inducing at times.)  We didn't need to be told that Penryn and Paige's mother is crazy.  We didn't need to be told that a wheelchair-bound seven-year-old girl needs rescuing from her kidnappers.  We're told so many things by Penryn, and it becomes redundant because we can already see these things by the way the characters are described and how they behave.  It brought the writing down a bit, and made it seem more juvenile than it needed to be.  I also had a problem with some of the characters.  They were not as strong as they could have been.  Penryn was kind of blank, and I still feel like I don't know what kind of person she was... even though the story was told from her first-person point of view.  Raffe was, at times, teasing and flirty, but then he'd lapse into being broody and tight-lipped, and there didn't always seem to be a reason for his mood swings.  I think the character that irked me the most, however, was Penryn and Paige's mother.  She suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, and she just didn't make a lot of sense in the context of the story.  It's hinted at early on that she may have been responsible for Paige's accident.  I spent much of the rest of the book wondering why, if this was suspected, social services didn't get involved... especially after the girls' father up and left the family!  The mother was also portrayed as not just schizophrenic, but a bona fide psychopath... and Penryn's comments about her seemed a bit disrespectful.  It's one of those portrayals that mental illness advocates are sure to hate, because it does sufferers of these types of diseases no favours and only serves to increase fear and judgment.

All that said, however, I couldn't put this book down.  Yes, I was rolling my eyes in parts... but I breathlessly read the last third of the book with my heart pounding.  Not every book elicits that sort of reaction from me.  And while I don't think it was the best thing ever written, it's one of those books that's weirdly addictive, and I'll be on the lookout for World After in November.

Plot: 4/5
Characters: 2/5
Pace: 4/5
Writing: 3/5
Editing: 3/5
Originality: 4/5
Enjoyment: 5/5

Overall: 3.57 out of 5

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Review - The Good Braider

The Good Braider
by Terry Farish
Date: 2012
Publisher: Marshall Cavendish
Reading level: YA
Book type: verse novel
Pages: 213
Format: e-book
Source: Amazon

In spare free verse laced with unforgettable images, Viola’s strikingly original voice sings out the story of her family s journey from war-torn Sudan, to Cairo, and finally to Portland, Maine. Here, in the sometimes too close embrace of the local Southern Sudanese Community, she dreams of South Sudan while she tries to navigate the strange world of America a world where a girl can wear a short skirt, get a tattoo or even date a boy; a world that puts her into sharp conflict with her traditional mother who, like Viola, is struggling to braid together the strands of a displaced life.

Terry Farish's haunting novel is not only a riveting story of escape and survival, but the universal tale of a young immigrant s struggle to build a life on the cusp of two cultures.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I felt like I needed a bit of a break from fantasy, so I chose to read The Good Braider.  It's a historical novel, written in free verse, about the immigrant experience.  I'd really enjoyed Thanhha Lai's Inside Out & Back Again, about a Vietnamese family coming to the U.S. in the 1970s... so I thought I'd enjoy this one, about a Sudanese family coming to the U.S. in the early part of this decade.  Both may be historical novels about war refugees written in free verse, but that's about where the similarities end... both in subject matter and my reaction.

I just couldn't seem to connect with Viola, the teenage narrator.  Some pretty horrific stuff happens, but instead of being disturbed by the events, I found myself taken out of the flow by having to re-read passages because the writing seemed clunky and I couldn't picture what was going on.  In the beginning, the book takes place in Juba, in the southern part of Sudan.  At times, the writing is pretty sparse, and I just couldn't get a feel for the place, which I found disappointing.  I think Viola's family lived in a house.  I know she mentioned a courtyard.  They were supposedly surrounded by war, but I never got much of a feel for that, either.  I hoped things would pick up when Viola, her mother, and younger brother headed north to Cairo to escape the soldiers, but much of the long journey was glossed over.  It's not that I wanted a day-by-day account... but something just wasn't right with the pacing.  At times, it seemed interminably slow... and then suddenly we'd be told that two years had passed.  What happened during that time?  What was going on with the characters?  The way it was written, you might be forgiven for thinking they'd spent those years in a state of suspended animation.

The story only picked up when they arrived in Portland, Maine.  And while it was interesting to see how they reacted and adapted (or didn't adapt) to their new surroundings, I felt like that part of the book was really nothing new.  What made this particular story unique was the arduous journey out of Africa.  I would have rather read more about that, rather than about Viola trying to adjust to an American teenager's life.  Or, really, I would have rather read more about that if it had elicited more of an emotional reaction from me.  As it was... I don't know.  I just wasn't feeling it.

While this book's subject matter was interesting and uncommon (at least, I haven't heard of many books about Sudanese immigrants), it lacked the emotional pull that I wanted to feel from the characters and story.  All in all, it was kind of disappointing; I had hoped it would be better.

Plot: 3/5
Characters: 4/5
Pace: 3/5
Writing: 3/5
Editing: 3/5
Originality: 4/5
Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.29 out of 5

In My Mailbox (53)


Bought from Amazon.ca:
Angelfall
by Susan Ee

It's been six weeks since angels of the apocalypse descended to demolish the modern world. Street gangs rule the day while fear and superstition rule the night. When warrior angels fly away with a helpless little girl, her seventeen-year-old sister Penryn will do anything to get her back.

Anything, including making a deal with an enemy angel.

Raffe is a warrior who lies broken and wingless on the street. After eons of fighting his own battles, he finds himself being rescued from a desperate situation by a half-starved teenage girl.

Traveling through a dark and twisted Northern California, they have only each other to rely on for survival. Together, they journey toward the angels' stronghold in San Francisco where she'll risk everything to rescue her sister and he'll put himself at the mercy of his greatest enemies for the chance to be made whole again.

The Golem and the Jinni
by Helene Wecker

Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life to by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. When her master—the husband who commissioned her—dies at sea on the voyage from Poland, she is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York harbor in 1899.

Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop. Though he is no longer imprisoned, Ahmad is not entirely free—an unbreakable band of iron around his wrist binds him to the physical world.

Overwhelmed by the incessant longing and fears of the humans around her, the cautious and tentative Chava—imbued with extraordinary physical strength—fears losing control and inflicting harm. Baptized by the tinsmith who makes him his apprentice, the handsome and capricious Ahmad—an entity of inquisitive intelligence and carefree pleasure—chafes at monotony and human dullness. Like their immigrant neighbors, the Golem and the Jinni struggle to make their way in this strange new place while masking the supernatural origins that could destroy them.

Meeting by chance, Chava and Ahmad become unlikely friends whose tenuous attachment challenges their opposing nature—until the night a terrifying incident drives them back into their separate worlds. But a powerful threat will soon bring the Golem and the Jinni together again, challenging their existence and forcing them to make a fateful choice.

The Good Braider
by Terry Farish

In spare free verse laced with unforgettable images, Viola’s strikingly original voice sings out the story of her family s journey from war-torn Sudan, to Cairo, and finally to Portland, Maine. Here, in the sometimes too close embrace of the local Southern Sudanese Community, she dreams of South Sudan while she tries to navigate the strange world of America a world where a girl can wear a short skirt, get a tattoo or even date a boy; a world that puts her into sharp conflict with her traditional mother who, like Viola, is struggling to braid together the strands of a displaced life.

Terry Farish's haunting novel is not only a riveting story of escape and survival, but the universal tale of a young immigrant s struggle to build a life on the cusp of two cultures.

A Tale Dark and Grimm
by Adam Gidwitz

In this mischievous and utterly original debut, Hansel and Gretel walk out of their own story and into eight other classic Grimm-inspired tales. As readers follow the siblings through a forest brimming with menacing foes, they learn the true story behind (and beyond) the bread crumbs, edible houses, and outwitted witches.

Fairy tales have never been more irreverent or subversive as Hansel and Gretel learn to take charge of their destinies and become the clever architects of their own happily ever after.


What was in your "mailbox" this week?


In My Mailbox was started by Kristi of The Story Siren.