Sunday, January 29, 2012

Beneath My Mother's Feet by Amjed Qamar

Title: Beneath My Mother's Feet
Author: Amjed Qamar
Publisher: Simon & Schuster/Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Release Date: June 17, 2008
Pages: 198 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: Checked it out of the school library.

Beneath My Mother's FeetBeneath My Mother's Feet

"Our lives will always be in the hands of our mothers, whether we like it or not."

Nazia doesn't mind when her friends tease and call her a good beti, a dutiful daughter. Growing up in a working-class family in Karachi, Pakistan, Nazia knows that obedience is the least she can give to her mother, who has spent years saving and preparing her dowry. But every daughter must grow up, and for fourteen-year-old Nazia that day arrives suddenly when her father gets into an accident at work, and her family finds themselves without money for rent or food.

Being the beti that she is, Nazia drops out of school to help her mother clean houses, all the while wondering when she managed to lose control of her life that had been full of friends and school. Working as a maid is a shameful obligation that could be detrimental to her future--after all, no one wants a housekeeper for a daughter-in-law. As Nazia finds herself growing up much too quickly, the lessons of hardship that seem unbearable turn out to be a lot more liberating than she ever imagined.

Review:

As the second of four children of a working-class Pakistani family and the eldest daughter, Nazia has spent most of her life being a good daughter to her mother and preparing for her impending marriage. Then her life falls apart: her father gets in an accident, her brother disappears, her dowry is stolen, and Nazia and her mother are reduced to cleaning the houses of the wealthy. Time passes and the childlike innocence Nazia once had is stripped away from her. There is no room for it when she must work morning to evening to support herself and her family. The lessons she learns about life, who she is, and who she wants to become, she finds a freedom she never thought she could have.

At the beginning of the novel, I worried this would not be a good one for me. The writing lacked the resonance and flair that most novels I like have and it moved slowly. As I pushed on and approached the end of Beneath My Mother's Feet, I gained a new appreciation for the messages it is trying to get across and for Nazia's character. I did not forget how difficult it was to keep reading because I was bored and took that into consideration while writing this review, but I'm glad I stuck with it.

The novel is mostly character-driven by Nazia and her growth as a character, from a young girl who will soon be married to her cousin Salman and believes whole-heartedly that her father is doing what is best for his family to a woman at the age of fourteen who sees the world is not so lovely and her father does not care about his family the way she believes he does. That she was forced to make this necessary transition so roughly broke my heart a little bit.

Beneath My Mother's Feet tends to portray most men in the novel badly, but I can see this is for a greater purpose: illustrating how women are forced to be heavily dependent on the men in their lives. If the men turn against them as Abbu, Bilal, and Uncle Tariq turned against Nazia and Amma, they have little chance of getting anywhere in life or living well. Women are punished (in a manner of speaking) for working to get what they want or need; it makes them less valuable as a wife. Thus the men must support them to keep them from working. What happens when the men do not do what they "should" do? They fall into situations like Nazia's or worse.

Their heavily misogynistic culture bothers me and I feel horrible for criticizing their way of life, but it is what it is and I feel the way I feel about it. Oppression in the name of religion or culture sickens me. My support of feminism is deeply ingrained in me as well and reconciling it with the book to an acceptable point so I could enjoy the novel was difficult. Every time I'd gotten there, yet another reminder of how dependent the women are or how they are punished for working to get what they need would make me start all over again. Feminism still has a long way to go around the world.

As the coming-of-age tale of a young girl and a social commentary of the difficult dependency of women on men in Pakistan, Beneath My Mother's Feet succeeds and turns out to be a fairly well-written novel and worth the time I've spent on it. I'm glad I didn't give up on it like I considered doing multiple times.

4 stars!


What am I reading next?: Delirium by Lauren Oliver


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday (17)

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases we're eagerly anticipating.
To make up for a lack of consistency, my post this week is a double feature! Two books I'm looking forward to and was lucky enough to get ARCs of today. The first is the sequel to a book I won early last year and enjoyed with reservations. I see potential with Zora's storyline and want to see where she can go. (Plus, have you seen that cover? I love bright, simple covers. Absolutely beautiful.)
The Springsweet (The Vespertine, #2)The Springsweet
by Saundra Mitchell
April 17, 2012
288 pages (hardcover)

It’s a long way from Baltimore to Oklahoma Territory. But Zora Stewart will go any distance to put the tragic events of her sixteenth summer behind her. So this city girl heads to the tiny frontier town of West Glory to help her young widowed aunt keep her homestead going.

When another Baltimorean shows up in West Glory, Zora couldn’t be more surprised. Theo de la Croix made the long trip out west hoping to court Zora, whom he has long admired from afar.
But Zora has developed an attraction to a rather less respectable fellow: Emerson Birch, a rough-mannered young "sooner" whose fertile land is coveted.

As Zora begins to suspect that there may be more than luck behind Emerson’s good land, she discovers an extraordinary, astonishing power of her own: the ability to sense water under the parched earth. When her aunt hires her out as a "springsweet" to advise other settlers where to dig their wells, Zora feels the burden of holding the key to something so essential to survival in this unforgiving land.

Even more, she finds herself longing for love the way the prairie thirsts for water. Maybe, in the wildness of the territories, Zora can finally move beyond simply surviving and start living.


***


This second book was one that didn't hop onto my radar until very recently, but it sounds like the makings of a fun story. Yet another instance of cover love; something about the way this girl is posed with her scythe incites another round of cover love. Here's hoping Croak lives up to m expectations or exceeds them beyond my wildest imagination.

Croak (Croak, #1)Croak
by Gina Damico
March 20, 2012
320 pages (hardcover)

Sixteen-year-old Lex Bartleby has sucker-punched her last classmate. Fed up with her punkish, wild behavior, her parents ship her off to upstate New York to live with her Uncle Mort for the summer, hoping that a few months of dirty farm work will whip her back into shape. But Uncle Mort’s true occupation is much dirtier than that of shoveling manure. 

He’s a Grim Reaper. And he’s going to teach her the family business.

Lex quickly assimilates into the peculiar world of Croak, a town populated entirely by reapers who deliver souls from this life to the next. Along with her infuriating yet intriguing partner Driggs and a rockstar crew of fellow Grim apprentices, Lex is soon zapping her Targets like a natural born Killer.

Yet her innate ability morphs into an unchecked desire for justice—or is it vengeance?—whenever she’s forced to Kill a murder victim, craving to stop the attackers before they can strike again. So when people start to die—that is, people who aren’t supposed to be dying, people who have committed grievous crimes against the innocent—Lex’s curiosity is piqued. Her obsession grows as the bodies pile up, and a troubling question begins to swirl through her mind: if she succeeds in tracking down the murderer, will she stop the carnage—or will she ditch Croak and join in?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Shadows on the Moon by Zoe Marriott

Title: Shadows on the Moon
Author: Zoe Marriott
Publisher: Walker Books Ltd (paperback)/Candlewick Press (hardocover)
Release Date: July 7, 2011 (paperback)/April 25, 2012 (hardcover)
Pages: 464 pages (paperback/hardcover)
How I Got the Book: provided by the publisher Candlewick Press through NetGalley

Shadows On The Moon   Shadows On The Moon

A powerful tale of magic, love, and revenge set in fairy-tale Japan.

Trained in the magical art of shadow-weaving, sixteen-year-old Suzume is able to re-create herself in any form - a fabulous gift for a girl desperate to escape her past. But who is she really? Is she a girl of noble birth living under the tyranny of her mother's new husband, Lord Terayama? Or a lowly drudge scraping a living in the ashes of Terayama's kitchens? Or is she Yue, the most beautiful courtesan in the Moonlit Lands? Whatever her true identity, Suzume is destined to use her skills to steal the heart of a prince in a revenge plot to destroy Terayama. And nothing will stop her, not even the one true aspect of her life- her love for a fellow shadow-weaver.

Review:

At just fourteen years old, Suzume witnessed the slaughter of her father and cousin by the hands of soldiers and was saved only because of the shadow-weaving man that hid her and later taught her how to use her own shadow-weaving power. Upon discovering the conspiracy around her family's deaths and how it involves her mother and stepfather, Suzume flees and adopts a life of deceptions. Her ultimate goal: become the Shadow Bride of the young Moon Prince and use that power to avenge her family. All that stands in the way is her heart--specifically, her love for another man.


Seeing the deaths of two family members and then being betrayed and abandoned by the only person she has left has taken its toll on Suzume. She's an angry girl on a self-destructive path for vengeance who still feels the pain of her loss every single day. Her complexities are spot-on and her all-consuming grief feels real no matter how deeply in fantasy her story is entrenched. Shadows on the Moon evoked genuine emotional reactions and mental reactions from me. Poor Suzume! I thought at points. How could her mother treat her like that? Run, Suzume, run! No wait, stop running and face it! (I have a rich inner life, especially while reading.)


The book is set in the fictional Moonlit Land, but the incredible amount of research on Japanese and Chinese culture, clothing, and values that went into the novel did not go unnoticed. The hours and hours of research that went into it are difficult to imagine, but it was not for nothing. It warms my heart to see such effort put into a novel.


The way shadow-weavers could find one another when they need reeked a little too strongly of deus ex machina, just a good excuse for someone to come along and help/save Suzume when she needed it. Her love for Otieno is incredibly important to the story because of how it affects Suzume and makes her question her goals. As such, it is vital to make the love between them believable, but I could not feel the connection or understand what she saw in him. I largely enjoyed the story, but these small flaws in this jewel of a novel were too conspicuous to ignore.


Fairy tale retellings are popular enough on their own, but Cinderella retellings in particular seem to be a dime a dozen. Shadows on the Moon, a darker Asian-inspired twist on the tale, stands out among the competition and likely touches more deeply on the grief of losing one's family and being betrayed by the only person left, the one who should be taking care of you and instead mistreats you. Fans of the recent release Cinder by Marissa Meyer will likely enjoy this novel too.

4 stars!




What am I reading next?: The Springsweet by Saundra Mitchell

Monday, January 23, 2012

All You Get is Me by Yvonne Prinz

Title: All You Get is Me
Author: Yvonne Prinz
Publisher: HarperCollins/HarperTeen
Release Date: December 21, 2010
Pages: 279 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: Christmas gift.

All You Get Is MeA summer of love, loss, and justice.

Things were complicated enough for Roar, even before her father decided to yank her out of the city and go organic. Suddenly, she's a farm girl, albeit a reluctant one, selling figs at the farmers' market and developing her photographs in a ramshackle shed. Caught between a troublemaking sidekick named Storm, a brooding, easy-on-the-eyes L.A. boy, and a father on a human rights crusade that challenges the fabric of the farm community, Roar is going to have to tackle it all--even with dirt under her fingernails and her hair pulled back with a rubber band meant for asparagus.

Review:

Two major events in Aurora "Roar" Audley's life happened when she was thirteen: her mother left and her father moved what was left of their family to a small farm in the country. It's been two years since then and she misses city life, along with her mother, but she's got a great best friend and less than two months to wait before she can get her driver's license. Then a car crash that takes the life of a woman changes Roar's family and two others forever. As Roar develops feelings for the son of the woman that caused the crash, a lawsuit looms that many hope won't make it through the system. Even if making sure that happens means making threats.

Look at that lovely cover. Read the description again. This seems like a light, fluffy romp in the farmland sun from first appearances, huh?


Wrong. In the first chapter, Roar witnesses a car crash that kills a woman, puts another woman in the hospital, and leaves a baby girl (who was also in the car with her mother) without one of her parents. The ensuing story is a tale of Roar's broken family, what the car crash has done to the families involved, and the hardships migrant workers from Mexico face when coming to the US for work.

Roar's name made me do a double-take the first time I saw it, but now that I know what it's a nickname for, I like it. I'd never thought of that as a nickname for Aurora. Her personality was vibrant and her interest in photography (which I know is not that easy, especially when it comes time to develop photographs) was fun to read about. It got on my nerves that she immediately decides to lie in certain situations instead of giving the truth one good try, but she's fifteen, after all. I did stupid things like that at fifteen. Heck, I did much stupider things at thirteen.

Maybe it helps that I read To Kill a Mockingbird recently, but I loved the slight parallels to it. All You Get is Me is nowhere near as good as To Kill a Mockingbird and there are many differences between them (like how AYGiM's core lawsuit is about a Mexican farm worker filing a civil suit in the death of his wife and TKaM's is about the alleged rape of a young white woman by a black man), but I enjoyed both books. You don't see a YA book every day that tackles the treatment of migrant workers and portrays them as the human beings they are.

I'm glad Roar and Forest (great symbolism in the name and his role in the story, by the way) didn't have the kind of relationship where they angsted about not being able to be together. Angst-free relationships are wonderful. Still, removing all conflict where there should be at least some conflict because of her dad working to get a lawsuit against his mother going made their developing love and characters feel unrealistic. By the end of the book, I still wasn't convinced they were as in love as they claimed to be.

My number-one issue with this book was Storm, Roar's best friend. Sixteen-year-old Storm (real name Hilary) likes to keep her parents on their toes, so says the book, by cutting herself and forcing herself to vomit where they can hear it. Her hobbies include stealing her mother's car, stealing from the family jewels, being obsessed with her best friend's virginity because it is apparently a sin to still be a virgin at Roar's age, and drinking boatloads of alcohol. Why does she do any of this? Well, her parents will blame themselves instead of her. If she can get away with it, why not do it? As far as I'm aware, she never regrets treating her parents the way she does.

Am I supposed to find her funny and cool and quirky? I think she's a waste of fictional space. Her cutting and rebellious behavior surely point to a bottomless pit of issues, but no attempts are ever made to cover them or even acknowledge that they might exist. It's treated with an "oh, Storm" sort of attitude, as if treating her parents horrible is just how she rolls, and Roar's lack of concern over her friend's obvious cries for help reflect badly on her too. Just because they won't blame her or get her in trouble for it doesn't mean she should do it. Storm is an overgrown child that needs a good wake-up slap.

So All You Get is Me wasn't anything like I expected it to be, but I still had a good time reading it (other than a character who does not deserve to exist because better characters could use that page time). Recommended? Only if you can handle Storm.

3 stars!


What am I reading next?: Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Raie'Chaelia by Melissa Douthit

Title: The Raie'Chaelia
Author: Melissa Douthit
Publisher: Lucky Bat Books
Release Date: May 27, 2011
Pages: 365 pages (Amazon estimate)
How I Got the Book: Downloaded it for free from Amazon

The Raie'ChaeliaWhen Chalice sets off for Branbury in the middle of the night with her grandfather's instructions, she has no idea of the dangers that await her. The King's men have destroyed her home village of Canton and she is suddenly thrown into a Terravailian world that she does not know. Lost and alone, she is hard pressed to evade the iron grasp of the madman who rules the land. With the help of a friendly Chinuk, an old man, and a book that she discovers along the way, not only does she find true friends and true love, but she also finds her true self and what it means to be the Raie'Chaelia.

Review:

I normally start my reviews with a summary of the novel in my own words, but I remember so little of what this novel was about that I can't come up with my own summary. I finished reading it just ten minutes ago from the time I write this opening paragraph, mind you. I'll just jump right in to the critical portion of this review.

Chalice is yet another one of those beautiful, perfect(ly boring) heroines everyone in the story loves. She never has to put in any effort for a situation to work out in her favor, everything comes to her naturally, and she is void of all personality or interesting traits. Where is the struggle? I like to read about heroines who have to work hard to get what they want and have to overcome strong personal conflicts. I don't see why I am supposed to care about her and cheer her on when she is basically a void personified and I know it's all going to work for her out in the end. The supporting cast was nothing but cardboard stock characters.

I skimmed large portions of the novel because of the endless minutiae of everything that doesn't need description. A kitchen and its contents took up an entire page of description and I said I would eat my ring if anything in there came back to be important and my ring remains uneaten. The effect the overdescription has on the book is equivalent to strapping pairs of 500 lb. weights to a baby squirrel. Dropping unneeded commas in the middle of sentences bogged it down further.

To get more specific about the writing quality, calling it a nightmare would be an insult to the truly terrifying nightmares I've had. I have so many highlights on my Kindle of examples of this that looking at it scares me. Usually when centered on Chalice, the prose became so purple that I feared it was in danger of being eliminated from the color spectrum (but according to who you ask, purple is but a pigment of our imaginations in the first place). Multiple sentences end in multiple punctuation marks (??? and !! and ??) and that is best left to the Internet, not a published book.

Here are a few prime quotes:
Passing the hearth, she noticed two doorways, one on each side of the sitting room, and a double doorway in front of her, consisting of crystal squares framed in carved cedar, that revealed a terrace behind it, overlooking the ocean. (The Raie'Chaelia, 4%) (As Reasoning with Vampires taught me, sentences are not minivans.)
"What is it, boy?" she said as she jumped to her feet, spilling her tea, which had lost its heat, and stroked his blond neck to calm him. (5%)
Really, she had known since Branbury. She had to choose. It was a choice between the love of her life and her duty to the people. How heartbreaking life could be! It was almost a cruel joke. She stared at the floor in deep thought. (45%)
She looked down and saw that her cut was angry, red, and full of puss and was still bleeding profusely. (72%) (Ah, what a difference a single letter can make. Puss is either a cat or a girl/woman and I don't think either of those are in her cut. Pus, however, might be.)
"The firestone," Vlaad said darkly, as he looked into the Fierain's eyes and saw a red glint flare up in the burning inferno of insanity that flourished within. (98%)
The point of view tended to jump from Chalice to someone else in the middle of a paragraph for as little as two sentences, but it was usually for a paragraph or two. I like narrative consistency and smooth changes in narrative if it must move to someone else. This novel had neither. The changes in narrative were never of importance either; almost every time, their only purpose was to talk about Chalice and how wonderful she was.

And oh, how predictable the novel was! I don't read fantasy very often (in three years, I've read about three hundred books and maybe seven were high fantasy), but I'm familiar with the cliche tropes. This book has them all in spades. Each twist was called a good while ahead of time and the narrative would often take a time-out to say something like "but they had no idea that someone was watching them and saw it all!" And a woman named Jezebelle being evil? No! That specific choice was sheer laziness.

Dialogue tags are often found with adverbs attached. Personally, I loathe relying too much on adverbs in fiction; using too many shows an inability to master tone and lends to the problem of telling instead of showing. The Raie'Chaelia suffers from an abundance of adverbs and interrobangs both normal (?!) and mutilated (?!?), which contributes to the problem that the novel is told every step of the way instead of shown. Tone is about describing the right subjects the right way, not describing every last piece of a scene and throwing around adverbs like water balloons at a summer camp.

How bad was it? A few more quotes for you:

"Really?!?" said Jeremiah wryly. "What gave you that impression?" (8%)
"Uh ... yeah ... right. Whatever you say, Jeremiah. I'll take your word for it. Fascinating stuff," she said sarcastically. (11%)
"Yeah, thanks!" she replied gratefully. (13%)
"You're not telling me. Alright, well, whatever. Good night," she replied sassily. (22%)
"Hmmm, I have a feeling he knows where you are," Naelli responded knowingly. (28%)
Taking Chalice' [sic] face in her hands, Kirna said strongly: "You brave woman!" (46%) (The typo of "Chalice's" appears more often than it is spelled correctly.)
Can you not get the impression of how the words are said by what is said? Apparently, we are not smart enough to figure it out that way and must be told.

There are two ways the plot of The Raie'Chaelia gets moved: by infodump or by contrivance, and the former is more heavily relied on than the latter. I mentioned earlier I was already skimming large pieces of the book, but I began to skim even more quickly once pages upon pages were spent infodumping. When moved by contrivance, someone burst in with exactly what they needed so Chalice and her love interest Jeremiah would have to actually work for the knowledge or a plot point jumped on top of them. Then it devolved back into infodumps so long I forgot what was going on before.

The Raie'Chaelia seems to have an identity crisis. Its setting is easily defined as high fantasy with just a hint of its sibling subgenre sword and sorcery. Through various infodumps, it is made known the book is also post-apocalyptic, but all this detail seems to do is create an excuse for the underground cities to exist. The merging of two subgenres so distant from one another seems like a great idea and I liked it when it was first introduced, but it was done so badly that it would have been better if it weren't done at all.

At the beginning of the novel was a preface that came off as more than a little condescending to me. Why I didn't turn tail and run away from this book after that point is a mystery to me. More helpful would have been a pronunciation guide so I could figure out how to pronounce Naeo'Gaea, Dar'Maalda, Naie'Ielian, and Bunejab. I could not recommend this book to anyone and have a clear conscience about it.

1 star!


What am I reading next?: Shadows on the Moon by Zoe Marriott

Friday, January 20, 2012

Stolen by Lucy Christopher

Title: Stolen
Author: Lucy Christopher
Publisher: Scholastic/Chicken House
Release Date: May 1, 2010
Pages: 299 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: Christmas gift.

StolenYou saw me before I saw you.

A girl: Gemma, at the airport, on her way to a family vacation.

You had that look in your eyes.

A guy: Ty, ruggd, tan, too old, oddly familiar, eyes blue as ice.

Like you wanted me.

She steps away. For just a second. He pays for her drink. And drugs it.

Wanted me for a long time.

He takes her, before she even knows what's happening. To sand and head. To emptiness and isolation. to nowhere. And expects her to love him.

Written as a letter from a victim to her captor, this is Gemma's desperate story of survival. Ty has stolen her body. Against every instinct screaming inside her, will he also steal Gemma's heart?

Review:

Gemma, a sixteen-year-old British girl going on vacation with her family, did not expect the kind blue-eyed man who paid for her coffee to drug it and kidnap her. Trapped in the Australian desert with Ty, a damaged man desperate to connect with the girl he has been watching for about six years, Gemma has no way out and spends each day terrified that one of Ty's mood swings will be so severe that he will kill her. He never does, though. He speaks to her and shows her his world, slowly making her care for him and see beyond his crime to the damaged man behind it. Her desire to go home never fades, but will she get back or will she be there with Ty for the rest of her life?

I'm wondering if recent events have biased my experience with this novel and made me love it more than I would if everything were normal. For an assignment at school, I wrote a letter to a man that victimized me when I was younger about what happened. The differences between Gemma's situation and mine are vast in ways I do not feel comfortable detailing here, but the slightest similarity there forged a connection between us. We are just two girls taking pen to paper in an attempt to move on from traumatic incidents any way we can.

Ty. Oh, Ty. Just as much as this is a story about Gemma surviving, this is a story about one act of Ty's that he sees as heroism and that the rest of the world sees as the crime it truly is. He is a criminal; what he did to Gemma was wrong and I will not forget nor forgive it. Gemma's Stockholm-biased narration blurs the line and to some, he will be someone worthy of sympathy. For others, he will be a monster. For others still, he will fall somewhere in between. There is no correct answer because it will all depend on who is reading the book and experiencing him.

"I can't save you like that," Gemma writes to him at the end of the novel. Ty is a damaged man worthy of just a little bit of sympathy. He never really had a chance from the beginning, but the life he led does not excuse what he did to her or make it any better. I never forgot that and I don't think I was ever expected to. For all the shades of grey he is, he has done wrong and the only one who can save him is himself. The deep connection he sought with Gemma would never have been able to save him like he wanted it to. I wish he could have gotten a better lot in life and grown up to become someone other than who he is here.

With Stolen, it's easy to figure out whether or not you'll like the book early on. I found Gemma's voice magnetic, leading me to finish the book in two days, and that was what pulled me along when the book got slow. Anyone who is put off by her voice or the letter format or is unable to get pulled in properly will most likely not enjoy the book. To be honest, the book doesn't have much of a plot. The driving force is Gemma's narration. If that doesn't cut it for the reader, they're sunk.

In the end, Gemma is all tangled up about how she feels and trying to cope while also trying to cling to it and I'm not sure whether or not she can be considered reliable anymore, but I love it. After such a traumatic event and a lengthy period of isolation from the world with only her kidnapper for company (and a kidnapper who shared his story with her, natch), she isn't going to go back to normal with a snap of the fingers. It will never be that easy. I have no doubt she was suffering from Stockholm syndrome, but love doesn't quite describe the connection the two had. A deep understanding, maybe. Ty got the connection he wanted with her after all.

It may only be the beginning of the year, but I have a feeling this will be one of my favorite novels of 2012. I had to suspend some disbelief beyond the usual amount over the fact that he was able to get her past all the airport security so easily, but it was worth overlooking so I could experience this fantastic novel.

5 stars!


What am I reading next?: The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Hallowed by Cynthia Hand

Title: Hallowed
Author: Cynthia Hand
Publisher: HarperCollins/HarperTeen
Release Date: January 17, 2012
Pages: 403 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: Bought it.

For months Clara Gardner trained to face the fire from her visions, but she wasn't prepared for the choice she had to make that day. And in the aftermath, she discovered that nothing about being part angel is as straightforward as she thought.

Now, torn between her love for Tucker and her complicated feelings about the roles she and Christian seem destined to play in a world that is both dangerous and beautiful, Clara struggles with a shocking revelation: Someone she loves will due in a matter of months. With her future uncertain, the only thing Clara knows for sure is that the fire was just the beginning.

In this compelling sequel to Unearthly, Cynthia Hand captures the joy of first love, the anguish of loss, and the confusion of becoming who you are.

Review:

The fire happened, but Clara's defiance may have changed what was supposed to be. Now aware of Christian's secret and feeling more drawn to him as the complicated roles they are supposed to play in each other's lives become more untangled, Clara is struggling to deal with that and keep her relationship with Tucker strong. The choice between free will and duty is never easy. Meanwhile, both her mother and her brother begin to act strangely and a new vision unfolds in Clara's dreams. If what she is seeing is true, someone she loves will be dead by spring.

Wow. I... I've been staring at my keyboard for some time trying to come up with words for this book, but I'm not sure what I'm supposed to say. It's been a while now since I finished Hallowed and I've been digesting its content, but putting together words to match the very emotional response I had to the novel is so difficult. Whoever says detailing an emotional response to a book makes a review invalid can shove it. The emotional response it elicits from readers is the true testament to a book's worth.

I found Unearthly to be a nice little book, fun but not overly involving, but Hallowed kicks it up many notches. The middle books of trilogies are often dull and feel like set-up for the last book, but not this middle book. It's been so long since I read such an emotionally intense book that had me laughing my head off on one page, crying like a newborn infant the next, and sobbing like someone close to me had suddenly died when I turned the last page. I can't tell you how long I sat there sobbing so hard I could hardly breathe. When I took breaks from reading, the whiplash of going from an intense book to a placid academic book was almost painful.

I was so frustrated with the characters. Frustrated at Jeffery for not talking to his family, which could have solved a lot of problems. Frustrated at Tucker's jealous streak. Frustrated at how Christian says he isn't pressuring Clara when he is with all his talk of how important they are to each other. Frustrated that Clara feels like she needs to constantly prove to Tucker she loves him when his jealous streak emerges. Frustrated at Clara's mother for keeping so many secrets. For those frustrations, I love all the characters even more (except maybe Tucker and Christian) because those little things they do that I find so frustrating make them human. Their nuanced characterization is a great improvement from the first book and much deeper than I am used to.

Clara has become one of my favorite YA heroines for her accurate voice, likable personality, and how she rings so true as a teenager. Some characters read like caricatures of teenagers or adults in a fifteen-year-old girl's body, but not Clara. She, with all her flaws and strengths and humor, is someone I could see walking down the halls of a high school, being the girl that is always walking hand-in-hand with her boyfriend in the hallway, and experiencing the true searing pain of being torn between two people. We need more heroines like her that feel real like us instead of reading as just a fictional character.

It's never been a secret that I despise love triangles. There were times in the novel where I wanted Clara to just do something about it already, but this novel handles the triangle with the depth it needs to work without being annoying, along with eliminating the limited black-and-white mentality from the equation. Between Tucker, the boy she truly loves but can't share all of herself with, and Christian, who she is apparently supposed to be with because he's just like her and involved with her purpose, there is no room for looking at this in black and white. The heart is too complicated for the way it works to be examined in such a way, and the novel taking this into consideration and making both of the love interests likable is how Hallowed succeeds where so many YA PNR novels fail.

If the novel had such a profound effect on me, why four stars instead of five? The story was so focused on Clara and her guy drama that it feels like other stories equally as interesting as Clara's were neglected. The story of her mom and Samjeeza, for instance. Jeffery's story. Angela's story. Maybe these will be expanded upon in the final book, in a novella, in short stories, or whatever, but I wanted to go back to those paths and follow them for a little while, not be forced to shuffle along on my current path.

Many of my friends read Hallowed months ago when an ARC of it was made available on NetGalley, though my own requests for the novel were denied by the publisher over a dozen times. While I enviously watched and avoided every spoiler as if it were toxic (but one still made it into my feed due to forces not in my control--thanks, Cillian), I wondered what they could be taking about when they raved about it. I was familiar with their love for all things Unearthly; their hype and my personal reading project was what got me to read it in the first place. Now that I have read the sequel, a novel they showered praise upon more heavily than they did for the first book, I can see why they felt the way they did. I feel it. Oh, do I feel it.

Unearthly was a fun little romp in YA PNR that I enjoyed specifically because it did not make me want to blow a gasket. With Hallowed, Hand ups the stakes and turned my fluffy enjoyment of the first novel into a full-blown emotional investment in the series. I'll be back for book three.

4 stars!


What am I reading next?: Shadows on the Moon by Zoe Marriott

Steel by Carrie Vaughn

Title: Steel
Author: Carrie Vaughn
Publisher: HarperCollins/HarperTeen
Release Date: March 1, 2011
Pages: 287 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: Christmas gift.

SteelIt was a slender length of rusted steel, tapered to a point at one end and jagged at the other, as if it had broken. A thousand people would step over it and think it trash, but not her.

This was the tip of a rapier.


Sixteen-year-old Jill has fought in dozens of fencing tournaments, but she has never held a sharpened blade. When she finds a corroded sword piece on a Caribbean beach, she is instantly intrigued and pockets it as her own personal treasure.

The broken tip holds secrets, though, and it transports Jill through time to the deck of a pirate ship. Stranded in the past and surrounded by strangers, she is forced to sign on as crew. But a pirate’s life is bloody and brief, and as Jill learns about the dark magic that brought her there, she forms a desperate scheme to get home—one that risks everything in a duel to the death with a villainous pirate captain.

Time travel, swordplay, and romance combine in an original high-seas adventure from New York Times bestseller Carrie Vaughn.

Review:

After a loss at a tournament by just half a second, Jill feels blue and unsure of where she is going to go from there. Will she go back to fencing? Will she find something else to do? Her family goes on a vacation in the Bahamas, but Jill is unable to stop thinking about that half a second. Then she falls overboard during a boat tour and the strange rapier tip she picked up earlier in the trip takes her back in time to a time when pirates openly rode the Caribbean seas. In hopes of finding a way to get back home, Jill joins the crew of the Diana and serves under its captain, Marjory Cooper.

Jill was an entitled brat, plain and simple. This grated on me at first, but thank goodness for the character development that came along. She learned soon enough that she had it good back home after she spent weeks upon weeks scrubbing deck and risking her life every day. She was probably the only character that had any development. Everyone else was just a minor player on Jill’s stage, just important enough to get a name and a few traits but not important enough to get their own character arc. This was Jill’s story and her story alone.

Steel’s first half was a trudge through the minutiae of pirate life, of scrubbing the deck and cleaning rot off the ship and all the boring little details that, while establishing that pirate life is not all glamour and glitz and “arrgh!” and such, is difficult to get through. The most exciting event of the first half is an anticlimactic capture of a slave ship. Despite this, the story felt… sanitized, almost. Cleaned up so we wouldn’t see the reality beneath the reality we were shown.

The second half was a marked improvement, but it is unfair to make readers force themselves through a terrible first half to get to a worthwhile second half. The duel between Captain Blane and Jill were thrilling and the understandable reason Captain Cooper was so hellbent on finding him came to light. Even then, the twist to bring in black magic and even her pursuit of him felt like it was yanked right out of the movies despite a statement in the author’s note that the pirates were not like movie pirates.

At the very end of the book—on the penultimate page, in fact—this quote came up:
“Some of [the group of girls aged ten to twelve] looked like they didn’t believe her. Didn’t believe that there were such a thing as pirate queens at all, or that women dressed up as men and joined armies, or did anything big and amazing and adventurous (Steel, p. 286).”
For one thing, the quote came out of nowhere. Right before it, Jill pulled out her sword and let the girls look at it and then it jumped into this quote. It is as out of place in the book as the infamously offensive “feminist philosophy” quote in Alexandra Adornetto’s Halo. Before that point, there was nothing indicating such thoughts, not even any thoughts from Jill on the differences between women of the pirates’ time and women of her own time.

I thought on this unusual quote until my head hurt and I became depressed because the quote is right. Why are girls not taught thoroughly about extraordinary women from an early age? I can remember being taught about Betsy Ross and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, but I remember few others and even what I did learn what little. What about women like Dr. Mary Edwards Walker? She was the first female surgeon in the US Army and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor during the Civil War for her contributions to the war effort. It was revoked from her in 1917 because the standards for the Medal of Honor were revised in a way that excluded her, but she kept it and wore it every day until her death in 1919. She remains the only woman ever to be awarded the Medal of Honor.

One can say it is because women have not done much that is extraordinary and I can say they are wrong. There are countless women like Dr. Walker who did great things, but I hardly remember learning about any of them. I only know of Dr. Walker because of a quick mention of her in what I believe was a Bathroom Reader book. No wonder the girls didn’t believe Jill if we don’t teach them about the amazing things women have done. And if we aren't teaching them they can be extraordinary too, what are we teaching them? That they're supposed to be docile and they shouldn't aspire to be great and it's their fault is someone does something inappropriate to them because they bared too much skin?

I did get away from my point there, didn't I? That entire rant there is nothing against the book. That single out-of-place quote just happened to bring some issues I've been stewing over for a while to a head.

In summary, Steel is not that bad of a book, especially if one is looking for YA novels that have hardly any romance in them. It just isn’t good enough.

2 stars!


What am I reading next?: The Raie'Chaelia by Melissa Douthit

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Everneath by Brodi Ashton

Title: Everneath
Author: Brodi Ashton
Publisher: HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray
Release Date: January 24, 2012
Pages: 370 pages (hardback)
How I Got the Book: Amazon Vine-provided ARC

Everneath (Everneath, #1)Last spring, Nikki Beckett vanished, sucked into an underworld known as the Everneath, where immortals Feed on the emotions of despairing humans. Now she's returned- to her old life, her family, her friends- before being banished back to the underworld... this time forever.

She has six months before the Everneath comes to claim her, six months for good-byes she can't find the words for, six months to find redemption, if it exists.

Nikki longs to spend these months reconnecting with her boyfriend, Jack, the one person she loves more than anything. But there's a problem: Cole, the smoldering immortal who first enticed her to the Everneath, has followed Nikki to the mortal world. And he'll do whatever it takes to bring her back- this time as his queen.

As Nikki's time grows short and her relationships begin slipping from her grasp, she's forced to make the hardest decision of her life: find a way to cheat fate and remain on the Surface with Jack or return to the Everneath and become Cole's...

Review:

I had such a hard time getting this book. For one reason or another, the publisher kept denying me for a copy on NetGalley. I kept sending requests, but I basically gave up on getting an early copy and was fine with waiting until the publication date like everyone else. Then the Vine newsletter arrived in my inbox and luckily, this was one of the books being offered! Now that I've finished the book, I honestly can't fathom why someone didn't want me to read it. I absolutely loved it!

Greek mythology is one of the minor YA fads lately, from the many retakes on the myths of Hades and Persephone to the Furies and beyond. One issue I've had with some of them is that they stray so far from the tale or twist it so badly that they lose meaning as retellings or just aren't good as either a retelling or its own book. Everneath breaks this streak like a hammer breaks a pane of glass. It both remains loyal to its roots and takes creative license to twist the Hades/Persephone and Orpheus/Eurydice myths (among others) into a well-researched, enjoyable, and fresh tale.

Nikki is a likable heroine, and her struggle to make the right choices when she isn't sure what to do resonated with me. It helps that I'm in the middle of writing a similar character All of the characters--Nikki's dad, her boyfriend Jack, and more--felt genuine and were jut as interesting to read about. The antagonist Cole, the metaphorical drug to Nikki's addict, is the usual bad boy, but it's made clear that someone going with the bad boy and letting him ruin them is a very bad idea, something most novels in recent memory ignore. The typical tropes found in YA characters and YA novels in general are twisted around and seen through to the end, and I loved every bit of it.

The novel was difficult to put down and I devoured it in two days flat. If it hadn't been for a few real-life matters that got in the way, I would have read it in one. Two scenes in particular made me tear up. Wow, if only I could write such a powerful scene or overall story that it made people cry. The places I would go... Despite the lack of big action scenes (a nice change), the conflicts of all the characters struggling to put themselves back together and a curiosity to find out what led to Nikki becoming a Forfeit keep the story moving steadily.

My one problem with the novel has to do with some of the logic. Nikki's dad is the mayor of Park City and it is demonstrated in the novel that he cares about his political image, and how he runs his family makes up part of that image. He is surprisingly loose when she comes back despite what her disappearance likely did to his image, but then he loses his temper a little with her when she's the center of an incriminating photo because of what it means for his image. What's with the image concerns in one situation but not the other?

One of my initial worries before reading Everneath and my friends' reviews of it was that there was going to be yet another love triangle, but there isn't. Well, there kind of is, but it's more complicated than that--the good kind of complicated. The book was good enough and the cliffhanger ending grabbing enough to keep me on board for the second book, but the ending renews my fears the Cole-Nikki-Jack situation could develop into exactly the kind of love triangle I hate. For now, I'll give it the benefit of the doubt. Ashton pleasantly surprised me one, so who is to say she can't do it again?

(...Does my desire to scream like a fangirl and run around in circles doing said fangirl scream show in my review? No? Good. No one must know. Looking proper and calm when I want to jump around like I'm on a sugar high makes me feel cool.)

4 stars!


What am I reading next?: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Enthralled: Paranormal Diversions by Kelley Armstrong and Melissa Marr

Title: Enthralled: Paranormal Diversions
Authors: Kelley Armstrong and Melissa Marr (editors)
Publisher: HarperCollins/HarperTeen
Release Date: September 20, 2011
Pages: 443 pages (paperback)
How I Got the Book: Bought it.

Enthralled: Paranormal DiversionsA journey may take hundreds of miles, or it may cover the distance between duty and desire.

Sixteen of today's hottest writers of paranormal tales weave stories on a common theme of journeying. Authors such as Kelley Armstrong, Rachel Caine, and Melissa Marr return to the beloved worlds of their bestselling series, while others, like Claudia Gray, Kami Garcia, and Margaret Stohl, create new landscapes and characters. But whether they're writing about vampires, faeries, angels, or other magical beings, each author explores the strength and resilience of the human heart.

Suspenseful, funny, or romantic, the stories in Enthralled will leave you moved.

Review:

Sixteen short stories by some of the most popular YA authors of now full of paranormal goodness, romance, and journeys. It sounds like a good recipe, huh? Not so much. I expected this to be a very good anthology, but it's a middling anthology with only a few good stories, and even those aren't good enough to make me want to keep this book.

The best of the stories for me was Sarah Rees Brennan's "Let's Get This Undead Show on the Road" for its funny set-up of a boy band with a vampire playing bass, great characters (can someone tell me where Faye got her stake-heeled shoes? I want them), and the growth in the characters as they grow closer. There are a few other good ones, like Rachel Caine's "Automatic," Mary E. Pearson's "Gargouille," and "Niederwald by Rachel Vincent, but this anthology is sorely lacking in memorable short stories.

I don't think I will ever be reading Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl because of my dislike of both of their stories. "Red Run" was riddled with plot holes. If eight people died on a road within twenty years, the police would search it regardless of any ghost stories and find the man living there, but that is apparently inapplicable because it's Earth logic. I can't begin to understand what "IV League" was about because it made no sense to me. All I can gather is that it's about vampires. Ally Condie's "Leaving" strikes me as similar to her novel Matched in how dull it is and how heavily it relies on Random Capitalization to attempt to create Tension (which it fails to do).

Three of the authors wrote interesting enough stories that I'm curious about their other works: Jessica Verday, Jackson Pearce (only about her novel As You Wish; I'll stay away from her fairy tale retellings), and Rachel Vincent. Pearce's story in particular sticks with me because it quickly but surprisingly deeply shows the aftermath of the choices made in As You Wish. Verday wrote a funny story with a heroine who was tolerable up until about halfway through. She sees a boy strapped to a table with a fresh cut on his cheat and her immediate action is to just ogle to shirtless cutie? Hello! What about helping him?

Normally, I would keep on babbling because I'm a babbling kind of girl, but I managed to come up with one sentence to describe how I felt about each of these stories. What I did up above? This wouldn't have been a helpful review if I didn't go into some detail about the stories, so I chose a few good ones and a few bad ones to get provide a deeper look into. With ratings out of five and a one-sentence summary, here they are in order of appearance:

"Giovanni's Farewell" by Claudia Gray- An irritating heroine hampered this story of a set of twins with special powers and a ghost in Rome who wants to move on. 3/5.

"Scenic Route" by Carrie Ryan- Two sisters trying to survive after the world has gone to hell in a handbasket have to make some hard choices and made me wish I could hug them. 4/5.

"Red Run" by Kami Garcia- Edie's attitude as she tries to kill the ghost that killed her brother was the only redeeming quality here; the story itself is riddled with holes and poorly constructed. 2/5.

"Things About Love" by Jackson Pearce- One of the more unique stories, this tale of a jinn curious about love and the human she has to watch makes me want to read its related novel As You Wish to see how it holds up, but the constant POV switches are irritating. 4/5.

"Niederwald" by Rachel Vincent- Vincent's short story about mara Sabine's trip to an oracle concerning her ex-boyfriend Nash was a good thrill ride and triggered an interest into the related Soul Screamers series. 4/5.

"Merely Mortal" by Melissa Marr- Keenan and Donia's holiday together was dull, saccharine, and isn't as good when not familiar with the related Wicked Lovely series. 3/5.

"Facing Facts" by Kelley Armstrong- Big on spoilers for the related Darkest Powers series, it was a little too full of telling at times as Tori is told the big secret and reacts to it, forcing Chloe to chase after her. 4/5.

"Let's Get This Undead Show on the Road" by Sarah Rees Brennan- Easily my favorite of the anthology, this made me laugh a few times and appreciate the growth of the bandmates as they grew closer together. 5/5.

"Bridges" by Jeri Smith-Ready- This tale told in Zachary of Smith-Ready's Shade series fails to work as a verse story and ultimately isn't very interesting to me. 2/5.

"Skin Contact" by Kimberly Derting- Related to the author's Body Finder series and the character Rafe, I can't help but feel this short story would have had a greater impact on me if I had read those novels, though it was still interesting enough. 3/5.

"Leaving" by Ally Condie- Dull and as full of Random Capitalization (which, by the way, does not automatically create Tension) as the author's novel Matched, I had no love for this story. 1/5.

"At the Late Night, Double Feature, Picture Show" by Jessica Verday- Another funny story that got me interested in both Verday's novels and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, though the heroine did something very stupid that bogged down the story. 3/5.

"IV League" by Margaret Stohl- ...I'm sorry, I still have no idea what this story is about because it was nonsensical and just plain dumb. 1/5.

"Gargouille" by Mary E. Pearson- This story is cute and fresh in its tale of two gargouille lovers torn apart when one of them loses their wings, but it is otherwise barely remarkable. 4/5.

"The Third Kind" by Jennifer Lynn Barnes- Two sisters hurry to reach San Antonio and while the story is thrilling, so few questions are answered--and none are answered well--that it makes me want to tear out my hair. 3/5.

"Automatic" by Rachel Caine- Based on Caine's Morganville Vampires series, this story gives us a peek into Michael's head and captures the difficulty of his relationship with Eve and change within Morganville well. 4/5.

3 stars overall!


What am I reading next?: Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday (16)

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases we're eagerly anticipating.

Wow, it's been a while since my last one. Anyway, many of my friends were over the moon for this pretty little book called Anna Dressed in Blood. I read it too and expected to be running around going OMG OMG OMG, but I wasn't nearly as enchanted as my friends were. Oh well. I liked it enough that I want to read Girl of Nightmares and it helps that the sequel has a beautiful cover I am dying to put on my shelf.

Girl of Nightmares (Anna, #2)Girl of Nightmares
by Kendare Blake
August 7, 2012
304 pages (hardcover)

In this follow-up to Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas begins seeing Anna everywhere: sometimes when he’s asleep, and sometimes in waking nightmares. But something is very wrong. These aren’t just daydreams. Anna seems tortured, torn apart in new and ever more gruesome ways every time she appears.

Cas doesn’t know what happened to Anna when she disappeared into Hell, but he knows she doesn’t deserve whatever is happening to her now. Anna saved Cas more than once, and it’s time for him to return the favor.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Ghosts of Ashbury High by Jaclyn Moriarty

Title: The Ghosts of Ashbury High
Author: Jaclyn Moriarty
Publisher: Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Books
Release Date: June 1, 2010
Pages: 480 pages (hardback)
How I Got the Book: Bought it.

Amelia and Riley transferred to Ashbury for senior year. They've been in love since they were fourteen. They say almost nothing in class. They talk only to each other. But everyone talks about them. They go out dancing every night and sleep through school all day. (They wake up for a Drama class one day, and their acting is so spellbinding that the Drama teacher has a minor heart attack.)

They are like characters from TV, and everyone wants their attention. Even best friends Emily, Cassie, and Lydia.

But new kids aren't the only thing to worry about this year. Lately, Emily has felt a cold, threatening prescence in the Art Rooms, and she's certain it's a ghost. Now everyone thinks she's crazy, and the principal refuses to sign her declared major until she proves that the "ghost sighting" is more than a childish prank.

Amelia and Riley are involved somehow... but even the three best friends don't konw exactly how, or how real the danger truly is.

Review:

The year begins with the introduction of Amelia and Riley, two scholarship students from Brookfield High, to Ashbury High and within weeks, everyone is obsessed with them. Dressing differently, speaking more intelligently, trying their hardest to be interesting--the student body does a lot of things in their attempts to break into Riley and Amelia's secret world. Meanwhile, best friends Emily, Cassie, and Lydia are trying to make it through their final year at Ashbury. Emily swears there is a ghost in the new building and as quickly as they became obsessed with Riley and Amelia, they're obsessed with the possibly ghost too. Is there really a ghost in the building or is it her imagination? What are Amelia and Riley hiding from everyone?

It's been months since I read about any of these characters and I forgot much during that time, but The Ghosts of Ashbury High drew me right back in from the first page, inspiring a fascination with Riley and Amelia in me as potent as Emily's own. The characters have a depth I wish more novels could achieve and even Emily, the character with the most potential to be irritating, was enjoyable. Characters I thought I knew from previous books were put in a whole new light And can I say I have massive respect for Amelia and Riley? I hardly think it needs to be warned for, but manipulative characters are my absolute favorites and they hit the mark.

It spends much of its time poking fun at the gothic novel and its dramatic style affectionately, but the novel also fits the qualifications for a gothic novel well. The madwoman in the attic, the stormy weather, the mysterious characters with pasts waiting to be uncovered, the virginal maiden (in a way)--it's all here. This is the last novel I thought I would be putting in such a category, but it works. Now I want to seek out more gothic novels both classic and contemporary. Further research must be done!

My main problem with the novel was that in the middle, it dragged terribly and the pacing pretty much slowed to a crawl. I recognize that piece of the novel as very important--it shed light on most of the main characters and why they were who they were. That doesn't make my irritation at reading the same events multiple times with only minor modifications depending on who was telling the story any better.

I've read this series all out of order by starting with the third book and moving on to the fourth, but now I want to find the first two (and it's a good thing this is a series you can read out of order like that). I already wanted to do that after The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie--why else did I buy this one?--but The Ghosts of Ashbury High convinced me further that I have to find the first two books and maybe start developing my own gothic novel. Reading this has given me ideas.

(Bonus time! I came across a part at the end of the novel talking about how Riley's drumming "could take on the combined talents of Lars Ulrich of Metallica, Jimmy Sullivan of Avenged Sevenfold, and Chris Adler of Lamb of God (The Ghosts of Ashbury High, p. 455)" put together. My brother is a budding drummer (my eardrums have the damage to prove it) and upon reading this, of course I had to mention it to him. Watching him say that was bull and basically flip out about that claim was funny, but it stopped being funny when he threatened to burn my book. Let's just say I know where he sleeps.)

4 stars!


What am I reading next?: Enthralled: Paranormal Diversions by Kelley Armstrong and Melissa Marr

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Sharp Time by Mary O'Connell

Title: The Sharp Time
Author: Mary O'Connell
Publisher: Random House/Delacorte Press
Release Date: November 8, 2011
Pages: 228 pages (hardback)
How I Got the Book: Christmas gift.

The Sharp TimeSandinista Jones is a high school senior with a punk rock name and a broken heart. The death of her mother has left Sandinista alone in the world, isolated and vulnerable, When the school system lets her down, her grief and instability intensify, and she ponders a violent act of revenge against a teacher.

Still, in the midst of her crisis, she gets a job at the Pale Circus, a funky vintage clothing shop, and finds a kindred spirit in her coworker, Bradley, a boy struggling with his own secrets.

Even as Sandinista is losing heart, confronted repeatedly by the failures of those in authority, she is offered a chance to believe in the redemptive power of friendship. Now she must choose faith--and forgiveness--or despair and vengeance.

Readers will cheer Sandinista on as she navigates an often brutal but unexpectedly beautiful world.

Review:

Since the death of her mother a few months before, Sandinista has been on a slow downward spiral and a haunting incident involving her, Alecia Hardaway, and their teacher Catherine Bennett has pushed her closer to the edge. Getting a job at the Pale Circus, a vintage clothing store, with Bradley and the store's owner Henry helps her and getting to know other business owners on the same street does too, but that might not be enough. If she can't conquer her anger, Sandinista may end up taking her pretty pink gun and doing something she will regret.

I may not like most of the characters (especially Erika; what happened to her is terrible, but what she is doing is wrong and not at all anything that should be construed as "girl power" or feminism, something I'm glad Sandinista realizes), but I understand why they are the way they are and sympathize with them. That's an accomplishment in itself because if I dislike a character, it's often because I find them unsympathetic. Sandinista, our school-skipping and orphaned heroine, is a little difficult to understand, fairly sympathetic, and very, very angry. I can't recall if I've ever read about such an angry heroine.

One of the novel's main subjects, the abuse of students by teachers and faculty and how the school system can so badly fail the students, was unexpected, but I found it to be a powerful event to focus on. No parent wants to think their child is being abused not just by their peers but by the teachers that are supposed to be helping them. As I've seen while watching the news, this still happens all too often to be comfortable. I wish I could find more YA novels dealing with that subject. Recommendations, anyone?

I did struggle with the novel at some parts. Multiple times, I stopped and thought that this was less of a young adult book and more of an adult literary novel. I wouldn't be able to come up with proof to support why I feel that way, but that's what kept coming to mind. I do have an appreciation for adult litfic, but one reason I don't seek it out as regular reading material is because it reads so monotonously to me. It's nothing to do with the content, just the way it's written. That same problem happened to me while reading The Sharp Time.

Not to say the entire novel reads in such a dull way (or as dull as this review, if you ask me, but I guess I expended so much of my energy and enthusiasm on a recent glowing review that I'm having trouble being my usual bouncy self while reviewing). Some of the scenes in the novel are undeniably tense, like when Sandinista drives to Catherine Bennett's house with her gun and ends up throwing Toad at her window. I just about bit another hole in my lip when I was reading that scene.

Strangely enough, my brother shares a name with the character Bradley. I love my brother (I call him Bubba), but he says things that make me want to castrate him. Book Bradley said this on page 37: "How fun to work with a girl; it's like having my very own Barbie doll." If Bubba were less of the foul-mouthed-gamer type and more free-spirited, I could see him being like Book Bradley just because of that one line. The problem? Bubba is a misogynistic shitwaffle. Book Bradley reminding me of Bubba in such a way was not good for him at all.

I've been debating with myself back and forth about whether or not I would recommend this for anyone, but I think I'll go with yes. It may help to approach it as adult litfic instead of young adult, though. Maybe if I'd known ahead of time and approached it differently, this short book wouldn't have felt like it was five times longer.

3 stars!


What am I reading next?: The Ghosts of Ashbury High by Jaclyn Moriarty

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

My Message to Authors

After some recent events involving the behavior of YA authors, I have something to say. I've rewritten this post several times now trying to say it right and while it would normally go on my personal blog, I think it needs to be posted here.
Being a member of Goodreads, a reviewer, and just someone who loves YA in the digital age makes keeping track of books, authors, and the occasional author shennanigans much easier. I say occasional because normally, there is some spacing between incidents.This is some of the behavior I have seen authors--self-published, vanity-published, and traditionally published alike--engaging in recently (and by this, I mean within the past two weeks):
  • Passively-aggressively trolling a Goodreads review where the reviewer is angry about how portions of the book inaccurately portray feminism and inciting a group of authors to trade insults about it on Twitter (though to be fair, many of the people involved have now said they were not aware of what the conversation/hashtag was about and have apologized);
  • Comparing Goodreads to 4chan;
  • Getting negative reviews of their book deleted on Goodreads and possibly Amazon because they were supposedly written by sockpuppet saboteurs (one of the supposed sockpuppets recently approached me and turned out not to be a sockpuppet, just an honest reviewer who didn't like the book), writing an article on a major webstite about it that also tells reviewers how to review, and posting a comment on a negative Amazon review of the book calling the review an act of sabotage;
  • Calling a reviewer a cow and a bitch while starting an email campaign to mess with the Amazon system and get a negative review of the author's book voted down;
  • And using actual sockpuppets and/or asking fans to give a book one star because of a personal beef with the book's author.
What happened? Why have so many authors in such a short period of time lost their minds and also lost the ability to act like professionals?

According to what some friends have told me, there isn't a lot of media training for new authors. Considering the above-listed behavior and how easy the digital age makes author-reader interactions, I think this needs to change. Some would say they need to rely on common sense to not make mistakes like that and to a degree, I feel the same way. As much as we would like it to, common sense can't cover everything and letting unprofessional behavior going unchecked like this can do some damage to the author's career. I don't buy the books of authors I see ridiculing reviewers and generally behaving badly and I'm far from the only reader that does this.

I'm almost ashamed now that I want to spend my life working in the YA industry. I'm not going to let one very small group of horribly behaved authors crush something that has been my goal since I was a fifteen-year-old in her freshman year of high school, but I hope none of the hypothetical authors I may one day work with ever behave like this.

Good authors who behave well and know how to act like professionals (like one specific author involved in one of the above incidents)? Thank you for doing so. I hope others who are published, awaiting publication, or just dreaming of it for the moment can learn from your examples.

Anyone who wants to know who I'm talking about and which authors did what can email me. I don't want this to show up as a result for their names through Google Alerts. After what I've seen the past few days, I have justifiable reason to fear that someone would attack me if I attached names to deeds in this post.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Gathering Storm by Robin Bridges

Title: The Gathering Storm
Author: Robin Bridges
Publisher: Random House/Delacorte Press
Release Date: January 10, 2012
Pages: 400 pages (hardback)
How I Got the Book: From the publisher via NetGalley

The Gathering Storm (Katerina Alexandrovna, #1)St. Petersburg, Russia, 1888. As she attends a whirl of glittering balls, royal debutante Katerina Alexandrovna, Duchess of Oldenburg, tries to hide a dark secret: she can raise the dead. No one knows. Not her family. Not the girls at her finishing school. Not the tsar or anyone in her aristocratic circle. Katerina considers her talent a curse, not a gift. But when she uses her special skill to protect a member of the Imperial Family, she finds herself caught in a web of intrigue.

An evil presence is growing within Europe's royal bloodlines—and those aligned with the darkness threaten to topple the tsar. Suddenly Katerina's strength as a necromancer attracts attention from unwelcome sources . . . including two young men—George Alexandrovich, the tsar's standoffish middle son, who needs Katerina's help to safeguard Russia, even if he's repelled by her secret, and the dashing Prince Danilo, heir to the throne of Montenegro, to whom Katerina feels inexplicably drawn.
 
The time has come for Katerina to embrace her power, but which side will she choose—and to whom will she give her heart?

Review:

Duchess Katerina Alexandrovna of Oldenburg has a secret: she's a necromancer, one who can raise the dead. Since discovering her gift as a child, she has refused to use it again out of fear, but a threat to the tsarevich by the Montenegrin princess and sorceress Elena forced Katiya to use her powers once again. This pushes her into a tangled web of intrigue where the Montenegrin royals, now aware of her gift, are trying to win her over, fellow royals use Katiya and tell her only what suits their agendas, and the tsar's middle son accuses her of being a threat to the tsar. The truth is that the greatest threat is yet to come and Katiya's powers are the key to defeating it when it comes.

Katerina--Katiya, from this point on--was a great character and I enjoyed both her and the conflict she had with her powers, but there were time I thought she was ridiculous. For instance, she can believe that faeries, necromancy, sorceresses, and general magic exist because they're all around her, but vampires and prophetic dreams? She calls bull on that. Really? It boggles my mind how she does that. If there's one mythical being out there, it's not a far stretch for there to be more, is it?

I initially had worries about the book due to the mention of an apparent love triangle in the summary, and I was relieved to find that this was not the case. It's a little more complicated than that. Our antagonist (one of about fifty million, really) Danilo, appropriately creeped me out and made me hate him, but I wasn't quite sold on Katiya's love interest George. When a guy spend half the book glaring at her/accusing her of being evil and then spend the other half of the book only starting to warm up, and then does something as dramatic as George does at the end of the book, I'm not sure how I'm supposed to feel.

Though I am not overly familiar with 1880s Russia, it appears the author has done her research on royal titles, the Russian naming system, and more. Only one or two things please me more than seeing that an author has done their research well and not contradicted themselves in multiple places. So thank you for that, Mrs. Bridges. Thank you. Now, if only some other authors could follow that example...

Several plot lines are going on in the book--the dead soldiers coming back to life, the Montenegrins' plans, strange happenings around St. Petersburg, and what's going on behind the scenes--but the book switches seamlessly between them, timing them just right so the switches happen when the reader begins to tire of one plot line and wonder when advancements will be made on one of the other plots. I can't remember the last time I read a book so well-paced in such a manner!

The Gathering Storm was a worthwhile read I know I'll be getting a copy of once it is released. There was a troubling detail or two towards the end (mainly an element coming in that should forbid George and Katiya from being together, and those forbidden romances are so passe), but I look forward to the sequel in... Wow, it's going to be a while. Reading the ARC of a fantastic novel: a double-edged blade.

4 stars!


What am I reading next?: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Ignite by Kaitlyn Davis

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope 2012 treats you well both lifewise and bookwise. Unfortunately, my year in books has... To say the least, it has not started off well.

Title: Ignite
Author: Kaitlyn Davis
Publisher: Kaitlyn Davis (self-published)
Release Date: October 9, 2011
Pages: 207 pages (according to Amazon estimate; Ignite is only available in ebook format)
How I Got the Book: Bought it.

"With one last look, one final search of the lines of his face for some sign, Kira turned and ran away from the sound of the man she loved laughing in the face of her death."

When Kira Dawson moves to South Carolina, she meets Luke, a blond goofball who quickly becomes her best friend, and Tristan, a mysterious bad boy who sends shivers down her spine. Kira knows they're keeping secrets, but when she discovers Tristan's lust for blood and her own dormant mystical powers, Kira is forced to fight for her life and make the heartbreaking decision between the familiar comfort of friendship and the fiery passion of love.

Review:

Unable to afford staying at the boarding school she attended in New York, Kira is back home in South Carolina for high school. On her first day there, she meets and immediately becomes friends with Luke and develops a fascination for Tristan, one of the misfits Luke seems to have something against. As Kira and Tristan slowly grow closer, the secrets they keep come out in the open: what Tristan is, what Kira can do, and the threat each presents to the other. Will they be able to make it work or will their adversarial natures win out?

Most of the characters simply fell flat, but Kira was difficult to like and I never completely came around to her. What was there for me to like? Thieves who act entitled to what they stole are not fun to read about, nor do I care to read about characters who come off as terrible friends but seem like they're supposed to be seen as good friends. Everything is so convenient for her, almost to the point of becoming a deus ex machina, that it robs all obstacles in her way of conflict.

Even after finishing the novel and thinking it over, I lack an understanding of what drew Kira and Tristan together in the first place or what they see in each other. The grand, genuine connection they're supposed to have feels more like insta-love. One of the grand flaws of the novel is its lack of genuine connections between any of the characters. I didn't believe for a second Kira was truly friends with any of her "friends" and I felt the same way about her relationship with her family.

I'll cut to the chase: In regards to the writing, this is an insult, not a book. When I read a novel, I expect it to demonstrate a mastery of basic grammar, word usage, and punctuation in whatever language I'm reading it in. This is supposed to be a final copy of Ignite, meaning it should be the absolute best it can be, but there is nothing that can convince me anything more than the bare minimum effort required was put into this novel. Being self-published is no excuse. If I were an editor, I would never take something of this quality. Cheating at narration, horrible syntax, overly blatant foreshadowing,... It hits all my pet peeves at a reader.

Ignite follows the same basic YA paranormal romance formula and feels heavily derivative of more popular works. I've seen a lot of formulaic YA around; I'm not much for such books anyway, but at least most of them have a feeling of life to them, like someone really believed in that story. For all the forbidden romance and conflict Kira is supposed to have, I felt no life or passion from it. It does try to be a little original at times and that is appreciated, but they aren't necessarily good tries. The "channeling the sun" business still makes me spare a giggle or two when I think about it.

One of the problems with formulaic YA is that the same problematic elements tend to carry over without comment or examination and I'm sad to say that problem happens here too. Some of Tristan's behavior comes off as creepy, mean, and downright scary, but he is supposed to be attractive. I do not find it sexy or remotely appealing when the love interest creeps me out and the main character openly admits he is scaring her. Romanticizing such behavior is one thing I wish YA could stop doing.

This is a small secret of mine, but vampire novels have an advantage with me as a reader. I survived the flood of vampire YA in recent years and still love the monsters of the night dearly. Not only am I a big vampire fan, I'm a nostalgic one too--remind me of one of two kinds of vampires and you have me. Even with a handicap in its favor, Ignite failed to win me due to its lack of genuine connections between characters, formulaic and derivative storyline, and the apparent lack of effort put into it. When I pay for a book, I expect to read a book, not a first draft.

0 stars!


What am I reading next? The Sharp Time by Mary O'Connell