August 30, 2013

Movie Not-Monday: The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones I am not the biggest fan of The Mortal Instruments book series.  I think I read the fourth book, but I wouldn't swear to it in a court of law.  I kept up with the books that long because they were decent cheesy fun, but it felt like they were starting to cannibalize themselves.  (I do think Cassandra Clare's Infernal Devices trilogy is more original and interesting.) 

However, Jeanette Catsoulis' review for The New York Times made the movie The Mortal Instruments: The City of Bones sound like a ridiculous, but fun time.  Thus, after a too long day at the office (5:40 is just wrong on a Friday), I headed to the theater.  (Okay, I headed to somewhere to eat, and then I shopped at Target, and then I went to the 8:15 showing.)

The cast does a good job.  Lily Collins made a negative impression on me in Mirror, Mirror (a film I couldn't like despite my best intentions), but here she's got a nice bit of attitude and determination to carry her through Clary's bewilderment.  Jamie Campbell Bower looks wonderful in motion, and gives Jace a nice bit of vulnerability to temper his cockiness.  The adults are all fine, as long as you don't mind Jonathan Rhys Meyers chewing the scenery in a manner that will almost make you forget that his character's actions make no sense.  As Valentine, he's also strangely sexual with Jace and Clary, given that he's trying to convince him that he's their father.  The weakest acting link is probably Kevin Zegers, but then again,  he's saddled with the thankless storyline of over-the-top jealousy and cattiness.

And okay, I'd probably bump the movie up any mental grade because it has CCH Pounder in it, and I've loved her since I first saw Baghdad Cafe.  She's in fine form here as an agoraphobic witch, a small but crucial role.

"Small but crucial" defines most of what happens in TMI: COB.  There's a lot being thrown at the audience, and I suspect much of it doesn't make much sense unless you've read the book.  There are a bunch of characters, a bunch of creatures, and a couple of goals (the cup and Clary's mom).  I doubt many moviegoers will be satisfied by the resolution, which shows absolutely no one worried about Jocelyn, still in a coma.

It's a better movie than I expected, for fans of the book.  If you liked the story, I'd go ahead and see it.  (Or rent it once it's out on video.)  But I doubt it will appeal much to other audiences, because it's overstuffed and too derivative.  Also, there was no place to mention this earlier, but the now frequently mocked pop-song-playing-over-makeout-in-the-greenhouse scene deserves to be mocked.  It's too cheesy even for TMI: COB.

General movie note:  Recent parents, I know you still have lives and want to get out of the house.  But if you're going out with your baby, a late-night Friday showing of a PG-13 movie on the weekend it's released is not the place to do it.

August 29, 2013

Review: Taste Test

Taste Test By Kelly Fiore
Available now from Walker Children's (Bloomsbury)
Review copy

There's something fascinating about cooking shows.  Unlike a lot of scripted television, there's true talent involved.  But unlike something like So You Think You Can Dance, there's little way for the viewer at home to judge the talent.  There's no way to participate in the best part: eating the food.  Still, it's strangely fun to watch.

Nora isn't a watcher, but a competitor in the teen cooking show Taste Test.  She's worked in her father's barbeque restaurant all her life, and this is her chance to get a free ride to culinary school.  She's certainly not going to be bested by someone like Christian, the son of a famous chef who has plenty of money and can always work in his father's respected restaurants.  It doesn't help that the first time Nora meets Christian, he insults her background. 

Nora is extremely competitive, and like most teenagers, quite judgmental.  It's little wonder that she instantly dislikes Christian, especially since he doesn't appear to have made it past grade school when it comes to flirting techniques.  But there is a real, obvious chemistry between the characters, particularly when they have moments alone.  However, I would have liked a little more of the female friendships.  Nora quickly makes friends with fellow contestants Angela and Gigi, but things happen.  And honestly, one of those things makes sense from a narrative standpoint, but I don't think it worked that well with the character development.

In addition to the romance and cooking competition, there's a mystery.  Someone is sabotaging the competition - the kind of sabotage that puts people in the hospital.  (And the kind that requires you to suspend disbelief that they wouldn't halt production.)  I'm not sure the mystery was the best move, as it pushes Nora's worst judge-y qualities to the fore.  Not to mention there's little time to get into any real detecting.  Perhaps I just miss the days of plain old teen contemporary romance.  It's pretty thin on the ground.

I think TASTE TEST will appeal to fans of cooking shows (or just cooking!) looking for something light and funny to read.  The show mechanics don't make complete sense, but the challenges are described well and the montage through the judge's score sheets is hilarious.  As a bonus, there's a section of recipes in the back.  TASTE TEST would do well paired with FLAVOR OF THE WEEK by Tucker Shaw.

August 28, 2013

Review: Black Spring

Black Spring By Alison Croggon
Available now from Candlewick
Review copy

I was sold on BLACK SPRING quite quickly.  Emily Brontë's WUTHERING HEIGHTS updated with magic and Albanian vendetta culture, done by an acclaimed fantasy author?   I'm not the biggest fan of WURTHERING HEIGHTS, but I can see how a blood feud and a bit of wizardry would punch it up.

Unfortunately, BLACK SPRING hews extremely close to its inspiration. The frame story is the same, only providing a bit of interest when visitor Hammel completely disregards maid Anna's tale at the end.  Alison Croggon's best addition is adding a more obvious feminist text, as witch Lina struggles with the men in her life seeking to possess her or end her.  Unfortunately, it's hard to side with her declaration of proud independence when she's ignoring someone trying to get her to come along lest she be killed.

As for the vendetta element, it is completely useless.  (And why use the Italian word instead of the Albanian one, when this is clearly an Albanian influence?)  As they are related to royalty, Lina (Catherine) and Damek (Heathcliff) cannot be directly touched by the vendetta.  And while it comes to the town, I'm not sure when the blood feud ended, or if it ever did, which is just sloppy.  The narrator Anna is affected, but since her focus is on Lina and Damek's story, she doesn't get to go into much depth about her loss.

The existence of witches and wizards isn't used much better.  It highlights tension between male and female power in the country, but it is ultimately unimportant compared to hitting the beats of WURTHERING HEIGHTS exactly.  It's a shame, because Croggon is a wonderful writer and the bit of her world she builds is fascinating.  I'd love to see a story about this country, kept under control by the king's wizards negotiating the many blood feuds, that isn't devoted to retelling a story that has little to do with politics or magic.

I think I might be kinder to BLACK SPRING if I had never read Diana Peterfreund's FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS.  Now that is how you marry a classic to a totally different genre.  Croggon is a talented writer, so it isn't an unpleasant reading experience, but it's one that follows the original to slavishly.  BLACK SPRING doesn't truly transform WURTHERING HEIGHTS, just offers a few stage trappings attempting to mask the moors of Brontë.

August 27, 2013

Review: Crown of Midnight

Throne of Glass Book Two of the Throne of Glass series
By Sarah J. Maas
Available now from Bloomsbury
Review copy
Read my review of Throne of Glass 

It feels very strange to read two words in a book you've never read before and think, "Oh yes, I remember that!"  Much was made when THRONE OF GLASS came out about the original version appearing on FictionPress.  I think that CROWN OF MIDNIGHT actually draws more material from that first draft.  It made for an interesting reading experience at times.

Calaena has fully recovered physically from her time in the mines.  Now that she's the King's Champion and back in fighting form, her main job is supposed to be assassinating enemies of the crown.  Given that Calaena isn't that fond of the crown, she is unsurprisingly not doing exactly what she's supposed to.  It's risky, because if the king catches her committing treason, he'll also kill Chaol and Nehemia.

I loved how many big moments there are in CROWN OF MIDNIGHT.  It starts fairly quiet, with hints of political maneuvering and an increased intensity in the romantic storyline that ends the love triangle.  Then something happens that changes the status quo for the characters quite a bit.  After that, there's quite a bit of action.  There's also sinister revelations about the king (yes, he can get worse) and a return of the love triangle, in a far more complicated form.

I found CROWN OF MIDNIGHT to be a thoroughly satisfying read.  My quibbles were minor at best.  Roland is introduced and then does almost nothing, probably to be an important character in the next book.  Calaena doesn't ask one very important question she should about the assignments she's given from the king, although perhaps she'll realize it in the next book.  But really, CROWN OF MIDNIGHT is a fun read for anyone looking for an action-packed fantasy with a heroine who has a thing for fashion, chocolate cake, and killing people with pointy things.

I've heard rumors that this will be a six-book series, but I'm not sure if that's true.  I was expecting this to just be a trilogy and to wrap up in the next book.  Either way, I'll definitely be back for the third book about Adarlan's Assassin and her many personal and professional difficulties.

August 26, 2013

Review and Giveaway: Two Lies and a Spy

Two Lies and a Spy First in a series
By Kat Carlton
Available September 3, 2013 from Simon & Schuster BFYR
Review copy

I'll make this review short and sweet, much like TWO LIES AND A SPY itself.  When Kari gets a Code Black text from her dad, she instantly ditches school, picks up her little brother, and goes to the designated rendezvous.  But her parents, both spies for the US government, aren't there.

Kari soon finds out that her parents are suspected of being double agents, traitors.  And thus Kari hurries to clear their names, with the help of her best friends, her crush, her crush's bratty but talented twin sister, and the guy who doesn't realize his flirting style really isn't working with Kari.  It's a fairly large cast for such a short novel, but they're well defined personalities that work well together.

There's just something so fun about comedic spy hijinks - you get laughs, action, romance, and probing questions about identity.  I loved that TWO LIES AND A SPY went somewhere quite unusual for a YA spy novel, a twist that makes me extremely excited about the second book.

My only quibble with the novel is that Kari, who is pretty good at spy craft for an amateur thanks to her parents' training, makes the same mistake twice.  Her instincts tell her that something is off, she doesn't listen, and it turns out she should've been paying more attention.  It is difficult to explain and stay vague to avoid spoiling anything, but I don't think it would spoil anything . . . the real problem is that Kat Carlton tries to foreshadow the twist in both instances, but does it too heavily.  I think it's an issue of inexperience.

But TWO LIES AND A SPY is super fun, and Kari is pretty new to this after all.  I think fans of Robin Benway's ALSO KNOWN AS and Ally Carter's Heist Society series will devour this debut novel.  On the more manly side, I think it has some appeal to Alex Rider fans too.

Thanks to Simon & Schuster, I have two hardcover copies of TWO LIES AND A SPY to give away to two In Bed With Books readers with a US address.
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The Elementals

The Elementals By Saundra Mitchell
Available now from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt BFYR
Review copy
Read my review of Shadowed Summer

I enjoyed Saundra Mitchell's debut SHADOWED SUMMER, and I've always meant to read her new books but never quite managed.  Thus I haven't read THE VESPERTINE or THE SPRINGSWEET, the companions to THE ELEMENTALS.

I've been told the first two books stand very well on their own, but I wish I had read them before reading THE ELEMENTALS.  There is a reasonable amount of background, but the villain is entirely motivated by events that happened in one of the earlier books, which I could merely make educated guesses about.  I feel like there would've been more of a sense of something building if I was familiar with the characters and their relationships.

The main characters of THE ELEMENTALS are the children of the main characters of the first two books.  Kate has been raised all over the world, always partying, never working.  Her dream is to become a Hollywood director, and it becomes far more possible once she finds her muse.  Julian has been raised on a farm, where he does the chores that don't tax his bad leg, lost to polio.  Both of them also have a power: Kate can stop time for thirty seconds and Julian can raise small animals from the dead.  Inevitably, the two meet.

I feel like there were glimmerings of a more interesting, more complicated novel.  For instance, there's Kate's relationship with her muse, a girl who is the consummate actress and determined to get her way, qualities Kate notices but doesn't comprehend until too late.  Saundra Mitchell is terrific at creating characters who don't fit the normal mode, but the plotting isn't quite there.  What carries THE ELEMENTALS is the writing.  Mitchell's writing is wonderfully atmospheric, from Europe to the farm to summery Los Angeles.

The simple plot might've worked if not for the ending, which is quite rushed.  It makes a vague sense with the themes of the novel and the rules of Kate and Julian's power, but there's no time for consequences.  How do Zora and Amelia and Emerson and Nathaniel, fairly important characters at the beginning of the novel, react to their children's actions?  It felt like the actual fate of the families was left hanging.

I enjoyed reading THE ELEMENTALS, because as I said before, Mitchell could write.  But when the book ended, I was left with the nagging sense that part of the book was missing.  I feel like this one could've used another round of polishing.  All the same, I still want to read the first two books and I'm interested in reading future books from Mitchell. 

August 23, 2013

Review: Night Film

Night Film By Marisha Pessl
Available now from Random House
Review copy

Marisha Pessl's debut novel SPECIAL TOPICS IN CALAMITY PHYSICS was hugely successful.  I first came across it as a college sophomore, when my roommate received a copy from her dad.  She'd read me the best passages aloud, and we were both captivated by Pessl's writing.

I was quite eager to read Pessl's sophomore novel as a fan of her style and of cult films.  Now, the cult films in NIGHT FILM are somewhat unbelievable.  They're like Polanski and Hitchcock and The Navidson Record all in one, and the later films are banned abroad and have no US distribution.  (And, apparently, no torrents.)  It's tough to buy in to Stanislas Cordova's amazing skills as a director, but NIGHT FILM is so much fun once you do.

Scott McGrath is a disgraced journalist due to his past attempt to uncover the skeletons in Cordova's closet. But when Cordova's daughter Ashley commits suicide, the story grabs McGrath again.  He can't resist poking around, uncovering Ashley's last days and what led her to take such drastic action.  Along the way he falls in with Nora, a young woman who was the last to see Ashley alive, and Hopper, a drug dealer who received a mysterious package from Ashley.

NIGHT FILM is stylish and well constructed.  Web pages and transcript notes are spaced throughout, giving a nice grounding to Pessl's world.  The middle sags a touch, but it pays off when everything starts coming together in increasingly convoluted ways.  The complexity is so much fun, particularly in how it mirrors the structure of Cordova's films.  I particularly liked the ending, which was pretty terrifying reading alone at night.  I decamped to a restaurant, both because I needed to eat and for the brightly lit companionship.  (When I left, I was so frazzled by McGrath's adventures it took me the length of the parking lot to realize that the reason everything was so dark and creepy was that my lights weren't on.)

I also have to give NIGHT FILM props for this: it has perhaps the best resolution I've read regarding a young companion developing a crush on her mentor.  I also liked that Ashley Cordova was a large part of the novel.  At the same time, she only kinda sorta resolves into a person by the end.  She's still basically an idealized, larger-than-life figure.

I thoroughly enjoyed NIGHT FILM.  It's an engrossing, creepy mystery with a strong literary bent.  The middle goes on a touch too long, but the whole book passes by so quickly that I can't complain too much.

August 22, 2013

Review and Book Trailer: Flicker & Burn

Flicker & Burn Book Two of the Cold Fury series
By T.M. Goeglein
Available now from Putnam (Penguin Random House)
Review copy
Read my review of Cold Fury

In FLICKER & BURN, the sequel to COLD FURY, things get even weirder for Sarah Jane Rispoli.  First, her family was kidnapped.  Then she turned out to have a special power in her gaze, to paralyze people with their fears.  Oh yeah, and she comes from a mob family and has to keep up appearances.  As FLICKER & BURN begins, she's being pursued by ice-cream men.  White skinned, red eyed ice-cream men.  And sometimes she gets sloppy.

FLICKER & BURN contains just as much action as the first book and delivers the answers to several questions about Sarah Jane's family and just what is up with those ice-cream guys.  There's not much on the cover to indicate that FLICKER & BURN is anything but a straightforward thriller, and the revelations within make it clear that the stranger elements are more science fiction than paranormal.  It's the kind of science fiction that might as well be magic, but it's not magic within the universe of the story.  But I think it's wise to market this series as thrillers, since there is far more emphasis on Sarah Jane's search for her family and work for the mob than on the science fiction elements.

Official Flicker & Burn Book Trailer from T.M. Goeglein. Subscribe to the Cold Fury channel on Vimeo.

The setting continues to be a strong point.  FLICKER & BURN's Chicago is a place where the buildings are full of secrets, connected by blood and greed and desperation.  Sarah Jane is also a strength.  She's resilient and inventive, but her determination to rescue her family does have consequences.  She lets people get hurt, or hurts them herself, to further her goals.  She doesn't want to be a killer, like so many of her ancestors, but at the same time it's becoming easier and easier for her to bend her morality.

I think FLICKER & BURN added a few too many new characters.  One in particular had a lot of potential, but their arc went by so quickly it didn't have the full emotional impact.  I liked the returning characters, like Doug, who is the greatest friend ever but deeply unhappy, and Tyler, the smooth young head of a different mob family.  But the new characters felt like they came and went quickly instead of becoming a true part of the story.

Like COLD FURY, FLICKER & BURN ends with a hook.  It's not a cruel cliffhanger, as so many YA authors seem partial to these days, but there are more mysteries for Sarah Jane to solve.  I'm eager to see the answers, especially since Goeglein doles them out at a nice pace.

August 21, 2013

Review: Momo

Momo 40th Anniversary Edition
By Michael Ende
Translated by Lucas Zwirner
Illustrated by Marcel Dzama
Available now from McSweeney's McMullens
Review copy

I'll admit to only being familiar with Michael Ende through the movie version of The Neverending Story. I'd watch it when it came on network television, but I never read the book.  Now that that confession is out of the way . . . MOMO made me wish I'd found Ende's books as a child.  I'm not saying that I didn't thoroughly enjoy MOMO as an adult, but I would've liked to grow up with this book sitting on my shelf, likely sandwiched between Dahl and L'Engle.  I might not have read MOMO in my childhood, but it felt like it accidentally fell out of there into my adult life.

The illustrations by Marcel Dzama furthered that impression.  Something about the lines of his work makes me think of Jules Feiffer and his illustrations for THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH.  They fit with the story seamlessly, stylish but not too modern.

MOMO is the tale of a young orphan with one great power: she listens.  She really listens, and enriches the life of her entire village.  But then the gray men come and start to steal time from the villagers, making them harried and hurried and completely without time to stop and talk to someone.  Honestly, MOMO did not feel like it was written forty years ago.  It's horror at occupying children with gadgets to keep them quiet instead of engaging their imaginations feels extremely contemporary.  As for the themes of listening and story, well, those never go out of style, do they?

I can't say anything truly critical about Lucas Zwirner's translation.  I haven't read MOMO in the German, or even in another English translation.  However, it's not a conspicuous translation.  I didn't notice any jarringly modern turns of phrase, nor did the prose feel leaden and lifeless.  The tone was very classic children's adventure novel.

I highly recommend MOMO, particularly to those who have a child in their life who could use the gift of a good book.  It's a story that reminds us to slow down, to engage with our world and the other people in it.  Earning money is not the end all, be all of life.  It's a familiar moral, but it's told with such wonderful trappings.  A little girl, standing alone against faceless hordes.  A turtle that can see the future, a boy whose brain isn't as big as his mouth, a faithful old man, a world in peril.  I'm already planning to re-read it come winter, when I'm snuggled up and cozy.

August 20, 2013

Review: If You Could Be Mine

If You Could Be Mine By Sara Farizan
Available now from Algonquin Young Readers (Workman)
Review copy

IF YOU COULD BE MINE is getting some major buzz.  It is one of the launch titles for the Algonquin Young Readers imprint and was highlighted at this year's BEA conference.  Clearly, a lot of people are confident about this title.  That gave me pretty high expectations.

Some of my expectations came from the Algonquin name.  It's one that I associate with literary quality.  Sara Farizan's prose is competent, but nothing special.  There's a love story at the heart of IF YOU COULD BE MINE, driving its heroine Sahar's desperate decisions, but there's little passion in the words.  Sahar is overflowing with emotion, but her drama is muted on the page.

Sahar is a lesbian.  She lives in Iran, where she could be killed if her relationship with Nasrin is discovered.  But she's willing to do anything for Nasrin, who is breaking up with her to marry a man and make her family proud.  She's even willing to have a sex change, because being trans is legal in Iran.  In fact, the government will even pay for the sex change in order to prevent the perversity of someone in the wrong body.

Farizan does do a good job with Sahar's dawning realization of the seriousness of a sex change.  I am not surprised by Sahar's willingness to jump into it without thinking, as she is seventeen and in love and afraid for her life.  I also liked the range of people Sahar meets on her journey, and that they aren't perfect.  They have their own prejudices. Farizan shows where Iran is more progressive than the US - trans rights - but she doesn't shy away from where it is less.

I wish there was more Nasrin in the book.  Most of her scenes involve her pulling away from Sahar and acting fairly cold.  That's where the real frustration with Sahar's decisions come in.  Not that she's being impulsive and short sighted, but that she's doing it all for someone who is going to snub the effort.  Conversely, Nasrin's fiance was a surprise delight.  If you have to be forced to marry someone, at least you might end up with someone decent.

The most successful part of the book was Sahar's relationship with her father.  She loves him, yet fears him knowing the truth.  Another successful aspect were the glimpses of Iran's LGBQ underground, courtesy of Sahar's cousin Ali, who manages to be pretty flamboyantly gay.  They were a good contrast to the scenes of T culture.  But that storyline never goes into any real depth and gets a pat ending.

I think Farizan's debut has interesting ideas and an intriguing setting, but they felt to cohere into a plot with real impact.  It's a good book, but I expected a great one.  I'd pick IF YOU COULD BE MINE up if you're interested in LGBTQ literature, but would otherwise give it a pass.

August 19, 2013

Review: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea By April Genevieve Tucholke
Available now from Dial (Penguin Random House)
Review copy

Violet White and her brother Luke live alone in Citizen Kane, their crumbling family estate.  Their parents are off in Europe, and have been for awhile.  Violet's only friend is Sunshine, their neighbor who delights in flirting with the sexist Luke.  To make money, Violet decides to rent the guesthouse - which brings River West into their lives.

Soon enough, strange things are happening in their little town.  And it always seems like River is at the center of the strangeness, which is steadily becoming more sinister.  Debut author April Genevieve Tucholke has good instincts for making Violet's continued attraction to River believable.  For one thing, the first truly horrible thing done is partially done in defense of a child.  There's Violet's lack of supervision and upbringing.  And there's River himself, stacking the deck in his favor.

BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA, like UNSPOKEN, is a modern Gothic.  It has all the trappings of one of the classics: an atmospheric house, children in peril, an enigmatic man, possible supernatural shenanigans.  That traditional feel commingles with modern attitudes and morality to create a truly absorbing read.  There's mystery, romance, terror, and teenagers spinning out of control.

In some ways, I feel like I shouldn't like BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA.  Or perhaps I feel that I should feel guilty about liking it.  This is one twisted book.  But it's twisted in such a fun, compulsively readable sort of way.  I would've eaten it up back when I was a morbid teenager, and I ate it up pretty easily now.  It's why certain types of horror are popular.  There's a perverse pleasure in being disturbed.

Fans of paranormal romance looking for something with a lot of style and atmosphere should flock to BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA.  It's both different and familiar, in all the best ways.  It's certainly a promising beginning to Tucholke's career.

August 16, 2013

Review: Tides

Tides By Betsy Cornwell
Available now from Clarion (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Review copy

I have a secret fondness for selkies.  They aren't deadly, like some mythological creatures, and they're most well known for being kidnapped and stuck with horrible men, which is not a great fate.  But there's something about the folklore that resonates with me.

The two young people at the center of TIDES are Noah and Mara.  Noah is working as an intern at the Marine Science Research his last summer before college and living with his grandmother (the lighthouse keeper) and younger sister (who needed to get away from their parents).  He can't wait to move on and go to college in the fall.  Mara is a selkie whose sister Aine was kidnapped years ago.  Now, the Elder of her group is afraid to let the youngest selkies grow and Mara and her brother are stuck perpetually babysitting.  She wants to be a leader and is chafing under the rules that keep her close and powerless.  Then they meet. 

TIDES is a quiet, lovely novel that builds to an action-packed finish.  It's morality is fairly simple, but explored in interesting ways.  It shows the ways that people can hurt each other, accidentally and on purpose, as well as how they can forge new connections and become stronger.  I liked TIDES had a plot that came together neatly, even though the focus was on character.

Almost every character in TIDES has their own motivations and goals.  Even the grandmother Gemm has a lovely (lesbian) romance that's given a fair amount of detail.  There are also differences between the humans and selkies, culturally as well as physically.  Perhaps my favorite moment that illustrated the difference was when Mara first meets Lo and muses about how she does and doesn't look like Noah and decides that they do look enough alike to be siblings.  Then a human immediately mistakes them for not-siblings since Lo is adopted and Chinese.  I did feel that Lo's eating disorder was overcome somewhat quickly, but I liked that it never completely disappeared from the story despite not being the focus.  It's not a disease that shows up much outside of issue books.

I think TIDES will appeal to fans of classic fantasy novels like A RING OF ENDLESS LIGHT by Madeleine L'Engle.  It has that quiet, intimate appeal.  It's also a good choice for YA fans looking for a slightly older protagonist.  Noah definitely doesn't have high school worries.  I thoroughly enjoyed TIDES, and think I would've even if I weren't fond of selkies.

August 15, 2013

Review: False Sight

False Sight Book Two in the False series
By Dan Krokos
Available now from Disney-Hyperion
Review copy
Read my review of The Planet Thieves and my interview with Dan

FALSE MEMORY, the first book in the False series, ended with a pretty big revelation.  FALSE SIGHT is basically one crazy revelation after another.  It's absolutely nothing like I expected, but it's incredibly fun to see how things move from point a to point 8.  And the hook at the end of FALSE SIGHT has me eager to see what craziness is in store for book three.

The opening of FALSE SIGHT is deceptively innocuous.  Miranda and her fellow Roses are attending normal high school, pretending to be normal students in order to hide from those who would use their power to spread fear.  But they make a big mistake, one that starts an all new search for answers.

I would almost say that this science fiction thriller series is okay for elementary readers as well as teens, but only those who can handle death.  The False books are easy reads, but there are major character deaths and the protagonists kill to save their own lives.  And no, these are not bloodless kills.  At the same time, I know I would've enjoyed this series when I was younger.  There's a cool girl at the center, there's more action than romance, and there's a convoluted plot involving clones.

(If I have one objection, it's that there is a scene with three sets of people with the same names and, although Dan Krokos does his best, it quickly becomes confusing who is doing what and who is getting what done to them.)

As for that "cool girl," Miranda is both extremely comfortable and uncomfortable with herself, which makes sense given that she's skilled, competent, and confident, but has serious memory issues (that only get worse).  (Okay, second objection: why does new girl Nina not lose her memories?)  I like that Miranda makes bad decisions, but generally recognizes afterwards that they were bad decisions and there were things she could've done better, but keeps going on.  (There is a lot of emphasis in FALSE SIGHT that Miranda's persistence in adversity is her defining attribute.)

I recommend FALSE SIGHT to those looking for a quick, thrilling read.  This book gets very dark indeed, but it never stops being exciting.  There's always another twist coming.

August 14, 2013

Review: Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock By Matthew Quick
Available now from Little, Brown BFYR (Hachette)
Review copy

FORGIVE ME, LEONARD PEACOCK is brilliant and you should read it.  The end.

Oh, that's not enough for you?

First off, this book is by Matthew Quick, author of THE SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, which was made into a movie that won several awards.  He's also the author of the acclaimed, loved, but tragically underrated SORTA LIKE A ROCKSTAR and  BOY 21.  Stop the madness and make FORGIVE ME, LEONARD PEACOCK a bestseller.

Second, this book has a great premise.  The eponymous Leonard Peacock plans deliver packages to the four most important people in his life and then kill his classmate Asher and himself.  Don't you want to know why he wants to do that?  Don't you want to know whether he will?  If you don't, you will once people start sending Leonard letters from an apocalyptic future.

Third, this book is hilarious.  It's the funniest book about mental illness and suicide and attempted murder and abuse you'll read all year.

Fourth, this book has beautiful language.  I was going to quote some, but none of my favorite quotes are as PG as I like to keep this blog.  (I didn't even notice when I was reading!)  

I want more.  That's the problem with books as good as FORGIVE ME, LEONARD PEACOCK.  They leave you wanting, afraid the next book won't be as wonderful, as true.  I mean, sure Quick has a backlist, and it's a great backlist, but Leonard Peacock isn't in those books.  He's in this one.  And you have to read it to find out if he survives.

August 13, 2013

Review: The Deepest Night

The Deepest Night Book 2 in the Sweetest Dark series
By Shana Abé
Available now from Bantam Books (Penguin Random House)
Review copy
Read my review of The Sweetest Dark 

I fell head over heels for THE SWEETEST DARK.  It's one of my favorite books of 2013, one I called "a swoony book that I'll probably read multiple times before the promised sequel."  That was true, and I'm happy that THE DEEPEST NIGHT wasn't delayed like its predecessor because I did not want to wait any longer.

Warning: major spoilers for the first book.

Summer is coming, which means scholarship student Lora Jones is about to no longer have a place at the Iverson School for Girls.  That's not good, because she's getting a mission from the stars to save Armand's older brother, thought dead.  You see, Lora and Armand can turn into dragons and Lora's boyfriend was a star in human form who died.  It sounds crazy, but Shana Abé writes it so sweet and lovely.

There's some interesting development on the romance front.  Lora shot down a love triangle in the first book, preferring Jesse to Armand.  But she's getting over the loss of Jesse and feels a pull toward Armand, the only other member of her species she knows.  It leads her to do something I found incredibly dumb, but I'm curious to see how her decision will play out in the final novel.  And I can't hold it to much against her, because it was a noble thing to do.

Most of the novel deals with Armand and Lora traveling across war-torn Europe.  Abé continues to use the WWII setting well, although I must admit my favorite bit was Armand turning his family home into a hospital for wounded soldiers.  The biggest bully at Iverson turns out to be a talented, comforting nurse; however, it makes her no kinder to Lora.  Lora has no talent for keeping her cool during surgery, yet it makes her no less brave when she must face battle herself.  It sets up so many wonderful character moments.

I wasn't quite as in love with THE DEEPEST NIGHT as THE SWEETEST DARK.   At the same time, a number of interesting plot points have been set up for the next book in the series.  (I don't know whether this is just a trilogy or not.  I'd both love to find out how everything ends and spend more time in this world.)  Given the strength of the first two books, I'm sure things will continue to play out in a fascinating fashion.  I'm also happy that the Sweetest Dark series has encouraged me to read more of Abé's backlist.  I just devour her beautiful, poetic prose.

August 12, 2013

Review: The Weight of Souls

Weight of Souls By Bryony Pearce
Available now from Strange Chemistry (Angry Robot)
Review copy

THE WEIGHT OF SOULS does not suffer from a lack of ambition.  Main character Taylor Oh has one of those superpowers that really sucks.  She gets Marked by the murdered dead, then has to find and Mark their killer in turn or be dragged into the Darkness herself.  It's also killer on her social life.

I found the bullying to be a bit too much in the earlier chapters.  James, the ringleader, is cartoonishly malevolent.  Also, I am apparently not up on current racial slurs, but I'll just take that as a good thing.  The bullying drops off, thankfully, but I think it's to prevent it from being too obviously tied to the murder mystery plotline.  Because, you see, Taylor's latest Mark comes from Justin, one of her bullies.  Even worse, he has no idea who killed him.  He didn't even know he was murdered.

THE WEIGHT OF SOULS combines two common plots: the murder mystery involving a secret club (a la THE LIAR SOCIETY) and paranormal girl meets boy and further discovers her powers (a la ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD).  It's a lot for a relatively slim novel, but Bryony Pearce makes it work.  It helps that both plots work together to move each other along.

It also helps that Taylor is a terrific heroine.  She's a girl at the end of her resources, but she's still fighting.  She's trying to go it on her own, but it's no wonder that she doesn't trust her friends.  After all, her own dad thinks she needs help.  The scenes between Taylor and her dad are really tough, since he obviously loves her and wants to keep her safe and healthy, but he just doesn't get the truth.  Those scenes ring painfully true in a way the bullying doesn't.  (Although the bullying does result in a cameo by the world's best bus driver.)

I thought THE WEIGHT OF SOULS was a standalone, but there's definitely room for a sequel.  In fact, there's room for a whole series if Pearce intends to write more.  The secret society still exists, and there are more questions about the origins of Taylor's family curse than ever.  I'd definitely be willing to read more books about Taylor chasing down murderers against the clock.

August 9, 2013

Review: Blood of Dragons

Blood of Dragons Book Four of the Rain Wilds Chronicles
By Robin Hobb
Available now from Harper Voyager (HarperCollins)
Review copy

Robin Hobb is one of my favorite fantasy authors.  Her worlds are so fully realized and she makes me emphasize with the characters so much, even when they're being petty or foolish or just plain stupid.  BLOOD OF DRAGONS brings the Rain Wilds Chronicles to a fabulous close.

Hobb has a tendency to end her series with long denouements.   That does not happen in BLOOD OF DRAGONS, and I kind of missed it.  I especially could have done with a longer ending to Selden Vestrit's story, post-gigantic dragon battle.  And honestly, the gigantic dragon battle was a bit anticlimactic.  That's not surprising, because humans versus multiple dragons is not a real battle.

Sedric and Alise's stories mostly came to a close in CITY OF DRAGONS, but Hest - Alise's husband - shows up for that final bit of closure.  It's not as dramatic as it could be, and unfortunately leads to spending time in Hest's slimy head.  More time is spent on the conclusion of the Thymara, Tats, and Rapskal love triangle.  It comes to the inevitable after much rehashing of what's been going on since the first book.  But I love that Thymara's stayed firm about making her own choice in her own time and that she doesn't have to pick either guy.

This may sound like I didn't like the book, but I blazed through it.  I couldn't wait to find out how everything ended, and who would make it out okay.  I liked that BLOOD OF DRAGONS also settled several questions about how the humans and dragons would live together.  Hobb has done a wonderful job of showing that the dragons aren't humans in any way, shape, or form, but that they have been affected by their keeper's humanity.

I would not read BLOOD OF DRAGONS without reading the first three books first.  And while the quartet can stand on its own, I'd at least read the Liveship Traders trilogy first for background on Bingtown, the Rain Wilds, and Chalced.  And better yet, start with the Farseer Trilogy, then the Liveship Traders trilogy, then the Tawny Man trilogy before embarking on the Rain Wilds Chronicles.  These four can stand alone together, but they're so much better with the full depth of Hobb's worldbuilding.  I am fully satisfied by her latest series and eager to read whatever she writes next.

August 8, 2013

Review and Giveaway: The Darwin Elevator

The Darwin Elevator First in the Dire Earth trilogy
By Jason M. Hough
Available now from Del Rey (Penguin Random House)
Review copy
Read a free prequel, "Wave of Infection"

Del Rey is so excited about this debut sci-fi trilogy that they're publishing all three books back to back, July-August-September.  That makes me happy, because I am not one for waiting.  Also, the end of THE DARWIN ELEVATOR left me wanting more.  Jason M. Hough already knows how to end a novel with a bit of intrigue.

I was attracted by the premise of THE DARWIN ELEVATOR, which is basically space SF meets zombies.  A mysterious alien race, called Builders, sent an elevator to Earth that extends from Darwin, Australia into space.  It exudes an Aura and is the only place where humans are safe from a strange plague that was also sent by the aliens.  Then there's Skyler Lukien and his crew of scavengers, all immunes.  Their ability to explore might be the only way to save the humans if the aliens return.  Well, their abilities and scientist Tania Sharma's brain.

There's liberal use of villain POV, which made me grit my teeth.  So many greedy, self-satisfied, leering thoughts.  And he's not a particularly interesting villain.  There are people who look like they may be the villain of the piece, but who turn out more ambiguous.  But no, the main villain is a standard no-plan-beyond-power-for-himself, wants-to-rape-the-heroine villain.  It was a real bum note in an exciting, fun novel and THE DARWIN ELEVATOR just kept going back to him.

When it comes to power struggles, actually, the book itself tended to struggle.  So much of the book could be solved if people talked to each other instead of keeping secrets for no particular.  I preferred when people were actually doing things.  Tania and her assistant sciencing, Skylar trying desperately to be a leader, scavenging and fighting off hordes of subhumans.  My two favorite characters, Kelly and Sam, did not get near enough screen-time.  Now there's two women who get things done.

THE DARWIN ELEVATOR is a fun dystopian zombie novel with nifty ideas and a number of interesting characters.  It's got aliens, saboteurs, and approximately one big secret per character.  I think I would've absolutely loved this one if the villain didn't grate on my nerves so much.  But after all, I'm not supposed to like him.
Thanks to Del Rey and TLC Book Tours, I have one copy to give away.  US/Canada only.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

August 7, 2013

Review: Skin

Skin By Donna Jo Napoli
Available now from Skyscape (Amazon)
Review copy

Donna Jo Napoli was one of my favorite authors in middle school and high school.  She's probably one of the authors who gave me a taste for fairytale retellings.  But SKIN is a departure from her normal fare.  It's a contemporary, and a sexy one at that.

Because I was familiar with Napoli's work and picked it up based on her reputation, I wasn't sure if SKIN was a paranormal or not when I began it.  When it starts, heroine Sep wakes up to find that her lips have turned pure white.  She covers it up with lipstick, but soon other spots start showing up.  She doesn't know whether she's dying or not, and then she doesn't know whether she can keep hiding.

I really enjoyed SKIN. Sep's fear is understandable, and consuming.  It pushes her to live life fast.  At the same time, she starts to become less fearful as she risks new experiences and finds things that make her happy.  She makes new friends, gets a boyfriend, and finds an unlikely mentor at a makeup counter in the mall.

SKIN is definitely for older teens.  It has messages that are good for young readers, and just as relevant for them, but it is four-alarm fire hot.  She wants to do everything she can with Josh before her secret gets out.  At the same time, I like that the book is clear that she has the maturity to use protection.  At the same time, she's pretty immature about how she treats Josh.  It's nicely realistic.

I think SKIN is a terrific contemporary read.  Sep has a great, relateable voice.  There are no real villains, but there's still plenty of conflict.  Everything ends slightly messy, but Sep completes a moving emotional journey.

August 6, 2013

Review: The Golden Day

The Golden Day By Ursula Dubosarsky
Available now from Candlewick
Review copy

This is one of those books that make people question what YA really is.  This isn't a story about teenagers.  The protagonists are younger than that for most of the slim novel.  But does it appeal to teenagers?  I think so.  THE GOLDEN DAY is a tale about the loss of the innocence, naivete, and ignorance of childhood.

Eleven schoolgirls go on an outing with their teacher one day, their strange teacher who is dissatisfied with the Vietnam War and passionate about poetry (and poets).  They return to their class without Miss Renshaw, determined to keep the outing a secret just as she asked.   But soon it becomes clear that something happened to Miss Renshaw that day.

I love the way Ursula Dubosarksky, an Australian author, captures the mindset of the little girls.  It's chatty and curious, but their worries are different than that of an adult.  And her use of language is just wonderful.  This could just as easily be published by an literary adult house like Nouvella as Candlewick, the US publisher or Allen & Unwin, the Australian publisher.

I'm not sure how I feel about the ending, which brings the book somewhere both more concrete and less than I was expecting.  But I don't think it's an ending that doesn't work.  It's one that's made me think about how I choose to interpret what happened, which is really what the whole book is working towards.  It's a strange, haunting little story.

Is this YA?  Perhaps that's a question for someone younger than me to answer.  But I certainly think it's good, and worth reading between classes or on a lunch break.  (The joys of brevity!)  THE GOLDEN DAY is a thoughtful work, but not one that gets so bogged down in its own thoughts that it doesn't keep the pages turning.  You will want to know just what happened to Miss Renshaw.

August 5, 2013

Review: Crash and Burn

Crash and Burn By Michael Hassan
Available now from Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins)
Review copy

CRASH AND BURN lingered in my to-read pile because Bookworm1858's review cooled my enthusiasm for it.  I gotta say, I think she hit a lot of the nails on the head.

CRASH AND BURN is an excellent book.  Michael Hassan is a powerful, talented writer.  CRASH AND BURN is his first novel and I'm quite excited to pick up his next book.  It tells the story of two boys whose lives are entwined.  Burn held his school hostage at gunpoint, planning to blow it up.  Crash stopped him.  The story moves back and forth in time, showing the boys' relationship since elementary and what happened to Crash after he became a hero.

The novel's biggest flaw is that Crash is a repulsive human being.  He's quite often a good guy and a sweet kid, but he could be a good guy and sweet kid all the time.  He chooses to do dumb things, things that are cruel and dangerous.  He drives when drunk and/or high.  He gets girls drunk and/or high to lower their inhibitions so they'll sleep with him.  He convinces those same wasted girls that they don't need to use condoms.

Crash's incredible grossness is balanced by the fact that CRASH AND BURN has some of the best female characters I've read lately, and a lot of them point out that his behavior sucks.  The girl who looms the largest is probably Roxanne Burnett, the older sister of Burn.  I was more curious about what would happen to her than to the school, because I couldn't fail to notice that she was never in the present-day parts of the novel, curse my narrative instincts.

The past parts of the novel reminded me of MY FRIEND DAHMER by Derf Backderf, which I read late last year for the Cybils and has lingered in my mind ever since.  Dahmer had certain qualities that would draw people to him, but mostly never quite fit in.  The kids knew something was wrong.  Burn certainly gets more help than Dahmer did, but even at his most normal Crash can still sense that Burn is on the edge of snapping.

CRASH AND BURN is a great novel, a memorable one, and I'm quite impressed.  But I don't love it.  Crash's substance abuse problems are serious.  If there's ever a far future sequel, I wouldn't be surprised if he did a stint on Celebrity Rehab.  And it is terrible, because he has the potential to be a great guy.  His soulless father (the only thing he and Burn agree on) and ADHD are crutches he leans on to keep from changing.  If only he had changed.  I recommend CRASH AND BURN, but with reservations.

August 3, 2013

Review: Accidents Happen

Accidents Happen By Louise Millar
Available now from Atria/Emily Bestler Books (Simon & Schuster)
Review copy

I have been trying to read this book for weeks and I am now throwing in the towel.  I have no desire to finish ACCIDENTS HAPPEN and I have other things to read.  I had really high hopes for this one, and the ever-so-slightly-off opening lived up to those hopes.  But then I just kept getting less interested.

1) Don't mention the thing.  In the first several chapters, Louise Millar has several characters mention a thing that paranoid Kate Parker bought without mentioning what it is.  This builds up quite a bit of hype, intentionally, since most of the characters have no reason not to just say what it is.  The actual object is a letdown.

2) Villain POV.  ACCIDENTS HAPPEN is billed as a psychological thriller where Kate doesn't know if she's right to be anxious and paranoid or imagining everything.  Good thing we slip into the villain POV and know that someone is breaking into the house!  It manages to deflate the tension without giving any indication (at least to over halfway through the novel) as to why the man is stalking Kate.

3) Broke my suspension of disbelief.  Kate is trying to overcome her anxiety, partially because she's sees the negative effect she's having on her son's life.  When she meets a stranger named Jago who is an expert in the field, she instantly trusts him despite the fact that he encourages her to do dangerous and illegal things.  There is a difference to not being afraid to go to the corner store and pick up some milk, and not being afraid to trespass.  There are dumb things to do even if you aren't anxious, so it just strained my credulity to breaking that Kate instantly trust Jago.

4) Unsympathetic to conflict.  Remember I mentioned that negative effect on Kate's son?  A central bit of conflict is that his grandparents are just about ready to report Kate to child services and take custody.  That motivates Kate not only truly seek to change, but to notice that he has been hurt by her behavior.  I'm all for Kate getting help and becoming a functioning mother, but I find it hard to be sympathetic to her keeping custody of Jack at this moment of time.  (Extra especially since I know what she doesn't due to the villain POV.)

I've heard good things about the end, but I just have no steam for those last 180 or so pages.  I regret forcing myself to read as far as I did and I'm sure I'll just be less kind to ACCIDENTS HAPPEN if I keep going.

August 2, 2013

Review: The Winter Prince

The Winter Prince Book One of The Lion Hunters
Written and illustrated by Elizabeth Wein
Available now from Open Road Media (orig. published in 1993)
Review copy

This is a little bit of a Retro Review for me, although not entirely.  I just about burst with glee when I saw that THE WINTER PRINCE and A COALITION OF LIONS were back in print.  Two reasons for this: 1) I needed a copy of THE WINTER PRINCE for my own and 2) Now I can spread the love more easily!  If the last three books come back into print that will just be the icing on the cake.  (Warning: do not read the fourth book until you have the fifth book handy.)

Hosted by Angie

Nowadays Elizabeth Wein is well known as the author of smash hit CODE NAME VERITY.  But once upon a time she was Elizabeth E. Wein, debut author of an Arthurian retelling called THE WINTER PRINCE.  Artos has three children.  Medraut, the oldest, is a illegitimate and cannot inherit.  Lleu, the prince, is beautiful and fragile and talented and spoiled.  Goewin, his twin, will not inherit either since she is a woman.  The children love each other, but there's also a great deal of resentment and hurt feelings between them.

THE WINTER PRINCE is written like a letter from Medraut to his aunt and mother, Morgause.  She's a cruel woman with a terrible hold on her sons, but at the same time almost understandable as a woman trying to grasp all the power a woman can have.  Medraut perhaps loves and hates her even more than her loves and hates Lleu.

There isn't much of a plot to THE WINTER PRINCE.  It's a book about a relationship, and two people coming to terms with who they are.  It's wonderfully written, Wein's prose lending the book a fittingly seductive and sharp beauty.  It's a little messy, just like it's protagonist, and swiftly covers a great deal of time.  It's one of those books that sticks in your mind long after you read it, and comes back to you immediately once you read the first sentence again.

It's just everything I want out of a book on the Matter of Britain.  And believe me, I'm an Arthurian geek and I want a lot.  It has questions of honor and what makes a good ruler, family and romance, and it's all bound up in insane episodes of cruelty, incest, and violence.  It holds its own with some of the greats of Arthurian legend, like Malory and Marie de France and Rosemary Sutcliff.

Let's all give a big hand to Open Road for reprinting this under appreciated classic.  They've done it quite nicely, with a biography of Wein in the back and illustrations prefacing each chapter.  The illustrations by the author have a nicely simple, old-fashioned look to them. 

August 1, 2013

Review: Forever, Interrupted

Forever Interrupted By Taylor Jenkins Reid
Available now from Washington Square Press (Simon & Schuster)
Review copy

I do not like tearjerkers.  I have no desire to cry when I'm reading.  I don't need books to be relentlessly cheery, but I'm just not looking to be depressed.  But something drew me to FOREVER, INTERRUPTED despite the obviously sad premise, about a woman recovering after her recent husband's death.  I think it was the hint of mystery, that her mother-in-law doesn't know she exists.

FOREVER, INTERRUPTED moves back in forth in time.  There's the present timeline, about Elsie and her mother-in-law Susan.  Then there's the past timeline, which shows Elsie and Ben's whirlwind romance.  The past timeline didn't work as well for me.  It just goes so perfectly.  It adds a bit more pathos to the present, as it allows the reader to know Ben, but nothing that couldn't be folded into the story elsewhere.  It just didn't feel real.  Elsie and Ben argue approximately once, a fight toward the end of their relationship that appears to last for less than an hour.  We know they'll end up together, but the stakes don't have to be that low.

That brings us to the present timeline.  Now, obviously things happened quickly in the past.  Elsie and Ben know each other for about six months total and are married for nine days.  Still, that enough time to mention your significant other to your not-estranged mother.  I did enjoy seeing the path of how that oddity came to be unfold.  I also liked the questions Taylor Jenkins Reid brought up about marriage and grief.  Is Elsie's pain less real, less valid since she knew Ben such a short time?  Is she less a widow because she was only married nine days?  Since she's so young and the relationship was so short, when should people expect her to start dating again?  As the also widowed Susan points out, she's lucky as an older woman that people are more likely to understand if she chooses to spend the rest of her life alone.

Susan and Elsie's relationship contains the rocky reality that's missing from Ben and Elsie's.  They really batter and bruise each other at first, but for totally understandable reasons.  But they manage to reach out and overcome that terrible first impression.  It was nice to see their familial relationship blossom.  I also liked Elsie's relationship with her best friend Anna, who she leans on during her initial time of grief.  It was interesting to see Elsie be aware that she was taking advantage, but not being able to stop herself.

FOREVER, INTERRUPTED was weepier than I like.  At the same time, it was an intriguing character-driven story grounded in deep emotion.  I wish the past parts weren't so sugary sweet; they still could've provided contrast with a bit of bitter.  But I think Reid has made a nice debut and I'll look forward to her next novel.


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