Thursday, October 16, 2014

Review: Hit by Lorie Ann Grover

Title: Hit
Author: Lorie Ann Grover
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Series: None
Pages: 224
Published: October 7, 2014
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Rating: 2 out of 5

After receiving a full-ride scholarship to Mills College for Girls, it appears Sarah's future is all laid out before her that is until she walks into a poetry class led by Mr. Haddings, a student teacher from the nearby University of Washington. Suddenly, life on the UW campus seems very appealing, and Sarah finds herself using her poetry journal to subtly declare her feelings for Haddings. Convinced Mr. Haddings is flirting back, she sets off for school in the rain with a poem in her back pocket one that will declare her feelings once and for all.

Mr. Haddings has noticed Sarah's attention; the fallout from any perceived relationship with a student is too great a risk, and he has decided to end all speculation that morning.

But everything changes when Mr. Haddings feels a thud on his front bumper when he glances away from the road, and finds Sarah in the street with blood pooling beneath her.

Hit is a combination of If I Stay and a Lifetime original movie about student teacher relationships. The premise sounded intriguing, and I think it has promise, but unfortunately the execution is lacking. The prose didn’t resonate with me because it was marred by sophomoric writing. Metaphors were mixed, dialogue was stilted, and scenes were hard to visualize due to clunky descriptors. (“Her wild black bun bobs around her head like a boxer’s fist”.) Characters in this book say each other's names more in one scene than I say my husband's in a month.

“It’s going to be all right, Luke, …Oh, Cydni and her mother, Chantelle are here?... Sarah is going to be fine, Janet,” …
“Mark, listen --”
“Have you seen Sarah or the doctor?”
“Yes, Mark. … Sarah’s having brain surgery.”

Not only is that lazy exposition, regarding Chantelle, it’s all redundant and boring to read. There are instances of characters licking their own cheeks and American characters using “flat” for apartment. I could forgive some of these issues, but not all of them, not from an author publishing for ten years.

I wanted some mystery to Sarah and Haddings’ relationship, but the dual POVs very quickly remove any suspense. Haddings is an unreliable narrator, but stalking the girl, sending her red roses, being disappointed at her ultimate choice, all point to his true feelings. If it had only been Sarah’s point of view, especially with the false memories from her trauma, it might have lent the book some depth. Or not, considering how little their relationship actually plays into their lives.

I also think the book takes place on too small a scale. There are no legal ramifications, no real emotional struggles. The book only takes place over three days. Everything happens too fast, too neatly. There’s too much emphasis is placed on how hideous Sarah looks after her surgery, but not enough on her possible brain damage. I would say 90% of her and her mother’s interactions are about Sarah’s ruined beauty.

The end was the biggest disappointment. As I said, it’s too neat. Characters undergo insane amounts of growth and discover forgiveness through faith in an unnatural way. And then there’s the paragraph where Sarah actually sums up all of the literary ideas in the story. Well it’ll make it easy for anyone who’s writing a book report. Highlight for spoiler:

"A thousand thoughts flood my brain. University of Washington. Mills College. Guilt versus attraction. Duty versus love. Friendship wit Haddings or being alone, at least for the foreseeable future. School versus guy relationships. Forgiveness versus anger. Me versus us, when there never really was an “us”, although I won’t give up that I caught his eye. Finding out who I am now versus trying to return to who I was. Good versus bad. Right versus wrong. Ultimately, what’s best for me solely."

In the end, the book doesn’t work for me at all. I wish it did, but unfortunately I recommend a pass.




Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Review: Stitching Snow by R.C. Lewis

Title: Stitching Snow
Author: R.C. Lewis
Genre: fantasy, sci-fi
Series: None
Pages: 338
Published: Expected October 14, 2014
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Rating: 3 out of 5

Princess Snow is missing.

Her home planet is filled with violence and corruption at the hands of King Matthias and his wife as they attempt to punish her captors. The king will stop at nothing to get his beloved daughter back—but that’s assuming she wants to return at all.

Essie has grown used to being cold. Temperatures on the planet Thanda are always sub-zero, and she fills her days with coding and repairs for the seven loyal drones that run the local mines.

When a mysterious young man named Dane crash-lands near her home, Essie agrees to help the pilot repair his ship. But soon she realizes that Dane’s arrival was far from accidental, and she’s pulled into the heart of a war she’s risked everything to avoid. With the galaxy’s future—and her own—in jeopardy, Essie must choose who to trust in a fiery fight for survival.

This book is a sci-fi retelling of a popular fairy tale, involving a hidden princess exiled to another planet to save her from her murderous step-mother, where she works as a mechanic alongside her bumbling droid sidekick until a prince turns her life upside-down and convinces her to join the fight against the wicked queen.

Did I describe Cinder or Stitching Snow?

It’s true, Stitching Snow is derivative. There are superficial differences: Essie works mostly with computer programs instead of mechanics, there are seven droids, she knows she’s a princess, unlike Cinder, but the basic plot is there. They even both have the same power to control others’ minds. That’s more than coincidence.

Still, I like Essie. On Thandra she works hard to build a life for herself after being dealt a really shit hand. She’s cautious, but there’s still compassion. Her interactions with the droids are pretty sweet. I like that she taught herself to fight and used men’s expectations of her to win money. Unfortunately, I never really liked her and Dane together. I felt like he undermined her, especially with the fighting. As the book progressed, especially as she took on the princess role, there was a lot of inequity and fighting over who protects whom. It doesn’t help that he started their relationship by lying, and worse.

I wish I knew Dane the person. His people love him, but I didn’t get a sense of why. He can rewire droids, fight like a beast, and pilot any space ship, but where did he learn that? All I really know about him is that he loves his father enough to lead a coup against the most powerful planet in the system, kidnapping and lying as he goes. That seems at odds with the guy who loves Dimwit and little kids. And yet I’m supposed to invest in the romance.

The plot is a pretty good update of Snow White. The main elements are all present, but with the changes to the romance, and the slow reveal, I actually managed to forget that Essie was Snow for the first part of the story. I thought that was pretty impressive, considering. The locations are planets instead of forests, which ended up feeling less than organic. Our Snow leaves Hoth, stopping in Tatooine for upgraded technology, before traveling to Dantooine to meet with the rebels, and ending up in Coruscant to face the emperor. Sorry, wrong sci-fi again. Whatever they’re called, the planet hopping felt abrupt and kept resetting the plot.

Speaking of the king, I really, really could have done without a child sexual assault/incest plot. I don’t think a child who’s faced attempted murder, been chased from her home, lived alone in the wilderness with a bunch of drunk miners, and had to become a cage fighter to survive needs another reason not to get close to people. It’s a no. Especially after Essie had to deal with two attempted assaults in the first hundred pages. Find a better way to put your heroine in danger.

It’s obviously not a perfect book, but it is a fun one. For all my complaints, I enjoyed Essie’s journey. I prefer the first half to the second, but it’s not a book I put down. Dane wasn’t bad, just underdeveloped. It’s not a book I’d reread, but for other fairy tale fans, I’d suggest giving it a try.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Review: Lark Ascending by Meagan Spooner

Title: Lark Ascending
Author: Meagan Spooner
Genre: fantasy, sci-fi
Series: Skylark #3
Pages: 332
Published: Expected October 7, 2014
Source: Publisher via edelweiss
Rating: 2 out of 5

The thrilling conclusion to The Skylark Trilogy Revolution is brewing in the city within the Wall. The city stands divided, and war is imminent. The rebels need a leader. After months beyond the Wall, Lark returns with Owen by her side, prepared to overthrow the Institute once and for all. But Lark's triumphant homecoming is short-lived when another leader emerges to unite the rebels: Eve, a mysterious Renewable. Lark wonders if Eve's powers will bring them strength or bring humanity's final downfall.


I’d like to start by reminding our readers that my Skylark review was 5 stars and I named it my favorite book of 2012. My Shadowlark review was a bit more reluctant, but it was still a 4 star rating. This review does feature spoilers for previous books in the trilogy.


A popular review of the final Skylark book says,

"Trust me. Everything you've been hoping for, all in one book."

And that is completely true. Provided what you're hoping for is cliched writing, a new, unbeatable bad introduced two and a half books into a trilogy, even more jealousy, endless relationship drama, and interminable conversations about the shadows inside us. If what you were hoping for was wonder, world building, or that showdown between Lark and Gloriette? Perhaps you could go read book one again.

There is actually a scene where the main character and the villain face off on a catwalk over a bunch of evil science equipment. Has the book been optioned, because I feel like this was written just for the dramatic trailer shot of Shailene Woodley hanging from the scaffolding, feet shrouded in factory fog, while the music crescendos. Otherwise, there is zero reason to include something straight out of a 1980s action movie or a Silver Age comic book.

Beyond the cliched set pieces and writing, (two instances of the evil YA sentence, “I exhaled a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding”,) Lark has suddenly become an awful person, actually telling Oren that he can’t explore a cure for his shadow because, “It changes my life too, you know.” The whole subplot about them not being together because of their shadows was pretty much resolved in the last book, and yet it makes up the greatest part of this one.

For a story that’s supposed to be about a rebellion overthrowing the government and healing the magical rift in the land, it spends an awful lot of time: describing the hideous gruel the rebels eat; flashing back to the life of Eve, the renewable; talking, talking, and more talking about whose turn it is to risk their life. (Hint, Lark always thinks it’s Lark’s). I complained that Shadowlark was light on action, compared to Skylark, but this time around, there is 1 (one!) fight scene before the climax. I’m not asking for non-stop war, but I never felt the urgency of the rebellion. I was bored.

Gloriette is in two flashbacks and two current scenes. For a character that’s been built as the ultimate bad and head of the evil organization, that’s just not ok. Her resolution was bullshit. The climax was actually pretty exciting, aside from the set dressing, and I didn’t hate the resolution, though I did think they started building the light/dark equivalency too late in the book.

Unfortunately, I can’t recommend Lark Ascending. Where the first book had everything I love in YA fantasy, this book had everything I hate. The magic system has become muddled and ill defined. There are now three love triangles. Animal deaths, (sort of.) Jealousy and girl fighting. It’s unfortunate, but even if the series wasn’t over, it would be for me.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Book Tour Review: Enchantress by Maggie Anton

Title: Enchantress
Author: Maggie Anton
Genre: historical fiction
Series: Rav Hisda's Daughter #2
Pages: 376
Published: September 2 2014
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Rating: 3/5

Fantastic tales of demons and the Evil Eye, magical incantations, and powerful attractions abound in Enchantress, a novel that weaves together Talmudic lore, ancient Jewish magic, and a timeless love story set in fourth-century Babylonia.  

One of the most powerful practitioners of these mysterious arts is Rav Hisda’s daughter, whose innate awareness allows her to possess the skills men lack. With her husband, Rava--whose arcane knowledge of the secret Torah enables him to create a "man” out of earth and to resurrect another rabbi from death--the two brave an evil sorceress, Ashmedai the Demon King, and even the Angel of Death in their quest to safeguard their people, even while putting their romance at risk.

The author of the acclaimed Rashi’s Daughters series and the award-winning Rav Hisda’s Daughter: Apprentice has conjured literary magic in the land where "abracadabra” originated.  Based on five years of research and populated with characters from the Talmud, Enchantress brings a pivotal era of Jewish and Christian history to life from the perspective of a courageous and passionate woman. 

Maggie Anton's latest novel Enchantress is a deeply detailed and researched story that neatly ties reimagined history with well-crafted and pious characters. It's also the second novel in the Rav Hisda's daughter series, with the first book, Apprentice, dealing with the earlier years of main character Hisdadukh's life. It can read rather slowly, but this more religiously-inclined novel was memorable and different. The narration is direct and dry, but Anton's storytelling is effective and natural for Dodi's perspective.

I was interested in both the characters and the magical realism of the story for Enchantress, but entering into the series midway made it hard to fully understand either. Starting with the second novel is theoretically possible, but not recommended due to the sheer detail and background the reader will miss out on. There's an entire book of Rava and Hisdadukh and Rami's personal lives (voiced in her thoughts) that I don't know enough about to fully appreciate here in the second novel.

I liked this novel but couldn't personally connect with enough of the story's aspects to love it. I wasn't the hugest fan of the way the climax of the novel, but thought the ending was handled well and authentically. I was interested especially in learning more about the lore of the magic for the witches, but never felt fully shown. For me, it was a mixed bag with Enchantress, but it was interesting to read about a different era and people and from a distinct and original POV.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Discussion: How do you find time to read?

The biggest question I get asked as a book blogger is, "how do you find time to read so much?", and its sister question, "so, you read like all the time, right?"

You caught us. We have time turners.

The funny thing is, I really don't. I work 50-60 hours a week, so my biggest hobby is vegging in front of reality tv. I'm a multitasker, but I have a lot of hobbies that I try to make time for. I play video games, (puzzle games, Guacamelee, and Sims 4 right now,) I do logic puzzles, I craft, I bake. And yes, I read.

I do set aside half an hour a day, usually after dinner or before bed, but my real "secret" is my e-reader. I'm quick, though not as quick as my coblogger, (2000 pages in a week, what the hell, Jess?) and I can usually read a couple pages in line at the store or on my commute to work. Those little 5-10 minute sessions add up. For the fun of it, I noted my reading for a week, to show how I find time. (I work 10:30 am - 7 pm. Subtract 2 hours from all times to pretend I'm a normal adult who doesn't go to bed at 2 am.)

Sunday:

2:13 - 2:19 - 4 pages of The Way of Kings on the drive home from brunch.

4:09 - 5:20 - 19 pages of TWoK while working from home.

6:35 - 7:00 - 92 pages of The Resurrection of Ra’s Al Ghul before dinner.

8:52 - 9:08 - 4 pages of TWoK 

12:45 - 1:10 - 18 pages of TWoK before bed.

1:12 - 1:31 - 11 pages of The Secret Garden

Total: 162 minutes - 148 pages


Monday:

10:27- 10:35 - 1 page TWoK on the drive to work

7:15-8:00 - 3 pages of TWoK

12:20 - 12:33 - 8 pages The Secret Garden

Total: 66 minutes - 12 pages (It was not a good day.)


Tuesday:

9:30 - 10:30 - 164 pages of The Resurrection of Ra’s al Ghul after dinner.

12:50 - 12:58 - 5 pages of The Secret Garden 

1:05 -2:14 - 54 pages of TWoK before bed.

Total: 137 minutes - 223 pages


Wednesday:

12:41 - 1:30 - 14 pages of Lark Ascending while reports ran

2:34 - 2:50 - 10 pages of LA while printer was down

5:46 - 5:50 - 3 pages of LA while reports ran

9:09 - 9:45 - 23 pages of LA

1:11 - 2:08 - 43 pages of TWoK before bed
Total: 162 minutes - 93 pages


Thursday:

10:15-10:25 - 6 pages of TWoK on the drive to work.

3:40 - 4:00 - 17 pages of TWoK on lunch break

8:54 - 9:06 - 7 pages of TWoK waiting for Project Runway to come on/Google to update.

12:50 - 1:05 - 9 pages of The Secret Garden

1:11 - 1:46 - 25 pages of TWoK before bed.

Total: 92 minutes - 64 pages


Friday:


9:02 - 9:13 - 6 pages of TWoK on the drive to work.

10:07-10:12 - 2 pages of TWoK during unexpected computer restart

1:50 - 2:05 - 12 pages of TWoK on lunch.

6:26 - 6:28 - 1 page of TWoK while a report loaded

8:06 - 8:17 - 6 pages of TWoK on the drive home

11: 59 - 12:17 - 2 pages of TWoK during ANTM

12:30 - 12:45 - 9 pages of The Secret Garden

12:49 - 1:17 - 23 pages of TWoK before bed.

Total: 104 minutes - 63 pages


Saturday:

10:28 - 10:50 - 11 pages of TWoK on the drive to the spa.

10:53- 10:56 - 1 page of TWoK in the waiting room.

12:19 - 12:30 - 7 pages of TWoK on the drive to work.

3:46 - 4:00 - 9 pages of TWoK on the drive home.

9:06 - 9:08 - 1 page of TWoK trying to teach the cat a lesson.

12:53 - 1:15 - 14 pages of The Secret Garden

1:23 - 2:57 - 75 pages of TWoK when I should have been sleeping.

Total: 168 minutes - 118 pages


So, between my daily commute and 30-60 minutes before bed, I squeeze an average of 2 hours of reading into a day. In the grand scheme of things, that's a pittance. And yet, even with an awful Monday, I'm averaging 103 pages a day. The secret for me is to always be ready to read. Printer down? Four pages! Cat's being an asshole? One page! Do I really need eight hours sleep? FIFTY PAGES!

What about you? Do you rigidly schedule your reading time? Take the bus an extra stop to fit in a few more pages? Forgo sleep to torture yourself in fantasy worlds? Tell us in the comments!



Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Danielle's September Reads and Book Hauls

Oh September. You are not the book blogger's favorite month. I, luckily, only had five September ARCs, compared to some of my friends who had a score, but by the time I got through all my "required" books, I hit a pretty major slump. The good news is, I found a book to pull me right back out! The bad news? It's The Way of the Kings and I didn't finish its 1,005 pages, so I only have seven books on my read list this month.

In other, better news, I was featured over at Beauty and the Bookshelf's Be Our Tattooed Guest, showing off my Ray Bradbury ink.

Read:

The Bridgertons: Happily Ever After by Julia Quinn - 4 Stars (Review)
If I Stay by Gayle Forman - 5 Stars
Firebug by Lish McBride - 3.5 Stars (Review)
Love and Other Unknown Variables by Shannon Lee Alexander - 1 Star (Review)
Jingo by Terry Pratchett - 4 Stars
The Assassin's Blade by Sarah J. Maas - 4 Stars
The Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul by Grant Morrison - 5 Stars


As for books bought, I had two hauls. Early in the month I bought What If?, The Girl With All the Gifts, and The Secret Garden at B&N.

Toothless is just for Meg.
I also had a super fun date with my husband to my favorite ice cream shop and used book store, where I picked up a new copy of Alloy of Law, An Offer From a Gentleman, Ten Things I Love About You, Naked Heat, and a collection of Poirot novels. I also bought Where She Went after I finished and LOVED If I Stay.

Wouldn't you know, the ice cream shop is next to the comic store?!

On the ARC front, I was approved for five that I'm super hyped for. Keep an eye out for reviews in the coming months! Princess of Thorns has been on my radar since last fall, so I'm over the moon.

Not pictured:  I'm Not a Terrorist, But I've Played One on TV by Maz Jobrani

That'll do me for this month, what did you read?



Tuesday, September 23, 2014

DNF Review: Love and Other Unknown Variables by Shannon Lee Alexander

Title: Love and Other Unknown Variables
Author: Shannon Lee Alexander
Genre: contemporary, romance
Series: Standalone
Pages: 350
Published: Expected October 7, 2014
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Rating: 1 out of 5
Charlie Hanson has a clear vision of his future. A senior at Brighton School of Mathematics and Science, he knows he’ll graduate, go to MIT, and inevitably discover solutions to the universe’s greatest unanswered questions. He’s that smart. But Charlie’s future blurs the moment he reaches out to touch the tattoo on a beautiful girl’s neck.

The future has never seemed very kind to Charlotte Finch, so she’s counting on the present. She’s not impressed by the strange boy at the donut shop—until she learns he’s a student at Brighton where her sister has just taken a job as the English teacher. With her encouragement, Charlie orchestrates the most effective prank campaign in Brighton history. But, in doing so, he puts his own future in jeopardy.

By the time he learns she's ill—and that the pranks were a way to distract Ms. Finch from Charlotte’s illness—Charlotte’s gravitational pull is too great to overcome. Soon he must choose between the familiar formulas he’s always relied on or the girl he’s falling for (at far more than 32 feet per second squared).

Reviewed by Danielle

“I meant how long until you die?

And there we go, after 163 pages of Charlie Hanson being one of the worst people in young adult history, the straw that broke the camel’s back. Rarely do I have the “pleasure” of experiencing a character who is such an unmitigated ass, but C-Man takes the lead right out of the gate by conducting “experiments” of touching girls without their permission and acting confused when they respond negatively. He’s just never going to get the hang of women. :(

Chuck is a theoretical mathematics genius at an exclusive private school for the sciences. He’s been planning on attending MIT since he was 9 and he won’t let anything stand in his way of becoming valedictorian, being accepted to his dream school, catching the eye of a great mathematician who will take him under his wing until Charlie wins his first Nobel Prize. And yet, while we’re told all of this, the only schooling we ever see is Charlie purposely sabotaging his English class, because books and literature are for plebeians. Wouldn’t such a driven and ambitious character try his best in every class to ensure his place as the top student?

The school has a reputation for poor English grades and driving off any teacher foolish enough to try and teach it to them. This year, the poor lamb lead to slaughter is Ms. Finch, an unorthodox young woman who reads the class novels, just for the fun of it, and takes them outside to view the world in a different way. O Captain! My Captain! Sorry, wrong piece of media. Despite trying to engage with the students on a mathematical level, Chuck’s BFF, James, launches a full scale bullying attack on her, which Charlie, reluctantly at first, supports and escalates.

It’s not just his teacher Charlie bullies. He’s rude to his friends, to the point where it’s an ongoing “joke” that he never apologizes. He admits that he doesn’t remember he has a sister unless she’s right in front of him. He runs over Mrs. Dunwitty’s flower garden and is forced to do yard work for her to make up for it. He’s openly hostile and refers to her as Mrs. Dimwit, because…? (He does HAVE parents, unlike James and the Love Interest, but they’re in perhaps two scenes, so I have no idea how he treats them. We have a serious case of missing adults in this book.) This isn’t “genius with no social skills”; this is full on asshole.

The love interest is Charlotte, an enigmatic and moody young woman with hope tattooed on her neck and feathers drawn on her shoes and fingertips smudged with charcoal, who just so happens to be the English teacher’s sister. Charlie is obsessed with her from the second he sees the back of her neck. I have no idea how Charlotte feels; she doesn’t get a point of view.

Not every love interest who changes a character’s life is a manic pixie dream girl, but Charlotte is. She spends all of her time at Charlie’s house, ostensibly because she’s lab partners with his sister, but really to teach him the joy of old musicals, abstract art, and taking risks. I chose to DNF when her secret was revealed, because it’s extremely derivative of another MPDG romance by a certain “savior of young adult” that just became a movie. I also found it completely out of place, because the foreshadowing suggested she was mentally ill, possibly suicidal, not dying of cancer.

I hate this book too much to try to finish it. I’m completely baffled at who the audience for a book about hating books is supposed to be, and how I can possibly root for, or fall in love with, this main character. Again, I did stop just shy of the halfway point and you may find the end redeems the beginning, but I don’t recommend trying it to find out.
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