Review: Silver Girl by Elin Hilderbrand

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Genre: general fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 340 (Nook NetGalley uncorrected ARC)
Published: June 2011
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3.5/5

While I've read more than my fair share of Elin Hilderbrand's breezy, easy summer novels (Barefoot, The Castaways, A Summer Affair, The Island, Summer People, Nantucket Nights) this was by far the most emotional and affecting yet. Usually, along with Jennifer Crusie, Hilderbrand is my go-to gal for a light, beachy, often romantic read I can finish in a couple hours. This novel was a slight change in tone from the previous novels I'd read, because those books too dealt with heavy, tough issues, this seems like a much more personal novel, especially when Meredith reflects on her relationship with her late father.

The book beginning finds Meredith, the titular "silver girl" of the book, grieving for the life she believed she had. Her "economic whiz" of a husband Freddy had "commited financial genocide" with a Ponzi scheme of $50billion, cheating thousands (including most of their friends) of their hard-earned cash. Knowing nothing of his heinous crime but disbelieved and blamed by all of America, Meredith can only turn to a friend she'd spurned years earlier because of Freddy. This friend, Constance Flute, is the other main POV character of the novel. The story is told in third person omniscient, switiching between the thoughts and experiences of each woman in real-time. Because Meredith needs to prove her innocence to the FBI, she is forced to recollect and rehash her memories and life with Freddy, and thus her life-long friend Connie. Under the guise of these flashbacks, more about Freddy's cold calculation and control of Meredith emerge, as does Meredith's independence and spirit as she realizes the decades of manipulation she's unknowingly endured. These flashbacks can be poignant and sad, as is the case with the utter devastation of Meredith at her father's untimely death, or chilling in the subtle way Freddy maneuvers and lies around everyone he knew.

Present-day Connie was a good friend, and a symapthetic character. Both women are dealing with loss, either of love, or life. They both, at certain times in the novel, attempt to hide (literally: Meredith wears sunglasses and a hat, Connie tries a makeover) or cover up their pain before they decide to deal with it. Particularly around the secondary characters (the later love-interests as I thought of them) Meredith and Connie would revert to high school attitudes and tactics. In a rather sad, death-afflicted novel these humorous vignettes did wonders for lifting the somber tone. The burgeoning romance between Connie and the handsome, reserved Dan was a nicely understated subplot in the larger scale of Meredith emotional ruin and desolation. 

I enjoyed this novel. I won't say it was one of my favorite novels of the year, or even of the month, but it had more depth and feeling than I would have ever assumed a typically beach-read author would write. The ending, while not wholly tying up all loose ends or stories, left a window of opportunity and sweetness that I think fits the story better than a 'happily ever after' would have. My final vote? Borrow from the library on a day perfect for solitary suntanning.

Review: The Mephisto Covenant by Trinity Faegan

Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Some spoilers ahead. Ye Be Warned Who Treade Here.

Genre: paranormal/supernatural, young-adult
Series: The Mephisto Covenant #1
Pages: 448 (Nook version, NetGalley ARC)
Published: September 2011'
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 2/5

I'm of two different minds about this novel. I'm typically not a huge fan of angels as a race/species/what-have-you in fiction, but they seem to be pretty inevitable, especially in the young-adult paranormal genre. I've even reviewed (and genuinely liked) Addison Moore's Nephilim-friendly Ethereal, but on the whole it's a niche I'd usually try to avoid. To me, it seems that there is a fine line between incorporating the celestial as an aspect of your novel for ingenuity and using it for subtle (or not so subtle) metaphor preaching at your audience. While Mephisto (for the most part) stays far away from that pet peeve of mine, it did hit upon a few others.

I personally, am not a fan of  Stephenie Meyer's Twilight. I try not to rant on about it as it's genuinely not horrible not the worst thing out there (Eragon, I AM LOOKING AT YOU) and it got a metric ton of people to read that normally would not (and it's been out forever soo been there, done that), but on the whole, I find Twilight bland, derivative and cringingly laughable. At times The Mephisto Covenant sadly reminded me strongly of the same vibe I get from Twilight. We've got a bland, perfect MarySue Alexandra "Sasha" Annenkova. She's described as "insanely beautiful" more than once, and much time is spent waxing philosophic on her many, varied attributes. Thankfully, Sasha grows and changes, but only with (and here is another problem of mine in 3, 2, 1. . .) her love interest's active participation. Seriously; she is incapable of self-improvement without Jax's direct involvement (seriously: his spit changes her chemical makeup. Or something). Sasha would have been the same, absolutely pure, boring girl with no thoughts of anger, jealousy, rage UNLESS Jax decides otherwise. Additionally, for Sasha to change her life, her emotions/thoughts/be with Jax, etc., she has to give up Anabo, which is essentially what made her special, made her rare, in the first place. These weird, creepy gender/power undertones skeeved me out for a majority of the novel.

Sasha is an Anabo, which in the mythology of Faegan means she is a descendant of the daughter of Eve Aurora, born before Eve bore Cain, Abel and fell from Paradise. As such, she is utterly pure (as I mentioned above slightly annoying) and radiantly, blondly beautiful and popular. Also in Faegan's creative mythology are the eponymous (I really like that word) Mephisto. This group of all brothers, including Sasha's star-crossed lover Ajax, are all the sons of the dark angel Mephistopheles, and work for Lucifer against another, older, dark Mephisto named Eryx. These Mephistos "[...] walked a thin line between the dark side they inherited from Mephistopheles and the purity of their mother's soul." Aka, angsty internal conflict ahoy! We've got the ultimate in forbidden love: a Son of Hell in love with a pure daughter of Eve. Adding to the Sons of Hells problems, their archenemy Eryx creates legions of lost souls, and leaders for the lost souls called Skia recruit more and more in their attempt to overthrow Lucifer and thus doom the free will God and Lucifer respect. Both sides want Sasha for their own reasons, and the constant, bitter war over Sasha's fate created a tense, brittle atmosphere and feel for the novel. The convoluted mythology of this novel is also a well thought-out, original framework and refreshingly free of pedantic preaching or a hidden agenda.

The pace of the novel does suffer quite often. The beginning chapters began practically in media res, with me scrambling to understand all the dramatic happenings and mysterious circumstances surrounding Sasha. While it is occasionally uneven or rushed, the beginning is intriguing enough (you had me at "KGB agent") to keep me reading the story. The abrupt and often clunky transitions between the POV's of Jax and Sasha often left me scrambling to distinguish storylines, people and events unique to each character's experience. That was disconcerting, along with the at times vague and unclear wording the author occasionally employs, typically during any violent scene. While Faegan's plotting and pacing may not be perfect, her descriptions do pop with vibrancy and humor. A lot of Jax's and Sasha's conversations feel genuine and loving, as opposed to a fake, forced intimacy.

I enjoyed this more than I predicted I would when I began reading. I was won over by the unique mythology and the chemistry between Jax and Sasha, despite all my other misgivings. Yes, the plot is reminiscent of Twilight (one parent home, falls in love with someone can't have, is utterly completely perfect and beautiful and completely special and rare) but it is far better than I had thought it could be. I can see the potential for sequels in this Mephisto Covenant series with Jax's mysterious cast of brothers, and I hope to read them. Though minus the unsettling undertones about needing a man to do things for a woman. All in all, a solid 3 out of 5.

Added This Week

My totally-unnecessary-shouldn't-have-been-shopping-at-all haul:

Vampire Academy (Vampire Academy #1) by Richelle Mead
The City of Ember (Ember #1) by Jeanne DuPrau
The People of Sparks (Ember #2) by Jeanne DuPrau
Skinned (Cold Awakening #1) by Robin Wasserman
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments #1) by Cassandra Clare
3 Willows (Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants #5) by Ann Brashares

I've just finished The Mephisto Covenant, and hope to have that review up later today after work. Until then, here are some of the most interesting/fun posts I've come across this last week.
The Watch:

The big reveal for pottermore has come and gone, and whether you were excited or let down by J.K. Rowling's newest endeavor, there is no denying pottermore is big literary news. Over at i swim for oceans, there is a neat post on pottermore and evolving literature. It's a well-written and thoughtful post.

A blog I recently discovered (with help from the amazing Audra at Unabridged Chick) Burton Book Review is awesome. I've wasted far too much time there pondering the detailed, extensive Jean Plaidy/Victoria Holt bibliography. Before Versailles is a novel I'd had my eye on for a while and this detailed review makes me all the more keen to dig in.

Supernatural Snark, a blog after my very heart/humor, made me laugh out loud with this gem of a Cover Critique. I rather enjoyed reading that earlier this week! They've also got a nice interview with Julie Kagawa up on the site.

Another book that's been garnering a lot of praise and word-of-mouth is Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma. I was on the fence about reading this -- if handled wrong I would be squicked out for real -- but this review pushed me over onto the "gonna read it" side. (I'm A Book Shark)

aaaand lastly, Danielle over at My Mercurial Musings was lucky enough to attend a Les Grossman/Neil Gaiman reading in NYC. Once again, I am super jealous and charmed by the Gaiman. But who isn't? Pop on over and give her blog a look: she's just starting out and is super friendly and nice.

Review: Pretties by Scott Westerfeld

Monday, June 27, 2011

Title: Pretties
Genre: dystopia, young-adult
Series: Uglies #2
Pages: 370 (paperback version)
Published: November 2005
Source: bought
Rating: 3/5

I liked Pretties for almost all the same reasons that I liked the previous book Uglies. It's a semi-unique story in a pretty saturated niche market that is easy and quick to read. The idea of a government entity using looks and sex appeal as a population control is genius and innovative. This second novel is better than the first for a number of valid reasons, but I still felt a little underwhelmed. The basic plot structure seemed vaguely repetitive because in the first Tally Youngblood was an Ugly but longing to be a Pretty, and now she's a Pretty longing to be in the exclusive clique of Crims, she has to relearn about the Smoke like in the first book, Shay and Tally clash/reunite, etc. The first sixty pages felt almost like a reread of Uglies first hundred pages.

The depth that was sorely lacking in the first novel Uglies is present here as well. More details about day-to-day life in New Pretty Town are supplied, and even more information about the "Rusties" [aka humans from around now in history] emerge, but the characters like Tally, David, Shay themselves never grow and mature as the events in their lives unfold. They remain essentially the same self-absorbed teenagers from the first novel. I've read multiple YA where a necessary, and not complete maturation was handled admirably well, and I wished for such a development here. There were a few plotholes in the novel (how did the Smokies hack the dress requirements for the party without computers? and saying explicity that the operation of becoming a Pretty ensures no bruises, but prettified-Tally and her friends are bruised after the prank with the ice rink) but they were less prevalent than in Uglies.

The pseudo-slang that Westerfeld has created for his pretties is basically inane and unoriginal. "Bogus" "bubbly" "pretty-making" "[xxxx]-missing" just seemed like half-efforts at how brainless teenagers might talk. And it was annoying to read, page in and page out. I just kept wishing for a real grammar structure or an intelligent conversation. The pretties are supposed to vapid and dull, and the way they talk certainly impresses that aspect firmly into the narrative and into my brain FOREVER. I did like the names of the Mansions in New Pretty Town (Valentino Mansion, Garbo Mansion, Denzel Park...etc); I thought that was an amusing and clever way to subtly direct attention to who the "Rusties" were.

I enjoyed Zane. I didn't appreciate what he represented (the introduction to the inevitable YA love-triangle, something I've ranted on about at length, but I digress) but he was a fresh, intriguing character in Tally's life. I was happy to see (finally!) a Pretty who had recognized that something was off in their world. The romance aspect of the novel took a back seat to action, an editorial decision I more than endorse for this series. I was sad to see Tally and Shay's friendship end because in this series so far, most relationships are between the sexes, with girls only competing against each other or openly hostile towards one another. Tally herself annoyed me in the beginning because she was back in the vapid mental state I remembered and loathed from book one. As the story moves along, I could begin to tolerate her more. The evolution of Shay through the book was one of its highlights. Instead of being a vapid dull pretty, Shay takes things into her own hands and ends up completely different than the runaway from book one. Shay is more malevolent and interesting than Dr. Cable as an antagonist. Shay is just more interesting as an antagonist period. 

The ending, like the ending of the first one, left me vaguely depressed and unsettled. I can see the reasoning for Tally turning Pretty in book one so they can test the cure, but Westerfeld AGAIN "improves" Tally at the end of book two. I can't help but feel it's not as beneficial for the story as leaving her normal/pretty would have been. The author basically undermines the entire message he's been preaching for two going on threefour books. Add in that it seemed like a lot of the plot for this sequel was recycled. One time felt like a cliff-hanger, two times just makes it a unimaginative sequel.

This is a solid three star book. I had hopes that this book would improve over the original, but it remains at the same average grade that its predecessor did. It is enjoyable to read, but fails to be anything more than bubble-gum entertainment.

If you're interested in another take on this popular novel, head on over here to Agrippina's review. Happy reading!

Blog Tag!

Saturday, June 25, 2011
I have been tagged in a crazy little game of Blog Tag by the fantastically awesome Libby over at her eponymous (I really like that word) blog: Libby Heily.  The Rules are easy enough:
Answer six questions about myself on my blog and then tag eight of my blogger friends. 

1. Do you think you’re hot? 

Well, I know I am not. My normal body temperature is 97.8 degress, so I am always cold. </deliberate obtuseness>

2.Upload a picture or wallpaper you are using at the moment.

Those are the San Francisco Peaks located, not in San Francisco, but about a mile from my front door in Northern Arizona.

3. When was the last time you ate chicken?
A week ago? More? I'm not a huge fan of poultry. 

4. The song you listened to recently.
Right now, and for the last two months, I've been on a huuuge Adele 21 kick.  Either Rolling in the Deep or Someone Like You was probably the last song I've listened to.

5. What were you thinking while doing this?
I wish I was more interesting and/or clever!

6. Do you have nicknames?  What are they?
Just really Jess, but hardly anyone outside of my dad uses it. I was called Webster in my AP English classes but happily, it never stuck. Just DO NOT call me Jessica. Please. That is not my name. My birth certificate says "Jessie" -- just like that.

7.  Tag 8 blogger friends.   
1. Audra at Unabridged Chick
2. Lauren over at Lauren Gets Literal
5. KimberlySue at Historical Fiction Obsession
7. Donna at My Life In Stories

Review: Ultraviolet by R.J. Anderson

Title: Ultraviolet
Author: R.J. Anderson
Genre: young-adult, mystery, paranormal/supernatural fiction
Series: N/A as of yet
Pages: 315 (Nook format; NetGalley uncorrected ARC)
Published: September 2011
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4.5/5

This uniquely imaginative and intelligent novel was a terrifically melded blend of mystery, science fiction, fantasy and young-adult genres. Told through the eyes and life of Alison Jeffries, a seventeen year old girl, Alison is both a very unreliable narrator and a hugely sympathetic character. R.J. Anderson truly achieved the voice, and attitude of a sullen, hurting young woman. Alison is a living, breathing, three-dimensional character filled with flaws, virtues and humanity. As Alison, the narrative is filled with passion and viable emotions and thoughts. Her wry (and often self-deprecating) humor were dead on the mark for a teenager who has been taught to be ashamed of all she is and can do.

This is a novel that was crafted with delicacy and much planning. It is laden with clues, subtle hints, and hidden meanings deep in the imagery-heavy, sensory-rich prose. I do not feel that revealing Alison has synesthesia as a spoiler -- it's out mentioned in the in the ads. Words, numbers, sounds all have personalities, colors, smells thanks to her possessing five different kinds of the phenomenon. Alison, while driving in a car states, "[...]I wanted to hear the landscape, taste its contours, and smell its hues," as only she can. Her amazingly vivid condition fits the lush style of the writing well: it's as close as the reader will ever get to experience life the way Alison does. I was so interested in this very real condition that I researched it online and I am beyond impressed with the depth of research and history Anderson went to in order for this story to work on the levels it does. (Wikipedia link if you're interested in a quick over-view. And you should be.)

I enjoyed the fresh scenery: I've not read any hardly any novels set in Canada and the change of scene was a nice harbinger of the individuality to follow. The atmosphere of the story was completely enveloping. Even necessary the parts of the novel (for example Part One was The Scent of Yesterday, chapters are titled Zero(Is Translucent), One (Is Gray), Ten (Is Vulernable), etc.) are subtle reminders that hearken back to the most fascinating aspect of the novel: Alison's abilities. The first part of the novel focuses much more on the mystery aspect of Alison's story: what exactly did happen to Tori, and was Alison in any way responsible for Tori's death/disappearance. Part one was intense and impossible to extract myself from as the pieces were slowly revealed. The more Alison pulls herself and her memory together, details about the mysterious event are doled out like nuggets of gold. The true events of the mystery are parceled out so stingily, for the first hundred pages I genuinely could not decide if I believed Alison was sane or not. Now that's an unreliable narrator: one who does not even trust herself or her recollections. Part two (Present Sense) suffers just a bit from a rushed, slightly uneven tempo. For instance, Alison has a quasiromance with the alluring Faraday, but it is rushed into and very present, but then never coalesces into a relationship. But, happily, the problem was short-lived: part three (Touching Tomorrow) managed to be well-rounded, nicely executed and soulful conclusion to a delightfully surprising novel. The ending is more bitter than sweet, but is entirely appropriate and fitting for Alison's journey. There are a few opportunities and plot-lines left open for exploration in a possible sequel, one I can only hope is written soon.

This is definitely more of a plot-driven novel. The rush to figure out what happened to Alison, to Tori, to be placed under her own cognizance, moves the characters more than romance or friendship. There was a deft touch with the tension in the novel: it builds slowly, marginally and then ratchets up to 11 in the final scenes. I hardly minded the plot-focus because I was entirely caught up in the uniquely creative language and prose. Descriptions like "his hair was the color of a thunderstorm reflected in a mud puddle" will win me over any day of the week., especially if interpersonal interaction is not a strong point of the author's. And, to be honest, some of the love/emotional scenes were a bit too saccharinely sweet for my taste. However, I do love creative, innovative writers than can make their words and ideas pop: R.J. Anderson is definitely one such author.

This is a novel that more than lives up to its advertising byline: Everything You Know Is Wrong. But you'll only know why if you read this novel. Its unique premise, gorgeous prose, full of quotes to love, and more than helluva twist more than recommend it.

"I heard the universe as an oratorio sung by a master choir accompanied by the orchestra of the planets and the percussion of satellites and moons. The aria they performed was a song to break the heart, full of tragic dissonance and deferred hope, and yet somewhere beneath it all was a piercing refrain of glory, glory, glory. And I sensed that not only the grand movements of the cosmos, but everything that had happened in my life, was a part of that song. Even the hurts that seemed most senseless, the mistakes I would have done anything to erase--nothing could make those things good, but good could still come out of them all the same, and in the end the oratorio would be no less beautiful for it."

Review: The Wild Rose by Jennifer Donnelly

Thursday, June 23, 2011
A note about my netgalley reviews: as these are typically books that are due to be released soon, I try to be pretty spoiler free. I'd hate to ruin a book for someone who has been looking forward to its publication. Unfortunately, that kills a lot of my snark and humor, especially with this particular series. So, if this review feels a bit "off" from how I normally go about things, that would be why.

Days after it was promised, my reviews:

Genre: historical fiction, romance novel-ish
Series: The Tea Rose #3
Pages: 640 (Nook; netgalley ARC)
Published: August 2011
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4.5/5

A great, sprawling epic of a novel, The Wild Rose concluded the fantastic (and fantastically outrageous) Tea Rose series exactly as it began: outlandish, touching and utterly compelling to read. In this series, I started out just merely liking the introductory novel The Tea Rose, and absolutely loving the second The Winter Rose; the middle of those two emotions is how I feel about the finishing tale of the Finnegans and their extended, varied family. There were parts I utterly loved, as well as parts I wanted to kill every character upon the page. In this woeful tale of Seamus Finnegan and Willa Alden, there are: German spies and spy networks, Lawrence of Arabia, women's suffrage in England, extramarital affairs aplenty, World War I, the Spanish flu, Turkish prisons and torture, and the hardly-worth-mentioning now, star-crossed lovers.

This novel had a slower start than the previous two. In the other novels, the plot shot out like a rocket from the first chapter. In this installment, there is a lot more buildup, more tension added to the atmosphere of the story. Told expertly in third person omniscient, I thoroughly enjoyed being able to get into the mind of whatever POV character (and there were quite a few!) was narrating.  It almost feels like the author took the first hundred and fifty pages to simply set up the scenario, and the characters in minute detail.  However, once the war starts, the book really begins to move along and becomes an enthralling, heart-wrenching novel. While it was nice reading all the back story of Sid, Fiona, etc. of the intervening years between the books, I found myself impatient for the outlandishness to begin. The narrative once again jumps many years in between parts. I for one, find these time lapses occasionally jarring; I'd personally much rather prefer a more linear story.

As Fiona's tale was told in The Tea Rose, and Sid's was in The Winter Rose, The Wild Rose tells the long-winded and often tragic story of Seamie Finnegan, the last of the Finnegan children met in the first book.  Seamie is a daredevil and a rogue, full of charm and warmth. Possessing a permanent wanderlust and itchy feet, Seamie meets his match in the strong, fiercely independent Willa Alden. Though they've both loved each other since they were children, time and circumstance (and their own dumb decisions) have conspired to keep them apart. While Seamie and Willa were climbing Kili in The Winter Rose, Willa fell from the peak of the mountain, losing her leg and (to her) the meaning of her life. Unable to cope with the loss of climbing and her freedom and Seamie's unwillingness to let her die on the mountain, Willa abandoned Seamie in Mombasa at the end of the Winter Rose.

 Willa is a difficult woman and character. She's a hard and driven person, and utterly believable in her determination and competitiveness. Her love of the wild and the untamed is the fire inside her; a passion that is matched by only one person: Seamie Finnegan. At the same time, her "poor, poor me" routine wore thin after a couple hundred pages. Unlike India and Fiona, who though lacking Willa's exterior ferocity, were irrepressible and always fought for themselves and who they loved, Willa is more self-pitying and self-destructive.  I eventually was won over by her bravery and depth of feeling, but for most of the novel I was not a huge fan of the character for which I should have had the most sympathy. The evolution of Willa's character was handled beautifully: growing from a self-centered, destructive girl into a protective, loving, mature woman.

With World War I looming in the background, Willa's loss of her leg is a well-planned foreshadowing of the damage this war would wreak on England and its people. Mirroring the destruction of the world around them, throughout the course of the novel both Seamie and Willa do their damnedest to tear themselves apart at any chance they get. The World War I storyline was by far the most affecting and moving part of the novel. The terror of battle fatigue and misunderstanding of the depth of the horror of those battlefield atrocities show Willa's attitude over her leg and Seamie as what it is: shallow self pity. Once that period of Willa was over, my enjoyment of her story increased greatly.

Donnelly does a much better job of restraining herself from going overboard with historical figure camoes and appearances. Focusing more on her actual charismatic actual cast of characters strengthens the plot and does wonders for originality. There are a few token appearances (King Edward, various Prime Ministers, Lawrence of Arabia) but compared to the previous novels, it's a marvelous reduction in superfluous characters. One thing that did not benefit was the recapping. Once again ridiculously prevalent and long-winded, the recaps failed to add anything to the new story. Possibly added for those readers who haven't read the first two in order to catch up, they're more distracting than helpful in the long run. And once again, Donnelly truly succeeds at creating marvelously rich atmospheres for her charters. From the lush, brace Bedouins in the Arabian desert to the stark horror of a medical hospital for battle fatigued soldiers, each scene sparkles with richness and depth.

The ending, though riveting and full of unseen surprises that left my jaw on the floor, wasn't entirely satisfactory. A lot of questions and plotlines were left unresolved or haning. I'm of two minds about this: either Ms. Donnelly has left the door open for another Finnegan family yarn, or I am too nitpicky. I very much enjoyed this novel as well as this series. Maturing from the Mary Sue character Fiona began as, Donnelly has created a vivid novel peopled with strong, flawed, believable women in a time period where women were much maligned and repressed. I have to say, if Donnelly were to write another (Katie Bristow as the main character?!!) I would be first in line to read it.

Blog Watch Wednesday!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Hey all. Hope your week is going as well (and QUICKLY!) as mine! I've got a review of The Wild Rose almost ready to go up on here, possibly later tonight. Here are the next couple books I am most likely to read this week:

The Mephisto Covenant by Trinity Faegan (netgalley)
Ultraviolet by R.J. Anderson (netgalley)
Room by Emma Donoghue (purchased)
Becoming Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey (won)

and with that, onto the Watch!

One of my favorite bloggers, Libby over at her eponymous blog Libby Heily, has put together some AWESOME videos. I watched each one of those (and the commercial multiple times). Hers is definitely a blog I spend waaay too much time perusing in order to procrastinate.

If you're a fantasy fan, you've probably heard of a little book/show called A Game of Thrones. For those who haven't seen this blog, Pat's Fantasy Hotlist has a ton of fun links and posts about the show. We've got a teaser trailer for season two, the fantastic soundtrack listing (available for pre-order on iTunes now), and even some pretty amusing video parodies.

Over in the tech world, for the first time the Nook has surpassed Amazon's Kindle in Consumer Report's ratings. That is, of course, for the next few months until Amazon re-tools and relaunches their new Kindle. But for now, Nook reigns supreme.

Another one of my required daily blog visits: Unabridged Chick. The lovely Audra just reviewed the upcoming release Mr. Bishop and the Actress, a "fun and sexy" Regency novel. Her short and sweet interview with the author Janet Mullany is here. Audra's also running a giveaway for this novel, so read her review and don't forget to enter!

Like zombies? Or are you more of a vampire person? Well, if you're the former, The Bookish Brunette has typed up a nice list (with summaries) of the year's most anticipated zombie releases for her Waiting on Wednesday meme. Nice list, probably none that I will personally read. Not a zombie fan, me.

Lastly, this talented fellow has an amazing post up of his most recent artwork. The one I am linking has Superman, and a few friends of his. The earlier ones have Hermione (as Emma Watson), burlesque dancers.. you can't go wrong. Check it out. If you follow me on twitter, you'll recognize the style from my avatar picture.

Have a great day!

Two Minute Reviews: Goblin Market and Dead in the Family

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

This week is just killing me. I finally managed to wade through the 630+ page netgalley I received of The Wild Rose by Jennifer Donnelly. I'll be posting a review to that (hopefully!) tomorrow. So, until then, two shorter-than-my-wont reviews. 

First up:

Genre: mythic fiction, fantasy
Series: Into the Green #1
Pages: 300 (Nook format)
Published: January 2011
Rating: 3.75/5

The Goblin Market reads like a classic fairytale, with a traditional beginning (also slightly predictable) plotline: the abduction and necessary rescue of a loved one, taken to lands afar and dangerous by an unassuming, unsuspecting "normal" girl. Meredith Drexler is the likable and capable rescuer, and her sister Christina, the carefree, completely dependent rescuee. Though similar to many fairy-tales and myths and  peppered with genre staples goblins, pixies, etc., Hudock's Market is a fairly fun and refreshing story to read.

Descriptive and vivid, this is a well-written and enjoyable novel. The editing in the ebook needed some work but the errors were not too huge of a distraction from the fast-paced novel and the likable characters. The pacing moves along briskly; there is not a dull or boring moment throughout the entire thing. I liked the version of the world that Hudock created: it's original but also recognizable if you look for the similarities.

I did find the romance aspect of Meredith and Him (personally, this was my least favorite name of a character ever) to be pretty abrupt and therefore pretty unbelievable. I don't buy into the "instantaneous love" craze that's overtaken most fiction these days: I want a real, authentic relationship that is built upon and which requires work and genuine affection. One relationship that I did buy in this relationship was the solid one between the sisters. Meredith's drive to save her sister (and ultimately herself) was compelling and affecting.

Read this with fair warning: unlike typical, watered-down fairy-tales, remember that the oldest, beginning fairy-tales were much darker, with the happy endings much more rare. Though some readers might want a different ending after reading this finale, I though it was brilliant as is; the perfect ending to a novel about goblin-abduction. There is a second (and I believe third) book on the way, nearing completion. Jack in the Green,  as the second volume is titled is due out later this summer. The Goblin Market, along with most of Hudock's other titles are pretty cheap for eBooks ($.99 to $1.49 for the four listed). The other books:

Beauty and Other Dangerous Things contains four speculative fiction shorts by author Jennifer Hudock, including Beauty, Hate, The Clockwork Heart and Skin.
Beauty--He's been chasing beauty down for years, wrenching her cold soul from every body it taints, but when the tide turns Brad Shaner discovers a centuries' old evil won't be so easily broken.
Hate--Abby dangles on the edge of defeat, torn between saving or slaying the monster that has taken over her life.
The Clockwork Heart--Death offers Summer the chance to save her younger brother Gerald, but when the price becomes too high, she quickly learns some things are better left alone.
Skin--Haunted by longing for her dead husband Jonathan, Katherine follows his faded dreams to his homeland in Scotland to learn a strange family secret he carried with him to the grave. 

Rhiannon's father disappeared mysteriously when she was a teenager. Her embittered mother refused to talk about him, locking away all of the paintings he left behind. It isn't until her mother's untimely death that she is able to get back into the house and the bottom of her father's disappearance. The truth lies in the bottom of an old trunk in the attic, and it's nothing like she ever imagined. 

A joyride gone wrong leaves a group of teenage friends at odds about what really happened. Seventeen-year-old Eric Malone, owner of the car, was knocked unconscious upon impact, but he knows he saw a girl in the road. Convinced they hit her, they all search the roadside, but find nothing. In search of the truth, Eric discovers that some secrets are too grave to share, even among best friends. 

Book Number two (some spoilers ahead):

Genre: supernatural fiction
Series: Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire series #10
Pages: 352 (paperback version)
Published: March 2011
Rating: 3/5

Dead in the Family is just what we've come to expect from Charlaine Harris: rather enjoyable supernatural fluff. This is the tenth in the Sookie series so far with an eleventh (at least) on the way, so we all know what we're getting into here. It's fun, it's fast, it's a paranormal mystery and in the end Sookie will get her manwomanvampirewerewhatever (and a couple orgasms).

There did seem to be an abundance of plot lines (some of which's resolutions were glaringly obvious) in this sequel, and at times throughout the story Sookie herself seemed dull and uninspired, with none of her sarcasm or snark. I don't mean when she is recovering from the previous book's events in the beginning, which were the most traumatic personal issues/wounds she's had to deal with since her Gran died. Further on in the novel, occasionally her narrative just seemed dull and repetitive, lacking her usual humor.
Sookie without possessing her usual fire and sarcasm is not a very common Sookie, nor one I'd care to read another 300 pages with.

I did enjoy seeing Ms. Stackhouse in a (as much as possible) healthy relationship with a vampireman. The lack of a real love-triangle with multiple male possibilities beyond thrilled me. That formula has more than worn out its welcome in this series. This time, the focus was more on the characters themselves, rather than who wanted whom, who was with whom, etc. I'm also glad Sookie's finally! dating Eric as Bill was boring to read about and Quinn was too much drama even for Sookie's crazy life. Meeting Eric's maker and famous half-vampire brother was an unexpected and unsettling surprise, as well. I enjoy that the famous personages that occasionally pop up in these stories are more of a furnish or an accent rather than the main event; it adds a level of history without deviating from the original characters. 

All in all, this was slightly below par for the series but not as bad as it could have been.

Review: The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Author: N.K. Jemisin
Genre: fantasy
Series: The Inheritance Trilogy #2
Pages: 416 (Nook format)
Published: November 2010
Source: bought
Rating: 4.5/5

In this, the second of her planned Inheritance trilogy, Jemisin once again delivers another captivating and wonderfully different fantasy story. The introduction takes place at the time of the Gray Lady's birth at the end of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and then abruptly the narrative skips forward ten years. The perfect world, the structured monotheistic religion and city of Sky that the Amn, and the Arameri have crafted and perfected over millennia, all have changed drastically. As evidenced by the World Tree entwined completely around the city and even palace of Sky, the symbolic power of Bright Itempas and His chief devouts the Arameri, there is no longer one supreme God. The other Gods and godlings, held back from the world for centuries by the Inderdict of Itempas, now dwell among their human kin in Shadow-under-Sky. Ten years have passed since the events in book one, but now someone in that sheltered city has figured out how to assassinate the immortals.

Instead of fierce, fighting-for-her-life-and-country Yeine, this time around the female main character is more docile and unassuming; seeking only to survive on her own independence in a fierce city. A blind artist named Oree Shoth, she has the astounding ability to "see" magic. A city full of magical godlings lured her from her mother and home of Nimaro in Maroneh after the ascension of the Gray Lady and the Lord of Dark Shadows. Once again, Jemisin stands fantasy stereotypes on their heads: Oree is a dark-skinned character from an Amn/Arameri-vanquished culture. She's a strongly sympathetic character, warm and obviously kind-hearted. Oree might be blind (most of the time) but she sees the world for how it is in a city of people who'd rather lie and deceive themselves. She's rather more proactive than reactive, a fact that is easy to appreciate in a genre populated with more than enough Damsels in Distress. Her rapidly expanding magical repertoire over the events of the novel seem a bit like a deux ex machina until the BIG reveal towards the end of the novel. I will say that Oree had all the elements and knowledge long before she put them together, which seemed out of character for such an intelligent and capable woman. But my minor grumbles aside, Oree was another well-written, likable, strong female character.

Once again, this novel told in the first person perspective, that of Oree dictating, remembering her story. The question obviously then is: who is the intended reader/listener? From the diction, and the smooth, conversational flow, it is clearly not the reading audience. Unlike the previous protagonist Yeine, Oree does not break the fourth wall: her message and story is for another. There is a more relaxed, easy going tone in this book than the first. Perhaps this is simply because Yeine struggled openly and interpersonally and so much of Oree's fight is within herself, or Shiny. Oree has to deal with less pressure than Yeine, who knew she was going to die and tried to protect an entire country, whereas Oree fights for herself and just those few she loves.

Another grumble I had from the first novel The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was that hardly any of those Kingdoms were shown, described or even named. Many more details about this innovative world emerge in book two. We learn that there were originally three continents (High North, Senm, and the Maroland). The Maroland (ancient home of the Maroneh and thus Oree's people's native land) was destroyed by Nahadoth at the behest of an Arameri during a rebellion. Details, such as those mentioned above, about this rich, diverse history of the many peoples in this world have allowed Jemisin to create a layered, intricate world, with unique and vivid customs ("triples" are slyly mentioned instead of couples, the Maroneh people "name their daughters for sorrow and their sons for rage"). Originality and innovative are the key words I would use to describe this book, series and author.

Just like the first one, there was no over-reliance on the magic of the world to move the plot forward or to solve all the problems faced.  The magic, though different types are introduced than the magic described in Yeine's story, is more of an accent to the story than the main point. In addition to Oree's "Sight", there is mention of "bone-bending" and "shadow-sending", among the displays of magic that other characters possess. The many and varying types of magic within this story are intriguing and creative, nicely showcasing Jemisin's unique type of fantasy. 

High marks across the board. A few things might need to be tweaked a bit, but Jemisin has clearly grown as an author since her beginning novel. The Broken Kingdoms continues the tradition proved in book one: these are excellent, entertaining and fresh fantasy novels from a vividly imaginative creator.

Two Minute Reviews: Heist Society & The Strange Case of Finley Jane

Saturday, June 18, 2011
This is a post with two reviews because a) I've had an insane day and wanted to post my review on N.K. Jemisin's The Broken Kingdoms, but the day got away from me and b) neither warranted a long, detailed review. One was a novella I happened to stumble across (Finley Jayne) and the other left me pretty unimpressed.

First up:

Author: Kady Cross
Genre: steampunk, young-adult
Series: The Steampunk Chronicles #0.5
Pages: 78 (Nook version)
Published: May 2011
Rating: 3.5/5

This was an quick, enjoyable little glimpse into this new steampunk series by Kady Cross. It cuts a few corners (some of the character's motivations don't really seem valid, unlikely coincidences, overhearing just the right snippet of a conversation), but it nothing egregious or too annoying. Consisting of less than 80 pages, there was more than enough about this short story to recommend it. This free novella was an excellent way to ensure that I will be buying The Girl in the Steel Corset when I can find it in the Monstrosity. Finley was a more than decent protagonist, with enough mystery to make her intriguing and compelling. Believably protective (and of the young and weak, even), but she possesses a darker side. A new twist on the young girl with power: one that doesn't understand that dangerous ability, nor a girl with a guardian to help her learn. A very nice transition to book one is made at the conclusion of Finley's escapade with the Morton family and I cannot wait to jump into the series. This is free for Nook, Kindle, and Kobo for free. More than worth the time to search for it is my final verdict. 


Author: Ally Carter
Genre: young-adult
Series: Heist Society #1
Pages: 287 (hardback version)
Published: February 2010
Rating: 2/5

I liked this just fine, there is just not much to go on. There are abundant paper-thin teenage characters pulling an 'impossible' museum heist, with no outside help on a museum that has never been hit. This was an incredibly easy, quick read: it took less than two hours for me to complete. I would've liked it better had there been more atmosphere, tension or even real connections between the characters. They all seemed a bit jammed together with no real cohesion as group, especially missing the camaraderie needed for close-knit, long-standing friends pulling a job. Kat (get it? She's a cat burglar) hardly stood out as the main character. The author tries to hard to make her seem 'edgy' and real, but she comes off flat as a board.
There are elements that work for the story (Kat and her love-interest Hale the teenage billionaire were the only two with chemistry, the mysterious Uncle Eddie commanded a little curiosity) but the novel lacked any real depth or feeling. I found myself more annoyed by the constant coy references to the characters' past (and always unexplained exploits and history) than intrigued by the tidbits. We're left to assume Kat is The Greatest Thief Ever at 15 with no real basis or facts for that theory, and then are constantly reminded of that checkered past with every new character that is introduced. It just doesn't work; I couldn't buy the basic plootline and it was downhill from there. I was never involved in the fate or the interaction of the characters, nor did I truly find the plot worth the below-average characterization. This was a pass for me. I most likely will not be buying the second, Uncommon Criminals when it is released later this week. 

Review: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

Friday, June 17, 2011

Author: N.K. Jemisin
Genre: fantasy
Series: The Inheritance Trilogy #1
Pages: 320 (Nook format)
Published: February 2010
Source: bought
Rating: 4.5/5

In a setting worthy of Zelazny with its intricate and deadly familial intrigue, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was a more than pleasant surprise.  I expected a typical high fantasy novel: full of magic, scheming, unwitting heroines, dastardly but lovable rogues, you know, the whole usual bit. I think Patrick Rothfuss said it best about this novel when he said, "I have a great love of fantasy that does something a little different, and this book is a little different in a whole lot of ways." I got all that I expected and more, with twists and surprises I never saw coming. The entire novel, from the innovative world/political system to the mythological aspects of the Gods, was a well thought-out, superbly-executed, hugely entertaining-to-read first novel.

The story jumps right off from the first paragraph; we meet Yeine, our Darre protagonist immediately. This novel is much more about her inner struggle, or with her relations, than an epic war or battle; it's more personal and close. The first-person perspective is used very effectively with Yeine: I constantly felt like I was reading/speaking with her the entire time. The narrative is scattered and hesitant; a clever device as she's slowly remembering, constantly re-fitting this story as she's imparting it to the readers (Yeine even occasionally breaks the fourth wall and addresses the readers directly, but it's appropriate and works for the novel). Her style is very informal and as a "barbarian" of the High North, it fits. The first of many intriguing twists on fantasy cliches: Yeine is not white, nor of the ruling caste, and is from a barbaric matriarchal society. Instead she's described as "darkling" and is constantly reminded of her low status among her pale, cruel Amn relatives. 

A lot of themes are touches on throughout the novel. Race (and racism), gender, slavery and even religion are not shied away from. In a world where the ruling race is the pale-skinned  Amn, who in turn are truly controlled by a single large, monstrously cruel family (the Arameri, to which Yeine reluctantly belongs) who are regarded as the height of civilization while being the depth of depravity, the "barbarian" Yeine is actually the most humane. The Arameri do not allow slaves on their lands, yet they house four of the most enslaved creatures in existence. This was yet another twist of Jemisin's; this time on the fantasy cliche of a God's War or the Fall of Gods. Enslaved former Gods after the war among the The Three in which the Itempas won. For millennia, the Arameri have caged these expunged-from-history Gods as weapons to ensure their power and a gift from the winning side. There was Nahadoth, the Nightlord and his three surviving godling children Sieh, Kurue, and Zhakkarn. The mythology and origins of the Gods from the Maelstrom was creative and well-planned. 

There was almost an East-Asian feel to the atmosphere of the story. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms certainly did not feel Eurocentric or written with the Western world in mind, though Yeine's homeland felt almost Amazonian in its ferocity and independence. This individuality in a time of many medieval-type fantasy novels was a another nice touch I appreciated: these creative ideas can make or break a novel. The novel felt fresh and new, unlike a familiar retread of a much-used storyline. There is no over-reliance on magic to solve the world's or even Yeine's problems; it's more cerebral than that. When the magic does come into play, it's restrained or deftly applied to the characters. <spoiler ahead> I thought that unwittingly possessing a part of a fallen Goddess's fractured soul was uniquely witty way to reinvent the young girl with immense but hidden power stereotype. </spoiler>

The only complaints I had were these: the love scenes between Yeine and Nahadoth. They were a little cringe-worthy and cliche; I think for the next book I'd like to see a little more finesse, perhaps more belief in a relationship before two people (Gods? Swirling masses?) hop into bed. I'd also like to see a wider view of these Hundred Thousand Kingdoms that the Arameri control. Only Sky, center of the Amn, is described at length, though even then only the nobles or privileged Amn are shown with any details.  Yeine's homeland Darr warranted an occasional mention and one visit, but that was nowhere near enough to sate my curiosity about the warrior-women society. 

The ending, though it what was expected even foretold throughout the novel, had quite the surprise attached to it. While completely concluding and resolving the stories and plots within this first novel, it managed to be the perfect cliffhanger for the next in the series (which I am starting immediately), The Broken Kingdoms.  

My cheap finds lately (sssssh): 

There've been quite a few fairytale retellings coming out of late and this week I stumbled upon Ember and Cat's Tale: A Fairytale Retold, both by Bettie Sharpe.  Here's the blurb for Ember (which is $.99 at Barnes and Noble and Amazon): 

"Everyone loves Prince Charming. They have to—he’s cursed. Every man must respect him. Every woman must desire him. One look, and all is lost.
Ember would rather carve out a piece of her soul than be enslaved by passions not her own. She turns to the dark arts to save her heart and becomes the one woman in the kingdom able to resist the Prince’s Charm.
Poor girl. If Ember had spent less time studying magic and more time studying human nature, she might have guessed that a man who gets everything and everyone he wants will come to want the one woman he cannot have.Warning: This story contains sex, violence, and naughty words. It’s based on a fairytale, but it isn’t for kids. .

And the blurb for Sharpe's Cat's Tale, which is all of $3.19 at Barnes and Noble and Amazon: 

"Once upon a time there was a scheming, lying tart who cared for nothing but her own pleasures and her shoe collection.

Once the peerlessly beautiful Lady Catriona, consort to the king, Cat's fortunes fall far when her aged husband dies. The king's wizard turns her into a cat and tries to drown her in the mill pond. Fortunately Cat is a clever survivor and enlists the help of Julian, the miller's youngest son, in her plan for revenge.
She originally sees Julian as a mere pawn for her plans to break her curse, but as they work together Cat comes to know and care for him. Even if the curse can be broken, can a good-hearted man love a woman who has been as vain and selfish as Cat??"

If you like steampunk (and really, you should), I happily found Steam and Sorcery by author Cindy Spencer Pape. I was pretty intrigued and bought it. Blurb right here:

 "Sir Merrick Hadrian hunts monsters, both human and supernatural. A Knight of the Order of the Round Table, his use of magick and the technologies of steam power have made him both respected and feared. But his considerable skills are useless in the face of his greatest challenge, guardianship of five unusual children. At a loss, Merrick enlists the aid of a governess.Miss Caroline Bristol is reluctant to work for a bachelor but she needs a position, and these former street children touch her heart. While she tends to break any mechanical device she touches, it never occurs to her that she might be something more than human. All she knows is that Merrick is the most dangerously attractive man she's ever met—and out of reach for a mere governess.When conspiracy threatens to blur the distinction between humans and monsters, Caroline and Merrick must join forces, and the fate of humanity hinges upon their combined skills of steam and sorcery..." 

It's only $4.79 right now on Barnes and Noble, and $4.61 on Amazon. If you end up liking that, the same author has a free novella out in the same series, The Gaslight Chronicles: Photograpghs and Phantoms. (Amazon) No blurb, but it is free and if you like the first, you'll probably enjoy it. I'll be sure to post my views later on this month.
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