Tax Return? What Tax Return?

Thursday, April 26, 2012
I just went crazy on my poor tax return; it never even had a chance. I bought/pre-ordered 9 new books with this delightful little boon and some of them are books I've read before (as ARCs) and loved so much that I wanted my own copies (Shadow and Bone, Seraphina, Vaclav & Lena), while other's I've coveted for a long time.

ARC Previously Read/Pre-Ordered:

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo (review to come but it is 5/5 stars)
(due out June 5 2012)

Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near-impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one unlikely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life– a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha… and the secrets of her heart.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman (review to come but  it is a 5/5 star book as well) 
(due out July 10 2012)

Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty's anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.

Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen's Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

In her exquisitely written fantasy debut, Rachel Hartman creates a rich, complex, and utterly original world. Seraphina's tortuous journey to self-acceptance is one readers will remember long after they've turned the final page.

Vaclav & Lena by Haley Tanner (5/5 stars, review here)

Set in New York's Russian émigré community, Vaclav & Lena is a timeless love story from a stunningly gifted young novelist.

Vaclav and Lena, both the children of Russian émigrés, are at the same time from radically different worlds. While Vaclav's burgeoning love of performing magic is indulged by hard-working parents pursuing the American dream, troubled orphan Lena is caught in a domestic situation no child should suffer through. Taken in as one of her own by Vaclav's big-hearted mother, Lena might finally be able to blossom; in the naive young magician's eyes, she is destined to be his "faithful assistant"...but after a horrific discovery, the two are ripped apart without even a goodbye. Years later, they meet again. But will their past once more conspire to keep them apart?


(temporary cover, book due out November 6 2012)

In this stunning sequel to the highly acclaimed "Daughter of Smoke and Bone," Karou must come to terms with who and what she is, and how far she'll go to avenge her people. Filled with heartbreak and beauty, mysteries and secrets, new characters and old favorites, Days of Blood and Starlight brings the richness, color and intensity of the first book to a brand new canvas.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone was declared a "must read" by Entertainment Weekly, was named a Best Book of the Year by, and The New York Times called it "a breath-catching romantic fantasy.

(due out May 15 2012)

 A captivating novel of rich spectacle and royal scandal, Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow spans fifteen years in the fateful reign of Marie Antoinette, France’s most legendary and notorious queen.

Paris, 1774. At the tender age of eighteen, Marie Antoinette ascends to the French throne alongside her husband, Louis XVI. But behind the extravagance of the young queen’s elaborate silk gowns and dizzyingly high coiffures, she harbors deeper fears for her future and that of the Bourbon dynasty.

From the early growing pains of marriage to the joy of conceiving a child, from her passion for Swedish military attaché Axel von Fersen to the devastating Affair of the Diamond Necklace, Marie Antoinette tries to rise above the gossip and rivalries that encircle her. But as revolution blossoms in America, a much larger threat looms beyond the gilded gates of Versailles—one that could sweep away the French monarchy forever.


Koschei the Deathless is to Russian folklore what devils or wicked witches are to European culture: a menacing, evil figure; the villain of countless stories which have been passed on through story and text for generations. But Koschei has never before been seen through the eyes of Catherynne Valente, whose modernized and transformed take on the legend brings the action to modern times, spanning many of the great developments of Russian history in the twentieth century.

Deathless, however, is no dry, historical tome: it lights up like fire as the young Marya Morevna transforms from a clever child of the revolution, to Koschei’s beautiful bride, to his eventual undoing. Along the way there are Stalinist house elves, magical quests, secrecy and bureaucracy, and games of lust and power. All told, Deathless is a collision of magical history and actual history, of revolution and mythology, of love and death, which will bring Russian myth back to life in a stunning new incarnation.

 Twelve-year-old September lives in Omaha, and used to have an ordinary life, until her father went to war and her mother went to work. One day, September is met at her kitchen window by a Green Wind (taking the form of a gentleman in a green jacket), who invites her on an adventure, implying that her help is needed in Fairyland. The new Marquess is unpredictable and fickle, and also not much older than September. Only September can retrieve a talisman the Marquess wants from the enchanted woods, and if she doesn’t . . . then the Marquess will make life impossible for the inhabitants of Fairyland. September is already making new friends, including a book-loving Wyvern and a mysterious boy named Saturday.
With exquisite illustrations by acclaimed artist Ana Juan, Fairyland lives up to the sensation it created when the author first posted it online. For readers of all ages who love the charm of Alice in Wonderland and the soul of The Golden Compass, here is a reading experience unto itself: unforgettable, and so very beautiful.

 In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself. 

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves… or it might destroy her.

 What do you want from me?" he asks. What I want from every person in my life, I want to tell him. More.

Abandoned by her mother on Jellicoe Road when she was eleven, Taylor Markham, now seventeen, is finally being confronted with her past. But as the reluctant leader of her boarding school dorm, there isn't a lot of time for introspection. And while Hannah, the closest adult Taylor has to family, has disappeared, Jonah Griggs is back in town, moody stares and all.

In this absorbing story by Melina Marchetta, nothing is as it seems and every clue leads to more questions as Taylor tries to work out the connection between her mother dumping her, Hannah finding her then and her sudden departure now, a mysterious stranger who once whispered something in her ear, a boy in her dreams, five kids who lived on Jellicoe Road eighteen years ago, and the maddening and magnetic Jonah Griggs, who knows her better than she thinks he does. If Taylor can put together the pieces of her past, she might just be able to change her future.

I'm pretty excited for these to arrive throughout the year - they'll be like surprise presents as they are released.

Review: The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Author: Julie Kagawa
Genre: young-adult, supernatural, dystopia, post-apocalyptic
Series: Blood of Eden #1
Pages: 504 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: April 2012
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3.75/5

 In a future world, vampires reign. Humans are blood cattle. And one girl will search for the key to save humanity.

Allison Sekemoto survives in the Fringe, the outermost circle of a vampire city. By day, she and her crew scavenge for food. By night, any one of them could be eaten.

Some days, all that drives Allie is her hatred of them. The vampires who keep humans as blood cattle. Until the night Allie herself is attacked—and given the ultimate choice. Die… or become one of the monsters.

Faced with her own mortality, Allie becomes what she despises most. To survive, she must learn the rules of being immortal, including the most important: go long enough without human blood, and you will go mad.

Then Allie is forced to flee into the unknown, outside her city walls. There she joins a ragged band of humans who are seeking a legend—a possible cure to the disease that killed off most of humankind and created the rabids, the mindless creatures who threaten humans and vampires alike.

But it isn't easy to pass for human. Especially not around Zeke, who might see past the monster inside her. And Allie soon must decide what—and who—is worth dying for.

 I'm of mixed feelings about this book. I want to "really like" this book and therefore award it 4 stars, I do, I swear. But, I just can't do more than that 3.75 when I look back at the novel as a whole and how dissatisfied I was with aspects of it. What sticks out in my mind are both the good and bad. The not-so-good: frequent lulls in the beginning/middle-ish with Allison receiving infodumps training from her sire vampire or her alone and walking forevvver, and the cliched treatment of secondary characters. The good: interesting history leading up to the current post-apocalyptic scenario, a strong, believable female main character, strong fight scenes when they finally appeared, a novel in which vampires are monsters and not something to sigh over and long for. While this obviously wasn't the "YAY"-type start I'd hoped for with this new series, I also had a less-than-enthusiastic start with The Iron King but went on to love the sequels. Here's hoping.

The Immortal Rules certainly has a lot going for it on the surface: it's engaging, fun, appropriately full of horror and death, but I have Issues. My first issue is the whitewashing of the cover- I can't go on without mentioning how irritating and sad this trend is. Allison Sekemoto is Asian, and for everything else about her, a goddamn badass. She should be represented on the cover as such - not this generic, Caucasion-ish woman. Superficiality (or not...) aside.. There's not much that is new here, for all this being a mix of the vampire novel genre and post-apocalyptic/dystopia genre. Allison wrestles with her nature at least as much as her feelings for human love-interest Zeke, but it's been done before. The vampire system here is creative and relatively well-thought out but "humans as cattle required to bloodbands" idea? I've also read that idea before (Blood Rights and also The Morganville Vampires series.) Another predictable trend I was sad to see Kagawa use was the instant, useless and baseless "girl-on-girl hatred" side character Ruth exhibits towards Allie simply for being another girl. As a reader, I gather I'm supposed to hate Ruth; she's shrill and prejudiced against Allie and openly vicious and stupid for no real reason. However, to do so and dislike her feels like off-sides manipulation. I'm just bone-tired of girls in YA seeing one another as threats for mates boys' attention just for cliched drama. Ruth is needless, useless, cliched and ultimately, just underdeveloped and obvious.

I do have to admit that Julie Kagawa has proven she can definitely write much more than just her faerie novel series - The Immortal Rules is drastically different from The Iron Fey, in tone if not as much in the style. Main character Allison has her own unique and distinct voice, even if like Meghan, this is sole POV novel told from the perspective of a very special young girl. She lives in a dark, harsh world and the author isn't above taking out some characters to enforce just how cruel life (and unlife?) can be there. I also like that Allison frequently is the hero of the situation - both pre and post-vampirism. She helps her friends and herself, not waiting around for Zeke or any other male (or Prince. Sorry, Ash.) It's a nice change, like the use of a nonwhite race for main character. Though this is romantic-love-triangle free (whodathunkit?), there are multiple external pressures levered against Allison for motivation. She's constantly torn between being as "human" as she can with her intrepid band, or becoming what she sees as a true monster. (view spoiler)

It can't be said that The Immortal Rules is lacking for many things when the ball finally gets rolling: atmosphere, anticipation, action... all there aplenty once Allison leaves the introduction and New Covington. Julie Kagawa is a rare author who can definitely write a tense, crisp fight scene. Though I'm often guilty of giving "Waif Fu" the side-eye, it becomes more understandable when it is a katana-wielding terror of the night. I may have issues and quibbles but I do have to give credit where it is due and the novel ups the ante late in the game, both action and character-wise. The last Part of the book is both the best and the most action-packed - rabid fights, vampire fights, roving biker gangs... Kagawa pulls out all the stops and ends her first Blood of Eden novel with (several) bangs and dead bodies.

So despite the fact that my expectations for this weren't quite met, I had a good time with The Immortal Rules. The good eventually outweighs the negative I took away from reading and I'm cautiously optimistic for the forthcoming sequels. Allison is a compelling narrator and her story obviously goes on, and I will be tuning in to see how the chips fall.

Review: Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Title: Afterwards
Genre: mystery, contemporary, thriller
Series: N/A
Pages: 401 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: expected April 22 2012
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3.25/5

There is a fire and they are in there. They are in there...

Black smoke stains a summer blue sky. A school is on fire. And one mother, Grace, sees the smoke and rush. She knows her teenage daughter Jenny is inside. She runs into the burning building to rescue her.

Afterwards Grace must find the identity of the arsonist and protect her children from the person who's still intent on destroying them. Afterwards, she must fight the limits of her physical strength and discover the limitlessness of love.

Afterwards was a lot of things for me: frustrating, alienating, weird, intriguing, and eventually, quite moving. There's a lot of hype built around this newish author, largely due to the wild success and continued  love for her first novel, Sister. With that in mind, I went into this sophomore effort with high hopes that were never quite met. There's a lot of potential in this novel about mothers and daughters, love, and independence but it never quiiiite reaches the heights it could. I want to clarify my 3.25 out of 5 up there - it's the result of knee-jerk reactions deep thinking. The first 300 pages were a solid, disappointing 2 out of 5 stars. An awkward and jarring style (second person POV, told with the present tense), a somewhat overly perfect main character, and a truly irritating overemphasis on italics on nearly every page (and I am an italics, bold and strikethrough addict) mar an intriguing and thoroughly gripping mystery. The final 100 pages of twists, turns, "Oh my god!" and "No way!"s do much to alleviate the various, now-previous problems I'd had and also made me happy I hadn't given up early on this one.

The second person POV rarely, rarely works for me as a reader. In fact the only time I have actually appreciated it as a storytelling medium were for the rare interludes during The Night Circus which used it. Here, with Grace narrating everyone's actions to/at them ("You do this, say this, want this" etc.), it's very cumbersome and unwieldy to read as a non-involved observer. By the time I grew inured to the strange and uncomfortable style used throughout Afterwards (and it took a while, trust me), I could start to appreciate the subtlety of the mystery that Lupton has created. It's both layered and nuanced in its inception and execution - truly the strongest element to the novel is the whodunit. This is not one of those thrillers where the culprit or culprits is/are transparent from the beginning - several cleverly manipulated red herrings lead the police investigation, and my theories, jumping from character to character. I have to applaud such deft narrative sleight-of-hand - I was curious from the start. Even when I was close enough to giving up, the question at the heart of Jenny's problems wouldn't let go of my imagination. 

I wish I could appreciate the spectral-astral plane-ghost-spirit-whatever the main characters have going on. The fact that what's going on with the two main characters isn't really explained in depth was another misfire for me - it came off as gimmicky and rather calculated, to me.  Another disconnect was with the main character and narrator, the mother, Grac(i)e. She, her husband, her daughter and son were all too perfect to be entirely believable. And as the novel went on and revelation led to revelation, it becomes apparent that Grace doesn't really know anyone outside her family at all. <spoiler>Her closest mother-friend has been abused for years? Elizabeth Fisher was left by her husband? Knows nothing about Rowena even though Maisie is very knowledgeable about Grace's own family? Her snap, inaccurate judgements of Ivo due to her own feelings?</spoiler> Her love for her children was certainly compelling and believable, but her harsh judgement of sister-in-law Sarah further spoke to Grace's own shortcomings and didn't inspire any likeability. Sympathy is entirely another matter, because as a "spirit-whatever", her interactions with Jen do allow Grace a bit of growth and personal evolution though it takes forever.

The story at the heart of Afterwards is definitely a good one - the mystery well crafted and thought out, but the style really does take a large adjustment. I'm obviously of two minds about this because there's much to love and a lot to lament. There are intense moments of brilliance book-ended by the awkward style and gimmicky status of the main character, but for all its faults, I ended up enjoying Afterwards. It gave me emotional whiplash and I'll keep my eye out for what else this author does in the future.

Two Minute Review: Dying To Know You by Aidan Chambers

Monday, April 23, 2012
Title: Dying To Know You
Genre: young-adult, contemporary
Series: N/A
Pages: 288 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: April 1 2012
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4/5

In Dying to Know You, award-winning author Aidan Chambers has created an indelible portrait of a young man discovering his own voice in the world, and has constructed a love story that is as much about the mind as it is the heart.

In this contemporary love story, a teenage boy named Karl enlists a famous writer to help him impress his girlfriend, Fiorella. She has asked him to write her a letter in which he reveals his true self. But Karl isn’t convinced he’s good enough with words, so he tracks down Fiorella’s favorite author and begs him to take up the task. The writer reluctantly assents, on the condition that Karl agree to a series of interviews, so that the letter will be based on an authentic portrait of Karl. 
The letter, though effective, has unexpected consequences for Karl, Fiorella, and the writer.

This is short, sweet and pretty charming novel. There's a lot of heart and it's purely character-driven, with one notable exception. Dying to Know You also has the advantage of being very unique in several delightful ways - #1. It's from the wisdom-heavy perspective of a 75-year old man, which is not exactly your normal, every day YA character much less main character and sole narrator. While we the audience never learn the writer's name, his is the personality that charms and invites the reader to begin this story. #2. This is a very dialogue-driven novel. I noted that it is character-driven and by that I mean this is not a plot-driven, action-packed ride. It's slow and thoughtful, introspective and occasionally quite moving.

The writer is an appealing and distinct protagonist. His interactions with fellow main character Karl are as full as wisdom from experience as one would expect, but without any patronizing to deflect from their relationship of equals. Despite their vast age differences, personalities, and other disparities between them, Karl and the writer form a strong friendship that is the center of the novel and  the plot. As each helps the other, they individually start to heal - Karl from a trauma earlier in life and the writer from a more recent tragedy. This is a slower-moving novel due the hesitant and withdrawn nature of Karl and the trust being created between the two but reading Dying to Know You is a easily-finished, rewarding experience.

It'll be interesting to see what kind of audience this novel attracts. There certainly are the great things that set it apart, and overarching themes of friendship and grief sure to bring in many readers, and I hope they appreciate the finely tuned book Chambers has crafted. This a novel that started out strong and never lost my interest - I finished it in just about three hours - and one I recommend. 

Review: Vaclav & Lena by Haley Tanner

Sunday, April 22, 2012
Author: Haley Tanner
Genre: young-adult, contemporary
Series: N/A
Pages: 292 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: May 2011
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 5/5

Set in New York's Russian émigré community, Vaclav & Lena is a timeless love story from a stunningly gifted young novelist.

Vaclav and Lena, both the children of Russian émigrés, are at the same time from radically different worlds. While Vaclav's burgeoning love of performing magic is indulged by hard-working parents pursuing the American dream, troubled orphan Lena is caught in a domestic situation no child should suffer through. Taken in as one of her own by Vaclav's big-hearted mother, Lena might finally be able to blossom; in the naive young magician's eyes, she is destined to be his "faithful assistant"...but after a horrific discovery, the two are ripped apart without even a goodbye. Years later, they meet again. But will their past once more conspire to keep them apart?

This was a magical experience for me - one that was completely charming but not without depth or darker themes. It's a light and breezy read with an innocent tone for the most part - a (sadly) short-ish book that can easily be completed in a day but be warned; this novel about young love made my bitter old heart grow three sizes when I finished it. Vaclav & Lena is, at the heart of everything, a novel really all about love. Love between friends, lovers, parents - Haley Tanner made sure all types are shown; from the various ups and downs of lives of the two main characters, and through the cast of big-hearted and small-vocabularied Rasia, to the whimsical and adorable young-Vaclav, to the more remote but alluring Lena.

I mainly love this novel based on the strength of the complicated, endearing, realistic and lovable main characters, the eponymous Lena and Vaclav. Yes, there are several issues first brought to light by minds brighter than mine (Vaclav is not a Russian name, the iffy speech patterns, Rasia/her husband Oleg could be viewed as a sad stereotype of Russian emigres) but my overwhelming appreciation and love for these two made the rest worth it. I am not blind to the faults that will surely turn others off completely but for me this was always about the two kids and the rest was just atmosphere or set-pieces. Rasia is the most important secondary character but outside of one crucial act that changes everything, the reader's attention remains wholly on the would-be magician and his beautiful assistant.

Haley Tanner is a good storyteller, especially for a debut novel - I was hooked on this tale from the first chapter. The early sweetness of the beginning chapters really captured the feeling, the hope essential to both Vaclav and Rasia's and their hopes for life in America. The author's gift for descriptive, detailed prose sets all the scenes with atmosphere and feeling. For me, this was a beautiful, emotional and lovely read - a book with a lot of heart and promise. I was vastly impressed with the author and only the quibbles mentioned earlier (why must all ex-pat Russians drop pronouns and articles?) kept this from being perfect. Even so, 5 stars because of how beautiful Tanner's writing often was, and for my immense love for Lena and Vaclac, especially Vaclav. Wonderful.

Favorite quotes (skip for slight SPOILERS!):

Lena is like an egg hitting the floor, she comes apart everywhere.

Of course they were with each other the whole time. Even when they weren't looking, they never had to check. She was always there; he was always there. Outside her bedroom, somewhere in the darkness, like the moon.

Vaclav has said goodnight to Lena every night since the night she went away. Out loud. In a whisper. [...] He filled the words with all his love and care and worry for Lena and launched them out to her, and like homing pigeons, he trusted them to find her.

"What have you been up to?" She smiles; it is so strange to ask him what he has been up to. Like meeting the president and saying, "Hey, how are you doing?"
"Same, thing," he says, meaning still magic, still trying to take care of you with my mind, still trying to control events using supernatural powers.

Lena's real mom, Emily, knew that this was not the truth, but she also knew that Vaclav was not lying.
Vaclav knew that he was telling the truth.
Lena knew that it was a lie, but she loved it and believed it, like a fairy tale, like a song, like a bedtime story, like a magic trick.
She loved Vaclav until it became the truth and so it was.

Review: The Games by Ted Kosmatka

Saturday, April 21, 2012
Title: The Games
Author: Ted Kosmatka
Genre: science fiction, dystopia
Series: N/A
Pages: 368 (ARC edition)
Published: March 13, 2012
Source: ARC for review
Rating: 4/5

This stunning first novel from Nebula Award and Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award finalist Ted Kosmatka is a riveting tale of science cut loose from ethics. Set in an amoral future where genetically engineered monstrosities fight each other to the death in an Olympic event, The Games envisions a harrowing world that may arrive sooner than you think.

Silas Williams is the brilliant geneticist in charge of preparing the U.S. entry into the Olympic Gladiator competition, an internationally sanctioned bloodsport with only one rule: no human DNA is permitted in the design of the entrants. Silas lives and breathes genetics; his designs have led the United States to the gold in every previous event. But the other countries are catching up. Now, desperate for an edge in the upcoming Games, Silas’s boss engages an experimental supercomputer to design the genetic code for a gladiator that cannot be beaten.

The result is a highly specialized killing machine, its genome never before seen on earth. Not even Silas, with all his genius and experience, can understand the horror he had a hand in making. And no one, he fears, can anticipate the consequences of entrusting the act of creation to a computer’s cold logic.

Now Silas races to understand what the computer has wrought, aided by a beautiful xenobiologist, Vidonia João. Yet as the fast-growing gladiator demonstrates preternatural strength, speed, and—most disquietingly—intelligence, Silas and Vidonia find their scientific curiosity giving way to a most unexpected emotion: sheer terror.

In a technologically advanced future, people have added a genetic engineering contest to the Olympic Games. Each country uses it to show off its prowess, and the United States has won since the inception of this twisted arena fight to the death.

This time around, though, Silas Williams, head of development for the project, feels something has gone terribly wrong. Using a different tactic, Olympic development has allowed a computer genius to use his supercomputer to help create the creature. From its birth, Silas and several others working with it have wondered if maybe they've pushed too far this time. It's hyperintelligent, more like a true alien than an animal. Silas enlists his friend Ben and his new love interest, Vidonia, into helping him figure out what this thing really is- before it's too late.

Kosmatka did a great job in raising some important moral dilemmas in his exploration of genetic engineering and the creative process. Above and beyond what they've created this time, did they ever have the right to create creatures just to send them to their deaths? (This happens to be an issue I had with the premise as well. Would people be evil enough to condemn these creatures to death just for their entertainment? I hope not.) Does the good that comes from engineering these creatures- like breakthroughs in biotechnology- justify doing it in the first place? Do we really know how to judge sentience in a creature, or for that matter, a computer? Can we ever fault a being, no matter how manipulated its inception, for wanting to do what it takes to survive? The author uses these questions to create a thoughtful story with some scary implications.

The characters were only mediocre from my point of view. Kosmatka captured intelligence and social awkwardness fairly well, but I felt no real passion from any of the characters either. Even the love story was a tad dull, though I did root for Silas and Vidonia as they raced against the clock to discover what this creature was and stop it from gaining the upper hand against its human creators.

Whatever else I might have felt about this book, I was surprised to notice a day after finishing it that it was on my mind. I ran through it as though I had watched it in the movie theatre. The story, while not bringing in much action until about halfway through, nevertheless flows nicely. By that halfway mark, I didn't want to put the book down.

Overall Kosmatka does a good job with a slightly flawed premise. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes thoughtful science fiction or scientific ethical dilemmas. A solid four stars.

I received this book from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. 

Blog Watch Wednesday!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Reviews Posted:

The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross - 2/5 stars - young-adult, steampunk, historical fiction

The Girl in the Clockwork Collar by Kady Cross - 2.5/5 stars - young-adult, steampunk, historical fiction
Winter in Wartime by Jan Terlouw - 3.5/5 stars - middle grade, historical fiction

Being Friends With Boys by Terra ElanMcVoy - 3.75/5 stars - young adult, contemporary

Fun Stuff

Dick Clark, longtime Hollywood staple, has just passed away at age of 82. Bringing in the New Year will never be the same.

Check out a "ton" of new pictures from Snow White and the Huntsman. I don't know what looks more epic - Charlize's wardrobe or he mega-bitchface.

In honor of Victoria Beckham's recent 38th birthday, here are 38 pictures of her not smiling.

J.K. Rowling is starting to write a Harry Potter encyclopedia and will donate the profits to charity. I love JKR - what a class act all around.

An essay on why, even if you don't like steampunk, you should give Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series a try.

Read a detailed RESPONSE to S2E3 of Game of Thrones -What Is Dead May Never Die -  by Ewa.

A map of the US that shows all the different speech dialects and where they are of the population.
A list of fictional character birthday calenders for every month of the year. Who shares your bday? Josh Baskin from Big is my co-birthday person.

Photographs Renewed - famous old black and white photos with color - Anne Frank, Abraham Lincoln, Civil War battlefields, the atomic bomb test, etc.
10 Bizarre Ways a Volcano Can Kill You. They can EXPLODE my brain? WHAT.

Also happening in the Land of Crazy (aka Arizona) - Governor Jan Brewer signed an extreme new abortion law.
The most used words in the English language.

10 'aliens' disguised as somewhat attractive celebrities.

There is a real disease that actually causes people to crack jokes and bad puns. It's called Witzelsucht and it's technically a mental disorder.

TUMBLR OF THE WEEK: Gram of Thrones - Game of Thrones Instagrammed.

Check out these cool chairs designed to look like the cast of The Simpsons.

The 'Parks & Rec' gag reel is made of win and might have made me love the world a little more than I did five minutes ago.

Review: The Girl in the Clockwork Collar by Kady Cross

Genre: steampunk, young-adult, historical fiction
Series: The Steampunk Chronicles #2
Pages: 416 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: expected May 22, 2012
Source: from publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 2.5/5

In New York City, 1897, life has never been more thrilling - or dangerous.

Sixteen-year-old Finley Jayne and her "straynge band of mysfits" have journeyed from London to America to rescue their friend Jasper, hauled off by bounty hunters. But Jasper is in the clutches of a devious former friend demanding a trade-the dangerous device Jasper stole from him...for the life of the girl Jasper loves.

One false move from Jasper and the strange clockwork collar around Mei's neck tightens. And tightens.

I did it: I finished this loooooong, dry book full of flat characters, endless repetition and tons of of the hated "showing not telling" way of expanding the history. Though my experience with round two of this "straynge band of mysfits" was sliiiightly better than with its predecessor The Girl in the Steel Corset, I want to express this loudly and clearly: This series is not a good example of steampunk. Also: whyyy the random, painful bastardization of "strange band of misfits"? (SPOILER for first in the series) If you've read book one, you know that "Jayne" is not in fact Finley's surname, nor does she go by it at all during this novel...  </SPOILER> So enough with the strange application of "y"'s. A lot of my issues from the first are present oce again here: Finley herself continued to be a bit of a disappointment and an erratic and brainless main character, continuing my lack of enthusiasm for her, most of the background characters remain flat and one-dimensional, and the villain/twist is telegraphed very early on in the book. This review might get a little long and spoilery, or even a lot, so keep your eyes elsewhere unless that's what you want. 

Things I Am Vastly Tired Of Reading About In The Steampunk Chronicles:

  • Emily's "ropey" hair (what does that even mean? Dreadlocks? Braids?)
  • any kind of overwrought love triangle (Jasper-Mei-Emily or Jasper-Mei-Wildcat - either/or - no thank, you)
  • Sam surliness/moodiness (less of an obvious page-to-page problem than in book one, but still not redeemable)
  • How Finley's drawn to the darker side of life (it's been two books, countless examples [Felix, Jack, fights, Dalton] and something like 800+ pages - we get it already!)
  • Finley's worries about being worthy for a Duke (I'm pretty sure the boy that can be one with the Aether doesn't care about society, given that he already lives unsupervised with two young women)
  • Griffin's "I-trust-you-now-I-don't" wishywashy bullshit with Finley + worrying over whether he is exciting enough for the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde-ian girl he loves likes (Have some self-respect, dude.)
  • Anything involving the word Organites (including Darwin and this books misuse of his theories on evolution)

I think some of the problem with this series is that it wants to be X-Men but with a steampunk background. On the surface it seems to sort-of/maybe fit the mold cast by Charles Xavier and his motley crew: there are a bunch of mutated kids with special abilities like super strength and speed and healing, the ability to talk to machines, dual natures, etc. that all live together in a big mansion, owned by a family with a lot of money. But such a comparison starts to fall apart upon closer inspection - most aspects of this historical steampunk young-adult novel are rather run-of-the-mill and cliched, easy to find in slightly different forms all over the paranormal teen novel market.

Though this takes place merely a fortnight after the events of the first book, a lot of the superficial details have changed, including the cast of characters. At first I was, well, not really excited, but less apprehensive to start this based on the cover. For one - it's not a generic, whitewashed cover. Mei is an important part of the plot - in fact the whole book falls apart without her participation - and I'm really happy that an Asian young woman was selected to show and advertise for ya novel. But there's always a but, and here is no exception. Mei is a new character and her race makes her stand out in this largely English cast, but I'm bothered and disappointed that the author chose to name her "Mei Xing." As in the word "Amazing" - how awkward and shallow of a choice! But that was just the first of many character issues I found here. I also wish there had been more subtlety with her role in the plot (subtlety from the woman who named her main male character/love interest Griffin King? My bad) - while I wasn't sure at first, it's rapidly apparent what's going on. A lot little more authorial sleight of hand would make the unraveling of the plot and characters much more engrossing to read.

Main character Finley has been a problem from me since early on in the first chapter of The Girl in the Steel Corset and sadly, she is no better here in round two. Her previous problem of acting brainlessly and without thought for repercussion shows up early and often but good ol' Fin now drags her friend Emily into her messes. I know that the big 'deal' with Finley is constantly-battling dual nature, but the author's depiction of her lead's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde-type tendencies is really over the top here. She's supposed to dance on the fence of morality and legality, but considering backhanding another girl for a look? That's extreme and just makes Finley look like a judgmental and unhinged maniac - not a fiercely protective and loving friend, which is I think what the author was trying to impart? I may have missed the finer point of it because Finley was devolving into an autocratic violence machine.

Once again I felt there was a superfluous amount of POVs used here - just like I thought for the first book; Finley's alone would be sufficient if grating on my nerves. So much of the text feels like repetition - even if it's Finley, or Jasper or Griff, they all think along the same lines. I mean, Jasper explains and re-explains his plans to hide a device multiple times. It gets old, quick. It must be said that Jasper's voice is the most identifiable, but that's largely because of his affected and annoying accent. (Also? Being from San Fransisco and wearing a ten-gallon hat does not make one a cowboy. OK?) The lack of Jack Dandy is lamentable, but at least the love triangle tension and drama was slightly scaled down as well. The charming but fake Cockney crime lord is one of my few liked characters, even if Griff is slowly climbing his way up in my estimations to give him a run.

In the end, I'd have to say that The Girl in the Clockwork Collar is ultimately just as energy-sapping and time-consuming as its immediate predecessor. It's also just as frustrating to slough through for over 400 pages. It feels amateurish, characters haven't grown or evolved, there's too much focus on fripperies instead of potential awesomeness, and infodumps and love triangles run rampant. There seems to be some love-connection type resolution for Finley and Griff (until she gets back to London and Jack...) as well as the main storyline. With a rushed ending that was over veeery quickly, I can't say I'm sad to say "goodbye!" to this series - for forever - even if there's a book three.

Review: The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross

Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Genre: young-adult, steampunk, historical fiction
Series: The Steampunk Chronicles #1
Pages: 411 (Nook edition)
Published: June 2011
Source: won in giveaway
Rating: 2/5

In 1897 England, sixteen-year-old Finley Jayne has no one...except the "thing" inside her.

When a young lord tries to take advantage of Finley, she fights back. And wins. But no normal Victorian girl has a darker side that makes her capable of knocking out a full-grown man....

Only Griffin King sees the magical darkness inside her that says she's special, says she's one of "them." The orphaned duke takes her in against the wishes of his band of misfits: Emily, who has her own abilities and an unrequited love for Sam, who is part robot; and Jasper, an American cowboy with a secret.
Griffin's investigating a criminal called The Machinist, the mastermind behind several recent crimes by automatons. Finley thinks she can help--and finally be a part of something, finally fit in.

But The Machinist wants to tear Griff's company of strays apart, and it isn't long before trust is tested on all sides. At least Finley knows whose side she's on--even if no one believes her.

This was quite nearly a DNF for me. Some books just read effortlessly and easily and some books are a struggle from the first page until the last and The Girl in the Steel Corset is definitely a member of the latter group. Only a few things could have kept me going in this four-hundred page mess and one of them was the immense, looming obligation I felt to read ARC I received for the sequel, The Girl in the Clockwork Collar. Several aspects of this first novel were mystifying to me amid and during my boredom and struggle to complete it - like why, exactly, is this lip-service "steampunk" novel so many readers' first (and judging by the "gadgetry" shown in this novel, their only taste) taste of that kooky and inventive subgenre? And why is Finley so brainless and hard to like? I have to readily admit my experience with Finley and her misfits were much less than satisfactory and note honestly that if I hadn't won this book, I would be pissed at having spent my hard-earned cash on it.

The Girl in the Steel Corset is just plain bad, and often a mess by many measures. There's love triangles galore (Jack-Finley-Griffin and Sam-Emily-Jasper), missed character potential in order to focus on fripperies, coffee (coffee? SERIOUSLY? Where's the tea?!) and clothing, and most damning (and frustrating as a reader) of all, there are unfulfilled and unexplained plotlines AFTER the resolution and roundup on the final page (<SPOILER>seriously, who killed Felix?</SPOILER>). I have major, major issues with how the steampunk aspect was "incorporated" into the story - I like steampunk quite a lot and have read several series just for the inventive gadgets and sky-high dirigibles. When it's done well, it can add a certain flair and fun to a much more straight-forward tale. When it's done like here in The Girl with the Steel Corset, it comes across more as deux-ex-machinas draped in clockwork - every invention in the novel comes across as just too convenient or perfect for the situation at hand. Cross's "steampunkery" leaves a lot to be desired and overall, doesn't add anything vital to the story at hand.

Character-wise, we also have some issues. 

Finley Jayne.
My issues with Finley began about two minutes into the book, give or take. As the novel opens, everything seems to be lined up in the young Miss Jayne's favor: she's smart, strong and can kick some arrogant lordling ass. However, as she's running away from the introductory attempted rape and her violent response to the situation, she LITERALLY runs into another strange young lordling but decides to follow that home. Her logic being that her mom's goung be pissed she lost her job with Asshole "Attempted Rapist" Lordling of Jackass Hall. Uhh.... ok, then, I guess? From that less than auspicious meeting point, I further got tired of Finley's brainlessness: she repeatedly makes harebrained, dangerous decisions without informing anyone else of her plans, she doesn't think consequences through and she's difficult.

Griffin King.
I'm just going to stop a moment and ponder the possibility of a Duke in 1800's England having the surname of 'King'. Really? I'm supposed to buy that? And what is with YA authors and painfully obvious names/surnames? Griffin is like a mix of a Batman origin story (parents murdered, forever seeks justice in an unjust world as a result) in an I, Robot world (machines trying to kill Sam against their programming). Much like his lady counterpart, Griff's characterization, and like everyone else's, is blunt and repetitive. This is not a book for any kind of subtlety or subterfuge - Kady Cross is an author that likes to beat her points around your head until you collapse. Griffin's honorable and a duke; he's smart and capable and kind. How do I know this? The other characters are kind enough to remark upon his attributes often, both vocally and internally, instead of, y'know, showing me their individual relationships with their actions and dialogue. But besides all that, I do think I have the beginnings of a book crush on the Duke of Greythorne - yes he is too perfect to be real, but he is the most only likeable male in the misfits.

Sam Morgan.
I hate Sam. Sam is the most unlikeable, undeveloped and hardest-to-understand character out of the whole bloody lot. In a cast of similarly clouded and unrounded characters, he takes the cake as the most frustrating. He's also quite thick - I called his twist as soon as it appeared disguised on the page. His actions towards Finley (like trying to MURDER her) do nothing to redeem his character - he is merely tedious in his capslockian rage.

Griffin's telekinetic and telepathic aunt quickly emerged somewhat of a major issue for me. <SPOILER>Also - how does she have such an ability without exposure to the Organites? No one else has such talents without them and she is never around them,</SPOILER> Cordelia tends to use brute mental force to invade someone's mind just because she can and she wants to, despite being asked and TOLD by Finley, repeatedly, to not mess around in her head. Cordelia also violates Griffin's expressed desires for cranular privacy, but self-control and heeding the wishes of others clearly matters very little to his guardian/aunt. Her part reduced more and more as the novel went on and the kids grew into their roles and independence and I wasn't sorry to see her go.

Characters I did like:

Emily O'Brien.
Emily is the Irish genius behind Griff's crime-fighting force. While I got very tired of seeing the word "ropey" attached to describe her hair, and her "lads" and "lass" at the end of every sentence wore my patience, Emily is the best part of the novel. She's smart, self-aware and every-bit as interesting as main character Finley Jayne.

Jack Dandy.
Dandy is the final leg in the love triangle of Griff and Finley and despite that working against him, I quite like the fake Cockney bastard - I'm always up to root for a good antihero. He, at least, has personality to burn and verve. While I found the overdone and obvious attraction between him and Finley to be well, overdone and obvious, he is certainly a scene-stealer and amusing. I liked that he was very different from Griff - one appeals the pure side of Finley and one to the darker - but I do wish he had had more point in the story than just causing romantic friction between the main characters.

There are admittedly some cool ideas at play here (Griff's abilities, the mutations of the group due to the exposure to the Organites) but unfortunately, much of what is good gets lost in the shuffle and the tedium offered in the rest of the book. Perhaps this would've been a stronger novel if there hadn't been so many POVs, but rather just Finley. Griffin's is an acceptable  narrative because it complements Finley's nicely, but Sam's adds absolutely nothing to the reading experience except an increased apathy for the part-robot. And if the characters aren't the selling point of the novel, the plot and action had better make up for it -except that is not the case here. In fact, after Finley's dustup and then meetup with Griff and until her showdown with Sam, there's very little real action to be had for a novel about a girl worried at one point about begin possessed by a violent demon.

The Girl in the Steel Corset is frustrating, time-consuming and an energy-sapping read. I hate being disappointed in books I've looked forward to reading which is perhaps 10% of the reason why I'm being quite so harsh here; there's just so much unrealized potential passed over (Em's brilliance) for less compelling ideas (Finley's dual nature). There is an open ending that leads quite obviously to the main events and plot of book two, but I was underwhelmed by both the final conflict and the denouement shown here. There is also no reason for this book to have the length it does - a dab hand at editing could excise about 50 - 100 pages of nonessential data and detail and have a more streamlined, consistent, and involving novel. All in all, if I didn't have a copy of book two waiting, I wouldn't continue this series.

Two Minute Review: Winter in Wartime by Jan Terlouw

Monday, April 16, 2012
Author: Jan Terlouw
Genre: historical fiction, middle grade
Series: N/A
Pages: 220 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: first in 1972, republished  2011
Source: from publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3.5/5

Near the end of World War II, 14-year-old Michiel becomes involved with the Resistance after coming to the aid of a wounded British soldier. With the conflict coming to an end, Michiel comes of age and learns the start difference between adventure fantasy and the ugly realities of war.

Winter in Wartime is the fairly short but poignant and important story of a 16-year-old boy named Michiel in German-occupied Netherlands during WWII. Apparently over in Europe and Belgium for the last several decades, Jan Terlouw is a very prolific and prominent author; Winter in Wartime is even considered a classic there. While his work is not quite so well known over here on this side of the Atlantic (or really not known at all), I can't help but feel that is a shame because though a simple, quick read, Winter in Wartime makes for an excellent (if truncated) addition to the WWII historical fiction genre. Though this book deals with harsh times, death and betrayal it is entirely suitable for the middle-grade and younger audience it was written for.

Opening on the 1,611st night of the German occupation, Michiel is a clever and  honest boy. Treated with more freedom since the outbreak of the war, he is treated like an adult, with responsibilities to help his family and town. While I can't say that the characters herein were the most developed or fleshed out, each was more than distinctive in their personalities. Michiel as the main character gets most of the screentime and he is an able narrator and storyteller. When a friend of his runs into trouble of the German persuasion, Michiel launches into action to try and help. While WWII is not the most original foray for historical fiction, I don't read many novels about the occupation of countries other than France, or Poland. Michiel's story is unique and largely so compelling because of its unexplored location and dire times. 

This is quite obviously a children's book from the tone and voice, but Winter in Wartime doesn't necessarily skirt around the horrors of that particular war. Death, mistakes, betrayal all rate an appearance and make for drastic events in the young man's life. I rated this only a 3.5/5 because the plot can  feel rather short and thin in some places - the search for the betrayer was obvious for me as an older reader but I think it will remain clouded longer for the intended audience. I wished for a bit more detail about Michiel and his family's situation, but what is provided is serviceable if not exemplary. After reading this, I can readily understand (and reinforce) the broad appeal that this author holds for middle grade and children's novels.
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