No Willpower/ My Sister Is A Bad Influence

Friday, June 29, 2012
I had been doing SO GOOD on my my no-book-buying moratorium, but my sister found a way around it. I took ina box of old books, DVDs and TV on DVD to our local Bookmans and got over $60 to use on gently-loved books! Whoo!

What I bought:

View our feature on Guy Gavriel Kay’s Under Heaven. In his latest innovative novel, the award-winning author evokes the dazzling Tang Dynasty of 8th-century China in a story of honor and power.

Inspired by the glory and power of Tang dynasty China, Guy Gavriel Kay has created a masterpiece.

It begins simply. Shen Tai, son of an illustrious general serving the Emperor of Kitai, has spent two years honoring the memory of his late father by burying the bones of the dead from both armies at the site of one of his father's last great battles. In recognition of his labors and his filial piety, an unlikely source has sent him a dangerous gift: 250 Sardian horses.

You give a man one of the famed Sardian horses to reward him greatly. You give him four or five to exalt him above his fellows, propel him towards rank, and earn him jealousy, possibly mortal jealousy. Two hundred and fifty is an unthinkable gift, a gift to overwhelm an emperor.

Wisely, the gift comes with the stipulation that Tai must claim the horses in person. Otherwise he would probably be dead already...

I wasn't the biggest fan of his well-loved Tigana, but a fantasy based on the Tang Dynasty sounds amazing. 

Wither by Lauren DeStefano - The Chemical Garden #1

 By age sixteen, Rhine Ellery has four years left to live. A botched effort to create a perfect race has left all males born with a lifespan of 25 years, and females a lifespan of 20 years--leaving the world in a state of panic. Geneticists seek a miracle antidote to restore the human race, desperate orphans crowd the population, crime and poverty have skyrocketed, and young girls are being kidnapped and sold as polygamous brides to bear more children. When Rhine is sold as a bride, she vows to do all she can to escape. Yet her husband, Linden, is hopelessly in love with her, and Rhine can't bring herself to hate him as much as she'd like to. He opens her to a magical world of wealth and illusion she never thought existed, and it almost makes it possible to ignore the clock ticking away her short life. 

But Rhine quickly learns that not everything in her new husband's strange world is what it seems. Her father-in-law, an eccentric doctor bent on finding the antidote, is hoarding corpses in the basement; her fellow sister wives are to be trusted one day and feared the next; and Rhine has no way to communicate to her twin brother that she is safe and alive.

Together with one of Linden's servants, Gabriel, Rhine attempts to escape just before her seventeenth birthday. But in a world that continues to spiral into anarchy, is there any hope for freedom?

I've heard both good and bad for this book and series so I figured it was a worth a try at least.

Empire in Black and Gold by Adrian Tchaikovsky - Shadows of the Apt #1

Seventeen years ago Stenwold witnessed the Wasp Empire storming the city of Myna in a brutal war of conquest. Since then he has preached vainly against this threat in his home city of Collegium, but now the Empire is on the march, with its spies and its armies everywhere, and the Lowlands lie directly in its path. All the while, Stenwold has been training youthful agents to fight the Wasp advance, and the latest recruits include his niece, Che, and his mysterious ward, Tynisa. When his home is violently attacked, he is forced to send them ahead of him and, hotly pursued, they fly by airship to Helleron, the first city in line for the latest Wasp invasion.

Stenwold and Che are Beetle-kinden, one of many human races that take their powers and inspiration each from a totem insect, but he also has allies of many breeds: Mantis, Spider, Ant, with their own particular skills. Foremost is the deadly Mantis-kinden warrior, Tisamon, but other very unlikely allies also join the cause. As things go from bad to worse amid escalating dangers, Stenwold learns that the Wasps intend to use the newly completed railroad between Helleron and Collegium to launch a lightning strike into the heart of the Lowlands. Then he gathers all of his agents to force a final showdown in the engine yard . . .

Dragonfly Falling by Adrian Tchaikovsky - Shadows of the Apt #2

Two young companions, Totho and Salma, arrive at Tark to spy on the menacing Wasp army, but are there mistakenly apprehended as enemy agents. By the time they are freed, the city is already under siege. Over in the imperial capital the young emperor, Alvdan, is becoming captivated by a remarkable slave, the vampiric Uctebri, who claims he knows of magic that can grant eternal life. In Collegium, meanwhile, Stenwold is still trying to persuade the city magnates to take seriously the Wasp Empire's imminent threat to their survival.

In a colourful drama involving mass warfare and personal combat, a small group of heroes must stand up against what seems like an unstoppable force. This volume continues the story that so brilliantly unfolded in Empire in Black and Gold - and the action is still non-stop.

 The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey - The Monstrumologist #1

These are the secrets I have kept. This is the trust I never betrayed. But he is dead now and has been for nearly ninety years, the one who gave me his trust, the one for whom I kept these secrets. The one who saved me . . . and the one who cursed me.
So starts the diary of Will Henry, orphan and assistant to a doctor with a most unusual specialty: monster hunting. In the short time he has lived with the doctor, Will has grown accustomed to his late night callers and dangerous business. But when one visitor comes with the body of a young girl and the monster that was eating her, Will's world is about to change forever. The doctor has discovered a baby Anthropophagus—a headless monster that feeds through a mouth in its chest—and it signals a growing number of Anthropophagi. Now, Will and the doctor must face the horror threatening to overtake and consume our world before it is too late.

I've read a lot of good reviews for this - it seems to be quite creepy and gory. I can't wait.

The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan - The Heroes of Olympus #1

 Jason has a problem. He doesn’t remember anything before waking up in a bus full of kids on a field trip. Apparently he has a girlfriend named Piper and a best friend named Leo. They’re all students at a boarding school for “bad kids.” What did Jason do to end up here? And where is here, exactly?

Piper has a secret. Her father has been missing for three days, ever since she had that terrifying nightmare. Piper doesn’t understand her dream, or why her boyfriend suddenly doesn’t recognize her. When a freak storm hits, unleashing strange creatures and whisking her, Jason, and Leo away to someplace called Camp Half-Blood, she has a feeling she’s going to find out.

Leo has a way with tools. When he sees his cabin at Camp Half-Blood, filled with power tools and machine parts, he feels right at home. But there’s weird stuff, too—like the curse everyone keeps talking about. Weirdest of all, his bunkmates insist that each of them—including Leo—is related to a god.

 Join new and old friends from Camp Half-Blood in this thrilling first audiobook in The Heroes of Olympus series.

I had a lot of fun with the original Percy Jackson series, so I can't imagine this one will disappoint. 

Dark Lady's Chosen by Gail Z. Martin - Chronicles of the Necromancer #4

 Treachery and blood magic threaten King Martris Drayke’s hold on the throne he risked everything to win. As the battle against a traitor lord comes to its final days, war, plague and betrayal bring Margolan to the brink of destruction. The price to save his kingdom may be the lives of those he loves most—and his soul.

Civil war looms in Isencroft, and Cam of Cairnrach may be the only hope to put down a rebellion that threatens the crown. In the Margolan palace, betrayal threatens the new queen and the unborn heir to the throne. Alone in a new kingdom, Queen Kiara is charged with treason and becomes an assassin’s target. And in Dark Haven, the undead threaten the Truce with the living, leading to deadly conflict. Lord Jonmarc Vahanian has bargained his soul for vengeance as he leads the vayash moru against a dangerous rogue who would usher in a future drenched in blood.

It's been a while since I've read the first three in this series (The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven) but Jonmarc Vahanian is one of my favorite fantasy rogues so I am eager to reread and then dive in. 

The Sworn by Gail Z. Martin - Fallen Kings #1

As plague and famine scourge the winter kingdoms, a vast invasion force is mustering from beyond the northern seas. And at its heart, a dark spirit mage wields the blood magic of ancient, vanquished gods.

Summoner-King Martris Drayke must attempt to meet this great threat, gathering an army from a country ravaged by civil war. Neighboring lands reel toward anarchy while plague decimates their leaders. Drayke must seek new allies from among the living – and the dead –- as an untested generation of rulers face their first battle.

Then someone disturbs the legendary Dread as they rest in a millennia-long slumber beneath sacred barrows. Their warrior guardians, the Sworn, know the Dread could be pivotal as a force for great good or evil. But if it’s the latter, could even the Summoner-King’s sorcery prevail?

The Sworn is Book One of The Fallen Kings Cycle, and it picks up the adventures of Tris, Jonmarc and the Winter Kingdoms gang six months after the end of Dark Lady’s Chosen. There are all new challenges, lots of dark magic and the biggest threat Margolan has faced in 400 years.

A new series with characters from the Necromancer fantasy series - sign me up! 

And the best part? I still have $18 dollars of trade-ins to use! Oh the joys of book-buying. What have you added to your shelves recently?

Review: Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz

Thursday, June 28, 2012
Genre: supernatural fiction, young-adult, middle grade
Series: N/A
Pages: 400 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: expected August 28 2012
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3.75/5

The master puppeteer, Gaspare Grisini, is so expert at manipulating his stringed puppets that they appear alive. Clara Wintermute, the only child of a wealthy doctor, is spellbound by Grisini’s act and invites him to entertain at her birthday party. Seeing his chance to make a fortune, Grisini accepts and makes a splendidly gaudy entrance with caravan, puppets, and his two orphaned assistants. 
Lizzie Rose and Parsefall are dazzled by the Wintermute home. Clara seems to have everything they lack — adoring parents, warmth, and plenty to eat. In fact, Clara’s life is shadowed by grief, guilt, and secrets. When Clara vanishes that night, suspicion of kidnapping falls upon the puppeteer and, by association, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall.
As they seek to puzzle out Clara’s whereabouts, Lizzie and Parse uncover Grisini’s criminal past and wake up to his evil intentions. Fleeing London, they find themselves caught in a trap set by Grisini’s ancient rival, a witch with a deadly inheritance to shed before it’s too late. 
Newbery Medal winner Laura Amy Schlitz’s Victorian gothic is a rich banquet of dark comedy, scorching magic, and the brilliant and bewitching storytelling that is her trademark.

I hate this feeling. I am having An Issue -- that thing where you wanted to love a book, but just can't. I readily admit that Splendors and Glooms had me sold superficially - based on the awesome title and the eye-catchingly foreboding cover (not to mention the "Newberry Medal Winner" label), I anticipated an imaginative and dark, fully-involving read. And for some of 400 pages that makes up this novel, I got exactly what I had anticipated, but even creepier (think that awful episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark with the awful human-porcelain dolls) but other sections of the narrative failed to live up that level of engagement and creepitude. Laura Amy Schlitz has shown herself certainly as an author with an eye for detail and as a talented storyteller, but on the whole, this novel is not as tight as it could've been with some editing and a little more focus on character development.

Splendors and Glooms is a hard beast for me to categorize upon finishing reading; it's labelled most commonly as middle grade on Goodreads, and while some elements certainly come across that way, others are far more mature and advanced than usually seen for that particular genre. It's a dark, detailed and very Gothic tale of two orphans at the whims of two very unpleasant and unscrupulous people -- like puppets wheeled out on a string. For all that Splendors and Glooms talks a big game and my initial enjoyment (and apprehension! Kids trapped in dolls! Insane, unhinged witches! Evil magician kidnappers!), I was mildly let down by several stretches in this unusual book; after the kids flee London there is an extended lull in the pacing and events (read: not a lot happens for 75-100 pages or so); and for a final conflict with a mad witch, an evil magician/puppeteer and three smart, creative kids, the finale of this came off as far too easy and simple. It lacked excitement or suspense when it should have been most riveting. It just seems so incredibly easy - all the fallout is ridiculously convenient or overcome with a few tears. After collapsing a tower and escaping magical spells, surely the denouement could've been spiced up just a bit, instead of reading as dryly and simply as it does?

I enjoyed this, but it wasn't the great experience, the wholly encompassing Gothic tale I'd hoped for.  Splendors and Glooms was definitely good - fun, with a few unseen twists to keep me intrigued as the serviceable prose and likeable, if not wholly developed, characters meandered their way through the plot. I just wanted more: more from the characters, more from the atmosphere, more excitement. The characters here are largely one-dimensional (particularly the antagonists), except for the children: Cassandra is desperate, Grisini is evil, Pinchbeck is an amusing drunk. The author's subtle execution of Cassandra's attempts to manipulate the canny Parsefall and the innocent Lizzie into doing as she wants casts a striking parallel with the core story of Grisini, the missing children from all over England, as well as his handlings with Parsefall particularly.  While Grisini's level of malevolence and even his presence, fell further and further from notice, Cassandra's turn at the helm of "puppeteer" made for the most macabre scene of the entire novel.

The antagonists shown here are clearly more of the MG genre type of ilk. Not for Splendors and Glooms the complex, conflicted, charismatic villain that I love to read about; both Cassandra and Grisini are primarily motiveless (outside sheer greed) and one-dimensional in their development. They're just bad because they are. Consequently, Cassandra's life is as hollow and lifeless as the dolls that Grisini cultivates, and to their credit, the rest of the players are largely more dynamic than the ailing woman. As for the others, Lizzie Rose is primarily one note for three-fourths of the novel - perpetually sweet and innocent as a contrast to Parsefall's more inscrutable, cutthroat nature.  Parsefall alone is the question mark amongst all the other characters - his nature and his story are more YA than middle grade in tone, and his conflicted personalty is more adult in nature than his contemporaries of Lizzie and Clara. He's interesting in a way Lizzie and the others just aren't. Ms. Wintermute's story is fairly compelling once the author slowly reveals the story of "the Others" and Clara's life after, but not much insight is given into developing further. This is perhaps hampered by her state for much of the book, but Clara's story lacked the edge it needed; rather it was Parsefall's "black spot" that proved the more riveting, if sad.

Though uneven, I think I am a fan of this dark and twisted tale of secrets, magic and betrayal. The slower pace and final conflict may lose a few readers, but I liked this. I didn't love Splendors and Glooms as I wanted to, but this was an enjoyable and unusual read for me. Some aspects fell short and didn't live up to expectations, other surprised me with their inclusion, but my impression was largely favorable for this imaginative journey with Parsefall, Lizzie Rose, Ruby and Clara.

Blog Watch Wednesday

Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Reviews Posted:

Fun Stuff:

R.I.P. Nora Ephon - your movies anad witticisms have always been among my favorites.

E.L. James got a book deal for her husband. Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here.
On being a "lady" and why that's awesome and nothing to be ashamed of.

Author Claudia Gray on why saying "I'm not like other girls" isn't something to be proud of nor a goal to aim for.

Interesting article on how we died 200 years ago as compared to today.

The 10 Greatest Science Fiction/Fantasy Romantic Comedies. We allll knew going into this that the Princessbride was going to be on there. 

Have you seen the video of dozens of sharks feeding on a dead whale? On the beach? The link says hundreds, but I am inclined to disbelieve that number.

Thoughtful, long and interesting post on what we see when we read.

Love him, hate him, or ignore him: this video of recycled Aaron Sorkin dialogue is entertaining. And bonus young Alec Baldwin!

The international trailer for Taken 2 (or Liam Neeson Kicks Ass in Europe.. Again) is out! And it looks awesome.

The Harry Potter theme performed on wine glasses! Talent!

People are so creative and clever! Check out this Jurassic Park proposal! Oh, nerds.

TUBMLR OF THE WEEK: Singer Sara Bareilles Is A Cat.

Ever wondered what it would look like if Sailor Moon were to recreate the Avengers? Now you don't have to.

Awesome shot grabbed from the end of The Avengers - plans for Avengers Tower? Where does Loki stay? It's not the same without Hiddles.

Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" woke a 7-year-old girl up from her coma.

Fake "political attack ads" on Game of Thrones characters. Example? "Daenerys Targaryen: wrong for dragons, wrong for the realm." "Where is Prince Joffrey's birth certificate?"

Publication Slate has its collective, metaphorical head up its own ass over Pixar's new female-powered animated film Brave. REALLY? Finally an animated film with a female main character and they're focusing on HER HAIR. World, you are insane.

Review: Drain You by M. Beth Bloom

Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Title: Drain You
Author: M. Beth Bloom
Genre: supernatural fiction, young-adult
Series: N/A as of yet
Pages: 220 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: expected July 24 2012
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 1/5
Quinlan Lacey's life is a red carpet of weird fashions, hip bands, random parties, and chilling by the pool with her on-and-off BFF Libby. There's also her boring job (minimum wage), a crushed-out coworker (way too interested), her summer plans (nada), and her parents (totally clueless). Then one night she meets gorgeous James, and Quinn's whole world turns crazy, Technicolor, 3-D, fireworks, whatever.

But with good comes bad and unfortunately, Quinn's new romance brings with it some majorly evil baggage. Now, to make things right, she has to do a lot of things wrong (breaking and entering, kidnapping, lying, you name it).

There's normal, and then there's paranormal, and neither are Quinlan's cup of Diet Coke. Staying sane, cool, in love, and alive isn't so easy breezy.

High hopes and huge disappointments - What are my two key emotions for this odd, disjointed and often off-putting supernatural endeavor called Drain You, Alex? It all sounds so good at first glance - a unique, quirky protagonist, evil vampires, a humorous and dry tone - but none, none of that lives up to expectations. The title is the most appropriate thing about the whole book: I felt the will to read drain out of me the more pages I turned. The "humor" here wasn't funny, the main character is one of the most unlikeable people I've ever had the misfortune to have to read about,  there was no real presence of any tension in the novel, and the "plot" is MIA for the majority of the novel. It's a mess, and not a fun one. 

If you don't like main character Quinlan, chances are high you are not going to like the rest of what Drain You has to offer. I hated Quinn. Hated, hated, hated, like I haven't disliked a fictional being in a loooong, long time. She's self-centered, selfish, rude, annoying, stupid, ungrateful, unthinking... I could go on and on with what's wrong with Quinn and her "characterization". Pages of my reading notes for this book are littered with things like: "WHAT did she just say?" "Why does she treat everyone around her like shit?" "Why am I supposed to care for a character that doesn't have the decency to warn other people when she is putting their lives and their entire families' lives!, in mortal danger?"

This was my main reaction to almost anything Quinn says or does:

And what else do I hate in YA novels besides dumb, superficial female protagonists? Instalove, and with a murderous, mysterious vampire! (How original! I've never read another YA paranormal book/series like that!) Be warned: Drain You has that hackneyed romantic element in spades. Quinn is astonishingly like the hated Bella in regards to her undead lover: they both consider their lives as "meaningless" when separated from their vampire boyfriends (in Quinn's case this is after knowing James less than three weeks' time. And her life is "meaningless" without him? GET A GRIP), they both fail to understand the danger of what they're involved in, they're both flat and dull girls who don't really know what they're getting into. Quinn is Bella - just with a "punk" twist and a much more liberal wardrobe. She even has the normal human boys that just can't help but fall in love with her! (and that she summarily rejects, uses, rejects, and then uses again. It's gross.)

Despite the (or maybe as a direct result of) complete lack of tension or suspense in the novel, I was majorly, majorly underwhelmed by both the final conflict and the denouement shown here. Maybe that's a direct result of the lack of plot, or antagonist presence but the end of the novel is flatter than the cardboard Quinn was made from. Either/or, it could go both ways because really neither the plot nor the villains play much into the storyline. The bulk of this disjointed, choppy narrative is devoted purely to all angst and emo and melodrama about how lonely and bored and cool poor little Quinn is, when really all she is is insufferable. Even when she is the direct cause of ALL THE PROBLEMS she faces with Morgan, Naomi. Whit and James, Quinn feels the most for...herself, takes no responsibility or ownership over the danger she puts everyone in.  Not once. Fuck, I hated this character. GTFO.

Drain You was an entirely underwhelming disappointment, one I wish I had DNF'd halfway through. If I could tell past-Jessie "it doesn't get any better, any funnier, any cleverer" I would've set this down after Quinn decides two stalker-y nightwalks with a creepy, blood-covered boy constitute the beginning of a good relationship. No. Just no. Lots of potential, extremely poor execution is the final verdict on the mess that is Drain You.

Added This Week and eBook deals!

Monday, June 25, 2012
I've been doing pretty well on my no-book-buying moratorium, but with the package I got in the mail today, I coudn't resist an Added This Week post!

In my mail today was...
a signed ARC of Stormdancer, UK edition!
In case you've not heard of this much-anticipated japanese-inspired steampunk, here's more info (and the US cover, cause it's bitchin' too!)

Stormdancer  by Jay Kristoff   (The Lotus War, Book One)

The Shima Imperium verges on the brink of environmental collapse; an island nation once rich in tradition and myth, now decimated by clockwork industrialization and the machine-worshipers of the Lotus Guild. The skies are red as blood, the land is choked with toxic pollution, and the great spirit animals that once roamed its wilds have departed forever.

The hunters of Shima's imperial court are charged by their Shōgun to capture a thunder tiger – a legendary creature, half-eagle, half-tiger. But any fool knows the beasts have been extinct for more than a century, and the price of failing the Shōgun is death.

Yukiko is a child of the Fox clan, possessed of a talent that if discovered, would see her executed by the Lotus Guild. Accompanying her father on the Shōgun’s hunt, she finds herself stranded: a young woman alone in Shima’s last wilderness, with only a furious, crippled thunder tiger for company. Even though she can hear his thoughts, even though she saved his life, all she knows for certain is he’d rather see her dead than help her.

But together, the pair will form an indomitable friendship, and rise to challenge the might of an empire.

And now onto the Nook/Kindle books on sale!

Hourglass by Myra McEntire (Hourglass #1) - only $1.59 for Nook and Kindles!

One hour to rewrite the past . . .

For seventeen-year-old Emerson Cole, life is about seeing what isn’t there: swooning Southern Belles; soldiers long forgotten; a haunting jazz trio that vanishes in an instant. Plagued by phantoms since her parents’ death, she just wants the apparitions to stop so she can be normal. She’s tried everything, but the visions keep coming back.

So when her well-meaning brother brings in a consultant from a secretive organization called the Hourglass, Emerson’s willing to try one last cure. But meeting Michael Weaver may not only change her future, it may change her past.
Who is this dark, mysterious, sympathetic guy, barely older than Emerson herself, who seems to believe every crazy word she says? Why does an electric charge seem to run through the room whenever he’s around? And why is he so insistent that he needs her help to prevent a death that never should have happened?

Full of atmosphere, mystery, and romance, Hourglass merges the very best of the paranormal and science-fiction genres in a seductive, remarkable young adult debut.

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake (Anna #1) - only $2.99 for Nook and Kindle!

Just your average boy-meets-girl, girl-kills-people story...

Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: He kills the dead.

So did his father before him, until his gruesome murder by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father’s mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. Together they follow legends and local lore, trying to keep up with the murderous dead—keeping pesky things like the future and friends at bay.

When they arrive in a new town in search of a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas doesn’t expect anything outside of the ordinary: move, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he’s never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, but now stained red and dripping blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian she used to call home.

And she, for whatever reason, spares his life.

I don't know how long these prices will last, so be sure to grab them (and add Stormdancer to your TBR!) ASAP!

Review: Transcendence by C.J. Omololu

Sunday, June 24, 2012
Author: C.J. Omololu
Genre: young-adult, supernatural
Series: Untitled #1
Pages: 352 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: June 5 2012
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4.25/5

When a visit to the Tower of London triggers an overwhelmingly real vision of a beheading that occurred centuries before, Cole Ryan fears she is losing her mind. A mysterious boy, Griffon Hall, comes to her aid, but the intensity of their immediate connection seems to open the floodgate of memories even wider.

As their feelings grow, Griffon reveals their common bond as members of the Akhet—an elite group of people who can remember past lives and use their collected wisdom for the good of the world. But not all Akhet are altruistic, and a rogue is after Cole to avenge their shared past. Now in extreme danger, Cole must piece together clues from many lifetimes. What she finds could ruin her chance at a future with Griffon, but risking his love may be the only way to save them both.

Full of danger, romance, and intrigue, Transcendence breathes new life into a perpetually fascinating question: What would you do with another life to live?

First, immediate thoughts upon finishing this quick read of a teenage paranormal novel: 
That was a lot of fun! That was original and wholly compelling, and it managed to be all that and more without a love triangle or a heroine who is too stupid to live! It can be done!

Though Transcendence inevitably hits a few bumps that keep it from being perfect, it was perfectly enjoyable and fully diverting for the few (far too short!) hours it took me to consume all 300+ pages. This was one of those all-too-hard-to-find novels that combined my desire to see how everything ended while contradictorily, not wanting to finish and end the fun. With welcome infusions of ideas and themes from some of the more underutilized mythologies (Egyptian symbols! Reincarnation!), Transcendence is unique, entertaining and compulsively readable experience. This is my first exposure to this author, but I can guarantee that it will not be the last time I read her work. I've added Omololu's YA contemporary novel, Dirty Little Secrets, to my TBR just based off of the many strengths of this novel, despite the extreme difference in the genres of the two novels, as well as initiating a countdown for the inevitable sequel to this one, Fated. I cant believe how unfair it is that I have to wait another entire year, until June of 2013!, to escape back into this exciting story.

First-person POV works really, really well here in Transcendence, for both Omololu's easy style and for the strong, believably teenage voice of Cole, the main character. Cole is a wonderfully realized character: she's smart, flawed, funny and all the more real for the care that evidently went into her development.  Plus she admits Harry Potter is her favorite book, so she gets +100 for that alone. Cole is a strong character, one that is self-defined and one that wants to save herself. When she says to Griffon: "Just because I don't want to be the helpless female in his hero movie doesn't mean I want him to go," I cheered for her. Mentally. I totally did not say "hell yeah" out loud. Noo. That would be embarrassing. Anyway. Love isn't dependence, kids. Love isn't someone rescuing you and making your decisions. It is is so nice (but sadly rare) to read a teenage protagonist without that misconception; one that can accept help without being helpless or brainless. It's a fine balance but one that is well-struck here with Transcendence's Nicole. She doesn't depend on or live for a boy: this is talented, well-drawn, full-realized character and her love for music is one of the most defining aspects of her multi-faceted personality. Even just talking about music, it's obvious how much love Cole has for what she does ("My heart races as his bow glides over the strings, an unspoken communication that fills the room, replacing the air with sound and emotion." p. 51 ARC), as well as showing that this isn't a character that is defined by anyone else.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the infinite kudos deserved by this author for the variance of races among her secondary cast. White-washing is a horrid, horrid trend in young-adult book publishing, one that needs to stop. Griffon is an African-American (and is shown on the cover too!), and there are other characters that aren't uniformly Caucasian or European that actually participate in the novel. I wish Gabi had played a bit more into the events of the novel, but an Indian close friend and a black love interest is a lot more diversity than most books ever do. It's obvious early on that is author isn't interested in doing what others are: her vision for her novel is unique and fresh and that's how it reads, from plot to themes to characters themselves. I mean, at just first glance, this book contains: Egyptian mythology, a racially diverse cast, an aware and self-confident protagonist, no instalove, no random girl-on-girl hate, AND no love triangle? It's refreshing and it's over all too soon. Other authors: please take note.  I want more of ALL THIS.

The idea of reincarnation is not one I've seen too often in this particular genre, so straight off the bat Omololu gets major points for her originality. YA paranormals tend to stick more toward the vampires, werewolves and ghosts of the supernatural spectrum; the only other novel I can recall that focuses on immortality without those genre staples was Avery Williams's short but fun The Alchemy of Forever. Both Alchemy and Transcendence use their originality and fresh perspectives to their favor; this never has the echoes of "been there, done that" storylines that so many other YA novels often do contain. I mean, really: how long can we read about the ordinary, beautiful-but-unaware of it mortal girl in the thrall of a vampire? Using such a fresh concept like essence transition really does make Transcendence stand out. Omololu isn't afraid to face the questions at the core of her characters' soul transmigrations - when one can remember lives upon lives for hundreds of years, what do you take with you to each new experience? Love? Guilt? Intelligence? Responsibility? Revenge? How can you justify a romantic relationship between someone who's aware of his hundreds of years of life and someone who only has 17 to recall? It certainly feels a little squicky at the outset, but all is not as it seems. And, CJ Omololu actually takes the time to explore and answer these questions, all nearly to satisfaction.

As for the romance, I admit I was veeery hesitant and wary of where that could go with Cole and her love interest, Griffon. Clearly with the theme of reincarnation, a lot of writers would go for the star-crossed instalove connection. It almost begs for it with a set up like a time-slip novel - a love out of time is a romantic idea and one that understandably holds appeal to a variety of audiences. However, Omololu doesn't go that route, skipping immediately down Romance Avenue and happily-ever-afters. Wonder of wonders, this is an author that takes time, care and detail into crafting a real, believable connection between the two "teens", one that is not wholly based on who they were before, but on who they are now in the present. Their romance is sweet, frustrating  and above all - credible. No instalove here just a relationship that slowly blooms into a natural and endearing partnership. Love in all its forms is shown throughout the novel, actually, and this is one of the few YAs that takes the time and effort to feature a functional, if not traditional, family life. The mom may be the most one-dimensional character of the whole novel (and brought back unfavorable echoes of Diana in Virtuosity),  but even she grows and changes a bit over the book.

I enjoyed a lot about this, but it is not without faults. The plot can be weak in certain sections of the novel, some twists and turns of the plot feel and can come across as very contrived, and one of my least favorite plot devices, the "I have a super-sekrit, dangerous plan I can tell NO ONE about" comes out to play late in the course of the book. I wish the plot had a been a bit stronger, but my enjoyment of the characters, the mythology, and Cole's inner monologue keep the deficit from being a glaring issue. These are minor complaints in the shadow of all the AWESOME that is in play for this book - they detract but a little, and I still feel all fangirly about Transcendence. With several big twists I really did NOT see coming and more late-in-the-game open-ended questions than answers, Transcendence leaves the door wide open for its sequel without sacrificing satisfaction for the readers and fans of the first.

Though Fated is more than a year away (nooo) and I can see the love-triangle brewing with a vengeance (nooo!), I can't wait to get back to this uniquely paranormal series, and these delightful, rounded characters. If you're looking for an engrossing, easily readable YA with lots of action and a hint of mystery, look no further.

DNF Review: Burn Mark by Laura Powell

Saturday, June 23, 2012
Title: Burn Mark
Author: Laura Powell
Genre: young-adult, supernatural fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 420 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: June 19 2012
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 2/5

Glory is from a family of witches and lives beyond the law. She is desperate to develop her powers and become a witch herself. Lucas is the son of the Chief Prosecutor for the Inquisition—the witches’ mortal enemy—and his privileged life is very different to the forbidden world that he lives alongside.

And then on the same day, it hits them both. Glory and Lucas develop the Fae—the mark of the witch. In one fell stroke, their lives are inextricably bound together, whether they like it or not . . 

How do you take a novel with gangster East End witch covens, a modern-day Inquisition, and an alternate world where magic is the norm, if mistrusted, and make it boring? Well, you don't have to sit and think about it, Burn Mark is here to tell you how: 

[Step Zero: Use clever synopsis and awesome cover to lure in potential readers]
Step One. Add in four-hundred plus pages of nearly stagnant plotlines,
Step Two: Season in an excruciatingly slow pace
Step Three: Mix in the dense exposition on absolutely every aspect of anything
Step Four: Garnish with several transparent plot twists
Step Five: Wait and see how many finish the damn, long thing
I was very eager to get this book once I read the synopsis and saw that evocative cover (nice job, marketing department!) but this was a disappointment for me. I struggled to get to the 300 page marker, and then I just didn't have the energy to see it to the final fruition when I already knew how everything would play out. The kernels of ingenuity here are not enough to suffer through how very, very bored I was while trying to invest in this world, these characters, this story. Burn Mark actually reminded me a bit of Holly Black's CurseWorkers novels with the resemblance of whole "government control/mistrust the criminal magicals" plotline, but this version sadly lacked the vivacity and vitality of that other young-adult series.

The author clearly took a lot of care and time crafting her magicked version of modern-London and that is appreciated as most fantasy novels either thrive or die on such detail; the fault lies not in the inception but in the flawed execution of those ideas. The author just needs a bit more restraint, or some editing: details are important but they shouldn't override every additional element of the novel.  The multitude of ideas here are certainly intriguing and original (territorial gangster witch covens? Yes, please! A mark for witches? Modernised British  Inquisition?) but each not explored enough independently. Sadly, unlike other dense worldbuilding novels centered around Britain's supernatural forces, Burn Mark mires you down in minute detail, instead of using the exposition to further illustrate a believable world. It's just too much. Especially for a first novel in a series - some of the history and background could have been  postponed and been enfolded within subsequent novels.

I wish I'd liked this. I also mostly wish I had more to say about it. I didn't hate it, contrary to this review, I was disappointed and just bored. I did appreciate the heroine's focus on her goals, instead of on getting her a man (in fact, the near lack of a romance earned this a whole additional star) but it's just not enough. Glory and Lucas have the outlines of becoming very-well realized characters, but I won't be pursuing this series to see.

Guest Post/Review Take Two: The Demon Trapper's Daughter/Forsaken by Jana Oliver

Friday, June 22, 2012
My fellow blogger and book addict Maria of A Night's Dream of Books is here to a guest post review for the first in the Demon Trapper's series by Jana Oliver. While I wasn't as much of a fan  of this YA UNF as Maria, her review definitely convinced me not to give up completely on this series. If interested, you can easily find more of her detailed and comprehensive reviews right here, on her blog!

Author: Jana Oliver
Series: The Demon Trappers #1
Pages: 423 (trade paperback edition)
Published: January 7 2011
Genre: YA Urban Fantasy
Rating:  5/5

Riley Blackthorne just needs a chance to prove herself—and that’s exactly what the demons are counting on...

Seventeen-year-old Riley, the only daughter of legendary Demon Trapper, Paul Blackthorne, has always dreamed of following in her father's footsteps. The good news is, with human society seriously disrupted by economic upheaval and Lucifer increasing the number of demons in all major cities, Atlanta’s local Trappers’ Guild needs all the help they can get—even from a girl. When she’s not keeping up with her homework or trying to manage her growing crush on fellow apprentice, Simon, Riley’s out saving distressed citizens from foul-mouthed little devils – Grade One Hellspawn only, of course, per the strict rules of the Guild. Life’s about as normal as can be for the average demon-trapping teen.

But then a Grade Five Geo-Fiend crashes Riley’s routine assignment at a library, jeopardizing her life and her chosen livelihood. And, as if that wasn’t bad enough, sudden tragedy strikes the Trappers’ Guild, spinning Riley down a more dangerous path than she ever could have imagined. As her whole world crashes down around her, who can Riley trust with her heart—and her life?

This is the UK edition of The Demon Trapper's Daughter, which I bought because I loved the cover at first sight. 

This is a gritty, fast-paced story, and yet, it does contain some depth, since several of the characters do quite a bit of soul-searching along the way. 

At first, I thought I would finish the book quickly.  However, I got stalled by a completely unexpected event pretty early in the story -- one that came very close to home, and I could not continue.  Of course, I won't spoil things for other readers by divulging any details of said event.  I will merely say that it was one that had a strong emotional impact on me. 

Another element I disliked was the presence of necromancers, and thus, of zombies.  Although they're not really an integral part of the story, they are there, at least on the sidelines.  If there's one thing I dislike in paranormal/urban fantasy fiction, it's zombies.  The concept of revived dead people mindlessly walking around is totally repugnant to me!  I must concede that the ones in this book are not entirely mindless, and they don't go around eating people.  Still, the concept does bother me.

So I put the book aside, and picked up a nonfiction book, which I subsequently reviewed on my nonfiction book blog.  I didn't think I would return to Forsaken; in fact, I began to seriously contemplate getting rid of the book.  I felt chagrined about it, too, because I also own the original American edition, as well as Soul Thief, the American edition of the second book in this series. 

Someone pulled me back into the book, which I then went on to finish, without a hitch, in spite of the above-mentioned elements.  Who was that someone?  Riley Blackthorne, the novel's seventeen-year-old heroine.  As in Angelfire, by Courtney Allison Moulton, and the River of Time series, by Lisa T. Bergren, I had come across a character that I could really admire -- a strong, yet feminine, girl with firm convictions, one who didn't take kindly to being ordered around by her male companions, even if they had her best interests at heart.  It was Riley who kept me reading, with her combination of strength, compassion, and paradoxically, emotional vulnerability. 

Incredibly enough, I've ended up loving this book!

Riley is the daughter of Paul Blackthorne, a legendary Demon Trapper.  The trappers work for the Vatican, and have an arsenal of weapons, chief of which is holy water.  For those not acquainted with Catholic beliefs, this is water that has been blessed by a priest.  When thrown at a demon, the water causes it great pain, since it burns demonic skin.  Holy water is also a key component in the making of spheres, which are magical globes that are either thrown directly at demons, or near them, causing several types of effects on them. 

One of the interesting things about this book is that the demons manifest as real, physical entities, which can then be fought through physical means.  Even more interesting is the fact that they're classified into categories.  A Five is more powerful than a Three, for example.  This doesn't mean that a Three is not a formidable foe, however.  Riley manages to trap one of these on her own, while still an apprentice trapper, a feat admired by the other trappers.

There are also different kinds of demons; Biblios, for example, love to destroy books, Magpies love to steal shiny trinkets to stash in their secret hoards, and Pyro-Fiends love to play with fire.  These three types are so-called 'minor' demons.

The Demon Trappers Guild, to which Riley and her father belong, has regular meetings in an abandoned auditorium.  (The setting of the book is a rather bleak, futuristic Atlanta, Georgia.)  These meetings are protected from demon intrusion by the preparation of a magical circle of holy water around the participants.  It's here that Guild business is conducted, master trappers take on apprentices, and so forth. 

As the story opens, Riley, who happens to be the only female trapper in the Guild, has been sent to a law library to trap a Biblio.  Things somehow don't turn out as she expects, however, since a more powerful, yet invisible, demon intervenes.  The result is that Riley is summoned to a Guild meeting, with the possibility of having her apprenticeship with her father completely suspended. 

The series of events that follow give the reader a comprehensive picture of Riley's character, as well as that of Beck, her father's close associate, and the second one in the book I found very appealing.  Denver Beck is totally devoted to Riley's father, and thus, to Riley herself, who had a crush on him when she was a young teen.  Although not that much older than Riley, he's gone through a lot, and comes across as a hard-boiled guy with tons of experience.  This really annoys Riley, as she feels it makes him feel superior.  Still, Beck is not quite the insensitive 'macho' trapper she takes him to be.  Underneath his 'tough guy' exterior, he cares deeply for Riley.  I suspect he doesn't want to admit to himself that he really loves her, and not as he would a little sister, either.

Paul Blackthorne is also a wonderful character.  As the master trapper in charge of Riley's training, he must attempt to remain objective, while it's obvious that he really loves his daughter.  He would have preferred that she not follow in his footsteps, since trapping demons is a dangerous profession.  Yet, he respects her choices, and never treats her with any degree of condescension.  He and Riley have an ideal father-daughter relationship, and this is yet another factor of the book that I loved.

The minor characters are very well-done, too.  Harper, the senior demon trapper, is totally despicable, even memorably so.  He makes me grind my teeth in disgust!  Simon, the staunchly Catholic boy, is sweet and very engaging, yet firm in his dedication to his chosen profession.  Ayden, a member of the group of witches who make the magical spheres for the trappers, gives Riley excellent advice at one point in the story.  She suggests that Riley deal with school bullies not by taking revenge on them, but by emphasizing her own inner strengths, thus boosting her self-esteem.  Very sage advice, indeed!

Another element of this tale I enjoyed was the sense of humor displayed by the characters.  The overall tone is dramatic, of course, but there are sparks of humor here and there that serve as comic relief, and are not overdone.  Still, it might be objected that some of the minor demons come across as rather cartoonish.  I do think this is a valid point.  Riley herself remarks to Simon, during a discussion they have about catching 'hellspawn', that Magpies aren't that evil.  Simon sternly reminds her that all demons belong to Lucifer's army, no matter how 'cute and harmless' they might appear to be.

Coupled with the strong, believable characterization and plot is an equally believable setting.  Atlanta in 2018 is in deep financial trouble; kids are shuttled from abandoned building to abandoned building in order to attend classes, and gas prices are astronomical.  City corruption is rampant.  This setting goes quite well with the story's grim theme.

Toward the end of the book, a new set of characters appears -- angels.  I had already started to enjoy the novel, and this added element made me enjoy it even more.  Of course, this opens up the door to the next novel in the series, which I now know I will definitely be reading! 

In spite of the fact that demons are fear-inducing characters, I did not feel very scared while reading Forsaken.  That's because this is not a horror novel.  Horror novels have a completely different emphasis.  Their main focus is on inducing fear in the reader, not on evil being conquered in the end.  Thus, every element of fiction is geared toward that purpose.  Also, the evil characters in horror novels are not always beaten in the end; there's usually an element of ambiguity as the book reaches its conclusion.  (I know this from research I've done on the Internet, not from reading any of these novels.  I thoroughly detest the horror genre.) 

In contrast, Forsaken wades uncompromisingly into the eternal fight against evil.  Also, this is a character-driven novel.  The act of trapping demons is not just what the main charaters do; it's also a sort of metaphor for the soul-searching they engage in.

Summing up, I have completely changed my opinion of this book!  It's a solidly entertaining story with deeper implications, and I heartily recommend it to all those who enjoy reading paranormal/urban fantasy novels.  I also think this book and its sequels would make great movies.  True, the added visual element would make the stories pretty scary, but the very interesting characters would be sure to make the movies absolute hits!
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