Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: Blackout by Mira Grant

There's not a synopsis or cover picture for Blackout yet, so I can't post those this week, but I'd figure the cover will fit in with the other two of the Newsflesh Trilogy.

Mira Grant
June 7, 2012

I've already reviewed both Feed and Deadline (with as few spoilers as possible), and it's fair to say that these two books have been my favourite books of 2010 and 2011 respectively.  They're zombie books. but they're about what happens after the zombie apocalypse.  How society has changed and people have adapted to 30 years of the living dead.  Feed's more of a political thriller that follows the Mason siblings (professional bloggers) as they cover the 2040 US Presidential campaign while Deadline really looks at the idea of disease, how it spreads, and what to do when the groups you trust most seem to have betrayed the world.  They're incredibly good.  Shaun and Georgia Mason (named by their adoptive parents for Shaun of the Dead and George Romero) are heroes (and journalists) of the highest order - sacrificing everything to find  the truth and stopping at nothing - even sometimes the bounds of reason - to make sure the truth gets out.

I'm waiting with baited breath for the conclusion of the trilogy and the answers to the questions raised in the oh-so-cliffhangery ending of Deadline.  I was a little tentative about the possibility of a 'second novel slip' in Deadline, but Mira Grant proved me completely wrong, and I'm confident that Blackout will absolutely blow me away.

"Alive or dead, the truth won't rest.  Rise up while you can."
- Georgia Mason

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Review: The Juliet Spell by Douglas Rees

The Juliet Spell
by Douglas Rees
September 27, 2011
Received ARC for review from NetGalley
Amazon Link
Goodreads Page
Grade: A-

Synopsis from Publisher: I’m Juliet.

At least, I wanted to be.

So I did something stupid to make it happen.

Well, stupid and wonderful.

I wanted the role of Juliet more than anything. I studied hard. I gave a great reading for it—even with Bobby checking me out the whole time. I deserved the part.

I didn’t get it. So I decided to level the playing field, though I actually might have leveled the whole play. You see, since there aren’t any Success in Getting to Be Juliet in Your High School Play spells, I thought I’d cast the next best—a Fame spell. Good idea, right?

Yeah. Instead of bringing me a little fame, it brought me someone a little famous. Shakespeare. Well, Edmund Shakespeare. William’s younger brother.

Good thing he’s sweet and enthusiastic about helping me with the play...and—ahem—maybe a little bit hot. But he’s from the past. Way past. Cars amaze him—cars! And cell phones? Ugh.

Still, there’s something about him that’s making my eyes go star-crossed....

Will Romeo steal her heart before time steals him away?

I didn't really expect a lot from this book. The synopsis intrigued me, but I'm such a Shakespeare nerd that I wasn't sure it would be possible to make me happy.

Apparently it was possible.

Well, okay, I totally disagreed with a few of the characters' assessments of Romeo and Juliet's qualities as a play, but that's what people who like to talk about Shakespeare do – they disagree on everything. Noel Streafeild (author of the wonderful Ballet Shoes and rest of the Shoes books) once wrote something along the lines of 'a fan of Shakespeare will only be happy when he gets to disagree completely with the production.' I'm a little embarrassed to admit how true that is.

As a last ditch attempt after her audition for Juliet didn't go as well as Miranda (Miri) Hoberman wished, she digs out the spell kit she'd discarded the year before after the spells to make her dad come home didn't work. This time, she tries to cast a spell to make her Juliet – and somehow transports a strange boy into her kitchen instead.

The boy is Edmund Shakeshaft, and he's convinced that if Miri isn't Helen of Troy, she must be an angel or a demon or maybe even a fairy. Edmund's entrance is an impressive one, and it leads to confusion, hijinks, and even the possible dissolution of the universe itself. Because Edmund's come from Elizabethan London, and he's an actor with the Lord Chamberlain's Men who just graduated from playing female roles. And he's William Shakespeare's little brother.

I seriously loved how the entire introduction of Edmund played out. I loved watching his utter horror at the 21st century turn into fascination and curiosity about everything from the showers to television to the huge leather bound folio of the work of the man he considers his jackass older brother. From the first, Edmund's a charming and complex character, struggling to fit into and understand a society 500 years in his future.

Miranda is no less charming a character as she introduces Edmund to her house and world, tries to convince him that doing the dishes is definitely not just women's work, reassures him that he won't die in a car going 25 miles an hour, and not-so-slowly falls for him, accent, strange clothes and all. It's odd that Miranda seems to have no female friends at all, but her relationship with her mother (yay, parental involvement! Her mother is even asked for help!) is a strong and loving one.

But the play's the thing in this company of actors, and Miri introduces Ed to her dramatic society where he auditions for and is cast as Romeo – with Miri as Juliet.

I so enjoyed the author's obvious familiarity with the theatre as the characters go through the drama of putting together a production. As difficulties and tragedies mount, the action slides near the plot of a Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney musical – “gee, guys! Let's put on a show!” But the similarities stay this side of overly corny, and it's a pleasure watching Edmund's experience in the Elizabethan theatre clash with modern acting and directing styles.

One of my chief pleasures in any novel or movie (or tv show, thank you, Doctor Who) about Shakespeare's theatre is playing the 'spot the Shakespeare quote!' game, and the author clearly enjoys that too as he scatters quotes from the plays before and after 1597 (the year Edmund's from) throughout Ed's dialogue. In the author's note, he mentions this is on purpose, and his reasoning (which I won't spoil for you because it's a bit of a plot point) makes me laugh.

The Juliet Spell is structured a bit like the play its characters are producing and while the first few acts are filled with lightness, comedy, and typical theatrical disputes (he took my part AND my girl!), the book gets more serious in the later chapters. Happily both tones are handled well, and the conclusion was very sad but ultimately satisfying. During the 'comedy' section, things seem to fall into place too easily at times – Miri's mother easily accepts Edmund into their life and home without really questioning why this strange kid is in their living room. No one really doesn't believe Edmund's story, and while he struggles to fit into the modern United States, he, Miri, and Miri's friend Drew are easily able to get Edmund a copy of a birth certificate as proof of identity.

I've seen some critiques that the time travel in this book in unrealistic – I'm not entirely sure what realistic time travel is - but for me, as long as magic, time travel, paranormal activity is internally consistent within the book, I'm happy. And so it is with this book.

I seriously enjoyed reading The Juliet Spell and thank Netgalley and HarlequinTEEN for allowing me to read a galley for review! The book appealed to both the theatre and Shakespeare nerd within me and also the person who reads for intriguing, well-developed characters and situations.

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books for Fall

Top Ten Tuesday: the weekly meme hosted by the fabulous ladies at The Broke and the Bookish. This week the topic is “books on the top of your TBR list for fall” which I’m interpreting as the books scheduled for release in the fall.  Mainly because I want to...though it’s going to make my next few Waiting on Wednesday’s difficult! 

1. Prized by Caragh O’Brien - I just got an eArc of this book from NetGalley today, and I’m SO EXCITED to read it.  I totally loved Birthmarked, and I know I’m going to be on edge waiting for the third in the trilogy as soon as I finish Prized.
2. The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan - Percy and Annabeth and Jason, Leo, and Piper all coming back to bookstores near me (us?)!  The slightly older nature of The Lost Hero (compared to the Percy Jackson series) pleased me, and I can’t wait to learn more about the Roman demigods and their camp.
3. Mastiff by Tamora Pierce - I’ve been reading Tamora Pierce since I was a little child (Alanna FTW!), and I’ve been waiting for the final part of Beka’s trilogy for what seems like forever now.  Beka’s story is my second favourite of the Tortall books after Aly.  I just love the crime procedural quality and also the focus on the Lower City.  (Plus Beka and Rosto the Piper need to finally get together, darnit!  George is SO descended from Rosto.  I refuse to believe otherwise!)
4. The Juliet Spell by Douglas Rees - My review from the NetGalley eArc I received is actually going up later today, but I seriously loved this book.  It's nothing overly deep or thought-provoking, but it was a lovely and fluffy (mostly) story that made me so very happy.
5. The Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare - I thought The Clockwork Angel was a really neat prequel to The Mortal Instruments series, and the steampunky Victorian London setting was a lot of fun.
6. One Salt Sea by Seanan McGuire - I’m not even caught up on the Toby series yet, but I’m definitely planning on buying the sixth one as soon as it comes out.  More adventures of Toby and Tybalt and Quentin are always a good, good thing.
7. Vanish by Sophie Jordan - I’ve got such a weakness for dragon books, and Firelight was just an interesting concept. 
8. Beautiful Chaos by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl - Mmm, Southern Gothic.  I actually haven’t read Beautiful Darkness yet because I’m kind of a failure, but Beautiful Creatures was awesome, and I could just feel that muggy heat of the Deep South as I read it.
9. Fateful by Claudia Grey - I’m not the biggest fan of the Evernight series, but this is werewolves on the Titanic!  I'm so overly excited about this!
10. Crossed by Ally Condie - Matched was a fun read, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the sequel plays out - especially since crap got real at the end of Matched.  Plus I'm not going to deny that the awesomeness of the cover is exciting.

I tried to keep Lola and the Boy Next Door off this list because it was last week's Waiting on Wednesday, but the book just doesn't won't stay away!  So #11 - Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins for so many reasons. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Review: Fixing Delilah by Sarah Ockler

Fixing Delilah
Sarah Ockler
December 1, 2010
Borrowed from library
Amazon link
Grade: B

Synopsis from Publisher:  Things in Delilah Hannaford's life have a tendency to fall apart.

She used to be a good student, but she can't seem to keep it together anymore. Her "boyfriend" isn't much of a boyfriend. And her mother refuses to discuss the fight that divided their family eight years ago. Falling apart, it seems, is a Hannaford tradition.

Over a summer of new friendships, unexpected romance, and moments that test the complex bonds between mothers and daughters, Delilah must face her family's painful past. Can even her most shattered relationships be pieced together again?

Rich with emotion, Sarah Ockler delivers a powerful story of family, love, and self-discovery.

My feelings on this book have swung back and forth like a crazy pendulum in the week since I read it.  I meant to do this review at the end of last week, but I just couldn’t pin down what I think about it.   I’m still not sure I’ve pinned it down, but I’ll try to work it out in the next few paragraphs.  Bear with me here.

I absolutely loved Twenty Boy Summer.  It was one of my favourite books of last year - the exploration of grief, friendship, and moving on from your first love just absolutely touched my heart.  So it’s fair to say that I was expecting a lot from Fixing Delilah.

And again, Ockler wrote a sensitive story about how families can break apart but be put back together again.  Her families and their problems, large and small, always strike me as very real.  They have rivalries, ambitions, losses that all must be dealt with as a family unit - something that’s common in life but rather rare in young adult fiction.

My major issue with Fixing Delilah is that I never really felt connected to Delilah.  While she was determined to get to the bottom of her family’s mysteries, her lack of empathy for her family members drove me a little bit nuts.  Her mother and aunt were still trying to cope with the suicide of their youngest sister, but Delilah never seems to acknowledge that or allow them any latitude for it even when she’s demanding answers about her dead aunt’s life and how its end affected the family for years. 

I did really enjoy the way she slowly formed real friendships over the course of the summer.  Her friendship with Em was seriously well-written, and I loved that Delilah’s growing relationship with Patrick didn’t overshadow the importance of that friendship.  Both Em and Patrick were particularly well-developed for secondary characters as were Delilah’s mother and aunt.  I found myself wanting the book to focus on the relationship between the sisters or on Em's struggle with her father instead of on the main character.

There’s a lot of appreciate about this book - the writing is like a leisurely stroll on a summer day: descriptive and lovely. Unfortunately the story just didn’t connect with the me in the way Twenty Boy Summer did, but it’s still a good read that I'm sure other people will truly love.  I’ll absolutely be picking up Sarah Ockler’s books in the future.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

In My Mailbox!

It's Sunday again (and I have a respectable number of new books!) so it's time for The Story Siren's meme: In My Mailbox!

The four above are the books I got at the store this past Tuesday!  Book release day for Bloodlines and Sweetly so I HAD to grab them - and then Amy & Roger and An Artificial Night just leaped into my hands.  It was weird, yo.  I'm just lucky the other three books I picked up (Ally Carter's Heist Society duo and Eon) didn't also follow.

I also bought Always a Witch by Colleen MacCullough for the Kindle because I just couldn't wait to get it from the library.

From the library though, I have quite a haul:

Playing Hurt by Holly Schindler
Fixing Delilah by Sarah Ockler
The Lost Gate by Orson Scott Card
The Lost Crown: A Novel of Romanov Russia by Sarah Miller
A Need So Beautiful by Suzanne Young
All You Desire by Kirsten Miller
Prisoners in the Palace by Michaela MacColl
The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place (Books 1 and 2) by Maryrose Wood
The Thief's Gamble by Juliet E McKenna

...there are others from the library but I'm going to pretend I'm a normal person who doesn't check out thirty books at a time.  Um.

I can't wait to get reading on this group!  Well, you already saw my Bloodlines review, but the rest of them are upcoming...

What fun new books have you gotten your hands on in the past weeks?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Review: Bloodlines by Richelle Mead

by Richelle Mead
August 23, 2011
Purchased my copy on release day
Grade: A-

Synopsis from Publisher:  The first book in Richelle Mead's brand-new teen fiction series - set in the same world as Vampire Academy.

When alchemist Sydney is ordered into hiding to protect the life of Moroi princess Jill Dragomir, the last place she expects to be sent is a human private school in Palm Springs, California. But at their new school, the drama is only just beginning.

Populated with new faces as well as familiar ones, Bloodlines explores all the friendship, romance, battles and betrayals that made the #1 New York Times bestselling Vampire Academy series so addictive - this time in a part-vampire, part-human setting where the stakes are even higher and everyone's out for blood.

I spent two days just staring at this book’s cover and consciously picking up other books to read because I couldn’t make myself start reading.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved Vampire Academy and have read those books an embarrassing number of times, but the whole idea of a new series with a new protagonist suddenly was worrying me!  I love Rose to pieces (as idiotic as she is sometimes), and my ability to love Sydney was strongly in doubt.

But a friend finally goaded me into starting, and once I did, I was not putting that book down until it was over.  I think I can definitely say that Richelle Mead has still got that ability to draw the reader into her action-packed plots and just not let go.

My total missing of Rose and her oh-so-unique point of view still exists, but I did really begin to enjoy seeing situations through Sydney’s eyes.  It’s interesting that Mead continues to tell these stories from an outsider’s viewpoint.  First Rose as a dhampir girl who ends up working her way to the inside of Moroi society then Sydney who’d be happiest if she never had to deal with Moroi society - or her own Alchemists ever again, but who knows a lot of facts about them and still very little about who these people actually are.

Her less than sophisticated views of how society - and teenage society in particular - were always funny, but Mead writes with a compassion that keeps Sydney from being the butt of the joke and also allows her to grow as her relationships with the Moroi in her charge and her new associates develop and deepen.  I really enjoyed getting to know this incredibly smart character as she struggled to figure out how to take her training that taught her to always keep her distance and use it to actually be able to interact with people - vampires, humans, and dhampirs - on a personal level.  She started that process when working with Rose, but a few days and a defined mission is much easier to deal with than the messy situation of actually living with people.

The secondary characters also made me glee with delight.  I absolutely adore Eddie Castile and when he showed up, I seriously yelled in excitement.  I was so upset that his storyline kind of dropped out of sight at the end of the Vampire Academy books and getting to see him again made my day.  The guardians are my favourite part of this world, and watching Eddie attempt to perform his duty with the restrictions put on him by the setting was excellent.

Jill’s character wasn't as well developed in this book as she could have been.  It’s difficult to say how without being excessively spoilery, but I’d really like to see her grow up a little.  She’s only 15, true, but there were times when I felt like she was acting much, much younger.  While she's been through a lot in the past month of book-time, I felt like the Jill of Bloodlines acted like a completely different Jill than the spunky, ready to fight, enthusiastic girl of Vampire Academy.  She tends to be overly whiny but seemingly madly attractive to boys since at least three completely fall for her.  It's difficult to tell if her regression and whining are supposed to be because of her situation and the events of the past month or if they're her actual personality.  If it's explicitly determined to be the first in later books, I could see myself starting to love her again - and I really hopes that happens!  I loved VA!Jill and was really looking forward to her role in this new series.

And then we come to Adrian.  I’ll fully admit I’m not as big of an Adrian fan as some - many - readers, and I wasn’t thrilled to find out he was playing a major role in the new series.  I really hated a lot of his actions in the last few VA books - trying to coerce Rose into a relationship, not giving her a chance to mourn Dimitri, expecting her to monitor his ‘vices’ (yes, I have Rose-tinted glasses), but during Bloodlines, he did seem to develop more of his own character.  Instead of being defined by his relationship to Rose, and to some extent, Lissa and his magic, Adrian starts to come into his own as a person.  His associations with Jill and Sydney in particular were touching, often hilarious, and intriguing to watch.

It’s hard to say anything about Mead’s plots - she’s very, very good at writing an action-packed story that pulls you along, and I really enjoyed that this book was more of a detective story than VA’s ‘go out and hunt down the bad guys.’  Much of the plot relies on Sydney’s abilities to put pieces of information together.  I guessed a few of the side plots right off the bat, but upon reconsidering it, I think that at least one of them was meant to be obvious to readers of VA.  (You guys probably know which one.  Ahem.)  It’s difficult to compare the plot of Bloodlines with the later Vampire Academy books.  The plot is maybe a bit more simplistic than I was expecting, but then Mead’s still setting up her world - compare the plot of Vampire Academy with Last Sacrifice or Blood Promise.  You need the earlier, simpler plots to be able to have enough background information to understand the later ones.

So yes, go read Bloodlines!  And don’t waste two days like I did flailing over missing Rose.  If you haven’t read the Vampire Academy series, I’d suggest to read those books first.  You could start with Bloodlines, but without the background information on the world and characters, I think you’ll get more out of it if you’ve read VA first - also VA is an excellent series that deserves as many readers as possible.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Review: The Returning by Christine Hinwood

The Returning
by Christine Hinwood
April 11, 2011
Borrowed from Library
Goodreads Page
Amazon Page
Grade: B

Synopsis from Publisher:  An intense story of love, loss and turmoil in the aftermath of war. A first novel by a uniquely talented author.

Vivid, compassionate and totally absorbing, The Returning follows the fortunes of young Cam Attling and all those whose fates entwine with his.

Cam has a hunger, an always-hunger; it drives him from home, to war, from north to south. When he returns from war alone - all his fellow soldiers slain - suspicion swirls around him. He's damaged in body and soul, yet he rides a fine horse and speaks well of his foes. What has he witnessed? Where does his true allegiance lie? How will life unfold for his little sister, his closest friend, his betrothed, his community, and even the enemy Lord who maimed him?

With extraordinary insight and literary skill, Hinwood weaves their stories to create a tale of romance, adventure and everyday life in croft and manor house and castle. Her style is unique. Her characters will hijack your heart.

This is an odd little book.  It started out very slowly, and for the first hundred pages or so, I kept thinking “yeah, I’m going to go read something else...after the next few pages.”  But I didn’t; I kept reading and suddenly I looked down to find that there were only twenty pages yet, but I really didn’t want the book to end.  The last chapter is absolutely beautiful.

I’ve seen the words ‘heartbreakingly beautiful” applied to The Returning.  It’d be nice if I hadn’t seen them because then I could use them without feeling completely derivative.  They’re truly accurate.  Ever since I finished the last page, I’ve found myself being haunted by the characters, words, and descriptions.

There’s no one overarching plot here.  It’s mostly a meditation on how people react to the end of a war.  How people come home from war changed and try their best to fit back into society.  This isn’t a book to read with half your attention because the point of view changes from character to character rather abruptly.  Some of the characters had never been introduced before which makes the switches mildly confusing, but the writing and complex characters draw you into their stories with little difficulty.

I loved Cam, the character who is doing ‘the returning,’ but my two favourite were the two women in his life - his betrothed, Graceful, and his little sister Pin.  Both find their lives unsettled by Cam’s return and struggle to adjust themselves to the way their society has changed after the long war.  Graceful, in particular, is an intriguing character.  She’s not terribly charismatic or likeable at first, but she’s always a presence.

I wouldn’t recommend this book to everyone.  If you need a plot with a lot of action to stay focused (and often I do so no shame there), you may not find The Returning of interest.  But if you’re in the mood for something meditative with beautiful language, check it out for sure.

And holy crap, the cover is beautiful.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

Waiting on Wednesday’s a feature hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine to highlight the books we just can’t wait to get our hands on.

This week the book that I'm on pins and needles for is:

Lola and the Boy Next Door
by Stephanie Perkins
September 29, 2011

Synopsis from Publisher:  Budding designer Lola Nolan doesn’t believe in fashion . . . she believes in costume. The more expressive the outfit -- more sparkly, more fun, more wild -- the better. But even though Lola’s style is outrageous, she’s a devoted daughter and friend with some big plans for the future. And everything is pretty perfect (right down to her hot rocker boyfriend) until the dreaded Bell twins, Calliope and Cricket, return to the neighborhood.

When Cricket -- a gifted inventor -- steps out from his twin sister’s shadow and back into Lola’s life, she must finally reconcile a lifetime of feelings for the boy next door.

Well, this definitely isn’t a unique pick or anything, but I’m totally okay with that.  Anna and the French Kiss was one of the best YA contemps of 2010, and from the pre-release reviews people have done on Lola, it sure looks like Stephanie Perkins is continuing her winning streak.

But it’s over a month away.  Way too far to wait for.  Which...okay, I realise the silliness of saying that right after doing a book last week that won’t be out for 8 months, but still.  Everything about Lola is calling to me - her costume designing, the gorgeous boy on the cover, the fact it’s set in San Francisco...I can’t wait!

And I just reread Anna recently so I can’t even do that again to pass the time.  Sigh.  I’ll have to console myself with the fact that I got copies of Bloodlines and Sweetly yesterday, and I didn’t think that day would come either.

Plus if you somehow have missed reading Anna and the French Kiss, you’ve got a whole month to go do it.  What are you waiting for?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Review: Ambitious by Monica MacKayhan

by Monica MacKayhan
September 1, 2011 
Received ARC from NetGalley
Amazon Page
Goodreads Page
Grade: D

Synopsis (from Publisher): There's only one thing tougher than getting in to Premiere High: Staying in…

At Premiere School of the Performing Arts, nicknamed Premiere High, talent is a must and competition is fierce. But the payoff is worth it. Some of the biggest stars in music, movies and dance are on the alumni list. New student Marisol Garcia dreams of taking her place among them one day. And being chosen to take part in a local dance contest where a film role is the prize could possibly be her first step into the spotlight.

Almost as big a challenge: getting Drew Bishop to see her as more than a friend. But Drew is preoccupied with his own dilemma of either playing basketball, which could be a free ticket to college, or pursuing the stage where he really comes alive. But every dream comes with a price. And as Marisol becomes consumed with winning, the once straight–A student risks losing everything. Starting with her parents' approval, her friends and her place at Premiere High…

Girl gets accepted to a massively competitive performing arts high school and soon proves herself one of the best dancers in the school...and gets the hottest and most talented guy in her class.

Wait...that's not how it works, is it?

In Ambitious, it definitely works that way. Marisol is accepted both to Premiere High School of Performing Arts AND the top dance class in the school despite any formal dance training. A free class the previous summer seems to be Marisol's only actual dance instruction. People can be naturally talented, but from the first page, Ambitious flirts with snapping my suspension of disbelief.

Her love interest, Drew, also is far better than seems reasonable. With echoes of High School Musical dancing and singing through the head, Drew's not only a standout basketball star who's approached by a Georgetown scout in his sophomore year (after he's stopped playing ball in order to attend Premiere), but he's also apparently an amazingly talented actor who lands the starring role of Walter Lee Younger in the school production of A Raisin in the Sun. This is despite any acting experience beyond a Christmas pageant in sixth grade and an Easter play at his grandmother's church.

Marisol and Drew alternate point-of-view chapters as they experience the first months of attending Premiere High. They both have to handle family issues – Marisol's little brother is being pressured to join a gang and Drew's dad doesn't like his son giving up basketball. Marisol also has difficulties combining her neighbourhood friends with the girls and guys she meets at school in Manhattan.

Marisol is a likeable enough character as she deals with leaving her close-knit Brooklyn neighbourhood and expanding her horizons into Manhattan – and hopefully future stardom. But while the character is sweet, she never seems to have to actually struggle to achieve anything. She competes in a Dance America! Contest – referred in the book as the most competitive dance competition in the country, but Marisol breezes through to the finals in California while seeming to only train for the competition at lunch. Her old best friend is jealous over Mari's new school friends, but the issue is smoothed over when said old friend gets sick of the girl she befriended to replace Marisol and tries to make amends. She worries about boys, but they compete with each other to ask her to the formal dance. Without much adversity to define her character, the likable qualities seem mostly one-note and the character lacks needed complexity.

I wasn't nearly as fond of Drew even on a superficial level. His chapters failed to provide a level of character development expected from a main character, and they mostly detail his name brand possessions and trips to see Knicks' games or golf outings. I kept expecting some quality of self-reflection from him, especially given his interest in acting, but I was disappointed. The only scene where his character seemed like a human and a teenage boy instead of the author's conception of the ideal teenage boy was when his grandmother visited and talked with him about acting and girls. But even then, I was glaring at the page, annoyed that his grandmother is portrayed almost as maid – she comes by every week or so to clean Drew and his father's apartment, do their laundry, and cook for them. I wanted to shake the boy and ask if he really was sitting there letting his elderly grandma scrub his toilet.

I had high hopes for Ambitious. I've such a soft spot for stories a) about boarding schools/exclusive schools and b) about theatre or dance, and this one seemed to hit all those points. The synopsis and promise of a future series set at a Manhattan performing arts high school sounded like it could be really interesting and full of the backstabbing drama that only really shows up in the arts. Also YA lit can be so saturated with solely white heroes and heroines, and a series that was explicitly multicultural was really appealing too me. But until the characters actually have to work to succeed in such a high pressure environment, I'll be passing on any future Premiere books.

Many thank yous to Netgalley and KimaniTRU for the ecopy of this book for review

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books You Loved But Never Wrote A Review For

Top Ten Tuesday: the weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week they're looking at well-loved books that never got the attention of a full review.  When I was picking my books for this list, I had to consciously try to steer away from using books I've picked for other top ten lists.  Which means this is more "Books I Loved But Never Wrote a Review For" than "Top Ten." Also there are a million wonderful and important books I've never reviewed, but I focused on the type of book I would review.  Cause I could talk about how much I loved Thomas B Allen's Tories: Fighting for the King in America's First Civil War, but I'd probably never review it for this blog so not much point, you know?  Also reviewing non-fiction is boring.

With that little caveat out of the way...

1. Walsh Family series (Rachel's Holiday, Watermelon, Angels, Anyone Out There) - Marian Keyes - I seriously love Marian Keyes.  She writes about depression and addiction better than almost anyone, but her books are never depressing even with such heavy themes.  And I love the insane Walsh sisters and their adventures.
2. Academy 7 - Anne Osterlund - This is an odd little book about a school for geniuses, freedom, betrayal, and paying for the sins of your parents.  I really enjoyed it. (Though I couldn't get into Osterlund's other two books sadly)
3. Revolution - Jennifer Donnelly - I don't think I could write an articulate review for this book.  I'd simply be keysmashing my utter love over and over again.  This book.  You guys.  This book.  *Starry eyes*
4. Bewitching Season/Betraying Season - Marissa Doyle - These were a lighthearted and fun duology with Regency romance, magic, sisters, and the London Season.
5. Birthmarked - Caragh O'Brien - I read this one before my blog, and I'll definitely be reviewing Prized as soon as I get my hands on it.  Such a good dystopian novel AND it's set on the shores of one of my beloved Great Lakes!
6. Amy & Roger's Epic Detour - Morgan Matson - First off, is that the UK cover? I love it SO SO MUCH.  I love road trips.  Planning them, packing for them, going on them, stopping at dorky roadside attractions and dodgy museums, talking about them, laughing in the car, and reminiscing afterwards are all some of my favourite things to do, and this is an epic story of how people are changed by them.  Also Amy and Roger are ADORABLE.
7. Jessica Darling Series - Megan McCafferty - I'd somehow totally missed ever hearing about this series until earlier this summer when I suddenly saw everyone raving about them.  So I picked them up and ended up reading all five of these so quickly that I couldn't even begin to separate the volumes for review.  But they were delicious and Jessica is a wonderful main character.  I don't have as much Marcus Flutie love as many, but I definitely don't dislike him either.
8. Between Shades of Grey - Ruta Sepetys - This book is beautiful, and it made me cry a lot.  It's set during WWII so it's not surprising that the themes are so heavy, but for some reason I couldn't bring myself to put my feelings about it onto paper.  I love this book.  I need a copy to go on my shelf next to The Endless Steppe.
9. The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins - What could I say that hasn't already been said?  Plus I'll get to talk about the movie when it comes out.
10. Divergent - Veronica Roth - Same here.  I read Divergent while I was at the cottage over Fourth of July, but by the time I sat down to try to write a review, I felt like I wouldn't be able to add anything new to the conversation.  I'm so looking forward to Insurgent.
11. The Splendor Falls - Rosemary Clement-Moore - Oops, I had to go beyond 10, but this one doesn't really count because I might end up writing a review for one of my favourite books of 2010.  The Southern Gothic atmosphere with live oaks and Confederate ghosts and archeological digs is beautifully written.

And there's my list!  I'd love to see what you have down so please leave your links in the comments.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Review: Texas Gothic by Rosemary Clement-Moore

Texas Gothic
by Rosemary Clement-Moore
July 12, 2011 
Borrowed from Friend
Grade: A

Synopsis (from Publisher): Amy Goodnight's family is far from normal. She comes from a line of witches, but tries her best to stay far outside the family business. Her summer gig? Ranch-sitting for her aunt with her wacky but beautiful sister. Only the Goodnight Ranch is even less normal than it normally is. Bodies are being discovered, a ghost is on the prowl, and everywhere she turns, the hot neighbor cowboy is in her face

Review: I'm all kinds of amused that just last week, I made a little complaint about how rare supportive – or present! - families are in YA lit and especially YA lit of the paranormal type. I know I'm not the first one to make that complaint, and maybe authors and publishers are starting to listen, because like Once a Witch, Texas Gothic features a heroine closely supported by her slightly esoteric – and magical – family, the Goodnights. From the sister who trips the breakers during her scientific magic experiments to the cousin who shows up to deliver a set of books to the mother who insistently calls (or sends support in the form of aforementioned cousin) when her 'heebie-jeebie' feelings about her youngest daughter act up, our protagonist, Amy, is surrounded by the family she loves but wishes they were just a little less weird. It would make her self-designated job of 'ambassador to the normal world' so much easier.

Since I read Rosemary Clement-Moore's The Splendor Falls last spring, I've rushed through her other three books and really enjoyed all her work. So I was greatly looking forward to the release of Texas Gothic. She has a gift for spooky atmospheres and using legends and archeology to support her determined and interesting heroines. While The Splendor Falls is still my favourite book by this author, Texas Gothic lives up to its predecessors by being a well-written ghost story firmly rooted in its geographical location of eastern Texas (a few hours outside of Austin). Nowhere else on earth could Texas Gothic take place, and by setting the books so firmly into the land, Clement-Moore gives the plot – ghosts, conquistadors, magic families and all – a sense of reality.

The Goodnights are a fantastically interesting family made up of magic users who use their skills in herbalism, clairvoyance, tarot card readings, and everything in between to try (and not always succeed) to fit into normal society. A sixteen year old psychic cousin consults for the Austin police (who definitely don't admit they're looking to a teenager for help). Amy's mother and aunt run New Age-y shops selling teas and esoteric items. No one outside the family knows the teas or the goods sold at Amy's mother's shop or Aunt Hyacinth's herbal shampoos and cosmetics are magic. They just seem to work better than normal goods. Probably because all the ingredients are organic or something. As Amy says, “that was the thing about the Goodnight world. No matter what the label said, you could never assume anything only worked like magic.”

The major complaint I have about this book is how the love interest is handled. The neighboring ranch owner first meets Amy while she's trying to corral her aunt's escape artist goats. Amy's wearing only a bra, underwear, and gumboots, and Ben is less than impressed with the Goodnight family as a whole and Amy in particular. The antagonism grows on both sides as Amy and her sister, Phin, get involved in the archeology dig on Ben's land, and local legends about ghosts start to make difficulties in the town and on the ranch. Amy and Ben continue to snipe at each other, and while Amy's narrative always comments on how good-looking Ben is, when the two finally fall into each other's arms, it seems...a little false. I'll totally admit that I don't tend to enjoy love-hate relationships because I don't find them particularly true to life so maybe that's skewing my judgment, but still, the insulting – real insults not the flirty kind – and general putting down of each other continues right up until they kiss for the first time, and it didn't seem terribly realistic to me. I did really like how the relationship developed after the first kiss and once they started working together, but in order to make it fly completely, I have to at least believe the heroine and love interest LIKE each other before they get all liplocky.

My favourite character in the book was Phin (short for Delphinium), Amy's older sister. I almost wish we could've seen the book from her point of view because she's a hilarious and intriguing character. She's a flat out genius whose magic manifests in a scientific way so she's majoring in chemistry and physics at UT and developing scientific instruments to measure and manage paranormal phenomena. She's also sardonic, deadpan, and completely oblivious to anything beyond her interests (so I suppose maybe not so great a narrator though I'd still love to see a book with her at the center). Phin is a less typical character than Amy, and her slightly insane determination to figure out the whys of magic is all kinds of interesting.

I did like Amy (short for Amaryllis) as well, but I think my opinion of her suffered just because there have been so many books recently where the heroine is supposed to be the 'one girl without magic/a Talent/whatever.' But, of course, they always do have magic in the end, and while the wish-fulfillment aspect can be fun – and an instant draw for the (assumed) unmagical reader, I think there are probably other angles that could be taken.

One last bit that particularly amused me about Texas Gothic is the Goodnight family's names. Amy, Phin, their cousin, Daisy, their aunt Hyacinth, and every other named Goodnight are named after flowers – odd ones too, especially for Amaryllis and Delphinium, and there is absolutely no explanation for this. Not that there has to be, but most novels would throw in a “named according to family tradition blah blah...” I LOVED that it was just out there with no explanation or anything drawing attention to the names as something strange. I've no idea why but it cracks me up every time I think of it.

I'd definitely recommend Texas Gothic (which really isn't a traditional gothic novel at all) to others interested in a way above average paranormal read that really gets its grounding from its geography. I think I have more complaints about this book than most I really enjoy just because I love the author's work so much and so expect more from her than your average random writer. And I really, really want a book about Phin. Then maybe one about Daisy, one about Aunt Hyacinth and so on through the members of the Goodnight clan.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Review: Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough

Once a Witch
by Carolyn MacCullough
September 14, 2009 
Borrowed from Library
Grade: B+

Synopsis (from publisher): Tamsin Greene comes from a long line of witches, and she was supposed to be one of the most Talented among them. But Tamsin's magic never showed up. Now seventeen, Tamsin attends boarding school in Manhattan, far from her family. But when a handsome young professor mistakes her for her very Talented sister, Tamsin agrees to find a lost family heirloom for him. The search—and the stranger—will prove to be more sinister than they first appeared, ultimately sending Tamsin on a treasure hunt through time that will unlock the secret of her true identity, unearth the sins of her family, and unleash a power so vengeful that it could destroy them all. This is a spellbinding display of storytelling that will exhilarate, enthrall, and thoroughly enchant.

Have you ever read one of those books where you’re fifty pages in and you’re nearly dreading reading the rest of it because you’re completely sure you know exactly where it’s going? That was Once a Witch for me.

...Except that nothing in the book happened the way I’d predicted. It was completely awesome, and I will never, ever assume where Ms. MacCullough is heading in the future. I ended up really enjoying Once a Witch! I’d seen reviews around on the blogosphere so I’d had pretty high expectations of the book, and I wasn’t disappointed at all.

One of my favourite parts of the book was the enormous and loving family that Tamsin came from. Their Talents seem to be a combination of pagan beliefs and general magic, and I enjoyed that each of the family members had particular Talents that differed from everyone else. From Rowena’s pretty creepy ability to talk anyone into anything to Aunt Beatrice’s Talent allowing her to knock people out to Gabriels’ time travel to Tamsin’s ...oh yes, she doesn’t have a Talent, does she? Anyone who’s read a book before can guess that Tamsin definitely isn’t the only member of her family without magic, and I seriously loved the Talent she possesses. It was inventive, different, and very interesting to think about.

But I was talking about the family, especially Tamsin’s parents and sister, who are very involved in our heroine’s life which is a nice change from the run of the mill YA book where teenagers seem to have sprung from eggs and live as independently as people in their twenties. Tamsin deals with the difficulties of having engaged parents including phone calls at the absolute worst time and needing to think about how her mother’s worry could be handled. It was excellent to read.

Tamsin’s a smart and determined heroine who’s fought her whole life to try to separate herself from the Black Sheep designation she feels she’s picked up as the only unTalented one. Her conflicted feelings about her family serve as the instigation for the plot as it unwinds, but at her heart, Tamsin loves her relatives and will do anything to help support and protect them.

I was especially impressed with the development of the secondary characters. Grandmother, Rowena, the various aunts, uncles, and cousins, and Gabriel all have their own distinct personalities and quirks and fill the family farm with a real sense of real people living there as opposed to a bunch of easily exchangeable cutouts.

I’m chomping at the bit to get the sequel Always a Witch which is already out in bookstores (YES! No waiting!) and see where Tamsin’s - and her family’s - adventures lead.

Friday, August 19, 2011


I don't have a review for you today - mainly because I foolishly returned the book I really want to review to the library, and nothing else is catching my interest enough to write about this second.

Instead I'm sharing a great list of recommendations for YA fantasy books for people to check out. YA fantasy is really one of my favourite sections of the genre (as you might have noticed), and I'm always excited to see other people's lists of their choices from the multitudes.

The list is over here at EPBOT (which is a great geeky blog written by the hilarious author of the CakeWrecks blog): The Best YA Fantasy Books. Also check the comments for more suggestions for books both recent and older.

Side note: Have you guys noticed I slide in and out of using British/Canadian spelling? I apologise for that! I try to standardize it one way or another and then the 'u's and 's's just come tripping out of my fingers. I blame spending half my childhood in Canada...or possibly writing British dialogue for the past five years or so.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Review: Reel Life Starring Us by Lisa Greenwald

Reel Life Starring Us
by Lisa Greenwald
September 1, 2011 
Received ARC from NetGalley
Amazon Page
Goodreads Page
Grade: B-

Synopsis (from publisher): Rockwood Hills Junior High is known for the close-knit cliques that rule the school. When arty new girl Dina gets the opportunity to do a video project with queen bee Chelsea, she thinks this is her ticket to a great new social life. But Chelsea has bigger problems than Dina can imagine: her father has lost his job, and her family is teetering on the brink. Without knowing it, Dina might just get caught in Chelsea’s free fall.

Filled with honest truths about status and self-confidence, as well as the bubbly, infectious voice Lisa Greenwald mastered in her breakout, My Life in Pink & Green, this book is sure to charm tween readers everywhere.

I’ll be upfront here. I hated middle school. High school (once I got over the “holy crap, I just moved to a new school in the sticks”) was fun, but middle school for me was the worst of all the high school cliches. I’m sure it didn’t help that I carried books like Leon Uris’ Exodus around with me everywhere. So maybe I’m slightly amused about the idea of a tale about people in middle school recognising each other’s individuality and learning to respect it.

Given that situation, I was actually impressed by how much I enjoyed Reel Life Starring Us. The setup up is that the new girl in town, Dina, gets paired up with Chelsea, the most popular girl in the eighth grade for a video project. Greenwald alternates between the girls’ perspectives to portray them both trying to handle fitting in, friendships, their family, clothes, and all the drama of a middle schooler’s life. It’s a nice device to show both girls having their own insecurities, that even the most admired person isn’t perfect, and that no one’s life is as great as it might look from the outside.

My favorite thread was the underlying theme of judgment - Dina desperately wants to be friends with Chelsea because she and her friends are the cool group, and so she judges the girls she sits with at lunch as ‘Acceptables’ - good enough until she can drop them to sit with Chelsea. Chelsea is intrigued by Dina and wants to be friends, but her friends can’t see the point of hanging out with the weird ‘new girl’ and pour scorn on the idea of any public overture. Both girls and by extension, all their classmates are missing out on possible friendships for fear of crossing those invisible social lines. Which...I think we can admit happens all the time.

The action leads up to an heavily messaged ending where the eighth grade class comes together to realise everyone is valuable, the girl gets the guy, and Dina and Chelsea become great friends. But for all the heavy handedness on the message, the writing is engaging and Dina and Chelsea are fun heroines who really do illustrate the pressures and worries tween girls from every clique deal with every day.

I think this might be a book that older elementary readers might enjoy more than preteens. Most preteens are going to be too sophisticated to be taken in by a message this obvious - even when it is a good one. But for an older elementary reader who might be worried about moving on to middle school and is confused about why her friends are suddenly starting to change on her, it’s a good reassuring read.

Many, many thanks to Netgalley and the publisher, Amulet Books, for allowing me to read a galley for review!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Review: The Twin's Daughter by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

The Twin’s Daughter
by Lauren Baratz-Logsted
August 31, 2010 
Borrowed from Library
Amazon Page
Goodreads Page
Grade: B+

Synopsis (from Publisher): Lucy Sexton is stunned when a disheveled woman appears at the door one day...a woman who bears an uncanny resemblance to Lucy's own beautiful mother. It turns out the two women are identical twins, separated at birth, and raised in dramatically different circumstances. Lucy's mother quickly resolves to give her less fortunate sister the kind of life she has never known. And the transformation in Aunt Helen is indeed remarkable. But when Helen begins to imitate her sister in every way, even Lucy isn't sure at times which twin is which. Can Helen really be trusted, or does her sweet face mask a chilling agenda?

Filled with shocking twists and turns, The Twin's Daughter is an engrossing gothic novel of betrayal, jealousy, and treacherous secrets that will keep you guessing to the very end.

This book creeped me out. I seriously stayed up until about 5am so I could finish it and find out what the HECK was going on. (What the heck in a good way. I could not figure it out.)

This was an old-fashioned Gothic horror novel that probably would’ve been published as an adult novel if YA wasn’t having such a renaissance because it read very much like the old-fashioned Victoria Holt/Daphne DuMaurier/even Ann Radcliffe (if we’re going to get old school) type of story. There were Gothic plot twists galore from identical twins parted at birth to hidden passageways to threatening stepfathers to a protagonist who rarely leaves her home.

Speaking of, I actually really loved the old-fashionedness of that last. Lucy, our book-reading heroine, stays home like a proper upper class lady of the early 20th century unless she’s paying calls with her mother or walking in the park with a chaperone. It’s not a lifestyle I would ever enjoy, but it’s completely appropriate for the time period and very rare to see used in a modern book. I like it when heroines aren’t always snarky and spunky. Lucy was thoughtful and over-analyzed things and people way, way too much. But she remained a good judge of character - and she knows it. Which makes the denouement that much more confusing and traumatising for her. Oh, and she liked to read. A lot. I’d make me so happy to draw a parallel between Lucy Sexton and Northanger Abbey’s Catherine Morland just because it amuses me, but beyond the obvious heroines in a ‘Gothic’ novel sense, the only comparison is in my imagination...and the fact both like to read. A lot. And that neither, if seen in their infancy, would have supposed them to be born a heroine.

Though we see them only from Lucy’s perspective, the supporting cast was well-developed also. The identical twins, Aliese and Helen, remained a bit mysterious as they really needed to in order for the plot to work, but watching as Lucy begins to not be able to tell the difference between her mother and her Aunt Helen was chilling. Lucy’s father and Kit, the handsome boy next door, were more fully drawn as Lucy knows them better, and both were characters I enjoyed very, very much. (I want a Kit. Can I have one now please?)

This is the first book I’ve read by the author, and I’ll be happy to see if the library has any other copies of her work. The Twin’s Daughter wasn’t the best book I’ve read this month or this year, but it was a creepy and fun ride...just don’t expect to go to bed once you get into it.

Waiting on Wednesday: Black Glove by Holly Black

Waiting on Wednesday’s a feature hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine to highlight the books we just can’t wait to get our hands on.

This week the book I’m most looking forward to is:

Black Heart
by Holly Black
April 3, 2012

NOTE! If you haven’t read White Cat and Red Glove, DON’T READ THE SYNOPSIS. SPOILERS BE HERE. (Man, sometimes I miss LJ cuts)

Synopsis: Cassel Sharpe knows he’s been used as an assassin, but he’s trying to put all that behind him. He’s trying to be good, even though he grew up in a family of con artists and cheating comes as easily as breathing to him. He’s trying to do the right thing, even though the girl he loves is inextricably connected with crime. And he’s trying to convince himself that working for the Feds is smart, even though he’s been raised to believe the government is the enemy.

But with a mother on the lam, the girl he loves about to take her place in the Mob, and new secrets coming to light, the line between what’s right and what’s wrong becomes increasingly blurred. When the Feds ask Cassel to do the one thing he said he would never do again, he needs to sort out what’s a con and what’s truth. In a dangerous game and with his life on the line, Cassel may have to make his biggest gamble yet—this time on love.

Now, you guys totally believe me when I say this week’s ‘Waiting on Wednesday’ has NOTHING AT ALL to do with the fact that I read White Cat/Red Glove last week...right?

Okay, yeah, it totally does, and I’m not fooling anyone. I seriously love Holly Black’s first two books, and I’m sure the third will live up to its predecessors. Usually I’m more of a fan of a female main character - nothing against the boys, I just bond more with a female protagonist. That, and often when women/girls are written as love interests for the boys, they don’t come off as a fully fleshed character. We could call it the ‘Ginny Weasley’ syndrome if we wanted to be snarky, but I won’t.

Cassel, however, is an exception to my general preference. I seriously love this character. He’s smart and thoughtful and completely messed up. He tries to do what’s best for his family and ends up screwing them over anyway. He desperately tries to keep up the con man front and makes friends in spite of it. He’s stuck in an impossible position, watched the girl he loves walk away from him, and...where to go now?

We knew that the deal with the Feds couldn’t possibly end up as perfect a solution as Cassel hoped, and I’m thrilled to see via synopsis that Black’s continuing her many shades of grey approach to her world. No one’s all good or all bad. The mobsters have an admirable aim at times, and the Feds are hardly the guys in white hats. It’s a level of complexity that’s not always achieved in novels (YA books are so not alone here), and it’s one I appreciate greatly.

So yes, Black Heart. Out next April. A mere 14 days before my birthday when I’ll be...let’s not think about that. I just want the book!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Love Interests

...or at least the top ten I thought of today. Tomorrow half of them might be different. This week the the Broke and the Bookish's Top Ten Tuesday is a freebie! I couldn't help it. Possibly, no, I just couldn't help it: YA love interests just sounded like fun. So in no particular order, here are my Top Ten (for today).

1. Dimitri Belikov from Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy series. The parts of Dimitri I adore are ones I'm going to echo a lot here. I have a type, okay? His devotion to his duty and refusal to let anything turn from it. His love for his family. ...and yes, his accent.
2. Gilbert Blythe from Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. Seriously. Who didn't have a crush on Gilbert? That night when Anne thought he was dying still makes me cry.
3. Almanzo Wilder from the Little House books. He drove 20 miles in blizzard weather to find the seed wheat to save the town. He took her for carriage rides. He built her the perfect kitchen. *sigh*
4. Valek from Maria V. Snyder's Study series. Dangerous, deadly and utterly devoted. Also he started off by threatening to kill her, and it wasn't creepy at all. I can't help it. I love Valek.
5. Kaisa from Ash by Malinda Lo. She's got horses. Gorgeous horses and tells Ash stories.
6. Eli Stock (Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen). I had to have a Dessen boy in here somewhere, right? Eli and Wes are my favourites, and I flipped a coin. (Well, I went to a random number generator but same difference)
7. George Cooper from The Song of the Lioness and other Tortall books by Tamora Pierce. King of Thieves. He taught Prince Jonathan how to be a King. He takes care of his people both as a thief and after when he becomes a spy. And he utterly adores - and respects - Alanna.
8. Ilya Bakhtian from Jaran by Kate Elliott. He's a Genghis Khan-type figure with the soul of a poet. Uncompromising and completely devoted to his people, but he bends for Tess.
9. Etienne St. Clair from Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. So not the perfect guy. Not even close. But he takes Anna to the center point of France. He climbs to the top of Notre Dame for her! He convinces her not to be afraid of Paris!
10. Adam Wilde (If I Stay/Where She Went by Gayle Forman) He brought Mia her music.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Review: Wrapped by Jennifer Bradbury

First off - I'm sorry for taking so long between posts! Family was in town and then I contracted a mean stomach flu which flattened me for a few days! But now I'm able to both eat and write again, and things are much better.

by Jennifer Bradbury
May 24th, 2011 
Borrowed from Library
Grade: A-

Synopsis (from Publisher): Agnes Wilkins is standing in front of an Egyptian mummy, about to make the first cut into the wrappings, about to unlock ancient (and not-so-ancient) history.

Maybe you think this girl is wearing a pith helmet with antique dust swirling around her.
Maybe you think she is a young Egyptologist who has arrived in Cairo on camelback.

Maybe she would like to think that too. Agnes Wilkins dreams of adventures that reach beyond the garden walls, but reality for a seventeen-year-old debutante in 1815 London does not allow for camels—or dust, even. No, Agnes can only see a mummy when she is wearing a new silk gown and standing on the verdant lawns of Lord Showalter’s estate, with chaperones fussing about and strolling sitar players straining to create an exotic “atmosphere” for the first party of the season. An unwrapping.

This is the start of it all, Agnes’s debut season, the pretty girl parade that offers only ever-shrinking options: home, husband, and high society. It’s also the start of something else, because the mummy Agnes unwraps isn’t just a mummy. It’s a host for a secret that could unravel a new destiny—unleashing mystery, an international intrigue, and possibly a curse in the bargain.

Get wrapped up in the adventure . . . but keep your wits about you, dear Agnes.

In a way, Wrapped is the YA version of Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily series. Which isn’t a bad thing at all -if you haven’t read these and are interested in Regency mysteries and strong heroines, you totally should check them out. They’re lots of fun.

Agnes charmed me from the opening pages as she struggled with the contradiction between her own desires - to continue her education, to do something interesting - and the duty she owes her family and society. The book opens as Agnes is just about to begin her first Season and (if her mother has anything to say about it) find a husband. Quickly. I really enjoyed that Agnes wasn’t a twenty-first century girl full of modern attitudes and beliefs transported to the nineteenth century. While she was definitely more liberal and forward thinking than an average upper class girl of her time, it was pretty well explained by her education and family circumstances. I wasn’t totally convinced that any 19th century girl would believe transporting Egyptian artifacts to Britain was a terrible idea, but in general, she remained of her time.

The mysterious aspects of the book were equally well-done as Agnes and her love interest struggled to translate hieroglyphics, reveal a mummy’s curse, and just possibly save England from invasion. Plus? We get to go behind the scenes at the British Museum which is an incredibly cool and creepy setting. I guessed the mystery’s resolution fairly early on, but the writing was engaging enough that I was happy to see how the characters discovered the end game.

This book isn’t a great piece of literature, and it probably won’t be a life-changing book (unless one suddenly develops an interest in Egyptology which would be totally cool), but it’s a really fun read populated by enjoyable and interesting characters. The ending also pleased me - everything wrapped up, but there’s certainly a hook left for possible future adventures of Agnes, and I’d be happy to read them. Because any main character who quotes Jane Austen in Russian has to be a fun one to follow.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: Liar's Moon by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Waiting on Wednesday’s a feature hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine to highlight the books we just can’t wait to get our hands on.

This week the book I’m looking forward to the most is:

Liar’s Moon
by Elizabeth C. Bunce
November 1, 2011

Prisons, poisons, and passions combine in a gorgeously written fantasy noir.

As a pickpocket, Digger expects to spend a night in jail every now and then. But she doesn't expect to find Lord Durrel Decath there as well--or to hear he's soon to be executed for killing his wife.

Durrel once saved Digger's life, and when she goes free, she decides to use her skills as a thief, forger, and spy to return the favor. But each new clue only opens up new mysteries. Durrel's late wife had an illegal business on the wrong side of the civil war raging just outside the city gates. Digger keeps finding forbidden magic in places it has no reason to be.

And for a thief in a town full of liars, sometimes it doesn't pay to know the truth.

Starcrossed was one of my favourite books of 2010 so it goes without saying that I just can’t wait for its sequel. At the end of Starcrossed, I wasn’t completely certain there’d be a sequel, but I knew I desperately wanted to know more about our charming and amoral heroine, Digger and her fantastically drawn world.

Well? We get that sequel in just about two and half months. So if you haven’t read Starcrossed yet, I highly encourage it. You’ve got plenty of time before Liar’s Moon comes out. (Sadly)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Review: White Cat by Holly Black

White Cat
by Holly Black
January 1, 2010 
Borrowed from Library
Goodreads Page
Amazon Page
Grade: A

Synopsis (from publisher): Cassel comes from a family of curse workers — people who have the power to change your emotions, your memories, your luck, by the slightest touch of their hands.

And since curse work is illegal, they're all mobsters, or con artists. Except for Cassel. He hasn't got the magic touch, so he's an outsider, the straight kid in a crooked family. You just have to ignore one small detail — he killed his best friend, Lila, three years ago.

Ever since, Cassel has carefully built up a façade of normalcy, blending into the crowd. But his façade starts crumbling when he starts sleepwalking, propelled into the night by terrifying dreams about a white cat that wants to tell him something. He's noticing other disturbing things, too, including the strange behavior of his two brothers. They are keeping secrets from him, caught up in a mysterious plot. As Cassel begins to suspect he's part of a huge con game, he also wonders what really happened to Lila. Could she still be alive? To find that out, Cassel will have to out-con the conmen.

Holly Black has created a gripping tale of mobsters and dark magic where a single touch can bring love — or death — and your dreams might be more real than your memories.

Review: I know, I know, I’m late to the party for this book. I don't have any good excuse - I read Tithe years ago and enjoyed Black's work on The Spiderwick Chronicles, but for some reason I never picked up White Cat. Beyond my lateness, I don’t usually review books right after reading them, but last night, I stayed up way, way too late to finish White Cat because I couldn’t put it down.

White Cat hit so many of my story kinks: complicated sibling relationships, boarding schools, an alternate reality with a well-thought out magic system and interesting political atmosphere, and a boy-girl relationship that went beyond love at first sight (I know, it’s sad that becomes something to look for).

I really enjoyed Cassel as the narrator, and I say that as someone who generally does prefer female narrators in my reading. He was an interesting and well-fleshed out character who grew dramatically during the course of the book. The reader gets to watch as Cassel struggles with conflating the mantra that family is everything which had been literally cursed into him with the possibility that his brothers had treated him as just another mark. There are times when it feels like Cassel descends into too much self-pity, but as both a teenager and someone dealing with the betrayal of everything he thought true, it also feels excusable.

The politics of Black’s world are a lot of fun to read about (if probably not so much fun to live). While the debate about registration and testing of the ‘curse workers’ feels a little X-Men, the history revealed in the rise of the magic using crime families and the constitutional amendment against magic gave the paranormal aspect a thorough grounding in society. I especially liked the societal mandate to always wear gloves - and the fact that Black takes that to its obvious conclusion with the touch of bare flesh on skin becoming both slightly titillating and scary.

Finally, Lila struck me as a fantastic character. The daughter of a crime lord, she was both a lot more violent and less caring than most female YA characters - as the daughter of a crime lord should be. I’m not one for wanting to read versions of a book with another viewpoint character, but I think that a Lila-POV story would be a lot of fun to see.

I’m reading Red Glove now, and I’m pretty sure that the wait until April for the trilogy’s conclusion is going to be agonizing.

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Underrated Books

It's time for the Broke and the Bookish's weekly top ten Tuesday meme! I was inspired for this one right out of the gate and have been considering my choices all week to make sure I included my absolute favourite books that need more attention.

1. Rite of Passage by Alexei Panshin - This is an older book that’s been in and out of print since the 1960s. It’s currently IN print thankfully and is available for cheap for the Kindle. My dad gave me his copy when I was 10 or so, and I fell in love. The story’s about a young girl growing up on a vast spaceship after the end of Earth. Each person on the spaceship must participate in a 30 day Trial on the surface of one of the planetary colonies before they’re considered grown up. The Trial isn’t just a ‘rite of passage:’ it’s also population control. About one third of those who go down to a planet never come back. This book’s about the events leading up to Mia Havero’s Trial. It’s fantastic.

2. Starcrossed by Elizabeth C. Bunce - A much more recent book that I haven’t seen much talk about is this one. And oh, how I love it. It’s a gorgeously well-thought out fantasy world with a fantastic heroine in Digger. She’s smart, resourceful, mostly unprincipled, and gets her fingers into everything from a lord’s papers to a possible revolution.

3. Tam Lin by Pamela Dean - One of my favourite books of all time. Maggie recommended it to me a few years ago, and even though I’ve read it at least 20 times, I still find new bits to love each time. It’s a retelling of the ballad Tam Lin set at a Minnesota college during the 70s. Poetry, Shakespeare, fairies, and college roommate difficulties. It’s wonderful.

4. Tomorrow When the War Began by John Marsden - I don’t know why these books have never gotten as big in the US or Canada as they are in Australia, but the series - and especially this first one - are a fabulous portrayal of a group of teenagers fighting back against the invasion of their country. Ellie’s one of my favourite heroines ever.

5. Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer - This book? Scared the crap out of me. It’s about what happens when an asteroid hits the moon and whacks it into an orbit closer to the earth. The science is terrible, but the book itself is compelling enough that I was able to simply accept it and move on to the scariness of life afterwards. A really good post-apocalyptic novel.

6. Eon/Eona by Allison Goodman - Another fantastically well-thought out fantasy world. This one is set in an Asian - particularly Chinese - inspired world with dragons that only men are allowed to communicate with. When Eona can see the dragons, there’s only one choice. Eona must disguise herself as a boy. Court intrigue, politics, warfare, and magic. I’m so happy I got to read the sequel just a few months after reading Eon.

7. Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire - My favourite urban fantasy series. The fae and changelings, the Summerlands, and a detective named October Daye. Seanan McGuire also writes as Mira Grant of the excellent zombie novels Feed and Deadline.

8. Rampant by Diana Peterfreund - Killer. Unicorns. That’s all I have to say. Killer unicorns and the girls who fight them.

9. Threads and Flames by Esther Friesner - A fictionalized account of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire that was recently published for the 100th anniversary of that tragedy. Some of the book is a little overly sentimental, but overall, it’s a very good read and a good way to introduce people to the fire that really did change how workers are treated in the United States.

10. Ash by Malinda Lo - A retelling of Cinderella with elves and huntresses. I just recently read this one, and while I think it's received a lot of blogosphere attention, I couldn't help including it in my list since I haven't gotten around to writing a full review yet.