Thursday, June 30, 2011

Review: Legacies by Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill

Legacies (Shadow Grail #1)
Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill
July 6, 2010
Borrowed from Library
Goodreads Page
Amazon Page
Grade: C+

Summary (from publisher): Spirit White has survived from a deadly car crash that has killed her mother and father and her sister. She has been discovered by a school with special talents, called magic. A couple of months after staying, people begin to disappear, some vanish to be never seen again, so Spirit and her new friends begin the investigation. But will they find out the truth of what is going on? Or will Spirit and her friends suffer a terrible fate from which they don't know about yet?

Review: I've been a fan of Mercedes Lackey since I was a quite little girl who wanted a Companion of her own so when I saw this collaboration and 'official' entry into the YA market at my library, I had to immediately pick it up.

I wasn't disappointed by it, but the book also didn't live up to other first books of Lackey series whether that be Arrows of the Queen, Magic's Pawn, or the first Diana Tregarde book. It's only after one finishes the charmingly written story that one starts to wonder about the major plot holes and sketchily characterized people and events. The link to Harry Potter - secret fancy boarding school for the magically gifted - is clear, and I was amused that the characters themselves made the comparisons. However Oakhurst Academy holds more questions than answers (wow, isn't that a cliche way to say something), and the primary method of teaching seems to be to yell at students until they learn in self-defense. Which might work, but it makes the assertion that all these students are there because their parents attended seem weak.

Hints of danger and darkness lurk about from the first encounter with the Headmaster - tales of people 'out there' who want to harm the magically gifted, but the hints fade away as Spirit and her friends start to suspect a traitor inside the Academy. This would be fine (if rather Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone) except that the focus changes again to lock in on something rather different. This being the first book in a series grants it a little leeway, but I would have liked some narrative information regarding the changes or possible closure - even if it would be closure that the next book finds false - to make this part of the story feel more standalone and worthwhile.

I'm looking forward to the second book in this series, but I hope it's more consistently written and plotted.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Review: Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares

Sisterhood Everlasting
by Ann Brashares
June 14, 2011 
Purchased for Kindle
Grade: B+

Summary (from publisher): From #1 New York Times bestselling author Ann Brashares comes the welcome return of the characters whose friendship became a touchstone for a generation. Now Tibby, Lena, Carmen, and Bridget have grown up, starting their lives on their own. And though the jeans they shared are long gone, the sisterhood is everlasting.

Despite having jobs and men that they love, each knows that something is missing: the closeness that once sustained them. Carmen is a successful actress in New York, engaged to be married, but misses her friends. Lena finds solace in her art, teaching in Rhode Island, but still thinks of Kostos and the road she didn’t take. Bridget lives with her longtime boyfriend, Eric, in San Francisco, and though a part of her wants to settle down, a bigger part can’t seem to shed her old restlessness.

Then Tibby reaches out to bridge the distance, sending the others plane tickets for a reunion that they all breathlessly await. And indeed, it will change their lives forever—but in ways that none of them could ever have expected.

As moving and life-changing as an encounter with long-lost best friends, Sisterhood Everlasting is a powerful story about growing up, losing your way, and finding the courage to create a new one.

Review: The 5th Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants book made me cry more than any book in recent history. That being said - I really enjoyed it. I couldn't wait for my library to get a copy in so I bought it on my Kindle and wasn't disappointed in the least.

This book's a hard one to review without being excessively spoiler-y or just copying what the summary says so let me say then that the characters have aged magnificently. If Ann Brashares wanted to tell me that they've been in her head chatting about how the past ten years have been, I'd believe it completely, but it's not often that you see characters aged this well. Bee, Lena, Carmen, Tibby: they're all definitely adults now with all of the burdens and worries that that entails. I'm sure it would've been easier to write the four as 'frozen in amber', and indeed, I worried about that a little when starting the book, but my worries weren't justified at all.

There are parts of the book that are too trite, too amazingly coincidental, but when I say that, I remind myself that the original premise was a pair of jeans that magically fit all comers. If other bits are a little too magical, it's not like we didn't know what we were getting into.

I knew the major spoiler - though I didn't know who or the circumstances - going in, and while I was wary, it still took me completely by surprise. This is a fitting end to the Sisterhood years and though there are some questions and opportunities still open, I read those more as the type that let us know that life will still be going on for these characters rather than loose ends that weren't tied up.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Review: Spellbound by Cara Lynn Schultz

Cara Lynn Schultz
June 28, 2011

Received ARC from NetGalley
Goodreads Page
Amazon Page
Grade: B

Summary (from publisher): What's a girl to do when meeting The One means she's cursed to die a horrible death?

Life hasn't been easy on sixteen-year-old Emma Conner, so a new start in New York may be just the change she needs. But the posh Upper East Side prep school she has to attend? Not so much. Friendly faces are few and far between, except for one that she's irresistibly drawn to—Brendan Salinger, the guy with the rock-star good looks and the richest kid in school, who might just be her very own white knight.

But even when Brendan inexplicably turns cold, Emma can't stop staring. Ever since she laid eyes on him, strange things have been happening. Streetlamps go out wherever she walks, and Emma's been having the oddest dreams: visions of herself in past lives—visions that warn her to stay away from Brendan. Or else.

Review: I don’t have terribly strong feelings one way or another on Spellbound. It has all the hallmarks of current paranormal - and even contemps - YA, and they aren’t arranged in a particularly new way, but even when bits of it made me think of Fallen or Beautiful Darkness or even Twilight, Spellbound felt fresher than it probably should have.

Emma’s an intriguing and well-written character who thankfully doesn’t fall into the traps of typical paranormal heroines - at first. She’s a strong, sarcastic, and thoughtful teenager who actually questions the odd set of circumstances that fate (or whatever) is handing her. There’s love at first sight, yes, but I enjoyed the fact that Emma started as simply curious about Brendan, wanting to know more about him and actually get to know him before falling in love. Sadly the later part of the part erases this thoughtfulness and makes Emma simply another girl who only focuses on her love interest.

The mythos of the reincarnation of the main characters is actually very interesting, and I enjoyed the fact that it was research that revealed it instead of a handed down letter or papers that just happened to be stumbled over in the crannies of a wall. It’s an old Buffy trick, sure, but research does hold all the answers.

Brendan’s possibly the weakest point of the book. He’s certainly described well, but his characterisation is very fragile. While Emma is developed beyond the typical paranormal heroine, Brendan doesn’t get the same treatment. He’s simply “the love interest” who appears to only exist to fulfill that role. Sadly the charaterisation of the original incarnation of the love interest is better than the 21st century one.

In conclusion, Spellbound’s a fluffy little book with engaging characters and better writing than I expected. If there’s a sequel - the galley contains what looks like a chapter or two of a sequel featuring Angelique - I’ll be reading it in hopes that some of the paranormal tropes are avoided as the author develops.

Copy provided by NetGalley for review.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Review: The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie

The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie
by Wendy McClure
April 14, 2011
Borrowed from Library 
Grade: A

Synopsis (from Publisher): For anyone who has ever wanted to step into the world of a favorite book, here is a pioneer pilgrimage, a tribute to Laura Ingalls Wilder, and a hilarious account of butter-churning obsession.

Wendy McClure is on a quest to find the world of beloved Little House on the Prairie author Laura Ingalls Wilder-a fantastic realm of fiction, history, and places she's never been to, yet somehow knows by heart. She retraces the pioneer journey of the Ingalls family- looking for the Big Woods among the medium trees in Wisconsin, wading in Plum Creek, and enduring a prairie hailstorm in South Dakota. She immerses herself in all things Little House, and explores the story from fact to fiction, and from the TV shows to the annual summer pageants in Laura's hometowns. Whether she's churning butter in her apartment or sitting in a replica log cabin, McClure is always in pursuit of "the Laura experience." Along the way she comes to understand how Wilder's life and work have shaped our ideas about girlhood and the American West.

The Wilder Life is a loving, irreverent, spirited tribute to a series of books that have inspired generations of American women. It is also an incredibly funny first-person account of obsessive reading, and a story about what happens when we reconnect with our childhood touchstones-and find that our old love has only deepened.

I'm a second generation Laura fan - my mom very nearly named me Laura Elizabeth then introduced me to the series by reading Little House in the Big Woods to me when I was three years old. We read all the books together and then I took over the books, reading them again and again until my old yellow copies fell to pieces and I'd spent hundreds of hours pretending I was Laura as I ran through prairies, made maple syrup candy, and fell in love with historical fashion.

This book is exactly what I was hoping it would be. Absolutely charming, funny, sincere, and sometimes snarky all while examining the our love (and by 'our', I mean the generation of women who grew up reading Laura in the 70s and 80s - long after her passing) of Laura Ingalls Wilder, her world, and her fandom. Without sounding creepy, Ms. McClure writes like someone I wish I was friends with, and her observations are always interesting and usually pretty hilarious. This isn't historical writing. Ms. McClure doesn't make any claims to have new ground-breaking research on the Ingalls or Wilder families, but there are plenty of books already written on that. This is a memoir and examination of the ongoing influences of the Little House books on Ms. McClure's life and our culture as a whole.

After finishing this book, I immediately picked up the Little House books to re-read for the millionth time. I missed Laura and wanted to 'see' her again!

Review: The Poisoned House by Michael Ford

The Poisoned House
by Michael Ford
Published August 1, 2011
Received ARC from NetGalley
Goodreads Page
Amazon Page
Grade: B

The year is 1856, and orphan Abigail Tamper lives below stairs in Greave Hall, a crumbling manor house in London. Lord Greave is plagued by madness, and with his son Samuel away fighting in the Crimea, the running of Greave Hall is left to Mrs Cotton, the tyrannical housekeeper. The only solace for the beleaguered staff is to frighten Mrs Cotton by pretending the house is haunted.

So when a real ghost makes an appearance - that of her beloved mother - no one is more surprised than Abi. But the spirit has a revelation that threatens to destroy Abi’s already fragile existence: she was murdered, and by someone under their very own roof. With Samuel returned to England badly wounded, it’s up to Abi to nurse him back to health, while trying to discover the identity of the killer in their midst. As the chilling truth dawns, Abi’s world is turned upside down.

Review: I love books with footnotes and when The Poisoned House started with a ‘note’ from the curator telling how the following papers had been found in an attic, I was instantly intrigued. After an initial burst of action, the story slowed down a little to spend some time establishing the atmosphere not only of the eponymous House but also of the inhabitants. Abigail Tamper is dealing not only with the recent death of her mother but also the ill-tempered and vindictive housekeeper, insane Master of the House, and the shy attentions of one of the delivery boys. The Gothic atmosphere is established quickly as supernatural events start happening - events beyond the pranks she and the other servants play on the housekeeper. Soon a spiritualist is consulted, the young Master, the boy Abi grew up with, comes home injured from Crimea, and the stage is set for ghostly maneuverings.

I’ve read quite a few Gothic novels - both modern ones and historical - and was able to easily predict the villain of the piece, but the ride of discovery that Abi is taken on is both engaging and a lot of fun. I read the book in one sunny afternoon as I was unwilling to put the book down to go outside. Mr. Ford does an excellent job of staying true to the era in language and decorum without the overwrought writing that can be a hallmark of older Gothic novels. For those who haven’t read older novels or are turned off by the elaborate descriptions and language of those of the 18th and 19th centuries may very much enjoy the more modern writing of The Poisoned House.

My copy was provided for review by NetGalley.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Review: Feed by Mira Grant

by Mira Grant
May 1, 2010 
Purchased my Copy
Goodreads Page
Amazon Page
Grade: A

Synopsis (from publisher): In 2014, two experimental viruses—a genetically engineered flu strain designed by Dr. Alexander Kellis, intended to act as a cure for the common cold, and a cancer-killing strain of Marburg, known as "Marburg Amberlee"—escaped the lab and combined to form a single airborne pathogen that swept around the world in a matter of days. It cured cancer. It stopped a thousand cold and flu viruses in their tracks.

It raised the dead.

Millions died in the chaos that followed. The summer of 2014 was dubbed "The Rising," and only the lessons learned from a thousand zombie movies allowed mankind to survive. Even then, the world was changed forever. The mainstream media fell, Internet news acquired an undeniable new legitimacy, and the CDC rose to a new level of power.

Set twenty years after the Rising, the Newsflesh trilogy follows a team of bloggers, led by Georgia and Shaun Mason, as they search for the brutal truths behind the infection. Danger, deceit, and betrayal lurk around every corner, as does the hardest question of them all:

When will you rise?

This is simply the best book I've read in ages. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in a zombie story, political thriller, murder mystery, virology story or all of the above.

It is very definitely a zombie book, and I don't advise reading it at night. Or in rooms with large picture windows that will give you nightmares later...or maybe that's just me. One of the quirks of this particular type of zombie is that since it's caused by a virus, everyone will become a zombie once they die. And by everyone, I mean every mammal over 40 lbs. So we have zombie deer, zombie giraffes, and zombie raccoons as well as Grandpa keeling over from a heart attack and suddenly wanting to eat your brains. Creepy, yes.

Our trio of main characters are bloggers chosen to follow the presidential campaign of Peter Ryman, the good Senator from Wisconsin. The politics aren't always the most sophisticated, but the possible political landscape of a post-zombie United States is incredibly interesting.

The politics are fun, but the characters give Feed its heart. Georgia Mason - head blogger of After the End Times - narrates most of the book with input from her brother Shaun. I've a soft spot for siblings in literature, but the Masons are an amazing pair while Georgia herself is one of my favourite characters ever. The third main character Georgette Meissonier calls herself 'Buffy' because she's "cute, blonde, and it's the end of the world." It's excellent, and Buffy's another beautifully drawn character.

No overt romance for romance fans, but the friendships and interpersonal relations more than make up that. The plot starts out with a bang, does a good deal of necessary world-building and then has a long, suspenseful build to a worthy climax. I cried more than once.

Excellent book.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Review: The Girl In the Steel Corset by Kady Cross

The Girl in the Steel Corset
by Kady Cross
Received ARC from NetGalley
Goodreads Page
Amazon Page
Grade: B

Synopsis (from publisher): In 1897 England, sixteen-year-old Finley Jayne has no one except the "thing" inside her.

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

Only Griffin King sees the magical darkness inside her that says she's special, says she's one of them. The orphaned duke takes her in from the gaslit streets against the wishes of his band of misfits. Emily, who has her own special abilities and an unrequited love for Sam, who is part robot; and Jasper, an American cowboy with a shadowy secret.

Griffin's investigating a criminal called The Machinist, the mastermind behind several recent crimes by automatons. Finley thinks she can help-and finally be a part of something, finally fit in.

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

Review: The Girl in the Steel Corset is a book that started out slowly and then stormed to a rip-roaring finish. Set in a Steampunky London, Finley Jayne escapes the advances of the son of her employer and ends up part of a group of friends with odd special abilities led by Griffin King, Duke of Greythorne. The author describes the book as League of Extraordinary Gentlemen meets teen X-Men, and I couldn't agree more. Each of the characters is well-defined with a distinct voice - which is helpful since the narration bounces from one character to another with little to no warning.

For some reason, the level of detail in the narration reminds me more of H.G. Wells than any modern steampunk writer which is totally not a bad thing. But it is an older style that may be less than engaging to a modern reader who simply wants action. Have faith, modern reader, the action will come and when it does, you'll be happy there was so much description so that you can follow it!

As a fan of historical costuming, I really enjoyed Ms. Cross' attention to detail regarding this and her thoughtful adaption of Victorian styles to her steampunk world.

I'll be looking forward to catching up with Finley, Griffin, Emily, Sam, and Jasper in the next book!

I received a galley of this book from NetGalley. 

Top Ten Tuesday

I love lists and I especially love Top Ten lists so I'm excited to do this Top Ten Tuesday hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Top Ten Favourite Book Settings:

1. Blackstock College (Pamela Dean's Tam Lin) - Can I go to Blackstock please? I want to see the ghosts and hang out on the floor with Janet and Molly and even Christina. The gorgeous architecture, awesome classes, and oh yeah, the boys who once Shakespeare's actors. I don't care about the Queen of Faery! I just want to have long conversations with Nick & Robin.

2. Colby Beach (Along for the Ride, What Happened to Goodbye & Keeping the Moon - Sarah Dessen) - I love the beach, and Colby seems the epitome of perfection. Always sunny with great waves, the Tip where people hang out, the bike shop, Clementine's, and Last Chance. Sigh. Happiness.

3. Narnia (CS Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia) - Do I really have to explain why? I used to check all the cupboards for a secret door to Narnia when I was little. Of course I can't tell you if I found one or not. ;)

4. Benden Weyr (Anne McCaffery's Pern Books) - I don't want to be a drudge! Just had to get that out of the way first. But a queen rider with a golden dragon all of my own in a gorgeous mountain top weyr? Being able to go wherever one likes when one likes? Beyond that, the society of Pern with its Harpers and Holderfolk and even Dolphineers (if you count some of the later books) is such and interesting one! I want to explore the world.

5. Prince Edward Island (L.M. Montgomery's Anne & Emily books) - Gorgeous scenery, small towns where everyone is on the look out, the White Way, Lake of Shining Waters, and Green Gables itself. Plenty of scope for the imagination. I was lucky enough to go to PEI before I was in sixth grade (Thank you Grandma and Grandpa!) and it more than lived up to Montgomery's descriptions.

6. Paris (lots and lots but more recently Stephanie Perkins' Anna & the French Kiss and Jennifer Donnelly's Revolution) - Paris is the best of all worlds and worst of many. The light, the architecture, the bridges, the churches, the history, the food, the Louvre! All books could be set in Paris.

7. Regency England with magic! (Mary Robinette Kowal's Shades of Milk and Honey) - the setting of this book instantly captured my imagination. Nearly all aspects could be drawn from Jane Austen's writing except the magic and illusions. I want to learn how to bend the light and stitch it off with tiny stitches or fashion a slipknot to change the illusion from one thing to another! Such a good book and such an amazing idea.

8. Regency England with dragons! (Naomi Novik's Temeraire series) - My fondness for Regency England can't be overstated apparently. But this is a completely different setting than the above. The Napoleonic Wars fought aboard dragon-back. So totally cool and so interesting to explore.

9. Hogwarts (J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series as if you didn't know) - I don't care if I'm too old. I want to go to boarding school at Hogwarts, play Quidditch, find the secret passages, deal with the moving staircases and mocking paintings, eat Feasts in the Great Halls, and learn how to do Charms!

10. St Vladimir's Academy (Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy series) - Yes, another boarding school. I can't help that I've an affection for them. I just don't want to be there when the Strigoi invade, okay? Before that would be good.

Inaugural Post

Look! A new blog! I know, I know, so very exciting. I wanted something other than my LJ to post book reviews and sewing/knitting stuffs so blog.

Now I need to post a lot to get this boring and slightly embarrassing post off the front page.