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A Reader of Fictions: June 2011

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Monday, June 27, 2011

Three Is a Magic Number - Blind Melon

The Orphan Sister

Author: Gwendolen Gross
Pages: 283
ARC Acquired from: Simon & Schuster Galley Grab

Brief Summary:
Clementine is a triplet, a fraternal sister accompanying identical twins. She has always felt a bit left out of their perfect relationship. Although she has some of the twinspeak, Olivia and Odette sometimes talk without her in their silent language. This is how it has always been, but now, with the mysterious disappearance of their father and her sisters' imminent deliveries of their first children things are beginning to change. Clem has to reevaluate much of her life to this point and figure out who she wants to be in the future.

Review:
Going into this, I didn't really have any expectations, but was hesitantly hopeful it might be interesting. I really didn't know anything about it, except that the triplet thing. I am happy to report that The Orphan Sister was about so much more than that. This story grabbed me from page one and I devoured it whole, the funny, the sweet, the romantic, the depressing and even the scenes about babies (which for me is saying something).

Clem has such a real voice that you really feel like you're getting to know her. She is intelligent and angry, broken and hopeful. There are so many facets to who she is and her problems feel like real life problems. Her hangups about being left out while also being afraid of the current balance falling apart are so illogical and lifelike. Of course, who doesn't like a heroine who has a veritable menagerie of creatures: two dogs, a ferret and a snake (a five foot boa constrictor).

The triplet/twin themes are used to explore concepts of individuality and identity. Are the twins stronger because they have each other or is Clem stronger because she's naturally more independent? The twin way of communicating was also completely fascinating. I wonder if people really do that, and suspect they might, which makes me wonder just what the human brain is capable of...

The other main aspects of the story deal with romantic relationships, that of Clem's mother and father, as well as Clem's love life. The former's resolution I did not find entirely satisfying exactly, but it was unsatisfying in a true to life way; everything does not always have a really good ending. Clem's love life involves a lot of grief, since her first, powerful love died while they were both still in college (where they met). This incapacitated her for a long while, but, even after recovering, it's hard to get over someone you never had a chance to encounter real life with.

This book was so beautiful and moving and was just perfect for what I wanted to read right now, even though I didn't realize that going in. Maybe I should be reading a bit more adult fiction; I've gotten so caught up in YA that I'd forgotten how great it can be.

"With the past and the present and the future
And faith and hope and charity
And the heart and the brain and the body
It'll give you three; it's a magic number"

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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Tank! - Seatbelts

Cowboy Bebop

Author: Hajime Yadate
Illustrator: Yutaka Nanten
Volumes: 3
Publisher: Tokyopop

Brief Summary:
Based on the incredibly popular anime series, which is possibly the best anime of all time, this short manga series follows the crew of the Bebop on their adventures. The folks of the Bebop are bounty hunters, who are always looking for more money to repair the ship or to fill their constantly rumbling bellies. They are Spike (a handsome, cigarette-smoking bad boy), Jet (an ex-cop), Faye (a sexy, barely dressed swindler) and Ed (a young girl who looks like a boy and computer hacker).

Review:
Reading the manga was fun and definitely made me crave a rewatch of the series. It is set somewhere in the middle of the series, which is rather obvious as Ed is already there. The manga lacks the gravity that the anime often possessed. It is like a string of the less serious episodes, a collection of cases undergone somewhat haphazardly and generally ending in some unexpected manner that is rather comedic.

I really think Ed stole the show here. There's a chapter in the second volume where Ed ends up thwarting a hit man in her efforts to eat someone's prize bird. In another installment, she is the only one who does not catch an illness from the others. She's kooky, but she has her own kind of magic, born of some combination of genius, implacability and luck.

If you love Cowboy Bebop, it would be a shame to miss out on some more of the Bebop's adventures.

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Help! - Howie Day

The Very Thought of You

Author: Rosie Alison
Pages: 313
ARC Acquired from: Simon & Schuster Galley Grab

Brief Summary:
Anna Sands was one of innumerable London children evacuated to the British countryside during the war. She ended up living with a grand old Yorkshire family, the Ashtons, now reduced to Thomas and Elizabeth. The Ashton's marriage is in tatters, largely because of Elizabeth's inability to conceive a child. Watching their marriage falls apart has a lifelong impact on young Anna.

Review:
The experience of reading The Very Thought of You was, for me, quite uneven. Parts of it had a tender, calm beauty, while other seemed unnecessarily banal. Generally, I enjoyed the sections that detailed the lives of the evacuees. This is an aspect of the affect of WWII that I have rarely read about and it was a pleasure to be able to do so. WWII is the frame of the story, but is largely distant from the tale, which was interesting, too.

The language was at times quite beautiful, although not particularly lyrical. It had a simplicity to it that made it feel natural. I would like to share two quotes that I adored. The first is a comment made to Anna when she has stayed up too late reading: "A true lover of books knows no time" (191). Why I love this is likely obvious. The second is an old, sad, lonely man's reflection on his life: "So I may seem like an old wreck to you—but inside I'm still dancing, as they say" (292). This man has been through a lot, most of it awful and only some of that self-made, but he can still feel that overall his life has been a good one. That is some powerful stuff, and it does not come off as some forced message, but as a simple, beautiful truth.

There were two aspects of this novel I did not enjoy. The more minor of the two is something I see as a weakness in the storytelling: the viewpoint, which generally follows Anna or the Ashtons occasionally shifted to the Nortons, friends of the Ashtons. These sections always seemed to come out of nowhere and really did not seem important to the overall narrative. Having finished the book, they seem to have been included to allow more discussion of artists (perhaps Alison is a big fan of the art of that time period) and to allow her to add a scene about the Holocaust. The temptation to include the latter is understandable, but I did not appreciate her hurried attempt to fit it in; in my opinion, the book would have been better off had she remained within her main construct.

More frustrating was that this, like a surprising number of other books I have read, seems to be showing that all marriages result in unhappiness, affairs and, ultimately, divorce. While I imagine this is often true, I find it frustrating when every single main character ends up the same way. I would not call this a glorification of affairs, so much as a de-glorification of matrimony and a Chretien de Troyes-ish sense that true love lies outside of marriage. I'm not saying that every novel should depict wedded bliss, as that would be unrealistic, but not every could cheats (or so I choose to hope).

Regardless of my opinion, The Very Thought of You has received a really great reception, having been considered for the Orange Prize. The book is certainly well written and covers a fairly unique war experience, that of the children left behind and safe, physically anyway. It may not have been precisely my cup of tea, but, if it sounds good to you, please do not let me dissuade you.

"When I was younger, so much younger than today
I never needed anybody's help in any way
And now these days are gone
I'm not so self assured
Now I find I've changed my mind
I've opened up the doors

Help me if you can, I'm feeling down
And I do appreciate you being 'round
Help me get my feet back on the ground
Won't you please, please help me"

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Friday, June 24, 2011

Powder Your Face with Sunshine - Dean Martin

Songs to Make You Smile

Author: Natsuki Takaya
Volumes: 1
Publisher: Tokyopop

This is a collection of one shots (manga stories consisting of only one chapter). Natuski Takaya, for those who are not familiar with the world of shoujo manga, wrote what is arguably the most popular series in that genre: Fruits Basket. I have read that series several times and loved it more each time (expect a review someday). One shots are not my favorites, just like I prefer novels to short stories. These are largely disappointing, nowhere near as good or clever as Fruits Basket, the beauty of which is largely because of the time you get to spend watching the characters grow and change.

The title story tells of a boy with an angry expression, who is actually just thoughtful and loves to sing in his band. He finds a soulmate in his band mate's cousin. This story is pretty cute, probably the best of the volume, in fact, which is probably why the title is named for it.

The second story focuses on a girl who has a serious daddy complex, since he died without ever having given her a birthday present. She is left living with her relatively new step mom, who is trying to set her up with the boy next door, her childhood friend. The girl, Chisato, does not trust that her stepmother will not abandon her. I thought this story was completely incomprehensible, considering that (SPOILER ALERT) her father had bought her presents but never gave them to her for some reason. What is that? Nobody does that.

The third story calls to mind La Corda d'Oro, only really short and with only Len and Kahoko's characters. There is the gifted violinist, son of musicians, who is having trouble finding his place and his own sound because he does not know how much of his recognition is based on talent and how much on his parents' fame. A forthright, pure, viola-playing girl helps him find his own sound.

Story four reminded me of Banri Hidaka's works, only not nearly as cute. There was definitely some of the younger female/older male possible love interest thing happening, as well as the male lead not adhering to traditional male pursuits. While Banri put in the time to make the age differences in her stories not creepy, Takaya doesn't have time for that and I'm mostly just creeped out by the possibility, even though nothing happened here.

I hated the final story. It's a revisionist Cinderella, wherein Cinderella is a big ol' jerk. She's a princess in her own right with no evil stepsisters or stepmother. She's the evil one. Other than that change, the story goes through most of the tropes of the Cinderella story, but changes them all around. Done right, this could have been hilarious, but this really didn't work, because I hated everyone and it was just plain weird.

Summation: Read Fruits Basket instead. This really just isn't worth your time and that definitely is!

"The future's brighter when hearts are lighter
So smile smile smile"

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Firestarter - The Prodigy

Wildefire
Wildefire, Book 1

Author: Karsten Knight
Pages: 393
ARC Acquired from: Simon & Schuster Galley Grab

Ashline Wilde and her sister, Eve, were adopted by a nice family as a child. They stand out in their upscale Jewish neighborhood, both in temperament and skin tone. Ashline and Eve are Polynesian and as wild as their adopted moniker might entail. Ash will literally cut a witch who steals her man; Lizzy Jacobs took her stupid boyfriend, so Ash beat her up but good in the parking lot of the school. That night, Lizzy comes for payback, but gets struck by lightning and dies instead. What most people didn't know was that the lightning came from Eve.

After that incident, Eve ran off. Ash transferred to an expensive private school across the country where she could be without the stigma of that night's events. At the school, she makes some more dumb dating decisions, but she makes some good friends. One night, when Ash and her buds sneak out to the local bar that serves underage folks, she and an assorted bunch (Rolfe, Ade, Raja, Lily) from her school hear yells for help, although no one else in the bar does. Ash and the rest meet up to figure out what they are (they all have manifested powers except for Ash) and become friends (and enemies in the process).

Review:
Last week, I discovered Galley Grab, which I wish I had known about before. When I got my first mystery download link post sign up, Wildefire downloaded. The download pages do not say what book you're getting (although the newsletters do), so I had no idea until it popped up in Adobe Digital Editions. I had heard of Wildefire and thought the premise sounded a bit odd and that I was going to skip it. Since I had downloaded the title already, I decided to give it a go. I'm glad I did.

Wildefire is a fun and violent romp. For all that Ash is much too quick to use her fists, she is a really awesome heroine. She kicks serious butt, she's sarcastic and she deals with everything on her own terms. She has this crazy but realistic confidence that almost makes me envy her. Ash feels so much like a real person and one that I would not perhaps be friends with, but might admire and enjoy facebook stalking. Plus, it's kind of nice to read a book where there's a girl who's a bit of a juvenile delinquent. There are a lot of reformable, sexy bad boys, but you don't see too many ladies of that ilk.

Colt, however, I never liked. For one thing, I personally am confused and a bit creeped out by any guy who's too interested when you first meet. Colt, a college student, sees Ash across the bar and leaves the seriously hot girl he's with to pursue her doggedly. After hitting on her in the bar to little avail (since she left to investigate the screams), he shows up at her tennis practice. The fact that she's cute does not make this non-stalkerish. Besides, as much as Ash was feeling it, I did not sense much chemistry between them at all. There conversations almost all dealt with how he thought they should be together. I really hope he either improves or is not THE guy that she will be drama-ing with for the rest of the series.

The plot was fun and moved along at a really nice pace. Some things definitely have not coalesced yet, like the black monsters with blue flame eyes that are supposedly the 'villains.' I had trouble taking them seriously, because I do not yet know enough about them. The mythology was awesome, since I'm a big ol' mythology nerd, especially since it was a cool way for folks to have awesome powers. In terms of storyline, nothing was really resolved in this book at all. It's clearly going to need another book, which I will most definitely be reading.

If you're looking for a totally fun, dark, violent book about hot teens with superpowers, you found it.

"I'm the trouble starter, fuckin' instigator
I'm the fear addicted, and danger illustrated "

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Monday, June 20, 2011

Going Under - Evanescence

Abandon
Abandon Trilogy, Book 1

Author: Meg Cabot
Pages: 304
Publisher: Point

Brief Summary:
Pierce Oliviera died when she was 15 years old. She is one of few people to have come back from the dead. Everyone wants to know what death was like, but she knows no one would believe her, even if she told the truth. When she died, she discovered that Greek myths about had it right. And she's the new Persephone. Only, she ran away, leaving John (the Hades figure) sad and betrayed. In her new home on Isla Huesos and her new school (for troubled teens), Pierce has met John again and knows that things will be anything but simple, especially since there might be worse things than John surrounding Pierce.

Review:
Like most Meg Cabot books, Abandon is a quick absorbing read. Having read most of her extensive ouevre, I would place this roughly in the middle of the pack so far as quality goes. The idea of Abandon was amazing; I was looking forward to this one so hard, because I was obsessed with Greek myth as a child. The myth of Persephone being tricked into the Underworld is not one of my favorites, but any Greek myth is better than none Greek myth.

Foreshadowing can be a super handy writing tool. However, it ought to be used sparingly and carefully. Meg Cabot did not follow this rule in the creation of this novel. Almost every chapter ended with a dramatic bit of foreshadowing of the "had I known what would happen next..." variety. Sigh. Just put 'to be continued' at the end of each chapter and be done with it. There just was not any need for it. If you have to try to force people to keep going with a lure of future drama, clearly your book wasn't interesting enough. Really, I think this would keep the intended audience going without these constant, hackneyed warnings.

Another weakness here was the odd subplot wherein Pierce tries to befriend the popular kids at her school (who usually ignore the D-Wing, aka truobled kids) students of the school) so that she can make them leave her cousin, Alex, and his friend Kayla alone. These sections really do not seem to fit with the rest of the plot very well. I imagine the need for this might be clear later in the series, but, for now, they were rather obnoxious, largely because Pierce's behavior seemed both out of character and completely illogical.

So far, the romance in the series has been pretty much entirely uninspired. I do not ship anyone and I actually find Pierce and John's relationship to rather creepy and Stockholm Syndrome-ish. The ending is not a resolution, so much as a stop because this novel had reached the requisite number of pages.

Mostly, Abandon was not what I was hoping for, but I will still be reading the rest of the series for sure. If you need a beach read for this summer, Abandon will likely suffice.

"I'm going under
Drowning in you

I'm falling forever

I've got to break through

I'm going under


Blurring and stirring - the truth and the lies.

So I don't know what's real and what's not

Always confusing the thoughts in my head

So I can't trust myself anymore"

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I Only Want to Be with You - Dusty Springfield

The Devil Does Exist

Author: Mitsuba Takanashi
Volumes: 10
Publisher: CMX

Brief Summary:
Kayano has big plans to confess to the guy she's had a crush on for a while, Kamijou the basketball team captain. Her high school life is thrown into chaos when she accidentally hands the letter to the wrong guy, so distracted was she by her nerves. And what a guy to hand it to! She gave the letter to Edogawa Takeru, the delinquent son of the headmaster who gets to do whatever he wants. And have whatever he wants, which now Kayano. Oh yeah, and, surprise!, their parents are getting married. Will Kayano and Takeru be able to make their relationship work?

Review:
I have actually read this before, rereading it as part of my endeavor to review manga series here on my blog. When I first read it, I quite liked it, got swept up in the drama. On a reread, now that I have a wider knowledge of manga, I am much less impressed by it.

For one thing, the super melodramatic shoujo series are not generally my favorites, because they're so over the top; I like the humor ones. Also, I cannot stand the forbidden love of siblings plot line that is all too popular in Japan. These two aren't even related, and in a lot of cases they're not, and yet they make a huge freaking deal about it. And it's not even like they were raised as siblings (like the kids in Cherry Juice) or suspect they may be siblings, a realization that came quite a ways into the relationship as their parents may have been, in effect, swingers (like in Marmalade Boy...which I hated by the way. I have two words for those melodramatic, whiny, maybe siblings: BLOOD TEST). So yeah, Kayano and Takeru would have to explain at various points why they have the same last name, but so what?

This series is also guilty of the unrealistic, perfect relationship. The only problem internal to their relationship is that neither of them can believe that they could be so lucky as to have the other one really want to be with them forever, so they constantly have to reaffirm this after suffering fits of no self-confidence. Mostly though, they just deal with external conflicts, which try to break apart their paradise. There's the siblings issue, the creepy guy who tries to bribe Kayano into going out with him, various folks with crushes on either Kayano or Takeru, a matchmaking grandmother and a separation needed because of external issues.

The thing that really got to me, though, was that the first five volumes, or something ridiculous like that, were chock full of Kayano's whining thoughts about how it's a sin, but she can't stop her love for Takeru. Oh my god. Stop it with the sinning stuff. Either do it and own it or stop. Please. Kayano also spends a LOT of time crying. Be strong, woman!

Recommended to people who enjoy stories of forbidden love that can stand up to any challenge. Oh, and, for those who are planning to try it, be advised that the art does improve as the series goes on. Or, check out Takanashi's other series licensed in English, Crimson Hero, which is one of my favorites.

" I don't know what it is that makes me love you so
I only know I never want to let you go
'Cause you've started something
Oh, can't you see?
That ever since we met
You've had a hold on me
It happens to be true
I only want to be with you

It doesn't matter where you go or what you do
I want to spend each moment of the day with you
Oh, look what has happened with just one kiss
I never knew that I could be in love like this
It's crazy but it's true
I only want to be with you"

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Sunday, June 19, 2011

7 O'Clock News/Silent Night - Simon and Garfunkel

Feed
Newsflesh Trilogy, Book 1

Author: Mira Grant
Pages: 571
Acquired from: Orbit via NetGalley

Brief Summary:
Shaun and Georgia Mason are adopted siblings and well-respected bloggers. Georgia's a newsie, meaning that she tells the truth without bias, only the facts. Shaun's an Irwin (as in Steve), which means he likes to poke zombies with sticks. Oh right, did I not mention the zombies? There are zombies. And they do want to eat your brains or any other part of you they can get a hold of. Anyway, back to Shaun and Georgia. They, along with their fictional/techno-genius friend Buffy get selected to follow along on Senator Ryman's presidential campaign, which is super amazing, because the government has never taken bloggers seriously before. They're thrilled, until mysterious and awful things start happening around them.

Review:
My description of Feed kind of sucks, but I can't really think of how to improve it. Suffice it to say that there are zombies, mayhem, politics and sarcasm. What more does one need? It really is harder sometimes to summarize a really good book, because they tend to be a little deeper, making it hard to put all of the awesomeness into a summary. Thankfully, I can mention all of that in my review.

Zombies are ridiculous. We all know this, even those of us who rather like to read about them. There's not really any scientific reason to believe zombies possible; personally, I would more readily believe in pretty much any paranormal creature before I would believe in zombies. Unicorns? Sure, my young self is delighted and says they exist! Vampires? Why not? People can be cannabalistic, besides Catholics already drink their saviors blood. Back to pseudo-seriousness, though, Feed has the best explanation of zombie-fication that I have seen thus far. Grant also does a good job of giving a description and then doing the authorial equivalent of shrugging her shoulders and telling the audience to suspend disbelief, but in a good way.

I absolutely loved Feed from the first page. Why? Georgia/George. She is fantastically snarky and grumpy and sarcastic. She's like me, only with worse eyes (mine suck, but at least I can go out on a sunny day). Not every other character feels fully dimensional, but they are all built out in a believable way, to the degree that George understands/cares about them. George is standoffish and only bothers to learn about certain people, so everyone wouldn't be distinct in her world.

The writing is pretty fantastic. I always know an author has talent when he/she can write distinct voices and you can tell who's who without necessarily needing to be told. Grant achieved this. The little snippets from the various characters' blogs so obviously correspond to one or the other, even before you reach the part telling the author's name.

The format was pretty great, too. The bulk of the story was told from George's perspective, with only well-integrated background. The quotes from blogs enabled Grant to put in some more back story, which might not have fit in the flow of a characters every day thoughts without making the novel feel forced.

One thing that really amazed me about Feed was that it wasn't a dystopia the way you would expect. You would generally think that the zombies were the problem, right? Not really. I mean, they are a concern, but society has figured out how to live with the problem. The United States really is much the same as it has ever been, which is why the fact that it's a dystopia is even more of a creepy reflection on our current lifestyle.

In some ways, the society in Feed is the one I would least be willing to live in of all of the dystopias I've read. Okay, only in one way. But still. What's my problem with this rather-better-than-most vision of the near future (2040)? Needles. These people get blood tests approximately 85,000 times every day, to ensure that they are not in the process of becoming zombies. As a person who refuses to get the flu shot every year because I'd rather take my chances, this is not a future I want to be a part of. Needles are the worst.

Oh, and, less seriously, you may have noticed in my less-than-inspired description that there's a character called Buffy. She's actually named Georgette, but she figured, hey, I'm short and blond and cute...what else would my name be? Loving the reference so hard. And I'm fairly certain that Joss Whedon would appreciate it and the book as well. (I could be wrong, but this is my guess.)

To conclude a final iteration of how much I enjoyed this book (which I totally need to add to my personal collection and NEED the sequel to) and a quote in honor of my friends Heather and Nori, both awesome bloggers: "No levels, no van. No van, no coffee. No coffee, no joy." Seriously, go read this one!

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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Won't Get Fooled Again - The Who

America Pacifica

Author: Anna North
Pages: 297
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company

Brief Summary:
Pacifica is a small island somewhere off the coast of L.A. and it may be the only place people still live, although they fear Hawaiians may still be out there and ready to attack. Pacifica is one of the few places still warm enough to live, because it's built on a volcano. The continent was freezing, temperatures so cold that 0 degrees would have felt like spring. The people of Pacifica, unless very wealthy live primarily off of jellyfish, caught far enough out in the ocean that they are not poisoned by the solvent closer in. Solvent is a fuel, but also a drug, which a lot of the populace is addicted to. Ruling over all of this is the mysterious ruler, Tyson.

Darcy and her mother live in a shitty apartment building with a disgusting shared bathroom, work grueling weeks for little pay, and eat little beside cheesefood and jellyfish products. Still, they are relatively happy despite these problems, because they have each other; they don't need anything else. When Darcy's mom disappears, what little peace there was in her life goes too. She quits her job, gives up her apartment and focuses on trying to find the only person or thing that really matters to her in the world. She discovers along the way that her world is even more corrupt than she thought and that, even though her mom knew everything about her, there were some serious and huge things she didn't know about her mom.

Review:
I almost gave up on America Pacifica in the first chapter, which is unusual for me. I generally try to stick it out, which obviously I did, but I came so close to writing this book off (punned). The reason I did not is because of my dystopia obsession; I knew that, should I give up on it now, I would end up reading it later anyway. For the record, I am glad that I finished the book, and not just because I would have read it eventually.

Still, I did not love this one. It's a hard read, both because it's slow or confusing at times and because it's disgusting. Allow me to elaborate as best I can on the latter point. When I say disgusting, I don't mean gory or foul-mouthed, although there is a little bit of both. It's more that almost everything and everyone is dirty and living in filth and eating things people really shouldn't eat to the point that it made me uncomfortable. It was hard to read about it, even more so because I know people really do live like Darcy and her mother.

The dystopian society depicted here definitely feels real and terrifying and a sight different than the rather sweeter versions in most of the YA stories. Anna North was obviously inspired by the darkness in 1984 and Brave New World, not just trying to write a dystopia because people like me will read it purely for the label. However, North did not do a good job explaining how the society came about. The results are clear, but, so far as I noticed, there was no description as to what precipitated the massive environmental changes that lead to America Pacifica. Explaining how it came about is pretty crucial in a dystopia, especially one that's not liable to have a sequel, as that is not often done in adult dystopias and as it has the usual dystopia ending where it's not entirely clear what happened.

I also took minor issue with some of the basic ways this society functions. For example, what's with the jellyfish. I get that you can't eat food from near the island because of the solvent, but are there no fish further out? There must be. The solvent, too, is curious to me, because it is used as an energy source, a replacement for gasoline, but people also use it as a drug. Wouldn't something like gasoline kill these people? Then there's their diet, in general. Most of the poor folks get nothing but the jellyfish and cheesefood (whatever that is). There are mentions of life on the continent before the establishment of Pacifica, which include the fact that tons of people got scurvy. Why is this not happening on the island? Is it because they get the very occasional mango? Or is it because they get carried off by the strange parrot's disease first? And finally, nuns that use parrots to speak for them? Lol whut?

Regardless of all of my questions/concerns, America Pacifica did turn out to be an interesting and thought-provoking read. Oh, and, for those who haven't noticed, the cover is upside down. It took me a while to notice myself. The cover has nothing to do with anything in the book, but it is pretty and upside down.

"We'll be fighting in the streets
With our children at our feet
And the morals that they worship will be gone
And the men who spurred us on
Sit in judgment of all wrong
They decide and the shotgun sings the song

I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution"

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All the Better for Her - Patrick Doyle

The Girl in the Garden

Author: Kamala Nair
Pages: 249
ARC Acquired from: Grand Central Publishing via NetGalley

Brief Summary:
Now a newly engaged adult, Rakhee remains haunted by the events of her one summer in India. The novel tells the story of that summer in a long letter written to her fiancee, explaining why she must defer their engagement. Until she confronts her past, she cannot face her future. What happened that summer?

Review:
One of these days, I would really love to read a novel set in the Indian subcontinent or with first generation desi folk and not have it be almost entirely depressing. Sure, times are hard there, but there must be some books where no characters commit suicide by jumping into a well. I mean, there just have to be.

I did like this much better than Tiger Hills, but, be warned, its still very sad. Pretty much the only part that isn't completely depressing is the epilogue. Reading both of these novels, I get the idea of just how much family history can haunt people. The mistakes of the previous generation snowball into even worse mistakes by the next. Also, never try to marry your daughter off to an awkward, stuttering creeper, because it never ends well.

The Girl in the Garden confronts tough issues, like depression, arranged marriage, pregnancy and divorce. These issues are dealt with well for the most part, not hitting the reader over the head with an agenda. Through Rakhee, it is clear that issues of childhood take a long time to get over (so true), but that it is important to get closure before trying to be a real person, so that you can close the cycle.

The plot twists were pretty much all things I saw coming from many miles away. There really was no other way things were going to go. There is one twist that I swear was not revealed but must be the case. I rather wish I could talk with someone else who read the book so that they could tell me if I'm crazy or not; all I can say is that it involves Prem.

Overall, this wasn't a book I particularly enjoyed, but, for those who enjoy tragic family stories, this is quite well done.

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Friday, June 17, 2011

Girl and the Ghost - KT Tunstall

Girl vs. Ghost
Misdirected Magic Trilogy, Book 1

Author: Kate McMurry, Marie August
Pages: 242
Publisher: Blazing Star Press

Brief Summary:
Isabel has no interest in magic, just like she hasn't been too interested in her best friend Tripp's past obsessions. Like in the past, though, Isabel supports her, because that's what friends do, even if they do whine about it a little. Tripp performs a summoning spell and all of a sudden things are going crazy. There's a hot, male ghost who can't go more than five feet away from Isabel, who is also the only one who can see or hear him. Isabel just wants him to go away, he just wants to figure out who he is was, and Tripp just wants to do more magic. This is a recipe for trouble.

Review:
Girl vs. Ghost
has some weaknesses, the most blatant of which is the cover art and the images between the chapters. While on some level I do think that one shouldn't judge books by their covers too much, I definitely do. Because of the cover art, I would not have picked this book up in the store.

The plot, too, has some disappointing spots, such as the fact that the female characters are both rather bumbling for most of the book, causing pretty much all of the trouble that they get themselves into and needing help from the boys to get themselves out again. Not to mention the fact that both guys are in perfect shape apparently, whereas Tripp nearly died when she ran a block. On the other hand, Isabel and Tripp both have promise; Isabel is delightfully grumpy and sarcastic (traits I very much relate to and appreciate), and Tripp might come into some serious witchy powers.

I occasionally found myself a bit confused by the changes of perspective, as the tale switches between Tripp and Isabel. Probably, were I to write this, I would have switched off at chapters or at least indicated whose section it was. Some other things clearly felt like setup, but did not come up again in this book, making them a bit out of place (see: demons at the school, ghost powers). Also, Finnegan's (Irish ghost) speaking annoyed me; this is a pet peeve, as I just cannot stand when characters are written in accents (a word here and there is fine, but let the reader do most of it in their head, please!).

All of that said, Girl vs. Ghost is definitely better than quite a few of the YA books I've read from well-respected publishers (such as Hereafter or the House of Night books by another mother/daughter writing team). And, should I happen across the sequel at some point, I would certainly be willing to give it a shot to see if it's better; I like the characters enough to be curious about what will become of them. So if you would like a quick, easy read and to give some new authors a chance, pick up the Kindle version for only 99 cents!

"The ghost and the girl
Commonly connected by something bigger
A phenomenal that sets off the eternal trigger
That lets the light through that usually goes
Around and around and around"

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Everybody's Changing - Keane

Exile
Aurelia, Book 2

Author: Anne Osterlund
Pages: 295
Publisher: Speak

Warning:
Exile is the sequel to Aurelia, which I reviewed back in February. This is your warning that, if you have not yet read the first book, this review will contain spoilers for it. No spoilers for Exile though.

Brief Summary:
Aurelia and Robert are off traveling the world together, which is both amazing for her, since she has always been restricted to the castle (even if she snuck out sometimes), and awful because Robert has suddenly gone cold and distant. Oh yeah, and there are assassins still out to kill her. Did Melony send them or does she have some other enemy?

Review:
Exile moved along a bit slower than its predecessor, but still contained many of the qualities that made Aurelia so enjoyable. The beautiful and loving descriptions are definitely still present (my childhood adoration of horses never ended...); I really want to see the Geordian horses! The romance was here, although a bit more frustrating than before. The cuteness of the initial attraction is gone and now Robert and Aurelia are getting all dramatic and overthinking absolutely everything. Plus, there are no juicy descriptions, which is classy but still a bit disappointing.

Aurelia remains a delightful heroine, full of spunk, wit and compassion. She, like all of the best heroines, constantly challenges the world around her, seeking to improve it. There are a number of times where times get tough and she starts to break down or to complain. Instead of giving into that impulse, she very quickly reins herself in (horse pun...I think Aurelia would approve, or, at the very least, Osterlund would!) and comes up with a solution to the problem. Too few YA heroines have this strength and cleverness.

Exile was good, but likely will be the weakest in a really great series. My reason for saying this is that it is so clearly a transitionary book, serving the purpose of getting Aurelia and Robert to where they need to be for the next book. Do not take this as a huge criticism, but as an explanation as to why this installment moves a bit more slowly. Actually, the only thing I really didn't like about this sequel was the cover. It bothers me that they so obviously chose a different model, when I take both as an intended representation of Aurelia. Covers aside, you better believe I'll be going along on Aurelia's next journey!

"You say you wander your own land
But when I think about it
I don't see how you can
You're aching, you're breaking
And I can see the pain in your eyes
Says everybody's changing
And I don't know why

So little time
Try to understand that I'm
Trying to make a move just to stay in the game"

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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Extraordinary Machine - Fiona Apple

Karakuri Odette

Author: Julietta Suzuki
Volumes: 6
Publisher: Tokyopop

Brief Summary:
Odette is a robot, made by an incredibly brilliant professor. He's so brilliant, in fact, that Odette is human in almost every way. So human that she wants to go to high school like other girls her age (or at least the age she appears). Odette, though admittedly odd, makes some good friends, has fun adventures and has to avert some evil deeds plotted by mad robot scientists (not like her awesome professor).

Review:
Robot plots, especially in a genre with romance at the core, are not my favorite by any means. I read Chobits a couple of years ago, one of many manga by CLAMP. In that one, the robot relationships are by no means pure. The story wasn't bad exactly, but it was creepy as all get out. Karakuri Odette is not the same at all, thankfully.

Although a lot of time is spent discussing romance and in some ways most of the plot lines did resolve around it, there is actually very little romance in this manga series. Ultimately, friendship and what it means to be human are the central subjects. Odette constantly has to make requests of her maker for enhancements or changes, so that she can be more human and function better with others.

There are also some delightful comedic moments, generally caused by Odette, who is delightfully deadpan. She says and does the most outlandish things with a straight face. Her friendship with a delinquent also makes for amusing times.

I did not love this series, but there was something pleasant about it that made me keep reading to the end. The series definitely went downhill as it went along, though, culminating in an indecisive and lame conclusion.

"If there was a better way to go then it would find me
I can't help it, the road just rolls out behind me

Be kind to me, or treat me mean
I'll make the most of it,
I'm an extraordinary machine"

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The Thing That Should Not Be - Metallica

Baltimore, Volume 1:
The Plague Ships

Authors: Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden
Illustrator: Ben Stenbeck
Pages: 130
ARC Acquired From: Dark Horse Books via NetGalley

Brief Summary:
During World War I, a plague struck Europe, effectively ending the war and life as it was previous known. This plague turned ordinary people into man-eating monsters. Regular humans are struggling to survive in this terrifying changed landscape. One man, one-legged Lord Baltimore travels the world killing these demons and searching for one in particular, the scarred one, who he owes an especially painful death.

Review:
The story of Lord Baltimore follows a similar line as that of many antiheroes. He must always be alone and cannot enjoy even a moment's peace. He is haunted and driven by the need for revenge. Without that, he would likely have given up, what with having only one leg and all. Speaking of the one leg, am I the only one who really does not think the device he rigged up would work? This guy needs to step into the Fullmetal Alchemist world and get Winry to make him up a nice leg.

The vampire horde/plague is definitely attempting to capitalize off of the vampire craze, which, I suppose, is understandable. In some ways, he has returned to some parts of the mythology that have been largely abandoned, such as vampires turning into bats, although in this case they totally resembled something more like a werebat than an actual bat. The weirdest thing, though, was the explanation for how the plague began, which seems really improbably to me. Apparently, a vampire bleeding will convert anyone who's dead/dying on the same field to vampirism.

The part that interested me the most, the historical setting for all of this stuff, really did not come into play too much, other than to serve as a breeding ground for said plague. Hopefully, later volumes make use of the time period more. Honestly though, I do now expect that I shall be continuing with this series. It wasn't for me, but I know some people will dig it. For folks who love some serious, grisly action in their comics and antiheroes, definitely give this a go.

"Out from ruins once possessed
Fallen city, living death

Fearless Wretch
Insanity
He watches
Lurking beneath the sea
Timeless sleep
Has been upset
He awakens
Hunter of the Shadows is rising

Immortal
In madness you dwell

Not dead which eternal lie
Stranger eons Death may die
Drain you of your sanity
Face The Thing That Should Not Be"

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Thursday, June 9, 2011

On Fire - Switchfoot

Hereafter
Hereafter, Book 1

Author:
Tara Hudson
Pages: 247
ARC Acquired From: HarperCollins via NetGalley

Brief Summary:

Amelia's dead which kind of sucks, but it mostly consists of walking around feeling nothing and nightmares. Her ghostly existence vastly improves when a hottie, Joshua, nearly drowns in the same place she drowned. It's love at first sight for both of them. But can a boy and a ghost really make it work?

Review:
Oh my god. This book. I just. Aaaaaaahhhh! To begin and explain simply, this book is definitely capitalizing off of the Twilight school of YA popularity. The writing and the plot are ridiculous. Even more ridiculous is the insta-love (just add water! - Get it?) between the main characters. In my last top ten list about the most obnoxious YA heroines, I mentioned Bianca from Evernight for the trait of immediate obsessive, ridiculously gooey love, but definitely would steal this crown from her without a contest.

Ghosts are tricky heroines. For one thing, they're insubstantial, so what they can do is a bit limited. Of course, with any other paranormal thing, there are ways to play with the legend and make them a bit more interesting. Hudson has devised her own, rather inconsistent ghost lore. Amelia mostly can't do anything. She can't open doors or move things or go through them. Apparently though, she can cry and bleed and breathe and have a racing heartbeat. Well, I lied. She does get to touch one thing (well, a couple others too, but pretty much only in conjunction with this one): super smexy Joshua, whose life she saved. Yeah, they can touch all they want and he can see her because of his ghost-seeing and exorcism powers. Convenient that.

Joshua couldn't actually see ghosts until he died just a lil bit in the water that night. He sees Amelia and thinks she's the prettiest thing in the world and goes back to the scene of the accident to ask her to meet with him the next day. Amelia hesitates but "stunningly, impossibly" agrees to go (32). She worries he will not like her when she learns she's a ghost, because, well, she's dead and no one else can see her. Instead, when he learns, he's like "Sweet! Let's make out!" No one should react to this news so happily. Getting over it would be one thing, but thinking it's the best? No freakin' way.

Although I have to say that imagining Joshua out on a date with her was about the only thing I enjoyed in the book. I mean, even though she's invisible to pretty much everyone else, he talks to her in public, he holds hands with her in public, kisses her in public. He must look so incredibly cray cray. Just picture it. Oh, also, the second and third things he does after she tells him about being a ghost: invite her to calculus class with him and to dinner with his family. Lol, whut? Oh, and apparently, ghosts smell like peaches, or nectarines.

The plot, with its number of villains, none of which I cared too much about, was not interesting whatsoever. However, what really makes this book so incredibly awful for any but Twilight fans is the writing, especially the writing about any scene that features Joshua and Amelia. Here's a sampling of quotes to illustrate what reading Hereafter is like:

"The moment his skin brushed mine, a current shot through my entire body, from my scalp to the tips of my fingers. The current made the ache in my chest, and the tingles that races along my spine each time he looked at me, seem like low-burning cinders. My heart, my brain, my skin—all of it was momentarily engulfed in flame, a flame lit only by the spark on my cheek." (51)

"The kiss sent a jolt through my entire body. The sensation was more intense than any I'd felt until now—a pure shock wave rushing along my spine and down each of my limbs. I gasped from the strength of it, dragging in a near-shriek of air." (115)

"I simply nodded, too befuddled by his proximity to say anything even remotely clever." (140)

"The heat of the little kiss spread across my lips, turning them into two smoldering coals." (155)

So, if you like these quotes, you'll love Hereafter. If not, leave it to that first set of folks. This a story for people who believe that love can overcome any obstacle, even death and the fact that one of the beings involved will never age.

"I'm on fire
When You speak
And I'm on fire
Burning at these mysteries
These mysteries"

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Punk Rock Princess - Something Corporate

My Misadventures as a Teenage Rock Star

Author: Joyce Raskin
Illustrator: Carol Chu
Pages: 107 (the story's only 87)
ARC Acquired From: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt via NetGalley

Brief Summary:
Alexis has a big crush on her brother's friend Tod, so when he asks her to learn to play bass, she agrees. At first, all she can make are farting sounds, but she gets pretty good after a while. Alexis gains confidence and makes friends through the bass, going from loser to enviable rock chick.

Review:
Or, at least, that's supposed to be what you get from this brief novella, but I'm not so sure. I hated Alexis from page one. I've thought about it and the best word to describer her is ninny. Alexis is a ninny. She spends the opening chapters whining about how unpopular is and how she doesn't have boobs and no boys like her and she doesn't even have her period yet and how she has a boy's name and how she's not pretty and how she just got her period and waaah, surprise, it sucks. Oh my god, why? Why do I have to read this?

Then, she learns to play the bass and whines somewhat less. Instead, she now finds power in whether or not she has a boyfriend. Good role model? Not so much. Even in the end, when she believes herself to be all enlightened and confident, it definitely comes off as more of a confidence because she has friends than her being confident now thus earning her friends.

To make it worse, the book manages to be extremely stereotypical. There are so many insulting comments about what guys are like and girls are like; this does not flatter either gender. For example, all guys talk about is sex and they all cheat on girls, which is why you can't be real friends with them. Oh really, book? Because I'm pretty sure I've had tons of guy friends and some of them are, shockingly enough, capable of carrying on a conversation about, you know, lots of other things. Ugh to the nth power.

Despite having absolutely no depth in terms of characters, writing, or plot, My Misadventures as a Teenage Rock Star does manage to be preachy. Yeah! The author clearly wants kids to be straightedge and not smoke pot. This whole message is exceedingly heavy-handed and really is not convincing, since it comes along with the idea that, if you plan an instrument, people will like you.

All of that aside, this is a really weird book, because it's aimed at teens, but it's only 88 pages long. With illustrations, which are incredibly awful btw (although that does make it possible that Alexis, not the shiniest knife in the drawer, drew them). This is shorter than a manga volume. So, in terms of length and the complexity of the writing, it would be best for children, but clearly it's not intended to be for kids. I imagine it's aimed at younger teen reluctant readers, but this would not make me want to read more books.

"If you should be my punk rock princess,
So I could be your garage band king.
You could tell me why you just don't fit in,
And how you're gonna be something."

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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

I'll Be That Girl - Barenaked Ladies

Almost Perfect

Author: Brian Katcher
Pages: 357
Publisher: Delacorte
"Everyone has one line they swear they'll never cross, the one thing they say they'll never do. Not something serious like I'll never kill anyone or I'll never invade Russia in the winter. Usually, it's something less earth-shattering.

I'll never cheat on her.

I'll never work at a job I hate.

I'll never give up my dreams
.

We draw the line. Maybe we even believe it. That's why it's so hard when we break that promise we make to ourselves.

Sage Hendricks was my line."
So begins Almost Perfect. I was hooked from this brief opening, which was not a chapter but not quite a prologue. It was, essentially, a hook. And it worked. The tone is effective established as serious, humorous and witty. The book definitely lives up to this opening. I will warn you that to not have a surprise spoiled, you shouldn't read this review, but you also shouldn't read the back of the book, so I'm going to go ahead and talk pretty openly about it, because it's not about what's going on so much as about how Logan, our main character, will deal with it.

Logan Witherspoon is in a bit of a rut when the story begins, having been dumped by his girlfriend Lauren, a few months before the story opened. He and Lauren dated for three whole years and he only got to first base. He still wants her back, even though she cheated on him; she had sex with some guy she just met (in a car outside a drug store - or was it a fast food restaurant - either way, classy) and he still dreams up reconciliations in his mind. So yeah, he's a little pathetic, but it's not like he has many good options in his tiny home town.

Then, one fateful day, a new student comes to his biology class. That's right, you guessed it: Sage Hendricks. Sage is six feet tall, with riotous curly red hair, freckles, braces and wearing a ridiculous, brightly colored dress. Logan is immediately captivated. He wants her so badly from pretty much the first moment, even though she is not at all the typical girl. Boy, doesn't he know.

Logan keeps trying to get with Sage, but she keeps pushing him away, citing overprotective parents, who let her younger sister do anything. Still, she flirts with him and he is completely frustrated. She has some secret and he wants to know it and he wants her. Finally, they make out. Then she tells him the secret. She's a boy. But only biologically.

I loved Logan of the opening chapters, even with the whiny pining. He was funny and nice. The Logan of this part was not so much my favorite. It was really hard not to judge him for his reaction to the news, but, honestly, how is one supposed to react to that? No matter how open-minded you are, this is liable to come as a bit of a shock and require some readjustment.

Logan is not always a good guy. Sage is not always as fun or smart or confident as she seems. People are flawed and situations are unfortunate. This book definitely isn't sunshine and puppies, but it is good and it deals with an issue I have rarely seen dealt with in literature (Middlesex, Annabel), and not at all in YA literature. To write this book, Katcher talked to real transgender folk about their experiences growing up, so he knew what he was talking about. Almost Perfect really does live up to its name in its own right, but would be worth reading for novelty's sake anyway. This is a great addition to lgbt lit and teen fiction.

"I'll be that girl — and you would be right over
If I were a field, you would be in clover
If I were the sun, you would be in shadow
And if I had a gun, there'd be no tomorrow"

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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Ugly Side - Blue October

Mars

Volumes: 15
Author: Fuyumi Soryo
Publisher: Tokyopop

Brief Summary:
Kira avoids interacting with her classmates, especially the boys, more comfortable with her art. One day, Rei, the most popular guy in class and a bit of a bad boy, starts talking with her about her art, asking for one of her sketches. She agrees and her offers her anything in payment, except for money. She asks for his body...as a model. He accedes to this request and an unlikely couple is born, although their path will be a rough one.

Review:
Manga gets a lot of judgment for being incredibly melodramatic. Well, Mars definitely is that. The parts that I like least are those sections. A lot of the melodrama brings up tough issues, like rape, suicide, adultery, insanity, etc, but when all crammed together into a single story, it becomes improbable and absurd.

However, despite being over the top, there is something compelling about Mars. The relationship between Rei and Kira does feel real, moreso than most teenage relationships, even if they are super serious all the time. The beginning volumes are definitely the best, because you can watch their relationship grow. For those who do not approve of melodrama, but like sweet stories of first love and unlikely couples, you might want to just read these volumes.

The evolution of Rei and Kira's relationship is very natural. They do not fall in love at first sight, although they are somewhat curious about one another. Nor do they really intend to date. It just sort of happens. They become really good friends who hang out all the time and just sort of slip into being boyfriend and girlfriend without ever having to have the talk about it. That was just so adorable, how neither ever really confessed to the other, but they fell into a relationship just the same.

It is, though, really nice to read series (manga or otherwise) that follow the trajectory of a couple from their first meeting and follow their relationship. So often fiction relies too heavily upon sexual tension to get people's interest, so the couple does not get together until the very end, kissing through the credits. That's nice in it's own way, but unrealistic and not entirely satisfying for one's curiosity. Of course, in place of the drama of "will they get together or won't they," series like this generally put in a lot of external pressures to keep the tension high. And that can be worse.

Overall, Mars is a decent read, but you need to be well-prepared for oh-my-god-drama. Familiarity with manga logic would probably help, too. I definitely would not recommend that someone read this as their first manga. For a similar type of story (following the relationship of a boy and a girl), I would recommend Kare First Love, which has somewhat less melodrama, and certainly less violent melodrama.

Both of these manga depict a sort of natural-seeming relationship. In Mars, for example (since that is the one I'm actually reviewing), Rei feels no real temptation to be with anyone but Kira, even though she is super innocent and will not sleep with him for a long time, something he is definitely not used to. But Rei will still check other girls out on occasion, with no real intention behind it. The only thing that bothers me about the relationships in both is that the guy is a player, who falls for an innocent girl (of course), but when they break up briefly (which both do), he reverts temporarily to his horndog lifestyle. All she does is miss him; why can't the lady go get some while he cries?

"I only want you to see
My favorite part of me
And not my ugly side
Not my ugly side"

Before I close this post, I wanted to announce that you will be seeing more manga reviews here in the future. I know that manga, while extremely popular is not as widely read by reviewers, so I thought I would add my rather knowledgeable voice. To this end, I will be rereading some series I have already read, as well as venturing on new ones. If you love manga or are curious about which to start with or add to your library's collection, A Reader of Fictions is here to help!

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Monday, June 6, 2011

Human Behaviour - The Decemberists

Through Wolf's Eyes
Firekeeper Saga, Book 1

Author: Jane Lindskold
Pages: 579
Publisher: Tor

Brief Summary:
Firekeeper had no idea she was human until a group of them venture into the forest where she lives with her wolf brothers and sisters. She knew she was different, of course, but still thought herself wolf. With the arrival of her biological kind, Firekeeper becomes intrigued and knows that she must learn about them. The group has arrived to look for survivors of an settlement created by a disowned crown prince. Firekeeper is the only one found, and they presume her to be the prince's daughter, as she is about the right age. Firekeeper, at first unable to speak any English, is caught up in the political maneuverings of Hawk Haven, one of many possible heirs vying to be named old King Tedric's successor.

Review:
In typical epic fantasy style, Through Wolf's Eyes is both long and filled to the brim with characters to remember. There are lots of battles and backstabbings, too. Additionally, there is a hint of magic, not the spell kind, but a subtler magic, talents certain people have for gardening or healing or working with animals. The world building here is excellent and I liked the idea of the girl raised by wolves and of the Greater animals. (There are Great wolves, the kind who raised Firekeeper, who are smarter and larger than regular wolves; the same is true of other animals, like falcons.)

The cast of characters, too, is quite likable, although I did not get too especially attached to most of them. Firekeeper is interesting, but not yet really a fitting heroine. She is too much wolf yet to have any romantic entanglements with her own kind or to involve herself too deeply. Derian, who becomes responsible for her training, is a good guy, who I think could become quite a good fellow later on. My favorite character by far is Doc, Jared; he's just such an intelligent sweetie pie. I actually quite liked King Tedric, as well. Lady Elise started out as a bit of an airhead, but grows into a much better character. Lady Sapphire is a bit tetchy and whiny, but kicks serious ass.

For those who do not read epic fantasy, I should warn that with this novel especially, but also the genre generally, the plot often moves kind of slowly. There will be exciting battles here and there, but there is a lot of necessary back story and plot development to get through, so there will almost always be some parts that drag and some completely irritating characters you have to follow along with. Through Wolf's Eyes definitely has slow parts and has less action than most, focusing primarily on the search for an heir to Hawk Haven, although I promise there are battles and such later on.

So far this is a good read, if a bit slow, and I look forward to reading the next, which is good, because I'm planning to read through the whole series.

"If you ever get close to a human
And human behavior
Be ready to, ready to get confused
And me and my hair

There's definitely, definitely, definitely no logic
To human behavior
And yet so, yet so irresistible"

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Sunday, June 5, 2011

Standing from Once More, with Feeling

Buffy Season 8, Volume 6:
Retreat


Author: Jane Espenson
Illustrator: Georges Jeanty
Acquired From: Dark Horse Books via NetGalley

Brief Summary:
It's time for a showdown with Twilight, although likely not the last one, given that two volumes remain. Twilight has been tracking the slayers' every move, no matter what precautions they put in place. They finally figure out how: their magic. So, off they venture to Oz in Tibet where they learn how to get rid of their magic, but hopes of living a normal life may just be dashed when the bad guys, armed with lots o' stuff find them.

Review:
First of all, let me just say something I've been meaning to since the first volume, but have perpetually forgotten to. I love that the opposing force is called Twilight. I like to imagine that they underneath the suit, the mystery man is a sparkly vampire. I know he's not, but it makes me giggle to think that this is some sort of commentary on the vampire legend of Meyer.

On to more pertinent and analytical comments. This volume is pretty intense. There's a lot of battling, a lot of tension and some bad choices made. Getting rid of their powers seems pretty stupid to me. I see why they're doing it, but what do they really think will happen next? I mean, okay, the slayers are normal girls again and can't be tracked, if they were to get luckier than they did. Then what? There are all of these extra demons running around, there to balance out the slayers. Do they just get to eat everyone?

Slayers with guns as a regular army, kinda funny, but definitely makes me glad that's not what the story was. I mean, there goes the whole point. Ah well. This volume makes me suspect Whedon's trying to tie the series up after the end of the last volume.

To conclude, some questions and frustrations: What happened to Oz? Why's he weird now? Ack, baby! What are you thinking, Xander? I know you only have one eye, but this is a bad idea. Bad Xander.

"You're not ready
For the world outside
You keep pretending,
But you just can't hide"

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Saturday, June 4, 2011

No Memory - Stone Temple Pilots

Before I Go to Sleep

Author: S. J. Watson
Pages: 356
ARC Acquired from: HarperCollins via NetGalley

Brief Summary:
Christine Lucas wakes up every morning, unsure of who she is, how she got there and who the middle-aged man sleeping next to her is. She is an amnesiac, often able to remember nothing more than her childhood, and not much of that. Every morning, her husband explains how she was involved in a hit and run, after which she lost her memory. Every night as she sleeps, the day's memories are wiped away, leaving her to do the same thing again the next day. Now though, things are changing, because she has been seeing a doctor, behind her husband Ben's back. The doctor got her to keep a journal, in an effort to help her gather her memories and have a thread running through her life. As she compares her memories to her current life and what she's being told, she starts to realize that things do not add up. But is it her memories that are wrong or is someone lying to her?

Review:
Before I Go to Sleep is not the type of novel I ordinarily read, but the reviews looked good and I wanted to try it. I am definitely glad I did, although it's one of those stories so painful that it's hard to say that I really 'liked' it. However, it was very well done and the writing was skilled. The story is told over the course of just one day. It starts out with Christine awaking in the morning, getting filled in by Ben and his leaving for work. Then, she receives a call from Dr. Nash that tells her to find her journal, which she (and the reader) then reads, filling us in on the past couple weeks. Once done with that, the focus returns to the present. This narrative style worked very well, much better than if it had been told solely through journal entries.

At first, the story reminded me a lot of the movie 50 First Dates with Adam Sandler. In that movie, this same type of memory loss is portrayed as cute, almost a good thing, because they can fall in love anew every day. Before I Go to Sleep is much more realistic. As you see the world through Christine's viewpoint, you can really imagine just how terrifying it would be to wake up and not know anything about where or who you are, how devastating it would be to look in the mirror and find yourself twenty years older, how difficult it would be to really trust anyone or anything, even your own words, when you have no memories to back them up, and how impossible it would be to do anything, by which I mean that there is no way you would really be able to hold a job. You would have to be utterly dependent on someone else, which super sucks since you don't know if you can truly trust them.

The psychological aspects of this were incredibly arresting. Putting yourself inside that character is horrifying. Even though it is hard to really bond with Christine (she has trouble bonding with herself, because she doesn't know who she is, and she has definitely, in her past, done some rather bad things), you cannot help feeling for her and hoping that things will get better. It is so sad how helpless someone is without their memory.

I will also forewarn you that this book has scary moments and is, most definitely, a thriller, although much of the book isn't like this. Again, I do not much like thrillers, but I think this one was well done; the clues were laid successfully and, even though I could mostly see it coming, it was still shocking just because it's hard to believe such awfulness happens. This is a must read for folks who love psychological thrillers or those who have an interest in the importance of memory.

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Dawn's Lament from Once More, with Feeling

Buffy Season 8, Volume 5:
Predators and Prey


Authors: Jane Espenson, Steven S. DeKnight, Drew Z. Greenberg, Jim Krueger, Doug Petrie
Illustrators: Georges Jeanty, Cliff Richards
Acquired From: Dark Horse Books via NetGalley

Brief Summary:
Harmony (remember her?) gets her own reality television show. Twilight, the evil organization trying to stop the slayers, creates some seriously creepy vampire cat toys and uses Harmony's show to turn people against slayers and pro-vampire. Buffy and Andrew take on an evil sect of slayers. Giles and Faith are doing their thing, trying to help slayer outcasts. Dawn is now a doll and in the hands of some creepy guy. Volume 5 is like the middle of a season where there might be an episode here and there related to the big bad, but most of them are off the wall crazy things caused by other folks.

Review:
First of all, let's talk about Harmony. I never liked her, which I suppose is how you are supposed to feel. However, I would have been totally happy with her not coming back at all, as I am mostly just annoyed by her. If she had to come back, though, this was a good way to do it. She definitely is reality show material. I'm guessing Harmony Bites would air on MTV. No, I would not watch it.

These Twilight plot lines were pretty great, much better than the previous, to me anyway. The evil toys were just funny, in the same way that the giant Stay Puft marshmallow man at the end of Ghostbusters is. The other prong of their attack, making slayers into the bad guys in the eyes of the public, was pretty nifty as well. It definitely plays nicely off of the vampire craze, suggesting that humans are dumb enough to want to become vamps even in the Buffy-verse with the nasty forehead wrinkles and the gruesome shots of Harmony eating folks on television. Yeah, humanity!

The slayers that are out for their own profit and kicked folks off an island so they can live there do not interest me much. What saved this section was definitely Andrew. His speeches about nerdy things, while boring to Buffy and most everyone else in the comic, are almost all delightful to me. Plus, he did the classic Andrew thing where he tries to be helpful, but does so using his talent with demons, which...yeah, oops.

Giles and Faith's section was pretty boring. They didn't really accomplish anything and they don't quite seem to have a dynamic down. I am all for odd pairings, like when Buffy and Andrew went on a car drive and bonded over Daniel Craig as Bond, but Giles and Faith just are not working out.

Dawn's new incarnation is not nearly as awesome as her previous ones. A doll is just not as funny or intense as a giant or a centaur. She also does some more of the "I don't get enough attention from my sister, so I act out" stuff, which I can't stand. This ends (somewhat of a spoiler here) with her turned back to a human. Everyone knew it had to happen eventually. I'm not really sure how to feel about this, since her crazy forms were some of the best parts of this series for me. However, I am sure she can still get into ridiculous antics (and from some of the spoilers my dear friends have mentioned, she will) as a human.

Good volume overall. A couple of the sections dragged, but there were some hilarious moments and most of the plot lines were solid.

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Thursday, June 2, 2011

I've Got a Theory from Once More, with Feeling

Buffy Season 8, Volume 4:
Time of Your Life


Author: Joss Whedon (first four chapters); Jeph Loeb (last chapter)
Illustrator: Karl Moline (first four chapters); Georges Jeanty (last chapter)
Acquired from: Dark Horse Books via NetGalley

Brief Summary:
The theme of the fourth installment is most definitely time travel. The main arc of this volume has Buffy traveling two hundred years into the future, traded for a demon by some mysterious force. She has to find her way back and decide what to make of her vision of the future. The last chapter in the volume is the equivalent of one of the silly episodes of Buffy; it does nothing to move the plot along, is largely inane, and good for a couple of laughs. In that one, Buffy, in more traditional comic book art style, travels back in time to good old Sunnydale, where she gets to spend a day being young and, relatively, carefree again.

Review:
Apparently, the even numbers in this series and I do not get along. This story was just really weird. Neither the for serious or the for fun time travel segment struck me as particularly interesting or necessary. I mean, the former did have a key plot point, but I don't know if it needed four whole chapters to be covered.

The future world was kind of annoying, as was the art style in the past. Speaking of the art, it really drives me a little bit crazy how inconsistent the characters seem to be. Sometimes they totally look like the actors on the show, but, other times, they really hardly bear a resemblance. I can deal with either of those, but both is a little rough.

The high point of this volume was definitely centaur Dawn, which may be funnier than giant Dawn. Although giant Dawn versus mecha Dawn in the streets of Tokyo is totally in the running for my favorite moment in the series. Here's hoping the next odd-numbered volume will be awesome!

"It could be witches
Some evil witches
Which is ridiculous 'cause witches they were
Persecuted Wicca good and love the earth and
Women power and
I'll be over here"

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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Top Ten Wednesday: Top Ten Most Obnoxious YA "Heroines"

Before we can get to the fun part, a brief note: I have decided to make Top Ten Wednesday only a once per month feature, since writing them actually does take quite a bit of time. Look for those the first Wednesday of the month!

Have you ever read a teen novel and wanted nothing more than to sit the main character down and lecture her on something? Do you ever, after reading about this girl's adventures, kind of hate that you're a woman (assuming you're a woman reader of this blog...if not, well, skip this one) because that is something you have in common with this mutton-headed dolt? Have you ever wanted to throw the book at the wall really hard hoping that will knock some sense into the idiotic main character?

Okay, well, I haven't done the last one (at least not intentionally), because books are too pretty to throw, but I have wanted to. These are the stereotypical heroines of young adult literature. Rather unfortunately, these are generally the heroines of the most popular teen fiction. Why don't folks talk about the badass chicks?

For my selections, I tried to get a sampling of girls with various faults as heroines, rather than just ones derived from number one.

10. Grace from Wolves of Mercy Falls / Deirdre from A Gathering of Faerie

Maggie Stiefvater's heroines, thus far, have not been girls I much like. Well, the ones in book one, anyway. In both of these series, she switches perspectives in book two. The first girl is always really put together, smart and talented. She also comes off as rather icy and distant. Until the day that she meets the perfect guy and falls in instant, no-baking-required love. This is made worse by the fact that I think Deirdre chose the wrong guy. Their distance makes for a tricky heroine to like, even though I can be emotionally distant myself. For another heroine like this, check out Trella from Inside Out.

9. Mia Thermopolis from The Princess Diaries

Overall, I really like Meg Cabot. I even put her on my list of favorite contemporary authors. However, I do not like everything she has written, particularly this, her most famous of series. Oh, I thought they were okay for the first book are two, although not as good as the movie, which has some problems of its own. After the first couple though, I became seriously annoyed with the series and Mia, eventually giving up, somewhere around book ten. Mia gets older, but she doesn't mature at all. She is a heroine who does not learn anything from her mistakes in the past, so she just keeps doing the same stupid things and then complaining when, shock, it doesn't work out this time either. Heroines need to grow and adapt through their experiences.

8. Frannie from Personal Demons

I reviewed this book a few months back, so I will spare you a restatement of that. If you haven't read it or want a refresher, follow this link. This book represents a combination of the worst of YA literature and stands in for others of its kind. Writers like Desrochers read the most popular, which is not necessarily the best, YA books and then extrapolate that into their own book or series. This heroine has pretty much every feature of all of the others, especially of the number one worst heroine.

7. Miranda from Life as We Knew It

The world is ending because the moon was knocked out of alignment by a comment, which in turn messed with the tides, which messed with all of the environment. Food starts running out, so, of course, do electricity and gasoline. I have every sympathy with people trying to survive. What I do not sympathize with is the fact that even as shit's really getting real, Miranda's focus is still on the boy who didn't ask her to prom and how her mom likes her brother better. Waaa, cry moar. I mean, Miranda has lots of things to be upset about, but instead she whines about the things that matter the least. A whiny, selfish heroine is not a good heroine.

6. Blair, Serena, Jenny, etc. from Gossip Girl

Before I commence this rant, I must confess that the television show Gossip Girl is one of my favorite current shows, a definite guilty pleasure. Because of this, I tried once again (there was a failed attempt in high school) to read this series. I made it through a few of the novels before I could not take the shallow, disgusting characters anymore. There is absolutely no one likable. For example, in the first book, they all smoke constantly (a disgusting habit that was edited out of the show). Blaire is bulimic. Jenny has a size 2 waist and a D bust. I mean, come on. These girls are not role models; they're not even people I want to have to read about. It's depressing how much they waste their lives.

5. Clary Fray from Mortal Instruments / Tessa Gray from The Infernal Devices / Meghan Chase from The Iron Fey

Perhaps worse than a powerless heroine is a powerful heroine who cannot use her power. These girls are all extremely strong, but still often have to be saved, or told what they need to do to save everyone by an external source. There will be an incredibly obvious way to save themselves, but they do not do it. This is just so incredibly frustrating. Plus, these girls only become really strong, independent fighters when the men are gone. If the guy is there, they will probably require assistance.

4. Bianca from Evernight / Ever from The Immortals / Haven Moore from The Eternal Ones

Another trend in YA fiction is immediate, everlasting true love. Heroines like Bianca fall in love the second they see their hero. From that point on, they proceed to think about him obsessively. They have almost no thoughts that do not revolve around this guy for the rest of the book or series. Believe me, this will feel interminable. They generally fail to see any problems in their boyfriend; he is perfection personified, so, of course, they never fight. This is not realistic at all. What real girl has a relationship like this? Even in high school and college, before really entering the real world, this kind of relationship is impossible. Honestly, rather than listing YA novels that feature true love at first sight, it would be simpler to list those that don't.

3. Jay Jin from 100% Perfect Girl / Hatsumi Narita from Hot Gimmick

What these two manga series have in common is a romance between the heroine and her abuser. While I have not actually read more than one volume of the first series, I read enough to know that the male "hero" raped, or so was implied, the heroine. And yet, I know, because of my experience with manga tropes, that she will spend the next x volumes being obsessively in love wit this guy. Hot Gimmick, so far as I recall, may not have been rape per se, but is about a girl who loves a guy who continually tears her down verbally and physically. This is a more common plot line in manga than in American novels. Unfortunately, it may be coming, as I have heard that this is essentially what happens in Hush, Hush. Rape is an important issue, as is abuse, but I do not want to see it romanticized.

2. Zoey Redbird from The House of Night

I am fairly certain Zoey is one of my least favorite characters of all time. Why? Because she is a whiny bitch, who thinks only about herself AND doesn't even realize it. At one point, she is dating something like three guys, has an affair with a teacher at the school, and doesn't tell her best friends about any of her drama. When everything comes out, the boys dump her and her friends are hella pissed, because, if you're gonna be a slut, you ought at least to confide in your besties. Seriously? Not only that, but Zoey is actually surprised and indignant that her friends and boyfriends are pissed off at her. SERIOUSLY??? In a horror movie, she would die first; now, wouldn't that be nice.

1. Bella Swan from Twilight

While there are heroines that I think are worse (sadly), Bella has to be number one because of the impact this series had on culture. I shudder to think how many tweens and teens must think of Bella as some sort of role model. I mean, what are they learning here?
  1. Klutziness is endearing; if you fall down a lot, boys will carry you and think you're precious.
  2. It is entirely normal for your boyfriend to watch you sleep, even before he has become your boyfriend.
  3. If he acts like he hates you, don't worry, because he's secretly super in love with you, like zomg.
  4. Codependency is HOT!
  5. If your boyfriend dumps you, do not get over it; the proper reaction to a breakup is months of intense moping, followed by a series of suicide attempts. I mean, it's not true love if you can live without him.
  6. Leading on a male friend who is totally in love with you is okay, because you should always have a backup, in case your boyfriend does not react to your suicide attempts.
  7. You should definitely get married as soon as you're of age. Why wait?
  8. And then, you should probably pop out a child. Immediately. This is how women find fulfillment.
  9. Also, it's totally okay to let your daughter hook up with your backup guy. That's not weird at all.
So yeah, the Twilight books may be addictive, but no one should consider Bella a heroine to emulate. The girl is absolutely crazy. She does eventually get powers, so that she can defend herself, but she's so codependent that it hardly matters. Plus, Breaking Dawn is weird. Even the cover worries me, as it may be a reference to Eve's/woman's guilt. Ugh.

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