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A Reader of Fictions: July 2011

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Resistance - Muse

Possession, Book 1

Author: Elana Johnson
Pages: 416
Publisher: Simon Pulse

Brief Summary:
Violet is a Goodie, although you wouldn't know it by her actions. Goodies behave. They wear the proper clothes and do what they're told. Not like the Baddies of the Badlands, who are free to look and do what they want for the most part. Vi tuned out from the recordings long ago and (gasp!) thinks for herself. Breaking the rules has always been her specialty, but she has been caught a few times. This time, when caught out with a boy, her match Zenn, late at night, she's really in trouble. The Thinkers place her in a jail cell with a sexy boy named Jag Barque and she begins to realize just how messed up her world is and that Good and Bad might be relative.

Were I not especially obsessed with dystopias, I would never have finished this book. Just a couple of chapters were enough to convince me that I would not enjoy Possession at all. I never cared about any of the characters or shipped any of the couples. Everyone lacked depth, generally being either completely rebel or entirely 'the man.' Vi, though she's one of the most powerful characters in the book, spends a lot of time passed out during crucial scenes.

To be fair, some elements of the concept were really cool, like the various powers different kinds of Rangers had. I am a sucker for anything where people have powers, but even that could not save this book for me. It was the only saving grace in the story for me. The whole Goodies and Baddies thing was pretty lame; Johnson just sort of hits you over the head with the symbolism and lessons on prejudice. Plus, it didn't strike me as remotely original.

What really irritated and confused me, though, were the sudden time jumps. A chapter ends and you move onto the next one, expecting a continuation of the preceding events, but this does not happen. Instead, you are often jumped forward in time with no explanation of what has happened in between. Even more confusing are the chapters that are dreams or simulations, none of which really made any sense to me. I feel like the story just sort of meandered crazily without any real sense of cohesion or flow.

Needless to say, Possession was a huge disappointment for me. In fact, I wanted so little to read it that it kind of turned me off reading for a few days (sad!), but it had to go back to the library, so I had to get through it. Thank goodness that's over. I recommend giving this one a pass.

"Love is our resistance
They'll keep us apart and they won't to stop breaking us down
Hold me
Our lips must always be sealed

If we live a life in fear
I'll wait a thousand years
Just to see you smile again

Kill your prayers for love and peace
You'll wake the thought police
We can't hide the truth inside"

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Books Made into Movies: Where Angels Fear to Tread

After a couple of months without a Books Made into Movies feature, I am suddenly on a roll. I read Where Angels Fear to Tread last year. Going into it, I was really excited, because I thought it sounded a bit like A Room with a View (my favorite movie and one of my favorite books, also by Forster), what with the English ladies going on vacation in Italy. It really puzzles me how E.M. Forster can write an incredibly beautiful, moving clever romance (A Room with a View) and also write a story where everything just keeps getting worse and worse all the time (Where Angels Fear to Tread). I did not much care for the book, and the movie was just the same.

Watching this movie may make you look this distressed.
That, or, being surrounded by chilluns, as happened to this poor lady.

Since there was a fair amount of time that passed between my reading and my viewing of the film, I can't speak to any specific details being correct or incorrect, but the gist of it was most definitely the same. One of the main thrusts of the novel is the appeal of the Italian man (Brief explanation: a widow goes to Italy with a cousin (?) and marries a much younger Italian man very quickly.). All of the Brits are at first opposed to him but are charmed by his simple Italian ways. Well, I'm not buying any of it. He is an abusive asshole and is not in the least okay.

For those who can't read it, the box says:
"Only one thing could come between Lilia and her Italian lover...her in-laws."
The copywriter clearly has never read this book or seen the movie.
Either that or they mixed this up with Monster-in-Law.

The ending of the film, and perhaps the book as well, was exceedingly awkward. It was fairly apparent that there was no good, satisfying way to wrap up this story. A number of the main characters are dead, so you're left with two people saying goodbye at a train station. Honestly, they're the only ones I kind of like, but they're obsessed with the Italian and will never get together (and I honestly do not remember if they are related, not that being cousins stopped folk back then).

If you like stories about how women lived terrible lives way back when, then you will love this. Marriage is bad, widowhood is bad, spinsterhood is bad, motherhood is bad. There's no escape. Actually, this is one of those stories where bad things happen so unremittingly that by the end I'm laughing at the absurdity of people's actions and the ridiculous accidents they cause.

Take my advice and watch A Room with a View instead. It's a better made movie too.

Now that's what I'm talking about.


Books Made into Movies: I Am Number Four

Generally, I do not write a review of a movie based on a book unless I have already read the book, since that allows me to do an evaluation of the adaptation that has been done. With that said, in all honesty, I have not read I Am Number Four. I read all of four pages and knew that there was no way I was going to be able to read it all; it was just that awful.

The movie was as terrible as I expected. Why did I watch it if I knew I wouldn't like it? Well, the preview that they showed during the long episode of Glee (because of Dianna Agron) looked bad but fun. Unfortunately, I did not find the movie fun. It skittered between terrible and boring. The dialog in the film seems every bit as uninspired as what I encountered in my exceedingly brief foray into the novel. The characters, too, are flat and uninteresting (and mostly unattractive, with the exception of Dianna Agron). Whether these things were caused in part by bad acting or whether the screenplay was just so awful there was nothing the actors could do, I can't say.

We're totally in high school. Who says we're not?

One seriously irritating thing about this movie is that they wanted it to be really dark during the scenes taking place in dark spaces or at night. This is all authentic and all, but the reason filmmaker's rarely do this is because the audience can't see. When you're watching a movie, seeing what's going on is generally the point. Darkness can be used for dramatic effect, but a lot of the action scenes took place in the dark, except for John's shiny hands.

Speaking of the shiny hands, what the heck is that for a power? I mean, super strength and speed is definitely cool. But for his super special legacy, he gets flashlights for hands? They're high wattage, but still. The Australian chick got some sort of super sword/gun/weapon thing that completely owns the enemy with a little slice in addition to being flame retardant and he has shiny circles on his hands?

My Super Hero Name will be...hmm...I know!
The Torch, you know, cause in Britain flashlights are called torches?
Oh that's taken? Tarnation. Alright, Mr. Flashlight it is then.

Theme song: "This little light o' mine. I'm gonna let it shine."

The enemy aliens, Mogs, are strong and creepy looking, true, but I had trouble taking them seriously. They speak with each other in these grunts and wear stupid cloaks and generally seem to be moving very slowly. I don't know. They're just not awesome bad guys. Or, maybe, the reason I did not find them intimidating was that in one of their first appearances, a Mog menacingly buys like 37 turkeys from the grocery store. This is never explained. I suppose I am to assume that he is going to do something nefarious with the turkeys, but there might just have been a good sale on or maybe Mogs just really freakin' love turkey. Grocery shopping is not scary, so maybe not a good way to introduce the villain, kay?

Choosy aliens out for domination of the human
race choose Butterball.

Altogether a lackluster and lame film. That's my opinion anyway. One of my coworker's was rhapsodizing about how much fun it was, so you can take my reaction or leave it.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want - Muse

Always a Witch
Witch, Book 2

Author: Carolyn MacCullough
Pages: 276
ARC Acquired from: Clarion Books via NetGalley

Brief Summary:
Now armed with her Talent that she never knew she had, Tamsin has to venture into the past to sort out the mess she made in Once a Witch. Along the way, she'll have to figure out the quirks in her power and deal with the mistrust of her family, who do not know how to deal with her intimidating Talent. At least, she has a hot time-traveling boyfriend to help her!

Before reading the review, be warned that this is the second in a series and you shouldn't read on unless you've read the first, don't want to read either but like reading reviews, or love spoilers (for the first book, not this one). I completely adored Once a Witch and the same is true of the sequel, even though it broke my heart a little bit. The resolution of the story made perfect sense and, though I saw it coming and knew it needed to happen, I really did not want it to happen that way.

Tamsin never smoked again, a thing I complained about in my review for the first book, so it really was just that one scene. This pretty much cements my belief that she may have been a sm0ker in an early draft and that one scene missed getting cut. Thank goodness she's not actually a smoker or I would probably have to hate her. Which I don't want to do, because she is so delightfully sarcastic, as all of the best heroines are.

I still really love the Talents. They remind me of people's powers on the Heroes television show. It's so much fun to find out what everyone can do. Tamsin definitely has the coolest power, sort of Peter Petrelli-ish. My one complaint here is that when Tamsin's going back to the past to save the whole family, they don't all line up and throw their power at her three time so that she can be well-armed for the coming battle. It's not like she takes their powers forever, as evidenced by Aunt Beatrice still being able to freeze kids at the end of book one. Stupid family is stupid.

For those who loved Once a Witch, you will not be disappointed in Always a Witch. It has magic, action, suspense, nineteenth century drama and romance. Always a Witch is coming out August 1. Get yourself a copy!

P.S. I like the cover. However, who on earth is that supposed to be? Jessica? Tamsin has curly hair, like the girl on the cover of book one. Sigh.

"So for once in my life
Let me get what I want
Lord knows, it would be the first time"

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Monday, July 25, 2011

Silent Sea - KT Tunstall

Siren, Book 1

Author: Tricia Rayburn
Pages: 344
Publisher: Egmont

Brief Summary:
Vanessa's family travels to Winter Harbor every year for the summer. She and her sister Justine go swimming with the brothers next door, Caleb and Simon. Caleb and Justine have been hot and heavy for the last couple of summers, and Vanessa has always had a bit of a crush on the older, serious Simon. Although afraid of practically everything, Vanessa loves her life, because of her father and her sister, even though she knows her sister is keeping secrets from her. Vanessa never dreamed that her sister's secrets would be so bad that she might commit suicide. She doesn't believe it, so she goes back to Winter Harbor to investigate along with Simon. When more people begin to show up dead in town and the weather goes crazy, they discover that there might be something really serious and dangerous going on in Winter Harbor.

Although I tend to devour young adult novels like a lion setting on an antelope, I am often disappointed by my reading. For some reason, this does not make me crave the paranormal teen stories any less. You will still see me drooling (not literally, I hope) over the latest novels about vampires, mermaids/sirens, werewolves, fairies, unicorns, etc. I am happy to report that Siren, while not the best of the best, is a good solid read and that I am looking forward to reading the sequel, which is good since my friend brought it back from ALA for me. So yay, the book is not as fail as the cover. That is just terrifying!

Of the various paranormal topics, mermaids/sirens (which area apparently interchangeable?) are definitely among my least favorites. I have read two practically in a row this week, not because I planned it, but just because that's how it happened. I definitely recommend Siren over Lost Voices for those looking for a novel about sirens, although really the sirens are rather different. Rayburn's focus on individual males, rather than taking down whole ships at once. Singing is less important here, replaced by almost a sort of mindspeak with their victims (although they do sing occasionally). Most overtly, these sirens do not seem to have tails of any sort (I can't tell you how much I thought Vanessa was going to walk in on one in the bathtub and see she had a tail like in the movie Splash); they're just women who need to drink salt water and can be underwater for a really long time.

Vanessa made a good main character, with a very human set of weaknesses but the inner strength to overcome them when she really needs to. Simon and Caleb were both great guys in completely different ways. Of course, I would want a Simon for myself; he's just so adorably nerdy sounding. :-)

Siren is a great beach read, although maybe not for those who are easily terrified by literature. You don't want to be afraid to go in the water on your holiday!

"I was happy in my harbor
When you cut me loose
Floating on an ocean
And confused
Winds are whipping waves up
Like sky scrapers
And the harder they hit me
The less I seem to bruise"

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Orsino's Horsemen/The Disguise - Shaun Davey

Manga Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

Adaptor: Richard Appignanesi
Illustrator: Nana Li
Pages: 207
Publisher: Amulet Books

Usually, I give manga versions of classics a wide berth. Though I love classics and manga, I find that the combination does not generally flatter either. However, Twelfth Night is my favorite play and the cover art looked promising, so I decided to give it a go. I am so glad I did! It is completely silly and entirely delightful.

This version of the play has a steampunk feel to it, which just takes something awesome and makes it better. Orsino has a car, Antonio wears a pirate's eye-patch and the clothing is completely wild. Most of the men go about either shirtless (with an open coat of course) or with tufts of chest hair coming out the top of their low cut tops. Malvolio, when cross-gartered, looks like some sort of crazy S&M guy. Olivia wears a dress that goes down only to her knees.

So yeah, it's kind of ridiculous, but so is the play really. I mean, there is crossdressing, cases of mistaken identity, absurd sword fights, tempests and sudden declarations of love (despite supposedly having been deeply in love with others). Actually, all of these ridiculous, but hugely delightful plots, are what make this play such perfect fodder for manga. If you've ever read manga, you know what I'm talking about.

Nana Li did a great job with the illustrations. I especially loved Orsino with his emo haircut. Too perfect! Maria, one of my favorites, has been drawn in such a manner that her spunk is entirely evident. Shakespeare fans, this is incredibly nerdy and hugely amusing!

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Bad Idea - Ben Folds

Fail Harder

Pages: 181
ARC Acquired from: Andrews McMeel Publishing via NetGalley

Fail Blog has given me hours of entertainment in the past. It's like America's Funniest Home Videos, only with the addition of grammatical errors, no commercials and the ability to skip the lame ones. Oh yeah, and no Bob Saget. In short, it can be super hilarious, either for the kind of people who like to watch Most Extreme Elimination Challenge (aka those who like watching people fall down) or those who enjoy laughing at the idiocy of others (such as grammar or factual errors).

This collection represents the site pretty well, although obviously lacks the video content. Some of the images were hilarious, some were nothing special and one or two I never did figure out (this is shameful). Still, I think I prefer the convenience and the additional content available in the web environment. But if you're standing in line at a store and can flip through this, by all means do.

For more fail, click here. Just kidding. Here's the real link: http://failblog.org/.

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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Brothers on a Hotel Bed - Death Cab for Cutie

The Uncoupling

Author: Meg Wolitzer
Pages: 271
Publisher: Riverhead Books

Brief Summary:
A new drama teacher comes to Elro (Eleanor Roosevelt) High School and begins preparations for the year's school play, Lysistrata. This play tells the story of a town full of Greek women who deny their husbands sex, in hopes of convincing them to end the Peloponnesian War. As the play comes to town, so to does a mysterious chilling wind, which kills off desire in the town's women, young and old.

Even though I have not yet read the Lysistrata, I have trouble resisting literature about literature, especially when the premise sounds so incredibly fascinating. The Uncoupling focuses primarily on the spell's effects upon one family, Dory, Robby and Willa Lang. Dory and Robby, in their early forties, seem to have the perfect married relationship, still keeping their sex life going and pleasurable. That is until the day the spell strikes and Dory goes cold. This spell is entirely terrifying, as it is not a voluntary choice not to have sex, as in Lysistrata but a sudden complete lack of interest for the women.

The story was a treat: well-written, simple and clever. The Uncoupling follows the narrative arc of a comedic play, quite fittingly. The cast of assembled characters go about their days, unaware of the larger scope of things until the dramatic climax (the performance of the play). Then follows the dénouement, in which we see the lives of those leftover in the happy (?) ending.

I also greatly enjoyed the magical realism aspect of the story, the fact that the spell, as it is called, was magic of a sort but also very natural. Unsurprisingly, I also adored the fact that the magic stemmed from literature. Great books can come alive in people's lives, even if it's not necessarily as overt as it was in the case of this little town. I will definitely be adding more Meg Wolitzer to my reading list!

"And I have learned that even landlocked lovers yearn for the sea like navy men
Cause now we say goodnight from our own separate sides
Like brothers on a hotel bed"

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Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better - Betty Hutton & Howard Keel

S.A. (Special A)

Author: Maki Minami
Volumes: 17
Publisher: Viz Media

Brief Summary:
Special A, or SA in the English version, is a series about the seven smartest kids in a very strange, wealthy high school. The top seven students in the school do not have to attend classes and are free to spend their day doing whatever they please in their own personal swanky greenhouse, so long as they maintain their stellar academic positions. The number two position is held by one of the few poor students at the school, Hanazono Hikari, a brilliant and incredibly motivated girl, who is attending the school in hopes of defeating her long-term rival Takishima Kei.

Special A's main focus is upon romance and friendship, which is pretty standard for shoujo series. When I read this the first time, I liked it quite a bit, although even on the first read-through I was exceedingly irritated by the constant repetition of the descriptions of the seven SA members, which happen in every chapter for the first few volumes. This makes sense, considering how manga is published (by chapter in magazines), but once they are combined into tankobons (volumes), it really is frustrating for the reader.

This series is definitely guilty of the old Shakespearean comedy fault/formula of pairing everyone off, regardless of whether the match really seems to work or not. Some couples are charming, like Tadashi and Akira, but Jun and Sakura never really made sense to me. Hikari and Kei, who I supported on my first read-through, I now found myself kind of tired of, since they just enact the same things over and over again.

Speaking of Kei and Hikari, I both like their rivalry and hate it. What I like is that Hikari is such a strong character and that he has such strong love for her. What really gets my goat, though, is that she never once gets to beat him in a single contest (unless you count the fact that he admitted to his feelings first, but since she didn't, I don't either). Yeah, it's hot that he's so good at everything, but does the man really have to be superior at everything? I love that Hikari continues to be hopeful of winning and never gives up, but I would have liked to see her win at least once. Kei also is incredibly jealous, which is completely ridiculous and unfair considering how trusting Hikari is.

Special A definitely has some cute moments and I recommend it for shoujo fans that like to see everyone paired off by the end. For me, it just did not have enough depth or story to justify carrying on for so long.

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Liar, Liar - A Fine Frenzy

Lost Voices

Author: Sarah Porter
Pages: 291
ARC Acquired from: Harcourt Children's Books via NetGalley

Brief Summary:
Luce grew up with her father, a thief and repairman. They mostly lived in his big red van, constantly on the go, escaping from places they can never go again. Eventually, though, Luce's father felt that they should settle in one place for her benefit, so they moved to Alaska, where his brother (whose girlfriend he stole - Luce's mom) could get him a job on a boat. Unfortunately, one day during an awful storm, his boat did not return and Luce was left with her drunken, abusive uncle. On her fourteenth birthday, her uncle tries to rape her, because she so resembles her mom, and Luce discovers that a combination of loneliness and complete hatred of humans can cause a girl to become a mermaid.

Lost Voices reminds me a bit of Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak, only with a crazy paranormal bent and less focus. The story never really seemed quite to resolve into a plot. I suspect this may mean there is a sequel in the works, which would explain why so many things were brought up and then dropped by the seaside.

Porter's explanation of how mermaids come about and why they sink ships was certainly an intriguing one. Abused girls turn into mermaids and then punish the humans who did such awful things to them. To do this, they are gifted with otherworldly voices and beauty, which lure the humans to their deaths.

If this book had been a bit different, I think I might have liked it. The writing was pretty good and, even though I was not particularly into the story, it still moves along at a nice pace. However, the story focused primarily on the weird mermaid society, on their codes and how all of them secretly break them. Basically, it showed how terrifying a sisterhood is and how much fun it is to sing. I would have preferred a Speak-like focus on issues of child abuse or a fantasy romance that considered the possibility of the existence of mermen or an ethical tale that really evaluated their life choices. Lost Voices touches on all of these, but does not really go into any sort of satisfying detail.

The book is odd too, in that it would seem to attract a younger crowd, given the age of the heroine and the almost complete lack of romance. Yet, the issues and the tone of desolation would seem to suggest it is for older readers. Lost Voices is about as happy and sweet as the killer unicorn books by Diana Peterfreund, only not, for me, as good.

To sum up, I didn't hate this, nor did I like it particularly. It raises some interesting issues and I certainly recommend it to those who like YA paranormal, but are sick of the romances.

"Oh, oh, the sirens sang so sweet
And watched the sailors going down
Oh, oh, you talked to me in siren song
Yeah, anyone would drown
Anyone would drown

All the ships go down
Following the sound
All the ships go down"

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Somewhere I Belong - Linkin Park

Once a Witch
Witch, Book 1

Author: Carolyn MacCullough
Pages: 304
Publisher: Clarion Books

Brief Summary:
Tamsin comes from a family of Talented people. On the night of her birth, her grandmother, gifted with the Talent of foresight, predicted that she would be the most powerful one in ages. Unfortunately, this was the one time grandma got it wrong, because Tamsin never got a Talent, not even a lame one. Her sister Rowena, though, really is that powerful with her ability to persuade anyone of anything. Tamsin resents her family for treating her like she doesn't belong; she just wants to escape to school. Even when her hot best friend from childhood, Gabriel, returns to town. During one of the last days before heading back to school for the fall semester, someone asks her for help finding a clock (such requests often come to the magical members of her family, but never to her) and she thinks it is her chance to prove herself to everyone. Too bad nothing's ever that simple.

I just devoured this novel from the first page, which is set in a bookstore by the way (what's not to love?). The Talents are similar to some other stories I have read, most recently those in the Alcatraz Smedry series by Brandon Sanderson, although he did something quite different with them. It reminded me too, for reasons I cannot divulge, of Shanna Swendson's Enchanted, Inc. books, which are also completely fabulous. The writing is good, the characters are interesting and the plot draws you in and keeps you there.

Tamsin was easy to relate to from the get-go. Most everyone has felt like an outsider at some point or had sibling issues (although not me, as I'm an only child) or wished desperately for some special talent. She has a bit of an edge to her, which I appreciate for the most part. She sneaks out to bars to drink beer and watch bands with her roommate Agatha. She's sarcastic with her family. In addition, she adapts well to all crisis situations, trying desperately to make things work out; even though she doesn't always succeed, it's awesome that she tries, rather than sitting idly by waiting for a savior.

My one big complaint about Tamsin is the scene where she smokes a cigarette in her room. Blah blah rebellion blah blah badass. I really hate smoking, because, well, it's awful. However, what really bugs me about this scene is that it has so little bearing on the rest of the book. It seems so out of place. Tamsin never smokes again, nor does anyone else mention her doing so. I can't help wondering if she was a smoker originally and most of it got edited out. Either way, it struck me as clunky and gross.

Gabriel was totally awesome. His talent (finding things) rocks. I seriously want one of him for my own, so he can keep me from having to turn my house upside down trying to locate my missing remote. (This happened this evening and the remote was, of course, in the first place I looked. Why I didn't see it, I don't know, but that's always how it goes.

Once a Witch was such a fun read and I am eagerly anticipating starting the sequel. If you're looking for an awesome summer read, definitely pick this up at your local library or book store!

"I wanna heal, I wanna feel what I thought was never real
I wanna let go of the pain I’ve felt so long
(Erase all the pain till it’s gone)
I wanna heal, I wanna feel like I’m close to something real
I wanna find something I’ve wanted all along
Somewhere I belong"

Note: I am joining NetGalley month hosted by Red House Books, since I was trying to catch up this month anyway (with titles like this one)!

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Oogie Boogie's Song from The Nightmare Before Christmas

The Cellar

Author: A. J. Whitten
Pages: 282
ARC Acquired from: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt via NetGalley

Brief Summary:
A family is completely messed up, following the death of the father. Daughter Heather blames herself, although she really probably should, since she was driving dangerously with him in the passenger seat. Even though no one else blames her, Heather still feels compelled to act like a total turd to everyone as recompense. Sister Meredith worries she's going crazy because of her eye condition. She also has concerns that she's a jerk, because she wants her Heather exboyfriend. Their mother does nothing but shop. Into this environment move the new neighbors, a recluse mother and a completely smoking son who never takes off his glasses. Every girl in town loves Adrien, except for Meredith, who's pretty sure he's a zombie that wants to do something ugly with her sister.

The reason I wanted to read The Cellar was because it advertised itself as Romeo and Juliet with zombies, only not in a Quirk classics way. That sounded like it could be hilarious. It wasn't for an assortment of reasons. 1: It took itself way too seriously. 2: Having the school do a modern version of Romeo and Juliet does not make this a modernization of said play; the story has to back it up. 3: These zombies are totally not following the rules and are, perhaps, other fantastical creatures. All in all, some seriously false advertising. Now I will expand on these points.

The Cellar is supposed to be a horror, sweet romance and tragic romance all in one. Whitten wants you to go 'Ack!,' 'awww' and 'boohoo.' I did none of these things. There were no joke attempts. How can you have the premise of Romeo and Juliet + zombies and not think it should be hysterical, especially if you're completely changing the plot until its unrecognizable as the original play anyway? I think part of why Whitten (another mother/daughter writing team) wrote this book was because they thought it would be awesome to write a story about a sexy zombie. Here is an excerpt of Adrien (totally a zombie) meeting Heather for the first time:
"'You look lost,' a deep voice said from behind her. 'Like me.'
Heather turned, about to blast whoever was bothering her this time. She stopped. Stared.
At the very guy who has moved in next door to her. From far away this morning, she hadn't seen any details, but now
Oh, now she did.
Up close, he was...gorgeous. Dark hair, a bit long in the back, just enough to curl over his collar, long dark jeans, a black suit jacket, something no other guy would have dared to wear, very A&F-ish, over a white T, untucked. He wore sunglasses
—not Ray-Bans, but something very similar and very...mysterious. They reflected back her face, the shock in her eyes." (9)
Holy misuse of punctuation, Batman! These ladies are definitely from the Twilight/Lisa McMann school of writing. Also, is this guy supposed to sound like a stud? Because what he sounds like is a pompous asshat.

In this book, the school is performing Romeo and Juliet. Conveniently, Heather is Juliet and Adrien is Romeo. Because of this, they decide that they are exactly like the bard's star-crossed lovers, especially since her family is against them. Oh noes! Only not really, because of everyone but Meredith ends up supporting them. Mostly its just Heather thinks everyone wants to keep her from happiness. The frame of the story doesn't fit at all, nor does the fact that they don't both die. Fail.

Most disconcerting perhaps were the 'zombies.' Adrien and his 'mother' Marie are obviously something else altogether. Marie has to get herself a new skin with magic and soul-sucking every so often. So, basically, she's a witch from Stardust. Adrien apparently looks perfect and doesn't smell like decay; the only sign that he's not human are the worms in his eyes. Umm, what? For some reason, he really reminded me most of the Oogie Boogie man, thus the song. I think it was the way he commanded legions of creepy crawlies and the way he criticized all of his enemies/prey. Even the regular zombies did not necessarily act like zombies are supposed to. One of them was able to focus on more than commands from its maker or its hunger. Weird and out of character for how the others were. It was a necessary plot point, but I'm not buying it.

So yeah, I kind of hated it. However, fans of books like Cryer's Cross, another incomprehensible horror fantasy, will probably enjoy this.

"You're jokin', you're jokin'
I can't believe my ears
Would someone shut this fella up
I'm drownin' in my tears
It's funny, I'm laughing
You really are too much
And now, with your permission
I'm going to do my stuff"

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Monday, July 18, 2011

March of the Witch Hunters from Wicked

Wolf's Head, Wolf's Heart
Firekeeper Saga, Book 2

Author: Jane Lindskold
Pages: 754
Publisher: TOR

Brief Summary:
With Bright Bay and Hawk Haven now allies, the danger lies in external forces, namely Queen Valora's Isles and New Kelvin. Queen Valora stole three magical relics from Bright Bay's coffers when she left, sending them with Waln Endbrook, who is to take Malina to New Kelvin where she will unravel the secrets of these items. Firekeeper's mission, revealed after an arduous trek followin a summons by the Royal Beasts, is to find these items and bring them back, as the Royal Beasts fear their magic.

Like the first in the series, Wolf's Head, Wolf's Heart is pretty well-written and has some really neat worldbuilding. Nonetheless, I did not love it, nor did I hate it. They fall in the realm of just above meh. For one thing, they could be shorter; there are some repetitions, often in relation to Firekeeper and Blind Seer, which I could do without.

The larger problem though is what I pointed out in my review of the first: action is minimal and so is romance. Pretty much all of the drama is political. That's done well, but just does not enthrall me. If some more of the others were woven within it, then perhaps I would find this series as delightful as I had hoped.

The characters, too, have yet to grow on me. They are consistent across the first two books, which is almost unfortunate, since none of them do I love. I like a couple okay, but I'm certainly not invested in their fates.

The meeting of the Royal Beasts was pretty laughable, so I have to mention it. This tribunal was supposed to be monumental and somber, but the way the animals interacted was absurd. To prevent one character monologuing for pages, she had them trade off telling the story in an awkward, arbitrary manner, reminding me of nothing so much as passing reading stories aloud in an elementary school classroom.

Since I have five of the six books in the series, I will be slogging forward, and I do have some hopes of improvement, but they are definitively not high hopes. If you like political machinations and epic fantasy, this is for you!

"Wickedness must be punished
Evil effectively eliminated
Wickedness must be punished
Kill the Witch!"

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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Train Song - Ben Gibbard & Feist

The Train

Author: Georges Simenon
Pages: 153
ARC Acquired from: Melville House Publishing via NetGalley

Brief Summary:
With the approach of the Germans, Marcel Feron flees Fumay, France with his wife and daughter. Unfortunately, women and children are given a different place on the train. When the train cars are shuffled around, Marcel is separated from his family. The train journey the refugees take is a long and wandering one, prompted by the hope to escape the Nazis. Along the way, Marcel begins an affair with one of the only women from his train car, Anna.

Believe it or not, I was a History major in undergrad, not English, although, given my love of literature, that might have been the obvious choice. I do also really enjoy reading about history, although I do it less, since so many academic historians write so dryly and reading their books is like pulling teeth. My favorite historical periods to study are World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War, not the battles so much, but what life was like. I am a sucker for novels about these time periods as much as I am for ya books with corsets on the cover.

I tried, somewhat halfheartedly, to find out some historical background on The Train, but was not particularly successful. Apparently, the book was forgotten after its initial publication and is now being republished in a snazzy new cover by Melville House, which is doing the same for a number of old titles. The initial publication in English was in 1964.

The book itself was somewhat of a disappointment. It had some inherent interest, because Simenon discussed a section of wartime life I knew nothing about, which I always love. The refugees on the trains are reminiscent of Holocaust memoirs, only they had it so incredibly easy. Their trains made so many stops, so they could get out and do their business, and they were given free, pretty plentiful and delicious food at each station. They had enough space to lay down in the train cars. Still, they were pretty cramped and they had no idea where they were going or precisely what would happen to them when they got there. This was all cool.

The main problem I had with The Train was either the translation or Simenon's writing style, although I cannot say which. The syntax was often odd and stilted, making me need to read a few sentences a couple of times to figure out what was going on. Its like the rhythm is just a little bit off somehow.

I also did not appreciate reading yet another book about an affair. Sigh. To be fair though, the affair did support the story and made perfect sense in context. The freedom that everyone felt was a part of the train journey too. It was so different from daily experience that people felt uninhibited: "I wasn't alone in feeling outside ordinary life and its conventions" (126).

Also cool is the question of how reliable of a narrator Marcel really is. Some of his assertions definitely need to be taken with a cellar of salt. At only 153 pages, The Train is well-worth the time it takes to read for the unique reflection on WWII life.

"It's so many miles and so long since I've left you
Don't even know what I'll find when I get to you
But suddenly now, I know where I belong
It's many hundred miles and it won't be long"

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Friday, July 15, 2011

Octopus's Garden - The Beatles

Stories for the Nighttime and Some for the Day

Author: Ben Loory
Pages: 210
Review Copy Acquired from: Penguin

Ben Loory's collection of short stories is, surprisingly, accurately portrayed by the cover. As much as I depend on them (old adages be damned), they often lie, depicting some scene or person never to occur or exist within the novel. The ocean, the spaceship and the octopus tentacle are all main aspects of at least one story. Let me also say that I love the cover, from the art to the texture of it. I also like the texture of the paper within (which does the old timey thing where some pages stick out more than others) and the flaps built into the trade paperback. This book is an excellent tactile experience.

Even before reading the first story, I was charmed by Loory, whose author's note reads: "Here are some stories. I hope you like them." So simple, but completely perfect, because that's what I, as a reader just starting into the book, precisely hope to do. So, you may wonder, did I like the stories? For the most part, yes. The stories are all very short and the writing is deceptively simple. In very few of the stories did I feel like I had a good grasp on what exactly was going on.

Most of the stories are left very open-ended, almost as though the stories are as much about you as they are about the characters in them. This point is borne out by the fact that the characters generally do not have names, referred to only as boy, girl, man, woman, friend, etc. In fact, if I remember correctly, the only characters who receive names are animals: the octopus family in "The Octopus" (along with their likely human landlord, who may be the only human with a name) and the moose (who receives a moniker) "The Man and the Moose." I am not quite sure what to make of this, but it's definitely intriguing.

The universality of the characters combined with the fantasy/magic elements made the stories feel like modern fairy tales or fables or urban legends. The magic was pervasive, subtle and a part of the regular world, which reminded me, in an odd way, of Sarah Addison Allen's novels. Where hers feature a sweet, happy magic, Loory's magic is generally that of something dark and dangerous, although some of the stories included are cute ones (which I fancy are the ones for the day). As an example of what reading the stories is like, I am going to share the shortest story with you.
"Once there was a man who was afraid of his shadow.
Then he met it.
Now he glows in the dark."
Without a doubt, Stories for the Nighttime and some for the day is an interesting read and exceedingly thought-provoking. Every story really is like the one above, in that the meaning is rather unclear and it's up to you to suss it out. I think this would be an excellent title for a book group, as everyone could share their impressions and analyze the themes running through all of the stories to get at the project's aims as a whole. I hope to see more from Ben Loory, especially what kind of a novel he would write.

"I'd like to be under the sea
In an octopus' garden in the shade
He'd let us in, knows where we've been
In his octopus' garden in the shade"

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Seventh Son - Johnny Rivers

The Abused Werewolf Rescue Group

Author: Catherine Jinks
Pages: 409
ARC Acquired from: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt via NetGalley

Brief Summary:
Toby Vandevelde woke up in a dingo pen with no memory of how he came to be there. He's not harmed and he swears he didn't do any drugs. A priest and Reuben, both from the first book (The Reformed Vampire Support Group) show up and tell Toby that he's actually a werewolf. Unsurprisingly, he doesn't believe them and concocts a plan with his friends to record the crazies. Only it turns out that they're not lying and Toby could be in serious danger.

I really was not looking forward to this book after having read and pretty much hated The Reformed Vampire Support Group. Thankfully, this one was much better. It's still not going to be a new favorite, but it was a decent read that moved along at a nice pace.

The real difference between the two is the narrator; where Nina is bored and boring, Toby is full of energy and typical teen boy-ness. Catherine Jinks' conception of vampires was amusing, but reading about a bunch of folks who do nothing but whine is no fun. Toby whines, but he also tries to change his circumstances. He also has a clear personality, unlike the vampires (who show up in this book and still remain static characters).

I still have some issues with Jinks' worldbuilding. Becoming a werewolf is evidently an inherited trait, found only in families of Spanish or Portuguese backgrounds. Not only that, but they have to be the seventh sons. Yikes but that's specific. The book even says that werewolves are typically found in South America and the Phillipines (although nothing is mentioned about Spain or Portugal...), so why are there so many werewolves running around Australia (not to mention so many werewolves in general)? With vampires, too, I am a bit concerned about their origin. Apparently, one bite turns a human into a vampire. If it's that easy, why is the world not populated entirely with very hungry vampires? Sure, the group tries not to fang folks, but all vampires cannot be that particular, especially in early days.

Overall, this was an okay read, but, should there be more books in this series, I will not be continuing on. This one was good enough to give me some hope for Jinks' other series about geniuses (of which I own the first book).

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Friday, July 8, 2011

A Chance to Win a Free (Rather Excellent) Middle Grade Fiction Book!

This offer does not come from me, but from the publisher (Bancroft Press). To drum up additional interest in The Young Inventors Guild series by Eden Unger Bowditch, they have created a game. It's called Faye's Contraption. You have to pick up beakers using a mechanical arm, but not pick up the assistants. It's all about timing, folks.

Only the first in the series, The Atomic Weight of Secrets, or, The Arrival of the Mysterious Men in Black is currently available. I read it back in March and reviewed it here. As you can tell, I really enjoyed it, which is why you might want to go play the game and see if you can get a high enough score to win yourself a copy for FREE!

If you want to play Faye's Contraption in hopes of winning a copy of the book, here's where you go. You can access the game in two ways: on the website (click on the Games section in the bottom right and then select Faye's Contraption in the resulting modal) or on facebook. If you beat the high score by July 17th, e-mail a screen shot of your score to Clara Roberts (clrob002(at)goucher(dot)edu) at Bancroft Press.

Best of luck!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Brothers & Sisters - Coldplay

Notes from the Blender

Authors: Trish Cook & Brendan Halpin
Pages: 228
ARC Acquired from: Egmont @ ALA 2011

Brief Summary:
Declan just got a huge surprise. After seven years as a widower, his father is remarrying and having a child with another woman, a woman who just happens to be the mother of Neilly Foster, his biggest crush. He isn't ready for his father to replace his mother and himself. Neilly gets this news in the time right before her father's own remarriage to his business and life partner Roger. She just can't deal with any more changes to her life. Needless to say, this blending of family's is not going to come together without any drama.

Notes from the Blender is one of the books my dear, lovely friend Jordan brought back from ALA for me. When I read the blurb on the back, I was hugely skeptical about how this was going to go. It sounded like a manga plot, because they love the step-sibling thing (and the sibling thing, which we do now too apparently, as there's a new YA book about that which I both do and really do not want to try) and I just didn't know if it was going to be my jam, as they say.

Actually, I really liked it! Don't you just love when first impressions are wrong for the better? (Presuming, of course, of course that I did not make a huge fuss about not liking the person/thing/place first, in which case I mostly just feel like a fool. This happened recently with Modern Family. Even paragons of perfection like myself (ha!) make mistakes now and then. Anyway, this book is super cute and successfully rocks the alternating stories written by two different parties. Both characters had real voices and were likable (and not occasionally). Folks who enjoy the collaborations between Levithan and Cohn should definitely give this one a chance!

This story managed to hit on soooo many key issues in teenage life: death metal, veganism, violence, dating, sex, pregnancy, drugs, alcohol and homosexuality. The attitudes conveyed therein are pretty awesome, although I would also list this as the only real weakness, since, on some topics, it got a bit preachy. Pretty much every single character (except for the jerks and, in an isolated incident) express their absolute disdain and disgust with anyone who drinks ever. This makes sense with Dec's mother (whose father was an alcoholic) and Dec (whose mother was killed by a drunk driver), but seems a bit more unlikely for Neilly (she drank too much once and doesn't want to drink again, which is fine, but why does she abhor it so?).

Anyway, this was just really fun, quick and cute, so I highly recommend it!

"Brothers and sisters unite
It's the time of your lives
It's the time of your lives
Break down, break down
Gotta spread love around
Gotta spread it around"

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Main Titles - Rachel Portman (from Emma)

Why Jane Austen?

Author: Rachel M. Brownstein
Pages: 285
Publisher: Columbia University Press

Brief Summary:
Rachel M. Brownstein attempts to explain the current fascination with Jane Austen. Although not hugely successful in her own time (which is not to say that lots of people did not read her books then, but just that she was never a huge name during her lifetime), Jane Austen is now one of the most beloved and well-known authors in the world. What keeps bringing readers, like the author herself, back to Jane Austen?

In Why Jane Austen?, Brownstein successfully walks the line between readability and scholarship. She clearly discusses topics with an academic's eye, but the writing is not dense, difficult to understand or boring. There is some possibility that this book will be more meaningful to those who already have a familiarity with Jane Austen's work, but it could also be useful for those who have steered clear of her work but want a working knowledge of her works and life.

My only criticism of Why Jane Austen? is that it seems to wander away from the thesis quite a bit, with many of these wanderings not seeming to support the overall argument particularly. Really though, the overall question is never, to my mind, satisfactorily answered; Brownstein's explanation is essentially what my off the cuff answer would be if asked.

Why read it you may ask? Because above and beyond the so-called thrust of the novel, there is a ton of delightful literary analysis and historical information to enjoy. Reading through this academic publication is like nerding out over all of Austen's books at once (all of which I now really want to reread, even the dreary Mansfield Park).

I also love learning about some of the other authors of the time, such as Byron and Charlotte Smith. The discussion of the film versions, especially of Amy Heckerling's Clueless, were charming and made me look at them in a new light. I also now want to reread Ian McEwan's Atonement, even though it was a slog the first time; I never noticed the ties to Austen (and am not particularly sure from the summation how much I agree with that argument, which by the way has little to nothing to do with why we read Jane Austen) and am curious to see if I can find them, even though the novel was a painful, heart-wrenching slog the first time through.

If you love Jane Austen or nerding out over authors in general, this is a really great read. From an academic standpoint, Brownstein clearly knows what she is talking about and has compiled a useful collection of footnoted and references. Reading this could give you a good list of other works to use for a paper on 'dear Jane.'

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Sunday, July 3, 2011

Karma Police - Radiohead

The Fury Trilogy, Book 1

Author: Elizabeth Miles
Pages: 330
ARC Acquired from: S&S Galley Grab

Brief Summary:
Em and Chase are both part of the popular crowd at their school. They get invited to the right parties and wear the right clothes. Em has recently developed a serious crush on her best friend Gabby's boyfriend. Chase is poor but uses what the family has to fit in. He is constantly on the lookout for a hot girl to date, also to help his status (and to get some). When he meets the elusive Ty, he thinks his luck is on the rise. Of course, maybe not.

I was super excited to read Fury, even though I knew absolutely nothing about it. Why? The drool-worthy cover. Well, this isn't the first time a pretty cover has led me astray. At first, I thought the cover was a total liar. It suggests fantasy and there was nothing too overt for a long time. I saw it coming, but it wasn't very interesting to me.The fantasy elements really felt rather secondary.

The first couple hundred pages of this book are like reading Gossip Girl or some other series about spoiled rich kids being spoiled and rich and obnoxious. Ugh. I hated Em from the beginning, with her stabbing her best friend in the back and her constantly getting her nerdy friend who's in love with her to drive her to parties. Why don't you help your friend JD be popular rather than mostly only hanging out with him in private? Chase is worse with his constant focus on popularity and getting into girls' pants. Worst of all by far is Zack, the cheating man ho that needs to just gtfo.

The book did get a little bit better, but I never really cared. The plot and characters remained sub par. There just were not any people that I cared about at all. A lot of it was predictable, but there were a couple of twists that did manage to catch me by surprise. The story alternates between chapters from Em's point of view and chapters from Chase's. The ending of Fury suggests that a sequel is inevitable, but I do not much care. I wish she'd wrapped it up in one, because I definitely was not interested enough to want to read another book, even though there's mythology in it.

The best part of the book was the cover, at least for me. However, if you love stories about spoiled teens and their drama, along with some vengeance tales to boot, you'll probably love Fury.

"This is what you get."

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