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A Reader of Fictions: May 2013

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Friday, May 31, 2013

Review: Heart of Glass

Heart of Glass
Cross My Heart, Book 2

Author: Sasha Gould
Pages: 336
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Read: April 28-May 5, 2013
Source: YA Books Central for review

Description from Goodreads:
In a society of liars, who do you trust?

It is 1585 in Venice, and three months have passed since Laura della Scala solved her sister's murder after joining the Segreta, a powerful society of women who trade protection for secrets. Now Laura is engaged to her true love, Roberto, and she has never been happier. But the night Laura is sent on her first important mission for the Segreta, Roberto is found with the body of a dead woman in his room. Halim, an irresistibly handsome Turkish prince on a diplomatic visit to the city, identifies the woman as his sister and insists that Roberto be executed for her murder, or the Ottoman Empire will attack Venice. Laura is desperate to save both her city and her fiancé. But as the evidence against Roberto builds and Laura finds herself increasingly drawn to Halim, she begins to wonder whether everything Roberto told her was a lie. What Laura discovers is a conspiracy that involves nearly everyone she knows.

Previous Book in Series:
1: Cross My Heart

First Sentence: "I gaze down the length of the narrow blade at my enemy."

There are, to my mind, two basic kinds of historical fiction: those that endeavor to be historically accurate and those that really don't, merely using the lavish historical backdrop to entertain. Personally, I like both kinds. The only time the latter's not good is when it has pretensions to being history as well as historical fiction, and teaches readers a bunch of incorrect information. Heart of Glass falls into the latter camp, and, from what I can tell, the political maneuverings of the novel have no bearing on reality. However, it's also a fun, engaging story and written to uphold the power of women, so I really don't mind that I'm not learning Venetian history from its pages.

Sasha Gould built this series around an awesome historically inaccurate idea she had:Venice run behind the scenes by a secret society of women. While there may not be a historical basis for this, I am all kinds of behind this kind of alternative history endeavor. All throughout history, there have been women behind the scenes affecting the course of history through their husbands, but, here, Gould is bringing them together and making them a more independent force.

These women endeavor to keep rocky Venetian politics more stable and less affected by the changes in power. They aim to be more fair and to help Venice, rather than an individual's political aims. I love that the Segreta are shown as powerful in many ways: physically skilled with weaponry, clever, and influential. Laura herself is a perfect example of this, determined, caring and strong. I like that's actually intelligent and puts thought into her actions, not always reacting solely with emotion.

However, much as I love this uplifting of women, I did think that Laura was a bit too powerful. She's engaged to the Doge's son, so she is very high in society, but I still doubt that the male councillors would ask her opinion on things. Certainly they would not with a bunch of other men in the room. The amount that even men respect her at her tender age seems rather out of place.

The only other drawback for me was the villains. Much of the mystery is very obvious and the villains have no real motivations other than grasping for power or unclear revenge. I prefer there to be a bit more depth to a villain. They ought to be somewhat understandable at least, if not relatable. Heart of Glass could have been more nuanced and had a better impact were that the case.

Heart of Glass is engaging from beginning to end, and I never found myself bored or my attention wandering. It's a very quick read, and those who enjoyed Cross My Heart will certainly want to read this one as well. The ending left room for another book, and I suspect I'll be reading that one too!

Rating: 3/5

Favorite Quote: "'Would you have me silenced?' I demand. 'Or Emilia? Are you saying we don't deserve a voice because we wear dresses? For shame, brother. I thought better of you.'"

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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Review: Sight Reading

Sight Reading

Author: Daphne Kalotay
Pages: 324
Publisher: Harper
Read: May 25-28, 2013
Source: Publisher via TLC Book Tours

Description from Goodreads:
The critically acclaimed author of Russian Winter turns her "sure and suspenseful artistry" (Boston Globe) to the lives of three colleagues and lovers in the world of classical music in this elegant, beautifully composed novel.

On a Boston street one warm spring day after a long New England winter, Hazel and Remy spot each other for the first time in years. Under ordinary circumstances, this meeting might seem insignificant. But Remy, a gifted violinist, is married to the composer Nicholas Elko-once the love of Hazel's life.

It has been twenty years since Remy, a conservatory student whose ambition may outstrip her talent; Nicholas, a wunderkind suddenly struggling with a masterwork he cannot fully realize; and his wife, beautiful and fragile Hazel, first came together and tipped their collective world on its axis. Over the decades, each has buried disappointments and betrayals that now threaten to undermine their happiness. But as their entwined stories unfold from 1987 to 2007, from Europe to America, from conservatory life to the Boston Symphony Orchestra, each will discover the surprising ways in which the quest to create something real and true--be it a work of art or one's own life--can lead to the most personal of revelations, including the unearthing of secrets we keep, even from ourselves.

Lyrical and evocative, Sight Reading is ultimately an exploration of what makes a family, of the importance of art in daily life, and of the role of intuition in both the creative process and the evolution of the self.

First Sentence: "It was one of those easy May afternoons when everything, including the weather, seems to finally fall into place."

One of the reasons that I've become so taken with young adult fiction in recent years is the focus on coming of age, of finding oneself and accepting that person. Though young adults may grow and change more overtly, this is a lifelong process, and something universally relatable. Yet, somehow, adult fiction rarely focuses on these themes in a similar way, instead showing the way change affects adults through the lens of marital strife and infidelity. Sight Reading is just such a novel, detailing the various affairs of three adults. Though the book is beautifully written, I dislike stories about cheating, so I failed to love Sight Reading as much as Russian Winter.

Daphne Kalotay's prose is glorious. Her writing is the kind that I want to take in slowly, and I make slower progress through her books than I might otherwise, because I really like to chew on the words and appreciate the prose. Her novels feel powerful and meaningful, and have the sort of quotes I want to turn into art for my wall, if I were not too lazy and unartistic for such things.

The parts that focus on the music, too, are brilliant. I loved her descriptions of Nicholas composing and Remy playing the violin. She captures both the love, the suffering, and the boredom that come from their careers. Remy has a constant spot on her neck from her violin. Nicholas suffers from fear that he's no longer the composer he once was and that he'll never complete his symphony. Remy loses her passion for a while, playing by rote and no longer feeling the same drive. Through it all, though, music runs their lives and they could never do anything else, nor would they wish to. The passion, power, and beauty of music runs through the novel.

The big downside for me was that all of the rest focused on the affairs. Nicholas starts out married to Hazel, and they're established as very much in love, drawn to each other from the very beginning. Inevitably, though, he starts getting that itch when she leaves to support her mom during her father's decline in health, and takes up with his student, Remy. Wonderful.

Later on, there are even more affairs, and the behavior of all parties made it impossible for me to like any of them. I didn't feel like any of them really deserved marital happiness, except for Hazel, who I still took an immediate dislike to. At the end, everything resolves into this happily ever after for the couples, now in their fifties (forties for the younger Remy). No cheating story should end with a happily ever after in my opinion, or at least not with the couple still together. That is not my idea of romance or a happy life. That message really does disgust me.

Daphne Kalotay is massively talented, but I do wish she'd taken on some better subject matter than a series of tawdry affairs. Such plots are trite in adult fiction, and she didn't add anything new or satisfying to that framework. Sight Reading is still worth reading for the writing and the music, but it's not one I'll ever be revisiting.

Rating: 3/5

Favorite Quote: 
"'Even the grandest lives come down to a few people and places. Loved ones, your daily work, your neighborhood. I don't mean that in a belittling way. I've been realizing how complete our lives can be with just the few people and activities you most love.'"

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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Review: The End Games

The End Games

Author: T. Michael Martin
Pages: 384
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Read: May 2-4, 2013
Source: YA Books Central for Review

Description from Goodreads:
It happened on Halloween.

The world ended.

And a dangerous Game brought it back to life.

Seventeen-year-old Michael and his five-year-old brother, Patrick, have been battling monsters in The Game for weeks.

In the rural mountains of West Virginia, armed with only their rifle and their love for each other, the brothers follow Instructions from the mysterious Game Master. They spend their days searching for survivors, their nights fighting endless hordes of “Bellows”—creatures that roam the dark, roaring for flesh. And at this Game, Michael and Patrick are very good.

But The Game is changing.

The Bellows are evolving.

The Game Master is leading Michael and Patrick to other survivors—survivors who don’t play by the rules.

And the brothers will never be the same.

T. Michael Martin’s debut novel is a transcendent thriller filled with electrifying action, searing emotional insight, and unexpected romance.

First Sentence: "Michael awoke in the dark to the screams again."

Bear with me, please, because The End Games is one of those novels with a twist fairly early on that makes reviewing the book without spoilers difficult. Still, I shall endeavor to sum up my basic thoughts while not revealing anything not mentioned in the blurb. T. Michael Martin's debut is a very strange book in pretty much every way: the plot, the characters, and, most significantly, stylistically. All of this add up to distinguish the novel from other post-apocalyptics that take on the concept of an outbreak that turns human into monsters.

The End Games is a zombie novel, though the Bellows are certainly not like the average zombies, except that they too are best taken out with a head shot, and that they were once human. The Bellows manage to be eerier. Rather than moaning like zombies generally do, the Bellows are like echoes, repeating any words they hear in a long shout. Of course, this is nice since you can hear them coming, but also freaking scary when you realize they're surrounding your position, and, since they're so loud, they're probably going to draw more Bellows to your position. In case that's not bad enough, they're evolving into something much worse.

What I think Martin does best here is the horror aspect. The End Games is pretty frightening, offering gore, monsters, battles, and psychological terror. Michael, a teen, and his five year old brother, Patrick, are trying to survive, to find a Safe Zone with other survivors, in this hellish Game. Getting through an apocalypse on your own would be bad enough but with a kid in tow? Yikes! When they do finally encounter other people, it's very hard to know who to trust and who's crazy, including with the brothers. All of this kept me engaged and curious.

There's a strong focus on family in The End Games, which I greatly appreciate. Michael is an amazing brother. He takes such good care of Patrick, not resenting him for making survival more difficult. In fact, Michael needs Patrick just as much, because he has to keep it together for Patrick, keep hope and motivation.

T. Michael Martin uses a very interesting storytelling method. The End Games is written almost like a reality show about a particular character. The narration is third person limited, following Michael. However, the narrator seems at times to interact with Michael, adding to the video game feel of the tale in what is a slightly discomfiting but powerful technique. Here are some examples of that:
"Dang, she's so cool.
     Dang, don't think that.
     Dang, why?

     Because of on account of this being the most horrible time to get a crush on a girl.
     Oh. Right. Daaaang
"Keep going. You're scared, that's true, but."
In the first example, a lot of Martin's style is illustrated. Michael's thoughts are included throughout in italics, though whispers are as well and sometimes emphasis as shown here. Michael and a couple other characters speak in some sort of strange dialect and occasionally hold out words, like with that last "dang." You can also see the way the narrator just answered his question, and he in turn responded to that. Even more interesting, the narrator actually emulates Michael's way of speaking/thinking; the bulk of the narration is in standard American dialect. In the second, the narrator eggs Michael on, urging him not to give up in a desperate situation. While I do think this writing style is largely effective, it's very odd and will be disconcerting to some readers, especially the unidentifiable dialect used by the brothers.

Where The End Games left me cold was the characters. I don't care much about anyone. Of them all, Michael is the most likable, due to his sweet affection for his brother. However, Patrick actually creeps me out a lot. I kept expecting him to turn out to be some sort of new monster or something, because I found him that freaky. Spoiler: he's not. I couldn't care about the half-hearted romance or the deaths of any of the characters either. More time is spent on developing the creepiness than on the characters.

The End Games will be a great read for those who love horror tales, and new creepy monsters. Those who take an interest in unique storytelling will also want to check out this quirky debut.

Rating: 3/5

Favorite Quote: "Oh Nerd Joy, you are one of the things I miss most about the world Before."

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Monday, May 27, 2013

Review: When You Were Here

When You Were Here

Author: Daisy Whitney
Pages: 272
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: June 4, 2013
Read: April 22-May 27, 2013
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Description from Goodreads:
Filled with humor, raw emotion, a strong voice, and a brilliant dog named Sandy Koufax, When You Were Here explores the two most powerful forces known to man-death and love. Daisy Whitney brings her characters to life with a deft touch and resonating authenticity.

Danny's mother lost her five-year battle with cancer three weeks before his graduation-the one day that she was hanging on to see.

Now Danny is left alone, with only his memories, his dog, and his heart-breaking ex-girlfriend for company. He doesn't know how to figure out what to do with her estate, what to say for his Valedictorian speech, let alone how to live or be happy anymore.

When he gets a letter from his mom's property manager in Tokyo, where she had been going for treatment, it shows a side of his mother he never knew. So, with no other sense of direction, Danny travels to Tokyo to connect with his mother's memory and make sense of her final months, which seemed filled with more joy than Danny ever knew. There, among the cherry blossoms, temples, and crowds, and with the help of an almost-but-definitely-not Harijuku girl, he begins to see how it may not have been ancient magic or mystical treatment that kept his mother going. Perhaps, the secret of how to live lies in how she died.

First Sentence: "When someone you love has died, there is a certain grace period during which you can get away with murder."

First of all, I need to start with an explanation as to why it took me over a month to read a book that weighs in at less than 300 pages, since that is totally not the norm for me. This is a perfect example of why I prefer physical galleys. With e-galleys, I stick them on my Nook and read them whenever I'm away from home and have some free time for reading, but that doesn't necessarily happen to me all that often, really, so then it takes me about a month to read a single, short book. I mention this solely to say that it likely did have a negative impact on my reading experience. Perhaps, had I read this in a sitting or two, I would have liked it more than I actually did, and come closer to the feelings I expected to have.

I do think When You Were Here is an excellent book, well-written and meaningful. Daisy Whitney considers cancer in a way I've not encountered before. The focus is less on the disease itself but how Danny's mom lived with the disease. Whitney brings When You Were Here to a sweet, uplifting conclusion, but one that does not feel overly optimistic, rather real and hopeful.

My favorite parts were after Danny went to Japan to find out about his mom's life when she was there, after receiving a note from the caretaker of the family's apartment in Japan about the disposal of her almost unused medications. Curious about why she wasn't taking them, angry that she may not have been trying her hardest to live until his graduation like she always promised, he decides to fly to Japan spur of the moment. Those chapters where he explores Tokyo were beautiful and made me want to go there even more.

In Tokyo, he meets the caretaker's daughter, Kana, a couple years older than he is (just graduated from high school). Kana is the best, so unapologetically herself. She dresses as crazy as our stereotypes of Japan, wearing boots a drag queen would envy and things like that. If anyone gives her a hard time, she gives it back, even to hissing at them on the streets. Immediately, she befriends Danny, determines to help him find happiness and to find more of it herself, since she no longer loves Tokyo and he does. Their friendship grows quickly and its strong and delightful. He needs her, and meeting her is like a gift his mom left for him. I also just love that this is one of the only examples of a strong male-female friendship in fiction. There's no sexual tension or chance that they'll date. They love each other as friends and nothing more, even though both are single.

What kept me from loving this book were the main characters, Danny and Holland. Not only did I not connect with them, but I feel an active dislike for them. Whitney does a good job of establishing their flaws, but I'm not nearly as forgiving as the average person. When the reader meets Danny, he's as angsty as Nastya and Josh from The Sea of Tranquility, which, in case you haven't read that, means angsty as fuck. Now, he does have good reason to feel this angst: father years dead, adopted sister estranged from the family, dumped by the girlfriend he loves, and mother recently dead, not having lasted to his graduation. I do feel bad for him, but the self-destructive way he reacts to it in no way endears me to him. The only times I like Danny are when he is with or thinking about his dog, Sandy Koufax. His love for her is what keeps me from hating him entirely, proving that he's a good person.

Holland, on the other hand, has a whole subplot going on about her, but I can't go into details because they would be spoilery. Suffice it to say that I think she treated Danny abominably and stupidly. Again, it makes sense why she did, but I still think it was messed up and I can't just forgive her for that. I found her hugely irritating besides. Except for that one plot point, she's a total manicpixiedreamgirl, made of perfection. Adding a sappy plot to make her not perfect didn't fix that for me. Also, that plot is something I intentionally avoid; had I known about it, I never would have read When You Were Here, so much do I not like that subject matter. That's totally a personal thing, however, and don't let my own distaste scare you off, since trusted friends have been loving this.

All in all, When You Were Here is a beautiful novel, but one that I am not the ideal reader for. Though I do love darker contemporaries, I was not ready for another incredibly angsty character and I also feel distaste some of the subject matter. As I said, trusted friends have loved this, so don't write it off based solely on my opinions and my own personal biases.

Rating: 3/5

Favorite Quote: 
 "'Fuck high school. Fuck everyone. I'm outta here.'
     Let me tell you: You've never seen a standing ovation like that before."

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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Sadie Hawkins Sunday Review #14: Tatiana and Alexander

Tatiana and Alexander
Tatiana and Alexander, Book 2

Author: Paullina Simons
Pages: 576
Publisher: Avon
Read: May 17-20, 2013 
Source: Gifted
Recommended by: Lisa V.

Description from Goodreads:
The epic saga of love and war continues--the heart-stopping sequel to Paullina Simons's beloved international bestseller The Bronze Horseman.

Tatiana is eighteen years old, pregnant, and widowed when she escapes war-torn Leningrad to find a new life in America. But the ghosts of her past do not rest easily. She becomes consumed by the belief that her husband, Red Army officer Alexander Belov, is still alive and needs her desperately.

Meanwhile, oceans and continents away in the Soviet Union, Alexander barely escapes execution, and is forced to lead a battalion of soldiers considered expendable by the Soviet high command. Yet Alexander is determined to take his men through the ruins of Europe in one last desperate bid to escape Stalin's death machine and somehow find his way to Tatiana once again.

Previous Book in Series:
1: The Bronze Horseman

First Sentence: "Alexander Barrington stood in front of the mirror and adjusted his red Cub Scout tie."

Tatiana and Alexander did actually turn out to be a much stronger read for me than its predecessor, The Bronze Horseman. Rarely does a sequel improve upon the first book, so yay for that. While I slogged through book one, this one I read over the course of just a couple of days. Simons' trilogy takes a turn for the historical, rather than the romantic, which is just what I was wanting from this series from the start.

Of course, the reason I like this one so much better than The Bronze Horseman is that Tatiana and Alexander are kept apart for the bulk of it. Only in the last 100 pages are they together again, aside from some brief flashbacks that catch the reader up on the events of the first book (and, no, it's not in the least frustrating that an 800 page book can be summed up in a few quick flashbacks). My issues with Tatiana and Alexander's relationship were and are threefold: the idiotic love triangle (which is a non-issue now, but still taints my opinion of the two), the age difference (which isn't really all that large, but Tatiana was not mature for her age), and the way Alexander bosses Tatiana around. I'm sure his bossiness is typically Russian, and it's also what he witnessed from his parents, but I still think he's a dick, even if society taught him to behave that way.

However, as I said, they're hardly together in this one and that's a blessing, unless what you loved about book one was the romance, not the part about the siege; in that case, better luck with book three. Simons totally goes for a dramatic irony thing, with the reader knowing that he's alive and Tatiana believing Alexander died. Will she move on? Will she commit suicide out of despair, leaving her son an orphan? Sadly, the latter was much closer to transpiring. Yeah, I knew her husband was alive and that they would be reunited, but I kept hoping she would move on anyway, what with not shipping them in the slightest.

Aside from them, though, I pretty much loved everything else. Simons writes well, aside from her tendency to get all gooshy with the romance stuff. Where the story in The Bronze Horseman was entirely linear, Tatiana and Alexander jumps through time, from Tatiana to Alexander. We learn more about Alexander's childhood and follow him from his faked death until their reunion. Since the lovers are parted, the focus is on historical events, not melodrama.

Warning: This paragraph has spoilers:
With Alexander, Simons is able to cover torture sessions and the way the Soviets try to garner confessions, in which every option is a trap. From there, Alexander moves to a penal brigade, and the reader gets to witness just how poorly managed the Soviet forces were, sending men out to die senselessly. Later, Alexander fights along the front line with Germany, poorly armed and with the NKGB waiting behind to shoot him and his men should they retreat. Forced to surrender or die, his men are then sent to a concentration camp (Sachsenhausen) for having dared to let the enemy win. All of these things are true to the Soviet experience in WWII, and Simons does a good job depicting the bleakness.

With only one book left in this saga, I'm hoping for more historical fiction, but suspect that The Summer Garden will be romance, romance, romance. At any rate, with this one, I'm glad I've read the series, and tentatively excited to continue.

Rating: 3.5/5

Favorite Quote:
"'Does Hitler value your life?' asked Tatiana.
     'More than Stalin would. Hitler tries to heal us so he can send us back to the front, but Stalin doesn't even bother. He lets his men die and then sends fourteen-year-olds to the front. And then they die.'"

Up Next:
The next Sadie Hawkins Sunday book will be Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma! I've been curious to try Suma's books for ages, so thank you to Jenni of Alluring Reads for suggesting it. I can only hope I love it as much as Jenni did!

Want to tell me what to read? Fill out the following form with a suggestion! For more details, check this post.

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Saturday, May 25, 2013

On My New Arrivals Shelf (57)

Bloggers Mentioned:

For Review:
Horde (Razorland #3) - Ann Aguirre
The Planet Thieves - Dan Krokos {my review}
Tarnished (Silver #2) -Rhiannon Held

The Girl from Felony Bay - J.E. Thompson

Crazy - Amy Reed

*Thanks to MacKids and Tor Teen for the pretties!*


Friday, May 24, 2013

Review: The Planet Thieves

The Planet Thieves

Author: Dan Krokos
Pages: 256
Publisher: Starscape
Read: May 19-24, 2013
Source: Publisher for review

Description from Goodreads:
The Planet Thieves is the first thrilling installment of a new middle-grade series by Dan Krokos.

Two weeks ago, thirteen-year-old Mason Stark and seventeen of his fellow cadets from the Academy for Earth Space Command boarded the SS Egypt. The trip was supposed to be a short routine voyage to log their required spacetime for summer quarter.

But routine goes out the airlock when they’re attacked by the Tremist, an alien race who have been at war with humanity for the last sixty years.

With the captain and crew dead, injured, or taken prisoner, Mason and the cadets are all that’s left to warn the ESC. And soon they find out exactly why the Tremist chose this ship to attack: the Egypt is carrying a weapon that could change the war forever.

Now Mason will have to lead the cadets in a daring assault to take back the ship, rescue the survivors, and recover the weapon. Before there isn’t a war left to fight.

First Sentence: "The prank Mason Stark pulled on his sister was doomed from the beginning."

Though marketed as a middle grade novel, do not let the age of the protagonists scare you away if you're an older reader. Krokos' sophomore novel is well-written and does not speak down to the audience. I loved Krokos' debut, False Memory, and he's hit it out of the park once again. The Planet Thieves is funny, full of adventure, and packed with delightful characters.

Novels for children and teens are full of absent parents and authority figures. This construct allows for young people to feel empowered, the weight of the world on their shoulders. Only these kids can save the day and all that. Well, Krokos does use this basic plot structure. At the beginning of The Planet Thieves, the SS Egypt is attacked by humanity's enemy, the Tremist. All of the adults on the ship but one are captured or killed, leaving the cadets, thirteen and under to save the day.

Krokos does a great job making this believable. Though the cadets are young, they are by no means out of their element entirely. They've already been in training for years, and have the skill sets they need to perform the tasks they need to, though they may not be as good as the adults yet. Also, they don't come by anything too easily. They suffer injuries, frequently consider giving up and waiting for adults to handle everything, and are stressed rather than excited by the roles they find themselves in.

That said, the cadets really rise to the occasion. The one remaining adult on the Egypt is injured, so he names Mason captain, which ends up being a great choice. Mason isn't the most talented or brilliant of the trainees, but he's creative, something he'd ill-advisedly shown in his pranks. Rather than ever giving up, his mind is always churning for solutions, and most of his ideas turn out to be good ones, though some do go awry.

The characters are likable and exhibit complexities. For example, the friendships between these cadets are tentative, so they also have to work to trust one another implicitly while facing odds they never should have been left alone to face. The villains too are much more complex than in most books for younger readers. They're not left as monsters out to destroy for the fun of it, and I love when authors take the time to establish motivations and shades of grey in the actions of the antagonists.

Another aspect that makes this book a delight are all of the references. Science fiction nerds will likely pick out even more than I did, as I'm not nearly as well read as I would like to be. Most overt perhaps are references to Star Wars and Star Trek. However, though there are cute allusions, the overall story was fresh and original.

The ending leaves space open for more books in this world, and I, for one, would be excited to read more. I'd love to find out more about Mason and Merrin, especially. Dan Krokos' The Planet Thieves is a novel that lovers of science fiction will not want to miss, whatever their age!

Rating: 4/5

Favorite Quote: "'For the love of cake . . .'"

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Review: Reboot

Reboot, Book 1

Author: Amy Tintera
Narrator: Khristine Hvam
Duration: 8 hrs, 42 mins
Publisher: Harper Audio
Source: Publisher for review

Description from Goodreads:
Five years ago, Wren Connolly was shot three times in the chest. After 178 minutes, she came back as a Reboot: stronger, faster, able to heal, and less emotional. The longer Reboots are dead, the less human they are when they return. Wren 178 is the deadliest Reboot in the Republic of Texas. Now seventeen years old, she serves as a soldier for HARC (Human Advancement and Repopulation Corporation).

Wren's favorite part of the job is training new Reboots, but her latest newbie—Callum Reyes—is the worst she's ever seen. As a 22, Callum is practically human. His reflexes are too slow, he's always asking questions, and his ever-present smile is freaking her out. Yet he's still her newbie. When Callum refuses to follow an order, Wren is given one last chance to get him in line—or she'll have to eliminate him. Wren has never disobeyed before and knows that if she does, she'll be eliminated, too. But she has also never felt as alive as she does around Callum.

The perfect soldier is done taking orders.

Reviews for Reboot have been all over the place, which basically meant I had to try it and see for myself. Ultimately, I'm sort of in the middle. Reboot's a lot of fun, especially in the first half, but also still fairly old hat for dystopian scenarios. I'm definitely glad to have read it, but I didn't love it either.

Why Did I Read This Book?
As I mentioned, curiosity. Sometimes, I'm more tempted to read books that get 1 star ratings from some and 4 from others than those that get a consistent 3 stars. I just have to know for myself what book has generated such disparate responses. Seriously, I was reading reviews and adding, removing, adding, removing, adding this book on Goodreads. It was ridiculous. The audio seemed like a good choice, because action books from first perspective often translate pretty well.

What's the Story Here?
In a post-apocalyptic world where all that remains of the US is Texas, a dystopian government has arisen in the form of HARC, a corporation that controls all of the things. Freaking corporations. Currently, if I had to guess a company that would become the dystopian overlord of us all, I would say Amazon, but maybe that's just because they keep buying up the book world. *side-eyes* As with so many dystopian/post-apocalyptic novels, there's a disease, which causes people to reboot. Basically, they're zombies, only they're hot (like vampires, they're themselves but with perfect skin and hair and bright eyes) and super strong and don't eat people. The reboots are known by their numbers, which are how long they were dead before they rose, with the larger numbers being the strongest and least human. Wren is 178, and she does everything by the book until a 22 disrupts her regimented life.

How are the Characters?
Okay, so I really liked the first part where Wren was all queen of the reboots and stuff. Unlike some ya assassins, Wren really does kill people and she even does so in front of the reader. On top of that, she likes killing, and doesn't even feel guilty about it. People are worthless to her, and she'd rather kill a human than look at it. Callum, the 22, is the only other well-developed character, and he's basically the opposite of Wren. Where she's the perfect soldier and very serious, he's happy and doesn't want to hurt a fly. In fact, even eating meat makes him sort of uncomfortable. I liked Callum consistently, but I loved Wren the bitchy reboot from the beginning of the book most of all.

And the Romance?
Here's the caveat. I just was not really feeling their romance. For me, it would have been more compelling if she hadn't been so interested in him right out of the gate. She's all like "omg, he's not afraid of me," and gets interested in him so quickly, which was necessary for the plot, but didn't really seem like Wren as established. Also, she goes from no emotions to ALL OF THE EMOTIONS. It just felt really sudden. She's this hardcore badass until she gets to know Callum and then she's blushing, gasping, and jumping at people's touches. Yes, she does have feelings, and I totally get that, but, from the glimpses showed of her past, I really doubt she's that demonstrative of a person at the best of times. I just never felt like Wren would be so lovey-dovey, even when she's in love. Basically, all of the things that happened with the romance made me roll my eyes. However, I do love the dynamics of the relationship, and how she is the strong one and he's the one who has to be saved. Then again, that would have been more powerful if the role reversal had been continued; she can love him and still be a cool, stern badass most of the time. When it came to the gushy stuff, she was all melty and blushing, and he was cocky and in control. I would have liked to see her more dominant and consistently-characterized all around. Oh, I will say, though, that Wren does continue to want to kill the humans, so that was good at least.

Am I Going to Continue with the Series?
Though the plot sort of let me unenthused, I do plan to continue. It's not that I thought the plot of trying to get away from the evil corporation was bad, but it's been done a lot, and it's not my preferred story arc for something like this. Still, I'm engaged enough with the characters and story to want to know what happens next.

How was the Narration?
For the most part, Hvam does an awesome job with Reboot. She keeps her voice pretty measured and it really fits with Wren. Hvam's voice is girlish enough to fit with Wren's sort of outward appearance of sweetness but full of mettle too. She does a nice job differentiating the characters, even though she does not go all out with the voices. The one thing I did not like is that, with audio, dialog tags really stand out. This book has "I said" and "he said" all over the place, and Hvam really emphasized them, and I groaned every time it happened again.

Sum It Up with a GIF:

Rating: 3/5

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Where the Eff is Cover Snark?

For the forthcoming fortnight, things will be a bit up in the air here at A Reader of Fictions. I announced this on Twitter, but there will be no Cover Snark for the next two weeks. With BEA prep and then BEA, I just do not have the time to prepare the post, since it takes hours. However, BEA will be back on the first Thursday in June. If you have any opinions on whether you want me to try to recap the missed weeks or just cover that week as usual, let me know in the comments.

While I'm at BEA, there will be reviews going up, but I'm not sure how much time I'll have to comment and so forth. I will do what I can, and I appreciate your patience! You can bet I will be back to my usual schedule once I'm back home:

In the meantime, I'm leaving for New York City on Saturday. I'll spend the first half of the week with my only true friend from my high school. Not really sure what we'll be doing, but it will undoubtedly be awesome. What's my goal?

Okay, not really, because I'm me, but I'll try to be slightly less boring than usual. Then on Wednesday, I leave her and meet up with a bunch of wonderful bloggers, like Steph of Cuddlebuggery, Kara of Great Imaginations, Giselle of Xpresso Reads, and Micheline of Lunar-Rainbows. I AM SO EXCITED TO MAKE THESE INTERNET FRIENDS IRL FRIENDS.

Hope you're all still here when I get back, because I love interacting with you all, so please forgive me for taking a pseudo-vacation from blogging. I'm not taking my laptop, so my ability to blog will be pretty limited. I will miss you all!


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

"Just a Book"

Yesterday, I came across several instances of "just a book," which really got me thinking and, admittedly, ranting. Referring to something as "just a book" is incredibly dismissive, something that I'm used to hearing from people who don't read, but that breaks my heart to hear from a bookworm like myself.

I'm going to paraphrase what I saw, just as examples. I don't want to call out anyone specific, but more to consider why these phrases put my on edge.
1: An author, asked about the next writing project: "Just another YA book."
2: A Goodreads user: "This is just a dystopia/science fiction, so there's no reason to look at it with a critical lens."
3: A Goodreads user in response to a somewhat negative status update: "It's just a book; I think you're taking it too seriously."

If you're spending all of this time reading and interacting with a community of readers, perhaps blogging, why do you feel the need to lessen the importance of books. Even if the book has little to no intellectual value, you're reading it for a reason. Emotional uplifting, like the happy buzz a romance novel might bring or the enjoyment of puzzling out a cozy mystery, alone is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, the whole "just a book" thing seems to relegate reading to the position of a guilty pleasure.

Though I admit that I do enjoy the phrase guilty pleasure, and do still sort of like to use it, I don't actually believe that you should feel any guilt about the books you choose to read. I might term something like Anna Godbersen's Luxe series a guilty pleasure of mine, but I'm not actually embarrassed to admit that I had a blast reading them. I've sort of switched to calling them candy or potato chip reads: they may not be your bookish sustenance, but you just can't stop eating them.

Don't feel guilt about what you're reading and don't feel like you need to put down your own hobby. Books are important, and, in most situations, there's no cause to say "oh, it's just a book." I mean, sure, I can think of a few scenarios I might say it, but they're going to be exceptions. For example: if I were crying about a book and called a friend who was crying because of a family crisis, and then asked why I was sad, I might mumble something about 'just a book.' Sure, relative to certain things, just a book has valid meaning. However, when talking to other bookish people about nothing but books, there seems little reason to put them or yourself down for putting a lot of meaning in books.

Referring again to those examples up above, I would like to respond to each one with why I think such comments are poisonous to the atmosphere of the book blogging/GR world.

Scenario 1: In this case, the comment comes across as denigrating YA, rather than books as a whole. Where the author could have replied enthusiastically with "Another YA book!" instead this person put down their own work and the age group that it serves, as though YA is somehow lesser. Perhaps this person has goals to eventually write literary fiction for adults, or maybe they merely failed to think through the connotation of their statement. My point is that a phrase like that is harmful, and may have negative connotations you should consider. And, if an author truly does think it's just another YA book, and that that's a bit shameful, then they should probably be writing for the audience they value. Again, I'm not trying to make a commentary on the specific author, because tone is hard to read over the internet, especially in such a brief context; I don't know the author's motivations or thought processes, and speak solely to how it reads to me.

Scenario 2: Here again, we see a comment that puts down a specific genre. Speculative fiction is just that, asking a 'what if?', so the authors can pretty much do what they want and shouldn't be criticized for a poor portrayal of the way something works in the real world. With this case, there was no mistaking tone or intent. Honestly, I'm very sad that anyone would feel this way. All fiction is a reflection on the world we live in, no matter how original or disparate it may appear. We know nothing but the real world, and, if you think about it broadly, authors can only write what they know. Yes, we have powerful imaginations, but the creations therefrom are still reflecting on something real that's been observed and portraying it differently or combining things into something new, like someone looked at a horse, added bird wings, and imagined the pegasus. Any sort of fiction merits analysis, I think, and if you think so little of the genre you're reading that it shouldn't be held to a set of standards, then why are you reading it? Sure, there are books that go better for me if I can sort of 'turn my brain off' as it were, suspending my disbelief, but I would never make such comments about a genre as a whole. I believe that there are brilliant novels in every genre, even romance and erotica, which I cite not to personally insult them, but because they are oft-picked-on as being mindless entertainment/guilty pleasures. Just because something is entertaining or because it's set in a fantasy world doesn't mean it is without literary merit or that it should not be criticized for poorly interpreting our world. We readers can read however we want. That's our prerogative and we're not doing anything wrong.

Scenario 3: My problems with this one are myriad. Like the others, it's dismissive, and here it's insulting books as a whole. Like with the second scenario I witnessed, we have this idea that books should not be analyzed too closely. Of course, the context here was a status update commenting about how a certain phrase was offensive and made the reader uncomfortable. What are the odds that the "just a book" person would have felt moved to make the comment about the reader taking the book "too seriously" had it been an effusive status update declaring some quote from the book to be the best ever? Pretty much nil.

This attitude is pretty pervasive with regards to negative reviews and status updates. When book reviewers write these, we're accused of taking the book "too seriously," of not remember that it's fiction or "just a book." We're told we've read wrong, being too critical, too nit-picky, expecting too much from some words on a paper. Yet, when we praise a book to the skies, including quotes that made us want to be best friends with the character/author, where are the dismissive hordes, saying that we've taken the book "too seriously"? Now, believe me, I'm not suggesting trolls should hop onto positive reviews right now, but that people look at this from another angle to recognize the hypocrisy. Putting down personal opinions and reactions to a negative book devalues book reviewing as whole; such comments beg questions of which these individuals seem altogether unaware.

I don't know how it is for everyone else, but for me BOOKS MATTER. I'm not remotely ashamed that I read 367 books last year, and that I've read over 120 so far this year. To me, that time is well spent, even with the books I hated or the ones I was bored by. Sure, I might wish I'd read something else, but I'm glad that time was spent reading. I'm not embarrassed that I spend most of my day with my mind on fiction, whether reading, reviewing, twittering, GRing, or doing something else entirely while thinking about books.

Though, unlike some, I can't necessarily cite a specific book that had a monumental impact on my life, changed me as a person, I do think every single book I read plays into making me a better person. Looking at them critically, figuring out what I love and hate in characters and writing helps me decide what kind of person I want to be and techniques I might want to avoid or employ in my own writing. Even from the most facile novel, there are lessons to be learned, even if they're not factual. Books inspire me, they uplift me, they give me hope, they teach me, they thrill me, and they get me out of my own brain to see what life might be like from someone else's perspective, helping me with empathy, something I'm not good at by nature. Even if I can't point to a single book and say "That book made me who I am today," I can say that about the thousands of books I've read to date.

It's not "just a book" to me and it never will be.

*What do you guys think? Have you seen this phrase around? How do you feel about it? Can you point to a specific book that changed your life?*


Review + Giveaway: The Boyfriend App

The Boyfriend App

Author: Katie Sise
Pages: 320
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Read: May 1-3, 2013
Source: YA Books Central for review

Description from Goodreads:
In The Boyfriend App by Katie Sise, super-smart, somewhat geeky Audrey McCarthy can’t wait to get out of high school. Her father’s death and the transformation of her one-time BFF, Blake Dawkins, into her worst nightmare have her longing for the new start college will bring.

But college takes money. So Audrey decides she has to win the competition for the best app designed by a high schooler—and the $200,000 that comes with it. She develops something she calls the Boyfriend App, and suddenly she’s the talk of the school and getting kissed by the hottest boys around. But can the Boyfriend App bring Audrey true love?

First Sentence: "It was lunchtime in the social battleground better known as Harrison's upperclassmen cafeteria, and I was staring at Aidan Bailey."

Guys, I am writing this as a zombie blogger, because I died of cute. Seriously, this book is so fun and sweet and humorous and delightful. I picked The Boyfriend App at just the right time, when I was in the mood for a lighter read, for a contemporary novel, and this hit the spot so perfectly. To me, the best books are the ones that can make me feel, and The Boyfriend App delivered, making me actually laugh aloud and grin like an idiot pretty much the whole way through. As I sit here writing this, I still have the foolish grin on my face, because this book is that adorable.

For those who don't know, my day job involves working at a software company, so I hear a lot of talk about programming and apps and all of this stuff. I feel so brilliant when I understand those conversations, and that was a fun aspect of The Boyfriend App. It doesn't get super technical, but one of my best friends is super into app design and hearing all of the ideas and seeing the passion these kids have is so uplifting. Also, it's awesome that there's such a focus on technology in The Boyfriend App, because fiction tends to lag behind on the technological curve, but everything in here is very timely.

Audrey McCarthy loves hacking and programming, taught by her father, who perished in a mysterious accident, for which he was, likely, wrongfully blamed. Audrey and her mother, who is a lunch lady at her school, struggle to make ends meet. Unable to keep herself in the latest fashions, Audrey's not popular at school, but she's totally okay with that, because she has some of the best friends ever, insultingly referred to as "trogs" by her ex-best friend Blake and her cronies.

The characters in The Boyfriend App really shine. Of course, I've got a weak spot for geeky bands of misfits. I love how diverse the kids in this group and in the school as a whole are; this felt a lot more like my high school than most of the ones depicted in YA fiction. Going off on a slight tangent, Sise not only includes characters of various diversities, but she's also not hetero-normative, referencing both lesbian and gay couples.

Anyway, back to Audrey's little group. Nigit and Aidan are programmers like Audrey, and she's crushing on Aidan hard secretly. Mindy, though lovely, is teased mercilessly for her speech impediment. Lindsay, Audrey's cousin, is a fashionista who runs an enormously popular fashion blog. The dialog between all of them is so realistic and engaging. They all feel so real to me. Plus, they're so supportive of one another, and I love seeing a young adult novel with such a strong depiction of friendship, and one where it's a group and not a singular best friend is even rarer.

Okay, so the plot of The Boyfriend App is that Public, a technology company that's totally a parody of Apple runs a contest for high school students to design an app. The two winners will receive $200,000, and Audrey wants to win badly, because this is her only chance to go to a good school and not leave seriously in debt, since she and her mother have a total of $2000 dollars saved. Audrey designs this app intended to help girls find boyfriends, and hijinks totally ensue. There's this one scene in the cafeteria that just killed me, thus why I'm now a zombie. It's over the top in just the right way. Just don't take this book too seriously, because this is comedy and it is good.

At the very end, the book does go in a slightly weird direction. Yes, Sise makes it work, but the plot felt a bit more meandering once the app contest ended. Though a bit more trite of an ending, closing shortly after the announcement might have been more effective, since things got a trifle too serious for the tone thereafter. I also have a few questions about how the Boyfriend App gets information on boys, and a few other niggling questions like that about the app, but that's totally not the point, so I'm going to try to tell my nit-picky self to shut the hell up.

With a sweet romance, laugh out loud humor, and lots and lots of kissing, Katie Sise's The Boyfriend App is a must read for fans of light contemporary fiction. With such a strong debut, you can bet I'll be reading whatever Sise writes next!

Rating: 4.5/5

Favorite Quote: "I wished I could be meaner. Because there were so many options."

Follow the instructions on the Rafflecopter. Prize will be shipped from Amazon or TBD, depending on where the winner lives. 

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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Review: Sky on Fire

Sky on Fire
Monument 14, Book 2

Author: Emmy Laybourne
Pages: 288
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication Date: May 28, 2013
Read: May 18-19, 2013
Source: Publisher

Description from Goodreads:
The world hasn't ended...yet.

In this sequel to MONUMENT 14, the group of survivors, originally trapped together in a superstore by a series of escalating disasters, has split in two. Most of the kids are making a desperate run on their recently repaired school bus for the Denver airport where they hope to reunite with their parents, be evacuated to safety, and save their dying friend.

But the world outside is dark and filled with dangerous chemicals that turn people into bloodthirsty monsters, and not all the kids were willing to get on the bus. Left behind in a sanctuary that has already been disturbed once, the remaining kids try to rebuild the community they lost. But when the issues are life and death, love and hate, who can you really trust?

Previous Book in Series:
1: Monument 14

First Sentence: "To whoever finds this: here's a math problem for you."

If I reviewed this book with just one word, that word would be UGH. Honestly, I enjoyed Monument 14 when I read it last year. I'm not sure whether it's actually better than Sky on Fire or if, because of my monumental reading challenge, I was just happy to read something so fast-paced. Either way, Sky on Fire is just sad. I hate making such a pronouncement, but the quality of the writing, the flat characters, and the discomfiting portrayal of women combined to make this a horrid read for me.

Warning: There will be spoilers all up in this bitch.

On the plus side, Sky on Fire probably only took about an hour of reading time all told. It's just 210 pages, so it flies by. Its brevity is the big selling point. The other positive I can offer for Laybourne's series is that the world building does have promise. I like that the world really does seem pretty fucked, and that she's willing to kill off characters; I would like it more if she killed off all of them. The idea of an airborne toxin affecting different blood types in varying ways is interesting too. Unfortunately, a good idea didn't help much, since I hated the plot, writing and characters.

We'll start with the characters. I've read two books in this series now and have yet to see any character development. Things happen and the kids do change somewhat, but not for any discernible reason. Shit just happens. For example, Astrid, pregnant and the object of Dean's affections, tells him that it was nice of him to stay with her in the store, but that she won't have sex with him. Nothing really changes, but they have sex either that day or the next day and suddenly she likes him. Apparently this nerdy virgin who had no experience whatsoever before must have been a mind-blowing lay. *rolls eyes* So, yeah, Astrid changed, but there was nothing to explain why she supposedly likes Dean rather than Jake.

Or, how about this? At the end of the first book, we learned of Astrid's pregnancy. This was my first really bright red flag in the series, but I still wanted to give book two a try. How terrible is it to be a pregnant teenager? Pretty awful in most circumstances. How about if there are no doctors around to help with the birthing? That's definitely worse. And what if you're in the middle of an apocalypse? Worst time ever to have a kid. This is pretty much fact. Yet, somehow, both Jake and Astrid are OVERJOYED at the fact that they will be bringing spawn into the world. No. Yes, these kids are idiots, but, fuck, even they should realize that this is the worst fucking thing that could be happening.

Let's talk about the girls in this book. The way they are portrayed makes me very uncomfortable. The strongest girl in the book is Astrid, pregnant in the middle of the apocalypse. She does actually help save them. Yay! But she's also in the middle of an asinine love triangle and apparently wants to be with whichever guy had sex with her last. So . . . less cool. Then there's Sahalia, who does nothing but cry and have guys attempt to rape her. She's also thirteen. The younger ones serve no purpose to the plot. Oh, there's another girl who's used as a hostage. And another one who does save the group on the bus a couple of times, but then always runs off crying and I'm pretty sure gets left behind entirely, though they're going to go get her in book three. Still, they freaking fly off to fucking Canada and leave her. This is how much women matter.

The writing drove me bonkers. It's repetitive and redundant, like my description. The sentences are simple, especially in Alex's sections. The narration is split between brothers Dean and Alex, as they group has split into two. Alex's notes are monotonous. I don't know how something non-verbal can be monotonous, but this is. Simple sentences with few two or more syllable words. "We did this. We did that." down to mundane details that have nothing to do with the overall plot. Both brothers seem to be writing journals of some sort, but it's unclear when they're writing them. The bottoms of each page indicate the time or location of the entry, but they sometimes reference things the characters don't know yet, like they're being compiled much later. For example, Dean mentions that the smoke kept the toxins in the air from affecting them though they didn't know that yet. That's something they couldn't have learned until at least the last few chapters, but that was in the middle of the book.

Speaking of smoking, that plot element may have disgusted me more than the sexism. Apparently cigarette smoke clears the air of the dangerous elements. Yay! Children, cigarettes are good for you. Was this book endorsed by Marlboro or something? Ugh. There are so many other things that could have been used to clear the air, like incense or candles. It really had to be fucking cigarettes? This sends an awesome message to children.

In no way can I endorse this book. It's certainly not a good choice for a reader like me. I suspect Laybourne is trying to target reluctant readers, but easy-to-read writing can be better than this. However, if you can look past flat, unlikable characters and questionable messages, then maybe you'll like this series. Every book works for someone, right? All I know is that no force in the 'verse could make me read any more.

Rating: .5/5

Favorite Quote: "'I'm too damn old for this nonsense.'"

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Monday, May 20, 2013

Audiobook Review: Maya's Notebook

Maya's Notebook

Author: Isabel Allende
Narrator: Maria Cabezas
Duration: 14 hrs 40 mins
Publisher: Harper Audio
Read: May 10-18, 2013
Source: Publisher for review

Description from Goodreads:
Neglected by her parents, 19-year-old Maya Nidal has grown up in Berkeley with her grandparents. Her grandmother Nini is a force of nature, a woman whose formidable strength helped her build a new life after emigrating from Chile in 1973. Popo, Maya's grandfather, is a gentle man whose solid, comforting presence helps calm the turbulence of Maya's adolescence.

When Popo dies of cancer, Maya goes completely off the rails, turning to drugs, alcohol, and petty crime in a downward spiral that eventually bottoms out in Las Vegas. Lost in a dangerous underworld, she is caught in the cross­hairs of warring forces. Her one chance for survival is Nini, who helps her escape to a remote island off the coast of Chile. Here Maya tries to make sense of the past, unravels mysterious truths about life and about her family, and embarks on her greatest adventure: The journey into her own soul.

Wow, so this was my first experience with Isabel Allende and it was not what I was expecting at all. I'm not sure what I was expecting exactly, just that it wasn't this. Also, just fyi, let's just put a big ol' trigger warning all over this book for pretty much every trigger ever.

Why Did I Read This Book?
I'd run out of audiobooks for review and selecting them on my own takes forever, and this showed up in a newsletter. I've been curious about Allende for a while, thus why I own several of her books (*side-eyes*), and this seemed as good a place to start as any. Plus, I've discovered that I generally love books about dark subject matter and this did sure sound dark.

What's the Story Here?
Nineteen year old Maya Nidal has been sent by her grandma to a small Chilean island to escape some tragic past and possibly pursuers. The story follows two timelines, Maya's past and her present, until the past catches up to where the book started. What unravels is a tale of how Maya made pretty much every wrong decision it was possible to make. Seriously, she does drugs, is an alcoholic, gets raped (this isn't a decision, but getting into a truck with a sketchy trucker after escaping from rehab may not have been the wisest course), joins the underworld and sells drugs so she can earn drugs, pisses off people in the underworld, and then, living on the street, prostitutes herself to obtain money for drugs. The point of the book is that the Chilean island, the name of which I don't know how to spell because audio, opens her up and lets her live again.

What Did I Think Was Missing?
Maya's emotional arc didn't really work for me. We're spared most of her struggle of recovery from addiction. There's some mention of it, but not enough. Recovering from addictions to crack and alcohol is a painful process and she doesn't seem to suffer all that much. In Chile, people regularly drink in front of her and it seems hardly to tempt her, though she does know better than to drink anything herself. From what I've heard, most alcoholics can't handle that. Seeing that she will be dealing with those unhealthy urges forever would have been a more powerful statement, I think. She just seemed to get over it all way too easily.

How are the Characters?
Mostly, they're all terrible people. The rest, like Maya, her grandmother, and Manuel, who Maya stays with in Chile, are on the border between likable and unlikable. I will say that Allende does give them all distinct personalities and they do feel like real people, so points for characterization. However, they're just not people I particularly want to get to know. This was sort of like listening to a radio drama of some super dark soap opera or something. On the one hand, you can't stop listening because you want to know what happens next, but it was also melodramatic like whoa.

And the Romance?
Lol, okay, so this part I did like. Maya's this girl who's been through pretty much everything life has to offer. She's seen and done a lot. Anyway, this guy, Daniel, comes to the island and she sees him and hearts pop out of her eyes like in an anime. The moment she sees him she's like "this is the man I'm going to marry," because her feelings on seeing him reminded of the story of how her grandma met her beloved grandpa. She instaloves all over Daniel, which would be irritating, except that it totally pans out like most actual teen instalove would: a big, huge, awkward dumping. After it happens, Maya's all "this is the worst thing that has ever happened to me," and I was all "trololol." This was basically the comic relief of the piece.

How was the Narration?
Maria Cabezas definitely makes a convincing Maya. She reads with just the slightest accent, like her time in Chile has rubbed off on her. Her voice conveys both Maya's gruffness and youth, and she was just really well-suited to the character. I'm glad I tried this on audio, because I would have DNFed the print really quickly.

Sum It Up with a GIF:

Rating: 2.5/5

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Sunday, May 19, 2013

Sadie Hawkins Sunday Review #13: Angelfall

Penryn & the End of Days, Book 1

Author: Susan Ee
Pages: 254
Publisher: Amazon Children's Publishing
Source: Purchased
Recommended by: Steph of Cuddlebuggery

Description from Goodreads:
It's been six weeks since angels of the apocalypse descended to demolish the modern world. Street gangs rule the day while fear and superstition rule the night. When warrior angels fly away with a helpless little girl, her seventeen-year-old sister Penryn will do anything to get her back.

Anything, including making a deal with an enemy angel.

Raffe is a warrior who lies broken and wingless on the street. After eons of fighting his own battles, he finds himself being rescued from a desperate situation by a half-starved teenage girl.

Traveling through a dark and twisted Northern California, they have only each other to rely on for survival. Together, they journey toward the angels' stronghold in San Francisco where she'll risk everything to rescue her sister and he'll put himself at the mercy of his greatest enemies for the chance to be made whole again.

First Sentence: "Ironically, since the attacks, the sunsets have been glorious."

Right now, I am so happy with myself for coming up with this feature. Keep suggesting all of the wonderful books to me, you beautiful people. I'm riding high on two awesome suggestions in a row. *basks in the glory of good books*

I'm going to warn you up front that the awesomeness of this book makes me want to swear, and I believe in being true to my reactions to books, so if you can't handle a foul-mouthed review, this is not your day for my reviews.

Obviously, I've heard tell of Susan Ee's Angelfall. I mean, heck, the average rating among my friends on Goodreads is an almost unheard of 4.45, since I tend to befriend the pickier side of the internet. That's not just based on a couple of reviews either, but over thirty. Such things do not happen often. Oftentimes such hype can end in disappointment, but I am thrilled to announce that Angelfall is still badass, more than I could have anticipated.

Susan Ee's post-apocalyptic landscape is horrifying on just about every level and I love it so much. Like with so many, humans are scattered and suffering, surviving off of whatever they can scrounge up in houses and stores. Humanity's doomed whether they deal with the attackers or not, because agriculture's sort of important, yo. Also like a number of other post-apocalyptic scenarios, our heroine, Penryn is with helpless family to protect: her crippled little sister and her batshit insane mother. So, basically, she's fucked. Some people might want to cut and run, knowing their chances of survival were better alone, but Penryn loves her sister Paige and her mom, broken though they are in different ways.

The attack that happened? Yeah, that was motherfucking angels. Pretty intense, no? Susan Ee takes the whole Christian angel mythology and does something totally awesome and horrific with it. I would like to give her a fistbump for this. These angels definitely have more of a scary Old Testament flair, and, based on their actions, if they are controlled by a god, he's not too pleased with humanity. How incredibly creepy would that  be to realize your religion was both right and wrong? Oh, look, here come the angels down from Heaven to take the good people . . . and kill them in nasty ways. Only, not so much just the good people but all of the people. Pardon me while I evil laugh at how bitching this is.

As the book opens, Penryn, her mother, and her sister stumble across this like angel showdown. This angel with white wings is getting beat down by a whole bunch of angels with colored wings, even though white winged dude is obviously strongest. How often does a series open with the romantic lead getting the shit beat out of him and his fucking wings chopped off? Not often, and I dig it. I love to see strong characters not win every fight. If they don't, everything comes too easily and there's no big emotional payoff and no fear that they might not make it through.

Anyway, Penryn manages to startle the angel group sort of by accident and chase them away, but they freaking swoop down and flap off with Paige like a hawk grabbing a bunny for dinner. Obviously, Penryn is pissed and determined, so she has to try to save this damn angel, so he'll tell her where the fuck to find those other angels so she can get Paige back.

Penryn and Raffe, the angel, engage in some pretty great banter, both when they do and do not feel kindly disposed towards one another, so that's awesome. I like how Penryn often can't think of a clever retort, because that is so me, but that sometimes she thinks of one and I am all proud for her. Also, I love that Penryn and Raffe don't treat one another all that differently as they grow fond of one another. Like, yes, they help each other more and are more considerate, but they don't go from snarky to sappy at all. They stay true to their characters the whole time, which is awesome. Oh, and, just fyi, I talked about love interests and all of that, but there really isn't much romance in this one, so don't let that scare you off. More like there's a ship there if you wanted, but you don't need to sail on it to have a good time.

From this point on, I can't say much, because spoilers are evil. BUT I will say that there's some seriously creepy shit in this book, like a couple of scenes that join the list that haunts my brain. *shudders* Ee definitely also joins the list of authors not afraid to do monstrously awful things to their characters, which has me jumping around in malicious glee. Book two could go positively anywhere and I love that.

The only thing missing from this experience for me was an emotional connection to the characters. Oddly, I do really like Penryn and Raffe, so I'm not sure why I didn't bond. Sadly, I didn't. Scary things would happen and I would admire the awesomeness of the moment, but I never felt any concern for them. I was just watching, not sucked in. Of course, that's such a personal thing, and I wouldn't let that stop anyone else from picking the book up, because, as I said already, this book is bitching.

There's a reason everyone's talking about Angelfall. Go read it.

Rating: 4/5

Favorite Quote:
"When he smiles, he really does look like someone you'd want to get to know. Some otherworldly handsome guy a girl could dream about.
     Only he's not a guy. And he's too otherworldly. Not to mention that this girl is beyond dreaming about anything other than food, shelter, and the safety of her family."

Up Next:
The next Sadie Hawkins Sunday book will be Tatiana and Alexander by Paullina Simons, suggested by Lisa V. Now that I know what to expect from the series, I hope that I like this installment a bit more than The Bronze Horseman! *concentrates on being in the right frame of mind*

Want to tell me what to read? Fill out the following form with a suggestion! For more details, check this post.

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