27.2.15

Review: Exquisite Captive by Heather Demetrios


review
                 book












title:  Exquisite Captive

author:  Heather Demetrios

pages: 480

format: Hardcover 

isbn/asin: 978-0062318565

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 3.5/5 [in the genre] or 6/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of The Assassin's Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke, Firelight by Sophie Jordan, or Salt and Storm by Kendall Kulper.  Lovers of folk lore and Eastern mythology.  

will i read this author again?:  I already plan to.   
will i continue the series?:  Probably, though I won't rush to. 

My Ratings Explained



Forced to obey her master. Compelled to help her enemy. Determined to free herself.

Nalia is a jinni of tremendous ancient power, the only survivor of a coup that killed nearly everyone she loved. Stuffed into a bottle and sold by a slave trader, she’s now in hiding on the dark caravan, the lucrative jinni slave trade between Arjinna and Earth, where jinn are forced to grant wishes and obey their human masters’ every command. She’d give almost anything to be free of the golden shackles that bind her to Malek, her handsome, cruel master, and his lavish Hollywood lifestyle.

Enter Raif, the enigmatic leader of Arjinna’s revolution and Nalia’s sworn enemy. He promises to free Nalia from her master so that she can return to her ravaged homeland and free her imprisoned brother—all for an unbearably high price. Nalia’s not sure she can trust him, but Raif’s her only hope of escape. With her enemies on the hunt, Earth has become more perilous than ever for Nalia. There’s just one catch: for Raif’s unbinding magic to work, Nalia must gain possession of her bottle…and convince the dangerously persuasive Malek that she truly loves him. Battling a dark past and harboring a terrible secret, Nalia soon realizes her freedom may come at a price too terrible to pay: but how far is she willing to go for it?

Inspired by Arabian Nights, EXQUISITE CAPTIVE brings to life a deliciously seductive world where a wish can be a curse and shadows are sometimes safer than the light.






the basics
With old-world flair and a strong sense of the magical, Exquisite Captive sets itself apart from your average urban fantasy.  The tale centers around Nalia, the feisty sole survivor of a powerful jinni race, now servant to a cruel and enigmatic Earth billionaire.  Nalia's quick temper and defiance in the face of pain are admirable, her wistfulness endearing.  I found myself easily drawn into the story.  Demetrios excels at breathing life into the jinni and their world; there was always, for me, an underlying heartbeat of magic and mystery, a sheen of wonder.  Read a favorite old fairy tale and you'll approximate the emotion.  Already captivated by the atmosphere, I found myself riveted by the layers of Demetrios' plot.  She weaves the threads of Nalia's fight against the Dark Caravan and Malek with the constant danger of death by evil jinn.  There's a thriller-like quality to it, a constant tension that makes the final twists especially jarring and satisfying.  What detracted most, for me, was the romance.  Captive is heavy on the insta-love--a disappointing and pervasive feature in an otherwise promising book.  

plot . 3.5/5
Demetrios has a knack for story telling.  We meet Nalia after a coup in her homeland has already annihilated most of her people, after she has already spent years as a rich man's personal wish granter.  In hiding from the new jinni regime, Nalia has largely resigned herself to manifesting selfish wishes for the highest bidders.  Then she meets Raif, a rebel who loves neither Nalia's Ghan Aisouri nor the Ifrit regime that replaced it.  A rebel who needs Nalia's help.  This spark erupts into a delightfully twisted deception that threatens to crumble in on itself from all sides.  If Malek discovers Nalia's plans to escape, she'll be trapped forever.  If the Ifrit assassins reach her first, she'll be dead.  I loved the cat-and-mouse game of it all, with Nalia executing a dangerous subterfuge with Malek, all the while in constant danger of detection from an outside evil.  It was thrilling, fast-paced, and ultimately shocking.  Then there was the romance.  It appears like a little pest that keeps itching and won't go away.  Worse, it could have been great, if Demetrios had toned down the Romeo and Juliet and just portrayed real human emotions.  I felt disappointed.  


concept . 5/5
In a fantasy market saturated with European mythology (not that I don't love those, of course!) it's always refreshing to encounter a unique approach.  While not explicitly Middle Eastern, Exquisite Captive draws heavily from the Arabic and Islamic tradition of jinn, or genies.   Do a little googling and you'll find jinn, marid, ifrit, and shaitan in many a religious document or folk tale.  Of course shaitan is the Islamic devil, which is a bit odd, but still, Demetrios clearly did some homework.  From the foundation of Arabic lore, Demetrios builds the complex world of Arjinna, a world of lapis mountains and endless lakes.  A world with its own language, religion, even its own mythology.  A world with a caste system so insidious that it took a devastating coup to bring it down.  Though I wish there was more here of the customs of Arjinna, the portrayal in Captive is artfully vibrant and refreshing.  


characters . 3/5
Though I liked many of the characters, there is a great deal of reliance on types here.  Particularly as the plot unravels.  Nalia is my favorite, perhaps because we can see into her head.  She's fierce, pitiless, but also uncertain and self-reproaching.  She holds all the prejudices of her race, but not all of their ruthlessness.  And this pains her, because this sliver of compassion once proved fatal.  I loved her fight and her coldness.  The others are a little less complex.  Raif is recognizably the brooding rebel, all duty and brashness.  Charming, but not uncommon in the young adult world.  Malek is fascinating as a cruel task master, but becomes a trope himself with his sudden, inexplicable love for Nalia.  Zanari and Leilani feel somewhat similar to each other; I'd love to see them explored more in later books.  What irked me most was the change in Nalia and Raif.  Add a little insta-love and suddenly your characters are acting like soppy idiots who seem nothing like themselves.  

style . 4/5
Some of Demetrios' writing has a truly painterly quality about it.  Her passages describing scenery and surroundings are particularly lovely.  I dog-earred many of them.  She has a way of setting a scene that offers a clear picture but doesn't rely on clunky exposition or huge paragraphs.  With a few unique details and clever phrases, she creates an exact image.  Nalia's internal monologue is a little less pretty.  For someone of her station, it just feels a little too much like any old Earthling.  Perhaps it's an effect of her sojourn on Earth.  Then there's the dialogue.  Much of it's solid, some of it feels wooden.  


mechanics . 2/5
Insta-love.  Need I go on?  I don't have a problem with people becoming infatuated with each other over a mere number of days.  It happens all the time.  What irks me is when three days culminates in a profession of eternal love.  When two people who hardly knew each other--despised each other, because of course they did--are suddenly willing to die for each other.  This aspect was too pervasive not to detract from my reading, and it somewhat soured my opinions of the characters, who had been rather reasonable and admirable to that point.  I felt like I didn't even know them anymore.  And if they were the kind of people who conceivably fell in love this quickly, then I don't have much admiration left.  



take home message
Despite the trope-heavy romance, Exquisite Captive weaves an atmospheric modern fairy tale rich with adventure, magic, and sharp story telling.  




Note: I purchased this copy.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.  



26.2.15

Judge a Book by its Cover: Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell

judge a book
                by its cover

*

Covers are important.  They're not the only thing that makes a reader buy a book, but it's the first thing a reader sees.  A good cover gives you an idea of the tone and content of the book.  A bad one has you thinking that a serious vampire story is a light-hearted contemporary.  

So let's put covers to the test.

In this feature, C.J. asks her friends, coworkers, and random strangers a simple question: 

What do you think this book is about?  

But you can only look at the cover.  


*

today's book




the guesses 

I feel like there are two options.  One of them, she's a beautiful maiden trapped in a dystopian society called Mechanica or something where everyone is run by machiens or are slaves to machines or are used to run machines, and she's kind of some lone star.  Like Snow White.  That's what it reminds me of because of the birds.  The other thing, is that she's somehow part machine, which would obviously change her ability to love and be cared for and all that stuff.  So maybe that's why she looks like that.  Oh wait, there's a third.  Or she's a beautiful maiden like Beauty and the Beast and some evil robot guy wants to marry her. 

 I think it is a story similar to Cinderella except the woman is an animatronic doll who lives in a steam punk setting?

In a kingdom in which humans live alongside mechanical animals and humans, a kind, smart, and pretty-ish but sort of plain princess leads her nation with dignity and grace. The mechanical living things are believed to be non-sentient, that is, until the princess starts to suspect that her mechanical man servant can develop thoughts of his own. They slowly fall in love with one another, in the most rapid way two people can slowly fall in love. However, to prevent a war with the neighboring nation, she has promised her hand in marriage to their cruel prince. She must decide whether to follow her heart, tear an entire people's belief system apart, and inevitably lead her nation to war by pursuing her relationship with her automaton manservant OR maintain her duty to her nation, allow an entire race to be mistakenly enslaved by her countrymen, and endure life as the partner of a cruel leader who may destroy her country and its way of life. 

Is she holding a shoe?  Alternate universe retelling of Cinderella with a world half made of machines. 

"When 10-year-old Anica's science project goes awry, she learns that things are not always as they seem. Anica is whisked away to a secret kingdom where anything is possible with some cogs and elbow grease. There she discovers an unbelievable secret about her own past..."
sorry, not "her own past," "the human soul"
because she doesn't have one, bc she's a robot.



the truth 

Nicolette’s awful stepsisters call her “Mechanica” to demean her, but the nickname fits: she learned to be an inventor at her mother’s knee. Her mom is gone now, though, and the Steps have turned her into a servant in her own home. 

But on her sixteenth birthday, Nicolette discovers a secret workshop in the cellar and begins to dare to imagine a new life for herself. Could the mysterious books and tools hidden there—and the mechanical menagerie, led by a tiny metal horse named Jules—be the key to escaping her dreary existence? With a technological exposition and royal ball on the horizon, the timing might just be perfect for Nicolette to earn her freedom at last.

Gorgeous prose and themes of social justice and family shine in this richly imagined Cinderella retelling about an indomitable inventor who finds her prince . . . but realizes she doesn't want a fairy tale happy ending after all.






tell me what you think, or suggest the next book in the comments! 





25.2.15

Review: Golden Son by Pierce Brown


review
                 book












title:  Golden Son

author:  Pierce Brown

pages: 464

format: Hardcover 

isbn/asin: 978-0345539823

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 5/5 [in the genre] or 9/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, Game of Thrones, and epic science-fiction.  People looking for a dense series that will suck them in.   Those who love young adult with a bite.

will i read this author again?:  Yes, a thousand times yes.  
will i continue the series?:  Give me book three right now and no one gets hurt.  I'm not kidding. SERIOUSLY, GIVE ME BOOK THREE.  I'M GETTING THE SHAKES OVER HERE.  

My Ratings Explained



With shades of The Hunger Games, Ender’s Game, and Game of Thrones, debut author Pierce Brown’s genre-defying epic Red Rising hit the ground running and wasted no time becoming a sensation.

Golden Son continues the stunning saga of Darrow, a rebel forged by tragedy, battling to lead his oppressed people to freedom from the overlords of a brutal elitist future built on lies. Now fully embedded among the Gold ruling class, Darrow continues his work to bring down Society from within.

A life-or-death tale of vengeance with an unforgettable hero at its heart, Golden Son guarantees Pierce Brown’s continuing status as one of fiction’s most exciting new voices.






the basics
Brown captured me with Red Rising and kept me with Golden Son. This is the trilogy I recommend to everyone I know, and for good reason. The sequel fulfills every promise of the first book and takes it to its limits. We meet Darrow two years after the Institute, poised to become lieutenant to the powerful man who killed his wife. What follows is a tangled web of intrigue, spies, diplomats, and doubles. In the center of it all, Darrow stands at the precipice of triumph or destruction, and only his ability to unweave this web will save him. Even more than before, we come to understand both layers of Darrow, Gold and Red, and the person he is beyond the masks. Midst the battles and duels, as gory and gritty as Red Rising, there are softer moments, moments of true friendship, revelation, and fraught love. Every page is taut with tension, and the distinct feeling that everything could shatter at any time. Though I staggered at the beginning, trying to recall all the characters I'd known before, I found myself quickly immersed in a breath-holding epic with a mind-obliterating conclusion. I'm dying for book three! 

Even NPR thought it was badass. And expresses it way better than I can. 



plot . 4/5
My biggest problem with the sequel was the time jump. Two years is a long time, and so much had changed for Darrow between Red Rising and now. He'd made new friendships, graduated the Academy, won and lost the heart of girl. I had a difficult time at first trying to reconnect with Darrow. I wanted to see those changes. I felt a little robbed. Also, Brown could do a wee better job at reminding you of all the characters. The dramatis personae at the beginning helps, but the cast is truly huge. That said, once I regained my footing, I was hooked. The pacing is breakneck. At some points, I felt that I was rushing through disaster after disaster with no hope of relief. Just like Darrow. Brown does a fantastic job of keeping the plot coherent at multiple levels: the dictatorship of the Lunar queen, Darrow's relationship with Augustus, the Sons of Ares, Darrow's friendships and nemeses. There's a clear sense of the overwhelming, epic problems laid on Darrow's shoulders. There are also plenty of surprises and twists that kept me guessing, and GRRM-level tragedies that broke my heart. By the ending, you'll be tense as a stalking cat--and then you'll read the last pages and explode. 

If you don't believe me, check out Goodreads. The feelings of many readers can be summed in ALL CAPS. 



concept . 5/5
Like Red Rising, Golden Son combines the sweeping space opera with the post-apocalyptic dystopian, and challenges the limits of both. It's the exaggeration of contemporary problems that strikes me the most. Social inequalities are embodied, literally, in the eugenically-designed castes, from the perfected Golds to the voluptuous Pinks to the stony Obsidians. A thousand years out, it's not terribly far-fetched; even as pure allegory, it's terrifying. From this premise, Brown derives the messianic terrorist, the brutality of class warfare, the dynamics and fragility of power. Golden Son is fully realized at all levels: political, social, personal. It at once examines the role of humanity within these larger systems and the role of the individual, for better or worse. Ambitious in scope, this is a book that demands to be re-read. 



characters . 4/5
With a massive cast, there are bound to be characters left half-formed or flat. Golden Son manages almost to eradicate this problem. While you still have the occasional trope-y side character (Lorn the training master, anyone? and some of the Howlers), most of the main cast consists of richly imagined humans with their own minds, their own stories. Darrow, whom I loved from the first, really comes into his own. The impossible decisions at his feet bring out the best and worst of him; I felt comfortable in his head, and perhaps readers who found him inaccessible in the first book will appreciate the attention given him here. Everyone else has grown and grows so much, too. There's Mustang, torn between family and peace but still brilliant as ever; Sevro, my favorite murderous weirdo; Roque, the dark poet; Jackal, the psychopath you can never grasp. And others, I'd have to go on for ages. Not everyone gets enough screen time, which is an unfortunate artifact of a book this ambitious, but everyone feels important and real and separate. 

Also, for those reviewers who call Darrow a Gary Stu...eh. Okay, so he's kind of extra amazing, but hopefully Golden Son shows his deeply, horribly flawed side. But I get it. He's kind of great at all things and magical and cleverer than your average bear, and everyone seems to love him and want to follow him. But I think Golden Son makes it clearer that people follow him because he's earned their love--or because they want to stand in the light of his star. It still feels like a believable human. Also I still love him anyway. 



style . 5/5
Sharp, brutal, insightful...I could go on. Brown's style has a literary flair that pulls it above your typical young adult novel. Not to be snobby, but it really is just a bit better than most of what's out there. The action scenes are intense and comprehensible, the emotions are easily felt, and the diction was tight. Moreover, the writing's literary, somewhat formal tone gives the book an extra atmosphere of epicness and grandness and purpose that magnifies the plot perfectly. Even more, it's full of lines that just beg to be quoted. The obscene amount of dog-ears in my copy are proof. Brown knows exactly how to sum up something vast into an unusual, evocative phrase. The dialogue is also spot on, and feels totally believable as a sort of snobby future Gold language. Just gorgeous, really. 


mechanics . 4/5
This would be a Sarcasm & Lemons review if there weren't bits that annoyed me.  First of all, it's hundreds of years into the future!  Why are people still referring to Oscar Wilde?!  Was there no more recent author to pick?  Okay, I realize that a made-up author wouldn't fit as well because you wouldn't get the allusion, but this just bugged me.  I mean, at least pick someone super old, since the Golds are hugely obsessed with the ancient Greeks and Romans.  Also, I had a little whiplash in the middle.  It always felt like someone was ahead, then they were thwarted, then they were thwarted.  I liked it well enough, but it made me want to scream a little.  I think there was something else, but clearly it wasn't important enough to detract from my opinion.  



take home message
Golden Son delivers on the promise of its predecessor.  More sweepingly epic, more affecting, more human, it's a fast-paced tangle of motives and intrigue that cuts deeply and leaves you breathless.  




Note: I purchased this copy.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.  



24.2.15

Books by Theme: Fairy Tales Rewritten, the Cinderella Edition

books by theme


Welcome to the start of a Books by Theme mini-series devoted to one of YAs most enduring new trends: fairy tale rewrites and retellings.  There's something comfortable about going into a book with a sense of the story, and something satisfying about finding it new and different than you'd expected.  I'll be reviewing some of my favorite (or most hyped) retellings, with special attention to how they take the story and make it their own.  


Click the book titles for my reviews or Goodreads! 


Fairy Tales: Cinderella 










Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
 Ella will always be, for me, the consummate fairy tale retelling, especially for Cinderella.  Levine's classic takes a simple tale of love at first sight and transforms it into a powerful tale of personal growth, bravery, friendship, and sacrifice.  Ella is more than the kitchen maid.  She's a feisty, energetic spark with a talent for languages and a quick mind.  Her love of the handsome prince grows out of friendship--but it's only one part of Ella's true journey, to reverse her curse and free herself from her stepmother's thumb.  In the end, she's the savior--through bravery, through cleverness, and most of all, through strength of will.  You also get glass slippers, fairy godmothers, magical jewels, and other nods to the classic.
Compare it to the original:  The classic tale (at least the Disney version) still steeped in fantasy, but with higher stakes and fleshed out characters









Cinder by Marissa Meyer
I adore this book.  It's one of my favorite fairy tale retellings (not just counting Cinderella).  Meet Cinder, an orphaned cyborg loathed by her stepmother and forced into menial servitude.  As a mechanic, which is pretty cool.  Meet the charming prince, a charismatic young diplomat on the verge of ruling a country torn by plague and imminent war.  And of course, cyborgs aren't exactly the world's most popular people.  What results is a story of prejudice, freedom, and impossible choices with an interplanetary scope.  While you still get a ball and a lost shoe, Cinder improves on the original with a clever, complex heroine, a prince with a personality, an adorable stepsisterly bond, and telekinesis.  Meyer is delightfully clever in her adaptation of the fairy tale's elements.
Compare it to the original:  Cindy gets a cybernetic makeover and a planet-spanning plot, with the spirit of the story intact 








Set in Holland, this retelling from the author of Wicked follows Iris, stepsister to the lovely, wealthy Clara.  Confessions challenges what you believe about the fairy tale.  Iris is clever, artistic, and plagued by plain looks and the disregard of her stepmother.  She's also kindhearted and no-nonsense.  While her mother dreams of using Clara's wealth to renew the family fortunes, Iris struggles to deal with Ruth's muteness and Clara's neuroticism.  And Clara?  She could care less about the ball.  She retreats to the hearth to hide from her stepmother's plans and the difficulties of the outside world.  Meanwhile, Iris struggles with her lot in life, her artistic ambitions, and her love for a painter's apprentice.  Expect complex writing, gritty details, and a bittersweet, open ending.  I greatly enjoyed it, but watch out for Maguire's intensely ornate prose. 
Compare it to the original:  An account of what "actually" happened, from the stepsister's point of view. 










Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
This one is cheating, a bit, because it's not exactly a retelling.  However, Throne of Glass was very much inspired by Cinderella.  Specifically, Maas noted that the character of Celaena Sardothien came to life when Maas was watching the Disney Cinderella and wondered, during the ball scene, "What if Cinderella were fleeing because she had just killed someone?"  Enter Celaena, a girl as much at ease with knives as ball gowns.  There are elements of a handsome prince and a beleaguered girl, but this fantasy epic is very much its own story.  
Compare to the original:  An entirely different story, inspired by the fairy tale. 









Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell
This hasn't come out yet, so I'll be doing a lot of speculating here.  Even reviews are sparse.  Mechanica follows Nicollete, an ambitious young inventor scorned by her stepsisters and trapped as a servant in her own home.  Hope comes with her discovery of a mechanical workshop hidden in her home, a secret place where her ambitions can become reality.  Though many have compared it to Cinder (I guess because of the inventor versus Cinder the mechanic), this one is absent of hard science-fiction and seems to promise, if anything, more of a Steampunk style.  ...  Also she's not a cyborg. 
Compare to the original:  A story with elements of the original but a twist on the characters and themes. 





What are your favorite takes on Cinderella?



18.2.15

Review: I Was Here by Gayle Foreman


review
                 book












title:  I Was Here

author:  Gayle Foreman

pages: 288

format: Hardcover 

isbn/asin: 978-0451471475

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 4/5 [in the genre] or 7.5/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of 

will i read this author again?:  Yes, anything she has.   
will i continue the series?:  N/A
My Ratings Explained



Cody and Meg were inseparable. Two peas in a pod. Until . . . they weren’t anymore. When her best friend Meg drinks a bottle of industrial-strength cleaner alone in a motel room, Cody is understandably shocked and devastated. She and Meg shared everything—so how was there no warning? But when Cody travels to Meg’s college town to pack up the belongings left behind, she discovers that there’s a lot that Meg never told her. About her old roommates, the sort of people Cody never would have met in her dead-end small town in Washington. About Ben McAllister, the boy with a guitar and a sneer, who broke Meg’s heart. And about an encrypted computer file that Cody can’t open—until she does, and suddenly everything Cody thought she knew about her best friend’s death gets thrown into question. I Was Here is Gayle Forman at her finest, a taut, emotional, and ultimately redemptive story about redefining the meaning of family and finding a way to move forward even in the face of unspeakable loss.






the basics
Perhaps you've noticed a number of books about suicide released this year.  At least three with press.  Before you deem this "another suicide book," remember that we're talking about Gayle Foreman.  She brings all of the emotion and gravity of If I Stay to a set of deeply imagined characters on a quest for answers.  Our narrator, Cody, is a complex soul burdened not only with her best friend's suicide, but also her own guilt--that they had grown apart, that she hadn't seen it coming.  The story is as much about Cody's grappling with her guilt and grief as it is about the mystery of Meg's suicide.  Despite elements that struck me as trite or off-putting (primarily the My Fair Douchebag), I Was Here combines tight plotting, characters pulled out of life, and a deeply affecting story.  


plot . 4/5
Foreman takes a clever tact with the beginning:  she sets it after the suicide, weeks after.  The initial shock is over, leaving Cody in a haze of memorial services.  The hook hits when Meg's parents ask Cody to go to Meg's college apartment to collect her things.  There, Cody discovers Meg's seeming double life, a cast of friends and ex-lovers Cody never knew about.  She begins to feel like she didn't know Meg.  And she begins to discover that no one else seemed to either.  Her run-in with Meg's ex spurs a rabbit-hole of hidden clues that seem to point to something sinister.  Cue Cody, Ben, and a crazy investigative road trip.  It sounds insane, and it is, a little.  Even Cody seems aware of that.  She's grasping for something else, a sign that she really knew Meg.  But as she delves into Meg secrets, she can't help facing the truths she's hidden from herself.  It may sound like a cheesy teen mystery squad, but give Foreman a chance: what she delivers is a story of spiraling grief and redemption.  

The parts I didn't like?  Namely, bad boy Ben turning instantly from player douche into sensitive confidante.  The reformed player, the "saved" bad boy, is a fun fantasy, but I hope young readers see it as that.  People can change, but the boys you think you can save are often the ones who break you.  


concept . 5/5
Foreman looks at suicide in a different light than I've encountered.  Really, every book about suicide is different.  I'm glad they're out there, because mental health awareness is my life.  But Foreman deepens her novel from potential grief-porn into a a vignette of someone's darkest moment, and all the layers that go into it.  Meg's death brings into focus Cody's own sidetracked plans.  The college she didn't go to, the dreams she didn't chase.  Cody finds herself in community college, living with her absentee mother, wandering and uncertain.  Meg's suicide represents the death of her best friend, but also the death of possibilities: the life they had planned to have, the chance for them to fix their broken friendship.  Cody's story is one of self-forgiveness.  It also deals with an important but little talked about fantasy of many survivors: that maybe it wasn't suicide. That if they could just find a reason, it could all make sense.  Foreman deals with this notion artfully and cleverly.  


characters . 4/5
Cody is fairly likable, but more than that, she's unique.  She's not the typical YA heroine, the smart shy girl or the outcast or the fallen princess.  She's sort of average.  She's smart but not that smart.  She's never met her dad, her mom is out of her depth, and she's basically been raised by her best friend's family.  She's a refreshing change, and a truly complex person.  Meg herself is somewhat obscure.  What we come to know through Cody is that there was much she didn't know.  There are her sharp memories of Meg juxtaposed with this new Meg.  It works well; we feel as confused as Cody.  Ben is the other main player.  While I do think his change of heart was too quick and he's not a good model for a successful boyfriend,  I also have a soft spot for the broken bad boy.  I just get my fix in fiction.  I was torn between eye rolling and "aw."  What I wanted more of were the side characters, especially Alice, Tricia, Scottie, and Richard.  They were intriguing but swept aside, and I liked to see how Cody changed and was challenged by them.  Also, she totally should have dated Richard.  Just sayin'.  

style . 5/5
There's a thin line between accessibility and beauty.  Some authors step too far to either side, but Foreman has mastered a poetic, wistful style that still feels extremely plausibly teen-aged.  Cody's voice was as strong to me as though I were reading someone's diary.  She was evident in all the turns of phrase, the peculiar observations, the inner monologues.  Speaking of logues, Foreman's dialogue is sharp as always.  The tongue-in-cheek overtones lighten the mood just enough to let you ponder and process before you dive back into emotions.  It's a perfect parallel to Cody's own feelings; she hides behind her sarcasm and stays on the surface, but eventually she has to deal with reality.  


mechanics . 3.5/5
There were a few piecing of world building and such that I wasn't quite a fan of, and it mostly centered around tropes.  One: there is the manwhore who sleeps around, but really he does it because he had a bad childhood, and he just needs the right girl to settle down.  Can we cut it out?  If a guy or girl wants to have multiple partners, that shouldn't be seen as pathological.  The scenario I described might be true and actually problematic for people, but then Foreman really needed to treat it less opaquely.  Two: teenagers with mad hacking skills.  I'm skeptical.  Although, at least Foreman keeps it mostly plausible.  Three: Cody was super judgey about Ben's sex life.  It just really annoyed me, especially that she didn't seem to relent.  Four: This is a good one. There's a (very vague, PG) sex scene, and there are multiple instances of active consent!  I.e. partners checking in with each other, double checking.  Hurrah! 

Also the title is a brilliant encapsulation of the book.  



take home message
Cody's story mingles the pangs of emergent adulthood with the sharp pain of loss--and inevitably, the power of shedding the lies we tell ourselves and taking a leap.  




Note: I purchased this copy.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.  



16.2.15

ARC Review: The Doubt Factory by Paolo Bacigalupi


review
                 book












title:  The Doubt Factory

author:  Paolo Bacigalupi

pages: 496

format: Paperback

isbn/asin: 978-0316220750

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 2/5 [in the genre] or 3/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of 

will i read this author again?:  Yes, because I hear from fans that his other books are nothing like this. 
will i continue the series?:  Eh. 
My Ratings Explained



In this page-turning contemporary thriller, National Book Award Finalist, Printz Award winner, and New York Times bestselling author Paolo Bacigalupi explores the timely issue of how public information is distorted for monetary gain, and how those who exploit it must be stopped. Everything Alix knows about her life is a lie. At least that's what a mysterious young man who's stalking her keeps saying. But then she begins investigating the disturbing claims he makes against her father. Could her dad really be at the helm of a firm that distorts the truth and covers up wrongdoing by hugely profitable corporations that have allowed innocent victims to die? Is it possible that her father is the bad guy, and that the undeniably alluring criminal who calls himself Moses--and his radical band of teen activists--is right? Alix has to make a choice, and time is running out, but can she truly risk everything and blow the whistle on the man who loves her and raised her?






the basics
The Doubt Conspiracy is, in my mind, the perfect concept subverted by ham-fisted politics, thin plotting, and a faceless cast.  The first half is arguably the most interesting, with the strange attacks on Alix's school and a mysterious stalker.  Then it's all ruined because of course he has a magnetism that she can't resist.  Pro tip: Stalkers aren't good boyfriends.  Alix's fascination leads her into the headquarters of 2.0, a gang of teenagers set on avenging their losses.  While the first half caught my attention, had a few twists and some mystery, the story drags on languidly after Alix's introduction to 2.0.  The suspense built by the setup deflates into a string of investigative journalism, making out, and a rushed ending.  While I loved the concept and enjoyed many moments, I was too frustrated; this book could have been great, could have been powerful, but it felt more like a teenage romance disguised as techno-thriller disguised as statement about corporate greed.  I imagine it'll appeal to people who can get more on board with Alix and Moses, but in the end, it's a book I probably won't remember.
plot . 2/5
A good suspense novel required extremely tight plotting.  Details must be interwoven carefully, tension must be maintained, and there must be a moment where the reader holds their breath and speed-reads to see what happens next.  This book read more like a defanged version of Twilight that happens to be punctuated by long dissertations on the evils of corporate PR and the occasional explosion.  The twists and turns are too dragged out to cause any tension.  And then there were the parts that irked me.  First, Alix is presented as a smart do-gooder whose self-control is contrasted to her brother's impulsivity.  Then, a random teenager breaches her school and punches the headmaster in the face.  Love at first blood?  I can see Alix being intrigued by Moses, but she goes on to chase him, confront him, and let him into her house.  Of course he's guilty of vandalism and assault, but she just trust him for some reason, obviously.  The impulsive attachment just doesn't gel with Alix's initial portrayal.  Also 16-year-olds with CIA hacking skills.  Also the truncated chase scene followed by a neverending ending.  All the good pieces are there, but they're jumbled up and mixed in with too much chaff. 

concept . 5/5
As a staunch opponent of Big Pharma, it's pretty cool to see an author drawing attention to the numerous ways in which these companies trade lives for profits.  The industry of uncertainty is famous for tobacco research that says you can't prove smoking skills, trial drugs that never reach production because the population they treat, though severely ill, is too small for a good profit margin.  Even rebranding old pills with new names and new marketing to fight against the cheaper generics.  It's a sickening industry that should be exposed, and it's amazing to see all of the lies and tricks laid out so plainly.  


characters . 2/5
I liked Alix initially. She seemed normal.  Not your typical outcast or tragedy.  Then her character fell apart and I couldn't latch on to a consistent kernel of Alix-ness.  She's cautious but she chases a stalker to his secret hideout.  She loves her father and has a wonderful relationship with him, but when 2.0 tells her about his job, she flips from loving daughter to avenging rebel without even bothering to doubt 2.0, to confront her father and ask for his side.  On the other hand, Moses has moments that try to make him complex, but he's your pretty standard brooding bad boy with a rough life and a noble cause.  There were other characters, but they didn't really stick in my mind.  Honestly, I think the person I liked most was Alix's little brother, because at least he was interesting and consistent.  

style . 3/5
I've heard wonderful things about Bacigalupi's writing, but it seems even his fans are bemoaning this work.  It's not particularly bad writing.  It's just fine.  The dialogue is a little stilted.  There weren't any places where I thought, "Wow.  This is really beautiful or apt or illuminating."  It was solid, but unremarkable.  

mechanics . 1/5
Can I talk about pacing?  I've mentioned it before, but this book just drags on.  Or rather, it seems to move in jerks and then to linger too long before jerking ahead to the next part.  Little is accomplished in the entire first half except: Alix crushes on Moses, Alex tries to find Moses, Alix gets a bodyguard, Alix falls into the hands of 2.0, 2.0 let's Alix go, 2.0 fails in an act of rebellion.  That may sound like a lot, but it amounts to very little progress in the way of plot or character progress.  Oh yes, and they soliloquize a great deal about corporations and conspiracies.  Then we have the second half, which is mostly Alix investigating corporate PR scandals and getting drunk on a boat.  Oh, right, and then she and Moses attempt to pull off a dangerous heist that involves guns, decryption software, neurotoxins, and pulling the wool over the eyes of numerous highly trained professions.  Which takes all of a sliver of book.  I think if they had cut out a third of the book, it would have been far more exciting, if not well plotted.  



take home message
The Doubt Factory explores the timely and terrifying culture of corporate disinformation, but falls flat from slow plotting and thin characterization.  




Note: I received this copy in exchange for a review.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.  



13.2.15

Book Blurb Breakdown:The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig

book blurb breakdown

Book Blurb Breakdown is a Sarcasm & Lemons feature where your anal English degree-holding author (gently) rips apart jacket blurbs to pin down what makes her want to pick up the book instantly--and what makes her want to throw it at the wall.  See the original post for more detail.  


I realized today that I've mainly broken down books that hooked me, and it might be useful to look at a blurb that didn't.  This was difficult, because I wanted to pick something that was based on the style of the blurb, not just content that I avoid.  So... 




today's blurb

Status:  Unread


the blurb: as is 
from Goodreads

The Hunger Games meets Cormac McCarthy’s The Road in this richly imagined first novel in a new post-apocalyptic trilogy by award-winning poet Francesca Haig.

Four hundred years in the future, the Earth has turned primitive following a nuclear fire that has laid waste to civilization and nature. Though the radiation fallout has ended, for some unknowable reason every person is born with a twin. Of each pair, one is an Alpha—physically perfect in every way; and the other an Omega—burdened with deformity, small or large. With the Council ruling an apartheid-like society, Omegas are branded and ostracized while the Alphas have gathered the world’s sparse resources for themselves. Though proclaiming their superiority, for all their effort Alphas cannot escape one harsh fact: Whenever one twin dies, so does the other.

Cass is a rare Omega, one burdened with psychic foresight. While her twin, Zach, gains power on the Alpha Council, she dares to dream the most dangerous dream of all: equality. For daring to envision a world in which Alphas and Omegas live side-by-side as equals, both the Council and the Resistance have her in their sights.


the blurb:  shredded 

The Hunger Games meets Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (I hate this trend.  Grr.  At least these seem more relevant than some people throw in.)  in this richly imagined first novel in a new post-apocalyptic trilogy by award-winning poet Francesca Haig. (A poet--intriguing.  Maybe her use of language will be cool.) 

Four hundred years in the future, the Earth has turned primitive following a nuclear fire that has laid waste to civilization and nature. (This sentence bothers me for some reason.  It just feels clunky.  And also, wasn't the laying waste before the turning primitive?) Though the radiation fallout has ended (I don't know if "ended" is the right word), for some unknowable reason (I'm sure...sigh) every person is born with a twin (This was a weird way to introduce this.  Like, when did the twinning start?  Was it right after the fallout?  The striation into castes makes me think it must have started a long time ago). Of each pair, one is an Alpha—physically perfect in every way; and the other an Omega—burdened with deformity, small or large (Small or large is just a weird way to say this.  I mean, are we talking major physical deformities or, like, slightly non-symmetrical eyes?  Also it makes it seem like one twin just IS an Alpha rather than society has called them an Alpha.). With the Council ruling an apartheid-like society (Interesting, this hooked me a bit.), Omegas are branded and ostracized while the Alphas have gathered (Again, weird tense stuff going on.) the world’s sparse resources for themselves. Though proclaiming their superiority, for all their effort Alphas cannot escape one harsh fact: Whenever one twin dies, so does the other. (Okay, this is pretty cool.  I'm intrigued now.)  

Cass is a rare Omega, one burdened (Burdened?  That makes it seem like maybe the deformities can be mental, which seems like a cop out.) with psychic foresight (And the Alphas don't think that's cool and useful?). While her twin, Zach, gains power on the Alpha Council, she dares to dream the most dangerous dream of all: equality (Expected, but clearly written.). For daring to envision a world in which Alphas and Omegas live side-by-side as equals, both the Council and the Resistance have her in their sights.  (Okay, so...what happens in the book?  Is she attacked?  Does she join up with the Resistance and learn to fight?  Is she hidden Anne Frank style away from the watchful eye of the Council?)



the verdict 
2/5 stars

would i read it?:  not unless i heard it was good

Honestly, this blurb had me pretty intrigued until the end.  Sure, there were some weird tense things going on and that annoyed me, but the idea of a post-nuclear society is pretty awesome.  I feel like a lot of dystopians allude to big wars and such, but this one is specific.  So many possibilities!  Are there still badly irradiated areas?  Did the radiation kill off all fauna and flora, forcing the humans to scrounge for whatever's left?  Is this society the only one on Earth, or do they not really know?  Honestly, what lost me was the end bit.  You have this awesome set-up, but it's a lot of set-up.  By the end of the blurb, I know we have a dystopian book with twins, and there's probably going to be some rebel-joining and fighting, but I don't really have any sense of where the plot's going.  Also, not gonna lie, I have a scary feeling that maybe the author doesn't know the "unknowable reason" for the twinning.  Which makes my science brain cry.  Also my science brain cries because I don't know how everyone could have a twin.  I could see how a number of factors might increase twinning, same as they do in real life (older mothers, genetics, etc.) but everyone?  And one twin is always perfect, the other deformed?  It's just hard for me to buy that outside of fantasy.  

Also...what the heck is this Fire Sermon thing!?  It's weird that it's the title of the book but there's NO allusion to it.  You can get away with that in contemporaries with clever or vague titles, but not for this kind of book.  



your thoughts

Does this blurb grab you?  
Do you agree with my thoughts?  If not, how so?  
Do you have any recommendations for blurbs I should shred?  



some previous breakdowns 

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira
Red Rising by Pierce Brown
Dangerous by Shannon Hale
She's Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgewick
Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine



12.2.15

ARC Review: Glory O'Brien's History of the Future by A.S. King


review
                 book












title:  Glory O'Brien's History of the Future

author:  A.S. King 

pages: 304

format: Paperback

isbn/asin: 978-0316222747

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 5/5 [in the genre] or 9/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of anything by Chuck Palahniuk, John Green, or gently experimental literature.  Teenagers.  Lost souls.   

will i read this author again?:  Yes. Preferably soon.   
will i continue the series?:  N/A 
My Ratings Explained



Would you try to change the world if you thought it had no future?

Graduating from high school is a time of limitless possibilities — but not for Glory, who has no plan for what's next. Her mother committed suicide when Glory was only four years old, and she’s never stopped wondering if she will eventually go the same way... until a transformative night when she begins to experience an astonishing new power to see a person’s infinite past and future. From ancient ancestors to many generations forward, Glory is bombarded with visions—and what she sees ahead of her is terrifying.

A tyrannical new leader raises an army. Women’s rights disappear. A violent second civil war breaks out. And young girls vanish daily, sold off or interned in camps. Glory makes it her mission to record everything she sees, hoping her notes will somehow make a difference. She may not see a future for herself, but she’ll do everything in her power to make sure this one doesn’t come to pass.

In this masterpiece about freedom, feminism, and destiny, Printz Honor author A.S. King tells the epic story of a girl coping with devastating loss at long last—a girl who has no idea that the future needs her, and that the present needs her even more.






the basics
After falling in love with Reality Boy (and recommending it to a friend for his Family Psychopathology class; he used it and it was great), I was super excited for this BEA souvenir.   King more than justified my anticipation.  Glory is a strange, touching, strange, gorgeously written, strange book.  Did I get that across?  I'll summarize: Girls drink a desiccated bat.  Girls get ability to see the future.  It's a plot that makes me wonder if King hasn't read a lot of Palahniuk, and it works splendidly.  From the poem-like titles to the photography metaphors to the snappy dialogue, it's a postmodern wonderland shaped around a romance shaped around a growing up story. It's also, dare I say it, feminist. With sci-fi dystopian goodness.  Though Glory's harsh and bitter and not the easiest to like, she's compelling from the first page.  Her transformation is much more than learning to see the future.  It's realizing that she has one.  That she can choose it.  That she doesn't have to hide.  While gently tugging at the heart strings, it's a book that will make you feel like you can be great.  

Can you handle that?  

Most people can't handle it.  

plot . 5/5
I'm inclined to say that, unilaterally, any book that begins with best friends drinking from a mummified bat corpse is going to be enrapturing.  Glory delivers.  The plot is multilayered, as complex as life and as comprehensible as breathing.  It starts with a misanthrope.  Glory's mother killed herself in their oven.  Glory has a best friend who may live in a cult, whom she's mean and harsh to, and who sticks around anyway.  Then there's the little problem of Glory's visions for a future ruled by a corrupt, women-hating dictator in a dystopian hell.  It's motivation enough to get Glory out into the real world, looking for clues.  What she finds is a snarky old veteran, a handsome boy who thinks people are pretty great, and an almost-group of what she never thought she'd have: friends.  Though the alternating chapters of dystopia are interesting (I mean, Nedrick the Sanctimonious.  Are you sold?) they're just the impetus for a more important plot, the process of Glory learning to let people in, to let go of her mother's ghost, and to accept that maybe she can be great.  

concept . 5/5
This is a book that could easily be your garden-variety genre sci-fi.  King doesn't settle for that.  For her, the transmissions of the future are a darkly humorous commentary on society, but more than that, they're a way to push Glory out of her comfort zone.  Imagine you're a girl who hates people, who wants to be alone, who tolerates her best friend for unknown reasons.  Now imagine that you can read the futures of everyone around you, whether you want to or not.  It's that push that forces Glory to care about people, and to learn that it's okay to do so.  It's that push that makes this deeper than your standard thrilling sci-fi.  


characters . 5/5
A lot of people would probably hate Glory.  I did find times when I was angry at her for treating others poorly, but I kind of liked her.  I think I empathize with misanthropes and ne'er-do-wells more than most people.   I also felt compelled by Glory's existential dread.  That she'll turn out like her mother.  That her life is circumscribed.  She's just damn interesting.  All of the characters are.  They're a little exaggerated (which works for this story) but they're just magnified versions of real people.  Ellie is sweet and immediately likable, but inwardly fragile.  Peter is snarky, bantery, and convinced that there's good in the world.  Glory's father subsists on only microwave foods because he's afraid to face the past.  They're all people could have their own books.  This just happens to be about Glory.  

style . 5/5
King has this amazing way of using language in the sharpest, most daring ways.  Her writing is saturated with her characters' voices.  These words could be no one's but Glory's.  It's darkly funny, cynical with a hopeful, profound under layer.  Her dialogue is quick and coherent, like an overheard conversation.  And she does some cool things, like using her chapter titles to tell her story, like beginning sections with summaries, like playing around with poetry and art.  It's MFA writing without being pretentious (not that MFA is inherently pretentious!).  

mechanics . 5/5
There are a couple things about the form of this book that fits the function so well.  It reminds me of my creative writing classes.  Is your story best told as a movie?  A poem?  A series of vignettes?  Glory's is told as alternating pieces of her life and transmissions from the future (her history of the future, get it?).  King carefully juxtaposes transmissions and story to add meaning, to hint, to make you think.  It's pretty fabulous.  She also uses a ton of photography references.  Photography is Glory's passion.  She thinks of her moods in zones of darkness, classifying them from blackest to brightest.  It's a clever way to show how Glory sees the world without telling you.  



take home message
Glory O'Brien's History of the Future takes a bizarre premise and turns it into a deeply thoughtful commentary on society, grieving, and opening yourself up to possibilities.  




Note: I received this copy in exchange for a review.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.