Thursday, April 26, 2012

Mini Reviews

I've been on a reading binge which I'm now regretting because I'm out of library books and need to find something to read... a problem I never thought I'd have again! I'll probably reread something off my shelves and I do have friend bringing me a couple books tomorrow - phew! Anyway, when I get this behind on my blogging, sometimes it's better to get them all done at once, or the task becomes too daunting and I put it off even longer. So today I bring you... mini-reviews:

Stars: *****

This is the sequel to Delirium, which I loved. It's not that the concept is new or original. This series definitely has the same flavor as Hunger Games and Matched/Crossed, but it's Lauren Oliver's writing that I adore. She has a mesmerizing way with words and she can tell a story. It sucked me right in and even after I'd finished it I kept it close by so I could re-read parts, right up until the day I had to take it back to the library. I tend to like these second books of dystopian series. I love it when heroines start to actively fight back and manage to make differences in the world around them. There's a big fat cliffhanger at the end (that I saw coming before I even started the book), and I'm dying to finish this series and see how it all wraps up.

Stars: ****

From Goodreads:
New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., have been abandoned.

The Bill of Rights has been revoked, and replaced with the Moral Statutes.

There are no more police—instead, there are soldiers. There are no more fines for bad behavior—instead, there are arrests, trials, and maybe worse. People who get arrested usually don't come back.

Seventeen-year-old Ember Miller is old enough to remember that things weren't always this way. Living with her rebellious single mother, it's hard for her to forget that people weren't always arrested for reading the wrong books or staying out after dark. It's hard to forget that life in the United States used to be different.

Ember has perfected the art of keeping a low profile. She knows how to get the things she needs, like food stamps and hand-me-down clothes, and how to pass the random home inspections by the military. Her life is as close to peaceful as circumstances allow.

That is, until her mother is arrested for noncompliance with Article 5 of the Moral Statutes. And one of the arresting officers is none other than Chase Jennings—the only boy Ember has ever loved.

I enjoyed this, but even though it's only been about a week since I finished it I'm having a hard time remembering what I wanted to say about it. I think the problem is that at this point all these dystopians are starting to blend together in my mind and Article 5 didn't have enough originality to stand out. There's a lot of romance in the plot and not a lot else. I liked Chase as a character, because he goes through a lot of internal struggle, fighting between what he's been trained to do and ordered to do and what his heart wants to do. It takes a lot of time to rebuild up trust between Chase and Ember, which I thought was well done. Really, it was a fast read and I liked it, but there's no "wow" factor here.

Stars: **

From Goodreads:
What girl doesn't want to be surrounded by gorgeous jocks day in and day out? Jordan Woods isn't just surrounded by hot guys, though-she leads them as the captain and quarterback of her high school football team. They all see her as one of the guys, and that's just fine. As long as she gets her athletic scholarship to a powerhouse university. But now there's a new guy in town who threatens her starting position... suddenly she's hoping he'll see her as more than just a teammate.

I picked this one up because I walked past it at the library and it called to me. I don't know why. Maybe I just wanted something different. I needed a break from dystopia, and a cute contemporary romance was what I was in the mood for. I'd seen good reviews of it before too, so why not? Oh, I don't know Emily, maybe because of all the inappropriate content!!! NOTE TO FUTURE SELF: Carefully screen contemporary romances. I love the idea of contemporary, but I find so few that aren't full of swearing, drinking, and casual sex. Like this one is. Which is a pity, because I thought it was a very sweet and unexpected story, underneath it all.

Stars: *****

I'm pretty fluent in Greek and Egyptian mythology, but for some reason I've never spent much time learning about Norse. It's silly to neglect Norse because it's everywhere in our world. There are so many Norse influences in our culture it's crazy! I loved reading through this. The stories are beautifully told with lots of detail and the illustrations are fabulous. Highly recommended for any of you who may be mythology-obsessed like I am.

Stars: ***

From Goodreads:
Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.

Ismae's most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?

Girl assassin? Medieval Europe and magic? I thought I would love this. It turned out to be just too edgy for my tastes. Lots of talk about sex, some gruesome abuse details, too much sensuality, too much boring politics. But at the same time, I didn't hate it. I flew through it (no small feat because it's a FAT book). I enjoyed the setting and the whole magic system. I liked the way Ismae was able to interact with Death and thought she was pretty awesome. It reminded me a bit of the Poison Study series or Kristen Cashore's books (Graceling/Fire). I love this type of book, and would have loved this if I hadn't had issues with some of the content.

Stars: **

From Goodreads:
When sixteen-year-old Faye arrives at Holbrook Academy, she doesn't expect to find herself exactly where she needs to be. After years of strange waking visions and nightmares, her only comfort the bones of dead animals, Faye is afraid she's going crazy. Fast.

But her first night at Holbrook, she feels strangely connected to the school and the island it sits on, like she's come home. She's even made her first real friends, but odd things keep happening to them. Every morning they wake on the floors of their dorm rooms with their hands stained red.

Faye knows she's the reason, but what does it all mean? The handsome Kel tries to help her unravel the mystery, but Faye is certain she can't trust him; in fact, he may be trying to kill her - and the rest of the world too.

Rich, compelling writing will keep the pages turning in this riveting and tautly told psychological thriller.

Harbinger is bizarre. I had a hard time getting through it because I honestly couldn't follow the plot. I kept getting totally lost. Faye as a narrator was the problem, because she's partially insane, partially possessed, partially human and normal, and just in general not enjoyable to read. Another thing that bothered me was that for some reason I just don't understand Harbinger is in a future/dystopian setting. It was unnecessary to the plot which only served to confuse me and make me angry (what, did the publisher insist it be dystopian because that's what's hot right now?). Then there's the small matter of insta-love, which I hate in teen novels. Overall, Harbinger did not win me over.

Stars: *****

What a breath of fresh air this was! As soon as I started reading it I was so happy to be back in the 39 clues world. Humor, history, suspense, mystery, travel... it's awesome. In this second book (of the new Cahills vs. Vespers series) Dan and Amy traveled in Italy and Germany and learned a lot about paintings stolen by Hitler from Jews and hidden in Mad King Louis' Neuschwanstein Castle (which made me happy because I have been researching Neushwanstein a lot lately as I may be going there next year!!!! We're planning a trip to Europe! *happy dance*). Anyway, I love this series. It gets better and better with each book.

Stars: ***** (Can I give it six stars? I'm tempted)

From Goodreads:
Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, the ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

And this is exactly the book I've been waiting to find. I loved this so much. This is the first book in ages that I have sacrificed everything to read because I could not put it down. I devoted a couple straight hours to it and very nearly finished (was probably 10 pages away) when one of my piano students showed up for a lesson. It hurt to put it down! As soon as the lesson was over, I got out some yogurt and settled in to read the last few. Guess how many pages were really left?

One and a half.

I had taken maybe two bites of yogurt and just sat there, staring at the book. So mad that it was over. Such an ending. It's still killing me.

I'll never forget reading this book for the first time because of that. :D

And it's AWESOME!!! Talk about fresh and unexpected. A futuristic cyborg Cinderella! It's not too heavy-duty sci-fi, so don't let that turn you off if it's not your thing. It just adds a fascinating flavor and flair. Marissa Meyer puts such an interesting twist on a story that I'm sure you think you've heard a million times. The familiarity grounds it, the originality is refreshing, the whole thing is fantastic. I enjoyed the scientific aspects, and I thought the plague was a very compelling side-story. The romance was perfectly paced and so good. I felt like I got to know all the secondary characters well too. This is a multi-dimensional story and the writing is fabulous.

Can't wait for the sequels! One will be released each year starting with Scarlet (2013 - Cinder and Red Riding Hood in France), Cress (2014 - Cinder and Rapunzel, taking place on the MOON - how cool is that), and Winter (2015 - Cinder and Snow White in the Sahara Desert).

If you're looking for a new series I highly recommend Cinder.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Seeds of Rebellion

This is book 2 in Brandon Mull's Beyonder's trilogy (Brandon Mull of Fablehaven fame). I think it's so strange... I loved all five Fablehaven books. LOVED them. But for several reasons, the first book in this trilogy (A World Without Heroes) - and now this book - fell short of my expectations.

First off, the characters just didn't quite click with me. Jason is supposed to be a young teenage boy, but he acts, reacts, thinks, and in general behaves like a young adult. I feel the same way about Rachel. If Brandon wants to write a YA novel, that's fine with me, but he's not going to convince me that these two are typical 14 year-olds. And on the subject of characters, the whole book is so fast-paced and plot-driven that there's very little character development. That goes for both the main characters and the side characters. There are so many characters that I had a hard time keeping track of half of them because Brandon doesn't spend any time letting me get to know them. He frequently kills off characters and every time it happened I went, what? who was that again? I sometimes wonder if he purposely fills his book with less-important characters so people won't be sad about all the deaths. I don't know, but in my opinion, a death is only moving and plot-enhancing if a) I care about the character or b) it enhances a theme in the story, like injustice. Here the deaths just felt random and unimportant. Which bothers me because then we're just desensitizing kids to violence. This is a children's book, after all.

Beef #2: The writing is unnecessarily verbose (because I just used that word does that make me unnecessarily verbose?). Here's a sample sentence: "His Herculean torso bulged gratuitously." Occasionally I enjoyed Brandon's wordy concoctions, but it just started feeling bulky. And the other thing is that his characters talk like that too. All of them. What this did is made it even harder for me to tell characters apart and constantly confused me. There's no individual voice for individual characters.

And I have more complaints. I feel like Brandon overuses a particular literary device called "deus ex machina". Sudden solutions to impossible problems just swoop in out of nowhere and save the day. If you've read the book, here are a couple examples: (SO DON'T READ THIS NEXT SENTENCE IF YOU HAVEN'T READ THE BOOK YET!) think of how Jason gets back in Lyrian (really? He's all sad and then he just goes straight back to the same hippo, hops on in, and problem solved?), how they all escape from the zombies (seriously??? zombies???) the Amar Kabal rescuing them from Maldor's troops, Rachel's miraculous use of Edomite magic on several occasions, Galloran showing up exactly when needed with more sword-prowess than is possibly believable. And really, why is everyone so very good at their specific talents? Nobody seems to have to work to learn or grow or become better which makes everything all that more unrelatable and difficult to get into.

I've complained enough. I still enjoyed reading this book, despite my issues. Brandon Mull's world is detailed and imaginative. I like the various races of people. I thought the plot was much more interesting than the story from the first book - far less formulaic and more surprising and clever. I thought it ended rather spectacularly, actually, with promises for the future that I'm looking forward to seeing fulfilled in the third book, Chasing the Prophecy. Which I will definitely be reading. I'll keep reading Brandon Mull, waiting for the magic to happen again.

Touch of Power

From Goodreads:
Laying hands upon the injured and dying, Avry of Kazan absorbs their wounds and diseases into herself. But rather than being honored for her skills, she is hunted. Healers like Avry are accused of spreading the plague that has decimated the Fifteen Realms, leaving the survivors in a state of chaos.

Stressed and tired from hiding, Avry is abducted by a band of rogues who, shockingly, value her gift above the golden bounty offered for her capture. Their leader, an enigmatic captor-protector with powers of his own, is unequivocal in his demands: Avry must heal a plague-stricken prince—leader of a campaign against her people. As they traverse the daunting Nine Mountains, beset by mercenaries and magical dangers, Avry must decide who is worth healing and what is worth dying for. Because the price of peace may well be her life...

You know, I almost bought this right out. I own 6, no make that 7 books by Maria V. Snyder and she's one of my favorite authors. I figured I'd wait and get it from the library first, just to make sure. I should have trusted my instinct and just bought it. :D I really loved this.

I don't know if I can say exactly why, but Maria's writing (I own a lot of her books - that puts us on first name terms right?) clicks with me. It's the mix of fantasy, adventure, magic, romance, strong female heroines, and just good old-fashioned gorgeous writing that gets me.

Excellent plot, character development, magic system, action sequences, setting... All in all, my kind of book. I'd even recommend this over the Poison Study series (since Touch of Power doesn't have the graphic torture scenes that occasionally popped up in the Poison Study books), so if you haven't read anything by Maria V. Snyder, I say this this is a great place to start.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Incarnate and The Alchemy of Forever

I unintentionally read Incarnate by Jodi Meadows and The Alchemy of Forever back to back (just so happened that they both became available from my library the same week) and after I read them I realized they were so similar that I'd better just review them back to back. :D Both involve people who have the ability to reincarnate and have been alive for hundreds of years. There are several other similarities, and both even have a masquerade ball scene where the heroine wears a butterfly costume. So, to start off:


From Goodreads:
New soul

Ana is new. For thousands of years in Range, a million souls have been reincarnated over and over, keeping their memories and experiences from previous lifetimes. When Ana was born, another soul vanished, and no one knows why.

No soul

Even Ana's own mother thinks she's a nosoul, an omen of worse things to come, and has kept her away from society. To escape her seclusion and learn whether she'll be reincarnated, Ana travels to the city of Heart, but its citizens are afraid of what her presence means. When dragons and sylph attack the city, is Ana to blame?


Sam believes Ana's new soul is good and worthwhile. When he stands up for her, their relationship blooms. But can he love someone who may live only once, and will Ana's enemies--human and creature alike--let them be together? Ana needs to uncover the mistake that gave her someone else's life, but will her quest threaten the peace of Heart and destroy the promise of reincarnation for all?
Jodi Meadows expertly weaves soul-deep romance, fantasy, and danger into an extraordinary tale of new life.

Incarnate has been on my to-read list for a while, partially because it received a lot of hype, and partially because I was convinced that the hype was merited when reviews started rolling in about how great it was. I think because of all that hype I was a bit disappointed. I wanted to be WOWED. I enjoyed it and I have very few complaints with it, but it didn't deliver on the WOW.

I liked how original and different this felt. I haven't read many reincarnation books, but this one took a completely new twist on it. I liked seeing the contrast between Ana (who is living her first lifetime) and everyone else around her (who have all been alive for thousands of years), and how she coped with that without whining about it. She was determined to find her place in this world.

I also like the slow build of her relationship with Sam. Trust comes slowly and realistically. Then friendship (with a lot of help from music, which makes my inner musician very happy). Then - and it didn't take a rocket scientist to know it was coming - love. But I liked that even though I knew Sam and Ana would end up together I still enjoyed watching how it unfolded. With the minor beef that I couldn't quite get rid of the icky feeling their age difference gave me. 50,000 year old man falls in love with 16 year-old girl? Just try not to think about it.

And my only real complaint is that some things felt hurried and unexplained, especially at the end. I wanted Ana to spend a little more time discovering the mystery behind her existence. I wanted more of the dragons and sylph and strange religion. The focus ended up being on the love story, which was nice, but I wanted more. Will definitely be checking out the sequel, though.

The Alchemy of Forever

From Goodreads:
Seraphina has been alive since the 1300's, made immortal when the boy she was beginning to love back then, Cyrus, saved her from death with a strange liquid - a method of alchemy that lets them swap bodies with any human being. But now, in modern day America, Sera has decided that she can no longer bear the weight of stealing people's lives so she can keep living on. So she decides to run away from Cyrus and end her stolen existence once and for all. Her plan goes awry when she accidentally takes the body of a dying teenager and feels forced to take over her life. When the lines between Sera and Kailey's identity begin to blur, Sera finds a reason to desire to live once more. But she can't shake the guilt of having taken Kailey's life, even if she was dying. And what if Cyrus finds her?

Seraphina, like everyone in Incarnate except Ana, has been alive for generations. The difference is, that when she needs a new body she doesn't die but instead has to kill someone else and take that body through an alchemical process invented by Cyrus (who is, by the way, one of the most terrifying villains I have found in YA literature). I can't blame her for trying to escape, or for waiting so long to do so (as Cyrus creats a coven of other incarnates and Ana's best friend is one of them - a best friend she is terrified of abandoning to Cyrus's rage and retaliation).

But Sera does escape and takes over Kailey's life with what I thought was incredibly unbelievable ease. Nobody questions it! Everyone is just pleasantly surprised at how nice and thoughtful Kailey suddenly is. Sera fools Kailey's friends, teachers, parents, brother, and the very friendly boy next door. This kind of disappointed me. So improbable. It would have made the story more interesting and created some great tension if even one person questioned Sera/Kailey. Noah (boy next door) and Sera have a sweet little romance, but like with the whole Ana/Sam thing it bothered me that Sera was ancient and Noah was just a teenage boy. But Sera is an interesting character and I think she deserved to enjoy family and friendship since she'd spent so many years suffering with Cyrus.

Who is completely diabolical.

The lengths he goes to to find Sera are scary and ruthless. He's manipulative and creepy and really, just plain evil. There are a lot of very scary surprises from him in the second half of the book.

I'm getting long-winded (my main blogging flaw, I know), so I'll just wrap up and say Alchemy of Forever is fast-paced and good. I could hardly put it down until I was finished, but it left me feeling unsatisfied. I had a lot of questions unanswered, which is sometimes a good thing but in this case NOT. I think there were places that needed to be fleshed out more and I think the whole Sera/Kailey was too easy and made it harder for me to suspend my disbelief. Will still be checking out the sequel, because holy cow what a cliff-hanger. You've been warned. :D


From Goodreads:
Humanity is all but extinguished after a war with partials—engineered organic beings identical to humans—has decimated the world’s population. Reduced to only tens of thousands by a weaponized virus to which only a fraction of humanity is immune, the survivors in North America have huddled together on Long Island. The threat of the partials is still imminent, but, worse, no baby has been born immune to the disease in over a decade. Humanity’s time is running out.

When sixteen-year-old Kira learns of her best friend’s pregnancy, she’s determined to find a solution. Then one rash decision forces Kira to flee her community with the unlikeliest of allies. As she tries desperately to save what is left of her race, she discovers that the survival of both humans and partials rests in her attempts to answer questions of the war’s origin that she never knew to ask.

Combining the fast-paced action of The Hunger Games with the provocative themes of Battlestar Galactica, Partials is a pulse-pounding journey into a world where the very concept of what it means to be human is in question—one where our sense of humanity is both our greatest liability, and our only hope for survival.

Partials is a new release from Dan Wells (brother to Robinson Wells - author of Variant which is also a new release this year). What a talented family! I'd like to know what the Wells' parents did to inspire such creativity in their kids. :D

I really enjoyed Partials. I thought it was intense and thought-provoking. And what world-building! It was so atmospheric and I could feel what it would be like to live in this future world. Dan Wells really took his time thinking out exactly how future New York would be if 99% of the population died of war and the Partial virus: the excess of clothes and housing, the constant salvage runs to find supplies from likely places (like high school nurse offices), the abandoned technology (Kira has one friend whose hobby is collecting abandoned mp3 players and they try to figure out the personality of that person by listening to his or her playlist), the difficulty of organizing and governing the population, the moral and ethical questions of how best to help the remaining people - all of these things were described with detail and believability.

I loved all the characters. Kira was strong and bold. I liked that she had a boyfriend already at the beginning of the book, so while there were some lightly romantic moments, the focus of this book was on the plot and on Kira's determination to find a cure for the virus to save her pregnant friend's baby. Kira breaks rules and makes shocking discoveries. She is also incredibly smart in the medical field and I've always loved a bit of a medical thriller. Lots of science in this book!

Plenty of action, twists and turns, and lots to look forward to from Dan Wells. Can't wait for the sequel.


This is the sequel to Wither, which I found a little underwhelming. I liked the concept of a world where a virus automatically kills women when they turn 20, and men 25; in my head I imagined a series that was both scientific and thrilling as Rhine races the clock to find a cure and fights evil as girls are being sold off at young ages to be plural wives so the population can be sustained. Instead, I thought Wither was overly sexualized and incredibly slow and boring. But I thought, maybe the sequel will be better... maybe things will pick up. If anything Fever is slower, even more unnecessarily sexual, and completely lacking any elements to catch my imagination and engage my interest. I do not recommend this series and I highly doubt I will get around to finishing it.