Thursday, January 30, 2014

Sweetly: The sympathetic villains

There's something to be said about Jackson Pearce's Fairy Tale retellings - parts of the book make me want to stand and fist-bump the nearest person around (in this case, my plush turtle.) (or at least I would have, if it were not for the splintering headache I  was sporting at the time. Not the book's fault, I promise.) 

Other parts just make me want to slam my head against the book. I might have done that a few times, actually. In fact, much of the reasons why it took a sequels-and-prequels challenge for me to pick "Sweetly" up was because of some of the major problems I had with its predecessor. To put it bluntly, there was more things  I didn't like about "Sisters Red" than I did.

That said, "Sweetly" definitely makes it on the "Better-than-the-first-one" sequels list, (which is an admittedly short selection.) The stakes are higher even if the plot is not as tight, the characters felt real, and the romance, which is usually the most boring thing about paranormal YA for me, I didn't really mind here. (Nothing wrong with romance, mind you, but after reading the same descriptions of zings and butterflies in the stomach and guys looking hot without their shirts on, it gets old.)

Ansel and Gretchen Kessel got thrown out by their evil stepmother and take a cross-country trip to escape the bad memories of their home town - the sister who disappeared in the woods, the parents who died of grief, and being those  weird kids at school. Their car breaks down near Live Oak, Carolina (was it?) and they take up jobs at Sophia Kelly's sweet shop to pay for tow. While there, Gretchen learns that a lot of girls have disappeared after Sophia's annual chocolate soiree (I refuse to call it a festival, even if the book obstinately tries to do it.) She also learns that her sister disappeared because she was eaten by a werewolf, so she enlists the help of local huntsman Samuel Reynolds to... learn how to hunt them. Well, mostly how to shoot a rifle. 

You can probably see some of my problems with the book from this bit.

Spoilers to follow.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Review: Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

Oh, Rose... Rose, Rose, Rose, what can I say about you?

"Code Name Verity" was my pretty powerful introduction to Elizabeth Wein - a story about loyalty, resistance, and survival in Occupied France, it tore my poor heart to shreds and left me reeling. Needless to say, I was on her next book like white on rice. 

I didn't realize this book was a follow-up to Verity, which would have probably pushed me towards reading it sooner. Not quite a sequel, "Rose Under Fire" features quite a few of the characters from the previous story, and we learn about their fates, good and bad, as we go along. I hadn't realized how much I wanted to see those people again until I read the book, but I guess that's the quality of Wein's writing at hand - the characters feel like real people, and like real people, you want to know what happened to them after the story was over. The "Where Are They Now?" of books, so to speak.

However, this book and I got off to a pretty rocky start, mostly because I didn't care one bit about Rose for almost half of the story.

Rose Moyer Justice (yes, that is her name) is an American pilot sent to the UK to taxi airplanes to and fro to the airbases in 1944. She's only 18, but thanks to her Daddy owing an airfield, she has flown more hours than most men on the base combined. She also has an uncle high up in the British services who cuts the red tape for her, a boyfriend that adores her, a surprisingly blase attitude towards the war, and is also an accomplished poet.

Basically, she's the kind of privileged person I hold in contempt, not because of her privilege itself, but how casually she treats everything because of it. Much of my critiques towards Tris Prior as a character could really be applied to Rose - having privilege is not, in itself, a problem, but a character having it isn't particularly inspired to change or re-evaluate their worldview on their own. In Tris' case, it was always being right. In Rose's, it's... well, all of the above.

And much like in real life, Rose grows as a character once all of her privilege is taken away from her. On her way back from a mission in France, she is thrown off-course, is captured by the Nazis, and sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp. She makes friends among the women there, particularly a group of Polish girls the Nazis used to experiment on called "The Rabbits," as well as a Soviet fighter pilot called Irina. The rest of the book details some of the things Rose witnesses, her escape, and her role in the unveiling of what really happened in concentration camps. 

I'm still not sure how I feel about Rose. Compared to the other women she meets, hers is easily the least compelling story, but... I don't think this is about comparing suffering. Not really. More to the point, the book (and Rose herself,) often acknowledge her privilege, and keep it in check, which is not something you appreciate until you realize how rare it really is. So yeah, I don't love Rose, but the story doesn't ask that of me either. 

I also appreciate how this book draws the line between realism and fantasy. "The Nick stories," which Rose invents to distract her friends when things are at their worst, are heavily romanticized and Hollywood-esque, as per the book's description, but I also think they can be read as an example of how it can sometimes be tempting to embellish history, to make it more bearable and/or to make oneself feel better about it. It isn't something out of a book - after WWII, governments did their best to paint themselves in the most flattering light possible and maintain the image (see: Robert Paxton)  

Fiction, even historical fiction, can be the same - books that are supposed to be set at a certain time period gloss over or outright ignore some of the more unsavory parts of history for whatever reason, and fiction that is "inspired by" a certain time period often cherry-picks the necessary elements without acknowledging the bigger picture (see: Sexism in fantasy.) 

What I'm getting at is, this book could have been very, very different, and I'm glad it is not. It could have ended on a high note, with Rose, Roza and Irina's daring escape suggesting things would only go uphill from there. It could have ended a few years later with a romance with a handsome reporter of a pilot (never mind that Rose's contact with these people is only brief) thus telling us that Everything Ended Up Okay for Everyone (side note: am I the only person who thinks those types of epilogues are one of the worst things that can happen to a book? Say I'm not alone!) 

But none of these things happen. The story follows Rose after the escape, as she deals with loneliness, PTSD, all the difficulties she encounters trying to tell her story to the world, her feelings of inadequacy and shame. It shows how some of the other survivors are faring as well, how their lives were affected by the war, and just generally doesn't pull its punches in showing us, the readers, reality's dirty little face.

And that's something I appreciate.

Note: Image via BookLikes.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Exile, or Why Do I Like Mercy So Much?

There is something about Mercy... something I can't quite put my finger on. Because I really, really like her, even though she is not the kind of protagonist I like.

In fact, she is the kind of protagonist I used to rile against the most in the far-gone year of... 2010, when I started blogging about YA. (4 years next September. I feel so old!) It wasn't as obvious in the first book, because she was more on the "not sure what's going on here, just gonna find my footing... again" side, and we discovered the world right alongside her. In "Exile," though... whew.

So after saving the day in Paradise (the American city, not the celestial one) Mercy finds herself on the other end of the globe, in the body of Lela, a girl who quit university to look after her dying mother, who doesn't look after herself enough and who is keeping a lot of sadness and resentment bottled up. And you'd think "Aww, a nice slice-of-life to counterbalance all the dark stuff in the first book," and then the book goes: Nope. Sorry. No. 


Because Luc, Mercy's "beloved" orders her to find Ryan, the boy she had a maybe-sorta thing in the previous book, so that he, (Luc) can find her and... whatever. And since Mercy does pretty much everything Luc asks of her, finding Ryan takes precedence over nearly everything, which, in turn, impacts her host's life in a pretty major way.

And here's the thing: I should have hated that. Mercy, an otherwise strong and resourceful person, becomes the absolute worst of herself around Luc - selfish, ruthless, even cruel. Everything and everyone is a means to an end to her - her host, her sociopath stalker, even Ryan, whom she purports to love. She tries to justify it as a sacrifice on the altar of true love and righting the wrongs done to her, but it is not. It really is not.

And herein lies the reason why I liked this book: It's not supposed to be justified. 

Look, Luc is bad news - I knew that as early as the first book. Mercy does too - she's aware of her own fear of Luc, even if she doesn't seem to put the dots together to realize she's in an abusive relationship. Long before the book's final reveal, you know that he's bad, bad news and you want to shake Mercy for actually falling for his act.

Yet... even with my frustration, I couldn't hate this book. I still want to read the rest - not out of some misplaced competitive streak or a weird so-bad-it's-good impulse, but because I honestly think this series is going to validate my feelings towards:

- bad boys
- codependent relationships
- selfish heroines
- angel books in general

And other things, because I have feeling the next two books will have conflict that I'd look forward to. If "Mercy" was an angel book that actually had a plot and interesting twists and engaging characters, "Exile" has proven that this series can raise its stakes and keep its characters evolving. So often it feels like a series is tied together by the bares threads of an overarching plot - here, Mercy's quest for identity is front and center and so. Very. Good.

What I mean is... I can't wait for Muse.

Note: Image via BookLikes.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Allegiant: Let's talk about Four

Something funny happened to me as I was reading "Allegiant".

I didn't go in with a completely unbiased mind. I hadn't enjoyed "Divergent" or "Insurgent", and, as an added bonus, I'd also spoiled myself thoroughly about the ending (I'm the kind of person who clicks on the spoiler tag. Curiosity is my middle name.) I had a ton of preconceived notions, and I thought that this would be a fairly straightforward, for-the-sake-of-research-and-goals type of read.

It didn't turn out to be like that. Because, halfway through the book, I had this thought, and once it took root, suddenly I saw everything (the whole series, not just this book) in a completely different light. I daresay it changed my entire opinion of it. It started off with me muttering about how Tris never struck me as a particularly interesting narrator, and how she was so annoyingly perfect, and how she didn't learn anything. And then I thought:

What if this wasn't Tris' story at all? What if it's Four's?

Content note: Discussion about abuse, sexism and gun culture under the cut. 

Also, spoilers.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Fever: Unexpected

Middle books have it tough - not just because readers have certain expectations towards the series, but also because the reviews are much more sparse. People have either moved on from the series, or can't be arsed to pick it up, or are loving it, or aren't loving it and sticking out of a desire to finish things off. At any rate, nobody seems to be approaching it from a state where they don't have any expectations whatsoever, and while that is to be expected, it's still a bit... yeah.

I'm not entirely unbiased either. I came into this series late (really, really late) and ended up liking the first book a lot. This one, I've read in the library, in between study trips and it's been quite a nice motivator for me to get through my journal articles, I'll tell you that. 

But before I get into the real review, let's get the obvious out of the way:



It's just sooooooooooo pretty! And shiny! And relevant to the book! (given how some book covers are made by people with no knowledge or interest in the actual plot, this is a big damn accomplishment.)

The colors! The imagery! That dress!

*gets interrupted*

Yes, I see it's a skinny white girl.


Yes, I know there's like a million covers like those. But this one is actually made with thought!


Okay, yes, forest, trees, bigger problems. I get it. Can't I enjoy something without having politics shoveled on top of it?

I guess not.

Well, anyway, back to the review, "Fever" picks up almost immediately after "Wither" ends, and we're definitely not in Florida anymore, Gabriel. Gone is the easy life in the mansion, and Rhine has to get back to her old, pre-married self in order to find her brother and... well, find her brother.

Yeah, on a plot level, "Fever" doesn't expand much in scope. Rhine's main motivation is still getting home, and Gabriel is... well, I suppose he loves her, and the two develop as they travel along. But that's not really a flaw - the main focus of "Wither" has always been the inter-personal relationships and how the setting affects them. But while the first book was very much static and slow, "Fever" is more active, in that, through the characters' journey to Manhattan we experience more and more sides of this very bleak world. 

And boy, is it bleak. The Apocalypse hasn't happened yet, but not for lack of trying. While some of the details don't make sense (like, seriously, how is it that North America is the only continent that hasn't been swallowed up by water?) we see the more immediate effects of this dystopia where it matters - on the people.

"Wither" had two types of characters: those that believed a cure was imminent, and those that were unconvinced but willing not to think about it. Which, when you think about the setting (a swanky mansion where the evil scientist was God) makes sense. "Fever" though has people who live without the dollar-shaped rose-tint goggles, and who cope with the shitty reality in all sorts of ways - drugs, denial, aggressive denial, just plain anger, hope, acceptance, depression. There's a breadth of emotions shown, and none of them are particularly condemned in of themselves - at one point, Rhine actually goes and says, in regards to boys and girls using sex to escape reality: "Who am I to judge them?"

(How often do you see that, in a genre where virginal heroines condemn sex (or, at least, loveless sex) every chance they get?)

Now, before someone says I lost all my reviewer teeth, this book is Not Without Its Flaws (TM.) And because I can't be arsed to discuss it at length, here's  the cliffnotes:

- Rhine calling out the plot developments as being "too easy" does not make them seem any less coincidental.

- All the superlative nicknames that she amasses (from total strangers, no less) also grate after a while.

- Boo for the few instances where ableist slurs were used.

- Rowan's character could have used more off-screen development.

- Gabriel too, for that matter.

- How come pro-naturalists are called "rebels" when they have no trouble standing up in front of video cameras to give TV interviews?

- Also, a general observation, but doesn't anyone find it awfully convenient that there is always some sort of in-text reason why the main character never gets it on? Like, they can expose themselves to all sorts of danger, take every risk, challenge everyone, but when it comes to becoming intimate, they suddenly think "Now's really not a good time." (There's a blogpost in there somewhere.) 

So yeah.... not perfect, but definitely a series that was pleasantly surprising. Really looking forward to Sever.

And hey, first book in my 2014 prequels and sequels challenge!   

2014 sequels / prequels reading list

Allegiant by Veronica Roth
Sever by Lauren de Stefano (having just finished Fever today)
Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas
Finale by Becca Fitzpatrick
Thumped by Megan McCafferty
Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor
Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake
Scarlet (and Cress) by Marissa Meyer
Untold (and Unmade) by Sarah Rees Brennan

Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare
Shadow by Amanda Sun
Magic Study and Fire Study by Maria V. Snyder
Scent of Magic by Maria V. Snyder
Exile (and Muse, and Fury) by Rebecca Lim
The Forever Song by Julie Kagawa
Darkness Hidden by Zoe Marriott
Mission Improbable by Andy Robb
Angel Fire by L. E. Weatherly

Blood of the Mantis by Adrian Tchaikovsky
The Scar by China Mieville
The Infernal Devices by Philip Reeve
Ward Against Darkness by Melanie Card
Firefight by Brandon Sanderson
World After by Susan Ee
Prodigy by Marie Lu
Spirit by Brigid Kemmerer
Linger by Maggie Stiefvater
Katya's War by Jonathan L. Howard

Body and Soul by Stacy Kade
Requiem by Lauren Oliver
Crossed by Ally Condie
Sweetly and Fathomless by Jackson Pierce
Rebel Heart by Moira Young
Forest Born by Shannon Hale
Zenith by Julie Bertagna
Enshadowed by Kelly Creagh
Black Heart by Holly Black
Unwholly by Neal Schusterman
Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
Because It Is My Blood by Gabrielle Zevin
Clariel by Garth Nix
Into The Shadows by Carolyn Crane

Because I got it into my head that I wanted, belatedly, to do the 2014 prequels and sequels challenge. I originally thought it would only be a few dystopian trilogies, and then... dear Batman, that's a lotta books!

I think, though, that this is a nice balance of stuff by authors I really, genuinely like, authors I've heard have done amazing things with their sequels, and stories that I just want to finish as a badge of honor type thing. Some of these, I've been meaning to read for a while (Ward Against Darkness) and some I haven't even thought about, until I started looking.

Not all of these are Lantern-appropriate (although I have not yet made a list for all my UF sequels, which are a lot,) but if you don't mind the occasional fantasy book review, do let me know.

Which ones of these are you most curious about? It might influence my next trip to the library...

Points count: 84

Images courtesy of BookLikes.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Cliches explained: Study Groups Bring People Together

Teacher stands up, and says: "For your final uber important assignment that is also tangentially tied to the overall plot of his book, you'll be working in groups."

A ripple of excitement spreads over the students. Unlikely Heroine feigns indifference, but her heart leaps in her throat when she's paired up with the Biggest Jerk in class. Oh my! 

And we, the readers, clutch at our hearts, because we all know where this is leading. 

Namely, Biggest Jerk grows a second set of legs to run away from the Unlikely Heroine before she goes after him with the textbook.

If that doesn't seem logical to you, you've clearly not been to Uni. Or my Uni at least.

Contemporary YA will have us believe that group work is like a dating service. You go to school, minding your own business, then BAM! You're paired up with someone outside of your group (waaaaaay outside of your group, when talking about "Hush, Hush") and your whole life changes. Boyfriends are aplenty. Stuff gets solved. And you ace the assignment!


The thing about this particular cliche is... it doesn't have to be that way. Yes, being forced together by school assignments is usually a good way to meet new people, and sometimes, that even leads to making some fantastic new friendships (or more.)

But there is a good reason why we, given the choice, try to get in study groups with our friends. And that reason, my lovelies, is because your friends won't get mad at you when you go: "Guys, this idea isn't working, we need to start from scratch." 

Regardless of whatever warm and fuzzy feelings one might get while interacting with your brand new study group, the fact is, we live in a largely meritocratic society (so meritocratic the USA has a whole "dream" that tells you that if you're poor and oppressed, it's your fault because you're lazy.)  We learn this at school and from TV programs, that winners start early and nice people finish last and  that good grades are a ticket to success, (which isn't always true because nowadays lots of people get good grades and you don't know how to shuffle us around.) 

Some wiser people break away from it early, but I've noticed that even those who seem "laid-back" and "cool" tend to get nervous when there's a grade on the line. And things get a lot more tense when that grade depends on other people than  you. 

Here's the thing - I don't really think YA has portrayed just how stressful it is for someone to depend on other people to get the job done. Books like "Nevermore" and "The DUFF", which pair off the hapless protagonist with her polar opposite tend to start off promisingly but the grade tension is quickly gone as soon as the romance starts kicking in.

Which could be realistic, but given that Average McNormal-Person is our usual POV character, I can't help but think that the "working together" trope is missing a huge chance of talking to us about our meritocracy system. ESPECIALLY since Average is also the kind of good girl who doesn't so much as breathe the wrong way until her scary partner comes and ruins her.

(I believe "Nevermore" had a whole huge subplot about the heroine's friends concern-trolling her about her English partner, which... would have been fine, if they were concern-trolling her for the right reason.)

And what's especially frustrating is, this trope can be developed and inserted like... so easily, guys! And it adds tension! And character development!

Picture this:

What if, rather than bask in how hot her new study partner is, the heroine gets frustrated when their working sessions devolve into flirting or making out?

What if she gets annoyed when he (or she, if the author is feeling particularly brave) isn't doing his/ her bit of the work? 

What if their laid-back attitude ("It's just a grade,") ticks the protagonist off, and they go on a tangent?

What if the protagonist goes as far as to request a new partner?

What if this whole  thing devolves into an argument and going to college and getting a good job vs. the benefits of a life that is not plagued by student loans? How would your protagonist, who has always believed in the good grades-good job-good life triumvirate, react when someone they have a crush on tells them that, hey, there's more important things to life than that?

And that's just one way you can take it.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

On spinoffs, prequels, and a series that really deserved better

I could start with a backhand compliment now, saying that Fever Crumb is a prequel series that defies expectation, but that would be a lie. See, I was never really against prequel series or spinoffs, despite my rather powerful dislike of some examples of this genre. Plenty of times, I've read a book and go "Wow, this character is awesome, I wonder what happened/ will happen to them," or "How exactly did society get to a point where harvesting unwanted children's body parts has come to be an acceptable practice?" A prequel or spinoff is, in these cases, a perfect opportunity to explore this new venue without leaving a series entirely. (Separation anxiety, I know how it feels!)

And hey, isn't it true that art is just one huge variation on a theme? Much of the beauty of reading, and reading extensively, is picking up common themes, motives, and references that authors pepper throughout their books, the tributes and commentaries they deliver on each other's and their own texts, and the way everything is connected to the world we live in. (Yes, I liked Cloud Atlas, the novel, why do you ask?)

Really, the prequels and spinoffs (and even parodies) which I remember disliking most strongly are the ones who don't separate themselves enough from the original series. "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" was, to me, like a copy-paste job gone terribly wrong. (Forget the complete misinterpretation of the original, even in its weird universe, the story didn't make sense, and then it tries to make up for it with tons of unnecessary tragedy and bad puns. Just... ugh. That book was one giant facepalm.)

Fever Crumb, though, is one of those prequel series that just... works. For one thing, it's separate from the original Mortal Instruments trilogy by about several centuries, so much so it's a world of its own. Beyond just being awesome for newcomers to the series (I actually picked this up before the Mortal Engines,) a prequel series set so far back in the past means that older fans can approach it without getting hung up on exposition they've already heard once. 

At the same time, the series is not so separate from the Mortal Engines. Rather than a prequel to the story, Fever Crumb is a prequel to the whole world. We get to see how humanity came to the idea of moving cities, how the original anti-traction movement began, how quickly an idealistic dream got corrupted. The series builds on itself, creating layers and intricacies that invite you to read it over and over and over again, which is amazing for existing and new fans alike.

And then there's the protagonist.

This is only something you notice after you've read the whole series, but... Fever Crumb, the protagonist, is a member of the Guild of Engineers, and is a capable engineer herself... while in the original series, the Engineers are the bad guys. Can we just take a moment to appreciate how amazing that is? Not only is Fever Crumb a prequel, it's a villain origins story! 

(And no, I will not apologize for all those exclamation marks. They are so worth it.)


So, strong story, excellent worldbuilding, AWESOME heroine (Fever is not the kind of person that easily grows on you, but she is nonetheless amazing in her own way,) and a truly skin-crawlingly disgusting villain who will give you rage attacks well after finishing the final book. What's not to love about this series?

No, seriously, what's not to love?

Because, unlike the Mortal Engines, this series won't get rounded off with a fourth book, and personally, I am crushed.

Make no mistake, "Scrivener's Moon" doesn't end on some super-cruel cliffhanger that will leave you wailing and gnashing your teeth (unless you're as prone to melodramatics as I am.)  It's self-contained, and the ending does leave a note of hope, even though it wasn't as fantastic as when I thought a CERTAIN character had finally bit the dust. (Fair warning: this book gives you massive feels. Massive. Stress balls and tissues advised.) 

But... it just makes me frustrated, as a fan, but also as a book blogger, when you see the stuff that's made with heart and talent progressively lose standing and get replaced with... well, something that just doesn't have the same oomph factor. Of course, there's also the authors to consider - if you're out of stories to tell in this world, it's probably for the best if you don't force yourself. But... can't we appreciate what there is already more? Please?

Note: Images via Booklikes. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Subplots gone wild

Oddly enough, I find I have more to say about this book than I thought I did, when I wrote my speed reviewing post a few days ago. 

Even more oddly enough, I haven't read that many Juliet Marillier books. Which, if you know the reading tastes of my friend list, is kind of a sacrilege, because she has something of a cult following, from what I can garner. 

Having read "Heart's Blood" and loved it (LOVED it, just in case that wasn't clear enough) I approached "Daughter of the Forest" with a pretty raised expectation (really raised, especially since it's a retelling of the Seven Swans.) And... I read it... and.... I'm torn, guys!

On the one hand, I can see where the hype is coming from, Marillier has a very compelling writing voice, and the way she constructs her world, fills it with lush legends and magic and intrigue, really pulls you in and doesn't let you go until you've reached the end of the book. 

Except in this case, I think the legends and magic and intrigue were a little bit too lush for my taste. 

I know, I know. I bitch about under-developped plots all the time. I get it. And yes, I didn't think you could say "too Lush" either. Sadly, we're not talking about fancy soap here and a book, it turns out, can have way too many subplots and backstory. 

As I mentioned in my previous post, the French publishers split the book in two volumes, which, I gotta tell you, was really confusing to me when I first took it out of the library. I didn't understand why there was so much set up, and then the story just... cut off. I mean, I was glad when I finally figured out there was more to it, and when the second tome was due back (someone apparently had the gall of working their way through the books at the same time as I was *sniff*.)

I thought things would all wrap up in the second half...

Well, no need for me to draw out the suspense, you know already that it didn't happen. Simply put, this book was more interested in being a faithful retelling than it was on delivering on what the first half promises. (Although I didn't see any of the original bits where she has three children and then her mother-in-law takes them away and accuses her of having eaten them.)

And that's a problem. On the one hand, we've got this huge set up, with wars and blood feuds and family drama and brothers having individual conflicts and the complexities of being a man and coming to terms with killing people (among other things) and then half those subplots are either dropped by the wayside or glossed over.

I'm sorry, that just doesn't work for me. I mean, these characters are important to Sorcha (and me, since I spend so much time reading about them.) I can see she's deeply affected by that, but then her focus just shifts and it's suddenly about either Hugh or breaking the curse. There's no real resolution to half the stuff that goes down there, and I know that I won't see all the brothers settle their own conflicts because the next book in the series skips a bloody generation!


My point is, it's good to have backstory and world-building, but not at the expense of your characters, and definitely not at the expense of reader expectation. (Because while a reader can come into a book with the most generous of assumptions about the author's intent, the story will set expectations for the reader, and sometimes it comes down to the author delivering what they promised in the first half. Or, if they don't deliver, they should at least try to do it well.)

Like I said, I can see why the French publishers chose a certain moment as their cutoff point. It's like two completely different stories, or maybe like the second half of the book is a strange interlude between two giant showdowns. I just... expected more!

But hey, at least the French arranged for some pretty gorgeous covers. 

Note: Images via Booklikes. 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Mercy: How reincarnation/ body hijacking really is done

Yes, I really did just read this.

Yes, I really, really liked it.

Don't ask me why, because the plot of this book is made up of elements that don't have much in common - a violent kidnapping investigation, paranormal body hijacking, and... whatever you'd call the lovechild between High School Musical and Sister Act II. I mean, maybe, separately, but together...?

Oddly enough, that's exactly what happens, and, yet again, it's because we've got one awesome heroine and an author who knows what she's doing.

Mercy is an angel. Well, they don't go out and say it, but every hint is there, and besides, some of the summaries give it away, even if the story satisfies itself with just shortening the names of prominent angels (Uriel and Lucifer, hey-yo!) Anyway, Mercy has been hijacking bodies for as long as she's lived, and she always has to help fix something for the poor soul she's kicked out. Only in this case, Carmen, her host, is not in need of (much) help, but her foster family... different story. 

I won't get into the actual plot because you should totally read this and enjoy it and long to get your hands on the next installment (as I am.) Instead, let's look at the ol' "reincarnation/ body hijacking" trope which I don't have much experience with, but apparently have plenty to say on.

Those of you who remember my review of Every Day by David Leviathan might recall my annoyance with how the otherwise interesting premise didn't answer some pretty obvious questions about A and how their personality developed. And while Mercy is dealing with a similar set-up, a few details are key for her development.

For one thing, Mercy is very, very bad at remembering. She's been at this for years and years, centuries even, but she's got the memory of a goldfish when it comes to the details of her past lives. While experience and personality development are there (she's got a very distinct voice and character,) any actual memory of living as someone else quickly evaporates, which is a really nice way to explain why she hasn't Figured It Out yet - because, even if she did research on her condition, the knowledge would disappear with the next reincarnation and she'd have to start from scratch.

That's really what makes this narrative work. Reincarnation, hijacking, and other such types of immortality are notoriously difficult to pull off because a protagonist who's seen all, felt all, and done all wears off their welcome pretty damn quick (see: every damn vampire other than Bones.) What, besides soul-crushing angst and ennui, is a reasonable weakness to give your immortal hero/ine?

The memory of a goldfish, as it turns out, is a VERY good one. 

But even then, I don't think I would have liked this half as much had it not been for how... cool Mercy was. And I don't mean cool like... Celaena Sardothien of "Throne of Glass", I mean cool like "I've got my priorities straight and if you waste my time, I will end you." Mercy is weary with her life, but she's confidant about who she is and what she wants. She's not afraid to assert herself, and she doesn't have patience with childish brats wanting to engage her in a pissing contest when she's got better things to do.

Also, she doesn't let anyone - no cute boy, no woman-beating boyfriend, no angel with the power to shift space and time - tell her what to do. She does what she thinks is right, owns up to the consequences, and that, my friends, is a character you can respect.

Here's to hoping the  rest of the quartet is just as good.

Note: Image via Booklikes.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Geekhood is AWESOME

The last line of this book's synopsis is delicious:

"Geek meets Girl... what could possibly go right?"

Said without the slightest trace of irony, I might add.

I first heard about this series while attending an event at a book festival. Andy Robb did a reading from the sequel: Mission Improbable, and after finishing this I'm happy to report that the piss-your-pants-laughing passage I heard was an accurate sample of his writing. Archie's voices (because there are several of them) are hilarious, mostly about the way they offset one another. On its own, Archie's self-depicting Exterior Thoughts, or his snarky Inner Monologue, would have been too bland or too annoying, respectively, and would have been testing their welcome really fast. Together? They take over the world!

This could be applied to the whole book, actually, because the plot, as you have gathered  from the cover and that one line up there, is standard coming-of-age/ first-love story, and it is also about a geek boy meeting a MPDG and...

Wait! Don't pack up!


Seriously, did you not see the title of this post?

Yes, underneath Archie's suave (read: self-depicting) exterior lies a wounded heart of a boy whose parents have divorced and found new partners, and his cure apparently lies in the conquest of Sarah, aka the Beautiful Goth, aka the only girl who can really "see" Archie. What follows is a rom com coming-of-age with D&D  thrown in, and if that doesn't get your gears turning, I don't know what will.

What  really clinched this one for me, though, wasn't Robb's style, or his story. It was Archie. Specifically, Archie's spiritual journey - through wanting Sarah because she's nice, to being embarrassed when his step-father seemingly makes it his business and tries to "help", to trying to de-geekify himself when Sarah gives him a pseudo-psychological book about getting in touch with his "psychic self", to swinging too far in the opposite direction, to all of it coming down to an embarrassing halt when Archie realizes that Sarah isn't put on this Earth for his own salvation/ personal pleasure.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen. 

Andy Robb's female characters are NOT just plot devices and awards for the awkwardly cute hero. 

If I were a smoker, I'd be toking up now.

Stepping away from the hyperbole for a moment, there's too much about MPDG and MPDG-subversion stories to cover here. But this book isn't a subversion. It's not a classical MPDG either. It's a book that happens to have a main character who sees everything as tropes and plot devices, and starts to slowly come out of it as time goes on. 

And that's really what makes it so good - Andy Robb isn't trying to Teach A Lesson about sexism and geekery and manic pixie dream girls (and, again, can we please start a petition to get people to reconsider using mental health terminology so carelessly? k tnx,) he's writing a story with no other agenda than be truthful and entertaining.

(And being truthful may or may not entail a scene where the main character looks for D&D figurines of girls in his local games store and barely finds any, and the ones he does find are painfully stereotyped. What? Isn't it true?)

Basically, it's awesome, and right now, it's also 99p on the UK Kindle. As far as deals go, you can't do better.

Note: Image via BookLikes.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Speed-dating, YA book style

2013 wasn't a great year for me, review-wise. I read plenty of books, and I wished I could write tons on them, but there just wasn't enough material in them for me to give you a decent, thoughtful review. 

Still, I'd hate to let them go without at least some mention, hence this post. This isn't by far everything I read, but they stand out, either because of hype or because they made me sit up straight(er.)

Breathless by Brigid Kemmerer

This Elemental novella was everything I expected and more - action, romance, and the very real coming-of-age dilemmas which I've come to associate with Brigid Kemmerer's books. (Yes, I know, I bitched about Storm a lot. You caught that review of Spark, right? They get better, each one the more.)

I think what really clicked with me here, though, wasn't so much Nick's struggle as it was Quinn's - Quinn, who, like many of us, has to figure out what to do with herself when her best friend in the whole wide world gets a boyfriend. Her loneliness, her fear of losing Becca, were things that just resonated very strongly with me, and I'm glad that there's novels (and novellas) out there that acknowledge this. 

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Yes, I know, late for that boat, but having finally read this, I can see what all the hype was about (the good hype. The negative hype just reminds me that America is a country that doesn't make sense to me. ) It's one of those books that manages to deliver a sharp social commentary without ever looking down on you, or making you feel like the author is using the characters as clever little mouthpieces for their own political views.

Junior is not a mouthpiece. Junior is a young American Indian boy who wants what everyone else wants - to live the dream, nevermind the dream was not designed for people like him.

Also, for any French readers, shout-out to the Albin Michel translation, which does a great job with the text (those of you who have read my "The Girl Who Lept Through Time" review would remember how strongly I feel about the difficulty of translations.)

What a Boy Wants by Nyrae Dawn

Imagine this as "Hitch" for the white working class set meets a genderbender "My Best Friend's Wedding" and you'll get a fair idea of what you're in for with this book. But the premise isn't the main reason why I'm putting this here (although, who doesn't like them some "Hitch"? Come on! It's Will Smith!) No, I'm putting this book here because it's just hilarious.

And I'm not just saying that because I like boys who grovel hard. No, I like boys who own their personalities. And then grovel hard. (Because let's face it, the main attraction of "Hitch" is seeing the arrogant dude eat humble pie in the end.)

Lamentation by Ken Scholes

This must be the only political fantasy where the food porn was harder than the torture, sex and intrigue taken together. Seriously - make sure you've eaten before you pick this one up.

Actually, this must be the only fantasy I've read where I thought I wanted less political intrigue. Scholes has created a complex, wonderful world, and has put lots of effort and thought into each of his characters... but I had a feeling he didn't know when to pull the stops on the details. Either that, or the story needed a whole lotta more pages.

Uzumaki by Junji Ito

Don't eat before you read this series. That is all.

P.S. - This might actually make you vegetarian.

P.P.S. - The love story is ridiculously pure amid all the horror in this series, but that makes it all the more poignant. Seriously. Best love story I've read in 2013.

Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta

I've joined the club. This and "Jellicoe Road" have reminded me what Contemporary YA can really be like, and I want to say, if there's anyone out there who hasn't tried reading this woman's stuff, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?

"Saving Francesca" is a poignant story about mental illness and growing up in a world that doesn't offer much sympathy for people suffering from either. 

Gazelle by Rikki Ducornet

Catnip to the literary snob in me, although I personally liked "The Fan Maker's Inquisition" much better. I think because, while I empathized with Gabrielle, felt for her, and cried for her right alongside the Marquis de Sade (yes, really,) Elizabeth of "Gazelle" reminded me too much of myself at my worst for me to like her.

Still, if we liked all our protagonists, we would have exactly ten books and never write any more. 

Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor

Oh, Karou. Oh, Karou, Karou, Karou....

And Akiva. But mostly Karou.

This is definitely more real. While DoSaB was like a long, long fairy tale which ends with a hard slap across the reader's face, DoBaS is like a never ending boxing practice, with the reader's heart as the punching bag. Ice advised. 

Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier

First half was a realistic, if gritty and cruel retelling of "The Seven Swans." The second was... I don't even know what  the hell am I supposed to say about it. Anti-climactic would be one way to call it. Incompatible with the first half would be better. It's like the French publishers knew it too, because they split the story down the middle and published it in two books.

Also, everything Kat Kennedy says in her review.

Marco Impossible by Hannah Moskowitz

So, so sorry I didn't get to review this when I got the ARC, because it's a fucking beautiful story.

(Then again, I haven't read a Moskowitz story that has let me down, so.... there's that.)

Not much more I can say here, except that Marco will make you think twice before dismiss a best friend as just "quirky side character." He would, probably, start a movement against the stereotyping of "quirky" in books. And get you to sign up for it.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Brb, crying buckets.

Also, FINALLY, a "sisters-before-misters" type book. Yes, thank you, UK, can we please have more? Thank you very much.

No, I really don't have anything to say. I love this book, but it's too personal for me to talk about. It's not the kind of story you can explain to people. You have to read it.

Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Very late. Very, very late. Wish I could get my snark on for this, but the truth is, a month after reading, I can't recall any of the plot.

The thing about the Divergent series, despite the hype, the debate, the passionate discussions, I can't be arsed to make an opinion beyond "It's an action book that is trying to promote tolerance and love and Christian values, but it keeps mixing its Testaments." 

Secret Girlfriend by Bria Quinlan

A cute contemp which just may earn its own full review. (Keep your eyes peeled.) The story is simple, but the characters jump out the page and demand your attention. I couldn't put it down.

Also, daww! Lots and lots of daww.

Note: Images via Booklikes