Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The E-novella post; all the reviews and a debate about if they're worth your effort.

Oh marketing machine! How I love to hate you!
Or my Ode to the E-novella

Listen, I will freely admit that despite my age, and despite my education in English lit, I can be a total fangirl about certain characters and certain book franchises. Harry Potter (obviously), Twilight (though admittedly not without reservation and I am too bored to re-read the actual climaxes of the books, I just like the cheese-ball factor), Percy Jackson, Artemis Fowl, Cassandra Clare- all of it (though I could've used less Clary/Jace angst as the series moved past the third book), Shadow and Bone (Darkling foreva!), Tamora Pierce (do I even need to specify everything? But especially Alanna), and everything Laini Taylor (up to, and including her blog posts about her daughter Clementine), to name a few. In all fangirl moments I can devour anything and everything I can get my hands on either from the author or about that book or series. Deleted scenes, teasers, re-writes from an alternate POV, e-novellas, you name it, I will suck the Internet dry of it all. However, because I am either contrary by nature or because  I am most excellent at playing devils advocate, I am one of the first to roll my eyes at this whole marketing craze for the e-novella.

Once upon a time, extras were posted on an authors site as just that, fun extras. After finishing the book or series you could spend, sometimes, hours on an authors site perusing all the goodies that were there for the devoted.  But as YA has exploded into a frenzy of fan crazed series and beloved author superstars, the publishing world has realized there is money to be made and publicity to be eked out from these extras. And the E-novella was born.

Now a days it has become almost common place to have a e-novella crop up between each part in a series as a way to keep buzz up in between release dates. Goodreads (the easiest way to find out about all the various e-novellas in any given franchise) is full to bursting with 0.5, 1.5, 2.5 etc., and it's no longer a craze limited to YA or the "big" money grossing series'. I'm not sure if this proliferation of e-novella's itself, or the questionable quality and/or relevance of them that's given me so much "extras" fatigue, but either way they are more likely to cause a groan from me nowadays, then a squee of delight.

However! I am a stickler for reading a complete series, which means at some point I have to give in and read all the e-novellas, just so I can feel like I have the full scope of things. Therefore, here are few of the ones I've read in the past six months and my two cents on if I feel like they're worth your effort.

Glitter and Doom
Masque of the Red Death, 1.5
Bethany Griffin
Buy the Kindle copy on Amazon

From Goodreads:
April, niece to the dying city's cruel dictator, is Araby Worth's glittery and frivolous best friend. But she's more than she appears. And when she disappeared in Masque of the Red Death, where did she go? This short novella answers that question, taking us deep underneath the crumbling city, where April crosses paths with Kent, the serious young inventor who is key to rebellion. 

The ending of Masque of the Red Death really threw me. I had been loving the book until the very end, when Griffin sort of threw all you thought you knew about these characters, into the wind. I was somewhat torn on if I would put the time into reading the rest of this series, which I mistakenly thought was a trilogy. But the library had an e-copy of this novella and I thought, why not?

Glitter and Doom was an excellent example of how these e-novellas can be cleverly used to tighten a plot. Set in the POV of April, Araby's ballsy friend who entangles her in a world of trouble, Griffin uses this story to shed some light on a character it would otherwise be hard to like. At the same time she fills in necessary details to the plot to clarify the end of book 1 and lead the reader neatly into book 2. Glitter and Doom saved this series for me, leading me to buy Dance of the Red Death and leaving me happily satisfied by it all at the end.  My only complaint? Glitter and Doom is too necessary to the plot of this series for it not to be included in print editions as well as online. I wish they'd included it as bonus material in Dance of the Red Death.

The Prince
The Selection, 0.5
Kiera Cass
Buy the Kindle copy on Amazon

From Goodreads:
Before thirty-five girls were chosen to compete in the Selection...

Before Aspen broke America's heart...

There was another girl in Prince Maxon's life...

Although I should reserve judgment on this particular e-novella until the final part of The Selection, The One, comes out this spring, I will go out on a limb and say this particular e-novella is unnecessary to the series.

Likely a fan favourite to any Maxon shippers, with a nice tie in to the Selection right at the tail end, to me, The Prince was gratuitous. It was fine, but nothing I would get particularly excited about, and in fact, something I was annoyed to have paid 2.99$ for instead of getting from the library. 

The Guard
The Selection, 2.5
Kiera Cass
From Goodreads:
Before America Singer met Prince Maxon . . .
Before she entered the Selection . . .
She was in love with a boy named Aspen Leger.

Worse then even The Prince (which at least had some point to it), The Guard was a waste of reading time. Falsely advertised to make it sound like a POV of Aspen pre-selection, it is in fact just Aspen's POV during a small part towards the end of The Elite. Granted, I don't like Aspen, however I was sure Cass was going to use this e-novella to flesh him out and create a more layered character then the selfish prick he is in the first two books.  That she doesn't make use of this opportunity is possibly a sign of what kind of series this is, fluffy.

I like the Selection, it's not high caliber by any stretch of the imagination, but I thought it was fun. Sadly Cass does not appear to be growing her writing by delving more deeply into her characters, making The Guard a waste of my reading time. There is nothing new to say in the Guard, and I disliked Aspen as much as I had going in, so really, what's the point?

The Assassin's Blade 
A collection of Throne of Glass E-novellas 0.1,0.2,0.3,0.4, and 0.5

From Goodreads:
Celaena Sardothien is Adarlan's most feared assassin. As part of the Assassin's Guild, her allegiance is to her master, Arobynn Hamel, yet Celaena listens to no one and trusts only her fellow killer-for-hire, Sam. In these action-packed novellas - together in one edition for the first time - Celaena embarks on five daring missions. They take her from remote islands to hostile deserts, where she fights to liberate slaves and seeks to avenge the tyrannous. But she is acting against Arobynn's orders and could suffer an unimaginable punishment for such treachery. Will Celaena ever be truly free?

I was really thrilled when they collected these e-novellas this year. For starters, it was really daunting, after finishing Throne of Glass, to have 5 healthy sized e-novella prequels sitting in the wings waiting to be read. I didn't love Throne of Glass, and committing to all these 2/3$ books was obnoxious and a big undertaking. I didn't have an e-reader at the time, so it also meant reading them on my laptop which is tedious at best. 

Enter the library. One of the first books I got on the waiting list for when I started my mat leave, was Crown of Midnight. I wasn't going to spend any of my now limited book money on a sequel to something I didn't love, but I wanted to keep giving this series a chance because there was promise in where part one was going. The wait list was a million years long, and to tide me over I decided to re-read book one and then give all the e-novella's a read.  The library had them all for download, and I'd just gotten my lovely new Kobo and was eager to give it a go. Imagine my delight when I realized I enjoyed the enovellas way more than Throne of Glass! This was more of what I'd been expecting with the hype leading up to book the firsts publication.

Not only are these 5 novellas important to the greater story arc, they are fun, and well used by Maas to expand upon Sardothien's mysterious past, and reveal more of her character. After reading them I was irked that they weren't in print, they were way to big a part of the series not to be. The Assassin's Blade will definitely be joining my library when I purchase my copy of Crown of Midnight, and I would be remiss if I didn't give a nice slow clap to Bloomsbury for using enovellas very effectively in this series.

The Witch's Betrayal
The Assassin's Curse, 0.5
Cassandra Rose Clarke
From Goodreads:
You’ve read The Assassin’s Curse. You’ve met Naji. Now go back in time and see Naji in his earlier years, as he seeks a target and ends up clashing with Leila, the river witch.

This is a perfect example of something that used to be an author website extra. The Witch's Betrayal really doesn't illuminate much about either The Assassin's Curse plot, or Naji's character, it's just a fun pop into Naji's POV, by telling the story of how he got his scar.

Now Clarke could have used it to be a really revealing look into his character, at which point it really would have warranted as a must read to this series. Instead it was really just a marketing scheme to keep people interested and talking about the books while publishing. Does that make this story redundant now that the series is fully published? As a sale, kind of. I got my copy from the library, so it didn't really matter to me one way or the other, but if I'd paid for it I think I would have been disappointed.

The Automaton's Treasure
The Assassin's Curse, 0.6
Cassandra Rose Clarke
Buy the Kindle copy on Amazon

From Goodreads:
A tale exploring Marjani's first steps beyond Qilar, when she is dismissed from her home for scandalous behaviour.

Marjani's ship is stolen by pirates and, in order to save her own life, she pretends to know the location of great treasure.

Of the two novellas in this series, this one is the least interesting. It has zero bearing on the actual print series, doesn't dig into Marjani character at all, and worse then either of these two things, misses an awesome opportunity to tell Marjani's story. 

Since Marjani and her scandalous relationship are a big part of the final book, The Pirate's Wish, it seems obvious to me that Clarke should have used Marjani's background to better avail for this short story. I would have loved to have had more layers added to her character and for her past to be illuminated more, and sadly I think it would have made me care more about her and her lover who become major figures int the final part.

In the end it seems like it's half a dozen of one, and six of the other, when it comes to e-novellas. My suggestion? Borrow them first. Seriously, save your loonies to put towards the 20-23$ hardcovers of the actual story, and if you love the enovellas then hold out for the compiled print copy. God knows the publishing industry needs your money (not mine, they have way too much of mine already). But you know, be true to your fangirl/fanboy ways, and suck the Internet dry of all your beloved characters and stories, if you need to.
I won't judge, I promise.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Summer of Letting Go, by Gae Polisner- Review

From Goodreads:
Just when everything seems to be going wrong, hope and love can appear in the most unexpected places.
Summer has begun, the beach beckons and Francesca Schnell is going nowhere. Four years ago, Francesca's little brother, Simon, drowned, and Francesca is the one who should have been watching. Now Francesca is about to turn sixteen, but guilt keeps her stuck in the past. Meanwhile, her best friend, Lisette, is moving on most recently with the boy Francesca wants but can't have. At loose ends, Francesca trails her father, who may be having an affair, to the local country club. There she meets four-year-old Frankie Sky, a little boy who bears an almost eerie resemblance to Simon, and Francesca begins to wonder if it's possible Frankie could be his reincarnation. Knowing Frankie leads Francesca to places she thought she'd never dare to go and it begins to seem possible to forgive herself, grow up, and even fall in love, whether or not she solves the riddle of Frankie Sky.
There is something about a YA contemp that's set in the summer. Mythical, magical summers of yore. I don't read oodles of contemporary books in any genre, be it YA, MG or Adult fiction, but when I do, it seems they are mostly set in the summer. It's like a tiny little taste of those lovely long days with no commitments and school still way off in the distance. Obviously I need to get rich so I can once again languish in a hammock for two months.

The Summer of Letting Go was by no means a perfect read, certain aspects of the story were too simplistic, some of the hurdles too easily achieved, but it was charming and it's charm swept me away and won me over. That, and Frankie Sky stole my heart.

What I loved the most about this story, beyond Francesca's story or Frankie's story or any of the rest, was how Polisner sets up a really big what-if (reincarnation) and then leaves it up to our imaginations what might be true or possible. Francesca does not find all her answers, and although the hints are there that Frankie Sky's mom knows more than she's saying about Francesca, her brother, and about a connection with Frankie, nothing is ever explicitly said. It doesn't need to be for this story to wrap itself up. Francesca gets what she needs from the relationship, without the esoteric answers about her brother and Frankie and their possible connection. Yet it's a beautiful supposition, it adds this really positive feeling to a sad story without cheapening the tragedy that's marked all these characters lives.

I guess on another level I connected with this book as well. My family has a very similar story to this one, the drowning element of it anyhow. When my mother was four, one of her brothers drowned at the beach. He was a bit older than Simon, I believe he was 7, but my mom's eldest brother was 15 and tasked with watching Ronnie (the seven year old). Ronnie ran into the water and was likely elbowed in the head by another swimmer, it was a busy day at the beach, and drowned. I'm in my thirties, and both of my grandparents have passed away now, but this tragedy was such a massive thing in the family that it certainly left it's mark on my life as well, even though I was born 20 years after he'd died.

Seeing how it affects Francesca's family, reminds me forcefully of my grandparents. My grandparents retired to a beach side house on a lake, and so I spent a lot of time in the water. My grandmother had come a long way, but she still bought my swimsuit every year, and every year we found the most neon, bright bathing suit available so she could always see me. She had strict rules about roughhousing or silliness near or in the water and God help you if you went in without telling her you were heading out for a swim. If there was ever a scene on TV or in a book about someone drowning or even struggling in water, you made sure she didn't see it, and she did not approve of anyone going to public beaches, like ever, she didn't stop them, but she worried and fussed, and expressed general disapproval.

My mom was so very young when it happened, but the effect of watching your parents cope with such a shattering tragedy, and losing a sibling is something that has no real age limitations. After all, although you might have been too young at the time of it happening, the repercussions go on for years.  While reading The Summer of Letting Go, it was easy to see my mom in Francesca, and my grandparents in Francesca's parents, Polisner has captured that dynamic very truthfully, at least in my experience.

In the end, so much about this book was good I could easily overlook some of the simplistic solutions or outcomes in Francesca's relationships with her mom and her best friend. Yes, Lisette ends up being more of a plot crutch then a character, but with Frankie Sky stealing the show, I just couldn't make myself care. The Summer of Letting Go was a charming read, well worth a lazy summer day in a hammock. Now that Spring is finally rearing it's head all you really need is a hammock.

The Summer of Letting Go, by Gae Polisner
Published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, march 25th, 2014
My copy kindly provided by the publisher

Buy The Summer of Letting Go on Amazon

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Devil in the Corner, by Patricia Elliott- Review

From Goodreads:
Penniless, and escaping the horrors of life as a governess to brutal households, Maud seeks refuge with the cousin-by-marriage she never knew. But Juliana quashes Maud's emerging friendships with the staff and locals - especially John, the artist commissioned to restore the sinister Doom in the local church. John, however, is smitten with Maud and makes every effort to woo her.

Maud, isolated and thwarted at every turn, continues to take the laudanum which was her only solace in London. Soon she becomes dependent on the drug - so is this the cause of her fresh anxieties? Or is someone - or something - plotting her demise?

Is the devil in the corner of the Doom a reality, or a figment of her imagination?

A classic Gothic romance, which is sadly rare in YA as a genre, The Devil in the Corner filled my neglected need for something dark and moody.  Why, oh why can't I have a little more dark and moody in my reading? Now that Kenneth Oppel has given up the Victor Frankenstein series,  I only have Megan Shepherds books to look too when I'm feeling a need for some Gothic in my reading flavours. Needless to say I've been saving Shepherds follow up, Her Dark Curiosity for a rainy day.

Tone is always really important to me in a Gothic story. Obviously there are certain requirements that need to be met to make a story Gothic, but tone isn't generally one of them. That being said, I particularly like my Gothic stories when they have a certain dryness to them. Not boring dry, but told as if by a narrator who is emotionally removed from the story. To me it lends that shivery quality to the telling, where even great episodes of emotion are told with a cold voice. Elliott did this especially well, and although her story was first person, two person POV, she used the uptight Victorian time period to her advantage, letting it overtake the way in which we are told the story. John and Maud are nothing if they're not proper, and it's this need to be proper and not overly emotive with each other which ends up causing so much trouble. As a modern reader this can be both frustrating and deeply revealing of a century that wasn't that long ago in time but ages away in both mannerisms, and lifestyle (among other things).

I especially like how Elliott used religion and atheism to great effect by centering the story around the Doom painting. How this painting brings everyone together, how it is both feared and revered, but also how Maud seems to see her own fate within it, is a nice touch to a story that is otherwise about cruel relatives and gossiping towns people who will stop at nothing (it would seem), to cast out someone they see as an interloper.

If you're looking for something to mix up your reading a little, then look no further than The Devil in the Corner. It will be your breath of musty, creepy air, and you'll likely enjoy every dire moment of it.

The Devil in the Corner, by Patricia Elliott
Published by Hachette Children's Books (Orchard in the UK), March 2014
My ecopy kindly provided by the UK publisher.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Some more mini reviews! Because YES, I AM that behind.

Ugh, guys. I AM THE WORST REVIEWER! Seriously. I'm behind 30 reviews and lets not even talk about the last time I updated my Reviews by Titles, Goodreads or Review Policy.  So let me get these mini-reviews out of my system with an apology- I totally read some of these over a year ago.

From Goodreads: 
After a bizarre accident, Ingrid Waverly is forced to leave London with her mother and younger sister, Gabby, trading a world full of fancy dresses and society events for the unfamiliar city of Paris.
In Paris there are no grand balls or glittering parties, and, disturbingly, the house Ingrid’s twin brother, Grayson, found for them isn’t a house at all. It’s an abandoned abbey, its roof lined with stone gargoyles that could almost be mistaken for living, breathing creatures.

And Grayson has gone missing.

No one seems to know of his whereabouts but Luc, a devastatingly handsome servant at their new home.

Ingrid is sure her twin isn’t dead—she can feel it deep in her soul—but she knows he’s in grave danger. It will be up to her and Gabby to navigate the twisted path to Grayson, a path that will lead Ingrid on a discovery of dark secrets and otherworldly truths. And she’ll learn that once they are uncovered, they can never again be buried.

I loved this story, it was different and had a nice haunting vibe, plus Paris. I liked that Morgan found a new and intriguing paranormal angle that's still historical, and well, as plausible as vampires and werewolves are ever going to be. Obviously the 1899 time frame was a great addition to this story, I'm not sure it would work as well in a modern setting, but combined with the gargoyles it was the touch that made this story really work for me.

Some thriller overtones, a lot of mystery, an enchantingly unusual and well done paranormal angle, combined with some endearing characters, made this book a surprise win for me. Although it took me nearly a year to sing it's praises, it left me quite charmed and I'm really looking forward to the second part, The Lovely and the Lost due out in May. Gosh, it's only March. Really it's like I got to this review early.

The Beautiful and the Cursed, by Page Morgan
Published by Doubleday, May 14th, 2013
My copy kindly provided by the publisher
Buy The Beautiful and the Cursed on Amazon

From Goodreads:
Just when Azalea should feel that everything is before her, beautiful gowns, dashing suitors, balls filled with dancing, it's taken away. All of it. And Azalea is trapped. The Keeper understands. He's trapped, too, held for centuries within the walls of the palace. So he extends an invitation.

Every night, Azalea and her eleven sisters may step through the enchanted passage in their room to dance in his silver forest, but there is a cost. The Keeper likes to keep things. Azalea may not realize how tangled she is in his web until it is too late.

I've been eyeing this one up forever. Several bloggers I like had glowing things to say about it back when it first came out, and it had been on my wish list for probably three years. I always loved the dancing princesses story and looked forward to a YA novel adaptation. This Christmas I ran into a soft cover copy while looking for something to spend my last 10$ of a gift certificate on and voila! Just like that it was off my wish list and into my grubby little mitts.

One thing I've considered, while stewing over this review, was maybe there was just too much lead up to this book for me. Spending three years thinking it was going to be lovely was maybe not entirely fair to it's simplicity. Meaning, I liked it, but it certainly didn't leave me with intensive feelings of love.

I felt like there was too much build on the unhappy, burdened sisters, after the death of their mother, it went on much too long before it transitioned into the dancing nights. Also, the king was vilified so badly in the beginning that it was very difficult for me to believe in his caring when he came back into play in the story, I felt like Dixon needed to dial back his cruelty a bit.

I did really enjoy the part of the story about the suitors trying to figure out where the girls danced. This is where I thought Dixon did a really great job on elaborating on the original fairy tale. Overall though, I was underwhelmed. Also, fair warning! Amazon suggests that Entwined if frequently bought with Divergent...Ummmm, not remotely similar! I would definitely not recommend this slow moving fairy tale re-telling with a break-neck, action packed dystopian.

Entwined, by Heather Dixon
Published by Greenwillow, March 2011
Buy Entwined on Amazon

From Goodreads: 
In a land where magic has been forgotten but peace has reigned for centuries, a deadly unrest is simmering. Three kingdoms grapple for power—brutally transforming their subjects' lives in the process. Amidst betrayals, bargains, and battles, four young people find their fates forever intertwined:
Cleo: A princess raised in luxury must embark on a rough and treacherous journey into enemy territory in search of a magic long thought extinct.

Jonas: Enraged at injustice, a rebel lashes out against the forces of oppression that have kept his country impoverished—and finds himself the leader of a people's revolution centuries in the making.

Lucia: A girl adopted at birth into a royal family discovers the truth about her past—and the supernatural legacy she is destined to wield.

Magnus: Bred for aggression and trained to conquer, a firstborn son begins to realize that the heart can be more lethal than the sword. . . .

The only outcome that's certain is that kingdoms will fall. Who will emerge triumphant when all they know has collapsed?

A complex and enjoyable fantasy, I would not bill it as Game of Thrones for teens as they did on Goodreads. Not political enough, nor nearly enough characters. However it is a multi-layered story built on rotating POV's which keeps the plot tight and fast-paced. Being as I read it quite some time ago, *side eyes sequel which has been out since December*, much of the nuancing has long ago slipped my mind. However! I do remember that much of it had me on the edge of my seat and that I was eager to dig into part two. At this point though, I'm guessing it would be wise of me to just hold out for part three and re-read the whole thing at once, so I can really appreciate how it comes together.

Alas, so many books! So little time! But it's always nice to have something you know will be truly enjoyable, tucked off to the side for a future rainy day.

Falling Kingdoms, by Morgan Rhodes
Published by Razorbill, December 11, 2012
Buy Falling Kingdoms on Amazon

From Goodreads:
Tella Holloway is losing it. Her brother is sick, and when a dozen doctors can't determine what's wrong, her parents decide to move to Montana for the fresh air. She's lost her friends, her parents are driving her crazy, her brother is dying—and she's helpless to change anything.

Until she receives mysterious instructions on how to become a Contender in the Brimstone Bleed. It's an epic race across jungle, desert, ocean, and mountain that could win her the prize she desperately desires: the Cure for her brother's illness. But all the Contenders are after the Cure for people they love, and there's no guarantee that Tella (or any of them) will survive the race.

The jungle is terrifying, the clock is ticking, and Tella knows she can't trust the allies she makes. And one big question emerges: Why have so many fallen sick in the first place?

This was truly one of the most bizarre books I've read in awhile. Let's start with the obvious, this is a strange hunger games-esque reality race to the death. Except with animals, and some kind of secret group handing out secret cures to the winners. And a weird disease that all the contestants are trying to win a cure to, but that only affects the family members of the race contestants and nobody else in the world knows about it. It's a feeble plot at best.

The animal companions, called Pandora's, are synthetically created and have all sorts of powers to help the contestants win. As a plot point they are the easy way to create an emotional reaction in the reader. All the pairings tell you what you need to know about a character without ever requiring any real work on the authors behalf. Oh look, he has a grizzly, what a big, tough contestant he must be. Oh look, Tella has a tiny little fox like creature, she must be the underdog. Oh wait! the underdog has super awesome powers, how shocking. 

Truly one of the strangest parts of this story though, is the love interest. 
Guy is introduced thus:
The guy looking down at me is very tall, or maybe he just seems so because I'm still on the ground. He appears to be about my age, though the broad width of his shoulders tells me he may actually be a couple of years older. His eyes are blue. Not in the way that makes me buckle at the knees and start naming our children, but the kind of blue that makes my breath catch. A cold, hard blue that looks more like a statement than a color- one that says, "Back the fuck off."

His hair is so dark, it looks like wet ink, and is spiked around his scalp in soft tufts. He has a strong jawline, and right now that jaw is clenched so tightly, I'm afraid this guy is about to kick me when I'm down...
He narrows those chilling blue eyes at me, and in an instant, they flick toward the floor near one of the bookcases. He looks back at me, and I wonder if maybe, even though he looks a little like a serial killer, he's going to help me up.
Later on Tella goes on to call him Serial-Killer guy and Green Beret. She spends a fair amount of time referring to how he looks like someone who will kill her. I bemoaned this kind of description for the love interests in Alice in Zombieland and I can't even begin to believe I'm seeing this appalling kind of description for a love interest AGAIN. At no point, does a guy who has serial killer anything, appeal to me for hot kisses. Um, like ever. I don't care how misunderstood you want the guy to be, that's just taking it too far.

When, at long last, there was a explanation given for the cure, the disease, the race and the secretiveness of it all, I was underwhelmed by the story. It was weak, obscure and asked a level of suspension of disbelief that was downright ridiculous. This is, after all, supposed to be average, everyday, now-times and place. Selling me on crime bosses, huge fortunes and revenge over a death to all the scientists of a huge organization, well, it didn't work out for Scott.

An incredibly weak start to a series being billed as the next big thing, I can only hope that it will improve as it moves on to book two and the second stage of the race.

Fire and Flood, by Victoria Scott
Published by Scholastic, Feb 25th, 2014
My copy kindly provided by the publisher
Buy Fire & Flood on Amazon

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Lady Thief, by A.C. Gaughen- Review

From Goodreads:
Scarlet’s true identity has been revealed, but her future is uncertain. Her forced marriage to Lord Gisbourne threatens Robin and Scarlet’s love, and as the royal court descends upon Nottingham for the appointment of a new Sheriff, the people of Nottingham hope that Prince John will appoint their beloved Robin Hood. But Prince John has different plans for Nottingham that revolve around a fateful secret from Scarlet’s past even she isn’t yet aware of. Forced to participate at court alongside her ruthless husband, Scarlet must bide her time and act the part of a noblewoman—a worthy sacrifice if it means helping Robin’s cause and a chance at a future with the man she loves. With a fresh line of intrigue and as much passion as ever, the next chapter in Scarlet’s tale will have readers talking once again.

Oh man! I loved Scarlet, so very, very much, and I was dying to get my hands on part two. So much so, that I had my name on the list for the library ebook ages before it was released. There was much merry squeeing when I got my email about it's availability, and not a note of it was undeserved.

Basically everything I loved about Scarlet was amplified and improved upon for Lady Thief, with additional lovely goodies thrown in for good measure.  To be honest, although I loved book the first, I wasn't sure where Gaughen was going to take the series. I mean there were cliff hangers, but what was she going to do to set this book apart from the first? Was the series going to be a game of cat and mouse between Gisbourne and Scarlet forever?

Gaughen did the one thing I didn't expect, she flipped the story on its head. Where book one was all about the commoners, book two focused on the nobility and the famed brood of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Where book one was all about the evil that is Gisbourne, book two revealed the man behind the rage. And of course, Scarlet has more secrets to discover about herself, all while trying to behave as a proper woman of nobility and good little wife. I'm sure you can imagine how that works out.
I were shown to the princess's chambers and made to wait outside until she were ready, with the higher-ranking ladies flocked about her. When she emerged, the few others standing there dropped to curtsies, and it took me a breath to remember I were meant to do it too.
"Come along," she said, and we all stood and followed her out.
It were a messy business, so many puffed-up ladies walking down a single hallway, but the overly layered parade made it to the courtyard intact. It seemed we were meant to follow along behind the princess in a half circle, which one lady- who hadn't introduced herself to me- waved her hands and swatted at me to make sure I'd do.
My hands curled to fists- I left my damn knives in the chambers. Which were probably a blessing, considering what notions ran through my head just then.
Being the big history nerd that I am, I adored Gaughen's take on Eleanore of Aquitaine and Prince John. The way she uses them in this story was a wonderful twist on the Robin Hood/Maid Marion tales, but also a great peek at a fictionalized version of two historical  heavy weights. Where this will go in the future of this series, is tantalizing and I am very very hopeful that she's under a long contract for the series, one more book will hardly quench my thirst!

However! Gisbourne is the surprise love of this story for me. I adore a great villain, but it's a role that's often written very flat. Gisbourne becomes such a nuanced and engrossing character in Lady Thief, that he almost surpasses Scarlet herself as the star of the story, for me at least. I loved the many angles Gaughen brings out in his character for Lady Thief, how you're never really sure what is genuine and what isn't, how he has moments of shocking tenderness, and of course, his all consuming rage. Small looks into his past reveal what he might have been under different circumstances, but Gaughen gives us readers only enough to cause, what I'm sure will be, endless debates as to his actual evilness. To me this was a villain reveal worthy of Rowlings depiction of Snape.

All in all it was an immensely satisfying read that I predict will win over all new legions of fans for this series, which, lets be frank, is not nearly popular enough for how well written it is. Lets correct that, shall we?

Lady Thief, by A.C. Gaughen
Published by Walker Children's, February 11th, 2014
Buy Lady Thief on Amazon

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Dear Nobody: The True Diary of Mary Rose- Waiting on Wednesday

Currently on my stack of TBR, The True Diary of Mary Rose seems like it will be the counterpoint to books like This Star Won't Go Out: The LIfe and Words of Esther Grace Earl.  Have a look and tell me you aren't excited to give it a try.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Breathe, by Sarah Crossan- Book Brunch Review!

From Goodreads:
Breathe . . .
The world is dead.
The survivors live under the protection of Breathe, the corporation that found a way to manufacture oxygen-rich air.

has been stealing for a long time. She's a little jittery, but not terrified. All she knows is that she's never been caught before. If she's careful, it'll be easy. If she's careful.

should be worried about Alina and a bit afraid for himself, too, but even though this is dangerous, it's also the most interesting thing to happen to him in ages. It isn't every day that the girl of your dreams asks you to rescue her.

wants to tell him that none of this is fair; they'd planned a trip together, the two of them, and she'd hoped he'd discover her out here, not another girl.

And as they walk into the Outlands with two days' worth of oxygen in their tanks, everything they believe will be shattered. Will they be able to make it back? Will they want to?
This has been sitting on my shelf for ages. A BEA leftover from the year before last, I had picked it up several times thinking it sounded promising but was always distracted by other books and time lines. So it was perfect that our little Book Brunch group decided to take it on as the March read.

I have to say, I was disappointed, on basically every count, with this book. The characters were flat or unbelievable, the struggle felt really stilted and set up, and the big climax was uninspired. I have zero desire or motivation to pick up the second part. With such a clever pitch, it was an incredible let down to find the story so boring.

Lets start with the characters. Alina is by far the most interesting of the three mains, though they delve so little into her relationships with others that she has no depth. She is interested in someone who is nothing but a cameo, and her other relationships, like with her cousin, have zero complexity to them. Her parents are dead, but even that is more of an aside to the story more than a defining feature in her life. 

Bea is sweet and has definite possibilities. She has the poor background, hopeful parents she doesn't want to disappoint and an impossible crush on the premium guy who can't see her for who she is.  Her storyline was filled with opportunities to expand on the struggle but also on her personal struggle with morals, love, expectation and belief. Crossan touched on it now and a then, but mostly she wasted the potential she gave herself within the story. Also, and I just have to say this. Bea's internal monologues about how much she yearns for Quinn were kind of weird. They never really went into what she loved about the guy exactly, and since he's completely blind to her (at one point he's going on about the amazing green eyes on a girl he's infatuated with by saying "Now who do you know with green eyes?" to Bea, who has green eyes.), it needed explaining. But also they were just about impotent yearning, worded really oddly:
I don't love him in the way my parents love each other- sweetly, almost wearily. When I'm with him I feel each nerve within me awakening so that when he touches me, when he brushes my arm accidentally, I shiver and I have to bite back an urge to cry out.  I feel the ache everywhere: in my neck, in my belly, between my legs.
Thanks for sharing Bea. Hold on while I go bleach my eyeballs. Horny teenagers.

Quinn was the worst of the bunch. My number one issue with Quinn was that he sounded like what a woman would think a guy would say or think. He noticed women's shoes, refers to a girls strappy sandals (what guy would call strappy heels anything but heels?), his goofier, horny guy moments are too self aware and in the end so much of what he blurts out is just random and strange. I think Crossan was going for comical, but it fell really flat for me, just sounding odd and out of place.  Also, as with all the other characters, Quinn goes from A-B in thought processes without explanation. Like being blind to Bea and then switching gears and being completely into her.

As far as the actual story goes, there is far too little world development to engross me in the struggles of this dystopian world, especially since I wasn't invested in the characters personal struggles within it.  Besides the fact, many of the plot elements seemed to have no reason to them. Like the Pod Minister being a drunk, or Petra (the rebellion leader) having no alternative plan in case of discovery (umm, duh, you're an underground resistance movement, a few miles away from the government you're fighting against). Also, many of the scenes involved complete nonsense:
When I get home, I know I'm right. My father is pacing the living room. He looks like he's about to have some kind of fit. Lennon and Keane are hiding behind the couch, peeking out at him. And my mother is lying on the floor...{then the pod minister arrives with his kids Oscar and Niamh}
"Niamh! What a beauty she is," my father says, taking Niamh's hand between his own and squeezing it
"Ha! She didn't look like that an hour ago. And you should see her wehn she gets out of bed. A horror! ha!" The Pod Minister barges right past my father and into the living room, where he pulls my mother up off the floor and kisses her right on the lips, his mouth opening slightly. My father lets go of Niamh's hand and follows him in.
Why was Quinn's mom lying on the floor? Or his brothers behind the couch? His father isn't portrayed as abusive, in fact you're supposed to be shocked when he's revealed to have a more cut-throat career than he's ever told his family. Why does the Pod Minister disparage the daughter he's trying to pair up with Quinn, or french Quinn's mom? Um...why is there no reaction to him frenching Quinn's mom??! Presumably these are supposed to be subtle hints at abusive personalities (Quinn's dad) and the hidden (?) drunken state of the Pod Minister (who is always drinking, so not really a shocker), but they don't work that way, and instead just come off as awkward, disjointed moments in the story.

In the end nothing in this story kept my interest enough to propel me onwards. I read the whole book, but it was a forced march, as nothing was compelling enough to keep me turning the pages. As for the "cliff hanger" it couldn't have been more uninteresting. This will not be a sequel I have any desire to read, nor a series I am even vaguely curious about where it goes down the road.

Breathe, by Sarah Crossan
Published by Greenwillow, October 2012
My copy obtained at the BEA
Buy Breathe on Amazon
Check out more reviews for Breathe from the Book Brunch Club