Monday, September 15, 2014

Becoming Fierce- Anthology, Blog Tour Review

From Goodreads:
Life is fierce. But so are you.

Sometimes it totally sucks being a teen. Trying to fit in, dealing with bullies, a changing body, and the feeling that no one really gets it. It’s hard on the head and often seems like no one else understands.

That’s what Becoming Fierce is all about. Those not-so-fun times that come with being a teen but also how others have gone through similar things and made it to the other side. New and established Canadian authors share experiences from their teen years that have stuck with them. Some of the stories are dark and heartbreaking while others are lighthearted and grin-worthy. Regardless, they all have something in common: while things may seem like an epic fail now, they do get better.

There are several reasons I wanted to read this anthology despite the fact I'm not generally a short story person.  

Reason one: I love Susin Nielsen, who has done the forward to this book.
Seriously. The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen was an astounding book (you should really really read it. If you have already, then you really, really need to read it again.). So if she's onboard, how can I not be?  

Reason two: Part of the proceeds go to the Kids Help Phone.
I mean honestly, is there anything better than a book that is trying to help teens see past all the hard parts (god, some really, really hard parts! I cringe for my daughters future) and show the glimmer of hope on the horizon? It's called making it to adulthood alive and sane, spoiler alert.
The answer is yes, there is, when they're also providing some of your money from the purchase of the book, into funding another outlet for helping those who need extra help to make it through.  Basically you're doing a good dead just by buying the book, no matter how long it ends up in your TBR pile.

Reason three: I greatly enjoy this publisher. This Canadian publisher. This recently started, during the decline in publishing, independent, small press publisher. Co-founded by a book blogger and animal lover. The reasons are legion to support this press, however, so far the books have been so astounding I haven't needed any of them as excuses.

Reason four:
The stories are extremely readable, even when some of them are incredibly dark. 

Not a fast read or an easy read. Not a beach book or something to take on the subway with you to work. This book is made for quite reading with processing time, and sometimes with chocolate and kittens to lighten your spirits. Thought provoking and true to it's subject, Becoming Fierce is an excellent example of what anthologies can do best, highlight a subject from every angle.

Becoming Fierce, by Fierce Ink Press
Publishing September 23rd, 2015

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Madness Underneath, by Maureen Johnson- Review

From Goodreads:
After her near-fatal run-in with the Jack the Ripper copycat, Rory Deveaux has been living in Bristol under the close watch of her parents. So when her therapist suddenly suggests she return to Wexford, Rory jumps at the chance to get back to her friends. But Rory's brush with the Ripper touched her more than she thought possible: she's become a human terminus, with the power to eliminate ghosts on contact. She soon finds out that the Shades--the city's secret ghost-fighting police--are responsible for her return. The Ripper may be gone, but now there is a string of new inexplicable deaths threatening London. Rory has evidence that the deaths are no coincidence. Something much more sinister is going on, and now she must convince the squad to listen to her before it's too late.

To be honest, I'm not quite sure what to make of this series. Book the first was creepy and enjoyable, but there was a longish wait for book the second and an enormous break between 2 and 3, and I lost my motivation to dive right in, so I didn't buy it right away and after I did, it then sat on my shelf for months. Now to be fair, I had a baby, so I haven't been as prolific as normal and things languish a bit, even if I am dying to read them. 

 The Madness Underneath lacked all the creepy atmosphere that book the first had for me, it also completely moved away from the Jack the Ripper story line which was part of what I had loved about the first book. Instead, this part of the book seemed to be a continuation of Rory's adventures with ghosts, and a discovery book about where this would lead her life (spoiler alert! nowhere near what it had been before, that is exactly where it's leading her, so if you particularly liked the boarding school aspect then you, my friend, are sh#t out of luck, as they say).

Because I like Rory's personality (it is very Maureen Johnson, if you read Johnson's twitter then you know what you're getting into here. Rory even refers to her JimJams), and because I find Johnson is very capable of a fun, quick read, I still really enjoyed this book.  But let's be honest, as a series that was built heavily on the Jack the Ripper bit, it really breaks away into something other.  It's turned into a modern, YA, ghostbusters, and there's nothing wrong with that, but I'm guessing those of us who were in the initial read group are standing around thinking "umm, what?". Granted, I'm guessing the group is small- in publishing sales standards- as this series has had a makeover (always a sign of lagging sales) and the paperback of the second book has a "preview" of The Name of the Star.  Let me just digress for a minute, can you IMAGINE, how obnoxious that would be, if you read all the way to the end of book two, only to realize it's the SECOND BOOK?! Really weird, I mean, why didn't they put the "preview" on the front of the book so if you had missed it (which clearly they think you have) you'd have the opportunity to correct that mistake before reading the second book. Apparently this is why I would never succeed in publishing.

It took most of the book to get to, but I have to say there were two twists at the end which blew my mind a little. I hadn't expected either of them, and they both shift the story line in a way that, once again, completely changed Rory's story. I am very intrigued as to where Maureen is taking this series, and am looking forward to February when I can find out.

The Madness Underneath, by Maureen Johnson
Published by Putnam Juvenile, February 16th, 2013

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Tsarina, by J. Nelle Patrick- Review

From Goodreads:
Natalya knows a secret.
A magical Faberge egg glows within the walls of Russia's Winter Palace.
It holds a power rooted in the land and stolen from the mystics.
A power that promises a life of love for her and Alexei Romanov.
Power, that, in the right hands, can save her way of life.
But it's not in the right hands.

I've mentioned, many times, that I'm a big history buff, though you hardly need to be interested in history or politics to find the Russian revolution and the death of the Romanov's an engrossing and dramatic thing to read about.  So I couldn't have been more excited when Jackson Pearce started talking about her new and entirely different project, set in the Russian revolution. 

There was much talk on twitter about the conspiracy theory's involving the family and the endless speculation that one or more of them survived, and Pearce and I exchanged favourite non-fiction reads about some of the more intriguing lesser known attempts to free them.* 
So when Indigo was having one of their (far too many) closing sales this summer, Tsarina was one of the books I gifted myself.

I'm not sure what I expected exactly, but sadly I was disappointed.  I think one of the things that I felt, was there was precious little of the history woven into the tale. The three mains were all fictional and their interactions with actual historical personalities were very brief. Alexei himself is so briefly in it that he's an idea more than an actual character and we don't meet any of the rest of the family. Sure Natalya is fleeing across the country with a friend and an enemy, and I will grant you that Pearce has used that to plunk small pieces of the revolution into the storyline, but I didn't feel committed to it in any way. Which leads me to my next issue, the introduction to Natalya and Emilia was very flat before they are whisked away on their adventure.

Pearce opens with a ball, not much happens except that you get your one glimpse at Alexei, and the constellation egg before everything goes to pot. However, she doesn't exactly reveal much about either Natalya or Alexei, except that they're smitten with each other.  Then she jumps four months and lands in boredom. Natalya and Emilia are two of only a few nobles who have not fled elsewhere to be safe, the entire Romanov family have long since disappeared to much farther afield in Russia. Yet in their pampered boredom she still doesn't really show me anything about these girls to peak my interest in them, so that when things start to get a move on I had a lot of trouble caring. I kept getting "too tired to read", which granted, I have a 1 year old and I'm back to work full time, so I honestly get too tired, yet somehow I find the time to read if I'm really so engrossing.

But the worst crime I felt was committed here, was the lack of integrity Natalya had in the face of Leo, her enemy and kidnapper. Somehow she falls in love with him, ostensibly because the two of them may be on opposing sides of the revolution but are equally in love with Russia and wish to save her. Again, Pearce failed to give me reasons why Natalya would have her head turned by him. Yes, he does a few small kindness's and although he does some rather heinous things he does them in the nicest way possible??! See how bad that sounds?? Anyhow, at no point is there some shining light of discovery where I thought, ohhhhhhh, yup, now I feel for him. Nor was there anything that I thought would outshine the "love" Natalya spent a lot of time thinking and talking about having for Alexei. And in theory, she was only chasing across Russia in an attempt to save the egg, thereby saving him, so I can't conceivably see why she would suddenly start crushing on someone else. Unless she's a fickle prat? Which doesn't really do much for me getting into this story.

I am unclear if this was book one, or a one off, but I have to say I really don't care enough to look into it to any degree. I couldn't honestly say where Pearce could take it with the way she left it off, but there was the openness that comes with books that intend to go on.  So there may be a redemption coming for Natalya and Leo, even if I couldn't be bothered to read it.

A disappointing read that makes me wonder why Leigh Bardugo's fantastical sudo-Russia is the only YA Russia I've found compelling, there's so much potential there. So take note authors, I'm officially requesting a strong history based Russian YA novel.

*My book, The Secret Plot to Save the Tsar; New Truths Behind the Romanov Mystery, by Shay McNeal, has an incredible Canadian link, and also talks about how Nicholas's sister Olga escaped to Canada and lived the rest of her life in Toronto (Wellesly street if you're familiar with T.O.), and is buried in a cemetery in the north of the city. If you're ever in the Royal Ontario Museum you should stop in to see some of the family crystal pieces she bequeathed to them.

Tsarina, by J. Nelle Patrick
Published by Razorbill, February 27th, 2014

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

World of Trouble, by Ben H. Winters- Review

From Goodreads:
There are just 14 days until a deadly asteroid hits the planet, and America has fallen into chaos. Citizens have barricaded themselves inside basements, emergency shelters, and big-box retail stores. Cash is worthless; bottled water is valuable beyond measure. All over the world, everyone is bracing for the end.

But Detective Hank Palace still has one last case to solve. His beloved sister Nico was last seen in the company of suspicious radicals, armed with heavy artillery and a plan to save humanity. Hank's search for Nico takes him from Massachusetts to Ohio, from abandoned zoos and fast food restaurants to a deserted police station where he uncovers evidence of a brutal crime. With time running out, Hank follows the clues to a series of earth-shattering revelations.

Yes. World of Trouble was absolutely as depressing as it sounds. Oh it was great, the usual mix of mystery, intrigue and who-done-it hoe-down with Hank Palace, but it was definitely the downer in this trilogy.

Clearly Hank has a higher calling to save people and solve mysteries.  I mean, at the end of book the second he had the perfect set up, he even had coffee. And I get why he had to go and try to save his sister, or at the very least, find her. But watching him and Houdini spend their last days on earth in such a dismal way, was hard to read. I mean, I'd grown attached to this difficult duo. So for that, it was not my favourite; however, I can logically see how this was a smart book that would appeal to a lot of literary types as well as the dystopic set and the noir detective guru's. Plus, I don't want this to sound like I didn't enjoy the series, or that it won't have a place on my bookshelf or regularly be recommended for reading. I did, it does and I will. As far a cataclysmic endings go, this was even a good one, but you see, Winters had me hoping, this teeny, tiny little hope, that there really was a plot to avert the asteroid and that Nico would see it through. He sold me on it, so when it didn't pan out I was crushingly disappointed, and it seemed all the ugliness Hank had to wade through wasn't worth it in the end.

And of course, by now we all know how well I cope with the sad pet fallout in stories. Watching Houdini cough and limp and get sick at the end was when I really got furious with all Hank's wasted time and efforts. I appreciate that Hank realized the error of his ways and his compulsive disposition at the end but still, Houdini was the nail in the coffin.

I know, I am so very predictable, it's true! I can't even deny it. But I still liked this series. I really, truly did.

World of Trouble, by Ben H. Winters
Published by Quirk Books, July 15th, 2014
My copy kindly provided by the publisher
Buy World of Trouble on Amazon

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Countdown City, by Ben H. Winters- Review

From Goodreads:
There are just 77 days to go before a deadly asteroid collides with Earth, and Detective Hank Palace is out of a job. With the Concord police force operating under the auspices of the U.S. Justice Department, Hank's days of solving crimes are over...until a woman from his past begs for help finding her missing husband.

Brett Cavatone disappeared without a trace – an easy feat in a world with no phones, no cars, and no way to tell whether someone’s gone “bucket list” or just gone. With society falling to shambles, Hank pieces together what few clues he can, on a search that leads him from a college-campus-turned-anarchist-encampment to a crumbling coastal landscape where anti-immigrant militia fend off “impact zone” refugees.

I probably shouldn't start my review of the second book of a series of three with the words, this was my favourite one, but I'm gonna be all badass and do it- Countdown City was totally my favourite of the Last Policeman Series.

OK, now I'm going to be good and not muddy the waters with info on book three, we'll get there in good time (Wednesday, I totally wrote it first because I wanted to save the best for last, though there's no way I can publish these reviews this way, so hang tight).  

Once again Winters has set off his fantastic detective, Hank Palace, on what is sure to become the most impossible of adventures.  Despite the quickly deteriorating state of affairs, Palace is plugging along as your run of the mill police detective. He has his trusty notebook, his charming sidekick (Houdini of course,  McGully and Culverson are anything but charming), and he's ready to deal with crime, one at a time in the most orderly of ways he can possibly manage, and just turn a blind eye to societal breakdown.

Things go from bad, to much, much worse, pretty quickly, and it's looking grim when all hell truly breaks out. I won't go into anymore of it, for fear of spoilage, but suffice to say it was surprising, and full of plot twists and turns, the last one involving coffee, and really, if I could wish Hank anything it would be coffee, and probably some good kibble for Houdini, I worry about that dog.  Regardless, Winters managed to really take me unawares in ways I found both exciting and heart warming, and with the grim march towards the asteroid collision I really wasn't expecting any redemption, for anyone really. What I'm saying is, it really keeps this story going, having a bit of good mixed in.

One of the things I find especially enjoyable in these books, are the little windows into the lives of the people who do the right thing. Things are far from good, and most of society has basically thrown in the towel, but those who are trying to eke out the last bit of good, and pay it forward wherever possible- Hank's people really- are heartwarming, but also what keep these books from being hopelessly depressing. They are also, often, the source of small bits of humour.
"As circulation improves over the next couple weeks, you'll start to get a persistent tingling, and then you'll need physical therapy to work toward regular functioning. Then, around early October, a massive object will strike Earth and you will die."
Granted, the humour is a bit dark, but well, the books are a bit dark. A great follow up to the surprisingly enjoyable Last Policeman, Countdown City was a great read.  And I read it while visiting relatives, which is a distracting way to read at the best of times, but which can really wreck a mid range book for me, so obviously this book was well above the mid-range bar.  Such glowing praise, I know, but it's true, it takes a great book to whisk you away while you're in the middle of chaos.

Countdown City, by Ben H. Winters
Published by Quirk Books, July 16th, 2013
My copy kindly provided by the publisher
Buy Countdown City on Amazon

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Winner's Curse, by Marie Rutkoski- Review

From Goodreads:
As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions.

One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin.

But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.

I had heard rave reviews and tales of disappointment about this one.  But Kristin Cashore, whom I deeply respect, was one of the most prolific praiser's of this book (she did a talk with Marie in Boston that I was tempted to drive the 10 hrs for) so I decided it was a well placed risk.

I loved a great many things about this book, but the tone and Kestrels voice were the two most striking things.  Kestrel is too sensible by half, everything is a calculation, a clever tactic or a winning strategy to a rigged game. Exactly nothing is about dresses, looks or attractive boys. In her bet with her father, marriage is only a means to an end not a romantic fairytale of love and devotion. Watching Kestrel rise to the occasion in the midst of the most trying situation, battle with her unwanted feelings and play the game to the end was both satisfying and thoroughly unique in my reading of late. *side eye's Cassandra Clare's sagging bookshelf of books full of girls moping over boys and vice versa*

The tug between the two mains, Arin and Kestrel, their star crossed lovers conundrum, not to mention their honour and patriotism to their countrymen put them in situations that are both heart stopping and full of opportunities for these two brilliant teens to shine.  With the ending what it was I am both dreading and dying for the next part in this series. I can't even imagine where it might take me as a reader, a refreshing twist that is rare for someone who always has their nose in a book.

Not at all your usual brand of romantic teen fantasy/alternate history, expect to be never quite sure about any ones intentions or emotions, instead be ready for a fast paced narrative full of twists and turns and you shouldn't be disappointed.

The Winner's Curse, by Marie Rutkoski
Published by Farrar Straus Giroux, March 4th, 2014

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

City of Heavenly Fire, by Cassandra Clare- Review

From Goodreads:
Sebastian Morgenstern is on the move, systematically turning Shadowhunter against Shadowhunter. Bearing the Infernal Cup, he transforms Shadowhunters into creatures out of nightmare, tearing apart families and lovers as the ranks of his Endarkened army swell.

The embattled Shadowhunters withdraw to Idris - but not even the famed demon towers of Alicante can keep Sebastian at bay. And with the Nephilim trapped in Idris, who will guard the world against demons?

When one of the greatest betrayals the Nephilim have ever known is revealed, Clary, Jace, Isabelle, Simon, and Alec must flee - even if their journey takes them deep into the demon realms, where no Shadowhunter has set foot before, and from which no human being has ever returned...

I have seesawed on this series many, many times over the six books. In many ways the story has stretched too thin. Clary and Jace are so overdone I was more inclined to laugh then swoon by the time she finally got to the BIG sex scene that she's been erotically building to for the ENTIRE series. Seriously, some of the scenes have read like bad outtakes from 50 Shades
-a chaste press of lips to lips at first, but it deepened quickly, and soon he was parting her lips with his, tongue stroking into her mouth, and she could taste him: the sweetness of Jace spiked with the bite of champagne.
Let me break down why this was more of an eye-roller than a swoon maker for me.

  1. Tongue stroking into her mouth, makes it sound like he's petting a cat or doing laps in a pool. I'm pretty sure this was one of the many times Clare used a word like stroking thinking it eroticised an otherwise tame make out scene. She can have a pretty horny fan base, and I'm guessing they're demanding, but seriously. No tongue stroking. Not unless you're going for the full 50 Shades of description in a much more graphic scene 
  2. This is going to sound catty, but again, if you're going for this kind of description, think it through. Jace and Clary have just been through a wedding, and possibly, though this part is a bit unclear, the wedding dinner. Although Jace is never described as a big eater, I'm thinking that hunting demons and trudging through levels of hell takes a toll on someones breath. So to say he tasted sweet and to imply that it's his natural taste, yah, I'm not buying it. Taste like breath mints, I can see that, or sweet like cake after, you know, eating cake, but I'm pretty sure most humans don't naturally taste sweet on the inside of their mouths.
  3.  Finally, the very worst part of this for me, was the fact it was page 699 and she was still wasting my time with clandestine Clary and Jace kisses. Boring.
Which brings me to my next point, this book needed some serious editing.  I know what it was she was trying to do, so don't yell at me. It was none to subtle that she was wrapping up these characters, while trying to sell the next trilogy to the fan base, all while trying to tie in the Clockwork Angel series. But what it really did was make this book too long, stretch across too many POV's and start to make her world seem really incestuous.  I mean really, you want to make one character, several generations removed, show a likeness to another charter, fine. When you start to try and show character traits in everyone from their predecessors, weird. Especially because these kids are now so mixed they are incredibly removed from the characters in Clockwork Angel, not to mention they're parents don't remind Tessa and Jem of anyone. It's a gimmick, and like so much in this series, it was overused to the point of loosing it's intended effect.

Also, back to the point of the lack of editing, this book had the always charming, 300 endings. They won the war and survived, crushing but YAY! The accords meeting and Jace and Clary running off to scatter Jonathan's ashes, epilogue one. They go back for Simon (SPOILER ALERT!), epilogue the second. The wedding, officially ending number two. The Tessa "talk" epilogue to ending two. Helen leaving and Jules and Emma's big, but not big, moment about being parabati? Teaser to The Dark Artifices, or chapter one of that book. EVERYTHING ELSE?! (Yes! There WAS more!!) boring nattering that went nowhere, but dragged out every little mini ending that were each boring in their own way already.

And this business with the Clave. Come on. Clare has spent wayyy too many books building every generation of the Clave into a heinous, intractable, oblivious set of monstrous adults.  I'm starting to really wonder about this whole society of Shadowhunters. Honestly, talking of tropes she's reused overmuch, this one has done nothing but alienate me from the society she wants me to keep reading about in two more trilogies!

Finally, and this one is my ultimate peeve, this entire series is about a group of people who lead a life with a high rate of death. So far, in 9 books there have been 3 serious wars. In this final part, two minor characters die.
That. Is. It.
Simon's loss to the group could have been the catastrophic thing, maybe. But Clare couldn't leave it be, and so in the end he only really benefited from their trip to hell and back. He's not even going to be a vampire any more, which was half of what made him interesting!

An underwhelming and overly long book, Clary managed to bleed everything I loved about this series out. The tension was beaten to death, the amusing repartee was forced and there was really zero left to discover about these characters, all there was left was to end it already. And even worse, the introduction of Emma and Jules only cemented the fact that I don't care about her characters anymore. How sad is that? She has been quoted as saying that she didn't feel confident she could write MG characters (while talking about her co-writing project with Holly Black), and I have to say, she should not have confidence at all in her ability to write believable MG kids. Emma and Jules were supposed to be 12, and Jules younger brother was supposed to be 10, but she wrote him like a 6 year old. And Emma and Jules ranged back and forth from being every bit as "mature" as Clary and co., to being babyish. 12 is a difficult age, granted, but she missed the mark, while also making these kids to troubled and angsty too appeal to me.

Alas, I am clearly over my Cassandra Clare phase.

City of Heavenly Fire, by Cassandra Clare
Published by Margaret K. McElderry, May 27th, 2014
Buy City of Heavenly Fire on Amazon