Thursday, October 4, 2012

Read Along Blog

Please join me at the Book List Read Along Blog to witness my trials and tribulations of reading through book lists that "everyone must read".

Friday, September 28, 2012

Obsidian by Jennifer Armentrout

Starting over sucks.

When we moved to West Virginia right before my senior year, I'd pretty much resigned myself to thick accents, dodgy internet access, and a whole lot of boring.... until I spotted my hot neighbor, with his looming height and eerie green eyes. Things were looking up.

And then he opened his mouth.

Daemon is infuriating. Arrogant. Stab-worthy. We do not get along. At all. But when a stranger attacks me and Daemon literally freezes time with a wave of his hand, well, something...unexpected happens.

The hot alien living next door marks me.

You heard me. Alien. Turns out Daemon and his sister have a galaxy of enemies wanting to steal their abilities, and Daemon's touch has me lit up like the Vegas Strip. The only way I'm getting out of this alive is by sticking close to Daemon until my alien mojo fades.

If I don't kill him first, that is


Genre: supernatural; romance

Rating: 4/5 

The Good:
  • I honestly really liked this as a well written romance. Katy is a tough, smart girl who can keep up with Daemon, no matter how cranky and hard to get along with he is. She's also sympathetic and doesn't just sit around expecting the male character to save her. She actually saves him on occasion and does so not accidentally, but by actually risking herself.
  • I appreciated that there wasn't too much stupidity going on with the characters. Katy wasn't willfully dense when it came to the fact that Daemon was different. She picks up on it pretty quickly and finds him odd, just can't figure out what exactly he is until he explains (which is understandable since he isn't your run of the mill supernatural creature). 
  • Daemon is hot. I'll just put that out there. He and Katy have good chemistry even though they hate each other. He's also part of the problem with the book for me, but I like him in spite of myself.  
The Bad:
  • Daemon falls in the "jerk that still gets the girl" category. He's never really overtly nice to Katy before she starts liking him. That has always bothered me with books as I don't understand WHY someone would fall for a mean jerk. A jerk that apologizes I get, but one that is that way to be broody and mysterious I just am not too wild about. I say this but would like to add that I still liked Daemon for some reason. Normally this type grates me like no other, but Daemon somehow actually manages to be this type and still likable. I can't explain it. 
The Verdict:
This was a good paranormal romance. It may be a little risque for some younger readers (they never actually sleep together, but they push the line), but it has a good action story line and a lot of romance that actually feels like it works. 

Temptation by R.L. Stine

In this collection of three fan-favorite stories, the vampires of Sandy Hollow crave the summer months. Summer means plenty of beach tourists…and plenty of fresh blood after months of deprivation. But this year the Eternal Ones have decided to spice things up with a little bet: The first to seduce a hot date of the human variety, and then turn him into a fellow creature of the night, wins.

     The catch? In order to successfully turn their prey, they must take only three small sips of blood on three different nights. If they take too much blood on any night, the human will die and the bet will be lost.

     The setup sounds simple enough, but things quickly get complicated—especially since each vampire is just dying to quench her thirst

 Genre: horror; supernatural

Rating: 3/5

 The Good:

  • It is R.L. Stine so we're talking about a story that is going to hold as a horror story rather than a romance no matter how much the plot seems to be veering that way. It's a bit refreshing that the vampires in this are still a threat and never some romantic entity. 
  • It's a pretty decent horror story. Or actually two horror stories. And the second one actually took me a while to catch on to rather than being able to figure out the twist at once. 
The Bad:
  • I think the problems I had with the book had more to do with the packaging of it than actual problems in writing. The book is presented as though it is a teenage level romance (I mean look at the cover), so I was expecting a higher writing level I guess. These would actually probably be more appropriate middle school level than anything else. 
  • The stories just didn't interest me all that much, maybe because they were written more on a middle school level and just not geared for an older reader in spite of the cover.  
The Verdict:
The book isn't bad and younger readers who like really scary stuff would probably not mind it, but it just wasn't the best thing I've read in a while. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Zombie Queen of Newbury High by Amanda Ashby

Quiet, unpopular, non-cheerleading Mia is blissfully happy. She is dating super hot football god Rob, and he actually likes her and asked her to prom! Enter Samantha?cheerleading goddess and miss popularity? who starts making a move for Rob. With prom in a few days, Mia needs to act fast. So she turns to her best friend, Candice, and decides to do a love spell on Rob. Unfortunately, she ends up inflicting a zombie virus onto her whole class, making herself their leader! At first she is flattered that everyone is treating her like a queen. But then zombie hunter hottie Chase explains they are actually fattening her up, because in a few days, Mia will be the first course in their new diet. She?s sure she and Chase can figure something out, but she suggests that no one wear white to prom, because things could get very messy.


Genre: humor; supernatural

Rating: 4/5

The good:
  • Charmingly quirky characters dash around trying to prevent a zombie apocalypse while still going to prom. The book is darn cute. The situations alternately funny and peril filled. Mia isn't helpless, but she certainly doesn't know what she's doing. Chase is a nice guy trying to help misguided Mia. Candice, the hypochondriac best friend might steal the show as she downs vitamins and is convinced she has leprosy and various other ailments.
  • Mia is thankfully unannoying. She isn't helpless, just in over her head. And her plight in wanting the star football player to take her to prom is understandable.
  • Rob is vapid but nice, a welcome change from "unsuitable" romantic interests who make you wonder why they girl ever was interested in them if they had two grey cells to rub together. 
The bad:
  • It's a light read. This isn't a book that's going to win writing prizes, but it's a fun, humorous read. 
The verdict:
Excellent book for kids wanting an enjoyable, not too heavy read. Great for reluctant readers.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame- Smith

Indiana, 1818. Moonlight falls through the dense woods that surround a one-room cabin, where a nine-year-old Abraham Lincoln kneels at his suffering mother's bedside. She's been stricken with something the old-timers call "Milk Sickness."

"My baby boy..." she whispers before dying.

Only later will the grieving Abe learn that his mother's fatal affliction was actually the work of a vampire.

When the truth becomes known to young Lincoln, he writes in his journal, "henceforth my life shall be one of rigorous study and devotion. I shall become a master of mind and body. And this mastery shall have but one purpose..." Gifted with his legendary height, strength, and skill with an ax, Abe sets out on a path of vengeance that will lead him all the way to the White House.

While Abraham Lincoln is widely lauded for saving a Union and freeing millions of slaves, his valiant fight against the forces of the undead has remained in the shadows for hundreds of years. That is, until Seth Grahame-Smith stumbled upon The Secret Journal of Abraham Lincoln, and became the first living person to lay eyes on it in more than 140 years.


Genre: horror; historical fantasy

Rating: 4/5

The bad:
  • The premise is a bit to get over. If you can separate yourself from the fact that one of the best known presidents is being presented as a hunter of evil vampires, you're better off.
  • Abraham Lincoln isn't always a very dynamic character. You understand that the Great Emancipator hates the undead, but you don't always connect with him. He does a lot of unwarranted moping.
The good:
  • Believe it or not, the history is pretty accurate, save for the vampire hunting part. Grahame-Smith has obviously done some research here. So much so that when I went to catalog the book for the library, it wanted to put it in nonfiction, to which I laughed as I adamantly replaced the tag with fiction.
  • The book is suitably gory and won't disappoint horror fans. Lincoln doesn't always win and the vampires are actually very believably integrated into history. 
  • It's an easy read. The action keeps up and there are doctored pictures that make the book look more authentic. 
Verdict: For a piece of speculative fiction, this was fun and a good horror story. Honest Abe made a surprisingly good action hero. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch by Joseph Delaney

For years, Old Gregory has been the Spook for the county, ridding the local villages of evil. Now his time is coming to an end, but who will take over for him? Twenty-nine apprentices have tried--some floundered, some fled, some failed to stay alive. Only Thomas Ward is left. He's the last hope--the last apprentice.


Genre: fantasy; supernatural

Rating: 4/5

 The Good
  • The peril is believable. All the monsters that Tom comes up against seem believably terrifying. Granted, this is more a junior high book, so there is a limit to how scary it actually gets, but Tom is very understandably in a dangerous job.
  • The conflict over what Spooks actually do is well done. Their job is terrifying and deals with things that scare people, therefore people are legitimately scared of them. It starts with Gregory explaining his strained relationship with his brother and continues as Tom starts to come in conflict with his own brother leading to a rather heartbreaking split with his family.
  • Tom makes good sense most of the time. Even his failure with feeding the witch he didn't carry through the whole way, a mistake that a lot of writers will have a character do (having them continue doing something obviously stupid even when it becomes obvious to the character that it's stupid). 
  • Alice is a nice neutral character. She's not bad per se and she's not good. She just is and has her destiny in her own hands. She's like a lot of us, the great grey area.
The Not So Good
  • I sort of got bored with it. I understand that this is written for younger readers, but there were times that I kept thinking "I just have to finish this book", not because it was compulsively readable, but because I knew it read fast. 
  • I didn't like Tom's mother. There is obviously more back story with her, but she basically locks her son into a horribly dangerous career that will isolate him and make him a social pariah without telling him much about it or giving him a choice. Then acts like he's being unreasonable when he tries to reject that outcome. For all the "Alice can choose her own fate" business, Tom certainly doesn't have a lot of choice about his. 
  • There isn't a whole lot of detail. I understand again that this book is for a lower reading level, but there wasn't a lot of explanation about a lot of things. 
Not a bad book, but I do hope the series expands from this one.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Monster Hunter's Handbook by Ibrahim Amin

In this incomparable and fully illustrated compendium, classicist Ibrahim Amin reintroduces the ancient art of monster hunting to a whole new generation of intrepid warriors. From a hellhound's three-headed assault to a brain-eating zombie attack, The Monster Hunter's Handbook instructs readers in the background of each creature and the dangers each present. It also includes an impressive catalog of the premodern world's most powerful armament.


Genre: nonfiction; monsters

Rating: 3/5

This book has a lovely cover and while it's a bit more juvenile in content than I originally expected, it has moved off the shelves in the library at a very fast pace. The students love it. The illustrations are nice, though maybe not as colorful as some other monster books. What I did really like is that there are references at the end of each section if someone really wanted to look up source material. There is also a large section of mythical weapons in this book too, which was something different not normally covered in monster books and probably the thing I found the most unique about this book.

While for me this was a rather basic book of monsters and I've read more interesting ones, this has been very popular with the kids, so maybe as an introduction this book is appealing.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Cuttlefish by Dave Freer

In a post global warming catastrophe world,Clara, an outcast at her boarding school, finds herself and her mother on the run from Soviet and British agents because of her mother's talent with chemicals. Their only hope is to escape on the Cuttlefish, an outlawed submarine. There she meets Tim, a boy from the streets of drowned London that works on the crew. The two become friends and try to unravel the mystery of who might be a spy on the crew as the vessel attempts to escape capture from all sides.

Genre: steampunk

Rating: 3.5/5

Having immersed myself in steampunk for quite a while, this offering was more of the classical steampunk quality with a healthy dose of Jules Verne-esque adventure. The story moves along at a good clip and the characters of Clara and Tim are very likable and believable. Clara is feisty without being annoying and Tim is heroic, but believably so. The biggest problem for me came with the ending feeling rushed and sometimes I struggled to tell whether the author was talking about a flashback or what was currently going on. The other thing, which is just a comment that I make as a librarian who has bought this book for our library and has heard students talking about it, the title "Cuttlefish" is getting mispronounced as "Cuddlefish", making some of the boys a little wary of picking it up. This is a weird thing, but something I've encountered with readers.

Steampunk is a funny genre in general and I would think a bit of a hard one to work in. You're blending history, speculative fiction, science fiction and adventure in many cases there's a lot going on, which is why I admire authors who try it. Because it's such a tricky genre there's a lot of room for books to fall flat, but also a lot of room for creativity. This particular example struggled a bit at the end, but for YA readers who like their adventure I feel like this would be very popular.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Authors Sort of Hate Me

Considering I've got a very small book review blog that is more for my personal benefit than anything else, I've interacted with more authors than I ever thought I would, generally over books of theirs I didn't like. Some of them have been very nice. Lyn Cote was more than nice in her interactions with me, remarkable to me because I was pretty harsh in one of my reviews. Some authors aren't so much. This is a personal review blog. I'm not going to like everything I read. I'm going to be very vocal about WHY I didn't like what I read. The way I look at it, books are expensive. I don't want to spend 16 or more dollars on something I didn't enjoy. I don't want people I know to do that. Therefore if I like a book, I'm generous about it. But if I don't I'm not going to mince words. That being said, I figure if you're an author looking up reviews of your book, you're doing so under the auspice that not everyone is going to like it. I understand having thin skin about your art. I do too, but then I'm not an author of anything published officially.

I say all this because an author left a comment on a review of one of their books (which they then deleted either because they thought better of their action or because they wanted me to see it in my email and no one else) accusing me of inability to write a review and not reading their book well. I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt that maybe they were having a bad day and felt bad about their comment afterwards which is why they erased it. I won't mention their name because of that. But I am making this known:

Perhaps my reviews are poorly written. I'll grant that. Often I'm in a hurry or just am not paying attention well. But here's the difference between me and an author. I'm not paid for my reviews. No one has to read them. No one has to look at them. Because of that I'm not going to pander to an author, no matter how well known, if I don't like their work. My hard earned money goes into buying THEIR works. I'm entitled to not like what I read. I'm entitled to say something about that. Reading back over the particular review that the author was upset about, I still feel it was well written. I mentioned what I didn't like about the book and that it was still well written. I've written harsher reviews. I've written reviews I've put less thought into. Just because you don't like what I have to say doesn't make me a poor reviewer.

I will also say this:

I and anyone I'm associated with will never buy another book from this author again. I mentioned Lyn Cote before. She was so nice about my review of a book of hers I didn't like that I promptly went out and bought another of her books to see if I could find something of hers I liked better, which I did. This particular author, who is quite well known at least in my mind, has completely turned me off of reading anything else they've written. Maybe they have better works. I know the one I reviewed wasn't one of their more well known. Maybe I would have loved their other works. I don't know because I now have such a sour taste in my mouth for that author that I don't think I'd be able to enjoy anything they wrote without confusing my impression of their work with their rudeness.

So whatever. But if you're an author, keep in mind it's not personal. I don't want to read a book I don't like. I don't choose to go out and be disappointed by your work. I'm not hunting around for books to hate. If I love it, I'll say I love it, but if I don't, don't be surprised if I say that as well.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Hunchback Assignments by Arthur Slade

The mysterious Mr. Socrates rescues Modo, a child in a traveling freak show. Modo is a hunchback with an amazing ability to transform his appearance, and Mr. Socrates raises him in isolation as an agent for the Permanent Association, a spy agency behind Brittania’s efforts to rule the empire. At 14, Modo is left on the streets of London to fend for himself. When he encounters Octavia Milkweed, another Association agent, the two uncover a plot by the Clockword Guild behind the murders of important men. Furthermore, a mad scientist is turning orphan children into automatons to further the goals of the Guild. Modo and Octavia journey deep into the tunnels under London and discover a terrifying plot against the British government. It’s up to them to save their country.


Genre: steampunk; mystery

Rating: 4/5

Blending a little Victor Hugo with a lot of steampunk and mystery, this series starts off swinging with adventure and intrigue for teens looking to be introduced to the steampunk genre but not sure if it's for them or not. Modo is a deformed, but highly intelligent young man able to shapeshift, an ability that makes him highly valuable to Mr. Socrates, a shadowy figure who is the only father figure Modo has ever known. Mr. Socrates cares for Modo, but it is very obvious that he sees him merely as an expensive operative rather than human as he keeps him at a distance and makes sure that Modo doesn't become too attached to anyone. Modo's first true friend is Octavia, another agent who is just as intelligent and not as blindly obediant as Modo. The two find themselves embroiled in a mystery that involves mind control and kidnapping with villains looking to kill them as soon as possible.

While this might be a more juvenile steampunk, it would be a good introduction to the genre without being too strange or overwhelming. The characters are likable and the action fast paced, making the book appealing to either gender.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Corsets & Clockwork edited by Trisha Telep

Dark, urban fantasies come to life in the newest collection of Steampunk stories, Corsets & Clockwork. Young heroes and heroines battle evils with the help of supernatural or super-technological powers, each individual story perfectly balancing historical and fantastical elements. Throw in epic romances that transcend time, and this trendy, engrossing anthology is sure to become another hit for the fast-growing Steampunk genre!


Genre: steampunk, short stories

Rating: 4/5

 If I've learned anything making book categories for the school library, it's that steampunk is the new black. Well, steampunk and zombies, but I'll get to that at a later date. Expecting to have a little trouble finding YA steampunk that was actually steampunk, I was shocked to find quite a bit of it. I'm assuming Scott Westerfield's Leviathan and Cassandra Clare's Infernal Devices series to have something to do with that. While vampires and werewolves have been cashing in on the YA industry since they realized that YA is the new cash cow of publishing, other niche genres have started to expand wildly. Zombies, steampunk, faeries, angels, mermaids, and dystopian novels of every shape and form have popped up when publishers realized that YA is were the money is. I found so many dystopian novels I had to break them down into different KINDS of dystopian novels. Zombie novels everywhere. More mermaids than I even thought you could write about. Angel books all over with two series I have struggled to keep apart since they were published (seriously, both the Fallen and Hush,Hush series LOOK ALIKE and have confused me forever). So I guess it's not surprising steampunk has also made a good showing (sometimes involving zombies and other supernaturals, a combination I found more than once). 

That being said, these are a solid introduction to a lot of different aspects of the genre. There are more lyrical offerings, some that are quite bloody, some taking place in very random places, alternate history, and plenty of fantasy steampunk. There's even one dealing with the 1950s. I realize that some people need some getting used to with steampunk. The fantastic but not quite aspect of the genre sometimes hangs up readers who are too literal (WHY DON'T THEY HAVE COMPUTERS? WHY IS EVERYONE IN BUSTLES?) and this is a good smattering of a lot of different features of the category. Just like some people like some types of dystopian and not others (those who like survival dystopias may not be so keen on more elegant ones like Wither or Delirium), some types of steampunk are more cut out for some people. Those who like Clockwork Prince may not necessarily like Leviathan.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Sovay by Celia Rees

It’s England, 1783. When the rich and beautiful Sovay isn’t sitting for portraits, she’s donning a man’s cloak and robbing travelers—in broad daylight. But in a time when political allegiances between France and England are strained, a rogue bandit is not the only thing travelers fear. Spies abound, and rumors of sedition can quickly lead to disappearances. So when Sovay lifts the wallet of one of England’s most powerful and dangerous men, it’s not just her own identity she must hide, but that of her father.


Genre: historical, adventure

Rating: 3/5 

I can't tell you how confused this book made me feel in whether I liked it or not. On the front some of the adventure was fun and enjoyable, but on the other hand everything felt very rushed and thrown together. One minute Sovay was acting as a bandit, the next minute there was a spy ring, the next minute Illuminati are going to sacrifice her. I felt like yelling at the author to slow down and maybe pick just one plot. Men are thrown around as possible love interests, then the actual love interest is introduced at the very end. Sovay is gifted with unbelievable luck in some circumstances, so much so that it starts to stretch the imagination. There's also the issue that the book leads you to believe that it's about a girl becoming a highwayman. That is actually very little of the subject. Most of it involves Sovay trying to find her brother and father (one of whom just shows up without her help eventually) and a few chapters at the beginning dealing with the handful of robberies Sovay actually did (lo and behold one happened to uncover the very papers that Sovay needs to help save her family). 

So there's the dilemma. The book isn't poorly written like some, but the plot is so all over the place I couldn't actually bring myself to really get on board with it. Maybe if it hadn't tried to do so much I would have enjoyed it just as much as the other French Revolution novels I read, but as it stands, this one was one of the more disjointed efforts.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

BROOKLYN: Andi Alpers is on the edge. She’s angry at her father for leaving, angry at her mother for not being able to cope, and heartbroken by the loss of her younger brother, Truman. Rage and grief are destroying her. And she’s about to be expelled from Brooklyn Heights’ most prestigious private school when her father intervenes. Now Andi must accompany him to Paris for winter break.

PARIS: Alexandrine Paradis lived over two centuries ago. She dreamed of making her mark on the Paris stage, but a fateful encounter with a doomed prince of France cast her in a tragic role she didn’t want—and couldn’t escape.

Two girls, two centuries apart. One never knowing the other. But when Andi finds Alexandrine’s diary, she recognizes something in her words and is moved to the point of obsession. There’s comfort and distraction for Andi in the journal’s antique pages—until, on a midnight journey through the catacombs of Paris, Alexandrine’s words transcend paper and time, and the past becomes suddenly, terrifyingly present.


Genre: historical; contemporary issues

Rating: 4.5/5

What seems like a time traveling historical fiction is actually more a study of grief than anything else. Andi feels responsible for the death of her younger brother and spends her time dealing with a mother who can't function and taking enough pills to keep her from committing suicide. Andi is deliberately sinking her future, alienating everyone around her, and refusing any help offered to her. When her father misguidedly thinks getting her off to Paris will help, she finds the diary of a girl long dead who lived during the Revolution. Researching Alexandrine's tragic story and the befriending of a nice young man who refuses to be put off by her slowly starts to get through to Andi that maybe she doesn't want to die. Maybe there's a way to not move on, but at least make room for the pain and forgive yourself. 

Andi isn't likable. Her family isn't really either as her father doesn't understand her love for music and how it keeps her sane. Even Alexandrine isn't all that likable as her motivations are for fame, ending with her realizing what she's done to get to that point and who she's sold her soul to. But while they aren't all that likable, they're realistic. It's a bit of a stretch that Andi goes to such a ritzy school and the whole time travel bit at the end felt like a bit of a speed bump in the smoothness of the plot, but the book is a very thoughtful look at pain, grief, guilt, and music. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Pale Assassin by Patricia Elliott

Set during the French Revolution, this novel about a teen aristocrat who must question the justice of her own wealth while facing the cataclysmic divisions of her society is sure to captivate readers as secrets come out, sympathies shift, and every choice can change--or end--life.


Genre: historical

Rating: 4.5/5

 Keeping more in the spirit of The Scarlet Pimpernel than anything else I've ever read, The Pale Assassin sets itself up as the start of a series and doesn't slow down for air. Eugenie is the spoiled daughter of a disgraced aristocrat and finds herself and her brother caught in the middle of the French Revolution. With her brother trying to rescue the king and her nefarious, dangerous fiancee after her, she is desperate to hide in and finally leave France. Realizing that the revolution really has solved nothing, this novel does a pretty fair job of offering up the motivations of both sides, acknowledging that the idea for revolution was not the problem, just the taking of it to the extreme. 

Eugenie was spoiled but functional. The only real problem I had was that her romance at the end sort of came out of nowhere. Thankfully it's not dwelt on, but she goes from hating the boy to suddenly having feelings for him within a chapter. Her brother's story line is unresolved, which makes it clear this is to be a series as well as her main nemesis never being caught. This is the rare book where neither the male of female lead is all that equipped to deal with what they are thrown in to and I appreciate the fact that Julian was just as much out of his depth as Eugenie even if he was the "smart" one of the two. In all this was a surprisingly good adventure novel with a good deal of mystery and an excellent set up for a series.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Snow White and Rose Red by Patricia C. Wrede

Snow White and Rose Red live on the edge of the forest that conceals the elusive border of Faerie. They know enough about Faerie lands and mortal magic to be concerned when they find two human sorcerers setting spells near the border. And when the kindly, intelligent black bear wanders into their cottage some months later, they realize the connection between his plight and the sorcery they saw in the forest.


Genre: fantasy, fairy tale

Rating: 4/5

 Mixing Elizabethan history with fantasy, this is a retelling of one of the lesser used fairy tales of Snow White and Rose Red. The two sisters live with their mother on the edge of a forest and their are quite comfortable with the land of Faerie that is very nearby. Not heeding their mother's concern about attracting suspicion as being witches, the girls find themselves crossing the path of two half faerie princes, one of whom has been turned into a bear thanks to the meddling of two actual wizards living in the town. Befriending John and his stricken brother Hugh, the girls devote themselves to trying to figure out how to undo the spell that has entrapped Hugh. 

The book gets marked down for dragging at spots, but Blanche and Rosamund are sweet girls who have a good relationship with their mother. Hugh is the less developed of the two brothers, but that doesn't matter much since he ends up with Blanche, who is the less personable of sisters. It probably feels like it drags because there's a lot of plots going on. There's the attempt to undo Hugh's spell, the wizards trying to keep their crystal, various faeries plotting to get the crystal back, and the search for witches thrown in. It was a lot going on, so much so that sometimes things just jumped from one month to another with a lot of people making plans, but no one really doing anything of action. The characters are charming though and it makes a good effort of retelling a fairy tale that might have been harder to deal with than some.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini

Once he was AndrĂ©-Louis Moreau, a lawyer raised by nobility, unconcerned with the growing discontent among France’s lower class—until his best friend is mercilessly struck down by a member of the aristocracy. Now, he is Scaramouche. Speaking out against the unjust French Government, he takes refuge with a nomadic band of acting improvisers where he assumes the role of Scaramouche The Clown—a comic figure with a very serious message... 


Genre: historical

Rating: 4/5

Challenge: European Reading Challenge

 If you think this book is going to have a linear plot like The Scarlet Pimpernel, you'd be wrong. Scaramouche is from a distinctly French perspective, with Andre-Louis actually helping with the revolution before everything goes to madness. This is more a novel about a man with a nemesis, that nemesis being Gervais de La Tour d'Azyr, the man who killed Andre-Louis' best friend and attempted to marry the woman Andre-Louis was secretly (even to himself) in love with and who debauches the woman Andre-Louis was planning on marrying. These two men dance around each other attempting to strike the death blow until the shocking twist at the end. 

Andre-Louis isn't perfect like Percy is in The Scarlet Pimpernel. He's headstrong and stubborn and refuses to see reason much of the time. He's also vain and hotheaded and fairly imperious. He's also not really concerned with the greater purpose. Yes he involves himself in politics, but not heavily. He is an actor for a while before parting company in a truly spectacular manner. He becomes a master swordsman. There seems to be nothing Andre-Louis isn't good at to the point of being ridiculous. The French Revolution is also viewed in a more sanitary light than how books like The Red Necklace and The Scarlet Pimpernel use it. The Red Necklace doesn't concern itself with the Revolution until the very end as a convenient plot point. The Scarlet Pimpernel uses the Terror as the main feature, with everyone in danger of getting guillotined. Scaramouche uses the Revolution as a political statement, with Andre-Louis standing by his support of the cause until the radicals take over. Even the aristocrats are able to escape the Terror easier than any of the other French Revolution novels I've read. Older teens may like this novel. It's not as easy to read as The Scarlet Pimpernel, but once it's gotten into, the action is fast paced enough to keep attention.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Snow by Tracy Lynn

Jessica is pale, lonely, and headstrong, and quick to learn that she has an enemy in her stepmother. "Snow," as she comes to be known, flees the estate to London and finds herself embraced by a band of urban outcasts. But her stepmother isn't finished with her, and the wicked witch threatens her very life.


Genre: historical fantasy; fairy tale

Rating: 3.5/5

Challenges: European Reading Challenge 

A retelling of Snow White with a slight steampunk flair, Jessica is the unloved daughter of a duke in Wales who wants nothing more than to be accepted by her father and new stepmother. Unfortunately her father wants nothing to do with her and her stepmother is evil. Running off to London when she finds that her stepmother wants her heart for a youth potion, Jessica sets up camp with a group of half-human, half-animals and comes to see them as her new family. Suddenly her stepmother shows back up professing goodwill and it is up to her new friends to save her. 

This isn't bad for a fairy tale retelling. It's something different and the stepmother's reasoning is never clearly explained though there does seem to be something more to her as the argument of a woman being in a man's world is thrown out especially dealing with science. The duke is notably unrealistic in his neglect of his daughter and literally allowing the stepmother to do whatever and the Lost Ones are never properly explained other than a sort of rush at the end, but the book wasn't predictable, which is saying something for a novel based on a fairy tale. It's a nice introduction to light steampunk for girls as there is an element of that thrown in and I think the thinner appearance would tempt some reluctant readers. Of course it's marketed specifically to girls, something I found all the Snow White retellings to be, but the pretty cover and short length might tempt some readers other books wouldn't. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Tangerine by Edward Bloor

Tangerine, Florida—once known for its citrus groves—is now an uninhabitable quagmire of muck fires and school-swallowing sinkholes. Still, twelve-year-old Paul sees the move as a way to start anew, maybe even make a name for himself in middle school soccer—despite his father’s obsession with his high-school-age brother Erik’s future in football. Paul is visually impaired (without his Coke bottle glasses), but it’s everyone else who seems to be blind to Erik’s dangerous nature.


Genre: sports

Rating: 4.5/5

Part sports novel, part coming of age tale, part mystery, Paul is the central focus of a highly complicated life. His family has moved the whole way to Florida and after a disaster at his first school, he's shuffled off to a less desirable one which actually benefits him as he can play soccer without being denied from the team because of his vision problems.The greater thing that haunts him is the fact that he can't figure out exactly what happened to his vision. His parents have always told him it was because he stared into the Sun, but the more Paul thinks about it, the more he doesn't buy the explanation. Something sinister is also going on in his neighborhood. Everything seems to be going wrong with the houses and break ins begin. Paul is also dealing with the fact that his father is completely enmeshed in oldest son Erik's possibilities as a football player. Everything the family does is devoted to getting Erik into the best college for football. The problem is Paul's parents seem oblivious to the fact that Erik isn't a nice person. He's entitled, cruel, and a bully to Paul. He harasses Paul's friends in truly hateful ways and isn't against using violence to get what he wants. Paul is terrified of his brother, but his parents either feel like he's overreacting or lying. 

Paul is a sympathetic kid. He finds that he fits in with the rougher crowd at Tangerine Middle better than the more high class school he started at and his terror of his brother is justified. Paul has to figure out how to stand up for himself and the truth when he witnesses something truly horrible happen. He's wants to tell the truth, but it's hard when his parents have even been living with a lie for a long time. The book gets marked down simply on the obliviousness of his parents. I understand that some parents do live in denial about their children, but when it becomes clear that his parents know at least some of what Erik is responsible for and the violence that he's capable of you have to wonder whether it moves from parents in denial to being a plot device. There's never an indication that Erik has any redeeming features. There's never an indication that Erik even has the slightest sense of brotherly love towards Paul. He's a monster, pure and simple. The fact that he hadn't gotten in trouble up to that point is rather unbelievable. Aside from that the book has everything a reader could want from the excitement of sports to a real message about standing up for the truth.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner

The story of a remarkable boy called Yann Margoza; Tetu the dwarf, his friend and mentor; Sido, unloved daughter of a foolish Marquis; and Count Kalliovski, Grand Master of a secret society, who has half the aristocracy in thrall to him, and wants Yann dead. Yann is spirited away to London but three years later, when Paris is gripped by the bloody horrors of the Revolution, he returns, charged with two missions: to find out Kalliovski's darkest deeds and to save Sido from the guillotine. 


Genre: historical fantasy

Rating: 4/5

Reading Challenges: European Reading Challenge 

 As an adventure novel, this harkened back to the likes of The Scarlet Pimpernel, with the French Revolution being used as the backdrop for daring-do. The lovely Sido is at the mercy of not only her hateful father, but also the truly menacing Count Kalliovski, who wants her and her fortune for himself. That being said, when the action is going the book is very good. The weakness is that sometimes the action seems rushed while some of the more unimportant scenes seem drawn out. The other weakness is that Sido just isn't a very engaging female lead. She really doesn't show enough personality to explain Yann's fascination with her. She's basically there as a plot device, but for a plot device she's given a lot of scenes. Which get boring. 

The villain is threatening though and his machinations and everyone working against them are the best parts. He's deadly and hateful and nearly gets away with it all in spite of everyone's efforts. The fantasy element is a little out there sometimes, but is at least useful. The book on the whole is a nice little adventure. Nothing earth shattering, but something that teenagers would enjoy as an exciting read, especially with the fascination with the French Revolution that I've always encountered with my students.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Keeper by Mal Peet

When Paul Faustino of LA NACION flips on his tape recorder for an exclusive interview with El Gato — the phenomenal goalkeeper who single-handedly brought his team the World Cup — the seasoned reporter quickly learns that this will be no ordinary story. Instead, the legendary El Gato narrates a spellbinding tale that begins in the South American rainforest, where a ghostly but very real mentor, the Keeper, emerges to teach a poor, gawky boy the most thrilling secrets of the game.


Genre: sports

Rating: 5/5

Challenge: European Reading

Part sports drama, part coming of age, part ghost story, Keeper hits everything right. El Gato tells the story of how he escaped life in the jungles, but at the same time, he is aware he owes that background for making him what he is. There's his complicated relationship with his father, a simple man who doesn't understand the greater destiny surrounding his son and who eventually dies in a tragic way that is both pathetic and somehow understandable in his struggle against the jungle. Peet describes the technicality of football in such a way that it is both understandable and thrilling. We know from the very beginning that El Gato won the World Cup, but how he got there is still exciting. Peet doesn't get bogged down in every detail of El Gato's career and only focuses on the pivotal moments.

But the beauty of the story is the mysterious Keeper. It's no mystery he's otherworldly from the start, but just what he is isn't revealed until the end in a scene that will give you chills. He becomes a father figure to El Gato even though his father is a good man. He's a harsh taskmaster, but that's because he realizes that El Gato is the only one that can ultimately save him. Is the Keeper a ghost? Part of the jungle? Maybe a little of both.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Offsides by Erik Esckilsen

To Coach Dempsey, the Warriors teams and their Indian mascot symbolize the honor and glory of the Southwind High School athletic tradition. But soccer star Tom Gray sees little more than a denigrating cultural stereotype in the team’s mascot and the stern, war-painted Indian-head profile. As a Mohawk, Tom knows only too well the hardships Native Americans face in their struggle for respect. So when his father’s tragic death forces him and his mother to move to Southwind, Tom must make the decision of a lifetime: betray his family and heritage, or boycott Dempsey’s team and abandon the sport he loves.

(From Goodreads)

Genre: sports, contemporary

Rating: 4.5/5

Delightfully affective for such a short book, Offsides chronicles the struggle of Tom Gray, a teenage Mohawk dealing with the recent death of his father, his mother having to move with him to a new area and the biggest issue of all, having to decide how to handle the coach at his new school who fails to understand the offensiveness of the Native American mascot the team uses. This is harsh reality for Tom considering he's a star soccer player and loves the sport. Sticking with his beliefs rather than his love for being a soccer star, he makes an enemy of Coach Dempsey and soon finds himself the leader of a rag tag group of homeschool soccer players. The "geeks" are surprisingly non-stereotypical, as they're pretty good athletes and stick up for themselves. Tom finds a place in the group and finds himself drawn to Katya, a Russian girl who translates for their new "coach", the Russian owner of the novelty shop they gather at. 

The book very honestly deals with the issues that plague Native American reservations, from crime to poverty and you understand why the fight for taking down the mascot is such a personal issue about dignity for Tom and his mother. While Dempsey isn't trying to be disrespectful on purpose (and even proves to have a legitimate reason for wanting to keep the mascot), the mascot itself disrespects a people already hurting in many ways and fighting for respect. The book hints at, but doesn't address completely the fascinating aspect of Mohawk steel workers who have for generations worked fearlessly on highrise buildings and the author also shows a tantalizing, but unexplained understanding of the Russian football. The ending is a bit convenient with everything working out fairly well for Tom ultimately, but in using a sports novel to address bigger issues this book works wonderfully and doesn't fail to show a deep understanding of the game itself.

Changeling by Philippa Gregory

Italy, 1453. Seventeen-year-old Luca Vero is brilliant, gorgeous—and accused of heresy. Cast out of his religious order for using the new science to question old superstitious beliefs, Luca is recruited into a secret sect: The Order of the Dragon, commissioned by Pope Nicholas V to investigate evil and danger in its many forms, and strange occurrences across Europe, in this year—the end of days. Isolde is a seventeen-year-old girl shut up in a nunnery so she can’t inherit any of her father’s estate. As the nuns walk in their sleep and see strange visions, Isolde is accused of witchcraft—and Luca is sent to investigate her, but finds himself plotting her escape 

(From Goodreads)

Genre: historic fantasy

Rating: 3/5

This wasn't a bad book, just sort of disjointed. First off, we have a pretty, almost romance novel-esque cover going on here. And the placing of the female into the forefront is oddly appropriate as the main hero Luca is really fairly one dimensional. He tends to not be forceful and allows everyone around him to seemingly push him one way or the other in his investigations, possibly because if he didn't there'd be nothing for the minor characters to do and the mysteries as they are would be wrapped up too quickly. As it was, there are actually two separate plots of mystery in this book, short though it may be, the first one involving Isolde, the second a werewolf. In both cases it was the secondary characters who seem to actually know what's going on. Luca and Isolde seem rather doomed to wander around being pretty and not actually doing all that much. There's some underlying nonsense about Luca actually being a supernatural creature since he's so pretty and accused of being a "changeling", but it never really goes anywhere. There's also an unexplained indication that Isolde or her servant Ishraq (who we are reminded is not a slave every three paragraphs) can actually use magic. 

Any way around it, the book is harmless and unoffensive but forgettable, which is a shame considering the premise and the fact that there is a definite undercurrent that the author knows something about the time period, or at least enough that the book could have had a Tudor-esque historical fantasy flair.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Once Upon a Time VI

Another challenge, this one only going to June 19 and involving reading at least 5 fantasy, folktale, or mythology books. Should be easy since I've got a pile of them sitting next to me.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Jackal in the Garden by Deborah Ellis

Anubis refuses to die. She was left in the desert at her birth because she is horribly deformed, but she survives and grows up hidden from the world. After her mother's death, she is forced to again return to the desert, where after many wanderings, she meets artist Bihzad and his colony of artistic friends. Interacting with kind and cruel people, Anubis realizes that being a scholar doesn't always make you wise and that her looks really have no control over who she is.

Genre: historical

Rating: 4.5/5

Other: What an Animal Challenge

This is part of a series of books made to involve art and historical artists. You never know what you're getting into when it comes to series trying to follow some sort of theme and using lots of different authors, but much like the fairy tale updates series, this novel at least, was successful in its own right. Anubis is a tough, intelligent, very gender neutral voice who doesn't necessarily compliment the famous people around her. She points out Bihzad's flaws and doesn't exactly forgive him for them. He and his friends could have stepped in several times to save her, but they don't either because they are cowards or because they don't want to upset the balance of everything. The book also does a decent job of trying to explain Persian art as well as it can. Ellis has always seemed to have an understanding of that part of the world and she doesn't fail in this attempt either. She made a sympathetic but strong character in Anubis. This is a good bit of world YA historical fiction.

Shelf Candy Saturday (5)

I don't often like books with actual pictures as covers. Many times they're just not attractively presented. Sometimes they're pictures that will age awkwardly. Sometimes they're pictures that just don't seem to go along with the actual novel at all. All that being considered, I like the cover of this book about the family who lived with Anne Frank. It looks appropriate, has a pop of color and the title font doesn't overwhelm it.


Enter Three Witches by Caroline B. Cooney

Mary, daughter of the Thane of Cawdor, is a privileged but neglected member of Macbeth's household. That all changes when her father is found to be a traitor to the king and she is now cast at the mercy of whatever man wants to claim her and her lands. But there are more pressing matters going on in Scotland as the king is soon murdered and his sons blamed. Macbeth is made king, but the court starts to raise suspicions as Macbeth's actions seem more and more questionable. Mary finds herself trapped and unable to get away as events spiral into a final battle between Macbeth and those he has wronged.

Genre: historical

Rating: 5/5

Many books that try to take a different angle on a Shakespeare play end up either being boring or unrealistic. This book was neither because the character chosen to follow fit in so well. There was also a lot of focus on servants, who seemed to know everything that was going on, and a court that is well aware that something is not right about Macbeth's stories. The witches of the title hardly play a part at all while playing a huge part since they're the ones that trigger all the events.

Mary was an interesting character as she starts out timid and weak, but as things start falling apart around her, her sense of self preservation kicks in and she starts being quite a survivalist in the chaos going on around her. I'm not sure how many students would be interested in reading a companion to Macbeth, but it's a good one.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Eden by Keary Taylor

After a virus that turns humans into mindless, homicidal machines is leashed on the world, Eve finds herself with no memories of her past living among a group of survivors. When a mysterious boy shows up who seems to know Eve, she's suddenly caught up in a whirlwind of conflict as it is revealed she is the original experiment that lead to the creation of the Fallen. Eve is faced with deciding whether she wants to be human and feel emotions and also choosing between two men, the one who knew her before and the one she's grown close to now. When their tentative home is attacked, the whole group is forced to find a new place to survive.

Genre: fantasy

Rating: 4/5

This was a surprisingly good book. Eve is a tough character who has a good excuse for not being able to choose between the two males set in front of her. She literally doesn't have emotions and doesn't really know what feeling love is. As her memories start to return she starts to behave more like a human. The main complaint I have is that she chooses the more boring of the two men. This is a book mainly about Eve's journey though. The focus isn't on whether the men are handsome or fawning over her, it's about Eve trying to figure out what she wants and how to stop the Fallen.

The beginning definitely starts out faster and more enjoyable. The books slows down when the romance aspect hits, but it's still well written. It just might give a boy who'd started reading it thinking it was one thing pause when he suddenly realized there was a lot of romance going on. Still a good book and the first novel I've finished on Kindle.

The Elephant Mountains by Scott Ely

First the hurricanes came, then the levees broke and suddenly the larger part of North America is under water. The government has broken down and anarchy rules. 16-year-old Stephen meets up with a college girl and they wander through the newly made waterways looking for somewhere to stop and be safe, always accompanied by the radio messages of the Swamp Hog, urging them farther inland.

Genre: fantasy

Rating: 3/5

Challenges: What an Animal, Magical March

I had high hopes for this book. The cover is lovely and the first chapter seemed hopeful, but I ended up not enjoying the disconnected tone that seemed to be trying to evoke Cormac McCarthy. That tone made this book bleak and almost boring in places. This had the potential to be a REALLY good book, engaging and appealing to teenagers. I honestly can't think of a teenager who isn't already a well seasoned reader who would finish this book for a reason other than that it's short. There's also Stephen's preoccupation with sex, both for himself and his mother and her boyfriends. It was almost like Ely was trying to hint there was some Oedipal thing going on. Any way around it, while it had the nihilism of a world falling apart down, it was as if the author just forgot to bother to add anything exciting. It's a shame because the plot had a lot of promise.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

Matteo is a clone. Raised on a huge opium plantation, he suddenly finds out he's the clone of El Patron, the powerful ruler of the area. Matt finds himself a valuable possession of El Patron, but the other people in the family consider him a freak and little better than an animal save for the woman who raised him, his body guard, and Maria, a relative of El Patron. Matt finds himself torn, as he loves El Patron as part of himself, but he starts to realize something is terribly wrong with the living situation at the plantation. There's also the mindless, zombie eejits that harvest the opium and are cared about less than animals. Suddenly Matt finds himself betrayed and that there is a far darker purpose going on both when it comes to himself and El Patron's ultimate plans for his family.

Genre: fantasy

Rating: 5/5

Other: What An Animal Reading Challenge; Magical March Reading Challenge

Aside from an ending that felt a little rushed, this was an excellent book that challenges cloning, science and socialism all in one swoop. Matt is surrounded by shadowy characters who seem like something out of the soap operas his keeper Cecilia watches. Most are evil and grasping and even those who seem harmless are out to destroy Matt. Matt has his own internal conflicts as he is the clone of a very evil man, yet that doesn't mean Matt himself is bad. The irony is that Matt isn't judged because he's part of El Patron, but because he's a clone at all. The book makes a good point about human rights, as clones are seen as cattle, abominations, and are generally harvested for parts. Matt proves himself to be resilient as despite abuse and plots to kill him, he finds strength in himself to not only prove he's a good person, but also that he's proud of who he is, clone or not. And the very qualities that make El Patron a bad man actually work to make Matt be able to change things.

This just ended up being a book that was far more interesting and engaging than I'd ever imagined. The only complaint is that the ending felt very rushed for the build up with everything being wrapped up in a chapter. It was a brilliant book though and highly recommended.

Nordic Reading Challenge

Final challenge for a while, this one involves just reading any book that is set or written by someone from a Nordic country. I love hunting down books I previously didn't know about, so I look forward to this one.

European Reading Challenge

This challenge involves reading at least 5 books either set in Europe or by European authors. Considering how much my challenges crossover, this shouldn't be hard.

Truth in Fiction Challenge

This challenge involves reading a fictional book about a topic and then a non-fiction book to go with it and reviewing the books together. I'm not sure what level I'll be able to get done, but being a history teacher, this challenge delights me.

2012 Book Blogger Recommendation Challenge

Using the book blogger book list, I'm aiming for Level II of the challenge. Unfortunately for me, a lot of the books on the top 25 list I've already read, so I'm going to have to use the whole list.


Shelf Candy Saturday (4)

I've found that a lot of covers I like are very minimalistic or stylistic. For one thing, covers like that tend to not age. How many books from the 80s do I have on my shelf that I look at the cover and think "ooooh dear...that's too embarrassing to read in public". Romance novels are especially guilty of that, but a lot of older YA novels have also swallowed that particular kryptonite. So this is my choice for this week. The mass market cover of this book I don't like so well and it won't age well because they've used realistic looking people who will look outdated in a decade or so, but the hardcover is awesome looking to me with its art nouveau style drawing of this alternate version of Macbeth


Friday, March 23, 2012

Twisted Tales Reading Challenge

And one more reading challenge for good measure. Twisted Tales focuses on bizarro fiction, dark comedy, satire, and absurdist literature.

Bitsy Bling Books

I'm going to focus on satire because I at least know that genre well and enjoy it. I'm going for the 1-12 challenge level.

What An Animal Reading Challenge

Also doing the What an Animal Reading Challenge where you have to read 6 books with animals in the title or as a main character. This challenge is more than reasonable. I've already got two books with animals in the title sitting in front of me.

1. The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
2. The Elephant Mountains by Scott Ely
3. Jackal in the Garden by Deborah Ellis

The Classics Club

I'm joining the Classics Club, that has a set list of classics to read by a given date. Part of the problem for me is that I've read a LOT of classics in my history. I mean a LOT. We had to read a lot of them at the school I went to and I read them just for fun in high school. So my list of 50 is a bit problematic.

1. The Red Redmaynes- Eden Phillpotts
2. Catch-22- Joseph Heller
3. Gone with the Wind- Margaret Mitchell
4. Lord of the Flies- William Golding
5. The Woman in White- Wilkie Collins
6. Brideshead Revisited- Evelyn Waugh
7. Pamela- Samuel Richardson
8. Sylvia's Lovers- Elizabeth Gaskell
9. Cousin Henry- Anthony Trollope
10. The Vicomte de Bragelonne- Alexandre Dumas
11. Quo Vadis- Henryk Sienkiewicz
12. Ben-Hur- Lew Wallace
13. The Lost Estate- Henri Alain-Fournier
14. Little Lord Fauntleroy- Frances Hodgson Burnett
15. The Red and the Black- Donald Frame
16. Wulf the Saxon- G. A. Henty
17. How Green Was My Valley- Richard Llewellyn
18. Man and Wife- Wilkie Collins
19. The Outsiders- S. E. Hinton
20. The Magnificent Ambersons- Booth Tarkington
21. Butterfield 8- John O'Hara
22. The Monk- M. G. Lewis
23. Lucky Jim- Kingsley Amis
24. No Name- Wilkie Collins
25. Anna Karenina- Leo Tolstoy
26. The Castle of Otranto- Horace Walpole
27. Dead Souls- Nikolai Gogol
28. Fantastic Fables- Ambrose Bierce
29. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes- Anita Loos
30. Popular Tales from Norse Mythology- George Webbe Dasent
31. A Journal of the Plague Year- Daniel Defoe
32. The Master of Ballantrae- Robert Lewis Stevenson
33. Riders of the Purple Sage- Zane Grey
34. Sentimental Education- Gustave Flaubert
35. A Sentimental Journey- Laurence Sterne
36. Sister Carrie- Theodore Dreiser
37. The Tale of Genji- Lady Murasaki
38. Kwaidan- Lafcadio Hearn
39. Tarzan of the Apes- Edgar Rice Burroughs
40. The Thirty-Nine Steps- John Buchan
41. The Princess of Mars- Edgar Rice Burroughs
42. The Iron Heel- Jack London
43. The Mark of the Beast- Rudyard Kipling
44. The Red House- A. A. Milne
45. The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu- Sax Rohmer
46. Fantomas- Pierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain
47. The Golem- Gustav Meyrink
48. The House on the Borderland- William Hope Hodgson
49. The Worm Ouroboros- E. R. Eddison
50. Hide and Seek- Wilkie Collins

Plus Two
52. Wonder Tales- Lord Dunsany
53. The King in Yellow- Robert Chambers

Let's say I'd like to get through these within three years, so I'd like to be done by March of 2015.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Tomorrow Code by Brian Falkner

Best friends Tane and Rebecca get an inspiration for a science experiment and suddenly come across codes from the future. Even more shocking, the codes are from themselves and warn of a coming world disaster that will kill thousands of people. Trying to sort through all the information, the two, with the help of Tane's brother, realizes that it has something to do with the Chimera Project, a seemingly harmless study into an antigen that will cure the common cold. Suddenly they're all in a race against time to divert what could be a world ending cataclysm. But what happens when you don't know to change the future?

Genre: fantasy

Rating: 5/5

With a touch of Outbreak and The Andromeda Strain, this YA novel tackles the difficult subjects of pathogens AND time paradox. And you know, Falkner actually sort of makes it understandable. You don't find a lot of decent science oriented YA novels, but this one is. You really buy into the characters (even though I found Rebecca's tree hugging tendencies sometimes irrational and annoying) and the author doesn't shy away from killing off a LOT of people. He also doesn't shy away from his characters making some very bad choices when they let their emotions get in the way of what they're supposed to do, even when they have clear instructions. Of course the ending is open enough that it could be considered happy, but the sense of losing to an unstoppable force is still there. This was just an interesting and different book. A good thriller along the lines of Crichton, but with smart, realistic kids.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Airman by Eoin Colfer

Conor Broekhart was destined to fly. From the time he was little his life was devoted to developing flying machines and science. But suddenly Conor finds himself in a nightmare when he is labeled a traitor, has all who love him believe he's dead and is shipped off to Little Saltee, a mining prison colony with inhuman conditions. Trapped in hell, Conor exists through his dream of flying. Finally getting his chance to escape, he must now save his family and the princess he grew up loving.

Genre: fantasy; steampunk

Rating: 5/5

This was a real adventure novel with more than a touch of the Count of Monte Cristo to it and a truly horrible villain. Conor is intelligent and brave and figures out how to use his intelligence to break himself from his island prison. There's a mob of memorable minor characters from composer Linus Wynter to thug Otto Malarky. Conor's situation is truly horrible and it takes a lot of ingenuity on his part to break from his prison. Of course he's truly changed when he escapes, as he has no interest in bringing down Bonvilain so much as stealing diamonds and building a new life and has to be coaxed into finally becoming a hero.

This is an excellent adventure for reluctant male readers, as the romance is limited and most of the book focuses on the Monte Cristo-esque plot of a man wronged escaping and turning the tables on his captors. Not a typical steampunk as this is more driven by characters and plot than gadgets.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Enthralled edited by Melissa Marr and Kelley Armstrong

A collection of stories by some of the top YA fantasy authors, all of them featuring some sort of paranormal feature.

Genre: fantasy; short stories

Rating: 4/5

The stories in this collection are spotty. Some of them are REALLY good, some are lackluster and some are hard to understand if you haven't read other works by that author.

Claudia Gray's "Giovanni's Farewell" is a decent story, though sort of bare bones.

Carrie Ryan's "Scenic Route" is EXCELLENT. I can't say enough about that short story. It plays a little bit with her world from her Forest of Hands and Teeth series, but stands completely by itself.

Kami Garcia's "Red Run" is a better short story than her writing partner Margaret Stohl's "IV League", though both have a southern gothic flavor. Garcia's is just a more action packed story.

Unfortunately I didn't like Jackson Pearce's "Things About Love" because it felt like one should know something about her series characters before reading it. Same issue with Rachel Vincent's "Niederwald", though that story was at least fathomable by itself. Kelley Armstrong also ran into this problem with "Facing Facts" which took me a while to figure out until I remember what series she wrote. The story wasn't that interesting in and of itself either. Rachel Caine's "Automatic" ran into the "we're from a series" issue too. The most glaring story with that issue was Melissa Marr's "Merely Mortal" which almost made no sense without knowing the series.

Sarah Rees Brennan's "Let's Get This Undead Show on the Road" was good. So was Kimberly Derting's "Skin Contact" and Mary Pearson's "Gargouille". Jessica Verday's "At the Late Night, Double Feature, Picture Show" was snarky and charming.

Jeri Smith-Ready's "Bridge" and Ally Condie's "Leaving" left me cold as being too high handed and artsy to really fit in.

My favorite though was Jennifer Lynn Barnes's "The Third Kind", a short story I feel like should have a series with it. It was brilliantly enthralling. She's an author who doesn't get enough attention as I've loved some of her other writing too.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Kiss of Frost by Jennifer Estep

Shortly after having killed a Reaper and becoming Nike's champion on earth, Gwen Frost is finds herself again in danger as her life keeps being threatened and there are more Reapers on the loose looking for revenge. Added to that, Gwen is still hung up on Logan, the Spartan who seems to care for her but won't let her get close to him because her psychometry might allow her to see his dark past. Forced along on a ski trip as a third wheel, Gwen tries to get over Logan and find out who is trying to kill her.

Genre: fantasy

Rating: 5/5

I really likes this series. There's a certain amount of Gossip Girl with a little Harry Potter and a bit of Buffy to this fantasy. The mythology of the larger picture is actually interesting and there is a bit more of an edge to Estep's teenagers. They know they're probably not going to live long and death is fairly common. Gwen really is in peril as she is behind everyone else when it comes to being a warrior. Her relationship with Logan is actually interesting. It's not all pining and longing looks. He's a self avowed manslut and even though he deeply cares for Gwen he still dates other girls. Yet somehow he's not obnoxious on that count. You get the impression more of a badboy who has found the something he cares about and is very tentative about giving up his image.

To be fair, the book was relatively predictable. I called the twist crush and who was actually threatening Gwen right away. Doesn't make the book bad though. The book is enjoyable enough without having to break new ground and is a fast read too. I'm surprised I haven't heard more about this series given how much fun it is.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Favored Queen by Carolly Erickson

Kind lady in waiting Jane Seymour is caught in the middle of the messy marriage of Catherine of Argon and Henry VIII. She is completely loyal to the queen and resents Anne Boleyn's machinations and scheming. Jane's own life is in limbo as her father ruins her chances of a good marriage, then she realizes being wrapped up in life at court has left her without much means of being married off. As time goes on, Henry's relationship with Anne sours and Jane finds herself earning the king's favor. While Henry isn't exactly what Jane had in mind for a husband, she desperately wants children and is now considered an old maid. Despite her misgivings, she marries the king and becomes the new hope for a male heir.

Genre: historical

Rating: 4/5

I find Erickson's books enjoyable for the most part and I understand she makes it very clear she takes a lot of liberties with history, but for some reason that still bothers me somewhat no matter how good the writing. Erickson also has a tendency to dwell on the shortcomings of the historical men her books feature. Napoleon is portrayed as an outright villain while Henry is shown as a coward, womanizer and heartless. I'm not saying either man was a paragon of virtue, but I'm not sure one can simply paint them as horrible people. I mean the main characters marry these men after all, so it's hard to portray a sympathetic and intelligent female character who still marries these men. It's just not explained well enough. Erickson is an excellent writer and while I could do without the random made up affairs every woman lead has in every Erickson book I've read, her novels are infinitely readable. They're almost taken better as just well written romance novels though.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Darkhenge by Catherine Fisher

Rob's world is slowly coming apart as his sister has laid in a coma for months showing no sign of improvement. When a wooden henge is uncovered near Avebury where Rob lives and a mysterious poet named Vetch enters his life, he comes to find that Chloe has been taken into the Unworld, a place where she has power. After going after her he realizes that her resentment of him has turned into something ugly and hateful and that she may not want to come back to the real world. As she hovers between life and death, Rob tries to convince his sister that she is as valued as he is.

Genre: fantasy

Rating: 4/5

I've actually read a lot of Catherine Fisher (who I confuse with Nancy Farmer quite frequently). I've read her Oracle trilogy and really liked it and Snow Walker. That said, Darkhenge isn't quite as engaging as those mainly because it just wasn't as deep and the characters not as engaging. The fantasy tries to blend druidism with ancient Celtic poetry and gets a bit too high minded because of that. There's also the issue that Chloe isn't sympathetic a lot of the time. They make explanation that the version of her they find in the Unworld is made of her bitterness and isn't really her, but that version is a brat and we aren't given much else to know about her.

I do give credit to Fisher for trying to take YA fantasy angle of druidism and poetry. It's ambitious, I'll give it that. And it's almost successful, but just a little too overreaching. The book is well written though and for as confusing as the subject matter easily could have been, fairly easy to follow. Their is quite a bit of investment in Rob and his quest, which is why Chloe's jealousy might make her seem more petty. Maybe the biggest fault the book has is that I've liked Fisher's other writing so much. For the average writer this probably would have been an extremely successful novel. For Fisher it's one of her less engaging ones.

Shelf Candy Saturday (3)

I'm mixing it up a little on this Shelf Candy. In finding book covers by going through Google it never fails to amaze me that a book can have an attractive cover at one point, be it hard cover or paperback or in a foreign language publication, but then have what I consider an either hideous one or at least lackluster one in the other forms of publication. I understand sometimes the hardcover jacket lends itself to more artistic or fancier covers (as well as probably the price), but considering we all DO judge a book by its cover to at least pick it up (trust me, there are some books I'm embarrassed to be caught reading because of how unattractive the cover is) it seems like someone would sit down and say "huh, this one cover just isn't that pretty compared to the others".

I'm using Airman by Eoin Colfer as my example today. Don't get me wrong, the US cover isn't all that bad. In fact it's probably a pretty good YA steampunk cover. Looks a little like the Rocketeer. Nothing wrong with that. But then I saw the Spanish language cover and was far more impressed by it. It's not just a steampunk cover, it's an artistic one.



Friday, March 9, 2012

Footfree and Fancyloose by Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain

Sophie, Becca, Harper and Kate have all graduated high school and are looking to fulfill their Year of Dreams as they all head off into the real world. Sophie dreams of becoming a famous actress and heads to California. Kate finds herself digging wells in Africa and butting heads with one of the group leaders who assumes she's a spoiled rich girl. Becca finds her relationship with her boyfriend on rocky ground as her home life is turned upside down. Harper is trying to write the Great American novel, but finds herself still dwelling on her almost relationship with her English teacher. The girls all suddenly realize maybe their dreams weren't quite what they thought they were and maybe things they thought they wanted aren't what they need.

Genre: contemporary

Rating: 2/5

This book frustrated me. It was highly readable and I wanted to know what happened to the characters, mainly because I HATED them all so much. They progressively made stupider and stupider choices, acted ridiculous, acted bitchy, used guys and allowed themselves to be used by guys and ultimately didn't seem to learn much. Sophie is vain and shallow and only earns a slight pass as a character as she begins to realize that her behavior IS shallow. She makes assumptions about her fairly nice roommate Sam and refuses to admit she likes him. Harper gets into a messy "friends with benefits" situation with one of her friends and realizes too late that she actually doesn't have the feelings she thought she did about her English teacher. The very fact that this relationship is even presented as acceptable is baffling to me. There is no "this is wrong" presented about her relationship with him. She's presented as being dishonest with her feelings about her best guy friend and goes into a family tailspin when her father breaks some bones. For the way the family acts about her father's situation I thought it would be MUCH more traumatic than someone falling off a roof and being in traction for a while. Then there's Becca, the most annoying of the characters. She ditches her friends in favor of her boyfriend and becomes one of those obnoxious characters who has no identity outside of him, calling him constantly and talking about nothing but him. She eventually freaks out and does something that majorly hurts him a SECOND time as she had hurt him before and is generally just irrational when it comes to him. Kate is the only character I actually really liked and she was made intolerable by choosing a guy who was so vile I kept hoping he'd get killed off. Darby is arrogant, makes assumptions about Kate, treats her like she can't do anything, insults her, yet she still finds herself attracted to him and ends up kissing him because they're angry at each other. No girl with any sense would be attracted to someone as unpleasant as Darby. This was one of the first books I've ever finished reading because I wanted all the worst for some of the characters.