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.