Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 - Three Favorite Books I Didn't Blog About

2014 is currently peeking around the corner every few seconds to see if we're still watching, so that it can pounce on us when we're not expecting it, full of new promises and no few disappointments. I started this blog at the end of June and I've been less than diligent in keeping up on reviewing books, so there really isn't much to summarize for the year. Instead of doing a, "My Favorite Top 10 Greatest Books of 2013 Ever!" post, I'm going to give you three quick reviews for books that I didn't review, for whatever reason, in 2013.

Review #1: Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest
Reason not reviewed: Not YA! Not new in 2013!
Publication date: September 29, 2009
Edition: eBook
Goodreads link: Boneshaker

Summary: Boneshaker derives its title from the Bone-Shaking Drill Engine, a device designed to give Russian prospectors a leg up in the race for Klondike gold. Unfortunately, there was one hitch: On its trial run, the Boneshaker went haywire and, long story short, turned much of Seattle into a city of the dead. Now, 16 years later, a teenage boy decides to find out what is behind that mysterious wall. Can his mother save him in time? Zombie lit of the first order.

This is a great novel for introduction into the Steampunk genre. The setting is America during a time that everyone is familiar with, but the addition of Steampunk properly throws the history we know on its ear. The idea of walling off a section of the city with a wall tall enough to keep the gas in took a little adjusting to, but there was definite believability in almost every other aspect of the story. The zombies play a very small role in the story, much less so than the summary would have you believe. I preferred this, because it gave the story room to become more than just a steampunk-era survival horror story. It becomes a story about family and legends, and how you can never really know the full truth unless you seek it out for yourself.

Review #2: A Latent Dark, Martin Kee
Reason for not reviewing: Not YA, not published in 2013, and possibly not even read in 2013.
Publication date: August 22, 2012
Edition: eBook
Goodreads: A Latent Dark

Skyla has lived secretly within the city walls of Bollingbrook for eleven years, playing among the airship factories and trainyards. As one of the Gutter District’s nameless destitute, it has gone undiscovered that she has a unique talent: when Skyla looks at a person’s shadow she sees through it and into another world. She can see people’s fears, desires, their past sins--all as swimming, living creatures.

Her mother has never told her the real reasons why they must remain hidden, never explained the true dangers that exist outside the city walls. But when her mother’s past catches up with them both, Skyla finds she must flee out of the city and into a world still recovering from a second Dark Age, a world of adults with secrets only she can see.

For a stranger has recently moved into Bollingbrook, a man some call the Pope of the South, a witch hunter to some and a hero to others. When more children begin to disappear, suspicions are raised and an unlikely search party is formed to find Skyla in the hopes that they aren’t already too late.

I picked this book up as part of an ebook bundle and it took me awhile to get to it, but I've read it twice this year and loved it both times. It looks like steampunk on the cover, but much of the aesthetic comes off at Gothic more than gears-and-wires. This is a very dark world, full of monsters that almost always look human at first glance, and Skyla is one of the only ones who can see the monsters for what they are. The main character fits the young-but-clever trope, but you never forget that she's still a child.

Just reviewing this book makes me want to read it again for the third time. Good thing I'm off from work until Thursday! 

Review #3: Howl's Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones
Reason for not reviewing: Not published in 2013 (not even close)
Publication date: 1986 (see?)
Edition: eBook
Goodreads: Howl's Moving Castle

Sophie has the great misfortune of being the eldest of three daughters, destined to fail miserably should she ever leave home to seek her fate. But when she unwittingly attracts the ire of the Witch of the Waste, Sophie finds herself under a horrid spell that transforms her into an old lady. Her only chance at breaking it lies in the ever-moving castle in the hills: the Wizard Howl's castle. To untangle the enchantment, Sophie must handle the heartless Howl, strike a bargain with a fire demon, and meet the Witch of the Waste head-on. Along the way, she discovers that there's far more to Howl—and herself—than first meets the eye.
The highlight of 2013 was discovering Diana Wynne Jones for the first time. How did I make it all this time without reading a single book of hers? I really have no effing clue. The movie of Howl's Moving Castle has been a favorite for years and, much to my joy, the movie watches like reading the book and the book reads like watching the movie. Jones' writing style is as whimsical and gorgeous as the art in the movie. Since reading Howl's over the summer, I've devoured the rest of this trilogy, in addition to The Dark Lord of Derkholm and The Year of the Griffin. If you've wondered why I haven't blogged much, it's because much of my reading has been books that are so old, you should have read them by now. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Quick Shot Preview Review: Roomies, by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

Edition: Free Preview - first 58 pages
Author: Sara Zarr, Tara Altebrando
Goodreads: Roomies - Free Preview
Amazon: Roomies - Free Preview Download
Release Date: December 24, 2013

I receive a lot of emails and follow a lot of blogs for finding free books for my Kindle reader on Amazon. So far, my success rate of finding things I like is hovering around 12% - which is actually a completely made up number used to illustrate just how hard it is for me to find books that I like. Everything I've downloaded this week was subsequently deleted within the first chapter. I fully believe in the movement of the self-publishing industry but it also goes without saying that people really need to edit their work before it gets published. Without a doubt, I check out as soon as there's a misspelled word or a misplaced comma.

On the flip side are wonderful little snippets like this free preview of Roomies, an alternating narrative told by two girls who are on their way to college. Both girls come from very different backgrounds but everything that I've read so far seems to indicate that this story is about more than just income and family size. Both narrators come across as real people with real reactions to how their situations are evolving and changing. The preview is a quick read, so I won't lay out any details (I'll save them all for a full review when the book arrives), but this is an incredibly engaging read and I can't wait for December 24! Merry Christmas to me, hehehe (er, hohoho?).

Monday, December 9, 2013


Edition: eBook
Author: Veronica Roth
Goodreads: Allegiant
Release Date: October 22, 2013

Well, here we are back to blogging after a whirlwind month of National Novel Writing Month. Managing a novel and a huge region as an ML doesn't leave a lot of time for blogging, which is a shame. The best writers are great readers!

Which brings me the book of the day. I jumped on the waiting list for this as soon as it was in my library's ebook catalog and I made it to the head of the line right after the bell rung on my 50 000 words. I'm glad it did, because reading this book (and reading some really interesting writing tips on Tumblr) gave me some insight into why I dislike a lot of my writing style.

Here's Goodread's summary, which is infinitely more informative than Amazon's:

The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered—fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal. So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she’s known, Tris is ready. Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories. 

But Tris’s new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind. Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless. Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves. And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend the complexities of human nature—and of herself—while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love.
Now, Liz over at Assorted Leafs caught something right off the bat - this is a dual narrative book, where previously the narrative has been Tris-focused. Having two narratives can work really well, when the characters have strong, separate personalities. Tris and Tobias, unfortunately, are two characters whose names start and end with the same letter, and whose personalities are also very similar. I agree with Liz's assertion that, unless you keep track at the beginning of the chapter, you sometimes lose who's narrating when. 

This book, like the last two, has some great ideas that get lost in a lot of infodump and awkward narrative. A lot, and I mean a lot, of conversations between Tris/Tobias and other characters involve a variation on, "You didn't hear? (insert detailed text about plot points here)".  The flow of the book is also very clunky, which, thanks to Tumblr, I know is partly because Roth likes to split her tenses. I actually learned about splitting tenses when I was struggling through the middle of the book and it was a "The More You Know!" moment for me. It made me realize that I also split my tenses when I'm writing, which goes a long way to explaining why I generally dislike and refuse to edit my things. I still do it all the time and don't realize it, so don't lampoon me if I chopped a few tenses in this blog post. 

Not that I was always shaking my fist at the book - Roth has built some great characters who are logical, methodical, and dealing with some crazy, crazy stuff. When you first learn the truth of the world they grew up in, you're exposed to some shady science. It was so bad, and portrayed so much like fact, that I almost gave up right then. The book recovers, though, and it goes on to present some big ideas about propaganda, control of information as a source of power, AND generalizations in science presented as "facts" that create and shape government. She also addresses one of the worst tropes in YA romance, based on Tris' actions in Insurgent. I liked the big picture all of these ideas presented but it still felt like I was slogging through everything else.

I recommend this to anyone who read and at least mildly enjoyed the last two.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer

Edition: ARC
Author: Katie Alender
Goodreads: Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer
Release Date: September 24, 2013

I was grabbed by the title alone when I spotted Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer at ALA back in June. The title and the tagline ("Heads will roll...") made it seem like this would be a fun book, so I went in expecting a joy ride and not much else. Thankfully, I read the Goodreads reviews AFTER I finished the book, or I would have been disheartened - but, seriously. Did you read the title and the tagline? Anyone who got it in their heads that this was going to be a deep, groundbreaking book set themselves up for failure. Bonus points: It's not a series! Yay!

Here's the summary from Goodreads: Colette Iselin is excited to go to Paris on a class trip. She’ll get to soak up the beauty and culture, and maybe even learn something about her family’s French roots.

But a series of gruesome murders are taking place across the city, putting everyone on edge. And as she tours museums and palaces, Colette keeps seeing a strange vision: a pale woman in a ball gown and powdered wig, who looks suspiciously like Marie Antoinette.

Colette knows her popular, status-obsessed friends won’t believe her, so she seeks out the help of a charming French boy. Together, they uncover a shocking secret involving a dark, hidden history. When Colette realizes she herself may hold the key to the mystery, her own life is suddenly in danger.

As usual, the summary doesn't really do justice to the plot line. Yes, there are murders, shown in mini chapters at highlight points in the book, and Colette keeps seeing the former Queen of France pop up in the most unexpected places - but, more than that, Colette experiences life a grounded, decent human being, and realizes that maybe being friends with the popular kids isn't what life is all about. Double bonus: if you're a French language student, you get a lot of practice with Ghost-of-Marie, who (obviously) doesn't speak a lick of English.

I enjoyed this book and wasn't once turned off by Colette as a narrator. She's a flawed character, like all people and especially people her age, and she makes some heinously bad decisions, but she seems like she learns from said bad decisions. That's really the important part - nothing makes me throw a book across the room like a character who doesn't grow at least a little during the book. 

The author states at the end of the book that the connection between Colette, Her Majesty, and the murder victims is falsified and not rooted in real history, but I honestly found the whole thing pretty believable. Colette and Co. find enough clues in realistic places (history books, old stories, old buildings) in Alender's wonderfully rendered vision of Paris that I was actually saddened to learn it was completely made up. 

Grab a mug of tea and go into this book on a dreary Sunday afternoon when you a need a page turner that will make the time fly by. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

From the Future Review: Curtsies & Conspiracies, by Gail Carriager

Edition: ARC
Author: Gail Carriger
Goodreads: Curtsies & Conspiracies
Release Date: November 5, 2012

I practically wrestled  Liz at Assorted Leafs to get first chance at this sequel to Etiquette & Espionage - and even after I won, I'm STILL behind her in posting my review.

Carriger's adult series, Parasol Protectorate, ranks in my Top 10 for all-time best series. She has a wonderful way with characters and a humor that's top notch. Parasol Protectorate has wonderful, strong female characters, but it's definitely an A-D-U-L-T series. Finishing School keeps the same strong, amazing female characters, and brings in themes that YA readers will have a easier time identifying with - friends, grades, cliques, and dangerous floral arrangements.

The first book in the series was high on adventure and character building and low on romance and C&C keeps that pace beautifully. There are romances budding but they don't overtake the characters or the story itself. Sophronia knows her mind and applies logic liberally to any romantic situation that she comes across. On the one hand, this keeps her from falling into a ridiculous, dramatic relationship with a Bunson boy who has set his sights on her; on the other hand, if she's not careful, keeping her distance could cost her a great friend and ally in future books.

The web of plots in the second book is much wider and much messier than in the first - not only is there another Mysterious Device to contend figure out, now the girls are set to go to London to participate in a Mysterious experiment that has caught the eye of the vampires, the werewolves, the Picklemen, and the Queen herself. Almost everything wraps up in the end, but there is no pretty little bow. Sophronia experiences first hand that even her most well laid plans can have terrible consequences.

I have yet to read a book by Gail Carriger that isn't a solid, fantastic piece of writing, so it goes without saying that this book rocks and should be read by anyone with an interest in, well, books.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two

Edition: ARC
Author: Catherynne M Valente
Goodreads: The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland And Cut the Moon in Two
Release Date: October 1, 2013

I have to make a confession. See, at ALA, when Lynn showed off her nice galley copy of The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two, I was the first one to get super excited. Lynn admitted she hadn't read the series and gave me the galley to take home and read. Except when I got it home and went to reread the first book (of which I also have a galley), it turns out that I've never read the series either! I feel quite silly, but I'm so glad to get it off my chest!

Goodreads summary: September misses Fairyland and her friends Ell, the Wyverary, and the boy Saturday. She longs to leave the routines of home, and embark on a new adventure. Little does she know that this time, she will be spirited away to the moon, reunited with her friends, and find herself faced with saving Fairyland from a moon-Yeti with great and mysterious powers.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Nazi Hunters, Neal Bascomb

Edition: ARC
Author: Neal Bascomb
Goodreads: The Nazi Hunters
Release Date: August 27, 2013
Expanded Knowledge: The Eichmann Trial; The Eichmann Trial, Pt 1 (YouTube)

Goodreads Summary: A thrilling spy mission, a moving Holocaust story, and a first-class work of narrative nonfiction.

In 1945, at the end of World War II, Adolf Eichmann, the head of operations for the Nazis' Final Solution, walked into the mountains of Germany and vanished from view. Sixteen years later, an elite team of spies captured him at a bus stop in Argentina and smuggled him to Israel, resulting in one of the century's most important trials -- one that cemented the Holocaust in the public imagination.

THE NAZI HUNTERS is the thrilling and fascinating story of what happened between these two events. Survivor Simon Wiesenthal opened Eichmann's case; a blind Argentinean and his teenage daughter provided crucial information. Finally, the Israeli spies -- many of whom lost family in the Holocaust -- embarked on their daring mission, recounted here in full. Based on the adult bestseller HUNTING EICHMANN, which is now in development as a major film, and illustrated with powerful photos throughout, THE NAZI HUNTERS is a can't-miss work of narrative nonfiction for middle-grade and YA readers.

Quick Shot Review: Battle Boy

Edition: ARC
Release Date: October 8, 2013
Goodreads: Battling Boy
Courtesy of Goodreads

Overall, this is a fun, quick read, with a very interesting premise.

Goodreads summary: Monsters roam through Arcopolis, swallowing children into the horrors of their shadowy underworld. Only one man is a match for them - the genius vigilante Haggard West.

Unfortunately, Haggard West is dead.

Arcopolis is desperate, but when its salvation comes in the form of a twelve-year-old demigod, nobody is more surprised than Battling Boy himself.


Thursday, August 8, 2013

To Be or Not To Be: A Chooseable Path Adventure

I have to sit down and write my review for The Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud, but this other review, for the book I just received in the mail less than an hour ago, couldn't wait. I need everyone to know about this book and to want to read this book and to go out and buy this book, because it's amazing.When I sent a friend a text stating that this is was probably the best thing I had ever spent money on, in the history of all of the things I've spent money on, I wasn't being over dramatic.

As previously mentioned, I love me some Shakespeare and I especially love new and creative iterations of Shakespeare. Killing Shakespeare is top on my Christmas wishlist, but To Be Or Not To Be may top a different list as my favorite Shakespeare spin off ever (and would totally top the Christmas wishlist, also, if I didn't already have a copy).

Original Kickstarter Page: So you can see just how much awesome you missed by not pledging to this Kickstarter. You can also see all of the artists that contributed to the awesome art pages within the book.

In addition to loving Shakespeare, I also loved the choose-your-own adventure books while I was growing up. The books of my youth were not very big and usually only good for an hour or two of reading. To Be Or Not To Be clocks in just shy of 800 pages and after 45 minutes, I had only achieved 5 out of 100 endings. This is true value for your money, folks.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Bluffton (Review from the Future)

 I fell in love with Matt Phelan's style of graphic novel when I first read "The Storm in the Barn". There's an ethereal quality to his work that makes both looking and reading his work a wonderful experience. Even though my copy of Bluffton is an Advanced Reader Copy from ALA in June, the story is still wonderful and the black and white drawings evoke a sense of Buster Keaton's movies - or at least that's what I tell myself. I will admit that I haven't seen any of his work, but I promise I will fix that soon.

Goodreads summary: In the summer of 1908, in Muskegon, Michigan, a visiting troupe of vaudeville performers is about the most exciting thing since baseball. They’re summering in nearby Bluffton, so Henry has a few months to ogle the elephant and the zebra, the tightrope walkers and — lo and behold — a slapstick actor his own age named Buster Keaton. The show folk say Buster is indestructible; his father throws him around as part of the act and the audience roars, while Buster never cracks a smile. Henry longs to learn to take a fall like Buster, "the human mop," but Buster just wants to play ball with Henry and his friends. With signature nostalgia, Scott O’Dell Award–winning graphic novelist Matt Phelan visualizes a bygone era with lustrous color, dynamic lines, and flawless dramatic pacing.

It can be difficult to talk about graphic novels like Bluffton because there isn't a lot of dialogue and the story is fairly straightforward. However, Phelan does an amazing job of telling a story without needing page after page of words. In pictures alone, the reader witnesses two coming-of-age stories, when Henry and Buster go from kids following in the footsteps of their fathers to young men who take risks and make their own decisions.

This is a beautifully done book and I can't wait to see it in color!

I'm also behind a bit - Bluffton was released July 23, 2013. Go get a copy!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

From the Future Review: The Dream Thieves, Maggie Stiefvater

WARNING: ARC Copy Review Ahead
WARNING: Review of Said ARC Copy May Contain Vague Spoilers 

Maggie Stiefvater broke into the YA scene sometime during the paranormal romance boom with a story about werewolves and love. This was during my “YA Black Out” period, where school and work created a vortex of time suck and left no time for fun things like reading. However, even after The Dark Ages were over, the idea of the series didn’t interest me much. Love stories rarely do these days, for various reasons.

However, through the usual course of how I discover YA, The Raven Boys made its way into my hands. From the very beginning, I was drawn into Stiefvater’s writing, an odd prose style that sometimes reads like lyrics to a song. Her words both ramble and flow and it clicked with me right away and kept me up late during my first reading. I devoured The Raven Boys and was so stuck in their world that I hardly noticed when I was reaching the last page - until I actually reached the last page, gasped out loud, swore just as loudly, and almost threw the book across the room.

Why, yes, my husband thinks I’m crazy. Why do you ask?

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Behind the Times Review: Kill Shakespeare, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2: The Blast of War

Saturday, June 28 is a day that will forever live in my heart. I attended my first American Library Association (ALA) conference, held in Chicago, IL, one of my favorite cities. I accompanied and was accompanied by the lovely Liz Seeber of Assorted Leafs, who is definitely my boon companion in book nerdery. I began my journey at 0600 hours Saturday morning and rolled back into town around 9:00pm; a long day, to be fo sho, but worth every single second of it.

While awaiting the arrival of Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan of Bookends, Liz and I ended up down yonder in Artist Alley. I always visit Artist Alley at any convention I attend because there is always good times to be had. Artist Alley at ALA turned out to be the most magical place in all of Chicago:
  • I met Faith Erin Hicks , who I have loved and adored via the internet for many years. 
  • I met Matt Phelan and picked up a galley of his new book, Bluffton, which promises to be amazing (and is set in Muskegon, MI!).
  • I met Gene Yang and Thiem Phan, who were incredibly funny and charming and I can't wait to read their joint work, Level Up, and Yang's new Boxers & Saints graphic novels.
  • I may have gotten to shake hands with Cory Doctrow and I may have fan girled just a bit, which is totally not how I imagined that going. In my head, I was cool and intelligent and we briefly discussed our joint dislike of DRM, while reality looked a lot like, "omgcorydoctrowhiiiiii". Not my finest moment. 
At the end of one aisle of Artist Alley was a large banner with a bloody hand holding a skull that read, "Kill Shakespeare" - always an eye catching combination. Anthony Del Col, one of the co-creators of the series, was manning the booth and boy, does he know how to sell you a graphic novel. Well, in this case, he knew how to get me so excited about that it was one of the first things I told Cindy about when we finally met up and she liked the idea so much that she bought both graphic novels (and is letting me borrow them to read first because she's just BAMF like that).

The Amazon summary of the first novel is a little weak, but here it is: "This dark take on the Bard pits his greatest heroes (Hamlet, Juliet, Othello Falstaff) against his most menacing villains (Richard III, Lady Macbeth, Iago) in an epic adventure to find and kill a reclusive wizard named William Shakespeare." I imagined this to be like Shakespeare: Battle Royale as Del Col was explaining it to me but when I relayed this explanation to Cindy while standing in front of him, I got a look that clearly said, no, no that's not it at all.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Behind the Times Review: Beautiful Creatures

We've all seen the trailer for Beautiful Creatures, the highly stylized magical teen drama that attempts to cash in the (ever confusing) cash cow that is Twilight. The first time I saw it, it awoke in me the 14-year-old girl who loved reading the same campy-sounding stories about love conquering all*. However, the same 14-year-old girl refused to see the movie because We Hadn't Read the Book and this has always been an important life motto.

However, 14-year-old me forgets that current me is an organized as a Wal-Mart during restock and current me just never got around to reading the book. Or even adding to Goodreads to read later. Until today, when it popped up on my library's list of new eBooks available. I snatched it up and away we went.

Seeing the trailer gave me a fairly good set up for the book - Mysterious girl has super powers and is racing against the clock not be claimed by the Dark, which is represented by some tall chick with sexy sunglasses and a nice ass, and also someone who looks like she mugged Dolores Umbridge. There's also a big tornado. SPOILERS: the tornado isn't featured in the book, one of the many changes from the trailer.

Courtesy of Goodreads, here's an actual summary:

Lena Duchannes is unlike anyone the small Southern town of Gatlin has ever seen, and she's struggling to conceal her power, and a curse that has haunted her family for generations. But even within the overgrown gardens, murky swamps and crumbling graveyards of the forgotten South, a secret cannot stay hidden forever.

Ethan Wate, who has been counting the months until he can escape from Gatlin, is haunted by dreams of a beautiful girl he has never met. When Lena moves into the town's oldest and most infamous plantation, Ethan is inexplicably drawn to her and determined to uncover the connection between them.

In a town with no surprises, one secret could change everything

Goodreads Score: 3.79

I have to agree with the general Goodreads user base on this one: the book is a fun read with a lot of great imagery and some great ideas about dealing with Fate BUT the characters themselves are mostly shallow and, in some cases, almost caricatures of stereotypes (I'm looking at you, Amma).

My two favorite characters fill in the background - Link and Ridley. Link proves, time and again, that his friendship with Ethan is more important keeping his place in the in crowd. He treats Lena as a good friend would treat his best friend's girlfriend and not like a pariah.

Ridley shows that she isn't a caricature of the evil controlling seductress and she's probably the only reason I want to read the rest of the series. I want to see how more of Ridley. To me, Ethan and Lena's story ends when they're alive and in love at the end of the book - but Ridley disappears, leaving behind the mystery of why she changed her mind and didn't kill Lena's dad.

I'm currently 12 out of 14 in line for the eBook of Beautiful Darkness and I think I'm okay waiting.