Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Please bask in the epicness of my library's teen volunteers!  Each gingerbread man was made by them.  

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Review: Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

What You Need to Know:  This book is a little heavier than Perkins' debut, but is still a fun, unabashedly romantic read.

Summary:  Lola, just barely 17, has 3 goals in life.  1) To convince her two dads that her (much older) boyfriend is THE ONE; 2) To create and wear a full Marie Antoinette costume for the Winter Formal and 3) to never see the Bell twins again.

However, Dad and Dad are not warming up to Lola's perfect punk boyfriend Max, the costume is way more work than she thought and Cricket and Calliope Bell just moved in next door.  Cricket Bell, inventive, sweet and super tall, was Lola's best friend and first love, until he rejected her and left.  But now he's back, and Lola is going to have to learn to deal.

What Worked:  Lola acts, sounds and behaves like a precocious 17 year old.  Like most of us at 17, she thinks she has everything figured out and knows everything.  When she finds out she doesn't, it shatters her.  Perkins totally nailed Lola's voice.   So much so that  I wanted to give her a big hug, or ground her, or both.

The background characters are equally well drawn.  Lola's two dads are fantastic, sweet and supportive but not perfect.  I really hope that Lola's BFF Lindsey gets her own book one day, because a Chuck Taylor wearing Nancy Drew fanatic is the kind of girl I want to know better.    And, then, there's Cricket.

Cricket Bell, will you be my (completely platonic) YA Lit boyfriend?   I love you and your hipster clothes and weird contraptions.  You could come over and we could watch How It's Made and bake.

Seriously though, Cricket is a great character.  Sweet, thoughtful, inventive but not so perfect that he defies realism.  He's exactly the kind of guy a girl has a hard time getting over.

Overall, I would describe this book as sweet and girly.  However, Lola has to deal with some heavy issues, such as her homeless biological mom, and a not entirely healthy relationship.  This gives the story more gravitas than your typical YA romance, but not so much that it falls into misery porn territory.

What Didn't:  It's hard, as an adult, to read a Teen Romance as a teen would.  Because any adult woman would take one look at Max and say "Oh, honey, no!".  He's a douchebag.  A faux-rebellious punk-wannabe with stupid flash tattoos and a bad bleach job.   However, at 17, he probably looks pretty tasty.

Because Mac is a jerk and Cricket is adorable, it's hard to see why Lola hangs on to her relationship with Mac for so long.   Again, maybe this is one of those things that makes sense as a teen, but mystifies an adult.  

Who Would I Give This Book To:  This one's all about the girls.  Fans of Sarah Dessen and Jenny Han, would eat this up.   Teens looking for a light and fun read would also enjoy.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Review: Blood Red Road by Moira Young

What You Need to Know:  This YA Dystopian is the best contender for the "next Hunger Games" and an amazing book on its own, and one of my Best Books of 2011.

Summary: Saba lives in Silverlake, a small piece of (kind of) sustainable land carved out of the ever shifting dust that has taken over the world.  She lives with her father, broken since the death of her mother, and her baby sister.  Most importantly, she has Lugh, her twin brother and other half, who provides the hope and happiness in her life.  When strange men ride up out of a storm and steal Lugh, killing her Pa, she swears she will find him.  Saba sets off into the wastelands, and runs afoul of those who prey on travelers in the dust.  Literally forced to fight for her survival, Saba discovers her own strengths and feelings she didn't know she had.

What Worked:  Girl/Girl cage fights!  Amazon-like warrior women! Bitchy heroine!  Smug-Jackass love interest!  Quasi-western setting!  This book is practically Merideth-crack.

Young is an outstanding writer, who does an excellent job of creating a sympathetic but imperfect heroine.  Saba is a fighter, but her single-mindedness in getting Lugh back makes her not terribly likable sometimes.    Her devotion is admirable, but maddening.

Young weaves some slight touches of magic-realism into her story, with destinies being written in the stars*, and stones that will lead you to your heart's desire.  These are very subtle, and add another layer of mystery to the book.

I've said it before, the best Dystopian fiction doesn't waste a lot of time telling us how things got this bad.  Young doesn't tell us at all, choosing instead to focus on her story and characters.

And what a story it is.  In addition to the already mentioned cage fights, there's a prison break, giant killer worms, a suicidal raid... lots and lots of action.

What Didn't: This book starts very slowly, and readers may be put off by the unusual patois that Young develops.   Also, the magical elements of the book are an unusual touch for a dystopian adventure, and could be jarring.

Who would I give this book to?  Teen fans of the Hunger Games.  Adults looking for a good example of the dystopian trend.  My brother (seriously, he's very picky).

There be spoilers ahead, so quit now if that sort of thing bothers you.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Blatant Self Promotion: My Book, On Sale!

Hey Look!  I wrote a book!

And it's on sale!

Just in time for the holiday gift-giving season!

Celebrate Teen Read Week with Special Savings.  

Oooooh!  Look, a gift with purchase!  Ladies love the gift with purchase!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Review: Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick

What You Need To Know:  This is a solid entry in the post-apocalyptic/zombie genre that suffers from a last minute plot twist.

Summary:  Alex is dying.  The monster in her brain, an inoperable tumor, has stubbornly refused treatment.  Rather than continue, Alex has taken the ashes of her parents to the mountains where they used to camp.  She intends to say goodbye and face her own mortality.

However, something happens, and most die instantly.  Alex survives, as does Ellie, a bratty young girl camping with her grandpa.  Alone in the woods, Alex and Ellie soon discover that they aren't the only survivors.  Other teens live also, but they have transformed into animalistic cannibals.

It's up to Alex to protect Ellie, and she is aided in this by Tom, a young veteran who also survived.  Now, the three must decide what to do next...

What worked:  Bick does a tidy job of introducing her characters.   She establishes Alex's survivalist credentials early and without a lot of fanfare.  Tom appears in the nick of time but still believably.  Ellie feels a bit shoehorned into the story, but not overwhelmingly so.   She also gets things moving quickly, the carnage starts early, without a lot of preliminary set up.  The action sequences in this book are genuinely scary, gory without being gratuitous 

Bick also gets that the best post-apocalyptic fiction isn't really about the apocalypse, but the people who are caught in it.  Alex and Tom spend a good deal of time trying to figure out what happened, but they also are moving on, doing their best to survive.

I'm not a big wilderness survival fan, but Alex and her crew's plans and missteps were engaging and well described.

What didn't:   My biggest problem with this book is that it leaves too many questions unanswered.  Ashes takes a major left turn in its final fourth, completely abandons major characters and plot lines, leaving many questions unanswered.   A great book will leave you asking "what happens next?"  This book simply left me asking "what happened?"   This ploy might get readers to pick up the next volume, but it's incredibly frustrating.

Also, I know all sci-fi requires a suspension of disbelief, but I don't think that the science behind Bick's apocalypse stands up.   Although not an expert, I don't think that an EMP could cause the kind of carnage she describes.  I appreciated her building the latest research on the teen brain into her plot, but, again, it rang false to me.

And, as always, I resented the intrusion of a romance into the plot.  Alex has been preparing herself to die, the world as she knows it has ended, teenagers have turned into cannibals, but she's torn between two boys?  Please.

Who would I give this book to:  The post-apocalyptic trend shows no signs of slowing, and this would be a good choice for teens who enjoy those books.  The survivalist angle would appeal to many boys, and it's gory enough for the zombie fans.  

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Books I Didn't Finish: Record Collecting for Girls by Courtney E. Smith.

Total Finished: 97 out of 240 pages

So, Why Didn't You Finish It?  
But how much thought have you given to what your music choices say about you to other people?  Boys who love records (and let's face it, at some point we will al date a boy who is a little too into his records) are totally obsessing on what music you like when they meet you.  They're using it to figure out how crazy you are before they get involved (so hide your Tori Amos records).
 Record Collecting for Girls, page 97
It's not often I can pinpoint the line that makes me quit a book in disgust.

I know that it can be tough to be a girl who is into music, either as a musician or a fan. So, I was hoping that this book would be a great resource for the "music nerds" among my teen patrons.

Well, this book isn't about girls, it's about boys.  More specifically, it's about finding boys to date by pretending you 1) like the same music they like and 2) hiding that you may know more about music than they do.    This is insulting and sexist.  Other commenters have pointed out that Smith is incredibly hetero-normative and focused on white rock bands.  I also see this.

(And, just in case any girls are reading this -- any boy who won't date you because you listen to Tori Amos is not worth dating. This goes for guys too -- I married my husband dispite his love of Steely Dan.  )

To be fair, Smith knows a lot about music, and has some interesting things to say about the lack of "serious" female artists in the mainstream.  But she is incredibly dismissive of anybody who doesn't share her indie-rock tastes.  It's more than a little ironic that a woman who can claim to love the Twilight books spends half a chapter dissing "Teenage" music.

Smith's obsession with cool and making sure that you like the music that will get you laid is off-putting and boring.  I have better things to read about.

Dissenting Opinions? 
Miss A
Chicks Dig Books

Monday, September 19, 2011

Review: Blink and Caution by Tim Wynne-Jones

What You Need to Know: This intriguingly written tale of street kids and second chances takes a major left turn in its final third.

Summary:  Blink has been living on the streets for a few months now, but has figured out that well dressed kids don't get hassled.  Thus, he uses a stolen set of clothes to wander through hotels, looking for uneaten food on room service trays.  When he hears the sounds of violence from a room, but sees three unharmed men walk out, he can'
t resist a peak.  In the room he sees what looks like trouble, but the unattended wallet and smart phone presents too much temptation.  When the owner of the phone shows up on the news as a kidnapping victim, Blink knows it's not true, but doesn't know what to do.

 Caution, a young runaway, gets on the wrong side of her dealer/boyfriend.  She has to run, from the magic man,
 from her past, from knowledge she doesn't want.  But it all  keeps finding her.  She decides to run as far as she can, and sees Blink as an easy mark.   The two connect in an unexpected way, and decide to use the "kidnapping" to their advantage.

What Worked:
Wynne-Jones has a talent for language, his prose is rich, yet light.  The writing perfectly evokes a time and place, without drowning the reader in tons of exposition and description.

Wynne-Jones also successfully climbs inside the heads of his teen protagonists.  They are bundles of emotion, yes, but believably so.  Their choices feel organic and believable.   Blink and Caution both ran away from home for legitimate reasons.  They live on the streets (or with questionable adults) in a way that feels real.

What Didn't: This languished in my "to read" pile for months.  Part of it was the summer slam, and part of it was it just didn't look like my kind of book.   I only picked it up because it was a Boston-Horn Book Award Winner and a nominee for the Maricopa County Mock Printz Discussions.  

I still don't think it's my kind of book.  I will be honest -- I'm a plot reader.  Beautiful settings and well-drawn characters are great, but in the end, I want you to tell me a story.  And without getting too spoilerific, I felt like the plot of this book went off the rails in a major way in the book's final third.   The entire focus and tone of the book shifted from a character study with mystery elements to a B-grade horror flick.

Is it Printz Worthy?  Maybe.  It has the edginess that Printz voters seem to like, with a strong literary flavor.   What I see as a major misstep in plot, others may see as a bold blending of genres.

Who Would I Recommend this Book to?  I'm not sure.  The literary-ness of it would turn off teens who read genre fiction, and the genre elements would annoy my few lit fic readers. 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Review: The Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Lani Taylor.

What You Need to Know:  This urban fantasy is is an amazing, trope- twisting read, and one of my Best Books of 2011.

Summary:  Karou, a blue haired art student living in Prague, lives a double life. Most of the time, she lives like any other college kid, hanging with friends, dating and learning.  What her friends don't know is that Karou's family is a race of half-human/half-animal chimera, lead by Brimstone, a powerful wizard.  Brimstone grants wishes to humans who visit him, and receives payment in teeth.    She illustrates her family  in her sketchbook, capturing her strangely beautiful family in near lifelike detail.  Karou mostly keeps her two worlds separate, except when she is called to do errands by Brimstone. However, when strange hand-shaped burn marks appear on the portals to Brimstone's world, and angelic creatures appear all over the globe, Karou's life changes forever.

What Worked:  This book is amazing.  Beautiful descriptions of Prague, descriptions of a reasonably normal teenage life, and fantastic creatures and happenings work together beautifully to create a seamless, engaging narrative.

What amazed me most about this book is that it managed to surprise me.  Using familiar ideas -- a human raised by monsters, angels, star crossed lovers, a mystical war -- Taylor spun an unexpected and engrossing tale.  It's not my first time at the rodeo, so a fantasy book that brings something new, that keeps me guessing, gets high marks.  Also, this is one book where the romance felt organic and necessary.

Karou is a wonderful character:  funny, tough, talented.   However, she is not inhumanly perfect -- she makes mistakes, takes stupid risks, acts selfishly.   She's a refreshing change from the doormats and Mary Sues that populate teen fantasy romances.

What Didn't:  Honestly, not much.  Some of the supporting characters may be a little thin, but this book is about Karou, and that's where the focus stays.

However -- that cover is terrible -- yes, it makes sense in context, but it's generic and bland.

Who Would I Give this Book To?  Everybody.  Seriously.  There's enough rich world building here to keep fantasy fans interested, enough romance to captivate a Twihard, and the writing quality is strong enough to win over the most dedicated literary fiction fan.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Chime by Franny Billingsley

What You Need to Know:  This beautifully written steampunkish fairy tale is an antidote to cookie cutter supernatural romances, and one of my best books of 2011. 

Summary:  Briony Larkin is 17 years old and a witch.  She knows that she is evil;  responsible for her sister Rose's mental difficulties.  However, she must care for Rose and that means keeping her ability to hear the Old Ones a secret.  The Old Ones call to Briony, and beg her to tell their stories. 

But the world is changing, and engineers plan to drain the swamp.  This angers the Old Ones, and in retaliation, the children of Swampsea are stricken with a deadly cough.  When Rose takes ill, Briony knows she must do whatever it takes to save her.  Adding to Briony's troubles is Larkin, the charming son of the an engineer, who is determined to puzzle out Briony's secrets.  

What Worked:  Billingsley is one of the most engaging and skillful writers I have ever read.  This book is all about journey -- there are no real surprises here.  However, Billingsley takes familiar tropes and skews them, twisting her story so that plot is secondary to the rich world building and vibrant characterizations.  Swampsea, like Lyra's Jordan, is a world just left of our own, where magic is real and modernity bumps up uncomfortably against the old ways.  The Old Ones of the Swamp, with few exceptions, are dangerous, but not sinister, and Briony's connection to them seems organic and real.  Briony herself is one of the most fully realized characters I've come across.  Unlike many heroines, she is not inhumanly perfect, not a blank Mary Sue, but a real girl, in extraordinary circumstances, trying to do the right thing.  The supporting cast is equally well drawn, from the perplexing Rose to the engaging boy-man Larkin.  Briony and Larkin's romance is sweet and believable, not fairy tale perfect.  

The first word that pops to mind when discussing Chime is beautiful.  Beautiful language, beautiful setting, beautiful story.  

What Didn't:  It's hard for me to find a flaw here.  I do think that the cover of the book fails to do it justice, as the blandly pretty goth-child pictured here comes nowhere close to embodying Briony's spirit and passion.

P.S. -- I read this book in ARC, and then listened to the audiobook with my daughter.   In someways, the audiobook is superior to the novel, as Susan Duerden does a masterful reading, and brings Billingsley's language to life. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

I'm Back!

Wow!  It has been more than 8 weeks since I last posted here.

I apologize, but Summer kicked my butt this year.  While I had a very successful summer at the Day Job, it was very stressful.  July brought Comic-Con and presentations and the end of summer reading... it was very hectic.

It took most of August for me to recuperate.

When school started, there was a lot of drama with the kidlet, but now that things have settled, I'm back with more opinions than ever!

Coming soon, reviews of my 2 favorite books of the year, my thoughts on the Maricopa County Mock Printz Awards, a review of the upcoming Tamora Pierce book and more!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

My Misadventures as a Teenage Rock Star by Joyce Raskin and Carol Chu

What You Need to Know:  Fourteen year old Alex finds herself via playing bass and skateboarding in this slight novel.

Summary:  Alexis, age 14, is miserable.  She is neither blonde, nor pretty, nor cool.  All she can do is cry and mope.  However, once her older brother suggests that she learn to play bass in a friend's band, her life turns around.  Now a "rock-chick",  she wears combat boots and revels in her new found coolness. But just being on the bass and in the band might not be enough for Alex. 

What Worked:  Alex, formerly obsessed with being like the girls in magazines, figures herself out by the end of the book.  Kind of.   Chu's doodles, while not vital to the text, add a fun and whimsical note. 

What Didn't:  The only word I can use to describe this book is lightweight.  And, that's a shame, as it glosses over some fairly heavy issues.  Sexism in music, teen gender roles, sexual assault, drugs, cheating boyfriends -- they're all here, and none are examined very deeply. 

This book is very short, only 112 pages, with some of the back matter devoted to how-tos on buying and playing a guitar and writing songs.   The slimness might work to attract reluctant readers, but it works against creating a compelling story.  Amazing things happen to Alex, but the story doesn't pause to contemplate them, as it moves on to the next chapter. 

Finally, the voice felt a little young for me, and aside from the drug use, I could see this being more appealing to a middle grade audience. 

Who would I give this book to:  Reluctant readers with an interest in music.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross

What You Need to Know:  The steampunk superhero conceit will draw in readers, but the excessive length, meandering plot and predictability of this book will turn off all but the most determined.

Summary:  Finley, a servant girl in "reduced circumstances" fears the angry thing inside of her.  When, upon being attacked, the thing causes her to harm the young lord of her household, she runs into the night.  As fate would have it, she runs directly into Griffin King, a young nobleman with exceptional abilities of his own.  Griffin is the head of a group of gifted young people who serve the English crown.  The energy that feeds the automatons was discovered by Griffin's parents, but now, the automatons are beginning to turn on their masters.  However, the criminal known only as the Machinist has other plans, for Griffin and his group...

What Worked:  The idea of a team of teenage, steampunk superheroes is a good one.  The Jekyll and Hyde nature of Finely's abilities is not the most original idea ever, but a Victorian girl learning to harness her darker nature is intriguing.

Emily, the genius inventor of Griffin's crew, is a great character.  Spunky, bright, brave and loyal, she is by far the most interesting thing about this book.

What Didn't:  Dear goddess, this book is long.   So very long, particularly for a book that could be described as The League of Extraordinary X-Men the First Class.

Cross switches between viewpoint characters frequently, which would be interesting if her characters had more depth.  Each of the members of the team came right out of central casting -- angry young man, confused girl, handsome rogue.  I admit to being charmed by Emily -- Spunky Girl Inventor -- but even she has been done a thousand times before.  Stock characters could be forgiven, if the plot of the book was less predictable.  Any reader with a basic understanding of superhero comics or Victorian mysteries will see where this book is headed, even as it takes its own sweet time about getting there.

Who Would I Give This Book To:   Fans of the steampunk genre will probably want to give this one a look, and it would be an interesting diversion for superhero fans.

Monday, June 13, 2011

My Foray into Paranormal Romance

I am not a romance reader, and double that for paranormal romance.

But, The Iron Duke.  Damn, I love that book.  Really, if you're over 18 and O.K. with thrusting and heaving, you should totally read it.

So, I thought, maybe, possibly, that I haven't been fair to the genre.  That I had dismissed it out of hand.  And, I wanted to read more of Meljean Brook's work.

Enter Hot Spell and Burning Up -- two novella compilations that include Brook and some other authors.
I read both of them, and I have come to a conclusion.

I am still not a paranormal romance reader.  But, I tried to evaluate these stories on their merits.

The Countess's Pleasure by Emma Holly. Of the stories that I read, this was the best written.  A widowed countess engages a "demon" as a consort and the two fall in love.  I liked the steam-punky Indo-British setting, I liked that Georgiana (the countess) was seeking to become her own person.   The clash of cultures and philosophies was interesting.

Would I read more by this author in this series: Maybe.  A quick Google tells me that the others in the series have more of that retro-Victorian sci-fi vibe, and l find that interesting. 

The Breed Next Door by Lora Leigh.  A genetically engineered feline-man hybrid moves in next door to a "spitfire." The two discover they are genetically destined to be mates and have lots and lots of sex.  There's something in here about bounty hunters, but it's an afterthought.  This novella is all about the banging.  However, the way the sex was described was really unappealing and sexist.

Would I read more by this author in this series: No.  This sucked. 

Falling for Anthony by Meljean Brook.  Demons, and Nosferatu, and vampires and guardians.  Who are not angels.  But act like them.  Wha?  This was a confusing mess of ideas.  One thing I will say is that this story was one of the few that had a sexually experienced woman in it.

Would I read more by this author in this series: No.  I love Brook's Iron Seas books, but this... is not for me.  

The Blood Kiss by Shiloh Walker.  Evil Vampires. Who fight heroic werewolves.  Any story that attempts to frame kidnapping as a romantic act has an uphill battle with me.

Would I read more by this author in this series: No.  There wasn't enough new here that I want to know more about. 

Whisper of Sin by Nalini Singh. Surprisingly enjoyable.  I am not a were/shapeshifter fan, but this read more like a sci-fi/crime mash-up than a paranormal romance.  The heroine, Ria, was spunky, and educated and willing to seek out what she wanted.  

Would I read more by this author in this series: Maybe.  These had more of a sci-fi vibe, and I liked that.  I liked that there were women in powerful positions in the Changling universe.  

Blood and Roses by Angela Knight.   Heroic vampires.  And the courtesans who love them.  While Knight writes fairly well, this story had the most predictable arc imaginable.  And it had a child in danger, which is just cheap.

Would I read more by this author in this series: No.  Predictable and bland.

Shifting Sea by Virginia Kantra.  Surprisingly, I liked this story more than I was expecting, because...mermaids.  However, this is more of a historical fiction story, and I could totally see Major John Harris being played by Colin Firth. Would I want to read a whole novel set in this world, with these characters -- no.  But it was a pleasant novella.

Would I read more by this author in this series: No.  As I said above, it was pleasant, but the novella was enough.

Here Be Monsters by Meljean Brook.  I loved this one.  The setting of the Iron Seas has me hooked.   Steampunk nanotech.  I loved that Ivy was making choices and not letting things happen to her.  Would I love it without reading The Iron Duke first?  I'm not sure.

Would I read more by this author in this series: Been there, done that.

Friday, May 27, 2011

A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine

What You Need To Know: This charming middle grade fantasy combines unique characters with Levine's trademark world-building skill.

Summary:  Elodie is a poor farmer's daughter, who leaves her impoverished, but loving,  home for the city of Two Castles.  Under orders to become an apprentice weaver, Elodie instead seeks to become a mansioner, or actor.  Broke, unused to city life and desperate, Elodie soon attracts the attention of Mastress Meenore, the dragon who lives in Two Castles.  Meenore makes her living selling roasted skewers, but is also a master of deductive reasoning, and solves all types of problems.  Having few other options, Elodie apprentices to Meenore, and soon makes the acquaintance of the ogre Count Jonty Um.  The Count is kind and gentle, but greatly feared. When Jonty Um seeks Meenore's help, Elodie finds herself in the thick of of a mystery. 

What Worked:  This book is so unique, I can think of few other things to compare it too. It crosses genres, plays with fairytale tropes and introduces flawed, but likeable characters.  a It's a fantasy, with dragons, ogres, wicked kings and magic.   It is a mystery, as someone wants to be rid of the Ogre Count, and no-one is what they seem.  It is a coming of age novel, as Elodie learns what work she is best suited for.  

One of my favorite things about this book is how it twists the rules of a fairy tale.  Count Jonty Um, the ogre, seems monstrous. However, he is generous, loves animals, and is kind to Elodie.     The dragon Meenore, although wise, is not beautiful and all powerful.  Instead, Meenore smells like rotten eggs and makes a living heating water and cooking food.   There is a handsome lad, and a princess, but nothing and no-one is as they seem.  

Elodie is a great character, naive but not foolish, head strong, clever and willing to learn from her mistakes.  ITself, Meenore, is also a fantastic character.  Dragons do not reveal their gender, and the Mastress is no exception.  Brilliant but petulant, Meenore teaches Elodie far more than the girl first realizes.  

What Didn't:  Honestly, I think this book was just about perfect.  However, if you were looking for a more traditional fairy tale, this book would just seem odd to you.  

Who Would I Give This Book To: This title skews a little younger than what I normally review, and would best suit a middle grade audience.  Fans of fractured fairy tales, strong girls, and Levine's other books will eat this up.  

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Putting Makeup On Dead People by Jen Violi

What You Need to Know:   This is a well-done, quirky coming of age story with an appealing main character that struggles under too many divergent themes.

Summary:  Donna’s dad died her freshman year of high school.  Now getting ready to graduate, Donna realilzes that she’s walked through the last four years in a fog, just getting by, not making any connections or feeling much of anything.   She goes to school, goes to church and doesn’t do much else.  The death of a classmate wakes her up to possibilities, specifically, the possibilities of a career in mortuary science.  Investigating at a local funeral home, Donna discovers a talent for working with the dead and bereaved, and spurred on by the new girl at school, she starts to let go of her past and build a future.  However, letting go is easier said than done.

What Works:  Donna is a very likeable girl.  She is a little closed off, but as you come to understand her life, her distance seems reasonable (if sad).  Donna’s quirky voice and unique POV brings a lot of humor and tenderness to what could be a very bleak story.   The funeral home setting is unique, and the staff that works there nicely humanized.   Many unconventional characters populate Donna’s world, and they are convincingly portrayed, with warmth and understanding.  Also, Donna’s battles with her mom – about religion, life choices and boys -- felt very real, and the blame is equally spread on both sides.   

What Doesn’t: Whenever Donna begins to doubt herself, up pops another eccentric character to remind her of her choices and reaffirm her purpose.  It stretches credulity just a tad.  Also, the discussions of alternative religions and the role the church plays in Donna’s life aren’t as fleshed out as they could be. 

However:  I was not raised in a religious family, and have a very “whatever works, brah”  attitude towards faith.  Someone with a background similar to Donna’s might find more meaning here.  

Please Note:  Awesome cover! 

Who would I give this book to?  Teens seeking a different kind of bildungsroman.  Fans of shows like Six Feet Under and Pushing Daisies.  

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Girl Wonder by Alexa Martin

What You Need to Know:  This typical coming of age novel features lots illicit behavior, but ultimately falls flat.

Summary:  Charlotte's life pretty much sucks.  Forced to transfer her senior year, a learning disability keeps her from getting into an exclusive prep school.  That same disability keeps her from getting into the gifted and talented program at her new high school.  Going to a large public high school after years spent in an all girl environment is a culture shock, and Charlotte flounders.  However, she has the good luck to fall into the orbit of Amanda.  Brilliant, beautiful and eager to break every rule, Amanda is clearly the Alpha Girl of Shady Grove.  Charlotte soon becomes her willing flunky.  Following Amanda's lead keeps her from thinking about her perfect little brother, her newly pretentious author dad, and the cracks in her parents' marriage.  However, being Amanda's "friend" may cost Charlotte more than she realizes.

What Works:  Martin nails the voice of a young woman who is completely at sea.  Charlotte has nothing to hold on too -- dad's a jerk, mom's preoccupied and little brother tries, but is a little brother.   In a family of high achievers, she's the odd one out, who has completely internalized her family's (perceived) disappointment with her.    Charlotte's lack of self-worth makes her fixation on and loyalty to Amanda believable, and a little squirm inducing.  Charlotte is such a doormat, that some readers (me) might get annoyed with her, but her actions are realistic and understandable.

What Doesn't:   The secondary characters in this book range from weak to paper-thin.  Even Amanda is little more than a rebellious attitude and a hair color.  This weakness shows up the most with the adult characters, who play a large role in Charlotte's life, but are never fully fleshed out.   Also, there is just a touch of the after-school special about this book.  Charlotte is constantly pushed into situations where she's uncomfortable, substances are ingested and bad choices are made.  The result feels a little judgmental.

Also:  The way that Charlotte's learning disability is handled bugged the hell out of me.  It is hard for me to believe that a family like this wouldn't get Charlotte the help she needs.   However, my husband, who has the same learning disability that Charlotte has, says that his learning problems were ignored until college.  So maybe I'm just super optimistic.

Please Note:  This book has an awesome cover!

Who Would I Give this Book To:  Smart Girls, Stupid Choices books are always popular, and I can see girls looking for coming of age books liking this.  I would not give it to a teen dealing with a learning disability, as Charlotte never really comes to terms with her learning differences.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Divergent by Veronica Roth

What You Need to Know: This dystopian sci-fi tale will find an audience with teens seeking the "next" Hunger Games, but doesn't live up to the pre-release hype.  

Summary:  Beatrice lives in a world of factions.  She has been raised as a Abnegation, trained to value selflessness and service.  But as she turns 16, she must choose a faction, which will supersede all else in her life.  Will she remain in Abnegation or choose Candor, who see truthfulness as the greatest good?  Perhaps she will choose Erudite, and become one who seeks knowledge.  Amity values peace above all, and Dauntless, bravery.  A simulation is supposed to reveal where each teen belongs.  Beatrice however, makes a surprising discovery.  She is Divergent, and has qualities of many of the factions.  Divergence is dangerous, and Beatrice must hide her differences while discovering some uncomfortable truths about her society.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Cellar by A.J. Whitten.

What You Need To Know:  This poorly-written Twilight-with-zombies will have fans, but there are far better teen horror books. 

Summary: Meredith lost her dad months ago in a car wreck caused by her sister Heather. Now, Heather has become an emo poster-child and Mom is a shopoholic. But when the amazingly handsome and charismatic Adrien St. Germain moves to town, Heather falls instantly in love. Meredith however, senses something not right about Adrien, and seeks answers in the decrepit house next door. But, can she believe what she sees?

 What Worked: The writing here is atmospheric; the death and decay of Adrien’s world is well communicated.

What Didn’t: (spoilers ahead) Where to start… Although I’m sure this isn’t the worst book I’ve ever read, it is certainly the worst book I’ve read this year. 

 I’ll start with my biggest gripe: halfway through the book, it comes out that Meredith has a condition, Fuchs’ disease, that causes her to “see things that aren’t there”. However, five minutes on Google proved that Fuchs’ doesn’t cause hallucinations. While there are macular diseases that do cause visual hallucinations, it is very unlikely that a healthy 16 year old girl with no other symptoms would start to hallucinate. Basically, the condition is used as a all-too-convenient excuse for why nobody believes Meredith’s suspicions. Sloppy research and bad writing make me Hulk-out.

Honestly, I am a pro at suspending disbelief.  I read a lot of sci-fi and fantasy.  But what this book asks me to swallow is just too much..  Let me count them down. 
  1.  Adrien, the undead guy,  is wicked hot. He’s a sexy zombie. Yes, you heard me.   "Zombie" and "sexy" are two words that should NEVER be put together. 
  2. The undead guy wears sunglasses all the time. Because he has no eyes. Just maggot-infested holes. Nobody really comments on this, or it’s seen as being “hot”.  Yes, rotten parasites are so appealing! 
  3. The undead guy has Cullen-like psychic powers. He can bring people, particularly women, under his spell and make them do whatever he wants. And he does. Repeatedly. 
  4.  The undead guy also has powers over animals. He also has a host of carrion eaters – beetles, vultures, hyenas, piranha, doctor fish, and crows – that obey his commands.   Again, nobody seems to notice this, because hyenas are common in Massachusetts.
  5.  The undead guy doesn’t just rely on his persuasive abilities; he has a whole medieval torture chamber set up in his basement. Which he uses. Repeatedly. 
  6.  The undead guy has a slowly rotting mother with whom he’s engaged in a century long power struggle; however, that doesn’t stop them from feeding on the populace. Together.
  7. The wicked hot eyeless psychic carrion-whisperer torturing brain-eating undead guy is the romantic lead.
Honestly, I could go on, but this whole story is one big contrivance. Obviously, Adrien finds the damaged (literally!) Heather. Naturally, he chooses her as his “forever love”. Certainly, they’re cast as the leads in Romeo and Juliet. And of course, it all comes down to a bloody and unbelievable zombie showdown, including the dead dad.

Who would I give this book to: Nobody. But, I can see it finding an audience.

Monday, May 2, 2011

LITERATURE: Unsuccessfully Competing Against TV Since 1953 by Dave Kellett

What You Need to Know:  This Eisner-nominated collection of webcomics features nerd-humor, literature jokes and a talking duck that would appeal to the geek minded.

Summary: Sheldon, a 10 year old software millionaire, lives with his grandfather, a talking duck, a pet lizard, and a dog.  This group, along with Sheldon's dim best friend, discuss various aspects of culture and literature, including Lord of the Rings, Shakespeare and Robert Frost.  

What worked:  This is a book for English weenies.  If a 10 year old genius recreating the moon landing as Emily Dickinson sounds funny to you, you will adore this book.  Kellett's artwork is simple but fun, with cartoony expressions and a loose feel that makes up for the lack of detail. 

What didn't:  Not an English weenie?  This book isn't that funny.  And, as a web-comic, this is more similar to a collection of newspaper strips than a narrative; most of the gags are done in 3 panels.  As such, this technically isn't a graphic novel.  

Interesting side note:  I became aware of this collection when it was nominated for an Eisner award for Best Humor Publication.  However, I didn't realize it till Kellett made it available for download as a free PDF.  I don't know if that was a good strategy vis-à-vis Eisner voters, but I do know that www.sheldoncomics.com is part of my daily webcomics check now.  

Who would I give this book to:  Fellow librarians, kids with a strong background in classic lit and geeky interests.  Of course, my English weenie of a husband loves it too.  

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Red Glove by Holly Black

What You Need To Know:  Cassel and his fascinating world of magic and crime return, in this strong second volume of The Curse Workers. 

Summary:  After discovering his gift, and how his brothers misused it, Cassel has more problems then ever.  Mom's out of jail, working her own game, and the girl he adores has been cursed to love him -- which sucks.  But when Cassel's brother turns up dead, and the feds want his help, he'll have to run the greatest con of all to make it out alive. 

What works:  Cassel Sharp is awesome, and Black nails his voice.  An honorable guy in a deeply dishonorable world, he's far from perfect.   Cassel is tempted, and makes mistakes just like any high school age guy would.  What makes Cassel awesome is that he uses his brains and skills to get himself out of trouble, and Black avoids the "magic fixes EVERYTHING" problem that fantasy writers can fall into. 

Although the central mystery at the core of this book is slightly less compelling than the first Curse Workers volume, Black manages to keep the suspense high, and work in a few surprises along the way.  As always, the world building is expertly done, showing instead of telling, and all in service to the story. 

What Didn't:   To me, the political subplot felt trite and overdone.  Yes, its good for a zinger in the end, and Black does her best to work it into the central mystery, but all in all, I could have lived without it.   

Who would I give this book to:  I think that this series would be a great choice for kids who grew up on Harry Potter, but are ready to move on to darker fare.   Guys who like the paranormal, but are iffy about romance would like it too.  

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Shine by Lauren Myracle

What You Need to Know:  This amazing modern southern-gothic mystery is one of the best books of 2011.

Summary: Once upon a time, Cat was best friends with Patrick.  Now Patrick lies in a coma, the victim of a hate crime.  Although nobody in the small North Carolina town of Black Creek wants to look too hard for the criminal, Cat takes it upon herself to find out who hurt Patrick.  While local law enforcement looks for an outsider, Cat feels sure the victim lies a lot closer to home.  Along the way, Cat will have to come out of her self imposed exile, and face the issues she's been ignoring.

What Worked:  When I finished this book, my reaction was:  "Damn, Lauren Myracle could win the Printz."   A vibrant setting, timely issues, tight plotting, compelling characters, and polished writing -- this book hits all of the award criteria. 

For me, the best thing about the book was the setting.  The small, rural town of Black Creek, which is slowly dying, although nobody wants to admit it.  Cat is such a product of this place, she knows it like nothing else, so she is naturally the one to solve the mystery of who attacked Patrick.  Also, Myracle nails Cat's voice, a girl longing to break free of her small world, but not really seeing a way out, who feels a debt to someone she abandoned.

For once, I felt like the romance elements of the book were organic and well intergrated.  As much as this is a mystery, it's also Cat's coming of age.  Finding someone to connect with is part of that journey. 

What Didn't:  The ending is going to leave some readers (me) unhappy.  Without getting too spoilery, lets just say that the crime is solved.  Is the criminal brought to justice?  Well, that depends.  The choice made at then end is made honestly, but left me feeling cold.   

Who would I give this book to?  With Myracle's name on the cover, this book isn't going to require much selling.  However, I can see it appealing to teens with an interest in GLBTQ issues, and mystery fans.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Rot and Ruin by Jonathan Maberry

What You Need to Know:  This Western masquerading as a zombie novel features lots of action and guy appeal.

Summary: Benny Imura can’t keep a job, so he decides to go into the family business – killing the undead.   When Benny was 2, the zombies rose, and humanity was forced into small, technologically deficient enclaves.   Benny lives with his older brother Tom, who like many others, makes a living by killing zombies in the rot and ruin beyond the town gates.   Many think Tom is a hero, but Benny knows better.  Tom is a quiet man, unlike the swaggering, boastful bounty hunters who pass through Mountainside.  When Benny is 15, he must work, or loose his food rations.  Not willing to take up the grunt labor that makes life possible, he apprentices with his brother.  Outside of Mountainside, Benny learns more about his brother, and the killers Ben once admired, than he wants. 

 What worked:  OMG – I LOVED this book.  Maberry nails Benny’s voice, a boy who thinks he’s a man, who has everything figured out, and then has the rug pulled out from under him.   Maberry also does some really nice world building in desc ribing life in Mountainside, building details naturally into the text, and not relying on info dumps or ominecent narration. 
Maberry builds a strong Old West feel into his future zombie dystopia.  Hand  cranks power the town, gaslamps light the darkness, bounty hunters are both feared and idolized, sherrifs and posses abound.  Everbody travels by horse, and news moves slow.  Westerns don’t often pop up in Teen Lit, so I was charmed by the novelty of the tropes being used.  

Also, Benny is half Japanese.  Characters of color can be rare in teen horror novels, so this was good to see.

And, Tom kills zombies with a samuari sword.  That is inexpressibly bad ass.  

What didn’t:  The romance elements of this book felt a little forced.  Benny goes from not wanting anything to do with girl-next-door Nix, to falling for a girl he’s only seen on a trading card, to risking everything to save Nix in rapid order.   

However: I have little patience for romance, as I’ve said before.  Less smooching, more decapitating!  And Nix is pretty bad ass herself.

Who would I give this book to:  Fans of zombie novels, such as World War Z or The Walking Dead, looking for a different type of undead story

Note the First:  Killer First Line “Benny Imura couldn’t hold a job, so he took to killing”

Note the Second:  This would be an interesting book to pair with Black Hole Sun, another “genre Western”. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter

What You Need to Know:  This is a romance-y spin on the current Greek Gods trend, featuring a strong heroine and an interesting premise.

Summary: Kate Winters has spent the last several years waiting for her mom to die, living to care for her, and shutting out everyone else.  Now, as her mom reaches end stage, Kate has come to Eden, Michigan, her mom’s hometown, to wait for the inevitable.   Eden is the smallest of small towns, and Kate attracts the attention of mean girl Ava.   When Ava dies playing a prank on Kate, a mysterious stranger named Henry appears from nowhere and offers Kate a deal – Henry will reanimate Ava, if Kate will agree to live in his home from Fall to Spring.   Eventually, Kate takes Henry up on his offer, but discovers there is more to the request.  See, Henry is Hades, and since Persephone’s death millennia ago, he has ruled Hades alone.  Now, he has little time left to find a queen, or else loose his purpose, and his existence. 

What works:  This is an interesting take on the Greek pantheon, that they existed before the Greeks gave them names, and have continued to exist after.  Kate is a likeable heroine, and her reasons for accepting Henry’s offer are clear and understandable.  Kate’s mom, Diana, is also an interesting character, who gives her daughter excellent, if not exactly selfless, advice.

As for Henry, he is a very engaging guy.  A little broody and aloof, but the reader can understand why Kate wants to save him. 

All through the book, the reader knows something HUGE that Kate doesn’t.  For me, this made the book an interesting experiment   -- my knowledge makes me see the characters differently than Kate does. It created a tension that I liked.    

What didn’t:  Is it written on a scroll somewhere that ALL YA paranormals must include a love triangle?  In this one, its between Henry, Kate and another god named James.  James is a twitchy bag of ticks, and more than a little underhanded, and why Kate might feel something for him is never clear.

The “Goddess Test” in the title is actually a series of 7 tests, but Kate doesn’t know when they are happening or what the tests even are.  So while the book is engaging, there is no epic quest, no training, and no huge denouement.  Kate lives in Henry’s home and… hangs out.   It’s a little bit of a bait and switch.

Verging into spoiler territory,   the “twist” at the end of the book left me feeling flat.  No, I didn’t see it coming (although Carter does drop hints, if you know what to look for) but it also felt a little contrived, and opened up some huge questions about the universe Kate and Henry live in. 

However:  The above makes it sound like I didn’t like the book.  But I did.  I liked it more than a lot of YA paranormal romances.

Who Would I Give This Book To?  Teen girls looking for more paranormal reads, who have had it with vampires,.  teen fans of Percy Jackson who liked the romance angle.    

Review copy downloaded from NetGalley. 

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Books I Didn't Finish: Bumped by Megan McCaffrerty

Total Finished:   78 out of 244 pages.

So, Why Couldn't You Finish It?

In the near future, infertility has struck everyone over the age of 18.  Because of this, teen girls are encouraged to "bump" -- get pregnant.  Recently reuinited 16 year old twins, Melody and Harmony go about this in very different ways.  Harmony, raised on a religious commune, is preparing herself for wife and motherhood.  Melody, raised by hyper-perfectionist parents, has "gone pro" and sold her fertility to the highest bidder.

There is something here -- the idea of teen pregnancy being a desirable state, and the commodification of teen fertility -- these both have great narrative potential.

However,  McCafferty's writing does nothing for me.  The jargon of her dystopia is artificial and cloying, and instead of creating a world, pulled me out of it.  More pressingly, Harmony and Melody are flat out annoying, and not interesting enough to compensate for it.  Throw in a crush on a "perfect" guy by the religious girl, and the refusal of the "perfect" girl to realize that she's crazy about her best friend...  I'm done.

Dissenting opinions?  
Publisher's Weekly
 Good Golly Miss Holly 
Write Meg

Final Word:   Annoying and trite pretty much spells the end of a book for me.  I have too much other stuff to read....

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Wither (Chemical Garden Trilogy #1) by Lauren DeStefano

What You Need to Know:  This is an unique, imperfect, take on the current YA Dystopia trend, that raises some interesting questions about safety and gender.

Summary:  Having been kidnapped, 16 year old Rhine is now a sister wife.  Forced into a polygamous marriage with a wealthy man's son, Rhine does not care about the luxury of her new surroundings.  She only wants to get free and get home to her twin brother in the time she has left.   Like all children, Rhine has only 4 years left to live,  her brother 9.   However, Rhine can't help but care for her "sister wives", her child servants, even (a little) for her husband.  She cares more than a little for Gabriel, a house servant.  Overshadowing those feelings is her father-in-law, a geneticist obessed with finding a way to prolong his son's life.  When Rhine sees the depth of his obsession, she knows she must escape.

What Worked:  This is a very fast moving story.  Wisely, DeStefano doesn't give too much background on the cause of the early deaths, doling that information out as the narrative progresses.  She also doesn't back away from the less savory aspects of a world where young girls are truely commodified.  Rhine is kidnapped while looking for work.  Girls are sold into prostitution or shot if they are not purchased to be wives.   Sister wives are expected to pump out babies, fast. 

Most interestingly, DeStefano shows the effects of a world without adults through the three different sister wives.  The viewpoint character, Rhine, is fairly ordinary, having had a reasonably "normal" life.  Jenna, a street kid, turned to prostitution and looks at her forced marriage as a nice place to die.  Finally, the youngest, Cecily, raised in a orphanage, sees mariage and motherhood as her joyful destiny.  Each of these girls brings their own experinces to their "marriage" and their reactions and choices are believable.

What Didn't:  The world is apparently in a crisis beyond the early mortality rate, but DeStefano doesn't elaborate.  There's some mention of a war, but this is not expanded on.  Also, there is apparently a huge gap between the wealthy and the poor, but again, this is not fully explained.   A little more world building would have made the circumstances clearer. 

The big bad in the story, Rhine's father in law, Housemaster Vaughn, is little more than a shadowy grin and a sense of evil.  We know he's performing genetic experiments, and hear about them, but we don't see or hear them.  He obviously menaces Rhine, but his purpose remains doubtful.

Like all YA dystopias, this one has a love story, but the relationship between Gabriel and Rhine feels very tacked on.  Yes, Rhine is 16 and emotional, and yes, Gabriel seems like a nice guy, but their romance gets in the way of the more interesting aspects of the book. 

Who Would I Give This Book To?  I can see this book having a wide audience, as it plugs into a number of current trends -- dystopias, polygamy, genetics, strong girls.  It's less actiony than the Hunger Games, and less romancy than Twilight, but would probably appeal to both those audiences. 

Also Note:  This book has a really great cover, that plays up a lot of the symbolism of the story. 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Tortall and Other Lands by Tamora Pierce

What you need to know:  This collection of short stories, some previously published, expands the Tortall universe, visits some familiar characters, and gives an intriguing look at what else this popular writer is capable of.  

Summary:  In many of these 9 short stories, Pierce revisits Tortall, setting for the Song of the Lioness, The Immortals, and the Protector of the Small.   Some major characters, such as Kitten from The Immortals and Nawat from Trickster's Choice are expanded on, and other characters, such as the Shang Unicorn and the Darklings get spotlight stories. 

What worked:  Although many of these stories have appeared in previous anthologies, it is nice to have them all collected.  There were stories here that I was not aware of, even as a Pierce fan.  

In the Tortall tales, "The Dragon's Tale" told from the POV of the orphan dragon Skysong, was the most surprising story, but fans will probably gravitate to "Nawat", as it continue's Aly's saga from the Trickster books.  Other fantasy stories are set outside of Tortall,  of these,  "Mimic" and "Plain Magic", are particularly well done.  Plain Magic, Pierce's first published story, picks up on the theme of "practical" magic  that she would revisit in the Circle of Magic books and "Mimic" is an engaging take on dragonlore.  

For me, the most intriguing story was "Huntress",  an urban fantasy.  Pierce is so strongly affiliated (in my mind at least) with the high fantasy of Alanna the Lioness that it was shocking to see her take on a contemporary setting.   The story is not perfect, but it does raise interesting questions of faith and answered prayers. 

What Didn't:  The stories "Elder Brother,"and  "The Hidden Girl,"  set in a part of Tortall that has a Taliban-like religion felt a little preachy.  "Testing",  a contemporary story set in a group home, is a fascinating look at Pierce's prior experiences, but says very little new about the setting or the girls who live there.  

Who would I give this book to?  Because more than half of the stories deal with Tortall and its environs, the audience for this book may be limited to Pierce's fans.  

Friday, March 25, 2011

Books I Didn't Finish: Inside Out by Maria V. Snyder

Note: This not-a-review contains spoilers.  They are blacked out.  To read them, highlight the text in black. 

Total Finished:  25% (my e-reader doesn't always do page counts, but it did tell me 25%) 

So, why didn't you finish it? 
Trella is a scrub, she lives in an overcrowded, over controlled area, known as inside.  Trella's position as a duct cleaner gives her access to areas scrubs don't usually get to go, and her best friend gets her involved with a "prophet" preaching of "Outside".  Which gets her in trouble with the powers that be. 

Trella's life is boring.  She cleans duct work.  And describes it, seemingly endlessly.  Duct work is boring. Add in an overly complicated time system and flat characters, and the fact that nobody can figure out that they're on a freakin' spaceship, and my interest was gone. 

Dissenting Opinions? Always. 

Final Word:  There are better "girl-takes-on-the-dystopic-world" books out there.  

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Trickster's Choice by Tamora Pierce

What you need to know: Pierce returns to Tortall, but opens new lands in this exciting, well written fantasy.

Summary: Aly, daughter of Alanna the Lioness and former rogue George Cooper, has a reputation as an empty-headed flirt. In truth, Aly is smart and determined, but the work she's best suited for -- espionage -- is forbidden to her by her parents. Sailing off in a fit of pique, Aly is taken captive by pirates and sold as a slave in the Copper Isles. While planning her escape, Aly makes a wager with Kyrpioth, the trickster god of the Isles. If Aly can keep her master's charges safe for the summer, Kyrpioth will return Aly to her home. Taking the wager, Aly discovers that the Balitang daughters, Dove and Sarai, are at the heart of a rebellion, where the dark skinned natives will overthrow their conquerers.

What worked: Full disclosure time -- I love Tamora Pierce. I love everything she's ever written. All of it. She and Neil Gaiman are tied as my favorite writer of all time. So, in my opinion, this book is nearly perfect.

But, you probably want anyalsis. Fine. Aly is a great feminist heroine. She's smart and strong and detemined to make her own choices. However, she's not perfect. She makes mistakes, she gets distracted.  She might be god chosen, but she's still human.   

An interesting aspect of this book is how it looks at power dynamics.  Aly choses to be a slave so that she may go unnoticed by the enemies of the Balitang family.  The native raka are thought to be sub-human by their luarin conquerers, which allows the raka to plot without fear of discovery.    

Aly also has a unique romance, as her suitor is a crow-turned-man.  This gives the book some welcome humor, as Aly's swain tries to court her by feeding her bugs and giving her sparkly stones.  

What Didn't:  O.K. -- raging fangirl, remember? 
However,  there are a LOT of characters in this book.  It can be difficult to keep them all straight. Also, without a prior knowledge of the women of Tortall, I'm not sure if this book works as well. 

However:  There's a cast of characters listing.  And if you haven't read the Tortall books, shame on you.  

Who would I give this book too:  I recommend Pierce's books all the time.  To everybody.  However, this one would work best for readers who've enjoyed Pierce's other books.  

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook

What You Need to Know:  This fast paced, complex romance combines top-notch world building and genre elements for a compelling read. 

Summary:  England is free of Horde rule.  The Eastern invaders were defeated when Rhys Trahaearn destroyed the technology used to communicate with the nanotech present in every Brit.  Now a national hero, the Iron Duke has used his fame and position to create a merchant empire.   Years after the Horde have left Britain,  the Buggers (those with the nanotechnology) and the Bounders (those Englishmen who fled to the new world before the Horde) live in an uneasy mix of cultures.   Detective Inspector Mina Wentworth sees this from her position as an officer of the law and an outsider with Horde blood.  When a dead body shows up on Trahaearn's front lawn, the former pirate becomes obsessed with the Detective.  But Mina knows that she cannot allow the Duke to claim her, no matter how much she might wish to.   

What Worked:  This book has one of the most original premises I have ever seen.  Steampunk nanotech -- simply awesome.  The way that Brook creates her universe, explaining in some places, letting the reader wonder in others,  is masterful.  Brook also has a deft hand with her characters.  Mina is intelligent, beautiful and brave -- but not perfect.  She is believable, and it is easy to see why Rhys wants her so badly.  Rhys is equally well drawn, and shows a great deal of growth throughout the book.   

What is most impressive to me is the way that Brook juggles her genre elements.  This is a romance book, and a sexy one at that, with all of the thrusting and heaving that is common in the genre.  It's also an adventure, and a mystery and a science fiction novel.   Grafting these varied components together is a feat in itself, doing it as seamlessly as this is nearly miraculous.  

What Didn't:  The final quarter of this book felt a tad expected, with some Deux ex machina (literally!) moments.  Also, some characters' roles could have been reduced or eliminated altogether.  

However:  I suspect that the ending is required by the strictures of the romance genre.  And since a sequel is already planned, I imagine those extra characters are there for a reason. 

Who would I give this book to?  My mom.  Seriously, she loves her some paranormal romance.  This is most definitely an adult book, so teens are out, but I can see many an adult PNR fan embracing this book.