Friday, June 29, 2012

TGIF: Best I've Read so Far

Thanks to Ginger at GReads for hosting this weekly meme.

Best I've Read so Far: We're halfway through the year (crazy how time flies), which top 3 books are the best you've read so far?

Instead of doing top 3 (because I HATE choosing!) I'll list the books to which I've given 5 stars this year.

Madapple, Christina Meldrum

This one completely surprised me. I loved the writing style and the way Meldrum handled complicated and taboo topics.

Before I Go to Sleep, S. J. Watson

I read this one in one day, I couldn't put it down!

Insurgent, Veronica Roth

Do I even need to explain?

Ship Breaker, Paolo Bacigalupi

I was happy to finally have found a YA dystopia that actually made sense and was well-thought out.

The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon


This book reminded me of why I love to read. Can I really say much more than that?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Review: Shadow of Night

Shadow of Night Deborah Harkness

ISBN13: 9780670023486

592 Pages, Hardcover

Series: All Souls Trilogy #2

Release Date: July 10, 2012

I received an advanced copy of this for my Kindle from NetGalley. (Yay!) 

Summary from Goodreads: 

Deborah Harkness exploded onto the literary scene with her debut novel, A Discovery of Witches, Book One of the magical All Souls Trilogy and an international publishing phenomenon. The novel introduced Diana Bishop, Oxford scholar and reluctant witch, and the handsome geneticist and vampire Matthew Clairmont; together they found themselves at the center of a supernatural battle over an enchanted manuscript known as Ashmole 782.

Now, picking up from A Discovery of Witches’ cliffhanger ending, Shadow of Night plunges Diana and Matthew into Elizabethan London, a world of spies, subterfuge, and a coterie of Matthew’s old friends, the mysterious School of Night that includes Christopher Marlowe and Walter Raleigh. Here, Diana must locate a witch to tutor her in magic, Matthew is forced to confront a past he thought he had put to rest, and the mystery of Ashmole 782 deepens.

Deborah Harkness has crafted a gripping journey through a world of alchemy, time travel, and magical discoveries, delivering one of the most hotly anticipated novels of the season.


My Thoughts: 

Let me just say that if I hadn't been reading the first book, A Discovery of Witches, on my kindle, I would have thrown the book across the room when I finished. Somehow, I didn't know that it was the first of a series (I guess I just wasn't paying attention), and I was SO MAD that it ended in such a cliffhanger. At the time, I was feeling frustrated that every thing I was reading was part of a series and I had picked it up to just read one book. Despite that, I was very happy when I was able to get my hands on this one. I didn't feel the need to throw a book at the end of this one, but I'm not 100 percent sure if that is to this book's credit or not.

I didn't not enjoy this book. That's terrible grammar, but it's accurate. I enjoyed reading it, I never felt as if I didn't want to finish it and it maintained my interest throughout. I really do like the premise of the series. The forbidden romance between different creatures, the mystery and possibility surrounding Ashmole 782, the focus on the genetics of creatures---all these things are what have kept me reading.

However, if I had to boil Shadow of Night down into one word it would be "heavy handed". This book needed an editor that wasn't afraid to tell Harkness to ease up on the name-dropping and stick to the story. The first third of the book felt mostly unnecessary as it was filled mainly with references to major Elizabethan characters such as Christopher Marlowe and Walter Raleigh. The best characters were the ones she made up: Phillipe, Gallowglass, Annie, and Jack. Don't get me wrong, Tudor England was always my favorite time period to study in school. But Matthew's relationship with all these characters felt overly convenient and just an excuse for Harkness to get to play with favorite literary and historical characters. I understand that she had to establish Matthew's importance in Elizabethan society, but why did they even go to that time period in the first place? I thought the idea was they were trying to hide, but Matthew takes Diana to a time and place where they are hunting witches! It makes no sense.

My other major problem is that literally nothing pertaining to the main story arc happens until about half-way into the book. Yes, I do think that it was necessary to establish the romance between Diana and Matthew, since their coupling happened so fast in the first book. Insta-love is a pet peeve of mine---and this book is just RIFE with it. However, I can set that aside---some books have it and let's just move on from there, after all some people really love that and that's fine. But to dedicate 50 percent of the book to the romance and then never throw any obstacles in their way? I mean, the biggest conflict between them is that Matthew is acting angsty and Diana can't figure out why. Come on, give me something that will cast some doubt over the relationship (for longer than a paragraph!). Ugh! I get it, they are in LURVE and NOTHING will break them apart. Flashes of Twilight.

Having said that, once Diana FINALLY starts learning about her abilities and they go looking for Ashmole 782 the book took an upswing. This is the part of the book where all the questions you had from A Discovery of Witches finally start to be acknowledged and answered. I don't want to give anything away, as this is what makes the book worth reading, but I did enjoy Harkness' take on witches' powers (especially the weaving/thread ideas) and the few secrets revealed about Ashmole 782. 

It just wasn't enough. This is a problem that happens all the time with series: many authors do not know how to properly pace the flow of information. You don't have to give it all away in the beginning, but you can't hide it all until the end either. We need just enough information so that the story retains suspense but still MAKES SENSE. Yes, it IS a difficult and delicate balance, but the ability to do that right sets the best authors apart. Unfortunately, Harkness did not accomplish that in this book. Everything that moves the plot forward happens at the end of the book, and truly the plot barely moves. And in an attempt to create a cliffhanger ******<spoiler alert>we find out something terrible about Emily, but we are given zero indication about what happened other than it had to do with the birth of the daemon/witch baby plot arc that was briefly touched on in the first book. I literally had to stop reading and backtrack through the book because I thought I had skipped something, that I had somehow managed to forget a major plot point, or that my copy was missing pages. Nope. It made no sense, and seemed to only be included for shock value and an attempt to create a cliffhanger, which seriously annoyed me. Tell us what happened and leave Diana's reaction to it for the next book. I'm invested in Diana, as both books have been centered on her. It's Diana's reaction that will make or break my heart, not Sarah's.</spoiler alert>******

If the reviews on Goodreads are any indication of how this book will be received with a wider audience, then most people won't be bothered by these weaknesses. Readers who are already heavily invested in the romance aspect of the book will most likely love it. Readers who are more heavily invested in the fantasy aspect will probably be left feeling frustrated. I would recommend Shadow of Night to people who loved the first book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Review: The Shadow of the Wind

The Shadow of the Wind Carlos Ruiz Zafon

487 pages, Paperback

(2005 Penguin edition, originally published 2001)

Translated into English from Spanish by Lucia Graves


Summary from Goodreads:
Barcelona, 1945: A city slowly heals from its war wounds, and Daniel, an antiquarian book dealer's son who mourns the loss of his mother, finds solace in a mysterious book entitled The Shadow of the Wind, by one Julian Carax. But when he sets out to find the author's other works, he makes a shocking discovery; someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book Carax has written. In fact, Daniel may have the last of Carax's books in existence. Soon Daniel's seemingly innocent quest opens a door into one of Barcelona's darkest secrets - an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love.

My Thoughts:

I blazed through the last 100 pages of this book. I could NOT put it down. But really, that is not how this book should be read. Every moment should be savored. I've had this book on my shelf for years, and for some reason it just never called to me again after that initial purchase. But lately, I've been feeling somewhat disillusioned with the YA books I've been focused on. I've been craving MORE, so I was determined to read an "adult" book again, to get back to my roots and read some literary fiction. This book gave me everything I needed, and more; it reminded me of why I read.

First of all, the language is beautiful. Of the YA books that I've read (and this is me being diplomatic and acknowledging that I have not read all of YA, so therefore can't know for sure, so please don't yell at me), I could maybe point to two or three that achieved this level of writing (Madapple, maybe, The Heretic's Daughter--is that even YA?)---AND I read this one in translation. I can only imagine what this book would be like in Spanish to a native speaker. I quoted this book for a Teaser Tuesday and that was just PAGE 5! This book is not considered YA, despite being almost entirely a coming-of-age story. Daniel's journey into adulthood happens almost without us knowing it, as he continues to search for the truth of Carax's existence.

Secondly, I love how Ruiz Zafon took his time telling the story. This is not a plot-driven book, despite the long-term unraveling of the mystery surrounding Carax's books and life. It is character driven and the Gothic mood and tone of the book rely heavily on the Barcelona setting.

Fermin Romero de Torres is by far the star of the book. His witty banter with the protagonist Daniel is at once vulgar, hilarious, and heartwarming. He helps Daniel learn the ways of manhood: "Nobody knows much about women, not even Freud, not even women themselves. But it's like electricity: you don't have to know how it works to get a shock on the fingers." Despite being the guy that delivers the one-liners, he never strays into the realm of the sidekick. Romero de Torres is fully formed: both strong in his unflinching support of Daniel and weak in his fear of the evil Fumero.

The portions of the book that are written like letters (that provide information pertaining to the mystery) might trip up some people less familiar with the literary end of the spectrum, but this reminded me of Wilkie Collins, who I adore, so I actually enjoyed those parts.

Overall, this was an excellent book. Anyone who appreciates the style and language part of writing a book will love this one. Anyone who is looking for some substance in their reading will find it here. It was exactly what I needed to read to recharge my batteries after wearing myself out on YA.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Monday, June 25, 2012

It's Monday!

What are you reading?

This is a weekly book meme hosted by the lovely Shelia over at Book Journey.

Last week I finally wrote up a review for Dragonswood and re-posted my short 2008 review of The Little Giant of Aberdeen County.

I'm still working on my review of The Shadow of the Wind (which I finished last week)...it was just so good, I feel like I can't do it justice!

I still have Anne Caffrey's Dragonquest on the list from last week, but I set it aside to read a review copy that I'm excited about.


Shadow of Night Deborah Harkness

I got this one from Net Galley! I enjoyed the first one, although when I got to the end I was really mad to find out that it was a series. It will be published on July 10.

I also picked up Circle of Fire (the third book in the Prophecy of the Sisters trilogy) by Michelle Zink from the library. I reviewed the second book Guardian of the Gate back in May. I wasn't thrilled with the last one, but I decided I would finish the trilogy.

I also picked up these books from the library:

The Peculiars, Maureen Doyle McQuerry
The Calling, Kelley Armstrong (Darkness Rising #2)
Grave Mercy, R. L. La Fevers (His Fair Assassin #1)

Friday, June 22, 2012

TGIF: Author Celebrities

Thanks to Ginger at GReads for hosting this meme!

Today's Question:


Authors are our celebrities: Have you ever contacted an author you admired? How did that experience go? If not, which author would you love to chat with?


I haven't contacted any authors specifically (I seriously never know what to say), but I have met a few briefly at book readings/signings. I've met Melissa Marr, Kelly Armstrong, Jasper Fforde, Alexi Sherman, and Michael Cunningham. At least those are the ones I'm remembering off the top of my head. I barely remember speaking to Jasper Fforde because that was my first book signing ever and I LOVE him--he was insanely charming and hilarious and I was utterly star-struck.

I do know one author personally, Darcie Chan, who wrote The Mill River Recluse, which has been a huge straight-to-e-book hit (and is finally getting traditionally published!). We worked together for several years, so I've obviously spoken with her many times. Naturally, we bonded over Harry Potter--she's probably a bigger fanatic than I am! (She also makes AMAZING chocolate cakes!)

There are two authors that I would LOVE to have a one-on-one with. First, Lois Lowry, because her book The Giver has been one of my favorite books since childhood and only gets better every time I read it. It really started my interest in, and love of, dystopian novels. I have actually seen her speak at the Library of Congress' book festival a few years ago, but I didn't have time to stand in line to actually meet her. I would also love to chat with Rick Riordan because I am a huge fan of the Percy Jackson books, the Kane Chronicles, and the 39 Clues series. I absolutely admire his storytelling ability and how he just understands at a fundamental level how to get kids reading and to teach them along the way. I also saw him at one of the Library Congress' book festivals and I can't tell you how happy it made me to see SO MANY kids jumping up and down for the author of their favorite books.

So those are my picks. What are yours?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Review: Dragonswood

Dragonswood Janet Lee Carey

ISBN13: 9780803735040

407 pages, Hardcover

Companion to Dragon's Keep


Summary from Goodreads: 

Wilde Island is not at peace. The kingdom mourns the dead Pendragon king and awaits the return of his heir; the uneasy pact between dragons, fairies, and humans is strained; and the regent is funding a bloodthirsty witch hunt, hoping to rid the island of half-fey maidens.

Tess, daughter of a blacksmith, has visions of the future, but she still doesn't expect to be accused of witchcraft, forced to flee with her two best friends, or offered shelter by the handsome and enigmatic Garth Huntsman, a warden for Dragonswood. But Garth is the younger prince in disguise and Tess soon learns that her true father was fey, making them the center of an exciting, romantic adventure, and an ancient prophecy that will bring about peace between all three races - dragon, human, and fairy. 

My thoughts: 

I waited a bit too long (per usual) to write this review and now I've forgotten many of the details. While I generally enjoyed reading this book and overall I was left with a positive impression, Dragonswood was just missing that certain something that would have made it a great read. There wasn't anything particularly new or unique about the story.

What does make Dragonswood stand out is it's strong emphasis on basic feminist ideas: Women are not property, women should have basic rights--such as being able to marry who they choose, women shouldn't be beaten by their husbands, etc. For example, Tess says early on in the book that she doesn't want to get married, because for her, even the term "wedlock" implies that the woman is locked into the marriage and only the husband has the key. Not that I don't appreciate some good old-fashioned feminism and wish there was more of it in the YA romances coming out lately, but Carey's position on feminism is so basic that it doesn't lend itself to much more discussion than simply saying that I agree: women shouldn't be beaten or forced into marriage (or other such things) simply because they are women. All three girls get love and marriage on their own terms--yes, it means different things to each of them and not every woman would approve of each, but that seems to be Carey's point. That is, I identified more with Tess, who falls in love over a longer period of time and questions and debates her feelings, than Poppy who just falls head-over-heels for a hot fey man.

While I very, very much appreciate Carey's decision to incorporate feminist ideas, I would have like to have seen her take it a few steps further.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Review Redux: The Little Giant of Aberdeen County

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County Tiffany Baker

ISBN13: 9780446194204

352 Pages, Hardcover

**I originally reviewed this book on December 31, 2008.

Summary from Goodreads:
When Truly Plaice's mother was pregnant, the town of Aberdeen joined together in betting how recordbreakingly huge the baby boy would ultimately be. The girl who proved to be Truly paid the price of her enormity; her father blamed her for her mother's death in childbirth, and was totally ill equipped to raise either this giant child or her polar opposite sister Serena Jane, the epitome of femine perfection. When he, too, relinquished his increasingly tenuous grip on life, Truly and Serena Jane are separated--Serena Jane to live a life of privilege as the future May Queen and Truly to live on the outskirts of town on the farm of the town sadsack, the subject of constant abuse and humiliation at the hands of her peers.

Serena Jane's beauty proves to be her greatest blessing and her biggest curse, for it makes her the obsession of classmate Bob Bob Morgan, the youngest in a line of Robert Morgans who have been doctors in Aberdeen for generations. Though they have long been the pillars of the community, the earliest Robert Morgan married the town witch, Tabitha Dyerson, and the location of her fabled shadow book--containing mysterious secrets for healing and darker powers--has been the subject of town gossip ever since. Bob Bob Morgan, one of Truly's biggest tormentors, does the unthinkable to claim the prize of Serena Jane, and changes the destiny of all Aberdeen from there on. 

When Serena Jane flees town and a loveless marriage to Bob Bob, it is Truly who must become the woman of a house that she did not choose and mother to her eight-year-old nephew Bobbie. Truly's brother-in-law is relentless and brutal; he criticizes her physique and the limitations of her health as a result, and degrades her more than any one human could bear. It is only when Truly finds her calling--the ability to heal illness with herbs and naturopathic techniques--hidden within the folds of Robert Morgan's family quilt, that she begins to regain control over her life and herself. Unearthed family secrets, however, will lead to the kind of betrayal that eventually break the Morgan family apart forever, but Truly's reckoning with her own demons allows for both an uprooting of Aberdeen County, and the possibility of love in unexpected places.

My Thoughts:
I wasn't sure about this book in the beginning. The whole giant thing was a little weird to me. But I really like how Baker treated Truly's "condition." The descriptions of her gigantism (is that a word?) had a very magical feel, although a scientific medical condition was offered as the true cause. In the end, that is what sold me on the book: the magical feel to the story and in the language. I also thought that the interplay between the polar opposite sisters was dealt with very well. As the town beauty, especially in comparison to Truly, Serena Jane could have been a very flat and predictable character, but I was able to feel a range of emotions about her.

This book is full of difficult moral questions, and the characters make really interesting decisions. Baker touches on unrequited love, grief, suicide, rape, betrayal, homosexuality, and mercy killing. But I never felt overloaded or preached to. The characters (unfortunately for them) just encountered all these things over the course of the book. The ending was satisfying, although somewhat sad and maybe ever so slightly predictable.

Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5.

Teaser Tuesday


Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

The Shadow of the Wind Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Page 5:

The man called Isaac nodded and invited us in. A blue-tinted gloom obscured the sinuous contours of a marble staircase and a gallery of frescoes peopled with angels and fabulous creatures. We followed our host through a palatial corridor and arrived at a sprawling round hall, a virtual basilica of shadows spiraling up under a high glass dome, its dimness pierced by shafts of light that stabbed from above. A labyrinth of passageways and crammed bookshelves rose from base to pinnacle like a beehive woven with tunnels, steps, platforms, and bridges that presaged an immense library of seemingly impossible geometry. I looked at my father, stunned. He smiled and winked.

"Welcome to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, Daniel."

Update: I just found this gem on page 90 (Romero de Torres to Daniel)

"Nobody knows much about women, not even Freud, not even women themselves. But it's like electricity: you don't have to know how it works to get a shock on the fingers."

Monday, June 18, 2012

Review: Shadow and Bone

Shadow and Bone Leigh Bardugo

ISBN13: 9780805094596

368 pages, Hardcover

Series: The Grisha Trilogy #1

Summary from Goodreads:


Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha…and the secrets of her heart.


My thoughts:


There was a lot of hype over this book, and I didn't know much about, so I gave it a shot. Despite being somewhat predictable, Bardugo did a good job right from the start by setting a dark tone and building an interesting world. It certainly leans heavily on Harry Potter, despite the more "Russian" feel, with the "I-had-no-idea-I-was-special" trope and the heavy emphasis on boarding school-type training, but this didn't bother me.

The way Bardugo handled the romance felt more realistic to me than much of YA I've read lately, although there was heavy emphasis on appearance and beauty, which I often find troublesome. But at least Alina had a solid basis for her feelings for Mal, and although the Darkling was a distraction, she eventually realizes his perfidy (have we not all been through this?) and reexamines her feelings for Mal.


(This is kind of a side note, but is anyone else bothered by the "ancient-supernatual-being-falling-for-the-16-year-old" trope? Before I realized what was really going on with the Darkling (admittedly, I was a bit slow picking up on it) I was frustrated because why does YA seem to think it is ok for old men that just happen to look young to fall in love with teens?! They are still OLD. It's WRONG.)


Alina was forced to make some morally difficult decisions right at the end, so I'll be interested to see how that plays out in the next book. My hope would be that the rest of the series becomes less predictable.


After finishing the book, I read a few reviews on Goodreads, and a few of the reviews really tore this book a new one. In particular, Tatiana from The Readventurer (who gave the book 3 stars) made some very insightful points about the sloppy research regarding Russian language and culture that went into this book. (You should read her review, she does an excellent job detailing the issues.) I was definitely disappointed when I read that. Obviously, it's a fantasy, it can be whatever the author wants it to be, but if you are deriving your world from an existing culture, you should show that culture some respect. Having said that, not being an expert (or even remotely close to it) of Russian culture, it did not bother me while I was reading the book.


This is definitely on the lighter end of the spectrum: Not as much substance as I would have liked, but the world building leveled that out for me. Since the world will no longer be new in the second book, if Bardugo doesn't step up the substance, I might not be singing its praises so easily.

Rating: 4 out of 5

It's Monday!

What are you reading? Shelia over at Book Journey hosts this weekly book meme.

This past week I finished Prized and Birthmarked by Caragh M. O'Brien and reviewed them together.

I also finished Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo and Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi. As always, I am woefully behind on reviews, but hopefully I will pull it together this week.

I've been feeling frustrated with the YA books I've been reading lately (which I discussed a bit on Sunday) so I've decided to pick up a few non-YA reads off of my shelf to give myself a break. I don't want to become an angry YA reviewer!

The Shadow of the Wind Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Summary from Goodreads: Barcelona, 1945: A city slowly heals from its war wounds, and Daniel, an antiquarian book dealer's son who mourns the loss of his mother, finds solace in a mysterious book entitled The Shadow of the Wind, by one Julian Carax. But when he sets out to find the author's other works, he makes a shocking discovery; someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book Carax has written. In fact, Daniel may have the last of Carax's books in existence. Soon Daniel's seemingly innocent quest opens a door into one of Barcelona's darkest secrets - an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love.

 Dragonquest Anne McCaffrey

Summary from Goodreads: On Pern, men breed and train great fire-breathing dragons to help them fight the deadly silver Threads that fall from the sky, destroying all life-forms, whenever the Red Star passes near.



Sunday, June 17, 2012

Sunday Salon: Where do I go from here?

No, this is not a picture of my books...I grabbed it off the interwebs, but if I were to stack up a physical pile of my TBR it would look a lot like this. (Except maybe stacked more like this). Basically, all YA books. I'm not sure how this transition happened. It might have come from the desire to read 100 books a year (which I've failed to do since 2009). YA books are nothing if not immensely readable. Maybe it was because I've been continually searching for a stand-in for Harry Potter (and now a stand-in for the Hunger Games). Or maybe its because they are just fun and require less work--something that I needed while trying to slog through grad school.

But lately, and I've also heard this echo across the blogosphere, I've become somewhat disenchanted with the YA books I've been reading. True gems--YA books that come with not just unique ideas, but also with the writing chops to see it through--IMO have become few and far between. It's not that the books I've picked up have been terrible (except for Fever...I just CAN'T with that book) they just lack some really important qualities.

The lack of fully considered world building has to be on top of this list. I tend to read mostly YA that would fall loosely into the sci-fi/fantasy/paranormal genres and world building is an important part of this genre. Especially for the post-apocalyptic/dystopian subgenre that is so incredibly popular now, thanks to the Hunger Games (which I am happy for, don't get me wrong, it's a favorite of mine). One of the reasons I read mostly YA in this genre is because the incredibly lengthy and elaborate world building of adult sci-fi/fantasy taxes my concentration and strains my ADD brain's ability to retain and focus on details. I like to think of the YA books in this genre as sci-fi/fantasy LITE. But LITE should never mean sloppy or lacking in research. To create a new world that will hold meaning for the reader, authors must first understand how this world works--socially, economically, and politically. The Hunger Games works because Collins thoroughly considers all three aspects in such a way that we can understand that world as its own entity but also in conjunction with our own world. An author can create an entirely new world or simply add new things to our own, but WE must still recognize the logic of that world for it work.

Trite romances. This is a big reason why I don't pick up many books marketed on the romance anymore. If the bulk of the story is based on two star-crossed lovers trying to be together AGAINST ALL ODDS, or the "nothing-is-special-about-me" heroine is pining for the hottest guy in the room and suddenly AGAINST ALL ODDS...he notices her, or the "the-only-thing-special-about-me-is-that-I-put-up-with-all-kinds-of-abuse" heroine (I'm looking at you SOOKIE) just can't understand why the hottest guy in the room is a total douchebag to her but she still wants him AGAINST ALL ODDS. Come on authors, show me what a real romance looks like. How do people really fall in love? This also opens up another conversation that I should probably tackle in a different post, but what are we teaching our teens with these ridiculous romances? Not that I think books should be or have to be role models (especially since we all would disagree on what that model should actually be), but do we have to keep bolstering these "love-at-first-sight/love-at-all-costs" farces? At one point, it was probably fun and escapist--to wish that finding your man and falling in love could be so easy. I would love to read a YA romance where two characters who meet eyes across a crowded room and instantly become soul mates actually DON'T end up together. Could someone please choose Team Jacob? If you found that book, please let me know. I will read it.

I could go on, but I think that's enough to illustrate my point. With all these frustrations, I can't help but ask myself, why am I still reading YA? Will there be a point when I just can't take it anymore and go back to being that "I only read literary fiction" person again? YA authors...I love y'all, but please don't neglect substance while you're giving me fun. I WANT IT ALL.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases we we're waiting for.

This week I'm waiting on the third book in the Birthmarked Trilogy. I reviewed the first two in the series, Birthmarked and Prized, yesterday. Despite some flaws, these books were very readable and enjoyable, so I'm happily awaiting the conclusion.

Promised Carah M. O'Brien

Expected publication: October 2, 2012


Summary from Goodreads:

After defying the ruthless Enclave, surviving the wasteland, and upending the rigid matriarchy of Sylum, Gaia Stone now faces her biggest challenge ever. She must lead the people of Sylum back to the Enclave and persuade the Protectorat to grant them refuge from the wasteland. In Gaia’s absence, the Enclave has grown more cruel, more desperate to experiment on mothers from outside the wall, and now the stakes of cooperating or rebelling have never been higher. Is Gaia ready, as a leader, to sacrifice what—or whom—she loves most?

What's interesting about this series is that the first two books establish two different dystopian societies with two similar, yet very different, genetic issues and this third book appears poised to merge the two societies. So really, it could be interesting or a total disaster. Either way, I want to find out!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Review: Birthmarked and Prized

So, I made the mistake of starting (and then finishing) the second book, Prized, in this series before I managed to review the first, Birthmarked. Normally, this wouldn't be that big of a deal, but Prized was such a surprise that I think it will make it difficult for me to review the first as if I haven't read the second book. So I decided that I will just review them together and know that my thoughts of Birthmarked are very much now colored by my thoughts of Prized. There also might be some spoilerish things, but I will try not to reveal too much.

Birthmarked Caragh M. O'Brien


ISBN13: 9781596435698

361 Pages, Hardcover

Series: Birthmarked Trilogy #1


Summary from Goodreads:

In the future, in a world baked dry by the harsh sun, there are those who live inside the walled Enclave and those, like sixteen-year-old Gaia Stone, who live outside. Following in her mother’s footsteps Gaia has become a midwife, delivering babies in the world outside the wall and handing a quota over to be "advanced" into the privileged society of the Enclave. Gaia has always believed this is her duty, until the night her mother and father are arrested by the very people they so loyally serve.

Now Gaia is forced to question everything she has been taught, but her choice is simple: enter the world of the Enclave to rescue her parents, or die trying.

A stunning adventure brought to life by a memorable heroine, this dystopian debut will have readers racing all the way to the dramatic finish.

My Thoughts:

Ok, I think the first thing I need to address is the last part of that summary. While I enjoyed Birthmarked both times I read it (I couldn't remember it well enough from when I first read back in 2010, so I decided to just read it again) and I didn't feel any of the anger and annoyance I felt when I was reading Fever, I just don't think the words "stunning adventure" and "dramatic" really fit this book for me. I read in someone's review on Goodreads that this book was originally marketed as a cross between The Handmaiden's Tale and the Hunger Games. If I had gone into this book thinking it was like that, I probably would have been really annoyed.

My biggest problem with the dystopian conflict in this book is that the Enclave isn't clearly bad. They clearly do bad things: They imprisoned Gaia's parents with no explanation. They hang an almost full-term pregnant woman (for "genetic" crimes). They take babies away from loving parents. But these bad things aren't as terrible as things we normally expect from a "dystopian" society. Yes, the Enclave keeps the families outside of the wall poor and wanting, but even Gaia admits that they never suffered horribly. Yes, the Enclave was imprisoning women with medical expertise, but they were kept in reasonable conditions. So, to some extent, when Gaia begins to feel rebellious against the Enclave, I'm kind of like....so what?

A large part of the conflict between Gaia and the Enclave is based on this coded record of babies that Gaia's mother delivered. This list would allow the Enclave to identify particular people who had been advanced from that sector and who could have a suppressor gene that could possibly help the Enclave stave off some hereditary disease issues cropping up because of interbreeding in a small population. So, the Enclave could start advancing more babies and forcing certain people to breed. I kept asking myself, what is so terrible about this (within the context of Gaia's world) and why are the Enclave people being so secretive about it? It's clear that there is no established rebel network, so who are they even protecting this information from? That piece of it did not make any sense to me and I think it's definitely the biggest flaw of the book. O'Brien doesn't delve deeply enough into the issues to answer the "so what" questions regarding the meaning of family both genetic and adopted, the importance of sustaining a society over individual rights, or why the Enclave doesn't just open its walls up to increase the gene pool. She asks some questions, but she does not do enough to answer them to make the message of this book satisfactory. Basically, I ended this book hoping the next would delve deeper into these issues.

Having said that, I still enjoyed this book and think it is worth reading. I liked how O'Brien handled the romance aspect of the book. I can't stand it when characters see each other from across the room and are suddenly unspeakably in love. I thought there was a natural progression to Gaia and Leon's budding feelings and some authorial respect for the short time frame in which they actually knew each other.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Despite being somewhat uneven, I think fans of dystopian YA would enjoy this series.

Prized Caragh M. O'Brien


ISBN13: 9781596435704

369 Pages, Hardcover

Series: Birthmarked Trilogy #2

Summary from Goodreads:

Striking out into the wasteland with nothing but her baby sister, a handful of supplies, and a rumor to guide her, sixteen-year-old midwife Gaia Stone survives only to be captured by the people of Sylum, a dystopian society where women rule the men who drastically outnumber them, and a kiss is a crime. In order to see her sister again, Gaia must submit to their strict social code, but how can she deny her sense of justice, her curiosity, and everything in her heart that makes her whole?

My thoughts:

This book was so far out of the realm of what I was expecting from the next book that I hardly know where to begin. Instead of continuing the same lines of inquiry from the first book, O'Brien cracks open an entirely new can of worms. Just having escaped one (supposedly, see above) cruel society, she is plunged directly into a totally different one: the matriarchal society of Sylum.

Sylum is faced with a major genetics problem. Instead of the issues that the Enclave was having with interbreeding, the people of Sylum are facing extinction as only one out of ten babies born are girls. In order to keep up the population, women are expected to bear as many children as possible (preferably ten) in the hopes that they will bear a girl. In response to this problem, Sylum has developed a government in which only the women have a voice, despite being outnumbered by the men. Men are put in stocks and prison for rape (which we come to find out later could mean only that he touched a woman he was not married to). But having babies isn't enough, the babies must be had in a proper marriage otherwise the women would be outcast for disrespecting the sanctity of marriage and that of the proper family.

One of the first things Gaia is asked to do once she identifies herself as a midwife is to end the pregnancy of a young girl who is not married. Can I just say, I was NOT EXPECTING the book to take this turn. I'm not going to go into my own opinions about abortion, because that would just be begging for abuse, but I was shocked that Gaia actually "assists with a miscarriage" (in other words, she helped a mother abort her baby using an herbal concoction). I thought it was brave of O'Brien to go there considering how controversial a subject it actually is. Gaia's reasoning is that, despite being unsure whether inducing the miscarriage is morally right or wrong, it is her duty as a midwife to honor the mother's decision.

Naturally, when the leader, the Matrarc, gets wind of this, it does not go over well. (Interestingly enough, few residents of Sylum are scandalized by premarital sex. It is only something they refrain from because they think it will protect their population in the end, not because it is morally wrong. In Sylum, abortion is wrong because it impedes the population.) This leads us to what I actually think is the more interesting aspect of the book. In the first book, and at the beginning of this book, Gaia is a person who does what she believes is right and won't let anyone stop her. In the first book, she was imprisoned for a time and questioned her own motives, but stuck with the belief that the Enclave was wrong and acted accordingly. In this book, Gaia is again imprisoned and expertly manipulated by the Matrarc. Gaia's subsequent confusion over what is right and wrong and her eventual submission are the most interesting part of the book, for me. The question that I think is asked here is: does right and wrong change according to the situation? Is what Gaia believes to be morally right (based on what she learned growing up with the Enclave) still morally right when she is faced with Sylum's completely different set of standards and beliefs?

Again, I think O'Brien asks good questions, but doesn't necessarily pan out with the answers. Gaia's actions are somewhat uneven, but this isn't necessarily bad for the book. After all, she has just jumped into a highly sexualized society but has no sexual experience of her own. She is bound to be confused and unsure of herself. While that might make the message of the book uneven, it is still within her character for me. I also thought she handled the romance part of it well, though it was a bit complicated given Sylum's bizarre no touching rules. It was clear who Gaia would end up with, but that didn't bother me much.

I have some issues with the ending, but I hesitate to say more because I don't want to give away the ending of Prized. So if anyone out there has read it and wants to discuss what they thought of the ending, by all means email me! Since O'Brien managed to completely surprise me with this one, I'm definitely interested in reading the last book. Given the ending of Prized, it has potential to be really good or really bad.

Rating: 4 out 5.

Monday, June 11, 2012

It's Monday!

What are you reading?

This is a weekly meme hosted by Shelia over at Book Journey.

The last two weeks, I haven't posted much. But I have excuses! First, I was in Atlanta for a post-graduation vacation--and I got to see whale sharks, people....WHALE SHARKS!!! So amazing. The Librarian and I sat in front of that tank for like an hour just watching them swim by. We did a number of other things, including the Atlanta Zoo, but the whale sharks were really the highlight of the trip.

Then after we got back from this trip last Sunday, I promptly got sick. It wasn't terrible, but I had zero energy pretty much all week long. Despite, not posting much, I have managed to read a couple of books, though I haven't gotten around to writing reviews yet...but I will I SWEAR.

I finished Dragonswood on the trip. It was pretty good, despite a few flaws and confusing moments. I liked the feminist aspect of the books, even if it was a bit uneven.
I also finished City of Lost Souls. While I enjoy reading this series, it really isn't my favorite. I prefer the Clockwork series and its characters much better. Clary and Jace just really annoy me.
I also somehow managed to slog through Pray for Silence. This book is probably the best reason I can give for keeping a blog. If I had been writing reviews when I read the first book in this series, Sworn to Silence, then maybe I wouldn't have picked this one up. (And, you'd think after Fever I would have learned my lesson about mediocre series.) Oh it was just terrible, but I'll save the rant for my full review.
I'm currently re-reading Birthmarked. After having just read books in series I started like two years ago, I'm a little tired of not remembering anything that happened in the first book, so I'm re-reading this one so that I will know what the heck is going on when I pick up Prized. I also still have The Girl of Fire and Thorns and I bought Shipbreaker, Room, and Shadow and Bone for my Kindle, so those are up next.
 Prized, Caragh M. O'Brien

Striking out into the wasteland with nothing but her baby sister, a handful of supplies, and a rumor to guide her, sixteen-year-old midwife Gaia Stone survives only to be captured by the people of Sylum, a dystopian society where women rule the men who drastically outnumber them, and a kiss is a crime. In order to see her sister again, Gaia must submit to their strict social code, but how can she deny her sense of justice, her curiosity, and everything in her heart that makes her whole?
Ship Breaker, Paolo Bacigalupi

In America's Gulf Coast region, where grounded oil tankers are being broken down for parts, Nailer, a teenage boy, works the light crew, scavenging for copper wiring just to make quota--and hopefully live to see another day. But when, by luck or chance, he discovers an exquisite clipper ship beached during a recent hurricane, Nailer faces the most important decision of his life: Strip the ship for all it's worth or rescue its lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl who could lead him to a better life...

In this powerful novel, award-winning author Paolo Bacigalupi delivers a thrilling, fast-paced adventure set in a vivid and raw, uncertain future.


Room, Emma Donoghue

Amazon Best of the Month, September 2010: In many ways, Jack is a typical 5-year-old. He likes to read books, watch TV, and play games with his Ma. But Jack is different in a big way--he has lived his entire life in a single room, sharing the tiny space with only his mother and an unnerving nighttime visitor known as Old Nick. For Jack, Room is the only world he knows, but for Ma, it is a prison in which she has tried to craft a normal life for her son. When their insular world suddenly expands beyond the confines of their four walls, the consequences are piercing and extraordinary. Despite its profoundly disturbing premise, Emma Donoghue's Room is rife with moments of hope and beauty, and the dogged determination to live, even in the most desolate circumstances. A stunning and original novel of survival in captivity, readers who enter Room will leave staggered, as though, like Jack, they are seeing the world for the very first time. --Lynette Mong
 
Shadow and Bone, Leigh Bardugo


Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha…and the secrets of her heart.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Waiting On Wednesday: The Mark of Athena

Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

I'm a little slow out of the gate sometimes, so I have no idea how long ago this was actually announced, but I just saw it yesterday and I'm EXCITED! Rick Riordan is, hands down, my favorite middle grade author and his Percy Jackson series, and now this second companion series, do an excellent job of riding the line between enjoyment and education. (I also really love the covers.)

The Mark of Athena Rick Riordan

Expected publication: October 2, 2012

Summary from Goodreads:

Annabeth is terrified. Just when she’s about to be reunited with Percy—after six months of being apart, thanks to Hera—it looks like Camp Jupiter is preparing for war. As Annabeth and her friends Jason, Piper, and Leo fly in on the Argo II, she can’t blame the Roman demigods for thinking the ship is a Greek weapon. With its steaming bronze dragon masthead, Leo’s fantastical creation doesn’t appear friendly. Annabeth hopes that the sight of their praetor Jason on deck will reassure the Romans that the visitors from Camp Half-Blood are coming in peace.

And that’s only one of her worries. In her pocket Annabeth carries a gift from her mother that came with an unnerving demand: Follow the Mark of Athena. Avenge me. Annabeth already feels weighed down by the prophecy that will send seven demigods on a quest to find—and close— the Doors of Death. What more does Athena want from her?

Annabeth’s biggest fear, though, is that Percy might have changed. What if he’s now attached to Roman ways? Does he still need his old friends? As the daughter of the goddess of war and wisdom, Annabeth knows she was born to be a leader, but never again does she want to be without Seaweed Brain by her side.

Narrated by four different demigods, The Mark of Athena is an unforgettable journey across land and sea to Rome, where important discoveries, surprising sacrifices, and unspeakable horrors await. Climb aboard the Argo II, if you dare. . . .


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading.


  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
Pray for Silence, Linda Castillo

Page 7:

He looked down at the staring eyes and the ocean of blood, and he knew he'd be seeing that image for a very long time to come. "Just send the coroner, Mona. It's too late to save any of these people."

da Da DAAAAA!

I'm about a quarter way into this book, and it is ok. It is a little heavy on the "she did this, then she did that, then she walked to the left, then she walked to the right". But it hasn't ruined the mystery part of it for me, yet anyway. This is the second in the Kate Burkholder series. It's interesting because Kate grew up Amish but is one of the few who chose not to stay with the church. But she still ends up returning to her community as their sheriff.