Originally reviewed here. Some content has been pared from this review, long as it is. To read it in full, visit the blog.
Pushing the Limits is anothe...moreOriginally reviewed here. Some content has been pared from this review, long as it is. To read it in full, visit the blog.
Pushing the Limits is another one of those books that has been hyped like whoa. Odds are you've heard of it, and you've seen rave reviews full of swooning and OMGs. Having finished, I can tell you that these responses are entirely valid and deserved. While not a completely perfect novel, I simply adored it from beginning to end and know that I will definitely be making friends read it and rereading it myself through the years.
On a very simple level, Pushing the Limits could be dismissed as a romance about a popular, well-behaved girl and the foster kid bad boy against all odds and the opinions of classmates. However, that would ignore all of the things that make this novel exceptional. Their family issues and scars make Echo and Noah much more interesting characters and makes their relationship so much sweeter.
Echo's name is a bit ridiculous, a flight of fancy by an artistic mother obsessed with Greek mythology. Her name comes from a Greek myth in which the jealous Hera curses a pretty nymph with the inability to do anything but repeat the words of others, eventually fading into just an echo as we know it. This name suits Echo perfectly. She says and does what others want her to, especially her controlling father. Echo has classic daddy issues and does what he says to keep him happy: she joins the right clubs, dates the guy he approves of, and gives up her passion for art in exchange for business because he thought that was better.
Echo used to have the perfect, middle class life, except for her manic depressive mother. Pretty, popular and dating one of the coolest guys in school, Echo had friends, good grades and serious artistic talent. Her life fell completely to pieces after her beloved brother, Aires, who joined the marines, dies. At the beginning of Pushing the Limits, Echo is mentally and physically scarred, gossiped about constantly and abandoned by one of her best friends, Grace. Although her relationship with Grace was a fairly minor plot point, I think it added a lot of validity to Echo's high school experience.
Echo is forced into yet more therapy with a guidance counselor/social worker at school, as part of which she will tutor Noah, who needs to get his grades up. This way she can earn money to fix up her brother's '65 Vette. Noah, like Echo, is mentally and physically scarred. His parents perished in a tragic house fire, leaving him to the 'mercies' of the foster care system. Even worse, he is kept separate from his younger brothers, Jacob and Tyler, after he punches his first stepfather, unable to watch the man abuse his own son anymore.
Noah is, on the surface, the typical bad boy. He smokes pot, skips class, has tattoos, has one night stands with whatever girls he can get his hands on, and gets into fights. He's also sexy as hell and incredibly smart. Echo and Noah do not get along at first. Well, actually, he was totally willing to get *ahem* on board the Echo train at any point, but she hated his attitude and the rude things he said to her. Only as he came to know her back story and to realize that Echo is not the spoiled brat he took her for, does Noah really begin to care for. The same goes for Echo, as she learns that Noah has a reason for being the way he is.
I rooted for them wholeheartedly and definitely felt the pterodactyl butterflies alongside Echo at several points. Echo and Noah fit each other perfectly, able to understand one another's pain and emotions better than anyone else could. Noah is even so awesome that he was able to use the phrase 'make love' and make it sound sexy as hell, rather than contrived and disgustingly sappy. However, my main issue with the book was also bound up in this. They definitely ventured a bit too far into the melodrama at times, and there were some phrases that made me roll my eyes heartily, like this one: "Noah didn't walk, he stalked and I loved the mischievous glint in his eye when he stalked me." Yikes. I know what McGarry is trying to do there, but I'm really creeped out by any romantic reference to stalking; it's not stalking if you WANT him following you and he's not going to hurt you. Plus, I really hate the term of endearment 'baby' and Noah says it CONSTANTLY. Why couldn't he just call her Siren? I thought that one was cute.
McGarry's storytelling works perfectly. Told alternatingly from the perspectives of Echo and Noah, the story is much stronger than I think it would have been in third person or from just one perspective. Had I not had a view into his head, I am pretty sure I would have hated Noah for half the book, with his rude comments and behavior. Being able to see the thoughts behind his actions was immensely helpful. This also helped overcome some of the cheesily romantic dialog, because you then would get a view of the character thinking 'what did I just do?' and mentally facepalming.
I highly recommend Pushing the Limits to anyone who likes darker contemporaries. I also have to mention that this novel is a perfect readalike for fellow Apocalypsie novel Something Like Normal; these novels are clearly best friends, just like Travis and Aires totally would have been.(less)
Last year, I received a review copy of A Discovery of Witches, and I drank it down like a savory zinfandel. Despite its length, I read book one of the...moreLast year, I received a review copy of A Discovery of Witches, and I drank it down like a savory zinfandel. Despite its length, I read book one of the All Souls Trilogy while suffering from a pulled muscle, and finished it in about two days (srsly, these books are mad long, yo). I was completely captured by book one and super duper impatient to read the next one.
Starting out, I was a bit concerned I wouldn't be able to follow this one, since it had been long enough that I wasn't sure if I would be able to remember who all of the characters were. I needn't have worried. Harkness does a good job making the cast and plotting clear without too big of an info-dump. However, I read this one over the course of a week, and it didn't go down quite as smoothly that way. I still enjoyed myself quite a bit, but I think these are books to devour on a reading bender, rather than slowly and calmly.
Read the rest of my review (which gets super sassy) here.(less)
I make no secret of my affinity for books about libraries and librarians. If I see that it's about a librarian, I will add a bo...moreOriginally posted here.
I make no secret of my affinity for books about libraries and librarians. If I see that it's about a librarian, I will add a book to my to-read list, except maybe the romance novels, and, should I spot one of those at Goodwill, I would probably by it, later forcing my friends to listen to a dramatic reading, because that's just the kind of person I am. Anyway, I'm pretty sure I requested this because of the word 'archivist' in the description, because I think otherwise I would have let this pass me by. I'm glad I didn't.
The archives scenes were a very small part of the novel, but they were right at the front, so Moore got me nice and hooked. Natalie enters the archives and asks for help with a project for school. She wants to research her family's genealogy. Kathleen gives a little spiel about how hard that can be, and I immediately recommended the book to my mom, because she has been crazy obsessed with doing genealogy for the past couple years.
The book doesn't necessarily focus on that, but it's sort of the frame story. More specifically, So Far Away is about the diary that Natalie found, and is going to use to figure out who her family really is. The diary was written by an ancestor during the 1920s. While I have a huge love of history, and am very interested in that time period, I was really bored by the diary. The rest of the book, while somewhat slow moving, maintained my interest, but I really just did not have any stake in the fate of the bridget named Bridget.
In addition to comments on genealogical and archival work, the other thing I loved was the parts about bullying. Natalie is being bullied by her former best friend, who has found a new, more popular, meaner best friend. They send threatening all caps texts (YOU KNOW THIS IS THREATENING) and even create a website about how much they hate her. Kathleen senses this and tries to help, while Natalie's parents and the school are ignorant and/or unwilling to step in. The story puts forward the idea that modern bullying is a whole different thing than it used to be. I thought this was timely and well done.
The one thing I definitely did not approve of was Lucy, Kathleen's dog. Don't get me wrong; I loved the god. However, Lucy was pretty much Kathleen's only family (since Kathleen's daughter ran away years before). Yet, I am supposed to believe that Kathleen would not notice that her dog was getting perpetually sicker throughout the novel. I just don't buy it. She would have had Lucy to the vet on the second or third day of her not eating. If the dog is basically your replacement child, you're going to be worried, even in the midst of your research and concerns about Natalie. End of story.
So Far Away is a touching story about two troubled souls forming an unlikely bond, and trying to learn how to face the future. The pace is slow and contemplative, and I recommend to those who like a thought-provoking read.(less)
Amped is my first experience with Daniel H. Wilson, but it certainly will not be my last. Though I did not love Amped, there wa...moreOriginally posted here.
Amped is my first experience with Daniel H. Wilson, but it certainly will not be my last. Though I did not love Amped, there was enough awesome stuff in there to make reading his other novel Robopocalypse a definite. His science fiction plotlines (based on these two) are so awesome. I just adore science fiction, and I don't read enough of it.
In the world of Amped, science has developed the Neural Autofocus. When implanted, the Neural Autofocus can do many things. The primary use was to fix people. For example, the Neural Autofocus can make the use of artificial limbs seamless and natural. They can prevent epilepsy. They can also take a child with ADD or an unintelligent child and give them additional focus, turning them from one of the weakest students to one of the best. What Daniel H. Wilson has done is take the plot of Flowers for Algernon and then make it a solution for everyone, and one that lasts. Very cool.
I really, really liked the first half of Amped. My guess is that most readers will have a strong preference for either the first hald or the second, as they are VERY distinct. The opening chapters are all about ethics, about the political and social impact that this technology would have upon mankind. Basically, and totally believably, there is a backlash against the amps, the people with the Neural Autofocus, because the normal people, the reggies, resent that they are now being outperformed. The implant makes those people smarter, faster, better. So what does the government do? Declares any person with an implant to be non-human. OH SNAP. Shit goes down.
What Amped reminds me of more than anything is X-Men. People with extraordinary powers? Different, but check. Resentment of common man? Check. Senator out to get the people with powers? Check. Powerful guy that wants to start a war so that the amps can take over? Check. Powerful guy that just wants everyone to live in peace? Check. This book is X-Men, minus the colorful supporting cast.
The second half of the book really lost my attention, because it got into Owen, our MC, learning how to use the secret hidden parts of his Neural Autofocus (because his dad gave him a special one). This part is all explosions and battles and grisly descriptions of wounds. I was super bored by all of this. However, if you don't like philosophical, political discussions, then power through the first half and you will get to read about SO MUCH FIGHTING.
Overall, Amped was definitely still a fun read, even if I have to give it a lower rating for being uneven. If you like Amped, you should definitely check out Machine Man by Max Barry, especially if, like me, you were more fascinate by the first half.(less)
You guys, I have been so excited to read Origin. Unfortunately, just because I think a book sounds awesome...moreOriginally reviewed on A Reader of Fictions.
You guys, I have been so excited to read Origin. Unfortunately, just because I think a book sounds awesome does not mean that it actually will be. Sadly, I found Origin to be an entirely disappointing read for me, full of mistreatment of animal, bitching, and unsurprising plot twists.
Origin kicks off with animal torture. Yup. They believe in animal testing in Little Cam, the scientific community where Pia has lived all of her life. In the first chapter, she and Uncle Paolo (not really her uncle, but she calls everyone there Uncle or Aunt, since they all aided in her creation) put a sparrow through a cruel test. This is not the last instance of animal abuse in the book. If you're an animal lover, be warned that this book will make you extra super sad. I didn't like that and it set the tone for the novel.
The next thing that turned me off to Origin was Pia, our heroine. In novels, so much hinges on one's relationship to the main characters; there are some authors that can interest you in horrible characters, but that is rare and difficult to do. In theory, Pia is just the kind of person I would totally want to read about, since she, through the power of scientific inquiry, has been rendered immortal. Blades cannot cut her and she has crazy stamina. I love people with powers, people beyond human.
However, the scientists raised Pia for all of her seventeen years telling her how perfect she is. Well, after being told that for so long, she believes it, and acts accordingly. Perfect Pia is, in my opinion, a perfectly pretentious prat. Ugh. I just wanted to slap her for the whole of the opening of the novel. After helping with the torture/research of the sparrow and constantly thinking about how completely gorgeous and wonderful she is, Pia's little paradise is thrown into chaos with the arrival of a new female scientist. Pia immediately hates this woman for being too alluring and taking attention away from Pia. She refers to the woman as Dr. Klutz for half the book, even though the doctor has done nothing to garner her hatred. Later that night, at the fancy birthday party she insisted upon, Pia is upset that everyone's dancing but her, even though she turns down an offer to dance with someone she deems unworthy.
Pia is, simply put, one of the snottiest heroines I have encountered. Though she does grow up through the book, her transformation did not balance out my hatred for her earlier self. Honestly, if I didn't feel compelled to finish this for reviewing reasons, I might have DNFed. Another annoying habit of Pia's is her habit of referring to Wild Pia, her internal self that wants to go crazy in the jungle and reminded me unfavorably of 50 Shades' inner goddess.
Things got worse during the initial scenes after she met her love interest, aka the only boy her age she has EVER MET IN HER LIFE. Sorry if I don't swoon over the romance when she LITERALLY has never had any other options. Her standards are pretty low at this point. Anyway, they meet and she says racist things, assuming he's an idiot because he's a native, and he says sexist things, because she's a girl, AND EVERYONE'S OKAY WITH THAT. Except for me. Here's a sample (though keep in mind that this comes from the ARC and could be changed in the final version):
"'How do you know English? Uncle Paolo told me you natives were ignorant about everything outside your own villages.' 'I'm not ignorant,' Eio objects. 'It is you who are ignorant, Pia bird. My father taught me English.'"
And a bit later, misogyny:
"'I will take you back,' Eio announces, rising to his feet. 'I can find the way,' I say. 'I will take you back,' he repeats in a firmer tone. 'It's not good for a woman to walk alone in the jungle without a man to protect her.' He thinks I'm a woman. I stand a little taller. 'Well, all right. If you want.'"
So now, they've bonded and she still is judging him:
"I feel like I've discovered some fascinating new species. Homo ferus: wild human. An unpredictable, nocturnal creature usually found in trees. Caution: may cause bewilderment and disorientation. Also, prone to teasing."
Maybe I'm being overly sensitive, but since I don't tend to be the most touchy or PC person in the world, I'm guessing that some other readers will probably be irritated by these exchanges as well. I just found most of the book to be in rather poor taste, and the characters, at best, to be meh. I had very little interest in Eio or anyone else.
The bad guys and the good guys were clearly demarcated from the very beginning with no surprises. Everything was completely black and white, so things that should have been twists I saw coming from a long way off.
As far the dystopian stuff goes, it's definitely not especially dystopian. It's more dystopian in a microcosm. Certainly, Pia has discovered that her little world might not be what she always thought it was. There is some hinting that perhaps the corporation involved controls governments too, so it could be large-scale dystopian, but the focus is really on Pia (no wonder she's so vain) and not so much on the dystopian elements.
Despite all of that, I'm sure some people will enjoy this book, but it was not for me. I would probably be willing to try another Khoury book down the road, assuming I heard good things about the heroine. If you think you can handle Pia, then you might want to try Origin; if she sounds awful to you too, you may want to pass on this one.(less)
Looking at this pretty, stark cover, with its brags of the Man Booker Prize (even the long list is impress...moreOriginally reviewed on A Reader of Fictions.
Looking at this pretty, stark cover, with its brags of the Man Booker Prize (even the long list is impressive), I could not help but look forward to reading this. I expected something extraordinary, something literary, something as well-written as Stormdancer. What I got was nothing like that. The Testament of Jesse Lamb has a marvelous concept, but the execution of the novel just left so much to be desired, like knowledge of proper grammar.
Before I get all ranty, which believe me I will, I want to discuss the positive things. As I mentioned, the concept really does hold a lot of appeal to me. In this vision of the future, some terrorist, for reasons unknown, created a virus that affects pregnant women. Every pregnancy equals death. No cure has been devised and humanity has only so long until the youngest remaining women become to old to bear children, assuming a cure ever is created.
Jessie Lamb lives in Britain. When the virus, MDS - Maternal Death Syndrome, hits, she becomes an activist, arguing for children to be given legal independence younger, since obviously adults cannot be counted on to protect their best interests. Basically, YOFI claims that the older generations screwed up the world, so they should really stop pretending to be all wise. Through this group, Jessie searches for meaning in this new world that could end with her generation.
Like Jessie, everyone searches for meaning. Scientists desperately consider cures, ways to develop antidotes or to produce disease-free babies from frozen eggs and sperm. Militant women's rights groups form to protect women against this new harsher climate, where rapes and abuse have become more common. Homosexuality, too, has become much more common and more accepted, which seems one of the only good things to come of all of this. Some people distract themselves from mankind's likely end by focusing on fighting for the rights of all of the other animals, pissed off that humanity's last act will be murdering other creatures in an effort to stay alive ourselves. Of course, the end of the world would not be complete without creepy cults, and those are there too: the Noahs.
Most pertinent to the story, though, are the Sleeping Beauties, the teenage girls that sacrifice their lives to bring a new life into the world. It is, actually, still possible for new babies to be born, though they too have the disease. However, the only way for this to happen is to put the mother into a coma and keep her alive with machines while the virus destroys her brain. After the baby is born, cut from her stomach, she is unplugged. These girls have no chance of surviving; no pregnant women do. Pregnancy has a one hundred percent mortality rate.
All of that is just fantastic. On top of that, the book starts with a bang. Jessie is being held captive for some reason, and is being forced to write out her testament. This technique, while a bit hackneyed, was effective, because I did want to know who had captured her and why he was keeping her in the basement tied up in bicycle chains.
From what I can tell, neither Rogers nor her editor (assuming there was one) have the slightest clue how punctuation works. Throughout the book, it seems as if different punctuation marks were inserted almost at random into sentences. I had so many flashbacks to high school English teachers lecturing the class about how awful comma splices are and how you should never ever use one in a paper or they would automatically deduct ten points. Rogers would have negative points. She uses comma splices like they are about to go out of style; the bad news for her is that they already were out of style, so this is in exceedingly bad taste.
EXAMPLE: "I thought of the drugs trial volunteers, they were nearly all men."
When connecting two separate but related sentences, one should use a semicolon NOT a comma. FACT. This happens innumerable times. Of course, she balances that out by also sometimes using semicolons incorrectly: "Then we walked back to my house holding hands and not talking, feeling as if we owned the night and everything in it; moon, stars, the dark shapes of trees, the crouching quiet houses." This proves that she DOES know what semicolons are, but not that she knows how to use them. To be fair, she does very occasionally use them as they are meant to be used. What I find even more frustrating about this is that if she had just accepted she didn't know how to connect the sentences and had two complete sentences, she would have been just fine.
Another big problem she had grammatically stemmed from her desire, I guess, to make the tone sound like a teenager. A very popular way for writers to do this is sentence fragments. Here's her punctuation-challenged version: "There was a longish silence then she asked about my parents. Which was a relief; rattling off their sorry story was easy and I hope made me sound more sensible and objective." Lovely, right? This both misuses a semi-colon and is entirely unnecessary. Tack the 'which was a relief' onto the end of the prior sentence with a comma and you have perfectly correct writing. No editor should let this pass. There are way more issues, but I will stop here in the grammatical portion of the review.
Since reading closely made me want to weep or claw my eyes out or go visit my high school English teachers and get them to commiserate with me, I ended up basically skimming most of this book. On the plus side, this did make it go faster, which is good since I was also somewhat bored. The characters just did not interest me that much. I tried to care, but Jessie is a bit distant from other people and I couldn't support most of her decisions at all.
I did try to care about the romance. The scene where the characters admit their feelings was kind of adorable and then they realize she has built in birth control (all the girls do for obvious reasons), so they might as well have sex now. It's going great until the hymen-breaking puts a damper on things. They stop momentarily and then this description happens:
"He began to kiss me again. And to move as slowly and gently as a little pink earthworm when you pick it up from the garden in the palm of your hand."
What the fuck did I just read? No matter how many times I read that, I am never any less grossed out. This is one of the least sexy things that could ever be put in the midst of a sex scene. AND WHY? There's no reason for this to happen. NONE.
This review has rambled on and on, so I should probably draw to some sort of close. The Man Booker people loved it; I did not. (Or, in her speak: The Man Booker people loved it, I did not.) With such distracting and flagrant errors, I simply cannot countenance giving this book a rating above 2, though the content would be a 2.5 or 3. Do what you will with that information. I'm off to watch Pretty Little Liars and read Blood Red Road to cleanse my soul.(less)
I've been through a couple of these kids-trapped-in-a-building-without-adult-supervision books already thi...moreOriginally reviewed on A Reader of Fictions.
I've been through a couple of these kids-trapped-in-a-building-without-adult-supervision books already this year, like This Is Not a Test and Monument 14. In theory, I really like that basic structure, because it leaves a lot of space to do interesting things with social dynamics. Here, it was mostly just a way to isolate kids so they can do really awful things to one another.
When I read Monument 14, one of my issues was that none of the kids are particularly likable. Well, compared to the kids in The Loners, I pretty much want to be best friends with everyone from M14. Seriously, there's no one in this book that isn't a RAGING asshole. Even before the apocalyptic scenario, these kids were horrific.
David, the main character, is supposed to garner my sympathy because his mother died and his girlfriend, the hottest piece of ass ever apparently, cheated on him with the guy who took his spot on the football team when he quit. Boohoo, poor Mr. ex-QB. I would have felt badly for him, because both of those things suck, except that, by the time I learn this, he's already commented on how much he wants to sex a couple of different girls. When he finds out about his girlfriend's infidelity, the first thing he does is grab her arm really hard. Not cool. Then he gets drunk and starts a fight. I would hate this guy in real life and I hate him in this book.
His younger brother, Will, seemed like he might be better at first. He should have added some depth to the book, since he has epilepsy, further complicating survival. Unfortunately, his epilepsy was used only for dramatic effect and not to enhance the plot or make a point. Further, Will proves to be driven entirely by sexual urges. Seriously, he has the opportunity to buy useful stuff or to purchase a gold necklace for a girl he's crushing on (that doesn't like him back), and he chooses the necklace. He's so goddamn stupid. Plus, his brother totally had his back and he didn't do anything to help and was generally an ass as thanks. I mean, I don't like David, but Will was even worse.
The women in the book were awful too, every single one of them, which I guess fits nicely with their male counterparts. The kids in the school break down into gangs, two of which are all-female: The Pretty Ones and The Sluts. Yup. Unsurprisingly, girls have limited options in this scenario, so far as I can tell. They can barter sexual favors to a man for safety. They can defend themselves by joining The Sluts, which means they will be called lesbians and fight with the boys, thus get the worst injuries. Besides them, you've got the ugly girls, the ones that don't matter, who exist only to juxtapose their patheticness with that of the others, like Belinda the fat girl. Of course, there's the one girl outside of this, ex-Pretty One Lucy, who, by nature of being a beautiful virgin gets to be protected and survive.
The world building is exceedingly minimal. It exists only to trap the kids in this school. Blah blah virus, blah blah kills adults, blah blah food deliveries every two weeks. Of course, nowhere in the whole paragraph we get explaining why these kids are locked in their school is a reason given for why all of the kids lost their hair when the outbreak happened. Nor do we find out why their hair grows out white.
Anyway, once the first deliveries arrive and they realize the schedule, the kids form gangs, aka cliques based on high school social status. Even in a post-apocalyptic scenario, apparently, hot people do not hang out with uggos. Good to know. Throughout all of this nastiness, the focus upon appearance remains exceedingly important to everyone. Then, of course, they fight about everything.
Seriously, Lord of the Flies has nothing on these kids. They are doing all of this shit for NO REASON. If they don't cause trouble, the government's going to keep giving them supplies. As far as post-apocalyptic worlds go, this really should not be that bad. Unfortunately, this was apparently a school for demon children, so rape, beatings and deaths are going to be fairly common. Basically, everyone fights for stuff like it's the opening off the Hunger Games, where everyone grabs stuff from the cornucopia, only it's like that ALL THE TIME. Really though, the society they've set up here seems more like prison than anything else; they're all serving their terms, but, while they do, they're fighting for position, for sex and for vengeance.
Also, one thing that really bothered me about this? They had SO MANY WEAPONS. For the most part, that's cool. Just like with prison, you can make weapons out of pretty much anything. I get that and accept it. However, at one point, David mentions having a machete. Where the heck did that come from? It's not like you can easily construct a machete like you could a sort of knife or spear. Did that come in the supplies? If yes, that raises other serious questions. If no, was it in someone's locker? This just seemed inaccurate to me.
What I really don't get is why everything would turn into such a ridiculously violent mess. In Monument 14, the kids realized they had enough for everyone and worked together, making everything bearable. Here, the kids have enough food but make the situation impossible because the gangs hoard food. The Loners ends up reading like some sort of Battle Royale scenario where the kids HAVE to kill their classmates in order to survive. The issue here is that no one is forcing them to do this. They just ARE, because they WANT TO.
If you go to dystopias looking for gratuitous violence, The Loners just might be the book for you. The Loners reads like a horror movie, running through the standard tropes and focusing on gore, blood and violence.(less)
Yet again, I find myself seriously impressed with the breadth and variety of WWII historical fiction. I honestly feel like when...moreOriginally posted here.
Yet again, I find myself seriously impressed with the breadth and variety of WWII historical fiction. I honestly feel like whenever I read a WWII novel, whether I like it or not, I learn something new and fascinating. The Far Side of the Sky is no exception. I never previously knew that thousands of German and Austrian Jews escaped to Shanghai.
The story of these refugees has a double impact, since it allows Kalla to draw connections between the German's treatment of conquered territories and the Japanese treatment. I think this is seriously important for people in America to know. I have witnessed that here in the U.S., our schooling and basic mood towards Germany remains largely negative because of everything that happened in WWII. However, that same stigma definitely does not exist towards Japan or the Soviet Union. While, certainly, there were times where hatred or distrust for those countries eclipsed everything else, I don't think that their crimes have really caught in our consciousness the same way, largely because so much has been written and popularized about Hitler and the Holocaust.
The Far Side of the Sky begins in Austria on Kristallnacht. Franz's brother is brutally murdered by the SS, as are some of his family's neighbors. His brother's wife, Esther, has a huge gash on her arm. Thankfully, Franz is a doctor and can help. The opening is dramatic and makes its point. Franz Adler must get his family (himself, his daughter Hannah, Esther, and, hopefully, his aging father) out of Austria. Practically the only country accepting Jews at this point, fairly early in the war though it was, was China. The only reason China was open was because China really didn't have much of a say in anything at this point.
Through sheer luck and connections, Franz and his family escape to Shanghai. Though better, tensions in Shanghai are also running very high. Shanghai is inundated with foreigners, all in an uneasy truce and all ruling over the Chinese. The Japanese, however, are the ones really calling the shots, in their bid to take over the world from the east as Hitler moved from the west. Atrocities such as the Rape of Nanking are covered, although not in detail, quite clearly.
I found the writing style a bit awkward in the beginning, although I suspect that some of that will be fixed in the final version. Kalla seemed a bit unsure whether he should have his characters use German at all or whether he should just write in English. While I see the temptation to use the actual language, switching to English for the bulk of the conversation is more awkward. The reader can figure out that they would probably be speaking in German.
The characters are just great, which, as you all know, is the most important aspect of a book to me pretty much every time. I especially loved Sunny, a half-white, half-Chinese nurse in Shanghai. She's so incredibly intelligent and brave. Powerful women ftw! I was so caught up in their story by the end, and so desperate for things to turn out well for them.
If, like me, you can't get enough WWII fiction, I would definitely recommend searching out The Far Side of the Sky. (less)
Even though I love this cover, my expectations going into this were pretty low. I haven't seen any...moreOriginally posted on A Reader of Fictions.
Even though I love this cover, my expectations going into this were pretty low. I haven't seen any reviews for it, but I've heard from people who read reviews that they've seen less than encouraging ones. As such, I adjusted my hopes down a bit and set off. Actually, I ended up really enjoying Dark Star. Is it perfect? No. Is it a fun? Heck yes!
The very best part of Dark Star is the characterization. Recently, though I've been on a really good reading streak, I feel like most of my star deductions have been for characters that didn't feel real to me or that I simply could not connect with, so I really needed this character-driven read. Audrey has a huge personality, funny and clever and a little bit rebellious. I loved her voice so much that the writing style, which leans a bit more to the choppy fragments style than I generally care for, didn't bother me much.
Not only is Audrey awesome, her friends are great too. She has two best friends, Gabriel and Tink. Gabriel is the only one who has been trusted with her mother's secret (that she's the superhero Morning Star, though she prefers to be called a Guardian, and fights bad guys with her younger partner Leon). Audrey trusts Gabriel implicitly, the only secrets she keeps from him being ones she's not allowed to tell. Tink, who I totally pictured as the character of the same name from The Guild, is outgoing and tiny and a little bit terrifying. They have a real bond and I love to see that in novels.
Perhaps even more rare, Audrey has a loving, protective, approachable, attentive mother. Can such a thing truly exist in YA? Apparently so! Audrey's mother, Lucy, does go out all night to fight crime, but she's in no way an absentee mom. She manages to spend a lot of time with her daughter. While definitely not an overprotective hardass, Lucy does keep informed of her daughter's whereabouts and try to keep Audrey safe, except for that one flashback where Lucy totally battles this demon preggers. Plus, they totally have the mother-daughter banter down. Of course, to fulfill the YA parental drama, her father's out of the picture, but I was still so glad to have a loving family dynamic in this book.
The romance, which does exist, satisfied, even if it was totally predictable. Of course, if a romance has to be predictable, I'm not going to complain too much when it's my favorite of the cliched romance patterns, which this happens to be. Also, the best part is that the romance totally isn't the focus. It's there and believable and has chemistry, but flirting is minimal and Audrey doesn't spend the whole book mooning over boys.
The first half of the book, had it continued in that vein, might even have gotten four stars from me for the sheer fun of it and the awesome characters. However, the book took a bit of a turn, and, though I didn't hate it, I would have preferred for the book not to have a paranormal twist. If you don't want to know what the twist is, skip to the last paragraph now.
In true YA fashion, it turns out that mom is not in fact a superhero; she fights demons. Basically, the book takes this whole twist to the paranormal when I really just wanted to read a fantasy novel where some people have a little bit of extra power for who cares why and do some vigilante justice, okay? Mom has super strength, Leon can teleport, and Audrey Knows things, or, in otherwords, is a little bit psychic. That was all awesome and I had accepted it and then it was all because of paranormal things, which wasn't bad, but I've had enough of that and was so excited for something a little different.
The bigger problem with the paranormal plotline was that it was weird and a little haphazard at the end. Like, the final confrontation was so abrupt. There's this small battle and it's dramatic, but then instead of the BIG crazy showdown, it just sort of ends. I want my epic battle of powers and superheroes, dang it! Also, the book didn't really feel wrapped up plot-wise at the end. I haven't heard rumors of a sequel, so, if this it, poorly done on that.
But, you know what? I still had so much fun reading this that I'm giving it a bonus .5 for keeping me engaged in the story. Of course, now I really want to reread After the Golden Age, which is about a woman who's the daughter of superheroes that are actually just superheroes and so, so good.(less)
When Unbreak My Heart first appeared on NetGalley, I actually didn't request it. I haven't read any of Walker's prior novels, I...moreOriginally posted here.
When Unbreak My Heart first appeared on NetGalley, I actually didn't request it. I haven't read any of Walker's prior novels, I don't have much history reading contemporaries, and I have a very black and white view of cheating in relationships. All of that told me this might not be the book for me. I went back and requested it when I saw some very favorable reviews roll into the blogosphere.
As I started reading, I was initially regretful of that decision. The opening of the book is so mopey and nothing really happens. All Clem thinks about is the horrible thing she's done, which slowly unfolds in front of the reader. Every other chapter goes into the past (at least until that's all explained). The others are about her summer, in which her family (mom, dad, little sister, and herself) sail down rivers on a boat. I really wondered how Walker was going to pull off a book where the characters are stuck on a boat.
Thankfully, the book picked up the more you learn about the past, and the better you get to know the other people taking this same boating trip. I know absolutely nothing about boating. Honestly, I had no clue people could take a sailing trip like this down rivers. Color me surprised. Early on, they meet four other people who are on the same timeline and route they are (an old couple, and a father and son).
The cheating aspect of the story, the frame of it, never really coalesced with me. It mostly made me angry in a way I was not expecting. Clem has become a social outcast because she fell for her best friend's boyfriend. That's bad, for sure. I mean, having those feelings and not confessing definitely violates the 'hos before bros' pact. What's incredibly NOT cool (slight spoiler) is that Clem didn't even initiate anything and yet she is the one who becomes a social pariah. Her best friend even takes the guy back. All we see of the friendship is them keeping secrets from one another. And, so far as I can glean, Amanda doesn't really even seem to like Ethan that much, so I have a lot of trouble figuring out why she would want him back, unless it's to prove something.
I think that my biggest issue was with Amanda's character. It might have helped to have better context for their friendship. We learn very little about Clemanda pre-Ethan. As it was, I never got a great sense of Amanda as a person. She seems to be a showoff. Clem definitely suffers from an inferiority complex, since Amanda is the kind of person everyone likes and can have any guy she likes. Amanda's also strange for not having been more afraid of Clem and Ethan happening, since they have this crazy obvious chemistry, and she even encourages them to go on a date. That's just weird.
What really worked in this novel were the character relationships. I loved how real Clem's family felt. The mother with her crazy cookbook, the dad with his hat, and, most especially, adorable annoyance Olive. It's so obvious how much Clem's family cares for her. They give her space for a while and they let her know that they're ready to listen when she can talk about it. They put up with a surprising number of tantrums with good grace. When she finally confesses what she's been so upset about, they are just so sweet and non-judgmental.
I also can't leave this review without talking about the adorableness of James. He may be one of the most genuinely sweet guys in YA literature. Girls, let me just say that you want a guy like this, not an Edward or a Jacob or a Noah. You want someone real who will never try to change you or tell you what to do. He has advice, sure, but he doesn't pressure you. Plus, he's a ginger. Oh, how I love redheads. He is cute, upbeat, and funny, and their chemistry is so moving.
Unbreak My Heart is well-written and touching, despite the slow start. There's a lot to be learned from Clem's story. I see more Melissa Walker in my reading future!(less)
Like I do with most books, I went into this one blind. I had no clue what it was about, so I was a bit surprised to be reading...moreOriginally posted here.
Like I do with most books, I went into this one blind. I had no clue what it was about, so I was a bit surprised to be reading about the popular kids having a party. I did like the narrative voice, though, and the group dynamic. Then I hit the end of that first chapter, which is one of the best hooks I've read. I defy you to read to the end of that chapter and not NEED to know what comes next. Of course, the blurb will tell you what's going on, so I guess I'll talk about it too, but still, going in with no clue, it was epic. (If you don't want to know, probs skip to the end of the review).
So, yeah, here's what happens in the opening of this novel: Joey jumps, Joey dies, and Maggie doesn't remember what she happened in the first chapter, because of some sort of amnesia. Grieving, she faces cops, friends and Joey's family members, all wanting to know what happened, and she would like to know too. In the process of sorting out her memories and her feelings, she learns a lot of things she never knew, things about Joey and about her friends. I really enjoyed this, but I will say that I had all of the big revelations figured out within 20 pages. Reading how they happened and learning the details was still fun though.
What drove this book, though, were the characters. Although they definitely are not going onto my mental list of best characters ever, they worked. This group had a real and believable dynamic. Actually, my only concern about them as a friend group is that all 6 of them were friends from childhood. I don't think I've ever encountered a group of friends from childhood that all stayed that close through high school. Obviously, things will be changing for them now, but I don't know. Maybe that happens, but I've only seen it in pop culture. Most of the people I know only talk to a couple of people from high school any more, let alone elementary school.
The funny thing is that, in other circumstances, I would have hated these people. Joey and his crew are the popular kids at the school. They party every week, they do fun things, they drink a lot, and are generally admired by everyone. Had this not been about a serious crisis, carrying about their dramas would have left me cold. Even so, I don't like Joey. Even early on before everything came out, I didn't care for Joey: he's reckless and cocky. No thanks.
Maggie is better and I did like her voice. She had a real feel to her, although one I have trouble reconciling with her usual social status. It's really hard to say if she was like that all the time or if this was a weird side of her. I rather suspect the latter, because she was never comfortable in this book. Even in the opening scenes before tragedy struck, she was paralyzed by her fear of heights, worried, concerned and afraid of judgment. Only a the end did I see a slight vision into what she might normally be when confident and happy, but I'm still not sure.
One Moment is a wonderful contemporary that makes you think about the power of a moment and about how well we actually know even our very best friends. There will definitely be more Kristina McBride in my future!(less)
Touch of Power ranked among my very favorite books I read last year. Needless to say, I wanted Scent of Magic like my cat wants deli meat. With such h...moreTouch of Power ranked among my very favorite books I read last year. Needless to say, I wanted Scent of Magic like my cat wants deli meat. With such high expectations, it's perhaps not surprising that the book fell a bit short. This is definitely not her best book, but still ensnared me. Scent of Magic may not be as beloved to me as the first book in the series, but there's plenty of action and powerful women.
One of the best thing about reading Snyder books is that they will always be chock full of incredibly strong, sassy women. Avry, the heroine, of course, has healing powers, which can also be used to fight, in addition to being well-trained with weapons. On top of that, she's incredibly bright and willing to do just about anything to help friends, and almost as much to help people she does not even know. What I love about her is how little vanity she has; at one point, she offers to heal a friend's facial injury to save her from the scars, even though then Avry would have to bear them instead. She also prefers practical clothing to beautiful dresses.
However, Avry's not the only strong woman in the book. Jael and Celline are varying degrees of bad guys, but are incredibly powerful. Even better, women fight in the armies of this world and can even rise to positions of authority. Women like Leah and Wynn do not have any powers to aid them, but they still kick so much butt. A lot of novels have strong heroines, but, in order to emphasize her uniqueness, otherwise contain only meek female characters.
Snyder also gets the villain just right. Tohon ranks pretty high up on the list of villains that horrify me. He has insanely powerful magic, which he can use to make zombies and to make Avry weak in the knees (I did not like what happened with that at all btw). Aside from that, he's crazy. He goes from friendly to murderous in no time; his moods are unpredictable. Not only that but Tohon's the brilliant kind of crazy: he pretty much equals Ryne for military strategy. Basically, he's terrifying because it's very easy to imagine him winning.
Sadly, I didn't feel the same love for this installment as the previous. I think a lot of that had to do with the separation of Kerrick and Avry. At the end of the first chapter, Kerrick and Avry part ways to accomplish different things in the war against Tohon. One of my favorite things about Touch of Power was the dynamic between the two of them, which obviously can't happen if they're not together. Plus, now that they're a couple, they don't have the same sexy banter that they did before even when they're together.
The other issue with the two of them being apart for most of the novel is that Snyder changed the narrative style. All of Touch of Power was from Avry's first person perspective, even when the group separated from what I recall. In this one, Snyder added relatively brief chapters from Kerrick's perspective. Avry's perspective remains in first person, but Kerrick's bits are in third person limited. This device might have worked better for me had his sections been counted as chapters (only Avry's are numbered, while his are headed merely Kerrick) and been written in first person as well.
These next couple of points will reference spoilers, though without specifics. While I love these characters and want them all to survive, you guys know how much I appreciate an author that will make their characters really suffer. Snyder can do this, I know she can, but she doesn't exhibit that ruthlessness here. Everyone freaking kept coming back to life! It's to the point of absurdity. Sure, a few people Avry cares about dies, but the main characters can apparently not be killed. That really lessens the impact of the plot.
Despite those issues, I was still debating between 3.5 and 4 for the rating, since I did really enjoy the book and get caught up in it. The deciding factor ended up being the ending. The fact that she ended this installment on the exact same cliffhanger as book one makes me want to throw all the things. Avry and Kerrick are once again united and temporarily safe, but one of them might die of a disease! Oh noes! Goddammit! Obviously neither of them is going to die permanently, so why even bother? Plus, this is so incredibly redundant. I hate everything about the ending.
In spite of everything, I did still quite enjoy reading Scent of Magic and will be eagerly awaiting book three, and really anything Maria V. Snyder chooses to write. I need to find time to read her first series, because I've heard it is worlds better than this one, which I like a lot.