How was it fair that I had to conduct a murder investigation and do trig?
If Nancy Drew had a cheeky sense of humor, she would be Hartley Featherstone....moreHow was it fair that I had to conduct a murder investigation and do trig?
If Nancy Drew had a cheeky sense of humor, she would be Hartley Featherstone. Hartley's boyfriend Josh has been cheating on her, and even worse, the girl turns up dead and Josh is now the prime suspect in Courtney's murder. What's a girl to do except band together with her best friend Sam and the good-looking Chase to try and solve the crime?
Reading Deadly Cool is like eating a bowl of ice cream. It's a refreshing treat following the afterburn of reading so many mopey and middling young adult novels, and it's one that goes down smoothly and will leave you craving more more more! I didn't expect for a murder mystery to keep me laughing throughout the entire story, but this one totally did. Hartley's observations are hilarious, and so are her interactions with everyone around her. At one point, an anonymous note demands a meeting with her on the football field at midnight, and she rolls her eyes and says,
"Seriously? Am I living in an episode of CSI: Silicon Valley?"
And when Josh tells her he's created a new account to chat with her, she says,
"My Space? No one is on that anymore."
"Exactly. What better way to hide out?"
This book feels very current and modern in a way that I'm not sure I've seen in any other YA novel, but the contemporary details are seamlessly interwoven and feel like a natural part of the story. There are also tons of funny pop culture references (sympathetic head tilts, etc.), Hartley's believably exasperated but loving relationship with her health-nut mom, and adults who aren't just props and actually try to help her...even if one of them does smell like Fancy Feast. I also appreciated that Hartley absolutely confirms that Josh has been cheating on her and dumps him (see the way she dresses him down in my status updates), but she decides immediately that she will help him anyway. Besides, how can you not love a girl who hides Ben & Jerry's in the back of the freezer, says "eff you" to her crappy mood by putting on sparkly flats, and admits to eating two slices of lasagna in one sitting? It's gluten-free tofu lasagna, but still.
The mystery is also pretty entertaining, with a good amount of plausible detailing, but it doesn't go overboard on the technical details. Even if you guess who the murderer is, it isn't going to spoil the experience of reading the book since the narrative voice is so bouncy and cute. The investigation, by the way, leads to a really funny scene where Hartley is trapped under a hot guy's bed who's unaware that she's there and he starts to undress. There are a number of scenarios like that might normally raise my eyebrows if they're tastelessly done, but Gemma Halliday writes with such wit and charm that they don't seem at all forced or tacky. Instead, you feel every bit of Hartley's embarrassment and anxiety, as well as her, um, inability to look away.
This book put me in such a good mood, and has a similar vibe to fresh and funny books such as Hex Hall and Flying Blind. Hartley is a lot like a cross between Sophie Mercer and Nancy Drew, actually, and she also quickly became one of my favorite YA characters. I had such a good time with this book, and I'm really looking forward to the sequel Social Suicide, which will be out soon in Spring 2012. If you enjoy non-angsty YA, Deadly Cool is a book you'll definitely want to take for a spin.
P.S. I thought it was funny that one of the secondary character's names was Cody Banks, which made me think of the movie from awhile back. The name "Hartley" reminded me of Beverly Cleary's The Luckiest Girl, however, which was a big bonus in my book. :)(less)
Unlike many of my friends, I quite liked this author's Evernight series, which was filled with surprises and interesting relationships (and not just r...moreUnlike many of my friends, I quite liked this author's Evernight series, which was filled with surprises and interesting relationships (and not just romantic ones). It's disappointing to find this novel, about a young witch named Nadia, to be so very predictable, lacking in excitement, and fairly cookie cutter in its PNR plot. DNF at 210 pages.
Worst of all, though--four third person (non-omniscient) POVs, with at least one bonus page from a bird's perspective. :-/ Bleh.
Still like this author, though--will definitely keep trying her other books. (less)
Ah, steampunk libertines! Who'd have thought they'd be so appealing?
Books that are heavily influenced by classic stories are always tricky, particula...moreAh, steampunk libertines! Who'd have thought they'd be so appealing?
Books that are heavily influenced by classic stories are always tricky, particularly when it's as ambitious an undertaking as a story inspired by the Edgar Allan Poe classic. I loved the lavish setting and moodiness of the original story, so I had my doubts that anything could come close to capturing its crazy vibe. But somehow Bethany Griffin has managed to create a very similarly dark, extravagant feeling in her gothic adaptation, which is a surprisingly compelling read.
Seventeen-year-old Araby Worth lives in a world devastated by plague. Haunted by the death of her twin brother Finn, she and her friend April spend their nights attending opulent club parties, trying to lose themselves in pleasure so they can forget the what's going on around them. In this atmosphere of dissipation and discontent, she meets the reckless Elliott, the nephew of the mad Prince Prospero who controls the city, and Will, a boy who works at the Debauchery Club who is desperately trying to take care of his little brother and sister. Through her association with them, she is shaken out of her numb acceptance of the world she lives in, and learns that she just might hold the key to saving countless lives.
I fully admit that my overall liking for the book is fairly reliant upon the extravagant world that the author created, but that's not necessarily a bad thing when it's such an important part of adapting Poe. I was mesmerized by: the visuals of porcelain masks that protect the wealthy from the contamination which were invented by Araby's scientist father; disease-carrying bats; zeppelins in the sky; nights of debauchery; tattered velvet dresses; the threat of death by crocodile. I also liked the central story line involving a plan to steal blueprints for the masks so they might be distributed to the poor, and the romance had enough substance to keep me interested, too.
Things that should have driven me crazy but didn't: first person, present tense; a love triangle, mostly because it keeps you guessing for the most part and doesn't always go the expected route; recreational drug use, because it fits in with the story; modern slang mixed in with a historical-ish style; the vow Araby takes to avoid all pleasures that Finn will never get to experience. I do wish that we'd gotten a little further along in the central plot to undermine Prince Prospero, however, as well as in Araby's relationships with...well, everyone, since it seems as though there is a lot of buildup, and then the book ends just as things are really starting to get interesting. And I wish that the choice Araby makes towards the end was a little more meaningful (view spoiler)[since I was never really all that interested in April (hide spoiler)]. I think she's a girl who is just discovering who she is for the first time, however, so I don't mind that we don't really know her all that well yet. She shows the promise of being a strong, take-action sort of heroine, and I'm hoping that we'll see her character, as well as everyone else's, further developed in the sequel.
I really liked Masque of the Red Death (much more than I enjoyed Nevermore, by the way) and I'm dying to see what happens next. Readers who don't mind a slower, more literary style will like this book, and I think most Poe fans will be happy with it, too. The story pays homage to the original story but doesn't adhere to it too slavishly, instead expanding on the world and imagining what would happen if it were a teenage girl that was caught up in the baroque madness. This strange mix of dystopian-steampunk-gothic-romance works really well here, in no small part because the author does such a beautiful job in creating a decadent, imaginative world for the characters--and us--to lose ourselves in.
This review also appears in The Midnight Garden. An advance copy was provided by the publisher.
Inspiration Behind the Story
If you aren't familiar with Edgar Allan Poe's The Masque of the Red Death, by the way, it's a masterpiece in drama, tension, and symbolism. Read the story online and compare it to this one--I think it actually makes you appreciate what Bethany Griffin did even more.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
It seems as though YA Science Fiction is experiencing a bit of a resurgence lately. Like many other readers, I'm a little tired of the barely-dystopia...moreIt seems as though YA Science Fiction is experiencing a bit of a resurgence lately. Like many other readers, I'm a little tired of the barely-dystopian trend, so it's great to see a very firmly science-oriented book like Partials come along. Airborne viruses + survivalist action drama + human interest story is a great combination, and one I think most fans of post-apocalyptic thrillers will enjoy.
In the year 2076, 11 years after an airborne viral outbreak, the average newborn lives just 56 hours. 16-year-old Kira Walker, a young medic interning at a hospital, thinks that the key to human survival lies in studying Partials, a group of rogue cyborgs described as "unthinking, unfeeling human killers." Since Partials released the virus to begin with, surely they have the answers to a cure--whether it's through their genetic makeup or through their knowledge. When her friend Madison gets pregnant, Kira embarks on a dangerous mission: to find and capture a Partial so she can save her friend's child.
But you've seen some positive reviews and some negative ones, right? So here is the type of person that I think will have a blast with this book.
You're a Battlestar Galactica fan. There are many similar BSG elements in this book, in a very good way. Partials are very similar to Cylons, and there's a war between humans and Partials that will decide the fate of both. There are also some elements of Star Trek: TNG, and The Matrix in this book, which aren't bad influences to have at all. But lest you be concerned about knockoffs, this is definitely an original story, told in a very engaging way.
You like medical thrillers. Kira runs a lot of tests on a captured Partial in this book, and while some readers may have an issue with all the medical business that goes on, I personally love books about viruses and analyses of scientific data, etc., so I very much enjoyed all that. Do Kira's experiments require some suspension of disbelief? Sure. Especially since a. she's a student b. we don't get all the answers we might be asking and c. this disease doesn't actually exist. (True story!) But what worked for me was that the author did a great job of walking us through the steps and logic and reasoning behind Kira's methodology.
Post-apocalyptic books rock your socks. Something about this book reminded me a lot of the feel of Mira Grant's Feed and Deadline, but for the YA crowd--and I don't make those comparisons lightly. There is a great blend of virological talk, exciting action sequences, and entertaining twists and turns that will appeal to fans of the Newsflesh series. Plus there are some survivalist elements I also really enjoyed. Worrying about energy conservation, day to day needs, salvage runs? Please, tell me more!
You appreciate butt-kicking heroines. I really liked Kira, who is a smart, responsible heroine, even if she is a little too narrowly focused on her ideals and a little too quick to fly off the handle. I would liked to have felt more of an emotional connection with her, the way I did with the very intriguing Samm (view spoiler)[who is SO much more interesting than the sweet but frustrating Marcus (hide spoiler)], but I did feel as though I understood her. And it's great to have a girl scientist portrayed in YA.
Do any of these sound like you? If so, get thee to a bookstore and grab a copy of Partials asap!
I will say that some of the secondary teen characters blended together for me, so that it wasn't until significant things happened to them that I remembered who was who and what part they were playing in the story. All the adults are there primarily to advance the plot as well, and basically serve as foils and obstacles to the teens. And even though it's understandable that teenagers have taken on more advanced roles earlier on due to the outbreak, they have such huge responsibilities that it does make you raise an eyebrow a bit; it's almost as if Partials was written with adult characters, but was adapted for the YA market. While some of the specifics of the story may strain credulity when you stop to look at the big picture, I have to admit that during reading, it's hard to care, because the story is so well-paced and entertaining. I'm hoping that in the sequel, we'll see deeper character development and further exploration of the ramifications of the Hope Act as the story continues.
All in all, Partials was a lot of fun for me. My immediate reaction when I finished the book was "fan-freaking-tastic!" and I'm excited that there's such a great science fiction option out there for YA readers. Don't get me wrong, I love fluffy novels or the types of books that feature girls in pretty ballgowns. But I like the kind of girl who wears lab coats, doesn't mind risking her life for what she believes is right, and argues passionately about the civil rights of cyborgs, too.
This review also appears in The Midnight Garden. An advance copy was provided by the publisher.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
3.5 stars A bit uneven in the middle, verging on tv drama at times, and characters certainly could have been developed more, but I still found this to...more3.5 stars A bit uneven in the middle, verging on tv drama at times, and characters certainly could have been developed more, but I still found this to be extremely unusual and enjoyable and a bit bittersweet.
Fans of Cold Kiss' meditative take on grief and loss might enjoy this one. A promising debut. (less)
3.5 stars As with its predecessor, I love all the angel stuff and I really dislike the way the romance is written. I liked the introduction of the Sha...more3.5 stars As with its predecessor, I love all the angel stuff and I really dislike the way the romance is written. I liked the introduction of the Shadows and the subplot with Elise's sister, and I'm interested enough to keep reading. But oh, how I wish the romance was written in a less predictable, more compelling way! If the dialogue and romantic entanglements weren't so blah, and the beautiful angel stuff more deeply explored, this series could easily be one of my favorites. (less)
That should probably be the extent of my review, because you can pretty much tell by your reaction to those two words whether o...more3.5 stars
That should probably be the extent of my review, because you can pretty much tell by your reaction to those two words whether or not this book is for you. If they get you nearly crazed with excitement (guilty! I'm raising my hand), you should probably just cancel your dinner plans for next week when the book is released.
If you read the freebie short entitled Origins: The Fire, you already know that a devastating fire has changed Mila's life. As she's trying to adjust to her life in a new home, she's also suffering from memory loss--not a great way to start off at a new school. It's not too long before Mila realizes that she's not like other girls, however, and the threat of having her secret exposed means she has to go on the run.
Mila 2.0 is one of those books that pumps you full of adrenaline because it's just so. much. fun. After a somewhat uneven first half, there are amazing action sequences in the second half of the book that had me on the edge of my seat to see what happened next. This book has been described as a Bourne-style thriller, and while I'm of the opinion that nothing should be compared to those films because that's just asking for trouble, I can see why that description was used. Between Mila's trying to figure out her past and the fantastic chase and fight scenes in the latter half, there's some truth to those claims.
There are, however, some things I think could have been finessed to make the book better. Aside from a couple of touching moments with Mila's mom, I didn't feel too much of an emotional connection to Mila herself. There is also a woeful overemphasis on romance in the beginning, too many references to Hunter throughout the story that don't pay off, and an annoying, annoying, annoying friend named Kaylee. Overall, better character development, more complexity and less predictability in the story, and a little more strategic thought would have added more depth and emotional stake to Mila's story.
But Mila's story is pretty darned fun, and I think that the things that could have been improved are outshone by the things that are spectacularly well done. This book is pure entertainment, and best enjoyed the way you'd absorb an action film--with popcorn and a big grin. Besides, come on! Remember the first two words I said up there? GIRL ANDROID. She got me right there.
I liked the first half of this book so much--it was pretty much a survivalist I Am Legend type story, with zombie-like aliens as the creatures in a po...moreI liked the first half of this book so much--it was pretty much a survivalist I Am Legend type story, with zombie-like aliens as the creatures in a post-apocalyptic setting. I also liked the choice to make the creatures day-dwellers, instead of the usual nocturnal animals.
Once Amy and Baby are taken to the compound, however, the array of unmemorable secondary characters, somewhat limp romance, and over-prolonged mystery (there's a twist that's fairly easy to guess) weren't nearly as engaging as they could have been. As a result, the somewhat underdeveloped world-building became more apparent--and unfortunately for the book, the lab/testing/experimentation scenes will feel very familiar to anyone who has read a lot of YA science fiction.
Still, the twist is interesting, and I liked some of the descriptive action scenes and the beginning of the book enough to try another book by this author. I don't know if it will be the inevitable sequel to this one, though.
An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review.(less)
The end of the world is coming! When a book begins with the heroine getting hit by a truck and killed in the first chapter, you know you’re in for a g...moreThe end of the world is coming! When a book begins with the heroine getting hit by a truck and killed in the first chapter, you know you’re in for a good time. 17-year-old Janelle Tenner somehow wakes up miraculously unhurt, however, and staring into the eyes of a boy she barely knows. In the 24 days that follow, she has to figure out what Ben has to do with her strange revival, as well as how her FBI agent father’s investigation into a series of unidentified burn victims might tie into her own story...and the fate of her entire world.
This sci-fi mystery took me by surprise, in a very good way. While I go into all YA novels with an open mind, particularly when the premise is as intriguing as this one, I admit to a certain degree of ennui after slogging through so many tedious paranormal romances that don’t add very much to the genre. Despite its somewhat ambiguous blurb, it’s nice to find that this is not PNR at all, although I think it will definitely still appeal to fans of that genre. While there discussions of quantum physics, viral engineering, and various other interesting theories, the book is written in a very accessible and entertaining way. The story does take some cues from X-Files, Fringe, Veronica Mars, and a host of other sources, but I don’t think anyone but the most hard-core fans of those shows will nitpick with the influences that are found here.
Things I really enjoyed:
Janelle’s leafing through her father’s case files: I’m the type to do this too, especially if I found reports of severe radiation poisoning that resulted in gelatinous, melty humans. Let me say that again: gelatinous melty humans. :D
Janelle’s dad: We really only get to know him much later in the book, but her relationship with him was plausibly complicated, with the confusing combination of anger and frustration and love and guilt and regret that starts to surface when you're the heroine's age.
A romance that eventually grew on me: I was relatively indifferent to Ben and Janelle as a couple at first, but I gradually warmed up to their relationship. The first cute moment came with grape soda, and then their attraction grew into a keen connection that I became invested in.
Realistic family drama and setting: Janelle’s father is a workaholic and her mother is bipolar and unreliable, so it’s up to her to parent herself and her younger brother. I thought the family dynamic was well done, and it added an interesting complexity and tension to Janelle’s situation. I also liked the way Janelle’s school life was a part of the book, because it’s such a big part of being a teenager and yet often gets ignored in YA.
Things that could have been smoothed out a bit more:
There’s a lot crammed into 450 pages: While I appreciate the fact that this isn’t not a sketchy wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am kind of book, some of the subplots did seem a bit superfluous. If the ex-boyfriend, subplot about rape, etc. were more compelling, perhaps I wouldn’t have felt that way, but as it is, I think the book easily could have rid itself of 100 pages without losing anything vital.
Fairly unremarkable secondary characters: Aside from Janelle and Ben, Janelle’s dad, and her ex-boyfriend Nick, most of the other characters blended together for me.
The structure: the choice to break up the story into segments corresponding with the mysterious countdown is a good one, but I’m not sure it was necessary to have so many short breakdowns, to the point that essentially each change in scene merits its own chapter. Because the story also flits back and forth as it fills us in on backstory, there were occasions when it also disrupted the flow of the story. We’re in the middle of a tense scene at the climax of the book, for example, when we suddenly step out of the action to a flashback of Halloween, which could have easily been included elsewhere.
A couple of overly dramatic gun-brandishing moments, one of which I suppose could be explained away as the character’s extreme agitation after finding out upsetting news, but it’s a little harder to look the other way when it’s being done by an FBI agent.
Writing technique occasionally trumping story: this goes back to the structure thing, although there are other moments when I felt a little jolted out of the engrossing plot because of a line that is included for irony or affect. For example, Ben’s unorthodox way of telling Janelle how he feels about her, “I fucking love you,” is strangely commandeered by someone else during an important scene towards the end of the book. In my opinion, the emotional punch of a poignant moment was interrupted and diminished because of that inclusion.
Despite these criticisms (and my dislike for the Heroes-like tagline), I very much enjoyed this book, which is the first one in a planned series. While I wasn’t really surprised by any of the twists and it wasn’t a story that moved me strongly enough to tears, I did find that the way the author explores the aftermath of grief and separation seemed very true to life, particularly in Janelle’s conflicting feelings and the heavy weight of her responsibilities. That strong opening scene is also bookended with a fantastic ending, one that leaves the door open for the story continue, but also feels emotionally satisfying—even if it is extremely wistful, bittersweet one.
Unraveling is a great blend of science fiction, mystery, and romance with solid writing and a memorable story, and this debut author is definitely one to watch.
This review also appears in The Midnight Garden. An advance copy was provided by the publisher.
This review is spoiler-free, and safe even if you haven't read the first book in this series.
In my review of last year's Partials, I posted a handy check list to help readers decide whether the book was for them. If you're a fan of well-written science fiction thrillers or post-apocalyptic novels with strong heroines, this series is one you should definitely check out!
What do you need to know going into the sequel?
-- There are fantastic action sequences, full of taut suspense and emotion.
-- Survivalist enthusiasts will love it. During the first half of the book, Kira spends most of her time searching through rubble for clues to ParaGen's involvement in the devastating events that decimated human society.
-- A mysterious character named Afa, who has been wandering alone through Manhattan for 12 years since the break, could hold the key to everything Kira needs to know. If you liked the gentle, defenseless character Maury from The Reapers Are the Angels, Afa's relationship with Kira reminds me a lot of that his relationship with Temple. A few of the scenes involving Afa are among the book's most touching.
-- Improvements from the first book: the secondary characters are more defined. Less politics. Marcus is much more interesting. But romance still takes the back seat here, even more so than in the first book.
-- More of Kira's history, and the creation of the Partials, is revealed. And they are both intriguing.
-- There were some readers who complained about the pacing in Partials, and I'm afraid that it's even slower--and occasionally more sluggish--in Fragments. This is a hefty book at 564 pages, and while it's all good material, I would have preferred seeing probably 150 pages of it edited down. This would have balanced things out a bit more, and tightened up the story line in a way that sustained the tension better.
Overall, I thought this was a terrific sequel to a series I very much enjoy. My only issue was really with the length of the book, but hey--after plowing through so many disappointing sophomore efforts, I'm just grateful to have a book two that lives up to the original! And I can't wait to see how Kira's story ends when the final book is released next year.