4.5 stars When a book arrives with a massive amount of fanfarRead our hilarious and informative interview with Buruu! THERE ARE MORE ARASHITORA. Ahem.
4.5 stars When a book arrives with a massive amount of fanfare, in the form of glowing advance praise and accompanied an agreebly affable author, it's necessary to take a step away from all the hype to ensure that a review isn't influenced by outside factors. Which I did--I avoided reviews, fled the country (okay, that wasn't just to read this book), and read it away from much of the joyful noise that surrounded the book's release.
After the promise presented by the author's description of the story as "telepathic samurai girls and griffins in steampunk feudal Japan," I'm happy to find that this particular novel proved to be an exciting and memorable a reading experience.Stormdancer is nearly operatic in its scope and grandeur, and young Yukiko's reluctant quest to find a supposedly extinct griffin--and her subsequent relationship with the fierce, noble beast--is both thrilling and moving.
The thing is, the reasons why this book is so fantastic are partly why I also had trouble with its beginning. The writing is beautiful, with strong world-building and a meticulous attention to detail that left me slack-jawed with awe at times. But there is far too much description in the first 100 pages or so, where the story plods along very slowly, weighed down with ornate descriptors and exhaustive detail. Reshaping the opening chapters and weaving the history and world of Shima into the narrative more seamlessly would have helped tremendously with tension and pacing.
There is a sincerity and purity in this prose, however, that I very much appreciated. Nowhere did I get the sense that the author was trying to flaunt showy words or to distract the reader with "purple prose" sleight of hand. Rather, it seemed to me that words just poured out in an intensely focused, if seemingly endless, stream in an earnest attempt to make us thoroughly understand this devastated society that Yukiko lives in. It's true that isn't until the thunder tiger Buruu puts in an appearance that the spark of imagination really catches fire. But oh, what a fire it is! The magnificent aerial battle as twenty men strain to contain this furious legendary creature is unforgettable--and Yuki's relationship with Buruu is definitely the strongest and most appealing facet of this book for me. It's impossible not to be touched when the proud, crippled arashitora says succinctly, FEATHERS GROW BACK. SISTERS DO NOT.
Other things I loved: the action and fight sequences. Chainsaw katanas. The scenes in which Buruu's humor peeked through. The dangerous politics of an empire controlled by ambitious and ruthless men. The (quite topical) cry of mercy for a dying land.
I do wish that I felt more for the somewhat under-nuanced secondary characters, however, and that the romance in particular felt more urgent and anguished and real. I've also seen, in passing, a number of reviews that have touched on inaccuracies in Japanese culture and customs. It seems perfectly reasonable and understandable to me that specific knowledge will influence a reader's review of this book; I am mostly and somewhat blissfully unschooled in that area, however, so I found nothing in particular that bothered me. I also tend to look on fantasy with a more lenient eye (true story: there weren't griffins in feudal Japan, either!), similar to the way I might indulgently overlook broad caricatures in martial arts films and the like--but it's fair to say that those who are intimately familiar with Japan may well find more sticking points than I did. Still, it seems worth noting that this is Shima, a place inspired by Japan, not the actual country.
This isn't a book that all readers will enjoy and it's certainly not a perfect one, but for many fans of traditional fantasy--or even occasional fantasy readers like me--this wildly imaginative adventure is lightning that strikes in just the right place. Remember the name Jay Kristoff, because this spectacular debut blazes a fiery trail across oft cloud-laden skies. I for one, cannot wait to be swept away with the next installment of the Lotus War. And I may even get to ride a thunder tiger next time...
This review also appears in The Midnight Garden. An advance copy was provided by the publisher.
This was pretty entertaining, if a bit sketchy on some of the details. Still, there's a very interesting twist at the end that I didn't see coming! AnThis was pretty entertaining, if a bit sketchy on some of the details. Still, there's a very interesting twist at the end that I didn't see coming! And I will definitely be reading the sequel. Review to come....more
Check out our Q & A with Dan Krokos, who chats with us about his new book and some of the controversies that have rocked the YA community this yeaCheck out our Q & A with Dan Krokos, who chats with us about his new book and some of the controversies that have rocked the YA community this year. Some interesting thoughts on GoodReads' author program, too.
Of the many young adult science fiction novels that have been released recently, False Memory stands out as an extremely fun, solidly entertaining debut. This action-packed, suspenseful story follows Miranda North, a teenage girl who wakes up without any memory of who she is. Before long, she discovers that her unusual ability to release a painful pulse of energy is the reason why she's being relentlessly pursued...and the reason why her life, as well as the lives of many others, is now in danger.
From brain wave manipulation to rogue agents to a tonally genuine romance, this book includes a lot of different elements, and manages to present them all in a surprisingly engaging way. The author understands how to balance tension and levity, as well as how to up the ante both physically and emotionally as the story builds to its climax. It's rare to find a YA action novel that is this well-paced, especially since most of its protagonists are also well-developed. Miranda's blind panic and fight or flight adrenaline practically leaps off the page with her POV, but her observations about the other characters also allow us to know them as well.
I had a really great time reading this story because it was just so much fun, but what I appreciate most about it is an interesting sensitivity in its heroine that I frankly find rather unusual coming from a male YA author. Miranda is a sensible, fast-thinking character, but she's also very feminine in a way that doesn't rely upon endless descriptions of her appearance or other surface things; it's more of a subtle but very present emotional mindset that I found very appealing, particularly in the way her feelings about her teammates Peter and Noah change over the course of the book.
I really liked the way the love triangle is handled here, by the way. Miranda is placed in a very tricky situation, and even though her confusion and anger lead to some complicated situations, it wasn't hard to understand her predicament, nor to feel sympathy for everyone involved.
This novel is a promising start to a planned trilogy, and it's going to be thrilling to see where the story goes next. False Memory surprised me with its electrifying blend of mystery, drama, and action, and my guess is that fans of science fiction thrillers will absolutely love it.
Recommended for:fans of Divergent, Legend, The Darkest Powers series, Unraveling, and Partials.
This review also appears in The Midnight Garden. An advance copy was provided by the publisher.
On a more serious note, I want to briefly address the fact that I originally placed this book on a "will never read" shelf following a serious incident back in January. The author made some ill-advised remarks in defense of a fellow author on a pre-review written by a friend of mine, and like many others, I was absolutely outraged that she was repeatedly goaded on her own space in that way. The author did apologize to the reviewer, however, and following some additional information that I learned, I decided to give the book a chance--and I'm very glad I did, for more reasons than one.
If you'd like more information about what happened, there is a long discussion on this thread, and my reasoning for changing my mind is posted on message #210 here. I've also had the opportunity to discuss what happened with the author at some length since then, he has some very interesting insights from an author's perspective. I've invited Dan to the blog for a chat that will appear next week, so I hope you'll come back for that discussion. I think anyone who is concerned about this current author/reader divide will be interested.
If you're about to start reading this: put everything down. Step away from the book, find yourself a good half a dozen cupcakes first, and then come bIf you're about to start reading this: put everything down. Step away from the book, find yourself a good half a dozen cupcakes first, and then come back. Because if you don't, you're going to spend a couple of hours in a frenzy of longing over the incredible desserts whipped up in this book and you may end up gnawing off your own arm.
Dark chocolate cupcakes with red peppermint mascarpone icing, edged with chocolate and crushed candy canes
Miniature banana cupcakes smeared with a thin layer of honey vanilla icing
Vanilla cupcakes topped with whipped peanut butter cream cheese icing, milk chocolate chips, crushed pretzels, and a drizzle of warm caramel.
*Drool.* What was I saying? Oh, the book! Hudson Avery is a master baker at the age of seventeen. She's stuck in a dead-end job in her mom's diner, trying to help the family make ends meet after her parents' divorce, and doing her best to forget estranged friends and missed opportunities. One day, while she's on break, she puts on her skates and coasts along the edge of frozen lake. Suddenly, a boy named Josh Blackthorn literally crashes into her and Hudson's life takes a totally unexpected turn when she's asked to help coach their school's losing hockey team.
This book reminds me of a really great mash-up of the movies Waitress + The Cutting Edge + the gentle discovery of new romance in Sarah Dessen books. It's a super cute novel filled with ice skating, baby marshmallows, and all kinds of fun ideas that appeals to the curious and crafty side of me, including the intriguing thought of putting ice cream in hot chocolate, making carousel cupcakes with a straw and animal crackers, hand-tinting frosting, and that sort of thing. I had a great time with the dates-that-weren't-really-dates, the relationship between Hudson and her adorable little brother Bug, and the practice sessions with the hockey team, which the boys attend by "skipping their Guitar Hero matches or raw meat-eating contests or whatever it is that boys do in their free time." Hudson's sense of humor is absolutely infectious, and at one point, she dreamily imagines a flirty encounter with Josh as follows:
There are sparks and laughs and flirty little jokes with lots of subtext, and later, after he walks her back to work, he pulls her into a passionate kiss in the parking lot. The word "bliss" appears in a cloud over her head, surrounded by red and pink hearts, and from that moment on, the frothy feel of hot chocolate will bring her back...
Every once in awhile, it's really great to read contemporary romantic YA that's fun and fluffy but not at all shallow. In addition to the more lighthearted side of the book, however, Hudson also carries a lot of guilt over her parent's split, she's also juggling friendship problems, and she desperately wants to make it out of the small town she's lived in all her life. But is pinning all her hopes on a skating competition really the answer? As she notes sadly in French class: I don't know how to speak the language of impossible dreams en francais.
Eventually, the book did feel a bit on the long side to me, and some of the Hudson's decisions later in the story were a little maddening. She's such a likable protagonist, however, that it's easy to forgive her for her mistakes, especially when the book is chock-full of such wit and charm.
If you enjoy romantic comedies or have ever breathed in the warm, sweet scent of a fresh cupcake and thought you'd died and gone to heaven, this is totally the book for you. Hudson says she's never met a problem a proper cupcake couldn't fix, and after reading this book, it's hard not to believe that a cupcake won't help make everything a little better for you, too.
Read BITTERSWEET for Free!
If you're under 19, pop on over to The Midnight Garden, where you can learn how you can sign up for Simon & Schuster's Pulse It Community and read books in advance of their release. Right now Bittersweet and a number of other great YA titles are available to read online, so act quickly before the galleys expire!
Bonus Treat: And now it's time for a little cupcake porn. Hey, I had to suffer through this book without any cupcakes, so it's only fair you should share the pain.