Review: The Lost Prince by Julie Kagawa

Friday, August 31, 2012
Title: The Lost Prince
Author: Julie Kagawa
Genre: young-adult, supernatural 
Series: The Iron Fey: The Call of the Forgotten #1
Pages: 375 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: expected October 23 2012
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 5/5

Don’t look at Them. Never let Them know you can see Them.

That is Ethan Chase’s unbreakable rule. Until the fey he avoids at all costs—including his reputation—begin to disappear, and Ethan is attacked. Now he must change the rules to protect his family. To save a girl he never thought he’s dare to fall for.

Ethan thought he had protected himself from his older sister’s world—the land of Faery. His previous time in the Iron Realm left him with nothing but fear and disgust for the world Meghan Chase has made her home, a land of myths and talking cats, of magic and seductive enemies. But when destiny comes for Ethan, there is no escape from a danger long, long forgotten.

The Lost Prince was exactly what I hoped it would be. I devoured it entirely in just one day, unable to stop myself because I was having such a good time back in this unique world, filled with cait sith (and one of my favorite fictional felines of all time -- Grimalkin!), human struggle, humor, and magic. Another winner for this strong author, this series is off to a great start.

 "I've also spoken with a talking cat, fought a dragon, and watched the Iron Kingdom light up at night. I've seen a faery queen, climbed the towers of a huge castle, flown on a giant metal insect, and made a deal with a legend." - The Lost Prince, p. 244 (ARC)

This book just seals it: I am a a Julie Kagawa fangirl. While I didn't loooove the first two Iron Fey books about Meghan, or her vampire post-apocalyptic dystopia The Immortal Rules, between reading The Iron Knight and The Lost Prince, I find myself in firmly stuck fangirl territory. I am am totally okay with it -- this is an author that continues to grow, and improve, and one that can consistently entrench me in her vivid imagination, realistic characters, and fabulous worldbuilding.  I will read anything this woman writes because she just does it so well across the board; her skills in action scenes, big reveals, and in conveying pure emotion are among the best of young-adult authors, and never fail to make me care intensely about her cast of fey, humans, and cats. It's a wonderful thing, to have a new Julie Kagawa novel, and I can only hope that The Traitor Son (ominous title is ominous), book two in this well-crafted spinoff series, isn't too long in the offing. 

The Lost Prince is a thoroughly fun, consistently action-packed, and involving read - one that builds on the fey and mortal worlds established so well in the previous four novels about Kagawa's unique Iron Fey, but is ultimately also a novel that can stand firmly on its own two feet. Reading the first four would be helpful in understanding some of what goes on here (and with the reasons for Ethan's major 'tude problems) and the backstory, but is not really required to get the full picture of this first in a spinoff series. The protagonist of the novel, Ethan Chase, is very different type of person than his sister was in her arc of books. Whereas Meghan is nice, occasionally obsessive about boys, and outgoing, Ethan has a host of issues and has no problem being a bastard. While it took me a while to warm up to this bitter, self-loathing character, and eventually, charminly arrogant main character, the first person POV does a world of good in establishing who he is, how he thinks, and most importantly, why is the way he is. His inner monologue shows how well-rounded he is, his unresolved issues with his sister's abandonment leaves him alone, resentful, angry, scared, and he thinks, unsafe. His maturation and evolution as a person is subtle and well-handled; the Ethan Chase of the final pages is vastly different from the one in the first chapter.

Another thing I like immensely about this prolific author is how inventive she allows herself to be with her novels and creatures. She didn't just create the concept of a new kind of fey once before with the Iron fey (as opposed to the two traditional ones: Seelie and Unseelie), but does so again here with the idea of the Forgotten. New ideas are spun off of old ones, new plots, new dangers, new concrete characters -- all are covered ably and well by this seasoned author. From individual characterization to the Hit-People-With-Sticks action scenes, this is a woman who can write, and be starkly original while doing so. I've read a lot of fey/fae/fairy novels, and not once does the work of this author seem derivative, or really, anything but her own creation.  The Forgotten fey, in all their creepy forms and facets (the cat-thing! The piranha goblins with mouths in their hands! The tall thin ones with knives for fingers!) are as creative and new as the Iron fey were back in the first series. 

Fans of her first series Nevernever novels will find a lot more to enjoy in the new trio of Ethan, Kenzie, and Keirran. While they might not be quiiiite as charismatic as the first group of Ash, Puck, and Meghan, they have several more books and hundreds of pages to live up to that high standard. And I fully believe that they can and will, ominous promises and behaviors permitting. And an added bonus, there is no love-triangle between them to try and make me crazy detract from the story at the heart of the novel. These new characters aren't just Ash, and Puck, and Meghan recast as different people - besides Ethan's vast differences from his sister, both Kenzie and Keirran have their own histories, motivations, wants, and needs. I will be definitely counting down the days til tuning in to the next installment in the Call of the Forgotten to see where Kagawa will take her band of unique characters.

If I am going to complain about anything, it's that some ideas and sentences were used a bit repetitively throghout the nearly 400-page length, and that Ash/Puck/Meghan weren't nearly around enough to satisfy my need to read more about them. (Four books and several novellas will never sate my love for Ash.<3) I know this is Ethan's arc and not his sister's, but I can always use more time with Robin Goodfellow, the Winter Prince, and the Iron Queen. 

Fans of Julie Kagawa will love this. Readers looking for strong characters and fun plots will find a lot to enjoy about The Lost Prince. All in all, this is one of the strongest spinoff novels I've ever had the pleasure to read, and excuse my fangirling, but I love it to pieces after just one read. If you love or even like any of Julie Kagawa's previous novels, do yourself a favor and pick this one up as soon as you can. It's a winner, and it's damn fun to read.

Blog Watch Wednesday

Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Reviews Posted:

Fun Stuff:

The 11 Greatest Transformations of Gary Oldman's Career. I love that he's so versatile and willing to take risks!

All the literary references on The Daily Show! Ah, Jon Stewart, I heart you so.

An exclusive talk between Daniel Radcliffe and J.K. Rowling. Topics include: the final battle, Lily's name, the necessity for Dumbledore's Army.

Arrested Development mashed up with Thor. It works in a brilliantly funny and clever way.

15 Novels Eclipsed by The Movie Adaptation. I don't sign off on all of these, though  I can Jaws is a far better movie than book.

And some more books optioned for film. Dear lord, PLEASE DO NOT ENCOURAGE THE HOCKING. Her books are terrible, predictaable, and badly written. Don't feed the beast. But DO MAKE a DoSaB movie! Please! I'm also down with a film version of Before I Fall, and based on early buzz, The Diviners.

Finnick Odair has been cast for Catching Fire.... and the actor chosen is underwhelming.

Two new/deleted scenes cut from The Avengers.

The best character intros in Sf/f movies. Oh, Heath Ledger as the Joker wins all around.

The 35 Greatest Animal Photobombers. This made my day, #18 especially.

The Rory Gilmore reading challenge -- how many of these books have you read? (58 for me!)

Review: The Unidentified by Rae Mariz

Tuesday, August 28, 2012
Author: Rae Mariz
Genre: young-adult, post-apocalyptic, dystopia
Series: N/A
Pages: 296 (hardcover edition)
Published: October 2010
Source: purchased
Rating: 3/5

Kid knows her school’s corporate sponsors not-so-secretly monitor her friendships and activities for market research. It’s all a part of the Game; the alternative education system designed to use the addictive kick from video games to encourage academic learning. Everyday, a captive audience of students ages 13-17 enter the nationwide chain store-like Game locations to play.

When a group calling themselves The Unidentified simulates a suicide to protest the power structure of their school, Kid’s investigation into their pranks attracts unwanted attention from the sponsors. As Kid finds out she doesn't have rights to her ideas, her privacy, or identity, she and her friends look for a way to revolt in a place where all acts of rebellion are just spun into the next new ad campaign.

Katey "Kid" Dade is a 15 year old girl in The Game. No, not the rapper or Triple H, Kid lives in a not too distant future where the education system has been sold to sponsors who provide schooling in return for market research. "Players" attend classes and take art, music, and gym electives, while fighting for social rankings to join cliques that will get them branded by sponsors and increase their personal social media scores.

Wait, didn't I already review Tyra Banks' YA dystopian novel?

Fortunately, The Unidentifed is actually pretty good, especially at crafting a main character who feels confused and out of place and deals with genuine teenage issues. She's drifting apart from one best friend, dealing with possible romantic feelings for the other, and trying to decide if she even wants a label society's trying to pin on her. (Why hello there high school. I was hoping we would never meet again.) I actually found the book most successful when dealing with the relationship between Kid and Ari and the cliques. Where it fell down was trying to introduce the futuristic elements.

The book takes place in an unspecified year, but judging by the fact that the kids are generation AAA, (after X, Y, and Z) and most generation Z's are just entering high school, the book takes place when my children would be in high school. So we'll say 15-20 years into the future. Of course, technology's advancement is hard to predict, but a good amount of the technology either already exists or is probable at this time. We're not looking at holograms, flying cars, or bio domes. The book is almost entirely about texting and using Facebook on your notebook. I'm doing that right now. No touch screens or retina scanners, the kids play Halo and build Battlebots and listen to the "classical" Wu-Tang Clan.

I'm not trying to suggest that a novel can only be futuristic if it's full of jet packs and run by Tony Stark's Jarvis, but if society undergoes such radical changes in 15 years that teenagers are basically illegal, the rest of the world should also feel equally advanced. There are some touches, video games played by blinking, but it almost makes it more jarring when kids are still skateboarding.

Likewise, the actual Unidentified conspiracy is pretty uninspired. The UnID are an underground group of rebels that want to show the Game designers that they don't own everyone. That's a noble idea, except they do very little to subvert the mainstream until 80% through the book when they start a riot. After that it comes out that <SPOILER>The leader of the Unidentified is actually a sponsor trying to get a security contract with the school, I think. It's not well explained, and it's not given enough time, </SPOILER> and the book rushes headlong to a conclusion that leaves a lot unsaid.

Kid, as a main character, gets no resolution. Her love triangle peters out: <SPOILER> She's been lusting after Jeremy Swift, a branded hacker, but after a kiss, he's kind of distant and she's not sure if he likes her or just her new found status. They never talk about it and they just kind of stop seeing each other. Luckily she ends the book with a tender kiss from BFF Mikey, so I guess she'll have a boyfriend if she doesn't get arrested. </SPOILER> As mentioned, the UnID isn't what it seems: <SPOILER>The leader of the Unidentified attacks Mikey for no reason. Except the reason is he is actually a grown ass man posing as a high school student to get the disenfranchised kids to help him fake a computer virus, causing his security system to rise to the top of the hot charts. He beats Mikey half to death and almost gets him expelled, forcing Kid to tell the current security company about the UnID virus. So Katy, her new found rebel friends, and Mikey throw a huge rave in the school parking lot that will probably get them all expelled and arrested. At the party, the leader shows up and is hauled off by the police, but there's no confrontation between him and Kid. She, and we, get no resolution, no "spit in the eye" moment. </SPOILER> The book ends with a chapter called "Game Over" and this:
We are the Unidentified. Or maybe we're not. Maybe you'll never know who we are.
In one night, unauthorized parking-lot parties took place outside 243 Game sites nationwide. The Unidentified didn't do that, the people who participated did that. Some of the gatherings were busted up by law enforcement citing the underage gathering prohibition, but other kept going until the sky lightened and the parking lot lamps blinked out.
It doesn't matter if everyone is watching. Or if no one is. We are going to keep making noise. With the hope of one day beating the Game."

Nothing about Katey, her future, her music or friends or if her mom learned to trust her. No word on punishment or if they made an immediate difference. For the main character, it's a fade to black and it left me really disappointed.

In summary, The Unidentified has a pretty interesting premise, but sloppy world-building and an ending that falls apart. It succeeds in speaking to teens who feel different and unheard, but it doesn't have a lot new to say to them.

Review: Invitation to a Beheading by Vladimir Nabokov

Sunday, August 26, 2012
Genre: classic, general fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 223 (paperback edition)
Published: 1936
Source: bought
Rating: 3/5

Like Kafka's The Castle, Invitation to a Beheading embodies a vision of a bizarre and irrational world. In an unnamed dream country, the young man Cincinnatus C. is condemned to death by beheading for "gnostical turpitude" an imaginary crime that defies definition. Cincinnatus spends his last days in an absurd jail, where he is visited by chimerical jailers. an executioner who masquerades as a fellow prisoner, and by his in-laws. who lug their furniture with them into his cell. 

When Cincinnatus is led out to be executed. he simply wills his executioners out of existence: they disappear, along with the whole world they inhabit.

Warning: This is a rare “classic” read. I am very hard on the classics, since I find them just as enlightening as other genres but far less entertaining. Read this review with a grain of salt.

Invitation to a Beheading is classic existentialist literature. The main character, Cincinnatus C., is accused of some crime for which no one really has a definition. As you read, you come to realize that crime is being somehow more substantial than everyone else; Cincinnatus refers to it a few times as being “opaque.” The story is about his bizarre stay in jail while awaiting execution, and includes getting to know his executioner and dealing with his in-laws “moving in” for a short period of time… among other things.

I found it rather funny that in the introduction, Nabokov states that it’s strange that he’s compared so often to Kafka, when he had never read any German literature. But literally within the first two pages I thought, “This guy is Kafka v.2.0.” Nabokov defines the term Kafkaesque better than anyone I’ve read. His prose has that intangible, dreamlike quality while his main character is over-intense and paranoid. The similarities are eerie.

In high school, I couldn’t push through either Kafka or Conrad. I’m not going to say I enjoyed this story, and because I’ve maybe matured (hey, I said maybe, assholes!) but this was an easier read once the ball was rolling. Nabokov portrays a world not chaotic but translucent, a world with rules but rules that make no sense. Within Cincinnatus, we see reflected the concept of the individual as a pillar of perspective; what the world sees in us is not who we truly are. The society of Cincinnatus is neither with him nor against him, they are simply separate in a visceral fashion.

Recommended for anyone with a craving for some down and dirty existentialist nonsense silliness fun.

Review: The Infects by Sean Beaudoin

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Title: The Infects
Author: Sean Beaudoin
Genre: horror, young adult
Series: Untitled #1
Pages: 384 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: expected September 25 2012
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 2/5

A feast for the brain, this gory and genuinely hilarious take on zombie culture simultaneously skewers, pays tribute to, and elevates the horror genre.

Seventeen-year-old Nero is stuck in the wilderness with a bunch of other juvenile delinquents on an "Inward Trek." As if that weren’t bad enough, his counselors have turned into flesh-eating maniacs overnight and are now chowing down on his fellow miscreants. As in any classic monster flick worth its salted popcorn, plentiful carnage sends survivors rabbiting into the woods while the mindless horde of "infects" shambles, moans, and drools behind. Of course, these kids have seen zombie movies. They generate "Zombie Rules" almost as quickly as cheeky remarks, but attitude alone can’t keep the biters back. Serving up a cast of irreverent, slightly twisted characters, an unexpected villain, and an ending you won’t see coming, here is a savvy tale that that’s a delight to read — whether you’re a rabid zombie fan or freshly bitten — and an incisive commentary on the evil that lurks within each of us.

Some (Mostly Harsh) Words I Would Use To Describe My Reading Experience with The Infects:

  • slow
  • weird
  • confusing
  • unconvincing/non-suspenseful
  • quirky
  •  dry
  • unexplained
  • undeveloped

Review will contain spoilers, but all details will be clearly marked before.

Clearly for me, all was not perfect (or even close....) with this latest "zombie" offering. To start with, the introductory chapter full of mayhem and planes crashing and a badass 10 year-old sniper, is either terribly clever or a complete and total cop-out. Given that the next 120 pages are zombie and horror-free, I think "cop-out" is closer to the mark. Veteran author Sean Beaudoin certainly has the kernels of both a good story and genuine humor here, but unfortunately for him and me, neither prospect really comes to its fruition in this nearly 400-page novel. Many parts of the story here simply feel fully unexplored (Amanda, anyone?) or haphazardly random in their final execution (the final climax between the zombies and the teens? Boooorrring and oversimplified with deux-ex-machinas.)  The author's bold style and boyish narration suit the survival scenario quite well, but just about everything else falls apart upon prolonged exposure or closer inspection. The plot had its many unresolved issues (maybe to lure me into reading the inevitable sequel(s)?), the majority of the secondary characters fell flat and were utterly one-dimensional, and I found little to none of the "jokes" and humor here to be actually all that funny. Full disclosure: I smirked with a half-laugh once. This: "For my actions, I blame society. Also, my mother." (ARC edition) I went into The Infects with high hopes, but after all the work that was sloughing through this chaotic "incisive commentary" I don't think this is a series I'll pursue past the first novel.

The Infects just takes too long to build into any kind of novel - a zombie book without any kind of gore or horror for over a hundred pages?  The creepiest thing until the juvenile delinquent trip to the mountains was the up close and personal look at chicken packaging. Even when the gore gets going (and boy does it! Noses bitten off! Homicidal creepy children! Suicidal teenage lesbians with futility complexes! Naked blonde Amazombies! ([See what I did there?]) I was grossed out, but I was never creeped out. The Infects failed to create a convincing atmosphere, whereas other creepers like Long Lankin and Dark Inside had my shoulders up under my earlobes. I coasted along these first chapters - not invested in the typical story or engaged by protagonist, limp-dishrag Nick Nero (obvious name is obvious). I just kept trying to find any reason to keep going, because honestly? Reading about unrequited crushes is nothing new, especially in the young-adult genre. Nick as the main protagonist gets the benefit of the most complete character-building, but none of the the castmates can claim half his roundedness. (Yes, I made that up.) His voice is believable and his inner voice of The Rock is an odd, distinguishing (if unexplained?) mark. I just wish there had been more meat the bones (ha) to the characters created here  -- from love-interest Petal to comrade Yeltsin they all come across as fairly cookie-cutter and there was oodles of potential in the varied field available. What also didn't help the narrative flow of the novel or my level of interest were the familial, exposition-filled flashback often spliced into the narrative right when something finally happens, usually something terribly gore-rific at that.

Upon finishing this, I immediately realized that I have lots and lots of unanswered questions, many of which are about the foundation on which the book is based: the "infects" themselves. From here on is where the review gets SPOILERy, so Beware, Ye Who Reade Here. It doesn't help that much of the little exposition about the history/details on the outbreak are terribly confusing. It's not clear who's doing what, for whom or for why. Questions I have left: What's the endgame here? Was it a planned event?  Why and how is Swann in charge? How did the boys think running up a mountain was ever a good idea? Why are some of the infected people sentient and coordinated and others not? Why do some infected "turn" faster than others? How does the rehab facility "heal" the infected so completely? How does the local town not know about the zombies, when there were hundreds of infects in the woods, some of whom had to have had some connection tying them to that location? Why does the government allow this to (repeatedly) happen? And as for Petal's "immunity", due to her father ingesting " experimental prototypes", wouldn't that have to had taken place before she was even conceived? How would her dad's experimentation affect her after she was conceived? None of this detail or information was adequately provided or even explained - your guess is as good as mine and I've read the damn thing. There's a chance the answers lie in the next book (as book one seems positively geared towards a continuation), but I won't be tuning in. It just all reads as terribly convenient for the plot and characters to maneuver as the author obviously wanted.

The drastic and delightfully expected turn The Infects takes at the veeery end actually does a lot to redeem this novel (hence a 2 instead of a 1-star), but isn't enough to save the novel entirely, nor entice me to read the second. It was a spark of originality in an otherwise lackluster read for me, but unfortunately it was too little, way too late. Readers on the search for a zombie read all about the gore and not the characters will probably enjoy this more than I did. Perhaps if The Infects had been a little more fine-tuned and tweaked, with clearer wording and vast more details, this would've worked for me. As it is, I continue to search for the elusive 5-star ya zombie novel.

Review: Skylark by Meagan Spooner

Thursday, August 23, 2012
Title: Skylark
Genre: young-adult, post-apocalyptic, dystopia, steampunk
Series: Skylark #1
Pages: 344 (Hardcover edition)
Published: August 1 2012
Source: won in giveaway contest
Rating: 5/5

Her world ends at the edge of the vast domed barrier of energy enclosing all that’s left of humanity. For two hundred years the city has sustained this barrier by harvesting its children's innate magical energy when they reach adolescence. When it’s Lark’s turn to be harvested, she finds herself trapped in a nightmarish web of experiments and learns she is something out of legend itself: a Renewable, able to regenerate her own power after it’s been stripped.

Forced to flee the only home she knows to avoid life as a human battery, Lark must fight her way through the terrible wilderness beyond the edge of the world. With the city’s clockwork creations close on her heels and a strange wild boy stalking her in the countryside, she must move quickly if she is to have any hope of survival. She’s heard the stories that somewhere to the west are others like her, hidden in secret—but can she stay alive long enough to find them?

I’ll admit, I’d heard nothing, seen nothing, and had no knowledge of Skylark until someone retweeted Meagan Spooner’s “Sky’s the Limit” contest, in which every entrant would win a prize. I, being a sucker for free stuff, entered and the author herself tweeted me a list of other contests she was running to promote the novel. I entered those too and won a prize pack from, a signed hardcover, bookmark, postcard, tattoos, pin… I swear the swag multiplied. But it’s not the gift of free stuff that earns Skylark a 5 star review, nor is it its drop-dead gorgeous cover. Skylark is practically engineered to be everything I love about YA fantasy, and it does it very, very well.

Lark Ainsley is 16. In her city, the last city left after the wars, young teens are taken to a rite of passage. Their innate magic is harvested at a banquet before they are given their grown-up job assignments. Lark has never been chosen and is therefore stuck between childhood and adulthood, a dud with no magic. That is, until harvest day when she accidentally uses a large amount of “the Resource,” first to free herself from being stuck in a tunnel and then to destroy a pixie, clockwork creations designed to sense magic use and bring the user to the authorities. For those keeping score at home, that’s an older female teen protagonist in a steampunk/dystopian society discovering the power within her. If we had a “Danielle’s Faves” checklist, we’d be going for the full monty. (Additionally, someone going full monty concludes that checklist, and therefore keeps Skylark from being perfect. Much the pity.)

This display changes The Institute’s plans for the year, abandoning the other harvests and picking Lark as the sole lucky citizen. If you smell a trap, you too have read a book this century. As the book blurb says, Lark can regenerate magic, making her the first Renewable in the city and the greatest source of power ever. The first third of the book, which is so well plotted that it could be its own novel, details Lark’s journey though the Academy: their experiments, her torture, and, finally, her escape. It’s tense and emotional, with imagery that is utterly horrifying.

From there we embark on a journey outside the city. Spooner does a fantastic job of creating realistic emotions in her characters. Lark’s agoraphobia when faced for the first time with the sky is a genius move that most authors would have missed. Her loneliness and isolation seem palpable and explain her headlong rush to join up with the few side characters met. Of the side characters, Oren the wild boy and Nix the reprogrammed pixie, I fell in particular love with Nix. I want whole novellas of Nix flying around, learning new words, commanding armies of other pixies... Nix rocked. (We can now check off the snarky sidekick box.)

Lark is searching for other Renewables like her, crossing forests and plains to find a place she learned of during her time at the Institute. She gets dirty, battered, goes hungry, and fights to survive. What first seems like a blessing, there is no magic outside the city, is a curse that drives non-Renewables mad. Luckily there are pockets of magic to hide from the shadow-creatures in. Unluckily, those are filled with perils of their own. The entire second third of the novel is Lark struggling, and often failing, to adapt to a new life in the wilderness and find where she belongs.

The last section is, of course, the climax. It won’t surprise anyone that Lark does, in fact, find the Renewable’s city. From there surprises and twists came pretty fast and furious. Some I saw. Several, surprised me. (Check.) The final confrontation was exciting, although Lark does mysteriously get a new power in the 11th hour that feels a bit deus ex machina. The end managed to satisfy while still leaving room open for the sequel.

The first 95 pages of Skylark are my favorite, of the novel and of the year to date. I loved the glimpses of the world we got, from the mechanical sun to the lack of strong family units. Lark is incredibly likable. She’s resourceful and brave, but also frightened in a real and appropriate way. She doesn’t make perfect decisions and is entirely too trusting. She’s tenacious, but thinks about taking the easy way out. In short, she’s, again, a realistic heroine with flaws beyond “clumsy”. (Checky check.) And in a refreshing change of pace, I’m not sure she’s ever physically described, except for things like “dirty” or “blood-soaked”. If she was, her looks don’t define her. Lark’s not graceful like a gazelle, with eyes that burn like emeralds. She’s just a girl, which made her struggles at the hands of the Institute so much more affecting. Her rush to escape kept me up well past my bedtime.

I was left with some questions that unfortunately were never answered, mostly with regards to the world and society. I’m a big proponent of show, don’t tell, (check,) but there is a balance required. We really have no insight into daily life in the city, how the class system works, or how roles change after harvest. Questions like “how do the pockets effect time,” or “how are the shadow-people made,” those I can see answered in the next books. I can’t imagine we’ll ever get back to “what DOES happen to duds,” or “wait, is there even a central government?”

In all, I thought Skylark was practically perfect. It’s imaginative and well written. It avoids so many YA tropes, (no insta-love here, folks,) without seeming try-hard. I fell in love with the characters and their struggles. While I have seen negative reviews that it didn’t live up to it’s promise, and I can respect that, I’ll be over here, waiting with bated breath for Shadowlark

Review: Beautiful Lies by Jessica Warman

Genre: young-adult, mystery, thriller
Series: N/A
Pages: 436 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: August 2012
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3.75/5

A shocking, ambitious mystery full of twists and turns from the globally embraced author of Between.

Rachel and Alice are an extremely rare kind of identical twins—so identical that even their aunt and uncle, whom they've lived with since their parents passed away, can't tell them apart. But the sisters are connected in a way that goes well beyond their surfaces: when one experiences pain, the other exhibits the exact same signs of distress. So when one twin mysteriously disappears, the other immediately knows something is wrong-especially when she starts experiencing serious physical traumas, despite the fact that nobody has touched her. As the search commences to find her sister, the twin left behind must rely on their intense bond to uncover the truth. But is there anyone around her she can trust, when everyone could be a suspect? And ultimately, can she even trust herself?

Master storyteller Jessica Warman will keep readers guessing when everything they see-and everything they are told-suddenly becomes unreliable in this page-turning literary thriller.

This review is going to get SPOILERY so be warned! DO NOT READ if you don't want some of the twists and turns known before reading. I am trying to keep the spoilers minor, but I am serious -- I'd hate to ruin a novel for another reader, but this is your official warning to turn back!

Beautiful Lies is one of those mysteries with a great premise: twins, a special bond, an abduction, and an unreliable narrator to spin the whole tale, making both the readers and the characters unsure of what exactly is going on. Certain segments in this novel were executed in a deliciously creeeeepy and uncertain manner, and while other areas lacked that atmosphere and level of execution, overall, this is a pretty good read, and a well-written mystery. There are several twists, surprises that I did not see coming -- a fact that is all to rare when I venture into the YA mystery/thriller genre and is greatly appreciated when it does manage to happen. I was occasionally confused by the shifts, changes in the direction of the story, but the author always managed to reel me right back in. Jessica Warman impressed me for the majority of this longish novel, and I will be on the lookout for her other books.

This is far more of a character-driven novel, though the plot holds its own for the most part. Thankfully for a less than actiontastic novel, the characters of Beautiful Lies are usually the best part of it, specifically the two protagonists of Rachel and Alice. For a novel that stalls in momentum occasionally, these two characters often pick up the slack and keep the reader engaged and curious about their uncertain fate. I wouldn't say I was completely invested in these characters the way I am with other protagonists (like Sophie Quinn from If I Lie, etc.) but they are dynamic, and interesting in their connection and possible mental issues. Rachel and Alice's unique/psychic affinity for one another, their rare condition --monochorionic monoamniotic twins --  help to add up to create two very similar, but different and dynamic characters as well as an original storyline. Identity and the self are two very big themes within Beautiful Lies, and the author explores these ideas with her two almost codependent main characters. As Warman repeatedly shows through the changing nature of the twins' relationship, Rachel and Alice learn that you can be extremely close to someone else and still not really know them completely. 

I had a few issues with the pacing in the novel, most notably as the mystery wore on and red herrings kept popping up. This clocks in at about 420 pages in the final edition, and while the majority of the narrative kept the tension high and the atmosphere on point, several sections lacked the pull of others. A little editing/excising would do well to make the entire novel as riveting as the first two seventy-five and the last fifty pages are. (The whole sidestory of the cats? Felt especially random and ill-suited for the rest of the novel.) Though the final antagonist became clearer to me the more I read, I really appreciated how much work the author put into occluding who was behind Rachel's disappearance and Alice's phantom injuries. The twins identity switcheroo, the MacGuffin of the "$10,000", the unreliable narrator, the new uncovered secrets and deceptions -- all were deftly handled to make the mystery harder to solve. Far too many novels telegraph twists and the big bad too early on -- and this is NOT one of them. I may have figured it all out before the big reveal and Alice herself, but it wasn't until the late 300's that I did. 

My last note is on the ending: for such a longwinded and twisty novel, I found the end to be rushed and slightly anticlimactic. The antagonist gives himself away quite easily to Alice, and I was pretty surpised the author gave it up that quickly in the final pages. The clues add up and are figured out so slowly, and then it seems like the book enters a headlong rush just to get to the end. With so much time and prose spent executing the set-up and rising action, the lack of real resolution, and that with more than a few unanswered loose ends (like.... how is it that Rachel survived? Why didn't the killer just off the cop so he'd have more time with the twins and to getaway?), felt like a misstep to me.  Like I said earlier, this wasn't a perfect read, and outside of the pacing issues, those dangling questions are a large majority of the reason why I can't rate this higher than a 3.75/5.

I really liked Beautiful Lies, though it wasn't a perfect read for me. The author impressed me with her skill, her storytelling, the mystery, and her ability to craft well-rounded characters. If you're looking for a well-done, character-driven mystery with a genuine air of creepiness, look no further than here. I am becoming a large fan of the unreliable narrator for novels -- as long as it is handled as easily and smartly as it is here. I have to note that the cover is absolutely perfect -- like the cover of What's Left of Me -- the hint of a second person in the negative space fits in with the novel and with the twins' life of mobile identity.

Blog Watch Wednesday

Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Reviews Posted:

Fun Stuff:

Prince Harry went to Vegas -- and got crazy! Maybe NSFW - a naked Prince!

Fans of Darcy from Thor will be glad to know Kat Dennings has signed on the the sequel, Thor: The Dark World. More Tom Hiddleston as Loki! I will never tire of this casting.

Sigh. Disney is rebooting another old favorite. This time under the knife it is "Rocketeer."

Bloggers are well aware of this, but io9 looks at the newest fad in YA paranormal novels: the mermaid. (Boo for Of Poseidon!) I do have Monstrous Beauty up soon, so that one at least looks worth reading.

What if other authors had written The Lord of the Rings? Well, someone has written what they think alternative authors than JRR Tolkien would've come up with for the fantasy classic. Oscar Wilde's may be my favorite.Or Hemingway's.

Awesome Avenger's bloopers/deleted scenes. Well worth watching.

Don't miss these videos/Gifs of Avengers cast dancing around. #moveslikehiddles and ROBIN SCHERBATSKY!

TUMBLR OF THE WEEK: oldpeoplefacebook. I was so entertained by this. I think my mom fits a lot of those posts, though I wouldn't call her an old person. Just technologically out of date.

TUMBLR OF THE WEEK #2: CorporateTwits

Actors you didn't know who could actually sing. Some of them are talented (Ackles, Rosario Dawson, Renner), and some are just hilariously awkward. It's a great pick me up for a bad daty.

Phyllis Diller, legendary comedienne, has passed away at the age of 95. Her obituary in the New York Times is amazing. Congrats on a life well-lived, Ms. Diller.

Hollywood reflects on the life of Tony Scott, who committed suicide this past weekend. 

14 billion years of cosmic evolution shown in just 78 seconds. This is pretty damn cool if you're into space.

With the Weird Tales misguided relations about the epic fuckery that is Revealing Eden, N.K. Jemisin will be publishing her work for the anthology on her blog - for free. 

Need a laugh? Don't miss the 50 Shades Generator

This isn't making me nervous at all: ABC planning a "steampunk Tom Sawyer" tv show. I'd love to see a steampunk show -- but Tom Sawyer? Why not adapt a popular steampunk novel, like they are doing with The Parasol Protectorate?

Not-yet-famous people that were on X-Files! Heh, Ryan Reynolds looks like such a goofball.

The unbearable unraveling of sockpuppetry. Worth reading if you're at all connected to the STGRB nonsense. 

16 books that are to be turned/have been adapted into movies

Review: If I Lie by Corrine Jackson

Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Title: If I Lie
Genre: young-adult, contemporary
Series: N/A -- though I wish it was
Pages: 276 (ARC edition)
Published: expected August 28 2012
Source: publishers for review
Rating: 5/5

A powerful debut novel about the gray space between truth and perception.

Quinn’s done the unthinkable: she kissed a guy who is not Carey, her boyfriend. And she got caught. Being branded a cheater would be bad enough, but Quinn is deemed a traitor, and shunned by all of her friends. Because Carey’s not just any guy—he’s serving in Afghanistan and revered by everyone in their small, military town.

Quinn could clear her name, but that would mean revealing secrets that she’s vowed to keep—secrets that aren’t hers to share. And when Carey goes MIA, Quinn must decide how far she’ll go to protect her boyfriend…and her promise.

This is just so so good, from start to finish. I'm still having a hard time putting coherent thoughts about it together, but If I Lie made me cry, oh, once every 75 pages or so. It's gripping, and touching, and altogether beautiful in several ways. This is a book that made me feel things (All the feelings!), that made me care intensely about its wide cast of multi-dimensional characters people; all in all, this is a damn good book and I literally have zero complaints.  It and the themes and issues explored in those 276 pages brought to mind The Scarlet Letter and another novel I recently read, Speechless by Hannah Harrington, on how inaction and silence can be as harmful as telling secrets. And, however much I was initaially reminded of those novels, this is very much its own novel. Corrine Jackson is undoubtedly an author to watch and she more than proves her talent with this contemporary debut. Though I read an ARC of this, I fully plan to buy my own copy when it's available. Heart-breaking in a variety of ways, If I Lie is easily one of my best of 2012 reads.  

This book is so much more than the blurb seems to let on. It's not the same tired old highschool angst and melodrama about a girl caught in a cliched love triangle. If I Lie is anything but that. It's heartfelt and emotional. In the end, it's about hope, love, trust, family, and ultimately, what it means to be your own person. It's about growing up, moving on, and learning how to live with curveballs life can and does throw at you. Though I called the secret even before starting, the heart of the novel isn't uncovering what happened those two days before Carey shipped out, but in watching how that secret affects and continues to impact the character's life after he's gone.

 Main character and chief protagonist Sophie Topper Quinn is one of those few and far between heroines: she's strong, passionate, honorable, stubborn, flawed, and real. I absolutely loved Sophie and reading about her life, through her ups and downs, her stubbornness and her pride. This is the kind of character I can care about, root for and invest in heavily. Her voice is... real, organic -- it gets under the skin and makes you care about her and her life.  She has hopes and dreams, is an active protagonist, even if some of what she does is more harmful than goo in the long run.This book is a great example of how first-person POV can be used effectively to make a reader identify closely with the narrator. I felt what Quinn felt, her full spectrum of emotions caught me early. Her inner monologue is just so realistic and further reinforces how authentic and grounded this character is. Corrine Jackson has this characterization, voice, plot all down pat here in If I Life, and I was impressed even as tears were streaming down my cheeks, multiple times.

Though my family isn't nearly as military-oriented as Quinn's is shown to be, I do have a brother who is a Sergeant  in the Marines, and who has served two tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. And while, thankfully, he has never been MIA or wounded in action, the actions of the characters in this novel really hit home for me. The simple fact of not knowing where they are or how your loved one is is stressful and can lead people to do things they otherwise wouldn't. I'm not just talking about Quinn here (though her case is obviously not the same as others), but Carey's parents and friends as well. While their actions towards Quinn can be and often are abusive, I understand how it is to act out of fear for someone you love but cannot do anything to help. Corrine Jackson's skillful writing and my personal experiences makes it so that I understand them, even if I disagree with how they act. One of the best things, out of a multitude of options, about If I Lie are how human all these characters are, even the antagonists of Jamie and the Breens. They're practically alive with their flaws, mistakes, and errors. 

I picked this up this morning, intending to read a few chapters before I went to work out. I ended up pushing back my workout by several hours because I absolutely could not, and did not want to, put this down. If I Lie is compulsively readable, even as it repeatedly shatters your heart and wrangles all your emotions.  Though the ending is more open-ended than anything, I choose to see it as a hopeful finale, for Quinn, for Blake, <SPOILER> for Quinn and Blake together as a couple after the summer ends</SPOILER>. It's perfect. This is a great book. Read it and love it. I can't recommend it highly enough. Well done, Corrine Jackson. You have made a fangirl out of me with just one novel alone and I eagerly anticipate whatever else you publish.

Eventually, I did get to my gym. But first, I went to see my brother and gave him a big hug and a 'thank you' for all he has done. Though the military is far from perfect, I am eternally grateful for what they all - every branch and every individual servicemember - have sacrificed for this country.

Review: The Emperor's Conspiracy by Michelle Diener

Sunday, August 19, 2012
Genre: historical fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 338 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: expected November 27 2012
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 3/5

Set in early nineteenth-century England, this vivid and romantic historical novel goes from the most elegant ballrooms of London to the city’s most tawdry slums, as a spirited young woman helps unravel a plot by Napoleon to bleed England of all its gold.

Through good fortune, Charlotte Raven escaped the poverty of the London slums and is now an educated, wealthy Society lady. But she lives between two worlds, unable to completely turn her back on her old life—specifically Luke, her childhood protector and now a ruthless London crime lord.

When Lord Edward Durnham is asked to investigate the alarming movement of gold out of England, his search leads him to London, and his recent acquaintance with Charlotte affords him access to a dark world he barely knew existed. As they delve deeper into the underbelly of London, danger lurks at every turn, and Charlotte must navigate between her two worlds to save England.

And soon she faces a defining choice: to continue in the familiar limbo she’s lived in for years, or to take a painful and risky leap toward a happiness she never thought possible.

I hate to damn The Emperor's Conspiracy with faint praise, but the best adjectives I can come up with to describe it are: Decent. Okay. Not bad. Adequate. I was entertained, but never invested or engrossed in the story. All in all, it was an alright novel with less than perfect characterization. It also wasn't the exciting mystery I had hoped to get, and at times this read much more like a historical romance than a historical fiction novel... but it wasn't horrible. It just wasn't a great read for me, personally, though I can easily see why others might feel differently when it comes out later this year. It can be entertaining and amusing, but the flat characters, the cliched love triangle, and the third person limited POV didn't do much to make me fully invested, either. I didn't hate it and I would probably read another novel from this author -- especially since she has two Tudor-era novels, which is much more my forte than Regency England -- but this one, plain and simply, just didn't live up the inner expectations I had for it. (Yep, damning with faint praise it is.)

Easily started and finished in the same day, this Regency-era look at Britain and the main characters of Charlotte Raven and Lord Edward Durnham came off as somewhat cliche in several areas. I will say this for it: it reads quite easily and quickly. There's the down on her luck lady with a checkered past, caught between the crime lord she owes her survival to and the Lord who wants her for independence, fiery will, and humor. Unfortunately, these are all pretty shallow characters and their interactions across the board come off as formulaic and predictable throughout the novel. Neither Charlotte, nor Edward, or Luke, really get the time and attention they deserve. And what we do know about them is told to the reader, instead of shown by their actions or dialogue. They might be interesting, but they are sadly one-dimensional.

There's much more time and pages spent setting up a contest over protagonist Charlotte's affections than there is time spent on constructing a good conspiracy, or y'know, actually moving the plot along. Complete with one of my least favorite plot devices, instalove (honestly, what draws Charlotte and Edward together so fast? I read the damn thing and I can't tell you), The Emperor's Conspiracy falls victim to many easily avoidable traps. The plot takes way too long to kick in due to the first hundred pages being big on setting the scene, establishing the smallish cast of characters and their respective relationships. In a book of only 320 pages for the final edition, that is too long without any momentum or action or revelations abut the conspiracy at the heart of everything. The overall antagonist lacks a presence and I found the red herrings to be obvious as well as the final reveal. A little more subtlety or more authorial sleigh of hand would have gone a long way to making the conspiracy of the title more riveting.

For all my issues, I did like this for a couple reasons: it actually introduced me to some new facts about Britain and Napoleon's long-lived enmity for the country. Luke's experiences in the prison hulks was something I had never ever heard of, and gave his plotline a little more life than the others had. Also, the fact that the conspiracy Diener writes of is based in actual fact. That is fascinating to me; much more so than the scant attention it warrants here -- until the final 50 pages, that is. If there had been more interaction and attention spent with that aspect of the novel, rather than the pissing contest over Charlotte's time and attention and all people watching people watching other people for other people, I would've found myself giving this at least a 3.5/3.75 stars instead of merely a three.

The ending was nicely handled, and for once with this book, it didn't go the way I had predicted. The open-ended nature of the last page leaves room for maneuvering and a possible sequel, which is totally alright with me. I may have been less than enthused with my first experience with Michelle Diener's writing, but it probably will not be my last.
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