30 June 2015

Dorothy Must Die

Series: Dorothy Must Die #1
Author: Danielle Paige
Rating: 2.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

I will say, I have never really been the greatest fan of the Wizard of Oz.  I never saw it as a young child, and by the time I did finally see it I had reached the age where I wasn't all that impressed by the special effects or scared of the flying monkeys.  Still, I am a sucker for a good fractured fairy tale, and I've read a lot of hype about this novel (I was even wait listed to get it from the library even though it's now over a year old).

Though this may be an unpopular opinion, I was not a big fan of this novel.  Amy is stuck in a life no one would wish for.  As if living in Kansas isn't bad enough, her mother has basically checked out on life since her father left and her mother was injured in an accident.  Amy is almost the topic of ridicule at school, since she is of the Trailer Park type, and even gets in trouble for punching a pregnant girl (ahhh, you just gotta love teen moms) when the pregnant girl accuses her of trying to steal her baby daddy away.  Talk about teen drama.

Needless to say, when Amy's mom ditches her and leaves her in the trailer alone while the tornado comes (I didn't realize tornadoes had almost as much warning as hurricanes did, but apparently they do), she sees it as a bit of vacation.  And when her trailer is whisked away, and she lands in Oz, she isn't tapping her heels together saying, "There's no place like home."  Once we get to Oz, I actually rather like the plot of the story.  Our affable Dorothy has become a power crazed, magic grabbing anarchist, leaving Oz a very unhappy place.  Amy gangs up with a few repressed citizens of Oz to try to tip the scales against Dorothy and her power crazed gang (the lion, the tin man, and the scarecrow).

Unfortunately, Paige's execution of the plot is less than stellar.  Tallying in at just over 450 pages, this book is long, rather boring, and a bit tedious.  The only character who has real potential for development is Amy herself, and I don't see it in this novel.  The other characters (including a flying monkey who no longer has wings and a pet rat who hitchhikes to Oz) are too fantastical to need personalities, and it leaves a large disconnect between the reader and the story.

I feel like Paige might be able to salvage the series with the next novel, and it leaves room for more action is she can cut away a lot of the fat in the plot.  But if it is anywhere near as long as this novel, I'll probably pass.  Unlike Amy, I'd rather be home, doing something more productive with my time.

26 June 2015

Finding Audrey

Author: Sophie Kinsella
Rating: 4 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

Sophie Kinsella writes young adult.  I don't know if I ever thought this would be a possibility or not, but I am so glad she branched out.  I love the Shopaholic series, even if I wasn't all that impressed by her stand alone adult fiction novels.  But Finding Audrey is in a class of its own, Kinsella like you've never read her before.

Audrey has all the classic charm and wit that readers are used to from Kinsella.  She has a crazed out mom who picks up trends obsessively from the Daily Mail.  Her brother Frank (who actually reminds me quite a bit of my own brother at that age) is into online gaming, hard, which becomes the topic of never ending bickering in the household.  Her dad, the accountant - which also hits home for me - tries to stay out of it, letting the mother get all huffy puffy over the kids.  And Audrey?  Well, her ordeals aren't quite as comic.  In fact, Audrey's family serves as the comic relief to the root of the story - Audrey herself.

Audrey, recovering from an incident at school that she does not really want to talk about - thank you very much - is suffering from severe bouts of social anxiety and depression.  And though her family and her shrink are all very supportive, no one really understands what Audrey is going through.  Audrey is a beautiful narrator, weaving her POV and her documentary film script together in a simple but charming story about one teenage girl's attempt to get her life back on track, and to kick her sunglasses to the curb.  Though I do feel that the ending is rather rushed, the rest of Audrey's story is heart breaking but beautiful.  It shows that normal people can have difficult problems, the same as everyone else who likes to be brash about it and publicize it.

Not only is the plot touching, but Audrey's character will stay with you as well.  Though I've never gone through anything as extreme as Audrey, I can definitely relate to her.  I have mild bouts of depression once in a blue moon, and I suffer from a mild case of social anxiety as well.  And some of the antics that Audrey's family get up to?  If you subtract the youngest brother, it feels a bit at times like reading an autobiography (except for the fact that now I can laugh at it).

Perhaps not a book I will read again, but definitely the deepest, most heartfelt writing I've seen from Kinsella.  I hope there are more like this one coming from her.  A definite gem in the YA new releases this year.

24 June 2015

Omega City

Series: Omega City #1
Author: Diana Peterfreund
Rating: 4 / 5 stars
Verdict: Buy

I would have LOVED this book as a kid.  Conspiracy theories?  The Man out to get you, to discredit your well researched novel, to turn all your sources against you?  And then an underground city built by a "mad scientist" who wanted to protect the world from inevitable destruction?  Are you kidding me?  This is what I used to fantasize about as a kid when I hid in the back corner of my closet and pretended I could take a hidden elevator from there down into an underground world.

Some of it comes off a little cheesy or cliche to me, but then again the novel is written for middle grade kids, not people now pushing closer to 30 than 20 such as myself.  You do have to suspend your disbelief that a rag tag group of youngsters such as this could get into so much trouble and so many life threatening situations, but if you can get past that, this novel is a fun ride from the beginning to the last page.  And with the way she leaves it open ended, I'm sure there will be another that is just as much fun and just as exciting.

20 June 2015

Dream a Little Dream

Series: The Silver Trilogy #1
Author: Kerstin Gier
Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

Liv is used to moving around.  With a mother who works as a college professor, they move to whichever country holds whichever university her mother decides to teach at.  It's tough, of course, starting over almost every year with new friends at a new school, always the outcast and never feeling at home.  But when Liv's mom picks out a cottage in the outskirts of London, Liv can't help but hope that it will finally be a home.

What she gets instead is a rude awakening, when she lands in London and her flaky mother's plans have changed... to include a man with a fractured family of his own.  So not only does Liv have to deal with a new school, but she has to navigate the halls with her new potential stepbrother to be.  And when Liv starts having strange dreams that include him and his band of gorgeous male friends, things start to get interesting for Liv.

It has wit, it has charm.  It has a likable enough female narrator who, though falls to the charms of a certain blonde boy, seems to be able to keep her wits about her (sort of) around members of the opposite sex.  It has an interesting mystery that heads in the paranormal realm.  Gier even touches on the concept of a collective consciousness in the dream state, which I find fascinating.
Liv gets a little too much like the girls she and her sister endlessly mock, but at least the romance stays just a side plot of the story and not the center of the attention for the story.  The ending seems just a tad far fetched and perhaps slightly a bit out of character, but I've read way worse surprise endings to mystery/suspense novels before, so I'm willing to let it slide.  I'm a little curious as to how Gier is going to flush this out into a trilogy, but I'm willing to read along for now.  As for the demon aspect, that is perhaps the most fantastical portion of the novel, and makes it a little hard for me to suspend my disbelief.  But all and all, a rather unique and for the most part well written novel.  Definitely one of the most bizarre concepts of new releases I've read this year.

14 June 2015

Illusionarium

Author: Heather Dixon
Rating: 2.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

Jonathan thinks that his life is hard enough as the apprentice to his father, who is working on trying to find a cure for the deadly disease, Venen, which is ravaging the women in their country.  But he's about to find out that dealing with the cold temperatures in the aerial city of Fata Morgana (basically London, considering Dixon even mentions the Tower of London once or twice) and trying to fnd out how to talk to the girl he's crushing on while trying to develop a cure are about to be the least of his problems.

First of all, this novel sounds like it could be a mad steampunk novel.  Even the cover, with its border of gear sets, seems to apply as much.  It's not.  I wouldn't even classify it as steampunk at all, which is part of my disappointment with the novel.

The entire premise of this novel has one gaping fundamental plot hole that I just can't seem to get over.  If the fantillium only causes shared hallusions between people breathing it in, controlled by the Illusiontist, then how did we get to gateways to parallel universes from there?  If they cut off the source of the fantillium, wouldn't that make the person show right back up?  And how come he was able to test the effects of a possible cure for Venen without worry because he knew it would not do any permanent damage under the influence of the drug daze, but then he completely freaks out later, thinking someone actually died while getting shot while under the influence?  I think Dixon could have taken a little more care with her plot development.  And the schisming body parts?  What the heck is that all about?

As for the writing style itself, can I just say: footnotes?  Really?  Come on.  I realize its her tool for comic relief, but it just seems highly out of place for this type of novel.  Also, the prose feels repetitive a lot.  That, or this kid is just constantly sweating, and it's always dripping down some part of him.  But even if so, TMI.

13 June 2015

Magonia

Series: Untitled #1
Author: Maria Dahvana Headley
Rating: 3 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

Meet Aza Ray.  She is a typical teenager apart from her rare disease that is thus named after her.  She has a difficult time breathing, and has spent her life in and out of hospitals.  According to doctors' best estimates, she should have died years ago, but here she still is, sometimes struggling, but still alive.

The first portion of this novel isn't all that bad.  If fact, it is actually quite gripping early on, and I even found myself tearing up at one point.  Headley definitely has a talent for writing contemporary young adult, even if Aza's quirky and offbeat prose can sometimes stretch things just a tad too far.  But the cuteness and delicacy in the relationship between Aza and Jason is adorkable, and even Aza's relationship with her family is well done.

It is, a bit ironically, the Magonia portion of this novel that just a little too weird for my taste.  I think my fundamental issue is that the first portion of this novel is highly realistic, and then the remainder of it is so fantastical that any realism I felt in the beginning part evaporated.  Towards the latter portion of the book, I found Aza more and more difficult to relate to, and yet Jason, surprisingly, grew on me as he was the only part of the book that still felt real.

The way Headley wove the realism and the fantasy together just doesn't sit well for me.  It is still a well written novel, don't get me wrong.  And the plot is entertaining and unique for sure.  But the two halves just don't quite make the perfect whole for me at the conclusion of the story.

11 June 2015

The Cage

Author: Megan Shepherd
Series: The Cage #1
Rating: 2.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

I love, love, love the philosophy behind the concept, which is basically a human zoo set up by a higher intellectual species that wants to help humanity stave off extinction by confining them in a cage.  Don't we do the exact same thing in zoos and conservation areas around the world to what we deem species of lower intelligence?  It is definitely interesting to ponder how we would stomach it should the tables turn and we find ourselves the ones caged in and isolated, far away from the home we've known forever and no longer the king of our own pride land.

I am not, however, crazy about how the plot plays out.  For one thing, we have this whole idea of inter-species romance going on between Cora and her captor which, excuse me, is just plain creepy.  I known authors are out there scrambling to find a fresh way to put a spin on young adult romance, but aliens?  Really?  Why does the trend seem to be going this way lately?  It just grosses me out.

It isn't that The Cage is boring, it's just that I feel it could have been so much better developed.  I thought Shepherd handled the superior race thing rather well, as I always get a little testy when it comes to aliens meeting up with humans.  But I thought the plot got bogged down in some of the tangent stories, and the interactions between the characters left a lot to be desired.  I could relate to Cora in a lot of ways, and she's the one who is the most determined to find a means of escape to get back home to Earth, but at the same time I found her completely unrelatable in other aspects, which made it difficult to sympathize with her struggles.

In the end, I was really left on the fence with this one.  It seems like Shepherd is really going to keep forcing the romantic entanglements between the characters to push the plot (ugh, The 100s anyone?), and if so I doubt I'll be able to stomach much more of Cora's struggle.  But who knows, she might be able to sway my swing vote with the next installment down the road.

09 June 2015

Daughter of Deep Silence

Author: Carrie Ryan
Rating: 2.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

Ryan's choice of plot untangling in this novel completely confounds me.  If you are going to have a main character such as Frances, then you need to go all in.  She is driven by grief of the death of her parents in front of her own eyes.  And if that isn't bad enough, she had to watch her friend slowly decay and die right before her very eyes.  It is enough to drive anyone mad and send them on a path of revenge.

Though the plot feels like it was practically stolen from Revenge (I even saw a lot of similarities in the different characters and the plot development and details), I still liked it until I realized what Daughter of Deep Silence really is.  It is not a tale of revenge and redemption against the liars who stole her truth and even made her question her own sanity.  At its heart, this novel is a story of Frances's first love, the son of a senator that she met on that fateful family cruise.  Though she has spent years and countless resources plotting each excruciating detail of her plan, it all boils down to the feelings of the fourteen-year-old girl that still lies dormant inside of her.  And that really pissed me off.

If you are going to give me a female main character who makes a point time and time again of proving just how much she seeks this justice, then at the resolution of the plot, I want gruesome and unrelenting pain.  I want her exact her revenge or die trying.  I don't want her to spend every other moment second guessing herself over some guy she met for a very brief time four years ago at the age of 14 that she was somehow madly in love with.  Ryan didn't stick with her guns, and it left me more than a little unsatisfied with the ending, especially with how she chose to solve the mystery of why the massacre on the cruise ship occured in the first place.  I really enjoyed Ryan's Forest of Hands and Teeth trilogy, but this one did not cut it for me (though I did rather like the last line).

08 June 2015

The Wrath and the Dawn

Author: Renee Ahdieh
Series: The Saga of Shahrzad and Khalid #1
Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

Had I known going into this novel that the series is called the The Saga of Shahrzad and Khalid, I would not have picked it up from the library.  I've seen some hype about it, true enough, but I've read my fair share of YA love triangle centered novels for this year already.  And while Ahdieh weaves a colorful and oftentimes dark new world of Khorasan, at the core The Wrath and the Dawn is simply that - yet another tale of one girl and two guys.  Though there is certainly potential for Ahdieh to focus more on the suspense and the adventure, and even the magic, in upcoming installments in the series, the name of the series itself seems to suggest that Ahdieh is here to tell love stories.  And considering the tales that Shahrzad tells Khalid to stay her execution, and the emphasis on love in them, I can't say I find this surprising.  I do find, however, that the romance is perhaps a little too heavy in this novel for my liking, as it is definitely the entire center of the plot, and not just a sub-story on the way to a great whole.

If you can get past the heavy romance elements in the story, then it's still an enjoyable book.  It's unique (it's a retelling of 1000 Arabians Nights, but I've never read that, so it feels fresh to me at least) and vivid, with rich characters and an immense world for the taking.  I'm hoping we get a little more of the action and magic in the next installment, so I'll probably give at least one more novel in the series a try.

05 June 2015

Stitching Snow

Author: R.C. Lewis
Rating: 3 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

This novel had all the elements to be a slam dunk, instant classic in my library.  It is a fractured fairy tale based on Snow White and it occurs in space with interstellar travel between planets.  And to top it all off, it even has a dystopian theme lurking in the sublevels of the plot.  Everything about this book made me want to rip the cover off to read it faster.

And it is true that I enjoyed Lewis' creativity and how she weaved elements from the original tale into this new one of her own.  You have the dead mother and the evil stepmother who is trying to kill our sweet and innocent Snow.  You have the dashing prince, and even the robot dwarfs.  But then you also have this highly technological advanced galaxy with a multi-planetary species, and a rift between the different groups of the species.  Unfortunately, the further I read into Stitching Snow, the less it seemed to sparkle and impress.  Yes, it is highly originally.  I will certainly give her that.  And it did feel as if it had enough action/suspense to the plot.  But it could have used more detail for such an unique solar system.  At times, the characters felt a little flat as well.

I leave myself partly to blame.  After all, I came into the reading with such high expectations and excitement that I don't think there was any way she could have lived up for what I was hoping for this novel to be.  It's not a novel I'll likely read again, but it is definitely worth a read once through if you are a fan of fractured fairy tales and space opera novels, as it does a decent job weaving them together in a classic YA way.

01 June 2015

The Martian

Author: Andy Weir
Rating: 1 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

I really wanted to enjoy this novel.  It was selected by my book club for a read, which I didn't get to in time, and it has gotten a lot of positive feedback on Goodreads.  In addition, I LOVE me a good sci-fi suspense/thriller in space, and with Mars the next frontier, it appeared as if all the stars had aligned and brought this book straight from the library onto my lap.

And then I started to actually read this book.  And after only 45 pages of Weir's God aweful prose/Mark's narrative, I just couldn't stomach it anymore.  Around page 35, I gave up for the night.  Then I tried it again the next evening, thinking that perhaps I just needed to look at it with a fresh set of eyes.  I only made it another 10 pages before closing this book for good.

The premise is so exciting, which I think makes it even more upsetting to me how terrible it is.  A lone astronaut, abandoned on Mars, presumed dead due to a series of circumstances, left to struggle to survive while he tries to figure out how to even communicate back home to Earth that he is alive to even hope that NASA will send a rescue mission.  It is the ultimate struggle, alone on an abandoned, uninhabitable world.  This book should have kept me up all night reading with my husband grumbling at me to turn off the bedside lamp.

Instead, it turned out to be a novel with a terrible narrative.  Meet Mark Watney, astronaut of the hour.  Considering the nomenclature he uses in the opening pages, I would expect him to be an arts and craft teacher or something else of limited higher education without a whole lot of extraordinary skills.  And yet, I came to find out, he is apparently trained not only in mechanical engineering, but is a botanist as well?  What?  He talked/narrated like a ten-year-old.  The further I read, the harder I found it that the narrator is a well educated, middle aged man.  Especially with all the exclamation points!  And all the stupid phrases that no one past puberty uses!  Even the sarcastic humor felt forced and dry most of the time.  This novel really felt as if a teenager wrote it as a bad science writing assignment, where he tried to make it a fictional novel, but really attempted to just throw in a bunch of badly researched science and called it a day.

I did like how Weir tried to make Mark snarky.  After all, it definitely seemed appropriate for a guy who thinks he is going to be able to survive on Mars for four years alone without going completely mental.  I don't remember what the research shows, but especially isolated in space, soooo far away from the rest of humanity... well, there is a reason astronauts only stay for about a month or two at a time at the ISS, and NEVER ALONE.

Weir had good intentions and a hooking plot, but in the end this book is just plain terrible.  Do not even attempt.  It is the Fifty Shades of Crap or Twilight of sci-fi.