30 November 2015

Yes Please

Author: Amy Poehler
Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

This is definitely a novel to listen to as an audiobook instead of reading as a typed novel.  For one, you get the awesome guest stars (a few from SNL that I don't even know, but are still a hoot to listen to) that read part of the novel to you, along with Amy herself.  That definitely makes the story more interesting, especially with her parents even chipping in a few times.

I will say I watched Parks & Rec and found it entertaining, though it is definitely not a show I would watch over and over.  I never got into SNL, so I really only know Poehler from that, and considering how annoying her character could be in that show, I wasn't one hundred percent sure that I would enjoy this novel.  After all, with so many celebrities and comedians writing autobiographies these days, I feel like I have to pick and choose which ones I want to bother with and which ones to skip.  After all, I'm not all that impressed with the over-inflated industry that entertainment has become in our country, and I'm definitely not impressed by all the name dropping and stories about hanging out with famous people (which Poehler does a bit in this novel).

Still, there are some interesting personal stories in this autobiography, and I do have to give it to her for not giving up on her dreams.  I certainly wouldn't have moved to the nasty city that is New York City and lived in the unfavorably neighborhoods and worked terrible jobs just to chase my dream of improv and acting.  She, like me, was driven to make ground in a male dominated industry, and she refused to let anything stand in her way.  So though I am less than impressed with her stories of driving drunk and all the drugs she tried, I am certainly impressed by the path she took to get to where she is today.  And while this novel is far from the laugh riot that is Jim Gaffigan's novels on food and parenting, I still chuckled aloud in some places.

Just, for the love of all that is sacred, skip the last chapter that she reads aloud at the (Something) Citizens' Brigade.  It's like a terrible sitcom with a laugh track in the background since it is read live.  People keep laughing, loudly, and I hardly found any of those part even remotely humorous (but perhaps that is just me).  It was hard for me to get to, and since I borrowed it from the library, I'm not even sure I actually finished.  I think someone mercifully scratched the last track for me and saved me the rest of that part.

27 November 2015

Ten Thousand Skies Above You

Author: Claudia Gray
Series: Firebird #2
Rating: 3 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

Considering the fact that the plot of this novel revolves around finding the parts of Paul's soul that have been scattered across the dimensions, I am inclined to say that the name of the first book in this series, A Thousand Pieces of You, is a much more suitable title for this novel.  This title makes little sense, even if I did catch in the novel where the reference comes from.

But I realize that is neither here nor there.  At least the cover is still beautiful, though we only spend about 50% of the time in Paris and San Francisco combined, if even.  Meg, along with her trusty sidekick Theo (the real Theo this time, not the evil one working for The Man) trudge through the multiverse, trying to collect the pieces of Paul's soul while sabotaging the Firebird work in the other universes.  It is surprising, I will admit, but I actually enjoy this novel more than its predecessor.  I was not even going to continue this series, but got it from the library on a whim and now here we are.

One of the things I really enjoy in this novel is the exploration of the assumption of destiny and true love from the first novel.  In A Thousand Pieces of You, Meg and Paul come to the conclusion that they are destined to be together in every single version of the multiverse out there, that they are soulmates and that each and every version of themselves belongs together.  Now I realize I'm not a hopeless romantic and that I'm scientifically inclined, so perhaps my opinion is not the popular one, but I think all of that is kind of BS.  I don't even believe in soul mates in one universe, let alone all of them.  So I like how in this novel Meg has to face the possibility that perhaps they were wrong, and what that could mean for her.

I still think the romance is a little heavy in this series, and while I like Theo (the real Theo, not the evil one from the first novel) I am not a big fan of this love triangle going on.  It's just so messy and it doesn't feel very organic since Gray pushes Meg and Paul from the beginning, only to sloppily toss Theo back in here and there.

Another thing I like in this novel is how Gray at least attempts to explain the fundamental issue I have with the first novel - why go through all the trouble to blackmail Meg to do his bidding when Mr. Evil can simply send as many other people into the multiverses with the Firebird as he wishes?  Though I'm not sure I'm completely sold on the explanation, I do like that Gray at least revisits it.  Of course, this brings us to the big twist towards the end, and I think that's what bumped this novel down to a 3 / 5 for me instead of a 3.5.  Again, I like how it plays into the theme in this novel that perhaps not every version of a person in the same in every universe, but the whole last 75 - 100 pages just feels like a completely different tangent than the theme of the series so far, and I'm not really invested in the reasoning behind all these extreme measures that Mr. Evil has been employing since Day One.

Considering that Ten Thousand Skies Above You is a step up from A Thousand Pieces of You, even if it still falters here and there, and coupled with the fact that it ends on a cliffhanger, even though it is a highly predictable one, I will probably pick up the next novel in the series.  I have a haunting suspicion this series will be a trilogy, and I think I can stomach one more novel of the Meg/Paul junk to see how this power struggle across the multiverses plays out.  Hopefully Gray won't backslide.

26 November 2015

Illuminae

Author: Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff
Series: The Illuminae Files #1
Rating: 2 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

Let me just start off by saying that perhaps I have become a little too jaded when it comes to young adult sci-fi novels that take place in the final frontier.  I keep hoping I am going to find one that blows my socks off, but time and time again they turn out to be total duds.  This novel is no exception.

 This book could have been great if the writers had focused on the plot of the story instead of the messing romance between Kady and Ezra.  First of all, since this novel is told in "report" form (I am going to use that term loosely, and explain why in a little bit), you really don't get a sense for the characters.  Sure, they are both a little self sacrificing, which could have drawn me to them if it weren't for the fact that they are so annoying.  This characteristic trait seems to overshadow all others, and even from the start I cannot get over the fact that the world is literally falling to pieces around them as they illegal settlement is being bombed to hell, and yet they are fighting over breaking up?  Um, are you kidding me?  That would be the furthest thing from my mind at that particular moment in time.  Unfortunately, this trait does not get better as the story limps along for 599 pages of supremely terrible dialogue between the two.

Then there is the little issue of the self aware AI in this book.  Even if I could suspend disbelief and hop around this cliched sci-fi train, I am not at all impressed with AIDAN.  For one, the descriptions that the authors use, not doubt to try to add color into what should be monotone reports of the AI's central core, are laughable in the fact that, among other things, the AI has wit, employs sarcasm, and uses descriptive poetry.  Most of the reports included in the book follow along this same course, including description and verbatim dialogue that would never be necessary in a formal report.  I think what bugs me the most, however, is how even the adults in this novel sounds like sniveling teenagers.  The dialogue is so dumbed down and unprofessional that parts of it are hard to stomach.  And the IM conversations between Kady and Ezra, Ezra and James (whose name and personality were stolen from The Wire), and Kady and the other hacker are so unbearable that I began to skim read them.  Not only are the constant "I'm banging your sister" jokes not only not funny but annoying, but the current day style of text "formatting" with abbreviated words and zero punctuation made me want to punk someone.

There are a few things I like about this novel.  While certainly not all, some of the styling in this book are quite eloquent (I particularly like the pages where images are made out of a character's name).  I also really enjoyed the fundamental plot of the novel, even if the execution at the end is poor.  I have to give the authors kudos for the originality of the format, but unfortunately it isn't enough to carry the story, especially coupled with the poor formulation.  I think this plot would have been much better served as a new adult or adult fiction novel where you did not have to deal with the insufferable characters and dumbed down language.

As for the ending, let's not even going there.  I am highly disappointed with it.  I realize the authors wanted to set up the ending for the next installment in the series, but this novel could have been much better suited as a stand alone with a much more satisfactory and realistic ending.

20 November 2015

Orbiting Jupiter

Author: Gary D. Schmidt
Rating: 2.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

Though this book is classified as young adult at my local library, I have a hard time labeling it in that category.  Yes, it deals with some grown up issues - implied sex (the main character has a kid) and implied rape (he freaks out whenever someone comes up behind him after his time at the juvie boy's hall).  But it also revolves around a twelve-year-old and a fourteen-year-old.  And with Jack, the twelve-year-old, as our narrator the novel definitely feels like a middle grade narrative.

Though the story is charming and also sad, it is so short and progresses so quickly that while you can emphasize for the characters, you don't really have time to connect with them.  For example, that "thing" that happens at the end of the novel.  That thing that shocked me and should have had me bawling into a gallon of ice cream? Well, that whole thing occurs in the span of about four pages.  And then it is simply over!  I am flabbergasted with how quickly Schmidt just throws that at the readers and keeps on trucking.  It should have had me sobbing, and instead I read through it without much emotion at all except surprise.

To make this a great young adult novel, Schmidt needs to flush out the story and the characters.  He needs to make readers connect with the characters and give them time to explore their own development, instead of glossing over large gaps of times with a simple sentence or two.  The novel is in a weird situation where the subject material is probably too serious for a middle grade story, but the writing is too poor to really entice an older audience.

Also, the cover doesn't make a whole lot of sense (unless it is another metaphor for "orbiting" Jupiter.  And I do like the metaphor of Jupiter in this novel.  That is really well done).  The only reason I don't suggest skipping this novel entirely is that it only takes about an hour and a half to two hours to read since it is so ridiculously short.

19 November 2015

The Conjurer's Riddle

Author: Andrea Cremer
Series: The Inventor's Secret #2
Rating: 2 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

I had high hopes for this book, thinking that Cremer could dive more into the steampunk world she created in The Inventor's Secret and worry less about the romantic squabbles that we had to deal with in the first novel.  Instead, The Conjurer's Riddle (I'm still not entirely sure I even get the title of the novel) seems to focus on all the aspects that I didn't particularly enjoy from the first novel and almost completely ignore the elements I found fascinating.

For one, there is little excitement in the world we explore in The Inventor's Secret.  It is set mainly in a French occupied New Orleans where everyone wears masks.  Though they travel through the different districts of this alternate universe world, none of the details of the setting are interesting.  And while we spend a lot of time traveling, the focus falls on the characters, both primary and secondary.  And since none of the characters are developed all that well, the novel is mostly flat and devoid of any real excitement.

Cremer teases readers with the continual hint at a love triangle between Charlotte and the Winter brothers, but I couldn't really care less about her relationship with either brother, so this does little to hold my attention.  The Conjurer's Riddle is thus mostly a slow crawl through an almost nonexistent plot.  It only picks up interest towards the end, where the element of adventure comes in and the plot picks up a bit in intensity.  But since this only occurs in about the last 20 - 50 pages of the novel, this novel feels more of a filler story than anything else.  Hopefully the next installment will make it worth the read, but I'm not feeling it so far.  Definitely more than a little disappointed in this one.

17 November 2015

Soundless

Author: Richelle Mead
Rating: 2 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

This novel is just... kindda strange.  At first, everything about this world seems realistic.  Actually, for about 90% of this world, I could at least connect with the main character because it felt like the story had a possibility of being real, in a time set in the past.  Then the ending came along and kind of just blew all the wind from the sail.  Not only does it ruin the whole illusion of possibility, but it takes the story in such an unpredictable direction that I feel cheated by it.  The ending definitely feels like a let down, but then I wasn't all that excited about the story up to that point either if I'm being truthful.

The other thing that irks me about this book is this concept of being soundless.  At some point during the story, Fei finds the scrolls in the archive/library from around the time when they were just starting to lose their hearing in the village.  In the particular scroll she is interested in, the author tries to explain the sounds so that the deaf ancestors will be able to at least try to understand.  And this part I get, and actually find okay.  But then about 2/3 of the way through the novel, she is hearing 'rumblings' and 'gasping' and using these foreign words seemlessly as if she has known the meaning of them all along, that she has had the sense of sound from the beginning.  That really bugs me, because it feels so inconsistent, like Mead just dropped the whole pretense, or simply forgot for a while about that portion of the plot.  Considering how fundamental that detail is, it feels like a huge overlook on her part.

Then we get to the plot and the characters themselves.  They are alright, but there is nothing inherently exciting about them.  The romance in this novel is so cliche and bland, and Mead doesn't really dive into the relationship between Fei and her sister, which is probably my favorite dynamic in the story.  None of the characters are developed; the only characteristic really used to ever describe them is either deaf, blind, or something in between, relating to their senses.  I can't tell if this book should have been flushed out more to develop the world and the characters, or just completely skipped in the first place.  After the disappointing ending that was the final nail in the coffin for me, I'd suggest just skipping it.

14 November 2015

Winter

Author: Marissa Meyer
Series: The Lunar Chronicles #4
Rating: 4 / 5 stars
Verdict: Buy

Winter came.  And it was long.  Good Gods, was it ever long.  823 pages long, to be precise.  EIGHT HUNDRED AND TWENTY-THREE pages, people.  It took me a day and a half of doing almost nothing but exclusively reading to power through this puppy.

But I did. I succeeded.  The end has come.  And you know what?  I'm not all that depressed.  I thought I might me.  It's the end of an era, after all.  But after 823 pages, I think I am reading to say goodbye.

It's not bad, mind you.  It perhaps feels a bit tedious in a few certain points, and I am certain a decent chunk of it could have been whittled down.  But we do have four main characters we are dealing with now, and they all have to get their happy endings.  And that takes time.  It also takes romance.  Like, a lot of romance.  Some of it is so sickening sweet it almost makes me want to puke.  Some of it is a little cliche, and some of it feels a little out of place.  For Winter, who was only just introduced at the end of Cress, it feels rushed, because her entire story has to be condensed into the pages of this book, while fighting for page time with the Kai/Cinder drama, the Scarlet/Wolf drama, and the ever lovable Cress/Thorne will-they-won't-they.  All while trying to overthrow Levana and put Cinder on her rightful place of queen of Luna. Which is probably why it is 823 pages long.

I think the only issue I have with Winter that prevents me from absolutely loving it is that I now realize that Meyer used to write Sailor Moon fanfiction, which makes a buttload of sense as you are reading this novel.  The capital city of Luna, after all, is Artemisia City.  And, and I realized before I even knew of her Sailor Moon roots, Artemis is the name of the adorkable white cat in Sailor Moon.  And Sailor Moon was the lost princess of the moon, stuck on Earth, that had no recollection of her royal lineage.  To which I realize now, WAIT, WHAT?  You mean not only did Meyer borrow a lot of elements from classic fairy tales, but she basically ripped off the main plot for the entire series from Sailor Moon?  Well, that bummed me out a little.  Because even though the series is still very unique and original, it just feels like cheating a little bit when you start borrowing that much material from other sources.  The writing also feels a little easy in some parts, almost as if you are reading a fan written fan-fic instead of the conclusion of a series from an internationally best selling author.

I'm not trying to sell Meyer short, though.  Even though I am a little bit bummed about that, I still devoured Winter.  I love Winter herself, with her genuine goodness and her goofy craziness.  She and Jacin are adorkable, even if she - like Cress - is a little too obsessed with love (which I guess is understandable, though, considering how isolated both have been for pretty much their entire lives).

And Thorne.  Oh Gods, Thorne.  Meyer does have a particular talent for well placed comic relief comments.  Thorne is the king of them, and I even laughed aloud a few times.

While I feel like it isn't the perfect ending I could have hoped for, and felt a little repetitive in a few places, I think it wraps up the series well.  It also has a buttload of action right there towards the end, where most series of this caliber tend to build up to a strong climax and then fizzle out in the denouement so quickly you wonder what all the fuss was about).  I will miss these crazy characters.  I will read this series again.  I will no doubt go see the movies when they are inevitability made (Winter will be split into at least two).  But I will not stay up all night obsessing about this final volume in the series.  I will simply return it to the library and add it to my Black Friday shopping wish list.

13 November 2015

The White Rose

Author: Amy Ewing
Series: The Lone City #2
Rating: 3 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

This novel is one of those rare instances where I like the sequel more than the first installment in the series.  Truth be told after The Jewel, I really wasn't planning on reading The White Rose.  I went ahead and checked it out of the library, but it sat on my bookcase and I had every intention of returning it without reading it.  But then I needed a short, quick read to occupy my time between finishing Ice Like Fire and getting Winter from the library.  And The White Rose offers just that.

Lo and behold, The White Rose isn't all that bad.  It certainly feels like a step up from The Jewel.  Yes, I still think it is absurdly ridiculous how quickly Ash and Violet "fell in love", but luckily their relationship (which I don't give two hoots about) takes a backseat while the gang tries to escape from The Jewel and come up with a plan to stop the oppression at the hands of the royals.

I teeter on giving this book 2.5 versus 3 stars because there are still a few glaring holes in the novel.  The first is the character development.  Unfortunately, the development we get for Ash makes me like him even less.  Considering all the sacrifices Ash has made in his life for the sake of his sister, I find it VERY hard to believe that he would simply throw it all away on Violet.  I'm not saying he doesn't love Violet (though again, I kind of do), but to think he would put that love over the love for his sister?  That is something I would never do in a million years.  I dare even say it is selfish.

It is not the only selfish thing I see about Ash in The White Rose.  Ash definitely has a heaping of self esteem issues that stem from his occupation of being a companion.  He seems hellbent on proving he is more, that he can do more.  And he pushes to do exactly that, even in the worst times possible.  A subject that keeps coming up is that he wants to be useful and help, but neither him nor Violet can seem to get it through their thick skulls that the best way for him to help is to stay out of sight, him being a fugitive and all.  After what happens earlier on their way out of the Jewel, you think he would wise up.  But sadly, no, and it irritates me to no end.  Even while trying to help a great cause, he can't help but be selfish.

The last big issue I have is with the way the plot plays out.  My issue centers around the concept of an army of surrogates for their plan, an idea Violet comes up with during a chance conversation with Ash.  My problem is, it seems like the most obvious solution in the world.  So if Lucien has been working on a plan for quite some time now... wouldn't he have thought of this long ago?  That really sticks out as a red flag of bending the situation to fit the motives by Ewing.

So I probably should have given this book a 2.5, or maybe even a 2.  But I am still shocked that I enjoy The White Rose more than The Jewel that I figure I'll be generous.  I might even read the last book in the trilogy.  Shocking, I know!

11 November 2015

Ice Like Fire

Author: Sara Raasch
Series: Snow Like Ashes #2
Rating: 2 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

This book is... kinda boring.  Perhaps I hyped myself up too much after Snow Like Ashes, because it was a fresh world and story in a stifled YA genre.  But unlike Snow Like Ashes, Ice Like Fire is a chore to get through.

Meira loses some respect from me in this second installment in the series.  She spends almost the entirety of the novel debating what a warrior would do and what a queen would do and wondering if she could perhaps be a warrior queen.  And she second guesses pretty much every decision she makes, which doesn't give you much faith in her power as a ruler.  She even goes as far to admit that she's selfish - that she wants to do the right thing for Winter and her people, but that she also can't help but want to do the right thing for herself too.  Which I understand, I truly do.  But my Gods, her inner dialogue is a struggle to stomach at junctures in this tale.

Then we get to the plot itself.  Meira treks off around the world, visiting the other kingdoms under the guise of wanting to sign a peace treaty to form an alliance between all the kingdom, as Theron wants to do.  She does not, however, tell Theron that her motives for the trip are very different, which also leads to a lot of inner dialogue that I could have lived without (and don't even get me started on the disaster that is a love triangle in this book).

I feel like this story is simply a bridge between Snow Like Ashes and the next novel in the series, and wish Raasch would have taken a different approach.  Though we are introduced to a slew of new characters, the only one that leaves an impression is the princess of Summer, and she is vastly under utilized.  The plot trudges along as they go from kingdom to kingdom in search of the keys of the Order (still not sure I remember that whole deal from the first novel) and try to get the peace treaty signed, and my interest simply got lost in the journey and Meira's inner monologues.

I'll probably give this series one more try, but I can honestly say I am disappointed in the turn we took with Ice Like Fire

10 November 2015

The Rose Society

Author: Marie Lu
Series: The Young Elites #2
Rating: 2 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

It's been a year to the day since I finished reading Young Elites (woah!  I swear I didn't even plan that) and even though I've reread my review and read the entire Rose Society novel, I didn't don't remember much about Young Elites.  I kept waiting for something in this novel to trigger some form of recollection, but I've come up with bupkis.  That's the first sign that I probably wasn't going to enjoy this one, since I couldn't even remember the characters or the plot of the series at all.

Unfortunately, it did not get much better from there.  Adelina is not what you would call a likable main character, but I also find it kind of funny that in the acknowledgements Lu says this is the darkest book she's ever really.  I just thought, 'Really?  I've written poetry darker than this.  In, like, high school.'  Now don't get me wrong, Adelina is definitely a messed up chick.  But Rose Society suffers from the same thing I noted in my review of Young Elites: "a lot of the action left more suspense to be desired".  This novel seems to limp by on the characters in lieu of a suspenseful plot, but when the characters aren't that great to begin with, you are left with a novel that just feels flat, and is a bit of a chore to get through.

People who enjoy love triangles will likely swoon over this novel (as I saw in a buddy read discussion), but it does absolutely nothing to me.  I think I'm going to shelf this series, which is a shame because I definitely liked the Legends series better.  There just isn't enough development of this world or the characters that I like.

Oh, and PS: I really don't like the cover.

07 November 2015

Walk on Earth a Stranger

Author: Rae Carson
Series: The Gold Seer Trilogy #1
Rating: 3 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

This book has all the potentials to make a must read for me.  First, it's historical young adult, set in 1849.  So not only is it historical, but it is set in one of the most important time frames in American history - the western expansion thanks to the gold rush.  It also contains a small fantasy element in the fact that our main character, Leah/Lee, can sense gold.  Which means she will, of course, want to travel to California to join in on the gold rush, right?

Lee has all the workings to be a strong, fierce main character.  An only child, it doesn't matter that she's a girl in a time frame where women were basically there to keep house and bred children.  Lee works hard on the family homestead, even more so now that her father has taken ill and is struggling to recover.

Unfortunately, as the story unfolds, these elements for an amazing story never mesh completely.  Lee, understandingly, is at a loss when her world comes crumbling around her and she strikes off to try to reunite when the one true friend she's ever really had and trusted.  All along the way, she struggles when keeping her identity a secret and trying to survive in a world not meant for one alone.  While realistic, it makes it harder to see Lee as this strong, fierce, independent person.  And while her character develops ever so slightly down the line, I never get a good read on her.

The same goes for the other characters in the story, and I think that is the greatest shame of all.  For a story that spends the most of the time traveling/walking, the story leans on the characters for supports.  And when you don't develop the characters, the plot starts to lag and crawl in places.  Then it feels like Carson rushes the plot too quickly to throw in excitement and suspense to jar the reader's attention again.  And while it does add adventure to the tale, it makes the pacing of the story so disjointed that it isn't a smooth sailing straight through.

While I definitely found some faults with the story - the romantic element rearing its ugly head now and then as well - it was still a fun read in a young adult genre that doesn't get too much volume.  I enjoyed it a bit more than Vengeance Road, which is the only other western YA novel I've been able to stumble across so far this year.  So though I wasn't blown away by any standards, I'll probably still pick up the next installment of the trilogy when it comes, for the sake of the setting.