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Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Song of the Quarkbeast

Jasper Fforde


     This is the second book of the Chronicles of Kazam.  Jennifer Strange is acting manager of Kazam Magical Arts Management, which is a company that provides magical services for its customers and manages general magic usage.  The main character, Jennifer Strange, is acting manager of Kazam while the real manager, the Great Zambini, is stuck in some sort of teleporting limbo.
     In this book, Conrad Blix, head of Kazam’s rival iMagic, hatches a plot to gain complete control over general magic management.  Although this is the main storyline, there’s still a lot of other stuff going on, mostly whimsical sorts of things.  There are all sorts of fun little things popping around, like the Transient Moose or the light ball that runs on sarcasm.  The ending ties everything up nicely, and Jennifer manages to pull things together in clever ways.
This is a 4 and like Funfetti cake.  It was fun to read, and there were all sorts of fun little bits stuck around the story.  The plot wasn’t the thickest, but it was engaging.  The book was a good length.  This is a good story for anyone looking for a light, fun read.  And it takes place in the Ununited Kingdoms, which is just fun to say.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Of Metal and Wishes

Written by: Sarah Fine

This book would go nicely with some dark chocolate wrapped in tinfoil.

After Wen's mother dies, Wen is forced to move into a cramped apartment in the local factory with her father. Now, instead of embroidering beautiful fabrics with her mother, it's her duty to stitch injured workers back together under the wing of her unfamiliar father. Despite the strange novelty, Wen adjusts to her new life with little complaint. That is, until the Noors show up at the factory. She meets Melik, an intelligent redhead who often invades her thoughts, and she begins to think that maybe the Noors are not the self-serving pigs the Itanyai (her people) painted them as. As her affection for the boy grows, she must choose between the Itanyai and the newcomers. Oh, and all this while balancing a tedious relationship with the factory's resident ghost boy, whose seemingly well-intentioned "gifts" sometimes cause more trouble than they're worth.

I enjoyed this book a lot! I appreciated the change in culture (so many of our protagonists are white Americans or Europeans); in fact, one of the prominent themes in the book was the difficulty of bridging the culture gap between people. The story was unique, definitely not a vampires-and-werewolves spin-off. The relationship Wen had with her father was intriguing to watch, and seeing how she grows up without the presence of her mother is both heart-wrenching and inspiring. She is an impressive protagonist.

I was drawn in by the relationship between Wen, Melik, her father, Ghost Boy, and general society. How Fine depicted the constraints on young people and woman in Wen's society was engaging and thought-provoking.

However, I do have one critique. I thought that Ghost Boy's realm underneath the factory was a little hard to believe. Yes, he is a master of metals, but the world Wen lives in is not the same as his world. There was just a little too much suspension of disbelief needed to make the story copacetic. Wen lives in a hard reality, and when the factory workers clashed with Ghost Boy, I felt just a tad uncomfortable, almost as if I was watching Dumbledore and Lizzie Bennett face off in a battle of wills. They're both great, but they just don't belong in the same realm.

Despite the one or two inconsistencies, I thought the book was overall pretty good. The writing was not exceptional, but it was still sound. The characters probably won't make you weep and laugh, but they were still relatable. If you are looking for a new book, and you finished your must-read pile, I would recommend this one.

3.6/5 stars!

Love by the Morning Star

Written by: Laura L. Sullivan
This book would be paired nicely with some fresh lemonade and raspberry tarts (it's just such a genial novel, it needs some genial foods).

I LOVED this book. It’s just great. Seriously. Read it. But perhaps before I launch headfirst into telling you why it’s so wonderful, you might want a little background.

Set in the late 1930’s during the second World War, the novel follows Hanna Morganstern, a half-Jewish girl who has to pack up and move away from her beloved cabaret in Germany to stay with distant relations, Lord and Lady Liripip. Hanna expects a certain degree of hostility from her unfamiliar family members, but she does not expect the treatment she is faced with when she arrives. She is unceremoniously directed below stairs and informed that she will be working as a kitchen hand.

Meanwhile, Anna Morgan enters stage left, a prideful, self-centered Aryan working for the Nazi party under the heavy-handed command of her father. She is supposed to be working as a maid so she can spy on the family, but instead is invited to stay in the upstairs chambers and is treated as a welcome guest. She says nothing about the obvious mix-up, reassuring herself that she deserves this life of luxury she has accidentally stepped into. Lord and Lady Liripip are very accommodating; after all, she is family… right?

Hannah and Anna are all mixed up, but neither is willing to run to Lady Liripip and tattle, for their own reasons. When the youngest Liripip, otherwise known as Teddy, enters the picture, the girls both fall a little in love. But no one really knows who is who, and inevitably some unforeseen snags occur.

This tale of love is entertainingly sweet and whimsical, and I invite you to watch the story unfold as you laugh and gasp along with the characters. I felt like I was watching a fast-paced, witty cabaret skit, where each of the characters peeped in through the wrong door at the exact right second. Yes, it’s a little hard to explain. Suffice to say, it was really quite fun. Not often to I laugh out loud to the lines in a book, but in this case I couldn’t resist as I was regaled with the whimsical romanticisms and sharp verbal barbs of the characters.

Even though this is a romance, Anna is not a mooning maiden. She is sharply clever, and has a way with words that is endearing, if over-abundant. Even when felt obliged to throw herself onto her bed and sob over her ill-luck, she was never pitiful, and presently someone would toss a witticism her way to lighten the mood. she does not wallow in desperation, like so many other wide-eyed protagonists.

The atmosphere of the novel is sweet and light, but in such a way that one begins to comprehend the most weighty and frightening realities of WWII. There are two levels to this book, I think; on the surface, it is a spectacle of light and comedy, but underneath there is an earnest profundity to the story. Just like Anna’s father and his shows, the plot seems strictly entertaining on the surface, but holds deeper meaning if observed carefully.

My one warning would be that the novel is written in a very specific style of writing. I love it, but not everyone will (It’s pretty simple, if you like it, you like it, but if you don’t, you don’t). I hope you pick it up even if you don’t feel like taking a chance and give it a read, because if you don’t like the writing style, I promise you’ll know pretty quickly off the bat. It won’t be a waste of time.

Ok, so basically you MUST read this book!

Drum roll please… 5 stars!

5/5 stars!!!!!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Sekret

by Lindsay Smith


     Yulia lives in Communist Russia, and her family is hiding from the government.  She is able to see past memories of people and things when she touches them, and she uses this skill to bargain in the black market until the KGB finds her and forces her to work in their program training psychic spies.
     I liked the premise of the book, and it’s different than a lot of books I’ve read.  The writing was fairly fluid, though at times, I wish some events were tied together more fully.  I also would have preferred more training sessions.  Yulia gains psychic powers without the reader really knowing, and that made it slightly confusing, which could have been helped if some of the training sessions were shown instead of mentioned in passing.  Some of the psychic powers were a little inconsistent, which also may have been helped by some training session scenes.
     The characters themselves were pretty consistent, though.  Yulia had understandable motivations, and her actions were in character.  I liked the backdrop, and the other characters were distinct and well developed.
     This is a 3.6.  I liked the idea, and it was fun to read despite a few continuity hitches.  Like oatmeal, it was satisfying enough.  There were patches of brown sugar that were great, but also small bits that weren’t quite cooked and made it so the texture wasn’t quite uniformly good.  But it’s only a couple bits, and there’s enough brown sugar, and the rest of it is just about the right texture that it’s pretty enjoyable.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Kiss of Deception

by Mary E. Pearson


Princess Arabella Celestine Idris Jezelia, more commonly referred to as Lia, is the First Daughter of the House of Morrighan.  This means that she has the gift of knowing, a sort of psychic power.  Or, it should mean she has the gift, but Lia hasn’t seen a sign of it in herself.  This is hardly high on her list of concerns, however, as she plots her escape with her servant Pauline to avoid the arranged marriage to the prince of Dalbreck.  They run to Terravin, a small town some way away from the castle, and they begin an almost idyllic life as barmaids at the local inn.  They are pursued, however, by an assassin from Venda, a neighboring kingdom that wants to undermine both Morrighan and Dalbreck, as well as Lia’s would-be husband, the prince of Dalbreck. The main story is told from Lia’s viewpoint, but there are also chapters from both the assassin’s viewpoint and the prince’s viewpoint.  They enter Lia’s life together while she works at the inn and take on alternate identities, Rafe and Kaden.  The identities are also kept a secret from the reader, however, so there will be chapters from Rafe of Kaden as well as from the assassin and the prince.  The assassin and the prince chapters are used when the character does something very telling that would give away which was which.  Although it’s possible to figure out who is who, it did add a bit of fun to the book.  Overall, however, I disliked having the prince and assassin viewpoints.  It gave the reader a lot information, and the story relied heavily on other elements of the book to keep the reader interested such as, writing style, general plot development, and especially romantic tension.  Although the writing style and general plot were pretty good, the romantic tension brought the book way down for me.  First of all, the assassin falls in love with Lia, who he is supposed to be killing.  The justification for this was really shaky.  I’m not sure there really was justification; it felt more like a plot device than something his character would do and a good example of insta-love.  The prince was pretty much expected to fall in love, and I was okay with his romance.  He was there because he wanted to know who this girl was.  She was daring enough to run away from a life she didn’t want, and as someone who also wasn’t looking forward to the arranged marriage, he was fascinated by her.  Another annoying thing about having Rafe/Kaden and assassin/prince viewpoints was that, to keep the identities hidden, Rafe and Kaden couldn’t be fleshed out too much and acted very similarly.  Unfortunately, they both act like lovestruck men with little thought except for the girl, and oddly, neither one acts (though they do have a few thoughts) as though they mind that Lia is clearly showering both with affection.  This part of the book was really tiresome, and the characters frustrated me.
About two-thirds of the way through, however, Lia finally realizes what her rash decision of running away has caused - mainly, now Dalbreck is mad at Morrighan because her marriage was supposed to cement an alliance between them, and their separation means they are weak before the force of Venda.  This is where it starts to pick up.  The identities of Rafe and Kaden become known, so they get fleshed out, and the world also gets some character.  Lia works to figure out why her gift isn’t manifesting, she travels some, and all the characters start doing more.  In the first part of the book, none of the characters seemed to be doing anything.  Lia, of course, is trying to do nothing, but the others just keep putting things off.  Also, everyone who needs to is able to find Lia and knows who she is even though the point of her running away was to leave the royal life behind.
This is a 2.9.  I can’t quite give it a 3.  The characters bothered me too much even though I liked the concept and the main plot and I really couldn’t stand the romance.  It was like reaching into a box of Valentine’s Day chocolate.  It’s chocolate, so you think you’ll really like it, and I like fantasy and the ideas in this book, but upon biting into it, you discover it has the filling that you usually give away.  For me, that’s coffee or coconut.  It looks so appealing, and it is still chocolate, but that filling is hard to get around.  It might be just right for some people though, so pass the book along.  And it’s Valentine’s Day chocolate because that love triangle is so dominating.
(Also, I don’t think this cover is the one used on published books, but I like it way better than the one with the girl staring off in the distance.)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Dark Metropolis

by Jaclyn Dolamore

Thea waits tables by night, and by day, she takes care of her mother, who is plagued with bound-sickness; her mother was magically bound to her husband when they were married, but Thea’s father disappeared in a war.  Those who are bound-sick are taken away to the asylum, and Thea lives in constant fear that someone will notice her mother’s deteriorating mental state and that she will be left entirely alone.  Then Thea meets Freddy at the Telephone Club, where she works, and her friend mysteriously disappears.  Thea is thrust into parts of the city she didn’t know existed and, along with Freddy, discovers the darker aspects of their community.
Although there was a lot going on for just about all of the book, there was a severe lack of depth to the world.  There was magic, but it was only mentioned or used in direct relation to the plot.  The magic wasn’t part of the world except as it was used to make the story work.  The characters also did very little that wasn’t directly related to the main storyline, and they didn’t seem to have lives outside the plot.
The book was fast paced, but it was also evenly paced, which I enjoyed.  I hate books that have a lot of depth and build-up only to reach the climax and end in about ten pages.  This book did a good job of building up, and realizations were made at the right times with enough spacing so the ending wasn’t rushed, but it still kept moving.  However, the climax was a little anticlimactic, which was pretty disappointing.  There were several realizations, some characters made decisions that were questionably in-character, and there was too much of the characters talking at each other and trying to convince everyone that they’re right.  The main thing that really bothered me was that, after significant sneaking and hiding of plans, characters simply revealed what they knew to each other for no apparent reason.
This book is a 3.2 and comparable to a small piece of white chocolate.  For the most part, it was enjoyable to read, like white chocolate is enjoyable to eat.  However, there isn’t much past the short burst of sweetness, and there isn’t any nutritional value.  This book is good if you like plot-driven, fast-paced books that aren’t too thought provoking.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Hungry

By H. A. Swain. Published this month.

      
Thalia Apple lives in the not-too-distant future where all food is gone. Wars, famine, and plagues have eradicated all plants and animals save humans. It's only thanks to One World corporation that humans receive Synthamil and inoculations that provide nutrition while balancing hormones and suppressing hunger. Thalia's mother and father are renowned scientists and engineers within One World corp, so they live in relative luxury. However, Thalia thinks differently from the rest. She resists One World's vapid consumerism and likes to learn about the past where farmers grew and ate their own food and made things with their hands. Recently, she has been feeling something strange inside: she feels hungry. Soon she learns that the world is nothing like she knew, and some rumors have more truth than she thinks.

       I read this book on a recommendation and I believe it was well placed. This book is very commendable as a futuristic dystopian, providing insight into several niches of society: the ultra rich, the very poor, and several in-between. It goes past the simple overlord class/working class trope, which I appreciate. The only downfall in the worldbuilding is due to Thalia's ignorance about specific events in the past, which I find frustrating. I want to know more about how One World became so powerful. I guess I will have to wait for a sequel.
      
The plot is a bit slow to start. In fact, I was bored. However, I kept the recommendation in mind and stuck it through to the end; it gradually became more interesting. The ending swooped down in a bit of a rush and left plenty of room for more, so I am expecting a trilogy in the making.

       Overall I like the story. Looking back, events are a bit cookie cutter and happen conveniently, some characters are irrational, (they are only human, but dang are they annoying), and once or twice I could guess the plot before it happened. Despite all this, I see no real issues in the story or its telling and I pass on the recommendation for the sake of a good distopian.

       I rate this book a 3.5. It's definitely a worthy choice for a rainy day, but since I wasn't captured in the very beginning I won't go the full 4 stars. As a food, I compare this book to an artisan hamburger. It was crafted with forethought, but the bun is a bit too big so the first bite is just bread. After that, it's pretty good all the way to the end.

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