Monday, September 30, 2013

Hedgie's Must Reads: September 2013

Fall is upon us! And what a month it's been! Freak thunderstorms, new movies and books. And most importantly: the start of this new blog! What was once known as 667B Baker Street, it has now morphed into this new and splendid blog that I am just thrilled with! But on with this month's best reads!

Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross (4/5)
In Paris, everything is for sale. This is the world Maude enters, when she becomes a "plain girl for hire" for an agency that rents out plain or ugly girls to society women to act as a foil against their beauty. I loved the concept, I loved Maude, I loved the sumptuous writing style, and this book actually made me fall in love with Paris (and I really don't care for Paris in any era). Might be slow for some people, but I enjoyed the detail and description so much that I didn't mind the more sedate plot pacing. Girl-read, fifteen-and-up, great for historical fiction fans!

Still Star-Crossed by Melinda Taub (4/5)
Not a fan of Romeo and Juliet? Neither am I. But you'll love this story! You're not required to read Romeo and Juliet first; it's perfectly understandable the way it is. I didn't care for the protagonists at first, but over time they grew on me, and I became very emotionally invested. The plot is so much more exciting than Shakespeare's play, the end much better (but still bittersweet), and the Author did a superb job copying Shakespeare's style while still making the story readable. Girl-read, sixteen-and-up, great for fans of Shakespeare and people who don't like Romeo and Juliet. This may make you like it after all!

The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderon (5/5)
The first book in a planned series, The Rithmatist is the Harry Potter for steampunkers and Readers who aren't a fan of wizard stories. Part steampunk, part mystery, part alternate reality, and part fantasy, this was one of the more surprising reads of the month. I didn't have any expectations for it; I just thought it would be kinda interesting. Little did I realize that it was going to be downright amazing! A very diverse number of characters, great world building, a mystery that keeps the Reader engaged, and an idea so weird and unique that it'll astonish you how much you like it. Girl-and-guy read, fourteen-and-up, great for fans of steampunk, mystery, and alternate realities!

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater (3/5)
The second book in The Raven Cycle. It's a bit slower than the first book, but a lot of really exciting stuff still happens, and there is a ton of character development and setup for Book #3. I loved the new characters and the twists, but at times it got almost too weird. The end was amazing, and mean all at once. I can't wait a year! Just like The Raven Boys, in my heart this book deserves 4 stars all the way. However, it has a ton of profanity, and due to my reviewing policy, I was forced to take a star away. Girl-and-guy read, eighteen-and-up, great for Maggie Stiefvater fans and Readers looking for something new!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Stacking the Shelves #16

Stacking the Shelves is a meme hosted by Tynga's Review

From the Library:

Starglass by Phoebe North
Terra has never known anything but life aboard the Asherah, a city-within-a-spaceship that left Earth five hundred years ago in search of refuge. At sixteen, working a job that doesn't interest her, and living with a grieving father who only notices her when he's yelling, Terra is sure that there has to be more to life than what she's got.

But when she inadvertently witnesses the captain's guard murdering an innocent man, Terra is suddenly thrust into the dark world beneath her ship's idyllic surface. As she's drawn into a secret rebellion determined to restore power to the people, Terra discovers that her choices may determine life or death for the people she cares most about. With mere months to go before landing on the long-promised planet, Terra has to make the decision of a lifetime - one that will determine the fate of her people.


Trapped in Paris by Evelyne Holingue
Sixteen-year-old Cameron and Framboise have nothing in common and no reason to meet. But when a volcano eruption in Iceland interrupts all air traffic activity, the two teenagers find themselves trapped in Paris.

When they witness a murder on the River Seine and are kidnapped by a mysterious dangerous man, they become unlikely partners in a fast spine-chilling four-day adventure through the Parisian suburbs. Confronted with exceptional events, Cameron and Framboise must rely on each other. When they get separated, after a disagreement, Cameron will trust his survival instincts, brave danger, and act with unexpected courage.

Ultimately Cameron and Framboise will also overcome their personal grief and open their hearts to the possibility of change and love.


A Spark Unseen by Sharon Cameron
When Katharine Tulman wakes in the middle of the night and accidentally foils a kidnapping attempt on her uncle, she realizes Stranwyne Keep is no longer safe for Uncle Tully and his genius inventions. She flees to Paris, where she hopes to remain undetected and also find the mysterious and handsome Lane, who is suspected to be dead.

But the search for Lane is not easy, and Katharine soon finds herself embroiled in a labyrinth of political intrigue. And with unexpected enemies and allies at every turn, Katharine will have to figure out whom she can trust - if anyone - to protect her uncle from danger once and for all.

September 23, 2013 - Monday
September 24, 2013 - Tuesday
September 25, 2013 - Wednesday
September 26, 2013 - Thursday
September 27, 2013 - Friday

Friday, September 27, 2013

Review: The Dream Thieves - Maggie Stiefvater

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater
Series: The Raven Cycle #2
Genre: YA, adventure, fantasy, supernatural
Published on September 17, 2013
Published by Scholastic Press
Pages: 439
Read From: 9.21.13 - 9.23.13

Ronan Lynch has secrets. 
Some he keeps from others. 
Some he keeps from himself. 
One secret: Ronan can bring things out of his dreams. And sometimes he's not the only one who wants those things. 
Ronan is one of the rave boys - a group of friends, practically brothers, searching for a dead king named Glendower, who they think is hidden somewhere in the hills by their elite private school, Aglionby Academy. The path to Glendower has long lived as an undercurrent beneath town. But now, like Ronan's secrets, it is beginning to rise to the surface - changing everything in its wake.


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? Yeah, you can kind of see the character impersonator's face, and I would rather that you couldn't, but I still really love the cover. Broody, mysterious, very atmospheric, it's just plain awesome.

Characters: Ronan Lynch is still my least favorite raven boy. I would never in a million years ask the Author to get rid of him, because he serves a very good purpose to the story and adds a lot to the group. But he still isn't my favorite. Even so, I really enjoyed getting to know Ronan better in this installment. He's a very complex character and I have to admit that after he stood up for Adam in The Raven Boys, while I will never number him as a favvie, I do hold some love and respect for him. Ronan has a lots of ghosts he's facing, and he's a character that the Reader would like to connect to, but he's almost too intimidating for that. He forces the Reader to keep their distance, and it makes him a very interesting character. I really liked seeing more of what made Ronan Lynch tick; what made him the way he was. Noah is still my absolute favorite raven boy; he's just too adorable. Is it even physically possible for him to become more adorable? I just want to give him a big hug! Gansey continues to be a great "main" character (it's hard to pinpoint a main character in Maggie's books); a strong leader, a guy with two faces. One he presents to the public, and the obsessed scholar. I love his loyalty and big brother tending of the other raven boys. Adam was probably the most painful to read about. Still an absolute favorite, he's gone through a lot of changes since The Raven Boys, and it hasn't exactly had a good effect on him. Poor Adam was an emotional wreck in The Dream Thieves, and I was cringing the entire time. He sort of comes full circle, but I still get the awful feeling that by trying to change what he saw in the dreaming tree, he's just made it worse. Adam isn't going to avoid tragedy that easily, and I'm just dreading the moment when things spiral completely out of control for him. It's a good kind of dread, though. Happily, Blue continues to be a great girl protagonist. She has spunk and personality, and she still manages to be "one of the guys" without developing an annoying Attitude. I love her, though I still agree with Gansey: she should be called Jane. :-) There are some new characters in The Dream Thieves as well. There's the Gray Man - a hitman for hire. Call it weird, but the Gray Man was my favorite new character. He was just brimming with a personality that you would never expect a hitman to have. And most Authors couldn't pull off his sort of personality; Maggie Stiefvater can. He had so many quirks, and was a surprisingly really decent and normal guy. His hitman work was just a way to pay the bills; really, he was more interested in writing books about Old English. I just really cannot express how awesome I thought he was. And then there's Kavinsky. Maggie Stiefvater knows how to write disturbing little creeps. She did it in The Scorpio Races with Mutt, and she did it with Kavinsky. Every time he appeared, I wanted to take a shower in acid; he was just so creepy. I absolutely hated his guts, and I loved what he brought to the story.

The Romance: Blue and Gansey are starting to have feelings for each other. However, neither of them want to hurt Adam's feelings (and somehow, I get the awful feeling that this is going to backfire on them later), so they keep their feelings under wraps.

Plot: You know what, I'm not even going to try. As short as the official synopsis is, it does a way better job of summing up The Dream Thieves than I ever could. To put it simply: it was weird. Weird, weird, and weird. Maggie Stiefvater does weird very well; she writes the sort of weird that, were it in the hands of a less skilled Author, wouldn't work. But she makes it work in ways you wouldn't think possible. The Dream Thieves is a tiny bit slower than The Raven Boys. Less time is spent on the actual search for Glendower, and more time is spent on setting up character emotions and relationships. In short, it acts as an in-between book; a bridge into the next two. There's nothing wrong with that; I'm not complaining in the least. The Raven Cycle is a complex series, and because it has so many weird elements, the Author is taking the smart choice and setting everything up carefully and meticulously so the Reader isn't confused later. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the characters better, spotting new clues that may become important later, and exploring this world of magic and the supernatural. At times, though, the weirdness factor almost got a little too much. I can't elaborate a great deal on that without giving things away, but there were moments when I thought, "O-kay, that's just a little too bizarre." It never went over the edge, but there were brief moments were it came close. If it had been any other writer, other than Maggie Stiefvater, it would have tipped over and had a very long fall, possibly dragging the entire book with it. But thankfully, Maggie Stiefvater did write this and so the weirdness level doesn't go too far.

Believability: Not applicable.

Writing Style: Third person, past tense. We follow various different characters in each chapter, but it doesn't get confusing - or boring. There was never a moment where I thought, "Oh, we're following this character now; yawn!" I enjoyed all of the point of views. The Author's writing style really is quite modern, but it's a modern that I really enjoy. She has a way of pulling her Readers in with her descriptions and overall ambiance. I'm not a fan of modern-based stories, but her stories never feel modern. I just adore everything about her style.

Content: 27 f-words, 27 s-words, 9 g--damns. There are a few off-color jokes and innuendos, but nothing explicit. Like The Raven Boys, I really, really, really wish I could give The Dream Thieves five stars. I love everything about it. But the profanity level in it is just way to high for my liking. Some Readers won't mind this, especially since the profanity is in the context of character personality. However, even if it's realistic for a character to use strong profanity, it still bothers me, and thus I am forced to subject some stars.

Conclusion: While the majority of The Dream Thieves is a tad bit slower than The Raven Boys, the climax totally makes up for it. Perhaps the most bizarre part of the entire book, it's also one of the best. Until you get to the very end, where the Author is absolutely cruel and ends it on the world's worst cliffhanger. I kept flipping the last few pages back and forth, convinced that I was missing something. Surely that wasn't where it ended! The Dream Thieves is not a disappointment at all. It's everything I thought it would be - and then some. Once I picked it up, I didn't want to put it down. My only complaint is the profanity. Other than that, this book totally deserves five stars. It's amazing.

Recommended Audience: Girl-and-guy read, eighteen-and-up due to profanity and some off-color innuendos. Fans of Maggie Stiefvater will love it, as well as Readers who are looking for something different and intriguing.

Others in The Raven Cycle:
1)The Raven Boys
2)The Dream Thieves
3)Blue Lily, Lily Blue

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Review: The Rithmatist - Brandon Sanderson

The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderon
Series: The Rithmatist #1
Genre: YA, alternate reality, steampunk, mystery
Published on May 14, 2013
Published by Tor Teen
Pages: 374
Read From: 9.20.13 - 9.21.13

More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Chosen by the master in a mysterious inception ceremony, Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as chalkings. Rithmatists are humanity's only defense against the wild chalkings - merciless creatures that leave mangled corpses in their wake. Having nearly overrun the territory of Nebrask, the wild chalkings now threaten all the American Isles. 
As the son of a lowly chalkmaker at the Armedius Academy, Joel can only watch as Rithmatist students learn the magical art that he would do anything to practice. Then students start disappearing - kidnapped from their rooms at night, leaving trails of blood. Assigned to help the professor who is investigating the crimes, Joel and his friend Melody find themselves on the trail of an unexpected discovery, one that will change Rithmatics - and their world - forever


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? I love the cover; it's very steampunk and intriguing and just well done. I love it.

Characters: Joel may have an unfortunate name (I am not a fan of the name Joel), but he's a terrific protagonist. I myself don't like math, but I absolutely love characters who are math geniuses, and that's exactly what Joel is. He's brilliant and shares my exact problem with classes: they're too easy and therefore boring. There is no intellectual challenge. I was able to "connect" with Joel very easily because of his brilliance and ability to solve things quickly, as well as his love for true learning. Melody, the girl protagonist, was an immediate hit as well. Dramatic and a bit flirty, one would think that Melody would be the sort of character who gets on one's nerves super easy, but I actually loved these things about her. The Author put just the right amount of flirty and dramatic, while maintaining brilliance, wit, sarcasm, and loyalty. "My life," Melody declared, "is a tragedy." (pg. 96) If you laughed at that bit of dialogue, then you'll love Melody, because that's exactly that she's like all the time. The other characters - Harding, Fitch, Exton, Florence, Nalizer - are all so very memorable and so much fun. Harding, the police inspector who once was on the battlefronts of Nebrask; Professor Fitch, the classic forgetful but lovable and intelligent mentor; Exton and Florence, the principal's secretaries whose banter is so funny; and Nalizer . . . the professor who is fun to hate because of how he humiliates Fitch. The one that the Reader totally doesn't trust - nor does anyone else. The one who could very possibly be a villain, or just might be a red herring and turns out to be a hero in the end. Either way, he's fun to hate. The wealth of characters and their distinctive personalities may be this story's strongest point.

The Romance: There isn't any!

Plot: In an alternate world similar to ours, and yet so very different, there are people called Rithmatists. They have the ability of drawing chalk pictures that come to life, though not all chalk drawings do, for there are rules to Rithmatics, just like with math or science. Rithmatics may seem like magic, but it is in fact a very elaborate scientific law that has been discovered in this world. At the age of eight, every child of the American Isles undergoes an inception ceremony - an experience that either determines if a person has the ability to become a Rithmatist, or is a mundane. Rithmatists are the foremost defense against the wild chalkings on Nebrask - strange chalk creatures that attack anything and anyone. Their origins are unknown, but they are vicious and must be contained, or the American Isles will fall. More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. His father, before he died, was a chalkmaker for the Rithmatists, and Joel's mathematical mind makes him an ideal candidate for the role. But for whatever reason, his inception ceremony did not name him a Rithmatist, and so he spends his days at Armedius Academy studying regular subjects and devouring everything he can get his hands on about the Rithmatists, while banned from any actual Rithmatic classes or even the Rithmatic section of the academy library. Then Rithmatic students start disappearing. Judging from the crime scenes, it is determined that another Rithmatist must be kidnapping them - but to what end? And what are the bizarre drawings he leaves behind - drawings that no Rithmatist has seen before? Because of his great intelligence and extensive knowledge on Rithmatics, Joel is permitted to join Professor Finch in his quest to discover who is the rogue Rithmatist, and with the help of Melody - an actual Rithmatic student - the three set out to solve the case. But there's far more going on that either of them realize, and it will take a non-Rithmatist to see it. I loved the world and the plot. Part steampunk, part mystery, part alternate reality, part fantasy, this is one extremely original idea. At first, the idea of chalk drawings that come to life seemed too weird and even a little boring. How interesting can a duel be between two people that just sit there and draw? I was, thankfully, dead wrong. Rithmatics is weird, there is no denying that, and at times I had just the slightest trouble picturing the chalk duels. But I ended up being absolutely enthralled with the world of Rithmatics and found the duels to be downright exciting. I also really loved the steampunk flairs, and the mystery of the kidnapped students was riveting. The Author has left himself plenty of space to continue his world building, so not every single question is answered in The Rithmatist, but the right number of questions are covered in this first installment, and I trust that the others will be, too, as the series progresses.

Believability: Not applicable.

Writing Style: Third person, past tense. The style itself was nothing special, but the Author brought his world vividly to life regardless. Each chapter begins with a mini illustrated "lesson" on the basics of Rithmatics, and at first I didn't really like this. But after a while, I realized that by doing this, the Author was able to get into the technicalities of Rithmatics without bogging down the actual narration. This was a very wise move on his part, and while some people will find the mini lessons a bit too technical, they are helpful when it comes to picturing chalk duels.

Content: None.

Conclusion: As the pages got fewer and fewer, I suddenly realized that the Author had pulled another fast one on me: I didn't know who was going to be the villain! He had two possibilities, and either of them had the potential of being red herrings. And when it is finally revealed, it was a moment of, "Oh my gosh, I did not see that coming!" Ah, but the Author wasn't finished, and he pulls yet another fast one that left me so ridiculously pleased that I couldn't stop grinning for the rest of the day. The Rithmatist will not be what you're expecting. Yes, it is weird, but it is a totally good kind of weird. I wasn't expecting to fall so far in love with this world or with the characters. People, if you don't like Harry Potter because wizards just aren't your thing, The Rithmatist is the equivalent for steampunk fans!

Recommended Audience: Girl-and-guy read, fourteen-and-up, great for fans of steampunk and mysteries and alternate realities.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday #16

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine.
It's a weekly meme about upcoming books we're excited about!

The Unbound
(The Archived #2)
by Victoria Schwab
Publication Date: January 28, 2014

From Goodreads:

Last summer, Mackenzie Bishop, a Keeper tasked with stopping violent Histories from escaping the Archive, almost lost her life to one. Now, as she starts her junior year at Hyde School, she's struggling to get her life back. But moving on isn't easy - not when her dreams are haunted by what happened. She knows the past is past, knows it cannot hurt her, but it feels so real, and when her nightmares begin to creep into her waking hours, she starts to wonder if she's really safe.

Meanwhile, people are vanishing without a trace, and the only thing they seem to have in common is Mackenzie. She's sure the Archive knows more than they are letting on, but before she can prove it, she becomes the prime suspect. And unless Mac can track down the real culprit, she'll lose everything, not only her role as Keeper, but her memories, and even her life. Can Mackenzie untangle the mystery before she herself unravels?

Her Dark Curiosity
(The Madman's Daughter #2)
by Megan Shepherd
Publication Date: Jaunary 28, 2014

From Goodreads:

Months have passed since Juliet Moreau returned to civilization after escaping her father's island - and the secrets she left behind. Now, back in London once more, she is rebuilding the life she once knew and trying to forget Dr. Moreau's horrific legacy - though someone, or something, hasn't forgotten her.

As people close to Juliet fall victim one by one to a murderer who leaves a macabre calling card of three clawlike slashes, Juliet fears one of her father's creations may have also escaped the island. She is determined to find the killer before Scotland Yard does, though it means awakening sides of herself she had thought long banished, and facing loves from her past she never expected to see again.

As Juliet strives to stop a killer while searching for a serum to cure her own worsening illness, she finds herself once more in the midst of a world of scandal and danger. Her heart is torn in two, past bubbling to the surface, life threatened by an obsessive killer - Juliet will be luck to escape alive.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday #13

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish 

Today's Top Ten Tuesday topic: top 10 best sequels ever. It was actually hard to limit to just ten, but I did my best!

Inspell by Cornelia Funke. Sequel to Inkheart, and the 2nd book in the Inkworld Trilogy. I adore both sequels, but Inkspell is my favorite. It was such a good addition; such a good way to continue this wonderful series.

Princess of the Silver Woods by Jessica Day George. Sequel to Princess of the Midnight Ball and the 3rd book in the Princess Trilogy. I liked Princess of Glass as well, but Galen wasn't in it, so it didn't live up to Princess of the Midnight Ball. However, this one did, because it brought the entire trilogy to a complete circle, and Galen was present.

Scorpia Rising by Anthony Horowitz. The 9th book in his Alex Rider series. Maybe because it's the last book in a series, it doesn't really count as a sequel, but I'm going to, because it's a sequel to at least one of the books in the series, right? I loved how this ended. It was realistic and very final and properly bittersweet. And even better, Alex finally got to use a gun!

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer. Sequel to Cinder. The 2nd book in her Lunar Chronicles. I really liked Cinder, but Scarlet was just such a triumph. I'm not a fan of werewolves, but her werewolves were awesome, and I just adored Wolf. There were so many awesome new characters and plot development - I just loved it.

The Grim Grotto by Lemony Snicket. Book #11 in A Series of Unfortunate Events. I honestly cannot truly pick a "best" sequel in this series, because they are all good. They each have a unique element that make them better than the last. But because Fernald (AKA the hook-handed man) is my favorite henchman of Olaf's, The Grim Grotto is my favorite.

Rogue's Home by Hilari Bell. Sequel to The Last Knight, and the 2nd book in her Knight & Rogue Novel series. I just adore this series, and the characters, and the sequels never disappointed me. This particular one was way awesome.

A Spark Unseen by Sharon Cameron. Sequel to The Dark Unwinding. I honestly didn't think The Dark Unwinding needed a sequel, but A Spark Unseen was every bit as good as the first book, and I loved it.

Sapphique by Catherine Fisher. Sequel to IncarceronIncarceron is probably my favorite out of the two, but Sapphique was a wonderful sequel, even if it did get weirder and weirder. I still really liked it.

House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones. Sequel to Howl's Moving Castle, though technically it's the 3rd book in the trilogy. I actually read this series backwards, but that didn't matter too much. I adored this book as much as Howl's Moving Castle.

Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers. Sequel to Grave Mercy. Book #2 in the His Fair Assassin trilogy. I loved, loved, loved, loved this book! Oh my gosh, the characters, the concept - all wonderful. While there is no actual content, there were enough sexual innuendos to force me to give this book a mere 3-star rating, when it actuality I desperately wanted to give it four.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Review: Of Beast and Beauty

Of Beast and Beauty by Stacey Jay
Genre: YA, fairytale retelling, science fiction
Published on July 23, 2013
Published by Delacorte Press
Pages: 391
Read From: 9.19.13 - 9.20.13

"In the beginning was the darkness, and in the darkness was a girl, and in the girl was a secret. . . ." 
In the domed city of Yuan, the blind Princess Isra, a Smooth Skin, is raised to be a human sacrifice whose death will ensure her city's vitality. In the desert outside Yuan, Gem, a mutant beast, fights to save his people, known as the Monstrous, from starvation. Neither dreams that together, they could return balance to their worlds. 
Isra wants to help the city's Banished people, second-class citizens despised for possessing Monstrous traits. But after she enlists the aid of her prisoner, Gem, who has been captured while trying to steal Yuan's enchanted roses, she begins to care for him, and to question everything she has been brought up to believe. 
As secrets are revealed and Isra's sight, which vanished during her childhood, returns, Isra will have to choose between duty to her people and the beast she has come to love.


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? I love the rose and the city in the background. I'm even all right with the character impersonator, because her face is entirely cut off. So long as I can't see her face, I don't mind it if a person is on the front. Generally. And of course, the title is very attention-grabbing. Between that and the rose, it's pretty obvious that it is some sort of Beauty and the Beast retelling.

Characters: This is partially where the story fell down for me. I liked Izra at first (maybe mostly because I adore her name). She was strong-willed and practical, but lacked an attitude. However, as soon as she becomes queen, her strong will pretty much evaporates. She has plenty to protest and wants to do good things for her city and her people, but she never actually does anything. Instead, she constantly bows to her advisers, repeatedly proving their point that she is a weak ruler. She never once assumes that maybe her changes for the city will be met with opposition; she just proposes her plans, accepts that her advisers actually agree with her (when in fact they are lying, and disagree most vehemently), and then curls into herself like a turtle when they oppose her. Do something, Izra! You have good intentions; now do something to make things better! Play the game! Only play it better than the advisers; stay one step ahead of them. When it comes to political intrigue, you need a character who is strong and intelligent and who can outwit the evil-minded politicians. Otherwise the Reader will get frustrated with the protagonist, just as I did with Izra. The one thing I applauded her for what being suspicious of Bo, who so obviously had ulterior motives. Now, as for Gem, I won't say that I disliked him. He had a temper, and he spent most of the story angry or manipulating Izra. But his anger was understandable, and as he got to know Izra, he himself became better. But I just never attached to him. Needle, Izra's mute servant girl, was the only character I 100% liked. She had her head on her shoulders, at least.

The Romance: The other story's stumbling block. Despite their initial mutual dislike for one another, Izra and Gem do fall for each other - and hard. Izra's feelings develop faster than Gem's, so I found his narration more tolerable than Izra's. But I didn't like it period. Izra wasn't in love with Gem's personality - that is quite obvious. All she wants to do is touch him, and have him touch her, and all she can think about is his sensuality. Gem's feelings for Izra are pretty much the same, and since sleeping with a woman before you're married is perfectly acceptable in his tribe, he has no moral dilemma trying to bed her. There's also Bo thrown into the mix, creating a love triangle that actually isn't all that annoying, because Izra figures out pretty quickly - immediately, in fact - that Bo just wants Izra's throne.

Plot: When humans first came to this world, they were not adapted to living there. So as a gift to them, the world caused the humans to mutate so that they might carve a life for themselves easier in her lands. But many of the humans saw these mutations as a curse, and the untainted build their domed cities and formed an evil pact with the Dark Heart of the planet. The Dark Heart demanded the blood of a royal woman in order that the domed cities might be sustained. This pact polluted the world, and a once lush land turned into a harsh desert wasteland. Grieved, the planet placed a curse on the Soft Skins: not all of them would be safe from mutations, and if a Soft Skin maiden could find it within herself to love a Monstrous above all others, and the domed cities fell, life would be restored to the planet. Being the daughter of the king of Yuan, it is Izra's lot in life to one day be the blood sacrifice to the Dark Heart. She's known it all her life, just as she's known that she is tainted: displaying Monstrous traits through her flaky skin and her blindness. Gem is a Monstrous from the desert, and his people are starving. Desperate to save them, he attempts to steal one of the magical roses of Yuan that keeps the city alive. But he's caught, and it's only due to Izra's mercy that he lives. She believes that Gem knows how to grow herbs that help heal Monstrous traits in Soft Skins. It isn't true, but Gem isn't about to tell her that it's a lie, for it allows him to be let out of his cell every day to plant a field of supposed healing herbs. He intends to watch and wait until he can steal a rose and flee back to his people. But though Izra and Gem both hate each other deeply, they don't count on discovering that what they both thought of Soft Skins and Monstrous is not entirely true. And with Izra's looming marriage, for she must produce a daughter before being sacrificed, she comes to realize that Gem may just be her only way out of Yuan. This is where Of Beast and Beauty is really strong. The Author has taken the traditional fairytale Beauty and the Beast and completely made it her own. There are all of the classic elements that we all recognize: the roses, the captive, the hate that grows into love (or lust, in this case), the curse and the prophecy, the Beast and the Beauty, though the roles are somewhat reversed. While Izra is Beauty, she is the one who is cursed, who has the rose garden, and who holds the prisoner. Gem is the Beast in appearance, but he is the one who steals the rose, and who is held captive. The Author has even thrown in a Gaston for us - Bo. But she has taken the fairytale and written a deeper, more complex story, with dashes of dystopian, science fiction, and even murder mystery. Readers will still recognize their beloved fairytale, but they will also encounter a story that they have never seen before. It is one of the most original retellings I have ever read, and it is masterfully done. The plot never once lags in its speed, and I absolutely loved all of the world building. Of Beast and Beauty may, in fact, suffer a bit from too much world building, but it is what made this book worth reading in my opinion.

Believability: Not applicable.

Writing Style: First person, present tense. The chapters switch between three different narrators: Izra, Gem, and Bo. You will know by now that I am no fan of present tense. It gives novels a very movie-ish feel and completely saps all poetry and rhythm from the writing, which is what literature is all about. However, the present tense in Of Beast and Beauty worked very well, and there were moments where the Author had some truly beautiful paragraphs. The beginning alone had me hooked. And as mentioned above, her world building is amazing.

Content: Another place where the story falls down. Izra and Gem have a very serious makeout session (pg. 162-164). No clothes come off, but there is plenty of roving hands, lots of tongues in mouth (and not just in this one scene, either; whoever said French kissing was appealing? Gross!), and Izra makes several lewd innuendos about Gem's gentleman's part. It's a very "steamy" scene, even if it stops short of actually stripping anyone's clothes off.

Conclusion: Other than Gem and Izra ending up together, I really wasn't entirely certain how this book would end. And however frustrated the Reader might get with Izra's lack of doing things, the climax is pretty exciting, and would have been emotional for me if I had cared about any of the characters. If Of Beast and Beauty didn't have such amazing world building and such an original take on Beauty and the Beast, this would have gotten a 2-star rating, because I did not care about the characters, and the content was up there enough to irritate me. But I just loved the world and the originality, so I cannot hate this book entirely.

Recommended Audience: Girl-read, seventeen-and-up, great for fans of fairytale retellings who like a science-fiction twist and who don't mind steamy romance. If you do mind steamy romance, be warned that there is a lot of French kissing and a scene.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Stacking the Shelves #15

Stacking the Shelves is a meme hosted by Tynga's Review


The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater
Now that the ley lines around Cabeswater have been woken, nothing for Ronan, Gansey, Blue, and Adam will be the same. Ronan, for one, is falling more and more deeply into his dreams, and his dreams are intruding more and more into waking life. Meanwhile, some very sinister people are looking for some of the same pieces of the Cabeswater puzzle that Gansey is after . . .

September 16, 2013 - Monday
September 17, 2013 - Tuesday
September 18, 2013 - Wednesday
September 19, 2013 - Thursday
September 20, 2013 - Friday

Friday, September 20, 2013

Review: Speaker for the Dead - Orson Scott Card

Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card
Series: Ender's Saga #2
Genre: YA, science fiction
Published on August 15, 1991
Published by Tor Books
Pages: 280
Read From: 9.15.13 - 9.18.13

Three thousand planet-bound years have fled since Ender Wiggin won humanity's war with the Buggers by totally destroying them. Ender remains young - travelling the stars at relativistic speeds, a hundred years or more might pass while he experiences a month-long voyage. In three thousand years, his books The Hive Queen and The Hegemon have become holy writ, and the name of Ender anathema; he is the Xenocide, the one who killed an entire race of thinking, felling being, the only other sapient race humankind had found in all the galaxy. The only ones, that is, until the planet called Lusitania was discovered and colonized. 
On Lusitania humans found another race of ramen. . . .a young race, beings just beginning to lift their eyes to the stars and wondering what might be out there. The discovery was seen as a gift to humanity, a chance to redeem the destruction of the Buggers. And so the Pequininos, as they were named by the Portuguese-speaking settlers, the "Piggies," were placed off-limits to the colony. The only humans allowed to meet them and speak with them are trained xenobiologists, and then only two at a time. This time, there will be no tragic misunderstanding leading to war. This time. . . . 
This time, again, men die - bizarrely killed by the Piggies. Andrew Wiggin is called to Lusitania to Speak the deaths of the two xenobiologists, and walks into a maelstrom of fear and hatred. To Speak for these dead, he must first unravel the web of secrets surrounding the lives of the Piggies and those who study them. He must Speak not only for the dead, but for a living alien race.


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? I'm sure science fiction nerds adore the cover art for Orson Scott Card's books, but I don't. It's boring, dated, and . . . well, boring. And quite honestly, this particular cover has nothing to do with the story; it only indicates to the Reader that it's futuristic.

Characters: Ender Wiggin is still an awesome character. No longer a kid, but a man in his thirties, he's seen a lot of the universe in his three thousand years of existence. He may not look that old, because traveling at the speed of light makes time pass faster for him than the world, but his soul is ancient. Does this change him from the Ender Wiggin we loved so much in Ender's Game? No, because Ender always was a bit of an old soul; he merely has the experience to back it up now. His blunt honesty and dislike for lies is something to be commended, and he has a great sense of humor, albeit rather dark and tinged with guilt and bitterness. But Ender is the only redeeming quality in this otherwise bizarre book. All of the other characters I either didn't care or disliked. Novinha was too flawed, all of her children had some sort of personal issue (Grego worst of all; what is it with theses psychotic children?), and everyone else was pretentious or dull. Jane was all right, but I'm simply not a big fan of intelligent computer characters. We never really got to see the piggies through their own eyes, so any opinion I had of them was through the humans', and thus I never came to think of them as anything more than strange primitive-minded aliens (it didn't help that I kept picturing them looking something like baboons, since my mind couldn't conjure up any other kind of image).

The Romance: Ender likes Novinha, for some reason, and while his affection for her feels very real indeed, I never got the sense that Novinha liked him in that manner. So their mutually shared feelings came across as rather sudden. Miro's relationship with Ouanda bothered me - [Spoiler] especially when the Reader knows that she's his sister [End spoiler] - and Novinha's relationship with Libo didn't interest me, either.

Plot: It is three thousand years after the events of Ender's Game. Humanity has colonized space, but they haven't met any other intelligent aliens since the Buggers. Until a Portuguese colony settles on Lusitania, where they meet a tribe of aliens they call "piggies." They seem primitive, but in possession of great intellect. The colony of Milagre is set up, and xenobiologists are permitted to go out and study the piggies - provided they do not interfere with the "natural evolution" of their society. But the xenobiologists studies are hindered with their inability to ask certain questions in fear of letting the piggies discover something about human culture and advancements that they shouldn't. And then one of the xenobiologists, Pipo, discovers something that causes the piggies to kill him in a gruesome manner. Pipo leaves behind his son Libo and a young girl, Novinha, who regarded him as a father. Bitter and afraid that Libo could die in the same way, Novinha destroys the research that killed Pipo and calls for a Speaker for the Dead to come Speak for Pipo's death. Ender Wiggin hears her call and answers, arriving at distant Lusitania twenty-two years later. In that time, Novinha has married, Libo has died in the same manner as his father, and Novinha has changed her mind about wanting a Speaker. But when her husband dies of a strange disease, Ender stays to investigate. For he believes that the disease, Pipo's and Libo's deaths, and the piggies may all be connected. Okay, so it sounds like a really interesting murder mystery, and I had some small hope that maybe that was the turn it would take. But unfortunately, the murder mystery part gets lots in everything else. And the everything else is tons and tons of religious discussions, moralistic debates, and bizarre evolutionary occurrences. I also cannot get over the fact that none of this would have been a problem if 1)Novinha had simply shared her research, and 2)if the xenobiologists had just asked a couple of important questions. The plot's pacing is slow, dull, and meandering. And it spends a ton of time focusing on how the heck the native species of Lusitania reproduce. Which of course then leads to the characters spending several useless pages making suggestive jokes and observations. Ender's Game was pretty slow, but this was excruciating.

Believability: Not applicable.

Writing Style: Third person, past tense, though it at times slipped into first person. This was mostly when we were privy to a character's private thoughts, but the Author doesn't ever inform us Readers when the character is going to suddenly start thinking to himself. The Author also continues his tradition of not explanation or describing anything. Aliens are always hard to describe, I realize, but he could have tried a bit harder with the piggies. And did I understand that the year is actually 1970? What happened that made humans discover space travel so bloody early? But the worst thing his writing suffers from is an extreme amount of preaching. This entire book felt like an hours-long sermon. But the most annoying thing about it was I don't rightly know what the Author was trying to say. The preaching was there, but its purpose was unclear.

Content: Lots of discussions about reproductive organs, which, yes, does go from basic scientific observations to lewd jokes.

Conclusion: This was the weirdest bit of it. And also the most annoying, because the Reader suddenly realizes, "You know, this whole thing could have been avoided. Why didn't they ask these questions in the first place? Why did Novinha have to lock up her research? Why, when Jane discovered it all, did she not tell Ender sooner?" Speaker for the Dead was bizarre, boring, and an overall pointless read. Ender is still cool, but he isn't enough of a reason to read this.

Recommended Audience: Guy-read, seventeen-and-up, great for Orson Scott Card fans, as well as those Readers who like preachy books that explores deep and complex moralistic ideals (without really ever making it clear what issues it's exploring exactly).

Others in the Ender's Saga:
1)Ender's Game
2)Speaker for the Dead
4)Children of the Mind

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Review: Still Star-Crossed - Melinda Taub

Still Star-Crossed by Melinda Taub
Genre: YA, classic retelling, romance
Published on July 9, 2013
Published by Delacorte Press
Pages: 352
Read From: 9.11.13 - 9.15.13

Despite the "glooming peace" that has settled on Verona following Romeo's and Juliet's tragic deaths, the ancient grudge between the Montagues and Capulets refuses to die: the two houses are brawling in the streets again within a fortnight. Faced anew with "hate's proceedings," Prince Escalus concludes that the only way to marry the fortunes of these two families is to literally marry a Montague to a Capulet. But the couple he selects is uninterested in matrimony, for the most eligible Montague bachelor is Benvolio, still anguished by the loss of his friends, and the chosen Capulet maid of Rosaline, whose rejection of Romeo paved the way to bloodshed. In contrast to their late cousins, there's no love lost between these two, and so they find a common purpose: resolving the city's strife in a way that doesn't end with them at the altar. 
But like Romeo and Juliet before them, Rosaline, Benvolio, and the prince find that the path to peace is torturous, and that in Verona, true love lies where it's least expected.


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? I am not a big fan of the cover at all - it, in fact, almost put me off reading the book altogether. It screams romance and girly read and all those things that I really don't like. And while Romeo and Juliet isn't my favorite Shakespeare play, I was curious to see what a "what happened afterward" story would be like. So I ignored the cover and gave it a try.

Characters: I at first didn't care about anyone. As a matter of principle, I tend to not have an opinion either way about the characters of Romeo and Juliet, no matter who they are. So it was that when I first met Rosaline, I shrugged and said, "Eh, whatever." But it really didn't take long for Rosaline's spunky personality to win me over. She and her sister, Livia, have a strong-willed character that is both period appropriate and refreshing in a story that is made rather famous for its flighty females. Benvolio, too, started off as someone I really didn't care all that much about. The most sensible Montague youth in Verona, he showed enough potential as a character that I was willing to give him a bit more of a chance than Rosaline (I'm usually harder on female characters), but I still didn't really care about him. And like Rosaline, he grew on my affections very rapidly. Sensible and honorable, he was perhaps my most favorite male character in the entire story. On the flip side, Escalus began as someone I rather liked and then was less likable as the story progressed. At the same time, I appreciated his sticky situation. The ruler of Verona, Escalus is desperately trying to keep the Montagues and Capulets at peace with each other. He's willing to use desperate measures if it calls for it. I knew Escalus didn't want to, but as he continued to deal with Rosaline harshly and with deceit and manipulation, I liked him less and less. But then he redeems himself in the end, and I went back to liking him.

The Romance: Yes, there is a love triangle. Rosaline and Benvolio begin the story by hating each other. Their mutual dislike is perhaps a bit petty, as they each lay blame on the other for things that really weren't their fault, but it is also understandable. Benvolio has lost his two best friends and Rosaline is mourning her young cousin's death. But circumstances force them to work together, and they are both united in the fact that neither wants to marry the other. Besides, Rosaline could never Benvolio even if things were different between their families, for her heart belongs completely to Escalus. But as romance usually goes in stories like this, the more Rosaline gets to know Benvolio, the more she realizes that he truly is someone she could love. Especially given the cruel lies Escalus has recently used against Rosaline for his own ends. Surprisingly, though, the love triangle is not nearly as prominent or as annoying as one might think. Benvolio and Escalus are both very likable young men. Escalus has his up-and-down moments, but he really is a good person in the end. Rosaline is torn between the two young men, but she doesn't spend a lot of time bellyaching over it. There are far more important matters to attend; romance can wait. And Benvolio and Rosaline's attraction is gradual and feels genuine and deep, unlike many romances, so I actually became emotionally invested in what happened to them. In short, this is a love triangle that actually works.

Plot: With the deaths of young Romeo and Juliet, the Montagues and Capulets have promised their lord, Escalus, that they will set aside their blood feud. But someone is trying to stir up trouble between them again, and the truce will not last long. In an attempt to solidify it, Escalus forces his childhood friend and Juliet's cousin Rosaline of the Capulets to marry Benvolio of the Montagues, Romeo's boyhood friend. He prays that such a union will bring the two families together at last and see peace restored to Verona. But neither Rosaline nor Benvolio wants the marriage to take place. Before Juliet, Romeo pined for Rosaline, who spurned his attentions. Stricken with grief over his friend's death, Benvolio is convinced that if Rosaline had not turned Romeo away, the two tragic deaths would never have happened. And Rosaline has renounced marriage and wishes to join a convent, for her heart already belongs to another - a man she can never have due to her low station in life. United in their determination to break off their engagement, Rosaline and Benvolio agree to work together to discover who it is that is trying to stir up trouble between the Montagues and Capulets. But they are running out of time, as a masked man stalks the streets killing Montague and Capulet alike. Verona is once more on the verge of war, and it is up to them to fix it. Part of what makes Still Star-Crossed such a better story than Romeo and Juliet is it has a purpose; it has a real plot. Part mystery, part espionage, part political intrigue, this imaging of "what happened afterward" had my attention within 30 pages. I admit that at first I wasn't all that interested, simply because it had to do with Romeo and Juliet. But after that, I was very intrigued, as more twists were revealed and I became more and more invested in what happened to Rosaline and Benvolio. There were moments of frustration, when characters would take one step forward towards solving the mystery, and then two steps back, but it was a good kind of frustration. The villains are relatively easy to figure out after a while, but it is easy to see why the protagonists wouldn't see it as soon as the Reader does. It's, all in all, a great alternative for those who don't want to read Romeo and Juliet.

Believability: The Author notes that she is writing about Shakespeare's Italy, and is therefore not necessarily historically accurate the geography may not be realistic. I can accept that, especially since she acknowledged it in her note.

Writing Style: Third person, past tense. I highly commend the Author for her astounding effort to copy Shakespeare's style while still making the story easy for the everyday Reader to understand. I was extremely impressed in this area. I also really enjoyed her little hidden references to Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing. I challenge the Reader to find them.

Content: None.

Conclusion: When circumstances go horribly wrong for Benvolio and he is forced to flee, he and Rosaline discover that whoever is behind the attacks against the Montagues and Capulets has far greater ambitions than they initially thought. And if they don't act fast, it will be too late for Verona - and Escalus. The climax stays true to Romeo and Juliet in that it has a tragic end. But because it is also better than said play, the tragedy isn't pointless and just there for tragedy's sake. It is the sort of tragedy I enjoy: it creates a very bittersweet end, where things overall conclude very well, but with a bit of a dark shadow dampening it. I wasn't disappointed at all, and was downright impressed with this book.

Recommended Audience: Girl-read, fifteen-and-up, great for fans of Romeo and Juliet, as well as Readers who don't care for Shakespeare's star-crossed lovers story. I would recommend this to any of my anti-Romeo and Juliet friends in a heartbeat.