Thursday, September 27, 2012

False Memory: Not very convincing...

False Memory
By Dan Krokos
Hardcover, 327 pages
Hyperion Books, August 2012

Genre: Sci/Fi, Thriller

Rated to Read: 2 stars on Goodreads.

Summary: Miranda wakes up alone on a park bench with no memory. In her panic, she releases a mysterious energy that incites pure terror in everyone around her. Except Peter, a boy who isn’t at all surprised by Miranda’s shocking ability.

Left with no choice but to trust this stranger, Miranda discovers she was trained to be a weapon and is part of an elite force of genetically-altered teens who possess flawless combat skills and powers strong enough to destroy a city. But adjusting to her old life isn’t easy—especially with Noah, the boyfriend she can’t remember loving.

Then Miranda uncovers a dark truth that sets her team on the run. Suddenly her past doesn’t seem to matter... when there may not be a future.

Dan Krokos’ debut is a tour-de-force of non-stop action that will leave readers begging for the next book in this bold and powerful new series.

Review: Oh! How I wanted to LOVE this. I was certainly impressed by Krokos' Q & A on the fabulous blog: the midnight garden. And quite honestly, it was this Q & A post that compelled me to check out his book in the first place. (He also makes some pretty insightful comments on author-reviewer relationships.)

So you see...I was so ready to love this.

It really pains me to say I don't. Right off the bat, I knew I was heading into rocky territory. The first few scenes didn't fit very well with what I expected of an amnesiac: a girl finds herself without any memory and she calmly tells a mall cop "Hello. I lost my memory. I was wondering if you could help." If I was in her shoes, I think I would probably appear frantic, confused, and more anxious about what was happening to me. Haven't you ever walked somewhere, like to the pantry to get something but then when you get there, you've forgotten why you were there in the first place? Well, sadly that happens to me A LOT. And I always feel out of sorts afterwards trying to remember. So it made me think: what if you lost ALL your memories? Wouldn't you feel a little more...unrestrained? Wouldn't you be scared? And in Miranda's case, wouldn't you expect her to manifest those fear waves immediately?

Then later on, I felt that some parts of the story seemed off: when Miranda meets Peter, it feels weird that there is so much drama and mystery of how he knows her. Why was he acting as if it was some kind of game to him? And if you just met a stranger, would you eat his mango chicken? uh. gross. And for someone who is supposedly a top notch weapon, why does Miranda make so many mistakes--like forgetting to grab the gun when she fights Grace?  I also completely missed the point of Miranda feeling like kissing these 2 boys all the time; she kisses one and then she immediately wants to kiss the other. If I had a better sense of her, I think I would have understood her motivations better. But the part that bothered me the most was that the Roses were created to cause destruction--just because. Very little light is shed on the creator's motivation for making them--aside from them being "mad scientists." I think that's an easy explanation but not a compelling one; I wished there was more background to the story to make it believable.

I do think the concept for the story is interesting: teenagers used as weapons, with amnesia as a side effect, and I admire Krokos's challenge for writing a female perspective. It seems like it's received good reviews so you might like it. But for me, I found the story to be choppy and flat in places. I would have appreciated more character development in such a plot-driven story. Unfortunately, I lost interest in the characters and plot by by the last 1/3 of the book, skimming and skipping to the end.

This marks Book 12 in the 2012 Debut Author Challengehosted by the Story Siren.
Challenge completed!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Under the Never Sky: Perry, I want you...

Under the Never Sky
By Veronica Rossi
Hardcover, 376 pages
HarperCollins, January 2012

Genre: Sci/Fi, Dystopia, Paranormal Romance
Rated to Read: 5 Plus Plus Stars on Goodreads. Your shelf needs this.

Summary: Since she'd been on the outside, she'd survived an Aether storm, she'd had a knife held to her throat, and she'd seen men murdered. This was worse.*

Exiled from her home, the enclosed city of Reverie, Aria knows her chances of surviving in the outer wasteland - known as The Death Shop - are slim. If the cannibals don't get her, the violent, electrified energy storms will. She's been taught that the very air she breathes can kill her. Then Aria meets an Outsider named Perry. He's wild - a savage - and her only hope of staying alive.

A hunter for his tribe in a merciless landscape, Perry views Aria as sheltered and fragile - everything he would expect from a Dweller. But he needs Aria's help too; she alone holds the key to his redemption. Opposites in nearly every way, Aria and Perry must accept each other to survive. Their unlikely alliance forges a bond that will determine the fate of all who live under the never sky.

Review: Finally. It's happened. Book after book, I'd been waiting for that ONE close-to-perfect story of 2 polar opposites: characters who hate each other--then grow to love. And while there have been some really great stories out there like Angelfall and Legend which share a similar element, I wanted something more: I wanted to feel more of their hate at the onset. (Of course, what you feel is completely subjective so that's not to say the other stories can't produce the same feeling. It's just that this one worked better for me.)

Having been raised on the inside of a metal dome (pod), Aria's life basically consists of visits to the Realms through her smarteye. The Realms are a multi-sensory, multi-dimensional place accessible through your brain. Think of it like the Matrix. But when Aria loses contact with her mother (who is a geneticist/scientist on a secret mission), she is determined to find out the cause. Her plan? Hang out with the son of the man in charge of the mission by sneaking into an empty section of the pod. Unfortunately, not the best plan for her as she ends up exiled to the outside world.

A world she has only heard stories about. "A world of nevers under a never sky." A place controlled by the Aether storms: a swirl of colorful clouds that strike fire on the ground. A place governed by Savages: tribes that survive together. Here, Aria must learn to survive or die.

First, I hope I haven't divulged too much. The beginning was a bit confusing so I hoped to give you a base to start from. And even as I was intrigued by this "new world," my interest really didn't pick up until about 100 pages in...right when Aria and Perry meet up. But then. Oh boy, did things start to get really interesting...

What I loved most about this story was Aria and Perry's relationship: their misconceptions and disgust for each other. It was raw hatred. Which made it all the more exciting and fulfilling to discover how, when, and why those feelings changed. And why they need each other even more now. Aria was especially an interesting character to me; I really enjoyed her sarcasm, optimism--even in light of dire situations, kindness, sacrifice, and naivety.  Oh! and how Perry rivals all the other male leads! He is both ruthless and gentle, loyal, and sensitive.

The other parts I loved were how so many ideas were woven so neatly into this complex world: the idea of nature being a catalyst for genetic change (our "senses" growing stronger), genetic modifications, and how a simulated reality can alter our nature. By the way, the Aether storms aren't fully explained--which I didn't have too much of a problem with...I assume it's an act of nature. But then again, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe it's the result of a nuclear bomb or something. So, yeah...I guess Rossi could have explained its origin better as well as how it contributed to the genetic mutations. 

Overall though, Rossi must have read my mind. For me, this book had all the right elements that made it one of the best stories I've read so far this year. I do still like the UK edition better *sigh* (I need this cover.) and the tag line makes better sense, too. The only bummer about reading this so late in the year (sadly, I had to wait that long for its library arrival) is that I missed all of her book signings! If I had only known...but at least now I won't have to wait so long for #2!

This marks Book 11 in the 2012 Debut Author Challengehosted by the Story Siren.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Graceling: A case of commitment...

By Kristin Cashore
Hardcover, 471 pages
Harcourt Books, October 2008

Genre: Fantasy
Rated to Read: 2 Stars on Goodreads

Summary: In a world where people born with an extreme skill - called a Grace - are feared and exploited, Katsa carries the burden of the skill even she despises: the Grace of killing. She lives under the command of her uncle Randa, King of the Middluns, and is expected to execute his dirty work, punishing and torturing anyone who displeases him.

When she first meets Prince Po, who is Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change.

She never expects to become Po's friend.

She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace - or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away...a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone.

Review: Maybe my expectations were too high. Maybe I thought the story would center on the adventures of a female "James Bond." Instead, all I got was a bad taste in my mouth. It's not that Graceling was so poorly written: I actually found the writing style and world building nicely done. It's just that...I think I was lied to.

First, Cashore refers to Graceling as growing "from her daydreams about a girl who possesses extrodinary powers-and who forms a friendship with a boy with whom she is insurmountably incompatible." So imagine my surprise when Grace meets Po (the insurmountably incompatible guy) and I end up waiting...and waiting...for the big "reveal" only to find out their incompatibility is due to her being a fighter and him being aware of his surroundings. Now how exactly is that insurmountably incompatible? See...incompatible would be an angel hater saving an angel (like Angelfall). Or a demon falling in love with an angel (like Daughter of Smoke and Bone).

Second, there's the problem of Katsa. Obviously, this girl is carrying around some childhood baggage because she's got some major anger management issues. In one scene she "swung at (Po's) jaw with the side of her hand" bruising his jaw because she didn't like what he was saying about King Randa's hold over her. Whhhaat?! In another, she refuses to understand Po's reason for keeping his Grace a secret. Is she really that clueless? Of course, she eventually comes to her senses and end up in his arms.

Which comes to my second point: a lover or a husband? While Katsa has her own view on what these two definitions mean: freedom or imprisonment, what it really boils down to is commitment. There's just something that doesn't feel right with Katsa and Po's relationship. Basically, she wants to be with Po but without being tied to him and all it requires..."For once she became his wife, she would be his wife forever. Her freedom would not be her own." and "How will you feel if I'm forever leaving? If one day I give myself to you and the next I take myself away--with no promises to return?" It just seems to me that if you are in a relationship (married or not), there should be a certain level of commitment: loyalty, sacrifice...If the tables were turned and Katsa were a man, he most certainly would be considered a player.

My biggest disappoint is that the messages of feminism are poorly characterized in Katsa. Does Katsa have to behave like a stereotypical man (or feminist) in order to further the feminist movement? If a man hit a woman or didn't commit to a relationship, would we honor him for using his manhood? So why should it be okay for Katsa to behave this way? That's not what feminism is about: it's about embracing womanhood and striving for equity between the sexes. 

Of course, there were also some minor character/plot development issues like: Katsa finding out that her grace is not actually in killing but in survival (which doesn't really make sense because how then is she able to inflict accurate pain on someone else when she's not being threatened?); or how Princess Bitterblue has the clarity of an adult when she's really only ten; or why the urgency to protect Bitterblue from her father (why she was so important to the King; if she died, then what? what's the consequence?); or why King Leck decided now (and not before) to spread his power across the kingdoms.

Overall, this was a desperately painful read but I was determined to finish...why? maybe I thought there was some redeeming grace at the end. But sadly, the entire time, I just begged it to be over.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Ghost and the Goth Trilogy: Don't Judge a Book by its Cover

I meant to solely (Oh, isn't that punny?) review Body & Soul, the last and final book in the series but my love for this series forces me to share the book love.

The Ghost and the Goth. By Stacey Kade. Hardcover, 281 pages. June 2010, Hyperion Books 
First we have The Ghost and the Goth, or in this instance, a case of "Don't Judge a Book by its Cover." Because you have to admit, the cover looks like a repeat of "Sweet Valley High." But the story sounded interesting (a newly dead cheerleader "Alona' who befriends a ghost-talking social outcast 'Will') even if it did seem cliche.

The Gist: After the first few pages, I almost put the book down. There were the typical stereotypes and I thought, "Oh, Great. What have I gotten myself into." But not to fear! The story evolves quite nicely and changes into a deeper story about unlikely friendships. It's a bit predictable but the dialogue and humor of the dual POVs kept me thoroughly entertained. Read the full review here.

Queen of the Dead. By Stacey Kade. Hardcover, Hyperion, May 2011. 

Next we have Queen of the Dead: Part 2 of the trilogy. Again...I somewhat cringe at this cover: did we have to make will's hair so...flat and goth nerdy? In this one, Alona and Will's friendship grows as they try to work and use Will's power for good. But Will meets another ghost talker and things get a little more complicated.

The Gist: Kade has a good thing going with this series. I wasn't planning on liking it as much as I do. The dialogue of the two characters flow very well with humor and sarcasm. I've laughed and laughed and laughed. And I love the "He said, She said" element of the story. The plot begins to get a little more twisty and ends on a very complicated note. Read my full review here.

Body and Soul. By Stacey Kade. Hardcover, 316 pages. Hyperion , May 2012. 

Which brings us to the last installment of the series: Body & Soul. I guess third time's the charm because they finally did something right with the cover! In this one, Alona is stuck in the body of Will's friend Lily. As they try to make sense of this situation, things get complicated when another ghost wants a turn in Alona/Lily/Ally's body.

My Review: This series has definitely found its place on my "books I need to own" shelf. As soon as I read the first page, I was hooked. Kade has this way of writing that is not only catchy and witty but natural-as if each character him/herself is telling me his/her side of the story. And how does she come up with all those lines?!

I really grew to love Will and Alona. They have both matured and become more selfless and caring. You can really feel their longing for this relationship to work out. And when this other ghost complicates things, I couldn't help but hope for that happy ending.

In the end, I was very happy. I was actually surprised by how well everything in the story seemed to work out. I still shed a tear or two when I said good-bye to Alona and Will. I had some pretty good times with those two. I can't wait for Kade's next series: The Rules. Also seen on Goodreads. (Content Advisory: some language.)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Masque of the Red Death: Anyone else thinking Darth Vader mouth pieces?

Masque of the Red Death
By Bethany Griffin
Hardcover, 319 pages
Greenwillow Books, April 2012

Genre: Dystopia, Steampunk, Gothic, Sci/Fi
Rated 4/5 Stars on Goodreads 

Everything is in ruins.

A devastating plague has decimated the population. And those who are left live in fear of catching it as the city crumbles to pieces around them.

So what does Araby Worth have to live for?

Nights in the Debauchery Club, beautiful dresses, glittery make-up . . . and tantalizing ways to forget it all.

But in the depths of the club—in the depths of her own despair—Araby will find more than oblivion. She will find Will, the terribly handsome proprietor of the club. And Elliott, the wickedly smart aristocrat. Neither boy is what he seems. Both have secrets. Everyone does.

And Araby may find something not just to live for, but to fight for—no matter what it costs her.

Review: Plagued with guilt over her twin brother's death, Araby tries to escape her subconscious at the Debauchery night club. Outside the entire world is broken. The "weeping sickness" is only kept at bay through porcelain masks (I can't help but imagine "Darth Vader" type mouth coverings), worn only by the wealthy and prestigious. Araby's father is the inventor of these masks and as Araby's world begins to crumble by those that seek power, she must decide who or what she's capable of fighting for.

Based on the short story by Edgar Allen Poe of the same title, Griffin took an idea and grew it into a fascinating and complex story. This is one of the very few, if only, steampunk stories I've ever really held onto. Carriages that run on steam; new inventions with a feel of the 19th century. The world is spot on for gothic dystopia: dark, dreary, Edgar Allen-painted with so much imagery and feeling that I could clearly picture the devastation and turmoil. 

Also, try saying debauchery without getting the chills.

But what really struck me were the characters. Talk about complex. To explain, let me refer to a post I came across by Laurie Halse Anderson in which she discusses characters who have dimension and depth. Masque of the Red Death is a perfect example of those characters. Araby, Will, and Elliott all behave both admirably and despicably. Which if done poorly can make a reader go crazy but here Griffin balances their character traits so that you realize no one is absolutely good or absolutely evil. Mind you, there were some parts that made me go "huh?" but for the most part, it kept me on my toes. At times I couldn't help but wonder if given the choice, what I would decide.

My only discontent or puzzlement I have with the story is that the "Red Death" is not introduced into the plot until much later. I was a bit confused because I thought the masks were to prevent the "Red Death." I'm not so much bothered that it stopped me from enjoying the story but I think it would be an interesting idea to discuss.

If you are in the mood for a dark and captivating story, check this one out. I definitely think it's one  to put on your to-reads shelf.