Thursday, March 1, 2012

American Heiress

by Daisy Goodwin
496 pages

Be careful what you wish for. Traveling abroad with her mother at the turn of the twentieth century to seek a titled husband, beautiful, vivacious Cora Cash, whose family mansion in Newport dwarfs the Vanderbilts', suddenly finds herself Duchess of Wareham, married to Ivo, the most eligible bachelor in England. Nothing is quite as it seems, however: Ivo is withdrawn and secretive, and the English social scene is full of traps and betrayals. Money, Cora soon learns, cannot buy everything, as she must decide what is truly worth the price in her life and her marriage.

I was so disappointed by this novel! If I was expected to feel sorry or emphathise with Cora, I’m sorry to say I didn’t. An American heiress who has had more tutors and etc than her English counterparts, whose mother had always prepared her to go to Europe and secure a title, didn’t have any idea of the English social scene or what would be expected of her once she got this title? At every turn she seemed to have the carpet pulled out from under her feet. I just couldn’t believe it. And there were pages and pages dedicated to folks who didn’t appear to give any other relevance to the story, other than those pages. They never showed up again, what they saw or heard never played a role in the story later on.

I kept imagining The Buccaneers, which I also didn’t like.


by Dan Wells, 480 pages (ARC)

I'm trying to fill the void left by Divergent and The Hunger Games, and this really fits the bill.  It's slow to start, but the twists make it more than worth it.  I felt like I really understood what was happening to the folks left behind on Long Island (although it turns out I had no clue), but I wouldn't have had that without the slow build-up.  And I'm a sucker for imagery, and I still can't stop thinking about the crazy images Dan Wells has conjured in my minds eye.  Way to go!

Love & Leftovers

by Sarah Tregay, 432 p.

I chose this book for an upcoming book discussion without reading it - man did I have some good luck.  This is just a beautiful story of heartbreak and confusion and finding out that when you've finally got things figured out, you don't really know anything in the first place.  I'm not normally a fan of books written in verse, but this story really couldn't have been written any other way.  It's so much more personal and makes everyone come to life.

Two thumbs way, way up.

The Virginian

by Owen Wister
306 pages

This is a Western classic.  The Virginian is a true cowboy, but he's got the heart and soul of a true gentleman.  He lives by the Western code of honor, which is very different from that of the East.  Unfortunately, his code of honor causes conflict with his sweetheart's Eastern sensibilities and threatens to destroy their future together.

I LOVED this book.  I never thought I'd say that about a western, but once I got into it, I couldn't put it down.  My only complaint is that the southern dialect of the Virginian is a bit hard to understand in places, but this book is so beautifully written that it makes up for it.  Wister really made me think about ethics and whether things are always as black and white as we make them.  This book has given me a lot to think about, and I may re-read it at some point in order to digest it more fully.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

"Something Strange and Deadly" by Susan Dennard

400 pages

"Parasols, corsets, and zombies!" That's how the description on the back of this book begins, and that pretty much sums it up. Eleanor Fitt, a young woman in late 19th-century Philadelphia, has a lot to worry about. Her brother has gone missing after a trip to New York, and her family has fallen on hard times since the death of her father. Her mother is convinced that the only way to save her family is to marry Eleanor off to any rich young man who walks by. But those troubles seems like a walk in the park after the Dead begin to rise all over town. And, even worse, Eleanor learns that whoever is controlling the Dead army has taken her brother as well. If Eleanor is going to find him, she’ll have to venture into the lab of the notorious Spirit-Hunters, who have been hired to protect the city from supernatural forces. But as Eleanor spends more time with the Spirit-Hunters, including their maddeningly stubborn yet handsome inventor, Daniel, things get more dangerous and her very life is at risk.

I thought I'd like this book more than I did. I think I was disappointed because I recently read Cassandra Clare's Clockwork Angel, and this is very similar. Both have the following: a steampunk vibe; a missing brother and a sister on a mission to save him; a dashing, mysterious love interest; and similar conclusions. It all made this one feel predictable, which may or may not be fair but there it is. That said, I did enjoy a lot of this story. I love the fiery, feisty Eleanor and how she refuses to step aside and let the boys do all the work/have all the fun. Also, it's a fast-paced, fun read with lots of action. Although it wasn't my favorite zombie story, it was definitely worth reading and I plan to read the rest of series. (Thanks for the advance copy, Sarah!!)

Grave Mercy by R.L. LaFevers

509 pgs/2012

Sired by death himself, Ismae is taken away as a young girl to a convent of St. Mortain (death's convent) where she will be trained in the art of assassination. Yes, that's right-nun assassins!! When trouble begins brewing at court and those close to the duchess can't be trusted, Ismae is selected to go undercover and figure out who is the traitor. Intrigue, court drama, and even a bit of romance hand this book over to readers who like historical fiction-and spies. I would suggest this for readers who liked Graceling as well. It's the first in the series, but the next book will feature a different character, so the main storyline is wrapped up nicely, yet leaving you wanting more from these sisters who also are spies.


by Tami Hoag
282 pages

Bronwynn is a quirky Boston socialite and former model who just jilted her two-timing fiancé at the alter.  Wade is an overworked Indiana Congressman with an ulcer who has been ordered on vacation by his doctor.  These two very different people meet by chance in rural Vermont.  They quickly realize that they bring out the worst AND best in each other.  Is it possible that these two very different people can fall in love and form a lasting relationship?

I enjoyed this book, mainly because the characters were so real.  They have flaws, but they are good people.  They aren't stereotypes, and I appreciated that.  This book was predictable, and the end was definitely contrived.  There are also some tastefully spicy scenes in this novel, so I would not recommend it to every reader.  I listened to the audio version of this book and would recommend that format to others.


by Veronica Roth, 487 pages

This is the new "Hunger Games" for teens. It's another dystopian society, but instead of the country being divided into districts, people are segregated into factions. The factions represent human traits or values: Erudite, Harmony, Dauntless, Abnegation. As teens age they are given a choice: which faction do you belong to? If you choose a faction different than your birth family, you are supposed to sever all contact with them. There is a another category for those who don't fit in just one mold: Divergents. But this is never openly talked about, because if you are Divergent, you are a danger.

Beatrice is born into Abnegation, a faction which values selflessness. But she is restless and unhappy, and longs to be a different person. She casts her heritage aside and joins another faction. She changes her name and undergoes a metamorphosis. She's helped along by her relationship with her trainer, a handsome young man called Four. Soon she is leaping into space, jumping from trains, and battling other trainees. Others envy her success, and she makes dire enemies. Often her life is threatened.

While some plot elements are almost a given, Roth creates a future dystopian city where Chicago used to be. Her world building is different and interesting, and not all questions about it are answered. It is going to be a trilogy, after all. Most of her characters have flaws and aren't perfect. They remain mysterious, so we are compelled to read more, to find out what happens next.....

is the second volume. We are guessing about the next title---I'm thinking Emergent. But maybe not...

"Tweak: Growing Up On Methamphetamines" by Nic Sheff

336 pages

Nic Sheff's substance abuse began when he was eleven, when he got drunk for the first time. For the rest of his teenage years and early twenties, he would regularly smoke pot, do cocaine and Ecstasy, and develop addictions to crystal meth and heroin. Through it all, he thought he could always stop and live a clean life if he wanted to. Then, after a violent relapse, Nic finally realized that he was out of control and decided to get help. Though that was the turning point, Nic learned that recovery was far from simple--in fact, it turned out to be the most difficult thing he'd ever done.

This is an extremely compelling, heartbreaking memoir. Nic spares none of the gory details, which can be sickening but are also very interesting. He's honest about why the drugs appealed to him at first and how they helped him escape from his problems but ultimately ruined his life. Throughout his struggle, Nic learns (and shares with us readers) how to deal with the parts of himself and his life that he was unhappy with, a process that was absolutely crucial to his recovery. Though I can't relate to Nic's drug use, there are a lot of other parts of his story that I do understand. He writes about feeling lonely and isolated, without the skills to cope with things like most people. As he puts it, it's like everyone in the world got some sort of how-to manual that he never received. I can definitely relate to that, in my "Ahhhh, I suck at life!" moments. I think everyone has felt like that at some point--though maybe some of us more than others ;). Overall, definitely a book worth reading.

Gideon's Corpse

by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, 355 pages

I'm guessing part of the reason Preston and Child have created a new character and series is to appeal to a younger demographic. Gideon Crew is younger than their Special Agent Pendergast, my favorite literary FBI agent (Fox Mulder is still my fave TV FBI guy). The Crew character is a former physicist at Los Alamos. Brilliant and troubled, he becomes a reluctant free-lancer for a secretive security firm in New York. Part of the reason he goes along on these dangerous assignments is that he's been told he has a fatal brain defect which will kill him in a year or two.

This time Gideon is hauled away from his New Mexico mountain retreat to deal with a former colleague who has apparently become a nuclear jihadist. The deranged scientist is holding hostages and ranting about being dosed with radiation and tortured. When the scientist is killed, the authorities find evidence that Washington DC will be hit with some sort of nuclear attack. Soon Gideon comes under suspicion himself, and has to go on the run. He still tries to figure out who the real terrorists are and stop them in time.

This is the type of book they tend to call "adrenaline" because the action never stops. The technology is cutting edge and plot elements are ripped from current headlines. Not much time is spent on character development or relationships. They have almost a cinematic pace and some of the "stunts" are more than a bit over the top. I would recommend the series if that's the sort of pacing and thrills you enjoy. I prefer the Special Agent Pendergast series---they are still thrillers, but I love the Pendergast character. He's like a super-strong Elven Sherlock Holmes. Now that's a detective to (almost) die for.

Breaking Stalin's Nose by Eugene Yelchin

144 pgs/2011
A short (only 140 pages!) middle grade fictional story set during Stalin's rule. Taking place over the course of about 24 hours, a young boy questions his loyalties and thoughts on communism. It's an interesting read and I can see where things about this novel appealed to the Newbery committee which awarded it an honor. The author packs a lot of emotion and makes the reader question ideas just as Sasha begins to. I do wonder if the subject would be grasped easily by young readers or if it's better suited for a classroom discussion.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

318 pgs/2012

Hazel was prepared to die when she was diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer. But thanks to a miracle drug, Hazel is still alive. Going to support group (which she hates) Hazel tends to keep people at a distance. She reads a book that Hazel loves-An Imperial Affliction. All she wants is to know what happens after the ending? She feels the author, Peter Van Houten, is the only other person who understands what it is like for Hazel living with cancer. She wants to write to him and meet him, but Van Houten is a recluse living in Amsterdam.

That is until she meets Augustus Waters at support group. A cancer kid himself, Augustus begins to break down Hazel's walls. Hazel doesn't want to get close to Augustus-she doesn't want to cause Augustus grief because eventually her miracle drug will not work and she will be gone. Is it worth it to open her heart to Augustus? Will she find out what happens at the end of An Imperial Afflicition? I can't say more-so read it for yourself!

Irises by Franciso X. Stork

288 pgs/2012

Two sisters lives are left in turmoil after the death of their father. Their mother has been in a vegetative state for many years and now the girls are left alone. Mary wants to leave Texas and study at Stanford, Kate wants to stay with mother, but the grief of never losing mother is preventing Kate from enjoying painting like she used to. The girls father was always strict and now that they are free from his rules, the girls have to figure out how to help each other and live their lives. This is a quiet book-not a lot of action.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

387 pgs/2012
Cinderella as a cyborg? It could happen! In Marissa Meyer's retelling, Cinderella is a cyborg who was picked up by a family and taken in. Her father has died and her stepmother (who I never understood why she called stepmother, because really it would be her adopted mother, but it has to go with the story I guess) wants nothing to do with her. A plague is tearing through New Bejing and cyborgs are being tested for a cure. When Cinder's stepmother finds out that her daughter has taken ill, she sends Cinder into the testing center and Cinder might just have what they've been waiting for all along. But who exactly-or what exactly is Cinder? And with the prince crossing her path, she can't risk revealing her true identity. A fun futuristic twist on a familiar fairy tale, Cinder is the first in a series with the following books taking on new fairy tales. There are still questions left to be answered, so the book will leave you wanting more.

Blood Red Road by Moira Young

459 pgs/2011

Saba has lived in Silverlake all her life. When one day mysterious strangers arrive and her brother is kidnapped and her father is murdered, Saba and her younger sister are on the run. They have to save her brother Lugh before the king gets to him.

This was an interesting dystopian, although it took me awhile to get through it. There is no puncuation and the dialect is odd, so it was hard to get a grasp of the narrative for awhile. I finally downloaded it on audibook and tried it that way, which made it easier for me to follow along and make distinctions between the characters. It wasn't my favorite dystopian novel-it was very long and there seemed to be lots of stops along the way of the major storyline, but I liked it enough to keep reading (or listening) and I think it'd be a good readalike for The Hunger Games.

Smokin' Seventeen

by Janet Evanovich, 308 pages

Here we are with Stephanie Plum in book 17 of the series. In typical Evanovich fashion, the mystery plays second fiddle to the other antics. This time the bail bonds office owned by her cousin Vinnie has burned to the ground, but somebody is planting bodies in the construction site. The corpses all seem to have mob ties, but the killer is adept at disposing the bodies without leaving much evidence at the scene. Both Joe Morelli and Stephanie end up investigating the murders.

In the meantime, Stephanie's mother is trying to match her up with a guy named Dave. He went to high school with Stephanie and is a gourmet chef, but Steph has a hard time convincing him that two men in her life is all she can handle...barely. She doesn't have room for a third, but he keeps showing up and cooking her fantastic meals. Everyone but Stephanie and Morelli think Dave is a great catch.

Mini spoiler: Trust me, he's not.

This far along in the series the books seem to be basically the same plot. Stephanie juggles the two hot men in her life and manages to get her car blown up by various baddies. Stephanie's life is in danger, either from the bad guys or from eating too many doughnuts. In the real world, Stephanie would have been killed by now or at least would have moved on to a better job. That said, I still enjoy listening to them as I commute. I find myself laughing out loud at some of the things Lula (Steph's hilarious sidekick) and Grandma Mazur say and do. There are usually some funny secondary characters as well, like Mooner, the amiable stoner. So if you are looking for a fast, funny read, I'd recommend the series, but space them far enough apart to give yourself a break. Otherwise you'll end up feeling a little queasy, as if you ate too many doughnuts yourself.

The Butterfly Clues by Kate Ellison

336 pgs/2012
Lo is grieving the loss of her brother and her OCD seems to be getting the better of her. When she hears about the murder of a girl in neighborhood she recently visited and then discovers her jewlery at a flea market, Lo becomes obsessed with solving the case. This is an engaging mystery and the OCD characteristics add to Lo's character.

Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral

272 pgs/2012

A book told through photos, texts, letters and stuff-yep it can be done. Chopsticks is an interesting book. Is it a love story? A mystery? A little of both? There are multiple ways you can take the ending of the story-did you catch all the clues? This is a book that will leave you thinking about it after you finish. You can read it in book format or download the app-it's an interactive reading experience with videos, music, and photos. If you read it, let me know what you think of the ending? What really happens??

Dead End in Norvelt

By Jack Gantos, 341 pages

This current Newbery winner has been reviewed and discussed at length, so I won't spend a lot of time on it. This is is a summer vacation gone wrong story is set in the sixties and details the misadventures of Jack, who between his somewhat eccentric parents and constantly bleeding nose seems to never have a normal day. When he is volunteered by his mother to assist his elderly neighbor write obituaries, he thinks things can't get any weirder, but the vacation is just beginning. People seem to be divided into two main camps over this book, those that love it and those that like it but don't think it deserved the medal. I'd be curious to know your thoughts!

Tithe: a Modern Faerie Tale

by Holly Black
331 pages

After returning home from a tour with her mother's rock band, sixteen-year-old Kaye, who has been visited by faeries since childhood, discovers that she herself is a magical faerie creature with a special destiny.

This book was just not my cup of tea. For a few reasons. First, while I like fantasy and magic, I didn’t like the fairies and their world. And I like my heroines “pure” for lack of a better word right now. Kaye smoked, drank and was a high school drop out. I just didn’t want to believe that she could lead. She once uses her magic to enchant her best friend’s (her only friend) boyfriend into falling in love with her. He kisses and gropes all over her. Then when you want to see some groping action between Kaye and Roiben, there’s none.

And even though there may be answers to some of the questions I have in the following books, I don’t think I’ll be reading them.

The Scorpio Races

By Maggie Stiefvater, 409 pages

I have never been one for horse stories. Some people love them, some people do not, I have always firmly fallen into the latter category.

In this horse story, however, the horses eat people.

Yeah, got my attention too! Add to that an author who has been churning out popular books like there's no tomorrow and the book appearing on a slew of award and watch lists, and I had to read it pretty soon! The story has two main characters, both residents of the island of Thisby. Thisby is the home of the water horses, aquatic beasts who slightly resemble land horses but have a carnivorous appetite. The animals live in the ocean, but every fall come out of the water on the beaches of Thisby. The residents of the island are at once terrified and entranced by the beasts, people have died, every year for hundreds of years, but yet the people embrace the creatures with festivals and the Scorpio Races. This annual horse race drives the economy of the island where hundreds come to watch men ride the dangerous horses and tempt death. Sean Kendrick knows the horses all too well, his father was killed in the races before his eyes as a child and he has been catching and training the horses ever since. He is also the reigning champion, riding one of the best water horses on the island. Perhaps this year, if he wins again, he will have enough money to buy his beloved horse from his employer and finally be his own person. Puck has a different story. She was never that interested in the Scorpio Races, but that changed last year when her parents were killed by the horses in their boat. An orphan now, Puck is doing everything she can to keep her family - an older and a younger brother - together. Unfortunately, she needs money, and suddenly taking the risk of racing is her only option. But only one can win...

I found this book to be one of Stiefvater's best. The concept of the water horses gives just enough grit to make it less of a 'horse story' and more of a thriller. Pick it up if you haven't yet!

The Girl of Fire and Thorns

By Rae Carson, 424 pages

Elisa has always lived in the shadow of her older sister. Plain, overweight, not talented or particularly interesting, she would be content to hide from the world if only it weren't for that pesky gemstone that was embedded in her navel that marks her as the chosen one. On her sixteenth birthday, life changes rapidly as she marries the king of a neighboring country and becomes queen in her own right. Sort of. Things are odd in her new home and not only does she struggle to figure out where she fits in, she starts feeling as though major things have been kept from her throughout her life. Dangerous things. But before she is able to make sense of the discomforting clues surrounding her, she is kidnapped and her life turns upside down. Now Elisa has to make her own choices and her own loyalties, the time for hiding is over.

I'm sorry to say it, but I really do not see what all the hype is about this book. I think it is an interesting idea, but I feel as though the story falls short. Some parts just make no sense to me, like how a child marked at birth as the chosen one receives no training from her royal family. Or how everyone around her can keep so much from her and then send her away without even attempting to explain things. The character development got me too, at the beginning it is extensive and I felt connected to Elisa, but as the story progressed I felt like less time was spent on that and more on just getting to the end. At one point, Elisa has a major life loss but the author only spends about half a page on her reaction, I had to go back and re-read thinking I had skipped several pages. I definitely think the story has potential, I just hope that more care is taken with the upcoming series.

What's A Disorganized Person To Do?

by Stacey Platt, 277 p.

Thankfully, I'm now organized.

The Statistical Probability of Love At First Sight

by Jennifer E. Smith, 236 p.

This is another lovely romance-y book.  It's a fast story, but it totally fit the bill.  It starts of with a meet cute, then ends with two young lovers finding each other again in a huge city.  Ah!  I couldn't have asked for more from a new book I didn't know anything about.  Way to go.

Decade of nightmares : the end of the sixties and the making of eighties America

by Phillip Jenkins, 344 p.

This is a fascinating theory that I think about all the time.  The whole idea that the older siblings of the 60's led to the younger siblings of the 70's and 80's rejecting those ideals and embracing a sort of backwards conservatism.  Absolutely fascinating.  But the book was a little dry.  Good thing I have an active imagination and knew a bit about the subject.

Finnikin of the Rock

By Melina Marchetta, 399 pages

Five days is all it takes for nine-year-old Finnikin's life to change. The ruling family of his realm is murdered and a curse is spread on the land making it impossible for people to enter or leave. For ten years Finnikin travels to different countries trying to help his refugee people, until a novice named Evangelin insists that one of the heirs to the throne survived. Suddenly Finnikin is thrown into a massive quest to find the heir and save his people, even though he has his doubts. As the quest progresses, Finnikin feels that Evangalin is not being honest, but can't escape the desperate hope that has kindled inside him or the complicated feelings he has for her. Will the group triumph and restore their homeland to it's former glory? Or is it all a ruse and will the failure destroy the last hope the people of Lumatere?

I was impressed with this book. Although it is epic fantasy, the story was just as much about refugees and the importance of hope to their lives. It is a long read but well worth it, and a much more grown-up fantasy.

Awkward Family Pet Photos by Mike Bender, 173 pgs

What can you say? We love our pets to distraction, and in doing so make some questionable photographic decisions. I read this while my husband was trying to work on his genealogy, but I kept interrupting him. I'd chortle and stick the open book under his nose. "Look at this one!"

Since these are already on the Internet, I thought I'd share a few good ones. Oh, what we do to our fur children in the name of love!

Cate K, proud "parent" of Nerf and Samantha

What To Wear Where

by Hillary Kerr and Katherine Power, 158 p.

I like books about clothes.

Sue me.

In the Garden of Beasts

by Erik Larson, 448 p.

I wouldn't even be able to imagine what it was to live in the early days of Hitler's Germany as an American.  Thankfully this is a wonderful account of the American ambassador's family's lives in Berlin.  It's personal, inquisitive and, frankly, shocking.

I'm an Erik Larson fan to begin with (he of "The Devil in the White City"), and this was a great follow-up.

Where Things Come Back

By John Corey Whaley, 228 pages

This book was...interesting...and I liked it...but it was confusing...but I liked it...sort of...I don't know. This is a story of Cullen Witter and the disappearance of his brother, and the apparent reappearance of a believed to be extinct woodpecker. And a side-story that is completely unrelated until the last part of the book. Cullen thinks he is just your average teenager dealing with growing up and putting up with his annoying/mean/stupid classmates. His younger brother is most definitely not average, he has a life outlook that is at once unusual and refreshing. When his brother disappears, Cullen learns first hand how loss can make others treat you differently and makes you view yourself differently. Rather than focus a large amount of time on his brother's disappearance, the town is instead obsessed with the recent sighting of a woodpecker believed to be extinct. Add to that the occasional side-story going on, and it is easy to get confused during this book. I feel that many things had potential about this book, I liked the characters and the voice, but the side-story especially was a major distraction. I think the book would have been much stronger without it. Not my least favorite book I've read lately, but certainly not my favorite.

Hollywood Babylon

by Kenneth Anger 292 p.

Holy. Cow.  This book is craaaaaaaaaaazy.  This is some serious gossip rag, but like a gossip rag on steroids.  No wonder it was banned for so long.  Talk about salacious.  Or juicy.  Take your pick.


by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral, 272 p.

As I was reading this originally I thought the book was sloppy, but then as some things were explained to me and I reread it, stuff makes a little more sense.  It's a tragic story, but sweet nonetheless.  But is the story really happening?  That's what you need to ask yourself when you read and re-read it.

150 Pounds

by Kate Rockland, 332 p.

This is, by far, one of the worst books I've read in a long time.  And I"ve read a bunch of horrible books.  It's reminiscent of a Jennifer Crusie/Jennifer Weiner book gone wrong.  Catty, bitchy, crazy chicks. The one redeeming quality is the description of the farm in New Jersey.  I totally want to live on an apple farm.   Other than that, skip it.  Just do.

Jasper Jones

By Craig Silvey, 310 pages

I liked this Printz Honor more than I thought it would. It blends your basic coming-of-age novel with murder and mystery and keeps the reader hooked. Charlie has never had much to do with his town's outcast, Jasper Jones, he is usually too busy avoiding bullies, skirting his angry mother, and trying to spend some 'normal' time with his best friend. But Jasper brings Charlie into a nightmare when he comes begging him for help in the middle of the night. Jasper's discovery slowly opens Charlie's eyes to the societal injustices in his community, family, and the world. Suddenly Charlie learns that things are not merely right or wrong, but instead that moral gray area between the two where decisions are not so easy to make. This is about a small town mystery, but the book is about so much more than that, there is a depth here that is refreshing to discover. Spend some time with this book, it may make you question your position in that moral gray area too.

Missed Connections

by Sophie Blackall, 128 p.

You know the infamous Missed Connections page on Craigslist? These are some of the best that Sophie Blackall found.  They're beautifully illustrated and quirky and so very imaginative.  It was a wonderful escape just to read this book.  If only I'd had a nice Missed Connections (and not a creepy one...)


By Veronica Roth, 487 pages

This is a dystopian action/finding your identity book and many are designating it as the natural follow-up to the Hunger Games. The story takes place in future Chicago, where society has been divided into factions based on virtues such as bravery and selflessness. The factions are meant to function as a set of balances to ensure that whatever brought the former government down doesn't happen again. Children choose their faction in their sixteenth year, but the catch is that once chosen they must completely devote their lives to the faction. Beatrice has grown up in Abnegation, those who value selflessness, but it has never felt right. She struggles to decide where she belongs, knowing that if she chooses a different faction she will never see her family again. This choice is just the first that she must make and opens the door to not only self discovery, but also the reality of the dangerous situation her society is in.

I think this is a fantastic next book for Hunger Games fans. Roth has created her own story and setting and clearly given it much thought. The underlying political situations are scary and believable, the citizens truly believed that dividing society was the correct choice. But like many good decisions, after time the factions became too divided and distrust and competition has soured the community. Discovering just how precarious the political climate is and the lengths some will go to for power is just the beginning of this mult-dimensional book. I am excited for the next installment!

A Contract with God: A Novel

by Will Eisner, 180 pages

Four stories, one building. After a lifetime of goodness, a man's faith is broken by the loss of a child. An itinerant amateur singer wanders beneath the windows. An unpleasant yet pitiable building superintendent suffers as the landlord's stand-in. And futures are determined and innocence lost during a holiday in the country.

In this early work, the man for whom American graphic literature's top prize is named uses his own memories and impressions to draw a fictional yet truth-inspired picture of life in New York's tenements in the first half of the twentieth century. Sad, cynically funny, and thoughtful.

Sweet Tooth: Volume 1: Out of the Deep Woods

by Jeff Lemire, 124 pages

One of the cover blurbs for this describes it as "Mad Max with antlers." Strangely, that actually fits.

Nine-year-old Gus lives in the woods with his aging, ailing dad, who warns him to never go beyond the perimeter fence and into the dangerous outside world. But he didn't tell Gus what to do if the dangerous outside world comes to the woods. Where can the boy be safe now? And whom can he trust?

Sweet, naive little Gus has that whole "deer in the headlights" look down pretty well. Of course, he comes by it naturally. It's post-apocalyptic chaos out there and no kid with antlers (or bunny ears or a pig snout or whatever) is going to make it very far without a friend...or without a gun. It's not pretty and it's not supposed to be. The reader doesn't know how the world got this way or where it's going (other than nowhere good just yet). But she hopes that Gus and his influence on the big and small will nudge things in a more positive direction soon.

Fight back, kiddos! Come on, Big Man! Hear that little niggling voice in the back of your head? That's your conscience. Listen to it, won't you? *eagerly ILLs Volume 2*

Joe the Barbarian: The Deluxe Edition

by Grant Morrison (story) and Sean Murphy (art), 210 pages

When diabetic high-schooler Joe misses his afternoon sugar spike, he goes into hypoglycemic shock and starts hallucinating that his home is a fantasy world under siege, his action figures and other toys have come to life (or death, as they do not all fair well in battle), and his pet rat is as big as he is, wears armor, and can talk. Can Joe reach the fridge and a can of soda and come back to his right mind before it's too late? And is he just hallucinating?

Aw, man, I really wanted to like this book. It's an Eisner nominee, has a nifty concept, and some occasionally great art. But the writing just doesn't work for me and the artwork, while good, is very dark and the narrative / panel flow can be confusing.

I'm not sure if it's because there's no narration and everything relies on dialogue (internal or external) to tell the story, but the plot seems to jump randomly from idea to idea, scene to scene, without any discernible transitions and a bit too much repetition. It also frustrates me that the characters and vocabulary for the fantasy world seems to be padded out with flowery terms, phrases, and titles that don't actually mean anything and feel like they're just thrown in to take the place of actual world-building. Granted, the hero is (possibly) hallucinating, so it could make perfect sense that so much doesn't make any at all; but it's not consistently random, either, so the reader's not sure which bits matter and which bits don't.

On the visual front, the artist often goes with black, instead of the usual white, for the background color behind and between the panels. This wouldn't be a negative if he had more white or light inside the panels to balance it out; but the art it so black-heavy and filled with color (and most of it dark) that there's not enough contrast and my eyes have a hard time picking out what's going on. That, combined with the somewhat choppy story, makes it hard to sense where the panels begin and end and how they connect, so following them in the right order isn't as natural as it should be. This is only made more difficult by the occasionally awkward panel layout, which sometimes jumps the book's seam with no clue to the reader that that's the case until suddenly the story makes no sense and you have to go back up and figure out where your eyes took a wrong turn.

Now, to be fair, I'm used to reading manga, which is black and white (and grey, with screentones), so I'm accustomed to contrast being rather more pronounced. But I've read other color graphic novels from this side of the world and had no problems (Locke and Key, for instance), so I don't think it's entirely me. I do like many aspects of the art, though. The attention to detail inside the house, in particular, is pretty awesome. It may be a bit too Tardis-like in its outside-compared-to-inside physics, which I did find distracting, but the interesting perspective choices and the period details (furniture, decor, oh so eighties!) draw you in and make you take your time. I do like me some realism.

Somebody else needs to read this and tell me if I was just super cranky and impatient when I read it and it's actually a brilliant representation of what the brain's capable of when it's gone haywire--or if it really is as frustratingly almost-but-not-what-it-could-have-been as I thought.

The Innocent

by Avi Arad (story?), Junichi Fujisaku (script), Yasung Ko (art), 217 pages

Executed for a crime he didn't commit, Johnny Wright wakes up on the other side and learns he's got one more chance at life by helping other innocents like himself--unless he lets his desire for revenge get the better of him.

A decent premise that fails to deliver. For more details, please see my full review on

Natsume's Book of Friends: Volume 9

by Yuki Midorikawa, 189 pages

After dealing with adorable little fuzzball yokai, Natsume finds himself in a far more serious situation when monkey-masked yokai spirit him away to their home forest. But it's not the resident yokai he's afraid of.

Ooh, Matoba! Sometimes, human beings can be just as frightening as evil spirits. I love that, episodic as this series is, there's still room for a very slowly-building background arc.

For more details about this wonderful series about a boy who sees spirits (and his majestic / ridiculous cat guardian), please see my full review of the first nine volumes on

Natsume's Book of Friends: Volume 8

by Yuki Midorikawa, 189 pages

Natsume understandably freaks out a little when a small rock with a face on it starts following him around...and taking over the bodies of people around him. Later, he runs into an uncomfortably familiar masked yokai. Is Natsume's new family in danger?! Not if the spiritually-sighted young man and his cranky, tubby calico have anything to say about it!

Aw, I love it when Nyanko-sensei gets fed up with yokai who push Natsume's limits and takes care of things himself. He's far too proud to ever say so like he means it, but he's such a devoted kitty. Yay! And we get to see how Natsume came to live with the Fujiwaras. Sweetness.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Finder: Voice

by Carla Speed McNeil, 215 pages

What do you do when you lose something precious? Find a Finder, of course; or become one yourself in the process.

I love this wonderful, thoughtful, out-there, psychological sci-fi-ish series! For more details, please read my full review at!

Heads You Lose by Lisa Lutz and David Hayward

  pp 301

Lisa Lutz is the author of the Spellman Files mystery books.  I've only read the first one but I really liked it so I felt pretty sure I'd like this too.  I wasn't wrong.  The funny thing about this is that Lisa and her coauthor, David Hayward, used to be a couple.  Just because they broke up didn't mean they couldn't write a book together!  They divided the chapters and in between are their actual comments to each other, via email.  Hilarious...the murder mystery is okay but the premise and how it was carried out was the more interesting piece to me.
Lacey and Paul are siblings whose parents were killed mysteriously several years before the opening scenes of the novel. Then a headless body appears and Lacey believes it's her ex-boyfriend, Hart.  After that the bodies pile up and send Lacey and Paul in many directions trying to fit all the pieces together while keeping Paul's marijuana growing operation secret.  The last chapter wraps it all up but leaves an opening for future collaborations...if they can stand each other long enough to finish another book!
Kim F

"Stupid Fast" by Geoff Herbach

311 pages

Felton has always been sort of a nerd. He's scrawny, he's uncoordinated, and his nickname is "Squirrel Nut." But that all changes when he's fifteen and suddenly grows seven inches and gains forty pounds and gets stupid fast. Suddenly, the jocks are talking to him. The football coach is recruiting him for the team, and he meets Aleah, the girl of his dreams. As well as things are going at school and with his peers, his home life leaves much to be desired. In fact, things are getting pretty bad. His dad killed himself when he was little, and although his mom's always kept it together until now, something has suddenly made her slide into a deep depression. Felton and his younger brother, Andrew, are left to fend for themselves, which drives sensitive Andrew even further into his own little world. As fast as he is, he learns that he can't run from his problems (feel free to groan at that cheesy line--I couldn't resist).

I really liked this book! The plot and major issues are pretty standard for young adult fiction, but the tone is unique and that's what made the book stand out to me. I loved Felton's goofy but insightful way of looking at things. His growing-up struggles are totally relatable. The story cracked me up over and over, but it's got a lot of heart, too. In conclusion, I'll just share a few of my favorite lines:

"It was perfect and great to be with these honkies."
"This summer I saw no fewer than ten thousand old ladies in their underwear."
"No peace, no justice. I'm gonna make you barf."
"I'm writing a book about spies who eat tacos and hide in large houseplants."


by Lauren DeStefano, 358 pg.

Another YA dystopian novel, Wither reminded me of Margaret Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale. Young women being forced to be baby incubators for wealthy men during their all too brief life spans. The science gets a little murky---is the disease that gives people such a short life span (20 for women, 25 for men) sex-linked? Apparently so. By curing cancer science unleashes a virus of some sort that kills people in their youth. They barely have time to reproduce, so that is the justification for kidnapping teen girls to make them baby mamas?

For some reason it bothered me that the setting for the story was supposedly Florida, yet it was cold and snowy. The author gives an explanation that humans ruined the rest of the world, not just de-populating other continents but wiping them out of existence. I found myself more interested in the background of the disaster than the somewhat claustrophobic-inducing mansion and its occupants.

That said, the plight of Rhine and her fellow sister-wives was engrossing enough so that I finished the book. I did find Rhine's relationship with her husband (forgotten his name already) rather improbable. She really couldn't tell him how his wives arrived at the compound? Could she realistically fend off his advances for so long?

I guess I will pick up the next volume in the trilogy just to find out more, and hope that some of the weaker plot points are shored up by then.

by Cate K

The Chemical Garden Trilogy: Book One: Wither

by Lauren DeStefeno, 358 pages

In a future where a miracle cure leads to drastically shortened life expectancies for subsequent generations (25 for men, 20 for women), those with power and money try to buy themselves and their loved ones time by snatching girls off the street for forced marriages in hopes of breeding out the glitch...or providing their genetic research with enough human guinea pigs to find the cure. When 16-year-old Rhine is kidnapped and sold off as a bride to a wealthy household along with two other girls, she and her sister-wives each face the situation their own way, choosing to embrace it, bear it, or fight it.

Hrmm. I enjoyed this teen dystopia title for its character studies--the girls each have a distinct personality and their daily lives in close quarters are well realized--but I had a harder time with the set-up for the world outside. Too much feels like it was chosen purely for convenience without regard for believability. Exactly 25 and 20? Where's the government and how could it and law have broken down so utterly, so quickly, when the people running things would still be of the First Generation? And if it's such an unstable shambles out there, why does so much of society seem to go on just fine, or at least oblivious to the trafficking issue? Or does it only impact the poor and orphans? Do the men in grey psychically know the median household income and family situation of every girl they snatch? And not all the characters get the attention and development that the girls do. We only know Housemaster Vaughan is scary evil because everyone reacts to him that way, but we rarely see any evidence to back it up (I don't doubt he is, it would just be nice to feel the same thing the characters do when he walks in the room). And how does Gabriel, who can't figure out where the front gate of the estate is, know how to steal and sail, not to mention navigate, a yacht solely from reading books? I will most likely read the next one to see if the author fills in any of the holes and watch how the remaining characters grow; I just wish I didn't have to suspend disbelief so much in the process.

Monday, February 27, 2012

"The Death Cure" (Maze Runner #3) by James Dashner

325 pages

The background of this story (from the first two books) is too complicated to get into here, so I'll skip the recap and assume you've read The Maze Runner and The Scorch Trials. If not, you might not want to read the rest...Anyway, the Scorch Trials are over, the Gladers have their memories back, and now they have to decide whether or not to trust Wicked and help them with their ultimate mission: finding a cure to the deadly flare. But there might be another way...

I was pretty disappointed with this conclusion to the Maze Runner trilogy. I felt like too many things were unexplained or not explained well enough. Maybe I missed something, but I just didn't understand how the Trials were supposed to help Wicked come up with the cure. It seemed set up for convenience. In each of the books, there are considerable portions where the group is basically just running around and I found it hard to follow. However, I did enjoy parts of the story. I like that it isn't exactly clear at times who the "bad guy" is, because I feel like it's more realistic. I was also satisfied with the ending, as I didn't expect the change of events and thought they made sense. Still, I thought the series left a lot to be desired.


by Lauren Oliver
418 pages

This was my type of dystopian book - all about love with the rebellion bits in the background.

In Lena Haloway's world, love is the cause of everything wrong, so the government has found a cure for this incredulous disease, amor deliria nervosa. At the age of 18, folks get the procedure to rid themselves of it. Not a fun procedure - you're anesthetized, then part of your brain is cut out and you wake not being to feel anything really. She's about three months out from having her procedure when she meets Alex. Alex. The boy who infects her with the disease. Most of the book is about this, him infecting her. And along the way she discovers answers to many of her life questions all while finding out who she really is.  

Granted, I do think that other dystopian novels have better world building. I wasn't completely convinced of this love-is-an-evil world, but again, loved the characters. And no matter how lovey the characters were getting or how thrilling the action was, I always smiled reading the snippets from the Book of Shhh and other prayers and proverbs that began each chapter. From government pamphlets to the retelling of religious stories, they just struck me as amusing.