Category Archives: Action

Mystic City

by: Theo Lawrence

Mysic City coverAria and Thomas are the perfect star-crossed lovers. They met in secret – down in the dangerous underworld where revolutions are hinted at – and kept all knowledge of their relationships from their warring, ruling families. But, due to their cannot-be-parted lives, they became engaged and put an end to decades worth of fighting and political maneuvering. Truly, a tale for the centuries.

   Except Aria is having memory problems. Huge gaps, actually. And, for being so much in love, she doesn’t seem to be able to stand Thomas for long periods of time. And she keeps seeing a mysterious stranger…

Read in one sitting. Late into the night. And that description? It didn’t even get into the fact MAGIC is involved. Yeah.

So, clearly, there’s a lot going on. We’ve got a dystopian society. Within the society there’s the warring between families and the rebellion of the underworld (read: magic) people. We’ve got an interesting take on magic (and fancy gadgets!). Some memory issues. Lies. Deception. Hot dudes. Girl fights. Etc. Etc. Like I said, a lot. Going. On.

Which isn’t a bad thing – the plot moves at a quick pace and manages to mostly keep everything in order. There were a few twists and turns (esp. at the end) that probably weren’t necessary, but it wasn’t enough of a wrench to really throw me off the storyline.

It’s always interesting to merge a dystopian society with magic elements. Which technically means it’s really not a dystopian – unless magic was discovered between now and the time of the book. But, that’s really neither here nor there. Just know there are elements of present day society (and it’s theoretical eventual ruin) reflected in this book in addition to supernatural elements. And, if I’m being honest, I wish the world building had been a bit stronger towards the beginning.

Lawrence dives right into the intrigue – which totally works! – but because the world is kind of…presented as we go, some of the elements can be seen as convenient rather that a restraint of the new world.

I liked all the main characters. I thought some of the secondary characters (Thomas, specifically, and all of Aria’s friends) were a bit thin and stereotypical. I also want my villains to be robust and I was left wanting in that category.

But, as I mentioned above, this is a very fast book. Action ALL OVER THE PLACE. And quite a thriller. I’m very, very interested to see what happens in the second book. I just hope a lot of these sort of sloppy elements are cleaned up a bit.

Oh, and as a note, I’m not particularly on board with the comparison blurbs to The Hunger Games. Aside from a fast plot, a teen girl protag and being set in a possible future, nothing else is similar. And there are A LOT of books that have those same elements. I get wanting to make that connection, but no. It’s a bad one. Shrugs.

Available: Now!

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Shadow and Bone

The Grisha Trilogy #1
by Leigh Bardugo

Shadow and Bone cover Wars continue to rage, the darkness continues to spread – and Alina, orphaned at a young age and now part of the map-making section of the army, is well aware of her lot in life. And she’s accepted that lot since it gave her Mal – her best friend, confidante and ally.

When Alina and Mal’s army caravan is ambushed in the mysterious and deadly darkness, Alina’s secret weapon is revealed. A secret she only had faint inklings about as a child.

Alina is immediately whisked away to the join the Grishna to practice and train her magical gifts. There, she has frequent encounters with the Darkling, the ruler of the Grishna. And while he’s mesmerizing and enchanting, Alina can’t help wondering what happened to Mal and if all she’s been promised is too good to be true.

Okay, complicated storyline, clearly. But I really, really liked this book. I loved the world setup. I loved the characters. I loved that nothing was as it seemed. I loved the enduring friendship. I hated (but loved) the massive cliffhanger at the end.

My only true criticism of this book is about the Grishna. I – and this might be because I TORE through this book and failed to register something – really struggled to understand the foundation of the Grishna. I mean, I got the basic concepts, but their history, way of life, factions, etc. were a bit fuzzy for me. I’m hoping this is a result of it being the first book in a trilogy and we’ll find out a whole lot more in the upcoming sequels.

I really enjoyed Alina’s path and growth throughout the novel: starting out as “nobody,” quickly becoming “somebody,” then realizing the downfalls of being in that place. Her many realizations throughout the novel of her and her power’s impact – and how multifaceted that impact was – were great and such a natural progression in the storyline.

(I’m also So. Happy. this wasn’t a magical power she came into at a certain age or because Saturn was in the Second House, or whatever. The background of why Alina blocked the power out is absolutely touching. Loved.)

I’ll need to reread this one before Siege and Storm comes out next year, but I’m already looking forward to both the rereading and the sequel (remember: epic cliffhanger). In the meantime, Tor has a companion folk tale from Duva!

How I came upon this: egalley from the publisher
Publisher: Henry Holt

P.S. that cover. omg. I’d frame that puppy on a wall. GORGEOUS.

Code Name Verity

by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity coverTold in two halves, Code Name Verity throws us directly into the dark side of World War II. The first half is a gripping, stream of conscious confession of a captured British, teenage girl spy.

The second half brings us the flip side: Maddie’s story. The spy’s best friend and pilot, ferrying planes back and forth across the British countryside.

And that’s all I feel comfortable saying.

So. Code Name Verity.

I loved this book. I really, seriously adored this book. I mean, whoa.

I’m not exactly wordsmithing this post, but here’s the deal: it is so hard to figure out what to say without giving too much away. Without completely ruining the book. So. Hard.

Here’s what I will say: I love reading books about strong, resilient teens. Specifically teen girls. I also love when those teens have flaws and do things wrong and must rise to the occasion. Code Name Verity had all of this.

But what I love most of all is when a story centers around a friendship. And Wein’s gorgeous novel is grounded in the story of two best friends. There may be a hint of a love story, but it doesn’t even matter. What matters is the relationship between these two girls and how they interact and help each other through the war.

Clearly, this is a historical novel. So, if that’s not your cup of tea, then maybe Verity isn’t for you. I’ve also read a few reviews about how the book can be boring/dragging. And I understand that, especially in Part 1. The stream of conscious writing can seem full of random, unnecessary details and suffer from a lack of editing. But let’s be real. The confession she’s writing would not have been edited. But I do get it.

Also, on the fair warning front, there are some pretty graphic descriptions of torture. So, there’s that.

I think it’s amazing, though. And how Wein handles the storyline is super impressive. This book both gutted me and gave me hope. Just a lovely, lovely read and one of my Top 5 of the year, so far.

Published by: Disney/Hyperion; Hyperion Books for Children
How I Stumbled Upon this Book: egalley provided by publisher

Middle Grade Roundup #1

Recently, I read a couple great MG books and really, really enjoyed them.

First up is a set of two short stories by the generally amazing Philip Pullman, author of The Golden Compass. Two Crafty Criminals cover imageIn this new volume, Two Crafty Criminals!, we venture into the late nineteenth century London to join the New Cut Gang on adventures of detecting and capturing criminals lurking around the South Bank.

The volume contains two adventures, both of which are enjoyable, witty and smart. Are they The Golden Compass? No. But if you’re a fan of Pullman’s other short stories, you won’t be disappointed. And, as usual, he excels at taking random events and merging them into one epic conclusion. This would be an excellent read-aloud book and will be especially timely with all the focus on London this summer.

The second MG reader I picked up recently was Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s Peter and the Starcatchers.Peter and the Starcatchers cover image This guy has been sitting on my shelf for AGES. A few weeks ago, I made a pilgrimage to the Great White Way to catch some shows and had tickets to see Peter and the Starcatcher, (Singular.) which was based off the book. Wanting to stick to my Read the Book First mantra, I finally picked up and finished this delightful tome.

For those who haven’t heard of it, it’s the origin story of the boy who becomes Peter Pan. There are pirates and fairies and orphans and islands and etc. etc. etc. It’s quite clever in how the characters of the book develop into the characters we all know and love. I was pretty impressed by it, to tell the truth. I did find it a bit slow it parts (it’s a few hundred pages), but was won over by it for the most part. I especially loved Molly and her gumption.

For the record, I ADORED the play version. A. Dored. Holy geez. It is ridiculously imaginative and wonderful and funny. If you have the chance to see it, go now. If you have the chance to see it before Christian Borle (who plays Black Stache, the future Captain Hook) leaves on June 30, DO IT. It’s a fun adaptation that remains true to the heart and imagination of the book. Loved.

I don’t often review MG books on here, but these were both fun reads and would be great for any summer reading program! Check them out!

Two Crafty Criminals was written by Philip Pullman and published by Random House Children’s Books’ Knopf Books for Young Readers imprint. I received a galley copy of the volume for review.

Peter and the Starcatchers was written by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. It’s the first book in the series of the same name. Published by Disney, I got this book from my own shelf.

Ruby Red

(Edelstein Trilogie #1)
by Kerstin Gier
translated by Anthea Bell

Ruby Red cover

For Gwyneth, life is only a touch strange. She can see and talk to ghosts and her great aunt sees visions. Her cousin is also being meticulously groomed to be the fated member of the family possessing the ability to travel through time. Which is just fine with Gwen. Until, you know, it turns out she’s the one with the special gene.

Oops.

Now Gwen’s trying to figure out hoop skirts and determine the mysteries her family has always hidden from her.

Let’s start right off the bat with that ridiculously gorgeous cover. It is a freaking masterpiece. I don’t think, though, that it represents the book well. That cover says this is a Serious Historical Novel. It doesn’t speak to the fun that Ruby Red possesses, nor the lighthearted-ness of our narrator, Gwen. So, I’m actually not upset Henry Holt has opted to change the look for the rest of the series (even though my trilogy won’t match), but still. Gorgeous.

Onto the review of the information contained within that glorious wrapping!

So, I normally really struggle with translated books. They always seem to lack the spark I want or, usually, the dialogue seems stiff. And I did notice this with Ruby Red, specifically during the info-dumps and when a sarcastic/teenage moment dialogue section was going on. I think, for the most part, it can be really difficult to capture those moments in translation.

It does speak wonders to both Gier and the translator, Bell, that it wasn’t enough to put me off. (The same could not be said for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.) By the end of the book I was captivated by the mysteries that were unfolding. I also really, really liked Gwen and her friendship with Lesley. While I thought the interactions between the two suffered a lot in translation, the root of the friendship was spot on for me: you tell your best friend everything and she totally helps out as much as possible. Was it a little over the top? Probably. But it worked for me.

What confused me the very, very most was the family tree of the members of the time traveling society. This, however, appears to be at least semi-intentional, as a character in the book noted how impossible it was to keep track of where everyone fell in line. There was a lot of info-dumping throughout the novel, which was both good and bad. As the first book in a trilogy, I expect it, but I found some of the information to be confusing and not helpful. Judging by reviews of the later novels, though, many of these information mysteries seem to clear up, so that’s something.

The story arcs were interesting ones and I’m excited to see where they all end up leading. As I said before, I really liked the Big Mystery of who this society is and what they’re trying to do – I have my guesses, but honestly have no clue where that’s going. It doesn’t help that there are all kinds of mixed messages, brainwashing and secrets being kept from our lovely protag.

I’m hoping the romance arc doesn’t completely overwhelm the story in future books – it’s a nice touch, but the Mystery is WAY more important.

You always know a book is good when you get to the end and are outraged to find the next book doesn’t get released until OCTOBER. While I did find some of the translation to be sticky and stiff, on the whole I thought it was an exciting and funny time-travel book.

Where this book came from: my shelf
Published by: Henry Holt and Co.

p.s. I also have to give props to the quotes, charts, diary entries, etc., that are spattered throughout the novel. I LOVE when authors do this. Love, Love, Love.

p.p.s. SOMETHING HAPPENED IN THE EPILOGUE THAT IS DRIVING ME CRAZY. I cannot figure out if it’s a red herring or spot on. OMG.

Divergent

(Divergent #1)
by Veronica Roth

Divergent CoverIn the future, people are sorted into a lifestyle. Based on an aptitude test, where a person came from, or desire to embrace another life, a person can commit themselves to a life of selflessness, bravery, honestly, education or harmony. The selected faction becomes more important than family – it becomes a person’s everything.

Which is why Beatrice’s inconclusive aptitude test and indecision about where she belongs is so problematic. And dangerous.

I have wanted to read Divergent for a really long time. You all know I love a good dystopian novel (I am tossing around the idea of doing the Occasional Dystopian of the Month. Up for debate.), and Divergent did an excellent job of kick-starting my reading habit again.

When it comes to dystopian novels (and fantasy/SF, for that matter), one of the most important elements to me is the world building. When specifically dealing with dystopians, I also think the world building is better if I understand how present-day society evolved into the future society the author is presenting. Roth did quite well the world building, providing excellent descriptions of the various factions and who populates them. I’m not sure I fully understand why society decided to split into factions, but I loved the nods to present-day Chicago as it crumbles and decays.

Divergent is commonly compared to The Hunger Games and, in this case, I think there’s a validity to the claims. There was actually a moment late in the book when I thought Beatrice was about to do something exactly like Katniss and I was pre-outraged. Luckily, Roth put Beatrice on her own path and the outrage was stopped immediately. Ultimately, I think Divergent stands on its own, only sharing common themes and ideas with THG.

Beatrice, or Tris, was an engaging character. I loved her struggle to understand who she is, where she came from and what she wanted to be. (Another thing that good dystopians do well is showing basic struggles are still the same.) I also wanted to stand and applaud Roth for taking an entire novel to develop a romance, instead of a single chapter (or page)(or paragraph). It was so very refreshing.

I’m very much looking forward to the second book in the trilogy, which comes out in just a few months. I highly recommend Divergent as a fast-paced, interesting take on the future.

Where this book came from: my very own bookshelf
Published by: Katherine Tegen Books

Deadly Cool

(Deadly Cool #1)

by Gemma Halliday

Deadly cover artHartley is suspicious her boyfriend is cheating on her. So not cool, right? So, she does what any normal possibly-scorned teen does: she breaks into her boyfriend’s house to find proof.

And she finds proof all right: the dead body of the girl her boyfriend was apparently hooking up with.

Not a good development for a relationship.

Hartley decides to take matters into her own hands when her now ex-boyfriend is implicated as the murderer. He may be a cheating scumbag, but he’s no killer. At least, Hartley’s pretty sure he’s not.

I’ve been wanting to chat about Deadly Cool for awhile now. This was one of my favorite reads of the Cybils. So let’s talk about why:

First and foremost, this is what I like to call a pop culture tome. Basically, there’s texting, snarkiness and a touch of not-quite-real self awareness on the part of the main characters. To me, this isn’t a bad thing. I actually love it. But, I know some people find it annoying. Fair warning there.

Hartley is a touch crazy, zany, smart and sassy. As I mentioned above, she’s also overly self-aware, which can seem a touch unbelievable at times. The following exchange happened right after she discovered her boyfriend was likely cheating on her:

“Holy effing crap, that sucks!”
I turned to her. “Effing?”
Sam shrugged. “What?”
“We’re censoring now?”

To me, that’s probably not the normal reaction to discovering your boyfriend has been less than faithful. But, still. Funny. Which you know I approve of.

I also really love when main characters discover they are Smarter and Better than they realized. And Deadly Cool has a few of those characters that I came to adore.

The actual murder mystery is well done. I speculated on who the actual killer was at the very beginning, but ended up changing my mind by falling for a few red herrings. Hartley’s handling of the mystery was part Veronica Mars, part Scooby Doo and part lucky all rolled together. All things I approve of.

The biggest issue I had was WHY for the love of all that is good would Hartley want to even begin helping out a boyfriend who cheated on her. I mean, it’s one thing to believe he’s not guilty. It’s completely another to aid and abet. Come on.

All in all, I loved this campy romp. I read it in one sitting and laughed out loud numerous times. I’m very much looking forward to the sequel! I also am on hold to try one of Halliday’s adult novels, which appear to be in the same vein as Deadly Cool.

Available: Everywhere. You know you want it!
Published by: HarperTeen
My copy came from: the publisher, for the Cybils
Social Suicide, the sequel, is set to come out: April 24, 2012!