Thursday, April 25, 2013

Crewel - Gennifer Albin

Title: Crewel
Author: Gennifer Albin
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux (BYR), 2012 (Hardcover)
Length: 368 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Dystopian Fiction, Science Fiction
Started: April 19, 2013
Finished: April 25, 2013


Enter a tangled world of secrets and intrigue where a girl is in charge of other's destinies, but not her own.

Sixteen-year-old Adelice Lewys has always been special. When her parents discover her gift-the ability to weave the fabric of reality-they train her to hide it. For good reason, they don't want her to become a Spinster-one of the elite, beautiful, and deadly women who determine what people eat, where they live, how many children they have, and even when they die.

Thrust into the opulent Western Coventry, Adelice will be tried, tested, and tempted as she navigates the deadly politics at play behind its walls. Now caught in a web of of lies and forbidden romance, she must unravel the sinister truth behind her own unspeakable power. Her world is hanging by a thread, and Adelice, alone, can decide to save it-or destroy it.

I picked this up because the book had been getting a lot of positive pre-release hype, and I was hoping that it was justified. Turns out it was, which made me a very happy blogger.

I have to give the author credit for her world-building, it is truly excellent. The novel opens with Adelice coming home from the mandatory testing that all girls in Arras have to undergo at age sixteen to find out who has potential to be a Spinster. Everything in Arras is woven into existence by Spinsters via mystical-like-thread-magic-that's-actually-science: people, food, weather, etc., and those things can just as easily be removed by ripping threads. I loved this concept, it isn't the first time books have used the concept of  weaving as an integral power, but this book is by far the most creative with this concept. There was just so much packed in here, and it's portioned out at appropriate times so that there's enough in the beginning to make it believable, and just enough revealed throughout the book to keep you hooked, wondering, "how the heck is this even possible, this is awesome!" Plus there's the political intrigue between Cormac and the rest of the Coventry, just enough for people to be interested and not too much to turn people off. Plus there's the undertones of repressive patriarchy, gender roles, homophobia,'s an incredible plot, really.

Then there's Adelice. I loved her, mainly because she's so amazingly sarcastic in her interactions with the higher-ups at the Coventry, plus her name is awesome. She's such a firecracker, but at the same time is actually naive when it comes to human nature so it's a nice balance, she's more realistic this way. Cormac was a lovely bastardly character (and what novel is complete without one?), Maela is one of those evil characters you want to punch through the pages, Jost and Erik were more than fixtures that exist to be pretty and further the plot, and I hope they get some more depth throughout the next few books. Loricel surprised me at first because there usually aren't very many senior-aged characters in YA, and she is a fiery old lady to boot. And I loved Enora, she was so sweet.

The plot is wonderfully creative and engaging, the writing is well-done, and the characters are endearing. Plus, there's more books coming (trilogy), what's not to love? Read this!

Thoughts on the cover:
The picture included for review here is of the North American release hardcover. Which is very pretty I must say. The swirls that invoke threads, the colours, I like it. The version I actually read was the UK paperback, which is a predominantly green cover with Adelice's face front and center. Although I admit the NA cover is more pleasing overall, I have to give the UK version credit for actually getting a cover model that looks pretty darn close to how Adelice is described: hair colour, eyes, nose, everything.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Level 2 - Lenore Appelhans

Title: Level 2
Author: Lenore Appelhans
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 2013 (Hardcover)
Length: 281 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Science Fiction, Fantasy
Started: April 15, 2013
Finished: April 18, 2013

From the inside cover:

Since her untimely death the day before her eighteenth birthday, Felicia Ward has been trapped in Level 2, a stark white afterlife located between our world and the next. Along with her fellow prisoners, Felicia passes the endless hours reliving memories of her time on Earth and mourning what she's lost - family, friends, and the boy she loved, Neil.

Then a girl in a neighbouring chamber disappears, and nobody but Felicia seems to recall she existed in the first place. Something is obviously very wrong. When Julian - a dangerously charming guy Felicia knew in life - comes to offer Felicia a way out, she learns the truth: A rebellion is brewing to overthrow the Morati, the guardians of Level 2.

Felicia is reluctant to trust Julian, but then he promises what she wants the most - to be with Neil again - if only she'll join the rebels. Suspended between heaven and Earth, Felicia finds herself in the center of an age-old struggle between good and evil. As memories from her life come back to haunt her, and as the Morati hunt her down, Felicia will discover it's not just her own redemption at stake...but the salvation of mankind.

This book was written by a book blogger, one whose reviews I followed religiously pre-baby (lack of time now sadly leads me to forgo reading other blogs with any regularity). When I found out she'd not only written a book, but that it was actually a trilogy and she managed to get it published by a top notch publisher, I was giddy. So it kills me to say that I didn't love it...I loved certain aspects of it, but the novel as a whole just didn't grab me.

The novel starts off with a wonderfully creative take on the afterlife. After Felicia dies, she ends up in a stark white realm resembling beehives where groups of people (Felicia is grouped with other young women) are 'plugged' into consoles where they can access the memories from their own lives as well as the lives of others. They can post their own memories for others to rent in exchange for credits, with which they can in turn rent the memories of others, which takes on a new meaning when you realize that they can only experience things from memories, to the point where people rent memories of in-depth book readings so they can still 'read'. I loved this idea and thought it was awesome.

As the book progresses, you find out that this realm, known as Level 2, is the holding ground for human souls on their way to the next stage of the after-life, kind of like a sterile purgatory where they are supposed to recall difficult memories from their lives to come to terms with things and be able to move on, but the guardians (Morati) have perverted it, not only to stop souls from moving on, but to harness their energy (and commandeer their 'bodies') to fuel a rebellion against Him. In turn, there are guardians split off from the main group rebelling against the larger group, which Felicia joins through Julian. So yeah, very Paradise Lost in this regard.

As Felicia and Julian explore Level 2 and the rebellion plot unravels, Felicia's past is revealed through accessing her memories. I loved these scenes, it's through them that Felicia becomes a very relatable character, we see everything from the mundane to some very difficult moments in her later years. You see the dynamic between her and her parents, friends, teachers, even a church youth group. I loved Felicia as a character simply because she was painfully real, and the details from the memories reinforce this and made me feel sympathy for her. To be honest, the only drive I had to get to the end was to see what actually happened to Felicia in Germany, and then again in Nairobi; the whole rebellion in Level 2 I could've cared less about, especially towards the end when we finally see how Julian fits into things and it gets very existentialist and weird. Ultimately the ending felt rushed, some details were confusing and the very end doesn't seem to lend itself to a ends like an unsatisfying one-shot.

Loved the initial concept of the afterlife, as well as the characterization and the writing. Couldn't get into the main plot and how things progress.

Thoughts on the cover:
Love it. The stark white (including the silver-y eyeshadow on the model) reinforces the feel of Level 2. The lead-in lines and bubbles that focus on Felicia are a nice touch, as is the fluorescent orange/red font.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Double Life of Cassiel Roadnight - Jenny Valentine

Title: The Double Life of Cassiel Roadnight
Author: Jenny Valentine
Publisher: Harper Collins, 2010 (Paperback)
Length: 285 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Realistic Fiction, Mystery
Started: April 12, 2013
Finished: April 12, 2013


When sixteen-year-old runaway Chap is mistaken for a missing boy named Cassiel, his life changes dramatically. Chap takes on Cassiel's identity, gaining the family and friends he's always dreamed of having. But becoming someone else isn't as easy as he hoped-and Chap isn't the only one hiding a secret. As he teeters on the brink of discovery and begins to unravel the mystery behind Cassiel's disappearance, Chap realizes that he's in much deeper danger than he could have imagined.

After all, you can't just steal a life and expect to get away with it.

Award-winning author Jenny Valentine delivers an explosive mystery where dark secrets, betrayal, and loss pave the way for one teen's chance at redemption.

I'll be honest, the title is the only reason I picked up this book. In my experience, books with unique titles tend to be worth the read. Although this was a fast, simple read (in terms of style and vocabulary, the content is definitely YA territory) and it was easy to deduce how Chap fit into the whole picture, this was a decent read, nothing earth-shattering, but decent.

The story starts out with Chap staying in a halfway house for wayward youth on the streets of London. When he's mistaken for another boy after the house owners see a missing person poster, Chap admits to being Cassiel out of pure longing for a normal life and family connections. Chap is constantly on edge worrying that saying the wrong thing will result in Cassiel's family finding out the truth. He discovers that Cassiel's disappearance has inklings of foul play, and works toward figuring out what really happened, while at the same time revealing the truth behind his own childhood and the man who raised him.

I like how kind Chap is despite his life experiences, and how he doesn't pretend to be Cassiel out of malice but because he's so desperate for love and attention. It wasn't hard to figure out how Chap fits into Cassiel's family and why they look so much alike, but how his granddad fit into things was interesting to read. And the circumstances behind Cassiel's disappearance were just disturbing (nothing graphic, just shocking).

A good, quick read. The mystery part isn't all that mysterious, but the ride was enjoyable nonetheless.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like the colour scheme and how the font works into the flame.

Shadowlands - Kate Brian

Title: Shadowlands
Author: Kate Brian
Publisher: Hyperion, 2012 (Hardcover)
Length: 328 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Realistic Fiction
Started: April 11, 2013
Finished: April 13, 2013

From the inside cover:

Rory Miller had one chance to fight back and she took it. Rory survived...and the serial killer who attacked her escaped. Now that the infamous Steven Nell is on the loose, Rory must enter witness protection with her father and sister, Darcy, leaving their friends and family without so much as a good-bye.

Starting over in a new town with only each other is unimaginable for Rory and Darcy. They were inseparable as children, but they haven't gotten along for years. As the sisters settle in at Juniper Landing, a picturesque vacation island, it seems as if their new home may be just the fresh start they need. They fall in with a group of beautiful, carefree teens and spend their days surfing, partying on the beach, and hiking into endless sunsets. But just as they start to feel safe, one of their new friends goes missing. Is it a coincidence? Or is the nightmare beginning all over again?

From the best-selling author of the Private and Privilege series comes a heart-stopping new trilogy about a girl who must pick up the pieces after the only life she's ever known is taken from her.

First off, there will be spoilers in this review. This is one of those books I can't really review without completely spoiling it for everyone, but the book brought that on itself. You'll see why.

The book starts off amazingly: a serial killer POV stalking and prepping to kill Rory, then switching to Rory's POV as she manages to escape and alert the authorities. Then it all goes downhill. Mainly because it doesn't even try to be believable. I'm supposed to believe that in the event that an escaped serial killer is loose in the area the FBI leaves the target family in their house that's isolated in the middle of the woods with just a police guard? Then wait till said serial killer makes a move on the girl who got away in order to expose a new clue/lead at the potential expense of the girl's life? Then when they finally put them in the witness protection program they just send them off on their merry way directly from their house in just an SUV with all their new documents on them (and not bothering to change their first names when they have uncommon ones like Rory and Darcy, really?!), without even a police escort? Riiiiiiiight. Like this makes perfect sense.

Then once they get to Juniper Landing there's the whole, "I know Steven Nell's here, we need to do something." "No, you're overreacting, stop being paranoid." dialogue that goes on for a good chunk of the book until it turns into, "I know something's wrong, tell me what's up." "Are you sure you really want to know?" "Yes, yes I do." "Well I can't tell you yet." that just makes me want to throw something against a wall. Repetitive dialogue in a novel that reads like a movie script makes me stabby. Plus all the Juniper Landing characters have no substance, the boys exist to be pretty and further the two dialogues stated above.

And then at the very last sentence of the book we finally find out what the heck is going on (not that some couldn't have figured it out already but that's besides the point). The book pulls a Narnia and Rory finds out she's dead. That's right. Those dreams she had where they get in a car crash on the way to Juniper Landing and escape that just fine but run into Steven Nell who was chasing them, kills dad and sister, and is in the process of killing Rory and succeeds, but not before Rory manages to kill him. Turns out the dreams were real. And Juniper Landing is some holding ground on the way to the afterlife where lost souls come to terms with their unfinished business before moving on. All this in the last paragraph. I'm sorry but I don't get into books where the character is already dead, unless it relates back to their being alive or looks at other people still alive (ala The Lovely Bones). I don't care about them once they're dead, they're dead, that's the point! Death is the penultimate "avoid this fate" in every book we read, we care about the characters because we want them to live, once they're dead I could care less. Plus now that the book screwed with you for a whole novel, now you need to read the next one to figure out what really happens (if you even care by this point).

A mind screw (not even one of the good ones), and a poorly written one at that.

Thoughts on the cover:
Oh, and the cover? Absolutely nothing to do with the book. The girl on the front has brown hair and looks like she stepped out of the sixties with her clothing. Rory is blonde (and no, she doesn't dye it while in witness protection) and doesn't dress like that. Unless it's supposed to be Darcy. The girl on the back I'm assuming is Krista.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Darkest Minds - Alexandra Bracken

Title: The Darkest Minds
Author: Alexandra Bracken
Publisher: Hyperion, 2012 (Hardcover)
Length: 488 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Dystopian
Started: April 3, 2013
Finished: April 10, 2013

From the inside cover:

When Ruby woke up on her tenth birthday, something about her had changed. Something frightening enough to make her parents lock her in the garage and call the police. Something that got her sent to Thurmond, a brutal government "rehabilitation camp." She might have survived the mysterious fatal disease that had killed most of America's children, but she and the others emerged with something far worse: frightening abilities they could not control.

Now sixteen, Ruby is one of the dangerous ones.

When the truth comes out, Ruby barely escapes Thurmond with her life. She is on the run, desperate to find the only safe haven left for kids like her-East River. She joins a group of kids who have escaped their own camp. Liam, their brave leader, is falling hard for Ruby. But no matter how much she aches for him, Ruby can't risk getting close. Not after what happened to her parents.

When they arrive at East River, nothing is as it seems, least of all its mysterious leader. But there are other forces at work, people who will stop at nothing to use Ruby in their fight against the government. Ruby will be faced with a terrible choice, one that may mean giving up her only chance at having a life worth living.

I read the author's debut book, Brightly Woven, a few years back and fell in love with it. It still has a coveted place on my shelf. So when I realized that this new book with a lot of hype surrounding it was by the same author (I blame baby-brain for not clueing in sooner), I knew I had to scoop this up. The Darkest Minds is a very different genre than the author's first work, and a very different style as well, which will win over some readers for sure, but I didn't fall in love with this like I did with the debut book.

The book starts off wonderfully with Ruby describing the horrible, violent conditions in Thurmond; as well as giving background information about how children started dying from IAAN, how the survivors developed powers and were referred to as Psi, and how she ended up in the camp at age 10. Then there's a nail-biting escape scene where Ruby gets out of Thurmond with the help of the Children's League, a group supposedly devoted to getting Psi kids out of the camps. Then through her powers, Ruby discovers the Children's League isn't what they seem and she runs into Liam's group and they go looking for East River and the Slip Kid. And that's when the plot slows down. It's as if the motivation behind the plot goes kaput and nobody knows what the heck they're doing, probably because they really don't.

The secondary characters like Liam and Zu (Suzume) aren't developed nearly well enough, though I did like Zu quite a lot. Considering Liam is the love interest, I expected him to have some more depth to him...that and the relationship between him and Ruby goes from nothing to "I can't picture life without him" a little too quickly. Now I loved Chubs, I thought he was well developed and quite liked the guy, he would've made a better love interest than Liam, prickly though he is. Clancy is a nice balance between genius and psychotic, I got the shivers reading his scenes towards the end.

Some things were brilliant, like the nature of Ruby's power to influence behaviour and also see into people's memories but also erase them. But then using the cliche "I'm dangerous so you can't love me" thing made me want to smack my head against a wall. Some more background information at the beginning would have been nice, like exactly how the disease left some with psychic powers. Some parts of the plot like the double-crossing government groups were pretty easy to deduce, so not much surprise there. Granted, this is a planned trilogy, so a lot of this could be resolved in subsequent books.

Lots of potential but doesn't quite deliver in all areas. I'll need to read the other books before I write this off completely, mostly because I really don't want to because I know the author is capable of awesomeness.

Thoughts on the cover:
At least it isn't a close-up of a girl's face. The Psi symbol in yellow-orange looks good against the black background.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Parenting: Illustrated with Crappy Pictures - Amber Dusick

Title: Parenting: Illustrated with Crappy Pictures
Author: Amber Dusick
Publisher: Harlequin, 2013 (Hardcover)
Length: 224 pages
Genre: Adult; Parenting, Humour
Started: April 6, 2013
Finished: April 6, 2013

From the back of the book:

Of course you love being a parent. But sometimes, it just sucks. I know. I'm Amber Dusick and I started my blog Parenting: Illustrated with Crappy Pictures because I needed a place to vent about the funny (and frustrating) day-to-day things that happened to me as a parent. Turns out, poop is hilarious! At least when you're not the one wiping it up.

This book won't make your frustrating moments any less crappy. But these stories about my Crappy Baby, Crappy Boy, and my husband, Crappy Papa, will hopefully make you laugh. Because you're not alone. And sometimes the crappiest moments make the best memories. Parenting is wonderful! And also, well, you know.

I've been reading the author's blog for about as long as I've been a parent, and her observations are always spot on (except for the ones about babies who never sleep, I lucked out and got one of "those" babies who are awesome sleepers), not to mention hilarious. Plus, I love the fact that her illustrations look like ones I would make, like the horrible MS Paint experiments from when I was 11 and got my first computer.

The book is divided into several sections based on common parenting themes: lack of sleep, food issues, poop, sickness, traveling, etc, complete with the section at the end titled "The 50 Crappy Laws of Parenting". Each section has several anecdotes based on the author's life with her husband and two boys, with text as well as the illustrations. A lot of the content is taken directly from the author's blog, so if you find yourself wanting more you can always spend a few hours reading her back-posts.

This book is perfect for parents (and parents-to-be) because it's so truthful. I found myself nodding my head as I was reading and laughing, thinking, "yup, been there done that." It was also good to hear that the whole "eat practically nothing but still be okay" phase that my toddler is going through does happen with other kids, and that it's okay that I freak out when she goes a day eating just crackers and oranges, because the author did that too (and made it funny by likening it to a cavewoman instinct to make our kids eat so they won't die). And the little section on "Things I Do When I Should Be Sleeping" is something I can totally relate to.

If you're a parent or need to buy a gift for a parent-to-be, you need to pick this up. It's a quick read but a very satisfying one.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like the primary colour scheme and how the font and illustrations keep with the feel of the rest of the book.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Persepolis - Marjane Satrapi

Title: Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood
Author: Marjane Satrapi
Publisher: Pantheon, 2004 (Paperback)
Length: 153 pages
Genre: Young Adult/Adult; Graphic Novel
Started: April 2, 2013
Finished: April 3, 2013

From the inside cover:

Wise, funny, and heartbreaking, Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi's memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. In powerful black-and-white comic strip images, Satrapi tells the story of her life in Tehran from ages six to fourteen, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah's regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq. The intelligent and outspoken only child of Marxists and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran's last emperors, Marjane bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country.

Persepolis paints an unforgettable portrait of daily life in Iran and of the bewildering contradictions between home life and public life. Marjane's child's-eye view of dethroned emperors, state-sanctioned whippings, and heroes of the revolution allows us to learn as she does the history of this fascinating country and of her own extraordinary family. Intensely personal, profoundly political, and wholly original, Persepolis is at once a story of growing up and a reminder of the human cost of war and political repression. It shows how we carry on, with laughter and tears, in the face of absurdity. And, finally, it introduces us to an irresistible little girl with whom we cannot help but fall in love.

I love reading accounts of individuals who grew up in extreme circumstances, like heavily left or right wing political regimes. This graphic novel came out a few years back but it's been in my head as a title I should read and finally got around to it. Like other groundbreaking graphic novels such as Maus and V for Vendetta, at its heart Persepolis shows readers the triumph of the human spirit in the face of oppression.

The book goes through a series of relatively linear vignettes following Marjane from the late 70s to the early 80s in Iran from the overthrow of the Shah to the Islamic Revolution, from secular life to extremism. I love learning about the culture of the Middle East and how their history has shaped the perceptions people have of the various countries in that region. Marjane's story reinforces how Western the country was before the revolution and how that changed when religious policies were enforced. I loved the scene where 14-year-old Marji goes out to buy black market cassette tapes in her Nikes, denim jacket, and a Michael Jackson button (that her parents smuggled in from Turkey), all while wearing a headscarf, she's the picture of youthful defiance and I loved it. In fact, young Marjane is spunky, personable, and very political, you can't help but love the kid and feel for her in the situation she's growing up in.

If you are a fan of profound stories told in graphic novel format, then read Persepolis. There's a sequel volume chronicling Marjane's teen and early adult years, and there's an edition that has all the books in one volume.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like the image of Marjane in the headscarf against the red background.