White Crow by Marcus Sedgwick


Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , , | Posted on 9:43 AM

Rating: 4 / 5 stars (I blame myself)

Marcus Sedgwick is excellent at being terrifying. And suspenseful. And basically the complete opposite of tranquil restfulness.

Do not read his books at night if you want to actually sleep, OK?

Structurally, this book was excellent, balancing three different perspectives and two different timelines and using them to ratchet up the tension.

Plotwise, it is the fairly straightforward tale of Father and Daughter Driven By Tragedy to Small Town with Its Own Dark Secret.

Not to say that I didn't enjoy this! I did, because Sedgwick is a master at unraveling mystery and building atmosphere.

But, well...see rating parentheses above. Maybe I read it too fast. Or I just wasn't in the right mood.

One of my main frustrations is actually a compliment: I wanted more of the characters. Rebecca, (Daughter and...heroine?), and Ferelith (Native of Small Town, and...???) are very complex, and their relationship is this weird, daredevil love/hate tangle that was a pleasure to follow.

I wanted more pages of this. Many more.

After all, Ferelith is seven different kinds of crazy, and Rebecca is hurt and confused and lonely and they have this entire creepy town to run around in -- which is, by the way, slowly falling into the ocean -- so I felt like the ending came on a bit more abruptly than it had to.

Then again, maybe I did read too fast.

So I'll waffle a star mostly on reader's error and recommend this as a gothic suspense story with highly creepy elements.

Chime by Fanny Billingsly


Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , | Posted on 1:45 PM

Rating: 5 / 5 stars

Briony Larkin is a witch, and she'd prefer to be hanged now, if you please.

She'd rather not relive her crimes in the retelling; just believe that everything is her fault. Yes, Stepmother's injury and the stirrings in the swamp, Mucky Face attacking the parsonage and Rose being...well, Rose.

This is a twisty tale best enjoyed with little warning, so here are some of the players:
Briony Larkin, witch
Rose Larkin, twin sister
Father, the Parson
Stepmother (deceased)
Eldric, boy-man who ruins everything

The two things I loved most about this book:
1) Briony's voice
2) Briony and Eldric

The narrative voice is like nothing I've seen before; this fairytale, simple rhyme-style that takes joy in twisting words and imagery around into something far more complex. This is a book I would love to hear aloud, preferably in the evenings during a cold autumn.

Briony shines darkly in her cleverness and self-loathing, and part of the delight of this story is following the twisted paths her mind takes in her observations of herself and others. It's fascinating to see how such a keen observer can be so blind in some areas, and even if you figure things out before Briony you'll want to see how she reacts to it all.

And then there's her relationship with Eldric, which wins for Most Favorite Couple this year. There is banter! There is boxing! There is a Bad Boy's Club (in Latin)! It's beautiful to see how these two interact and by the end of it I defy you not to love them both.

You may have to invest in this one - it could take some time to get into the pace of this strange, beautiful book, but it's worth it.

Jump in! Well, don't jump, actually, because there are the Old Ones in the Swamp and the Dead Hand and you'll probably be swallowed up with or without a Bible ball...

Red Glove by Holly Black


Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , , | Posted on 5:38 PM

Rating: 4.5 / 5 stars

Warning: Spoilers for White Cat!

So you may remember my raving about Holly Black's White Cat earlier on, and you can rest assured: Red Glove does not disappoint. Cassel is still his charmingly criminal self, but now he's in an even tighter spot, dealing with the fallout from the first book and trying to negotiate a treacherous relationship with Lila. Because if you can't trust yourself with the one you love, who can you trust?

But even more than Cassel's personal turmoil, I loved the expansion of the Workers' world; the politics, the controversy, the relentless chipping away of human rights in the name of 'safety'... Black does a great job of putting our heroes in the headlights of history, showing how momentous changes tend to drown the individuals who get caught up in the flood - and how these movements invade everyday life no matter how neutral you might want to stay (*cough*Cassel*cough*).

We also get to see more of Sam and Daneca, and not just as members of the Scooby Gang, which is awesome. Plus, there's Lila. Oh, you could fill a whole review with Lila, not to mention her seriously twisted relationship with Cassel.

And if I thought Black couldn't top the tension of the first book, I was wrong: we've got a dead family member, the feds, and mobsters galore, and everybody (alive) seems to want a piece of our reluctant con man. I was caught up all the way to the end - this was a compulsive read, and of course it leaves you wanting more. But not in a bitter way.

So bring it, Holly Black. I have every faith in you and this excellent series.

Cryer's Cross by Lisa McMann


Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , | Posted on 5:31 PM

Rating: 3 / 5 stars.

Warning: Spoilers! Really!

First of all: I wanted to like this book. And there were many things to like! The dusty little town of Cryer's Cross, complete with one intersection and a genuine one-room schoolhouse; the determined Kendall and her relationship with her best friend Nico; the Ominous Overtones.

But the Big Bad just didn't do it for me: a desk.

Granted, an Evil Possessed Desk, but my powers of disbelief suspension only go so far. Also, I am biased due to a torturous stop-motion video assignment in my Digital Media class - in which we had the desks frolicking through the classroom in all their jerky glory. So anytime I heard Evil Desk plotting, I just kept flashing back to that stupid video. (Did I mention it had a cheery 'yatatatata' soundtrack?)

But! My biases are not everyone's, so I'll grant that the Evil Desk may have legitimate menace factor. And it says something for McMann's skill that I kept reading, because yes I did want to know what happened in the end.

On another note, I really enjoyed Kendall's perspective on her OCD - a condition that she deals with in a strong, pragmatic way, without letting it run her life. The character development was also nicely organic, with a believable transition for Jacian from Mysterious Jerk Character to Actually Decent Male Co-lead.

The ending didn't thrill me, but see above: Evil Desk Bias. Plus, I really wanted more backstory/explanation to the whole thing, and instead it's wrapped up very quickly.

Still, this has definitely gotten me interested enough in McMann to pick up some of her other works (Evil Desks Need Not Apply).

Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma


Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , | Posted on 5:34 PM

Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Chloe has always been "Ruby's little sister" to everyone - even to herself. Ruby is a force of nature in their town, wild and alluring and capable of dragging anyone into her orbit. Especially Chloe knows that Ruby only has to proclaim something and It Is So -- no other explanation needed. Ruby's stories are legendary; she's even crafted an underwater town at the reservoir, the haunted remains of an old settlement that refused to relocate when the dam opened and the flood came to destroy them.

Chloe knows that Ruby has always been in control of the story; she'll be safe if she just follows her older sister.

Until Chloe follows Ruby to a party at the reservoir, and a girl turns up dead.

Chloe is sent away to her father's, far away from Ruby and their shared mother - but the memories of that dark night stay with her. She doesn't understand what really happened; somehow, she feels that London's death is tied to her.

And then, two years later, Ruby shows up to take Chloe back. Home, where something impossible and sinister is happening -- and Chloe thinks that Ruby is behind it all.

This was a deliciously creepy read, powered by the personality of the volatile, enigmatic Ruby throughout. Having Chloe narrate was a good choice, as she struggles to untangle her own identity in the wake of her sister's actions. Their familial closeness has a razor's edge - how much do we allow others to define us? How much control do we really have?

Suma's prose has a slow, dreamy quality that fits well with the story, as ugly shadows surface in the narrative and the atmosphere becomes more constricted - almost as if you were drowning.

An excellent choice if you want to venture into the darker sides of family and fate in YA fiction.

Miracleville by Monique Polak


Posted by Cobalt | Posted in | Posted on 7:50 AM

Rating: 2.5 / 5 stars

Ani is sick of being the good daughter, the polar opposite of her shameless, sex-crazed, hyperactive sister Colette. Ani may be named after a saint, and she may live in the town of miracles, but that doesn't mean she doesn't want to slap her sister silly.

Still, Ani's biggest problems are manageable, such as keeping Colette from scaring away the tourists - Saintly Souvenirs is their main income, and helping their mother run the shop can be a full-time job. There's also the issue of keeping Colette from pouncing on every cute boy in sight. And the way Colette talks about sex all the time; frankly, it makes Ani squeamish. Everyone knows good Catholics are supposed to wait until marriage.

These become minor blips when a real disaster strikes the family, turning everything on its head and leaving Ani completely bewildered. What is she supposed to think when even living in the town of miracles doesn't protect you from tragedy?

There's the basic summary, and the book frankly isn't much more than that. I'm sorry to report that this one just didn't hold my interest, and not just because of the strong religious bent. Polak does acknowledge facets to faith, overtly dismantling some of the more pervasive stereotypes, but at the same time she reinforces them through Ani's shock. If people in her community were really so welcoming all along (sex is okay with protection! gays are people too!), then why is Ani so surprised when they say so? Polak wants to have it both ways: attacking prejudice without fully acknowledging it, building a false conflict that can easily be smoothed out by the end.

Perhaps I'm being a bit harsh - after all, prejudice is a major hinge upon which the backstory rests - and Polak does take care to show the consequences of bigotry for individual lives. It may just be the audience level that's making this story feel too softball to me.

Mostly, the problem was a Telling Not Showing approach that turned the characters wooden and the situations dull. Ani comes across as a walking stereotype of virginal Catholicism, disgusted and embarrassed by her own bodily desires. And while she supposedly 'grows' throughout the book, I was so uninterested in her from the start that it didn't really register. Tellingly, Ani's most 'realistic' moment happens during a dream where she does all of the 'bad girl' things she's not supposed to -- and revels in every minute of it. If we had more of that Ani fighting to the surface at the beginning, then there might be some interest. Regrettably, this DreamAni doesn't show until 3/4 of the way through the book - and then DullAni wakes up.

Not much else to say about this one - it's not offensive or bad, it just didn't resonate with me. I'm willing to acknowledge that this one simply wasn't my Cup of Tea.

Solitaire by Kelley Eskridge


Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , | Posted on 6:17 PM

Rating: 4.5 / 5 stars

Ren Segura is the Hope of Ko; chosen at birth to lead her people into a new era, a representative of the corporation that hopes to become a global power, one of the elite in the new EarthGov.

There's just one problem: Ren's entire life is a lie.

We meet Ren, aka Jackal, on the worst day of her life, when everything she's ever known begins to crumble -- which turns out to be a perfect way to get to know her. Because Jackal is at her magnificent best under pressure, and things are only going to get worse.

I don't actually want to get into plot much, because I think the journey is an integral part of the book, with the reader sharing in Jackal's uncertainty and fear. And you will.

I tend to avoid 'adult' sci-fi because the whole 'Other' dynamic gets in the way of connecting with the characters -- I feel like I'm watching them from behind a glass, or through some slightly garbled translation. I know that part of it is due to the alien setting, and Ko is certainly different from today's world -- but there were enough similarities to keep me grounded, especially since Eskridge kept her focus on the human element. I think that is really the key to any good sci-fi: never let the shiny tech get in the way of the human heart of the story (or alien/cyborg heart, whatever). We connect to people, not computers, no matter what channels we're going through, and Jackal's experience makes this wrenchingly clear.

Eskridge's prose complements her story with a light touch, sparse without being sterile, balancing calm with sudden moments of sledgehammer force. And those moments hit hard -- this isn't a horror piece at all, but a few moments felt worse than all the zombies I've been slogging through lately. Possibly because I cared much more.

The worldbuilding is also elegantly done, with a neat trick of introducing how things work in Ko by showing characters' reactions as they start to fall apart. Plus, I'd just finished a management class and I was getting a real kick out of the 'Corporate Culture Eats the World' vibe. I was a bit hazy on the wider world workings but since my focus was on the main characters, I didn't really mind.

And what fascinating, lovely, challenging characters. My adoration goes out mainly to Jackal and Snow, but Scully and terrifying Chrichton and loon-bat-gorgeous Estar all deserve good shoutouts (and Jane, oh you are awesome!).

I'm glad that I got this book via Early Reviewers, because I honestly wouldn't have picked it up otherwise. And that would have been a shame.
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