The Demon Trapper's Daughter by Jana Oliver

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Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , , | Posted on 5:35 PM


*Disclaimer: I received this as an ARC in the mail

Review: 3.5 / 5 stars

Riley Blackthorne has a pretty rough life. For one thing, she's training to become a licensed demon trapper, a profession that isn't known for pro-feminist traditions. For another, she's the daughter of Paul Blackthorne, a living legend in demon trapping circles. So there are some high stakes involved.

But Paul Blackthorne doesn't even want his daughter in the family business. Especially after his wife's death, he has an understandable objection to Riley dancing with demons. He hasn't managed to dissuade her yet, but Riley herself is getting discouraged -- there's only so much demon pee and public humiliation she can take, and botching her trappings is getting her nowhere towards fully licensed.

Still, Riley's convinced that she has all the skills, and she starts to wonder if something's standing in her way. Something besides Beck, her father's obnoxious apprentice/partner, a Southern hick who keeps needling Riley about her age, her inexperience, and oh, that little crush she used to have on him...

Turns out Riley's right. Demons are afoot, but they aren't just after her. After an attack rips her life apart, Riley has to figure out who to trust and what's really going on - and how to shake the annoying new guardian who's suddenly manifested in Beck. Oh, and there's another cute boy involved: Simon, a fellow apprentice who seems almost too golden to be true.

This book was written as a series starter, and it shows -- there's a lot of buildup and not much conclusion, with many loose ends to be resolved. This wouldn't be a problem, except that the worldbuilding was a little sparse, with not enough fully explained (why are the demons here? what are the protective properties of metal? who are these demonkillers from Rome?). There was a lot of Talking About How Things Are, but not enough Showing -- and the start of a series is the place for it.

The characters were engaging enough, but I'm going to snark at the dialogue -- we don't need to hear Beck's 'deep South' accent in every sentence, and Oliver's representation of a Scottish brogue made me cringe.

I'm reserving judgment a bit due to the obvious series-ness, but I really wanted more organic backstory and more balanced pacing in the first installment. This may really find its feet later on, but Riley hasn't trapped me yet.

Nightshade by Andrea Cremer

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Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , , | Posted on 4:40 PM


Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Yes, another werewolf book. But this one felt like an ideal combination of Blood and Chocolate and Raised by Wolves, in that we have a very sexual heroine who isn't afraid of being dominant and in touch with her wolfy self -- but who also is very pack-responsible and not a self-centered whiny princess (*coughViviancough*).

Calla has a lot on her plate, even for an alpha female. Not only is she betrothed to the alpha of another pack who insists on pushing the boundaries of 'friends,' she also has to deal with an annoying human boy who knows her Pack's secret...see, she sorta-accidentally saved him from being grizzly-meat in the mountains, but she shifted forms to do it. Right in front of said Boy in Peril.

Werewolf fail.

Meanwhile, uniting with the Bane pack is bringing its own set of politics, as Calla begins to realize that being an alpha mate will restrict her freedoms even further. She's grown up with the double standard that Ren, the Bane alpha, can sleep around all he likes (after all, he's a growing boy) but she must remain 'pure' for the union. But as their Samhain engagement approaches, Calla begins to question many of the 'givens' in her life -- not least being the ever-present Keepers who determine mating rules and pack orders. The lore explains that the Guardians (read: werewolves) protect the Keepers, who in turn keep the world from falling into chaos. This means that the Keepers basically rule Calla's life. But when Shay (re: Boy in Peril) shows up at her school, he starts digging into her culture and overturning all her truths.

Calla is not a happy puppy.

Shay has his own problems; he's been adopted by the Keepers, but he has no idea who they really are. And they seem to want something from him, which may be tied up in an obscure prophecy and a tattoo on Shay's neck that only Calla can see.

Oh, and if anyone finds out that Shay knows about Calla and the Keepers,* they're all dead.

Got it?

The best thing about this book is its fullness, in character and scope. All of the characters are nicely rounded, even Ren, who makes for a compelling male lead in his own right, instead of just The Other One in a typical love triangle. You'll like Calla's packmates, who are fighting their own battles of self-determination and getting caught up in romance (Mason and Neville, you have my vote). And Shay? Well, I've gotta love a boy who breaks into private libraries and approaches Peril with Research.

This isn't Anna Karenina, but it's impressively complex for a YA werewolf offering. And if the prose sometimes dips into the lust sparklefest zone, Cremer cuts in nicely with some self-deprecating humor. However, a warning: there is a major cliffhanger ending. It is painful. But it does seem to be planned instead of randomly tossed in, so that means I have to wait (curse you, series!) until the next installment in July.


*I've just realized that would be an awesome band name.

Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves

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Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , , | Posted on 9:42 AM


Rating: Four zombie bunnies and a ninja midget

So this book was full of crazy. Just, crazy everywhere. Not only do we have a protagonist who hears voices and hallucinates (all well and good), but she runs away to track down her mother who is arguably crazier than her and lives in a town that makes said Nutty Protagonist look plain-vanilla sane.

Did I mention the talking swan dolls and monsters in the windows and ghosts in the classrooms and the copious amounts of blood?

It makes for an interesting setup, since you're not quite sure how much of Hanna's experiences are a result of her own lack-of-pills reaction or the actual wackiness of Potero, Texas. But hey, why fight over the origins? There is plenty of crazy to go around. And as long as you go with it, you'll probably be fine. Or eaten. Whichever.

Hanna herself is a troubling character -- bipolar schizophrenic really doesn't begin to describe her. She has this terrifying capacity for both intense empathy and total disconnection that means you'll be feeling kind of sorry for her and then she'll go and bash someone's head in. Which leaves you as reader pretty conflicted most of the time, unless you decide to just go with it (see above).

But Hanna is nothing compared to her mother. Rosalee has this mythic status as Queen Badass in the Ultimate Town of Crazy, and she is not pleased to see her daughter. Hanna is determined to make her mother love her (also some disturbing implications here) and as Rosalee is completely lacking in a maternal instinct, has little self-control and possibly no conscience, this quickly gets messy.

And then Hanna goes to school.

There are monsters at school. And ghosts, and other weird stuff, and pretty much everyone is betting on Hanna getting mauled/devoured in the first week. This is high school angst with rabies, and you end up pretty grateful to have a crazy protagonist since anybody else would be lunch by now. But Hanna has wiles and guts and quickly settles on the speediest way to assimilate: snag the most popular boy in school, Wyatt. Who may actually be a bit of a monster himself.

This gets messy, too.

What I loved most about this book was actually the manic mixture of cultures; Hanna is biracial, speaks Finnish, cooks blood pancakes, and has absolutely no inhibitions about failing to fit in. Wyatt, lovely demon-hunter boy, takes this in stride and approaches Hanna on her own baffling terms, which is part of what makes their relationship interesting.

I was not particularly fond of the gore (there is gore galore), but the overall twisty, squishy fun (?) of this book made it worth a few showers of entrails. Not recommended for the queasy and not a tranquil read, but for those who'd like a bath of crazy: jump in!

Dash and Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

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Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , | Posted on 6:29 AM

Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars

What happens when two hipsters fall in love? Over the holidays, no less?

Well, they probably get an awesome soundtrack.

This book was described by one reviewer as "a light, frothy, hot-chocolate read," and I agree on all points: warming, almost cloyingly sweet, and very little nutritional content.

But also fun, if you are in the mood to be pleased. And I was. However, if you are tipping towards the cynical side of life, you should probably steer clear. When I started reading, I had a moment of doubt: will I want to kill these characters within a few chapters? And I can see where word-nerd Dash and the improbably-upbeat Lily could drive you to violence. But the alternating POV's helped, and so did the fact that I was reading in small doses (Note: Do not chug the hot chocolate).

So, the premise: Dash is prowling the stacks in the Strand, that holy temple of bibliophiles, when he comes across a mysterious red Moleskin notebook tucked among his beloved Salinger novels.*

The notebook has a secret message that requires a word hunt through the Strand**; once he's decoded the message, Dash has a decision to make. Does he want to accept the mysterious Lily's invitation to play? Does he want to up the ante with a set of dares himself?

Of course he does.

Hijinks ensue in the grand city of New York, and it's best to sit back and enjoy the madcap zaniness that you've signed up for. Just don't think too hard!


*This is where I became Gravely Concerned.
**This is where I decided to keep reading, because I am a sucker for wordplay.

Raised by Wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

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Posted by Cobalt | Posted in | Posted on 5:41 AM


Rating: 4.5 / 5 stars

Quick clarification: Bryn was actually raised by werewolves. This causes no small amount of confusion in her life, since it's a bit easier to tell yourself apart from your wolfish siblings when you are the only one minus fangs and fur. But when your best werewolf friend and pack brother Devon has better fashion sense than you, it's trickier to draw the line between human and wolf.

Not to mention the Pack bond, a sort of psychic Twitter feed of werewolf emotion, which Bryn has done her very best to shut down since she was four years old.

Ever since the Rabid murdered her family, and she was adopted into the Stone River Pack.

So thanks to her upbringing, Bryn tends to growl a bit more than normal girls. Her social life at school is somewhat lacking. But she has plenty of Pack drama to make up for it. Not least is sparring with Callum, the Alpha who saved her. Think your home life is tough? Try dealing with a dominant male wolf who's upset about your algebra grades and wants you home every night before dusk.

This is just a fun, fast read overall. Bryn is delightfully pragmatic, so even when she's rushing off to Do Stupid Things, she knows that they are ill-advised and there will be consequences. And then she deals with the consequences, foreseen and otherwise.

But mostly, this book is about Pack. Which also means family. Because what lots of werewolf stories ignore is the wolf aspect -- wolves are naturally pack animals. The lone wolf is not a happy puppy, because wolves are drawn to each other, as mates and friends and rivals. Just like humans.

There is even Romance! Well done, with a side of mysterious, and yes, Chase is fascinating in his own right. He doesn't turn all Dominant Male in the relationship (of course, Bryn won't let him) and I'd be happy to see another novel from his perspective.

The only regret you may have from this book is that there isn't another one immediately to follow up. But don't let that stop you - Raised by Wolves is too good to miss.

Magic Under Glass

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Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , , | Posted on 6:44 AM


Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars

Nimira grew up in a world of lush gardens, court intrigue, and the luxury of the palace. But after her mother's death and her father's debts, she finds herself on a dingy stage, singing the ballads of her homeland to a rabble of commoners who see her as an exotic sideshow. A trousergirl.

Not exactly what she had dreamed of, growing up.

However, Nim is resilient and determined, and she keeps her eyes fixed on her goal. Even if she could never compare to her own mother's brilliant performances, Nim wants to make a name for herself. She wants to earn true respect for her art, and make her audience recognize her as more than just a novelty.

Trouble is, Nim's career seems to have stalled. Until a Mysterious Gentleman appears in her audience and offers her a new job: singing accompaniment to a fairy-made automaton, to an audience of Lorinar's upper set.

There are a few problems with this scenario. For one, Nim isn't all sure that she wants to put herself in the hands of a stranger, having so little legal and financial protection herself, to become basically another set-piece to an exotic show -- the Machine and the Heathen. For another, Mr. Parry is said to have a tragic past, including a dead wife.

For a third thing, the automaton is said to be haunted.

Nim says yes anyway, and then things get complicated.

I enjoyed this book, especially for how Nim managed to maintain her autonomy and Get Things Done -- not by rebelling against her limited position and smashing things up, but by working within her constraints. This showed control and strength of character far more impressive than a "can't hold me down" tantrum ever would (not to mention: far more effective).

It was a bit sparse on supporting character details, and the world-building is not done, but I expect that shall be covered in later installments. There must, of course, be later installments. I'd have liked more solid character building and setting work, but you can't help but love and admire Nim.

So, I may be tepid on the overall book, but I am Team Nim all the way.

Stolen by Lucy Christopher

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Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , | Posted on 6:30 AM


Rating: 5 / 5 stars.

Gemma doesn't understand why Ty chose her; picked her out in the airport coffee shop with his piercing blue eyes, drew her close, and swept her away.

It soon becomes clear, though, that he has planned this out carefully. The wig, the fake I.D., the drugs.

Ty didn't just kidnap her on a whim.

This book is brutal and stark and utterly beautiful, just like the Australian outback where Ty takes Gemma. He tells her there is no one else; he tells her that this place isn't on any maps. And if this could be true anyplace on Earth, it would be Australia. There are no roads. No telephone lines, no airplanes, no people -- just the sand and the sun and the endless sky.

The setting is a palpable force in the narrative, woven into the structure and the atmosphere and the characters themselves, and that is part of what makes this often grueling story not just bearable, but compelling. Christopher won't let you disconnect from this world; you are drawn towards both characters, Ty and Gemma both, fighting to survive in a harsh landscape that strips everything down to the bare roots. The second-person narration, which I usually find gimmicky, is intimate and claustrophobic and heartbreaking here.

I don't want to spoil anything more about this book, so I'll just say that Stolen is pitch-perfect, and you may never be prepared to read it, but you should anyway. Trust me.

Shade by Jeri Smith-Ready

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Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , , | Posted on 6:39 AM


Rating: 3 / 5 stars

Aura sees ghosts -- but so do a lot of kids her age. In fact, everyone born after the Shift can, which means people sixteen and under are constantly being pestered by the restless spirits of the not-so-departed. Which, of course, their parents and elders can neither hear nor see.

Talk about a generation gap.

Aura's aunt is one of the few 'adults' who could see spirits before the Shift, so she can sympathize with the constant pestering. Then again, she's built an entire career on the new vociferous status of the dead, creating a legal practice for ghosts to air grievances and settle unfinished business -- in court. Apparently, something about a lawsuit can bring most ghosts the closure necessary to move on.

In the meantime, most kids born post-Shift wear lots of red (a color that seems to repel ghosts) and try to ignore the spirits crowding around them.

Aura works in her aunt's office, taking notes and testifying for clients on the stand (it's a well-known fact that the dead cannot lie), but she tries to keep this part of her life from getting in the way of her real loves -- like her amazing musician boyfriend Logan, who is one gig away from breaking into the record industry and launching his Irish rock band into the big time.

While she knows that Logan loves her, Aura is terrified of losing him to the seductive world of rock stardom -- so for the night of the concert and his birthday, Aura is making some special preparations of her own.

She never expected the night to end this way: Logan's body down the hall, while Aura stands in his bedroom, staring at his violet-hazed spirit.

Her boyfriend is dead, but definitely not gone.

Logan's family wants him to move on. Aura's aunt wants her to testify in court about his death. But Logan still loves her, and Aura can't bear to lose him twice.

At the same time, Aura is being plagued in other areas of her life. She's working on a research project about prehistoric monuments (think Stonehenge and other cool places) which she suspects holds the key to the reasons behind the Shift -- and she is suddenly saddled with a class partner, an improbably attractive Scottish boy who is disconcertingly good at flirting.

Aura feels disloyal, but at the same time, what future can she have with a dead boyfriend? And who the hell is this Zachary anyway?

A good solid read, with a nice touch on the love-triangle aspect -- this could have been a disaster, but Smith-Ready handles a tangled emotional mess with the right amount of sensitivity, showing Aura caught in the in-between of grieving and moving on, holding on to who she loves and yet and needing more...

The only quibble I had was with the world-building -- great concept, but not nearly enough about the Shift and its implications. This is probably the build-up to the sequel, when things will really get moving, so we'll have to see. In the meantime, I'd recommend this for as a slightly spooky, romantic Halloween treat.

Paranormalcy by Kiersten White

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Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , , | Posted on 6:37 AM


Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars

If you're a vampire, hag, werewolf or faerie, you should probably stay away from Evie, because a) she can see right through your glamours and b) she has a taser.

It is pink, sparkly, and she calls it Tasey.

Avoiding Evie is going to be difficult, though, because she's a member of the International Paranormal Containment Agency, and her job -- actually, her whole life -- is about tracking down otherworldly creatures and neutralizing them. Which means a quick jolt from Tasey, clamping an anklet on the unlucky creature, and then reading them their rights.

For the hapless hag or vampire, this basically amounts to: stop eating people, or the anklet will trigger a lethal dose of electricity, holy water, silver, or what-have-you.

Most of the people Evie meets on the job aren't that happy to see her. Or count as people, exactly.

For a teenage girl, it's not an ideal life, but Evie has her best friend mermaid Lish and seasons of Easton Heights, her all-time favorite teen soap, back at the Center. And Raquel, her boss, is even kind of the mother Evie never had, in a disapproving-sighing way.

But then something starts killing off paranormals, and Evie runs into a boy who's even stranger than she is, and he seems to know something about what's going on, while hinting that the IPCA isn't maybe the awesome organization it pretends to be...

I liked this book as a light read, and it's all due to Evie. She's just irrepressible, and her natural optimism and friendliness somehow didn't come off as annoying or stupid or both, which is impressive. She even almost made me forgive her ridiculous love of pink. Almost.

I only had two real issues: the 'love triangle' setup that the marketing copy seemed to be pushing, and the lack of explanation on Evie's past. [Warning: mildly spoilerish]

I do not mind The Romance. The boy that Evie is Meant to Be With has many lovely qualities and is quite swoon-worthy in his way. The Other One is, frankly, abusive.

Okay, so he's a faerie, and they are typically uninterested in petty mortal things like morals. Reth has his own agenda, and that's all that matters to him, and that's fine. Essential to the plot, etc. -- I get it. But no way should anyone be portraying his actions towards Evie as anything romantic. Just no. The whole interaction is the picture of an abusive relationship, even to the part where Evie gets told she's "overreacting."

I nearly threw the book across the room. I realize this may be my personal issue. But I have to believe that there was no thought in the author's mind of Reth being a serious contender for Evie's affections, and the plot, thankfully, bears this out.

The other issue was just a case of "I want more!" whenever it came to Evie's background or the faeries or the various prophecies swirling around. The book may have been trying for mysterious, but the overall effect was frustrating. Perhaps a sequel in the works?

Excellent pick-me-up read if you'd like to hang out with Evie (and you will).

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

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Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , | Posted on 6:31 AM


Rating: 5 / 5 stars, plus AWE

My eternal gratitude goes to the young woman at the ALA conference who convinced me to pick up this book and take it home with me. Where it shall now stay.

Andi Alpers is in Hell. Her brother is dead, her mother is insane, and she is about to be expelled from her prestigious prep school in Brooklyn. At this point, Andi really couldn't care less. The pills and her music are the only things keeping her here, but she's slipping further every day...

Until her famous geneticist father gets wind of her impending expulsion and drags her off to Paris to finish her senior thesis. Desperate to get home, Andi throws herself into her research, a project on the musical 'genetics' of Amadé Malherbeau, a 19th century French musician who composed the mysteriously-titled "Fireworks Concerto."

Andi just wants to get back to Brooklyn. She doesn't care about her father's controversial project: testing an ancient preserved heart that may have belonged to the son of the late Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette -- a little boy who saw his world crumble during the Revolution. But then Andi finds a beautifully-preserved guitar among the collection of artifacts. And inside the guitar case, she finds a hidden compartment with what seems to be a diary...

Trust me, this book is so much more than its plotline, although Donnelly does a flawless job of weaving two narratives together, as Andi reads the account of a girl her age during the Revolution -- Alexandrine Paradis is a street performer with aspirations to the stage, but she finds herself drawn into roles she cannot control as her countrymen tear each other to pieces. Until there is nothing left in her but the drive for one mission; this girl, who watched her world burn and her people close their eyes, becomes determined to set the skies on fire.

I loved how much of the story was interlaced with music, and its power to express when words fail us. And even though I'm not a total music nerd like Andi, she made me appreciate the complexity of the musical tradition, how musicians draw from each other and leave their legacies, so that even today a rock star can carry echoes of Beethoven in one haunting chord.

Really, this book is full of beauty as it circles around one ultimate question: Why? In a world choked with madness, cruelty, grief, fury, and despair, rolling endlessly along the iron rails of History -- why bother? Why try? Why even dare to hope?

Read this book. It may not stay with you in the same way; it may not change you or the way you see the world, even slightly.

But I doubt it.

Clockwork Angel

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Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , , , | Posted on 6:30 AM


Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars

Tessa Gray has a problem. Several problems, actually. Her aunt has died suddenly, leaving her an orphan in New York in 1878 with no worldly belongings and little cash. Fortunately, her brother Nate has just sent her steamer tickets and a letter, inviting her to come live with him in London. Except that when she gets there, Nate is not, and Tessa is kidnapped.

Oh, dear.

This is actually a prequel to Cassandra Clare's bestselling Mortal Instruments series, but you don't need to have read those to enjoy Clockwork Angel. Honestly, besides one lovely side character and a few surnames, I didn't recognize much - though it should please fans of the 'later' books.

Also, do not fret: this may be set in Victorian times, but there is no shortage of blood and battle and even some scandalous drenched-shirt action. After all, Clare specializes in three things: action, witty banter, and sizzling chemistry (with some banter on the side).

Tessa is a great protagonist; she is tossed into an overwhelming supernatural world and yet avoids becoming either a) google-eyed and passive or b) improbably adept and Chosen One-ish. The second option was a definite possibility, since Tessa soon discovers that she may not be altogether human. Which is rather a nasty shock.

But, our heroine keeps her priorities straight! First, she must find and rescue her brother from Certain Peril. And if this means consorting with the Enclave, a secret band of supernatural warriors pledged to defend the human race, so be it. And if that means dealing with Will Herondale, a beautiful, magnetic boy with a worrying lack of self-preservation instinct or respect for personal space...well, all in the name of duty!

Will is the obligatory devil-may-care-but-I-sure-as-hell-don't male lead, but I found myself more interested in the other characters through most of the book. And they are well worth the attention, especially Jessamine, a Shadowhunter who is trapped as warrior in a society that values gentle wives -- and the way that she deals with this is fascinating. Yet also frequently annoying.

This book is the first in a trilogy, so do not be surprised at cliffhangers! Because Clare has a nasty habit of those. But I care far too much about the characters now (and my love for Victoriana is neverending) so I'm just going to have to wait with the rest of you. Oh, the pain!

Guardian of the Dead Review

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Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , , | Posted on 7:45 PM


Rating: 4 / 5 stars

You'll probably like this book if you enjoy the following:

*a (literally) kickass heroine

*an intriguing and engaging romance

*an intricate, magnificent mythology

In Guardian of the Dead, the landscape and legends of New Zealand deserve just as much focus as the main character (who is impressive in her own right). I'm not terribly myth-knowledgeable beyond some of the basics -- certain Greek stories about incest and such, the old faeire tales of getting stolen away, a few creation myths here and there. So it was a real pleasure to enter Ellie's world and find a rich cultural tradition waiting for me...which makes it sound way too academic and dusty. Believe me, this is about blood and fury and fighting for your life and soul, not to mention dealing with incredibly creepy things happening to eyes. (Aghgh).

But Ellie really sold the book on me. This girl is strong. Yes, physically, since she's a black belt in tae kwon do and not a lightweight either -- but also emotionally and mentally. She's dealt with her mother's battle with cancer and adjusting to a new boarding school without becoming bitter, and she's steadfast in her commitments to friends. She's also nobody's fool, which made the mythological events in this book really work -- if Ellie could come to terms with this crazy stuff happening, then so could I.

And what crazy stuff it is. Besides the not-unpleasant oddity of her longtime crush Mark suddenly taking notice of her, Ellie is also experiencing sudden lapses in memory followed by vomit-inducing migraines when she tries to fill in the gaps...not to mention that a deeply creepy red-haired woman has come striding out of the nightly mists to join their school production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. In the role of Titania, of course. And this lady is taking an odd interest in Ellie's best friend Kevin...

Ellie's only involved in the play to direct the fight scenes, which is both totally awesome and totally appropriate. Other bloggers have made note of how often Ellie gets beat up in this book, and it is true -- our girl takes it on the chin a lot. But she dishes it out, too, and I don't want to spoil the book but I will pose a question: Wouldn't you just love it if the heroine's response to Mysterious Boy Being Frustratingly Mysterious was to punch him in the face?

Answer: yes.

So read this book for Ellie. Because she rocks.

Swoon by Nina Malkin

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Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , , | Posted on 7:04 AM


Rating: 3 / 5 stars

I can't say that I was comfortable with the romance component of this book -- which was pretty much all of it. First, there was the weirdness of our Leading Lady (Dice) falling for the Brooding Love Interest (Sin) -- while he happens to be possessing the body of her cousin. Because, you know, he's a ghost and all. Interesting premise, but it mostly played out like this...

DICE: So I am irresistibly attracted to a dead boy who is inhabiting the body of my bodacious blond cousin....sweet! Now I get to indulge my latent homoerotic tendencies while pursing the Boy of My Dreams!

SIN: Um....exorcism NOW, please.

The other problematic aspect of this lovefest is the slight detail that Sin is firmly on the vengeful side of the haunting spectrum. His target? The entire town of Swoon, of course, since the good townsfolk turned all angry mob and lynched him back in the 1700s -whenevers. His only crime? Being a little too friendly with the ladyfolk...and having his newly-pregnant girlfriend end up dead.

Hmm...

This at first seemed to be heading into the troublesome loves-me-or-wants-to-kill-me territory of many teen romances in the supernatural realm -- but I can report at least that Sin never deliberately harms Dice. Pretty much everyone else in the town is fair game, though.

So of course Dice is torn, since she kinda-sorta loves this angry little poltergeist, but she also doesn't really want to see the town go up in flames. Mostly. And of course she has her own reasons for coming to Swoon -- being a native of NYC, a little Connecticut backwater wasn't a natural choice for a getaway.

I liked Dice's snark and almost-brutal honesty, and she handles the tango of Love versus Better Judgment pretty well, but I couldn't really get into the romance with Sin. Mostly because of the above issues, but also because he seemed pretty one-dimensional. I know, maybe I should give the revenge-obsessed ghost a break, but I just didn't see the appeal beyond a tragic backstory and (of course) a smokin' bod.

The supernatural elements had a neat little twist, and the way Sin manipulates peoples' desires to cause their ruin had potential, if not fully realized. And the ending was a nice surprise, which at least steered it out of cliche territory.

But overall, I wouldn't go rushing out for this one. Not a painful read, but not a terribly gripping one either.

Sunshine by Robin McKinley

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Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , , | Posted on 7:07 AM


Rating: 5 / 5 stars (plus ETERNAL LOVE)

First: why has EVERYONE not read this book? I am aghast and outraged and saddened and deeply shamed.

So this isn't going to be a review so much as a giant incoherent mess of READ THIS NOW PLEASE K?

Because Sunshine is pure awesome. It is the kind of awesome where you are consciously reading slower, dragging your feet so that it can all last longer and getting all panicky and weepy at the sight of dwindling pages to-be-read even as you cannot stop reading.

This is what a vampire-fantasy-YAish novel should be. I would advocate it as the cure for Twilight Madness, but I fear if hardcore Twilight fans read it it would blow their minds.

I hardly even know how to introduce this without babbling on forever -- our heroine is Sunshine, nicknamed not for a sunny disposition but rather her odd affinity for daylight. She is baker at Charlie's Coffeehouse, which is more of a giant family gathering than anything, what with her mother marrying Charlie and her two stepbrothers always stealing the cinnamon rolls and her tattooed-yet-mellow boyfriend Mel working as the cook. But this isn't some idealist fantasy of small town life -- baking is brutal work, getting up at ungodly hours and pounding dough into submission in a blazing kitchen and everyone running like mad and the customers streaming in and out and then oh god the tour buses...

So it's understandable that Sunshine needs a break once in a while. So she drives out to the lake one night -- and the vampires grab her. Dammit.

They give her a cranberry formal dress, and drag her to a grand deserted house in the moonlight, and chain her in the ballroom with another vampire....who is also chained to the wall. But within easy arm's reach.

What the hell?

This will take your assumptions about vampires, about supernatural romance, about pretty much everything in this 'genre' and flip them all sorts of ways. McKinley's worldbuilding is masterly and lush and detailed without turning to overload, and oh would you just read this already?

Please?

You need to read it for Sunshine, most of all -- a cranky, sarcastic, brilliant heroine who thinks of herself as a coward but has more backbone than Rambo in everything that matters. I love how she describes the world, this almost-rambling style that has so much fun with words without showing off, and she's so perceptive that we get to pick up on all the rich nuances of the people and the world around her, too. By the end of the book, I wasn't just in love with Sunshine -- I loved everyone she loved, I loved her work, I loved her entire life and how she was living it. Not even in the wish-I-had-it way (4 am wake up call, no thanks) but just how right it felt for her even in all the complicated mess of it.

Plus? I cannot even say how much I love the human-vampire interaction. FINALLY, we have a Girl-Meets-Otherworldly Creature of Darkness story where the heroine's first reaction isn't "Hot damn!" but "YEAEAACCHH!"
Because, you know, DEAD and EVIL and WRONG and WANTS TO EAT ME equals GET AWAY NOW, not 'Come and get it!'

And our vampire is fantastic too -- Con is not human and so he thinks differently about the world and he's been around for a long time, so we get a character who is truly alien -- not just some angst-ridden Byronic hero with a complexion issue.

And these characters grow through their interactions with each other and the awful, impossible choices they are making and that is also why you will fall in love. Because the Sunshine you meet in the beginning is not the same Sunshine at the end, and you've been with her the whole way and you're changed, too.

I need to stop. Please just read this book. Please. I'll even leave you with a link to an excerpt.

Have fun!

Ascendant by Diana Peterfreund

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Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , , | Posted on 7:27 AM


Rating: 4 / 5 stars

WARNING: Contains spoilers for Rampant, the first book in the Awesome Girls Who Are Also Unicorn Hunters series (my title).

Well, Diana Peterfreund certainly doesn't pull her punches. I picked up this book at a signing at ALA where I actually got to meet her (and be all incoherent in her face, yay!), and she invited me to share what I think.

And I'm still not quite sure.

Life continues to be suckily complicated for Astrid Llewelyn, reluctant unicorn hunter, as we find her still with no solution to the conundrum that unicorns are both a) vicious, man-eating monsters and b) magical, wild animals whose habitat has been decimated. Sure, her cousin Phillippa has become a champion of the unicorn-preservation movement, lobbying for endangered species status and a nature preserve and legislation against hunting and trafficking -- but meanwhile, unicorns are still out there killing people. Which means that Astrid has to go out there and kill the unicorns first.

And she's not sure how much longer she can stand it, especially since it's getting easier to sense the unicorns around her, their desperation and hunger and terror as they die...

Meanwhile, Cory is getting mysteriously sick and things are getting horrendously complicated with Giovanni and Gordian Pharmaceuticals menaces in the background and Astrid's chance of a normal life and medical school and her aspirations to help people seem to be slipping further away every day.

Geeze, Louise.

It is a tribute to Astrid as heroine that I felt compelled to stick with her throughout all this horrible mess, even as she screws up and gets lost and hurts people she cares about -- I just couldn't leave her. Because she was doing the best she could and being strong and smart and funny despite it all and let me tell you that is a kickass heroine.

It's awfully risky to have your main character go through the wringer, mostly because as readers we want to identify with our protagonist and no one likes having Life kick the snot out of them. But Life Happens, and props to Diana Peterfreund for developing this story in the way it should happen even if it means a rougher ride.

Lots of more excellent stuff in this book with the tangled mess of being a powerful, strong woman in a world that favors the 'wilting willow' stereotype; dealing with others' expectations while trying to forge your own identity (a note about Astrid's mother: HOLY HELL WOMAN, GET AWAY); struggling between responsibilities and your own desires (if you can even figure out what they are)....I could write a whole different loving review about this stuff right here. Not to mention the Endangered Species/Vicious Killers problem that the unicorns bring in, along with drug development and animal testing and woah....

But I should stop, because it boils down to this: get this book, and read it. It is a wild ride with our fantastic heroine and moments of pure magic, and believe me you don't want to miss out on that.

P.S. If you're wondering (as I did) about all the amazing unicorn-lore, Diana Peterfreund has an awesome page on her site full of Unicorn Research. LOVE.

White Cat by Holly Black

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Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , , | Posted on 7:28 AM


Rating: 4 / 5 stars.

I've heard about Holly Black in terms of awesomeness before, but I've never really gotten into her modern faeire tale series with Valiant, Tithe, and Ironside. It isn't that I doubted the reviews, but each time I picked up one of her books they failed to really grab me...the timing just felt off.

And then I went to the ALA Annual Conference in DC, and saw the lines for White Cat. I decided enough was enough! No more lollygagging! I would enter the world of Holly Black and not look back!

Oh man.

I was so not prepared for the awesome. First off, White Cat is a con man's story, which means it's full of twists and tricks and glorious lies. Second, this is a world of magic, where certain people -- called workers -- have the ability to curse others by touch alone. There is a ban on 'working,' and the government is eager to have mandatory tests to determine who has this ability (which workers are understandably eager to avoid). So everybody wears gloves, just to be safe. Meanwhile, a lot of workers are drawn into a black market world by their talents, recruited - and someones forced - to work for crime syndicates with their mojo.

The main story centers around Cassel, who seems like a decent guy. Okay, so maybe his mother's in jail for scamming rich guys out of their fortunes (with a little help from her emotional 'working' magic), and his brothers might be sort of working the black market with their talents for luck and broken bones, respectively, but Cassel doesn't have the working talent, so he's not in the family business. Instead, he's going to boarding school, becoming an upright young man and keeping out of trouble...except for that little betting pool he's operating on the side. Oh, and that time he murdered a girl in cold blood.

Um, yeah.

It took me a little while to get into this story, but once I was hooked and the con games got going, well -- I finished this one in a day. And kept making these shocked noises that disturbed my fellow passengers on various transports, because by the end my head was spinning off. I mean, I sort of saw one twist, but then there was another, and then I did not see that coming and oh what? -- so I just had to sit back and enjoy the ride.

As a narrator, Cassel was hard to warm to, especially given his habit of envisioning killing his ex-girlfriend as a sort of litmus test for Evil. (Cassel: Hmm, does the thought of strangling this girl fill me with horror? ....Yes...okay, so, still not evil!). But it was through his interactions with his family -- his crazy, criminal, messed-up family, that I really started to sympathize with him. By three-quarters of the way through the story had really kicked into gear and I was with Cassel to the end, whatever that turned out to be.

I'll stop babbling to avoid spoilers, but I can say now with confidence: Holly Black's reputation of awesome is fully justified. And con games + mobsters + prickly, difficult characters + magic = win.

Feed by Mira Grant

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Posted by Cobalt | Posted in | Posted on 6:39 AM


Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

First, a disclaimer.

I do not like zombies.

I don't enjoy zombie movies, I do not read zombie books, and I generally fail to see the appeal of the shambling dead.

But Grant's book has zombies and bloggers, and that combination was enough to hook me. Her prose, her universe, and most especially her characters' relationships kept me hooked, even though I knew -- I knew! -- according to the Rules of Zombieworld, that This Would Not End Well.

So Georgia Mason and her brother Shaun live in a world that has defeated the common cold, cured cancer...and accidentally unleashed an epidemic of the living dead.

Oops.

Georgia and Shaun grew up with this world, so the constant terror isn't actually new -- and it's fascinating to see how American society has adapted to the constant threat of having one's face chewed off by deceased friends and relatives. Usually this involves hiding indoors and testing your blood a lot.

Georgia and Shaun are constantly outside, instead, because of their jobs -- they are among the elite bloggers in the news/entertainment industry, and their entire lives revolve around drawing the ratings. After the Rising, the main media lost the peoples' trust and respect, largely because of their denialism and reports of Zombies, Pshaw! -- meanwhile, ordinary citizens were blogging about How to Kill That Thing Moaning in Your Yard.

So Georgia and Shaun go gallivanting about, bringing the latest news and thrills to the general populace hiding in their secure compounds, and garnering minor celebrity status in the process. So much status, in fact, that their blogging team is selected to cover the presidential campaign - by accompanying Senator Ryman, candidate for the GOP, on the trail to the convention.

I was fascinated by Grant's take on the media, politics, and everyday life in an atmosphere of constant fear -- even more so because it seemed utterly plausible and strikingly similar to today. But mostly I loved the relationship between Georgia and Shaun. They win the award for Best Sibling Relationship I've read so far -- bickering, bantering, covering each others' backs, and being unabashedly honest about their love and trust in each other.

If I wanted to be really analytical, I could talk about the parallels of zombie virology (Grant has crafted a fascinating model of infection) and the 'viral' spread of information among people with the blogging universe, crowdsourcing and communications advancements...but mostly?

Georgia + Shaun = Love.

This is the first in a series, so be prepared to be left wanting more (alas! for the Rise of the Series has sorely tested my Waiting Skills).

So go out and read Feed. Even if you've never read a zombie book; even if you have an allergy to the ambulatory departed....read this. You won't regret it.

Ink Exchange by Melissa Marr

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Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , , | Posted on 3:24 PM


Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

The second in Marr's dark faery tales, this novel centers around Leslie, a damaged girl who finds herself pursued by yet another faery monarch -- unlike the callous-but-shiny Summer King, however, Leslie has a more menacing suitor.

Well, not exactly suitor. You see, faeries regard mortals as instruments or playthings, to be used and then discarded -- so if you're expecting a story of True Love Converts Evil To Mushy Lovemuffin, think again.

Leslie has suffered horrific trauma at the hands of her own brother, who became mixed up in drug dealers and used her to pay off a debt. Now she is haunted by nightmares and a constant boiling panic; more than anything, she wants to be free of the terror -- she doesn't want to feel anything at all. When she sees the tattoo design in Rabbit's parlor, it calls to her, promising safety from all of her feelings, offering power and control.

She wants it. She's going to get it, etched deep into her skin, a part of her forever.

But she has no idea that Irial, the Dark Faery King, has very specific plans for that tattoo, and the girl who wears it. Plans that will likely lead to her destruction. But another faery, Niall, has suddenly taken notice of Leslie, and finds himself inexplicably driven to protect her - despite his own ugly past.

This was an enjoyable read, and quite surprising in many places -- several times, I thought it was going along one love-triangle route, but the characters kept surprising me. In part, I think this was because the romance element wasn't really driving the plot. Instead, this book was really about self-determination and how the choices we make shape not only our futures but ourselves. You can never go back to who you once were, and each of the characters make choices that are as much about themselves as they are about being - or not being - with others.

It was quite refreshing, actually, after all of the Edward-obsessed-Bella clones that have been running riot through the genre, more concerned about how the boy feels about her than her own sense of self (let alone self-preservation).

And there is a nice element of menace in this series, with ample evidence that these are the nasty, old-school faeries. If Twilight made vampires cuddly, Marr reminds us that her faeries are foreign, compelling, seductive, and above all dangerous.

So kudos! I'd be interested in picking up the third in this series, to follow this intriguing cast of characters some more.

By the time you read this, I'll be dead by Julie Anne Peters

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Posted by Cobalt | Posted in | Posted on 6:22 AM


Daeyln wants to die.

No, Daelyn is determined to die.

This isn't just typical woe-is-me teen angst, that wish for the hard stuff to be over, to get out -- of high school, a small town, a boring home...
Daelyn wants out of life. She's tried before, and failed. She is not going to fail again.

Another 'darker' novel that addresses a twisted problem with sensitivity and some creativity, too, By the time you read this doesn't try to manipulate you with any of the obvious tricks. Daelyn's matter of fact, deadpan narration may put you off at first, but I found it increasingly compelling and far more disturbing than any weepy tirade. Daeyln tells you simply how it is, and the awfulness speaks for itself.

Trauma is involved, but it's more than one single, horrible event -- it's a long, grinding torture of ridicule and abuse that is often casually dismissed under the catchall term 'bullying.'

But this goes way beyond the stereotypical 'give me your lunch money.' Peters shows the suffering and agony that can fester in a 'safe' suburbia when you pack a bunch of hormonal teens in small spaces, and then give them IM and facebook so they are never truly out of contact...

There is a bit of manipulative trickery when Daeyln meets Santana, an annoying dork boy who insists on showing her his pet rat and simply will not leave her alone. If you have seen or read any teen coming-of-age tearjerker ever, you will instantly know what's up with Santana. But Peters manages to make this more than the typical device - part of this is Santana himself, who cheerfully acknowledges his own manipulativeness. He's a person, not a life lesson, and so is Daelyn - which is why the story itself resists any easy categorizations.

Excellent in psychological depth, this is another heavy read that is well worth the discomfort of the ugly subject - you'll keep reading because you care about Daelyn, and she may just surprise you in the end.

Hold Still by Nina LaCour

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Posted by Cobalt | Posted in | Posted on 7:24 AM


Rating: 4 / 5 stars

One night, Ingrid went home, got in the bathtub, and slit her wrists, and her best friend Caitlin has no idea why. Reeling in the shock of Ingrid's suicide, Caitlin tries to hold together in a world that seems horribly unreal and nonsensical; her parents whisper and gaze with concern. The school year is restarting soon. Caitlin will have to go back.

And then she discovers Ingrid's journal hidden under her own bed.

Her friend didn't leave a suicide note; but she did leave a message. Caitlin struggles to decipher the reasons behind a life severed, in the process finding herself again.

This book takes on an awful event with clear vision and compassion, and while reading it was wrenching at times, there were moments of aching beauty as well. Quiet and understated prose forms a perfect complement to the oft-overwrought subject of teen anguish, and Caitlin's discoveries unfold like true revelations -- I was with her the whole way, and I felt like I knew these characters as intimately as childhood friends.

LaCour also deftly weaves this story of loss and healing around a central absence -- Ingrid herself, who we only meet through Caitlin's memories and her own journal. Lost and gone, she seems vibrantly alive in both Caitlin's words and her journal entries, which are delicately rendered in handwritten script and interleaved with illustrations. Ingrid is both compelling and endlessly elusive, and I longed to know her more as Caitlin mourned her loss -- this is a story about connections lost and made, misunderstandings and deep kinship and new, tentative trusts. Caitlin explores the gaps that prevent us from truly knowing even our closest loved ones, even as the novel shows the beauty of our impossible attempts to bridge those divides.

So please don't be put off by the 'depressing' subject matter; if you can handle the heartache, this novel will reward you fully, in a way that is far more satisfying and fulfilling than any simple answers.

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

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


Rating: 4 / 5 stars.

I don't generally venture into the crime/thriller genre; I usually avoid books of horror and murder because a) I am a total wimp and b) I'm not all that interested in the characters, anyway. So I've tended to equate these books with cheap teen slasher flicks: sensationalist violence-fests with cardboard characters falling to the axe one by one.

And then, a couple of summers ago, I picked up Sharp Objects.

And I was snared.

It was deeply disturbing and haunting but so compelling that I couldn't stop reading. The narrator's voice grabbed me, dragged me into her world, and I just had to keep reading, because I cared about her, and I needed to know, even if there was a monster under the bed, even if the truth was going to be awful and ugly...

So then Flynn came out with Dark Places, and I did it all over again.

I blame it entirely on her main characters. Ordinarily, I could easily avoid a story about the massacre of a family in a Kansas farmhouse one frigid January morning -- I don't want or need to know the bloody details. But I made the fatal mistake of opening the book and reading the first pages, and Libby Day took my hand and pulled me into the dark.

Obviously I want to avoid spoilers, so I'll just say that this book is beautifully structured and well-paced, with Libby's present-day investigations interspersed with flashes of the past, shifting to different characters' points of view almost hour by hour, leading up to that fateful morning. The impression is that of watching an awful Rube-Goldberg machine, all of these small moments interlocking and triggering further reactions, leading up to that horrible disaster.

For me, there was a terrible beauty in this motion, how misunderstandings and lies and simple stupid mistakes churned up this deep ugliness and violence in this seemingly-tranquil setting. Even knowing what was going to happen that morning, I found myself reading and chanting to myself, no, no, no, please...

Finally, I know this sounds odd, but there are also moments of stunning beauty in this book of horror and tragedy. And maybe that is what kept me reading, too. Because in Flynn's novels, nothing is ever simple, nothing black-and-white. That challenging complexity makes this a highly recommended read...though I don't think I'll try to re-read it anytime soon.

So please, Flynn, give me a bit of a breather before your next book. Odds are I'll be picking that one up, too.

Linger by Maggie Stiefvater

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Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , , , | Posted on 6:52 AM


Rating: 4.5 / 5 stars

I believe I wrote earlier about my deep and abiding love for Shiver. The same applies to Linger, only more so.

So first: if you have not read Shiver, please please please go read it now. And I envy you, because then you'll have Linger to look forward to.

Beware, then, for slight spoilers ahead!

****************************************************************

This book involves werewolves and True Love and teen agony, but do not be fooled! It is a deeply felt, poetic work, with characters that seem to just burn off the page and oh, I do believe I am embarrassing myself.

I do not want to overhype, and I realize that my Cup of Tea is not everyone's, but I defy you not to love soulful, awkward Sam and rational, slightly emotionally-blocked Grace. They are back and their lives are not the Happily Ever After Now That We Are Together.

For one, Sam is still getting used to his humanness, struggling to trust that he really is cured, feeling the possibilities of life with Grace ahead but terribly afraid of losing it all. And he is perhaps right to be afraid...

I do not want to give things away, but I particularly loved the other character action in this book -- I couldn't even call them 'secondary,' because they are so vivid and this really is an ensemble piece instead of a straight single-couple piece. We get more of Isabel, deeply damaged after losing her brother, and Isabel gets .... Cole. One of the new werewolves, he has a troubling habit of showing up naked on her doorstep.

Oh, Cole. You beautiful, infuriating screwup. Watching these two wounded people snipe and weave and argue with each other was one of the unexpected joys of this book. I look forward eagerly to further developments with these two, who are enough to justify a spinoff book of their own.

Obviously, I didn't want this book to end. I was deliberately rationing myself, savoring each page in a variety of settings: libraries, airports, etc. And then it ended (if there is a Theme to these books, it runs very much along the lines of Nothing Gold Can Stay, or Change, Change, and Change Again).

So... to paraphrase Oliver Twist: Please, Miss... I want some more. Next book, please?

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

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Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , , | Posted on 7:33 PM


Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Prince Aleksandar is on the run. The not-quite-legitimate son of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his love-matched spouse Sophia, Aleksandar is a bright, curious young man - who is left bereft and fugitive after his parents are assassinated and the brewing political tensions explode into the Great War. Pursued by the Germans, who want to lock him up and remove him as a political threat to their march across Europe, Aleksandar must flee in the night in a Cyklop Stormwalker - you know, those walking war machines that every major royal family had in the backyard in those days.

Oh, wait...

Meanwhile, Deryn Sharp has entered the recruits of the British Air Service, and her anxieties are in order of: a) making sure no one figures out she's a girl b) beating the tar out of all the other recruits by showing the commanders her natural flying ability and c) not plunging to her death from the platform swinging under the tentacles of an increasingly twitchy Huxley ascender -- you know, those biologically-engineered military craft that are basically giant jellyfishes filled with helium (and are a favorite for scouting missions).

Hang on...

This is World War One through the looking glass, where the sides aren't just Allies and Central Powers but Clankers and Darwinists -- the split falling between those nations who put their faith in the machine versus those who have chosen to massage Nature into organically growing their weapons and tools.

This is Way Cool.

Westerfeld does world building like no other, and the chapters are studded with some truly beautiful Victorian-esque line drawings that really bring the universe to life - it's one thing to imagine the Leviathan, the massive British biological warship that's both giant flying whale and a great floating jungle ecosystem all at once -- but it's even better to see it on the page, rising majestically through the clouds.

I'm not generally a fan of 'war' novels, but the adventure action of this novel works for me because of Westerfeld's focus on his main characters, who are both unique and engaging. Stereotypes could have easily cropped up; it would have been simple to make Aleksandar into the Spoiled Royal Brat Tossed Among Commoners, but instead we get a thoughtful, responsible young man who's acutely aware of his own privileged upbringing as he struggles valiantly to adapt to a harsh reality. And Deryn is my second favorite Tough-As-Nails female narrator in recent YA lit -- first prize goes to Jacky Faber of L.A. Meyer's Bloody Jack series. Deryn may be out to prove something, but she doesn't let her swaggering get in the way of her sense, and she also sidesteps the tired Ice Queen road to emotional self-defense.

So, lots of action, dazzling illustrations, and a creative new twist on history that's definitely worth the price of admission (in my case, free - oh thank you, library books).

How To Ditch Your Fairy by Justine Larbalestier

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Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , | Posted on 8:28 AM


Rating: 3.75 / 5 stars

Charlotte, aka Charlie, is not particularly happy when we meet her. It's more than the stretchy top currently mangling her 'spoffs' -- it's her entire life situation. She's fourteen, a sports maniac (like everyone else at New Avalon Sports High) who just wants to get on the basketball team and maybe link with the new hot boy, Steffie -- but her stupid parking fairy keeps ruining her life.

Yes, a parking fairy. While her friend Rochelle gets a clothes fairy that makes everything look perfect on her (not to mention discounted 75%), and her mortal enemy Fiorenze has an 'every boy fancies me' fairy that turns all eligible males into drooling love zombies, Charlie has been saddled with the 'charm' of always being able to find a parking spot. Except that she doesn't have a car, and can't drive. Instead, she's constantly getting 'borrowed' by friends and family who are eager to make the newest concert or have a hassle-free supermarket run -- absolutely zero fun for Charlie herself.

So she's trying to ditch her fairy, any way she can. There's a number of theories as to how, ranging from the unsanitary (never bathing) to the unhealthy (fasting, odd diets). Charlie has been trying the slow-but-steady approach by walking everywhere and therefore starving her fairy of the chance to work its mojo. Of course, this makes her late to everything, which earns her constant demerits, which gets her kicked off sports teams, which makes her parents upset, which threatens her social life and therefore her growing relationship with Steffie...

If only her stupid fairy would leave, this would all be solved!

Larbalestier gets major points for originality. She has not only created a nifty world where invisible (and some say, nonexistent) fairies fiddle with the course of everyday life, but she's also set the novel in a city where fame is paramount and schools are specialized to the point of regimentation. At Charlie's school, failure to intake the proper amount and proportion of calories earns demerits, since proper nutrition is essential to one's sports performance. Classes are all sports-oriented, from the PR assignments about managing bad press after a drug enhancement scandal to the Statistics sessions calculating batting averages. There's a fine line between passion and obsession, and while Charlie seems happy with her life, Larbalestier explores some of the tensions of this performance-oriented society in interesting ways.

Within this vibrant world, there's lots of catchy slang terms to enjoy, and Charlie's voice is fresh and engaging throughout. A fun, light read, told in diary format a la Bridget Jones, but with far more substance and style than the typical 'chick lit for teens.'

Fire by Kristin Cashore

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Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , , | Posted on 1:30 PM


Rating: 5/5 stars.

Ever have a book that you struggled to stop reading, because the decreasing width of pages on one side sent you into the panicked awareness that the story was going to end?

Fire was that book for me. I love Cashore's writing so much; I still haven't figured out how she manages to wrap such a rich world around her reader in very simple, elegant prose, but I fall under her spell every time I pick up her books. At least I was prepared this time, and took advantage of a snowy evening and a nice roaring fire to start savoring Fire -- I managed to stretch it out for half a week, with breaks for Real Life and necessary winter chores (like gathering more firewood).

I had read Graceling when it came out in hardcover, and I remember a similar experience of begrudging college classes and assignments for their piddling claims on my attention. Fire doesn't cover the same main characters and it's set in a different time and place, but there are some connecting threads that naturally tie the two novels together. Thematically, they are similar in that both feature strong female characters who possess frightening abilities -- in Graceling, Katsa is Graced with the ability to kill (pretty much anything, with or without weapons), and has been forced into service as the King's appointed thug. She rebels against being made into a royal murderer, even as she wonders if that is her true nature; is she doomed to be a walking weapon, a danger to all around her?

In Fire, the main character lives in a kingdom full of monsters -- creatures made unnatural by their stunning beauty and abilities -- and she herself is a hybrid, born of a human mother and a monster father. Fire is endowed with captivating beauty and the ability to manipulate others' minds, both traits inherited from her breathtakingly cruel and compelling father, Lord Cansrel.

Advisor to the King, Lord Cansrel urges his daughter to revel in her powers as he abuses his own; but when the royal household collapses in debauchery and ruin, the entire kingdom spirals towards civil war as rival lords begin making claims. From her homestead in the far north, Fire had assumed that she was irrelevant to these wider events, but she finds herself drawn into the war of the Dells along with her childhood friend, Archer. She not only has to decide her place in the coming battle, but also confront what using her powers will mean to herself and those she loves.

Cashore's characters are sheer works of art by themselves. I loved Katsa for her fierceness and her fears; Fire captured my heart in a different way, painfully alienated by the illusions of her appearance and damaged by her father's twisted love, yet somehow still struggling to protect and connect to others when it would be so simple and easy to shut herself away. No one is allowed to be simply a stock character in Cashore's world; they are all complex, sometimes infuriating, and sometimes awe-inspiring.

Really, a rough synopsis can't do this justice, so I'll have to ask you to trust me and read this book. It's far too nuanced and beautiful to slap labels on it, and trying to sum it up will miss the entire experience of reading it - the sheer delight of falling completely into Cashore's fascinating world.

And while you're at it, pick up Graceling as well, if you haven't read it yet. You can thank me later.

Rampant by Diana Peterfreund

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Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , , | Posted on 4:31 PM


Rating: 4/5 stars.

Think you know about unicorns? Those adorable, dewey-eyed mythological beings with the shiny rainbow hooves and fluffy tails?

Think again.

Astrid Llewelyn knows the truth: unicorns are not cute. They are not cuddly. They are vicious killing machines with slavering fangs and razor-sharp horns, and they'd like nothing more than to impale you and rip your flesh from your bones. Or so Astrid's mother has always taught her; along with her family lineage, of course -- as a descendant of Alexander the Great, Astrid is part of a long line of female unicorn hunters. However, she only retains this birthright (and the immunity to unicorn venom that it includes) so long as she remains a virgin.

So of course we must begin with some Macking in the Backyard with a Boy, And The Consequences. Astrid has long cultivated a tolerant dismissal of her mother's unique brand of crazy (researching Killer Unicorns is hardly a sane career choice), so she's a bit dismayed when a unicorn charges out of the woods and gores her boyfriend.

I promise not to reveal more. But it appears that the unicorns are back, and Astrid is shipped to Italy to join the ancient order of unicorn hunters, who are re-establishing themselves in their ancient abbey with news of the Resurgence.

A smart, fun twist on the typical mythology with a great cast of teen girls-turned-warriors (who each deal with their Chosen-ness in different ways). The book moved along nicely, with bloody battles relieved by Astrid's developing relationship with Giovanni (The New Boy Interest, but with Actual Depth), along with some really pertinent questions about feminism and morality -- in the modern world, how do you justify cloistering a bunch of young girls and training them to kill? What rights does one have as a huntress? And how do ideals of 'purity' and other constraints interact with sexual independence?

I love that Peterfreud's characters debate these points in the story, in very intelligent ways -- these young women are both personally and socially self-aware in a refreshing way (instead of the more typical 'self-absorbed teen' model). Astrid is an aspiring doctor; the ancient order of unicorn hunters developed a Remedy that could cure all disease, one that has murky links with the unicorns themselves. How far should she go to unlock this secret? Does her work as hunter make her into a kind of poacher, or even murderer?

Astrid's voice is fresh and compelling, and the cloisters are an intriguing backdrop for her adventures, as she bonds with and/or alienates the other girls in the huntress group. An engaging read along the lines of Graceling, with a heroine you can cheer for as you see her battle for her own definition and mission in the world -- girlpower without the preaching, this is really best summed up in the following equation:

Killer Unicorns + Kickass Girls = Total Awesome.
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