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Playing Catch-Up

Tap and Gown – Diana Peterfreund

Just as promised, Amy finally stopped acting like an idiot about her kidnapping in this book.  But it took her way too long to stop acting like an idiot about her relationship with Jamie.  I did not love-love-love this the way I did the earlier books in the series, but it also didn’t make me angry like those books sometimes did.  I think I’m ready to move on from Amy, but am very happy that as I do, I have a soon-to-be-released YA book of Peterfreund’s to look forward to.  I think, like Fire below, that my passionate crush on this series did this volume in it no favors.

Fragile Eternity – Melissa Marr

I don’t think I ever recorded here the related novel in this series, Ink Exchange, which I really liked.  But I loved this one and Wicked Lovely.  The plot goes to surprising places and I didn’t even mind that the budding romance of the first book was no longer as budding or romantic (which allowed the plot to move forward and the relationship to mature).  If I ever read another modern Fairie story again it’ll just be because I’m chasing after the appeal of this one.

Fire – Kristin Cashore

I know I’m pretty much alone in liking Graceling more, but I keep reminding people that it’s only because of how much of a crush I have on that book and not because this isn’t a stronger book.  I agree that this probably is.  And it tackles the male gaze, which is one of my favorite things ever to think about.  But I love the way that Cashore writes banter and sexual tension and those were missing from this book.  So I’ll just anxiously await whatever bits of Katsa and Po I’m given in her next book.

Once was Lost – Sara Zarr

I don’t personally find faith interesting, but I find Zarr interesting enough to go along for the ride when she explores it.

Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins

I’m sad that the first book in the series lived up to my expectations but this couldn’t handle the pressure.  I didn’t hate it, or even dislike it, I just hate that I only liked it.  The spoilery text of an email I sent to a friend in white text:

But one of my biggest frustrations with Catching Fire was the pacing of her “radicalization.”  That she was intuitive enough to read intention into the timing of the gifts she was receiving in the arena, but not to understand that her pin had become a symbol of the resistance.  And that an organized resistance was clearly forming but that it took her until the end to see it.  And I didn’t buy that the resistance would trust using her without her knowledge to go well, when that clearly didn’t work out for the government the first time around.  I did like the way she adjusted to the arena, that she realized things were going on that she didn’t understand and went with it.  I just felt more manipulated by the plotting of this story than the first one.

Lips Touch: Three Times – Laini Taylor

This book had the great premise of three fairytale love/forbidden desire stories that hinge on a kiss  and ended up being so much better than I expected while not really fulfilling the promise of the hook.  Another instance where David Levithan lied to me (I’m writing this bottom-up, see the review below) but I’m happier this time to have listened to him anway.  And as much as like Jim Di Bartolo’s illustrations, I don’t like the cover design.  Because it’s a much more serious, even grown-up, book than it seems.  And yes, each story in some way revolves around a kiss and the manifestation of physical desire, but I often related more to the other wishes and dreams of the characters.  The third story is an epic love story crammed into 110 pages that improbably has you siding with the evil witch-type by the end.  I’m not entirely sure how that narrative flip was even accomplished, but it was very skillful.  The first two stories have their charms, but the last is the one that really wowed me.  I don’t know if I’ve ever bought myself a real copy of a book after having read the ARC, but in this instance I might just for the illustrations.

Shiver – Maggie Stiefvater

Ultimately, I don’t think I liked this book.  At Day of Dialog, David Levithan swore up and down that this book transcended the otherworldly creatures (werewolves in this case) genre but I don’t think it does.  I think it was just okay with hints of being something wonderful.  Maybe someone else will read this and see what I’m missing.  There’s another story of doomed love that this reminds me of, but I can’t figure out what. *UPDATE.  The Universe just handed this to me on a plate: The Time Traveler’s Wife. It’s got the same “when will he disappear..possibly forever” tension.* It is very moody and atmospheric, but I never became fully invested in it.

Ash – Malinda Lo

Other than the lesbian love story aspect of this, it’s a pretty traditionally told Cinderella story.  The Fairy Godfather is actually a tricky, non-altruistic fairy, and it’s here and with the love story, where Lo carves her own space, that the book is the most successful.

Juliet, Naked – Nick Hornby

Technically this book has no business being here, as it has zero teen appeal, but I really enjoyed it.  And will stretch and say that it explores the flip side of the “Nick and Norah” music-obsessed-teen coin.  But it’s all about being a grown up, the disapointments and compromises and joys, and how not even a rock star can escape that.  This is the first Hornby book in years that I’ve enjoyed as much as I wanted to.

Scott Pilgrim vs.the Universe – Brian Lee O’Malley

I didn’t mind that Scott’s life kind of falls apart during this volume, I guess I’m turning into a cold-hearted grown up who didn’t expect his slacker lifestyle to be sustainable.  The cover is also very shiny and pretty.

Gregor the Overlander and Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane – Suzanne Collins

I’d been interested in this series ever since reading Hunger Games, but didn’t want to read a library copy because the paperback is both cheaply printed and very popular.  So I finally bought my own copy and once I’d finished, went out and immediately bought the second, which I read in one sitting.  I think the strength of these is Gregor.  He’s really likeable and resourceful.  And if too many of the books in this roundup feature kids who are destined to save the world, having a character who doesn’t act too stupid about the whole thing helps the over-used conceit go down easier.  I’m a little bit worried, and will have to be careful not to get too spoilery, that Collins may rely to heavily on formula with her plots.  These two books both follow similar arcs and this worry of mine is related to the aspect of Catching Fire that I wasn’t too impressed by.  I really wish these were collected in one volume, something with higher quality paper, so that you could easily read the whole saga in one go.

Blackbringer (Dreamdark) – Laini Taylor

I’m upset because I thought the sequel to this was already out but will instead have to wait until September for it.  So while that’s lame, I really enjoyed the story.  I like the way it maintained internal logic really well, how the strength of the god character was used to trick it, how the evil character was as much an important part of fairy history as anyone, how it feels like a complete story while making you want more, and how it might have the first fairy world I’d actually want to live in.  It would be really easy for me to talk about appreciating this book for all of the pitfalls it avoided, but that’s not very exciting.  This books seems to have initially been marketed as middle grade but then as YA for the paperback edition.  Which is funny, because I think it’s an easy sell to adults as well.


Updates and speed reviews

Because of my hectic new schedule where I’m thinking about work and emailing about work as much from home as from work (I got my very own, not even open yet, branch and I just started on Monday), I am falling behind in my reviews but also reading.  Who has the energy?  Not me.

Wondrous Strange – Lesley Livingston

I liked this Shakespearean, urban fairy tale.  If there’s a sequel I don’t know if I’d care enough to bother, but I did really enjoy it.  A few weeks ago, and my memory is horrible.

Avalon High – Meg Cabot

How did I not know about this sooner?  Arthur and his court reincarnated as American teenagers is the exact high concept I’m looking for.  But it still had all the fun high school romance and angst stuff.  Also, I could really relate to Ellie because all she ever wanted to do was float in her pool.

The Wordy Shipmates – Sarah Vowell

This doesn’t really have much YA interest, but I did read it and feel accomplished.  Vowell can make nearly everything interesting just because of her infectious enthusiasm, and she almost succeedes here as well.  But it’s still the Puritans arguing over the finer points of a religion I am only slightly interested in.  I think I got as much from hearing her talk about this book in interviews as I did from reading it.

Violet in Private – Melissa Walker

I didn’t enjoy this one as much as the previous two in the series, but it was still pretty fun.  I’m just sick of being teased with the resolution of the same “man vs. himself” plots that have been happening since the first one.

Evermore – Alyson Noel

I didn’t like this book.  People who think Edward Cullen is the dreamiest might like this book.  ‘Nuff said.

Review: City of Bones

City of Bones – Cassandra Clare

Clary thinks she’s a normal girl living in a normal world until she starts seeing violent people and things that don’t make any sense.  It also doesn’t make much sense to anyone else in this urban fairytale because normal humans, “mundanes,” shouldn’t be able to see the fey or the demons that move through the world.  But it doesn’t take long for Clary and the demon hunting “Shadowhunters” she falls in with to realize that Clary isn’t a normal girl and everything she thought she knew about her family was a lie.  So obviously the group of teens decides it’s up to them to go up against the ultimate big-bad and retrieve their society’s most sacred object.  And of course things go wrong at every turn because their plan is stupid and misguided.  But if they’d actually talked to any adults, they might have realized that.

Lots of teens here love this series and the hints I’d heard of sexy incest made me want to give it a chance. I was sort of underwhelmed. I think it’s for a younger audience than it looks like and definitely not the 14+ that I’ve seen in reviews.  Sexy incest or no, ’cause it’s not that sexy.  There’s romance and action, but also a lot of stupid plotting and too much telling with not enough showing.  And maybe if I was 11 I wouldn’t have figured out all of the “surprising” plot elements well before the characters, sometimes hundreds of pages before the characters.  The bad guy is a little bit of Voldemort a lot a bit of Darth Vader, and he’s not the only thing that feels derivative.  Despite myself, I kind of want to know what happens in the rest of the series.

Review: What I Saw and How I Lied

What I Saw and How I Lied – Judy Blundell

I don’t generally pick up historical fiction for children or young adults because I don’t read books to be taught something and it’s harder to write for a younger audience without trying to explain things and put them in context.  Having won the National Book Award wouldn’t except this book from that danger, but the idea behind it made it seem like I wouldn’t be reading an edifying story of America after the war.

The book starts out in New York in the heady, go-go period immediately following the end of World War II.  Evie lives in Queens with her beautiful mother (a femme-fatale blond), her loving step-father (a neighborhood bigwig) and his prying mother.  At 15, after years of hardship and barely scraping by, her biggest problem is her inability to “fill out a sweater.”  When her stepfather, Joe, dashes them off to Florida for an impromptu vacation she doesn’t even stop to consider how strangely he’s behaving.  Palm Springs is a ghost town at the tail end of summer.  As they become friendly with a few other vacationers who bring with them an air of glamorous malice that Evie senses, it isn’t enough to stop her from getting carried away by it all.  She also doesn’t see how her mother has been holding her back and how scared she is to see her daughter on the brink of womanhood.  As Evie begins to blossom under the attentions of a former soldier she meets who has shady ties to her step-father, she also slowly pieces together what everyone has been hiding from her.

I really enjoyed this book but I think if it had been written as an adult book, I would have loved it.  It was written as a flashback, but from not very far into the future.  Evie has perspective about what happened, but she’s still a girl and not very far past the action.  As things unfold, the reader senses where it’s going before Evie does and can see her naivete and enthusiasm interfering with her understanding.  It’s very skillfully done and didn’t make me want to shout at her “the killer’s behind the door you silly girl!” especially since in effect, she was the one telling me the story.  But I still would have liked the story better with the consideration and lack of immediacy that stories about teenagers written for an adult audience have.  As a bildungsroman, if it had been written with more than just a few months of hard-fought perspective, it would have had more impact.

I read this in an evening, which isn’t always the best way to give a book deep consideration, but I think there are a lot of things about it that will stick with me.  There is a palpable sense of malice and foreboding that doesn’t take away an understanding of Evie’s enjoyment of her adventure, but does cause you to wince at how slowly she’s realizing her part in a noir murder-mystery.

Review: Vamps

Vamps – Nancy A Collins

Despite how gross this cover looks, I felt it was my duty to read this society-girl-vampires-in-New-York-City book.  Especially after being so dissapointed by the third installment of Blue Bloods.  And you know, I really enjoyed it.  It didn’t over-rely on its concept, but added in some new stuff along with it’s borrowing liberally from older stories. 

New York’s high society is dominated by vampires who were summoned from Hell a long, long time ago and who duked it out for control of the world.  The suriving lines have been living together and fighting amongst themselves ever since.  They reproduce like humans, and don’t live forever but for much longer than normal.  Those whose blood they suck become their undead and immortal servants.  The descendents of Van Helsing are still tracking and killing them, though they have more luck with the undead than actual vampires.  Members of families whose power has been usurped may either become servents of the more powerful family or outcast New Bloods.  Half-breeds are the children of an Old Blood and a New Blood, and there aren’t many as all education and socializing is segregated.  Cally has been passing herself off this way, when really her father is an unknown and powerful Old Blood and her mother is human.  The Van Helsings want her on their side because her Grandmother was an employee and witch and her vampire blood will allow her to pass and massacre the vampires.  But the scion of the Van Helsing line falls for her and can’t help but be up front about their intentions for her.  And she doesn’t know who her father is yet, but he’s paid for her entry into an exclusive school where she’s already made powerful enemies and unknowingly exposed her identity to her rival.

And it’s all really fun.  If you can imagine yourself watching this if it were on the CW, you’ll probably like the book.

Review: New York Four

The New York Four – Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly

I still have enough hope that books in the now-defunct Minx line will either be interesting or interesting failures to pick them up as they trickle into the library. I liked what little of Wood’s DMZ I’ve read, and I obviously like to read books set in New York. But for all that, the only thing this book has going for it is its art. The depictions of New York are realistically detailed and as far as I can tell, spot-on accurate. I found everything else about it insufferable. It comes across like a morality play about technology (don’t forsake the real world for an online, ersatz one) and young-womanhood, but written by a middle-aged man (who, at least in this instance, seems to be of the school that writing interesting female characters is nothing more than throwing together collections of “quirky” traits.) The sum is that instead of being relatable, none even approach likable or mysterious (as he seems to be going for with a couple of them). I also found the NY 101 asides patronizing and unnecessary. Or maybe I’m just bristling at the characterization of my neighborhood and borough: “Park Slope, Brooklyn. (NY 101: As good as Brooklyn gets)” The plot is also a bit all over the place, theoretically because it’ll be part of a series (which may continue even though Minx isn’t), but I don’t believe these characters enough to find out what’s really going on with them.

Review: Revelations

Revelations (Blue Bloods Bk 3) – Melissa De la Cruz

In the past, I’d enjoyed this series for its interesting vampire mythology, that the elite movers-and-shakers running this country were constantly reicarnating fallen angels trying to get back into God’s good graces. So while on the surface, these are vapid socialites, really it’s Michael and Gabriel (uncorrupted but sent to help them) and Abadon and whovever else. They suck blood from humans, but responsibly. From what I hazily remember, their presence in America goes back to the Roanoke colony where they were masacred by Croatan, but not the Indian tribe? Some kind of terrible soul-sucking thing. And some of the fallen angels say screw heaven and so there’s been war for hundreds of years between the two factions. And it’s all so byzantine that I can never make sense of what’s going on from book to book and there isn’t really any recap, clumsy or otherwise. It also gets annoying that the teen-aged characters are treated like teenagers, even though they’re angels (and vampires) like their “parents.” Also, that they act like moody and irresponsible teenagers. The thrills and high concept fun had pretty much entirely evaporated for me by the time I reached the end of this book, even though Lucifer finally shows up. Maybe a few years from now when the series is finished, I’ll go back and see if it makes sense as a whole.