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Review: Sanctuary

Wicked Lovely (Desert Tales Vol. 1): Sanctuary Melissa Marr

This is the first part of a story (parallel to the books, not a retelling) about Rika, one of the girls who came before Ash in the long line of humans that Summer King Keenan tried to make his curse-breaking Queen.  After being released from her part in the game by the next in line, Donia, she retreated to the desert to hide from the faerie courts and the cold.  Now she likes to invisibly follow around a handsome human boy.  But he gets tangled up in faerie politics when she makes herself visible to save his life.

I am comfortable with the visual language of most comics, but not so comfortable with manga, and this book (published by Tokyopop) was often visually difficult for me to follow.  Also, and maybe it’s just more of my biases showing, I thought this skewed younger than the series it’s connected to but don’t think it has much appeal other than to readers of Wicked Lovely.  I think one of Marr’s strengths is at constructing secondary characters, but this ultimately feels like more of a cynical marketing ploy than a true story expanding her world.

Review: Georges and the Jewels

The Georges and the Jewels – Jane Smiley

This is a very gentle, old fasioned sort of book.  And not to say that’s a bad thing.  It takes place in 1960’s California and focuses on 7th grader Abby, her family and the horses they’re training.  When Smiley was interviewed at Day of Dialog, she talked about writing a book for every year that Abby ages.  I personally don’t care, and I’ve never really pretended to leave personal preference out of my opinions here, but would also happily recommend this to middleschool kids, if I still worked with any.  I’ve never read any of Smiley’s adult books, but every once and awhile try to read something that is exactly the sort of thing I would never read hoping to be pleasantly surprised.  And while this didn’t manage to rekindle any long dormant girl-and-her-horse fantasies I may have had when I was little, I did really enjoy it and felt transported and like I really learned something about the place and time and horses.

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.

Review: Running Man

The Running Man – Stephen King

I had seen this recommended as a good readalike for the Hunger Games, that it deals with a lot of the same themes and ideas. Which is absolutely true.  I also liked that it would appeal to guys.  I found it a little hard to get into, and maybe it was a little ironic that I spent a few afternoons reading it while sipping a glass of wine in a fancy hotel lounge, but ultimately I enjoyed it.  Ben Richards is compelling, and his fight-the-man attitude would definitely resonate with teens.  And televised blood sport is not all that hard to believe. 

The one huge caveat with this book is that the introduction reveals the denouement.  You might as well read the last page as read the introduction.  Thanks for nothing editors!

(I’m both sick and crazy busy with work stuff that I can’t talk about yet, but am dying to share with the world, and so I’m trying to get any kind of backlog of anything done because if I don’t do it now I’ll never do it. )

Review: Wicked Lovely

Wicked Lovely – Melissa Marr

I’d been wanting to read this for awhile, but there were never any copies on the shelf. Now that it’s on the Summer Reading Club list, there were some new copies floating around. I took one with me on my Memphis trip.
And it was such a refreshing change from Need. On the surface there were similarities: faeries, a human girl who gets mixed up in it all and is destined to play a big part in their games, a not entirely evil faerie king who’s looking for a queen. But Aislinn, a teenager living in a disintegrating Steel Belt city so that she can try to avoid the faeries only she can see, is so much cooler and more resourceful than Zara. And the romance is the most fun I’ve read about since Graceling (which I just noticed is discounted to only $6.75 at Amazon, I’m buying a copy).

I think I’m most impressed by how well Marr straddles the difficulty of making a modern teenager’s strength in the face of ancient power both relatable and realistic. I genuinely like Aislinn and how she accepts the things she can’t change but forces everyone else to accept her on her own terms 90% of the time.

There’s a related novel already out, and a sequel coming before too long. And I’m there. I’m totally buying into this storyline. Which is a little unusual for me with books about faeries. I like them in theory more than I do in actuality, and I’ve rarely read beyond the first in a series. Maybe it’s just because I think Seth is dreamy, too.

Review: Need

Need – Carrie Jones

Instead of a plot summary, I will cheat and just say: Twilight. This book is Twilight with pixies and werewolves instead of vampires and werewolves. Its “appeal characteristics” are nearly identical to those of Twilight and it really is a perfect readalike for anyone who loved that series. Which is not to say it was any good (though the material its clearly seeking to emulate isn’t that great itself). It was often fun and exciting, but at the same time, the pace of revelation and acceptance is really bizarre.

This is the first in what was accidentally a series of farie books I read. It was very unsatisfying (though luckily the next couple weren’t). I don’t think it’s worth saying more, bothering to talk about how I didn’t really like the main character, because I don’t think this book is intended to stand on its own. To repeat: pass it along to kids who liked Twilight. It doesn’t have vampires, but it has strong and “dangerous” men who really want to take care of you. It also has a teenage girl plucked from obscurity who struggles to find a place for herself in a scary and mythical world, who thinks that martyring herself is probably the best way to accomplish that. So yeah.

Review: Elsewhere

Elsewhere – Gabrielle Zevin

Oh man, am I behind on reviews. I am going to attempt to churn some out today, so forgive me if I fail to give each book its due. I’ve been stuck on Elsewhere for awhile, because I did like it and was moved by it, but it took me awhile to get there. It’s hard to care about a dead character who’s having trouble acclimating to the afterlife. She’s bored and depressed and feels cheated and doesn’t do much. But she’s generally likable, so that helps pull the reader along during the rough parts. There are loads of interesting characters, who react to being dead in novel-seeming ways; the story really picks up once Liz starts letting them in. There is a really powerful emotional arc, and the end is very satisfying.

I have genuine affection for this book, and was able on Saturday to get a teenage girl to check out Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac (which I read and really liked a few years ago) because she had also liked this book. So..faint praise, but a genuinely touching book about making your place in the “world.”