Monday, October 31, 2011

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Title: Shatter Me
Author: Tahereh Mafi
Publisher: HarperCollins/HarperTeen
Release Date: November 15, 2011
Pages: 342 pages (hardback)
How I Got the Book: ARC review copy

Shatter Me (Shatter Me, #1)Juliette hasn't touched anyone in exactly 264 days. The last time she did, it was an accident, but The Reestablishment locked her up for murder. No one knows why Juliette's touch is fatal. As long as she doesn't hurt anyone else, no one really cares. The world is too busy crumbling to pieces to pay attention to a 17-year-old girl. Diseases are destroying the population, food is hard to find, birds don't fly anymore, and the clouds are the wrong color.

The Reestablishment said their way was the only way to fix things, so they threw Juliette in a cell. Now so many people are dead that the survivors are whispering war- and The Reestablishment has changed its mind. Maybe Juliette is more than a tortured soul stuffed into a poisonous body. Maybe she's exactly what they need right now.

Juliette has to make a choice: Be a weapon. Or be a warrior.

In this electrifying debut, Tahereh Mafi presents a world as riveting as The Hunger Games and a superhero story as thrilling as The X-Men. Full of pulse-pounding romance, intoxicating villainy, and high-stakes choices, Shatter Me is a fresh and original dystopian novel—with a paranormal twist—that will leave readers anxiously awaiting its sequel.


Feared. Unloved. Unwanted. Juliette's life before she was taken away was not a kind one, but her life inside her prison has been no better. Cursed with a touch that can kill, she has not known regular human touch for a very, very long time. Then Adam, a piece of Juliette's past, is thrown in her cell and she discovers she can touch him. She can touch him! As she draws closer to Adam, a war looms on the horizon and Warner, the leader of the sector she has been trapped in, wants her power on his side--and her by his side.

I liked Juliette and Adam--just liked, though. They were not terrible characters and their situations could evoke genuine emotional responses, but they did not go much deeper than that for me and their dramatic declarations of love got old after a while. Warner, that crazy diamond, was the character who was really able to shine in the novel. An obsessive, almost (but not quite) pitiable monster, He is not good for Juliette at all because of what he can do and what he represents, but for the reader and the book? He is very good. Then again, I have a special place in my heart for obsessive characters.

I was aware of Shatter Me's highly metaphorical style before reading, but the volume of it surprised me. Like all readers, I love novels with lush prose that can play around with formatting while doing it well; in fact, one of my favorite novels (Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson) does exactly this. There is one fundamental difference between the two that makes me love one more than the other. The prose of Wintergirls is very controlled and deliberate. Shatter Me also demonstrated such control of its prose, but when it lost control, it really lost it.

You know those demonic little children who run around drawing on the walls with crayons and screaming and jumping on couches and throwing tantrums so bad that the parents have to call in Supernanny? Yeah, that is how uncontrolled the prose of Shatter Me can get at times. It is not drawing on my face with permanent marker, but it does distract from the story it is trying to tell by having so much of that uncontrolled prose appear so often.

Despite the writing's tendency to run away, the content of the story piqued my interest enough that I definitely plan to stick around the the second novel in Mafi's trilogy. It took me some time to really get into the novel, but once I did, I was hooked and couldn't stop reading even if I'd wanted too (and I didn't). The plot, pacing, characters, and writing of the novel weaved a web to capture readers in this spellbinding novel. Check out excerpts and make your own decision!

3 stars! (But it borders closely on fours stars.)

What am I reading next?: Last Breath by Rachel Caine

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

Title: The Name of the Star
Author: Maureen Johnson
Publisher: Penguin/Putnam Juvenile
Release Date: September 29, 2011
Pages: 370 pages (hardback)
How I Got the Book: Bought it.

The Name of the Star (Shades of London, #1)The day Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux arrives in London marks a memorable occasion. For Rory, it's the start of a new life at a London boarding school. But for many, this will be remembered as the day a series of brutal murders broke out across the city, gruesome crimes mimicking the horrific Jack the Ripper events of more than a century ago.

Soon "Rippermania" takes hold of modern-day London, and the police are left with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. Rory spotted the man police believe to be the prime suspect. But she is the only one who saw him. Even her roommate, who was walking with her at the time, didn't notice the mysterious man. So why can only Rory see him? And more urgently, why has Rory become his next target? In this edge-of-your-seat thriller, full of suspense, humor, and romance, Rory will learn the truth about the secret ghost police of London and discover her own shocking abilities.


Aurora "Rory" Deveaux's first day in London is a momentous one, but not because of her; it was the day a series of modern Ripper murders began and terrorized the city. To Rory, these murders take a backseat as she settles into Wexford, her new boarding school, and makes friends... at first. Then one of the murders happens on campus and Rory is seeing people that others can't see except for three other people she hardly knows. Unless something is done, Rory will be the Ripper's next target and it isn't going to be pretty.

-sigh- I hate it when books I've been excited about for months turn out to be duds like this. It only upsets me further to have to write a review and admit it.

Johnson really brought London and Wexford to life and created a wonderfully dreary atmosphere. There were a few things about the novel I enjoyed: Alistair, Boo, the alligator anecdote, Jerome and Rory's assignment with butts. However, the last one was the only one I enjoyed of its own merit. The other three were only enjoyed because of how they applied to me or what they reminded me of (Alistair shares a name with the antagonist in my own manuscript, Boo sounds like Lily Allen in my head, the alligator anecdote reminded me of how we lived on the river when I was a baby and my dad had to shoot at a river gator every once in a while), not of any merit they might have on their own.

Other than the atmosphere and setting, the writing cannot deliver; I lacked the all-important connection to the characters and called each twist long before it was revealed. To be honest, The Name of the Star is such an average book that this is the shortest review I've written since I started reviewing over a year ago. There is next to nothing I can say about it because of the lack of any remarkable content. I've heard people make the same criticism of Johnson's other books, so I may try another of her novels so I can see if it's just this book, just me, or something more. Maybe this will be someone else's perfect book, but it sure isn't mine.

2 stars!

What am I reading next?: Nobody's Princess by Esther Friesner

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Torch Red: Color Me Torn by Melody Carlson

Title: Torch Red: Color Me Torn
Author: Melody Carlson
Publisher: Th1nk Books
Release Date: July 1, 2004
Pages: 196 pages (paperback)
How I Got the Book: Bought it.

Zoe is certain she's the only teenager on the planet who's still a virgin--okay, except for maybe abstinence queen Casey Renwick. The talk in the locker room makes sex sound so great--and maybe it is--but Zoe isn't so sure. The new girl in school, Shawna Frye, has done it, although she's the one girl who doesn't say much about it.

Maybe I should just do it and get it over with.

When jock-boy Justin Clark asks Zoe out, she wonders if he could finally be the one. Nate, a die-hard Christian and real friend, encourages Zoe to consider exactly what it all means before she makes a life-defining decision. Behind the scenes, Shawna's dark secret threatens to change everyone's perspective on sex. But will Zoe find out before it's too late?



It's a very bold color, one that pops out at you when viewed among other colors. Red high heels, a red dress, red lipstick--red is a color often associated with being sexual. There are many other things red can be the color of: a stop sign, fruit, fire, the strawberries I'm indulging myself with as I write this. Red is also the color of blood, which I saw plenty of while reading and after finishing Torch Red.

First and foremost, Zoe is a horrible person both pre- and post-conversion. She calls her friends tramps multiple times, judges a homeless person based on the clothes they were lucky enough to find somewhere (because gosh, can't they get to a Banana Republic and get something that isn't last year?), calls pretty much anyone who sleeps with anyone a tramp, and thinks it degrades a girl if she dares to engage in sexual activity because she wants to. (Wait, apparently, we girls never actually want sex and it's always those darn men pressuring us. Never mind.) I'm not sure how we're supposed to identify or like a heroine like her because I sure couldn't.

The side characters were unrealistic and existed as they were only to get the preachy message (a girl should save herself for message and be Christian) of the book across. Apparently, all we teenage girls talk about in the locker room is sexy sexy sex and we shun anyone who isn't wearing a thong. Some of them have the right ideas about sex in certain ways (Casey, in saying men should be responsible for their actions), others are backwards as can be (Casey again, saying a girl should save herself for marriage because her husband has the right to her virginity and she's worth less after having sex).

Every single girl in the book who had sex got the shaft. All of them. Kirsti and Thea: were mean to Zoe, lose Zoe's friendship in the end. Emily: had to get tested for an STD, later got back with the boyfriend who cheated on her multiple times and loses Zoe's friendship. Shawna: had to leave old school because she got an STD, fools around with numerous guys at her new one and eventually loses all her friends when the truth gets out. Shannon: gets kicked out after getting pregnant and has an abortion. Homeless. Great message to send: have sex and screw up your life. Despite the messages, when you have sex does not define your life.

Oh oh oh! I can't believe I nearly forgot about this! At two points, Zoe is nearly date raped and everyone is trying to blame it on her, like it's her fault someone drugged her or that her boyfriend doesn't know what the word "no" means. Hm, how about blaming the guys who drugged her/wouldn't listen to "no" instead of the victim? Doesn't that sound nice? There was even a rainbow party. A rainbow party! If you have no idea what that is, put it in a search engine and see what you get back.

I almost feel sorry for Torch Red. It wants so badly to be a meaningful book about sex, but it completely ignores what are key points for a book about sex now. First, what about gay people? What are they supposed to do? (Note: this is answered in Bright Purple, another book in Carlson's series, and the result is not pretty.) Second, what about birth control? No mention of birth control or someone using it is ever made in the novel. Teens are going to have sex, and trying to pretend birth control doesn't exist instead of teaching them how to properly use it harms them more than anyone else.

Despite one character's repeated hammering in of the message that becoming a Christian will not suddenly make the world perfect and solve all of one's problems, this message is contradicted in the end because after Zoe has her Christian awakening or whatever, everything is perfect. She tells off Justin, confesses the truth about being a virgin, and makes a bunch of new friends because of it. The purity myth indoctrination of saving oneself for marriage is once again strong and very, very wrong. We're back to reducing women to their virginity and this is Not Okay to the highest possible degree.

Even if I completely ignored the horrid messages of the book that girls who have sex are baaaaaad and wish they had saved themselves for their husbands like those righteous virgin girls like they were supposed to, this book is still an abomination to the written word. The writing would have a nice rhythm going with its sentences, just flowing along so well. And then she starts a new sentence. But it's just continuing the exact same thought from the last sentence. And it ruins the flow that was going on. This effectively drops brick walls everywhere until any whole thoughts are separated into pieces by the walls. Conjunctions =/= start a new sentence.

You know what the "I mean" verbal tic is, right? I mean it's so annoying. I mean despite its use in a sentence, it's not clarifying anything; it's just an add-on at the beginning of a sentence. I noticed at the book how often it was showing up, so I kept count for the rest of the book. 101 times in 196 pages (with a margin of error of three uses because I make mistakes too). That's how many times the "I mean" verbal tic showed up. That is one every 1.94 pages. It's not even once every other page! It appears someone didn't get the memo that it's personality and depth, not overuse of an annoying verbal tic, that makes a realistic teen character.

It can't even use proper grammar related to Christianity! I'm about as Christian as a rock you could find on the side of the road, but I know that when one talks about God, His name is capitalized as just demonstrated because He is greater or something like that. The book never does this, swiftly disrespecting Him despite being written with Him jammed in there every few pages.

Then again, what was I expecting? Torch Red was published by an international Christian organization called The Navigators all the way back in 2004, when people thought rainbow parties were OMG real and kids were having them willy-nilly. In the end, it is only propaganda meant to preach, but its sex-related messages are no less damaging and I'm not going to be quiet when I see things like this. I want YA authors and publishers to know I and many other readers are not going to stand for slut shaming and purity myth indoctrination and scare tactics against sex anymore. I'm sick of it.

As I'm sure I made a point of at the beginning of my review, red is a color that shades much, from the sexual to the everyday and mundane. Now Torch Red will meets it end in the color red. It's only fair.

And so the Zoe curse (I end up hating a book if its main character is named Zoe) holds true. This is now the fifth book to be victim to that curse. I've never had this problem with any other name, just Zoe. Hell, there's only one fictional Zoe I do like and her name technically isn't Zoe!

0 stars!

What am I reading next?: The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta

Title: Saving Francesca
Author: Melina Marchetta
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Release Date: May 9, 2006
Pages: 243 pages (paperback)
How I Got the Book: Bought it.

Francesca is stuck at St. Sebastian's, a boys' school that pretends it's coed by giving the girls their own bathroom.  Her only female companions are an ultra-feminist, a rumored slut, and an an impossibly dorky accordion player.  The boys are no better, from Thomas who specializes in musical burping to Will, the perpetually frowning, smug moron that Francesca can't seem to stop thinking about.

Then there's Francesca's mother, who always thinks she knows what's best for Francesca—until she is suddenly stricken with acute depression, leaving Francesca lost, alone, and without an inkling who she really is.  Simultaneously humorous, poignant, and impossible to put down, this is the story of a girl who must summon the strength to save her family, her social life and—hardest of all—herself.


Of all the things that place limitations on her life--St. Sebastian's, a boys' school that just went co-ed; feminist Tara, rumored slut Siobhan, and piano accordion player Justine; persistent Jimmy, that smug moron Will (that she can't stop thinking about), and Thomas, he of the musical burping--Francesca would say her overbearing mother is the number-one limitation placer. Then Mia Spinelli, her supermom who is always up in the morning to start the day with a song, doesn't get out of bed one morning. Or the next morning. Or the next morning. Stricken with acute depression, her mom can't do much of anything anymore. In a new environment without her mom or old friends to tell her who she is, Francesca will finally have to find herself.

This is one I've heard about for years and years and years because of the author's talent. I'd heard people mention some of her other books like Looking for Alibrandi and On the Jellicoe Road, but Saving Francesca was the Marchetta book I heard the most about. While not perfect, it was a very enjoyable book I know I'll be going back to reread in the future.

At first, I wasn't feeling very wowed. Yeah, Francesca's situation pulled at my heart strings a little, I giggled, I teared up, wow Will is a butt, her new friends are pretty cool and all her old friends suck, etc.

Then I realized that the beauty of the book is really in how understated it is. Siobhan's situation isn't directly dealt with, but the reader becomes understanding of her and realizes without the book telling them that hey, she's not a slut, she's just a normal teenage girl dealing with life her own way. Francesca's issues and her friends and everything else--they get the same treatment. I whine all the time about books being as subtle as a brick to the head and I have finally, finally, found a subtle book. Hallelujah!

After that, I came to really appreciate the book and like it. Francesca's struggle to find herself after she got used to other people defining her is one a lot of other people can relate to. I went from giggling and tearing up to laughing and full-on crying, and I could not read or turn the pages fast enough to satisfy my craving for more. While I wasn't a huge fan of Will and Francesca together, they did work fairly well together and Will had his own issues. A love interest with depth! Oh my!

As much as I liked it, the pacing was a little slow. Yes, this is a character-driven book. I am fully aware of this. This does not stop the book's tedious moments from happening or excuse them because I have steamrolled through some character-driven books in one sitting and never found them tedious at any point. This was more of a problem in the first half of the book than the second half; by the time I made it halfway through the book, I was hooked and couldn't escape even if I wanted to, and I most definitely didn't.

So in summary, I liked it. I really liked it. If I can ever reduce the number of unread books sitting in my room, I'll go looking for Marchetta's other books, which are even better than this one depending on who you are listening to.

4 stars!

What am I reading next?: Torch Red: Color Me Torn by Melody Carlson

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Possess by Gretchen McNeil

Title: Possess
Author: Gretchen McNeil
Publisher: HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray
Release Date: August 23, 2011
Pages: 384 pages (hardback)
How I Got the Book: Bought and read it on my Kindle

Fifteen-year-old Bridget Liu just wants to be left alone: by her mom, by the cute son of a local police sergeant, and by the eerie voices she can suddenly and inexplicably hear. Unfortunately for Bridget, it turns out the voices are demons – and Bridget has the rare ability to banish them back to whatever hell they came from.

Terrified to tell people about her new power, Bridget confides in a local priest who enlists her help in increasingly dangerous cases of demonic possession. But just as she is starting to come to terms with her new power, Bridget receives a startling message from one of the demons. Now Bridget must unlock the secret to the demons' plan before someone close to her winds up dead – or worse, the human vessel of a demon king.


Growing up is hard enough as it is after the murder of her father a year ago, but Bridget Liu has an extra problem on top of that: she's an exorcist that can hear demons. A warning given to her by a demon during her first exorcism sets her on edge; could the demons be lying as Monsignor Renault has taught her they do or are they really trying to get a message across? More messages, all along the lines that something is coming and she must beware, lead her to a horrible discovery: someone is going to attempt to summon the demon king Amaymon and someone close to Bridget may becomes his vessel.

While I loved Bridget and her sense of humor (and that she was POC because we need more great POC heroines--winkwinkwinknudgenudgenudge), I wasn't keen on any of the other characters, particularly Matt and Alexa. Matt didn't quite win my approval as Bridget's love interest; I thought he was a little condescending and pushy. Possess showed such promise and this is why is made me very sad that Alexa's character had to be that of a stereotype mean girl and she had to be shamed for having sex and enjoying it. She will no doubt play a bigger role in the sequel (tentatively scheduled for fall 2013) and I can only hope she will be given more depth then.

The exorcism element of the novel was fantastic and McNeil wrote some very good and very, very creepy scenes. If only some of the scenes I wrote could turn out as well as the scene in the doll shop! The mythology got more right than most angel/demon/etc. books currently published and popular. A few things were off about it, though, and I'll excuse those for the sake of creative license. Liberties get taken sometimes.(And Kira darling, if you ever read this: The book gives credit to Semyaza as leader of the Watchers. For serious. It's a one-line thing, but it's better than some books do, right?)

The book positively flew by thanks to great pacing, smooth writing, and how overall enjoyable it was despite the little issues I had with it. I devoured large chunks of the book in single sittings and had the book finished in about three days. There were a few plot-related stumbles that really through me out of the groove, though. One was a plot point about another character that was brought up around halfway through the book, completely forgotten about, and only brought up again in the final chapter. Then Matt and Bridget are searching her house for the key to stopping Amaymon from coming and what do they have? A makeout break! Just as bad as the sex breaks of adult books but with fewer pages consumed and less sex (usually).

Now that all the set-up work is done and readers are familiar with the mythology of the world, I look forward to seeing where the sequel can take us. Definitely recommended (unless shaming girls for having sex makes you spazz out in the bad way, in which case proceed with caution)!

3 stars!

What am I reading next?: Swear by Nina Malkin

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel

Title: Dearly, Departed
Author: Lia Habel
Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine Books
Release Date: October 18, 2011
Pages: 471 pages (hardback)
How I Got the Book: Amazon Vine-provided ARC

Love can never die.

Love conquers all, so they say. But can Cupid’s arrow pierce the hearts of the living and the dead—or rather, the undead? Can a proper young Victorian lady find true love in the arms of a dashing zombie? 
The year is 2195. The place is New Victoria—a high-tech nation modeled on the manners, mores, and fashions of an antique era. A teenager in high society, Nora Dearly is far more interested in military history and her country’s political unrest than in tea parties and debutante balls. But after her beloved parents die, Nora is left at the mercy of her domineering aunt, a social-climbing spendthrift who has squandered the family fortune, and now plans to marry her niece off for money. For Nora, no fate could be more horrible—until she’s nearly kidnapped by an army of walking corpses. 
But fate is just getting started with Nora. Catapulted from her world of drawing-room civility, she’s suddenly gunning down ravenous zombies alongside mysterious black-clad commandos and confronting “The Laz,” a fatal virus that raises the dead—and hell along with them. Hardly ideal circumstances. Then Nora meets Bram Griswold, a young soldier who is brave, handsome, noble . . . and dead. But as is the case with the rest of his special undead unit, luck and modern science have enabled Bram to hold on to his mind, his manners, and his body parts. And when his bond of trust with Nora turns to tenderness, there’s no turning back. Eventually, they know, the disease will win, separating the star-crossed lovers forever. But until then, beating or not, their hearts will have what they desire.
In Dearly, Departed, steampunk meets romance meets walking-dead thriller, spawning a madly imaginative novel of rip-roaring adventure, spine-tingling suspense, and macabre comedy that forever redefines the concept of undying love.


After a catastrophic apocalypse, society has rebuilt itself in the image of Victorian England. Nora Dearly and her best friend Pamela Roe are two young ladies attending St. Cyprian's and just after they return home for winter break, Nora is attacked by zombies and then kidnapped by more zombies--but these are supposed to be the good zombies. One of them, Captain Abraham Griswold, fascinates her and in turn, she fascinates him. As the Grays, the bad zombies, attack Nora's home and the numbers of infected people skyrocket, Bram and Nora while Pam will have to defend herself and her family to keep from being bitten too.

For me, the most stand-out part of the novel was Pamela Roe, a supporting character and one of the five narrators. POC (Indian, specifically), a scholarship student at St. Cyprian's, and Nora's best friend since childhood, she is what got me interested in the book when I thought about giving up on it. About the time she stabbed a zombie through the eye with her parasol, the book gained my full attention. Nora's personality and life are far less interesting than Pam's, what with Michael (I can't say anything more about that without giving it all away), her pushy brother and slightly-less-pushy parents, and everything she is going through as Nora goes missing and the infected take over the city. I wish she had been the main character instead of Nora!

Concerning Bram and Nora, the actual main characters, I liked them. Not loved like Pam, but liked. Their development as characters and then as romantic interests to one another was well done and reading about it through both their eyes was great. Toward the end of the book, their points of view started getting a little too samey, though, and it doesn't feel like it was because they were picking up each other's habits. Other secondary characters were just... I wracked my brain for ten minutes for more to say and all I can come up with is "blah." That's a good word. Not terrible, but not terribly remarkable.

The sci-fi aspects were amazing, though I've never been a scientific girl and could accept an obvious BS explanation because I wouldn't exactly know better. I've both explained it and had it explained to me as "futuristic steampunk zombies," but I'm not sure I should include the steampunk. There's the occasional mention of clockwork on the Punks' side, but that bit part in the background is the extent of the steampunk.

There is one hole in the worldbuilding that I would estimate is the size of the moon. Women, if men tried to take away your hard-won freedoms and reduce you back to the point where you were only worth your uterus and penmanship, would you let them do it or would you fight to keep your freedom? In Nora's world, it appears the women handed over their rights to be considered people as easily as they would hand over a tissue to someone with a runny nose. Nora and other young women are educated on the pre-apocalypse times and know that they once had the freedom to be viewed as more than prospective wives and mothers. They just don't care. You can't even know how badly this bothers me. It's as if they feel women are better off without their freedom.

Beyond that large hole that made me take off a star in and of itself, there were some narrative inconsistencies that bugged me. Say Nora is narrating. In one paragraph, she is speaking in past tense. In the next paragraph, she switches to present tense. Third paragraph? Back to past. This happens multiple times in other points of view. Then one of our five narrators could have been cut from the story to its benefit, and uneven pacing had me bored to tears at some points and unable to read quickly enough at others.

I hadn't realized until I acquired the book that this is going to be the first in a trilogy. The second novel will be titled Dearly, Beloved and I can't even begin to think about when it will come out considering that as of press time, Dearly, Departed hasn't even come out. While I'm not sure I'll be seeking out more zombie books anytime soon (you can only do the zombie-attack storyline so many ways and it will all eventually end with people running from or killing zombies), I feel I can recommend this to others.

3 stars!

What am I reading next?: All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin
Love conquers all, so they say. But can Cupid’s arrow pierce the hearts of the living and the dead—or rather, the undead? Can a proper young Victorian lady find true love in the arms of a dashing zombie? 
The year is 2195. The place is New Victoria—a high-tech nation modeled on the manners, mores, and fashions of an antique era. A teenager in high society, Nora Dearly is far more interested in military history and her country’s political unrest than in tea parties and debutante balls. But after her beloved parents die, Nora is left at the mercy of her domineering aunt, a social-climbing spendthrift who has squandered the family fortune, and now plans to marry her niece off for money. For Nora, no fate could be more horrible—until she’s nearly kidnapped by an army of walking corpses. 
But fate is just getting started with Nora. Catapulted from her world of drawing-room civility, she’s suddenly gunning down ravenous zombies alongside mysterious black-clad commandos and confronting “The Laz,” a fatal virus that raises the dead—and hell along with them. Hardly ideal circumstances. Then Nora meets Bram Griswold, a young soldier who is brave, handsome, noble . . . and dead. But as is the case with the rest of his special undead unit, luck and modern science have enabled Bram to hold on to his mind, his manners, and his body parts. And when his bond of trust with Nora turns to tenderness, there’s no turning back. Eventually, they know, the disease will win, separating the star-crossed lovers forever. But until then, beating or not, their hearts will have what they desire.
In Dearly, Departed, steampunk meets romance meets walking-dead thriller, spawning a madly imaginative novel of rip-roaring adventure, spine-tingling suspense, and macabre comedy that forever redefines the concept of undying love.

Monday, October 10, 2011

H.Y.P.E. Project: Matched by Ally Condie

Title: Matched
Author: Ally Condie
Publisher: Penguin/Dutton
Release Date: November 30, 2010
Pages: 366 pages (hardback)
How I Got the Book: Checked it out of the library for the H.Y.P.E. Project (details here)

Cassia has always trusted their choices. It's hardly any price to pay for a long life, the perfect job, the ideal mate. So when her best friend appears on the Matching screen, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is the one... until she sees another face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black. Now Cassia is faced with impossible choices: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she's ever known and a path no one else has ever dared follow--between perfection and passion.

Matched is a story for right now and storytelling with the resonance of a classic.


The nights of Cassia's Matching, she is as nervous as she can be. Why wouldn't she be? It's one of the biggest nights of her life, the night she will meet her Match and see who she will spend the rest of her life in love with. Her best friend Xander is announced as her Match, unusual enough as it is because two Matches rarely live so close to one another, but then something else strange happens. Cassia tries to take a look at the microchip that is supposed to include information on Xander, but another boy's face flashes across the screen: Ky. Now torn between her feelings for the two, Cassia will learn how to make a choice and then be forced to make one for the first time in her life.


I'm only an hour removed from the book and I can hardly remember anything about its flat little characters. This is not a good sign, I believe. The relationships between the characters are never developed; we're just told that they are and we're supposed to accept that these two are best friends despite seeing no evidence of it and that these two are in love despite seeing no proper development of their feelings.

Neither Cassia nor Xander nor Ky nor any other character inspired any emotion in me other than disinterest, and I had a big disagreement with Cassia over how strong her mother was. Is it wrong of me to believe a person is weaker for holding in their emotions than for letting them all out to share with their loved ones? Letting people in is much harder than keeping them out.


...Wait, you're telling me there was a plot? You're kidding. No wait, I see that look on your face. You're not kidding. Well, you've got to be joking about the pacing, right? This book moved so slowly a dead man would beat it in a race! There was no such thing as pacing in this novel!

...And there's that look again. Oh. Well. Let's move on.


Okay, this time, you just have to be joking. There is no way you can say this novel has some big conflict or theme (that wasn't gleefully and blatantly ripped off from The Giver) with a straight face.

Oh. Oh.

"I sort and sort and sort until there is no data left for me. Everything is clear on my screen. I am the one who makes it go blank." (Matched, p. 33)
While I read, I took notes in my personal notebook so I wouldn't forget anything. Fun fact, but I used a neon green pen to write those notes for the sake of matching.  My note for the above quote: "Well, duh. You failed badly at being deep." (Well, it was a word other than "duh" that starts with s, but I'd like this to post on Amazon without trouble, so not cursing here.) The writing tries so hard to be pretty and so hard to be deep so it can impress us, but all it ever achieves is a cheap pseudo-depth that can't even be given credit for trying.

The book has a bad habit of telling us what we don't need to know and then skimping out on the stuff we would like to know a little more about, like the worldbuilding. What's the deal with Singles? Anomalies? Why is it necessary for us to spent an entire page on some seeds? So many pages and yet so little of importance is written. It is also incredibly predictable; a clumsy attempt at infodumping about Ky at the beginning of the book ended up giving away a big twist of the novel that wasn't revealed until page 300 or so.


Now, dystopian fiction has its own special brand of suspension of disbelief with me. I've got to accept more unusual things than I would have to with most other books and consider them possible or plausible. There are things I did accept about the book, but there are far more things I couldn't accept because my suspension of disbelief only has so much coverage and these little issues fell outside that protective blanket. I cannot believe under any circumstances that the urge to create has been squashed out of the people and that complicated emotions such as love, lust, attraction, etc. can be so easily controlled without any sort of drug to force them down.

Where are the gay people? Seriously, where are the gay people? Matching pairs up one boy and one girl, so what if that boy likes boys or that girl likes girls? You can't government regulate the gay out of someone. You can't genetically manipulate the gay out of society. Gay isn't genetic or as easy to get rid of as that! Gay people exist, Matched! Don't pretend that they don't! Pretty much the only group Matched allows to exist is heterosexual people.

Was it worth the hype?

As was the case with Starcrossed (a book I recently read and... well, there are no words for that book that don't start with a, s, b, f, or d and that aren't considered vulgar by greater society), Matched gained its hype from major pre-publication buzz, much of it centering around the authors' seven-figure advance for the entire trilogy. It should mean it's good if the publisher paid so much for it, right? No. This book is not worth its hype or the money spent on it.

On the other side of the spectrum, I heard a lot about the book being a cheap rip-off of The Giver from multiple people and trusted sources. So I could accurately see these supposed parallels, I read The Giver a little over a month ago. They're 100% right. This book rips off The Giver so badly. Anything halfway good is ripped out of that book and everything else is just bland. The messages, the main events that are supposed to tug at our heartstrings, and all of that were better done there than here. Books so heavily derivative of another book that they're ripping it off do not easily win my heart.

Bonus cover section

I have an unusual relationship with this cover: I only love it if I'm looking at it online. When I looked at the print copy I've been carrying around for the last few days, I made funny faces at it because I didn't like having it in real life. (Okay, that's half the reason. I've spent this entire review outlining the other half.) Don't ask me why I only like seeing it and its sequel's cover online because I have no idea.

2 stars!

What am I reading next?: Swear by Nina Malkin

Saturday, October 8, 2011

All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin

Title: All These Things I've Done
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Release Date: September 6, 2011
Pages: 354 pages (hardback)
How I Got the Book: Amazon Vine-provided ARC

All These Things I've DoneIn 2083, chocolate and coffee are illegal, paper is hard to find, water is carefully rationed, and New York City is rife with crime and poverty. And yet, for Anya Balanchine, the sixteen-year-old daughter of the city's most notorious (and dead) crime boss, life is fairly routine. It consists of going to school, taking care of her siblings and her dying grandmother, trying to avoid falling in love with the new assistant D.A.'s son, and avoiding her loser ex-boyfriend. That is until her ex is accidentally poisoned by the chocolate her family manufactures and the police think she's to blame. Suddenly, Anya finds herself thrust unwillingly into the spotlight--at school, in the news, and most importantly, within her mafia family.

Why I Didn't Finish This Book:

So there's this book here, All These Things I've Done. In it, chocolate is illegal, water is heavily rationed, you can hardly find paper anymore, and new clothes haven't been made in a decade. The world has gone to hell in a handbasket, pretty much. Our main character is a mafiya princess whose father ran it before he was murdered. With both of her parents dead, she takes care of her brother, sister, and dying grandmother. The new DA's son has a crush on her and she might like him back, but then her ex-boyfriend gets poisoned and she's arrested for it, then sent to a juvenile detention facility located in the Statue of Liberty. Upon her release, all eyes are on her and she can't escape the spotlight that comes with her family name.

That sounds interesting right? You would be surprised at exactly how boring it is when you're reading the book yourself.

Anya and the other characters lack depth and miss all of the many opportunities to throw it into the story. How does Anya really feel? Her parents were both dead by the time she was nine and she had to grow up quickly to take care of her grandmother, her brain-damaged brother Leo, and her little sister Natty. Are there no feelings there of resentment or anger for having to do that? No, it wouldn't be right for her to feel that way toward her family because they can't control it, but it would make Anya more human. People who have been in that situation and even the people who haven't will know she doesn't really mean it and empathize with her. It's a classic move, but nothing of the sort ever happen. They're all flat as can be.

Nothing happens. Really. The ex-boyfriend doesn't get poisoned until about page 100 (inciting incidents need to happen more quickly than that, as I've said on the DNF review of another book) and even that didn't get me very excited. It's all about Anya hanging with Scarlet and Win or talking to her brother Leo or being with her family and I wanted more to be going on. Slow-builder? There is a limit on how slowly a book should be building. This was too slow.

And my biggest complaint: What's the point?

The book is marketed as a dystopian. This may just be me, but I think one qualifier for being called a dystopian is that it has a point and is trying to say something. If there is none, it's not a proper dystopian. All These Things I've Done just floats along for half the book without depth or a point or anything. It's so forgettable despite its promising premise.

This is going to be found unhelpful or unreliable because I didn't finish it. I know that and frankly, I don't care. By the halfpoint, things should be happening and I should find at least one little piece I like, but nothing was happening and I was totally disinterested. Good books are good from start to finish; a reader shouldn't be forced to wade through a mediocre or bad first half to get to an amazing second half and if they do, it's a flaw of the book. It doesn't excuse a book's sleep-inducing qualities to say that it's doing set-up work for the good stuff. We should have already been at the good stuff with the set-up work being deftly weaved in.

So in short, a pointless, boring book that wasted an interesting premise and spent less time on the plot and more on the drama: that is All These Things I've Done in a nutshell and this is why I couldn't finish it. I tried because I hate leaving books unfinished (it's bad for me in the long run, you see; I will want to know how it ended but I never will and that drives me nuts), but I have better books waiting for me.

One my best best friends and I bought this book as a gift for another best friend who describes herself as a chocoholic. It was a very special birthday and she needed a good gag gift like that, especially after her dramatic reaction to it when she first heard of it. I now feel bad for buying it for her because it means I gave my friend a boring book.

What am I reading next?: Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Soul Thief by Jana Oliver

I know I am a less frequent poster than many bloggers, but I will be posting even less frequently than normal during October and November. I am writing college essays and sending applications during October and participating in NaNoWriMo during November.

Title: Soul Thief
Author: Jana Oliver
Publisher: Macmillan/St. Martin's Griffin
Release Date: August 30, 2011
Pages: 324 pages (paperback)
How I Got the Book: Bought it.

Riley has about had it up to here. After the devastating battle at the Tabernacle, trappers are dead and injured--her boyfriend, Simon, gravely so--and now her beloved late father's been illegally poached from his grave by a very powerful necromancer. As if that's not enough, there's Ori, one sizzling-hot freelance demon hunter who's made himself Riley's unofficial bodyguard, and beck, a super-overprotective "friend" who acts more like a grouchy granddad. With all the hassles, the seventeen-year-old is almost ready to leave Atlanta behind.

But as Atlanta's demon count increases, the Vatican finally sends it own demon hunters to take care of the city's "little" problem and pandemonium breaks out. Only Riley knows that she might be at the center of Hell's attention: An extremely powerful Grade 5 demon is stalking her, and her luck can't last forever...


The disaster of the Tabernacle attack has left a third of the Demon Trappers Guild dead and the Geo-Fiend that did it, the same Geo-Fiend that killed Riley's dad, is still on the loose. Demon hunters from the Vatican have been called in to help take care of the demon problem and their methods are... Well, it's not an exaggeration to say they're burnt cities to kill demons. Meanwhile, Riley's boyfriend Simon is acting strangely accusing her of being evil. Ori is slowly winning her over and Beck is getting onto her like normal while dealing with a few problems of his own.

I'm trying so hard to come up with things to praise the book about, but I'm coming up with next to nothing. It was so blah--not even bad, just blah. Beck was the highpoint of the novel despite my frustrations with him and the decisions he makes, and I like being able to explore more of the magical world Riley lives in, specifically what the summoners' world and what they do with the bodies they summon. The novel's pacing is uneven, but I read it fairly quickly thanks to the little hints of something more going on that I was desperate to find out about.

Now comes the easy part: what I didn't like. Taking what I liked and putting it into words for this one was difficult, but it was all too easy to vent my frustrations with this book.

Things happen in the novel. It takes a while to really get warmed up and happening, but things do happen. The problem is that it doesn't feel like anything is happening. I don't like looking back on a scene and going, "Wait a second, something happened, didn't it?" If this is how one looks at important scenes or action scenes, something is wrong. I lay most of the blame on the writing, which is usually dry and falls into clunky territory more than a few times.

A lot of work needs to be done with characterization in particular because that's one of the book's weak points, but female characterization in particular needs dire attention. All the girls are either difficult or impossible to like (Riley, Justine, Brandy), blah (Ayden, Simi), or don't appear long enough to make any lasting impression (Mrs. Adler, Lady Torin). Beck was by far the best developed and most complex, but I'm not sure how I feel about him anymore at the end of the book. I'm not sure I liked any of the characters anymore by the time I reached the end of the book. Don't get me started on Simon. Just don't.

I'm going to read Forgiven, the final book in the trilogy, but it's not going to be a top priority for me. Hopefully, the characterization for everyone not named Denver Beck will kick it up a notch and make me feel like following the entire trilogy was worth it.

3 stars!

What am I reading next?: All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin