Thursday, April 17, 2014

Review: Sunrise (Ashfall, #3)

Sunrise (Ashfall, #3)Author: Mike Mullin
Series: Ashfall, #3
Released: April 15th 2014
Publisher: Tanglewood Press
Format: Hardcover, 466 pgs
Source: Publisher for review
Buy: Amazon

The Yellowstone supervolcano nearly wiped out the human race. Now, almost a year after the eruption, the survivors seem determined to finish the job. Communities wage war on each other, gangs of cannibals roam the countryside, and what little government survived the eruption has collapsed completely. The ham radio has gone silent. Sickness, cold, and starvation are the survivors' constant companions.
When it becomes apparent that their home is no longer safe and adults are not facing the stark realities, Alex and Darla must create a community that can survive the ongoing disaster, an almost impossible task requiring even more guts and more smarts than ever — and unthinkable sacrifice. If they fail . . . they, their loved ones, and the few remaining survivors will perish.
This epic finale has the heart of Ashfall, the action of Ashen Winter, and a depth all its own, examining questions of responsibility and bravery, civilization and society, illuminated by the story of an unshakable love that transcends a post-apocalyptic world and even life itself.
Ashfall, Ashen Winter and Sunrise are, in that order: the good book, the better book, and the best book by far. In this final installment, Mullin shows a level of maturity that was beyond him in the previous two books, and proves to us that – while his characters slowly developed and grew – he was also busy becoming a much better writer.

I was not among those readers who fell madly in love with Ashfall. While I liked the story and even enjoyed Alex’s voice, I felt that the faulty pacing was impossible to ignore. A year later, the same thing happened with Ashen Winter. While I enjoyed the characters and the overall darkness of the story, I struggled with the lack of oscillations in the pacing.

Sunrise is a whole different ballgame. It is long, it is slow, it is, at times, excruciatingly detailed. But it is also a well-rounded book, a complete work that functions perfectly in its entirety. I’ve noticed reviewers complaining about the first half, but for me, the process Alex and Darla had to go through to find their place under the sun and rebuild was more than necessary. Through it all, Alex matured admirably, and his growth – both emotionally and within the community – made perfect sense to me. Darla, happy to stay in the background and be the moral support he desperately needs, followed him every step of the way.

And if we’re to be perfectly honest here (which we always try to be), the Ashfall series was always pretty much Darla’s show. She was the supporting pillar and she carried this whole thing on her back, until the very end. While she did seem idealized at times, no one can resist a true hero, especially in the shape of a thin teenage girl.

There were more than a few surprises in this book, unexpected, unwanted and very painful. But each and every one served a specific purpose, and they all led to a very satisfactory ending.

Bravo, Mr. Mullin. I wonder what you’ll give us next.

A copy of this book was kindly provided by the publisher for review purposes. No considerations, monetary or otherwise, have influenced  the opinions expressed in this review.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Review: She Is Not Invisible

She Is Not InvisibleAuthor: Marcus Sedgwick
Published: April 22nd 2014
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Format: Hardcover, 224 pgs
Source: Publisher for review
Buy: The Book Depository

Laureth Peak's father has taught her to look for recurring events, patterns, and numbers--a skill at which she's remarkably talented. Her secret: She is blind. But when her father goes missing, Laureth and her 7-year-old brother Benjamin are thrust into a mystery that takes them to New York City where surviving will take all her skill at spotting the amazing, shocking, and sometimes dangerous connections in a world full of darkness. She Is Not Invisible is an intricate puzzle of a novel that sheds a light on the delicate ties that bind people to each other.
Although I’m new to Marcus Sedgwick’s work, I took one look at his previous ratings and award nominations and rushed to download She Is Not Invisible, confident I would enjoy it. It is, indeed, obvious that Sedgwick is an author of great talent – in this book, his sentences appear to be liquid, blending together effortlessly in a prose piece of extraordinary beauty.

But sometimes, even that isn’t enough.

This is not Sedgwick’s first book written from a teen girl’s perspective. There is The Foreshadowing, for one, and possibly even others. But I’d venture to say that he knows very little about 16-year-old girls, since there was nothing about Laureth’s voice that struck me as particularly authentic. I’ve never read a YA book with a blind protagonist, which is a pity, but Laureth’s double standards bothered me immensely. On the one hand, she tried very hard not to let anyone notice she was blind. She hid it right up until someone backed her into a corner and forced her to admit it. On the other hand, she would get offended and upset when people treated her like she wasn’t blind – for example, when people she ran into (while pretending not to be blind) dared to complain.

She Is Not Invisible is a clear example of an author trying too hard: to be original, occasionally funny and true to life, and through it all, to deliver those Very Important Messages we all seem to need. Somehow, in this grand effort, simpler and more important things were neglected and lost: things like substance and plausibility.

The already short narrative was burdened with a long, tedious study of coincidence, which was the reason behind the disappearance of Laureth’s father. Instead of being clever, excerpts from his little notebook (that served as Laureth’s guide), were very disruptive to the plot and, to be blunt, incredibly boring.

But most of all, I find it hard to believe that a 16-year-old blind girl would be able to travel unnoticed from London to New York with a 7-year-old boy in tow. The idea that US customs would neglect to check her documents because they were otherwise distracted is slightly ludicrous. I have no trouble suspending disbelief when I know that’s what’s expected of me, but in a book that strives to be realistic, details like that are very out of place.

Overall, She Is Not Invisible is not a book I’d recommend, despite the gorgeous writing. The story is poorly planned and plotted and its protagonist completely unmemorable.

A copy of this book was kindly provided by the publisher for review purposes. No considerations, monetary or otherwise, have influenced the opinions expressed in this review.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Review: That Touch of Magic (Nodaway Falls, #2)

That Touch of Magic (Nodaway Falls)Author: Lucy March
Series: Nodaway Falls, #2
Published: January 28th 2014
Publisher: Piatkus
Format: Paperback, 320 pgs
Source: Publisher for review
Buy: The Book Depository

Stacy Easter has seen better days. Being a librarian is a labour of love - if only paying her bills were half as much fun. To make ends meet, Stacy decides to develop her special . . . powers. Everyone can use a touch of magic now and then, right? Except that once she's started, it's hard to stop. After all, who wouldn't want to give their life a bit of a makeover, given the chance?

But magic always comes with a price and someone with dark intentions has been attracted by her talent. Worse still, Leo North, the official One Who Got Away, is back in town and he, along with everyone close to her, is at risk. Can Stacy conjure up a way out of this mess with her life - and maybe even her love life - intact?
By now, those of you who read my blog regularly probably know that I tend to avoid paranormal romance whenever I can. I have friends who are huge fans of the genre and I respect that, but quite frankly, the whole growling-alpha-male-swooning-female combo gives me severe allergies. However, there’s something about this series that appealed to me from the very beginning, and after all the fun I’d had while reading the first book, picking up this one was a very easy decision to make.

The friendships in this book are simply extraordinary, They are so strong and lovely and they easily prevent the romance from taking over. Like Liv before her, our Stacey has magical powers, albeit of a different variety. While Liv brings inanimate objects to life, Stacey makes potions – powerful ones at that – and sells them to help pay the bills. Peach is the only one with no magic whatsoever, but she is special in so many other ways that it doesn’t really matter. These three girls support each other through everything, so when Leo comes back into town and things go terribly wrong for Stacey, Peach and Liv are all the help she could ever really need.

The dreaded growling Alpha male, J.R. Ward-style, is fortunately absent from this book. Instead, we have Leo, a flawed-but-lovable ex-lover, ex-cheater and ex-priest, all rolled into one. Leo and our heroine Stacey have far too much history between them, and even years later, Stacey is still hiding a shattered heart. I have to admit I wasn’t Leo’s biggest fan at first, nor was I meant to be. After all, he cheated on Stacey while in college, broke her heart when he admitted it and then ran off to become a priest. I have no sympathy for cheaters, even nine years later and even when they so obviously still suffer the consequences, but it is a testament to Lucy March’s skill that I did forgive him in the end.

I thoroughly enjoyed the villain in this book too, even though I saw him coming from a mile away. I loved how the entire situation was handled and I was (reluctantly) impressed by the obstacles he put in Stacey and Leo's way. There’s nothing I love more than a truly devious villain and fortunately for me, Lucy March really knows how to create one.

Recommended by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jennifer Crusie and Darynda Jones, the Nodaway Falls series is a witty, funny treat, with a perfect magic to romance ratio. It is a true comfort read, enjoyable and sweet. I highly recommend it.

A copy of this book was kindly provided by the publisher for review purposes. No considerations, monetary or otherwise, have influenced the opinions expressed in this review.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Review: Night Broken (Mercy Thompson, #8)

Night BrokenAuthor: Patricia Briggs
Narrator: Lorelei King
Series: Mercy Thompson, #8
Published: March 4th 2014
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Lenght: 10 hrs and 5 mins
Buy: Audible

An unexpected phone call heralds a new challenge for Mercy. Her mate Adam’s ex-wife is in trouble, on the run from her new boyfriend. Adam isn’t the kind of man to turn away a person in need—and Mercy knows it. But with Christy holed up in Adam’s house, Mercy can’t shake the feeling that something about the situation isn’t right.
Soon, her suspicions are confirmed when she learns that Christy has the farthest thing from good intentions. She wants Adam back and she’s willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen, including turning Adam’s pack against Mercy.
Mercy isn’t about to step down without a fight, but there’s a more dangerous threat circling. Christy’s ex is more than a bad man—in fact, he may not be human at all. As the bodies start piling up, Mercy must put her personal troubles aside to face a creature with the power to tear her whole world apart.
There are very few authors who can do no wrong in my eyes. Not when the entire first half of their book seems rather aimless. Not when they neglect quite a few secondary characters I adore. Not when they bring in the evil ex-wife, which is usually a deal-breaker for me. In fact, now that I think about it, there’s only one author who can do all those things at the same time and still keep me as a devoted fan, and it’s Patty Briggs.

That’s not to say I wasn’t disappointed and even a bit panicked during the first half of Night Broken. Unfocused and slow, it showed all the usual signs of a filler book. Christy’s reappearance scared me and, in the interest of full disclosure, there were moments when I wished that Briggs had chosen to do anything but bring her back. I feared she would slip into those dreaded soap opera patterns, turn Mercy and Adam’s situation into a torturous love triangle and create and unnecessary rift in their relationship.

Shame on me. I should have known better.

While a part of me still wishes that Christy could have stayed exactly where she was – far, far away from Tri Cities and Mercy – I have to admit that Briggs handled the situation elegantly, showing once again why we all love our level-headed and mature Mercy. As the story progressed, the sharp contrast between her and Christy became obvious to everyone, even to those who’d have preferred not to see it. For me, as a reader, it helped that Mercy and Adam always remained on the same side, never once allowing the seed of doubt to be planted between them.

Mercy’s enemy in Night Broken is very exotic and interesting, but not as nuanced as those before him. He is, in part, overshadowed by several subplots, including Mercy’s newly discovered half-brother. Mercy’s constant struggles with the pack are also a constant in the background, as her need for acceptance – not for herself, but to make Adam’s life easier – influences every decision she makes.

Lorelei King performed flawlessly and showed us, once again, why she’s one of the best narrators in the world. This was my first Mercy Thompson audio, but I liked that I couldn’t just race through the long-awaited book. One of my favorite things about audio format is that it stops me from finishing a book in a couple of hours and allows me to savor it instead. I’ve come to associate King’s voice with Charley Davidson, which was somewhat problematic at first, but I quickly separated the two in my mind and enjoyed her rendition to the full.

Even after eight books, this remains my favorite series, which I suppose says more than enough about its quality. There’s still so much to be said, so many unexplored possibilities for these characters. I hope we’ll have many more installments to look forward to.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Review: Indexing

IndexingAuthor: Seanan McGuire
Published: January 21st 2014
Publisher: 47North
Format: Paperback, 404 pages
Buy: Amazon

“Never underestimate the power of a good story.”
Good advice...especially when a story can kill you.
For most people, the story of their lives is just that: the accumulation of time, encounters, and actions into a cohesive whole. But for an unfortunate few, that day-to-day existence is affected—perhaps infected is a better word—by memetic incursion: where fairy tale narratives become reality, often with disastrous results.
That's where the ATI Management Bureau steps in, an organization tasked with protecting the world from fairy tales, even while most of their agents are struggling to keep their own fantastic archetypes from taking over their lives. When you're dealing with storybook narratives in the real world, it doesn't matter if you're Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, or the Wicked Queen: no one gets a happily ever after.
Indexing is New York Times bestselling author Seanan McGuire’s new urban fantasy where everything you thought you knew about fairy tales gets turned on its head.

Bloggers and journalists have discussed at length the sudden popularity of serial novels, and not succeeded in finding a reason for it. Serial novels have a long tradition, but for a time it seemed that they were almost forgotten. Dating all the way from 19th century, they played a monumental part in creating the so called popular literature. In other world, they helped books find their place in the popular culture.

From what I've been able to find out, Penguin and St. Martin's in particular seem determined to give serial novels a new life. But it wasn't until both Ilona Andrews and Seanan McGuire wrote theirs that I started believing this project would actually succeed.

Indexing was first published in a serial format on Amazon. The readers paid for the whole thing right away and downloaded a new part when it became available. Since it wasn’t available to international readers at first, I had to wait for the completed novel to be published, for which I ended up being thankful, since I’m not known for my patience, and the story is very compelling.

Don't mistake Indexing for a fairy tale. That's not at all what it is. Instead, it's a story about sentient, malevolent narratives. As for the characters, McGuire took the whole concept of archetypes and built upon it, using her vast knowledge on fairy tales (and literary theory) and combining it with extraordinary imagination to turn old stories into something we've never seen before. Whatever Seanan McGuire writes (be it under her own name or as Mira Grant), has her trademark combination of extensive research and wicked sense of humor. Worldbuilding-wise, Indexing is perhaps one of the most interesting things I've ever read.

Like most of McGuire’s novels, Indexing is cleverly subversive, serving a healthy helping of social activism with the already interesting story. McGuire always makes her point, but never in a way that could make her readers uncomfortable. Her messages are subtle, but clear, whether they’re allegories, or straightforward (in this case, the point was made through a very sympathetic transgender character).

Indexing is a product of superb intelligence and vast imagination, and as such, it’s worthy of your time. It pushes the boundaries of its genre, and it certainly pushes readers to expect more from genre fiction.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Review: Flame (Sky Chasers, #3)

Flame (Sky Chasers, #3)Author: Amy Kathleen Ryan
Series: Sky Chasers, #3
Published: January 16th 2014
Publisher: Macmillan Children's
Format: Paperback, 336 pgs
Source: Publisher for review
Buy: The Book Depository

Waverly and the other members of the Empyrean have been scattered, and their home ship destroyed. The mission to rescue their parents didn't go quite as planned, and now they're at an even greater disadvantage: trapped with their enemies on the New Horizon, trying to find a way to survive. Will Seth's health hold out long enough to help Waverly topple their enemy? And will Waverly find a way to unite her friends before the final battle? Nothing is certain and every second is a risk in this explosive finale.

I think this quote by Noam Chomsky, chosen by Amy Kathleen Ryan and included in Flame, sums up this trilogy rather well:
It is only in folk-tales, children’s stories, and the journals of intellectual opinion that power is used wisely and well to destroy evil. The real world teaches very different lessons, and it takes willful ignorance to fail to perceive them.
Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. We’ve seen far too many examples in Amy Kathleen Ryan’s Sky Chasers trilogy. No one can be given huge amounts of power and responsibility and remain unchanged.

Flame picks up where Spark left off, with our three main characters separated and in deep trouble. All three of them are in a very bad place, depressed, powerless and weak. Make no mistake: Weaverly, Kieran and Seth are no heroes. All three of them have made some horrible choices in the past, either drunk with power, or desperate under the weight of responsibility… or both. But unlike other power players aboard the New Horizon, the three of them always did what they thought best for everyone at that particular moment..

Ryan’s characterization is, simply put, superb. She gave each character their due attention, even the peripheral ones, and built them to absolute (and absolutely flawed) perfection. The work she did on her three point-of-view characters, as well as her many villains, makes her stand out as an author of extreme talent and skill. Anne Mather, Captain of the New Horizon, is exactly what a villain should be, her shudder-inducing nature making her one of the most memorable characters in YA literature and beyond.

The Sky Chasers trilogy could just as easily be marketed as adult. Its protagonists may be young, but they are all mature well beyond their age, and the problems they deal with are extremely unsettling. At least the three of them are united against common enemies, which is a very nice change after all the damage they did to each other in previous books.

Like the two books before it, Flame is a very grim, claustrophobic read. It’s more than just limited space that makes it an almost suffocating experience; it’s also not being able to trust anyone and drowning in the feeling of hopelessness alongside the main characters. And yet Ryan succeeded in turning things around in an entirely believable manner and showing us that good things often come from entirely unexpected directions.

While this trilogy is not for the faint of heart, it’s thought-provoking and brilliant and I cannot recommend it enough.

A copy of this book was kindly provided by the publisher for review purposes. No considerations, monetary or otherwise, have influenced the opinions expressed in this review.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Mini Reviews: Alienated & Sekret

Alienated (Alienated, #1)Author: Melissa Landers
Series: Alienated, #1
Published: February 4th 2014
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Format: Hardcover, 352 pgs
Source: Publisher for review
Buy: The Book Depository

Two years ago, the aliens made contact. Now Cara Sweeney is going to be sharing a bathroom with one of them.

Handpicked to host the first-ever L’eihr exchange student, Cara thinks her future is set. Not only does she get a free ride to her dream college, she’ll have inside information about the mysterious L’eihrs that every journalist would kill for. Cara’s blog following is about to skyrocket.
Still, Cara isn’t sure what to think when she meets Aelyx. Humans and L’eihrs have nearly identical DNA, but cold, infuriatingly brilliant Aelyx couldn’t seem more alien. She’s certain about one thing, though: no human boy is this good-looking.
But when Cara's classmates get swept up by anti-L'eihr paranoia, Midtown High School suddenly isn't safe anymore. Threatening notes appear in Cara's locker, and a police officer has to escort her and Aelyx to class.

Cara finds support in the last person she expected. She realizes that Aelyx isn’t just her only friend; she's fallen hard for him. But Aelyx has been hiding the truth about the purpose of his exchange, and its potentially deadly consequences. Soon Cara will be in for the fight of her life—not just for herself and the boy she loves, but for the future of her planet.

For all the hype that surrounded this novel (and especially the pretty cover) prior to its release, Alienated ended up being pretty unremarkable. In it, Melissa Landers focused on delivering three things: humor, romance and a strong message about diversity and tolerance. Unfortunately, even that proved to be too much for this debut author and in the end, only the strong anti-xenophobic message was successful.

The romance, no matter how well planned, cannot reach its full potential without strong and well built characters, and neither Cara nor Aelyx were remarkable in any way. To make matters worse, Cara’s friends and family were no more than underdeveloped cardboard cutouts whose actions lacked any real explanation or depth. As for the humor, there were some actual laugh-out loud moments, which helped me warm up to this book significantly, but overall, it was a strong case of trying too hard, and when humor was most needed, all attempts fell flat.

If not for the strong intercultural message, Alienated would be an entirely unremarkable and pretty forgettable novel. As it is, I’m likely to recommend it to younger readers purely for its educational value.

A copy of this book was kindly provided by the publisher for review purposes. No considerations, monetary or otherwise, have influneced the opinions expressed in this review.

Sekret (Sekret, #1)Author: Lindsay Smith
Series: Sekret, #1
Published: April 1st 2014
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Format: Hardcover, 337 pgs
Source: Publisher for review
Buy: The Book Depository

An empty mind is a safe mind.
Yulia's father always taught her to hide her thoughts and control her emotions to survive the harsh realities of Soviet Russia. But when she's captured by the KGB and forced to work as a psychic spy with a mission to undermine the U.S. space program, she's thrust into a world of suspicion, deceit, and horrifying power. Yulia quickly realizes she can trust no one--not her KGB superiors or the other operatives vying for her attention--and must rely on her own wits and skills to survive in this world where no SEKRET can stay hidden for long.
One should really be able to trust a blurb by someone as brilliant as Elizabeth Wein, but apparently, that’s really not the case. Sekret is a book that held so much promise, with a story about young psychic spies in Soviet Russia blackmailed into working for the KGB. And yet somehow, it ended up being my biggest disappointment of the year so far, made even worse by my extremely high expectations.

I can’t really fault Lindsay Smith or the publisher for false advertizing. We were promised a story about psychic spies in a very interesting historical setting, and that’s exactly what this book is. What’s more, it is clearly extremely well-researched and even thrilling, at least at first.

The problem, for me, was the emotional aspect of this book. Sekret reminded me of a delicious treat tightly wrapped in cellophane: I could see, but not touch or smell or taste or feel in any other significant way. When I try to pinpoint a reason for it, it all comes down to Yulia. Sekret desperately needed a stronger, clearer heroine, someone with far more character and strength. She should have been the light leading us through this horrible and dark story, but instead, we ended up blundering in the dark right alongside her.

So unlike Elizabeth Wein, who says that this beautiful novel left her aching, I was left severely disappointed, hoping that this young author with so much potential might do better next time.

A copy of this book was kindly provided by the publisher for review purposes. No considerations, monetary or otherwise, have influneced the opinions expressed in this review.