Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday (3)

Waiting on Wednesday is a bookish meme hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine that allows readers to share the yet-be-released books they're most excited about.

This week I'm cheating a bit by including two books. They suit each other well title-wise, but really, well, it's just that they're both so pretty I couldn't decide between them...

So, the book releases I'm currently anticipating (i.e. impatiently waiting for) are:

Daughter of Smoke and Bone
by Laini Taylor
Release Date: September 27, 2011

Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky. In a dark and dusty shop, a devil's supply of human teeth grown dangerously low. And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherworldly war. Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she's prone to disappearing on mysterious "errands"; she speaks many languages—not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she's about to find out. When one of the strangers—beautiful, haunted Akiva—fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

Why is it "WOW"-worthy?

I loved Laini Taylor's creative and exquisitely written Faeries of Dreamdark: Blackbringer.
I can't wait to see what she does with a more traditional urban fantasy setting. Daughter of Smoke and Bone sounds AMAZING, and even the synopsis hints at the eloquently descriptive writing and quirky character creations I've come to attribute to this author. Karou sounds like a unique and fascinating heroine, and the fact that she purportedly has blue hair is just a bonus.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns

by Rae Carson
Release Date: September 20, 2011
Once a century, one person is chosen for greatness. Elisa is the chosen one. But she is also the younger of two princesses, the one who has never done anything remarkable. She can’t see how she ever will. Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king—a king whose country is in turmoil. A king who needs the chosen one, not a failure of a princess. And he’s not the only one who seeks her. Savage enemies seething with dark magic are hunting her. A daring, determined revolutionary thinks she could be his people’s savior. And he looks at her in a way that no man has ever looked at her before. Soon it is not just her life, but her very heart that is at stake. Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesn’t die young. Most of the chosen do.
Why is it "WOW"-worthy?

There is little that will entice me to read a book more than Tamora Pierce's endorsement. Besides being my favourite author, she almost always highlights books with magic, romance, and a strong heroine - three elements that seem to be present in The Girl of Fire and Thorns. The "Chosen One" and prophecy-fueled premise doesn't sound too unique, but the cover is very pretty. I also really like books in which the main character has to mature or transform in a significant way in order to overcome The Big Bad, and I think it's implied by the synopsis that this is the case with Elisa. Some reviews have mentioned that the fantasy world is unique and well-built, which also bodes well.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Review: Wanderlust

Title: Wanderlust
Author: Ann Aguirre
Publisher: Ace
Release Date: August 26, 2008
Previous Titles in Series: Grimspace (My Review)
Sirantha Jax is a “Jumper,” a woman who possesses the unique genetic makeup needed to navigate faster than light ships through grimspace. Jax has worked for the Farwan Corporation her entire career. But now the word’s out that the Corp deliberately crashed a passenger ship, and their stranglehold on intergalactic commerce has crumbled—which means that Jax is out of a job. She’s also broke, due to being declared dead a little prematurely. So when the government asks her to head up a vital diplomatic mission, Jax takes it. Her mandate: journey to the planet Ithiss-Tor and convince them to join the Conglomerate. But Jax’s payday is light years away. First, she’ll have to contend with Syndicate criminals, a stormy relationship with her pilot, man-eating aliens, and her own grimspace-weakened body. She’ll be lucky just to make it to Ithiss-Tor alive…
Wanderlust introduces readers to a new Jax: feeble and less combative, but also more selfless and aware of other peoples’ feelings. This is both a welcome change – it’s nice to see her character developing – and problematic in terms of Wanderlusts pacing. Just as Jax’s physical deterioration saps her character of the strength and tough persona she displayed in Grimspace, the narrative initially seems sluggish. Jax's new fragility means that she's sidelined from much of the action, which has the unfortunate side-effect of also disconnecting the reader from the story. Thankfully, despite a fairly simplistic plot that never really seems to go where it promises, the book picks up speed as it goes along, propelled by promising new characters and a planet-wide war.

Jax’s sickness also causes her to withdraw from March, and this leads to some conflict in their relationship, which is further exacerbated by March’s unerring hero complex. In Wanderlust, their on-and-off relationship adds drama without detracting from the plot; I just hope March and Jax’s breakups and makeups don’t become a too-recurring theme in future books, as it could become tedious. That said, they suit each other so well and their scenes together are so poignantly written that it’s impossible not to continue hoping for their Happily Ever After. I also liked that Ann Aguirre doesn’t shy away from separating these two characters on occasion, allowing the focus to shift more toward the action and character interactions than the romance.

This definitely benefits Wanderlust, as the side characters in this series continue to impress. Each of them is established as unique and likeable without their personalities ever seeming over-the-top. In particular, Vel is awesome; I loved his dry humour and awkward politeness, and his growing friendship with Jax is both amusing and thoroughly endearing. Enough new characters – including a few cameos by Jax’s mother – are introduced that this installment feels fresh and surprising, but not so many that the cast ever felt overwhelmed by unrecognizable names and faces.

Wanderlust, like its predecessor, would be an enjoyable, quick read even for those who don’t usually like science fiction. It also tones down on some of the narrative quirks that grated in Grimspace, such as the overuse of ‘frag’ as a swearword. Unfortunately, sketchy plotting and an initially slow pace weigh Wanderlust down, and, unlike the fast-paced and self-contained first book, it suffers from trying too hard to set up the next installment in the series. Nevertheless, Wanderlust is effective in that the ending left me pining for the third book, Doubleblind, and I can’t wait to see Jax attempting to play the role of gracious diplomat.

Rating: 3/5

Monday, June 20, 2011

Teaser Tuesday (3)

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading (a wonderful blog that I have quietly stalked for some time). Participants share two random sentences from their current reads without including anything too spoilery.

My Tantalizing Teaser:

"He's always got a opinion does Nero, an he's real smart too. I figger if only we could unnerstand crow talk, we'd find he was tellin us a thing or two about the best way to fix a roof."
~ Unknown page on my Kindle, Blood Red Road by Moira Young

I can't wait to immerse myself more in this story. Saba is already an endearing, interesting narrator, a mixture of thoughtfulness and implied ruthlessness. The writing definitely takes getting used to - there are no quotations marks around dialogue and many intentional spelling and grammatical errors to reflect Saba's lack of education - but I don't find it too off-putting.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Review: Tell Me a Secret

Title: Tell Me a Secret
Author: Holly Cupala
Publisher: Harper Collins
Release Date: June 22, 2010
In the five years since her bad-girl sister Xanda’s death, Miranda Mathison has wondered about the secret her sister took to the grave, and what really happened the night she died. Now, just as Miranda is on the cusp of her dreams—a best friend to unlock her sister’s world, a ticket to art school, and a boyfriend to fly her away from it all—Miranda has a secret all her own. Then two lines on a pregnancy test confirm her worst fears. Stripped of her former life, Miranda must make a choice with tremendous consequences and finally face her sister’s demons and her own. In this powerful debut novel, stunning new talent Holly Cupala illuminates the dark struggle of a girl who must let go of her past to find a way into her own future.
Tell Me a Secret is emotional and intriguing from its very first chapter. Holly Cupala perfectly captures her main character's teenage response to her situation. Rand’s emotions and choices are also thoughtfully depicted, and her narrative manages to be imbued with both the uncertainty of youth and a quiet, growing maturity.

That said, Miranda (Rand) is a difficult main character to connect with, as she’s too preoccupied with living up to the legacy of her dead sister - while simultaneously striving to prove to her parents that she is the ‘good girl’ - to form her own coherent identity. The decisions she makes relating to her personal life are far from smart, and she often seems much too willing to pretend problems don’t exist. At the same time, explanative flashbacks and her dysfunctional family make it impossible not to sympathize with her to a certain extent. Rand also inevitably matures throughout the novel, as her circumstances force her to come to terms with aspects of her life that she’s been avoiding.

My most significant issue with Tell Me a Secret is that I found it difficult to really like any of the characters, with the exception of Rand’s boss, Shelley. Rand’s best friend Delaney is a transparent mean-girl, and while boyfriend Kamran’s callous reaction to Rand’s pregnancy is semi-understandable, it does nothing to endear him to readers. The parental figures are, for the most part, deplorable in their inability to deal productively with the daughter they have left. It’s not necessarily that the characters are unrealistic, but that their collective lack of redeeming qualities makes it difficult to be fully invested in the story.

It’s a testament to Cupala’s simple-yet-poignant writing and pacing that I was compelled to continue reading despite these character issues. There were, in fact, a lot of things I liked about Tell Me a Secret. The story kept my attention the entire time, especially during its revelation-propelled latter half. The ending is suitably bittersweet and feels natural given the events of the novel. I especially loved the art references and how they’re integrated into Miranda’s character.

Though ostensibly about teen pregnancy, Tell Me a Secret is equally concerned with self-discovery and dealing with the fallout of a loved one’s death. Despite its largely unsympathetic cast, Holly Cupala’s debut novel is sensitive, riveting, and well-written.

Rating: 3.5/5

Cover Thoughts: Prior to reading the book, I thought it was intriguing and reflected the title well. In retrospect, I think it’s a bit misleading since the romance elements of Tell Me a Secret are a relatively minor aspect of the story.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday (2)

My second WOW post! Waiting on Wednesday is a bookish meme hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine (on a side note: I lovelove that blog name) that allows readers to share the yet-be-released books they're most excited about.

The book release I'm currently anticipating (i.e. impatiently waiting for) is:

Witch Song

by Amber Argyle
Release Date: September 1, 2011
The world is changing. Once, Witch Song controlled everything from the winds to the shifting of the seasons-but not anymore. All the Witches are gone, taken captive by a traitor. All but Brusenna. As the echo of their songs fades, the traitor grows stronger. Now she is coming for Brusenna. Her guardian has sworn to protect her, but even he can't stop the Dark Witch. Somehow, Brusenna has to succeed where every other Witch has failed. Find the traitor. Fight her. Defeat her. Because if Brusenna doesn't, there won't be anything left to save.
Why is it "WOW"-worthy?

The cover! It's beautiful, beguiling, and, of course, bewitching (ah, did you see what I did there? So subtle). The description sounds pretty cool too: fantasy elements, magic, a super-powerful Bad Guy, and (possibly, hopefully) some romance. But really? This one's all about the cover.

Monday, June 13, 2011

My Top Ten Favorite Book Couples

I love classifying things; I love making lists; I love deciding on my favorites – my favorite book (The Hunger Games), my favorite animal (zebras), even my favorite cereal (Froot Loops). There is little else I appreciate more in a book than a well-written romance, the kind that makes me alternately sigh, laugh, and cheer on the characters.

What is this intro leading to? My top ten favorite book couples, of course (with justification/swooning)!

Warning: some of these are definite spoilers, so read on at your own risk.

Now, on to the list:

10. Rose and Dimitri (Vampire Academy) - Rose is everything Dimitri is not: impetuous, flirtatious, and immature. Their shared sense of duty compensates for these differences, and their consistent dedication to each other cements them as more than a momentary fling. The fact that he's her combat teacher adds a - gasp - forbidden aspect to their relationship that, in the fictional VA universe, only increases the swoon-worthy qualities of this couple.

9. Yelena and Valek (Poison Study) - The realization of this romance is so gratifying given these characters' growing closeness throughout the book. I loved watching Yelena and Valek - a poison taster and an assassin, respectively - accept the inevitability of their (intense, compelling) connection. Ultimately, this is a wonderfully mature relationship that remains steady and strong despite the obstacles presented by Yelena's troubled past and uncertain future.

8. Clary and Jace (The Mortal Instruments) - There’s something very addicting about the way this couple is written; their snappy dialogue and drama and mutual attraction make for some serious reread potential, and it's obvious they're destined for a turbulent romance. Was anyone really convinced these two could be brother and sister?

No? That's what I thought.

7. Scarlett and Rhett (Gone with the Wind) - These two are not good for each other. When it comes to relationships, Scarlett is selfish and superficial and insensitive. (She’s pretty much the Blair Waldorf of the Old South - or is Blair Waldorf the Scarlett O’Hara of the Upper East Side? Anyway. I digress.) Clark Gable - er, Rhett - understands these aspects of Scarlett’s personality better than anyone else, which is ultimately to the detriment of their relationship. But that dramatic, doomed quality is exactly what I love about this couple.

On a side note, I refuse to acknowledge the ending of that should-never-have-been-made sequel that, like Voldemort, will not be named. (Hint: the title rhymes with harlot, which is oddly appropriate.)

6. Jamie and Claire (Outlander) - A romance riddled with obstacles to overcome - including Claire's prior marriage and, oh yes, the small matter of their living in different decades - and an equal amount of cute moments. It's just a bonus that their relationship subverts many of the tropes I’d come to expect of romance novels: the male lead, not the heroine, is the blushing virgin; Claire is older than Jamie too, which is refreshing. Also – and I feel unbelievably cheesy and cliché for even thinking these words – their love transcends time. Really.

5. Phèdre and Joscelin (Kushiel’s Legacy) - Kushiel’s Dart is a slow-building book that requires one to fully sink into its unique, well-developed world and meandering plot. The main romance is similarly complex and subtly-established. And sizzling. This is by far my favourite “opposites attract” romance: Phèdre is a courtesan. Joscelin is a chaste warrior priest. Cue sparks.

4. Katsa and Po (Graceling) - These two complement each other so well. Their relationship is a meeting of equals that encourage each other to mature and overcome their respective limitations. I love that there's no pressure here, as Po accepts Katsa's decision never to marry and their romance is not deterred by physical separation. (Also: their fight scenes are ridiculously awesome. Love.)

3. Kate and Curran (Kate Daniels Series) - The dialogue, the dialogue! The quips and bickering and endless back-and-forth! To demonstrate:

Curran: “You’re an interesting woman.”
Kate: “Your interest has been duly noted.”

Kate: “I want to assure you, Your Majesty, that I spend long nights lying awake in my bed worrying about your feelings.”
Curran: “As well you should.”

Curran: “How was it?”
Kate: “It was flat. No spark. Nothing. Like kissing a brother.”
Curran: “Really? Is that why you put your arms around my neck?”
Kate: “That was temporary insanity."

Curran: “Hey.”

Kate: “Hey. I was telling the people in my head to shut up.”
Curran: “They have medication for that.”
Kate: “I probably can’t afford it.”

2. Katniss and Peeta (The Hunger Games) - I must admit that I’m a fan of the fictional bad boy. There’s something so compelling about that toughness, those chiseled cheek bones (because he always has to have chiseled cheekbones), the vulnerability concealed beneath a veneer of arrogance. Peeta does not fall into that category. I mean, c’mon, his nickname is “the boy with the bread.” That moniker suggests neither fearsomeness nor the elusive sexiness of the Fictional Bad Boy. It does, however, highlight Peeta’s sensitivity and generosity. Those qualities, along with his quiet strength, are the perfect match for Katniss’s harshness and independence. And that’s why they’re #2.

1. Jacob and Renesmee (Twilight)

What? You didn't see this coming?

Okay, I kid. Couldn’t help it. Ahem, now back to seriousness.

The real #1 Couple of Awesomeness:

1. Alanna and George (The Song of the Lioness Quartet) - I love everything about this relationship: George’s acceptance of Alanna, flaws and all, and vice versa; the growth of their friendship throughout the quartet; the fact that he is the first person she trusts with her secret; their mutual respect and sense of equality. Everything!

Honorable Mentions:

Fire and Archer (Fire) - Though they aren't as healthy or thoughtful together as the main Fire couple, their romance is, in my opinion, the most swoon-worthy. They're friends first, lovers second, and they just aren't meant to be together - but their short time together is, ahem, as hot as a certain heroine's name.

Bella and Edward (Twilight) - Putting Bella’s whininess and Edward’s creepy stalker tendencies aside, the sheer epicness of this super-couple deserves props.

Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy (Pride and Prejudice) - This couple did for love-hate, antagonistic relationships what Romeo and Juliet did for doomed lovers. And they did it while skirting around the machinations of Lizzy’s mother. That’s impressive.

Magnus and Alec (The Mortal Instruments) - These two are easily as compelling as Clary and Jace, but much less focused-on - which is a pity, because they're unlikely and brilliant and hilarious, together and as individuals.

Elena and Clay (Bitten) - Their past as a couple is revealed in gradual bits and pieces that make it utterly impossible not to root for a reconciliation in their future. Despite their issues, Elena and Clay share an amazing mutual understanding, even when they’re at odds with one another.