Thursday, March 29, 2012

On Crystals: A Review of Chosen by Sarah Swan

Chosen (The Seeker Saga, #1)You know what it takes for me to like a book? It has to make me care. I'll forgive forced dialogue and improbable plot lines, I'll overlook slightly ditzy characters, contrived relationships...hell, I'll probably forgive your main character for kicking a puppy. As long as it makes me care.

I did not care about this book.

Tracy goes to an exclusive boarding school on an island off the coast of Maine (I think). She meets a close knit group of girls. They instantly treat Tracy like she's one of them. Then Tracy finds out that she, and all of the girls, can access magic powers through crystals.

Positive Comments

I don't...

I've got nothing.

Okay, I guess the reason I read this book is that, on the surface, I'm sort of a fan of the whole "coven of magic" trope. Every little girl goes through a "witch" phase, and I was no exception, especially since I grew up in the era of Harry Potter. So the idea of a group of girls using crystals to access power sounded interesting.

The other thing that had potential in this book was the island atmosphere. It's a really cool setting and I wish the author had done more with it.

By the way, I have no freaking clue what's up with this cover. It's kind of nice, but at no time in this book is anyone in a ball gown in the forest. Unless I zoned out for awhile when I was reading, which I guess is a distinct possibility.

Critical Comments

Tracy is unlikeable. She's not very bright. She's so eager to fit in with the popular girls that she 1)openly ditches a guy she made friends with in order to be with them 2) does not question their over-enthusiastic interest in her, the new girl 3) agrees to not speak to a cute boy, because one of them has dibs on him, even though a)talking to a guy does not constitute cheating by an sane definition, and b) the guy in question has no interest in the girl who called dibs. I'm not kidding here. They flip shit on her for saying "Hi" to him.

The group of friends are insipid, snobby, and indistinguishable from one another.

The girls know stuff about the crystals that no one could logically learn through trial and error. In other words, the world building is clumsy as hell. We are told that one of the girls, Liz, has known about the magic crystals for two years, and that's why she knows so much. But they lay out all of these facts and rules and theories that you simply could not know if no one told you. It would be like someone from the year 1400 finding a car with the keys in the ignition. Given plenty of time, he might learn to drive it. He might even figure out a bit about how it works, if he really cared. But he's never going to understand, say, where gasoline comes from or what it is about gasoline that makes the motor run. He's not going to figure out what combustion reactions are just by looking at a car.

The "villain" is this kid who acts like a loner and has no friends. The moral of the story is, you better get in with the popular crowd at all cost, because having no friends makes you EVIL.

The romance is sparse and pointless. It really doesn't need to be there. It serves no purpose. Rob likes Tracy, despite the fact that they barely interact and Tracy gives him no reason to like her. But the kisses are so special. Ugh.


I don't recommend this one. It's boring and silly and it makes no sense. 1.5 stars.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

On Loss: A Review of Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver

Delirium was the first book that I reviewed this year, and it's what I would call a thinking book. I'm so always thrilled to see thinking books in the YA genre, books that treat their audience like mature, intelligent people. Naturally, I was excited to see if the sequel, Pandemonium, could accomplish the same thing.

In this book, Lena is on her own. Alex is lost to her, so now she has to make a new life and find a new purpose for herself in the Wilds. The story is divided into two parts, "Then" (her time in the wilds), and "Now" (her work in the resistance), alternating each chapter. In the Wilds, she meets Raven, the leader of a homestead, along with quite a few other Invalids. Lena has to rediscover a will to survive, and goes through the physical and emotional hardships of living on next to nothing. In the resistance, it becomes her job to keep track of Julian Fineman, the youth leader of the DFA, the most extreme of pro-cure organizations. Julian is getting ready to undergo the cure despite a medical history that means the cure will likely kill him

Positive Comments

In my review of the first book I talked about how Lena was a blank slate, somewhat bland kind of character. The author was more concerned with developing the ideas than developing the characters. In this book, however, character development is front and center. I loved Lena's journey. I loved seeing her on her own, separated from everything familiar, changing and growing stronger along the way. This book made me like a character that I previously found forgettable. That's a big accomplishment.

I loved the culture of the people in the Wilds. The spirit of hard work and endurance and finding pleasure in little things is appealing in a dystopian novel.

I liked the newly introduced characters. I loved Raven and Tack, and I felt they made great friends and mentors for Lena in her new life. I may be in the minority here, but I also really liked Julian. I found him sympathetic, and I really wanted to see him saved and brought around to the side of the resistance.

Critical Comments

I don't normally do this, but I feel like I have to. My only criticism is a spoiler so, I'm going to spoil. Ready?

Begin Spoiler

Throughout the book Lena believes Alex to be dead and that she has to move on with her life. And if I'm being honest, I wish that's how the author had written it. The book has all of this great commentary on grief and loss and rediscovering yourself and finding love again. For Lena that means loving Julian. But throughout the book I had this lingering uneasy feeling. As they say in the comic book world--if no one saw a body, don't consider that character dead. And of course I was right. Of course Alex isn't dead. So what do we get instead of a poignant loss/grief/recovery story? A FREAKING LOVE TRIANGLE. I cannot possibly articulate how desperate I am to not see any more YA love triangles.

So anyway, the ending has this big, soap opera style "That character you thought was dead is alive!" reveal, and it's extremely cheap and cliffhangery. This is the only flaw I can name for the whole book, but it's a big flaw.

End Spoiler


I feel even more confident in recommending this series after reading this book. It's a well crafted, intelligent, gripping YA novel. And no Middle Book Syndrome! 4 stars. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

On Djinn: A Review of Ill Wind by Rachel Caine

Inquisitive children go through phases of fascination. In second grade it was dinosaurs, in third grade it was space and astronauts, and in fourth grade it was natural disasters. I think it stemmed in large part from the fact that I live in an area of the country where our weather is uneventful. Tornadoes mostly stay over the lake and rarely touch down on land. Floods are prevented by deep gorges and creeks which make up the watershed. We're too far from the ocean for hurricanes. A few years back we had the teeniest, tiniest earth quake and I slept right through it. So to my ten year old self, the idea that weather could kill people was fascinating and foreign and horrific.

It is with that spirit that I dove into Ill Wind, the first book in Rachel Caine's Weather Warden series. It's about Joanne, a low level Weather Warden, who has been forced to carry a Demon Mark and is on the run for her life. Weather Wardens are essentially people with magic (for lack of a better term) powers that allow them to manipulate weather patterns, often in order to prevent disasters and keep people as safe as possible. They are assisted by Djinn, a powerful race of beings enslaved to the Wardens, who are able to enhance Warden powers. The Demon Mark that has infected Joanne can only be removed by a Djinn, but of course she does not possess one of her own. So, she seeks out Lewis, a notorious criminal who ran away from the Wardens and stole three Djinn in the process. She is chased by her former bosses, who want to strip her of her powers, and by the weather itself.

Positive Comment

Undeniably unique world building. The idea of controlling weather in the way that Joanne and the other Wardens do is intensely interesting and intelligently written. You can tell the author did some research or had some prior knowledge about how weather works in real life. Plus, I think this is the first time outside of Supernatural I've seen anyone use Djinn in urban fantasy. She's a bit vague about exactly what they are, but I'm eager to learn more in future books.

The plot is well paced and engaging. It went in some unique directions, and there were a few twists I didn't really expect. I liked Caine's style of jumping right into the action and letting out backstory in small bits as the story progressed. For me, this is preferable to spending the first third of the book drowning in exposition.

Critical Comments

The character development is rather incomplete. I don't feel that I ever got a thorough understanding of Joanne's personality. I know that she's pretty powerful and that she likes cars a lot. Beyond that, though, I don't feel like I was given enough information to feel a connection with her.

The relationship building is likewise a bit sloppy. One of the major plot points involves Jo picking up a drifter, David. Apparently they form a connection, because later when he volunteers to sacrifice himself to help her, she refuses him utterly. For me, it was apparent that Jo was supposed to care for him by this point, but I wasn't given enough evidence to make this plausible.


I'm sure this book would appeal to many urban fantasy fans. It has great world building, and a nice action filled plot. 3 stars.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Miscellaneous Monday: The Neutral Face

Today I'd like to talk about my personal disability, something I've suffered from my whole life. I call it The Neutral Face. I consider myself a pretty cheerful person. I like ice cream, and butterflies, and penguins. I wear bright colors, read romance novels, and drink lots of coffee. I'm an optimist. I can always find the silver lining. But none of that matters because I'm plagued by The Neutral Face.

Have you ever seen a basset hound? Know how they look sad all of the time? This is me:

The face I make when I'm lost in thought or just not feeling any particular emotion at all, looks like a basset hound. It looks like the face of someone suffering from severe, unmedicated depression. The reason I know this is because of the multitude of "Are you alright?"s I get from people who see me making The Neutral Face.

Once not long ago I was on my way into the local craft store, and I was thinking about what sort of vases I wanted for centerpieces and whether to buy fake flowers or real ones, and so forth, when the greeter physically stopped me.

"Oh honey, are you okay? You look so sad!" 

She actually thought I looked bad enough that I needed to be consoled by her, a complete stranger. The problem with getting this reaction from people (all the time) is that it's incredibly frustrating, and honestly kind of hurtful, and it makes you sad and angry when you weren't sad or angry to begin with. So you react badly.

"Nope, I'm fine. This is just my face!" I snapped, and then hurried passed her into the store. She later apologized to me when I was checking out, which was nice, except I think she was just worried that I was suicidal and she didn't want to be the last thing that pushed me over the edge.

I'm a cheerful person. Seriously.

Everyone is always saying I should make an effort to smile more, and maybe they're right. Maybe it would be worth avoiding little incidents like this. But honestly, that's a lot of effort, and it's so futile. I can find myself sitting in a park on a sunny day and making every effort to smile, but eventually I'm going to start thinking about the monarch butterflies and viceroys, and is that co-evolution or is there some other term....

...and I'll be thinking of this, but my face will imply that I'm thinking of this:

I have one particular acquaintance that simply can't get past The Neutral Face and has convinced herself that I'm a sad charity case in need of more friendship. This got worse when my roommate moved out, which in her mind is terrible, and I started spending more free time reading in my room. So she's taken to talking to me as you would a recently released psych ward patient with a history of hallucinations and violent episodes. At one point she texted my fiance to ask him if I'm okay, if he thinks I need anything, if she should check up on me...

This makes me really want to mess with her head.

I got a hamster recently, because I miss having a pet and I'm not allowed a cat in my apartment (I'm not allowed a hamster either, but whatever). I've taken to talking about her to The Patronizing Acquaintance as though I were talking about my best friend instead of a pet.

"Meet Dwarthy, she's a hamster! Dwarthy and I are so alike! We both like carrots, and we both like almonds! Her favorite color is orange and my favorite color is orange!"

"Dwarthy is an excellent runner, she's in such good shape! I wish I were like that! Maybe I'll start working out!"

"Dwarthy was saying last night how I have such a pretty smile, and I should smile more. Do you think she's right?"

Because if someone already believes your crazy, you might as well have the fun of acting crazy.

Here's what she looks like, by the way. The hamster, not the acquaintance.

The moral of this story? Two things: 1) Hamsters are freaking adorable. 2) Some people have a default face that looks upset. Be sensitive to The Neutral Face. Don't assume every sad looking person you see really is sad. They might just be trying to figure out if they can build a hamster maze out of toilet paper rolls. Unless they're crying or standing on a roof ledge, leave them the hell alone. Happy Monday, everyone!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

On Suffering Witches: A Review of One Grave at a Time by Jeaniene Frost

Oh my gosh, Helsing is on the cover!  
Six books in, Cat and Bones continue to amuse my inner urban fantasy nerd. I'm so glad to see that this series hasn't yet become stale despite it's age.

Fabian, Cat's ghost friend, has a crush on fellow ghost Elisabeth. But Elisabeth's afterlife is wholly consumed by the goal of killing or entrapping Heinrich Kramer, the ghost of an infamous witch hunter. Since his death, Kramer has maintained his sociopathic attitude toward women, haunting and tormenting them. After so many years, he has gained the ability to become solid for a day, and every year on Halloween he captures, rapes, and burns alive three women. Cat must use her unique abilities to beat this murdering ghost at his own game.

Positive Comments

 We already know the characters, we know the back story, we know the world. There's nothing to stop the author from just telling a story, simple and satisfying, with very little explanation required. That's one of the advantages of being six books deep in a series.

Who doesn't like a good ghost story? I enjoyed having such a plainly evil, villainous villain at the center of the story. He's the kind of bad guy that you love to hate. You want to see him defeated, and see him suffer.

Cat and Bones are still super hot together. Frost writes excellent love scenes that manage to be sexy and romantic. And terribly improbable.

Critical Comments

It's predictable. There was nothing in the plot that I didn't see coming, even the things that were built up to be a surprise.

There are a lot of rather useless characters. Some from past books, which I think the author feels compelled to throw in because they are reader favorites. Some that were new. I couldn't really figure out, for example, why Ian was there or if Cat's mom really served a purpose (I guess she never does).

There are subplots that go nowhere. We learn that following Don's death, the secret organization Cat used to work for has been turned over to a government idiot. I guess this is set up for future books? I'm not sure, but it all seemed a bit out of place to me.


Once again, I recommend starting and continuing The Night Huntress series. It has a good balance of urban fantasy and romance, clever plot lines, and lots of action. 3.5 stars.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Reading Penguin Goes to the Movies: Hunger Games

Last night was date night, and after sitting through The Muppets no less than three times I was owed my choice of movies, and this is what I wanted to see.

I don't know why I'm always surprised to see families with very small children at movies like this. It's PG-13, not R, so it's not like it's going to contain anything that traumatic, but you would think the subject matter would make some parents think twice. Whatever the case, we sat in front of a family with three girls, the youngest of which was definitely Kindergarten  age or younger, and I worried about noise or seat kicking from them. Surprisingly, the worst that happened was multiple mid-movie bathroom trips.

The truly annoying movie goers were the two college age girls next to me, one of whom had apparently read the book and one of whom had not. The reader spent the entire movie explaining the plot to the non-reader in glorious detail. Everything from details that were only in the book, to stuff that the movie had already explained. I have a low tolerance for people who talk during movies. It gives me the urge to throw things and shout and stab people. And frankly if your too dumb to follow plot lines, you shouldn't go to public movie theaters. Josh hadn't read the book, and he was able to follow. He had a few questions after the fact, but it's not like he was lost.

So that was the movie going experience...what about the movie? I don't even feel like I need to say "It wasn't as good as the book!" because they almost never are, and I went in knowing that. It does take pains to stay pretty close to the source material, which is almost detrimental in this case. Josh's one major complaint was that there were "pacing issues", because it takes such a long time to get to the actual Hunger Games. All of the slower bits and the details of Katnis and Peeta getting reaped and preparing for the games, those things that work really well in the book for fleshing out their characters and making them more sympathetic, feel like filler in a movie setting.

The characters were pretty freaking close to how I pictured them. I felt they picked a good actress for Katnis. No complaints about everyone else. Josh felt that Ceasar and Effie Trinket were "Hammy and over the top", and no amount of my explaining the Capitol attitude and fashion sense could make him see them as anything other than ridiculous. The Capitol did look like they filled an auditorium with anime cos-players, and perhaps that did come across as unintentionally funny.

I liked seeing the gamemakers in action, which of course is missing from the book, since it's told from Katnis's point of view.

The most flawed thing about the movie is the editing and camera work. I'm no expert, but it seems like they made some odd choices there, either in an attempt to create a stylized feel, hide the violence so they could keep their PG-13, or some combination of the two...There were a lot of abrupt, quick cuts, which makes it feel like they're Punctuating. Every. Word. of the. Sentence. And a lot of shaky camera, which was there way of making the violence less overt.

One more comment about the audience: at the end, when the announcer says "Here are the winners of the 74th Hunger Games!" our audience cheered. Guys, I think you missed the point. You're acting like the audiences in the Capitol, who we're supposed to be disgusted with. Our main characters are facing a lifetime of PTSD induced nightmares. Also, cheering at movies is stupid.

Overall, I thought the movie was a solid 3.5/5, and admittedly a lot of the enjoyment came from seeing characters I already like on the big screen. Josh kept using the word "okay" which I interpret to mean average, so I guess his non-reader rating would be more like a 2.5/5. We recommend it, but try not to sit next to illiterate dumb asses.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

On Symbols: A Review of Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Finishing Hunger Games left me naturally curious to see how an author could possibly follow up a book like that. Since I was able to borrow this book at no cost and very little inconvenience (thanks, Amazon Prime) I decided to read it right away.

If I sound less than fervently enthusiastic, it's because I was afraid that this book might suffer from MBS (Middle Book Syndrome). It happens to novels in the middle of series with a pre-ordained number of books. Remember how Goblet of Fire, book four in the Harry Potter series, was the one with the abrupt tone shift from happy magic boarding school to "Holy crap, people are dying!"? (Although, oddly, I think book 5 was the bigger MBS sufferer in that series). Or there's Lord of the Rings, where so little happens in The Two Towers that you could almost skip it and miss nothing. Crossed by Allie Condie has MBS so bad that the characters spent most of the book wandering around in a canyon waiting for plot to occur. MBS is a serious problem, people. Authors just don't know what to do with that middle book. If all of the exposition and world building goes in the first book(s), and the climax is saved for the last book(s), then we need the middle book to make a bridge between the two--without being boring or losing focus, and it has to still have a satisfying beginning, middle, and end of its own. Keep that in mind when we get to the critical comments.

Enough ranting, what's the plot? That's a damn good question. Basically, Katnis returns to District 12 where she is supposed to be happy and victorious and in love...but in reality, her worries have only multiplied. She has no idea what her feelings for Peeta really are, and there's Gale to consider. The Capitol is out to get her, because her actions in the Games have unintentionally incited rebellion in the districts. The president more or less tells Katnis that if she can't find a way to help diffuse the situation, he will find a way to get rid of her. She and Peeta go on a victory tour of the districts that fails to even slightly diffuse anything.

Positive Comments

It's undeniably readable. I read most of it in a one night nonstop marathon, which I found quite enjoyable. There's action, turmoil, angst, rebellion. Decent pacing. All of the things that make a page turner.

I felt like I understood Katnis better in this book. I had a clearer picture of her motivations and emotions. Basically, she's conflicted. Deep inside, she wants to rebel against the Capitol and fight for a better world. But she can't do so without jeopardizing the important people in her life. So instead of grand gestures of defiance, her rebellion leaks out on impulse and to unpredictable degrees. I also really liked the idea of Katnis unwittingly becoming a symbol for rebellion. She's panicked by it, and sort of bemused, but reluctantly awesome is still awesome.

Critical Comments

The kindest thing I can say about the plot is: at least it's not boring. Boring is perhaps the worst symptom of MBS. Unfortunately, it's still a clear MBS victim for the simple reason that things just don't really happen in this book. Much of Katnis's homecoming is described in an after the fact, detached sort of way that sucks the emotion right out of it. The romantic tension is still lacking for me (more on that in a minute). The climax is basically a repeat of the first book. And then, at the very end of the end, we get a big reveal and a cliffhanger. So really, there's action, it's never boring, but the progress in the overarching plot is next to none.

I don't think Suzanne Collins knows how to create romantic tension. That's not necessarily something to be ashamed of, lots of popular authors can't ("It happens to a lot of guys!"). But with that in mind, I can't imagine why she sets up the Peeta/Gale dilemma for Katnis. I really don't feel emotionally attached to either relationship. There aren't enough raw, genuine moments between Katnis and either of them to really make me believe it's true and everlasting love. She obviously cares for them. She's willing to die for Peeta, but who can tell if that's love or guilt or wanting him to be the leader of the rebellion after she dies? Relationship building in this book fails completely


Obviously if your reading the series, you have to read the middle book. No getting around it. This one suffers from a mild case of MBS, but it could have been a lot worse. So yes, I still recommed it. 3.5 stars.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

On Paris: A Review of Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Anna and the French Kiss is the latest in a string of YA novels that I've been glutting down lately, because apparently I'm in that kind of mood. It's also by far the most romantic thing I've read in awhile, which is really saying something.

Anna's parents force her to attend a boarding school for American students in Paris. At first, she's angry and beyond panicked to be left alone in a foreign country. But she quickly falls in with a tight knit group of friends. Best of all, she meets Etienne St. Clair, an English/American, French speaking, all around gorgeous and friendly boy...who is, unfortunately, in a relationship. Faced with feelings they cannot act upon, Anna and St. Clair become best friends, supporting each other through a year of emotional turmoil. All the while, Anna falls more deeply in love with him, and is tormented by the question: Does he feel the same?

Positive Comments

I'm a sucker for the "friends first" kind of love stories. Something similar actually happened to me--I met me now fiance when we were both in relationships, so we were friends for months before it was able to become something more. For me, that's what makes Anna and Etienne's relationship so great. They tease, laugh, get to know one another, support one another through tough stuff, face all of the problems that real friends face. The hopeless love is just the icing on the cake of the amazing friendship fairytale for me.

Anna makes a charming narrator. She's incredibly easy to relate to. Shy at first, a bit helpless, just waiting to be dragged out of her shell. And when she finally does start to gain some independence and confidence, you cheer her on all the way.

I liked that all of the characters had flaws and personal issues. Usually YA authors muck things up by making their characters too perfect, or giving them token flaws--"She's clumsy!" "He's overprotective!" But Perkins dodges that bullet. Anna has some genuine social issues, and doesn't seem to really know how to handle relationships. Etienne has a morbid fear of change and uncertainty that paralyses him in many ways. They both have daddy issues. They both have bad teeth. Like real people.

It's set in freaking Paris. That's never been really high on my list of vacation spots but God, I want to go there now! The food alone...I swear, some paragraphs were pure food porn that had my mouth watering like mad.

Critical Comments

The happy ending is so late in the book! I felt a little sad at the end, because I really wanted to see more of Anna and Etienne happy and together. I like sappiness, and there just wasn't quite enough for my tastes.

I also felt really freaking bad for Etienne's girlfriend, Ellie. She's written to come across as kind of aloof and bitchy, so that maybe readers won't feel too bad for her, but I still did. Having been cheated on, I have trouble forgiving guys that come even close to being unfaithful and, well...It goes back to the fact that Etienne is written like a real guy who does real dumb guy things. I like this, but still--poor Ellie.


Any contemporary romance fan would like this. It's not a really "young" sort of YA, but there's nothing graphic either, so I feel safe recommending it to both teen and adult audiences. The author has a great voice, the characters are likeable, the setting is fantastic, and the romance is fresh and fun. 4.5 stars.

Buy from Amazon: Anna and the French Kiss

Saturday, March 17, 2012

On Photographers: A Review of The Look of Love by Bella Andre

Sometimes a reader, especially a romance reader, finds herself wanting something...silly. Pointless. Something full of cheese and so sugary sweet it's almost unbearable. I wanted the book equivalent of cheesecake. So I went looking and found The Look of Love and thought, what the heck, I'll put this on the March reading list.

I got what I wanted.

Let's take a look at the plot, using the Romance Cliche Counter.

Chase Sullivan comes from a huge family of siblings, who are all of marrying age but not married (1), and who all have interesting jobs like vineyard owner and photographer (2). Choe, on the other hand, was an only child who has always felt alone and longed to be part of something bigger (3). She's recently escaped an abusive relationship (4), only to have to flee into the night when the abusive ex returns. She crashes her car and Chase rescues her (5). Because he wants to help her, he makes the irrational call of coercing her to stay with him (6) at his brothers guest house until she sorts out her life. The two fall in lust instantly (7) and love not long after (8). Chloe wants to insist on a friends with benefits fling, while Chase wants more (9). Chloe helps Chase with his photo shoot and in doing so gains new purpose and self confidence (10). They have lots of steamy sex (11). Eventually the ex pops back into the picture, and...I think you can guess where this is going.

Positive Comments

There's nothing inherently wrong with using cliches in this type of book. It's almost expected, and honestly certain cliches and tropes are things that I seek out and hope to find in all of my romance novels--#11 being an important one. I knew what I was getting into with this book, I saw the cliches coming, and I was able to immerse myself in the story anyway. That's the sign of a good, or at least passable author.

And #11 was so very, very well done. I didn't expect this book to have that going for it, based on the cover and title, but it's chalk full of hotness.

There's no point in pretending that I don't like to read about heroes with interesting jobs. That's part of the fun of contemporary romance for me. And even though I wonder why there are so many gorgeous firefighters and business men and so few, I don't know, evolutionary geneticists in romanceland, it's nice to escape to those different lives. I like the details about Chase's photo shoot, and the fact that it takes place on a vineyard in California.

I liked that Chloe wasn't a complete melted blob of insecurity. I really, really hate seeing heroines pull the melted blob routine. I got worried when the pencil thin models for Chase's photo shoot were introduced, after we'd been told that Chloe is more curvy. I thought "Oh God, she's about to worry over her weight and how Chase sees her, and she'll start eating nothing but watercress and eventually Chase will have to prove to her that he finds her attractive...probably through sex." That's one cliche I can't stand. But it doesn't happen! Chloe looks and the models, looks at herself, has a tiny moment of "I suck" and then shrugs it off. She has an ass and she's just going to live with it. Thank you. I really like Chloe overall--she's spirited and fun and not predictable.

Critical Comments

The pacing is just way the hell off. The instant attraction thing is fine. But the lightning speed at which the emotional relationship progresses damages what little believability a book like this has. Chase goes from single and fine with it to "I will marry this woman and make adorable babies with her!" in under a week. It's hard to even get to know a person in that sparse amount of time, let alone for strong emotional ties, let alone decide that they should be your spouse. The relationship building is sloppy and rushed.

This book is not grounded in anything remotely close to reality. The pace is too fast, the characters make decisions that no one in their position would make, their reactions are unrealistic (but plot convenient), and their personalities and world views are far too clean cut and straight forward. It's contrived and full of wish fulfillment.


If, like me, you want something silly on occasion, and you like contemporary romance, give this one a shot. 3 stars.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Things I Read For Love: Muppet Snow White

First, A Quickish Intro

One of the great things about being in a relationship, or even a friendship in some cases, is that being around someone with very different tastes and interests exposes you to things that you would never have come across otherwise. Josh, my ever faithful fiance, has been introduced to things like Supernatural and Once Upon a Time, the joy of searching for Monster High dolls, and the awesome concept of Chinese food because of me. In turn, I've sat through Futurama and Venture Brothers, and learned lots of varied uses for hot sauce. So with this in mind, I'm presenting Things I Read For Love as a new semi-regular post, to appear perhaps once a month or so, in which I read and review something from his bookshelf. And what better choice could there be than a fairy tale retelling.

This graphic novel features all the usual Muppets in the roles of the Snow White characters--Miss Piggy as the evil queen, Kermit as the prince, Electric Mayhem as the seven dwarfs, and so forth. Gonzo and Rizzo play the Brothers Grimm and serve as narrators. This leads to a lot of "behind the scenes" and "forth wall" jokes, and makes for a fairly original and entertaining retelling.

Positive Comments

The Muppets are fun. Certainly this would appeal to a child audience, but it isn't limited to that. It's not so babyish that you feel stupid reading it. There are jokes and references that only long time Muppet fans are likely to get.

It's well drawn. I'm far from an expert in art of any kind, but my few prior experiences with comic books have taught me that bad art can be supper distracting. Fortunately that's not the case here.

I liked the humor. Gonzo has always been my favorite Muppet character, and he and Rizzo are undeniably amusing in this book. I liked some of the liberties they took with the story, and how they helped to enhance that humor.

Critical Comments

They break the forth wall too often, in my opinion. That kind of humor works for me in part because of it's rarity and unexpectedness. When you do it on every other page, it loses that unexpectedness and just becomes corny.

I also felt that there were way too many added characters. Pepe annoyed me, but I find that that's true in almost everything he appears in. Bobo shows up and is amusing, but also unnecessary. It felt as though the author wanted to cram in as many Muppet characters as possible, whether they would serve a purpose to the story or not.


This happens to be impossible to find at the moment. Occasionally a used copy will show up on Amazon for an only semi-ridiculous price, but that's about it. Still, if you do come across a copy and you're a fan of the Muppets, I'd recommend it. It was worth my time. 3 stars.

Josh's Footnote: The title character is played by seldom seen Muppets Tonight character Spamela Hamderson.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

On Cyborgs: A Review of Cinder by Marissa Meyer

The second I saw the cover art, I knew that Cinder was going to be a must read for me. Not only is it a fairy tale retelling, which I consider one of my personal specialties, it also happens to be a futuristic sci-fi novel. Two of my preferred genres in one? Yes, please.
The story is exactly what the cover hints at. It's the story of Cinderella, retold in a futuristic setting, in which Cinder is a cyborg. And a mechanic, among other things. She first meets the prince when he asks her to fix his android, and the two form an instant connection (not Disney instant...romance novel instant, which is a step up). The prince, Kai, is literally plagued with problems. His father is dieing, and he will soon be taking over as emperor of the Eastern Commonwealth (most of Asia, I believe). The kingdom suffers from an incurable disease, and the political threats from the Lunars. Cinder's own family is touched by the disease, and she soon becomes wrapped up in the search for a cure. Amidst all of this, a romance blossoms, and Cinder secretly wants more than anything to dance with the prince at his ball.

Positive Comments

Awesome characters. Cinder has a lot of the traditional Cinderella traits--the dedication to hard work, patience, kindness, and humility--but she also has a bit of an attitude. She has a barely suppressed rebellious streak. And unlike traditional Cinderella, she takes actions to try to change her lot in life. I like that. Kai is a great match for her. He's charming and caring, just as we would expect, but he also shows signs of flaws and doubts. He has a huge weight on his shoulders, and he shows that strain. He puts his country and his people first. All of this has really just made me want to see them together more.

The plots and subplots are incredibly vivid and interesting. I liked the concept of cyborgs, and the idea that people would be prejudice against them felt realistic to me. I also liked that this gave Cinder's stepmother and sister a reason to hate and mistreat her, other than "I don't like you and your father is dead, so suck it." I liked the disease plot, and the teeny bit of science that went with that. I liked the political drama. I harbor a secret fondness for political drama in novels, when delivered in small doses. I like the the politics in the Kushiel's Legacy books, for example. Moving on...

The world building is simply enthralling. I want it to be a show or a video game or for there to be about 12 more books so that I can immerse myself in this world for days on end. I want to know more about the Lunars and their abilities, I want to understand the Earthen politics, I want to know more about the plague and all of the people it's affected. I want to meet more cyborgs. I want to understand all the technology, and I want to know how it is that the robots seem to feel emotion.

Critical Comments

Ok, I know what your thinking: She's about to name something really trivial just to be contrary. Just so she doesn't have to hand out the rare and much coveted 5 star rating. Yeah that's...kind of true. But this is a real flaw, if a small one. The plot is predictable. The big reveal at the end? Not much of a reveal. I don't think the author meant it to be, though. I think we were meant to figure the mystery out long before the characters do. But the point still stands.


This book is a YA, so if you really hate teen oriented books I guess this one is out for you. But otherwise, I seriously recommend giving it a try. If you're a sci-fi fan, a fairy tale fan, or even a romance fan, you'll like this book. 4.5 stars.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

On Procreation: A Review of Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Glow was a wild card pick for me. I really wanted to try incorporating more science fiction in my reading each month, and this was the first one I found when I went looking for them.

This YA novel focuses on Waverly and her boyfriend Kieran, members of the first generation of humans to be born in deep space. Their ship, the Empyrean, together with it's sister ship, New Horizon, serve as a kind of Noah's arc of humanity and everything they will need to survive on a New Earth after Earth as we know it has been destroyed. In a sudden and unexpected betrayal, the New Horizon attacks the Empyrean and takes all of the young girls captive. The girls are told that they're being rescued and that the Empyrean has suffered a tragic accident and all of it's inhabitants are dead. Waverly quickly sees through their lies, but is powerless to stop their plans to use the girls for their own selfish goals. Meanwhile, Kieran is left on a ship with no able bodied adults, responsible for dozens of depressed and hopeless boys. Seth, his rival, is eager to seize control, but his cruelty makes him an unfit leader and puts all of the boys in jeopardy.

Positive Comments

This is a smart book. It deals with quite a few dark and difficult topics, and does so without becoming dull or predictable. We see teens dealing with power, abuse, duty, grief, hope, and religion. I especially enjoyed Kieran's journey, in which you see him struggling to become a fit leader who provides hope and purpose, in a journey that may take him down a very dark path. This idea of whether or not it's okay to use religion and the concept of God as a leadership tool is fascinating to me, and I liked that this book looked at the issue from multiple angles.

The character development and character building is rich and detailed. Waverly was an accurately written teenage girl, struggling with enormous responsibilities that are often in opposition with her emotions. I enjoyed seeing Kieran, who was initially regarded as perfect, find chinks in his own armor and attempt to overcome them. I liked the contrast between he and Seth. I liked Seth's dark back story, and the fact that he is a dark but not necessarily evil character. I even felt that the villains were well written and, from a certain point of view, sympathetic.

Critical Comments

As far as science fiction goes, this book is light on the science. For many of us, that's a good thing. But if you really like your scifi world building to go heavy on the technical explanations, you'll be pretty out of luck with this book.

Like wise, if you're reading this for the romance, you're bound to be unimpressed. Waverly and Kieran to care greatly for one another, but they spend most of the book apart. Even when they are together, Waverly is understandably uncertain about the relationship. So I wouldn't bet any money on the staying power of that relationship.


This is a great book for both teen and adult scifi fans. It's creative, thoughtful, well paced, and well written. 3.5 stars.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

On Tributes: A Pseudo-Review of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I don't usually read books just because they're popular, and I don't usually read books just because there's a movie coming out. But as I've begun to enjoy more dystopian novels, it became clear to me that I was avoiding this one just because it's popular, and that seemed silly of me.

Even having overcome that, I still almost hesitate to review this because it has frankly been reviewed to death. What can I possibly say about this book that hasn't already been said dozens of times? Probably nothing. So instead of my usual like/dislike/recommendation format, I'm simply going to list what my expectations were when I went into this book--expectations based on what I read, was told, and saw in the movie trailers.

1)It has a strong heroine

Yes, it does. Katnis is a survivor by nature. She's strong and defiant and almost cold. But she has people she loves, people she'll do anything for, and you can't help but like her for that. Even when she does some unlikable things.

2) It's Really Violent!

This tends to be something everyone really focuses on about this book, especially with a PG-13 movie coming out. How are they going to get all that child death with a PG-13 rating?! Oh, easily. I'm not saying this book was a picnic on unicorn island to see the bunny festival, but it wasn't as gory as everyone built it up to me. Eleven of the twenty four contestants die right as the games open, and Katnis only clearly sees one of them happen. Then Katnis hears an idiot who built a fire die, but again sees nothing. Two die from bee stings, one from poison. They don't see Thresh die. A lot of the big deaths happen at night, happen quickly, and could easily be pulled off with very little blood if the film-makers are clever.

That being said, yes, it is a book about death and survival. It's about trying to keep your humanity when you're commanded to kill or die. So there has to be some violence.

3) It's about Defying The System.

This book sets you up for some epic show of defiance against the Capitol. Early on, you realize that Peeta has feelings for Katnis, and she begins to soften toward him as well. So my expectation was that it would come down to the two of them, and Katnis would have this big choice to make. Does she kill him, take her own life, refuse to do anything...this moment was extremely predictable from the beginning of the book. It loses something in the way of epicness as a result. It came across, to me, as a moment of impulsive resistance instead of a conscious decision to dent the system.

4) There's a romance

...That was lukewarm to me. This is where I sort of disliked Katnis. Does she feel anything for Peeta? Not until it becomes convenient too. When she's told they can both win. Then she wants him. Before this point, it doesn't even occur to her to help him. I'm baffled by this decision from the author, to have the Capitol lie to them and thus force them together.  Why not have them come together on their own despite it all? To me, that would have been more rebellious and more romantic and it would have made that final moment of defiance seem as epic as it should have. Instead, I'm left not really trusting Katnis's feelings or the entire romance in general.

Final Thoughts: It's a good novel. It (at least somewhat) deserves it's outstanding popularity. But, to me, it has some serious flaws that will likely keep it off of my Read Again list. 4 stars.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

On Transitions: A Review of Crossed by Ally Condie

Crossed by Ally Condie is the sequel to Matched, which was one of the books that sparked my interest in dystopian novels. I was captivated by the subtle romance that it introduced, as well as it's thought provoking plot.

In Crossed, Cassia has broken away from Society to travel into the Outer Provinces in an effort to find Ky. Along the way, she learns of the Rising, an organized rebellion against the society. Joining the Rising becomes her new goal in life. Ky, who has already seen the dark side of the Rising, wants more than anything never to join up again. Xander, Cassia's official match, still lingers on her mind, along with the secrets he may be keeping from her.

Positive Comments

I still enjoy the relationship dynamics. Cassia and Ky are (somewhat inexplicably) believable as a romantic couple. I found Cassia's pursuit of him exciting. It showed the development she's undergone so far and proved, to me,  that she is a strong and intelligent heroine.

I liked the new characters introduced. Vick, Ky's friend, offers a tragic love story to offset the sweetness of Ky and Cassia. Eli, who reminds Ky and Cassia of Bram (Cassia's little brother), is something of a plot moppet. He shows us the nurturing side of the older characters. Indie is by far the most interesting of the new characters. She's incredibly self serving, at times approaching unlikeable, but at least she isn't predictable.

Critical Comments

I was honestly hoping, that after such a slow and exposition filled first book, that we'd see more action in this one. That's kind of the case. But it's still very, very slow. There's a lot of unnecessary time spent on bland and repetitive topics. As a result, the book never really gets to a satisfying climax. I understand that this is the mid-trilogy transition book, but I don't think a little more attention to pacing is too much to ask.

Seriously, what's up with all the poetry in these YA books? Now, I happen to have a disability of sorts when it comes to poetry--I just don't get it. But even if I did, and even if your average straight teenage boy also got it (ha), it would still get stale after awhile. Most teenage couples I've known have better ways to spend their time than reading poetry to one another. Maybe I'm coming across as jaded here, I don't know. But I've now seen this particular thing often enough that it's become cliche. Cut it out, YA authors.

Cassia's naivety when it comes to the Rising bugged me. As did the fact that Ky didn't really attempt to fully disclose to her what being in the rising would mean. She whines a lot about wanting to make her own choices, but she doesn't seem overly concerned with making informed decisions.


If you liked the first book, you'll get through this one just fine. It's not as good, but it still has some of the better elements from the first one. On the other hand, if you disliked or felt neutrally toward the first book, this one is not going to change your mind about the trilogy. In general, if you like dystopians, you should give Matched a try. This is shaping up to be a decent series. 3 stars.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Best Book of February/March Preview

It was a rough month for reading, folks. Three DNFs that I didn't even get far enough into to feel comfortable writing a DNF review.

And the award for most awesome book read in February goes to...Indigo by Beverley Jenkins! It might be older, but this unique historical romance made me feel good. It was definitely the bright spot in a mostly dull and mediocre group.

So, what am I reading next? I'm really excited about quite a few of these books. Here's the list...

Crossed by Ally Condie --I'm a little over 50% done and really enjoying it.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins--Yes, I am only reading this because there's a movie coming out. Shame on me! I'm about 25% into it, and it is as well written as everyone says.

First Drop of Crimson by Jeaniene Frost

Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Muppet Snow White by Jesse Blaze Snider--Don't ask.

Crescendo by Becca Fitzpatrick

The Look of Love by Bella Andre

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Ill Wind by Rachel Caine

I'm trying to mix up my sub-genres a little more, to avoid the much dreaded reading burn out. What's in your soon to read pile? Anything exciting? Share with the group!
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