Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Splintered by A.G. Howard

“But I don’t want to go among mad people," Alice remarked.
"Oh, you can’t help that," said the Cat: "we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad."
"How do you know I’m mad?" said Alice.
"You must be," said the Cat, or you wouldn’t have come here.”

Splintered is an updated version of Alice in Wonderland, one with more grit and unexpected horrors. Horrors along the lines of a skeletal white rabbit, man-eating flowers, and pretty much everything and everyone wants to kill you. I'm always game for a twist on the classics, so I was excited for this book.

Our heroine, Alyssa, is the great-great-great granddaughter of the original Alice. Lewis Carroll based his character on her and the stories she told him of disappearing down the rabbit hole. Alice's life took a turn for the worse in old age. She woke up one day claiming to have spent 75 years trapped in a cage in Wonderland, and was unable to identify her family. Then her grandmother jumped out a window under the belief that she could fly. Now, Alyssa's mother, Alison, resides in a sanatorium. She talks to flowers and insects, dresses like Alice from the story, and only eats or drinks from a teacup.

Ever since hitting puberty, Alyssa has heard the same voices from flowers and insects. She never told anyone because she was afraid to end up in the same place as her mother. After a stressful visit, and news that her mother will be undergoing electroshock therapy, Alyssa is determined to visit Leeds, England, home of the original Alice. She will find the rabbit hole and break the family curse before it destroys her mother, and her as well.

Once Alyssa arrives in Wonderland, things aren't as simple as she'd hoped. First, she accidentally drags along her childhood friend/love of her life Jed. Second, this Wonderland is a far cry from the children's story. Emphasis on the "everyone wants to kill and/or eat you." The biggest obstacle of all is her forgotten childhood friend. He is sort of evil and dark, but also believes in her and her abilities while Jed only tries to protect her all the time. I'm a big fan of the anti-heroes in these books, and I loved Morpheus.

This was a fantastic story. I was very impressed with how well it followed Lewis Carroll's books and turned the details around just enough to be unique. After finishing the book, I read some of the beginning over again, and I was even more impressed with the details I recognized after the fact. Of course, I also love adding to my collection of young adult boyfriends. I don't know why the bad ones are always more attractive than the good ones. (It doesn't hurt that Morpheus is described as having a Cockney accent, so I pictured him as Klaus from The Vampire Diaries, who is my favorite on that show right now) My issues aside, Splintered was a great read and I highly recommend the book for any young adult fan out there.

I received my copy of Splintered from Netgalley, courtesy of Amulet Books. It's available now for purchase.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Prophecy by Ellen Oh

Prophecy is the story of Kira, a girl who defies the conventions of her world. She can sense demons possessing people around her, and she hunts and slays them. Because of these abilities, and her breaking of gender roles, other people shun her. They spread rumors about the yellow-eyed girl who is fighting like a man.

Kira also has prophetic dreams, lately about a vast army of demons attacking the palace. As the prince's bodyguard, Kira escorts him away to safety. The Seven Kingdoms are falling to the demons. If they ever hope to restore power, they have to find the fabled treasures told of in the Dragon King Prophecy.

I'm a big fan of girls who kick butt. Kira definitely fit that bill, with bonus points for doing so during a less liberated era. She's like a Korean Mulan, except awesomer because she's fighting demons and cutting their fricking heads off! Move over, Bella Swan, this is a real role model for today's youth.

I received my copy of Prophecy from Edelweiss, courtesy of HarperTeen. It's available for purchase now.

The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde

I've always meant to read Jasper Fforde's books. I actually own a couple of them. I just never got around to it, the daunting task of trying to start an established series (Nursery Crimes or Thursday Next) or in the case of Shades of Grey, distance myself from the other, similar sounding adult series. The Last Dragonslayer was an advanced copy sent to my bookstore, and I snatched it up right away.

It tells the story of a modern world where magic exists, but it has been on the decline. Once powerful practitioners are reduced to home repair and pest control. Jennifer Strange is a foundling who is the acting manager of Kazam, an employment agency for magicians. It turns out that she is also the last dragonslayer, charged with watching the last dragon, Maltcassion. If he breaks the Dragonpact negotiated between the dragons and the Mighty Shandar, then Jennifer will have to kill him. The problem is that if the dragon dies, magic may die along with him.

I'm glad that I can finally say I have read one of Fforde's books. This was a good one, reminiscent of Terry Pratchett. Jennifer Strange is a no-nonsense teenager, one who is sarcastic and tough. My favorite character was the Quarkbeast, the fierce-looking beast she keeps as a pet. He was awesome. Great start to what I hope will be a great series, and I'm definitely looking forward to book two, as it's titled The Song of the Quarkbeast.

I received my copy of The Last Dragonslayer courtesy of Harcourt Children's Books. Thank you for sending it to our bookstore, and I hope that you (and other publishers) keep them coming, as they are appreciated.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes

The one word that best describes Falling Kingdoms is epic. It's a sweeping drama full of magic, violence, and war. It's Game of Thrones for a younger audience.

Falling Kingdoms takes place in three kingdoms. Auranos is wealthy and bountiful, to the point that its people have grown hedonistic and lazy. Paelsia is the poorest kingdom. The people starve while all the farmland is used to grow grapes to make wine that is sold to the people of Auranos. Limeros is a devout kingdom, but they seek more power, which they hope to get by an alliance with Paelsia against Auranos. All they need is a spark to light the fuse.

Cleo, the Princess of Auranos, and her friends were travelling to Paelsia for some wine. Everything seemed fine, until Aron (Cleo's friend, blackmailer, possible future fiancé) gets in an argument over pricing. His offered price is insulting, and the wine seller's sons start to physically attack Aron. He pulls out a knife, and one of the sons is murdered. The fuse is lit. The other son, Jonas, vows to kill both Aron and Cleo (It doesn't seem fair, because Cleo didn't actually do anything and she was obviously upset during the incident). He pushes the kingdom towards an alliance and war.

Meanwhile, in Limeros, Magnus the Prince is in love with his sister. It's icky. He's also busy trying to man up and impress his father. His sister, Lucinda, is dealing with growing pains, which in her case is the awakening of strange new abilities.

There are alternating chapters, jumping between all four character. I was highly anticipating the point when they would cross into each others' stories, and I was not disappointed. The story is bloody and action-packed. I am upset to have to wait for the next book to see any continuation of the story. Falling Kingdoms is definitely a recommendation for anyone looking for a little bit of fantasy and a lot of action.

I received my copy of Falling Kingdoms from Edelweiss, courtesy of Razorbill. It's available for purchase now.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

I love Daniel Handler as Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events. I have a copy of his book Horseradish that I regularly pull off the shelf and look through. I read his book Basic Eight, and I'm going to admit that it creeped me out and therefore we won't be referring to that anymore. All these Daniel Handler-love credentials lead me to read his newest young adult novel, Why We Broke Up.

In the book, Mina is dropping off a box at her now ex-boyfriend Ed's house. The box contains the mementos that make up their relationship, mementos that Mina uses to tell their story. It's a story of stalking old movie stars and basketball games.

This book made me sad because, honestly I know how it ends. They're gonna break up. I liked Ed and Mina together. A lot of the stories made them seem really sweet. I could also see that they were very different people. It was too much contrast for them to stay together forever.

This book was a masterpiece, from the lovely writing to the brilliant illustrations. I loved the surprising heft that the book has as I carry it around. Recommended for the heartbroken, heart-mended, heartless, and everyone in between.

Snow Whyte and the Queen of Mayhem by Melissa Lemon

Here's my review of Melissa Lemon's Cinder and Ella, which I read a little over a year ago. This isn't exactly a series, but they are both fairy tale retellings. I liked Cinder and Ella, and I like Snow Whyte and the Queen of Mayhem even more.

Snow Whyte and the Queen of Mayhem is told by the Magic Mirror. The story starts out with the wicked Queen of Mayhem wishing to kill her baby. The King steals away with the infant girl. Unfortunately, he is killed, but he succeeds in transferring the child to his uncle's care. Young Kat grows up in his apple orchard, never suspecting that she is the princess. Eventually, her uncle grows old and blind, and he becomes cruel towards Kat. Their farmhand, Jeremy, begs her to run away with him. He gives her some money to take care of herself, then he will join her after he takes care of his debts to his family.

Kat runs away to the market, where her uncle had forbidden her to go in case anyone recognized her. She encounters a cruel man auctioning off a dwarf, takes pity on the poor creature, and purchases him. The dwarf takes her to his home, where he lives with six other dwarfs. They invite her to stay. Meanwhile, the Queen finds out that Kat is still alive and sends a young prince from the neighboring kingdom of Mischief to kill her.

Something about this book really appealed to me. It is more faithful to the fairy tale than Cinder and Ella was. I wasn't a big fan of Kat. She seemed very emotionless. Jeremy professed his love to her, and she just had this cold and robotic response. I also thought she was annoying when she coddled the Dopey-equivalent dwarf. Truthfully, I rather liked the story. I'm a big sucker for a happily ever after, and I'd definitely like to see Ms. Lemon write more of her fairy tales.

I received my copy of Snow Whyte and the Queen of Mayhem from Netgalley, courtesy of Cedar Fort, Inc. It's available now.

Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo

Amelia is a 15-year-old who works at the "Land of Dreams," otherwise known as the local supermarket. That moniker was made up by Chris, training supervisor and man of Amelia's dreams. Amelia pines after him, wishing she were older or more edgy and mature like some of her other coworkers.

We get to read some of Chris' journal entries. At first, Amelia is mentioned maybe once or twice in passing, but they get closer as the story progresses. Amelia starts to go out with the grocery store crew more, and there's lots of alcohol involved.

I really felt for poor Amelia. She was so naïve and so awkward! She would talk to Chris and she had such a young view on life, like her English reading assignments. It's adorable. I couldn't help but worry about her when she started drinking at parties. It's difficult to root for your fifteen-year-old protagonist to get together with a twenty-one-year-old, but at the same time you kind of want it to happen. Therefore, this was a bit of a bittersweet tale, but it also had a good bit of humor to lighten the mood.

I received my copy of Love and Other Perishable Items from Edelweiss, courtesy of Knopf Books for Young Readers. It's available now.

Rebel Heart by Moira Young

You can read my review of the first book in the Dustlands series, Blood Red Road, here. I LOVE THESE BOOKS. It's a little frustrating to me that this series doesn't seem to get much press. Be warned, there are some spoilers for the first book here.

Rebel Heart picks up after Blood Red Road, after Saba has found Lugh. There was a battle. Many were lost. Jack left Saba to inform Molly the tavern owner that her beloved won't be coming back. Meanwhile, Saba, Lugh, and Emmi are travelling west, towards lands untouched by the Tonton army.

Unfortunately, Lugh is acting like an a-hole, plain and simple. He accuses Saba of being blinded by her love for Jack, he whines that she didn't rescue him sooner (She was a little busy cage fighting!), and then he pretty much says that she is a slut who Jack is using for sex. I think he might have just had some really traumatic experiences during his captivity, but it's not really a good excuse. Get over yourself, Lugh.

Poor Saba is busy being haunted by dead people. In the battle at the end of Blood Red Road, Saba ended up having to kill one of the Nighthawks (A group of female rebels) so that the enemy wouldn't capture and torture her. Because of this, Saba can hardly shoot her bow and arrow. It's also one of the reasons that Lugh gets frustrated with her. Saba stops sleeping and eating, and she's just a mess. She sees all the people that she killed around her constantly.

After the fall of Vicar Pinch and his army, his second in command DeMalo gains control. The Tontons have been recruiting the young and able-bodied to repopulate the land, killing those less young and able-bodied. DeMalo has his sights set on Saba. The army has instructions to bring her straight to him, because he kind of has a crush on her. Just to complicate things more, there are rumors that Jack has been riding with the Tonton army, and then he shows up with them and takes her sister!

There's so much going on in this book. It really is almost as good as Blood Red Road. My main complaint is that there is less Jack, and Jack isn't quite as funny. Since his main plot involves telling a woman that the love of her life is dead, this is understandable. The story progresses nicely in this book, and I am majorly pumped to read the third book in the series. With the way everything seems to go in the first two, I'd be surprised if anyone makes it out alive.

I received my copy of Rebel Heart from Edelweiss, courtesy of Margaret K. McElderry Books. It's available now in hardcover. Blood Red Road is available in paperback.

Burning Blue by Paul Griffin

Burning Blue tells the story of an awful crime. Nicole Castro was the most beautiful girl at her New Jersey high school. She was even a beauty queen. In one horrible moment, an unknown assailant splashed her face with acid.

Jay is a loner because he avoids other people after a few unfortunate seizures that made their way onto Youtube. He is also a super hacker, though he feigns technological ignorance as a cover. Jay is the narrator of our story, the one who gathers emails from the attacker, diary entries from Nicole, and newspaper articles on the attack. The more time passes, the less likely the odds that the crime will be solved. Because of this, Jay decides that he has to be the one to find out who attacked Nicole and why.

This was a very intense book, for obvious reasons. I remember reading about a similar attack on a woman a few years ago, and it turned out that she had thrown acid on her own face. It's very frightening to think that something like this could happen to me someday.

I really liked Jay. His computer skills were impressive, especially to a novice like me. The friendship he forms with Nicole is really sweet. I definitely love a teenage detective story. Not to give anything away, the ending was actually pretty creepy, though the journey to getting to that end is the best part of the book.

Black City by Elizabeth Richards

Black City is the story of a world where vampires exist. They are segregated from humans by a wall, guarded on both sides to keep them separate. The Darklings (Known also by the derogatory term "Nippers" because the racism angle is really being pushed) are treated as second-class citizens. Humans and Darklings cannot court each other. This offense is punishable by death.

Ash is a Halfling, born of a human father and Darkling mother. He bites people for money, as addicts pay for the high that comes from vampire venom, or Haze. Because he is part of both worlds, Ash doesn't truly belong with either humans or Darklings. His best friend, Beetle, works with a group of humans that want to break down the wall and let humans and Darklings live together. Ash, being the lost emo half-vampire, refuses to take part.

Natalie is the daughter of the Emissary. She has to deal with an obviously evil mother and a poor maimed sister. Upon moving back to the city, she encounters Ash. It's hate at first sight. They quarrel constantly, but they also have a strange connection. Whenever Ash is around Natalie, his still heart starts beating.

It's Romeo and Juliet meets Birth of a Nation meets Twilight! Overall, I enjoyed Black City. My issues were with Natalie's character at the beginning. She is incredibly naive about Darklings and her mother. My biggest problem with her was how she treated her friend Day. Day used to date Beetle, but broke up with him because of his Haze addiction. She thinks that Ash is a bad influence on Beetle and disagrees with Natalie and Ash dating. Natalie pretty much kicks Day out of her life completely, which seemed incredibly harsh because Day had every right to be upset with Ash. Anyways, Black City has a great premise and I love that cover. It's a bit heavy-handed, but it has potential.

I received my copy of Black City from Edelweiss, courtesy of Putnam Juvenile. It's available for purchase now.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Moranthology by Caitlin Moran

The intro to Moranthology illustrates Caitlin Moran's writing career. She figures out that the writing she is best at is just funny. This book shows her talent at its best.

Moranthology hops, skips, and jumps over a vast variety of subjects. We hear about the British television shows that everyone loves. Moran has a crush on Benedict Cumberbatch, just like me and everyone else who has seen him work his stuff on Sherlock. Her Doctor Who experiences made me very jealous. Plus, there was some Downton Abbey content that was really funny.

Her writing about her family and late night conversations with her husband are fantastic. She even gets a bit serious by talking about her stance on welfare and libraries. I marvel at her ability to balance gravity with yet more humor. Plus, anyone who loves libraries is a friend of mine.

I really loved How to Be a Woman. Moran brought up important topics about feminism, while also discussing the fun and not-so-fun parts of being a woman. It was also incredibly funny, which was why I jumped at the chance to read anything else by this author. Moranthology did not disappoint. If nothing else, I'll always agree with her that this man is incredible:

I received my copy of Moranthology from Edelweiss, courtesy of Harper Perennial. It's available for purchase now.

Venom by Fiona Paul

Venom is another in my streak of historic young adult novels with female protagonists. This time the narrator is Cassandra and she lives in Venice during the Renaissance. Her story begins at the funeral of one of her close friends. The body disappears from its tomb just a few days later.

At the same time, Cass encounters Falco. Cass is actually engaged to a young man that she hasn't seen in years, and she is dreading the wedding. As it is, she has very little freedom from her aunt, after getting married she will be trapped forever. So Cass is drawn to Falco, a young artist who teases her and quarrels with her and takes her on crazy adventures to brothels to find her dead friend's body.

Throughout the story, there are quotes from some organization called the Order of the Eternal Rose. They have something to do with bodies disappearing from tombs. Then a maid's body is found in the canal, and all suspicions point to a powerful man. It's all very thrilling, plus there are pretty dresses. It is very much like the Renaissance Italy Gossip Girl (Which was what the review described it as and why I wanted to read it). I wasn't a huge fan of Falco, but I never cared for Dan Humphrey much (Gossip Girl character who is poor and artsy). Overall, it was a good read. There is an exciting ending and room for a sequel, which I will most likely end up reading.

I received my copy of Venom from Edelweiss, courtesy of Philomel. It's available for purchase now.