DNF Review: Since You’ve Been Gone – Morgan Matson

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Summary:

It was Sloane who yanked Emily out of her shell and made life 100% interesting. But right before what should have been the most epic summer, Sloane just…disappears. All she leaves behind is a to-do list.

On it, thirteen Sloane-inspired tasks that Emily would normally never try. But what if they could bring her best friend back?

Apple picking at night? Okay, easy enough.

Dance until dawn? Sure. Why not?

Kiss a stranger? Um…

Emily now has this unexpected summer, and the help of Frank Porter (totally unexpected), to check things off Sloane’s list. Who knows what she’ll find?

Go skinny-dipping? Wait…what?

Review:

Okay, a bit of context since I obviously don’t review contemporary fiction on this blog. I was in a Random Questions with Nori (#RQWN) chat a few weeks ago and one of the questions asked us to admit to something popular that we haven’t read. I admitted to not having read contemporary YA. I have read Anthony Breznican’s Brutal Youth, but that’s so outside of the traditional mold that I’m not entirely sure it counts.

Regardless.

Our hostess was so surprised that I had never read any and asked why, and I told her the simple truth: I’ve just never really been a fan of contemporary works, even in the adult form. Well, she asked if she could recommend one book and if I’d give it a chance. Since I do believe in giving books a chance that I otherwise might not, I said sure.

And this is what she recommended it.

As I struggled to make it through the book, i finally today pinpointed why I’m not enjoying this:

I can’t relate to these characters.

At all.

I grew up in the suburbs, the child of two parents who were very much a part of my life. Here we have the classic tropes of both small town girl and flightly parents who can barely be called parents, the sort that are so self-absorbed they seem not to give a shit about their kid. It’s both awful to read (hello, your daughter clearly needs to talk and get your head out of your ass, you’re a parent first a playwright second, you shouldn’t be relieved she has a damn job because it means you can neglect her even more) and plot convenient all in one go. I also think that for a girl with so little stability (couch surfing as a child is not healthy) that she seems awfully stable, if maybe not a little reserved, though I suppose that that is understandable.

So then she has a list of things to do like “hug a Jamie” and “kiss a stranger.” Because this would go down SO well in today’s world. At best, you’re going to get a lot of strange looks. At worst…well, we don’t think about the at worst.

There are the using playlists as means telling us about their character, I guess? It seems lazy at best. Maybe it’s because I’m part of the generation where getting a CD player was a big deal and playlists weren’t a thing until I was well into college.

I don’t know. Everything just seems so clean and pure and relatively wholesome. Kids may be drinking underage, but no gets drunk or does stupid shit like drive while under the influence. I guess in a way contemporary YA are like the teen movies of the 80s (which for the record, I’m not a huge fan of either. I blame it on having to watch Dirty Dancing 93084329084309832 times). Harmless enough and I suppose fulfills that romantic element that I think a lot of people wish for, but don’t have in their own lives.

I get why this book and why this genre appeals to people. But I don’t believe in these kids. They don’t feel real to me. For all my qualms with a book like Brutal Youth they felt like real people for good and for ill and for all that entails. For me though, this is a book about a girl whose friend mysteriously disappears, doesn’t tell anyone that she’s disappeared, and when she gets contact from her in form of a list of things to do she doesn’t get mad that her friend went silent, or didn’t send an explanation, she’s like OK, awesome! And just…yeah. Not happening.

There is clearly an audience for this book, and clearly I am just not it. But at least I can say I gave it a chance, which I’m glad to have done. I do think that if this is the kind of thing that you’re into, that you’ll enjoy it.

The Flux (‘Mancer #2) -Ferrett Steinmetz

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Summary:

Love something enough, and your obsession will punch holes through the laws of physics. That devotion creates unique magics: videogamemancers. Origamimancers. Culinomancers. But when ‘mancers battle, cities tremble…
ALIYAH TSABO-DAWSON: The world’s most dangerous eight-year-old girl. Burned by a terrorist’s magic, gifted strange powers beyond measure. She’s furious that she has to hide her abilities from her friends, her teachers, even her mother – and her temper tantrums can kill.
PAUL TSABO: Bureaucromancer. Magical drug-dealer. Desperate father. He’s gone toe-to-toe with the government’s conscription squads of brain-burned Unimancers, and he’ll lie to anyone to keep Aliyah out of their hands – whether Aliyah likes it or not.
THE KING OF NEW YORK: The mysterious power player hell-bent on capturing the two of them. A man packing a private army of illegal ‘mancers.

Paul’s family is the key to keep the King’s crumbling empire afloat. But offering them paradise is the catalyst that inflames Aliyah’s deadly rebellious streak…

Review:

The ‘Mancer series remains probably the single most creative Urban Fantasy series out there at the moment. The thought that obsession can be turned to actual power is such a fantastic one, and again The Flux does a wonderful job of exploring the possibilities of what could be created through such powers.

The main cast all returns and Paul and Valentine remain as enjoyable to read as ever, and little Aliyah comes into her own quite nicely as does Paul’s ex-wife Imani. The villains are a mixed bag, with some feeling more like stereotyped Bad Guys than others. This is one of those stories that pretty much picks up where the other left off, so if you haven’t read Flex first, make a point to do so.

If I had any gripes about this book is that maybe this book gets a touch too meta. There were plenty of references in the first book as well (inevitable given the videogamemancy going on) and he does do a good job of explaining them as far as the reader needs to know, but at the same point in time, it can be a bit distracting and a bit immersion breaking, it’s really your call.

Finally, as before, I’d put this book into the hard R/HBO drama category – the swearing and the sex don’t comprise huge amounts of the text by any means, but if you don’t want your kids reading about sex so good it literally causes earthquakes, well, consider yourself warned.

While it’s a shame this series isn’t more broadly known, I also kind of understand that the combination of a true contemporary vibe mixed with the meta ‘mancy that can get to feel like overkill does limit its appeal slightly.

Still, this remains a unique universe with heroes you want to cheer on. If you really want some fresh urban fantasy, this remains a solid place to look.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: October 6

Walk on Earth a Stranger

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Summary:

Lee Westfall has a secret. She can sense the presence of gold in the world around her. Veins deep beneath the earth, pebbles in the river, nuggets dug up from the forest floor. The buzz of gold means warmth and life and home—until everything is ripped away by a man who wants to control her. Left with nothing, Lee disguises herself as a boy and takes to the trail across the country. Gold was discovered in California, and where else could such a magical girl find herself, find safety?

Walk on Earth a Stranger, the first book in this new trilogy, introduces—as only Rae Carson can—a strong heroine, a perilous road, a fantastical twist, and a slow-burning romance. Includes a map and author’s note on historical research.

Review:

When you first open up this lovely book, you are greeted with a map of the United States and there these boxes containing place names in over-sized font.  Independence, MO. Fort Hall. Soda Springs. If you’re a child of the late 80s/early 90s as I was, your mind goes to one place: Oregon Trail. All the trials and tribulations your family suffered there are present here, only lovingly fleshed out and our heroine survives.

Make no mistake: this is a western, through and through. Leah’s ability to sense gold is in essence, salt. It gives the story some added depth of flavor, elevating a good story even higher.

I will give credit where it is due: Carson did not impress me with her fantasy. Her world just wasn’t that original and I still have issues with the body issues presented in that book. It was ultimately just okay. Here though, Carson shines. She took her time to do her research. She found a way to create a character that felt like she could be believable: how she goes from respected when they think she’s male, to a demotion to something that’s somewhere between the respect that she had as “Lee” and the second class status that women of the era generally had. There’s a nice cast of side characters and you feel for the camp as they struggle to get across the country.

My only real complaint about the story is that it is a bit slow to get going, but I do think it’s interesting enough to keep you reading all the way through.

It’s nice to see YA get some quality books in genres outside fantasy, and even more to find one with crossover appeal is fantastic.

I’m willing to wager that most of the people reading this blog haven’t really read a Western before (*raises my own hand*) and this seems like a fine place to start.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now.

Court of Fives (Court of Fives #1) – Kate Elliot

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Summary:

On the Fives court, everyone is equal.

And everyone is dangerous.

Jessamy’s life is a balance between acting like an upper-class Patron and dreaming of the freedom of the Commoners. But away from her family, she can be whomever she wants when she sneaks out to train for the Fives, an intricate, multilevel athletic competition that offers a chance for glory to the kingdom’s best competitors.

Then Jes meets Kalliarkos, and an improbable friendship between the two Fives competitors—one of mixed race and the other a Patron boy—causes heads to turn. When Kal’s powerful, scheming uncle tears Jes’s family apart, she’ll have to test her new friend’s loyalty and risk the vengeance of a royal clan to save her mother and sisters from certain death.

In this imaginative escape into an enthralling new world, World Fantasy Award finalist Kate Elliott’s first young adult novel weaves an epic story of a girl struggling to do what she loves in a society suffocated by rules of class and privilege

Review:

If I were to use a word to describe Court of Five it would be this: solid.

It is a book that will please fans of the genre. But will it stand out in an increasingly crowded YA field? Would I recommend it as an introduction to the genre? The answer to both questions is “probably not.” Would I recommend it to a fan of Kate’s adult books? Eh.

The biggest issue is that while there are glimpses of the creativity normally seen in her books in terms of the world building, they do not occur to the final 20% of the book. Until that point, this book is somewhat routine fare: talented heroine, almost over-the-top evil villain, has to fight to save her family. The coat of paint is decently fresh, but you’ve read variations on this theme before.

And that’s the problem: nothing stands out too terribly much. I finished the book not ten minutes ago and our heroine left so little impact on me that it took a moment to remember her name…and even then I remembered her name (Jes) and had to correct myself from the summary (Jessamy, I thought it Jessalyn). This is a problem. The male friend/love interest doesn’t fare much better. He’s fairly generic Good Guy prince.

Finally, per Kate, the competition takes its inspiration from “American Ninja Warrior.” It’s a homage that works decently on the page, but I imagine if you haven’t watched, it may not do anything do anything for you.

Overall this book is good, but not great. Elliot is a skilled enough author that she makes the transition to Young Adult seamlessly, it’s just a shame that she hewed so close to the expected. There’s absolutely an audience for this book, I just don’t see it appealing outside them.

Verdict: Borrow it

Available: Now

Owl and the City of Angels (The Adventures of Owl #2) – Kristi Charish

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Summary:

The wild second adventure for unforgettable antiquities thief Owl—a modern-day “Indiana Jane” who reluctantly navigates the hidden supernatural world—from the pen of rising urban fantasy star Kristi Charish. For fans of Kim Harrison, Jim Butcher, Jennifer Estep, Jenn Bennett, and the like.

Alix Hiboux, better known as Owl, international antiquities thief for hire, is settling into her new contract job for Vegas mogul Mr. Kurosawa, a red dragon with a penchant for ancient, supernatural artifacts. And now he has his sights set on some treasures of the mysterious Syrian City of the Dead that are sitting in a recluse’s private collection.

There’s just one wrinkle. To stop the resurrection of an undead army that could wreak havoc on Los Angeles, Owl must break into a heavily guarded archaeological sight in one of the most volatile regions in the world. A detour through Libya and a run-in with Somali pirates sends the clock ticking hastily toward total paranormal disaster.

Meanwhile, Alexander and the Paris vampires have stopped stalking Owl’s apartment, but they have by no means forgotten their death grudge against her. To top everything off, Owl finds out the hard way that there is nothing heavenly about the City of Angels…

Review:

Okay, let’s just get this out of the way: I’m still not a fan of the naming conventions of the series (kind of generic, the locales in the title play significant roles, but are never the main players in the story) nor the cover art (as generic urban fantasy as you can get) and both do a disservice to fact that this is one one of the better new urban fantasy series to come along in quite some time. I suppose I should throw a comment in there about the summary too. It’s not exactly deceptive, but it hardly gets the plot right either as events in the summary are opposite of how they are in the book, or emphasize plot elements that are kind of minor in the book. It’s definitely one of those summaries that I’d just take with a grain of salt is all.

Now that that is out of the way, I still really enjoy this series. I like how tomb raiding still plays a focus of the book. I like how the unseen politics of the world -from the supernatural angel and the IAA angel – are deepening. Charish does a good idea of teasing what’s to come, and because we’re outsiders like Alix, we remain in the dark and it makes nice motivation to keep reading. I like the main set up of the book: someone is masquerading as Owl and stealing cursed antiquities. I fully admit I was surprised by the reveal of the villain, but it was the good kind of surprise, one that makes sense in the world and doesn’t feel cheap. I’m also enjoying how Alix is showing some growth here too. She’s still reckless, she still needs to work on her relationship skills, but she’s trying now. She’s starting to see how her actions impact those around her, too. But make no mistake: she’s still quick to act rashly and let her mouth get away with her. She’s still very much Alix, but she’s not stagnant. Finally, I liked that I really bought into the idea that Alix was in danger this book. Oh sure, I knew that she wouldn’t be by the books end (this is a series after all), but still. I bought into it, and I don’t always when it comes to open-ended urban fantasy, so good job indeed.

Overall, I’m enjoying this series quite a bit and looking forward to her further adventures.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: October 5

Stacking the Shelves: The Week of Epic Bookmail Edition

Back at the beginning of the month I got an e-mail from a publicist at Pyr asking if I was interested in reading Gold Throne in Shadow – the sequel to Sword of the Bright Lady which was one of my favorite books of 2014, so naturally I said yes. Fast forward a few days. I was checking on tracking status for a book I was getting through the #booksfortrade hashtag on Twitter when something caused me to check out my My UPS. The ARC I’d requested (my first not picked up at an event/traded for/won in a giveaway!) was indeed on its way and due Friday, but mystery boxes were also due Tuesday. And Wednesday. Then mail started to show up. In addition to those deliveries, two books I’d had out with #booksfortrade showed up on Wednesday and Thursday. I am kind of amazed, and still honestly wondering if this is a one off thing or the beginning of some kind of trend. If it is, awesome. If it it’s not, I’m okay with that too. It’s been an awesome week regardless.

I’ve never lied about why I blog: because I’m an avid reader and if blogging can help fill my reader so be it. But by that measure, I know I’m not the most typical book blogger. I don’t have a huge variety of posts. I don’t publish author interviews. I don’t do cover reveals. I’m weary of doing book tours because I like feeling that I can be honest (since let’s be real, blog tours are mostly meant to shine a positive light on things). It’s not typical, I don’t have large numbers and I have never really done much of any kind of reach out to publishers. I feel like I’m too small to, so instead I rely on the largess of Net Galley, Edelweiss and even occasionally Blogging for Books. I do okay on the first two sites. I may not get everything that I want, but I certainly get a good amount (probably owing that I tend to stick more to the adult side when requesting there, which is probably less competitive than the YA space) and have no complaints. Anyway, requesting through EW lead me to get on an e-mail list for some of Harper Voyager’s Impulse titles. Then I got a random book here and there – a few trade paperbacks and more recently hardcovers like the recently reviewed Zer0es. This month, however, it appears I landed on the Harper Teen list. And well, the picture tells the tale 🙂

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So from top to bottom:

Summoning the Night – I posted about this a few Stacking the Shelves back. It finally showed up this week. Patience is a virtue 🙂

Gold Throne in Shadow – As I referenced above, it’s the sequel to Sword of the Bright Lady. If you haven’t read that one, I strongly suggest it if you like traditional fantasy. The twist is, our MC is an engineer from modern Arizona. We never quite figure out how he gets to the past (and the book is stronger for it), but really it’s a story about change and the havoc that it can wreak.

Court of Fives – The #booksfortrade book I referenced above. I’ve read some of Elliot’s adult titles, and I’m always intrigued when an author goes from adult to YA or vice versa. I’ll probably be picking this up next.

The remaining books are all courtesy of Epic Reads. Like I implied above, I was not expecting these which makes them that much the shinier.

Walk on Earth a Stranger – I was one of the few people that didn’t rave about The Girl and Fire and Thorns because people raved it was about body acceptance which I completely didn’t buy. Outside of that though, it was a solid little tale. This, however, sounds much more interesting and much more original – magic and Western combined. I’m really looking forward to giving this a look.

What we Saw – a contemporary title about social media, rape culture and the like. It sounds good, but not necessarily my niche. I may get around to looking at it, but it wouldn’t be a priority.

One – the other contemporary title of the bunch, about a pair of conjoined twins. I’m actually rather fascinated by the summary on this one and I think I might go for it when I’m looking for a break from fantasy.

Mirrored – reviewed by me yesterday, I wholeheartedly recommend this to YA fans, even if you aren’t a fan of fairy tale retellings.

The Unquiet – YA paranormal thriller with parallel universes. I am intrigued, and will be giving this a look, but a bit down the road.

And I was going to be done with this post! But then more books came since I first wrote this post. And hey, in for a penny, in for a pound…

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A Crucible of Souls – provided by Harper. I reviewed this a few days back. I thought it was okay then, but in the like week plus that it’s been that I’ve read it, I’ve discovered it to be kindaaaaaa forgettable. I’m not going to change my initial review, but I’d definitely put this on the lower end of “borrow it” because I literally had to double check that I already posted the review.

Since You’ve Been Gone – gifted to me by my #otspsecretsister after I made a deal with @ReadWriteLove28 that I’d give YA contemporary a shot. I also promised I’d post it sometime in October.

Sound – The last Epic Reads release of September that I am aware of. YA sci-fi with a black lesbian scientist MC? Sweet. Totally jumping up towards the top of my TBR pile!

And since I’m here, I’ve also gotten my hands on eARCs thanks to pubs…

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The Gardella Vampire Chronicles 1-3 – the publishers put these out in preparation for the release of book number 4. I plan to sprinkle these in with other review books as I have time for them. Paranormal Romance is always good for a quick fun read.

Seven Black Diamonds (not shown; no cover yet) – Harper has already started its 2016 ARC campaign. It has faes. I’m game.

Mirrored – Alex Flinn

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Summary (from the cover flap):

Beauty is the key to everything. At least, that’s how it seems to Violet – ugly, bullied, and lonely. To be beautiful, in her eyes, is to have power and love. And when Kendra, the witch, teaches Violet how to use magic, she may finally get what she wants. For Celine, beautiful since birth, her looks have been a hindrance. She discovers that beauty is also a threat – especially to her stepmother, VIolet, who doesn’t want anyone sharing the attention she worked so hard to get and who will do anything to be the fairest of them all. But beauty isn’t only skin deep and love isn’t based on love alone. And though Violet and Celine may seem to be completely opposite, their lives are almost…Mirrored.

Review:

In my eyes there are two kinds of fairy tale retellings: the super literal kind that hits all the beats in all the expected ways (I felt Cinder fits this model) and then there are kinds like Mirrored: the influences are clearly there and the major beats are hit, but it’s told so well that sometimes you have to remind yourself of what the influence is because the author has done a great enough job that it genuinely feels fresh. You get to this point by making smart choices and knowing how much of the source to use to still feel like the story, but not just ripping it right out of the source.

For example of a smart choice: the story starts out by telling Violet’s story. We meet a lonely little girl, neglected by her mother and bullied by her classmates. We see how she makes a friend in a guy named Greg, and how Greg drops her in a hot second after a summer where puberty was kind enough to him to allow him to join the cool kids. Even though Kendra, the witch who teaches her to use her magic, points out that if he had loved her, he’d never have stopped being her friend, Violet doesn’t care. This it the last straw that proves to her that it’s not what inside what counts, only the outside. Kendra teaches her how to change her appearance to help distract her, but it’s by then it’s too late: she’s got this seething hatred for the woman who “steals” her guy and she goes to extreme lengths to get him back (and I’ll just say: this book actually gets impressive dark for a few moments too). It’s that point that the book shifts over to Celine’s point of view. I do have to say that Celine never quite comes off as sympathetic as Violet did (before she went crazy anyway): it’s just hard to believe that someone so drop dead gorgeous would really have that much trouble finding a group of friends. She’s smart, but not a total book worm, and she’s still pretty, and in our society, pretty will get you into a lot of doors. Regardless, Celine is likable, she is sympathetic, and you do want her to get the heck out of dodge as soon as you can, so brava there.

And then his leads to my second point of knowing how much source material to use: there are no seven dwarves. There is a family of seven people that happens to have some some little people in it in it, including our main male character Goose. Our “Prince” of the tale is a Justin Bieber analogue named Jonah Prince (and yes, the story goes for the technicality, but because of how it’s set up and the ending, it all totally works). Flinn even has the sense to subvert the ending of the tale which I am super glad for and was completely the right decision.

All told, Mirrored is a very enjoyable retelling and anyone who enjoys genre YA (fans or otherwise of retellings) should enjoy this book. It came out yesterday, so give it a look!

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now