Traitor Angels – Anne Blankman

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Summary:

Six years have passed since England’s King Charles II returned from exile to reclaim the throne, ushering in a new era of stability for his subjects.

Except for Elizabeth Milton. The daughter of notorious poet John Milton, Elizabeth has never known her place in this shifting world—except by her father’s side. By day she helps transcribe his latest masterpiece, the epic poem Paradise Lost, and by night she learns languages and sword fighting. Although she does not dare object, she suspects that he’s training her for a mission whose purpose she cannot fathom.

Until one night the reason becomes clear: the king’s men arrive at her family’s country home to arrest her father. Determined to save him, Elizabeth follows his one cryptic clue and journeys to Oxford, accompanied by her father’s mysterious young houseguest, Antonio Vivani, a darkly handsome Italian scientist who surprises her at every turn. Funny, brilliant, and passionate, Antonio seems just as determined to protect her father as she is—but can she trust him with her heart?

When the two discover that Milton has planted an explosive secret in the half-finished Paradise Lost—a secret the king and his aristocratic supporters are desperate to conceal—Elizabeth is faced with a devastating choice: cling to the shelter of her old life or risk cracking the code, unleashing a secret that could save her father…and tear apart the very fabric of society.

Review:

Historical fiction is still very much a niche within YA – the closest you usually get are faux-medieval worlds and fantasies set within the Regency era – so to find something set in the 17th century and to incorporate Milton within it got me all excited.

Sadly, my excitement ended rather quickly.

First and foremost, this is yet another historical novel where the protagonist is 100% modern. She’s fluent in five languages and a competent swordsman, making her more educated than pretty much the vast majority of Europe, even the male nobility. And it hurts her to to think that her father believes that a woman’s place is subservient to her husband (you know, like every single last man – and a good majority of the women at the time believed). What makes it worse is that it all feels so arbitrary because none of her other three sisters are as educated. To be fair, one is clearly simple, but the other two? They didn’t get the same education…because? It seems like it was done out of a nod to historical accuracy, but it makes his focus on her seem all the more jarring. It stands out to only educate the one, and since it was to ensure that she would have the tools to go on this scavenger hunt later, talk about putting your eggs in one basket. What if she wasn’t the best choice of the three? And what’s worse, is that at the end of the book, she essentially gets disowned for having developed a love of learning when he encouraged it. And it’s the more ridiculous because he cites a fear of scandal, when he was convicted of plotting to kill the king. You don’t get more scandalous than that.

Speaking of ridiculous, the hunt to solve the mystery borders on that as well, with leaps of logic along the lines of Elizabeth deciding that she and Antonio are characters in this poem because the names of Adam and Eve start with A and E respectively. Seriously. And it’s all over a vial of liquid mercury? Or some kind of space elixir that can supposedly resurrect people that will result in the downfall of Europe and create a world war because it’ll destroy the notion of the Divine Right of Kings and belief in Chris. It’s just…silly.

I just couldn’t take this book seriously when the author clearly does. I suppose if you like books like The Da Vinci Code you could very well enjoy it – it’s that kind of absurdist fun – but if leaps of logic like the ones articulated above make you roll your eyes, keep looking, because once they start rolling, they’ll likely won’t stop.

Verdict: Skip it

Available Now

 

Skip It: The Club Dumas – Arturo Perez-Reverte

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Summary:

Lucas Corso is a book detective, a middle-aged mercenary hired to hunt down rare editions for wealthy and unscrupulous clients. When a well-known bibliophile is found dead, leaving behind part of the original manuscript of Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers, Corso is brought in to authenticate the fragment. He is soon drawn into a swirling plot involving devil worship, occult practices, and swashbuckling derring-do among a cast of characters bearing a suspicious resemblance to those of Dumas’s masterpiece. Aided by a mysterious beauty named for a Conan Doyle heroine, Corso travels from Madrid to Toledo to Paris on the killer’s trail in this twisty intellectual romp through the book world.

Review:

So the other day I was browsing Amazon Prime and I noticed that The Ninth Gate was now available to stream. I remembered it being a bit slow and kind of confusing. Still, the movie came out in 2000 and I wanted to watch it with older eyes, to see if might not have a better appreciation of it with age. Deciding to do a search on the ending (which I remembered being the most confusing aspect of it) the advice I basically got was: don’t. Read the book instead because it actually makes sense. I figured this wasn’t a bad approach to take and here we are.

Good news: the book does make sense. It won’t necessarily help you with the movie which not only excises a major subplot of the book but changes the ending entirely, but it makes sense.

There’s also some good stuff in here about the history of books, and of book forgery, all of which comes in and plays nicely at the end.

The bad news: the book is, in many ways, just as unfulfilling as the movie. That entire subplot that Polanski dropped? The one for which the book was ultimately named? It wasn’t without cause. The book itself admits that the two strands are completely separate of one another; it’s only through Corso’s eyes that there is any kind of connection at all. It seems to be included because the author wanted to talk Dumas, pad the length of the book, or both. It not a little frustrating to see that story come to an end and realize just how anti-climatic it all was.

Adding to this disappointment is that the girl figure (both in book and film) is very much a living, breathing deus-ex-machina figure. Polanski certainly believes her to be either a servant of (if not the Devil himself) and the book makes her out to be some kind of guardian/sage too: protecting him and pointing the way so speak. It doesn’t add much to the narration when everything keeps happening (or not happening) because she happens to be at every right place at every right time. If something were to come of it it might be acceptable, but the book too just overall comes to an end and it doesn’t feel like there was a reason for the pair to have ever come together.

Really, the most interesting bits of the book were the discussion of Dumas, of occult books (most of which were created by the author for the story) and the discussions of book forgery. I almost wonder if a non-fiction piece might have been more satisfying.

As it stands, the book might be worth a pick up to read it for those reasons, but the rest is such a let down that it’s hard to recommend except for one scenario: you’re planning to watch the film. The film focuses on the quest to authenticate this one copy of the book. Between the conversations that Corso has, and the notes that Corso takes, you the reader are very easily able to wrap your head around that mystery of what is going on well before the ending which ratchets up the tension at the end because you know something isn’t right. Polanski, on the other hand, changes the nature of a key conversation and doesn’t have Corso make the connection and ultimately has has to tell the audience what was going. By then though, the climax is over and the tension is hurt leaving the audience wondering what was going on. Though the two pieces are quite different, knowledge of the the book immeasurably helps enjoyment of the film.

Verdict: Skip it. Its almost a borrow it because there were some parts I genuinely enjoyed, but I can’t in good consciousness endorse only portions of a book.

Available: Now

 

 

Kitty and the Midnight Hour (Kitty Norville #1) – Carrie Vaughn

If there’s one way to get me to buy a book that I otherwise hadn’t gotten around to buying it’s this: have the author be signing at an event that I’m already at. This series has been on my radar for a while, and when I realized that Carrie was going to be at Wonder Con the day I was there, I finally bit the bullet and dove in, so let’s take a look.

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Summary:

Kitty Norville is a midnight-shift DJ for a Denver radio station – and a werewolf in the closet. Her new late-night advice show for the supernaturally disadvantaged is a raging success, but it’s Kitty who can use some help. With one sexy werewolf-hunter and a few homicidal undead on her tail, Kitty may have bitten off more than she can chew?

Review:

Kitty and the Midnight Hour is one of those books that’s fairly satisfying to read as you go along, but when I started to think about it, it just left me feeling vaguely dissatisfied. Let’s break it down:

First off, the conceit that Kitty is a “raging success” feels incredibly paper thin. Here she is, on NPR, in Denver, with a show that airs at midnight in a world where vampires and werewolves aren’t out of the closet and she’s playing human. Why would this show attract anyone other than the local geeks? It’s inferred that all these people open to her because she’s easy to talk to, but being easy to talk to and suddenly talking about the problems you have as a vampire are two very different scenarios. And then even on top of that, it’s like within what a month or two she’s suddenly in syndication? Things just don’t work that fast! To be fair, this is where suspension of disbelief comes in, and it’s easy enough to do. I just hate it when books need hand waving to set up the world, and I feel like this is what that is.

Along those lines, this world and the people that live in it just feel underdeveloped. No one outside of the obvious bad guys has any real personality to speak of. I can’t tell you anything remarkable about the werewolf hunter other than he hunts vampires. Rick the vampire likes to slink in and out of the shadows. T.J. is a wolf that is supposedly her friend, but doesn’t seem to do anything other than chastise her for not falling in line with the demands of her Alpha. The vampire characters just feel generic vampire cutouts complete with the token “vampire still dressed in the wrong century” cliche. Kitty herself doesn’t even that rounded or developed. She’s mostly likable, but there’s literally nothing in this book that isn’t directly tied to the main plot so we have no time to flesh her out or have her grow.

Well, I take it back. There is some growth, but it’s not really her. It’s her Wolf. And yes, it’s referred to as Wolf in the book. Remember how Anastasia in Fifty Shades of Gray constantly referred to her Inner Goddess? It’s kind of like that. Not only does she call her Wolf, but sections in which she shifts are done by having her talk about herself in the third person. The unfortunate thing about this is that all the growth in the book seems to be done by her wolf. It’s the wolf that goes from submissive to angry and showing signs of eventually being Alpha. Even more unfortunately, not only does it feel like it robs Kitty of that growth, it makes it feel like it’s another entity entirely that Kitty has no agency over.

Case and point: the current Alpha of her pack is a real sleeze ball who sleeps with whatever females in the pack that he wants to, more or less because he can. Throughout the book the wolf basically rolls over and opens her legs and feels happy because…submissive? It’s like the book forgets that they aren’t wolves, they’re werewolves, which means there is a human aspect and there should be free will and agency. Not only does this rob Kitty of growth, but it just adds this creepy layer to her having sex with Carl that makes it feel dangerously close to rape.

All told, this book just didn’t work for me. The genre has been around long enough now that there are just better options out there whether you prefer something character driven, rich worlds, or more intriguing plots. Unlike some of the other series I’m giving a chance, right now I can safely say I won’t be picking up Kitty Goes to Washington.

Verdict: Skip It

Available: Now

Review: Elementals: The Prophecy of Shadows (Elementals #1) – Michelle Madow

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Summary:

Filled with magic, thrilling adventure, and sweet romance, Elementals is the first in a new series that fans of Percy Jackson and The Secret Circle will love!

When Nicole Cassidy moves from sunny Georgia to gloomy New England, the last thing she expects is to learn that her homeroom is a cover for a secret coven of witches. Even more surprisingly … she’s apparently a witch herself. Despite doubts about her newfound abilities, Nicole is welcomed into this ancient circle of witches and is bedazzled by their powers—and, to her dismay, by Blake—the school’s notorious bad-boy.

Girls who get close to Blake wind up hurt. His girlfriend Danielle will do anything to keep them away, even if she must resort to using dark magic. But the chemistry between Blake and Nicole is undeniable, and despite wanting to protect Nicole from Danielle’s wrath, he finds it impossible to keep his distance.

When the Olympian Comet shoots through the sky for the first time in three thousand years, Nicole, Blake, Danielle, and two others in their homeroom are gifted with mysterious powers. But the comet has another effect—it opens the portal to the prison world that has contained the Titans for centuries. After an ancient monster escapes and attacks Nicole and Blake, it’s up to them and the others to follow the clues from a cryptic prophecy so that they can save their town … and possibly the world.

Review:

So my friend asked my why do I put myself through this, with this being painfully generic, trope-filled cliche-fests of YA novels. My answer is two fold:

  1. Sometimes, you gotta kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince.
  2.  They’re quick and dirty reads – I finished this in under 90 minutes.

The top three books on my best-of 2015 list were YA novels. I know there is some great books out there and I don’t want to give up on the genre, because who knows what I might miss? On the other hand, for every Scorpion Rules, Wandering Star or Illuminae there are probably a dozen or more novels like this out there. You know the drill. Chosen Ones, longing over guys with mean-girl girlfriends, adults who serve no purpose but to offer up world building and say “Welp, I don’t know what to do, so you guys take care of this for me, k?”and sibling who exist only to get into danger.

Characters in this novel all have their nice to fill. Kate is the by-the-book-timid nice girl. Blake is the hot guy all the girls want. Chris is the nice guy who can’t get the girl (or will probably get the friend down the road). Danielle is the mean girl. Nicole is the wunderkind with all the powers that everyone (except the mean girl, natch) likes.

The books starts off with no world building – literally three pages in it’s “Surprise! You’re a witch!” and no character development beyond what the trope allows for. Kate helps her catch up on homework, Danielle tries to sabotage her tennis team try out and so on. Then not too far in there’s a Mystical Event ™ and they have powers and it’s off to fulfill a <strike>prophecy</strike> mystical treasure hunt and for Nicole to repeatedly save the day. In case there is any doubt in how overpowered Nicole is, I’ll just leave this here:

“I’d done it. My entire body had been broken, and I’d healed it all.”

Yep.

If you’ve read YA for any length of time, you’ve read this book, or at least some variation of it there of. If you enjoy this kind of thing, you’ll love it – it’s face paced and hits all the notes you’d expect it to. If you’re wanting more, keep on looking.

I will say that at least this book held my interest enough that I powered through and read the whole thing, so some props there. I was just hoping for a little more.

One last note: it appears the author intends to release a quartet of books, with at least the next two having 2016 release dates. The sequel is due out in April. I personally always wonder about release schedules this tight, as it makes me wonder if longer books are being cut up to make more money for the author/publisher. Given how generally underdeveloped this book is, it is something to keep in mind when deciding if you want to pick this series up.

Verdict: Skip It

Available: January 26

 

Silver in the Blood (Silver in the Blood #1) – Jessica Day George

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Summary:

Society girls from New York City circa 1890, Dacia and Lou never desired to know more about their lineage, instead preferring to gossip about the mysterious Romanian family that they barely knew. But upon turning seventeen, the girls must return to their homeland to meet their relatives, find proper husbands, and—most terrifyingly—learn the deep family secrets of The Claw, The Wing, and The Smoke. The Florescus, after all, are shape-shifters, and it is time for Dacia and Lou to fulfill the prophecy that demands their acceptance of this fate… or fight against this cruel inheritance with all their might.

With a gorgeous Romanian setting, stunning Parisian gowns, and dark brooding young men, readers will be swept up by this epic adventure of two girls in a battle for their lives.

Review:

I remember when ARCs first starting coming out that there was excitement within the blogger community: the cover is quite striking and perhaps one of my favorites in some time and the premise was intriguing as well. I also remember the excitement dying relatively quickly to boot. With a rather tepid 3.42 rating on Goodreads at time of review, it would seem that it never quite caught on with the larger reading public either.

I can kinda see why.

This isn’t a bad book, so much as a book that I don’t think lived up to its potential because it wasn’t quite sure what it wanted to be. It had airs of being a Gothic romance, but there was seemingly no romance to speak of, other than references to The Incident that occurred with Dacia before the book began and yet, but the end of the books both girls seemingly have suitors because? The book promises an “epic adventure” but there’s actually rather little action in the story proper. I even see shades of Gail Carriger in the somewhat flippant way discussion of fashion is interspersed with the story at hand. I feel like she had a solid concept but did not know how to execute it.

In terms of the story, it takes almost halfway through the book to find out what the family secret is in its entirety. Too bad that between the cover, an early sequence, and references to Dracula that readers can figure it out in the first few chapters, making the build up seem overlong. Second,  the villains are Villains. I suppose that the grandmother would fit right in a Gothic horror, but there wasn’t enough horror to call it as such. The other main villain (which I will not spoil here) has slightly more nuance but it’s no great surprised what they turn out to be the other villain. It’s all just there.

The other major problem is characterizations, or more precisely, how characters seemingly flip on a dime. At the start, Lou is seen as the nervous one and Dacia the brash and bold. By the three-quarter mark, their roles are almost entirely reversed. The explanation provided doesn’t make a great deal of sense, as forms are dictated by personality, but the form that Lou ultimately gets – the one that is supposed to lead the family – apparently seeks out those with traits diametrically opposed to what a leader would have. But instead of going back to the drawing board to fix it, she just flips a switch. It’s a lazy at best fix that just doesn’t work.

Although Goodreads is listing this as the first book in a series, and even though the ending is open-ended enough to allow for sequels down the road, apparently this book is currently a stand-alone. That’s probably for the best. I don’t think there’s enough meat on the bones to support an expansion of the series.

Verdict: Skip It

Available: Now

NEED – Joelle Charbonneau (SPOILERS)

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Summary:

“No one gets something for nothing. We all should know better.” Teenagers at Wisconsin’s Nottawa High School are drawn deeper into a social networking site that promises to grant their every need . . . regardless of the consequences. Soon the site turns sinister, with simple pranks escalating to malicious crimes. The body count rises. In this chilling YA thriller, the author of the best-selling Testing trilogy examines not only the dark side of social media, but the dark side of human nature.

Review:

I’m done with Joelle Charbonneau. Done. Done. Done. The Testing series was a generic dystopian rip-off series that was mildly fun despite its immensely stupid premise of “let’s kill off the best and brightest talents in the upcoming generation” as part of its weeding process.

This book however, ups the stupid to the Nth degree.

Warning: The next paragraph contains spoilers. If you were planning on reading this book, consider yourself warned.

The face of NEED is a grown woman with the motivation of a pissy teenager (her ex cheated on her, let’s go supervise a government sponsored project where we encourage teens to incite violence and kill people!). The project is laughably stupid (it’s so hard for the government to spy on other government these days because information security. Let’s figure out how to use teens to do our dirty work for us in exchange for a cell phone!). The parents in this book are absolutely awful (I’m pretty sure my daughter is an attention whore endangering the life of my son, let’s leave her alone to think about what she’s done with absolutely zero adult supervision!). There is pretty much nothing of redeeming value in this book. Okay. I don’t hate Kaylee the protagonist, but that’s because she’s one of the few decent people in this book. I also don’t hate the writing, Charbonneau is a solid writer with a good sense of pacing and I will say the story never lags.

But man.

I think this book is up there with Allegiant for me in terms of how strong my dislike actually is. At this point, I’m pretty certain I won’t be doing a Worst Of list for the year, but if I were, this would be the leading contender for that list.

Just. Ugh.

Verdict: Skip It

Available: November 3rd

Updraft – Fran Wilde

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Summary:

In a city of living bone rising high above the clouds, where danger hides in the wind and the ground is lost to legend, a young woman must expose a dangerous secret to save everyone she loves

Welcome to a world of wind and bone, songs and silence, betrayal and courage.

Kirit Densira cannot wait to pass her wingtest and begin flying as a trader by her mother’s side, being in service to her beloved home tower and exploring the skies beyond. When Kirit inadvertently breaks Tower Law, the city’s secretive governing body, the Singers, demand that she become one of them instead. In an attempt to save her family from greater censure, Kirit must give up her dreams to throw herself into the dangerous training at the Spire, the tallest, most forbidding tower, deep at the heart of the City.

As she grows in knowledge and power, she starts to uncover the depths of Spire secrets. Kirit begins to doubt her world and its unassailable Laws, setting in motion a chain of events that will lead to a haunting choice, and may well change the city forever—if it isn’t destroyed outright

Review:

I hate it when you can’t really pin down why a book doesn’t work for you. When you hate a book it’s often easy to point at this or that and definitely go “this is it.” But with books like Updraft it feels a bit more puzzling and it takes more time to essentially feel it out and try to do your guesstimate as to why it didn’t work, and even when you do, there’s always some lingering doubt as to whether that was truly it, but it will have to suffice.

On the surface, this is one of those that should have worked for me: the world building was unique, the magic system kind of different and the lead Kirit likable. So what went wrong?

First thing I can think of is pacing: it takes a full third of the book to get going. Wilde spends a decent amount of time trying to make it seem as if there’s a chance things will go different, but as a reader, I know it cannot be else we wouldn’t have the plot summary that we have. As a result, the time devoted to avoiding the expected outcome is only well spent if it gives us added depth either in the character or world building. Do I think it did those things? Not really, which ultimately made it felt like a waste of time.

Second, though the world is unique, the story itself isn’t. You can figure out the beats pretty readily. At one point there’s a fight and you know who her opponent will be even before its announced. It’s supposed to be a twist, and yet you can sense it coming a mile away.

Finally, I honestly don’t think the stakes are as high as the book would have you believe. On the scale of evil that is the norm for these kinds of books, the Singers aren’t really all that bad and their secrets aren’t that mysterious or that shocking. There is one thing that they do (which I won’t spoil here) that is definitely on the bad side, but did I feel like there needed to be revolution the way you can make the argument in say Divergent or The Hunger Games? Not really. It’s a pretty mild dystopia. While it’s nice to not have them be All of the Evil, if you aren’t vested in the stakes, than it makes it harder to be vested in the story. I just didn’t feel like this was worthy of getting up in arms about.

Like I said, this is one of those ones where I’m left cold, but I didn’t exactly dislike it either. If the premise is intriguing to you and you were going to pick it up anyway, I’d say wait for it to go on sale. Otherwise, you can keep looking.

Verdict: Skip It

Available: Now