Friday, October 31, 2014

October Recap

I managed to get back into the swing of blogging a bit in October after my weird reading slump. Unfortunately, I spent the entire month unemployed and have been trying not to get depressed about that. I somehow feel more busy than I did when I was working. Lack of routine I guess. I better get a job next month though. Or else.

Books Reviewed in October:

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place - 3.5 hearts
Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon - 4 hearts
Centaur Rising - 3.5 hearts
Blue Mountain - 3 hearts
Who R U Really? - 3 hearts

Average Rating = 3.4 hearts - pretty ho-hum this month.

Incoming Books:

I almost had nothing to put here, until I got double book mail on Wednesday. Plus two books from Netgalley. Now so much to share! All are for review. Thanks to Merit Press and Macmillan!

How We Fall by Kate Brauning
Alex as Well by Alyssa Brugman

Stone in the Sky by Cecil Castellucci
Dream a Little Dream by Kerstin Gier

Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen
Skandal by Lindsay Smith
Fight for Power by Eric Walters
The Whisper by Aaron Starmer
The Winner's Crime by Marie Rutkoski
Waistcoats & Weaponry by Gail Carriger

Giant TBR Challenge:

Previous TBR Total: 171
Incoming Books: 8
TBR Books Read: 3
Current TBR Total: 176

I was doing really well until my super bookmail day!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Review: Who R U Really?

Title: Who R U Really?
Author: Margo Kelly
Publisher: Merit Press
Publication Date: September 18, 2014
Source: I received a complimentary copy in exchange for a honest review.

Thea's overprotective parents are driving her insane. They invade her privacy, ask too many questions, and restrict her online time so severely that Thea feels she has no life at all. When she discovers a new role-playing game online, Thea breaks the rules by staying up late to play. She's living a double life: on one hand, the obedient daughter; on the other, a girl slipping deeper into darkness. In the world of the game, Thea falls under the spell of Kit, an older boy whose smarts and savvy can't defeat his loneliness and near-suicidal despair. As Kit draws soft-hearted Thea into his drama, she creates a full plate of cover stories for her parents and then even her friends.

Soon, Thea is all alone in the dark world with Kit, who worries her more and more, but also seems to be the only person who really "gets" her. Is he frightening, the way he seems sometimes, or only terribly sad? Should Thea fear Kit, or pity him? And now, Kit wants to come out of the screen and bring Thea into his real-life world. As much as she suspects that this is wrong, Thea is powerless to resist Kit's allure, and hurtles toward the same dark fate her parents feared most. Ripped from a true-life story of Internet stalking, Who R U Really? will excite you and scare you, as Thea's life spins out of control.

I'll admit it, I've played online RPGs a fair amount. But I've never gotten in a situation like Thea (mainly because I play MMORPG like they are single player and never talk to anyone except my boyfriend). But I know of people who met on one and actually ended up getting married! So clearly not everyone who wants to meet up IRL is a psychotic murderer. I did find this book a little preachy like that. Thea literally played with only 2 people that she didn't know IRL and one turned out to be totally evil. I know it could happen, but I still think the majority of people playing these games are normal people like me and you totally can have online friends, despite what the detective in the book says.

This book was really engaging. Like I would sit down to read a chapter and end up reading three or four. It kept me wanting to know what happened next for Thea and Kit! I have a bit of ADD, so I love it when a book can really hold my attention like that.

Thea kind of got on my nerves. She was really sullen and secretive. Her mom tried so hard to forge a connection with her, but she constantly pushed her away, which is probably pretty true to some teenagers, but still annoyed me. She also kept so many secrets for everyone that was trying to help her. I remember being a teenager in love and how all-encompassing it was, but so many times I just wanted to shake her!

As far as secondary characters, I really like Thea's mom. She tried so hard, but was still flawed and believable. I felt like her brother Seth could have had a bigger role, instead of just popping up to either drive Thea to school or get mad at her. I wasn't a huge fan of Tim. He basically put his life on hold for a girl who wouldn't even give him the time of day for most of the book and kept touching her when she didn't want to be touched. I did like Thea's best friend Janie, but I really think more could have been done with her subplot and the impact of it could have been much stronger. 

The other thing that bothered me was how quickly the author skipped forward to the part where Thea is already in love with Kit. She was already saying she loved him by page 50 (not instalove though, because a few months had passed in the book already). I would have liked to see the relationship develop a bit more, because I think that part could have been fascinating.

The ending though! So exciting and terrifying! I probably would have been losing my mind why more than Thea, because seriously, that is some creepy shit. And when we finally find out who Kit is? So creepy and ugh...

Despite my issues with the book, Who R U Really? was an interesting and engaging cautionary tale about internet safety. And a reminder of how lame online flirting is.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Review: Blue Mountain

Title: Blue Mountain
Author: Martine Leavitt
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Publication Date: October 28, 2014
Source: I received a complimentary copy in exchange for a honest review.

Tuk the bighorn sheep is told he will be the one to save his herd, but he is young and would rather play with his bandmates than figure out why the herd needs saving. As humans encroach further and further into their territory, there is less room for the sheep to wander, food becomes scarce, and the herd's very survival is in danger. Tuk and his friends set out to find Blue Mountain, a place that Tuk sometimes sees far in the distance and thinks might be a better home. The journey is treacherous, filled with threatening pumas and bears and dangerous lands, leading Tuk down a path that goes against every one of his instincts. Still, Tuk perseveres, reaching Blue Mountain and leading his herd into a new, safe place.

I'm having trouble pinning down my exact feelings on this interesting, but strange, little book. On one hand, I loved the concept and the message, but on the other hand, the writing style was hard for me to get used to.

As I mentioned, I loved the idea and message behind this book. I think it is immensely important for kids (and adults!) to understand the natural world and that our actions can affect plants and animals and ecosystems. So for that I give huge kudos to Martine Leavitt.

However, the writing style really threw me on this one. It was kind of blunt and chopping and the dialog came through very strangely for me (although since I don't speak bighorn, maybe that's how they do speak). I feel like maybe this writing style would appeal more to younger middle grade readers, since it was quite simple and they may not mind the choppiness when their own reading skills are a bit lower than my own. However, I think older readers might have some of the same issues as me (I even considered DNFing this one, but am glad I didn't).

The other thing I wasn't crazy about were the amount of characters. We are thrown a lot of names at the beginning when all the lambs were born and it was tough for me to keep track of them. Eventually they begin to become their own characters, but it was still a bit difficult for me for much of the book.

Overall, I think younger middle grade readings who are interested in nature would enjoy this book. There is quite a bit going on and some parts kind of read like a fable.

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Cover Compare: Trial by Fire by Josephine Angelini

Trial by Fire by Josephine Angelini was actually a DNF for me, but that doesn't mean we can't talk covers!                                                                                                              

Quite a few to pick from here! The Italian and US covers are really similar, but I would give the edge to the Italian because it is more of a close-up. I think that the German on is my favourite though, even though it is so different and doesn't really look like YA. The UK cover is my least favourite. It's pretty, but it looks like so many NA covers out there. Which cover is your favourite?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Review: Centaur Rising

Title: Centaur Rising
Author: Jane Yolen
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co
Publication Date: October 21, 2014
Source: I received a complimentary copy in exchange for a honest review.

One night during the Perseid meteor shower, Arianne thinks she sees a shooting star land in the fields surrounding her family’s horse farm. About a year later, one of their horses gives birth to a baby centaur. The family has enough attention already as Arianne’s six-year-old brother was born with birth defects caused by an experimental drug—the last thing they need is more scrutiny. But their clients soon start growing suspicious. Just how long is it possible to keep a secret? And what will happen if the world finds out?

At a time when so many novels are set in other worlds, Jane Yolen imagines what it would be like if a creature from another world came to ours in this thoughtfully written, imaginative novel, Centaur Rising.

Centaur Rising is the story of a struggling horse farm that gets a big injection of magic when one of the ponies gives birth to a centaur. While I didn't love this book, I did find it interesting and will likely be passing it on to my horse-crazy nieces.

Fair warning that, for a book aimed at 8-12 year olds, this one has some heavy stuff. First of all, our main character Arianne's little brother Robbie is severely handicapped, since his mother had take Thalidomide. But I liked that his handicap didn't stop him from being a happy and very intelligent person! The second thing is tough family issues, mainly caused by an EXTREMELY deadbeat dad. Like if I could reach through the pages of a book and punch someone...

I can't quite put my finger on why I didn't end up loving this one. I think it might have to do with the fact that the main character Arianne (and the tone of the book in general) was very serious. But beyond that, I can't say why I wasn't crazy about this one. I also found the very end pretty bizarre. But this book is about a centaur birthed through the immaculate conception of a pony, so I guess that's not surprising. Maybe I just like my books to be either fantasy or contemporary and this one was neither (magical realism?).

Overall, while I can't put my finger on why this one wasn't a huge success for me, I still plan to pass it along to my nieces.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Review: Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon

Title: Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon
Author: David Barnett
Series: Gideon Smith #2
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication Date: September 16, 2014
Source: I received a complimentary ecopy in exchange for a honest review.

Nineteenth century London is the center of a vast British Empire, a teeming metropolis where steam-power is king and airships ply the skies, and where Queen Victoria presides over three quarters of the known world—including the east coast of America, following the failed revolution of 1775.

Young Gideon Smith has seen things that no green lad of Her Majesty’s dominion should ever experience. Through a series of incredible events Gideon has become the newest Hero of the Empire. But Gideon is a man with a mission, for the dreaded Texas pirate Louis Cockayne has stolen the mechanical clockwork girl, Maria, along with a most fantastical weapon—a great brass dragon that was unearthed beneath ancient Egyptian soil. Maria is the only one who can pilot the beast, so Cockayne has taken girl and dragon off to points east.

Gideon and his intrepid band take to the skies and travel to the American colonies hot on Cockayne’s trail. Not only does Gideon want the machine back, he has fallen in love with Maria. Their journey will take them to the wilds of the lawless lands south of the American colonies—to free Texas, where the mad King of Steamtown rules with an iron fist (literally), where life is cheap and honor even cheaper.

Does Gideon have what it takes to not only save the day but win the girl?

David Barnett's Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon is a fantastical steampunk fable set against an alternate historical backdrop: the ultimate Victoriana/steampunk mash-up!

When it comes to a fun steampunk adventure, Gideon Smith brings it! I enjoy the steampunk aspects and the alternative history we got to experience in this installment.

In this book, Gideon and co. travel to America to get back what was stolen at the end of the first book. I enjoyed seeing David Barnett send his adventurers into America. I always find alternative history really interesting and in this version of history, the American Revolution failed and things are still run (at least on the East coast) by the British. The Spanish have some territories in the South and the Japanese have control of California. Then there's the vastness in between these powers, a combination of nomadic tribes, lawless towns and a lot of open space.

I like reading Gideon Smith because he is so darn likable. Gideon is such a fundamental "good guy." He's idealistic and can't stand injustice of any kind. Which might become tiresome, except for his chronicler (and foil) Bent, who is completely disgusting (although not a bad guy beyond that). Then there's Rowena, the very forward airship pilot, who I unfortunately almost-but-can't-quite like. And Maria, clockwork beauty and usually full of surprises.

I like the adventure story aspect of this series. Things happen, good fights evil and all that jazz. What I like is that Gideon shows some growth in this book, as he must learn that not everything is as black-and-white as he would hope. 

I wasn't a huge fan of the love triangle bit with Rowena. I'm not sure where it's going and I want something better for her than pointless pining.

Overall, Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon was a fun steampunk adventure with the added interest of alternative history.

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Saturday, October 4, 2014

Review: The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place

Title: The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place
Author: Julie Berry
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Publication Date: September 23, 2014
Source: I received a complimentary copy in exchange for a honest review.

There's a murderer on the loose—but that doesn't stop the girls of St. Etheldreda's from attempting to hide the death of their headmistress in this rollicking farce. 

The students of St. Etheldreda's School for Girls face a bothersome dilemma. Their irascible headmistress, Mrs. Plackett, and her surly brother, Mr. Godding, have been most inconveniently poisoned at Sunday dinner. Now the school will almost certainly be closed and the girls sent home—unless these seven very proper young ladies can hide the murders and convince their neighbors that nothing is wrong. 

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place is a smart, hilarious Victorian romp, full of outrageous plot twists, mistaken identities, and mysterious happenings.

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place was a fun, some-what ridiculous ride. I enjoyed it overall, as long as I didn't take it too seriously.

One thing that bothered me a little was how cold and unfeeling the girls were about the death of their headmistress. Even if I didn't like her, I would have still been bawling and panicking.

The other thing that bothered me was the lack of characterization of the girls. Each girl is usually called by both her name and descripter (ie: Dull Martha or Dear Roberta). I feel like the author did this to reinforce their characters, but didn't do anything else, so they became one-dimensional. For example, Dear Roberta's only character trait is being nice. And Dour Elinor is creepy and obsessed with death (think Wednesday Addams). And Disgraceful Mary Jane's only trait is being boy-crazy, which was super annoying. The only character that had depth was Smooth Kitty, who ended up being the main character and growing up a bit. I also like Pocked Louise.

The plot was pretty ridiculous, but quite a bit of fun. It was a bit of a farce, with things going wrong all over. I think if I was younger, I would have loved this one, since it was about a group of friends sticking together and trying to make it on their own without any adult supervision.

Overall, The Scandalous Sisterhood of the Prickwillow Place was a fun read if you are in the mood for something light and a bit silly and not expecting strong characterization or realism. And bonus points for the Victorian setting.

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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

September Recap

Oops, I kind of disappeared for a bit at the end of this month and only ended up reviewing two books. 

Books Reviewed in August:
Sisters Fate - 5 Hearts
The Vault of Dreamers - 4 Hearts

Average rating: 4.5 Hearts

Incoming Books:

Who R U Really by Margo Kelly

Giant TBR Challenge:

Previous TBR Total: 172
Incoming Books: 1
TBR Books Read: 2
Current TBR Total: 171

I had a bit of a reading slump this month, but still headed in the right direction.