Monday, October 15, 2012

Review: Midnight City by J. Barton Mitchell

Midnight City (The Conquered Earth, #1)

Goodreads Summary:
In a post-apocalyptic world controlled by alien invaders, two teens and a young girl with mysterious powers embark on a dangerous journey. What they find will change everything...

Earth has been conquered. An extraterrestrial race known as The Assembly has abducted the adult population, leaving the planet's youth to fend for themselves. In this treacherous landscape, Holt, a bounty hunter, is transporting his prisoner Mira when they discover Zoey, a young girl with powerful abilities who could be the key to stopping The Assembly. As they make their way to the cavernous metropolis of Midnight City, the trio must contend with freedom fighters, mutants, otherworldly artifacts, pirates, feuding alien armies, and perhaps most perilous of all: Holt and Mira's growing attraction to each other.

Midnight City is the breathtaking first novel in the Conquered Earth series, and a stunning work of imagination from debut author J. Barton Mitchell.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher (via Netgalley) in exchange for an honest review.

My Review:  
I've had a fascination with aliens since seeing "To Serve Man", a Twilight Zone episode, as a child. 

When I saw the cover and description of this book on another blog, I thought, "Wow, aliens + apocalypse + male protagonist = the trifecta of awesome" Well, if the author can pull off writing a good book. So, I started the book hoping this would be a great book because my son is the King of Reluctant Readers and books for boys are a publishing rarity.  This is one of those books that I started and before I realized it, I was finished. This book made you feel like a tourist at an evil Disneyland- where you are gawking at the world that the author has built in this book. The culmination of this is winding up in Midnight City.

These are the two main strengths of this book- the plot that just pulls you along and the world that's created in the pages of the book. In my experience, the fast paced plot with a male protagonist makes this a good choice for reluctant male readers. I do think girls will like it too, though, because I found Mira and Zoey (eventually) to be compelling characters. I say eventually because that's one of the books weaknesses. I think that there's not enough back story in the beginning. First of all, the artifacts that do mysterious and magical things- at first it's not explained why or how it happens or is possible. Second, I know that Zoey is supposed to have an air of mystery surrounding her, but I wish that we knew more about Mira sooner. A few things- like the artifacts- would have made more sense.

I loved the time I got to spend in Midnight City. I think it was my favorite part of the book. I do not want to spoil it by describing it- plus the author does a much better job than I ever could. But I thought Midnight City was just amazing- the author's description brought the underground city to life. It wasn't just the sights and sounds, it was also the people and the society they built that made "touring" Midnight City so compelling. I will definitely be reading the sequel.

Overall Rating: 3 1/2 stars
Genre Rating: 4 flying saucers

Author's Website
Author's Twitter  
Midnight City (The Conquered Earth, #1)

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Review: League of Strays by L.B. Schulman

League of Strays

Goodreads Summary:
When Charlotte Brody, a lonely 17-year-old student at a new school, receives an invitation to join The League of Strays, she's intrigued by the group's promise of "instant friendship." The League does provide companionship--and even a love interest--but Charlotte grows increasingly uncomfortable with its sinister mission to seek revenge against the bullies of Kennedy High. When escalating acts of vengeance threaten to hurl her down a path of remorse, Charlotte must choose between her new friends and the direction of a future she's never fully considered.

My Review: 

Disclosure thingy: I got an ARC from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I went to add this to my GR page and noticed this book is mired in some kind of controversy. I'm glad I read the book before I read any of the comments. I waited a week to write this to further distance myself from it. It's basically about the portrayal of bullying and homosexuality in this book. I will address those two things in this review.

I guess the some of the appeal of this book is a kind of literary wish fulfillment for people who have been bullied. Kind of a revenge fantasy type thing. If you've been the victim of bullying or your kid has, I think in many cases, there is a desire for revenge and striking back. Now, this is where it ends for most people in real life- you make an elaborate plan for revenge, with hundreds of pages of detailed notes and timelines, you build the scale model, you create a computer simulation of your timeline, etc. Right? Perfectly normal. (NOTE: if this is not perfectly normal, I'm just kidding.) Seriously, though, this is really it for normal people- you've worked your anger out and you're done with it and try to cope and deal with it properly- maybe talking to the school counselor, the other kid's parents, etc. In all honesty and in my personal experience, kids use books like this or violent video games to work out anger. Not to get ideas, not as a stepping stone to commit violence, etc. 

So that being said, back to the book. All in all, I found it to be very readable. It was a little slow in the beginning, which I think is acceptable in a book that requires a bit of set up. (Which this book does) But once that happens, it's a quick read. I normally read a few books at once, but this once this one got going it captured my attention and I read it straight through. Second, this has been a difficult review to write. Not because I hated the book, but because of spoilers. I usually like to give an example, but a lot of the examples I think of would be spoilers. With that in mind, I think the character of Charlotte was well developed and her character evolved pretty believably though the course of the book. (Sorry don't want to spoil it.) I also liked how little by little Kade- the leader of the League of Strays- had his character revealed. A mystery slowly unraveling in the book; we learn about him as Charlotte figures him out- which was quite well done, I thought.

Which brings us to Controversy #2: The treatment of Richie, the gay character. First, I do not think this book is anti-gay. In fact, the way Richie was used/lied to, etc. is how the author gave insight into another character. That someone would use Richie's homosexuality against him shows the true nature of another character in the book. I think that if this book sounds at all interesting to you, just read it and judge it on its own merits and your own tastes- in other words, I would avoid this book's Goodreads page until you're ready to add it, mark it as finished, and write your review. You can read all about the controversy once you're done with that. I'm glad I got to read the book without all of that baggage.

Overall Rating: 3 stars
Genre Rating: 3 1/2 stars (Again, I think this is a good summertime read. A coming of age type book where the moral messages are wrapped up in an intriguing premise and action-filled plot)

L.B. Schulman's website
L.B. Schulman's Twitter

League of Strays

Monday, September 10, 2012

Review: Tap Out by Eric Devine

Tap Out

Goodreads Summary:
Seventeen-year-old Tony Antioch lives in Pleasant Meadows, a trailer park where questions aren't asked since everyone already knows the answers from their own experience. He dreams of rescuing his mother from her constant stream of abusive boyfriends but in reality can barely duck the punches that are aimed at himself.

When Tony is coerced into joining his friend Rob's Mixed Martial Arts class, he is surprised to find that he has a talent that he actually wants to develop. But with a meth-dealing biker gang that is hungry for recruits and a vicious cycle of poverty and violence that precedes him, Tony is going to need a lot more than blood and guts to find a way out.

Gritty, powerful, and unapologetic, Tap Out explores what it takes to stay true to oneself and the consequences of the choices made along the way in order to do so.

Disclosure: Received a copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

My Review:
Please don't dismiss this book based on the average Goodreads rating, which is low- 3 stars. Part of me thinks that this is due to the language, sex, and violence that permeates this book. One reviewer even said that he thought that this book may end up getting banned- and I think it very well may. Now, I was a teacher, and banning books like this never ceases to amaze me. Why? Well, I was taking classes for my Master's and one of my classmates was a high school gym teacher and former police officer. He came to class visibly stricken and told us this story...It was the gym period right after lunch. A teenage girl who was visibly pregnant- 6 to 8 months pregnant- came up to him and said she wasn't feeling well. He could smell the alcohol fumes coming off her as she threw up Kool-Aid and vodka on his shoes. Now, if you wrote a novel about how she got to that point, with graphic details, some people would object and maybe even want to ban the book. And it never seems to occur to the people who want to ban books like this that what's really objectionable is the fact that children are really living these lives. Which brings us back to "Tap Out".

Like many, I found this a tough read. Yes, the language, the sex, the violence. But mostly because I taught middle school for years and "Tap Out" seems to tell the continuation of some of my students' stories. It was tough because it was realistic and didn't flinch from telling painful truths about the lives that some/many children lead. It did not flinch from telling the central truth about children who live in poverty- that in most cases all it takes is one mistake, choosing the wrong path once and that's it for their potential. Any hope of a bright future is gone. As the author, Eric Devine, is a high school teacher I feel pretty sure that this was not written to be sensational or exploitative. That Mr. Devine wanted us to be able to have a glimpse into the lives of the "have-nots" and come to at least understanding and compassion for them. Because most of us teachers have come home and cried at least once over one of our students. And the main character, Tony Antioch, is definitely the kind of kid who would have made you cry.

So, do I recommend this book? I do, and I think that this book will appeal to teenage boys. I also think that a parent should read it first and then with their teenager. However, if you have a strong objection to this kind of content, I just want to say that it's not gratuitous sex and violence. That it all has a purpose and is not without consequences. It is a difficult and sometimes painful read, but that just shows that the author did a good job of capturing the life some children lead.

Overall Rating: 3 1/2 stars
Genre Rating: 4 high school lockers

Eric Devine's Website
Tap Out

Friday, September 7, 2012

Feature and Follow (11)

Feature and Follow is hosted by Parajunkee & Alison Can Read every Friday. Complete Rules and Instructions are here:

Question: What book(s) are you reading right now? What do you think about them?

Unraveled (Intertwined, #2)

I started reading the series because I'm looking forward to Showalter's "Alice in Zombieland" that's going to be released this month. So I thought I'd check out her other series while I wait. If you like Brigid Kemmerer's Elemental series (Storm and Spark), I think you would enjoy this series, too.

The Secret Keeper

Just got The Secret Keeper from NetGalley a few days ago and started it this morning. If you love historical fiction, you should request a copy from NetGalley and/or put it on your TBR and get it when it gets released in October.

I'm reading about 8 or so other books, but I'm too lazy to list them all.

While you're here, please check out one of my current giveaways:

1. 300 Followers Giveaway: Choice of $15 gift card to Amazon/B&N (US Only) or a book of your choice up to $15 through Book Depository (International) Rules and Entry Here

2. Win a preorder of Book #3 in Jennifer L. Armentrout's Lux Series,  Opal, through Book Depository. (Open internationally) Rules and Entry for Opal Giveaway

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Review: Over You by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus

Over You
Goodreads Summary:
After the grand explosion of her relationship, seventeen-year-old Max Scott developed what every girl in the history of the world has been waiting for: a way to get over being dumped. Now Max is the go-to guru for heartbroken high-school girls all over NYC. But when her ex unexpectedly shows up in her neighborhood, Max’s carefully controlled world starts to unravel. With her clients’ hearts hanging in the balance, Max will have to do the seemingly impossible: get over him once and for all.

Brilliant at bringing humor to the trials and tribulations of the lovestruck, #1 New York Times bestselling authors Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus have crafted a tale that will resonate with any girl who has ever been in love or had her heart broken. It brims with smart observations, features a pitch-perfect teen voice, and will attract fans of Jenny Han, Sarah Mlynowski, and Lauren Barnholdt. Readers are sure to fall head-over-heels for this sharp spin on breaking up, making up, and getting even.

My Review: 
If I had one word to describe this book, it would be "Slick". It's like this show:
I remember watching "Full House". In fact, I spent many an evening watching it...when I had nothing better to do. But the first offer to do anything else and "Full House" gets kicked to the curb. It didn't have to be a good offer, just an offer. "Full House" was not a must watch TV show- it was just background noise while reading a book or folding laundry. Which brings us back to "Over You"...  
It's a book that feels like it needs a studio audience- and a laugh track. So you would laugh and clap along with it and know how to feel. Because what I mostly felt was ambivalent. And that's not a good way to feel while reading a book. I guess it starts with not caring about the characters. And if you don't care about the characters, you don't care what happens to them. Which means you don't really care what happens in the book. The characters felt like "stock" 80's TV show characters- Spunky Girl, Quirky Best Friend, Ditzy Mom...and on and on. Look, overall, the book was cheesy. And not good cheese- not baked Brie with some toasted nuts and maybe some fruit like apples and figs. Like this kind of cheese:
Should you read this book? Look if you're having a crap week at work or school, then maybe this book wouldn't be a bad choice. Cheese in a Can has a purpose too- it's convenient, my children think it's one of the most awesome things ever because I can make happy faces on a cracker with it...So "Over You" would be a good reading choice when you're just slammed at work/school, but need a light book to take a mental break. The times when you don't want to waste a "real" book by a favorite author or ruin the book you've been waiting all summer to be released, because you're too distracted to really enjoy and appreciate any book you're reading.  

Overall Rating: 2 stars  
Genre Rating: 2 1/2 stars
Over You

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Review: The Cranes Dance by Meg Howrey

The Cranes Dance
Goodreads Summary:
So begins the tale of Kate Crane, a soloist in a celebrated New York City ballet company who is struggling to keep her place in a very demanding world. At every turn she is haunted by her close relationship with her younger sister, Gwen, a fellow company dancer whose career quickly surpassed Kate’s, but who has recently suffered a breakdown and returned home.

Alone for the first time in her life, Kate is anxious and full of guilt about the role she may have played in her sister’s collapse.  As we follow her on an insider tour of rehearsals, performances, and partners onstage and off, she confronts the tangle of love, jealousy, pride, and obsession that are beginning to fracture her own sanity. Funny, dark, intimate, and unflinchingly honest, The Cranes Dance is a book that pulls back the curtains to reveal the private lives of dancers and explores the complicated bond between sisters.

My Review:
Two things: this is not a YA book. I don't know why I was under the impression it was, except that the cover has a very YA feel. Second, The Cranes Dance is finally a book about ballet, written by a dancer. Which does make a big difference. I was very disappointed with both Crash and Bunheads. (Short Review of Bunheads) I liked Crash, but despite the ballet dancer on the cover, it really wasn't about the ballet and didn't feature at all in the book. So I felt cheated by these two books. The other day, I came across this Review of Cranes Dance on another blog, Futuresdading. Luckily, my library had the ebook so I was able to download it and start reading it at 5 am. And it was so good, I finished it a few hours later.

I really criticized Bunheads for using ballet/dance terms without defining them. This book did it as well, but I guess there really isn't a way to explain the terms that wouldn't wind up breaking the flow of the book. I've come to this- that the best way to learn about ballet, is just to watch it. So, here are some of the greats dancing. Baryshnikov dancing The Nutcracker with Gelsey Kirkland:

And of course...Nureyev. In one of the best ballet pas de deux (dance for two) ever!

Even though this book isn't any better than Bunheads at explaining ballet terms, The Cranes Dance gives a remarkably intimate glimpse into the behind-the-scenes stuff in a professional ballet company. In a very personal way. Yes, at times Kate hates the ballet, but it's a love-hate thing. It's about a dancer coming to the realization that she will never be the best. Kate, in the book, is very young but already nearing the end of her professional life. And in this book she realizes that she will never reach the pinnacle- that she just doesn't have the talent, the spark...and all the practice in the world will not make her one of ballet's great stars. Unlike her sister, Gwen, who eclipses her as a dancer. Now in any super competitive field, there is jealousy and rivalry. But because of the short life span of a dancer, this competition is intensified. So throw the fact that your greatest rival is your sister...

On top of the the sibling rivalry, you add in that Gwen is mentally ill. This makes for a compelling read as Kate struggles with her feelings of jealousy, maybe even a little hatred and bitterness. Then you throw in the guilt that Kate must feel because it's not some stranger she feels this for, it's her sister. Her sister who is mentally ill. All of this makes for a compelling read, even if you  never took ballet lessons as a kid and wondered, "What if?" Plus there are some great bits of wonderfully sarcastic, intimate, bitter dialogue- both internal and external- in this book. Kate says (in her mind):
You can always tell when people don't like you because their voices will sound like they're acting when they talk to you. That's how you know that they spend a certain amount of time rehearsing in private the biting and cutting things they wish they could say to you in person.
If you want to see some behind the scenes stuff at a real ballet company, episodes from Breaking Pointe are available online (Thanks to Dee at Dee's Book Blog for mentioning this show):  Breaking Pointe

Overall Rating: 4 stars

Meg Howrey's Website
Meg Howrey on Twitter 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Kick the Puppy Review: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass, #1)

Goodreads Summary:
After serving out a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes, 18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien is dragged before the Crown Prince. Prince Dorian offers her her freedom on one condition: she must act as his champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin. Her opponents are men-thieves and assassins and warriors from across the empire, each sponsored by a member of the king's council. If she beats her opponents in a series of eliminations, she'll serve the kingdom for three years and then be granted her freedom. Celaena finds her training sessions with the captain of the guard, Westfall, challenging and exhilirating. But she's bored stiff by court life. Things get a little more interesting when the prince starts to show interest in her... but it's the gruff Captain Westfall who seems to understand her best. Then one of the other contestants turns up dead... quickly followed by another. Can Celaena figure out who the killer is before she becomes a victim? As the young assassin investigates, her search leads her to discover a greater destiny than she could possibly have imagined.

My Review: (This is my definition of a Kick the Puppy Review.)

First I want to say that this isn't a bad book. I think at least some of my disappointment is that all the hype seemed to suggest that this would be one of my "Books of the Year". And it wasn't. My main problem with this book is that Celaena is supposed to be this infamous and deadly assassin. And it didn't feel at all like she was. Yes, she survived the salt mines and when you hear what life was like there, you do get that she's mentally and physically strong. But it's like all her deeds are in the past. In the present, in the world of this book...not so much. First, she sleeps like a log. I mean, another character is able to enter Celaena's room and watch her sleep. Now, my husband was in the military and for years he would jump up at night at the slightest noise. Like his life might depend on being able to respond quickly. And yes, if you're in the "Killing People" business, I would think that having people be able to sneak up on you while you are sleeping would be a Bad Thing. Then in the contest...well, I don't want to throw a spoiler. But her behavior during the contest was odd and not what I would consider very assassin-y.

The world building aspect was probably the best part of this book. It did lift the book up enough that I could overlook my issues with it. Will I read the next book in the series? Yes, I do want to learn what happens next. And the ending- the author left us with something interesting and intriguing at the end. But I'm not going to rush out and buy the next book. I'm not even going to make the next book a priority read. I'll leave it at this...I finished this book almost a month ago and kept putting off this review, because I find that unless I really love or hate a book, it's harder to write a review.

Overall Rating: 3 stars

Author's Website
Author's Twitter

Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass, #1)

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