Thursday, June 28, 2012

Book Review: Kushiel's Avatar by Jacqueline Carey

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Title: Kushiel's Avatar
Author: Jacqueline Carey
Publisher: Tor
Series: Kushiel's Legacy Book 3
Hardcover: 702 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
The land of Terre d'Ange is a place of unsurpassed beauty and grace. It's inhabited by the race that rose from the seed of angels, and they live by one simple rule: Love as thou wilt.  
Phèdre nó Delaunay was sold into indentured servitude as a child. Her bond was purchased by a nobleman who recognized that she was pricked by Kushiel's dart, chosen to forever experience pain and pleasure as one. Phèdre's path has been strange and dangerous. She has lain with princes and pirate kings, battled a wicked temptress, and saved two nations. Through it all, the devoted swordsman Joscelin has been at her side, following the central precept of the angel Cassiel: Protect and serve.  
But Phèdre's plans will put his pledge to the test, for she has never forgotten her childhood friend Hyacinthe. She has spent ten long years searching for the key to free him from his eternal indenture to the Master of Straights, a bargain with the gods to save Phèdre and a nation. The search will take Phèdre and Joscelin across the world and down a fabled river to a forgotten land. . . and to a power so intense and mysterious, none dare speak its name.

Overall Rating: 4/5

I fell in love with this series years ago with the first book. Jacqueline Carey is incredibly clever and makes a complex, beautiful world loosely based on the cultures from this one. What I love about this series is that it's a mix of adventure, fantasy, philosophy, and romance. Really, you can't lose with this one.

I think this is the most gruesome out of the series so far. The previous two had some bad stuff, but nothing like what Phedre endures while enslaved to the sadistic warlord, the Mahrkagir. However, the reader is spared the worst of it and it's nice that the conflict is enhanced with each subsequent novel. The relationship between Joscelin and Phedre is really put to the test, and Phedre's strength of will to carry out her mission is also challenged. These two characters are so extraordinary that they sometimes seem invincible, but Carey makes sure to never take it easy on her characters. She gives them the ultimate challenges, making life difficult for even them.

I really love the relationship between Phedre and Joscelin. They fiercely love each other, and it makes me so happy to read about their story. They accept all of each other: the flaws, the strengths, the quirks. I feel like this is how relationships should be. They hardly ever argue because they are always looking at situations through the other person's point of view, and they respect each other to make the right decisions for themselves. I love it. This is what true love is, and this is what a mature, adult relationship should be.

This series is unique in that it just dives right into the dark stuff and keeps going. But amid all the death, torture, kidnappings, and slavery, there are so many great lessons and things to think about for real life. Most of all, what Kushiel's Avatar especially does is show the strength of love. What it is, what people will do for it and because of it, how it tears people apart, brings people together, and how it gives meaning to our lives are all main themes woven through this novel. For that alone, I'd recommend it. However, it also has fantastic writing, an interesting world, brilliant characters, and an entertaining plot. I don't think it's for everyone, because there is a lot of darkness and stuff many may considered "weird," but for those who can take the different culture of the D'Angeline world, you will be enamored of this series.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Book Review: The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth by Alexandra Robbins

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Title: The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth: Popularity, Quirk Theory and Why Outsiders Thrive After High School
Author: Alexandra Robbins
Publisher: Hyperion
Hardcover: 396 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
When school lunchroom doors open, hungry students rush in, searching for tables where they wouldn't be outsiders. Of course, in middle school and high school, almost everyone is an outsider: the nerds, the new girls, the band geeks, the loners; even the "popular" cheerleaders. Alexandra Robbins' The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth takes us inside the hallways of real schools to show us how shifting cliques and permanent marginalization affect children. Following individual students over the course of a year, she tracks the plight and possibilities of self-confessed nerds, freaks, punks, Goths, and weirdos. Her central message is heartening: Our increasingly homogenized society ultimately needs and welcomes the cafeteria fringe.

Overall Rating: 5/5

This should be required reading in high schools. I think all teachers and people involved in education should take a look at this too, because changing how teenagers are treated has to start at all levels. It is sad how many teenagers feel lonely and depressed because of who they are and how they feel. What this book does is identify a lot of the problems that causes bullying and exclusion tactics, and I think that if teenagers read stories about how their actions affect others, they would try to be nicer and more accepting of other groups.

Now, there aren't any hard statistics of the successes of geeks and outcasts after high school. If you're looking for numbers that prove that high school outcasts make more money and get the best jobs, this isn't what this is about. Instead, Robbins focuses on the traits that make teenagers outcasts in the first place and goes onto describe how these same traits will serve them better in a job or in adult life.

I really liked the setup of this book. Instead of being bombarded by all the psychology stuff at once, Robbins splits it up between the stories of the case studies and uses what's going on in a certain person's life as a foundation for explaining all the whys and hows of the behavior exhibited by students and teachers. Switching off between students' stories and psychology/sociology explanation gave my brain a break, which I appreciated.

Besides that, The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth is simply interesting. This is a book about what is going on at our schools today, and some of it is simply horrifying. Teachers playing favorites and allowing "populars" to rule the school, teachers having cliques themselves, schools not celebrating accomplishments of academic teams, etc. Becoming aware of the problem is the first step, and these things really do need to change. On top of that, I felt a strong connection with all the people Robbins does case studies on, even though I'd never really had those same experiences. But, I think they just laid all their emotions out on the line, which made made me really feel for their situation. Robbins gives good advice for how to treat other people and how to make all students feel self-worth. If you work at a school, or if you're interested in why people act the way they do, definitely pick this book up. It's a great read.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Book Review: Stronghold by Melanie Rawn

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Title: Stronghold
Author: Melanie Rawn
Publisher: Daw
Series: Dragon Star, Book 1
Paperback: 592 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
A generation of peace is about to be shattered as a seemingly unstoppable invasion force lays siege to High Prince Rohan's realm. For Andry, the Sunrunner Lord, the invasion is a fulfilment of his long-ago visions of disaster to come. This is the first book in the "Dragon Star" trilogy.

Overall Rating: 4/5

I made the mistake of reading this even though I haven't finished the Dragon Prince trilogy. Due to that, there were some plot points of the previous trilogy that I'm sure were ruined, and I was thoroughly confused for the first 100 pages or so. It didn't help that those pages were also incredibly, incredibly slow. The family tree and character list at the end of the book really helped, and after the first 100 pages, I got the gist of who everyone was.

As with most high fantasies, Stronghold takes some time to get going, but once it does, it's impossible to put down. My first love is high fantasy, and it's due to this incredible payoff that they give. It takes a lot of patience to get through the beginning, but the endings are always fantastic for all the setting-up that we have to deal with.

This novel deals with a nation that has been spoiled with a couple decades of peace suddenly being overrun by "barbarian" invaders intent on taking them over. As with most books that deal with war, there's a huge struggle between Rohan, aged war veteran who goes for patience and not attacking until he has to, and Pol, his son who's desperate to prove himself as High Prince and warrior. Lots of violence, lots of death, but not gratuitous violence. It's not done for shock value, but rather for a realistic depiction of what war is.

What I've always admired about Rawn is her ruthlessness to her characters. They're given tough choices and touch circumstances. It's not fluffy by any means, so they have a chance to really grow and change, which always makes for interesting reading. She also has no problem with spending ages and ages creating characters, giving them a history, background, family, etc., and then killing them off three books later. Again, it gives the feel of a war. For readers of the Dragon Prince trilogy, there are some hard deaths to take. It's really tough reading about these characters go from peaceful happiness to once again fighting a war.

The ending is a bit of a cliffhanger, and I'm glad I have the second book at hand so I can see what's going to happen next. For fans of high fantasy, if you haven't yet come across Melanie Rawn, I would definitely suggest you give her a try. (Start with Dragon Prince, and don't go near her Ruins of Ambrai series. It's unfinished and will probably remain so.) For those who have already read the Dragon Prince trilogy, pick this one up. It's a definite must-read.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Book Review: Princess Lessons by Meg Cabot

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Title: Princess Lessons
Author: Meg Cabot
Publisher: HarperCollins
Series: Princess Diaries companion book
Hardcover: 144 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

aka Princess Amelia Mignonette Grimaldi Thermopolis Renaldo
of Genovia

Overall Rating: 4.5/5

Princess Lessons is a compilation of tips and tricks on how to be a princess from our favorite Princess Diaries characters. It includes beauty tips from Paolo, etiquette from Grandmere, and other fun advice and facts about real princesses from various people in the Princess Diaries world.

I really loved this. I think Princess Lessons would be the perfect gift to give a tween or young teen who is a fan of the series. Even if they're not fans of the series they might enjoy it, but it's better to be familiar with the characters in order to understand some of the humor involved. Some of the tips were actually really good. There's a mix of actual advice and silly things such as the proper way to curtsy or wear a crown. So, it doesn't read like a manual because of the humor and side-notes from Mia. It stresses confidence, good hygiene, kindness, and just being yourself. A great message to young people who are under constant pressure to look and act a certain way.

This is by no means necessary to the series in general. It doesn't further the story or have any plot points, but it's a great companion that provides awesome tips all the while making you laugh.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Audiobook Review: The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl

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Author: Barry Lyga
Publisher: Listening Library
Narrator: Scott Brick
Duration: 9 hours 58 minutes

(taken from Goodreads):
Fanboy has never had it good, but lately his sophomore year is turning out to be its own special hell. The bullies have made him their favorite target, his best (and only) friend seems headed for the dark side (sports and popularity), and his pregnant mother and the step-fascist are eagerly awaiting the birth of the alien life form known as Fanboy’s new little brother or sister.

Fanboy, though, has a secret: a graphic novel he’s been working on without telling anyone, a graphic novel that he is convinced will lead to publication, fame, and—most important of all—a way out of the crappy little town he lives in and all the people that make it hell for him.

When Fanboy meets Kyra, a.k.a. Goth Girl, he finds an outrageous, cynical girl who shares his love of comics as well as his hatred for jocks and bullies. Fanboy can’t resist someone who actually seems to understand him, and soon he finds himself willing to heed her advice—to ignore or crush anyone who stands in his way.

Overall Rating: 4/5

I LOVED this book. The main character felt like a real person to me and there are some FUNNY incidents. There are some serious things going on, but I was laughing out loud a lot.

One of my favorite things is how Lyga makes and breaks stereotypes. Everyone is relegated to a stereotype, but there's a lot more going on under the surface. I love how Donnie finally makes the realization that not everybody fits into a pre-determined role and that the people in his life are more complex than he thought. It did bother me that most of the adults kept their stereotypical roles, but it was nice to see a few of the characters break out and show more depth.

At the beginning I was very skeptical as to whether or not I'd like it, but I absolutely loved how Brick narrated it. He had a geek voice: every word was carefully pronounced and enunciated, and the emotion he put into the words was perfect. I really enjoyed his narration of the book and I'm honestly not sure if I would have liked it as much in print.

There were some things that bothered me. Donnie's mom seemed psycho. I don't know if it was because she was pregnant or what, but that lady was unbelievably unreasonable at times. But overall, it was pretty awesome.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Book Review: The Orphanmaster by Jean Zimmerman

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Title: The Orphanmaster
Author: Jean Zimmerman
Publisher: Viking Adult
Publication Date: 19 June 2012
Hardcover: 432 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
It’s 1663 in the tiny, hardscrabble Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, now present-day southern Manhattan. Orphan children are going missing, and among those looking into the mysterious state of affairs are a quick-witted twenty-two-year-old trader, Blandine von Couvering, herself an orphan, and a dashing British spy named Edward Drummond. 
Suspects abound, including the governor’s wealthy nephew, a green-eyed aristocrat with decadent tastes; an Algonquin trapper who may be possessed by a demon that turns people into cannibals; and the colony’s own corrupt and conflicted orphanmaster. Both the search for the killer and Edward and Blandine’s newfound romance are endangered, however, when Blandine is accused of being a witch and Edward is sentenced to hang for espionage. Meanwhile, war looms as the English king plans to wrest control of the colony. 
Jean Zimmerman brings New Amsterdam and its surrounding wilderness alive for modern-day readers with exacting period detail. Lively, fast paced, and full of colorful characters, The Orphanmaster is a dramatic page-turner that will appeal to fans of Hilary Mantel and Geraldine Brooks.
Overall Rating: 3/5

The best thing about The Orphanmaster is its historical detail. Zimmerman does an excellent job of setting the scene and integrating issues and concerns the colonists had during that time. The legend of the witika was delightfully horrific, and I enjoyed reading about it. This story has lots of drama to keep the reader entertained. Though the first half is a bit slow, the second half really picks up and it is simply a race to the end. I will say that this is not for everyone, as it is rather graphic. Some of the violence and gruesome details were unnecessary, I think, and only used for shock value, which I dislike, but most of it fits in with the mystery of the orphan disappearances in the colony.

In terms of characters, Blandine was my absolute favorite. She is so strong character and really stands on her own. Though there are men in her life who help her, she doesn't lean on them and she's perfectly capable of taking care of herself. I really appreciated that and was rooting for her to overcome the patriarchal and suspicious society she lives in.

For all of its detail, I do think that the history overshadows the story. I think some of the setting could have been cut to make room for more plot and character development that would have added a richness to both. As it was, I didn't feel connected to any of them except for Blandine. Even then, I only really connected with her because she's a strong female character dealing with the ideals and prejudices of people living in the seventeenth century. And for a mystery, there wasn't much suspense. It's just sort of life-as-usual with the kidnappings in the background, when they should have been the focus of the story. Also, once enough information is given about the people in the town, it is obvious who the killer is. The characters take a lot longer to figure it out, which was frustrating for me.

I enjoyed the story overall, however. Fans of historical fiction will enjoy how effortlessly Zimmerman transports the reader to another time and place, and fans of mystery will enjoy the legend of the witika and the completely psychotic murderer.

*I was given a free copy of this book by the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.*

Friday, June 8, 2012

Book Review: The Secret Life of Copernicus H. Stringfellow by Lorin Barber

Title: The Secret Life of Copernicus H. Stringfellow
Author: Lorin Barber
Publisher: Sweetwater Books
Paperback: 293 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Copernicus H. Stringfellow, a.k.a. Nick, is not your run-of-the-mill genius. His mind is so powerful it can stop a speeding automobile or stem internal bleeding. As Nick goes about quietly doing good, he discovers that his powers are greatly enhanced by the nutrients present in Twinkies. Follow Nick on his amazing adventures in this humorous and exciting action-packed book for all ages.

Overall Rating: 2/5

This reminded me of a Matilda story for grown-ups. Nick is a super-genius who has such a great intellectual ability that he is able to perform telekinesis. I thought this was an interesting premise and was interested to see what challenges this kind of guy faces. I'm a huge fan of super-intelligent characters, so I thought this book would be my kind of thing.

It's great that Nick is such a nice guy. Throughout the entire book, he is constantly doing good deeds for people, such as giving them jobs, helping them heal, and saving them from danger. It did bother me that when explaining his good deeds and his outlook on life, Nick tends to get incredibly preachy. I prefer it when actions speak for themselves.

Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy the book as much as I'd thought I would. The main problem was the lack of overall conflict. There was nothing to really tie all the events in the book together except for Nick's magical abilities to solve all problems life throws at him. What I love about having super smart main characters is that they usually have to overcome something extraordinary. I was looking for a challenge that would take Nick an entire novel to overcome. As it was, all the conflicts presented  were too easy. For him, there was no real challenge. There were a very few instances when Nick's abilities weren't enough to solve the conflict right away, but these things were still relatively quick to be resolved, usually lasting no more than a couple of chapters.

I also thought the writing was a bit awkward. There is a lack of integration of dialogue and narrative. Either conversations go on for pages, or there are pages of narratives. No in-betweens. I also thought it strange that each character gets a full stats run-down upon introduction: exact height, color of eyes, color of hair, physical figure, etc. I wanted to attribute it to Nick's analytical mind, but even that didn't fully work, as the story isn't entirely from his perspective.

Overall, this was disappointing for me. I thought it was a great idea and the novel did have some enjoyable moments, but not enough.

*I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest review.*

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