[Arc Review] Panic by Lauren Oliver

ARC Reviews, Fry's Reviews, Reviews 0 Comments 4th February, 2014

I received this book for free from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

[Arc Review] Panic by Lauren OliverPanic by Lauren Oliver
Published by HarperCollins on March 4th, 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Thriller, Young Adult
Pages: 416
Source: Edelweiss
Panic began as so many things do in Carp, a dead-end town of 12,000 people in the middle of nowhere: because it was summer, and there was nothing else to do.

Heather never thought she would compete in Panic, a legendary game played by graduating seniors, where the stakes are high and the payoff is even higher. She’d never thought of herself as fearless, the kind of person who would fight to stand out. But when she finds something, and someone, to fight for, she will discover that she is braver than she ever thought.

Dodge has never been afraid of Panic. His secret will fuel him, and get him all the way through the game, he’s sure of it. But what he doesn't know is that he’s not the only one with a secret. Everyone has something to play for.

For Heather and Dodge, the game will bring new alliances, unexpected revelations, and the possibility of first love for each of them—and the knowledge that sometimes the very things we fear are those we need the most.

I want to like Lauren Oliver’s books, I honestly do. They all have really interesting premises and colorful characters. Yet, somewhere between point a and point b, the ball gets dropped and I never end up enjoying the books as much as the summary would make me believe.

Panic is no different. Though I wasn’t as disappointed with this one as I was with Delirium. Where Delirium was romance driven, this book mainly focuses on Heather and her attempt to carve out a place for herself in the universe. Even the chapters with Dodge –  while a nice break from Heather’s point of view – mainly held action and mystique instead of his own unique plot arc. He’s out for revenge, sure, but that seems to be all he’s got. Once that is gone, he deflates like a balloon.

Why the cover of the book is some girl standing there with windswept hair on a black background, I’ll never know. The premise offers so much more than the cover ever will. In a somewhat small town, the graduating seniors play a game of high stakes Fear Factor. It’s played over the whole summer and the winner takes home a hefty amount of money. The people running Panic are always anonymous, chosen the year before by the previous management. It has an air of mystery about it, as one never knows when the next challenge will be announced, or what it will be. Even the solo challenges are a mystery. Eventually, the challengers are whittled down through these tasks, via fear or injury and the last one standing takes the pot.

Heather decides to compete in the challenges, an impulse decision that diverts her summer’s course. She wants to prove her worth and her mettle. Even though she competes, the entire book is Heather trying to accomplish both those things. She lives in a trailer with her dead-beat mom and her younger sister, Lilly, whom she provides motherly support to. When Heather loses her job, a stroke of luck has her in the right place at the right time to meet Anne, a widower with a ton of land and animals who could use a farmhand.

Anne owns two tigers, who obviously come into play at the climax, culminating in trust issues for everyone involved. Even Heather’s best man friend (she’s got another friend named Nat, but Nat was annoying and inconsequential), Bishop, who is a terrible cliché and disappointment on most levels, takes this point to expound upon all the obvious things we’ve figured out about him. And while that’s supposed to be the romance mentioned in the summary, I was surprised and disappointed to find that it wasn’t between Heather and Dodge. I mean, that’s how dual narrators work, right?

All through this Dodge is having feels about the game and his sister’s demise in it several years earlier. He is battling his conscience and his thirst for revenge throughout the whole book, though he mostly sets up the action and acts as the hero for Heather’s idiotic strategies.

I could digress for hours on this book, but why bother? It wasn’t that bad of a premise and could have delivered far more intense action. Sadly, it flounders around for footing that it never really grasps. If you’re into a book that delivers obvious plot developments that you can see forming halfway through the book, this one’s for you.

[Manga Mondays]Glass Mask (or Glass no Kaiman)

Carol's Reviews, Reviews 0 Comments 3rd February, 2014

by Suzui Miuchi
Genres: Graphic Novel, Manga
Source: Purchase
Maya Kitajima has a special gift. She can recreate and recall any drama or show she has seen, and can embody the natural character of any role in a play. Former actress Chigusa Tsukikage discovers her and dubs her 'The Girl with A Thousand Masks'. Maya is swept up in to the world of acting and showbusiness, enduring hardships and triumphs she never thought she would see. All in the goal to be chosen as the new actress of the legendary role, 'The Crimson Goddess'.

First Issue Cover of 'Glass Mask'

The first thing that you notice about this manga is the cover-art. The image is that of a young girl, with large ‘manga typical’ eyes, and a small pointed nose, yet there the colors that come from obvious hand-painted marker and ink in her glittering eyes and her shining hair, and the sparkle of the glass mask in her hands, makes you very interested. There is a determination in this girl’s eyes that makes you curious about her, and seek to open the cover and read on.

This is how I became interested in Glass Mask, also called ‘Glass no Kaiman’ in Japanese. The serial is written by Suzui Miuchi, and was first published in the Hana to Yume magazine in 1976, and continues onward today. There are currently 49 volumes in the series and the author has stated that she intends to finish the series ‘soon’ (though I hope not too soon).

The artwork in the manga is indicative of the 70’s style of artistry for Shojou mangas (or novels geared toward teenage girls). The main characters have ‘sparkling eyes’ that reveal deep emotion, men are long and tall, while women are usually willowy and spritely (with exceptions for very young children and older adults). Stock characters or minor characters tend to look more like caricatures, but are still easily identifiable. The backgrounds, all hand-drawn (yes, even the sweeping forests and spiraling city landscapes), and the detail is incredible. This manga series is very special in that its style and setting are still consistently taking place during its original release-era. So, even the 2008 and beyond releases hold on to this glittering, romantic style, and still incorporate references and images evocative of the 1970’s. That is dedication to continuity!

Now, on to the plot! The story is about Maya Kitajima. She starts as a 13-year old middle-school girl who loves TV dramas, films, and plays. However, she works and lives above a Chinese restaurant, with her mom, and usually makes the deliveries of food. One day she is discovered by former star of stage and screen, Chigusa Tsukikage. Tsukikage sees in Maya the ability to ‘wear 1000 masks’- an idea that an actor or actress can put on any face and become any character flawlessly and entirely. She decides to take Maya under her tutelage, with the intent of using Maya to revive a stage-play that once only Tsukikage could perform: The Tale of the Crimson Goddess.  From here, we are introduced to a true cast of characters, from Maya’s rival in show-business and acting, Ayumi Himekawa, who plays ‘perfect characters’, to the acting troupe that Tsukikage gathers, to the enigmatic businessman Masumi Hayami. Maya even gains an anonymous patron who sends her purple roses after every one of her performances, gaining the nickname ‘Mr. Purple Rose’.

One of the subplots of the series is Maya’s relationship with Hayami. He begins as an antagonist who seems overly concerned with Maya’s talent and growing career, beginning from the time he meets her when she is 13 and he is 23. That’s right. He’s 10 years older than her. Their interactions are always fiery, full of sniping and bites of wit, and the passionate exchanges don’t stop as Maya grows from promising ingénue to the feared and respected ‘Stage Storm’ (a nicknamed gained from her overpowering presence on the stage). Even when Maya becomes aware of a growing attraction to Hayami, she feels conflict concerning the various ‘wrongs’ he has done to her, and resolves to hold on to her grudges.

This manga is a joy. You get in to the process that comes with becoming an actress or actor, from formal training in theatre companies, to the audition process for commercials, plays, and television, all the way to the harsh realities and glowing triumphs of being a professional. It isn’t easy, and they make that clear, but Maya forges on with enthusiasm and hope, wanting to obtain the right to play her mentor, Tsukikage’s, legendary role, and win out against her rival, Ayumi. And while Maya’s story is thrilling and epic in its own right, we don’t just watch her tale! We see the story at times from Ayumi’s perspective, as well. As a daughter to two well-known film and stage legends, Ayumi strives to show that her talent is all she needs to gain roles, and not her mother or father’s names and wealth. She also desires to play the Crimson Goddess, and envies Maya’s natural, seemingly effortless ease with slipping in to the mask of her roles.

We also get the perspective of Masumi Hayami, as he seeks to buy the rights for The Crimson Goddess, and struggle with his own internal conflicts concerning Maya. He grows to care for her, but his age and his position, and his own need to hide behind acidic insults and barbs, make it nearly impossible for him to connect to Maya except as a bully and a force that makes her become better to spite him. He too wishes to step out from under the eyes of his adoptive father, but his sense of duty and his desire to show his own worth become his own stumbling-blocks.

We are even given the tale of Chigusa Tsukikage, who rose from the streets as an orphan and a beggar, to be taken in by a famed script writer and stage director, whom became like a father to her, and then with whom she began a tragic and deeply moving love affair. Chigusa’s troubles do not end with her fame, as an accident on stage is what takes away her beauty and her strength, causing her to give up and, it seemed, retire the role and play that her beloved wrote just for her.

These various story-threads build up a world that keeps you pulled in and entirely overwhelms you! You’re taken along to every audition, filming, and performance. Through Maya and the rest of the characters you not only get to see their stories, but some of the best plays and novels acted out in front of your eyes. From Shakespeare to Bronte and beyond, the stories told through the manga’s cast are astounding, and completely believable as a real performance. And every story connects and manages to weave their way in to others within, and makes you concerned for just about everyone that you, and Maya, come across.

In summary, this manga is gorgeous in an aesthetic and artistic sense, and doubly so in its writing. You’ll follow all 49 volumes through, and hope and pray that the Mangaka (Manga Artist) will hurry up with the next installment so that we can learn how Maya and company fare in this overwhelming saga. I only hope that it doesn’t end too soon!

If my own review isn’t enough of an endorsement, consider this: Two anime adaptations of this manga exist; one made in the 1980’s (and set in the 70’s), and another that was made and set in the year 2005. Both are good, but do not tell the whole story (the first stops at just barely the beginning, and the second only half-way through!). What’s more, a live action version was made from 1997-1998. This is one of the staples of Manga, especially the Shoujo genre, and I would certainly recommend it.

Four and ½ Stars: Magnificent story, beautiful artwork, endearing and addictive characters, and I love it, but I’m not fangirling too much yet.

[ARC Review] How to Be Danish: A Journey to the Cultural Heart of Denmark by Patrick Kingsley

ARC Reviews, Bry's Reviews, Reviews 2 Comments 2nd February, 2014

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

[ARC Review] How to Be Danish: A Journey to the Cultural Heart of Denmark by Patrick KingsleyHow to Be Danish: A Journey to the Cultural Heart of Denmark by Patrick Kingsley
Published by Atria Books on February 4th, 2014
Genres: Travel
Pages: 192
Source: Netgalley
Denmark is the country of the moment. Recently named the happiest nation in the world, it’s the home of The Killing and Noma, the world’s best (and most eccentric) restaurant. We wear their sweaters, watch their thrillers, and covet their cool modern design, but how much do we really know about the Danes themselves? Part reportage, part travelogue, How to Be Danish fills in the gaps—an introduction to contemporary Danish culture that spans politics, television, food, architecture, and design.

Let’s begin by acknowledging that I am Danish. In fact, genetically, I am very Danish. My last name, Jensen,  is the most prevalent surname in all of Denmark, and the whole of my family has the very, very Danish look. However, I have never (yet) been to Denmark, and due to the obvious language barrier, I have very little contact with most of my extended family. So when the chance to read this book came up, I jumped, figuring this would be the perfect way to amuse myself and uncover more about the place from which I hail. Just how Danish am I really?

How to be Danish is an exploration of Danish culture as conceived by ethnic natives, first and second generation immigrants, and the outsider perspective of the author.The book explores the fundamentals of Danish culture from style and design, the social and economic structure of the socialist state, television, food, education, immigration, and even the Danishness of cycling. Together, the differing topics of discussion provide a unique commentary on what it is to belong in Denmark, and how the affirmed identity of the Danish people shapes their understanding of the larger world and their place in it.

This book is a very easy read, so much so that I finished the entire book while waiting for my hair color to set at the salon. Patrick Kingsley provides context, history, insight and reflection on the various aspects of Danishness without becoming bogged down in the dull droning quality that fact recitation can easily become. His chosen topics and colloquial styling kept this book light and interesting, and his anecdotes are accessible, even if you have never seen The Killing or Borgen (Danish shows that earned international acclaim). His evaluation of even sensitive polarizing issues such as racism are handled without pretension, or the condescending lens of an onlooker. Indeed, Kingsley’s style is very neutral and objective, removing his personal bias whenever possible, or acknowledging his personal opinions separate from the subject matter. 

Overall, what I learned from this book is that in many ways, I am quite quintessentially Danish, aside from the fact that I actually live in Canada. I view the social welfare structure of Denmark, which pays students to go to university and invests in their society to prevent economic inequality, as ideal and desirable, and even my aesthetic tastes are Scandinavian at their core. So if you’ve got Danish heritage, or are planning a trip to Denmark and want to know more about the people you’re going to interact with, How to be Danish is an easy, fun read that will inform you without feeling bored.

[Review] This is What Happy Looks Like

Amy's Reviews, Reviews 0 Comments 1st February, 2014

This review contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.
[Review] This is What Happy Looks LikeThis Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer Smith
Published by Hachette Digital, Inc. on 2013-04-02
Genres: Family, Film, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 416
Source: Amazon, Purchase
If fate sent you an email, would you answer?When teenage movie star Graham Larkin accidentally sends small town girl Ellie O'Neill an email about his pet pig, the two seventeen-year-olds strike up a witty and unforgettable correspondence, discussing everything under the sun, except for their names or backgrounds. Then Graham finds out that Ellie's Maine hometown is the perfect location for his latest film, and he decides to take their relationship from online to in-person. But can a star as famous as Graham really start a relationship with an ordinary girl like Ellie? And why does Ellie want to avoid the media's spotlight at all costs?

So, I picked up this book with the thought that it was probably going to be majorly corny.  By the end of this book I was pleasantly surprised to find I actually liked this book.  This is What Happy Look Like has one cheese, cheese, cheesy plot line.


The story starts when a young Hollywood star accidentally emails the wrong person about walking his pet pig.  Then the person he emails responds to let him know that he got wrong address and just happens to be a seventeen year old girl.  They start an online pen pal relationship never sharing personal details like last names, just hopes and dreams.  The first couple of pages of the book is told in their emails.  Then Graham has to go on location to shoot his new movie and he just happens to convince the director to go to the small Maine town where Ellie lives so he can meet the girl who has helped bring him back down to earth after getting lost in the Hollywood glitz and glamour.  The plot line is basically a teen version of You’ve Got Mail meets Knotting Hill.

I am here to tell you don’t let that scare you away because this book is about so more than a Hollywood star falling in love with an average girl.  This is not a Cinderella story.  This story is about a summer of self discovery.  It is about forgiveness.   It is about the truth and reality of a summer romance.  Ellie is hiding secrets of own about her father’s identity.  With the help of Graham and his life in the spotlight she has to face those secrets.  I liked how she come to terms and takes some baby steps toward the path that leads to her father.  She is able to begin her own healing processes for wounds she didn’t even know were still open.

I liked how Graham has problems of his own because he is estranged from his parents because for him acting is a career.  For his parents, it’s like the trip across Europe every eighteen or seventeen year old takes before going  to college.  Maybe Graham will go to college and maybe he won’t but I liked how he is able to take baby steps back on the road towards his family.  I liked that Ellie doesn’t treat him like a movie star.  I liked that she is able to see past, after a while, and remember the guy who emailed her because for this summer they need each other, the friendship and understanding that each brings to table to move on and grow.

So, I liked this book a lot because it was so real.  I liked that it didn’t end with empty promises of declarations of forever love.  I liked that things are not completely resolved with their parents.  Both Graham and Ellie are only seventeen and they have the rest of their lives for forever love and healing.  This book is about possibilities and I like that it ends with a whole world of them, leaving the reader, me to imagine them all.  This is What Happy Looks Like left me floating on a nice cloud of happy.

[Arc Review] Fire & Flood

ARC Reviews, Fry's Reviews, Reviews 0 Comments 29th January, 2014

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

This review contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.
[Arc Review] Fire & FloodFire & Flood by Victoria Scott
Series: Fire & Flood
Published by Scholastic Press on February 25th, 2014
Genres: Mystery, Science Fiction, Thriller, Young Adult
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
A modern day thrill ride, where a teen girl and her animal companion must participate in a breathtaking race to save her brother's life—and her own.

Tella Holloway is losing it. Her brother is sick, and when a dozen doctors can't determine what's wrong, her parents decide to move to Montana for the fresh air. She's lost her friends, her parents are driving her crazy, her brother is dying—and she's helpless to change anything.

Until she receives mysterious instructions on how to become a Contender in the Brimstone Bleed. It's an epic race across jungle, desert, ocean, and mountain that could win her the prize she desperately desires: the Cure for her brother's illness. But all the Contenders are after the Cure for people they love, and there's no guarantee that Tella (or any of them) will survive the race.

The jungle is terrifying, the clock is ticking, and Tella knows she can't trust the allies she makes. And one big question emerges: Why have so many fallen sick in the first place?

Tella Halloway is annoying, and everything I despise in a protagonist. She’s not that bright, worried more about the shallow things in life like nail polish and fashion, and she’s stuck in the middle of nowhere with her family. Her brother is terminal, and her relationship with him is almost normal, considering.

Tella immediately receives a mysterious package, with instructions on how to become a Contender in something called the Brimstone Bleed. It’s a race, you guys, across several different and grueling biomes. The winner gets a cure for the terminally ill patient of their choice. Catch? Her parents are trying to keep the Brimstone Bleed a secret from her, and she’s got 48 hours to make it from middle of nowhere Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska.

She runs off without another thought in her pretty little head, except the one where she remembers to pack purple nail polish so she can look stellar. Never mind the fact that her parents didn’t want her to know about the competition or that they tried to cover it up as a joke and keep her at home. Never mind that she stole a car and trekked across country on the faith of a google search. She has to reach her destination and participate in selecting something called a Pandora!

Of course, Tella doesn’t grab an egg immediately and gets left with the broken one on the floor. Then she follows her mysterious instructions to a train station, takes a mysterious pill and wakes up in the jungle. Here, with the other Contenders, she’s expected to trek through the jungle and make it to base camp in order to continue to the next leg of the journey.

The jungle is full of surprises, none of which Tella is prepared for. She’s not prepared for flesh eating ants or leeches or killer chimps. Through this, she somehow survives and stumbles upon a campsite full of other Contenders who are more than happy to take her in. Her Pandora, or animal companion that hatched out of that egg she chose before the race started, is much smaller compared to the rest.

Her new group of allies are varied in their back stories, demographics and reasons for being in the competition. Despite these differences, they work well together and when they are attacked by a grizzly Pandora, they quickly subdue both him and his handler. The grizzly Pandora attack adds two more members to their group, the grizzly’s handler in order to keep an eye on him and the brooding and mysterious Guy Chambers.

Now, Guy Chambers is apparently the love interest. He is brooding and full of mystery and his motives for being in the Brimstone Bleed go far beyond saving a family member. He is described in a bipolar fashion. Sometimes he looks like a serial killer. Other times he has dreamy blue eyes. Always, Tella is compelled to follow, stare at or kiss him.

Despite hardships, the team makes it through one leg of the race, only to immediately be thrown into the second biome, a desert. This leg of the race is full of hardships that extend past the obvious terrain induced ones. A few reveals are made involving some of the teammates. One is pretty obvious and I saw it coming from the point of meeting the character, but the other is a bit more subtle. There is only a passing mention that could even hint towards it, hiding in an offhanded snarky comment. The mention stood out at the time, as out of place as it was to me, making the reveal more of a, ‘duh’, moment than an actual reveal.

The finish line of this leg of the race also requires a surprise price. Tella got lucky and she was able to complete this leg of the race with her dignity and compassion intact.

After the race, the reason for the Brimstone Bleed and Guy’s ulterior motives are revealed. Yet, despite learning about them, Tella doesn’t ask any questions. She just blankly nods and accepts everything she’s told as fact. Sure, she speculates a little, but anyone else in that situation would be demanding plenty more than what she was given.

I enjoyed the book overall. Full of plot holes, questions and inconsistent heroines, it still wove a compelling, attention grabbing tale. It’s more of a summer blockbuster in literary form, than a wonderful literary masterpiece. It read quickly and kept me interested. We will have to see how the followup pans out.

[ARC Review] Alienated

Amy's Reviews, ARC Reviews, Reviews 3 Comments 28th January, 2014

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

[ARC Review] AlienatedAlienated by Melissa Landers
Series: Alienated #1
Published by Disney-Hyperion on February 4th, 2014
Genres: Adventure, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 352
Source: Netgalley
Two years ago, the aliens made contact. Now Cara Sweeney is going to be sharing a bathroom with one of them. Handpicked to host the first-ever L'eihr exchange student, Cara thinks her future is set. Not only does she get a free ride to her dream college, she'll have inside information about the mysterious L'eihrs that every journalist would kill for. Cara's blog following is about to skyrocket.Still, Cara isn't sure what to think when she meets Aelyx. Humans and L'eihrs have nearly identical DNA, but cold, infuriatingly brilliant Aelyx couldn't seem more alien. She's certain about one thing though: no human boy is this good-looking.But when Cara's classmates get swept up by anti-L'eihr paranoia, Midtown High School suddenly isn't safe anymore. Threatening notes appear in Cara's locker, and a police officer has to escort her and Aelyx to class. Cara finds support in the last person she expected. She realizes that Aelyx isn't just her only friend; she's fallen hard for him. But Aelyx has been hiding the truth about the purpose of his exchange, and its potentially deadly consequences. Soon Cara will be in for the fight of her life-not just for herself and the boy she loves, but for the future of her planet.

I started this book when I was on vacation and I ended up really liking it.  I was on a cruise boat, and I found this book provided just the right kind of vacation reading.  The story is light, full of action, and of course there is kissing.  It was one of those reads that drags you in and doesn’t let go until the end.  For me, I found Alienated by Melissa Landers quite a fascinating read.

The book is set in an alternate reality where aliens have made contact with Earth.  This alien race shares DNA with humans. They even look like humans with subtle differences. Their race is more advanced and possesses technology that can save Earth from a water shortage.  They even have the technology to cure cancer.  So when they agree to send exchange students to live on Earth, the politicians know they have to make the populace happy because Earth can benefit so much from the friendship with these aliens.

Cara is a straight A student who agrees to host the only alien exchange on USA soil.  Not everyone is happy about the exchange and becoming friends with aliens, and soon Cara and her alien find themselves in danger.  Angry mobs aren’t the only problem because Cara and Aelyx are falling in love.  Being a sucker for romance of course I was all over this plot line of star-crossed lovers like white on rice.  I really did like the book because while it was cheesy, it was the right kind of cheese that is believable, romantic, and leaves a swoony smile across my face.

I liked that Aelyx starts off hating the assignment and believes that humans are beneath him, to developing compassion and growing to love not only Cara, but the human race.  These traits that had been bred out his people after years of cloning and it’s good to see that everyone needs passion in their lives because it keeps the drive we all have going to try new things, fall in love, and better our lives.  I like that it is Cara’s loyalty and passion that helps him see the light.  It is that loyalty and passion that causes her to risk everything for love and leave behind everything she has ever known.  I felt the chemistry sizzled off page and their love was genuine and believable.

In the end, I really liked Alienated.   For me, this book was about two beings who think they can’t be more different, but realize that they each have something valuable to offer each other.  I liked the message in the book of finding one’s passion and tolerance.  This book is about tolerance and acceptance because every being has something valuable of offer.  The way the book ended was kind of bittersweet.  I am now eagerly awaiting the next installment because I can’t wait to find out what happens next in the Cara and Aelyx love affair.  Alienated is a book that made me cheer, swoon, and bite my nails in suspense. I recommend this book to anyone looking for a read that will take them on romantic adventure.

[ARC Review] The Boleyn Bride by Brandy Purdy

ARC Reviews, Bry's Reviews, Reviews 0 Comments 27th January, 2014

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

[ARC Review] The Boleyn Bride by Brandy PurdyThe Boleyn Bride by Brandy Purdy
Published by Kensington on February 25th, 2014
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 272
Source: Netgalley
From carefree young woman to disillusioned bride, the dazzling lady who would become mother and grandmother to two of history's most infamous queens, has a fascinating story all her own. . .

At sixteen, Elizabeth Howard envisions a glorious life for herself as lady-in-waiting to the future queen, Catherine of Aragon. But when she is forced to marry Thomas Boleyn, a wealthy commoner, Elizabeth is left to stagnate in the countryside while her detested husband pursues his ambitions. There, she raises golden girl Mary, moody George, and ugly duckling Anne—while staving off boredom with a string of admirers. Until Henry VIII takes the throne. . .

When Thomas finally brings his highborn wife to London, Elizabeth indulges in lavish diversions and dalliances—and catches the lusty king's eye. But those who enjoy Henry's fickle favor must also guard against his wrath. For while her husband's machinations bring Elizabeth and her children to the pinnacle of power, the distance to the scaffold is but a short one—and the Boleyn family's fortune may be turning.

The events surrounding King Henry VIII’s “Great Matter” have been rehashed and retold so many times, and is so well loved by historical fiction fans everywhere that it feels as if any author with a penchant for history could sell a book on this subject and have it do rather well. However, with the Boleyn Bride, Brandy Purdy has shrewdly revived the well reiterated tale by placing the narrative with an extremely overlooked and oft-forgotten historical figure: Elizabeth Howard. Wife of Thomas Boleyn, mother to Anne, long serving lady in waiting to Catherine of Aragon, faded former interest of the King, Elizabeth is the perfect candidate for a refreshing perspective.

In the Boleyn Bride, Purdy’s writing style is very much reminiscent of Phillipa Gregory, almost uncannily so. However, Purdy’s writing is free from the incredibly glaring author-held biases that always taint Gregory’s work for me. Certainly, there are strong images and attitudes towards significant historical figures constructed within this book, but it is evident these biases come from Elizabeth and her feelings, rather than from a writer who simply cannot remove personal lens from her material. Indeed, Elizabeth’s vitriolic hatred for her husband and those who brought death to her children is constructed with sincerity.

The construction of Elizabeth is interesting, for as the actions and choices and thoughts of her life are unfurled she is not a likable individual – yet she is the one presenting her life to the reader in such a critical, jaded fashion. Does it make a character more or less likable for them to acknowledge their own avaricious, selfish, promiscuous and unbecoming behaviour? Do we condemn Elizabeth’s character for her candidness about her dalliances, her lack of maternal instinct, her hatred and her snobbery? I feel not. I enjoyed her all the same!

My largest complaint about this book is its repetitiveness. I very quickly lost count of the overused phrase, “Bullen – I mean Boleyn!”, which, while admittedly made a strong point of Elizabeth’s ire for her husband, grew tiresome. I also found the predictability of Elizabeth’s visitation to her star-crossed and oddly unfitting doll maker lover after every major event too repetitive, particularly as it added nothing to the story. Her lover, Remi, scarce had personality or insight to provide, so these visits simply became an unproductive motif.

Overall, The Boleyn Bride is an enjoyable read and refreshing retelling of a story heard many times. Brandy Purdy demonstrates great skill as a writer, but could have benefited from less redundancy.

[ARC Review] Uninvited by Sophie Jordan

Amy's Reviews, ARC Reviews, Reviews 0 Comments 25th January, 2014

I received this book for free from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

[ARC Review] Uninvited by Sophie JordanUninvited by Sophie Jordan
Published by HarperCollins on 2014-01-28
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 384
Source: Edelweiss
From New York Times bestselling author Sophie Jordan, Uninvited is a chilling and suspenseful story about a girl whose DNA brands her as a killer, perfect for fans of The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer and Confessions of a Murder Suspect.Davy had everything—a terrific boyfriend, the homecoming crown, a bright future at Juilliard—but when her genetic tests come back positive for Homicidal Tendency Syndrome, she loses it all. Uninvited from her prestigious school and avoided by her friends and family, she is placed in a special class with other

I really really liked Uninvited by Sophie Jordan.  This book was exciting, terrifying, sexy, and thought provoking.  The book is set in a dystopian future where scientists have discovered that homicidal tendencies are actually genetic.  They now test everyone for HTS, aka the kill gene.  The book opens with a teenage girl,  with a bright future ahead and the whole world to conquer. Then one day she comes home from school to discover that she is a carrier for HTS.  Her whole world comes crashing down around her because she doesn’t feel any different, but now they say she is to become a killer.

I really liked Davy as a character.  I could really feel for her and everything she went through.  Her life goes down the drain pretty quickly, one minute she is popular, and the next she has a case worker and is going to school in a cage.  It is in situations like this that you find out who your real friends are. Davy discovers that her old friends are like rabid dogs turning on her in a second because she is the “dangerous” one.  I like that Davy is able to pick up the pieces somehow and make some new friends, and even one that could be something more.  I liked the relationship between Davy and O’Rouke.  I felt that their relationship moved at a believable pace, was quite sexy, and full of feels.

The overall story gave me feels and was quite terrifying in some aspects.  This could happen because things like this have happened throughout time.  When governments are tanking and they need scapegoats, something to distract the people and rally them together.  In this future, it is identifying potential killers, rounding them up, and monitoring them for the good of humanity.

I liked the questions this book brings up. Does treating potential killers like second class citizens because they “might” hurt someone really stop murders or just breed more?  When someone has nothing to lose, just how far will they go?  How far do you go to protect the ones you care about?  I think that what I liked most about this book is it asks such provocative questions about a future that could really happen.  I think that is what a good dystopian novel is, “could this happen to you?” That is the most terrifying thought of all. On that note, go read Uninvited by Sophie Jordan because this book really was so good when I read the last page I was floating on a happy cloud.




[Arc Review] Tin Star

ARC Reviews, Fry's Reviews, Reviews 0 Comments 25th January, 2014

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

[Arc Review] Tin StarTin Star by Cecil Castellucci
Series: Tin Star #1
Published by Roaring Book Press on February 25th, 2014
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 240
Source: Netgalley
On their way to start a new life, Tula and her family travel on the Prairie Rose, a colony ship headed to a planet in the outer reaches of the galaxy. All is going well until the ship makes a stop at a remote space station, the Yertina Feray, and the colonist's leader, Brother Blue, beats Tula within an inch of her life. An alien, Heckleck, saves her and teaches her the ways of life on the space station.

When three humans crash land onto the station, Tula's desire for escape becomes irresistible, and her desire for companionship becomes unavoidable. But just as Tula begins to concoct a plan to get off the space station and kill Brother Blue, everything goes awry, and suddenly romance is the farthest thing from her mind.

The beginning of Tin Star was fascinating. Tula Bane is stranded upon a remote space station by the leader of their colonizing cult, Brother Blue. She survives his brutal attack and abandonment only to find that she’s living in a universe where humans are not thought highly of. Their prejudice runs deep. She’s forced to survive by proving to everyone else on the space station that she can adapt and respect their customs while supporting herself.

Her footing gathered, she lives a relatively functional existence. This changes when a new group of humans, rescued from a crash, show up on the station. The tone of the book changes dramatically after this point. While there is plenty of drama involving Tula trying to retain her position with the aliens while the newcomers attempt to undermine it by living up to the alien stereotypes, there are also added layers of attraction and reluctant comradery.

At this point, Tula seems to be in love (though, I would more describe it as lust) with both of the male humans aboard the ship. Only one of these relationships moves any farther than awkward glances and descriptions of tight muscles. Even that one stays pretty chaste, remaining at the making out stage. She never becomes too attached to any of the humans, preferring to remain alone and trusting in her alien neighbors.

The other human, Els, is a backstabbing schemer. This fact and Els’ actions culminate into the climax of the story, forcing Tula to make a lot of hard decisions and revealing a romantic ally that she should have been more aware of.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. I would have liked it more if the book retained the dark and gritty survivalist aspect instead of traversing upon a romantic detour. Still, Tula is a tenacious, bright protagonist with plenty of promise. The overarching demand for satisfaction and revenge on her part was neither forgotten or overbearing. I can’t wait to see what path her story takes in the next installment.

[Review] Leviathan – Leviathan #1

Blue's Reviews, Reviews 0 Comments 23rd January, 2014

[Review] Leviathan – Leviathan #1Leviathan by Scott Westerfield
Series: Leviathan #1
Published by Simon Pulse on Oct 6, 2009
Genres: Alternate History, Steampunk
Pages: 464
Source: Amazon, Audible
Prince Aleksander, would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battletorn war machine and a loyal crew of men.

Deryn Sharp is a commoner, disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She's a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered.

With World War I brewing, Alek and Deryn's paths cross in the most unexpected way…taking them on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure that will change both their lives forever.

I love alternate history, and I love original world-building. These two things are in great abundance in the introductory work to Scott Westerfield’s Leviathan series. Unfortunately, I also love creative characters and novels with self-contained narratives. These two things were in shorter supply.

It is definitely refreshing to see someone take up an alternate history novel that is not set in World War Two or the Cold War, and Westerfield does a wonderful job of laying the undertones for conflict without hobbling himself to real world events. ‘Clankers’ and ‘Darwinists’ facing off made for a surprisingly compelling read, and I could sympathize with both sides through their respective narrators Alek and Deryn. Their voices were excellent, believable, and the use of each side’s slang added a level of reality to the story that I have rarely seen authors pay attention to. The plot unfolds quickly without feeling rushed, and have I mentioned just how much I love the world that Westerfield has built? Yes fabricated beasts and giant diesel driven mechs aren’t the most original ideas, Girl Genius was doing basically the same thing years before, but there’s such detail in his telling that characters can expound on basic concepts without feeling like they’re hitting the reader over the head with exposition.

Deryn and Alek, the woman disguised as a man and the renegade prince, aren’t bad characters but they fall flat when set against the background, and the supporting cast. The observant female ‘Boffin’ Dr. Barlow truly steals the show, usurping any scene she has with the main pair, and forcing them into the background. It’s a little hard to hold an audience when your primary protagonists are less interesting than a snarky gene-manupulator.

The plot flows well, if a little clumsy through Alek’s early chapters. If I thought that Westerfield had made the ‘Clanker’ chapters feel mechanical and stilted on purpose I would applaud, but he saves the day with Deryn and her living airship. I found myself wanting to follow her story exclusively until the pair finally meet towards the end of the book, where things really begin to run like clockwork…

Until it abruptly ends a few chapters later. It would be nice to get some kind, any kind, of resolution to the story that I had just spent those hours reading. I understand that this is the first work in a trilogy, but why does that preclude it from a real ending? Can we get resolution on at least one plot thread? The author has plenty to choose from, dangling at the end of the book like string in front of a kitten.

I suppose it worked, since I plan to get the second book Behemoth just to find out where things go from here. The world is too compelling to leave alone, even if the protagonists aren’t, and hopefully they will get better as the series advances and the intentional layers of mystery and obfuscation pull back. Bottom line- worth a read, but plan on getting the second book as well if you want to get more than a taste of this fantastic world, or resolve any plot at all.