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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Review: The Archived by Victoria Schwab

Imagine a place where the dead rest on shelves like books.

Each body has a story to tell, a life seen in pictures that only Librarians can read. The dead are called Histories, and the vast realm in which they rest is the Archive.

Da first brought Mackenzie Bishop here four years ago, when she was twelve years old, frightened but determined to prove herself. Now Da is dead, and Mac has grown into what he once was, a ruthless Keeper, tasked with stopping often—violent Histories from waking up and getting out. Because of her job, she lies to the people she loves, and she knows fear for what it is: a useful tool for staying alive.

Being a Keeper isn’t just dangerous—it’s a constant reminder of those Mac has lost. Da’s death was hard enough, but now her little brother is gone too. Mac starts to wonder about the boundary between living and dying, sleeping and waking. In the Archive, the dead must never be disturbed. And yet, someone is deliberately altering Histories, erasing essential chapters. Unless Mac can piece together what remains, the Archive itself might crumble and fall.

In this haunting, richly imagined novel, Victoria Schwab reveals the thin lines between past and present, love and pain, trust and deceit, unbearable loss and hard-won redemption.

 Imagine that your life is like a book, each day a page, each year a chapter. When you die, the "book" gets copied or cloned into what looks like a person with bones and flesh (but not blood) and kept in a drawer to sleep (sort of like you would see in the morgue). These dead, soulless copies are called Histories. The Histories are housed in a special place called The Archive, which is like a library (or a huge morgue), and the workers in the Archive are called Librarians. But... sometimes Histories wake up, become confused, escape the Archive, and end up in an "in between" space called the Narrows. That's where Keepers like Mackenzie come in. Their job is to capture escaped Histories and put them back into the Archive before they figure out how to leave the Narrows. This is important because if they do manage to leave the Narrows and get into the real world, then BAD things happen. Confusing? YES.

I have to admit that I had a hard time wrapping my mind around the concept of The Archive and the Histories at first. I kept trying to draw these parallels between what I know of ghosts, the afterlife and religion, thinking that Schwab had just renamed it all to give her story a twist. And in a way she did because the Histories are just spooky and crazy enough to make you think that they are ghosts. But at the same time, the concept is completely different and there really isn't much mention of what happens to a person's soul when they die. Or, is a person's soul their history and life experiences? Interesting question that I will have to ponder. Another question that I ponder is the whole "why" of it. Heaven has a purpose; Hell has a purpose. For a while, I thought the Archive had a purpose, but near the end of the story I was beginning to have my doubts. Spoiler: In the end we find out that Librarians are actually Histories as well,  woken to take care of other Histories whether they want to or not. I started to ask myself, who runs this joint? Why? What is the purpose of it all? And I hope that the next book gives me some answers. Anyway, despite the fact that it took a while for the whole concept to come together for me, I still enjoyed the story throughout. There are great characters and a mystery to solve and heart-wrenching emotions as Mac deals with the loss of her brother.

A little more about Mac -- she reminded me a bit of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which I know may sound strange because the story does not have the same tone as Buffy AT ALL. There are no vampires, and Mac, for the most part, doesn't go around staking people (or Histories). But Mac does have this really insane, tough, and at times dangerous job which she has to keep a secret from her family and friends. It consumes her life to the point where she wishes she were just an ordinary girl who could go out on dates. And like Buffy, Mac is a bit kickass, with fighting abilities and a cool head. The way she commits herself to a job that asks too much of her gives her a maturity that I admired. Schwab does a great job of making Mac into a strong character who feels "real", who has real emotions, makes mistakes, and still perseveres. At times, my heart really went out to her, and I felt her fears as well as her heartache.

Schwab's writing is also just lovely with great descriptions and numerous details that made me feel like I was right there. As the summary states, the book is haunting, not unlike Schwab's first book, The Near Witch. Overall, it lacks that little umph that would push it into my top faves for the year, but I feel bad giving it just 4 stars because it is so very very close. Hence my 5 star rating, and hence my recommendation that you check it out.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Review: Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

It’s 1950, and as the French Quarter of New Orleans simmers with secrets, seventeen-year-old Josie Moraine is silently stirring a pot of her own. Known among locals as the daughter of a brothel prostitute, Josie wants more out of life than the Big Easy has to offer.

She devises a plan get out, but a mysterious death in the Quarter leaves Josie tangled in an investigation that will challenge her allegiance to her mother, her conscience, and Willie Woodley, the brusque madam on Conti Street. Josie is caught between the dream of an elite college and a clandestine underworld. New Orleans lures her in her quest for truth, dangling temptation at every turn, and escalating to the ultimate test.

With characters as captivating as those in her internationally bestselling novel Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys skillfully creates a rich story of secrets, lies, and the haunting reminder that decisions can shape our destiny.

I'm gonna tell you, reading this book I felt like I was at a smorgasbord where all my favorites were being served. First, this book is by an author who wrote one of the best books I read last year: Ruta Sepetys. Second, it's an historical young adult that takes place in my absolute favorite decade of the 20th century: the fifties. Finally, it's set in one of the cities I love best in the United States: New Orleans, or as natives would say, Nawlins.  I gotta tell you, I was in hog heaven for three days reading this one. 

The story starts out where you least expect it to. Well, for a young adult novel that is -- in a brothel. The main character, Josie, is introduced and even as a child, she shines so bright it's like you KNOW this book is just going to get better and better. And it does. Josie is a tough cookie, but at the same time she's sweet as pudding. She has high morals and just wants to escape the sordid life her mother has put her in, but to do that she has to play the game of manipulation herself. And she's good at it. There were moments where you feel soooo bad for Josie (like when we're told that her mother came a parent's night dressed in a fur coat with nothing under neath!), and you want her to win and get out of her situation more than anything. And then things just get worse -- all due to her mother. I hated her mom, I truly did, but what struck me about Josie's character is that she doesn't let herself feel that hate. It makes you scratch your head while thinking to yourself, well, that's actually quite admirable. Because hate makes people ugly, and although Josie's desperation drives her to do some unexpected things, her character is anything but ugly.

But Sepetys didn't stop at Josie's character. No, there are a whole cast of colorful and loving and unexpected characters. Confession time: back when I was in high school I came across a book packed away in my mom's closet, a book entitled *get ready to gasp* The Happy Hooker, written by then New York madam, Xavier Hollander. Oh, how I devoured that book! (okay, you can stop gasping now). The thing that struck me about The Happy Hooker was how the prostitutes were portrayed as...well, as happy. And like... well, like a family. It was eye-opening, and I mention it because reading Out of the Easy and watching all of the brothel characters in this book reminded me of The Happy Hooker, minus the erotic aspects of course. First we have Willie, the brothel madam, who seems like this hard-hearted beast at first but who we come to learn is really a caring woman, almost like a mother to Josie. Then there are the prostitutes. They all have their own quirky personalities. Sometimes good, sometimes bad, but at all times just like a family. We're not made to forget that they're prostitutes though - there are plenty of fun descriptions of their patrons and green feather boas and what not -- but at the same time you get a sense of empowerment through them. These women had life throw them a curve, and they learned to roll with it and not let it roll them over. It was well done, and I give Sepetys huge kudos for portraying the women this way. It also kind of makes me wonder if she ever read The Happy Hooker herself. :)

Touching a bit on themes: one that stands out in this story is that monetary worth and societal position does not make a person what they are. We see this again and again as we wade through the story. The prostitutes in the brothel are not bad people. Willie is not a heartless old crone. Cokie is not just a poor cab driver, but a good friend. And on the flipside, a rich businessman has more creep to him than respectability. All of these people have helped to shape Josie's character and personality. They've given her hope and dreams and love that she otherwise wouldn't have had. Warning: spoiler!!!! : I really thought that this was set up for Josie to come to the realization that New Orleans isn't a beast afterall, but her home, as Willie tries to convince her. However, Sepetys doesn't seem to take the lesson that far. She never brings Josie to the conclusion that she can love New Orleans, with all its faults, because its the people who make a place home. When Josie leaves it does indeed seem as though she's leaving everyone and everything behind.

After finishing this book, I read through the acknowledgments, which I tend to do these days just for fun. I was surprised, and quite happy, to find that Anne Rice inspired Sepetys's writing of the New Orleans setting. I won't say that I felt quite as immersed as I always feel when reading Anne Rice, but I do think she did a decent job. The details were there - the descriptive architecture, the food, the sounds of the French Quarter, the smell of the streets after a night of partying. It gave me a little tug that whispered, "let's go there again!" and at the same time made me want to revisit some of Rice's stories. 

Overall, I'd give this book 5 stars. Great characters, wonderful setting, excellent writing. Thoroughly enjoyed it!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Review: Throne of Glass by Sarah Maas

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.

I'm slowly getting into more fantasy novels, and when several friends started talking about the second book in this series (and raving about it), I felt like I had to jump on the bandwagon. My impressions? A decent read, but not as good as some on my list (like the Lumatere Chronicles, Graceling, and Girl of Fire and Thorns). Which isn't to say that I didn't enjoy it and won't read the next one in the series, just that there were some things that I thought could be done better.

The premise here was enticing enough. Jailed assassin competes in a contest against other assassins and thieves. If she succeeds in winning, then she'll become the King's personal lackey for four years, after which she'll be granted her freedom.  I don't know about you, but once I see the words contest along with assassins and thieves, I'm thinking this'll be like what Hunger Games would have been like if every character were as bad as Clove and Cato. In other words, action, blood, death! And yes, people did die, but not the way you would expect them to with that set of circumstances. I guess what I'm saying is that I really expected more sinister fight-for-your-life stuff to occur. And behind the scenes plotting against each other (more than there was). AND I expected Celaena to be showing off her skills with more vigor than merely winning an archery contest. We're told again and again that Celaena is the best assassin ever, and I think the author lost something by not showing the reader this. Granted there were one or two scenes where she showed "some" of her skills, but they happened MUCH later in the story, and were for the most part kind of "quiet" skills, if you will.

While Throne of Glass may not have excelled at giving me a Hunger Games type feel, it did present a nice mystery. Maas does a good job of introducing a number of suspects, and she manages to throw a surprise into the mix, which threw me off. There was also definitely some gore involved, some nifty symbols, and even some ghosts! All pluses in my book. However the mystery didn't exactly keep me on my toes because the suspense had a habit of dying before it was able to really sink it's claws into me. As I said above, I really wanted to see Celaena showing off her stuff, and sending her to the library intermixed with billiards games with the prince just didn't cut it for me.

But all of that aside, I think the thing that puzzled me most about this story was Celaena's character. We get an early indication that she hates the king. She's appalled by the slavery of the conquered nations and there are of course some hints that he was responsible for the death of her parents (although the backstory on this wasn't entirely clear to me). When an evil force is mentioned that she must defeat, she immediately thinks that the evil force is in fact him, and there is no question that he is evil. YET, throughout the story we're made to believe that Celaena is willing to kill for him if she wins the contest. I get that she wanted out of prison and maybe early on she had no choice but to participate, but at some point in the story she does have a choice. Yet instead of taking her chances and leaving, she decides to stay and continue with the contest and even to commit herself as his assassin. Commence head scratching. Celaena's character was also puzzling to me because I felt as if the author didn't go into much  backstory (there was a love interest in her past that isn't given nearly enough attention), and she didn't explore how Celaena felt about the people she had killed. We have a good indication that she has a heart; she hates the thought of slavery and all the people she left behind in the prison. Yet we don't see how becoming a killer has affected her. The author doesn't delve deep enough into this to me. When all is said and done though, I did enjoy Celaena's character. She's tough, witty, and even though she's a killer and knows how to wield a knife, she still likes to dress up and party. I thought that was kind of a neat way to round out her character; there's nothing that says a warrior  can't enjoy the girly stuff too.

The romance/love triangle: as one might expect, the romance takes up the bulk of the story. On the one side of this triangle, we have Celaena with Prince Dorian, and I did really enjoy the banter between the two. However, I think that I liked Dorian's character more for his flaws than for how handsome he was or how he paid attention to her. I can really see him growing in the next book, and I look forward to this more than I do any romance between the two. On the other side of the triangle we have Celaena with Captain Westfall, and this was a more slow-burning, barely there type of romance that doesn't really get off the ground until the very end of the story. I'm sure there will be more development between these two in the next book, but it seemed like it was almost too subtle. Not in the sense that I didn't see the hint of of what was coming, just that I didn't really sigh with elation when it finally happened. 

Again, overall I enjoyed the story and would recommend it, just not as much as I had hoped. 4 stars

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Review - A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty

Madeleine Tully lives in Cambridge, England, the World – a city of spires, Isaac Newton and Auntie’s Tea Shop.

Elliot Baranski lives in Bonfire, the Farms, the Kingdom of Cello – where seasons roam, the Butterfly Child sleeps in a glass jar, and bells warn of attacks from dangerous Colours.

They are worlds apart – until a crack opens up between them; a corner of white – the slim seam of a letter.

A mesmerising story of two worlds; the cracks between them, the science that binds them and the colours that infuse them.

My thoughts when I saw that Netgalley was offering this book: JACLYN MORIARTY!!!! AND A SPARKLY COVER THAT SCREAMS "OMG CUTENESS"!!!!! So I signed up for the e-arc with absolutely no idea what the book was about because hey, I'm like that when it's an author that I love. Did Moriarty disappoint? NOOOOOO. Is A Corner of White at the top of my JM love list? Well, not quite, but it's up there.

A Corner of White is the story of a boy and a girl from two very different worlds who have a lot in common. Fifteen year old Madeleine is from The World - Cambridge, England to be exact. She and her mother are runaways from a life of luxury. Currently living in a flat where her mother sews and tries unsuccessfully to enter a quiz show, Madeline is home schooled by some quirky neighbors along with two other kids, the very ordinary Belle and Jack.  Madeline, as observed from Belle and Jack's point of view, is full of colors, but she's really a sad girl who is attempting to understand why she and her mother ran away from their old life. 

Sixteen year old Eliot Baranski comes from a parallel world called Cello. He's described as a top athlete, the town's favorite. He often sets things right with a single swoop of his hand. He refuses to give up his search for his father who went missing after a "color" attack. In him, we see a sort of hero, the kind who always catches the ball (or the butterfly child as the case may be), and we truly expect him to save Madeleine as well. 

Through the exchange of letters, Madeleine and Eliot's worlds come together. They learn from each other -- about themselves, about their parents, and about how two very different worlds can be similar. As far as characters go, I thought that both were well done. Madeleine is portrayed as rather naive (yet she's smart) and that totally worked for me; I tend to know a few people like that. She seems much the type to go about doing her own thing, the rest of the world be damned. Yet it seems to come from an inner sense of confusion and loneliness and as the book progresses we see why this is. I think many teens could relate to her in that sense. Eliot also seemed rather independent,though in a much more mature way. I flipped back and forth between liking him and thinking he was too much of everything. Which again, I can see as being the truth for some kids with that sort of personality.

I really enjoyed the whimsical quirkiness of this book, and the lack of a solid plot didn't bother me in the least. I'll admit that I wanted to be in Cello more than Cambridge most of the time because it's when we're in Cello (either in Eliot's POV or looking at it through one of the many townspeople's) that the creativity of this book really shines. I mean who would ever think that colors could be sort of like sentient beings that attack and sometimes make people do weird things? Certainly colors can affect our moods, but this was like taking that idea and stepping off a cliff with it. And I applaud Moriarty for that. There was a great sense of setting and atmosphere throughout, though I did often wonder what the purpose of some passages were. Like the random newspaper column written by the Cello Princesses and the scenes in the police station. I suppose that I should have trusted Moriarty to pull it all together in the end because she did, but at the time I was kind of scratching my head wondering why those things were important. They were a bit boring to me, tbh, and tragically slowed the pace of the story.  

Overall, this book leaves the reader with a sense of hope and positive feelings (sort of like a belief in magic). Since I tend to gravitate toward books/endings like that, it sat well with me despite the slow pace. Final verdict - 5 stars.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Books of June

Why hello July, when did you sneak up on me? Once again I am late with the monthly reading list. I should just make it a habit of planning to post in the middle of the month instead of the first of the month. Then when I do post early, I can surprise myself! I got a lot of reading done this month, and I hope that you guys see something here that might tickle your fancy.

33. Fury by Shirley Marr** Excellent book with a lot of voice and sass. You really kind of want to hate the MC for her bitchy, selfish, rich girl attitude, but in the end you just can't. Loved the relationships between the girls and how in the end they all looked out for each other. A great example of a dislikeable character made likeable by voice and circumstances. Highly recommended!

34. Obsidian Mirror by Catherine Fisher* I really wanted to love this, but in the end it just felt like too much. Too many subplots. Too many characters. Too much of not knowing what the heck was happening until about 3/4 of the way in. I like some mystery in my books, but I don't like being confused. This was confusing. I think I'm pretty much done trying to read Fisher. I didn't get into Incarceron for much the same reason.

35. If He Had Been With Me by Laura Nowlin** Bought on a rec from my good friend, Nomes. I read this very quickly and stayed up late to finish it (which hasn't happened for me in while). While I concede that there was a lot of telling, I really loved how well developed the romance was in this one. The characters were best friends since childhood and the author does a great job giving us peeks into what that was like and how things came to be the way they were. I was a bit disheartened by the ending (and not for the obvious reasons), but it was very true to life. Looking forward to reading more from this author.

36. No More Dead Dogs by Gordon Korman* This is an instance of oops, I goofed, but it turned out really, really well. See, when I picked this up, I mistook Gordon Korman for Robert Cormier. Now if you've read Cormier (The Chocolate War and I Am the Cheese) you know that his stories tend to be rather depressing. So when I saw this and mistook the author, I was curious if his middle grade books were just as gray. Well, I loved the book (more on that in a bit), but then I got curious and looked up Korman--and discovered that he's written TONS of middle grade stuff (like parts of the 39 Clues, and Everest just to name a few), but of course, no Chocolate War. My goof! But like I said, the book is a great find. No More Dead Dogs is about a kid named Wallace Wallace who has vowed to never tell a lie. He's kind of like those pre-schoolers who haven't quite figured out that when Uncle Vern asks you if you notice anything different he's looking for a compliment on his new hairpiece, not that there's a dead animal on his head. In this story, Wallace tells it like it is when he reviews the book, Old Shep, My Pal, and ends up in detention. Since his teacher is the director of the drama club, Wallace ends up participating in a production of Old Shep, My Pal, and he... changes it a bit. It's a fun read with a lot of great characters. What I particularly liked about it were the alternating points of view. We've got Wallace (of course) but Korman also includes the voice of the leading lady and the teacher who started it all. By doing so, he creates a book that will appeal to both boys and girls.

37. The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey* I'm having a thinky-think back to all of the YA books I've read in the past three years, and to be honest I think this is the very first "legitimate" YA horror book that I've read. Horror as in grotesque, blood-and-guts-in-your-face horror that makes you cringe, look away and then peek back moments later. I did not expect this based on the Rick Yancey book I read last month (his new release, The 5th Wave), but it was a pleasant surprise. I used to be a huge horror fan, as in I read ALL of Stephen King's 80's (and about half of his 90's) novels. One thing that I really enjoyed about this one was how Yancey completely changed my opinion of the monstrumologist, Dr. Warthrope, half way through the book. At first, I thought he was a horrible, horrible person and shouldn't be allowed anywhere near children, but then as time went on, I actually grew to understand and like him. That's an authorial talent I need to learn in my writing. 

38. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly** I enjoyed this book so very very much, but I do think part of that comes from the fact that I'm a scientist. Not that non-scientists wouldn't enjoy it, but I think that young girls (which is the intended audience) may find it a tad on the slow side. In short, I think there are some middle grade books which seem to be written more for adults and this one fits that category.

39. Five Parts Dead by Tim Pegler Eh? I found this book to be a tad on the boring side, mainly because I didn't feel like there was enough connection with the characters. Maybe there was just too much telling instead of showing in the story. Or maybe it was all the lighthouse "log" entries that got to be a little too much. I mean, every time the author cited the wind speed and direction my eyes glazed over and I found myself skimming. I did like the voice, but overall I was very neutral about this one.

40. Shadows:The Rephaim by Paula Weston* There was a little too much about this story that felt cliche (erased memory, girl discovers she has "abilities", hot guy who is questionably on her side). Still, I found myself reading it fairly quickly anyway and will go on to read the next one in the series. I DO appreciate that this book fit well into the NA category, and in that respect was a bit sexier than some other YA angel books. Also love the new cover!  Pssst - this one is available on netgalley right now!

41.Don't Breathe a Word by Holly Cupala* What I enjoyed most about this book was the way the author illustrated that boyfriend abuse isn't always physical, it can be mental as well, and just as damaging. This book also has much darker themes - drugs and prostitution - that reminded me a lot of the book Smack by Melvin Burgess, though it just wasn't "quite" to that level. Looking forward to seeing what this author comes up with next.

42. Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey* Okay, I was a little shocked when after reading this for about 50 pages 
I finally realized that it's historical. No clues whatsoever until the author starts talking about the war in Vietnam. The book itself wasn't what I expected, as in I expected much more mystery, the MC trying to figure out who the murderer really was, etc. Instead it was mostly introspection and a bit of romance (cute romance though); it fits well into the literary category. The book was very well written though, and the sidekick character was a gas!  I loved the casual references to all the Australian animals. Aussies might laugh, but I got a kick every time the author would say that a kangaroo was hopping by.

38. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly** 
39. Five Parts Dead by Tim  Pegler
40. Shadows:The Rephaim by Paula Weston* 
41.Don't Breathe a Word by Holly Cupala* 
42. Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey*  - See more at:

38. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly** 
39. Five Parts Dead by Tim  Pegler
40. Shadows:The Rephaim by Paula Weston* 
41.Don't Breathe a Word by Holly Cupala* 
42. Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey*  - See more at:

38. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly** 
39. Five Parts Dead by Tim  Pegler
40. Shadows:The Rephaim by Paula Weston* 
41.Don't Breathe a Word by Holly Cupala* 
42. Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey*  - See more at:



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