Bites

yackers
17234658Published: November 4, 2014
Publisher: Harper Teen
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

Marguerite Caine’s physicist parents are known for their groundbreaking achievements. Their most astonishing invention, called the Firebird, allows users to jump into multiple universes—and promises to revolutionize science forever. But then Marguerite’s father is murdered, and the killer—her parent’s handsome, enigmatic assistant Paul— escapes into another dimension before the law can touch him.

Marguerite refuses to let the man who destroyed her family go free. So she races after Paul through different universes, always leaping into another version of herself. But she also meets alternate versions of the people she knows—including Paul, whose life entangles with hers in increasingly familiar ways. Before long she begins to question Paul’s guilt—as well as her own heart. And soon she discovers the truth behind her father’s death is far more sinister than she expected. (goodreads.com)

This was both this month’s YAck book and one I’ve had on my shelf for a while so yay! Two birds, one stone. The concept sounded interesting and, of course, the cover’s beautiful. It’s hard to resist, really.

From the second I started reading it I felt like I was shoved into the middle of a story and it was very disorienting. To the point where it took me a few chapters to really get my bearings and settle into the characters and really get a feeling for them. I really wasn’t too invested in the plot until a rather deadly surprise happened in one of Marguerite’s other worlds that it really piqued by interest. Unfortunately that was short lived because she bounces out of that world and into another one almost immediately after that incident.

The timing of everything just felt really misplaced. I didn’t feel like the major plot twist was so much of a twist as opposed to violently shoving the plot off the track, taking a right angle turn so fast you’re up on two wheels, and then smashing back down again. It was such a violent and unexpected diversion from the storyline as presented throughout the book that it felt less like an actual part of the story and more of a “written into a corner, need to get out of it” sort of thing. It just didn’t fit very nicely for me.

I liked the alleged science behind the book. I’m certainly not in a position to verify whether any of it’s even remotely accurate or whether it’s pure speculation, but I certainly like it better than time travel (which I can usually poke holes in within seconds of starting something with it). But the notion of each universe being mutually exclusive unto itself leaves a major question in the unresolved plot element of the book: why?

SPOILER ALERT

So one very similar dimension is just slightly ahead in the technology game from Marguerite’s dimension so they already have the technology the starting dimension is striving to get, yet they’re sending spies to follow Marguerite around . . . why? This other dimension is already ahead. They want her because you can only have one cognizant rift jumper per world and the big guy needs her. But what could possibly be his end game? What resources does a world with only a handful of years difference actually have that the slightly more advanced world doesn’t? There wasn’t any mention of any kind of natural degradation or nuclear wars or anything. The fight was for technology. But again, why? The fight just seems rather thin to me.

As for characters . . . eh. They’re okay. Marguerite isn’t really all that active in her role. She gets shoved from one dimension to another, but can’t really do a whole lot so she just waits around for Paul and Theo and then rift jumps again. There’s character development there but not necessarily to the growth of Marguerite as a character. It’s only relevant to information she finds out in the story that changes her notions of what’s going on. I wouldn’t necessarily call that growth.

I don’t know. Not really impressed by  A THOUSAND PIECES OF YOU. Neat concept, but I’m not finding the main character all that compelling and the Big Bad aspect doesn’t feel all that solid to me. At this point I’m not interested in reading further into the series.

2

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

yackers

A Darker Shade final for IrenePublished: February 24, 2015
Publisher: Tor Books
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

Kell is one of the last Travelers—rare magicians who choose a parallel universe to visit.

Grey London is dirty, boring, lacks magic, ruled by mad King George. Red London is where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London is ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. People fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. Once there was Black London—but no one speaks of that now.

Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see. This dangerous hobby sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a dangerous enemy, then forces him to another world for her ‘proper adventure’.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive—trickier than they hoped.  (goodreads.com)

My fellow YAcks chose good in February with A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC. A dark, character-focused story that dragged me through one similar world after another that were each unique unto themselves had me thinking of Ari Marmell’s Widdershins series, which I love. Rich worlds, great fantasy, great characters, no romance, and a plot that I dove head first into.

The story toggles back and forth between the points of view of Kell and Lila, who are on different tracks in life until a black stone comes into play and throws them unwillingly together. Lila is a survivor, having lived on the streets for most of her life. She knows when to fight and when to run away even though she may not want to. And she’s always wanted something bigger than what she had. When Kell is thrown in her path, she seizes him.

Kell is the beloved messenger of his king and queen who treat him as family and who love him as family but who know deep down that they basically own him. It’s a tough situation and one in which Kell has been able to tuck aside but when Lila comes into the story that gets harder to ignore. He has a bad habit of smuggling items between worlds, something expressly forbidden, and his adopted brother hates that he does it. But Kell does it anyway because it’s largely harmless. Until the stone.

The world that Schwab has created is both familiar and terrifying, unique and easily recognizable. Across all three worlds it’s called London for no discernible reason but that’s where the similarities end. Gray London is the one we know of. Red and White Londons are unique unto themselves, existing on the same foundation in basically was are different universes that can be traversed by certain people. They exist in a railroad apartment universe of Londons, is the best way I can think to describe it. Black London, the one completely consumed by magic is on one end. White London, left to fend for themselves against the seeping Black London and as a result have gone a little magic crazy, is next in the line of Londons. Red London, Kell’s London where the world has flourished with magic, comes after that, nestling White in between itself and Black, effectively using it has a barrier. Gray London is at the other end, farthest away from the source of magic and thus with the least amount of it. When traveling through them you can’t skip from, say, White to Gray. You have to go through Red first. Hence railroad apartment. Look it up.

Anyway, these Londons aren’t necessarily unique with their magic but they’re unique in how they coexist, or not, with each other. How the divide between them is precarious at best, how Black London is basically pushing at its confines to get out and it is leaking out. Undiluted magic is seeping into the other Londons and it’s causing some major issues, namely killing some people. This is the grand adventure Lila has been looking for and all Kell wants to do is stop this piece of magic that was, in part, responsible for felling an entire world back where it belongs, even if it means risking his own life. He doesn’t understand why Lila wants to go on this suicide mission.

The two of them really are adorable together. They snip at each other but it’s in a way that I feel could never get old. They compliment each other, the rational and irrational, speaking for each other when it’s rendered in a way that neither of them expected. Kell almost comes off as this do-good type of character but when you find out how he grew up, how he’s basically owned by his adoptive parents, and his dirty little habit, that do-gooder vibe falls right away. And Lila, who’s just a girl trying to survive on her own terms, forced to do some bad things in order to do just that and not really willing to compromise, has a heart deeper than most people’s. She just keeps herself guarded because of her past. They’re characters that are hard not to like.

And Schwab isn’t afraid to take them places that are darker than normal. She puts them into situations that could get them killed, that do get others killed, some of those others who are close to them. And they die in rather awful ways on top of that. I could live in this book all day long, watch Kell hop from one world to another. Watch Lila strive for your pirate ship. So much was introduced in this first book that I’m nearly salivating to get my hands on book two. Want.

If you like your fantasy well-crafted, your characters incredibly engaging and without romance, and your worlds terrifyingly vivid you’ll like A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC. It’ll suck you in and won’t let go.

4.5

yackers

24187925Published: October 27, 2015
Publisher: Random Hosue Delacorte
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

Jo Montfort is beautiful and rich, and soon—like all the girls in her class—she’ll graduate from finishing school and be married off to a wealthy bachelor. Which is the last thing she wants. Jo secretly dreams of becoming a writer—a newspaper reporter like the trailblazing Nellie Bly.

Wild aspirations aside, Jo’s life seems perfect until tragedy strikes: her father is found dead. Charles Montfort accidentally shot himself while cleaning his revolver. One of New York City’s wealthiest men, he owned a newspaper and was partner in a massive shipping firm, and Jo knows he was far too smart to clean a loaded gun.

The more Jo uncovers about her father’s death, the more her suspicions grow. There are too many secrets. And they all seem to be buried in plain sight. Then she meets Eddie—a young, brash, infuriatingly handsome reporter at her father’s newspaper—and it becomes all too clear how much she stands to lose if she keeps searching for the truth. Only now it might be too late to stop.

The past never stays buried forever. Life is dirtier than Jo Montfort could ever have imagined, and the truth is the dirtiest part of all. (goodreads.com)

Our first YAck of the year and we choose an historical thriller.  Not a problem for me, especially since it’s set in New York at the end of the 19th century.  What amused me even more was that the story starts at a finishing school called Miss Sparkwell’s in Farmington, Connecticut.  AKA Miss Porter’s.  So incredibly amused by that.  Drove by that place daily. I even know where the mill is Jo talks about at the beginning.  Crystal clear in my mind. So a pretty good start to the book.

As we get going, though, things get a bit . . . obtuse.

DRAGONDICKS (that’s YAck for SPOILER WARNING, it spawned from dildos shaped like dragons’ dicks, don’t ask, we’re grossly inappropriate, and because the search terms getting to my blog weren’t weird enough)

So, the WHO DID IT is incredibly obvious from the very beginning.  I’m known to be rather oblivious to guessing these types of things when reading these types of books so the fact that I knew from page . . . like, 15 who it was is a bit disconcerting.  And it only becomes increasingly more obvious as the story went on.  Really, if you have two brain cells to rub together you’ll figure it out right quick.

With that being said it doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the story.  I really liked the voice and Jo was really a great character, if not being rather plot-devicinly obtuse every now and then.  Donnelly played her torn personality rather well and really exhibited Jo’s pull between expectation and desire, complete with grave repercussions.  Jo was rather dense when it served the plot to be so, if only so we could have a cute little moment when Eddie had to explain something less than savory.  For all the reading Jo does I’m hard-pressed to believe she doesn’t know what a whore house is but it was totally cute to watch Eddie explain that one to a girl that doesn’t otherwise know what a dick is let alone where to put it.  It was little things like that while were rather amusing  it came across a bit forced.

And while I liked the relationship that developed between Jo and Eddie and ultimately where it ended, because it was realistic, I didn’t like Eddie’s reaction to Jo’s alleged “choice.”  I don’t believe he fully understood just what Jo would be sacrificing in making such a gigantic decision and adversely, as a fellow YAck point out, Jo didn’t really understand what Eddie was sacrificing in helping her. So they really ended up balancing each other out.

As for the SECRET that this whole scheme was covering up, it’s obvious from the first passive mention of what the secret could possibly be that would render the whole conspiracy to murder.  Sure, it’s a bad secret but it won’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what it is.  So that just lends itself back to the whole plot being rather obvious.

What I really did like, though, was Donnelly’s depiction of old New York and just how stark the differences were between uptown and downtown.  In reality, while the conditions are far better and a hint safer today, there really isn’t that much of a difference between then New York and today’s New York.  The wealthy still live uptown and the poor are relegated to areas like the Alphabet, the Bowery, Chinatown.  Same story, different decade. But she paints an incredibly vivid picture of just how bad it was in downtown New York, the squalor, the tumbledown buildings, the incredible vice, human trafficking.  Again, while the facade may have improved I’m not sure that this stuff doesn’t exist anymore in that area. It reminded me a bit of Pete Hamill’s FOREVER just how realistic the descriptions were.  From the sights to the smells and even to the touch, New York was another character on Donnelly’s novel and I could really appreciate that.

Jo and Eddie are pretty good characters.  Aside from Jo’s contrived lapses into density she was a dynamic and vivid character that leapt off the page.  Eddie was a gem from the beginning, probably one of the more realistic male characters I’ve ever seen in YA.  He’s just so down to earth and retable and rational that I could hug him.  He reacted the way you’d expect someone to react in his situation and it just brought joy to my heart.

So THESE SHALLOW GRAVES ended up being a bit of a wash for me. Overall enjoyable, with great characters and a three-dimensional setting but with a plot that’s largely predictable.  The insistence on propriety for Jo became a bit overbearing and, at times, annoying, and Grandmama’s conversations about bitches and breeding could bear a drinking game.  I think because the plot was so predictable that I’m not raving about this.  It’s such a core part to the entire book (obviously) that to have a thriller end up being so obvious that it becomes a let-down.  I want to love this book but it’s just too predictable. Almost weak.  Everything else was so strong.  But I just can’t give a predictable thriller a higher rating.

3

yackers
16102412Published: October 15, 2013
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

Centuries after wars nearly destroyed civilization, the two islands of New Pacifica stand alone, a terraformed paradise where even the Reduction—the devastating brain disorder that sparked the wars—is a distant memory. Yet on the isle of Galatea, an uprising against the ruling aristocrats has turned deadly. The revolutionaries’ weapon is a drug that damages their enemies’ brains, and the only hope is rescue by a mysterious spy known as the Wild Poppy.

On the neighboring island of Albion, no one suspects that the Wild Poppy is actually famously frivolous aristocrat Persis Blake. The teenager uses her shallow, socialite trappings to hide her true purpose: her gossipy flutternotes are encrypted plans, her pampered sea mink is genetically engineered for spying, and her well-publicized new romance with handsome Galatean medic Justen Helo… is her most dangerous mission ever.

Though Persis is falling for Justen, she can’t risk showing him her true self, especially once she learns he’s hiding far more than simply his disenchantment with his country’s revolution and his undeniable attraction to the silly socialite he’s pretending to love. His darkest secret could plunge both islands into a new dark age, and Persis realizes that when it comes to Justen Helo, she’s not only risking her heart, she’s risking the world she’s sworn to protect.  (goodreads.com)

This was our YAck book for July and I was assured that ACROSS A STAR-SWEPT SEA is a companion, not a sequel, and I wouldn’t have to read FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS in order to get what was going on.  Halfway into the book I had to confirm that with Laura because I had no idea what the hell was going on.  All of this world terminology that wasn’t grounded in anything, references to events without any exposition, I couldn’t keep which island was which straight and who was hurting who and whatever else was going on.  Even with hindsight the book still reads like a mess and I’m actually getting a little bit of a headache thinking about it.  Turned out that most of my fellow YAcks DNFed the book out of utter disappointment.  I guess #1 was fantastic with all of the WORDS and #2 didn’t even come close.  Considering how my eyes have crossed I can totally see that without reading book 1.

I’ve never read THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL and I don’t even know the story so any aspect regarding or relating to that that I comment on can be ignored if it’s something that should be answered within the aspect of the retelling.

I felt that the overarching topic, slaves rebelling against masters who become tortured slaves who then start to rebel against their former slaves-turned masters, is actually rather delicate because it’s begging sympathy for a ruling class who’s no longer ruling because the people they held under and hurt rebelled against them and are now returning the favor but that’s bad so the aristocracy is fighting back and I think you’re supposed to be on their side but . . . The vicious cycle is mentioned in the book, about how it’ll be never-ending unless someone stops the cycle.  But with how delicate of a discussion it really is (because you’re still looking for sympathy for slave masters, basically) it was approached incredibly callously.  The book was far more concerned about how gorgeous Persis was and her exploits wearing her mask of idiocy in order to hide that she was really the spy known as the Wild Poppy and any message the story is trying to give is lost.  It gets mired in confusing feelings and kisses and late night swims and clothes and BY THE WAY DO YOU KNOW HOW BEAUTIFUL PERSIS IS HERE LET ME TELL YOU AGAIN that it actually made me uncomfortable to read.

I also had issues pegging the ethnicity of the people occupying the islands.  I was under the impression that they’re some kind of European until Persis plays with Justen’s Brillo hair and likens it to an otter pelt (again . . . uncomfortable) and then they mention how pink the newcomers are so that leads me to guess that after generations of what is basically inbreeding on these Polynesian islands they’re a smorgasbord of ethnicities that tend toward darker complexions?  But Justen is Persis’s first encounter with kinky hair?  Leading me to believe that she’s definitely fairer (her skin is golden brown? a good tan?) and leading into my original assumption that the last people on earth are of the whiter European variety (especially the people with money) and again . . . UNCOMFORTABLE.  It’s all just very strange.

But thinking all of this I feel like I’m pulling way more out of the plot than the tone would otherwise indicate.  Because it’s a bit more about a growing “forbidden” relationship that starts off antagonistic and Persis being a flake and sometimes she rescues people from the other island where everyone who disagrees with the tyrant is being drugged into a stupor.  The “science” of this world is rather all over the place.  Maybe because I had such a hard time nailing anything else down that when the “science” came into it just got sucked into the funnel and mixed up with everything else.  I don’t know.  I had a hard time keeping people, situations, science, clothing straight.  It just all felt like a mash-up and we have these certain elements that need to make it in so let’s make sure they’re all in.

It started out okay enough but it just devolved into that mash-up.  Almost as if it were getting too serious (and fairly early on) so we needed to bring in pretty clothes and kissing and intimate moments and make sure it didn’t go too deep.  Despite the fact that the story is fairly deep; it just wasn’t allowed to go all the way to the bottom, doing a total disservice to what could have been a solid story.

This isn’t going to put me off of Peterfreund’s writing entirely.  I hear her killer unicorn stories were good and my fellow YAcks still rave about the first book in this particular series so I’m not turned off yet.  But ACROSS A STAR-SWEPT SEA is one to be skipped, especially if you haven’t read FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS.  I know it’s supposed to be a companion but . . . it’s not.

1.5

September 8, 2015

yackers

22544764Published: May 19th, 2015
Publisher: Del Ray
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.  (goodreads.com)

This was one of those books that I wanted to love but just didn’t, and I think a lot of my fellow YAcks felt the same way.  While the writing was rather beautiful it just dragged on for far too long, it gave us a relationship that didn’t make sense, and possibly three different teaser endings before the book actually ended.  It was a struggle for me to finish, starting right around the last 20% of the book or so, and I ended up begrudging that last bit because it JUST WOULDN’T END.

Agni is an okay character but I never felt truly involved in her story.  I was just kind of coasting along, reading what was happening, instead of being a part of it.  Kasia was far more interesting and a much more robust character and a total BAMF at that that it was hard to take my eyes off of her.  Meanwhile we have Agni who starts getting wishy-washy over a guy who’s a total dick to her and she struggles to progress in her education because the Dragon’s never heard of encouragement.  She becomes largely self-taught and then stuff happens and she ends up leading the charge to fix it.  At the same time she’s still this awkward young adult who doesn’t know how to maneuver a lot of social situations and ends up fumbling her way through things and getting lucky on the other end.  Thinking back on it she really wasn’t that stand-out of a character at all, even before Kasia.

The Dragon was just a dick.  A curmudgeon who squatted in a castle and took women every ten years.  How the relationship between he and Agni even existed is beyond me.  Other than perhaps a small eye flicker or maybe a misconstrued signal the Dragon is nothing but antagonistic to Agni, shows next to no kind feelings toward her, and yet ends up bedding her.  Neat.  While the two scenes were rather hot and well-written they were wholly unnecessary and added nothing to the plot.  They didn’t even make sense because the Dragon has next to no redeeming qualities about himself.  Seriously.  The only admirable thing this guy likes to do is fend off the Wood.  That’s pretty much it.  He’s a jackass to everyone else, Agni included.

The world, though, was rich and glorious.  I liked how the world was known in that it appeared somewhat Polish and referenced other known areas and countries but existed unto itself with this Wood and this problem.  How Novik portrayed this forest as being not only sentient but vindictive was kind of terrifying.  And the things it did to people only amped up that horror.  This was the best part of the book.  I loved reading the Wood scenes, both the good and the terrifying, because it added so much depth to this pseudo-known world that it was a breeze to visualize it.

With that being said, especially toward the end the descriptions got bogged down in themselves and with my frustration at this never-ending book already being high it just started to annoy me when I would get a paragraph about a leaf, or some other such minutiae.  Add in to that the teaser endings throughout the book where it appears the plot could be done but it’s not because you’re only halfway through the book.  It got worse the closer to the end it got because IS THIS THE END?  No, there’s still more.  NOW?  Nope.  Still going.  Like tripping over stones you think that last one was it and then your toe catches another.  It got annoying.

On top of that I really lost interest once Agni and the Dragon parted ways temporarily.  When was that, the halfway point or so?  Maybe a little later but not much.  We got introduced to the political order of the kingdom with balls and politics and showboating and it was just blah.  Despite the fact that the Dragon is a pretty crappy character, outside of the un-relationship those two had I did like their interactions.  They are what made the story seem so easy to read despite how dense it was.  End that and I have to slog through a kingdom capital and by the time I make my way out the other side I’m just over it.  I wanted the book to end.

So UPROOTED is one of those books that actually has pretty glorious writing in it and a wonderful world.  Very lyrical and engaging when it comes to just the story but it also has a sagging middle and that sagging middle leads to a rough ending because you just had to slog through a bunch of fat.  Not to mention Agni is more pushed along in the story with Kasia taking center stage whenever she’s in the scene, being a far more dynamo of a character.  Agni does stuff but it’s more reactive where Kasia is a bit more proactive.  Plus she’s just more interesting.  And the Dragon?  No.  Crappy character all around, he’s basically a tool to make the plot work.  He’s not appealing, he’s not endearing, he doesn’t do anything that would make him likeable but I’m just supposed to be on board with him and then he and Agni’s relationship?  No.  Doesn’t work for me.  Overall it’s a tough one.  It’s not that I didn’t like it but I don’t know if I’d necessarily recommend it.  I certainly wouldn’t read it again.  I’ll put this one in the middle somewhere.

3