Wednesday, February 29, 2012

MG/YA Sci-Fi: After the Snow by S.D. Crockett

Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Date: March 27, 2012
Format: ARC
Acquired: from publisher
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review.)
Pages: 290
Reading time: two days

From GoodReads: Fifteen-year-old Willo was out hunting when the trucks came and took his family away. Left alone in the snow, Willo becomes determined to find and rescue his family, and he knows just who to talk with to learn where they are. He plans to head across the mountains and make Farmer Geraint tell him where his family has gone. But on the way across the mountain, he finds Mary, a refugee from the city, whose father is lost and who is starving to death. The smart thing to do would be to leave her alone -- he doesn't have enough supplies for two or the time to take care of a girl -- but Willo just can't do it. However, with the world trapped in an ice age, the odds of them surviving on their own are not good. And even if he does manage to keep Mary safe, what about finding his family?

My review: After the Snow is pretty near perfect. The idea of the storyline is unique, the plot rarely drags, and the author's writing is nice and cohesive. I found the writing style and overall content to be more of a middle-grade read than a YA one (minus a bit of profanity towards the end), though it's certainly a great read for either target group.

I loved Crockett's idea for the apocalypse/dystopia. It picks up on current issues over global warming, sustainable practices, and ethics, but these are rather muted and a background to the characters' adventures. Every once in a while, the author will delve deeper into the issues running behind everything. Part of what's unique about After the Snow as a dystopia is also the method of resistance, based more on a utopian theory than fighting the oppressors. The novel becomes more about a teenage boy finding himself and understanding the world, unlike other YA sci-fi books where the characters are just trying to bust the system.

Obernewtyn series by Isobelle Carmody

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

YA Sci-Fi: BZRK by Michael Grant

Series: BZRK #1
Publisher: EgmontUSA
Date: February 28, 2012
Format: ARC
Acquired: won from Jessie's Remarkable Reads
Read: because it's an upcoming YA sci-fi novel
Pages: 386
Reading time: three days

From GoodReads: Set in the near future, a conspiracy is afoot to create a perfect and perfectly controlled world. The Armstrong Fancy Gift Corporation is a front for the conjoined Armstrong twins, Charles and Benjamin, and the plot to create their own version of utopia. A shadowy guerilla group known as BZRK form a nascent resistance movement. Both sides develop sophisticated nanotechnology to achieve their goals:
-The Armstrong twins develop the nanobot, a stealth device that latches onto the brains of unsuspecting citizens
-BZRK's DNA-derived biots are deployed to search out and destroy the insidious bots.  If biots are destroyed, the brain cells of their DNA-donor also die.  Hence the name BZRK.

My review: I keep reading YA sci-fi and claiming that this one's the most exciting, then this one...okay, BZRK really is the most thrilling. It's written as a YA sci-fi thriller, and it definitely delivers accordingly. Nonstop action, interspersed with the ubiquitous bit of romance, appropriate gore and gruesomeness, the typical teenage profanity and sexual references. Yep, this is meant as a book for young adults. But besides the usual plot devices, BZRK emerges as a unique read. The plot is perfectly coherent, with very little confusion and non sequiturs. It would be easy to lose readers in the biological and technological details - BZRK is also unique among the recent outpouring of YA sci-fi because it is "hard" sci-fi - but the author does a great job explaining the biot/nanobot innerworkings without boring us.

A few things I didn't like in what was otherwise a totally awesome and exciting read: the humor. It seemed like Grant was trying to make the reader laugh at times (hey, some comedic relief is always nice), and it was falling flat. I thought the characters were either stereotypical or stereotypical in their non-stereotypicalness. The bad guys are described as biological monsters (if I was a conjoined twin, I'd take offense), the rich European dude was a snob, the rich American girl and the poor British guy fall in love, and the bad guys' hench(wo)man is a petite, deceptively feminine sadist. Really, now?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Blogger Questions

1). Missing review copies. I contacted a publisher through Shelf Awareness with an ARC request. She replied saying that she'd send me a copy, also offering copies for a giveaway. I said, "Great, thanks! I'll post the giveaway when I post my review." Over two months later, the review copy hasn't shown up...should I e-mail the publisher about it, or just let it drop?

2) Missing giveaway wins. Earlier this (school) year, I had about six books over the course of several months that I won in giveaways but that never showed up. I e-mailed the bloggers about them, and all but two sent me another copy. The two said they'd send another copy, but these also never appeared. E-mail again, or let drop?

3) Old or new? I see a lot of the same upcoming/recent releases featured on the blogs I follow. Is it healthier (more followers and comments) for a blog to review mostly new releases or to review more books that have been sitting on the shelves for a while?

4) Phrasing. What's the most polite way to phrase a review request to publishers? I generally feel like I'm being a precocious botherer with my "Hi, I'm a book blogger and reviewer at [url], and I would like to request a review copy of [title] by [author] if copies are available. Thanks for your consideration! [mailing address].

I'd greatly appreciate any advice on these questions!

More Cover Look-Alikes

Don't Breathe a Word by Holly Cupala (2012) and So Pretty It Hurts by Kate White (2012)
Ironically, these were posted sequentially by the same person on GoodReads - and they're from the same publisher.

Mozart's Last Aria by Matt Rees (2011) and An Honourable Man by Gillian Slovo (2012)
 Upon closer examination, the dresses and body positions aren't quite the same - but they're still pretty similar.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Fiction - Arcadia by Lauren Groff

Publisher: Voice
Date: March 13, 2012
Format: ARC
Acquired: from publisher
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book in return for an honest review.)
Pages: 290
Reading time: four days

From GoodReads: In the fields and forests of western New York State in the late 1960s, several dozen idealists set out to live off the land, founding what becomes a famous commune centered on the grounds of a decaying mansion called Arcadia House. Arcadia follows this lyrical, rollicking, tragic, and exquisite utopian dream from its hopeful start through its heyday and after.

My review: Maybe I just love books about communes and utopias too much, but this is the second novel about an intentional society that I have read and absolutely loved this year. (Second may not seem like much, but there's just so many novels about the subject - sarcasm intended.) Onwards to some of the many things I loved about Arcadia

1) The setting is so realistic, yet the story has a somewhat magical quality to it. It takes a pretty great author to make the gritty, poor community of Arcadia actually seem nice and ideal for a significant portion of the time. Granted, if the story was told from another character's viewpoint, the place wouldn't seem so great.

2) Only half of the book actually takes place at the commune. I thought the novel would fall flat after that, but it never even came close. Groff's look at how the characters mature and adapt after they leave "utopia" is as fascinating (and well-written) as her examination of the community.

3) Groff's writing is amazing (see above about realistic vs. magical feel, life-after-utopia, etc.), and her novel becomes a bit of a genre-bender and incorporates some pretty cool stuff into the storyline. The plot as seen through five-year-old Bit's eyes is infused with details from the Grimms' stories. There are several references to other legends, utopian novels and attempts, and related subjects. The ending edges towards the apocalyptic in a realistic way rather fit for the inhabitants of a commune such as Arcadia, and the conclusion is a perfect blend of the bittersweet and the hopeful. 

So...go read this book! The subject is unique, the writing is exemplary, the characters are great, the plot is well-developed - what more is there to want?

For more books on communes and utopias, please see the following posts:
Island by Aldous Huxley
Wild Abandon by Joe Dunthorne 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

YA Sci-Fi: Starters by Lissa Price and Giveaway

Series: Starters #1
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Date: March 13, 2012
Format: ARC
Acquired: from Random Buzzers' Ambuzzadors
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book in return for an honest review.)
Pages: 335
Reading time: two days

From GoodReads: Callie lost her parents when the Spore Wars wiped out everyone between the ages of twenty and sixty. She and her little brother, Tyler, go on the run, living as squatters with their friend Michael and fighting off renegades who would kill them for a cookie. Callie's only hope is Prime Destinations, a disturbing place in Beverly Hills run by a mysterious figure known as the Old Man. He hires teens to rent their bodies to Enders—seniors who want to be young again. Callie, desperate for the money that will keep her, Tyler, and Michael alive, agrees to be a donor. But the neurochip they place in Callie's head malfunctions and she wakes up in the life of her renter, living in her mansion, driving her cars, and going out with a senator's grandson. It feels almost like a fairy tale, until Callie discovers that her renter intends to do more than party—and that Prime Destinations' plans are more evil than Callie could ever have imagined. . . .

My review: Starters is definitely one of the most exciting books I've read in a while. For fans of The Hunger Games, Enclave, Blood Red Road - this one's for you. I. Could. Not. Put. It. Down. The perfect combination of dystopia and mystery makes the plot fast-paced, exciting, and fascinating. The characters are both believable and likable. Lissa Price even manages to make the post-apocalyptic scenario realistic, a rare thing for novels hinging upon a disease that kills everyone between certain ages. 

Complaints? The romance felt like it was there just to have some romance. I couldn't connect to it at all and felt like it was superfluous. There's some random bits of Cinderella retelling that didn't really fit. Oh, and the book was absolutely great - until the ending went too far. I could tell the author was desperately trying to set up a sequel, but the final events came off as ridiculously improbable, incohesive, and rushed. It almost ruined what had been, for the most part, a story on the fast track to being one of my favorite YA dystopias. Still, the excitement of the first book and the cliff-hanger of a conclusion make it impossible not to continue with the series.

Giveaway: Thanks to Random Buzzers' Ambuzzador program, I have an extra ARC to give away to one lucky winner. I'm paying shipping, so, unfortunately, the giveaway is only open to US mailing addresses. Just leave a comment on this post to enter the giveaway. Following is not required but will gain an extra entry, as will tweeting about the giveaway. Ends 3/22/12.

Monday, February 20, 2012

YA Sci-Fi: The Forgetting Curve by Angie Smibert

Series: Memento Nora #2
Publisher: Marshall Cavendish
Date: May 1, 2012
Format: ARC
Acquired: from the publisher
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book in return for an honest review.)
Pages: 202
Reading time: two days

From GoodReads: Aiden Nomura likes to open doors—especially using his skills as a hacker—to see what’s hidden inside. He believes everything is part of a greater system: the universe. The universe shows him the doors, and he keeps pulling until one cracks open. Aiden exposes the flaw, and the universe—or someone else—will fix it. It’s like a game. Until it isn’t. When a TFC opens in Bern, Switzerland, where Aiden is attending boarding school, he knows things are changing. Shortly after, bombs go off within quiet, safe Bern. Then Aiden learns that his cousin Winter, back in the States, has had a mental breakdown. He returns to the US immediately. But when he arrives home in Hamilton, Winter’s mental state isn’t the only thing that’s different. The city is becoming even stricter, and an underground movement is growing. Along with Winter’s friend, Velvet, Aiden slowly cracks open doors in this new world. But behind those doors are things Aiden doesn’t want to see—things about his society, his city, even his own family. And this time Aiden may be the only one who can fix things... before someone else gets hurt.

My review: After reading a couple of romance-driven dystopias, The Forgetting Curve was absolutely refreshing. I love Smibert's writing; even in such a short book, she packs in a ton of exciting events and details - but doesn't let either the plot or the characters seem undeveloped! I'll admit, it was a bit difficult to step into The Forgetting Curve almost a year after finishing Memento Nora, but I caught back up.

What I love about the series: Smibert's dystopia is scarily realistic. I mean, if a Therapeutic Forgetting Clinic was open right now, how many people do you think would choose to erase their worst memories? What Smibert explores are the memories we don't want to lose - even if they're bad - and how such a thing as the TFC could become corrupt and controlling. In this dystopian world, ignorance only appears to be bliss.

Unlike in Memento Nora, I didn't feel like the author was pulling the reader in so many (albeit interesting) directions at once. It seemed pretty clear that the focus was the authoritarian society, not the "gloss" and consumerism of Nora and Aiden's generation. Also unlike the first book, there were times when I was slightly confused in The Forgetting Curve. I never quite grasped how TFC managed to first control the town of Hamilton, much less spread to more of the world, and I missed exactly how the characters reached some of their discoveries. Whatever these quips, though, it still proved to be an exciting, thought-provoking, and overall great read. The series is definitely established as one of my favorites of the dystopias, and I can't wait to see what the next book will bring!

One note: of course, in a book titled the "forgetting curve," there's a doctor named Ebbinghaus. :)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Cover Look-Alikes

The random stuff you notice on GoodReads...
Luna (2004) by Julie Anne Peters and Fate by Jennifer Lynn Barnes (2009)

 You Have Seven Messages by Stewart Lewis (2011) and These Girls by Sarah Pekkanen (2012)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

In My Mailbox #22

Hey, I actually had time to read the past week or two! I'm in the midst of Starters by Lissa Price - another dystopia that's impossible to put down! Up next after that is Arcadia by Lauren Groff.

In other news, I've created a "books for trade" page beneath the header of the blog. The list is small, but maybe you'll find something interesting?

 For review:
After the Snow by S.D. Crockett (publisher)
The House of Velvet and Glass by Katherine Howe (publisher)

Alien Contact ed. by Marty Halpern (thanks, Marty and Sci-Fi Chick!)

Won from the awesome Eli:
Divergent by Veronica Roth
Carmen by Walter Dean Myers
Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu
The Supernaturalist by Eoin Colfer
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
I'm Not Her by Janet Gurtler
Middle School, the Worst Years of My Life by James Patterson
The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Macker

From Random Buzzers:
Starters by Lissa Price
This is the first time I've participated in the Ambuzzadors program, and they sent me an extra copy...a giveaway in the future, perhaps?

What did you get in your mailbox this week?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

YA Sci-Fi: Wither by Lauren DeStefano

Series: The Chemical Garden #1
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Date: March 2011
Format: ARC
Acquired: won from Wrighty's Reads
Read: because the sequel is coming out this month
Pages: 358
Reading time: four days

From the back cover: In the not-too-distant future, because of genetic engineering, every human is a ticking time bomb - males only live to age twenty-five, and females only live to age twenty. To keep the population from dying out, girls are kidnapped and sold into polygamous marriages. When sixteen-year-old Rhine is taken, she enters a world of wealth and privilege that both entices and terrifies her. She has everything she ever wanted - except freedom. With the help of Gabriel, a servant Rhine is growing dangerously attracted to, Rhine attempts to escape before it is too late.

My review: I wanted so much to like this book. I mentioned in my review of Delirium that I was skeptical of "girly" dystopias but had been proved wrong by Lauren Oliver's novel. I wanted to be proved wrong by Wither, too, but it didn't quite make the cut.

Some parts of the novel were really well-done. I thought the forced, polygamous marriage aspect was handled well. The other characters - sisters wives Jenna and Cecily and husband Linden - were likeable and their motives were understandable. The entire situation had a fascinating aura of suspense and mystery, though I wish more had been explained. It seemed like, for the ending DeStefano took, more should have been uncovered in the course of the book. Instead, I was left with very few answers and a ton of questions that appear to not be addressed in the sequel.

What did I not consider well-done? I thought almost the entire novel was under-developed. It was a fun, exciting read, yes, but there were too many plot holes. All of the other continents were completely destroyed in a third world war, but America still has holograms and an extremely wealthy, sumptuously-living elite? And in the midst of all this, genetic engineering got rid of all diseases (except for the one virus)? And the idea of foods and goods constructed from chemicals kept popping up in brief mention, but the subject was never explained, though it obviously has something to do with the name of the series. Ugh, I'll take my hard sci-fi over this new romance-driven genre.

Monday, February 13, 2012

MG Fiction: The Humming Room by Ellen Potter

Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Date: February 28, 2012
Format: ARC
Acquired: from publisher
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book in return for an honest review.)
Pages: 180
Reading time: one day

From GoodReads: Hiding is Roo Fanshaw's special skill. Living in a frighteningly unstable family, she often needs to disappear at a moment's notice. When her parents are murdered, it's her special hiding place under the trailer that saves her life. As it turns out, Roo, much to her surprise, has a wealthy if eccentric uncle, who has agreed to take her into his home on Cough Rock Island. Once a tuberculosis sanitarium for children of the rich, the strange house is teeming with ghost stories and secrets. Roo doesn't believe in ghosts or fairy stories, but what are those eerie noises she keeps hearing? And who is that strange wild boy who lives on the river? People are lying to her, and Roo becomes determined to find the truth. Despite the best efforts of her uncle's assistants, Roo discovers the house's hidden room--a garden with a tragic secret. 

My review: This is such a sweet and magical read! Though The Humming Room is a re-imagining of Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden, Roo is an interesting contrast to the original Mary Lennox. Personally, I liked the mysterious and quiet Roo much more. The setting is also quite different, though the story is still sweet for its tracing of how the characters connect, heal, and find themselves after trauma and loss.

My one problem with The Humming Room was that it was too short. I lost myself in the plot for all of two hours. The first half of the book was beautifully developed, introducing us to Roo, the house, and other characters. The second half - the Secret Garden-y part - went by way too fast. I never got the impression that it was rushed or underdeveloped, just that I wanted the novel to last longer. The last thirty or so pages, I could see time was running out, and I was dreading reaching the end. I was left with the feeling of "Awwww, it's over...I don't want to move on to another book yet!" 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

In My Mailbox #21

For review:
All Different Kinds of Free by Jessica McCann (LibraryThing Early Reviewers)
See my review of this here!
The Humming Room by Ellen Potter (publisher)
Review of this will be posted in a few days...

From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant by Alex Gilvarry (thanks, BookTrib!)
Replication: The Jason Experiment by Jill Williamson (thanks, Read for Your Future!)
The Gathering Storm by Robin Bridges
This is another one that arrived via the author (thanks, Robin!), but I'm wondering if I won it in a blog giveaway...?

Thanks to Jessie's Remarkable Reads and Egmont:
BZRK by Michael Grant
The Butterfly Clues by Kate Ellison
Every Other Day by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Trafficked by Kim Purcell

Thanks to Bookish in a Box:
Wither by Lauren DeStefano
Illusions (Wings #3) by Aprilynne Pike
The Shadowing: Hunted by Adam Slater

From Random Buzzers:
Daughter of the Centaurs (Centauriad #1) by Kate Klimo

Kelroy by Rebecca Rush

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

YA Sci-Fi: Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Series: Delirium #1
Publisher: HarperTeen
Date: February 2011
Format: hardback
Acquired: won from Truly Bookish
Read: because I'm trying to catch up with all the dystopian sequels
Pages: 441
Reading time: four days

From GoodReads: Before scientists found the cure, people thought love was a good thing. They didn’t understand that once love -- the deliria -- blooms in your blood, there is no escaping its hold. Things are different now. Scientists are able to eradicate love, and the government demands that all citizens receive the cure upon turning eighteen. Lena Haloway has always looked forward to the day when she’ll be cured. A life without love is a life without pain: safe, measured, predictable, and happy. But with ninety-five days left until her treatment, Lena does the unthinkable: She falls in love.

My review: I've gotta admit, I was kind of skeptical about reading a "girly" dystopia. I'm used to the older dystopias - the ones aimed at social or political commentary - so one dealing with the treatment of love as a disease is a bit out of my usual range. Maybe with another author such a plot would be a disaster, but Lauren Oliver certainly makes it seem realistic and almost believable. 

I loved the character of Lena. She's not like your normal kick-butt heroine of sci-fi/fantasy. Lena's a "good girl," always sticking by the rules, never lying, and trying to fit into her society as best she can. She genuinely believes in the cure and the way her world is structured - well, at least until she finds evidence to the contrary. Lena's kind of like me, small and quiet, a very welcome change from the usual rather loud, brash, and already anti-authoritarian character.

For once in YA books, I could connect to the romance. Things seemed to really "click" between Lena and Alex, so I was very disappointed with the ending. But the next book, Pandemonium, looks like it promises many more twists and some turning-on-the-ear of the events of Delirium... 

Monday, February 6, 2012

Historical Fiction: All Different Kinds of Free by Jessica McCann

Publisher: Belle Books
Date: April 2011
Format: paperback
Acquired: from LibraryThing Early Reviewers
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book in return for an honest review.)
Pages: 270
Reading time: two days

Margaret Morgan grew up a free black woman in Maryland. Now married, living with her husband and three children on the outskirts of Philadelphia, Margaret is living a happy life - until one day in 1837, she and her children are kidnapped and taken back to Maryland to be sold as slaves. But Margaret fights back, first by taking her kidnapper to court and then by small steps in her new life. Her story also becomes the jumpstart to the states' rights controversy in the Supreme Court ruling of Prigg vs. Pennsylvania, a ruling which precluded the bitter conflicts that would begin the Civil War.

I made a mistake reading this right after the magnificent writing in The Printmaker's Daughter, because half of what I could think about the entire time I was reading All Different Kinds of Free was how much better Katherine Govier's writing is. McCann is still a decent writer, but I felt like the actual character of Margaret Morgan could have been developed more. She came off as surprisingly na├»ve at times, given that she read Emerson and similar authors and was really a very intelligent woman. Also, I noticed several punctuation errors and inconsistant spellings in my copy of the book, which appeared to be a finished copy.

My pet peeves aside, I did appreciate the history presented in this novel. The court case was an interesting precursor to the states' rights issues that would split the country in the coming decades, while Margaret's side of the story provided an in-depth look at slavery from an unusual perspective. I wouldn't say the book was enjoyable, because, as books on slavery often go, the subject is a tough one to read about. McCann does an excellent job presenting the hardships and injustice of slaves' lives, and readers can instantly connect on an emotional level to the heart-wrenching traumas faced by Margaret and her family. Despite its other shortcomings, All Different Kinds of Free was an affecting and educational read.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Historical Fiction: The Printmaker's Daughter by Katherine Govier

Publisher: HarperCollins
Date: November 2011
Format: paperback
Acquired: won from Dream
Read: as an AP Art History supplement
Pages: 494
Reading time: two weeks

From GoodReads: Recounting the story of her life, Oei plunges us into the colorful world of nineteenth-century Edo, in which courtesans rub shoulders with poets, warriors consort with actors, and the arts flourish in an unprecedented moment of creative upheaval. Oei and Hokusai live among writers, novelists, tattoo artists, and prostitutes, evading the spies of the repressive shogunate as they work on Hokusai's countless paintings and prints. Wielding her brush, rejecting domesticity in favor of dedication to the arts, Oei defies all expectations of womanhood--all but one. A dutiful daughter to the last, she will obey the will of her eccentric father, the man who created her and who, ultimately, will rob her of her place in history.

My review: The Printmaker's Daughter turned out to be another really long, slow, but definitely worthwhile historical read. The big stickler with it - why it took me so long to finish the book - is that there's no central plot, just a very interesting examination of Oei's entire life. I loved learning more about Hokusai and his daughter, though, and Govier is a master at incorporating a general feel for the era and culture into her novel.

Oei is a fascinating historical character. What art history books never let on to about Hokusai is the controversy surrounding many of his works: "real," studio work, forgeries - or the work of his youngest daughter, at times regarded as a better artist than Hokusai himself? Govier takes this controversy and works it into a magnificently-written novel, interweaving personal details of the famous artist and his family with a daughter's struggle for individualism in a patriarchal society and the larger events and movements of 19th-century Japan. The result is an impressive, cohesive work of fiction that, after a while, sucks the reader into Oei's world and the trials of growing up and finding oneself under the shadow of a "great" man.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Thank you to everyone who entered my blogoversary giveaway! There were close to 200 individuals who entered (tallying up entries took some time :) ). Welcome to all the new followers!

The winners are...

Allie, who chose Going Bovine and Psyche in a Dress
Farah at Tumbling in Books, who chose Across the Universe

Both are international, which pleased me as this is the first non-US/Canada giveaway I've been able to have. Congratulations, Allie and Farah - I'll order your prizes from the Book Depository within the next few days.

Quick stats: Across the Universe and Blood Red Road were, by far, the top prize choices. The Iron Thorn, Going Bovine, Shadows on the Moon, and Psyche in a Dress were also popular. I think The Mabinogion and A Tomb for Boris Davidovich were least popular, with only one or two people that wanted each.