Saturday, December 31, 2011

Arty -- Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks

Superheroes. I'm not much into them, unless you count Megamind (and since that's a movie, you can't really count it on a book review blog). But supervillains? Yeah, totally.

I've gotten through a few villain books (H.I.V.E., Council of Evil) but didn't think too much of them, even if they were entertaining. Then I got Evil Genius, and it sat on my shelf for a long, long time. It shouldn't have. It sits head and shoulders above the others.

Cadel Piggott is a systematic genius. Well, actually Cadel Darkkon is a systematic genius. When he was just a little guy, Cadel found out that he is the son of famed bad guy, Phineas Darkkon, now in jail for crimes of many sorts.

Cadel learns this from his therapist, Thaddeus Roth - who has also been grooming Cadel's genius at systems to cause mild but noticeable havoc throughout their hometown. Now, at the tender age of fourteen, Thaddeus suggests sending Cadel off to Axis Institute, a sort of specialist college for 'unique cases.' Cadel agrees to go and finds out that 'unique cases' may as well be read as 'psychopaths,' and that 'specialist college' means that the institute has classes like embezzlement, disguise, and (my favorite) Pure Evil.

Cadel at first loves his studies. But when he meets a brilliant, engaging young woman named Kay-Lee over the Internet, he starts to wonder whether he wants to be an evil genius at all...

Evil Genius is a thick book. At 500 pages, there's a lot of plot to cover. And yes, it drags a bit towards the front, what with the build-up of Cadel's motivations and story. But once it gets started... it's really tough to put it down. I've met few books that I really dislike to put down, and this is one of them.

It's not an action book. It's definitely a 'thought' sort of book. But that doesn't keep it from being so awesome. Cadel is a great main character - propensities toward both 'evil genius' and 'good genius,' with neither exaggerations or excuses for either. I'm firmly of the belief that 98% of all books can be amazing if they have a great main char, and this book did.

The real villains, too, were good. I really had no idea who the main villain was, though I had my suspicions and I really should have known all along. The supporting cast wasn't as great - they were mostly there to further the plot and nothing else - but they were hardly stock characters, and all were interesting.

What I liked best, though, was the sheer number of surprises. I've rarely been as surprised at the plot twists in one book as with Evil Genius. Foreshadowing could have been stronger, but I'm really not sure how one could foreshadow most of what went on without giving it away. So it's not a big deal.

I'm really not sure that any of that review made sense, but if it didn't, then here's the bottom line: Great characters. Great plot. Great ideas. Great twists. Great book. Read it.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Persy -- The Iron King by Julie Kagawa -- Proper Review

Since my earlier review was hardly sensible and fair, I've decided to give it another go and see if I can actually say something about the book itself. Or at least, something about the 86 pages I read.

The first few paragraphs or so weren't so bad. But the fifth time Meghan said something along the lines of "Gosh, why can't my mom get a decent insert-random-piece-of-crap-here", I began to get homocidal urges.

Meghan is such a brat. Sure, you can be miserable, after all, your father disappeared ten years ago, your mom moved you out to some tiny little town in Kentucky (or somewhere), and you now have a stepfather and stepbrother, but that doesn't mean we're going to let you complain about your jeans, having no cell phone, having no decent computer, not having your learner's permit yet, thinking that your mom forgot your birthday (which she didn't, she was just planning a surprise), or the fact that the hottest guy in school doesn't know you exist. These are all ridiculously minor problems.

For one thing, first you complain about how your mom can't find the money to buy you a decent pair of jeans. Then you're complaining about how your mom is so much prettier than you, and how you're more of the cargo-pants-and-tee kind of girl. So you do like cargo pants?

And chillax girl, your only fifteen. Oh yeah, you turned sixteen on your birthday. So you're sixteen. Whatever, chillax. You don't have any friends anyway, what do you need a cell phone for? And you seem to think that having your learner's permit will permit you (permit, heheheh) to go wherever you want, but there are several problems with this. One, you don't have a car. Two, you'd have to buy gas to put in the car.

And then you get ecstatic about tutoring Mr-Hot-Football-Player? Seriously? S-H-A-L-L-O-W. And THEN, after some mischievous pixie or whatever plays a joke on Mr-Hot-Football-Player, and Mr.-Hot-Football-Player blames you, you still SERIOUSLY believe that Mr.-Hot-Football-Player is asking you out because he likes you? You're such an idiot, Meghan. You deserved the payback Mr.-Hot-Football-Player threw in your face.

I understand that these are very minor plot points, more to just rouse up sympathy for the main character (not working) than being actual problems in the book. But they are still super duper annoying.
So after we get through all that "setting-the-scene" crap, Meghan finally discovers faeries. First off, her six-year-old stepbrother Ethan (who is awesome) gets swapped with a faerie changeling who tries to eat Meghan's leg, and then she discovers that her best friend Robbie is, in fact, Robin Goodfellow, AKA Puck. So she spends multiple pages denying everything and moaning and being annoying.

When she finally decides to go with the faerie thing, she and Puck go into the Nevernever, the world of faeries and fey. There, Meghan once again proves her stupidity by following "Ethan" deep into the woods and almost gets eaten by a kelpie. Rule #1 of faerie lands: if someone you love randomly appears and then runs off into the woods waiting for you to follow, DON'T FOLLOW. Geez.

And that's when I stopped. I flipped through the rest of the book, and it looks like it's mostly composed of Puck fighting with the Iron Prince, Ash (who's apparently shockingly beautiful, omglolz), because they have a "history", and at some point the entire future of the world is thrust upon Meghan's shoulders and she has to go off and fight some person and save the world. Presumably she does, because there's several sequels that seem to be about Meghan and her forbidden love with...someone. Ash, probably. He seems the type.
So there you are, an in-depth rant about The Iron King. Once again I'm having a bad day (computer virus. persistent little *#!%$.), but I've managed to keep my anger away from this review, so this is (hopefully) more on topic than my rant the other day.

Merry Christmas (I'm so enthusiastic).


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Persy - Wednesday Scrolls -- Book Rant Meets Book Review?

So you may have noticed that I went AWOL for a while. Since Thanksgiving, actually. Yeah, sorry about that. Life exploded in an interesting collection of drama, pain, and bow ties, so I had an unusually hard time getting to a review or even a Wednesday Scrolls.

And what I'm about to attempt probably will not be good enough to be considered a book review, especially since I haven't finished the book. But I must speak my peace. If you want the slightly more sensible version, check out my review of The Iron King on LibraryThing (I'm BrynDahlquis) Or Shelfari (I'm Persy P). On here, though, I'm really going to let loose.

To be fair, I'm having a bad day, so most of my disgruntled feelings have been directed at this book, so it's probably not as bad as I make it out to be.

So everyone knows that faeries are starting to be 'in'. They're replacing the vampires and werewolves, which at first was a welcome relief. But then I realized that they're just going to write the same books with faeries instead of vampires. So we're just going to continue the same cycle over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again, desperately trying to find that glimmering lantern in the darkness that is YA Fiction (if you'd like a map to said glimmering lanterns, check out our awesomed section).

The Iron King started out bad and pretty much maintained the same level as bad throughout all 86 pages I managed to crawl through (it was like crawling through a mud swamp of super suction). Main Character: Meghan Chase. Idiot level? 15000000000000 POINTS!!!!

What words can I think of to sum up the lovely Meghan Chase? Whiny. Selfish. Shallow. Idiot. Panicky. Boring. Bitter. Gag. Ugh. Annoying. Ridiculous. Ditzy (in a bad way). More ugh. She is the main problem with The Iron King. If this story wasn't told from her point of view, it wouldn't be nearly so bad.

And then Julie Kagawa just haaaaaaad to drag Puck into it. Robin Goodfellow. A Midsummer Night's Dream. Yeah, that guy. That totally awesome guy. That guy who happens to be one of my favorite characters of all time and space and literarydom. Yeah, that guy. Yeah, he's Meghan's "best friend". Actually, he's not that bad in The Iron King, but he really doesn't live up to his name.

At first I felt bad about wanting to throw the book down unfinished because lately I've left a lot of books unfinished. Maybe I used to be more rigorous in my reading, or maybe I've just had some rotten luck picking up books lately, or maybe I've just been in a bad mood and taking it out on books. Whatever the reason, I got over feeling guilty about it and decided to just enjoy hating the guts of this book (what makes up the guts of a book? The story? The words? The letters? The thoughts of the author? The author herself? Now I feel kind of bad about hating this book's guts. It's certainly not the words's fault that they got arranged in such an annoying manner).

So while trying to decide about finishing The Iron King, I read some other reviews of it to see what the general consesus was and if it got any better further in (by the way, I did flip through to see, and every scene I read was miserable), and was surprised by all the good ratings and reviews. Most people "loved it from the beginning", though a few agreed with me declaring it to be badly written crap. And I think I've figured out why it's so popular.

It's not a good faerie tale. In fact, it's really awful. All the people who loved this book mentioned that they weren't normally into faeries, because they wouldn't like good faerie books. They only like this because it's not like everything else they've been reading (though really, it probably is, just in disguise).

And this brings me to The Hunger Games (this connects to The Iron King, I swear). People think it's amazing. I thought it was passable. The only reason everyone loves it so much is because they don't normally read dystopian novels, so The Hunger Games was new and exciting and unlike anything they'd read. Not because it was a well-written, exciting, epic dystopian novel. Sure, it's good but it's not amazing.

So basically this is just one long (badly written) rant about society and passable literature. I'm a bit fed up at the moment, and the prospect of going off into seclusion for a few weeks with nothing but trully awesome novels is incredibly appealing. Maybe I'll mail an update or a review to Arty every once in a while so I won't disappear completely like I did around Thanksgiving.

So farewell, faithful readers, this is my goodbye. I'm leaving with my Neal Shusterman, Vivian Vande Velde, and Shakespeare. Parting is such sweet sorrow...

Wait. If I went into seclusion with only would I watch anime and Doctor Who and nerimon videos???
Never mind, guess I'll just have to endure.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Arty -- Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen

I hate romance books (generally). I love Wendelin Van Draanen (of Sammy Keyes fame). What do you get when you put them together?


Sorry about the caps. I get excited about this book.

The first time Juli Baker saw Bryce Loski, she fell head over heels in love with his beautiful blue eyes. The first time Bryce saw Juli, he fell in love with staying away from the over-enthusiastic, way-too-intelligent girl. And even though his mother tries to convince him otherwise, Bryce wants nothing to do with Juli. After all, what self-respecting seven-year-old wants to play soccer with a girl?

So Juli spends her elementary and middle-school years not-so-secretly in love with Bryce; Bryce spends his elementary and middle-school years not-so-secretly terrified of Juli. But somewhere in eighth grade, things change.

For Juli, she falls out of love with Bryce. For Bryce... well, maybe he's not in love with her, but he's curious. So what happens when things get flipped?

I love this book. It's hilarious, real, and well-written. And I liked the 'couple,' though whether eighth-graders can be considered a couple is questionable. They were amazing - together and apart. I was cheering for them all the way, maybe because I understood them both - Van Draanen writes the same event for each character in their own chapter, letting the reader see both sides of the story.

Juli is one of those girls I generally despise, especially as a love interest - manically cheerful, very intelligent, and 'thoughtful.' These usually turn out to be Mary Sues. And while Juli sometimes felt a bit Sueish, she was never unlikable. She had her failings. Bryce, on the other hand, had plenty of faults, yet managed to be completely adorable. As a quieter person, I totally understood why Juli freaked him out.

The Baker family and the Loski family were polar opposites, yet both believable. Both had their pros and cons. Sometimes it was painful to read about both of them. But - and here I have to commend Van Draanen - I loved how open Juli was about her love for her parents. And they were great parents. I'm so tired of characters who hate their parents for no reason. Juli (and Bryce, actually) break that tiresome model.

And let's not forget the subplots that run through the book. Rarely confused, always needed, and very often hilarious - Juli's chickens almost made me want to start raising them, and the Basket Boy sale was awesome.

In short, this is the way romance was meant to be written. No one's perfect, hard work is a given, and romance isn't the only thing on the characters' minds. Wendelin Van Draanen strikes again. Read it.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Wednesday (Almost) Scrolls - Best And Worst of November, 2011

Arty here. Well, how was your Thanksgiving? Awesome, I hope. Personally, I ate way too much. But then that goes without saying.

Anyway, it's time to evaluate our reading months.

In the month of November, I read 19 books and one manga.

Best November Book: Oh, so The Book Thief. I read it in about five days (I'm a busy girl) and completely abandoned everything else to finish this awesome work. I almost cried at the end. Read it - I can't summarize it. Just read it.

Honorable Mention: I read a lot of good books this month. I think the second best one, on purely entertainment purposes, was How To Break A Dragon's Heart by Cressida Cowell. Notice that this series has made it onto both of my Honorable Mentions? Because this series is like ICE CREAM, PEOPLE. It's just insanely fun. And Alvin is the BEST VILLAIN EVAR.

Worst November Book: Particularly Cats by Doris Lessing. Nonfiction about, of course, cats. Didn't realize it was quite so... realistic. Not my cup of tea.

Dishonorable Mention: Jade Green by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. Historical mystery/ghost story... thing. Just strange, though it does have the unique privilege of grossing me out. Not much grosses me out.


'Ello, Chaps! Persy's here! That was my British accent, in case you hadn't noticed. Yeah, I had weird dreams about John Simm and underground airports last night, don't ask.

November was a bad month for me. I read only 9 books, and that's counting 2 manga. My page count totalled up to a measly 1817. Sad. I'll do better this month (did I say that about November? Hm..)

Best November Book: I'll have to go with How To Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell. I didn't really read any super amazing books this month, so this one wins easily.

Honorable Mention: Born of Ice by Sherrilyn Kenyon and Ouran High School Host Club Vol. 3 by Bisco Hatori. Yeah, so there's two honorable mentions, what are you going to do, sue me?

Worst November Book: Alexander The Great by John Gunther. A poorly written nonfiction book about, well, Alexander the Great.

Dishonorable Mention: There really isn't one. "Alexander" was the only book of November that I really didn't like. Whoohoo.

So there you have it, our best and worst of November. This weekend there'll be a new review and we'll return to our regularly scheduled Literary Heroines Who Don't Suck next week (maybe)!


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Persy -- Dragons of the Valley by Donita K. Paul

The three statues stabilizing the very thread of the world have been saved. They're in the right spot, and harmony has been restored. But is the adventure over for Tipper Schope, Grattapot-morphit Bealomon-dore, and the rest of the gang? Not hardly.

War is brewing between Chiril and a neighboring country, and they must keep the statues safe. They are sent away into hiding in one of the little-known kimen villages, with Tipper, Bealomondore, Fenworth, and Librettowit as their guardians. But they can't just sit idly by while Verrin Schope, Lady Peg, and Paladin save the day! Soon everyone is actively involved in an epic quest to save Chiril!

Let me just say, this book is so much better than the first one. It's easier to understand, had more enjoyable characters, and was set at a quicker pace. It focused more on my favorite characters, Bealomondore and Lady Peg, and also introduced a new one to add to my collection of favorites: the perky little kimen Hollee.

That said, it's still far from one of the best books out there. It might be faster paced than the first book, but it's still pretty slow.

And then there's the matter of Tipper. While she was an acceptable main character in the first book, in this one she's just plain annoying. I mean, she leads Bealomondore on for almost the entire book! Meanie pants.

Donita K. Paul also needs to develop her fight scenes a little. Dragons of the Valley does have more fighting than The Vanishing Sculptor, (it is about a war), but the battles last for only a brief paragraph always ending with "At last so and so won the battle." In this book, Bealomondore gets his own sword and soon becomes a master swordsman, and it's a shame we don't get to hear more about his amazing talent than "he whipped out his magic sword..."

But once you get all that out of the way, there are some parts I simply adored. Lady Peg really gets to shine in this one, engaging in a full conversation of twists and turns with an evil spy that leaves him thinking there's a complex system of code words and meanings.

Miss Paul also came up with a surprisingly good villain (though he could've been better, in my opinion). The Grawl, half man half beast with super human intelligence and hunting capabilities. So dangerous he could bring down Chiril, and all the dragons, singlehanded. Well, sort of.

And then there's Wulder. If you remember from the review in October, I didn't really like the God figure in the first book. But this time, he seems appropriately God-like and awe-inspiring. Bealomondore uses one of the best lines ever that is so true when he says, "As an artist, I have no doubt that someone created all you see. There is no picture without an artist."


You might like this if you: read the first book and wished it'd been better; like Christian fantasy or adventure/fantasy; quirky fantasy like The Ratastrophe Catastrophe by David Lee Stone; or if you saved the world from unraveling but are worried about your annoying neighbor messing it all up again.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

I know, I've been a bit absent the past week. No review, no Wednesday Scrolls...But it's a holiday, so I'm on vacation *wink*.

And plus, this is The Moonlit Library of the Underworld's 101st post! Awesome, right? So, naturally, we're celebrating it with a little break.

Seriously, have a very Happy Thanksgiving this year, and let's not forget who we're thanking.

Now go eat a ton and then sit down with a good book to let it all digest.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Persy -- Wednesday Scrolls - Literary Heroines Who Don't Suck, Other Arena

You know what I think this saga needs? A theme song. Maybe some Robert Kral? An epic intro would be epic. *cue awesome soundtrack*

We've had the lists. Fantasy. Urban Fantasy. Classic & History. Other.
We've had three shows in the Arena. Fantasy. Urban Fantasy. Classic & History. And now, for the conclusion. After this episode, we will be moving on into the next round, where the genres are mixed and the TRUE battle begins!

But anyway. Refresh your memory on the contestants, and then we'll get started!

Our first pair is... Frankie Landau-Banks (The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, E. Lockhart) vs. Gratuity "Tip" Tucci (The True Meaning of Smekday, Adam Rex)!

Category One. Personality.

Frankie certainly wouldn't have gotten as far as she did if she didn't have personality. She's a mastermind in a teenage girl's body, taking control of an entire (secret) organization at her boarding school without anyone knowing. And she has flaws that she herself corrects (she's a mastermind after all). She learns to be her own bear instead of the bear (er, girl) others assume she should be.

Tip is very matter of fact. She has serious guts. I mean, it's not like she went on a road trip with only a cat and an alien while the world was being ruled by aliens, and it's certainly not like she saved the world or anything. And she did it all while being awesome!

Winner: Frankie. She's smart enough to turn any situation to her advantage, and Tip wasn't too concerned about the whole thing to begin with.

Category Two. Fight!

Frankie's power lays in her mind. She certainly couldn't beat you up (she's tiny), but she'd more than make up for it afterwards.

Tip is also tiny, but better at using it to her advantage. She's stealthy and quick on her feet.

Winner: Tip. They're evenly matched when it comes to actual fighting, but Tip has more experience and is more resourceful.

Category Three. "Kiss Me, You Fool!"

Frankie can't believe it when the hottest, and smartest, guy asks her out, the guy she's liked for years. But he does, and they get together, and she's really happy. Until she discovers his true personality (he's really annoying)!

Tip's like, twelve. It's refreshing that she has no love interest at all.

Winner: Frankie. While her actual boyfriend may be an idiot, she gets points because her relationship truly grows. Plus, Tip didn't have a thing to contribute.

Category Four. Friends.

Frankie's got one best friend, but even she doesn't know all of Frankie's secrets. She doesn't have a true best friend.

Tip has a cat and an alien. Oh yeah.

Winner: Tip. You really can't beat J.Lo the alien.

Category Five. Juggling.

Frankie's not too awesome at it at first, but she practices nonstop until she masters it. Estimated Time Spent Mastering: three days.

Tip gets the basics easily, but doesn't care enough to spend a ton of time mastering it. Estimated Time Spent Mastering: two weeks.

Winner: Frankie.

End Score! Frankie: 3 Tip: 2 Congratulations, Frankie! We'll be seeing you next time! Sorry, Tip, but you didn't care much in the first place, right?

And our second fighting pair is...Haruhi Fujioka (Ouran High School Host Club by Bisco Hatori) vs. Jasmine Callihan (Bad Kitty, Michele Jaffe)!

Category One. Personality.

Haruhi's strong, independant, and smart. She's not a feminist, but she doesn't see the point in distinguishing between males and females (no matter how many times she gets into situations where it would matter). She's always been poor and practically on her own, and it takes her a while to discover that sometimes you should ask for help.

Jasmine, while not poor, certainly has a hard life. Her father's a tyrant, won't let her study forensics (her dream), and abruptly moves them all to Italy whenever he feels like it. But this doesn't stop Jasmine from being totally awesome and totally hilarious. She's very smart, and probably the funniest main character ever.

Winner: Draw. Haruhi's good at arguing when she gets worked up, but Jasmine's easily distracted. Nevertheless, Jasmine keeps getting the upper hand with her humor and keeps on confusing Haruhi. They finally both get exhausted and leave.

Category Two. Fight!

Haruhi's pretty shrimpy, and the few times she's gotten into a fight (or slapped someone, rather), she mostly relied on the element of surprise. When she doesn't have that, she usually loses.

Jasmine's not quite coordinated enough to be good in a fight, but she knows enough about forensics to at least know what makes a good weapon.

Winner: Jasmine. Neither of them are very good, but Jasmine eventually wins.

Category Three. "Kiss Me, You Fool!"

Haruhi's got many love interests (it's shoujo manga, after all), but her main one is Tamaki. He's hilarious and doesn't really understand his feelings for Haruhi, but he tries everything to please and protect her.

Jasmine has her super awesome boyfriend Jack, who she's absolutely in love with. They're adorable together.

Winner: Haruhi. She spends more time with Tamaki than Jasmine does with Jack, so we get to know him better.

Category Four. Friends.

Haruhi has the entire Host Club, composed of an evil mastermind, two scheming twins, a strong and silent protecter, and deceptively cute martial artist. And Tamaki, of course.

Jasmine has her own band of merry men, including Polly the fashion expert (who always puts protection in her latest outfits), and the twins Roxy and Tom.

Winner: Haruhi. The Host Club just barely beats Jasmine's crew. Barely.

Category Five. Juggling.

Haruhi's not great at that sort of thing, but she's good at pretty much everything, so she picks it up quickly. Estimated Time Spent Mastering: One day (in the world of manga, it'd only take long enough for Mori to bribe her with fancy tuna).

Jasmine's a bit clumsy, so it takes her a while, but she's determined, so she gets it done! Estimated Time Spent Mastering: Almost a month.
Winner: Haruhi.

End Score! Haruhi: 3 Jasmine: 1 Draws: 1 Congrats, Haruhi! We all know you really wanted to move on to the next round! And I'm really sorry, Jas, but I was going to reread your book anyway.

And our last battle is... Audrey Cuttler (Audrey, Wait!, Robin Benway) vs. Shahara Dagan (Born of Fire, Sherrilyn Kenyon)!

Category One. Personality.

Audrey's snarky, grumpy, whiny, hilarious, and loves music. In a word, she's realistic. And yet, still likeable! Plus she has real character growth.

Shahara is a bit more 2D. She has layers, of course, with secret desires and thoughts and unexpectedness in general, but she's not the most unique crayon in the box.

Winner: Audrey. If they were crayons, she'd be Jazzberry Jam while Shahara would simply be Red.

Category Two. Fight!

Audrey would certainly punch you if you asked for it, but it's not her strong point.
Shahara, on the other hand, beats people up for a living.
Winner: Shahara, without a doubt.

Category Three. "Kiss Me, You Fool!"

Audrey's entire story is about her breakup with her ex-boyfriend, but amidst the chaos, she's discovering that her coworker actually has a personality, and is awesome.

Shahara falls for her latest mark, one of the worst criminals in the universe. Perhaps they're a cliché, but they do it well.

Winner: Shahara. She and Syn are just a bit awesomer than Audrey and James.

Category Four. Friends.

Audrey's best friend Victoria is certainly annoying, but she's also the one who practically smacks Audrey in the face and tells her to grow up (which is good).

Shahara's only real friends are her family, and they don't even really count.

Winner: Audrey. Victoria may be annoying, but she's still there and she still really cares about Audrey.

Category Five. Juggling.

It takes her more than a few times, but Audrey gets it pretty easily. Estimated Time Spent Mastering: one week.

Shahara expects it to be easy, but has more trouble than anticipated. She gets frustrated too easily. Estimated Time Spent Mastering: one month.

Winner: Audrey.

End Score! Audrey: 3 Shahara: 2 Congratulations, Audrey! You move on to the next round! Don't worry about it, Shahara, you can still beat her up.

Our Other finalists are: Frankie Landau-Banks, Haruhi Fujioka, and Audrey Cuttler! Next week we'll be moving on into the REAL battle, when the genres mix and the it gets truly dangerous!


Friday, November 11, 2011

Arty -- No Passengers Beyond This Point by Gennifer Choldenko

You can't ask for more radically different siblings than the Tompkins kids. India, 14-year-old big sister, is your typical teen. Hates her mom, loves her friend, wishes she didn't have siblings. Finn is the family worrier - everything bad that can happen, he can imagine it. The baby of the family, Mouse, is a six-year-old genius kid with endless questions and an imaginary friend named Bing.

Then their single mom (their dad died before Mouse was born) has to sell their house, and the three siblings are shipped off to Colorado to stay with their uncle, while Mom stays to finish school so she can get a job. The plane has a little trouble on the way to Colorado, but they get there eventually... don't they?

Maybe not. Where they land certainly isn't the Colorado they know. Finn, India, and Mouse are going to have to work together if they want to make it out together. The question is, do they really want to make it out together?

Gennifer Choldenko is, for me, the Al Capone Does My Shirts/Shines My Shoes lady. Those are some great books. Like those, most of her other books are realistic fiction - school fiction, I guess. So No Passengers is something of a departure for her.

And it shows. The characters, as are typical of her writing, are awesome. I love Finn (though he could be exchanged easily for Al Capone's Moose Flanagan), and Mouse is actually adorable. I usually can't stand little kid geniuses, but she was so cute - not over-the-top smart or ridiculously mature, just very intelligent. I even appreciated India sometimes, though mostly I just wanted to hit her in the head.

What sunk No Passengers was the setting. You get the sense that there's something otherworldly to this city, Falling Bird, but you're not really sure what it looks like. There are lots of feathers and amazing technology and tunnels everywhere, but the details and mechanics aren't there. Of course, this is a middle-school-aged book, so I wasn't expecting Great Expectations, but some more description would have benefited.

Some of the action about three-fourths of the way through got rushed, too. That's where more description really would have helped out the story, because without a clear picture of how Falling Bird was constructed, what was going on felt disjointed and hazy.

BUT. Before you start thinking, Hmmm, I'd better just skip this one, let me tell you about the last two chapters.

You want closure, but not gooey happy full-circle-ness? You want answers but nothing spelled out in billboard letters? Gennifer Choldenko has it down. Ask Persy - I just screamed at her that I finally understand what several key plot points meant in the story. And I read that book over a week ago. Choldenko's that crafty. (I guess you could argue for confusing writing, but I really don't think that's the case. It's that she doesn't spoonfeed you. You shouldn't need everything handed over on a silver platter.)

So it's not a perfect book, but it's a fun one. It's an engaging one. It's a clever one. And it's an oddly sobering one in the end. And I'll definitely be giving it another read after a while, so I can pick up other things that I didn't the first time around. So, basically? Read it.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Wednesday Scrolls - Literary Heroines Who Don't Suck, Classic & Historical Arena

And we're back with the next installment of Literary Heroines Who Don't Suck! We are now in the Arena stage, and have already seen Fantasy and Urban Fantasy heroines battle it out. Now the Classic & Historical heroines are here to compete. Refresh your memory with the contestants here.

And our first pair is... Mara (Mara, Daughter of the Nile, Eloise Jarvis McGraw) vs. Cat Royal (Cat Royal series, Julia Golding)!

Category One. Personality.

Mara's firey spirit is vibrant and stubborn, allowing her to survive in all kinds of situations and come out near the top. She's incredibly intelligent and good at persuasion.

Cat also has a strong survival instinct. She's quick with her feet and her mind, and sometimes her tongue.

Winner: Mara. It's a very long argument, strong insults are exchanged and they almost come to blows, but Mara wins in the end.

Category Two. Fight!

Mara's learned to use words instead of fists, but that hardly means she doesn't slap people around from time to time.

In a fistfight, Cat's pretty useless. She relies on her resourcefulness and quick feet to survive.
Winner: Mara. Again, it's a very long, drawn-out fight, Cat being too quick for Mara to catch. But Mara finally uses her wits to outsmart Cat.

Category Three. "Kiss Me, You Fool!"

Mara, the double-agent slave, and Sheftu the secret agent duke person!

Cat and...well, no one, really. She's got potential romance, but she's too young to even care. Good for her!

Winner: Mara, by default. And because Sheftu is awesome.

Category Four. Friends.

Mara, being a slave and a double agent, doesn't have any real friends, just some friendly acquaintances.

Cat's got a varied collection, including a violin-playing slave, two wealthy children, and the head of a street gang.
Winner: Cat, mostly be default.

Category Five. Historic Atmosphere.

Mara, the lucky gal, lives in Ancient Egypt, so her story is entirely plausible and feels fine.

Cat is from Victorian London, which leaves less to be imagined, but still feels perfectly acceptable unless you're a history fanatic.

Winner: Draw. I'm not good at history.

End Score! Mara: 3 Cat: 1 Draws: 1 Congratulations, Mara! You move on to the next round! Don't worry Cat, you probably didn't care to begin with.

And our second fighting pair is...Marguerite St. Just (The Scarlet Pimpernel, Baroness Orczy) vs. Emily Trefusis (Murder At Hazelmoor, Agatha Christie)!

Category One. Personality.

Marguerite is a kind, marginally happy young woman with a strong spirit and lots of nerve.

Emily is very sharp and observant, and knows how to use her pretty smile.

Winner: Emily. She's more comfortable with diving into an argument and so has an advantage.

Category Two. Fight!

Marguerite may slap an attacker if her life depended on it, but fighting does not come naturally to her.

Emily is very similar, and wouldn't really know what to do in a fight.

Winner: Draw. Neither contestant will strike first.

Category Three. "Kiss Me, You Fool!"

Marguerite and Sir Percy, AKA The Scarlet Pimpernel! Yeees!
Emily and her fiancé. Even she admits he's a weakling, but loves him nonetheless.

Winner: Marguerite. Emily's devotion and love certainly are admirable, but Marguerite and Percy are way more interesting.

Category Four. Friends.

Marguerite ends up with no true friends, and no one to trust besides the mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel...

Emily teams up with Charles, a reporter who falls in love with her.

Winner: Marguerite. The Scarlet Pimpernel definitely beats a love-sick reporter.

Category Five. Historic Atmosphere.

Marguerite lives in the middle of the French Revolution, portraying the chaos and tension very well.

Emily is much more modern, in the early 1900s.

Winner: Marguerite. Even the French Revolution is more interesting than the 1930s

End Score! Marguerite: 3 Emily: 1 Draws: 1 Congratulations, Marguerite! You're moving on to the next round! Don't worry, Emily, you just go back to your pathetic fiancé.

And our last pair is...Mary "Jacky" Faber (Bloody Jack series, L.A. Meyer) vs. Rosalind Hawkins (The Fire Rose, Mercedes Lackey)!

Category One. Personality.

Jacky's fun-loving, witty, strong personality developed out of neccessity, but that's perfectly fine because she's hilarious and a proper trickster.

Rose is a perfect example of what a historic heroine should be: not obsessed with women's rights, not gushing over fashion, and smart and capable. She doesn't even think about her station as a woman, and that's absolutely refreshing.

Winner: Draw. Jacky might win any argument they have, but Rose has a certain dignity in maintaining her somewhat confused silence.

Category Two. Fight!

Jacky can fight. She's good with guns, swords, cannons, and her own fists. Watch out, world.

Rose, on the other hand, being a proper lady, can't fight at all.

Winner: Jacky, obviously.

Category Three. "Kiss Me, You Fool!"

Jacky's undying devotion to her true love Jaimy is sweet, but Jaimy's hardly ever in the books.

Rose and James, Beauty and the Beast.

Winner: Rose. Jacky gets points for refusing the hordes of men she leaves in her wake, but Rose and James are so wonderful.

Category Four. Friends.

You can't count the number of people Jacky befriends. Half the world owes her favors and the other half wants her dead.

Rose, on the other hand, is rather friendless.

Winner: Jacky. I expect her friends would still win even if Rose had anyone to bring to the table.

Category Five. Historic Atmosphere.

I'm pretty sure Jacky's world isn't exactly what it was like in the 19th century, but it's so much fun it feels perfectly plausible.

We've already discussed how Rose is a proper historic heroine, which makes her whole world feel so much more realistic.

Winner: Rose. Her world is perfectly constructed and fits the time period, while Jacky's just seems to.

Tie Breaker Category. Style.

Winner: Jacky. Her style is more fun and more amusing, and usually more useful.
Style is always important when it comes to historical novels, and Jacky has got some amazing style. Her fashion style may not be so great (she looks good in a dress, but doesn't always manage to keep it undamaged), but she knows how to make an entrance -- and an exit.

Rose is softer, quieter, and less dramatic. She doesn't find it necessary to be seen, which I respect.

End Score! Jacky: 3 Rose: 2 Draws: 1 Congratulations, Jacky! You're on to the next round! Don't worry about it, Rose, you don't really care anyway.

So our Classic & Historical finalists are Mara, Marguerite St. Just, and Jacky Faber! Tune in next Wednesday for the Other Genres Arena!


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Wednesday Scrolls - Literary Heroines Who Don't Suck, Urban Fantasy Arena

Yeah, we're still at it. Hope you're not tired of the Literary Heroines Who Don't Suck Saga, because we're barely halfway done. Last week we had the Fantasy Arena, which gave us our three Fantasy finalists: Hermione Granger, Courtney Crumrin, and Lady Fire. This week it's Urban Fantasy's turn.

I explained the process as best I could in the Fantasy Arena last time, so if you don't know, go back there and scan it, because I'm not going over it all again. If you want to review the competing chars, revisit the Urban Fantasy edition of LHWDS (the 'Heroine' link).

And the first battling pair of the Urban Fantasy round is... Kerry Nowicki (Companions Of The Night, Vivian Vande Velde) vs. Clarissa "Clary" Fray (Mortal Instruments series, Cassandra Clare)!

Category One. Personality.

Kerry's your definition of average. She's a bit snarky, but no more so than the average teenager. She scares easily, but who doesn't in real life? But she's also incredibly loyal to her family and incredibly brave. She's real.

Clary is your definition of "average." She thinks she's not pretty but is, she floats off into a world of her own in her head, and she's a bit oblivious. A cliché, but she does it well.

Winner: Kerry. At some point during the debate, Clary started whining and Kerry told her told her to get over herself.

Category Two. Fight!

Kerry has no technical training, but she has good instincts. She's had her hands around a gun and knows her way around a desperate brawl.

Clary is very slowly picking things up. She's naturally clumsy, which counts against her.

Winner: Kerry. Clary put up a good fight, but one-on-one isn't a good angle for her.

Category Three. "Kiss Me, You Fool!"

Kerry and Ethan. The. way. to do vampire romance. It's subtle, but obvious. Real, but not overdramatic. Amazing.

I'm a big Jace/Clary fan, and I admit to being a Jace fangirl, but their love story is so complicated and irksome, it's hard to squee over any more. Too many stupid twists and turns. Sure, they may be deeply in love, but it's an awful lot of work.

Winner: Kerry. Kerry and Ethan are so perfect, and all their complications actually make sense.

Category Four. Friends.

Kerry has no good friends. Or at least, none that are mentioned. She's pretty much just got Ethan.

Clary's only real friend is Simon, who, curiously, is the only person who stays human for a significant amount of time. But no matter what species he is, he's pretty cool. He's not, however, very powerful.
Winner: Clary. Simon looked around and waited for a while, but no one showed up for battle. Sorry, Kerry.

Category Five. Urban Fantasy Elements.

Kerry herself is just a human, but she has a powerful vampire friend who owes her a favor or two.

Clary is a dormant Shadowhunter, which means she's stronger than a human, but nowhere near as strong as a trained Shadowhunter or even a vampire, werewolf, etc. She does have abnormal powers though, even for a Shadowhunter.

Winner: Clary. She gotz special skillz.

End Score! Kerry: 3 Clary: 2 Yay, Kerry! You move on to the next round! Don't worry, Clary, Mortal Instruments will always have a special place on my bookshelf.

And our second battling pair is... Mercedes "Mercy" Thompson (Mercedes Thompson series, Patricia Briggs) vs. Claire Danvers (Morganville Vampires, Rachel Caine). First of all, this isn't really fair because Claire is sixteen and Mercy is who knows how old, but definitely an adult and far more experiened. But we'll see how it goes.

Category One. Personality.

Claire is a tough teenager. She goes to college two years early all by herself and endures cruel hazing, so she must be tough. And then she meets the vampires. Plus she's actually smart, and she knows how to use her knowledge. But she's not supergirl either, so she's well rounded. She doesn't need some sadistic childhood to make her interesting.

Mercy, of course, is also tough. She grew up with werewolves, after all. But she's got your basic adult urban fantasy heroine personality: tough, clever, and wears impractical clothing on her book covers. But she's a bit more interesting in the fact that she actually is tough and clever.

Winner: Claire. Mercy's personality may be more assertive, but Clary wins the argument because she makes more sense, and really is just more interesting.

Category Two. Fight!

Physical challenges are not Claire's strong point, but she does good when she needs to. She's not opposed to throwing a punch, but if she ever tried to beat someone up, she'd probably fail.

Mercy, on the other hand, grew up with werewolves. Of course she can defend herself.

Winner: Mercy. Claire didn't stand a chance.

Category Three. "Kiss Me, You Fool!"

Claire and Shane are cute. Not original or spectacular, but cute. Shane's obviously crazy about her, but she's not all he thinks about, and the same goes for Claire.

Mercy follows the tradition of adult urban fantasy heroines by having several love interests, all of different species. But she never actually gets close to any of them, which branches off from the norm, but leaves her with nothing.
Winner: Claire, mostly by default.

Category Four: Friends.

Claire's got the ghost friend, the goth friend, and the boyfriend. And you might even count the two most powerful vamps in town, but that'd probably be stretching it.

Like most adult urban fantasy heroines, Mercy doesn't have a best friend or even any really good friends, but you can count Stefan, a vampire, and Warren, possibly the only gay werewolf.

Winner: Draw. Mercy's friends might be more powerful, but Claire's are more reliable.

Category Five: Urban Fantasy Elements.

Claire actually has none. In fact, she'd be better suited to a science fiction novel, the little genius.

On the other hand, Mercy turns into a coyote.
Winner: Mercy.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a TIE. Tie Breaker Category: Drama Queen.

Sure, Claire freaks out plenty of times, but she gets over it. She's a scientist after all. She just looks for the facts, finds them, deals with them, and moves on. No needless drama here.

Mercy's hardly a drama queen, but sometimes she gets immersed in her issues and you get bored. Sure, maybe she's got some interesting backstory, but no one really wants to hear about it in the middle of a murder mystery. Get some closure already.

Winner: Claire. The sixteen-year-old has less drama than the coyote woman? Weird.

End Score! Claire: 3 Mercy: 2 Draws: 1 Congratulations, Claire! Hurrah for the underdog! Don't worry Mercy, you're still one of the best adult urban fantasy heroines.

And our last pair is...Sookie Stackhouse (Southern Vampires, Charlaine Harris) vs. Kaylee Cavanaugh (Soul Screamers, Rachel Vincent)!

Category One: Personality.

Sookie's adorable. She's sweet, but since she can read minds, she's not naive. She can be mean when she has to, and half the time she's just struggling to appear normal.

Kaylee's personality is refreshingly normal, which makes her seem very real. She keeps a clear head in a crisis, but when she lets herself freak out when the situation calls for it.

Winner: Sookie. She's just funner to hang with. Even Kaylee agrees.

Category Two: Fight!

Sookie's no martial artist, but she can take care of herself. In her world, she kind of has to.

Kaylee mostly relies on luck and the element of surprise. But hey, whatever works.

Winner: Draw. Neither do too well against each other.

Category Three: "Kiss Me, You Fool!"

Like every other adult urban fantasy heroine, Sookie has a variety of love interests, but they're all so much better than everyone else's. They're not random shmexy males popping up all over the place and exhibiting strange attraction, they actually have purpose.

Kaylee, however, has one boyfriend, Nash, who made the hate list. Hm.

Winner: Sookie. Every one of her gentlemen friends could beat Nash one-on-one.

Category Four: Friends.

Sookie's got a few of them, Tara, Sam, and others that pop in and out as the series goes on. They all have their moments.

Kaylee's got the human best friend and a reaper friend, Todd, who is pretty darn awesome.

Winner: Sookie. Tara and Sam are very intimidating, and Todd knows when to back down.

Category Five: Urban Fantasy Elements.

Sookie is telepathic with fairy blood. Not something you hear every day. She's also surrounded by vampires, weres, fairies, and just about everything else.

Kaylee is a bean sidhe, or banshee. Also something you don't find every day. The only other creatures she meets are reapers and demons, though.

Winner: Draw. Sookie gets points for being paranormal herself and still having the classic vampires and werewolves, but Kaylee does awesome too for being something very rarely used and doing it well.

End Score! Sookie: 3 Kaylee: 0 Draws: 2 Congrats, Sookie! You proceed to the next round! Ouch, Kaylee, but you still did pretty good.

So our Urban Fantasy finalists are Kerry Nowicki, Claire Danvers, and Sookie Stackhouse! Tune in next Wednesday for the Classic & Historical Heroine Arena!


Sunday, October 30, 2011

Persy -- The Vanishing Sculptor by Donita K. Paul

Welcome to Chiril, a fantasy land of dragons, parrots, seven low races, and seven high races. It's surprisingly complicated. And then the wizard and the librarian show up and everyone's off on a quest to recover missing statues. Don't worry if you're having a hard time following, you're not the only one.

Tipper Schope has gotten used to responsibility ever since her father, the famous artist and sculptor Verrin Schope, disappeared about ten years ago. Her mother, Lady Peg (who is technically a princess, but was banished by her parents), has just about lost her mind, so maintaining the estate is left to Tipper. Luckily, she has her father's dear friend Sir Beccaroon, a grand parrot of the Indigo Forest, to help. But that doesn't make anything easy, and Tipper has to start selling her father's old pieces of artwork.

Imagine her dismay when her father miraculously returns (sort of) with Wizard Fenworth and his librarian Librettowit all the way from Amara, a distant country. When she confesses to selling Verrin Schope's statues, she discovers things are worse than she thought. Apparently, there was this block, a kind of cornerstone of the world, that fell through a portal into Verrin Schope's studio. Naturally, he carved it into three statues. But when the statues were separated, the world began to unwind, and now Verrin Schope, Fenworth, Librettowit, Sir Beccaroon, and Tipper, along with the help of a pretentious artist named Bealomondore, must recover the statues before the world, and Verrin Schope, disintegrate!

But before they do that, Fenworth and Verrin Schope decide they need a better means of travel than a rickety old carriage (for one thing, it's not fast enough, and for another, it's uncomfortable), so they go hunting for the major dragons. But people don't ride dragons in Chiril, most people never even see the big ones (the minor dragons are more like pets or servants). But befriending the dragons may be harder than they think, especially since they're in the care of a mysterious Dragonkeeper...

The biggest problem with this book is that Donita K. Paul doesn't find it necessary to explain her world at all. You're reading along and the book casually mentions the dragons and a parrot and emerlindians and tumanhofers and never tells you what's going on. Her writing style also isn't the clearest, which only adds to the confusion.

And the worst of it is, it's actually a very simple plot with rather simple, 2D characters. The writing is just so elaborate that you don't always notice. You're too busy figuring out what a tumanhofer is to care about said tumanhofer.

If you can figure it all out, then it's actually a pretty good fantasy quest novel. It's more centered on the questing and adventuring than the characters, so their flat personalities can be excused. Wizard Fenworth is easily the best character, with lizards and bugs and leaves always falling out of his beard and robes (he's a bog wizard, after all).

Another thing that rather bothered me is Wulder. This is Christian fantasy, and in this world, Wulder is the equivalent of God. Except in Chiril, no one knows about Wulder. But Fenworth and Librettowit come from Amara, where he's well known. So amidst the questing, there's lots of talk about Wulder and how Wulder will help them and it will all turn out according to Wulder's plan, whatever it may be. Which is all fine, but the way they presented Wulder made me dislike him. A Christian book that makes me dislike the God figure isn't a good thing. Donita K. Paul does get better at this, though.

If you're wondering why the picture has "Dragons of Chiril" as its title, its simply one of those stupid deals when a book is published under two names (why why why do they do that?). I believe it was first published as The Vanishing Sculptor, and that's what my copy's called, but was later rereleased as Dragons of Chiril, probably to match the other titles in the Valley of Dragons series. And I don't even know why it's called that, because it's not really about the dragons.

Speaking of the series (which is a prequel series to Miss Paul's DragonKeeper Chronicles), I'm currently reading the second book, Dragons of the Valley, and so far I'm enjoying it much more than the first book.

A few things you should know before starting The Vanishing Sculptor: there's an appendix in the back. There are seven high races and seven low races in the fantasy world, emerlindians and tumanhofers are both of the seven high races. Minor dragons, while not all over the place, are fairly common to the wealthy (though no one except the Schopes seem to have any). There are also grand parrots in the fantasy world (though we never see one besides Sir Beccaroon).


You might like this if you like: Christian fantasy; adventure/quest fantasy; the Dragons In Our Midst series by Bryan Davis; fantasy akin to The Ratastrophe Catastrophe by David Lee Stone; or if you have suspicions that the world is unraveling but you don't know why.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Wednesday Scrolls - Literary Heroines Who Don't Suck, Fantasy Arena

So we've completed the four lists of Literary Heroines Who Don't Suck, but the show's not over. I know, you're probably sick of these lists already, and you've got to be wondering if I have anything better to do, and I really do...but this is much more fun.

Here's how the Character Arena (as I'm dubbing it for future battles) will work: to make things as fair as possible, we'll first have the chars in one genre/list battle each other. For instance, the top six Fantasy heroines will be set one-on-one until there are only three left. There will then be another battle for Urban Fantasy, then Classic/Historical, etc. etc., until there are only three heroines remaining in each category. They will then battle each other. All opponents will be chosen at random. The champion will earn her novel a reread, and the second and third place winners may as well. Fourth place will recieve a brief moment of honor. Don't worry if you don't understand, it should make sense as we continue (hopefully).

Contestants will recieve points in 5 categories: Personality (because that's obviously imporant); Fighting Talent (because it IS a battle); Romance (because they ARE girls and there are girls in literature, there's romance); Friends (you are judged by the company you keep); and one last category specific to the genre.

This week is the Fantasy Heroine Arena. To refresh yourself on the heroines, check out their post. Only the top six will be battling in the Arena.

And the first couple is... Sophie Hatter (Howl's Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones) vs. Hermione Granger (Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling)!

Category One. Personality.

Sophie's got personality down. She's wise beyond her years (ha) but still loves to have fun, and she has a good heart.

Hermione's got a strong personality, a bit bossy and a show off, but she grows out of it. She develops firm beliefs and is someone you don't want to piss off, and manages to keep her femininity throughout it all.

Winner: Hermione Granger. Mon Dieu, the first round and it's already intense. But Hermione's still arguing long after Sophie's scowled and dozed off.

Category Two. Fight!

Sophie may be trapped in the body of an old woman, but she's still got fight. Especially when it comes to dust and tantrum-throwing men.

Not only does Hermione have a mean right hand, she can just as easily curse you with her wand, though she's not the best at dueling.

Winner: Hermione Granger. After a long, drawn out duel, Hermione finally hits Sophie with a stunning spell, but not without recieving quite a few cuts and bruises.

Category Three. "Kiss me, you fool!"

Sophie and the wizard Howl...she turned into an old woman, he with no soul...*SQUEE*

Hermione and Ron, friends forever.

Winner: SOPHIE!! Her love story definitely fascinates more listener's than Hermione's.

Category Four. Friends.

Sophie has the aforementioned crazy wizard, the fire demon, the tiny apprentice wizard, an adorable dog, and the hopping/animated scarecrow.

Hermione is best friends with the notorious Harry Potter and Ronald Weasley, which is hard to beat.

Winner: Sophie. Howl, Michael, Calcifer, and The Scarecrow beat Harry and Ron, even if they hadn't had numbers on their side.

Category Five. Fantasy Elements.

Sophie is enchanted into the form of an old woman.

Hermione is the best witch of her year.

Winner: Hermione. She actually has magical powers, whereas Sophie is just a victim. But their knowledge of magic is probably equal.

End Score! Sophie: 2 Hermione: 3 Congratulations, Hermione! You move on to the next round! And don't worry, Sophie, you are still loved.

And the second couple is... Flora Segunda (Flora Segunda, Ysabeau S. Wilce) vs. Courtney Crumrin (Courtney Crumrin series, Ted Naifeh)!

Category One. Personality.

Courtney is antisocial, sarcastic, and very clever. And she's about twelve. "Creepy Crumrin".

Flora is a bit absent minded, a procrastinator, but very adventurous and resourceful.

Winner: Courtney. She intimidates Flora into silence with ease.

Category Two. Fight!

Courtney, though young, already has impressive magical power as a witch, but in a physical fight she's a bit wimpy.

Flora's hardly a walking tank either (though she is a bit big from eating too much), but she's got so much spirit she could probably beat the crap out of you.

Winner: Flora. Get real, she's at least twice as big as Courtney.

Category Three. "Kiss Me, You Fool!"

Courtney almost falls in love with a cursed vampire, but tragedy strikes. It's a tragic tale Courtney glosses over.

Flora has a bit of an affair with the butler, but then there's her budding relationship with her best friend. Neither ever really go anywhere.

Winner: Courtney by default. Sorry, Flora.

Category Four. Friends.

Courtney has no friends, unless you count her uncle and the recurring goblin fellow.

Flora, on the other hand, has her dogs and Udo, plus the lost family butler Valefore who, while maybe not the best of friends, is still interesting.

Winner: Flora. Courtney needs to learn the value of friendship.

Category Five. Fantasy Elements.

As said before, Courtney is a very powerful witch, despite being young and untrained.

Flora may have some magickal talent, but it's more useful for getting into trouble.

Winner: Courtney wins the last round in less than five seconds.

End Score! Courtney: 3 Flora: 2 Congratulations, Courtney! You move on to the next round! Don't cry, Flora, you're still in one of my absolute favorite books.

And the last couple of the Fantasy round is... Fire (Fire, Kristin Cashore) vs. "Ben" Benevolence (Princess Ben, Catherine Gilbert Murdock)!

Category One. Personality.

Fire is meek and a little whiny, but matures with age. Bad experiences have made her guilty and a bit shy.

In the beginning, Ben is a complete brat and pig. But by the end of her adventures, she's learned so much that she's now a formidable young woman.
Winner: Ben. Her personality is much stronger than Fire's.

Category Two. Fight!

Fire is a superb shot. She's not too bad with her fists either.

Ben, though tough, isn't exactly a fighter when it comes to the physical aspect, but she does her best.

Winner: Fire. Neither of them do well, but they're almost equally matched and Fire ends up gaining the upper hand fairly quickly.

Category Three. "Kiss Me, You Fool!"

Fire and Brigan start out in the love-hate stage. He hates her, she fears him. Love at first sight! But their feelings cultivate in a touching way, and it's hard not to fall in love with them.

Oddly enough, Ben and Florian start out love-hate too. In fact, they both hate each other. But along the way (when Ben's pulling the ole 'dress-as-a-boy' trick), they start to get along.

Winner: Fire. Her's and Brigan's relationship is easier to understand and love as a whole.

Category Four. Friends.

Fire's best friend and inital lover, Archer, is very, very, very annoying. But he's loyal.

Ben doesn't really have any friends, unless you count her spell book. But that's hardly her fault. She got locked in tower, for goodness sake.
Winner: Unfortunately, Fire. Is an annoying friend better than no friend at all?

Category Five. Fantasy Elements.

Fire is the last human monster, which gives her the power to read minds. Plus she's superhumanly beautiful. Kind of hard to beat.
Ben teaches herself magic while locked in a tower armed only with an old broom and a spellbook. She masters magic and the fine art of broom-riding.

Winner: Draw. Fire's telepathy gives her an advantage, but Ben's just too resourceful to fall behind. After a long, drawn out battle, they shake hands in mutual respect and fatigue.

End Score! Fire: 3 Ben: 1 Draws: 1 Congratulations, Fire! You move on to the next round! No worries, Ben, you're still the queen and you can still ride a broom.

So our Fantasy Finalists are: Hermione Granger, Courtney Crumrin, and Lady Fire! Tune in next Wednesday for the Urban Fantasy Character Arena!


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Arty -- Thirteenth Night by Alan Gordon

You've read Twelfth Night, right? You know, Shakespeare and all? If you haven't, there are three things you should do. Firstly, you should repeatedly hit yourself in the face with a two-by-four. Secondly, turn off your computer. Thirdly, go read Twelfth Night. Right now. Because neither the book nor the review will make sense if you haven't read it.

Okay, read it now? Good.

The events of Shakespeare's tale are all true. There really was a Duke of Orsino who married an orphaned twin named Viola. Olivia really married Sebastian. And, most importantly, there really was a jester named Feste and a steward named Malvolio.

But their actions were all a bit more sinister than Shakespeare made it out to be.

Fastforward fifteen years afterward, and Feste, now known as Theophilus, is an aging clown with a drinking problem, seemingly useless in the Fools' Guild - a training center for fools, clowns... and secret agents. The Fools' Guild sends its jester-agents into highly touchy situations of international importance to sue for peace or war, convince nobles to courses of actions... and sometimes assassinate those nobles. But Theophilus, as he's fond of pointing out, is no longer a young man, and there's not much for him to do.

Then word comes that the Duke of Orsino is dead. Worried that Malvolio, the more-dangerous-than-he-appeared steward, who declared revenge on the Duke's house (and Feste) fifteen years ago, has begun to execute that revenge, Theophilus travels to Orsino to investigate.

Thus begins a continuation of Twelfth Night, returning to the lives of Viola and Sebastian, Olivia and Fabian, and, of course, Sir Toby Belch and Andrew Aguecheek, fifteen years after we first met them.

I really wanted to like this book. And - guess what? - I did! It's Shakespeare. It's mystery. And, come on, it's jesters. Who doesn't like jesters? (If you answered 'I don't,' go hit yourself with that two-by-four again. I mean it.)

Now, this was not a perfect book. A few aspects of the mystery were confusing, and there were times when there wasn't enough foreshadowing for the plot twists to make as much sense as they could have. The description was bare, too. I never quite got a feel for what even Theophilus looked like, except that he's always describing himself as 'old.' (I guesstimate he's around forty.) Most of the other characters don't have much to them, except for brief adjectives like 'fat,' 'beautiful,' or 'young.' I'm choosing to believe that this was to retain a shred of a playlike aspect.

But if you want to know anything about my reading habits, you should know that I need good characters more than a good plot - and the characters are where the awesomeness of this book lies. Theophilus is a great MC. He's witty and sarcastic (as all jesters should be), he's depressed but not mopey, and flawed but not a horrible person. He's very human. Viola (probably my favorite female Shakespeare character besides Beatrice) is a great character, as well as Andrew Aguecheek, Maria, Viola's and Orsino's son (who is ADORABLE!), and Bobo, the fool who's sent to help Theophilus unravel the mystery. Even the minor characters are funny and engaging, and you're really sad when any char dies (which happens a couple times).

The mystery, while not on level with the characterization, is interesting, and, while political, wasn't too much so for me to grasp. And I really hate political mysteries. I called the main villain about a third of the way through, though I didn't really have any evidence for it (it's always the one you least suspect, after all). However, there was a minor 'villain' who I really did not expect and nearly shouted when they revealed it - even though it made sense.

So if you like Shakespeare or period fiction or mystery or just a really well-written book, pick up Thirteenth Night. Oh, and it's a series! Book number one in the Fools' Guild Mysteries, there are seven sequels, as of 2010. Seven! Here's hoping they're all as interesting as the first one.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Wednesday Scrolls - Literary Heroines Who Don't Suck, Other Edition

We've gone over the big ones. Fantasy. Urban Fantasy. Classic & Historical. But what about scifi? What about chick lit? What about romances? What about those books you just can't find a genre for? What about THEM!!

Don't worry, I'm not ignoring them. All of the above fall into the lovely, broad genre of Other. As much as I love scifi, there just aren't a ton of heroines in science fiction literature. I don't read a lot of chick lit, and there are very few awesome heroines in chick lit anyway. And, well, the genre-less ones obviously go in Other. Here's a list of the awesomest ten heroines from the above-mentioned genres.

#10. Deryn Sharp from the Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld. Steampunk. Okay, so the whole girl-dressed-as-a-boy has been done millions upon millions of times, and, honestly, lots of people are sick of it. However, when it's done well, I actually love it. This time, Scott Westerfeld pulls it off. Deryn Sharp pretends to be a boy to get into the British Air Force, where she proves to be a brilliant air(wo)man. She's kind of like Bloody Jack only steampunk, and not quite as witty. And the book itself (Leviathan)? Surprisingly awesome.

#9. Dulcie from Going Bovine by Libba Bray. Scifi/Fantasy. She's a punk angel, which sounds like a boring cliché but actually isn't, and she's a little sad but a little cheerful at the same time. Pretty cool, in other words. And the book itself? OMGSOAWESOME!

#8. Sammy Keyes from the Sammy Keyes series by Wendelin Van Draanen. Mystery. The young-girl-detective thing's been done many times as well, but never has it been so enjoyable. Sammy is awesome for all ages, not just ten-year-olds. She's smart and resourceful, everything a good detective should be. She just has a bit of bad luck from time to time. And the book itself (Sammy Keyes And The Hotel Thief)? Awesome.

#7. D.J. Schwenk from Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock. Chick Lit. She's funny, she's likeable, she's in an unfortunate situation, and she has character growth. A good main character is the only thing that will make it possible for me to actually like a coming-of-age/chick-lit/whatever book, and D.J. is very cool. And the book itself? Pretty awesome.

#6. Shahara Dagan from Born of Fire by Sherrilyn Kenyon. Scifi/Romance. Shahara is aweome because she's good at her job, but not much else. She often even seems like a complete idiot until you're reminded that she's never been a criminal before, only a policeman. Plus she's got a miserable past, and you know how I love those. And the book itself? Oh like you need me saying it again.

#5. Haruhi Fujioka from Ouran High School Host Club by Bisco Hatori. Manga. Everybody loves manga! Okay, not everyone, but everyone should. I mean, pictures! But anyway. Surrounded by rich airheads, Haruhi is sarcastic and surprisingly laid back, just kind of 'whatever-but-please-don't-touch-my-stuff'. Let's face it, I just love everyone from OHSHC (Haruhi's just the only girl). And the manga? OMGSOAWESOME!

#4. Audrey Cuttler from Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway. Chick Lit. What were the qualities of a good chick lit heroine? Funny, likeable, unfortunate situation, and character growth? Well, Audrey's got all of those PLUS music! And the book itself? Absolutely hilarious.

#3. Gratuity "Tip" Tucci from The True Meaning Of Smekday by Adam Rex. Scifi. First of all, Tip is pretty much traveling across the world with an alien named J.Lo in a worled pretty much controled by aliens. Yes, that beeping noise is the awesome-o-meter warning you that it is about to explode. Tip not only navigates the cold cruel world by herself (she's like, twelve, by the way), but even saves the cold cruel world. And the book itself? OMGSOAWESOME!!

#2. Frankie Landau-Banks from The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart. Chick lit? When Frankie realizes how her new boyfriend looks down on her and doesn't expect or want her to be smarter than him, she decides to prove him wrong. She turns out to be a freakin' genius. And just...well...awesome. And the book itself? Oh go read it for goodness sake!
#1. Jasmine Callihan from Bad Kitty by Michele Jaffe. Forensics. Cats. Fashion. Hilarity. Ooh yes. Jasmine has got to be the. funniest. main character. ever. This is one of the few books that makes me laugh out loud, and yet the mystery is still intriquing and fun to figure out on your own. Jasmine is just epic. And the book itself? Absolutely HILARIOUS.

So there you are.

This concludes the Literary Heroines Who Don't Suck Saga. Should they battle it out to see who is the queen of heroines? I think they should. TO THE ARENA!!!

...Next week.


Monday, October 17, 2011

Persy -- The Last Thing I Remember by Andrew Klavan

You ever wake up and find yourself strapped to a chair, covered in burns and cuts and bruises? You are, that is, not the chair. The chair's fine. Well, probably. Who knows what these dastardly villains have done to the poor thing.

Who are these dastardly villains, you suddenly ask yourself. You can't remember. You have no idea where you are. You frantically think to yourself, what's The Last Thing I Remember?

Well, The Last Thing I Remember is actually a book by Andrew Klavan, about a boy who finds himself in the exact same position. The last thing Charlie West can remember is a normal day--Yesterday? Sure, it was filled with some excitement (epic karate demonstration, finally getting Beth's phone number, arguing with Alex), but in the end, it was a normal day. Nothing to explain why he's just woken up from a night of torture.

Charlie barely escapes with his life, but now he must embark on a quest to figure out what's going on. But just as he seems to get close to safety...he finds he will never again be safe.

This book starts out strong. There's a smooth blend of flashbacks and scenes from the present, both of which keeps the reader (you!) interested. But soon the novelty of an amnesia-suffering MC wears off, and you start noticing some things.

First of all, Andrew Klavan's writing isn't exactly epic. His sentence structure is very repetitive (usually beginning with 'I'), and he tends to use short sentences for dramatic effect. He often does this. He starts the sentences with the same word. He thinks this will be cool. He is wrong.

Then, before you know it, you've reached the end of the novel, and you're left with this feeling of, "Whaaaaaa?" It's one of the most abrupt endings ever. The only warning you get is when you start noticing you're running out of pages. Klavan never quite finishes setting the story up, so the whole book feels more like a really, really long prologue.

So points to Klavan for a good idea and a good MC, but he needs to work on his actual writing style. There are three more books in the Homelanders series, and I'm at least going to read the second one in search of some kind of climax.


You might like this if you like: The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp by Richard Yancey, or if you like like YA thriller/suspense or action/adventure novels, or if you're worried about one day waking up with amnesia.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Wednesday Scrolls - Literary Heroines Who Don't Suck, Classic & Historical Fiction Edition

Time to continue the ongoing Literary Heroines Who Don't Suck Saga! We've already covered fantasy and urban fantasy, and today we'll be taking a look at both classic and historical fiction. I combined the two genres because there just weren't enough to warrant a list for each. Even combined, there's only 8, not even a full 10. I don't read a lot of historical fiction, and there aren't really a lot of heroines in classic novels. What's really amazing though, is that they're all almsot equal in their awesomeness. Here's a list of the 8 I've encounted in my travels:

#8. Wilhelmina "Mina" Harker from Dracula by Bram Stoker. Classic Horror. Listen, y'all (and I don't use that term lightly), Dracula is not boring, it is not tedious, and it is not filled with obscene pages of violence and dirt. It's a work of genius. and Mina Harker is actually very cool. She's certainly not the best character in the book, but that hardly makes her boring. She's comfortable in her situation as a woman, doesn't run off to kill the vampires behind Van Helsing's back, and yet is still brave. She is dignified. And the book itself? ^^ Work of genius.

#7. Kit Tyler from The Witch Of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare. Classic Fiction. "Despite winning the Newberry Award..." Yeah, I did just quote myself. But let's face it, Newberry Award winners are usually dull and boring, but "Blackbird Pond" is an exception to the rule. Kit is pretty awesome, seen as a foreign witch by her new neighbors and relatives. But she ends up making a school (by accident) for the young children, teaching them to read and write. Go Kit! And the book itself? Excellent.

#6. Rosalind Hawkins from The Fire Rose by Mercedes Lackey. Historical Fiction/Fantasy. As I've said before, best Beauty and the Beast retelling. Ever. Rosalind, like Mina, is perfectly content being a woman and wearing corsets and skirts, and doesn't even think about it. Instead, she just curls up in her chair, forgetting all about her skirts, to read her books in comfort. She's and educated woman, irritated that men don't always accept her knowledge, but she doesn't jump up on a soapbox and start shouting at everyone. Plus, she's just kind of cute. And the book itself? ^^Best B&B retelling. Ever.

#5. Emily Trefusis from Murder At Hazelmoor (AKA The Sittaford Mystery) by Agatha Christie. Classic Mystery. Christie doesn't always do it for me, but Emily is very cool. If you want something done, do it yourself. That's what she decides when her fiancé (a silly little man, but for some reason she can't figure out, she loves him anyway) is charged with murder. So she heads down to solve the mystery herself, weedling her way into the heart of the little village. She's a brilliantly created heroine. And the book itself? Ending a bit disappointing, but overall quite good.

#4. Cat Royal from the Cat Royal series by Julia Golding. Historical Fiction. Cat's actually a very average young adult historical heroine: spunky, adventurous, and witty. She's good at getting into tight situations, and she's good at getting out of them. Perhaps it's Golding's writing that distinguishes Cat from all the others. And the book itself (The Diamond of Drury Lane)? So good.
#3. Marguerite St. Just from The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy. Classic Adventure/Superhero. *squees* Best book EVER. While Marguerite isn't the best part of it, she plays her part(s) superbly. You want a double agent? Check her out. And the book itself? OMGZ SO AWESOME.

#2. Mary "Jacky" Faber from the Bloody Jack/Jacky Faber series by L.A. Meyer. Historical Adventure. Girl dresses as boy to get into some sort of all-boy situation. Cliché. But when it's actually done well, it's amazing. Jacky doesn't start dressing as a boy because she particularly wants to, it just kind of happens and she's got nowhere else to go but the sea, and they don't take girls anyway. Jacky is full of adventure and absolute hilarity. And the book itself (Bloody Jack)? Go read ALL THE BOOKS IN THE SERIES!

#1. Mara from Mara, Daughter Of The Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw. Classic/Historical Espionage. Okay, remember how I said Marguerite St. Just is the best example of a double agent? Mara would actually give her a serious run for her money. I would love to see these two in battle. Mara is roped into double agent-dom, but she does it so well and she's so amazing. And the book itself? Dude, READ IT ALREADY.

And there you have it. This weekend I'll be doing a review, and the following Wednesday we'll have the last installment of the Literary Heroines Who Don't Suck Saga! Unless we have an ultimate showdown, of course...