Sunday, September 30, 2012

Arty -- Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Ah, genreless fiction.  How you continue to surprise me.

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school - until now.  He's about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you've ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be.  The thing is Auggie's just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face.  But can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, despite appearances?

Simple.  For once, a summary is sufficient.

This book could have flopped many, many times, and it came pretty close a few times.  But, in the end, it was just really good.  Mostly because of Auggie, who I love.  

Auggie is... I don't know how to describe Auggie.  He's a normal kid, really.  He just has a twisted-up face.  He's happy, usually; he's friendly, he's funny, he's trusting.  He's just a really sweet kid, and by the time the book ended, I wanted to give him a huge, bone-crashing hug.

The emotional connection you make with Auggie helps carry some of the plot points that would have been cheesy if they had happened to someone less... lovable.  But Auggie is Auggie.  When he's sad, you're sad.  When he's happy, you're happy.  When people mistreat him, you want to punch them in the face.

Auggie is like everyone's best friend's little brother.  You just... take care of him, even though he's capable of taking care of himself. (And his obsession with Star Wars is adorable - he knows the story, as opposed to so many 'geeks' in genreless stuff who know Darth Vader and 'Luke, I am your father' but nothing beyond that.)

The othr characters are interesting, too - Via, Auggie's older sister, is a particular favorite.  We also get parts of the book from other characters' perspectives - Jack and Summer, Auggie's school friends, and Miranda and Justin, Via's once-best friend and boyfriend, respectively.  All of them were easy to like (except maybe Summer, she was a bit too perfect to be believable), and they all introduced different aspects of Auggie - living with Auggie, how the world treats people like Auggie.  They put the book into perspective.

The plot, which goes through Auggie's first school year, can seem a little long and winding at times - almost pointless - but every time it starts feeling like that, something else will happen, and the story sort of sucks you back in.  It's addictive.  I hated putting the book down because I wanted to see what came next.

Cons.  Sometimes Auggie sounded ridiculously mature for an eleven-year-old.  It was a bit jolting sometimes, when he'd act like a little kid and then suddenly come out with something 'old' and deep.  And, like I said, sometimes the plot got a little slow, or a little unrealistic.  But it's still so good, mostly due to the characters.

So, basically, Wonder is a wonder.  (Sorry, I had to.)  Read it.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Persy -- Beauty Sleep by Cameron Dokey

Once upon a time...
A beautiful princess is born to the King and Queen, and at her christening, she is subject to two very powerful works of magic. The first is from her aunt, whose invitation was forgotton. Princess Aurore is cursed to prick her finger on her sixteenth birthday, and die. But the second spell comes from her godmother, who decrees that she will prick her finger, but will merely sleep for a hundred years until woken by a kiss.
Because of the first spell, the young princess is forbidden to leave the castle or go anywhere near a needle. But Aurore feels called to the outside world, and, with the help of her cousin Prince Oswald, she is finally allowed outside. She grows up under the teaching of her father, who instructs her on how to be a ruler of the people. It's not long before the villagers fall in love with their cursed princess, but the nobles are far from happy.
The nobles long ago fell in love with Oswald, who was originally declared successor to the throne. But the king changes his mind, and declares Aurore to be his heir after all. But when her sixteenth birthday comes and goes, things begin to get messy, and Aurore will have to face the two spells inside her.
First of all, don't pay any attention at all to any other synopsis you read. They don't make any sense.
Second of all, for some reason, I wasn't expecting much from this book. Maybe it was the unattractive cover (mine really wasn't very appealing), or maybe it was one of the lame summaries I read (just stay away from them), but something made it seem very uninteresting. Despite this, I decided to give it a try. I'm really glad I did.
Aurore is easy to like, even when she's being childish and impetuous. I still can't help but sympathize with her, even when I know she should calm down. The small cast of supporting characters (her father, Oswald, Ironheart, La Foret) are all very well done likeable.
Most of the plot is very well done, but it feels like a lot of buildup and not much else. I kept expecting something big and dramatic and horrifying, but it never came. Nevertheless, it was still very interesting and the difficult plot of having a main character whose supposed to be asleep for the story was handled very well.
I'm not entirely happy with the ending, though. I think it could've worked, but it just didn't quite click for me. But it was still done much better than most of the people who try to pull off that kind of thing, so I'm not terribly upset.
Bottom line: Beauty Sleep is a very good fairy tale retelling that I would immediately recommend to Sleeping Beauty fans, with good characters and good writing. It may not be perfect, but it's pretty close. I will definitely be looking into Cameron Dokey's other fairy tale novels.
You might like this if: you like fairy tale retellings; you like short, fun fantasy novels; your favorite princess is Sleeping Beauty; you have a soft spot for time travel or enchanted forests; if you aren't sick of unconventional princesses; or if you were cursed as a baby and need a good example of how to get your own happily ever after.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Arty -- The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson

I'm starting to really fail at this "review every weekend" thing.

Anyway.  The Adoration of Jenna Fox.  It's one of those kinda popular, kinda not books that I figured wouldn't be very good.  Because 'kinda popular, kinda not' books have this nasty habit of not being very good.

But it was the September book for a book club I'm part of, and another friend rec'd it (who has good taste, if you'll remember Hope Was Here, Pandora Hearts, and Quicksilver).  So I got it.

And it was really, really good.

It reminded me of my favorite Margaret Peterson Haddix books, Double Identity.  Only three times as well characterized and plotted out and thought-provoking.  Yeah, thought-provoking is a good thing in this case.  Somehow, Pearson managed to make it thought-provoking without saying "This is a book about THIS subject, now here, make up your mind."

Who is Jenna Fox?  Seventeen-year-old Jenna has been told that is her name.  She has just awoken from a coma, they tell her, and she is still recovering from a terrible accident in which she was involved a year ago.  But what happened before that?  Jenna doesn't remember her life.  Or does she? And are the memories really hers?

Gosh, that summary just does not give the book justice.  It makes it sound so run-of-the-mill.  And boring.  And uninteresting.  And cliché.  I'm repeating myself.

One of the things about this book is the writing.  It's easy to read, and it sounds like Jenna.  It's mechanical and almost surreal at first, as Jenna wakes up.  And then it becomes more flexible, more grounded, the more she goes through, the more she remembers or learns.  It was just awesome to read.

Another is the characters.  Jenna is a great MC - not a favorite, but she didn't leave me wanting to kill her or even just feeling blah about her existence.  She actually gets to be likable.  (Except with Ethan, the annoying prerequisite 'love interest,' but there were only a few scenes with him.)

The side chars are really fun, especially Lily.  Lily was amazing.  Jenna's godmother and grandmother figure, she's grounded and realistic and sometimes pretty unlikable but still.. relatable.  You get her.  And by the end of the book she was my favorite character.  Jenna's parents, too, were really well done - very human, not demonized or perfect.  So human.  And Mr. Bender - I kinda want a book just for him.  He sounds like an interesting guy and he didn't have enough scenes.

The action of the novel - if it can be called real action - was very well set up.  It started a little slow, but then you get the sense that something's wrong... and it keeps escalating.  And escalating.  And there comes a point when you think it can't get more horrible for Jenna, but it does.  There were a couple times when I thought, "Okay, how is Pearson gonna top this?" and she always does.  It drove me crazy and it was brilliant.

Random rant - Pearson actually managed to incorporate Jenna's going to school in an intelligent way.  Several plot points revolved around things Jenna did or discovered or heard in school.  Which is just great.  So many books stick school in there just for the lulz, or to introduce the romantic interest.  Which Pearson did, but it was the least important reason.

I really can't find much wrong about this book - except for the random, unnecessary romance with Ethan.  Not everybody would love it.  But for anyone who likes low-key scifi or interesting books that make you think without pushing it, this is a must-read, just to see if you enjoy it.  I'm really excited to read the sequel, Fox Inheritance.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Persy -- Born of Shadows by Sherrilyn Kenyon

That awkward moment when you haven't read anything since the last book you reviewed...
I considered trying to do something clever to get out of writing a review, like declaring today a new literary holiday that required an extra special post or something like that, buuuuut... I'm too tired to be clever, so I figured I'd just continue my little Sherrilyn Kenyon series by reviewing book four in the League series, Born of Shadows. You can read my reviews of the first three books here: "Night", "Fire", "Ice".
Caillen Dagan is a master smuggler struggling to survive and keep his three sisters out of trouble. He's managed quite well so far, but finally Kasen gets him in the deepest water ever, and he is captured and sentenced for execution. But before the axe can drop, his DNA test sends up red flags and before he knows it, he's declared the long lost heir to the Garvon and Exeter systems, and the only son of Emperor Evzen.
As if adjusting to his newfound royalty wasn't bad enough, he runs into Desideria, the daughter of the Quillac queen. The duo fall right into the trap of a mystery criminal and are accused of crimes that not even Caillen's committed. They have no choice but to rely on each other as they try to stop the true criminal before Caillen's father and Desideria's mother are assassinated.
What I like about "Shadows" is that the plot is a bit deeper and the romance a little less important. Don't get me wrong, it's definitely still around, but it's a bit less lustful and sudden than the romance in the previous three books. Caillen and Desideria spend more time getting to know each other than making out.
This book also introduces Fain Hauk, brother of Dancer Hauk who has appeared in several of the other League books. Fain is a bit less empathetic, a bit more sarcastic, and a lot more interesting than his younger brother, especially when you add in the whole space pirate thing. I think Hauk's getting his own book pretty soon, but I'm still holding out for Fain to get the spotlight.
As for the main characters, Caillen's pretty cool. I've always liked him, so getting a book all about him is nice. Desideria's not bad either, though a little... naive, perhaps. But that's kind of a requirement for heroines in Kenyon novels.
The plot is far more complex than the other League books, with lots of space politics. Kenyon doesn't try to put too much science in it either, which is good since I don't think she bothers to check if she's right when she does. It's a nice balance, but the ending kind of stumbles along to a happily ever after (which is also a requirement for Kenyon novels). It's a very forced happily ever after, but I guess perfection is too much to ask from a romance novel.
Sometimes it's hard to classify the League series as science fiction. Sigh.
"Shadows" is definitely better than "Ice", which was a bit of a flop in all areas, but for me at least, it doesn't hold quite as much appeal as the first couple of League books. Perhaps the plot is just getting old. Ah, well, no book infatuation lasts forever. Except for The Boxcar Children. And Harry Potter. And The Prophecy of the Stones. Maybe I should just stop there.
You might like this if you: like romance, but not too much; like science fiction, but not too much; have already read the other League novels and are thirsty for more; need a quick guilty pleasure read; or if you suddenly discover you're a long-lost prince and you don't know what to do with yourself.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Wednesday Scrolls -- August Review!

Hello September, goodbye August! That's right, yet another month has passed away, and the crew here at the MLU (all two of us) are here to give you our personal best and worst of the month.
I, Persy, read a total of 16 books and 4,676 pages, which is way better than I was expecting. It also felt like I got no reading done because ballet started back, so when I'm not dancing or working, I'm scrambling to get school done. I'm honestly usually too tired to read by the time everything else gets done.
Best August Book: Since I still had a stack of favorites left over from RAMFAP month, I read a lot of awesome books this month. But I think the best would have to be Unwind, by Neal Shusterman. This book still gives me chills and makes me really think. Shusterman never disappoints.
Honorable Mentions: Like I said, I read a lot of good books last month. So the Honorables are Happenstance Found by P.W. Catanese, The Prophecy of the Stones by Flavia Bujor, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling, Dear George Clooney, Please Marry My Mom by Susin Nielsen, and I Am Here! Vol. 1 by Ema Toyama.
Worst August Book: Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt. *shudders*
Dishonorable Mention: Rifles For Watie by Harold Keith. I am so sick of the Civil War right now.
Let's hope I can find some energy and time for reading this month!

Gosh, September already.  Arty's favorite month.  I hope it'll be better than August, because I only managed 14 books.  And that was while I was on vacation!  Sheesh.  Oh well.

Best August Book: I actually read a whole lot of good books, even if there weren't many, so it's hard to choose, but I have to go with Sapphique, the sequel to Catherine Fisher's Incarceron.  MY GOSH SO GOOD.  I can't even explain how terrific of a sequel this is.  It does everything a sequel should.  AND JARED.  JARED IS BEST EVERYTHING.

Honorable Mention: Hope Was Here by Joan Bauer.  Aaaugh so good.  Also The Elder Edda, translated by Andy Orchard.  Beeeeautiful.  Thrymskvida and Loki's Home-Truths.  Good stuff.

Worst August Book: Probably The House of Sixty Fathers by Meindert DeJong.  Oi.  Boring.  Believe it or not, I got it as a school book.

Dishonorable Mention: The Alchemist and the Angel by Joanne Owen.  An import straight from England (it has its worth in pounds on the back).  Sadly, the intriguing premise and the beautiful inside art were not enough to save a dreadfully static writing style and not-very-fleshed-out characters.

So that was the month of August for me.  Here's hoping September will be better!


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Arty -- Hope Was Here by Joan Bauer

Genreless.  It sounds so boring and dull.  And yet sometimes you stumble across a treasure.

Hope Was Here is such a treasure.  It has a simple premise: Hope Yancey, a sixteen-year-old with no father and an absentee mother, has been raised by her aunt Addie for as long as she can remember.  They travel the US, working at different diners and restaurants - Addie is a short-order genius, and Hope has plenty of experience waitressing.

The story opens with another move, to small-town Mulhoney, Wisconsin and the little diner called the Welcome Stairways.  This town and this diner, however, are ever so slightly different.

There's Lou Ellen, the single mother with the disabled baby Anastasia; there's Braverman, the diner's teenage griller who had to stay home from college because of family financial issues; and, most of all, G.T. Stoop, the Welcome Stairways's owner, the effervescent older man with leukemia who also up and decides to run for mayor.

It's a good thing Hope is skilled at hope, because it appears Mulhoney will need it.

Good grief, this book was good.

The characters are what make it.  Hope is what makes it.  I've never read a better genreless heroine. (Sammy Keyes is under the mystery genre - she's more fun but Hope is right on her tail).  She's not whiny or annoying, and she's not a Pollyanna - she knows life is tough and she's okay with that and she knows it's still worth it.


Sorry.  I get really excited when I find a female MC I love this much.  Seriously.  This girl danced around a diner in a red clown nose to lift her spirits.  You cannot dislike Hope Yancey.

The other characters are amazing, too.  I thought Addie would be another cliché brash-but-lovable aunt; she turned out to be an opinionated, stubborn, frightfully intelligent, warm, loving, oh-my-gosh-can-I-be-her-niece character.  (Also a can-you-come-cook-for-us character - her food sounds divine.) Braverman was actually an interesting love interest - you could see it from a mile away, but still.  He and Hope were cute.

G.T., however, turns out to be the second driving force of the novel, after Hope.  This guy... I'm not even going to try to sum him up because it's late and I'm tired and besides - one does not simply sum up Gabriel Thomas Stoop.

Basically, he's one of the most amazing old guys ever.  Any Adventures In Odyssey listers - ironically, he reminds me a lot of Tom Riley.  (Without the Richard Maxwell issues.  Mainly because there's no Richard Maxwell figure in Hope Was Here.  But that's beside the point.)

The subplots - the political side (which was amazing), the diner/short-order cook/waitressing side (which was amazing and made me hungry), the personal, girl-wishing-for-family side (which was amazing) - it all worked so well together.  So well.  And even if the ending was a little easy... it was worth it.

Hope Was Here is like comfort food.  You sort of know what you're getting, but at the same time it's sort of a surprise how good it is, and it makes you happy the whole way through.