Friday, August 31, 2012

Back to the Books Giveaway Hop!

Enter to win a signed ARC of Sarah Crossan's Breathe! 

Goodreads Description: 

Inhale. Exhale. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe . . . 

The world is dead. 
The survivors live under the protection of Breathe, the corporation that found a way to manufacture oxygen-rich air. 

has been stealing for a long time. She’s a little jittery, but not terrified. All she knows is that she’s never been caught before. If she’s careful, it’ll be easy. If she’s careful.

should be worried about Alina and a bit afraid for himself, too, but even though this is dangerous, it’s also the most interesting thing to happen to him in ages. It isn’t every day that the girl of your dreams asks you to rescue her. 

wants to tell him that none of this is fair; they’d planned a trip together, the two of them, and she’d hoped he’d discover her out here, not another girl.

And as they walk into the Outlands with two days’ worth of oxygen in their tanks, everything they believe will be shattered. Will they be able to make it back? Will they want to?

My Review

Enter below and be sure to check out the other Giveaways going on!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Crewel by Gennifer Albin

Title: Crewel
Author: Gennifer Albin
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Pages: 368
Rating: 5/5

I purposefully made myself wait a little bit to review Crewel because I wanted to write a real review - not just a bunch of semi-coherent fangirl squeeing.

I think I might be ready now.

Crewel's premise immediately caught my eye due to its reference - at least in my mind - to the Fates or Moirai who control destiny in Greek (and subsequently just about every culture ever) mythology. The idea of women being called to weave time and matter in a present day setting fascinated me. I was very eager to see how Gennifer Albin would put that idea to paper. The result is The Matrix meets The Hunger Games with shades of the premise of The Handmaid's Tale (or at least what I think of as the premise as I've never read the book), complete with a relatable heroine, moral dilemmas between one's duty to self vs. society, an incredibly vivid post-apocalyptic dystopia and, oh yes, a rather delightful little love triangle that's more scalene than equilateral.

Although, Crewel is book one in a trilogy, so there's time for that to change.

The story begins with Adelice Lewys being called by The Guild to serve as a Spinster, a double edged sword that gives women in a strict patriarchal society the illusion of freedom and power. Adelice isn't interested in that illusion, however, which is why she was purposefully trying to fail at the testing that weeds out the Eligibles from the regular girls. She fails at failing, however, and the Guild comes, resulting in a mad dash escape attempt by her parents that leaves her father dead, her sister captive and her mother MIA.

The beginning is one of only two minuscule quibbles I have with this amazing book. I think Adelice as a character and Arras as a country would have benefited from a couple of chapters of further exploration before we are thrust into the action of the story. Adelice in particular is somewhat illusive as a character for the first few chapters and as much as I fell in love with her fairly quickly, I really didn’t know who she was as a person before being taken from her family by the Guild.

But truthfully, that concern was barely a blip on my radar while reading.

En route to the Coventry where Adelice will presumably spend the rest of her life, she meets the first player in the love triangle, Erik – although she doesn’t learn his name until later. She’s thrown in a cell for the first few days as punishment for her attempted escape and as she’s finally released she meets the second player in the triangle, Josten. It’s really amusing to watch Adelice interact with boys for the first time because she’s never had experience with them before. I appreciate that Albin doesn’t write Adelice as a tongue-tied idiot around members of the opposite sex. Her awkwardness is quickly outweighed by her curiosity and yet she never comes across as desperate or boy-crazy.

God bless Ms. Albin for this.

I don’t want to go too deep into plot details/spoilers from here on out, but suffice it to say that Adelice’s skill and her sharp tongue/quick wit put her at odds with her fellow Eligibles, the head Spinster and the face of the Guild, Mr. Cormac Patton. Her only allies come on the form of Enora, her mentor, Loricel, the Creweler, Erik and Josten. As the story progresses we follow Adelice as she navigates the world of the Coventry and the Guild, trying to keep one step ahead of the people who want to keep her squarely under her thumb. She learns that she’s not just any Eligible and that the Guild has really big plans for her.

Well, as big as they can ever be for a woman in Arras.

Before I gush about a few specific reasons why I enjoyed Crewel so much, I’m going to explain my one other quibble – the exposition. There are a couple of chapters where Adelice and Loricel are talking and through an extensive game of twenty-questions we learn a lot about how Arras was formed and its relationship to the Earth we know. We learn what the weave is – in a deliberately vague sense – and the purpose of a Creweler in keeping it functioning. These are heavy info dump chapters and as a reader, I was very aware of their purpose. It wasn’t bad so much as noticeable because throughout the rest of the novel Albin doles out the exposition quite artfully as events are unfolding.

Then again, Loricel is a very old, very wise woman who has taken it upon herself to teach Adelice about her future as a Spinster, so in that sense the chapters function exactly as they’re supposed to within the narrative. So, take that as you will.

No, onto some specifics that I loved…

Adelice Lewys. I love her. LOVE HER. I’ve read the two biggest YA series that have come out in recent years and the biggest problems I had with both of them came down to the heroines. I couldn’t fully relate to them because I couldn’t wrap my brain around their attitudes regarding their own self-worth. Adelice was a breath of fresh air for me – much like Katy in Obsidian – because while she didn’t think she was the most beautiful creature on the planet, she wasn’t crippled by constant thoughts of how plain and ordinary she was. Like most girls, Adelice felt that she lacked in certain areas, but when Erik and Jost showed an interest in her, she didn’t doubt that she could be a desirable creature to either of them.

She doubted her sanity in pursuing either of them, but that’s a whole different issue. ;p

Part of Adelice’s journey deals with how her actions affect her family and friends. While she is very concerned as to how the Guild can use her loved ones against her, she works toward goals that spell freedom for everybody – including herself – rather than contemplating grand schemes that leave her dead like some kind of martyr. Adelice doesn’t mask cowardice behind self-sacrificing delusions of grandeur.

Lastly, Adelice acts. She doesn’t wait for things to happen to her, she makes them happen. She doesn’t let her fear make her afraid of trying to create her own destiny.

Now the boys…Josten and Erik. I have to admit, I love them both. I have my preference as to who ends up with Adelice, but both characters are compelling. I was especially impressed with Josten’s past – there’s a twist in it that not something I’ve come across before. Erik is all charm and smoothness, navigating and circumventing the system from a place of prominence, while Josten is rougher around the edges, fighting his battle from the ground up.

Both boys are made of win and again, I appreciate the fact that Erik and Josten don’t fall into the traditional good boy/bad boy roles. They each play both sides of the spectrum and as such are fully rounded characters.

I could go on waxing poetic about this book for pages and pages. I could go on about the fascinating world of Arras and how I would leap at the opportunity to read an actual history book of the region so that I could learn how the society became so sharply divided upon gender lines. Adelice briefly mentions her grandmother telling her about a time when children weren’t segregated by gender and there were no Purity Protocols to follow and I’d love to read about the politics involved in that change. I could go on about the concept of Arras and the idea of certain women being able to alter the very fabric of its existence. I could talk about the evils of the Guild and how their quest to map Spinsters calls into mind the idea of genetic mapping and designer babies. There are just so many fascinating concepts within Crewel that I just can’t say enough good things about it.

Crewel is one that will stick with you for a long time after you’ve finished reading it and if you’re anything like me, you will be counting down the days until the next book is available.

I. Cannot. Wait.  

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Breathe by Sarah Crossan

Title: Breathe
Author: Sarah Crossan
Publisher: Greenwillow
Pages: 400 pages
Rating: 4/5 Stars

The concept that fuels Breathe is fascinating - in an attempt to grow food for the Earth's ballooning population, the entire planet is deforested for farmland. The logic is that there will be enough oxygen being produced by the oceans to sustain life.

That logic proves faulty.

Oxygen levels in the atmosphere deplete to 4% and the world descends into anarchy and chaos. Domes - called pods - are erected across the planet to sustain life and oxygen becomes more valuable than gold. An oxygen tax is imposed upon the populace and class lines become even more clearly drawn. Oxygen is pumped directly into people's homes and closely monitored by the government, speed patrols exist on the street to prevent people from walking more than 3 mph and exercise becomes a privelege of the wealthy. Aided by air tanks, holidays are taken outside of the Pod to take in the carnage left behind after The Switch.

A resistance exists among those in the Pod - of course - and the three main characters of Sarah Crossan's novel get caught up in it. One by choice, two by accident. The story follows Alina, Bea and Quinn as they discover dark truths about the lives they have led and are forced to question their beliefs.

I really enjoyed Breathe. I read it in one day - partly, I'll admit, because I'm so behind on my reading goal. While certain things are constant in dystopic novels - the governing body that controls the populace with half-truths and an iron fist and the resistance that works against them - I'm always fascinated to explore each author's vision and discover what happened to bring about this dark future. I'll admit, I scoffed at the idea of the entire planet being deforested. I know that it's a problem - a scary, disheartening one - but the notion that an entire planet with a population so vast that it needs all of the land mass available for farming food could subsist on the oxygen put off by the ocean is so far-fetched as to be unbelievable.

But whatever. I'll let it slide.

Alina, Bea and Quinn are great protagonists. Crossan writes each chapter from a different character's POV which isn't anywhere near as confusing as I thought it might be. I think maybe once or twice I had to go back and double check who's perspective I was getting, but that was usually because I was so eager to find out what came next that I didn't pay close enough attention to the chapter title. It was really cool to see each character from a different character's perspective, to explore their strengths and weaknesses from all sides. It made the characters more real and put personality quirks that could have become annoying into perspective.

Breathe is more than just the title of the book, it is also the name of the main governing body within the Pods. Throughout the course of the book, we learn more about Breathe and the unsavory methods they're using to stay in power. What I found interesting, however, is the way Crossan also undermines Alina's - and I'll admit my - assumption that the resistance is perfect. Petra, the leader of Alina's faction of the resistance, is pretty awful, having become as much of an iron fist in her desire to protect the trees as the Pod Minister has in his ruling of the people. (It reminded me of District 13 in Mockingjay.) We see Alina's view of the world falter in the same way that Bea and Quinn's falters.

Crossan creates a very vivid world, both within the Pod and without. She's paid close attention to detail and taken advantage of her premise to highlight the ways we take oxygen for granted. Homes have airlocks to aid in the careful monitoring of oxygen use, plants and pets are forbidden. Couples must apply to have children and any show of affection must be carefully weighed against the oxygen tax that may be levied due to the increased consumption. The barren landscape outside of the Pods is equally vivid and macabre. One of my favorite moments in the book occurs when Bea arrives at The Grove and sees the trees for the first time. I really felt the awe, joy and shock at coming face to face with something that she had considered a fairy tale her entire life.

Some things that didn't work -

While Crossan makes the wise choice of dolling out her exposition throughout the course of the story, there are some questions that are never answered to my satisfaction. One, I already mentioned. How did anyone convince the world that we could get enough oxygen from the ocean to survive?

Another question that is never answered is why time is divided into before The Switch and after The Switch. Now, I do grasp the concept that The Switch is being used to identify the moment when oxygen became the most valuable thing on the planet, but Crossan never explains the use of the phrase 'The Switch.'

Crossan's three main characters read young. Very young. That's not a problem, necessarily, but it's something that stuck out to me. They're supposed to be sixteen or seventeen and I felt like they were thirteen or fourteen.

There is a love triangle, but it's weakly executed and somewhat unnecessary. I can't decide if I think it was thrown in there because all YA novels must have a love triangle/romance or if Crossan really felt that it was a dynamic part of her story. Either way, it's a minor subplot that didn't detract from my enjoyment of the novel any more than my incredulity over the premise.

Breathe is the first in a series and while this book does wrap up the action with an air of finality, it definitely doesn't stand alone. That's not a fault, that's just a fact. I am definitely interested in reading the next book in the series. Crossan is a very capable writer and I very much enjoyed her characters and the world she created.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Obsidian by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Title: Obsidian
Author: Jennifer L. Armentrout
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Pages: 335
Rating: 4/5 Stars

I read this book in nine days! That probably doesn't sound like much of an achievement, but considering it took me six months to read Drood, my nine days with Obsidian feels like the blink of an eye. 

I really enjoyed Obsidian. Jennifer Armentrout spins a delightful little science fiction tinged romance between her two main characters that I'm looking forward to continuing in Onyx. To be honest, I almost bought Onyx before I even finished Obsidian - that's how certain I was that I wanted to continue to explore Katy and Daemon's world. 

I don't like to bog my reviews down with plot details, so I'll get right to what works and what doesn't. 

Works: the characters. Human or alien, the characters in Obsidian are relatable and real, fueled by the same basic desires as the average teenager - love, friendship, to fit in. I think what Armentrout does best is keep these desires from crippling her characters. Everyone feels doubt, love, loss, joy, anger, etc, but very few people allow those feelings to rule every aspect of their lives and Armentrout recognizes that.

I really appreciated that Katy wasn't some paragon of virtue, too perfect and pure to be real. Does she have a problem with drinking? Nope. Does she want to get in a car with her homecoming date who's already two sheets to the wind when he picks her up for the dance? Hell no. Katy gets angry and embarassed, she has a temper. She'll take shit, but she'll also dish it out with zero qualm. She stands up for herself, but she isn't an overbearing, overly sensitive bitch. When it comes time to be a hero, she rises to the occasion to save her friends, but she doesn't have a deathwish. 

Best of all, when she and Daemon start getting their sexual tension on, she doesn't spend chapters doubting the fact that he's attracted to her. 

Speaking of Daemon...he's awesome. He's a dick, he knows it and he doesn't care. And he doesn't change. Sure, he's got layers and goodness hiding beneath that hot, surly exterior, but he is who he is and while he softens around Katy, he's still Daemon. I love this. It makes the handful of scattered moments when he becomes completely vulnerable so much more interesting. I also love how unapologetic he is about protecting his family. Why yes, Katy, he will throw your ass to the wolves if it comes down to you and Dee. 

I like that a lot. 

I enjoyed how Katy and Daemon's relationship progressed. They're good looking people, so their attraction was pretty immediate, but their journey beyond the physical was/is slow. They drive each other crazy and don't spontaneously combust by the end of the novel into a happy, schmoopy couple. 

Thank goodness. 

The war between the Luxen and the Arum was a nice, if somewhat shallow, backdrop for Katy and Daemon's love story. The presence of aliens provides conflict and keeps Katy in Daemon's sphere, but it doesn't go much deeper than that. If you're looking to learn about a race of aliens, get to know their purpose and goals, then Obsidian will disappoint you. The aliens and their fairly typical powers are not the point. 

The plot points that Armentrout explores via Katy and Daemon are your typical high school/teenage expriences. There's no ground being broken here, but that's okay because the characters are engaging. I was perfectly content reading about the same trevails of high school as a hundred other YA books because Katy, Daemon, Dee and the rest kept me entertained. 

Now onto what doesn't work.

Honestly, there's nothing in Obsidian that doesn't work. There are aspects that could be explored more (see above) but there isn't anything that truly fails in terms of story and character development. I have a personal issue with all of the book blogging talk - not the fact that Katy is a blogger, but the fact that Armentrout is so specific about memes and whatnot - but that's just me. 

That said, I really feel that Entangled Teen let Armentrout down in terms of editing support. My copy of Obsidian is not an ARC copy and yet some sections have so many typos that it actually pulled out of the story. The grammar in certain sections leaves a lot to be desired as well. 

I don't fault Armentrout for that.

In my opinion, authors need to have a working knowledge of grammar and punctuation, a command of language and a vivid imagination that they can translate onto the page. They do not, however, need to be perfect and hand in a polished manuscript that's ready for publication on the first try. That's why editor's exist. Editors are supposed to find the typos and find the areas where grammar isn't perfect or word choice is shoddy. They are supposed to look at sections of the book and say "you know, you could use a little more description here and clarify your character's intentions there". They are supposed to help their authors bring the best possible version of their vision to bookstores and ereaders around the world. 

I don't know what happened here, but Entangled totally dropped the ball withObsidian and as you can see I'm kind of pissy on Armentrout's account because of it. 

Frustrations with Entangled aside, I am very excited to not only read more of the Lux series, but also more of Armentrout's work as a whole. I like her characters enough that I really just want to see them play.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Drood by Dan Simmons

Title: Drood
Author: Dan Simmons
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Pages: 941
Rating: 2/5 Stars

It took me nearly six months to read Drood. That fact alone could stand as a review, but I shall try to express in more detail why finishing this book - a book I was really excited to read - became such a chore.

Drood is a sprawling tale about the last five years of Charles Dickens life as seen through the eyes of his good friend, and fellow author, Wilkie Collins. The story begins with the Staplehurst train wreck that nearly claimed Dickens' life and ends with the great author's death. In between we learn about the enigma that is Drood and how this mysterious figure arguably drove both men to the brink of madness.

I commend Simmons on his research. I'm not an expert on Dickens, but I know enough that I was impressed with the author's attention to detail and the way he wove the real life history of the characters into his narrative. The language and style of Drood is reminiscent of the era in which it takes place while still managing to feel contemporary, so points for that as well.

That’s all the good I can say about Drood, however.

As much as I tried, I simply did not like this book. I didn’t like it. Dickens is a condescending prick who treats strangers with more care than he does his own family and friends. Collins begins the novel in a fairly sympathetic light, but by the end I just wanted him to shut up and stop whining. Collins is very much a product of his times – a sexist, racist, classist, ageist, misogynistic ‘gentleman’…and did I mention sexist? Damn. I’m usually quite good at putting concerns like that aside, especially considering the era in which the novel took place, but Collins had so few redeeming qualities that it his faults became overwhelming. I really didn’t need or want Collins to be perfect, but I did need something about him to respect.

The reason I picked up the book is because I’ve always had a bit of a fascination with The Mystery of Edwin Drood and according to the description, that’s what this book was supposed to be about. It’s not. It’s not even about Dickens. It’s about Wilkie Collins and his descent into drug-addled paranoia, hallucination and madness. Simmons didn’t even attempt to really answer whether or not Drood was real or merely a figment of mesmeric suggestion and laudanum and I suppose that vagueness could be seen as commendable. After all, the source material is unfinished, so why wrap it all up in a neat and tidy bow?

Well, because maybe then I would have felt like I actually got something out of this book instead of a general feeling of time wasted. I certainly don’t need to have my hand held and have the answers spelled out for me in simple, concrete language, but a few less options would have been nice.

There are a few passages that I really enjoyed and had me turning pages – the Staplehurst accident, Collins and Dickens’ first descent into Undertown, Collins entrapment in the catacombs and Hatchery’s death, Collins meetings with Barris, the death of Agnes, Collins opium and morphine induced dream of killing Dickens – but they’re interspersed far too judiciously amidst all of the dense exposition.

At one point I told a friend that I wouldn’t be reading any of Dan Simmons’ other work. I take that back. I read a few reviews of Drood and according to some this novel is quite the departure from Simmons’ other work, so I’m inclined to give him another try. He's a good author and uses language well. It just won't be any time soon.

And by the way, if I never hear the term ‘mesmerism’ used again, it will be too soon.