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Clockwork Prince (The Infernal Devices)
Clockwork Prince (The Infernal Devices)
by Cassandra Clare
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.81
130 used & new from $3.89

5.0 out of 5 stars Clare has really outdone herself., December 13, 2011
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I'll admit, I was a little bit wary of Clockwork Prince. Cassandra Clare's last effort, City of Fallen Angels, was enjoyable but felt like a transition book to me. And second books in trilogies are hard. It's hard for a second in a trilogy not just to be a transition from the introduction of the first book to the conclusion of the third.

How foolish it was of me to doubt! Clockwork Prince immediately assuaged my fears. It hit all the right notes and was notably better than its predecessor (a book that I loved). Everything was tighter, crisper, cleaner. Not a work or scene felt extraneous or indulgent. And the character development. The character development! At the center of the Inferanl Devices trilogy is its characters, all of whom are lovable in their own way. (Yes, even Will, and I was not much of a fan of his after Clockwork Angel.)

Tessa Gray has catapulted herself to status as one of my favourite YA heroines. She is strong but not invincible, clever but in a show-offy way. She takes action and changes the world around her. It was impossible not to ache for her throughout the book. Though the readers all know what species they are, Tessa's search for identity is still relateable and painfully real. Jem Carstairs takes center stage, and this is really his book, his moment to shine. He's still the same kind, patient boy that readers came to love in Clockwork Angel, but Prince brings him to earth, shows him to be not invulnerable to suffer, not immune from anger and rashness. He is still lovable -- perhaps even more lovable because he is more human.

Just enough plot points were resolved and enough new questions raised to make the book extremely satisfying. Sure, I can't wait for Clockwork Princess, but I also found Clockwork Prince to be an extremely satisfying reading experience. So, it was definitely a five star book and one of my favorite YA reads of the year.


A Great and Terrible Beauty (The Gemma Doyle Trilogy)
A Great and Terrible Beauty (The Gemma Doyle Trilogy)
by Libba Bray
Edition: Paperback
Price: $8.99
717 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Great read., November 5, 2011
I intended to read A Great and Terrible Beauty years ago, when it was first released, my friends raved about it, and I was actually part of its target audience (ie, a teenage girl). I'm just now getting around to it, and I was glad to see that my expectations were not let down, and I found A Great and Terrible Beauty to be a lovely book.

Doyle really understands the psyche of the teenage girl. Her characters are sometimes selfish, foolish, and mean, but they ultimately have good hearts. It was really great to read a book in which the characters make petty mistakes, not just big, life-changing ones. Scenes in which the girls at Spence were cruel to each other were particularly refreshing, as their behavior stemmed not from reasonless, Mean Girls cattiness, but real conflicts that go on between young women, conflicts about class, status, and jealousy. I found each of the girls likable in their own way, as well as the side characters.

The plot is a page turner with just enough space to breath. The Victorian setting is used to its full advantage. All in all, A Great and Terrible Beauty has a lot to recommend it.

However, if I had one complaint, it would be about the mythology of the book. I didn't find it as compelling as the other elements of the story. The sources of magic and how it's performed feels a little bit muddled, as though Bray wasn't completely sure what kind of a system she wanted to set up. I hope that the sequel will clarify things and fix that problem. Nevertheless, I would definitely recommend it.


Crossed
Crossed
by Ally Condie
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $12.10
284 used & new from $0.01

18 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A disappointment., November 4, 2011
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This review is from: Crossed (Hardcover)
After Matched, which I had quibbles with but enjoyed, Crossed came as something of a disappointment. Oh, sure, I tore through it in about 4 hours -- and with a bad head cold at that. However, if I hadn't already been invested in Cassia's story from reading Matched, I'm not sure that Crossed would have kept my interest up.

The problem with Crossed? It suffers from a problem common enough in the second book of a trilogy, but more so than any other #2 in a series I've ever read. Crossed is very transparently a bridge from Matched to the finale of the series. I will give Condie that some important events happen, and some important information is disclosed. But that could have been accomplished in half the word count, if not less. The rest is padding. There are meaningless digressions that aren't detailed enough to feel like worldbuilding and aren't significant enough to feel plot-important. I have to wonder whether Condie realized there was a certain irony and symbolism in having her characters spend all their time traveling in a book that exists just to move us from one place to another.

The digressions are enjoyable, in nicely rendered prose, and the book kept my interest. But it was in no way satisfying to read. One feels as though Cassia had her big moment of growth in Matched, and Crossed doesn't change her very much. Some of the conflict feels manufactured, but at the same time, there is interpersonal conflict left mostly unexplored.

I have a feeling that when I get my hands on the final book of the trilogy, I will feel that Matched should have been two longer books.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 5, 2011 7:29 PM PDT


Hunted (The Flash Gold Chronicles, #2)
Hunted (The Flash Gold Chronicles, #2)
Price: $1.79

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another fun novella from Lindsey Buroker., October 24, 2011
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Hunted was a fun follow up to Lindsey Buroker's first Flash Gold novella. My review of her earlier effort sums up my feelings on the series, but I'll reiterate it here: the Flash Gold series is fast and fun. I appreciated getting some of my questions from the first novella answered. Fun dialogue, interesting, likeable characters, and a quick moving plot all make Hunted well worth the money you'd spend on it and the hour or so it takes to read.

A few things, however, could use some polishing. There were a few moments when the characters used obviously modern slang (I'm thinking of Sebastian saying "sexed up" in particular) that pulled me out of the story. In a steampunk work, I don't expect exact historical accuracy, I expect an imitation of historical speech that readers can understand. There were a few other such moments, I think, but this example is particularly egregious and easily fixed, so I hope that modern slang is something that Buroker will be more aware of in her next effort. Also, I felt that at times, the action scenes were a bit drawn out, particularly towards the end. As a reader who prefers less dialogue, more action, I'd like to see a bit more of a balance there.

That said, I am looking forward to another Flash Gold novella!


The Lost Crown
The Lost Crown
by Sarah Miller
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $13.86
54 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly researched and heartfelt., October 23, 2011
This review is from: The Lost Crown (Hardcover)
Meticulously and lovingly researched, it's hard not to respect the effort that went into The Lost Crown. However, I felt that the effort fell a bit flat.

The first problem with The Lost Crown is implicit in its premise. Because the reader knows that the Romanov family was murdered by Bolsheviks in July of 1918, it's hard to keep up much sense of suspense. This is made worse by the family's captivity. As many writing instructors will tell you, bored people are boring. Therefore, a bored, scared family doesn't make for the most fascinating topic for a book.

Miller does her best to keep tensions high between family members and their captors. As the book is not dreadfully dull, she succeeds at making what could be a very boring affair interesting, at least. The pace is, at times, a bit plodding and repetitive, but I have a hard time imagining the topic handled better as a novel.

Miller's biggest stumble, however, is in her decision to split the POV and give each of the Romanov daughters a chance to tell their story. The voices of the grand duchesses aren't very distinctive. In fact, even their personalities meld together a bit. With the constant switching between who is 'I,' it can be hard to keep track of what each sister is like. It takes a very, very long time for each of the young women to become their own person, and in the end, only Anastasia is a truly distinctive character. I believe the book would have been a stronger one had Miller chosen one sister and stuck with her POV.

Still, it's hard to disparage such a heart-felt, lovingly written book. Miller's compassion for the Romanovs is truly what makes the story work. Though to the reader may at times find them outrageously uninformed, it's also easy to settle into the general mindset of the family -- naive, sheltered, and unprepared for the changing world around them.

If you're looking for a page turner, The Lost Crown is probably not the best choice for you. However, if you are looking for a well-researched and entertaining introduction to this period in history, I can't think of a better novel.


Matched
Matched
by Ally Condie
Edition: Paperback
Price: $6.12
361 used & new from $0.01

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 3.5 Stars Would Be More Accurate, October 19, 2011
This review is from: Matched (Paperback)
I waffled a lot between three stars and four for Matched. Really, it deserves three and a half, and I bumped it up to four because I enjoyed it quite a lot.

Matched is a dystopian novel, but it is not an action-packed thriller like many other dystopian YA books that have been published in the last few years. Personally, I liked the more introspective look at bringing down a dystopian society. There aren't fight scenes, but the action (that is, the events of the story) clips along at a nice, quick pace. I found things exciting, and there was plenty of mystery and tension to keep me reading. I liked the characters and overall, it's a worthy effort I would recommend, especially to anyone who likes the genre.

However, it does suffer from some problems. Because the action is so internal, the heroine, Cassia, seems to spend a lot of the book crying, which makes her become a bit soppy and wearing. For the most part, she was an interesting character and showed a lot of strength at various points in the novel, and I think the crying was meant to balance the outer strength with her inner turmoil, but at some points, I was left thinking, "Good grief, AGAIN?"

Secondly, Matched suffers from a problem that a lot of female YA writers seem to have, which is that their male characters seem underdeveloped and not as compelling as the female lead. To be fair, this is even more a problem for male writers with female characters, but the issue was especially glaring in Matched, where so much of the conflict comes from which boy Cassia loves. Neither Xander nor Ky were particularly interesting until a reveal at the very end, and it's too little, too late.

With so much of Cassia's development being internal, it's hard to see why two boys would be so interested in her. Her thoughts are interesting, but her interactions, especially with Xander, aren't very exciting. We're told again and again how much they love each other and that they're best friends, but we don't really see them having fun together, and the depth of their bond, again, doesn't become clear until the end.

At some points, Condie becomes a bit over-philosophical in the narration. On one hand, Cassia is a seventeen year old girl, and seventeen year olds often think that they have very deep, philosophical thoughts when really, their ideas aren't that interesting. But Condie seems to think that yes, Cassia's revelations and questions are very deep and meaningful and we should all pay attention to them! It wasn't a major problem, but like the crying, at points it caused this reader to roll her eyes.

Lastly, I should probably stop reading so many dystopian novels, because I find it very hard to suspend my disbelief that the totalitarian states described ever came to be, when they are ludicrously far-fetched in terms of the level of control and cultural erasure that people simply accept.

Hopefully, these problems will be addressed in the sequel, which I will read, because, as I said, I did enjoy the novel a lot and would recommend it. But these problems prevented me from giving it a fully-deserved four star or five star review.


The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel
The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel
by Michael Scott
Edition: Paperback
Price: $6.10
431 used & new from $0.01

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Meh., October 16, 2011
The Alchemyst had a lot of potential, but suffers from quite obviously being the set up to a longer series. It was frustrating that I read 300+ pages and none of the conflicts were ultimately resolved. Every time that it looked like we were going to get some answers or some closure, more questions come up and it was just a hair-pulling experience. In fact, it was so disappointing that, rather than wanting to read the sequel to find out what happens, I am left eeling like the rest of the series won't be rewarding.

Furthermore, though the mythology kitchen sink has the potential to be interesting, stealing a bit of this and a bit of that left the mythology feeling kind of haphazard and shallow. Scott obviously knows what he's talking about when it comes to myths and legends, but they could have been used to better effect.

Also damning was that the characters felt rather flimsy and tallow. It was hard to get invested in any of them. Overall, the effect of the book was one big "meh," but I read the whole thing and didn't hate it, hence two stars rather than one.


The Name of the Star (The Shades of London)
The Name of the Star (The Shades of London)
by Maureen Johnson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $11.77
115 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Fun, creative thriller., October 13, 2011
Maureen Johnson definitely puts her own spin on the paranormal genre. The Name of the Star is a fun and fast-paced, and I didn't want to put it down. The characters are likeable, especially the secondary characters (Rory's roommates are lots of fun). What I really liked about the book is how different from the ordinary, vampire, werewolf, and angel-centric paranormal that's popular these days. It was really refreshing to read something different. The plot developments and world-building all fit together really cleverly. One thing I particularly liked was that Johnson didn't force the paranormal elements in the book in the first half or so. In a lot of the paranormal I've read, as a reader, I'm often thinking, "HE'S A VAMPIRE/WEREWOLF/ANGEL PROTAGONIST! COME ON!" But it was perfectly reasonable that Rory didn't understand what was going on.

I can't wait for the next book. Johnson's jump into the world of fantasy was definitely a success.

What kept it from a five star effort: the romance was a little bit underdeveloped. Since it's a series, it'll probably be going other, more interesting places, but overall, it felt like an unnecessary afterthought with all the thriller and supernatural elements going on. Second, I was left a little unclear about the villain's motivations. He made a pretty fast switch between logical but evil and completely insane.

Overall, a great book, though, and I'd recommend it to any fans of paranormal.


Jane
Jane
by April Lindner
Edition: Paperback
Price: $8.99
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mixed results., October 9, 2011
This review is from: Jane (Paperback)
First things first, April Lindner is very obviously a woman with a lot of talent. Her style is effortless, never hackneyed. Perhaps because it's a condensation of a rather long novel, it clips along at an even pace. And, more importantly, Jane is a novel that was written with a lot of love, both for the source material and for the new subjects that she approaches. I enjoyed reading Jane very much. Full disclosure: this is more than can be said of Jane Eyre, a book that I did not particularly enjoy, even if I can understand why it is beloved by so many people.

But, alas, projects such as these are always going to be measured against the original, and even for a self-proclaimed not-fan of Jane Eyre, Jane didn't quite measure up. I think that a lot of that is because so much is lost in translation. In the afterward, Lindner describes struggling to recreate the huge class difference between Jane and Rochester. Her solution is to make Rochester a rock star. It doesn't quite work, and quite a lot of the seemingly-insurmountable obstacles in Jane Eyre are lost. Celebrities marry non-famous people with some regularity. Nico Rathburn being old WASPy money might have been a more appropriate (if less interesting) choice.

Secondly, a lot of the updates just don't really work. When Jane no longer was abused by her extended family and her school masters, but her immediate family, her story ceases to be sympathetic and becomes overwraught. The 'madwoman in the attic' trope seems weird, out of place, and inhumane in the present when Bertha ("Bibi" here) can be treated properly in a mental health facility. Nico's failure to divorce her is confusing, as is his belief that he can get away with bigamy in the present day. Whaaaat? So is 19 year old Jane's decision to marry him, as other reviewers have mentioned.

Also I think I am the only Jane Eyre reader to ever just want Jane to stay with the Rivers, and I had the same feeling here with the St Johns.

In all, Jane is enjoyable, but as stated, the story doesn't really modernize well, leading to plenty of lost intricacies and some serious moments of disbelief.


The Night Circus
The Night Circus
by Erin Morgenstern
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $21.56
287 used & new from $0.13

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best I've read this year., September 18, 2011
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This review is from: The Night Circus (Hardcover)
I tend to try not to overpraise the books I love, but I can't remember the last time I read a book I loved as much as The Night Circus. Everything about it was perfect and wonderful. The prose had exactly the right balance of intricacy and accessibility, the characters were fascinating, the plot absorbing. It clips along at an even pace, and I couldn't put it down!

The centerpiece of the book is the titular Night Circus, which is more or less the circus I always wished that I could visit -- beautiful, mysterious, and immersive. The book is just as immersive as the circus is to its patrons. As I read, I could taste the caramel, smell the smoke of the bonfire, feel the chill of the Ice Garden.

Morgenstern's imagination is boundless, and I was constantly surprised by her creativity and the sheer wonder of the things described.

I would recommend this book to anyone who loves the beautiful and fantastical.


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