Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Review: The Reformed Vampire Support Group

The Reformed Vampire Support Group

By: Catherine Jinks
Publication Date: April 20, 2009
Published by: Harcourt Childrens Books
Hardcover: 352 pages
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Think vampires are romantic, sexy, and powerful? Think again. Vampires are dead. And unless they want to end up staked, they have to give up fanging people, admit their addiction, join a support group, and reform themselves.

Nina Harrison, fanged at fifteen and still living with her mother, hates the Reformed Vampire Support Group meetings every Tuesday night. Even if she does appreciate Dave, who was in a punk band when he was alive, nothing exciting ever happens. That is, until one of group members is mysteriously destroyed by a silver bullet. With Nina (determined to prove that vamps aren't useless or weak) and Dave (secretly in love with Nina) at the helm, the misfit vampires soon band together to track down the hunter, save a werewolf, and keep the world safe from the likes of themselves.

The perfect anecdote to slick vampire novels, this murder-mystery comedy of errors will thrill fans of Evil Genius.

  This book follows one teen aged vampire and the other vampires in the reformed vampire support group, an odd collection of young and old vamps trying to mend their bloodthirsty ways by not feeding on humans.  Throw in a human Catholic priest, a kidnapped werewolf, and one of their vampire friends getting staked, and you've got a murder mystery surprisingly rife with wit, character and charm...and guinea pigs.

Why I read this book:  I'd never heard of the book or the author.  This is another case when I didn't have a ton of books from the library and grabbed an unknown one off the shelf.  Also, the title and odd bunch of characters on the cover is what did it for me.

Think vampires are powerfully dark and beautiful immortal creatures?  Or maybe you prefer the soulless monsters approach?  Guess again.  These are sickly, fragile, light-sensitive, guinea pig-eating-vampires.  That's right.  Guinea pigs. (Bleh!)

The books is told from the perspective of Nina Harrison who has been fifteen years old since 1973.   She lives with her aging mother and attends a reformed vampire support group every Tuesday night for a group therapy session.  That said, I don't envy this group in the least.  Yes, they are immortal and never age.  But they are also quite feeble and are vulnerable to light. Even artificial light.  Sunglasses are a must in their world.  Without them, headlights from an oncoming car can cause their eyes to hemorrhage.  No one drives with the exception of Dave and of course Father Ramon (human priest).  And they abstain from eating humans.  No blood bags, or bears or deer here though.  Nope, these vampires are thinking long term - guinea pigs.  One member of the group breeds them and each member of the reformed vampire support group is allotted one guinea pig per day. 

This quote from the book says it all...

"The plain fact is, I can't do anything much. That's part of the problem. Vampires are meant to be so glamorous and powerful, but I'm here to inform you that being a vampire is nothing like that. Not one bit. On the contrary, it's like being stuck indoors with the flu watching daytime television, forever and ever."

This isn't a book I would rave about to my friends or family.  It's been a while since I've read anything by an Australian author, so the rhetoric and locations where the book took place was a nice change.  And the dynamic between the odd bunch of vampires thrown together is a lot like a family.  They may gripe and bitch and moan but it's clear how much their care for one another.  The complaining did get a bit old, the plot moved along enough to keep me interested.

There's plenty of wit and charm to go around and I found myself laughing out loud at a few parts.  At first it was difficult to feel invested in Nina because she complained ALL THE TIME.  She does experience growth (thankfully!) and by the end of the book it was clear her character had become more of a leader in the group.  This was a light and funny supernatural read with more heart than expected. I think I would definitely consider reading other works by Catherine Jinks.

Rating: 3

Other Memorable Quotes
“Horace, however, had arrayed himself in a Gothic assortment of crushed velvet, black satin, and patent leather that shouldn't have been allowed in my view. He might as well have I AM A VAMPIRE embroidered across the front of his watered-silk waistcoat. An outfit like that is going to get him staked one of these days; it's exactly what Boris Karloff would have worn, if he had joined the cast of Rocky Horror Motion Picture Show.”

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Review: Cinder


By: Marissa Meyer
Publication Date: January 3, 2012
Published by: Feiwel and Friends
Hardcover: 387 pages
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

 Cinder is a modern twist on the classic fairy tale Cinderella where our heroine is a mechanically inclined cyborg fighting against Levana, the Lunar queen.

Why I read this book:  After seeing this book in just about every bookstore I've frequented lately as well as on Goodread's Listopia, I decided to give this one a try.  I'm always looking for debut authors and really, a cyborg Cinderella?  How could I refuse?

Cinderella Lihn Cinder is a cyborg (almost half robot), complete with a prosthetic foot, hands and a large portion of her internal organs are artificial as well. We learn Cinder is a mechanic in New Beijing, the capital of the Eastern Commonwealth (think futuristic China).  The area (and the rest of the world) has been crippled by a deadly plague for which there is no antidote.  Cinder does not remember her father and her step mother, much like the rest of New Beijing, treats Cinder as a second-class citizen. 

Enter Prince Charming Prince Kai, the heir to the throne of the Commonwealth, who visits Cinder's shop for android repair.  Cinder isn't left daydream about Prince Kai for long, because soon after the prince's visit, the area is quarantined when a nearby vendor shows symptoms of the plague. From here the plot jolts ahead at warp speed. 

There are so many areas I wanted Marissa Meyer slow down and explore further.  New Beijing is a gold mine opportunity for world building and I had a difficult time picturing this futuristic but desolated place. The definite lack of Chinese atmosphere, customs, anything at all, really threw me.  If not Chinese, that's fine, but pick something else then, clue the reader into this world.

Cyborgs.  How did the humans and cyborgs relationship get to be this way?  Does Cinder have artificial intelligence?  Where do her emotions, thoughts, motivations, fears come from?  There is some explanation, but this really would've helped me to better connect with the story.

The Lunar Empire.  Good concept. But I'm still not completely sold how exactly they are so powerful that all of the Earth's armies fear this tiny population of people.  How did the Lunar people get there and how to do live on the Moon? And why is Levana so intent on becoming queen of New Beijing, what's so special about that place in particular?  I still have many unanswered questions.

As unique as this re-envisioning is, this novel had the potential to stand on it's own, without the Cinderella backdrop.  Things like the ball.  Eh, I could have done without it.  It just didn't seem to fit. The predictability factor was high with Cinder as well.  Sometimes, when you see the ending or big twist coming, it works if the journey is engaging.  Even then, if the reader figures out what's going to happen by the first 50-60 pages and then has to wait around for the main character to have the light bulb moment, it's not as satisifying.

Rating: 3

Memorable Quotes
“I'm sure I'll feel much more grateful when I find a guy who thinks complex wiring in a girl is a turn-on.” 

“Vanity is a factor, but it is more a question of control. It is easier to trick others into perceiving you as beautiful if you can convince yourself you are beautiful. But mirrors have an uncanny way of telling the truth.” 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Review: Gone Girl

Gone Girl

By: Gillian Flynn
Publication Date: May 24, 2012
Published by: Weidenfeld & Nicolson
Hardcover: 419 pages
Synopsis from Goodreads:
On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy's diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?

As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?

With her razor-sharp writing and trademark psychological insight, Gillian Flynn delivers a fast-paced, devilishly dark, and ingeniously plotted thriller that confirms her status as one of the hottest writers around.

 Not to be typecast as a typical marriage gone wrong, Gone Girl calls into question how well people truly know their spouses and will keep readers guessing until the very last page - but not for the reasons you'd think.  Read it!

Why I read this book:  Several friends recommended this book as being an "unputdownable" thriller and I couldn't resist. 

Okay, so Gone Girl is clearly not YA.  There is some very adult content, themes and situations in this one.  But WOW! Where do I even begin without giving too much away?

Gone Girl is the story of Nick and Amy Dunne, the poster child of a lackluster five-year marriage.  When on the morning of their anniversary Amy goes missing under acutely suspicious circumstances, Nick, like the reader, knows that the husband is usually the first suspect.  Under the increasingly scrutinizing eye of the town and eventually the media after the case takes flight, Nick enbarks on a dangerous mission in search of his missing (but not missed) wife.

The story is told from the perspective of Nick beginning the day Amy goes missing, as well as from Amy's viewpoint via diary entries dating several years back and leading up through the present.  What's really amazing here is to see how the same events are viewed by two different people and the impression it leaves on them. 

Looking at their relationship in the early days, as told by Amy, the reader learns that the couple were writers living in New York City.  With Amy's trustfund from her children's book author parents and without any children, the Dunne's were a young passionate couple enjoying their freedom. 

Seems perfect right?

After Nick and Amy lose their jobs and move to care for Nick's aging parents in Missouri their relationship begins to unravel.  The money is soon gone and they are left with nothing but eachother which is hardly comforting.

And yes there is a twist.  It's one I saw coming and from the reviews I've read, others predicted too.  But the point here is not the twist.  It exceeded my expectations.  Truly.  The lengths people go to in the novel are far fetched, but given what is learned about the main characters throughout the novel, is hardly suprising.

The writing and really the author's insight and brutal honesty about relationships is wonderful.  It's damaged and makes the reader call into question how well you can ever really know someone....especially your spouse.

And then there is the ending. 

Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you to Gillian Flynn.  I LOVED the ending.  I truly believe it's only way this novel could have ended.  It's perfectfully tragic and a wonderfully flawed.  Bravo.

Rating: 4

Memorable Quotes
There are so many deliciously memorable quotes.  The kind you want to walk up to a stranger and point out.  BUT.....I can't share without divulging the juicy details of the plot and spoiling for anyone who hasn't read this crazy book.  So I've listed a few that stood out, but that don't give too much away.

“There’s something disturbing about recalling a warm memory and feeling utterly cold.” 

“I felt a queasy mixture of relief and horror: when you finally stop an itch and realize it’s because you’ve ripped a hole in your skin.” 

“For several years, I had been bored. Not a whining, restless child's boredom (although I was not above that) but a dense blanketing malaise. It seemed to me that there was nothing new to be discovered ever again. Our society was utterly, ruinously derivative (although the word derivative as a criticism is itself derivative). We were the first human beings who would never see see anything for the first time. We stare at the wonders of the world, dull-eyed, underwhelmed. Mona Lisa, the Pyramids, the Empire State Building. Jungle animals on attack, ancient icebergs collapsing, volcanoes erupting. I can't recall a single amazing thing I have seen firsthand that I didn't immediately reference to a movie or TV show. A commercial. You know the awful singsong of blase: Seeeen it. I've literally seen it all, and the worst thing, the thing that makes me want to blow my brains out, is: The secondhand experience is always better. The image is crisper, the view is keener, the camera angle and soundtrack manipulate my emotions in a way reality really can't anymore. I don't know that we are actually human at this point, those of us who are like most of us, who grew up with TV and movies and now the Internet. If we are betrayed, we know the words to say; when a loved one dies, we know the words to say. If we want to play the stud or the smart-ass or the fool, we know the words to say. We are all working from the same dog-eared scripted. It's a very difficult era in which to be a person, just a real, actual person, instead of a collection of personality traits selected from an endless automat of characters. And if all of us are play-acting, there can be no such thing as a soul mate, because we don't have genuine souls.” 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Waiting on Wesnesday: Pantomime

"Waiting On Wednesday" is a weekly event, originally started by Jill at Breaking the Spine, which highlights upcoming book releases everyone is waiting on.

by Laura Lam
Publication date: February 5, 2013

Goodreads Summary
R. H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic is the greatest circus of Ellada. Nestled among the glowing blue Penglass—remnants of a mysterious civilisation long gone—are wonders beyond the wildest imagination. It’s a place where anything seems possible, where if you close your eyes you can believe that the magic and knowledge of the vanished Chimaera is still there. It’s a place where anyone can hide.

Iphigenia Laurus, or Gene, the daughter of a noble family, is uncomfortable in corsets and crinoline, and prefers climbing trees to debutante balls. Micah Grey, a runaway living on the streets, joins the circus as an aerialist’s apprentice and soon becomes the circus’s rising star.

But Gene and Micah have balancing acts of their own to perform, and a secret in their blood that could unlock the mysteries of Ellada.

Anyone who reads YA knows that the circus is hot right now.  The sights, smells and a tastes of a circus atmosphere offer up a world of possibilities for authors to entice readers.  Circus and magic go hand in hand for me, so this was an easy pick.

The summary of Pantomime doesn't give away much - Who is hiding and what happened to the mysterious civilization?  I'm really wanting to learn more about "the glowing blue Penglass".   My only worry is with the forbidden love aspect for Gene and Micah.  That's a tough sell for readers who see this frequented in YA books.  Lastly, I'm really hoping Pantomime doesn't cling to the coattails of the widely popular The Night Circus and offers it's own unique vision.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Review: Tempest

Tempest (Tempest #1)

By: Julie Cross
Publication Date: January 17, 2012
Published by: St. Martin's Griffin
Hardcover: 334 pages
Synopsis from Goodreads:
The year is 2009. Nineteen-year-old Jackson Meyer is a normal guy… he’s in college, has a girlfriend… and he can travel back through time. But it’s not like the movies – nothing changes in the present after his jumps, there’s no space-time continuum issues or broken flux capacitors – it’s just harmless fun.

That is… until the day strangers burst in on Jackson and his girlfriend, Holly, and during a struggle with Jackson, Holly is fatally shot. In his panic, Jackson jumps back two years to 2007, but this is not like his previous time jumps. Now he’s stuck in 2007 and can’t get back to the future.

Desperate to somehow return to 2009 to save Holly but unable to return to his rightful year, Jackson settles into 2007 and learns what he can about his abilities.

But it’s not long before the people who shot Holly in 2009 come looking for Jackson in the past, and these “Enemies of Time” will stop at nothing to recruit this powerful young time-traveler. Recruit… or kill him.

Piecing together the clues about his father, the Enemies of Time, and himself, Jackson must decide how far he’s willing to go to save Holly… and possibly the entire world

A YA time-travel novel, the first in a series, with a lot more heart than expected.

Why I read this book:  This was a book selected from a 2012 Debut Author listing from Listopia on Goodreads - a place where I spend WAY too much time!

Review This one took me by surprise.  It's funny that from the cover alone - which I really like - I would have thought Tempest referred to the weather phenomenon. And maybe it's the pink lettering of the title which made me think this book was told from a female's perspective.  When I learned the plot centered on time travel, I hit the breaks for a minute.  The first few chapters reminded me a lot of the movie, Jumpers, but overall I was glad Tempest stood on its own, even if there were some similarities.

Jackson is a wonderfully likeable and flawed protagonist.  I cared about what happened to Jackson and to Holly, as Jackson's feelings for her deepen throughout his time travels.  Jackson's emotional journey is what really kept me reading and the time travel adventure aspect is an added bonus.

Portions of book lulled and at times the jumping from past to present in different increments was difficult to keep up with.  Thankfully, the author added dates and times to each section of the book when Jackson time traveled.  I'm not sure I'm completely hooked on the premise and some of the other characters, but I certainly believe this is a well written debut and will likely check out the author's next book in the series - Vortex.

Rating: 3

Author's Website

Next in the series
Vortex (Tempest #2)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday: The Elementals

"Waiting On Wednesday" is a weekly event, originally started by Jill at Breaking the Spine, which highlights upcoming book releases everyone is waiting on. 

by Francesca Lia Block
Publication date: October 16, 2012

Goodreads Summary
From a star YA author Francesca Lia Block—an adult novel about a student, haunted by the disappearance of a friend, who must face the truth.

The Elementals is on one level an intriguing coming-of-age novel about a young woman, Ariel Silverman, facing the challenges of her first years away at college in Berkeley, California, while her mother battles cancer at home in Los Angeles. But the book takes on deeper, stranger meanings when we realize that Ariel is haunted by the disappearance of her best friend, Jeni, who vanished without a trace a few years before, closing Ariel's heart and changing her forever. Ariel wonders if she will ever be fully alive, until she meets three mysterious, beautiful and seductive young people living in a strange old house in the Berkeley hills. Through them Ariel will unravel the mystery of her best friend's disappearance and face a chilling choice.

The title of this novel grabbed my attention initally, along with the gorgeous cover. The missing best friend aspect is intriguing, I'm already itching to know what happened to Jeni.  It's also targeted for an older audience which is a nice change of pace. 

The summary from Goodreads is scant with the details, but I actually prefer it this way for an author I haven't read before. The Elementals is definitely on my to-read list for what looks to be a refreshing fall read.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Review: 172 Hours on the Moon

172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad
Translated by Tara F. Chace
Publication Date: April 17, 2012 (first published September 15, 2008)
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Hardcover: 355 pages

Synopsis from Goodreads:
It's been decades since anyone set foot on the moon. Now three ordinary teenagers, the winners of NASA's unprecedented, worldwide lottery, are about to become the first young people in space--and change their lives forever.
Mia, from Norway, hopes this will be her punk band's ticket to fame and fortune.
Midori believes it's her way out of her restrained life in Japan.
Antoine, from France, just wants to get as far away from his ex-girlfriend as possible.
It's the opportunity of a lifetime, but little do the teenagers know that something sinister is waiting for them on the desolate surface of the moon. And in the black vacuum of space... no one is coming to save them.
In this chilling adventure set in the most brutal landscape known to man, highly acclaimed Norwegian novelist Johan Harstad creates a vivid and frightening world of possibilities we can only hope never come true.

Mini-summary: Three teenagers, who are the winners of a global lottery, are sent to the moon by NASA in this YA horror novel. What they encounter on the moon will make your skin crawl.  172 Hours on the Moon is a refreshingly sinister tale.

Why I read this book:  Have you seen the gorgeous (and creepy) cover??  The black-eyed creeper on the cover and the title alone (I'm a little obsessed with titles) made me snatch up this book.

172 Hours on the Moon is a YA horror novel told from the perspective of several different characters in the year 2019.  In this way, the reader is able to see glimpses of the main characters as well as some minor characters.

The public's interest, and NASA's budget, have fained over the years.  Space exploration is no longer the revolutionary venture of decades past.  For reasons identified at the beginning of the book, NASA intends to announce that there will be another moon landing but with a caveat - a global lottery will be held and three lucky teenagers selected to accompany the astronauts to the moon.  This is capitalization at its finest, folks.

And the winners are....

Midori, a sixteen-year-old girl from Japan who dreams of life in New York, far away from the cultural expectations of becoming an obediant and devoted Japanese wife.

Antoine, a French boy languishing over the girl who broke his heart, hopes to escape Paris and the memories of his romance.  He enters the lottery, seemingly on a whim, to put as much distance from his ex-girlfriend Simone as possible.

Mia, a sixteen-year-old from Norway who is entered in the lottery by her parents - against her wishes  - ends up going to the moon in hopes of attaining international recognition and eventual stardom for her band.

It takes the first half of the book to establish the main characters and for the training to place, along with a few suspicuous events days before the launch.  Once the three teens are on the moon with the crew, the desolation and realization of their whereabouts is kicked into overdrive.  It's from this point that the book really takes off.  I was somewhat disappointed that there wasn't more of the delicious horror the book offered up only towards the very end. 

And the ending!  The ending is amazing. I loved it. The plot is believeable and the horror aspect wonderfully twisted.  I do wish at points that there could have been a first person POV snippet at the end, to gain more insight into the mindset and actions of some of the characters.  The last few pages wrapped up so quickly - and in a very detached sort of way - that really made me wish the author had slowed the plot a little, to let the reader relish and enjoy the ending.  And while I would have liked to have been more invested in the characters, the horror aspect once everyone was on the moon is what ended up winning me over. 

Rating: 4

Memorable Quotes
 "The odds of being attacked by a great white shark: 11,500,000 to 1.
The odds of being killed in a plane crash: 354,319 to 1.
The odds of being killed by parts falling from a plane: 10,000,000 to 1.
The odds winning an Oscar: 11,500 to 1.
The odds of becoming president: 10,000,000 to 1.
The odds of hooking up with a supermodel: 88,000 to 1.
The odds of winning an Olympic gold medal: 88,000 to 1.
The odds of seriously injuring yourself shaving: 685,000 to 1.
The odds of being killed by a meteor landing specifically on YOUR house: 182,128,880,000,000 to 1.
     The last one was basically the only one that was less likely than his getting to go to the moon.   
     Antoine sat there looking at the numbers for a minute.  Then he leaned over his keyboard and entered his name, birth date, phone number, and address. 
     He thought about it one last time. 
     Then he hit send."

About the Author
Johan Harstad is a 31-year-old Norwegian author, graphic designer, playwright, drummer, and international sensation. He is the winner of the 2008 Brage Award (Brageprisen), previously won by Per Petterson, and his books have been published in over 11 countries. In 2009, he was named the first ever in-house playwright at the National Theatre in Oslo. His first novel Buzz Aldrin, What Happened To You In All The Confusion, originally published in Norway by Gyldendal in 2005, was made into a TV series in 2009 starring The Wire’s Chad Coleman. Harstad lives in Oslo and is working on his next novel.

Website / Barnes and Noble / Amazon