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Koko Takes a Holiday by Kieran Shea


The Premise: (from the back blurb) Five hundred years from now, ex-corporate mercenary Koko Martstellar is swaggering through an early retirement as a brothel owner on The Sixty Islands, a manufactured tropical resort archipelago known for its sex and simulated violence. Surrounded by slang-drooling boywhores and synthetic komodo dragons, the most challenging part of Koko's day is deciding on her next drink. That is, until her old comrade Portia Delacompte sends a squad of security personnel to murder her.

Read an excerpt of Koko Takes a Holiday here

My Thoughts: Koko Takes a Holiday is the latest book I've read, picked up at the library based on the cover alone. It looks like pop art, mostly grayscale with big orange stripes, a pop of yellow and blue, and Koko, front and center, holding a gun and staring into your soul. If you look closely there's things going on in the orange stripes, like explosions and a giant shark chasing a surfer. I really like this cover, but to be honest, once I looked past it, I worried this wasn't the book for me. When I actually read the back blurb and saw "brothel" and "boywhores" and "sex and simulated violence", plus saw that all the quotes were by male authors (and the Library Journal), I was a little worried about what I was stepping into. Was this going to be all action and glorification of sex and violence that I would just not be able to connect to? Am I just the wrong audience? I began reading with trepidation.

First of all, yes, this is a story that is visual and violent; a science-fiction action blockbuster in words. This is what I "saw" whilst reading the first few pages: it starts with some black-and-white static, a one minute promo for The Sixty Islands with a fast-talking announcer telling us we can have it all and destroy it all, then fade into a darkened bar where someone is cleaning up the "red scrambled eggs everywhere" and the voice over is an earnest "boywhore" telling us that the two dead guests had it coming. A handful of pages later the bar/brothel is in flames and Koko is a fugitive. Koko, the action hero of this adventure, is exactly as the cover promises, a larger than life bad-ass. She's introduced as madame in a manufactured, over-the-top "paradise", but once the guns begin blazing, her mercenary background comes to the fore. A veteran of many missions for multinational conglomerates, she is familiar with guns, seedy characters, and staying alive. Realizing that her ex-commander and friend, now Vice President at the Custom Pleasure Bureau, Portia Delacompte (the very person who helped fulfill Koko's dream of running a bar), is behind the order for her execution, we've got the set up for the story -- a shady corporate executive, betrayal, and a brutal pursuit against the backdrop of spaceships and floating cities.

There is definitely this casual violence, high technology, and hectic pace in a corporate-run world that makes me think of Sin City, Robocop, Johnny Mnemonic, and Strange Days...very cyberpunk. This could be one-note, but while this mostly centers on Koko, the third person narration does rove to other characters, like the hired guns after Koko, Portia Delacompte's ambitious but terrified assistant, and Portia Delacompte herself. The way the narration moved from character to character felt well-timed so I never felt like I needed to put the book down for a little bit (which I do very easily these days), so I finished Koko in one continuous gulp. We're also introduced to Jedidiah Flynn, a Security Deputy suffering from Depressus on the atmospheric floating barge, the Alaungpaya who meets Koko while she's on the run. I felt like his inclusion in this story bumped up the storytelling a few points. When the perspective changed to this straight-laced guy who recently found out he had months to live, Koko Takes a Holiday revealed a character-driven storyline that I tend to gravitate to. The attitude toward Depressus (a form of depression affecting some suborbital residents) made me pay closer attention to the dystopian aspects of the world-building. That's when a lightbulb came on regarding the casual violence and commercialization of death in this world and how the evil megacorporations were the true "bad guys" of the story.

When it sunk in that the violence was pretty much part and parcel of the cyberpunk package (don't ask me why it took me so long to get this), it turned off my questioning why it was there, and I appreciated how good the writing and the world building were. What I really liked was the inclusion of Depressus (trying to remember the last time I read a book that included a struggle with depression and am coming up blank), and the glimpses into the points of view of the main antagonist, Portia Delacompte, and the contract killers. I enjoyed the details of Portia's burning ambition, like joining a religious organization and following all its self-flagellation rituals in order to fit in with the rest of management.

What I wish had more oomph was the plot. When you strip away the world, the plot centered around a "bad guy eliminating a obstacle", and when we find out the reason behind this, I felt disconnected from it. I was already inured at that point: more evidence that the antagonist is despicable was unsurprising. Something that went a little deeper would have made this story more memorable. I think that if this was more of a character-driven story, I would have accepted the weak plot, but it wasn't - besides Flynn, who felt flawed and human, everyone else was interesting but still felt like they were representations of their roles, not individuals.

Overall: This is well written, the type of writing where after a while, the words just disappear and my imagination takes over. I never felt a lull where I was tempted to take a break from reading, the point of view cleverly switched from Koko's desperate run to the frustration of the bounty hunters to the ambitions of Portia Delacompte and stayed fresh. Despite this, the plot didn't give me any surprises, I wanted more connection with the characters, and the strength of the world buillding and writing wasn't enough to overcome these issues. This means that overall my reaction to Koko Takes a Holiday is, "It was OK".

Buy: Amazon | Powell's | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell: "I enjoyed the fast ride."

What I’m up to

I'm around, really I am, but this blog is on semi-hiatus as you can tell by the non-updates. :\
I make no more promises on when I'll be posting again (I feel pretty challenged and rewarded by my work, and that's really great except for that pesky work-life balance). HOWEVER, I did join a group speculative fiction blog on a part-time basis. Check it out:





This is a fanzine formed by a fellow blogger I have "known" and been online friends with for years (you may know her as calico-reaction on livejournal). She's brought together a great group of fellow bloggers and writers and fans of speculative fiction and we all contribute to talk about all things in the "Speculative" arena, like movies, TV, games, and books. It's a lot of fun.

I'm mostly contributing to the "My Favorite Things" posts every few weeks, where I talk about some new-to-me Science Fiction or Fantasy related thing that I'm currently loving, but also wrote the first review I've written in a really long while (I reviewed Anne Leckie's Ancillary Mercy as part of our series on Hugo Award nominees). You can see my posts here.

Hope you take a look and like what we're doing over there!

Tags:

Bookish Gifts IV

Don't worry, I'm still around! The reading has been going at a glacial pace (sigh), but I've been gearing up for the Holidays, watching A LOT of Christmas movies, and trying to find the right gifts for everyone on my list. Which led me to spend time this weekend scouring the internet to create another Bookish Gifts post. Hope you enjoy! If you're new here and would like more of this sort of thing, I have three other Bookish Gifts posts, plus Jane Austen, Mystery, and Dystopian editioned ones. :) (Click the images for larger versions).

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1. Cake Book - Cherry (69.00) 2. Mini Alice Bookmark Set ($6.95, sale: $4.86 - other designs available) 3. Eternal Paper Wedding Bands, Custom Made (460.00) 4. Graphic bookends - $62 5. Victorian Whale Bookends ($68) 6. Reading is Sexy 100% corn mug - $12 7. Cats and More Cats Strand Tote $14.95 8. Jane Austen Fan Club pin; Reading Fan Club pin ($6 ea) 9. Book Map - £25

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10. Bibliophile tea light sample pack ($14) 11. Books and Coffee Card ($4.50) 12. All I Want to Do Is Read (set of 5 postcards $7.50) 13. Writing London and Writing Manhattan Literary Guides (£4 ea) 14. Letterpress Bookmark Collection (set of 3, $4) 15. Library Letter ($20 ea) 16. Men's Fragrance Sampler ($16) 17. Babylon Candle ($15) 18. Book Nerd Engraved Charm Necklace ($8.95)

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19. 1" Book Geek Buttons (choose 5 for $2.50) 20. Jane Austen quote screenprint "We Are All Fools in Love" ($96) 21. Ideal Book Shelf (many options! from $34) 22. Tiny Black Book brooch ($20) 23. Classic Paperback Print (£10) 24. Tea and Books (The Greatest Love Story Ever Written) Mug ($13.28)  25. How-to Temporary Tattoo (set of 2 for $5) 26. I'm Reading Right Meow Strand Tote (also in pink $14.95)

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27. Antagonist and Protagonist necklaces ($13.99 ea) 28. Once Upon a Time book necklace (£70) 29. I Read Dead People pencils ($7.50 for a 3-pack) 30. Book Pillows (Classic & Holiday from $9.99) 31. Let's Bring Back Lost Language Edition ($19.99) 32. In Bloom Book Collection (4 Kid's Classics with matching bookmarks - $64) 33. Library Stamp Sweatshirt (women's $40; men's - black $42)

Black Dog by Rachel Neumeier





Black Dog



Rachel Neumeier

This is a review of a book provided to me by Strange Chemistry (the YA imprint of Angry Robot books).

The Premise: The Toland siblings, Natividad, Alejandro, and Miguel, have fled from their home in Mexico, all the way across the United States, and have just reached their destination in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom. Their father's old enemy, Malvern Vonhausel, still stalks them despite already destroying their village and murdering their parents. Now the siblings are making a desperate gamble: that Dimilioc, a stronghold for shapeshifters called black dogs, will take them in. They have very little to convince Dimilioc's Master -- only that their father was once a Dimilioc wolf, and that Natividad is Pure. Their father told them that Dimilioc protected the Pure, but it never tolerated strays. Miguel may be granted amnesty because he's human, but Alejandro is black dog and may not be treated so kindly.

Read an excerpt of Black Dog here

My Thoughts: Before reading Black Dog, the other books I'd read by Rachel Neumeier were two-thirds of The Griffin Mage Trilogy, and House of Shadows. These are all straight fantasy, and for some reason (probably my own obliviousness), I thought Black Dog was the same. I didn't realize that until I began reading it that this is urban fantasy. This was not a bad thing. It felt nice to be surprised that Black Dog was Neumeier's own riff on werewolf mythology. The world is not far off from our own as it is now, but Neumeier alters all we know by setting Black Dog right after a war. This war is one that is not necessarily fully explained, but what we do know is that it has wiped out all vampires, and vampire magic happened to hide the supernatural from regular people. It also has the devastating consequence of Vonhausel tracking down the Toland family and slaughtering everyone in their village. Black Dog opens in the midst of the siblings' flight from home, with the plan to be taken in by the group of black dogs that their father once belonged.

Black Dog is narrated in the third person but focuses on Natividad and Alejandro, and as you would expect when a supernatural murderer is after you, this story has a desperate edge. First there is the fear of getting caught before they reach Dimilioc, and then there is the stress over what to say that would most likely keep them alive once they get there. After that the challenges just keep coming. So this has a quickly moving plot, but beyond that, the world building and the characters kept me engaged as well. The Tolands' Mexican upbringing is part of the narrative (the dialogue is peppered with Spanish), and that mixed with their having to grow up quickly kept these characters real and vulnerable.

What black dogs and the Pure are, are organically introduced as necessary. It isn’t difficult to catch on that a “black dog” is a shapeshifter that turns into a monstrous dog, but Neumeier throws in her own touches, from the superficial (like their black fangs and claws, intense heat, eyes of “fiery gold and red”, and black ichor of their wounds) to the fundamental (that they are two separate selves, one human, one shadow, housed within the same body). The Pure, which Natividad is, is more difficult to grasp. Natividad demonstrates that she has powers that she uses to protect and hide her brothers from their pursuers, but as the story moves forward, it becomes clear that’s not all she’s useful for. Adding to the mystery is the strange relationship the black dogs have with the Pure. Black dogs are drawn to the Pure, but while one half of their nature wants to protect them, the other wants to destroy. It’s not certain that even the Pure and the black dogs know how they are linked.

The Dimilioc wolves believe in protecting the Pure. In fact, they are prized, which is one of the reasons Natividad and her brothers have decided to go to them. Here is where things get sticky though, because Natividad is willing to sacrifice herself in exchange for her and her brothers’ survival (“I’m not a puta; I won’t lie down with them all. But if you take us into Dimilioc, I will take any one of your wolves you say”). Whether Natividad really has any agency is one issue, that she is only fifteen years old (while the youngest of her options seem to be in their twenties, there are men much older than that here), is another. I suppose I should feel better that it’s one of the youngest who is most aggressive in the pissing contest over Natividad, but when you are fifteen, a five or six-year age difference is significant. Any further romance or consent would be questionable. On the other hand, things don’t progress far enough for me to really question what is happening. All this is sort of there, in the background, percolating, while the Toland siblings deal with more immediate life or death situations. Yes, there is attention and Natividad isn’t immune, but there is the sense she wonders whether it’s real. I feel hopeful, because of the thoughtfulness of the writing, that when this series continues I won’t be disappointed by what happens to Natividad. I am not completely against a romance, but I’d feel better if Natividad got to grow up first. I also wonder whether the controversial romance is deliberate. It’s interesting when you pair the situation with Natividad’s nature, which involves a lot of placating of the black dogs and defusing aggression with teasing jokes made at the right moment. I also noticed a mirroring of Natividad’s situation in another (male) character. Needless to say, I’m very interested in finding out where this is going to go. Unfortunately, Strange Chemistry has been discontinued, but it sounds like Rachel Neumeier still expects to be able to publish the sequel, Pure Magic, one way or another.

Overall: Every time I read a book by Rachel Neumeier, it becomes my new favorite by this author. I think this is because of a mix of super thoughtful writing plus an element of surprise. Black Dog is no different. This was the kind of read that you gobble up quickly, with a lot of life-threatening action squeezed into the space of the few days, but it was the quieter moments between the life-or-death situations, where the characters are planning and anticipating and arguing, that lingered long after the book was closed. For those looking for no more than action and adventure, you will find it here. For those looking for something deeper – Black Dog sometimes made me uncomfortable in a way that is never resolved. Depending on how things go, I think this series has the potential to be more subversive than you’d initially expect.

Buy: Amazon | Powells | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Bunbury in the Stacks @ Tor.com – “Black Dog is, like the characters within its pages, frightening and beautiful and solid right down to its core.”
Chachic’s Book Nook – “Rachel Neumeier made a successful foray into urban fantasy with Black Dog.”
On Starships and Dragon Wings – “I was excited to get to know some characters a little different from the typical young adult cast, but I was completely unable to connect to them for reasons I’m honestly still not able to pin down.”

Bookish Gifts: Dystopian Edition

I have a little bit of breathing room this week--enough that I've indulged myself and spent some time working on a post (I KNOW. It's a miracle). There are reviews that need to be finished, but I've been in a nostalgic mood and I've been thinking about high school and the books that I had to read in English class. There was a lot of Shakespeare (tragedies more than comedies, plays more than sonnets), Chekhov, Steinbeck, angry young men, slavery, racism, social criticism, and coming of age. It would drive me crazy that my English teachers (who were actually English, but I'm not sure if that had anything to do with it), would pick works with such heavy themes. I can appreciate my education now, but back then, there were very few books that didn't get tainted by having to analyze and discuss the ever-loving bejesus out of them. One of those few was Nineteen Eighty-Four. "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen." In honor of high school English class, I went looking for merchandise that bows to one high school staple: dystopia.


(As usual click the Bookish Gifts tag for more posts, and on the images to embiggen).

bookish dystopia 11. Lord of the Flies poster ($15) 2. 1984 pouch ($12) 3. A Clockwork tote ($22) 4. Doubleplusgood necklace ($30) 5. 1984 t-shirt ($24) 6. Thought Criminal tote ($12) 7. Lord of the Flies brooch (about $13)
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8. Fahrenheit 451 6x6 print ($12) 9. China Glaze Capitol colors set ($42.30) 10. Big Brother wall clock ($30) 11. Fahrenheit 451 11x17 print ($25) 12. Hunger Games Katniss Black Label Collector edition action figure (price varies) 13. Moloko Plus mug ($18) 14. Hunger Games
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15. Soma sticker ($2.64 - other products w/ this design available) 16. Soma Print ($15 - other products w/ this design available) 17. 1" Brave New World buttons ($11 for a set of 10) 18. The Giver Quartet 20th Anniversary boxed set ($45.26) 19. Animal Farm tote ($18) 20. V for Vendetta mask ($3.12) 21. V for Vendetta graphic novel ($11.29) 22. Mockingjay pin ($8.90, also available: a gold plated version)

Book Expo America, 2014

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I've been on vacation for a couple of weeks (Paris, London, Bath) because my brother just got married in Paris, and boy do I have a lot of bookish things to talk about the trip, but since there are 1600 pictures I need to wade through to write that post up, I'm going to talk about BEA first.

What BEA is and my experience this year: I've talked about Book Expo America (BEA) here in the past, but for those not in the know, it's a trade show that focuses on books. Since 2009 there has been a Book Bloggers Conference (now called the BEA Blogger's Conference) affiliated with BEA. If you have a BEA Bloggers badge, you can go to BEA. BEA has been limited to industry professionals, (and in the past few years, to book bloggers as well), but last year they opened up one day to the public with a "Power Readers" day. This year Power Readers got rebranded into BookCon, but more on that later.

Although I signed up for the BEA Blogger's Conference, I ended up not going. It was on Wednesday and didn't feel comfortable taking time off mid-week when I'd just taken time off, and I haven't exactly have had much time to blog either. This is also why I didn't RSVP to any invitations to publishing parties. In the end, I just went to BEA on Friday and Saturday, and I made up for my time off on Friday by working on Sunday.

I think this year was the year that I was the most laid back about BEA - I didn't have the same "I can't sleep" feeling the night before (although jetlag may have had something to do with it), and I only looked at what books would be available the night before. What ended up happening was that my list of books to get was 2 to 4 books per day, so I had a lot of free time to wonder around and just stand in lines for books that sounded interesting and to try to get a few books for other people. The downside of this is that not having a lot of books I specifically wanted made me have more time to wander and more time to get more books ("Well, I have nothing else to do, may as well go to that galley drop...", "OK, I guess will take that book you are offering me", "Excuse me, what are you in line for?")... this was a terrible strategy for keeping books out of my house.

However, because I only went 2 days, I had a lot more energy on the floor this year than previous years, which includes that energy I need to be sociable. I'm practically a mute elsewhere, but I feel safe striking up a conversation at BEA. I met Asma of A Reading Kobocha waiting for a Holly Black signing, Emily of Oktopus Ink while in line for Alex London, Stephanie of Views from the Tesseract in a line for John Scalzi, and Celia of Dragons Den Publishing while waiting for a couple of RWA signings. I also got to see a few old faces - Kate and Alyssa and Mr. Raging Bibliohol, and fellow YAckers Nicole and Sandy. And that's not including everyone I randomly talked to or shared a cab with or sat next to on the shuttle back to Grand Central. I also got to have dinner with YAcker Heidi because real life overlapped with online life and we have a friend in common who lives in Manhattan (related: we have a system to send books to each other via people we know, aka our book mules).

When I was in London, I felt very American because I could hear myself whenever I said, "It was awesome", but "awesome" is what I think about talking to book people at BEA. The only downside of enjoying their company is missing their familiar faces when they aren't there. There were a lot of bloggers that didn't come to this years BEA that I missed.

Anyway, picture time.

Signings:

Lev Grossman signing The Magician"s Land
Lev Grossman signing The Magician's Land

Holly Black signing The Darkest Part of the Forest

Holly Black signing The Darkest Part of the Forest

Seen on the floor:

Crap taxidermy
Crap Taxidermy promo

The Penguin Book Truck

The Penguin Book Truck

Lego Star Wars

Lego Star Wars figures for Star Wars Reads Day III (@ DK Publishing)

Let"s Get Lost car

Let's Get Lost car (@Harlequin)

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Out of Print booth

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Fahrenheit 451 matches (@ Out of Print)

BEA versus BookCon:There seems to be some murmurings about BookCon and how it's changing BEA online. I like the concept of the public getting to experience BEA, but I did find the crowds really crazy / anxiety inducing. I would go to the BookCon side of the floor only when I had to, and go back to the BEA side when I needed to breathe. Here's some comparison pictures. I guess that's all I have to say about it. BEA is on the left, BookCon is on the right.

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The Haul: Finally, these are the books I ended up with.

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Ophelia Prophecy Blog Tour Button

Today I have a guest post from Sharon Lynn Fisher, author of Ghost Planet, a science fiction romance which had a premise I loved, which is that everyone that lands on Ardagh 1 eventually has the ghost of someone they once knew attach themselves to them. She's also the author of the recently released The Ophelia Prophecy that takes place on Earth in the aftermath of genetic research gone awry. The Manta, products of human and insect DNA experiments, are now the dominant culture, and this story is about a Manta and a human getting thrown together and the resulting clash and fallout -- another great premise. I was quite excited to hear from Tor about hosting a stop on her blog tour, and actually very pleased she picked the question I'd asked about world building. Enjoy.

(Tor has also offered 3 copies of The Ophelia Prophecy to give away to 3 readers of this site, so check that out at the bottom of this post).


I’m going to start off this post with the terrific question provided by Janicu:





I imagine that writers, like a lot of creative people, are like magpies that save little bits of something from the world, internalize it, and remake it, rearrange it, add a whole lot of their own magic, and voila. What would you say are little pieces of inspiration that went into the making of this new story? (If you wanted to mention ECHO 8, I wouldn't mind hearing about that too)!




World building is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. I’ve mentioned in a few interviews how I used to hate it. I found world building really intimidating, and thought of it as the stuff that happened between bits of “real” story (action, dialogue, romance).

I have since become disabused of that oversimplified understanding. World building is so much more than descriptions of setting (though that part is pretty important too). It fuels just about every other aspect of the story. It helps develop character and motivation. Drives creation of the plot.

But moving on to this magpie thing, because Janicu really hit on something there.

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Connemara Abbey (image courtesy of Sharon Lynn Fisher)

In my current release, THE OPHELIA PROPHECY, I built settings based on real-world locations. Places I had visited and wanted to return to. Sanctuary, the last human city, is located in the otherworldly landscape of Arches National Park in Moab, Utah. After Asha, the heroine, is abducted from Sanctuary by the hero, Pax, their next stop is Connemara, in County Galway, Ireland. Connemara is one of my favorite places on Earth (based on what I’ve seen of it so far). Dramatic and often bleak landscapes, and a living sky, constantly shifting from sun to rain to wind. You can feel its history. You can almost hear the voices of the people who’ve lived and died there. No wonder Ireland produces such amazing writers.

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Granada Alhambra (photo by Javier Carro, distributed under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license)

But the real showcase setting of OPHELIA is the Manti capital in Granada, Spain. The Manti are the human/praying mantis transgenic organisms that all but destroyed humanity with a targeted plague. I needed a location suited to them — exotic and sensual, with a complicated history. This Moorish city is charming just as it is, but I depicted the fictional version as enhanced by the Manti to included living, organic architecture inspired by Gaudi structures I’d seen in Barcelona (and then finished it off by layering on some political and religious conflict). One key location, a tavern called Debajo, was inspired by an image I came across on the Internet. A stone, squat, clearly medieval building situated among the more graceful architecture of the Albayzin. This tavern peddles a drug inspired by a flower I saw and learned about on a trip to Costa Rica.

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Colman School (image courtesy of Sharon Lynn Fisher)

As my hostess mentioned ECHO 8 — my third book from Tor, due out early next year — I’ll say a word or two about that. That book is set in current-day Seattle, and also on an alternate Earth that has been devastated by an asteroid strike. The primary location is an old school building visible from I-90 on the way out of Seattle. I used to drive past the circa 1900 building with its boarded-up windows and thought what a shame it was that someone was going to tear it down eventually. But they didn’t. It was renovated and converted to an African American history museum, with affordable housing on the upper floors. For ECHO 8 it became the Seattle Psi Training Institute. Another key location is the creepy decommissioned ferryboat, Kalakala, which has a very colorful past. I once lived in a tiny house on a dock on Lake Union, near downtown Seattle, and this massive derelict was parked there for a time. I always wondered about it, and when I started writing ECHO 8 I did a bunch of research, and it became a setting (and almost a character) in my book.

WikiCommons_Kalakala

Kalakala (photo by Barnaby Dorfman, distributed under a CC BY 2.0 license)

But the book of mine that best illustrates the magpie idea, I’m working on now. I don’t want to say too much about it yet, as it’s still in the earlyish stages, but it’s set in Portland and features an artist heroine and a physicist/warrior poet hero. The heroine, Neve, IS a magpie. She collects bits of garbage she passes on the street, and she turns them into art books. She sees meaning and beauty in discarded objects as ordinary as a dry ballpoint pen or a popped balloon.

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Magpie (photo by Adrian Pingstone)

Writers are just like that. It can be things or people or places or even garbage. They are captured and cataloged every day of our lives. And they decorate our mental landscape. I remember one day I was walking down a busy street in downtown Seattle, near the Pike Place Market. I saw a woman walking toward me carrying a box. As she came closer, I saw she was wearing a fairy costume, and she looked annoyed. As she passed, I noticed her wings were in the box. There she was, a whole story walking down the street in broad daylight. And nobody seemed to see her but me.


Sharon Lynn Fisher Author PhotoABOUT THE AUTHOR: A Romance Writers of America RITA Award finalist and a three-time RWA Golden Heart Award finalist, SHARON LYNN FISHER lives in the Pacific Northwest. She writes books for the geeky at heart—sci-fi flavored stories full of adventure and romance—and battles writerly angst with baked goods, Irish tea, and champagne. Her works include Ghost Planet (2012), The Ophelia Prophecy (2014), and Echo 8 (2014). You can visit her online at SharonLynnFisher.com.


GIVEAWAY:

Enter here, easy peasy:

Enter at specficromantic.com

Rules:


  • This giveaway is for U.S./Canada only

  • Contest ends: Wednesday, April 30th.

  • One entry per person please!

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

The Dream Thieves
Maggie Stiefvater

The Dream Thieves was one of the more coveted YA books at BEA last year, and rather difficult to get (the publisher gave out the time to grab the book only to those who specifically asked, and then handed them out so quickly they were gone in 10 minutes). I was hoping to get an extra copy for book blogger friends who only asked for this one book, but I don't think I had any luck. Anyway, this came out September 2013, and was another pick for the YAckers. They had a lovely chat about The Dream Thieves which is up online now. Of course, being the reprobate that I am, my contribution to this chat was something along the lines of "I'm still reading it, you guys talk about it without me." This was the right thing to say because it took me a whole month to read this book, mostly thanks to the day job sucking away my time and attention, but I do wish I could have talked about it with the gang because I have the sneaking suspicion that I am the outlier again when it comes to this series. I've actually refrained from looking at the chat before I finish this review because I'm afraid of how far off my opinion is going to be.

This is the second book of The Raven Cycle. If you haven't read the first book yet, I recommend you read my review of The Raven Boys instead of this one, because possible spoilers for that book lie ahead.

The Premise: Despite the freedom of summer break, a newly awoken ley line, and Ronan's unveiled talent, the search for Glendower is no easier than it was before. Shady characters have appeared in Henrietta, drawn by the power spikes from its ley lines. The trail runs hot and cold as energy grows and dims without explanation or clear source. Similarly, the all is discordant amongst Blue and the Raven boys. Noah disappears and reappears with each dip and surge in energy. Ronan toys with more dangerous pursuits. And a lingering tension hovers between Adam, Blue, and Gansey that threatens to fracture the whole group.

Read an excerpt of The Dream Thieves on scribd (or pdf: here)

My Thoughts: When I look back at my review of The Raven Boys, I had problems with the fragmented focus – there are a lot of characters, each with their own individual back story, and it was difficult for me to tell who the main protagonists were and where the whole story was going. Then I reminded myself that despite having trouble with the meandering storyline, I loved the characters, enjoyed the writing, and would road trip to Henrietta in a heartbeat. I said to myself that this was the cost of set up when there were multiple characters involved and a dreamy supernatural backdrop to explain. And because the framework was taken care of in The Raven Boys, it seemed a reasonable expectation that I would fare better with The Dream Thieves.

Unfortunately, I had very similar issues with The Dream Thieves that I had with The Raven Boys. I don't know what else to do but sigh over this, but before I go into why this book didn't set my heart aflame, I want to point out it might do just that for someone else by reiterating what I said when I reviewed The Raven Boys: "If you are one who can sit back and enjoy a character-driven story with lovely prose and you don’t need to know where it’s all going, this will do quite well." If you are one of those readers, this story is made of words that are simple yet arranged in very pleasing ways. It has characters who you want to follow around and learn what makes them tick. And yes, there is magic.



"In the shower, Adam scratched a thumbnail across his summer-brown skin. The line of his nail went from white to angry-red in a moment, and as he studied it, it struck him that there was something off about the flow of the water across his skin. As if it was in slow-motion. He followed the stream of the water up to the showerhead and spent a full minute watching it sputter from the metal. His thoughts were a confusion of translucent drops clinging to metal and rain trembling off green leaves.



He blinked.



There was nothing odd about the water. There were no leaves."


If that's enough for you, you can probably skip the rest of the review and go enjoy the book. Otherwise be prepared for my kvetching because I really wrestled over what exactly didn't work for me. This was a review more to work out my own demons than anything else.

I feel a little despondent that what this book has going for it wasn't enough for me, but ultimately it comes down to what kind of reader I am, and like I said when I reviewed the first book, I need structure. It doesn't have to be all business right away, and The Dream Thieves started out promisingly with a continued search for Glendower and tantalizing hints about Ronan’s ability, but as I read on my enthusiasm slowly waned. I was surprised by the introduction of a morally ambiguous "heavy" (appropriately named The Gray Man), but he seemed interesting so I read on. By mid-book, I felt like things were moving slowly, but I was still hopeful I could like this story if I could just get some answers, such as what Declan really knew and where things were going. A bit after that mid-way point I began to question. Three-quarters of the way was where I realized I wasn't going to get that direction I was hoping for and I was officially frustrated. Of course the last few pages of the book is where the story takes off, but by then I wasn't as engaged as I wanted to be.

Thinking back on it now, if I had approached this as a side-story that was about Ronan and not a "traditional" sequel to The Raven Boys, my expectations would have been calibrated properly. Because I thought there would be progress with the Glendower search, it didn't compute when the search was mired and another mystic concept, the Greywaren, was thrown in as if out of no where. Things were happening, but to me it was a slow inching trek toward an unknown destination, and I was in a frustrating place where I didn't know if what I was reading was taking me anywhere. In my mind I was in the second book of a series feeling like I actually hadn’t gone beyond the set up stage of the story.

What compounds my problems with direction and plot is that this is a multi-character story with multiple focuses. Ronan has a bigger role in this second book (which I expected, based on the title and the cover), and I was looking forward to it because he's so enigmatic in The Raven Boys, but because every chapter was a short flash on a single character before moving onto the next, his voice was one of many. It was easy to forget that this was "Ronan's book" when the focus moved away from him so often. While Ronan’s power to bring dreams to life is explored, two new characters (the aforementioned Gray Man, and Kavinsky - an obnoxious street-racing-fellow-student) are introduced, and Blue, Gansey, Adam, and Noah continue to have their own problems. Not to mention what all the women living at 300 Fox Way get up to. Again I was reminded the first book, where the fragmented focus made me unsure of who the main characters were. In the end, the characters that get the most page time (Ronan and The Gray Man) were the characters I was happiest with because there was enough pulling back of the veil to see their inner workings, even if I wasn't completely satisfied with their particular story arcs (that's a whole other thing that goes into spoiler territory though). As for almost everyone else, it was as if there were too many characters for there to be more for the reader than to touch their outside edges, let alone grasp them whole.

Where I really felt this was with Adam, Blue, and Gansey, whose interrelationships are complicated by romance, rivalry, class, and a curse. What we got of them only makes the loss greater: subtle scenes between Gansey and Blue, a raw honesty between Blue and Adam, and tests of friendship between Adam and Gansey. Despite this, I had only my own guesses to things like why Adam's character was so alien (more angry than vulnerable) from what he once was. I can't help but feel like I'd trade one or more of the minor characters' space in The Dream Thieves for more Adam, or Blue, or Gansey.

I know, I know. Due to my (faulty?) wiring, even though I kept thinking of certain wonderful bits and pieces of this book long after it was finished, I was just too bothered by all of the above for The Dream Thieves to be a hit with me. I'm sure I'm in the minority in this.

Overall: My reaction is the dreaded "I wanted to like this more than I did". While I found a lot of things to like about The Dream Thieves, for each aspect about this story that I enjoyed, there was another that really didn't work for me. One problem was my expectations and that I was approaching this story thinking that it was a continuation of The Raven Boys rather than something that was more of a companion piece that intertwines into the greater whole. Another was that I just don't do well with a lot of characters and an unfocused destination. Since I had similar issues with The Raven Boys and hoped I would fare better in this book, The Dream Thieves rated lower than The Raven Boys on my visceral reaction scale, but would probably rate higher if I could repress my feelings and look at this with more neutral eyes. I suspect I would like this book more the second time around now that I know what I'm getting.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Angieville - "If you're looking for a story worth living and breathing, The Dream Thieves will take you there."
Book Harbinger - "When somehow the Raven Cycle comes to its impossible, filled-to-the-brim-with-potential conclusion, we’re in for a treat."
Bunbury in the Stacks - "I am unable to find all of the proper words needed to express my love of book two of The Raven Cycle"
YAckers discussion

Yup yup, everyone liked this more than I did. I will go hide now.

Bookish Gifts: Mystery Edition

I was about to begin another general Bookish Gifts posts (any excuse to window shop online), but suddenly I was searching for things with a certain detective novel theme. I think it is because I am in the middle of watching the latest Sherlock (don't tell me what happens). Anyway, there's something comforting in reading a mystery: you always find out who did it in the end, but you get to have fun guessing along the way. Nancy Drew was my gateway into reading, way back when. I will always have a soft spot for Agatha Christie and Dick Francis too. And of course I'm a fan of the modern-day screen adaptions of Sherlock Holmes (I like the movies, and both Elementary and Sherlock). What are your favorite mystery series?
bookish detective gifts 1
1. The Big Sleep and Murder at the Vicarage mugs (£8.95, AU$14.99, US$9.95) 2. Poirot Mustache stud earrings ($60) 3. Green Popular Penquins (AU$7.99-$9.95) 4. Detective Novel scented candle ($10) 5. Nancy Drew Drawer Pulls ($40) 6. Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson felt dolls ($80) - also available Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot ($45 ea). 7. Sherlock Holmes in The Hounds of the Baskervilles, a Baby Lit sound primer ($8.99) 8. Whodunnit applique pillow ($101.29) 9. 221B button ($2.56)
bookish detective gifts 2
10. The Complete Sherlock Holmes box set ($59.99) 11. Nancy Drew Pillow Cover ($38 to $41, depending on size) 12. Hardy Boys Pillow Cover ($35 to $45, depending on size) 13. Crime Classics phone wallpaper (FREE) 14. Nancy Drew Girl Detective Doll ($149) - other versions available, see link. Also The Hardy Boys and Dick Tracy) 15. The Complete Adventures of Tintin (from about $100) 16. Red Herring Greeting Cards ($2.40 ea) 17. Nancy Drew Taxi Wallet ($49) 18. Question Mark Ring ($13) 19. Private Eye perfume oil ($15)
bookish detective gifts 3
20. The novelist & the detective (set of 6 pencils - $8) 21. Tiny gun necklace ($15) 22. Secret Message Writing set ($9.59) 23. Secret Decoder Ring, Pig Pen Cipher ($15) 24. White's Books Fine Edition Sherlock Holmes: His Greatest Cases (from $23.82) 25. Pipe pin badge ($8.56) 26. Agatha Christie 1" buttons (set of 10 for $11) 27. Nancy Drew with redesigned covers ($6.99 ea)

Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley


Graffiti Moon
Cath Crowley


I think it was two (or was it three?) years ago when Graffiti Moon was enthusiastically recommended on almost every YA book blog I read. It's been on my mental "one day" list for a long time, but I never actually got around to buying myself a copy (I think it was a combination of wanting a paperback edition and preferring the Australian cover to the American one). Finally, I had my chance to read it through Holly of The Book Harbinger. Thanks Secret Santa!

The Premise: (from the back blurb) "Senior year is over, and Lucy has the perfect way to celebrate: tonight she's going to find Shadow, the mysterious graffiti artist whose work appears all over the city. Somewhere in the glassy darkness, he's out there, spraying color, spraying birds and blue sky on the night. And Lucy knows that a guy who paints like Shadow is someone she could fall for -- really fall for.

The last person Lucy wants to spend this night with is Ed, the guy she's managed to avoid since punching him in the nose on the most awkward date of her life. But when Ed tells Lucy he knows where to find Shadow, the two of them are suddenly on all all-night search to places where Shadow's pieces of heartbreak and escape echo off the city walls. And what Lucy can't see is the one thing that's right before her eyes."

My Thoughts: This is a story told from mostly two points of view: that of Lucy, celebrating the end of year twelve with her friends Jazz and Daisy, and that of Ed, a high school dropout who has a few hours to kill before he and his friends Leo and Dylan plan to break into the school. Ed and Lucy know each other, but between them lies a gulf filled with awkwardness. They had one date that ended in humiliation, and neither of them have quite gotten over it. For Lucy, it cemented her belief that outside of books (and the possible exception of her obsession, Shadow), looking for a kindred spirit amongst the local boys only leads to disappointment. For Ed, their date was yet another demoralizing event in a long string of demoralizing events.

It's not really anyone's fault. Lucy doesn't know a lot of things about Ed because he never confided in her. And Ed is so used to hiding the truth that it's led to a spectacular failure of a date and his dropping out of school. It doesn't help that Ed and his mom were barely scraping by before he lost his job. Now he's worried about the rent and making decisions out of desperation rather than good judgement. That brings them to where they are now: Lucy and her friends with nothing more pressing on their minds than a night of fun and possibility, Ed and his friends going along, but keeping their secrets.

What follows is a read that hit the sweet spot: not too short, but not overly long; sweet but not fluffy; predictable in a comforting way, but also utterly different from anything else I've read. And just the right amount of humor to keep everything going. I couldn't help liking Lucy and Ed immediately. Lucy with her instant friendships and her take-no-nonsense edge, and Ed, who is a little bit lost and deserves a break. Most of this book was just Ed and Lucy talking, and their banter is pretty great, but also reading what each is thinking about the other as we switch back and forth between them makes their interactions even better. Ed's unease with hiding things from Lucy makes for some parts particularly poignant.


The book that Graffiti Moon is probably most compared to is Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. Music is to Nick and Norah, as Art is to Graffiti Moon. When the shared interest in creativity comes with a night-long adventure on the town, bumping into ex-girlfriends, and skirting from trouble, it's no wonder that the two books are considered similar. But the similarities are superficial. These stories hit me in different ways. I feel like Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist has a young adult world that's separate from authority figures and responsibility; it exists within an intimate sphere and is about the magic that happens when people develop a connection. In Graffiti Moon, that frisson is there too, it's just that here the characters aren't so separate from their day-to-day lives. This is particularly true for Ed, who is constantly struggling to just get through life because he worrying about money and helping his single-parent mother who's making her way through nursing school. Ed's mind is always in quiet turmoil, and there's this tension in watching someone who knows better start to take the wrong turn.

I think that what really got me with this book was how being a dreamer and using creative expression was portrayed so positively, beyond just being the common denominator between Ed and Lucy. My sister is the artist in the family, and I can tell you that going to the MoMA with her is a whole different experience than going with non-artist friends. Because of this, I just loved reading Lucy geeking out over art. And I loved that art could change Ed's life in a real, not just metaphorical way, if only Ed would let it. I also loved that Ed and Lucy have parents and mentors who encourage them instead of dissuading them. It was nice to read the interactions between Ed and Lucy and those adults. I loved all these things because every time either Ed or Lucy think about something that inspires them, their words became particularly poetic. It made me root for them to keep this.

Overall: Really good. I think this one will have wide appeal -- its writing is unassuming and accessible, but if you want depth you'll find it. Also this is one of those books that pleasantly lingers. It could be because of the beautiful artwork painted with words, or because certain things here make you ruminate afterward. I found myself thinking about how Graffiti Moon was about the juxtaposition between imagination and reality and when I saw that theme I couldn't stop thinking of examples: in the way Lucy and Ed's lives became the basis for their art, in Lucy's expectations of Shadow versus the truth as Ed knew it, and in the way art affected both their lives. It was nice to think about art and life for a little while.

Other reviews:
Inkcrush - 5 stars ("Somehow this book perfectly captures how I felt as a teen - that big dreaming scheming place in my head")
need_tea - B+/A- ("My initial reaction was perhaps a bit tepid, liked it but it wasn’t that great, but over time I thought about it some more and my opinion of it rose")
Bookchilla - 4/5 ("Lucy & Ed’s story unfolded very nicely and wrapped up in such a feel good way")
Bunbury in the Stacks - ("My experience with Graffiti Mooncould be summed up using a number of variations of the sentence: “I don’t like _________, but I liked it in this book.”")
Angieville - ("GRAFFITI MOON is a gem--a breath of fresh air.")

 

Other stuff

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