Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Transparent, Natalie Whipple

81. If you've never read Natalie Whipple's blog--you should do so. Right now. Especially if you see yourself as an aspiring writer of any type. Her blog is refreshingly honest--and funny. Plus, she does her own anime art.

Her debut novel, Transparent, came out earlier this year. Transparent tells the story of Fiona McClean, a young woman born into a crime syndicate run by her father, in a dystopian world where much of the population has some kind of mutation. All her life, Fiona's aspired primarily to make her father happy (a unique effect he has on women). And for Fiona, this means lying, stealing--using her unique abilities to do things no one else can do.

Because Fiona is invisible. Even she doesn't know what she looks like.

But out of the range of her father's influence, Fiona hates who she is, who she's become to please him. So when he orders her to carry out a hit on some innocent people, Fiona refuses. She and her mother go into hiding in a small town in Arizona, where Fiona figures she'll just pass the time until they can find some place better to be safe.

Except that she finds she loves it. She loves the quirky new friends she makes, and she's attracted by local hot guy Brody. When her father's threat gets closer, she finds that she's willing to do almost anything to keep her new life.

I though this story was cute. I liked Fiona as a character and I enjoyed watching her relationships unfold. In some ways, it reminded me of Kiersten White's Paranormalcy--particularly in the heroine with unique gifts who attends high school for the first time. Fiona's not quite as snarky as Evie, but I think they'd like each other.

Readers who look for a lot of depth in their stories won't find it here--but readers looking for a fun, clean YA read with dystopian elements will enjoy it.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Ecksdot, J. Washburn

80. Ecksdot, by J. Washburn

Ecksdot follows  Nate, a young man with a vivid imagination, who tends to get in trouble for indulging his imagination too far. Then, unexpectedly, things that he thought were only his imagination actually start happening, and Nate uncovers a world of invisible creatures (Andbots) that he has a unique ability to see and hear. His friend Danny, who's much slower than Nate, tries hard to keep up with Nate and his newly expanding world. When Nate finds that his new friends are in danger, he decides its up to him to figure out a way to save them.

I thought the story had a lot of promise--the premise was interesting, and some parts of the writing were quite good. But sometimes I found the story lagging a little, as some chapters seemed more long-winded than others. The first fifty or so pages were confusing, as they're told in alternating POV, from Nate to Ecksdot (one of the Andbots) and it's not clear for some time what exactly Ecksdot is.

I liked Nate's friendship with Danny, which felt real for the age--sometimes close and loyal, sometimes harsh. I wasn't entirely sure how old Nate was supposed to be; the voice (most of the time) seemed about 11-12, but at one point Nate thought of himself as a teenager, and he seemed quite interested in a girl, so he might have been a little older. The voice, too, seemed to fluctuate. Sometimes it was great--vivid, believable--and other times it seemed unnecessarily old or long winded.

Overall, a decent story, though perhaps not really my kind of story.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Brandon Sanderson, The Way of Kings

79. Brandon Sanderson, The Way of Kings

This was easily the best epic fantasy I've read in a long time--which may not be saying much, as I haven't tackled epic fantasy in some time. Suffice it to say, despite the length, I found myself devouring the book. It took me longer to read than most, but that's hardly surprising, since the book is easily 1000 pages + (I read on my Kindle, so the book didn't feel so long--except, of course, that the % of the book read hardly seemed to budge at times).

The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive, #1)Anyway. On to an actual review. What impressed me the most about the book was the incredibly detailed world building. And I do mean *world*. Many fantasy books do a good job envisioning one country, with a few more vaguely described neighboring countries, but Sanderson has fleshed out a world--complete with history, religion, social class schisms, and more. The world itself fascinated me almost as much as the story.

The story is told primarily through three POVs: Kaladin, the dark-eyed son of a surgeon who became a soldier instead of following his father, and is now, through incredible ill-luck, a slave; Shallan, the daughter of a formerly influential house who becomes the ward of a heretic scholar to try to save her family; and Dalinar, the powerful uncle of the King who is growing increasingly uncertain about the wisdom of a drawn-out Alethi war to revenge the death of his brother (and the father of the current king). I like that the characters are so different, and that each of them has a powerful character arc. Sometimes certain story lines dragged out--I wasn't a fan of some of the long war scenes, for instance, and there were a few times when Shallan (one of my favorites) seemed to disappear for long periods of time.

But mostly, I loved it. I loved that the book challenged me to think about philosophical issues as the characters wrestled with moral and ethical dilemmas. And I like that even at the end of the book Sanderson has left me with mysteries about the world (what exactly are the Voidbringers? What do the Parshendi really want?) that will (probably) entice me into reading further in the series.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Jessica Martinez, Virtuosity

78. Virtuosity, by Jessica Martinez

Virtuosity  Jessica Martinez's second novel, The Space Between Us, was a Whitney finalist for the YA category last year, and another of the Segullah readers told me she liked Virtuosity even better than The Space Between Us, so I knew I wanted to check it out.

Martinez has a lovely, clean writing style, evident in both of her books. This book is perhaps a little more high concept than The Space Between Us (which deals primarily with the relationship between sisters). 17-year-old Carmen is only a few weeks away from winning the prestigious Guarini violin competition: the only real thing standing between her and victory is (maybe) Jeremy King, a cocky British boy who plays the violin like an angel.

After working her whole life toward this competition, Carmen is driven to win. She can't afford to let anyone distract her, least of all Jeremy. So imagine Carmen's surprise when, after an initially disastrous meeting with Jeremy, she discovers that he's nice. And funny. And cute. And he knows exactly what it's life to live in this musically-immersive world.

The more time she spends with Jeremy, the more she likes him. But Carmen knows that this idyllic world can't continue: she's struggling to wean herself from an addition to an anti-anxiety pill that helps her play better; her controlling mother is trying to convince her that Jeremy is only pursuing her to distract her from the competition; and her absentee father's absentee parents are only showing interest in her now that she's famous (and trying to purchase some of her respect with a 1.2 million dollar violin).

What I liked: I loved the relationship between Carmen and Jeremy--and I wished I could have seen more of it. I thought the glimpse into Carmen's regimented lifestyle and her passion was fascinated (even if it made me feel like a slacker). And I liked how flawed Carmen was. I also liked that the plot went in an unexpected direction, with a twist I honestly did not see coming.

Things I didn't like as well: as others have pointed out, Carmen does have a lot of things in her favor. So her mom is controlling and her dad is absent: she has a step-dad who adores her, she's incredibly talented, and she knows how to work hard. Her life isn't quite as desperate as Carmen seems to think it is. Also, Martinez seems to be one of those authors who likes to leave the endings a bit more open-ended. Some people like this; and admittedly it's more realistic. I am not one of those readers, and with this book--as with The Space Between Us--I found myself wanting a little more closure in the end.

Still, a lovely book.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Amy Harmon, A Different Blue

77. A Different Blue, by Amy Harmon

4.5 stars

Very heart-felt, lovely, clean prose, great tension between Blue and Wilson, the two main characters. And I'm so happy for Amy Harmon, an indie author who made the NYT bestseller's list with this novel.

A Different BlueThe story: Blue Echohawk spent most of her childhood living with Jimmy Echohawk, a drifter who spent much of his time in the deserts of Nevada and Arizona, looking for wood to carve. Blue believed Jimmy was her father, until his unexpected disappearance landed her with his half-sister, Cheryl, who told Blue the truth: Jimmy found her in his truck when she was two, and kept her.

At nineteen, Blue is a year older than the other seniors in her high school, and tougher too. She dresses provocatively and uses sex as a way to fill her craving for physical affection. When Darcy Wilson first sees her in his classroom, he thinks for sure she's going to be the student that makes his life a living hell.

Luckily, both Blue and Wilson are wrong. Over the course of that year, Blue discovers a real interest in the history lessons that Wilson provides. And when the school year ends and Blue finds herself in trouble, Wilson proves to be a real friend, supporting Blue and helping her uncover the secrets about her past.

I was initially a little concerned about what looked like an inappropriate teacher-student romance. But none of that happened. For much of the book, Blue and Wilson were just friends. Harmon spent a lot of time developing Blue, so that by the end I liked her, I admired her, and I cheered for her. Also, the book made me cry, which I hadn't expected (not in a sad this-is-so-horrible way, but simply because I was moved).

The book isn't perfect: the opener read like some sort of crime procedural, which threw me a little; the book is very much not like that. It also starts off slowly with a lot of classroom/history instruction--although Harmon does eventually tie this back in. Overall, a great read.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

After All, Mia Josephs

76. After All, by Mia Josephs

After AllSweet romance; aspiring lawyer with troubled past falls for neighbor who looks like Clive Owen, with teenage kids. Warm relationships, a little steamy (tastefully done, but there is sex). 3.5 stars