Friday, July 3, 2015

Review: Sea Hearts

Sea Hearts (alt. title: The Brides of Rollrock Island)
By Margo Lanagan, read by Eloise Oxer and Paul English
Published 2014 by Bolinda Audio

Misskaella discovers a powerful magic on remote Rollrock Island - she can make a woman from a seal. Soon, her seal-wives are in high demand by the men of the islands. But at what price?

I was really excited to see this title as one of this summer's Sync titles - this book got tons of buzz the year it was published and I thought it sounded really interesting. After reading one of Lanagan's short story collections (and enjoying it quite a bit), I was even more excited to read one of her novels and get a better sense of her writing.

When I first started listening, I was quite enchanted. Her way with words is evident and magical and the story reads like a very dark fairy tale - my favorite kind. I liked that Lanagan used multiple narrators and points of view to tell the strange story of Rollrock Island and its seal-wives. The multiple POVs were also quite confusing - not only are we navigating between characters, but we are moving between time periods. It's sometimes quite difficult to figure out where in the story we are situated at any given moment. This is especially tricky with an audio version of the story.

As the story continued, though, I began to wonder what the point was - and then I came to the end. There is no point. There isn't really a climax to this novel and, when readers get to the end, I'm not sure they'll feel like they're in a different place than where they began. So, while the writing is lovely, I don't normally enjoy prose for prose's sake - I also need a story I can lose myself in. This one just didn't work for me.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

June Check-In

It's time for the monthly check-in! Here are my stats for June!

Early-chapter: 3

Middle-grade: 8

Teen: 9

Adult: 0

Picture books: 25

Library books: 38

Books owned: 7

Overall, not too bad a month for me. Slightly lower number of books than normal when you don't include the early chapter books, and no adult reads this month (I started a couple but haven't finished anything). I am still ahead with my digital galleys, but that might change over the next month. We are unexpectedly having to move, so now we are a bit behind in wedding planning. I imagine I will not be getting much reading done over the next month as all my free time will be spent moving or working on the wedding. I know I will probably still try to read more than I'll really have time for, so we'll see how it goes.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Review: Plague

Plague (Gone, book four)
By Michael Grant
Published 2011 by Katherine Tegen Books

WARNING: Spoilers for the earlier books in the series. Read my reviews here, here, and here.

It seems that things can always get worse in the FAYZ; the list of problems they've faced just gets longer and longer. Now, they're dealing with a sickness that causes kids to cough themselves to death, one that even Lana can't heal. Add to that bugs that eat you from the inside out (and seem invulnerable) and the monster Drake, who has miraculously reappeared.

I'm determined to finish this series before the year is through, so I've taken to checking out the next one whenever I bring one back (I'm still trying to read down the piles of books I own).

I was looking forward to this entry in the series - my fiance, who read them all this winter, told me it was one of his favorites. But he'd also told me that book three, which I loved, was his least favorite, so maybe I should have taken his opinion with a bit of salt. That being said, I think this volume is MY least favorite so far.

I'm pretty surprised to not have enjoyed this one - I generally like plague/epidemic novels. I find them fascinating. I did like that this plague evolved to be immune to the healer - it made it so there was no easy solution to the problem. What's interesting is that, while I liked the plague evolving an immunity to the characters' powers, I was irritated that the bugs were immune to pretty much everyone's powers. Maybe I'm just getting a little tired of all the tribulations these kids are enduring, particularly when there is no way of knowing if they'll ever get a happy ending.

For the most part, I just found this entry in the series kinda boring. Like I said, I might be getting tired of the never-ending list of problems the kids are facing and I'm having a hard time imagining how the final two books will be unique enough to really stand out. I'm still planning on finishing out the series, but I'm a little less excited than I was initially. Well, less excited for book five - I still can't wait for answers about the FAYZ and whether or not the kids will ever get out in the final book.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Review: The Ring and the Crown

The Ring and the Crown (Ring and the Crown, book one)
By Melissa de la Cruz, read by Jennifer Ikeda
Published 2014 by Recorded Books

Marie-Victoria is heir to the throne. Her mother, the Queen, is about to announce her engagement to the Prince of Prussia, thereby securing peace between their empires. The problem is that Marie-Victoria does not want to be Queen. She will attempt to enlist the help of her oldest friend, Aelwyn, in finding a new path. But none of them know just what is at stake and that changing one's destiny may not be as easy as they think.

I was thrilled to see this as one of the titles for this year's SYNC schedule and happily downloaded it as soon as it became available, making it my next audiobook listen. I was not disappointed.

I really enjoyed this one. I loved the multiple story lines and perspectives, trying to figure out how they would all come together in the end. I loved the opportunity this presented for getting to know more characters more deeply - this way allowed us to really understand the motivations and inner workings of several characters instead of focusing on just one or two. The characters are unique enough that it's not difficult to tell them apart and I never got confused about which story I was listening to at any point.

I liked the courtly intrigue that this book covers - it's one of my favorite aspects of historical fiction (at least that set among royalty). Additionally, I really enjoy the combination of historical fiction and fantasy. I liked the magic here, though I think it could have been covered more in-depth. I feel the fantasy took a bit of a backseat to the historical court part of the novel and I would have more enjoyed an even split. Also, I was pleased that this book had some surprises in store for me. I bragged earlier on that de la Cruz had not opted for subtlety, that it was extremely obvious what was going to happen with Marie-Victoria and Aelwyn's story. I was wrong. I'm not ashamed to admit it, and I was happy to have been fooled.

A couple of things that didn't exactly work for me: the varied romances. They all felt entirely too convenient and fortuitous. I mean, what are the odds that every single romantic feeling in this book, among any characters, is returned wholeheartedly? There are no unrequited love stories in the whole bunch, and that felt a little too false for me. Also, nearly every romance here is certified insta-love, adding to my dissatisfaction with the romances. In addition, I was not so crazy about the end. It felt rushed and incomplete. I suppose this can be partially explained by this being book one in a planned series, but that doesn't explain why the complex events in this volume are explained away in a brief summation.

That being said, I still quite liked this book and am certainly looking forward to the sequel. I thought the audio was well-done; Ikeda affects different accents for different characters and none of them are irritating or seem ill-suited, so that's good. The pacing of the audio works well and, as I said, it wasn't difficult to keep the various stories separate. I'll be recommending this one to fans of historical fantasy (including my fiance) and anticipating the coming of the sequel.

Oh, and I also love that this book opens with a quote from Beyonce.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Review: Stonewall

Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights
By Ann Bausum
Published 2015 by Viking Books for Young Readers

While the fight for gay rights continues to this day, Bausum takes readers back to the beginning of this long civil rights struggle: the Stonewall riots of 1969.

While I enjoy reading non-fiction, particularly that geared toward young people, I don't often find much time to work it into my reading schedule. I'd heard of this title and added it to my to-read list. I also ordered a copy for our library. When it came in, I read it instantly.

This is a great work of non-fiction for its intended audience. It is honest and truthful and depicts the events accurately and succinctly. Bausum manages to sugarcoat nothing but also doesn't overwhelm readers with horrifying details. She strikes a great balance between the truth and too much honesty. Readers will walk away from this book with a complete understanding of how difficult it was to be gay in the 1960s (and in most of the decades that followed) and how the fight for gay rights began (and continues even today).

Clearly and concisely, Bausum captures the beginning of the gay rights movement in short and insightful chapters. She begins by setting the scene, providing a landscape of what life was like for gay youth prior to the Stonewall riots. She explores the history of the Stonewall Inn and the events that led to its pivotal role in the beginning of the movement. She, of course, captures the riots themselves, and then further investigates their role in the expansion of the movement. She then discusses the emergence of AIDS and the impact the disease had on the gay rights movement. A final chapter briefly explores the state of the gay rights movement nowadays (highlighting the fight for marriage equality).

This is a fantastic resource for young adults wanting to know more about the gay rights movement, what it was like to be a gay person over the past several decades, and the riots themselves. Very well-done, and wonderfully researched. Highly recommended.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Review: Until the Beginning

Until the Beginning (After the End, book two)
By Amy Plum
Published 2015 by HarperTeen

WARNING: Spoilers ahead for book one. Read my review of that title

Juneau and Miles have made a death-defying escape from the men desperate for Juneau's secrets. Literally death-defying - Miles was shot in their escape. Using the secrets of her clan, Juneau has brought him back, but he's not the same person he was before. Can Miles use his new abilities to help Juneau rescue her people? 

I was a bit disappointed with the first book in this series - mainly because it didn't answer any of my questions by the time I reached the final page. But, of course, it was only the first book in a series, so I couldn't expect too many answers there. Wanting to know the full story, I requested the sequel as soon as it was available in my library and sped through it.

I'm pretty sure this is it for the series - a duology instead of a never-ending series. I'm pleased with that, though I can still see potential for more volumes in the future. I hope Amy Plum leaves the story here - I think it came to a good conclusion with these two volumes. The story is very compelling and fast-paced - I think it only took me a couple hours to read this second book. I think the dual narration helps keep the story moving along. Switching back and forth between Juneau and Miles' narrative keeps things moving and allows slightly different stories to emerge. Both characters are moving through their individual arcs and readers can easily see them both through the alternating chapters. Both characters undergo a lot of change throughout this book and I think their individual journeys were well-executed.

However, there isn't really a lot of tension in this book. It never really feels like a question as to if Juneau will free her clan; it's more a matter of when. There also doesn't seem to be any tension regarding what will happen between Miles and Juneau - the development of their relationship seems a foregone conclusion. I can see that this lack of tension may lessen a reader's interest in the book. For me, the writing is easy and the story engaging enough that it didn't dampen my wanting to read through to the end. This was kind of an escapist book for me, not complicated but still with enough unique aspects to keep my attention.

Overall, I enjoyed this series, mostly for its unique take on earth magic. I think fans of adventure stories or dystopian fiction would enjoy these books and I'm interested to read what else Plum has written.

48HBC: Finish Line

Well, this year's 48 Hour Book Challenge was a pretty big failure for me. It was already not a great weekend for me (with an after-hours event at the library on Friday night and my anniversary on Sunday), but it got worse on Saturday when we discovered we have one month to find a new place to live. That pretty much killed any momentum I might have had for the weekend and I struggled to find energy to do much of anything, including read. So, here are my extremely paltry stats for this year.

Time spent reading: 9 hours, 32 mins (1 hour, 47 minutes with an audiobook)
Social media time: 22 minutes
Pages read: 527 (60 from my audiobook)
Books: A Million Suns by Beth Revis (finished), The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins, The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey, A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty (audiobook in progress), Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Really not a good showing for me. Despite over nine hours of reading, I only finished one book and barely made progress in any of the others. And with my grand total just under 10 hours, I didn't even make the minimum time. Unfortunately, this weekend has just been a disaster. Here's hoping next year will be much better!