IR Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Gregor the Overlander, Book One by Suzanne Collins

I had heard really good things about this series and, after much hesitation, I finally picked up the first book. And it was pretty good. There’s something nagging me about it because it sort of feels like a combination of lots of children’s books all rolled into one: City of Ember + Rats of Nimh + Alice in Wonderland + something else that I can’t quite think of = Gregor the Overlander. Not in a bad way, necessarily – I even picked up the second book today – it’s just, I think I’m going to withhold my final judgement for a little bit longer.

Gregor lives with his mother, grandmother, and toddler sister, Boots, in New York. When Gregor takes Boots down to the laundry room with him to do the laundry, they tumble through a grate into, well, the Underland, I suppose (Alice in Wonderland). They’re rescued by giant cockroaches (who end up being the best part of the whole book – you know it’s something when a giant cockroach makes me cry) and taken to Regalia, an underground city (City of Ember) complete with an arrogant princess and huge, talking bats (it’s the bats that are making me think of something, but I’m not sure what, so for now  let’s just say Rats of Nimh…). There are escape attempts and there is, most importantly, a QUEST. Fairly standard stuff, but done well enough.

Gregor is actually pretty likable – and he has to work hard to overcome his name, which I thought would annoy me more than it does. I was also worried about Boots. Cute kid, cuter nickname? But she really is pretty darn cute, after all. The arrogant princes, Luxa, needs some work (she’s closer to two and half dimensions, rather than the full three at the moment), but I’m hoping she’ll have a chance to flush out her character in the next one.

The oddest thing, I think, is the pacing although this may be because the book is suffering from set-up syndrome (aka First Book-itis). The QUEST doesn’t start until about halfway through the book, but once it does, it goes very quickly and before you know it, it’s over! I wasn’t sure about the bats at first, probably because it feels like a rip-off of something, but I was won-over by the end. I haven’t started the second one yet, but the cover assures me that Ares (Gregor’s bat) will be back. Frankly, I’m hoping the cockroaches turn up again.

My rating: B

The Lighting Thief by Rick Riordan

According to Publisher’s Weekly (and they don’t usually lie like this), Percy Jackson IS the next Harry Potter. I think he has a long way to go.

The premise of the book is interesting, I guess, if you like that sort of thing. Basically, the Greek gods are real and still out there having children left and right. Some of these children (*cough*Percy*cough*) are ‘heroes.’ Some (*cough*not Percy*cough*) are not. In this book, Percy (son of Poseidon) has to prove that he didn’t steal Zeus’ thunderbolt and also find out who did in order to avert a massive war between Zeus and Hades (and everybody else, of course). Along for the ride is Annabeth (daughter of Athena) and Grover, a rather inept faun.

I’m not sure why I’m reluctant to like this series (maybe because NO ONE could EVER replace Harry Potter) – Percy is very likable, so is Annabeth…Grover not so much, but you can’t win them all (even Harry has Colin Creevey, you know). There are exciting confrontations between mythical beasts and gods alike, but there just seems to be something missing. Again, it can’t have been too much of something because I did buy the second book just today, so we’ll see how it goes.

My rating: B

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Fiction

The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz

I read about 80 pages of this book on Monday night and then the remaining 280 last night. I was actually disappointed when the season finale of House came on because it meant I could only continue reading during commercials.

This was a great book. But it’s going to be one of those reviews that is sort of haphazard because it’s another one that’s particularly difficult to write about, for some reason.

I was about halfway through it when I realised that not much was happening – there was so much not happening that I didn’t even notice it at first. Most of the book is taken up with the description of Izzy and her life working at her parents’ PI office. Her family is hilarious – seriously, I laughed out loud (and hard) quite a few times. They tail each other, they bug each other’s rooms, they negotiate for everything. Okay, I can see that trying to describe it is not going to do it justice. Just trust me and pick up this book for the characterizations of Izzy and her family and the way they interact with one another – plus one or two interesting mysteries along the way (which are solved a little too smoothly, but the run up to them is so amazing that I can’t think of anything that would have lived up to it).

Except you, Louisa, because there is a good chance this book will be joining your next parcel.

My rating: A-

Month-old haircut

Finally getting around to posting a picture of my new haircut. Sorry it’s such bad quality – I can’t find the little dock-type thing for my digital camera at the moment, so I’m relying solely on my cell phone for pictures. Also, please to be ignoring the slight case of crazy eyes I’m sporting – it’s either that or the drunken blink…

Young Adult

Flora Segunda

Flora Segunda is one of those books that was really good, but is impossible to summarize and is a little bit difficult to talk about for some reason. The characters are likable while being flawed at the same time which makes them all the more realistic and sympathetic.

The only drawback to the book – and I’m mentioning it here so that it’s neither the first nor the last thing you’ll remember, but I’d be remiss not to mention it – is, well, I’m not sure what you’d call it…the back story? There are words in the language (Flora’s name being one of them) which seem to be based on Spanish and Italian while other things (and of course I can’t think of any now) don’t fit in so easily. Ths might not bother you, but I just couldn’t quite settle in completely without knowing whichc ountry this fantasy/alternate world was based on.

But don’t pay attention to that. Flora Segunda is a very enjoyable read, driven by its strong plot and charming, real characters. The author’s background as a military historican provided the background for trhe story and it shows in the details, so hopefully there’s lots more research to draw on for more Flora Segunda stories.

My rating: B+

(It’s so much easier to write reviews for the books that I didn’t like!)

Young Adult

Tantalize

Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Tantalize is definitely the lesser of the vampire/werewolf angsty, teenage novels on the market at the moment. This one, like so many before it, suffers from Good Idea Letdown. It features a vampire-themed restaurant, vampires, grisly murders, and were-everything. Basic plot: Quincie inherits a resteaurant from her parents, which she runs with her slightly deadbeat uncle; lusts after her best friend Jacob (okay, I read the book yesterday and sitting her writing this, I can’t think of his name – he obviously made a strong impression) Kieran (spelled Keiran in the CIP info) who is half human, half werewolf and may or may not be killing people around town; and develops a bit of a drinking problem (take it however you want to) thanks to the handsome new chef who may or may not be a vampire and also may or may not be killing people around town.

If it sounds like it’s a lot, it’s because it is and that’s the book’s main fault: Smith tries to include so many plotlines that nothing ends up being fully-devleoped or even pursued. Her lust for her best friend basically gests shelved once the new chef, Bradley, shows up as does any discussion of what it means to be a werewolf, let alone half werewolf (which doesn’t really make sense – does it mean he’s only a quarter wolf because isn’t a werewolf already half man, half wolf?) despite the fact that she’s obviously put a lot of thought into the social ramifications of were-ness (is that a word? well, it is now!). In fact, Smith’s version of the world is much closer to that in Laurell K. Hamilton’s, where supernatural beings of all sorts are real and acknowledged and living in an uneasy truce with humans. But again, shelved. The murder mystery? Shelved until it’s explained away easily at the end.

In fact, everything gets explained too easily at the end, except that it doesn’t! (There’s also a bit involving someone using the first murder victim’s id to buy silver bullets that ends up going nowhere. And in a book riddled with were-whatevers, you’d think it would at least go somewhere. Anywhere!) It all culminates in a potentially thrilling scene that feels rushed, confusing, open-ended (and not in a good way), and not realistic (and not because of the vampires and were-critters).

Just as a side note, when I said were-everything earlier, I meant it. Werewolf? Yes. Werecat? Why not. Werepossum? Okay, maybe. Were…armadillo? Not really scary, but okay. Turkey Werevultures? I couldn’t make this shit up! (And shouldn’t it be Were-turkey vultures (no idea on how to punctuate that…)?) Were gator? Come on, everybody knows those are just an urban legend. Now you’re just being silly.

My rating: D+

New Moon

And now, the reigning queen of angsty, teenaged, werewolf/vampire books: Stephanie Meyers’ New Moon, sequel of Twilight.

This hasn’t been getting as good reviews as Twilight did, mostly because of Bella and, while I can see where they’re coming from, it’s still an enjoyable, mindless, fast read.

When Edward, Bella’s vampire hottie, and his family leave town in the first couple of chapters, I wasn’t convinced I’d be interested. With Edward out of the picture and Bella in a monumental, delusional sulk, what was worth reading? I mean, come on, no hottie and a heroine who almost literally can’t live without her boyfriend? But I kept turning the pages and when Bella turns to Jacob to cheer her up, I thought ‘Whatever, he’s no Edward.’

Little did I know how wrong I was.

In fact, when Edward returns in the last hundred pages or so, I was upset because he was going to mess everything up. And he did. And so did Bella.

Through the whole thing, Jacob is wonderful: protective, distracting, and patient – he knows he’ll never have a chance with Bella, but he’s willing to be her friend even though she’s just using him. So he becomes a werewolf (it’s in his blood), the natural enemy of vampires. Edward’s life becomes endangered (because of a Romeo and Juliet-esque misunderstanding), and bam! Bella has to choose between her best friend and her boyfriend.

Guess who she chooses.

And this is where Bella becomes unbearable. I thought it would be Edward who becomes unbearable, but he’s just so charming, he can do no wrong. It’s the way Bella treats Jacob upon their return – with vague contempt, as though she’s the one who’s been wronged here! But I’m going to take a deep breath and give Bella the benefit of the doubt because there was a lot of remorse there at the very end and because, based on a few untied plot lines (including a rogue vampire and a vampire syndicate who are or will be hunting Bella soon) and the emotional tangles I’m guessing there’s at least one more book to come (I was right – Eclipse due out in August) which means that the author has to bring everybody down before they can have their happily ever after (The Empire Strikes Back anybody?).

Despite an emotional misstep here and there, New Moon‘s characters make for a fascinating read. A great guilty pleasure.

My rating: B+

Fiction

Secret History of the Pink Carnation 

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig

 Secret History suffers from the Not-What-I-Expected phenomenon, with which a lot of the books I’ve read recently have been afflicted. I went in expecting a dashing, forward-thinking Scarlet Pimpernel. What I got was a romance novel. And not even an out-of-the-ordinary romance novel. Frankly Celeste Bradley writes spy plots that are more interesting and characters that are a lot more likable! (To say nothing of the bland sex scenes (hey, if they’re there, I’m going to comment on them!).)

That said, it wasn’t a bad book, just don’t go into it expecting anything more than a run-of-the-mill romance novel. There are two plots at work here. The modern one, which follows Eloise, an American grad student from Harvard (who doesn’t really display enough intelligence or insight to make me believe that’s possible – the fact that Eloise didn’t see the big ‘twist’ about the Pink Carnation’s true identity coming is probably the most unbelievable part of the whole book!), travels to London to finish her dissertation and, the historical one, which follows the story of the Pink Carnation which Eloise ‘unravels.’ Everyone is likable enough, if not necessarily original. There is the eccentric but wise aunt, the hot-but-harsh love/hate interest, the rich best friend, and the beautiful sister-mistaken-for-lover (which always creeps me out just a little). The historicals don’t really fare much better, though, i.e., the feisty heroine, her shy but smart best friend, yet another hot-but-harsh love/hate interest (who has an angst-ridden background mistaken for depth), and his bevy of beautiful sisters and handsome best friends who are all awaiting their sequels.

There is spying, plotting, and making out. Misadventures abound and everything turns out happily ever after. That’s basically all you need to know. Eloise’s love story continues in the next two books, but the one character who has a chance for individuality doesn’t get a love plot line though she does get her own happy ending of sorts. Of course, that may be Willig’s attempt at feminism, but when you’re reading a romance novel, you want your favorite character to land a man!

A fun, frothy read despite the tone of this review. Just don’t expect too much from it.

My rating: C+