I have finally vanquished Scott Westerfeld’s trilogy!

Uglies, Pretties, and Specials by Scott Westerfeld

It was exhausting and took me waaaaaaay longer than it should have for me to get through these three books, but I finally triumphed!

It’s an intriguing premise and Westerfeld’s a good writer, but the reason it took me so long to finish these books is that I didn’t care about the characters. Not a single one. The main character, Tally, is not very bright and just gets lucky most of the time. She makes terrible decisions and doesn’t seem to learn from her mistakes. Her friend, Shay, is wasted – she starts out a protagonist, but then turns into a selfish, whiny, reckless (and not in an interesting way), flat character who doesn’t seem to have any motivation behind her actions. I’m still not sure if she ended up a good guy or a redeemed bad guy somehow.

By the third book, when Westerfeld opens up the focus of his world to include other cities and governments, I found that more interesting – probably because he was expanding upon the aforementioned intriguing premise – but still could not have cared less for the fate of any of his characters. What a waste.

My rating: D+

YA: Fiction

Are These My Basoomas I See Before Me? by Louise Rennison

I’m ashamed that it took me so long to realize that this book was out! It’s the last Georgia Nicholason book and I didn’t read it until it was well into paperback! SHOCKING!

And I’m sad that it’s over now… Georgia’s voice is still as funny as ever – I wish I were friends with her and the Ace Gang. They’re hilarious! There are appearances by everyone in the (large) cast of characters here, including, of course, Angus – it’s nice to get a glimpse of all her eccentric friends, neighbors, and relatives in the final book.

The main drama in the final book is who Georgia will end up with – will it be Masimo, the charming Italian dreamboat or Dave the Laugh, all around good guy and obviously (to everyone but Georgia) completely smitten with her? I bet you can guess, but I’ll refrain from saying anything further. ­čśë

My rating: A (Though I’m still grumpy that they changed the jacket design halfway through the series…)

 

IR Sci-fi/Fantasy

Skulduggery Pleasant: Mortal Coil by Derek Landy

And Skulduggery is back in fine form! The last book was a bit of a placeholder, but that’s to be expected with such a long story to tell. I don’t have a lot to say because I don’t want to give things away and if you haven’t started reading the Skulduggery Pleasant books by this time, my review of this one will probably not convince to do so now, but it was a good one – relationships are progressing, the big picture is becoming more clear, and the stakes are getting higher. And we have a bit of tragedy at the end of this one – I’m keeping my fingers crossed because Skulduggery seems to be able to pull of miracles with the best of them, but it’s not looking good. Also, a bit of a cliffhanger with a new Big Bad introduced – someone Skulduggery has (or, rather, hasn’t) met before, but seems fairly intimidating to say the least.

Can’t wait for the next one!

My rating: A-

YA Fiction

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

It’s here – it’s finally, finally here! The third and final book in the Hunger Games trilogy. And I’m going to be good and talk about it under a cut tag so as not to inadvertently spoil anyone!

The short answer to whether or not I liked it is ‘Yes, but…’ The long, spoilery version is…

Continue reading

IR Fiction: Sci-fi/Fantasy

Artemis Fowl and the Atlantis Complex by Eoin Colfer

ONLY ONE MORE?! Only one more. Granted, I thought the last one was the last one, so when someone mentioned they were reading the new Artemis Fowl, my response was ‘WHAT THE NEW WHAT?!’ and off I hastened to good old .co.uk and got myself a copy (I liked the UK cover better than the US, but only super-slightly – whatever happened to my design solution covers?!).

And, as always, my only complaint is that there wasn’t enough Artemis (and Holly)! This time we had quite a few other points of view – Butler and Juliet (who I’m not a huge fan of – and I miss Butler being Artemis’ Butler) and the bad guy as well as a Not!Artemis (who was hilarious for a little while, but I soon found myself missing the real Artemis).

It’s clear from this one that it’s meant to be a cliffhanger (I think, anyway) to the next, and final, Artemis book – all is not well in the mind of Artemis Fowl at the moment. And even though I’ll miss him after the next/last book, I thought the previous book was the final one, so it’s nice to have a bit of a reprieve. And in the meantime, I’ll have Skulduggery to keep me company!

My rating: B+

IR Historical Fiction

Quest for a Maid by Frances Mary Hendry

Liz lent this to me ages ago and I kept forgetting I had it! Finally this weekend, I sat down, determined to read it so I could finally, finally give it back to her. I was a little wary of it because of that cover – it does not look like a happy book, does it?!

But holy cow! They do NOT write books like this anymore. That’s meant to be a compliment if it’s not clear. It was amazing. I think it was written in 1988 or 1989 and it definitely has that quality of late-90s middle grade fiction. And again, that’s meant to be a compliment. Something about it – and I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to put it into words – made me think of classic books like Caddie Woodlawn, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, The Last Silk Dress, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, On Fortune’s Wheel, and, another one of my all-time favorites, A Murder for Her Majesty. And now I’m a little bit grumpy with my childhood librarian for never recommending this to me – I was 8 years old when it came out, exactly the right age to be reading this!

It took me a couple of chapters to really get into it – Hendry writes her characters’ dialect which is fairly thick Scots and it took me a while to be able to stop reading aloud in my head sometimes – but then I was hooked! The main character, Meg, is feisty and noble, as she should be and the secondaries are all very well fleshed out – evil when they should be and loyal when they should be. And, man, can she write a sailing scene! After the chase scene in Hugo Cabret, I think the last four or so chapters were the fastest I’ve turned pages in a long time.

My rating: A

IR Fiction/Graphic Novel

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

I literally spent the entire last weekend reading. As you’ll gradually see over the course of the week. First up was this one which I’ve been meaning to read for absolute ages! What finally spurred me into action? A friend of mine mentioned that Hotson Jude Law was going to be appearing in Martin Scorsese’s adaption of this book. Well, if you know me at all, you know that I like to read the book before the movie comes out – for no reason other than to be that annoying friend you all have who says ‘Have you read the book?’ when you start discussing the merits of the movie.

I don’t think the movie’s even started filming, but I was also procrastinating reading a book that I have to read before Claire leaves, so I thought I’d dive right in.

And Oh. My. God. It’s brilliant. You’ll notice that I classified this as both fiction and a graphic novel (not that graphic novels aren’t fiction, but you get the distinction, I’m sure). There is text, but there are also large sections that are only illustrations – at one point, there’s a chase scene and I swear I’ve never turned pages so fast! Selznick’s style is very pencilly and cross-hatchy – I would liken him to Shaun Tan’s Arrival and Chris Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris K. Burdick (two of my absolute favorites, by the way – if you haven’t read them, I don’t think I can be your friend [also, forget The Polar Express, Harris is Van Allsburg’s masterpiece]).

Oh, yeah, and the plot is quite good, too, but mostly I think this book is about the visuals and it’s a stunning example of a blending of illustrations and text. It totally made me cry at the end.

But in a good way. You should definitely read it.

My rating: A

YA Fiction: Sci-fi/Fantasy

Lament by Maggie Stiefvater

I hate myself for liking this book. It won’t make you feel quite as dirty as the Twilight saga (I liked the first one, but by the end of the second, I just wanted to knock some sense into Bella and tell Jacob and Edward that they’d be better off with each other), but it is problematic.

And yet I want to read the second one – what’s wrong with me?!

Mostly, I feel like this is a book I would have written in high school; in fact, I’m sure I started writing a book very much like this when I was in high school. The heroine is Mary Sued up to the teeth – gorgeous, super powerful, amazing harp player, amazing singer; the two guy friends are gorgeous, super powerful, and amazingly talented musically; and there are faeries and Celtic ┬ámythology everywhere!

Also:

  • The love triangle doesn’t quite work – Luke figures much more prominently in the story than James does, so we don’t really get to know James very well or see him interact much with Deirdre. In fact, he confesses his love to her via text message and then they basically don’t share a scene for the rest of the book.
  • The pacing is a bit off, too – everything builds very slowly up until the last fifth of the book and most everything suddenly gets resolved. A few plotlines are left unfinished, but I assume they’ll be addressed in the second book in the series.
  • I don’t really like Deirdre that much. She’s a bit too mopey and ‘Why me?’ and makes a few really stupid decisions. In fact, I had to put the book down before the last 75 pages and walk away for a week or two (to read Kathy Griffin’s book) before I could manage to go back to it.

And yet. I’m totally going to read the next one. Seriously, what’s wrong with me?!

My rating: C

IR Sci-fi/Fantasy

Skulduggery Pleasant: Dark Days by Derek Landy

So it hit me just out of nowhere why I love Skulduggery Pleasant so much. It’s because he IS Sherlock Holmes. If Holmes were a 300-year-old skeleton with magic powers who drives a Bentley, I guess, but those are the levels of awesomeness that we’re talking. No, don’t mind me, fellows, you just go on with your mud wrestling to see who gets to top my literary crush list.

Ah, book number four, the inescapable placeholder. I’m not disappointed, by any means, but this one was lacking something and I think it was mostly because now we’ve been set up with our overarching theme. I assume this will carry us through the next five books, but then I thought the Faceless Ones would be doing that. So maybe this is just a transition book instead of a placeholder…

Anyway. Like I said last time, there are just so many characters to keep straight – Valkyrie and Skulduggery are easy, of course, but there’s also Tanith and China (also pretty easy to remember, though), Ghastly (I always forget who he is), Guild (him, too), Fletcher Renn (my jury’s still kind of out on him, but only because he’s standing between Valkyrie and Skulduggery [yes, I ship it – no, I don’t know how it would work, I mean, he’s a centuries-old skeleton and she’s sixteen, but, I don’t care] and I guess he’s second best so it’s okay) and a whole slew of villains this time (Billy-Ray Sanguine [who is totally growing on me – I never found him to be appealing until his last showdown with Valkyrie in the final pages of this book – suddenly he has a depth that he didn’t have before!], Vaurien Scapegrace [who I NEVER remember – although he had a scene that made me laugh gleefully in this one], Dusk [I swear I didn’t remember that he was a vampire until halfway through the book], Spring-heeled Jack [I still am not entirely sure I know who he is], Remus Crux [who I can never bring myself to believe is a bad guy simply because no one named ‘Remus’ can be all bad], and Scarab [who is new, I think, so it’s not my fault that I didn’t remember him – he didn’t exist before now]). Whew! AND there’s Davina Marr who, again, I didn’t remember, but after her first scene with Valkyrie, I won’t be forgetting soon – she is SUPER UNHINGED. Except she ships it, too, so I’m not sure what that says about me.*

And it seems like I’m forgetting somebody – THERE ARE THAT MANY CHARACTERS. Seriously, it’s like a freaking Dickens novel.

And the plot seemed a little disjointed. I can’t really put my finger on it – I don’t remember this much jumping between narratives, so maybe that was it. Also, there didn’t seem to be very much tension in this one. Despite the big cliffhanger from the last one, I never felt like Skulduggery was in any real danger. I mean, I know I would have complained if it had taken Valkyrie longer to save him (I loved that payoff moment, though, at the end of the book – very nice, Derek!) simply because he’s my favorite character (though I am quote fond of Valkyrie now), but that meant that got resolved fairly quickly and, frankly, pretty easily. But it makes sense if you think of this whole book as a transition – this is all the little, kind of boring (not boring boring – there are SO many fights [and some pretty brutal moments – I do like that Landy quite literally doesn’t pull his punches], but the little details) that have to happen for the epic plots to align correctly.

So I’m anxiously awaiting the next one now – and we get two this year – they’re changing Skulduggery’s release dates to September. Yay!

My rating: B+

My reviews of the previous books in the series:

  1. Skulduggery Pleasant
  2. Skulduggery Pleasant: Playing With Fire
  3. Skulduggery Pleasant: The Faceless Ones

ETA: I forgot! I feel about Valkyrie’s reflection the way Homer Simpson feels about the little guy in the Italian mafia vs. Japanese mafia fight.

Talk about tension! There’s been something not right with her reflection ever since Skulduggery shot it (now THAT was a good scene) and I keep waiting for its big moment to arrive. So far, nothing – and the longer Derek puts it off, the better it’s going to have to be. I hope you’re aware of that, Derek!

Also, why is no one concerned about the ramifications of an imminent character ┬ásince presumably Valkyrie’s Ancient One blood or whatever it is comes from her father’s side of the family… Skulduggery did say he’s feeling distracted, so maybe he just hasn’t realized it yet? But I feel like that will have something to do with…something…

ETA2: Apparently the idiots over at Fox are blocking the little Simpsons clip I put up there. Yeah, Fox, because now that all 15 people who read this blog saw that 37-second clip I used to make my point, they’re not going to go out and buy all million seasons of The Simpsons on DVD like they were planning on doing. Even though I’m sure they can watch entire episodes for free over at your website or on Hulu and even though the quality of that show really has gone down in the last 10 years, but whatever. Assholes.

So…yeah. Take that, Fox.

*I don’t know if anybody’s read it, but when Valkyrie tells Skulduggery about her and Fletcher, how did it read to you? Because I couldn’t decide if she was embarrassed because it was like telling her favorite uncle about her boyfriend or if she was embarrassed because she was hoping for a different kind of reaction from him. Again, I know it wouldn’t work, but they do have this weird chemistry.

IR Fantasy

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Seeing as this is considered a classic in the canon of kids’ books, I can’t believe it took me this long to finally read it! Especially since it was so good!

It kind of has a fable-y quality to its style, but it also turns things a little sideways – Sophie comes from a place full of fairytales (wizards and witches, demons, seven-league boots, etc.) and, being the eldest of three, is resigned to a uneventful life. Of course that’s not what happens otherwise she wouldn’t have a book written about her!

Full of engaging characters who aren’t always what they seem (but sometimes are), I would highly recommend it.

My rating: A-

YA Fiction: Sci-Fi/Fantasy

The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett

When I first discovered the wonder that is Terry Pratchett, I asked for recommendations of where to start (or continue) since his oeuvre is rather intimidating. Claire immediately responded to suggest this book and it only took me…two years to get to it?! Sorry, Claire, I totally meant to read this sooner.

Claire was right, this one was very good. I would say it was much different than the handful (or less than that) of Terry Pratchett books I’ve read so far – very much more, I don’t know, philosophical than the others? Less of a straightforward plot, at the very least.

On the surface, The Wee Free Men follows Tiffany Aching and her progress toward becoming a witch. Except there’s so much more to it – she learns about her grandmother and herself and the world (or worlds) around her. I’m not doing it justice, but take Claire’s advice and read it.

Claire, it looks like there’s at least one (and maybe two?) sequel to this book – are they just as good? Should I stick with Tiffany?

My rating: B+ (And, no, I don’t know why it’s considered YA, but that’s where Borders had it, so…)

And I’m sorry, but, being of the generation that I am, the name Tiffany will always be associated with this:

YA: Sci-fi/Fantasy

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Leviathan has so much going for it – I absolutely couldn’t wait to read it as soon as I heard about it! An alternate history story about World War I being fought between the Darwinists (i.e., England et al.) who have bred all manner of newfangled creates (including two-headed, six-legged dogs, lizards who repeat whatever they’re told in the voice of whoever’s told them, and the Leviathan itself, a huge whale that is used as an airship) and the Clankers (i.e., Germany et al.) who are the steampunkers of the group featuring a girl disguised as a boy and the heir of Austro-Hungary on the run?┬á What’s not to love?!

But I didn’t love it. At least not at first. It’s told in chapters alternating Deryn (the girl)’s and Alek (the heir)’s points of view and for the first thirty-odd chapters, Westerfeld explains his world-building. And fair enough, there’s a lot of alternate history to fill the reader in on, but I found that it got a bit tedious – I’m not sure whether it would have worked to just drop us in and let us figure it out as we read, but it might have been worth a try.

But once Deryn and Alek finally meet (around chapter thiry-four or so), things really pick up and for those last ten (or so) chapters, I was hooked! Lots of big action sequences and secrets to be revealed – including the one that leaves us hanging, anxious for the next book (I predict lots of political intrigue ahead…).

Like I was saying, Westerfeld has obviously done his homework and put in the time to think things through – here is what appears on the book’s endpapers:

Along with the endpaper illustrations, the book also features illustrations by Keith Thompson which I liked an awful lot (and during all the exposition, were my favorite part):

My rating: B (I want to give it a higher rating because of how I felt about it at the end, but with kind of uneven pacing, I just can’t quite do it…)

IR Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

I don’t actually have much to say about this book other than that Collins continues her run of awesomeness that is the Hunger Games trilogy (?) with the second installment. Catching Fire finds Katniss dealing with the ramifications not only of winning the Hunger Games, but of the way in which she won. By undermining the Capitol’s absolute authority, she has become the face of the growing revolution, so now she has a hostile government to deal with along with trying to sort out her love triangle.

Since this is the second book, it ends with even more open-ended storylines, making the wait for the conclusion seem interminable. I can’t wait to see how everything ends!

My rating: A-

YA Fiction

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Now. I see the Newbery here. And I totally thought it was nominated, but after searching the internet, it looks like it wasn’t! Say what now?!

Suzanne Collins is the author of the Gregor the Overlander series which I loved, but The Hunger Games?

Is amazing.

A quick run down, if you haven’t heard about this book – after a rebellion against the Capital, the remaining 12 Districts have to send two Tributes (a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18) to participate in the Hunger Games, a reality television show in which the children fight to the death.

It is amazing. I tore through it almost in one sitting because there was just no good pausing point. The plot is constantly going, always moving forward and because the stakes are impossibly high, I was left almost breathless several times.

I’ll admit that my immediate reaction to Katniss (the main character) was not entirely pleasant, but once we got to the reaping, I was sold. And Peeta – I have conflicting feelings about Peeta, which were not helped by the plot’s twists and turns (Collins has created such complex, real characters that I, like Katniss, really wasn’t sure of motivations, who to trust, etc.).

And I knew that there were more books to come, so when the Hunger Games ended, I wasn’t sure what would be left to cover, but the nail-biting climax to the Games suddenly gives the series a deeper thread to follow. And I cannot wait to see what happens next. I know there are ARCs floating around out there (you lucky bastards!), I may have to start trolling eBay to see if any turn up there. I don’t know if I can wait until September 1!

My rating: A+

p.s. – It’s in first person, present tense, which I often associate with angsty fanfiction, but it totally works here – I didn’t even realise what I was reading until I was about halfway through. The immediacy of it is very appropriate to the action and just hooks you and never lets up.

IR Sci-fi/Fantasy

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Once again, I think I’m the last person with an interest in children’s books to actually read this (and the next one – I’m catching up!). I’ve come to it after it’s won all sorts of awards. But any time you read this book, it’ll be worth it.

For anyone who may not think they’re interested in what is, technically, a children’s book, this is the one that starts:

There was a hand in the dark, and it held a knife.

I know, right? Only Neil Gaiman could get away with something like that. Like Coraline, it is pretty creepy – the beginning in particular is very dark and, yes, I cried. But once Bod settles into life in the graveyard, things cheer up a bit and actually seem quite homey and nice.

It reads sort of like a fable – there’s a certain distance between the reader and the words, which works, and the pace is on the slow side (usually – there are a few slightly out-of-place action scenes), but it works.

My rating: B+

p.s. – It took me a very long time of staring at the cover to figure out what the picture was.

p.p.s. – I’ll be honest with you, though – I’m not sure I see the Newbery Medal award in here…