Monday, April 28, 2014

We are the (Repulic) Champion

Wow, I think I need to go to some kind of Dystopian Anonymous meeting. I have really been reading a bunch in the genre lately. My head is starting to get some strange ideas about itself. I might even be developing prepper paranoia. At least I have some excellent entertainment.

Champion by Marie Lu

The conclusion to the Legends trilogy was strong. The action kept moving, the plot didn't get stale, and the heroes kept a few twists up their sleeves to surprise the reader. Overall, I give the third book from Marie Lu 4 stars.

I was pleased with a lot of aspects about this story. I will try to keep this review spoiler free, but it is not going to be easy. All the events in this book are so intricately linked to the great build up work laid down in Legend and Prodigy. Props for the excellent development through all parts of the trilogy. They clearly rely on each other without being dependent.

I will reveal we get to see yet more cultures from around the world in this installment. Antarctica makes an appearance, which is really fun because an author can completely create a culture of their own in that country. I will also pout for a second because the great look at the Colonies stopped with the last chapter of Prodigy and the Antarctica culture was very limited as well. I sort of felt cheated out of some excellent reading material. But, I guess you can't write everything you want because then the novel would be 500 pages and most readers wouldn't buy into tome-sized YA books.

The relationship between Day and June continues to be very realistic of a young adult romance. It is complicated, nobody says the right thing, and there is so much misunderstanding from all the reactions and explanations never said. Their complete lack of communication was highly frustrating; exactly how it would be in a real relationship. While it is realistic, I do not like certain aspects of how they developed and I remove a half star. 

The ending seemed pretty final (what with a ten years later chapter becoming pretty standard for "I'm done with this series, don't ask me any more questions"), but I can always hope there will be more to the story. I certainly feel like their is more to the story. That lapse in feeling concluded is what makes me take off the other half star for this concluding book.

So for personal reasons, I definitely feel my love for these books turned to like. (Also pet peeve--guestimate is not a word, will never be a word for me, and you lose some credibility when you publish it.) The whole series is incredibly well written and well developed. There are no glaring continuity errors or ending spoilers. I would recommend the whole series to all readers despite my personal cooling to Champion.

Visit Marie Lu's website to follow news about the series and very helpful writing tips.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Not your average teen dystopia

There is a flood on the market for YA dystopian novels right now. They are being made into movies and super flashy trends for today. The female leaders are all about empowerment and kicking butt. I'm honestly a little tired when it all goes so overboard. Then, I got Branded.

Branded by Abi Ketner and Missy Kalicicki

Whooof! Was that an emotionally charged rollercoaster. There are your key formulaic concepts of isolating a group of people for some utilitarian purpose of control. There is a power-hungry lunatic ruling the country in militaristic fashion. There are hints that this all is our very near future if we don't open our eyes and fix our disturbing ways. But (and I really stress that), Abi and Missy managed to add a new layer to the formula that makes Branded have an impact. They make their book disgusting, disturbing, and eye-watering. It is all very real and painful. Refreshing in a pile of happy-go-lucky-ever-after dystopias. (Doesn't that seem like some kind of oxymoron?)

Lexi is awkward and clutz-y. She is not a smooth operator and very clearly emotionally broken, though she is trying to deal with that issue. Another refreshing aspect in this genre of glamorous femme fatales. Lexi has the key ingredient to being a strong teenage female: she wants to be better without the confidence. She is a very real person who struggles with her potential but never really becomes any kind of prodigy. I appreciate this writing.

It is pretty obvious from the beginning she is going to fall in love with the one person she shouldn't, you know, because it is forbidden--execution style. However, it has the genuine feel of falling in love for the first time when it all seems completely illogical and sometimes makes you want to puke from emotional overload.

These are bedtime stories to help children have faith in humanity and make a better future. I loved The Giver as a child and developed a soft spot for the dystopian genre. Then, I lost some faith with the Hollywood rush to make it big without the creativity. I'm happy to have gotten some back with Branded. It will be interesting to see where the next story goes, and I cross my fingers these two new authors haven't run out of steam.

I definitely recommend this book, but I would advise an 18-or-over readership. Have a box of tissues nearby and keep the lights on. Happy reading!

Visit Abi and Missy's website to follow the Sinners series.

Friday, April 18, 2014

What have I been up to?

Spring cleaning, vacation planning, and reading. What have I been reading? An excellent new novel that comes out in July. I have not read something in the general fiction category that sparked my interest since college. The story was poignant and rich in real life heartaches. I typically veer away from general fiction because authors play with the formatting in ways I don't really appreciate. The treatment of time and narrative in this novel proves that manipulation, but it really works with the emotions behind this novel.

The Last Kings of Sark by Rosa Rankin-Gee

"My name is Jude. And because of Law, Hey and the Obscure, they thought I was a boy."
Jude is twenty-one when she flies in a private plane to Sark, a tiny carless Channel Island and the last place in Europe to abolish feudalism. She’s been hired for the summer to tutor a rich local boy named Pip. But when Jude arrives, the family is unsettling. Pip is awkward, overly literal, and adamant he doesn't need a tutor, and upstairs, his enigmatic mother Esmé casts a shadow over the house.
Enter Sofi: the family's holiday cook, a magnetic, mercurial Polish girl with appalling kitchen hygiene, who sings to herself and sleeps naked. When the father of the family goes away on business, Pip's science lessons are replaced by midday rosé and scallop-smuggling, and summer begins. Soon something powerful starts to touch the three together.
But those strange, golden weeks on Sark can't last forever. Later, in Paris, Normandy and London, they find themselves looking for the moment that changed everything.
Compelling, sensual, and lyrical, The Last Kings of Sark is a tale of complicated love, only children and missed opportunities, from an extraordinary new writer.

It is certainly worth a pre-order for those who love to read and feel reality through words. Visit Rosa Rankin-Gee's website to get immersed in the making of The Last Kings of Sark, which releases in the US on July 8, 2014. 

If you live in the United Kingdom, then go to your local bookseller for a copy.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Another dose of cultural folk tales

This time I am heading over to the opposite side of the globe for a dose of myth from Vietnamese culture. There is not much I know about this Asia country other than we had struggles 40 years ago, and my father was there and you don't ask him questions.

I was very eager to read this collection of short stories from a largely oral tradition of ghost stories and body snatchers. (And ended up a tad bit creeped out.) Violet Kuppersmith injects new life in these ancient myths with modern settings. She even, spectacularly, brings the modern struggle of Asian-American lineage to her short stories. It is important for the younger generations to know the culture their family came from while accepting a modern culture of the land that they were born. It is a fascinating anthropological study of diaspora and the making of new heritages. 

The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kuppersmith

This collection fulfilled my hopes for a look into yet another culture I was not raised to know. I find these explorations into the human condition important for everyone. We all come from a central origination with many spurs of evolution. If you take a look at the myths of every culture, then you can see certain conditions are always met within a myth. This collection was an eye-opener to the Southeast Asia culture that I knew very little about in my years reading folktales.

There is a theme of ghost stories to the collection, but each story also has a very important lesson to learn along with the ghost. There are stories centralized in Vietnam; there are stories of immigrants remembering where they originated; and there are stories centralized on Asian-American descendants, and their struggle to find balance with their two heritages. 

I think my favorite story had to be "Reception", which takes place in the Frangipani Hotel. With the cover title being the main local, I have assumed that this short story is supposed to be a central, perhaps pivotal, story in the whole collection. But to me, it had the best blend of creepy (I will look at water in a much different way now) and beauty. Other strong stories included "Guests", "The Red Veil", and "Turning Back".

My only disappointment with this collection was the segue between each story. Many of the stories felt like they ended rather abruptly, and then the next story would just begin. Had I read this novel in paper format I may not have felt so jilted from the flow. However, I did read it digitally and was severely jarred by some of the transitions. Not a huge complaint compared to the knowledge I gained and the growth from that knowledge.

I would happily recommend this book to any person with a love of ghost stories and the need to keep the lights on through the night. The Frangipani Hotel releases today. Pick up a copy at your local bookseller and enjoy the things that go bump in the night!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

New goodies and a winner

We have some excellent new material from Anna Kashina today. An excellent post on her blog and the cover for The Guild of Assassins! Plus the announcement of our giveaway winner! Congratulations to T. Pecoraro!

Anna has updated her blog with an excellent post on characters' points-of-view and her feelings about the cover reveal for The Guild of Assassins. Check out the new articles on her blog:

Now to take a look at the cover for the second book in the Majat Code series. The book is being released this August!

The sequel to Blades of the Old Empire.

Kara has achieved something that no Majat has ever managed – freedom from the Guild!

But the Black Diamond assassin Mai has been called back to face his punishment for sparing her life. Determined to join his fight or share his punishment, Kara finds herself falling for Mai.

But is their relationship – and the force that makes their union all-powerful – a tool to defeat the overpowering forces of the Kaddim armies, or a distraction sure to cause the downfall of the Majat?

Cover Art: Alejandro Colucci

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

International Book Giveaway!

The next book in the Majat Guild series is coming out this August. To get prepared for all the excitement, I have a copy of Blades of the Old Empire to give away to one very lucky winner. Entrants can be from anywhere in the globe, so make sure you get ALL your friends involved.

The contest will end on Saturday with the announcement of not only the winner, but the cover reveal for The Guild of Assassins! I am excited that we are getting closer to the release. Don't miss out on getting involved with this amazing martial arts series. You can catch my spoiler free review here for more on the Majat Guild.

Enter to win your copy of Blades of the Old Empire and get ready for August.

Contest Over -- Congratulations T. Pecoraro