October 24, 2014

Review: (Don't You) Forget About Me

(Don't You) Forget About Me By Kate Karyus Quinn
Available now from HarperTeen (HarperCollins)
Review copy

Kate Karyus Quinn's sophomore novel is an unsettling fable about a town called Gardnerville, where no one dies of illness but strange things happen, getting worse every fourth year.  Last fourth year, Skylar's older sister Piper killed sixteen other teenagers in revenge for getting dumped.  Now, it is a fourth year again.

Skylar is one of the last of the Gardners, the founding family.  Her greatest pursuit is the forget-me-nots, a drug that leaves her forgetful.  But Skylar needs to remember if she's going to prevent this year's tragedy.  She needs to remember her sister, who no one else in the town wants to remember.  She needs to remember her family's shadowy history.  She needs to remember who she can trust.

(DON'T YOU) FORGET ABOUT ME is an interesting beast.  Every other chapter is a tape from Skylar's childhood, recording her memories with Piper from various points in their lives.  The present chapters cut in and out, sometimes coming back to a Skylar who doesn't remember what happened last chapter -- or even what happened between chapters.  And the story just gets stranger the more Gardnerville reveals its secrets.

I liked the romance between Skylar and Foote, who has is own secrets.  It's very subtle, which is what saves it from its predictability.  The rest of the novel is too surreal for a rote romance.

If you're looking for a disorienting read that requires you to put together the pieces, I suggest giving (DON'T YOU) FORGET ABOUT ME a try.  It's a little bit fairy tale, a little bit magical realism, and a lot bizarre.  It's certainly a memorable reading experience.

October 23, 2014

Review: Liesmith

Liesmith First book of the Wyrd
By Alis Franklin
Available now from Hydra (Penguin Random House)
Review copy

I was first drawn to LIESMITH by the cover.  You don't see many black guys on the cover of urban fantasy novels.  Then there was the blurb, which promised Norse mythology meets IT.  That made me think of the SpellCrash series by Kelly McCullough, which I love.

Alis Franklin's debut novel is about Sigmund Sussman, a low-level IT nerd who just humiliated himself by not recognizing his boss when he meets Lain Laufeyjarson, the new guy in the department.  The two hit it off, leading Sigmund to question himself - and Lain's attraction to him.  But soon he has even more to question than his new relationship, because strange things are happening.  Strange, dangerous things.

I enjoyed Franklin's writing style quite a bit, although I expect it might not be for everyone.  It can tend a bit toward the labyrinthine, like the plot.  There are lots of characters trying to pull of long-term master plans, which means their is a bit of a pileup of complicated events at the end.  At the same time, I appreciate that ambition and that Franklin managed to pull off a few brilliant twists grounded in mythology.

Obviously, no one even slightly familiar with Norse mythology (and who isn't, in the age of Marvel?) will fail to ascertain Lain's real identity even before it is revealed to the reader.  (Thankfully, not too long.  Both Lain and Sigmund narrate.)  But it might be more complicated than it first seems.  I also liked that the cast wasn't entirely male.  Sigmund's two best friends are both women, and both play an active role in the climax.

There are lots of rough edges to LIESMITH.  The romance is a touch cliche and sometimes it is hard to follow what is happening.  But LIESMITH shows a lot of promise.  It's sweet, but tough, much like many of its characters.  I look forward to the next book of the Wyrd.

October 22, 2014

Review: Rose and the Magician's Mask

Rose and the Magician's Mask Book three of the Rose series
By Holly Webb
Available now from Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Review copy
Read my reviews of Rose and Rose and the Lost Princess

ROSE AND THE MAGICIAN'S MASK can be read alone, although it is best if you have read the first two books about maid and nascent magician Rose.  This book reveals more of her personal history, and delivers a thrilling plot.

Fans of the series know what to expect.  For those who are new, expect a practical heroine, friendship, and magicians versus magicians.  Gus, the talking cat, will be funny.  The adult-in-charge will be useless, leaving saving the day to Rose and her friends.  In this story, Venetian thieves who have stolen a mask of great power that must be retrieved.

This series reaches the point that so many series featuring magical kids (such as Harry Potter and Avatar: The Last Airbender) must reach.  As Rose becomes more powerful, and faces more dangerous enemies, she can potentially use lethal force.  This lends a bit more darkness to the final confrontation.

It's hard to say something new about the third book in a series.  But it is easy to repeat something old.  If you have a young reader in your life who enjoys fantastical adventures, I highly recommend this series.  Yes, even to the boys.

October 21, 2014

Review: Blue Lily, Lily Blue

Blue Lily, Lily Blue Book three of the Raven Cycle
By Maggie Stiefvater
Available now from Scholastic Press
Review copy
Read my Maggie Stiefvater tag

Ever since I finished this book, I've been discussing it with fellow fans.  It's been a little hard since the book wasn't out yet and we had to keep the discussion quiet, so as not to spoil new developments for others.

But that is my number one reaction to this book, and this series as a whole.  I need to talk about it.  I need to pour over the details and make crazy theories about what I think is going to happen next.  I ponder each detail: Is that a clue? A red herring?  Just a bit of flavor?  It's hard to believe that there is only one book to go.

The Raven Cycle has a notably slow, meandering pace.  BLUE LILY, LILY BLUE picks up the pace.  I thought that it didn't go so fast as to be jarring compared to the previous two books, but one person I talked to thought it moved a hair to quick in the beginning.  It's very clear that things are getting serious.  One of Blue's greatest secrets is revealed (to some people), there are deaths, and the book ends with one very shocking revelation.

BLUE LILY, LILY BLUE adds several characters to the already crowded ensemble.  My favorite was Piper, wife to the apparent villain of the story.  (He comes on strong, but finishes weak.)  The banter between Piper and Greenmantle is hilarious, a wonderfully conscienceless counterpoint to the banter between the raven boys and Blue.  There is still time to develop the existing characters further.  This is really Blue's book, with a strong assist from Adam.  I particularly liked the focus on Blue's abilities and finding ways to be more than just a battery.  I also liked that it seems like Blue and Gansey's budding relationship might not explode into irrevocable drama with Adam.  Maybe Maggie Stiefvater could pull it off, but I am afraid of standard teen drama bogging the final book down.

So far, however, this series hasn't let me down yet.  I am in love with the characters, the tone, the unexplained magic of it all.  Okay, one development in particular strikes me as coming out of the blue, but I enjoyed it enough to roll with it.  (Plus, it led to an adorable scene of Ronan and Adam racing shopping carts in a parking lot.  Those boys.)  I can't wait for the inevitable doom that is sure to come with the end of the cycle, because I have enjoyed the lead up so much.

October 20, 2014

Review: The Dark Defiles

The Dark Defiles Book three of Land Fit for Heroes
By Richard K. Morgan
Available now from Del Rey (Penguin Random House)
Review copy

I'll be the first to say that I'm not a big grimdark fantasy fan.  I like more optimistic worlds.  And yet, I adore the Land Fit for Heroes trilogy.  It follows the adventures of Ringil, Egar Dragonbane, and Archteth, old war hero friends who get drawn back through a long and winding road for one last quest.

When THE DARK DEFILES opens, right after THE COLD COMMANDS ends, they are being separated again thanks to a sudden war and an ambush.  It's the final push for what the various greater powers in play have put into motion.

Richard K. Morgan doesn't give all the answers to his world, but he does give enough to satisfy me.  Nor does he give all of the endings.  However, it is clear enough where the characters are going for me.  Ringil, Egar, and Archteth are all sharply drawn characters, even if their world has deliberately shaded edges.  All of them meet ends that they can be content with.

I don't recommend this series to everyone.  The heroes, such as they are, commit almost as many crimes as the villains.  They are cruel, vengeful people.  At the same time, they aren't fans of slavery or mass murder or the extinction of the humans, which is something most readers can get behind.  It isn't a series with many happy endings, either.  Do not expect your favorite characters to escape unscathed.

But if you like intelligent fantasy that asks you to put the pieces together yourself, characters who are loyal to their friends even in desperate circumstances, and small snatches of love piercing the hardest hearts, then I recommend this trilogy.  The ending did not let me down.  I only wish I had time to re-read the trilogy and savor it altogether.


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