Saturday, January 25, 2014

Book Review: These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

Release Date: May 8, 2012
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Pages: 374
Received: ARC from publisher, via NetGalley
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


From Goodreads:

It's a night like any other on board the Icarus. Then, catastrophe strikes: the massive luxury spaceliner is yanked out of hyperspace and plummets into the nearest planet. Lilac LaRoux and Tarver Merendsen survive. And they seem to be alone.

Lilac is the daughter of the richest man in the universe. Tarver comes from nothing, a young war hero who learned long ago that girls like Lilac are more trouble than they’re worth. But with only each other to rely on, Lilac and Tarver must work together, making a tortuous journey across the eerie, deserted terrain to seek help.

Then, against all odds, Lilac and Tarver find a strange blessing in the tragedy that has thrown them into each other’s arms. Without the hope of a future together in their own world, they begin to wonder—would they be better off staying here forever?

Everything changes when they uncover the truth behind the chilling whispers that haunt their every step. Lilac and Tarver may find a way off this planet. But they won’t be the same people who landed on it.


This is the book I've been waiting for!

Finally. FINALLY a YA book that doesn't fall victim to all the annoying YA tropes. Finally a female character with nuance, depth, and issues that aren't ISSUES. Finally a male/female dynamic where they both have strengths and weaknesses, but their weaknesses don't diminish them and their strengths don't rocket them into Super Special territory. Finally a plot with twists and surprises and authors daring enough to GO THERE (several times).

Stereotypes begone!

That Lilac begins the book with few survival skills makes sense. That she acknowledges that fact objectively is a relief. That she recognizes the need to acquire these skills is commendable. But the fact that she learns them slowly and imperfectly, competently but at times almost grudgingly is what makes me want to give all my thank you points to Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner.

Why? Because I'm so tired of the YA super woman trope. If I were thrown into Lilac's situation, even if I wanted to be a survival hero, I wouldn't be. Not right away. And for sure not right after crash landing on a scary unknown planet after watching my friends die and not knowing if I'll ever get back to my normal life again.

I mean, sure, I'd have to accept it, and I love that Lilac takes the practical approach to her situation. She's strong in the way I want Strong Female Characters to be. Her strength doesn't come in comparison to others or by diminishing others and having her stomp around with her Super Special complexes. Her strength comes from her determination, her steely resolve, her bravery in the face of harsh situations, and in her ability to rise above and push herself beyond what she ever thought she could do.

Tons of points for her for that.

But I also love that she can also look at the tattered remains of her pretty dress and indulge in a few irrational snits because, much as she may accept her situation, she doesn't want to.

And that response rings true. But that's the thing about Lilac. Even when she's doing things that in other characters I would find annoying, I get it when she does it. She does it in a way that is fully self-aware. She doesn't defend her annoying emotions and actions, but she doesn't pretend she's not feeling them either. She feels them, embraces them, and then tries to improve beyond them. So I can both relate to her and then admire her.

Survival stories!

I have a weakness for survival stories, but I haven't found all that many that I actually like. The problem with survival stories (post-apocalyptic or otherwise) is that the characters so rarely know how to survive. So either I end up reading about a bunch of people making stupid decisions or situations that are annoyingly unrealistic.  

These Broken Stars breaks the mold by inserting a character like Tarver. He's competent. He actually knows how to survive in situations like this. He has a Plan of Action (I LOVE when characters have intelligent plans).

Not only does he know what they should do, but he's also been trained in managing non-trained persons in situations like this, so he knows how to handle Lilac (and isn't condescending about it). This was great both from a narrative/plot perspective and in providing another look at the characters.

And of course there's romance

But don't worry, this is first and foremost a survival story. There's lots of trekking through wilderness and trying to survive going on and that's always the main focus of the plot.

But, there is a romance, and overall it's very nice. Tarver and Lilac spend a lot of the book getting to know one another, not just in the "what have you done, what do you like" way, but also by seeing how they each behave in a pretty extreme circumstance. There's a lot of mutual respect in their relationship and while attraction happens instantly, their feelings deepen over time.

Every once in a while it does spill into the "too much" and "too ridiculous" territory. I consoled myself with the  idea that survival situations DO heighten emotions and the facts that 1) they have each saved the life of the other, multiple times, so there's a little understandably exaggerated dependency and thankfulness going on, and 2) they may in fact be the last two people on (this) planet.

So, I can give a little pass for the at times clingy extreme-love, even if I'm not totally convinced they'd stay together if they were ever rescued.

There's more to this story than staying alive

The beginning of the book is pretty much your standard survival story. Had it stayed like that, I would have enjoyed it just fine. But it doesn't stay like that.

There's a secret on that planet that totally holds up to the Big Reveal suspense (even if part of it is kinda sorta like something Joan D. Vinge already wrote and so was less of a surprise). There's an event that shocked me and then kept me guessing and speeding to the end to find out what would ultimately happen. And then there's the end, which was wonderfully jaw-dropping in a gut-punch kind of way.

Bottom line

I love it when authors can make me feel like I can't possibly contain my NEED TO KNOW NOW feelings. I love it when I'm consumed by a story. This is exactly the experience reading These Broken Stars has been and I am so super happy I read this book.

I'm not sure if I like the idea of this companion novel approach to a trilogy though. It has potential, but I'm not totally sold. I feel like so many things were wrapped up well enough in These Broken Stars and I'm afraid the other books will feel like forced stretching. If the story ended here, I think I'd be completely satisfied. But I guess I'll have to read This Shattered World to find out (or, better yet, check out early reviews and see if I should read This Shattered World).

I'll say though, I hope the next book focuses more on diving into the larger Diabolical Plot that was only touched on in These Broken Stars. If the sequel is a rehash and follows the same progression of "two characters get to know one another and fall in love" with only tiny dips into the greater Big Bad picture, then I'll be bored and annoyed.

These Broken Stars broke the mold. I hope the Starbound series keeps it up. 

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Do you have any questions about These Broken Stars that I haven't addressed?
Feel free to ask in the comments

Looking for another book like this?
You might like:

 Click on the pictures to go to my reviews.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Mini Review: Palace of Spies by Sarah Zettel

Release Date: November 5, 2013
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 
Pages: 368
Received: ARC from publisher, via NetGalley
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars


This is one of those books that's nice. Light reading, fun enough plot, likable enough main character, ok enough romance, but nothing that really sticks out as amazing. At least for me.

I could never fully believe that so many people actually wouldn't recognize Peggy's half-baked impersonation of Fran. I mean, I know they wore lots of make up and stuff, but, really, she's a totally different person! She also wasn't coached all that well on Fran's life (mostly because Fran kept a whole lot of secrets). I'm shocked she wasn't called out immediately.

But, fine, I can suspend my disbelief and just go with it for the sake of a fun story. And I guess Palace of Spies did have a fun story. Mostly. Peggy needed to figure out what secrets and schemes Fran had gotten herself mixed up in while also trying to figure out the motives of her three "benefactors" and all of that snooping was fun.

I was totally on board with these mysteries, but I wish they had been executed a little better. I'm still not one hundred percent sure I get exactly what's going on. Not so much because the information wasn't given, but more because of the way it was given. Progress unraveling the mystery came in fits and starts that did not make for a smooth narrative. I had a hard time settling in with the flow of the story and a few reveals lost impact with their blink-and-you'll-miss-it delivery.

But I did like Peggy. And I did like her relationship with her cousin (the dog scene was fabulous), and I enjoyed her sparring with the mean girl. I like the concept of the trio of  benefactors and I'm curious to learn more about them (and disappointed they're still as much of a mystery as they are). I liked the non-standard historical setting of George I and James the Pretender (though I would have liked more historical details considering the time period isn't as well know).

Bottom line

What is it with all these rougher YA books lately? A little tightening of the narrative would have done wonders. Still, I do recommend Palace of Spies for readers looking for light historical mysteries with spunky main characters. It's a fast read, despite the page length.

This is probably part one of a series, though it works well enough as a standalone (albeit one with a few loose ends).

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Do you have any questions about Palace of Spies that I haven't addressed?
Feel free to ask in the comments!

Looking for another book like this?
You might like:

 Click on the pictures to go to my reviews.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Book Review: Becoming Josephine by Heather Webb

Release Date: December 31, 2013
Publisher: Plume 
Pages: 320
Received: ARC from publisher, via NetGalley
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars


From Goodreads:

A sweeping historical debut about the Creole socialite who transformed herself into an empress

Readers are fascinated with the wives of famous men. In Becoming Josephine, debut novelist Heather Webb follows Rose Tascher as she sails from her Martinique plantation to Paris, eager to enjoy an elegant life at the royal court. Once there, however, Rose’s aristocratic soldier-husband dashes her dreams by abandoning her amid the tumult of the French Revolution. After narrowly escaping death, Rose reinvents herself as Josephine, a beautiful socialite wooed by an awkward suitor—Napoleon Bonaparte.


She may be getting sleepover party invites, but not from me!

Well, that was disappointing.

Becoming Josephine was my first attempt at getting to know Josephine on her own terms and not through a general history of the time, Napoleonic readings, and stories from the British perspective (which, granted, have always been understandably biased against old Boney and co.).

My gosh, I don't know if it was me, Heather Webb's portrayal, or Josephine herself, but it was a trial reading through 320 pages of that vapid harpy's drivel (and by "vapid harpy" I mean Josephine, NOT Heather Webb).

Josephine spent much of the book whoring her way through France's wealthiest men. And I mean that pretty much literally. She took men as her lovers with the mutual understanding that they did not love one another but he would provide her with the wealthy lifestyle she wanted because, hey, she was a looker.

But that's ok! I mean, I understand woman had different options back then. Plus, it's not like Josephine didn't have other totally redeemable qualities to make me like her, right? Right?

Well, no, not really.

She was a nag. And a limp dish rag. Her thoughts on the bloody life-changing revolution were to comment on how the revolutionary fashions were SO drab. She was flighty and dull.

She constantly talked about how she was a total saint of a lady, always pitying the poor and those wrongly accused by revolutionaries (why were the revolutionaries in the wrong? Well, because their prisoners were her friends! Not because she actually had political opinions). Instead of making me like her, all this do-gooder talk just made her sound like she was Mary-Suing herself.

THAT's the story you're going with?

A big reason I read historical fiction is because I want to take the lazy way out and get non-fiction info in an exciting fiction package. So, even though I know I'm reading fiction, I want the historical details to be accurate.

Yeah, that wasn't happening here.

Most of my Napoleon education comes from the British perspective, and they were not exactly his biggest fan. Despite that, you could still get the impression he was viewed as a worthy foe. He would have to be! He was NAPOLEON for crying out loud! Flawed to be sure, and I'm by no means fist-pumping his actions, but the man had skills.

He rose from a relative nobody to the leader of a nation who had just overthrown their monarchs, and then went on to build an empire across Europe. All in a relatively short period of time. And, with all sorts of scary secret dealings going on behind the scenes to bring about his rapid rise of which we still don't know the details!

Until now! Now, Heather Webb has answered that mystery with, ready for it? JOSEPHINE!

Yes, it was all Josephine.

Napoleon was a whiny, sulky, greasy, socially incompetent ninny and it was only thanks to Josephine's sweet diplomatic skills (you can add air quotes around that if you'd like) that he was able to gain allies, secure power, build an empire of awesome, and conduct himself appropriately in public. 

SERIOUSLY? Apparently so.

Add in a slave revolt with embarrassingly anachronistic motivations and I seriously doubt the veracity of anything more than the broad strokes of the confirmed-by-history events.

Not that I was treated to an abundance of details anyway. We were too busy wooing cardboard cutout men to delve too deeply into politics (ugh SUCH a waste! Josephine had front row seats to some of the most interesting political actions of the time!)

Bottom line

Well, that was disappointing. 

I've tossed in an extra half star on the chance that part of my dislike may stem from Josephine just not being a great person and not something Heather Webb can be held accountable for. I'll have to read Sandra Gulland's much praised Josephine trilogy to compare.

This is a standalone.

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Do you have any questions about Becoming Josephine that I haven't addressed?
Feel free to ask in the comments!

Looking for another book like this?
You might like:

 Click on the pictures to go to my reviews.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

2013 End of the Year Book Survey: Part II

These questions (and pretty graphics) come from Jamie at The Perpetual Page-Turner's Annual End of Year Book Survey. I LOVE surveys. Reading them, filling them out myself, doesn't matter. I love them.

I also have a terrible attention span and I hate long things, so I've divided this survey up into multiple posts.Click HERE to read Part I of the survey.

Oh, and if you haven't already noticed, I agonize over the idea of picking just one of anything. So I didn't even try.

I only included books I read for the first time in 2013.  

14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2013 to finally read? 

 17. Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It? (a WTF moment, an epic revelation, a steamy kiss, etc. etc.) Be careful of spoilers!

There are two scenes in this book that made my jaw drop. First one was toward the final quarter of the book and I wasn't sure if I should believe what I was reading. The second one was the final scene and I LOVE that the authors had that character GO THERE. Finally, a villain who takes the hero's So There trump card and rips it into tiny pieces, with a smirk. Yay!

So many! But two especially stand out. Or, three. First, when everything is pure perfection. Then when that thing happens to a character I love and never thought would actually happen! And then the scene where everything wonderful shifts and Sarah J. Maas wrote it all in this almost slow-mo way where I could savor every tiny horrific second of watching all my dreams shatter around me. And then the end, with all its promises of pain and possibilities. I guess that's four.

The coat. Oh my gosh, the coat. I can't even. That whole scene was SO emotionally gutting. The realization in the end was also pretty sob-worthy. At least, it would be if I weren't stubbornly ignoring it.

THOSE THINGS! At the end, when Penryn find out and oh gosh, I don't know whether to barf or sob and I still have all that residual swoon and I was such an emotional mess and my gosh the imagery. It was, I don't even know how to describe the emotional blender Susan Ee shoved my heart, and stomach, into.
Pretty much every scene. I'm glad I buddy-read this one with Ruby, because all I had to do was exclaim, "And the scene with the dog! EEEEEEEEE!!! And the way she said that?! AAAAAAAHHHHH!" and she understood the importance without me having to try to be any more coherent than that.

Between the humorous character banter and unexpected twists, this series made me exclaim out loud (while in a quiet library) enough to make bystanders take note. It's a six book series, so I couldn't even begin to pick out memorable scenes in any sort of succinct manner. Suffice it to say, Michael J. Sullivan had me running the emotional gamut and left me with more surprises than not.

I knew it had to happened and I thought I was totally prepared for it. I mean, I have someone extremely worthy to help me pick up the pieces in the main series. But, yeah, when the time came to read THAT scene, no amount of swoony promises of the future could stem my sobs.

Who gets the Worst Husband EVER award? Juana's husband, that's who! He was vile and awful and I HATE HIM. Juana spends most of the book in political battles trying to wrest control away from her jerk-face husband, and I spent most of the book ranting to anyone who would listen about how much I hated his stupid guts. And then THAT happened and I thought it was time to break out the YAYs, except, no, a totally unexpected twist happened and I was raging alongside Juana once again.

This book and the previous book (Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow) gave me plenty of, "Oh my gosh! Did you know...." fodder to bug anyone within earshot. Juliet Grey packs in the period details, and watching the French populous get swept up in the lies and manipulations that fomented the revolution was as chilling as it was infuriating.

18. Favorite Relationship From A Book You Read In 2013 (be it romantic, friendship, etc).

Best brothers-in-arms book ever! Hadrian and Royce MAKE this series with their banter, growth, support, and bickering.

 This is kind of an, erm, untraditional relationship. While I love the relationship between Lady Trent and her husband, the true gem of this book is Lady Trent's relationship with scholarship. She's a voracious student of all things dragonish and the passion, dedication, and wonderment she brings to this relationship is a pure joy to read.

 *SOB* I can't even. Much as I am a huge fan of Celaena and Chaol, I might be the teeniest tiniest bit more on the side of Sam. Maybe. His relationship with Celaena is so tender, new, and based on years spent together growing, learning, and developing together. He knows her.

But then, of course, there IS Chaol, and I LOVE Celaena and Chaol together! Honorable mentions go to Celaena's awesome friendships with Dorian and Nehemia.




 19. Favorite Book You Read in 2013 From An Author You’ve Read Previously (not counting sequels)?


20. Best Book You Read In 2013 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else:


21. Genre You Read The Most From in 2013?

Probably a toss up between historical fiction and fantasy.

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2013?

Hadrian (Theft of Swords), Sam (Assassin's Blade), Raffe (Angelfall), Duncan and Jeck (The Decoy Princess). Sure, their names could be better, but I loved getting to know each of these leading men.

23. Best 2013 debut you read?

24. Most vivid world/imagery in a book you read in 2013?


27. Book You Read in 2013 That You Think Got Overlooked This Year Or When It Came Out?

Part III coming soon!

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