ARC: Artemis

Andy Weir's latest book, Artemis, is a great space heist book and a great follow up to The Martian. #spon | Book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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*Note: I received a free review copy of this book from NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

Jazz Bashara is a criminal.

Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you’re not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you’ve got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent.

Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she’s stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself—and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I’m one of the many people who greatly enjoyed Andy Weir’s The Martian, despite my lack of interest in sci fi. Even if you have little or no knowledge about space or science, the book tells an engaging story with interesting characters. Artemis is the same.

Jazz is a petty criminal who gets caught up in a job that’s over her head, and she has to call in every favor she can just to stay alive. She’s funny and flawed, and above all, she’s determined not to be exiled from the moon–the only real home she’s ever known. I loved Jazz’s character and her motley collection of friends (and enemies).

The best words I can use to describe the plot of Artemis are MOON HEIST. That’s not totally accurate, but that’s certainly the feel I got from the story. Again, I’m no scientist, so I have no idea if the technical details of the plot make sense, but even if they don’t, the fast-paced plot kept me engaged the whole time. Who doesn’t want to read about a moon heist?

There is a lot of swearing in this book, if that kind of thing bothers you, and Artemis has much more of a sci fi feel than The Martian did. Still, even though science fiction isn’t really my thing, I enjoyed this book. If you liked Andy Weir’s writing style in The Martian, you might like it too.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Adult Fiction Roundup

A huge review roundup of all the adult fiction novels I've read over the past four months. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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I’ve read a large amount of adult fiction novels over the past couple of months. Typically, children’s and MG fiction is more my style, but since joining a book club in December, my adult fiction consumption has gone through the roof. Several of the books I review in this post were book club reads. From historical fiction to fantasy, from mystery to comedy, there’s something for everyone in this roundup. (All summaries via Goodreads.com)

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents

Uprooted from their family home in the Dominican Republic, the four Garcia sisters – Carla, Sandra, Yolanda, and Sofia – arrive in New York City in 1960 to find a life far different from the genteel existence of maids, manicures, and extended family they left behind. What they have lost – and what they find – is revealed in the fifteen interconnected stories that make up this exquisite novel from one of the premier novelists of our time.

The Garcia girls each get a chance to tell their story, weaving from the present to the past and back again. Their lives in New York and in the Dominican Republic take very different paths, and each of them has to come to terms with what each culture means to them. There are some uncomfortable moments in this book, but on the whole it does a great job of taking you on a journey with the Garcia family.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Frida

Capturing the essence of a ferociously gifted woman, Frida is a daring and brilliantly inventive novel about one of the most celebrated female artists of the 20th century.

This was one of our early book club reads. I knew a small amount about Frida Kahlo before reading this book, but I learned so much more as I made my way through. Frida offers an interesting fictionalized look at Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and their politics and art as seen from Frida’s sister Cristina’s point of view. You will probably hate both sisters and Diego most of all (I certainly did), but the knowledge I gained about these famous artists, their work, and the political situation in Mexico at the time made my time reading worth it.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Bees

Born into the lowest class of her society, Flora 717 is a sanitation bee, only fit to clean her orchard hive. Living to accept, obey and serve, she is prepared to sacrifice everything for her beloved holy mother, the Queen. Yet Flora has talents that are not typical of her kin. And while mutant bees are usually instantly destroyed, Flora is reassigned to feed the newborns, before becoming a forager, collecting pollen on the wing. Then she finds her way into the Queen’s inner sanctum, where she discovers secrets both sublime and ominous. Enemies roam everywhere, from the fearsome fertility police to the high priestesses who jealously guard the Hive Mind. But Flora cannot help but break the most sacred law of all, and her instinct to serve is overshadowed by a desire, as overwhelming as it is forbidden…

This book is so weird! It’s about a dystopian bee society in which Flora is created to be a sanitation worker but has special skills meant only for the upper classes of bees. She can talk and produce Flow, so she is sent to work in the Nursery. She meets the Queen, becomes a forager, and even starts illegally laying eggs. Everything in this book is seen from the viewpoint of bees, and according to the guy in our book club who has a fascination with beekeeping, the author does a great job of incorporating real bee behavior into the story.

If you’re looking for an off-beat dystopian novel, or if you’re really interested in bees, this is the book for you.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Big Over Easy

Jasper Fforde’s bestselling Thursday Next series has delighted readers of every genre with its literary derring-do and brilliant flights of fancy. In The Big Over Easy, Fforde takes a break from classic literature and tumbles into the seedy underbelly of nursery crime. Meet Inspector Jack Spratt, family man and head of the Nursery Crime Division. He’s investigating the murder of ovoid D-class nursery celebrity Humpty Dumpty, found shattered to death beneath a wall in a shabby area of town. Yes, the big egg is down, and all those brittle pieces sitting in the morgue point to foul play.

I love every Jasper Fforde book I’ve ever picked up, and this one was no exception. This series is tangentially related to the Thursday Next series, but there’s no time travel here. Instead, we get a detective who investigates fairy tale crimes. This book has the same tongue-in-cheek humor and fun fantasy as all of Fforde’s books, and it features funny, great characters as always. Pick this up if you enjoyed the Thursday Next series, or if you’re just looking for a fun, quirky fantasy.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Dead Man’s Folly

Ariadne Oliver, Queen of Crime Fiction, has been asked to devise a “Murder Hunt” for a fête at Nasse House, the home of Sir George Stubbs. But she begins to suspect that someone is manipulating the scenario of her game and fears that something very sinister is being planned.

She sends for her old friend Hercule Poirot. At first he is not inclined to take her very seriously but soon a series of events propels him to change his mind.

Then suddenly all Ariadne’s worst fears are realised when the girl playing the part of the murder victim is found strangled in the boat-house. For Hercule Poirot, the Murder Hunt has become a grim reality.

This Agatha Christie is a fun mystery set during a fete. Hercule Poirot must discover who took advantage of Mrs. Oliver’s murder hunt and why. It’s one of those classic Christie mysteries that will keep you guessing until the end. Not my favorite (that honor goes to one of these other Agatha Christies), but it was certainly enjoyable.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

Fans around the world adore the best-selling No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series and its proprietor, Precious Ramotswe, Botswana’s premier lady detective. In this charming series, Mma Ramotswe—with help from her loyal associate, Grace Makutsi—navigates her cases and her personal life with wisdom, good humor, and the occasional cup of tea.

I just started reading this series, and now I’m obsessed with it. It offers simple but lovely writing and small mysteries interspersed with backstory about life in Botswana. Mma Ramotswe is a wonderfully practical and kind detective, and the setting is one I have yet to get tired of reading about. If you enjoy the first book (and I bet you will), good news! There are currently 17 books in the series.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Doomsday Book

For Kivrin, preparing an on-site study of one of the deadliest eras in humanity’s history was as simple as receiving inoculations against the diseases of the fourteenth century and inventing an alibi for a woman traveling alone. For her instructors in the twenty-first century, it meant painstaking calculations and careful monitoring of the rendezvous location where Kivrin would be received.

But a crisis strangely linking past and future strands Kivrin in a bygone age as her fellows try desperately to rescue her. In a time of superstition and fear, Kivrin–barely of age herself–finds she has become an unlikely angel of hope during one of history’s darkest hours.

As always, Connie Willis is great. This book is sad–it’s about the Black Plague and a modern-day influenza epidemic–but still enjoyable. If you have read and enjoyed any of Connie Willis’s other historical fiction time travel series, you must add this one to your list.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Behind the Scenes at the Museum

Ruby Lennox begins narrating her life at the moment of conception, and from there takes us on a whirlwind tour of the twentieth century as seen through the eyes of an English girl determined to learn about her family and its secrets.

Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life is one of my all-time favorite books, so it’s surprising that I waited this long to read any of her other work. Atkinson does an amazing job of intertwining the members of Ruby’s family, going back and forth from Ruby’s life to the history of her ancestors. Many are foolish, hurtful, or worse, but there’s a lot of humor too. The dark mysteries of deaths and disappearances are slowly revealed in such a way that you think you must have known it all along.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Glass Castle

The Glass Castle is a remarkable memoir of resilience and redemption, and a revelatory look into a family at once deeply dysfunctional and uniquely vibrant. When sober, Jeannette’s brilliant and charismatic father captured his children’s imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and how to embrace life fearlessly. But when he drank, he was dishonest and destructive. Her mother was a free spirit who abhorred the idea of domesticity and didn’t want the responsibility of raising a family.

The Walls children learned to take care of themselves. They fed, clothed, and protected one another, and eventually found their way to New York. Their parents followed them, choosing to be homeless even as their children prospered.

(I’m sneaking this book on this list, even though it’s actually a memoir rather than adult fiction, because it was our latest book club read.) This book made me so angry! Jeannette’s alcoholic father and irresponsible mother let her and her three siblings starve, freeze, live in filth, and even be molested without giving up their vices of liquor, chocolate, and luxuries. It’s one of those memoirs that you can’t put down because it’s such a train wreck. Amazingly, Jeannette learns to rise above her upbringing and tells her story with grace and kindness, even toward her parents.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

American Gods (author’s preferred edition)

Locked behind bars for three years, Shadow did his time, quietly waiting for the magic day when he could return to Eagle Point, Indiana. But just days before his release, Laura and Shadow’s best friend are killed in an accident. With his life in pieces and nothing to keep him tethered, Shadow accepts a job from a beguiling stranger he meets on the way home, an enigmatic man who calls himself Mr. Wednesday. A trickster and rogue, Wednesday seems to know more about Shadow than Shadow does himself.

Life as Wednesday’s bodyguard, driver, and errand boy is far more interesting and dangerous than Shadow ever imagined—it is a job that takes him on a dark and strange road trip and introduces him to a host of eccentric characters whose fates are mysteriously intertwined with his own. Along the way Shadow will learn that the past never dies; that everyone, including his beloved Laura, harbors secrets; and that dreams, totems, legends, and myths are more real than we know. Ultimately, he will discover that beneath the placid surface of everyday life a storm is brewing—an epic war for the very soul of America—and that he is standing squarely in its path.

This book has intimidated me for years, partly because of the length and partly because, in an aborted attempt to read it, I came across a weird sex scene that truly icked me out. This scene is still there (obviously), and there’s a fair amount of cursing, so please be aware if you decide to pick this book up.

Still, if you can get past that, there’s a lot to like. This has all of the rambling, strange, fantastical elements that Neil Gaiman is so good at describing. Shadow was an interesting character, as were all the gods. Even if you’re not familiar with all of the mythologies discussed in the book (everything from Norse gods to Hindu gods to gods I didn’t recognize), you’ll be drawn in as they map out the United States as their battleground. My favorite part was the Rock City battle, because Gaiman does such a good job of describing the beautiful and strange experience of being there.

I’m not sure how to recommend this book. Give it a shot for the first few chapters and see if it’s for you.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Bridget Jones’s Diary

Meet Bridget Jones—a 30-something Singleton who is certain she would have all the answers if she could:

a. lose 7 pounds
b. stop smoking
c. develop Inner Poise

Bridget Jones’ Diary is the devastatingly self-aware, laugh-out-loud daily chronicle of Bridget’s permanent, doomed quest for self-improvement — a year in which she resolves to: reduce the circumference of each thigh by 1.5 inches, visit the gym three times a week not just to buy a sandwich, form a functional relationship with a responsible adult, and learn to program the VCR.

This is a modern day classic, so even though I didn’t like the movie, I knew I’d have to pick it up someday. Honestly, I felt the same way about the book as I did about the movie–it’s sort of funny, but definitely outdated. I wouldn’t bother reading it unless you, like me, feel the need to experience this cultural touchstone for yourself.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

In Which I Explore a Sci-Fi Classic: Dune

I finally forced myself to read the classic sci fi novel Dune, and actually? I liked it! | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain. –The Litany Against Fear

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m not a fan of SFF in general. I enjoyed The Hobbit but not LOTR, and I rarely go out of my way to read anything sci fi or fantasy related. Still, the litany against fear is one of my favorite quotes ever, and I knew I had to one day read the book that produced it.

In Dune, Paul is a teenage boy, the son of a ruler in another universe. When his family is sent to Arrakis, a desert planet filled with people who are looked down upon by other civilizations but also the only know producer of an immensely important spice, things go wrong very quickly, and Paul is forced to take his chances in the dangerous deserts.

I had many thoughts about this book, things I loved and other things that I hated. So, in lieu of a cohesive review, I’m going to go with the pros and cons approach. Here we go!

Pros:

  • This book is way more sci fi than it is fantasy. There are no elves and dwarves, no magic spells (well, mostly). This is more of a political drama set in space, with a little bit of the hero’s journey thrown in.
  • Paul’s mother has a surprisingly important and independent role (in the first half of the book, at least–see caveat in the cons list below). For a sci fi book written in the 1960s, I was amazed and pleased to see that there was at least one strong female character.
  • The world itself is fascinating. It’s detailed and fleshed out, but Herbert never gets carried away with his descriptions (unlike another author I could mention, *coughTolkiencough*). I’m not sure I’ve ever read another book set in a desert, and certainly not in a desert in space.

 

Cons:

  • Sometimes I had no idea what was going on. Herbert isn’t always the greatest at explaining things, and I found myself quizzing my husband on the importance of the spice or who the Bene Gesserit are. This book is only the first in the series, and it would seem that many of the details are further explained in later books, but I wish the author had spent a bit more time explaining them in Dune itself.
  • Although Paul’s mother has a strong role in the first half of the book, once she and Paul are out in the desert, she suddenly becomes helpless. She takes on a leadership role in the tribe they end up with, but she never quite seems to gain back the power she had at the beginning of the book.
  • On a related note, why isn’t there more of the Bene Gesserit? We need more strong (if flawed) female characters in this book.
  • Paul got a bit overbearing toward the end of the book. Come on, dude. Don’t be like that.
  • I had to skim some of the more political intrigue-y parts. Some of it was surprisingly fascinating; other parts were predictably boring.

 

Even though Dune is not my typical cup of tea, I surprised myself by really enjoying it. Despite its flaws, Dune is a classic for good reason. It’s well written, set in an interesting world, and filled with fascinating characters. It is a fairly long book, so don’t make this your first foray into science fiction, but definitely give it a shot.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Lunar Chronicles: Winter

Winter is the conclusion to one of my favorite series. And it was fantastic. | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Winter is the conclusion to one of the best series I’ve read in a while (you can see my reviews of Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Fairest by clicking the links). I thought it was an incredibly satisfying end to the series and, other than Cress, my favorite installment in the series. [Note: If you haven’t read the previous installments and wish to avoid spoilers, don’t read this review until you’ve read the other books!]

In Winter, the gang takes their battle against Levana to Luna itself. They stow away on Kai’s ship when he finally consents to marry Levana and form her disastrous alliance with Earth. Meanwhile, the crazy Princess Winter is doing her best to rebel against Levana in her own way, along with Jacin, the guard she’s been in love with since childhood. Despite losses and setbacks, Cinder and her friends are determined to rid Luna–and Earth–of Levana’s manipulation once and for all.

Let me mention first the number of viewpoints that you receive in this book. The 800+ page book has plenty of room to allow Cinder, Cress, Jacin, Winter, Wolf, Levana, Iko, Kai, and practically everyone else from the series at least a chapter or two for themselves. And although I don’t usually like to read books that switch so constantly from viewpoint to viewpoint, it works here. Meyer has worked so hard to create a strong background for each character in her previous books, and we know each character so well that it doesn’t feel dizzying or jerky to switch from person to person; it feels natural. I am flabbergasted by this, but it is awesome.

Secondly, and kind of related, we get to catch up with all our favorite characters from the rest of the series! We all know that my favorite is Cress, and we get plenty of chapters about Cress being afraid and doing the thing anyway, along with tons of Cress + Thorne, which is by far my favorite couple in the series. Cinder, of course, is kicking butt, and Kai is doing his part, even though he’s trapped in Levana’s clutches. I liked Scarlet a lot more in this book than in her own, although she is still the stereotypical “strong female” character, and her romance with Wolf hasn’t gotten any less Twilight-y. Iko is back and loving her new escort body, and Levana has the control freak manipulator vibe cranked up to eleven.

Winter herself is an interesting character, although I can’t say I necessarily liked her. She has gone mad because of her decision to suppress her Lunar gift, which, while an admirable choice, I don’t exactly agree with. I think she could have been a lot more help to the group if she had chosen to make small concessions to use her Lunar gift in order to keep her sanity. I wasn’t a huge fan of Jacin, either. I get his impulse to protect Winter above all else, but it did make him an awkward addition to the already cohesive group. Although the fairy tale that Winter retells is (of course) Snow White, not a favorite of mine, it’s pretty subtle, and Meyer keeps it from taking over the entire story.

I loved that we get to enjoy all of our favorite characters one last time. Each character maintains their own unique personality, and Meyer never lets them blend into one another, even when there’s a crowd of them. The struggles and hard decisions that Cinder and her friends face at the end of their quest to get rid of Levana are a great conclusion to the series. The overly happy endings might be a problem for some, but hey, it’s a fairy tale! What did you expect? A super fun book and a satisfying conclusion to a great series. I’m definitely looking forward to whatever Marissa Meyer puts out next.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

The Martian

I loved The Martian, and I can't wait to see the movie! | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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I can’t say enough how much I loved this book. And I was not really expecting to! I love when that happens… Basically, the premise is that Mark Watney is an astronaut, one of the first to land on Mars. But his crew is forced to abandon him during a storm, and they think he’s dead, so he has to fend for himself on a hostile planet. This kind of realistic sci-fi is not usually my cup of tea, but this time I was all over it.

First of all, this book is surprisingly funny! Much of the book is told through Mark’s journal entries as he does his best to survive on Mars, and his sense of humor keeps him (and us) from despairing, even when things look bleak. Secondly, this book seems so realistic. I’m no scientist or space expert, but I could totally see these things actually happening. Fortunately, they got a real astronaut to write a blurb for the back cover, and he was pretty convinced, too.

I am so excited that The Martian is going to be a movie. Usually I hate book-to-movie adaptations, especially of books I loved, but I can’t wait to see the movie version! The viewpoint changes from Mark’s life on Mars to his fellow astronauts at the space station to the people on earth who are just realizing that Mark is still alive. It brought to mind a space version of Air Force One, and even as I was reading the book, I could totally see it as a movie.

Definitely read this book, even if you don’t think you’ll enjoy it. The technical talk is kept to a minimum, and the humor and high-stakes plot will keep you interested through the last page.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

ARC Roundup, Part 2

More recent ARCs--this time, ones I actually enjoyed. #spon | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received all of the following ARCs through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

As I mentioned in my last ARC roundup, I recently went on a kick of NetGalley requests. The last roundup was full of meh books, but this one consists of books I actually enjoyed. Check out these recent releases! (All of the following summaries are taken from NetGalley.)

A Thousand Nights

Lo-Melkhiin killed three hundred girls before he came to her village, looking for a wife. When she sees the dust cloud on the horizon, she knows he has arrived. She knows he will want the loveliest girl: her sister. She vows she will not let her be next.

And so she is taken in her sister’s place, and she believes death will soon follow. Lo-Melkhiin’s court is a dangerous palace filled with pretty things: intricate statues with wretched eyes, exquisite threads to weave the most beautiful garments. She sees everything as if for the last time.But the first sun rises and sets, and she is not dead. Night after night, Lo-Melkhiin comes to her and listens to the stories she tells, and day after day she is awoken by the sunrise. Exploring the palace, she begins to unlock years of fear that have tormented and silenced a kingdom. Lo-Melkhiin was not always a cruel ruler. Something went wrong.

Far away, in their village, her sister is mourning. Through her pain, she calls upon the desert winds, conjuring a subtle unseen magic, and something besides death stirs the air.

Back at the palace, the words she speaks to Lo-Melkhiin every night are given a strange life of their own. Little things, at first: a dress from home, a vision of her sister. With each tale she spins, her power grows. Soon she dreams of bigger, more terrible magic: power enough to save a king, if she can put an end to the rule of a monster.

Although I do sometimes enjoy a good fairy tale retelling, sometimes they just don’t catch my interest. This story is a retelling of the Scheherazade myth, which would seem to be a book lover’s dream come true. A thousand nights of stories, told to save a young bride from certain death? Awesome, right?

Unfortunately, in this version of the story, we don’t really get to hear a lot of stories from our main character. Instead, she begins to have magical powers that she can use to see events which are occurring in another place or time, and even the ability to influence these events. She is fighting against dark, demonic powers that she doesn’t even understand, in a desperate bid to save her own life and the lives of the girls in her land.

I found this book interesting while I was reading it, but I didn’t think much about it once I put the book down. Look into it if you’re much more into fairy tale retellings than I am.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Spinning Starlight

Sixteen-year-old heiress and paparazzi darling Liddi Jantzen hates the spotlight. But as the only daughter in the most powerful tech family in the galaxy, it’s hard to escape it. So when a group of men shows up at her house uninvited, she assumes it’s just the usual media-grubs. That is, until shots are fired.

Liddi escapes, only to be pulled into an interplanetary conspiracy more complex than she ever could have imagined. Her older brothers have been caught as well, trapped in the conduits between the planets. And when their captor implants a device in Liddi’s vocal cords to monitor her speech, their lives are in her hands: One word, and her brothers are dead.

Desperate to save her family from a desolate future, Liddi travels to another world, where she meets the one person who might have the skills to help her bring her eight brothers home-a handsome dignitary named Tiav. But without her voice, Liddi must use every bit of her strength and wit to convince Tiav that her mission is true. With the tenuous balance of the planets deeply intertwined with her brothers’ survival, just how much is Liddi willing to sacrifice to bring them back? Haunting and mesmerizing, this retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Wild Swans fuses all the heart of the classic tale with a stunning, imaginative world in which a star-crossed family fights for its very survival.

On the other hand, this is a fairy tale retelling I can get behind (even though I’m not at all familiar with the story of the Wild Swans). Set in a futuristic world full of incredible technology, this book explores the life of the most influential teenage girl in the seven realms and what happens when she is suddenly transported to a world she never even knew existed.

Torn between her need to help her brothers and her growing love for Tiav, Liddi must decide how much truth she can tell her new friends–all without the use of her voice. She has to overcome her lifelong inability to live up to her brothers’ genius and the revelation that her parents manipulated her genes, all while coping with her new and disorienting surroundings. Recommended for those who like their science fiction light on the science.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Gone but Knot Forgotten

Sorting through the estate of a wealthy recluse may sound like a fascinating task, but when the skeletons in the closets turn out to be real, Martha and her quilting pals wish they’d stuck to basting and batting. . .

Martha Rose is stunned when she hears that her best friend from high school has passed away. Her shock doubles when she learns that Harriet Oliver made her the executor of her estate. But when investigators determine that Harriet was murdered, Martha recruits her fellow quilters to help find the culprit. She’s mastered the art of piecing together blocks to create intricate quilts, but piecing together her friend’s murder will prove far more challenging. . .

I have to admit, sometimes I love a good cozy mystery. And while this mystery was nothing mind blowing, I’ve read enough terrible cozy mysteries to know that this one was very well written. Martha is an interesting, curious character, but she’s never so reckless or irritating that I had to roll my eyes at her. Her quilting buddies are likewise upbeat, fun characters who may not be fully fleshed out, but at least they aren’t stereotypes.

Martha’s investigation of her high school friend’s death held my interest until the end. Though the solution wasn’t shocking, I didn’t find it too predictable. Definitely an enjoyable read for cozy mystery fans like myself.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

ARC: Acts of Violence

Acts of Violence is a futuristic noir story with a twist ending--but is it worth your time? #spon | A book review from Newbery and Beyond
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Note: I received a free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My name’s Jack Mason. I made a mistake. Took home the wrong girl. Now she’s dead. Cut up. And they’re telling me I did it.

It’s the same cop that tried to take me down ten years ago. Now he’s coming at me hard. And he’s not the only one. Cole Webster, the city’s crime lord, thinks I stole from him. Broke me out of custody just to ask me about it. Then I killed his son. Now he really wants me.

Add to this equation a government agent, and I’m a real popular guy right now. Pretty much everyone I meet wants me dead, lawfully or otherwise. There’s nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide. I’ve got till morning to uncover Webster’s trafficking operation and take the heat off me. And all I’ve got to go on is a pissed off homeless girl with a thirst for revenge.

Guess it could be worse. Can’t quite figure how. (Summary via Amazon.com)

This book is called Acts of Violence, and there sure is a lot of violence throughout (as you might have gathered from the Amazon summary above).  In the book, the main character is living on another planet where it rains all the time, and where crime always pays.  It’s kind of a futuristic noir setting, which I found a fascinating combination.  Jack Mason is pinned for a murder that the police are convinced he committed, and he has to prove his innocence–and possibly bring down the crime lord who has most of the police and local business owners in his pocket.

I found the MC’s narration well written and interesting.  His voice was realistic, but pretty straightforward.  No angst with this guy–he’s used to this kind of life.  Again, I loved the setting.  It’s futuristic, but brooding and dark.  It fit so well with the sneaking around and violent criminal acts that pretty much every character takes part in.

Be forewarned: There are several scenes that take place in strip clubs, in which there are some descriptions that you might want to do without, and there is (obviously) a lot of violence, some of which is described in detail.  None of it was enough to make me uncomfortable, but if somewhat sexual and violent details turn you off a book, you might not want to pick up this one.

I was surprised by the twist ending (although I’m not hard to surprise–I rarely see a twist coming), but I was slightly disappointed by it.  It made me see the characters in a new light, and I didn’t like what I saw.  But that’s just a personal preference.  On the whole, I did enjoy this book, although it wasn’t really my type of book.  Definitely check it out if you’re into brooding thrillers (is that a genre?  If not, it is now).

If you enjoy thrillers and mysterious circumstances, you might also check out Pool of Echoes and Unrelenting Nightmare.

Rating: Not My Cup of Tea

The Lunar Chronicles: Cinder and Scarlet

I'm finally getting around to reading the Lunar Chronicles series. It was worth the wait--mostly. | A book review from Newbery and Beyond
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I’m *finally* getting around to reading this series, after my writer friend and my book-loving sister both recommended it to me several months ago.  So far I’ve read the first two books, and I’m totally into it.  With a few caveats, that is.  (Please note–the review for Scarlet contains spoilers for Cinder.)

Cinder

My main problem with this book is that by page 115, I knew what the plot twist was going to be.  The story was a bit predictable, and I wanted more from Cinder based on how many good things I’d heard about it.  But that didn’t keep me from enjoying the story and the characters.

Cinder is a futuristic dystopian fairy tale retelling set in Asia, in which Cinderella is a cyborg, immune to the deadly plague that is sweeping the world and good at mechanics.  Cinder does her best to hide her cyborg parts, as there is a lot of prejudice against cyborgs.  They are looked down on and forced to be guinea pigs for the plague antidote–as they have already had a second chance at life, many people see that as only fair.

Throughout the book, the POV switches between Cinder and Prince Kai.  Cinder meets the prince well before the ball when he hires her to fix one of his robots (nope, can’t remember the word they use in the book, so I’m going with robot).  Prince Kai, whose father is on the brink of death from the plague, is carrying the weight of a potential war with the Lunar people on his shoulders–a people who can brainwash others by manipulating their brain waves, and whose evil queen will only be satisfied when she can marry Prince Kai and begin to take over the earth.

This book is an easy read.  The descriptions of this futuristic, dystopian world create the setting without being overly detailed or intrusive.  Little details tie the story to the original Cinderella–like Cinder’s tiny cyborg foot, and the orange car she takes to the ball.  The writing is interesting and snappy, and the internal fight at the end made it all worth it.  (And I must say, I *love* the lie detector in Cinder’s retinal display.  It was my favorite cyborg modification.)  On the whole, despite some predictability in the plot twists, I really enjoyed the characters and the setting.  I’m excited to see where the series goes from here.

Scarlet

Unfortunately, I disliked this book a lot more than Cinder, mainly because I didn’t connect with Scarlet’s character at all.  Her story is, of course, a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, and unlike Cinder’s retelling, this one is a lot more heavy-handed.  Scarlet herself is a lot more stereotypical than Cinder was–she’s just a girl living in the French countryside with her grandmother, who is impulsive and gets into a rescue mission with a mysterious, possibly dangerous man she barely knows.  Her romance (with this mysterious man, of course) was well built up, but very tortured souls and a little Twilight.  Not nearly as satisfying as Cinder’s short-lived romance with Kai.

I like Cinder so much more than Scarlet–I’m really glad Cinder is in this book.  Sections of the book alternate between telling Scarlet’s story and filling us in on what Cinder is doing.  Cinder, who was (*spoiler for book 1*) put in jail at the end of the last book, breaks out with the help of another inmate, who fortunately owns a ship they use to get away.  I love seeing Cinder’s struggle with her new-found Lunar powers–she uses them, but she hates how easy it is for her.  Plus, Cinder’s memories coming back = awesome!  Overall, her sections are much stronger and more interesting than Scarlet’s, and I found myself wishing this book was mostly about Cinder, rather than Scarlet.

Unlike the last book, there was one twist in Scarlet I didn’t see coming, and it made me gasp out loud.  Loved it!  Despite the flaws in both of these books, they really are interesting, fun reads, and I’m definitely looking forward to the next two books.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Guest Post: Ender’s Game

A guest post review of Ender's Game, the popular YA novel that is now (finally!) a movie. | A book review from Newbery and Beyond
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Today on the blog, my lovely sister Melanie is doing a guest post!  She is working on a degree in middle grades education, so she read and reviewed Ender’s Game, the ever-popular YA sci-fi novel that’s now a movie.  Enjoy, and be sure to let her know your thoughts in the comments!

Ender’s Game takes place in a dystopian future with an unclear and complicated backstory.  Earth is shadowed by the threat of aliens who have invaded twice before.  Earth is united under a Hegemony, controlled by three leaders, called the Hegemon, the Polemarch, and the Strategos (I spent almost the entire book wondering what a “Hegemony” was because I was too lazy to look up a definition…).  Though families are only allowed to have two children, Ender is a Third, allowed to be born only because of the promise his siblings showed to fulfill the Invasion Fleet’s needs.  Because Ender encompasses the necessary blend of intelligence, compassion (of his sister), and ruthlessness (of his brother), he is chosen at the age of six to go to Battle School in space.

The kids at this ‘school’ do go to classes (about as much as students in a movie about high school), but the main emphasis is on the extracurricular battle games, in which the students are divided into armies and fight each other in zero gravity.  I usually skim battle sequences in books, but somehow I was engrossed in each one of the battles Ender fights.  Ender, of course, is a strategic genius, and moves through the ranks at a ridiculous pace, becoming a commander of an army of his own at only 9 years old (most of the other commanders are 11 or 12).  Though Ender earns the respect of most of the students through his patient and effective leadership, he is often bullied by jealous older boys.  He fights them back ruthlessly in the hopes that if he beats them badly enough once, he won’t have to do it again.  Though Ender is (scarily) successful at this, I just wanted to give him a hug and tell him everything would be okay.

Against his will, Ender is promoted to Command School six years ahead of schedule.  The battle games of Battle School are replaced by computer simulation games against a constantly learning computer. These games take their toll on Ender’s mental health, as they come multiple times every day, and the adults surrounding him put Ender under immense pressure not to lose a single one.  And then some spoilery things happen.  A lot of things.  In the last fifty pages, there is more action and plot advancement than in the first 150 pages.  Everything happens at once and then it ends with a suddenness that left my head spinning.

I had a lot of unanswered questions when I finished this book (Where did all these brilliant kids come from?   Why are there no brilliant adults?), and I wanted more information about what was going on in the political subplot with Ender’s brother and sister.  [Note from Monica: I think this might be discussed further in the later books in this series, although, having never read them, I can’t say for sure.]  Though the battle scenes were interesting, having so many of them seemed like a waste of time when there were so many plot points rushed through at the end of the book.  Ender’s Game is complex and compelling, but so unevenly paced that I couldn’t even decide how I felt about it.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

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