Sunday, March 30, 2014

Review: A Visit From the Goon Squad


A Visit from the Goon SquadTitle: A Visit from the Goon Squad
Author: Jennifer Egan
Genre: Literary fiction, contemporary

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Goodreads Summary:
Bennie is an aging former punk rocker and record executive. Sasha is the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Here Jennifer Egan brilliantly reveals their pasts, along with the inner lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersect with theirs. With music pulsing on every page, A Visit from the Goon Squad is a startling, exhilarating novel of self-destruction and redemption.

I think the best way to describe this book is one of those color-by-number puzzles with math problems on each spot - you have to solve each math problem before you can color it in, and it's only after you've colored everything in that you know what the final picture is. This book takes fragments from different characters' lives at different time periods and throws them all together. You have everything from journal entries to third person narration to powerpoint slides (yes, powerpoint slides) working together to tell the stories of a few interconnected lives. You don't always see the connections at first, and sometimes it takes a lifetime to see where pieces click together, but in the end it does click.

The story opens with Sasha in her mid-thirties, a rather cynical kleptomaniac. Then you find out that she's the assistant of a music producer who happened to be rivals with this other guy back when they were teenagers and this other guy's girlfriends ends up being involved in such-and-such's life later on and the story just goes on from there. It's confusing at first, but I promise everything will start coming together. I really enjoyed the different narrative styles - they were very appropriate for whichever character the book was following at the time. I also really liked the focus on music and its power to heal and bring people together. One of my favorite parts of the book was the section of powerpoint slides on pauses in music. It was an idea I'd never thought of before, but it was so poignant and beautiful. Here's a slide to illustrate (kind of...I don't want to spoil the actual beautiful idea so here's something related):



This is a pretty fast but very thoughtful read. I highly recommend it!

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Review: Moon Dwellers



13931214Title: The Moon Dwellers
Author: David Estes
Genre: YA, dystopian

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:
In a desperate attempt to escape destruction decades earlier, humankind was forced underground, into the depths of the earth, creating a new society called the Tri-Realms.
After her parents and sister are abducted by the Enforcers, seventeen-year-old Adele, a member of the middle-class moon dwellers, is unjustly sentenced to life in prison for her parents' crimes of treason.
Against all odds, Adele must escape from the Pen and find her family, while being hunted by a deranged, killing machine named Rivet, who works for the President. She is helped by two other inmates, Tawni and Cole, each of whom have dark secrets that are better left undiscovered. Other than her friends, the only thing she has going for her is a wicked roundhouse kick and two fists that have been well-trained for combat by her father.
At the other end of the social spectrum is Tristan, the son of the President and a sun dweller. His mother is gone. He hates his father. Backed by only his servant and best friend, Roc, he leaves his lavish lifestyle in the Sun Realm, seeking to make something good out of his troubled life.
When a war breaks out within the Tri-Realms, Tristan is thrust into the middle of a conflict that seems to mysteriously follow Adele as she seeks to find her family and uncover her parents true past.
In their world, someone must die.

This is the second book by David Estes that I have read (the first being Fire Country), and it is even better than I was expecting!

First of all, I have to say I'm partial to the main characters because they have two of my favorite names - Adele and Tristan. But aside from their beautiful names, I really liked both characters. Adele is fiercely protective of her family, and is willing to do anything for them. She is stubborn and strong, which more than makes up for her rather small size. Tristan is the son of the President, and should be a spoiled brat and his father's lapdog - but his loyalty is to his disappeared mother, and he takes a lot of risks to undermine his father's unfairness.

The story opens with Adele and Tristan laying eyes on each other, and both of them are wracked with spasms of searing pain. I really liked this twist on the usual "love at first sight" trope - this isn't love, at least not at first. Both characters are more focused on justice and freedom than a whirlwind romance, which was refreshing. Along the way, Adele is joined by Cole and Tawni while Tristan is accompanied by Roc. I loved seeing their respective friendships develop - again, it was refreshing to read a YA dystopian novel that put so much emphasis on friendship and family.

As much as I liked the characters, the world was a little all-over-the-place. The Earth has been hit by a large meteor, and people in the United States have been evacuated to underground tunnels via a lottery system. We are told that the fate of the rest of the world is unknown, which is a little ridiculous since the US couldn't possibly be the only country that knew about a giant meteor and dug tunnels beforehand. We are also told that humans have evolved to be more resistant to the ash under the earth and less dependent on sunlight, and I find it hard to swallow that evolution has happened over the course of decades rather than millenia. I did appreciate the social hierarchy of the Sun, Moon, and Star dwellers - I can definitely see people stepping on the backs of others in order to make themselves more powerful.

The plot is very fast-paced and suspenseful; I enjoyed the fast pace, and I appreciated that bad things really happened to people instead of the main characters being magically invincible. Revolution is brewing, and there is an urgency that carries through the entire book. The many fight scenes towards the end got a little annoying though, but that's just a personal preference.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and I'm interested in seeing how the revolution plays out!

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday 19 - Bookish bucket list





Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.
This week's theme: Top Ten Things On My Bookish Bucket List


  1. Meet an author - any author, really, but I'd be most excited if it were Laini Taylor, Patrick Ness, Markus Zusak, Melina Marchetta, Marissa Meyer, or Brandon Sanderson. I'm going to college in Los Angeles, too, so you would think there would be plenty of authors stopping by - I need to get more on top of finding out about book tours and meeting them!
  2. Read 100 books this year - my Goodreads goal is set to 80 right now, because that's a more realistic goal, but 100 is such a beautiful number and fingers crossed that I get there!
  3. Read at least 75 of the Time 100 Best Novels of All Time - so far I'm at 17. I have a loooong way to go
  4. Host a giveaway - I've had my blog running for a little under a year now, and I've never hosted a giveaway. I'll probably be doing that for my blogversary in a couple of weeks, so look out for that :)
  5. try a book in a genre I don't normally read - I usually read sci-fi/fantasy or historical fiction, and sometimes an occasional mystery or thriller. I tried a graphic novel on a whim, and ended up really liking it. I'm open to suggestions in any genres I don't usually read - maybe I'll like them!

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Friday, March 21, 2014

Fantasy Friday 3 - Paranormal creatures


This is a meme hosted by Rinn Reads where anyone can join in and talk about anything Fantasy!

It seems like there's been an explosion of Zombie/Vampire/Werewolf/Angel-Demon/Fae fiction recently (especially under the "Paranormal Romance" heading - which in my opinion does not need to exist!). I'm not much a romance reader, and I get so annoyed when protagonists put their love interests before their other obligations (family? friends? saving the world? You know, no big deal). But when there's a great story with a dash of romance on the side, I'm a happy reader.

I think in general I enjoy books about the Fae folk more than any other type of paranormal creature. I'm a little tired of the vampire books, and I haven't read many books that involve werewolves. Considering the fact that I don't like gore, I've read a surprisingly large number of zombie books.

If I'm going to read a book involving paranormal creatures, I prefer books that invent their own creatures or ones reimagine existings ones. I've read so many books that involve a clueless protagonist who finds out s/he is actually somehow related to these creatures. Some of these books did a really great job of turning tropes in their heads and adding a new spin on the old lore, and others...didn't. So here's my take on the good and the bad of paranormal creatures:

Zombies

Great:

Literary and zombies. Never thought those two would ever go together did you? This book by a MacArthur Grant (aka "genius award") winner is just that. It's a zombie book that's not about the zombies, and the writing is brilliant!

10365343

I guess I'm cheating a bit because I haven't actually finished this one yet, but I'm reading it right now and so far it's great! It combines journalism and zombies, which is pretty crazy - it's also super snarky and intense!
7094569

Not So Much:

This sounded really awesome - imagine those proper Victorian ladies waving parasols at a horde of filthy zombies! I didn't like this as much as I thought I would, though. There were just a lot of historical inaccuracies and really confusing aspects of the book. It was so convoluted that by the end it just seemed like a random jumbled mess.
9859436

Vampires

Great: I really liked how the world in this series isn't humans with a few secret clans of vampires, bur rather vampires with some humans on the side as blood cattle. It's really intense, and it's interesting to see how the MC adjusts to being the creature she hates the most.

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Not So Much: 

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Werewolves

Good: Love love love Stiefvater's writing style - it's gorgeous! I also thought the way she related changing into a werewolf with temperature was really cool. 

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Not So Much:

This is another book that could have been really cool - werewolves on the Titanic! - but didn't live up to my expectations.
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Fae folk

Angels/Demons

Great:

This one twists the Angels and Demons into Seraphim and Chimaera, but the concept is generally the same. I loved how both races are given such interesting mythology and I absolutely love Taylor's writing style. This book is funny at times, intense and even heartbreaking at others.
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This is an excellent example of a "paranormal romance" that is about a lot more than the romance. It's about Clara learning her purpose and deciding whether to do her duty or follow her heart. It's about family and loyalty and friendship; Clara's mother is epic, and Clara never forgets about her family when she has other things to worry about.
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Not So Much:

There are just soooo many things wrong with this book, the most bothersome being how much it reinforces rape culture. I'm no expert, but if someone is stalking you, publicly humiliating you, and threatening to kill you, I'd say STAY AWAY. 

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What paranormal creature books have you read? Do you love them? Hate them? Any recommendations?


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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday 18 - Top Ten Spring TBR




Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's theme:  Top Ten Spring TBR books
Here's a list of books I want to read in the spring - not necessarily ones that are published in the spring (although some of them are!). Just click on the covers to see their descriptions on Goodreads :)

A lot of these are series that I'm really excited to start or books that have been on my TBR forever and I think it's time for some *Spring cleaning*
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7094569 
13638125 
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887877 
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18423 
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18222768 




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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Review: The Lies of Locke Lamora



11515875Title: The Lies of Locke Lamora
Author:Scott Lynch
Genre: Fantasy, mystery, cons

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:They say that the Thorn of Camorr can beat anyone in a fight. They say he steals from the rich and gives to the poor. They say he's part man, part myth, and mostly street-corner rumor. And they are wrong on every count.
Only averagely tall, slender, and god-awful with a sword, Locke Lamora is the fabled Thorn, and the greatest weapons at his disposal are his wit and cunning. He steals from the rich - they're the only ones worth stealing from - but the poor can go steal for themselves. What Locke cons, wheedles and tricks into his possession is strictly for him and his band of fellow con-artists and thieves: the Gentleman Bastards.
Together their domain is the city of Camorr. Built of Elderglass by a race no-one remembers, it's a city of shifting revels, filthy canals, baroque palaces and crowded cemeteries. Home to Dons, merchants, soldiers, beggars, cripples, and feral children. And to Capa Barsavi, the criminal mastermind who runs the city.
But there are whispers of a challenge to the Capa's power. A challenge from a man no one has ever seen, a man no blade can touch. The Grey King is coming.
A man would be well advised not to be caught between Capa Barsavi and The Grey King. Even such a master of the sword as the Thorn of Camorr. As for Locke Lamora . . .

Go read this book!

I had huge expectations going into this, since I'd heard nothing but good things about it. The premise itself was so exciting - the story of a con man in a Victorian-inspired world, caught in the middle of a power struggles between a criminal mastermind and a legendary "king"! I was a little nervous about it, since when you have such high expectations, sometimes the book is good but just not good enough. I shouldn't have doubted it; I ended up buying myself a copy before I was even halfway through my library copy!

Locke Lamora is the leader of the Gentlemen Bastards, a group of young con-men. Together they pull off various heists in order to pay off a debt of enormous personal significance to Locke. He's ambitious, arrogant, and clever, and he knows it. It's so much fun to see him come up with new plans and pull off his heists, with witty banter to boot. The best part is that you really don't know if things will work out or not. Sometimes things don't go according to plan; there are no magical "oh look, it worked out perfectly after all!" moments. I honestly couldn't believe some of the turns that this book took. There were some points where I was just staring at the pages of this book in disbelief, and others when I just wanted to roll into a ball and cry. I didn't realize how emotionally invested in the characters I was until bad things started happening to them.

This book is definitely witty and clever, but it is also dark and disturbing. There were plenty of scenes where I was gagging or hyperventilating. This is by no means a book for the faint of heart! Also, If you're offended by strong language, consider yourself warned. This book has some pretty foul-mouthed characters, but I never felt like they swore just for the sake of it. All things considered, I'd find swearing perfectly warranted if I found myself...well I don't want to spoil anything, but let's just say that there are some pretty ugly situations in this book.

I highly highly recommend this book for people who like fantasy and/or stories about cons - this is one of the best books I've read in either genre. Actually, even if you don't like fantasy, I think you should give this a shot - it might change your mind!

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Review: The Chase



18282915Title: The Chase
Author: Janet Evanovich
Genre: Mystery, thriller, humor

My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:
Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg, New York Times bestselling authors of The Heist, return in this action-packed, exciting adventure featuring master con artist Nicolas Fox and die-hard FBI agent Kate O’Hare. And this time around, things go from hot to nuclear when government secrets are on the line. Internationally renowned thief and con artist Nicolas Fox is famous for running elaborate and daring scams. His greatest con of all: convincing the FBI to team him up with the only person who has ever caught him, and the only woman to ever capture his attention, Special Agent Kate O’Hare. Together they’ll go undercover to swindle and catch the world’s most wanted—and untouchable—criminals. Their newest target is Carter Grove, a former White House chief of staff and the ruthless leader of a private security agency. Grove has stolen a rare Chinese artifact from the Smithsonian, a crime that will torpedo U.S. relations with China if it ever becomes public. Nick and Kate must work under the radar—and against the clock—to devise a plan to steal the piece back. Confronting Grove’s elite assassins, Nick and Kate rely on the skills f their ragtag crew, including a flamboyant actor, a Geek Squad techie, and a band of AARP-card-carrying mercenaries led by none other than Kate’s dad. A daring heist and a deadly chase lead Nick and Kate from Washington, D.C., to Shanghai, from the highlands of Scotland to the underbelly of Montreal. But it’ll take more than death threats, trained henchmen, sleepless nights, and the fate of a dynasty’s priceless heirloom to outsmart Fox and O’Hare.

This book wasn't nearly as entertaining or clever as I expected this to be. The premise seemed similar to White Collar (which I love): a con artist smooth-talks his way out of jail time by agreeing to work with the only person who has ever caught him. The obvious difference is that in this case, the person who catches the con artist is also the only woman he's been interested in. This is usually my cue to start the eyerolls, but I was willing to suspend my usual disbelief and give this book a fair shot.

I have to admit, it started getting difficult to give this a fair shot when there were so many absolutely ridiculous moments. The cons themselves seemed to simple, and far too easy. This book can be summarized as "Oh look, we need to steal this multi-million dollar thing from an alleged criminal. [10 pages later] Mission accomplished! Now let's run around and get chased by bad guys." I guess The Chase is an apt title for this book.

The way the characters talked was so...cheesy. That's not quite the right word, but it was pretty much a case of "oh look I'm so witty" when their conversations were really not. Someone on GR aptly described it as "dad jokes, dad jokes, everywhere!"

It was also hard to restrain eyerolls at Kate denying her attraction to Nick. It just got so tiresome to read her internal monologue. He's so attractive...NO NO I'M NOT ALLOWED TO LIKE CRIMINALS I'M AN FBI AGENT, DAMMIT! Nick's arrogance was supposed to be charming, I think, but I just found that annoying too. It was just all so cheesy and over-the-top that it stopped being funny and was just kind of sad.

I don't think I'll be reading any more of this series. I was hoping for something a little more witty and a little less cheesy.

*A free copy was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday 17 - Sci-fi/fantasy recommendations





Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's theme:  Top Ten All Time Favorite Books in sci-fi/fantasy

I guess I'm cheating a little bit because sci-fi and fantasy are technically two genres, but hey, there are a lot of books that don't fit neatly into either category so I'm going to stick with it! If you click on the covers you should be able to get to their goodreads pages. We'll see if my HTML experiments actually work haha

Hero of Ages 1. Hero of Ages is the third book in Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn series, and it blew my mind! I liked but didn't love the previous two books - some things worked and others didn't. But this book blasted my reservations about this series - it was so intricately plotted, and you found out answers to things that you didn't know could be answered. The mythology and history of the world really came alive in surprising ways, and the characters grew so much. I was literally sitting in an airport and grinning ear to ear from the very first page. I highly recommend this series!




 Lies of Locke Lamora2. I was told this book was really good, so I had really high expectations going into it. I was a little nervous about being disappointed, but I loved it so much that I ended up buying myself a copy before I'd even finished the one I'd borrowed from the library! The characters are lovable, the cons are interesting and don't always go according to plan. This book has some beautiful moments, some witty ones, and a lot of truly horrific ones as well - I loved it!






Golem and Jinni 3. This book is more historical fiction than fantasy, but the two main characters are creatures from different cultures' mythology and magic does play a large part in the story. This was one of my favorite reads of last year - poignant, gorgeously written, and just utterly beautiful.







Froi of the Exiles 4. Melina Marchetta is one of my favorite authors, since she writes such beautiful, hopeful stories about very broken people. This is no exception, and I grew to love the characters in this book so much that I'd be in tears and have to remind myself that they weren't real and that it was going to be okay! There is a lot in here about both the beauty and ugliness of humanity, as well as how complicated loyalty and doing the "right" thing can be.





Monsters of Men 5. Patrick Ness is another one of my favorite authors, and this book is my favorite of his. Like Froi of the Exiles, it's really hard to pick a side with this book because everyone has their own motivations and flaws. And just when you think the situation can't get any worse or complicated, it does! I loved the way the characters were all shades of gray instead of purely good or evil; I also really liked the writing style of this whole series.





6319969 6. Unwind is one of my favorite YA dystopian novels. A lot of them follow the formulaic "evil government keeps two (and sometimes three) young people apart" but this one is incredibly unique and one of the most frightening visions of the future I have read about. The concept of Unwinding is truly horrific, and yet there is a lot of hope in this book too. Again, I loved the characters, and I liked the rather open ending. Although this is now a series, don't let that scare you away - this book can definitely be read as a standalone.




375802 7. What's a set of sci-fi recommendations without Ender's Game? This book is particularly special to me because it was the first book I read where I really didn't know what would happen next. It showed me that books could be intelligent, not just fun. This is the book that got me into sci-fi in the first place, and I will always be fond of it.






59264 8. This is another book I'm fond of - I read it when I was probably 12, and the ending left me with my mouth hanging open and frantically turning pages that weren't there because that couldn't possibly be it! I loved Bartimaeus' snark and his witty footnotes, and in the end I grew to love Nathaniel and Kitty too. My favorite parts are the interludes about Ptolemy, and sometimes I just flip through this book and read those over and over again.






6597651 9. This book isn't for everyone, but I absolutely loved it. It's slow to start, but it has an incredibly rich world, complete with politics, government conspiracies, sinister corporations, racism, and lots of other good stuff. Despite tackling a lot of large scale global and social issues, this book is very character-centric, and I loved seeing this story unfold from different points of view.







12812550 10. I love Laini Taylor's gorgeous writing style, which made this book a treat to read. I really enjoyed the first book in the series, but this one was far grittier and darker, which I liked better. You learn more about the world of the chimaera and the seraphim, and there are some surprising revelations and new characters to love. This book is also special to me because it's my first signed book, which I won through a writing contest judged by Laini Taylor herself :)






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