Thursday, April 30, 2015

REVIEW: The Ghost in Love by Jonathan Carroll Ghost in Love
by Jonathan Carroll
Adult Fiction
3/5 stars

Carroll does some very interesting and clever things with the ideas of ghosts and the afterlife, which, along with some great characters and a few moments of pure emotion, really is what I was hoping to get from this book, and I did. It was an interesting and thought-provoking journey, though I wouldn't say I agreed with the ideas put forth.

The convoluted story had me guessing and turning pages. I liked the feel of this story -its world and its style- and with good plot and compelling characters, I can't complain. 

Carroll meshed so many ideas into his version of afterlife, life after death, and so on. There are ghosts, reincarnated beings, angels, all sorts of details pulled from all kinds of theology and ideas, plus several that Carroll made up himself. How he played with reality is probably what I enjoyed most with this story. We got to see a lot more about this world by being able to experience it through a variety of characters, including a ghost, the Angel of Death, and a dog, who all see different versions or facets of the same reality. It's fascinating.

The writing style captivated me, pumped with emotion, and gently guiding me through the tale. Carroll makes me feel for these characters; better, he lets me feel through them. I see what they see, think what they think, feel what they feel. Any secrets kept from the reader pertain to the plot, not the characters, and I liked that. The book jumps around from scene to scene, character to character, feeding us relevant bits of the story, instead of staying with a specific character or even chronology. I really love this type of narration. It feels adventurous, daring, untamed.


There were a few things I didn't like about this story: Several references to lesbianism, a few intimate and/or explicit details, and the underlying theme that -slight spoilers- man is outgrowing God. Or, more specifically, that mankind is evolving out of its need for God. I don't know if it was meant to be agnostic, atheistic, a moral or social commentary, or just a storytelling tool. That underlying theme made the story possible and interesting, so for the book it's thought-provoking, but I can't say I took any great meaning from this. For me, it was just an entertaining read.

There are no plot threads left untied. The overall story could be considered open-ended, but there was enough closure provided for a satisfactory ending.

Overall an entertaining and intriguing read, but I'd definitely consider The Ghost in Love a mature or PG-13 rating. Despite the bits I didn't like, the style, the writing, and the story were all so captivating that I'd still give Carroll's novels another try.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

REVIEW: Geek Girl by Holly Smale

Geek Girl
by Holly Smale
Young Adult
4/5 stars

Geek Girl was impossible to put down.

It's hilarious, heart-warming, brave, and meaningful. I wish I'd had this to read when I was an awkward teenager. The first person POV is masterfully done, and I loved being inside the head of Harriet Manners, because it was such an interesting and occasionally awkward place to be. 

I liked that this was all about a girl just trying to find out where she fits in the world. That she happens to do this by stepping into the fashion business when she doesn't even like clothes or wear heels -well, that was just a bonus.

I wasn't really sure what to expect with this, but I was fairly confident there would be a good dose of rather vicious, backstabbing characters. I've seen Devil Wears Prada. Surprisingly, the fashion world here was not as cruel and heartless as I feared. I say 'fear' because, while I like a good fish-out-of-water, coming-of-age, self-discovery story, I don't necessarily like it to be uncomfortable. Awkward, sure, no problem, but I don't like to spend a lot of time with characters who are spiteful for no real reason even if they are the quote unquote villain. There were a couple of these characters, but they didn't take up a lot of page space. Most of the main characters within the fashion world were far more interesting, like Yuka Ito, who's severe and intimidating, but not necessarily cruel

I had so many favorite parts about this book. The best friends, Harriet and Nat. Harriet's would-be-boyfriend/stalker who, while not exactly adorable, helped Harriet figure things out. All of the characters were wonderful and bursting with personality. I liked that the romance subplot was so subtle, because it's really secondary to the story. It focused on Harriet's attempt to 're-invent' herself, the best friend crisis, the family issues, and school problems, and the fish-out-of-water story, so when you think about it, the romance was really sixth on the list. Geek Girl was about self-discovery, and none of that self-discovery came from liking or being liked by a guy. It all came from Harriet.

I love Harriet so much because she's so incredibly normal. Well, maybe not the geek bits and the factoids, but she frets and she worries and she jumps to worst case scenarios even if she should know better. She's a fifteen year old girl. Everything about her is so easy to relate to, that I think girls for generations are going to want to grow up with Harriet and learn with her.

Above all, I loved what Smale had to say about accepting yourself -for all your quirks and faults- instead of twisting yourself into a pretzel trying to get other people to accept you.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

REVIEW: Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi

Amanda's Adventures in Sci-Fi Continue.
Her mission: to boldly read what she's never read before, to seek out new characters and new civilizations, and to find science fiction that she can wholeheartedly enjoy.

Fuzzy Nation
by John Scalzi
4/5 stars

I picked up this book because I'm still trying to read new things. Sci-fi is a genre that I've always had trouble with, but this title caught my eye. Plus, it's narrated by Wil Wheaton. I still have this irrational idea that sci-fi is boring and goes over my head, and I'm still trying to convince myself that it's not true.  This was probably the perfect book to do that.
I have a hard time grasping this fear of sci-fi. When I tried to read sci-fi when I was younger, it always felt cold and distant and, well, alien. Fuzzy Nation, by comparison, is colorful, vibrant with life, and above all utterly human. The story is about a major corporation mining the minerals from an uninhabited planet and what happens when someone discovers their might be a sentient life form on the planet after all. It's almost like Scalzi took some traditional sci-fi and infused it with a dose of stark reality, including greed, lawyers, ethics, and environmentalists.

My favorite part of this story was Jack Holloway, the main character. I am all about interesting and imperfect characters, and this guy was the cream of the crop. He's kind of a jerkwad, but an amusing kind of jerkwad. He was incredibly compelling, because I had a hard time figuring him out. The more I learned about him, the more I doubted whether he was going to be a hero in the story. The whole time I was wondering what he was up to, and whether or not he would be only looking out for himself in the end, because you come to realize that he really isn't a 'good' guy, but you wonder whether he can become one. It kept me guessing. Is he an inherently good guy? Is he inherently self-interested? Also, he was hilarious and sarcastic and cheeky. 

I liked that, though it was a sci-fi novel, it didn't really feel like a sci-fi novel. The story and the situation were written with such ease that it felt so natural and realistic. It's odd, but I love how much this sci-fi turned into a courtroom drama. I wasn't expecting that, and I have a feeling it's what added to the realistic feel of the story. We have lawyers and intense legality issues today, so we'll obviously have them in the future over futuristic things. 

As a caution, there was quite a bit of swearing in this story. I'm surprised that I enjoyed it as much as I did, and I've been trying to figure out why that is. I think the biggest reason is that the swearing was not there for the sake of swearing, but played into the characters and situations presented. Also the 'f' word was not used once. While there was a lot of swearing, I didn't feel that it was used explicitly. 

Overall, the story was excellent. It was interesting and thought-provoking. 

Masterful performance by Wil Wheaton. I actually forgot halfway through who was narrating it because his performance essentially became the story for me. He wasn't Wil Wheaton; he was Jack Holloway and Wheaton Aubrey and all the other characters, and that's what makes a great narration.

Check out my other adventures in sci-fi!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

REVIEW: Third Daughter (Dharian Affairs bk 1) by Susan Kaye Quinn
Third Daughter
Dharian Affairs, bk 1
by Susan Kaye Quinn
YA/Military Intrigue/Romance

Steampunk goes to Bollywood.

I love this descriptor even more because it's actually true. So much of this story felt reminiscent of the film Jodhaa Akbar, about a Hindi princess forced to enter a peace-brokering marriage with a Muslim emperor, that I instantly felt the presence of Bollywood inspiration. Throw in rumors about a flying machine, some military intrigue, family secrets, and personal metamorphosis, and I'm one happy camper.

Princess Aniri of the powerful Dharian empire is days away from her birthday and the freedom it will grant her to escape the Queen's court and marry whomever she pleases. Specifically, a handsome courtesan whose kisses she steals in the moonlight. Cue the arrival of Prince Malik, of the barbarian mountain country Jungali, with an offer of a peace-brokering marriage between himself and the Queen's only remaining eligible daughter. Granted, for the first several chapters it seemed like this was going to be your run-of-the-mill 'princess forced to marry for duty while in love with someone else' story. But no. I learned pretty quick that Quinn doesn't want to settle for run-of-the-mill. Torn and bitter, Aniri confronts her mother. This is when the Queen says she doesn't want her daughter to marry the war-loving Jungali's prince. She wants her to spy on him. 

Things got incredibly interesting from there.

With her devoted maid servant and a bodyguard who despises her, Aniri ventures into the heart of enemy territory. Her mission is to learn whether this sky warship exists and bring the information back to Dharia before the wedding date. After that, she will be free to marry the man she loves. Until then, she can't tell him the truth.

I fell in love with this world. It's rich with Eastern culture and influence, like an exotic spice in an otherwise traditional buffet. People have been talking a lot about needing diversity in books, so I would start here. Only once or twice did a distinctly English colloquialism catch me off guard. The infusion of Bollywood and steampunk was beautiful and felt so natural together, I'm shocked I haven't seen this done before. I will be interested to see how far the other two books in the trilogy will take us into the world -whether we'll see hints of any culture outside of India- but if we just stay within the three Queendoms presented in this first book, I'll be happy. (That's another thing -the three most powerful countries here are ruled by women.)

I would classify this as a military intrigue romance, and I was very happy to find it clean. There's lots of kissing, certainly, but Quinn stayed away from anything too descriptive, doing the love story justice without dipping into the steamy romance side of the pool. For this, a million kudos.

Another thing I loved about the romance was that the love triangle wasn't overdone or overemotional or tacky. There is definitely a love triangle, but it never felt like a high school drama/teen movie/soap opera love triangle. One of my major peeves of love triangles is the feeling somebody is always being unfair and unfaithful or just downright insensitive and I never felt this to be the case.

Aniri had wonderful depth and development. I loved watching her grow, not just emotionally and in confidence, but in genuinely becoming a better person. She constantly feels ashamed in the presence of Prince Malik, who is so devoted to his country and people, whereas she is just waiting for her chance to escape. I loved how much she learned from him, and I love that she still has the potential for more development. Even better, all the supporting characters had their own depth and minor development while contributing to hers as well. I didn't see any flat characters here, and I cheer for that.

Satisfactory ending, but with open-ended elements to be dealt with in book two. And I must say, after reading the summary for the sequel, and the main character's doubts about relationship choices, make me hopeful that Quinn will make a very healthy handling of the romantic relationships.

In short, I had incredibly high expectations of this book, and it didn't let me down. Third Daughter by Susan Kaye Quinn gets four stars and yes. You should read it.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Ten Books I Recently Added to My To-Be-Read List

A Top Ten Tuesday meme courtesy of The Broke and the Bookish

21996359Flunked by Jen Calonita

Why wouldn't I want to read this book?

Is there magic? Check.
A fairy tale retelling? Check
Does it deal with that old adage 'can a villain ever change'? Check.

Welcome to the Fairy Tale Reform School.

Rebel Queen by Michelle Moran

The 1850s. The British Empire has set their sights on India as their next conquest.

The Last Queen of India, Lakshmi, is going to give them more then they bargained for.

Reasons for wanting to read it: historical fiction, Indian culture, warrior women, and gorgeous cover.

7746496Wonders Never Cease by Tim Downs

Kemp McAvoy has just concocted a brilliant get-rich-quick scheme. With a slight adjustment of a recently-admitted movie star's meds, the help of her agent, and a down-and-out publisher, he is going to create a best selling heavenly visitation. And then he's going to get filthy rich.

But when six-year-old Leah starts telling people she's seeing angels, things might not work out the way he expected.

Reasons: It sounds funny, heart-warming, and I always love a good ne'er-do-well-questioning-his-life-choices story.

13452375Legion by Brandon Sanderson

Stephen Leeds, AKA 'Legion,' is a man whose unique mental condition allows him to generate a multitude of personae: hallucinatory entities with a wide variety of personal characteristics and a vast array of highly specialized skills.

As the story begins, Leeds and his 'aspects' are drawn into the search for the missing Balubal Razon, inventor of a camera whose astonishing properties could alter our understanding of human history and change the very structure of society.
(-publisher description)

Reasons: It's written by Brandon Sanderson.

23719427Milo Speck, Accidental Agent by Linda Urban

Milo Speck has always wanted to find magic. He just didn't expect it in the form of a sock.

Now he's on a mission to rescue all the kids in the land of Ogregon from its hungry ogre inhabitants. But can he?

Small boy. Big world. Really big.

Reasons: This was recommended to me by Brenda over at Log Cabin Library, and it looks right up my alley. I read Urban's A Crooked Kind of Perfect several years ago and loved it.


20603758Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

2044. Wade Watts spends most of his time in the virtual utopia, OASIS, whose creator hid puzzles inside and promised a fortune to whoever can solve it.

When Wade stumbles across a clue, he learns just how badly the other players want to take it from him. Enough to kill.

Ready player one. The race is on.

Reasons: This was another recommendation, and it sounds fascinating. USA Today says 'Willy Wonka meets The Matrix' and how can I not be intrigued by that? The audio is also narrated by Wil Wheaton, who did such a wonderful job on Scalzi's Fuzzy Nation, I can't pass it up. 

Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood by Varsah Bajaj

What thirteen-year-old Abby wants most is to meet her father. She just never imagined he would be a huge film star--in Bollywood! Now she's traveling to Mumbai to get to know her famous father. Abby is overwhelmed by the culture clash, the pressures of being the daughter of India's most famous celebrity, and the burden of keeping her identity a secret. But as she learns to navigate her new surroundings, she just might discover where she really belongs.
(description from Goodreads)

Reasons: Again, Indian culture. I've recently come to love Bollywood films, and a book not only about Bollywood, but an MG coming-of-age story? Bring. It. On.

24380140Spelled by Betsy Schow

Fairy Tale Survival Rule #32: If you find yourself at the mercy of a wicked witch, sing a romantic ballad and wait for your Prince Charming to save the day.

Yeah, no thanks. Dorthea is completely princed out. Sure being the crown princess of Emerald has its perks—like Glenda Original ball gowns and Hans Christian Louboutin heels. But a forced marriage to the brooding prince Kato is so not what Dorthea had in mind for her enchanted future.

Talk about unhappily ever after.

Trying to fix her prince problem by wishing on a (cursed) star royally backfires, leaving the kingdom in chaos and her parents stuck in some place called "Kansas." Now it's up to Dorthea and her pixed off prince to find the mysterious Wizard of Oz and undo the curse...before it releases the wickedest witch of all and spells The End for the world of Story.

(description from Goodreads)

Reasons: Sass, sass, SASS. Ghost in Love by Jonathan Carroll

A man hits his head and dies. Except, he isn't dead. And the ghost sent to collect him is flummoxed. He's told to stay with the man until his afterlife bosses figure the mess out.

Then something strange happens. The ghost falls madly in love with the man's girlfriend. Things get complicated.

Reasons: I've been on a kick lately of un-traditional ghost/paranormal stories -akin to Odd Thomas and The Returned- so this one caught my attention quick.

13055592Redshirts by John Scalzi

The Star Trek redshirts always die. Their literary purpose is to be expendable characters.

So what happens when the redshirts figure that out?

Reasons: This sounds absolutely hysterical. I love stories that flip a standard on its head, and watching the hapless members of an illustrious star ship figure out what pop culture has known for decades? Priceless. 

And that's it! What are some of your recent TBR additions?

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Wrap Up, Book Haul, TBR, and Maybe the Kitchen Sink

In which I talk the books I read, the books I got, and the books I will read. Books, books, books, books, BOOKS!


Mini March Book Haul
Firefight review here and here
 Jackaby Review here and here.

From the blog:
My Thoughts on Frozen
Guest Post from J.E. Thompson
Ten Books From Childhood

EDIT: Something went belly-side up with the scheduler, so here's yesterday's post today. Sorry for the wait.