Thursday, June 19, 2014

One Kick

Kick Lannigan is twenty-one now, but the public still sees her as an eleven year old being rescued from kidnappers after five years missing. After being effectively brainwashed by the pedophiles and child pornographers that captured her, she vows to never be forced to do anything against her will. As a child, her abusers trained her to pick locks, go unnoticed, and a slew of other skills to help them. On top of this training, she educated herself in other relevant skills in order to save as many children as she can from her own fate. By herself, she only listens to the police scanner and searches up and down highways for the license plates on amber alerts. John Bishop, mysterious guy working for a mysterious and very rich private company, employs her because she will be able to see things others don't because she spent years with these criminals. Kick will have to delve deeply into her traumatic past in order to save these children, even delving into events locked away long ago.

I'm a big fan of Chelsea Cain's and I was super excited to see she's coming out with a new series. Her other series is mystery, but focuses on serial killers, gruesome crime scenes, and an incredibly twisted relationship. This new series is very different and focuses on child abuse and child pornography. Despite it being a central part of the plot, the book is not super descriptive about the sexual abuse of children because it would frankly be too offputting and offensive. I think quite a few readers won't read it because of the subject matter along with the fact that it isn't mentioned at all in the marketing. It's not a subject widely talked about or even covered much in the news, but this disgusting exploitation and buying and selling of children is real. Cain trades the extreme gore of her Gretchen Lowell series for a more subtle horror that sickens in a much different way.

Kick Lannigan is a memorable and very flawed character. She's a tough cookie who has been through a lot despite being quite young.. Her paradoxical personality and outlook give her character realistic dimensions. She's worldly yet naive, strong yet fragile and broken, observant and insightful yet so blind. Her motivation to save missing children stems from her own actions as a child. She was trained to destroy all computer evidence if the police ever came for them and she performed the maneuver well without knowing how many children would continue to be victimized and how many pedophiles would go free. That's some pretty intense guilt even though she wasn't truly at fault. I was a bit annoyed at some of her decisions, but I make allowances for her because of her young age and the abuse she experienced that still affects her. The most disturbing effect of that abuse is the Stockholm Sydnrome between her and her abuser. She insists he isn't like the others and still feels affection for him. I just want to shake her, but the effects of abuse can't be reversed even over a decade.

The other characters are just as interesting as Kick. I love Kick's relationship with James, an adopted brother who experienced the same abuse. They protect each other and care for each other at all costs. Kick's mother is a piece of work who doesn't hesitate to exploit her daughter for media attention. Deep down, I think she does care, but the shellacked and perfect persona she puts forward disgusts me. James, tall, dark and mysterious, annoyed me at first, but proved to have a lot more layers than I thought. He's kind of an ass and keeps a lot of important information to himself, but he's a good person who wants to save children just as much as Kick does. These characters stayed with me long after I closed the book.

One Kick is a thrill ride of a mystery that tackles very uncomfortable subject matter. I read it within a day and I already want the sequel even though this book isn't out yet. The series has great potential and I can't wait to see where Chelsea Cain takes these characters next.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

After the End

Juneau grew up in an insulated Alaskan community. Her people were some of the few who had survived the nuclear war that destroyed most of the United States. They live without electricity, running water, or modern luxuries. She is being groomed to be the next Sage to use her mystical powers to benefit the community. Unfortunately, one day when she was away, her whole village is kidnapped. Juneau leaves her homestead of the first time and discovers that she's been fed lies her entire life. The US is fine and the people thrive without radiation poisoning. Thrown into an unfamiliar world, Juneau has to find and save her village before the kidnappers get to her as well.

After the End is a fast paced adventure told in alternating first person narratives. Juneau is strong, self sufficient, and has mystical powers which she can use to see the future, communicate with animals, and use elements, among other things. She grew up in the Alaskan wilderness with no modern technology. Miles is her complete opposite. He's spoiled, a troublemaker, and completely dependent on iPhones, cars, and computers. Both voices are unique to the character. Juneau has an old fashioned cadence to her voice while Miles is more carefree and curses fairly often. I like both of their journeys. Juneau starts to doubt everything after she finds out the huge lie, even her powers. She has to decide how to feel and what parts of her upbringing to accept and what to reject. Her journey is reminiscent of how everyone discovers the outside world and its possibilities after being raised a certain way. Everyone has to figure out how they will live their lives, what religion if any to follow, and what parts of the beliefs of their family to bring with them to the future and what to leave behind. Even though she is so different from us, her journey feels so familiar because everyone goes through this period of doubt and self discovery when growing up. Miles grows as well, though I find him less relateable. He found a purpose when he was adrift in his life. I just found him kind of insufferable at the beginning of the book because he was so spoiled.The plot is twisty and interesting. I didn't always predict where it was going to go.

The main problem with the book is the marketing. From the back of the book, it's kind of like The Village and a pseudo-dystopia with a road trip. What they fail to mention anywhere on the back cover is the magic powers. Had I known they were included, I would have passed on this book. Their inclusion acts too much as a Deus Ex Machina when needed and it's too convenient. Then her powers stop working because of the doubt and then they conveniently come back when needed. I think this aspect just muddles the work by giving it an extra genre and a much too convenient way to solve problems or create conflict. The romance aspect was unnecessary and didn't really add much to the story. It just seems obligatory because it's a teen novel.

After the End is a fun adventure with twists and turns. The action is nonstop and the cliffhanger at the end is evil. I would continue to read the series.

My rating/l 3.5/5 fishmuffins

Monday, June 9, 2014

I Won't Be Shamed for Reading YA

An article came out a few days ago detailing why adults should feel ashamed for reading YA. First, Ruth Graham asserts that YA fiction of the 90's is just as good as it is now, which I vehemently disagree with. I devoured books by R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike when I was much younger, but many of those books aren't as well written or varied as what's available now. I've tried to reread some of them and find that I've outgrown them. I appreciate that they shaped me as a reader, but they just don't hold my attention anymore. Sure there are some great books, but overall, the quality has gotten much better over the years as the genre has expanded.

Graham also asserts that love of YA stems from instant gratification, nostalgia, and escapism. Escapism is a reason to read anything. Nostalgia may play into it, but I think it has more to do with the fact that movement from teen to adult is one of the most powerful experiences of our lives and it makes for powerful storytelling. In an age where there is no defined experience that introduces us into adulthood, it isn't surprising that people turn to literature to get that experience in some capacity over and over again. So Graham, maybe you didn't like The Fault in Our Stars because you just didn't like it. Saying you don't like because you're an adult is ridiculous and you're basically calling everyone who likes it a child.

I find no evidence in the assumption that we have to abandon the adult perspective to like YA books. I like some books because I completely give in to the emotional aspects and forgive the maybe not great writing, like Twilight. I find these to be brain candy, but books like this are not exclusive to YA. I like a great many other teen books for a variety of reasons: writing, world building, characters, themes, etc. She also asserts that the endings of YA books are too simplistic. The problem with much of this article is that she seems to be writing about one type of books rather than encompassing all of YA. I think she read The Fault in Our Stars and decided that since it's revered, it must be the same as every other YA novel. You wouldn't do that for any adult book, so don't do it for YA.

The fact that she has to define a book she read as "literary" is ridiculous. Every book is literary. To say that a particular genre is not is a lazy way of dismissing it as low quality without actually looking critically at the individual books. Science fiction and fantasy are looked down upon as "unliterary" genres, but the numerous great books in those genres disproves that. Instead of being an elitist, why not just enjoy reading what you like to read instead of building yourself up by shaming others.

The assertion that more new adults would not move on to adult books is also not proven. With around a third of people not reading any books at all, the passion and excitement that YA books have given both teens and adults for reading is amazing. Why begrudge those people because of what they choose to read? C.S. Lewis said, "Critics who treat 'adult' as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adults themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on in middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of being really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up." I think he brings up excellent points. This critical view of literature written for youth isn't new, but it's nice that public opinion has been swayed more towards acceptance.

So, for some other compelling reasons to keep reading what you like without shame, read this wonderful list and this hilarious rebuttal. Ignore the haters and keep reading.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Forgive My Fins

Seventeen year old Lily has a secret that no one knows: she's actually a mermaid princess living among humans. Her mother was half human, so she wants to learn about about that side of her. It also helps that she thinks Brody, swim team stud and super hot guy, is the love of her life. She plans to eventually kiss him, which will bind them together and allow him to take whatever form she takes. Unfortunately Quince, her super annoying next door neighbor, is constantly in the way and ruins everything by kissing her. Now Quince and Lily are bound together and she has to go to her father to separate them before the bond becomes permanent.

I've read and enjoyed most of Tera Lynn Childs' Sweet Venom series plus mermaids are awesome, so I decided to try out this series. It turned out to be a cute, very fluffy book with an unlikeable protagonist and a weak plot. I would have liked Lily if she didn't interact with anyone expect her best friend. She has an odd style, a quirky personality, and is generally an ok person. When the boys come into the picture she becomes insufferable. She considers Brody the love of her life even though she barely knows the guy. When he's around, no one else exists and she becomes completely self absorbed. When Quince is around, she is irrationally horrible to him and gets so angry at the slightest things. He's actually really nice to her and clearly has feelings for her. He is a better person than me because if someone treated me that horribly, I would have given up a long time ago. I also found it annoying that she felt no responsibility or duty towards her undersea kingdom at all and she was willing to give it up for someone she doesn't even know. I just couldn't sympathize with her at all and found her whiny and generally insufferable. Ugh.

I also didn't like that Lily had to be bound to someone before her eighteenth birthday to able to rule her kingdom. Really? It asserts that her relationship defines her as a competent ruler, which is ridiculous. All the characters aren't well written and don't have any dimensions. There's no subtly to the writing at all. If you are looking for a brain candy type book that doesn't require a lot of brain activity, this is the read for you.

My rating: 2/5 fishmuffins

Friday, June 6, 2014

Days of Blood and Starlight

After Akiva's shocking and horrible admission, Karou is still reeling and hurt, but she doesn't let her feelings get in the way of the task at hand. A few months after the end of the last book, she and the chimera people are secluded in a desert city while she builds an army from scratch of and for them. In the meantime, the seraphim are laying waste to every chimera dwelling, no matter how small. Thousands are slaughtered and only a few are spared to go into slavery. Akiva sees the wanton and unnecessary cruelty and does what he can to help the chimera. The starcrossed lovers are on opposite sides of the war, but essentially fighting the same fight. Will they reconcile before one of them in destroyed?

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is one of my all time favorite books and Days of Blood and Starlight proves to live up to and surpass the standards set by the first. Laini Taylor is nothing short of amazing. I could read her books forever. The world she created is amazingly complex. She also writes about angels and demons without being overly religious and gives us a very unexpected view of both sides. I would like to savor her prose because her writing so rich and beautiful, but I find myself reading faster to find out what happens next. The plot is insane and I can never guess where it's going to go. There are quite a few "OMG WTF just happened!" moments. The tone is overall much darker than the first novel, but is tempered with moments of levity, like the delightful Zuzanna. The first book establishes the world and marvels at it, while the second tears it down and creates chaos on both sides.

The characters all have dimensions and their own personalities, no matter where on the spectrum of good and evil they fall. Karou is completely changed from the first book because of both gaining back her memories and dealing with the loss of her entire chimera family at the hands of Akiva. She dwells a lot on her past choices and berates herself for being so naive as to believe they could have built a world for both of them. On her side, she works for someone she hates in order to ensure that her people will live. I don't like who she becomes: a weak pawn to be moved around. However, she sees it as a necessary evil and puts her people's needs before her own. She spends most of the novel completely miserable and brooding over the past until she finds a surprising way to make her own decisions. Through Akiva's storyline, we get to see more of the angels' social structure and how they function. Akiva is also miserable and dissatisfied with his faction, so he secretly helps the chimera. He has the biggest character development and we get to see more of who he was before he met Karou.

Although Days of Blood and Starlight is pretty bleak, there's still some hope and I can't wait to read the next book. This book series could have been easily published as an adult series. The themes are complex; the writing is amazing; and it deals with some very adult issues, so I would recommend it to just about anyone. At this point, I would read anything Laini Taylor writes.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, June 4, 2014


Sorry-in-the-Vale is a quaint English town to the casual observer, but it actually has a bloody history full of magic and sorcerers. The Lynburn family used to rule with terror and practiced human sacrifice for the most potent power. Now, the family is split. Robert Lynburn and his faction of sorcerers want to return to how it used to be while Jared Lynburn and his faction plan to stop him and return peace to the town. Kami Glass is working with the latter group, but after severing her connection to Jared, it's kind of awkward. However, with Robert and his camp demanding blood sacrifices of the inhabitants of the town, that must be put aside to try to figure out a way to gather enough power to beat them.

I loved the first in the series and I couldn't wait to get my hands on the second. Sarah Rees Brennan's books are always a breeze to read with her witty dialog, atmospheric settings, and vivid characters. Her writing never fails to make me laugh out loud in public so I have endure weird glances from random people. Kami is pretty awesome. She investigates on her own despite having no support from her own side or her parents. After she severs her connection with Jared, she works to find out who she is without Jared's constant presence. Because of their history with the Lynburns, Kami's family threatens to collapse after lies are discovered. In addition to the evil sorcerers, she has to deal with every day things like relationship problems and family problems (although both are more supernatural here). The romance aspect takes up much of the novel. The longing glances, angst, and miscommunication between Jared and Kami are numerous. Normally I would find this annoying, but it really pulled on my heartstrings. I did wish they would just sit down and talk already, but then the romantic drama wouldn't be nearly as good.

Untold is not as good as its predecessor. Not a whole lot happens because many, many pages are dedicated to relationship drama and love triangle annoyances. Nothing really exciting happens plotwise until the very very end of the book. The plot very weak compared to the first book. I also didn't like Jared as much in this book because of his crazy way of dealing with emotions, his codependency on Kami, and his refusal to communicate like an adult. I still like the character, but he was so frustrating. I just wanted to reach into the book and shake him. This is more of a side note, but it really annoys me when the covers change after a style has already been established. The first book's style is much better and it would have been cool to see it the style with different colors.

Although I had a few problems with it, Untold is still enjoyable. Sarah Rees Brennan hasn't written a bad book yet and I will get the next one as soon as it comes out. I'm excited to see what's in store for these characters.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins