Sunday, April 28, 2013

Fox Forever (Jenna Fox Chronicles #3) by Mary E. Pearson

Fox Forever (Jenna Fox Chronicles #3) by Mary E. Pearson 

Rating: 3/5

I can't figure out why this YA trilogy isn't more popular. My library only ordered one copy of this book, and I was the only one who put it on hold. Even after having it for the entire 3 week loan period, there was still nobody waiting when I returned it. Sure, it's science fiction, not urban fantasy (no angels or vampires), but I also suspect this series wasn't marketed much. Which is a shame, because it is of much better quality than series like Hush Hush or The Lorien Legacies.

Not that The Jenna Fox Chronicles doesn't have its faults. My biggest problem with books 2 and 3 is how little things have changed in the 260 years Locke was trapped in a computer matrix, including Locke himself. He was basically in a sensory deprivation tank. He should either be irrevocably insane, or a zen master. Instead, he's (mentally, emotionally) the same average teenage boy he was when he was downloaded into the computer. I tried to figure out how this could be possible. I thought perhaps the matrix wouldn't allow for his brain patterns to change, but then how would he have created memories? And he definitely remembers being in the "box". So it really makes no sense that his personality didn't mature at all, after 260 years. And thus his relationship with the teenaged Raine is kind of creepy, much like, oh, a centuries-old vampire or angel falling in love with a teenager.

The world outside has changed a bit, but everybody still speaks with the exact same vocabulary as Locke. It is too easy for him to fit in with Raine and her friends - they should have all kinds of slang that Locke has never heard of, and vice versa. Pearson gives a couple of nods to this fact, and Locke almost gets caught, but really, he had it much easier than is realistic. If you time-travelled back to 1753, you'd stick out like a laser show in a sea of campfires. These implausibilities bothered me quite a bit while reading this series (though it wasn't as big an issue in The Adoration of Jenna Fox).

The plot of this third book was decent, a bit of an unlikely spy thriller, really. Pearson's writing is fluid, introspective and mature, but still highly accessible. I rolled my eyes a bit at Locke and Raine's "instalove", but at least it was a watered-down version, not immediately requited, and not the main focus of the plot. The political aspect of the series (citizens vs. non-pacts & bots) gets satisfactorily wrapped up by the end of this book, but it's a bit of an afterthought/info-dump.

I had a difficult time when I first picked up the book, the same week the Boston Marathon bombings occurred, and the manhunt was getting constant live news coverage. (This book is set in Boston and Locke travels to many locations mentioned in the news, including Copley Square where the bombs exploded). For this reason, I had to put the book aside for about a week. Even then, it was sometimes hard to concentrate on it. I have a hard time knowing whether that was my issue or if the story just wasn't that interesting to me. It's a decent finish to the trilogy, more like the second book than the first.

See my reviews of The Adoration of Jenna Fox (#1) and The Fox Inheritance (#2)

Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon Live Updates

Dewey's Readathon April 2013

Live updates:

8:00 - WE DID IT! 

Final Page count: 616

Congrats to everybody who participated and a huge thank you to everyone who volunteered. Such fun :)

7:21 - Final hour! Here are my answers to the End of Event Meme questions
I will be updating with my final page count at 8 a.m. sharp, though I'm having difficulty actually reading now, and have been spending most of my time just trying to stay awake!


6:16 - Page Count 565 - I'm dyin' ova here! Last ditch effort to stay awake, taking the dog for a walk. It's light enough out now. Then, one more coffee. Not sure I'm going to make it. :(
Skipped the last two challenges, they were too tough for me!

5:25 - Page Count: 545

Time to wash my hair, maybe it'll wake me up for the final stretch. I already broke out the chocolate....

4:11 - Changing books to Forbidden by Kelley Armstrong. My current book is a bit dry for sleepy reading!

Mini-Challenge #20 - Mad-Lib:

I read, pleased with myself. Then I grooved to the other side of the cupboard. As promised, I was downwind of him, where he couldn't tickle me. I slumped in to wait, head on my cookie, pantaloons curled around me. Inside the yacht, I could hear Clay smacking up. I could punch him, too, sneaky fur bright through the band-aid.
Page Count: 475

3:12 - Mini-Challenge #20 - Haiku:

To marry a Duke,

Marquess, Earl, or a Viscount,

Have lots of money.

- inspired by To Marry an English Lord, by Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace

Page Count: 426

2:37 - I needed some inspiration, so I opened a fortune cookie (picture on right). Does it mean I should take a nap or complete the readathon?! Both would be pleasing...

Not much progress on the actual reading this hour. 

1:30 - I. AM. STILL. HERE. I'm shocked my own self. I spent the past 2 hours in the bathtub and finished Fox Forever.

Challenge 18: Cover Me complete, well, half of it anyway, answered on the host's blog. I'm not doing the second option, because I don't keep up with new releases much, other than series I'm following.

Page count - 410

Next book: To Marry an English Lord by Gail MacColl and Caroline McD. Wallace. (pictured on the left) Starting page: 142. I have my doubts about being able to stay awake reading this one. I like it, and it's interesting, but choppy and not so much with the engrossing qualities. Also - TIRED.

12:12 - Challenge #17: 6 words in celebration of Dewey's Readathon: Bleary eyes, blurry words. Worth it.

Page count: 357

11:08 - MOAR COFFEE! 

Challenge #16: Turn the Page - "I would rather read than get in good with his daughter and her friends so I'm invited over any day!"

Page Count: 326

Heading to the bathtub right now. Hopefully the coffee will counteract its sleepy effect.

10:26 - Challenge 15: Casting Couch. Short answer - I would cast Rachel McAdams & Diane Lane to play Kim/Patricia at various ages in All of Me. Click the link above to see pics & find out why! 

Page Count: 300

I'm about to migrate to reading in the bathtub at any minute! This recliner is comfy, but I've been in it for 14 hours. Can't believe I'm still awake at all.

9:34 - Challenge 14: Share a quote complete. I included background information and a video about Kim Noble to explain why I chose the particular quote. 

Page Count: 284

8:37 - Challenge 13: I left my answer in the comments on the host's blog. Short answer: Secret Life of Beans by Sue Mung Kidd. I kinda did it wrong, because my brain is becoming noticeably fried. I hope I'm still eligible :/ A little bummed I haven't won anything yet, since there's so many prizes and I've entered most of the challenges, but there's still a long way to go if I can stay awake!

Page Count: 268

7:20 - My responses to the Mid-Event Survey (Challenge #12). Next book on the docket is Fox Forever (Jenna Fox Chronicles #3) by Mary E. Pearson (pictured on the left). Starting page: 117.

6:59 - Just finished All of Me by Kim Noble. It was really an amazing story. DID is fascinating, and Patricia's ordeal was terrifying, heart-breaking and ultimately triumphant.  I'll be writing a review next week. ;)
Page Count: 239

6: 29 - Okay so I went back and did Challege #9: Clearing the Cobwebs, because I needed to stretch! 

6:04 - Hour 11! To the right is my picture for Challenge #11, which is my comfy recliner with handknitted lap blanket, and my book, All of Me by Kim Noble.

Page Count: 230

5:04 - Skipped Challenge 9 (until later, maybe) and 10 (I can identify about 4 of 17 book covers, obviously that's not good enough to win!) 
Page count: 189 - Almost done All of Me!
I'll be needing another coffee soon....
Had some trouble with my blog post for the Book Puzzle challenge, apparently the first picture (of four) wasn't showing up, but I think it's fixed now, so if by chance you visited that page and couldn't figure it out, try again with the extra clue, I think it'll be easier!

Page count: 146

2:05 - so I've decided to skip Challenge 7, since all the books I'm reading have only one or two covers to choose from, being new-ish. I also spent the last half-hour visiting other people's book puzzles and need to get back to reading!!

Lunch: Sesame chicken, vegetables with almonds on
steamed rice, spring roll. 
1:31 - Just had lunch - pictured on the left -YUM, and completed the Book Puzzle Challenge. Can you guess the title of the book? 
Page Count: 93 (Dismal, I know)

12:32 - Mini-Challenge #5 Complete in which I take the liberty of using a stand-in for the required "selfie". 
Page Tally - 71
I had to take a break to wash my hair and order lunch. 

11:13 - Mini-Challenge #4 Complete in which I rename my current book, not so cleverly.
Page Tally - 40 (I know, terrible. But the challenges are taking up so much time!)

10:27 - Mini-Challenge #3 Complete!  A menu fit for the Earl of Grantham.

9:38 - 

Reading: All of Me: How I Learned to Live with the Many Personalities Sharing My Body by Kim Noble
Start Page: 120

9:22 - Just finished Mini-Challenge #2, here's the blog post: Book Spine Poetry, and here's the result! 

 What a fun thing to do!

Dog did not appreciate having her morning walk rushed! Now time for coffee and oatmeal...hopefully I will finally be able to read before 10 a.m. LOL

8:40 - okay okay, did the Introductory Questionnaire and visited a nice blog of a fellow 'thoner, but I still need to walk the dog and eat a quick breakfast before I can hit the books!

8:01 - uuurrrrrggggggghhh. I'm awake I'm awake....

Mini-challenge 1- Introductory Quiz Answers:
1. Kitchener, Ontario, Canada where it is still kind of winter :(
2. All of Me - Kim Noble
3. I don't have snacks planned, but I will probably be ordering Chinese food later.
4. I barely got any sleep last night :(
5. I participated in the readathon several years ago, and I don't remember enough about it to say I'll do anything differently this time!

Beginning at 8 a.m. I will be participating in Dewey's 24 hour readathon, which basically just means I'll be doing very little except reading and updating this blog about it for as long as I can until 8 a.m. Sunday morning. 

This is my second time participating. My previous attempt was several years ago when my health was much better, and it was a success - I managed to stay up and read for the whole 24 hours! I also won a lovely hard copy of The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova. 

I have wanted to participate in the bi-annual event since, but have hesitated because my health is so bad. However, I figure, why not give it a try again? I have a lot of books due back at the library on Monday, so I need to read them this weekend anyway :) 

On my reading list: 
All of Me by Kim Noble - memoir
To Marry an English Lord - non-fiction, history
Fox Forever by Mary E. Pearson - YA dystopia/scifi
Forbidden by Kelley Armstrong - Urban Fantasy

I've already started the first 3 in my list, and won't be counting previously read pages in my final tally. I also have some other back-up books if I get these finished. I will be updating this page once every 1-2 hours with page counts and activity logs. 

Wish me luck!

Readathon End of Event Meme

  1. Which hour was most daunting for you? This one! We're in torture territory now!
  2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year? Not sure what you mean by high-interest. Books that kept my interest or books that are popular? The book I liked best that I read for the even was All of Me by Kim Noble. Other good books I've read recently include The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates, Heart-shaped Bruise by Tanya Byrne and The Painted Girls by Cathy Buchanan
  3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? More prizes? I didn't win one this year *sadface*
  4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon? Most of the mini-challenges were really fun.
  5. How many books did you read? About 2.5
  6. What were the names of the books you read? All of Me by Kim Noble, Fox Forever by Mary E. Pearson, and Forbidden by Kelley Armstrong. I also read a little from To Marry an English Lord.
  7. Which book did you enjoy most? All of me
  8. Which did you enjoy least? To Marry an English Lord. I like the book, but it's too dry and un-absorbing for tired reading!
  9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders? I wasn't a cheerleader, but I did try to leave some positive comments on blogs and twitters.
  10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?  I will definitely participate again, as a reader, and think about hosting a mini-challenge.

Readathon Mini-challenge #21: Mad-Libs

I read, pleased with myself. Then I grooved to the other side of the cupboard. As promised, I was downwind of him, where he couldn't tickle me. I slumped in to wait, head on my cookie, pantaloons curled around me. Inside the yacht, I could hear Clay smacking up. I could punch him, too, sneaky fur bright through the band-aid.

Readathon Mini-Challenge 19 - Picture Break

Here are some of the photos I've taken during the readathon:

Books read
Books in progress or to read
Wake up juice!
Fortune Cookie
Reading space
Companion 1: Loki
Companion 2: Daisy

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Readathon Challenge #15: Casting Couch

Book: All of Me by Kim Noble

Character: Kim Noble or Patricia, the now-dominant personality of Kim Noble, a woman with Dissociative Identity Disorder, who is host to over 100 distinct personalities. The book tells Patricia's story of growing up existing intermittently, finding herself suddenly appearing in unfamiliar situations, being sent to psychiatric facilities, being misdiagnosed. Eventually Patricia takes over from others as the dominant personality and wins back custody of their daughter.


Young Patricia: Rachel McAdams

Older Patricia: Diane Lane

I picked these two actors because I think they are both very talented, and would be able to succeed in the role. Also, they bear some resemblance to the real Kim Noble, and look enough alike to be believable as the same woman at different ages.

Readathon Challenge #14: Share A Quote

Share a Quote Challenge

The quote I've chosen requires a little background info. I tried to think of an easier one but to be honest this was the only specific thing that struck me, even though as a whole the book was amazing. It's from All of Me: How I Learned to Live with the Many Personalities Sharing My Body by Kim Noble.

Kim Noble appeared on the television show Oprah in 2010. As a result of severe and repeated abuse as a very small child, her personality fractured into hundreds of separate people, a condition known as Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). Here is a video clip from the interview Oprah's producers did with Kim before she appeared on the show.

"Kim Noble" is the designation for the body that hosts all of these disparate personalities. All of Me is written by Patricia, the now-dominant personality. She fought, and succeeded to regain legal custody of her daughter Aimee, who for the most part, did grow up in Kim's care, but under "placement" conditions. Kim was treated by social services as a foster parent, despite being Aimee's birth mother, and subject to bi-annual reviews. Aimee is by all accounts a healthy teenager, who has always been able to distinguish between Kim's personalities and accepts it as a normal part of her life, although it is sometimes emotionally difficult. In the book, Patricia speaks about her appearance on Oprah, which included a guest who's mother also had DID.

      What really concerned me, however, was when another guest on the show, the adult daughter of a woman with DID who'd died recently, was asked if she had any advice for Aimee. She had three words: 'Support your mother.'
      Aimee and I were sitting in the audience by this stage. If we hadn't been I'd have leapt up to answer that. I've got support workers and therapists to support me. Aimee's my daughter, not my caretaker. She deserves the childhood this body was so brutally denied. It's my job to love and raise her to the best of my abilities, not to depend on her. She's a child, for goodness' sake!

This section of the book struck me powerfully. After everything Patricia had been through, leading such a devastatingly confusing and difficult life, she still had her head on straight. A weaker person would have indeed leaned too heavily on her child, but Patricia refuses to see herself as a victim, and makes Aimee her absolute first priority at all times. It's truly inspiring.

Readathon Challenge #12: Mid-Event Survey

Mid-Event Survey

1) How are you doing? Sleepy? Are your eyes tired?

I just had my second cup of coffee, right after completing the yoga challenge, so I'm doing better than I was an hour ago!

2) What have you finished reading?

All of Me, by Kim Noble 

3) What is your favorite read so far?

Same as above, it's the only book I've finished, since I've been doing a lot of the challenges and they take lots of time. That's okay though, I am having fun!

4) What about your favorite snacks?

All I've eaten so far is a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, and chinese take-out for lunch, plus two cups of coffee. The chinese food is the clear winner, though the coffee was absolutely essential.

5) Have you found any new blogs through the readathon? If so, give them some love!

Oh no, I haven't been keeping track! Checking my browser history:

I'm sure there's more, including the mini-challenge hosts, but these are just some blogs that I have visited today :)

Readathon Challenge #9: Clear the Cobwebs

I wasn't going to do this challenge but the past hour I started to feel like I needed to stretch. I did all the poses, plus threw in a twisting pose - you gotta have a twisting pose in your yoga routine! I had to be careful because almost two years ago I badly tore a tendon in my upper right arm doing Downward Dog, and it still hasn't healed properly. Needless to say, I haven't done that pose since, or much yoga at all. It was nice to put my yoga mat to use again. The sequence took me about 10 minutes - I am anxious to get back to reading. Here's a picture of my yoga mat in lieu of proof  that I did it ;)

Readathon Challenge #8: Book Sentence

Challenge: Create a sentence using only book titles.You must use all the words in a book title, but you can add punctuation.

How to be sick: covet the inheritance.

Readathon Challenge #6 - Book Puzzle

Challenge: For this challenge, you will be creating a Book Puzzle.  Essentially, this is a series of pictures, graphics, or photos that you put together that will describe a book title.

Canadian entry, just for fun.

Hint: It's an English Classic.

Readathon Mini-Challenge #5 - Selfie

Challenge: Post a self-portrait on Twitter, Instagram or your blog.

Yeah, I don't do selfies. So here's a picture of my cat, Loki, squatting in my reading chair:

If this disqualifies me from the prize, that's cool. Just wanted to participate :)

Readathon Mini-Challenge #4 Re-title

Mini-Challenge 4

  • Take your current read or the one you just finished.
  • ReTitle it with something clever
Book Title: All of Me: How I Learned to Live with the Many Personalities Sharing My Body by Kim Noble
Re-titled: Cutscenes: Memoirs of an Intermittent Existence

clever? maybe not LOL

Readathon Mini-Challenge #3 - Book Appetit!

Menu for the Launch of the Titanic, 1912
Challenge: Provide a menu to go along with a book you are reading for the Readathon

Book: To Marry an English Lord by Gail McColl and Caroline McD. Wallace

Lobster Rissolles
Beet Salad
Cock-a-Leekie soup
Kidney Souffle
Colcannon Cakes
Green Beans
Wine Jelly
Eton Mess for dessert!

Made up drink
Lady Mary's Sass (tribute to the Downton Abbey character)
3 parts sasparilla soda (imported from America of course!)
1 part red wine
fruit slices
(It's like a sassy sangria, you see!)

Readathon Mini Challenge 2: Book Spine Poetry

Book Spine Poetry

Betrayal of Love
House of Sand and Fog
Death Ain't But
A Darker Place

Sorry it's a bit blurry, my hands aren't so steady, especially in the pre-coffee morn! (I used books from my personal library, not the books I'm reading for the challenge. Hope that's okay!)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Lover At Last (Black Dagger Brotherhood #11) by J.R. Ward

Lover At Last (Black Dagger Brotherhood #11) by J.R. Ward

Rating: 2.5/5

Like many who follow this series, I was looking forward to Qhuinn and Blay's story, after so much build up in previous books. Unfortunately, it could not have been more of a disappointment. 

Ward's SOP has always been to create obstacle after obstacle between the destined couple du jour, most of them psychological. Sometimes these obstacles are somewhat plausible. In this case, they are entirely imaginary and could've been easily overcome if either character was capable of having a single rational thought. For two people who've been best friends their whole lives, they certainly are terrible at reading each other's body language. They don't know that, though, and they make all kinds of assumptions about each other's motivations and feelings, always to the detriment of progress. A thirty second conversation would have cleared the whole mess up in no time. There was no real conflict here, just stupidity and emo mind-reading. Blay had no discernible reason not to tell Qhuinn he'd broken up with Saxton. None whatsoever. And that simple admission would have saved everybody, including me, a whole lot of pointless angst. 

Fortunately--sort of--this idiocy is only a minor portion of this book, despite this being designated "Qhuinn and Blaylock's story". There's also some lesser activity, some Band of Brothers activity, some Trez and IAm stuff, some Council stuff, some Assail stuff...This book truly is a stew, and only the carrots get fully cooked. Meaning, every single sub-plot remained unresolved except Qhuinn and Blay's. And even their resolution seemed trite, rushed and totally out of character for them. It was cringe-worthy, really. Of the other plots, three of them were pretty much set-ups for further books, coupling Layla and Xcor, Assail and Sola, and Trez and Selena (thrown in near the end for no particular reason). The lesser stuff was more about giving Qhuinn some heroic airtime than advancing the enemy's plot - once Qhuinn has his daring airplane rescue, we only hear about the lessers via Assail's POV. Trez's problems with the s'Hisbe gets introduced, but he just runs away and hides instead of solving it. And we are left with a huge (depending on how much you care) cliffhanger re: Sola and Assail. Despite this book being nearly 600 pages, it is impossible to call it a complete novel, since there's an abundance of threads hanging out of it. Ward just took a handful of ideas and threw them into a pot, and didn't give a fig about how it turned out. 

I had some trouble with the way the "gay issue" was dealt with in this book. Blay's coming out was so sickeningly sweet, I found myself thinking sarcastically "oh how nice for you", even though I like Blay and his parents and wanted it to go well for him. But it would have been so much more interesting and realistic and just better if there was at least some awkwardness. Nobody's parents are so perfect. And then there is Qhuinn's realization, at the end of the book, that he is, in fact, gay. Excuse me, what? He'd already admitted to himself he was in love with his same-sex best friend ages ago, but he's still denying that he's gay (or even bisexual)? That's beyond cognitive dissonance, bordering on impossible. It makes the scene where he has his big revelation, which should have been powerful, completely ridiculous. Speaking of ridiculous, can we just pause for a minute and consider the fact that Blay considers masturbating while thinking about Qhuinn as cheating on Saxton? If that's the standard, I'm guessing pretty much everybody on earth is a rampant cheater. 

Finally, I will have to mention again Ward's language. I can deal with how she turns adjectives into nouns, and nouns into verbs. I'll bite my tongue about the acronyms and abbreviated words. I am thankful she only used the phrase "what's doing?" once in this book. But she really needs to give up on the whole "Old World" dialect thing. It's a distractingly huge fail. One passage, from Layla's perspective, is written entirely in contemporary form, with contemporary language, but Ward can't resist throwing a goddam 'mayhap' in at the end. I've said it before and I will say it again. There is SO much more to dialect than a bunch of "mayhap"s and "herein"s. Just fucking stop. 

I don't know why I continue to read this series, I really don't, except that I feel invested, and I keep thinking something cool could happen with it. But not only was Qhuinn and Blay's story the most contrived and drawn-out of them all, but all the myriad subplots that actually make up the vast majority of this book were pretty frickin' dry and boring. There were some compelling scenes -- like Qhuinn's induction ceremony -- but as soon as you start getting into a storyline, the chapter ends and the scene switches to a completely different plot. And this happens at every chapter, and sometimes once or twice during a chapter. There are just too many ingredients in this stew, and they are all bland and half-cooked. Except for Qhuinn and Blay, which gets overdone and soggy. J.R. Ward needs to find a new recipe (or at least go back to the old one). 

Other reviews for J.R. Ward:
Lover Revealed (BDB #4)
Lover Reborn (BDB #10)
Covet (Fallen Angels #1)
Envy (Fallen Angels #3)
Rapture (Fallen Angels #4)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Fragments (Partials #2) by Dan Wells

Rating: 2.5/5

Something's missing in this series. It's not terribly emotionally engaging, and it really needs to be, because it's long and slowly-paced. I don't mind slowly-paced books, as long as there's interesting tension, relationship and character development, and/or heavy theme exploration. The author's attempts at these things are infrequent and rather shallow. There were a few compelling scenes, but for the most part the dramatics were repetitive and uninspired.  And in between, there was a mountain of bland journeying and world-building, which should have been bleak and desolate and oppressive enough to feel like a dystopia, but somehow wasn't. 

There were too many characters with poor delineation, especially the adults, most of whom seemed little more than plot devices. They just didn't seem fully human. After 500+ pages I didn't feel like I knew the main characters any better than when I met them. 

I can't figure out if the plot is actually quite complicated or if Wells just made it seem that way by being so confusing about it. I think it's the latter. There was lots of unnecessary description and multiple scenes that failed to advance the plot, characters, relationships or even create mood, which they were obviously meant to do. So they just slowed down the pace.

I had some other issues with this book. The kids seemed to have knowledge of some things about they old world they shouldn't, but are completely baffled by other information. Afa was conveniently lucid only when they needed him to be. Heron's constant anger and complaining was repetitive and annoying. The only purpose it served was to create drama where the author needed "an episode" to break up the monotony of cross-country travel. Her behaviour was almost, but not quite, enough of an excuse for why Kira and Sam barely cared where she'd gone and just up and left her behind.  

Putting aside the fact that Kira seems to forget that she has a boyfriend back home, I liked the dynamic between her and Sam, but it didn't develop fast enough for me. Kira's internal dialogue didn't go deep or far enough. It didn't really go anywhere, actually, except in circles. 

Wells' writing style fails to convey much atmosphere or emotion, it is very matter of fact. I thought this was a choice in his John Cleaver series; it worked well for him in the Hollow City too. But it now appears it's just the way he writes, and it doesn't suit a protagonist like Kira who is passionate and emotional. At least that's what I think Wells was aiming for. 

It feels as though the author wrote this book using a recipe, to make sure he had all the proper genre (Young Adult) ingredients, adding the spices (more of the same drama) as needed. The characters are doing what he needs them to do, not what they are driven to do for themselves. 

I did like the moral conundrums in this book, but I wish they'd been dealt with by more introspective characters. Introspection seems to be difficult for Wells to write. This being a trilogy, I will read the next book if only to have a sense of completion. Perhaps the author will surprise me.

See my review of Partials (Partials #1) by Dan Wells

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Clockwork Princess (The Infernal Devices #3) by Cassandra Clare

Rating: 3/5 ****mild spoilers****

I cannot imagine a single fan of this series not being absolutely thrilled with this final book of the trilogy. As for me, you can tell by my rating that I'm not really a fan. I much preferred The Mortal Instruments (well, the first three volumes, anyway, I'm waiting for #6 to be published before I read the rest).

The thing is, I just never cared all that much for Tessa. Aside from her unique heredity and the unusual powers she has, she's sort of a nothing personality. And, outside of a Jane Austen novel, I have never been a fan of happily ever afters. So the fact that this mediocre excuse for a heroine gets a double dose of dream-come-true rubs me the wrong way. But of course, I didn't expect a tragedy, not from this series. The aforementioned fans would've rioted.

Did I mention that everybody else in the book coupled up and got happily-ever-afters as well? Except for Henry's legs, no losses were taken in the end by the "good guys" (unless you count Jessamine, who still ended up redeemed and content). Sigh.

This book did have its moments. Though over-cooked, the strength of friendship between Will and Jem was something you never see explored in this genre. And Sophie's Ascension ceremony was well done and touching. The plot in this story was simpler and yet better than the previous two installments.
The most infernal of devices in this series are the ones used by the author to create drama and further the plot. I think there's only one of two significant characters in this book that didn't, at some point, blame themselves for everything. I hate it when characters do that, I really do. It's so self-absorbed and emo. It's also used in almost every YA book I've ever read as a segue into feely conversations between characters, misunderstandings, and martyr-like self-destructive behaviors. Heroes take all the blame for themselves, while villains shift all the blame onto others. I prefer realistic characters that recognize the truth is always somewhere in between.

Now that all is said and done, I think Clockwork Princess may be equal to or better than Clockwork Prince, and certainly better than Clockwork Angel. It's nice that the series did end better than it started. However, I still find myself not really caring about the story or the people in it. After three long books, you would expect to be invested in the characters. I know a lot of readers of this series probably are, but I'm just not one of them. This trilogy is like a nice looking but forgettable action movie. It doesn't explore any real themes, or make you think about any issues. In my opinion there are other, better offerings in the YA genre.

See my reviews for Clockwork Angel and Clockwork Prince

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Fix: How Addiction is Invading Our Lives and Taking Over Your World by Damian Thompson

Rating: 3/5

The cover of this book contains no author credentials, no "by the author of", and no author's blurbs. If it weren't for the lovely design on the front, it would have all the ear-marks of being questionable. However, according to Wikipedia, Damian Thompson is a journalist with a Ph.D. in the sociology of religion. Does this make him as qualified to talk about addiction as, say, a neurologist or an evolutionary psychologist or an addictions expert? Probably not. However, Thompson has some personal experience with addiction, and most of the book is written from a sociological perspective. 

Thompson is convinced the "disease model" of addiction is incorrect, but his arguments against it are weak, in my opinion. It depends on how you define "disease", which he doesn't explicitly do. However, it seems as though Thompson believes to qualify for the term "disease", an illness must be a) scientifically identifiable  b) have only involuntary symptoms; and c) be incurable. This seems too narrow to me, but these are the points on which his arguments rest. 

Addiction cannot be specifically found or tested for in the organic body. Thompson argues that this means it's not a disease. But in the history of science, many diseases failed this test until the technology arose to detect them, or the pathology was discovered. I would be curious to know if Thompson doesn't believe that things like Fibromyalgia and ME/CFS are real diseases either, since they lack this qualification. But it's painfully obvious to me--literally-- that my chronic illness is a real disease, even though the doctors can't locate the source of it in my body. 

Thompson also believes that because addictive behaviour is "voluntary", it can't be a symptom of a real disease. But people who have struggled with addiction know that succumbing to cravings doesn't exactly feel like an act of free will. There must be some intermediate between voluntary and involuntary to cover addictive behaviour. Is depression a disease? Because the symptoms of depression consist of voluntary action (or inaction) too. 

Finally, for the author to call something a disease, it apparently has to be incurable. This seems ridiculous to me, but this was one of his arguments: Alcoholics Anonymous says that alcoholism is an incurable disease, and the only treatment is a 12-step program and total abstinence. But some people recover from alcoholism without this treatment. Therefore, it's not a disease. This is the argument Thompson makes. But his conclusion doesn't follow from his premise. The logical conclusion is that alcoholism isn't incurable, and that AA isn't the only treatment. Not all diseases are incurable - talk to people who have no traces left of cancer in their bodies. 

Thompson even admits that the disease model has its uses, and that it's really a semantic argument anyway. So why make a big deal about it? He fears the drawbacks if people buy into the disease model wholeheartedly. Personally I think buying anything wholeheartedly is going to have drawbacks, and on principle, everything in the universe should be approached with a critical eye. But I suppose there are people who don't do this, and that Thompson is making a point about the dangers of totally accepting the disease model to the exclusion of other ideas. Fair enough, but you can make this point without relying on unconvincing arguments to prove addiction isn't a disease. 

Personally, I don't know if it is a disease or isn't, and I'm not sure this categorizing is actually important in a practical sense. Thompson's point is that addictive behaviour exists on a spectrum, and is becoming more and more normalized in our society. He sees it as a problem of neurochemistry (on which he gives a basic primer) and availability -if a particular thing is not widely available and affordable, there is no widespread addiction to it. But addictive behaviour is easily transferable, and companies are specifically designing more products to be as addictive as possible.

The majority of this book covers the current state of addiction (mostly in Western society). There are lengthy chapters on alcohol, drugs, and porn, but the section on food is disappointingly short. Gambling, gaming, and shopping are also briefly discussed. Aside from a few details, I didn't learn much that I didn't already know, and Thompson offers little in the way of solutions. 

If this is your first foray into the subject of addiction, this is an interesting and easy-to-read book. But there isn't much new information here for anyone who has already read a book or two about it. The Fix definitely isn't self-help, so if you are suffering from addiction yourself, you won't get much assistance here, aside from the knowledge that you are definitely not alone.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates

Rating: 4/5

In some ways, this book reminded me of Anne Rice's The Witching Hour -- it was long, full of histories, and the supernatural element was delayed in arriving, and sparse in actual appearance. Unlike Rice's story, however, The Accursed is peopled with many actual historical figures (e.g. Woodrow Wilson, Upton Sinclair, Jack London, Grover Cleveland, Mark Twain, Teddy Roosevelt) and set in Princeton, New Jersey in the years 1905-6.  There were dozens of characters in this book, to the point where, unless you have a great memory (which I decidedly don't), you'll become confused about who people are, what happened with each of them, and their relationship to each other. I needed one of those character maps, like this one I found when I read Middlemarch, or perhaps even a physical copy of Pearce van Dyck's "Scheme of Clues" -- for even the characters needed a map to keep track of what was going on.

I can't imagine the amount of work it took to put this book together. Oates herself must have had some sort of massive outline. I have no idea how historically accurate the details and characters are, but I'm sure that, even supposing artistic liberties, Oates must have done a huge amount of research.

This story touches on just about every social issue you can think of -- racism, women's rights, sexual "deviance" (mentioned only as "the unspeakable"), politics, socialism, religion...sometimes I found myself wondering why this book had to be about everything. In some cases, the issues were inseparable from the lives of the characters. But I felt like the socialism issue, and the parts of the book covering the characters of Upton Sinclair, Jack London and the like might have been unnecessary, adding more bulk to the already complex and over-populated story.

Many of Oates' characters were well-written and life-like, in that they inhabited grey areas, had many faults, and saw the world in their own particular way. Woodrow Wilson and Upton Sinclair especially struck me as people who had the best intentions, but were trapped by their own sets of rules that caused them to suffer, because they couldn't see outside their own perspective. It evoked a measure of sympathy in me to see how they were confused and angry when their rigidity of thinking and/or acting failed to create their desired results. Many characters in the book suffered in this way at some time or to some degree, causing schisms in relationships. However, I was also irritated by their blindness to their own faults, the blame-shifting, and of course the various prejudices. I appreciated that Oates made her characters human in this way, as none of them were wholly good (except perhaps for the angelic Annabel and the progressive Wilhelmina), or wholly evil (except, of course, the agents of The Curse).

Oates' writing is expressive and detailed. As a result, the pace of this book is rather slow, but most of the time she manages to keep it interesting, creating a very non-romantic picture of this time and place in American history. The character of Adelaide Burr made me grateful that I am not living with my own chronic illness in her time, sheltered and isolated from information by lack of technology and antiquated sexist ideas. This book does not hold back in its depictions of elitism, racism, sexism, and every other kind of prejudice that was in existence (and being questioned) at the time. Even the narrator, writing in his old age in the 1980's, showed symptoms of discriminatory attitudes.

Speaking of the narrator, he was the one thing I didn't like about this book. I found him to be intrusive, and little more than a device to excuse certain aspects of the book. He introduces himself as a "historian, not a literary stylist", which gives him (i.e. the author) the right to info-dump with impunity, in footnotes (I hate  footnotes, especially in novels), and in small chapters between story events. He even suggests the reader skip certain parts if we aren't really interested in the details, but of course you can't do it. His whole presence felt like the author trying to excuse her own perceived faults in the narrative -- unnecessarily, in my opinion. In fact, his repeated intrusions only served to jerk me out of the story and make me realize that he was, at least in one significant instance, privy to details that he couldn't possibly have known (the incident of Pearce van Dyck's visitation by an agent of The Curse impersonating Joseph Bell -- the inspiration behind Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes). In effect, the one major fault in the novel is the very device meant to smooth over the rest of them (which in my mind, don't exist).

The ending of this story was written as an all-caps sermon by the original instigator of The Curse, and left us with a grand twist that I found quite interesting, and rather amusing. I will not spoil it, but I will say I'm kind of shocked that I haven't seen any outraged response to it online.  Though certain aspects of the mystery remain incompletely explained (such as "The Bog Kingdom"), and certain characters had a bit of a "quick and tidy" conclusion, I felt it was a satisfying, if unusual, ending.

If you like "long reads" and early 20th century American gothic (and/or history), this book is probably for you.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Partial Rating: 2.75/5

After reading 216 pages, I performed a cost/benefit analysis and decided not to continue. Antifragility is an interesting concept with wide ranging applications, but not wide enough to be of practical use to a person in my situation; and this book is just not intriguing or entertaining enough to read for its own sake. It's very challenging, sometimes hard to follow, and the author has a bit of an attitude problem, taking pot-shots at just about everyone. I look forward to the day someone writes a more accessible book on this topic.

The Hollows Series (Kim Harrison): Ratings and Reviews

The Hollows
1. Dead Witch Walking - 4/5
2. The Good, The Bad, and the Undead - 3/5 - I didn't enjoy this one as much as the first. I don't much like Harrison's vampires, but by the end I'm a little more used to them. I thought Rachel was being pretty stupid sometimes, which is even more annoying than her temper. But I guess those qualities are what gets her into the interesting scrapes.
3. Every Which Way But Dead - 4/5
4. A Fistful of Charms - 3/5
5. For a Few Demons More - 4/5
6. The Outlaw Demon Wails - 4/5
7. White Witch, Black Curse - 3/5
8. Black Magic Sanction - 3/5
9. Pale Demon - 3/5
10. A Perfect Blood - 3/5 - Pretty standard Rachel Morgan. This series hasn't really declined much over the years, unlike some urban fantasy series I shall not mention. That's pretty impressive for book 10. Just wish Rachel's love life had made a bit more progress, but you can see where it's headed.
11. Ever After - 3/5 - See Review
12. The Undead Pool - 2.5/5 - See Review
Into the Woods: Tales From the Hollows And Beyond - 1.5/5 - See Review

The Hollows Graphic Novels
1. Blood Work - NR
2. Blood Crime - 3/5 - I found the art was eye-grabbing, for the most part, but the story was more re-hashing of Ivy's issues, which Harrison has dealt with so many times already. I enjoyed it, but I wish Harrison had a new story to tell.

J.R. Ward: Ratings and Reviews (Black Dagger Brotherhood; Fallen Angels)

Black Dagger Brotherhood

1. Dark Lover - 3/5
2. Lover Eternal - 3/5
3. Lover Awakened - 3/5
4. Lover Revealed - 3/5 - See Review
5. Lover Unbound - 3/5
6. Lover Enshrined - 3/5
7. Lover Avenged - 4/5
8. Lover Mine - 4/5
9. Lover Unleashed - 4/5
10. Lover Reborn - 3/5 - See Review
11. Lover At Last - 2.5/5 - See Review

Fallen Angels

1. Covet - 3.5/5 - See Review
2. Crave - 3/5
3. Envy - 2/5 - See Review
4. Rapture - 1.5/5 - See Review