Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Review - Timebound (DNF)

Timebound (The Chronos Files #1)
by Rysa Walker
Date: 2012
Publisher: Skyscape
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 366
Format: e-book
Source: Amazon.ca

When Kate Pierce-Keller’s grandmother gives her a strange blue medallion and speaks of time travel, sixteen-year-old Kate assumes the old woman is delusional. But it all becomes horrifyingly real when a murder in the past destroys the foundation of Kate’s present-day life. Suddenly, that medallion is the only thing protecting Kate from blinking out of existence.

Kate learns that the 1893 killing is part of something much more sinister, and Kate’s genetic ability to time-travel makes her the only one who can stop him. Risking everything, she travels to the Chicago World’s Fair to try to prevent the killing and the chain of events that follows.

Changing the timeline comes with a personal cost, however—if Kate succeeds, the boy she loves will have no memory of her existence. And regardless of her motives, does she have the right to manipulate the fate of the entire world?

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I made it to 33%.  I think I gave it a fair shot.  But there are just so many problems with this novel that I can't push myself to go any further.

There are so many unanswered questions and confusing elements to the plot.  I guess that's to be expected when you're talking about time travel (since nobody really knows how it would actually work).  However, there are things that aren't even internally consistent or that are just plain odd.  The mechanics of the inheritance of the time-travel gene are fuzzy.  What makes Kate so special?  Why don't her parents have the same abilities as she does if they're also the offspring of two time-travellers?  If everyone in the future is genetically programmed to love their work, why did Kate's grandfather go all supervillain and aspire to found his own church/cult?  Why was he so dissatisfied with his lot in life if it was supposedly genetically predetermined?  And there were little, technical questions, too... like how Kate and Trey got in and out of Trey's car when they were supposedly holding hands the whole time to keep him from disappearing into another timeline.  There was no mention of the necessary acrobatics, so I was just confused.

I have so many questions, and it's because the book is full of infodumps.  There was one at about 1/5 of the way through that lasted for more than 20 pages.  When I stopped at the 1/3 mark, I was in the midst of another.  Obviously, the story the author wanted to tell was too ambitious, or it was started in the wrong place.  But I'm tired of reading about Kate and her grandmother passing all this information back and forth at the expense of any sort of action in the story.

The other problem I had was with the characters.  They're all so similar as to be indistinguishable from one another.  I liken it to a child playing with paper dolls and making them talk to each other: they're all flat, and they all sound the same (and quite juvenile, at that).  All of the adults are pretty horrible.  Kate's grandmother sees nothing wrong with abrogating free will.  Her mother (what we saw of her) was just a snarly, surly woman.  Her father might have been okay, but then he basically implied that he'd prefer that his daughter cease to exist rather than his sons (it's a timeline thing... I won't try to explain it).  And then we have the love interest.  He was pretty much a Gary Stu, and just as boring as the rest of them.  Oh, and he kissed Kate on the first day they met.  Okay, so she was also kissed by a hot time-traveller (that she didn't even know) on that same day, so I guess Kate is just one of those Mary Sues that male characters just instantly fall in love with and have to kiss.

I'd really hoped for a good story, though I was a little wary of the time-travel aspect since it can be confusing if not done right.  But this book has bigger problems than the plausibility of time travel.  Flat characters and way too much infodumping made even that first 33% a tedious read.

So, in the final analysis, the reasons why I didn't finish Timebound are as follows:
  • too much infodumping
  • flat, boring characters
  • insta-love
  • reading to 33% was exhausting enough

Top Ten Tuesday - Top New Series I Want To Start

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted at The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's topic is Top New Series I Want To Start.  I'm going to fudge a little and include some not-so-new series.  After all, if I haven't started them, they're new to me:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8665876-awaken Awaken by Katie Kacvinsky (first book: Awaken) - I remember seeing this cover on a lot of book blogs a while back.  I never did start the series then... but I hope to soon.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6909544-birthmarked Birthmarked by Caragh M. O'Brien (first book: Bookmarked) - I almost picked up this series a while back, but never did.  The premise still intrigues me.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/11614718-delirium Delirium by Lauren Oliver (first book: Delirium) - I really enjoyed the other two books I've read by this author, so I'm curious about this series.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10194157-shadow-and-bone The Grisha by Leigh Bardugo (first book: Shadow and Bone) - I kept getting this book mixed up with Daughter of Smoke & Bone before I read the latter.  I keep hearing good things about this series (especially the third book), so I might have to check it out.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18490629-child-of-a-hidden-sea Hidden Sea Tales by A. M. Dellamonica (first book: Child of a Hidden Sea) - I saw this book reviewed on someone's blog, and I thought it looked really interesting.  And then I found it at the library when I wasn't even looking for it.  Maybe it's a sign that I should read this one!

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/19286673-loop Loop by Karen Akins (first book: Loop) - I'd never heard of this one, really, but it seems like it would fit in nicely with all the time-travel novels I've been drawn to lately.

https://www.goodreads.com/series/51288-throne-of-glass Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas (first book: Throne of Glass) - It seems that everybody's been raving over these books lately (especially with the release of the third one).  I'm late to the party... but aren't I always?

https://www.goodreads.com/series/114129-time Time by Jack Finney (first book: Time and Again) - I recently acquired this one, and it looks really interesting!  It's definitely not "new"; in fact, the first book is older than I am!

https://www.goodreads.com/series/44452-uglies Uglies by Scott Westerfeld (first book: Uglies) - I've heard this is a good series.  The first book is in my TBR pile; I just haven't gotten around to reading it yet.

https://www.goodreads.com/series/43330-unwind-dystology Unwind Dystology by Neal Shusterman (first book: Unwind) - My only experience with this author is a creepy (but good) short story of his that I read recently.  This series looks kind of disturbing... but it also looks pretty good!


What series do you want to start?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Review - Up

Up
by Jim LaMarche
Date: 2006
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Daniel was tired of being little. Mouse! They'd been calling him that since he was born. He hadn't used to mind it, even liked it once, but not anymore. He poked at some crackers on the table. "Someday I'll be so strong," he mumbled. "Someday..." And then it happened. Something so strange, Daniel wasn't sure he could believe his eyes. One little cracker trembled for a second, then lifted up off the table. Not much. Not even an inch. Then, just as suddenly, it dropped right back down. Daniel blinked. Had that really happened? How? Had he done it?

Up is the story of an ordinary boy with an extraordinary talent, a talent no one knows about but him. Can Mouse really lift things off the ground? Or is it enough that he believes he can? Once again Jim LaMarche has mixed the magical with the everyday to create a book that stretches our imaginations and our dreams.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This little picture book actually has quite a bit of story, even though it only has 32 pages.  While the basic premise did remind me a little bit of Roald Dahl's Matilda, the characters and tone of the story were completely different.

What really makes this book shine, though, are its illustrations.  The watercolour and pencil drawings are downright magical, and really help create the seaside setting.  While some of the pictures are better than others, the close-up illustrations of Daniel are downright adorable.

This story about magic and finding your own strengths would be a nice addition to any picture book collection.

Quotable moment:

Every day, like a weightlifter, he got a bit stronger. But though he could lift heavier things, he could never lift them high. Nor could he move them left or right. Never back and forth, just up, and that, not much.

Recommended to: children who might be a bit young for Matilda, but who would still enjoy reading about kids with special powers

Premise: 4/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 4/5
Illustrations: 4/5
Originality: 4/5

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4 out of 5

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Weekly Recap - October 12-18, 2014

Here's what I blogged about over the last seven days:

Monday - I reviewed Thomas' Snowsuit by Robert Munsch & Michael Martchenko and gave it 2.5 ladybugs.

I also reviewed Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver and gave it 4.43 ladybugs.

Tuesday - I participated in the Top Ten Tuesday meme.  This week's topic was places books have made us want to visit.

Wednesday - I posted a DNF review for Other Worlds, a collection of short stories edited by Jon Scieszka.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Review - Other Worlds (DNF)

Other Worlds (Guys Read Library of Great Reading #4)
edited by Jon Scieszka
Date: 2013
Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books
Reading level: MG
Book type: short stories
Pages: 355
Format: e-book
Source: library

Ten incredible trips into the unknown await you...

Blast off with:

• ‘Percy Jackson and the Singer of Apollo’, an all-new and exclusive tale from Rick Riordan, author of House of Hades

• ‘A Day in the Life’ by award-winning author/illustrator Shaun Tan

• ‘Rise of the RoboShoes’ by Tom Angleberger of Origami Yoda fame

And many more weird and wonderful stories by legendary writer Ray Bradbury, Newbery medalist Rebecca Stead, Shannon Hale, D. J. MacHale, Eric Nylund, Kenneth Oppel and Neal Shusterman.

Compiled by US National Ambassador for Children’s Literature (and Secret Ambassador for the Intergalactic Alliance) Jon Scieszka, Other Worlds will boldly take you where no reader has gone before.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

In theory, this series of books sounds great.  Collections of short stories that will appeal to tween boys and encourage them to read?  What's not to like?  Unfortunately, quite a bit.  The main problem with collections like this is story choice.  While it's important to have a good variety, choosing stories that are too far out of the chosen genre or targeted age group is just asking for trouble.

I got through the first two stories in this book, and then was so worn out and disgusted that I couldn't bring myself to read most of the rest; the only reason I read "Rise of the RoboShoes" and "A Day in the Life" was because they were short.  All I could think about after reading that second story was that second story.  And it made me angry.  Really angry.

"Bouncing the Grinning Goat" is the story of the eldest daughter in a family of sixteen children who is tired of being an unpaid babysitter to a woman who apparently can't keep her legs closed.  So she steals her older brother's armor and goes off in search of an adventure.  I had no problem with all of that.  What I did have a problem with was the ending and the underlying message... especially since this was included in a book aimed at boys.  Basically, her older brother tracks her down and lays a guilt trip on her.  Her mother misses her.  Her mother cried.  Oh, that makes everything okay!  The girl returns happily to wipe her siblings' butts and noses until, presumably, she can make some poopy-butted, runny-nosed kids of her own.  The message I took away was that it's okay for a girl to have an adventure... as long as she goes home to be a domestic drudge for a bunch of men when she's done.  No.  No!  I wouldn't want young girls exposed to that message, and I don't want young boys exposed to it, either.  All it does is perpetuate gender stereotypes and shame women for wanting to be independent.

The inexplicable inclusion of such a story in a book aimed at boys soured me on the whole thing and made me question the suitability of the rest of the stories.  I just didn't feel like investing any time in the longer stories after that.  For what it's worth, here are my mini reviews on what I did read:

"Percy Jackson and the Singer of Apollo" by Rick Riordan - I'm not familiar with Percy Jackson, never having read any of the books about him (or seen the movie, for that matter).  But I still enjoyed this story.  The writing and characters were obviously aimed at a younger audience, but the story was entertaining and funny, and I can see why the series of books has such a following.


"Bouncing the Grinning Goat" by Shannon Hale - I've never read any books by Shannon Hale, and if the sexist tone of this story is anything to go by, I probably won't in the future.  Here we have a girl who's tired of looking after her nine younger siblings, so she takes off to find adventure and her own special powers... only to be guilted back into a life of domestic drudgery by her older brother.  Nice.


"Rise of the RoboShoes" by Tom Angleberger - What a waste of time this one was!  It could have been a thought-provoking story.  Instead, it was played for cheap laughs with underwear jokes and badly Photoshopped pictures.


"A Day in the Life" by Shaun Tan - This fully illustrated story was interesting, though a bit light on plot, and I'm not sure it's really suited to middle graders; they might find it boring.  Some of the events of the man's day are pretty amusing... and all of it is definitely imaginative.  This short story was enough to pique my curiosity about the author.


So, in the final analysis, the reasons why I didn't finish Other Worlds are as follows:
  • I just wasn't feeling it
  • the stupid second story made me spitting mad
  • poor selection of stories
  • the library wanted it back

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday - Ten Places Books Have Made Me Want To Visit

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted at The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's topic is Ten Places Books Have Made Me Want To Visit.  We can pick real or imaginary places, but since I did a similar meme with imaginary places already, I thought I'd pick real places.  A few of these books feature historical versions of these places; I'd like to visit those, too, but until someone invents a time machine, I'll have to make do with the present-day versions:

France

(Odette's Secrets by Maryann Macdonald) - I'd love to see Paris, but I'd also like to visit some of the smaller villages in the French countryside.  In this particular case, I don't think I'd want to see the historical version.  Too many Nazis...

Italy

(The Awakening by L. J. Smith; New Moon by Stephenie Meyer) - What is it with vampires and Italy?  But I digress.  I would love to visit some of the old villages and the beautiful ancient cities in this lovely country.  But let's be honest... I'd probably eat my way through the trip.  I love Italian food.

London, U.K.

(Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding; Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J. K. Rowling; Wrapped by Jennifer Bradbury) - I'd probably want to visit London even if I hadn't read about it in any novels.  I have lots of ancestors who made their home there in the past; I'd like to see where they lived.

New York City, U.S.A.

(The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Beastly by Alex Flinn; Heat Rises by Richard Castle; Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston) - One day I'd like to visit this city.  I'd like to see Central Park and the Empire State Building, and maybe take a trip to see the Statue of Liberty up close.

Oxford, U.K.

(A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness) - For a book that I couldn't even get through, it did make an impression on me.  Oxford was described quite well.  Now I want to go there and see it for myself!

Prague, Czech Republic

(Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor) - I'd like to see pretty much any part of Europe, but Prague looks especially intriguing with its history and architecture.  I'm kind of curious about goulash, too, after reading that book.  I wonder if anyone makes a vegan version...

Prince Edward Island, Canada

(Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery; Jane of Lantern Hill by L. M. Montgomery) - I think a lot of people who read Anne of Green Gables ended up wanting to see the province where the story was set.  Though I do live in Canada, I'm at the wrong end of the country to make visiting this place easy!

Saint Petersburg, Russia

(The Lost Crown by Sarah Miller) - This city has always fascinated me more than Moscow.  If I were to take a trip to Russia, I'd definitely want to see Saint Petersburg.  I find the old, opulent buildings especially intriguing.

Scotland, U.K.

(The Daykeeper's Grimoire by Christy Raedeke; The Puzzle Ring by Kate Forsyth) - Both of those books feature Scottish castles, but that's not a requirement.  I'm half Scottish, so I'd just love to see where my ancestors came from.  (Yes... I really should read Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series one of these days!)

Southern California, U.S.A.

(The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson; Evermore by Alyson Noël) - Though I'm Canadian born and raised, I did spend a couple of years in Southern California as a child.  These books brought up more nostalgia than anything, and made me want to revisit the places I'd been before.  The inclusion of the Spanish missions in the former and the spur-of-the-moment trips to Disneyland in the latter really brought back some memories!


What places have books made you want to visit?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Review - Liesl & Po

Liesl & Po
by Lauren Oliver
illustrated by Kei Acedera
Date: 2011
Publisher: HarperCollins
Reading level: MG
Book type: illustrated prose novel
Pages: 336
Format: e-book
Source: library

Liesl lives in a tiny attic bedroom, locked away by her cruel stepmother. Her only friends are the shadows and the mice—until one night a ghost appears from the darkness. It is Po, who comes from the Other Side. Both Liesl and Po are lonely, but together they are less alone.

That same night, an alchemist's apprentice, Will, bungles an important delivery. He accidentally switches a box containing the most powerful magic in the world with one containing something decidedly less remarkable

Will's mistake has tremendous consequences for Liesl and Po, and it draws the three of them together on an extraordinary journey.

From New York Times bestselling author Lauren Oliver comes a luminous and magnificent novel that glows with rare magic, ghostly wonders, and a true friendship that lights even the darkest of places.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I've been in a bit of a reading slump lately, so I wanted to read something fun.  I read Lauren Oliver's Before I Fall a few years ago, and really enjoyed it; the story and message were great, and the writing was solid.  I've been wanting to read something else by the author for ages, but I wasn't sure if I wanted to start another trilogy.  So when I saw Liesl & Po, a stand-alone title, at the library, I thought I'd give it a try.

This is a very cute book.  Though it's technically a middle-grade title, it has a timeless sort of quality to it, reminiscent of some classic children's books, that makes it seem like it would appeal to a much broader age range.  It appears to take place in a setting that's somewhat similar to Victorian Europe, which did make references to getting "wires crossed" and airplanes a bit jarring... but it's technically a fantasy world, so who knows?

The villains (and there are a few) seem like they'd be right at home in a Dickens novel.  The protagonists are Liesl, a lonely little girl who has been shut up in an attic by her stepmother, and Will, an orphan who is the apprentice to an alchemist.  Despite what the title might lead one to believe, the story is really about Liesl and Will (though Po does play an important role).

I have very few complaints about this book.  For what it is, it's very good.  I do, however, wish we'd gotten to know more about the ghosts: Po (who is neither a boy nor a girl, but perhaps both) and Bundle (Po's pet, who is neither a dog nor a cat, but perhaps both).  I loved those two characters, and the descriptions of the Other Side were so imaginative and interesting that I really wanted to know more about those two and how they ended up where they did.  I'm sure there is an equally good story there, just waiting to be told.

And I have to mention the illustrations.  They are absolutely adorable.  One of the first drawings was of Will in his oversized overcoat and crazy hair, and I had a hard time not saying, "Aww!" out loud.  The illustrator really captured the flavour of the story, and the pictures only enhanced the text.

I'm really glad I finally got a chance to read this book.  It was delightful and charming and now I feel like I want to go and have a mug of hot chocolate to keep the warm fuzzies going.  I highly recommend this one!

Quotable moment:

Liesl was relieved. "I'll draw you a train," she said passionately. She loved trains—the sound of them, at least. She heard their great horns blasting and the rattle of their wheels on the track and listened to them wailing farther and farther away, like birds calling to one another in the distance, and sometimes she confused the two sounds and imagined the train had wings that might carry its passengers up into the sky.

Recommended to: readers who enjoy well-written stories with a touch of magic

Plot: 4/5
Characters: 5/5
Pace: 4/5
Writing & Editing: 4/5
Originality: 4/5

Enjoyment: 5/5

Overall Rating: 4.43 out of 5 ladybugs