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Wednesday Review: Curtsies & Conspiracies by Gail Carriger

Curtsies & Conspiracies by Gail Carriger4 stars

If you need laughter, vampires, werewolves, and high tea all in the same place, stop here. Gail Carriger takes us on another hilarious romp in her Steampunk world with Sophronia and her friends with Curtsies & Conspiracies.

What could four teenage girls get up to on a dirigible finishing school floating over a field in southern England? More than you would guess. At Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality the girls are learning etiquette and espionage at the same time. With their first six months past, Sophronia and her friends receive their first test and first marks. Sophronia is at the very top, no surprise, but it puts a cold distance between her and her friends. With a scientist planning to journey through the aetherosphere for the first time and dark plots afoot, Sophronia must put all her skills to use if she’s going to save her friends, and herself.

It’s hard to say if there’s anything at all serious about Gail’s young adult series, except for the extreme heart you see in her main character Sophronia. These books would just be funny fluff if Ria (as she’s loveingly nicknamed by the new man in her life) wasn’t so interesting and compelling. Underneath all the laughter and adventures, you’ll find that you do care about what happens to these girls and what kind of lives they make for themselves after their schooling is over. But of course to get there, they have to survive school first.

A wonderful lark full of mystery, intrigue, and embroidered cushions, Curtsises & Conspiracies is sure to delight.



Wednesday Review: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

Steelheart4 stars

Brandon Sanderson hits another home-run with his newest young adult fantasy-dystopia. Steelheart plunges us into a world of darkness and superheroes, where there are no good guys coming to the rescue and there is no happily ever after.

David barely remembers the time before Calamity came–a red star in the sky–and the Epics, humans turned super with science-defying powers and a thirst for destruction and power. His clearest memory is of the day his father was murdered by an Epic: Steelheart, ruler of NewCago (the remains of Chicago). Steelheart is ruthless and terrible, killing randomly and without mercy, ruling the city in a tight grip of fear and despair. And no one thinks to stand up to him, because Steelheart is the highest of Epics: an invincible. But David knows differently, because on the day the Epic murdered his father, David saw Steelheart bleed. Having spent his life researching Epics and planning how to destroy Steelheart, David finally sees his dreams come true: he meets up with the Reckoners, the sole group of revolutionaries daring to attack Epics, and convinces them to let him join their ranks. But even with a plan and the resources of the Reckoners to call from, killing Steelheart is near suicice, unless they can figure out his weakness, the one thing that can make him bleed, the one thing that can kill him.

Sanderson has a gift for creating new and interesting worlds. In his fantasy novels he introduces us to societies that were once grand but have now fallen into near chaos, and here in Steelheart he does the same, but the grand society is our own. Running through the ruins of Chicago, David is an average teenager struggling to survive in a world that has fallen apart. While the Epics and the new technology invented in their wake give David’s world an exotic edge, the underlying structure is still what you can look out your window and see today. Like any good dystopia, Steelheart gives us a glimpse into a possible future, grounding the extraordinary with the ordinary.

David was a refreshingly different kind of character for Sanderson. He’s not gifted with amazing magical powers–he’s not an Epic–and while he’s smart, he isn’t a genius. His knack for survival, his dedication to vengeance on Steelheart, and his quirk of always trying to find the right metaphor make him a perfect narrator. Most importantly, despite his father’s death and his life under a cruel dictator, David still has hope. His belief that Steelheart can be defeated and his dreams that maybe, someday, the world could find its way back towards what it was make David the only character who could tell this story. Without David’s sliver of hope, this story would just be dark.

A thrilling start to a new series, Sanderson is well on his way to establishing a presence as both an adult and young adult author.



Wednesday Review: The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

Dream Thieves5 stars

When I read The Raven Boys last summer, a few months before it hit shelves, I was blown away by how much I loved it. The writing, the concept, the characters, the magic… Everything fit together in a perfect little puzzle that I couldn’t wait to solve again and again. With my expectations and excitement high as I went into The Dream Thieves, I found myself wowed again. Maggie Stiefvater is well-known for her paranormal romance, stories with a little darkness and a lot of heart, but with this series she has taken a step into another realm. The Dream Thieves is a thrilling exploration of the human heart and the deepest secrets we hold there.

[Spoilers for The Raven Boys]

Where magic was just awakening in The Raven Boys, here in The Dream Thieves it is at front and center of the story. With the last sentence of The Raven Boys we discovered that Ronan can take things out of his dreams and into reality. We plunge into The Dream Thieves (can you see why the title is appropriate?) and straight into Ronan’s head, a character we didn’t get to hear from in book one. As we discover the breadth and workings of Ronan’s power, and the secrets he’s been hiding even from his best friends, his character changes in our minds. Ronan is still the same person, but once you see through his eyes, the world looks very different, and his shaved head, biting tattoo, and snarling attitude make sense.

We also explore magic with Adam, who is now embued with the essence of Cabeswater, though he (and us) have no idea what that really means. As he struggles to survive away from his parents, dealing with the reality of supoorting himself and thinking about the future, Adam reveals some of his true nature, secret depths that we can see glimmers of in book one, but don’t see fully revealed until now. The “elegant” boy as Blue calls him is not so fragile as his friends might have thought.

And of course we still spend time with Blue and Gansey, but these two don’t hold center stage as much as they did in book one. With work on the ley line and Glendower stalled after the events of book one, Gansey is in a holding pattern with his search, and Blue is still struggling with the reality of what Gansey could be to her. As these two tread water, waiting for the sign to move forward, the tension builds, excruciating and wonderful. Theirs is the best kind of love story: the kind where you get to watch two people slowly realize that they’re in love, and by the time they do they’re so caught in their own web that there’s no escape.

The most interesting part of this book was the introduction of a new character, Mr. Gray, a hit man out looking for the “Greywaren,” something that can take objects out of dreams. His voice is cold and caluclating, and yet our characters bring out the humanity in him that he’s been hiding for so long. He might unerve you, but inevitably he’s in integral to the plot and his destiny gets tied up with Blue and her Raven Boys.

There are two kisses in The Dream Thives, both beautiful and agonizing. There are many dreams and many dangers. There is magic like you cannot imagine. This is a heady tale, and you don’t want to miss being caught up in it.



Wednesday Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell5 stars

Fangirl is the perfect remedy for a long or rainy day. If you were, are, or plan to be a fangirl, then this book has to be on your to-read list. Smart, funny, and full of heart, Fangirl will remind you what it’s like to love–both fictionally and actually.

Cath and her twin sister Wren are off to their first year of college. Only problem is Wren has dumped her sister in favor of a new roommate and new experiences. Alone and uncertain, Cath enters the college world with more than a little trepidation, with only her protein bars and a good dose of Simon Snow fanfiction to keep her sane. Simon Snow, the hero of a magical-boarding school series (not unlike Harry Potter) has been the love of Cath’s life since she first read the books. Now she writes Simon Snow fanfiction, and her story “Carry On” (her version of what the yet-to-be-published last book in the series should be) gets over 20,000 hits a day. She doesn’t want to make new friends and go to parties; she just wants to write about Simon and hang out with her sister. But with that plan firmly squashed, Cath begins an adventure that will change her forever.

Rainbow had already proved with her first YA novel, Eleanor & Park, that she can write gut-wrenching romance with the best of them. While you won’t find tragic star-crossed lovers here, her main character is just as romantic and heroic. And Catch isn’t just falling in love for the first time, she’s also learning how to fall in love with a real flesh-and-blood person. The characters in Fangirl are funny and quirky and each one has some darkness in their lives to balance it all out.

I loved Fangirl so much because it explores the world that so many teens (and adults) escape to: fanfiction. There is something extremely comforting about vanishing inside a world that you know so well but aren’t ready to give up yet. And when the story is exploring possibilities and relationships that the author didn’t write or consider, even better. Rainbow writes like a true fangirl herself, honestly rendering the emotions and experiences of trying to reconcile the fiction with the reality in your life.

Definitely an enjoyable read if you’re not a fangirl/fanboy, and a very solid second novel from Rainbow.



Book of the Day: The Chaos of Stars by Kiersten White

 Chaos of Stars by Kiersten White

Isadora’s family is seriously screwed up.

Of course, as the human daughter of Egyptian gods, that pretty much comes with the territory. She’s also stuck with parents who barely notice her, and a house full of relatives who can’t be bothered to remember her name. After all, they are going to be around forever—and she’s a mere mortal.

Isadora’s sick of living a life where she’s only worthy of a passing glance, and when she has the chance to move to San Diego with her brother, she jumps on it. But Isadora’s quickly finding that a “normal” life comes with plenty of its own epic complications—and that there’s no such thing as a clean break when it comes to family. Much as she wants to leave her past behind, she can’t shake the ominous dreams that foretell destruction for her entire family. When it turns out there may be truth in her nightmares, Isadora has to decide whether she can abandon her divine heritage after all.



Book of the Day: Smoke by Ellen Hopkins

Smoke by Ellen Hopkins

Pattyn Von Stratten’s father is dead, and Pattyn is on the run. After far too many years of abuse at the hands of her father, and after the tragic loss of her beloved Ethan and their unborn child, Pattyn is desperate for peace. Only her sister Jackie knows what happened that night, but she is stuck at home with their mother, who clings to normalcy by allowing the truth to be covered up by their domineering community leaders. Her father might be finally gone, but without Pattyn, Jackie is desperately isolated. Alone and in disguise, Pattyn starts a new life, but is it even possible to rebuild a life when everything you’ve known has burned to ash and lies seem far safer than the truth?



Book of the Day: The Truth About You and Me by Amanda Grace

Truth About You and Me by Amanda Grace

Smart girls aren’t supposed to do stupid things.

Madelyn Hawkins is super smart. At sixteen, she’s so gifted that she can attend college through a special program at her high school. On her first day, she meets Bennett. He’s cute, funny, and kind. He understands Madelyn and what she’s endured – and missed out on – in order to excel academically and please her parents. Now, for the first time in her life, she’s falling in love.

There’s only one problem. Bennett is Madelyn’s college professor, and he thinks she’s eighteen – because she hasn’t told him the truth.

The story of their forbidden romance is told in letters that Madelyn writes to Bennett – both a heart-searing ode to their ill-fated love and an apology.



Book of the Day: Leap of Faith by Jamie Blair

Leap of Faith by Jamie Blair

Can true love be built on lies? A teen on the run seeks relief and redemption in this gripping, romantic read. Leah Kurtz has finally found a place to call home, a town where she and baby Addy can live in peace, far from the drug-infested place she grew up. Chris is one of the best parts of her new life, the only person who’s ever made her feel safe. And now that she’s found him, there’s no way she can tell the truth:

Her real name is Faith, not Leah. She’s seventeen, not nineteen. And the baby isn’t hers—Faith kidnapped her.

Faith’s history catches up with her when a cop starts asking questions and Chris’s aunt spots her picture in the newspaper. She knows it’s time to run again, but if Faith leaves, she’ll lose Chris. If Chris is in love with a lie, though, did Faith ever really have him in the first place?



Book of the Day: Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst

Conjured by sarah Beth Durst

Eve has a new home, a new face, and a new name—but no memories of her past. She’s been told that she’s in a witness protection program. That she escaped a dangerous magic-wielding serial killer who still hunts her. The only thing she knows for sure is that there is something horrifying in her memories the people hiding her want to access—and there is nothing they won’t say—or do—to her to get her to remember.

At night she dreams of a tattered carnival tent and buttons being sewn into her skin. But during the day, she shelves books at the local library, trying to not let anyone know that she can do things—things like change the color of her eyes or walk through walls. When she does use her strange powers, she blacks out and is drawn into terrifying visions, returning to find that days or weeks have passed—and she’s lost all short-term memories. Eve must find out who and what she really is before the killer finds her—but the truth may be more dangerous than anyone could have ever imagined.



Book of the Day: Projection by Risa Green

 Projection by Risa Green

When 13-year-old Gretchen Harris’s mother is murdered at Gretchen’s 8th Grade graduation party, everyone in the town of Delphi, California, suspects a power struggle within the Oculus Society: Delphi’s version of the Junior League.  Gretchen’s best friend, Jessica Shaw, might even hold the key to finding the culprit withThe Plotinus Ability: the Oculus Society’s jealously guarded secret power to trade souls, which hinges on a kiss. Gretchen’s hope at finding the murderer ends in tragedy when Ariel Miller—the class outcast—stalks Gretchen and Jessica and surreptitiously films them exchanging a kiss to test if the Plotinus Ability is real, not knowing their motives. The ensuing YouTube video (“Popular Girls = Secret Lovers”) goes viral, Gretchen’s and Jessica’s lives are further shattered, and they vanish from Delphi.

Flash forward two years later: Ariel is suddenly the most popular junior in town, but wracked with guilt over what she did to Gretchen and Jessica.  When both girls reappear after their mysterious absence, Ariel finds herself pawn, suspect, and key player in their scheme to bring the murderer to justice.