Monday, February 17, 2020

DNF Review: Steelheart (Brandon Sanderson)

Steelheart (Reckoners, #1)
Title: Steelheart
Series: The Reckoners, Book 1
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Publisher: Ember (Delacorte)
US Release Date: September 24, 2013
Genre: Young Adult Dystopian Superheroes
Content Rating: Teen (Part One: violence, killing)
Format Read: Paperback
Find OnGoodreads
PurchaseAzon | B&N | BookDepo | Indiebound
Summary:

Ten years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary men and women extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics. But Epics are no friend of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule man you must crush his will.

Nobody fights the Epics...nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans, they spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them.

And David wants in. He wants Steelheart — the Epic who is said to be invincible. The Epic who killed David's father. For years, like the Reckoners, David's been studying, and planning — and he has something they need. Not an object, but an experience.

He's seen Steelheart bleed. And he wants revenge.


*          *          *

**I did not finish this book.** 
I stopped at Part Two (Page 118).


Series: This is the first book in The Reckoners trilogy. All books in the series have been released and are available for purchase.

I have enjoyed several of Sanderson's stories (his Alcatraz series is a particular favorite), so over the years I collected all of the Reckoners books, even though I prefer to avoid dark revenge stories like the series advertised to be. This year, however, I finally decided to pass on it and let my copies go, but not before at least reading the first few pages of the first book, Steelheart, just in case.

And then I couldn't stop. Sanderson has a quick and engaging writing style with long but engrossing action scenes and smooth dialogue, and while it was a revenge story the book's mood was light despite deadly violence and ruthless villains. David was a bright boy who knew his stuff and stuck to his guns (figuratively and literally), even if he could be a bit bumbling at times and could not stop thinking about Megan. The setting was odd and hard to picture, and I wasn't particularly impressed with the Epics and their powers, but to my surprise I quickly found myself some 100 pages in and quite enjoying myself.

And then the action ended. As they traversed and hid in the bizarre setting and talked at length about the unimpressive Epics, I immediately lost interest in the story and started flipping pages, looking for when the action picked back up again. When I discovered it would be a few chapters, nearly 40 pages of more traversing and talking, I set the book aside to consider my enthusiasm to continue. With the action-packed opening behind and the revenge plot looming ahead, it didn't take long to realize my complete lack of interest in seeing David's story through, and I resolutely ended my read at Part Two.

If you love superpower stories, and especially enjoyed Marissa Meyer's Renegades, then I highly recommend you give Steelheart a try. Sadly, it just wasn't for me.


STRENGTHS (Part One)
  • Quick and engaging writing style
  • Long, engrossing action scenes
  • Smooth dialogue

WEAKNESSES (Part One)
  • Bizarre, hard-to-picture setting
  • Unimpressive Epics and their powers (probably just me, I'm so over superheroes)
  • When the action ends, the story becomes a lot of walk and talk


For Fans Of: Renegades by Marissa Meyer

Monday, February 10, 2020

Review: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight (Jennifer E. Smith)

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight
Title: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight
Series: standalone
Author: Jennifer E. Smith
Publisher: Poppy
US Release Date: January 2, 2012
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Romance
Content Rating: Teen (loss, kissing)
Format Read: Paperback
Find OnGoodreads
PurchaseAzon | B&N | BookDepo | Indiebound
Summary:

Who would have guessed that four minutes could change everything?

Today should be one of the worst days of seventeen-year-old Hadley Sullivan's life. Having missed her flight, she's stuck at JFK airport and late to her father's second wedding, which is taking place in London and involves a soon-to-be stepmother Hadley's never even met. Then she meets the perfect boy in the airport's cramped waiting area. His name is Oliver, he's British, and he's sitting in her row.

A long night on the plane passes in the blink of an eye, and Hadley and Oliver lose track of each other in the airport chaos upon arrival. Can fate intervene to bring them together once more?

Quirks of timing play out in this romantic and cinematic novel about family connections, second chances, and first loves. Set over a twenty-four-hour-period, Hadley and Oliver's story will make you believe that true love finds you when you're least expecting it.


*          *          *

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight
is a contemporary romance that was heavy on the contemporary and light on the romance, something I typically prefer but here did not. It's a story about loss and acceptance in a number of ways, which made it a much more serious read than expected given the colorful cover, playful title, and romantic summary. Hadley spent most of the story internally brooding and surprisingly little time in the present with Oliver, well over half the book (possibly two-thirds) absorbed in flashbacks of her childhood and recent past. Because of this, and just in general really, the Third Person Present Tense point-of-view grated, making for a clunky and uncomfortable read as Hadley constantly switched mental past and present gears. I continued reading only for the mystery that was Oliver, even though I wasn't particularly enamored of him. I just kept hoping he would eventually brighten Hadley's dark attitude and story, but instead he only sunk her and me deeper into a depressive mood when his own was revealed. By the time we solved his mystery though I was two-thirds through and decided to finish the short book, although while I was reading it the book did not feel short at all. Hadley and Oliver's interactions were the highlight of the story, but this really doesn't say much as they weren't particularly witty or even very interesting - not that they were given much time to try with all the flashbacks hogging the word count. Statistical does end on a hopeful and somewhat happy note, but while I appreciated the conclusive lift of spirits it came much too late for me to declare I in any way enjoyed the read.

Conclusion: Am I glad I read it? ...Not really. I wish I'd given up early on when the Third Person Present voice grated and Hadley's brooding flashbacks brought me down. I am glad I've finally read a Jennifer E. Smith book though, and now know to be wary of her future work. That said, Field Notes on Love still sounds interesting so I'll probably give it a try since I have a copy. Recommend Statistical for readers who enjoy their romances depressively heavy on the contemporary aspect.

Scribble Rating
2 of 5 Scribbles


Other Reviews That Might Interest: 


Saturday, February 1, 2020

The Differences Between Japanese Culture & American Culture - Seven Deadly Shadows Blog Tour (Courtney Alameda & Valynne E. Maetani) + Giveaway!


The Differences Between Japanese & American Culture
with author Courtney Alameda

Hi everyone, Courtney Alameda here, co-author of SEVEN DEADLY SHADOWS! I’m here today to highlight some basic differences between Japanese and American culture—but please keep in mind, this list is in no way authoritative or comprehensive! But for those of you who haven’t ever watched a Kurosawa film or read a manga, you might find it easier to acclimate yourself to Kira’s Kyoto if you know a few key cultural differences first.

“First” names don’t come first. In Japan, surnames/family names precede individual given names. I.e., my name would be “Alameda Courtney” in Japan. Calling someone by their given name in Japan infers a close relationship, and given names are used by family and friends. Strangers, acquaintances, and superiors (like school teachers or supervisors) will use an individual’s family name.

You’ll also see the occasional use of honorifics in the novel, such as –san or –sama. These words are added on to names to confer status or respect. The honorific –san is equivalent to the western Mr., Mrs., or Ms.; while the honorific –sama means “lord.” Most honorifics are attached to an individual’s family name, but in some cases where the honorific is diminutive, it’s attached to a given name. Chan falls into this second category, as it roughly translates to dear. So you’ll see Shimada-sama and Kira-chan in the novel.

While writing this novel, Valynne and I went back and forth on how to format the characters’ names. In the end, we decided to accommodate western readers’ understanding as much as possible.

Bow to your sensei! Bowing is something I wish we did in the west, as it’s a versatile and graceful way to communicate with other people. The Japanese use bows to greet other people, confer respect, ask for forgiveness, thank someone for their service, and more. Depending on the context of the bow, this might be a slight bob of the head, or a full-scale bend to 45 degrees—the deeper the bow, the more empathetic the emotion or intent.


Take the “P” out of your PDA. Public displays of affection are a huge faux pas in Japan! Even holding your significant other’s hand in public is frowned upon, which meant Valynne and I had to get creative as Kira and Shiro’s friendship developed into a romance. We even ended up cutting a kiss on a train platform, because there was no way Kira and Shiro would ever disrespect the other train passengers like that!

Japanese Kit Kats come in hundreds of flavors! I’m not even joking, Japan is a Kit Kat paradise. You want a raspberry Kit Kat? Japan’s got that. Matcha green tea? Sure thing. Butter cookie? They’ve got that, too! Kit Kats are popular gifts for students in Japan, as the words kit kat sound like the Japanese phrase kitto katsu, which means, “You’re sure to succeed.”


Planes, trains, and automobiles.  . . . Actually, just trains. In my opinion, Japan’s railways are the cleanest and most efficient on Earth. Trains are a very popular form of transportation in Japan—I’d say moreso than in the U.S.—and passengers observe a very particular etiquette to ensure that everyone’s ride is comfortable and safe.

Eating on trains isn’t allowed, unless you’re traveling via shinkansen (bullet train). In Japan, people seldom eat in public places (excluding restaurants, of course), as being seen walking and consuming a snack or beverage is seen as bad manners. Loud chatter is discouraged, and talking on a cell phone is considered impolite.

In SEVEN DEADLY SHADOWS, you’ll see Kira and Shiro sharing a bento-box style meal on a shinkansen train to Tokyo . . . but that’s the only kind of train it would be considered fine to do so!


That’s it for now! Thanks for reading, and if you have a chance to pick up SEVEN DEADLY SHADOWS, Valynne and I hope that you thoroughly enjoy it! Until then, don’t fear the shadows . . .


31248158. sy475
Seven Deadly Shadows
Authors: Courtney Alameda & Valynne E. Maetani
Publisher: HarperCollins
Release Date: January 28th, 2020
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Paranormal

Synopsis:

Kira Fujikawa has always been a girl on the fringe. Bullied by her peers and ignored by her parents, the only place Kira’s ever felt at home is at her grandfather’s Shinto shrine, where she trains to be a priestess.

But Kira’s life is shattered on the night her family’s shrine is attacked by a vicious band of yokai demons. With the help of Shiro—the shrine’s gorgeous half-fox, half-boy kitsune—Kira discovers that her shrine harbors an ancient artifact of great power . . . one the yokai and their demon lord, Shuten-doji, will use to bring down an everlasting darkness upon the world.

Unable to face the Shuten-doji and his minions on her own, Kira enlists the aid of seven ruthless shinigami—or death gods—to help stop the brutal destruction of humankind. But some of the death gods aren’t everything they initially seemed, nor as loyal to Kira’s cause as they first appeared.

With war drawing nearer by the day, Kira realizes that if this unlikely band of heroes is going to survive, they’re going to have to learn to work together, confront their demons, and rise as one to face an army of unimaginable evil.



Purchase:


About the Authors

COURTNEY ALAMEDA

A veteran bookseller and librarian, Courtney Alameda now spends her days writing thriller and horror novels for young people. Her debut novel, SHUTTER, was nominated for a Bram Stoker award and hailed as a "standout in the genre" by School Library Journal. Her other novel, PITCH DARK, is a genre-blending science fiction/horror novel in the vein of Ridley Scott's 1979 film ALIEN.

Courtney holds a B.A. in English literature with an emphasis in creative writing. She is represented by the talented John M. Cusick of Folio Literary. A Northern California native, she now resides in Utah with her husband, a legion of books, and a tiny five pound cat with a giant personality.


VALYNNE E. MAETANI

Valynne E. Maetani (pronounced Vuh-lin Mah-eh-tah-nee) grew up in Utah and obtained a Bachelor's degree from the University of Pennsylvania. In a former life, she was a project manager and developed educational software for children with learning disabilities. Currently, she is a full-time writer. She is a member of the We Need Diverse Books team and is dedicated to promoting diversity in children's literature because every child should grow up believing his or her story deserves to be told. Her debut novel, INK AND ASHES, is the winner of the New Visions Award 2013, a Junior Library Guild 2015 selection, and Best Fiction Book in Salt Lake City Weekly’s Best of Utah Arts Award for 2015. She lives in Salt Lake City.


Tour Giveaway

Open International | Ends February 11, 2020

Grand Prize: Win a signed copy of SEVEN DEADLY SHADOWS, a signed copy of Courtney Alameda's SHUTTER, and a signed copy of Valynne Maetani's INK AND ASHES; anime portraits of Kira and Shiro; a stuffed fox omamori charm from the Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine in Japan; an origami fox hand-folded by Valynne Maetani; a yokai mini sticker sheet; and an assortment of Japanese Kit Kats (not pictured) [INT]

Second Prize: Win (1) of (2) A signed copy of SEVEN DEADLY SHADOWS with anime portraits of Kira and Shiro [INT]


a Rafflecopter giveaway
Be sure to check out the rest of the tour: 



The Fantastic Flying Book Club

Monday, January 27, 2020

Audiobook Review: So Yesterday (Scott Westerfeld)

1646685. sx318
Title: So Yesterday
Series: standalone
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Read By: Scott Brick
Publisher: Listening Library (Razorbill)
Release Date: September 9, 2004 (hardcover)
Genre: Young Adult Contemp Romance Suspense
Content Rating: Teen (a few words of minor language, kissing, underage drinking)
Format Read: Audio CD (6 discs)
Length: approx. 6 hours, 33 mins

Find OnGoodreads
PurchaseAzon | B&N | BookDepo | Indiebound
Summary:

Ever wonder who was the first kid to keep a wallet on a big chunky chain, or wear way-too-big pants on purpose? What about the mythical first guy who wore his baseball cap backwards? These are the Innovators, the people on the very cusp of cool. Seventeen-year-old Hunter Braque's job is finding them for the retail market. But when a big-money client disappears, Hunter must use all his cool-hunting talents to find her. Along the way he's drawn into a web of brand-name intrigue, a missing cargo of the coolest shoes he's ever seen, ads for products that don't exist, and a shadowy group dedicated to the downfall of consumerism as we know it.

*          *          *

So Yesterday was a favorite physical read back when it released in 2004, so I couldn't help but buy the audiobook when I saw the CD set at a used bookstore a few years later. I never got around to listening to it though, until I received a few puzzles this Christmas and needed something to occupy the other half of my attention while I obsessively put them together. Considering the book is over 15 years old I was curious if it had withstood the test of time, being about what was "cool" in the mid-2000s and all, but to my surprise I think it held up exceptionally well.

So Yesterday is essentially about a boy who falls for a girl who gets him into some serious trouble. It's part cool-hunting mystery, part questionable adventure, and part guy romance, which equaled a fun if somewhat unbelievable story. Hunter, cool-history nerd extraordinaire, was a relaxed but entertaining point-of-view character, and Scott Brick's narration gave him a smooth, enjoyable voice. I recall there was a lot of description, especially locational in New York City, but while I found it interesting in the moment none of it stuck with me (I don't absorb well by listening). I did try to pay closer attention to the product and cultural references though, and despite the 15-year lag either things haven't really changed all that much or Westerfeld was a cunning writer because for the most part I felt it could still be set today - or at least today's teens shouldn't find it too "dated." Overall, So Yesterday was an entertaining listen with an engaging mystery adventure, fun male POV character, and amusing romance that should hold up as a timely read even today. Highly recommend as a listen or a read.

Scribble Rating
4 of 5 Scribbles

Monday, January 20, 2020

Manga Review: Emma Series (Kaoru Mori)

Emma, Vol. 1Emma, Vol. 2Emma, Vol. 3
Emma, Vol. 4Emma, Vol. 5

Title: Emma
Author: Kaoru Mori
Volumes Reviewed: 5 (omnibus editions, complete)
Publisher: Yen Press
US Release Date: May 2015 - August 2016
Genre: Adult Historical Romance
Content Rating: Adult (some unnecessary nudity, kidnapping)
Format Read: Hardcover
Find OnGoodreads
PurchaseAzon | B&N | BookDepo | Indiebound (see note below)
Summary (of Volume 1):

Calling upon his inimitable former governess, young aristocrat William Jones is startled to find his knock answered by a clever, bespectacled maid--Emma. From that moment forward, the two are drawn to each other and slowly but surely grow ever closer. But as the love between Emma and William builds, so too do the obstacles that threaten to keep them apart. For in Victorian London, some things are simply not done, and marrying outside of one's social class just happens to be one such taboo...

*          *          *

Series/Purchase Note: This physical US edition consists of 5 omnibus volumes. The original Japanese release consisted of 10 volumes. The digital US version appears to be for sale as 10 individual volumes as well.

Author Kaoru Mori's current ongoing series, A Bride's Story, about a traveling Englishman and the local families he meets in 19th-century Central Asia, is one of my favorites. Because of it I consider the author's signature style to be elaborately drawn details and backgrounds, an abundance of interesting historical minutiae, and occasional unnecessary female nudity. Emma was Mori's debut series, and when I was recently able to borrow the complete omnibus set from the library I decided it was time to finally give it a read.

At its heart, Emma is a lord-and-maid forbidden romance set in the late Victorian era. But as is custom with Mori, it's really about so many more people than that. The first 3.5 omnibus volumes mainly center on maid Emma and wealthy William's sweet but fraught romance. Despite a few dramatic turns, the couple was rather plain for me and their relationship a relatively simple one. Because of this, there was a lot of room to introduce and expand a host of colorful side characters who quickly and easily outshone the quiet couple. As the focus on Emma and William's romance faded halfway through volume 4, the lesser cast, with a few new faces, were given time to shine in a collection of short stories exploring everyday life in England. While not as interesting as the exotic culture in Bride's Story, these side narratives proved even more entertaining than the main one, and I learned a few new things about English history and social structure. The last few chapters do return to culminate the quiet couple's romance though, and with most of the characters receiving hopeful resolutions in their lives and loves, the series ends with a sweet and boisterous conclusion.

Conclusion: While not as good as Mori's current series, Emma was an interesting saga of maid love. Entertaining enough to hold my attention through five extremely thick and heavy hardcovers, the detailed artwork and historical tidbits were intriguing, and the side characters and their stories were fun. If you enjoy Mori's A Bride's Story then I do recommend trying this series as well, especially if you have a penchant for English period dramas as I do.

For Fans Of: English period dramas

Scribble Rating
3.5 of 5 Scribbles



Other Reviews That Might Interest: 

W Juliet Series by Emura
Murder, Magic, and What We Wore by Kelly Jones
Duels & Deception by Cindy Anstey
Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger


Monday, December 23, 2019

Review: The Hotel Between (Sean Easley)

The Hotel Between
Title: The Hotel Between
Series: The Hotel Between, Book 1
Author: Sean Easley
Publisher: Simon & Schuster BYR
Release Date: September 4, 2018
Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary Fantasy
Content Rating: Middle Grade (violence and scary situations)
Format Read: Paperback
Find OnGoodreads
Purchase:
Azon | B&N | BookDepo | Indiebound
Summary:

A magical hotel, a mysterious tree, and a cryptic story about their missing father leads twins Cam and Cass on a worldly adventure in this enchanting debut novel that’s perfect for fans of Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library and Wildwood.

Twins Cam and Cass have never known their parents. They’ve been told their mother died, and Cass is certain their father abandoned them. Cam isn’t so sure. He wants to prove her wrong; he must.

Cam’s wish is soon granted in the form of a glistening, golden sign with elaborate flourishes that reads: The Hotel Between. With doors that open to countries all over the world, magical trollies, charmed corridors that can be altered on a whim, stone elephants that come to life, sweets made from rocks; everything is possible in the Hotel. Cam has a hunch his father is somehow connected to this magical place, and may even be lost within its hidden halls.

Every journey has its risks, and The Hotel Between is full of dangerous secrets. If Cam’s not careful, his stay may be over before his vacation has even started.


*          *          *

Series: This is the first book in The Hotel Between series. As of December 2019 there are two books in the series.

I haven't been much for Juvenile/Middle Grade as of late, but when I discovered this book while browsing at my local independent bookstore I was so intrigued by the colorful cover and magical summary that I impulse-purchased it for an immediate read. And I wasn't disappointed.

Determined that finding their missing father will somehow fix his struggling family, Cam stumbles across and infiltrates the mysterious and magical Hotel Between to locate its misplaced heart. Along the way he obtains interesting friends and sinister enemies, journeys to exotic places, and makes many, many mistakes, but he ultimately takes charge of the consequences and does what is right. Packed with enchanting action and relatable characters, it was an engaging adventure that both children and adults will enjoy.

Cam was perilously pigheaded and always afraid (he referred to his "Worst Ways To Die" list constantly), but he deeply cared about protecting his family, especially his sister Cass, and improving their situation. Although his actions were rarely prudent, in the end he mustered the courage to face his fears and root out the dark secrets of his past to help others. The rest of the cast was, thanks to Easley's distinctive descriptions, a unique and diverse bunch of children and adults in all manner of roles, and their presence added a deeper level of intrigue and color to the story. Nico was an especially complicated but playful character that you couldn't help but love while still being frustrated with him, and I look forward to seeing what he gets up to in the next book even more than Cam. The Hotel itself was highly imaginative and I loved exploring its many nooks, crannies, and doors. It felt like we really only scratched its surface in this story though, so I'm excited to delve even further into its secrets and wonders in the sequel.

Conclusion: A magical read with a fantastical setting, engaging action, and relatable characters. Highly recommend for reading aloud to younger people - adults will enjoy it just as much as children do. Will definitely be picking up the sequel, The Key of Lost Things.

Scribble Rating
4 of 5 Scribbles


Other Reviews That Might Interest: 

The Fog Diver by Joel Ross
Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson
School for Sidekicks by Kelly McCullough


Monday, December 16, 2019

Paragraph Manga Review: Twinkle Stars Series (Natsuki Takaya)

Twinkle Stars, Vol. 1 (Twinkle Stars, #1)Twinkle Stars, Vol. 2 (Twinkle Stars, #2)Twinkle Stars, Vol. 3
Twinkle Stars, Vol. 4Twinkle Stars, Vol. 5

Title: Twinkle Stars
Author: Natsuki Takaya
Volumes Reviewed: 5 (omnibus editions, complete)
Publisher: Yen Press
Release Date: November 2016 - March 2018 (US release)
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Romance
Content Rating: Older Teen (bullying, child abuse, attempted suicide, some mild language and violence)
Format Read: Paperback
Find OnGoodreads
PurchaseAzon | B&N | BookDepo | Indiebound | RightStuf
Summary (from Volume 1):

Sakuya Shiina lives with Kanade, her male cousin and foster parent. In times of pain and sadness, she's always taken comfort in looking up at the stars. One day, a mysterious boy suddenly shows up at Sakuya's house for her birthday. He leaves her with kind words, but she has no idea who he is!

All she has to go on is his name--Chihiro! Not one to let that deter her, she sets out in search of him with the reluctant help of her two best friends, Yuuri and Sei. Everyone says that Sakuya should just forget him, but she's oddly drawn to the curious boy. Then, a twist of fate allows them to meet once more! Will this meeting bring them closer together...or will the feelings between these lone stars remain forever in the dark?


*          *          *

Trigger Warnings: bullying, child abuse, depression, attempted suicide

Series Note: The US edition consists of 5 omnibus editions. The series was originally released in Japan in 11 volumes (found on Goodreads here).

Twinkle Stars is an emotionally charged teen romance of first love and familial angst from the author of the wildly popular series, Fruits Basket. In five omnibus editions, Takaya tells the story of two teens who are emotionally bullied and scarred by their classmates and family but after a mysterious meeting find hope and healing in each other. Theirs is a heavy journey of abuse, depression, and attempted suicide, but Takaya injects a lot of affection, eventual support, and a little of her signature humor into the otherwise dark story. While the romance was hesitant and heartbreaking with more downs than ups, it had its sweet and uplifting moments with consequent happiness for all involved. The art was simple and strong with soft smiles, painful tears, and a few trademark flails to lighten the somber content. Overall it was an emotional rollercoaster with dark turns but a happy finish that I highly recommend for romance readers who like their love stories full of tenderness and tissues. And if you're a fan of Fruits Basket, it is not to be missed.

For Fans Of: Fruits Basket

Scribble Rating
4 of 5 Scribbles



Other Reviews That Might Interest: 

Fruits Basket Series by Natsuki Takaya
Strobe Edge Series by Io Sakisaka