Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Yay for YA: Once, by Anna Carey

Back in October, I reviewed a book (Eve by Anna Carey) published by HarperCollins in honor of Banned Books Week.  I must admit, I've given up a bit on the boycott of that company, because if we punish every publisher that starts making weird policies about how they handle e-books, we're not going to have anything to circulate.
So, here's a review of the upcoming sequel to Eve, Once.  It's due out next week, on July 3.

Spoilers unavoidable, if you haven't read the first book.

Checkouts: Not owned by library
Series checkouts: Not owned by library
Typical reader: Fans of the first book in the series

Synopsis: Eve made it to the safe haven of Califia, but she's unhappy without her beloved Caleb, and one night she overhears how the women running the settlement would hand her over to the King of New America if it guaranteed their own safety.  Between this troubling news and a rumor that Caleb is injured in the wilderness nearby, Eve and her friend Arden leave Califia and are quickly captured by soldiers.  Arden is taken back to school, and Eve is off to the capital and whatever fate the King has in store for her.

My Goodreads rating: 3 stars

This is a hard book to review.  There is a jaw-dropping twist shortly after Eve reaches Sand City, impacting the entire rest of the book, and it's so good I don't want to spoil it for anyone!  Argh.  So, beyond telling you that yes, Eve does meet up with Caleb again, I really can't say much about the plot beyond what I've already put in the synopsis.  The prose is still very good.

I think my biggest disappointment was with the use of the characters.  As I'd explained in my review of Eve, I really liked the supporting cast, namely Arden and Caleb.  If you liked them too, prepare to be disappointed.  Arden doesn't completely disappear after she's returned to the school, but she's barely involved.  Caleb is ... honestly, I think he ends up being a plot device and requisite love interest.  There are some romantic-yet-dangerous scenes, and a really sweet point where they get to have some fun together, pretending to be elsewhere, so it's not a total wash in that regard.

As for Eve herself ... grow a spine, girl!  I can actually forgive her gullibility; it's a product of her upbringing, and she hasn't grown cynical yet in spite of all that's happened since she left the school.  But this is the girl who escaped from all she knew, survived in the wilderness, and defended herself and those she cared about in the first book of this trilogy?  I would have been happier if she'd slapped someone, even once.

In spite of these problems, there's another twist at the end that makes me intrigued enough to wonder what the final book in the trilogy will entail.  We'll see.  I might just be a sucker for a train wreck in this case.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Fact-Finding Failure: Unraveling

Welcome to my new feature, Fact-Finding Failures!  This is not something I'm happy about, but I feel like it really needs to be done.  There are books out there that just should not have made it past an editor.  The problem goes beyond typos, grammatical errors, or making vampires sparkle.  Those are all crappy, sure, but two of the three can be overlooked in the grand scheme of things, and the third is an author's odd world-building.

What I'm looking at with Fact-Finding Failures is the utter contempt of reality some authors have, when trying to write something realistically.  If you're going to write contemporary fiction, check your facts.  Heck, that goes for historical fiction and even steampunk as well.  Dystopian, cyberpunk, science fiction and fantasy have a bit more wiggle-room, but a good story doesn't require a complete suspension of disbelief.

These are books that are not going to make it on to the school library's shelf, because there is no literary value.  I can't objectively suggest them to my students.

Today's Fact-Finding Failure is Unraveling by Elizabeth Norris.

Synopsis: Just before the start of her junior year of high school, Janelle Tenner is fatally hit by a speeding pickup truck.  She is apparently revived by a loner from her class, Ben Michaels, who she's never talked to before.  But how?  She also snoops through her high-in-the-FBI father's files, and uncovers a mystery that may be related.

My Goodreads rating: 1 star, added to "Didn't Finish" shelf after roughly 60 pages

If you look beyond the plot holes through which one could drive a semi truck, this might not be such a bad book.  I enjoyed Janelle's narrative voice.  It was fresh and realistic.

But this review is focusing on what went wrong.  And that is the whole deal with the FBI.  It's so phony, I had to put the book down.

Problem: Janelle's father is a high-ranked member of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and has worked in the same office for her entire life.  He also discusses confidential information about open cases with his daughter.

Now, my knowledge of what's wrong with all of this is a bit from life experiences.  I used to play D&D (and other games) with an FBI agent.  He was only with the gaming group for a couple years, because he, like all FBI agents, moves around often.  It's a bit like the military in that regard, though he could turn down an assignment if he didn't want to move somewhere.

But anyone can find that out.  I fact-checked online, and found the same information at the FBI's career FAQ page.  To quote some relevant information from there, "All Special Agents are subject to transfer at any time to meet the organizational and program needs of the FBI. Special Agents accept the possibility of transfer as a condition of their employment."

In the case of Janelle's father, we're told early on in the story that he broke a high-profile, international case when he was a fairly new agent.  That he remained in the same office after that is a bit ridiculous, for both the reasons above, and because FBI agents, like other law enforcement officials, can burn out and likely don't stay in the same department of operations for their whole career.  Ignore what the crime shows on TV show you; most homicide detectives are only homicide detectives for a few years.  He's been the head of his unit in one city for nine years?  There should have been a transfer at some point.

As for sharing confidential information with his daughter ... ugh.  How about some common sense here?  It's improbable.  Not impossible, true.  Then-President Jimmy Carter's mention of how his daughter Amy thought the control of nuclear arms was an important election issue in 1980 comes to mind.  Both invoke a bit of a "face-palm" moment.  Perhaps what makes the sharing of information so bad in this book is that the father says that he can't discuss open cases - and then does so anyway.  I know that it's a young adult novel, and teens do tend to think their parents are idiots, but come on.

Tell me that this is in an alternate universe where nothing we know in our lives is true.  Then sure, there's no problem with the book.  Or prove me wrong.  I've cited sources, though; this probably isn't another case of "Why is a rhino charging through this zombie novel?"  (For the discussion of rhinoceroses and other animals in a zombie novel, please see my review and the ensuing comments regarding Dust & Decay.)  Discussions are always welcome.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Yay for YA: Eona

My summer of epic fantasy novels continues with a review of Eona, by Alison Goodman.  It is the sequel to Eon (reviewed two weeks ago); as always, I try to avoid spoilers, but they are kind of hard to swerve around when discussing stories that rely heavily on a previous book's events.

Checkouts: Not owned by the library
Typical reader: Teens and young adults who enjoyed the previous book
Source: Checked out from my local library

Synopsis: Lady Eona, the Dragoneye bound to the long-lost, female Mirror Dragon, has cast aside her masquerade - at a very tumultuous time.  She and her companions join in the struggle to place the rightful emperor on his throne.  As with Eon, there's plenty of intrigue, action, magic, and twists ... but also romance, and very complex relationships.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars

Eon was an epic tome, but it's dwarfed by its sequel.  Eona in hardcover tips the scales with 637 pages.  And not one of those 637 pages is dull.  There is so much action, and there are so many twists and turns, that looking back, it's almost hard to believe that it all worked in one book.

This is a strong second half to Ms. Goodman's duology.  The powerful writing remains consistent.  The world-building and lore wow me.  And the characters are complex but portrayed well for the most part.  I feel like I need to reread parts of it to see if one particular character did something out of left field, or if I just missed the foreshadowing - but I have a ton of books I'd like to get through this season, and I already returned the tome to the library.

Enter the vague spoilers.

Lady Dela is still one of my favorite characters.  And her feelings toward Ryko, the eunuch soldier who has been her bodyguard for years, are just so "Awwww."  There's tension and heartache, and honor gets in the way, but they make an endearing, yet awkward, couple.

That's not so much the case with the relationship triangle between Lady Eona, the treacherous Lord Ido, the Rat Dragoneye, and the dethroned Emperor Kygo.  It's not a love triangle, let me make that clear.  There's hate, distrust, deception, manipulation, and plenty of other things along those lines.  I'm sure there are some who could find the nauseatingly ubiquitous love triangle that teen literature seems to need these days, but honestly, I don't think Eona and Ido's slap-slap-kiss goes beyond the hunger for power.

This book is certainly one for older teens (or young adults).  As with its predecessor, it touches on some mature subjects, and handles them well overall.  There's torture, both on- and off-"screen".  At one point, Lady Eona and a companion dress as Blossom Women to get into the palace; these are akin to Japanese geisha.  Also, there is a scene of uncomfortable sensuality in the name of power.

Power is a huge theme in this book, as is the morality of using power.  It goes beyond Spiderman's "with great power comes great responsibility," or using the Star Wars' force for good or evil.  Lady Eona has to do some ample soul-searching and boundary-testing in this epic tale.

End spoilers.

I touched on the research that must have gone into these books in my review of Eon.  Let me say that I really appreciate how much work Ms. Goodman put into these books.  If you're interested, she has a bit about her research as well as a bibliography on her web site.  Many kudos!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Shiny things!

My prizes from the giveaway at Authors are Rockstars! arrived today.  How exciting!  Here are photos of what I won.  The links below the photos are to Goodreads, for information about the books.

All seven books are signed by the authors, even the advanced reading copy.  That's so cool.  While most will be going into the library's collection next fall (the ARC cannot, by law), the kids just love seeing authors' signatures in the books they check out.  Totally worth it.  :)

Born Wicked, by Jessica Spotswood
Moonglass, by Jessi Kirby
Harbinger, by Sara Wilson Etienne

Where She Went, by Gayle Forman
Unearthly, by Cynthia Hand
The Princess Diaries, by Meg Cabot

Shatter Me, by Tahereh Mafi
See?  Signed!  Yay!

You can reasonably expect reviews of most of these books throughout the summer, while they're in my possession.  (Exception: The Princess Diaries, because I want a break from my "princess problem" since school is out.)  I'm thrilled that most of these are either stand-alone novels, or the first in series.  Where She Went is the exception, but that just means I'll have to read its bestseller prequel, If I Stay.

Stay tuned this summer to hear my thought on these books and more!  Later this week: a review of Eona, the sequel to Eon, and a new feature.

Thanks again to Michelle and Allison, and the random number generator they use to choose winners like me!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

A librarian moonlights as a librarian!

Starting next week, I will once again be working two librarian jobs!  It's so exciting.  I've been hired by a school/public library as a library aide.

"What's a school/public library?" you might be asking.  This is a type of library that is housed in, and serves, a school, but also is open to the general public.  The particular library I'll be working at is funded 50% by the grades 7-12 school, and 50% by the county through millage, state aid, and other means.  Yes, I did say county.  This library, as well as several other school/public libraries here in the vast, rural landscape of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, serve entire counties.

This is going to be a great adventure, full of commuting, summer reading programming (jumping right into that!), and all sorts of new experiences with a new demographic of patrons - some of which I have worked with before, when I was the digital librarian for the regional cooperative.