Thursday, January 23, 2014

Review: Backward Compatible

Title: Backward Compatible
Authors: Sarah Daltry and Pete Clark
Genre: YA, romance
Published: 8 December 2013
Pages: 316
Rating: 5 / 10
Challenges: NetGalley Challenge

Synopsis: "A YA Gamer Geek Comedy in the vein of Scott Pilgrim and Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. Ideal for fans of The Big Bang Theory, The Guild, and all things Joss Whedon.

WARNING: There is no sex in this book. Your Kindle or other device will remain at a pleasant room temperature. At no point will your panties drop. Your significant other will be allowed to snore in peace as you read. You may, however, laugh yourself out of commission.

Not too long ago, in a town that, depending on your current location, is either not super far or actually quite close... (insert Star Wars theme music here...)

It is a time of chaotic hormones.

Two nerdy gents home for winter break have discovered a female gamer at a midnight release.

During the break, the gamer trio manages to reveal the game's secret boss, a hidden enemy with enough power to destroy anything in its path.

Pursued by other gamers who want to be the first to beat this boss, George and Katie race to level up, and, in so doing, restore decency and sexual activity to their personal galaxy..." (from GoodReads)

My Review: Ok, here's the thing. I'm not the target audience for this book. I thought I was (I'm a geek, I'm [relatively] young, I'm a fan of all those things listed in the synopsis, I picked up on almost every single reference in this book, etc), and yet I really didn't relate to the characters in this book. For one thing, they are REALLY immature. When they talked about being in college, I didn't believe them. I teach high schoolers with better socialization skills than these kids. For another thing, they are REALLY mean. And not just to the random mean girls who show up towards the end and harass one of the main characters; George and Lanyon, supposedly the best of friends, spend most of their conversations trading insults. When they game as a group, they gang up on one player in particular (a "hipster douche" who had the temerity to grow a goatee IRL) and constantly attack him verbally and kill him virtually. The two main geeks are pretty one-dimensional: Katie likes to game and has boobs! George also likes to game and he also likes boobs! Neither one of them really has much personality, and they don't really know anything about each other. Katie seemed like she was getting some characterization and growth (she appears borderline-agoraphobic and admits to feeling depressed and anxious about her budding relationship with George), but that is magically dealt with when he - no joke - pulls a Spider-Man-esque stunt and cheers her up. George, for his part, spends a lot of time quoting Shakespeare (along with literally HUNDREDS of pop culture references) and reading books, so of course he's an English major. I felt like these were stock "geek" types rather than being fully fleshed-out people. There was no need for George and Lanyon to constantly allude to Star Wars, Portal, WoW, etc. And some of the allusions didn't make sense! Sephiroth's forehead compared to a bright light? Seriously? And can we please, for the love of all that is holy, drop the "That's what she said!" jokes? There were other minor things that bugged me as I was reading (ripping on The Hobbit sequel, referring to it as The Hobbit 2, sexual harassment during said movie, Katie's vehement anti-girly agenda), but honestly I'm getting more annoyed now as I'm thinking about it.

Which is not to say that it was all bad. There were parts that I liked - the "secret boss" of the video game and what it entails reminded me of Ready Player One, but I really enjoyed the twist in this book. It's also got some humor, although a lot was lost on me because it involved insulting someone's mom or threatening violence or rape. Ultimately, it's a lighthearted romance that just didn't work for me.

Full disclosure: I received an electronic ARC of Backward Compatible from NetGalley.

Other Reviews:

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Review: Plain Kate

Title: Plain Kate
Author: Erin Bow
Genre: YA, fantasy
Published: 1 September 2010
Pages: 314
Rating: 7 / 10
Challenges: N/A

Synopsis: "A debut novel that's as sharp as a knife's point.

Plain Kate lives in a world of superstitions and curses, where a song can heal a wound and a shadow can work deep magic. As the wood-carver's daughter, Kate held a carving knife before a spoon, and her wooden charms are so fine that some even call her "witch-blade" -- a dangerous nickname in a town where witches are hunted and burned in the square." (from GoodReads)

My Review: I read this for my FYA book club meeting in January. It was definitely not what I was expecting, but I really enjoyed it. It's a beautifully-written fairy tale with a talking cat - Who doesn't love a talking cat?!? - and it's also one of the saddest books I've read in a long time. In fact, I waited to write this review because I was hoping some distance would help. Seriously, the last twenty minutes I was reading this book, I had tears pouring down my face and was a snotty, emotional mess. The tone of the entire book is pretty depressing throughout (mostly because Plain Kate CANNOT CATCH A BREAK, sheesh), but that ending just absolutely did me in. The world-building is phenomenal and fantastical and the characters are realistic and sympathetic. Even the bad guy has a totally justifiable reason for being bad (which is understandable, given the author's note at the end). But mostly, there are tears. I'm getting upset all over again just thinking about it.

Other Reviews:

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Review: We Were Liars

Title: We Were Liars
Author: E. Lockhart
Genre: YA, romance, mystery
Published: 13 May 2014
Pages: 240
Rating: 10 / 10
Challenges: Net Galley Challenge

Synopsis: "A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from National Book Award finalist and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart.

Read it.
And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE." (from GoodReads)

My Review: I absolutely loved this book, even though the ending was like a punch in the gut. It's beautifully written and the characters are incredible (and incredibly flawed). I loved Cady and her stereotypical blue-blood family and her dysfunctional relationship with her mom and her obsession with fairy tales. Reading about her dealing with love and regret and trying to unravel the mystery of her accident was fascinating and heartbreaking and it ended much too quickly. My Kindle is a mess of highlights and notes, and I can't wait to discuss it with other readers. It's like Gossip Girl, Wuthering Heights, and Momento all rolled into one awesome, emotional YA novel.

Full disclosure: I received an ARC of We Were Liars from NetGalley.

Other Reviews:

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Monday, January 13, 2014

Vitro contest!


I think there's only one more day, but you can still join the fun!

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Reviews: So Into You and When I'm With You

Titles: So Into You and When I'm With You
Author: Cecilia Gray
Genre: YA, Jane Austen-paralit, romance
Published: 2012
Pages: 125 and 129 (respectively)
Ratings: 7 / 10 and 8 / 10 (respectively)
Challenges: Net Galley Challenge

Synopses: So Into You - "Sweet and sensible Ellie hasn't met a problem her mom's yoga mantras can't fix. But when Ellie's parents threaten to pull her from the Academy just as her flirtation with the cutest boy in school heats up, will Ellie be able to keep her cool?" (from GoodReads)

When I'm With You - "Kat is destined to be a star and her big break has arrived at last! As the assistant to a celebrity classmate on the set of a feature film, she's going to show everyone she has what it takes. That is, until she discovers pursuing her dreams may mean forfeiting her heart. Unless she can find a way to have both…" (from GoodReads)

My Review: I decided to review both of these at once, since I binged and read them pretty much back-to-back. (Did I mention how much I'm enjoying this series?) So Into You really surprised me at how much it deviated from the Sense & Sensibility template. Instead of being forced out of her home, Ellie is given a chance to stay at the Academy. Flirtatious Emma stands in for lively Marianne, bad boy Josh Wickham does double-time as Willoughby, and funny man Ed is Ellie's OTP, Edward Ferrars. Lucy also makes an appearance, for added angst, but Colonel Brandon and the rest of the Dashwood/Ferrars clan are absent. Essentially the only part of the original story that appears is the relationship (or lack thereof) between Ellie and Ed. Fortunately, the author doesn't just rely on rehashing Austen plotlines; Ellie's story is enjoyable for its own merits as well. She has to work hard to maintain her place in the Academy, and she does it in the same quiet, determined way that Elinor Dashwood would have. The sororal relationship between Ellie and Emma works well here, and it was nice to see the beginnings of Emma's story (which I can't wait to read!).

I think I enjoyed When I'm With You even more than the first two books in this series. Northanger Abbey is far from my favorite Austen novel, but I really enjoyed this updated version. Kat is still naive, but instead of being enamored with gothic novels, she's in love with acting and being the center of attention. Josh Wickham appears as yet another bad guy (John Thorpe this time), but the only other characters who made the cut were Isabella, Henry, Henry's father (all as fellow actors). Izzy and Josh were perfect as the manipulative Thorpes, and as much as I hated the way they treated Kat, I couldn't help but love (and pity) them. Henry was adorable, and his hats (and the explanation behind them) were a nice touch. I appreciated the changes made to the original plot - Izzy's redemption, Tom Trenton's apparent duplicity - because it seemed more believable (at least, by my understanding of Hollywood). I also enjoyed getting away from the Academy for a bit and letting Kat have her own adventure, free from the other girls. It was great to see her grow as a character and learn from her mistakes. I'm hoping that she will interact more with the others now, because I really enjoyed her as a protagonist and want her story to continue.

Full disclosure: I received electronic copies of these books from NetGalley. Also, I'm not big on the covers (especially that second one).

Other Reviews:

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Thursday, January 02, 2014

Review: Fall For You

Title: Fall For You
Author: Cecilia Gray
Genre: YA, Jane Austen-paralit, romance
Published: 10 February 2012
Pages: 175
Rating: 8 / 10
Challenges: NetGalley Challenge

Synopsis: "To say Lizzie and Dante are polar opposites is the understatement of the century. He’s a snooty Exeter transfer with more money than Google. She’s a driven study-a-holic just barely keeping up with tuition. It’s obvious that Dante thinks he’s way too good for Lizzie. And Lizzie knows Dante is a snob with a gift for pressing her buttons.

But things are changing fast this year at the Academy. And when Lizzie’s quest to stop those changes blows up in her face, taking her oldest friendship with it, she has nowhere else to turn but to Dante, with his killer blue eyes, his crazy-sexy smile, and his secrets… Secrets Lizzie can’t seem to leave alone, no matter how hard she tries…" (from GoodReads)

My Review: Disclaimer: I received a copy of this e-book from NetGalley. I hadn't heard of this series before, but as a Jane Austen fan, I knew I had to give it a shot. This is very obviously the first book in a series. The story focuses on Lizzie (Elizabeth Bennett, from Pride & Prejudice, her best friend Ellie (Eleanor Dashwood, from Sense & Sensibility, her new roommate, Anne (Anne Elliot, from Persuasion), and her "nemesis," Emma (Emma Woodhouse, from Emma). The girls all attend a fictional boarding school in California, and the major conflict in this book is that the school is going co-ed for the first time. Anne is having trouble dealing with her parents (mom?) no longer being in charge, and Lizzie, as the editor-in-chief of the school paper, is trying to figure out a way to put a stop to all the changes going on at the Academy. The plot overlaps between P&P and Persuasion, but there are elements of other Austen novels woven in. I loved the modernized characters - Lizzie is a driven, stubborn journalist; Ellie is a laid-back surfer girl; Anne is lovesick and quietly dealing with the loss of her family's wealth; and Emma is bubbly and gossipy. At first I was annoyed by Emma's "personality" (she's my favorite Austen heroine, so I'm rather protective of her), but about halfway through I realized that was Lizzie's characterization, not the author's. It was really nice to see how Lizzie's prejudices about all of the characters evolved throughout the book, not just her opinion of Dante/Darcy. I also found it clever how one character in this book could stand in for multiple Jane Austen characters - Anne is also Jane Bennett, Ellie is a Harriet Smith for Emma, Rick is both Wenthworth and Bingley, etc.

This is a fast, easy read (not surprising, at under 200 pages), but I really enjoyed it. There are lots of plot threads that I'm looking forward to exploring in the rest of the series. I will say that I'm not a fan of the cover (that doofus is NOT Darcy, by any stretch of the imagination), but since it's an e-book I didn't even notice it really until now.

Other Reviews:

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Lucky No. 14 Reading Challenge


Yup, another one. There are 14 different categories. My list may change throughout the year, but these are the books I'm thinking about reading for it right now:

1. Visit The Country: In a Sunburned Country

2. Cover Lust: Diverse Energies

3. Blame it on Bloggers: Silver Phoenix

4. Bargain All The Way: 13 Little Blue Envelopes

5. (Not So) Fresh From the Oven: Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish

6. First Letter’s Rule: Jessica Darling's It List

7. Once Upon a Time: Picnic at Hanging Rock

8. Chunky Brick: In the Garden of Beasts

10. It’s Been There Forever: Pretty Monsters

11. Movies vs Books: Gone Girl

12. Freebies Time: Attachments

13. Not My Cup of Tea: Eight Girls Taking Pictures

14. Walking Down The Memory Lane: Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret

2014 NetGalley & Edelweiss Reading Challenge

Falling For YA

My reading challenges for last year didn't go so well (meaning I didn't actually do any of them), but this one is something I should be doing anyway: reading and reviewing ARCs I receive from NetGalley! I'm going for the bronze level (ten books) because I already have five that I've been approved for and haven't reviewed yet. Four of them are from the Jane Austen Academy series, which I'm really excited about.

Completed:
1. Fall For You
2. So Into You
3. When I'm With You
4. We Were Liars
5. Backward Compatible
6. Suddenly You
7. Alienated
8. Mafia Girl
9. Diverse Energies
10. Black Canary and Zatanna: Bloodspell
11. The Here and Now

Review: The Dream Thieves

Title: The Dream Thieves
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Genre: YA, fantasy, paranormal, romance
Published: 17 September 2013
Pages: 439
Rating: 7 / 10
Challenges: N/A

Synopsis: "Now that the ley lines around Cabeswater have been woken, nothing for Ronan, Gansey, Blue, and Adam will be the same.

Ronan, for one, is falling more and more deeply into his dreams, and his dreams are intruding more and more into waking life.

Meanwhile, some very sinister people are looking for some of the same pieces of the Cabeswater puzzle that Gansey is after..." (from GoodReads)

My Review: Disclaimer: I received an electronic ARC of this book from NetGalley. I was thrilled and surprised when my request was accepted, because this was probably my most-anticipated book of 2013. My YA book club read the first in the series, The Raven Boys, earlier in the year. It was one of the few books that everyone in the group absolutely loved, and we couldn't wait for the sequel. For some reason, I couldn't get into this one. It was one of those books that you can't stop reading once you start, but the minute you put it down you forget about it. It took me SEVEN MONTHS to finish. And it's not bad! It's just a little...drawn out. It probably didn't help that I was reading it on my tiny phone screen. I read the last half of the book on my new Kindle just this past week.

The story itself is pretty interesting, but not a lot happens until the very end. I LOVED that the book focused on Ronan; I enjoyed reading about his life and the discovery of his (familial?) power. I wasn't a fan of Adam, who seemed to have gone a little crazy, but he managed to win me over in the end. Gansey and Blue and their growing relationship took a back seat to the lay line and the Greywaren, but I was okay with that. Noah was adorable and awesome as always. I didn't so much enjoy having minor characters (the Gray Man, Kavinsky) become the focus of some much of the story, but I do want to find out who the Gray Man's benefactor is. I also didn't like the cliffhanger of an ending, but it definitely makes me excited about the next book! I just hope it won't take me half a year to get through it.

Other Reviews:

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Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Resolutions

Happy New Year! It's the first day of 2014, which means it's time to start making some changes (most of which will revert back to old habits within the first month). Reading this article on Lifehacker earlier this week got me thinking. There are several changes I would like to make in my life (lose more weight, save more money, eat healthier, get a new teaching job closer to Atlanta, be more productive, get caught up on my reading...well, you get the picture) and the way I usually go about it probably isn't going to stick. So, I only have two things that I'm going to hold myself accountable for this year: eating healthier and saving money.

The first one I've already discussed with Batman. We did the slow carb diet for a while, and it was great for losing weight! Unfortunately, it wasn't so great for my lifestyle. Being a vegetarian, I get a lot of protein from dairy, eggs, and fish. I also really like bananas before a run. Instead of going back on slow carb, I'm making a conscious decision to eat better during the week. I'm also going to try out at least one new recipe a week, probably from Pintrest.

My second resolution is to save more money. I've already got a Smarty Pig account to help me save for a down payment on a new car, but I want to have money in my bank's saving account, too. I decided to try the 52-Week Money Challenge. This first week I'll deposit a dollar, then next week I'll deposit two dollars, then three, etc. until the last week of the year I deposit $52 (which, given my end-of-the-year paycheck situation, might not be ideal). Doing this will ensure I have $1,400 in savings by the end of 2014 - plus whatever I have in there now - and that seems like a doable start.

There are other things I'd like to work on as well - I'm still training for my yearly half-marathon, as well as doing smaller runs throughout the year, and I'd like to finally complete the 100 push-ups and 200 sit-ups challenges - but these are the two I'm going to focus on for right now.