Friday, February 22, 2013

BkRv :: For aught I know of Austen

Shannon Hale
@Haleshannon :: website

Contemporary | Series Book 1

FIRST LINE :: It is a truth universally acknowledged that a thirty-something woman in possession of a satisfying career and fabulous hair-do must be in want of very little, and Jane Hayes, pretty enough and clever enough, was certainly thought to have little to distress her.

SUMMARY :: from the B&N website
Jane is a young New York woman who can never seem to find the right man - perhaps because of her secret obsession with Mr. Darcy, as played by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. When a wealthy relative bequeaths her a trip to an English resort catering to Austen-obsessed women, however, Jane’s fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency-era gentleman suddenly become more real than she ever could have imagined. Is this total immersion in a fake Austenland enough to make Jane kick the Austen obsession for good, or could all her dreams actually culminate in a Mr. Darcy of her own?
It is a truth universally acknowledged when an author’s dedication reads as such:
For Colin Firth
You’re a really great guy, but I’m married, so I think we should just be friends.
that this blogger will approach said author’s book with eagerness with a hint of giggles. I have found Austen-themed books as either a hit or miss, and while austenland does not quite miss its mark, it has not secured another spot on my dance card or turn about the library.

I was not so keen on austenland as it began, and I daresay that I did not get too involved with the story until Jane started to banter with her Mr. Darcy and I could feel the sparks that would make Colin Firth proud. austenland sounds like a dream-come-true, but honestly I think the lack of access to technology would drive me more nuts than it does Jane. I also do not care for the scripted romance that Pembrook Park promises for its female guests – yes, it may be exciting to feel like the belle of the ball, but I prefer to be the belle on my own merits and not because the gentlemen were told to act besotted.

My main difficulty with austenland is that the plot moved rather slow and the romance even slower. Is it more about Jane’s past doomed relationships, the novelty of being in an Austen-esque time period, or Jane’s need to banish Mr. Darcy from her heart and accept the modern men in the world? Jane takes her time not doing much of anything, and I wanted to shake  austenland to be more daring and scandalous. Perhaps I have read too much historical romance or watched too much Downton Abbey, but couldn’t Jane or her fellow guests have a Gretna Green elopement or instead of a very prim-and-proper proposal?

If  austenland had a little more oomph to its story, I might have liked it better. Which makes me curious about Midnight In Austenland since it promises more intrigue than its predecessor. Furthermore, the movie adaptation also piques my interest – I think the story will translate better in movie format .


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

BkRv :: A glass, a glass, my kingdom for a glass slipper

Throne Of Glass
S.J. Maas
@SJMaas :: website

YA | Fantasy | Series Book 1

FIRST LINE :: ARC :: After a year of slavery in the Salt Mines of Endovier, Celaena Sardothien was accustomed to being escorted everywhere in shackles and at sword-point.

SUMMARY :: from the Publishers Weekly
Readers seeking the political intrigue of Kristen Cashore’s Graceling and its sequels or the deadly competition at the heart of The Hunger Games will find both in Maas’s strong debut novel. Celaena Sardothien is considered the best assassin in Adarlan, and she has been condemned to the salt mines for her work. As the story opens, she is plucked from slow execution by the calculating crown prince, Dorian, to be his candidate for champion, competing against “thieves and assassins and warriors” to become an enforcer for the king. The stakes are freedom or death: win or return to the mines. Youthful captain Chaol is charged with preventing Celaena’s escape, and though she fantasizes about killing him on occasion, he becomes a far different target of her attention. This is not cuddly romance, but neither is it grim. Celaena is trained to murder, yet she hasn’t lost her taste for pretty dresses or good books, and a gleam of optimism tinges her outlook. Maas tends toward overdescription, but the verve and freshness of the narration make for a thrilling read.
It has been a long wait, Throne Of Glass , since I first noticed you on FanFiction/FictionPress – and true to her forewarnings, S.J. Maas has delivered the story with its original backbone but with noticeable trimmings and re-plotting to deliver a more commercial appeal with a long-term agenda.

Without a doubt, I cannot resist the promise of a strong female lead – and who better to fit the bill than the world-renown assassin Celaena Sardothien? The unfortunate part is that Throne Of Glass introduces her after all of the badassery and leaves readers with an ex-assassin who has to play polite parlor games – or as polite as they can be while training for the competition to be the King’s Champion. I know that memory can make the original story much fonder, but this “official” story delivers a much softer portrayal of Celaena than I remember. I needed her to be more hard-hearted, more hard-headed, more brash and sarcastic, more full of herself (in a good way), more Veronica Mars and Buffy. The novellas deliver Celaena at her best thus far, and Throne Of Glass yields a weak imitation that left me wanting something stronger.

The love triangle involving Crown Prince Dorian and Captain Chaol Westfall needs a little more flavoring to make this reader drool. Certainly the two contenders for Celaena’s favor are hot to the power of T-squared, but they seem too similar in nature that I wish one or both of them had been given some flaws to provide stronger suit in the romance department. Again, forgive my memory, but this Dorian does not come across as the playboy, devil-may-care prince who can tease with Celaena’s heart with as much as skill as Celaena can with his. And Chaol – oh, my dear Chaol, I think Maria V. Snyder has ruined me for anyone other than Valek, but please take point with how to remain aloof and gruff yet radiate with such intensely-shielded passion that it makes my heart shudder. That said, I do have a much softer spot for captains of the guard – and that may be the main influence of why Chaol has my attentions at the moment.

For a life-or-death competition, I wish there had been more to it than the finale. The training sessions seem too brief and straightforward to spark much excitement and flesh out the characters who would pose a threat to Celaena’s victory. Of course, the story can end no other way than Celaena winning, but there are no serious obstacles that had me gripping the pages as if she had any real competition or danger of being harmed. I had hoped that Kaltain would step up to the plate, but she still fell short from being as artfully conniving as I had imagined.

I am not sure what direction Crown Of Midnight will go. It is disconcerting to have read the Book Two on FictionPress, but understand that it may not be the same story that S.J. Maas will tell. I hope there are more nods to the Cinderella mythos in the future – so far, Throne Of Glass had the castle of glass and masked ball, but I would hardly call that a strong resemblance. Even though Throne Of Glass did not quite live up to expectations, I pray that S.J. Maas preserved enough of the storyline for Crown Of Midnight to deliver a more fearsome Celaena with a fascinating heritage and heart-wrenching romance.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

BkRv :: In hoc signo vinces

S.J. Kincaid
@SJKincaidBooks :: website

YA | Sci-Fi | Series Book 1

FIRST LINE :: ARC :: New town, new casino – same old plan.

SUMMARY :: from the B&N website
More than anything, Tom Raines wants to be important, though his shadowy life is anything but that. For years, Tom’s drifted from casino to casino with his unlucky gambler of a dad, gaming for their survival. Keeping a roof over their heads depends on a careful combination of skill, luck, con artistry, and staying invisible.

Then one day, Tom stops being invisible. Someone’s been watching his virtual-reality prowess, and he’s offered the incredible - a place at the Pentagonal Spire, an elite military academy. There, Tom’s instincts for combat will be put to the test and if he passes, he’ll become a member of the Intrasolar Forces, helping to lead his country to victory in World War III. Finally, he’ll be someone important: a superhuman war machine with the tech skills that every virtual-reality warrior dreams of. Life at the Spire holds everything that Tom’s always wanted - friends, the possibility of a girlfriend, and a life where his every action matters - but what will it cost him?

Gripping and provocative, S. J. Kincaid’s futuristic thrill ride of a debut crackles with memorable characters, tremendous wit, and a vision of the future that asks startling, timely questions about the melding of humanity and technology.
I first heard about INSIGNIA when Meredith Duran posted about her younger sister’s top-secret manuscript in 2011 – and I was sold on it by the time I realized it was about a “teenage video gamer [becoming] a government weapon in a futuristic world at war.” Could it possibly be –the next ENDER’S GAME for this generation? The premise of INSIGNIA sounds outrageously ambitious and too incredible to be packed into 400 pages, but holy Hive Queen, S.J. Kincaid delivers the book of a century and makes it a delicious chunk of EPIC.

Tom Raine reminds me of Cassel from The Curse Workers series – smart and wily, pro of the cons, and unafraid to stand up against the baddies even if he is certain to lose. Irreverent and funny at times, downright jerk at other times, world-savvy yet clueless about girls, Tom makes for an unforgettable narrator whom I would follow to the Restaurant at the End of The Universe if I had to.

And what is a main character without an equally memorable cast of supporting characters? Foes and friends, mentors and backstabbers, allies and traitors, INSIGNIA is riddled with several characters that sparkle with some impressive star quality. If you had any withdrawal symptoms from the end of Harry Potter, I think S.J. Kincaid has gathered some remarkable replacements: girl genius Wyatt who can program computer viruses better than the government; loyal sidekick Vik who has these priceless pick-up lines that do anything but; intense programming teacher Blackburn who is both maniac and genius when it comes to his teaching methods; bully Karl whose fists speak louder than his words; and enigmatic enemy Medusa whom Tom is unable to overlook – nor does he want to. For a 400+ paged story, S.J. Kincaid definitely throws enough pagetime for each character that I had no problem with keeping track of who’s who and enjoy each and every one of their storylines.

The only thing INSIGNIA does not quite deliver on is more exploration of the tech-heavy battle between the two world powers. There are some entertaining introductory skirmishes for Tom and his classmates to learn the necessary skills at the Spire, but how that translates into the reality of war has not been addressed. I am hoping to see more on that topic in the sequel. I think the purpose of INSIGNIA was to introduce readers into the world that S.J. Kincaid has so meticulously crafted before she launches us further into the uglier side of this dystopia.

INSIGNIA sets up the stage beautifully. There was budding romance, nail-biting danger, ridiculous moments of levity, and I absolutely cannot WAIT for the next installment! There is no other direction for Tom and company to go except towards bigger and badder adventures – and each step will be a struggle to decide if friendship, self-preservation, or heroism is more important.



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