“iD” by Madeline Ashby

I received a copy of iD by Madeline Ashby from the publishers in exchange for an honest review.  The first book in the series, vN, was one of my favorite books that I’ve read all year.  The plot of vN features the story of Amy, a self-replicating robot whose failsafe fails.  This means that she is in the relatively unique position of being a robot capable of harming humans.

iD is the story of Amy’s boyfriend Javier.  Unlike Amy, Javier’s failsafe is still intact.  This means that he is vulnerable to manipulation and can be forced to do terrible things against his will.  This has some obvious implications (including sexual), but it also carries painful consequences for his personal life.  When Amy’s island is destroyed, Javier alone must pick up the pieces, but how can he when his own decisions are vulnerable to the machinations of others?

The sexual themes in Javier’s story were much more prominent than in Amy’s story.  Javier finds himself in a love/hate relationship with humans.  While he hates many of the actions he is forced to take, he also feels a deep loving connection to the humans that is imposed on him by his failsafe.  This conflict is particularly pronounced as he sleeps with various humans to achieve his goals.  It’s kind of like a biologically programmed Stockholm Syndrome that no amount of therapy can get rid of, and it’s painful at times to watch, even more so because Javier feels a chasm between himself and Amy because she’s never had those experiences and doesn’t want to know that part of him.

As with vN, I was blown away by this novel.  Madeline Ashby makes you think hard about the nature of freedom and oppression.  As Andrea at The Little Red Reviewer noted when describing the book, iD is a much harder story to read.  I think that the book’s darkness makes it even more powerful.  I’d highly recommend it.

Categories: Fiction, Sci Fi | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Choose Your Weapon” by Sarah Rodriguez Pratt

I’ve been following Sarah Rodriguez Pratt’s blog, That’s a Girl’s Car, for a long time now, and when she contacted me about reviewing her book, I was thrilled to accept.

Choose Your Weapon, the first book in the Helen of Hollingsworth Trilogy, is the story of a dragon-slaying high school girl trying to find her identity.

As a child, Helen loved the Glorious Dragonfighter books.  She also knew something that most people did not.  The world of Erwingdon isn’t just a fantasy, and people from our own world travel there in their sleep to help fight dragons.  Recruiting warriors from our world is better, of course, because if someone dies in Erwingdon, they only die there, and not in real life.  Helen was supposed to join the ranks of the warriors and become a Dragonfighter, but then one night, all communication with Erwingdon stopped.  Years pass, and Helen loses touch with her nerdy interests because she sees them as incompatible with having a social life in high school.

Out of the blue, Helen is summoned back to Erwingdon.  The land is under threat by powerful dragons, and the people there have again called upon our world for aid.  Helen is grateful to be back, but not so thrilled that her new comrades are people she knows from school.  Helen must discover her own inner strength and learn to get along with her classmates in order to have any hope of saving the world.

Choose Your Weapon is kind of like Narnia for teenagers, but without the whole Jesus-lion-allegory thing.  Helen’s got the same issues a normal teenager does.  She feels like her interests aren’t good enough and that she can’t speak out in classes and still fit in.  She’s got a crush on the head of the academic quiz team, but doesn’t know how to act on it.  She’s also just lost her best friend, who ditched her to hang out with the dance team.  Helen also has problems in Erwingdon.  She’s not particularly athletic, and fighting dragons requires a lot of coordination.  She’s also the only girl.

I liked the fact that Helen was awkward and yet believable.  She’s the kind of teenager that a lot of us remember being, and I was constantly rooting for her as she began to come into her own.  Choose Your Weapon focuses on finding one’s inner strength rather than succumbing to peer pressure and apologizing for being oneself, and that’s an important lesson for teens and grown-ups alike.

This book rocks!  Sarah is a sophisticated and talented new writer, and I can’t wait to see what she comes out with next.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, YA | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“I am Venus” by Barbara Mujica

Today is my stop on the TLC Book Tour for Barbara Mujica’s novel I am Venus.  I received a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

I am Venus is the story of Diego Velazquez and the mysterious model of his only surviving nude painting.  Told from the model’s perspective, it explores Velazquez’s rise to prominence amidst the Spanish court.

Velazquez’s paintings feature a motif of mirrors.  If you look at the mirror in the painting of Venus, you will notice that the perspective is off.  If the mirror reflected the woman in the picture, it would be showing her boobs.  Instead, the mirror disguises the model’s identity.

The mirror motif becomes integrated into the story as Barbara Mujica sheds light into Velazquez’s world.  She highlights the contrast between the rigid Catholic ideology of the Inquisition and the decadence and corruption of the Spanish court.

Mujica integrates the same contrast between appearance and reality into her narration, alternating between the perspective of the aged model who posed for the painting and a third person omniscient point of view.  While I can appreciate the artistry that went into this technique, I felt that it made the writing seem choppy and disjointed.  The abrupt segues into the first person broke my immersion.  At the same time, I don’t think I’d have had the same connection to the painting if the book was narrated differently, and I admire the creativity that Mujica displays.

Even though I was ambivalent on the writing style, the story itself was fantastic.  Velazquez’s relationship to his wife Juana is an integral part of I am Venus, and the author paints a complex portrait of the way that their relationship changes over time.  Juana grew on me as the book progressed.  At first, I found her to be self-centered and naive, especially when expressing her jealousy toward women who modeled for Velazquez’s paintings.  She was particularly venomous toward Lidia, a young servant girl who assisted in Velazquez’s studio.  I felt for Lidia, especially because of the power imbalance between the two women, and felt that Juana was lashing out at the wrong person.  As Juana matured, she became more empathetic.  She learned to see outside her narrow world and to genuinely care about other people.  Her relationship with Velazquez deepened, and she felt a greater connection to his world.

Overall, I was impressed with I am Venus.  Despite the narration style, I felt immersed in Velazquez’s world.  I’d recommend it to fans of historical fiction and art.

Categories: Fiction, Historical Fiction | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

“Petals and Thorns” by Jeffe Kennedy

Petals and Thorns by Jeffe Kennedy is an erotic retelling of Beauty and the Beast.  I’m a sucker for reimagined fairy tales, so I had to give it a try.

Amarantha is convinced by her family to marry the Beast.  The Beast has agreed to divorce her and give her family a fortune if she doesn’t agree to consummate the marriage in a week’s time.  While he can’t take her virginity, nothing else is off-limits.  The Beast introduces Amarantha to BDSM, while at the same time emphasizing the fact that he’d never cause her real harm, and that he cares about her well-being.

At first, Amarantha is terrified, but she quickly realizes that she finds the Beast exciting.  She also realizes how empty her life with her family was, and that they care more about money than they do about people.  As she falls in love with the Beast, she realizes that her new life is far more fulfilling.  Meanwhile, the Beast is portrayed as a multifaceted creature.  He’s intelligent, caring, and has interests and personality outside of the bedroom.

I first became familiar with Kennedy’s work after winning a copy of Ruby during Armchair BEA.  Conveniently, it lined up with a project I was doing for a genre fiction class at the time.  Even though I don’t read much erotica, I realized that I had misjudged the genre as a whole.  As in Ruby, I was blown away by the character development present in Kennedy’s books.  They aren’t just about the sex, but rather use it as a way of showing how a character grows over time.

I’m quite impressed with Jeffe Kennedy’s stories.  Clocking in at a little under a hundred pages a piece, they’re good for a relaxing bedtime read when you want a book with a happy ending.  Petals and Thorns was no exception, and I would highly recommend it.

Categories: Erotica, Fantasy | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Tankborn” by Karen Sandler

Back in June, I won a giveaway at The Book Smugglers for Karen Sandler’s novel Tankborn and its sequel Awakening.  The books are from Lee & Low, a new publisher focusing on multiculturalism and diversity in children’s and young adult literature.  Their mission is something that I fully support, and it’s especially heartening to see some of their science fiction and fantasy offerings.

Kayla is a GEN, short for Genetically Engineered Non-human.  The GEN don’t have parents in the traditional sense; they’re born using a tank and then fostered.  When a GEN is 15, he/she is given their Assignment, sent to work as slaves for the humans on Loca.  The GEN are marked by prominent tattoos on their faces, making it impossible to be mistaken for another social class.

Kayla’s friend Mishalla begins her Assignment first, but finds that something’s amiss.  Her task is caring for low-class (but not GEN) babies, some of whom have been injured.  Mishalla realizes that everything isn’t as it seems, and that the humans she works for are involved in something shady.

As Kayla begins her own Assignment, she begins to question what she’s been taught about the roles of the GEN and humans.  She meets an upper-class human teenager named Devak, and the two begin to fall in love.  Personally, I found Devak to be a bit insufferable for most of the book, but it’s understandable because he’s a teenager who has led a relatively privileged life.  For most of his life, the plight of the GEN was something that could easily be ignored, and even though he’s always been kind to the GEN, it wasn’t until meeting Kayla that he really started to get it.

Sandler uses Kayla and Devak’s story to explore how racism can become ingrained in culture.  The social classes in Tankborn are rigidly enforced, and appearance is a major determinant of one’s social position.  GEN do go to school, but their lessons are geared toward their capacity as workers.  Even the GEN religion points to fulfillment only by serving humans.  The GEN and the upper classes are taught that there are major differences between them, and that even touching one another can have serious consequences.  Kayla and Devak both have to challenge their prior assumptions and take risks to be together.

Overall, I’m a big fan Tankborn.  Kayla and Mishalla’s intertwined plot lines are filled with mystery and intrigue as they discover the real history of the relationship between the GEN and humans and fight to break down the social barriers between them.  I can’t wait to read the sequel.

Categories: Fiction, Sci Fi, YA | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Mini Review: “Ironskin” by Tina Connolly

My review of “Ironskin” is a part of a mini-review series to write about books that I read while on blogging hiatus last fall.  I had originally planned to write about it during the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril challenge.  I received an electronic copy of the book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Tina Connolly’s Ironskin is a young adult re-imagining of the the story of Jane Eyre, but with angry fae.  Jane Eliot was wounded with fae shrapnel during the Great War, and now she must wear an iron mask over her face to keep the fae magic from leaking out.  Jane is stigmatized because of her condition, but is hired as a governess to help a child whom she is certain is cursed with a similar affliction.  Dorie’s powers have scared away other governesses, but Jane is determined to stay.  Meanwhile, she finds herself falling for Dorie’s father, the mysterious Edward Rochart.

This book had so much going for it.  There were a plethora of elements to love–Jane Eyre, the fae, the gothic atmosphere, the steampunk element.  At the same time, I felt underwhelmed by the book’s ability to live up to its own potential, even though I can’t point out any one specific thing that’s “wrong.”  It just didn’t come together as organically as I would have liked.  I’ll still give it props for creativity (especially the wife-in-the-attic twist, which is NOT a spoiler, because it isn’t a wife in the attic).

Good for a light read, but don’t expect a masterpiece.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Steampunk | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

August 2013 Wrap-Up and Upcoming Plans

Hello everyone!  August has been a successful blogging/reading month.  Now that I’m back to blogging solidly again, I’d like to start monthly wrap-up and housekeeping posts again.

This weekend, I’m going to Pennsylvania to go camping with my family for Labor Day weekend.  As I’ll be in the middle of nowhere, there will be no internet (or even cell phone service, for that matter, unless one stands on a particular picnic table and the wind is blowing in just the right direction).  It will be a nice opportunity to relax and get away from the world.  I’ll also be turning 25, which feels a bit surreal.

Any posts this weekend will be scheduled, but I’ll be back for discussions on Monday.

Reviews:

I managed to review six books throughout the past month.

Giveaway:

The winner of the giveaway of Koethi Zan’s The Never List is Patricia.  Congratulations!

Bout of Books and RIP:

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During August, I participated in my first ever readathon, during which I read a total of five books in the span of one week.  I began a sixth book, Days of Blood and Starlight, which I’ve since finished.  I loved Bout of Books because it gave me an excuse to push myself to make more time for reading instead of doing “important things” like laundry or cooking dinner.  I can’t wait for the next Bout of Books, which takes place in early January.

Thanks to Bout of Books, I’m now something like 10 books behind on reviews.  This month’s goal is to catch up on writing reviews, while at the same time participating in one of my favorite reading events of the year.  That’s right, it’s time for Carl’s R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril, VIII, which begins on September 1.  The event focuses on ghosts, ghouls, and things that go bump in the night.

Generally, this is where I’d make a reading pool, but I know from experience that even if I did, I won’t stick to it.  Instead, I’m going to challenge myself to read/review at least five RIP-themed books throughout the duration of the event.  I’ve already gotten started with Terri Windling/Ellen Datlow’s Snow White, Blood Red, a collection of dark faerie tales that include stories written by some of my favorite authors, including Neil Gaiman and Charles de Lint.  The few stories I’ve read so far have been excellent, and I can’t wait to share my thoughts on them.

New Acquisitions:

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  • Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini

    – Historical fiction from the perspective of a former slave who has close contact with the Lincoln family.

  • Silk Armor by Claire Sydenham

    – Set in Turkey.  I don’t know nearly enough about Turkey, so this will be a learning experience.

  • The Melancholy of Mechagirl by Cat Valente

    – Cat Valente is one of my favorite authors, and when I saw she had released a new collection of stories and poems inspired by Japan, I ordered it from Amazon immediately.

  • Who Asked You? by Terry McMillan

    – My impression when reading the blurb is that the book explores social issues within the context of their impact on a community.

Have a happy and safe Labor Day weekend!

Categories: Fiction, Month in Review | Tags: , , , , , | 9 Comments

Bout of Books 8.0 Mini-Update

Tomorrow’s the final day of the Bout of Books readathon, and since I’m in between books right now, it seemed like a good time for a brief progress update.

Completed:

  • Necessary Errors by Caleb Cain, 472 pages
  • The Dragon’s Path by Daniel Abraham, 557 pages (Kindle)
  • Choose Your Weapon by Sarah Rodriguez Pratt, 295 pages
  • Summer and Bird by Karen Catmull, 384 pages
  • Petals and Thorns by Jeffe Kennedy, 86 pages (Kindle)

At the moment, I have met and exceeded my reading goals.  Since I have no real plans for tonight, I’m gonna spend the rest of the evening reading and maybe try to catch up on writing reviews.

Categories: Fiction | Tags: | Leave a comment

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