Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “Amanda6”

Amanda6′s #CBR4 Review 48-52: The Fever Series by Karen Marie Moning

Here’s the series, in order:

  1. Darkfever
  2. Bloodfever
  3. Faefever
  4. Dreamfever
  5. Shadowfever

These five officially complete my Cannonball! Yay! I had initially signed up to do the half-cannonball — a formerly avid reader, I hadn’t really done a lot of reading for pleasure in the past few years, and I was unsure how many books I’d be able to cover. I want to say: THANK YOU Cannonball read, and THANK YOU Pajiba, for giving me the motivation to rediscover reading, one of my true loves in life. For the remainder of this year, I won’t be writing any more reviews, because I’ll probably be re-reading some of my favorite new books that I discovered this year :) (EDITED TO ADD: Administratively, I’ve done this Cannonball as Amanda6, which was my Pajiba name under the old commenting system. On Disqus, like here on WordPress, I’m alwaysanswerb.)

I read these based on Malin’s reviews. I’m fairly new to urban fantasy and paranormal romance, being somewhat averse to cheese. For some reason, despite that Darkfever cover, Malin’s review convinced me to give these a try, and I’m really glad I did. More about Fever behind the jump…

Read more…

Amanda6′s #CBR4 Review 47: Nerve by Jeanne Ryan

Goodreads summary: “When Vee is picked to be a player in NERVE, an anonymous game of dares broadcast live online, she discovers that the game knows her. They tempt her with prizes taken from her ThisIsMe page and team her up with the perfect boy, sizzling-hot Ian. At first it’s exhilarating–Vee and Ian’s fans cheer them on to riskier dares with higher stakes. But the game takes a twisted turn when they’re directed to a secret location with five other players for the Grand Prize round. Suddenly they’re playing all or nothing, with their lives on the line. Just how far will Vee go before she loses NERVE?”

This was a pretty quick read and a rather fluffy one too. The book is set in our reality, in our time, and as such, initially the premise was intriguing. I definitely believed in the idea that such a game could exist in our time and that there would be tons of people out there that would play dares to an online audience in exchange for cash prizes. The Grand Prize round, though, seemed really farfetched to me, and as such the whole climax to the story was a yawn for me. On top of that, I didn’t really connect with any of the characters, so I didn’t really feel that invested in the “lives on the line” outcome.

The writing itself was fine, about average caliber for your typical YA novels these days. There is a prologue that felt weirdly tacked on to the beginning, and is only referenced in passing once during the rest of the book as a throwaway sentence. This was my only issue with the editing/technical side of the story.

Overall, I wasn’t super impressed with this one, but I think I may be too old for it. It’s possible that an actual teenager could relate to the characters better, and possibly believe more than I did that their peer group would willingly participate in things like the Grand Prize dare. With good YA, being slightly out of the age demographic doesn’t jar me, but here it did.

Amanda6′s #CBR4 Review 46: The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker

From Amazon: “True fear is a gift. Unwarranted fear is a curse. Learn how to tell the difference.

A date won’t take “no” for an answer. The new nanny gives a mother an uneasy feeling. A stranger in a deserted parking lot offers unsolicited help. The threat of violence surrounds us every day. But we can protect ourselves, by learning to trust—and act on—our gut instincts.

In this empowering book, Gavin de Becker, the man Oprah Winfrey calls the nation’s leading expert on violent behavior, shows you how to spot even subtle signs of danger—before it’s too late. Shattering the myth that most violent acts are unpredictable, de Becker, whose clients include top Hollywood stars and government agencies, offers specific ways to protect yourself and those you love, including…how to act when approached by a stranger…when you should fear someone close to you…what to do if you are being stalked…how to uncover the source of anonymous threats or phone calls…the biggest mistake you can make with a threatening person…and more. Learn to spot the danger signals others miss. It might just save your life.”

I have heard a lot of recommendations of this book online, recommendations that are particularly directed at women. The pitch is pretty well covered in the description I grabbed from Amazon. I’ll just add that the book is broken into several sections that cover a range of possible violent or threatening situations, and the steps that we can take before those situations even occur, such that we can attempt to prevent them. One of De Becker’s main arguments is that though people tend to feel that violence is unpredictable, in a lot of cases, there are several warning signs that people ignore because they don’t trust their own intuitions. De Becker’s goal here is to help people distinguish between helpful fear and irrational worrying, to hone our instincts and recognize potentially dangerous individuals or situations.

His advice here was sound, and I definitely learned some things. Sometimes the writing gets a little repetitive and hokey, and I think the book could have benefited from another round of editing for style. But overall, this was a worthwhile read for me, and there is some valuable insight in here that could be beneficial to others.

Amanda6′s #CBR4 Review 43-45: The Mortal Instruments 1-3 by Cassandra Clare

This review covers the “original” trilogy of The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, City of Ashes, and City of Glass. More books have been written and the series is up to five now; I have no idea how long the author intends for the series to run at this point.

Look at those covers — aren’t they kind of hilarious? Anyway, being the dedicated Tumblr user that I am, I couldn’t help but notice the fervor over these, particularly with the movie adaptation currently filming and slated for release in spring 2013. Turns out, I’m way behind on this phenomenon, since City of Bones was first released in 2008. Anyway. Onto the actual review-y stuff.

Set in modern New York, the series concerns the re-education of “mundane” Clary Fray, who grew up much like you and I, blind to the supernatural worlds that exist intertwined with ours. That changes one evening at a nightclub when she witnesses a group of Shadowhunters engaged in a bit of demon-slaying. Shadowhunters are humans that are angel-blessed and have the ability (and responsibility) to fight demons and other forces of evil. Shadowhunters are born only from the established bloodline of known Shadowhunters, so when the supposedly-normal Clary is able to see what ordinary humans, called “mundanes,” cannot, the Shadowhunter group takes her back to their lair. Meanwhile, her mother is kidnapped, as it turns out, by demons, and Clary and her new companions, along with her other mundane friend Simon, learn Clary’s true heritage and begin a quest to rescue her mother.

This is basically the setup for the first three books in the series, which has everything you would expect from a supernatural YA series: the epic and passionate romance that appears delayed by insurmountable circumstances and kind of leads to a love triangle, except that you’re never quite convinced that there is really any competition; the showdown between good and evil, which in this case is led by a former Shadowhunter-turned-bad; appearances from vampires, warlocks, werewolves, and faeries — etc, etc. There is also a lot of meta humor and current pop culture references, which make the books fun now but will probably lead to them seeming really dated in another few years.

Overall, yes, these were really fun. I read all three over the course of a single weekend, and I can understand why teenagers (aka, the actual target market for YA) have gone rabid over them. I really enjoyed the world-building and fast paced plot, both of which kept me engaged and caused me to want to zip through these quickly. The romance was fun too, due to a legitimately surprising twist, which keeps them “apart” for a good 2/3 of the trilogy and makes for some deliciously conflicted sexual tension. The writing itself was kind of hokey and immature, and didn’t really achieve the same kind of character depth or development that, say, Collins does in The Hunger Games, or even that THG would-be competitors like Divergent (Roth) do. What the characters lack in depth, though, they make up for in sassy quips. Again, these lend themselves to fun, quick reads rather than truly thought-provoking YA, but I’m not really complaining. One of the things that the Cannonball has done for me is taken away a bit of my prejudice regarding “serious” books. If I’m trying to read at least 52 books in a year, I owe myself a few silly fun ones along the way! So that’s what I recommend to this audience. The Mortal Instruments make a great palate-cleanser as part of the Cannonball: you’ll probably enjoy them, even if they don’t “stay with you,” as they say. And if this kind of stuff is actually right up your alley, you’ve probably already read them, since like I said, I’m late to this game.

Amanda6′s #CBR4 Review 42: Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

Description from Amazon: “Into Thin Air is the definitive account of the deadliest season in the history of Everest by the acclaimed journalist and author of the bestseller Into the Wild. On assignment for Outside Magazine to report on the growing commercialization of the mountain, Krakauer, an accomplished climber, went to the Himalayas as a client of Rob Hall, the most respected high-altitude guide in the world.  A rangy, thirty-five-year-old New Zealander, Hall had summited Everest four times between 1990 and 1995 and had led thirty-nine climbers to the top. Ascending the mountain in close proximity to Hall’s team was a guided expedition led by Scott Fischer, a forty-year-old American with legendary strength and drive who had climbed the peak without supplemental oxygen in 1994. But neither Hall nor Fischer survived the rogue storm that struck in May 1996.

Krakauer examines what it is about Everest that has compelled so many people — including himself — to throw caution to the wind, ignore the concerns of loved ones, and willingly subject themselves to such risk, hardship, and expense. Written with emotional clarity and supported by his unimpeachable reporting, Krakauer’s eyewitness account of what happened on the roof of the world is a singular achievement.”

I don’t really have a lot to add to the official description, as this is a nonfiction memoir, so a lot of the “stuff” I assess and critique in fiction are off the table here. I will note that Krakauer is an exceptional writer, so reading this does have the feel and pace of reading a suspenseful novel. It’s obvious that, as a reporter, Krakauer has made a point of gathering as much information and as many interviews as he could, and doing so has resulted in — what seemed to me to be — a comprehensive, insightful, empathetic, and reasoned take on the events of May 10/11, 1996. Into Thin Air is not without its controversy and detractors, but I think for his part Krakauer was able to elegantly cover a very sensitive subject.  In addition to the straightforward recollection of the summit attempt, Krakauer also engages in fascinating personal reflection and reveals a great deal of his own survivor’s guilt and grief. And, even though I know everyone loves to play psychologist on the internet, I wouldn’t be surprised if his emotional state after the disaster could be considered straight-up PTSD.

The way this book has written gives it wide-ranging appeal beyond the obvious target group of mountaineers and lovers of the outdoors. Though this bestseller is some 15 years old at this point, it’s well worth a read if somehow you, like me, had managed to miss it up until now.

Amanda6′s #CBR4 Review 41: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick

Plot summary from Amazon:

“By 2021, the World War had killed millions, driving entire species into extinction and sending mankind off-planet. Those who remained coveted any living creature, and for people who couldn’t afford one, companies built incredibly realistic simulacrae: horses, birds, cats, sheep. . . They even built humans.

Emigrées to Mars received androids so sophisticated it was impossible to tell them from true men or women. Fearful of the havoc these artificial humans could wreak, the government banned them from Earth. But when androids didn’t want to be identified, they just blended in.

Rick Deckard was an officially sanctioned bounty hunter whose job was to find rogue androids, and to retire them. But cornered, androids tended to fight back, with deadly results.”

My enduring impression of Dick is that he is a genius when it comes to visions. The worlds he creates, the stories, the ideological conflicts — all are arresting and immediately engrossing. As a writer though, the words he puts on the page somehow fail (for me anyway) to inspire the kind of electric energy that could bring his books to the next level. That’s how it is with Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the story that inspired the film Blade Runner. If you’ve seen the film before reading this book, you may be surprised, as I was, as to how different the book actually is. Without getting into a detailed description of all of the elements that were changed for the screenplay, I’ll just say that I think Blade Runner did a better job with Dick’s story than Dick did.

I rarely feel this way when it comes to books vs. movie adaptations, but I don’t really think this book is required reading at this point. It’s bizarre: very cold and detached, with all of the tension building to Deckard’s final showdown with the remaining androids, though the final meeting wraps up in a matter of seconds. It’s the ultimate in anti-climatic; I literally blinked and missed it and had to go back and make sure I had really just read the entire encounter in about four sentences. I don’t really have much else to say. It’s a short review for a short book.

Amanda6′s #CBR4 Review 39-40: The Vampire Lestat and Queen of the Damned by Anne Rice

I’m doing these two together because I read them together, and because Queen of the Damned picks up right were Lestat left off. Beginning in Lestat, the titular character has awoken some time in the 1980’s after years of sleep. He comes across the
“memoir” Interview with the Vampire, written by Louis, the vampire he had created over a century earlier. He decides, partly to get the attention of Louis, and partly to set the record straight, to form a hugely popular rock band and release an album and novel (all called “The Vampire Lestat”) at the same time to create intrigue. What we are reading, then, is his novel of his early life as a vampire, bookended by more recent exposition at the time of his awakening.

Queen of the Damned begins on the evening of The Vampire Lestat’s debut concert, when Lestat’s music has awoken Akasha, the millenia-old original vampire. Lestat is the narrator of this story, too, but he has also “collected” the stories of other vampire characters as they concern their whereabouts and doings that evening of Akasha’s rise. Akasha, herself, has a plan (that Valerie Solanas would love) to “save” humankind from itself, and she has taken Lestat with her as her prince to put the plan into motion.

Taken together with Interview with the Vampire, I found the story overall to progressively pick up steam. Interview was an interesting read, but a rather slow one. Lestat started off much the same, and I wasn’t intensely interested in most of his backstory; he engaged in a lot of the kind of existential whining and drama that Louis did for most of Interview. It wasn’t really until Lestat relates the story of Marius, which gets into the detailed history of vampires themselves and introduces Akasha and Enkil, the original Mother and Father, that I started to really feel engaged. That anticipation continued into Queen, and as such I finished this novel much more quickly than either of the other two. It had a lot more action, and the idea that it was taking place in the present rather than being presented as a memoir worked to up the excitement for me as well. Finally, in the third novel, we also get to meet many more of the older vampires, and the dynamics of the group as they come together provided a welcome dimension of interaction that differed from the histrionic “fatal attraction” type of love that was often described between several of the vampire “couples.”

As these are “classic” (in their own way) vampire novels, it is hard for me to recommend some over the other, as there are extremes these days in what people like in their vampire stories. For me, if I were to do it over again, I would skip Interview entirely and begin with Lestat’s story. Though the first half of the novel wasn’t my favorite, it provided the necessary backstory to understand Queen, which was my favorite.

Amanda6′s #CBR4 Review 38: Partials by Dan Wells

Amazon: “The human race is all but extinct after a war with Partials—engineered organic beings identical to humans—has decimated the population. Reduced to only tens of thousands by RM, a weaponized virus to which only a fraction of humanity is immune, the survivors in North America have huddled together on Long Island while the Partials have mysteriously retreated. The threat of the Partials is still imminent, but, worse, no baby has been born immune to RM in more than a decade. Our time is running out.

Kira, a sixteen-year-old medic-in-training, is on the front lines of this battle, seeing RM ravage the community while mandatory pregnancy laws have pushed what’s left of humanity to the brink of civil war, and she’s not content to stand by and watch. But as she makes a desperate decision to save the last of her race, she will find that the survival of humans and Partials alike rests in her attempts to uncover the connections between them—connections that humanity has forgotten, or perhaps never even knew were there.”

I’m just going to keep on rolling with the dystopian/survival thing. Partials was a lot of fun: there is a varied cast of characters, personality-wise and racial/ethnically (fistbump for diversity in YA literature,) a great fast pace that had me finishing this one in about a day, and a nice twist in the middle of the book. The protagonist, Kira Walker, is an interesting character. She’s kind of a smartass, and she’s intelligent, moral, and brave. I also really enjoyed the aspect that within the community of surviving humans, it’s not as if there is complete peace and concord. The government has enacted some desperate measures that divide the survivors and has caused some of them to live in the open, beyond the protection of the Defense Grid and therefore more immediately vulnerable to attack from the Partials. The particular law at the center of the ideological chasm is the Hope Act, which states that women 18 and older are required to try and get pregnant as often as possible, in order to potentially have even a single child that is born immune to the RM virus. It’s drastic in the way that government laws often are in dystopian literature, but still, it eerily reflects a political climate today in the US that seems rather focused on legislating women’s bodies. Partials was published early in 2012; I’m not sure, given the timing of writing and publication, if Wells was “inspired” by current events, or that the similarities are coincidental. In any case, the parallels did amp up my reading experience.

Overall, this one is recommended. It’s a quick read, with a story that draws you in, and IMO likeable characters. I’m looking forward to the sequel next year (are there any YA novels coming out right now that don’t have intended sequels?)

Amanda6′s #CBR4 Review 37: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

From Amazon: “The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance.”

This one has been reviewed about a thousand times, so given that and the Amazon description above, I’m not going to spend a ton of time on little details.

I will, however, offer criticism, as this book wasn’t 100% perfect for me. (Yes, I’m holding it to a higher standard than my pet genre of YA dystopian lit.) Essentially, what everyone before me has said is true: Morgenstern is a master storybuilder, and her vivid imagination of the Night Circus leaps off the page. It’s lush and beautiful and it’s the circus I wish I have always wanted to see. The off-linear pacing from the converging timelines was skillfully performed, but I was a little distracted by the second-person narratives that were thrown in from time to time.

But the biggest issue for me was the romance. I couldn’t grasp any motivation or reasoning behind Celia and Marco falling in love, other than that they were “supposed to.” As far as I can tell, Marco is enchanted at first sight, but Celia never seems to much register his existence; then, she discovers that he is her “opponent,” and a few brief meetings later, they are DEEPLY IN LOVE, owing to their magical cosmic connection or something. Celia goes from a strong, composed, charismatic and powerful person into a simpering “I don’t have the strength to do this without him!” trope.

It was so easy, with the rest of this book, to be picked up and swept away into the beauty and magic of the circus. The romance dragged me out of my reverie; it was too cliched and seemed to have been built on nothing. Clearly, this was not as distracting for a lot of people as it was for me, and truthfully, I still do highly recommend this book. It is a gorgeous and unique read, and it was evocative of vivid imagery in a way that few other novels have been recently. I just could have been truly blown away with some more depth to the characters and more truth to their romance.

Amanda6′s #CBR4 Review 36: The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

Amazon description: “The times and species have been changing at a rapid rate, and the social compact is wearing as thin as environmental stability. Adam One, the kindly leader of the God’s Gardeners–a religion devoted to the melding of science and religion, as well as the preservation of all plant and animal life–has long predicted a natural disaster that will alter Earth as we know it. Now it has occurred, obliterating most human life. Two women have survived: Ren, a young trapeze dancer locked inside the high-end sex club Scales and Tails, and Toby, a God’s Gardener barricaded inside a luxurious spa where many of the treatments are edible.

Have others survived? Ren’s bioartist friend Amanda? Zeb, her eco-fighter stepfather? Her onetime lover, Jimmy? Or the murderous Painballers, survivors of the mutual-elimination Painball prison? Not to mention the shadowy, corrupt policing force of the ruling powers…

Meanwhile, gene-spliced life forms are proliferating: the lion/lamb blends, the Mo’hair sheep with human hair, the pigs with human brain tissue. As Adam One and his intrepid hemp-clad band make their way through this strange new world, Ren and Toby will have to decide on their next move. They can’t stay locked away…”

(This is going to be kind of a lazy review — sorry.) Like Oryx and Crake, I had a bit of trouble with this one. Not so much with the story or the book itself, I suppose, but the way that Atwood (and many reviewers) seem to think that this world is an inevitability. I suppose only time will tell if I’m the one that’s naive here, but I find all of the “a world so similar to our own” rhetoric around these two books a bit overdramatic and tinfoil-hat-y. I mean, sure, genetic engineering and gene-splicing exist, but not like this. There are elements of truth and feasibility, but I don’t think we are depraved enough collectively to move in the direction portrayed in these novels. We’ll see, I guess.

Anyway, story-wise, I liked this one more than Oryx and Crake, mostly because I liked the narrators in The Year of the Flood a lot better than I liked Jimmy/Snowman in Oryx and Crake. What can I say — Toby and Ren’s backstories of survival and coping with adversity were a lot more interesting than Jimmy’s “Woe is me, my best friend is smarter than me and I’m in love with a manic pixie dream former child prostitute” memoir. The narrative gets a little jumpy, as the characters’ backstories catch up to the present, and the switches between character POVs are broken up by God’s Gardener sermons and hymns, which I found a little trite and tiring. Overall though, it was an interesting read, but not one of my favorite books this year.

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