Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Um, wow.  This book was just awesome.  I mean, there is a lot of great YA out there, but this is some of the best I’ve read in a while.

In a future where the Gulf Coast is characterized by its drowned cities, the divide between rich and poor is wider than ever, and a few powerful trade families control it all, Nailer is at the bottom of the totem pole.  Nailer works as a ship breaker on “light crew,” stripping grounded oil tankers for copper wiring and brass fittings, anything that will help them fill quota.  When he isn’t risking his life at work, Nailer must constantly try to keep his abusive, drug-addicted, and very dangerous father happy – not an easy task.  He knows when his dad is “sliding high,” and knows well enough to avoid him when he can.

When Nailer’s beach is pounded by a terribly powerful hurricane – what has become known as a “city killer”  – he and his friend Pima come across a grounded clipper ship, full of more wealth than they thought possible.    It’s their ticket to a better life, if only they can keep it a secret for long enough to strip the scavenge from it and claim it as their own.  But when they find it has a survivor, the wealthy and beautiful Nita, Nailer has a choice to make.  The gold rings on her fingers alone are worth more than any scavenge they could get from the ship – Pima insists that the smart thing to do would be to kill her, and Nailer knows she’s right.  Yet having had a close brush with death himself only days before, Nailer can’t bring himself to let Pima do it.  To let her live would be to risk everything – not only the scavenge, but his life as he knows it – and it’s the most important choice Nailer will ever make.

I just couldn’t put this one down.  Fast-paced and full of action, it also manages to ponder some serious issues.  To make the leap from today’s reality to the dystopian society in Ship Breaker isn’t all that difficult – in fact, it’s probably not that far off from the way thousands live in third-world countries.  To see places so familiar to us with those economic and social conditions is what makes it scary.  One thing I really liked about the world he’s created is that the scope is revealed to us bit by bit, rather than all at once.  From revealing the fate of New Orleans to showing just how disparate the distribution of wealth is, the world that Nailer inhabits is always gaining another layer.

Speaking of Nailer, he’s a great character – over the course of the book, he grapples with the meanings of family, wealth, and humanity itself, adding some real meat to the story.  It’s a bit dark, but very well written – Bacigalupi has a style that’s almost stark, and it worked very well for the book as a whole.  I enjoyed every page of this book from the time I was sucked in on the first page, and it’s one you should definitely keep on your radar!

*FTC disclosure – review copy received from the publisher.

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The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker

I can’t tell you how glad I am that I stumbled across this book!  I was in the mood to go searching for some new Victorian historical fiction, and came across it.  I was aware that there was a paranormal element to it, which was ok with me.  When I started reading, I was a little surprised by just how prominent the paranormal/fantasy aspect was – and with a stack of library books due back shortly, I briefly considered putting it down in favor of something else.  Boy, am I glad I stuck with it instead.

Percy Parker is a young girl in Victorian London, and very unique.  Brought up in a convent, shy and timid Percy is an albino with the ability to see and communicate with ghosts.  Add in her extraordinary language abilities and the visions that come to her a night, and Percy knows she is anything but normal.

When she enrolls at Athens Academy in London, she meets the brooding and mysterious Professor Rychman.  Although she finds him intimidating, she is very much drawn to him – but he has  a secret of his own.  Since childhood, Alexi Rychman and five others have made up The Guard, a group of six who protect London from the spirits that inhabit it.  With a Prophecy that they will soon find a seventh, and Alexi’s belief that she will also be the woman he is meant to love, tensions in The Guard are high.  Percy is a great new character, and I found her very easy to relate to – maybe having always been a bit shy myself helped with that.

I loved Hieber’s style, and while cross-genre novels like this may not work for everybody, this one combined all of my favorites and it absolutely worked for me!  Victorian historical fiction with a Gothic edge, fantasy, and a romance with great characters (who also have great chemistry!) made such a great combination.  The first half was a little on the slow side, but once I hit around page 150, I was hooked and didn’t want to put it down!  I’m very much looking forward to the sequel due out in May, and I’ll be on the lookout for more from Hieber in the future.

Fallen by Lauren Kate

Yeah, I totally read this one for the cover.  I mean, look at it.  Gorgeous!

The book itself though, not so much.  It was a relatively entertaining, quick read, but on the whole it didn’t do too much for me.  I really like the concept of fallen angels, but I feel like so much more could have been done with it.

I suppose the biggest problem I have is the characters.  The only ones who have any personality are Arriane and Penn.  None of the other characters – Luce and Daniel included – seemed remotely real.  Luce doesn’t do much besides feel sorry for herself and moan about how misunderstood she is, how she doesn’t belong in a place like Sword & Cross, etc.  She wasn’t all the bright either – I mean, you figure out that this guy you’ve been seeing is essentially a violent control freak, so when he leaves you a note telling you to get in the car and the driver will take you to him god-knows-where, you actually go?  Really? I’m pretty sure this is the type of situation my parents were referring to when they told me “Don’t get in the car – if you do, you’ll probably never be seen again.”

Ok, enough ranting about Luce.  It got better towards the end, with some surprising twists and others you saw coming – and once Luce finally figures out what’s going on, some of the fallen angel stuff gets pretty cool.  There’s enough romance in this with the same sense of mystery that Twilight has that I think it will do well – especially with all the hype, upcoming sequel, and a movie on the way already!

The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein, and more!

Before I get into my review of Peter Ackroyd’s newest novel, I wanted to mention that Karin’s Book Nook is having a contest for a signed copy of Linger, the upcoming sequel to Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver!!  Shiver was just so good, and I don’t know about you, but I would love to win this one!  Here’s her post about the contest. I’m really looking forward to reading this one either way…loving the cover, too!

 

 

 

 

 

Ok, so on to the The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein.  I love neo-Victorian novels.  And Victorian novels.  And anything to do with that era.  I really do.  So I really wanted to like this, but, well, I didn’t.

It was rather slow to start for me. That may partially be because this has been a stressful week for me, but it finally picked up about 150 pages in.

Ackroyd has a great style – I didn’t feel so much like I was reading a neo-Victorian novel as I was the real thing at times. His settings and descriptions were wonderful, and the overall atmosphere of this was great.

As far as story and plot go, however, I wasn’t all that impressed by this one. It has an interesting take on the tale, with Frankenstein being a friend of the Shelleys rather than merely the subject of Mary’s tale (which does make an appearance, by the way), but something in the execution was lacking for me. The “twist” was obvious to me well before I got to the end, so I was disappointed by that as well.

This one gets three stars from me…I considered giving it two, but it gets an extra one for style.

Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater

So I read Shiver and really enjoyed it.  By a stroke of luck that rarely occurs for little old me, I won a copy of Ballad from the wonderful Angieville.  Intrigued, I grabbed Lament from the library (Ballad‘s predecessor, although both can be read as stand-alones without too much confusion, I think) and got reading.

Lament was great, although I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as Shiver – it just seemed to be missing that unidentifiable something.  I enjoyed the Celtic edge it had to it, and Stiefvater’s use of faerie lore.

After reading so much about Dee and Luke, I was disappointed to find that we really don’t get much about them in Ballad, except through Dee’s unsent text messages to James.  I know this is supposed to be his story, and more of a companion novel than a sequel, but I found myself wondering about them quite a bit.  Also, although I really liked Dee in Lament, I found myself disliking her a bit here – from James’ point of view she seems incredibly selfish.

For whatever reason, I wasn’t a huge fan of reading from James’ POV – I’m not really sure why, since I love him as a character.  I have a tendency toward the bad boy rather than nice guy characters, but Luke (although I did like him) just seems so superficial in comparison to the depth and character that James has.  Nuala’s POV was always entertaining, especially as I watched her go from thinking about James as a victim to thinking about him as someone she cares about.

It also seemed like all of the action and all of the big reveals were clumped together at the end – there were some great scenes, but they might have been a little more effective if they were spread out.  I love the world she’s created though, as well as her characters – Mr. Sullivan in particular.  I’ll be interested to see where James and Dee’s relationship goes from here – it seems to be left a bit open for another book featuring them (perhaps the events of Ballad from Dee’s point of view?), and if there is another, I can’t wait to read it.  As it stands, Dee’s entanglement with Faerie as the cloverhand doesn’t seem like it will be over anytime soon.

Overall, an enjoyable read.  Great ending, too.  If you like Stiefvater’s style, you won’t be disappointed with this one.

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

I was a little apprehensive in picking this one up after reading some mediocre (and less than mediocre) reviews – and I only had a few days to read it before it was due back the library, and I was worried I’d slog through it.  Perhaps my low expectations had something to do with it, but I was pleasantly surprised, and really enjoyed this.

I absolutely loved the atmosphere of the whole thing.  Niffenegger does a wonderful job of setting the stage for the novel.  It starts out with a realistic depiction of our world, with a slight creepy factor due to Highgate Cemetery neighboring the flat.  And then, of course, there’s the haunting.  From the summaries I’d read, I wasn’t sure how literal this haunting would be – just an overbearing sense that Elspeth still “owned” the flat?  Her belongings and what she left behind keeping the twins from feeling like it was their home?  The hold her memory still has on Robert and the others she knew?  Or the actual presence of a ghost?  It turned out to be the latter, and I thought the “haunting” factor was very well done.  It’s gradually built up so that it’s almost believable, with Elspeth beginning as a weak, vaporous spirit and eventually becoming capable of moving small objects, etc., and the atmosphere is a big help in allowing the reader to suspend disbelief.

Speaking of which, the reader’s ability to do just that is important for this one, I think.  A lot of other reviews I read said the ending took it too far, pushing it past the point of believability.  I can see how; there are several twists at the end, some more far-fetched than others, and one that I saw coming from early on in the book.  Nonetheless, I think she ended it the only way she could, if that one big twist (if you’ve read it, you know which one I’m talking about – I don’t want to give anything away!) is something she was aiming for through the whole novel, and I get the impression that she was.   One the whole, it was beautifully written, and with great characterization (I especially liked Martin, and it was interesting to see how his journey – or lack thereof – paralleled Elspeth’s).  There were a couple of things that bothered me about the ending, but on the whole I really enjoyed this once I allowed myself to get lost in it.

The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt

51jim7NTY8LI haven’t read much Byatt since I finished my thesis last spring, and I didn’t realize how much I missed her writing. This was somewhat different (for me, at least) from her other works that I’ve read, in a way I can’t quite put my finger on. It spans social and political changes over a rather large period of time, centering primarily on the Wellwood family and others that have entered their social circles at some point or another. The large cast of characters could make it a bit difficult to remember who was who at some points, but overall I think I enjoyed all of them – they all had their roles to play in the big picture.

Now, my thesis was on her use of fairy tales and fairy tale elements – if she’d written this novel a few years ago, I probably could have centered the whole thesis on it! Fairy tales are vital to this story. Olive Wellwood is a writer of children’s stories in Victorian (and later, Edwardian) England, and her fairy stories and themes almost define her family.

I especially loved her portrayal of women in this novel. Olive’s children (and their childhood playmates) are growing up in a time when it is becoming accepted for “respectable” women to hold “real” jobs – but often at the cost of any romantic desires or chances of marriage. Dorothy (who wants to pursue the career of a doctor/surgeon) is perhaps the most affected by the double standard, observing that although there are female doctors with husbands, those are few and far between. Griselda and Florence grapple with this decision as well. One can pursue a career, but by the time her studies are through in her late 20’s, she would be considered something of an old maid. One of my favorite passages in the novel that sums this struggle up nicely comes on page 495:

“Florence was in a turmoil. She had promised herself to Geraint, and she was now promising herself to years of study. She did not think Newnham College would care for married students. She wished to disturb her father, at some ferocious girlish level, and felt – she was not really thinking – that the engagement would do that.
And yet – like Griselda, she did want to think. And she did see her future as, perhaps, the choice between thinking and sex.”

Byatt has always done a wonderful job of exploring the roles that women play in various situations, past and present. This novel is no exception.