August 27th, 2010

Queen Jo

Soulless and Changeless

Author: Gail Carriger
Title: Soulless
Format: eBook
Rating: 4.5/5

I'm absolutely delighted to introduce my latest find - Soulless by Gail Carriger. Meet Alexia Tarabotti, a woman without a soul (which means she has the power to neutralize supernatural beings) who lives in Victorian London in a world where vampires supported the Conferedates and where strange octopus organizations study supernatural beings for scientific purposes.
What a witty read that was, so lovely and fun. Alexia enjoys her tea and enjoys her parasol, which she uses, in the first chapter, to stake a vampire. She then goes on to have some sexy times with a werewolf and does so while outwitting him and escaping a prison cell. The characters are all colourful and strong and Alexia is an independent heroine whose sharp mind would seem at odds in a Victorian setting if it weren't for the author's generous use of language and turns of phrase that make even tiny details of dresses seem exquisite.

“Remove yourself from my path, sir!” hissed Miss Tarabotti, wishing she had brought her brass parasol. Why had she left it behind? What this man seemed most in need of was a good sharp prod to the nether regions.

The book is a smart combination of steampunk, romance and comedy. While I was disappointed with the resolution to the romance plot (I was expecting something less traditional for Alexia, though the last scene is great fun), it's written well enough to have kept me interested throughout - the banter and the sex scenes are engaging and sharp and Alexia is a refreshing victorian heroine who never apologizes for enjoying being nibbled on.

Great fun, that book was and I'm so pleased it's the first in a series. I'll definitely check out the second one, Changeless. The third one, Blameless, will be published on September 1 so I'll probably be right on time to read it. The author has a very amusing blog here, which sounds a lot like Alexia writing. Now all I need to start is a collection of octopus jewelry! Soulless definitely ignited my interest for the animal as an emblem. I'm sure Etsy has tons of things. As for parasols, summer is coming to an end but I shall keep my eyes peeled for one next year. Soulless is the kind of light and fresh book one has to read sipping a good cup (or, in my case, mug, for a cup isn't enough) of tea. I had a mug full of Christmas blend with mine, as well as Twinings English Breakfast, whose name is such a shame. I'm a firm believer that it can and should be enjoyed at all times of the day.

Author: Gail Carriger
Title: Soulless
Format: eBook
Rating: 4.5/5

This review contains spoilers for Changeless, please tread carefully.
The second installment in The Parasol Protectorate series, which is such a gem of a series it makes me wonder if the author has been reading my diary.
This time we're introduced to dirigibles, spies, mummies and ghosts (I loved the ghosts, I have to say. Let's Free Formerly Merriway, I say.) As with the first book, Soulless, which I finished a few days ago, Changeless is witty and fast-paced with an impeccable heroine, one of the best I've come across in literature. Garriger's writing is as exquisite as ever and the narrative flows effortlessly.
I have a couple of precise things to talk about:

1. The ending - talk about being out of the blue, I was completely taken aback by this sudden turn of events and this is the only time I felt it didn't really connect to the rest of the story. It felt like a huge plot point to me. On the other hand, I'm truly happy to be rid of Lord Macon whom I never liked. The banter is nice but his dominating and aggressive personality makes him sound very entitled to things he simply has no claim to. A woman, or any human being for that matter, is not property. I hope it's the last we see of him and I wonder at the tastes of those for whom he's a favourite character.

2. Ivy needs to be developed, I think, and I hope to see that in Blameless. She's clearly written as a foil to Alexia (she faints a lot and needs rescuing, Alexia doesn't) which is nice to Alexia but really very harsh on Ivy who could use a little more backbone that would flesh her out into more than a stereotype. She deserves it.

3. So pleasantly surprised at the lesbian hints at the end, I could have screamed. It's good that the author acknowledges sexual tension when it exists, instead of being coy about it and praising the readers for finding things they 'never thought of including' (which is a gentle authorial dismissal disguised as praise, but a dismissal nonetheless, which I always find sad when it happens to (potential) relationships between characters in literature, especially non-straight ones, as it's often a case of heterocentricism, but I digress).
4. Floote is an underrated character, hope to see more of him. And I loved the bits about Alexia's father and the scene where Alexia and Ivy pick clothes and hats, which was hilarious. This book is a riot.
I can't wait to read Blameless. This series is such a find!

Crossposted at my book blog, Magical & Colloquial.

Review: Other by Karen Kincy

Title: Other
Author: Karen Kincy
Page Count: 326 pages
Summary:Seventeen-year-old Gwen hides a dangerous secret: she’s Other. Half-pooka, to be exact, thanks to the father she never met. Most Americans don’t exactly roll out the welcome mat for Others, especially not the small-town folks of Klikamuks, Washington. As if this isn’t bad enough, Gwen’s on the brink of revealing her true identity to her long-time boyfriend, Zack, but she’s scared he’ll lump her with the likes of bloodthirsty vampires and feral werewolves.

When a pack of werewolves chooses the national forest behind Gwen’s home as their new territory, the tensions in Klikamuks escalate-into murder. It soon becomes clear a serial killer is methodically slaying Others. The police turn a blind eye, leaving Gwen to find the killer before the killer finds her. As she hunts for clues, she uncovers more Others living nearby than she ever expected. Like Tavian, a sexy Japanese fox-spirit who rivals Zack and challenges her to embrace her Otherness. Gwen must struggle with her own conflicted identity, learn who she can trust, and-most importantly-stay alive.

(Review @ Read Sam, Read!)

Yes, ANOTHER Mockingjay Review!

marks the end of the Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins. The first book in the trilogy, The Hunger Games introduces readers to the post-apocalyptic, futuristic world of Panem, home of Katniss Everdeen, the main character of the Hunger Games Trilogy. 

In The Hunger Games, Katniss is selected to represent her district in the annual Hunger Games, a survival game where participants must kill each other in order to be declared the winner. 

In the second book, Catching Fire, Katniss is once again thrown into the arena of the Hunger Games, but this time, not just to fight for her life, but for the freedom of the people of Panem, against the tyrannical rule of the Capitol.  Catching Fire ends with an all out rebellion from people of the 12 Districts of Panem against the Capitol.

In Mockingjay, majority of the districts of Panem are in an all out rebellion against the Capitol, and Katniss, now a resident of the controversial District 13 is faced with the task of rallying the people to stand up to the Capitol; to strengthen the courage of those who have already chosen to rebel and to encourage the few who have yet to make up their minds. She must become the face of the rebellion. 

In Mockingjay, author Suzanne Collins ties-up loose ends and concludes the story of the Hunger Games trilogy. There is the issue of the rebellion against the Capitol and the fate of Panem, and of course there is the issue of the personal lives of the main characters, such as Katniss, Peeta, Gale, Haymitch and an assortment of characters introduced throughout the trilogy.

As the mockingjay, Katniss must now use her powers as a “celebrity” victor to defeat the Capitol. Unfortunately, instead of training and fighting for Panem’s cause, Katniss has become a total wreck who spends most of her time in the hospital, drugged and in poor mental health. She contemplates to no end of her uselessness to the rebellion and the untrustworthiness of everyone around her, including her so-called closest friends and family. 

Because Katniss is the main character and narrator of the trilogy, I think it’s only natural that the critique be most about her. In The Hunger Games, I found Katniss a bit annoying, but tolerable. Her false modesty but savior complex was understandable, considering her family background, upbringing and environment.

In Catching Fire, she had successfully increased my irritation tenfold. She showed herself as an immature, self-centered, rather manipulative girl. Now, in Mockingjay, she has fully matured to be quite an unlikeable character. Adding to her false modesty, her self-righteousness, immaturity and manipulative ways, she is also hypocritical, finicky and easily swayed by others. It makes me think how unlikely it is for a girl with these qualities to be chosen to represent a rebellion which will change the world.  

But then again, that’s fiction for you.

Throughout the book, she constantly questions the motives of those on her side, including her “best friend,” and anybody willing to help her. Her selfishness and total disregard of others causes her to make wrong decisions and behave rather stupidly. 

Most of the time, her opinion towards those around her are influenced by how much she is loved or worshiped by them -  like Gale and Peeta, or of how much use they will be to her, in the long run.  

Though I read the whole trilogy, I never became attached to any of its characters, but if I had to pick favorites, it would have to be Peeta, Haymitch and Finnick.

I was never really interested in Katniss’ love triangle, and whether she ended up with either Gale or Peeta was never an issue for me.   Quite frankly, I don’t think she deserves Peeta or Gale, and it amazes me how both of them could be so attracted to someone like her. 

The best thing about Mockingjay and the Hunger Games as a whole is that Suzanne Collins was not afraid to create flaws in her characters’ personalities and to ruin their lives. She was not afraid to show in her characters the insanity and psychological damage caused by participating in the Hunger Games.

The ending of Mockingjay and the trilogy, though not perfect, is realistic and satisfactory. It’s realistic to end with Katniss still damaged and beyond repair, living a so-called normal life with an equally damaged boy, who, truth be told, is too good for her. I can only imagine the kind of unstable and emotional wreck Katniss has become who her family must constantly deal with and comfort. Through much effort, they must all find ways to live with their past, cope and go about their lives…

…And to live happily ever after…sort of.



The Passage, by Justin Cronin

I tend to prefer compact novels nowadays, something tightly-plotted with tons of characterization and clear, concise writing. Tasty but nutritious and not too fattening.

But every now and then, I want to order a 13" meat-lovers pizza supreme with extra cheese and eat the whole damn thing.

The Passage features a huge cast of characters, including lots of unnecessary cannon fodder, spans a time period of more than a hundred years, gives us a bunch of improbable twists that I saw coming a mile away, some pretty decent prose that occasionally meanders into overwrought literary look-at-me-showing-off-my-MFA-I-am-not-just-a-genre-writer territory, and forty million vampires of the non-sparkly kind.

"It happened fast. Thirty-two minutes for one world to die, another to be born."

First, the unthinkable: a security breach at a secret U.S. government facility unleashes the monstrous product of a chilling military experiment. Then, the unspeakable: a night of chaos and carnage gives way to sunrise on a nation, and ultimately a world, forever altered. All that remains for the stunned survivors is the long fight ahead and a future ruled by fear—of darkness, of death, of a fate far worse.

As civilization swiftly crumbles into a primal landscape of predators and prey, two people flee in search of sanctuary. FBI agent Brad Wolgast is a good man haunted by what he’s done in the line of duty. Six-year-old orphan Amy Harper Bellafonte is a refugee from the doomed scientific project that has triggered apocalypse. He is determined to protect her from the horror set loose by her captors. But for Amy, escaping the bloody fallout is only the beginning of a much longer odyssey—spanning miles and decades—towards the time and place where she must finish what should never have begun.

It's true that once the vampire apocalypse goes down, things happen pretty fast, but it takes several hundred pages to get there. Is it worth it?

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Verdict: This is a good book, not a great book, but I enjoyed the hell out of it. To reiterate the point I reiterated above, if you liked The Stand, you should like The Passage, and if you didn't like The Stand, maybe you should read something other than 800-page apocalyptic thrillers.