City of Bones

city_of_bonesTitle: City of Bones

Author: Cassandra Clare

Number of Pages: 485

Fiction

Plot Overview: At New York’s Pandemonium Club, Clary Fray – and only Clary Fray – witnesses a brutal murder. That’s the first problem. The second problem: golden-haired, arrogant, not-quite-human Jace, who helps to commit the murder and catches Clary watching. Soon, Clary is sucked into a labyrinthine underworld replete with demons, angels, vampires, and werewolves, where nothing is as it seems and no-one can be trusted.

What I Liked: Jace, as a character, was occasionally entertaining, and the story featured characters with nonstandard sexual orientations, which was excellent.

What I Disliked: Cue the rant… Clary as a leading female character is a royal pain. Due to her unique situation as a mundane (more on that terminology later) who can see the supernatural, she’s often put in a position of weakness and confusion, causing extreme reliance on Jace and the other Shadowhunters (the not-particularly-clever moniker for the supernatural-hunting teenagers). This creates an awkward dynamic – one wants to root for Clary but is stuck wishing that she could be self-reliant for once. Jace fits the arrogant, talented, attractive love interest stereotype to a T. Also, the world that Clary operates in reads like a completely boring cross between the Bible, Harry Potter, and Twilight. Supernatural teenagers? Crack open any one of the Twilight books. Werewolves and vampires that hate each other? Perhaps the only plot device in the entire saga. Lucifer and the descendants of angels? Pure Christian lore. Normal, non-magical humans, the term for which starts M-U-…? Straight out of Harry Potter. A twist that’s decently imagined but poorly executed? Looking at you, Breaking Dawn. The writing style did little to distinguish itself from other novels in the same genre.

Other Notes: Cassandra Clare has expanded this world into many sequels, so perhaps they aren’t all this disappointing.

Other Reviews: The Guardian reviews this book here.

Final Verdict: Exceedingly unimpressive. Don’t read.

An Abundance Of Katherines

41dmcwlqdnl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Title: An Abundance of Katherines

Author: John Green

Number of Pages:

Fiction

Plot Overview: Colin is a prodigy. A prodigy who isn’t quite a genius and who has been dumped by 19 Katherines (always K-a-t-h-e-r-i-n-e, never Catherine or Kathryn) in a row. Most recently, it was K-19, kind and wonderful, who’s totally driven Colin off the rails. So Colin’s best friend, Hassan, drags him out the door and into the car for a road trip, ending up in Gutshot, Tennessee. There they meet Lindsey Lee Wells, her boyfriend TOC (The Other Colin), TOC’s friends JATT and SOCT (Jeans Are Too Tight and Short One Chewing Tobacco, respectively), and a town struggling to stay afloat. There Colin begins work on his masterpiece – the Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability, which attempts to chart the course of any relationship.

What I Liked: The characters were decently strong; Colin definitely grew on me as the book went along. Green is excellent at developing his characters. The routes they take throughout the story are unusual and worth following. The use of footnotes in this book is a nice touch, distinguishing it from the average YA road-trip novel. Speaking of which, I love the world this story operates in. From anagramming to hog hunting to secret caves to Katherine predictability to storytelling, it’s so fun to live in for 215 pages. The plot is different, yet not incredible. In terms of writing style, it’s classic John Green: natural, funny, yet occasionally pretty.

What I Didn’t Like: The characters were stereotypical: the nerd, the lazy, sarcastic best friend, the not-exceptionally-pretty yet still attractive girl, the terrible boyfriend. They started predictably and ended predictably. I have the same quibble with this book as I have with most road-trip stories: some of it feels far-fetched. Staying with a stranger? Just being allowed to up and leave on a trip? That’s somewhat outside the realm of possibility. Also, the story was unspectacular. Boy goes on road trip to get over broken heart and falls in love again.

Other Notes: John Green is an exceedingly successful author – he’s behind titles such as The Fault in Our StarsLooking For Alaska, and Paper Towns. Alongside his brother, he runs a YouTube channel, Crash Course, where he teaches pieces of classes such as English, World History, and American history.

Other Reviews: The New York Times has published a decent review of this book, which can be found here.

Final Verdict: Fun, alternately lighthearted and serious. Worth picking up.

The Demon King

Title: The Demon Kingdk_cover_md

Author: Cinda Williams Chima

Number of Pages: 506

Fiction

Plot Overview: Hanson Alister goes by many names. Han. Cuffs, his street name, for the silver bracelets locked around his wrists. Hunts Alone, when he stays in the Spirit Mountains, among the native clans of the Fells. With a mother and sister to support, he makes a living however he can, be it hunting, running errands, or stealing and killing. Raisa ana’Marianna, princess heir to the throne of the Fells (the crown passes through the female side of the family) realizes that she may be a mere pawn in a deadly fight for power between Lord Gavan Bayar, the High Wizard, her clan-born father Averill Lightfoot, and her mother, Queen Marianna ana’Rissa. Raisa battles for her freedom. Han battles for his life. The Kingdom of the Fells teeters on the brink of disaster.

What I liked: This book checks all of the major boxes required for a excellent book.

  • Characters: Well-drawn and relatable. Extra props to the smooth, only slightly evil Micah Bayar (son of Gavan) for his suave arrogance – he was a royal pain but so fun to dislike. Amon Byrne, Raisa’s childhood friend, earned points (P.S. The point system is completely arbitrary) for his steadfast loyalty. Han wore so many faces throughout this novel, making it hard to pinpoint exactly what he was like, but his sarcastic, dry wit was a delightful constant. And Raisa! Witty, intelligent, brave Raisa, determined to rule wisely and be an effective queen by herself. She’s one of my favorite female characters in literature.
  • Story/Plot: The world felt fully detailed. The story was unique, and the plot unpredictable. Chima was smart to hide her plot twists as secrets: since the focal characters were unaware of what was to come, so was the reader.
  • Writing style: Descriptive while not overly flowery. The writing was just icing on the proverbial cake; it added another dimension to an already rich story.

What I disliked: The only thing I found annoying was the sometimes blatant nature of Chima’s exposition. Occasionally, she resorted to unabridged moving along of the plot, even if it meant a character asking an obvious question. Other than that, I really enjoyed it!

Other Notes: Cinda Williams Chima has also written the Heir Chronicles, which I took up briefly, then stopped. The Demon King is the first of four books. The middle two (titled The Exiled Queen and The Gray Wolf Throne) are not terribly exciting, but worthwhile, because the fourth book (The Crimson Crown) is breathtaking. She’s just released another novel, Flamecaster, set in the same world as The Demon King, which I’m so excited to read.

Other Reviews: Thea James, at thebooksmugglers.com, has published a longer review (as well as reviews for the other three books), which can be found here.

Final Verdict: Read it! I loved it.

The Falconer

15791085Title: The Falconer

Author: Elizabeth May

Number of Pages: 373

Fiction

Plot Overview: One year ago, Lady Alieana Kameron watched helplessly as a faery ripped out her mother’s heart. From that day forward, she has hunted the fae with a merciless vengeance. Alongside her mentor, the cold, unforgiving faery Kiaran MacKay, she must protect her native Scotland while hunting her mother’s murderer.

What I Liked: Strong, witty, leading female character? Check. Faeries, in all shapes, temperaments, and sizes, with Gaelic names? Check. A couple of quirky supporting characters, including a goofy pixie sidekick named Derrick? Check. Steampunk weaponry? Check. Nineteenth-century Scotland as a backdrop? Check. These are the ingredients of a really fun read.

What I Didn’t Like: The storyline, though compelling, is not particularly original. There wasn’t any plot device that I couldn’t see coming. Alieana, for all her excellent qualities, had a wishy-washy streak that was sometimes frustrating, especially during the romantic episodes (yes, there’s a romance. It’s not my favorite element of the book). Also, the sentence structure throughout the book is very monotonous. The story was told in first-person limited, and nearly every sentence started with “I [insert verb]”. However, annoying though it was, the lack of diversity was not nearly enough to detract from my enjoyment of the book.

Other Notes: I was thrilled to see a story set in Scotland! Also, this is Elizabeth May’s debut novel. A sequel, The Vanishing Throne, is currently out, and the conclusion to the trilogy appears to be in the works.

Other Reviews: Jia, at dearauthor.com, has a quality, in-depth review out on this book, which can be found here.

Final Verdict: The enjoyable elements in this book outweighed the negative ones. Recommended, with reservations.

Fiction Favorites!

What on Earth is Fiction Favorites? you may be asking yourself currently.

Well, I’d be delighted to inform you. Fiction Favorites is where I get to write about my favorite fiction series, novels, or authors. Some are for elementary school kids, some are middle-school level, and a select few are Young Adult (YA). However, since IRB is technically for new books, I don’t get to talk about these as much as I would like. So, in no particular order, and with no particular timing, here we go!

  • The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart. (4th-6th grade)
    • The first of a trilogy, The Mysterious Benedict Society follows the story four orphans, (Reynie, Sticky, Kate, and Constance), as they try to defeat an evil inventor, Ledroptha Curtain. This book is difficult to describe; its glory lies in its unique characters and their talents. Also, it tosses gender roles right out the window, which is usually a good thing in my book. (Pun most definitely intended.)
  • The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne M. Valente (2nd-4th grade)
    • Also the first of a trilogy, though decidedly the best of the three. September Morning Bell is an average girl, Mostly Heartless, who lives in Omaha. One day the Green Wind appears outside her window and whisks her off to Fairyland. Just like that, she is on her own in a world populated by kindly wyverns, malicious shadows, and autonomous bicycles, where nothing is as it seems. Everything about this book is delightful: the characters, the richly constructed world, the sly voice of the narrator, and the twisty, well-woven plot.
  • Silksinger, Laini Taylor (5th-7th grade)
    • This book is actually a sequel to the novel Blackbringer, which I have never read. Silksinger was gifted to me as a stand-alone novel and I think it can be read as such. Ms. Taylor promises a conclusion to the series, but as of now it does not appear to be imminent. The story follows Whisper Silksinger, the last of a clan famous for weaving beautiful flying carpets with their voices, as she struggles to find Magpie Windwitch. In her possession, she has a slumbering Djinn, the Azazel. Once restored to his former power, he and the other Djinn will remake the world. The characters in this book, though sweet and funny, are not the highlight; the true value comes from the sparkling, wonderful world that they act and live in.

Cover Art: 2203136

51trpzplp5l-_sy344_bo1204203200_

I couldn’t find a good picture of the Silksinger cover art.

Let’s Get Lost

18812437Title: Let’s Get Lost

Author: Adi Alsaid

Number of Pages: 338

Fiction! (As a side note, the non-fiction unit was cool, but I have such a deep and abiding love for fiction that everything else pales in comparison. I’m so excited!)

Plot Overview: Traversing the country on a road trip to see the Northern Lights, Leila turns up in the lives of four others when they need her most. In Vicksburg, Mississippi, she meets Hudson, an auto mechanic with a heart of gold. Just outside of Kansas City, she picks up runaway and petty thief Bree, who savors every moment on the open road while trying not to look back on the life she left. Elliot, rejected on prom night by his best friend, tumbles into Leila’s life when she almost hits him with her car. And finally Sonia, whose life peeled out of control when her boyfriend collapsed on a basketball court two months ago. However, unbeknownst to them, they have helped her as much as she has helped them.

What I Liked: Hudson’s story was the best – it felt the most real. When he interacted with Leila and/or his father, it felt light, funny, authentic; it could have happened in real life. Next to that, Bree was a fun character to read about (although her story was subpar). And Leila, for all her faults, was a wonderfully witty constant throughout the loony journey.

What I disliked: Bree’s story was a little far-fetched; this book definitely requires some significant suspension of disbelief. As a little kid, we probably all threatened to run away from home at some point, but it was very rare that anyone actually went through with it, so to have a character who ran away from a troubled home to hitchhike around America was hard to stomach. There’s a part of me that loves Bree’s nomadic character, but the setup felt too unrealistic for me to truly appreciate her. Both Sonia’s and Elliot’s stories felt repetitive and one-dimensional. They kept butting their heads against their problems, never learning from their mistakes. It was a true slog. And Leila’s backstory was a little disappointing/cheesy (another willing suspension of disbelief moment).

Other Notes: Alsaid has also written Somewhere Over the Sun and Never Always Sometimes.

Other Reviews: The best, most in-depth review that I could find from this book comes from Tabitha at notyetread.com. You can find her take here.

Final Verdict: Show up for Hudson, stay for Bree, and leave after that. Alternatively, you can take your chances slogging through the stories of Elliot and Sonia.

 

Born To Run

220px-born2runTitle: Born To Run

Author: Christopher McDougall

Number of Pages: 282

Nonfiction

Plot Overview: On a mission to answer the question, “Why does my foot hurt?”, McDougall journeys from his backyard to the Copper Canyons of Mexico. He’s looking for the Tarahumara (Raramuri), a legendarily secretive, indigenous tribe of super-runners. Along the way, he makes literary visits to extreme locations like Leadville, Colorado, and Death Valley, California. His adventure also moves back in time, through the evolution of distance running.

What I enjoyed: There was so much about this book to love. Every plot line was clear and concise – there was no confusion at all to be had. The novel flowed smoothly and easily between the Tarahumaras’ story and McDougall’s own, both of which felt more like cleverly drawn fiction than nonfiction. Plus, some of the conclusions drawn, like the Running Man Theory (in essence, we survived and the Neanderthals were wiped out was because we could run down our prey) are, simply put, fascinating. All of these bits, on their own, could have made for a good story, but the author wove them together in such a way that they became greater than the sum of their parts.

What I disliked: Cue the cricket noise, because there really isn’t a lot to say here. If you aren’t a nutty ultramarathon runner or even someone who goes out and jogs every other day, then some of the subject matter covered in it may seem slightly tedious, like the intense discussion about running shoes. However, it’s okay, because this book will make you want to start getting out there and running.

Other Notes: Caballo Blanco, one of the main characters, recently passed away at the age of 58.

Other Reviews: Dan Zak, of the Washington Post, gives his opinions on McDougall’s work here.

Final Verdict: As a (shorter-distance) runner, I had so much fun reading this. Even if you aren’t a runner, you’ll still enjoy it for its impeccable storytelling.

Banana

1260005Title: Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World

Author: Dan Koeppel

Number of Pages: 260

Nonfiction

Plot Overview: Banana is a fascinating journey through the history of the banana, its cultural impact, and its current endangered status.

What I enjoyed: This book is not aggressively factual, successfully dodging the largest obstacle of non-fiction. It made an effort to include the cultural shifts that accompanied the banana, which I really liked. The language is accessible and in no way stuffy. It was also informative (as non-fiction should be), and organized in chronological format. Another thing that was appreciated was that, at the end, Koeppel offers his personal opinion on the best method for saving the banana (and, as one learns from this book, it does need saving). Whether you agree with his opinion or not, it does make for interesting discussion.

What I dislikedKoeppel opened with some anecdotes, which felt out of place in a book about fruit. I was reading to understand the banana, not to labor through explanations of how the author became interested in the banana. The quality of the writing in that opening section was also rather unimpressive, though it picked up as the book progressed.

Other notes: This book was published in 2008, so some of the information given is a little bit dated. CNN ran an article on the Cavendish banana (the kind that most consumers eat) in January 2016, featuring Koeppel. That link is here.

Other Reviews: Yale Scientific takes quite a different stance on this book. Read their review here.

Final Verdict: For a banana novice, delightful.

 

Empire of the Summer Moon

Empire Summer COVER.jpgTitle: Empire of the Summer Moon

Author: S. C. Gwynne

Number of Pages: 319

Nonfiction

Plot Overview: This book focuses on two parallel stories: the fortunes of the Comanche tribes, the most ferocious warriors to ever inhabit the North American continent, and Quanah Parker, their last and most brilliant chief.

Thoughts: This book is an exploration of the rough, brutal people that lived and died on the Texas frontier. These are not the Native Americans you remember from first-grade field trips. The Comanches were nomadic, masters of the horse, lethal with a bow or lance. They made war simply because it was what they were good at. Singlehandedly, they halted the frontier and ‘manifest destiny’ . Their most successful opponents were the Texas Rangers, scruffy, lawless, vehement, and vicious, who took on the massive task of finding and exterminating the Plains peoples in their heartlands. Clearly, this is a topic that is difficult to write about without stepping on someone’s toes, but Gwynne proves himself to be an expert in neutrality, neither glorifying the Comanches nor their foes. For that matter, he also refrains from gentrifying either side. However, it included no maps and was noticeably lacking in pictures of that area – it’s a little harder to be engaged with warfare when one can’t visualize it well. Also, sometimes the interweaving of the stories felt clumsy and forced. On a more positive note, Gwynne chooses to engage with the characters rather than focusing exclusively on the battles, which moves this book squarely from mediocre and sometimes dense to interesting and worthwhile.

Other notes: This book has fairly small print and almost no photos.

Other reviews: Tim Giago, at the Huffington Post, has a very different view of this book. Find the review here.

Final Verdict: Very interesting: though it requires a certain perseverance, in the end an illuminating read. Worth your time.

The Partly Cloudy Patriot

220px-partlycloudytTitle: The Partly Cloudy Patriot

Author: Sarah Vowell

Number of Pages: 196

Nonfiction

Plot Overview: In this send-up of various incidents in American history and her own life, Sarah Vowell discusses everything from Al Gore to the Civil War to Rosa Parks to salad dressing.

Thoughts: Vowell’s voice is inimitable: snarky, nerdy, yet oddly profound. However, she sometimes comes off as a little facetious, and her jokes might fall flat if, say, you didn’t follow the presidential election of 2000 in intense depth or have no idea what the New German Cinema is. Her profundity is often confusing and multifaceted- this is not a book you can pick up and read before you fall asleep. She does have her moments, though, particularly when she mentions her family and personal life. And when she discusses Lincoln, one’s heart might swell a little bit with patriotic pride. You might walk away from this book marginally baffled, but at least you’ll have plenty of new things to say about America’s roster of presidents.

Other Pertinent Information: Sarah Vowell is a frequent contributor to the radio show “This American Life”, on NPR.

Other Reviews: The New York Times, reviewing another Vowell book (Unfamiliar Fishes), said of Vowell, “Sometimes I loved the disruptive student in class who livened up lectures with wisecracks — it put a spin on things, added flavor, made me laugh. Other times I wished the heckler would just shut up so I could learn something.” (New York Times). This was truly how I felt about her style. Read the full review here.

Final Verdict: For presidential history buffs, a fine read. For those looking for humor or a lighter read, take this up with some caution.