Imaginary Girls

Imaginary GirlsImaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

2.5 stars

This is the first time that I've considered NOT rating a book. I felt, and still feel, like whatever number of stars I might give are not going to truly reflect my opinion nor do Imaginary Girls any justice.
So keep in mind that my rating in this case is just the result of a mathematical addition of factors, of things I liked and didn't like.

The story is, in a nutshell, a mystery. It's difficult for me to give you a synopsis of the plot, but suffice it to say it involves a mysterious reservoir, two sisters morbidly obsessed with one another, a dead girl in a rowboat and a series of unexplainable events.

This is one of the most distressing books I have read this year or, probably, ever and all I feel is that I just did not get it.
Let me make some comparisons that might help you out:
If it were an artistic movement, it would be Surrealism.
If it were a movie, it would be a David Lynch movie.
if it were music, it would be jazz.

Disturbingly creepy, oneiric, harrowing and full of suspense, it kept me on the edge until the very last pages. The word predictable does not exist in this author's dictionary, I'll give you that much.
But that the long awaited climax was, in the end, so anticlimactic distressed me very much.
For about 80% of the book I could not figure out, for the life of me, what was happening and why. I was expecting some paranormal element to give an explanation to all my questions but, in the end, there wasn't. It was just all surreal.

The strong points of this book are, objectively, the amazing writing style and characterization. The writing is exceptional and evocative and, thanks to that, some of the characters, Ruby in particular, come out well formed, palpable and yes, disturbing.
The fact that I could not find one likable character in this book though, really detracted from my enjoyment. Not only I could not justify the absurdity of some of the actions of the characters, but I could never, not even at the end, sympathize with any of them with the exception, maybe, of London, whose sole guilt in the whole process was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Least of all Ruby.

The obvious deduction of all these ramblings is that this book, evidently, was really not for me. I can see why it might appeal to other readers but it really didn't happen for me. I just didn't get it. It was all over the place, and it defies logic.

Definitely recommended to people who do not recognize themselves in this review, you won't be disappointed.

*** added points for the beautiful, completely relevant cover.

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Venom (Elemental Assassin #3)

Venom (Elemental Assassin, #3)Venom by Jennifer Estep
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It is a truth universally acknowledged that...

-  Gin Blanco, aka The Spider, professional assassin, always carries at least five silverstone knives on her at all times: two up her sleeves, two down her boots and one in the small of her back;

-  Finnegan Lake drinks a lot of chicory coffee and the supposed caffeine content does not affect him;

-  the symbol for Northern Aggression is a heart with an arrow through it;

-  Mab Monroe's rune is ruby with wavy rays all around;

-  Gin Blanco's eyes are grey whereas Owen Grayson are violet (and by the way, I still have to meet in my life somebody with violet eyes);

You might have guessed from my remarks what kind of problem I had with this book.

If there was ever a GoodReads' contest for Queen of Repetitions 2011, I would vote Estep.

Because she not only recaps events of previous books in the series, she recaps CHAPTERS within the same book. If we took away all the repetitions the book would probably be half its size.

And it is with great chagrin that I say this irritated me and distracted me quite a bit. It feels like like the author suffers from short-term memory loss OR she thinks that it's ME suffering from it.

The plot is good. I enjoyed it quite a bit and that is why I am giving this book 3 stars anyway. The writing is smooth. Characters have become familiar to me, they are well formed and interesting. I liked how she introduced Bria in the story, I liked that she got rid of donovancaine and I give my blessings to Owen Grayson. I WANT to know how the story goes on. But can I take another or multiple books of continuous recappings?

I am baffled: who edited this book?

This could be easily a five star book if not for the fact that my intelligence feels insulted by it.

If you're a lover of UF this is definitely a series I recommend reading. If you can stomach the recappings.

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Finnikin of the Rock (Lumatere Chronicles #1)

Finnikin of the Rock (Lumatere Chronicles, #1)Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Everything is evil that humans can't control or conquer"

What kind of book is Finnikin of the Rock?

It's a fantasy book. Evidently.
It's a love story. Certainly.
But not only.

It all starts with three friends, a prophetic dream and a blood pledge.

It continues with an invasion, a terrible curse and the struggle of one people to take back what they lost.

For me Finnikin of the Rock is a book about identities. About a people, the Lumaterans, losing their national identity and fighting to get it back, about a man who's been imprisoned for 10 years and has lost his identity, about a girl who is concealing hers to save her country and about a boy who really doesn't know who he is.

In unmistakeable Marchetta's style, we are presented with a book that not only has got an intriguing plot, is full of action scenes, adventure, amazing and detailed worldbuilding, and as usual,  characterization like only Marchetta can do, but also with a book with an underlying message that goes beyond our mere entertainment as readers.

It is a condemnation of war and of its horrors, it denounces persecutions for political, ethnic or religious reasons, it opens a window on people, at any latitude and climate, whose dignity has been taken away together with their homeland.

The words mass graves and ethnical cleansing are words which will be stuck in your throat during some passages of this book and I dare you not feel compassionate for the Lumateran people.

So, end in end, this is a book that is only disguised as fantasy but that, in reality, is well above that.

It's probably superfluous to say that I really loved this book and I can't wait to read its sequel coming out in October.

My favorite passage:

"Because without our language, we have lost ourselves. Who are we without our words?"

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Blood Red Road (Dustlands #1)

Blood Red Road (Dustlands, #1)Blood Red Road by Moira Young
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

2.5 stars

There are many successful books that get turned into movies. Not necessarily good movies. Actually, it is very rare for the movie to be better than the book. But not impossible.
Blood Red Road might be one of such rare cases.
I read somewhere that this book was optioned to be become a movie even BEFORE being published. That's where the problems lies: Blood Red Road is trying too hard to be a movie before even being a book.

That means that while it's got some elements that would be of stunning effect on screen - cage fights, killer worms, a battle à la Braveheart - it falls a bit short on the elements which are needed to make it a good book. I am talking about a solid plot, characterization, worldbuilding and... well, common sense, actually.

Set in a post-apocalyptic world, we meet Saba, her twin brother Lugh, her sister Emmi and their father living in Silverlake, a place which reminded me a bit of the movie Mad Max. The mother is dead and they are experiencing a terrible drought that is making their lives really hard. When some mysterious men on horses kidnap Lugh and kill their father, Saba sets off with her little sister to rescue him.
It is during this quest that she becomes involved in spectacular cage fights, a jail breakout, a race across the desert and killer worms. With the aid of a team of rebels, Jack - a guy to who she seems to be unexplainably attracted to  - and his friends, will they succeed in their mission and save Lugh from a terrible destiny?

The beginning of the story is really promising. It has a certain The Reapers are the Angels feeling which I really like. Both the use of the language and the lack of quotation marks enrich the book and the rhythm is so fast-paced that it is pretty difficult to put it down. The narration is engrossing, the scenes spectacular and very imaginative. As I said before, it is probably going to make a nice movie. Up until about 70% I would probably have given it 4 stars.

But then things started going downhill and even the little flaws that I had spotted before and was willing to overlook - because the book was fun - started to add up and become one too many.

My first problem is with world building. In this book it's so basic that if I had to draw it on a map, it would look like one of my 4 y.o. daughter's drawings.
We set off in SilverLAKE, we pass through CrossCREEK and reach HopeTOWN. We then take horses and go meet people under some DarkTREES, cross the DarkMOUNTAINS and after a battle in the FreedomFIELDS we go live happily ever after to the BigWATER. There is no mention of other towns, of other people even existing outside of Hopetown, no hint at how this world is structured. Take the King. What is he king of? It feels like this world is populated by just a handful of people who live in a bunch landmarks.

The plot had too many holes, there are too many things which don't add up and which include - but alas, are not limited to:
-Saba's ability to fight like a pro wrestler with no prior training whatsoever;
-the unlikeliness of the all-knowing crow;
-the use of telepathy on various occasions between characters;

I was constantly asking myself questions which belong to the sphere of common sense:
-why would one take a 9 year old on a suicide rescue mission?
-why would one shoot a clearly already dead person and NOT the source of all her problems who only SEEMS to be dead?
-why would a king hold a celebration that takes place once every six years and which testifies his power in front of a bunch of slaves and not of all his subjects?
and most of all:
WHY does Jack like Saba?

Which takes me back to the last problem: characterization.
With the exception of Saba, who is a well formed, albeit unlikable character, I thought the other characters fell a bit flat. I felt that JUST AS they started to become interesting, something happened and they were interesting no more.
Take Jack for example: from cocky bastard he turns into besotted idiot. And for the life of me I could not understand why he became so enamored of Saba. She is so inconsistent and fickle, so apparently unexperienced, rather morbidly fixated with Lugh... I admired her stubbornness and her ability to hold her own but why Jack would be so in love with her... not a clue.
And I won't even talk about Lugh.

I am sure all my questions will be answered in the sequel(s) to this book, but I need them NOW. Their absence is enough not to make want to pick up the sequel to this.

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Good Oil

Good OilGood Oil by Laura Buzo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It is always pleasant when you approach a book with certain expectations and then, after reading it, you realize these expectations were widely exceeded.

That's exactly what happened to me with Good Oil. I knew the book is Australian (always a good sign), that it is YA and I thought it would all be about fluff - this theory supported also by the cover that reminded me of a billboard for a Kate Hudson movie. Doesn't the girl there remind you of her?

I also suspected that this would be a coming-of-age story because, let's face it, isn't YA lit almost all about coming-of-age?

And Bildungsroman it was, although, and this pleasantly surprised me, it was the coming of age of TWO characters, a teen and a not-so-teen anymore.

Of course I am talking about Chris and Amelia.

Amelia is a just turned 15 y.o girl. She is part of a pretty shitty family, of which she seems to be the more mature member. Mature, not experienced. In fact, while on the one hand she is well ahead of her age in her interests and ruminations, she is hopelessly inexperienced and naive on the social skills front.

Chris is 22. He is in that phase of his life which he defines purgatory. He's on the verge between the lingering end of his teen - a jolly good time with no responsibilities - and manhood, time to take action, move out, do something with his life, GROW UP. At the same time though, he doesn't seem to be able to. He studies Arts at Uni, works in a supermarket and spends his time and money drinking a lot, chasing the mirage of a perfect girl and pitying himself.

When Amelia decides to get an after school job at a supermarket and meets Chris, her life - and her hormones - get shaken up well and turned upside down. While Amelia hopelessly falls in love with Chris who can't help but see her as a youngster, these two develop a friendship from which they will both benefit and that will spur them to take their lives in their own hands: Chris by being decisive and Amelia by overcoming her awkwardness in socializing.

The story is told in alternating POVs a bit à  la Cath Crowley. Both characters recounts the same events, Amelia through simple narration, Chris by writing in his diary. So while, on the one hand, we have Amelia's teen point of view and her struggle through the pains of first love, angst and adolescence, Chris' side is definitely more suitable to the adult side of the young adults category, there being sex, lots of drinking and a fair amount of drugs.

I loved Chris. His personality is explosive, charming, full of life. His voice in the book is so much more vibrant than Amelia's you wonder whose coming-of-age is more fundamental in the book.

He is such a dork. I wanted to stab myself when I read the poem he wrote to a girl, I am so thankful I never received something like that in my life.

Chris, to me, is basically what Tom MacKee should have been but never managed to. I related to him on so many levels, cheered for him, laughed at his jokes and nodded my head at both the way he eventually manages Amelia at the end and at the choice he makes.

The story is well written, realistic, and I loved the way it ended, I wouldn't have had it any other way. First love, unrequited love, family dynamics, friendship, you have it all, with a generous sprinkle of Australian slang . I strongly recommend this book, it is certainly representative of that stunning phenomenon which we have come to observe lately in YA literature that is the Australian movement. (ok, this one I made it up, but doesn't it sound nice?)


On a side note, checking out the Australian Slang Site that Arlene mentioned in her nice review, I finally found out that UGG - as in Ugg boots - means ugly and they were boots worn by surfers in the 60s to keep their feet warm while out of the water. Now everything makes much more sense in my life. Thank you Arlene.

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Eye of the Tempest (Jane True #4)

Eye of the Tempest (Jane True, #4)Eye of the Tempest by Nicole Peeler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

4.5 stars

Take a look at the Jane True series cast:

- a half selkie who constantly engages in  conversations with her libido;
- an attractive shapeshifter with a rather canine sense of fashion;
- a powerful gnome who always carries her rocking chair with her;
- a kelpie named Trill who turns into a pony;
- a satyr with a loincloth problem;
- a former porn star turned lesbian heiress socialite;

if you feel the corners of your mouth turning up by now, the Jane True Series might be just the thing for you.

Then, if you think you might want your story peppered with:

- incredibly funny and incredibly bad jokes (obviously complementarily);
- obscure and not so obscure pop culture references;
- an action packed urban fantasy plot populated by all kinds of supernaturals;

then you HAVE to read this series.

This book has been, so far, the very best in the series and I can't wait for the next book to come out - alas, next year.

I'm hacking off half star because of the rather huge plot hole in the middle of the book. Mr. Peeler, how could two of your most experienced characters act in such an amateurish way?

Nonetheless, a great funny UF series which doesn't get enough credit but I hope more people - with the right sense of humor - will read.

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The Glass Lake

The Glass LakeThe Glass Lake by Maeve Binchy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

2.5/3 stars

Well,  this should at least serve as an admonition to all women on how a MAN should never ever be the fulcrum around which a woman's life rotates, making him the centre of her universe.

The story - my first Maeve Binchy book ever -  is set in the 50s and revolves around the lives of various families in the small village of Lough Glass, Ireland, during a span of about 10 years. Among this rather extensive set of characters, stars Helen McMahon alias Lena Gray, a desperate woman whose actions, bad judgement and wrong choices in life reverberate throughout the existence of so many people, and with rather unsettling outcomes.

It is basically a book which deals with the concept of MISTAKE and how your actions may or may not reflect on other people's lives and with which consequences.

This, per se, is a rather interesting theme to be treated in a novel, if not for the fact the the gloomy approach and the disastrous ways in which the characters messed up their lives didn't make this book relaxing or enjoyable at any time. It would be actually pretty safe to say that this book is exhausting, emotionally and physically. First, it is well above 700 pages and the action is so slow at times that I felt like I was trying to slowly make my way through quicksand. You won't fall asleep, I swear, and you won't be bored by long descriptions about the nuances of color of the lake in November or on the types of plants growing around it, but you will feel the progress of narration so slow and uneventful, so much so that, if not for one cardinal point which I will explain below, it would have been enough to make me shut the book at page 50.


She is, without a doubt, the most conflicted character of the book. Throughout the story I couldn't help but despise her for her weaknesses and for what she brought upon herself and her family because of her stupidity but, at the same time, I couldn't help but admire her.

And this is where some things about her actually don't add up. I was baffled by how she seems to be two persons. First we meet a ghost of a woman who once was, then we meet the monster who did what no woman on her right mind would ever do and, then we meet the stakhanovist working woman and eventually the remorseful mother. So, what's it going to be? Who is Lena? How can a woman who seems to be able to organize everybody's lives so perfectly and be the catalyst to their happiness, simultaneously be a wreck and helpless about her own life? How can she live her life almost as vegetable for 12 years and then, because of/thanks to a man, run away and become an entrepreneur and go on as if her past never happened? How am I supposed to feel sympathy for a woman who abandoned her children (and let's not forget that even if she makes contact with Kit, she never does with Emmet)? I just can't. I can admire her qualities and her skills for building a career for herself out of nothing, but I cannot justify or forget her horrible actions and selfishness. As you sow, so you shall reap. I think Helen/Lena even collected too much for what she did.

And last but not least, the reasons for Lena's love for Louis were extra feeble, if not inexistent. WHY does she love him? Because he's good-looking? Hardly. You can't base your love on appearances, take a look at the celebrities. That is left unanswered.

Amazingly enough, very few of the rest of the characters were likable. Even Kit, Lena's daughter, makes an enormous mistake early in the book which changes everything. And I mean EVERYTHING. Clio, Emmet, Martin, Ivy, Kevin... they all love in the wrong way, forcing love on the one hand, or confusing it with lust on the other. This book is en emotional disaster, slowly developing in front of your eyes.

The only ONE character whom I found remotely likable, Sister Madeleine, makes a mistake, gets taken out of the book in 2 pages, never to return again. We never discover her past, her background. A bit wasted, if you ask me.

Finally, Kit and Stevie. That relationship smells like a week old dead fish. Kit the virtuous manages to reform the village rake? Mh. Sorry, but life taught me that a leopard cannot change its spots. There might be exceptions but I thought it was all very abrupt, there was not enough development of the matter to justify such undying love on both parts.

Ah, did I mention that the story is incredibly predictable?

On to the good parts:

I am still marveling at the writer's ability to write a 700 page book with no descriptions. THIS is the reason why, earlier on, I said you won't fall asleep. This book is 80% dialogue, no tedious long paragraphs about the crickets or whatever. And it totally works. I was there, in Lough Glass, with the characters, taking walks around the lake or on the streets of Dublin, picturing everything. Picturing something the author actually barely describes. So either I have a fervent imagination or there must be some skill on the author's part.

And to conclude, this book gets 2 1/2, barely 3 stars from me because of my involvement in the story. Even though I hated half the characters, thought the plot was predictable and the image of woman portrayed in these pages is so terribly wrong on so many levels, I could not close the book and set it aside. The plot is engaging and once I read the last page, I really felt emotionally drained. That alone must count for something.

Thanks to Maja and Flannery for suggesting this as my first Maeve Binchy book. Now I know you hate me. :D

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Web of Lies (Elemental Assassin #2)

Web of Lies (Elemental Assassin, #2)Web of Lies by Jennifer Estep
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 stars.

This is not a review.
This is my rant directed towards one of the least likable love interests in the history of Urban Fantasy: Mr. Donovan Caine.
Or donovancaine, which has a certain assonance to a potent anesthetizer, and is truly appropriate, because that's exactly what he does to me. One of the most hypocritical, double-faced, backboneless men ever to have roamed the pages of a UF novel. And I loathe those kind of men - and who wouldn't?
Not only  his ethics are just figments of his imagination and he takes advantage of Gin anytime that the chance arises, but what is most and fastidiously irksome is that he always and systematically gets post-coitum second thoughts - and let's face it, the coitus wasn't even that hot to begin with.
I really, really don't understand what Gin sees in him. She must be pretty desperate in her lonesome wolf-style assassin life. So I am proud to announce that, after his final backlessbone decision, that is to run from his issues and ignore them instead of come to terms with the not so virtuous bastard that he is, donovancaine is finally out of the picture. He left, not to see Gin ever again and face his true self. And good riddance.

Enter Owen Grayson, who I already like infinitely more than donovancaine. At least he's got a sense of humor.

Basically this second installment in the series is in line with the first one and I enjoyed it quite a bit. As readers of Spider's Bite should already know, Estep's problems are really minor and have to do with:
1- the fact that nobody has yet given her a Thesaurus for Christmas - the world sloppy repeated countless times in this book... I mean, WHY?
2- the fact that she perpetuates in the belief that chicory coffee actually contains caffeine, which might actually be the problem with the previous point, that is Estep falling asleep on her manuscript without realizing it, and then forgetting she has used the word sloppy or the phrase "grey on gold" and now the new entry "grey on violet" too many a times.

Aside from that, the plot is really fast paced and interesting and Gin is really a great character, probably without a doubt the main reason why I am going to keep on reading this series.

Maja says it gets better, and I trust her judgement.

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A little Wanting Song (Chasing Charlie Duskin)

A Little Wanting SongA Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm kind of tired to repeat myself and say that these Aussies YA authors write well..... but anyway, THIS Aussie writes well.
This is the second book by Cath Crowley I've picked up, the first being Graffiti Moon but A Little Wanting Song was actually published before, with the original title Chasing Charlie Duskin.
While I loved Graffiti Moon I can safely say I loved this one even more. Because this book is MORE. More of everything. There is more drama, more angst, more reality, especially in its ending, which reflected perfectly what would have happened in a real life situation.

Told in alternating point of views, the story is mainly about two girls, Rose and Charlie. Charlie comes from the big city and spends her non-white Christmases in the tiny village. She is a talented, artistic, introverted and therefore unpopular girl with a problem with fitting in and an even bigger problem with dealing with grief.
Rose comes from the tiny village and the thing she wants the most is to go the big city. She is a bitchy, larger than life, outspoken and manipulative science geek whose sole purpose is to escape her less than provincial life.
Rose and Charlie are two complementary characters, two sides of the same medal, and it is when they become more or less friends that they learn a long due lesson about themselves, their families and the persons they want to be.

What struck me most about this book is that, characteristics which usually make my eye twitch and irritate me, in this book did not.

First off, Crowley's writing style, especially in Charlie's narration, is very sensorial. She describes what is around her and her feelings by means of noises, colors and metaphors related to music. Some chapters are just songs she writes. When writing in such a style, it is very easy to overdo it and fall into a redundant, flowery prose. Somehow, even though I obviously found the prose a bit purplish at times, it never bothered me or felt like she was trying too hard. It was beautifully done. Let me quote:

"I stand under the waterfall while it smashes at rocks and skin and memory. Gus and Beth take me to bands when they can, when it's underage or they know people running the gig. You walk inside, and the music's so loud the world shatters and the things that didn't make sense before still don't make sense but they don't have to while you're there. That's what it's like here. The water makes everything ice and cracks it. I'm standing under bits of falling me."

And I loved this:

"Charlie just shrugs but she doesn't do it like other people do. She resettles her skin."

Also, this book is so authentically about teenagers. Hence, drama. Hence, lots and lots of angst. But again, I never thought it was too much for me and my inner teenager. I never felt it was stupid or unjustified. There's a lot of drama going on in these people's lives but their reactions are probably what I would have had, had I been in their shoes. So, very very realistic.

Aside from Rose and Charlie, the two main male supporting characters, Dave and Luke, are amazing and funny, and I think you should just go read the book and find out for yourself.
In Dave's words:

"Is your dad better since the accident?". He nods. "People keep calling it an accident. That snake bit me on purpose. I've named it Sneaky. Sneaky had it planned. I saw its face.

Finally, this book is very Australian and I just love that. I had almost forgotten I used to have beetroot in my hamburgers in Aussie land. Almost.

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