Soon I Will Be Invincible: A Review

Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin GrossmanDoctor Impossible wasn’t always an evil genius, diabolical scientist, and supervillain extraordinaire. He just doesn’t talk about it because it’s really only the heroes who spend time worrying about their origin stories. Doctor Impossible would rather focus on taking over the world. As soon as he breaks out of prison. Again.

Over his long and villainous career Doctor Impossible has tried to take over the world in all of the usual ways with nuclear, thermonuclear, and nanotechnological doomsday devices. He’s tried mind control. He’s traveled backwards and forward in time. He’s used a robot army, insect army, dinosaur army. Even a fungus army, fish and rodents too.

All failures. Even the alien invasion was a failure.

But that’s okay. Because this time Doctor Impossible has a new plan. One that will work.

Fatale doesn’t remember much about her life before she become a cyborg. She’s been told she was on vacation in Brazil. Then she wasn’t. And now she’s Fatale: part skin, part chrome–a technological marvel meant to be the next generation of warfare until the NSA left her out in the cold.

It’s not easy making it as a superhero cyborg on your own, so Fatale is thrilled when she’s invited to join the Champions even if it is to replace their slain robot. The Champions used to be a rock solid team but now cracks are starting to show between the heroes–cracks that might be just the break Doctor Impossible needs in Soon I Will Be Invincible (2007) by Austin Grossman.

Find it on Bookshop.

Soon I Will Be Invincible is a charming pastiche of classic superhero plots with chapters alternating between Doctor Impossible and Fatale. (If you read audiobooks, try the audio which as two actors and is a lot of fun.)

Doctor Impossible is a classic supervillain so don’t go into this one expecting a lot of depth and morally grey areas. He is definitely a villain and he definitely doesn’t feel bad about it at all. Sure, he’s learned some things from his rivalry with CoreFire over the years and his failed attempts at world domination. But mostly that was about what didn’t work.

Fatale, in contrast, feels like she’s been thrown into the deep end here and is worried her previous experience working solo has done little to prepare her to join the Champions–especially alongside Doctor Impossible’s old ally Lily. If Fatale feels a little superficial compared to Doctor Impossible’s big personality, blame it on the strict moral code.

Hints of clever world building and a surprise reveal about Lily’s origin story at the end save this one from being too predictable. Soon I Will Be Invincible is entertaining if sometimes expected superhero fare. Recommended for comics fans looking to branch out into prose and, of course, anyone who can’t help but root for the villain.

Possible Pairings: The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch, The Brokenhearted by Amelia Kahaney, Proxy by Alex London, Watchmen by Alan Moore, The Superhero Handbook by Michael Powell, Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth, Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, Vicious by Victoria Schwab, The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente

Book of a Thousand Days: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon HaleDashti, a “mucker” alone in the world, promises her lady that she won’t abandon her on the day they meet. Used to a nomadic life on the steppes, Dashti doesn’t know what she is agreeing to when she and Lady Saren are sealed in a tower for seven years after the lady refuses to marry a man who terrifies her.

Alone with seven years’ worth of supplies and their thoughts, Dashti begins to write of their time in the tower. She expects the darkness and the loneliness and even her lady’s erratic behavior. She does not expect to have to talk to two suitors on her lady’s behalf. Nor can she imagine the havoc both will wreak on both Dashti’s and Lady Saren’s lives.

When supplies begin to run low and Dashti wonders how much longer they can survive, this supposedly common girl will have to summon uncommon strength and ingenuity to save herself and Saren in Book of a Thousand Days (2007) by Shannon Hale.

Book of a Thousand Days is a retelling of the fairy tale “Maid Maleen” originally told by the Brothers Grimm. It is also reminiscent of Hale’s earlier novel Princess Academy in the best possible way.

The novel is written as Dashti’s book of thoughts with diary-like entries for various days. Book of a Thousand Days is also delightfully illustrated throughout. Dashti’s narration is frank and filled with thoughtful observations as she contemplates her captivity as well as her lowly station compared to Lady Saren who is gentry descended from the Ancestors.

Hale’s novel is set in a fictional world comprising the Eight Realms (as seen in a map at the beginning) which are loosely inspired by medieval Mongolia. Although much of the novel takes place in a tower, Hale still brings the landscape and culture of Dashti’s world to life as she create a unique culture filled with magic, mystery and music.

Dashti is a fantastic heroine who is as pragmatic as she is optimistic. Her resilience throughout the novel and her confidence–even when facing moments of doubt and great obstacles–are inspiring. Hale expertly showcases her growth throughout the novel and, by extension, Saren’s own attempts to become more than an idle Gentry lady.

Book of a Thousand Days is a sweet story filled with adventure and romance that will appeal to readers of all ages. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: A Curse as Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce, The Reader by Traci Chee, Ice by Sarah Beth Durst, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, Enchanted by Alethea Kontis, Soundless by Richelle Mead, The Kiss of Deception by Marie E. Pearson, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

Poetically Speaking with Me (Miss Print) about Undercover (A CLW Review)

poeticallyspeaking1For today’s Poetically Speaking post I’m taking over to review Undercover by Beth Kephart. Click the icon above to see the rest of this month-long series!

“What I knew wasn’t mine. That’s the thing about being undercover: You know what you know, and you cannot act on it.”

Undercover by Beth KephartElisa Cantor is used to blending into the background. At home she is always in the shadow of her glamorous mother and sister, watching and wandering like her father. At school she is self-conscious and keen to stay invisible.

After all, it’s so much easier to observe things when no one is looking at you. In the woods Elisa is able to observe nature, like her father, as an undercover operative. At school, she can use everything she sees and finds to secretly write love notes for the boys in her school like a modern day Cyrano De Bergerac.

Elisa thinks she is fine with all of that; with being undercover. But when Theo Moses starts asking for notes to win over Lila–a pretty, popular girl who is always ready to remind Elisa that she is neither–Elisa isn’t sure she wants to stay in the shadows anymore.

As she hones her voice writing poems for herself–not pretending to be anyone else–and learns more about Theo, Elisa begins to wonder if there could be more to her life. With her father away on an extended trip and her family crumbling under the weight of his absence, Elisa really needs for there to be something more. When Elisa discovers a hidden pond and a talent for ice skating, she realizes it might be time for her to stop hiding in Undercover (2007) by Beth Kephart.

Undercover is a marvelous novel, partly a retelling of the play Cyrano De Bergerac and partly something entirely unique.

Elisa is a narrator who sees the world not just as it is but also through her own lens, always with a sense of whimsy and wonder. Readers are easily drawn into Elisa’s appreciation for poetry when she discovers new writers and forms and begins to write poems of her own (included throughout the narrative and also in bonus material at the end of the paperback edition).

Kephart uses poetry and prose to tell a layered story about love in all of its forms whether for family, friends, nature or even for words. Elisa’s journey as she learns to love and respect herself is also beautifully told. Undercover is a slim book that has a lot to say about honesty, family and learning who you want to be. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, Drawing the Ocean by Carolyn MacCullough,  I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler, Cyrano De Bergerac by Edmond Rostand, This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott, This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith, Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

Vampire Academy: A Review

Vampire Academy by Richelle MeadRose Hathaway and her best friend Lissa Dragomir have been on the run for two years. After so long away from St. Vladimir’s Academy, the girls thought they were finally free. They were wrong.

Dragged back the Academy, Lissa is once again drawn into plots and machinations as Moroi vampire princess. Rose’s return is less welcome and comes with several firm conditions including extra lessons from an equally attractive and infuriating instructor. Worse, no matter how much Rose uses her dhampir strength and her bond with Lissa, it might not be enough to keep the other girl safe.

With danger circling from every side, Rose and Lissa can only trust each other in Vampire Academy (2007) by Richelle Mead.

Find it on Bookshop.

Vampire Academy is the first book in Mead’s Vampire Academy series.

Vampire Academy is a breath of fresh air in the world of paranormal (romance). Mead has created clever, capable heroines in both Rose and Lissa. The premise here is also interesting with different castes/types of vampires as well as loads of intrigue and action.

Although Mead throws lots of world-specific vocabulary at readers early on, the story moves as fast clip without falling into the usual paranormal fantasy tropes. The story here is interesting and will definitely have appeal for readers looking for a campy paranormal–romance or otherwise as this does include some romance elements in addition to other plots.

Possible Pairings: Compulsion by Martina Boone, Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger,  Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shephard, The Dolls by Kiki Sullivan, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke

Thirteen Reasons Why: A Banned Book Review

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay AsherHannah Baker killed herself two weeks ago. No one knows exactly why, least of all Clay Jensen.

Clay had a crush on Hannah and watcher her from afar. He even saw her at a party once. Before.

But now, two weeks after her suicide, Clay comes home to find a box with his name on it. Inside the box are thirteen cassette tapes recorded by Hannah before she killed herself. Each tape details one of the reasons that Hannah decided to take her own life.

Clay is one of them in Thirteen Reasons Why (2007) by Jay Asher.

Find it on Bookshop.

Thirteen Reasons Why is a haunting story told in Clay and Hannah’s alternating narrations as Clay deals with his guilt and grief over losing Hannah with flashbacks (from the tapes) of Hannah detailing the moments that led to her suicide.

This book was one of the ten most challenged books in 2012. The justification for the challenge was: “Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited for age group.”

Starting this story with the knowledge that Hannah is already gone does little to diminish the emotional resonance of this story. Asher’s writing is evocative and taut as he brings Clay and Hannah painfully to life.

This is an honest story and one that isn’t always the easiest to read. Clay and Hannah both make mistakes as do many of the other people readers meet over the course of Hannah’s story. Ultimately it is these flaws that make the story so poignantly real.

Thirteen Reasons Why is an ideal book for readers who aren’t afraid to shed a few tears. This story is sure to linger with readers long after the story ends.

Possible Pairings: The Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson, The Secret Side of Empty by Maria J. Andreu, The After Girls by Leah Konen, If I Stay by Gayle Forman, 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson, The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth Laban, Falling Through Darkness by Carolyn MacCullough, Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta, This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers, The List by Siobhan Vivian

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Sometimes a girl needs to lose.”

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle ZevinIn a different life, in a different story, she might have been named Nataliya or Natasha. She might have lived in Russia her whole life and never even thought of Brooklyn or yearbooks or cameras.

But in this life, in this story, her name is Naomi. She was adopted by a couple in Brooklyn and–although she won’t remember it for a while–she does think about yearbooks and cameras.

It starts with a coin toss. If Naomi had picked tails she never would have gone back for the camera. She wouldn’t have tripped on the stairs and hit her head. There would have been no ambulance and no amnesia. Naomi would remember her boyfriend and whatever it was they had in common. She’d remember the lives her parents have been living. She would remember her best friend Will and why he calls her Chief and keeps making her mix tapes.

But Naomi picked heads in Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac (2007) by Gabrielle Zevin.

Find it on Bookshop.

Broken into parts titled “I Was,” “I Am,” and “I Will,” Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac is a nuanced, thoughtful story. With Naomi’s amnesia at the center of the plot, this book asks interesting questions on the ties that hold a family together and what happens when the context that makes two people friends (or more) is suddenly taken away.

Elements of music, photography, and book design theory all add an artistic feel to this story that will hold special appeal for creative readers. Zevin’s writing is as sharp and insightful as ever while Naomi finds herself all over again during the course of the novel. With a keen focus on Naomi’s relationships as well as her romances, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac is a delightful ode to friendships as well as an unexpected love story.

Possible Pairings: The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough, Can’t Look Away by Donna Cooner, Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis, Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg, Just One Day by Gayle Forman, Two Summers by Aimee Friedman, The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson, The Secrets We Keep by Trisha Leaver, Stealing Henry by Carolyn MacCullough, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, After the Kiss by Terra Elan McVoy, Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver, The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle, Cloudwish by Fiona Wood, Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee, The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Boy Toy: A Review

Boy ToyJosh Mendel has a secret. Except everyone knows what it is.

Everyone seems to know what happened five years ago. Everyone seems to think they understand.

But no one does. Not really.

Years later, Josh is graduating high school soon and still trying to make sense of the pieces left in the aftermath.

But with so many broken parts Josh isn’t sure any of it–not baseball or Rachel or even closure with Eve–will be enough to make him whole again in Boy Toy (2007) by Barry Lyga.

When Josh was 12 his history teacher sexually abused him. Repeatedly. Since then Josh has been haunted by both the abuse itself and the fact that he is certain everyone in his small town knows exactly what happened thanks to Eve’s detailed confession.

Now 18, Josh is still processing what happened and his own part in moments he’d rather forget. His best friend never asks Josh about what happened. And Rachel, a girl he accidentally frightened shortly before the abuse came to light, suddenly wants to be a part of Josh’s life again.

Josh still isn’t sure what he wants. Chapters alternate between Josh’s present and past as he sifts through the beginning of Eve’s interest in him, the actual abuse, straight through to the disastrous day his parents found out what had been happening. The dual stories blend together seamlessly to create one complete picture of a broken young man who is still trying to put himself back together.

Lyga is an excellent writer and brings a nuanced, unexpected edge to this story of abuse and healing. Boy Toy has some troubling, gritty moments but it is an ultimately compelling must-read.

Possible Pairings: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Leverage by Joshua Cohen, Keep Holding On by Susane Colasanti, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard, Criminal by Terra Elan McVoy, Teach Me by R. A. Nelson, Consent by Nancy Ohlin, Sprout by Dale Peck, Mostly Good Girls by Leila Sales

Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy by Ally CarterLast term Cammie Morgan met her first boyfriend. She also staked out his house, ran surveillance on him, and had to make up a whole entire life just to be with him. Only to be forced to break up with him when he came too close to the truth.

Cammie is a Gallagher Girl, a student at the prestigious Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women–young women who plan to be spies that is.

After dating and losing the one boy who saw her as more than “the Chameleon” she usually is at school Cammie is back for a new term ready to once again blend in. She even plans to follow the rules this time.

But things are different at the Gallagher Academy. New security measures. Mysterious guests. A new op code named “Blackthorne.” And those are just the beginning of Cammie’s problems as everything she thought she knew as a Gallagher Girl is put to the test in Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy (2007) by Ally Carter.

Find it on Bookshop.

Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy is the second book in Carter’s Gallagher Girl series which began with I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have To Kill You.

When I finished the first book in this series, I was not sure if I would keep reading. The premise–a boarding school for spies in training–was genius. Cammie and her friends were likable and authentic in a way that only girl geniuses learning to become spies can. Still, something never clicked in that first volume where Cammie spent all her time obsessing about . . . a boy.

Nonetheless, this was a series I wanted to like. So when I heard the end of the series arc was slated for book 6, I decided to give Cammie and the Gallagher Academy another chance.

I’m so glad I did.

Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy has everything I wanted from I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have To Kill You and then some. New characters, new challenges, plus lots of action and humor make this book a winner. While the book follows in the same vein as the first of the series, Carter keeps things fresh with twists and turns (and did I mention the new characters?!) that keep both the reader and Cammie on their toes.

Possible Pairings: Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, The Agency by Y. S. Lee, Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City by Kirsten Miller, Divergent by Veronica Roth, These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas, Paranormalcy by Kiersten White

Song of the Sparrow: A (poetic) Review

Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann SandellElaine of Ascolat could have been a lady with lovely dresses and finery. A lady who spent her days weaving like her mother in a tower room of their home on Shallot.

But that home and her mother are gone.

Instead Elaine lives with her father and brothers who fight in the Briton army under the young Arthur. The only girl in the camp, Elaine runs as wild and free as her brothers. She wishes the handsome knight Lancelot would see her as more than a child. She listens to Tristan’s sweet songs. She mends the soldiers’ clothes before each battle. She tends their wounds with herbs and poultices after.

Although she has a home in this strange world of men and fighting, although she has hundreds of brothers, Elaine longs for a real place among the men as much as she wishes for female companionship.

When another girl, Gwynivere, arrives at the camp Elaine is thrilled–until Gwynivere proves herself a cold and cruel companion.

Spurned by Gwynivere, faced with an uncertain future as war looms, Elaine decides to make her own place in Arthur’s camp and prove her worth to the soldiers–especially Lancelot. What starts as a simple plan soon turns into something more complicated and much more dangerous as Elaine has to struggle to protect everything–and everyone–she holds dear in Song of the Sparrow (2007) by Lisa Ann Sandell.

Song of the Sparrow is a revisionist retelling of the legend of King Arthur. It is also a novel written in free verse.

The Lady of Shalott, Elaine of Ascolat, has appeared in numerous retellings of Arthurian legend. Sandell has done something different here not only in giving Elaine a voice of her own but also in giving her agency in her own right. Song of the Sparrow is the story of before Arthur built Camelot–a prequel of sorts to the legends readers will know from movies and stories. Elaine is a winsome narrator with a captivating story that is as exciting and moving as it is poetic.

Beautifully written and elegantly told Song of the Sparrow is a delightfully re-imagined look at the time and world of King Arthur through a feminist lens. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, Scarlet by A. C. Gaughen, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, After the Kiss by Terra Elan McVoy, Sweet Black Waves by Kristina Perez, The Lady of Shalott by Alfred Lord Tennyson, The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White

Wildwood Dancing: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Wildwood Dancing by Juliet MarillierIn the wilds of Transylvania, set on a high spur of rock next to the Wildwood, rests a castle named Piscul Dracului. The castle itself is unexceptional, old and crumbling as it is. Looking at it, you would never know it hides a portal to the Other Kingdom.

Each full moon five sisters travel through the portal into a magical glade where they dance with creatures rarely seen outside of fairy tales–fairies, dwarves, trolls and other creatures only whispered about back home.

For nine years of full moons, the sisters have gone dancing in the Other Kingdom.

Until now, the secret of the portal has been safe in Wildwood Dancing (2007) by Juliet Marillier.

Part retelling of the story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses; part reinterpretation of classic vampire lore, Wildwood Dancing is an eerie, atmospheric story of forbidden love, precious gifts, and otherworldly creatures.

Marillier’s writing is rich and vivid, immediately transporting readers to the world of Jena (the narrator) and her sisters. Although dense with foreign terms (defined in a glossary at the end of the book) and unusual names (explained in a pronunciation guide at the end of the book), this story is sure to quickly enchant readers looking for a classic fantasy story with an original twist.

All of the sisters are distinct and well-developed characters who bring their own charms to the story. Although the eldest, Tati, grew tiresome as a lovesick heroine, she provided a good counterpoint to sensible Jena who prefers the company of her enchanted frog Gogu to the prospect of marriage.

Wildwood Dancing is largely a story about characters rather than events. Marillier takes her time getting to the crux of the story, using the beginning of the book to establish the setting and the characters, only to ultimately create a powerhouse, page turning, ending with unlikely twists and unexpected consequences for all of the sisters.

The story of Jena’s younger sister Paula continues in Cybele’s Secret, a companion to Wildwood Dancing.

Possible Pairings: The War for the Oaks by Emma Bull, Entwined by Heather Dixon, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Enchanted by Alethea Kontis, Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, Beauty by Robin McKinley, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, The New Policeman by Kate Thompson, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde

Exclusive Bonus Content: The cover illustration is my Kinuko Y. Craft–one of my favorite illustrators of all time. I loved the cover immediately but when I first started the book I wondered if it was really in keeping with the often dark tone of the book and the sparse, atmospheric prose. I have since decided it works perfectly. If you look really closely you can find a plethora of important elements and motifs to the story. And while the illustration might not be in keeping with Jena’s image of herself, I think it might be exactly how other people see her.

Unrelated: This review was really, really hard to write. I feel like it doesn’t do the book justice or go very far to explain how great it was. But it was really good and a must read.