Friday, April 25, 2014

The Distance Between Us by Kasie West

Genre: Contemporary, romance.
Rating: ***
Series: Stand Alone
Pages: 311
Caymen Meyers has spent her life helping rich old woman pick out porcelain dolls in her mother's shop. Personally, she hates the things, with their unblinking eyes and falsely cheerful smiles. But with the shop struggling to stay afloat, she doesn't dare leave, even for college. Then Xander Spence walks in oozing money from every pore. What starts as a simple search to find a doll for his grandmother turns into a relationship. One Caymen's not sure she's ready for.
Her mother would rather see her date a shaggy haired guitar player like her best friend. Not a rich boy, like Caymen's dad, who never stuck around in the first place. But Xander isn't cocky about his wealth, despite Cayman's best efforts to prove otherwise. He's constantly on the lookout for excuses to drop by with a cup of hot chocolate. He likes her even after her gruff attempts to push him away. Caymen must get over her prejudice and her own self loathing to realize the distance between them isn't as big a gap as she thinks.
Caymen is a delightfully grumpy, sarcastic character. Her realistic, conflicted emotions and dry, snarky voice are never unlikable. You wouldn't want to be her friend in real life but you can see where she's coming from. However, some readers may be put off by her prickly personality. Her clever one-liners spice up the otherwise dull dialogue. Chapters are kept short, usually around seven pages, which makes for a highly readable page-turner. The book feels shorter than it actually is. Boring transition scenes are skipped over, but so are a few that could provide more action and character development. The characters, though quirky and interesting, are not deeply memorable.
What I liked best is the way this book bridges the gap between the fluffy and the gritty. Though the story centers around the distance between poverty and wealth, it's a romance first and foremost. The Distance Between Us is a fun, quick read with a snarky and distinctive protagonist. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Dangerous by Shannon Hale

Genre: Science fiction, superhero
Rating: ****
Pages: 408
Series: Stand alone
For geeky homeschooler Maisie Danger Brown, astronaut boot camp is the chance of a lifetime. Not only does she get the chance to travel up the Beanstalk, the world's first space elevator, but she gets to make real friends for once. Maybe even a boyfriend. But Dr. Bonnie Howell, mastermind behind the space elevator, has something more than a field trip planned. While in space she exposes Maisie and her friends to alien technology. They're granted the superpowers they need to save the planet from extraterrestrial invasion. But when those powers lead to the death of a teammate, the group is shattered. How can they protect the planet when they can't trust each other?
Maisie receives 'techno' powers, the ability to understand and manipulate all machines. She builds herself a robotic arm within a day and a jet pack in under a week. Later on she acquires other powers, but you aren't allowed to know about them yet.
Villains include Wilder (Maisie's love interest-or is he?), GT (Wilder's evil billionaire father), and an unnamed species of ghostlike pink aliens. It's the aliens that Maisie fights at the climax. This should make them the Big Bad. But even though the threat of alien invasion hangs over Maisie's head for about three hundred pages, more focus is given to her enemies here on Earth. The aliens cannot communicate in their natural form, so neither Maisie or the reader gets to know them. They have no name. They have no leader. Even their bodies are intangible.
Wilder, on the other hand, gets far more character development. A fight with two thirds of the way into the book has enough BANG and POW to be a climax. Yet the story marches on. His character is the most intriguing. You've heard characters billed as 'the love interest you probably can't trust'. I know you have because I have too. Initially I thought Wilder would be one of those. He'd brood for a while, probably make some poor choices, but I'd know all along he was a good guy.
That didn't happen. Halfway through the book, Wilder makes a startling choice that plunges him headfirst into Unlikable Land. No, not a simple betrayal or something like that. Something wrong. The reader spends the rest of the novel wondering, "Is he trustworthy? Will he get redeemed? Can he possibly be a worthy love interest after that?" Even after finishing the book, I'm not so sure I like him. But maybe that's a good thing.
Wilder's definitely the most intriguing character here. Another favorite is Howell, the happy-go-lucky, frizzy haired, juggler/scientist who's way too casual about saving the world. Maisie's socially awkward friend, Luther, gets some good scenes.
Then there's Maisie's parents. This is her story, so she has to be the hero, but she doesn't hide her powers from them. When the world's falling to pieces she runs to them. They may need rescuing occasionally but they're behind their daughter every step of the way.
You know those short novels that get smushed together so you can carry one book around instead of two? That's how this felt. Dangerous read more like a trilogy. At 400 pages it certainly couldn't have been split into three full length books. It is divided into three parts, though, each around 130 pages. The first one's called Fireteam, followed by Runaways, and concludes with Peligrosa, the Spanish word for Dangerous and Maisie's nickname. Each part has its own mini plot structure. After the first and second mini-climaxes, we get lulls before the action rises up again. This can be disorienting.
Dangerous is one of the few novels I've seen that attempts the superhero genre in book form. Familiar elements like sacrifice, secrets, and the importance of teamwork are played with. The story structure is weird and some elements could've definitely been expounded upon rather than squeezed into one book. Dangerous will appeal to superhero lovers and sci fi fans just looking for a good story.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Sleeping Beauty by Jenni James

Genre: Fantasy, fairy tale retellings
Series: Part of a collection that will ultimately include 25 books. However, they don't seem to be connected and can be read alone or together.
Pages: 231
Rating: **
Queen Aleyna is the sole survivor of the fairy Villeria's massacre. She watched, helpless, as her family was slaughtered before her eyes. For the past thirty years she's been kept in an enchanted sleep by her faithful unicorn, Ezralon. The horrors of memory can't harm her as she roams her perfect dreamworld.
Prince Darien isn't one to back down from a dare. When his friends goad him into searching for the lost queen, he agrees only to save face. He didn't expect to fall in love.
When Aleyna wakens, they'll be forced to confront Villeria together. The fairy lost the princess once, and now, she won't let any sword or spell stop her from claiming her prize.
This book's main weakness is its length. Had it been a hundred pages longer, we could've gotten to know the main characters and develop the minor ones. Darien's three friends-George, Michael, and Humphrey-are virtually indistinguishable. Towards the beginning Humphrey's set apart from the others by his dialogue. He uses words like 'doth' in a few lines. However, these disappear as the story progresses, so maybe those lines were said in sarcasm. The other characters regularly toss around words like 'zing' and 'poof' that clash with the pre-industrial setting. Occasional typos also pull the reader out of the story.
Most of the Sleeping Beauty retellings I've seen have the bulk of the story take place after the heroine awakes. After all, you can't do much with a sleeping character. And since the story itself is short and uncomplicated, most writers find it necessary to go in a completely new direction to find a tale worth telling. James' creativity managed to find a way around both of these roadblocks. While Aleyna sleeps, her ghostlike spirit roams the halls of her ruined castle. This allows her to form a relationship with Darien instead of waking up to some creeper's kiss. Aleyna still sees her castle as it was with beautiful decorations and live servants. Meanwhile, Darien's stepping over bones and cobwebs. The story's told through shifting third person. The best scenes are the ones that contrast what she's seeing with what he knows.
For me, this wasn't a book I could sit down and devour from beginning to end. It's the book I pulled out to pass the time while waiting for my brother to finish up lacrosse practice. Not captivating, but certainly creative. Jenni James' retelling of Sleeping Beauty manages to twist the tale in new directions without losing the beauty of the original story.