Friday, November 15, 2013

Review: That Time I Joined the Circus by J J Howard

Lexi Ryan just ran away to join the circus, but not on purpose.

A music-obsessed, slightly snarky New York City girl, Lexi is on her own. After making a huge mistake--and facing a terrible tragedy--Lexi has no choice but to track down her long-absent mother. Rumor has it that Lexi's mom is somewhere in Florida with a traveling circus.

When Lexi arrives at her new, three-ring reality, her mom isn't there . . . but her destiny might be. Surrounded by tigers, elephants, and trapeze artists, Lexi finds some surprising friends and an even more surprising chance at true love. She even lucks into a spot as the circus's fortune teller, reading tarot cards and making predictions.

But then Lexi's ex-best friend from home shows up, and suddenly it's Lexi's own future that's thrown into question.

With humor, wisdom, and a dazzlingly fresh voice, this debut reminds us of the magic of circus tents, city lights, first kisses, and the importance of an excellent playlist.

Hardcover, 259 pages

Published April 1st 2013 by Point
(info pulled from GoodReads)

The thing I love about contemporary is the more direct and realistic life lessons it hands out.  Not that there isn’t a bit of wisdom to be found in science fiction or fantasy, just a different variety of it.  THAT TIME I JOINED THE CIRCUS dishes out some hard to learn lessons in particular to our hero, Lexi, such as finding that people aren’t always who you think they are and that even good people can make terrible mistakes.  People can do you wrong, and still be exactly who you need them to be.  These messages are delivered with an honest story, fun, and a touch of snark.
This book blends a great story with the excitement of the circus.  We get a glimpse into the life of a working circus, which filled that hole inside of me (and more than likely you) that always did want to run away and join the circus.  Lexi didn’t run away or join the circus for the more traditional reasons (you know, like fun), and that makes the story more relatable and believable.  She is rational and in need of a family, which the circus can provide.  I liked that the book highlights the highs and lows of circus work while tying it into a beautiful story of self discovery.

This is the paragraph that I would put negative aspects about the book in.  I don’t have anything to put here so this is a paragraph about nothing.  THAT TIME I JOINED THE CIRCUS wasn’t a perfect book that pulled at all my feels, but there isn’t anything bad to say. 

There was a sweetness to this story that I wasn’t expecting.  It has very uplifting messages about being who you are and who you want to be and was an all around feel good novel.  I was surprised many a time within this novel, reminding me that books -- and life -- usually go exactly where you don’t expect them to. 

Final Thought: 4 out of 6 toadstools

This review is also posted on GoodReads

Monday, November 11, 2013

Review: Pawn by Aimee Carter


For Kitty Doe, it seems like an easy choice. She can either spend her life as a III in misery, looked down upon by the higher ranks and forced to leave the people she loves, or she can become a VII and join the most powerful family in the country.

If she says yes, Kitty will be Masked—surgically transformed into Lila Hart, the Prime Minister's niece, who died under mysterious circumstances. As a member of the Hart family, she will be famous. She will be adored. And for the first time, she will matter.

There's only one catch. She must also stop the rebellion that Lila secretly fostered, the same one that got her killed …and one Kitty believes in. Faced with threats, conspiracies and a life that's not her own, she must decide which path to choose—and learn how to become more than a pawn in a twisted game she's only beginning to understand.

ebook, 346 pages
Expected publication: November 26th 2013 by Harlequin Teen
(info grabbed from GoodReads)

This is the second series I’ve read by Aimee Carter and was very excited before reading PAWN to see how she could do a dystopian.  The concepts for each series are so different that I was very intrigued to see how that would be handled.  I am glad to say that PAWN is very different from THE GODDESS TEST series.  Where THE GODDESS TEST was light and magical, PAWN is dark and realistic, while still having the same spark I’ve come to expect from Aimee Carter’s writing.  It’s a very different turn for this author, but I really like it. 

Dystopian usually revolves the choices a character makes that ultimately start to the dissolve the society.  PAWN is a bit different.  In this story, Kitty is very much at the whims of everyone around her.  This installment of THE BLACKCOAT REBELLION series has Kitty reacting to her predicament time and again; the story is propelled by events around the character rather than the character herself.  While this is normally a bad thing, the way the story flows in PAWN made it less exhausting to read than in other books.  I appreciated it more as something that made the novel different rather than it being a negative.  However, it will be interesting to see in the sequel how Kitty will start to make her own decisions more and how that will affect things.

The way Aimee Carter writes actually feels like it’s coming out of a teenager’s head.  I was worried that Kitty would turn into another Kate; same character with a different name.  Kitty has similarities with Kate, but is definitely a separate character.  She is more… severe.  They are both stubborn and want to do what’s right, but Kitty has more guts.  She is brave and will do whatever it takes to get her out alive.  Kitty has a strength and potential that Kate didn’t have, and her actions and thoughts made sense for a girl living in the world of PAWN. 

The world of PAWN is filled with cruelty that sometimes pushed my limits of what was believable for an entire society.  But at the same time, stranger things have happened in real life.  I love that dystopian literature reminds us not to forget what people are capable of when they have power.  Aimee Carter pushed the limits of what I had ever thought about and I loved it.  Set in a world that’s a mash of Marie Lu’s LEGEND and George Orwell’s 1984, PAWN is a fresh take on dystopian I recommend for all lovers of the genre.

Final Thought: 24 out of 28 toadstools

This review is also posted on GoodReads

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Review: The Mad Scientist's Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke

"Cat, this is Finn. He's going to be your tutor."

Finn looks and acts human, though he has no desire to be. He was programmed to assist his owners, and performs his duties to perfection. A billion-dollar construct, his primary task is now to tutor Cat. As she grows into a beautiful young woman, Finn is her guardian, her constant companion...and more. But when the government grants rights to the ever-increasing robot population, however, Finn struggles to find his place in the world, and in Cat's heart.

Paperback, 391 pages
Published January 29th 2013 by Angry Robot
(info grabbed from GoodReads)
A note: THE MAD SCIENTIST'S DAUGHTER is an adult read and contains adult things.  If you don't like adult things (like smoking, divorce, and sex, just to name a few) in books ever, maybe skip this one.
I wasn't sure what I was getting into when I started reading THE MAD SCIENTIST'S DAUGHTER.  The story follows Cat from her childhood where she meets Finn, an android assigned as her tutor, and onward through her life as she has experiences with him.  The story, which I think is best described as a cross between FORREST GUMP and BICENTENNIAL MAN, focuses on Cat trying to grasp her feelings for her mechanical friend and the ethical and social issues surrounding it.  It proved to be a much deeper and mature novel than I was expecting, but it was a pleasant surprise.  Cassandra Clarke guides the reader through the turmoils of Cat's life with beautiful prose and great insight.
Even though the book seems lengthy and wordy at times, I could not stop reading.  Usually, if I feel that a book is dragged out, I'm done.  I can't keep reading and I don't.  But even though I felt the prose was lengthy and over elaborate on details at times, I had to keep reading.  I had to know what happened in Cat and Finn's world -- I felt deeply involved in the well developed lives of these fictional characters.  Cat is a wonderful character in that she is flawed, but those flaws make her feel real.  So real, I'm almost expecting her to show up at my high school reunion; we'll drink, have a laugh, talk about how our lives didn't go exactly the way we thought they would after high school and call it a night.  The depth to her person is impressive and something I don't see in books very often.  And then there's Finn, who can't exist (yet?) but is as full and whole as a character as an android with emotional issues should be. 
The only character issue I would note is that all the other character's in the book were not developed.  The story goes through almost thirty years of Cat's life, so her friends change throughout the story, as does the setting.  And like that setting, they seemed like a backdrop to everything else.  Some of these characters were plot devices, others were just there.  But in the span of real life, there are characters/people who are simply plot devices that keep our lives moving and others who are just there, so it seems appropriate in the story.  And on another thought, it could just have been that the author was trying to exagerate that distanced feeling Cat felt from other people.  Intentional or not, the side characters were scattered throughout, generic and unmemorable.
Overall, THE MAD SCIENTIST'S DAUGHTER is a beautiful book.  It's the type of read that will invade your thoughts when you're not reading it, so I suggest not picking it up until you have adequate time to read.  It wasn't one I personally could put down and come back to -- I was constantly wanting to read it through my day.  I highly recommend it to anyone who likes speculative science fiction and is looking for a deeper, more emotion packed read.
FINAL THOUGHT: 3.99 out of 5 sexy robot toadstools
This review is also posted on GoodReads