More Lovely Steampunk Books for the Action Enthusiast: Book Review of The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross

4:07 PM 1 Comments A+ a-

Still feeling the steampunk vibe, and even more so when I caught a look at this cover - isn't it fabulous?  Welcome to The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross.

The author describes the book as a cross between X-Men and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and this action-packed yarn lives up to that billing, holding appeal to both male and female readers (although with this cover, the male reader might be a tough sell).

Our protagonist, Finley Jayne, comes from a home made up of her seamstress mother and caring bookseller stepfather.  Not wanting to be a financial burden to her family she looks for domestic work, which usually doesn't last long, because Finley has a secret.

She feels that she is two people, the first the good girl who wants to work hard (she is amazingly strong with tremendous endurance) and the second, a girl for whom anger or rage can unleash a dark side capable of doing serious damage, and it does.

When Lord Felix, the son of her employer and a recent addition to the pierced aristocrats emulating underworld king, Jack Dandy, tries to rape and beat her, Finley not only stops him but almost kills him in the process.  Fleeing the scene she literally runs right into Griffin King, the young Duke of Greystone, who himself harbors a secret (one inherited from his parents who may have provided a little inspiration for another steampunk classic, Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne).  Griffin has surrounded himself with an eclectic group of people blessed with some particular strength or genius and he realizes more quickly than Finley what is happening to her and how to help.  The fact that she is strikingly pretty and intelligent also doesn't factor into his helping her, although it might have something to do with the feelings stirring inside him.  It doesn't do it justice, but you might want to take a look at the book trailer.

I greatly enjoyed this book and applaud the author's deft but not hokey nod to the classic work The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (a story that features more prominently as the plot progresses).  As Finley becomes part of the team Griffin has assembled, not only does she find a way to use and integrate the dark part of herself to fight the evil among them, but she finds friendship and acceptance for who she is, a friendship most welcome as she discovers her family and Griffin's to have been allies for longer than either can imagine.

This novel is also deliciously steampunk, more so than a lot of other books which try and live up to the moniker.  Automatons and fascinating energy sources abound and diminutive, Irish Emily is a veritable genius with them (she is the one who makes Finley's famed corset), much to the dismay of another member of the team, the strong and conflicted Sam.  Young American cowboy Jasper seems to have a mysterious past but brings his own set of skills into play, and the antihero of Jack Dandy forms an intriguing love-triangle as his interest in Finley is all too clear, inspiring Griffin's jealousy.

Kady Cross was kind enough to give us her .5 novella, The Strange Case of Finley Jayne, available as a free download.  This prequel tells us the growing origin of Finley's conflicted self (and her desire to help and goodness) through the story of her previous domestic position prior to her story beginning in
The Girl in the Steel Corset.

Finley has disastrously left her previous domestic position after punching the lights out of a cruel governess and finds herself back at home with no reference.  She is shocked when an aristocratic lady lands on her doorstep wanting to hire Finley as a companion to her daughter, based on hearing that previous account of her work.  The Lady's daughter is recently engaged to a much older man and there are suspicions as to his intentions.  Very well-grounded suspicions.

This time Mary Shelley's Frankenstein provides the comparison and is done in as equally as deft a manner as the previous book.  The reader is left with a better impression of what Finley was like prior to her dark side asserting itself even more and the near-misses of her possible encounters with Griffin are a nice touch.  A really well done novella!

It's nice to note that author Kady Cross is actually a pseudonym for successful romance novelist Kathryn Smith, although librarians can be assured that the content of this novel (soon to be series since it's entitled The Steampunk Chronicles) is totally appropriate for even younger YA audiences but has enough punch and depth to entertain adult steampunk readers.  I was bound to enjoy the writing of someone who lists Richelle Mead, Melissa Marr and Meg Cabot as some of her favorite YA writers, and I am really appreciative that Cross/Smith has done a great job collating terrific steampunk links on her Kady Cross website.

I've added her to my Google Reader as I think the incarnation of Kady Cross will be a good author to watch.  I know I can't wait for the next book in the series, particularly given the intriguing situation she set up at the end of The Girl in a Steel Corset!

A Not-So-Minor Rant Against Trilogies that Shouldn't Be Trilogies: Book Review of Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier

7:58 PM 1 Comments A+ a-

This is a MAJOR peeve of mine that honestly seems exacerbated more each year.  Some books should not be trilogies.

There, I said it, and I see many of you nodding your heads along with me (except you - fine, suffer while waiting for the next book, you're obviously a masochist).  How many times have we started what seems like a perfectly nice book, got emotionally involved with the characters, reveled in the setting, only to have that sickening lurch in our collective stomach when we realize the pages clutched in our left hand are significantly larger than the ones in our right....and there are still some major questions to be answered?!

That's when you know you've been trilogized, a word I've decided means "verb (Canadian origin): to be attacked by a publisher who wants you to pay the hardcover price three times versus once".  It's painful and the lingering resentment that combines with the elation of getting the next book in our hand leaves a bad taste in the mouth, doesn't it?  And heaven forbid the writer has lost momentum or their plot gets a little wonky (*cough* Melissa de la Cruz *cough*), because then we just resentfully eat our M&Ms (hey, you eat your snack, and I'll eat mine, okay?) thinking that if they had just written the whole damn thing into one book, we wouldn't be suffering right now.

The trilogy is particularly hard to stomach in the case of the book I am reviewing here (yes, this is a review, I'm getting to it), Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier.  After reading the CIP and realizing that this book was a translation, I guessed (correctly) that the sequels were already out in German.  Annoyingly, I was right, as the German Wikipedia page on the author reveals Ruby Red came out in 2009 and the two sequels in 2010.  So why the h-e-double hockey sticks aren't all three out in English?

Anyway... the book.  Ever since A Wrinkle in Time and more recently, The Time Traveler's Wife, I've loved the idea of time travel as a fiction plot.  So many possibilities and you usually end up with a really cool historical fiction/fantasy crossover novel in the process that you can market well as a librarian. This cover is gorgeous and makes for an easy sell on the superficial standpoint (but, hey, every little bit helps) - beautiful girl, embossed jewels, all lovely.

Our protagonist, Gwenyth (Gwen), has been brought up in a loving but eccentric wealthy family in a London mansion.  Because she's been ignored by most of the relatives in favor of her cousin, Charlotte, she is a down to earth, movie fiend who spends her time laughing with her best friend about the boys in their high school.

Charlotte is the family favorite because everyone believes she carries their family's gene for time travel, so her whole life has been given to foreign language fluency, riding and fencing lessons, etc. turns out that Gwen is the one who has the gene, which no one suspected because the time traveler was supposed to be born on a certain day and Gwen's mother lied about her birthday, claiming to want a normal life for her daughter.

But there is more to the lie as Gwen begins to realize.  She is introduced to the intimidating Guardians and their offices at the Temple and most of all, introduced to her fellow time-traveler, haughty and handsome Gideon who is two years older and expecting Charlotte to be his companion. Their adventures begin with some rather alarming complications thrown into the mix, and while attracted to one another, there is also a growing mistrust as the adults in their lives (past and present) seem to be hiding something, using Gideon and Gwen for their own purposes.

My main problem here is that if you have to have a trilogy, the first book needs to answer some questions!!!!!  This one poses more questions than it answers, which has driven me up a wall, particularly because there are other good qualities for me to recommend to readers.  I like the writing and the characterization, although Gwen feels a lot younger to me and I get the feeling the publisher and the writer are aiming for a middle school audience, which seems at odds with the protagonist's age of sixteen and the fact that there is obviously meant to be a strong romance plot.  Doubt me?  Take a look at the official book trailer:

Doesn't even the voice sound young?  I'm not saying Gwen isn't lighthearted (it's why we like her so much) and the historical pieces are well-done, but there is an audience piece that feels off to me.  The beginning Prologue is so obvious (really...I'm almost tempted to just say it because my golden retriever even figured out who these two people were right away) yet I'm supposed to believe that no one else has suspected that relationships are not as they seem?  Puh-leese.

Gwen is obviously smart and pretty, but aside from some snogging comments she seems strangely innocent for someone her age who watches as many R and PG-13 films as she's named.  Not being in Gideon's head also leaves us at a loss as to the development of his attraction to Gwen and I'm not sure I'm totally convinced of that either.

Overall, this is a book that I would have liked to have seen encompass all three volumes in one (are you listening, Henry Holt Publishing???!) since I think it would make the actual writing and plot stronger.  Yes, I will get the other books (curse you) but I'm not going to be happy about it.  So there.

Anti-Corporate Pageant Satire Is the Best: Book Review of Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

6:54 PM 2 Comments A+ a-

Libba Bray is a genius as anyone who has bothered reading her blog would know.  But for those people who read Going Bovine and still might be on the fence (seriously...after that?) then the final nail in the coffin of your conjecture will be a good read of Beauty Queens.

That is, if you like satire.  I do although it's rare that I get to read it in a book geared toward young adults.  I would say, on the satire spectrum, that Beauty Queens is somewhere between Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock and The Simpsons.  Probably a shade closer to The Simpsons actually, because a) they are funny and b) for other stuff that will become evident as I write this blog post.

Before I go into the plot blah blah, can we take a moment to admire the cover???  The smudged sash (there was a plane wreck, duh) and the bandolier of red and pink lipstick (which looks cool but I imagine is really unhygenic, put those caps on, girlie!) - is awesome and gripping (although a subset of reader will be attracted to the tanned blond in the bikini.  Whatever.  I can't live your life for you.)

Okay, to the actual novel.  As we discover in Libba's introduction, in the not too distant future a group of contestants for the Miss Teen Dream pageant has had a plane wreck on an island in the middle of nowhere (but not as nowhere as we first believe).  Only a handful of them survive, and despite believing that they will be imminently rescued, they spin their talent portion into figuring out the basics of food, safety, and shelter while sizing up the competition.

Amid all of this, in a world heavily run by "The Corporation" and rife with reality television shows (yes, more than now, which I realize is hard to believe), a group of non-government affiliated agents are inhabiting the island's volcano (I know...Libba Bray is a big James Bond fan, read the acknowledgments at the end of the book, it's like a bonus chapter) and determining how best to rid themselves of the girls so they can get on with their nefarious plot.  No, I am not telling what that is. You have to read the book.

Not to sound hokey, but at the center of the humor, the girls discover who they are - this amazing group of young women wrestle more than the psycho gigantic snakes and hallucinogenic fruit to figure out what they like and don't like about their lives, making real friends in the process.  All this amid an avalanche of funny.  The self-esteem message is subtle enough to be cool and not after-school-special-ey, going down real easy while you're laughing at the snappy dialogue and funny commercials (yes, I said commercials.  This book has commercials and they are hilarious.) Oh, and there are hot, oiled teen pirates.  Enough said *wink, wink*!

Did you know there was a cool contest for readers ages 13 to 18?  Yeah-huh!  You need to enter before July 1, 2011 but you could win an Amex gift card or Sephora gift card for $250.  She really knows her audience!  Check out the video (remember, Libba makes great videos - don't you remember the Going Bovine video where she wore a cow costume, complete with a...rather prominent...udder?):

So grab your tiara (don't act like there's not one in the house, we can all see it RIGHT THERE) and a copy of the Beauty Queens and get ready for a special in-flight entertainment. (Disclaimer: the hardcover copy is not a flotation device.)