Material Girls: the Fiendish Pitfalls of Fashion

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(ARC copy given by NetGalley)
Author: Elaine Dimopoulos
Publication:  5th May 2015
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Review by Lady Entropy

“In Marla Klein and Ivy Wilde’s world, teens are the gatekeepers of culture. A top fashion label employs sixteen-year-old Marla to dictate hot new clothing trends, while Ivy, a teen pop star, popularizes the garments that Marla approves. Both girls are pawns in a calculated but seductive system of corporate control, and both begin to question their world’s aggressive levels of consumption. Will their new “eco-chic” trend subversively resist and overturn the industry that controls every part of their lives?         Smart, provocative, and entertaining, this thrilling page-turner for teens questions the cult like mentality of fame and fashion.
         
Are you in or are you out?

I really enjoyed this book. As someone who has a secret guilty pleasure reading fashion YA books (I request all I can find in NG), I was surprised to find this one to be a lot more than just designer name-dropping or reality shows stories.

There is actually a message behind it. And more importantly, there is actually consequences for the heroine’s actions.

Also, and something I can’t stress enough is important while writing outside our own era and reality, there is actual world-building.

It’s half past the near future, and creative jobs (like singing, acting, choosing fashion) are now handed only to “the elite”, teenagers who are selected upon joining high school for their skills. Teenagers go to work like adults, and earn the highest income of the house — assuming they are part of the elite. If not, they are limited to going back to school, and looking forward to becoming “baselines” and making a modest living at best.

Marla Klein might be past her prime (16 year old! ew!) but she knows fashion when she sees it — she refuses to compromise her taste and ideals, even when it means risking the wrath of her superiors. And that gets in demoted quickly to a mere fashion sketcher.

On the other side of the spectrum, we have Ivy Wilde, a singing sensation, the Wilde Child of the music world. She is tired of the falseness, the idiocy, the synthetic life people like her are expected to live just because the rest of the world is too stupid to know better.

This book, then, follows two girls who are very disenchanted with the world society is set up today — eventually they cross paths and work together, even if Marla’s fall made her be at the lowest strata in the creative industry.

It unfolds in a very elegant, very organic plot, even if the final conflict does miss a certain… bang. I do like the ending, a twisted, sad and bizarre reflection (can’t clarify without spoiling). I also quite enjoyed the suggested list of reading and research the target audience could search to inform themselves — I love books that teach me new things. This helped add an extra layer of love for the book — Hunger Games, Battle Royal and Divergent (okay, maybe _not_ Divergent) are fun to read but they feel like “something that would never happen”. They lack the punch to the gut of feeling “this could be our reality one day”. “Material Girls is much closer to our world, it already is, to a point. It makes the book much more poignant, much more “kick in the feels” because, in a way, it is already happening. And it is damn scary.

As for the low points, I wish, really, that Marla mother didn’t suffer from the “plot convenient volte-face”. She became a completely different person, at a drop of a hat because it was “convenient” to up the ante, when until then she had been a loving, understanding mother, and it wasn’t Marla’s fault AT ALL what was done. I wish she had been handled better as she went from fully supportive to screaming harpy for no reason. At least I’d wish I’d get some subtle warnings about her true personality before.

All in all, a damn fine read for any YAs (and some adults) out there who are not only interested in fashion for fashion, but would actually like to know more about the behind-the-scenes of how big fashion houses work, and maybe think of finding a career in that world.

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Fangirl_15: So This Is What MetaFiction Looks Like

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(ARC copy given by NetGalley)
Author: Aimee Roseland
Publication:  8th July 2014
Review by Lady Entropy

Chloe is in love with Lucien.

He’s enigmatic, compassionate, generous and intelligent. Likes classical music just as much as kicking ass and knows his way around a kitchen, though he’d never admit it. He’s gorgeous yet humble and can’t see past his own scars.

The only problem is that Lucien is a character in a novel.

The Dark Riders is one of the best selling paranormal romance series of all time, and it was destined to have eight installments, one for each of the brothers-in-arms. Except the writer died. Worse yet, book seven was finished by some poser that thought killing off one of the main characters would bring a more modern twist to the finale.

Chloe is absolutely devastated by the news that one of her “friends” is dead and that the series is canceled. A midnight escape from the locked office lands her in a deserted parking lot after hours where an unseen force has been waiting.  This supernatural assault strands her in an alternate reality where the Dark Riders are real and the horrible ending created by the publisher hasn’t happened yet.

The greatest strength of this book is how meta it is: an almost obsessive fangirl of a famous romantic urban fantasy series (coughBrotherhoodoftheBlackDaggercough) lives a boring life, wishing she lived in the books she so much loves. Her favourite author dies, leaving another author nobody likes, to complete the series and ruining it forever. And, then, she wakes up inside her beloved series, and proceeds to impress everyone with her secret knowledge of the world, gets adopted into the family and a life of luxury, and ends up finding her amazing powers (and romance with her favourite male character (coughZsadistcough) and never being the victim ever again.

As far as wish-fulfillment fantasies go this is the typical one (a better life + superpowers + wealth + a clique + hooking up with favourite character + being seen as beautiful), but I actually found myself liking how it was pulled off. Now, I know a lot of readers will be turned off by what amounts to Brotherhood of the Black Dagger self-insertion fanfiction (let us not kid ourselves, it is what this is, to the point where I was already addressing the book characters by their BoTBD counterpart’s names in my head — despite the nod to the Dark Hunter series). However, it is still written in a way that I could not fault the writer for, and I still empathized with the main character – certain parts were heartwrenching (I can totally relate to seeing someone taking a favourite book series of yours, and handing it to someone who basically ruins it while desperately trying to get more money out of it – the Chronicles of Amber comes to mind.)

I think the author tapped into a very specific aspect of being a fan of a series of books and managed to put into words things that we all felt before, and that is, I feel, the strong suit of the book.

Ultimately, I think I would recommend this to BotBD fans, because if you take away that particular aspect of the novel, it ends up losing most of its entertaining value, and you miss most of the nods to the main series.

Chloe By Design: Making the Cut

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(ARC copy given by NetGalley)
Author: Margaret Gurevich
Publishing House: Stone Arch Books
384 pages
Publication:  1st July 2014
Review by Lady Entropy

For viewers that love Project Runway comes a series that puts fashion at the forefront. 16-year-old Chloe Montgomery has always loved everything to do with fashion. Clothes, accessories, designing–she knows it all. And when she finds out Teen Design Diva, a new reality series for aspiring teenage designers, is holding auditions in her town, she’s desperate to win a spot on the show. She knows this is her chance to finally get her designs noticed. But before Chloe can realize her dreams, she has to survive the competition.

I have to confess I liked the designs a lot more than I liked the story, but I suspect that was because of problems with pacing. Chloe was endearing and passionate and so I was, obviously, rooting for her to win, so my few issues with this book came not from the characters but rather how it was organized.

It’s possible that this book would have worked better if split into two, allowing for the first part to be Chloe preparing for the competition, and the second being the competition itself — instead, whatever little conflicts there were, they had to be diminished because the “big payoff” was still to come. Plus, the competition section felt incredibly rushed through, with multiple challenges happening on top of each other, characters being shipped off in hordes and with flimsy excuses to reach as quickly as possible to the top three – even if the book is 400 pages long and a good chunk of it was dedicated to the competition.

Plus, Nina, who was the closest thing to a villain, was barely a villain — the worst thing she did was steal a hemline cutter — and it was so very easily replaced that it wasn’t even a challenge. There were was no conflict, no drama other than the main character stressing constantly with “Can I make this”. She doesn’t change, she doesn’t grow that much. And that is a huge pity because Chloe is likeable, has a good relationship with her mother and her friends and the rest of her family.

Still, maybe the next book will come out and we’ll see Chloe at her internship and the book will feel less rushed.

Hacker: Getting Inside My Mind

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(ARC copy given by NetGalley)
Author: Ted Dekker
Publishing House: Worthy Publishing
280 pages
Publication:  10th June 2014
Book 3 of the Outlaw Chronicles
Review by Lady Entropy

 

Nyah Parks is a hacker extraordinaire with an interesting way of building her client base. Obviously, corporations don’t like it when you can hack into their systems. They pay hackers lots of money to try to exploit any flaws in their security. Nyah likes doing things backward. Compromise the system, then offer to show them where the flaws are. Except this time she’s gotten in over her head.

 

Now on the run, and under watch from the FBI, Nyah holes up with Austin, a fellow hacker whose been studying a computer unlike any other—the human brain. Austin opens Nyah up to a world of new possibilities, possibly even another plane of existence. Nyah is able to jump out of her mind like a modern-day prophet and see the future. And what she sees is personally devastating.


I made the serious mistake of reading this book and not reviewing it immediately (because a few days later I left the country) — as I consequence I can now barely remember my feelings about it other than a big resounding…”Meh”.

The book ends up being a lot more philosophical than cyberpunk (which, I admit, was what I was looking for) so maybe that is where most of my disappointment comes from. That and the frequent shifts between 3rd person narrator and 1st person narrator. Personal pet peeve of mine, and something I only allow to Charles Stross to do.

I also remember the dreadful disappointment at the cheap romance (put in, no doubt, so we’d get an emotional kick when bad things happened to the boy, but it never materialized since it was so obvious that it would happen that I just didn’t care). For some reason, another scene that stuck with me that was a near “Throw the damn book against a wall” was when the FBI found the corpse of a person who ODed on heroin — and immediately assumed he was a junky even though a friend swore he never did drugs, the whole thing was a set up from the villains. Here’s the thing — if the boy was a junky, he would have needle tracks on his arm. But since he obviously wouldn’t have any (as I said, villain’s doing) it should be obvious what had happened. But of course it takes the FBI forever to figure this out.

Finally, there were some cool scenes and concepts, and some heart-wrenching moments but all in all, I wound up finding the book way too forgettable for the potential it could have had.

Sidekick: Stylish (Almost)Super Heroines

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(ARC copy given by NetGalley)
Author: Auralee Wallace
Publishing House: Escape Publisher
173 pages
Publication:  1st June 2014
Review by Lady Entropy

Heroes meets Bridget Jones in this brilliant, hilarious debut novel about a girl who just wants to save the world…
Bremy St James, daughter of billionaire Atticus St James, has been cut off from the family fortune and is struggling to survive in a world that no longer holds its breath every time she buys a new outfit. To make matters worse, her twin sister is keeping secrets, loan sharks are circling, and the man of her dreams — a newspaper reporter — is on assignment to bring down everyone with the last name St James.

This is a fun, sweet, very funny book that can be considered “light reading”. And I say it as a compliment because it was just what I needed at the time. The book is lighthearted and it doesn’t try to be pretentious nor attempt to be more than what it is: the tale of a poor rich girl who found out her father was a monster and couldn’t bear to look at him any more, so she left her world of comfort.
Also, superheroes.That’s right, this very poignant and human drama is set in a city populated by superheroes and their supervillain counterparts. Our heroine has no powers (or money) to speak of, and yet, she is drawn to do the right thing, even if at a great personal cost. Her struggle is half desperate, half funny, and I think it’s what makes it all so endearing. She’s the proverbial woobie, everything goes wrong with her (her rent money gets stolen TWICE, she has the mafia breathing down her neck, and her boss wants her to strip) and she still keeps on, tenaciously.

The cast of characters is the strongest suit, from the villain to the heroes, although her twin sister was a disappointment — even if set up to be very interesting, the sisterly relationship tight and unique, suddenly gets thrown out just to add more plot convenience and make the scene more dramatic. That being said, she wasn’t as bad as the love interest who was the blandest, most boring and least fleshed out male interest to ever grace any book I’ve ever read. He was… nice. And muscular. AND stupid as a goddam brick — he hates Bremy’s dad but he’s absolutely ready to believe anything he says. Really?

Still, I enjoyed this immensely and I’ll definitely pick up the next volumes.

The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet: Remakes Done Right.

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(ARC given by NetGalley)
Author
: Bernie Su and Kate Rorick
Publishing House: Touchstone
400 pages
Publication:  24th June 2014
Review by Lady Entropy

A modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice based on the Emmy Award-winning phenomenon, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.

When rich, handsome Bing Lee comes to town, along with his stuck-up friend William Darcy, things really start to get interesting for the Bennets—and for Lizzie’s viewers. Suddenly Lizzie—who always considered herself a fairly normal young woman—was a public figure. But not everything happened on-screen. Luckily for us, Lizzie kept a secret diary.The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet

provides more character introspection as only a book can, with revelatory details about the Bennet household, including Lizzie’s special relationship with her father, untold stories from Netherfield, Lizzie’s thoughts and fears about life after grad school and becoming an instant web celebrity.


This book is the companion book to the NetSeries (on Youtube) The Lizzie Bennett Diaries — which I had watched and loved. This is a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice, which, as a book and love story, I never particularly was a fan of, but I couldn’t help but ADORE in the video format. Maybe it was the actresses, maybe it was the writing, the fact is that I loved it, and this book helped to fill some of the gaps. Obviously that 5 to 10 minutes episodes were limited in scope, so the writers had to cut out quite a lot and just leave the strictly necessary — between episodes there was often a jump of several days or even weeks, and Lizzie would give a quick description of what had happened and move on — plus, there was always the awareness that she was talking to “real people” so it was easy to guess the character would hold back and keep some things secretive. Especially at the end of the story when her sister’s reputation is in danger, she keeps some details secret as the subject is clearly private and sensitive, so the audience is left to mostly guess what happens.
But this book presents the perfect reason to fill in the gaps, to add small details and make the main narrative awesomer. Lizzie has a quick wit, and she doesn’t try to make herself look good – she’s as critical to herself as to anyone else.

On the one hand, I admit, it kills off a bit of the mystique, on the other hand it does clarify and presents some awesome plot points, so I am glad I read it. Plus, it dubs very well as a stand-alone book, and a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice whether or not you have watched the WebSeries.

Still, I would recommend this to anyone with a sense of humour or who loves Jane Austen — and I would also recommend picking up the WebSeries to watch while you read — it’s free, after all, and definitely worth it.

Deadly Curiosities: The Human, the Gay Best Friend and the Vampire

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(ARC given by NetGalley)

Author: Tim Waggoner
Publishing House: Angry Robot
464 pages
Publication:  24th June 2014
Book 1 of the Deadly Curiosity Series
Review by Lady Entropy


Welcome to Trifles & Folly, an antique and curio shop with a dark secret. Proprietor Cassidy Kincaide continues a family tradition begun in 1670—acquiring and neutralizing dangerous supernatural items. It’s the perfect job for Cassidy, whose psychic gift lets her touch an object and know its history. Together with her business partner Sorren, a 500 year-old vampire and former jewel thief, Cassidy makes it her business to get infernal objects off the market. When mundane antiques suddenly become magically malicious, it’s time for Cassidy and Sorren to get rid of these Deadly Curiosities before the bodies start piling up.

This book is a decent Urban Fantasy romp: girl with some powers needs to rely on stronger friends and allies to solve problems, while still remaining useful. It has several creature types, some truly scary and poignant moments, and manages to wrap it all up without making a mess of itself.

Unfortunately, I read it right after another, alas, far superior Urban Fantasy book so I couldn’t but be left with a sense of “meh” at the end. I am sure I would have thought far better of this book were it not for the unfortunate timing.

I can say it works very well as a light read, with a refreshing character who’s not supposed to be all-powerful or a bitch, that is not desired by all men that she comes across. She was sensible, smart, and a good person who (almost never) fell into the Too Stupid To Live category.

My pet peeve was the Sassy Gay Best Friend, who I felt was such a specimen of perfection and awesomeness (great cook, appreciates the arts, incredible smart, expert armed and unarmed fighter, with magical powers that dwarfed the heroine, incredibly attractive, sensitive and thoughtful to his lover) that I wondered why weren’t we reading the story from his point of view, instead. It felt that the writer was trying to compensate for something, or she was so afraid to be dismissed for writing a “bad” gay character that she had to heap all the awesomeness on him to protect herself.

And also, our adventurers tended to rely too much on magical artefacts to get themselves out of problems. No, literally, there is a “suit up” scene. I couldn’t but help feel that, in the process of increasing the stakes, the writer wound up coming up with a threat that the heroine simply couldn’t sort.

Funnily enough, the side and minor characters (like clockman and the hunter) wound up being my favourites and I would have liked to know more about them.

Kept: Hot Stories, Hotter Settings

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(ARC given by NetGalley)
Editor: Sorcha Black
Publishing House: WC Press
Publication:  March 2014 (ebook only)
Review by Lady Entropy

From the darkest parts of the underworld, to aliens hunting on Earth, to planets far away, each of these capture-themed novellas by six bestselling authors takes you on a wild ride that will heat up your fantasies and keep you up all night long…reading.

 

I have to admit, I requested this book more out of sense of boredom and “I haven’t read erotica in a while, let’s see what the kids are doing these days”. And boy, was I surprised.

I must state in advance that erotica is something I read every now and then, usually when some concept intrigues me (like T-red porn!). I’m not an expert, or even someone who can appreciate the finer points of the descriptions or collapse into a mass of wiggly desire.

But I was amazed by how huge the RANGE of stories (from sci-fi, to time travelling, to fantasy) was. And what amazed me even more was how complex the settings were. The authors seemed to be challenged to find all sorts of strange and unusual combinations (military and vampires! BBW and aliens! Time travelling, Domming and Scotsmen! Virgins, lesbians and succubus!) then came up with the most elaborate possible settings and worldbuild. Sure there was sex, and lots of it, but I found myself caring more the people and their world than their jolies.

This is what a well-written book (which is also erotica) looks like. I am actually quite glad I read it, even if erotica still isn’t my thing. Brainier readers who want more than just the quick fix of porn will love it.

Night Terrors: Women Who Kick Ass and the Clowns Who Help Them

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(ARC copy given by NetGalley)
Author: Tim Waggoner
Publishing House: Angry Robot
350 pages
Publication:  27th May 2014
Book 1 of the Shadow Watch Series
Review by Lady Entropy

It’s Men In Black meets The Sandman.
Meet the fine men and women of the NightWatch: a supernatural agency dedicated to hunting down rogue nightmares that escape from other realms when people dream about them, while ensuring that other dream-folk are allowed to live among the regular, human population… as long as they play by the rules.

This book surprised me in so many ways: the setting was absolutely new, fresh and amazing (and finally someone came up with a setting for Urban Fantasy that isn’t yet another tired take on the typical Vampire\Werewolf Mafia rules over the city. I’ve been waiting for this since I discovered Charles Stross’s The Laundry Files, and now, finally, I have it!

Then, I discovered that the protagonist was female, even thought it was a man writing it. And honestly? He did it with respect and in no moment I felt she was a stereotype — she read as a normal (within limit), tired person with a hard job and suddenly dragged into a situation that was way above her paygrade.

It does take a page of the typical Urban Fantasy where the protagonist (and her co-star, the terrifying combat clown, who was a cross of the Dark Knight and the Animated Series Joker) are low-paid, hard-worked agents for the local supernatural law enforcement agency (in a twist of originality, they spend more time out of the human world, than in it, and humans and fully unaware of the strange things). But it’s spun in a creative, terrifying and original ways, as these agents have, quite literally, their “worst nightmare” as their trusty parters\weapons of mass destruction. I particularly enjoyed the many creative and different Nightmares that populated the dream world and the companion ones.

The plot was solid, frightening, and funny, and I definitely will check further instalments of this series. Recommended to anyone who likes Charles Stross, Urban Fantasy and is terrified of clowns.

Thirst: A Society History Lesson in Novel Format

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(ARC given by Netgalley)
Author: Mary Donnarumma Sharnick
Publishing House: Fireship Press
292 pages
Publication:  2nd March  2012
Review written by Lady Entropy

Allow me a slight deviation on the topic of this book. In Portugal, there is this idea that if you’re “smart”, you can write books well. That’s why we have so many books written by teachers, journalists, politicians, etc. that are absolutely unbearable because the person might be smart and an expert in their field, but that doesn’t mean they can write. Because, you guessed it, writing is something you need to learn to do. If we don’t expect a butcher to be able to perform surgeries, why do we expect journalists to be able to write books?

That rant done, that is the chief problem with this book. This writer, well, can’t write. Oh, she tries very hard, that shows, but I remember that one of my earlier thoughts on the book were “This sounds like something written by a history teacher”. And when I was done reading it, ‘lo and behold, I find that the author is a history major. Yeah. It shows. The only reason this books doesn’t get one star less is because, individually, the scenes are very instructive. We learn a LOT about the Venetian society of the time, and if you look at this book not as a book, but a guide to society\era, you actually pick up some interesting things. Unfortunately, that also means that, unlike a lot of books which are more than the sum of its parts, this book — just isn’t.

There isn’t a clear protagonist, at least 4 of them, scenes jump back and forth in time and protagonist, so god help you if you don’t remember just who that character is and what her\his story is, because it means you might spend half the chapter trying to identify who this is about (especially problematic with the Nuns, because they have different names in their civilian life and as Nuns. And then there is the issue with some of the scenes focusing on lesser, almost nameless characters.

This is the danger of people who follow religiously the “Show don’t tell” motto. We get swamped with details that just contribute to confuse you and distract you from the main story. There should be an addendum to this “SDT” motto: only “Show IMPORTANT things that contribute to the story”. Knowing that Victoria (whose only role is to make a small testimony in trial) was violated anally when she was younger just comes across as a pointless attempt at being edgy and dark.

The structure is a mess, the main story isn’t clear, the “side plots” are many and follow different characters so this book is not particularly pleasant or easy to read. The only recommendation I could do was for people interested in the era, and read this as a series of disconnected scenes portraying the several classes and society of the era in Venice.

I’m still puzzled by the cover blurb that says “Venice will never be the same…” since the conflict is quite small in the grand scheme of things, and the establishment wins in the end, so any changes are quickly smoothed over and forgotten.