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.

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.

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.

Itty Bitty Hellboy: Haunted by Tiny Demons

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(ARC given by NetGalley)

Author: Art Balthazar and Franco
Publishing House:
Dark Horse
136 pages
Publication: 16th April 2014
Review written by Lady Entropy

Witness the awesomeness that is Hellboy! The characters that sprung from Mike Mignola’s imagination, with an AW YEAH Art Baltazar and Franco twist! This book has ALL the FUN, adventure, and AW YEAHNESS in one itty bitty package! That’s a true story right there.
Collects Itty Bitty Hellboy #1–#5. 

I loved Itty Bitty Titans, from the same artist, and that prompted me to immediately request this book. Unlike the Teen Titans, I knew Hellboy fairly well, having read a few of the GNs and having LOVED the 2nd Movie (the first was meh). And if I had loved the Titans Itty Bitty version, I was going to absolutely adore Itty Bitty Hellboy, right?

Unfortunately, not so. I suspect it’s because Hellboy, for all of its smart stories and setting, just is not given to comedy. Teen Titans are superheroes and teenagers, which, on itself, is already a source of quite a lot of jokes. Plus they have a huge and colourful amount of enemies and allies. Hellboy is much more focused on serious themes and a specific set of characters. While the design of the demon with the red hand is silly, it’s not enough to make solid comedy. The proof came in the fact that jokes were often one note and repeated ad nauseam (yes, we get it, Roger has no pants, and his underwear is weird and he likes to take it off at the slightest provocation). But what I felt was the biggest problem with the book was that the characters were all lacking in personality. Hell, the villains wound up having more personality than the “Goodies” group, who wound up being too “I am my shtick!” – Liz makes fire, Hellboy is very strong (and slightly dumb), Roger has no pants, etc.
The art is still adorable and cute beyond belief so if you just want to giggle at the adorableness, go right ahead and get this. I think I’ll stick to Teen Titans myself.

The Art of Plants vs. Zombies: Lawn of the Dead

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(ARC given by Netgalley)

Author: Various
Publishing House:
Dark Horse
96 pages
Publication: 27th May 2014
Review written by Lady Entropy

Get the story of the mulchifying super hit Plants vs. Zombies from the zombies’ point of view! The Art of Plants vs. Zombies is part zombie memoir, part celebration of zombie triumphs, and part anti-plant screed, as well as a treasure trove of rare concept art, sketches, and more covering Plants vs. Zombies, Plants vs. Zombies 2, Plants vs. Zombies Adventures, and Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare. It’s a must-have for any fan and an insider’s view of zombies with some Wall-nutty surprises and never-before-seen awesome art. Even Crazy Dave wants a copy – if only to learn more about his fun-dead foes.

The Art of Plants vs. Zombies is a sweet, small (and cheap) artbook homaging the very simple and still very addictive game Plants vs. Zombies. It’s written from the zombie point of view (because, obviously, they are the pretties and most awesome and pleasedon’teatmybrains!!!) and it’s full with art, bits of information, gags, and focuses mostly on rare and unpublished art for the game, which is definitely welcome.

The book has a very definite tongue-in-cheek feel to it, and it’s just more than just a collage of images. Of course, the theme in itself is limited so they wouldn’t be able to put out a “proper” big artbook — so, they didn’t. Instead, there is this little funny gem, shock full with discarded ideas (including a list of refused titles for the game, with “Lawn of the Dead” as my favourite, and the “Pea-Predator” plant that never got used. Sad!)

It has also a whole section on the art of Plants vs. Zombies 2, and taking in consideration the price (9.99), I can see this is not a cash grab, but rather a memento made with a lot of love for a little gem of a game (which is so goddamn cheap you should be ashamed of yourself if you haven’t bought it yet! Go play it)!

Obviously, it has a limited value for people who never played the game or who don’t enjoy it — it doesn’t try to be more than it is: a loving homage to a funny, silly game, and is, just like its parent product, funny and silly and definitely worth your (not a lot of) money.

Live and Let Shop: The Little Spy (Book) Who (Almost, Not Really) Could

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(given as an ARC by NetGalley)

Author: Michael P. Spradlin
Publishing House:
Open Road Media YA
271 pages
Publication: 10th December 2013
Book 1 of the Spy Goddess Series
Review written by Lady Entropy

Blackthorn Academy, meet Rachel Buchanan.

I’m not a delinquent…I’m just misunderstood. Of course, the judge didn’t see it that way. She gave me a choice: juvenile detention or boarding school in Pennsylvania, of all places. That’s how I wound up at freaky Blackthorn Academy. This school is clearly hiding some major secrets.

And here’s something you should know about me: Rachel Buchanan never gives up when there are secrets to uncover. Watch out, Blackthorn Academy!

Making a good teen spy book is more than just creating a super academy, finding a sassy main character with a chip on her shoulder, a group of friends and a catchy title that makes a bad pun with spy-related movies or books.

Gallagher girls had a series of well-defined support character, an interesting main character, before it worried about getting the spy-pun title.

Unfortunately, Spy Goddess failed to impress in its first outing: the secondary characters were mostly two dimensional, with the exception, maybe of the headmaster, the plot went too quickly into the supernatural for my tastes in this sort of thing, and the main character wasn’t just brattish. She came across as spoilt, annoying, whiny and just plain uninteresting. There was some growing, thankfully, but not enough to entirely salvage her. The “Spy Academy” as it were wasn’t particularly interesting, either, and I was puzzled at their love for Tae-Kwon-Do. Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE TKD. But I’d expect a spy-in-training academy to train students in multiple martial arts, and restricting them to a single style could actually be an issue in the future. MMA artists try to master complementing styles, so they can be ready for most anything.

But, martial arts rants aside, I’m not entirely willing to give up on this series. I love Gallagher Girls, and I always had a soft spot for the teenspy genre. So I will pick up the other books in the series to see if it can be redeemed.

Also, it’s VERY bad form to have a title that has 0 to do with your character or the book: the main character doesn’t like shopping, there are no shopping scenes that are meaningful to the plot, shopping is in no way related to the plot, and I spent the entire book looking for the shop connection. Yes, I know that Gallagher girls does it as well, but they puns are espionage related, not “other activity” related. If the book had been “Live and Let Spy” or “Live and Let Snoop”, I’d be fine with it. “Live and Let Shop” just makes promises that it can’t keep.

Such Sweet Sorrow: Sadly Simply Insufficient

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Author: Jenny Trout
Publishing House:
Entangled Teen
304 pages
Publication: 4th February 2014
Review written by Lady Entropy

(ARC given by Netgalley)

Never was there a tale of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo…But true love never dies. Though they’re parted by the veil between the world of mortals and the land of the dead, Romeo believes he can restore Juliet to life, but he’ll have to travel to the underworld with a thoroughly infuriating guide.
Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, may not have inherited his father’s crown, but the murdered king left his son a much more important responsibility—a portal to the Afterjord, where the souls of the dead reside. When the determined Romeo asks for help traversing the treacherous Afterjord, Hamlet sees an opportunity for adventure, and the chance to avenge his father’s death.

Jenny Trout suffers from what I like to call “The Cassandra Claire Syndrome”: I loved everything that Cassandra wrote “for fun” like the Very Secret Diaries, but give me one of her books and I’m not running out of the room fast enough.
I like this author, a LOT. Unfortunately, not her books. I just think she’s a riot and a half in her 50 Shades reviews, and everything she writes in her blog. But all the books I read from her left me wanting.

And this one is pretty much the same.

The concept intrigued me enough to ask for the ARC (and I’ve become very careful of what ARCs I ask of, since I have way too many books and not enough time), and, on a positive note, it didn’t crash and burn as I feared it would. Shakespeare Crossover Stories seems the type of thing that could go either horribly bad or amazingly awesomely – I was expecting something in the lines of when Captain America and Thor go to hell to rescue Thor’s beloved and you have them fight hordes of zombies. No such luck. A lot of accident and coincidence push the plot forward, a little too much than I’m comfortable with, and way too much time is spent talking and arguing. I know that they’re trying to show how their friendship develops, slowly, but Hamlet and Romeo bitch and complain from the start and don’t even have the least bit of politeness to each other that two strangers normally should have.

Also, apparently, everyone’s fluent in latin. Look, I studied latin. It’s not a very good language to have complex talks in, especially if you’re not a priest who does nothing but study it, or a native Ancient Roman. Of course, these are just minor things, but some minor things are jarring. Like making Romeo 18 years of age. Now, I’ll give you, his age has been set at 16-ish, so with the year that went by, he could have turned 17\18, true. But then it only remained creepier the fact that Juliet was 13 — the author tries to smooth it by stating she was 15, but instead of making it less creepy, it makes her look uneducated because Juliet is the one with her age being openly stated in the play — 13 years of age. I wound up not knowing whether to be irritated or creeped out.

The rest of the book lost me because it wound up feeling like a video game: the protagonists stumble on the next bit of plot, find Juliet, rescue her, and then they start finding helpful NPCs who give them quests to end up leaving hell: they find bosses to fight, they have to find three bits of an artefact (the keys) that will allow them to leave hell (making us wonder then, if Odin didn’t want people leaving\controlling hell, why would he keep that artefact in hell to begin with? Why not, say, keep it with himself?) I think the main issue with this book is that it didn’t have a defined villain. Sure, maybe hell could count as the main baddie, but it was just too shifting and changing, and it lacked any ambiance or despair. Ultimately, this felt more like a D&D game, made of small multiple encounters with really no rhyme or reason or even purpose rather than spend time. The characters keep getting separated, which is understandably traumatic if you’re a living person in hell, but after the third time, it starts getting to be a really really worn way to increase the stakes, and loses all impact.

The motivations of the characters, especially the secondary ones, were very nebulous (why would the Crows of Odin be interested in helping Fenrir? Why would Fenrir want to commit suicide to avoid fighting Odin when he could just be brought back to life?)

Ultimately, there were some good moments in the book, like the explanation for Hamlet to see the ghost of his father, hence not having a lower rating, and a lot of fighting although the author can’t describe a fight to save her life. She tries putting some purple prose here and there, but it just doesn’t help at all. The ending was just confusing, so I wound up rereading it to make sure I didn’t miss something.

And then the book ends with sequel bait. I wanted to laugh.

This is one of those books I don’t know whether to recommend or tell people to stay well away from. I suspect some people will like it for the sheer novelty of it, but if you go in expecting romance, you’ll get very few moments (which, I admit, I was grateful for).

Nanozine

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