Thursday, May 30, 2013

Review: The Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman

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The Fire Horse Girl
by Kay Honeyman
Published January 2013
Source: Borrowed
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary from Goodreads: A fiery and romantic adventure, perfect for fans of Grace Lin, Kristen Cashore, or Lisa See!

Jade Moon is a Fire Horse -- the worst sign in the Chinese zodiac for girls, said to make them stubborn, willful, and far too imaginative. But while her family despairs of marrying her off, she has a passionate heart and powerful dreams, and wants only to find a way to make them come true.

Then a young man named Sterling Promise comes to their village to offer Jade Moon and her father a chance to go to America. While Sterling Promise's smooth manners couldn't be more different from her own impulsive nature, Jade Moon falls in love with him on the long voyage. But America in 1923 doesn't want to admit many Chinese, and when they are detained at Angel Island, the "Ellis Island of the West," she discovers a betrayal that destroys all her dreams. To get into America, much less survive there, Jade Moon will have to use all her stubbornness and will to break a new path . . . one as brave and dangerous as only a Fire Horse girl can imagine.

Historical fiction has always intrigued me. There's something almost fantastical about the way it is a story about a different version of the world we live in now. And it's a heck of a lot more fun than a textbook. Sometimes, the historical setting overwhelms the story and characters, but not in The Fire Horse Girl.

It's the 1920s, and China is decades behind the United States in terms of development. Jade Moon was born in the year of the Fire Horse, meaning that she is not the docile and obedient girl desired by her father. She longs to make her family proud, but can't control her fiery personality. When her father accepts a proposition to go to America and decides to bring Jade Moon with him and a young man named Sterling Promise, she is over the moon. Maybe in America she will finally find her place. But the journey to America is not as easy as she imagined, and her path isn't as clear as she once thought.

I adored The Fire Horse Girl. It is pretty sad  I haven't seen very much about it around the blog-o-sphere, because it deserves a lot of attention. It's rich in historical detail, characterization, and heart. I learned a lot about the Chinese culture and both China and America in the 1920s, but I didn't even realize it.

The absolute best thing about this book was the characterization. Though I didn't always agree with what Jade Moon did or said (I am probably the opposite of a Fire Horse Girl, I kept wanting to tell her to keep her mouth shut and not make trouble) I understood her motivations. She had hopes and dreams that are applicable to anyone, at any period in history, and that made her easy to connect to. Honeyman also wrote the secondary characters really well, but always through Jade Moon's eyes.

The plot of The Fire Horse Girl moved at a great pace, almost in three different parts. I enjoyed seeing Jade Moon's development while also learning some things about America's past that I hadn't known before. The pace was a bit slow in the beginning, but it wasn't long before I was fully invested in the story.

Though there is a little bit of romance, it certainly wasn't the focus of the story. It served to be just another way to show Jade Moon's development throughout the book. I loved how Honeyman included many different perspectives on love, its purpose, and its consequences throughout the novel. She had some great insights and really made me thing about things.

The Fire Horse Girl is a great novel about finding your own path in life, no matter what you think your destiny is. Honeyman paints a rich and detailed picture of life for Chinese immigrants in the 1920s, and though some parts may be a little unrealistic, the growth of Jade Moon is completely believable. I suggest anyone who is a fan of historical fiction pick it up.

Note: I also have to point out that I love love love the cover. It features an Asian girl head on, and that's just fantastic. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Review: Gorgeous by Paul Rudnick

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by Paul Rudnick
Published April 2013
Source: Borrowed
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 

Summary from Goodreads: When eighteen-year-old Becky Randle’s mother dies, she’s summoned from her Missouri trailer park to meet Tom Kelly, the world’s top designer. He makes her an impossible offer: He’ll create three dresses to transform Becky from a nothing special girl into the most beautiful woman who ever lived.

Becky thinks Tom is a lunatic, or that he’s producing a hidden camera show called World’s Most Gullible Poor People. But she accepts, and she’s remade as Rebecca. When Becky looks in the mirror, she sees herself – an awkward mess of split ends and cankles. But when anyone else looks at Becky, they see pure five-alarm hotness.

Soon Rebecca is on the cover of Vogue, the new Hollywood darling, and dating celebrities. Then Becky meets Prince Gregory, heir to the British throne, and everything starts to crumble. Because Rebecca aside, Becky loves him. But to love her back, Gregory would have to look past the blinding Rebecca to see the real girl inside. And Becky knows there’s not enough magic in the world.

A screamingly defiant, hugely naughty, and impossibly fun free fall past the cat walks, the red carpets, and even the halls of Buckingham Palace, Gorgeous does the impossible: It makes you see yourself clearly for the first time.

Gorgeous was on my radar as soon as I saw Meg Cabot's glowing endorsement. Being a long time fan of all things Meg Cabot touches, I was sure I would fall in love with this book. Unfortunately, it fell short for me.

First: what I liked. Gorgeous is a book with its heart in the right place. The underlying message is that outside beauty is never as important as inside. Even if you are the most beautiful woman in the world, it won't solve all of your problems. Rudnick delivers this age old message in a new and unique way. The magical elements were fun and the sattire was funny, but it never distracted from the message.

Satire isn't really my thing. I've found that the characters often suffer from the efforts taken to both deliver the underlying message and make a statement about our society. Gorgeous was no exception. I just couldn't connect to the characters on the level I would have liked to. Too many felt very superficial and lacked depth. Only Becky and her best friend Rocher actually felt real enough for me to like them.

I also had a problem with the way Rudnick incorporated Becky's mom. We don't get to know her very well before the whole adventure begins, only some superficial details about her celebrity obsession and how nice of a person she was. This bothered me because Becky does everything because of and for her mom. I would have like a bit more of her and Becky's relationship so I could better understand Becky's motivations. We learn more and more about her mother's past throughout the book, but I never got to a point where I felt l understood who she was.

Gorgeous is a great book for those who like satire. There were some things that I found really funny while reading, because they were so true about our celebrity obsessed society. Unfortunately, the characters weren't developed enough for me to really love this novel. If you're looking for a book with heart that will make you think about how we view beauty, and laugh along the way, then this the book for you.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Review: Perfect Scoundrels by Ally Carter

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Perfect Scoundrels
by Ally Carter
Published February 2013
Source: Borrowed
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary from Goodreads: Katarina Bishop and W.W. Hale the fifth were born to lead completely different lives: Kat comes from a long, proud line of loveable criminal masterminds, while Hale is the scion of one of the most seemingly perfect dynasties in the world. If their families have one thing in common, it's that they both know how to stay under the radar while getting-or stealing-whatever they want. No matter the risk, the Bishops can always be counted on, but in Hale's family, all bets are off when money is on the line.

When Hale unexpectedly inherits his grandmother's billion dollar corporation, he quickly learns that there's no place for Kat and their old heists in his new role. But Kat won't let him go that easily, especially after she gets tipped off that his grandmother's will might have been altered in an elaborate con to steal the company's fortune. So instead of being the heir-this time, Hale might be the mark. Forced to keep a level head as she and her crew fight for one of their own, Kat comes up with an ambitious and far-reaching plan that only the Bishop family would dare attempt. To pull it off, Kat is prepared to do the impossible, but first, she has to decide if she's willing to save her boyfriend's company if it means losing the boy.

Ally Carter knows how to get the perfect combination of fun and heart. Her books always leave me wishing her characters would pop out of the pages and be my friends, or that I could go in and live their life. Perfect Scoundrels was no exception. Kat and the gang are so much fun to read about, and their hijinks always make me go "They're doing what?!?!" in the best way possible. 

This book, the third in the series, has a slightly more personal focus than the other two. The plot revolves around Hale and his previously mysterious family. We learn a lot (though still not as much as any Hale fan would like) about the Hale's and how our Hale came to be part of the Kat's world. Maddeningly, we still don't learn Hale's first name. 

Reading about Hale and having that personal connection was a nice change of pace. However, it took away from the fantastic dynamic between the secondary characters that I love so much. Most of this book revolved around Kat and Hale, and their worlds colliding. The beloved secondary characters were all featured, but not as much as they have been before. I hope that they will be up front and center in the next novel.

The plot, of course, involves a heist. A heist that grows continuously more complicated as the novel goes on. I will tell you, there was a scene in this book that made me gasp out loud because it was so intense, but also completely brilliant. If I ever need to rob anyone, I'm going to ask Ally Carter to plan the heist for me, because girl has some ideas. The plans Kat and her friends come up with are extremely entertaining.

Perfect Scoundrels has set up the tone for the next books in the series to possibly be a bit more serious; a bit less frivolous. By learning more about Hale, we are also investing ourselves more in these characters. Hopefully the next novels continue to work off that character development. Perfect Scoundrels is a fast, fun read that is full of so much heart yours might burst. It is a solid addition to the series, and I am looking forward to the next one immensely.