I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You, Ally Carter

Okay, when it comes to heist stories or spy stories, I love them both, but I like the spy ones better. For one thing, the spies get better GADGETS. (And I like tech. Have I mentioned this? My favourite character in Iron Man was the computer Geeves.) But also, the stakes are usually higher. They do things for more reasons than just personal safety and money, and if you get caught, well, jail for spies is generally less nice than jail for thieves. Also, well, I like spy stories. ^_^

With that said, I expected this story to be less spy story and more teen romance. (*yawn*) I was mainly reading it to vet for my little sisters. I mean, it’s a debut novel set in a girl’s school. How good could it be?

Well, I gave it five stars out of five, just to give you an idea. I heart this book so HARD. ^_^ (And yes, I loaned it to my sisters and my brother. Then I went harassing them for my copy back shortly afterwards. “What, you’re not done? But you’ve had a WHOLE HOUR!” I’m such a just person.) It’s a good book. (Also, I remembered that I love stories set in girl’s schools.)

I guess I should pause my gushing to give you an overview of the plot.

Cammie Morgan attends an exclusive all girl-school, Gallagher Academy. The local population thinks that it’s a school for rich snobs with socialization issues. The truth is that the girls don’t get out much, but that’s because they’re busy studying college-level chemistry, learning fourteen languages, and practicing self defence. (Don’t challenge these girls to Rock, Paper, Scissors.) They take self-reliant grrl to a new level. Not that they need your approval, thank you. Cammie has been perfectly happy in her exclusive life with its traditions and gadgets and friends, until her Sophomore year at the school. She starts to realize just what this life means, (see above: torture and death, experience and witnessing of,) and what she’d be giving up to take it on, (see implied: romance, girly things and wrist corsages.)

And yes, there was a romance, but I am not sure that it was the main focus of the story. (Though maybe I just missed the main focus. I’ve been known to do that.) What I needled in on, and loved, was the support of her schoolmates- even when she was a jerk- and her gradual understanding of the big picture. I also loved how lost she was in social situations! (Maybe because I’ve spent too much time in books and generally feel lost in social situations, BUT IT STILL COUNTS, OKAY????) Oh! Also the adults were awesome, which makes me smile. I like side characters who have lives, they do not just exist to fill space. And spy gadgets and talk. ^_^

Er, yeah, five stars. Whew, I need to work on my run-on sentences. Sorry.

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His Majesty’s Dragon, Naomi Novik

I started reading this, and the first page got a “meh, Horatio Hornblower” from me. But a friend had said it was amazing, and I like dragons, so I kept reading. By the second page I remembered that I loved Horatio Hornblower. By the second chapter I was having guilty flashbacks (I wasn’t supposed to be in the adult SF section, okay?) to reading the entire Pern series (which I also loved,) and then by the time the story got to dry land I had dispensed with comparisons and was just devouring the book.

I gave it five stars out of five and immediately dove for the next book, I think it’s safe to say that I loved it. The voice is deliciously dry, which falls in marvellously with the understated drama that the story is full of. I grew up hearing stories about WW2 fighter pilots and Yorkshire vets, and this is full of the same calm assessment of dire situations and stiff-upper-lip reaction to said situations. We might be going down in flames, but we are British. This in its self is sufficient for us to die well. (Okay, honestly I decided I loved the book when the French-bashing started. I am a bad man.)

It’s rather hard to describe the world which Ms. Novic has made, but if you really want an idea to put in your pipe and smoke, I’d say mix Pern, Ancient Rome, Master and Commander/Horatio Hornblower and a dash of Austen for class structure, and you get a general idea. Then you should read the book and marvel at how sadly my description fell short.

Here, have a quote;

“Perhaps not all of you are aware,” he said, silencing the whispers with a look, “that England is in a very dire situation as regards the Aerial Corps. Naturally, our handling is superior, and the Corps can outfly any other nation of the world, but the French can outbreed us two to one, and it is impossible to deny that they have better variety in their bloodlines. A properly harnessed dragon is worth at least a first-rate of 100 guns to us, even a common Yellow Reaper or a three-ton Winchester, and Mr. Pollitt believes from the size and color of the egg that this hatchling is a prime specimen, and very likely one of the rare large breeds.”

“Oh!” said Midshipman Carver, in tones of horror, as he took Laurence’s meaning; he instantly went crimson as eyes went to him, and shut his mouth tight.

Laurence ignored the interruption; Riley would see Carver’s grog stopped for a week without having to be told. The exclamation had at least prepared the others. “We must at least make the attempt to harness the beast,” he said. “I trust, gentlemen, that there is no man here who is not prepared to do his duty for England. The Corps may not be the sort of life that any of us has been raised to, but the Navy is no sinecure either, and there is not one of you who does not understand a hard service.”

“Sir,” said Lieutenant Fanshawe anxiously: he was a young man of very good family, and the son of an earl, “do you mean–that is, shall we all–“

It’s so DRY. *bounces* I was boring and mystifying my family with quotes taken out of context for the whole time I was gleefully reading it. (You can read the rest of the excerpt here.)

… and, I’ve managed to rant for a page without giving you any idea of the plot. Right. Clearly I’m a great reviewer. Okay, so Captain Lawrence is Post Captain of a naval vessel in His Majesty’s Navy, and they capture a French ship which is carrying a dragon’s egg. However, they’re so far from land that the egg is going to hatch before they can get word to the Aerial Corp. And because the rest of his crew fails- okay, sorry, they don’t like the idea of being a dragon rider and all the shame that comes with it (FAIL) – Captain Lawrence steps up and harnesses the dragon.

And then he learns to fly, and then he goes to land and reads about rocks, and then he goes to England, and then there are more dragons and roman baths, and there’s a mid-air rescue or several, and DEVIOUS SPIES, and awesome women who are awesome and scandalous but also awesome, and many battles, and invasion by the TRICKSY FRENCH, and acid-spitting dragons, and officers who are fools (I can’t tell you how much this pleased me,) and officers who are awesome, (also, I was delighted, though not as much as by the incompetents. Sorry world,) and plot twists, and treason and references to Newfoundland, and SUNDRY WONDERFUL THINGS*. I cried inside when the dragon died.

Go buy, beg, borrow or steal a copy, and read it. You won’t be sorry.

*I really push the envelope for coherency with these, don’t I?

The Last Olympian, Rick Riordan

This is the fifth book in the Percy Jackson series, and Percy is now in High School! (Some of you may be surprised by this, if you’ve seen the movie, which appears to start in high school. The movie LIES. That’s all I have to say on the subject.)

But anyhow, Percy is coming up on his sixteenth birthday. This is of MONUMENTAL IMPORT, as you know if you’ve read the other books (again, the movie lies) because there’s a prophecy that a child of the Big Three (Zeus, Poseidon and Hades,) will save or destroy Olympus on his or her sixteenth birthday. The gods, understandably, are a little tense about this. They’re even less inclined to be Zen right now because their late and totally unlamented father Kronos has reconstructed himself from sheer willpower, trickery and blood, and now he’s out to destroy them and the rest of the world along with Olympus. Oh, and he has backers.  Powerful ones.

So that’s the setting. With added dashes of people going insane, bad flashbacks, BETRAYAL, and romance which confuses poor Percy so much. Why are all the girls LOOKING at him like that? Also Drakons and teenagers being badass. (The movie lies.)

THE MOVIE LIES.

Okay, now that is out of my system…

I really, really, really enjoyed this book. After seeing a lying film which I won’t dignify by name, I’m reminded how good the books are. They show the progression from a brave but WAY over his head twelve year old, to a brave 16 year old, in way over his head but prepared to do what is necessary to get the people who are important to him through this. They have side characters who kick a**. They have side characters who aren’t one-dimentional! You get the sense that all these people have lives, and we jst happen to be following Percy. But it we were following, say, Clarisse, or Luke, or Annabeth, or Chiron, it would be an equally exciting and awesome story. Plus they have MOSTLY ACCURATE myths coming out their ears.*bites down on rant about movie*

So that’s just the underlying excellence of the structure of the book. And then there’s the delicious, delicious icing of scenes of glory. Clarrise and the Drakon. Luke and Kronos. Luke’s mom. Martha and George. (heheh.) Annabeth’s terms of endearment. (Can I say how happy I was that Prothemeus was a jerk? I always knew he was a jerk!) I gave it five stars out of five.

(SPOILER: Oh, and after the Battle of the Labyrinth, I was afraid that it was going to pull a His Dark Materials and kill off all the Gods. It made me QUITE HAPPY that this didn’t happen. I may have been loudly jubilant about that. Just maybe.)

Leviathan, Scott Westerfeld

I read this one in a day, then loaned it to my 14 year old brother. He stumbled into the living room in the morning, blinking blearily, and demanded the next book. I was then forced to tell him that it was not written yet, which caused us both much sorrow. But we have pledged to wait for Behemoth, which we are already laying surmises about. “It’s the eggs! The eggs!” “No, the Emperor!” “There are no fabs in Constantinople, it’ll be smoky, right?” “Eggs!”

Which is to say that we enjoyed the book greatly.
I read the uglies/pretties/specials/extras series, by the same author, about a year ago. And I loved it. And a big part-that-I-loved of that series, I saw and loved in this first-book-of-a-series as well! (Those of you who have read both are staring at me and shaking your heads right now, and possibly quietly dialling the men in the little white coats. But I’m SERIOUSSSSS! *cough*) Anyways. Yes, there is a connector between a dystopian-future SciFi series featuring 16 – 18 year olds, and a Steampunk-WWI SciFi featuring 14 – 15 year olds. (Other than the SciFi thing and the teenager thing. Look, don’t be so picky! I have a point with this, I promise! And the point is…) It’s the world-building!
Truly phenomenal world building. I mean, jaw-dropping world-building, once you really think about it. A year later, I still use “happy-making” in conversation and -la as a pet-suffix. (Look, just read the Uglies series. You’ll thank me, and then you’ll understand.) Everything is thought out and gracefully used, from slang to hierarchies, and governments. It’s just GOOD.
I am clearly marvellously coherent. I must talk frequently, or something.
But yes. World-building, FABULOUS. Okay, how many of you people know the story of world war one? Show of hands…. Right. I didn’t really know the story of WWI until I was about fifteen, because I thought it was just a minor skirmish before WWII, and also there were no heroic children’s stories about people in danger being smuggled to safety. (ACRONYM, you guys. That’s, like. This is LITERALLY the book I tried to find by reading the entire historical fiction section in my library when I was fifteen. *incoherent flailing of joy*)
Ahem. Basic story of the Great War. WWI for Captain Dummy-Dumb. A minor Austrian-Hungarian noble is shot by rebels in Serbia, and the Austrian-Hungairian Empire declares war on Serbian in revenge. Then Russia springs to Serbia’s aid, and Germany to Austria-Hungary’s, and France to Russia’s, and the British Empire (we’re talking Sun-Never-Sets-On-The-British-Empire type of deal, a MAJOR world power) comes to the aid of France. Presto, the bloodiest war which we have stats on. I think 11% of all soldiers who went to war didn’t come back, not counting wounds and PTSD. The USA joins the brawl several years later, when it gets tired of having its peaceful commercial traffic selling supplies and Iron to Britain sunk by German U-boats. And after having the better part of a generation decimated, the world crawls away to lick its wounds and have fun with prohibition, and learns not to make treaties which say “if you go to war I’ll totally follow you, lol.”
There’s the history. Now for the ALTERNATE history. The period of time before the Great War was a time of spectacular scientific achievements. (Tis true in real life, too.) But as is their wont, certain countries and groups supported certain types of SCIENCE. The German/Austrian-Hungary block (Clankers) supported mechanical walkers and guns, and everybody else supported the fabrication of living weapons. (These people are the Darwinists.) There’s an awesome map about it here. Um, it did strain my belief a little bit at the beginning, to think that that level of science would be possible without the level of, say, electricity that is available today. But I was enjoying the book too much, so I just hit the I-Belive button and went with it. And I’m glad I did. ^_^
Oh yeah, and there’s a plot too. Gosh, I need to get these posts under control. TOO MUCH RAMBLING. Um, yes, Plot. Everybody is on the brink of war, but two kids in particular aren’t really noticing it. One of these is Deryn Sharp, who is determined to enroll in the British Air Service. She wants to fly, despite the seemingly prohibitive fact that she’s a girl. But a girl can fight and swear and spit with the best of them, Eh? Also, in a very different world, Prince Alek is learning tactics, fencing, languages and dignity from his tutors in Austria-Hungary. And then he’s woken up in the middle of the night by his fencing instructor, to run away in a walking tank, and rumours and treason are flying everywhere, while on the other side of the world Deryn is getting blown away as she’s strapped to a hydrogen-burping jellyfish.
I could go on about the plot, but really, it’d only spoil it for you. And you already want to read it, don’t you? Let me say again. Tank. Which Walks On Legs. With Machine Guns. also. Flying Jellyfish Used For Free-Ballooning. Nuff said. I gave it five stars out of five.
Also, LIVING AIR SHIPS.

P.S. It has pictures in. See above picture of living air ship? You want more, don’t you? Yes you do. Go buy the book immediately, so you may own the pictures for your very own.

Watchmen, Alan Moore

I was trying to think of how to write a coherent review of this one. Then I realized it was impossible, so I should stop fretting.

This was terrible, a horrible book. But also SO GOOD.
I can’t even talk about the plot, because it sounds like it’s on drugs. Oh, you think I should try?
Uh, okay, there’s murder, a giant squid, floating dead bodies, sex, rape, blue men, history and time and freaky things, a plushy deadly giant cat and red snow- NEVER TRUST PRETTY MEN. ESPECIALLY SMART PRETTY MEN. Squids will save the world by killing you all.
I told you.
ANYHOW, possibly reading half of it in a stolen hour in a library and the other half after midnight in a hotel room didn’t help my mental state much. I was staring at random walls and shuddering, and my dreams were, uh, rather imaginative. But circumstances of my reading notwithstanding, the book is vivid. You just get images stuck in your head. Like the view down a skyscraper. Or boiling oil. Or red snow in a pattern. Or- *shudders* I think I need to read something fluffy before I go to bed. *searches for fluffy books*
I can’t talk about the plot because of the aforementioned drugs, but I have to mention the different POVs. As different characters were followed, different styles of delivery were used for the story. For example, the Night Owl’s story was told in excerpts from his autobiography, and Rorsarch’s tale was from the point of view (nominally) of the physiologist assigned to work with him. Dr. Manhattan’s part of the book was told in his freaky stream-of-conciousness. Oddly enough, that was the part of the book that convinced me that I had to finish it. I was seduced by time-manipulation and prose style, what can I say? (No, nudity was not a point in any way for me. I read Sandman too young, and that permanently warped my mind.)
I would be very careful who I recommend it to, as it’s very graphic. But if you can get past the death, and despair, and death, and sex, and rape, and death, and nihilism, and death, and nudity, and death- it’s good. (Did I mention the persistent presence of death? Several kinds of death?) ^_^ I gave it five stars out of five.