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Thea’s Smugglivus 2011 Feats of Strength

The Feats of Strength are an integral part of our annual Smugglivus Tradition. In previous years, the Feats of Strength were a challenge in which we dared each other to read a book that we knew was so far beyond the other’s comfort zone as to put it in another galaxy altogether. This year, we changed the rules: we each get to read and review 5 books, in 5 different genres and with the following TWIST: each review can contain no more than 50 words. For people like us whose reviews are generally written with no less than 800 words and often with more than 1000, this is a true Feat of Strength!

It is now Thea’s turn! Wish us luck.

FEAT: What She Said

Title: Imaginary Girls

Author: Nova Ren Suma

Genre: Paranormal, Speculative Fiction, Young Adult

Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Publication date: June 2011
Hardcover: 348 pages

How did I get this book: Review Copy from the publisher

Chloe’s older sister, Ruby, is the girl everyone looks to and longs for, who can’t be captured or caged. When a night with Ruby’s friends goes horribly wrong and Chloe discovers the dead body of her classmate London Hayes left floating in the reservoir, Chloe is sent away from town and away from Ruby.

But Ruby will do anything to get her sister back, and when Chloe returns to town two years later, deadly surprises await. As Chloe flirts with the truth that Ruby has hidden deeply away, the fragile line between life and death is redrawn by the complex bonds of sisterhood.

With palpable drama and delicious craft, Nova Ren Suma bursts onto the YA scene with the story that everyone will be talking about.

50-word Review: Imaginary Girls is an unsettling psychological (and supernatural) thriller exploring the bond between beautiful, charismatic Ruby through the eyes of her younger sister Chloe. I love the twisted, co-dependent relationship between sisters, Chloe’s unreliability as narrator, and the eeriness of a haunted reservoir and the ghostly drowned world it hides.

Rating: 7 – Very Good

FEAT: Urban Fantasy

Title: White Tiger

Author: Kylie Chan

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication date: August 2011 (first edition AUS/NZ 2006)
Paperback: 528 pages

How did I get this book: Bought

Emma Donahoe has just started her new job as nanny to Simone, the daughter of John Chen, a very rich Hong Kong businessman.

She understands that Simone may be a target for kidnappers but she does not expect to be drawn into a world of martial arts, magic and extreme danger, where both gods and demons can exist in the mortal domain.

When John and his American bodyguard, Leo, teach Emma their particular style of martial arts, they begin to realize that Emma herself is more than she seems . . .

50-word Review: An Urban Fantasy grounded in Chinese mythology, PoC characters, and martial arts – what could go wrong?! While I loved the research and attention to religions (Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism ) and mythologies of China, the writing was amateur, characters underdeveloped, and overall plot entirely too slow-moving.

Rating: 5 – Meh

FEAT: Fantasy

Title: The Fire Opal

Author: Regina McBride

Genre: Fantasy, Historical, Young Adult

Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Publication date: May 2010
Hardcover: 304 pages

How did I get this book: Bought

There was a time when Maeve O’Tullagh led a simple life; a time when she and her mother, Nuala, collected kelp on the foreshore near their cottage in Ard Macha; a time when she played among the Celtic ruins with her older brothers and daydreamed about the legendary Holy Isles, an enchanted land ruled in a past age by a beautiful goddess.

But after Maeve’s sister, Ishleen, is born, her mother sinks into a deep, impenetrable trance. For years, Maeve tries to help her mother “awaken,” and then the unthinkable happens: Ishleen succumbs to the same mysterious ailment as Nuala.

Heartbroken to think that her sister and her mother might be lost to her forever, Maeve sets off on an unimaginable quest to a world filled with fantastical creatures, a web of secrets, a handsome, devious villain who will stop at nothing to have her hand in marriage—braving them all to retrieve a powerful glowing stone that will help her recover the souls of her loved ones and bring them home to Ard Macha.

An adventure-filled and spellbinding novel, The Fire Opal will enchant fantasy readers young and old.

50-word Review: The Fire Opal begins with Marillier-esque flair for history and magic… but quickly becomes infodumpy and alienating once Maeve crosses the threshold from real world to the realm of fantasy. With so many unresolved threads and sloppy character arcs, I could not bring myself to care.

Rating: DNF (after 200+ pages)

FEAT: Thriller/SF

Title: The Breach

Author: Patrick Lee

Genre: Speculative Fiction, Thriller

Publisher: Harper
Publication date: December 2009
Paperback: 384 pages

How did I get this book: Review Copy from the Publisher

Thirty years ago, in a facility buried beneath a vast Wyoming emptiness, an experiment gone awry accidentally opened a door.

It is the world’s best-kept secret—and its most terrifying.

Trying to regain his life in the Alaskan wilds, ex-con/ex-cop Travis Chase stumbles upon an impossible scene: a crashed 747 passenger jet filled with the murdered dead, including the wife of the President of the United States. Though a nightmare of monumental proportions, it pales before the terror to come, as Chase is dragged into a battle for the future that revolves around an amazing artifact.

Allied with a beautiful covert operative whose life he saved, Chase must now play the role he’s been destined for—a pawn of incomprehensible forces or humankind’s final hope—as the race toward Apocalypse begins in earnest.

Because something is loose in the world.

And doomsday is not only possible . . . it is inevitable.

50-word Review: Holy CRAP, I was not expecting to love this book – but I did. Think The X-Files meets (good) Fringe (parallel universes!), The Breach is a thriller with developed characters, shadow agencies, with the fate of our world in the balance. Oh yeah, kickass hero and heroine included.

Rating: 8 – Excellent

FEAT: Steampunk

Title: The Doomsday Vault

Author: Steven Harper

Genre: Steampunk, Fantasy

Publisher: Roc
Publication date: November 2011
Paperback: 400 pages

How did I get this book: Review Copy from the Publisher

In a clockwork Brittania, Alice’s prospects are slim. At 21, her age and her unladylike interest in automatons have sealed her fate as an undesirable marriage prospect. But a devastating plague sends Alice off in a direction beyond the pale-towards a clandestine organization, mad inventors, life-altering secrets, and into the arms of an intrepid fiddle-playing airship pilot

50-word Review: I dismissed this book early on because of the ho-hum sounding synopsis – how many Steampunk zombie novels are there now? – but I was wrong. Paying homage to the likes of Skybreaker, 2D Goggles & Girl Genius, The Doomsday Vault is AWESOME. One of my favorite Steampunk-Zombie novels. Absofreakinglutely recommended.

Rating: 8 – Excellent

Final Thoughts:

I have to agree with Ana – this wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be…but it was still tough. There is so much I want to say about each and every one of these titles, but to say more would be cheating, wouldn’t it?

Though two of the books I read for my feats were complete duds, the other three were pretty damn awesome. I have to say a little more about two titles in particular, tied for my favorite Feats reads:

The Breach was so completely unexpected because the blurb and cover are so underwhelming – but please, please, please believe me when I say this book is AWESOME. The action, an alternate reality, and government fringe science agency are one part of the equation, but I wasn’t truly won over until the VERY end when everything is tied together beautifully. I will be back for the remaining two books in the series very, very soon (like…next week soon, probably).

The Doomsday Vault uses some of the most abundant tropes in Steampunk today – the mismatched high society lady (with a penchant for clockwork and a good head on her well-fashioned shoulders) with a roguishly charming hero – but the reason this book is so good is because it doesn’t try to over-write itself, it doesn’t play up the romance angle to ridiculousness, and it balances fun with a witty, smart story. Also, the feminist overtones are pretty cool. I’m kicking myself for not reading the book sooner because it undoubtedly would have made my notable list of 2011. In any case, I’m thrilled to have read it now, and cannot wait for the next book in the series!



  • Ana
    January 6, 2012 at 1:01 am

    WE DID IT! *highfive*

    And hummm the Doomsday Vault looks REALLY GOOD.

  • Stephanie @ Read in a Single Sitting
    January 6, 2012 at 1:50 am

    Oh, I really struggled with the Kylie Chan. I’ve been wanting to read Nova Ren Suma, though, and the Harper looks like fun (yay, feminist overtones!).

  • Estara
    January 6, 2012 at 10:37 am

    I can understand your view on the Kylie Chan, although the author gets better at pacing it takes a long while, and there are some reveals about Emma in the SIXTH book of the series which explain a bit why she acts like she does here – so it really is a series for the long haul – I haven’t seen as interesting a look at chinese mythology, Hong Kong and Australia yet. Maybe I’m just not well read enough in that trope.
    From what I gather the whole story is going to take 9 novels, so I’m looking forward to three more ^^.

    I wish someone Asian did a review on their impression of how well or badly they were represented. There definitely is a fascination with Chinese mythology, their martial art and history is admired, both ultrabaddies and ultraheroes are Chinese – but then we get Emma as the answer to so many questions… but really, apart from her family and we hardly see them, she’s the only white character that actually gets any longer screentime. So… is this balance okay? Hmm. It’s a guilty pleasure to me but I enjoy it, even rereading.

  • Thea
    January 6, 2012 at 11:13 am

    Well, Estara, for what it’s worth, I’m Asian. (Not Chinese, though. I’m half-Filipino but grew up in Indonesia and Japan.) I can’t speak authoritatively about Chinese culture, mythology or history, but to me those were the most enjoyable aspects of White Tiger. I felt like there were lots of good ideas in the story, just the writing felt so much like a first draft…you know? I can see how the series could get better, though, because the ideas are there, and I’m glad you like it! I don’t think I can invest the time right now in the series but maybe I’ll come back to it in the future.

    And to your point about Emma being the white character and the answer to so many questions, this is a prevalent problem (I think) in a lot of current speculative fiction. I had the same reaction after reading Cinder (a culture that is supposedly Chinese and full of Chinese characters, but our Cinderella princess heroine/savior is Caucasian). It bothers me, and I can definitely agree with you on that score.

  • Estara
    January 6, 2012 at 2:01 pm

    Hah, I forgot your pictures! I bet I mostly mixed you two up on them *shame on me*. Thanks for getting into a bit more detail about your feelings here.

    If you ever read more that review will be enjoyable, but I’m more likely to bug you about more P.C. Hodgell in your reading than this ^^.

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  • KMont
    January 18, 2012 at 5:58 pm

    I’m trying to catch up on y’alls blog – can you tell?

    I am SO GLAD I finally found someone else who’s read The Doomsday Vault and enjoyed it!!! I absolutely loved that book. Like you, I thought it was ho-humish from the blurb, too much like every other steampunk out there, but I hit it off with the book almost immediately. Yay for you enjoying it! 😀

    Ana, if you read it, too hope we hear your thoughts on it as well!

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