So I've come to the end! Let's see how I did:

13 hours 15 minutes reading
1 hour 25 minutes reviewing
1 hour 25 minutes bookish socializing
3 books completed plus 1 more book started
898 pages read

Grand total: 16 hours 5 minutes

Hooray!! I'm actually surprised: in my head I was going to come up slightly short of my goal of 15-20 hours but my final push today paid off. It seems I'm not very good at mental math, perhaps because I forgot about my reviewing time which I (thankfully!) wrote down. :)

Thanks so much to MotherReader for hosting this challenge again this year. I'll definitely be keeping my eye out for it next year!
 
 
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Imaginary girls by Nova Ren Suma
Dutton, 2011

Chloe's older sister, Ruby, is someone who gets whatever she wants whenever she wants it. Although most people would find this a difficult shadow to live under, Chloe adores Ruby like everyone else and appreciates her protectiveness, especially after Chloe finds a girl's body in a rowboat while attempting to swim across the town's reservoir and is haunted by the discovery. Only after returning to live with her sister after a two year absence does Chloe sense that something is off about her hometown, as well as with Ruby - not least because the girl she found dead appears to have been resurrected.

Imaginary girls is a beautifully-written book. Suma uses language in inventive ways that rolled wonderfully off my tongue. Phrases like "the wind billowing up inside her translucent dress and spooling out her dark hair"* and "the night stars peppering my skin" appeared throughout the novel and were always surprising. I often read sentences twice to enjoy them once again.

Despite the beauty of the language, I felt a constant disconnect with the characters and events in the book. At no point did I really care about what happened to Chloe or Ruby, and this was regardless of the constant sense of foreboding that permeated the story. There were many times that I looked at the bottom of the Kindle page to see how far along I was, and frequently I wished that I was closer to the end. I feel that the story lacked an intimacy and connection to the characters, likely because there were so few truly intimate moments within the story. Even during close moments shared between the sisters, knowing how manipulative Ruby was I constantly questioned her motives. As well, Chloe recounts the tale with a distinct sense of distance which adds to the disconnect.

However, perhaps this was Suma's intent all along: Ruby, very clearly the focus of the novel, is cold and lovely, much like the telling of the tale. If Suma wanted to reflect the distance and beauty that Ruby exudes, then she certainly succeeded. Indeed, even the cover (which is stunning) reflects that sense of icy loveliness. If this was Suma's goal, then Imaginary girls is most certainly a success.

*I read an electronic galley, so I have no indication of what pages any quotes will appear on in the printed volume.

**Electronic galley provide by publisher via NetGalley. Book to be released June 14, 2011.

 
 
I'm 30 hours into the challenge (I started at 4pm Friday) and my stats thus far are:

7 hours 10 minutes reading
1 hour reviewing
30 minutes checking out other participants' blogs and reviews
2 books completed

Total thus far: 8 hours 40 minutes. I'm hoping to hit somewhere in the 15-20 hour range so tomorrow should be busy. I should get another hour or so in before I fall sleep though, which will help.

Best of luck to all involved! :)
 
 
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Devil's kiss by Sarwat Chadda
Disney Hyperion, 2009

Billi SanGreal is the newest, youngest, and only female member of the Knights Templar, who are responsible for defending London from supernatural evils. Her father is the Master of the Templars and rules with an iron fist, especially since Billi's mother was killed over a decade ago. When Kay, Billi's childhood friend, inadvertently opens a long-closed door to legions of dark angels, the Angel of Death is summoned and a plague of biblical proportions begins.

I'd been looking forward to reading this book for a while. I had read the first chapter a few months ago during a quiet afternoon at work and it sucked me right in. With a fantastic first line - "Killing him should be easy; he's only six" (p. 3) - and the first chapter following it up nicely, I had high hopes. Unfortunately, Devil's kiss didn't quite live up to my expectations.

The novel is chock full of information about the Knights Templar and their history, but after a rip-roaring first chapter, a second chapter inf0-dump was a definite let-down. As much as I liked learning little factoids about Templar history, I found the delivery clunky. Turns out that Chadda is great at writing action sequences though! As in the first chapter, subsequent scenes involving battles with supernatural beings ranging from angels to vampires to Satan himself were energetic and satisfying. Devil's kiss definitely starts and ends on high notes due to this circumstance.

Despite the selling of a love triangle on the back cover blurb, it didn't really exist at all in the story. This was fine by me - I didn't read the back cover until I finished the book so I had no expectations that way - but the romance that did exist seemed tenuous at best. I wonder if the friendship angle would have been a more powerful and believable connection, especially as Billi didn't have any friends her own age. However, the ending hints at a sequel which may make Chadda's choice of romance more evident.

I was disappointed in the lack of use of Billi's heritage in the story. While her father is presumably British, her mother was of Pakistani descent and I kept waiting for that to factor in to the story, either via some of the non-Christian beliefs in Asia or some other link. While part of me appreciates that her cultural heritage didn't sway things one way or another, another part of me wishes it could have been used more. Given the amount of information given about the Templars, a connection from them to the ancient cultures of Asia would have been welcome. Again, perhaps the sequel will explore more in that direction.

Will I read the sequel? I can see it happening. As I say, Chadda's action scenes were great and I am curious about where he takes the Templar theme in the next book.

 
 
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The girl in the steel corset by Kady Cross
Harlequin Teen, 2011

It is the middle of the night in Victorian London, and Finley Jayne is fleeing from from her lecherous employer. When duke Griffin King practically runs her over with his motorized bicycle when she appears out of the darkness, he takes her to the home he shares with his close friends to ensure that she is okay. She soon proves herself to be physically fit when she flings a grown man across the room after awaking in a panic. Thus begins a tenuous friendship between Finley and Griffin, and when their special skills are revealed to each other - as well as to Griffin's friends Emily and Sam - it turns out that they are connected far more than they ever would have guessed and have a common enemy.

If The girl in the steel corset is any indication of the genre, it turns out that I really, really like steampunk. This shouldn't be a surprise given that I adore dystopian fiction, historical fiction, and science fiction. It should have been a no-brainer. Nonetheless, more please!

Kady Cross vividly describes the London of her imagination. With automatons performing household tasks and tiny portable telegraph machines that are basically the Victorian version of texting (clever!), as well as potent descriptions of odors and atmospheres, it was easy to fall into the story. And fall in I did, whipping through 477 pages in 2 days.

Cross also switches perspectives often, from Finley to Griffin to Emily to Sam, which would sometimes drive me batty but is executed here with such skill that I actually liked it. The different points of view were often refreshing and provided valuable snippets of information, and I felt more connected to all of the characters as a result. Indeed, I found all of the characters to be very well developed and interesting, even secondary characters like Cordelia and Jack Dandy: not a cookie-cutter among them. True, The Machinist was a bit one-dimensional, but vengeance can do that to a person.

I'm not saying much about the characters because I found much of the joy of reading this book was watching the characters revealing themselves to the reader as well as to one another, and the plot unfolds naturally and excitingly. My one complaint is that I got a bit sick of hearing about Emily's "ropey" hair, which is a phrase that appears more than 10 times during the book (one of the advantages/curses of electronic galleys is document searching). If that's my only issue, as far as I'm concerned it's a damn good read.

About halfway through the book, it struck me that The girl in the steel corset is basically X-Men set in the late 19th century with robots. Finley, Griffin and their cohorts are mutants. Truly. They are never referred to as such, and the causes of their powers are clearly explained, but elements of comradery and fighting a common enemy are certainly there. Also like X-Men, it looks as if this is going to be a series and I will be keeping my eyes wide open for the second book in The Steampunk Chronicles.

**Electronic galley provided by publisher via NetGalley.

 
 
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From http://www.motherreader.com.
I am participating in Mother Reader's 5th annual 48 Hour Book Challenge this weekend and this is my official kick-off post. I've got a reading pile and can't wait to get going. Stay tuned for some reviews!