Friday, January 28, 2011

Eon by Alison Goodman

Title: Eon
Author: Alison Goodman
Publisher: Firebird
Release Date: August 31st, 2010
Pages: 532 pages (trade paperback)
How I Got the Book: Christmas gift.

She has a powerful secret... with deadly consequences.

For years, Eon's life has been focused on magical study and sword-work, with one goal: that he be chosen as a Dragoneye, an apprentice to one of the twelve energy dragons of Good fortune.

But Eon has a dangerous secret. He is actually Eona, a sixteen-year-old girl who has been masquerading as a twelve-year-old boy. Females are forbidden to use Dragon Magic; the penalty is death.

When Eona's secret threatens to come to light, she and her allies are plunged into grave danger and a struggle for the Imperial throne. Eona must find the strength and inner power to battle those who want to take her magic... and her life.

Review:

After years of training, it is time for Eon to take the final test to see if the Rat Dragon chooses him as the new apprentice. Many hopes are riding on his success: Those of his master Brannon, who has used up much of his fortune sponsoring Eon and Eon's own hopes of escaping poverty for good and never having to worry about going back. All he has to do is be chosen and keep his greatest secret: he is truly a girl named Eona. When the day comes, she is chosen not by the Rat Dragon, but by the Mirror Dragon, the dragon that has been lost for five hundred years. Thrust into the workings of the court and forced to be a pawn in the battle for the Imperial throne, Eona must keep her gender secret to keep her life and fight against the machinations of Lord Ido, who has something terrible planned for the empire.

After some reviewers I trust pointed this book out to me through advertising its sequel Eona, I knew I had to read it. A beautiful cover, a good premise (which, when combined, usually does not bode well for a book anymore), lots of good reviews for it... How could I resist? A week of reading later, I'm begging for April to get here faster so I can read the sequel and learn the answers to all my burning questions.

Some novels jump right in at the start and others stumble. Eon? It had a really bad stumble due to a hole in the premise. Short version: dragons only take apprentices born in their year (Rat Dragon takes person born in the Year of the Rat). Eona is born in the year of the Mirror Dragon, but poses as being born in the Year of the Rat. People can be fooled, but not the dragons, who realize that she is a girl and know her real name, so they know her true age too. Everyone should have been smart enough to know it would not work. This was all a badly done set-up so that Eona would have a reason for being taught as a candidate and the mess shows through clearly. Oh, and I don't believe it is a good idea to start thinking about what people see when they look at you when you're in the middle of a battle in which your teacher is fighting dirty to try and injure you! You can do that after you've had your butt kicked, not before.

After we got past the first hundred pages where most of the bumps were, the novel really hit its stride as we settled into the court intrigue. The structure of the court and the traditions of it rang true, even if they were difficult to put together in my head sometimes. The prose is rather plain, but it is acceptable in this book. Certain elements of the story such as the Contraires (they said they had a male and female soul, but it kept getting implied the rest of the book that it was a woman's spirit in a man's body) were unclear to be, but were much clearer than they would have been in Goodman went for the fancy prose.

Lady Dela's story of being a Contraire and how she has suffered for it was, in my opinion, the most interesting part of the book, even if little time was spent on it. This is the first time I've seen a transgender person in any book and Lady Dela made a wonderful representation. The feminist element to this book, about how hard it is to live as a woman in such a patriarchal society, rang true in both Eona's struggles and Lady Dela's. The power of women had a huge part to play in this book and I'm looking forward to seeing the developments in the sequel.

And no romance at all! This will put certain readers (read: many girls my age) off a book, but not me. I prefer books to be romance-free, but I often pick up ones with romance in them anyways because it's near-impossible to escape and I won't let something like that keep me from reading a book that sounds interesting. Want a break from the lovey-dovey for a story that concentrates on the plot? Eon is something you should think about trying. There are the barest hints of a set-up for future romance, but some may pick up on them and some won't. They are so small that they may end up amounting to nothing at all.

The characterization left a lot to be desired. Eona felt like just a tool of the plot instead of a true character. If you asked me to describe her personality, I would not be able to come up with an answer. She is being thrown around by the plot in order to advance itself instead of her advancing the plot herself, and this is not something books should do. I asked multiple times in this book, "What was their motivation?" I wanted to see why Lord Ido was the way he was. Don't need a sob story, just some decent background info. The only people who felt halfway real were Lady Dela, our novel's transgender/crossdressing supporting character, and her bodyguard Ryko. Those two were the characters I cared about.

I really did like this book by the end of it and would have given it a better rating, but such a huge hole in the premise doesn't go unpunished in the rating. The sequel Eona comes out in April 2011 and I am so getting it. If you're looking for a descriptive, enjoyable novel that isn't afraid to take its time, this might be the book for you. Eon left off on a huge cliffhanger and I refuse to just leave it hanging and never know what happens.

3 stars!

What am I reading next?: The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

Friday, January 21, 2011

Once in a Full Moon by Ellen Schreiber

Title: Once in a Full Moon
Author: Ellen Schreiber
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Release Date: December 28h, 2010
Pages: 292 pages (hardback)
How I Got the Book: Birthday gift.

Summary:

Beware of a kiss under the full moon. It will change your life forever.

Celeste Parker is used to hearing scary stories about werewolves--Legend's Run is famous for them. She's used to everything in the small town until Brandon Maddox moves to Legend's Run and Celeste finds herself immediately drawn to the handsome new student. But when, after an unnerving visit with a psychic, she encounters a pack of wolves and gorgeous, enigmatic Brandon, she must discover whether his transformation is more than legend or just a trick of the shadows in the moonlight.

Her best friends may never forgive her if she gives up her perfect boyfriend, Nash, for Brandon, who's from the wrong side of town. But she can't deny her attraction or the strong pull he has on her. Brandon may be Celeste's hero, or he may be the most dangerous creature she could encounter in the woods of Legend's Run.

Psychic predictions, generations-old secrets, a town divided, and the possibility of falling in love with a hot and heroic werewolf are the perfect formula for what happens... once in a full moon.

Why I Didn't Finish This Book:

I love Ellen Schreiber. This is no big secret. She changed my life with her Vampire Kisses series and made me the girl I am today. When I heard that she was starting a new series about werewolves, I was in. It wouldn't matter whether or not the book was actually good. It was Ellen, after all! She has the Special Author Pass! She can do things other authors could never get away with! I got the book, started reading, and gave up on page 160.

Here are the many reasons I could not finish this book. I get very nit-picky-seeming due to how much content bothered me and I will try my hardest to remain polite. There will be no over-the-top vitriol this time around; I respect Ellen too much.

1) Celeste Parker: I have many issues with the main character herself. She is supposed to be a good person, but I felt that she was very vain, caring more about her reputation and appearance to others than anything she truly cared about. Two interests of hers I liked, how she volunteered with senior citizens and wrote down ideas for stories in her notebooks, disappeared once she fell in "love" with Brandon, her savior. She whines about how things are and despite nothing that prevents her from trying to change it other than the unspoken rules that aren't really rules, she doesn't ever try to do anything about it. She's unwilling to risk anything at all for love or change and once she falls in "love," it's all about the guy. This may be my personal preference for heroines, but I don't like this kind of heroine. They make me disappointed that someone might think this is what womankind is like.

2) Ivy and Abby, Celeste's best friends: These two girls are horrible people and horrible friends. They are very shallow; when they're lecturing Celeste on why she could get back with Nash (after he cheated on her with another girl and Celeste decided she wasn't going to deal with him anymore), they point out nothing about his personality, just stuff like he's athletic, popular, and rich. Good friends would support Celeste in her decision not to date Nash and let her make her own decisions on which guy she dates. These two pressure Celeste and tell her continually that she should go back to dating Nash despite Celeste saying multiple times that she doesn't want to. They care nothing about what Celeste thinks or wants to do; it's about about what they want her to think and do. These are toxic, controlling friends right here. They offer only pressure, no support.

3) Gender roles: In chapter one of the book, Nash is telling a story about a man who was a werewolf. Wolves start to howl while he tells the tale and this spooks everyone out of the forest where they had been camping, including Celeste and Nash. Celeste takes the time to mention how his hands are shaking as he holds onto the wheel of his car, then says she is disappointed in her boyfriend's cowardice. That is almost an exact quote. So guys aren't allowed to get scared? That's the girls' job? She doesn't even try to make him feel better. What kind of girlfriend acts like that to their boyfriend? Not a good one, that's for sure.

4) Victim-blaming: On page 146, Nash utters this line: "Maybe if you stayed at the game the whole time, then you wouldn't be running into wild animals." This requires background information: Just before this line was said, Nash was chewing Celeste out for leaving the game to go get some stuff she left at Brandon's house when she went to see him. They were broken up, but Celeste went to one of his games because her friends pressured her into it. Because she left the game, he said, she wasn't supporting him. Because of everything said before, this is how my brain interpreted the line: "If you had chosen to support me (your ex-boyfriend that treated you horribly) and start dating me again, then you wouldn't have run into a wolf again." Yes, he's blaming her encounter with a wolf on her decision not to stay at the game, support him, and get back together with him. Those two have nothing to do with each other! This is classic victim-blaming and it makes me sick. I have gotten second and third opinions on this and they both agree that this is victim-blaming.

5) Obsession/hero worship/"love": Some people fail to realize this sometimes, but there is a fine border between hero worship, love, and obsession. Hero worship is venerating them as an idol and putting them on a pedestal, especially for saving you. Celeste definitely does this. Obsession is... well, I think we're aware of some of the behavior. Always thinking about them, doodling their name on everything, an abnormal fixation on someone or something. This is also Celeste. Love is more complicated to explain, but you don't fall in love after seeing a guy and being saved from a pack of wolves by him. Love brings personality into the equation and by the time I stopped, Celeste had still spent barely any time with Brandon. This might just be my perception, but I think she was in hero worship and obsession, but not love.

6) Nash: He's pretty much a rip-off of Trevor Mitchell from Ellen's Vampire Kisses series. Both boys came to like the main character because she was the one girl he couldn't get. Both are popular athletes who have numerous girlfriends. When the girl is not receptive to his advances, he bullies her (though Nash does it to pressure Celeste into getting back with him and Trevor does it to try and hide his love for Raven, which everyone and their mother is aware of by now). The main difference is that Trevor is cockier. Nash is the worse person of the two because he does the victim-blaming thing above, he cheats on his girlfriend, their dates consist of Celeste watching him at practice, and Nash is a general asshole to Brandon just because Nash is an Eastsider and Brandon is a Westsider. Trevor's a bully and an idiot, but he's not this bad. Oh, and Nash has barely-there self-esteem issues that I believe he tried to use to manipulate people.

7) Irritating passivism everywhere: Celeste's big problem is the Eastsiders and Westsiders don't all get along and hold hands and sing happy songs together. She wants everyone to get along and wants to change the status quo, but does nothing about it. She is unwilling to risk her reputation to date Brandon, the guy she likes. She is unwilling to reach out to the other Westsiders herself until she has to get directions to Brandon's house. That's all the interaction she has with them up to the point where I quit. One thing about change: it takes action to cause it, not sitting around and hoping for it. Do you remember how schools and the country got desegregated? People who opposed that practice took action and actively caused the change instead of just wishing for it and not doing anything. The only things keeping Celeste from trying to cause change are the restrictions she places on herself. Compare this with the threats of lynching, prison, and murder for anyone that wanted desegregation and made that known.

Making the Eastsiders and Westsiders get along might not have taken a lot of effort if she'd just tried it first. For some reason, she had never tried to befriend Westsiders before brandon came along and even afterwards, he was the only one she wanted to be near.By doing this, the Eastsiders and Westsiders will share her as a mutual friend. The two sides will inevitably be pushed together by this and may discover that hey, that person on the other side is pretty cool. Why was this prejudice ever here? A new friendship is born and sooner or later, there would finally be Oneside. Both of my best friends right now, the best girls I've ever known, were both met because we shared a mutual friend. Combining all of this, Celeste looks not like a caring girl who wants everyone to get along, but a lazy dreamer who is unwilling to risk anything for her beliefs and would rather think of all the reasons why she can't be with Brandon in public or be nice to Westsiders of her own accord.

8) Constant repetition of the tag line ("Beware of a kiss under the full moon. It will change your life forever."): I will tell you now that this was just a minor pet peeve, nothing truly bad when considering what else was wrong with the book. Throughout this book, I must have heard it at least a dozen or so times. Celeste brought it back up every few pages and by the fourth mention, I was ready for that to go away.

9) This book is soulless: This sounds like a weird insult or a pun, but it's not. What makes the Vampire Kisses series work is its tongue-in-cheek style. It is campy and silly and never takes itself seriously. Raven makes for a fun narrator and stuff that would seriously offend me otherwise is okay because I get the feeling that they're just screwing around. Unlike Vampire Kisses, Once in a Full Moon takes itself completely seriously. There is no life to the narration and it is just so dull. What made the book unbearable is that there is seriously offending stuff and there is no "screwing around" feeling to make it all okay.

In Summary:

It really does hurt me to do this write-up, but I can't keep torturing myself like this. There are still over twenty books left on my bookshelf that I haven't read yet and I'm not going to waste my time on a book that is only going to offend me worse. Maybe it gets better later in the book; it is possible that Celeste will realize how stupidly passive she is being, how awful her friends are, and how her "love" for Brandon (whom I keep trying to call Daniel, for some reason) is a mixture of hero worship and obsession. No wait, never mind. I read the lase few pages and it doesn't seem like anything changed other than her getting with Brandon. Love you, Ellen, but your book did not work for me. This is nowhere near as bad as Angel Star (which, if you have been around long enough, could only be stomached for 84 pages), but it's pretty bad.

What am I reading next?: Eon by Alison Goodman

Sunday, January 16, 2011

This Gorgeous Game by Donna Freitas

Title: This Gorgeous Game
Author: Donna Freitas
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Release Date: May 25th, 2010
Pages: 208 pages (hardback)
How I Got the Book: Christmas gift.

This Gorgeous Game
Seventeen-year-old Olivia Peters has long dreamed of becoming a writer. So she's absolutely over the moon when her literary idol, the celebrated novelist and much-adored local priest Mark D. Brendan, selects her from hundreds of other applicants as the winner of the Emerging Writers High School Fiction Prize. Now she gets to spend her summer evenings in a college fiction seminar at the nearby university, where dreamy college boys abound and father Mark acts as her personal mentor.

But when Father Mark's enthusiasm for Olivia's writing develops into something more, Olivia quickly finds her emotions shifting from wonder to confusion to despair. And as we wide-eyed innocence deteriorates, Olivia can't help but ask--exactly what game is Father Mark playing, and how on earth can she get out of it?

This remarkable second novel by the author of The Possibilities of Sainthood, about overcoming the isolation that stems from victimization, is powerful, luminous, and impossible to put down.

Review:

Before her eyes, Olivia Peters's dreams are coming true. A story she entered in a writing contest won first place and as a prize, she is enrolled free of charge in a college fiction seminar taught by Father Mark Brendan, famous author and Olivia's idol, who is also going to help groom her story for publication. He becomes enthusiastic about her writing and they spend a lot of time together discussing her story. His attention begins to cause Olivia discomfort, then comes to flat-out scare her. If she doesn't respond to his messages, he desperately contacts her and will not stop until she gives in. Her dream spirals into a nightmare of paranoia and fear, and there's no one she can talk to that she thinks will understand.

I'm always on the lookout for good books about stalking because it is a terrifying, real-life experience and when I see so many books make stalking look romantic, I need books that portray it as the horrible thing it is so I don't lose all faith in humanity. This book has been on my wish list for months and I was glad to finally get a copy of it. (There's also the fact that I want to write a book about a girl getting stalked and want to see how other authors do it, but that has little to do with anything. Moving on!)

Olivia and her tale are both written wonderfully. Just as most real victims would, she doesn't come to realize how she's being drawn away from her friends and family or Father's Mark's behavior until she's in a little too deep to end it just like that. The effect his obsessive behavior has on her is written convincingly and he never seems like some over-the-top caricature of an obsessive man; from the many accounts of similar stories I have heard, he fits right in with other men like him. Everything, from the obliviousness of everyone around Olivia to her crisis over whether or not to hate God and blame Him for what's happening, feels like something that could happen in real life instead of an overdramatic fictional rendition. I also liked how it delivered the message that when priests do this to people, it is their fault, not the Catholic church's. On a side note: finally, a book that shows stalking as what it really is! This calls for the first use of the "stalking is bad" tag on a book with stalking that's not trying to get passed off as romantic!

At times, I felt like the book was trying a little too hard to be suspenseful. Take this quote from page nine: "There I am in seventh period AP calc and Ms. Lewis is drawing tangent lines on the board and her arm and the chalk slope up, up, up and there is a knock and the door opens and Sister June our principal is standing there and I see the expression on her face and I know." I understand that this is an attempt to build the suspense, but the excessive run-on here threw me out of the story just after began. I pay just as much attention to the construction of the story as the story itself. This book has numerous moments where I read a sentence, then re-read it ten times over because it either didn't make sense or I was trying to determine whether or not that blaring error was supposed to be there.

To tell the truth, this book made me uncomfortable for a reason different than what one might think. In hindsight, I wish I had done my research a little better so that I would have known how heavily religious this book would be. I had a feeling it would be a little religious because of Father Mark being a priest, but I had no idea how deep it would go. Olivia going to a Catholic girl's academy, the university where the class is held being called Holy Mary University, the cross Olivia's love interest Jamie wears around his neck (which is brought to the reader's attention multiple times),... I have no problem with the Christian religion itself or any denominations of it. The problem is that heavily religious books in general make me uncomfortable. I would have had the same problem if it were heavily Buddhist, Islamic, Jewish, Hindu, or even heavily atheist. That's why I stay away from religious fiction in general. If I had known beforehand how Christian the book would be, I'm sure I would have been better prepared and not been as uncomfortable as I was. I mean to offend no one with the statements I've just made.

Readers who like their endings closed-ended will not like how This Gorgeous Game ends. It's left very open-ended, so much so that it brings down the quality of the entire book. The reader gets a vague idea of what happens, but it would have been preferable to sift through the aftermath with Olivia and keep riding with her as everything that happened to her is revealed to the police and we see exactly what happens to Father Mark. Had he done this to other girls or was Olivia the only one? Sometimes, open endings are what is best for a story to keep the reader wondering, but that is only to a certain degree. The ending of this book left too many questions in its wake.

I teetered between two or three stars because one of my rules is that if I lack an emotional connection to the book, it's three stars, no exceptions. I lacked that connection until the last fifty pages of the book, when I really got into the story and I started feeling horrified at what Olivia went through and really connecting with her. If that connection had been made much earlier than it was, this would be a four-star book for sure. Beautifully written, powerful, and tangible, I recommend this to anyone who is sick of the romanticizing of stalking or just wants a good, suspenseful, and well-written read.


What am I reading next?: Once in a Full Moon by Ellen Schreiber

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Bloody Valentine by Melissa de la Cruz

Title: Bloody Valentine
Author: Melissa de la Cruz
Publisher: Hyperion
Release Date: December 28th, 2010
Pages: 147 pages (hardback)
How I Got the Book: Birthday gift.

The Blue Bloods have powers beyond human comprehension: strength that defies logic, speed that cannot be captured on film, the ability to shape-shift, and more. But in matters of the heart, no one, not even these immortal vampires, has total control. In Bloody Valentine, part of the best-selling Blue Bloods series, author Melissa de la Cruz offers three tantalizing stories that delve deep into the love lives of the all-powerful vamps (and their Red Blood friends) from New York's Upper East Side. Might a witchy new girl help cure Oliver's broken heart? How did Allegra fall in love with a human? Will Schuyler and Jack finally be bonded?

Romantic and sensual, Bloody Valentine reveals the undying love, the hope and devastation, and the lust and longing that have defined the Blue Bloods throughout history. Prepare to be swept off your feet.

Review:

In this Blue Bloods novella, the pains and trials of love are explored in three short stories. In the first, Oliver is aching at Schuyler's absence due to his status as her familiar. Presented with a not-so-well-accepted solution to his heartache, he seriously contemplates it along with the advice of a friend he meets in a bar. In the second, Allegra Van Alen feels trapped under the pressure of her immortal lives and the watchful eye of her mother Cordelia. While at Endicott Academy in Massachusetts and far away from her mother's influence, she meets a fellow classmate named Bendix Chase and slowly falls in love. In the final story of the novella, Schuyler and Jack are busy planning their bonding ceremony before she leaves for Alexandria and he returns to New York to meet his fate. When one of their friends is kidnapped on his way to see their bonding, they must cooperate with another friend to get him back and save his life.

Oliver's tale, "Just Another Night in Suck City," gives us a peek into Oliver's head for the first time in the entire series. His heartbreak was written beautifully and felt very real. I've always had a soft spot for him because of his dedication to Schuyler both as a Conduit and friend, and this piece only made me like him more. Freya, a character who will make her starring and debut appearance in de la Cruz's adult title Witches of East End in summer 2011, makes a cameo appearance as a bartender at the bar Oliver and Schuyler frequented with fake IDs in hand. I'm surprised we haven't heard of their visits to this bar before. It seems like it was made up on the spot. Anyways, I got the kind of vibe from this story that said, "the only way heartbreak can be cured is with magic. Otherwise, you're stuck with it." I know how I feel about that message, but others will have varying reactions from agreement to severe disagreement. The conflict of being de-familiarized and use as a source of blood in a bloodhouse was an interesting one for a character like Oliver. My favorite story of the three.

The second short story of the novel, "Always Something There to Remind Me," follows Schuyler's mother Allegra Van Alen, otherwise known as Gabrielle the Uncorrupted, when she went to school at Endicott Academy and met Schuyler's father, whose name has changed more times than my home address. As a sixteen-year-old girl, I appreciated that she felt pressured by her identity as Gabrielle the angel, her brother/it's complicated Charles's everlasting love when she thinks she doesn't deserve it, and her mother's watchful eye. No teen, despite who they may have been in past lives and what they are, would take that kind of pressure well. Despite that, I still think she should have shown at least a little bit of acceptance of who she was instead of total rejection until the very end. Like I mentioned, she's the great Gabrielle; she can't afford to deny it as bad as she does. The insight into how Allegra and Bendix/Stephen/whatever fell in love was wonderful... until I read the last few paragraphs of the story. So she's back in love with Charles/Michael? What? How does this help the reader see how Schuyler came to be? It only raises more questions! With just a few sentences, fifty pages were pretty much invalidated for me. Least favorite story in the entire Blue Bloods continuity.

Schuyler and Jack's story, "Ring of Fire," chronicles the events just after the end of Misguided Angel. Jack proposed and with Schuyler's agreement, they must hurry to plan the ceremony and bring their friends in for it. The Venators loyal to the Countess, who is in turn still loyal to Lucifer, appear to ruin the fun and the fight scenes with them are grabbing. New limits are established on what both Jack and Schuyler can do and Bliss, who departed at the end of The Van Alen Legacy and has been absent from the books since, makes a cameo. Some will be happy about that and others definitely won't be. The story moves well, like one of the plots that could have been part of a book instead of a short story, and with its heartwarming bondinig ceremony at the end, it takes the honor of being my second-favorite story. If I didn't love Oliver so much and everything hadn't felt so convenient, it would have been my favorite.

The serious problems with continuity present in the series surface again and happen flagrantly. From what we have been told before, bonds were made in Heaven and stayed when they fell; now the explanation is that the bonds were made when the angels fell in order to punish them and take away their freedom to love. Christopher Anderson, the Conduit to Schuyler's grandfather, had his memory of the Blue Bloods wiped and yet is present at Schuyler and Jack's bonding ceremony; the name of Schuyler's father sees yet another change as he is referred to as Bendix or Ben when it was formerly thought his name was Stephen (or, if you go with the spelling presented in the family tree of Masquerade, Steven). The bonding happens after Misguided Angel and yet Oliver is said to need to return to New York to solve the mystery of the disappearing Blue Blood teens, a case solved in Misguided Angel. Why does Oliver have to go back to investigate a case that has already been solved? I can go on because there are plenty more violations, but I choose not to.

Another problem with this series just came to my attention: how everything is just so convenient. Jack is unable to transform into Abbadon due to a cursed ring? No problem. He suddenly rediscovers his powers to summon creatures from the Underworld to do his bidding. Oliver is stuck loving and being heartbroken Schuyler forever and ever because he is her familiar? That's okay too. He just gets de-familiarized, then re-familiarized just in time to save him from being bit by another Blue Blood, then gets a spell cast on him to ease his heartbreak. Oh, and Schuyler suddenly discovers how her mother's sword can pretty much ruin an entire roof structure without a problem for her either. How many more times will that come in handy? No deus ex machina occurrences are just how many I like. One is tolerable, but the multiple occurrences in this 147 page book are far beyond tolerable.

This last paragraph has nothing to do with the book itself other than the way it was advertised, and that had nothing to do with the rating. When I received the book, I noticed that it said "a Blue Bloods book" on the cover. If I hadn't already known Bloody Valentine was a novella, I would have been tripped up by that. Very few readers differentiate between a -series name here- novel and a -series name here- book; misguided advertising of a novella as a book leads to angry readers who complain. I remember seeing a version of the cover where it was labeled as "a Blue Bloods novella" and am left wondering what happened to that cover, which would have been more correct.

Honestly, there was no need for this book to be made. Two of the short stories could have been written into Misguided Angel without a problem and the third one, while it offers the reader insight into how Allegra fell in love with Bendix/Stephen/whatever his name is now, is rendered near-useless by the ending. This little piece adds to the confusion that comes with the Blue Bloods series instead of doing anything to lessen it. Despite that, these stories are undeniably interesting and quick reads. This is one better to borrow from a friend than to spend the money on buying it oneself.

3 stars!


What am I reading next?: This Gorgeous Game by Donna Freitas (and I have a feeling it's going to be a doozy. I'm only 20 pages in and I feel like it's already trying too hard.)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Real Live Boyfriends by E. Lockhart

Title: Real Live Boyfriends
Author: E. Lockhart
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Release Date: December 28th, 2010
Pages: 222 pages (hardback)
How I Got the Book: Birthday gift.

Ruby Oliver is a senior in high school, and she's in love.
Or it would be love, if Noel, her real live boyfriend, would call her back.
But Noel has turned into a pod-robot lobotomy patient, and Ruby can't figure out why.

Not only is her romantic life in shambles:
Her dad is eating nothing but Cheetos,
Her mother's got a piglet head in the refrigerator,
Hutch has gone to Paris to play baguette air guitar,
Gideon shows up shirtless,
And the pygmy goat Robespierre is no help whatsoever.

Will Ruby ever control her panic attacks?
Will she ever understand boys?
Will she ever stop making lists?
(No to that last one.)

In the fourth hilarious episode of Ruby Oliver's high school career, the neurotic, hyperverbal heroine of The Boyfriend List and its companions interviews her friends for a documentary on love and popularity. While doing so, she turns up some uncomfortable truths--and searches for a way to get back what she had with Noel.

Roo has lost most of her friends. She's lost her true love, more than once. She's lost her grandmother, her job, her reputation, and possibly her mind. But she's never lost her sense of humor. The Ruby Oliver books are the record of her survival.

Review:

Ruby Oliver has made it to her senior year of high school intact and with a boyfriend: Noel. Or is he her boyfriend? Ever since he came back from his summer trip to New York, he's been acting strangely and she can't figure out what's wrong. In the middle of this, Ruby is preparing her college essays and applications (which requires making a video about love, popularity, and friendship because of her wish to be in a film program), fighting with her mother over this and that, dealing with her and father's grief over the death of Grandma Suzette, making up with Nora (again), and so much more. Don't worry, she'll survive. How else could she keep making lists?

After falling in love with the first three books, this fourth novel was highly anticipated and was released at just the right time: I got the first three as Christmas gifts and this one came out just after Christmas. It is the last of Ruby's series and surprisingly, I was not sad to see it end. Most series make me sad when they end because I love them so much, but the Ruby series ended right when it was a good time to end and in the best way.

Ruby is the same cynical romantic she has been the entire series and I love it. She has gotten no less realistic; heck, she's only becoming more of a real fictional person, if that makes any sense. There is one certain quality she has that I go nuts over: how she contradicts herself. Multiple times over the course of the series, she states that she doesn't believe in the happy endings so often presented in the movies she loves. Then the romantic in her indirectly expresses a desire for a happy ending with the guy of her choice. Ruby's previous characterization is neither completely refuted nor stuck to perfectly, and that is exactly how people work. People contradict themselves. That's life. Ruby's contradiction itself, that she doesn't believe in happy endings and yet wants one so badly, strikes a chord with me in particular. That's just how I feel (simplified)! It... I think I just got some inspiration.

Ruby is not the only character that really shines in this book. Noel and Nora, two characters who already played major parts in Ruby's life, continue to go through trials so similar to Ruby's own and try to deal with them their own ways. Noel, a character I've always had a soft spot for, was as inexperienced in relationships as I expected him to be and under the pressure of his issues and Ruby's high expectations for a boyfriend, he balked. He ain't perfect either and I love it. Nora was on the receiving end of Cricket and Kim's not-so-nice words the way Ruby once was, dealt with it appropriately, and made up with Ruby like I hoped she would. Meghan, Hutch, and the rest of the gang are here too, most of them being interviewed for Ruby's college application video. Their varied definitions of love, friendship, and popularity all ring true no matter how different they sound.

The three books before this one all dealt with social issues that I think are important: slut-shaming, right and wrong in friendship, and finding the good in life instead of focusing on the bad. This one still focuses on an issue (the high expectations girls have for their boyfriends or the illusions of love, friendship, and popularity; I couldn't decide), but that doesn't take center stage this time. Instead of focusing on a central issue, Ruby finally puts the focus on herself. The self-loathing (such as calling herself neurotic and a mental patient) gets a closer examination than it ever has before, allowing her to see just how detrimental her half-playful insults at herself have been to her. There are still times when she will concentrate on anything but herself (see: when she concentrates on a photo Doctor Z puts face-down on her desk), but Ruby is finally getting the big picture: she's not crazy! She just has problems that every teenager has!

The day I finished this book, I was miserable. The night before, a 45,000 word novel I've been slaving over for two years was corrupted by my flash drive, which was starting to mess up after two years of constant use. Unless a miracle happens and someone can uncorrupt it, that file and all the edits I made to it are lost. I was still upset about it this morning and with nothing to do in my first class, I brought out Real Live Boyfriends and started reading. It had me laughing and crying and for about an hour, I didn't think about that lost novel at all. Ruby brought me into her world and comforted me with all of her drama and funny quips and heartfelt scenes. I would have loved this book regardless, but it gets a huge amount of extra points of making me feel better.
Lockhart has written a beautiful, perfect ending to this quartet and brought out the truth of teenage relationships and love in a way so few authors have in my recent reading list. From this moment on, I'm going to keep an eye on her blog so that I'll know about any future projects. She is now among my favorite authors and I heartily recommend her books to anyone who asks for recommendations.

5 stars!


What am I reading next?: Bloody Valentine by Melissa de la Cruz

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Slice of Cherry by Dia Reeves

Spoilers for Slice of Cherry abound. Beware.

Title: Slice of Cherry
Author: Dia Reeves
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: January 4th, 2011
Pages: 505 pages (hardback)
How I Got the Book: Birthday gift.

Happiness is a bloody knife.

Kit and Fancy Cordelle are sisters of the best kind: best friends, best confidantes, and best accomplices. The daughters of the infamous Bonesaw Killer, Kit and Fancy are used to feeling like outsiders, and that's just the way they like it. But in Portero, where the weird and wild run rampant, the Cordelle sisters are hardly the oddest or most dangerous creatures around.

It's no surprise when Kit and Fancy start to give in to their deepest desire--the desire to kill. What starts as a fascination with slicing open and stitching up quickly spirals into a gratifying murder spree. Of course, the sisters aren't killing just anyone, only the people who truly deserve it. But the girls have learned from their father's mistakes and know that a shred of evidence could get them caught. So when Fancy stumbles upon a mysterious and invisible doorway to another world, she opens a door to endless possibilities...

Review:

Daughters of the Guthrie Cordelle, the well-known Bonesaw Killer, Kit and Fancy Cordelle are scorned by most of the residents of Portero, Texas. This does not bother them because as long as they have each other, no one else matters. The same monster that was inside their father, the monster that demands death and blood, awakens in them and just like that, they become murderers. Instead of killing random people the way their father did, these girls are smart and take out only the criminals, the rapists and wannabe murderers and out-of-town bullies. Using the "happy place" that only Fancy can access but that they can both control, the girls take care of their murderous urges and drive themselves further apart from one another.

Reeves's first novel Bleeding Violet was one of my favorite reads of 2010 and I was looking forward to Slice of Cherry from the moment I heard about it. Once I started reading, I was glad that I had started with Bleeding Violet because anyone who starts reading the books with Slice of Cherry will have a hard time understanding the unusual ways Portero works, so one should make sure to read Bleeding Violet first. A fantastic novel that evokes many emotions from the reader (not all of them good ones), there were also a few points that bothered me and made the rating take a nosedive.

Kit and Fancy were amazing characters, horrible people, and undeniably insane. Entries from Fancy's dream diary offer the readers a peek into her mind. I'm no psychology major and know very few dream symbols, but I could realize from them just how much of a monster she was through those and her unreliable narration. Between the two, Fancy was certainly the bigger monster. One still comes to care about them and the growth they experience despite all that. As the sisters' bond starts to weaken and fall apart, the book becomes difficult to put down. Their obvious insanity acts as reasoning for many of their actions throughout the novel, but not all of them. That will be touched upon later in the review, so stick around. If one looks hard enough, they can even distinguish the two types of serial killers and decide which type Kit and Fancy are: Either the type that kills mostly on instinct/urges and makes a huge mess of it with some evidence left behind or the antisocial, intelligent type that plan out their crimes and make sure nothing is left behind.

This novel has a lot to say about many things: the treatment of the family of serial killers, the atrocities people can inflict on their spouses and children and siblings and friends, the secrets supposedly normal families can hide behind closed doors, and how the families of serial killers feel about the family member locked up, among many other things. A little bit of Stockholm Syndrome gets mixed in there too. Teens have sex in this book and it is not being portrayed as a Very Bad Thing, which I love. No one gets called negative names because they had sex. One character even mentions using birth control. That's the kind of message that needs to be out there! Sex isn't bad; you just need to be careful!

I am not a squeamish person. I constantly watch medical shows with many bloody re-enactments. For goodness' sake, I carved the eyeballs out of and helped decapitate a pig fetus when my high school class did pig dissections and the teacher let us have free rein on the final day of dissections! (Don't get me wrong; I love animals and would never abuse them, but these were falling apart from the dissection already.) Very little grosses me out. This book? Scared me half to death and sent chills down my spine more times than I could count. At least five times, I had to close the book and stop reading for a few minutes because it was scaring me too badly or getting too creepy.

For those looking forward to the parts of the novel where the girls kill people, they will love how creative some of these murders get. To spoil one of them, a girl gets forced to put on a pair of red dancing shoes in the happy place and when people clap, she dances. Eventually, she overheats from dancing so much and bursts into flames. She continues to dance while she is on fire and is allowed to stop only when all that is left of her is some ashes and bits of bone in the dancing shoes. It only gets more creative from there.

Speaking of creepy... Ilan. Oh, Ilan. The award for Creepiest Male Character seemed to be locked up by another character from another series, but Ilan snatched that award up and practically ate it. It's going to take a creep so creepy that I can't finish the book to take that award from Ilan. He is described as a predator for most of the book, always giving Fancy hungry looks and saying things that send chills down the reader's spine in a very bad way. How much whiplash do you think I had when this guy was made Fancy's love interest? At one point, dogs bite him, the dogs all start foaming in the mouth and dying, and Ilan even says he is PURE POISON ON THE INSIDE. So is the new approach to getting a girl "creep her out until she likes it/you?" I hope that Fancy was only receptive because she is insane and naive about boys (he is her first boyfriend) because if she would still respond positively in an alternate universe where she is sane and not naive,... I'll let you finish that sentence.

One quote in particular from Fancy nearly made me throw this novel across my room: when Fancy and Kit are about to go to the happy place and Fancy says that if Ilan did a certain thing (which shall not be mentioned here for the sake of keeping one of the biggest plot twists of the novel secret), she will kill him and then because she loves him, she will kill herself. At this point, it did not matter that Fancy is all types of screwed up in the head. That is one thing I never want to hear a girl say: that if this guy dies, she's going to die. If that had happened earlier than page 478 (of 505), I simply would have shut it and wrote it up as a DNF. In the meantime, Kit gets beaten up by Gabriel and when he breaks up with her because he feels so bad, she excuses it because he was sleepwalking and he does stuff like that when he's sleepwalking. These girls are insane, but I'm certain they're sane enough to know better than this.

Surprised, huh? I love Dia Reeves's novels and plan to keep buying them (a third Portero book is in the works starring a girl with no heart) and this one was the most terrifying book I have ever read, but it was also one of the most anger-inducing due mostly to Ilan and Fancy despite its wonderful quality. One could excuse the behavior they exhibited to their mental imbalances, but that one only goes so far. Fancy should be sane enough to know not to date boys who admit they are pure poison and Ilan is sane enough not to be the creepiest male character I've ever read about. If the rest of the novel unrelated to Fancy and Ilan hadn't been so great, this would have gotten a worse rating. One little thing can ruin an entire book and it almost did that here.

3 stars!


What am I reading next?: Real Live Boyfriends by E. Lockhart and Bloody Valentine by Melissa de la Cruz

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Treasure Map of Boys by E. Lockhart

Spoilers ahoy! I could not write this review properly without doing some spoiling, so be warned.

Title: The Treasure Map of Boys
Author: E. Lockhart
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Release Date:July 23, 2009
Pages: 241 pages (paperback)
How I Got the Book: Christmas gift.

It's the second term of junior year, and Ruby is back at Tate Prep. It's also her thirty-seventh week in the state of Noboyfriend. Her panic attacks are bad, her love life is even worse, and what's more:

Noel is writing her notes,
Jackson is giving her frogs,
Gideon is helping her cook,
And Finn is making her brownies.

Rumors are flying, and Ruby's already sucky reputation is heading downhill.

Not only that, she's also:

Running a bake sale,
Encountering some seriously smelly feet,
Defending the rights of pygmy goats,
And bodyguarding Noel from unwanted advances.

In this third Ruby Oliver novel, the companion to The Boyfriend List, The Boy Book, and Real Live Boyfriends, Ruby struggles to secure some sort of mental health, to understands what constitutes a real friendship and--if such a thing exists--to find true love.

Review:

Ruby Oliver is back for the second half of her junior year and dealing with more drama than ever. She has finally realized that she has feelings for Noel, but can't do anything about them because Nora voiced hers first and. All she wants is to be a good friend and a good person; she doesn't want a repeat of the alienation that ensued after the Spring Fling incident. Around her, her life starts to implode on itself: she gets fired from her job, her feelings for Jackson return with full force, her therapy is going nowhere fast, and her panic attacks are happening more and more often. All the pressure of being a good person, running a bake sale, and finding a new job is pushing on her and Ruby is headed straight for a breakdown.

If you're looking for a book where the character does everything right and everything goes the way she wants it to, this is not the book you want to read. Ruby has literally no luck in this book--from getting fired from one job to getting two of her closest friends pissed off at her again, Ruby isn't getting anything right. She is screwing up every possible way she can screw up and is suffering from some sort of bad luck curse. Honestly, the number of screw-ups Ruby has in this novel is beyond excessive even for her. All of the misfortune does serve an important purpose, which keeps it from being misfortune written for the sake of it, but most readers may not realize this until the last twenty pages of the novel and despite the purpose, that does not stop all of the screw-ups from making this book borderline-depressing.

Sometimes around page one hundred fifty or even two hundred, for readers like me, it becomes obvious that Ruby is having a mental breakdown. All of the negative in her life is tearing her apart, bringing her down, and in connection bringing down the novel a little bit. What made me realize this? Someone is trying to take over the bake sale she put together with hard work because it isn't "cute enough" for the people coming there and Roo stands up for herself when the conqueror-wannabe brings our heroine's not-so-lovely reputation into the equation when it has nothing to do with the matter at hand. Roo successfully retains her hold on the bake sale, but then ends the fight by throwing food at the other girl. That was the moment her breakdown really popped out at me.

From that point on, the book is an emotional grabber and will refuse to let you go. The nineteenth chapter of this book, in which Ruby has a great revelation about the treasure in her life, will forever stick with me as one of the emotional pieces I have ever read. It is so, so emotionally charged and perfectly written that I, someone who does not often get brought to tears when reading, felt her eyes water within the first two pages of the nineteenth chapter and then had that become a normal reaction until the end of the book. I had to put it down once and have a good cry before I could pick it up again. This is definitely the most emotionally involving Ruby Oliver book yet.

For me, the main difference between these books and other prep-school-drama books is that the Ruby Oliver novels have substance. They don't feel like novels written just to entertain the brain; they're trying to get a message across to the reader through Ruby's troubles and usually succeed. It took me a long time to cue in on the issue of the novel: thinking about the good in life instead of the bad. In the past two novels, I picked up on it immediately and enjoyed seeing how the issue was covered and played out. This time? Not so much. At points, I had the legitimate worry that these great novels were becoming just as melodramatic and drama-centric as novel series such as the Gossip Girl books.

For a lot of this novel, Ruby let me down in the boy department. She's still the same girl she was at the end of The Boy Book with all growth intact except for one teensy little thing: despite how the end of The Boy Book showed that she was finally over Jackson, it turns out that she's not over him after all. Once she learns that he broke up with Kim, she's lovestruck over him again. It is perfectly fine for her to have a relapse in her feelings because people do that and she's not perfect, but as I said, I was disappointed she couldn't just stay over him. This might stem from my own dislike of Jackson.

She does realize late in the novel that she does not want him and will never want him again, no matter how much her fantasies of being back with him seem lovely, and that was perfect. Absolutely perfect. She was smart enough to separate what she wanted to have happen and what she knew would happen and saved herself more heartache. A thousand times yes. Where is all the media that gives this important message to girls? We need more bestsellers that give girls this message instead of bestsellers that tell girls to let their boyfriend control their life or that girls are lesser beings than boys or that his unwanted sexual harassment is fine as long as you fall in love in the end. Not all girls do this, but some girls model their dream relationship after what they read when they're young and in their more impressionable stages in life. This book is the kind of book they should be reading then, not Twilight and Hush, Hush.

(This had no bearing at all on the rating, but I still felt the need to mention it: this book needed a better editor. One should not be finding typo gems such as "And I wanted to her to be happy" in a published novel. Just a useless gripe, my friends; pay it little mind.)
Despite how it did the difficult and brought me to tears, Ruby's excessive misfortune, the difficulty in perceiving the message, and her relapse in feelings for Jackson when it seemed that she was finally done with him kept The Treasure Map of Boys form being on the same level as its predecessors. You may have noticed how many times I discussed good point in the novel and mentioned it being at the end and that is one big flaw. A book should be good from start to finish, not mediocre to bad at the start and then heart-breakingly beautiful and awesome at the end. Touching both sides of the spectrum in one novel is not fun. I am still looking forward to the final book in this quartet, Real Live Boyfriends, and also dread reading it because that means the end of Ruby's story.

4 stars!


What am I reading next?: Slice of Cherry by Dia Reeves