Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Beautiful Evil by Kelly Keaton

Title: A Beautiful Evil
Author: Kelly Keaton
Publisher: Simon & Schuster/Simon Pulse
Release Date: February 21, 2012
Pages: 287 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: Bought it.
Purchase: Amazon; Barnes and Noble; Book Depository

When Ari first arrived in the dilapidated city of New 2, all she wanted was to figure out who she was. But what she discovered was beyond her worst nightmare. ari is a descendant of Medusa and can already sense the evil growing inside her--a power that the goddess Athena will stop at nothing to possess.

Desperate to hold on to her humanity and protect her loved ones, Ari must fight back. But Athena's playing mind games, not just with Ari but with those Ari cares about most. And Athena has a very special plan for the brooding and sexy Sebastian.

Ari is determined to defeat Athena, but time is running out. With no other options, Ari must unleash the very thing she's afraid of: herself.

Review:


My disappointment with A Beautiful Evil and most of the twists it brings to the story hardly surprises me, but it stings nonetheless, especially because reviewing this book would be as easy as copying and pasting my entire review from Darkness Becomes Her here. Sequels are supposed to offer some variety and improvements, not be more of the same in both the good and bad ways.

There are authors both professional and aspiring out there who would kill to have as fantastic of an idea in their heads and/or as well-drawn of a heroine as Keaton has with the world of her Gods and Monster series and Ari. I wouldn't necessarily kill for them, but I would certainly do many reprehensible things to have something with the same massive potential. Seeing it get wasted by way of uninspired and repetitive writing, one-dimensional characters, and lightning-fast pacing that moves far too fast is frustrating.

Thankfully, Ari is not and has never been one-dimensional. Her struggles with finding out who she was in the last book and her fight to accept the gorgon monster within her in this book were fantastic. Every other character in the series is a different story. Sebastian is only the love interest meant to give her the requisite YA snogging and get threatened so Ari will fight; Violet is one of the most adorable creepy children I've ever seen, but we still know nothing about her. The adults, the other orphans--nada. I love having a great main character and all, but it shouldn't be hard to extend that careful characterization to at least one other character.

Well, maybe one other character has depth: Athena. It's not outright confirmed, but one possible motive for why she went mad, murdered Zeus, and took over is discovered. She remains the madwoman she was in Darkness Becomes Her and demonstrates a little bit deeper of a madness with the torture at her banquets (though some of it borders narmy with how over-the-top it is). Her portrayal is honestly one of the best I've seen out of all the Greek mythology-related books I've read because it sticks to her personality and I can see her going mad after so much time.

I complain so much about novels that lag too much or need better pacing, but A Beautiful Evil is one book that needs to slow down. That the book goes from one place to another without slowing down for a minute contributes to the one-dimensional-characters problem mentioned above; how can they be fleshed out if the book won't make time for them? The same uninspired writing and repetitive descriptions that marred the last book appear again and I would happily see them out if only they would leave.

The ending is what really got me. Ari does not one but two fairly horrible things to Sebastian while Athena has them imprisoned and there appears to be no conflict between them over what she did. Really? No anger, no resentment, no nothing? She messes up his life twice and he has absolutely no problem with anything she did? Sebastian has never been anything but a one-dimensional love interest, but he had a chance to get some depth and it gets taken away just like that. I could have pulled out all my hair.

Unless the blurb for the third book of the series is so absolutely drool-worthy that I feel like I just have to read it, I doubt I will be sticking around to finish off the series. At least reading the two books of the series did something good for me: it inspired me to get writing and make my manuscripts as fantastic as possible so they don't end up ruining a great premise like this series did.

2 stars!


What am I reading next?: Spell Bound by Rachel Hawkins

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Darkness Becomes Her by Kelly Keaton

Title: Darkness Becomes Her
Author: Kelly Keaton
Publisher: Simon & Schuster/Simon Pulse
Release Date: Febuary 11, 2011
Pages: 273 pages (paperback)
How I Got the Book: Bought it.
Purchase: Amazon; Barnes and Noble; Book Depository

Ari can't help feeling lost and alone. With teal eyes and freakish silver hair that can't be changed or destroyed, Ari has always stood out. And after growing up in foster care, she longs for some understanding of where she came from and who she is.

Her search for answers uncovers just one message from her long dead mother: Run. Ari can sense that someone, or something, is getting closer than they should. But it's impossible to protect herself when she doesn't know what she's running from or why she is being pursued.

She knows only one thing: she must return to her birthplace of New 2, the lush rebuilt city of New Orleans. Upon arriving, she discovers that New 2 is very...different. Here, Ari is seemingly normal. But every creature she encounters, no matter how deadly or horrifying, is afraid of her.

Ari won't stop until she knows why. But some truths are too haunting, too terrifying, to ever be revealed.


Review:


If Darkness Becomes Her had been written by a more patient author, it would have been fantastic. Unfortunately, it was not, and a strong foundation turned out to be a barely-standing framework of what could have been.

Keaton's world of supernatural creatures in a post-hurricane New Orleans now known as New 2, a cursed girl searching for her heritage, and one very angry and very real Greek goddess is fantastic. She may not be present for most of the novel, but Athena's presence becomes powerful by the halfway point of the novel and she quickly became my favorite character. What could thousands of years of being largely ignored do to a Greek god (beings that are pretty much egomaniacal human beings with superpowers and immortality)? A lot, and it shows in how Athena is portrayed. I love it!

Ari herself is no poor heroine--she has her genuine struggles with her identity--but she paled in comparison once Athena came along. Where the novel really fails and brings itself down is in how rushed it is. Ari falls in with her housemates and falls in love with Sebastian in less than a day. The excuse of them recognizing "kindred spirits" in one another does not work for me. I needed to see Ari demonstrate how difficult it was for her to share herself with other people and slowly open up. The novel would have been a good deal longer, but it would have improved by leaps and bounds.

(Maybe it's just me, but I don't find his drum-playing sexy. Try living with someone who plays drums for hours on end like I do and you may find yourself half-ready to take the drumsticks and stab them through all the drums. I can't even hear myself think half the time. Lack of thinking time = not sexy. Okay, timeout over.)

Yet for being so rushed, Ari's family curse is unraveled far too slowly. Her mother complained of snakes trying to burst out of her head while she was in the asylum--who or what could that be? A gorgon, perhaps? It seemed the reader was supposed to know from the very first chapter, but why keep Ari in the dark until the very end of the book? It made for a frustrating reading experience. Poor writing with constant repetition of uninspired writing shortcuts (adrenaline snaking through veins when excited, goose bumps popping up in fear) grated on me as well.

I already own the sequel A Beautiful Evil because I faith-bought both books at the same time, so I will be reading that within the next week or two. Darkness Becomes Her left me both excited for where the idea can go and frustrated that it wasn't done near as well as it could have been if only more time had been taken with it.

3 stars! (More like 2.5)


What am I reading next?: A Beautiful Evil by Kelly Keaton

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

Title: Grave Mercy
Author: Robin LaFevers
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Houghton Mifflin
Release Date: April 3, 2012
Pages: 528 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: ARC given to me by a friend.


Escaping from the brutality of an arranged marriage, seventeen-year-old Ismae finds sanctuary at the convent of St. Mortain. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts--and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must be willing to take the lives of others.

Ismae's most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany where she finds herself woefully underprepared--for how can she deliver Death's vengeance upon a target, who, against her will, has stolen her heart?

Review:

In one way or another, Ismae has always been aware she is the daughter of Death Himself. That she survived the poison used to expel her from her mother's womb is a testament to that. After escaping the horrible man she was arranged to marry, she is taken to a convent serving St. Mortain, the patron saint of death, and taught to be an assassin. An assignment--only her third outside the convent--takes her to the high court of Brittany, where the threat of the French always lingers, a young duchess struggles to retain power, and Ismae is forced to work together with Gavriel Duval to both accomplish her mission and help the duchess.

Fair warning: this book is practically made of Murphy's Law (whatever can go wrong will). If you think something is finally going right for the cast, it isn't going to last long.

Grace Mercy has a flawed beginning, but it gains strength as the novel goes on. Ismae's character, originally hard for me to grasp, developed well and her strong personality reverberates in my mind even now. Her conflict between doing what she is told is her duty as a handmaiden of death and doing what she knows is right felt real. Her love interest Duval took some time to get warmed up to because of his prickly behavior at the beginning, but seeing his absolute devotion to Anne and his improving behavior toward Ismae won me over.

Then we have Anne. Oh, Anne. She is treated like a prize for her duchy and was promised by her father to numerous noblemen trying to take what they were promised--without said girl's permission, of course. She is a sharp young woman who knows how to play the political games and never bows to the pressure put on her. She will be her own person, not someone's way to power and baby-maker. Still, she is not resistant to feeling vulnerable; an incident in the novel where someone close to her betrays her and a man attempts to sexually assault her leaves her feeling dirtied and afraid. Even more so than Ismae, Anne is a character to truly remember.

Our duchess Anne? Is twelve years old.

The high court of Brittany is full of intrigue and the book is well-plotted. Twists both expected and out of nowhere complicated matters further. As I said earlier, this book is practically made of Murphy's Law, and it borders on being over-the-top. Really, give these poor men and women a stroke of luck every once in a while instead of another pile of dead bodies. (And there are lots of dead bodies, let me tell you.) Descriptions of how Ismae's various assassin/Death's handmaiden-related powers work and how she deals with foes begged rereading just because they were that good.

I really, really, really want to give this book five stars because it was just that good, but one fatal flaw keeps me from doing that. Until we get to the Breton court where Anne and the rest of the major players are (and this happens around page 200), the book moves slowly and with little driving force. Oh, so close! I've disregarded such an issue with other five-star books because they kept me hooked despite that, but Grave Mercy was hard to keep picking up in the early pages. I pushed my way through and got to the good stuff and it was more than worth the wait.

Once Grave Mercy comes out, I whole-heartedly recommend it. Ismae's story seems to reach its conclusion by the end of the novel and it appears its companion novel Dark Triumph will center on Sybella, Ismae's half-sister (St. Mortain being their shared parent) and fellow assassin. Considering the quality of Grave Mercy and what little I saw of Sybella's character, it's a book I will save the date of.

4 stars! (But more like 4.5.)


What am I reading next?: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Monday, March 26, 2012

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

Title: Clockwork Angel
Author: Cassandra Clare
Publisher: Simon & Schuster/Margaret K. McElderry
Release Date: August 31, 2010
Pages: 476 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: Bought it.

Magic is dangerous--but love is more dangerous still.

When sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray crosses the ocean to find her brother, her destination is England, the time is the reign of Queen Victoria, and something terrifying is waiting for her in London's Downworld, where vampires, warlocks and other supernatural folk stalk the gaslit streets. Only the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the world of demons, keep order amidst the chaos.

Kidnapped by the mysterious Dark Sisters, members of a secret organization called The Pandemonium Club, Tessa soon learns that she herself is a Downworlder with a rare ability: the power to transform, at will, into another person. What's more, the Magister, the shadowy figure who runs the Club, will stop at nothing to claim Tessa's power for his own.

Friendless and hunted, Tessa takes refuge with the Shadowhunters of the London Institute, who swear to find her brother if she will use her power to help them. She soon finds herself fascinated by--and torn between--two best friends: James, whose fragile beauty hides a deadly secret, and blue-eyed Will, whose caustic wit and volatile moods keep everyone in his life at arm's length...everyone, that is, but Tessa. As their search draws them deep into the heart of an arcane plot that threatens to destroy the Shadowhunters, Tessa realizes that she may need to choose between saving her brother and helping her new friends save the world...and that love may be the most dangerous magic of all.


Review:

Despite my personal feelings on the author, I read Clockwork Angel to answer two questions I posed to myself:

1. Does Cassandra Clare actually have talent?
2. Could possibly enjoy one of her novels if I put my feelings about her aside?

The answer was "no" to both questions for me. I'll explain why.

I detested City of Bones when I read it; Jace was a jerk, Clary was annoying, the book was badly paced, and it was also badly written. I gave it back to the friend who loaned it to me after just half the book and have not read another word of the book in the three years since then. So why, then, would I like reading a novel that takes these characters, gives them a superficial makeover, and drops them in Victorian London?

They may have different names and different descriptions, but these are the same personalities I've already seen and disliked in the other series. The plain-but-actually-pretty girl who delves deeper into the world of the Shadowhunters in order to find her missing relative, falling in love with a Shadowhunter in the meanwhile and discovering she can't be with him the way she wants to--that could be both Tessa and Clary. The jerkish male with an ego the size of a planet, an infinite store of stupid one-liners, a tortured past, and a propensity for treating the people he loves like crap--both Will and Jace fit this.

Well, I'll take back some of it for Will. Honestly, Will is worse than Jace because he sounds like a boy from the twenty-first century, not anyone from Victorian London. They're both jerks who need to go fuck themselves despite their tortured pasts, but at least one of them isn't anachronistic. I'm supposed to think the things Will says about Six-Fingered Nigel and others are funny, but my reaction was more like, "...That was stupid." A lot of things about this book are stupid, really.

The pacing issue I had with City of Bones showed up in Clockwork Angel too. For the first one-hundred fifty pages, I gave it an honest shot and forced myself to read it like I would any other novel. Then I skimmed the next two-hundred seventy pages or so because absolutely nothing was happening. One we got to the last fifty pages, I read again, and then the book was over.

Something Tessa thinks later in the novel concerns me: "Will cared for her, she was sure of it. Yes, he had been rude to her almost since he had met her, but then, that happened in novels all the time (Clockwork Angel, p. 454)." She then goes on to compare her situation to how Mr. Darcy was rude to Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice and how Heathcliff was rude to Cathy in Wuthering Heights.

I have not had the opportunity to read either classic yet, but I've heard often that Mr. Darcy had no idea he was being rude and eventually shaped up. Heathcliff and Cathy? Anyone who aspires to have a romance like theirs is off their rocker. Heathcliff and Cathy's "romance" was not healthy. I don't need to read the book to figure that out. Research is all I need.

I felt bad for Tessa just then. She might have been an uninteresting blank slate of a character, but she didn't deserve being under the delusion that anyone who could only be rude to her and treat her horribly was worth her time and romantic attentions. This is something a number of women throughout the real world are under the impression of because of books like this and I feel sorry for all of them too. If someone can't figure out how not to be a jerk to a person they like, they're both better off with someone else and the jerk has some growing up to do.

There was one interesting thing about this book, but it is exclusive to my copy of the novel and has nothing to do with Clockwork Angel itself. My copy came from my favorite used bookstore and the previous owner wrote in parts of the novel. Names, numbers, diary entries, details of how she (the previous owner) lost three people in two weeks,... One of them died with injuries including a fractured skull, internal bleeding, a broken spine, and two broken arms. I resisted the temptation to use this information for evil and was sad to see the notes stop after the seventh chapter or so. Whoever the previous owner is, I wish I could have met her.

And so went my attempt to read a Cassandra Clare novel honestly and with as little bias as possible. If you ever see me try to read another one of her novels, you are hereby given full permission to smack me across the face. Hm? You can't do that because you're across the Internet from me? You also have full permission to break the laws of nature in order to smack me across the face.

0 stars!


What am I reading next?: Darkness Becomes Her by Kelly Keaton

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart

Title: Fly on the Wall
Author: E. Lockhart
Publisher: Random House/Delacorte Press
Release Date: March 14, 2006
Pages: 182 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: Bought it.


At the Manhattan School for Art and Music, where everyone is “different” and everyone is “special,” Gretchen Yee feels ordinary. She’s the kind of girl who sits alone at lunch, drawing pictures of Spider-Man, so she won’t have to talk to anyone; who has a crush on Titus but won’t do anything about it; who has no one to hang out with when her best (and only real) friend Katya is busy.

One day, Gretchen wishes that she could be a fly on the wall in the boys’ locker room–just to learn more about guys. What are they really like? What do they really talk about? Are they really cretins most of the time?


Fly on the Wall is the story of how that wish comes true.


Review:


E. Lockhart is probably one of my all-time favorite authors. Her Ruby Oliver series was short and sweet and The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks? Don't get me started. I fangirl that book like I get paid to do it. I only wish I got paid for all the fannish squeeing I do over fantastic books. I expected Fly on the Wall might not be as good as the above-listed books, but it's still fantastic.

Like Lockhart's other heroines, Gretchen Yee has her problems and is hardly the kindest girl around. She has a lot of internal anger, only one real friend who doesn't feel comfortable enough to share some things with Gretchen, and no idea how to fit in at her school. Her struggles with feeling abandoned by the people around her and unable to understand other people (especially boys) is something I remember feeling when I was younger and I could relate to her through that.

Fly on the Wall draws heavily on Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis both in-story and in the idea of someone suddenly turning into vermin. I had to suffer through Kafka's novel when I was sixteen, but reading The Metamorphosis gives me a richer understanding of Fly on the Wall. Why Gretchen turns into a fly is never explained and requires a good suspension of disbelief, but it's really just a vehicle for all the other changes she goes through. She can feel lust and not be ashamed of it! Guys can be just as insecure about their bodies as girls! All she needs to do to understand other people is break down the walls she put up and look at them!

Titus's eventual confrontation with Adrian due to his homophobic language was exactly what I'd been waiting for after the first time I heard Adrian call something gay just because he didn't like it. The book understands that yes, using the word that way does mean something and it can be pretty offensive no matter its intent. I can't remember the slang being quite so prevalent in 2006 (then again, I was twelve then and I don't exactly have a stellar memory of anything from back then), but this would be especially relevant now that I can't so much as walk down a school hallway without hearing a person call something gay because they think it's stupid.

How easily Adrian promised to change his ways struck me as somewhat unrealistic, though. My brother uses the same language and I've used a similar approach as the one Titus used, but my brother saw no problem with what he was doing. Other people who use gay as an insult have responded the same was as my brother when confronted  Maybe I'm doing something wrong or all the people I've confronted are too firm in their dickery?

Still, something about how the book was written threw me off and made a whole-hearted enjoyment of the novel impossible. Whether it was the formatting of the second part of the novel (which lasts about ninety pages and had small, bold print, leading to a massive eyeache), the rough mix of stream-of-consciousness writing (yet another callback to The Metamorphosis and a more normal narration style, or a both, Gretchen's written voice didn't mesh with me at all.

Having a refresher course on why I love Lockhart's novels puts me exactly where I was when I finished reading Real Live Boyfriends in January 2011: in a state of anticipation for her next YA novel. I never get tired of her way with words, deep understanding of how words can affect people, and fantastically flawed and lovable heroines.

4 stars!


What am I reading next?: Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin

Slide by Jill Hathaway

Title: Slide
Author: Jill Hathaway
Publisher: HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray
Release Date: March 27, 2012
Pages: 256 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: Found an ARC

SlideVee Bell is certain of one irrefutable truth—her sister’s friend Sophie didn’t kill herself. She was murdered.

Vee knows this because she was there. Everyone believes Vee is narcoleptic, but she doesn’t actually fall asleep during these episodes: When she passes out, she slides into somebody else’s mind and experiences the world through that person’s eyes. She’s slid into her sister as she cheated on a math test, into a teacher sneaking a drink before class. She learned the worst about a supposed “friend” when she slid into her during a school dance. But nothing could have prepared Vee for what happens one October night when she slides into the mind of someone holding a bloody knife, standing over Sophie’s slashed body.

Vee desperately wishes she could share her secret, but who would believe her? It sounds so crazy that she can’t bring herself to tell her best friend, Rollins, let alone the police. Even if she could confide in Rollins, he has been acting off lately, more distant, especially now that she’s been spending more time with Zane.

Enmeshed in a terrifying web of secrets, lies, and danger and with no one to turn to, Vee must find a way to unmask the killer before he or she strikes again.

Review:

Everyone thinks Sylvia "Vee" Bell's fainting spells are just instances of her narcolepsy acting up, but they don't know the truth. In reality, she ends up in other people's heads when she passes out and sees like through their eyes for a few minutes. She rarely sees anything good, but she ends up in a killer's head one night as they hold a knife over the dead body of her sister's best friend. Vee races against time to find the murderer as she struggles with her own issues, the body count increases, and her sister appears to be the killer's next target.

Vee's story is a sympathetic one considering what she goes through every day as a result of her power and what happened to her that made her go from being a blonde cheerleader to a quiet pink-haired girl. At first, I thought I thought I was going to love her; when a character comes up with quotes like "If she's the pink glitter on your valentine, I'm the black Sharpie you use to draw mustaches on the teachers in your yearbook (Slide, ARC p. 5)," I'm easily won over as long as the rest of their personality isn't particularly offensive.

Unfortunately, some parts of her personality were pretty bad and I couldn't ignore it. Her choices in detail and description when describing other girls did not endear her to me. She reviled the cheerleaders for being judgmental of other girls and mean to them? I often found Vee to be only mildly better than those girls. Almost as bad, she couldn't make up her mind about whether or not she wanted to get close to Rollins again. She kept saying she missed him, but she never tried very hard to strengthen her friendship with him to its former strength.

The only other remarkable characters were Vee's younger sister Mattie and her father. Rollins had potential, but little was done with him and it seems like he will be more thoroughly explored as a character in another book. I want to give Slide credit for trying to give the minor characters depth, but the attempts largely failed and get no credit at all, especially for forcing me to deal with more negative female stereotypes gathered into one book than I can feel comfortable with. The badly done love triangle and cliches do an especially good job weakening what is a fairly decent, if not good, novel.

The mystery element of the novel was a mixed bag. I perceived a few of the more important twists well ahead of their reveals, but I was caught off-guard and surprised by the twists more often. The tight writing, liberal use of red herrings, and perfect narrative choice (first-person present usually annoys me, so that is true praise right there) kept me reading despite my annoyance.

I think the strongest element of the novel is the way it takes time to touch on a few different issues. Bullying, suicide, date rape, the death of someone close to you--for such a short novel, Slide makes rooms for a lot of issues and does it well. Anyone looking for a lot of concentration on them will be disappointed; Slide is mainly focused on the mystery with a slight detour of "oh my God, this guy's so hot I forgot I'm investigating a murder." Still, the time it does dedicate to them is well-spent.

Slide sets up a brand-new series well, answering all the necessary questions for it to feel complete as a book yet leaving a few questions unanswered and allowing for expansion into new territory. Its sequel Impostor will be out in March 2013(!), but I'm not sure I will put it on my to-read list for 2013 just yet. The blurb is tempting, but I will wait to hear more about it.

3 stars!


What am I reading next?: The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson 

Waiting on Wednesday (21)

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases we're eagerly anticipating.

(Crud, I posted it on Tuesday again. Must my fingers be so eager to press the wrong buttons?)

After friends started raving about this book on Goodreads, what was originally an orange-level title on my list of anticipated books, (shorthand explanation of my levels of anticipation on The Book List: pink-level = highly anticipated,  orange-level = vague anticipation, green-level = hardly any anticipation), became a pink-level and I'm looking forward to it immensely. My ARC arrives today or tomorrow!

Shadow and Bone
by Leigh Bardugo
June 5, 2012
368 pages (hardcover)

Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near-impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one unlikely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life– a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha… and the secrets of her heart.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Angelfall by Susan Ee

Title: Angelfall
Author: Susan Ee
Publisher: Feral Dream
Release Date: May 21, 2011
Pages: 255 pages (paperback)
How I Got the Book: Bought it.

It's been six weeks since angels of the apocalypse descended to demolish the modern world. Street gangs rule the day while fear and superstition rule the night. When warrior angels fly away with a helpless little girl, her seventeen-year-old sister Penryn will do anything to get her back.

Anything, including making a deal with an enemy angel.

Raffe is a warrior who lies broken and wingless on the street. After eons of fighting his own battles, he finds himself being rescued from a desperate situation by a half-starved teenage girl.

Traveling through a dark and twisted Northern California, they have only each other to rely on for survival. Together, they journey toward the angels' stronghold in San Francisco where she'll risk everything to rescue her sister and he'll put himself at the mercy of his greatest enemies for the chance to be made whole again.


Review:


For months now, I've been watching all my friends read Angelfall and fall in love with it one by one (with an exception here or there). I haven't seen them hype up a book like this since Anna Dressed in Blood and Divergent, both of which failed to impress me, so I was fearful of reading the book. (Also, I always get to a fad at least two months after it's over. No real reason; it naturally happens that way no matter what I do.) So here I am, getting to Angelfall two months later than everyone else. The curse is broken! My friend hyped up something and it was actually worth it!

 Penryn is just the kind of heroine I like: stong-willed, able to do what she has to do, but still a teenage girl with insecurities and all. It seems a little convenient she had a form of survival training already thanks to her paranoid schizophrenic mother, but it never felt that way. It just felt right. Though the book was not about her dysfunctional family (the aforementioned mother, absentee father, sister who can't walk), the effect her lifestyle has had on her shows and guides her actions like it should.

One of my most common complaints about books is pacing. I have a short attention span anyway, but most books don't have what it takes to keep me going. They're too long and spread out action too far apart (or have no action at all, in rare cases), or too short and nothing happens at all, or they may be trying to make everything happen at once and cause a train wreck of sorts. Not Angelfall. Fights, interactions with other characters, and traveling are equally interspersed and even when I wasn't reading, I never lost interest.

The descriptions are not always picture perfect and could have used some work, but they feel raw and in the last quarter of the book, they get downright powerful. I felt myself getting a little green in the face at the mental images of... I can't even tell you. It's one of those things you have to discover yourself. I can say this much: It's horrifying, it's grotesque, but it well-written and it's fantastic. If you get squeamish easily at descriptions in books, you may want to keep a baggie or a trash can close.

So why am I being greedy with my stars and giving it only four instead of five like most of my friends have? Well, the descriptions, as I mentioned above, got a little clunky at points and gave me a mental image that ruined the mood, like when Raffe's back was compared to raw hamburgers with a metaphor. It's a valid description, but the image it conjured up made me giggle when I really shouldn't have been giggling. I wasn't a fan of how almost all the female characters were portrayed negatively if they weren't related to Penryn. The "all unrelated females are rivals/evil" mentality is so obsolete.

If you need me, I'll be in line with everyone else, impatiently awaiting Angelfall's sequel and occasionally rereading my copy during the long wait.

4 stars!


What am I reading next?: Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin

In My Mailbox (4)

In My Mailbox is a weekly event hosted by Kristi at The Story Siren spotlighting books I've bought in the past week or received for review.

Another week, another trip to the used bookstore with the BFF, and more ARCs to rescue from the shelves. Some I saw last time I was there are gone now, but I'm not sure whether that is good or bad. And then I saw the entire set of this one series and one book from my favorite author and... yeah, books. Unfortunately, I won't be keeping one of these books for long. I'm passing it on to someone else due to a lack of interest on my part. -tear-






Bought:

The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan (review here)
The Demon's Covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan
The Demon's Surrender by Sarah Rees Brennan
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfield
Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart


Will receive for review from Anazon Vine: (They arrive Tuesday and I'm REALLY EFFING EXCITED!)

Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin
Enchanted by Alethea Kontis

Will receive through a swap with another blogger: (It arrives Thursday and once again, I'm REALLY EFFING EXCITED)

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Switched by Amanda Hocking

Title: Switched
Author: Amanda Hocking
Publisher: Macmillan/St. Martin's Griffin
Release Date: January 3, 2012
Pages: 318 pages (paperback)
How I Got the Book: Bought it in a used bookstore

When Wendy Everly was six years old, her mother was convinced she was a monster and tried to kill her. Eleven years later, Wendy discovers her mother might have been right. She’s not the person she’s always believed herself to be, and her whole life begins to unravel—all because of Finn Holmes.

Finn is a mysterious guy who always seems to be watching her. Every encounter leaves her deeply shaken…though it has more to do with her fierce attraction to him than she’d ever admit. But it isn’t long before he reveals the truth: Wendy is a changeling who was switched at birth—and he’s come to take her home.

Now Wendy’s about to journey to a magical world she never knew existed, one that’s both beautiful and frightening. And where she must leave her old life behind to discover who she’s meant to become…

Review:

I just got trolled.

Yes, this is a paranormal romance about trolls, so technically, anyone that reads this book is getting trolled the way someone reading a vampire book gets vampired. That's not the kind of trolled I'm talking about. This kind is:


Not my best work, sadly. The better version of this was tragically lost.

The only reason I remotely enjoyed this book was because I superimposed Internet troll faces onto all the Tryelle/trolls much like I did in the image. That made Switched an unusually hilarious read and it gets an extra star for that, but when taken seriously on its own merit, this book is terrible. Maybe you'll like it if you're into unconvincing paranormal romances and don't mind if those "oh my God, I just discovered I'm royalty" stories like The Princess Diaries get mixed in.

For all the things readers are told Wendy is, the only quality I can really see in her is that she is bratty. She's supposed to care a lot about her human family, right? Then why does she so easily forget them once she among the other Tryelle? I can't remember anything about the other characters either despite all the tell-don't-show characterization. Finn's role could have been better played by a cactus. At least it has living, working cells. That's more than Finn, who is pretty much a piece of cardboard with the ability to speak, can say.

The second half of the novel takes a turn for the sickeningly vapid as details of the extravagance of the Tryelle royal palace take over and go down to the royal iPod (and yes, there is a royal iPod). It may be a princess book and such details are to be expected to some degree, but it was overblown in Switched. Time spent on talking about how wonderful and perfect the palace was and what Wendy's princess lessons were like could have been used to develop characters that desperately needed development and advance a plot that was hardly there.

No one tells Wendy anything and it frustrates me considering everything they keep from her is something she actually needs to know if she is going to do what everyone says she will. There is no intrigue that justifies keeping secrets from her; this is her mother and the two men she interacts with most flat-out starving her of necessary information. How can they expect her to became a just ruler if she has no idea how her kingdom works and who is in it? Secrets are one way to drum up conflict, but it gets downright idiotic if there is no good reason to keep the secrets.

In that vein, why does this book have to follow the misogynistic systems of human monarchies? According to the book, the female Tryelle develop powers more often than the men do (or something like that). Would this and the Tryelle being a completely separate race from humans not be perfectly good reasons to write a more female-friendly monarchy? That would get rid of the eternally stupid problem of royals indoctrinating princesses on what they can't do because it would make them ~impure. Why does Finn get final approval on Wendy's dress? What about Wendy?

I'm just glad it's over. I gave Hocking novels a fair second shot (my first shot was My Blood Approves and I made it exactly one chapter) like I wanted to and now I'm washing my hands of her books now and (hopefully) forevermore. My best friend wants to read this after me and I'm tempted to refuse to give it to her. You don't want this, Kayla! You don't want this.

In case anyone is curious about my thoughts on yaoi Amanda Hocking, this is the only time I will say it and fully expand on it. If you don't care, pretend the review ends in the paragraph above this.

Amanda Hocking is a fantastic businesswoman worthy of my respect.

Amanda Hocking is a terrible author not worth my respect.

At any given point in time, there are two kinds of trends in publishing: the buying trend and the selling trend. The buying trend has to do with the kinds of novels being bought by a publisher so they can be refined any published a year and a half later, sometimes longer; the selling trend is what is already published, on the shelves, and selling well. Back a few years ago, the selling trend was vampire novels thanks to Twilight and meanwhile, the buying trend was dystopian novels. That is why we've seen a switch to dystopian novels as the selling trend.

Like I said, it can be a year and a half between the purchase of a novel by the publisher and final publication. Hocking can produce a first draft in two to four weeks and likely has a final draft a month later. This means she can bypass the long process of a buying trend becoming a selling trend and can cash in on what the selling trend now is while preparing for what comes next, enabling her to make money quickly.

With the takeoff of the ebook industry, consumers want inexpensive books to fill their Kindles and Nooks with and self-published authors can fulfill that need. Hocking's stories are inexpensive, superficially satisfying quick fixes and these are exactly the kinds of books that wildly succeed in the ebook market. She really couldn't have chosen a better market, and this is why she is a millionaire with a seven-figure deal with a major publisher for seven books, four of them brand-new. This entrepreneurship is beyond admirable.

But where is the passion? Never once during Switched did I feel like there was any passion in the story being told. It feels exactly like what it is: an unoriginal novel charged with just enough originality shot in to satisfy most readers, written and published just to make money off current trends in YA. This is why I despise Amanda Hocking the author. There are plenty of copycat novels around, but at least those have some passion in them somewhere, something Switched never had for even a moment.

But what do I know? Switched has spent nine weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. That must mean she's doing something right--and she is. I respect her when viewing her as an incredibly successful businesswoman who has made herself a millionaire through her methods. When viewing her as an author who latches onto trends and publishes sub-par, superficially satisfying novels for the sake of profit, she disgusts me. You will never be able to convince me she feels passionate about her books.

And those are my thoughts on Amanda Hocking. /steps off soapbox

1 star!


What am I reading next?: Angelfall by Susan Ee

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Darkhouse by Karina Halle



Title: Darkhouse
Author: Karina Halle
Publisher: Metal Blonde Books
Release Date: May 1, 2011
Pages: ebook
How I Got the Book: Received it from the author for review

Enter the world of the highly-acclaimed Experiment in Terror Series by visiting...the Darkhouse:

There’s always been something a bit off about Perry Palomino. Though she’s been dealing with a quarter-life crisis and post-college syndrome like any other twenty-something, she’s still not what you would call “ordinary.” For one thing, there’s her past which she likes to pretend never happened, and then there’s the fact that she sees ghosts. Luckily for her, that all comes in handy when she stumbles across Dex Foray, an eccentric producer for an upcoming webcast on ghost hunters. Even though the show’s budget is non-existent and Dex himself is a maddening enigma, Perry is instantly drawn into a world that both threatens her life and seduces her with a sense of importance. Her uncle’s haunted lighthouse provides the perfect catalyst and backdrop for a mystery that unravels the threads of Perry’s fragile sanity and causes her to fall for a man, who, like the most dangerous of ghosts, may not be all that he seems.

Review:

Don't you just hate it when one part of a book is absolutely amazing and the rest leaves so much to be desired? Unfortunately, this is one of the main problems I had with Darkhouse. While it was incredibly fun for the first forty percent or so, it quickly devolved, leaving me with deeper concerns and an unfavorable comparison I have to make even though I don't want to.

For the first part of the book, I grinned like a fool and enjoyed myself immensely. Sure, there were some problems with tense confusion (the narrative would switch between present and past tenses between paragraphs or even mid-sentence), but Perry's temporary ghost blogging adventure was going well. Descriptions of Perry's nightmares were fantastically creepy during her nightmares and her exploration of the lighthouse throughout the book; moments with her sister and Perry's daily life made me smile. All was well and I thought I would enjoy the book.

Then Perry returns to the lighthouse with Dex, the guy she met the first time she went in to explore, and Darkhouse fell into a downward spiral I don't think it ever fully recovered from.

My impression of Perry as a smart (and a likably smart-mouthed) heroine with some demons she would happily keep in her past slowly changed for the worse as the novel went on. She seemed to get blinded by her attraction to Dex and made more than a few horrible decisions. One of her worse decisions? Skipping the hospital when she had a huge head wound and large bruises all over her. The straw that broke my back was when she labeled Dex's girlfriend Jennifer a bitch despite never meeting her and knowing very little about her. I don't like that word and I don't like that kind of attitude.

Dex didn't give me a great first impression and he never proved himself worthy of anything better. I don't like liars, especially liars whose reason for lying is "because sometimes I lie." Really, he lies about stuff like his motivation and whether or not he believes in ghosts for no reason at all. He didn't exactly win me over by forcing Perry to go up a staircase in a haunted lighthouse when she was terrified out of her mind. Why does she trust him the way she does? I really have no idea.

A few recent experiences my friends have had with a particular book called Beautiful Disaster (Jamie McGuire) play into another problem I had with Darkhouse. Now, I have not read BD; I never plan to because I know it will be bad for my mental health and possibly triggering. The research I have done and the discussions my friends point to one problem with BD: how the book would quickly point out how this person is so messed up or how this one thing is so wrong, but it is never truly condemned and that judgment never sticks. This is some very dangerous handwaving considering the content, but this review is not about BD.

So what could Darkhouse have in common with it? They pull the same kind of quick but ineffective condemnation of someone or something--Dex's behavior, in this case, though the two do it on two very different levels. He's a mentally unstable liar (the mental instability is explained later, but the lying really has no excuse, as seen above) and Perry questions why she went along with him when she shouldn't have. Common sense! Yes! But then she lets  his lies and behavior drop so easily. Treating him differently because he has a few issues would be wrong, she shouldn't forget about it either. That's something to keep in mind.

There are a lot of things Perry lets Dex get away with when she shouldn't. Like calling the sister she cares so much about narcissistic because she's a fashion blogger. Like lying to her cousins for absolutely no reason about why he is investigating the lighthouse with Perry. Like indirectly calling his own girlfriend a "self-obsessed stick-thin bimbo." (Context: Dex's boss said Perry wasn't pretty or thin enough like Jennifer (Dex's co-worker and girlfriend) to be the face of a webcast. Dex steps in to defend Perry with "[Perry] may not be a self-obsessed stick-thin bimbo, but she's more than right for this job.")

Since most of my issues lie with the characters, I'm not sure I can continue to follow the series. As I've already learned with a YA series I followed for seven books despite hating its heroine, I can only take so much when I can't stand the characters I should be rooting for. I think I've already hit my limit with Perry and Dex. Still, I did have fun reading it for a time and it's not all bad. With so many inexpensive ebooks out there of great quality, terrible quality, and everything in between, Darkhouse is worth spending time and money on.

3 stars! (But more like 2.5 stars.)


What am I reading next?: Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan

Croak by Gina Damico

Title: Croak
Author: Gina Damico
Publisher: Houghton MIfflin Harcourt/Graphia
Release Date: March 20, 2012
Pages: 320 pages (paperback)
How I Got the Book: ARC received through NetGalley

Fed up with her wild behavior, sixteen-year-old Lex's parents ship her off to upstate New York to live with her Uncle Mort for the summer, hoping that a few months of dirty farm work will whip her back into shape. But Uncle Mort's true occupation is much dirtier than shoveling manure.

He's a Grim Reaper. And he's going to teach Lex the family business.

She quickly assimilates into the peculiar world of Croak, a town populated by reapers who deliver souls from this life to the next. But Lex can't stop her desire for justice--or is it vengeance?--whenever she encounters a murder victim, craving to stop the attackers before they can strike again. Will she ditch Croak and go rogue with her reaper skills.

Review:

Enough is enough. Lex Bartleby's parents can't take anymore of her bad attitude and the multitude of fights she gets into at school. With no other options left, they send her to stay with Uncle Mort for the summer, hoping some time artificially inseminating cows and cleaning up manure will help her clean up her act. Then it turns out she won't be doing farmwork after all because she will learn how to be a Grim Reaper. Almost as soon as she arrives and gets trained in the basics, strange deaths start to pop up. People who weren't supposed to die turn up dead with their eyes fully clouded over. When the connection is revaled and the culprit is unraveled, will Lex do what is right or join in?


Lex starts out rude, crude, and angry like a cat that just got a bath against its will. While she does get some development and the more redeemable sides of her personality shine through later, this barely changes over the course of the novel.  She's an anti-heroine to her core. Some of the supporting characters revealed their pasts to Lex, but I still feel like I don't know them very well at all. Lex's relationships with the people around her could be much stronger than they are.

Croak has an answer for almost every question about how its world of Grims works, from the way it detects when someone is going to die (jellyfish, and I swear it makes sense when they explain it) how they get their jobs done. It's obvious a lot of thought and hard work has gone into building this world up from a few bricks pilfered from somewhere else to a mansion. A few of the twists were a little obvious, but others weren't so clear.

Even though it's about death and the struggle between vengeance and doing what is right, Croak is pretty funny. Black comedy, almost. Death puns are everywhere, and the sheer absurdity of the Afterlife and what many people from history are doing there makes for great mental imagery. Emily Dickinson sobbing all over the place, Quoth the raven pooping on Teddy Roosevelt, John Wilkes Booth and Elvis Presley having an arm-wrestling match while Lincoln watches,... . Combining comedy and death can be tricky, but the book knows clearly where the lines is drawn. A child dying or the rocky pasts of the other Grims? Not funny. Edgar Allen Poe building a Fortress of Solitude? Very funny.

There were quite a few details I feel weren't explained well or given enough depth. It's implied that she has had many, many incidents at school in the past, some of them severe. One was enough to reduce the entire hockey team to tears. With such a record, I can't see how she is still in school no matter how much begging her parents did. At some point much earlier than they did, the school administration would have had to say enough was enough. That she wasn't immediately thrown off the bus after throwing a shoe at the bus driver irks me too. It's got a few other kinks to work out too: some messy narrative head-jumping, some telling, and a little moment of slut-shaming that made me frown. It's a good, fun book as it is now, but it could be better.

Overall, Croak is a darkly comedic book and absolutely absurd in the very best of ways. Considering that books, shows, and movies so strange that they border or become absurd are my favorites, this is a very good thing.

4 stars!



What am I reading next?: Ferocity Summer by Alissa Grosso

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Thyla by Kate Gordon

Title: Thyla
Author: Kate Gordon
Publisher: Random House Australia
Release Date: April 1, 2011
Pages: 287 pages (paperback)
How I Got the Book: A gift from a very awesome friend.

My name is Tessa. I am strong. I am brave. I do not cry. These are the only things I know for certain.

I was found in the bush, ragged as a wild thing. I have no memory—not even of how I got the long, striping slashes across my back. They make me frightened of what I might remember.

The policewoman, Connolly, found me a place in a boarding school and told me about her daughter, Cat, who went missing in the bush.

I think there is a connection between Cat, me, and the strange things going on at this school. If I can learn Cat’s story, I might discover my own—and stop it happening again.

Review:

How strange.

I was forewarned that this tale of an amnesiac girl at a boarding school where strange things are going on was a very unusual book, but the friends that told me about Thyla were also adamant that it was fantastic. Well, one moreso than the other. It was a very strange book, but I did enjoy it overall and wish it were more easily available where I live. Why must Australia be so far away? Why?

I loved Tessa's voice and when she would rediscover something like waffles in the first half of the book, it made me smile. I'm more of a pancakes-drowned-in-maple-syrup kind of girl myself, but we definitely agreed how amazing hash browns are. When she had to rediscover something a little more exclusive to women, I felt her pain. She's so childlike in mannerisms yet so eloquent in her descriptions that I just want to huggle her forever like she's one of my cats. (Speaking of which, the cat I am huggling between fits of typing says hello.)

There's such a large disparity between the first half of the book and the second half that it almost requires reviewing them separately. I didn't have much to say about the first half and already said what I needed to, so on to the second half!

The Tessa of the second half is a very different girl from the first half. As her memories start to come back and she realizes that something is going on at Cascade Falls, she loses her naivete and becomes a tougher young woman than the girl who was amazed by waffles earlier in Thyla. Throughout both halves, her descriptions remain strong and the scrumptious sort of creepy I always love in a book.

Toward the end, I couldn't let go of the book because the unraveling of the mystery, somewhat predictable but also somewhat well-done, and a fight that pulled no punches and upped the stakes for Vulpi, the second book in the series. This is the kind of book that makes me sad it's exclusive to Australia unless you pay the often-exorbitant shipping fees or have a cool friend. How will I be able to continue it?

But oh, Thyla had its weaknesses too. The radical change in tone between the two halves was a little too jarring for me and Tessa's schoolmates, especially mean girl Charlotte Lord and her friends, were woefully one-dimensional. I do not like the word "bitch" and have worked hard to stop using it in the past few months in any form for any reason. Seeing it in books used exactly the way I can't stand will never fail to make me take points off. Yes, Charlotte and co. are terrible people who really need to be taught a thing or two about how to treat other people. No need to dehumanize them by calling them bitches and similar slang words all the time.

And then at the end, surprise romance! And I was kind of like, "Whut?" Not the "What?" reserved for the normal sort of strange, out-of-nowhere occurrences (I know that makes no sense, but bear with me), but the incorrect "Whut?" I use for the truly out-of-nowhere that isn't pulled off very well. Not that I hadn't seen it coming, but it was thrown in there so unnecessarily at the very end that I can't honestly say it doesn't bother me.

Sorry there, Cillian and Shirley--I couldn't pick a team between you after all.

4 stars!


What am I reading next?: Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday (20)

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases we're eagerly anticipating.

(Oops, posted it on Tuesday. Oh well. One less thing to worry about on Wednesday.)

So I saw the cover and description went up for this just a little while ago and I did a very embarrassing arm-flail I'm glad the Internet couldn't see. Not only did I feature the first book of the series (The Gathering Storm) as an earlier Waiting on Wednesday post (see?), but I also read it and loved it (as seen here). I'm excited about The Unfailing Light and can't wait to have a copy of my own so the creepy cover model can stare me down. I usually hate covers that can stare back at me, but I'll make an exception this time.

The Unfailing Light
by Robin Bridges
October 9, 2012
400 pages (hardcover) 

Having had no choice but to use her power has a necromancer to save Russia from dark forces, Katerina Alexandrovna, Duchess of Oldenburg, now wants to forget that she ever used her special powers. She's about to set off to pursue her lifelong dream of attending medical school when she discovers that Russia's arch nemesis--who she thought she'd destroyed--is still alive. So on imperial orders, Katerina remains at her old finishing school. She'll be safe there, because the empress has cast a potent spell to protect it against the vampires and revenants who are bent on toppling the tsar and using Katerina for their own gains. But to Katerina's horror, the spell unleashes a vengeful ghost within the school, a ghost more dangerous than any creature trying to get in.

Monday, March 5, 2012

A Beautiful Dark by Jocelyn Davies

200th post! Woohoo!

Title: A Beautiful Dark
Author: Jocelyn Davies
Publisher: HarperCollins/HarperTeen
Release Date: September 27, 2011
Pages: 390 pages (hardcover)


On the night of Skye's seventeenth birthday, she meets two enigmatic strangers. Complete opposites;like fire and ice;Asher is dark and wild, while Devin is fair and aloof. Their sudden appearance sends Skye's life into a tailspin. She has no idea what they want, or why they seem to follow her every move only that their presence coincides with a flurry of strange events. Soon she begins to doubt not just the identity of the two boys, but also the truth about her own past.

In the dead of a bitingly cold Colorado winter, Skye finds herself coming to terms with the impossible secret that threatens to shatter her world. Torn between Asher, who she can't help falling for, and Devin, who she can't stay away from, the consequences of Skye's choice will reach further than the three of them could ever imagine.

Review:

Once upon a time, there was an idea, A Beautiful Dark, and me.

See, I like to write too. I want to be published one day, and one of the many ideas I've had (but have not yet had the chance to pursue) went like this: an agent of good, an agent of evil, and the high school girl they're trying to win over to their side of an ancient war. Only good is also evil, evil is still evil (but sympathetic), and the high school girl will take no bull from either of them. She won't waste her time with anyone who don't give her the respect than she deserves and would rather die than be forced to join the war on either side against her will--and does, actually.

It sounds like a lot of YA these days, right? But A Beautiful Dark in particular seemed to come close to what I had planned. I don't want to be a plagiarist or a copycat (and despite what the success of one author might tell you, being a plagiarist or a copycat does not get you anywhere), so I resolved to read this book despite knowing I wouldn't like it very much. I don't always read bad books for snark, you know. It's occasionally for a pseudo-educational purpose.

And lo and behold, my instincts and were right. I did not like this book, but it gave me some food for thought and a greater sense of direction with my own story. I'll have to make a few changes because they're more similar than I would like them to be, but it will inevitably improve my story so it doesn't end up being as bad as A Beautiful Dark.

In equal parts, Sky drove me nuts and earned my pity. On the drove-me-nuts side, she was inconsistently characterized and I couldn't get a good handle on her. In a single chapter, she does from "I vowed to avoid [Asher and Devin] as much as possible" to "If I kissed [Asher] right now, he'd taste like mint" to (when Asher asks her on a date) "[Meeting my friends] was the truth, but it felt like I was making up an excuse somehow."

But Skye wants to go to Columbia! Fantastic! Aspiring for admission to such a college is a quality I like in heroines. Tell me, what does she want as a career? What is her planned major? How much has it influenced who she is?

Hello? Anyone?

Exactly. It's called characterization. Readers could have gotten a deeper sense of who Skye was with that kind of detail, but a half-baked attempt like this only makes the book worse. Books like A Beautiful Dark that make half-baked attempts at characterization like that (it seems so obvious the detail was shoved in at the last minute so the book wouldn't be called anti-feminist) make me angrier than books that don't try at all. This isn't the only book to try such a trick. It's more like the fifth I've read in recent memory.

Devin and Asher were not well-developed as love interests or as characters. Skye knows their pursuit of her has nothing to do with wanting her affection--in fact, she brings this up multiple times. So why is she attracted to them? Why does she tolerate their attentions and agonize over whether or not she likes them when they aren't worth a second of her time? They aren't worth her time. Skye should have the self-respect to recognize she deserves more than lies and games of hot-and-cold. Every woman does.

Do we really teach young women should tolerate and even encourage someone's pursuit of them even if she knows it's a farce? We're in 2012, not 1889. Why do we still teach them to disrespect themselves like this when it's wrong on multiple levels? I was practically on my knees begging Skye to have some self-respect and tell them to piss off until their pursuit became more about her than each other, but she never did. I thought she would after demonstrating the presence of a working brain, but it appears only a miniscule piece of that brain actually worked. This is why I pity her.

This book doesn't have enough action to be plot-driven or enough deep characterization to be character-driven, so what drives the book? Nothing. It's a plotless piece of fluff. Only read it if you absolutely love love triangles. Again, ONLY READ IT IF YOU ABSOLUTELY LOVE LOVE TRIANGLES. You will not like it otherwise. Writing is blah, supporting characters are blah, and everything about this book is just. So. Blah.

In terms of enjoyment, it gets one star, but it earns a star back because it was useful. I have a clearer idea of what I want to do. For one thing, my heroine is going to have enough self-respect to tell her suitors to piss off when she figures out they're not actually fighting over her, just what she can do. A girl is worth more than that kind of treatment. For another, she's not going to flip-flop about how she feels multiple times in one chapter. Books like A Beautiful Dark make me weary of YA and our society, but they teach me so many things. I suppose I can be thankful for that much.

2 stars!


What am I reading next?: Hanging by a Thread by Sophie Littlefield

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Deadly Cool by Gemma Halliday

Title: Deadly Cool
Author: Gemma Halliday
Publisher: HarperCollins/HarperTeen
Release Date: October 11, 2011
Pages: 303 pages (paperback)
How I Got the Book: ARC found at a used bookstore

Hartley Grace Featherstone is having a very bad day. First she finds out that her boyfriend is cheating on her with the president of the Herbert Hoover High School Chastity Club. Then he's pegged as the #1 suspect in a murder. And if that weren't enough, now he's depending on Hartley to clear his name. Seriously? Not cool.

But as much as Hartley wouldn't mind seeing him squirm, she knows he's innocent, and she's the only one who can help him. Along with her best friend, Sam, and the school's resident Bad Boy, Chase, Hartley starts investigating on her own. But as the dead bodies begin to pile up, the mystery deepens, the suspects multiply, and Hartley begins to fear that she may be the killer's next victim.

Review:

After a frustrating week in books that had me reading one book not worth its good word and another that drove me up the wall with its poor quality, I needed something warm, fluffy, and assuredly good to get me back in the reading spirit. Deadly Cool was promised to be as much and I'm happy to say she came through for me. Let's get back to the good stuff, folks!

Hartley's snarky voice made me giggle a few times and got full-on fits of laughter out of me twice, and laughing fits are not that easy to get from me. Ask my friends. They've been trying for years. I had a few writing niggles (pop culture references and starting too many sentences with conjunctions bug me), but they were easily forgotten every time Hartley made a cheeky, witty observation. That she had a good enough moral compass to help her ex Josh even though he cheated on her (and I loved seeing her chew him out for that) won me over too.

Her, best friend Sam, and ... (I'll talk about it in the next paragraph) Chase's often bumbling attempts at investigating the murders kept me smiling, and I quickly found myself genuinely invested in where their investigation would lead them. For such a funny book, the final scene with the killer was incredibly tense. I couldn't read quickly enough! Maybe I could have caught the killer's identity beforehand if I'd been paying enough attention, but I didn't see their identity coming for once. Three cheers for books that don't feel predictable!

Speaking of Chase, I'm not sure exactly who he is. He seems like a mix of all the general YA male lead characteristics someone could think of off the top of their head. Bad boy that goes commando? Check! Broad and buff like a football player? Check! Occasional writer of love poems? Check! Such a hodgepodge of characteristics could have blended more naturally, but he felt like exactly what I just called him: a hodgepodge of characteristics.

If you need a good pick-up book after a rough week, Hartley's story of lies, murder, an snooping for a killer despite thinking the main suspect is a "craptastical, gutless, son-of-a-cactus-humping butt monkey" is sure to cure what ails you. All you need is a good suspension of disbelief.

4 stars!


What am I reading next?: The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Embrace by Jessica Shirvington

Title: Embrace
Author: Jessica Shirvington
Publisher: Sourcebooks/Sourcebooks Fire
Release Date: March 6, 2012
Pages: 400 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: ARC provided by Amazon Vine

It starts with a whisper: “It’s time for you to know who you are…”

Violet Eden dreads her seventeenth birthday. After all, it’s hard to get too excited about the day that marks the anniversary of your mother’s death. As if that wasn’t enough, disturbing dreams haunt her sleep and leave her with very real injuries. There’s a dark tattoo weaving its way up her arms that wasn’t there before.

Violet is determined to get some answers, but nothing could have prepared her for the truth. The guy she thought she could fall in love with has been keeping his identity a secret: he’s only half-human—oh, and same goes for her.

A centuries-old battle between fallen angels and the protectors of humanity has chosen its new warrior. It’s a fight Violet doesn’t want, but she lives her life by two rules: don’t run and don’t quit. When angels seek vengeance and humans are the warriors, you could do a lot worse than betting on Violet Eden...

Review:

Books like Embrace make me wonder whether or not I hate myself.

Why else would I go into what I recognized as a risky book with high hopes and expect it to be good? I could only be setting myself up for disaster. Three-hundred sixty-nine pages later, sixty of those skipped and another one-hundred skimmed for the sake of my health, my hopes have been thrown into a bag of dog crap, set on fire, and left on my porch for me to discover. A few feet away, a piece of paper is taped up with nothing but a smiley face on it.

Our heroine Violet is whiny, selfish, and naive. We got off on the wrong foot at the start because of how she described her best friend, among other things, and we never got on better terms. Her motivation for saving someone else's life? How it will affect her. Not because saving someone else's life is the right thing to do, but because seeing them die will make her miserable. Her characterization is also inconsistent; an incident where a teacher tried to sexually assault her is supposed to affect how she interacts with other people, but it gets brought up twice and never mentioned again. I unfortunately know from personal experience that it is not that easy.

She also can't make a good decision to save her life, and I mean this almost literally. Given the choice between spending time with a miserable friend and spending time with an exiled angel you just met, don't completely trust, and know is following you around, I would certainly choose door number one because I have a brain like that. Violet charges headfirst through door number two and never stops to so much as shake off the wood chips.

The aforementioned Phoenix is one of the creepiest, most untrustworthy love interests I have ever seen and Violet comes to trust him so easily that it nearly drove me batty. Thirty pages is all it takes her to go from thinking he's creepy to having no problem with it when he shows up in her room in the middle of the night while she's sleeping. His endless innuendos weren't romantic or sexy; they made me a little sick, actually. Another point that is not romantic? How he has no issue with manipulating Violet's emotions as he pleases. The symbolism of Violet tasting apples when he came around was not lost on me, though I wish it could have been so I could have rolled my eyes less.

Her other love interest Lincoln is no better for different reasons, but there is more to say about Phoenix. What the two of them share is a violent strong enough to make me fear for Violet no matter how much I dislike her. What if that anger gets taken out on her one day instead of a wall or a door? Entirely too much time was spent on the love triangle when each of them should have had five-hundred yard restraining orders in place on the other two. First books do have to do a lot of set-up, but when the book is almost entirely set-up and angst with very little action, a reader can't be blamed if they don't want to read the second book. The first book needs action too.

The "cosmic order" of Embrace didn't appear to make much sense. Put together a man and a woman and give them complementary powers. Then give them a deep connection that affects their very souls and say they are meant to be partners that fight against the exiled angels. But can they be together romantically if their deep connection happens to give birth to romantic feelings? Absolutely not! This feels more like an excuse for Lincoln and Violet to angst about how they can't be together than anything.

Sure, I pick out bad books to read sometimes just because I expect them to be horrible or because I want to learn something from their poor quality, but I swear I requested this novel with only the purest intentions. There was no expectation for it to be fantastic because it was risky, but I expected it to be readable at the very least. What I got was a book devoid of a single redeeming quality. I regret my reading experience turned out so badly, but I don't regret anything I've said because every word of it is the truth.

0 stars!



What am I reading next?: Deadly Cool by Gemma Halliday