Saturday, September 29, 2012

Stacking the Shelves (3)

Stacking The Shelves, hosted by Tynga's Reviews, is all about sharing the books you are adding to your shelves, may it be physical or virtual. This means you can include books you buy in physical store or online, books you borrow from friends or the library, review books, gifts and of course ebooks!

I haven't done a post in a while and don't feel like listing aaaaaaaaaaaall the books I've gotten since July, so here are the ones I got in the last week or two.


The Homecoming MasqueradeSweet Venom (Medusa Girls #1)


Bought:


The Homecoming Masquerade by Spencer Baum
  • You know I love my vampire stories, and this one sounds like fun. And it's free!
Sweet Venom by Tera Lynn Childs
  • Another freebie! I wasn't terribly interested in it before, but I don't have anything to lose, right?
The Torn Wing by Kiki Hamilton
  • I'm in the middle of this one now and while it's a little better than The Faerie Ring (which I rated 2 stars), it's still not very impressive. Plus, it's screwing with well-established historical facts about hemophilia in the royal family and that bothers me.
Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon volumes 1-5 by Naoko Takeuchi
  • I grew up when it was popular/airing on Toonami every afternoon and I've always wanted to read the manga because I know they're radically different from the show. I've read the first two volumes already and like it! Admittedly, there's one manga/anime series I will always love more: Tokyo Mew Mew.
 Won in a giveaway held by Nova Ren Suma:

17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma (signed), Imaginary Girls bookmark, and personalized Imaginary Girls card
  • -jumps up and down- I've already read it and was... less impressed than I was with the five-star Imaginary Girls, sadly, but this author remains one of my favorites and you won't be able to pry her books from me until I'm nothing but dust in the ground.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Sampling Samplers: Breathless Reads (Fall 2012)

Breathless Reads Fall 2012 SamplerEvery now and then, certain publishers put out small, free samplers of their upcoming releases. I've never thought much of them before, but now they will be part of a new feature on my blog: Sampling Samplers.

Sampler 1: Origin by Jessica Khoury

 Stories about the struggles of perfect beings like Pia who have pet jaguars, can run twelve miles without breaking a sweat, don't bleed, and get almost everything they want are not very interesting to me. Still, it is competently written and I see why there is such hype over Khoury's debut novel. It just so happens that while I do think science is evil, I don't think it's seriously evil the way I feel this book would come to paint it.

(The intrigue was enough to make me check out the reviews, however. Insta-love and all, this doesn't sounds like my thing.)

Would I read on?: Unlikely.

Sampler 2: The Innocents by Lili Peloquin

No. Just no. Badly written with too much exposition/telling-not-showing in just the first two chapters and reading the excerpt in this sampler felt like a chore even though it was not very long. I get a Gossip Girl-esque vibe from this book and I dislike Gossip Girl-esque novels. I was not interested before and I am even less interested now.


Would I read on?: No.

Sampler 3: Venom by Fiona Paul

This specific excerpt held my attention the most out of the five stories featured, with the second most-interesting story coming in at a very, very close second. I didn't get the chance to connect with Cass the way I wanted to, but I liked the way the first two chapters were written, especially when Cass goes out to the cemetery to see her friend one final time--only to find her friend is not in the coffin where she should be--and ends up running for her life. The cliffhanger of that chapter makes me want to read on and see who was chasing her, but that was where the excerpt ended.

Would I read on?: Yes. The question is pretty much rendered null and void because I'm on an ARC tour for this book and have to read it, but I would have whether or not I got on that tour.

Sampler 4: Black City by Elizabeth Richards

A dystopian/post-apocalyptic novel with vampires being called Darklings and oppressed by humans. Okay. Sounds like a great idea, especially due to my soft spot for vampires, and the alternating chapters Ash and Natalie narrate have their own style and voice. Still, there's something about it that failed to capture me. My weariness of dystopians/post-apocalyptics, most likely. Natalie giving her Darkling maid a mandated ID bracelet like it's a gift put me off too. Just a few pages before, she was cringing at the dehumanizing torture and treatment of Wrath-infected Darklings, but she gives her maid a gold ID bracelet declaring she is owned by Natalie like it's not dehumanizing. Ugh.

Apparently, dystopic/post-apocalyptic novels with vampires in them only work for me if the author's name is Julie Kagawa.

Would I read on?: Unlikely.

Sampler 5: Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes

"Not my thing" is pretty much the phrase of this sampler. High fantasy is not my thing, though Rhodes (who is, by the way, Michelle Rowen writing under a pen name) writes it well and Venom just barely beats it out as the story with the most potential. Dividing up a story between more than three characters is risky territory and in just the chapters featured in this sampler, I see the story through the eyes of five. I might read on, but I can't see myself buying this unless I am absolutely assured I will love it. This would be a borrow, most likely. Fans of A Game of Thrones and all its sequels might be into this.

Would I read on?: Maybe.

Find this sampler and others on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, their Facebook page, and other online booksellers.

The Liar Society by Lisa and Laura Roecker

Title: The Liar Society
Author: Lisa and Laura Roecker
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Release Date: March 1, 2011
Pages: 368 pages (paperback)
How I Got the Book: Got it as a Christmas gift.
Purchase/Pre-order: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
Promotional Materials and More: author website

The Liar Society (The Liar Society, #1)Since when do the dead send emails?

Kate Lowry's best friend Grace died a year ago. So when she gets an email from her, Kate's more than a little confused.

To: KateLowry@pemberlybrown.edu
From: GraceLee@pemberlybrown.edu
Subject: (no subject)
Kate,
I'm here... sort of.
Find Cameron. He knows.
I shouldn't be writing.
Don't tell. They'll hurt you.

Now Kate has no choice but to prove once and for all that Grace's death was more than just a tragic accident. She teams up with a couple of knights-in-(not-so)-shining armor-the dangerously hot bad boy, Liam, and her lovestruck neighbor, Seth. But at their elite private school, there are secrets so big people will do anything to protect them-even if it means getting rid of anyone trying to solve a murder...


Review:


Oh, book. I wanted to love you, but by the time you started calling Bethany Beefany because she's built like a linebacker, I had a feeling I wasn't going to.

I was right.

To give The Liar Society its due praise, the storyline of the warring secret societies within Kate's school and the role they might have played in Grace's death is vividly drawn and well-paced. My worries about Nice Guy Syndrome creeping into this book were deftly put to rest. Readers always know Seth has feelings for Kate, but she is never under any pressure to return his feelings because he's a "nice guy" and he's entitled to her returning them or any of that bull.

All the feminism points the book earned through the avoidance of Nice Guy Syndrome were taken away--and then some--but Kate's inability not to be an asshat to other people.

P. 106: "A handful of girls trailed after [Porter] who either suffered from First Year-itis or were raging gold-diggers who loved the sound of their last names hyphenated with "Reynolds.""

Readers are supposed to root for Kate, but that becomes a challenge with quotes like the one above. She seems thoroughly dedicated to being a terrible person. We are also supposed to believe that she cares about Seth as a friend, but she only ever uses him like a tool and looks down on him/his interests. As previously mentioned, she makes fun of Bethany's linebacker-esque body type by calling her Beefany. Her body type isn't something she can control and it's not funny. At all. Kate is just being awful.

And then she started throwing around "slut."

P. 298 (while talking about a dress that barely covers her butt because she has outgrown it): The slutty look worked well for Hollywood starlets and girls hanging out on street corners, but I decided it might be best to attempt a slightly more subtle fashion statement for my first Homecoming dance."

P. 300: "When you mix a Mardi-Gras-themed dance with teenage hormones, the result is a combination of girls who look largely like underage prostitutes and oversexed boys who dangle copious amounts of beads in hopes of finding a girl drunk enough (or slutty enough) to flash them."

I don't stand for validated, unchallenged slut-shaming. I consider these instances validated because Kate is never, ever called out on any of her behavior. Is she supposed to be funny? She's not.

In short, REVEALING CLOTHES DO NOT EQUAL SLUTTY, M'KAY?

The mystery that drives the novel is easy to solve if one is an attentive reader, but Kate is not so good at connecting the dots or making logical conclusions. (On the subject of logic, this book has little; one of the gems is that riding a bike makes you uncool or a geek. I don't know either.) As the clues build up, the mystery is practically solved, but Kate is only halfway there.

Characterization is serviceable enough, but development and the strength of the relationships between characters is subpar. Trying to characterize Kate as unpopular fails when three popular boys, the bad boy, and the friend all flirt with or have feelings for her. I'm surprisingly untroubled by so many guys being into her, seeing as most of my manuscripts have two or three people who are anywhere from flirting with to obsessed with the main character. It's how it contradicts her characterization that bothers me.

The ending of the novel is rather frustrating because we all want to see things put to rights, but considering the themes of justice and how the secret societies within Pemberly Brown are tied up in it, it is also appropriate. A more positive ending would have been unrealistic.

The sequel The Lies That Bind comes out November 1, 2012 and I do not think I will be reading it.

1.5 stars!


What am I reading next?: 17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Assassin's Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Title: The Assassin's Curse
Author: Cassandra Rose Clarke
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Release Date: October 2, 2012
Pages: 320 pages (paperback)
How I Got the Book: ARC from the publisher via NetGalley
Purchase/Pre-order: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
Promotional Materials and More: author website

The Assassin's Curse (The Assassin's Curse, #1)Ananna of the Tanarau abandons ship when her parents try to marry her off to an allying pirate clan: she wants to captain her own boat, not serve as second-in-command to her handsome yet clueless fiance. But her escape has dire consequences when she learns the scorned clan has sent an assassin after her.

And when the assassin, Naji, finally catches up with her, things get even worse. Ananna inadvertently triggers a nasty curse — with a life-altering result. Now Ananna and Naji are forced to become uneasy allies as they work together to break the curse and return their lives back to normal. Or at least as normal as the lives of a pirate and an assassin can be.


Review:


And the hype catches me yet again, making me the mouse to its dangerous, cheese-holding mousetrap. With the promise of pirates, assassins, and magic, it lured me in and made me think it was going to be good. Instead, I barely enjoyed reading The Assassin's Curse.

Though Ananna's voice sounded younger than her seventeen years and some of the deliberate errors that give her voice a distinctive quality bug me at times, I like the writing style. It has its snafus every now and then (how does one smile with the skin around their eyes?), but I generally had fun when I concentrated only on the writing. When I paid attention to the subject matter, I enjoyed the novel far less.

There's a fine line between a rebellious character and a bratty character, and Ananna crossed that line soundly. She fusses about everything both worth fussing about and everything not worth fussing about. It gets grating after a while, you know? Naji isn't much better, what with how he never tells Ananna anything. Yet by the end of the novel, Ananna is somehow in love with Naji. How? She details why it seems strange for her to love him by listing his flaws, but she doesn't say a word about his redeeming qualities or does anything to make the reader think she knows him deeply. It's not insta-love, but it sure is baseless love.

One thing that really got my goat was the presentation and characterization of Leila, a river witch and implied former lover of Naji's. Like the rest of the cast, she is two-dimensional, but she is especially bad. She drapes herself all over Naji and plays with him while barely tolerating Ananna and putting her down. She leads them on for a week and makes them think she might be able to cure them, but nope! No cure! They spend a week there just because she decided to lead them on.

Seriously? Give me better female characterization than that. 

Really, this novel isn't too exciting. They spend most of it traveling and having the occasional encounter that may or may not actually be exciting. I enjoyed everything to begin with, but once Ananna saved Naji's life and the curse that makes him have to protect her took effect, it all started going downhill.

The Pirate's Wish, the second book of this duology, comes out next year. I don't know if there's enough I liked in this novel for me to read on.

2 stars!


What am I reading next?: The Forsaken by Lisa M. Stasse

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Ironskin by Tina Connolly

Title: Ironskin
Author: Tina Connolly
Publisher: Tor Books
Release Date: October 2, 2012
Pages: 304 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: ARC from the publisher via NetGalley
Purchase/Pre-order: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
Promotional Materials and More: author website

Ironskin (Ironskin, #1)Jane Eliot wears an iron mask.

It’s the only way to contain the fey curse that scars her cheek. The Great War is five years gone, but its scattered victims remain—the ironskin.

When a carefully worded listing appears for a governess to assist with a "delicate situation"—a child born during the Great War—Jane is certain the child is fey-cursed, and that she can help.

Teaching the unruly Dorie to suppress her curse is hard enough; she certainly didn’t expect to fall for the girl’s father, the enigmatic artist Edward Rochart. But her blossoming crush is stifled by her own scars, and by his parade of women. Ugly women, who enter his closed studio...and come out as beautiful as the fey.

Jane knows Rochart cannot love her, just as she knows that she must wear iron for the rest of her life. But what if neither of these things is true? Step by step Jane unlocks the secrets of her new life—and discovers just how far she will go to become whole again.


Review:


Retellings can be tricky to pull off. In my experience, they work best when they capture the original's magic by relying on its plot and characters in certain places and diverging from the original in others in order to give it the feel that it's a book of its own, not a complete repeat of the original. It can be a difficult balance to create and unfortunately, I don't think Ironskin manages it, as a retelling of Jane Eyre with steampunk influences and fairies.

One of the high points of Ironskin was the development of the relationship between Jane and her charge Dorie, who can do strange things like move objects without touching them and yet is not fey. Strange children are among my favorite sorts of characters and Dorie fits the bill perfectly! The beginning of the novel was the best kind of grabbing and I loved how Connolly developed her ideas throughout the novel. It appears there will be a sequel and I might be interested in reading it to see where it will take readers next.

While there are things I genuinely like, the novel became a slog for me to read after the 25% mark (roughly 70 pages). There are long stretches in the beginning where little to nothing happens and neither the plot nor the characters drive the story. What Mr. Rochart is doing with the women isn't given any attention until well over halfway through the novel and within the last 100 pages, the book veers off unexpectedly into territory most often traveled by run-of-the-mill urban fantasy novels.

Most of all, Ironskin fails to capture the magic of Jane Eyre, transfer any of the source material's strengths to itself, or create a resemblance between the characters of one and the other. Jane and Mr. Rochart's romance lacks the compelling element of Jane and Mr. Rochester's (and I say that as someone who didn't care for Mr. Rochester). The two novels focus on entirely different themes and events and in the end, they're only loosely related to one another. Ironskin would have been better off to drop all the elements it has as a retelling of Charlotte Bronte's classic and simply be an original novel. No retellings or anything.

Readers coming to this book because it's a Jane Eyre retelling with steampunk and fairies may find themselves unsatisfied with the novel, but anyone who wants it because it sounds like a great idea regardless of its status as a retelling (or better yet, are unfamiliar with Jane Eyre) may enjoy it more than I did.

2 stars!


What am I reading next?: The Demon Catchers of Milan by Kat Beyer

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

League of Strays by L.B. Schulman

Title: League of Strays
Author: L.B. Schulman
Publisher: Amulet Books
Release Date: October 1, 2012
Pages: 288 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: ARC from the publisher through NetGalley.
Purchase/Pre-order: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
Promotional Materials and More: author website

This suspenseful debut follows a group of teenage misfits in their delicious quest for revenge on those who have wronged them at their high school. When a mysterious note appears in Charlotte's mailbox inviting her to join the League of Strays, she's hopeful it will lead to making friends. What she discovers is a motley crew of loners and an alluring, manipulative ringleader named Kade. Kade convinces the group that they need one another both for friendship and to get back at the classmates and teachers who have betrayed them. But Kade has a bigger agenda. In addition to vandalizing their school and causing fights between other students, Kade's real intention is a dangerous plot that will threaten lives and force Charlotte to choose between her loyalty to the League and her own conscience.

Review:


A premise I thought had promise and a cover I kind of liked because of how the models' expressions match the story ended up going to waste and upsetting me more than I thought it would. League of Strays reads well and it was never a slog to get through, but characters I don't find the least bit interesting, bad handling of subject matter, and a lack of understanding as to why these characters do what they do.

I don't have to like a character to want to read about them. They can be on level with Hitler and I will read about them as long as they are complex and interesting enough. I didn't like any of these characters. Richie, Nora, and Zoe just weren't fleshed out enough for me to care much about them; Charlotte and Kade are a different story.

At first, I felt for Charlotte. She's a lonely, friendless girl who's been bullied for years by the same person and doesn't appreciate herself. When she finally "makes friends" after joining the League of Strays, I kind of get why she didn't want to speak up against them... at first. As the novel went on, what little interest I had in her evaporated and as things got more outrageous, the novel failed to make me understand why she ignored the most basic common sense. Charlotte upset me greatly with this quote:
"Sidney Bishop told Nicole Haines that Mark Lawrence had beat up his girlfriend, who was recovering at Glenwood Community Hospital with a broken hand. I prayed it was true, because that would mean our plan for Dave had nothing to do with this latest development (ARC p. 139)."
 No! Absolutely not! Saying you hope a girl suffered through domestic abuse because it meant you and your friends were safe is unacceptable. I could have finished this book that night, but I was so upset by this quote that I had to put it off until I calmed down. Charlotte interrogating a girl Kade stalked and beat up about what happened when the girl is obviously distressed didn't do much to make her likable or interesting either.

Charlotte is also in need of a brain transplant because all the brain cells in her head appear to be dead. Everything is right in front of her face and she blatantly ignores it. Her response to finding a letter from their school principal to a judge stating that Kade stole stuff, stalked people, had sociopathic tendencies, and allegedly assaulted someone? Make out with Kade for a while and stay at his apartment that night. She does not think back on that letter until Zoe brings up her research on the alleged assault and Charlotte acts like she's never heard about it before. My frustration can only be measured in tufts of hair.

The strength of Kade's character is a make-it-or-break-it detail. Charismatic enough to motivate the Strays into doing terrible things, the book falls if he is anything less than what he is supposed to be--and he was. From the beginning, he is undeniably creepy and lacks the necessary charisma to make me believe he could get his friends to do what they do over the course of the novel even when I put myself in the girls' mindsets. That makes it seem like the only reason the girls are following him is because he's drop-dead gorgeous, and I don't like that implication. He seemed like a badly failed attempt at emulating the qualities that made Charlie Manson such a powerful, dangerous cult leader.

And the scene that started it all: one of the Strays' plots against a bully results in a scene that could trigger someone sensitive to homophobia or violence related by it. If those are your triggers, BE VERY CAREFUL WITH THIS BOOK. A summary of the scene is in the next paragraph, but skip it if you think you would be uncomfortable reading it.

During the novel, they set up Dave, who bullies fellow Stray Richie for being gay, to meet a nonexistent girl at the post office. The Strays then drop a letter into the locker of Mark, Dave's rival/teammate and fellow homophobe, that will make him think Dave is meeting another man for a romantic tryst at the post office. Mark and other football players end up beating up Dave because they think he is gay, eventually breaking his arm. I am not one to be triggered by such material, but I still felt very uncomfortable throughout the scene because of what it is with no frills: a group of people beating someone up because they think he's gay.

I want to give Charlotte minute credit because, though she proposed the plan, she did not intend for Dave to be beaten up. Partway through the prank, she realizes just how wrong she was to let something like that happen and is rightfully disgusted at herself and at the scene. Then I remember that intent is not magical and she gets no credit. The other Strays also get no credit because they think he deserves it. No one, not even a bully, deserves to be beaten up because someone thinks they're gay. It's a shame Charlotte doesn't say she's done for another 100 pages.

Kinda funny how a book with a gay person as one of its five main characters is homophobic, huh? If it weren't homophobic, the Strays wouldn't have decided the perfect way to get revenge on Dave was to frame him and make people think he was gay. Since when is being gay a bad thing? NEVER, that's when. The bullying problem is only solved when Ritchie is shoved back in the closed and Dave thinks he's straight, and that isn't cool either.

The scene with Dave getting beaten up because the other jocks thought he was gay upset many of my friends. Though I have a slightly different view on the scene, it can be very uncomfortable to read about, much less read for oneself. I like the way Schulman writes because it's smooth and easy to read, but I'm sad that gift is put to use telling an upsetting, weak story with uninteresting, unlikable characters. Hopefully, any books she publishes in the future will be an improvement upon this. There isn't much lower one can go.

1 star!


What am I reading next?: Dani Noir by Nova Ren Suma

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Heads Up, Everyone! FeedBurner Issues

This is me abandoning FeedBurner and making sure you're all aware.

If you also use FeedBurner for your feed services and email subscriptions, you may have noticed that earlier this week, everyone's reader counts were reduced to zero, whether they had 14,000 feed/email subscribers or three. For some bloggers, losing those followers means taking a huge hit; some friends I talked with reported seeing pretty decent losses in views in the days after FeedBurner's counting code broke. Personally, my view count hasn't changed from its 150-200 per day norm, but that's not the point here.

For multiple reasons, such as its Twitter and blog being abandoned and the abandonment of feedburner.jp, it seems like FeedBurner is on the way to self-destructing. I want to be settled with a new feed service before that happens so I don't suffer as great a loss. There are a number of different sites people abandoning FeedBurner can go to, such as FeedBlitz, Rapid Feeds, Feedity, and the service I'm now using unless I decide I dislike it, Feedcat. If you're a fellow blogger considering a switch, check them all out and see what's right for you. I'm on Feedcat because it's free and offers some good options, but if you're willing to pay, the sites have some pretty good paid plans.

If you followed me through a feedcatcher or by email through FeedBurner, you may have to make some changes. For email subscribers, look for the Feedcat Feed Count in my sidebar and scroll over the blue button there. You can enter your email address and be subscribed again. Feedcat has been up and down today most likely due to traffic increases, so hopefully, you will catch it when it's working.

Thank you for understanding, my lovely followers. I have been working on adding new ways to follow my blog so you can find whatever is most convenient for you and this is just another change I need to make. Love you!

Obsidian by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Title: Obsidian
Author: Jennifer L. Armentrout
Publisher: Entangled
Release Date: November 29, 2011
Pages: 361 pages (paperback)
How I Got the Book: Bought it.
Purchase/Pre-order: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
Promotional Materials and More: book trailer | author website

Obsidian (Lux, #1)Starting over sucks.

When we moved to West Virginia right before my senior year, I'd pretty much resigned myself to thick accents, dodgy internet access, and a whole lot of boring.... until I spotted my hot neighbor, with his looming height and eerie green eyes. Things were looking up.

And then he opened his mouth.

Daemon is infuriating. Arrogant. Stab-worthy. We do not get along. At all. But when a stranger attacks me and Daemon literally freezes time with a wave of his hand, well, something...unexpected happens.

The hot alien living next door marks me.

You heard me. Alien. Turns out Daemon and his sister have a galaxy of enemies wanting to steal their abilities, and Daemon's touch has me lit up like the Vegas Strip. The only way I'm getting out of this alive is by sticking close to Daemon until my alien mojo fades.

If I don't kill him first, that is.


Review:


Jennifer L. Armentrout is like one of those inescapable, Internet-conquering memes.

In my circles, I can't click on an adorable cat picture or even scratch my own rear end without hearing someone praise Armentrout's novels to Tibet and back. The campaign her Lux series street team put on before the release of the second book Onyx seemed to involve every other YA blog I could find and everyone wanted to get their hands on the series--and her other series, the Covenant novels. Trusting some friends who gave the novel very positive reviews, I took the leap and read Obsidian.

Trusting those friends was not a good idea in my case.

Sometimes, Katy has a brain. When Daemon acts like a jerk, she calls him out on it and gets mad at at him the way other YA heroines might not. Awesome! Well, until she starts going on and on about how hot Daemon is and I beg her to shut up and focus. One can only stand the drool for so long before they feel like it's time to take a shower. Another thing that should be commended: their chemistry. Armentrout can write some intense chemistry between her characters that makes the few make-out scenes extra-hot.

And as Katy points out, Daemon likes to have his shirt off. In my head, I heard Mai Valentine say "Fanservice!" every time he was shirtless. Because that's what it is: fanservice.

This may not have been a good idea from the beginning. Fluffy romances, contemporary or paranormal or beyond, are not a good fit for me unless the characters falling in love are interesting, dynamic characters who can keep my interest based on their own merits. Romance alone isn't enough of a motivation for me to keep reading. Daemon and Katy are not anywhere near interesting enough to hold my attention, and reading the book became a chore all too quickly.

Once I came to the part where three straight chapters of infodump tell readers everything they need to know about Daemon and Dee's kind, it seemed like the end was in sight. Not a chance! I was only halfway there. This was one book I desperately wanted to make shut up, but my determination to finish this book and try to see this book though everyone else's eyes kept me going. It almost seemed to slow down even further after that point as if to torture me, but I'm paranoid that everything (even my own body!) is out to get me, so don't take that seriously.

The writing itself was rough and rather bland. There are a quite a few good one-liners highlighted on my Kindle, but there's no prose I could specifically highlight as pretty or even memorable. I don't want to say it and therefore will not, but it's derivative of one very popular YA paranormal novel. Not as derivative as other books I could name, but there is more than one parallel that can be drawn between the two books.

I have no plans to read Onyx. Though the prequel novella Shadows is in my possession too, I don't think I'll be reading that either. There are too many other books to read.

2 stars!


What am I reading next?: Death and the Girl Next Door by Darynda Jones

Friday, September 21, 2012

Give Up the Ghost by Megan Crewe

Title: Give Up the Ghost
Author: Megan Crewe
Publisher: Henry Holt Books for Young Readers
Release Date: September 15, 2009
Pages: 241 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: Bought it.
Purchase/Pre-order: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
Promotional Materials and More: book trailer | author website

Give Up the Ghost

Cass McKenna much prefers ghosts over “breathers.” Ghosts are uncomplicated and dependable, and they know the dirt on everybody…and Cass loves dirt. She’s on a mission to expose the dirty secrets of the poseurs in her school.

But when the vice president of the student council discovers her secret, Cass’s whole scheme hangs in the balance. Tim wants her to help him contact his recently deceased mother, and Cass reluctantly agrees.

As Cass becomes increasingly entwined in Tim’s life, she’s surprised to realize he’s not so bad—and he needs help more desperately than anyone else suspects. Maybe it’s time to give the living another chance….

Review:


This review's tone may seem a little strange, but this book put me in a very strange place because of how I was feeling due to outside factors when I read it. I haven't quite crawled out of that hole yet.

I've heard a lot of good things about Crewe's novels and I always love a good ghost story. Give Up the Ghost has been sitting on my shelf for a few months and when in need of a short, hopefully good book, this is the one I came to. It was good, alright.

Cass is almost impossible to like, but you get where she's coming from too. She's been hurt badly by the people around her and she has many issues she needs to work through. Rather than deal with complicated things like people, she'd rather deal with simple things: ghosts. Reading through her eyes, especially at the beginning of the novel, is difficult because of this and the way she's so obsessed with being negative and getting dirt on everyone, but if one can stick with it, the payoff in Cass's character is fantastic.

In a way, Crewe's writing in this novel reminds me of my own. It doesn't waste time on the little details and is more focused on the characters' feelings and personal issues because it knows that is where the strength of the novel lies. We can't not understand why Cass is the way she is, though we may disagree with her strongly. Give Up the Ghost is completely character-driven and also very short, coming in at only 241 pages. That's about the perfect length for it. If it had reached 300 pages, this would have been a bore to read.

It's also a very subdued, quiet novel that still manages to be fairly powerful. It lacks some of the punch it really needs to bring everything full circle for the reader, but it definitely ended up punching me harder than I expected. I identified too much with Cass's issues of not being able to communicate with living people and get along with them and it ended up becoming too personal for me to handle. I'd... rather not go into it any further.

I can see myself coming back to this in the future, but only if I'm in a good mood. It's a bit too personal to touch when I'm in a bad mood.

3 stars!


What am I reading next?: Obsidian by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Enshadowed by Kelly Creagh

Title: Enshadowed
Author: Kelly Creagh
Publisher: Atheneum
Release Date: August 28, 2012
Pages: 429 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: Bought it.
Purchase/Pre-order: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
Promotional Materials and More: author website

EnshadowedTrue love takes a twisted turn in the second book of this modern gothic romance trilogy channeling the dark brilliance of Edgar Allan Poe. 

While Varen remains a prisoner in a perilous dream world where the terrifying stories of Edgar Allan Poe come to life, Isobel travels to Baltimore to confront the dark figure known throughout the world as the Poe Toaster. This man, the same man who once appeared to Isobel in her dreams and abandoned her in Varen’s nightmare world, holds the key to saving Varen.


But when Isobel discovers a way to return to this dream world, she finds herself swept up in a realm that not only holds remnants of Edgar Allan Poe’s presence, but has also now taken on the characteristics of Varen’s innermost self. It is a dark world of fear, terror, and anger.


When Isobel once more encounters Varen, she finds him changed. And now Isobel must face a new adversary—one who also happens to be her greatest love .

Review:

A year and two months of waiting. That's nothing compared to the full two years other fans have been waiting, but it was painful. Then my mail room held Enshadowed hostage for an entire week and my grin was as wide as the state of Florida is long once I got it. It's a bit weaker than the first book of the series, but Enshadowed was just as difficult to put down and managed to improve itself in a few areas. But that cliffhanger makes me want to toss a chair out the window.

Isobel is forced to carry much of the book on her shoulders, and at times, she isn't strong enough to carry all that weight. Still, Enshadowed fleshes out her relationships with other characters, especially her family. The family is often forgotten and I'm glad she at least considers how her actions have hurt/will hurt them. Personally, I really like Isobel.

The rumors are true: Varen is barely in this book. He is sorely missed, as are the scenes between him and Isobel that made Nevermore so much fun to read, but the presence of Pinfeathers (a character I already liked and now love after reading this book) made his absence more bearable. Still, there's so much about this novel that still clicks with me. Creagh's prose is perfect for the story she's telling and the strange happenings in Isobel's life (like, say, a lullaby following her everywhere and seeing Varen in reflective surfaces on occasion) increase to give the book better pacing overall.

A point many of my friends made about Nevermore was that Isobel could be really, really thick sometimes, though I never noticed. I was too enveloped in the story to care. This time around, I see exactly what those friends of mine mean. One of the messages Pinfeathers gives her is fairly clear, but his pronoun use goes right over her head and it's a bit frustrating. Her original lack of planning/research for how she'd get into the cemetery on Poe's birthday grated on me too.

I really, really hope book three in Creagh's series doesn't get delayed a year the way Enshadowed did. I don't think I could take it. Just--just--I can't even--! Augh! Cliffhangers like that are evil.

4 stars!


What am I reading next?: Splintered by A.G. Howard

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Scorch by Gina Damico

Title: Scorch
Author: Gina Damico
Publisher: Graphia
Release Date: September 25, 2012
Pages: 352 pages (paperback)
How I Got the Book: ARC via Amazon Vine
Purchase/Pre-order: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
Promotional Materials and More: author website

Scorch (Croak, #2)Sixteen-year-old Lex Bartleby is a teenage grim reaper with the bizarre ability to Damn souls. That makes her pretty scary, even to fellow Grims. But after inadvertently transferring her ability to Zara, a murderous outlaw, Lex is a pariah in Croak, the little town she calls home. To escape the townspeople’s wrath, she and her friends embark on a wild road trip to DeMyse. Though this sparkling desert oasis is full of luxuries and amusements, it feels like a prison to Lex. Her best chance at escape would be to stop Zara once and for all—but how can she do that from DeMyse, where the Grims seem mysteriously oblivious to Zara’s killing spree?

Review:


The second book in Damico's Croak series brings just as many laughs as the first book, along with more shocking revelations, more action, and excitement readers won't want to miss. I was a bit of a slow reader with this one due to some other stuff I had to do (pre-moving frenzy, buying more books, spending the night at a friend's house, stuff like that), this fast-paced ride will make anyone who already read and loved Croak happy. If you haven't read the first book, I suggest you get right to it.

The heavy presence of DeMyse in the jacket copy may imply that most of the book takes place there, but it doesn't. DeMyse is a quick yet important pit stop in this novel's road trip. Most of the action happens within Croak itself as unrest over Zara's killing spree and Lex's own abilities rise. Intrigue is abound, tensions are high, bombs go off, and everyone seems to be against Uncle Mort and the Juniors. It's all very serious, but there are some good laughs squeezed in their too, especially when it comes to Uncle Mort's attempts to interfere with Lex and Driggs' love life since Lex's dad isn't there to do it. I keep flipping back to the Incident That Must Not Be Named because it never fails to get a laugh out of me. "WHERE are my PANTS?" I'll be quoting that scene forever!

I like how Lex's character is developing, but admittedly, I'm a big fan of Uncle Mort and everything he has going on behind the scenes. There's always something he isn't telling Lex and the other Juniors, and he's got plans in place that no one knows about until he decides it's time to enact them. Funny, smart, exactly the kind of adult this rowdy, nervous group of teenagers needs when they're on the run... He's easily the most dynamic character in the entire series and I'd keep reading just to see how he'll surprise readers next.

If you think you can predict what's going on in this novel, you might want to think again. I did see a few things coming, but other revelations that come in the last thirty pages or so gave me a serious shock. But he-- And she-- How did he--- Argh! It makes my head spin just thinking about it, but I like that I was so surprised by all the twists.

Now then, what I didn't like. Norwood and Heloise, the husband-and-wife team that hate Uncle Mort and all the Juniors, made me roll my eyes too many times to be healthy with their over-the-top behavior, and the way most of Croak's citizens reacted was a little ridiculous to me too. If it were just that, this novel would be four stars, but the way Lex finds it necessary to call Sofi, a fellow Junior she and the other Juniors don't really get along with, a tramp takes away another star.

Scorch ends on a pretty sizable cliffhanger and I'm looking forward to the release of the third book. Though my rating is lower due to some personal standards of mine, Scorch is just as good, if not better, than Croak. Definitely recommended!

3 stars!


What am I reading next?: A Want So Wicked by Suzanne Young

Waiting on Wednesday (33)

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

So I gave this book's prequel Fated two stars when I reviewed it back in July, but I honestly feel like Noel can improve on what I thought was a good idea and it makes me really, really want to read Echo here. Her history may not exactly support those hopes, but I'm still willing to give it a try.

(And I freely admit seeing this cover be unveiled a few months back was what got me to read Fated in the first place. This was a very convincing sort of pretty.)

Echo (Soul Seekers, #2)Echo
by Alyson Noel
November 13, 2012
400 pages (hardcover) 

The second book in the Soul Seekers series about a girl who can navigate between the worlds of the living and the dead by #1 New York Times bestselling author Alyson Noël!

Daire Santos just saved her grandmother's life—and her soul. But at a cost. The Richters, a dark family of sorcerers, have been let loose in the Lowerworld, and Daire and her boyfriend, Dace, must once again work together to find them before they upset the balance between good and evil, and destroy not only their small town in New Mexico, but the entire world.

As Daire and Dace's relationship deepens, Dace’s evil brother Cade grows stronger than ever, building his power and forcing Daire to confront the horrifying prophecy that has brought them all together. One that will leave Daire no choice but to claim her true destiny as Seeker, but only by making an unthinkable sacrifice for the greater good of all.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Blessed by Tonya Hurley

Title: The Blessed
Author: Tonya Hurley
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release Date: September 25, 2012
Pages: 416 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: ARC on loan from my best friend
Purchase/Pre-order: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
Promotional Materials and More: audiobook clip | book trailer | author website

From the author of the New York Times bestselling ghostgirl series, the start to a captivating and haunting teen trilogy about three girls who become entangled with an enigmatic boy—a boy who believes he is a saint.
 What if martyrs and saints lived among us? And what if you were told you were one of them?

Meet Agnes, Cecilia, and Lucy. Three lost girls, each searching for something. But what they find is Beyond Belief.

Review:


I'm hoping I don't step on too many toes with this one. A book with deep roots in religion is not that easy to review and The Blessed had so many problems that I almost didn't want to write a review for it. I'm being as even-handed as humanly possible, but this just is not a good book at all. My copy was an ARC, meaning changes will be made before final publication, and I'm hoping a lot of changes will be made.

I suppose one thing I can appreciate about the novel is its dual nature. One can read it as Sebastian, a boy who is a saint, revealing Agnes, Cecelia, and Lucy's true natures to them or they can read it as Sebastian, a mentally ill boy whose delusions make him think he's a saint, trying to lure Agnes, Cecelia, and Lucy to him so he can create a cult of his own. There's ample evidence to support either view.

Narrative consistency is the biggest issue. The POV head-jumps in the middle of scenes like head-jumping is an Olympic sport and this book is going for the gold. For instance, we still start out in the head of Agnes during a scene, but before the scene is over, we get inside the heads of Sebastian, Lucy, and Cecelia and get their (totally unnecessary to the scene/moment) thoughts. In another scene, we're witnessing a phone conversation in the POV of another character named Jesse, but we're told the person on the other line is gritting their teeth. If the other people is gritting their teeth loudly enough to be heard over the phone, they're screwing up their pearly whites pretty badly! All of this happens with little to no smooth transitioning.

The prose itself was stilted and the dialogue tended to be immature, unrealistic, lifeless, or a mixture of all the above. Agnes calling her classmates "classholes" when they make fun of her for attempting suicide made me roll my eyes. They're making fun of her over a suicide attempt, for goodness' sake! That's beyond nasty! I'd break out the big guns for far less--and have, actually. Agnes, Cecelia, and Lucy lacked the characterization they needed to make me care about them and where they were going. I don't even know what Cecelia's background is! And if these girls hadn't slut shamed, this novel would have earned one more star from me. Seriously, I'm not tolerating stuff like that anymore. One star is automatically lost if I see it happen.

Hurley's novel, clocking in at over 400 pages, suffers from a case of remarkably terrible pacing. Nothing happens for over half the novel and the explanations we're all begging for aren't given until they're less than 100 pages from the end. What will keep readers hooked until then? I'm not sure. I had to force myself to keep reading so I could move on to other books and get my copy back to my friend.

Toward the end, when the plot finally kicks in and all the action this book has been holding back on is suddenly released, I was too disgusted to enjoy it very much. Lucy putting burning coals in the mouth of a guy who attacked her was beyond cruel. I have no problem with her killing him (after all, he attacked her and was going to kill her), but torturing him like that? I don't care whether the good guys or the bad guys are doing it or what their reasons are; torture by burning coals in the mouth is a hundred kinds of wrong.

The first in a trilogy, The Blessed needs a massive overhaul before it takes the first step toward being a good book. I've recently come to understand ARCs can be drastically different from the finished product and I'm hoping this book gets a massive overhaul done on its writing, characters, and pacing. A modern reimagining of three saints' stories sounds like a great idea, but its execution is ultimately a failure as it is right now.

1 star!


What am I reading next?: Saving June by Hannah Harrington

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson

Title: The Crown of Embers
Author: Rae Carson
Publisher: Greenwillow
Release Date: September 18, 2012
Pages: 410 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: ARC received via a swap with a friend
Purchase/Pre-order: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
Promotional Materials and More: audiobook clip | book trailer | author website

The Crown of Embers (Fire and Thorns, #2)In the sequel to the acclaimed The Girl of Fire and Thorns, a seventeen-year-old princess turned war queen faces sorcery, adventure, untold power, and romance as she fulfills her epic destiny.

Elisa is the hero of her country. She led her people to victory against a terrifying enemy, and now she is their queen. But she is only seventeen years old. Her rivals may have simply retreated, choosing stealth over battle. And no one within her court trusts her-except Hector, the commander of the royal guard, and her companions. As the country begins to crumble beneath her and her enemies emerge from the shadows, Elisa will take another journey. With a one-eyed warrior, a loyal friend, an enemy defector, and the man she is falling in love with, Elisa crosses the ocean in search of the perilous, uncharted, and mythical source of the Godstone's power. That is not all she finds. A breathtaking, romantic, and dangerous second volume in the Fire and Thorns trilogy.


Review:


I can still sum up exactly how I felt about The Girl of Fire and Thorns easily: a great idea with a fantastic scene or two, but its plotting and forehadowing needed vast improvements. The Crown of Embers bore the weight of all my hopes for improvement but unfortunately, there is no growth. This is at the exact same level of quality as book one. I'm a genuine fan, but it's frustrating to have to deal with so much bad to get so much good.

Elisa continues to grow as a person and grow into her role as a queen. It forces her to do some pretty terrible things and she still gets tricked every now and then, but she's still growing and figuring out who she is. Some of her mistakes are a little more irritating--like wishing only beauty, charm, and a slender body on a baby; for someone who used to be overweight and put more value on intelligence, she's suddenly quite shallow--but I can deal with it. Her relationship with Hector builds well, though their dramatics toward the end grow tiring very quickly.

I got annoyed for a bit because of everyone challenging Elisa's rule due to her gender and saying she had to marry ASAP, but thankfully, Elisa is pissed off by it too and it's never justified. Still, I am so tired of seeing this in fantasy novels. Why have I read only a single fantasy novel where no one has any problem with a queen ruling on her own? That's just sad. We need more!

Both my main problems with this novel are issues that carried over from the first book: lacking plotting and blatant foreshadowing.

At some points, turning the pages came natural to me and they practically flew by; other times, fifty pages lay ahead of me and such a small number of pages was such a grand struggle to get through. The first half of the novel completely failed to grab me, though the climax and the hurricane scene (the hands-down best scene of the entire novel) were perfectly written. There are no ways to make them better than they already are. The problem is simply that the court intrigue that drives the first half of the novel simply doesn't interest me, especially because it's so obvious what is going on. Speaking of which...

Oh, the foreshadowing: it's subtle like a hammer to your bare feet. In the very first chapters of the novel, Franco's name is connected to no less than two serious incidents and he is blatantly suspicious, but Elisa never really investigates him, nor does she realize what the general and the conde are planning. Both of those details are so screamingly obvious that I was screaming at the book/Elisa to wake up and look at what's right in front of her face. I think this is supposed to be an attempt at Checkhov's Gun, but it fails badly.

There's also a moment toward the end that's supposed to be tense. Elisa has to sacrifice a character to get what she needs, but readers haven't even gotten to know that character well enough to care about him and give his sacrifice any weight. Then she doesn't have to sacrifice him after all and if it had weight before, it certainly doesn't now. "Frustrating" is the word of this book.

I like this series. I do. Putting words to the good of this novel is a much harder than detailing the flaws, sadly. It's one of those books. I'm looking forward to the release of The Bitter Kingdom next year and a little sad about the series coming to an end (though Carson has signed a deal to write a new historical fantasy trilogy once the Fire and Thorns trilogy is done; I'll probably be reading that too). But really, if the plotting does not get better and the foreshadowing does not become less obvious, I may just shove my head through a wall.

3 stars!


What am I reading next?: Crewel by Gennifer Albin

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Burn for Burn by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian

Title: Burn for Burn
Authors: Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release Date: September 18, 2012
Pages: 368 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: ARC via Southern Book Bloggers ARC Tours
Purchase/Pre-order: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
Promotional Materials and More: author interview | author website

Burn for BurnBIG GIRLS DON'T CRY...
THEY GET EVEN.

Lillia has never had any problems dealing with boys who like her. Not until this summer, when one went too far. No way will she let the same thing happen to her little sister.

Kat is tired of the rumours, the insults, the cruel jokes. It all goes back to one person– her ex-best friend– and she's ready to make her pay.

Four years ago, Mary left Jar Island because of a boy. But she's not the same girl anymore. And she's ready to prove it to him.

Three very different girls who want the same thing: sweet, sweet revenge. And they won't stop until they each had a taste.


Review:


The use of vengeance as motivation in novels is one of my favorite motivations. It's the main reason I like The Count of Monte Cristo, aka the ultimate revenge book. I even have a small stuffed pig named Nemesis, her namesake being the Greek goddess of vengeance and divine retribution. Vivian and Han's collaboration seemed like it was perfectly tailored to suit my love of fictional vengeance, but it ended up falling flat in more than a few areas--especially concerning the cheerleaders' duties to the football players.

One-hundred fifty pages into the book, it seemed this was going to be a solid four-star read. The girls had the potential to be fully realized characters worth getting invested in, though they hadn't managed to actually gain that sort of depth in those first one-hundred fifty pages. They still had plenty of time to develop. Little happened to start with, but there was something about the book and the way it was written that kept me reading and wouldn't let me put it down. All but the first twenty pages were read in a single day.

Sadly, as the book went on, it kept getting worse. I ignored a few prose/bad word choice problems because this is an ARC and I expect such blatant errors as a thumb and a ring finger being next to one another and eyes doubling their size (not just widening, but growing twice their size) to be caught before final copies are made.

Other problems are not as easy to ignore. Lillia calling a girl slutty took away one star, as is my policy. Another half-star was lost because as a big football fan, I can tell proper research was not done on the system used to give football players their numbers. I spent over half an hour confirming that a quarterback would not be number sixty-three and that kind of distraction wasn't good for me. Lillia also holds the Idiot Ball for a moment when she thinks sunburns are just a cosmetic issue and don't actually hurt. Even when they're really bad sunburns all over a person and it's her fault they're sunburned.

Then I came to this.

In the school Lillia, Kat, and Mary attend, each cheerleader is assigned a football player at the beginning of the year and given his name, birthday, favorite kind of cookies, locker numbers and combinations, home address, cell phone number, etc. in order to take care of him. The cheerleader's job is to support him, decorate his locker, bake him cookies on game days (and probably his birthday too), and keep him happy. If one of the girls doesn't cheer for her assigned player at a game, she is reminded of the commitment she made to that player. You mean, the commitment she was forced into, since she is not allowed to choose or object to her assignment? Only the head cheerleader, Rennie, and the football players have any say in who is assigned to who.

This can't be excused as a creation of the antagonist Rennie either. Considering she was assigned to someone her freshman year, it appears she inherited it. The only objection to this blatant, offensive use of gender roles is a mild one coming from a cheerleader who isn't happy she was assigned a player who will never make it onto the field. The only reason this cheerleader-football player dynamic appears to be in the book is to give Lillia a way to find Alex's locker combinations and numbers. There has to be a less offensive way to get her the same information!

I nearly quit right there because I was unhappy about Lillia's sexual assault being almost completely glossed over too, but I was so hopeful that I kept reading. Lillia's beef with Alex, which was her motivation to seek vengeance, could have been resolved with a simple conversation and the way that one conversation was held off on until the very end of the book was a rather contrived way to keep her going. The pranks, somewhat "tame" things like switching a guy's sunscreen with zit medicine that makes their skin really sensitive to sunlight and trying to keep Rennie from winning homecoming queen, suddenly lead to a prank that almost kills someone. In the end, none of the girls got the depth their characterizations gave them the potential to have.

The slight supernatural touch at the end--think Carrie--and the cliffhanger make me want to stick around for book two, as well as my desire to see these girls grow. Maybe with more books, the potential they have to be well-formed characters who feel real will be realized. As is stands, this is one of the biggest disappointments I've had in 2012.

1.5 stars!


What am I reading next?: Crewel by Gennifer Albin

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Title: The Raven Boys
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Release Date: September 18, 2012
Pages: 408 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: ARC received from the publisher for review
Purchase/Pre-order: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
Promotional Materials and More: book trailer | author website

The Raven Boys (Raven Cycle, #1)“There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve,” Neeve said. “Either you’re his true love . . . or you killed him.”

It is freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrive.

Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.

His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

From Maggie Stiefvater, the bestselling and acclaimed author of the Shiver trilogy and The Scorpio Races, comes a spellbinding new series where the inevitability of death and the nature of love lead us to a place we’ve never been before.

Review:


Maggie Stiefvater is easily one of the most well-known names in YA thanks to her Wolves of Mercy Falls series and The Scorpio Races. That might make it a little surprising to learn this is my first Stiefvater book. Something about a leaky womb in Shiver turned me from that series, The Scorpio Races never interested me, and faeries like in her Books of Faerie series are rarely my thing. To top it all off, some comments the author made during the author/blogger issues in early 2012 left a bad taste in my mouth. Still, The Raven Boys practically called my name and I went for it. I'm kind of glad I did! I see why so many of my friends love her books.

There isn't a YA book I've read in recent memory that was anything like this. Ley lines have been mentioned in scant few YA novels and Owen Glendower in even fewer, if any at all. They're both enthralling subjects and turning the pages to find out more about them. I can't testify to how accurate the details are, but the way Stiefvater spins them in her novel is entertaining enough for me not to care so much about accuracy. Blue, one of the main characters, could have used a little more personality, but the true raven boys were all extraordinarily characterized. Especially Adam!

(Maybe I'm a little biased toward Adam because his character captures the exact same conflict of freedom, how to get it, and how much one is willing to give up in order to get it that the main character in my own manuscript is struggling with. Hush.)

At certain points, The Raven Boys feels overlong, like a good fifty pages or so needed to be cut. The pacing might have something to do with that feeling, though fifty pages or so really do need to be cut. For at least half the book, suspense and the mystery of what the raven boys are up to drive the story, and readers who aren't fully invested in the mystery--readers like me--may not be able to focus on the book for long. There was also a line that made me giggle-snort:

"Calla blew into the room, her eyebrows quite angry at being disturbed (ARC p. 120)."

The prose was fantastic overall and set the mood perfectly with its descriptions, but this was one of its weaker moments. The meaning is clear, but it might not be clear at first read that the eyebrows aren't, in fact, sentient. It tripped me up, that's for sure.

The last line of the book really threw me for a loop. Really? She's going to toss out a line like that and end the book? Augh! That's just evil. Now I have to wait another year to find out more and-- Well, whatever the case and however evil Stiefvater is for that cliffhanger, I enjoyed The Raven Boys. It hasn't made me reconsider my decision not to read her other books, but I'm fairly sure I'll be keeping track of this new series.

3.5 stars!


What am I reading next?: Crown of Embers by Rae Carson

Friday, September 14, 2012

Ten by Gretchen McNeil

Title: Ten
Author: Gretchen McNeil
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: September 18, 2012
Pages: 304 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: ARC I received in a swap with a friend
Purchase/Pre-order: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
Promotional Materials and More: author website

And their doom comes swiftly.

It was supposed to be the weekend of their lives—an exclusive house party on Henry Island. Best friends Meg and Minnie each have their reasons for being there (which involve T.J., the school’s most eligible bachelor) and look forward to three glorious days of boys, booze and fun-filled luxury.

But what they expect is definitely not what they get, and what starts out as fun turns dark and twisted after the discovery of a DVD with a sinister message: Vengeance is mine.

Suddenly people are dying, and with a storm raging, the teens are cut off from the outside world. No electricity, no phones, no internet, and a ferry that isn’t scheduled to return for two days. As the deaths become more violent and the teens turn on each other, can Meg find the killer before more people die? Or is the killer closer to her than she could ever imagine?


Review:


I've been waiting to read Ten for over a year--I'm pretty sure I found out about it just after I finished the author's first book Possess--and now that I've actually read it, I'm disappointed. Other readers have had problems with this book because they were familiar with Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, which this book is a retelling of, and didn't feel Ten was a strong enough retelling. I have not read the original work, but I still have a lot of problems with this novel.

Ten has a grabbing plot and relentless pacing going for it. I read large portions and quick bursts, and putting the novel down to carry on with life didn't make me very happy. Fans of horror/suspense movies are doubtlessly going to enjoy this and all the campy thrills it offers. I wish I could say it has more going for it, but that's all I was able to enjoy.

Now then, as I said before, I've never read And Then There Were None, though I made myself familiar with it in preparation for reading this novel (and I did that by looking it up on Wikipedia, admittedly). One problem that struck me more than halfway through the novel is that ATTWN's Wikipedia summary gave me a better sense of characterization and depth in the novel than Ten was able to when read in its entirety. This novel's characters are very flat and when some of them start dying off, there's no reason to feel anything about it because we don't know anything about them. They're blank people being sent to the slaughterhouses for our entertainment, not actual characters.

Campy things are all fine with me, but I only like certain types and Ten wasn't that type of camp. It doesn't help horror  movies aren't my thing either, and this is like the novelization of a horror movie. The violence is fairly tame and the writing's immature feel at times fails to build the right atmosphere. Moments where readers would be told something about a character and then shown the exact same thing threw me off too. Extraneous words, they are. I don't like extraneous words.

Fans of Christie's novel will want to tread carefully with Ten, since just being familiar with it without ever reading it helped me see quite a few things coming.  I still want to read more from McNeil and hope to see the sequel for Possess be scheduled for release (meanwhile, McNeil's next novel 3:59 is pitched as a sci-fi/horror mix with a doppleganger twist; I'll read that), but her second novel was just a little worse than her first.

2.5 stars!


What am I reading next?: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Incarnation by Emma Cornwall

Title: Incarnation
Author: Emma Cornwall
Publisher: Gallery Books
Release Date: September 18, 2012
Pages: 352 pages (paperback)
How I Got the Book: ARC from the publisher via Edelweiss
Purchase/Pre-order: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository

Incarnation
Lucy Weston tracks down the novelist Bram Stroker in her search to reveal the dark force who made her a vampire—and regain her humanity in the process.

In the steampunk world of Victorian London, Lucy Weston, a character in Dracula, seeks out Bram Stoker to discover why he deliberately lied about her in his popular novel. With Stoker’s reluctant help, she tracks the creature who transformed her from the sensual underworld where humans vie to become vampires to a hidden cell beneath a temple to madness and finally into the glittering Crystal Palace where death reigns supreme.

Haunted by fragmentary memories of her lost life and love, Lucy battles her thirst for blood as she struggles to stop a catastrophic war that will doom vampires and humans alike. Ultimately, she makes a choice that illuminates for her—and for us—the true nature of what it means to be human.
 

Review:


Though I primarily read young adult novels, I'm no stranger to adult novels and enjoy them just as much. It's nice to have an occasional break from the teenage dramatics inherent to many YA novels, you know? As big a Dracula/vampire fan as I am (but I was not a fan of the cover the edition of Dracula I had as a child possessed; I wish I had a picture of it to show off, but I don't), I expected Incarnation and its highly original idea to draw me in and never let go, but there was something off about everything.

Cornwall's idea is fantastic and I love everything about it. The idea of Dracula being a piece of propaganda twisting and concealing the truth of vampires and the fate of Lucy Westenra (her real name being Lucy Weston) was what grabbed my attention in the first place and the way the author expanded on it kept me reading. The expansions made throughout the novel to include the Protectors, who safeguard humans from vampires, Slayers born every thousand years to cull the vampire population, and the precarious balance humans and vampires have in Victorian England aren't necessarily new, but the way in which Cornwall employs and describes them makes them feel like something of their own. Moderately fine pacing kept the story moving and unraveled the plots each side was planning in order to defeat the other.

What feels so off about the novel is that I didn't have any emotional investment and there doesn't seem to be much passion in the novel. I respond to a passionately written novel by diving headfirst into it and caring about what happens to each and every character like they're my family, but there was no such connection to Incarnation. Lucy is sympathetic as she struggles with her nature and the differences that set her apart from other vampires, but she didn't truly earn sympathy from me; I just knew that was how I was supposed to feel. The steampunk element seems like more of an afterthought than anything--which I didn't mind, as someone who doesn't care much for it, but readers coming in expecting more steampunk will be disappointed.

The way the novel leaves off, there is easily room for a sequel, though I don't know if there will be one. My Googling skills haven't turned up anything yet, and if there were a sequel, I'm not sure whether I'd read it or not. Fellow Dracula and vampire fans looking for a new twist on a familiar story will enjoy Incarnation and perhaps they will respond to it better than I did.

3 stars!


What am I reading next?: Fall for Anything by Courtney Summers

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff

Title: Stormdancer
Author: Jay Kristoff
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books:
Release Date: September 18, 2012
Pages: 336 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: ARC received through Amazon Vine
Purchase/Pre-order: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
Promotional Materials and More: author website | book trailer

A DYING LAND
 
The Shima Imperium verges on the brink of environmental collapse; an island nation once rich in tradition and myth, now decimated by clockwork industrialization and the machine-worshipers of the Lotus Guild. The skies are red as blood, the land is choked with toxic pollution, and the great spirit animals that once roamed its wilds have departed forever.

AN IMPOSSIBLE QUEST

 
The hunters of Shima's imperial court are charged by their Shōgun to capture a thunder tiger – a legendary creature, half-eagle, half-tiger. But any fool knows the beasts have been extinct for more than a century, and the price of failing the Shōgun is death.

A HIDDEN GIFT

 
Yukiko is a child of the Fox clan, possessed of a talent that if discovered, would see her executed by the Lotus Guild. Accompanying her father on the Shōgun’s hunt, she finds herself stranded: a young woman alone in Shima’s last wilderness, with only a furious, crippled thunder tiger for company. Even though she can hear his thoughts, even though she saved his life, all she knows for certain is he’d rather see her dead than help her.

But together, the pair will form an indomitable friendship, and rise to challenge the might of an empire.


Review:


Japanese steampunk? Yes please. Steampunk is a genre I have a few hits but mostly misses in, but anything with Asian influences and/or subject matter interests me. This and how cool the author is (how an author behaves toward reviewers and other people really makes a difference to me) made me want to read this book so badly that when I saw I was getting a copy, I started jumping up and down and screaming. No joke, I really did. It was a little more excitement than it ultimately deserved, but it did deserve most of it.

Most of the cast is well-characterized, especially main character Yukiko and her father, who is the only family she has left after her twin brother died and her mother left them. There are a few things I still wanted from Yukiko's characterization, like more insight into where her life was going before the fateful voyage to capture an arashitora/thunder tiger for the Shogun, but her evolution over the novel is both sad because of what she has to go through in order for it to happen and fantastic. Multiple characters are much more than they first appear to be and I loved the surprise of seeing who they really are.

Kristoff's novel is well-plotted and carries a lot of strong themes, the price of change (as Buruu the thunder tiger puts it, it all boils down to how much you're willing to give up to get what you want) and the need to protect the environment just two of them. The first half was rough due to some issues with the writing that I'll detail in a minute, but once I got into the novel, I really enjoyed myself. An event at the end packs some good emotional punch, but considering the themes and how things were already going, I saw it coming and that robbed it of some power.

Why aren't there more novels like this one? Seriously, this is a much-needed shot of originality into YA (though it's more of a YA-adult crossover novel than anything else).

Most of my issues with Stormdancer lie with the writing. I have a very short attention span and though I've tried to correct it, it's not something I can easily get around and it troubles me in daily life. In its first half, Stormdancer is heavy on detailing the world, getting down to the most minute pieces, and this clashes badly with my attention span. There are many people who love for their novels to be detailed down to the piece of lint on the back of someone's pants, but I am not that kind of person. Minute detailing makes me skim and lose interest. The first hundred pages of the novel were a slog for me to read because of that.

Third-person narration is great. The way it opens up the world for greater exploration beyond one person's mind makes me love it, but even that can have its downfalls. Stormdancer's third-person narration bounces in and out of several characters' heads (I can count at least six off the top of my head, though Yukiko remains prime narrator) and third-party narrator has a distinct voice of their own. What troubles me about novels with this sort of narration is that when a line comes along that leaves a bad impression on me, I can't be sure whether it's the character's thought or the narrator's, and Stormdancer and I had that issue a few times.

You're probably tired of hearing me harp on about the writing, but I've got just one more grievance to air out: guiding statements. They're sneaky little things. They don't seem like they're telling at first, but they are. They're also guiding you to feel a certain way rather than showing you the same thing and letting you come to feel a certain way about it yourself.  These happen mainly in the first hundred pages or so of the novel and serve the purpose of setting up the world, but guiding statements really get my goat. I really don't need to be tricked into feeling a certain way about something. If it is written right, I'll feel that emotion anyway.

In the second half of the novel, there is marked improvement in every respect--even in areas where you thought it couldn't get any better! Despite all my issues with the writing, the novel itself was great and I am hooked for the sequel. Bring on book two!

3.5 stars!


What am I reading next?: Blackbringer by Laini Taylor