31 December 2015

The Naturals

Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Series: The Naturals #1
Rating: 3 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

Cassie is not like other kids.  She doesn't wonder aimlessly through high school, taking life day by day and taking her family and friends for granted.  Cassie is tortured by her mother's murder, and her disappearance after the fact.  It's been five years, and Cassie still does not have any closure, and the police don't have any leads.

She spends her days waiting tables, and it's at work that she meets the mysterious Michael with an even more mysterious invitation.  In a blink of an eye, Cassie realizes that her innate ability to read people and profile then put her in an elite class that the FBI is very interested in.

I am a sucker for young adult series where the main characters are essentially teen sleuths.  I like it when the authors write seriously where you can just suspend your belief to think that just maybe it might happen, but don't go as far as to take themselves too seriously, since we are talking about teens solving murders with the government here.  I think Barnes does a good job of balancing these two.

Cassie's character is interesting enough, although it seems that all of her development stems either from her mother's death and unsolved murder or her "natural" ability.  Perhaps my favorite part of her development is right at the beginning, with her family and particularly her grandmother.  I am a bit disappointed with her character growth over the remainder of the novel.  And the love triangle?  I really, really, really wish authors would stop feeling the need for it in just about every young adult novel/series.  While both Michael and Dean are interesting enough characters, I'm far more interested in the crime/mystery aspect of the series than the juvenile angst between the characters.

As for the mystery element, it keeps my attention all the way through.  The ending I certainly did not see coming, although it seems a little too coincidental for my taste and felt just a tad out of left field.

All in all, the novel lacks character depth for all characters involved, but I think it's a decent introduction to a new series.  And while the romance in this novel is a little strong and definitely feels forced, I'm still interested in seeing where Barnes takes the series with the next installment, especially since I already have it waiting on my shelf checked out from the library.

29 December 2015

Throne of Glass

Author: Sarah J. Maas
Series: Throne of Glass #1
Rating: 2.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

The entire premise for this novel makes little to no sense to me.  First, she is saved from an enslavement camp by the prince as a snub to his father, the king, who had her put there in the first place.  The prince wants her to compete to be the king's Champion and if she wins the competition, and serves four years as his assassin, she will then get her freedom.  But if the king put her in there for being the most lethal assassin in the kingdom, why would anyone think it's a good idea to let her out?  Of course she's going to plot her revenge on the king.

Then there is the fact that she is this legendary assassin, but she clearly doesn't come across as one.  Sure, she can kick butt in training and in the Tests, but it almost seems out of character when she does.  And the whole subplot with the princess and the magic being released to take out Champions?  It all got so convoluted and when the plot barely makes sense to start with, it basically comes apart at the seams.

And, since this is a YA novel, there is the obligatory romance/love triangle.  Again, this makes little sense to me and I feel no real connection between any of the characters involved.  With regard to the crown prince, there is no way I would ever be able to trust her if it were me.  I would always have to assume her feelings and actions are a con in order to get closer to me to get to my father or to get back at my father through me somehow.  If I were Celaena, I would probably resent the crown prince a little until the mentality of "sins of our fathers".


Though the pace of the novel kept moving and the story is just interesting enough to keep my attention to the end, I really don't see what the fuss is all about with this novel.  Even the writing style seemed toned down, and you could tell she started writing the novel as a teenager.  All the italicized and punctuated words for emphasis really annoyed me, and a lot of the omnipotent revelation of characters' thoughts and feelings feel juvenile.  All that being said, you kind of have to root for a writer that started out as someone just writing on FictionPress and getting discovered and published, so I will give her the benefit of the doubt and most likely try the second installment in the series to see if it gets any better.

28 December 2015

Queen

Author: Aimee Carter
Series: The Blackcoat Rebellion #3
Rating: 2.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

I have still yet to be blown away by Aimee Carter.  It seems she is just another author in the vast array of young adult writers out there.  Though her fundamental plots are often unique, the execution of them throughout her series has been so far tired and cliched.  Queen is no exception.    While it wraps up the series well, the ending for the rebellion was a bit predictable, and the romance was a little too heavy considering the dire situation they are all facing.  Granted, I now realize this series is published by Harlequin Teen, so of course it's going to have a strong dose of romance.  Unfortunately, the romance in Queen seems to come at the cost of the plot.

Kitty (still a terrible name for the main character) is limping along with the Blackcoats, trying to find a way to prove that Prime Minister Daxton is not who he says he is and to overthrow his power.  They struggle at every turn to make a mark and find a foothold for the rebellion, and yet there is still an emphasis on this love triangle between Kitty, Benjy, and Knox.  I don't think it would be so bad, except there is no real chemistry between any of them at all, so it makes it that much more glaringly out of place.

Overall, I think this series fails to deliver on expectations I started with in Pawn.  For such a crazy dystopian and an unique world and idea, the possibilities were endless.  And while there is a bit of suspense and excitement through the series, it's heavily weighed on by other issues that aren't quite as gripping.  So while I bought Pawn and got an ARC copy of Captive, I probably won't add Queen to my collection to complete the series in my personal library.

18 December 2015

The Golden Braid

Author: Melanie Dickerson
Series: Hagenheim #6
Rating: 3 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

Let me start by saying that Tangled is one of my favorite Disney moves of all times.  I love, love, LOVE it.  That being said, Disney fairy tales are not exactly known for their character development and plot depth.  What you probably already know about me is that I am a huge fan of fractured fairy tales and retellings, so The Golden Braid seemed like a perfect book for me to try.

Now don't get me wrong, because it is a good book.  It doesn't just focus on Rapunzel being locked in a tower by her evil mother and just happening to be rescued from her tower by a handsome prince who falls madly in love with her at first sight.  In fact, Rapunzel and her love interest, Gerek, do not even really get along when they first meet.  Rapunzel's mother has spent her whole life telling Rapunzel what putrid devils men are, so Rapunzel is very untrusting of Gerek upon first meeting him.  Plus, you know, there's the fact that he is also kind of rude.

Very little of this story, in fact, takes place in a tower high above the ground.  I also like the realism that is brought to the tale, en lieu of the magical hair that heals and undoes aging as in Tangled.  It makes Rapunzel much more relatable and it feels as if she could have been a real German maiden back in the day.

Unfortunately, though The Golden Braid is good, it isn't great.  The plot seems to lag in sections, and it gets quite a bit religiousy a few times.  Some of the dialogue is a bit lacking, and Rapunzel is equal parts fierce and completely naive (although I do like the dynamic juxtaposition of her character).  It is a book I would definitely recommend reading to people with similar tastes in novels, but I'll probably never glance at it again.

11 December 2015

Their Fractured Light

Author: Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner
Series: Starbound #3
Rating: 2 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

I really wanted to get into this story.  And not just this novel, but the series in its entirety, as none of the three in the trilogy ever really struck a cord with me.  Spacey sci-fi stories in the young adult genre are hard to come by and almost all in the form of space opera.  Good spacey sci-fi that doesn't include time travel and aliens?  Practically non-existent.  So I try no to mind space opera, and for the most part I succeed so long as it isn't just a soap opera set in space.

While Their Fractured Light isn't quite a soap opera, the romance forced between the main characters - Sofia and Gideon - is tiresome and wears out its welcome early on.  Some of the dialogue and actions between them are so cliche and cringeworthy that at a few points I almost stopped reading.  The whole 'pitted for the same cause, but wanting different outcomes and so they are working together but secretly enemies, so that's supposed to add a lot of tension' really doesn't work in this case because I never grow to care about either character and their romance is just an annoyance to the story.

As for the plot itself, there are a few exciting portions of it, but most of it just revolves around the romance between the characters and the Whispers, which I never really got invested in at all over the length of the series.  The story feels long and drawn out, and the pace of this story is soooo slow.  There are a bunch of side characters that are introduced just to try to get the story moving in some direction, but none make much of an impression on me.  And as for the returning characters from the previous novels in the series, I hardly remember them at all (some I flat out don't remember, plain and simple).  So in the end, this is a series I could have skipped entirely and not missed a thing about it.  Stupid pretty covers sucked me in each and every time.  Hopefully after this and Illuminae, I will learn my lesson with at least one of these authors.

06 December 2015

Dumplin'

Author: Julie Murphy
Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

I am kind of torn on this novel.  On one hand, I love the quirky, sometimes confident, sometimes self-doubting Willowdean.  She is someone I can definitely relate to.  Even though I don't have the issue of not being able to find clothes in my size when I go shopping, I do have a hard time finding clothes that fit properly.  I have a small self-esteem issue with my body at times, and it's a struggle for me to maintain my weight.  There are days when I look into the mirror and think I'm beautiful, just the way I am.  There are other mornings when I wake up and hate the pouch of gut that seems to sit atop my waistband.

And while I've never had the strained relationship with my mother and did not grow up in a single parent household, I can relate to Willdean with the loss of her aunt Lucy, whom she loved so much.  Two years ago, I lost my papa, and this year my grandmom.  It's hard to think about moving on and letting go, and to think that that person won't be there in the moments in your life still to come.  In these aspects, I love Willdean dearly, and this novel had me tearing up in a few places.

The friendship between Will and El, however, is the perfect example of why I didn't have more friends that were girls growing up.  A lot of their issues that start to tear apart the fabric of their friendship seem mostly superficial to me, and a lot of passive aggressiveness goes into their actions that creates a snowball effect that I don't think would have happened if they had simply just been honest with each other.  So that kind of annoys me a little, but I do like how it opens up Willow to make new friends with the rag tag band of girls for the beauty pageant, which adds some great material for the story.

Also, this books serves to remind me that I am definitely a prude.  It's still a little shocking for me to read about sixteen-year-olds being in love and having sex.  From just some of Willowdean's actions and thoughts alone, it's obvious that these sixteen-year-olds are still developing who they are and maturing into the adults they want to become.  Man, kids these days just think they grow up so fast.  It's a little terrifying, even if it is the reality.

On that line of thought, Willow's choices with the members of the opposite sex infuriate me even more than her friendship with Ellen.  Willow strikes up a friendship with Mitch, who clearly wants more but is a gentleman at the same time, and lets her set the pace.  But Willow can't seem to get over her crush of Bo, no matter how hard she tries - though she doesn't point this out to Mitch, whom she basically just leads on for the majority of their friendship into thinking they are something more.  And it would be one thing if Bo treated her well, but since the novel is told through Willow's perspective, it's clear that she doesn't think he does.  And yet, she can't let herself get past him!  That really upsets me, when girls can't seem to get over the carnal attraction even if they think a guy treats them like crap (not to say that Bo does treat her like crap, just that she seems to perceive it that way... for the record).  Why would any woman, or person really, put themselves through that purposefully?  I really don't understand.

Overall though, I think Willowdean is the classic character who is inherently flawed, just like the rest of us.  Though some of her decisions and thoughts annoy me, it makes her that much more realistic of a character, which I think it a great reflection on Murphy.  I'm definitely excited to see what she will come up with next, even if I probably won't be purchasing this novel for my personal library.

03 December 2015

Jubilee Manor

Author: Bethany Hagen
Series: Landry Park #2
Rating: 3 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

I do not remember much about Landry Park.  From what I could gather from my review on it, I wasn't all that impressed, which seemed heavily influenced by the love triangle.  Fortunately, it seems like the love triangle was sorted out in the first novel, so it isn't such a concern in Jubilee Manor, though it does rear its ugly head once or twice for a quick cameo.

I'm still not that impressed by the character development or the characters themselves.  Hagen tries to make Madeline this smart, independent girl who is trying to change the world for the better.  Unfortunately, Madeline is only written that way through the details given to us through the narrative.  Through her actions, I don't really see it.  Now don't get me wrong, she's no Bella Swan (or whatever that chick from Twilight's name is), and she does oppose her elders to try to do what she thinks it right, but I still don't quite feel like she's a fierce heroine.

And while the plot is interesting enough to keep me reading, the mystery of who is killing off the gentries doesn't really captivate me as a reader.  I certainly found the conclusion with regard to that particular mystery lackluster.  It is one of those that kind of comes out of left field, and the author rushes to throw the whole explanation in at the end while the bad guy is looming over the good guy, instead of just killing them (which is what would actually happen in real life, which is why I hate the mystery "information dumps" at the end of a who-done-it).  So that is disappointing.  But the plot with the Rootless (silly name though) is interesting enough throughout the novel.  In a sense, it carries the story almost the entire time.

In all honesty, if this series had been more than two novels I wouldn't have bothered.  But since the story wraps up in a nice duology, I went ahead and decided to give it a go.  I wouldn't say I'm glad that I did, but I also wouldn't say I'm disappointed I gave it a shot either.  The world is certainly interesting, even though I still don't understand why they wouldn't have a singular nuclear power plant instead of charges in each individual home that needs to be changed on a regular basis.

30 November 2015

Yes Please

Author: Amy Poehler
Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

This is definitely a novel to listen to as an audiobook instead of reading as a typed novel.  For one, you get the awesome guest stars (a few from SNL that I don't even know, but are still a hoot to listen to) that read part of the novel to you, along with Amy herself.  That definitely makes the story more interesting, especially with her parents even chipping in a few times.

I will say I watched Parks & Rec and found it entertaining, though it is definitely not a show I would watch over and over.  I never got into SNL, so I really only know Poehler from that, and considering how annoying her character could be in that show, I wasn't one hundred percent sure that I would enjoy this novel.  After all, with so many celebrities and comedians writing autobiographies these days, I feel like I have to pick and choose which ones I want to bother with and which ones to skip.  After all, I'm not all that impressed with the over-inflated industry that entertainment has become in our country, and I'm definitely not impressed by all the name dropping and stories about hanging out with famous people (which Poehler does a bit in this novel).

Still, there are some interesting personal stories in this autobiography, and I do have to give it to her for not giving up on her dreams.  I certainly wouldn't have moved to the nasty city that is New York City and lived in the unfavorably neighborhoods and worked terrible jobs just to chase my dream of improv and acting.  She, like me, was driven to make ground in a male dominated industry, and she refused to let anything stand in her way.  So though I am less than impressed with her stories of driving drunk and all the drugs she tried, I am certainly impressed by the path she took to get to where she is today.  And while this novel is far from the laugh riot that is Jim Gaffigan's novels on food and parenting, I still chuckled aloud in some places.

Just, for the love of all that is sacred, skip the last chapter that she reads aloud at the (Something) Citizens' Brigade.  It's like a terrible sitcom with a laugh track in the background since it is read live.  People keep laughing, loudly, and I hardly found any of those part even remotely humorous (but perhaps that is just me).  It was hard for me to get to, and since I borrowed it from the library, I'm not even sure I actually finished.  I think someone mercifully scratched the last track for me and saved me the rest of that part.

27 November 2015

Ten Thousand Skies Above You

Author: Claudia Gray
Series: Firebird #2
Rating: 3 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

Considering the fact that the plot of this novel revolves around finding the parts of Paul's soul that have been scattered across the dimensions, I am inclined to say that the name of the first book in this series, A Thousand Pieces of You, is a much more suitable title for this novel.  This title makes little sense, even if I did catch in the novel where the reference comes from.

But I realize that is neither here nor there.  At least the cover is still beautiful, though we only spend about 50% of the time in Paris and San Francisco combined, if even.  Meg, along with her trusty sidekick Theo (the real Theo this time, not the evil one working for The Man) trudge through the multiverse, trying to collect the pieces of Paul's soul while sabotaging the Firebird work in the other universes.  It is surprising, I will admit, but I actually enjoy this novel more than its predecessor.  I was not even going to continue this series, but got it from the library on a whim and now here we are.

One of the things I really enjoy in this novel is the exploration of the assumption of destiny and true love from the first novel.  In A Thousand Pieces of You, Meg and Paul come to the conclusion that they are destined to be together in every single version of the multiverse out there, that they are soulmates and that each and every version of themselves belongs together.  Now I realize I'm not a hopeless romantic and that I'm scientifically inclined, so perhaps my opinion is not the popular one, but I think all of that is kind of BS.  I don't even believe in soul mates in one universe, let alone all of them.  So I like how in this novel Meg has to face the possibility that perhaps they were wrong, and what that could mean for her.

I still think the romance is a little heavy in this series, and while I like Theo (the real Theo, not the evil one from the first novel) I am not a big fan of this love triangle going on.  It's just so messy and it doesn't feel very organic since Gray pushes Meg and Paul from the beginning, only to sloppily toss Theo back in here and there.

Another thing I like in this novel is how Gray at least attempts to explain the fundamental issue I have with the first novel - why go through all the trouble to blackmail Meg to do his bidding when Mr. Evil can simply send as many other people into the multiverses with the Firebird as he wishes?  Though I'm not sure I'm completely sold on the explanation, I do like that Gray at least revisits it.  Of course, this brings us to the big twist towards the end, and I think that's what bumped this novel down to a 3 / 5 for me instead of a 3.5.  Again, I like how it plays into the theme in this novel that perhaps not every version of a person in the same in every universe, but the whole last 75 - 100 pages just feels like a completely different tangent than the theme of the series so far, and I'm not really invested in the reasoning behind all these extreme measures that Mr. Evil has been employing since Day One.

Considering that Ten Thousand Skies Above You is a step up from A Thousand Pieces of You, even if it still falters here and there, and coupled with the fact that it ends on a cliffhanger, even though it is a highly predictable one, I will probably pick up the next novel in the series.  I have a haunting suspicion this series will be a trilogy, and I think I can stomach one more novel of the Meg/Paul junk to see how this power struggle across the multiverses plays out.  Hopefully Gray won't backslide.

26 November 2015

Illuminae

Author: Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff
Series: The Illuminae Files #1
Rating: 2 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

Let me just start off by saying that perhaps I have become a little too jaded when it comes to young adult sci-fi novels that take place in the final frontier.  I keep hoping I am going to find one that blows my socks off, but time and time again they turn out to be total duds.  This novel is no exception.

 This book could have been great if the writers had focused on the plot of the story instead of the messing romance between Kady and Ezra.  First of all, since this novel is told in "report" form (I am going to use that term loosely, and explain why in a little bit), you really don't get a sense for the characters.  Sure, they are both a little self sacrificing, which could have drawn me to them if it weren't for the fact that they are so annoying.  This characteristic trait seems to overshadow all others, and even from the start I cannot get over the fact that the world is literally falling to pieces around them as they illegal settlement is being bombed to hell, and yet they are fighting over breaking up?  Um, are you kidding me?  That would be the furthest thing from my mind at that particular moment in time.  Unfortunately, this trait does not get better as the story limps along for 599 pages of supremely terrible dialogue between the two.

Then there is the little issue of the self aware AI in this book.  Even if I could suspend disbelief and hop around this cliched sci-fi train, I am not at all impressed with AIDAN.  For one, the descriptions that the authors use, not doubt to try to add color into what should be monotone reports of the AI's central core, are laughable in the fact that, among other things, the AI has wit, employs sarcasm, and uses descriptive poetry.  Most of the reports included in the book follow along this same course, including description and verbatim dialogue that would never be necessary in a formal report.  I think what bugs me the most, however, is how even the adults in this novel sounds like sniveling teenagers.  The dialogue is so dumbed down and unprofessional that parts of it are hard to stomach.  And the IM conversations between Kady and Ezra, Ezra and James (whose name and personality were stolen from The Wire), and Kady and the other hacker are so unbearable that I began to skim read them.  Not only are the constant "I'm banging your sister" jokes not only not funny but annoying, but the current day style of text "formatting" with abbreviated words and zero punctuation made me want to punk someone.

There are a few things I like about this novel.  While certainly not all, some of the styling in this book are quite eloquent (I particularly like the pages where images are made out of a character's name).  I also really enjoyed the fundamental plot of the novel, even if the execution at the end is poor.  I have to give the authors kudos for the originality of the format, but unfortunately it isn't enough to carry the story, especially coupled with the poor formulation.  I think this plot would have been much better served as a new adult or adult fiction novel where you did not have to deal with the insufferable characters and dumbed down language.

As for the ending, let's not even going there.  I am highly disappointed with it.  I realize the authors wanted to set up the ending for the next installment in the series, but this novel could have been much better suited as a stand alone with a much more satisfactory and realistic ending.

20 November 2015

Orbiting Jupiter

Author: Gary D. Schmidt
Rating: 2.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

Though this book is classified as young adult at my local library, I have a hard time labeling it in that category.  Yes, it deals with some grown up issues - implied sex (the main character has a kid) and implied rape (he freaks out whenever someone comes up behind him after his time at the juvie boy's hall).  But it also revolves around a twelve-year-old and a fourteen-year-old.  And with Jack, the twelve-year-old, as our narrator the novel definitely feels like a middle grade narrative.

Though the story is charming and also sad, it is so short and progresses so quickly that while you can emphasize for the characters, you don't really have time to connect with them.  For example, that "thing" that happens at the end of the novel.  That thing that shocked me and should have had me bawling into a gallon of ice cream? Well, that whole thing occurs in the span of about four pages.  And then it is simply over!  I am flabbergasted with how quickly Schmidt just throws that at the readers and keeps on trucking.  It should have had me sobbing, and instead I read through it without much emotion at all except surprise.

To make this a great young adult novel, Schmidt needs to flush out the story and the characters.  He needs to make readers connect with the characters and give them time to explore their own development, instead of glossing over large gaps of times with a simple sentence or two.  The novel is in a weird situation where the subject material is probably too serious for a middle grade story, but the writing is too poor to really entice an older audience.

Also, the cover doesn't make a whole lot of sense (unless it is another metaphor for "orbiting" Jupiter.  And I do like the metaphor of Jupiter in this novel.  That is really well done).  The only reason I don't suggest skipping this novel entirely is that it only takes about an hour and a half to two hours to read since it is so ridiculously short.

19 November 2015

The Conjurer's Riddle

Author: Andrea Cremer
Series: The Inventor's Secret #2
Rating: 2 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

I had high hopes for this book, thinking that Cremer could dive more into the steampunk world she created in The Inventor's Secret and worry less about the romantic squabbles that we had to deal with in the first novel.  Instead, The Conjurer's Riddle (I'm still not entirely sure I even get the title of the novel) seems to focus on all the aspects that I didn't particularly enjoy from the first novel and almost completely ignore the elements I found fascinating.

For one, there is little excitement in the world we explore in The Inventor's Secret.  It is set mainly in a French occupied New Orleans where everyone wears masks.  Though they travel through the different districts of this alternate universe world, none of the details of the setting are interesting.  And while we spend a lot of time traveling, the focus falls on the characters, both primary and secondary.  And since none of the characters are developed all that well, the novel is mostly flat and devoid of any real excitement.

Cremer teases readers with the continual hint at a love triangle between Charlotte and the Winter brothers, but I couldn't really care less about her relationship with either brother, so this does little to hold my attention.  The Conjurer's Riddle is thus mostly a slow crawl through an almost nonexistent plot.  It only picks up interest towards the end, where the element of adventure comes in and the plot picks up a bit in intensity.  But since this only occurs in about the last 20 - 50 pages of the novel, this novel feels more of a filler story than anything else.  Hopefully the next installment will make it worth the read, but I'm not feeling it so far.  Definitely more than a little disappointed in this one.

17 November 2015

Soundless

Author: Richelle Mead
Rating: 2 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

This novel is just... kindda strange.  At first, everything about this world seems realistic.  Actually, for about 90% of this world, I could at least connect with the main character because it felt like the story had a possibility of being real, in a time set in the past.  Then the ending came along and kind of just blew all the wind from the sail.  Not only does it ruin the whole illusion of possibility, but it takes the story in such an unpredictable direction that I feel cheated by it.  The ending definitely feels like a let down, but then I wasn't all that excited about the story up to that point either if I'm being truthful.

The other thing that irks me about this book is this concept of being soundless.  At some point during the story, Fei finds the scrolls in the archive/library from around the time when they were just starting to lose their hearing in the village.  In the particular scroll she is interested in, the author tries to explain the sounds so that the deaf ancestors will be able to at least try to understand.  And this part I get, and actually find okay.  But then about 2/3 of the way through the novel, she is hearing 'rumblings' and 'gasping' and using these foreign words seemlessly as if she has known the meaning of them all along, that she has had the sense of sound from the beginning.  That really bugs me, because it feels so inconsistent, like Mead just dropped the whole pretense, or simply forgot for a while about that portion of the plot.  Considering how fundamental that detail is, it feels like a huge overlook on her part.

Then we get to the plot and the characters themselves.  They are alright, but there is nothing inherently exciting about them.  The romance in this novel is so cliche and bland, and Mead doesn't really dive into the relationship between Fei and her sister, which is probably my favorite dynamic in the story.  None of the characters are developed; the only characteristic really used to ever describe them is either deaf, blind, or something in between, relating to their senses.  I can't tell if this book should have been flushed out more to develop the world and the characters, or just completely skipped in the first place.  After the disappointing ending that was the final nail in the coffin for me, I'd suggest just skipping it.

14 November 2015

Winter

Author: Marissa Meyer
Series: The Lunar Chronicles #4
Rating: 4 / 5 stars
Verdict: Buy

Winter came.  And it was long.  Good Gods, was it ever long.  823 pages long, to be precise.  EIGHT HUNDRED AND TWENTY-THREE pages, people.  It took me a day and a half of doing almost nothing but exclusively reading to power through this puppy.

But I did. I succeeded.  The end has come.  And you know what?  I'm not all that depressed.  I thought I might me.  It's the end of an era, after all.  But after 823 pages, I think I am reading to say goodbye.

It's not bad, mind you.  It perhaps feels a bit tedious in a few certain points, and I am certain a decent chunk of it could have been whittled down.  But we do have four main characters we are dealing with now, and they all have to get their happy endings.  And that takes time.  It also takes romance.  Like, a lot of romance.  Some of it is so sickening sweet it almost makes me want to puke.  Some of it is a little cliche, and some of it feels a little out of place.  For Winter, who was only just introduced at the end of Cress, it feels rushed, because her entire story has to be condensed into the pages of this book, while fighting for page time with the Kai/Cinder drama, the Scarlet/Wolf drama, and the ever lovable Cress/Thorne will-they-won't-they.  All while trying to overthrow Levana and put Cinder on her rightful place of queen of Luna. Which is probably why it is 823 pages long.

I think the only issue I have with Winter that prevents me from absolutely loving it is that I now realize that Meyer used to write Sailor Moon fanfiction, which makes a buttload of sense as you are reading this novel.  The capital city of Luna, after all, is Artemisia City.  And, and I realized before I even knew of her Sailor Moon roots, Artemis is the name of the adorkable white cat in Sailor Moon.  And Sailor Moon was the lost princess of the moon, stuck on Earth, that had no recollection of her royal lineage.  To which I realize now, WAIT, WHAT?  You mean not only did Meyer borrow a lot of elements from classic fairy tales, but she basically ripped off the main plot for the entire series from Sailor Moon?  Well, that bummed me out a little.  Because even though the series is still very unique and original, it just feels like cheating a little bit when you start borrowing that much material from other sources.  The writing also feels a little easy in some parts, almost as if you are reading a fan written fan-fic instead of the conclusion of a series from an internationally best selling author.

I'm not trying to sell Meyer short, though.  Even though I am a little bit bummed about that, I still devoured Winter.  I love Winter herself, with her genuine goodness and her goofy craziness.  She and Jacin are adorkable, even if she - like Cress - is a little too obsessed with love (which I guess is understandable, though, considering how isolated both have been for pretty much their entire lives).

And Thorne.  Oh Gods, Thorne.  Meyer does have a particular talent for well placed comic relief comments.  Thorne is the king of them, and I even laughed aloud a few times.

While I feel like it isn't the perfect ending I could have hoped for, and felt a little repetitive in a few places, I think it wraps up the series well.  It also has a buttload of action right there towards the end, where most series of this caliber tend to build up to a strong climax and then fizzle out in the denouement so quickly you wonder what all the fuss was about).  I will miss these crazy characters.  I will read this series again.  I will no doubt go see the movies when they are inevitability made (Winter will be split into at least two).  But I will not stay up all night obsessing about this final volume in the series.  I will simply return it to the library and add it to my Black Friday shopping wish list.

13 November 2015

The White Rose

Author: Amy Ewing
Series: The Lone City #2
Rating: 3 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

This novel is one of those rare instances where I like the sequel more than the first installment in the series.  Truth be told after The Jewel, I really wasn't planning on reading The White Rose.  I went ahead and checked it out of the library, but it sat on my bookcase and I had every intention of returning it without reading it.  But then I needed a short, quick read to occupy my time between finishing Ice Like Fire and getting Winter from the library.  And The White Rose offers just that.

Lo and behold, The White Rose isn't all that bad.  It certainly feels like a step up from The Jewel.  Yes, I still think it is absurdly ridiculous how quickly Ash and Violet "fell in love", but luckily their relationship (which I don't give two hoots about) takes a backseat while the gang tries to escape from The Jewel and come up with a plan to stop the oppression at the hands of the royals.

I teeter on giving this book 2.5 versus 3 stars because there are still a few glaring holes in the novel.  The first is the character development.  Unfortunately, the development we get for Ash makes me like him even less.  Considering all the sacrifices Ash has made in his life for the sake of his sister, I find it VERY hard to believe that he would simply throw it all away on Violet.  I'm not saying he doesn't love Violet (though again, I kind of do), but to think he would put that love over the love for his sister?  That is something I would never do in a million years.  I dare even say it is selfish.

It is not the only selfish thing I see about Ash in The White Rose.  Ash definitely has a heaping of self esteem issues that stem from his occupation of being a companion.  He seems hellbent on proving he is more, that he can do more.  And he pushes to do exactly that, even in the worst times possible.  A subject that keeps coming up is that he wants to be useful and help, but neither him nor Violet can seem to get it through their thick skulls that the best way for him to help is to stay out of sight, him being a fugitive and all.  After what happens earlier on their way out of the Jewel, you think he would wise up.  But sadly, no, and it irritates me to no end.  Even while trying to help a great cause, he can't help but be selfish.

The last big issue I have is with the way the plot plays out.  My issue centers around the concept of an army of surrogates for their plan, an idea Violet comes up with during a chance conversation with Ash.  My problem is, it seems like the most obvious solution in the world.  So if Lucien has been working on a plan for quite some time now... wouldn't he have thought of this long ago?  That really sticks out as a red flag of bending the situation to fit the motives by Ewing.

So I probably should have given this book a 2.5, or maybe even a 2.  But I am still shocked that I enjoy The White Rose more than The Jewel that I figure I'll be generous.  I might even read the last book in the trilogy.  Shocking, I know!

11 November 2015

Ice Like Fire

Author: Sara Raasch
Series: Snow Like Ashes #2
Rating: 2 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

This book is... kinda boring.  Perhaps I hyped myself up too much after Snow Like Ashes, because it was a fresh world and story in a stifled YA genre.  But unlike Snow Like Ashes, Ice Like Fire is a chore to get through.

Meira loses some respect from me in this second installment in the series.  She spends almost the entirety of the novel debating what a warrior would do and what a queen would do and wondering if she could perhaps be a warrior queen.  And she second guesses pretty much every decision she makes, which doesn't give you much faith in her power as a ruler.  She even goes as far to admit that she's selfish - that she wants to do the right thing for Winter and her people, but that she also can't help but want to do the right thing for herself too.  Which I understand, I truly do.  But my Gods, her inner dialogue is a struggle to stomach at junctures in this tale.

Then we get to the plot itself.  Meira treks off around the world, visiting the other kingdoms under the guise of wanting to sign a peace treaty to form an alliance between all the kingdom, as Theron wants to do.  She does not, however, tell Theron that her motives for the trip are very different, which also leads to a lot of inner dialogue that I could have lived without (and don't even get me started on the disaster that is a love triangle in this book).

I feel like this story is simply a bridge between Snow Like Ashes and the next novel in the series, and wish Raasch would have taken a different approach.  Though we are introduced to a slew of new characters, the only one that leaves an impression is the princess of Summer, and she is vastly under utilized.  The plot trudges along as they go from kingdom to kingdom in search of the keys of the Order (still not sure I remember that whole deal from the first novel) and try to get the peace treaty signed, and my interest simply got lost in the journey and Meira's inner monologues.

I'll probably give this series one more try, but I can honestly say I am disappointed in the turn we took with Ice Like Fire

10 November 2015

The Rose Society

Author: Marie Lu
Series: The Young Elites #2
Rating: 2 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

It's been a year to the day since I finished reading Young Elites (woah!  I swear I didn't even plan that) and even though I've reread my review and read the entire Rose Society novel, I didn't don't remember much about Young Elites.  I kept waiting for something in this novel to trigger some form of recollection, but I've come up with bupkis.  That's the first sign that I probably wasn't going to enjoy this one, since I couldn't even remember the characters or the plot of the series at all.

Unfortunately, it did not get much better from there.  Adelina is not what you would call a likable main character, but I also find it kind of funny that in the acknowledgements Lu says this is the darkest book she's ever really.  I just thought, 'Really?  I've written poetry darker than this.  In, like, high school.'  Now don't get me wrong, Adelina is definitely a messed up chick.  But Rose Society suffers from the same thing I noted in my review of Young Elites: "a lot of the action left more suspense to be desired".  This novel seems to limp by on the characters in lieu of a suspenseful plot, but when the characters aren't that great to begin with, you are left with a novel that just feels flat, and is a bit of a chore to get through.

People who enjoy love triangles will likely swoon over this novel (as I saw in a buddy read discussion), but it does absolutely nothing to me.  I think I'm going to shelf this series, which is a shame because I definitely liked the Legends series better.  There just isn't enough development of this world or the characters that I like.

Oh, and PS: I really don't like the cover.

07 November 2015

Walk on Earth a Stranger

Author: Rae Carson
Series: The Gold Seer Trilogy #1
Rating: 3 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

This book has all the potentials to make a must read for me.  First, it's historical young adult, set in 1849.  So not only is it historical, but it is set in one of the most important time frames in American history - the western expansion thanks to the gold rush.  It also contains a small fantasy element in the fact that our main character, Leah/Lee, can sense gold.  Which means she will, of course, want to travel to California to join in on the gold rush, right?

Lee has all the workings to be a strong, fierce main character.  An only child, it doesn't matter that she's a girl in a time frame where women were basically there to keep house and bred children.  Lee works hard on the family homestead, even more so now that her father has taken ill and is struggling to recover.

Unfortunately, as the story unfolds, these elements for an amazing story never mesh completely.  Lee, understandingly, is at a loss when her world comes crumbling around her and she strikes off to try to reunite when the one true friend she's ever really had and trusted.  All along the way, she struggles when keeping her identity a secret and trying to survive in a world not meant for one alone.  While realistic, it makes it harder to see Lee as this strong, fierce, independent person.  And while her character develops ever so slightly down the line, I never get a good read on her.

The same goes for the other characters in the story, and I think that is the greatest shame of all.  For a story that spends the most of the time traveling/walking, the story leans on the characters for supports.  And when you don't develop the characters, the plot starts to lag and crawl in places.  Then it feels like Carson rushes the plot too quickly to throw in excitement and suspense to jar the reader's attention again.  And while it does add adventure to the tale, it makes the pacing of the story so disjointed that it isn't a smooth sailing straight through.

While I definitely found some faults with the story - the romantic element rearing its ugly head now and then as well - it was still a fun read in a young adult genre that doesn't get too much volume.  I enjoyed it a bit more than Vengeance Road, which is the only other western YA novel I've been able to stumble across so far this year.  So though I wasn't blown away by any standards, I'll probably still pick up the next installment of the trilogy when it comes, for the sake of the setting.

29 October 2015

Virals

Author: Kathy Reichs
Series: Virals #1
Rating: 1.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

I’ve bought a lot of the Bones books when my local used bookstore went out of business, but I haven’t read any of them yet.  I kind of wish I had started with her adult series instead of her first foray into young adult, because the transition did not go well for her I’m afraid.  The characters are one dimensional and cliche, and it feels a lot more like a middle grade writing quality than young adult.  The narrative from Tory’s point of view and the dialogue between the teenagers is so terrible it is laughable.  It goes from being so dumbed down to these fourteen year olds spewing out knowledge even I don’t know in my middle twenties.  It is definitely not knowledge teenagers sit around book learning.

If it was just Reichs’s portrayal of young adults, I could probably have been okay with it.  But the plot is also so absurd that it is really hard to find a redeemable quality of this week.  For a small portion near the end, the plot actually gets a bit suspenseful and isn’t such a chore to work through.  But then the resolution of the plot is so far fetched that in the end I just felt I’d wasted all the time I forced myself to keep trucking through it.

I bought a copy of Code from the bargain bin at BAM so I will probably give this series one more shot.  Hopefully she learned from her mistakes as she got her feet wet in this one and made the next one better (fingers crossed).

Court of Fives

Author: Kate Elliott
Series: Court of Fives #1
Rating: 2.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

I am a bit conflicted with this novel.  It is a bit slow with a plot and there definitely isn't much action/adventure to keep the pace moving.  The best correlation I can make is that Court of Fives is simmers along with the plot.  Elliott tries to use the game of Fives to add suspense and excitement, but the writing feels so rushed to portray the speed and agility needed that it's darn near impossible to get a mental image of what's actually going on, so I ended up speed reading through those parts.  Also, it doesn't really add anything to the character development, and I am not overly found of the way the game is worked into the plot.  I just think Elliott could have achieved the same goals with a better premise that would have been more engaging for the readers with a plot that is much more gripping.  It is also a bit heavy on the romantic drama and the character develop isn't really there to accompany it.

So while I kind of like the world that Elliott creates, and I think the plot could have been very well done, it just seems bogged down in its own slow drama to ever really get me sucked in.  Not sure if I'll read the next installment in the series or not.

21 October 2015

Spinning Starlight

Author: R.C. Lewis
Rating: 2.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

I received a free copy of this novel from the publisher for an honest review.

Liddi Jantzen has been in the spotlight her entire life as the only daughter of a technological super company.  The fact that she has eight brothers, many older than her, did not stop her parents from giving her controlling interest in the family business upon their passing, even though Liddi has yet to show the promise her brothers have already expressed for years.  Liddi is still trying to make her breakout move to prove herself worthy when all eight of her brothers disappear without a trace, just as people try to attack Liddi on the family property.

Though she knows she has yet to live up to expectations in the public eye, Liddi cares nothing up the upcoming tech expo when she gets word of the disappearance of her brothers, and she is thrown into a world of intergalactic travel that, quite frankly, I still don't know if I conceptualize.  Liddi's ventures into the unknown area of their inhabited worlds is where this novel and I start to part ways as it become more than a bit hard to follow in places.  Truthfully, I got a little lost in all of the Khua business and still don't understand it.  I don't know if it just wasn't explained well enough or if it just went over my head, but that whole concept is kind of lost on me which makes it difficult to really invest in the story.  I don't care much for the "alien" romance either or understand why Lewis even feels it is needed for the plot.  There is so much material for the story just in the relationships between Liddi and her brothers that I thought the romance was just a needless interference.  And relationships between different species/with aliens just tend to creep me out a bit.

Lock & Mori

Author: Heather W. Petty
Series: Lock & Mori #1
Rating: 2.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

Petty definitely has a talent with prose, I will not deny that.  Unfortunately, it's written well enough that the main character, Mori, comes off a bit of a sociopath in the end - which I guess makes sense since she's Jim Moriarty.  Having the main character be a sociopath, however, makes her kind of hard to sympathize with.

This novel also suffers from a heavy dose of romance, and the romance isn't written well into the story line.  It definitely feels forced, although it is kind of fun watching them swim through the awkwardness of teenage love, although I am not entirely sure that is Petty's intention.  The characters felt very one dimensional and Sherlock just wasn't as lovable as I'm used to based on other current adaptations.

The combination of the romance, the characters, and the realization of the plot combine to bring down the talent and sometimes eloquence of the prose, so unfortunately this novel falls in the middle and becomes just another reworked adaptation.  That being said, I'll probably still pick up the next installment, just to test the waters once more.

18 October 2015

A Thousand Pieces of You

Author: Claudia Gray
Series: Firebird #1
Rating: 2 / 5 stars rating
Verdict: Bury

This novel has just enough vision to make you hopeful that you've finally found another good sci-fi YA novel, and then so much poorly timed romance to make you curse the author for ever giving you hope in the first place.

It's hard to find good young adult sci-fi, and I don't think I've found another yet about the multiverse theory of the universe.  It has such unlimited potential in the plot, but Meg is so wishy washy with her allegiances and trusts that it makes the back and forth of the plot - which focuses mainly on whether she has feelings for Theo or Paul more - just plain hard to stomach.  In addition, the plot itself it wasted on subplots within the different parallel universes that have little if nothing to do with the main premise of the story.

I really wish I could have liked this novel, but it just wasn't for me.

15 October 2015

Modern Romance

Author: Aziz Ansari
Rating: 4 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

I didn't do any research going into this book, so I thought it was going to be a non-fiction, comical memoir based on similar material to his latest Netflix comedy special.  But alas!  There are facts in this book, guys!  He did studies with actual people and accumulated data and came to scientific results.  This book is more like 80% science and 20% Aziz's humor (and him telling you over and over again how lazy you are for making him read the audiobook to you instead of picking up the book yourself).

And believe it or not, this book is actually really entertaining and interesting.  The further I got into this audiobook, the more I found myself thankful that I was able to meet my hubby in college and that I never had to test the waters of online dating.  In some ways, it reminds be a bit of Drew Berrymore in He's Just Not That Into You and how she said it was so exhausting having to track potential partners through text and phones and online messaging and apps and call backs...  Aziz does a good job of showing how our culture has come to embrace the technology age with regards to romance.  So while you won't laugh aloud the whole time like a Jim Gaffigan audiobook, you'll still chuckle here and there (Alfredo!) and learn some interesting insights as well.

11 October 2015

Six of Crows

Author: Leigh Bardugo
Series: Six of Crows #1
Rating: 2 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

Let me start by saying there really isn't a single character in this novel I could relate to.  Most of them, in fact, I didn't even particularly like.  Kaz, the leader of the little ragtag group, is a prime example of this fact.  He really doesn't have any redeemable qualities.  The entire novel, I kept waiting for some spark of hope, but every time I saw one it was squashed not to far down the line.  Kaz is powered by revenge and greed, and he is basically the exact same person he despises from his childhood.  Everything that was done to him, he has done to at least one other person.

Matthias and Nina?  Do not even get me started on this disaster of a "romance".  There really doesn't seem to be any chemistry between them.  Their backstory is slow to unfold to figure out where all the animosity comes from, and with all the buildup, the truth between where their "sexual tension" comes from is laughable at best.  While I liked some of Nina's characteristics, the fact that she cannot separate herself from her issues with Matthias really put me off from her.

I will give Bardugo credit for character development.  There is a lot of backstory told for each character woven into the story.  So much so, in fact, that the plot seems to limp along like a dog with a bad leg.  A lot of the story is devoted to this backstory.  But, unfortunately, since I never really connect with any of the characters, a lot of this is basically lost of me, only making the story seem to drag out.

The plot picks up for about 50 pages towards the end, but even then it doesn't feel that satisfying.  I think Bardugo tries too hard to throw in twists and turns into the plot via secrets Kaz keeps about the plan from his crew.  It makes the plot feel a bit disjointed, and a little unplanned in parts, as if she is backtracking to cover up gaps previously.  I ended up feeling just as frustrated with Bardugo as the Crows were with Kaz.  And the ending (which I think is absurd that Kaz didn't see it coming, since I fully expected it from the start) was so underwhelming and unfulfilling that I doubt I'll continue this series.

Ash & Bramble

Author: Sarah Prineas
Rating: 1.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

I love a fairy tale retelling, but Ash & Bramble does not deliver.  From the very beginning, I could tell it wasn't going to be one of the better retellings I've read.  After all, though this is a Cinderella story of sorts, there are no elements of the original tale until quite a bit down the road.  I think Prineas would have been much better off just trying to be unique instead of trying to pull popularity from the retellings angle.

I do not like how half of this story is written in first people from Pin's view and half is written in third person to follow Shoe.  Either make it first person from both their perspectives, or third person and don't have a character narrative.  It almost feels like cheating, since each POV has its advantages, and Prineas is trying to capitalize on both.

The storyline is also kind of confusing.  I get that it is supposed to be a fractured fairy tale of Cinderella, but the whole thing with the Godmother and the fortress, and then the punishment being what it was?  None of that really made much sense at all to me.  As the plot comes together, the storyline becomes a little less confusing, but it still doesn't make much sense to me.  The whole thing about Story just seems... I don't even know the word for it.  But it isn't really gripping at all.  I think the best thing I can say about this novel is that I kept limping along because I kind of/sort of wanted to know what the ending was going to be.  Be it definitely doesn't really hold my interest, and I don't think the ending is really worth it since it's isn't that spectacular in the end.

The characters certainly don't help matters either.  I realize that the Godmother takes away their memories of Before in order to get them to be obedient slaves in the fortress for the cause of Story or whatever, but that seems counterproductive for Prineas.  Without a gripping plot you need gripping characters.  And these characters have no depth at all!  They don't really even have any characteristics to speak of!  It honestly feels like reading a children's fairy tale or watching a Disney movie, where the time is so short and the plot so condensed that there isn't time for development.  Prineas can't use that excuse, though, because we have 450 pages for her to give Pin, Shoe, and Cor some depth.  But we get nothing.

The other thing that really, really annoys me is the incessant correction of "Pen" and "Pin".  Am I the only person who thinks they sound EXACTLY THE SAME?  It is probably irrational, the amount of fury this ongoing thing causes in me each time I come across it.

It seems like retelling of fairy tales are becoming more and more popular in the YA genre these days, probably thanks to Disney remaking every animated classic into a live action story these days.  With the abundance of talent in the genre, this is definitely a novel that can be skipped.

03 October 2015

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Author: Jesse Andrews
Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

“I mean, you can know someone is dying on an intellectual level, but emotionally it hasn't really hit you, and then when it does, that's when you feel like shit” - Greg

Like the film, this book really isn't about Rachel (the dying girl).  It focuses mainly on Greg (me), the self depreciating downer who hates high school and does everything in his power to skate by as friends with everyone until the worst four years of everyone's life is finally over for him.  It is also about Earl (Earl), who is probably my favorite character, even if he has the mouth of a character out of Grand Thief Auto (seriously, does any person really talk like this?  It is massively annoying).

I would have loved this book more if Grey wasn't so self depreciating.  I mean, good lord.  I know a thing or two about being someone who carries around a healthy dose of self doubting, but Grey cranks it all the way up to eleven.  And while it makes for a lot of humor in the novel, if you stop to think about it, it also makes you thankful that Greg is only a fictional character, and not someone in real life.  But at least I like to think, based on the way that the novel plays out, that at least Greg starts to realize this, perhaps, by the end.  Maybe he realizes that a lot of the time, he is the only one standing in his own way (or maybe not).

There is a moment in this story where Earl points out exactly that, and in that moment I totally love Earl.  Earl and Greg are maybe, just barely friends - as Earl points out - because Greg doesn't really know how to be a friend.  He spends so much time trying to please everyone and keep everyone happy, he can't make friends.  Greg points this out early and often throughout the book (I am thankful that I am a bit of the opposite, and don't give a flip what people think 95% of the time - especially in high school).  Earl has a few other really special moments in this novel... when he isn't being just plain foulmouthed.

I think the funniest and most self deprecating thing about this book is how it points out that it would make a terrible movie.  This is great, because as I read the story, I remembered that they are making/they made a movie out of it.  And I'm sure it's going to be toned down to PG-13 in order to target the projected audience.  And the whole time I am reading the story, all I can think is:


  1. They are going to have to cut so much of the dialogue out in the movie, so it is going to lose a lot of the humor
  2. About 90% of the humor comes from Greg's narrative.  And even if they make a voice over styled movie, it is still going to lose at least 50% of the humor and quirk that comes from the narrative.
  3. Since this novel doesn't really have much in the way of a plot - at least in the terms of what a film industry would think - I am fairly certain the movie is going to suck.  Especially with the ending the way it is.
So that is definitely funny as well.

All and all, I am not sure the book lived up to all the hype it has been getting (and I am thinking Greg is 100% right in saying this book will make a terrible movie), but it was definitely worth a read.  I feel like Andrews may have tried a little too hard to try to channel what he thinks teenage boys are like (or maybe Greg and Earl are just a little too realistic to be 100% likable), but it isn't too shabby for a debut novel.  I'll definitely keep an eye out for his next story.

(Oh, and as a final note, I have to give props for the screenwriting style woven into the story.  As someone with a best friend who works in the film industry and got me hooked up with Celtx in college, I could appreciate some of the humor tied into the formatting of this story).

28 September 2015

In a Handful of Dust

Author: Mindy McGinnis
Series: Not a Drop to Drink #2
Rating: 2 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

As soon as I finished reading Not a Drop to Drink, I requested this novel from the library.  While there was nothing awe inspiring about the first novel in the series, it definitely had its moment of eloquence, so I was interested to see where McGinnis took this story now that Lynn is closer to her mother's age at the beginning of the first book and Lucy is closer to Lynn's.

Turns out, this novel is such a needless sequel.  Upon reaching the end of the story, I wished I hadn't read it.  The whole plot seems kind of stupid/irrational (like why would anyone still live in the middle of the effing desert?  How is that a survival instinct for anyone?  Or in a place known for droughts?  That is only marginally better.  And why would you decide to walk across the country to get there (this seems like the biggest plot hole of them all).  Desal plants or not, if I was heading west, I would have gone to Washington state, where is rains for like 75% of the days in a year).

And speaking of walking across the country, that is what third fourths of this book is about, and it gets very, very tedious.  Pointless characters are introduced just to try to help the plot limp along, but it doesn't do much.  The beginning leaves a lot of character development to be desired and the ending just plain sucks, though there are two very major plot twists towards the end.  Still, even these plot twists can't salvage this story.  If anything, one of them kind of made me hate it even more (I'm talking about you, Lynn).  Very disappointing after reading Not a Drop to Drink, even if the ending has a nice tie back to the beginning of the first novel.  It had a sprinkling of moments and a few nice quotes, but nothing to make it worth a sequel for the original story.  I suggest reading the first novel and forgetting this one even happened.

25 September 2015

Burn Out

Author: Kristi Helvig
Series: Burn Out #1
Rating: 1.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

"A futuristic blend of Beth Revis's Across the Universe and Lenore Appelhans's Level 2, Burn Out will satisfy the growing desire for science fiction with a thrilling story of survival, intrigue, and adventure."

This synopsis probably should have clued me in that this book wasn't going to be all that great.  Though I have not read Across the Universe yet, I did read Level 2 and wasn't all that impressed.  But come on, we all know I am a sucker for YA sci-fi, especially BSG/Firefly ones that do not include aliens but focus on the human expansion into space and the difficulties that arise.

So right off the bat I am already rooting for this story.  Unfortunately, Helvig gives me almost nothing to work with.  Though she has a PhD and credits the astrophysics department at some university for helping her with the science behind the plot, I am not buying it.  This story is set only 300 years into the future, and yet Earth is completely kaput?  The explanation?  Oh, we diverted an asteroid from hitting us and it instead ending up on a direct collision course with the sun.  And when this dark matter filled asteroid hit the sun, it heated its core so hot that now the sun is evaporating all the water on Earth and frying the ozone?

For one thing, if that were to happen, I highly doubt the mere development of metal shelters is going to shield you and save you.  If anything, the metal shelter is going to turn you into a heat sink since metal is a conductor and not an insulator.  Ditto for the "warp drive" spaceships that travel to the other Earth like planet they have discovered.  Also, the likelihood of an asteroid that is large enough to cause that type of destruction to the sun that is MASSIVE?  Chances are if it can do that to the sun, than the parts of the asteroid that broke off when we diverted it and sent it away and burned up in the atmosphere would have had enough dark matter to mess us up and cause mass extinctions here and the damage to the sun would be a moot point.  Also, if we have the technology for warp drive ships, why did we let the asteroid get so close to our solar system to become a threat in the first place?  Why wouldn't we have taken the plot from Deep Impact and done that way out before the asteroid even became a danger to us?

But let's forget about the flimsy plot (although, I can't, because that is just how my mind works!!!!).  Even without that unpleasing excuse for the way things are, it's not like the actual plot or characters are even better.  Tora is kind of annoying.  I realize a lot of her characteristics are the way they are to help the plot develop, but that just makes her almost insufferable to deal with.  And the romance in this story?  Why, why, why, why, WHY?  Couldn't we have taken all the effort thrown into that disaster and used it to try to come up with a better plot?

I managed to make it through the story, because I kept hoping Tora would get bashed over the head with something (she does) and it would knock some sense into her (it doesn't).  And I kept hoping that Helvig would divert away from these sad characters and at least give me a little bit of juicy sci-fi to work with.  But she doesn't, so don't bother with this one.

19 September 2015

Vengeance Road

Author: Erin Bowman
Rating: 3 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

"Pa's right, [gold] does make monsters of men.  And women.  Cus while I don't want the riches, I want that gang dead, and I ain't quitting till each of ems as cold as that bastard in the outhouse."

I'm not going to lie, I thought this novel was going to floor me.  The cover alone promises a roaring good time with the rustic western style, the hand guns and, oh yeah, the human skull.  Plus, the name has the word vengeance in it, which is a pretty good indicator of a plot riddled with shootouts and dead bodies.  Heck, even the synopsis proved enticing:

When her father is murdered for a journey revealing the location of a hidden gold mine, eighteen-year-old Kate Thompson disguises herself as a boy and takes to the gritty plains looking for answers - and justice.  What she finds are untrustworthy strangers, endless dust and heat...

Now, don't get me wrong, Vengeance Road has its moments to be sure.  There is one surprising twist that I did not see coming at all.  Then there is another (the one at the end) that didn't catch me unexpected at all.  There were more than a few less the subtle clues placed throughout the book leading up to it that I caught on to with suspicion.  And there are a few bar clearing western styled shootouts.

But even so, Vengeance Road just feels underwhelming.  The plot feels slow in certain places while Kate and her rag tag band are trekking across the wild west.  Bowman tries to make up for the lulls in action during the trek across the plains by filling them, unfortunately, with some less than necessary young adult romance drama, which this novel definitely could have lived without.  I will say, though, that every time I start to tire of the lull and the romance, Bowman goes and throws wrenches in the plot that catch my attention all over again.

All and all, it isn't nearly as kick butt exciting as I thought it could be, but it's a fun little read.  For a story built on family secrets, heaping piles of gold, and a revenge murder spree, I have to say the writing was a little light.  I never really buy into Kate's character, which is a sign that perhaps she isn't developed in the right way for this type of western styled story.  But young adult western novels are hard to come by - this might actually be the first I've read - so if you like that style, go ahead and check it out.

16 September 2015

The Fixer

Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Series: The Fixer #1
Rating: 4 / 5 stars
Verdict: Buy

Tess's life get turned upside down when her older sister, Ivy, shows up at the family ranch in Montana.  Though Tess has done her best to keep her grandfather's degenerating mental health stabilized and the news of it away from Ivy, the secret eventually comes out and Tess finds herself whisked away to Washington DC, away from her grandfather and into a life with the sister she barely knows.

The synopsis of the book boosts "This thriller YA is Scandal meets Veronica Mars."  I have not seen Scandal yet, though it is in my never ending Netflix queue, but I loved V Mars.  And this book definitely has that teenage sleuth kind of feel to it, though Tess's sister Ivy makes a much larger role in the plot then Papa Mars usually paid with Veronica.

While the focus of this novel is a bit out there - a conspiracy that might include high ranking officials in politics and the White House - it has just enough foundation built in to feel believable.  The development of the characters definitely helps too, as do Tess's and Ivy's snarky personalities, which I love.  Even the dynamic between Ivy and Bodie adds entertainment to this tale.

I really like the ending too.  The plot has penalty of twists and turns, and I had multiple opinions of who-done-it along the way.  In the end, it wasn't someone I expected, and yet the resolution didn't come out of left field either like a lot of mysteries that simply go for the shock and awe instead of the slow build up of clue (yes, I'm talking about you still Broadchurch).  I think this book might have been best off as a stand alone, but Barnes does a nice job of setting up the sequel while still leaving this novel feeling mostly solved.

The other thing I have to give Barnes mad props for is that Tess is kind of a BA heroine.  She has a lot on her mind and on her plate in this novel, and she doesn't waste the whole story pining over guys.  I hate it when authors feel like they cannot write a successful YA novel with throwing in a bunch of needless romance.  So kudos on that.  While this novel wasn't a must-binge-in-one-sitting suspense story, I still thoroughly enjoyed it and I will be picking up the sequel when it comes out.  (My mom also commented that it showed up on the carousal of my old Kindle Fire she has and that she's in the process of reading it too.  She really likes it so far as well).

13 September 2015

Rebel Mechanics

Author: Shanna Swendson
Series: Rebel Mechanics #1
Rating: 3 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

This novel has all the elements to be an instant classic in the steampunk genre.  Unfortunately, Swendson does not do the best job of weaving the elements together so this novel falls about midway on the spectrum from love it to hate it.

Right off the bat, I can tell Verity is not the strongest of female characters.  For starters, when her train gets boosted by bandits en route to start a new chapter of her life in New York City her reaction is to put down her book and watch enthusiastically.  Instead of being cautious and erring on the side of reason, Verity is excited.  And then, as if that isn't enough, she decides she fended off the bandit, simply because he didn't have any use for her and decided to let her go free.  That's right - the bandit kisses her hand in farewell, and she considers herself awesome because she defended herself against him.  Pah-lease.

Fortunately, Verity's character becomes less annoying as she gets settled into a new position and a new life in this alternate version of the United States of Britain.  Though I must admit, she falters again when I realize that she seems prone to affording this novel a bit of a love triangle.  Seriously, what is it with girls in Young Adult novels and their need to fall in love with every boy they set eyes on?  Like most other novels in the YA genre, the romance is rushed, underdeveloped, and hardly matters to the plot.  In fact, it would have been a lot better if Swendson has just left it out completely.

Still, I have to give some props to a novel where engineers and the rebels with the cause.  Heck yes, amigos, heck yes.  Though it seems the women in this alternate universe 1800s still are more apt to play nanny and be a bit of journalists than to get to tinker and design themselves, I still feel like I could have enjoyed joining this rebel movement.

Though the romance becomes a bit tiresome, the plot is fast paced and quickly changing, and I always love a good rebellion.  So while Rebel Mechanics isn't a novel to write home about, it's a decent steampunk read for a lazy rainy weekend (even if the author had to throw magic in there for good measure as well).

12 September 2015

A Thousand Nights

Author: E.K. Johnston
Rating: 2.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher for an honest review.

Again, I feel as if I need to preface my review by letting you know about my complete ignorance when it comes to the original tale of 1001 nights.  Sure, I know the basic plot, but I've never read the original, so I read this book more as an original story than a retelling.  That is likely a hindrance to my understanding and appreciation, because I thus find this novel extremely slow paced, difficult to get invested in, and parts of it difficult to understand.

For example, the entire smallgod and demon aspect of the novel is pretty much lost on me.  Yes, I realize that there is apparently a species/colony of demons out in the desert, hell bent on using the humans as pawns in their own schemes.  And yes, I understand that our heroine narrator (it took me so long to read this novel I can't even remember her name to save my life) asks her sister (step sister, I guess, technically, since she is a sister from another woman married to her father, ugh) to pray to the smallgods for her and that smallgods have powers in this world.  I sort of got all that, but I just couldn't get invested in the plot and the characters because these elements made it nearly impossible to suspend my disbelief.  Couple the fantasy/paranormal elements with the fact that the plot is extremely slow to develop, only picking up in about the last 25% of the story, and it was a chore to get through this novel.

Character development isn't well done either, since the main characters are really only developed through their magical powers for the most part.  Yes, I admire the main character for fooling the ruler into believing she is her sister in order to save her sister from his evil tyranny, but other than that she doesn't have many redeeming qualities, other than the fact that she refuses to cower to Lo-Melkhiin and thus forces him to deal with her head on.  All her development stems for the aspect of smallgod power, and that part, again, was difficult to get into it since it's hard to believe.

The ending is also incredibly lackluster and anti-climatic.  After such a drawn out and slowly paced plot, I at least hoped that the book would end with a bang.  But it's more a firework with a long fuse that, when the fire finally reaches the body, fizzles out as a dud instead of exploding into the sky.

So while it isn't badly written and though the book actually got a bit interesting about 3/4 of the way through, I still have a hard time recommending it since it took me nearly a month to finish and I almost gave up a few times.

The Jewel

Author: Amy Ewing
Series: The Lone City #1
Rating: 2 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

It is hard to decide what I think about Violet Lasting, the main character and narrator of this story.  Her decision to be a surrogate is not one of her own choosing.  If anything, it is a product of genetics.  For Violet is born with the gift (and the curse) of the Auguries, which give her the rare power to be able to carry a child of royal lineage to term without the baby being all deformed and stunted and eventually dying.  So while Violet's life growing up in the slums in the outer, poorest ring of the Lone City may not have been the best, things certainly don't look up when she has her first period at twelve, gets the mandatory test, finds out she has the powers of these Auguries, and is swept away to a holding cell to hone her skills for the next four years.

Believe it or not, this beginning portion of the novel is actually the interesting part, even if I still don't really understand how the Auguries work, how they are possible, and what - exactly - makes Violet and the other surrogates special to have these traits in the first place.  To be fair, it doesn't seem like Ewing knows either, because the characters basically say 'Yeah, it's a mystery - just roll with it' every time it comes up.  Which, if you know me, you will realize drives me absolutely BONKERS.  But, I digress.  Let's get to the royally f*ed up part of this plot, where Violet and the others she has lived with for the past four years are auctioned off to the highest bidder in a public form, drugged, and dragged away to The Jewel - the inner most, royal part of the city jammed back with palaces, royal elitists, and just downright terrible people.

If you are like me, you would expect these surrogates to be revered in the Jewel.  After all, they are the only things that stand between the extinction of these royal bloodlines and thus the power these people hold.  But are they treated like the magical beings they are?  Errrr, no.  Instead, they are chained and handcuffed or - my favorite - given collars and pulled around by a leash with a bag over their heads.  Also, they are forced to use their magical abilities to show off in public, even though it causes them to have nosebleeds and pass out.  Because I'm sure that will be good for the baby's health.

To summarize, the plot and the character develop in this book make absolutely no sense whatsoever.  All the royals are heartless, evil b-words, and then they act all disappointed when their surrogates drop dead (sometimes by sabotage from another rich snob elitist) or - even better - when their demon spawn can't latch onto the inside of these poor girls vaginas and survive.

But, let's get away from the plot that steadily goes off the rails and focus on our "heroine", Violet.  As I started to say at the beginning of my review, it isn't Violet's fault that she was born with this genetic anomaly that turns her effectively into a slave.   It is her fault, however, that she is so bloody stupid.  What really, really, really made me want to reach into the book and punch her in the fact is her relationship/romantic entanglement in the story.  Because this is a YA dystopian story, so of course there has to be romance.

Let's look past the fact that there is absolutely no development of this relationship at all.  Let's ignore the fact that they meet twice, and then suddenly he rushes towards her, collects her into a kiss, and bam! they are confessing love to each other.  My fundamental issue with their relationship is that they both know why their are here in The Jewel/what their jobs entail.  And they both know the same about the other.  And yet, they seem to forget it.  When Violet sees him working, she goes raving mad, declaring immediately that she hates him, even though she knows his job details even worse things that she conveniently ignores.  And then he knows what being a surrogate entails - though he doesn't seem to bother to ask her any details, which just goes to show they don't spend much time getting to know each other.  Their entire relationship is ABSURD and yet it takes up the majority of the second half of the novel.  And the dialogue steadily becomes worse and worse as it shifts to their interactions, until the point where I almost wanted to throw up a few times.

Yes, there is a twist at the end, but for the majority this book rolls along with a rather standard plot that isn't difficult to guess.  The characters are either vapid and stupid (Violet, her gentleman friend, Raven...) or characterized only by their wickedness (pretty much everyone else).  And while the beginning part of this novel is interesting with this highly unique world, it doesn't take long for it to go completely off the rails.  So do yourself a favor.  Skip this one.