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.