26 August 2016

I'm Moving!!!

Dear devoted readers,

I am currently in the process of merging all my blogs into one centralized blog on Wordpress.  You can start to follow me at Cabeza de Cre-Cre.  I will be leaving this blog operational, but I will no longer be updating it.  All book reviews have been migrated to the new blog.  I am still in the process of updating the books and series lists on the new blog, so please feel free to continue to look around here while the dust settles.

Thanks.  <3

25 August 2016

Losing It

Author: Emma Rathbone
Series: 1.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

When I got back we commenced a heavy-breathing make-out session wherein I felt like I was on a swaying rope bridge.

Yeahhhh...  So this story is kind of like that ^

This is Julia Greenfield.  At twenty-six years old, she is still a virgin.  And that is a problem for her.  A BIG problem.  As in, she can't focus or think about anything else.  She even quits her job, packs up, and moves to live with her aunt (that she barely knows) for the summer in hopes of finding some guy she can have sex with.  No joke.

As someone who wasn't allowed to date until she was sixteen, and then didn't date much in the early years of college because hey, turns out engineering was actually a little hard, I went into this novel thinking I would be able to relate with Julia.  Perhaps not completely, but at least some.  I thought I would find her enduring and the praise on the back of the book promised "every single page... contains a line so funny" and that it is a "witty and insightful novel".  To which I now must shout from the rooftop: LIARS, LIARS, PANTS ON FIRE!  It could not have been further from the truth.

Julia Greenfield, it turns out, is annoying.  Reallllllly annoying.  She is the epitome of everything that I dislike about most the women I meet (this is not sexist, I don't believe, as I am a woman myself and, indeed, these things bother me with most people in general, regardless of sex).  She is self centered, she has zero work ethic, she talks like a Valley Girl (actually, all the characters do.  The novel is riddled with horrible, annoying dialogue such as "Yeah" this, and "Yeah" that).  If I had sat down and read this book in one sitting and done a drinking game every time someone said 'yeah' I would have ended up in the hospital with alcohol poisoning before the night was over.

Here are some of the things that really turned me off of Julia - who, by the way, feels like an older version of Blair from Gossip Girl, which is at least a somewhat less frustrating read:

1) She goes snooping through her aunt's stuff!  Her aunt is kind enough to take her in, even though she seems like a recluse/introvert.  And how does Julia show her thanks?  She waits until her aunt goes to work, then goes rummaging through all her drawers in her bedroom.  What a prick.  I would go ape crazy is someone did that in my house.  They'd be on the street that very night.

2) She gets in a car accident because she's too busy paying attention to her goddamn phone.  Are you kidding me?  I was like Bradley Cooper with the book in Silver Linings Playbook at this point in the story.

3) She dumps all her responsibilities and any sense of decency if she thinks she might get lucky.  And then, quite a few times, she ends up leaving with her tail tucked between her legs.  For someone sooooo desperate to have sex, she sure does walk away in the middle of a lot of opportunities in this novel.  Not that I blame her.  I wouldn't have been caught dead with any of these guys.  But I wouldn't have been so desperate in the first place.  Have some self respect, girl!

4) She has no motivation for life in general.  She doesn't know what she wants to do, she floats along through jobs, but she makes no effort to better her situation for herself.

5) And, oh yeah, she isn't funny AT ALL.

Why did I waste my time?  For Losing It was a true waste of time.  Losing It?  More like Losing My Mind Over It.  Ugh.

21 August 2016

Seraphina

Author: Rachel Hartman
Series: Seraphina #1
Rating: 2.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

"I scrupulously hide every legitimate reason for people to hate me, and then it turns out they don't need legitimate reasons. Heaven has fashioned a knife of irony to stab me with."

Hartman knows how to write some serious prose, I will give her that.  Unfortunately, it's bogged down in a confusing plot that didn't feel all that well pieced together.  It was a bit like trying to read a Nolan movie in print version.  But, unlike a movie, this book is more than a two hour commitment.  I found myself a little confused more than once.  I feel like if I did a reread, it would make a lot more sense.  But I think Hartman could have helped readers by setting up the story a little better (and maybe putting the dictionary/appendix in the front, since I never skip to the back of the book).

Seraphina is another dragons-in-disguise-as-humans novel.  Hartman pulls it off a lot better than Kagawa did in Talon however.  Unfortunately, Seraphina's plot, like Talon, suffers from a little too much emphasis in romance.  While at least - thank the stars - a love triangle is not involved, it still kind of is actually.  Seraphina starts crushing on Kiggs, who is engaged to his own cousin (ewww.  Gotta love that royal inbreeding).  To make matters worse, Seraphina is a halfblood (half human, half dragon).  Don't even get me started on how that's even possible.

Though there is a peace treaty between the humans and the dragons, there is anything but ease between the two species.  As such, I didn't really understand the entire bell theory and how some dragons were exempt from wearing them, and how no only really seemed bothered by that.  But then, later down the road, when the idea of bleeding everyone to see if they bleed red like a human or silver like a dragon comes up, everyone seems to lose their wits.  And all the public places apart from a special section of the village are segregated where dragons are not allowed.  So that really didn't make a whole lot of sense to me.

The fundamental plot of the novel - who killed the (king? king's brother?  Kiggs's uncle?  I don't even remember, but let's just say some human royalty) - takes way too long to build to fruition.  And the climax of the story is just plain anticlimatic, as the novel is told from Seraphina's POV and she's barely paying any attention to the battle/action at all.  Hartman has beautiful writing, but a lot of the time it just feels frivolous.  Still, she finally built up some steam near the end, which makes me hopefully for the second installment in the duology.  Fingers crossed.  I want more dragons!

20 August 2016

Power Play

Author: Kate William
Series: Sweet Valley High #4
Rating: 2 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

All Robin Wilson had ever wanted was to be popular, but it seemed she had been going about it the wrong way.  All she had to do was be confident, take care of herself, and treat the people around her the way they deserved to be treated...

I liked this series growing up, didn't I?  I could swear I did, but I am finding it harder and harder to remember why.  I know I liked the Sweet Valley Twins that I read, and I was obsessed with the SVU for a while, but maybe I never actually read the series when they were in their prime in high school.

Oh boy, so here we go again.  Let's start with Robin this time.  She wants to join Jess's Sweet Valley High Beautification Committee (only started so that Jessica can run for Miss Sweet Valley High since she has been too self centered to have any extracurriculars on her resume), but Jessica and her elite snob jackwad friends don't think Robin is the 'right type' of person to join the club, so they make her go through a whole song and dance of high school hazing that is pretty messed up, hoping she will drop out on her own accord.  Robin, obsessed with popularity, goes along with humiliating herself (because why not?), then - when things don't exactly go her way - she drops out of school to be homeschooled and hit the gym and get a makeover, so that maybe she could be popular.  I'm sorry, but exsqueeze me?  How is this the message we want to send to teenage girls?  If you get bullied in high school but a bunch of bitches, just drop out and buy into the whole stereotypes of beauty, stripping yourself of your identity, and then you too can be popular!  Ummm, f*&^ no.

Jessica is as much of a brat as always.  How have her parents not sent her off to a boarding school yet to get her attitude adjusted?  Even Elizabeth is a little annoying in this one.  Miss Goody Two Shoes wants to be helpful, so she meddles in the Robin situation which, surprise, surprise, backfires completely.  Like we couldn't see that one coming.

Where are the parents in this series?  Is it just me, or do these books tend to teach the wrong kind of moral story?  The only one I almost want to feel sorry for in this novel is Lila, but she's such the cliche of a spoiled rich kid that I can't.  These characters are all archetypes without any depth.  And whenever you think they might develop into an actual human like character, it always seems to go sideways.  Another disappointing letdown.

19 August 2016

Talon

Author: Julie Kagawa
Series: Talon #1
Rating: 2 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

Wait.  I was a dragon.  What the hell was I doing?

The quote above from Talon pretty much sums up this novel for me.  Ember and Dante are friggin dragons, yet they pretty much just act like annoying, regular, run of the mill human teenagers.  Dragons actually play a very minor role in this "groundbreaking modern fantasy series" (ha!).  Not only do the dragons walk around in human form, but they are forbidden from shifting into dragons, which makes this novel pretty much the dragon equivalent of Twilight.

Garret is human, and after dragons killed his family, he has made it his life's mission to hunt them down and kill them all (Talon's Edward).  Riley (Talon's Jacob) is a rogue dragon, who grew tired of the bad guys in the Talon hierarchy, and wants to save Ember from the same oppression.  At the heart of it, Talon is just another young adult love triangle romance between these three.

While it has a few interesting points, Talon is pretty much a dud throughout.  I think the most interesting relationship was between Ember and Dante, and it was lost in the flood of her romance with Garret and Riley.  And the most exciting part of the novel was probably her Talon training sessions and her shifting into dragon form, which barely happen at all.  Instead, Talon is full of cliche and eye roll worthy dialogue and prose such as:

 "Screw you both.  I don't need any of this.  I'll find my own way home."

Which is kind of ironic, since a lot of this novel involves Ember getting a ride home from Garret.

And very soon, I was going to show a certain red-haired hatchling the true face of Talon, and convince her that she belonged with us.  With me.

Barf.

"Be careful, Riley.  Don't get dead."

That one's just bad grammar.

And my favorite, which I think was supposed to be super macho and awesome in the heat of the battle, but just made me laugh:

"Heartless bitch!" he snarled, flames licking at his teeth in rage.  "You won't touch them.  I'll kill you first!"

Exclamation point and all!

Talon felt wholly unoriginal, another forgettable YA paranormal romance novel in a saturated genre.  Though, I'm sure, that means it will be devoured excitedly by the masses who enjoy this type of story.  Shame on Kagawa for playing on my current obsession with dragons.  I just wish there were more YA dragon novels out there actually focused on dragons.  This series, which looks like it is already slated for at least five novels, is dead for me after one.

16 August 2016

A Walk in the Woods

Author: Bill Bryson
Rating: 4.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Buy

There is no point in hurrying because you are not actually going anywhere.  However far or long you plod, you are always in the same place: in the woods.

Bryson's humor might not be for everyone (he is definitely a little snarky, something I can relate to), but I think everyone can find at least one thing in this book that they can relate to.  It isn't just about the discovery of the beauty of America that is being more and more threatened everyday.  It's also about self discovery, particularly for Bill's partner in crime who is an alcoholic in recovery.  It is a story about perseverance, and redefining what it means to succeed in the things that you try.

I am very Monkish when it comes to nature (Nature!  I got nature on me!  Wipe, Natalie!), but this novel makes me want to thru hike the AT before I die.  While I usually like to admire nature from afar, Bryson paints a picture that can only really be truly experienced if you are in the thick of it - out in the middle of the woods, sharing small shelters with complete - and sometimes annoying - strangers while soaked to the bone with blistered feet.  It is also a tale about the change nature has encountered in America during our development into a first world country.  It cautions about conservation, or rather things done in the name of conservation.  It cautions about the ignorance a lot of Americans face simply because they've never experienced the amazement that is the undeveloped wilderness of America.

I am one of those people that believe we are reaching a new age in America.  With all the technology so readily available at their fingertips, most kids no longer go outside and play.  Vacations into the wilderness are a thing of the past, and the average age of people who visit our nation's national parks is staggeringly high.  There is a large portion of Americans - including the politicians who govern our country - who do not even believe in global warming and climate change.  It's a scary world we're facing, and the experiences and beauty Bryson witnesses during his adventure are exactly the reason we need to stop being reactive and start trying to combat the problem now, before it's too late (I'm talking to you, you science deniers!).

You don't have to be an eco nut like myself to enjoy this novel.  Bill and his travel companions have enough misadventures to enthrall the casual reader who isn't looking for any deeper meaning.  But I implore you as you read to pay attention to the adoration Bryson has for the nature he experiences across the 2,000+ miles of the AT.  In his own words:

I gained a profound respect for wilderness and nature and the benign dark power of woods.  I understand now, in a way I never did before, the colossal scale of the world.  I found patience and fortitude that I didn't know I had.  I discovered an America that millions of people scarcely know exists.  I made a friend.  I came home.

I couldn't have put it better myself.

15 August 2016

Firefight

Author: Brandon Sanderson
Series: The Reckoners #1
Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

I lowered the gun.
My name is David Charleston.
I kill people with super powers.

Oh, David, so full of yourself.  You kill one little High Epic and now suddenly you are the master slayer.  Forget the fact that you can't stop oggling and pining for another Epic, one you definitely wouldn't kill.  Or that the leader of your Reckoners squad is an Epic.  Or that you get a lot of help from other Epics - whether willingly or unwillingly - in this novel.  Nope, David is just the Steelslayer.

I don't mind David all that much, to be honest.  I think he says 'Sparks!' entirely too frequently, but I chalk that up to the author wanting to say an expletive without actually having to write one, which is becoming more and more frequent it seems.

The plot of Firefight feels a little more reformed than Steelheart was.  It feels like Sanderson writing and the way the plot unraveled also added a little more action this time around, even if it still felt slow during parts.  And I like how the the goodness of the Epics isn't so black and white as they tried to make them out to be in Steelheart.  There is a lot more gray area this time around, which adds a complexity to both recurring and new characters.

Unfortunately, a lot of this novel is still wasted on teenage romance that really doesn't do anything to further the storyline.  Lines like:

'Stop it, I thought at myself.  Prof is right.  You need to get Megan out of your head.  Enjoy what you have right now.'

Weigh heavily on the plot, and David is far too interested in Megan.  There is even a little hint of a love triangle teased for a while, which only soured my mood.  Still, there aren't too many young adult superhero/super villain novels that I've found out there yet, and the story is interesting enough.  We shall see how Calamity goes.

14 August 2016

Icefall

Author: Matthew J. Kirby
Rating: 2 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

The synopsis on the inside cover jacket totes "...terrible acts of treachery soon make it clear that a traitor lurks in their midst.  A malevolent air begins to seep through the fortress walls, and a smothering claustrophobia slowly turns these prisoners of winter against one another."

That, coupled with the awesome looking cover, made me think this was going to be an intense, exciting novel.  Instead, the story is more centrally based on Solveig.  And her story is kind of droll.  While they are surrounded by ice and stranded on the island waiting for the ice to thaw for her father to return, Solveig learns to be a skald.  A skald, back in Vikings time, was a storyteller.  So, in essence, this is a story about stories.  And a raven.  And unfortunately, it wasn't that entertaining.

The main plot, with the sabotage, would have been pretty interesting if it hadn't been buried behind Solveig's raven and storytelling.  The pace of this novel ended up so slow it was hard to stay interested in it.  The only reason I finished reading it is because I'm working on a Norse styled novel of my own, and Viking novels are hard to come by.  

11 August 2016

Split the Sun

Author: Tessa Elwood
Series: Inherit the Stars #1
Rating: 2 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

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

In Split the Sun, the second and final novel in the Inherit the Stars series, we are introduced to a new leading character, Kit.  It has been a while since I read the first novel, Inherit the Stars, so I cannot say with full confidence that this novel does not link back to the original in any way other than the universe, but for me Split the Sun did not trigger any recollections of the first novel.

My fundamental issue with Split the Sun is that I honestly can't really tell you what the plot was supposed to be.  Elwood works on a handful of different subplots, but none of them take center stage to grab the reader's attention.  If I had paid closer attention to the synopsis of the book, it alone would have given me this clue as even the summary seems to be a bit everywhere with no real focus.  I have never done this type of review before, but here's the synopsis from Goodreads below with my comments thrown in.



The Ruling Lord of the House of Galton is dead (this does feel a bit like carry over from the first novel, as I seem to recall the characters in the first one causing all sorts of havoc.  But again, I can't be certain), and the nation is in shock—or celebrating, depending on the district. Kit Franks would be more than happy to join him. (you mean 'them' right, not 'him'.  Who is 'him'?)

Kit’s mother bombed the digital core of the House, killing several and upending the nation’s information structure (this feels like this should have been the core plot for the novel.  Political intrigue laying the ground work for a great dystopian where the common man rises up against the totalitarian government bottle-necking and controlling all the dwindling resources in the solar system). No one wants the daughter of a terrorist. Kit lost her job, her aunt wants her evicted (this is a major subplot that takes a lot of focus away from whatever the main plot was supposed to be.  Her relationship with her aunt and her cousin plays a heavy part in what is going on, as Kit inherited her grandmother's apartment upon her death, and her aunt and cousin has a big beef over that.  Unfortunately, her annoying aunt and her drug addicted cousin don't add much interest to the story at all), her father is using her as a shield against a drug lord (her father follows the same story line as her aunt and cousin.  She isn't close to him, he has some serious drug/gambling issues - I honestly don't even remember which it was - and causes all sorts of problems when he tries to crawl back into her life to mooch off of her.  Again, it does nothing to grab the reader's attention.  If anything, it was Elwood's attempt to make readers emphasize with Kit, but she handles everything so poorly with all the matters relating to her family that it's hard to sympathize with her), a group of political rebels need Kit to ignite an interplanetary war (I almost forgot this happened.  Another example of the most interesting aspect of the novel being lost in the host of other issues that plague the story.  Kit keeps getting kidnapped and drugged, but she's too busy worrying about her dead mom, her deadbeat family, and her love interest to really focus on what should be very disconcerting), and the boy two floors down keeps jacking up her suicide attempts—as if she has a life worth saving (a classic, cliched young adult love at first sight/instalove case for these two unfortunately.  Their snarky banter had some potential but was wasted with everything else happening)

When Mom-the-terrorist starts showing up on feeds and causing planet-wide blackouts, everyone looks to Kit for an answer. The rebels want Mom on their side (mom who is alleged dead, by the way). The government needs to stop Mom’s digital virus from spreading before there’s no record of government left (this part wasn't entirely clear to me in the book even.  I remember some hacking of video feeds and the like, but did not even realize it was a virus type issue until I got towards the very end). Both sides will do anything, destroy anyone, to make Kit crack. They believe she’s the key to Mom’s agenda and the House’s future. Worst of all, they may be right (this whole plot is so bogged down by poor planning that it's kind of hard to follow and loses most of its momentum to other plots going on in tandem).

Kit’s having dreams she can’t explain, remembering conversations that no longer seem innocent, understanding too much coded subtext in Mom’s universal feed messages. Everyone, from Mom to the rebels, has a vision of Kit’s fate—locked, sealed, and ready to roll. The question is, does Kit have a vision for herself
(it seems like she wants to kill herself, which is a vision I guess)?

Tessa Elwood’s final book in the Inherit the Stars series introduces readers to a strong, unique heroine who must chart her own destiny against a minefield of family ambitions and political agendas
(I do have to say again that I enjoyed Kit's snark.  But I would not necessarily call her strong or unique.  More like desperate not to lose her home and weak to her family and her nosy neighbor's cookies).

08 August 2016

Golden

Author: Melissa de la Cruz & Michael Johnston
Series: Heart of Dread #3
Rating: 2 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

She was the drakon.  Its heart of dread.  And now she was an immense, churning, howling ball of flame.

For a series routed in dragons, I gotta say, there was a severe lack of dragons in this final installment to the series.  And when the dragons - sorry, 'drakons' - are reintroduced, it is not what you would expect and doesn't last for very long.  Disappointing, as the dragons were about the one thing I liked about this series, which didn't leave much in the way for enjoyment in this last installment.

The writing is so juvenile at times that it's laughable.  As the substitution of the word 'freeze' for curse words is really frakking (heh) irritating.  Take this passage for example:

Godfreezeit... he was freezing dying... motherfreezer... Nat... Nat... where are you...

Case and point on both mentioned above.

Golden feels more like a romance than anything else, but there is no chemistry between Nat and Wes to speak of, so the plot has no grounds on which to stand.  And while they have quite a few enemies to deal with, we go through three major fights in the last third of the novel, all sandwiched in together.  It feels rushed, and there's no real action or suspense behind the prose to keep readers hooked.

While I think die hard fans of Melissa de la Cruz and the series will enjoy this conclusion, I've still yet to be impressed with anything she's written so far.

07 August 2016

Nobody Does It Better

Author: Cecily von Ziegesar
Series: Gossip Girl #7
Rating: 3 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

Most of her life had been an endless loop of repetition, filled with the same people, parties, and predictability.  Even her dreams had been predictable, and she liked it like that.

This quote from Nobody Does It Better kind of sums up my current feeling towards the Gossip Girl series.  Each novel feels a bit like the same story, over and over.  Blair and Nate get together, Blair and Nate get in a fight, Blair and Nate break up.  Wash, rinse, and repeat.  Serena gets a boyfriend.  After five minutes, she's bored of him.  She dumps boyfriend and finds someone else.  Wash, rinse, repeat.  Jenny follows on Serena's keels trying to be just like her.  Dan makes a butt out of himself.  Vanessa does something equally dumb or unbelievable.  And Chuck just hangs out with his pet monkey (believe it or not, that's not a metaphor for anything).

In this installment in the series, the seniors are all finding out where they got in to college, or are deciding which college they want to go to if they haven't already.  They are counting down the days to high school graduation, and planning on living it up partying until they do.  This novel is a little less annoying than the last one, though it still doesn't seem like these characters are ever going to gain any growth.  Though by now I suspect that is kind of the point.  And this time around, I almost feel bad for Blair, although she ought to realize by now that her relationship with Nate is one of those toxic ones not good for you and that she ought to leave his loser butt behind.  Also, she ought to learn that two self centered, self obsessed girls are never going to survive as BFFs for life.  Oh, and not to steal things from babies.  She shouldn't do that either.

And Jenny.  Oh Jenny.  She gets more annoying each time around, although I thought the school tour with Rufus was awesome, even if it didn't end the way I had hoped.  Oh well, a gal can dream.  There's always next time (now, how many of these books are left?  I feel like I've about reached my limit on how much whiny elite high schoolers I can bare).

Dream On

Author: Kerstin Gier
Series: The Silver Trilogy #2
Rating: 3 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

One learns so much in dreams.  Things that no one else knows.

Liv's life isn't great, but it's better than it was a little while ago.  Her rag tag band of dream walkers is no longer trying to make sacrifices to unleash a demon.  And Anabel is locked up, well away from Liv and her dreams.  And even though her mother is still dating and Liv is forced to have to merge her family painfully with his, she at least has a super cute boyfriend she can waste the hours away with dreaming.

Unfortunately, that's about it for the plot of Dream On.  Though the others are less than tempted to continue through their dream doors after the events of the first novel in the series, Liv and Henry continue to dream explore, where they find an interesting and a bit mysterious and odd character.  And Liv's sister starts to sleepwalk.  And the whole gang deals with the aftermath of the first novel.

While carrying over a lot of elements from Dream a Little Dream, Dream On feels like a filler novel.  The plot feels thin and doesn't have much to hold your attention.  It leans heavily on the dream world to carry it along, and even there the mystery of Mia's dreams isn't all that exciting.  The only mystery in the waking world is Secrecy's identity, and that doesn't hold much suspense either.  The shiftiness in Henry's character, and the deal with his family, is the only other area up for grabs and helps the plot limp along to the end.  Yet Dream On teases for bigger, badder things in the last installment, so it's hard to give up hope on the series, even if Liv turns into a typical whiny teenager when things don't start to go right in her personal and family lives in this novel.  Hopefully the last novel will make reading this one worth it, and really build on the storylines that Gier slowly weaved through this one.

03 August 2016

Steelheart

Author: Brandon Sanderson
Series: Reckoners #1
Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

If there's one face we can hold on to, it's this: every Epic has a weakness.  Something that invalidates their powers, something that turns them back into an ordinary person, if only for a moment.

David lives in a strange world.  It's every kids dream and nightmare at the same time.  The unknown Calamity arrived in the sky, floating around outside Earth.  With it, it brought super powers to individual humans.  Unfortunately, these humans are greedy and self serving, and every single one of them uses their powers for evil instead of good.  Yeah, believe it or not, I can 100% see this happening.  Looting and anarchy abound.

David's father dies at the hands of an Epic (one of the humans with this unnatural abilities), and David vows revenge, no matter how long it takes.  He seeks out the Reckoners, a vigilante band of humans working to slowly take down the controlling Epics.  The fact that he grows a crush on one of the Reckoner gals only solidifies his efforts for the cause as he seeks to avenge his father.

The one thing I really liked about the psychology of Steelheart is that even though all the superheroes are all bad guys, we keep expecting for the good ones to come.  That mentality felt very human and realistic to me as well.

I've heard amazing things about Sanderson, so I think I may have gone into this novel with my expectations a little too high.  While it's a fun read, and there are a handful of great quotes, I expected something just a little more, a little better.  There's some classic shock and awe techniques Sanderson uses with plot twists that irritated me a little, even though I honestly did not see them coming.  And there is plenty of action abound, even if it may be lacking a little in suspense.  I'm certainly interested in continuing this series, and I really want to try some of Sanderson's other fantasy work, but Steelheart just didn't quite have that readability factor I was expecting (it took me a while to get through and I found myself switching back and forth between it and a handful of other novels).

02 August 2016

These Shallow Graves

Author: Jennifer Donnelly
Rating: 3 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

I am not sure where the idea arose, but somehow I thought this novel was going to be about zombies.  You've got a hand reaching out of a book cover with the word Graves on it.  The opening chapter is people digging up graves looking for specific bodies.  So I guess my mind immediately went to zombies.

This novel is not about zombies.  Not one bit.  I think it may have been better if it had been.  Instead, it is a historical young adult crime mystery as Jo tries to find out the truth about the suspicious circumstances behind her father's death.  I think if the plot had been thinned out a little and some of the factors condensed a bit, it would have made a good mystery.   Unfortunately, the mystery feels a bit drawn out with so many different characters and identities over a long span of time that it's difficult to keep track of who is who and what we know of/what we think of everyone, which makes it feel a bit tedious.

The romance in the story does not help.  Jo finds herself in a cliche young adult love triangle, torn between the high society beau she's expected to marry (who I think is her cousin?!?!) and the "from-the-wrong-side-of-the-tracks" reporter she's gallivanting around town with to try to solve the case of her father's death.  This novel is almost 500 pages long, and I think if Donnelly had chopped out the romance that didn't seem to add much to the plot in my opinion, it would have kept the suspense behind the murder mystery going a little better.

Overall, it isn't a bad story.  The ending wasn't what I expected, although one of the main twists did feel a bit predictable once it was revealed.  It was light on the suspense, which prevented it from being a stay up under the covers novel, but it was a well thought out, well written story and Jo's character is likable and definitely relatable and a new adult female.  It was just missing that little something extra to make it stand out.

01 August 2016

The Raven King

Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Series: The Raven Cycle #4
Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

... time, like a story, was not a line; it was an ocean.

So much build up, so much promise, and then... such a letdown.  The Raven King isn't bad by any standards, but I had such high expectations for the final novel in the series, and it just didn't feel like Stiefvater delivered.

For three novels, we've been following Gansey and crew on the quest for his king.  And while we finally get a resolution to this primary plot line, it feels so underwhelming after all the buildup.  It's almost a metaphor for the novel as a whole.

The Raven King, while still an interesting read, seems to stutter and almost stall out like Gansey's car.  The problems we set forth to resolve in this novel don't feel as epic as we were led to believe from the beginning, and the final resolution feel sloppy, rushed, and forced.  The book jacket teases this, "Now the endgame has begun.  Dreams and nightmares are converging.  Love and loss are inseparable.  And the quest refuses to be pinned to a path."  Sounds exciting, right?  Sounds like an epic read you would want to stay up all night cramming the story in on one sitting.  Instead, the novel felt dragging down with scenes such as trying to get Artemis out of a tree (is he in the tree? And does it really matter?), new relationships that seem to come out of nowhere, and introductions of new characters that we've never heard of but, apparently, depending on where you started, the story could be all about them!

The Raven King feels like a case of the publishers forcing an author to finish before she's ready, or of a series becoming bigger than an author expected and the author not having a clear ending in mind when the series started (ahem, Harry Potter, ahem).  While I didn't walk away from The Raven King feeling dissatisfied, for there was still that unique prose that made it so readable, and for the most part it still forces on the characters we've grown to love, I also didn't walk away in love with it either.  It had potential to be one of the most unique, amazing, wholly original series I've read in quite some time, but I think the ending knocked it away from that potential.

27 July 2016

You're the One That I Want

Author: Cecily von Ziegesar
Series: Gossip Girl #6
Rating: 2.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

Was it only yesterday that she'd told another boy, "I love you"?
Yup, that's right.  Yesterday.

Beautiful Serena who got kicked out of boarding school gets into practically every college she applied to, so she flaunts around New England, touring the schools and meeting hot tour guides.

Dan and Vanessa are apparently a couple again?  And now they decide to live together (that sounds like the logical, smart thing to do), along with a squatter who has keys to the apartment.

Blair is still determined to lose her V card, and now she has her eyes set on her cheating, stoner ex-boyfriend Nate, all while juggling her own (and Nate's as well) acceptance letters and a new baby in the family.

Jenny wants to become a supermodel like her idol, Serena, but learns that perhaps her super huge boobs may not be the asset she thought they were.

It's hard to feel any kind of pity for these characters this time around.  When Nate, who admits himself he didn't think he'd get in anywhere, gets into most of the Ivy Leagues when I worked my ass off in grade school just to try to get into a decent university in state, it just irritates me to no end.  And I can't feel sorry for Blair either, because she's just waiting for her letter from Yale so that she can celebrate by losing her virginity.  Seriously, can this girl really think of nothing else?  I think the elitist snobs side of the characters felt pretty strong in this installment in the series.

I did think it was kind of cute how Nate was spoiling the newest addition to Blair's family, even if he was doing it for purely selfish reasons.  And Chuck's relationship with his monkey (and his desperate attempt to get into college somewhere) added some fun to the story.  But for the most part, this one was completely forgettable for these characters I love to hate.

24 July 2016

Playing with Fire

Author: Kate William
Series: Sweet Valley High #3
Rating: 2 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

"Not all of us can walk around cheating and blackmailing and lying and not feel guilty about it."

Are there really people out there as stupid and annoying as Jessica Wakefield?  I certainly hope not.  She is the antithesis of a role model for young girls.  She's conceited, self-centered, self-destructive, and she completely loses herself for a guy who - surprise, surprise - treats her like crap.

Here are just a few of the things she does in this novel:

- ditches Winston at the school dance competition (or whatever it was) to go hang out with Bruce

- ditches Robin time and time again, then only pays attention to her when she wants to use her to steal something at school

- cheats on her tests/quizzes

- bails on cheerleading to hang out with Bruce, who ends up canceling on her all the time anyway

- let's Bruce treat her like %&$^ over and over again, all the time telling herself she loves him.

I'm sorry, but in what universe is this love?  What is the one character trait he possesses that she actually likes?  Oh, right.  His wealth, popularity, and good looks.  Well, okay then.  Excuse me while I sit here and roll my eyes and fake gag.  I really don't understand these types of toxic relationships, or how people like Jessica let themselves think they enjoy this!  I keep waiting for her to redeem herself in one of these novels, to show that maybe she isn't such a turd, but so far, still no luck.

Another thing that annoyed me was how Elizabeth and the others seem to blame Bruce for changing Jessica.  I think that's utter BS.  He didn't force her to change.  Jessica made that decision entirely on her own.  They should be pissed at her for not wanting to be the better person.  They could be pissed at him, however, for how terribly he treats her throughout this entire novel.

The really sad thing is, I don't feel like there was even a moral or a lesson to this story.  I doubt Jessica is going to learn anything from it, which may make it hard for young readers to either.  I just don't know, fellow readers.  I really don't know.  But at least Liz and Todd are still cute together and not completely dysfunctional.

21 July 2016

I Like It Like That

Author: Cecily von Ziegesar
Series: Gossip Girl #5
Rating: 3 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

And what bothered her, what made her feel like crying all over again, was that now they were broken up, she had no one to love, and no one to love her.  Not that she didn't love almost every boy she'd ever met, and not that every boy in the world didn't totally love her.  It was impossible not to.

Seriously, what is it about this series that makes it so readable even though the characters are kind of terrible?  It feels like we are rehashing old themes yet again, what with Blair still desperate to lose her virginity, though she's met her fair share of guys more than willing to take up the cause to help her out.  Her latest victim is Serena's older brother, which does add a new element to the mix.

Stone cold sober or just stoned cold, Nate still can't seem to decide what he wants.  While trying to get into the pants of ultra druggie Georgie (Harriet the Spy, y'all!), he can't seem to stop playing knight in shining armor for Serena or lusting over Blair, the one he let away.  And Blair still finds Nate attractive even though he cheated on her with her best friend (still can't get over this one, sorry!).

The Humpreys are a sad bunch.  Shallow Jenny learns her new boyfriend might not be all he's cracked up to be, much to her dismay after lots of stalkery moments (desperate, anyone?).  And sad, loner Dan is living it up (ha) with his new internship of a lifetime.  Turns out, he can't even mail letters properly.  I guess once you get a bit of an ego, or get a taste of the privileged life, you're too good to do the remedial tasks we all start off doing.

I definitely love to hate and hate to love these characters.  They are so unrelatable on the surface, and yet there is one or two characteristics in each of them I can strike a chord with.  But, again, I'm glad I don't have any of their lives.  I am definitely not a drama mama.  But I so enjoyed the interactions that the additions of Georgie and Chuck added to this installment in the series.  Bwhahaha.

19 July 2016

Truthwitch

Author: Susan Dennard
Series: Witchlands #1
Rating: 4.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Buy

She was trapped here, inside herself.  Forever, she would be this person.  Stuck within this body and this mind.  Tied down by her own mistakes and broken promises.

If you can get over the initial I-have-no-idea-what-is-going-on-what-do-all-these-terms-mean, Truthwitch is quite a good read.  It takes a little while to get into, with slow explanations to all the different types of witches, and all the different political players in this game of clashing kingdoms.  But I think I much prefer this steady stream of information as it unwinds naturally through the story than the initial info dump at the beginning that a lot of authors tend to do.

Safi is interesting because she is flawed and relatable.  To some extent, Iseult is as well, though I think she's a little less flawed.  She's more cloaked in darkness, with her full potential yet to be revealed it seems.

I think the only thing that Truthwitch suffers from, that other readers might not even notice, is that the plot may not make the most of sense.  If we have these aetherwitches that can control winds/air/etc., I feel like there was a much simpler way to fulfill the plot of this story and the contract regarding Safi than boats and piracy and huge foxes, etc.  I realize why Dennard added all those elements in, but to me it didn't seem like the most logical decisions on the characters' parts sometimes.

Overall, however, it rarely draws away from the story.  And the romance doesn't stifle the plot either, which is a refreshing change though there is some for romance readers.  I think the bond between Safi and Iseult is stronger than any romantic relationship in the story, and the characters introduced along the way, whether as romantic interests or not, are dynamic enough to hold their own in the story.

Though I wasn't sure about this story in the beginning, it definitely won me over by the end.  I look forward to the next installment.

18 July 2016

Because I'm Worth It

Author: Cecily von Ziegesar
Series: Gossip Girl #4
Rating: 2.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

The title of this novel is a bit ironic.  I got through to the end of the book, and it honestly didn't feel like it was worth reading.  The drama/plot lines this time around were a little boring and felt like we've maybe already done them before.

Serena still can't seem to stay interested in a guy for more than a few weeks, though she does suggest getting matching name tattoos, so that's something I guess.  Still, her flighty personality when it comes it her relationships is already getting a bit tired.

Blair is on the fence with her own relationship problems.  Between one of her father's Yale friends, one of her step brother's friends, and once again Nate, her own problems seem trivial as well - especially since they all still seem to revolve around one main key element still - losing her V card.  Sometimes these characters are so far out there from my own personal experiences that they are just a little too unbelievable to enjoy.

Vanessa and Dan run into some trouble in their rocky but new friendship turned relationship.  In all honestly, I thought they were doomed from the start, but the way their story arc goes is not exactly what I thought it would be.  How ironic, though, that these teenagers both get their first break into big time entertainment right around the same time - Dan with his poem and Vanessa with her film.

And Jenny considers a breast reduction surgery while befriending someone who is actually her age and gets her to experiment in some new things she hasn't tried before (and that doesn't include her inclination to smoke weed, which she picked up from Nate).

And sad, pathetic Nate.  I actually kinda like what happens to him this time around.  He skates through life with not a care in the world expect the worry that his pot dealer is leaving the country.  It was nice to see him sweat (a little bit) for a change.

17 July 2016

Secrets

Author: Kate William
Series: Sweet Valley High #2
Rating: 3 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

Homecoming time has come!  Surprise, surprise, but Lyla and Jessica have made the list for homecoming queen.  The real shocker is that Edin and Elizabeth did too.  Thinking they only got the nod because they are dating hot boyfriends, Jessica is determined not to let either one of them show her up.  No matter what.  Seriously, why hasn't one of her parents taken her behind a shed yet and beat some manners into this girl?  If I had done a fraction of what Jessica has gotten away with, my mother would have had me kidnapped in the middle of the night and sent off to a boot camp in the woods to scare some sense into me.

Edin is worried about her past coming out, especially with her super jealous boyfriend (her first clue that maybe he isn't the best guy to be wasting her time with in my opinion).  She confides in Elizabeth, and Elizabeth swears to keep it between the two of them.  But secrets have a way of getting out, and all hell breaks loose in Sweet Valley.  Except between Todd and Liz.  They are too cute, even if he was a complete twat in the first novel.

Light and entertaining, Secrets is a quick read that further goes to show that Liz is the ideal teenager and Jess is an insufferable bitch who doesn't care about other people's feelings at all and only wants what's best for her.  Again, I feel like all of us can relate these characters to people in our lives, even if it's been forever since high school (thank God).

All I Want Is Everything

Author: Cecily von Ziegesar
Series: Gossip Girl #3
Rating: 3 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

The truth is, the only thing that makes famous people interesting is that they're famous.

I think the same applies for the characters of this novel.  The only thing that makes them interesting is that they are rich and somewhat famous.  Otherwise, they are just those whining, annoying, spoiled people we don't even want to associate with.

This third time around, good old Nate might be back on the fence in a classic he only wants what he doesn't have.  Now that he and Jenny (sorry, Jennifer) are apparently a thing, he finds himself thinking about Blair.  Blair's new step brother is having some not very sibling like feelings towards Blair, Dan and Vanessa's story line is getting old already, and Serena is starting to annoy.  It would be one thing if she showed some true, honest characteristics.  But she doesn't really seem to have a personality.  She is defined by her beauty alone, which is what every guy sees in her, including her new rock star boyfriend.  Oh brother.  At least it looks like she and her bestie are finding a way to make up and be BFFs again.

Still, the style of the series is kind of enjoyable.  "Gossip Girl"'s narration and her snarky comments thrown into the storytelling make the novels enjoyable.  And though I couldn't care less about upper society's trends and fashion and shopping needs, I like to mock it a bit through the series, even if that isn't the author's intent.

Again, there is no depth to be gained from this series or these characters at all.  But I kind of enjoy the drama, as it makes me appreciate that I don't have to deal with any of this kind of nonsense in my real life.

Ivory and Bone

Author: Julie Eshbaugh
Series: Ivory & Bone #1
Rating: 2.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

The problem with Ivory and Bone is that there isn't really a problem with Ivory and Bone.  The writing isn't terrible.  The characters aren't annoying.  There is no one thing I can pinpoint about this novel to explain why I didn't enjoy it.  The only issue I have with it is that, plain and simple, it was boring.

There isn't a lot of excitement.  It's billed as a romance, but there really isn't much romantic tension between any of the characters.  There are clashing clans with a lot of predated history and tension, but even that doesn't turn into much.  In the end, I simply found myself skim reading the majority of the novel once I'd reached halfway or two, simply to get it off my nightstand and allow me to start a different story.

I honestly don't see this being a trilogy though.  Once through it was enough for me, until Eshbaugh really pulls out all of the stops the second time around.

Dragonfly in Amber

Author: Diana Gabaldon
Series: Outlander #2
Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Buy

"Undated.  Unknown.  But once... once, she was real."

Dragonfly in Amber picks up more than a decade after the end of Outlander, which is a bit unsettling at first.  The dynamic relationship between Jamie and Claire, and some of the antics of the member's of Jamie's clan/gang are what made Outlander such an enjoyable read.  Pulling the characters out of that element and tossing in a whole new dynamic throws readers like me for a loop.  Granted, Brianna and Roger are likable enough characters, but it seems like their characters are trying to force you to like them off the bat, instead of the slow, easy introduction we got to the characters in Outlander.

But, fear not!  We soon pick back up with Claire and Jamie before too terribly long.  But in the back of my mind, the entire time I read this novel I couldn't help but think 'why?' and 'when?'  Because we know, now, that Jamie and Claire will eventually be separated (boo!), and that Claire winds up back in her original time.

I do like how there isn't a huge scientific issue of time paradoxes in this series.  Though Gabaldon has yet to explain how it works, she hasn't forced an unsatisfactory explanation on me either.  I much prefer it this way.  And though I am saddened the entire novel about how I know it will end, I still enjoy Jamie's sometimes snarky, sometimes silly character, and Claire is as independent and forceful as ever.

The plot, while much more substantial than that of its predecessor, was a lot more political as well.  It felt a little dense at times, though probably because of my own ignorance of the history of that time.  It was certainly interesting, even if a bit futile.  I only wish these novels were a tad shorter.  It just seems to take forever to get through them, and the ending always leaves me wanting to immediately pick up the next one to continue the saga.

15 July 2016

You Know You Love Me

Author: Cecily von Ziegesar
Series: Gossip Girl #2
Rating: 3 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

And Blair was still starring in the most depressing movie ever made.  The movie that was her life.

Just in case you were wondering if You Know You Love Me is full of beautiful prose, the quote above should give you a hint.  But it also hints to as why I continued to like this guilty pleasure the second time around.  It's kind of fun to watch their train wreck of lives fall apart around them.  This time, we focus mainly on Blair.

Blair is definitely not have a good time.  She's insecure with her relationship of Nate, yet doesn't seem inclined to breaking up with the cheating scumbag.  Instead, she still seems determined to lose her virginity to him, even though he gave his V card to her best friend.  Also, Nate is making a new female friend, while Blair is still blaming all of her relationship problems on Serena.

As if the drama with Nate isn't enough, Blair also has to deal with her mother getting married (on her birthday no less) to a guy she really doesn't care for, and she has to worry about inheriting a new step brother.  Oh, and admissions to Yale.  And a film festival at school, apparently, too.  But even though she's got all this drama going on, it's still kind of hard to feel sorry for her, because 1) she's so desperate to have sex with Nate that her relationship with him is really her own personality trait and 2) the only other parts of her personality that chip the surface are off putting as well.

The other characters are just as annoying as before as well.  Jenny is still obsessed with hanging out with the cool kids, and now she's dreaming of kissing Nate even though she knows he's in a relationship.  Dan still trips over his drooling tongue if he even thinks about Serena.  Vanessa is desperate to get Dan's attention even though she has a boyfriend now.

And Blair and Chuck, from the cover?  Not even a thing at all in this story.  This cover makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to the story.

13 July 2016

Killer Spirit

Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Series: The Squad #2
Rating: 3 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

"I'm starting to think the CIA is seriously deranged for letting us do this," I told her, "but that doesn't mean that I don't want to do it."

Toby and friends are back with more school spirit and spy missions that you can handle!  As they continue to unravel the mystery left a bit open ended in the first installment to the series, Toby faces a more serious, more pressing matter - homecoming court.  As a cheerleader on the Squad, she's nominated to court almost automatically.  And with her maybe/maybe-not boyfriend and her cheerleader chasing brother running her campaign for her, the unthinkable may happen - she might actually win.

I like Toby because she is the exact opposite of what you might expect for a stereotypical cheerleader.  I like the rest of the Squad because they add depth to that stereotypical character, each in their own unique way.

What I don't like is that this series is apparently done!  Which hardly seems fair at all, as we just got started.  Sure, it's highly unlikely that the government is using teen spies without the consent of their parents under the rouse of a cheerleader team.  And I doubt there's cheerleaders out there selling cookie that are actually hacking into and spying on evil corporations.  But still.  The audacity of the plot is kind of its charm.  Now where am I going to find more books about cheerleading super spies?

12 July 2016

Double Love

Author: Kate William
Series: Sweet Valley High #1
Rating: 3 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

It's the summer of nostalgia.  First with Gossip Girl, and now throwing all the way, way, way back to Sweet Valley.  I grew up reading about Elizabeth and Jessica, be it in Sweet Valley Twin, Sweet Valley High, or Sweet Valley University, though I don't think I've read the entirety of any of the series.  I even saw a bit of the TV series.

Returning to Sweet Valley is like going back to high school.  There is drama abound, especially since uber popular Jessica and reserved, brainy Elizabeth just happen to have crushes on the same guy - Todd.  I'm not a twin and have never had that kind of dynamic with someone like Liz and Jess share, but I can definitely relate each one of the characters in this story to someone I went to high school with.

Definitely a summer read, Sweet Valley focuses on the drama of Liz and Jess warring for Todd's attention.  It also deals with Steve's hidden relationship (they think) and her father's potential affair with the hot, young new lawyer at his firm.  In the background is also the rival between families over what to do with the football field (high school drama at its finest).  These books are a quick read, and the characters are tolerable (some more than others).  Jessica is definitely not my favorite, and is a bit of a bitch.  And after Todd's interactions with both girls, I definitely would want to date him.  He seems a bit like a spineless prick.  But that makes the series charming, as each character is flawed and imperfect.

Gossip Girl

Author: Cecily von Ziegesar
Series: Gossip Girl #1
Rating: 2.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

If I hadn't watched the television show on and off, I probably wouldn't really care about this series.  It's a look into New York City's elite Upper East Side.  So, believe it or not, it's full of spoiled rich kids concerned with being invited to the biggest parties and wearing the latest fashion and hooking up with the hottest people.  Basically, it's the opposite of my own life of working hard to be a middle class American while wearing clothes from Target and being married to a nerd.

Still, like the show, it's a bit of a guilty pleasure if you can get over how self absorbed and 'important' these characters are.  Blair is only concerned with being the queen of her preppy school and of losing her virginity to her boyfriend, Nate.  Nate is a stoner kid with less than stellar grades that really has nothing going for him except that Chase Crawford plays him in the TV series.  Serena would almost be likable, despite all the rumors flying around about her, except for the one thing she did that isn't a rumor but is true - mainly, sleeping with someone else's boyfriend.  Jenny is a popular girl wannabe, desperate to do any and everything to get a peek into the lives of the elite.  Dan is a sappy loser completely obsessed with Serena though it seems they've hardly talked at all, if ever.  And Chuck?  Well, Chuck is Chuck.  What else is there to say?

The prose is light and trivial, but it's supposed to be, as it's told from the POV of a secret high school blogger.  This series is literally for people who live for gossip, but it's a light, quick summer read for me that's easier than trying to ever finish the TV show (because, let's face it, that's never going to happen).  There shouldn't be anything really enjoyable about it, and yet the characters are just interesting enough to make me want to continue the series.  I can imagine that a lot of teenage girls eat these novels up though.  Who wouldn't want to be rich and semi-famous with their portrait plastered all over the side of buses in the city?

10 July 2016

Born to Run

Author: Ann Hunter
Series: North Oak #1
Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

Alex's life has never been easy.  Given up for adoption when she was born, she has been in the system ever since.  Though she has lived in several foster homes, she always finds herself returning to particular home, even though the foster mother is anything but loving and caring.

When Born to Run starts, thirteen-year-old Alex is holding a gun over her dead foster mother while panicking.  Her heart is also breaking over her dead foster sister, who died in her arms.  With the police on their way, Alex decides to run, afraid of going to jail for the murder.

Alex winds up at North Oak horse ranch, the most prestigious horse racing farm in the country; considering the revelations later in the book, I found it oddly coincidental that she should just happen to end up there of all places.  Taken in, somewhat begrudgingly, by the vet and her family, Alex struggles to fit in while continually running from her past.

I've been on the search for a new horses series to read while I wait patiently for Netflix to add the next season of the Heartland series.  This first installment in the North Oak series was available for free on Amazon, so I decided to give it a try.  Though Alex is thirteen and the writing level feels like it is definitely targeted for middle grade kids, the main topic - the murder of her foster mother - of this story felt higher than that level.  Especially when, throughout the novel, Alex has flashbacks to what exactly happened that night as she struggles with the guilt and the fear.  I thought some of that should have been toned down for the targeted audience.  The book also has some Christian/God undertones.  While not overly preachy, it was definitely there.

While not on the same par as the Heartland series (which I obsessed over growing up) in my opinion, Born to Run was still a fun read for avid horse readers.  While the horse farm felt more like a backdrop that an integral part of the novel, Hunter sets it up to definitely be a horsey series down the road now that the main conflict has been resolved.  Alex also reminded me of a younger Kris Furillo.

07 July 2016

Eleanor & Park

Author: Rainbow Rowell
Rating: 1 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

Fangirl was the first fiction audiobook I borrowed from the library.  It took a lot of commuting to finish it, and in the end I wasn't that impressed.  But like I'd heard good things about Fangirl, I'd heard even more positive feedback for Eleanor & Park.  So when it showed up on my search of available audiobooks at the library available for download, I decided to give it a try.

Unlike Fangirl, I couldn't even finish Eleanor & Park.  I don't think I even got a fourth of the way through.  I made it a little over an hour of the way through and then Eleanor and Park, though probably mostly Eleanor, bugged me so much I deleted it off my phone and called it a day.

Eleanor is the new kid at school.  Her mother is abused by the step father that Eleanor resents her younger siblings calling Dad.  She no longer has a bedroom of her own, and the one bathroom in the house is behind a curtain (when it's even up) in the kitchen.  I feel for Eleanor, I really do.  Especially when we learn that she was kicked out of her house for a while and almost got sent to Child Services.  The fact that as the redheaded new girl she's also getting teased adds to the pity part (the RAGHEAD scene is a prime example).

The problem with Eleanor is that I feel like she's a racist.  For one, and probably my biggest pet peeve of this entire novel, she keep referring to Park as "that Asian guy".  It got to one point where I thought on my drive into work as I listened that if she called him "the stupid Asian guy" one more time, I was going to chuck my bluetooth speaker out of my car on the interstate.  The real kicker was when she went something along the lines of 'If I wasn't sure I like that f-ing Asian guy, I know now.'  WHAT?!  I realize that Rowell was probably trying to juxapose the "star-crossed lovers" of Eleanor and Park against the "love at first sight" of Romeo & Juliet, but seriously?  Especially when she admits that she isn't even sure he's Asian (and it's revealed that she really needs to pay better attention in her geography class).

In fact, it seems like a lot of the elements in this story are attached to the race of the characters.  The narrators refer more than once to the "black girls" at the school, though Eleanor also says that she'd never seen a black person before and that her girl is overwhelming white.  Park and his friend refer to something along the lines of 'the blacks like the jungle fever' while chatting one day.  And Park (who is "stereotypically Asian with his obsession with comic books and martial arts) comments on his mom's accent (the narrators even try to add it into the audiobook).  My best friend in high school (who I sat with on the bus everyday until we were old enough to carpool together) is first generation American with parents who immigrated from Thailand.  He's never once said anything about his mother's or father's accent, let alone made fun of it.  That did nothing to endure me to Park either.

Both characters seemed like annoying high school kids, and I just couldn't get into the romance while they seem to have no chemistry and don't seem to really like each other much either.  In a genre flooded with different novels, I didn't feel like this one was worth my time, and I think I'm done trying Rowell's contemporary works, unless I break out of the YA genre.

06 July 2016

Perfect Cover

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

Late June/early July has been a rather slow period for me with books, so I decided to dive into another one of Barnes's series since I just inhaled the new Fixer novel and am eagerly awaiting the next installment in The Naturals series.

Perfect Cover, the first novel in The Squad series, isn't quite up to par with Barnes's more recent novels.  The plot was kind of bland.  Toby gets a few mysterious and coded messages left for her, telling her to go meet the Bayport cheer squad members to audition.  Since School Spirit is about the last thing on Toby's mind, she isn't all that excited, but goes anyway since they are inviting her with messages written in invisible ink.  She shows up, isn't all the impressed, then gets another message, and almost at the snap of the cheer squad's leader's fingers, ends up being a government spy whose cover is a high school cheerleader.

Granted, most teenage spy plots have similar eye rolling developments, but everything at the beginning of Perfect Cover happens so quickly I can't help but poke fun at it a little.  In fact, I wish Barnes had as well.  I think Perfect Cover may suffer from taking itself a little too seriously.  It could have used more humor to fluff the plot a little, since the plot is more technology plotting than adventure.  Humor could have helped make up for a lack of excitement.

Still, Toby is likable enough, and her brother adds a little comic relief.  While not a book I would stay up under the covers all night reading obsessively, it's probably a nice light summer read perfect for a day at the beach or a long ride on a plane.

03 July 2016

Winning

Author: Lara Deloza
Rating: 2.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

'I don't love playing a damsel in distress, but I hate breaking a nail even more.'

Lexi has one goal in life: winning the honor of homecoming queen.  With a mother who has forced her into beauty pageant after beauty pageant after beauty pageant (she has a shelf and a closet full of trophies to prove it), it's no surprise Lexi wants the crown of the school as well.  And when newcomer Erin, who already won the honor at her previous school just before she transferred, looks to be an honest competition for Lexi this year, the gloves come off.

I kept waiting for one of the characters to become likable.  I kept waiting for some humor to be added in to balance out the bitchy, unlikable characters who only care about popularity.  I kept waiting for her to finally get the newsflash and realize this is a high school homecoming.  It's about as important as winning a $2 scratch off lottery prize.  After all her issues with her mother, you would think she would do everything in her power to not be her mother instead of being her shadow and following in her footsteps.  But nope.  All Lexi wants is to win homecoming queen, no matter what.  Wow.  Who thought that would be a good idea for a main character in a novel, especially if it isn't a comedy?

The book likens itself to Mean Girls.  And if you take all the humor out of Mean Girls and get rid of Tina Fey, I guess it kind of is. But without humor, it's just a petty plot without a moral to the story that reminds me of how trivial high school was (and how desperate the people were who thought it mattered so much).  But it was at least mildly entertaining, laughing at how asinine it all was.  I just wish one - just one! - of the characters hadn't been so flawed.

Let's do a quick breakdown, shall we?


Sam is perfectly happy letting Lexi treat her shit just so she can hover in Lexi's shadow.  She doesn't complain at all when Lexi just decides she's not going to give her a ride to school anymore.  She's fine with doing Lexi's homework for her.  She doesn't complain one bit about being treated like dirt.

Sloane is bulimic and doesn't really stand up for herself.  Lexi ruined her high school life by spreading rumors about her an ex-boyfriend, but Sloane is still rather cordial with Lexi since they are in Key Club together.  That is, until she snaps and goes all Mean Girls plot on Lexi.  I'm thinking there was probably some in between she could have gone for, instead of basically becoming what she hated about Lexi.

Ivy is tortured and confused, but is happy to go along with Lexi's plan, even though she knows it's not out of the kindness of Lexi's heart that she's decided to help boost Ivy's popularity all of the sudden.  And even though something terrible happened to Ivy in the past which made her go a little mental, and even though she says anything that even reminds her remotely of it makes her sick to her stomach, the next second she's in a situation like that and it doesn't faze her one bit!  Really don't understand.

The only really likable character is Erin, and - oh yeah - she isn't a narrator.

I'm not sure exactly why I thought Lexi would try to redeem herself at the end of the novel, or why I thought she might change for the better.  But the ending is so true to her character that it made reading the entire novel pointless, because nothing good seemed to come out of it at all.  Which is just like high school, I guess (she gets points for being realistic).  But why would anyone subject themselves to reading that for fun?  I'd rather read high fantasy instead.  Give me dragons!

01 July 2016

A Court of Mist and Fury

Author: Sarah J. Maas
Series: A Court of Thorns & Roses #2
Verdict: Bury

I feel like Sarah J. Maas is that person at work or school or at a party that I really want to talk to.  Everything you hear about that person makes you think, "We are souls sisters!  She sounds amazing.  We are going to be BFFs", blah blah blah.  But then you actually meet that person and it's very confusing.  You stop and think, 'Have I been punked?  Maybe they meant someone else who looks exactly like that with that exact name.'  Because no matter how hard you try, you don't see what everyone else sees in them.  All the elements are there for perfection, but the real life encounter is a let down of epic proportion.

That is how I feel about Sarah J. Maas.  First it was the Throne of Glass series.  I thought the first couple of books were okay, but wasn't sure why they garnered such outstanding applause.  And then I couldn't even get through the fourth installment, Queen of Shadows.  A Court of Mist and Fury fell to similar demise.

A Court of Thorns and Roses was okay, but that's probably the best adjective I could come up with to describe it, apart from 'meh'.  Still, I wanted to give A Court of Mist and Fury the benefit of the doubt.  I checked it out from the library, trudged my way through it, then had to return it before I finished.  A glutton for punishment, I checked it out again, waited patiently on the waitlist queue, got it back from the library, read about five more chapters, and then finally called it quits for good.

Sarah J. Maas can create epic fantasy worlds, of that I have no doubt.  Unfortunately, the characters in her stories leave a lot to be desired, as do the plots.  A Court of Mist and Fury is a prime example.  Here is the note I jotted down on my phone while trying to describe the plot for the beginning sections of the novel:

Girl meets guy (who is not entirely human, mind you).  Girl loves guy.  Girl wonders if she will ever get to have sex with guy before marriage.  Girl and guy promptly bang.  Guy becomes extremely overprotective.  Girl runs off to other guy.  Gag.

I don't mind my high fantasy having elements of romance, but 'plots' like this are so overdone and underwhelming and her books are soooooooo long that I just can't muster the will or attention span to try anymore.

30 June 2016

The Last Star

Author: Rick Yancey
Series: The 5th Wave #3
Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

And so we've reached the end.  It's been an interesting ride, my friends.  The ending felt true enough to the series, even if I still feel there is a fundamental flaw in the fact that it still makes no sense whatsoever on why the aliens decided they needed to waste their time killing off humans, and thus so many of themselves, in the first place.  If anyone has a theory or explanation or if it perhaps was explained in the book and I somehow completely overlooked it, please, please, please share it with me.  I still don't get it.  I just don't.

If there was only one thing I was allowed to say about this conclusion to the series, I would have to stay that it is pretty quickly paced.  Yancey tries to cram a lot of different plot lines and tie up a lot of continuing points from the previous novels in this final installment.  I'm still on the fence, however, as to if that's necessarily a good thing or not.  For one, the writing is so fast paced in sections that I got a little lost in the plot.  There were a few sections where I'm not entirely positive I knew exactly what was going on.  I think the biggest culprit of this is Ringer's plot.  Was she a double agent?  Did she want to kill Evan or did she want to kill Vosch?  Or both?  Reading this book felt like drinking a BIG glass of wine too quickly.  I liked it, but it left my brain fuzzy and I'm not entirely sure I remembered everything the next morning.

The fundamental problem with this novel is the narrative style.  In the previous installments in the series, the book was broken out into sections and each section was narrated by a specific character.  In The Last Star, this changes.  The sections are broken out by time frame, and the POV switches between characters in the chapters.  The narration jumps so many times from narrator to narrator so quickly that it was hard to remember who the heck was talking in the first person POV at any given time, especially when I would read only a chapter or two at a time when my schedule permitted.

Even with its style flaws and plot falls, The Last Star is still entertaining.  Cassie is a little less annoying in her weird relationship with Evan, but the "love triangle" with her and Evan and Ben is a little less predominant.  I like the evolution of her brother's character, even if Ringer's character wasn't as interesting this time around.  I think was really salvaged this novel for me were the eloquent lines that Yancey just tosses out there haphazardly.  I'd be reading along and BAM!  I'd hit a profound sentence or two right in the middle of muddled internal dialogue.  The Last Star definitely has some beautiful prose in it, even if you have to muck through some other stuff to get to it.

While the conclusion to the series wasn't entirely satisfying, I didn't feel like tossing the book out the window and cursing all the time I spent reading the series either (I'm looking at you, Divergent series).  In the end, it's probably not going to be a series I buy and read again, and the first movie was so terrible I doubt they make the other two, but it's still a fun read for an alien invasion apocalypse.

26 June 2016

The Sleeping Prince

Author: Melinda Salisbury
Series: The Sin Eater’s Daughter #2
Rating: 3 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

"What would you do to save your family, Errin?  How far would you go?"

It's been over a year since I read The Sin Eater's Daughter, and I am notoriously bad at reading synopsis of previous books in series before diving into the latest installment.  So was the case with The Sleeping Prince.  I thought I recalled the main character from the first novel going off to live in seclusion at the end, but I couldn't remember her name, so I wondered for a good while if Errin was the main character.  It didn't make much sense in the context of the few things I could remember (I was pretty sure the mother in the first novel wasn't completely bat crazy, and there wasn't much about a brother), but it went to prove that The Sin Eater's Daughter was not one of those books where the novel is so amazing that the details stick with you long after you're gone.

If they had, I would have remembered Errin's brother, Lief, from the first novel, and it would have lessened some of the confusion right off the bat.  The good news is that you don't really need to remember much of The Sin Eater's Daughter to enjoy The Sleeping Prince (although, to be fair, the whole concept of the Sleeping Prince confused me since I didn't remember anything of the mention from the first novel).  The Sleeping Prince feels more like a companion novel than a sequel, at least until the final chapters as the plots of the two different stories finally start to weave together.

The main character, Errin, is likable enough.  She's struggling to survive and to keep her mother's condition hidden.  In order to help pay rent, she makes and sells potions.  When she finds out that there is a potion that might be able to help or even cure her mother's condition, it sets Errin on a mission that slowly helps the plot unfold.  While nothing earth shattering or memorable, The Sleeping Prince is entertaining enough.  And the ending leaves readers wanting more.  I feel like to appreciate the final installment of this proposed trilogy when it comes out, I'll need to reread the first two novels to understand what the heck is going on.  But that's at least a year out into the future =)