31 January 2016

The Siren

Author: Kiera Cass
Rating: 2.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

I probably should have shied away from this one from the start given the fact that 1) The Selection is definitely a guilty pleasure of a read and I'm still not sure why I like it as much as I do and 2) it's pretty much a straight up romance novel.

Kahlen was saved from drowning with her parents as a teenager, but it came at a price.  A very high price.  In exchange for her life, Kahlen must serve the Ocean for one hundred years as a siren before she is left to live out the rest of her days as a human do.

Kahlen makes it eighty years with relative ease, but then she meets Akinli and it is pretty much love at first sight (which is rather irksome since they have, like, no chemistry what-so-ever).  But still, these are mermaids people!  And I love mermaid young adult novels, even if I haven't found a good one yet (anyone with a rec, please, please, pleaseeee send my way).

The Siren is not badly written, but is not that engaging either, due to the lack of chemistry between the characters whose romance is a hefty portion of the plot.  The plot is interesting enough, and certainly better than Hocking's mermaid/siren series (I'm still kind of mad about that one), but still not exactly my cup of tea.  With the lack of chemistry and the lack of connection I feel with any of the character, I need the ending to really pull through.  And the ending, unfortunately, isn't entirely satisfying either.  Not a bad read, but I would have a laundry list of ones I would rather read (it does help, however, that this is a standalone and not a drawn out trilogy).

25 January 2016

Bloodlines

Author: Richelle Mead
Series: Bloodlines #1
Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

It's been so long since I read the Vampire Academy series that I don't remember much about the VA aspects of the story, but Mead does a good job of highlighting the important facts without completely bombing you with data dumps.  If you haven't read the original series to this spin-off, you might be a little confused as a few of the aspects and not see the importance, perhaps, of a few others, but overall I think you'll still be able to enjoy this series without having to go back and read VA.

Sydney isn't my favorite character so far, but she grows on me throughout the novel.  The "romantic tension" between her and Adrian feels pretty forced through her narrative, and sometimes her internal dialogue is just a tad this side of cringe worthy (ie every time she obsesses over her weight and body image).  Also, I'm still not sure I understand the entire premise of the Alchemists hating the unnatural vampires, but also taking it as their duty to protect them.  That seems counter intuitive to me.  In fact, I'm still not entirely sure what the job of an Alchemist really entails in general.

The plot drags for the first half of the novel as the setting and the characters are introduced, but it picks up about halfway through.  A few things I thought were glaringly obvious with the plot turned out to be incorrect, but I made logical guesses, which makes me wonder why Sydney doesn't even think about them/consider them herself.  Also, if half of the Alchemist's job is to convince humans to not change and to protect vampires, it strikes me as odd that Sydney wouldn't have any defense/combat training at all for protection about said vampires.  A vast knowledge of chemistry isn't going to get you all that far with bloodsuckers.

So there are a few odd gaps in the plot that irk me a little, and the writing feels a tad juvilie at times, but you have to admire Adrian's quirky charm and wit, and the premise for the novel is interesting enough to hold my attention to the end.

22 January 2016

Crown of Midnight

Author: Sarah J. Maas
Series: Throne of Glass #2
Rating: 2.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

I tried to get more involved in this series for the second installment, especially since a lot of my friends really enjoy it, but my conclusion is still the same after reading Crown of Midnight: it's still not my favorite.

The fundamental flaw with this series is that it has too many layers.  When done correctly, this characteristic can work strongly in a series's favor.  Unfortunately, my take on Crown of Midnight is that Maas works it into a bit of a jumbled mess.

Let's start with characters.  Even though I just read Throne of Glass late last month, I had a hard time distinguishing between the princess and the chick looked up in the dungeon because she was the one trying to marry the prince or something and came to court with the duke of something rather another.  There are a lot of characters in this novel, and none of them really stick out in my mind.  For instance, I thought these two aforementioned characters were one person from the first novel for some reason.  Then we have Chaol and Dorian and Celaena.  The romance between them and the love triangle feels as forced as ever and annoys me even more in this second installment than the first one.  And even though Celaena seems to have made her choice about who she'd rather be with, the love triangle is far from other, as Maas insists on throwing speed bump after speed bump between these trio.  Since I still haven't gotten an attachment to any of the characters (their characters only evolve/change when Maas bends their characteristics based on the needs of the plot, which bothers me), it's just annoying at this point.

Then we have the plot, and the many layers to it.  It's all a jumbled mess at this point.  We have a magical talking door knob, a ghost of a princess, a long lost member of royalty, magic showing up unexpectedly, secret catacombs beneath the castle, strange magical beasts living in said catacombs, an assassin trying to kill people sneaking into the catacombs, plots to overthrow various monarchs/governments, and Fae to boot.  Have I left anything out?  Oh yeah, the main plot - Celaena's mission to kill everyone that the king ever disliked (which she doesn't do, which causes a spiral of other messes).  Oh, and portals to other realms where magic acts differently.   And I'm sure I left something else out as well.

And yet, with all that said, I still want to like it.  It's original, even if it isn't all together engaging.  I just wish Maas would have narrowed the scope of what she wanted to accomplish with the series; I feel like then she would have been more focused with the writing and not so scattered with the plot, and I could have enjoyed it a lot more.  But I haven't given up hope entirely (though I do hope this stupid love triangle dies ASAP).

18 January 2016

Pride and Prejudice

Author: Jane Austen
Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars
Verdict:  Borrow

Man, this book took me forever to read (perhaps it falls under the ideology of good things come in small doses... I took to reading about one, maybe two max, chapters a day).  It is my first true foray into classical literature, and I have to say I'm a little disappointed in myself for not enjoying it more.

For starters, I am not a big fan of romance, and this novel is pretty much solely romance.  It is thus slow paced and takes a while to develop.  The good news is that some of the characters (notably Elizabeth and her father) are strong enough to help carry the plot along as it develops.  One of the things I really enjoy about P&P is that there is no real love at first sight in this novel, as is often the case with romance.  The relationships in this novel as so dynamic and ever changing, based on impressions and characteristics brought out in different characters.

If this novel does nothing else, it proves to me that I am so blessed to be a woman born in this time frame and in this country.  There is no way I would have been able to put up with some of the expectations put on Jane and Elizabeth and the other Bennett sisters based solely on the fact that they are women and thus their only purpose is to find a husband.  I do love how their father doesn't like to dabble in the drama this situation creates, like their mother is obsessed with doing.  A lot of the snark and sarcasm comes out of this indifference, and this is perhaps my favorite part of Austen's writing.  Of all the characters in the novel, in fact, I relate with the father the most.  He has no tolerance for all the relationship drama, and really just wants to be left alone in his library.  Solidarity, my brother.

I think one of my major hang ups with this novel was not so much the novel itself but the editor/publisher for the edition I have.  This version is so ripe with errors such as missing quotations and punctuation that I found myself constantly editing my version with a pen.  I finally switched to the free ebook you can download from Amazon, and my reading progress definitely improved after that.  I'm certain I will give Austen another go, as soon as I can build myself up for some more classical, legitimate reading (over the light YA junk I typically read).

13 January 2016

Broken Crowns

Author: Lauren DeStefano
Series: The Internment Chronicles #3
Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

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

While Burning Kingdoms taught me that DeStefano still hasn't mastered the art of developing a full fledged series with a plot that will keep my interest for the entirety of the span, at least Broken Crowns is refreshingly better than its immediate predecessor.  Where Burning Kingdoms navigated way out into left field by adding a bunch of new characters, introducing even more fantastical elements that made the story less and less realistic, and took away what made Perfect Ruin so unique - the setting of Internment - Broken Crowns set out on a massive course correction.

Broken Crowns circles back to the roots of the story, and we see a shift in Morgan that actually seems like character development.  No longer is she the girl ready to jump off the edge.  No longer does she dream of finding out what lies beneath.  Instead, we have a classic example of the reality behind "the grass is always greener on the other side" as Morgan realizes that life on the ground is not much better than life in the sky, even if its reaches are much broader.  And the love triangle in this novel is blissfully just a footnote to the conclusion instead of a repeated, overdone subplot.

If you can get over the fact that there is a magical city suspended in the sky - apparently held in place by wind... yeah, I know - then the plot of this novel is much more realistic than the last.  And if I recall correctly, Morgan's character, as well as Pen's, grows on me considerably more than the damage done by the last novel.  Even the princess grows on me some, though at times she is just as short sighted and insufferable as ever.  While I still don't feel very connected to these characters, I at least appreciate them more this time around.  And DeStefano's writing towards the end of the novel and the conclusion are definitely elegant and prove DeStefano has talent, if only she could weave a decent plot for an entire series together.  I have hopes for her next one!

The Internment Chronicles is not a series I will add to my personal library, but it does add a touch of uniqueness to an oftentimes stale young adult pool of plots.  Though the middle installment in the series left me wanting more, Broken Crowns feels truer to the beginnings of the series, and finishing the series certainly doesn't feel like time wasted.

12 January 2016

See How They Run

Author: Ally Carter
Series: Embassy Row #2
Rating: 3 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

I will definitely say that the end of this novel took me completely by surprise.  I did not see the twist coming at all.  It seems highly illogical, but at the same time isn't so far fetched in the realm of the world for me to discredit it completely.

Unfortunately, the rest of the book just feels like a bit of a sloppy mess.  Carter introduces a new character - Spence, who goes to the military academy with Grace's brother - for the sole purpose of developing a love triangle and pushing the plot along.  The result?  The entire plot of this novel feels super forced and the entire character and dynamic including Spence feels cheap (and the love triangle aspect is laughable).  I definitely feel like this novel struggles the whole time, and it feels like its sole purpose is to exist as a bridge between the first novel and the next.  At the same time, I am interest to see how the next one go.

So while this novel holds little character development and the plot is a bit all over the place, I at least like what Carter is setting up for the next novel.  So here's to hoping the third installment packs more punch and less mess.

07 January 2016

Gumption

Author: Nick Offerman
Rating: 4 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

Following in the footsteps of fellow Parks & Rec star Aziz Ansari, Offerman offers not a humor laced autobiography like so many other comedians these days, but a book with wit that actually offers insight and facts (and still includes some personal anecdotes for fans).

I have to say, I crush so hard on Offerman every time he speaks about his wife. Megan (AKA Karen).  It is so refreshing to see an actor who is humble and so smitten with his life partner.  Listening to the audiobook, and even his standup, he definitely thinks he married up, and it's great to see a man who has so much respect not just for his wife but for women in general.

Even women have gumption!  It was great to see quite a few make his list, and I learned a lot about people I have barely heard of before.  For example, Yoko Ono.  I never got into the Beatles, so I never knew about the thing between John Lennon and Yoko Ono and how everyone apparently blames her for the breakup of the Beatles.  But man, she is a fascinating gal, even still today as she's pushing into her upper years.  And, as Offerman points out, she definitely has a lot of gumption.

Gumption: It's Always Been Shit (I like the suggested tagline better), is equal parts comedy and learning.  We range the spectrum from Eleanor Roosevelt to Offerman's self proclaimed man crush on his husband Jeff Tweedy (of the egg cover band, Wilco).  And the last chapter on my favorite late night man?  The best example of humor and history wrapped into one.

This is one of the few "autobiographies" from today's comedians that I could actually sit down and read.  But I still recommend the audiobook, because Offerman's deep gravely voice coupled with the occasional break in of his alarming high giggle just adds the cherry to the top of the sundae.

06 January 2016

All In

Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Series: The Naturals #3
Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

I take a little bit of delight in the fact that I rightly paired this novel to Sloane and her background development, based on the setting in Vegas (although, honestly, I think the Vegas backdrop is a bit underutilized in this novel considering they are staying on The Strip).  Sloane is awkward in the way that all super nerdy people who have to sacrifice social skills for brilliance are, and her backstory in this novel is definitely more than a little sad.  Even though Barnes breaks Sloane out of her "clinical" personality we've seen mostly throughout the first two novels, the revelations in this story still seem a bit underwhelming based on the writing style and overall portrayal.

Then we get to the crime/mystery portion of the novel.  Here, things get a little... weird.  The plot of All In has a lot of layers and while I like how those layers allow for character development not just for Sloane but for some of the other Naturals as well (especially Michael), the actual serial crimes in this one are just a tad too cult crazy for me to get completely absorbed in.  While I do like how Barnes carries the mystery behind Cassie's mother's disappearance/murder through the series, I am not a big fan of the twist we get about it in this novel.  I also don't like how the love triangle between Cassie and Michael and Dean, and even Cassie and Michael and Lia, still continues to linger even though Cassie made her decision in the previous book (but I will say it is in character that he's not willing to give up on it just yet).

Though I'm not ecstatic about the direction the plot is taking, which I am fairly confident is going to be the focus on the next installment in the series, I'll still go along for the ride to see where we end up.

03 January 2016

Killer Instinct

Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Series: The Naturals #2
Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Buy

A rare treat where I find the sequel to surpass the original.  Though I still feel like we are lacking some major character development with regard to Michael and Lia and Sloane, this novel looks past Cassie and dives into Dean's background to give his character some depth.

With Killer Instinct, we focus more on the serial killer aspect of the series than the love triangle between Cassie, Dean, and Michael, though it still plays a role.  Here, we focus on Dean's relationship with his father and a string of murders that follows his father's MO but could not possibly be his father since his father is in jail.  Though the conclusion to the mystery still comes a bit out of left field, I saw at least two thirds of it coming, so it feels more realistic to me than how The Naturals ended.  The suspense with solving the crime holds my attention better than its predecessor, and I like the addition of Agent Sterling.

My one major beef with The Naturals (apart from the love triangle) was the fact that the whole plot seemed entirely too coincidental.  Though the plot of Killer Instinct follows in the same fashion, Barnes acknowledges this fact in this novel through one of the characters, explaining it isn't coincidental because they were selected based on not only their gifts but their backgrounds, and their backgrounds are what are linked to the cases.  And while that all still seems just a little too convenient for me, I like that Barnes addresses it and it certainly bothers me less this time around.

On to All In!  I am certainly not a Natural myself, but based on the pattern of each book linking to a character so far, I'm going to go out on a limb and say All In is going to focus on Sloane.