Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Review: Rachel Caine, Glass Houses (Morganville Vampires, #1)

Reading level: Young Adult
Mass market paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: NAL Jam
Pub date: October 3, 2006
I really wanted to like this book. I'd heard a lot of great things about the Morganville Vampires series from fellow Vampire Academy aficionados...and yet. Humph. I just could not get into it.

The main character, Claire, was not interesting at all. Despite being some kind of child-prodigy genius, she continually makes choices so stupid that you almost wish the evil vampires (or sorority girls on campus) really would just finish her off once and for all and put both Claire and us poor readers out of our misery. Claire knows if she goes into town to attend class she'll probably be attacked. She also knows she's smarter than practically everyone in the school, including the professors. So what is the point in risking her life to go to class? I don't see why she can't just complete the entire degree online. Better yet, why not just pack up and go home, to some community college that has the perk of not being infested with evil vampires? The entire concept of a town ruled by evil vampires, which also happens to have a bustling university, was just ridiculous, in my opinion.

The supporting characters were also extremely boring. Michael was the only one that interested me at all...and only because he clearly had a weird secret that I found kind of intriguing. I've said this before, but I have no patience for authors who think all they have to do to create a compelling character is give them some unusual physical characteristics (i.e. dress them up like a goth) and one or two personality traits (friendly, loyal). (Hello, Eve.) Admittedly, I have not read any of the other books in the series, nor do I plan to ever do it's possible that Eve eventually becomes more than just another goth chick later in the series. But for now, I found her character really 2-dimensional and lame.

Shane was also boring and had no chemistry with Claire. Just because the author says that Claire's heart beats fast when he's in the room, it doesn't mean the reader is going to feel the spark between them. The creation of chemistry in a YA novel is a mysterious thing. I sure don't know how to do it. But I can spot it, and I can spot its absence, and it most assuredly was not present in Glass Houses.

2 stars (because, despite my complaints about the characters, I actually did find myself getting a bit anxious about the plot and flipping through quickly to find out what would happen - which is a plus.)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Teaser Tuesday (2)

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading To participate:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
I am about to start Carrie Ryan's The Forest of Hands and Teeth, which has been on my TBR list for AGES. I have a google alert set up for Richelle Mead (I am obsessed with herrrr) - and the other day Carrie Ryan's blog popped up on the alert because she had written a rave review of Vampire Academy. Which was the final push I needed to get my hands on a copy of her book. Fascinating back story, I know. Anyway here's the teaser (from p. 102):

My entire body shakes now, whether from fear or the sweat soaking my thin gown I don't know. I wish Travis were by my side, someone to hold my hand, to keep at bay the terror at the edges of my imagination. I have thought of this tunnel and these rooms for so long and yet now that I am here I don't want to press forward.

 Yikes, sounds pretty intense. Can't wait to dig in!

What is everyone else reading?

Review: Sarah Dessen, The Truth about Forever

Overrated but not bad
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Penguin (Speak)
Pub date: April 6, 2006

There were some things I really liked about this book, and there were a few I didn't.

Our heroine Macy is kind of a rigid goody-two-shoes when this book starts. On the outside, she's basically perfect (read: boring) the most brilliant boy in school, deeply involved in about eight hundred save-the-world extracurricular activities (stuff like Habitat for Humanity), and spends the majority of her spare time studying for the SAT. Internally, she's a mess. Her dad died suddenly a year and a half ago, and she has a lot of guilt and repressed sadness. Mostly she just feels horribly out of control and detached from the world, but is desperate to make sure everyone thinks she's "fine." When she meets Wes, a tattooed sculptor/ex convict--who happens to be the first person since her dad's death that sees beyond the "perfect" facade (and likes what he sees)--she finally starts to open up and allow herself to grieve properly...and thus move forward.

Macy's grief for her dad, a year and a half out, is a heavy weight she carries, and she is determined to carry it alone. Her grief is raw and powerful. Dessen does an excellent job of writing it. I found myself tearing up only a few pages into the book...which is pretty shocking. Either I'm turning into a complete marshmallow (possible) or Sarah Dessen really knows what she's talking about (more likely).

I also loved the funky members of the Wish Catering service that Macy sort of stumbles into. They're just really imaginative characters...from Bert with his passion for doomsday theory to Kristy with her scarred face and ridiculous outfits. The only person I had some issues with was Monica, whose vocab consists of three phrases, uttered in monotone: "Donnevan" (don't even), "Mmmmm-hmmm," and "bettaquit" (better quit). Frankly, she seemed brain damaged.  I kept thinking there would be some big revelation about Monica.  Kristy (her sister) claims that Monica is actually a very deep-feeling person that just shuts down whenever she gets emotional...but we never find out if this is true or not. She remains an unsolved mystery. Is there a sequel I don't know about?

The other character I found disappointing was Macy's ex-ish boyfriend, the brilliant, tightly controlled, annoyingly ambitious Jason. This guy just did not seem even remotely realistic. He breaks up with Macy because he doesn't feel she's taking her part time summer job at the info desk of the library seriously enough. When they're talking about getting back together, he proposes they create a list of goals they have for their relationship; that way if they encounter problems down the road they can simply return to the list, see what went wrong, and quickly fix it. I really thought at some point in the novel we would see that there was more to Jason than the one-dimensional, unfeeling control freak...but no, he's never developed at all.

Finally, I just wasn't really feeling the chemistry between Macy and Wes. The "truth" game they played was certainly interesting, as all such games are for hormone-ridden adolescents, but...hmm...I don't know. The banter just wasn't really up to par. It seemed their attraction was more of a telling than a showing thing. Sure, they have in common the fact that they both lost a parent recently. And Wes is described as very physically attractive. He's also got the brooding artist with a dark, dangerous past thing going for him.  But the relationship just never seemed to take off the ground for me, the way that some other famous YA couples do (like Britney and Alex in Perfect Chemistry).

That said, I more or less enjoyed the book. It's a quick, enjoyable, interesting read, just fine for the summer. The ending came a little too quickly for my taste...but other than that I thought the pacing was good.

3 stars

(I initially gave this 3.5 stars, but I've decided to downgrade it to 3, after thinking more about my disappointment with the connection between Macy and Wes.)

Monday, June 28, 2010

It's Monday! What are you reading? (1)

It's Monday! What are you reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. Participating bloggers list the books they read in the past week and showcase the ones they hope to read in the upcoming week. Personally, I can't believe how many freaking books some of you people manage to read in such short spans of time! I feel like I am reading in almost every spare moment, and I am still humbled.

Anyway...last week, I read:

Going Too Far by Jennifer Echols
The Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco X. Stork
Dead, Undead, or Somewhere in Between by J.A. Saare
The Oracle of Dating by Allison van Diepen

I also shaved about 15 years off my life by rooting passionately for the USA soccer team in the World Cup, and subsequently had my heart broken. On second thought, "broken" is actually not a strong enough word to describe what happened. They ripped out my heart, spat on it, and fed it to a pack of wild dogs. IT'S OKAY, ONLY FOUR MORE YEARS TIL WE GET TO TRY AGAIN!!!!! **dives off skyscraper**

My favorite book of the week was definitely The Last Summer of the Death Warriors. I am still thinking about it a lot, and am still desperate to find some other people who have read it!

This week's reading list of joy (all links from goodreads):

The Truth about Forever by Sarah Dessen (currently reading)
Twice Bitten (Chicagoland Vampires, #3) by Chloe Neill (if i can snag an early copy's not technically released til next week, hmph)
The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
A Blue So Dark by Holly Schindler

Happy reading to all! Monday's finally over! We can do this!!!!

Review: Allison van Diepen, The Oracle of Dating

Reading level: Young Adult
Publisher: Harlequin; Original edition (May 1, 2010)

I know lovesickness. I know how painful it can be. Even if your loved one is not a vampire, even if he's that boy in class--if you can't have him, it hurts. It aches.

Sage words from the Oracle of Dating! I devoured this book in a couple hours (thanks to Alice at A Severe Book Addiction for recommending it!). I wish I'd had a copy when I was actually in high school...although even now, at the worldly old age of 24, I found myself really soaking up a lot of the Oracle's wisdom, committing some of the finer points to memory.

The Oracle of Dating (a.k.a. Kayla) is a 16 year old girl who has only had two boyfriends (and we're using the term loosely here...neither relationship lasted more than a month) - but through observation and natural precociousness has developed a keen ability to advise people of all ages on their romantic pursuits. She runs a website called the Oracle of Dating, where she charges $5 (via Paypal) in exchange for relationship advice.

Though she's sworn off dating herself (at least until college, when she believes boys will finally become more mature - ha!), she predictably soon finds herself falling for someone: a guitar player in a rock band, who sits beside her in art class. Jared is the sort of dreamy-eyed, tormented artist type that every girl (aside from a small percentage who prefer those big trolls on the football team) wishes would court her. He's standoffish, sarcastic, and intense. Having spent most of his life in a series of foster homes, and even a stint in juvie, he's completely uninterested in the whole high school pecking order, and is therefore cooler than everyone. He reminded me of Christian Ozera, actually....mmmmm.

Jared and Kayla have good chemistry, but what I loved most about the book was Kayla. Unlike many heroines in this genre, Kayla has a pretty good attitude and a relatively stable family life. She's not overly snarky, she doesn't resent the popular kids (until one of them makes a pass at Jared), she doesn't dye her hair purple or wear goth clothes. She doesn't take herself too seriously, even as the Oracle. She's also extremely funny, without trying very hard to be. And she gives some awesome advice ("if a guy says he doesn't want a relationship, you should believe him--he doesn't.").

So, a very cute and refreshing read--highly recommended for anyone who enjoys chicklit. This is a YA book, but I think women of all ages would like it. In Kayla's own words, "the Oracle is timeless."

4 stars

You might also like:
Simone Elkeles, Perfect Chemistry
Jennifer Echols, Going Too Far

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Review: J.A. Saare, Dead, Undead, or Somewhere in Between

Enjoyable read if you can soldier on past a rather slow and irritating beginning

244 pages
Eternal Press (February 7, 2010)
Reading level: Adult

I had some difficulty getting into this book and seriously considered giving up on it at least 3 times before I made it through the halfway mark. I finally finished it this morning (after about a week and a half of almost-quitting) and am glad I stuck it out. The characters grew on me in the 2nd half of the book, and the plot held my attention, though it was confusing sometimes.

Why did I come so close to quitting? First and foremost, I found the main character, Rhiannon, extremely grating for a long time. Like many other heroines in this genre (Rose Hathaway of Vampire Academy and Merit of Chicagoland Vampires come to mind), Rhiannon has a sharp tongue and a bad attitude. But she takes the whole cranky, hardened, "bite me" tough-girl thing to a new level. Every other word out of her mouth is a curse. Her running commentary is peppered with expletives and sarcastic remarks that are supposed to be witty, I guess, but in my opinion were mostly just corny and boring. I kept asking myself, why is this character so angry all the time? Is there some reason for this tedious behavior or is the author just desperate to convince readers that Rhiannon is a badass? As it turns out, there's a very good reason for Rhiannon's angry, standoffish nature, one which isn't revealed until about 2/3 of the way through. After which point Rhiannon begins to grow as a person, softening up a bit, showing some depth of character, even becoming likable. Thank goodness.

The other thing I had a problem with right off the bat was it seemed like the author was stealing material from the Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood franchise. The main point of tension in this novel is that vampires are being murdered, their blood sold on the black market as a high class drug. Similar to "V" in the Sookie books, vampire blood gives humans an amazing rush of heightened senses that can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few days depending on how much blood is ingested. Rhiannon, a powerful necromancer, is recruited by a coven of "good" vampires to help track down the bad guys responsible for these murders.

So, for awhile, it seemed to me like Dead, Undead, or Somewhere in Between was kind of just a lame imitation of better, more successful books in the genre. But as I read on, it became clear that while Saare definitely did borrow some ideas from other authors, this book had a few original things in it too. The development of Rhiannon was believable and interesting. Disco (her vampire beau), while not terribly well developed himself at this point in the series (hmmm, is this a series? The cliffhanger ending sure makes it seem so but I'm having a hard time finding info about sequels on the web), was compelling enough, and definitely sexy.

I did find the plot a bit hard to follow at times, though this could be because I kept putting the book down for a couple days at a time out of frustration/boredom before continuing on with it. There are a lot of names thrown out and it's hard to remember who's good or bad, who's a human, who's a demon, a necromancer, a vampire-slayer, a vampire vampire-slayer, etc.

All in all though, I basically found more to like than dislike; it was fast-paced and exciting, and the main characters were, in the end, interesting and even likable people.

3 stars

You might also like:
Richelle Mead, Succubus Blues (Georgina Kincaid, #1)
Chloe Neill, Some Girls Bite (Chicagoland Vampires, #1)
Katie Salidas, Immortalis Carpe Noctem

Saturday, June 26, 2010

blog hop + USA SOCCERRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!

First, the weekend blog hop, hosted by Crazy-for-Books. This is a great way, I've discovered, to check out other blogs and liaise with fellow addicts.

Second, it is 6.5 hrs before the USA take on Ghana in the World Cup, and I am experiencing a high level of anxiety. This is the first time since 1930 that the USA has won their group (TAKE THAT, EGG-LAND). It's also the first time in my life that I was interviewed on TV (see screen-shot below):

A brief note about my soccer-mania. Historically, I have never been what one might call a "sporty" person. Actually, I'm the type of girl that reads a magazine during a football game (to the shame and sorrow of many surrounding fans, including my own friends and family), while everyone else is jumping up and down and screaming for their team. But there's just something about the World Cup. Mmmm, I don't know. The horns! The fans! Sitting in a dark pub during one's lunch break! I love it. And when your own team, the underdog, surpasses expectations and triumphs (particularly when the opponent is the smug, stuffy, entitled, crooked-teethed Egglish) - it's magical. SO YOU BETTER NOT LET US DOWN THIS AFTERNOON, BOYS.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Booking Through Thursday

Booking Through Thursday

Do you read book reviews? Do you let them change your mind about reading/not reading a particular book?

Reviews definitely affect me. A rave review from a reviewer with similar taste will definitely sway me towards purchasing the book in question, just as a negative review will make me less inclined to do so. But a review's influence on me goes further than the purchasing can also influence my opinion while I'm reading. The review will stick to the back of my mind as I'm reading, which definitely creates a bias. Generally, if I'm reading a book that was reviewed negatively by someone with similar taste, and I find myself starting to dislike the book as I'm reading it, I'll feel even more justified in my negative opinion, and so my negativity will become more intense.

For example...before reading Marked, the first in the House of Night series, I read a few reviews that really ripped it apart for the ridiculous language (terms like poopie and boobie make regular appearances). So, when I started reading the book, I think I was subconsciously looking for that language, and felt a sense of smug satisfaction when I found it in spades. If I hadn't read the review, I still think I would have been annoyed at the language...but maybe not quite as acutely.

That said, the books that I really love, I think I would love them still even if Jane Austen herself were to write a scathing review of them (kind of like how I will love Dimitri Belikov with all my heart and soul till the day I die, even though a number of well respected bloggers have treacherously converted to Team Adrian).

Blogging 101 (1)

Blogging 101 is hosted by Candace's Book Blog, but I first found it on Aimee's Coffee Table Press. I am brand new to blogging (going on two weeks! woohoooooo) so am very interested to learn how other bloggers go about things.

How many posts do you put up in a day (or do you blog everyday)? And what are your thoughts on it?

I usually don't post more than once per day, with the occasional secondary World Cup-fever-induced outburst. I try to post as regularly as I can...but I can only read & review so many books in a week. I'm trying to strike a delicate balance between quantity (which seems vital in getting people to actually look at your blog) and quality (which might play a role in getting them to return..hmmmm).

Besides full reviews and my soccer outbursts, I have started doing a couple of those days of the week thingies...(memes?): Teaser Tuesdays and now, Blogging 101.

What are some pet peeves when it comes to blogging?

I am new to this and so far I'm loving the blogging world. Surprisingly, I really only have one pet peeve at this point: blogs that are cluttered by zillions of flashy images, with wacky fonts and blinding color schemes. Blogs like this irritate me for two reasons: 1) they take forever to load on my mind-blowingly crappy internet connection; 2) It's hard to focus on the content of the blog when you feel like you're going to have a seizure from all the visual stimuli.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

sorry, i know this isn't a soccer blog, but


GO USA!!!!!

also, i have a new husband, landon donovan:

Review: Francisco X. Stork, The Last Summer of the Death Warriors

The Last Summer of the Death Warriors
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books; 1 edition (March 1, 2010)
Reading Level: Young Adult

Wow. It has been a long time since I've come across a YA book with as much depth as this one. Frankly, it completely floored me.

The Last Summer of the Death Warriors
is a modern day adaptation of Cervantes' Don Quixote. But you don't need to be at all familiar with that work in order to appreciate this novel.

Pancho is a robust young man (17 yrs old), driven by the desire to avenge the murder of his sister. D.Q. is also 17, but seems ageless, wise beyond his years, and is dying of cancer. On the surface they have nothing in common: Pancho is all brute strength and bitterness; D.Q. is passionate, optimistic, eerily intelligent, and desperate to live life to its fullest, even though (or perhaps because) he doesn't have much time left. They meet in an orphanage, and D.Q., sensing something special about Pancho, immediately recruits him to be a Death Warrior. What is a Death Warrior? The concept is inspired by Henry David Thoreau's famous declaration in Walden, "I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life." According to the Death Warrior Manifesto that D.Q. has been writing,

Anyone can be a Death Warrior, not just someone who is terminally ill. A Death Warrior accepts death and makes a commitment to live a certain way, whether it be for one year or thirty years...Once you accept that life will end, you can become a Death Warrior by choosing to love life at all times and in all circumstances. You choose to love life by loving.

I finished the book last night (eyes still red this morning from the weeping...happy weeping as well as sad weeping), and I can already tell this is going to be a book that stays with me for a long that I will be harassing friends and family to read asap so I have someone to discuss it with. The philosophy of the Death Warrior is simple but powerful. Who hasn't felt the haunting sense that we're wasting the limited time we have on this planet? It's easy to ignore that sensation and just carry on with our daily routine...but The Last Summer of the Death Warriors gives you a righteous sense of shame for doing so, without being preachy. No small feat.

The book has a bit of everything: action, romance, poignancy, humor, villains, heroes, life philosophy etc. Come to think of it, the only thing it's lacking is vampires. Just kidding!


5 stars

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

teaser tuesday (#1)

hello friends.

Teaser Tuesday is hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. (Although I first stumbled across it on Alice's Severe Book Addiction.) Here's how it works:
  • Grab your current read
  • Turn to a random page
  • Share a few 'teaser' sentences from that page (remember, NON-spoilery!)
  • Don't forget to share the title, author and page number of the book your teasers came from. That way, if others like your teasers, they can add the book to their TBR lists
Last night I started Francisco Stork's The Last Summer of the Death Warriors, a sort of modern day YA take on Cervantes' epic Don Quixote saga. It grabbed my attention from the first page and I plowed through about a third of it in one sitting before sweet slumber smothered me with her silky embrace.

Here's the teaser, from p. 102:

"What do you think about death?"

Pancho jerked his head back like someone had hit him with an invisible jab. "Death? It happens. People die all the time. It doesn't bother me anymore."

"It doesn't scare you?"

"Hell no! Why would it?" He thought suddenly of the revolver in his backpack. Then he thought of his sister. The idea of death filled him with anger, hatred, a suffocating urgency, remorse even, but there was no fear anywhere. Then he realized:
Maybe that's what D.Q. wants. When he turned, he saw a mysterious grin on Father Concha's face.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Review: Jennifer Echols, Going Too Far

*This review contains some mild spoilers*

Thanks to Amanda at Another Book Junkie for recommending this one. I read Going Too Far in one sitting last night (well, I may have gotten up once or twice for a Popsicle break. It's the first day of summer, after all!). After racing through J.R. Ward's Dark Lover earlier this weekend, a YA book about humans seemed like it would be a most refreshing change of pace. And it was. I basically enjoyed it.

There is plenty of lively banter between Meg and John, which leads them to have sizzling chemistry. I wouldn't say either character is particularly complex...but they do have distinct voices and react believably to the various hardships they've had to undergo in their lives. In this sense, the book is definitely above average in the genre.

Amanda was right, however, to warn me that it's no Perfect Chemistry. A trailer-park romance between a rebellious 17 yr old Leukemia survivor and a cop who arrests her for trespassing on a railroad bridge (while drunk and stoned), Going Too Far seems on the surface more original than Perfect Chemistry, a story about star-crossed lovers who bond in chemistry class.

Yet...Perfect Chemistry seemed more real to me than Going Too Far. In the latter, the main characters, Meg and John, are carrying some serious baggage, just as Brittany and Alex are in Perfect Chemistry. Meg suffers from claustrophobia, both in the physical sense of fear of closed spaces as well as an emotional claustrophobia, which leads her to avoid forming close relationships with anyone. She is reckless and impulsive, constantly seeking thrills through drugs, boys that are no good, and risky ventures like hanging out on the railroad bridge where four teenagers were killed tragically years before. She says she does these things "to feel alive" - and because nothing will ever seem dangerous to her compared to nearly dying of leukemia when she was 13.

John is the opposite: he's extremely intelligent and artistic and could have secured a scholarship that would have enabled him to escape from the small, redneck Alabama town they live in. But he chooses to stay in the small town and become a cop at age 19, a profession which he claims he wants to pursue without promotion for the rest of his life. He is not a risk-taker. Unlike Meg, who does dangerous things in a misguided attempt to feel alive, John accepts that he's basically dead, that his life will never get any better than it is now. He thinks this is a burden he has to bear, as penance for an old guilt (the cause of which is revealed late in the book).

So, predictably, John and Meg fall in love and each influences the other to overcome their fears and embrace a world of possibility and live happily ever after. That was the part that bothered me. The whole thing was just tied up way too neatly for my taste; it was too symmetrical. Dangerous, risk-seeking girl meets safe, boring boy. Both are terrified of actually living, because both have come close to death in their past. Both attempt to "live" in the wrong way. They force each other to come face to face with their darkest fear, and in doing so both immediately overcome said fear, putting it behind them forever, moving on to a life of eternal happiness (presumably).

Perfect Chemistry
kept me guessing. The climax happened, and then it was still a number of months before Brittany and Alex were able to move forward. In Going Too Far, there's a very emotional scene at the end, in which the tightly controlled John finally snaps, and we think we're going to see some real emotions, some serious pain from him. But...he gets over it in the space of about 12 hours, does a full 180, overcomes all his fears, and embraces the life of opportunity he's been resisting since tragedy hit when he was 9 yrs old. It was just too easy and left a bad taste in my mouth.

On the plus side, John After reminded me of Dimitri Belikov of Vampire Academy, what with his rigid self control, his serious brown eyes that occasionally could be full of such warmth and love, and even his language, which was always short and to the point. I almost feel like Jennifer Echols was channeling my beloved Dimitri as she wrote this (or maybe I am just obsessed and will myself to see Dimitri everywhere). Meg, too, reminded me of Rose Hathaway sometimes, with her sassiness, her promiscuity, and her protectiveness of her friend Tiffany. I wonder if Jennifer Echols has read Vampire Academy...hmmmmm.

So, to sum up, an enjoyable read, definitely recommended--I just wish the end hadn't been so clean, quick, and contained.

3.5 stars.

Jennifer Echols, Going Too Far
MTV; Original edition (March 17, 2009)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Review: J.R. Ward, Dark Lover (Black Dagger Brotherhood, #1)

cool idea, cheesy execution

I finally got around to reading this last week, after it had been on my TBR list for about a year. The book, which seems to be regarded with something bordering on reverence in the paranormal fiction world, both exceeded and fell beneath my expectations.

First I'll talk about how it exceeded them. The world J.R. Ward has created here is an intricately thought out one. There's a glossary at the beginning with a full list of terms...everything from Virgin Scribe, the creator of the vampire race, to pyrocant, "a critical weakness in an individual." A die-hard Tolkien fan, I always appreciate authors who have the diligence and passion to design their worlds with such imagination and care. Plus, it was a nice change from some of the YA paranormal books I've had the misfortune to come across lately, whose worlds are only partially thought out, and seem more like vague sketches than the blazing reality of the Black Dagger Brotherhood's world.

The plot, too, was both complex and tightly woven, with none of the loose ends or blaring holes that one finds in so many books in this genre. I won't say the plot was unpredictable...but it definitely did keep me reading hungrily from start to finish.

I also liked that the book was told in the third person. I can't remember the last book I read that wasn't narrated in the first person, and until I read this one, I didn't realize how suffocating that viewpoint can be. It was refreshing to escape the presence of the main character, to be able to follow secondary characters independently, and not to know every single thought Beth or Wrath was having at a given time.

One thing I didn't love was a lot of the dialogue spoken and clothing worn by the Brothers. I found it hard to believe that vampires who had been alive for centuries would fit so comfortably into leather pants and chains, and that 21st century slang would be such a natural part of their vocab. Wrath, in particular, seemed kind of like a dolt a lot of the time - a large troll rather than a charismatic, angst-ridden leader. I'm not a huge fan of that type of character, so I personally didn't find him all that attractive.

Finally, I thought the book was way too heavy on the romance. I wish Beth and Wrath would have resisted each other for awhile or something...I think that would have made me more engaged. As it was, while I was happy that Wrath finally found someone to love, I wasn't as emotionally invested in their relationship as I would have been if they'd had to fight a bit harder for it. It just didn't seem all that believable to me. Ward tells us they were violently attracted to each other, and I guess we're just expected to believe it, even if the chemistry isn't really apparent.

After reading the Amazon summaries for the other books in the series, I've decided I won't be reading them, at least not right away. The books are just a little too romancy for me. And that's saying something...I do enjoy a good love story. But since the love story seems to be the main point of each book in this series, and since that was the part I had the most problems with, these puppies aren't going to make it onto my already overloaded TBR list for now.

3 stars

Dark Lover, Black Dagger Brothers, #1
Publisher: Signet (September 6, 2005)

Friday, June 18, 2010


It's shaping up to be a great day. USA vs. Slovenia at 10, then I pray Eggland will take a solid lashing from Algeria this afternoon, though that might be too much to hope for.

In the world of books...I got about halfway through Libba Bray's Going Bovine the other night, which I am enjoying so far. A full review will follow soon, but for now I'll just say that while I enjoy Cameron's snark, and while I think Bray has done an amazing job of creating his character--totally believable, I knew a number of similar brainy deadbeats like him when I was in high school--I am having a hard time sympathizing with him so far, despite his awful plight. We'll have to see how it turns out.

Also started J.R. Ward's Dark Lover. I should not have done that while I was in the middle of another book, because now I can't put it down, so Going Bovine will have to go on hold because I'm too busy Going Vamp (har har har harrrrrr, ahh, sorry). Full review of this one to follow soon as well.
Happy Friday to all! And happy footballing!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Review: PC Cast & Kristin Cast, Marked

jeesh, what a poopie book

I have been avoiding the House of Night books for a long time. I always pick them up when I'm waiting in the checkout line at places like TJ Max and Target, but for some reason something (probably the cheesy jacket copy, or maybe memories of some really atrocious Amazon reviews on these books that I've come across) always holds me back from purchasing. I happened to come across a copy at my local library the other day, however, and finally decided to take the plunge.

And now I feel justified in having resisted for so long.

I'll start with the one good thing I can say about this book, the first in the House of Night Series (and the last that I will be reading): the myth is interesting and unique. I'm not talking about the concept of a vampire finishing school (sorry, I refuse to type out "vampyre." Presumably the authors thought this bizarre spelling might give the book a sort of mysterious, medieval-ish edge, but actually it just looks ridiculous, especially when words like "poopie" and "ohmygod!" pop up continually on the same page as "vampyre"). Sorry...back to the topic. Yes, the vampire myth presented in this book is a unique one; I liked the idea of the Amazons being ancient vampires, of the matriarchal society, the goddess Nyx, all that. It's a creative idea and had a lot of potential.

Unfortunately, the allure of the myth was completely overshadowed by the absurd and grating vocab. I realize that as a 24 yr old, it's been a little while since I was in high school, but I have a hard time imagining that the vernacular has changed so much since my teenage years that words like "jeesh," "poopie," and "hell! hell! hell!" are now making their way into nearly every sentence a teenager utters. I get that PC Cast is a bit removed from the generation she's writing about, and is trying very hard to make her characters sound their age...but for me, the language seems totally forced, unnatural, and dumb. I really couldn't get past it.

Another serious stumbling block for me was the main character and narrator, Zoey. When the book begins, Zoey is dating the high school football captain--yet she continually refers to cheerleader type girls as "barbies" and makes fun of people for dyeing their hair blond. It doesn't really make sense; usually the football quarterback's girlfriend wouldn't be so surprised and put off by these types of things...even if she chooses to resist them herself. Additionally, from almost the beginning of the book, we're given the impression that Zoey is "special" - even among vampires, she is somehow superior. For me, this seemed more like "telling" than "showing" on the part of the author. Zoey just didn't really have any character traits that seemed all that remarkable. She never really felt like a real person to me. Maybe she is developed more in the next books...I guess I'll never know.

The final and perhaps most severe problem I had with the book is that it was extremely boring. Solidly half the book takes place during one day of classes at the House of Night, during which there is absolutely no action. We see Zoey go to drama class, English literature class, fencing class, etc. It's like the beginning of a Harry Potter book, minus the characters we love (or love to hate), the unbelievable creativity, and the exciting feeling that something major is about to happen.

To be honest: I made it 2/3 of the way through this, and then skipped to the last chapter. The end was unsurprising, and did not leave me breathless (or even vaguely interested) to find what might happen next.

1.5 stars (the extra .5 is awarded because of the creative take on the vamp myth).


Publisher: St. Martin's Press; First Edition. (September 29, 2009)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Review: Katie Salidas, Immortalis Carpe Noctem

If you can get past the poor grammar and awkward dialogue, you might actually enjoy this one. I found it entertaining and occasionally even poignant.

The main character, Alyssa, was a little grating at times. While I admired her stubbornness in some instances, at other times it seemed out of place and unnatural, like the author decided that "stubborn" was a primary trait of Alyssa and so felt obligated to make sure she demonstrated this characteristic at least twice in every chapter, even if it there wasn't good cause for her to do so. In general, though, I liked Alyssa. She is turned into a vampire early in the story, not by choice. I liked her transition; I feel like a lot of authors in this genre don't bother delving into the emotional turmoil that a human would feel at being turned against her will, having to say goodbye to her human life, all her friends and family, everything she knows. It's a really fascinating thing to think about, and it's a shame that more authors in this genre don't really explore the transition in depth. Alyssa, however, feels her loss acutely, and so her story is more interesting, her character more complex and real.

Lysander, Alyssa's maker and eventually lover, is also interesting, so long as you don't think too hard about his choices and motivations. He tells Alyssa the reason he didn't intervene earlier when she was being attacked and nearly raped early in the book was because of a "morbid fascination" with what the humans were doing to her. What? How does this fit in with the gentle, deep-feeling, noble Lysander that is displayed on practically every other page of the book? Putting that aside, another issue that I didn't fully understand was Lysander's strong feelings for Alyssa. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad they did fall for each other; I just don't see how a 3000+ year old vampire who is clearly still feeling pain from being dumped by his mate of many centuries - a rejection that happened hundreds of years ago - would fall so hard for a mere 25 year old in the space of a couple weeks.

The plot was indeed predictable. I actually thought for awhile that the person who wound up being the villain couldn't possibly be the villain, because there were just too many obvious clues. It seemed like the author was setting this person up as a red herring. But nope, I guess it really was just that obvious.

Predictability and character inconsistencies aside, this was still a fast-paced and exciting story, and one that was even occasionally moving. I was pleasantly surprised.

3 stars

Immortalis Carpe Noctem

Rising Sign Books; 1st edition (March 2, 2010)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Review: Simone Elkeles, Perfect Chemistry

not bad for a book about humans

Lately I have been on a major paranormal binge, so was a bit resistant when someone recommended this book to me: a forbidden romance between mere humans. In the end, I caved quite easily; the guy on the cover looked pretty hot and I do love stories about chemistry class.

When I began reading, I was immediately wary about the narrative mode: the two main characters take turns narrating alternating chapters. This is a very difficult mode to pull off. Many authors who attempt this tend to struggle with establishing a distinctive voice for each character (Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver comes to mind). But Elkeles succeeds where others have failed; there is no mistaking the voice of Mexican-American gangster Alex Fuentes with that of his enemy turned love-interest, the blond, beautiful cheerleader captain and most popular girl in the school, Brittany Ellis.

Admittedly, it is a cliched story line. How many books have been written about an unlikely high school romance between the most popular person in school and someone utterly "beneath" them? How many of these romances develop in chemistry class? Yet this story still seemed original. Both characters transcend their stereotypes; Alex is more than an angry gangster who is secretly deeply intelligent; Brittany is more than a jaded prom queen. What draws these characters together is not their differences but their similarities. They are both fiercely protective of their loved ones. Though they come from vastly different socio-economic backgrounds, they both feel as though their family security is held by nothing more than a string, and that they're the only one who can be bothered to make an effort at keeping their respective families together. They are both tempted to slide comfortably into the role that society has given them, and they both lapse into this role on more than one occasion, making the easy choice rather than the right one.

At the end of the day, what made this story for me was, cheesily, the chemistry between Alex and Brittany. They resist each other for a long time, and when they finally give into their attraction, it is wholly believable and moving--NOT an easy thing to pull off, especially in YA literature. My hat is off to you, Ms. Elkeles

4.5 stars

Perfect Chemistry
Simone Elkeles
Walker Books for Young Readers (December 23, 2008)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Review: Chloe Neill, Firespell

I expected more from Chloe Neill

A huge fan of Chicagoland Vampires, I was thrilled when I heard Chloe Neill had started a new series for young adults. I promptly ordered Firespell on my Kindle and sat down for what I was sure would be a delightful few hours distraction from the agony of waiting for Richelle Mead's Spirit Bound (which was FANTASTIC, by the way).

Several pages in, my thrill promptly died. The plot in this thing was painfully predictable. The characters lacked the pizazz of the Chicagoland Vamps. Where is the steamy chemistry? Where is the spunk? The intrigue? The main character, whose name I cannot even remember, she bored me so much, was entirely one dimensional. I barely cared whether she lived or died. Her punk/goth best friend could have been interesting if she managed to transcend her stereotype, but alas, she did not. As for the male characters, blargh. Booooooring. Mopey blue eyes and a werewolf secret are not enough to create a compelling character. Give me banter, give me depth of character, charisma! - and I will read forever. Neill is on the right track with Ethan of Chicagoland Vampires...and I guess it's possible that the male leads in this new series will eventually develop into interesting people as the series progresses. I'm just not sure I have the motivation to continue reading to find out...

1.5 stars

Review: Claudia Gray, Evernight

bland, vapid, tedious...

I bought this because Amazon kept suggesting it to me. After reading the first 15-20 pages, it was clear that Gray has no talent. I quickly skimmed the rest of the book and was annoyed that I had even wasted that much time on this utterly vapid fluff.

I am so tired of these authors who think all they have to do is describe one or two "intriguing" personality traits (in the case of Bianca, crippling shyness combined with just beneath the surface sassy rebelliousness), pair that with a slightly unusual, yet eerily attractive physical trait (red hair, pale), and believe that they've created a compelling character. In the same vein, creating chemistry between two characters requires more than simply describing them both as attractive, allowing them to brood a bit, and then claiming that fire goes off when they "finally" (read: after 30 pages of contrived angst) get around to kissing each other. I'm not asking for Jane Austen here, but please, put a little effort into it!

Just because this is a YA book, that's no excuse. Look at Vampire Academy. Rose is a complex, compelling and believable character. She has intense chemistry with Dimitry, and they don't even kiss until about 400 pages into the first book. So it's not the YA genre that is to be blamed for this. I blame lazy authors and lazy readers.

Evernight has a few original takes on the vamp legend. Rose being a "born" vampire is unusual; the fact that her parents had been around for centuries before giving birth to her is also kind of fascinating. But Gray doesn't take advantage of these unique twists; there are endless possibilities for the types of emotions, motivations, viewpoints, etc., that these twists could give her characters - but Gray doesn't explore these at all. She's far more interested in boring make-out scenes and predictable, yawning "action" sequences.

1 star

Review: Scott Westerfeld, The Uglies series

We have followed Tally Youngblood for hundreds of pages by the time she's made into a "Special" - yet for me, she never seems quite as vivid, believable, or possible to empathize with, as she does for the first 2/3 of "Uglies". (She also never seems as compelling as Shay - I kind of wish Shay had been the main character.)

In "Uglies", Tally is motivated by loyalty and love first for her friend Peris, and then for the mysterious David. At the heart of both of these motivations is Tally's desire to be part of something, not alone. This underlying motivation (fear of being alone) stays with Tally throughout the series, but it manifests itself in a random, chaotic fashion, such that it's hard to empathize with her or really even like her very much.

In "Uglies", once Tally falls for David, she's happy to forget Peris (which frustrated me). And in "Pretties", even after her brain is fixed, she's happy to forget David after falling for Zane. It is her love for Zane that motivates her through much of "Specials"; but this love seems kind of random and distant - as a reader I couldn't really understand what the attraction was, probably because neither Tally's character, nor especially Zane's, were very developed.

I think this is because Westerfeld, while an undeniably talented action writer, is not so good at the interpersonal drama. Too often he resorts to "telling" rather than "showing." The relationship between David and Tally in "Uglies" is largely told rather than shown. The best example is the "fight" between David and Tally during their journey back to the city. We're told they have a bitter fight and then don't speak for an hour during a storm one day during their trip. This "fight" is completely out of the blue. Tally and David have absolutely no history of fighting; there aren't any points of tension in their relationship that the reader is aware of. Even more frustrating, Westerfeld doesn't bother telling us, or even hinting at what the fight was about. He merely mentions that they had a fight one day and didn't speak for an hour, but then they made up and everything was fine. This left a sour taste in my mouth, which only intensified in "Pretties" when suddenly and inexplicably Tally is so madly in love with Zane, completely over David despite the fact that her memory has returned and really it was only a few months ago that she was so crazy about him.

Again and again, we are told that Tally is special (even before she becomes a Special). David is constantly saying it to her, the Crims are saying it, and even Dr. Cable. But what's really so special about her? Is her ability to rewire her own brain without the cure also what enables her to move onto new boyfriends and new friends so quickly? Tally's relationships (and even Tally herself much of the time) feel contrived and fake, and the reader feels cheaply manipulated at times.

To sum up: I would highly recommend these books to anyone, young adult or real adult, looking for a great, exciting read and a fictional world to escape in for awhile. But I wish Westerfeld put as much effort into developing his characters as he did into the plot.

3.5 stars

Review: Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games

stays with you

When you're reading The Hunger Games, you are preoccupied with the immediate terror of: will Katniss survive? Will Peeta survive? What's going to happen next??? The raw suspense is by far the predominant reading experience of The Hunger Games. But it is in the days and weeks after you finish the book -- after you've already gone onto other books -- when you realize that you're still thinking about Katniss, Peeta, and Rue. You realize that these characters and the world Suzanne Collins has created for them have stayed with you long after you closed the book. Their world continues to haunt you in the back of your mind; their bravery continues to humble and inspire you. In my experience as a reader, this is the mark of truly great writing. It is a rare thing, and it is what I'm always hoping to find when I open a new book, and what I'm hoping to revive when I open an old one.

Can't wait for Mockingjay!

5 stars

Review: Richelle Mead, Spirit Bound

richelle mead is an evil genius!

***This review has spoilers! Proceed at your own risk!!***

This book was probably the most painful to read of the five so far in Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy series (with the possible exception of Blood Promise), but I still thought it was fantastic. In terms of character development, it might be the best one yet.

I want Rose and Dimitri to be together so badly, but if it had happened immediately after he turned back to dhampir, it would have been unrealistic and untrue to the characters. Of course Dimitri would feel this level of remorse, of course he wants to put a distance between himself and the people he loves. This intense guilt and vulnerability is a whole new side of Dimitri, but it's completely believable and makes his character that much more complex. I look forward to seeing his emotional progression in the next book...hopefully he'll get some knight in shining armor action scenes that will help him snap out of this (completely understandable) depression.

As for Rose, I hate that she turns to Adrian (or Mason, in the past) every time Dimitri hurts her. I don't want her to be with Adrian or anyone except Dimitri. It is so obvious that Dimitri is her soul mate. But...Rose is immature - she's still only 18 - and also insecure, not to mention rash, impulsive, and occasionally petty. These are not her finest traits or her most important ones, but they are still part of her character. So while I was tempted to skip over all the mushy parts with her and Adrian...especially that scene towards the end after Dimitri rejects her in the church (ughhh) - I could understand her choices and I think in the end, it will make her union with Dimitri (which is inevitable! it has to be!) all the more powerful. Rose is a very strong person in many ways, and her few negative traits make her more real and in a way more lovable, from the reader's perspective.

One more thing about Rose, which has been mentioned in a few other reviews: I do hope there will be some heart to hearts with her and Dimitri, or even Lissa, about her own personal guilt for the consequences of her pursuit of and inability to kill Dimitri when he was still a strigoi. A lot of people died as a consequence, and while I think we can all agree that Rose did the only thing she could in trying to save Dimitri, I do feel like we need at least a scene or two where she expresses some guilt. Hopefully this will happen in Last Sacrifice.

Lissa! I cannot say how thrilled I was that Lissa finally got a chance to fight and that she was the one to save the day. Her role as the gentle, soft spoken, sweet best friend was getting a bit boring. She is really coming into herself and her powers. Dimitri was right when he told Rose in "Shadow Kissed" that Lissa is stronger than Rose realizes. As for the closeness between Lissa and Dimitri after she saves him, which some readers were bothered by, I think it is very fitting and poignant. Rose's jealousy is natural, but Lissa was right when she chastised Rose for her persistence in talking to Dimitri. Rose's personal frustration and grief at feeling "invisible" in Dimitri's eyes is painful for all of us. But it's petty and childish of Rose to put her own emotions above the greater good--in this case, giving Dimitri time to heal and making sure she doesn't create any scenes that would make him appear dangerous and to others who still view him as a potential strigoi. Rose doesn't ever handle jealousy very well, whether with Lissa or Dimitri, so her behavior isn't surprising. But it's one of those traits that she needs to grow out of as she continues to develop and mature.

I can't believe we have to wait 7 months for last sacrifice! If I had the option to turn strigoi, I might seriously consider it, in order to spare myself this anxiety! (can't imagine a strigoi would get too worked up over the suspense of waiting for a new book...)

4.5 stars

Review: Kelly Armstrong, The Reckoning

not with a bang but a whimper


(I wouldn't normally write such a lengthy review for a book that disappointed me as much as this one (why waste any more time on it!?) - but the more I got to thinking about the issues I had with this book, yet more and more troubling issues kept occurring to me, and the angrier I the review just grew and grew. Sorry.)

Unlike the previous two installments of the Darkest Powers Series, which are driven both by plot and character development, The Reckoning is driven solely by a few of its action sequences. That a few of these scenes did keep me near the edge of my seat is, unfortunately, the only positive thing I can bring myself to say about this utterly disappointing conclusion to the trilogy.

My main criticism is that the author builds up a number of compelling issues in the previous two books which are left completely unresolved at the end of the third.

Of all of these, the most disappointing for me deals with the character development, particularly the romance between Chloe and Derek. I have to say, I was impressed with the build-up of this romance in the first two books. Derek and Chloe did seem to share a unique understanding of each other. And there were the necessary frustrating, yet interesting obstacles to their being together. But in The Reckoning, this romantic tension completely fizzled, in my opinion. None of the obstacles between Chloe and Derek are actually resolved, but somehow they magically seem to go away? The way I see it, the primary obstacle to Chloe and Derek being together is Derek's selflessness. This manifests itself in two concrete ways: 1) he is a genetically modified werewolf and fears he will lose control and hurt her (hence his shock and horror when he suspects that she likes him earlier in the series); 2) he knows his brother Simon has a crush on her and would never want to hurt Simon.

As to the first: Derek completes his transformation for the first time, realizes he retains his basic humanity even as a wolf, and therefore assumes he'll never hurt Chloe? Too convenient. What about that evil poltergeist that haunts the house, always reminding Chloe and the others that their genetic modifications will drive them to insanity before long? What about Derek's uncontrollable strength that sometimes leads to violent outbreaks with disastrous consequences? We're just supposed to forget all of these issues, which only a few days ago were apparently so crippling that when Derek suspected Chloe might have feelings for him, he responded with shock and horror? More importantly, we're expected to believe that Derek would allow himself to forget it so that he could be with Chloe? Completely out of character for him. Really corny, really unrealistic - laughable, even.

As for the second obstacle: I'm sorry, but Simon's drawing a poignant little comic to show Derek that he doesn't mind him being with Chloe is, in a word, lame. the selfless Derek that we have come to know and admire would never accept that so quickly. Plus, Derek had basically already attached himself to Chloe before Simon even gave him the comic.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying Chloe and Derek should never end up together. I'm just disappointed that these two very serious, very compelling obstacles were erased so easily. Did Armstrong just get lazy? For me, it cheapened the romance and the series as a whole.

Putting Derek and Chloe's not-so-star-crossed romance aside, there are about a hundred other issues that are unresolved. I'll just list several off the top of my head:

-Chloe's father. Why keep bringing him up in the books if he's never going to make an actual appearance? If Chloe's never actually going to contact him?

-Chloe's mother. Why show us glimpses of her ghost if she's not actually going to play a role?

-Chloe's dream to be a film director. Personally, I found all the director/screenwriter references kind of grating. That said, this was an interesting component of Chloe, and I was kind of hoping we'd have some kind of epilogue or something showing that she didn't give it up.

-Tori and Simon being siblings, and Kit being Tori's father. Why in the world does Tori never find out about this? Would have been really interesting to see her reaction. What's the point of all the build up in the previous books, of planting the suspicion in the reader's mind about it, if there's not going to be any resolution or follow through???

-Simon's character in general. What a boring, one dimensional person. I kept thinking there would be some revelation about Simon. No idea what it might be. But just something to make him more than this flat, boring, friendly preppy dude - "Whoa, bro, cool it, bro" - ughhhh. No such luck.

-Liz. Ever since she and Chloe have that heart wrenching scene in the 2nd book, where Liz accepts that she's a ghost and warns Chloe she'll have to cross over to the other side eventually (but isn't ready yet) - I've been bracing myself for it to happen. I really thought it would at the end of The Reckoning - would have been so perfect and bittersweet. But nope! Apparently Armstrong forgot about that scene.

-Chloe's necklace. Where did it come from? How was it made? How does it work? Again, I kept thinking there was going to be some back story here, some revelation. But we got nothing. Apparently it was just a handy plot device, and something pretty to put on the jackets.

-The Demi-Demon. I found the Demi-Demon enormously interesting. I was very excited when Chloe had to make a deal with her so she'd help break the crew out of the Edison Group building; couldn't wait to find out what horrid things she'd have to do in return. But...she winds up not having to do anything, because in a typical manipulation of the plot, the Demi Demon is somehow sucked back down into hell, never to bother Chloe again. Seriously? Soooo boring.

-The warning that Chloe and the band of genetically enhanced supernaturals will eventually go insane because of their powers. This was a very interesting and stressful part of the plot. I kept waiting for it. When's the insanity going to kick in! How are the characters going to cope!? I couldn't wait for them to support each other and show some real strength in the face of their impending doom. But, no. This never happened. One of the most interesting components of the whole story, which is, predictably, left utterly unresolved.

-Rae. Seriously? We don't find out what happens to her?

I really do feel like the author just got kind of bored and decided to just slap this story down as fast as humanly possible, so she could get it over with and move on to the next series. From a marketing standpoint, I suppose the content of The Reckoning doesn't really matter. Most anyone who read the first two books would buy the third just to find out what happens. But I have to say, as a reader, I find it offensive. I felt manipulated when I finished the Reckoning. As you read the first two books, Armstrong makes you think she's got some master plan worked out, that all the little hints and clues she's dropped along the way will eventually add up to something. I suppose I have only myself to blame for this disappointment--for allowing myself to have faith in this author!

1 star