Friday, January 30, 2015

Book Review: Ensnared by A.G. Howard (Splintered #3)

I so called the ending of this book.

Ensnared is so difficult for me to rate. I loved it because it was the ending to a series and it wrapped everything up but in the end, it felt like a cop out.

Starting with the cover...I hate it. Jeb's lips look far too big and the labret piercing looks like a massive zit.  The other covers had a bit of a thousand yard stare thing going for them but this felt bored and lazy.  It doesn't fit with the book of Jeb being portrayed as an elfin knight. He looks like a tired teenager.

The first 20% of this book was a disappointment to say the least. Alyssa is diving into rescuing everybody but there was a lot of talking about relationships and introspection. That's not necessarily a bad thing but it was kind of annoying to slog through. We want to start in action and not have to wind our way up to forward progress in the book. Instead, Alyssa and her father sort of meandered their way into getting things done and it too for...ever. 

After we run into the rest of the characters, things speed up a bit. I love the distorted and nonsensical world that Jeb and Morpheus are trapped in. Things that don't make sense seem normal. It reminded me a bit of Harold and the Purple Crayon where things that you need are only a drawing away.

The relationship between Jeb and Morpheus develops a lot more and part of that comes from necessity. I got sick of their lack of swear words (I mean, come on. These are flipping teenagers. They are going to cuss.) and their relative laziness when it comes to their escape plan. They seem to be just twiddling their thumbs going "Well hell...we'll just wait it out" before Alyssa gets there. Shouldn't there be a plan? Shouldn't they be more damaged? Or at least a little bit anxious to get out?

Jeb was thoroughly obnoxious in his self pity when we first run into him. I'd like to emphasize that these characters are recent high school grads. They aren't going to make the best decisions as far as relationships go and big mistakes are inevitable. Morpheus also doesn't help things and has said that he actively trying to steal Alyssa away from Jeb. So when we run into him and he is feeling sorry for himself, it's understandable at first. He is happy in his twisted little emo corner. I completely expected him to be growing mushrooms in a closet or tearing up paper to make himself a hamster home.

But you would think that he would be overjoyed to see Alyssa. Or at least *try* to win her back. Because you knew that Morpheus was going to do this. He screws with everybody and being in love with Alyssa only makes you a bigger target. I wanted to shake Jeb and tell him "Tough Shit".

Morpheus was wonderful though. He was pervy, charming, sarcastic, biting and all the things that makes us love him as a character. He never really gives into despair which shows his strength. Yes, he is supposed to be an unfeeling jerk in many ways but his attitude and characterization is consistent.

The plot line itself felt rushed. It didn't go into the detail that I would like personally from defeating evil and liberating a world. The ending was a poor wrap up and I felt cheated. It was all too easy and convenient. I never felt like the characters were in any real danger. 

I'm not going to give anything away as much as possible but I sort of relate to it like I do the Harry Potter series. We all have opinions about who whomever should end up with and we may dislike the futures that they have been given.  That does not mean that we didn't enjoy the journey it takes the characters up to that point. 
This series was a good read though and I don't want to take away from that at all.  It was unique and a completely different take on the Wonderland we all know.  The characters have depth and individual motivations that keep them all in the realistic realm, despite the magical atmosphere.  Relationships grow instead of just being there and the insta-love is nowhere to be found.  There is history, a story line and world building where everything fits together well.

So yeah, 3/5 stars as much as it hurts me. Lovely series with a poor ending.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Hearts Challenge!

Hello y'all!

Challenges are awesome.  They make you read and give you the opportunity to exceed your own expectations.  This one comes to us from Lovers of Paranormal and it is the HEARTS CHALLENGE!!!

This is going to be a co-hosting event with +Melissa Baez  @ Ever So Mela.

All it consists on is in reading books that have covers or titles with the colors red, pink, or white in them!

It starts on February 1 up until March 1, 2015

Melissa's ♥Hearts♥ Challenge:

Red Rising by Pierce Brown (aka hottest author in the realm)
Pretty Girl by Amy Heugh
Where the Road Takes me by Jay Mclean
Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Sacrificed: The Last Oracle by Emily Wibberly

My ♥Hearts♥ Challenge:

Red Queen (aka the book everyone needs to read this year) by Victoria Aveyard
Pretty Girl by Amy Heugh
Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead
Fake by C.L. Stone

How many books will you read in this challenge?

Opinions: Taking Notes in Books?

We've all been there.

It's your first day of whatever literary class, whether it be in your native language or not, and the teacher/instructor/professor utters that sentence that can either drive people crazy or lead to broad smiles in the bibliophile world.

"You will want to take notes in your book."

Some people's hearts stop when they hear those words.  Defile a book? Absolutely not!  Your notes will be taken in a notebook or you would rather print out the poem and take notes on that.  By the end of the year, you'll have a thick binder full of notes but your books will be absolutely pristine.  The idea of writing in a book makes you anxious and what if your opinions change over time?  You can always change your mind but you can't change what you have written in that book. It will be there forever!

Then there are the people that love taking notes in books.  It's so organized and it's all right there all together where it is supposed to be!  That way you can keep your books and what you learned forever and ever and you will never lose them.  You love going back to the same works years later and laughing over your old notions of literary insight.  You can highlight and compare to other pieces without having to keep track of another notebook. Your books may be ragged but that adds character and shows that you really loved the class!

So...which one are you?  Or are you indifferent?

In college, I saw people almost religiously abstaining from marking up books.  They made their notes in spiral bound notebooks and carried both to class.

In high school, most people happily desecrated their books, writing their names boldly on the spines and ends of pages.  After all, we all had the same anthologies that we paid for and it was much easier to identify your own if it was colorful and unique.  There were fewer notebooks to carry and a lot easier to pretend you were paying attention in class as long as you had your massive book out.  It was also conveniently sized for texting in class but shhhhh...nobody ever did that.

As for me...

I'm usually not a person that would mark up a book at all.  I don't lend out books ever just in case someone dog ears a page or even worse, breaks the spine.

But I'm more than happy to take compulsive excessive notes in my beloved anthologies.  As you can see, I did the typical high school thing and scrawled my name across the pages of my book and then proceeded to happily put down my own opinions of classic authors.

To put this in perspective, all of the notes shown are for one of two poems by T.S. Eliot: The Waste Land or The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.  And all of my notes are different. All of them are color coded and have carefully preserved opinions from two high school classes and two college courses. Like many, every time I went through a course where they covered old material, I learned something new and that shows in the notes where I can see how my perspective changes. Or the professor's opinions were different.  Growth is an important thing, especially in the literary world.

I can't tell you how many times people have told me I should just throw these books away or store them but I adore going back into them and rereading the poems and going over my old notes.

It's just so nice to have everything right there together.  It is compiled and organized.  There's no searching for notebooks. I can remember the year I took each notes by the books that they are in.  It's so soothing to know that I will never lose them.

Does anybody else have compulsive note taking problems? Which side of the fence are you on?  Notes in books or notes on pages?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Book Review: Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick

Hush, Hush...

This book is sort of difficult for me. I originally called it cute but I am not quite sure if that is the right word for it.

First of all, I love the cover. I mean, who wouldn't?  It's perfectly dark and a little bit twisted. The feathers are beautifully rendered and it seems intensely emotional.  Is it the fall of an angel?  Is it an angel being ripped apart?  Who knows.  It is really well done and gives me the impression of a slightly twisted book.

I was expecting something a little bit darker, judging by the cover. I think I was expecting a little bit more of a horrible world ending thing to be happening but I misjudged it. That's not to say that scary bad things aren't happening, but it just wasn't on a similar scale.

Nora is a good girl. She gets things done and writes for her school newspaper. Her mother trusts her to leave her at home pretty much alone for days on end. Her best friend, Vee, is a bit of a wild child but still has her best interests at heart. She has the appropriate amount of fun for a normal teenager.  No drugs, no crazy parties, no wild sex with random strangers.  She is normal and well balanced for the most part.

Then Patch comes into the picture. And terrifying things start happening.

After a few heart attack inducing scares, Nora starts to wonder about her sanity. Is she imagining all of this or is it really happening? Maybe she is just over reacting...but maybe it is something much more fantastic that is going on.

Do not read this book expecting intense depth of character and a bulletproof plot line. There are mistakes and it is all a bit disjointed. But don't you remember high school? Not everything is perfectly linked together and that's what make this work for me. Some of the characters are shallow. Vee is a good example. And her shallow nature gets them into trouble so I guess that is a good moral to the story.  

You expect to see shallow or vapid characters in young adult books.  They are necessary in many ways but I wish the author had developed the supporting characters more.  It seemed like a cop out that Nora's mother isn't in the picture.  If you don't want the characters to have parents around, why not send them to a boarding school so you can skip that step?

Patch is sold as the bad boy but it doesn't really feel like he is truly bad. He reminds me of Heath Ledger in 10 Things I Hate About You.

Sure, he acts like he is all tough with his smart ass remarks, tough attitude and standoffish persona but he is really a marshmallow underneath. Patch is a lot like that, in my mind. Sure he rides a motorcycle and likes to dress in all black but it never really felt like he was a truly "dangerous" guy in any sense.

We never really see him get in trouble. That's what cemented it for me. Anybody can ride a motorcycle.  Anybody can dress in black and wear a ball cap and lurk in the background.  That doesn't make them anything.  It is just an image.  Your actions define your character and Patch frankly fell short of the bad boy he was supposed to be.

Nora seems like she is easy to peer pressure into things and that made her a somewhat weak character. But, once again, look back to your own high school experience. Someone that was pushed into things was not necessarily a bad person. They just couldn't say no easily to their friends and they suffered for it. Nora is hurt but her friend pushing her around but we all had that friend and that didn't mean we loved them less.

The paranormal aspects of Hush, Hush aren't perfect but they work. It's not like you expect this book to be real in any way (I'm still waiting on my Hogwarts letter, by the way) but it works in this context. The beauty of a well written book is that when you read it, there is no reason in your mind that it didn't actually happen. While this book does not achieve that, it is a decent read and I enjoyed it.

I'll keep reading this series but it is nothing to fangirl over or write home about. Better than Twilight though. Much better.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Book Review: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

I went into The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer thinking "Oh, it's just going to be some silly cutesy romance with a little bit of paranormal thrown in for flavor." Boy, was I wrong.

And I loved being wrong! (But just this one time. The family motto is "Seldom Wrong, but Never In Doubt")

I'm completely obsessed with this cover. It's something different and unusual. It shows some of the emotion of the book and the desperation of the book. She seems so close to drowning but he is there to help. It works well contextually and on a artistic level, it is absolutely lovely. This is the photograph that is the highlight of a session. I love how his hands are gripping her like he is afraid to let go. That's Noah for me in a nutshell.

Mara is an awesome protagonist. I can't imagine how traumatic it would be to wake up and find that not only is your best friend dead, but also your boyfriend and your boyfriend's sister. Talk about Survivor's Syndrome. It's amazing that she is as together as she is. She doesn't really inflict her fear on anybody else but rather internalizes to the point that she is about to burst at the seems. Think about it. You are the only one that is left. You are the only one with answers. Their parents would probably be all over you, asking questions and demanding some sort of resolution. Parents these days would probably sue or try to prosecute her for just surviving. That has to be the most stressful thing that an author can imagine.

And then the hallucinations start. And dreams that are more like nightmares. Mara is more than just a silly girl who got hurt. These are real problems.

You see, a lot of the time with YA books, you end up with a stupid conflict. It can be self inflicted or over a boy or whatever but I frequently find that eye rolling is appropriate. Oh, she stole my boyfriend and betrayed me in front of the football team so I called her a slut and now she is trying to get me expelled from school and ruin my chances at college! What.freaking.ever. I hate high school drama. This had none of that and that was cause for celebration!

When the weird stuff starts, Mara thinks that she is being paranoid or simply going insane. These aren't normal dreams or hallucinations and people are dying around her. She imagines bad things happening in horrible graphic ways and the writing frequently gets close to the grotesque. These scenes were wonderfully written in such a style that it is easy to get into the mindset of Mara.

Her mother is the definition of a helicopter parent. Mara can barely sneeze without her mother hovering over her and monitoring just about everything. I once heard a woman like this called a "smother". It would be absolutely exhausting to be that child where you never had a moment's peace but it is so easy to sympathize with the mother who nearly lost her child. I freak out whenever Tara gets a little bit lethargic and take her to the vet. If I had to deal with a child that I had nearly lost, they would probably never be allowed out of my sight. So it's understandable on a parenting level but extremely smothering (to use the word again) for the child. Mara wants to get past it and move on but her mother constantly reinforces that something bad happened.

Moving onto Noah...

Perfect. Book. Boyfriend.
Perfect Noah. Look at those cheekbones!
Not your typical angsty over the top YA male protagonist/love interest. He is a genuinely nice guy who wants to help. Try to find a teenage boy like that these days. If they are nice guys, they get friendzoned in a bad way and they don't have the confidence that Noah has. And that's one of the better things about Noah. He has all of the confidence that you could possibly want in a male protagonist but he is still grounded in reality and isn't a cocky asshole.

He doesn't act like a jerk just to be rude and he is focused on problems other than high school drama. Noah reaches out and actually helps Mara with her problems.

That's been something that seems to happen a lot. Boys don't help problems. They make things worse. (I'm looking at you Twilight) You haven't improved her life. You have made it infinitely more complicated. Books like that make it seem like having a boyfriend or being in a committed relationship is *the* most important thing that can happen to a girl, but it isn't. Those plot lines are overplayed and ridiculous.

But that's not this book. He isn't a perfect human and has his own problems but he isn't just a space filler. He doesn't have flaws just to make him imperfect which is a personal pet peeve. Everybody is screwed up in some way, don't just make a character clumsy and act like that is a character flaw.

And he is just as scared as Mara. His emotions work in the context of the book and his fears are natural. Noah isn't some weird emotionless male protagonist that keeps everything inside just so he can be strong and cold. It is incredibly refreshing to run into a character like him.

The plot line is amazing too. To a certain extent, I saw the twist coming. I sort of expected it and was hoping for it in some ways but it was well written. It felt well thought out and planned. I hate it when books just throw some crap in at the end just to hook you into another book. This was appropriate and it made sense all the way through.

This is a paranormal thriller that doesn't make you sit and reread everything just to get the context. It is a deliberate book with just enough details to get you hooked but not so many that you are wading through infinite info dumps. Things aren't jumping out of closets for cheap thrills and there aren't bones in the backyard that come to life. This really is a well written more psychological thriller type of book.

I struggled to put it down and made sure that I read it thoroughly but I still was able to binge on it without feeling like I was missing significant plot points.

So go read this book. Or save it for Halloween.

Another 5 star book! How rare!

What did y'all think of this one?  Creepy? Awesome? Fun? All of the above?

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Book Review: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Blue Sargent isn't leading what you would call a normal life.  Every year, she goes with her mother to a church yard to watch the soon-to-be-dead file past.  Her mother and all of the people that live in her house have some sort of sixth sense but Blue is outwardly mundane.  She has always been used like an amplifier, hiking up all of the readings that her family does around her but she is otherwise unremarkable.  She has before never seen the dead in these night time visits but this year is different.  A spirit of a boy shows himself to her and speaks to her before disappearing.

All her life, Blue has been told that if she kisses her true love, he will die.  She therefore has removed herself from feeling anything for anybody that isn't in her family.  So when she finds out that this boy that she sees in the church yard is not only alive but also handsome, wealthy and from her town, she finds herself drawn into his world.

Just for reference, this is the sexy ass car
Richard Gansey lives the perfect lifestyle in all appearances.  He goes to a private school where he is surrounded by other boys who live in the same way.  He drives a freaking sexy ass car and his friends are strikingly loyal.  An obsession drives him though and his life is not as simple as it might seem.

Gansey and his friends, Adam, Ronan and Noah, are all searching for something paranormal and Blue might be the one to help them find it.  She helps amplify otherwise subtle paranormal events and once she gets to know the boys, she decides to help them against the wishes of her family.

Gansey, Adam, Ronan and Noah are all out to find the remains of a long dead king, one who can grant them wishes and bring them power. Adam is a determined scholarship student who hates all of the opulence that his friends are blessed with.  Ronan is all black Irish and a dangerous fighter with a dark personality.  Noah observes quietly and only speaks when necessary.  Gansey is outrageous and persuasive and holds all of them together.

The only problem is that they are not the only ones searching for this king.  And everybody else wants to be the first one to find him.

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater is absolutely captivating.  Her world building is superb and her characters are all well developed.  So many times, these YA/NA fantasy/paranormal books are all about two characters and their relationship only.  That is not the case with this book.

While there is a lot of emphasis on the relationship between Blue and Gansey, it isn't the only focus.  Their romance is not simple mostly because there is none.  It is a hidden attraction and the readers play this game of "will they or won't they" throughout the entire book.  It isn't insta-love and it is not hot and heavy right from the get go.  It isn't really anything when you think about it and that lack of distinction makes it unique.

Adam, Ronan, Noah and even such characters as Barrington Whelk have personalities and driving forces in their lives.  Nobody is perfect in this.  They are all wonderfully flawed and their flaws make sense.  Adam doesn't like the opulence that surrounds them because he is ashamed that he doesn't have it.  Ronan is angry because of what happened in his past.  Noah has reasons for being the way he is as well and even the bad guys get their place in the spotlight.

This is how good books are written.  I remember that one of the writing rules of Kurt Vonnegut.  Everybody needs something and everything that happens moves the plot forward in a significant way.  Nothing is wasted and the writing is beautiful for that.

If someone was to come up and ask you what this character was doing in the book and why, it would be easy to answer that.  The suspense does not come from the characters' motivations but rather the search for something lost.  I'm sick of books that withhold important character details just to be coy.  The Raven Boys lays it all out flat and makes you accept that these characters are human and will act like regular people with fears and joys that we can connect to.

I honestly cannot wait to read the next book.  I have a few ahead of it that I have to read or finish but it's on my list.  This definitely makes my favorites list and it is one of the only truly suspenseful books that I've read in a while.

If you haven't read it, go out and get it.

Five stars all the way. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Book Review: Entwined by Heather Dixon


I've been on a kick for fairy tale retellings and this one was amazing!

Look at that cover art. That dress is to die for.  I'm shopping for wedding dresses right now and while I wouldn't necessarily wear *that* one, it has probably influenced what I'm loving on designer websites.

The cover shows what I think is part of their little kingdom they have with Keeper or maybe what they long for in their real kingdom with their father.  Keeper has a garden and I love the idea of Azalea running through it in a beautiful dress.  Running to something or running from it?

The plot was wonderful. It follows the story of The Twelve Dancing Princesses which is a Brothers Grimm fairy tale originally. I had completely forgotten the plotline of the story, despite being in a play of it when I was younger.  This felt like a unique interpretation of it.  It doesn't feel like a copy of another story though. While I could easily recognize the original plot line, the characters were intense and it was easy to forget that I had heard the story before.

Azalea is the oldest sister and all of the princesses are named after flowers, alphabetically. They live in a structured world where their father maintains strict rules and guidelines. Her sisters are mischievous though, ranging in age from 16 to a newborn and love getting into all sorts of unapproved trouble. Azalea and her sisters focus mostly on balls, beautiful dresses, and dancing the night away without a care in the world. 

Their mother teaches their dance lessons and all of the girls want to dance the nights away but most of them are not old enough yet.  The most complex dance is called the Entwine where a lady and a gentleman dance with a strip of fabric between them and the turnings of the dance can lead to the lady being "caught" by the man.  Only great dancers can avoid being wrapped up in the fabric and the Queen was one of the best in the kingdom.  Their lives are magical and lighthearted.

Tragedy strikes though and Azalea has to step up and take control of everything, even her newborn little sister. Their father, the King, goes off to take care of a war, leaving them to their own devices under intense scrutiny and more rules to follow. This means no parties, no guests, no frivolity and worst of all, no dancing.

Their only refuge comes in the mysterious Keeper, locked away for centuries under the castle.

He lets them dance. Every night, the princesses descend to the hidden ballroom and dance the night away, cheering each other and lifting their spirits. When they sneak back into bed, their dancing shoes are worn and they have temporarily forgotten the despair that is over the household.  They faithfully repair their dancing shoes but eventually find themselves going barefoot.  Keeper is not altruistic and has hidden motives though. Like his name suggests, he likes to keep things and he doesn't like letting go.

I loved the way this book was written.  It didn't necessarily feel like a full on fairytale all the way through.  It was mysterious and creepy.  While I knew the plot and the story was somewhat familiar, I was still frequently surprised by the twists the author put into it.  Sometimes fairytales and retellings can fall flat because there isn't enough depth to the characters but this wasn't so with this book.  All of the sisters had personalities and time was dedicated to each of them.  You came to understand them as humans and people interacting with the world.  They had motivations and jealousies and all the things that make a character well rounded.

This book was magical in every way. It was not bogged down in detail and the characters really came to life. While it was true to the original story, it gave reason and meaning to it.  If you are going to go for a fairytale retelling, this is a good one.  The story isn't as familiar and overdone as Cinderella or Snow White and is subtle in its roots.  Honestly, this book would have been just as enjoyable if I hadn't heard the fairytale it is based on.  It can stand on its own.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Book Review: Facade: A Vampire Love Story (Immortal Memories #1) by R.M. Webb

Guess who is back! I finally got my computer back from the repair shop. Turns out that the DC jack had basically separated from the battery and they had to order the part and solder everything back together. I'm glad it was an easy fix and not a reason to replace this laptop.

Moving onto a book review! First one in a while and the first one of the New Year.

I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Facade by R.M. Webb is a great first book from this author.

I usually struggle a lot with vampire books. I think Twilight and that whole fiasco sort of turned me off books that are centered on vampires but this was really well written.

It follows the story of Claire, a young woman who, due to some unfortunate events, can no longer do the one thing she loves most: ballet. Instead, her friends dance while she plays piano for them, never really being able to look up from the keys. She only remembers the last 7 years of her life and she cannot connect with people easily like others seem to.

So Claire puts on a brave face and tries to mimic as best she can. She seemed like she was half a step behind with her reactions to things that normally wouldn't faze people at all. Laughs a little late, takes an extra second to figure out what emotion or reaction she should have. She feels extraordinarily lost and vacant among her friends a lot of the time.

Then, William enters the picture. He is strong. He is demanding. And he knows all about her past and wants to help her in any way that he can. What follows is a whirlwind adventure with revenge, betrayal, lust, love, confusion, and blood. This is not an easy road but it is what it will take to make everything right again.

I felt so sorry for Claire at the beginning. It is difficult to be in her position. I know how it is to watch all your friends do what you love and you are physically unable to participate anymore. It is heartbreaking. It kills you slowly and people will still try to be nice about it but it feels like a huge chunk of you is ripped out.

So she is already feeling lost without dance then add onto that not knowing anything about her past and she is looking at a lot of loneliness. I can't imagine what that must have felt like. Clair is a strong character though and she is remarkably resilient. Her friends don't get how depressed she is and they act like nothing is wrong. Josh is clearly all about her but he doesn't step up and assert himself.

William steps up though and shows her what she truly is. Unfortunately, her best friend Josh gets wrapped up in this whole thing and he suffers the consequences. It was hard not to sympathize with him throughout the book because he friendzoned himself real bad. Poor lamb.
The conflict in this book was compelling as well. There is nothing as juicy as revenge really.
Facade has helped heal this rift I have with vampire books.  I usually find them whiny and over dramatic with that whole prey/predator-but-I-love-you thing. But since this is the story of two vampires who love each other and eventually figure things out, it works better. There is no "I'd die for you but I can't die unless someone really wants to kill me and oh, there is someone that wants to kill me" crap that tends to ruin vampire books.

It was a unique plot line throughout and there were freaking consequences for their actions.  People die. Bad things happen.  And nobody fucking sparkles.

Overall, a solid read.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Computer problems! computer gave up on me. It stopped charging completely and I had to take it into a repair place to attempt to fix it.

Between that, Christmas, New Years and announcing my engagement, it had been a crazy few weeks and I'm so sorry I haven't been posting!

My laptop should be out in a week or so (in theory) and hopefully I'll catch up soon.

I hope everybody had a safe and fun New Years.  Any resolutions?