Thursday, February 27, 2014

Book review: Fairest (An Unfortunate Fairy Tale #2) by Chanda Hahn

Mirror, Mirror, on the wall,
Who is the Fairest of them all?

In the sequel to UnEnchanted, Mina Grime discovers that all is not fair when it comes to the Fae and their tales, especially when they don’t all play by the rules. Barely surviving the Story’s first fairy tale quest, Mina still has hundreds to go before she can end the curse on her family. But a new player arises to challenge Mina while new rules revamp the game she has just barely begun to understand.

All the while, people are mysteriously disappearing, including Jared, whom Mina must finally determine to be friend or foe. And with the loss of her greatest weapon, Mina must try to outwit a deadly hunter. Can Mina survive the most difficult quest yet while protecting those she loves from falling victim to one of the lethal tales of all? Or will she become a pawn when she strikes a bargain with the Queen of Fae?

Fairest is the second book in the Unfortunate Fairytale series, and if you’ve read my review of the first book, you could see that I wasn’t all that impressed.  The first book is one of the top free books on Amazon, hence why I saw it in the first place, and I kind of felt like that was the only reason people got it: it was free.  But I couldn’t help but want to see where things went from there, so I have the other two books that are out.

This one is slightly better.  In terms of the story, anyway.  Things connect better, there’s foreshadowing that makes it feel more like things happen for a reason than they’re just thrown around as plot devices, and it’s just all around better.  Mina’s still annoying, but the fact that she’s cast as the villain in the major tales in this book shows Hahn’s giving it a try to make it interesting rather than everything just going well for Mina.

Unfortunately the story being better doesn’t excuse the fact that it still is a chore to read.  The writing itself is simple and I felt like no one had bothered to go through and edit it on even the most basic level.  Seriously, it was a chore to read at times because of all the mistakes.  It might not be so bad for someone who isn’t as picky, but, well, I’m a writer and so it is for me.  Because of this, it gets a pretty low rating.  Not only because the editing is bad, but because the mistakes are so simple and basic (dialog formatting, anyone?) that I find it lazy that she left them in for the final version.

So yeah still not a great book but I’ll be trudging through the third soon on principle.  Happy reading if you choose to check them out yourself.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Book review: The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen

Luke is the perfect boyfriend: handsome, kind, fun. He and Emaline have been together all through high school in Colby, the beach town where they both grew up. But now, in the summer before college, Emaline wonders if perfect is good enough.

Enter Theo, a super-ambitious outsider, a New Yorker assisting on a documentary film about a reclusive local artist. Theo's sophisticated, exciting, and, best of all, he thinks Emaline is much too smart for Colby.

Emaline's mostly-absentee father, too, thinks Emaline should have a bigger life, and he's convinced that an Ivy League education is the only route to realizing her potential. Emaline is attracted to the bright future that Theo and her father promise. But she also clings to the deep roots of her loving mother, stepfather, and sisters. Can she ignore the pull of the happily familiar world of Colby?

Emaline wants the moon and more, but how can she balance where she comes from with where she's going?

Sarah Dessen's devoted fans will welcome this story of romance, yearning, and, finally, empowerment. It could only happen in the summer.

The Moon and More is the latest book from Sarah Dessen, taking place in Colby, a fictional town that’s been used or mentioned in a lot of her books.  One thing I noticed right away is that the book mentions Colby is an island community, connected by a bridge to the mainland.  I don’t recall it ever being mentioned in the other books that use it, so while it’s kind of nitpicky, I kind of got thrown-off by that since I’d assumed in the past that it was a coastal community.

The book itself succeeds as Dessen’s books always do, however.  The characters are well-developed and have their own personalities and lives, rather than simply living within the context of the book’s plate.  There are certain things about them that could’ve been introduced earlier, such as Emaline’s tendency to go to the gym when she wakes up early.  And I’d also like to congratulate Dessen on working with a plot point that usually annoys me: the love interest became extremely annoying, but rather than Emaline going along with it, or it being unintentional on the author’s part and therefore ignored, it was meant to be that way and Emaline broke up with him rather than going along with it and losing her own identity.

The biggest criticism of the book would probably be that the writing gets repetitive when there’s a lot of dialog.  Dessen formats it the exact same way several times in a row, in a way that’s supposed to be different and quirky but just gets annoying because she keeps using it.

Still a solid read, though, so one I’d say you should pick up.  Happy reading!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Book review: Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

It's time to meet your new roomie.

When East Coast native Elizabeth receives her freshman-year roommate assignment, she shoots off an e-mail to coordinate the basics: television, microwave, mini-fridge. That first note to San Franciscan Lauren sparks a series of e-mails that alters the landscape of each girl's summer -- and raises questions about how two girls who are so different will ever share a dorm room.

As the countdown to college begins, life at home becomes increasingly complex. With family relationships and childhood friendships strained by change, it suddenly seems that the only people Elizabeth and Lauren can rely on are the complicated new boys in their lives . . . and each other. Even though they've never met.

Received from NetGalley.

Roomies is a dual-narrative story from the point of view of two girls who are going to be roommates after the summer ends and they start college.  Lauren, from San Francisco with her huge family, and Elizabeth (EB) from New Jersey, with her single mother and love of landscaping.  The book itself is smooth and enjoyable, not to mention a quick read.  The two narratives flow together well, between the emails they share and the things that happen to them as they count down the days towards moving-in to their dorm room together.

The two girls are pretty different, avoiding a common problem that books with more than one narrator have: both of them sounding too similar to each other.  Since the book has two authors I’m guessing each wrote one of the girls.  I really enjoyed them both, although Lauren’s narrative was a little annoying because the text is pretty huge.  I realize that they might have just wanted to have a visual difference between the two girls, but it was kind of ugly to look at, and unnecessary considering it switched between the two every chapter so you knew who to expect for a new one.

The only thing I’d really have to complain about is that EB is overdramatic more than once.  It seems less a character flaw and more a plot device to put conflict between the girls, where there would probably be very little since they only talk through email.  She goes into some things expecting to be offended, and takes however Lauren reacts to her news or tells her things the wrong way, making her upset and wanting to ask for a new roommate.  The second time this happens she’s called out for it and realizes that she was being stupid, but it still seems stiff and unnecessary.  Neither time really adds anything to the story that seems vital and they could easily be taken out or replaced with her being upset in real life, rather than at Lauren.

Overall, though, it’s a great book, and one I’d recommend.  So, happy reading!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Book review: Cursed (Voodoo Nights #1), by Lizzy Ford

Five years after her sister disappeared, seventeen-year-old Adrienne finds the strength to return to her father’s home in New Orleans. But soon after she arrives, the mark of a curse appears on her, leaving her worried. Will she be the next victim of a four-hundred-year old family curse ... the next to be claimed by a serial killer roaming the back alleys of the city?

The day before his senior year begins, Jayden is given a skeleton key passed down through his family for generations -- a gruesome reminder of how his ancestors betrayed their own people and sold them into slavery. He doesn’t believe in the curse the key allegedly bears and puts it away with the intention of forgetting about its message. Until he meets Adrienne, a girl he’s compelled to for more reasons than her beauty. 

He’s not the only one who notices her. A man in a skeleton mask and a voodoo gang member are also drawn to Adrienne. One is determined to protect her. The other intends to mislead her. Haunted by the mythical Red Man, all are connected to the ancient curse.

Can they overcome their misgivings about one another and prevent the dark prophecy looming over them? Or will they be lured away from each other by evil’s siren song?

Received through NetGalley.

If I had to use one word to describe Cursed, it would definitely be “creepy.” The voodoo mythology of New Orleans, Africa and Haiti is deeply  woven into it, not going soft on the details for the sake of the readers’ stomachs.  That’s for the best, I think.  It would’ve lost something if the author held back or was forced to censor herself.

One of the things I appreciated about the book was the fact that Jayden was willing to think that voodoo might be real, when given evidence.  He does spend most of the book not accepting it, because the only things he’s ever seen involving it were his family locking themselves in a shed and cutting off parts from animals.  After Adrienne is cursed so she can’t sing anymore, he’s still skeptical, but he’s willing to think about  it being caused by something supernatural rather than immediately shooting the idea down.  One of my pet peeves is characters who are dense, because most of the time, it seems like it’s just for the sake of the plot so the author can make a ton of things happen to make the person believe something.

Another good thing is that the author managed to use dialect without making it look awkward or making it unreadable.  Considering the background and current circumstances of the characters, they aren’t going to be talking like Ivy league college-educated people.

And of course I appreciated that the Red Man ended up not just being some random, faceless entity.  No spoilers, of course, but there’s an actual backstory to him, and even though what he does is horrible, it gives more depth to the story.  A random, faceless entity would’ve just made it shallow, at least in my opinion.

There were a few things I was frustrated with.  For instance, whenever Adrienne is talking about leaving because something bad happened, she almost always says she’ll “go back to New Orleans.” They are in New Orleans, and since she came over there from Atlanta, I’m guessing Ford meant to put that.  If it was just once it might not be so bad, but it’s a constant mistake, one that shouldn’t even need an editor to catch, just a glance-through from the author.  Also, I don’t know if it was just the copy I got from NetGalley, but there were notes leftover from editing, randomly talking about the different between original French and Creole.  And it does end in a really weird place, even for a book that’s obviously going to have a sequel.

In the end I’d probably give this three-and-a-half stars.  It’s great, but a few obvious problems bring it down.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Book review: Marionette by T.B. Markinson

Paige Alexander is seventeen and has her whole life in front of her. One day her girlfriend comes home to discover that Paige has slit her wrists. Paige isn't insane, but she acts like she is. Why? 

After the incident, Paige agrees to go to therapy to appease her girlfriend, Jess. However, Paige doesn't believe that therapy will help her. She believes she’s beyond help. Paige doesn't want to find herself and she doesn't want to relive her painful past in order to come to terms with it. What Paige wants is control over her life, which she hasn't had since her birth. 

During her childhood, Paige is blamed for a family tragedy, when in fact, her twin sister, Abbie was responsible. Abbie doesn't come forward and Paige becomes the pariah of the family. 

To add to Paige’s woes, while attending a college in a small town in Colorado, the residents are in the midst of debating whether or not gays and lesbians should have equal rights. Tension is high and there’s a threat of violence. She isn't out of the closet and pretends to be straight at school since she fears what will happen if her parents find out she’s a lesbian. Will she end up dead like her best friend, Alex?

An e-book copy was given to me free in return for a review.

When I read a book like this, I can’t help but be a little bit critical when it comes to certain parts of it.  The fact that the main character is gay makes it something I probably would’ve read anyway if I had discovered it on my own.  I’m not going to say it necessary falls into the trap of one of those books that are about nothing but the main character’s sexuality, but that’s because it definitely rambles on about a lot more.  To the book’s credit it does acknowledge it, at least, but it happens so often that I found myself losing focus more than once.

There’s so much going on in this book that there’s never a dull moment, and it did keep me reading to see what would happen next.  The downside of all this is that Paige is so disconnected to everything that sometimes I wondered to myself why I should care about what’s going on.  We get pages and pages of her talking to her psychologist about her past, for instance, but the end comes out of literally nowhere.  I won’t spoil it obviously, but it has to do with Abbie, and all we know about Abbie is that she and Paige were never close, that she’s the one who left out a toy when they were younger that led to a horrible incident with their mother, and that before they left for college, she got into drugs and was friends with hippies.  Well we also know that she’s passionate about music but ended up going to college to be a doctor because that’s what their mother wanted.  But none of that actually gives us a good look into who she is, which might be the point since she and Paige were never close, but still doesn’t do well to not make the ending come straight out of left field.

I will give the book plenty of credit that the writing itself is vivid and, for the most part, clean.  There is the tendency to mis-format dialogue every now and then but that’s the worst offender.  Personally, though, I found that the fact that Paige’s great story-telling skills (she’s studying history at college but wants to be a writer) leaking into her sessions with Liddy made me feel like she might be an unreliable narrator.  I’m aware she dwells quite a lot on the past, but the fact that she’s telling these perfect narrations about the parts in her life she discusses with Liddy just seems too perfect

Overall I’d probably rate the book as average.  There was so much potential in it and what the author wanted to do with it, but the weaknesses hold it back from it being as good as it could’ve been.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Book review: The Second Shadow by Elizabeth Arroyo

Jake thought being demon meant a shredded humanity, stripped of all human emotion. Chaos and self-preservation dominates a demon’s instincts. But Jake feels every ounce of pain and despair around him. 

And it’s driving him deeper into Hell.

Gabby’s choice to save him last summer left a fissure in Hell’s gate that released a malevolent evil. When Jake’s given a mission by the demons to shadow a human girl who may know the whereabouts of an ethereal weapon, he doesn’t expect to see Gabby. But Fate has her own agenda.

When Jake and Gabby are thrown together on a camping trip with a group of delinquent teens, Jake begins to grapple with the haunting choices he made in the past. When the evil finds them, the group begins to battle for their lives, alliances are made, and truths revealed. 

As the evil begins to influence Jake, he questions his link to the demons, his purpose, and his love for Gabby. 

But the answers to those questions are only found in Hell. And it may cost him his soul.

A free copy was given to me in return for an honest review.

The Second Shadow is the sequel to The Second Sign, which I read not long ago.  Most of what I have to say is that the sequel is even better than the original.  The only problems I really had with it were surface errors, mostly typos and the whole ‘use a word that’s close to what you mean’ mistake.  There were also a few things that I felt like should’ve been revealed in the first book rather than the second.  It was a bit rushed at times, throwing realizations and information on you with little time to really digest it because it’s in the middle of the action and the characters have to get on with things.

Other than that, the story is well-put together.  There’s obvious effort in the lore, taking class Christian mythology and fitting it together with Arroyo’s own ideas and interpretations.  And like in the first book, she was definitely not afraid to show the more graphic scenes.  Descriptions of Erra’s influence on Gabby make your skin crawl (literally in poor Gabby’s case) and Alexi’s torture in hell doesn’t pull any punches in its descriptions.  I don’t usually enjoy graphic things like this, but I feel like it would’ve lost something if it weren’t all there.

And some of it is just surreal.  Jake has moments where he slips into Hell, or something like that.  I can’t even really tell what’s happening, but I have the feeling that’s exactly how I’m supposed to feel.

All-in-all, I’d have to say it’s a successful sequel.  The ending also leaves room for another book if that’s what Arroyo has planned, but unlike so many other books, it doesn’t just simply drop off and make you think “Wait, where the rest of it?” So, happy reading!