The Collector

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I’m going to say this right off the bat: this is going to be one of those reviews. This is a book that I saw get a ton of praise on a bunch of YA blogs that I follow and for the life of me I can’t figure out why. 

Let me back up.

A few months ago I started seeing the praise for this book everywhere. I even know a few bloggers who have added him to the list of their “book boyfriends.” I downloaded the sample to see what the hype was about.

I wanted to punch him.

He comes off as such a vain and arrogant asshole that not only did I want to punch him, it quite literally made me not to want read the book, let alone buy it. I gave it a second chance because I won a copy and I read a few places that the character gets better and more likable as the book goes on.

Does he get more likable as the book goes on? Yes, but when you consider where he started, that’s not exactly something to write home about. It really didn’t take much to make him seem at least some-what human.

So I don’t keep you here all day, I’ll boil down my complaints and discuss the major levels this book failed for me:

1. There is no chemistry between Dante and Charlie. None. If anything, I felt like the love that was developing was actually platonic. For much of the book, Dante seemed more like a protective big brother than a possible love interest. It doesn’t help that the author made Charlie SO innocent and SO naive and SO inexperienced that she loved him because he paid her attention (and why she ignored her friend Blue – who genuinely loved her as she was – was never discussed)

2. There is literally no reason for Dante to have fallen in love with Charlie, except this is a Paranormal Romance novel and the conventions of the genre says he has to. He does not find her attractive – at all. Yes, he does eventually come to appreciate her looks as beautiful in their own right, but that’s largely after she’s already began to change. And even then, he has a moment where he worries that she might move on because she’s now so beautiful which begged the question whether he really did like those looks for what they were, or did he prefer them because it meant less competition? Character development on the part of Dante and Charlie is pretty shallow, so as far as I can tell, there really don’t have anything in common at all. If it weren’t for the plot, would he have fallen for her?

The book also follows some other tropes: both Charlie and Dante have Tragic Pasts. Hers seemingly to make Dante sympathetic towards her (and because this genre does love its heroines to have sad backgrounds) and his seemingly to make the audience sympathetic towards him. I can’t even say that it does. Is it sad? Yes. Does it account or excuse his behavior? No, because it seems like he was a jerk even before died.

At the end of the day, Dante comes off as one dimensional to me and as such I feel like I am absolutely missing whatever it is that is making so many YA readers swoon for the guy.

Verdict: Die-hard fans of the genre will probably enjoy it, but for the rest of us, you can probably just Skip It and not feel like you’ve missed anything.

Dead Beautiful

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An electronic copy of the book was provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

The Dead Beautiful series is getting ready to release its third book on 1/7/2104. To get interest up, the publisher released copies of the first book onto NetGalley and I have to say…the ploy worked.

I’ve quickly grown to love the supernatural-meets-boarding school subgenre of YA and this is no different. The author here does a lovely job of setting up the school and the world and the mystery enticing you to go further and further in. So much so, that I pretty much read this in a day.

Renee is a 16 year old girl whose parents die under mysterious circumstances. She’s taken in by her cold and distant grandfather who sends her to a boarding school that has a million antiquated rules (no electric light after 9 pm!) and a unique curriculum (Latin for all!). Once there she meets a mysterious guy named Dante that she feels drawn to, and strange things begin to happen.

First off, I want to give the author kudos for not falling victim to the normal tropes of these kind of novels. The protagonist isn’t an immediate outcast, nor is she bullied. There’s the adjustment period you’d expect of a girl transferring into a boarding school in the second year, but she’s otherwise accepted by her classmates.

Second, I’m not normally a fan of this part of the paranormal genre, but I like what she does with it here. I don’t want to give it away, but it feels fresh and I like the use of Descartes here.

This isn’t a deep read, or one that shatters genre conventions, but not all books need to be. For what it was, it was an easy and engaging read. The ending is a bit sappy, but I’ll attribute that to the nature of the genre and the desire to turn this into a mutliple-book series. I won’t be running out to read the next to in immediate succession, but one day I will get around to the follow-up titles. I enjoyed my time with this book and fans of YA paranormal romance should too.

Verdict: A very strong Borrow It.

Digital Comic – The Vampire Diaries #5 – Home for the Holidays 1/2

DIG012685_1I will admit, this series has started to give me doubts. As I pulled open the “My Books” page on the DC subscription website, I wondered if I might end up starting this post with a trite quote about the definition of insanity, or maybe go more novel and find a quote about masochism. Happily, neither is necessary as I believe that the comic is finally starting to find its feet and its groove.

First things first: the gorgeous water-color artwork from the stand-alone issue is gone, and the style from the first three chapters is back. This is disappointing, though decidedly expected. Characters are still questionable interpretations at best, but the dialogue is well written enough that we can keep track of who is who.

The story is where this issue shines and finally makes this feel like we’re firmly planted in the Vampire Diaries universe. What we have is a prequel chapter, set before the show begins, in the days where there is a Mystic Falls with humans other than Matt Donovan. We have a high-school party in the woods and we get cameos here from Bonnie and Tyler and I think I might have even seen Vicki. We also have an Elena whose parents are still alive. She’s the bit of a brat that we meet in the first season. It’s nice to see her because it reminds us of the arc her character has taken, from the girl who was so opposed to pretty much anything Damon aside from existing to the one who still wants to stand at his side, despite the revenge he’s been taking out on the Whitmore family.

In vampire land, we have Stefan returning to the Salvatore boarding house to check in on Mystic Falls. Zach is still alive and Stefan is currently not speaking to Damon as evidenced by Zach asking him “How’s your brother?” and he replies “Who?” It’s all works and feels right.

The stories start to merge as there seems to be a pack of vampires in the woods and it’s up to Stefan to figure out who they are and why they’re there.

At this point in the game I sense that not only will the comic and the show not merge, but they won’t even brush up against each other. If the comic continues in this direction though; with stories that feel natural for the setting and maybe fill in some things we didn’t know I’m okay with that.

This is the first issue that I’m comfortable saying buy it. It’s the first issue that I feel like will finally be truly satisfying to fans of the series. I hope it continues to stay this way.

The Long Way

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A review copy was provided by NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.

Sometimes the most enjoyable books are the ones that you stumble across. I’ve had great luck with that this year – the Grisha series, for example, and now this book, The Long Way.

Chi-Yen is a half-Chinese, half-“Barbarian” (probably British) girl, the get of a whore and a sailor trying to survive in Canton during the Second Opium War. The first part of the tail is a rather enjoyable story in its own right as we see how this young girl – no more than 12 trying to survive and avoid the fate of so many other slaves that were sold to “Old Mother.” During these trails she runs across a disgraced monk and his apprentice. What happens next I don’t necessarily want to spoil, though I will allude that Long means “Dragon.”

This tail is a fantastic weaving of a historical sense of place and time – first Canton, then the Old West – and the more fantastical, though the author grounds the story in so much reality that the setting of the novel still very much feels like our world.

This novel is a great combination of old and new. The last 1/3 of the book does seem a bit rushed and I do wish the author had taken more time to really explore the places she went and the people she met.

Still, this is definitely something that felt genuinely unique and I think that anyone looking for something different and has an open mind is going to enjoy this. A sequel is due out in the second half of 2014, and I think it’ll be worth keeping an eye out for.

Verdict: Buy It.

Finnikin of the Rock

ImageAround the time I was being implored to give Vampire Academy a second chance, Leigh Bardugo (she of the awesome Grisha series, have you entered the giveaway yet?) was kind enough to offer a few suggestions for her favorite YA high fantasy; a subgenre that seems to be fairly lacking from what I’ve read to date.

One of those suggestions was this, Finnikin of the Rock, and I have to say, it’s a good one.

The story itself is fairly basic: at the tender age of nine, Finnikin watches as his homeland is conquered by an imposter king and the land cursed by a witch burned at the stake, his father imprisoned and his mother killed. For ten years he wanders in exile with his mentor, Sir Topher, the true King’s First Man, trying to find their people and a way to return to his land. After a prophetic dream, he is lead to a mute novice by the name of Evanjalin who claims that the heir to throne of the kingdom he loves is alive.

What makes this story so wonderful is the character of Evanjalin. You feel like you never fully know her: what her motivations are or what ends she’s trying to accomplish. At the same time, you never doubt that her ends are for a good purpose. She’s spirited, and while no trained fighter, she is not one to roll over at the sign of trouble either. She’s absolutely fantastic and really the reason for reading this book.

Also wonderful, and a reason to recommend the book, is a complete and utter lack of a love triangle. Seriously. This made me cheer. You know that Finnikin and Evanjalin will get together before they do, but there is no third party and their are no grand declarations of love until the end when it feels very convincing. In fact, if anything, Finnikin is reluctant to acknowledge his feelings and the reason for doing so feel very real. It’s absolutely refreshing.

This book is definitely a buy it for fans of the genre.

There a couple of sequels, focused a boy-thief named Froi. I’m not sure I’ll pick those up – he didn’t much for me in this novel, and blessedly Finnikin of the Rock is pretty well self-contained so don’t feel like you have to get roped into another trilogy if you’re feeling a bit weary of them.

Worst of 2013

Although it’s always fun to celebrate the best a year has given us, it’s hard to look behind us without taking a second glance at the things that made us sad, angry or generally disappointed. That’s what this list: it isn’t meant to author bash or to say that a story sucks. It’s just to reflect on what flat out didn’t work for me, and why that was. The main criteria I used for this list is that I gave it a “Don’t Bother or “Skip it” rating. All books on here are books I finished.

The division of this list isn’t quite as neat as my best of list, but again I’ll list titles in alphabetical order, separated by genre.

Adult Fiction

Broken Angel – by Sigmund Brouwer – It doesn’t matter the age range, bad dystopian novels occur at all levels. This is another novel whose secret you can figure out twenty pages; where the protagonist has no discernible personality,  and the world building has glimmers of interesting ideas that just don’t wind up getting developed. It’s ultimately a book that could have been so much more than it ultimately was.

The Painted Girls –  by Cathy Marie Buchanon – A book hyped up by the mainstream press, that left me wondering what I was missing. The characters aren’t that interesting and we really never see much of the ballet. If you didn’t tell us we were in Paris, I don’t know that you’d know. It was ultimately boring and just a miss for me.

Young Adult Fantasy

Allegiant (spoiler-free) and (spoiler-filled) – by Veronica Roth  -Okay. So “worst” is a bit overkill. Biggest disappointment is more likely. You can read my reviews for my full thoughts, but the long and the short of it is that this is a book that can serve as a textbook example of how over-explaining your central premise can utterly kill it. I always pictured Divergence as something akin to a strong-will, or maybe some kind of a sixth-sense. But no, the explanation we got, for me at least, was on the level of midichlorian of immersion-breaking. Throw in characters we don’t care about it and a needlessly confusing point of view shift and you have the biggest let down of the year.

Carnival of Souls – by Melissa Marr – Lazy. This book is lazy. There is no world building. More like…world outlining. We never see a single day in the life of these characters. We just know what we know of the world because we are told of it. Characters are flat, plot is miniscule, and the book is insultingly short in the service of trying to make you buy the sequel. To give you an idea, if this book were The Hunger Games, the book would start on the platform in the arena with 60 seconds on the timer and end with Rue’s death. No build up, no real conclusion. It feels half-baked and readers deserve better.

Illuminate – by Aimee Agresti – of all the books on this list, this book gets my nod for “so bad it’s good.” The framing device of this book not only requires a TON of suspension of disbelief, but also makes the adults look like as dumb as a box of rocks. The book gives away its own major “twist” on the cover, and what the cover doesn’t give away, names like Haven Terra and Dante do. It’s not a good a book, it really isn’t. But damn if it isn’t a compulsively enjoyable read. I still can’t honestly recommend this book, unless you’re looking for this kind of thing. Which you probably shouldn’t be.

Rampant – by Diana Peterfruend – A Buffy inspired tale of a unicorn slayer should have been more fun. But any merits this book had were ruined by the mother who may be one of the worst characters committed to the page. A woman so committed to living vicariously through her daughter that she disregards her daughters desires and dreams (not to mention the much more basic safety) and completely slut shames and blames her niece for getting raped. I still don’t understand what the author was thinking when she went this path, but one thing is certain: I will never read another of her books. I can’t. This one offended me that badly.

 

Best of 2013 and win a copy of Shadow and Bone by @LBardugo!

What would year-end for a blog look like without some kind of year-end retrospective? Fortunately, I am opinionated and I like making lists, so jump on the bandwagon shall I!

But first! In the Christmas spirit, I will be doing a giveaway for a paperback copy of Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo! By happy chance I have two copies of the book, so I thought why not share the love? The contest will last one week and is for U.S. readers only. Interested? Check out the giveaway here or click the image below!

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Now on to the good stuff.  These books represent the top ten percent of books I what read this year and naturally all books had a “buy it” recommendation. The list below is divided by genre.

Adult Fantasy

The Wise Man’s Fear (Kingkiller Chronicle #2)- by Patrick Rothfuss – When people discuss epic fantasy, it’s usually to talk about series like A Song of Fire and Ice (Game of Thrones) or maybe the Wheel of Time series. These books deserve to be in that same conversation. When I publish my Worst of 2013 list you’ll see that a common gripe is a lack of world building. This series has that in spades. The “magic” of the world is a rather clever mix of chemistry and magic and as a result, the world we get is less Medieval Times and perhaps what might have been had we had this system instead of the steam power and the industrial revolution. All of the characters are interesting; we get strong women. Kvothe sometimes skirts the line of a being a Stu, but he can be genuinely unlikable and most importantly there are consequences to his actions (even if don’t always get to see it). This series is not perfect, but the storytelling is so spot on and the world so compelling that you don’t care. This is epic fantasy at its finest, and anyone with a hint of interest in this sub-genre absolutely owes it to themselves to check it out.

Vicious – by V.E. Schwab – A book so good that it’s only be out for two months and it’s already been optioned by Ridley Scott’s production company. It’s a rare beast, a tale of powered characters that you really can’t call superheroes. There are no good guys here, only shades of grey. There is a ton of action here, and yet it’s almost a fascinating character study of what happens when you discover that power exists and find a way to harness that power. It’s an absolutely brilliant book and I really hope that it makes it to the silver screen. It absolutely deserves it.

Adult Fiction

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore – by Robin Sloan – This is a book written by a bibliophile for bibliophiles, especially late Gen-X and early Millennials who can remember a time without the internet and a world without bookstores was more or less unthinkable. This is a book to read when you just want to feel happy. The plot is lightweight, and the ending borders on sappy, but if you don’t feel warm and fuzzy after having read it, I will revoke your book lover’s card.

S. – by Doug Dorst  & J.J. Abrams – Yes, I just reviewed it. Yes, it deserves to be on this list. It’s a brave, wildly imaginative book whose production values match up to the grandness of the idea. It’s an amazing, tactile experience and anyone who loves good book owes it to themselves to pick it up.

Young Adult Fantasy

The Rithmatist – by Brandon Sanderson – Sanderson is a rare talent, capable of jumping between young adult (The Rithmatist, Steelheart) and adult (he helped finished The Wheel of Time series, people and his own Mistborn triology) with an easy that most authors aspire to, but never quite manage. Any of his books are worth your time and money, but there is something so immensely creative about a world where magic is literally chalk drawings brought to life and that teaches hard life lessons (no, you don’t always get to be the hero) and worthy life lessons (you may not get to be the hero, but if you work hard, study hard and put your heart into it you can accomplish a hell of a lot in life) without getting preachy or saccharine? It’s amazing. This is a bit on the younger end of YA fic, but honestly, it’s genuinely an all ages book. As an added bonus, the drawings are fantastic at illustrating the “magic.” A wonderful book all around I can’t wait to see a sequel.

Shadow and Bone (Grisha #1)- by Leigh Bardugo – I’m giving away a copy of this book! This should not be a surprise. 🙂 As you’ll see on my worst-of list, one of my biggest gripes with Young Adult genre fair is that world building is generally lazy, lacking or both, generally in favor of an insipid love triangle. This is none of those things. In fact, this is one of the YA books that really could be at home with the “adult” fantasy and fit right in. Alina is a fantastic female lead – smart, brave, grows into her confidence and willing to do what she needs to do. She’s not perfect, she can be uncertain and she has a good moral compass. The author even plays with the traditional YA love triangle – it’s there, but it’s decidedly not the focus and better still, it doesn’t define Alina. Seige and Storm is also excellent and it’s one of the few times in recent memory I find myself legitimately excited for the third and final installment of a YA series.

So there you have it, my top six books! Look forward to hearing your favorites! Don’t forget to enter to win 🙂