Did Not Finish – Mortal Danger by Ann Aguire

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ARC received as giveaway from the publisher

Summary:

In Ann Aguirre’s Mortal Danger, Edie Kramer has a score to settle with the beautiful people at Blackbriar Academy. Their cruelty drove her to the brink of despair, and four months ago, she couldn’t imagine being strong enough to face her senior year. But thanks to a Faustian compact with the enigmatic Kian, she has the power to make the bullies pay. She’s not supposed to think about Kian once the deal is done, but devastating pain burns behind his unearthly beauty, and he’s impossible to forget.

In one short summer, her entire life changes and she sweeps through Blackbriar, prepped to take the beautiful people down from the inside. A whisper here, a look there, and suddenly . . . bad things are happening. It’s a head rush, seeing her tormentors get what they deserve, but things that seem too good to be true usually are, and soon, the pranks and payback turns from delicious to deadly. Edie is alone in a world teeming with secrets and fiends lurking in the shadows. In this murky morass of devil’s bargains, she isn’t sure who—or what—she can trust. Not even her own mind.

Review:

Two DNF in one month? I know, I know. I’m honestly not that happy about it either, but I’ve become firm in my desire to not waste time on books that just aren’t cutting it for me and this is one of those books. But, in my defense, remember in my post for The Mirror Empire I mentioned a blogger who had spent 18 days on a book and hadn’t known how she felt? This was that book. I received an ARC at the Fierce Reads tour and since another blogger was asking if anyone genuinely liked it I decided to give it a shot. It’s the second book I picked up from that event that dealt with teenagers and bullying and the desire to get even.

Brutal Youth may have been a very dark and very difficult read, but those characters were oh-so-very human and you wanted them to get out of their situation and thrive, so when they didn’t really, it’s pretty devastating.

Aguire forgot to make Edie likable.

I don’t know what happened here, but Aguire just missed the boat entirely. She is judgmental: after obtaining her beautiful new body through her little deal, she meets a girl named Viola at the summer school program she goes to. She says to herself that she wishes she could tell the girl that she used to be a “before picture” too. Ouch. Before pictures, by their very definition have negative connotations. For her first thoughts to of this girl as one? Not cool. Add in some thoughts about how she used to be “that girl” and I don’t know how much I necessarily trust Edie’s friendship with her. It’s just not a good vibe. Beyond that, she tries to tell us that her academic parents (both are college profs) are too stupid to get that she couldn’t have acquired this body over the summer through normal means because they aren’t athletically inclined. Um. What? How else are going to people react when they send away one person and get a completely new person back? Nervous laughter is a way of trying to cope with something that is otherwise inexplicable.  Okay, Carrie, but you’re over reacting, you say?

Fine.

Edie is also a bully.

The second she puts her feet back on campus all she can think of is how she can humiliate her tormentors. One guy tells her something, asks her not to tell, and then like the next day she’s telling that thing to another so the rumor will spread throughout the school. From outcast to Mean Girl in two seconds flat. That’s not someone I want to root for, especially because the way her mindset so rapidly shifts, it makes you wonder how she might have been had she been one of the pretty girls from the outset. Also not explained: she’s pretty, but still has no wealth. Shouldn’t she still have been outcast? Schools like that, money really DOES talk. Maybe she wouldn’t have been picked on as much, but she’d still be an outsider. Trust me. I was in her shoes once and even in the 4th grade I was well aware that I was one of the have nots and we were our own little group.

Anyway.

Hand-in-hand with the unlikable bits is the insta-love with Kian. On the one hand, had it been one sided, I could have bought it. After all, Edie was supposed to have been bullied and here Kian, a handsome guy, is paying her all kind of attention. But no. He’s equally smitten and talks of bringing what he sees on the inside, out. Ugh.

Did I mention Edie is special? That the bad-guys in charge of making the deal (some kind of Wolfram and Hart knock-off) have something in mind for Edie and that “the opposition” have it out for her too?

Sigh.

This just isn’t working for me. Maybe had we seen more of what drove her to this point, I might be more sympathetic but as it stands, I just don’t care about her. And I’m not going to spend more time reading about her.

Like I said, you really want to look at bullying and the impact it can have, go check out Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican. There may be no Faustian deals being made, but the characters there are strong enough to fight back without needing one.

Review: Daughter of Chaos (Red Magic #1)

21953444Book purchased by me

Summary:

There comes a time in every witch’s life when she must choose her path. Darlena’s friends have already chosen, so why is it so hard for her to make up her mind? Now, Darlena is out of time. Under pressure from Hecate, the queen of all witches, Darlena makes a rash decision to choose Red magic, a path no witch in her right mind would dare take. As a Red witch, she will be responsible for chaos and mayhem, drawing her deep into darkness. Will the power of Red magic prove too much for Darlena, or will she learn to control it before it’s too late?

Review:

Daughter of Chaos is a solid indie work that’s a light read with an interesting premise. In this world, magic is predominantly arranged around the Trine: Black, White and Green magic. The three schools are pretty straight forward: White magic focuses on healing and healing others, Green is more about nature and balance and Black obviously about the more destructive forces. Darlena (a name that isn’t my favorite, my mind kept going to the ship name of Dalena from The Vampire Diaries and I can’t but feel that Dalena sounds better, but I digress) can’t decide which path she’s called too – well past the point where most have already decided. Finally, Hecate, Queen of the Witches shows up in her house and demands she chooses. In a moment of flippancy, she declares for Red magic, thinking it all made up.

Instead, as the summary helpfully advises us, it is path that exists and now Goddesses that control Red Magic – like Aphrodite, Hecate, Kali and Pele all want her to Dedicate her magic to them, and serve in their cause.

Red Witches are extremely rare and extremely powerful – only three ever exist at once. And so, she tries to figure out what Red magic is, and tries to keep herself and her family safe in the process.

The book is not without flaws, most notably there’s a friend who betrays her, and you can guess who in about two seconds flat and the character goes so far off the deep end you wonder if she was ever sane to begin with because the author just didn’t take the time to develop this fully.

I also feel like these meetings with the various deities don’t feel particularly special. Even her mother has met her patron Goddess and it’s all rather downplayed like it’s no big deal and that doesn’t sit right, because at the end of the day, they ARE gods.

Finally, Darlena has these moments where she feels blood thirsty and the like – moments that are out of character and don’t really make full sense? I guess it’s supposed to be Red Magic manifesting itself in her, but a bit more explanation might have been nice.

All told, it was a fun little read and if it’s something that sounds like it’d be up your alley, you’d probably enjoy it.

Verdict: A solid borrow it.

ARC Review: City of Stairs – Robert Jackson Bennett

9780804137171_b5222eARC provided through Edelweiss in exchange for fair review.

Summary:

A densely atmospheric and intrigue-filled fantasy novel of living spies, dead gods, buried histories, and a mysterious, ever-changing city-from one of America’s most acclaimed young SF writers.

Years ago, the city of Bulikov wielded the powers of the Gods to conquer the world. But after its divine protectors were mysteriously killed, the conqueror has become the conquered; the city’s proud history has been erased and censored, progress has left it behind, and it is just another colonial outpost of the world’s new geopolitical power. Into this musty, backward city steps Shara Divani. Officially, the quiet mousy woman is just another lowly diplomat sent by Bulikov’s oppressors. Unofficially, Shara is one of her country’s most accomplished spymasters-dispatched to investigate the brutal murder of a seemingly harmless historian. As Shara pursues the mystery through the ever-shifting physical and political geography of the city, she begins to suspect that the beings who once protected Bulikov may not be as dead as they seem-and that her own abilities might be touched by the divine as well.

Review:

Okay. So this is going to sound a bit strange, but truly, I mean it as high compliment:

This book felt like historical fiction.

There. I said it.

Oh, the element of the Divine does make it notably fantastic, but this world is so incredibly well developed that I feel like if Europe had taken a different course, this could be a history text, as opposed to a novel. This book easily has one of the most developed mythologies, and in turn, histories that I can remember in quite some time. And that’s a good thing. I’d absolutely love to dig into the world more and just read the texts and explore. The concept of the Divine City is just too fantastic to not want to go play in.

Speaking of history, can I say that I love that our heroine was able to do what needed to be done because she studied history. Instead of being content to ignore it like so much of Saypur, she reveled in her access to it and it gave her the knowledge needed to understand the world around her. Awesome.

I also like the idea that Bennett plays with the thought of is religion such a good thing. Both sides of the argument have their pluses and their minus and he does a good balancing act of never really making a judgement, leaving it up to the reader to decide.

And finally – and really, it’s kind of amazing that this is a finally. The characters are all awesome. Shara is Hermoine-like in her intelligence and her knowledge, but never comes off as a know-it-all. Sigrud is absolutely awesome and a good take on the ‘stoic bruiser’ archtype. There really aren’t any wasted characters here. They all feel distinctive and I like that all the antagonists all feel believable and avoid feeling over the top or too cliched.

As I sit here typing, I’m trying to think if there is anything negative I want to say, and I find myself scratching my head. I’ve got nothing.

This is probably the best book I’ve read since The Waking Engine and it will surely wind up on my best of list. Just like that book, it may be a bit Your Mileage May Vary, but if you’re looking for fantasy that’s genuinely smart and not just action or sword and sorcery. Give this a look. It shouldn’t disappoint.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: September 9th

ARC Review- Vault of Dreamers – Caragh M. O’Brien

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eARC provided by publisher through NetGalley in exchange for fair review

Summary:

From the author of the Birthmarked trilogy comes a fast-paced, psychologically thrilling novel about what happens when your dreams are not your own.

The Forge School is the most prestigious arts school in the country. The secret to its success:  every moment of the students’ lives is televised as part of the insanely popular Forge Show, and the students’ schedule includes twelve hours of induced sleep meant to enhance creativity. But when first year student Rosie Sinclair skips her sleeping pill, she discovers there is something off about Forge. In fact, she suspects that there are sinister things going on deep below the reaches of the cameras in the school. What’s worse is, she starts to notice that the edges of her consciousness do not feel quite right. And soon, she unearths the ghastly secret that the Forge School is hiding—and what it truly means to dream there.

Review:

Plus side – this book drew me in enough to get me really going again after a slight bit of burn out.

Down side – um. The rest? Honestly, the book as whole was just kind of okay.

I will give O’Brien credit. While I’m kind of tired of using some kind of reality show aspect in books – no one is going to top The Hunger Games in terms of its scathing satire or commentary – but it’s used decently enough here. It gives a rather loner Rosie a reason to interact with her classmates and a way to keep her classmates clued in on the action, even though she spends large chunks of the book alone or near alone. The problem is, the rest of the book just has this sense of “needs more development time” to it.

For example, one of the prime rules of the school is that students are allowed to be awake from 6 am to 6 pm. At 6 pm they take a sleeping pill and begin the day anew. And these kids – all teenagers mind never fight this rule? Like, ever? Ever?I don’t care that it’s a rule. These are teenagers! I honestly can’t believe that more of them aren’t faking taking their pill so they sneak out and go somewhere. I know that on the face of it, it’s something you can just accept, but human nature! And this book is barely set 50 years ahead. Forgive me for not buying into the idea that teenage rebellion has been wiped out.

On a broader scale, a lot of the problems I have with the book come from the great mystery that Rosie is trying to solve. Without describing what the big secret is (and this is one of those books where you’ll figure out what’s going on before the character does), I can just say that the why be hind it leaves you feeling a bit “oh” and a bit “huh?” when we finally get back to tying all the events together.

The biggest issue though, is that ending. It’s horribly rushed, a bit confusing and unfortunately, it ends on a cliffhanger. I kind of wish that O’Brien would have had the courage to make it stand-alone. The bad guy definitely got the upper hand here, and seeing a YA title end without the MC winning would have felt very fresh, as it isn’t something one normally sees in adult, let alone YA. As it stands, I’m not sure whether she intends to make this a duology or a trilogy or where she could be going with it next and I don’t think I’m particularly interested in finding out either.

Ultimately, there was potential, but it didn’t quite hit for me. Curious, I went and checked out Good Reads to find out what others were saying, and this book is definitely divisive, with just as many people hating it as loving it. I’m sort of in the middle. It was certainly a fast read for me, but it left me feeling kind of cold. It’ll be interesting to see how reviews for the book shake out overtime. I think O’Brien took a bit of a risk here, and it just didn’t quite pay off.

Verdict: Skip it

Available: September 16

Did Not Finish – Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

20646731eARC provided by the publisher in exchange for fair review

Summary:

On the eve of a recurring catastrophic event known to extinguish nations and reshape continents, a troubled orphan evades death and slavery to uncover her own bloody past… while a world goes to war with itself.

In the frozen kingdom of Saiduan, invaders from another realm are decimating whole cities, leaving behind nothing but ash and ruin.

As the dark star of the cataclysm rises, an illegitimate ruler is tasked with holding together a country fractured by civil war, a precocious young fighter is asked to betray his family and a half-Dhai general must choose between the eradication of her father’s people or loyalty to her alien Empress.

Through tense alliances and devastating betrayal, the Dhai and their allies attempt to hold against a seemingly unstoppable force as enemy nations prepare for a coming together of worlds as old as the universe itself.

In the end, one world will rise – and many will perish.

Review:

I’m back! It was funny, once I gave myself the permission to slow down in my reading, I started getting the itch to read again within hours. I picked up the book again and I did start getting into it a little more than I had from before I declared my break. But as I kept going, I felt myself slowing down again and I began to wonder whether it was me or the book. A funny thing happened then: another blogger tweeted how it’d taken 18 days to finish a particular book, and aside from the ending she didn’t know how she felt about it.

My first reaction was “holy shit – 18 days?!” as a blogger, that’s practically an eternity. I’m averaging about 10 books a month right, or roughly one every three days. To take that long is inconceivable. But I realized that was the path I was heading on. The second thing that struck me is that take that long meant that she might have respected the book enough to continue on, but she wasn’t enjoying it. There was something that was keeping her from connecting, or else it wouldn’t have taken that long to get through it. And something was keeping me from connecting with this book, or I wouldn’t have felt such apathy towards continuing on.

I wanted to make it through. I wanted to like this book. Hurley just picked up two Hugo awards and this book has gotten a lot of praise. And I can see why too – there’s some good stuff here. The magic system is interesting (though perhaps could be a bit more defined), the world feels alive in dangerous and the play with traditional gender roles (and even genders). Because of that I want to still encourage people to give this book a look. It’s not working for me, but it’s so unique in today’s epic fantasy landscape that I can’t not pass word along.

Give it a shot. It may not be my book, but it still could be yours.

Baby Hiatus

Hey everyone!

The past few days I’ve been trying to read Kameron Hurley’s The Mirror Empire and haven’t been able to get engaged. Part of me was wondering if it was the book, but another part of me felt like it was me. I love to read on the weekends, but I couldn’t be bothered.

Burn out.

I get like this a couple of times a year and the best thing to do is to just step back. I’ve decided to take this week off from reading and try again next weekend.

I’ll se ya on the flip side!

YA Movie Review: The Giver

As you probably don’t recall, my initial interest in seeing this film was Alexander Skarsgard. I’m a Trubie and quite frankly, the book was written while I was in middle school, so it was never required reading for me. After the kerfuffle of the first trailer came about, I decided to go ahead and read the book then, as opposed to waiting until after I’d seen the film like I’d originally planned to. I really did enjoy the book. I liked the ambiguity of it, and found it to be a thoughtful meditation on emotion and what it means to be human. I also instantly worried that the book was essentially unfilmable – a side effect of the fact that it is such an internal book with almost no action to speak of.

So now that I’ve seen it, how did it turn out?

Eh.

On the one hand, the film is simply beautiful to look at. The art direction here is fabulous, and color was used incredibly wisely, especially towards the end of the film as you’re shifting perspectives from someone like Jonas or The Giver to someone who still doesn’t have feeling and there are quick and subtle cuts back and forth between color and black and white.

Jeff Bridges was great in his role – he had the gravitas needed for his role. The other adults did well enough here, though Meryl Streep’s Elder was more menacing and generic dystopian villain than she had been in the original book. Taylor Swift’s Rosemary had such a tiny (easily less than five minutes of screen time) part in the film that it wasn’t until the film had ended that it even occurred to me that that was her. She should not dissuade you from seeing the film. As for Alexander Skarsgard, he played the fatherly figure quite well – not that it’s a surprise, he was amazing as a unwilling father figure in What Maisie Knew. If you’re going to see it just for him, I’d probably say a matinee/wait for discounted showings, he isn’t in it enough to justify seeing the film by himself. As for the kids? Yeah….Brenton Thwaites and Odeya Rush both felt a bit on the wooden side, though Odeya was the better of the two. Cameron Monaghan’s Asher may as well not have even been in the movie if it weren’t for the fact that he was needed for that finale. Speaking of…

The film is pretty faithful to the book for a good chunk of the film, except that they greatly downplayed the pain that being The Receiver of Memories is – you hear the rule about not taking pain killers but never get any explanation as to why. The worst pain he suffers was a bee sting, a rather far cry from the books. Where they botched it all up though was that ending. Oy. That ending. The book was incredibly ambiguous and you really don’t know what becomes of Jonas or the baby. It’s all left up in the air. The movie though, you can’t have that. Oh no.  They need something more definitive, more concrete. And it’s stupid. It’s the new ending that gives this film that funny feeling of Sameness (pun intended) compared to YA dystopian films based off of modern properties and worse still, it makes everything kind of fall apart when you realize how stupid this all it – it breaks down the carefully constructed suspension of disbelief that the viewer has built up over the film. It kind of ruined it for me, actually.  After I give my verdict, I’ll go into some spoilers for those are curious. Oh, and the romance between Jonas and Fiona is built up a bit, but it neither made nor broke the film for me. Most of it winds up tying into the ending so how you feel about it might be more tied to that than anything else.

Overall, this is a middling adaptation at best, because of that ending. It is certainly better than the trainwrecks that were Beautiful Creatures or The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, but not better than the solid, if unremarkable Vampire Academy adaptation. If you’re a fan of the book, you probably won’t want to spend more than a matinee ticket on it. If it caught your eye, but you haven’t read the book yet, hold off until you’ve seen it, you may it enjoy it more that way.

Okay. If you’re spoiler free and want to stay away, now’s the time to move along. Because it’s spoiler time.

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