ARC Review – Under My Skin (Immortality Strain #1) by Shawntell Madison

23382840eARC provided by NetGalley in exchange for fair review

Summary:

Everyone wants to either be a member of the Guild or work for them. Little does the populace know that the Guild hides sinister secrets…

For Tate Sullivan, life in her small, coastal town is far from glamorous. The affluent lives of the Guild members and their servants isn’t something she has ever wanted. But all sixteen year-olds must take a simple test, and Tate’s result thrusts her into the Guild’s world, one where they hide horrible plans for those they select. Tate must fight the relentless General Dagon for control of her mind, body, and soul to keep the one precious thing she has always taken for granted: herself.

Her only ally is the same handsome boy she is pitted against in General Dagon’s deadly game. Quinn desires nothing more than to end the life of General Dagon who has taken over Tate’s mind. While romance blooms between Tate and Quinn, General Dagon plots to eventually take over Tate’s body, and love might end before it even begins.

Review:

Oh book, I wanted to like you. You easily have the most interesting idea I’ve seen for a YA dystopian in ages, and for a self-published title, you are polished to a T and proof that self-published titles can easily sit side-by-side with books from the big publishers.

On the other hand, you squander your idea by completely and utterly under-developing it. This book raises so many questions: if everyone wants to at least work for the Guild, then shouldn’t it be common knowledge that your family gets a stipend if you get chosen? Whatever happened to the people we met at the facility who got chosen, but who weren’t bid upon? Did they get to put to work as janitors or were they killed? The Guild’s secret to immortality is body hopping in vessels like Tates, but it seems like Tate was wearing out pretty damn fast. If a body only lasted a year or two at most before they had to jump again, what kind of system is that? And if bodies last longer than that, why wasn’t it made clear that she was an exception, not a rule? I get that it’s set-up for future books, but it’s kind of important for understanding how this whole thing works. Speaking of body jumping, wouldn’t people notice? Like how did no one question that General Dagon suddenly has a daughter named Elsie or is the conspiracy so vast that the common person just doesn’t even know that it’s going on? How does Tate protect herself so damn well when the other vessels fell so quick? She have partial immunity to the virus or is it just because the plot demands? How does getting shocked by a machine once suddenly let you be able to “feel” who would make a good host? If Dagon is so good at controlling bodies he’s taken over, shouldn’t they have assumed that he was letting her do whatever she wanted? Why is there a Resistance any way? They seem to serve little purpose in this world other than to help explain things to Tate, we certainly see no other impact on the world at large.

You see how this is problematic.

Aside from the sense that all of this happening because the author wants it to happen this way, there isn’t much else to talk about. Tate is your generic YA heroine: loves her parents, loves her cousin, intelligent and plucky, determined to stand up to The Man. Her relationship to Quinn is less love and more Stockholm Syndrome. There’s nothing between them that can ever be constituted as romance; it’s all business between them. It’s difficult to shake the feeling that any emotions she develops for him are out of the fact that a) he’s handsome b) not a creep and c) the only guy even close to her age in the compound.

Overall, I feel like there’s promise here, but the premise just proved too elusive for the author to wrap her head around in a way that doesn’t eventually make you start questioning it – and considering this is only the first book in a series, you have to have a more solid foundation to work on.

This was a fun book, until things completely fell apart for me, and ultimately my enjoyment of much of book wasn’t enough to overcome the rather series problems with it later on.

Verdict: Skip it

Available: Today.

Review: Perfect Ruin (The Internment Chronicles #1) – Lauren DeStefano

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Summary:

On the floating city of Internment, you can be anything you dream, unless you approach the edge. Morgan Stockhour knows getting too close can lead to madness, like her older brother Len, a Jumper. She takes solace in her best friend Pen, and in Basil, the boy she’s engaged to marry. When she investigates the first murder in a generation, she meets Judas. The suspect was betrothed to the victim, but Morgan believes he is innocent. Nothing can prepare Morgan for the secrets she will find – or whom she will lose.

Review:

I came to own this book in a rather circuitous fashion. I remember considering picking up Wither, but then deciding the premise was just too absurd for me to even want to give it a chance. I started following her around the end of the year, when a blogger friend got her to RT my Shadow and Bone giveaway – she’s a huge Leigh Bardugo fan (which is awesome). I stayed following her because I started to genuinely enjoy her twitter feed. She’s geeky, she’s funny and chill. So when this went on sale around the same time, I finally decided to give it a shot.

And?

Well. We’ll always have Twitter.

This is one of those books that just didn’t work for me. The whole concept of Internment didn’t work for me. I know that people seem to like to label this as a dystopia, but I honestly don’t see it. Hunger Games was clearly dystopic – the Capitol lived a ridiculously hedonistic life-style at the expense of those in the Districts (and never mind that little tourney of theres). Divergent was clearly dystopic – you had your factions and if you couldn’t form well enough, you were sentenced to a life of miserable homelessness and depended on Abnegation for scraps of food. This though? If it weren’t on a freaking floating rock, it’d feel like a small gated community in modern America. Well, if that gated community had bizarre physics that blinded you or turned you epileptic if you tried to jump for Reasons. We won’t go into the whole “there is enough freaking power to keep a giant rock a float in the air, but not enough to keep electricity on/off for 24/7” bit either.

Also, speaking of Reasons, there’s the whole “let’s make the women into semi-second class-citizens!” nonsense. There’s a line where Morgan thinks about how soon one day she’ll be responsible for pressing Basil’s shirts and buying the soap she likes. She also mentions how until she’s the property of her husband, she’s the property of the educators. No real reason for that. Or the betrothal at birth. Or the creepy exchange of blood-filled rings at marriage. Or the bizarre “your partner dies young you can never have another one. EVER” never mind there are others who have lost THEIR loves young and are now not connected to anyone.

Okay then.

Stefano took the time to create a religion about the Sky God, but it’s nothing that spectacular.

I don’t know. The whole thing just felt…off. I applaud DeStefano for not even aiming for the triangle crap that fills YA (I liked how the girls did actually love their boyfriends, that was sweet), but the conspiracy felt old hat and nothing was that surprising. People stuck in a place will try and find a way out. It’s human nature. Implying that her mom had a roll in the rebellion by drawing lightning bolts and rainbows (but Morgan not knowing what they are) felt not unlike learning what Tris’ mother did in Insurgent. There’s just no surprise there.

The book was an easy enough read, but there isn’t enough here here to make me want to check out the next one, nor her other series Wither.  Ultimately, this is just another filler entry in the overstuffed YA dystopia genre.

Verdict: Skip It. The world of Internment isn’t interesting enough to make up for the lackluster story.

 

Review: The Giver (The Giver #1) by Lois Lowry

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Summary:

Jonas’ world is perfect. Everything is under control. There is no war or fear or pain. There are no choices. Every person is assigned a role in the Community. When Jonas turns twelve, he is singled out to receive special training from The Giver. The Giver alone holds the memories of the true pain and pleasure of life. Now, it is time for Jonas to receive the truth. There is no turning back.

Review:

Goddamn it, Alexander Skarsgard, you finally make a second movie that I’m willing to see (insert plug here for the excellent What Maisie Knew) and when I finally read the source material, it makes me weep.

Why?

Why does this movie exist?

This book is lovely and quiet. It’s basically a book of moments, a book of discovery of simple things like color and emotion; things that we take for granted. If anything, I’d say this book is almost unfilmable. Oh, sure there are ways it could be it done – certainly many expected this to be in black-and-white with gradual reveal of color (like a more gradual Wizard of Oz) – but still, outside of the memories that have been passed along, there is very little action here. And when there is action, it’s certainly not action in the modern movie sense. There is some stealth…then nothing. This book has no real conclusion. There is no uprising. There is no battle. Jonas has no love interest. This is a book of moments, and I can’t see how they’d turn it into a film, especially since, despite being a quartet, there are no true sequels.

I appreciate how long it took to get this made, and I can understand why Bridges wanted it to be made, and why people have such fondness for the book . But. Sigh. It’s going to be one of those movies, isn’t it?

I’ll try and hold out hope, but I honestly can’t see how a faithful adaptation will be made based on what we have seen. I guess time will tell.

In the mean time, go read the book. It’s simple, it’s effective, and I can see why so many hold such high regard for it. And you can easily it pick it up for $5 or less, it’s a no brainer.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now (Film out 8/15/2014)

Fire and Flood – Victoria Scott

16069167An e-arc was provided by Net Galley for a fair review

Summary:

A modern day thrill ride, where a teen girl and her animal companion must participate in a breathtaking race to save her brother’s life—and her own.

Tella Holloway is losing it. Her brother is sick, and when a dozen doctors can’t determine what’s wrong, her parents decide to move to Montana for the fresh air. She’s lost her friends, her parents are driving her crazy, her brother is dying—and she’s helpless to change anything.

Until she receives mysterious instructions on how to become a Contender in the Brimstone Bleed. It’s an epic race across jungle, desert, ocean, and mountain that could win her the prize she desperately desires: the Cure for her brother’s illness. But all the Contenders are after the Cure for people they love, and there’s no guarantee that Tella (or any of them) will survive the race.

The jungle is terrifying, the clock is ticking, and Tella knows she can’t trust the allies she makes. And one big question emerges: Why have so many fallen sick in the first place?

Review:

It’s no real secret that I wasn’t a fan of The Collector. While I thought the book had one or two decent ideas, anything good was counter-balanced by the fact that I hated the protagonist. My dislike of him was so strong that I wondered if that was coloring the way I was viewing the rest of the book and I wanted to give the author a second chance.

And so I did, by giving this new series a look.

Sadly, it was not enough to sway me.

I’ll state the obvious here: this is clearly inspired by The Hunger Games. The author does mix it up a bit – every contestant gets a Pandora (an animal companion) bred to help them survive the contest and most of the contestants aren’t actively out trying to kill each other, but the bones are still pretty plainly obvious and this book just can’t live up to what is quickly becoming a seminal series in YA fiction.  And there are a couple of reasons for this:

First, Tella is no Katniss Everdeen. She is almost the anti-Katniss. In her own words:

“How stupid could I have been? I left without telling my family where I was going, got on a train to a city that doesn’t exist, and swallowed a foreign object.”

Don’t forget that she seriously considered packing a bottle of nail polish for this trek, or that she didn’t think to demand of her parents to know what was up since clearly they knew. She ran into this blind, and then later gets pissed at the anonymous “they” who are “doing this to her” even though she essentially volunteered herself for a race that she knew nothing about. I had a conversation with another blogger about Tella, and the blogger appreciated Tella’s shallowness as a “flaw.” It is a flaw, but it isn’t an interesting one. It’s one that makes me question her sanity when, a solid week into the race when everyone has been traipsing through the jungle and are filthy and probably reeking of body odor, that she is so jealous of another Contender’s beauty that she “could be friends…if I weren’t so overwhelmed with the urge to end her.” Are her priorities that mixed up? While I don’t out and out hate her the way I did Dante, I find this flaw makes me hard to sympathize with her. She does grow stronger through the book, and I do find that her growth is believable in a way that Dante’s wasn’t, I still just wasn’t able to connect with her. Maybe it’s because this entire situation was avoidable. She didn’t have to do this. Had she known what she was getting into and then volunteered herself it’d packed more punch because it really would have felt like a genuine sacrifice and not just the move of a stubborn and defiant teenager – which is exactly what her actions were.

The other major problem is the world building, or lack there of. We get no sense of time, nor place, nor society that we live in. The answers to the most basic questions about this race are quite given pages from the end of this first book. The set up is better than some set-ups (like say, the Maze Runner) but still decidedly lacks the punch of something like Hunger Games.

Finally, the ending is a bit abrupt because they clearly wanted to make this at least two books. I’m still not a fan of this practice and if it bothers you as much as it can me, it may be another strike against the book. It does at least end in a logical spot, so it doesn’t feel completely abrupt.

If I’m honest with myself, a lot of the issues I have with this book were also present in The Collector. It’s just that I can see them more clearly because I don’t have a target for my dislike. At this point, I have to call it like it is: Victoria Scott is not the author for me. The lackluster world building and teenage to the nth degree teenagers make it too difficult for me to get invested in her stories.

Verdict: Again, as with The Collector, diehard fans of Hunger Games-type books might enjoy this one, but most can probably safely Skip It.

Available: February 25th

Frozen: Heart of Dread #1

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Summary:

Welcome to New Vegas, a city once covered in bling, now blanketed in ice. Like much of the destroyed planet, the place knows only one temperature—freezing. But some things never change. The diamond in the ice desert is still a 24-hour hedonistic playground and nothing keeps the crowds away from the casino floors, never mind the rumors about sinister sorcery in its shadows.

At the heart of this city is Natasha Kestal, a young blackjack dealer looking for a way out. Like many, she’s heard of a mythical land simply called “the Blue.” They say it’s a paradise, where the sun still shines and the waters are turquoise. More importantly, it’s a place where Nat won’t be persecuted, even if her darkest secret comes to light.

But passage to the Blue is treacherous, if not impossible, and her only shot is to bet on a ragtag crew of mercenaries led by a cocky runner named Ryan Wesson to take her there. Danger and deceit await on every corner, even as Nat and Wes find themselves inexorably drawn to each other. But can true love survive the lies? Fiery hearts collide in this fantastic tale of the evil men do and the awesome power within us all.

Review:

I can see why people like this book, really. The frozen post-apocalyptic setting and action centered on the sea really are fairly unique for this genre. And in this regard it’s a fairly run…if you absolutely avoid thinking about this book as you read it. Because once you do? It’s over.

The biggest problem this novel has is that the world isn’t even half-baked. It feels like the authors didn’t really spend the time to develop this world, but more just jotted down some things on paper and ran with it in its most basic form and there a lot of things I can point to to suggest this.

1. The book seems uncertain of when its set. Contemporary references abound (like Nat makes a joke about Wes’ last name (Wesson, and it’s the name of a cooking oil) or how the zomies are called thrillers; yet this is a world where literacy is “at its lowest point” (people use something called TXTlish instead), there are no scientists and the world has forgotten how to repair machines of old. The references suggest this should be fairly close to modern day, but the things I point out suggest that we’ve probably had several generations pass since the whatever cataclysm befell this place.

2. The authors continually contradict themselves. The author mentions that petroleum is pretty much something you can only get if you have a military hook-up, yet these people use a hummer to escape – and manage to have enough gas to drive from Las Vegas to the coast. Los Angeles was destroyed, but they visit Korea town (which is in Los Angeles). People have forgotten how to repair things, yet Wes and other smugglers have boats that have been modified and upgraded. Wouldn’t that go hand in hand with repairs? And if there are no scientists (and presumably no engineers) how do they have tech (like the enclosed cities) that doesn’t exist today? And so on.

3. We know there were “wars” and a “great flood” and that there is some kind of authoritarian regime in place. That’s it. We lack any and all details. The only thing we know about the regime of the world they live in is that they a) regulate sex b) apparently don’t care that kids under 16 are in the army and gambling c) are violent.

Worst still, and I hate saying this, but even one of the draws of the book – the magical nature of the protagonist, hinted at from page one – feels like a gimmick and a plot device more than a full fleshed out feature of the world. I say this because…well…it is. The gist is that Nat has powers, but apparently has no control over them. Doesn’t know how to activate them, doesn’t know how to use them, doesn’t know what they are and so forth. So when do they come to play? When the plot needs it. The first part of the book, she needs credits to hire someone to take her to the Blue, boom. Powers activate. She’s in life or death peril at the hands of one of Wes’ crew members? Powers activate. The bad guys look like they’re going to win…yeah. You see what I’m starting to get at? Uncontrolled powers can be a viable plot device (look at Harry Potter!) but the key is they really do have to feel uncontrolled, not that they just show up when it’s needed.

Aside from all that, you also know that she’s going to fall in love with Wes and that they’re keeping secrets from each other and blah, blah, blah. If you’ve read any amount of young adult fantasy, it’s going to feel old hat to you.

On a technical side, there is some questionable editing going on in this book. The worst offender in this book was a line, and I quote “She began to associate the sweet smell of jasmine with the putrid stink of decripitude.” Decripitude may be a real noun, but it absolutely not the right noun for this situation (she was describing the odor coming from a ‘trashberg’) and honestly feels like thesaurus abuse.

Finally, the attempts at social commentary are quite frankly, laughable. The author hits you over the head with the environmental themes, and the TXTlish is so ridiculous you can’t even take it seriously. This only works if your own work is smart, and this really isn’t.

I’ve seen one or two posts on Goodreads suggest that this was really less a collaboration between Melissa de la Cruz and her husband Michael Johnston and more his book with her name placed on the cover to boost name recognition and sales. I really do hope that that is the case, because as a first introduction to this author, it’s horrible and I can’t see how her Witches of East End made it to television if this is indicative of her writing.

Verdict: Skip it.

Availability: Available Now

Good Reads 63: The Farm (#bookishchristmas)

Earlier this year I was tooling around twitter and happened to catch tweet advertising #bookishchristmas being hosted by @oh_chrys of Oh, Chrys!. What was it? A Secret Santa gift exchange for book bloggers. I got the Christmas bug early and eagerly signed up. You could request whatever you wanted, so I stuck with my favorites: fantasy, paranormal and dystopian and asked for either adult or young adult, so that I’d give gifter a lot to choose from.

And what did I get from @KaylaDeGroote (The Bibliophilic Nerds)?

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The Farm, by Emily McKay – a young adult dystopia story with vampires. Awesome, right? Eh…

Unfortunately, this book is one of those titles where the premise sounds cool, but the author just doesn’t execute. The story and characters are largely unremarkable and don’t leave an impact, except maybe the autistic Mel, whom I’ll get to in a moment.

Before I go further, here’s the main blurb on the back of the book:

“Life was different in the Before: before vampires began devouring humans in a swarm across America; before the surviving young people were rounded up and quarantined. These days, we know what those quarantines are – holding pens where human blood is turned into more food for the undead monsters, known as Ticks. Surrounded by electrical fences, most kids try to survive the Farms by turning on each other…

And when trust is a thing of the past, escape is nearly impossible.”

See that line that I bolded? Someone at the publishing company grabbed onto that line, and immediately thought HUNGER GAMES! Why? Because the blurb on the front of the book says:

“Equal parts Resident Evil and Hunger Games – and just as thrilling.”

Man did that set me up for disappointment. When they invoked Hunger Games, I got this image in my mind of teens fighting each other, fighting for the right to not be vampire chow. What do we actually get? Collaborators. Teens turned prison guards over their fellow captives for perks and the right to continue to survive. That’s not Hunger Games. That’s human nature. That’s exactly what happened in the Nazi concentration camps. There is literally nothing else that you could claim was Hunger Games inspired here – that series certainly didn’t invent the dystopian genre.

As for Resident Evil? That’s an equal stretch. There technically is a company behind the Ticks, but the novel quite literally spends three lines on this, so it’s hard to know how culpable they really are. They certainly aren’t the main bad guy. There are no zombies and Lily only wishes she was Jill Valentine.

That’s actually another problem with this book: we never actually meet the main bad guy! We get a name (Roberto) but we never see him. The book is largely spent running from the mindless Ticks (think the feral vampires from the manhwa/film Priest) and a man known as the Dean, whom, while bad, doesn’t really feel like a villain but more like a henchman, which he pretty much is. We really learn much about Roberto, other than the reason he is after Lily, but that’s it. It ultimately doesn’t create that much tension. They just seem to be running because it’s a smart thing to do.

As for the characters? They exist. You don’t particularly care for either Lily or Carter. Lily, in a guise of selfless desire to protect her twin, comes off as selfish with her continued attempts to run off half-cocked and nearly getting herself (and the party) killed, not to mention being incredibly judgement of Breeders – girls who choose to deliberately get pregnant to buy themselves a few extra months of life. The world as you know it has come to an end, who is she to cast moral judgement on their decisions? Carter, a good guy, is presented in such a way at the beginning that you spend more time than you probably should growing to like the guy. There’s no chemistry between him or Lily and that whole subplot could have been dropped to no ill effect.

The last character I’ll mention is Mel – LIly’s autistic twin sister. At first, I wanted to applaud the author for going there. We just don’t see a lot of autistic characters, let alone in genre fic. The problem is that the Austism Doesn’t Work That Way. A character doesn’t go from Aspergers to can only speak in rhyme while playing with a slinky. There’s regression, yes, but that just strains credulity. Add to that the reveal towards of the end of the book and it starts to feel exploitative and I really don’t like where that character ended up, it just seemed cruel given where Mel was at at the time emotionally. It ultimately served to highlight Lily’s selfishness more than anything.

Finally, the book is told via alternating points of view. It’s pointless. You gain nothing from it. I honestly suspect that the real reason the author did it is that she wanted to get literary and was able to use Mel as a vehicle to do so.

If I’m hard on this book it’s because the book allowed me to be hard on it. A good book will suck you in (no vampire pun intended) to the point where you can overlook the flaws. This book wound up being generic enough for me that every little last thing bothered me. And that’s not a good sign.

If it weren’t for the fact that I got this as a gift, it may have been a DNF for me.

Verdict: Skip it. One day I will read/see a good mix of dystopia and vampires (True Blood seems to be heading that direction) but this unfortunately isn’t it :-/

[Side note: I would totally do #bookishchristmas again, just because I didn’t enjoy the book as much as the gifter did doesn’t mean that I’m upset from the process. You never know what will work for you and what won’t. If its around again, I’ll do it again!]

Good Reads 62: Pawn by @aimee_carter

ImageThe last few weeks I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump. First I’d been between books, then I got sick and that kicked me out of any kind of mood to read. I was lacking motivation to pick up my Kindle again. But around twitter, a lot of the book bloggers I’d been following were buzzing about this book and my friend was like “you have to read this!”

And so I have.

It’s the quickest I’ve devoured a book in quite some time.

And making it even more worthy of praise? It’s a dystopian young-adult novel, a genre that has, without question, been growing stale in recent months as many of the books try to copy The Hunger Games or Divergent, the later of which was quite derivative itself.

The book is interesting because unlike most in the genre which like to have large rebellions that encompass the world, this book focuses on a very small internal struggle within the family at the height of power. We get an idea that there are hints of problems in the outside world and hints of the corruption that make the society not quite perfect (though to the authors credit, she does show that the system can work, that it’s not completely broken – a nice twist) but that isn’t the focus. Though the heroine does legitimately want that change, she’s not a natural at this. And I’m okay with that. It’s nice to have protagonists who can’t always take action, who are reactive rather than proactive. It makes them feel 17. One of my big issues with Divergant is that Tris went like feeling like she was 13 to 25 back to 14 again when the plot called for it. She never felt real, and Kitty does, even if some find her more at a distance or harder to relate to/root for than most YA heroines.

While I don’t think Pawn reinvented the wheel here (nor did she try), I think the author has accomplished an extremely fine example of the genre; and those who like YA or who like dystopian politics will really enjoy it.

Verdict: Buy it

P.S. A hundred points to Slytherin for lack of a true love triangle – the feeling Kitty develops make sense in the context of the plot, and that whole aspect is handled in a refreshing manner. If only more YA authors could follow suit.