Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Book Review: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Pages: 342
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Received: Library
Rating: 3.5/4 out of 5 stars

After reading Uprooted and Heart's Blood, I wanted another Beauty and the Beast retelling and so I finally picked up Cruel Beauty.

Unfortunately, Cruel Beauty didn't live up to the other two for me. It didn't have the depth and coherence of the other two and there was something that kept me from really sinking into the story, though I can't totally put my finger on it.

The characters didn't quite do it for me. Nyx kept pushing everyone away, and that worked on me, too. I couldn't get close to her and as much as I wanted to warm up to her, I had a hard time connecting. She was so down on herself all the time for being cruel, but her actions didn't really line up with this. It all worked together to create a vague character that I couldn't ever really connect with or even remember clearly.

Her romantic interests also suffered from this vague personality and, like Nyx, while I wanted to like them they too kept pushing me away. I could never fully settle in with trusting them or even knowing who they really were. When everything was finally revealed, it felt more destabilizing instead of less.

I'm also not sure how I feel about the ending, but I won't say anything more on that. 

Then there was the story, and this I did really like. The magic was evocative and gave me just what I was looking for when I wanted more Uprooted. Exploring the house and unraveling the mystery gave me what I was looking for when I wanted more Heart's Blood. This is the kind of story where once everything is revealed I can spend a lot of time thinking over it all and savoring how all the pieces fit together.

Bottom line

Cruel Beauty came very close to being a great book for me. The structure is good and a few tweaks and a little more fleshing out and I think I would have easily loved it. I think I will enjoy it as a reread, now that I know what to expect out of the characters. I'm wavering between a 3.5 and a 4, but I think a re-read could bump it to a four.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

DNF Explanation: Passenger by Alexandra Bracken

#1 in the Passenger series
Pages: 486
Released: January 5, 2016
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Received: ARC from publisher
Rating: DNF on page 62

Once upon a time there was a book called Brightly Woven, and this book stole my heart. It had it all: sleepover party main character Sydelle, swoony and sarcastic Wayland North, questing, creative world-building and magic, and did I mention the romance? I read Brightly Woven back in 2010, and I've been pining for more ever since.

So, of course I've done the only logical thing, which is to expect every subsequent book Alexandra Bracken writes to be as amazingly wonderful as Brightly Woven. Or, basically, to be Brightly Woven, just in different settings.

Enter, The Darkest Minds in 2012, which I was fulling hoping would be Syd and North Do a Dystopia. And, yeah, it so wasn't that. Everything took a big step down. Instead of an intricate world with a unique magic system I could latch onto, I got an interesting premise but a sloppily thrown together world with a whole lot of gaping holes. Instead of kick-butt Sydelle, I got whiny please-kill-her-now Ruby. Instead of swoony Wayland North, I got a dull and forgettable love interest. I was devastated, and I never bothered reading the rest of the series.

Which is a huge preamble just to get to Passenger, which, yeah, I was still hoping for Sydelle and North Do Time Travel Pirate Adventuring. And, ugh, I so did not get that.

Instead, I got The Darkest Minds, but worse.

TDM at least jumped into the action and kept it going. Passenger was a total snore-fest (at least, the parts I read). SO much time was spent repeating the same things over and over. I think this was supposed to constitute "character development" but, yeah, no, telling me over and over and over again about surface level character traits and interests is not "character development."

Basically, after 62 pages I now know that main character what's-her-name really wants to be a violin prodigy, is really nervous about her big debut performance, likes her violin teacher, and has a flighty, artsy but not particularly warm mom. Oh, and she's also really annoying, wishy washy, and has no life or backbone and isn't happy with her life choices. Yawn.

BUT, I do know I really, really don't like her. 

And the guy? Ugh, he's no Wayland North. He's not even that other boring guy from TDM. He's...erm, he sails on ships? I think I'm supposed to think he's adventuresome and smart and all that. Maybe?

So, yeah, characters 0. How about that plot?!

No, plot 0, too.

I thought TDM was thrown together. Ha. I did not know the meaning of thrown together, but Passenger has shown me the way. Absolutely awful pacing. I mean, terrible. Nothing happened in those 62 pages, (though I do think I caught some heavy handed foreshadowing and "cabal-esque" hint dropping) which made the book feel wandering and unsure of itself.

All the musician stuff was close, but not quite right. The ship stuff was erm, well, some of the things were sort of right-ish but at best were a bunch of jargony stuff that could be sort of right but doesn't really actually say anything to straight up not right.

I could give a pass on that. I mean, this is a light, fluffy, YA action book. It's not supposed to be heavy historical fiction. But, but, she could have just googled! I mean, crack open a Patrick O'Brian book to any random page and get some ship info. It's not that hard to get it right! Or, just don't put it in there at all and say "the ship had bigger and more guns than we did oh noes!" instead of trying to describe it in more detail. Either would work. I'd totally be ok with the vague approach. But this poor attempt at detail and getting it wrong is not ok.

But, this is the same problem as with everything else. It's all so hacked together and surface-level, relying on a mish-mash of "close enough" details and bash my head in repetition instead of depth. It just screams low effort. 

Bottom line

This felt like a hot mess. Is it a lack of editing? Rushed writing? I don't know what's happened, but over the course of three books, Alexandra Bracken has gone from an auto-buy author to a library-first, and now I'm sad to say but she's not even on my "consider reading" list anymore.


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Book Review: Shadow Magic by Joshua Khan

#1 in the Shadow Magic series
Pages: 336
Released: April 12, 2016
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Received: ARC from publisher
Rated: 4 out of 5 stars

This book is awesome! Unfortunately, that cover is so not awesome, so I'm a little worried Shadow Magic will get overlooked and that would be awful (also, sad because the illustrations inside are SO much better than the cover).

So, quick and dirty list of why Shadow Magic is great and should go on every TBR:

The world building is surprisingly developed. Each kingdom has a different legacy, magic, history, and culture. Mostly we get to focus on Gehenna, which is basically the kingdom of the dead (think zombies, ghosts, and other creepy dark things), but we also get to see glimpses of the kingdoms of Light, Fire, and erm, foresty stuff. I cannot wait to delve deeper into this world in the next book!

The characters are sleepover party material. Except Gabriel (the obnoxious prince of Light, set to wed main character Lily), because Gabriel was terrible. Until the end, when I even started to feel bad for him. But, the other characters? The best.

Lily is the new ruler of Gehenna since her parents and brother were just assassinated and the killer is still on the loose. She's understandably nervous about ruling, especially since she's a kid and her kingdom is falling apart around her, she's not allowed to do magic, and her uncle is trying to set up an arranged marriage with the kingdom of Light, their arch nemesis. Lily faces it all with spunk and determination.

It also helps that she has a trio of support and every one of these guys is awesome in his own right. Thorn especially. He's the guy riding the giant bat on the cover. Yeah. He's also the sarcastic down-on-his-luck type I can't help but liking. The other two? Well, you'll have to read the book, but one is a prince from the fire kingdom and the other is an executioner. And how could I forget Mary and Rose? They're the other side of Lily's support team, and they're equally awesome.

Twisty mystery. Ok, so Lily is new to her kingdom and learning the ropes. Thorn is looking for his missing father. The prince from the fire kingdom is a hostage of the prince from the kingdom of light. There's that arranged marriage thing that Lily is trying to get out of without ruining her kingdom or starting a war. There's a rogue necromancer raising the dead. Forbidden magic lessons. A murdered royal family and the assassin on the run. Multiple attempts on Lily's life. A few murders. And a giant bat.

There's a lot going on here and it was so much fun to read and unravel the mysteries.

Bottom line

I can't rave about this book enough! The end wraps up pretty well and there isn't a horrible cliffhanger or anything like that. You just know that there are more adventures in store for these characters, and I can't wait to follow them in Dream Magic

Recommended for both boys and girls, middle grade and above.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Book Reivew: My Fair Gentleman by Nancy Campbell Allen

Pages: 256
Released: January 5, 2016
Publisher: Shadow Mountain Publishing
Received: ARC from publisher, via Edelweiss
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

I'm going to use the word "nice" a lot in this review. That may sound like damning with faint praise, but I don't mean it that way at all. My Fair Gentleman is a solid feel-good book that doesn't really rock the boat in any way or grip me with massive emotions, but instead floats lazily, pleasantly, and enjoyably through the story. I've been on a "nice" book kick lately where I'm looking for sweet comfort reads, and this one fit the the bill.

Thankfully, both romantic leads were nice, likable people. The narrative viewpoint shifts between the two of them, and I enjoyed both perspectives equally. It didn't matter whether they were lightly sparring, slowly falling in love, or otherwise focused on their non-romantic endeavors and blossoming friendships (which were as good as the main romance), I just liked spending time with them.

The side characters were a happy surprise and all served to make me smile. Sure, the good characters were oh so good and the bad characters were oh so bad, but I didn't mind that. If I'd been in a more critical mood this probably would have been a point to quibble over, and I probably would have wanted a little more, more character depth, passion, plot details. But, I was in the fairy tale kind of mood where sweet characters and a simple happily ever after is enough.

Bottom line

Another satisfying entry into the Proper Romance Series of standalone, clean historical romances. Nancy Campbell Allen is a new-to-me author, but I've already requested her other Proper Romance Series book based on the strength of this one.

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Click on the cover to go to my review

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