Monday, July 30, 2012

Review: Born Wicked

Born Wicked, by Jessica Spotswood. The GoodReads summary:
Everybody knows Cate Cahill and her sisters are eccentric. Too pretty, too reclusive, and far too educated for their own good. But the truth is even worse: they’re witches. And if their secret is discovered by the priests of the Brotherhood, it would mean an asylum, a prison ship—or an early grave.

Before her mother died, Cate promised to protect her sisters. But with only six months left to choose between marriage and the Sisterhood, she might not be able to keep her word... especially after she finds her mother’s diary, uncovering a secret that could spell her family’s destruction. Desperate to find alternatives to their fate, Cate starts scouring banned books and questioning rebellious new friends, all while juggling tea parties, shocking marriage proposals, and a forbidden romance with the completely unsuitable Finn Belastra.

If what her mother wrote is true, the Cahill girls aren’t safe. Not from the Brotherhood, the Sisterhood—not even from each other.
I wanted to love this book. I really, really did. I mean, I adore books about witches, and the cover is just so absolutely gorgeous. And there were some things that I liked about it. I liked the society it takes place in—an alternative-reality 19th century New England, with the stifling, restrictive, and controlling pseudo-religious Brotherhood. And I loved the idea of a trio of sister witches, fighting against a prophesy that spells their doom. And Finn—the love interest—was perfectly lovely, even if the author was weirdly obsessed with his lips and kept calling them “red” and “cherry” (which sounds resoundingly unattractive to me). Oh, and the little sister, Tess, was actually probably my favorite character.

But Cate, the main character, drove me absolutely batty. I felt like I was gritting my teeth in frustration at her actions through most of the book. It’s something in the way she’s so hypocritical about her magic, always yelling at her sisters for using it, then not thinking twice for using it herself. And it annoyed me how she’s so controlling and refuses to let her sisters make any decisions for themselves—I just don’t understand how her ego could be so big that she is incapable of believing that anyone besides herself can make the right choice. I also never understood her hatred of Elena. Yes, Elena’s motives are suspect, but she never actually does anything to warrant Cate’s dislike. It just came off as jealousy to me. And don’t even get me started on the way Cate leads Paul on and totally uses him—and then she has the gall to complain when the Sisters want to use her for their own ends. Uh, hello even more hypocrisy.

Overall, I was fairly okay with the book until Cate sent me over the edge. I suspect that most people wouldn’t be as annoyed with her as I was, so this book is probably still worth your time. I just can’t move past wanting to slap Cate.

Rating: 3 / 5

Friday, July 27, 2012

Friday Favorites: Robin McKinley

On Fridays I post a little shout out to one of my favorite books and explain why I love it so much. It gives me the chance to fangirl over books I never reviewed on this blog and lets me post about some not necessarily YA books I love.

Which book?
Everything ever written by Robin McKinley


Her books are (in no particular order)
-Rose Daughter
-Spindle’s End
-The Outlaws of Sherwood
-The Blue Sword
-The Hero and the Crown
And four short story collections (at least that I can remember)

When did I first read it?
The first of her books that I read was “Beauty,” a Beauty and the Beast retelling, and I read it around age 12 or so.

Why did I first read it?
My older sister bought me “Beauty” for my birthday, and I’ve never been one to turn up my nose at a free book. The rest of the books I read because I knew how freaking talented Robin McKinley is and didn’t want to miss anything she’s written.

What did I think about it then?
I loved “Beauty” right away. The main character is so down-to-earth and easy to relate to. Plus, who doesn’t love a good Beauty and the Beast story? I liked it so much, I read “Rose Daughter” next, which is her other Beauty and the Beast retelling (and seriously, it takes a ridiculously amazing author to essentially write the same story twice and make both of them fantastic). As I read through the rest of McKinley’s books, there were never any that I didn’t like. Yes, there were some I liked more than others, but I’ve reread all of them at least twice (seriously, I had to tape the binding together on some of my favorites), and the more I read them the more they grow on me.

What do I think about it now?
I always shy away from the question of who’s my favorite author, but I have the sneaking suspicion that if forced to answer, I’d say Robin McKinley. I love her narrative voice and writing style A LOT, and she has this dry, sneaky humor that never fails to make me smile. Plus her heroines are all strong and amazing while still being totally relatable. It’s hard for me to pick my favorites of her books, but I think I’d have to go with “The Blue Sword” and “Spindle’s End,” with a tie between “The Hero and the Crown” and “Chalice” for third. But really, it’s impossible to go wrong with one of her books. And, she also writes a hilarious blog. Oh, and she once responded to an email I wrote her, which even more firmly cemented my admiration for her.

Have you read any of these books? What did you think?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Review: Grave Mercy

Grave Mercy, by Robin LaFevers. The GoodReads summary:
Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.

Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?
If a book takes place in a castle, the odds are pretty good that I’ll like it. If there’s political intrigue involved, even better. Add in a romance, and I’m all set. Grave Mercy had all of that, so I’ll bet you can guess how much I liked it.

This book was a thick sucker. I’m the first to admit I tend to steer away from long books, but the thing is, this one didn’t feel long. I was sucked in the whole time, and I felt like all those pages were put to good use. I wasn’t even tempted to start skimming, which is usually my automatic reflex for long books, so that’s saying something. The political intrigue was just so well done, and while I had my suspicions about who was behind all the devious doings in the castle, I was never sure enough that I could call the book predictable.

Ismae . . . I wouldn’t necessarily say I liked her, but I did admire her and didn’t have any issues with her as a narrator. I think she was just a little too hard-core assassin for me. I like my main characters a little more self-deprecating and with a little more humor. I totally realize that those characteristics wouldn’t have fit with Ismae or the story at all, but it’s just one of those personal preference things that kept me from fully connecting with her. She totally kicked butt, though.

Duval was a swoony enough love interest to suit me, and I love that his and Ismae’s romance was drawn out and rocky—that tends to be my favorite kind. I had a hard time getting a read on how old he was supposed to be, though. Older than Ismae, I know, but I wasn’t ever really sure by how much. A niggling complaint in the grand scheme of things, but a complaint all the same.

Overall, an awesome book that I really enjoyed. I’m looking forward to the next book in the series, which is about one of Ismae’s friends. If it’s anything like Grave Mercy, it’s going to be a good one.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Friday, July 20, 2012

Friday Favorites: The Sevenwaters Trilogy

On Fridays I post a little shout out to one of my favorite books and explain why I love it so much. It gives me the chance to fangirl over books I never reviewed on this blog and lets me post about some not necessarily YA books I love.

Which book?
The Sevenwaters Trilogy, by Juliet Marillier


It’s a trilogy that’s morphed into 5 books and a novella, all about different generations of this family who lives in old Ireland (I think). They intermittently interact with the faeries and other fae, have adventures, and fall in love.

The books in the series are
-Daughter of the Forest
-Son of the Shadows
-Child of the Prophesy
-Heir to Sevenwaters
-Seer of Sevenwaters
-Twixt Firelight and Water

When did I first read it?
About two years ago.

Why did I first read it?
I was reading a different book by the same author that my sister had recommended to me. One of my co-works saw me with it and asked if I had read this series. When I said I hadn’t, she lent me them, for which I will be forever grateful. I downed the whole series (or at least the books that were out at that point) in two weeks.

What did I think about it then?
These aren’t short books. In paperback, they’re 500-600 pages of fairly small text. And usually that’s the kind of thing that turns me off. But from the very first book, these sucked me in. The fantasy aspect with all the faeries and old gods and whatnot is great, but what I really loved were the layered characters and how the author managed to include romances that were plenty swoony without taking over the story.

What do I think about it now?
My favorite in the series is the fourth book, Heir to Sevenwaters, but they’re all pretty great. Even my least favorites, Child of the Prophecy and Seer of Sevenwaters, are still fairly fantastic. There are some parts of the books that I love rereading, just because they’re so wonderful. Actually, I read Heir to Sevenwaters before I read Iron King, by Julie Kagawa, (which has a fairly similar storyline) and I couldn’t even finish Iron King because it didn’t come close to stacking up to Heir to Sevenwaters.

Have you read this series? What did you think?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

"Withering Tights" only $0.99!

Guess what! You can get Withering Tights on Kindle for only $0.99 on Amazon right now! (click here). This is one of my favorite books of the year so far--and it's definitely the most hilarious book I've read recently. It's worth a dollar for sure!

(read my review of it here)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Review: Anna Dressed in Blood

Anna Dressed in Blood, by Kendare Blake. The GoodReads summary:
Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: He kills the dead.

So did his father before him, until his gruesome murder by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father’s mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. Together they follow legends and local lore, trying to keep up with the murderous dead—keeping pesky things like the future and friends at bay.

When they arrive in a new town in search of a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas doesn’t expect anything outside of the ordinary: move, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he’s never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, but now stained red and dripping blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian she used to call home.

And she, for whatever reason, spares his life.
The best thing about this book was Anna herself. She made a completely kick-A ghost. She was a mass of contradictions—powerful, violent, and out of control but also fascinating, stubborn, and protective. Pretty much I spent most of the book looking forward to the next scene Anna would be in. I just really, really loved her.

Cas was an okay narrator—he never did anything to annoy me or piss me off—but something about the way he was written kept me from really connecting with him. Hence, I felt too removed from the events of the story to get really invested in it. So I mostly didn’t care during all the big climactic moments of the story, which stopped me from really rooting for the characters or getting pulled into action very much.

I also didn’t think the whole thing with the second antagonist (the one besides Anna) was very well developed. Maybe the author’s going to explore that more in the second book, but I was left feeling confused about his motivation and backstory. I knew he was supposed to be creepy and evil, but he wasn’t developed enough to really make an impression on me.

Overall, this book was alright, but I wasn’t super impressed or anything. I wanted a book that would totally engross me, but I found myself feeling disconnected from the story and characters. Anna totally rocked though. Without her I would’ve given this book a 3, but she pushes my rating up to a 3.5.

Rating 3.5 / 5

Friday, July 13, 2012

Friday Favorites: Jellicoe Road (!!!)

On Fridays I post a little shout out to one of my favorite books and explain why I love it so much. It gives me the chance to fangirl over books I never reviewed on this blog and lets me post about some not necessarily YA books I love.

Which book?
Jellicoe Road, by Melina Marchetta

YA Contemporary

Summary? (From GoodReads)
Taylor is the leader of the boarders at the Jellicoe School. She has to keep the upper hand in the territory wars and deal with Jonah Griggs - the enigmatic leader of the cadets, and someone she thought she would never see again.

And now Hannah, the person Taylor had come to rely on, has disappeared. Taylor's only clue is a manuscript about five kids who lived in Jellicoe eighteen years ago. She needs to find out more, but this means confronting her own story, making sense of her strange, recurring dream, and finding her mother - who abandoned her on the Jellicoe Road.

When did I first read it?
March 2010

Why did I first read it?
I think this was another recommendation off someone or other’s blog.

What did I think about it then?
I’ll admit that at first I wasn’t blown away. I liked the writing, but I was just so confused about what was going on that I was about to give up. BUT. Then I decided to keep reading, and about the time I hit chapter 6, I was a goner. I was irrevocably sucked into the story and invested in the characters. And really, how could I not love a book with JONAH GRIGGS in it? That boy is the epitome of YA swooniness.

What do I think about it now?
Um, how should I phrase this? . . . I FREAKING LOVE THIS BOOK. It’s hands down my favorite YA book. It’s just so perfect in every single possible way. Melina Marchetta is always a genius, but this one will always be my favorite of her books (I’m assuming—since I’m not psychic I can’t actually know for sure). I don’t even know how to adequately express my love for this book. I mean, did I mention it has JONAH GRIGGS in it? And Taylor’s not too shabby of a character herself. Just go read it—seriously though.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Review: The Probability of Miracles

The Probability of Miracles, by Wendy Wunder. The GoodReads summary.
Dry, sarcastic, sixteen-year-old Cam Cooper has spent the last seven years in and out hospitals. The last thing she wants to do in the short life she has left is move 1,500 miles away to Promise, Maine - a place known for the miraculous events that occur there. But it's undeniable that strange things happen in Promise: everlasting sunsets; purple dandelions; flamingoes in the frigid Atlantic; an elusive boy named Asher; and finally, a mysterious envelope containing a list of things for Cam to do before she dies. As Cam checks each item off the list, she finally learns to believe - in love, in herself, and even in miracles.
I’m not a fan of cancer books. Truly, I’m not. I mean, I wasn’t even that big of a fan of “The Fault in Our Stars,” which EVERYBODY seemed to love. Something about knowing that the main character is going to die tends to turn me off. That said, I really liked this book.

The number one reason I liked this book is Cam. I just really, really enjoyed her narrative voice. She’s sarcastic and sardonic without crossing the line into bitter or dark. I mean, it’s gotta suck to know you’re not going to make it to your 18th birthday, so I don’t blame Cam for being a little on the negative side. But watching her grow from being almost too resigned to her fate to learning to appreciate the life she has is not only fulfilling but a lot of fun too.

I also loved the setting. The town, with its flamingos, orcas, and purple dandelions, is just so ridiculously cool. And I love that you never really know whether the town is magic or if it’s just a bunch of coincidences that can be explained away—it could go either way, and you’re left to decide for yourself.

The cast of secondary characters is a lot of fun. My favorite by far is Perry, Cam’s little sister, but I liked everybody—her mom, her grandma, that hottie Asher, her friend Lily, the vet . . . everybody.

And really, what probably won me over the rest of the way is that Cam’s cancer isn’t a super huge part of the book. I mean, she’s sick in the beginning and the very end, but for most of the middle of the book she’s pretty normal. The cancer was always there in the background, but it didn’t really dominate the story. It was more about Cam learning to embrace the life she has left than about her dying.

I don’t always like books with messages, but this one was so subtle and well done that I actually really appreciated it. It’s all about deciding whether the pain of hope is worth it and finding the line between letting miracles come to you or creating your own.

Overall, I think this is just about the only cancer book I’d be willing to reread. The characters and the setting are really awesome, there’s plenty of humor, and it left me something to think about without making me feel like it was force-feeding me an inspirational message.

Rating: 4 / 5

Monday, July 9, 2012

Review: The List

The List, by Siobhan Vivian. The GoodReads summary:
An intense look at the rules of high school attraction -- and the price that's paid for them.

It happens every year. A list is posted, and one girl from each grade is chosen as the prettiest, and another is chosen as the ugliest. Nobody knows who makes the list. It almost doesn't matter. The damage is done the minute it goes up.

This is the story of eight girls, freshman to senior, "pretty" and "ugly." And it's also the story of how we see ourselves, and how other people see us, and the tangled connection of the two.
So I really liked the overall idea of the book: an exploration of how being on the pretty/ugly list affected all eight girls and by extension their families and friends. I also liked a few of the girls—Danielle, the “ugly” freshman was pretty awesome, I thought, and was strong enough to be a main character in her own book. I also ended up really liking Candace (the “ugly” sophomore), which was surprising considering she’s basically a “mean girl” at the beginning. I also liked Lauren, the “pretty” sophomore—I thought she seemed really nice—but I couldn’t stand her parts of the book because her mom drove me up the wall because she’s so overbearing and overprotective.

Unfortunately, those are pretty much the only girls I liked out of the eight. Jennifer, the “ugly” senior, I really disliked. I couldn’t tell whether I, as the reader, was supposed to sympathize with her or not, but I thought she came off as really obsequious and self-pitying. I also really didn’t like Bridget’s (the “pretty” junior) story. Bridget herself was okay, but I felt like the author didn’t take a strong enough stance on her eating disorder. I mean, she’s anorexic, but the author just treats it like it’s a really intense weight loss strategy and doesn’t ever show any of the negative physical or emotional side effects.

It also drove me crazy that the author leaves most of the girls’ stories without closure. It seemed to me like she just ended the book randomly, and I was left going, “Uh…what?”

As you can tell, there are a lot of viewpoints in the book, and that made it kinda hard to keep track of who’s who, especially at first. I had to keep referring back to the list at the beginning to keep them all straight. I also felt like all those viewpoints kept the book from having a clear message. I was left with the impression that the author was trying to tell me something, I just wasn’t sure what it was.

Overall, I liked the idea of the book but thought there were too many characters that I couldn’t connect with or who drove me crazy. I also thought it fell flat at the end and left me a little confused about what I was supposed to get out of the book.

Rating 2.5 / 5

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Review: Revived

Revived, by Cat Patrick. The GoodReads summary:
As a little girl, Daisy Appleby was killed in a school bus crash. Moments after the accident, she was brought back to life.

A secret government agency has developed a drug called Revive that can bring people back from the dead, and Daisy Appleby, a test subject, has been Revived five times in fifteen years. Daisy takes extraordinary risks, knowing that she can beat death, but each new death also means a new name, a new city, and a new life. When she meets Matt McKean, Daisy begins to question the moral implications of Revive, and as she discovers the agency’s true goals, she realizes she’s at the center of something much larger—and more sinister—than she ever imagined.
This book and I were getting along real well until about halfway through. I was diggin’ the plot line and the characters and the writing style. But then I hit this point where I lost my respect for first the main character, Daisy, and then for Matt, her love interest, and it kinda all went downhill from there. Let me explain.

Some spoilers ensue. Also a rant. Be warned.

So the whole premise of the book is that Daisy is part of this program where they’re trying out a trial drug that can bring people back to life. Cool, right? Of course, Daisy isn’t allowed to tell anyone about the drug or the fact that she’s been brought back from the dead. But then she meets Matt, is madly crushing on him, and after only knowing him for a few weeks—months at most—she decides that she has to be honest with him and true to her feelings for him and tell him the truth about everything. WHY!?! It’s not her secret to tell! Other people are involved too, and Daisy could cause such massive problems if Matt lets anything slip. But does she care? Nope. For some reason she just has to tell the hot guy she crushing on EVERYTHING for no good reason. It’s just such an immature decision!

So that annoyed me, and I pretty much lost respect for Daisy right there. But then comes the second blow. Matt’s sister is dying. And even though Daisy tells him that the drug doesn’t work on cancer patients, he asks her to steal the drug for him to try on his sister. A) when is it EVER a good idea to try out a top secret drug you know nothing about on your sister? And B) how is it at all okay for Matt to ask Daisy to steal for him? It’s so unbelievable shady and insulting. If my boyfriend asked me to commit a crime for him, I would drop him like he’s hot so quick, you’d best believe it. And what annoys me the most is that neither Daisy or Matt bats an eyelash at what he’s asking her to do. Does Matt not have a conscience and does Daisy not have a sense of righteous indignation?

And oh, another thing that bugged me was the fact that Daisy has died and been brought back to life FIVE times. How is that realistic? She ascribes it to being accident prone, but SERIOUSLY?!? FIVE times? No 15-year-old has that many near-death experiences in real life.

And lastly, the ending was so unbelievable. It was so perfectly easy and tied up with a bow that I was just like, REALLY?

So overall, the characters in this book let me down. Which is sad because I liked them so much in the beginning. But oh well. Ce la vie.

Rating: 2.5 / 5

Monday, July 2, 2012

Review: Bitterblue

Bitterblue (Graceling Realm #3), by Kristin Cashore. The GoodRead’s summary:
Eight years after Graceling, Bitterblue is now queen of Monsea. But the influence of her father, a violent psychopath with mind-altering abilities, lives on. Her advisors, who have run things since Leck died, believe in a forward-thinking plan: Pardon all who committed terrible acts under Leck’s reign, and forget anything bad ever happened. But when Bitterblue begins sneaking outside the castle—disguised and alone—to walk the streets of her own city, she starts realizing that the kingdom has been under the thirty-five-year spell of a madman, and the only way to move forward is to revisit the past.

Two thieves, who only steal what has already been stolen, change her life forever. They hold a key to the truth of Leck’s reign. And one of them, with an extreme skill called a Grace that he hasn’t yet identified, holds a key to her heart.
So “Bitterblue” (can I just say how much I adore that name?) continues on ten years or so from where “Graceling” left off. You don’t need to have read either “Graceling” or “Fire” to understand what’s going on in “Bitterblue,” but I definitely wish I would’ve reread them before starting “Bitterblue,” because it references events and people from the other two books that left me racking my brain a bit to try to remember what (or who) it was talking about.

“Bitterblue” is definitely more political intrigue and less action than the other two books. Which I didn’t mind, because—come on—it’s Kristin Cashore, so she can make anything seem interesting. And as it got deeper and deeper into the story and the betrayal and lies get bigger and involve more people, I personally found it more invigorating than any fight scene. I also liked how in this book we get to see the results of the evil King Leck’s 35-year reign of terror. In “Graceling” and “Fire,” you know he’s evil, but in “Bitterblue” you SEE what he did and witness the terrible effect he still has on people even 10 years later.

One of the things I liked most about this book was how you could trace Queen Bitterblue’s progression and maturation throughout the book. I could see her growing up and coming into her own, and it just made me so . . . proud of her, I guess. I was happy for her that she was slowly but surely finding her way. I also liked that the characters from “Graceling”—Katsa, Po, Giddon, Raffin, Bann, Helda—are back in this book and providing Bitterblue with some much needed friendship and support. And fascinating new characters are introduced too—like Hava, Death, and Teddy—that I grew to like just as much as the ones I already knew.

The romance in this book was a little lacking, though, I thought. I kept telling myself, “The romance isn’t the point. It doesn’t need to play a big role.” But I still found myself wishing that Bitterblue and Saf could have a few more scenes together. I also found myself wishing that Saf wasn’t acting like an immature jerk for half the book, but that’s a whole 'nother story. I’ll just limit my comments on the subject to saying that I honestly kinda wished Bitterblue would’ve had a little somethin’-somethin’ going on with Giddon instead. I LOVE Giddon. I think he’s ridiculously swoony. At least Bitterblue’s feelings for Saf leave Giddon open for me.

And one last thing—this book isn’t standalone like “Graceling” and “Fire” were. At least, I don't think it is. (It better not be!) Despite all 539 pages, it’s story isn’t finished. It doesn’t end on a big cliffhanger or anything, but it still left me anxious to find out what’s going to happen next.

Overall, I thought this was a pretty decent book. I didn’t like it as much as “Graceling,” but I did like it better than “Fire.” As is usual for me, I wish it could’ve been a standalone, but I guess this gives me something to look forward to.

And p.s., kudos to the art department or whoever was in charge of the artwork throughout the book. They did an awesome job.

Rating: 3.5 / 5 (I totally would’ve given it a 4 if Saf hadn’t been a jerk so much of the time)
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