Thursday, October 10, 2013

Shadowlands by Kate Brian

Goodreads Description: "Rory Miller had one chance to fight back and she took it. Rory survived and the serial killer who attacked her escaped. Now that the infamous Steven Nell is on the loose, Rory must enter the witness protection program. Entering the program alongside her, is her father and sister Darcy. The trio starts a new life and a new beginning leaving their friends and family behind without a goodbye. 

Starting over in a new town with only each other is unimaginable for Rory and Darcy. They were inseparable as children but now they can barely stand each other. As the sisters settle in to Juniper Landing, a picturesque vacation island, it seems like their new home may be just the fresh start they need. They fall in with a group of beautiful, carefree teens and spend their days surfing, partying on the beach, and hiking into endless sunsets. Just as they’re starting to feel safe again, one of their new friends goes missing. Is it a coincidence? Or is the nightmare beginning all over again?"

My Review: Shadowlands is probably going to be one of the...STRANGER books I'll read this year. Not saying that that's a bad thing...but yeah, this was definitely a different YA book than you normally find. It is NOT what I was expecting, that's for sure. 
          I'm going to break this book into three parts: plot, setting, characters. 
          My expectations when I picked up this book: a heart-racing thriller/action type of novel. And that is what I got...sort of. Shadowlands ended up being less James Bond and more Clue. There wasn't as much action and adventure as I'd thought there'd be (which was kind of disappointing, in a way, because I love crime dramas) but it was really suspenseful and eerie and whodunit? I actually kind of liked that, to be honest. It was something sort of different from the many YA books out there that have a lot of action and fighting in them, and the slow pace kind of made it more creepy. I liked having Steve Nell's POV, because it allowed some insight into his serial killer-mind and it was also creepy and weird! So good job there.
        And then there was the setting: Juniper Landing. Either it's the fact that I'm a HUGE New England fanatic or that Kate Brian is a really good writer, but I immediately had an idea of what Juniper Landing was supposed to look like. Picture Martha's Vineyard, but less sunny and more foggy and hidden-in-the-mist, and with weirder locals---but still the same quiet, disconnected East Coast tiny-coastal-town feeling. The setting really worked for the plot, because it seemed so removed from the rest of the world that it helped add to the creepiness. Also, like I said, I absolutely love settings like that, so that was just a personal treat. 
       Last but not least: characters. This was the interesting part. Kate Brian didn't write an revolutionary or AMAZING characters (like Lisbeth Salander). But she did write different characters and this was cool. Rory was pretty plain and average, but she was smart and cautious and likable. Her sister, Darcy, was funny and light-hearted and more into having fun, but she was still a good person. The sisters bickered and fought, but they still cared about each other---which is realistic. And their dad---I LOVED how Kate Brian wrote him. Often in books, parents are written as 100% kind angel accepting mom and dads or really mean and terrible parents. Shadowlands showed that even when your parents can be snappy and distant and sometimes you don't get along with them, you still love them and care for them---and they for you. To be honest, their dad kind of reminded me of my dad, with his temper (ha ha). The secondary characters in Juniper Landing were also appropriately mysterious and odd. 
         And then there was the ENDING. Wow, talk about a total plot twist! And this plot twist is the strangest part about Shadowlands. My feelings about it are undecided. I'm not sure if it's going to be the downfall of this series...or something kind of cool. I'm going to reserve judgment until I read the next book! 

Cover: It's pretty! And mysterious. I kind of like it, even if the model on the cover doesn't look like how Rory was described. I wish they'd shown a little more of Juniper Landing, but oh well, as far as covers go, this one's not bad! 

Overall Grade: A-

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality by Elizabeth Eulberg

Goodreads Description: "Don't mess with a girl with a great personality! Everybody loves Lexi. She's popular, smart, funny...but she's never been one of those girls, the pretty ones who get all the attention from guys. And on top of that, her seven-year-old sister, Mackenzie, is a terror in a tiara, and part of a pageant scene where she gets praised for her beauty (with the help of fake hair and tons of makeup).

Lexi's sick of it. She's sick of being the girl who hears about kisses instead of getting them. She's sick of being ignored by her longtime crush, Logan. She's sick of being taken for granted by her pageant-obsessed mom. And she's sick of having all her family's money wasted on a phony pursuit of perfection.

The time has come for Lexi to step out from the sidelines. Girls without great personalities aren't going to know what hit them. Because Lexi's going to play the beauty game - and she's in it to win it."

My Review: I have so much to say about this book. I was expecting a slightly-boring, cliche, boy-filled chick-lit...but that's not at all what I got. 
          To start with, Lexi is a great character. She's very relatable. She was a very honest mix of insecurity and confidence, of vanity and intelligence. She's a smart girl who's funny, is well-liked, and a hard worker. She's not too hard on her looks or her body and she knows she's a good person. But at the same time, she does feel depressed sometimes when she compares herself to her pretty little sister and she wishes people would pay her more attention and she gets sick of always being "the funny one" and not "the pretty one"---because, let's face it, in our world, looks do matter. And what girl can't relate to this? Even the most confident of girls feel insecure sometimes and some girls may be beauty queens, but a lot of us are a lot more average. And while that doesn't bother us 95% of the time, sometimes it can be a bit upsetting to not be really gorgeous. 
        Also, Lexi loved fashion, and since I love fashion, that was a nice thing to relate to. 
        So to say I liked and related to Lexi would be an understatement. Not only did I relate to her frustrations at always being "the funny one", I related SO much to her struggles with her family. Not that my family is that extreme---this is a novel, after all---but I can relate 100% to my parents taking my little sister's side 24/7 and blaming me for everything, even when it has nothing to do with me or was never my fault. I love my little sister but things like that make resentment hard to ignore, so I almost wept with relief when I finally found a character who GOT IT: who knew the feeling of loving her little sibling and wanting to protect her, but being frustrated by her parents and always being the one to give up HER time for her little siblings. 
        The secondary characters were also very winning. Mac was a huge brat at times, but she was also sweet at times. This is literally how my little sister is (and most little kids, to be honest). Lexi's mom frustrated me a lot. Parents need to start LISTENING to their kids a little more. The things Lexi's mom said and did made me want to throw the book at a wall and literally scream, that's how angry they made me. But on the other hand, Lexi's best friends were great. Benny was sweet and funny. Cam was sassy and loyal and seemed like she really had a heart of gold. 
       I also liked the message the book sent about beauty. Look, we all know that inner beauty is what TRULY matters---but like I said, everyone wants to feel pretty on the outside, too. So I liked that the author let readers know that it was okay to want to feel this way, as long as it didn't turn you into a total witch on the inside. Lexi initially dolled herself up as a dare, but she ended up liking looking a little girlier. She acknowledged that being a nice person is WAY more important than being pretty---which I totally agree with---but she also acknowledged that there's nothing wrong with wanting to be cute sometimes too. It's all a matter of balance.
      And I like that Lexi followed her head and was more faithful to HERSELF than she was to any boy, because at the end, she chose to respect herself and not hook up with any of the boys who liked her. She knew finding herself was more important. 
      Like I said: I was expecting a fluffy chick-lit. Instead I got an amazing story about insecurities, best friends, family struggles, and striving for the best despite all the hardships in your life. I was really pleasantly surprised by this book---even though it made me really sad at times, because of Lexi's family problems---but I'm very glad I read it. 

Cover: It's nice! It's very simple and understated. The name is pretty attention-catching and the fact that it's written in lipstick is a nice, subtle nod to the themes of inner and outer beauty layered throughout this book. Well done.

Grade: A+

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Friday Society by Adrienne Kress

Goodreads Description: "An action-packed tale of gowns, guys, guns –and the heroines who use them all...

Set in turn of the century London, The Friday Society follows the stories of three very intelligent and talented young women, all of whom are assistants to powerful men: Cora, lab assistant; Michiko, Japanese fight assistant; and Nellie, magician's assistant. The three young women's lives become inexorably intertwined after a chance meeting at a ball that ends with the discovery of a murdered mystery man.

It's up to these three, in their own charming but bold way, to solve the murder–and the crimes they believe may be connected to it–without calling too much attention to themselves.

Set in the past but with a modern irreverent flare, this Steampunk whodunit introduces three unforgettable and very ladylike–well, relatively ladylike–heroines poised for more dangerous adventures."

My Review: I don't normally like steampunk books. Something about them just usually doesn't appeal to me. Probably the fact that they are so---obviously---historically inaccurate. But this book grabbed my attention so I decided to give it a chance, and I'm so glad I did because I really ended up liking The Friday Society a lot! 
          In a world where almost 99.9% of YA of books are literally all about romance and boys, it was so refreshing to read a book where boys and romance weren't the focus at all. There was a romance in this book, but only like .01% of the book, so I didn't even care that much. This was a book that promised badass turn-of-the-century heroines---and it delivered. 
         The three leading ladies: 
         CORA: Cora's an inventor's assistant. She's incredibly intelligent, pretty sarcastic, has a proper sense of decorum (though that's not to say she bends to society's oppressive rules towards women), and thinks things through well and hard. She was probably my favorite, because she was the one who seemed to most openly stand for females' rights and to prove to people that women were more than pretty objects, and were capable of complex thought and doing complex things. Cora was smart and she let it show, and I'm glad that when it came to the boys, she let her head guide her over her heart. Very sensible of her. 
         NELLIE: Nellie's a magician's assistant. She's sassy, flirty, funny, and energetic. She always has a trick up her sleeve and though she seems ditzy, she displays real strength and toughness, rarely letting any dangerous situation phase her in the slightest. Oh, and she has a heart of gold. Nellie was fabulous because she dispelled the notion that just because you happen to blonde, pretty, and fond of glitter, that you're an idiot. Nellie was far from an idiot and she proved many stereotypes wrong. 
        MICHIKO: Michiko is a weapons specialist's assistant. She's disciplined, a badass fighter, very rational, and patient. The author manages to avoid many "Asian women" generalizations and stereotypes. Michiko is no delicate flower, no crybaby. She's tough, she's a fantastic fighter, and despite the fact that she doesn't know English very well yet, she's quick as a whip and she still manages to understand everything Cora and Nellie say. And the author deals with Japanese culture very respectfully and thoughtfully. You can tell she did her research.
       The plot is a little slow-paced and takes a good part of the book to get the ball rolling, but I didn't really care because I was enjoying reading about such refreshing characters. These girls want to be respected for their minds and for their talents---not for their bodies or faces. Also, the fact that a POC female character was used as a main character was very refreshing to read. The story takes time to tell but it ties together very neatly, and surprisingly, the mystery is a little hard to figure out---probably because with the addition of the steampunk mythology, the author could literally pull ANYTHING out of her hat next and you can't really anticipate it. 
        The secondary characters---Lord White and The Great Raheem---were also very interesting, and I actually did enjoy learning more about them. The many villains of the story---some obvious, some not so obvious---added to the fun, because there was more than one "bad guy", each of them bad in their own ways. 
        I've heard some people complain that the book is written too informally and the language doesn't match the period---but quite frankly, this is a steampunk book. There are already big changes in the time period. So who cares if the language is modern and the writing is informal? It was fun to read and I could relate to the heroines more easily. They felt like people you could be friends with.
       I'm looking forward to the next adventure with the Friday Society. 

Cover: LOVE, LOVE, LOVE IT! Words cannot describe how much I love it! Finally, a steampunk novel that doesn't feature the typical female waif in a sweeping gown with a clockwork corset, with long, flowing locks. I am SO SICK of YA book covers featuring girls in gowns for absolutely no reason; half the time, the girl never even wears a dress in the book. Ironically, in this book the girls did wear dresses so they could have easily done a boring cover with girls in gowns...but instead they put three really awesome-looking girls with really cool outfits and tough expressions on the cover. That is what initially attracted me to the book, the truly amazing cover. (Also---and this is just my opinion---the model who's representing Cora reminds me of Allison Argent from Teen Wolf, and Allison Argent is a badass, so that also made me like the cover a lot. Hey, they look alike!) Keep bringing on the covers like this, please! 

Grade: A-

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Firecracker by David Iserson

Goodreads Description: "Being Astrid Krieger is absolutely all it's cracked up to be. She lives in a rocket ship in the backyard of her parents' estate. She was kicked out of the elite Bristol Academy and she's intent on her own special kind of revenge to whomever betrayed her. She only loves her grandfather, an incredibly rich politician who makes his money building nuclear warheads. It's all good until...

"We think you should go to the public school," Dad said.
This was just a horrible, mean thing to say. Just hearing the words "public school" out loud made my mouth taste like urine (which, not coincidentally, is exactly how the public school smells).

Will Astrid finally meet her match in the form of public school? Will she find out who betrayed her and got her expelled from Bristol? Is Noah, the sweet and awkward boy she just met, hiding something?

Find out in this hilarious tragicomedy from New Girl and SNL writer David Iserson!"

My Review: WOW. That's all I can say. Wow. I didn't realize how bored I was with average, goody-two-shoes nice-girl characters until I read this book! Astrid is sassy, mean, rude, devious, scheming, elitist, snobby and basically...a huge asshole. But she is a nice person, way, way, WAY deep down. Like, really way deep down. 
          A lot of people were put off by how mean and sarcastic she was, but I feel like they totally missed the point. Because guess what? People like Astrid exist in the world. People who are good people but who have prickly exteriors. I happen to be one of them. I wouldn't go as far as to say I'm as mean as Astrid (nor do I have as much money or as many resources), but I can be very cynical, sarcastic, sharp---and I like it. I'm not a mean person, I won't make fun of people who don't deserve it, but I'd be lying if I said I was some nice little My Little Pony. So not only do I see parts of myself in Astrid, but I grew up loving characters like her---devious, scheming, power-hungry characters with good hearts, like Massie Block from the Clique series or Blair Waldorf from the TV show Gossip Girl or Captain Jack Sparrow. I love those types of characters. 
          So there's that. Astrid amused me a LOT. I liked how at the end, even though she had changed for the better and had become a more considerate person, she was still the same girl she had always been and would probably always be very sarcastic and power-hungry. That's fine. There are all types of people in the world, and there's room for the Astrid Krieger's of the world too. It was so refreshing to have a female character who was actually sort in love with herself, because I don't know about some people, but even I go through those moments of Ha, I love myself; I am so awesome; bow down, peasants! and it was great reading about a girl who didn't actually hate her looks, body, personality, or life. More people need to love themselves, even some of their flaws (provided their flaws aren't an inherent desire to kill beings, obviously).
         The plot itself was a little weaker, because so many random things happened in the book and I sort of wished David Iserson would have focused more on Astrid trying to figure out who got her expelled...but either way, it was a funny book. I even dismissed the scattered plot because this didn't really seem like the type of book that needed a definite plot. It was a coming-of-age novel, but definitely one of the funnier and more unique ones I have ever read. True, Astrid did have the typical A death in my past messed me up and made me who I am today story line that is so typical in coming-of-age novels---but honestly, it was nice to have a good reason for why Astrid was so sharp. If she had just been mean for no reason, then I WOULD be a little concerned that she was a sociopath. Good thing she wasn't! (I think.) Her family was amusing as well. Some people, like her father and mother, seemed irrelevant but I was interested in reading about Lisbet and especially her grandfather. Very interesting characters. Her grandfather especially gave a little insight to the business sharks and CEO's of the world that everyone loves to hate. Maybe they're like this, maybe they're not, but it was definitely a new and fascinating perspective to read about.
        So yes, it goes to say that I liked this book. I laughed a few times but it wasn't really laugh-out-loud Psych type of humor. It was more like wry, sarcastic New Girl humor. And that would make sense, since the author wrote for the show New Girl

Cover: It's definitely unique. I like it. Astrid's socks make me very happy. She is, indeed, a fire cracker. 

Overall Grade: A-

Friday, July 26, 2013

City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare

Goodreads Description: "The New York Times bestselling Mortal Instruments continues—and so do the thrills and danger for Jace, Clary, and Simon.

What price is too high to pay, even for love? When Jace and Clary meet again, Clary is horrified to discover that the demon Lilith’s magic has bound her beloved Jace together with her evil brother Sebastian, and that Jace has become a servant of evil. The Clave is out to destroy Sebastian, but there is no way to harm one boy without destroying the other. As Alec, Magnus, Simon, and Isabelle wheedle and bargain with Seelies, demons, and the merciless Iron Sisters to try to save Jace, Clary plays a dangerous game of her own. The price of losing is not just her own life, but Jace’s soul. She’s willing to do anything for Jace, but can she still trust him? Or is he truly lost?

Love. Blood. Betrayal. Revenge. Darkness threatens to claim the Shadowhunters in the harrowing fifth book of the Mortal Instruments series."

My Review: I. Am. Exhausted. There, I said it: I'M EXHAUSTED WITH THIS SERIES. Cassandra Clare has disappointed me immensely by choosing to continue this series. We all know that the Mortal Instruments was originally supposed to be a trilogy---and I wish it still was! City of Glass ended perfectly; we could have just imagined the rest of their lives, and it would have been great. But---and no offense, Ms. Clare---I feel like the success went to Clare's head and she just started adding on more books. This ruined the series, in my opinion, because the plots she has now are dry and not very interesting. She used up all of her good ideas in her first 3 books...because she had intended for them to be the ONLY Mortal Instruments books. So obviously the newer ones read more like afterthoughts and not full novels. They seem weak and tired. And, quite frankly, boring. 
          Now, I'm not unreasonable or unfair. I will admit that City of Lost Souls was pretty interesting, especially compared to the AWFUL mess that City of Fallen Angels was (no offense to Cassandra Clare, again, but we all know it's true; that book sucked). So compared to CoFA? Yeah, this book was much better. The plot flowed much more smoothly and quickly, we found out much more about this evil, dastardly plot (although we still don't know much of anything), and there was a lot more action. It kept me interested enough to keep turning the pages, but honestly...
         I hate Clary and Jace now. They're worse than Bella and Edward, worse than Patch and Nora. How much idiotic crap can they go through? How many serious issues is Cassandra Clare going to put them through? I'm really sick of Jace ALWAYS having some problem or another: he's Clary's brother! Oh no, wait, he's not! Oh no, wait, he's still EVIL inside, though, even though he's not her brother! Oh no, he's possessed by Lillith! Oh no, he's being controlled by Sebastian! 
         ENOUGH ALREADY. No one cares about Jace's problems, honestly! And Clary is starting to seem so lovesick and desperate that it makes me sick. Instead of getting smarter and more independent, she seems to be becoming even more foolish and foolhardy. I'd been hoping for some bittersweet character maturation, like the kind that Gemma Doyle had achieved by the end of The Sweet Far Thing---I mean, she even gave up her true love for the greater good---but Clary is getting more idiotic. She continuously puts people in danger just for Jace's sake. She even puts JACE in danger, for his sake! Like, for example---SPOILER---when she screams for Sebastian, even though it will mean ruining Jace's soul. Come on, girl. How selfish and weak are you? 
         I like the secondary characters FAR more. Izzy and Simon, Magnus and Alec, Jocelyn and Luke, even Jordan and Maia (although these 2 are pretty irrelevant and unnecessary if you ask me...why are they even HERE?). Their stories were much more interesting and not so barf-worthy to read about. Can I please just get a separate book about Simon and Izzy? Thanks. 
         I did like how Cassandra Clare takes us to Europe for a little while; it was a nice change of scenery and pace from New York City, and it made things more interesting. And I did like the battle at the end of the book, and I admit: I loved when they summoned Raziel again. The angel mythology in this book has always fascinated me. But it still didn't really make up for the confusing, random plot (seriously, WHAT is the point of Sebastian trying to take over the world? He's creepy, incestuous, and not nearly as scary as Valentine was!) and the basic pointlessness of THIS WHOLE BOOK. 
        So yeah. That about sums this book up: better than CoFA, vaguely amusing and entertaining, but tired and pretty pointless. 
        I'm going to read the next---and last, THANK GOD---book with a heavy heart, just because I need to know what happens. But I strongly urge new Mortal Instruments fan to STOP AFTER READING City of Glass. There's no need to go any further. It was supposed to end there, and it should have. 

Cover: The one good thing about this book is, I actually like the cover. That guy looks the most like what I always imagined Jace to look like. The girl looks a little too much like Amy Adams to properly seem like Clary to me, but whatever, it's a cute cover.

Overall Grade: C+

Monday, July 22, 2013

Inferno by Dan Brown

Goodreads Description: "In his international blockbusters The Da Vinci CodeAngels & Demons, and The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown masterfully fused history, art, codes, and symbols. In this riveting new thriller, Brown returns to his element and has crafted his highest-stakes novel to date.

In the heart of Italy, Harvard professor of symbology Robert Langdon is drawn into a harrowing world centered on one of history’s most enduring and mysterious literary masterpieces . . . Dante’s Inferno.

Against this backdrop, Langdon battles a chilling adversary and grapples with an ingenious riddle that pulls him into a landscape of classic art, secret passageways, and futuristic science. Drawing from Dante’s dark epic poem, Langdon races to find answers and decide whom to trust . . . before the world is irrevocably altered."

My Review: I was EXTREMELY torn on how to review this book, because 50% of me absolutely loved it...and 50% of me disliked it a lot. I suppose I'll explain what I loved and what I disliked in order and go from there...
          What I really liked: It's a Robert Langdon novel! What's not to love? I have read all of Dan Brown's novels and they're all always filled with thrills and adventure and mystery---and knowledge. If any of you have ever read my reviews for the Virals series by Kathy Reichs, you'll know how much I love when scientific or humanities knowledge is woven into a novel. It makes reading the book a more enriching experience. And the Robert Langdon novels always have double the amount of knowledge that Dan Brown's stand-alone novels do. I absolutely love art, I love history, and I love Europe---so it stands to reason that reading the Robert Langdon novels stuffed full of art, history, secret societies, mysterious plots, and dangerous adventure takes me to a higher place. 
         In this aspect, Inferno was---as all the previous Robert Langdon novels have been---great. I learned a ton of new knowledge about Dante Alighieri, who's always fascinated me. The setting, Florence, was beautiful, as are all the Italian locations that Dan Brown uses. But an even BETTER surprise was when Dan Brown suddenly switched the setting over to Turkey. The Middle East is a place of many beautiful countries and locations and areas of great history and culture, so I was thrilled to see Dan Brown take Robert Langdon out of Europe (or...cliche Europe) and to a whole new setting. I hope that more Robert Langdon novels take place in this region in the future, as the Middle East has TONS of history and art, as does Asia and Africa. 
         Now for the bad. It was the SAME. Forgive me, but it seems that Dan Brown has found a formula that worked well for his first few books and keeps using it...and it's getting boring. How many times can Robert Langdon just get "accidentally pulled" into a dilemma before it becomes unbelievable? And it always follows the same story arc: Robert Langdon finds himself in a situation where he has no idea what the hell is going on, meets a beautiful and sexy scientist/physicist/historian/some sort of official, they both go on the run from the authorities and solve numerous clues related to art and history, and manage to save the planet in the nick of time from some secret organization. COME ON, DAN BROWN. Get creative. Do something different for once.
          Another thing that seriously bothered me---and has been bothering me for a while---is his treatment of females. He always makes them brilliant and smart, which is great...but he also always makes them thin, impossibly gorgeous, slightly damaged (so that, of course, they're vulnerable deep down), and he always makes them A) the sidekick, and B) fall in love with Robert by the end of the book...even though Robert---the eternal bachelor---is always the one to pull away and leave, leaving the woman saying something mushy like, "But will I ever see you again?" or "Try to visit me sometime." GIVE. ME. A. BREAK. Would it kill Dan Brown to write about a brilliant female who's NOT totally gorgeous and thin? Or about a female who's already in a relationship? Or about a female who has NO INTEREST in Robert, for once? Or a female who's not totally The Sidekick? *Extreme rage face*
         And the last thing that made me dislike the book...and I realize that this point may not apply for everyone...was that the plot this time wasn't very complex or creative or well-thought-out. In the previous Robert Langdon books, I was always very shocked and stunned when I finally figured out the main dastardly evil plot---but in Inferno, it was pretty basic and I figured it out in just a few chapters. It's pretty obvious. And that kind of ruined the book for me, because it wasn't as intriguing or mysterious as it could have been. 
         At the end of the day, it was a fun and adventurous Robert Langdon read that I enjoyed because these books always fascinate me---but with a few notable flaws that hopefully Dan Brown will choose to fix in his next adventure. 
        That's all!

Cover: I actually got this book while I was on vacation in Pakistan, so I don't have the American cover...but I actually prefer this cover to the American one. The American cover is kind of ugly, in my opinion. I like the color of my copy's cover and I like that they show the golden dome, which MIGHT be one of the mosques that Dan Brown mentioned in Inferno (or it might not---but I'm going to choose to see it as a mosque). 

Overall Grade: B+

Friday, July 19, 2013

Social Suicide by Gemma Halliday

Goodreads Description: "Twittercide: the killing of one human being by another while the victim is in the act of tweeting.

Call me crazy, but I figured writing for the Herbert Hoover High Homepage would be a pretty sweet gig. Pad the resume for college applications, get a first look at the gossip column, spend some time ogling the paper's brooding bad-boy editor, Chase Erikson. But on my first big story, things went . . . a little south. What should have been a normal interview with Sydney Sanders turned into me discovering the homecoming queen–hopeful dead in her pool. Electrocuted while Tweeting. Now, in addition to developing a reputation as HHH's resident body finder, I'm stuck trying to prove that Sydney's death wasn't suicide.

I'm starting to long for the days when my biggest worry was whether the cafeteria was serving pizza sticks or Tuesday Tacos. . . ."

My Review: Hartley's back! Yay! That's pretty rare, for me to be so happy to see a character return. I very rarely REALLY like YA characters. I'm happy to say that Hartley Grace Featherstone is one of the exceptions; I really like this girl! 
         Hartley's just as funny and go-with-the-flow as she was in the first book. I think that's why I like her so much. She doesn't try too hard to be a badass or anything. She's just an average teenage girl who stumbles into trouble and then does her best to get to the bottom of a mystery...albeit in very humorous ways and fantastic heels. She seems like a sweet person, the kind of girl you would actually want to be friends with in high school. The same goes for her slightly-crazier best friend Sam. Manic? Yes. Funny? Sure. Lovable? Of course. Sam's just a little nuts, enjoys snacking (I can relate) and loves dressing up her friends in ridiculous clothes (and who doesn't want to do that?) 
         The mystery this time wasn't AS interesting as the one in Deadly Cool, probably because Hartley wasn't as emotionally invested in the mystery this time, but it was still interesting---and hilarious. Since these are comedy books, the murders are always really dramatic and cheesy and the students' reactions are really fake and awful, but that's what adds to the humor of the whole wacky situation. 
         Also, I liked the storyline with Hartley's mom and her dating attempts. Normally I hate when parents have their own storyline (because I DON'T CARE) but this time it was amusing enough that I sort of enjoyed it. And also because Detective Raley is, quite frankly, pretty amusing, so there was a bonus to Hartley's mom's story. 
         The romance was EXTREMELY slow in this book, to the point where almost nothing happened. It kind of frustrated me, because it was the same in Deadly Cool and I had been hoping something more would happen with Hartley and Chase. I guess at the end, you're led to believe that they become something more...but I SERIOUSLY hope there's going to be a third book, because Gemma Halliday can't just let the story drop there! That would be just awful.
         So, all in all, another funny murder-mystery with a great heroine and a funny backup cast, with a hint at perhaps more stories featuring Hartley to come in the future... I sure hope so, at any rate. 

Cover: Cute! This girl doesn't look as dead as the girl on the first cover, but oh well---I'm not even sure they're SUPPOSED to be dead. For some reason, I picture the girl on the Deadly Cool cover as Hartley and this cover as Sam, but I'm probably wrong... EITHER WAY, the cover is pretty and it actually sets sort of a "Oooh, mystery," sort of air to the book. 

Overall Grade: A-

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Goodreads Description: "Mikael Blomkvist, a once-respected financial journalist, watches his professional life rapidly crumble around him. Prospects appear bleak until an unexpected (and unsettling) offer to resurrect his name is extended by an old-school titan of Swedish industry. The catch—and there's always a catch—is that Blomkvist must first spend a year researching a mysterious disappearance that has remained unsolved for nearly four decades. With few other options, he accepts and enlists the help of investigator Lisbeth Salander, a misunderstood genius with a cache of authority issues. Little is as it seems in Larsson's novel, but there is at least one constant: you really don't want to mess with the girl with the dragon tattoo."

My Review: This is a fantastic book. It's not fantastic because it is enjoyable to read and makes you feel good and gives you the warm fuzzies---exactly the opposite, actually. It's shocking and graphic, but the writing is like a having a bucket of cold water dumped on your head. Larsson throws in tons of unnecessary details that we don't need to know, but that only makes the story more realistic, in my opinion. Larsson was trying to send the message that characters aren't only people when they are dealing with the central plot---they are people, and alive, even when they're just eating a sandwich and doing some research on a computer. And how realistic his characters seemed played a big role in making this book awesome. Because instead of seeming unrealistic---like Dan Brown novels (LOVE me some Dan Brown novels, but sorry...they're so unrealistic)---suddenly the plot in the book seems like it COULD happen, even though it seems too outlandish and dramatic and gory to actually exist. And when you really stop to read about all the atrocities that are committed against women around the world, you realize: this book is VERY plausible. 
          The crime is well-paced and it builds up slowly, almost driving you crazy with anticipation, but it works to the book's advantage, because you keep flipping the pages frantically, wanting to know what the heck happened to Harriet Vanger and how Lisbeth Salander is connected to this whole mess and where Blomkvist and Salander are going to end up. 
          Speaking of Salander...she's a badass. Enough said. Sure, there are many aspects of her personality that are unlikable---perhaps even detestable---but, again, that's realistic. Real humans are flawed. And even though Salander is flawed and made me grit my teeth with annoyance sometimes, she was also cold and clinical and awesome. I liked how she was damaged and lonely and weird, yet she was still competent and independent. Lisbeth Salander does not need saving and I pity the poor sucker who tries to save her. It was great how she actually did her research and used her skills to solve her problems. Sometimes heroines just have an "Aha!" moment of brilliance and solve all the issues... Yeah, no. Not buying it. ALSO, I loved that she was short and petite, proving that small women who look like girls and aren't fierce warriors can also be competent, strong women. 
         Speaking of women...another winning factor in this book is the fact that Larsson coldly addresses the problem women face in this world...which is that they are routinely assaulted and abused at the hands of men, and no one seems to really care. Larsson brings light to a subject that a lot of people think is no big deal, and flat out rejects this claim and tells us: "No. This is a serious, dangerous issue, and because of a lack of care for this issue, women are routinely murdered and exploited. And they are humans, and therefore we should care about this issue the same as we would care if it were children being murdered." 
         Through a great combination of facts, detailed story-telling, intricate plots, realistic characters, and really intense and intriguing crime, Stieg Larsson has crafted basically a perfect crime novel. 
        And now I'm dying to read the two sequels. 

Cover: It's simple and catchy and it does the trick, so I have no complaints. 

Overall Grade: A+

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Prisoner of Cell 25 by Richard Paul Evans

Goodreads Description: "My name is Michael Vey, and the story I’m about to tell you is strange. Very strange. It’s my story.
To everyone at Meridian High School, Michael Vey is an ordinary fourteen-year-old. In fact, the only thing that seems to set him apart is the fact that he has Tourette’s syndrome. But Michael is anything but ordinary. Michael has special powers. Electric powers.

Michael thinks he's unique until he discovers that a cheerleader named Taylor also has special powers. With the help of Michael’s friend, Ostin, the three of them set out to discover how Michael and Taylor ended up this way, but their investigation brings them to the attention of a powerful group who wants to control the electric children – and through them the world. Michael will have to rely on his wits, powers, and friends if he’s to survive."

My Review: Ehhhh. Seriously. That's all I can muster for this book. I feel like Richard Paul Evans just really, really, REALLY wanted to write a YA action/adventure series mirroring the Percy Jackson series and Maximum Ride series...but he fell short on quite a few points. I mean, the book was a vaguely decent start, and I could see it getting better---but I am definitely disappointed with this debut.
          To start made me uncomfortable how closely it mirrored Percy Jackson. ANYONE would be able to notice this. A young, awkward teenager who's unpopular, has strange powers, has an unfavorable condition (Percy had ADHD, Michael has Tourette's), has a very close relationship with his single mother who happens to be kidnapped, and embarks on a cross-country journey with his awkward, dorky best friend to save his mother. I mean, seriously? Come on. 
          Also, the characters were flat and cliche and didn't make me feel anything for them. Ostin was---of course---the fat, awkward, girl-crazy, genius friend. Because THAT'S never been done before in fiction. And Taylor was popular, beautiful, and---of course---a cheerleader. None of them seemed to have any depth or real emotions or even any rapport with each other; I couldn't really believe that any of them even cared about each other. Evans mostly TOLD us things instead of artistically showing us. "I said this." "He said that." "He was cute." Listen, Evans: this book may be for younger audiences, but they're not dumb. No one wants to be told things.
          Also, WAY too many pages of just indented dialogue with no descriptive language used. 
         "Just like this." 
         "No descriptives at all?"
         "Come on, Richard Paul Evans."
          Also, the action and "danger" of the plot felt sort of forced and...well, fake and not real. What kind of kid can go from Idaho to California with a bunch of other teenagers and not encounter ANY sort of trouble along the way? 
          The book sort of picked in the last few chapters and I enjoyed those a little more, but still...not enough. 
         Basically...what I'm trying to say is...Richard Paul Evans needs to step it up. Despite all my complaints, this book wasn't BAD. It was an amusing way to pass the time. But I'm seriously hoping that the next book---because I will give the next book a chance---will be more well-written and have better character development and better action and better everything, basically.

Cover: I guess the cover is pretty cool, considering the plot of the series. It fits the feel of the book very well. 

Overall Grade: C+

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Through The Ever Night by Veronica Ross

Goodreads Description: "It's been months since Aria last saw Perry. Months since Perry was named Blood Lord of the Tides, and Aria was charged with an impossible mission. Now, finally, they are about to be reunited. But their reunion is far from perfect. The Tides don't take kindly to Aria, a former Dweller. And with the worsening Aether storms threatening the tribe's precarious existence, Aria begins to fear that leaving Perry behind might be the only way to save them both. Threatened by false friends, hidden enemies, and powerful temptations, Aria and Perry wonder,Can their love survive through the ever night? In this second book in her spellbinding Under the Never Sky trilogy, Veronica Rossi combines fantasy and dystopian elements to create a captivating love story as perilous as it is unforgettable."

My Review: It's ironic that this book is marketed as "unforgettable", when it seems pretty...well, forgettable to me. It's a decent enough sequel but I found it rather lacking in both action and romance. Perry's parts were honestly just downright boring and I found his struggles to gain the Tides' support very unrealistic. Either he must be the leader of the dumbest people on the planet of Earth or...yeah, no, that must be it. I mean, they get mad at him for not allocating more workers to the fields when they're under threat of attack and he CLEARLY needs to use those workers to defend their home. They also scoff at him wanting to move their settlement to the caves, which sounds unpleasant, I know---but do they not SEE the aether destroying their settlement all around them? Do they seriously think they can just sit on their behinds and go their merry way? 
          So yeah. That made me a little irritated. Aria and Roar's story was much more interesting, partially because I like both Aria and Roar better than I like Perry (seriously, why couldn't Aria be with Roar? Perry's so cliche perfect) and partially because their journey to Sable's settlement---more like kingdom, really---was much more interesting and it echoed sort of a Graceling feel. 
          Some signifcant things did happen in the book, with Liv and the attacks from other tribes and, oh yes, the whole big bad business with the Still Blue. The book definitely sped up near the end, which I liked. The first half of the book seemed kind of like a waste of time to me. But still, apart from the chaos at Reverie, which happened at the VERY end of the book...nothing happened. I had hoped we would learn more about the Still Blue or something, but not really. 
          The main reason I liked this book was the same reason I liked the first one: Aria. I find her to be a really likable character: friendly yet tough, a loyal friend, and she actually makes pretty good decisions, unlike a lot of idiotic heroines. She matured pleasantly from the first book, which was nice. 
          Hopefully the next book will have more resolution as to matters of the Still Blue (which is pretty much the only thing anyone really cares about, readers included). 

Cover: It's alright, very much like the first. But I wish they'd picked a guy who actually resembled Perry and not just some male model. And perhaps actually shown what aether looked like. 

Overall Grade: B-

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Elite by Kiera Cass

Goodreads Description: "Thirty-five girls came to the palace to compete in the Selection. All but six have been sent home. And only one will get to marry Prince Maxon and be crowned princess of Illea.

America still isn’t sure where her heart lies. When she’s with Maxon, she’s swept up in their new and breathless romance, and can’t dream of being with anyone else. But whenever she sees Aspen standing guard around the palace, and is overcome with memories of the life they planned to share. With the group narrowed down to the Elite, the other girls are even more determined to win Maxon over—and time is running out for America to decide.

Just when America is sure she’s made her choice, a devastating loss makes her question everything again. And while she’s struggling to imagine her future, the violent rebels that are determined to overthrow the monarchy are growing stronger and their plans could destroy her chance at any kind of happy ending."

My Review: The Elite was good and bad, in my opinion. Here's what I found good: Kiera Cass followed the same formula and writing style that made me enjoy The Selection. America was just as realistic as she was last time, a good mix of teenage girl and tough girl and normal girl. I'm glad Cass didn't fall into the same rut all dystopian authors do and make the second book about some sort of "uprising" or "revolution" where the heroine becomes some sort of Katniss Everdeen-esq warrior-ninja. It worked for Suzanne Collins...but it doesn't work for everyone. And these books always seemed more like Gossip Girl or The Bachelorette than they did a war story. So while there was war, I'm glad Cass chose to MOSTLY focus on the Selection and the romance and the issues with the other girls more than she did the rebels. Because honestly, that plot seemed pretty backseat-ish to the love triangle. And I enjoyed the love triangle as well; it's kind of obvious who America is going to pick, but hey, you never know what might happen in the last book. Both guys have their ups and downs. It's not like the Twilight Saga, where I was firmly on one guy's side. 
        Here was the bad: NOTHING HAPPENED. Okay, fine, the thing with Marlee---that was big. But that was probably the ONLY thing of importance that happened in this book. I feel like at the end of the book, nothing had changed, except for Marlee. The same few girls who were there at the beginning---the same few girls who MATTER to the plot, anyway, not the random girls none of us care about---were both still there at the end. America had made advances in her relationship with Maxon, but she also went backwards a lot, so I'm not sure she made any progress at all. The only part I did sort of like was when America tried to brashly reform Illea with just one presentation. Anyone could see it was a dumb idea, but hey, at least we have a heroin with some thoughts on social reform and not just how to plan the next coup d'etat. AND her little social reform presentation led to a nice plot with Maxon's dad being all pissed at her (which, I admit, seems a little random and uncharacteristic, because he always seemed pretty placid in the previous book...but we find out quite a few shocking things about the King in this book, so it looks like he's got some skeletons in his closet), which should be amusing to read about in the next book. 
       All in all, I liked this book because the characters stayed true and honestly, it's fun to read this type of girly book (I honestly wish she hadn't put the rebels in; it's so unneccessary to the plot. Leave that stuff to the Divergents of the world, please). But I did find it lacking because the plot was slow and now much happened except for the one thing with Marlee, and a few emotional revelations. Hopefully Cass will pick up the pace in the next book, WITHOUT turning America into some soldier. (Cause really, how realistic is that? How many teenage girls do YOU know who could successfully turn into awesome warriors at the drop of a hat?)

Cover: It's pretty nice, I like it better than the first book. I do love the mirrors they put in the covers, it gives it this cool icy feel---and I like that the fact that the girl is wearing a ball gown makes SENSE. Hate when random books have girls in dresses on the front for no apparent reason.

Overall Grade: B+

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Code by Kathy Reichs

Goodreads Description: "The Virals are put to the ultimate test when they find a geocache containing an ornate puzzle box. Shelton decodes the cipher inside, only to find more tantalizing clues left by "The Gamemaster." A second, greater geocache is within reach—if the Virals are up to the challenge.

But the hunt takes a dark turn when Tory locates the other box—a fake bomb, along with a sinister proposal from The Gamemaster. Now, the real game has begun: another bomb is out there—a real one—and the clock is ticking."

My Review: Kathy Reichs does it again! I have got to say, the Virals series is probably my favorite current YA series right now. I'll be the first to admit that I'm sick of dystopians; I read too many of them in a rush and now I'm burned out from them all. But the Virals series takes me back down to Earth and it really grounds you with a huge dose of sarcastic humor, compelling science, and the thrilling mysteries and mayhem that we all love so much. (Don't deny it; you ALL loved watching National Treasure and reading The Da Vinci Code for the same reason!)
         Virals is one of those series that only gets BETTER with time, which is rare. I still think Seizure is my favorite out of the three, but Code was seriously fantastic. After Seizure, I found myself wondering: How is she going to come up with ANOTHER dastardly, compelling plot? And holy shizza, did Kathy Reichs deliver!
        Code is, quite frankly, fantastic. Tory & Co. are back for another round and they're just as feisty, foolhardy, and funny as ever. These are characters that I'm not tiring of; in fact, I want more! I even like Shelton, and he's one of those characters that authors usually neglect and fans don't really care about. Once again, the frank language and sarcastic humor is one of the greatest selling points for these books. I love the way Tory talks and thinks. It's so real and fresh. She's someone I want to be friends with, after reading this. (Also, she has this cool habit of getting people into crazy adventures...). 
       I liked that Ben and Tory's relationship deepened quite a bit. Reichs took it pretty slow the first two books, which I appreciated, because A) it's REALISTIC, and B) I hate when a main character quickly turns into Only The Love Interest. But after two books of taking it slow, she made their relationship quite a bit more dramatic in Code and, yes, I was thrilled. I love them together. 
       AND THE PLOT. Holy mother. The plot. The plot actually seriously scared me this time, unlike the last two books. How do four kids manage to get themselves into such crazy messes?! I was literally racing through the pages frantically, in a hurry to figure out who was pulling the strings behind this sick "Game" (talk about your regulation psychopaths!). And once again, Kathy Reichs managed to combine an action-filled plot with tons of awesome descriptive scenery of landmarks, monuments, and cool locations in South Carolina AND tons of clever science. Now, how much of this science is true? I'm not sure. But I like that she takes these books beyond the basic "it just is because it is" and has the kids find logical, scientific answers for most of their questions. They don't solve the mysteries by luck; they use RESEARCH and their BRAINS to solve them. Oh, and their guts and powers. 
       Speaking of their's cool how they're evolving as the Virals and becoming more powerful and slick. 
       And let's not even talk about the whole Chance plot. It makes me so angry that he's up to no good again that I literally wanted to throw the book out the window. What is up with this dude? Can he please pick a side to be on? Why is he so freaking bipolar? 
      AND THEN THERE WAS THE FREAKING ENDING. Oh. My. God. Talk about a crazy cliffhanger. I admit, I had a feeling something was up--- But just wow. I can't wait to see how this ending affects the Virals pack in the next book. Because obviously, things are going to get messy for the friends now!
      All in all, a fantastic third book in the series. And now I seriously CAN'T WAIT for the fourth book, whenever that is!

Cover: I'm gonna be honest: NO. I don't like it. I liked the action-y covers with the kids on them that the first two books had. They were more adventurous and fun to look at. I don't know why the publishing company decided to change the covers mid-series (HATE when they do that), but the new covers are all sort of boring, no offense. 

Overall Grade: A+