Monday, April 27, 2015

Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke by Anne Blankman Review

Title: Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke
Author: Anne Blankman
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction
Series: Prisoner of Night and Fog, book two
Star Rating: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

This book was given to me by the publisher, Harpercollins, theough Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review--thank you so much!

Prisoner of Night and Fog was one of my favorite books of all time--last year, it completely stole my heart, and I've been waiting breathlessly for the sequel ever since. When I got the confirmation email, I was so excited.

And I'm sad to say that this installment was just... meh.

I wanted more! I don't know exactly what was wrong, but this sequel just did not sit well with me at all. It wasn't satisfying, and I didn't feel fulfilled like I like to with a sequel. They scare me a little bit, because I have soaring expectations, and when they aren't met, I feel a crushing sense of disappointment. And it's not like this book was bad or anything. It wasn't--it was a good book. I just wasn't wowed. I was expecting more of the novel.

Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke picks up where the previous book ends, with Gretchen and Daniel fleeing for their lives to England, away from the iron grip of terrifying Uncle Dolf and the darkness of Gretchen's past. But when the two receive word that Hitler has become chancellor of Germany, Gretchen and Daniel find themselves in Berlin, hiding amongst the public. Forced back into her old life with the love of her life by her side, Gretchen must decide if taking down the most powerful man in the world is worth sacrificing everything.

I just really felt like the whole story seemed different--it bothered me that a bunch of side things happened, leading up to the huge climax. And the climax itself wasn't disappointing, but that was the only part of the book that made my heart pound. With Prisoner of Night and Fog, it was breakneck, but this just seemed.. softer in comparison, and I wasn't digging it. I was just hoping for more closure. The bottom line: The sequel to last year's explosive bestseller, I wanted Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke to thrill and excite me, but it just fizzled. Next on deck: Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman Review

Title: Shadow Scale
Author: Rachel Hartman
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy
Series: Seraphina, book two
Star Rating: 4.5 Out of 5 Stars

This book was given to me by the publisher, Random House Children's, through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Seraphina, this book's predecessor, is one of my favorite books of all time. Dragons, beautiful, well-thought out world-building, beautiful prose. I just fell in love. So much so, that a few months ago I bought Seraphina, needing to have it. I was a little nervous about Shadow Scale, because sequels almost never seem to live up to the magic of the first novel.

Well, I'm happy to tell you guys, this book didn't disappoint. It picks up where Seraphina left off, with her making plans to leave and gather her fellow half-dragons. War is coming, and she must stop it, for her sake, her friends' sake, and the world. Forced to confront someone from her past, she realizes that she must fight with every bit of strength she has, and maybe uncover some truth about herself as well.

I loved this book: I loved the way that Seraphina's past was expanded on. I was curious about it, reading the last book, so I'm glad that Hartman gave some closure in that regard. The pacing was breakneck--once I began, I couldn't stop, though it took me a bit longer than normal to read this. I also loved the way the world-building was explained--it all made a lot more sense in this book.

And then there's Seraphina herself. I loved her character development. It was exciting to see her grow into a leader, forced by adversity and circumstance to push herself all the more. But it wasn't just her leadership that made me love her: Despite being a half dragon, she understands what it means to be human, and tries her best to do right by everyone she meets--even those who have wronged her. But what I most loved about her was that she was willing to do anything to save her world, and those she loved.

Another thing I'm nervous about with sequels is the ending--but Shadow Scale didn't disappoint me. It ended well, and all loose ends were explained. I am happily satisfied--and not giving anything away! ;) The bottom line: The explosive, exciting sequel to the smashing bestseller, Seraphina, Shadow Scale has something for everyone! Next on deck: Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Vanished by E.E.Cooper Review

Title: Vanished
Author: E.E. Cooper
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Series: N/A
Star Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

This book was given to me by the publisher, Katherine Tegen Books, through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

'Pretty little girls are always believed. Everybody always expects evil to look ugly.'

 This book was like Gone Girl for teens--but every bit as creepy, terrifying, and mind-screwing. This dark little mindfuck of a book begins with Kalah, the main character, struggling for her growing feelings towards one of her best friends, Beth. Beth is everything Kalah is not: beautiful, brave, fearless, magnetic. But on the night of Beth's birthday, she disappears, leaving Kalah behind. Certain that something isn't right, she begins to dig into the reasons Beth left. But when she does, her other best friend, Britney, dies in an apparent suicide. Kalah realizes she must discover the truth, even if it means risking everything.

I really enjoyed this book. I loved the way the author told the story from sweet, fragile Kalah's point of view. She was a really relatable character: desperate to fit into a niche, but at the same time, longing to be her real self. Her struggle to fit in with beautiful Beth and Britney really cut me to the quick: Is having beautiful friends worth it, if all they do is cause trouble?

The pacing of this novel was breakneck. Right out of the gate, Cooper's storytelling pulled no punches--I was immediately pulled into Kalah's world of dangerous friendships and frightening secrets. Holy fuck--it almost didn't matter, that I was predicting the mystery as I went on. The creepy thrill of Cooper's writing was enough to keep me on edge. I loved the way she would lay out hints; tantalizing clues that only added to my trepidation.

The characters of this novel were also what sold this book for me: each one was nuanced and complex, often hiding their own dark secrets. Reading Kalah piece together the mystery of her friends' tangled web of lies was an absolute thrill. More often than not, I got chills. Actual chills!

I loved pretty much everything about this novel, but I was hoping for more solid closure at the end. It definitely fit the creep factor of this spine-tingling little gem of a book, but I wish there was more said at the end. The bottom line: A spine-tingling, creepy little thriller, chockful of secrets, lies, and murder, Vanished was wonderfully satisfying, up until the ending. Next on deck: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman! (Rereading in order to prepare for Shadow Scale. :) )

*All quotes are taken from the digital readers' copy I received from Edelweiss and are subject to change.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman Review

Title: Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances
Author: Neil Gaiman
Age Group: Adult
Genre: Literary Collection
Series: N/A
Star Rating: I rated each piece individually, but overall, this memorable collection is well worth having.

This book was given to me by the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

I love Neil Gaiman. Always have, always will. No matter what, I can always count on his work to inspire me and stir my imagination. It's a little scary how Gaiman weaves stories--it's damn near effortless, as a matter of fact. (Or, at least, it seems that way! Lol.) The only one of his novels I've read is Coraline, but after this luminous collection, I think it's pretty safe to say that I'll be looking for more of his work, as soon as humanly possible!

I like to give two ratings to a literary collection: one for each individual piece of the collection, and one for the actual collection itself. I'd say overall, this is a very good collection to have for any Neil Gaiman fan, or even for those who don't know his work every well. It's a well-rounded book: there are stories and poems for every taste, but it's all done with his dark, playful signature.

Making the Chair, 5 out of 5 Stars. A fun, mysterious poem about writing, creativity, and making chairs. A perfect poem to set the tone for the rest of the collection.

The Lunar Labyrinth, 4 out of 5 Stars. A darkly chilling tale of moon people, and the labyrinth they burned down, this story was intriguing and frightening, creepy and enjoyable.

The Thing About Cassandra, 4 out of 5 Stars. A twisty, odd story of two friends who seemed to have made each other up, this story was fun because of the romantic relationship. Very fun and sweet.

Down to a Sunless Sea, 5 out of 5 Stars. Easily my favorite story of the volume so far, a darkly chilling story of a son lost at sea and ended by his crew, as told by his grief stricken mother. Amazing! Pulled off with Neil Gaiman's signature flair.

"The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains", 4.5 out of 5 Stars. This story had a distinct fairy tale feel. I loved it. A dwarf and an old man journey to the mountains of The Isle of Skye in the hopes of returning home wealthy. What ensues instead is a fight for survival, and quite possibly an encounter with an evil spirit. Another contender for the best story in the volume.

My Last Landlady, 4 out of 5 Stars. This short story was kind of weird. A murderous, cantankerous old lady finds good company in the narrator, at a terrible price. Kind of strange, but like all of Gaiman's stories, well worth the read.

Adventure, 2 out of 5 Stars. A mother and son have clearly different definitions of the word adventure. I had high expectations for this one, but it just didn't jump off the page enough for me.
Orange, 5 out of 5 Stars. An oddly intriguing little story about a family, aliens, and naturally, the color orange. This story was unique in that it was told in list format, in the form of answered questions. Highly enjoyable.

A Calendar of Tales, 5 out of 5 Stars. A miniature collection of tales within this book, one for every month of the year, are all teasing little snippets of stories, varied, but all beautiful and full of skill. Yet another favorite story! I love this book so far!

The Case of Death and Honey, 4.5 out of 5 Stars. Gaiman takes on a familiar character in literature: Sherlock Holmes! An exciting, wry tale involving bees and China, Baker Street and honey. An old man goes to a mountainside and learns how to keep bees, and maybe discover the secret of youth. This piece was fun in a classical kind of way. A worthy homage to one of the fathers of crime literature.

The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury, A warm and tender homage to the titan of science fiction, this story completely warmed me to Bradbury's fiction. (Yay for Fahrenheit 451! Lol.) A scary mediation on old age and memories, this one is lovely, a true valentine to the father of the science fiction genre. 5 out of 5 Stars.

Jerusalem, 3 out of 5 Stars. I didn't really get this one. Morrison and his wife, Delores, go to Jerusalem, where a 'city specific' illness takes Delores, and maybe they find God, and their faith? I liked the ageless wonder of the ancient city, but it was muddled and confusing.

Click-Clack the Rattlebag, 4 out of 5 Stars. A creepy story of darkness and monsters, I expected more from this one. A boyfriend and his girlfriend's brother bond over a dark night in a drafty house, but the attic hides mysterious creatures that may have a craving for human flesh. The ending was my favorite part of this one.

An Invocation of Incuriousity, 1 out of 5 Stars. This story was confusing, I didn't really get it, or what was going on. A man called Farfal the Unfortunate goes on a journey to a new world-ours-out of the nothingness of his own empty universe. A valiant story, but it just wasn't for me.

Weep, Like Alexander, 3.5 Out of 5 Stars. An uninventor makes quite the ruckus at a local pub, recounting the achievements of his life and career as an uninventor. It's literally just as it sounds: he unravels the fabric of creation, from its first spark in the mind. Odd, but definitely funny, and engaging.

Nothing O'Clock, 4.5 Out of 5 Stars. Doctor Who: Who isn't a fan this days? (ha.) Gaiman weaves a story straight out of Matt Smith's season, where the lovable 11th Doctor and his sassy companion, Amy Pond, fight to save Earth from the deadly Kin, who seek the destruction of all of humanity. A little weird, and kooky, but I loved the way Gaiman played with the tone of this story.

Pearls: A Fairy Tale, 5 out of 5 Stars. Fairy tales are like literary crack to me. And this one is just wonderful, full of allusions to classic ones, with just a hint of darkness and terror. The ending was frightening and mysterious. Gaiman has the ability to marry beautiful prose with engaging premises and vivid imagery. This story was highly enjoyable.

Kether to Malkuth, 4 Out of 5 Stars. A story about a duke that has everything, this strange narrative bends the laws of time and space, leading the duke to venture towards getting a heart. Once there, he faces what he truly wants for the first time. I enjoyed the style of it, but it was a bit hard to follow.

Feminine Endings, 5 out of 5 Stars. A tender, pining love letter from a statue to the love of her life. I really enjoyed the point of view of this, as well as the sweet, but almost intrusive, intimacy the lovelorn narrator provides. The story fits its title, and I greatly enjoyed it.

Observing the Formalities, 2 out of 5 Stars. An odd little piece, narrated by someone with a clear love of manners and perfection.. To the point where she is completely alone. I didn't really get this piece either.

The Sleeper and the Spindle, 5 out of 5 Stars. My first time reading this was in Rags and Bones: Twists on Timeless Tales. (With the gorgeous illustration as well!) A fun, darkly playful rill on two beloved fairy tales, a queen breaks an ancient curse with a price that could be too high to pay. One of my favorite Neil Gaiman yarns, if not the favorite!

Witch Work, 5 out of 5 Stars. I've grown to love Neil Gaiman's poetry as much as his fiction. A rhyming, rhythmic poem about an old witch who hid her life in a books, casting and binding spells, no company but clocks. I really liked the tone and flow of this one; it was a fantastic little tidbit.

In Relig Odhrain, 2 out of 5 Stars. The closing piece of the collection, this odd little poem tells the origin of two saints, one evil, and the other, something not quite from this realm. I didn't really get it, it was kind of weird.

My only complaint was that this collection didn't have Black Dog, and I thought that was included. But nonetheless, I really enjoyed this beautiful collection of stories. I'm so happy to have been able to read it. Next on deck: Vanished by E.E. Cooper!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Waking Storms by Sarah Porter Review (Possible Spoilers! Beware!)

Title: Waking Storms
Author: Sarah Porter
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy
Series: Lost Voices, book two
Star Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from the Kindle Unlimited Library and reviewed it.

Sarah Porter has beautiful writing--it's one of the things that drew me to her novels in the first place. Well. That and the promise of killer mermaids. I'm enchanted with her prose--it's absolutely gorgeous!--but this book. Gah. Where do I start?

This book picks up where Lost Voices left off, with Luce leaving her mermaid tribe, fraught with drama and rivalries, to seek out solitude on her own. And she finds it, for a while--until she receives word that the queen of her previous tribe is out for blood. And it gets even worse when Dorian, the lone survivor of a ship Luce and her tribe sank, seeks retribution. But when he and Luce fall for one another, she begins to hope all the more that her kind is meant for more than murder. Forced to confront her growing desire for love and her own dark yearnings, Luce wonders if she, of all people, may have to sacrifice everything to be a queen.

I'll start with the good stuff: I really enjoyed this sequel, at first--it really started out strong. And I loved Luce--I loved the way she evolved from the naive young mermaid of the first novel, into a young woman forced to make some very frightening (dare I say life-altering?) choices. I enjoyed the way Porter wove her prose, like a hypnotic web, unable to tear away from Luce and her troubles.

But then comes Dorian. And I like that Porter actually made a survivor a main character. But then, gasp! They fall in love, despite the circumstances in which they met! And I'm sure you know where it goes from there--I won't spoil it! Their relationship seemed a tad contrived, even for a young adult novel, and it seemed forced. I wasn't feeling it. I wish that it hadn't been so rushed. It just didn't feel realistic. And yeah, I know, this is a mermaid book, but still! Lol.

What I liked was the mermaid politics--really, when things got messy, that was the only thing keeping me going. I liked the new characters introduced, and I loved the way Porter provided some sort of closure for Luce's family. That really made me happy.

I liked the ending--that's pretty much the only thing that is making me read the rest of this series. The ending was explosive and a crazy cliffhanger, and I was happy with it. I'm looking forward to The Twice Lost. The bottom line: Though flawed somewhat, and though an instant relationship bloomed, I liked Waking Storms, and I'm looking forward to what's coming next. Next on deck: The Twice Lost by Sarah Porter!