Friday, March 27, 2015

DNF Review: Finding Mr. Brightside by Jay Clark

Finding Mr. Brightside
Jay Clark

Genre: Contemporary
Hardback: 224 Pages
Publication: March 24, 2015
by Henry Holt and Co. BFYR

Abram and Juliette know each other. They’ve lived down the street from each other their whole lives. But they don’t really know each other—at least, not until Juliette’s mom and Abram’s dad have a torrid affair that culminates in a deadly car crash. Sharing the same subdivision is uncomfortable, to say the least. They don’t speak.

Fast-forward to the neighborhood pharmacy, a few months later. Abram decides to say hello. Then he decides to invite her to Taco Bell. To her surprise as well as his, she agrees. And the real love story begins.


I wanted to like this novel. First, the title reminds me of the song by The Killers, and I wondered if and how Abram and Juliette's story would relate to the song. Second, the story sounds really cute (as is the cover for the novel). However, I just couldn't connect with the characters or their story.

The chapters alternate between Abram and Juliette's perspectives. Finding Mr. Brightside is already short for a novel. In order to give each character enough page time, the chapters are cut short and aren't filled with many details. The result is that the story moves fairly quickly without elaborating on the characters thoughts and actions. It also made me confused about the nature of their relationship. Juliette's mom and Abram's dad died not too long ago on top of having an affair with each other. From Juliette's first chapter, we know that she isn't sure how to interact with Abram, so how do they end up kind of flirting with each other soon after we learn this piece of information? Juliette blames some of her bizarre actions on her medication, but it would have helped if some of the backstory had been set up before the pharmacy scene. (Such has how the families are coping, what their relationship is like right now, maybe what they're struggling with, and how their respective medications are influencing their lives.)

As it is, Abram and Juliette fell flat for me. While some insight into their minds is provided, their thoughts don't tell us much beyond the superficial. I don't feel like we're really shown the core of their characters. In addition, their behavior seems juvenile, and because of the lack of backstory, the character motivation is lacking. It seems to me from Abram's first chapter that he has a crush on Juliette, but since when and how has the "tragedy" influenced his view of Juliette and his perceived chance of a romantic encounter with her? Juliette is harder to understand. Why does she blame her behavior on the medications, and does she view it as a good or bad thing? Why is she on the medication in the first place? I believe that these question will be answered later, but they haven't been answered 17% into the novel. In fact, 17% into the novel, I still don't know what makes them who they are. Not to mention that I'm still on the first night (the pharmacy night). By now, I would have expected the introduction to be over and the plot starting to move.

For a tragic love story, I would recommend The Beginning of After by Jennifer Castle. For a short, cute love story, I would recommend The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith. My reviews for these novels are linked before.

DNF 17% into the novel (the last third of which was skimmed)

A copy was provided by Macmillan for review

** Content warnings are from the parts of the novel that I read and may not reflect the entirety of the novel **

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Review: Silver Shadows by Richelle Mead

Silver Shadows
Richelle Mead

Series: Bloodlines #5
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Hardback: 416 Pages
Publication: July 29, 2013
by Razorbill

Sydney Sage is an Alchemist, one of a group of humans who dabble in magic and serve to bridge the worlds of humans and vampires. They protect vampire secrets - and human lives.

In The Fiery Heart, Sydney risked everything to follow her gut, walking a dangerous line to keep her feelings hidden from the Alchemists.

Now in the aftermath of an event that ripped their world apart, Sydney and Adrian struggle to pick up the pieces and find their way back to each other. But first, they have to survive.

For Sydney, trapped and surrounded by adversaries, life becomes a daily struggle to hold on to her identity and the memories of those she loves. Meanwhile, Adrian clings to hope in the face of those who tell him Sydney is a lost cause, but the battle proves daunting as old demons and new temptations begin to seize hold of him. . . .


I enjoyed Silver Shadows quite a bit more than the past several books in this series. As much as I feel for Sydney's plight, with Sydney and Adrian being apart, Silver Shadows has more plot development outside of the romance than the last several installments in the series. Nevertheless, my feelings from The Fiery Heart still remain (read my review here). The Bloodlines series has become just another YA paranormal romance series. There are way too many plotlines in this series for any of them to be resolved satisfactorily except perhaps Sydney and Adrian's romance, and that's because the romance plot has dominated most of the pages. To name a few, the witch plot, Marcus Finch, and Jill's circumstances have long since fallen off the radar.

It feels like each book has been introducing a new plot while leaving past plots behind. The result is that, with each book, I'm reading an episodic plot on the timeline of Sydney and Adrian's romance. This is really disappointing, as Bloodlines had promise to it. I love Sydney and Adrian's characters, and I love the friends they make. Richelle Mead has a talent for creating likable characters that snuggle their way into readers' hearts. I just wish that there was more consistency to the plot and that it didn't feel like characters are coming in and out as is convenient for what Mead wants to write. The recurring characters outside of Sydney and Adrian have lost the luster that they used to have in the first couple of novels in the series.

That said, I do like how we get to learn more about the Alchemists in Silver Shadows. I would write more on this, but I'm writing this review quite a while after I read this book, so my mind is hazy on the details. So I'm going to jump to the end and say that what Adrian does for Sydney following their reunion is so very cute and romantic, if impulsive. Well, if they know that it is definitely what they wanted in the long run, there's not much harm done, is there?

Given that there is only one more book in the series and I really want to find out what happens in the end, I'll be reading The Ruby Circle. To those who haven't read this series but love Vampire Academy, the first book in this series is the only one I would really recommend. For the rest, I'd recommend skimming or reading summaries.

Rating: 3 stars


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Friday, March 20, 2015

DNF Review: Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch

Snow Like Ashes
Louise Erdrich

Series: Snow Like Ashes #1
Genre: YA Fantasy
Hardback: 422 Pages
Publication: October 14, 2014
by Balzer + Bray

A heartbroken girl. A fierce warrior. A hero in the making.

Sixteen years ago the Kingdom of Winter was conquered and its citizens enslaved, leaving them without magic or a monarch. Now, the Winterians’ only hope for freedom is the eight survivors who managed to escape, and who have been waiting for the opportunity to steal back Winter’s magic and rebuild the kingdom ever since.

Orphaned as an infant during Winter’s defeat, Meira has lived her whole life as a refugee, raised by the Winterians’ general, Sir. Training to be a warrior—and desperately in love with her best friend, and future king, Mather — she would do anything to help her kingdom rise to power again.

So when scouts discover the location of the ancient locket that can restore Winter’s magic, Meira decides to go after it herself. Finally, she’s scaling towers, fighting enemy soldiers, and serving her kingdom just as she’s always dreamed she would. But the mission doesn’t go as planned, and Meira soon finds herself thrust into a world of evil magic and dangerous politics – and ultimately comes to realize that her destiny is not, never has been, her own.


From the first pages of the book, I knew this wasn't going to be for me. Meira's characterization is precisely what I've come to dislike in a heroine. Her recklessness and inability to think about the consequences of her actions is disguised as heroism. I understand that she wants to fight for her kingdom, and it's admirable, but her leader is right to be concerned about how she'll fare on the battlefield. It's entirely different from sparring practices with a friend who isn't actually trying to kill her—and she keeps losing against said friend. It's also not promising that the romance is introduced so early. While I do like some romance on the side in a book, I'm not really into romantic fantasies. I like more plot and action. For example, Tamora Pierce's Tortall books have a good balance between action/plot and romance.

On top of that, the narration doesn't do a good job of balancing the world building with everything else. There's too much of some things and too little of others, which made it difficult to get into the story, much less learn about the world. It would have been better to start off with focusing on giving us some pivotal details that we need to know about the world and saving other details for later so that the narration didn't get bogged down in overly descriptive passages with information that we didn't necessarily need to know at the moment. This way, the plot would have been able to move forward more easily.

As it is, however, I honestly couldn't really relate to Meira, and if I don't like the characters, it's really hard for me to get into a book. I believe that fans of Defy by Sara B. Larson, Defiance by C.J. Redwine, and Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, may enjoy this one.

DNF 8% into the novel

Content: some minor violence

A copy was provided by Harper Collins for review

** Content warnings are from the parts of the novel that I read and may not reflect the entirety of the novel **

Friday, March 6, 2015

Review: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman

Genre: YA Urban Fantasy
Paperback: 370 Pages
Publication: October 2001 (originally July 1997)
by HarperTorch

Richard Mayhew is a plain man with a good heart - and an ordinary life that is changed forever on a day he stops to help a girl he finds bleeding on a London sidewalk. From that moment forward he is propelled into a world he never dreamed existed - a dark subculture flourishing in abandoned subway stations and sewer tunnels below the city - a world far stranger and more dangerous than the only one he has ever known... 


Even though this is barely the third of his books that I've read, I think it's safe to say that Neil Gaiman is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. After I read and reviewed Stardust last summer, several of my friends recommended this book, but it wasn't until now that the magic hats decreed it should be reviewed.

I loved our main character. Much like Tristran from Stardust, Richard is a sweet, well-meaning guy who is just making his way along in a fairly humdrum, almost boringly normal life. It's this good Samaritan attitude that leads him to his predicament, when he decides to help the injured Lady Door. It's interesting to see how he adjusts to the changes that come about because of his encounter with Door, including how he adapts to being in the world of London Below. He also has a cool overall character arc, going from a pushover to someone who stands up for himself.

Besides Richard, the other characters held up well. The journeying group, composed of Door, the Marquis de Carabas, and Door's bodyguard Hunter, have a good group dynamic and are all portrayed well individually. As soon as Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar appear, you can tell that they're the villains; Gaiman portrays them as sleazy and slimy, perfect evil henchmen material. Some of the blurbs I read about this book described it as a dark, punk version of Alice in Wonderland, and it's pretty true. This is especially noticeable when looking at the Floating Market, which is exactly what it sounds like, a nightly market that moves from place to place in London. All the characters Richard and his companions encounter at the market give an idea of just how much variety there is among the denizens of London Below, much like the variety of characters Alice meets in Wonderland. Meeting these characters, as well as seeing the ebb and flow of the market, made for some great scenes.

To continue the Alice metaphor, the world Gaiman creates is loopy and off-the-wall, much like Wonderland. Again, the different people who live in London Below and the way they interact with each other at the Floating Market shows just how unusual their world is, at least when compared to the London Richard is used to. Like Alice, Richard becomes an anchor for the reader, serving as the only "normal" thing in such an unusual place. He wonders at the beginning of his journey whether or not he's going crazy, but gradually accepts the events going on around him as reality. This acceptance, to a certain extent, contributes to his character arc.

While I loved the way Gaiman created and portrayed London Below, I feel like he could've gone further into it. There are various mentions by the characters about the different tribes of London Below, including the fact that Door's father wanted to unite them into a single community. We even see some members of these tribes at the Floating Market, but we're never given a history about how such a diverse group of tribes came to be in the same place. We're only told that London Below is made of people that "fell through the cracks" of London Above, and seeing how this happened, whether through narration or dialogue, would've enriched this strange world and made it more interesting. This could also answer why there are so many different factions among London Below's denizens, as well as explain why Door's father wanted them to make peace.

I also had some trouble with the antagonists' motivation. The moment when we find out who Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar are working for was only presented to the audience; this made the moment when the characters found out, which happens a few chapters later, really anticlimactic. Mind you, the reveal is a twist, but it isn't as satisfying a twist than if the reader and the characters had found out at the same time. We never find out the reasoning behind this big boss's madness, and there were a few moments with him after the reveal that showed there was much more to him than what we saw at first glance. While the reveal could've been handled better and the motivation could've been developed more, the twists leading up to these were well executed. There was some context to them, but it was still shocking when they were unraveled.

I kind of have mixed feelings about the ending. It reminded me of a quote from Desire, one of the characters from Gaiman's Sandman series: "I should warn you, getting what you want and being happy are two quite different things." Richard gets what he wants, his life back in London Above, but he realizes that he isn't happy. I felt like the moments we get of him in London Above after having been in London Below go by pretty fast; a more gradual transition in the change of mind Richard has might've been better. At least Richard's final actions had context and didn't come out of nowhere, so that wasn't a problem. If anything, I was happy that this guy, who is kind of a wimp at the beginning, is now more confident and realizes that he doesn't have to live in such a dull world.

I'll admit that there are some issues with this book. I've heard that Gaiman has thought about a sequel for this book, and if that's really the case, I say he should go for it. This book introduces readers to a fascinating world that has fallen through the cracks, and more stories could provide us with a richer history of this world. Perhaps this could also provide for an opportunity to revisit the villains from this book in a prequel to see more on their motivation. But besides those issues, I genuinely enjoyed reading this book. Gaiman's prose is great, and there are humorous moments that provided some good laughs. The group dynamic is good, there are great twists, and the development of Richard throughout his journey is probably the best thing of all. Definitely check this book out.

Rating: 4 stars



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Friday, February 13, 2015

Review: The Glass Casket by McCormick Templeman

The Glass Casket
McCormick Templeman

Genre: YA Horror
Hardcover: 336 Pages
Publication: February 11, 2014
by Delacorte Press

Death hasn't visited Rowan Rose since it took her mother when Rowan was only a little girl. But that changes one bleak morning, when five horses and their riders thunder into her village and through the forest, disappearing into the hills. Days later, the riders' bodies are found, and though no one can say for certain what happened in their final hours, their remains prove that whatever it was must have been brutal. 
Rowan's village was once a tranquil place, but now things have changed. Something has followed the path those riders made and has come down from the hills, through the forest, and into the village. Beast or man, it has brought death to Rowan's door once again. Only this time, its appetite is insatiable. 


After reading the initial summary, I was pretty excited about this book. The tagline alone had already piqued my interest, but the things in that description had me geared up and ready to go. This is one of the few times that a book has really disappointed me.

Some of you may have heard this about the book, but I really didn't catch how this was a retelling of Snow White. I mean okay, so there's a pale, black-haired girl in a glass coffin, but that's literally in only one chapter. There is a character who is a glassblower in the book, so I thought that he would have featured more prominently in the story, but it wasn't the case. I even read up a little on the original Grimm brothers tale to compare and make sure I wasn't letting my judgment get clouded by images of the Disney film, but I couldn't find anything else that really proved a resemblance between the stories. (Maybe one of you guys could find some similarities while reading.)

This book got off to a slow start, but once I was in a few chapters, the plot really started to roll. The mystery is pretty intense, especially because of the buildup when it comes to victims. The first few deaths didn't seem to be such high priorities since the victims were strangers to the village, but once some locals started dying, everyone began freaking out and scrambling to figure out who or what was going around killing in the village. The truth behind the murders was pretty scary, and the scenes when the characters go into the forest had some great tension and suspense. Overall this aspect of the story was well done, as the pieces of the murder puzzle are scattered from the very beginning and came together pretty well at the end.

Throughout the book, we are constantly reminded of the village witch, Mama Lune, and her mysterious visitor, Mama Tetri. In this world, there are different types of witches called by colors (Greenwitches, Bluewitches, etc.) and each type works with different kinds of magic. This seemed like an interesting concept, and I really wished the author had given us more of that mythology, as well as involved the witches in the story some more. They make a few fleeting appearances in the middle of the book before making a big revelation, after which they leave. I had really hoped they would be there for the final confrontation and was disappointed to see them go so quickly.

The romances in this book left a lot to be desired. The potential love interests were Rowan's best friend Tom and his older brother Jude, but nothing in either's interactions with Rowan hinted that they could have feelings for her. It's briefly hinted that Rowan may have feelings for Tom and she feels hurt when he's obviously pining for another girl, but it comes up so suddenly that it feels phoned in. When it comes to Tom and the girl he's after, it does seem like there's some genuine feelings, but things happen afterwards that made me wonder whether it was still the feelings that kept them together or something else altogether. Another romance also pops up towards the end of the book, and though this one has some subtle buildup, it's too subtle and this just makes the romance seem like a spur-of-the-moment sort of deal.

There's no other way for me to put: the ending to this book just went completely off the rails. There are quite a few twists pertaining to the cause of the deaths in the village, and we're not given enough time to process any of these, which was really a problem because these reveals were genuinely shocking and required some going back on my part to figure them out. The final confrontation felt incredibly rushed, and the last chapter felt more like a hastily tacked-on epilogue. Now that I think about it, the whole last third of the book felt too rushed for my taste. There are many revelations about some characters, including one who had died prior to the events of the story, and there isn't really an opportunity to absorb all of this information. It was literally a case of hopping to the next plot point and the next with no resting in between. It also feels like there should be more to the last chapter than what we get; it has no real substance, so the addition of a few events that take place between it and the preceding chapter would've cleared this problem.

I feel so bad because it feels like this book had the potential to be so much more. The scenes in the forest and the mystery surrounding the deaths will probably be what I remember most from this book. The plot takes a few chapters to really pick up, the climax is rushed through at close to warp speed, and the last chapter feels like it may have been added at the last minute. Again, I looked forward to reading this book based on its premise, but all of these problems hurt my enjoyment of the book. Had a few things been cut out and some others expanded, this might've been a better read.

Rating: 1.5 stars



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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Review: The Queen of the Damned by Anne Rice

The Queen of the Damned
Anne Rice

Genre: Gothic Horror
Paperback: 491 Pages
Publication: October 1989 (originally 1988)
by Ballantine Books

The rock star known as the Vampire Lestat, worshipped by millions of spellbound fans, prepares for a concert in San Francisco. Among the audience are hundreds of vampires, fiends themselves who hate Lestat's power and are determined to destroy him.

The sleep of certain men and women--vampires and mortals scattered around the world--is haunted by a vivid, mysterious dream: twins with fiery red hair and piercing green eyes who suffer an unspeakable tragedy. It is a dream that slowly, tauntingly reveals its meaning to the dreamers as they make their way toward each other, some to be destroyed on the journey, some to face an even more terrifying fate at journey's end.

Akasha, Queen of the Damned, mother of all vampires, rises after a 6,000 year sleep and puts into motion a heinous plan to "save" mankind from itself and make "all myths of the world real" by elevating herself and her chosen son/lover to the level of the gods. 


It seems my magic hats have been on some sort of vampire trend as of late, what with all the vampire books I've drawn for review. I remember trying to read this in high school, but since I hadn't read The Vampire Lestat (which you pretty much have to in order to read this), the bits I did get through didn't make much sense. However, after having read the last two books of the series, I was more than prepared for what would happen in this book. At least, for the most part.

I didn't note this in my last Vampire Chronicles review, but both this book and its predecessor get a little meta. This story takes place in a world where both Interview With the Vampire and The Vampire Lestat are actual books that were published and read by millions. The young reporter who interviewed Louis is a real life author in this world, and the band Lestat forms actually have music videos that play on MTV regularly, hence how the other vampires in the world learned about his existence and rule breaking in the last book. This was something I'd never encountered before, and it made me happy to see how the existence of these books was woven into the current story and how the events retold in them affected the characters.

As was the case with the last book, I loved getting to meet some new vampires, along with seeing some familiar faces. We are formally introduced to Daniel, the boy who spoke to Louis in Interview with the Vampire, and find out what he's done since the book was published and how he came to be involved with the vampires. We meet the women who inspired the Legend of the Twins, Maharet and Mekare, and their descendant, Jesse, who is accompanied with a rather interesting backstory of her own. The interactions between the vampires from previous books, as well as these new acquaintances, were well rendered and made for some great scenes and exchanges.

Even though we've gotten bits in the previous installments, this book expanded even more on the abilities of vampires, as well as their origins. Though there have been instances of a few of the powers vampires have, such as super strength, rapid healing, and mindreading, we get to see even more powers, as well as how some of the vampires discover these abilities. The last book gave us a Sparknotes-version of the beginning of Those Who Must Be Kept, Akasha and Enkil, but here we got all of the details of how they came to be what they are, as well as what they were like before the fateful transformations.

What really interested me about this book was that we got to see both sides of the war. Alternating between Lestat's point of view and those of other characters allowed this to happen pretty well, although there were times when I had difficulty piecing the events that happened to each withing the puzzle of the whole narrative. Since the whole story is essentially bits and pieces Lestat puts together himself afterwards, this was why I had trouble with the layering of the individual stories, but only at first. I know, it sounds kind of confusing, but this book had a pretty complex structure that seems hard to grip in the beginning but makes more sense the further you get into it.

Something that bothered me in the first few sections of the book was the constant mention of the dreams various characters have of Maharet and Mekare. Don't get me wrong, though. The fact that so many different people dream about them builds up the anticipation for the telling of their story, and the payoff was good. But what I didn't like was that it felt like more time was spent with these characters and their confusion as to the meaning of the dreams. One or two of these characters also didn't feel like they really contributed to the plot, so the sections centering on them could've been cut out in my mind.

I also didn't like Akasha's "plan" to better the world. From what we learn about her, the plan can make sense based on what we know about her ideas about certain things. That being said, I actually wanted to know a bit more about what happened to Akasha before she was queen of Egypt; there were brief details about her background as the daughter of another royal family, but none of it was really elaborated on. If maybe there had been a section where we saw things from her own perspective, or some descriptions of events that could've led to her current mindset, we could more easily see the reason behind the madness, if you will. (I know a lot of this sounds kind of vague, but for the sake of not spoiling some good stuff, I have to leave things out.)

Because of all the buildup in the first parts of the book, I was expecting a huge epic battle between the two sides. What we ended up getting was more diplomatic than what previous sections of the book would've led you to believe, but the tension in these moments was really well done, especially when you see how the surviving vampires split themselves up and their reactions to Akasha's schemes. The scene only got better when the action kicked in, but the confrontation felt like it ended too quickly for me. There was a lot of buildup, from the dreams of Maharet and Mekare to the eventual telling of their story, that I was actually disappointed by how quickly the fight was resolved. The conclusion to the confrontation was good and we finally got the meaning behind the dreams, but I would've liked the fight between the vampires to have been drawn out a little more.

The ending to this book has been my favorite so far in the Vampire Chronicles. (Not the end of the fight, but the pages that come after it and serve as a sort of epilogue.) It's more lighthearted than previous endings and feels like it could be the end to the saga. However, it drifts to a close that gives just enough of an impression that the story isn't entirely over yet. Personally, the lightheartedness of the ending was what made it really enjoyable. Since most of the story is told by others, spending the last few chapters with Lestat reminded me of the liveliness of his narrative, not just in this book but also in The Vampire Lestat. Okay, I may have also really liked the ending because it ends with Lestat hanging out with Louis, who happens to be my favorite of the vampires. The chemistry between Lestat and Louis is beautiful, their relationship seemingly better than what it had been in the past, and it's this chemistry that lends its beauty to these last few pages.

Some of you may have heard that there's a film adaptation of this book. Unfortunately, I haven't seen it, but from what I've heard, it wasn't that great. Most complaints stem from the fact that the film tried to adapt both this book and The Vampire Lestat, something which supposedly really upset Anne Rice herself. I've read up on it, and honestly, it sounds like something you could skip. The synopsis sounded like a botched version of this book with a few elements from Vampire Lestat, and this just seems like a recipe for absolute confusion. After having read all three books, I feel pretty confident in saying that they probably should've adapted the second book of the series before jumping into the third.

Though the beginning was a bit slow for my liking, it ended up being a great read overall. The expansion of the vampire universe was great, and the interactions between the vampires were well done also. Rice's writing is as exquisite as it has been in previous books, and maybe a little more lush than usual. Despite setbacks from structure and not spending as much time as I would've liked with the story of the twins and the fight against Akasha, this was a delight to read, and now I'm very curious as to where the next installment in the series will lead.

Rating: 4.5 stars

  1. Interview with the Vampire
  2. The Vampire Lestat
  3. The Queen of the Damned
  4. The Tale of the Body Thief
  5. Memnoch the Devil
  6. The Vampire Armand
  7. Merrick
  8. Blood and Gold
  9. Blackwood Farm
  10. Blood Canticle
  11. Prince Lestat
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  • Graphic depictions of murder
  • Some depictions of mutilation
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