Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Review: Falls the Shadow by Stefanie Gaither





Falls the Shadow
Stefanie Gaither


Genre: Science Fiction
Hardback: 352 Pages
Publication: September 16, 2014
by Simon & Schuster BFYR





Synopsis

When Cate Benson was a kid, her sister, Violet, died. Two hours after the funeral, Cate’s family picked up Violet’s replacement. Like nothing had happened. Because Cate’s parents are among those who decided to give their children a sort of immortality—by cloning them at birth—which means this new Violet has the same smile. The same perfect face. Thanks to advancements in mind-uploading technology, she even has all of the same memories as the girl she replaced.

She also might have murdered the most popular girl in school.

At least, that’s what the paparazzi and the anti-cloning protestors want everyone to think: that clones are violent, unpredictable monsters. Cate is used to hearing all that. She’s used to defending her sister, too. But Violet has vanished, and when Cate sets out to find her, she ends up in the line of fire instead. Because Cate is getting dangerously close to secrets that will rock the foundation of everything she thought was true.

In a thrilling debut, Stefanie Gaither takes readers on a nail-biting ride through a future that looks frighteningly similar to our own time and asks: how far are you willing to go to keep your family together?


Review
◆ An ARC was provided by Simon & Schuster for review ◆

Falls the Shadow presents an intriguing concept for consideration: the ethics of cloning and its implication. A concept that falls close to home with the debate over stem cell research. I'm not a big sci-fi reader, but the idea of clones at the ready to replace you should you die was one I couldn't pass over, making this one of my top ten anticipated debuts of 2014. Unfortunately, the actual execution of the story fell short, and it fails to fully fulfill the potential to explore the deep thematic issues of the humanity and what it means to be a family.

I think what drew me most to this book is the themes that underly the topic of this book. When I decide to pick up a science fiction novel, I expect to read something that explores the nature of humanity and what it means to be human. It goes along with the age-old battle of scientific advancement versus preserving our humanity. What I got with Falls the Shadow, however, feels more like your typical YA read where the teenage protagonist goes off in search of answers to some perceived wrong and struggles to find his or her place in the world. Except, while there is certainly teenage angst in this novel, it doesn't feel like we even explore that much. Mostly, I felt like I was following Cate on this misguided, badly planned, and highly dangerous journey and hoping that she wouldn't get herself killed in the process.

While I admire Cate's resolve to make her own decision in this battle between opposing forces that believe they're doing the right thing for humanity, she wavers a little too much in a lot of her decisions, and what she thinks doesn't always match up with what she does. She's also hopelessly naïve and charges through things without heed to the consequences, hoping that things will come through in the end. I understand that this is a part of being human—there's no absolute right or wrong decision in many cases—but Cate is the narrator, and she didn't provide stable grounding for me as a reader. With her lack of resolve, it was hard to connect with her and thus the story.

The world building was also severely lacking. At times, Cate feeds us a bit of the history of her world and how it came to be in the state that it is today. However, it's spotty and only touches on the highlights. Essentially, it's like a mini history lesson. It doesn't really prepare us to enter the world and tackle things alongside Cate. The best world building came to me in the Prologoue with a younger Cate going with her family to meet Violet's replacement for the first time. I felt like I was there with Cate, experiencing the loathing of the anti-cloning factions and seeing her relationship with her parents. I could feel the complexity of greeting your sister's replacement for the first time: the hesitancy and yet the hope that everything will be all right.

At the same time, the brilliance of the Prologue dies with the lack of sufficient followup in the first chapters. It takes a while to piece together how Cate's relationship with her sister's replacement has progressed since they first met, and even then it feels like a story I've been fed. In fact, the rest of the story lacks the emotional charge of the Prologue. After that, I never really connected with Cate and the other characters. It may be a combination of Cate's indecisiveness making it hard to decide whether or not to trust someone and also the stilted dialogue, which felt staged. Also, the teenagers do a lot of reckless, not-really-thought-out things that had me shaking my head and wondering why they hadn't failed their mission already. The only one I really felt was her own person is Violet (well, her clone), but she's not really present until the later part of the novel.

Overall, the story was a disappointment. Like I mentioned earlier, there was a lot of lost potential to really develop this post-apocalyptic world and explore some big thematic issues. The story ends on a note that leaves room for further installments, but I'm not interested in exploring this world further. Those looking for a quick, straightforward read may enjoy this one, but if you're looking for a deeper read with a complex plot and cast of characters, I would pass over this one.




Additional Information
Series

  • ???
Content
  • Kissing
  • Violence

Monday, September 1, 2014

Movie Monday: The Hundred-Foot Journey


The Hundred-Foot Journey

Directed by Lasse Hallström
Genre: Comedy-Drama
Running time: 122 minutes
Released: 2014
by Dreamworks Pictures

Hassan Kadam is a culinary ingénue with the gastronomic equivalent of perfect pitch. When Hassan and his family, led by Papa, move to a quaint village in the South of France with the grand plan of opening an Indian restaurant in the picturesque countryside, they are undeterred by the fact that only 100 feet opposite stands a Michelin starred classical French eatery. However upon encountering the icy proprietress, Madame Mallory, the Kadam family realise they may have bitten off more than they can chew. Outraged by the new arrivals, Madame Mallory is determined to have their business shut down. As cultures clash and food flies, an all-out war escalates between the two establishments -- until, that is, Hassan's passion and talent for French cuisine begin to enchant Madame Mallory and even she can't deny this young chef could have what it takes to garner even more acclaim for her beloved restaurant. This, along with his new-found friendship with her beautiful sous chef Marguerite, starts to weave a magic between the two cultures and, despite their different tastes, they discover an unlikely recipe for success that surprises them all.

The Hundred-Foot Journey offers engaging characters, mouth-watering displays of food, and a simple message about finding happiness. While the film is predictable, these assets come together to give it a nice charm.

In The Hundred-Foot Journey, the Hassan Kadam and his family, are forced to flee their home in India when a mob burns down their restaurant. They move to a village in South France that apparently only has room for one restaurant, Le Saule Pleurer, which has forced all of its competition out of business. A war between the two restaurants breaks out and Hassan, the protagonist, is thrust into the spotlight of the world of French cuisine.

Hassan Kadam, while the head chef in his family’s Indian restaurant, actually wishes to learn French cooking. He, predictably, falls in love with Madame Mallory’s sous-chef Marguerite whose tips and French cookbooks aid him as he learns French cuisine. Throughout the film, Hassan goes through his own personal journey, starting with his family restaurant before his love for cooking leads him to greater heights. However, he comes to the realization that he is not truly happy with where he is and what he is doing and he returns to the place where he had experienced true happiness. While this plot is very typical of these kinds of films, I did enjoy how the film went full circle back to the beginning with the idea that food is an important part of our memories.

Helen Mirren portrays the uptight and regal Madame Mallory with perfection and she along with Om Puri, who portrays Papa, the bull-headed but sweet patriarch of the Kadam family, gave the film a natural and charming feel. The film’s screenplay was good except for a part towards the end when Hassan cooks in a restaurant in Paris, which felt bland and unnecessarily long.

Overall, while this film is no blockbuster or masterpiece, I found it very enjoyable. I recommend it to anyone looking for a good timewaster.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Imagine Weekly 8/31: Time Flies

Imagine Weekly is a weekly feature where we share a summary of what has taken place on the blog the previous week and show off books that we got.

The past several weeks have been really busy, and I didn't get around to preparing a mailbox post. My brother went off to college, my boyfriend came up to visit week (so I didn't get much if any reading in), and then I had my first week of classes! I'm starting my senior (and final) year at college, which means I need to start thinking about real life. So much going on. I can't believe how time flies!

Mailbox

Kris
I received for review:

The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare (Goodreads | Amazon)
The Maid of Deception by Jennifer McGowen (Goodreads | Amazon)
The Child Returns by Kristen Taber (Goodreads | Amazon)



Generation 18 by Keri Arthur (Goodreads | Amazon)
Penumbra by Keri Arthur (Goodreads | Amazon)
House of the Rising Sun by Kristen Painter (Goodreads | Amazon)



The Beautiful Ashes by Jeaniene Frost (Goodreads | Amazon)
Who R U Really? by Margo Kelly (Goodreads | Amazon)
The 100 by Kass Morgan (Goodreads | Amazon)
Day 21 by Kass Morgan (Goodreads | Amazon)

Thanks to Harlequin, Harper Collins, Kristen Taber, Little Brown, Merit Press, Random House, and Simon & Schuster
* Check out more book hauls through Stacking the Shelves at Tynga's Reviews and The Sunday Post at Caffeinated Book Reviewer *


Last Week on the Blog

Reviews 



This Week on the Blog

  • The Hundred-Foot Journey (movie review)
  • Falls the Shadow by Stefanie Gaither (review)
  • The Forever Watch by David B. Ramirez (review)
  • Beatrice's Top Five Methods to Catching a Guy's Heart (Guest Post)
  • The Mist by Stephen King

What did you get this week? Leave a link in the comments section, and we'll check out your week's haul!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Review: The Golden Lily by Richelle Mead





The Golden Lily
Richelle Mead


Series: Bloodlines #2
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Hardback: 352 Pages
Publication: June 12, 2012
by Razorbill




Synopsis

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.

Sydney would love to go to college, but instead, she’s been sent into hiding at a posh boarding school in Palm Springs, California–tasked with protecting Moroi princess Jill Dragomir from assassins who want to throw the Moroi court into civil war. Formerly in disgrace, Sydney is now praised for her loyalty and obedience, and held up as the model of an exemplary Alchemist.

But the closer she grows to Jill, Eddie, and especially Adrian, the more she finds herself questioning her age–old Alchemist beliefs, her idea of family, and the sense of what it means to truly belong. Her world becomes even more complicated when magical experiments show Sydney may hold the key to prevent becoming Strigoi—the fiercest vampires, the ones who don’t die. But it’s her fear of being just that—special, magical, powerful—that scares her more than anything. Equally daunting is her new romance with Brayden, a cute, brainy guy who seems to be her match in every way. Yet, as perfect as he seems, Sydney finds herself being drawn to someone else—someone forbidden to her.

When a shocking secret threatens to tear the vampire world apart, Sydney’s loyalties are suddenly tested more than ever before. She wonders how she's supposed to strike a balance between the principles and dogmas she's been taught, and what her instincts are now telling her.

Should she trust the Alchemists—or her heart?


Review

I love the Bloodlines series so very much. I've been waiting to read the sequels to Bloodlines because I loved the book so much and didn't want to have to wait for the next installments, but I just recently purchased the Vampire Academy series and have been in a VA love mood . . . and I couldn't resist. I decided to purchase the Bloodlines books while I was at it.

And now I'm dying from Adrian-Sydney love overflow.

Which is unusual because I usually read books more for the plot than the romance factor. In Bloodlines, however, I find myself wanting to see Sydney and Adrian together more often than I think about the other various subplots stirring. I just love seeing the two together. They are by far two of the most compelling characters in the VA world, and I find myself relating more to them than Rose and Dimitri. I feel like R&D are like heroes that we can look up to and admire. Though R&D have their own insecurities and vulnerabilities, Sydney and Adrian are more down-to-earth and relatable. I love how comfortable they are with each other and see a lot of potential for them to fill in much-needed roles in each other's lives.

The Golden Lily expands on plotlines that emerged in Bloodlines. We see more of Sydney adapting to her new social life and high school customs (as well as her vampire friends), more witchcraft, and more intrigue in the vampire world. Not to mention her learning about romance. (Teeheehee.) I'm especially interested in seeing how the witchcraft element plays a role in later installments. I would've been totally fine if it hadn't come out, but now it has, I want to see how it factors into the larger VA world. It was cool to see that one thing I'd predicted (hint: related to Trey) came true in here, though it was disappointing that it wasn't explored more. Which brings me to my next point.

My only problem is that there is a lot going on in this novel what with Sydney dealing with problems on so many fronts. This means that characters come and go a lot of the time without any apparent pattern to it. This wasn't enough to disrupt my enjoyment of the story, but it was noticeable. Another, smaller thing is. . . with Vampire Academy, I could see where the titles were coming from, but it's harder for me to tell why the Bloodlines books are called what they are. Anyone have a theory on why this book is called The Golden Lily? For some reason, the cover made me think that Zoe was going to make an appearance in this book with a lily tattoo, but that doesn't happen here.

Overall, this is another fantastic edition to the Bloodlines series. As always, Richelle Mead's writing kept me entranced from start to finish. . . and left me with a nasty hook at the end that has me feeling all sorts of things. Okay, I've already read The Indigo Spell (because I couldn't stop reading long enough to write a review—I couldn't NOT read it after that ending) and am looking forward to reading The Fiery Heart as soon as my copy arrives. I've heard such great things about it!




Additional Information
Series
  1. Bloodlines
  2. The Golden Lily
  3. The Indigo Spell
  4. The Fiery Heart
  5. Silver Shadows
  6. The Ruby Circle
Similar Books
  • Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead
Content
  • Kissing
  • Violence

Friday, August 29, 2014

Review: Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite







Exquisite Corpse
Poppy Z. Brite


Genre: LGBQTHorror
Paperback: 240 Pages
Publication: 1996
by Scribner Paperback Fiction




Synopsis

To serial slayer Andrew Compton, murder is an art, the most intimate art. After feigning his own death to escape from prison, Compton makes his way to the United States with the sole ambition of bringing his "art" to new heights. Tortured by his own perverse desires, and drawn to possess and destroy young boys, Compton inadvertently joins forces with Jay Byrne, a dissolute playboy who has pushed his "art" to limits even Compton hadn't previously imagined. Together, Compton and Byrne set their sights on an exquisite young Vietnamese-American runaway, Tran, whom they deem to be the perfect victim.

Swiftly moving from the grimy streets of London's Piccadilly Circus to the decadence of the New Orleans French Quarter, and punctuated by rants from radio talk show host Lush Rimbaud, a.k.a. Luke Ransom, Tran's ex-lover, who is dying of AIDS and who intends to wreak ultimate havoc before leaving this world. Exquisite Corpse unfolds into a labyrinth of murder and love. Ultimately all four characters converge on a singular bloody night after which their lives will be irrevocably changed — or terminated.


Review

We can probably agree that I’m sort of the horror girl on here, since I tend to review darker and spookier books. That being said, I have to admit that this is the first novel that has legitimately made me feel squeamish while reading.

Once again, Brite proves why he is my favorite author through the use of his prose. His descriptions of both London and New Orleans are rich and decadent, an amazing feat considering the focus is on seedy areas in the cities like bars, a prison, and a really creepy mansion. Despite the luxuriousness of it at moments, the prose flows very well and doesn't slow you down while reading. If anything, the reader might choose to slow down in order to fully savor a description of Vietnamese food or indulge in a character's appreciation of a cold glass of beer.

As seems to be standard fare for Brite, the novel alternates between four perspectives, each following a different character. What's unique in this book is that we get a nested narrator, a first person narrative within a group of other narratives. In this particular novel, our nested narrator is a British serial killer named Andrew Compton (based on real life serial killer, Dennis Nilsen).

The characters and relationships between them are well done. Though I didn't find him as charismatic as Andrew, Jay (based on American serial killer, Jeffrey Dahmer) was interesting to look at since his narrative is in the third person and provides another perspective on a serial killer. Andrew, whose narrative is the only first person one, allows you to look into the mind of a killer, and together with Jay, gives a fuller scope on the mechanics of a murderous mind. I wasn't a huge fan of Tran, but I liked the flashbacks we got of his relationship and eventual breakup with Luke, who I really did like and found to be the most sympathetic character of the four. I also have to give a special little shout-out to a minor character named Soren. I thought he was positively adorable and really wished he could've had a bigger role in the book.

The interesting thing about this book is that our narrator is more of a traditional antagonist, being a murderer. Despite his tendency towards gore and mayhem, Andrew is actually characterized as very eloquent and remarkably intelligent. Much like Hannibal Lecter from Silence of the Lambs, Andrew is not only charismatic and smart but also sophisticated and rather cultured, and you can't help but follow along on his adventure. Even though I found myself squeezing my eyes shut at moments when it got really gruesome, I kept on reading because I was curious as to what he would do later on in the novel.

Honestly, this novel felt too short. Now, I know a lot of you are probably wondering why I would want more gore and mayhem when there is more than enough in the book as is. However, in order to fully enjoy it, you have to put aside all of the torture and murder and look at it more as a case study on serial killers. Looking at it in that vein, you could see how the story could be expanded. Even though we get it in brief flashbacks thrown in throughout the novel, I thought we could see more on how Andrew and Jay got started as murderers, in particular Andrew since he was actually arrested and put in jail.

Going off of that, the novel ended too abruptly for me. What happens to Andrew isn’t entirely clear, and I wanted to see how Luke is affected by the aftermath of the climax. And, of course, I wanted more Soren. As is, we get the unclear ending and an incredibly brief epilogue. The epilogue didn't make much sense to me and felt more like the beginning of another chapter. The whole book could've been expanded in my mind, not only giving us a richer background on Andrew and Jay, but also a more satisfying (or at least clearer) ending.

I’ve probably already stressed this a lot, but this book isn’t for sensitive readers, just based on the premise. I can admit that there were moments when I had to take a break before going on because the scenes would get so gory. But if you’re willing to overlook all the blood and guts, this is a genuinely fascinating look at and into the mind of serial killers.





Additional Information

Series
  • N/A

Similar Books
  • Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates
  • Skin by Kathe Koja
Content
  • Strong language
  • Murder
  • Gore
  • Sex
  • Necrophilia
  • Cannibalism
  • Drug use
  • Graphic depictions of torture

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Things to Consider As You Think About Graduation

With the academic year coming upon us, I thought it'd be a great time to talk about these fantastic nonfiction books that give suggestions on things for high school and college students to consider as they enter new stages of their lives. Having been in these places recently, I found these books to be very relatable to my life and something I could have used when I entered college.

77 Things You Absolutely Have to Do Before You Finish College
Halley Bondy, James Lloyd (Illustrations)

Genre: Nonfiction   Paperback: 192 Pages
Publication: March 11, 2014 by Zest Books


College is about way more than just frats and finals: It’s also a time when students can learn new skills, encounter different cultures, test out potential careers, and take a stab at something new just because it sounds cool. And in order to leave college a better, smarter, and more interesting person than you were when you started out, all you need is an open mind, a willing spirit, and (of course) this book! The 77 entries included here cover everything from negotiating the terms of an apartment rental to attending a school-sponsored lecture event to hosting a movie marathon – and supplemental sidebars provide bonus tips for doing everything cheaply and well. (Oh, but remember: The most important thing to do? Graduate!)

As a college student, I find this book highly relatable to me. Given the title, I expected a fun, goofy book that lists a bunch of random things that one should do in college and was looking to find a couple of outrageous things to do before I graduate. To a certain extent, it does deliver that, but it's also so much more.

77 Things (the college ed.) is divided into seven sections with eleven suggestions each. The sections are as follow: (1) Around the pad [aka. your room / home], (2) Getting Out and About on Your Own, (3) Taking Advantage of School, (4) Being Social, (5) Body and Health, (6) Spoil Yourself, (7) For the Future. As you can see from this list, it isn't just about going out and doing something outrageous and memorable before you enter the "real world." While it does encourage us to put ourselves out there and try new things, it also reminds us to take care of our health and to also look for opportunities to further our future.

For example, it suggests taking a physical. This in particular stood out to me because I can't remember the last time I went to the doctor for a regular checkup. Things like this are more easily remembered for children when we need to get shots all the time, but as we get older we forget to do things like this. Nowadays, I usually just go to the doctor when I have an immediate problem. This book reminded me that sometimes we need to take steps to ensure problems do not happen in the first place—or at least to catch them in the early stages.

Other suggestions include ways of getting to know people and also exploiting your college's resources. Among other things that you may not have thought about. I recommend this book as a great resouce for students with ideas on what to do while they're in college, and I strongly recommend trying them out. This is a book that I could have used my freshman year when I didn't yet know how to take full advantage of what college life had to offer me.

A copy was provided by Zest Books for review



Undecided: Navigating Life and Learning After High School
Genevieve Morgan

Genre: Nonfiction   Paperback: 256 Pages
Publication: April 8, 2014 by Zest Books


For high school students all over the country, figuring out what to do after graduation is a major question. For many, the logical answer is continuing their education, whether in a training program, a community college, or a four-year university. But no matter what the path, the preparation can be overwhelming, and it's hard to know where to start. That's where Undecided comes in! This comprehensive handbook outlines the different options available to teens after high school and provides suggestions on how to follow each path efficiently and successfully. It covers everything from SAT preparation and personal statements to trade school pros and cons and advice on how to prepare for life in the military. Full of checklists, anecdotes, brainstorming activities, and journal exercises, Undecided leaves no stone unturned and no option unconsidered. So settle in, keep an open mind, and find the future that really works for you!

Undecided is another great resources for post-HS students. In comparison to 77 Things, which gives suggestions on how to round out your college life, Undecided is a bit broader in scope. As the title implies, it's about exploring the different choices available to you after graduating from high school.

I like how this book is divided neatly into differently sections that flow into one another, giving readers a sampling of different paths to take. The first section is about exploring what you love to do. It provides some quizzes and different points to consider when thinking about what you want to do with your life. The next couple sections are about different potential paths to follow after graduating from HS, such as higher education (4-year vs. 2-year colleges, trade schools, and studying abroad) or going into some kind of service (like military, civil, and foreign service). There's also information about internships, going to work, and getting a life after HS.

The author has clearly done her research on the various topics and gives detailed information under various subheadings that detail things you need to know when taking on a certain occupation. For example, she doesn't just compare four-year versus two-year colleges. She explores them in further detail, going so far as to explain what makes an Ivy school and Ivy school and what differentiates different kinds of Ivies. There is also information on other schools and what they have to offer students. I seriously wish that I had this book before I decided which college to attend because I really could have used this information during the college application process.

While I spent a litle more time talking about a portion of the college section, that was mostly to give you a feel for what this book is about and the detail that it goes into. There is a wealth of information in the other sections as well. This is a fantastic book for HS students starting to think about what they want to do after graduating and who aren't sure about what they want out of life. I can also see this being useful for college students also thinking about the next step after school. Parents too can benefit from this book in helping their children decide what they want to do after graduation.

A copy was provided by Zest Books for review