The Demon Catchers of Milan by Kat Beyer

August 12, 2012 Reviews 0 ★★★

The Demon Catchers of Milan by Kat BeyerThe Demon Catchers of Milan Published by Egmont USA on August 28, 2012
Genres: YA Paranormal
Pages: 288
Format: ARC
Source: Gifted
three-stars
Mia's ordinary life is disrupted in the most horrifying way possible when she is possessed by a hungry and powerful demon--and only saved by the arrival of relatives from Italy, the country her grandfather fled many decades ago. Now her cousins Emilio and Giuliano say the only way to keep her safe is for her to come back with them to Milan, to live, to learn Italian, to fall in and out of love, and to master the family trade: fighting all demons with the lore of bell, book, and candle. Milan is not what Mia expected, but it will change her forever, in this stunningly well-written novel about an American girl who, fleeing an ancient evil, finds her only salvation in her ancestral home.

Exorcists/demon catchers! Whoo! I’m always in the mood for a good story involving demons. There aren’t near as many out there as there should be. The Demon Catchers of Milan started off with a well-written bang as Mia got possessed and the demon was exorcised from her a few days later, but the rest of the novel fails to live up to that dynamic beginning. Pacing problems, issues with characterization, and various other bits kept me from enjoying myself very much. On the bright side, there’s Lucifero!

After those first thirty pages, the book seems like it’s going to rock, and in some ways, it still does. The few exorcisms that happen within its pages (let me tell you now, this is not an action-packed book) are still well-written. Then there is Lucifero, the darling Satanist Mia develops a crush on. He is either the most brilliantly hilarious red herring to ever exist or he’s the worst case of foreshadowing ever to exist. That’s up for interpretation. Either way, I love him! The romance is almost nonexistent in this novel other than the crushes Mia develops on her third cousin Emilio and Lucifero, and it was better that way.

I consider anything less than 300 pages long a short book and at 288 pages, The Demon Catchers of Milan is most definitely short. This isn’t an often-made criticism from me, but this book needs to be much longer than it is. None of the ideas or characters are fully developed and because so little happens in the book, it feels almost insubstantial. The conflict and antagonist are barely present and the pacing problem created by that makes reading the novel feel somewhat like walking through a waist-high mud pit.

The demon that possesses Mia wants revenge on their family for something, but what? We know Emilio and Francesco rent a room together elsewhere and Anna Maria is a model who is outspoken about her beliefs, but we don’t really know these characters. All that’s said of the family dynamic is “Yeah, it’s totes sexist because only men can be demon catchers (unless you’re Anna Maria and you force your way in or you’re Mia and you’re practically screwed if you don’t), but whatevs.” (Paraphrased, of course.) Really? Who creates a family of demon catchers without giving even one member of that family any personality/depth or exploring their dynamic?!

There will be a sequel and that hopefully means there will be further development, but that doesn’t excuse this novel for its lackluster development. Even when considered as the sort of series beginner that is merely set-up, this is a weak offering. Still, I want to see where Beyer will take Mia and the rest of the Della Torre family, so I may stick around for the next book. It all depends on what I hear about it in the coming months.

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Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

August 11, 2012 Reviews 0 ★★

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie PerkinsAnna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins Published by Dutton Juvenile on December 2, 2010
Genres: YA Contemporary
Pages: 400
Format: Paperback
Source: Bought
two-stars
Anna was looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. So she's less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris—until she meets Étienne St. Clair. Smart, charming, beautiful, Étienne has it all . . . including a serious girlfriend.

But in the City of Light, wishes have a way of coming true. Will a year of romantic near-misses end with their long-awaited French kiss? Stephanie Perkins keeps the romantic tension crackling and the attraction high in a debut guaranteed to make toes tingle and hearts melt.

With my summer almost over, I wanted to indulge in something fluffy–you know, the kind of fluffy fun summer reading is made of. With rave reviews all around praising its swoony male lead and cute romance, Anna and the French Kiss seemed like a good bet.

It wasn’t.

Perkins undeniably has talent as a writer. Anna’s narrative voice is engaging and some of the scenes are so adorable that I smiled a little bit despite my annoyance. It was only when I remembered who was having the cute scene (usually Anna and St. Clair) and what kind of people they were (really terrible people) that I stopped smiling. That the author’s talent is wasted telling the story of despicable characters like Anna and St. Clair is a shame because with more likable characters, I could see myself loving this book the way everyone else does.

See, Anna makes me want to scream because she hates all other women who are her “competition” in any way, shape, or form for a guy she likes. Amanda, Bridgette, Ellie, eventually Meredith–all of them. She describes them badly (which isn’t help by the narrative portraying them badly and I have a boatload of issues with that) and is generally a hypocrite. I’m not into abundant girl-hate in novels and that’s exactly what Anna and the French Kiss has to offer. Her melodrama about non-problems like going to a beautiful boarding school in France didn’t endear her to me either.

Meanwhile, St. Clair is an asshole. No other way to say it. He spends the entire book leading Anna on when he already has a girlfriend while also discouraging any guys who show interest in Anna and that is the sign of a guy who isn’t worth any girl’s time. He doesn’t like change? Too bad. How much I care is less than or equal to zero. I feel he would have done something about it much earlier than he did if she really mattered to him. Seeing him be praised as THE BEST GUY EVER makes me want to find a trash can.

I estimate that I began skimming somewhere around page 100 and didn’t stop until the book ended. Everyone good pronouncing Anna and St. Clair to be the best people ever when they’re not was too annoying to sit through for long. I wanted them to be together solely so no one else had to deal with being in a relationship with them. If they can tolerate each other’s crap, why not let them? It saves other people the pain of having to deal with it.

This book is very, very lucky I’m gifting it two stars and not just throwing one badly-constructed star at it. The cheesy, soapbox-like way homosexuality is declared okay and slut shaming is declared wrong (but only when it’s Anna being called a slut; all the other girls are fair game and this hypocritical position is yet another reason why I hate this book) made me want to give the book only one star, but with writing this great, I couldn’t. Anna and the French Kiss should consider itself lucky.

Recommendations of well-written, non-offensive fluff, please? I’m a little tired of being negative.

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Fall for Anything by Courtney Summers

August 4, 2012 Reviews 0 ★★★★

Fall for Anything by Courtney SummersFall for Anything by Courtney Summers
Buy from AmazonBuy from The Book DepositoryBuy from Barnes & NoblePublished by St. Martin's Griffin on December 21, 2010
Genres: YA Contemporary
Pages: 224
Format: Paperback
Source: Bought
four-stars
From the author of Cracked Up to Be and Some Girls Are comes a gripping story about one girl’s search for clues into the mysterious death of her father.

When Eddie Reeves’s father commits suicide her life is consumed by the nagging question of why? Why when he was a legendary photographer and a brilliant teacher? Why when he seemed to find inspiration in everything he saw? And, most important, why when he had a daughter who loved him more than anyone else in the world? When she meets Culler Evans, a former student of her father’s and a photographer himself, an instant and dangerous attraction begins. Culler seems to know more about her father than she does and could possibly hold the key to the mystery surrounding his death. But Eddie’s vulnerability has weakened her and Culler Evans is getting too close. Her need for the truth keeps her hanging on...but are some questions better left unanswered?

My Courtney Summers Love-a-Thon, begun when I fell in love with her latest novel This Is Not a Test, continues with her third novel, Fall for Anything. In a small town, a daughter’s grief over her father’s mysterious suicide grabs hold of readers by the throat and won’t let them go until the last page is turned. As always, the enviable prose and ability to wrench so much emotion from both the characters and from readers makes me wish I could crawl around in the author’s head and figure out how she does it.

Like all of Summers’ heroines, Eddie isn’t an easy girl to like and sympathizing with her can be hard sometimes, especially considering what she puts her friends and family through later in the book. Her grief is all too real and incredibly powerful, and the sparse yet poetic prose help bring all the painful emotions the characters express to life. Why these books aren’t more popular when they’re so real and can make you feel what the characters are going through no matter what situation you’re in is a mystery to me. A question without an answer.

The novel is difficult to get into for the first eighty pages, but once Culler came in (let’s not talk about Culler; I want to hurt him and that’s all you need to know) and he brought his camera with him, I couldn’t put it down. It helps that I’m somewhat into photography myself, though I think the novel would have drawn me in regardless of whether or not I was. It’s the storytelling element of photography as used in the novel that really spoke to me and make me keep turning the pages, along with Eddie’s journey to find out why.

In the end, we never really learn why Eddie’s dad did what he did and though the questions I still have nag at me (like why Eddie hated Missy so much and did half the stuff she did), I think it’s okay for me to not have all the answers. Some questions simply don’t have answers or if they did have an answer at some point, it’s no longer possible to find out what it is. I feel that’s one of the themes of this novel: you’re never going to have all the answers because life isn’t that easy.

Now I’m almost completely caught up on Courtney Summers’ backlist, leaving Some Girls Are the only books of hers I haven’t read (barring the books she hasn’t published yet, of course). I plan to get a copy of that soon; I hear it’s her strongest work and I’m looking forward to it.

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A Want So Wicked by Suzanne Young

August 1, 2012 Reviews, Uncategorized 0

A Want So Wicked by Suzanne YoungA Want So Wicked by Suzanne Young
Buy from AmazonBuy from The Book DepositoryBuy from Barnes & NoblePublished by Balzer + Bray on June 26, 2012
Genres: YA Paranormal
Pages: 288
Format: ARC
Source: ARC won in a giveaway
one-star
Elise is a normal seventeen-year-old girl until the day she wakes up in a desert park, with no idea who she is.

After that episode, her life takes a bizarre turn. She’s experiencing unexpected flashes of insight into people’s lives—people she’s never met before. Strangers frighten her with warnings about the approaching Shadows. And although Elise has never had a boyfriend, she suddenly finds herself torn between two handsome but very different young men: Abe, the charming bad boy whose effect on her both seduces and frightens her, and the mysterious Harlin, who’s new to town but with whom Elise feels an urgent, elemental connection—almost as if they are soul mates.

Now Elise begins to question everything about her life. Why do these guys both want her so desperately? What are the Shadows? Why does the name Charlotte inspire a terrifying familiarity? And who is Elise, really?

I liked A Need So Beautiful. Sure, it had its issues, but I had fun reading it and I was kind of looking forward to its sequel A Want So Wicked. Now I’m left wondering how a series went from decent to just plain bad in one 288-page book.

I picked up this book instead of another one because I needed to get this series finished and I wanted to divert my attention away from the other, more detestable book I was reading. One can only read a book that makes her blood boil for so long before she needs something to soothe the flames. Though I didn’t enjoy A Want So Wicked, it occupied me in the one day it took me to read it and didn’t make me want to scream, and that’s what I wanted from it more than anything. That’s the best part.

Part of the magic of A Need So Beautiful was Charlotte’s conflict with what she was meant to do and her inevitable fate slowly encroaching upon her, making even her best friend and the family she’d lived with as long as she could remember forget who she was. A Want So Wicked lacks this magic and treads the exact same ground only with far less wonder because readers have already seen it play out. This book is more focused on the Shadows, how they become what they are, and what they have to do to survive, but more of the focus still is on the love triangle.

Both love interests come on too heavy and their relationships with Elise get no development; it’s insta-love all the way and there isn’t much to get invested in with either Abe/Elise or Harlin/Elise. The development of the story isn’t particularly notable, the twists are obvious from miles away, and reincarnation as this book wants it to work is not how reincarnation works. I was rather irritated to see the solid concept of reincarnation twisted only to keep the romance in the acceptable age bracket. YA readers might not be supportive of a romance between a thirty-something Harlin and seventeen-year-old Elise, so Charlotte is somehow reincarnated into someone who has already been alive for seventeen years.

One of the male characters was even called a slut! The solution to slut-shaming is not to start using that detestable slur on men; it’s to not call anyone a slut at all for any reason. (Reading so many books in a row where there is unchallenged slut shaming is going to make me crack sooner or later…)

As far as I know, this series is only a duology and there will be no third book, though the ending is certainly open-ended enough for there to be more books if the author chooses to write them.With some assurance they will cover new ground and not be a repeat of previous books the way A Want So Wicked was, I might read them.

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Auracle by Gina Rosati

August 1, 2012 Reviews 0

Auracle by Gina RosatiAuracle by Gina Rosati
Buy from AmazonBuy from The Book DepositoryBuy from Barnes & NoblePublished by Roaring Brook Press on August 7, 2012
Genres: YA Paranormal
Pages: 304
Format: ARC
Source: print ARC from a swap
DNF
16 year old Anna Rogan has a secret she's only shared with her best friend, Rei; she can astrally project out of her body, allowing her spirit to explore the world and the far reaches of the universe.

When there's a fatal accident and her classmate Taylor takes over Anna's body, what was an exhilarating distraction from her repressive home life threatens to become a permanent state. Faced with a future trapped in another dimension, Anna turns to Rei for help. Now the two of them must find a way to get Anna back into her body and stop Taylor from accusing an innocent friend of murder. Together Anna and Rei form a plan but it doesn't take into account the deeper feelings that are beginning to grow between them.

I’m in such a reading slump! I had one awesome book and one good novella in the last week, and every other book I’ve read since then has been either mediocre or bad. I don’t like the way it makes me look like I hate everything because I don’t. I’m just in the company of some unimpressive books that clash with my feminist ideals or are lacking in quality. I wanted Auracle to break me out of that slump, but… Well, this is probably the worst of the books I’ve read since my slump began. Almost all of it is because of the portrayal of the antagonist, a young woman named Taylor.

I wanted to enjoy this so badly, but it’s a little hard to find nice things to say. I love the love interest being half-Japanese (yay for diversity in YA romances!) and Rei’s little sister being named Saya automatically won her awesome points because she shares a name with one of my favorite heroines ever. Anna’s voice reads well and is likable, though Anna herself is not because of the way she treats/describes Taylor, and the novel is well-paced. If Auracle weren’t causing my blood pressure to skyrocket every few pages, finishing this today would be easy.

Taylor’s portrayal. There are so many problematic elements to it that it pains me just to talk about it. When Taylor was fifteen, she was having sex with a twenty-one-year-old man, lying to him about her age and swearing she was on birth control pills. When she got pregnant, she told her parents she was raped, the man was charged/possibly convicted of statutory rape, and he must now register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. Right after that, she moved to Anna’s town.

In an act of implicit slut shaming, Anna puts the reader’s focus on how short all of Taylor’s skirts are and how low-cut her shirts are by describing them all the time. She even mentions when Taylor wears a skirt so short that her underwear is visible when she sits down. Taylor develops a crush on Anna’s friend Seth, who calls her a stalker in front of the class when she tries to talk to him. After she insinuates he must be gay to not like her, Seth responds with, “You think because I’m not interested in a slut like you I must be gay… why doesn’t that surprise me? (ARC p.54). After she dies and takes over Anna’s body and decides she’s going to frame Seth for murder when her death was nothing but an accident.

Seriously? This is offensive no matter what way you look at it. The way she’s characterized, the way she is dressed, her actions–all of it is deeply problematic in the way it oversimplifies why people do such things and makes a caricature out of it all. Letting revealing clothes be labeled bad by association (or is revealing clothes just a way to characterize how eeeeeeeevul she is? I’m not sure) doesn’t fly with me either.

Maybe Taylor is given depth later in the novel and some light is shed on why she has behaved the way she has. I flipped ahead a little and she brings up her not-so-great relationship with her parents and they way they pushed her to do certain things whether or not they wanted to do them. In my eyes, this bit of depth I stumbled across is nowhere near enough to make up for everything done to Taylor. I lack the ability to care about any resolution on this front and the time to keep wading through the book to find the good stuff. I’ve read over half the book and if all the good stuff is in the second half, that’s still the book’s problem, not mine.

I don’t have time for this. Look at all these books stacked up waiting for me. Just look!

I move in a few weeks, so I’m packing up everything, and I want to get at least a few more of these read before I move. I do not have time for offensive books like Auracle.

And this is why Auracle is a DNF.

What am I reading next?: Fated by Alyson Noel

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Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

July 31, 2012 Reviews 1 ★★★½

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. MaasThrone of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
Buy from AmazonBuy from The Book DepositoryBuy from Barnes & NoblePublished by Bloomsbury USA Childrens on August 7, 2012
Genres: YA Fantasy
Pages: 416
Format: eARC
Source: eARC via NetGalley
three-half-stars
After serving out a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes, 18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien is dragged before the Crown Prince. Prince Dorian offers her her freedom on one condition: she must act as his champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin.

Her opponents are men—thieves and assassins and warriors from across the empire, each sponsored by a member of the kings council. If she beats her opponents in a series of eliminations, she’ll serve the kingdom for three years and then be granted her freedom.

Celaena finds her training sessions with the captain of the guard, Westfall, challenging and exhilirating. But she’s bored stiff by court life. Things get a little more interesting when the prince starts to show interest in her... but it’s the gruff Captain Westfall who seems to understand her best.

Then one of the other contestants turns up dead... quickly followed by another. Can Celaena figure out who the killer is before she becomes a victim? As the young assassin investigates, her search leads her to discover a greater destiny than she could possibly have imagined.

And now the moment of truth: Throne of Glass itself. I went for the novellas first and after seeing those slowly decline in quality, I was worried the novel itself would share those flaws. I suppose I worried for nothing; Throne of Glass was the lengthier version of everything I wish the novellas could have been. I still had a few problems with it, but I’m hooked well enough to stay around.

Maas writes a clear and very readable story with few to no narrative tripping points to knock me out of Celaena’s world; it took me only two days to read the novel in its entirety. If it hadn’t been for the pesky necessity known as sleep, I would have read it in one. About halfway through the novel, I exclaimed to myself, “Finally, someone gets that a woman can be a butt-kicker and still like clothes and jewelry and girly stuff!” Celaena was someone I loved reading about because of her bright yet hardened personality and the challenges she faces.

Celaena, Prince Dorian, Captain of the Guard Chaol Westfall, noblewoman Kaltain Rompier, and the king himself all take their turns as narrators and show the readers far more than just what’s going on with the tournament. A secret scheme or two is hinted at and while they are not given much of a spotlight, there is the promise they will come to be very important. The grand mystery of this novel—who is killing the other potential champions?–may seem a bit obvious to some, but red herrings and small hints keep readers guessing. Believe me, I was happy to see improvement in the author’s ability to write a mystery. The second novella The Assassin and the Desert also had a mystery as its central plot and it was a poorly written one, in my opinion.

When it comes to Celaena’s clothes and how each of her two love interests feel about her (ah, love triangles: how I have not missed them), we get plenty of description. Concerning the all-important Tests that determine who stays in the competition and who gets knocked out, we get very little. I wanted to see more of the challenges Celaena had to go through. The focus on somewhat unnecessary details and the romance slowed down the pacing to the point where I had to force myself to keep reading until I hit a point where something of interest was finally happening.

There will be two more books in this series at the very least and that means at least two more books for the explanation of Celaena’s world, but I wanted to know a little more about the magic and the history of it in their world. In a scene at the beginning of the novel, Celaena wakes up in a tent to find small footprints leading in and out of the tent, along with flowers at the foot of her cot. This is promptly dropped and never brought up again. It may have been small, but I really wanted to know about it.

My recommendation? Pick up the novel but think long and hard about whether or not you want to read the novellas. They’re nothing compared to the book. As for me, I’ll be patiently awaiting the second novel in the series so I can see where the scheme revealed at the end of the novel will go and what Celaena will do about it.

(But I will continue to ignore its marketing as Game of Thrones for teens or, more specifically, teenage girls. I’ll tell you what Game of Thrones for teenage girls is: Game of Thrones. It really gets my goat when the marketing for a novel stereotypes it to “_____ for teenage girls” because it stars a girl and there’s more romance. That’s kinda sexist, don’t you think? I had this same problem with the way Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini was marketed as Percy Jackson for teenage girls. Last time I checked, Percy Jackson for teenage girls was Percy Jackson.)

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A Need So Beautiful by Suzanne Young

July 30, 2012 Reviews 0 ★★★

A Need So Beautiful by Suzanne YoungA Need So Beautiful by Suzanne Young
Buy from AmazonBuy from The Book DepositoryBuy from Barnes & NoblePublished by Balzer + Bray on June 21, 2011
Genres: YA Paranormal
Pages: 272
Format: eBook
Source: Bought
three-stars
We all want to be remembered. Charlotte's destiny is to be Forgotten...

Charlotte’s best friend thinks Charlotte might be psychic. Her boyfriend thinks she’s cheating on him. But Charlotte knows what’s really wrong: She is one of the Forgotten, a kind of angel on earth, who feels the Need—a powerful, uncontrollable draw to help someone, usually a stranger.

But Charlotte never wanted this responsibility. What she wants is to help her best friend, whose life is spiraling out of control. She wants to lie in her boyfriend's arms forever. But as the Need grows stronger, it begins to take a dangerous toll on Charlotte. And who she was, is, and will become--her mark on this earth, her very existence--is in jeopardy of disappearing completely.

Charlotte will be forced to choose: Should she embrace her fate as a Forgotten, a fate that promises to rip her from the lives of those she loves forever? Or is she willing to fight against her destiny--no matter how dark the consequences.

Don’t enter giveaways for sequels to books you haven’t read. I hope that lesson isn’t necessary for anyone reading this and I doubt that it is, but I’ll say it anyway. A Need So Beautiful was never on my radar simply because I wasn’t interested, but I stupidly entered a giveaway for its sequel A Want So Wicked and won, meaning I had to read the first book. It didn’t feel right to win a sequel from the publisher and instantly get rid of it without reading it, so I got myself a copy of the first book and started reading.

I didn’t expect terribly much from the novel and that’s what I got: not terribly much. Not to say it’s oatmeal in the YA supermarket, though–it’s got some great highlights. Charlotte was sympathetic and I understood her conflict is written very well, as are all the scenes where she gives in to the Need and helps people. The climactic scene and the Need Charlotte fulfills just before then nearly made me cry! The other characters didn’t quite get the same depth, but they weren’t annoying caricatures either. I got the lesser of two evils.

A little more focus on the capricious nature of Charlotte’s gift (why this person and not this person when both are equally deserving and in need of help?) would have been great. The length of the novel is perfect and I don’t think it needs extra pages added to it just for that; cutting down on the huge focus on Harlin and replacing it with a little philosophical stuff would have worked. Their romance was a little cloying, especially because it didn’t feel authentic to me and I didn’t care about whether or not things worked out for them, and that reduction wouldn’t have bothered me at all.

For most of the novel, I was bored. I skim-read at least eighty percent of the time and kept trying to wander away to something else. Only my determination to get this finished today got me through to the end. Charlotte’s dilemma was well-drawn, but for the most part, I had no emotional investment in the novel and there wasn’t much to keep me reading. Whether it was my YA expertise coming out or issues with the novel itself, I saw much of what was thrown at Charlotte/the reader coming and it lacked the impact it was supposed to have.

There’s more I could say about both the positive and negative aspects of the novel, but I care so little about it that I keep forgetting what I want to say. Now that I have book one out of the way, I can start on book two… as soon as I get some other required reading out of the way first. If you want to write about angels and want books that adequately exhibit an angel character’s conflict with who they are/what their higher purpose tells them they have to do, this is a good place to start. If this never seemed like your kind of book or reading this review has made you wonder whether or not you should read it, I suggest skipping it.

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