The Assassin’s Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke

September 27, 2012 Reviews 0 ★★

The Assassin’s Curse by Cassandra Rose ClarkeThe Assassin's Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke Published by Strange Chemistry on October 2, 2012
Genres: YA Fantasy
Pages: 320
Format: eARC
Source: eARC via NetGalley
two-stars
Ananna of the Tanarau abandons ship when her parents try to marry her off to an allying pirate clan: she wants to captain her own boat, not serve as second-in-command to her handsome yet clueless fiance. But her escape has dire consequences when she learns the scorned clan has sent an assassin after her.

And when the assassin, Naji, finally catches up with her, things get even worse. Ananna inadvertently triggers a nasty curse — with a life-altering result. Now Ananna and Naji are forced to become uneasy allies as they work together to break the curse and return their lives back to normal. Or at least as normal as the lives of a pirate and an assassin can be.

And the hype catches me yet again, making me the mouse to its dangerous, cheese-holding mousetrap. With the promise of pirates, assassins, and magic, it lured me in and made me think it was going to be good. Instead, I barely enjoyed reading The Assassin’s Curse.

Though Ananna’s voice sounded younger than her seventeen years and some of the deliberate errors that give her voice a distinctive quality bug me at times, I like the writing style. It has its snafus every now and then (how does one smile with the skin around their eyes?), but I generally had fun when I concentrated only on the writing. When I paid attention to the subject matter, I enjoyed the novel far less.

There’s a fine line between a rebellious character and a bratty character, and Ananna crossed that line soundly. She fusses about everything both worth fussing about and everything not worth fussing about. It gets grating after a while, you know? Naji isn’t much better, what with how he never tells Ananna anything. Yet by the end of the novel, Ananna is somehow in love with Naji. How? She details why it seems strange for her to love him by listing his flaws, but she doesn’t say a word about his redeeming qualities or does anything to make the reader think she knows him deeply. It’s not insta-love, but it sure is baseless love.

One thing that really got my goat was the presentation and characterization of Leila, a river witch and implied former lover of Naji’s. Like the rest of the cast, she is two-dimensional, but she is especially bad. She drapes herself all over Naji and plays with him while barely tolerating Ananna and putting her down. She leads them on for a week and makes them think she might be able to cure them, but nope! No cure! They spend a week there just because she decided to lead them on.

Seriously? Give me better female characterization than that.

Really, this novel isn’t too exciting. They spend most of it traveling and having the occasional encounter that may or may not actually be exciting. I enjoyed everything to begin with, but once Ananna saved Naji’s life and the curse that makes him have to protect her took effect, it all started going downhill.

The Pirate’s Wish, the second book of this duology, comes out next year. I don’t know if there’s enough I liked in this novel for me to read on.

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Ironskin by Tina Connolly

September 26, 2012 Reviews 0 ★★

Ironskin by Tina ConnollyIronskin by Tina Connolly Published by Tor on October 2, 2012
Genres: Adult Paranormal, Retelling, Steampunk
Pages: 304
Format: eARC
Source: eARC via NetGalley
two-stars
Jane Eliot wears an iron mask.

It’s the only way to contain the fey curse that scars her cheek. The Great War is five years gone, but its scattered victims remain—the ironskin.

When a carefully worded listing appears for a governess to assist with a "delicate situation"—a child born during the Great War—Jane is certain the child is fey-cursed, and that she can help.

Teaching the unruly Dorie to suppress her curse is hard enough; she certainly didn’t expect to fall for the girl’s father, the enigmatic artist Edward Rochart. But her blossoming crush is stifled by her own scars, and by his parade of women. Ugly women, who enter his closed studio...and come out as beautiful as the fey.

Jane knows Rochart cannot love her, just as she knows that she must wear iron for the rest of her life. But what if neither of these things is true? Step by step Jane unlocks the secrets of her new life—and discovers just how far she will go to become whole again.

Retellings can be tricky to pull off. In my experience, they work best when they capture the original’s magic by relying on its plot and characters in certain places and diverging from the original in others in order to give it the feel that it’s a book of its own, not a complete repeat of the original. It can be a difficult balance to create and unfortunately, I don’t think Ironskin manages it, as a retelling of Jane Eyre with steampunk influences and fairies.

One of the high points of Ironskin was the development of the relationship between Jane and her charge Dorie, who can do strange things like move objects without touching them and yet is not fey. Strange children are among my favorite sorts of characters and Dorie fits the bill perfectly! The beginning of the novel was the best kind of grabbing and I loved how Connolly developed her ideas throughout the novel. It appears there will be a sequel and I might be interested in reading it to see where it will take readers next.

While there are things I genuinely like, the novel became a slog for me to read after the 25% mark (roughly 70 pages). There are long stretches in the beginning where little to nothing happens and neither the plot nor the characters drive the story. What Mr. Rochart is doing with the women isn’t given any attention until well over halfway through the novel and within the last 100 pages, the book veers off unexpectedly into territory most often traveled by run-of-the-mill urban fantasy novels.

Most of all, Ironskin fails to capture the magic of Jane Eyre, transfer any of the source material’s strengths to itself, or create a resemblance between the characters of one and the other. Jane and Mr. Rochart’s romance lacks the compelling element of Jane and Mr. Rochester’s (and I say that as someone who didn’t care for Mr. Rochester). The two novels focus on entirely different themes and events and in the end, they’re only loosely related to one another. Ironskin would have been better off to drop all the elements it has as a retelling of Charlotte Bronte’s classic and simply be an original novel. No retellings or anything.

Readers coming to this book because it’s a Jane Eyre retelling with steampunk and fairies may find themselves unsatisfied with the novel, but anyone who wants it because it sounds like a great idea regardless of its status as a retelling (or better yet, are unfamiliar with Jane Eyre) may enjoy it more than I did.

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Obsidian by Jennifer L. Armentrout

September 22, 2012 Reviews 0 ★★

Obsidian by Jennifer L. ArmentroutObsidian by Jennifer L. Armentrout Published by Entangled Teen on November 29, 2011
Genres: YA Paranormal
Pages: 400
Format: eBook
Source: Bought
two-stars
Starting over sucks.

When we moved to West Virginia right before my senior year, I'd pretty much resigned myself to thick accents, dodgy internet access, and a whole lot of boring.... until I spotted my hot neighbor, with his looming height and eerie green eyes. Things were looking up.

And then he opened his mouth.

Daemon is infuriating. Arrogant. Stab-worthy. We do not get along. At all. But when a stranger attacks me and Daemon literally freezes time with a wave of his hand, well, something...unexpected happens.

The hot alien living next door marks me.

You heard me. Alien. Turns out Daemon and his sister have a galaxy of enemies wanting to steal their abilities, and Daemon's touch has me lit up like the Vegas Strip. The only way I'm getting out of this alive is by sticking close to Daemon until my alien mojo fades.

If I don't kill him first, that is.

Jennifer L. Armentrout is like one of those inescapable, Internet-conquering memes.

In my circles, I can’t click on an adorable cat picture or even scratch my own rear end without hearing someone praise Armentrout’s novels to Tibet and back. The campaign her Lux series street team put on before the release of the second book Onyx seemed to involve every other YA blog I could find and everyone wanted to get their hands on the series–and her other series, the Covenant novels. Trusting some friends who gave the novel very positive reviews, I took the leap and read Obsidian.

Trusting those friends was not a good idea in my case.

Sometimes, Katy has a brain. When Daemon acts like a jerk, she calls him out on it and gets mad at at him the way other YA heroines might not. Awesome! Well, until she starts going on and on about how hot Daemon is and I beg her to shut up and focus. One can only stand the drool for so long before they feel like it’s time to take a shower. Another thing that should be commended: their chemistry. Armentrout can write some intense chemistry between her characters that makes the few make-out scenes extra-hot.

And as Katy points out, Daemon likes to have his shirt off. In my head, I heard Mai Valentine say “Fanservice!” every time he was shirtless. Because that’s what it is: fanservice.

This may not have been a good idea from the beginning. Fluffy romances, contemporary or paranormal or beyond, are not a good fit for me unless the characters falling in love are interesting, dynamic characters who can keep my interest based on their own merits. Romance alone isn’t enough of a motivation for me to keep reading. Daemon and Katy are not anywhere near interesting enough to hold my attention, and reading the book became a chore all too quickly.

Once I came to the part where three straight chapters of infodump tell readers everything they need to know about Daemon and Dee’s kind, it seemed like the end was in sight. Not a chance! I was only halfway there. This was one book I desperately wanted to make shut up, but my determination to finish this book and try to see this book though everyone else’s eyes kept me going. It almost seemed to slow down even further after that point as if to torture me, but I’m paranoid that everything (even my own body!) is out to get me, so don’t take that seriously.

The writing itself was rough and rather bland. There are a quite a few good one-liners highlighted on my Kindle, but there’s no prose I could specifically highlight as pretty or even memorable. I don’t want to say it and therefore will not, but it’s derivative of one very popular YA paranormal novel. Not as derivative as other books I could name, but there is more than one parallel that can be drawn between the two books.

I have no plans to read Onyx. Though the prequel novella Shadows is in my possession too, I don’t think I’ll be reading that either. There are too many other books to read.

2 stars!

What am I reading next?: Death and the Girl Next Door by Darynda Jones

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Give Up the Ghost by Megan Crewe

September 21, 2012 Reviews 0 ★★★

Give Up the Ghost by Megan CreweGive Up the Ghost by Megan Crewe Published by Henry Holt and Co. on September 15, 2009
Genres: YA Paranormal
Pages: 256
Format: Hardcover
Source: Bought
three-stars
Cass McKenna much prefers ghosts over “breathers.” Ghosts are uncomplicated and dependable, and they know the dirt on everybody…and Cass loves dirt. She’s on a mission to expose the dirty secrets of the poseurs in her school.

But when the vice president of the student council discovers her secret, Cass’s whole scheme hangs in the balance. Tim wants her to help him contact his recently deceased mother, and Cass reluctantly agrees.

As Cass becomes increasingly entwined in Tim’s life, she’s surprised to realize he’s not so bad—and he needs help more desperately than anyone else suspects. Maybe it’s time to give the living another chance….

This review’s tone may seem a little strange, but this book put me in a very strange place because of how I was feeling due to outside factors when I read it. I haven’t quite crawled out of that hole yet.

I’ve heard a lot of good things about Crewe’s novels and I always love a good ghost story. Give Up the Ghost has been sitting on my shelf for a few months and when in need of a short, hopefully good book, this is the one I came to. It was good, alright.

Cass is almost impossible to like, but you get where she’s coming from too. She’s been hurt badly by the people around her and she has many issues she needs to work through. Rather than deal with complicated things like people, she’d rather deal with simple things: ghosts. Reading through her eyes, especially at the beginning of the novel, is difficult because of this and the way she’s so obsessed with being negative and getting dirt on everyone, but if one can stick with it, the payoff in Cass’s character is fantastic.

In a way, Crewe’s writing in this novel reminds me of my own. It doesn’t waste time on the little details and is more focused on the characters’ feelings and personal issues because it knows that is where the strength of the novel lies. We can’t not understand why Cass is the way she is, though we may disagree with her strongly. Give Up the Ghost is completely character-driven and also very short, coming in at only 241 pages. That’s about the perfect length for it. If it had reached 300 pages, this would have been a bore to read.

It’s also a very subdued, quiet novel that still manages to be fairly powerful. It lacks some of the punch it really needs to bring everything full circle for the reader, but it definitely ended up punching me harder than I expected. I identified too much with Cass’s issues of not being able to communicate with living people and get along with them and it ended up becoming too personal for me to handle. I’d… rather not go into it any further.

I can see myself coming back to this in the future, but only if I’m in a good mood. It’s a bit too personal to touch when I’m in a bad mood.

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Enshadowed by Kelly Creagh

September 20, 2012 Reviews 0

Enshadowed by Kelly CreaghEnshadowed by Kelly Creagh Published by Atheneum on August 28, 2012
Genres: Gothic, YA Horror, YA Paranormal
Pages: 432
Format: Hardcover
Source: Bought
True love takes a twisted turn in the second book of this modern gothic romance trilogy channeling the dark brilliance of Edgar Allan Poe.

While Varen remains a prisoner in a perilous dream world where the terrifying stories of Edgar Allan Poe come to life, Isobel travels to Baltimore to confront the dark figure known throughout the world as the Poe Toaster. This man, the same man who once appeared to Isobel in her dreams and abandoned her in Varen’s nightmare world, holds the key to saving Varen.

But when Isobel discovers a way to return to this dream world, she finds herself swept up in a realm that not only holds remnants of Edgar Allan Poe’s presence, but has also now taken on the characteristics of Varen’s innermost self. It is a dark world of fear, terror, and anger.

When Isobel once more encounters Varen, she finds him changed. And now Isobel must face a new adversary—one who also happens to be her greatest love .

A year and two months of waiting. That’s nothing compared to the full two years other fans have been waiting, but it was painful. Then my mail room held Enshadowed hostage for an entire week and my grin was as wide as the state of Florida is long once I got it. It’s a bit weaker than the first book of the series, but Enshadowed was just as difficult to put down and managed to improve itself in a few areas. But that cliffhanger makes me want to toss a chair out the window.

Isobel is forced to carry much of the book on her shoulders, and at times, she isn’t strong enough to carry all that weight. Still, Enshadowed fleshes out her relationships with other characters, especially her family. The family is often forgotten and I’m glad she at least considers how her actions have hurt/will hurt them. Personally, I really like Isobel.

The rumors are true: Varen is barely in this book. He is sorely missed, as are the scenes between him and Isobel that made Nevermore so much fun to read, but the presence of Pinfeathers (a character I already liked and now love after reading this book) made his absence more bearable. Still, there’s so much about this novel that still clicks with me. Creagh’s prose is perfect for the story she’s telling and the strange happenings in Isobel’s life (like, say, a lullaby following her everywhere and seeing Varen in reflective surfaces on occasion) increase to give the book better pacing overall.

A point many of my friends made about Nevermore was that Isobel could be really, really thick sometimes, though I never noticed. I was too enveloped in the story to care. This time around, I see exactly what those friends of mine mean. One of the messages Pinfeathers gives her is fairly clear, but his pronoun use goes right over her head and it’s a bit frustrating. Her original lack of planning/research for how she’d get into the cemetery on Poe’s birthday grated on me too.

I really, really hope book three in Creagh’s series doesn’t get delayed a year the way Enshadowed did. I don’t think I could take it. Just–just–I can’t even–! Augh! Cliffhangers like that are evil.

4 stars!

What am I reading next?: Splintered by A.G. Howard

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Scorch by Gina Damico

September 19, 2012 Reviews 0 ★★★

Scorch by Gina DamicoScorch by Gina Damico Published by Graphia on September 25, 2012
Genres: Comedy, YA Horror, YA Paranormal
Pages: 352
Format: ARC
Source: print ARC from Amazon Vine
three-stars
Sixteen-year-old Lex Bartleby is a teenage grim reaper with the bizarre ability to Damn souls. That makes her pretty scary, even to fellow Grims. But after inadvertently transferring her ability to Zara, a murderous outlaw, Lex is a pariah in Croak, the little town she calls home. To escape the townspeople’s wrath, she and her friends embark on a wild road trip to DeMyse. Though this sparkling desert oasis is full of luxuries and amusements, it feels like a prison to Lex. Her best chance at escape would be to stop Zara once and for all—but how can she do that from DeMyse, where the Grims seem mysteriously oblivious to Zara’s killing spree?

The second book in Damico’s Croak series brings just as many laughs as the first book, along with more shocking revelations, more action, and excitement readers won’t want to miss. I was a bit of a slow reader with this one due to some other stuff I had to do (pre-moving frenzy, buying more books, spending the night at a friend’s house, stuff like that), this fast-paced ride will make anyone who already read and loved Croak happy. If you haven’t read the first book, I suggest you get right to it.

The heavy presence of DeMyse in the jacket copy may imply that most of the book takes place there, but it doesn’t. DeMyse is a quick yet important pit stop in this novel’s road trip. Most of the action happens within Croak itself as unrest over Zara’s killing spree and Lex’s own abilities rise. Intrigue is abound, tensions are high, bombs go off, and everyone seems to be against Uncle Mort and the Juniors. It’s all very serious, but there are some good laughs squeezed in their too, especially when it comes to Uncle Mort’s attempts to interfere with Lex and Driggs’ love life since Lex’s dad isn’t there to do it. I keep flipping back to the Incident That Must Not Be Named because it never fails to get a laugh out of me. “WHERE are my PANTS?” I’ll be quoting that scene forever!

I like how Lex’s character is developing, but admittedly, I’m a big fan of Uncle Mort and everything he has going on behind the scenes. There’s always something he isn’t telling Lex and the other Juniors, and he’s got plans in place that no one knows about until he decides it’s time to enact them. Funny, smart, exactly the kind of adult this rowdy, nervous group of teenagers needs when they’re on the run… He’s easily the most dynamic character in the entire series and I’d keep reading just to see how he’ll surprise readers next.

If you think you can predict what’s going on in this novel, you might want to think again. I did see a few things coming, but other revelations that come in the last thirty pages or so gave me a serious shock. But he– And she– How did he— Argh! It makes my head spin just thinking about it, but I like that I was so surprised by all the twists.

Now then, what I didn’t like. Norwood and Heloise, the husband-and-wife team that hate Uncle Mort and all the Juniors, made me roll my eyes too many times to be healthy with their over-the-top behavior, and the way most of Croak’s citizens reacted was a little ridiculous to me too. If it were just that, this novel would be four stars, but the way Lex finds it necessary to call Sofi, a fellow Junior she and the other Juniors don’t really get along with, a tramp takes away another star.

Scorch ends on a pretty sizable cliffhanger and I’m looking forward to the release of the third book. Though my rating is lower due to some personal standards of mine, Scorch is just as good, if not better, than Croak. Definitely recommended!

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The Blessed by Tonya Hurley

September 18, 2012 Reviews 0 ½

The Blessed by Tonya HurleyThe Blessed by Tonya Hurley Published by Simon and Schuster BFYR on September 25, 2012
Genres: YA Paranormal
Pages: 416
Format: ARC
Source: Borrowed
half-star
From the author of the New York Times bestselling ghostgirl series, the start to a captivating and haunting teen trilogy about three girls who become entangled with an enigmatic boy—a boy who believes he is a saint.
 What if martyrs and saints lived among us? And what if you were told you were one of them?Meet Agnes, Cecilia, and Lucy. Three lost girls, each searching for something. But what they find is Beyond Belief.

I’m hoping I don’t step on too many toes with this one. A book with deep roots in religion is not that easy to review and The Blessed had so many problems that I almost didn’t want to write a review for it. I’m being as even-handed as humanly possible, but this just is not a good book at all. My copy was an ARC, meaning changes will be made before final publication, and I’m hoping a lot of changes will be made.

I suppose one thing I can appreciate about the novel is its dual nature. One can read it as Sebastian, a boy who is a saint, revealing Agnes, Cecelia, and Lucy’s true natures to them or they can read it as Sebastian, a mentally ill boy whose delusions make him think he’s a saint, trying to lure Agnes, Cecelia, and Lucy to him so he can create a cult of his own. There’s ample evidence to support either view.

Narrative consistency is the biggest issue. The POV head-jumps in the middle of scenes like head-jumping is an Olympic sport and this book is going for the gold. For instance, we still start out in the head of Agnes during a scene, but before the scene is over, we get inside the heads of Sebastian, Lucy, and Cecelia and get their (totally unnecessary to the scene/moment) thoughts. In another scene, we’re witnessing a phone conversation in the POV of another character named Jesse, but we’re told the person on the other line is gritting their teeth. If the other people is gritting their teeth loudly enough to be heard over the phone, they’re screwing up their pearly whites pretty badly! All of this happens with little to no smooth transitioning.

The prose itself was stilted and the dialogue tended to be immature, unrealistic, lifeless, or a mixture of all the above. Agnes calling her classmates “classholes” when they make fun of her for attempting suicide made me roll my eyes. They’re making fun of her over a suicide attempt, for goodness’ sake! That’s beyond nasty! I’d break out the big guns for far less–and have, actually. Agnes, Cecelia, and Lucy lacked the characterization they needed to make me care about them and where they were going. I don’t even know what Cecelia’s background is! And if these girls hadn’t slut shamed, this novel would have earned one more star from me. Seriously, I’m not tolerating stuff like that anymore. One star is automatically lost if I see it happen.

Hurley’s novel, clocking in at over 400 pages, suffers from a case of remarkably terrible pacing. Nothing happens for over half the novel and the explanations we’re all begging for aren’t given until they’re less than 100 pages from the end. What will keep readers hooked until then? I’m not sure. I had to force myself to keep reading so I could move on to other books and get my copy back to my friend.

Toward the end, when the plot finally kicks in and all the action this book has been holding back on is suddenly released, I was too disgusted to enjoy it very much. Lucy putting burning coals in the mouth of a guy who attacked her was beyond cruel. I have no problem with her killing him (after all, he attacked her and was going to kill her), but torturing him like that? I don’t care whether the good guys or the bad guys are doing it or what their reasons are; torture by burning coals in the mouth is a hundred kinds of wrong.

The first in a trilogy, The Blessed needs a massive overhaul before it takes the first step toward being a good book. I’ve recently come to understand ARCs can be drastically different from the finished product and I’m hoping this book gets a massive overhaul done on its writing, characters, and pacing. A modern reimagining of three saints’ stories sounds like a great idea, but its execution is ultimately a failure as it is right now.

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