March 30, 2013

Mini Reviews: Children's Classics #1

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

It's the story every man, woman, and child knows. From birth, it seems. At least it was that way for me, growing up in Kansas. We owe thanks to the classic 1939 film, with very few people haven't seen. But not many people I know have actually read L. Frank Baum's classic children's novel. Most don't know it's the first of a series of fourteen books. Just as they don't know Dorothy's slippers were originally silver or that she was only a girl of ten, while Judy Garland was sixteen.

I could go on and on about the differences, but in reality, I think you should just go snatch a copy The Wonderful Wizard of Oz from your local library and bookstore and see for yourself. It's a fun, cute story that's a must read for any Oz lover, whether you like Wicked (book or musical or both), or whether you're a fan of the newest Oz addition, Oz: The Great and Powerful

Peter Pan

What girl hasn't dreamed of Peter Pan flying through their window and whisked away to Neverland? Whether you fell in love with Peter and/or Neverland from the Disney film or from Hook or from the 2003 film or, like me, from the book, you know it's a must-know story. If you haven't read Peter Pan by the wonderful J.M. Barrie, then you don't know what you're missing. It's such a fun read that'll have you finding your inner child, whether you've grown all the way up or not. Not to mention, after you read the book, no matter how many times you've read it, you're going to want to immediately watch the films. All of them. The Disney animation, the live action, Hook retelling, Finding Neverland with Johnny Depp, and the most recent prequel mini-series called, Neverland. Once you're in Neverland, it takes you a long, long time to get out of it. Even then, you'll find yourself flying right back sooner than you think.

A Little Princess

If I am a princess in rags and tatters, I can be a princess inside. Oh, if that doesn't make your heart melt, I don't know what will. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett is one so many girls loved growing up. I never had the chance to read this lovely little book as a kid, but I wish I had. It teaches such sweet lessons and is an overall nicely told story. I will admit, though, I'm partial to the movie. It spoke to me emotionally much more than the book did, but I think every little girl, every teen, every young adult, and every woman should read this at least once. Because every girl is, indeed, a princess. Whatever your definition of princess may be. 

Not to mention, like The Wizard of Oz, this is a fun one to compare movies to. Same messages but so many differences. But I guarantee you'll find yourself loving something from both of them and learning something too.

March 28, 2013

Review: Ripper

By: Amy Carol Reeves
Published: April 2012 by Flux
Format: Paperback, 340 pages
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I felt hot breath on my neck, and, horrified, I knew that he stood behind me...

It's 1888, and after her mother's sudden death, Abbie is sent to live with her grandmother in a posh London neighborhood. When she begins volunteering at Whitechapel Hospital, Abbie finds she has a passion for helping the abused and sickly women there. But within days, patients begin turning up murdered at the hands of Jack the Ripper. As more women are murdered, Abbie realizes that she and the Ripper share a strange connection: she has visions showing the Ripper luring his future victims to their deaths--moments before he turns his knife upon them. Her desperation to stop the massacres leads Abbie on a perilous hunt for the killer. And her search leads to a mysterious brotherhood whose link to the Ripper threatens not just London but all of mankind.

Rating: 1.5/5

Jack the Ripper, the serial killer that fascinates so many, even after a century and some twenty years. Don't lie, you know you're fascinated on some level about what happened in the East End, and I am too. That's why I grabbed this book without reading much of the description and without bothering to read a bit of it first. It's my mistake.

In the beginning, Abbie chases a pickpocket and I thought to myself that this book was probably going to be pretty good. I'm a sucker for Victorian pickpockets. Don't ask me why. But the book took a downward turn for me after that. It just wasn't for me.

Let me start with Abbie. I just didn't like her. She annoyed me. I felt Reeves attempted to make her this strong, bad-ass-sort-of character, but she came off as...well, an attempted strong, bad-ass-sort-of character. I didn't like being in her head, I never felt the fear from her or the emotion, and the emotion was what I really wanted. When it came to her love interests--which...I don't particularly know if it was a love triangle, a love square, a love...whatever--I felt nothing. Not a thing. That probably also stems from the fact that I didn't like any of the other characters. Except for maybe Mariah, and Mary was all right too. Characters that I liked the most were hardly in the story, which is a problem.

The plot was all right. The overall premise was a great one. A paranormal twist on the classic serial killer with a girl who sees visions of when he strikes? Very cool. But I just don't know how I feel about its execution. It was exciting for me. I never had my heart racing. I never cared to guess who the Ripper was or what was really going on. Instead, I found myself skimming. And oh dear, when I start to skim, that's not a good thing. I was out of the story and found myself incredibly bored. 

What bothered me the most, though, was the writing. The dialogue felt forced and over the top to the point where I found myself groaning. Writing historical dialogue is hard, I get it, but I think Reeves took it too far. The style was much too tell-y for me. I did this and I thought that throw me out of the story like I was some bug crawling across the pages. Notice the "tagline" of narration at the top of this. Why need the "and, horrified"? I mean, seriously. Don't tell me she's horrified, for crying out loud. The effing Ripper is there. You better be scared, girl. Why need the "I knew he stood behind me"? Hello! You felt his hot breath, girl. Course he's there! Jesus Christ.

I'm being rather hard on this book. Maybe because I expected to be blown away with creativity and an interesting twist on The Ripper. Maybe I've never read a Flux book I didn't like. Maybe I saw so much behind the writing and the characterization that when it didn't pull through, I just got mad and sad and all those feels. For me, the book had a lot of potential. It was a quick read and I really enjoyed the general premise, but it just wasn't for me.

March 18, 2013

Review: Thin Space

By: Jody Casella
Published:September 10, 2013 by Beyond Words/Simon Pulse
Format: Paperback, 256 pages
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My brother was dead.

Ever since the car accident that killed his twin brother, Marshall Windsor has been consumed with guilt and crippled by secrets of that fateful night. He has only one chance to make amends, to right his wrongs and set things right. He must find a Thin Space—a mythical point where the barrier between this world and the next is thin enough for a person to step through to the other side. But, when a new girl moves into the house next door, the same house Marsh is sure holds a thin space, she may be the key—or the unraveling of all his secrets. As they get closer to finding a thin space—and closer to each other—Marsh must decide once and for all how far he’s willing to go to right the wrongs of the living…and the dead.

This review is of a arc galley from the publisher via NetGalley.

Rating: 3.5/5

Losing an identical twin in a car accident at sixteen is something I know very well. To be honest, I'm surprised I let myself request it, let alone even read it. It hit so very close to home. But I read it. And, really, I more than read it. I devoured it in only a couple hours. Casella is a new voice that I will love to see more work from.

From the beginning, I loved her writing and style. She managed to give Marsh a strong voice that could have very easily tipped to the "annoying" side of the scale, but never did. There are many things while reading that I found either annoying or unrealistic, but the ending set everything straight. Most of those things I had wanted to note Casella clearly had thought out and put in for a reason. I do, however, think she put in a couple of characters that didn't need to be in the story: Lindsay and Heather. I felt they were distractions every time they popped up, like they were characters that never quite made it to the supporting level, but were supposed to be.

Speaking of characters, I very much liked and identified with Marsh. Even if we didn't have losing a twin in common, I think I would have sympathized with him anyway. I will admit, in the beginning, I really, really wanted to see that Casella did research into twinloss; I didn't really see the early stages of losing a twin from Marsh. Casella brought many of the feelings later, but I just feel as though Casella should have spent a bit more time with twinless twins.

As for Maddie and Sam and the others, I liked them. I felt for Maddie, which is a big deal considering the very tough level of Marsh's loss. I didn't, however, care for the characterization of the other students. I don't know if Casella talked with anyone who had been through a loss at a high school, but it just seemed though no one had cared about Austin. I think we should have seen a bit more of their looks. Kate especially. The most realistic characterization, to me, was with Marsh's parents. It was almost as though Casella just reached into my brain and plucked out my memory of how my parents had reacted. It was very, very well done.

Now, I have mixed feelings on the plot and its twist. The plot for me was fantastic and original. Having Marsh walk around barefoot, for one, was so refreshing. The bit with all the jocks and fighting and girls got kind of annoying. Where I get conflicted is when the climax hit. It's not really a spoiler. But the thin space is real. Around the halfway point of the book, I'd be lying if I said I didn't wish the thin space would be fake. I feel as though the message and twist could have been so much more powerful if the thin space didn't exist/they never found it. Kept this a contemporary read. When they went into the thin space, it just seemed so rushed.

The twist. I still don't know how I feel about it. For the most part, it shocked me. I did love it. It wasn't expected at all. Then again, wasn't it? Once I read it and got over the shock, my first thoughts were (without getting into spoilers), Is it that original? I can't say too much without spoiling it, but when you read this, message me on Goodreads or something and we can discuss it.

Overall, I thought this was a great read. I have a feeling the finished product will be even better. I hope, anyway. And I highly recommend it to everyone.

Review: Indigo Spell

By: Richelle Mead
Published: February 2013 by Razorbill
Format: Hardback, 401 pages
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Forging her own way is harder than Sydney ever dreamed.

In the aftermath of a forbidden moment that rocked Sydney to her core, she finds herself struggling to draw the line between her Alchemist teachings and what her heart is urging her to do. Then she meets alluring, rebellious Marcus Finch--a former Alchemist who escaped against all odds, and is now on the run. Marcus wants to teach Sydney the secrets he claims the Alchemists are hiding from her. But as he pushes her to rebel against the people who raised her, Sydney finds that breaking free is harder than she thought. There is an old and mysterious magic rooted deeply within her. And as she searches for an evil magic user targeting powerful young witches, she realizes that her only hope is to embrace her magical blood--or else she might be next.

Rating: 3.5 rounded up/5

Okay. I have two ways to approach this review: From the point of view of a long-time VA fan and from the point of view of a YA paranormal romance fan. As a VA fan, it was a huge let down. As a YA paranormal romance fan, it was really good, but not great. I've been attempting to collect my thoughts from both points of view for an hour or so now, and I've come to the conclusion:

Bloodlines just isn't as good as VA.

It just isn't. For me, anyway. And anyone who has either followed my reviews or who knows me will note that this is so incredibly hard for me to admit. I. Love. VA. I just do. It doesn't matter how many times I reread them or if something annoys/angers me. It's just my favorite series. When I started reading Bloodlines, I went into it with the idea already planted in my head that it was amazing (Mead is one damn good compulsionist) and I think it's taken me until this third book to realize that it's just not living up to the bar VA set for me.

Don't get me wrong. I very much enjoyed the book and I, quite frankly, just can't bring myself to give it under four stars. (If the fourth book lets me down again, I will probably let myself rate the book(s) how I truly felt about them, but for now, VA still has my holds heart too tight for me to drop below four.) The characters, for me, were strong, but they weren't as strong as I'd expect from Mead, save for Adrian. Adrian, I think, will always be Adrian. And who doesn't love Adrian? But with the others, I don't know, I just don't care about them as much. I'm not as connected with them as I was with the main/supporting/random characters of VA.

Plot-wise, it felt like Mead gave up, so to speak. Before, with every book came new shocks and twists I never, ever saw coming. But with this one, I felt it was a tad--dare I say it--dull. I love the path Mead's taking with the witches, but it just seemed bland. There was one twist I very much liked but that wasn't a huge one to where I went, "Oh my god, Mead, shut up. No way." There were sub-plots and another major plot that I felt had so much potential to be another great VA read with the excitement and the WHAT'S SYDNEY GOING TO DO ABOUT THIS? All the elements were there, but it was as if she forgot to light the fuse that set them off.

I have to admit I didn't care for Marcus. Toward the end, he grew on me, but I honestly wouldn't care if he weren't in any other books vs. other male leads/supporting characters in the other books all have me swooning. Like, seriously. However, I did like what he represented because I think this can create some insane conflict in the next book.

But, Mead still has the magic to piss my bladder off. I can't help but read "one more chapter," even when my bladder is screaming at me to get off my lazy behind and go to the bathroom. I will always, always be a VA fan, which means I will always be a Bloodlines fan, and I can't wait for the next book. But I will be expecting it to blow my socks off, make me stay up into the wee hours of the morning, and most importantly, I expect Mead to light the fuse with it. She has to.

(Edit: Also, just realized I never reviewed Golden Lily. When I do a reread, I'll have to update with my thoughts.)

March 16, 2013

Review: Out of the Easy

By: Ruta Sepetys
Published: February 2013 by Philomel Books
Format: Hardback, 352 pages
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"There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion."
-Sir Francis Bacon

It’s 1950, and as the French Quarter of New Orleans simmers with secrets, seventeen-year-old Josie Moraine is silently stirring a pot of her own. Known among locals as the daughter of a brothel prostitute, Josie wants more out of life than the Big Easy has to offer. She devises a plan get out, but a mysterious death in the Quarter leaves Josie tangled in an investigation that will challenge her allegiance to her mother, her conscience, and Willie Woodley, the brusque madam on Conti Street.

Josie is caught between the dream of an elite college and a clandestine underworld. New Orleans lures her in her quest for truth, dangling temptation at every turn, and escalating to the ultimate test.

With characters as captivating as those in her internationally bestselling novel Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys skillfully creates a rich story of secrets, lies, and the haunting reminder that decisions can shape our destiny.

Rating: 3/5

Being a huge fan of Sepetys's first novel, Between Shades of Gray, I couldn't wait to hop into this one when it arrived on my front porch with a stacked of other books. I had read the synopsis only once, in a hurry, and didn't really grasp what it was about, but I didn't care, so I went into this with having any expectations other than the beautiful, heart-wrenching emotional ride Sepetys had given to me before. Sadly, though, I didn't get that with this read.

In the beginning, I can honestly say I was annoyed. I didn't like Josie or her voice and we were introduced to so many characters within the first few chapters that I found myself massaging my aching temples. My frustration with the characterization tended to go on a roller coaster ride throughout the book. At times, I would find a character fascinating or disturbing (in the good way, like they're supposed to be), but other times I would either think a) that they were a dull/unneeded addition to the story or b) ...who are they again? The latter happened way too much for me and the dull additions wouldn't have bothered me much if it hadn't have been with one of the supposed-to-be-supporting characters and one of Josie's love interests.

Jesse. Seriously, for nearly the first half of the book, every time Jesse would pop up, I would be like, "Who the eff is this?" The first few scenes were very obviously thrown into the book to "introduce" Jesse when they really came off as Josie noticing an acquaintance for no reason. And when he became the love interest in a very weird love triangle (seriously, it was a pointless one; was it even one?), I cocked an eyebrow and shook my head. It would have been just fine without the addition of Jesse, if you ask me, romance-wise. Then at the end, it was almost like Josie had forgotten about her best friend/other-kind-of-love-interest and it was all about Jesse. It made no sense to me whatsoever.

Not all the characters were like Jesse, though. I particularly loved Willie's characterization and also Cokie (whose name I mispronounced in so many different ways than it's supposed to be). I also did like Josie for the most part, especially her strength to survive on her own, but she tended to annoy me with some of her obvious thinking. Granted, that comes down to the narration/writing.

I think that's what was most bothersome about this. I didn't feel as though Sepetys gave me enough. I felt it was too simple in places and when it came to the plot, I just didn't get the emotional attachment. Josie, for example, lost two loved ones--well, three, sort of--and many other things important to her, and when it came to her feelings about it, I felt Sepetys just had her cry. A few times, there would be insight to her feelings, but it just wasn't consistent. Especially when a certain male figure passes away. I just didn't feel Josie's connection with him.

It seems like I had a lot of negatives about this, but in reality, I couldn't put it down. I read it in almost one day (in between working and going out), so that's a huge deal to me. It was readable and I did enjoy it. While I felt the plot was just thin and didn't give me any thrill like I felt it should have given with the subject matters, it was enjoyable and very original. I can honestly say I've never read another book like it and I do recommend it.

March 14, 2013

Review: Her

By: Christa Parravani
Published: March 2013 by Henry Holt and Co.
Format: Hardback, 320 pages
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"I saw my sister when I tried to see myself."

Christa Parravani and her identical twin, Cara, were linked by a bond that went beyond siblinghood, beyond sisterhood, beyond friendship. Raised up from poverty by a determined single mother, the gifted and beautiful twins were able to create a private haven of splendor and merriment between themselves and then earn their way to a prestigious college and to careers as artists (a photographer and a writer, respectively) and to young marriages. But, haunted by childhood experiences with father figures and further damaged by being raped as a young adult, Cara veered off the path to robust work and life and in to depression, drugs and a shocking early death.

A few years after Cara was gone, Christa read that when an identical twin dies, regardless of the cause, 50 percent of the time the surviving twin dies within two years; and this shocking statistic rang true to her. "Flip a coin," she thought," those were my chances of survival." First, Christa fought to stop her sister's downward spiral; suddenly, she was struggling to keep herself alive.

Beautifully written, mesmerizingly rich and true, Christa Parravani's account of being left, one half of a whole, and of her desperate, ultimately triumphant struggle for survival is informative, heart-wrenching and unforgettably beautiful.

Rating: 5/5

Here's a fact about myself: I am identical twin. She passed away in an accident. The line I've quoted above is only one of the lines in this beautiful memoir that hit home for me. To read about someone else having the same feelings, dealing with the grieve of a twin in the same way just made me release breath I've been holding for years. I'm not alone.

I first learned about this book when Christa posted in a Twinless Twins Support Group and I knew I was going to read it the second I could get my hands on the book. I could never write a memoir about losing my sister, especially if my story was like Christa and Cara's. I have so much respect and gratitude toward Christa for writing this and for letting the world read it.

Christa takes us from childhood to the birth of her baby girl, entwining us in her and Cara's twinship. I absolutely loved reading about their relationship; it was like reliving my twinship with my own sister and I'm sure for those who aren't twins can really get a feel for a twin relationship by reading this. Both the positives and the negatives, the great and the not-so-great. What it's like to be so close to someone you don't know whose experiences/memories are whose and so much alike you fight every small detail to try and be different.

Putting in those details about this special bond really made it so heart-wrenching to read about the down-spiral of the beautiful Cara Parravani. I admire Christa for writing about the terrible things that happened to Cara, the terrible things Cara did to herself, and then the things Christa began to do before/after Cara passed away. Not only did Christa focus on her twinship, she also opened my eyes to what it's like when a loved one is raped and even more what it's like to watch someone you love so dearly lose themselves, and in Christa's case as an identical twin, kill her as well.

One of the most incredible lines in the book for me was when Cara said to Christa, "If you ever die, I'll kill myself," to which Christa replied, "If you ever die, I'll survive you." That made me go so numb. Christa told us of her battle between feeling as if Cara's addiction was killing her as well to sub-consciously knowing Cara was going to die. Seeing the grieving process, both for the addiction battle and death, through the eyes of a twin just took my breath away and made my heart weep.

This book is, indeed, beautiful. Originally, I thought I would have to read through it slowly; I figured it would be too emotionally difficult. But instead, I couldn't put it down. Alongside the terrible events were these messages of healing. Even if you're not a twin, I think you will find so much beauty in this story and find something to relate to. Whether it's your childhood family life or your relationship with a spouse, sibling, parent, or friend. It'll open your eyes to so much: what it's like to lose someone, what it's like to lose yourself, what it's like to have a loved one be raped and/or addicted. But most importantly, and if it's the only thing you take away from Christa and Cara's story, you'll learn that you can heal. You can live.

March 12, 2013

Oh my...

Oh my, indeed! Spend hours and hours and hours on making a layout and hours and hours and hours copying and pasting and editing your old reviews from your previous blog to this one and then POOF! Nothing.

I've honestly no idea how I went from preparing for a new review blog to opening it to never writing a single review for it. When I think back, I can't remember much about making this let alone why I chose never to see it through. Sad, don't you think?

However, after a very slow reading season, I figured getting back into reviewing would help get me back into reading. I've missed it and I've missed reviewing in many ways. So my goal for the next few weeks is to update with at least two-three new reviews.

To do it, I think I need a magician. Maybe that's why I went with the circus theme. Hmm...