Sunday, September 30, 2012

Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard - Book Review

I'm a YA fanatic.  I'll never outgrow my love for that larger-than-life romance between a boy and a girl, the first everything, when it feels like your first love will be your only.  I'll never outgrow the angsty wit and sarcasm laden in most of my favorite YA novels, or the seemingly endless wait for the next in a series.  And I'll always enjoy the nice, light reading and quick pace of most in the genre.

But I'm not typically a fan of spoiled-rich-kid dramas.  Vampire Diaries, Blue Bloods, Vampire Kisses, these were all huge MISSES for me.  Not because of the vampires, but because of those annoyingly snobby little girls whose biggest problems include not having every guy drooling over them.  If it wasn't for a friend's suggestion and the fact that it's a popular television series, I probably would have never had any interest in Pretty Little Liars, thinking it would fit right in with that group of superficial YA novels.

Somewhat to my surprise, I was wrong.

Don't get me wrong, the girls in Pretty Little Liars are pretty rich and spoiled.  But this feels more like a drama enhancer than author's fantasies.  Imagine, four girls who seemingly have everything, haunted by this huge secret that could rip their Gucci-Chanel-Prep -School lives into shreds.  They have everything to lose, and when mysterious text messages and emails pop up from someone known only as -A, they realize how real that possibility is.

Now, A.  Who is she?  The only one who knows all four of these girls' juicy secrets went missing three years ago, right before the group of friends drifted apart.  Alison.  Maybe she's not missing anymore.  Maybe she's back.

The most compelling thing about Pretty Little Liars is its juicy scandal.  It's like the really good gossip everyone likes to hear.  But hey, this is America.  Gossip is our real number one pasttime, right?  Especially when it comes to the pretty people, the wealthy, the popular.  Well, Shepard tapped into this almost perfectly.  It's a quick read, chock full of scandal and mysteries, that begs you to turn the pages.  It comes as no surprise whatsoever that this became a hit television series; it practically seems made for it.

Some of the very things that made this book so juicy, however, are the main problems I have with it.  The two "romantic interets" seem like kind of douche-y guys, preying on younger girls.  One would definitely find himself jobless and probably sitting in a jail cell if things got out, and the other...well, I'll keep it spoiler-free, but Jerry Springer would love to have him on his show.  Hanna - the former chubby girl turned sex goddess - seemed fake to me at some parts.  I know all to well what it's like to take comfort in food, but come on.  I don't know anyone, not even my 400+ pound friend, who would suddenly crave candy and pastries in a police station, suspected of theft.  After the fact, maybe.  But not while they're there.

All in all, though, this is a compulsively readable and addictive first novel to a series.  It's not literature, there is nothing profound in this book, but it'  Like satisfying a sweet tooth with your favorite candy bar.  Chock full of empty calories, but damn satisfying all the same.

Pretty Little Liars - 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Well Of Ascension By Brandon Sanderson - Mistborn, Book 2

Oh my goodness, where to even begin?

I literally just finished the final page of this novel, after investing hours a day for the past week into this book, this world Sanderson has given us.  Time well spent.  I haven't felt this kind of zeal for epic fantasy since the better installments of The Wheel Of Time.

Warning; the rest of this review will contain minor spoilers from the first Mistborn novel.

The majority of The Well Of Ascension focuses on political intrigue and espionage.  It has been a year since Vin figured out the secrets behind the Lord Ruler's immortality and defeated him.  The city of Luthadel has tentatively been rebuilt by the young Elend Venture, new king and idealist, and the old crew of thieves.  Things are tentative indeed, as Elend's very own father, Straff Venture, is setting up an army outside of Luthadel to seize the city and Elend's crown.  What's stopping him from going right for it?  King Cett's simultaneous arrival.  Both kings want Luthadel and the atium believed to be inside, and both kings have a relatively equal army force.  Elend's own soldiers are far less numerous and experienced, but lucky for him, neither would-be King wants to risk weakening their forces by defeating Elend's, only to have the other army come in with their full might and take over.

Most of this novel takes place during this extended stand-off.

Now, I'm not a huge lover of politics in novels.  Since it's a common theme in epic fantasy, however, I know enough about them to be able to appreciate it as long as there are other things to hold my attention.  To be honest, The Well Of Ascension doesn't have as much else going on as I would have liked for most of its length.  Luckily, the sheer capability of Sanderson's talent, his incredible characterization and hints of impending doom that doesn't have anything to do with kingdoms or armies kept me entertained even with all the politics.

But where this novel really and truly shines, like its predecessor, is the ending.  I am in awe at Brandon Sanderson's ability to tie everything together with this incredibly powerful climactic end.  Nothing seems forced.  Nothing seems campy or done for the sake of convenience.  And almost every epic fantasy cliche is turned on its head.  After a plethora of Hero's Journey stories that are all essentially the same plotline just done in different settings, I can't express how refreshing this is.

Something I have to mention; Sazed.  The Terris Keeper has somehow snuck his way up and become my favorite character.  I'm very much a girl when it comes to favorite characters; I either love the romantic interest or  the fierce female lead.  Usually, the only exception will come from a witty, smart-ass character, but Sazed is none of these.  He is just so heartbreakingly sincere, so dedicated to his cause.  Some of the trials he had to endure in this one brought tears to my eyes.  I can't wait to see what Brandon Sanderson does for - or to - him in The Hero Of Ages.

The Well Of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson - 4 out of 5 stars.  And it probably deserves all 5.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Lunatic Cafe by Laurell K. Hamilton - Anita Blake Book 4 Review

The Lunatic Cafe starts with a man contacting our Anita through her animator's job not for the usual reasons, but to help with a missing person's case.  His wife, a lycanthrope, has gone missing.  Anita, not trained in missing person's case, refers him to her friend, Ronnie Sims, only to later discover that this woman was only one in a line of missing lycanthropes.  She calls in her beau Richard for help, and we're introduced to the werewolf pack he's one step away from heading.

In the meantime, there is a lot going on in Anita's dating life.  Her relationship with Richard is strained when she learns just what being the girlfriend of an alpha werewolf truly means, and our favorite master vampire Jean-Claude swoops in and demands his share of quality time with our girl before he's willing to back down and let Richard have Anita's heart all to himself.  This promises much more face time with Jean-Claude in the next novels, and I personally couldn't be happier.  Richard is awesome, he's a sweetheart with long silky brown hair and an Abercrombie body, a teacher still trying to come to terms with his bestial side.  But he is no Jean-Claude.  Enough said.

The Lunatic Cafe is quite possibly my favorite in this series so far.  Hamilton stays true to the noir, police investigation + superntatural baddies themes that have made her series so popular, but in this installment we get more of Anita's personal life than in the previous three.  Her relationships are unusual to say the least.  She's got to deal with the domestic stuff in between her gun-ladden, life threatening adventures, and to say that the transition isn't a smooth one would be an understatement.  The rising sexual tension adds yet another reason to keep the pages turning.  This all makes for a fun, addictive, and slightly humorous read.

That said, all the things I found annoying in the other books are still present here.  Anita's badass-ness seems shoved down our throats from time to time, and her tough-as-nails attitude occasionally makes her a less sympathetic character than I would have wanted.  But these qualms are an integral part of the series, and at this point they're easier than ever to overlook.

The Lunatic Cafe by Laurell K. Hamilton - 4 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles - Book Review

Perfect Chemistry is a YA contempory chick-lit romance, as nearly every single element of the novel screams.  Brittany Ellis is the seemingly perfect cheerleader with the perfect blond hair and perfect body and perfect house...and not-so-perfect home life that she works her hardest to mask.  Alejandro (Alex) Fuentes is her polar opposite; Mexican gang-banger who uses his fists like they're weapons.  And carries an actual weapon, a gun, concealed in the waistband of his jeans.  Brittany is from the ritzy side of Fairfield, Alex from the other side of the tracks, two vastly different social statuses that come together in the same high school.

Brittany and Alex have only heard of each other - and formed their own biased opinions based off of what they've heard - until their shared senior-year Chemistry class pushes them together.  Forced to be lab partners, the two find themselves hating each other until they actually learn about each other.  And learn that, despite their different cliques and different ethnicities, despite Brittany's clean-as-a-whistle reputation and Alex's very not, they have so much more in common than they could ever have imagined.

Perfect Chemistry is rife with about every single teen romance cliche you can imagine, including a "watch me get in the rich white girl's panties" bet.  One that kept me tearing through the pages like a maniac caught in a thrall, torn between rolling my eyes and clutching my heart.  It's not often that a writer can so blatantly create such a generic plotline and make it work, but Elkeles surpasses my expectations and does just that.

One of my favorite things about this novel is its unwillingness to back down from the gritty aspects of life.  Most YA steers away from too much swearing, drug use, sex and violence.  Perfect Chemistry doesn't.  Some of the scenes are almost as steamy as you might find in an adult romance novel, and I will always support this.  Teenagers know what's going on, they know all about sex and drugs and violence.  Denying that in a book doesn't make the reality go away, but acknowledging it and showing characters using good judgement or showing a world of guilt over times they didn't just might help real teens make smarter decisions.

My other favorite thing is, of course, Alex Fuentes.  Since this is the Queen Of Cliches teen romance novel, it has to boast one amazingly sexy, totally swoon-worthy male romantic interest.  I'll be honest, it took me about half the book to really get into his charms, but once he had me, I was hooked.

If you're looking for some light, done-before-but-done-right romantic reading, Perfect Chemistry just may be perfect for you.

Perfect Chemistry - 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Mistborn Book Review

When I started this book, I had high hopes for it. Not only are there some incredible reviews for it, but Brandon Sanderson is also the author chosen to finish Robert Jordan's epically epic fantasy series, The Wheel Of Time. This is my absolute favorite epic fantasy series, and I was devastated when Jordan passed, and skeptical to say the least of another author finishing what he created. But Sanderson came through and gave fans deeply satisfying WoT books. (He also did so in a respectful, humble way, stating several times that he was in no way claiming the books he'd written for that series as his own. They were Jordan's, through and through, and Sanderson was honored to be able to finish it.)

But, seeing as this review is for Sanderson's very own, original work, I digress.

While I was reading Mistborn, I began to grow afraid that the rave reviews I'd seen were exaggerated, that Mistborn was just another epic fantasy - albeit with a very intricate, very original magic system. But somewhere along the way - and I can't even pinpoint where - this novel just became so much...more. The characters became more three-dimensional, the plotline felt more fleshed out, the writing stopped seeming slightly forced. And the truly unique magic system of Allomancy blended seamlessly with the world it was set in.

In the world of epic fantasy, there are a ton of prophecy-based plotlines. Mistborn is no exception. But whereas the other novels in this genre typically follow the destined, prophesied hero, Mistborn follows a gang of thieves trying to do the impossible in a world where the ancient hero failed. The Lord Ruler is that supposed ancient hero, made immortal, god-like in his power. But he is a terrible oppressor, an unabashed murderer. I absolutely love the ending of this book, because it's only then that you really find out the secrets of the Lord Ruler. One of the most interesting, compulsively readable chapters I've ever read in epic fantasy.

The choppy pacing and questionable beginning of this novel prevent me from giving it five stars, but the astounding last half, the originality of the magic system, and the way my hands are now itching to get ahold of the sequel make it quite deserving of the four I give it.

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson - 4 out of 5 stars.

Fifty Shades Of Grey Book Review

Okay. I did it. I braved the Fifty Shades and came out on the other side of 540 pages...scratching my head in complete, utter confusion.

This is it? This is the book that has garnered so much love/hatred? I feel cheated.

Fifty Shades of Grey started as an easily readable book. The writing was never great, but the thought of forbidden, naughty love kept me turning through the pages. Sex was hinted at for a little while, than given in abundance. The first erotic scene was good. Christian is, at the very least, a very assertive man, something that turns me on greatly (I've always been extremely drawn to mild BDSM), so to hear him telling innocent, naive Anastasia what to do and how to do it and what he likes and how to please him, well, it was a Okay, there, I said it.

But that was it. Every subsequent sex scene was a carbon copy of the first, with the same overused phrases (seriously, if I had to read one more "Oh, my" or "My inner goddess...", I would have given this book one star. Nuff said) and the same character tendencies, with the exception of the very last sex scene.

As far as BDSM goes, this seems incredibly tame (lame). It's more slap-and-tickle by two overly horny adults. I thought I'd be reading a book that reveals a woman's hidden desires for dominance, for the pain that comes along with pleasure, but the sex in this book wasn't overly shocking. Just a LITTLE outside of normal comfort zones. In fact, the only sex scene that I really felt the presence of the dom/sub relationship in was the last one, where Ana lay bound, blindfolded and unable to hear anything but music issuing from a very expensive iPod as Mr. Grey has his way with her. But even this scene was lacking greatly on the pain and focusing almost entirely on the pleasure. Though I will admit, it was the hottest "sexing" of the book. There were also two - in the entire book, only two - instances of "punishment", which was really only ass spanking, one mild, the other a bit more intense. But neither made me gasp in shock, arousal or disgust.

But back to my main point; WHY THE HELL IS THIS BOOK SO POPULAR? SO TALKED ABOUT? SO CONTROVERSIAL? I have read a fair bit of erotica, and this wasn't even as arousing as the better ones. I've also read books with much more controversial themes to the sexuality. Yet they sit in their moderately popular though not world-dominating corner of the bookworld, while Fifty Shades is shoved down the throats of every woman or avid bookreader on the planet. This completely baffles me.

The ending of this book seemed forced, like James had in her head the cliffhanger she wanted to write and didn't let the characters lead us there with any real believability. This leaves me not really caring about the star-and-chain-crossed-lovers.

The romance was meh. The sex was meh. The characters were meh. I'll give Christian the title of "Insanely Hot Rich Guy" he deserves, and admit to being curious about all the questions left open in this book about his past, but that's not enough to have me picking up the next novel in this trilogy anytime soon.

It wasn't great. It wasn't horrible. It wasn't shocking.

I. Just. Don't. Get. It

Fifty Shades Of Grey - 2 out of 5 stars.

Dead To The World Book Review (Sookie Stackhous 4)

AAAARGH!  I am so beyond frustrated with this book!  My least favorite character - Bill - was hardly in it at all, and my favorite - Eric - was living with Sookie, and it managed to be my least favorite in the series so far!  I'll try to get into it as much as I can without spoilers, but that's going to be hard because most of my main problems with it are, well, spoilers.

Okay, so.  Dead To The World starts off with Bill announcing he's going to Peru for awhile - thank you God - and explaining his rather douche-y actions of the previous book.  Sookie is still set in her newly single ways, so not only is Bill going to another country, he's going to another country while Sookie is single and one of the most lusted-after girls for most of the supernatural hotties of Bon Temps and the surrounding areas.  By now, I'm grinning ear-to-ear with all the possibilities.

It's when Sookie finds Eric, half-naked and completely amnesiac, running along the side of the road that this book starts to go downhill for me.  The new Eric is supposed to be cute, vulnerable, and as cuddly as a 6'4 fanged Viking can be.  But he just seemed...wrong.  Lost and vulnerable, yes.  But none of that other endearing stuff.  I spent the entire novel missing the crap out of the old Eric, and HATING Sookie for some of the things she chose to do with new Eric.  Things that in just the last novel she had a freaking moral crisis for even contemplating.  What the hell is going on with this girl?

I'm beginning to realize that I don't like Sookie all that much, either.

While all this is happening, Sookie's brother Jason goes missing, too.  But that's really a side-plot, and not one I'll dwell on too much.  Just say, he wasn't in it all that much, and Sookie has to deal with her overwhelming worry for her only brother, and all the supernatural crap being thrown her way.

Anyway, you see some old favorites in this book, but even they aren't as lovable as in Club Dead.  You meet some new characters that may or may not be in future installments, and get your usual allotment of Sam Merlotte.  He was easily my favorite character in Dead To The World, the only one that didn't make me roll my eyes at least once while reading.

This series has been rocky from the beginning for me.  Some parts are impossible to tear yourself away from, some are just so cheesy and campy you want to laugh.  But for the most part, these novels have been really good, light, entertaining reads.  I didn't like Dead To The World.  I hated what Harris did to my absolute favorite character, and hated some of Sookie's actions.  But I'm probably going to continue with the series and hope the fifth book goes back to the easy entertainment of the first three.

Dead To The World - a very disappointed 2 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Circus Of The Damned, Anita Blake Book 3 - Review

Yay my first real book review!  Are you as excited as I am? :D

First, since this is the review for the third book in this series, I want to do a quick review of the first two, Guilty Pleasures and The Laughing Corpse.  The talented Laurell K. Hamilton has introduced us to her mixed-genre world, which is the same as our own except for one crucial difference; vampires, weres, zombies and all things that go bump in the night are real, and they are no secret.  As far as I know, Hamilton started that trend, so I have to give her her due props for that.

Anita Blake is a twenty-something necromancer and full-time animator; she raises the dead for a living, sacrificing chickens and such for everything from the mundane task of straightening out a will to the more exciting murder witness.  All the things that need the cooperation of the dead guy, risen as a zombie.  She also moonlights as a preternatural expert for the police, who seem to have a neverending supply of supernatural serial killers to take down, and a state-ordained vampire hunter and killer.  Her oh, so impressive fanged body count has given her the nickname The Executioner among the vampire population.

In Guilty Pleasures, we got to see Anita kill a thousand-year-old vampire in the guise of a sweet little girl.  In The Laughing Corpse, she had to deal with a money and power hungry sociopath millionaire who hired a voodoo witch to raise a hundreds-year-old zombie, which required human sacrifice to perform, and led to said zombie totally losing it and going on a killing spree that was described to us in all too gory details.  Both books showed us a little of one very sexy master vampire, Jean-Claude, who manages to put a new meaning to the term blood and sex.  He's gunning for a spot in our Anita's bed, but she's not into doing the monsters.  Poor, poor Jean-Claude, right?  He's given us enough sexuality in his few short scenes to keep us tearing the pages, rooting whole-heartedly for his attempts at courting to succeed.  Only time will tell, Jean-Claude, only time will tell.

Now, to the third book, and the main focus of this review.  Circus Of The Damned follows largely in the other two book's foorsteps, defining a genre of supernatural ass-kicking women surrounded by the fanged and the furry.  It starts with two fanatics from an organization they call Humans First contacting out heroine for help to find and destroy the Master Of The City.  Also known as Jean-Claude.  Anita, of course, refuses to help.  But by now we all know that her close association to the Master, her knowledge of his identity, has drawn some unwanted attention to her.

Cue Alejandro, ancient Aztec vamp, and Olivier, who makes Alejandro seem like an infant in comparison.  Both are gunning for the new Master, and both need Anita's help in finding him.  One thing that helps push this novel along is our absolute awareness that Anita holds no loyalties to Jean-Claude, and his death would actually make her life considerably easier.  Every time she refuses to give out his identity, she has a small inner battle, questioning the decision.

This is also the installment that introduces one Richard to us, Anita's first clear romantic interest.  He is, of course, a complete hunk, but what else could we expect from Mrs. Hamilton?  He's Jean-Claude's somewhat unwilling man.  Anita spends most of the novel wondering the hold the Master has over Richard, who seems to be a normal human.  He's even a science teacher.  That doesn't exactly fit the profile for a vamp's right-hand man.

I first read this series a few years ago.  I fell in love with the characters, especially Jean-Claude.  Hamilton sure knows how to give us girls swoon-worthy men.  When I realized that I could only remember the bare skeleton of the plot after those years, I decided to give this series a re-read, and I'm glad I did.  This series takes a huge turn later on in the series, showcasing Laurell's aptitude at...erotic scenes.  But these first few sexless books really do a fantastic job of introducing us to this world, and are inarguably some of the best the series has to offer.

Now, don't come away from this review thinking the Anita books are spectacular and flawless.  They aren't.  Hamilton writes her heroine with maybe a bit too much arrogance, and some repetitive phrases and words begin to get annoying after a while.  Some of the gore is way overdone.  I've found myself cringing at particularly gruesome descriptions more than once, and not in a good way.  But for all of that, these books are damn entertaining, and recommended to any fans of the supernatural genre.

Circus Of The Damned - 4 out of 5 Stars

Thursday, September 6, 2012

First Blog Post

I'm not really sure what I'm doing here, but I've recently found myself with a lot of free time on my hands.  I love the wonderful wide world of writing, be it reading other people's work or writing my own.  I also have friends who have some successful blogs and seem to enjoy them, so I decided to try to wriggle my way into the onling reading/writing and blogging community.

A little about me; My name is Kelly, I'm in my early twenties.  I recently decided to take some me time off work, and am going to focus on reading and writing a bit during this little break I've allowed myself.

I love words.  I find myself in awe every single day after reading a particular paragraph, or finding the exact right words to write one, at just how incredible words can be.  They are our form of communication, expression, and thoughts.  Strung together just right, they can tell a wonderful story, paint vivid pictures in your mind, sway someone else to your way of thinking.  It's just incredible, how the right person can use his/her words as a canvas on which to create something of astounding beauty.

But I'll save the rest of the nerding out for later posts.

Aside from my obvious adoration of all things written, I'm an avid music fan. (You'll probably see me talking about a particular band or album here and there, though I created this to primarily be a book review blog.)  I'm a shameless coffee addict, averaging around 60 ounces a day lately.  And I'm fluent in sarcasm, so if something I say sounds slightly offensive, it's probably just my sarcastic side showing herself here.  As long as it's funny, just roll with it.

I'm still not entirely sure how these blogs work, but I'm willing to invest some time to figure it out and learn the ropes.  I know it's going to take some time to get any sort of following, but hopefully there will be people out there who find me interesting enough to invest part of their day in.

That's all for now.  Excuse me while I go fidget around with this blog thingy and hopefully learn a thing or two about how to run one.  Ciao!