Review: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown – Holly Black

Black_Holly-ColdestGirlInColdtownTitle: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown
Author: Holly Black
Little, Brown for Young Readers
Rating: 2 / 5

Tana lives in a world where walled cities called Coldtowns exist. In them, quarantined monsters and humans mingle in a decadently bloody mix of predator and prey. The only problem is, once you pass through Coldtown’s gates, you can never leave.

One morning, after a perfectly ordinary party, Tana wakes up surrounded by corpses. The only other survivors of this massacre are her exasperatingly endearing ex-boyfriend, infected and on the edge, and a mysterious boy burdened with a terrible secret. Shaken and determined, Tana enters a race against the clock to save the three of them the only way she knows how: by going straight to the wicked, opulent heart of Coldtown itself.

I tried to like this. I really, really did. I wanted to read a fresh vampire novel. I wanted something new, something different. I thought the idea of Coldtowns was pretty interesting. Unfortunately, the book fell flat for me.

Part of this is the timeline. Everything happens fairly fast, within a week, and as a result, everything feels rushed. From getting from the party in which Tana finds herself to be the only survivor of a vampire attack, to arriving to Coldtown, to everything else that happens after (which I won’t say, because SPOILERS). It feels rushed because it is–I would have probably preferred this to be a two-parter, told in two novels.

Because of the rushed pace, we don’t learn much about the characters. We learn a lot of backstory about Tana and Gavriel, but that’s it. With the exception of his history with Tana (which, honestly, wasn’t a lot, and he was kind of a douchecanoe through most of it), Aidan has no history. Midnight and Winter, two teens Tana, Aidan and Gavriel run into on their way to Coldtown, have next to no backstory (not that it matters, turns out they really aren’t all that important). A lot of the lack of characterization is where the novel fell flat for me–I didn’t know the characters, wasn’t learning much about them, and therefore I really didn’t care about what happened to them.

There’s also the problem of random chapters dropped in the middle of the action. For some people, this isn’t a problem, but it’s a huge problem for me because it slows down the pace and a lot of it was unnecessary exposition. There’s even a chapter that starts with “once upon a time” and was vaguely reminiscent of Laini Taylor’s “Daughter of Smoke and Bone”, or at least that’s where my mind went at the time, and I asked myself just what I was reading.

Finally, there was the problem with the sort of insta-love between Tana and Gavriel. They have hardly any scenes together, and all of a sudden Gavriel drops the L-word like a bomb. It wasn’t believable.

Overall, the book wasn’t terribly horrible. I did, after all, manage to finish it. Holly Black writes well technically, but between the rushed pace, lack of characterization, and the insta-love, I just couldn’t really enjoy it.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. This has not influenced my opinion in any way.

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Review: Julie Kagawa – The Iron Knight

Kagawa_Julie-TheIronKnight

Title: The Iron Knight
Author: Julie Kagawa
Series: The Iron Fey #4
Harlequin Teen
Rating: 2.5 / 5

“My name–my True Name–is Ashallayn’ darkmyr Tallyn. I am the last remaining son of Mab, Queen of the Unseelie Court. And I am dead to her. My fall began, as many stories do, with a girl…”To cold faery prince Ash, love was a weakness for mortals and fools. His own love had died a horrible death, killing any gentler feelings the Winter prince might have had. Or so he thought.

Then Meghan Chase–a half human, half fey slip of a girl–smashed through his barricades, binding him to her irrevocably with his oath to be her knight. And when all of Faery nearly fell to the Iron fey, she severed their bond to save his life. Meghan is now the Iron Queen, ruler of a realm where no Winter or Summer fey can survive.

With the unwelcome company of his archrival, Summer Court prankster Puck, and the infuriating cait sith Grimalkin, Ash begins a journey he is bound to see through to its end–a quest to find a way to honor his vow to stand by Meghan’s side.

To survive in the Iron Realm, Ash must have a soul and a mortal body. But the tests he must face to earn these things are impossible. And along the way Ash learns something that changes everything. A truth that challenges his darkest beliefs and shows him that, sometimes, it takes more than courage to make the ultimate sacrifice.

WARNING: Here be spoilers! Even more spoilers. A lot of spoilers. Maybe.

The most disappointing of the series. I was hoping for a more intriguing tale in Ash’s journey to get his soul, but instead what I got was, well, pretty standard faire for epic journey to get to point B stories. Lots and lots of travelling, oh and some stuff happened in between.

Truthfully, I had seen some ratings and reviews from people I follow on goodreads that claimed this one was the best of the series. So, of course, I went into it extremely pumped. I was expecting something totally epic, especially since I had liked The Iron Queen so much. Unfortunately, The Iron Knight didn’t quite deliver for me. So much so, that I asked myself a couple times if I wasn’t reading a different book.

I really, really wanted to be impressed. Instead, I found Ash wavering between his old love and his current love, Puck making weird pop-culture references, and OMG Ariella is back from the dead. Or she was never dead. Or something.

Anyway, Ash wavers very much back and forth between his love for Ariella, the Girl Who Was Dead, and Meghan, the Girl Who Is Now Queen of the Iron Fey. There’s a moment where Ash even admits that he wishes Ariella had never “died”, but then realizes why it had happened, no matter how much he wishes it differently, and my hope died a little for Ash. It’s all nice and stuff that he realizes that things can’t change, what’s done is done, etc etc., but truthfully, he shouldn’t have thought it at all. He has Meghan now. At least, the whole point of his trip is to make sure he has Meghan. Oh, Ash. (I seemed to be thinking this a lot during the series.)

Really, the wavering and the fact that Ash seemed to need to remind himself so often that he was doing this entire thing for Meghan was really off-putting. Ariella seemed to either be testing him, or she really didn’t want him to succeed at his quest. And I really, really didn’t like her.

As always Grimalkin was awesome, and Puck was, well, he was Puck. And really, they were this book’s saving grace, because I think I’d have put it down and moved on if it wasn’t for them. Also, the Wolf, because I was greatly entertained with the banter between him and Grim.

Reading things from Ash’s point of view was a big change, too. I wasn’t sure I liked it at first. Turned out it wasn’t that bad, and was actually pretty convincing. Sometimes female authors try to do a male point of view and it just doesn’t work, but for me, Kagawa’s ‘Ash’ voice worked just fine.

A second read-through made the book a little more tolerable, but it was nowhere near as good as I had initially wanted it to be. Which, all in all, is unfortunate, because I really wanted to like this. I really, really did. I’m hoping that the next book in the series, which picks up with Meghan’s brother, is better.

BFTA Review: VC Andrews – Flowers in the Attic

Andrews_VC-FlowersInTheAttic

Title: Flowers in the Attic
Author: V.C. Andrews
Rebound by Sagebrush
Rating: 2/5
Read for: Gothic Reading Challenge 2011

This is the Extraordinary Novel That Has Captured Millions in Its Spell!
All across America and around the world, millions of readers have been captivated by this strange, dark, terrifying tale of passion and peril in the lives of four innocent children, locked away from the world by a selfish mother.
Flowers in the Attic is the novel that launched the extraordinary career of V.C. Andrews, winning her an immediate and fiercely devoted worldwide following; today there are more than 85 million copies of her books in print. (goodreads.com)

I went into this book hoping for something much more than it was. I know it was written in the seventies, but there were too many “gosh”es and “golly”s for me to really enjoy reading the novel. I felt like I was reading something written by one of the Brady Bunch.
My thought process during this book was all over the place. The novel starts slowly, and keeps going slowly until roughly 2/3 of the way through it, and by then I’m far too invested to quit the novel, no matter how much I wanted to say “forget about it” and toss it in the “return to library” stack without finishing.
I know the grandmother (and how weird is it that she’s always referred to as “the grandmother” instead of just “Grandmother”) is supposed to come off as a monster, but there’s something slightly sympathetic about her, especially knowing what I know about her, her husband, and Corrine (the mother). Okay, so I cheated and read the summaries of all the books in the series on wikipedia one day. I was curious.
I found that I couldn’t like any of the characters. Cathy, the narrator, comes across as a bit of a Mary Sue; she always knows about things (such as her mother’s dishonesty), and no one believes her. She’s so pretty, and blah, blah, blah. I got really tired of hearing about how perfect they all are.
Christopher was a know-it-all, and while I could certainly understand his love of reading, all he wanted to read for was knowledge and I had a severe dislike of his opinion of reading for pleasure.
Really, though, the worst was the mother, who hid her children away, attempted to poison them (succeeded in killing one), and guilt-trips her own children into feeling sorry for her, when all along she just wants them gone so she can not only inherit the money her father has been refusing to give her, but also so she can lead a new life free from baggage with her new husband.
Overall, I was just disgusted with this book. I gave it two stars because I managed to finish it.

Originally published 07 February 2011.

BFTA Review: Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark – He Sees You When You’re Sleeping

Clark_Mary_and_Carol_Higgins-HeSeesYouWhenYoureSleeping

Title: He Sees You When You’re Sleeping
Author: Mary Higgins Clark & Carol Higgins Clark
Simon & Schuster
Rating: 2/5
Read for: Queen of Suspense Challenge

It is a few days before Christmas. For forty-six years Sterling has been awaiting his summons into Heaven. Will he be deemed fit for entrance into heaven this year? At last the day comes and the Heavenly Council settles on a test for Sterling – he will be sent back to earth and given an opportunity to prove his worthiness by helping someone else. Sterling Brooks finds himself in Manhattan, at the skating rink in Rockefeller Center. Among the skaters is a heartbroken seven-year-old named Marissa. Her sadness comes from her separation from the father she adores, a talented singer, and her sparkling grandmother, owner of a popular restaurant. Both have been forced into the Witness Protection Program because two mobsters, the Badgett brothers, have put a price on their heads to prevent their testifying against them in an arson case. As Sterling soon realizes, it is Marissa he has been sent to help. Sterling, who is able to move back and forth in time and place, masterminds a plan to eliminate the threat from the Badgett brothers and reunite Marissa with her loved ones. (goodreads.com)

This book went by very slowly for me. It isn’t the normal format for a mystery, where the main characters are trying to figure out who-dun-it. Instead, our main character is trying to help someone, and there is no “who-dun-it” involved in any way. It was a mystery of a different kind: how to get from point A to point B.
The novel is short enough that we don’t really get a feel for any of the characters. A lot of the novel takes place during the previous year, when Marissa’s father and grandmother go away. Sterling chases after them for more than a week, learning all he can about exactly why they had to go into Witness Protection. He skips through the following year, learning what he needs to in order to be able to help Marissa get her father and grandmother back in time for Christmas Eve, and her birthday. Because we skip over so much, we don’t really find out much else about the characters. Even Sterling doesn’t seem to change throughout the novel; we must rely on what’s been told to us about his past (that he was ungrateful and simply absent-minded in regards to those he loved or who might have needed a hand) to see the change.
This book wasn’t for me, but if you like quick reads, I’d recommend it, especially to read during the month of December.

Originally posted 04 January 2011.

ARC Review – Bonnie Shimko – You Know What You Have To Do

Shimko_Bonnie-YouKnowWhatYouHaveToDo

Title: You Know What You Have To Do
Author: Bonnie Shimko
Amazon Children’s Publishing
Rating: 2.5 / 5

This quirky, appealing YA novel turns formulaic teen fiction on its head as funny, feisty fifteen year-old Mary-Magdalene Feigenbaum (otherwise known as Maggie) suddenly faces more than the usual typical YA concerns: a voice in her head that is telling her to kill people. Not just anyone—each time the target is someone who has done something terrible to a person Maggie cares for. You know what you have to do, the voice commands. Maggie struggles to resist, but the voice is relentless.
With rising suspense, this story of psychological horror introduces a narrator whose own unique voice and irreverent humor are unforgettable—an unlikely hero fighting a desperate battle against incomprehensible evil. (goodreads.com)

A copy of this book was generously provided to me by the publisher via netgalley. All opinions herein are mine and were not influenced by the author or publisher in any way.

This book was definitely not for me. Maybe it’s because I’m not in it’s target audience. Certainly, had I read this book 10 years ago (I’m in my late 20’s now), I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more. After sitting through countless critical reading courses and a few psychology courses (necessary for my degree ‘n all), I can safely say that what would be an enjoyable read for a teen turned into a nightmare for an adult.

First, however, let’s talk about what I did like.

I absolutely love the adults. I felt horribly sorry for both Roxie and Lonnie Kraft. Roxie, because she got the short end of the stick, so to speak, after she got pregnant with Maggie. Her parents died, her former boyfriend (Lonnie) ended up in the pen for killing his mother, and she was stuck in a loveless marriage with someone 30+ years her senior, all so she could provide for a baby she wasn’t ready to have. I felt immensely sorry for her and her situation, and in a weird, disconnected way, for Maggie, because she just doesn’t know.

I actually really liked Dr. Scott, too. Maggie spends a lot of time crushing on him, but once you actually ignore her blather about marrying him and adding feminine touches to his house (like curtains), he’s actually not that bad a guy. He even -gasp- calls her out on lying blatantly to him. It was at this point in the novel that I thought maybe I could take some of it seriously, but definitely not all of it.

Shimko’s writing flows well, also. While there’s a bit of a disconnect between Maggie, who is our (definitely) unreliable narrator, and the reader, Shimko writes Maggie’s views well and doesn’t hold back.

But that’s about as far as the things I liked goes. So let’s talk about the things I didn’t like, because it’s actually only a couple of things, but for me, they’re major.

At one point in the novel, Maggie goes out on a date with this guy from school, Jacob, who proceeds to feel her up in the back of the movie theater, and has the nerve to get mad when she tells him ‘no’. (Personal opinion time: I actually like sitting in the back of the theater for reasons unrelated to getting felt up, which includes no children as well as an ability to see the screen better.) Maggie complains to her friend, Abigail, who’s been reading a bunch of those teen mags that actually have really terrible advice. Abigail proceeds to tell Maggie that she “asked for it” (in other words, of course, but that phrase stands). Actually, what she said can’t be paraphrased. Here it is:

“Well, no wonder. You never sit in the back row unless you mean business. It gives a guy permission to do whatever he wants.” … “Whatever Jacob did isn’t his fault. You gave him mixed signals.” (p 128 from the digital ARC)

Um, no. No, Abigail, it doesn’t. This is victim-blaming in the worst way. At best, Abigail has been lead to believe this by her teen mags (like Cosmo and Redbook, which give ok hair tips, but nothing else worth reading, especially articles related to anything relationship or sex); at worst, Abigail has been lead to believe this by her parents, friends, and anyone else that keeps telling her that. But what bugs me is that no one bothers to correct her. No one says, “It’s really not your fault, Maggie.” No one tells Abigail it’s “not her fault”, either, when she has her own boy-related issues later in the novel.

The victim-blaming doesn’t fly with me, at all, and it’s a subject that has to be touched carefully in books. I don’t mind it when it’s utilized well and ends up actually having a happy ending, but perpetuating the cycle is a sore spot for me, even as someone who’s never been a victim.

Another thing I couldn’t stand was Maggie’s treatment of pretty much everyone around her, with the exception of her dog. She doesn’t seem to grasp the concept of friendship, or family. She constantly thinks badly of everyone around her (including going so far as to call someone she doesn’t even know a “slut”, just to appease Abigail, only to deny friendship with Abigail). She calls Abigail “frog face” because she wears a retainer at the beginning of the novel. She constantly refers to Roxie as being “easy” (mostly because she doesn’t know Roxie’s story with Lonnie, and she is constantly fueled by rumors floating around her small town about Roxie, but she doesn’t bother digging for the truth, and when it finally comes out, she still refers to Roxie as easy.)

Maggie as a character bothered me, truthfully. I don’t really know where the author was going with her as a character, if she intended for her to be experiencing symptoms of schizophrenia, or if it was something else entirely. Nothing much actually happens in the book except Maggie goes around killing people, and cleaning up after herself. So here’s the thing: if this is supposed to be Maggie experiencing what would later be diagnosed as schizophrenic symptoms (not necessarily the disorder itself, but she does display auditory hallucinations), I have a hard time believing it. If, on the other hand, it’s intended as a commentary on the human condition (or just the teenage condition) and the nature of good and evil, it’s a big bogged down in all the teenage melodrama.

But what bugged me the most? I felt like there was no plot. Oh, sure things happened. But to what end? I felt like it wasn’t a complete story–I was left reading what was 5 of 6 total chapters, and the last one happened to be lost somewhere. Nothing happens to Maggie. At least two (possibly three) people know she’s killed someone, and no one does anything about it. Yes, she’s killed bad people. But the vigilante angle that Maggie tries to work doesn’t do so well, and I find it hard to believe that cops aren’t suspicious of (at least) three deaths in such a small period of time in a small town. Really, I wanted Maggie to be caught. I wanted the story to come full circle, and at least have closure, but I, as a reader, was denied.

So over-all, I’m actually fence-sitting almost exactly half-way between liking it and not liking it. As I said before, if I’d been 10 years younger, I’d probably have really enjoyed it. But as an adult? Not so much. Definitely recommending to teens who want a quick read that’s different from normal faire.

BFTA Review: RL Stine – Dangerous Girls and Taste of Night

Stine_RL-DangerousGirlsANDTasteOfNight

Title: Dangerous Girls and Dangerous Girls: Taste of Night
Author: R.L. Stine
HarperCollins
Rating: 2/5

(Dangerous Girls) Destiny Weller and her twin sister, Livvy, return from their summer vacation with an overpowering thirst — an inhuman desire to drink blood.
Have they turned into vampires?
How will they keep their horrifying secret from their family and friends?
And can they find a way to become human again … before it’s too late? (goodreads.com)
(Dangerous Girls: Taste of Night) Destiny Weller and her twin sister, Livvy, were as close as two sisters could be-until Livvy chose to become a vampire, leaving Destiny behind. Now Destiny will do anything to bring Livvy back to the family. But in Livvy’s world of endless darkness, she knows there is only one way she and Destiny can be reunited — Destiny must become a vampire too. . . .
Which sister will live to see the glow of the next full moon?
Whose lips will savor the taste of night?
Who will survive? (goodreads.com)

I want to say the plot is your basic, average, every-day YA vampire novel plot. I really, really do. There’s one character who is desperate to remain human; her evil twin, who is a vampire and doesn’t mind killing, and the loads of friends and family, some of whom are given names and a very brief description before being killed off.

Despite spending so much time with Destiny, I really found that I disliked her. Her pressure of Livvy to become human again is distressing. Livvy constantly asks, “Why can’t you see I’m okay like this?”, but Destiny just “knows” her sister isn’t happy, and goes through everything to try to get her sister to come back home. In fact, this remains a huge part of the second novel, and I started losing interest.

I couldn’t get a good grasp of the characters, either. I got their thoughts, their actions, their words, but no emotion. When their friends died, there wasn’t a lot of moping and tears. Destiny was more concerned about people staring at her when she went back to school, than the fact that she had lost a couple of friends. I get that the books are supposed to be about eighteen-year-old girls, but come on. Even eighteen-year-olds get weepy and mopey when their friends die.

All in all, I didn’t enjoy this book too much. I think I’ll give it away. The writing was dull, and some of it was written like someone in high school would: instead of just emphasizing the word “so”, the author not only emphasized it, he dragged it out like so: “soooooo“. I haven’t seen that done, ever, in a published work, but there it is.

I just couldn’t get into this book. I wonder now if all the R.L. Stine books were written like this and I just didn’t notice.

Originally posted on August 29, 2010