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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BFTA Review: Rachel Caine – Glass Houses

Caine_Rachel-GlassHousesANDTheDeadGirlsDance

Title: Glass Houses
Author: Rachel Caine
Series: Morganville Vampires #1
New American Library (Penguin)
Rating: 4/5
Read for: 2011 Wish I’d Read That Challenge

College freshman Claire Danvers has had enough of her nightmarish dorm situation. When Claire heads off-campus, the imposing old house where she finds a room may not be much better. Her new roommates don’t show many signs of life, but they’ll have Claire’s back when the town’s deepest secrets come crawling out, hungry for fresh blood. (goodreads.com)

I read Glass Houses earlier this month, and I’m just now getting around to writing the review (bad me!).

I really enjoyed the book. Claire is just a young girl, younger than her peers because she entered college a year or so earlier than most, and is picked on by the rich girls of the town. Desperate to get out of a situation which nearly kills her (and which local cops are uninterested in doing anything about), Claire goes in search of a new place to stay, and comes across the Glass House, where she finds good friends and good food.

The vampires in the novel are definitely not Twilight-esque, despite the ravings on the cover of the omnibus that fans of Twilight will love the Morganville Vampires series. While I can understand the reference (young adult books focusing on vampires), the similarities are few and far between, and the Morganville series is much better.

None of the characters really rubbed me the wrong way, unless they were supposed to. Monica’s blatant uncaring personality and ability to get away with anything was truly disturbing, especially considering she isn’t one of the undead.

I really enjoyed this book, and I’m looking forward to reading the next one in the omnibus, The Dead Girls’ Dance.

Originally posted 27 January 2011.

BFTA Review: Charlaine Harris – Dead Until Dark

Harris_Charlaine-DeadUntilDark

Title: Dead Until Dark
Author: Charlaine Harris
Series: Southern Vampire Series #1
Ace
Rating: 1/5
Read for: 2011 Urban Fantasy Challenge

Sookie Stackhouse is a small-time cocktail waitress in small-town Louisiana. She’s quiet, keeps to herself, and doesn’t get out much. Not because she’s not pretty. She is. It’s just that, well, Sookie has this sort of “disability.” She can read minds. And that doesn’t make her too dateable. And then along comes Bill. He’s tall, dark, handsome–and Sookie can’t hear a word he’s thinking. He’s exactly the type of guy she’s been waiting for all her life….
But Bill has a disability of his own: He’s a vampire with a bad reputation. He hangs with a seriously creepy crowd, all suspected of–big surprise–murder. And when one of Sookie’s coworkers is killed, she fears she’s next… (goodreads.com)

It took me several tries to finally read this book. Not because I kept getting interrupted, but because it couldn’t hold my attention. Too much attention is paid to Sookie’s day-to-day life, and it takes a long time (more than 100 pages) to start getting to anything important. I kept wanting to put the book down in favor of other, better reads, but forced my way through it.

A lot happens during the course of the first novel. As with any first novel in the series, the focus is on introducing the characters; however, we not only meet Sookie’s family (her brother and grandmother), but we meet Bill, Eric, and a whole slew of Southern good ol’ boys that I couldn’t keep straight. I even had a hard time keeping straight Sookie’s co-workers; everyone bled into each other, and without names and details (such as referring to the sheriff as “Sheriff”), I’d never have remembered who was who. On top of meeting what seems like everyone in Bon Temps, we have three murders, and Sookie’s brother is one of the main suspects.

Sookie herself is a confusing character. She is constantly back-and-forth, moving between a naive girl and a knowing woman. She spends a lot of time describing what she’s wearing, and her fashion sense is appalling. I felt like she was living in the 80s, but sometimes Sookie would wear something so knock-your-socks-off that I wondered if she was really as naive as she seemed. Sookie’s feelings towards vampires, too, were back and forth. Initially, she is happy about meeting Bill, a somewhat civilized vampire. When she meets Bill’s “friends”, however, she is disgusted. No matter how open-minded she wants others to be, especially regarding her relationship with Bill, she is considerably close-minded when it comes to other vampires.

By the time the book go to the “who-dun-it”, I’d lost a lot of interest. Even Bubba’s true identity felt like more of a grasp at straws to keep the reader interested; Bubba could have been just another random vampire, but instead he is someone who was famous and came back wrong, so he’s not all that bright.

I wish this book had something redeeming, but it didn’t. It was filled with stereotypical Southern talk, and half the time I had to re-read sentences to try to figure out what Sookie (or another character) was trying to say. Between that and the bipolar narrator, I had a hard time staying with the story.

Originally posted 21 January 2011.

BFTA Review: Claudia Gray – Evernight

Gray_Claudia-Evernight

Title: Evernight
Author: Claudia Gray
Series: Evernight #1
HarperTeen
Rating: 4/5
Read for: 2011 Wish I’d Read That Challenge

Bianca wants to escape.
She’s been uprooted from her small hometown and enrolled at Evernight Academy, an eerie Gothic boarding school where the students are somehow too perfect: smart, sleek, and almost predatory. Bianca knows she doesn’t fit in.
Then she meets Lucas. He’s not the “Evernight type” either, and he likes it that way. Lucas ignores the rules, stands up to the snobs, and warns Bianca to be careful—even when it comes to caring about him.
“I couldn’t stand it if they took it out on you,” he tells Bianca, “and eventually they would.”
But the connection between Bianca and Lucas can’t be denied. Bianca will risk anything to be with Lucas, but dark secrets are fated to tear them apart . . . and to make Bianca question everything she’s ever believed. (goodreads.com)

I loved this book. It was an interesting take on the vampire myth, and while vampires seem to be more invincible than I’d like them to be (only beheading and fire can kill them?), I was still interested.

Bianca is a self-described shy teenager, uprooted from her hometown and thrust into the world of a private academy where her parents have taken teaching jobs. Though Bianca stress that she is shy, she doesn’t ever seem it. She raises her hand in class, she tries to befriend new people, and all around doesn’t do things like a shy person would. I think it’s more a fear of being embarrassed than being shy.

The vampire myth in this novel is quite different from some I have read. Bianca is born a vampire; she isn’t created. During the first part of the book, we don’t know this; we think Bianca is simply a human girl uprooted and deposited in a Gothic boarding school, but we come to find out that she knows all along what’s going on. It’s an interesting choice to hide this from the reading audience, especially since we’re in Bianca’s head during the novel.

The book has a nice twist, and in hindsight I probably should have seen it coming, but it was a nice surprise none-the-less.

I’m not sure exactly what I liked about the book; my thoughts and opinions are all over the place, but it was a refreshing change from certain other YA paranormal romances that shall remain nameless. I’ll be picking up the next book in the series soon.

Originally posted 20 January 2011.

BFTA Review: Dianne Sylvan – Queen of Shadows

Sylvan_Dianne-QueenOfShadows

Title: Queen of Shadows
Series: The Shadow World #1
Author: Dianne Sylvan
Berkley Publishing Group (Penguin)//Ace Books
Rating: 5/5

Shortly after she picked up a guitar, Miranda Grey conquered the Austin music scene with a newfound ability to psychically manipulate her audience’s emotions. But as her powers outgrow her control, her mind is increasingly invaded by haunting secrets and overwhelming sadness. Unable to look anyone in the eye, Miranda is fast approaching the edge of insanity – with no one to catch her fall…

When he outlawed killing humans, David Solomon ignited a civil war among Austin’s vampires. As Prime of the South, his sympathy for mortals angered the old guard who refuse to control their violent urges. David has his hands full with the growing insurgency, but he takes in a broken-down woman, a musician in need of supernatural guidance. Little does he know that Miranda Grey has the power to change his world as well. (goodreads.com)

I rushed out and bought this book as soon as I saw the blurb for the back. No, seriously. I called a book store while I was still at work and rushed out that night to buy it. I’m so glad I did.
Miranda Grey is a powerful character. I don’t mean that she is perfect in every way, or capable of throwing cars with her bare hands, or anything silly like that. She’s a strong character; she copes as best she can with what she has, trying to keep herself as sane as she can by avoiding eye contact with anyone.
David Solomon is another character that I grew to like. He’s a bit of an ass at times, but overall he’s a pretty good guy, for a vampire who runs the southern United States. Everything he does has purpose; from the no-kill laws, to sending Miranda away once she’s learned to defend herself. He protects the people, whether they be vampires or humans, at the expense of himself.
David and Miranda really make this book what it is, but let’s not forget the secondary characters. Faith, Devon, and Jonathan, along with a host of guards and friends really help to keep the novel going. Faith has a camaraderie with David that is hard not to laugh at; Devon, the Prime located in California, and his Consort Jonathan, are two characters I want to know more about, given their relationship with David.
Kat and Drew, Miranda’s friends, I had a harder time with. Maybe because, after reading about Faith, and Devon, and Jonathan, nevermind David, Kat and Drew just seemed to be absurd because they’re normal.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. So much so, that as soon as the next one comes out, I’m going to grab it off the shelf.
(Also, were there a few references to the movie Serenity, or was that just me? Faith thinks, “You can’t stop the signal,” on page 93, and then of course there’s Miranda’s name. It could just all be a coincidence.)

Originally posted 20 December 2010.

BFTA Review: Elle Jasper – Afterlight

Jasper_Elle-Afterlight

Title: Afterlight
Series: Dark Ink Chronicles #1
Author: Elle Jasper
Signet Eclipse
Rating: 3/5

Savannah’s most unconventional tattoo artist, Riley Poe, lives on the edge. Now she’s put over the edge when her younger brother is taken by a sinister cult led by vampires. Her only ally is the hot-tempered vampire Eli Dupre, attracted to Riley’s beauty and rare blood type. To save her brother from certain un-death, Riley faces dangers she’s never dreamed of, ruthless bloodthirsty enemies, and an evil of endless hunger that wants to devour it all…(goodreads.com)

This is one of those books I picked up just for the cover. I really like the blue background, though I’m trying to figure out the buildings in the background. I don’t recall seeing any buildings like that outside possibly New Orleans, but it’s possible. Savannah is an old Southern city, too.

I have a lot of books with the heroine on the cover, standing with her back facing out. A. Lot. But I really like that she’s standing in the foreground; there’s no washing over her with blue tones. Her tattoo stands out, bright against her skin, and her hair stands out, too. I’m still trying to figure out the dagger she’s holding, because I don’t remember it being in the story. She looks like a bad ass, like Riley Poe is supposed to be. (Okay, so I picked the book up because of the girl’s tattoo.)

At first, I really liked this book. I did. I could look past just how not-bad ass Riley was, though she tried to be. I even liked Eli, Riley’s vampire protection.

I liked him until he admitted he was sneaking into Riley’s room to watch her sleep, and my stalker alert went off in my head. What is with this trend in urban fantasy that it’s somehow okay for the male lead to sneak into the female’s house, into her room, and watch her sleep? That’s not okay, no matter how it’s handled.

Riley, as a main character, is very frustrating. She’s one of those people that can’t keep her mouth shut, has to be first, and does whatever she wants, to the detriment of herself (and sometimes others). For once, I just wanted her to listen to Eli, or Preacher. Just once. The other problem I had was that everyone just loved Riley. Eli’s family, Preacher, even one of the bad guys. Her tattoo is bad-ass, she dresses kind of like a goth or a punker… It came across as too much of a Mary Sue to be likable.

The “sinister cult” her brother is taken by is a group of his own friends. I was mis-lead by the cover blurb; I thought it would be an actual group of bad guys. Instead, I get two bad guys and a bunch of crazy teenagers. Nothing too scary about that.

Jasper’s vampires, though, are original. They’re not the sparkly vampires of daydreams, they are definitely the stuff of nightmares. They hide their vampire faces, but Riley describes them pretty well, and I got this weird picture in my head, like Pennywise the Clown’s face in the sewer, except without the clown makeup and big red hair.

“I blinked in surprise, and just that fast his face grew close and sickly distorted, his jaw unhinged, and every tooth in his mouth grew long, sharp, jagged, his eyes no longer blue but pure white, with only a pinpoint bloodred pupil.” (p. 99)

I’m looking forward to catching the next installment in June of 2011.

Originally posted 14 December 2010.
Note: Since I posted this, book two came out. I read that. Since then, books three and four in the series have come out. I haven’t yet managed to read three and four, but five is expected out this year, so I guess I better get crackin’!

Review: Scott Westerfeld – Peeps

Westerfeld_Scott-Peeps

Title: Peeps
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Series: Peeps #1
Razorbill (Penguin)
Rating: 5 / 5

Last year as college freshman, narrator Cal was infected by exotic goth Morgan with a parasite that caused following girlfriends to become vampire-like ghouls he calls parasite-positives “Peeps”. A carrier without symptoms, he hunts his progeny for the centuries old bureaucratic Night Watch. But victims are showing more sanity, pretty human Lacey is pushing his buttons, and her apartment building basement houses fierce hordes of ravening rats, red-eyed cats, and monstrous worms that threaten all. Morgan has the secret to a centuries-old conspiracy and upcoming battle to save the human race. (goodreads.com)

SUCH a great book. I really love Westerfeld’s writing, and this is such an interesting take on the vampire myth. Also, every other chapter is devoted to telling the reader about different parasites, not only some that affect humans, but also cows, ants, and a bunch of other unsuspecting creatures.

The vampire myth in this book is totally different from anything I’ve encountered before (at least for vampires–I’ve seen my fair share of zombies that are actually infected with parasites or viruses or what-have-you). How it gets transferred from host to host is also interesting, because it stretches beyond the human spectrum.

Cal’s mission is to go around collecting Peeps–capturing them and bringing them back to his company. Since he’s a carrier, he can’t be infected. At some point, I actually felt bad for Lace, because really, she had no choice.

The story eventually moves on to a “bigger than you and me” topic, where the Peeps are actually soldiers meant to SAVE the human race from something bigger. We never do actually get to the final battle part (I’m hoping it shows up in the sequel, which I haven’t read yet), but the build-up to it is really good and kept me hanging on the whole way.