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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DNF Review: The Weight of Souls – Bryony Pearce

Pearce_Bryony-WeightOfSoulsTitle: The Weight of Souls
Author: Bryony Pearce
Strange Chemistry
Rating: DNF

Sixteen year old Taylor Oh is cursed: if she is touched by the ghost of a murder victim then they pass a mark beneath her skin. She has three weeks to find their murderer and pass the mark to them – letting justice take place and sending them into the Darkness. And if she doesn’t make it in time? The Darkness will come for her…

She spends her life trying to avoid ghosts, make it through school where she’s bullied by popular Justin and his cronies, keep her one remaining friend, and persuade her father that this is real and that she’s not going crazy.

But then Justin is murdered and everything gets a whole lot worse. Justin doesn’t know who killed him, so there’s no obvious person for Taylor to go after. The clues she has lead her to the V Club, a vicious secret society at her school where no one is allowed to leave… and where Justin was dared to do the stunt which led to his death.

Can she find out who was responsible for his murder before the Darkness comes for her? Can she put aside her hatred for her former bully to truly help him?

And what happens if she starts to fall for him?

I tried with this one. I really did. I started reading it, and it took me so long to get to just 100 pages that I finally gave up.

Truthfully, it isn’t a bad book. The characterization is typical of a teenager in high school, and for some reason, I just couldn’t get into it. Normally, teenagers acting like teenagers doesn’t bother me. This time, it just slowed down my progress with the book. I wasn’t invested in the characters, and as a result, I didn’t care what happened to them.

Part of my problem, I think, was the brief journal entries from Taylor Oh’s ancestor, an archeologist who was part of a team that broke into a tomb and, apparently, pissed of Anubis. The family becomes cursed as a result.

I’m actually unsure whether the backstory is necessary (I gave up reading at about 146 of 225 pages), but for me it felt extraneous. While it was nice to know how Oh’s family became cursed, it wasn’t necessary for me to know the step-by-step process; simply knowing the curse existed, along with some minor details like how it worked, would have sufficed.

The pace of the story was, while fairly consistent, somewhat slow, at least for me. I went into it expecting a much faster pace. For the first 60 or 70 pages, not much happened, and this contributed to my inability to really become invested in the book.

Eventually, I’ll probably pick the book up and try again, but for now, this is a DNF. At the time I read it, it wasn’t a fast enough pace for me, and I couldn’t become invested in the characters. I’m hoping upon a future re-read that I will enjoy the book more.

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

Review: Stalk Me – Jillian Dodd

Dodd_Jillian-StalkMeTitle: Stalk Me
Author: Jillian Dodd
Series: Keatyn Chronicles #1
Bandit Publishing
Rating: 1 / 5

Keatyn has everything she ever dreamed. Her life is following the script she wrote for the perfect high school experience. She’s popular, goes to the best parties, dates the hottest guy, and sits at the most-coveted lunch table.

She’s just not sure she wants it anymore.

Because, really, things aren’t all that perfect.
Her best friend is threatening to tell everyone her perfect relationship is a scam.
Her perfect boyfriend gets drunk at every party they go to.
It’s exhausting always trying to look and act perfect.
And, deep down, she isn’t sure if she has any true friends.

To add to the drama, her movie star mom has a creepy stalker.
A hot, older man flirts with her and tells her they should make a movie together.
And she’s crushing on an adorable surfer. Dating him would mean committing social suicide.

So she writes a new script. One where all the pieces of her life will come together in perfect harmony.
But little does she know, there’s someone who will do anything to make sure that doesn’t happen. (goodreads.com)

So… What the hell did I just read?

It took almost two days to finish this book. It was filled with a lot of nothing-happenings. Mixed in with the actually important plot was a lot of slice-of-life stories. Conversations with Keatyn and her mom, with Keatyn and pretty much anyone. Unimportant things she does. Lots of descriptions of her clothing, which I actually started skipping over, because beyond a simple “jeans a t-shirt” or “dress and heels”, I really just don’t care. Throwing around a lot of designer names and spending what feels like half a page on a description of one outfit really crosses the line for me into “overkill” zone.

Not to mention that the book is written in first person, and not done so well. Keatyn gives a day and time for each section of narration, as well as a quick little title that shows up within that narration somewhere. If she needs to describe something that happened in the past (and usually, it’s unnecessary description because if it was important, it wouldn’t have been ignored in the first place). By “in the past” I’m not talking about something that happened years ago, but only an hour or so before her narration began.

The jumping back and forth gave me a headache after a while. I had to keep putting it down because a lot of what she talks about in past tense just wasn’t that important.

There’s also a lot of “valley girl” speak (using the word “like” as something other than describing or verbage). It’s. Annoying. It’s one of those peeves I have that I didn’t really know I had until it came up while reading one day. And it stuck with me, apparently, because it’s still really annoying.

Keatyn’s “friends” are back-stabbing, money-grubbing, no-good people. I know people like this exist, but if you go by this book, the entire existance of them are all holed up at some rich-person high school in Malibu. Keatyn fits in with them pretty well, despite her insistance that she’s different and wants to be different. She caves every. single. time. And it is beyond ridiculous.

Despite Keatyn only being 16, she obviously is much more mature and is also so awesome at doing practically everything. She plays soccer (and is apparently so good that her coach is okay with her skipping practices and games, because she never plays in one single game during the entire novel, even during the parts that actually take place during the school year), she dances, takes martial arts lessons, kickboxing lessons, and surfs. She’s fluent in a few languages and is passable in others. On top of all that, she still has time to party, party, party.  (This entire paragraph brought to you by sarcasm.)

And that’s pretty much my entire take-away from this, because not only did Keatyn seem like an annoying brat with too much time on her hands, she’s also entitled and more than a little indecisive. Let’s not talk about her boy-hopping and who she decides is the love of her life this week. We don’t really get to know much about any of the boys, except possibly Brooklyn. Even Cush gets very little screen time. Keatyn doesn’t give us a feel for any of them, except that they’re all, apparently, really hot.

The “stalk me” drama that happens over the course of the novel actually feels a little thrown in there because someone realized there wasn’t much of a plot otherwise. It feels paper-thin and watered down. Keatyn doesn’t concern herself with any of it unless it’s happening in the now–ten minutes later, it’s pretty much forgotten again. Keatyn also is more than a little stupid during the whole thing, which doesn’t help her case any.

Overall, I was very unhappy with the book. I won’t be continuing the series, especially if any of the sequels are as vapid and boring as this one.

Review: The Collector – Victoria Scott

Scott_Victoria-TheCollectorTitle: The Collector
Author: Victoria Scott
Series: Dante Walker #1
Entangled Teen
Rating: 4 / 5

Dante Walker is flippin’ awesome, and he knows it. His good looks, killer charm, and stellar confidence has made him one of Hell’s best — a soul collector. His job is simple, weed through humanity and label those round rears with a big red good or bad stamp. Old Saint Nick gets the good guys, and he gets the fun ones. Bag-and-tag.

Sealing souls is nothing personal. Dante’s an equal opportunity collector and doesn’t want it any other way. But he’ll have to adjust, because Boss Man has given him a new assignment: Collect Charlie Cooper’s soul within 10 days.

Dante doesn’t know why Boss Man wants Charlie, nor does he care. This assignment means only one thing to him, and that’s a permanent ticket out of Hell. But after Dante meets the quirky, Nerd Alert chick he’s come to collect—he realizes this assignment will test his abilities as a collector, and uncover emotions long ago buried. (goodreads.com)

The Collector is a lot of fun. A. Lot.

Dante is your narrator, and if you’re not used to it, he’s a little off-putting with his confidence, swagger, and outright arrogance. At some points, it gets a little annoying, but it’s also nice to see him handed a slice of humble pie, mostly from Charlie.

Dante, in life, was one of the Popular People. Charlie isn’t. Charlie seems a little over the top sometimes in the opposite direction of Dante–she isn’t pretty at all (messed up teeth, fuzzy hair, not-so-clear skin, bad fashion sense, and a bedroom that looks like Mattel’s Barbie threw up all over it). Her friends are just as bad of outcasts. After reading this book, and a few others in the “high school” category, I just have one question: do people really experience high school like this? And by “this” I mean, if you’re not popular, than your ugly? And there’s apparently various levels of popularity? Because I surely didn’t. (For the record, I was not one of the “popular” kids, but I was definitely known.)

Anyway, Dante has a one-track mind about getting out of Hell permanently with this assignment, and of course things go badly for him (because it wouldn’t be story if there weren’t complications). It isn’t until he really gets to know Charlie, as much as he can in a two- or three-day span, that he starts second-guessing himself and his assignment.

When I think about it, I had a lot of problems with this book. Not because it isn’t a good book, because if you take it on the surface level it really is kind of shallow and self-fulfilling, but because Dante is sometimes frustrating (okay, a lot), Charlie is too far in the other direction, and the plot gets a little obvious in places (notably the sub-plot of Max and Valery).

That isn’t to say I didn’t like the book, because I did. It’s a lot of fun. I went into it expecting a fun ride, without taking it too seriously, and that’s exactly what I got. When I first read it, I’d been in the middle of reading several serious books, either seriously long, or just with serious subject matter, and it was a nice change of pace. The second time I read it, I was in the middle of reading a fairly difficult adult book (for some reason, despite enjoying it, I was struggling with the length). The Collector provided me with a nice change of pace there, too.

This is, as you can tell, one of those guilty pleasure books for me. It may not be the best book out there, but dammit, I enjoyed it. And I’m also looking forward to the sequel.

BFTA Review: Margaret Peterson Haddix – Found

Haddix_Margaret_Peterson-Found
Title: Found
Series: The Missing #1
Author: Margaret Peterson Haddix
Simon & Schuster

Rating: 3.5/5

Thirteen-year-old Jonah has always known that he was adopted, and he’s never thought it was any big deal. Then he and a new friend, Chip, who’s also adoped, begin receiving mysterious letters. The first one says, “You are one of the missing.” The second one says, “Beware! They’re coming back to get you.”

Jonah, Chip, and Jonah’s sister, Katherine, are plunged into a mystery that involves the FBI, a vast smuggling operation, an airplane that appeared out of nowhere — and people who seem to appear and disappear at will. The kids discover they are caught in a battle between two opposing forces that want very different things for Jonah and Chip’s lives.

Do Jonah and Chip have any choice in the matter? And what should they choose when both alternatives are horrifying? (goodreads.com)

The entire time I read this book, I felt like Twilight music should be playing. No, seriously. When I picked the book up, I didn’t realize it would turn out to be sci-fi, but that’s really what it is.
While I had no problem following the action (although some of the time travel talk threw me for a little while), I had a more difficult time getting to know and like the characters. The novel was really more plot-driven than character-driven, but the characters felt wooden and dull to me. While I wanted them to succeed, it was more out of a need to see what happened next than to see what happened to the characters next. At the same time, I like that it was a plot-driven novel, because it’s a faster read, and I didn’t get bogged down in some convoluted characterization and explanation, which could also have happened. I just felt like it was balanced a little too far in the other direction.
The ending was a little twisty for me, as most twists are, but that was okay for me. I’m a little iffy about whether to pick up the second book. Does it get better? Do we meet more of Jonah, Katherine, and Chip, or is it another plot-driven novel?

Originally posted 04 April 2011.

BFTA Review: Sarah Dessen – Lock & Key

Dessen_Sarah-LockAndKey
Title: Lock & Key

Author: Sarah Dessen

Viking


Rating: 4/5

Ruby, where is your mother?

Ruby knows that the game is up. For the past few months, she’s been on her own in the yellow house, managing somehow, knowing that her mother will probably never return.

That’s how she comes to live with Cora, the sister she hasn’t seen in ten years, and Cora’s husband Jamie, whose down-to-earth demeanor makes it hard for Ruby to believe he founded the most popular networking Web site around. A luxurious house, fancy private school, a new wardrobe, the promise of college and a future; it’s a dream come true. So why is Ruby such a reluctant Cinderella, wary and defensive? And why is Nate, the genial boy next door with some secrets of his own, unable to accept the help that Ruby is just learning to give? (goodreads.com)

I’ve never read a Sarah Dessen book before. I see them everywhere I look at books, but I’ve never picked one up, not even to read the back cover. Fortunately, I read the summary for this one and thought it sounded interesting without even seeing the cover. I’m glad I picked this book up. It was touching, and it didn’t come across as cheesy, although it definitely had the potential to do just that.

There was something about Ruby that rubbed me the wrong way, and I’m not sure if I can put my finger on it. Ruby wants to stay in her little yellow house with mildew on her clothes, where half the appliances are broken and where she has to work to pay rent on top of going to school, all because her mother abandons her. Sometimes, I could understand Ruby and her need to stay in her own world–change, especially such a dramatic change, is difficult, and it is compounded by Ruby’s opinion of her sister, Cora. But sometimes, I really didn’t understand why she would rather get black-out drunk above everything else. While she talks a lot about her life with her mom, her life outside her mom, if she had much of one, is a bit more blurry.

Ruby, of course, likes Cora’s husband almost immediately, and I did, too. He’s open and friendly, and I was really glad to see that he had a serious side that went beyond being happy, or serious about business. I was really glad to see that he wasn’t completely one-dimentional.

I had a harder time relating with Nate, probably because I’ve never known anyone in Nate’s situation. It’s a crappy situation, and I love that Ruby wants to help him. I really liked their interactions and that he really seems to like her, despite her need to return to what she knows. I was glad to see that he really wanted to stick by her, and that he was there when she needed him. It really drove home the point that, later in the novel, she wanted him to need her and it hurt her that he didn’t (or, at least, he didn’t want to admit it).

I really liked this book, and I’ll probably be picking up some more books by Sarah Dessen in the future.

Originally posted 02 April 2011.

BFTA Review: Jonathan Maberry – Rot & Ruin

Maberry_Jonathan-RotAndRuin

Title: Rot & Ruin

Series: Benny Imura #1
Author: Jonathan Maberry
Simon & Schuster Children’s
Rating: 4/5


In the zombie-infested, post-apocalyptic America where Benny Imura lives, every teenager must find a job by the time they turn fifteen or get their rations cut in half. Benny doesn’t want to apprentice as a zombie hunter with his boring older brother Tom, but he has no choice. He expects a tedious job whacking zoms for cash, but what he gets is a vocation that will teach him what it means to be human.(goodreads.com)

I really enjoyed this book. Although I had a hard time getting around Benny changing his opinion of his brother so quickly, then backing away from it when Nix calls him on it, then going back to thinking highly of his brother, even though at the beginning of the novel he hates his brother and thinks he’s a coward. It was hard for me to flip back and forth so quickly, although I could see the change coming anyway.

The book itself was an interesting take on zombies. So often we don’t think of zombies as anything but shambling monsters, coming to devour your flesh (or just your brain, depending on whether you like scary zombies or cute, animated zombies whose worst enemies are sunflowers and peashooters). Rot & Ruin focuses more on who the zombies used to be, and, to an extent, brings the zombies into focus as more of a protagonist than an antagonist. Or, at the very least, innocent bystanders. I also liked how it touched on the definition of humanity in a world where it becomes easy to lose your humanity and become the monster.

I also liked that Benny didn’t suddenly become superman when he was without his brother. He didn’t magically adopt his brother’s skills, or develop some crazy skills of his own. He keeps his same, crappy skill-set; after all, he hasn’t been working at zombie hunting nearly as long as Tom or Lilah, but once his brother shows him what he really does, Benny shows the same compassion his brother does towards “Zoms”.

Really, I liked the book, and I’m adding it to my “buy” list.

Originally posted 31 March 2011.