Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Review: Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis

Title: Blackfin Sky
Author: Kat Ellis
Publication Date: September 30, 2014
Target Age Group: YA
My Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5

Book Jacket Blurb

Skylar Rousseau is no stranger to the strange. After all, she lives in the town of Blackfin, where the weathervane will follow your movement instead of the wind.

Even  so, being told that she has been believed to be dead for three months when she has experienced life as usual is... odd. And strange dreams leading her to a dusty circus in the middle of the dark, foreboding woods only makes the situation more curious. Yet Sky will need to unravel both the present and the past to solve the mystery of her own existence.

My Review: 

First off, this book has everything I could ever want in a book. It's creepy, mysterious, filled with memorable characters, written very well, and is just downright strange. All reasons why I loved it and rated it as high as I did. It's hard to believe this is a debut book by this author. If her first book is right out of the gate is this good, I can't wait to read more.

Right off the bat in the story, we learn the weathervane is inhabited by a spirit named Silas, who observes the main character, Sky Rousseau, running toward home even though she had died three months before. This sets the tone for the entire novel. The presence of the strange alongside the everyday. This is one of the coolest qualities of this book. Everything in this story seems to be alive, including the house, known as Blood House, that the main character Sky lives in. 

Every character is also fleshed out very well. They all have their own personalities, and they all act the way they should act when someone who has been dead for three months comes back. They're elated, and scared, and confused, and even grossed out, all at the same time. 

The story is structured like a mystery. Sky spends the entire book trying to figure out what happened to her - how she died, and why and how she could be back from the dead. When the mystery is resolved, it makes senses in its weird logic. The reader should be satisfied with the answer even if they can't fully grasp it. Most of the questions the reader may have are answered. (It seems like there's more to the story that needs to be told though. Sequel maybe?)

While there is not a time constraint on her finding the answers like in most mysteries, there IS a growing sense of foreboding and danger to Sky. As she gets closer to finding answers, she also gets closer to forces who are a threat to her. In this sense, the story is structured very well. There are a few slow parts here and there, but for the most part the story moves forward and ramps up the tension as it goes.

There is also a great sense of humor peppered into the story, placed in appropriate places to relieve tension and provide unique character traits. It made the characters likable and believable and the story fun to read. 

Finally, although the climax of the story comes quickly and suddenly at the end, it's satisfying, along with the conclusion. All the important answers are known, and things that are still left unknown are left over... for a sequel? (Hint hint, Ms. Ellis!) This tells me the book is well plotted and intentional.

Overall, anyone who likes the strange and creepy but also a light and fun read, I would highly recommend this book.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Review: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

Title: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown
Author: Holly Black
Publication Date: September 3, 2013
Target Age Group: YA
My Rating: 3 out of 5

Book Jacket Blurb:

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.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a wholly original story of rage and revenge, of guilt and horror, and of love and loathing from bestselling and acclaimed author Holly Black.

My Review:

This is another book I've had the good fortune to receive from Holly Black and Book Expo America 2013, so thank you again to both.

First of all, I want to start by saying I hate writing anything negative in reviews, but I also have to be brutally honest when I give them. Thát's what I'll preface this one with.

I'll start off with the things that were great about this book.

First off, Holly Black's writing is always incredible. She writes well. Her language, dialogue, world-building, etc. are always masterfully done, and this book is no exception. The concept of vampirism as a disease, which is not a new concept, is well executed. You can easily substitute vampirism with some other type of disease and see how quarantines would be set up around the world to prevent the spread. A very realistic approach to a fictional infliction.

Also, the "coldtowns", as these quarantine zones are called, are like mini test tube societies, and it's a realistic look into how one of these towns would operate. Again, well done.

One of the characters who is Tana's (the main character) companion through much of this book is the vampire Gavriel. I found this character, and his history and interactions with another character in the book (who shall remain nameless to avoid accidentally giving anything important away), to be fascinating to me. The story involving these two characters is filled with loyalty, betrayal, camaraderie, hatred, suspense, and surprises. In short, the story of these two characters is the perfect story.

Which brings me to the things that weren't so great about this book.

Namely, Tana, the main character. Contrary to the two characters I just mentioned, Tana is not very sympathetic. She's boring, reckless, and she likes to wallow in her own guilt. None of these character traits change during the course of the book. The only thing I found interesting about Tana is when her path crossed with either (or both) of the other two characters I mentioned above. It's almost like she's not the main character at all but just a POV character, along for the ride to give us glimpses of real stories that are going on around her. Her infatuation (and I'd really call it that and not a relationship) with Gavriel is not enough to carry the story either in my opinion.

So, this one is mixed bag for me. Someone else may feel differently about the main character, so I'd check it out and form your own opinion. And it is a very interesting premise and breathes a little life into the dying idea of vampire stories.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Review: Altered by Gennifer Albin

Title: Altered
Author: Gennifer Albin
Publication Date: October 29, 2013
Target Age Group: YA
My Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5

Book Jacket Blurb:

Life. Possibility. Choice. All taken from Adelice by the Guild—until she took them back.

But amid the splendid ruins of Earth, Adelice discovers how dangerous freedom can be. Hunted by soulless Remnants sent by Cormac Patton and the Guild, Adelice finds a world that’s far from deserted. Although allies are easy to find on Earth, knowing who to trust isn’t. Because everyone has secrets, especially those Adelice loves most. Secrets they would kill to protect. Secrets that will redefine each of them. Torn between two brothers and two worlds, Adelice must choose what to fight for.
Altered is Gennifer Albin's thrilling sequel to Crewel. Adelice is about to learn how tangled up her past and future really are. Her parents ran to protect her, but nothing can save her from her destiny, and once she uncovers the truth, it will change everything.

My Review:

I was lucky enough to receive this book at Book Expo America 2013, and I am just now getting around to reviewing it. I finished it some time ago. Thanks to Gennifer Albin and BEA for their generosity!

Altered is the second book in Gennifer Albin's Crewel World series. I've been very impressed with "seconds" in book series lately, and Altered is definitely no exception. It has action, continued character development for Adelice, suspense, and tension, and those are good enough reasons to read the book.

But the biggest thing I was impressed with is that the book has ANSWERS. While many books, movies, and TV shows (Lost comes to mind) like to pile more questions on top of the questions already posed, Altered does a great job in revealing the mysteries presented in books 1 and the new ones in this book. 

For instance, you learn:
     1. The true nature of Adelice's abilities, as well as the abilities of those in charge of Arras
     2. What the condition of Earth is and who is living there
     3. What the relationship is between Arras and Earth
     4. Some interesting facts about Adelice's family and past
     5. Who created Arras, why it was created, how it was created, and when.

And I promise you, you'll be blown away by ALL of these answers. This book is very well thought out and presents a very exciting mythology for this world Gennifer has created. 

Above all, you're in good hands with Gennifer's capable writing skills. The pace is quick when it needs to be, slow in other places where it needs to be, and everything written seems to have a purpose.  In fact, it seems to be knit as tightly as Arras is. When the story does slow down in a few places in the middle (which is one of the only things I could possibly find to pick on), it's mainly because things are being revealed to Adelice (and the reader), but believe me, you WANT to hear these reveals. 

Finally, for those fans of romance, you finally find out who Adelice chooses - Jost or Erik? I grow weary of the love triangles in some YA fiction I've read, but I like the fact that Adelice, Jost, and Erik have to make a lot of complicated choices, and they're not just three love-crazed teens. Their relationships are just as complex as the world in which they live. Ultimately, Adelice went with the best choice for her and didn't waffle or flip-flop. That, and the one Adelice winds up with seems to connect with her in a meaningful way.

Overall, I highly recommend this book and, especially after another cliffhanger ending, can't wait to read the third book!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Review: Thumbprint by Joe Hill

Title: Thumbprint
Author: Joe Hill, Jason Ciaramella, Vic Malhotra (illustrator)
Publication Date: 2013
Target Age Group:
My Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5

Book Jacket Blurb:

Private Mallory Grennan had done terrible things as an Abu Ghraib prison worker. After being discharged from the army, Mal thought she was leaving her sins behind to start a new life back home. But some things can't be left behind - some things don't want to be left behind!

My Review:

Thumbprint is a graphic novel adaptation of Joe Hill's short story of the same name, published in 2007. The version I read is a hard-bound collection of all the Thumbprint issues, which also includes the original short story as well as another of Joe Hill's graphic novels, Kodiak.

My review is based on this particular hardbound version and all the stories included inside.

First, I have to say I find it interesting to see the graphic novel interpretation of the short story "Thumbprint". The way it has been interpreted makes it a VERY different story.

Both have the same essential plot. Mal is ex-army and involved in terrible goings on while working at the Abu Ghraib prison. Now that she is home and trying to resume a more normal life, she begins receiving mysterious letters in the mail containing only a single thumbprint. She, and the reader, quickly realize the threatening nature of these letters and the fact that someone knows about her checkered past. The ratcheting up of the tension in these stories is done very well. I also especially love the grittiness of the artwork in the graphic novel version.

The major difference between the two, however, and the main reason for my strange grading of this book above, is the way Mal is portrayed in both versions. In the short story version, Mal is NOT a very sympathetic character. You can tell she is a cold person, even before she enlists in the army, and her character doesn't change throughout the story. In the graphic novel version, however, you get the sense that deep down Mal is a good person, but something snapped in her during her time in the arm and she's now a haunted person trying to resume a normal life but unable to. This version of the story is much better in my opinion. I can get emotionally behind her, whereas I couldn't in the original short story.

Finally, the very brief graphic novel excerpt Kodiak is an interesting short, unrelated epilogue to this book. The story's theme is a simple one, about how you shouldn't judge by appearances, about the nature of relaying stories about real-life events, and about how they can sensationalize and blow the truth way out of proportion. Two boys hang around the home of a man, Dominico, who's been scarred, and they speculate about the nature of these scars and of the man himself. Then you find out his story, which is told compellingly through both story and images, about his confrontation with a giant bear. I wish there were more of this story and these characters, but it does seem to be complete in and of itself. It sounds like what's included in this book is simply an excerpt, but I'm not sure. In any case, I was happy with its inclusion.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Review: Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

Title: Mr. Mercedes
Author: Stephen King
Publication Date: 
Target Age Group: Adult
My Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5

Book Jacket Blurb:

In a mega-stakes, high-suspense race against time, three of the most unlikely and winning heroes Stephen King has ever created try to stop a lone killer from blowing up thousands.

In the frigid pre-dawn hours, in a distressed Midwestern city, hundreds of desperate unemployed folks are lined up for a spot at a job fair. Without warning, a lone driver plows through the crowd in a stolen Mercedes, running over the innocent, backing up, and charging again. Eight people are killed; fifteen are wounded. The killer escapes.

In another part of town, months later, a retired cop named Bill Hodges is still haunted by the unsolved crime. When he gets a crazed letter from someone who self-identifies as the “perk” and threatens an even more diabolical attack, Hodges wakes up from his depressed and vacant retirement, hell-bent on preventing another tragedy.

Brady Hartsfield lives with his alcoholic mother in the house where he was born. He loved the feel of death under the wheels of the Mercedes, and he wants that rush again. Only Bill Hodges, with a couple of highly unlikely allies, can apprehend the killer before he strikes again. And they have no time to lose, because Brady’s next mission, if it succeeds, will kill or maim thousands.

Mr. Mercedes is a war between good and evil, from the master of suspense whose insight into the mind of this obsessed, insane killer is chilling and unforgettable.

My Review:

Although this book has many elements of a classic detective story, there is one main noticeable difference: you already know who the killer is at the beginning of the story. So why would you want to spend time reading this book?

First of all, this is the master, Stephen King, and he weaves a tale like no other. This book being no exception. He knows how to string us along, keep us entertained, keep on ratcheting up the suspense, and keep us guessing. And yes, there's plenty to guess about, even though the killer is known right up front.

Second, this is a THRILLER, as opposed to a MYSTERY, novel. And, as I've alluded to above, the thrills start from page one and don't let up until the VERY last page... and beyond. (I hear there will be two more books featuring Detective Hodges.) Watching this cat-and-mouse game between Detective Hodges and the killer as each tries to outwit, and psych out, the other is fascinating.

Third, the characters in the story, as in all of Stephen King's work, are very well developed. The heroes are your every day, average people, with their own flaws and idiosyncrasies, trying to stop a deranged killer from escalating the violence he already started right at the beginning of the book. Even the villain is well-developed. It's hard to feel sorry for someone so hell-bent on mass killing, and yet Stephen King allows the reader inside the killer's mind and life, and you almost feel sorry for him at certain points in the story. Almost.

Fourth, Stephen King takes the well-known tropes of the classic mystery story and turns them on their heads. Detective Hodges is your typical hard-boiled old-school detective, yet what makes the story really interesting are his side-kicks Jerome and Holly. Their methods are less formulaic, more chaotic, more modern. And the three of them together make an awesome team. My only beef I have is that I wish they played more of a role right up front, but I do like how Stephen King ushers them  to center stage in the story.  (I won't give away the point in the story where this happens, but you'll definitely know it when you see it. Keep an eye out for "the hat".)

I purposely didn't provide many details because I didn't want to spoil a thing. I wish I could go into more specifics to sell you on this book. Just take my word for it. It's one of Stephen King's better works, and it's a damn good thriller story in general. Go check it out!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Review: Indelible by Dawn Metcalf

Title: Indelible
Author: Dawn Metcalf
Publication Date: July 30, 2013
Target Age Group: YA
My Rating: 4 out of 5

Book Jacket Blurb:

Some things are permanent. Indelible. And they cannot be changed back. 

Joy Malone learns this the night she sees a stranger with all-black eyes across a crowded room—right before the mystery boy tries to cut out her eye. 

Instead, the wound accidentally marks her as property of Indelible Ink, and this dangerous mistake thrusts Joy into an incomprehensible world—a world of monsters at the window, glowing girls on the doorstep and a life that will never be the same.  

Now, Joy must pretend to be Ink's chosen one—his helper, his love, his something for the foreseeable future…and failure to be convincing means a painful death for them both.  

Swept into a world of monsters, illusion, immortal honor and revenge, Joy discovers that sometimes, there are no mistakes. 

Somewhere between reality and myth lies… 

My Review:

This book I received from Dawn at Book Expo America 2013 and, unfortunately, am now just getting to the review of it, even though I read it last year. So what did I think? Excellent! I read her debut book prior to this, Luminous, and I have to say that her storytelling is improving as she goes along. One of the things I love most about this book is that she's created an entire world - the world of the Folk, which is a kind of re-imagining of traditional faeries - and somehow, seamlessly, this world exists alongside ours and she makes that perfectly believable. 

The Folk have existed for a long time, and their purpose is to "mark" humans that they feel are important. The mark, or signatura, signifies that a human "belongs" to one of the fae. Indelible Ink and Invisible Inq are beings who have been created to place such marks on humans.

Enter our heroine, Joy Malone, who, while out dancing one night with her friends, catches sight of Indelible Ink. Humans are not supposed to be able to see the fae, so Indelible Ink stabs her eye in order to remove her sight. However, instead of blinding her, he accidentally marks her as belonging to him.

That's when things get crazy for Joy.

Because now that she has been marked as Ink's assistant, others from the Folk come calling, wanting Ink to do jobs for them and asking Joy to pass messages to him. 

And here I'll stop with my own synopsis, because this covers two things I absolutely love about the book. (Also, I don't want to give too many details away. This is a great ride of a book which should be experienced.)

First, the book is creepy, and creepy, as anyone who knows me, is right up my alley. Just the opening scenario of Joy catching a glimpse of this strange boy with black eyes who doesn't seem to exist in the real world, and who attacks her, basically. Then all manner of strange beings appear and disappear, notes and threats start appearing wherever she goes, etc.

Second, the world of the Folk is both Alice-in-Wonderland-loopy and yet also has a strange internal logic to it all. There are rules in this other world, which may be strange to the reader but do hold together and are passed out to the reader as you delve deeper into the book. Yet you also get the sense any number of strange things can happen in this world, and any number of stories exist within it (apparently, as book 2, Invisible, will be coming out in September 2014).

In addition to these more atmospheric qualities, the main character is refreshing because she actually plays an active role in the story, unlike other books I've read in this genre. I also love how she has "real-world" problems typical of any teenager, and she has "fantastical" problems related to her role in this new world of the Folk. And that she learns things along the way to actively solve her problems.

If I had to complain about anything (which explains why I didn't rate it 5 stars), it's this: I find it a stretch as to how accepting Joy is of being attacked by Ink and how their relationship seems to progress rapidly from there. It's a bit of a stretch for me. I don't know if I'd be that accepting.

Aside from that, however, this book gets a great recommendation from me, especially in light of the fact that book 2 will be coming out soon. Hurry up and grab this one while you still have time.