Saturday, January 8, 2011

Book Review: Dead Beautiful by Yvonne Woon

Dead Beautiful, by Yvonne Woon
Release Date: September 21, 2010
Publisher: Hyperion

Pages: 455
Received: Library
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars 

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This review contains NO spoilers!


After discovering her parents murdered in the woods, Renee’s grandfather sends her to the prestigious Gottfried Academy to keep her safe. Within the confines of the boarding school, Renee beings to adjust to life without her parents. She makes friends, but the most compelling student is the enigmatic and reclusive Dante Berlin. The two are drawn together instantly, but secrets surround Dante and Renee is left wondering whether she can trust the beautiful boy she finds herself falling in love with. As she learns more about Dante and Gottfried, Renee is confronted with the possibility that the tragedy of Dante’s past may be connected with the deaths of her parents…a connection that may be dangerous to Renee as well.


What do you get when you mix a dash of Hogwarts, a sprinkle of Anastasia Hopcus’s Shadow Hills, a hint of The Body Finder, and a liberal dose of Twilight? Why, Dead Beautiful, of course!  All through reading this book I was reminded of other books. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and in this case there were enough unique parts that it didn’t bother me so much (except, holy crap, can we please stop having the love interests bond in science class? Science classes should just be blotted out of YA fic from now on. I know it really is very trivial, but nothing sends me hurtling back into Twilight like a nice I-Hate-You-I-Love-You, He’s-So-Wow-At-Science episode. Okay, okay, I'm okay now. Really. I'm not even a huge Twilight fan).

While Dead Beautiful lacks the sheer awesomeness of Harry Potter (I’m mostly reminded of HP because of the horticulture class), it does succeed in creating a boarding school rich in atmosphere and heavy with details. Gottfried came alive in my mind. All of the little details: the way the grounds looked, the layout of the buildings, the clothing of the students, the history of the school, and the little traditions of the school— it all felt entirely real. I loved following Renee as she uncovered the secrets of the school’s history, but I also just loved following her as she walked along the grounds.

The relationship between Dante and Renee also felt familiar, but not in a good way. More in the, “Gee, I’ve already read this relationship fifty different times, and I’m still groaning” kind of way. The two fall so instantly and completely in love with one another that they’re both willing to die for the other after only a few short months. I mean that literally. Die. I can see why they like one another in the “Well, neither one is particularly annoying” kind of way, but I’m just not buying why they’d DIE for each other. Even after the big reveal, I get it, but I don’t buy it.

I also never felt connected with Dante beyond the surface, so I’m really not feeling the whole, “I’ll die for you Dante” thing Renee had going on. There was nothing unique about him to separate him from all of the other interchangeable “dark, brooding, handsome” paranormal guys who only have eyes for our main character (over) populating YA lit. The most stand out part of Dante is his name, which I can’t decide whether I think it’s super lame or actually kind of cool. I mean, say it out loud. It has a nice balance and feel to it. But, seriously, Dante Berlin? Even the characters make fun of it in a way I can’t help but find funny. At least the author had fun with this and didn’t beat us to death reminding us what color Dante’s hair is and comparing it to something found in a spice rack. I actually don’t even remember the color of his hair.

Renee, on the other hand, was a pretty decent character, if sometimes a little slow on the uptake. Looking at her objectively, I guess she was a little self-absorbed and way too irrationally hung up on Dante, but she was a good narrator and I felt connected to her. I just liked her. She seemed a lot more “real” to me than Dante. I did want to beat her over the head a few times for being so dense about Dante’s “secret.” The fact that he was a paranormal entity of some kind was pretty obvious early on (but he isn’t what you’re thinking!). Though, in her defense, if I ever met a hot guy whose skin is cold, my first thought wouldn’t be “OMG HE’S TOTALLY A VAMPIRE!!!” I probably would believe his poor circulation explanation.  

Dead Beautiful has all the makings of an enjoyable book, even if the relationship aspects are a little eye-roll-inducing. The mystery was enough to keep me interested in finding out what was going on and the details of what happened weren’t overly obvious. The mythology was actually fairly unique and I enjoyed learning about it. I’m not sure the whole explanation actually works and makes complete sense, but it makes enough sense for me to be satisfied. I have to say, I was totally expecting this to be yet another same old, same old YA vampire book (and that would have been fine), but it wasn’t at all. Thank you, Ms. Woon!

My biggest complaint is the pacing of the story. I call this “Twilight Pacing Syndrome” where the first ¾ of the book is a slow journey through the monotonous details of the protagonist’s life with only a few actual events to keep the story moving. I guess the point of this is to establish the characters and setting, but this could be done just as well with a fraction of the length. Then, BAM! The last ¼ or so of the book picks up and I’m fully invested in the story.

That is exactly what happened here. The book is a massive 455 pages long, but it could have easily been half that length. The first 200 pages are pretty uneventful and include a bunch of details and events that really add very little to the story (like Renee’s friend in California). These pages fly by quick enough thanks to Renee’s easy narration style, but really they could have been shortened considerably and nothing would have been missed. To put things in perspective, this is a paranormal romance/mystery and after her parents’ deaths in the very beginning, the paranormal and mystery events don’t even really happen until around page 170.

From that point on the plot is a lot more engaging and we learn more about the mystery. Still, this part continued to be longer than necessary. The climax was good, but ultimately less than I was hoping for, especially the connection to Renee’s parents’ deaths. I was really hoping there would have been more of a connection than there was. The book ended much too abruptly. It pretty much ended right at the close of the climax. It was just CLIMAX!--The End. I really could have used a little more, just to tie up the story and give me a little time to process what had just happened. A climax can be hard hitting and stun you while still giving the reader a bit of a gentle let down (see Saundra Mitchell's The Vespertine for an excellent example of a slap-you-in-the-face climax).

It doesn’t have to be much (I’m not asking for a Harry Potter epilogue here), but just a few lines or maybe even a very short epilogue. Something to give me a little closure and not feel like my copy suffered a printing error and is actually missing the final chapter. The emotional impact of what happened was lost on me because I was just so stunned that that was it. This was frustrating from a storytelling standpoint, but was especially jarring given how drawn out every other part of the plot was. Twenty pages just to say, “Renee arrived at school” and yet we’re unceremoniously dumped off the ride at the climax. I just gave 455 pages of my life, and to get booted like that? That was cold, Ms. Woon. I need to be let down more gently than that.

Dead Beautiful is Yvonne Woon’s first book. I heard through the grape vine that this book will have a sequel, but it also works just fine as a standalone book (UPDATE: there will be a sequel titled Life Eternal, coming February 2012). I do recommend this book because, for what it was, it was decent. I was entertained while I was reading it, even if I wasn’t blown away. It may sound like I’m complaining a lot, but I really did enjoy a lot about this book. The supernatural mythology was inventive. I especially liked her writing style. It flowed well and was very evocative. If Ms. Woon publishes another book, I will read it.

 Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Looking for similar books? You might like: 
Immortal, by Gillian Shields
Shadow Hills, by Anastasia Hopcus


  1. Awesome review! This book had a pretty cover but I'm leery of long books now. They usually tend to have less movement of plot if there's more pages nowadays.

    And, yeah, I'm tired of characters hooking up/meeting in a science class. There's Twilight, Hush, Hush, Perfect Chemistry, and I think some others I've read but have forgotten. It's so annoying. -_-;;.

  2. I have to admit, you freaked me out with the Twilight similarities (not a fan either xD), but LOL! If it's just the science class scene.. I might look over that?

    Haha, loved your review. I just LOVE the name Dante.. but Dante Berlin..? =P

  3. Great review. The abrupt ending bothers me a little as every book I read lately seem to end on a cliffhanger. Probably still give it a read though :)

  4. OMG fab review! I know you've only given it 3 1/2 stars but I LOVE the sound of this one :)

  5. Hmmm... I'm not sure that I really want to read Dead Beautiful. I do love the Twilight books :) but I don't need MORE love-at-first-sight-for-no-particular-reason relationships in my other reading material. Plus, 455 pages? That's a whole lot of pages for a book that isn't a total WOW. Thanks for the info!

  6. Awesome review! "Twilight pacing syndrome" - LOL
    I really wanted to read this book but now...not so much. Why can't authors be more original?

  7. "what color Dante’s hair is and comparing it to something found in a spice rack." LOL! This was a very entertaining and insightful review. I think I might want to read this. Haven't heard of it before. Thanks!

  8. Oi, you brought up a lot of my pet peeves/common cliches in books with this review: meeting in science class, falling in love instantly, cheesy name. But good to know you thought it wasn't a same old YA vampire book.
    Twilight Pacing Syndrome! I totally know what you mean! Good one.
    And did you just reference HP three separate times in your review? Love!

  9. I know, right! What is it about Science class?! I actually love the sound of this one! I love Twilight, Shadow Hills and TBF! I'm looking forward to checking this out when it's released over here.

    Great review. I enjoyed reading it! :)

  10. I love how thoughtful your review is! I love the idea of this story, but it sucks when a book lags until the end, you know? I think I'd get a bit bored. Great honest review!

  11. Great review! I'm a little hesitant to read this one, not only because of the similarities to Twilight but also the pacing. I'm going to add it to my TBR list but I'm not quite sure if I'll ever get around to reading it :P

  12. Great review! I had this on my wishlist and was thinking of buying it but I think I'll see if the library has it instead and buy a book I'll really, really love.

  13. Need-tea, Thanks! That’s exactly how I feel about long books. I get that science class makes for a good set up because you have lab partners but the class work doesn’t actually have to play a part, but, eh, enough already. This one even had similar events in science class.

    Dazzling Mage, Haha, the similarities are the science class scene, the pacing, the broody male lead who only has eyes for the plain human girl, and the insta-love between the two characters. Otherwise, the plot is completely different from Twilight. The mythology is actually pretty unique. I’m loving and hating that name! I like the two-syllable-two-syllable feel of it.

    Nic, It’s not a cliffhanger (thankfully!) it’s just really abrupt. It’s like….hm, what is an ending I can talk about without spoiling things…like in the Wizard of Oz, if the story ended with, “And then Dorothy clicked her heels together, opened her eyes, and then she was home! The end!” You kind of need the whole, “And you were there, and you, and you!” where she’s waking up and talking to her family and realizing it was all a dream. Does that make sense?

    The Slowest Bookworm, Thanks! Definitely check this one out if it sounds good to you. I didn’t think it was perfect, but I enjoyed the time I spent reading it.

    Miss Remmers, Me too! That’s what first drew me in. It’s very fitting with the whole feel of the story.

    Katie, Haha, if you liked Twilight then you’ll probably appreciate this one. It did have a unique mythology, but, yeah, definitely long and that relationship…eeeh!

    Misha, Thanks! :P The mythology is very original and good. It’s mostly the relationship that isn’t so original.

  14. Annette, :P I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    Aylee, :D I can’t help it, Harry Potter and Buffy the Vampire Slayer references are now a seamless part of my vocabulary. It definitely wasn’t the same old vampire book. Even saying “vampire” is sort of misleading because they’re not really vampires. I’m glad you get the Twilight Pacing Syndrome. :P

    Leanna, Haha, yes, enough science class! If you loved those books, then you’ll probably like this one too. Hope you enjoy it!

    Melissa, Thank you! Yes, it took forever for things to happen, but at least the writing was enjoyable.

    Lisanna, Thank you! The pacing would be the biggest turn off to me. Even with the slower pacing though, I ended up reading this one fairly quickly.

    A Canadian Girl, Thank you! I always go for the library before buying, so I’d recommend that approach here too. Especially since I didn’t think this was a perfect book.

  15. You have an excellent reviewing style! It just keeps me so entertained yet it's very informative and makes sense. Love it!

    Anyway, I'm actually supposed to be reading and reviewing this one after I finish The Vespertine, so... we'll see how that goes.

    Thanks for the review! I like getting a little heads up before I read a book.

    Asher K.

    P.S. Thanks for stopping by the blog!

  16. Aw I always love reading your reviews. They are always fun, and informative. This is one of those books I have on my reading list. I know what you mean about the pace of a story I want stuff to happen pretty soon, or I get bored. That's how I felt with Beautiful Creatures it took almost half the book before becoming interesting. (I loved the book don't get me wrong) Just a lot of information. :) Now I'm kind of hesitant to read the second one.

  17. I felt very much the same way about this one! It had a lot of promise and could have been a fabulous read, but I also felt it could have been about 100 pages shorter. The beginning dragged a bit for me and then I absolutely agree with you - the end was just abrupt and left me blinking in confusion. I loved the premise though, the concept was interesting and I just wanted to know more about it at the end:) Very well thought out review!

  18. Asher and Angelic Nytmare, Thank you so much! I appreciate the feedback. I'm always wondering if my reviews are helpful and how I can make them more helpful, so thank you for your input!

    Asher, ooh, I'm looking forward to your review of The Vespertine, and Dead Beautiful. I recently reviewed The Vespertine too.

    Angelic Nytmare, I am so embarrassingly impatient with books. I want the action to start right away! I was worried about that with the Beautiful Creatures books but I've also heard a lot of good reviews, so I'm a little torn.

    Jenny, At least 100 pages! Thank you about that ending! Jeez, it was just BOOM! OVER!

  19. Not a problem.

    Yeah it's easy to be torn between books when you hear different things about them, but really the only person who can say whether it was good or not is the one reading.

  20. I'm listening to this book now on audiobook and just stumbled on your review. I've just started and it seems like the set-up could have been trimmed a little bit. I like it so far pretty well though, even though it all seems very familiar as you say.
    Great review!

  21. I hope you enjoy it! I can see the story lending itself nicely to an audiobook format.

  22. Hmm, I would read it for the boarding school, Harry Potter similarities. I like it when an author can plunge you into a world like that and you are content to just walk along the halls. Promise I won't read your spoiler discussion until I've read the book!

  23. Mostly the HP similarities are the horticulture class and "feel" of a boarding school. Don't expect the greatness of HP though. :)

  24. I also read this book but the problem was that it didn't have anything original or any interesting part about this book(although I did finish it )


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