Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Books I got this week (8)

It's been established so clearly that I can't even lie about it: I have no self-control when it comes to books. I acquire them at a much faster rate than I can actually read and review them, but hopefully these posts will help those books get some exposure NOW instead of waiting until I actually manage to find time to, you know, read them.

This post is for the past...well, it's been a while!

I've been super overwhelmed with life lately, so I actually managed to rein in my review requests (since I'm already, erm, swamped with review books through January!)

I'd say I deserve a cookie or something for exercising all this restraint, but, well, you'll see I haven't been all that controlled when it comes to other sources of acquiring books

(and I haven't even included all the adult books I picked up)...

For Review

Crimson Frost
by Jennifer Estep

Release Date: December 24, 2012
Publisher: Kensington
Pages: 384
Goodreads Page

Yay for Mythos Academy! This is the fourth book in the series and I can't wait to see what happens to Gwen next! Doesn't she look fierce on the cover? Well, with the way book three left off, Gwen needs all the fierceness she can muster up!


by Carolyn Meyer

This is part of Carolyn Meyer's Young Royals series of YA biographies of important royal women throughout history. I've already read her book about Cleopatra (Cleopatra Confesses, okay) and Marie Antoinette (The Bad Queen, great!).

This one is about Catherine de' Medici and, sadly, I didn't love it all that much.


Between used bookstores and a library sale, I've been bringing home books at an alarming rate! But, when the most expensive book was only $3.99, how could I not??

A Spy in the House
by Y. S. Lee

I've heard downright awesome things about this historical fiction/mystery series. Main character Mary sounds like someone I'll get along with and her slow burn romance, well, I'd be lying if I said that wasn't a draw!

Does anyone know if this book can be read as a standalone?

Midnight Magic
by Avi

This is one of those books where my sister and I both loved it so much that we'd argue over who actually owned the book. Which is silly considering we lived together and so the book of course resided under the same roof.

Even sillier is the fact that we never entertained the idea of buying a second copy (I think that was somehow considered an impossibility). So, even when I moved and left the book in New York, it was with the understanding that my sister would retain custody of the book.

Until now. She can keep her copy because now I have a copy of my very own!

Fire Study
by Maria V. Snyder

I adored Poison Study, but I've heard Maria V. Snyder's second books aren't as good as her first books so I've been reluctant to continue on with the series.

Is it terrible to say that I bought this book just as much for the beautiful cover (that matched my edition of Poison Study) as I did for actually (maybe) reading it?

Well, it was only a dollar!

Player's Ruse
by Hilari Bell

This is my go-to series for "brothers in arms" cravings. Michael and Fisk are totally different from one another, but that just means I get to satisfy my liking of noble, heroic, good men (Michael) and guys with shady pasts who do sometimes shady things (Fisk). There's always a mystery the friends need to solve that is as engaging as the characters.

I liked the first book a lot, loved the second book, and I'm hoping the third book is just as good. 

What did you get this week? Are you interested in reading any of these books? What did you think of them if you've read them already?


Friday, October 26, 2012

DNF: House of Shadows by Rachel Neumeier

Did Not Finish Explanation

Received: ARC from publisher, via NetGalley 
Read pages: 120 of 352

This is one of those times where I DNF a book and still have every intention of picking it up again soon. The problem was that I was reading this as an e-galley, and I have to read all my e-galleys on my computer. That led me to DNF for two reasons:

First, the pacing of this book is languid. I guess technically I could call it "slow" but that doesn't feel right. The pace is just right for the book and anything faster would have felt rushed and wrong. But, it is not a fast moving plot. It takes a long time for things to happen and there is a lot of showing and telling.

While none of that was the least bit boring, it was difficult to keep my engagement while dealing with the constant "I'm not comfortable" interruption that goes through my head whenever I read on my computer.

Second, a computer is the wrong medium to use for this book. I'd even go so far as to say an e-reader feels wrong. House of Shadows is the kind of book that is too beautiful and the fantasy world too immersive to be juxtaposed against such modern technology. I was enjoying House of Shadows too much to continue sullying my reading exerience with this wrongness.

BUT, what I read was wonderful. Readers who don't mind taking things at a slower pace will be rewarded with a truly enrapturing experience. All of my senses were engaged to the point where I felt like I could smell the air the characters were breathing, feel the things they were touching, and hear the sounds around them. The world building is practically a character in its own right.

Over the pages I read, the third person narrative switched focus between Nemienne, Leilis, and Taudde.

Nemienne is the type of character I tend to love—a little off-beat, but brave and stubborn with her nose always finding its way into a book. She finds herself living with a mage and learning magic. An enchanted cat and labyrinthine home rounded out my experiences with Nemienne, and to my mind it doesn't get much better than that.

Leilis is a sort-of servant at what sounds like a courtesan's guildhouse. I'm not sure what to think of her character yet except that she seems very tragic and I want to know what happened to her to land her in such a position. There's a definite backstory there and I feel like Leilis will turn out to be far more than she ever expected.

Karah, one of Nemienne's sisters becomes a courtesan in the house Leilis serves, and so I got to follow along with her during these sections as well. Karah is so serene, kind, and beautiful and she reminded me a little of Rose in Jessica Day George's Princess of the Midnight Ball (the large number of sisters in both books might have sparked that comparison).

Taudde is the only character I didn't like very much, but I think that's partly because I don't entirely have a handle on him. He's up to something and keeping lots of secrets, but at his core is a festering hurt and that rarely turns out well.

At the time I stopped reading, each character thread felt almost entirely separate from one another and I'm not sure how they will come together. With the exception of Taudde's sections, I quickly fell into the rhythem of each narrative and it almost didn't matter to me what would happen next so long as I could continue spending time with these characters in this world.

Bottom line

Definitely something I'm going to pick up again just as soon as my library gets a copy in. Because of the pacing and level of description and immersion, I think I'm going to need to set aside a large chunk of time to devote to reading House of Shadows. It does not seem like the kind of book where I could get away with reading small snippets at a time without negatively impacting the experience.

I originally picked up House of Shadows after reading Charlotte's excellent review

Recommended for readers who enjoy Sharon Shinn and Juliet Marillier. 

Have you read House of Shadows?
How did you like it?
Have you ever put down a book because the situation you were reading in was not ideal? 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Book Review: My Swordhand is Singing by Marcus Sedgwick

My Swordhand is Singing by Marcus Sedgwick
Release Date: October 9, 2007
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books/Random House
Pages: 200
Received: Library
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Goodreads Page


From Goodreads:

When Tomas and his son Peter settle in Chust as woodcutters, Tomas digs a channel of fast-flowing waters around their hut, so they have their own little island kingdom. Peter doesn't understand why his father has done this, nor why his father carries a long, battered box, whose mysterious contents he is forbidden to know.

But Tomas is a man with a past: a past that is tracking him with deadly intent, and when the dead of Chust begin to rise from their graves, both father and son must face a soulless enemy and a terrifying destiny.


For best results, approach like this...

Different books require different approaches for optimal enjoyment. For My Swordhand is Singing, I recommend taking the "folktale" approach. That is, pretend you are sitting around a campfire on a cold night in Romania and a grizzled old man is telling you a tale of what happened there many years ago.

When listening to this type of story, I don't expect characters of great depth or an intricate plot, but I DO expect a story to keep me entertained. If I'm lucky, such campfire stories send a shiver down my spine and make me jump at the slightest sounds, darting furtive looks over my shoulder while also blushing at my own fear.

My Swordhand is Singing delivered the perfect blend of spooky entertainment. I read it at night and alone, curled up under my bed covers, which is the perfect setting if a campfire is not at hand.

Is it scary?

I've heard others say they were disappointed and not terribly scared, but I'm a wimp so I thought My Swordhand is Singing was a delightfully creepy tale!

The menace builds slowly but steadily, creeping in like frigid winter air curling under a drafty door. Set in medieval Romania, I was constantly aware of how vulnerable these people were with their primitive methods of protection and outrageously dangerous superstitions. Marcus Sedgwick did a fantastic job transporting me into the minds of these people.

The creatures were psychologically terrifying, made all the more so by the fact that everything I knew of them was filtered through primitive medieval eyes. These are not your sparkling vampires looking for romance.

These vampires are the legends that were birthed from a time when menace lurked in the darkness and humans possessed a brutal awareness of their vulnerability. There is no doubt here, these creatures are soulless monsters focused entirely on devouring their prey.

What about the rest of the story?

I said this is like a folktale, and like most folktales, the characters and plot are not incredibly deep. Nor do they need to be.

There are two story threads in addition to the overarching vampire invasion. One dealt with the relationship between Tomas--an aging drunk--and his son Peter. The other focused on Peter and his romantic feelings for two girls.

The threads about Tomas and Peter were a little sluggish, but they did not distract me from the good parts. There is an event surrounding a goose carving that wormed its hooks into my heart and left me in tears. Tomas's struggle for redemption was also touching, if frustratingly, though realistically, imperfect.

The romantic parts were less satisfying, but they did not overwhelm the plot and love triangle phobics need not worry. Both girls also serve a greater purpose, so their presence in the story turned out to be more necessary than I originally thought. I didn't swoon at all, but that's equally because of the expected lack of character depth as it is because I was far too consumed by terror to focus on swoon.

Bottom line

Notice how I posted this review about a week before Halloween? That's not a coincidence. That's my subtle way of saying this would be a GREAT Halloween read because it's short so you can read it in one sitting and it's scary. And a little more than a week before Halloween gives you enough time to get your hands on a copy!

(I realize in saying this that I'm undermining my clever subtlety a little, but we all know I'm really not skilled when it comes to subtlety. I'm an obvious book pusher.)

Marcus Sedgwick is clearly a storyteller. Apparently this is the first book in a series, but I never would have known this without Goodreads as it can be read as a standalone without any problem.

I will definitely check out more of Marcus Sedgwick's books, particularly for those wind-whipping winter nights when I can really get my scare on.

On a totally unrelated note, I love Marcus Sedgwick's signature.

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Do you have any questions about My Swordhand is Singing that I haven't addressed? 
Feel free to ask in the comments!

How do you prefer your vampires? Dangerous, or swoony? 
Do you have any recommendations for scary "folktale-like" books?

Looking for another book like this? 
You might like: 

Click on the covers to go to my reviews and/or Goodreads.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Book Review: All You Never Wanted by Adele Griffin

All You Never Wanted by Adele Griffin
Release Date: October 9, 2012
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Pages: 240
Received: Library
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars, Special Shelf
Goodreads Page


From Goodreads:

Alex has it all—brains, beauty, popularity, and a dangerously hot boyfriend. Her little sister Thea wants it all, and she's stepped up her game to get it. Even if it means spinning the truth to win the attention she deserves. Even if it means uncovering a shocking secret her older sister never wanted to share. Even if it means crying wolf.

Told in the alternating voices of Alex and Thea, Adele Griffin's mesmerizing new novel is the story of a sibling rivalry on speed.


A moment to fangirl

Gosh I love Adele Griffin's books. Not only is she a fantastic writer, but she always manages to make me break all my hard rules on what I like and don't like in a book (and I'm stubborn to a fault, so that's saying something!)

I mean, look, I really do NOT like issues books. At all. I have no sympathy for the characters and I'm usually bored by the super predictible plots. I also don't like characters who do certain immoral things, I have no patience for non-action-packed plots, and insta-love is not my cup of tea.

And, yes, all of those things are present here. But I'm gleefully ripping up all my rules (at least when it comes to Adele Griffin—hey, I'm not that flexible) because I LOVED this book!

What are you getting yourself into?

The chapters alternate between the two main characters, with Alex's sections written in third person and Thea's in first. I loved when Adele Griffin used this technique in her other sisters book Where I Want to Be and she uses it just as effectively here.

Not only does the tense switch help differentiate the speakers (though this isn't necessary considering Adele Griffin's books always score highly on the Who's Talking Test), but they almost functioned as another brilliant layer of character description. Alex's emotional distance and secrets were emphasized by the third person narration style, whereas Thea's internal corruption was put on stark display through the use of first person narration.

All You Never Wanted is a short book, but it is a book to be savored. Adele Griffin writes the kind of sentences I feel compelled to go back and reread because they just sound so good. The kind of sentences I'll read out loud because I like how they feel. The words come together in a way that's almost musical—words precisely chosen, sounds flowing and clashing up against one another, creating a beauty (and sometimes it's a horrific beauty) that stand all on their own.

Though, much as I SAY the book should be savored, it's not like I was able to. Reading All You Never Wanted was like putting a slice of chocoalte cake in front of me and saying, "Now make it last." Sure I might start out trying to ration it (only a bite here and there) but, yeah, I can't keep that up for long. Pretty soon I'd scarff that sucker down and there wouldn't be any cake left.

That's pretty much what I did with All You Never Wanted. I had grand plans to "Make it last" but it wasn't long before I was putting life on hold, eyes glued to the page and nothing short of death capable of tearing me away from finding out what would happen next to these troubled sisters. (Luckily, unlike chocolate cake, you can do a do-again with books by rereading them).

So I'm going to issue the Don't Make Plans warning. Seriously, don't even glance at the pages unless you're ready to commit. When I first got the book in the mail I thought I'd just take a peek. I was already in the middle of another book that I was enjoying and would be released soon, and All You Never Wanted wasn't coming out for almost three months. So I'd just take a peek.

Famous last words. My household is lucky I wasn't the one cooking dinner that night.

Also? Forget the blurb. It's not that it's inaccurate, but the book is so much more than that little blurb makes it seem.

Ok then, what IS it about?

Though it's short and it's contemporary (sorry, I always associate "contemporary" with "not much happening"), All You Never Wanted has a lot of stuff packed into a short amount of space.

On the surface, it's a book about two sisters thrown into a rich lifestyle after their mother's remarriage. One is struggling with an eating disorder, cause mysteriously unknown for a significant part of the book, and the other desperately trying to remake herself from a wallflower bookworm into an even more popular version of her sister.

It's about wealth and materialism. It's about jealousy, fear, anxiety, and control. It's about dating and parties, climbing the social ladder and the lies it takes to get there. It's about all these things, and more, but at it's core, All You Never Wanted is, I think, a book about family.

So often in YA, parents take on an absent role and the teen characters seem largely (and unrealistically) unaffected. All You Never Wanted has the same absent parents, but every single thing the girls grapple with stems from this absence. The lack of parental support, guidance, love, and involvement is the elephant in the room, and though it is never directly addressed, it drives the story nonetheless.

Not your typical issues book

All You Never Wanted is tense, provocative, unsettling, and deeply emotional. I felt for these girls and desperately needed to find out what was going to happen to them, even though I didn't actually like either of them.

And take note, I did say unsettling. There are a few scenes, though one stands out for me in particular (the confrontation with Thea right before she buys the dress), that are horrific to watch unfold but so brilliantly visceral. Adele Griffin does not shy away from or romanticize the problems these girls deal with. Their issues are on stark display, and is is as fascinating as it is disturbing.

Though I think that's why I liked this book more than the typical issue book. Usually issues books follow the same mold: cool main character with Very Bad issues that are usually glamorized or sugarcoated to make the main character look appealing to the reader and a neat, easy peasy fix at the end (usually complete with "I know it's a long road to recovery, but I'll make it" *fist pump*). I don't know whether I'm more annoyed by the eye-rolling lack of realism, the glorification of issues, or the predictability of the entire plot.

Thankfully, All You Never Wanted doesn't fall into any of the usual issues-book traps. Not only aren't the girls held up on the cool pedestal, but their issues aren't played out to the point of becoming a predictable stereotype.

The impetus of Alex's eating disorder is not revealed for a large part of the book, though it is hinted at in a way that led me down a total garden path. I thought I had it all figured out, and while I would have accepted that, it would have been disappointing in its Been There Done That predictability.

But holy cow, I should have never even let the tiniest bit of doubt enter my head. Adele Griffin's plots are predictable only in consistently defying predictability. I was straight up shocked when the secret was finally revealed, and that's a very good thing.

Also, note I said impetus, not cause, because I don't think that was the cause. I'd say her absent mother was far more the cause and The Event was just the avenue all of her feelings latched on to.

Also, the ending? Oh my gosh, it is perfect! Movement has definitely been made in the sense that both girls end the book at very different points than they began the book, but neither has a firm resolution or happy ending. Usually I don't like that sort of open-ended conclusion, but in the case of All You Never Wanted, I can't think of a better way to end the book.

Bottom line

Adele Griffin is the type of author where I've learned I need to ignore the blurbs on her books no matter how unappealing they may sound (contemporary?! Really??) and just go ahead and read them because I will LOVE them. They are brilliant, transcendant, powerful, and never fail to astound me. She's the type of author who is just so unbelievably good at creating characters that come alive off the page and sucking me into even the most unappealing plots that I need to just forget what I think I know about what I like and dislike and just READ her books.

This would make a fantastic book club pick.

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Do you have any questions about All You Never Wanted that I haven't addressed? 
Feel free to ask in the comments!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Book Review: Amber House by Moore, Reed, & Reed

 Amber House by Kelly Moore, Tucker Reed, and Larkin Reed
Release Date: October 1, 2012
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Pages: 368
Received: ARC from publisher
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Goodreads Page


From Goodreads:

"I was sixteen the first time my grandmother died . . ."

Sarah Parsons has never seen Amber House, the grand Maryland estate that's been in her family for three centuries. She's never walked its hedge maze nor found its secret chambers; she's never glimpsed the shades that haunt it, nor hunted for lost diamonds in its walls.

But all of that is about to change. After her grandmother passes away, Sarah and her friend Jackson decide to search for the diamonds--and the house comes alive. She discovers that she can see visions of the house's past, like the eighteenth-century sea captain who hid the jewels, or the glamorous great-grandmother driven mad by grief. She grows closer to both Jackson and a young man named Richard Hathaway, whose family histories are each deeply entwined with her own. But when the visions start to threaten the person she holds most dear, Sarah must do everything she can to get to the bottom of the house's secrets, and stop the course of history before it is cemented forever.



I'm a character girl, and I pretty much disliked to hated all the characters. So my stars were shriviling up and dying right off the bat. I was super disappointed.

Sarah is the kind of girl like Nora from The Book of Blood and Shadow, and I don't ever really click with that kind of character. She bores and frustrates me with her emotional distance and slightly haughty approach to others.

Sam, Sarah's brother, was probably the most likable character, but he wasn't working for me either. Apparently he's autistic, but apparently in the world of Amber House "autistic" doesn't actually mean what it means in real life. Instead, "autistic" means "super special, precocious, and wildly brilliant beyond his years!" There were a few superficial nods to actual diagnostic criteria, but they were barely there and not very realistic.

So every time Sam came into the story I was torn between softening and liking him and being totally annoyed because his characterization was WRONG. I tried hard to pretend he wasn't autistic so I could just enjoy him as a regular character, but the authors made a point to not only mention it a bunch of times, they even tied in the super special power of fake autism into the MAIN CRUX of the plot! *GAH*

Then there's Sarah's mother, and she is AWFUL. My gosh, she's like a villainess she's so cruel. She reminded me a little of Lady Tremain from Cinderella with her ruthlessness and the way she tried to use her daughter to gain status. Worse, I think we're supposed to feel for her on some level, and while usually I love stories where the villain is given so much depth that you DO start to feel for them, Amber House isn't that kind of book.

Which leads me to my overarching character complaint: They were too cardboard. They felt like checklist characterizations without much substance to back up the surface level descriptors.


I'm a gigantic Gothic fiction fan, so I had pretty high hopes and expectations for Amber House. In terms of plot, I'd say Amber House was about 70% there for me.

There are two scenes that stand out in a BIG positive way and I'm pretty sure I'll remember for a long time. One is especially fantastic for its sheer creativity and holy-cow-I-want-that factor. It's incredibly awesome. (The hidden house).

Amber House definitely had the secrets from the past mingling with the present thing going on and I loved how Sarah's soft-paranormal ability let me peek into that past. I had a blast unravelling the family secrets and piecing together the truth about the Bad Things that happened.

Also, Amber House (the actual house) is one of THOSE houses that's big and glamorous and special and I love getting to explore all its nooks and crannies (and secret passage ways! And other even cooler secret things!). 

But, as with the characters, it all felt a little lacking. I wanted more from everything. The family secrets, once revealed, felt a little "That's it?" and also kind of convoluted. There were a few threads that I felt were left hanging, too.

The slavery sub-plot made me feel like I was back in elementary school being talked down to by teachers explaining how everyone in the past was either an abolitionist SAINT or an EVILLLLL slave owner who spent every waking second of their days whipping and raping their slaves. Yes, this is a YA book, but no, young adult readers aren't stupid and don't see the world in stark contrasts.

There was also a decent amount of time spent on "normal teen things" with Sarah going out on dates and stuff, and I was totally bored during these scenes. Also, it was of the more angsty teen variety than the romantic comedy light variety (she angsts about her mom and her parents' divorce, too).

I'm chalking my boredom up to a combination of my indifference toward the characters and the fact that I don't really like contemporary teen issues to begin with. There was nothing wrong with the writing here though, so readers who tend to like those things shouldn't have the problems I had with it.


Meh. There's a kind of love triangle, but I didn't get the feeling Sarah was really into either guy, and neither was I. Neither relationship dominate the plot though, so the fact that both felt underdeveloped and lackluster didn't affect the story much, which is fine by me since I like plot to take center stage over romance anyway.

Bottom line

Amber House was decent and I enjoyed the time I spent reading it, but I don't feel the need to keep my copy. I think I might have enjoyed it more if this had been my first introduction to Gothic fiction. I know I would have enjoyed it more if I clicked more with the characters.

Still, it's a fun way to spend some time and the fact that it's a standalone (or, at least it works fine as a standalone...any word on sequels?) is nice. If there was a sequel, I don't think I'd read it (too many books, too little time, and Amber House wasn't strong enough to make the sequel cut for me).

While there wasn't anything (that I can remember) that would make this particularly inappropriate for MG readers, I don't think it would appeal to them as much. Likewise, I'm not sure how engaged adult non-YA readers would be, especially given the more "teen" issues. The pace is moderate with some lulls and bursts of action, though it felt longer to me than it actually was.

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Do you have any questions about Amber House that I haven't addressed? 
Feel free to ask in the comments!

Looking for another book like this? 
You might like: 

Click on the covers to go to my reviews/Goodreads.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Book Review: Outpost by Ann Aguirre

Outpost by Ann Aguirre
#2 in the Razorland series
Release Date: September 4, 2012
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Pages: 336
Received: ARC from publisher
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads Page

WARNING! This is a review for book 2 in a series and there ARE spoilers for book 1 in this review!
Haven't started the series yet? Read my review of book 1 instead!


From Goodreads:

Deuce’s whole world has changed. Down below, she was considered an adult. Now, topside in a town called Salvation, she’s a brat in need of training in the eyes of the townsfolk. She doesn’t fit in with the other girls: Deuce only knows how to fight.

To make matters worse, her Hunter partner, Fade, keeps Deuce at a distance. Her feelings for Fade haven’t changed, but he seems not to want her around anymore. Confused and lonely, she starts looking for a way out.

Deuce signs up to serve in the summer patrols—those who make sure the planters can work the fields without danger. It should be routine, but things have been changing on the surface, just as they did below ground. The Freaks have grown smarter. They’re watching. Waiting. Planning. The monsters don’t intend to let Salvation survive, and it may take a girl like Deuce to turn back the tide.


My expectations killed this book for me

I'm a little whiney about Outpost. On one hand, it was a good, solid book with a decent balance of action and introspection (though, for me, there was a little too much introspection and other stuff and not nearly enough action, but you know me and action).

Ann Aguirre continues to expand Deuce's character and I loved following along as she discovered what it means to have a family. I was even reminded a little of Anne of Green Gables with all the adoptive-parents-dote-on-and-love-adopted-daughter scenes. It was all very sweet and I might have even aw-ed out loud once or twice.

But I didn't want sweet! I wanted ACTION. I wanted to see Deuce and Fade fight back to back and slaughter scary hordes of freaks. This did happen, just not as much as I wanted and not nearly as much as it did in Enclave.

I was especially frustrated with all the time spent on Deuce's repetitive inner-monologues on how she doesn't fit into the society because they expect her to wear a dress and do women's work. Yes, yes, Deuce is a huntress, she's good at killing things, she doesn't do tea parties, I GET IT! I find this particular plot device boring to begin with, so I really had no tolerance for Deuce repeating her complaints OVER AND OVER.

The worst thing though was that it takes almost the entire book for the characters to come to the conclusion that the freaks are getting smarter and are not what they originally seemed. I'm all about gathering facts and making a case to support a plot point, but the problem here is we already know this! Deuce had already pretty much figured this out by the end of Enclave, so the book-long rehash felt like a serious case of series stretching and I was NOT pleased.

It's like opposite day!

I LOVED Fade in Enclave, but my gosh, he turned into such a sissy in Outpost. He's going through a lot of emotional things and Ann Aguirre used him like her fictional punching bag, piling up bad experience after bad experience onto the poor guy. So, yeah, I feel bad for him. But that doesn't mean I'm going to give him a pass for his annoying moping. He totally turned inward and shut everyone out, so I'm really having a hard time connecting with him on any level. He'd better get his act together in the third book or I'm completely recinding all my book boyfriend thoughts.

Stalker was a creepy rapist in Enclave and though he's stopped his raping ways in Outpost, rape isn't really something you can do a takebacksies on. Deuce even mulled over some totally lame reasons for why she should wipe the slate clean for him and I wanted to tear my hair out at her illogical analogies and the excuses she came up with (he didn't know any better! He needed to do it because otherwise someone else would do it and be even worse!).

But...Stalker was kind of a lot more crushable than Fade. I mean, putting aside his past, his present self is loyal, steadfast, resourceful, and totally swoony. He's more of an alpha guy, but he doesn't dominate Deuce either. He seems to love her because she's so capable and he sees her as an equal. Pretty great, right? Except for the whole raping thing. Yeah. I spent a good part of the book swooning and then feeling really, really WRONG.

Teagan loses all her previous points. Her characterization felt squishy and inconsistent to me, which made her do things in one scene that didn't make any sense in the context of the next scene.

Deuce is still awesome. She's a skilled fighter motivated by the desire to protect those she loves. She confronts issues head on, even when they're uncomfortable to face. She's a little weird due to her totally messed up childhood, but she's amazingly rational. This all makes her one of the most fascinating characters I've read about.

A note on the new characters

I LOVE Deuce's adoptive parents and new friend with all my heart! Her friend even reminded me a little of Lee Scoresby from the His Dark Materials trilogy.

Read the author's note

There were two plot points that totally bugged me and made me think a lot less of the book, until I read the author's note. That cleared a lot of things up for me and I'm happy now. So read it.

Who is this book for?

When Enclave first came out two guys at my library came in looking for The Hunger Games, but, of course, all our copies were out. Never to let someone leave the library empty handed, I offered them Enclave and pitched it as a book about "killing lots of zombies." They grabbed it, loved it, and have been counting down the days for Outpost ever since.

But I don't think they're going to be very happy with Outpost. It's a LOT more girly with more time spent on feelings than action. The freak slaying is minimal and isn't the focal point of the plot. It happens, and it's brutally awesome, but I'm not sure the limited page time is enough to keep guy readers engaged.

Bottom line

Outpost is a solid book that I did enjoy reading, but I can't help feeling frustrated with what seems to me like a bad case of series stretching. I feel like I'm at the exact same place I left off at the end of Enclave: the freaks are getting smarter and might very possibly overwhelm our heroes.

And while this makes me pretty darn excited for book three, I shouldn't really be feeling this way again. Outpost feels like a digression, and while it was nice and I really did appreciate the exploration of Deuce's character, it's still a digression and I'm still disappointed.

I hope the third book Horde is great, but I'm a little more cautious now. 

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Do you have any questions about Outpost that I haven't addressed? 
Feel free to ask in the comments!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Book Review: The Assassin's Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke

The Assassin's Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke
Release Date: October 2, 2012
Publisher: Strange Chemistry 
Pages: 416
Received: ARC from publisher
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars, Special Shelf


From Goodreads:

Ananna of the Tanarau is the eldest daughter of a highly-ranked family in the loose assortment of cutthroats and thieves in the Pirate's Confederation. When she runs away from the marriage her parents have arranged for her, they hire Naji the assassin to murder her.

When a mysterious woman in a dress shop offers her magical assistance for dealing with the assassin, Ananna accepts. She never went in much for magic herself -- she lacks the talent for it -- but she's not quite ready to die yet, either. Unfortunately, the woman's magic fails.

Fortunately, Ananna inadvertently saves the assassin's life in the skirmish, thus activating a curse that had been placed on him a few years earlier. Now, whenever her life is in danger, he must protect her -- or else he experiences tremendous physical pain. Neither Ananna nor the assassin, Naji, are pleased about this development.

Follow Ananna and Naji as they sail across the globe, visiting such mysterious places as the Court of Salt and Waves, in their desperate effort to lift the curse. Soon they will discover that only by completing three impossible tasks will they be able to set themselves free.


Be still my heart!

The Assassin's Curse is everything I look for in a Special Shelf book: Brisk pace, adventure, questing, hate-turned-love romance, slow burn romance, fun world-building, and two lead characters I love to pieces. Cassandra Rose Clarke has landed herself on my teeny tiny list of authors to auto-buy.

Sleepover party!

It is without the slightest reservation that I am absolutely showering Ananna with sleepover party invitations. She would totally get along with my Special Shelf ladies like Meliara, Lylenne, Yelena, Ismae, and Gabi (or a guy like Sage or Cat). Bonus points—she's a pirate! Much as I loved the male lead, I think I may have been even more enamored with Ananna. 

Ananna's a rough-edged girl and she doesn't hesitate to call a spade a spade. Her blunt exclamations of "OH BLEEP NO! ARE YOU CRAZY??" when presented with dangerous situations had me snickering out loud (it's always nice when a character voices my own thoughts). Though her word choices were not bleeped out, so heads up on that! (I wish she had used fake curses. Real curses didn't fit in with the fantasy world. Also, I can't give this book to younger kids solely now because of all those four letter words).

But, what really made me love her were her imperfections. She has a pirate's brash swagger for sure, but she's by no means an arrogant superwoman. She can swing a sword, but she isn't an expert. She's at home on the sea, but she's still learning things like navigation. She's clever, but she isn't always a step ahead of her adversaries. I loved how her first person narration let me really get into her head and see the contrast between the confident face she showed the world and her inner fears and insecurities.

More often than not, Ananna finds herself in situations where the only response is to throw up her hands, mutter a string of curses at her crappy situation, then throw herself head first into the melee and hope for a miracle. Ananna's the kind of character I can kick back and have fun with and not have to feel like a total skill-less wimp in comparison.

He would be darn near perfect...

...if he weren't named Naji. I mean, seriously, NAGI??? How am I supposed to work with that? I couldn't even squint and pretend his name was something better. I kept pronouncing it all nasally and awkward and that just wasn't doing my swoon any favors. Maybe he can change his name in the next book for stealth purposes?

But, getting past that, he was wonderful! Incredibly handsome, dresses all in black, wears a mask, has a mysterious painful past, smart, sarcastic, deadpan, and he's an assassin. I can't wait to find out more about his past, how he got his scars, the curse, and the huge magical world he's tangled in.

And of course you know I'm all about the hate-turned-love romance. I adored how his treatment of Ananna went from exasperated to tentative partnership to maybe something more. They also get a ton of points for their great banter.

Well, did I get *THAT* kiss?

No, I did not. But, though I am a teeny bit disappointed, that isn't so bad. I'm actually *gasp* glad they didn't kiss yet. The Assassin's Curse is the first book in a series, and my ideal romance spends most of the story simmering and building the tension, but not actually sealing the deal until the end. So I'm perfectly happy with this slow burn romance.

Shut up character girl, talk about the plot!

The plot is all about the questing. The story starts out pretty quickly with Ananna running away and then triggering the curse with her would-be assassin. I love a book that throws me right into the action. The pace kept up at a nice steady brisk (though not fast) pace throughout the book.

After that, I got bounced around all over this fantasy land to all sorts of strange and exciting locations while Ananna and Hot Assassin search for various people who can tell them how to break the curse. Deserts, forests, swamps, the sea, warm, cold, and this super creepy island, plus a bunch more. Adding an extra bit of peril were the TWO groups of people trying to chase Ananna and Hot Assassin down and kill them (which means, yes, there were BATTLES!)

But see at the end of the blurb where it says that bit about "three impossible tasks"? Yeah, don't expect to experience those. Ananna and Hot Assassin only find out the nature of those tasks at the very end of the book. Now, don't let that get you down. I was so swept up in the story that I completely forgot about those tasks and they now serve as a promise of even more great questing to come in the sequel.

Bottom line

The Assassin's Curse is exactly the kind of book I adore, so if your tastes are anything like mine, RUN to your local bookstore and grab a copy ASAP (or be lazy like me and order online). And, look! I waited until The Assassin's Curse was released before posting my review, so no more waiting!

The only problem is that I'm really, really impatient and I don't want to wait all the way until 2013 to read more about Ananna and Hot Assassin. And my impatience isn't only because the book left off on a pretty big point where they're about to embark on even more perilous quests and give me even more romantic tension.

I would be impatient for 2013 even if the book ended perfectly fine as a standalone because I want more Ananna and Hot Assassin in my life right now! I don't even care if they didn't quest and instead sat around braiding daisy chains for 400 pages. I would still be all over that.

This is one of those books like The False Prince or Crown Duel where it could be YA or MG (just keep in mind those curses).

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Do you have any questions about The Assassin's Curse that I haven't addressed?
Feel free to ask in the comments!

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Buy it on Amazon

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