Powered by Blogger.
Win a copy of Nobody and Every Other Day by Jennifer Lynn Barnes (ends 2/20)

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Uncommon Criminals

Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter

Grade: 5 stars out of 5
Katrina Bishop is one of the youngest, smallest, but surely one of the best thieves in the world. Her currently heist is one of biggest thus far is for the world’s biggest emerald: the Cleopatra Emerald. Many thieves have attempted to steal the jewel and all have claimed that it is cursed. Even Uncle Eddie forbids Kat to even try. But things get personal for Kat when she gets conned. A thief does not get conned.
There is a low chance of me reviewing this book without gushing like a lovestruck teenager. Uncommon Criminals just hit that sweet spot that no other book for the past month had managed to strike. The prequel, Heist Society, was okay, decent, but no means better than Carter’s Gallagher Girls series. Uncommon Criminals, on the other hand, was almost perfection.

Ally Carter seems to enjoy teasing the audience by giving them enough clues that they think they’ve figured everything out. But then out of the blue, up pops an important fact that turns an entire situation around. A lose becomes a win. A clumsy fight because an orchestrated scene. A sweet innocent Kat becomes a focused thief playing her part without one thinking the wiser. And yet, it was just one single thread of the whole series that made my day. Kat kissed Hale. If I didn’t look so ridiculous fist-pumping, I would do it.

In the Gallagher Girls series, it’s taken readers several books for the romance to develop to be called a romance. I was expecting the same slow trickle of a smile, a touch, a hug, a kiss, for this new series. There was the same tension and the same voice in my head chanting “Come on, you know you want to kiss the boy”, but miraculously Carter decided to show mercy this time.

Ally Carter always keeps me in suspense in her well-crafted novel that screamed details. Her originality astounds me at times and the humorous names for cons leave me grinning. When Carter intentional leaves out very important facts, I found myself not being the slightest upset. Every author should have a trick up their sleeves and Ally Carter has many tricks. What came after each plot twist only made the reading experience more enjoyable.

Uncommon Criminals gave the readers a better glimpse of Kat’s inner turmoil about being a thief. It’s like delving into the murky mind of a brilliant girl who’s lost her own focus on her life. And as Kat begins to be submerged into her thoughts, her family and friends pull her out. The strength I found in their relationship was amazing and brought out some of the smaller character developments, which I instinctively search for in series.

I think you get the gist right? I loved this book.

The End.

Cover B-
Published: 2011, June 21; hardcover
Source: review copy from Disney Hyperion

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Haunting Violet

Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey

Grade: 3 stars out of 5
When her mother’s fake séance goes wrong, Violet is forced to step up. Her newfound spiritual powers will either make her the newest superstar or kill her when an avenging young girl wants Violet to solve her death. 
I fell in love with Alyxandra Harvey’s debut novel (Hearts at Stake), but fell shortly out of love with her two sequels. For me, Haunting Violet was a welcoming read as it strayed away from the vampires and into the realm of ghosts. Different readers have different preferences when it comes to books. I, myself, love paranormal romances. They’re like chocolate. But gluttony is a sin and too much can give a girl a stomachache. Haunting Violet was just another paranormal romance that had me intrigued, but I soon discovered (in addition to many other paranormal books) that it was a disappointment.

Before I start talking about what I found troubling about Haunting Violet, let’s start with some happy thoughts. I found the premise exciting. Violet was a well-likeable girl who didn’t throw tantrums when things didn’t go her way. Her love interests were sweet and one of them bordered on sexy (but not the dark, dangerous and bad sexy). One particular character that stood out that I am sure many of the readers will not like was Violet’s mother.

I found her to be such a fascinating character that has had her ups-and-downs. She was a housemaid that was forced to go to on her own when she was found pregnant. She created a world for herself, clothed and fed Violet. There is a deep level of resentment she holds against Violet and it’s understandable. While she wasn’t the most well-liked character, she was one of the strongest and I could feel her charisma through the pages.

I found Haunting Violet to be less than stellar and in need of a clear direction. The random bumbling to towns and the hazy plotline left me turning to another book. What I expected was a good mystery with an air of forbidden romance as Violet deftly lays down the clues of the death. Instead I read about Violet suddenly founding herself fancying her mother’s helper Colin (who, as Harvey keeps bringing up, used to always tease Violet and hide bugs in her things when they were younger). Her new self-consciousness around him is only bolstered when the charming (and again as Harvey keeps pointing out, the wealthy) Xavier tries to court Violet. Kissing two guys in one day? What a scandal!

Haunting Violet is an endless barrage of names and gossip that serves absolutely no purpose besides confusing the readers from trying to figure out the murderer. And that’s really hard to do when the entire thing gets dropped for a couple of chapters as Violet suddenly has amazing spiritual powers and understands the “third eye” from reading a book. In one day. I wished that Harvey spent more time taking time to explain the little details. Her mother’s affair; Colin’s history with his mother; Marjorie, the family’s maid I’m guessing, seems to vanish in thin air; Lord Jasper’s “powers” and his dead wife.

Haunting Violet has a good framework. It was the finer points, the lack of details or too many details in certain areas that drove the book to nowhere.

Cover B-/C+
I originally love the cover, but now I find the colors a bit muted and the girl awkward.
Published: 2011, June 21; hardcover
Source: ARC from Walker Books for review

Thursday, June 23, 2011

From Bad to Cursed

From Bad to Cursed by Katie Alender [read review for Bad Girls Don’t Die]

Grade: 4 stars out of 5
Things are finally looking up for Alexis: her family is in no immediate danger, she has a sweet boyfriend, and her best friend still has her back. Finally her sister, Kasey, is back from the mental hospital after a murderous run with an evil spirit. But rumors start to spread and rejoining some old classmates after the first week of school can be tough for any girl. When Kasey and a couple of odd friends join and form The Sunshine Club, Alexis is a little more than weary. After all, with one evil spirit there’s bound to be more right? 
From Bad to Cursed immediately follows Bad Girls Don’t Die. Readers who are curious about this sequel will need to brush up with the prequel. If you don’t, be prepared to be lost. And now onward to the review!

While I found From Bad to Cursed not as creepy as its predecessor, I still found it chilling. Alender takes old classics—porcelain dolls, Ouija boards, creepy Stepford wives—and somehow manages to give it a creative spin. Or an all consuming black sludge. Really, whatever comes first. Alender explains everything that was needed but leaves behind an air of mystery. I found From Bad to Cursed lacking the humor I first saw in Bad Girls Don’t Die, but I didn’t mind too much. (Not when Carter Blume is showing the nice guys how it’s done.)

Alexis is still the strong, likeable female and sister. With her pink hair and bad girl attitude, she looks the part. Ah but, From Bad to Cursed keeps the readers on their toes when Alexis redyes her hair to a proper color. Even without her punkrock hair, Alexis is still a fierce girl to be reckoned (just as is her sister who can be kickass at times). Alexis love for photography and her skill is showcased when she enters a contest and manages to advance to the final stages. It’s the little things within the details that make From Bad to Cursed such a great read. With Alender’s love of crafts, it’s expected to find aspects of art in her creations.  

If you follow Katie Alender, the author of the Bad Girls Don’t Die series, on twitter you’ll notice that she loves her dog and why wouldn’t she? He is adorable. But don’t let that fool you; From Bad to Cursed is just as gruesome as her first and she holds nothing back when it comes to haunting ghosts who loves to play with peoples’ mind. Alender enjoys teasing the readers by building up the anticipation and drama. Everything things start to fall to place and while its not a happily ever after, it’s somehow perfect for what it is. We’re left with the possibilities and the anticipation of the third book.

Cover B+
Published: 2011 June 14
Source: ARC won from author/ finished copy for review from publisher

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Want to Go Private?

Want to go Private? by Sarah Darer Littman

Grade: 4 stars out of 5
With life becoming more and more digitalized and social networking becomes a must, the danger of internet predators looms overhead. For Abby, starting high school is scary. Best friend Faith begins to spread her wings in high school leaving behind Abby. Alone and betrayed by her best friend and her parents Abby turns to Luke whom she met in the virtual world for comfort. Luke, however, is more dangerous than what is perceived by his screen name.
Sarah Darer Littman or should I say Sarah “Daring” Littman constantly writes the darker side to life not censoring even the more graphic details. It’s not always rainbows and butterflies, but depression, confusion, and loneliness. Littman was able to capture the life of an adolescent girl with low self-esteem beautifully and somehow transformed her life to one with power and strength. Want to Go Private? tugs at the readers’ heartstrings and pulls them along with Abby’s dark journey. Be prepared to feel sadness, sympathy (or empathy), anger, and relief.

Broken into 3 different parts, readers follow Abby through her fall, her capture, and her road to self-redemption. Want to Go Private? is told in multiple perspectives to showcase how many people the villain can affect besides the victim. Best friends, parents, siblings, and even crushes from school plays a role in Abby’s rescue and her recovery.

Littman does an amazing job at describing the life after the attack. Abby had been groomed to believe that Luke loved her and cared for her. She becomes reluctant to leave and blame Luke and doesn’t fully understand the true depth of the crime. She willingly goes to Luke and willingly gave herself to him, but to the world Luke is a sick bastard. Abby is judged and bullied by her classmates and her father making them as sick as Luke. Littman doesn’t begin the book with happiness and butterflies and she doesn’t leave the book as such. Instead Littman writes Abby as a survivor who tells the world of what she had been through, which makes her stronger. Want to Go Private? is an inspirational novel.

However with all that being said, I wished Littman took her time to cultivate the relationship between Luke and Abby. While Abby was in a dark place making her more susceptible to influences, the level of trust and quickness to agree to meet up with Luke is hard to believe at times. One thing that struck me strange was when Luke asked about Abby’s bra size within the first week of chatting. That to me should have struck an alarm because who asks about the size of a girl’s chest? When Abby replied back believing that because he’s online and that they aren’t face-to-face she’s safe, I wanted to shake her. No! Lie! There are reasons why some things are personal!

Things escalate sexually and I must warn readers that the book gets very graphic. When pictures are shared and videos are streamed, I wondered why Abby never asked Luke to remove his hat. She points out how his face is obscured by his hat and the shadows yet she never asks for a better picture. Abby’s naivety is less endearing and more annoying.

Want to Go Private? is still a remarkable novel. Sarah Darer Littman proves as always that she is an amazing storyteller.

Cover C
Published: 2011, August 1
Source: unsolicited ARC from Scholastic
Amazon: preorder

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Witches of the East End

Witches of the East End by Melissa de la Cruz

Grade: 3.5 stars out of 5
Welcome to North Hampton: a quaint little town that lies on the edge of a world different. It’s where Joanna, Ingrid, and Freya have made their home and where strange things are afoot. Good thing they’re witches.
Point blank, I am not the biggest fan of the Blue Blood series, but sadly I tend to follow “hype” and requested Witches of East End for review. And I won the chance to review it. Let me tell you this was something different than her teen series. It’s more graphic when it comes to relationships as Freya does the deed more times than she can probably count.

That being said I did enjoy Witches of the East End more than I expected to in the beginning. There are great plot layers happening with plenty of questions being asked and answered with enough wiggle room for the sequel. I liked how the author took the reader around the town and introduced us the residents of North Hampton. It brought life to the town rather than just having it as the “backdrop”.

Witches of the East End can be read as fantasy or romance and even a little mystery. Melissa de la Cruz pulls out the big guns in this book making it original and creative. She weaves in the Salem witch trials with Norse mythology and adding, of course what else, zombies! That is crazy!

However, despite all the positives, I will say that Melissa de la Cruz’s attempt to shed some light on the characters background was very confusing. Seeing as how she kept building it up and up (with word drops like “bridge” and “son” and “god”) I expected the story behind it all to be longer than half a page especially since many readers are unfamiliar with Norse mythology. The onslaught of names gave little time for readers to digest the new names and places. By placing this new information until the very end was great when trying to keep the reader in suspense and teasing them, but it sort of came off befuddling.

I love the secondary characters. Period. Some of them are quirky, some are wicked, some are just annoying, but they were entertaining.

I will say that the main characters were not as fleshed out as I hoped they would. I found Freya to be a physical character that seemed to be focused on her physical needs rather than thinking things thru some times. Ingrid’s reaction to relationship developments were how I would believe an adolescent might react despite Ingrid being thousands of years old. Their motives were simple, maybe too simple for my liking.

The “epilogue” was so effed up. WARNING: do not read until you have sequel in hand. That was one of biggest cliff hangers I have ever, EVER read. And I’ve read tons.

P.S. SPOILER: They’re not actually “witches” which kind of pissed me off

Cover C-
Published: 2011 June 21
Source: Librarything
Amazon: preorder

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Falling for Hamlet

Falling for Hamlet by Michelle Ray

Grade: 2 stars out of 5
On and off again playboy/boyfriend Hamlet is the Prince of Denmark. As the daughter of the King’s advisor, Ophelia’s relationship is far from being blessed by her father, brother, and Hamlet’s mother. But they’ll make it work unless, of course, there’s a murder and murderer in the royal family.
Having read Hamlet in senior year of high school I am familiar with the original storyline. My classmates and I read the play at home, performed certain scenes in class and watch two versions of the movie. I was instantly pulled in by Falling for Hamlet by the synopsis and my love for Hamlet. I loved the character Ophelia and couldn’t wait to begin Ray’s rendition of Hamlet where Ophelia does not die. Sadly Falling for Hamlet was a difficult read for me.

I found Falling for Hamlet to be a very dull read during the first half of the book. Ray’s takes her time to situate the characters in the modern time period and redefine Ophelia’s personality. That process was mundane and stifling. It was so hard to get pass the first couple of chapters that it took two weeks for me to finally force myself to read the book, even then I will admit to skimming pages. Here’s the part where I think my love for Hamlet was Falling for Hamlet’s downfall: I know the storyline, I know where it’s heading so nothing is of great surprise, which was why I found the book boring.

When Hamlet’s madness finally kicked in I realized how much I missed his soliloquies. His soliloquies were what made the readers believe that Hamlet was on the border between sanity and insanity. In Falling for Hamlet, the readers only see what Ophelia sees. Hamlet in Falling for Hamlet doesn’t have the fluidity; his actions aren’t very clear. When the other characters fell into madness it came off more as selfish and annoying than crazed. Ray didn’t take the opportunity to develop some of the other characters as much I hoped she would. While the King was more fleshed out in the short time the readers know him, Gertrude, the Queen, was still one-dimensional.

Ophelia’s role is a subtle one and doesn’t play a huge part. When Ray decides to continue the original storyline of Hamlet, Ophelia is not present in the scenes. In my personal taste I wanted Ophelia to be in on the action and have Ray shift the storyline a bit to incorporate Ophelia while still have that signature “tragedy”.

As I mentioned the lack of fluidity of Hamlet’s actions, Ray decided to write a talk show, an interrogation and Ophelia’s retelling all at the same time. Each chapter began with the talk show then moved into the retelling and abruptly shifting into an interrogation from investigators. Too much. Scenes also become borderline ridiculous when Ray moves everything to modern times. People still fence right? For me, it was strange when Ray replaced fencing with lacrosse in the climax. Again, maybe it is a reader’s preference and Ray wanted to add something original and something of her own. Lacrosse is a dangerous sport.

Finally I have to point out the text speech Ray incorporates quite frequently in the book is annoying. I realize that books take years to be published, but I think she should have gone back in and edit those text messages. For example: “Strnge thngs r afoot @ the circle K…. Go hm. H wl need u” (Ray 90) is confusing. It took a while for me to understand whatever the heck Ophelia was trying to say. I even read the previous paragraph again, but still couldn’t decipher this code. I don’t know why Ray decided to spell out circle when it could have been abbreviated to “cir.” and then remove all the vowels in “home” to spell “hm”. At least I think that was supposed to be home. Ray does this again in another text message on page 250 with come (cm) to my confusion.

Falling for Hamlet was not for me. I’m sure there is an audience out there for this classics retelling by the other reviews are saying for this book.

Cover D-
Er. No. No, no, no, no. Awkwardly placed chair. A couple up against a wall? Micro-mini skirt? Definitely speaks Hamlet (sarcastic). 
Published: 2011, July 5; hardcover
Source: HipScout
Amazon: preorder