Review: Untold by Sarah Rees Brennan


UntoldTitle: Untold

Author: Sarah Rees Brennan

Genre: Gothic, YA Paranormal

Publication Date: September 24, 2013

Source: ARC I found in a used bookstore

Synopsis: Free from bonds, but not each other

It’s time to choose sides… On the surface, Sorry-in-the-Vale is a sleepy English town. But Kami Glass knows the truth. Sorry-in-the-Vale is full of magic. In the old days, the Lynburn family ruled with fear, terrifying the people into submission in order to kill for blood and power. Now the Lynburns are back, and Rob Lynburn is gathering sorcerers so that the town can return to the old ways.

But Rob and his followers aren’t the only sorcerers in town. A decision must be made: pay the blood sacrifice, or fight. For Kami, this means more than just choosing between good and evil. With her link to Jared Lynburn severed, she’s now free to love anyone she chooses. But who should that be?

2.5/5 stars – Occasionally shines like a gem, but it’s often dulled by forced humor

Well now, this is odd. Unspoken was a five-star read back when I originally read it, but looking back, the enthusiasm of my review seems foreign. I remember writing every last word and know why I felt that way, but my opinion of the book has changed drastically since then. This is a rare occurrence and it’s never a good sign, but I still went into the second book of Brennan’s trilogy hoping for the best. Did I get it? Well… Untold is a little like cat fur because it’s all over the place, though the book is easier to get out of surfaces nine times out of ten.

As over-the-top and transient as my enthusiasm was, it wasn’t entirely unfounded then and still isn’t now. The story itself is entertaining, has makeout scenes that will appease fans who have been waiting a long time for them, and there are some genuinely funny moments in these pages. The passage in which Ash nonchalantly explains a pretty horrifying ceremony to Kami because he doesn’t know any better is beautiful and produced one of the only genuine laughs the novel earned from me.

This is the sixth novel I’ve read of Brennan’s (the others were her Demon’s Lexicon books, Team Human, and Unspoken) and multiple short stories from her too, but this is the first time where the humor feels forced and real laughs are few and far between. This is something some of my friends have complained about in regards to her other works, so this may just be the first time I personally noticed it. Some lines are supposed to be funny, but they simply aren’t.  Others treat the readers like children by telling us things we can easily figure out on our own. One of the most noteworthy examples of the unfunny “funny” lines is this one:

“Kami picked up a pen from the desk and put it in her pocket, because she was now a kleptomaniac for great justice (ARC p. 153).”

Had all the forced humor been cut out, this would have been a stronger, more streamlined novel; the apparent need to have humor in a scene even when it’s not actually funny and doesn’t need to be there kills more than a few scenes or otherwise good passages. Sure, it won’t speed up the pacing of a book that’s mostly made up of character drama and planning because Untold hits second-book syndrome hard, but it would make the novel a little less of a chore to read, along with fixing how the novel tends to talk down to us readers are if we’re children.

The characters, rather than being talked about on a scale to most well-developed to least, are more easily classified on a scale of most annoying to least annoying because to one degree or another, they’re all kind of annoying. Holly and Ash have the least irritating points of view, least ridiculous lines, and best conflicts, so they come off as the real stars of the book. The twist concerning Holly is a great one, but it loses all its oomph because it has no importance whatsoever. There’s literally nothing that changes as a result of her revelation. What was the use?!

Angela and her trendy outlook of hating the world because it’s how she is and how she responds to life remains the most annoying cast member. Kami and Jared, who are the actual stars of this book, lean toward being more annoying than not because they’re the ones that give us ridiculous lines when the third-person narrator isn’t able to throw them at us like we’re the bad performers they’re booing off the stage.

Me staying around for the third book of the series looks unlikely, but who knows what will happen? At the very least, it’s not one to wait on with bated breath the way I wrongly did with Untold. Fans who loved the first book and haven’t seen their enthusiasm diminish are sure to love this solid second installment, but those who are like me will find an entirely different story.

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Review: “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” by April Genevieve Tucholke


12930909Title: “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea”

Author: April Genevieve Tucholke

Genre: YA contemporary, Gothic, urban fantasy, PNR

Publication Date: August 15, 2013 (Penguin – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Summary: You stop fearing the devil when you’re holding his hand…

Nothing much exciting rolls through Violet White’s sleepy, seaside town…until River West comes along. River rents the guesthouse behind Violet’s crumbling estate, and as eerie, grim things start to happen, Violet begins to wonder about the boy living in her backyard. Is River just a crooked-smiling liar with pretty eyes and a mysterious past? Or could he be something more? Violet’s grandmother always warned her about the Devil, but she never said he could be a dark-haired boy who takes naps in the sun, who likes coffee, who kisses you in a cemetery…who makes you want to kiss back. Violet’s already so knee-deep in love, she can’t see straight. And that’s just how River likes it.

☆: 5/5 stars – definitely in my top ten favorites for 2013 so far!

Review: Wow, guys. I seriously just can’t even after finishing this book. YES, IT’S THAT GOOD. And yes, it DOES live up to the hype, very much so. “Between the Devil” is an adventure in gothic horror and magical realism, between religion and cults, and between romance and compulsion. Best of all? NO LOVE TRIANGLES. Dancing for joy (and for those who have read the book, you’ll get a laugh out of that one). If you’re going to pick one breathtaking gothic horror YA to read this year? It HAS to be “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea”.

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Review: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke


12930909Title: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Author: April Genevieve Tucholke

Genre: Gothic, Horror, Magical Realism

Publication Date: August 15, 2013

Source: Print ARC via the publisher

Summary: You stop fearing the devil when you’re holding his hand…

Nothing much exciting rolls through Violet White’s sleepy, seaside town…until River West comes along. River rents the guesthouse behind Violet’s crumbling estate, and as eerie, grim things start to happen, Violet begins to wonder about the boy living in her backyard. Is River just a crooked-smiling liar with pretty eyes and a mysterious past? Or could he be something more? Violet’s grandmother always warned her about the Devil, but she never said he could be a dark-haired boy who takes naps in the sun, who likes coffee, who kisses you in a cemetery…who makes you want to kiss back. Violet’s already so knee-deep in love, she can’t see straight. And that’s just how River likes it.

Blending faded decadence and the thrilling dread of gothic horror, April Genevieve Tucholke weaves a dreamy, twisting contemporary romance, as gorgeously told as it is terrifying—a debut to watch.

☆: 5/5 stars – WOW. Beautiful and dark and horrifying and perfect

It took an hour of fangirlish screaming for me to get it all out of my system and write this fangirlish, scream-devoid review. Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea is hard to put words to, but what words I can pull together into a review are nothing put positive. The rest of 2013 is going to have to work hard if it wants to top this as the best novel I’ve read so far in 2013.

Though Violet lets a few things River did to her slide when it seems unusual for her to do so, she’s got a strong head on her shoulders and she’s not afraid to ask River directly if he’s causing the changes within Echo. There’s not a lot she lets slip by her, but she’s got this sweet naivete going on too. That naivete and River’s gift are how she “lets” him get away with what he does for so long and how she makes the same mistakes over and over again. Why else would a straightforward, no-nonsense girl like Violet let a blatant liar like River stay around as long as she does? It takes the entire book for some of his lies to unravel, and it’s delicious to watch every single one of them go.

River. Oh, River. He messes with Violet’s head so easily and it’s hard not to ask if he’s pulling the same trick on our minds through the pages. It’s the only explanation when the guy you’re swooning over is basically a serial killer. (What do I mean? Got a secret, I will keep it, swear this one I’ll save~…) He’s hardly the Devil like it’s implied, but he’s far from being a good boy or God. He’s more like a demon. Or maybe he’s exactly what he is: a boy with a crooked moral compass and powers too great for him to handle.

The jacket copy is almost inaccurate and doesn’t begin to cover all the layers of this novel and what’s going on as Echo starts to fall apart post-River, but the twists and turns and truth are all too precious for me to reveal. It’s something you’ll have to see for yourself! People burning witches, furry-toothed men, illusions everywhere, dead bodies galore, brothers who may or may not be good, and so much more are what you’ll find if you give Devil a try.

Between the Spark and the Burn, the sequel scheduled for fall 2014, is sure to be one hell of a ride and I’ll be anxiously awaiting it as I clutch Devil and reread my favorite bits.  Fans of magical realism and Gothic horror? You need this like your lungs need air.

Review: “Dance of the Red Death (Red Death #2)” by Bethany Griffin


Dance of the Red DeathTitle: “Dance of the Red Death (Red Death #2)”

Author: Bethany Griffin

Genre: YA, Gothic, Post-Apocalyptic, Plagues, Dystopia

Publication Date: June 11, 2013 (HarperTeen – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided finished copy

Summary:  Araby’s world is in shambles—betrayal, death, disease, and evil forces surround her. She has no one to trust. But she finds herself and discovers that she will fight for the people she loves, and for her city.

Her revenge will take place at the menacing masked ball, though it could destroy her and everyone she loves…or it could turn her into a hero.

☆: 4/5 stars – Going to miss this duology so much!

Review: When I heard that there was going to be a sequel to “Masque of the Red Death”, I was incredibly excited. Almost indecently so. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. And when I did, most of what I’d been hoping for in terms of a resolution to the duology as a whole was more or less lived up to – though there were a few sticking points that kind of prevented this book from becoming from the five star wonder that I was hoping it would be. Regardless, I think everyone who read “Masque of the Red Death” will find something to love in “Dance of the Red Death”.

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Review: “Star Cursed (Cahill Witch Chronicles #2)” by Jessica Spotswood


16101026Title: “Star Cursed (Cahill Witch Chronicles #2)”

Author: Jessica Spotswood

Genre: YA, historical, alternate universe/parallel timelines, paranormal

Publication Date: June 18, 2013 (Penguin – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Summary: With the Brotherhood persecuting witches like never before, a divided Sisterhood desperately needs Cate to come into her Prophesied powers. And after Cate’s friend Sachi is arrested for using magic, a war-thirsty Sister offers to help her find answers—if Cate is willing to endanger everyone she loves.

Cate doesn’t want to be a weapon, and she doesn’t want to involve her friends and Finn in the Sisterhood’s schemes. But when Maura and Tess join the Sisterhood, Maura makes it clear that she’ll do whatever it takes to lead the witches to victory. Even if it means sacrifices. Even if it means overthrowing Cate. Even if it means all-out war.

In the highly anticipated sequel to Born Wicked, the Cahill Witch Chronicles continue Cate, Maura and Tess’s quest to find love, protect family, and explore their magic against all odds in an alternate history of New England.

☆: 4.5/5 stars – an awesome continuation to the first book!

Review: Oh my god, those last two pages, you guys – DEFINITELY makes this book a candidate for my best of 2013 for that alone, but this book takes many risks, and I love that Spotswood wasn’t afraid to go into some of the darker places that other sequels would have avoided. It made me love this book, this world, these characters all the more. This one’s going to kick your feels right in the feels, guys, so hold on as we go into rocky territory in “Star Cursed”. I’m absolutely chomping at the bit for book three NOW.

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Review: Night School by C.J. Daugherty


Night School UKTitle: Night School

Author: C.J. Daugherty

Genre:  YA Contemporary, Gothic, Thriller, Mystery

Publication Date: January 1, 2012 (UK); May 21, 2013 (US)

Source: Borrowed

Synopsis: Allie Sheridan’s world is falling apart. Her brother’s run away from home. Her parents ignore her. And she’s just been arrested.

Again.

This time her parents have had enough. They cut her off from her friends and send her away to boarding school, far from her London friends.

But at Cimmeria Academy, Allie is soon caught up in the strange activities of a secret group of elite students.

When she’s attacked late one night the incident sets off a chain of increasingly violent events. As the school begins to seem like a very dangerous place, she finds out that nothing at Cimmeria is what it seems to be.

And that she is not who she thought she was.

☆: 1.5/5 stars – The Gothic elements are all right sorts of chilling, but the content itself is all the WRONG sorts of chilling.

“Carter must think I’m a complete slapper (UK version, 53% on my Nook).”

Think about this. “Slapper” is generally British slang for “slut” now. This line is thought after Allie and Carter talk about how Sylvain (Allie’s other love interest) tried to rape her, Allie says it was her fault she nearly got raped, and Carter was content to let her blame herself. After all, he tried to tell her not to trust Sylvain but never gave her any hint as to why. All this and Allie’s worry is that Carter will think she’s a slut because a guy got her drunk and tried to rape her.

Two books of outrageously offensive bull in a row is bad for me and believe it or not, it gets worse from there. Night School is an overlong book that promotes rape culture and has no idea how not to fall into petty mean girl drama, general girl-hate, cliches, and boarding school shenanigans other books have done so much better.

The Gothic atmosphere Daugherty develops with her words and story is convincing and enchanting. Though spoilers told me ahead of time if it’s paranormal or not, there were still moments that made me wonder if it really might be what I thought it was. That “is it or isn’t it?” question is the most important thing for any Gothic novel of this type and in that respect, it succeeds. This is all that made reading Night School worth it, sadly.

The characters themselves are flat like cardboard, some so much so that they were literally nothing but names to me. They have no appearances in my mind’s eye, they have little use in the novel itself other than to tell Allie stuff or turn against her or die, and Allie is more interested in the idea that a guy is in love with her than people plotting to frame her for someone’s murder. Really? Also, for someone as used to being in trouble as Allie is, she adjusts to a new school with very strict rules too quickly for it to work. Her love interests are flat too, but they get their own section once I get to the disgusting stuff because they’re both gross beyond belief.

Night School is a bloated novel someone forgot to take the editing scissors to. If this novel were a little better or more original, that might be a problem, but it’s not and it’s not. Stories about boarding school shenanigans are more than familiar to me; over the years, many of them have crossed my computer screen and done the same cliches Daugherty relies on much better by playing with them, subverting them, and/or challenging them. Using them as unironically as this novel does creates anything but an entertaining experience.

It gets even less entertaining when I remember the stories that did it better were free and some of the authors who wrote them were teenagers.

The novel is also rife with internalized misogyny. Sylvain says Allie is unlike “other girls” and that, my friends, is one of the most commonplace examples of internalized misogyny in our society. Have this gif I found on Tumblr to explain why:

Courtesy of lesleypowers.tumblr.com via zeroissues.tumblr.com

Katie is the requisite mean girl with acolytes (that exact word is used!), a way of being cartoonishly mean, and the ability to turn one of Allie’s friends against her and spread nasty rumors. The three female friends Allie has at the start are disposed of by death or near-death and the one and a half (a friendship with one girl lacks development and counts as half) are once again flat and there to serve specific purposes: one to give us other students’ backgrounds, the other to… I can’t remember, honestly. She might not have a purpose after all.

The next part is one I’ve often seen people put in spoilers or not talked about altogether, but it’s not a spoiler about anything important and it needs to be talked about openly for a conversation to start about it, just as the larger problems they’re part of need to be openly talked about in society if we’re supposed to do anything about them.

Sylvain is his own category of awful. At a dance, he gets Allie drunk and tries to rape her. We don’t see him for a while after that, but then he turns turns up to apologize–but he calls what he did to her being rough with her, not trying to rape her. That alone proves to me he isn’t sorry, but he also admits he did similar things to girls before Allie came along. Regardless, Allie forgives him, he gets back into her good graces, and at the end, we’re supposed to feel sorry for him because his feelings for Allie are unrequired. THIS IS RAPE CULTURE AND IT’S BAD FOR WOMEN. STOP IT. JUST STOP IT.

Carter is only slightly better. Slightly. He’s one of those love interests who acts like he hates the lead but is actually crushing on her hardcore or passionately in love with her. Not my favorite trope unless it’s done right. What puts him on my bad side is how he tells Allie not to trust Sylvain, gives her no reason why when he’s showing no signs of being his true self (next paragraph), and then allows Allie to blame herself after Sylvain tries to rape her. He himself blames her for what happened to her! It’s one thing if what you’re telling a person not to do without a reason why is touching the stove. It’s another when you’re trying to stop them from going on a date with a guy you know will try to rape them.

I can’t even work up outrage over all this because there’s none left right now. This book and the offensive novel that came before it completely drained me. I register offensive content still, but I can’t Hulk Smash Night School when it deserves it. Boy, does this novel deserve it.

This book comes out in the US May 21 and thanks to a friend reading that version, I know there have been a few elements changed already. Let’s hope the rape culture got toned down and made fifty times less offensive. Best of all would be for it to be removed entirely, but there’s not much hope for that. Books like this leave me hopeless.

Review: “Ashes on the Waves” by Mary Lindsey


12368123Title: “Ashes on the Waves”

Author: Mary Lindsey

Genre: YA, Gothic, Retellings, PNR

Publication Date: June 27, 2013 (Penguin – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Summary: Liam MacGregor is cursed. Haunted by the wails of fantastical Bean Sidhes and labeled a demon by the villagers of Dòchas, Liam has accepted that things will never get better for him—until a wealthy heiress named Annabel Leighton arrives on the island and Liam’s fate is changed forever.

With Anna, Liam finally finds the happiness he has always been denied; but, the violent, mythical Otherworlders, who inhabit the island and the sea around it, have other plans. They make a wager on the couple’s love, testing its strength through a series of cruel obstacles. But the tragedies draw Liam and Anna even closer. Frustrated, the creatures put the couple through one last trial—and this time it’s not only their love that’s in danger of being destroyed.

Based on Edgar Allan Poe’s chilling poem Annabel Lee, Mary Lindsey creates a frighteningly beautiful gothic novel that glorifies the power of true love.

☆: 4.5/5 stars – an awesome retelling of “Annabel Lee”!

Review: How much do I love this book? It was everything I was hoping for and more. Poe’s “Annabel Lee” is one of my favorite of his works, and you can imagine I was super excited to see a YA book based on that extremely sad, grim poem. And Mary Lindsey did him proud with “Ashes on the Waves”, a book full of ghosts, monsters, mobs, and the question: what makes us human? I absolutely adored “Ashes on the Waves”, and I hope you do too.

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