ARC Review: Team Human

Team HumanTeam Human by Justine Larbalestier & Sara Rees Brennan
Genre: Young Adult – Paranormal
Received: Amazon Vine
Originally Reviewed: February 20, 2013
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Description (via Amazon):

Readers who love vampire romances will be thrilled to devour Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan. Team Human celebrates and parodies the Twilight books, as well as other classics in the paranormal romance genre.

Mel is horrified when Francis Duvarney, arrogant, gorgeous, and undead, starts at her high school. Mel’s best friend, Cathy, immediately falls for the vampire. Cathy is determined to be with him forever, even if having him turn her could inadvertently make her a zombie.

And Mel is equally determined to prove to her BFF that Francis is no good, braving the city’s vampire district and kissing a cute boy raised by vampires as she searches evidence in this touching and comic novel.

*****

As I started reading Team Human, I couldn’t help but feel this was written as a good-natured poke at Twilight and all the vampire ridiculata left in its wake. However, the story leaves its parodying fairly early on and becomes a book in its own right, with characters who have flaws and an interesting world with its own set of rules. All the while written with wit, feeling, and reality.

Mel Duan is the protagonist of the book, who is full of character flaws. She is prejudiced against vampires, rude, thinks she always knows the right thing to do, and is a big buttinsky (I call her Meddling Mel). She’s also caring, loyal, helpful, well-meaning, funny, and charming in her own way. Basically, Mel is a real human being. There are two main storylines in the book, the first one about her BFF, Cathy, and her relationship with an uptight vampire. The other dealing with a mystery involving another close friend and her parents. Both are incorporated into the story well, as are the smaller B-plots. Mel doesn’t always come across in a very good light, which helps me fall into the world and believe it could be true. Nothing takes me out of a story more than an unrealistically perfect character. Not one of the characters in this book is like that, even Cathy, who does come close. I also love the fact that Mel would typically be the sidekick in any other story and Cathy the main character who falls in love with a vampire. Instead it’s the other way around, so we see the over-the-top relationship from the outside, and also from Mel’s rather small-minded point-of-view. It’s a great idea that luckily works thanks to the talented authors.

The book moves along nicely without seeming hasty, it has lessons that aren’t heavy-handed, it features love aspects but it isn’t a love story, and most importantly, it has character evolution and believable characters, mainly Mel herself. In the end I was surprised that I had gotten so caught up in outcome of the story and actually cared what happened to these people. Kudos, I’ll definitely be reading more from both Sarah Rees Brennan and Justine Larbalestier, and can only hope they conspire to write another book in the future.

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Review: The Christmas Killer

The Christmas KillerThe Christmas Killer by Patricia Windsor

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Christmas Killer (aka The Dream Killer) was a Point Horror book I missed out reading when I was younger, so decided to pick it up to enjoy this holiday season (yes, I am sick). Rosecleer Potter is a normal, everyday fifteen-year-old girl who has a twin brother, Jerram, and loves to dance. She also just happens to have developed the ability to talk, through dreams, to the recently departed, which starts when an acquaintance disappears and whose body turns up murdered in the woods. Now, as the body count rises, Rose has to figure out how to use her power before the killer gets to her.

The first paragraph almost caused me to rethink my expectations of enjoyment I’d get from the book. The sentences were short and choppy, and if the whole book had been written this way, I don’t think I’d have managed to get through it. Fortunately for me, it didn’t turn out that way at all. Although there were more short, fragmented sentences, they were few and far between and seemed more of a style choice than anything else.

Rose was a good choice as a lead and had both positive and negative attributes to her personality. She was generally nice but could have moments of cattiness or where her temper got the best of her, which made her more believable. I can’t say any of the characters are over-developed, but they are described enough to get a rough sketch of who they are as a person, and there are moments of truth in many of their actions, e.g. the mother’s freaking out, the father’s clamming up, and the brother’s withdrawal and secretiveness. The atmosphere is done extremely well. Even though I don’t remember many actual descriptions, I got the feeling of a small town, its claustrophobia, and sense of impending doom all the same.

I have to admit this book surprised me. I went in expecting more of the slasher-type YA horrors I read as a youngster, and was handed a more mature, psychological suspense horror read instead. The plot flows well and has enough clues and red herrings to keep most readers interested. As someone who has read a lot of mysteries, I did figure it out, but it could have gone many ways and still have been satisfying. The ending is the only weak point as it was a bit abrupt and maybe too open-ended, but that’s a minor niggle and didn’t affect my enjoyment much. As far as I’ve been able to tell, there is no sequel, which might be for the best. The Christmas Killer was a quick and easy chiller that kept me entertained throughout and I’d recommend it for those who like creepy teen reads.

Originally Reviewed: December 29, 2012
Received: Library

@ Amazon

ARC Review: Slide (Slide, Book One) by Jill Hathaway

Slide (Slide, #1)Slide by Jill Hathaway
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Book Descripton (via Amazon):

Vee Bell is certain of one irrefutable truth—her sister’s friend Sophie didn’t kill herself. She was murdered.

Vee knows this because she was there. Everyone believes Vee is narcoleptic, but she doesn’t actually fall asleep during these episodes: When she passes out, she slides into somebody else’s mind and experiences the world through that person’s eyes. She’s slid into her sister as she cheated on a math test, into a teacher sneaking a drink before class. She learned the worst about a supposed “friend” when she slid into her during a school dance. But nothing could have prepared Vee for what happens one October night when she slides into the mind of someone holding a bloody knife, standing over Sophie’s slashed body.

Vee desperately wishes she could share her secret, but who would believe her? It sounds so crazy that she can’t bring herself to tell her best friend, Rollins, let alone the police. Even if she could confide in Rollins, he has been acting distant lately, especially now that she’s been spending more time with Zane.

Enmeshed in a terrifying web of secrets, lies, and danger and with no one to turn to, Vee must find a way to unmask the killer before he or she strikes again.

*****

Slide features an intriguing idea though the results left me with mixed feelings. The concept is awesome, but the execution? Yeah, not so much. The writing is serviceable, neither bad nor great and it didn’t draw me into the story straightaway. Both the way it is written and the storyline reminds me of some of the books I read as a pre-teen/teen way back during the Pleistocene epoch, otherwise known as the 1990s, with authors like Christopher Pike, R.L. Stine, Diane Hoh, Lois Duncan, Richie Tankersley Cusick, among others. It especially seems to fall right in between Pike and Stine. While the writing is more mature than Stine’s, it’s not quite as sophisticated as Pike’s. The mystery is weak, and by the end, seems pointless as it’s totally anti-climactic, over in a flash, like it was written just to finish the book up, and absurdly contrived. The whole ending is totally ludicrous and unbelievable. The clues leading up to it are obvious and not incorporated into the story well at all. These clues were so glaring they all but had a flashing sign pointing to them in cartoon-like fashion whenever they fell into the main character’s path. Sylvia a.k.a. Vee wasn’t written as a dummy, at first, but boy she was an absolute idiot about those clues and putting two and two together, or really much of anything until it slapped her in the face. While Vee is sympathetic, I can’t say I felt much of anything for her, and even less for anyone else in book because of their lack of depth. No one is explained in any detail, either personality or looks, motivations, or whatever. Just a brief shallow summary if lucky. Speaking of…. What has happened in books today where there are no descriptions of how anybody looks, except “I have pink hair,” “his blonde hair,” or some other toss away adjective? I’ve seen it over and over again and all I’m left with is the visualization that these people have no faces, much like that episode of Doctor Who (The Idiot’s Lantern). Frankly it’s all rather creepy.

I feel like this could have been a great book if it was longer (the copy I read is only 250 pages of at least 1.5 spaced lines) and had much more depth. Add in a couple more suspects, motivations, etc., and maybe a little more information on Vee’s “sliding” powers. Unfortunately it’s only an “okay” read that’s easy and moves at a rapid pace. I didn’t hate the book by any means, it’s just not one that’ll stick in my head for more than a few days. On the plus side I love the cover composition and colors, so kudos to the artist(s). This works fine as a standalone, but is now part of a series, for some unfathomable reason. Frankly, I’m getting sick of every book that comes out, most usually in the YA genre, becoming a series. It’s ridiculous how few standalone books there are anymore. Still, even with all my grumbling about the numerous series and everything else, I think I will check out Impostor, the second book in the Slide series, as it sounds interesting. Who knows, this might have just been the stepping stone to bigger and better things. Although if Vee is as stupid as she was in this one, I’m outta there.

2.5 stars

Originally Reviewed: October 16, 2012
Received: Amazon Vine

ARC Review: The Wicked and the Just

The Wicked and the JustThe Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Wicked and the Just doesn’t have much in the way of a plot, it more focuses on the everyday lives of two very different girls in 13th century Wales, one who’s English and lives inside the walls of Caernarvon, the other a Welsh servant, who lives outside the walls, than on any particular focal point. This changes in the latter part of the book when an event that has been gnawing at the fringes suddenly erupts.

My first impression of Cecily is that she’s a colossal brat. She’s English, thinks she’s better than the Welsh (while also fearing they’re going to kill her) and her so-called “betters” as well, pouts and connives to get her father to do as she wants, complains…a lot, and doesn’t seem to like anyone other than the friends she was forced to leave behind, her father (sometimes), and her dog. But can you blame her if that’s how she was raised and didn’t know any better? My feelings about her ran the gamut, as did her behavior, it had its ups and downs as does just about anyone. She can be quite funny with her sly remarks or thoughts, but she can also be cruel, kind, loathsome, understanding, and pathetic. Everytime I thought I was about to like her, she’d do something terrible and I thought her lower than dirt, then she’d have her eyes opened to see her surroundings and then she didn’t seem so bad. It went like that quite a lot, and by the end, I felt quite bad for her. Gwinny, on the other hand, though while I didn’t like her exactly, I understood her right away and sympathized with her position. She is one angry and vengeful person, who through sheer willpower, somehow manages to hold most of it back. The sections told through her eyes are usually shorter than Cecily’s, but they get right to the point and have enough information that I didn’t feel anything necessary was excluded. The interactions between the two girls are fraught with dislike, loathing, and begrudging understanding, before it all starts over again. Until the last section the characters are the main plot, where after that point the story really explodes into a fast-paced, suspenseful read, which I’ll not spoil if you’re not familiar with that part of history (I wasn’t). You couldn’t tear this book from my hand during these last sixty pages if you tried, I was absolutely riveted. The emotions were high, the situations scary, and more than anything it made me grateful. Grateful to have a roof over my head, grateful for the food I can afford to eat, just grateful all around that I don’t have to live as the Welsh did, as many others did in the course of history. A word of warning, as with changing circumstances in life there is no concrete ending to the story, which suits the book well. It ends while just beginning and I can’t think of a more fitting finish to the story. A good, solid, thought-provoking novel that has a possible crossover appeal to both history-loving teens and adults.

Originally reviewed: September 10
Received: Amazon Vine

Review: Vixen (Flappers, No. 1)

Vixen (Flappers, #1)Vixen by Jillian Larkin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.75 stars

Once upon a time there were three beautiful girls who went to the best schools (and speakeasies), and they were each assigned booze and clothes that are the cat’s meow. But the flapper lifestyle took them into different directions and now they work to find out who they are and what makes them truly happy. My name is Vixen.

And so you’ve been introduced to the first installment of The Flappers series Charlie’s Angels’ style (the best I was able to come up with anyway).

Meet our Angels Vixens:

Gloria
She’s the one who has it all: the name, riches, looks, clothes, a handsome fiancee, everything comes easily to her, and everybody seemingly loves her. But this poor little rich girl isn’t so happy after all and so she begins to rebel.

Clara
Burned by her former flapper lifestyle, she’s now trying to start over as “Country Clara” without her sordid past coming to light. So has she turned into a goody-two shoes or is it just part of a grander scheme? Only time will tell.

Lorraine
Jealous of best friend, Gloria, she’s desperate to step out of Glo’s shadow to become the center of attention as an individual.

Before getting to my review, there are a few questions that should be addressed:
Is this great literature? No.
Will this book change your life? No.
Will you learn anything from reading this book? No. Well, maybe some twenties’ slang.
Is this book accurate to the period. No, there are some liberties, but it’s good enough as wallpaper to the players and scenes.
Is this book entertaining beyond belief? A resounding YES!

VIXEN is very easy to read and captured my attention from the first page, and while it may not be the best book ever, I had a lot of fun reading it. While there’s nothing glaringly obvious anachronism-wise, I did question some word choices, phrases, and actions, but overall they were easy to overlook and I likened it to watching A Knight’s Tale starring Heath Ledger. Written in third-person, each chapter focuses on one the three girls’ point-of-view, starting with Gloria and continuing with Clara and then Lorraine, throughout the book until the end.

As for the characters, Clara (named after Ms. Clara Bow?) was definitely my favorite to read about, she’s recovering from the aftereffects of her life in New York City (which includes a boy of course), and is trying her best to leave the past behind her and move on with her life. Her story had a lot to offer and she felt like a real person who had made mistakes and was now left dealing with the repercussions. Lorraine was a trainwreck you can’t take your eyes off of, and while I can’t say I liked her, I felt sorry for her. She tries way too hard to stand out and ends up making herself look pathetic; if she keeps it up she’ll turn into a very ugly person whom everyone hates. Forget Gloria, Lorraine is the “real” poor little rich girl of the book. She’s in the middle of making all the wrong decisions and we’re along for the journey, which made her multidimensional and interesting to read about as well. Gloria was my least favorite, mainly because I don’t think the author knew quite how to write her. At one moment Gloria seemed like a good girl rebelling, but then there would be moments where she was a real bitch and those two aspects just didn’t gel into a cohesive whole. Now if she was seemingly sweet on the outside and really was a conniving bitch underneath, then I’d be on board or at least would get it. But she wasn’t that type of bitch and she wasn’t Alexis Carrington-bitchy (or insert less-dated reference here) either. How she was written made her look more like Sybil and didn’t render me to sympathize with her at all. It didn’t help that I felt she was too close to a Mary-Sue for my liking. I don’t like perfect or near-perfect characters, they’re boring and so was she. What was her motivation for anything, such as singing? Was that always a dream or did it just now come about? Is her recent behavior only happening because she’s unhappy? Sorry, but there’s just not enough there to make me care about this character. Gloria needed to be more fleshed out to make her feel like a real human, with real thoughts in her head and real feelings, and not a cliched cardboard cut-out.

The love aspects of the novel were fairly glossed over, mainly Gloria and Jerome’s story, and felt more like teenage hormones than actual real love.
“I don’t know you but you’re hot and I love you.”
“Nothing will keep us apart!”
“We’ll be together forever!”

Which is too bad because I like the idea of an interracial romance taking place in the 1920’s, it could have been fantastic, but instead was tepid and generally unromantic. It didn’t help that half the duo was boring old Gloria and the other half never developed beyond the fact that he’s a black musician who’s forbidden to her due to the color of his skin. I wished for more impact and still hope for that in the next installment of the series. Clara’s budding relationship with Marcus was far more realistic because they actually had conversations *gasp* and was well-paced. The relationships between the girls were touch and go, sometimes they felt authentic, then at other times interactions appeared too advanced to where the relationship had last left off; it was like there were scenes edited out in chunks. The same could be said of the developing romance between Gloria and Jerome.

So a few things bothered me in the book, such as the issue I had with every girl who wasn’t one of the main trio being cattily described, i.e. eyes are close together, that color makes her look sallow, etc. Can we get over doing that already? That’s not encouraging good behavior. A little more positivity would be a refreshing change. Another thing that annoyed me was at one point, the crap hit the fan and *minor spoiler* Gloria’s career as a torch singer, which she’s naturally perfect at (of course), came out into the open. So who does she immediately blame? Her best friend, Lorraine of course, whom she slaps! And who to this point Gloria had no provocation to even think it’d be her who had spilled the beans. Lorraine had not done anything to deserve Gloria’s wrath, or at least nothing she knew about yet, so I don’t know if the author had forgotten that fact or what. It did not make any kind of sense because there were other people who knew what Gloria was up to and others who could have easily found out. To me it was sloppy writing. What kind of friend does that make Gloria anyway? Not one I’d like, who always thinks the worst of her best friend without any miniscule proof of guilt. Told ya she was a bitch. **END SPOILER** There were some minor editing inaccuracies, such as when Gloria’s dress goes from gold sequined to red in less than a page (pages 74-5) but nothing too overt to jar me out of the book altogether. Lastly, perhaps there was a bit too much twenties’ slang that wasn’t always incorporated into the text as smoothly as possible.

Overall, the plots were well-done and moved along at a brisk enough pace that I never got bored. The ending unfolded so that it tied up the multiple plotlines while still keeping plenty of loose ends for the sequel. So, a lot of the book is superficial, in some cases there are caricatures instead of characters, and it is a shallow interpretation of the Roaring Twenties, I don’t care, the book is just plain fun and sometimes that’s all I need. And while I can’t say I loved this book and it totally lived up to its beautiful cover (seriously that dress is gorgeous, though I could do without the pit shot), I was suitably entertained and will read the sequels to find out what happens next, while I keep up the hope that Gloria will turn into a real, live girl.
Originally reviewed: July 8
Received: Local library

Review: Cleopatra’s Moon

Cleopatra's Moon
Cleopatra’s Moon by Vicky Alvear Shecter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cleopatra’s Moon tells the childhood story of Cleopatra Selene, daughter of Marc Antony (Marcus Antonius) and the most famous Cleopatra (VII) in history. The story covers her life from ages six to sixteen, from her parents’ fall from power to the capture of Cleopatra Selene and her brothers to their lives living in Rome.

Catered to the young adult market, Cleopatra’s Moon has a lot to offer older readers as well. While there may not be as much meat on the bones as many adult historical fiction novels have, the history is plentiful and smoothly incorporated into the story. Aside from a few, minor instances, not much Cleopatra Selene said or did stood out as odd and the history seemed sound (though I am far from an expert). The author’s writing style is easy to read, has a nice flow, and the descriptions are well-done; I could easily picture the surroundings, so the scenes came alive for me. She doesn’t shy away from suggestive scenes, making the story feel more realistic, though nothing is described explicitly either. The author is up front about what is and is not fact in the six-page section at the end of book entitled “The Facts Within the Fiction,” which gives the reader more information about the people mentioned within the book. If anyone goes into this book expecting more love story than historical fiction, they will be sadly disappointed. Any love story takes a back seat to Cleopatra Selene’s struggle with both herself and her circumstances in life.

If I had one quibble with the book, it was the children’s and Cleopatra Selene’s voices. The children sounded a bit too mature at times, including Cleopatra Selene when young. Although in her case, it was more her voice didn’t change much throughout the ten years the book covered and it was too familiar. I’ve come across other young adult protagonists that sounded very similar to her, both historical and contemporary, so I was hoping hers would be a bit more distinctive from the rest. Still, it’s a very small thing and I did like Cleo Selene; she wasn’t passive, but she wasn’t aggressive either, she fell somewhere in between the two, which worked well for the book.

After all has been said, Cleopatra’s Moon does what any (good) historical fiction novel should aspire to, it made me want to know more about the time, people, and places.

Borrowed from the library.

(Clicking on the book cover image or title take you to the book’s product page on Amazon)