House of Furies (House of Furies, #1)

29736099First Lines: My name is Louisa Rose Ditton.  I work and live at Coldthistle House, a house for boarders and wanderers.  A house owned by the Devil.

I’m going to start by saying that I’ve never read anything by Madeleine Roux before, but I always hear about her.  My students love the Asylum series; I just haven’t gotten around to it.  So when I had the chance to read this as an ARC from Edelweiss, I jumped at the chance.  (The book officially released yesterday…I’m only a little behind.)

After escaping from an abusive boarding school for girls, Louisa is grateful to find work as a maid at the Coldthistle House.  But soon after arriving, she realizes that things aren’t right here.  Things that go bump in the night are actually real…and dangerous.  The owner, Mr. Morningside, isn’t simply interested in taking in boarders; he’s out for revenge.  He and the staff pass judgment on those who are too far gone to be saved and execute them.  Quickly, Louisa begins to fear for a kind and charismatic young man named Lee.  She doesn’t think he deserves the ultimate judgment, so it’s up to her to prove he’s innocent.  But in a house owned by the Devil, how can Louisa know who to trust?

Let’s take a little stroll through my likes and dislikes.

I really liked the concept. Set in the 1800s, the Devil owns a mansion and exacts revenge against people who commit atrocious crimes. Alright, that sounds interesting. Pour on top of that a healthy mix of supernatural beings who add flavor to this story and you have something guaranteed to catch my attention (and apparently make me use food-related metaphors). I love supernatural stories, and the weirder the better. This wasn’t the weirdest thing I’d ever read, but it had its moments. And I’m all for that.

I really liked the cast of minor characters. Louisa’s friend Lee was sweet and open in a way that contrasted nicely with the world that she’d grown up in and the one she currently found herself in. He was innocence in all the darkness. And the others in the mansion like Poppy, Mary, and Chijioke were interesting counters to what was happening as well. Even though they were part of it all.

What I didn’t like may be a slightly longer list.

I wasn’t crazy about Louisa, the main character. She spent a lot of her time being in denial, which seemed to just make the story longer and more boring because she’s hearing things from twenty different directions and she’s choosing to ignore them all. It was annoying, even if I understood her motivations. She was also a pretty typical maiden-in-distress that only sometimes was able to save herself. Look, I know in the 1800s it was seen more that women needed men to save them. We’ve got plenty of fairytales from that period that proves it. And I’ll admit that I’m getting used to historical novels where the women are gutsy and strong. But I still believe there had to be women throughout history (and more than just a handful) that could save themselves, especially girls like Louisa who were poor and beaten down. Those are your fighters and she just wasn’t.

I thought the plot was slow and unsurprising. The book jacket basically tells you everything big that happens in the book, so there were no twists or big reveals. And the “twists” that were there were hardly what I would call surprising. There was no sense of suspense at all throughout this entire story. Ok, maybe once or twice, but it didn’t last very long.

I also thought some of the writing choices were strange. We get to read excerpts from a guide Louisa finds and they come at the beginning of many of the chapters. However, sometimes those excerpts were longer than the chapters themselves and by the time I got done with the excerpt, I’d forgotten what was happening in the chapter before. So it made the story feel a bit choppy and then I tended to forget about what the excerpts had said because there was no context for it in the story and it didn’t seem to fit with the action anyway. (They do come into play later, but not for a long long time.)

A point that’s neither here nor there but is worth mentioning is that I had an ARC copy, which means a lot of the interior pictures were not there. The illustrations for Morningside’s book were there, but photographs/other artwork were not. So I know I’m missing out on something that probably could have enhanced my reading of this book. C’est la vie.

Overall, I just wasn’t very impressed by this. It wasn’t scary, I couldn’t really get into the main character’s mindset, and the action really never went anywhere.

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Thoughts on Episode 1 of Still Star-Crossed

So yesterday I posted about how excited I was about this show because of how much I love the book.  And I made sure that I was sitting in front of the TV right on time to watch this.

Initial reaction to the episode: Meh.

There was too much going on.  I know that not everyone is an amateur Shakespearean scholar like myself, but I thought reviewing what happened in the end of Romeo and Juliet was kind of boring.  Not to mention they changed things, like virtually entirely cutting Nurse out of it all and putting Rosaline in her place.  I understand why the show did it, but c’mon.  Authenticity.

And all the characters still feel like stereotypes.  There are so many characters being introduced at this point that there was no room for depth.  At. All.  Everyone feels like a caricature.

Anyway, there was way too much going on in this show.  I know they’re trying to introduce all the characters and the conflict between the families and all that, but I never knew where to look!  Constant sword fights, throwing faces our way that we don’t really recognize yet and hoping that we can follow along, rapid-fire plot twists.  I’ve read the play many times, the book twice, and I still had trouble following it.  I don’t even know how newbies are doing with this.

I still think there’s a lot of potential here.  I’m hoping it’s just the pilot that’s too rushed.  They were showing scenes from the rest of the season at the end of this episode and I think it could very easily sink into a really good story.  But it’s going to have to do that soon because right now it feels a lot like a soap opera.  (And yes, I realize that’s also basically how Shakespeare wrote his tragedies.  But his never unfolded quite this quickly.)

Still Star-Crossed–Coming to TV Tonight!!

Hey guys, so if you’ve been following me long, you know that I’m a pretty big English nerd (you may have picked up on that simply because I have a blog entirely devoted to books, but just in case you didn’t notice).  And one thing I completely geek out over is Shakespeare.

So when I heard that this beauty, Still Star-Crossed by Melinda Taub, was going to be turned into a TV show by Shonda Rhimes, well, this was a no-brainer.  I’ve read the book twice and I’m super excited to see how this show adapts it.

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“Two households, both alike in dignity, in fair Verona, where we lay our scene.”

If you haven’t heard about this show or the book, it’s basically life in Verona after Romeo and Juliet kill themselves.  Remember, the Prince made the Montagues and the Capulets swear that the fighting would be over now that it had claimed so many lives.

But, of course, it doesn’t.  At least in this adaptation.  So the prince needs to fight dirty, and he decides that there needs to be another cross-family marriage.  Needless to say, no one is happy about that, least of all the couple to be wed.

The book is gorgeous, if you haven’t read it.  I love the characters and the way the story is written.  I’m always in the mood to pick this back up because there are some really interesting twists in it that I didn’t see coming the first time and really change your feelings toward the characters from the original play.  In interesting ways, let’s just say.

Anyway, the show airs TONIGHT on ABC at 10 PM Eastern time and I’m totally pumped.  I will probably be back on here tomorrow talking about my reactions to the first episode.  I’m just going to drop the extended trailer down here.  It gives you a better idea of what the show is than the 30 second commercials.  Enjoy!  Drop a comment to share your thoughts!

 

The 5th Wave (The 5th Wave, #1)

512and8xm0l-_sx331_bo1204203200_First Lines: Aliens are stupid.  I’m not talking about real aliens.  The Others aren’t stupid.  The Others are so far ahead of us, it’s like comparing the dumbest human to the smartest dog.  No contest.

Look at me, knocking out books left and right!  That’s because IT’S SUMMER VACATION!  So hopefully this means I’ll get back to normal with all these reviews.  I’ve got a huge backlog of ARCs and new releases that I’m working on.  So sit back and watch me read!  (Wait…that sounds kinda boring…)  Anyway, this was a book my students are always reading and I needed to see what was up with it.  Literally all I knew about it before starting it was it was a movie and there were aliens.  That’s it.

Four waves of an alien invasion have basically wiped out the human population.  If Cassie has learned anything so far, it’s to trust no one.  And with the 5th wave just beginning, she knows that only the strongest and smartest will survive…and she’s determined to be in that group.  To stay alone is to stay alive, since the Others can look just like humans.  But that all changes when she meets Evan Walker.  He is Cassie’s only hope for saving her brother.  So Cassie has to choose: stay alone and miserable with little hope of saving her brother but staying alive herself or joining up with Evan to save her brother but putting herself more at risk?

Boy, did it take a while to get into the story. I was stuck in the beginning for the longest time, even stopping to read another book in between because it just wasn’t going anywhere. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the biggest fan of alien stories unless there’s something else about the story to grab my interest. And at the beginning of this, I wasn’t finding that “something else”. It wasn’t until the end of Part II that I started feeling like we were getting somewhere.

It wasn’t that I didn’t like Cassie as a character. I think she’s strong and fierce, especially when she has to deal with the entire world collapsing around her. It’s pretty awesome how she manages through it all. The beginning is this weird mash between Cassie’s past before the invasion and her living alone in the woods trying not to go crazy. And the longer the story went on, the more I liked her.

The story is told from multiple perspectives, which were sometimes hard to keep straight because it never comes out and tells you who is speaking. You have to figure it out. But for the most part, it’s not terribly difficult. The weirdest thing is that one of them is sorta told in 2nd person, which never really happens. And it’s just different.

The minor characters were great as well. I don’t want to get too far into the details because I think half of the fun of this is not knowing what’s coming. (Somehow, even with a movie out, I managed to completely not know what this book was about besides aliens.) But I found the characters to be intelligent and clever and resourceful. Exactly the characteristics someone surviving in an apocalyptic world should have. If they were idiots, they’d be dead.

The action of the story, once you get past the beginning, is actually pretty interesting. We’re basically in the middle of a war zone, humans vs. aliens. So constant battles, injuries, and suspense about who we can trust. It’s always moving. My one complaint about the action is that the constantly switching perspectives sometimes means that something exciting happens and then you have to read an entire part to get back to that. It felt like it slowed things down rather than keeping me in suspense, which I think was the point. I was way more likely to put the book down when it did that than when I could just stick with Cassie.

Sure, aliens aren’t really my thing, but this book was pretty good. I can see why so many of my students kept telling me to keep reading when I told them it was going so slow.

The Great Pursuit (Eurona Duology, #2)

thegreatpursuitfinalFirst Lines: A new beast roamed the kingdom of Lochlanach, killing at will.

Sorry the first line is so short, but any more than that and I started having spoilers from the previous book and really, who wants that?  So today is my OFFICIAL FIRST DAY OF SUMMER VACATION.  Thank God.  Not that I don’t love my kiddos, but I am desperately in need of a break.  And I’m way backlogged on my books.  Hopefully, that means I get a lot of reading done soon!

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

The kingdom of Lochlanach may have managed to destroy the beast that hunted their land, but they have traded that for an enemy so devious and vicious that she may just destroy the world as they know it.  Rozaria Rocato is beautiful, dangerous, and clever.  And she’s offering Paxton Seabolt a future and power that he never imagined having.  But all of that comes at the expense of his home and his love, Princess Aerity.  Lochlanach is ruled by traditionalists who don’t want things to change, even in the face of extinction.  When dire circumstances force Aerity’s hand, she realizes that now is the time to make big decisions for the sake of her kingdom before Rozaria can further destroy them.  One hunt may have ended, but another is about to begin.

I’m not used to two-book series, but I will say that I am kind of digging them. The action in this one was always moving because, hello, all the loose ends needed to be wrapped up by the end of the book. So we had a good conflict/cliff hanger to from the end of the last book to lead into this one and then it was off and running. There really wasn’t ever a dull moment or a time when I thought the action was being drawn out as a filler. So that was awesome.

I really like the strength of the characters in this book, especially the female cast. Aerity is stubborn and determined enough to do whatever she thinks is best, but she still worries all the time about making the wrong decisions. That was a nice weakness to give her strength. Vixie and Wyneth really grew as characters in this book and I loved that. I didn’t really remember them that much from the first book, so I liked seeing that change. And, of course, I adore Pax. Just as stubborn as Aerity, he’s got a real self-deprecating streak that makes him more real.

I will say that Higgins knows how to write characters. I’ve always felt that, even from the Sweet series. She writes characters that have real motivations, believable personalities (in terms of their strengths, weaknesses, and actions), and great hearts. The characters she writes are always endearing.

I think the ending of this book felt reasonable. There were a few twists and turns I didn’t see coming. Since this is only a two book series, I did feel like the big resolution came early, just because I’m so used to waiting so long for it. But the action was well-paced, exciting, and easy to follow. It was interesting and I did have to stop at one point or I wouldn’t have gotten any sleep until I finished it.

This was really good. I’m glad I’ve got another series I can cross off my list.

Alex, Approximately

30312700First Lines: He could be any of these people.  After all, I don’t know what Alex looks like.  I don’t even know his real name.

Hello everyone!  I hope you and your mamas had a great Mother’s Day weekend!  This girl finally managed to finish the monstrous nonfiction book she was reading and decided it was definitely time to go YA again.  She is also referring to herself in the 3rd person.  Please excuse this; it has been a very trying few weeks.  (Less than 2 weeks of school left and then it’s all summer reading!)

Bailey Rydell loves classic movies with all her heart, and what could be better than finding a like-minded person to share that love with?  Bailey has been talking to a stranger named Alex online for months, gushing over the classics.  When Bailey moves across the country to live with her dad in what is coincidentally Alex’s hometown, she’s racked with doubts.  What if Alex isn’t as amazing in person as he is online?  What if he’s actually a creep?  So she keeps her move a secret and begins life in her new home.  But life would be so much easier if she wasn’t always heckled by Porter Roth, the security guard at her new museum job.  He may be her archenemy, but Bailey’s going to see how fine the line is between hatred, love, and whatever’s happening between her and Porter.  As the summer goes by, Bailey must decide between her online crush and the one forming in real life.  This decision is simpler and more complicated than she knows, because Porter is Alex…approximately.

This was adorable! I really enjoyed it from start to finish!

Bailey is a bit different from a lot of protagonists. She deems herself the “Artful Dodger” (a reference to Charles Dickens if you caught that) because of her avoidance of fights, awkward conversations, and general avoidance of difficult moments. And she has this trait basically the whole book. A lot of protagonists who say this aren’t actually avoiders. But Bailey is. And I enjoyed this for two reasons: A) as a fellow dodger, it was so awesome to read about someone else who is uncomfortable in certain situations and just think You get it! and B) it shows the downside of being a dodger in so many different ways. And, as someone who tends to be a dodger, sometimes I need this reminder myself.  It was just great to see someone with what basically amounts to introversion actually be an introvert.

The plot was incredibly interesting. Bailey moves across the country to live with her dad, who is geeky but actually a good parent (shocking for a YA novel). She meets Porter, a security guard at her new job and deems him her new archenemy…until she gets to know him a little better. (Very When Harry Met Sally, to stick with the theme of classic movies.) Mostly it’s about her life in this new town, but it’s interesting. She’s dealing with stuff with herself, with friendships, and with her family. So there was never a lack of things going on.

The writing is great as well. I felt like I was invested enough in the story to constantly stick with it as well as the fact that the story was well-explained. What I mean by that is there are tons of references to old movies from the 40s and 50s. The plots of these were explained in a way to allow us to see the parallels between the movies and the plot of this book. I could easily follow along with who all the characters were, where everything was, and what was going on. There’s humor in the story and the descriptions are quite good as well. Oh, and no info-dumps! It teases things out, even when you pretty much know what’s going to happen. It was fun to read.

This story also manages to cover a series of pretty serious topics, but in a classy way.  I mean, things from more (seemingly) mild problems like trust issues and friendships to more difficult ones that I really don’t want to spoil.  They were all covered with respect and in a way that didn’t make you feel uncomfortable in the slightest.  I’m actually pretty surprised by how subtle it all was because these were issues that characters dealt with daily rather than just being awkward teaching moments.

This was just so much fun to read.  Perfect for your summer.  But be warned (and I say this from personal experience and the many reviews of this I’ve seen), you’ll have a hard time putting it down.

The Catastrophic History of You and Me

11387392First Lines: There’s always that one guy who gets a hold on you.  Not like your best friend’s brother who gets you in a headlock kind of hold.  Or the little kid you’re babysitting who attaches himself to your leg kind of hold.  I’m talking epic.  Life changing.

I know this book is older (it was published in 2012 and it’s been on my to-read list since 2011), but it’s always been one of those books that I’ve sort of had my eye on.  I was scanning the library shelves one day and grabbed this because, you know, it’s been a while since I’ve read about death.  (That wasn’t weird, right?)  Anyway, I really wanted to give this book a chance.

Brie had everything going for her: a great group of friends, the perfect boyfriend, and diving skills that could have taken her to the Olympics.  But when her boyfriend tells her he doesn’t love her anymore and it literally breaks her heart, all of her dreams are gone, just like her.  And death isn’t easy to deal with.  While trying to come to grips with the fact that she’s no longer one of the living, her family back in Half Moon Bay is falling apart.  Her best friend has been keeping secrets about Jacob, Brie’s boyfriend–and the truth behind the betrayal that broke her heart.  With the help of Patrick, a fellow soul and sometimes guide through the afterlife, Brie tries to understand what happened and why.  But how can you pick up the pieces when you’re broken yourself?

Right from the beginning, I liked Brie. She’s not perfect, but you tend to forgive her her faults because we meet her just as she’s reeling from her death.  I don’t think anyone expects their life to be over at 15 and Brie certainly wasn’t.  It puts her in a bad mood quite often (understandably), but it’s all within reason.  She never came across to me as a diva or drama queen.  Just a lost girl who wanted to be living her life.

The crafting of this story was really well done. Brie’s path toward understanding and moving on from her death felt realistic and really never moved into the cliche like it so easily could have. Instead, she feels everything I would expect her to feel: angry, sad, betrayed, lost, miserable, forgotten, hopeless. (It’s a pretty dark read at times. I was in tears multiple times from beginning to end.) But on top of that, you get a real sense of hope as well. Like that there are better things out there after death, and that our loved ones don’t forget us when we’re gone. It was tragically beautiful.

The writing was really well done as well, shifting from present to past and with subtle foreshadowing sprinkled in from time to time.  I knew that there were a few things that were going to happen from the foreshadowing, but it was vague enough that I couldn’t quite piece together exactly what it was.  It was just really well written and enjoyable.

I really enjoyed all of the characters in this story, from her best friends to her boyfriend to her family and the spirits she meets after her death. Everyone had a backstory and a realistic motivation to be who they were and they weren’t just flat stereotypical characters. I keep saying this over and over, but it was delightfully written. Even though it’s dark.

I thought this was just amazing. I had a really hard time putting it down.  If you haven’t read this before, you really need to.