Monday, June 18, 2012

REVIEW: Don't Call Me Angel by Alicia Wright Brewster

Don't Call Me Angel Don't Call Me Angel by Alicia Wright Brewster
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Spoilers

The writing was good, devoid of typos. The beginning was engaging; the story immediately excited me as I watched Six and Alden — two fallen angels — escaping Hell. To my surprise because the book description didn't mention it, there were 6 comic book-styled, black and white illustrations in the story. Me likee.

I really wanted to like the book because the fallen angel is one of my favorite premises for an Urban Fantasy. So what went wrong with Don't Call Me Angel (DCMA)?

It was the plot. The plot fell short of my expectation, and it wasn't because of its short length of less than 27,000 words. I also had minor issues with the characters.

The Characters

+++ Six, the protagonist

DCMA was told in 1st PoV from Six's side. I liked Six but there were moments when she annoyed me. One example moment was when she cut off her wings so she could put her life as an angel behind once and for all...only to later discover walking was inefficient and she missed the thrill of flying. Another moment, or actually several moments, was when she blacked out after a bloody scene. Six's multiple blackouts made me question how powerful, or weak rather, angels were in comparison to others non-humans because it seem like angels weren't all that great to be.

Six was essentially a tsundere; she was prickly on the outside, compassionate on the inside. The one part of her I did not care for was her impulsiveness. This trait made it slightly difficult for me to believe this was a character who have been planning her escape from Hell for years and years. People who plan should not be impulsive.

+++ Alden, the protagonist's friend turned antagonist

WTF? His character made no sense. He and Six were like best friends, not that the story necessary say it outright but they got to be if Six was willing to take him on her escape from Hell. My thinking was that Hell sucks and it's everyone for themselves if they want to escape. Yet Six put up with Alden.

Then halfway through DCMA, he became the antagonist leading to my biggest problem with the plot.

The Plot

+++ schizo Alden

I had a really hard time believing Alden could become Six's enemy.
Alden and I had exchanged so many blood debts that I’d lost count. I felt safer having him here, if for no other reason except that he was always happy to have me back in his debt. We were each other’s meal tickets, and that counted for everything where we’d been.
Again, WTF? What happened to him that made him go against Six? Either the story didn't fully fleshed out Alden's character or it was scrambling to find somebody to be the villain 'cause plot without conflict suck. Yet plot with a stupid conflict suck too. And this conflict was stupid.

I absolutely did not like how the conflict ended. Six had to kill Alden 'cause crazy dude was killing humans and their souls.

+++ lack of back story

My second biggest problem with DCMA, one that I would consider a major plot-hole, was how weird Six could know things like cars and showers but was unfamiliar with humanity.
The last time I’d seen [Earth], it was through a viewing portal, which had been nothing more than a two-dimensional projection cast on a wall.
She was surprised by how evil humans can act — there was an attempted rape scene in chapter 2 — but she wasn't surprised by the technology. Were there cars and showers in Hell too?

Moreover, there were humans in why would she be surprised by how evil humans can when they're still alive on Earth? Whether it's Hell or Earth, humanity shouldn't have been a big surprise to her. Cars and showers should be. Not to mention that all angels have the power of empathy, Six should be fully aware of how good humans can be and how evil they can become.

+++ plot not meeting expectation

Not a big issue but I wish more of the plot was spent on Six getting her stuff together. For examples, I wish Six asked Cara (the angel-believing human who took in Six) about things human do so Six could assimilate. Six just escaped from Hell, last thing she should be doing is standing out of place and attracting unwanted attention... attention that might force her back to Hell.

In Conclusion

The book is actually 2.5 but I rounded it down because the plot disappointed me after giving me a great beginning. Moreover, it left a small cliffhanger after revealing a big secret about Six. I went, "damnnnn." I'm pretty sure I know who "Luke" is.

I rate DCMA 2-stars for it was okay. Nonetheless, the book was a promising start for a Urban Fantasy series. I plan to read book 2 and hope it will fill in all the back story. I also hope Six will be more secure of herself and her place on Earth.

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Sunday, June 17, 2012

REVIEW: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Shadow and Bone Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Long Review

Shadow and Bone (SaB) is book 1 in the Grisha trilogy, a Russian-inspired fantasy. Alas, the fantasy was like a lumpy beef stew — it wasn't cooked properly. The plot was disappointing, the protagonist pathetic, the magical world mundane, the antagonist...surprisingly cool so why was he not the protagonist of the story?

The Plot

Over 81,000 words, the novel began with a timid girl who in a dire moment unleashed a dormant power to rescue her friend. It wasn't just any power, it was the power of sunlight, the power that could — tada! — banish the Shadow Fold and its monsters.

+++ life at the court

Most of the story took place in Ravkia's capital, Os Alta, where Alina was sent to train as a Grisha. Os Alta was full of decadence, hidden agendas, and backstabbers-to-be. There was a dimwitted king, a conceited queen, her Grisha beautician who was the king's ex-mistress, clueless nobles thinking things were dandy, and this religious kook who say vague things that we're not sure if they're threats or warnings.

Unfortunately, the plot skimmed the court intrigue.

The plot was actually about Alina stumbling her way through magic lessons in wearisome way and thinking about her childhood friend/love interest in melancholic manner.

+++ the ending

I dislike ending that puts our heroes back to square one and SaB did just that. Nothing was resolved. If anything, Alina made things worse.

The Characters

+++ Alina, the heroine

SaB was told in 1st PoV from Alina's side and she was depressingly pathetic. Talk about insecure. She liked her childhood friend, Mal, but was too afraid to confess her feeling. So she moped. I wouldn't have mind if her reason wasn't juvenile: her childhood friend was hot and she was not. And the reason she wasn't hot was because she subconsciously suppressed her power which drained her strength and made her unhealthy.

Lesson of the day: Unhealthy people do not look hot.

So the girl's insecurity was due to her vanity. Yes, it was a flaw fitting for a teenage, but I could not cheer for her because the girl never toughened up, character-wise.

She was so pathetic that other characters had to push her to do things. One of the worst events was when the antagonist's mother had to (figuratively) shake her shoulders to wake her up to the truth. Something is wrong with a heroine if she need the antagonist's mother to yell at her "hey, that dude you're crushing on, he's using you" when it was obvious to everyone.

The supporting cast, Mal (Alina's love interest), Genya (Alina's one Grisha friend), and Baghra (Alina's magic mentor), were way more likable and interesting than Alina herself.

2nd lesson of the day: When your protagonist is pathetic, have strong supporting characters to cover for her.

+++ The Darkling, the villain

The story only referred the character as the Darkling. Darkling is a type of a Grisha that uses shadow power (yes, it was a Darkling who created the Shadow Fold). Referring him as the Darkling was the story's way to make the character an isolated figure.

In spite of it, the Darkling was a complex and compelling character. I rather read the story from his PoV. Yes, he was the antagonist but in him I saw a determination that I love to see in my ideal protagonist.

He acted ruthlessly, but it was not completely black and white and he was 100% villainous. He wanted to unite the four nations, to stop the nobles from hurting the serfs, to free the Grisha from servitude and witch-hunts. I realize good intentions mean little, that the ends doesn't always justify the means. Yet I was not repulsed by his actions. I saw it as "desperate times called for desperate measures."

The World Building

+++ the Grisha

The Grisha are the few humans born with the capability to use magic. Basically, they are witches, but in the fantasy world "witch" is a derogative word; Grisha is the politically correct word.

+++ magic

Small Science is the Grisha's fancy name for magic. The Grisha may call their power Small Science as much as they want, but it's still magic. There was nothing scientific about their power or the Academy lessons.

SaB did not elaborate the magic system beyond the classification of Grisha based on the power they held. This disappointed me because all Grisha are required to enroll in the Academy so I expected some magic lessons. But no. The magic lessons Alina received were simply "practice makes perfect" and "believe in yourself" — it was gag-worthy.

It couldn't be helped that all Grisha are trained young but the heroine wasn't since she just discovered her power. Because she was essentially in remedial class, the story thought it could sidestep from developing the magical world. It thought wrong.

+++ the setting

I presumed SaB took place in a northern part of the world in a medieval-ish era. The cold land was split into four nations: Kerche to the west, Fjerdan to the north, Shu Han to the south, and Ravka in the middle between the three. It was obvious (I'm 95% sure) what each nation was based upon: Kerch on Bosphorus, Fjerdan on Scandinavia, Shu Han on China, Ravka on Russia.

Because of the apparent inspiration, it was easy to imagine the geography and what each nation was culturally like. This led me to believe SaB depended on the readers' education for some easy world building. Not that the world building was bad — it was fine, but I wouldn't compliment it as creative.

+++ Shadow Fold

The one part of the Grisha world I would compliment as creative was the Shadow Fold. The land was this "black slash that had severed Ravka from its only coastline and left it landlocked" where eternal darkness and hideous monsters reigned. Some well-intentioned but mad (aren't they're always?) Grisha polluted the place with his shadow magic.

I wish more of the story was set in this gruesome place because every time the characters visit there the sense of danger thrilled me.

In Conclusion

I rate SaB 2-stars for it was okay. I recommend the book for readers looking for a decent YA fantasy (the writing was good) and like some romance. Alina spent a lot of time thinking about Mal instead of her magic lessons.

Readers who enjoyed SaB may want to look at Seraphina.

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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

REVIEW: Me, Myself and I by Natasha Duncan-Drake

Me, Myself and I (Dark Reflections, #1) Me, Myself and I by Natasha Duncan-Drake
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Spoilers

What an awesome premise! Once I discovered the novelette was free, I immediately downloaded and read it. Around 15,500 words, Me, Myself and I was almost everything I hoped for.

Told in 1st PoV from Tristan's side, the novelette began with Tristan attending a party celebrating the completion of his third superhero movie when suddenly a champagne cork hits him in the head, knocking him out. Tristan quickly wakes up and finds himself strapped down and in the world of his superhero movie. Is he Tristan the actor having a dream or is he Devon the supervillain waking up from a breakdown?
Whatever the answer: it's frighteningly crazy.
—(from the blurb)
And awesome!

The only thing I didn't like about the short story was the single sex scene near the ending because its kink didn't appeal to me. Turns out Tristan was in a parallel dimension where later he got kidnapped and fucked by the real Devon. Talk about getting literally screwed by your evil twin.

In spite of its length, I liked the ending. I didn't mind how the story left its ending open for interpretation to whether Tristan's experience was real or a dream. In my mind, there is no doubt to what the answer was.

I rate Me, Myself and I 3-stars for I liked it. I greatly look forward to the sequel.

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Monday, June 4, 2012

REVIEW: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Seraphina Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Long Review

Seraphina is about a girl struggling to protect her secret while she try to stop a war from breaking out between humans and dragons. Her secret may be the key to do so, but if she reveals it her secret may mean her death.

The story had around 115,000 words and leaned toward a slow pace. The plot did not drag but I would have prefer it to be shorter. A few things here and there could have been condensed to quicken the pace.

The Characters

+++ Seraphina, the protagonist

The story was told in 1st PoV from Seraphina's side, the character for which the novel is titled after. For most of the book, Seraphina played a passive role. She wasn't shy, she was antisocial — for a good reason.

As the blurb said, the discovery of her secret could mean her "very life." However, it didn't seem that "terrible" because there were a few others who shared the same secret and their lives were harsher compared to hers. I wasn't able to muster much sympathy for Seraphina. Despite a tragedy and a secret, she led a fulfilling life as a musician's assistant.

The story nettled me by how slowly it reveal Seraphina's secret to the reader because it didn't reveal everything at once. Not that I wanted to know everything at once, I just wanted it to hurry up. It nettled me more that it took Seraphina the middle of the story to use her secret to her benefit because her secret gave her a power no one else have.

Yet power or no, I didn't find her exciting to read about. Though to be fair, she was getting there near the end of story when she decided to take an active role in saving the world. I went "yes, finally, some feistiness." I didn't care about her power as much as I care whether she would do something with it.

+++ Prince Lucian, the love interest

The only reason he was the love interest was because he was the first dude who took a singular interest in Seraphina, a girl who lacked social experience — especially love.

Lucian was the worst guy she could crushed on because he was engaged to Princess Glisselda — a student and friendly acquaintance of Seraphina and one of the very few people who would be open-minded to Seraphina's secret. Plus, the fact that the princess was the future queen was an enormous bonus; their amicable relationship could mean the difference between life and death for Seraphina if her secret got out.

Seraphina, stop it. Stop making your life more complicated than it already is.

Though the romance was minor, I could have done without it. At least Lucian's interest in Seraphina was mostly about figuring her out than trying be with her.

+++ the Dragon race

The thing I loved most about the book was how hyper-rational the dragons were in comparison to the humans.
“Only your elders remember the war, but it is not the old who join the Sons of St. Ogdo [an anti-dragon terrorist group] or riot in the streets. How can there be deep-seated distrust in people who’ve never been through the fires of war? My own father fell to your knights and their insidious dracomachia. All saarantrai remember those days; all of us lost family. We’ve let that go, as we had to, for the peace. We hold no grudge.

“Do your people pass emotions through your blood, mother to child, the way we dragons pass memories? Do you inherit your fears? I do not comprehend how this persists in the population...
They reminded me of Dr. Brennan from Bones. Their characterization was magnificent. I recommend this author interview to see how she did it. The dragons were definitely the highlight of the book.

The Writing

Nothing I can complain about because it was smooth going. The imagery was in the right amount, not at all overwhelming. There were flashbacks, visions, and dreams (depending on how the reader interpret it) interspersed in the story — they too were presented in the right amount. Usually, I dislike those plot devices but they did not bug me once in this story.

The story was high fantasy, so no surprise that it had made-up words — all of which were listed in the glossary at the back of the book. Also included in the glossary were the characters. I never once flipped to the back for elucidation. The story did a superb job explaining everything on its own.

Overall, there was a clear competence to the writing. If I could describe the writing in one word, it would be "smart."

In Conclusion

I rate Seraphina 2-stars for it was okay.

It was 2.5 but I rounded down because of the mildly passive protagonist, her unrequited love, and her delay to put her power to good use. I would have like the story more if the stakes were higher and Seraphina's secret were actually that "terrible."

As An Aside

When I read Seraphina, its war-looming plot and slow-leaning pace reminded me of All the Paths of Shadow (I rated it 2-stars too). Between AtPoS and Seraphina, I enjoyed AtPoS more because AtPoS had a stronger heroine.

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Saturday, June 2, 2012

REVIEW: The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman

The Book of Blood and Shadow The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Long Review.

I decided to read The Book of Blood and Shadow (TBBS) because reviews described it as the YA of The Da Vinci Code (TDVC). I really liked TDVC so I thought TBBS would be exciting too.

It wasn't.

TBBS and TDVC were similar. I could definitely see why the comparison was made. They both have:
+ a death in the beginning
+ characters framed for crimes
+ characters traveling across Europe for answers
+ characters who know esoteric things
+ a mystery from history to solve
+ secret organizations seeking to silence our heroes
+ a convergent theme of science and religion
+ a betrayal for the ultimate twist
Yet unlike TDVC, TBBS had:
+ a slow pace
+ a lack of suspense
+ a stingy amount of action
+ a weak protagonist
+ a love square
+ an overload of betrayals
It was mildly dull.

The Writing

Passages in the book were bipolar. Sometime they were short and straight to the point, other times they were long and starving for paragraph indentations. In the latter, run-on sentences were the norm. I recall a paragraph where one sentence took up 90% of a 10-lines paragraph.

Moreover, the prose was exceedingly passive. When an action scene was happening, it took me a few seconds to realize there was action going on.

Basically, the book was more difficult to read than TDVC and it was a YA.

The Beginning

With under 120,000 words, the novel separated into four parts. The first chapter of the first part started as the blurb said: one character was dead, one catatonic, one missing. What a horrific and wonderful scene it was for a beginning. The first sentence was:
I should probably start with the blood.
Too bad she lied.

The story actually started with a long flashback that led up to the horrific scene. Part 1 took the readers into the past. Part 2 picked up after the horrific scene, taking the readers back to the present.

I was disappointed. I felt TBBS would have been a stronger story if it began with part 2 and part 1 was told as expositions.

The Characters

+++ Nora, the protagonist

Nora was every bit cliché of a YA protagonist: she was poor, she was plain, she was shy, she was smart. Best of all, she was the chosen one — the "vyvolená."

YA protagonists never have a happy family. Their family are either dead or estranged. In Nora's case it was both. Her brother was dead, her parents grief-stricken, and she estranged from her parents because they're too grief-stricken to care about her. To escape, Nora decided to go to a rich school on a scholarship.

There, Nora immediately caught the attention of the school's prince and princess. The two coolest kids in school soon became the new girl's first friends. The fact that it was the story's different take on the heroine's love interest and rival didn't lessen the cliché. What was prominent was how sudden the friendship occurred. Already, the story began to stretch the limit of its believability.

+++ Chris, love interest #1

He was Nora's love interest #1. She liked him and he liked her but they were incognizant of their feelings for each other. Chris became Adriane's boyfriend instead.

The romance between Chris and Nora should have been done away since nothing ever came out of it. It wasn't used to progress the story or anyone's character development. It only made Nora more Mary Sue-ish.

+++ Adriane, love rival

She was rich; she was pretty; she was popular — she was like Nora's opposite except Adriane was also smart. Adriane was everything Nora wished she could be. She was Nora's only female friend.

The thing that bothered me the most about Adriane was that it took the middle of the story for the reader to find out she was Japanese. I didn't understand why her ethnic background was developed like an afterthought. It almost felt like a lazy way of injecting PoC into a YA.

+++ Max, love interest #2

He was like the male version of Nora because he was shy, he was smart, and he was plain in comparison to Chris. Also like Nora, he never talked about his past. Since the story was told in 1st PoV from Nora's side, Nora wasn't a mysterious character to the reader whereas Max was.

Nora initially saw Max as Chris's creepy roommate because Max stared at her alot and rarely talked. Later, she became his girlfriend which surprised me. I think she only dated him because she need a distraction from thinking about Chris.

Adriane with Chris. Nora with Max. The group of four friends hooked up with each other. It was a bit puke-worthy.

+++ Eli, love interest #3.

He claimed to be Chris's cousin. Similar to love interest #2, love interest #3 was mysterious as well. Chris never mention any cousin and Nora couldn't seen any family resemblance in Eli.

Whereas Max stared at Nora, Eli stalked Nora. It would have been creepy except as Chris's cousin it was expected and sensible that Eli would follow Nora to get his answers. Nora was the only one who knew what happened and wasn't catatonic. Plus she had contact with Max, her boyfriend, the guy suspected of killing Chris.

After part 1, Eli took up Chris's role as the second boy in the group. Though Nora was officially with Max, she was more girlfriend-boyfriend with Eli than with Max. Though Nora never cheated, there was a distinct sentiment that Nora was Max's girlfriend in name.

I didn't understand why Nora just didn't breakup with Max and go be with Eli. Nothing was stopping her.

Ways The Story Sucked

+++ a weak protagonist

For a self-proclaimed smart girl, Nora was kinda stupid. First impressions are generally wrong but Nora's were accurate. The bad part was that she never thought much of them and ignored her instinct.

Nora never asked the questions that should have been asked in the beginning. Not until the obvious smacked her in the face that she finally asked.

+++ over-shadowy antagonists

There were two secret organizations (or cults to put it bluntly): the Hledaci (Seekers) and the Fidei Defensor (Defender of the Faith). The former wants the Lumen Dei while the latter wants to destroy it.

Though they were the ones who caused all the troubles, they never had a strong presence in the story. Specifically, they didn't feel nefarious as they should have been. The story focused too much on making the cults mysterious than dangerous, hence the lack of suspense.

+++ mystery still mysterious

Everyone wants the Lumen Dei but nobody knows what it does actually. Not even the cults themselves whose existence was all about this object of power. The Hledaci thinks it will bring people closer to God, while the Fidei Defensor thinks it will bring the Apocalypse to the world.

The only thing the two cults shared in belief was that Lumen Dei required Nora because she was the chosen one. But no one knows why exactly. Everything about the matter was based on hearsay and superstition.

The story never described exactly what Lumen Dei was or what it actually did or why Nora was necessary for its operation. This irritated me.

+++ betrayals overkill

TBBS overkilled with the betrayals. It was ridiculous. It showed a lack of creativity for making twist and turn. I desensitized after a few, and their continuous occurrences led me to think less of Nora.

+++ the ending sucked

Nora returned home and that was it. She was back to being lonely, and her family situation probably worsen by her disappearance. There wasn't even the consolation of the extra credit for the dang assignment that set her on the mystery because her professor was incapacitated and their work was stolen.

What pained me was how Nora chose to believe it was over when there was a slight possibility that it wasn't. She didn't learn anything, she didn't grow as a character, and she was back to using denial and avoidance as defense mechanisms.

What was the point of the story then? Oy.

In Conclusion

I rate TBBS 2-stars for it was okay. I recommend reading The Da Vinci Code or any book in that series instead. Even the worst book of that series was better than TBBS.

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