Review: Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris

Review: Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine HarrisMidnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris
Series: Midnight Texas #1
Published by Gollancz on 2014-05-08
Pages: 320
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Received for review from publishers
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From Charlaine Harris, the bestselling author who created Sookie Stackhouse and her world of Bon Temps, Louisiana, comes a darker locale—populated by more strangers than friends. But then, that’s how the locals prefer it…

Welcome to Midnight, Texas, a town with many boarded-up windows and few full-time inhabitants, located at the crossing of Witch Light Road and Davy Road. It’s a pretty standard dried-up western town.

There’s a pawnshop (someone lives in the basement and is seen only at night). There’s a diner (people who are just passing through tend not to linger). And there’s new resident Manfred Bernardo, who thinks he’s found the perfect place to work in private (and who has secrets of his own).

Stop at the one traffic light in town, and everything looks normal. Stay awhile, and learn the truth...

Thoughts: Midnight Crossroad is a hard book to review. I can’t say I enjoyed it – I admit I was glad to finally turn the last page – but I cannot say it is a bad book. It isn’t. It’s a good book written by a skilled author… but it isn’t her best work by a long shot.

Charlaine’s writing has always been rather laid back. She takes a while to get to things, but you enjoy the ride so much that you forget nothing substantial has happened for 30 pages. Midnight Crossroad fits that same trend, it’s just that we don’t know the characters well enough to enjoy the ride. Perhaps that’s because this series stars characters from her Harper Connelly series, Lily Bard series and Aurora Teagarden series? (I haven’t read these books, nor really plan to although, yes, I own most of them.)

But Midnight Crossroad is the start of a new separate series, they said! No need to keep up with her other books to enjoy, they said! Hmph… I don’t know about that. I, for one, did not enjoy 120 pages of watch-this-character-move-into-house. Maybe if I knew the guy… and then, only maybe. But as introductions go, lifting boxes and meeting the new neighbors do not make for a meet-cute.

That being said, once past the first third of the book, Midnight Crossroad does at last start to take off. There was mystery, intrigue, murder – all that good stuff. But it took an inexcusable amount of time to get to the substance of the novel and – to be frank – the mystery was not so intriguing as to overwrite the blandness that had preceded it.

Bottom line: I can’t recommend this book to a new Charlaine Harris reader – but if you are already a fan, you will probably enjoy it. New readers? Start with the Sookie series like the rest of us!

Review: The Realm of Possibility by David Levithan

Review: The Realm of Possibility by David LevithanThe Realm of Possibility by David Levithan
Published by Penguin Random House
Genres: Contemporary YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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One school. Twenty voices.

Endless possibilities.

There's the girl who is in love with Holden Caulfield. The boy who wants to be strong who falls for the girl who's convinced she needs to be weak. The girl who writes love songs for a girl she can't have. The two boys teetering on the brink of their first anniversary. And everyone in between.

As he did in the highly acclaimed Boy Meets Boy, David Levithan gives us a world of unforgettable voices that readers will want to visit again and again. It's the realm of possibility open to us all - where love, joy, and the stories we tell will linger.

Thoughts: One of the reasons I have many 3 and 4 star reviews on Dead Book Darling has nothing to do with all books being awesome. The opposite, in fact; about 40% of books I pick up I dislike intensely. Normally I don’t end up sticking around to see them end because I have better things to waste my time on.

Then a book like The Realm of Possibility comes along. A book that makes you want to pull out your hair and puck out your eyes in despair – but, hey, it’s short. You might as well finish the torture and then delete the memory from your brain.

In case I haven’t given the game away: I did not like this book.

David Levithan is trying too damn hard to be “one of the kids” while still preaching morality. Now, that would be fine if he could pull it off. His Boy Meets Boy does exactly the same thing, only the writing is good and the characters are well developed. The Realm of Possibility just isn’t well written.

The poetry is just… bad. The song “lyrics” are bad. The prose would have been… fine, if it hadn’t been for the obsession with formatting. All 800 of the characters might have been rather interesting, except they get about 3 pages a piece. It’s like Levithan followed an online how-to-write-in-verse and didn’t realise that his novel-writing skills would not translate. Give the man one of those gold stars saying “you tried, but please never try again”.

Just because you want to be progressive and write about LGBT characters does not automatically make your writing good. Just because you want to be inclusive and write about eating disorders does not make everything that comes out of pen gold. Nothing about this book felt genuine, While I applaud David Levithan for his good intentions, his execution just… sucked.

Bottom line? The Realm of Possibility has a vomit-inducing pretentiousness about it. Good intentions do not a good book make.

Review: Horde by Ann Aguirre

Review: Horde by Ann AguirreHorde by Ann Aguirre
Series: Razorland #3
Published by Feiwel & Friends on 2013-10-29
Pages: 432
Genres: Dystopian YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Enclave, Outpost

The epic conclusion to Ann Aguirre's USA Today bestselling trilogy. The horde is coming. Salvation is surrounded, monsters at the gates, and this time, they're not going away. When Deuce, Fade, Stalker and Tegan set out, the odds are against them. But the odds have been stacked against Deuce from the moment she was born. She might not be a Huntress anymore, but she doesn't run. With her knives in hand and her companions at her side, she will not falter, whether fighting for her life or Fade's love.

Ahead, the battle of a lifetime awaits. Freaks are everywhere, attacking settlements, setting up scouts, perimeters, and patrols. There hasn't been a war like this in centuries, and humans have forgotten how to stand and fight. Unless Deuce can lead them. This time, however, more than the fate of a single enclave or outpost hangs in the balance. This time, Deuce carries the banner for the survival of all humanity.

Thoughts: I’ve been Team Aguirre for years now. She is one of my all time favourite authors and, unfortunately for the world, I think she is shockingly underrated. This woman excels in every genre she puts her hand to – be it urban fantasy, Young Adult, Romance or Science Fiction. Every time I pick up one of her books I remember that this? This is why I am a reader.

With that glowing praise in mind, let’s move on to Horde, the final book in Aguirre’s Razorland trilogy.

When I think back to the first book – Enclave – I see now that Aguirre had had this dramatic conclusion planned for us from the beginning. It seemed like a simple “zombie” apocalypse novel at the time and, while I adored it, I never could have foreseen Horde. I would never have predicted her creating such a complex universe, taking such a different view of strong women at the end of the world, or completely twisting the definitions of “good guys” and “bad guys”.

That is because I made the assumption that, as Aguirre was writing YA, she would stick to a lot of YA tropes. For instance, you don’t let your YA heroine take off on adventures that will last months, seasons, years… because then she won’t be a 16-year-old anymore. She’ll be a competent adult. Well, screw tropes. War takes a long time and, unlike Katniss, Deuce does not have a fully trained army sitting in the wings ready to start fighting. Deuce needs to build the world she wants to live in from the ground up.

It is a long slog (timeline-wise, Horde covers the longest period of the three books) and SO MUCH happens. Seriously, a LOT OF PLOT. *luxuriates in plotty-YA novel* Yes, it is a book about growing up. Yes, there is some romance. But mainly it is a book about re-establishing the human race. It takes TIME and PAGES, people.

I can’t say too much more, as my favourite aspect of Horde is an extremely spoilery plot twist. One that made me feel as though Aguirre’d read my criticism of Killbox (one of her adult Science Fiction novels) and decided fix the problem this time round.* I was punching my fist to the sky screaming “YES THIS” when I got to it… leave me a comment if you know what I’m talking about!

Bottom line: Horde is an EPIC, thought-provoking conclusion to a stunning series. I cannot recommend the Razorland series enough. Go forth and get the whole bloody trilogy in hardback. They’re worth every penny.

* Note that I am under no illusion that that happened but, nevertheless, am extremely happy to see that one of my favourite authors has readdress one of the few issues I’ve ever had with her writing. So… yay!

Review: White Hot Kiss by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Review: White Hot Kiss by Jennifer L. ArmentroutWhite Hot Kiss by Jennifer L. Armentrout
Published by Harlequin Teen, MIRA on 2014-03-01
Pages: 304
Genres: Paranormal YA, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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One kiss could be the last.

Seventeen-year-old Layla just wants to be normal. But with a kiss that kills anything with a soul, she's anything but normal. Half demon, half gargoyle, Layla has abilities no one else possesses.

Raised among the Wardens—a race of gargoyles tasked with hunting demons and keeping humanity safe—Layla tries to fit in, but that means hiding her own dark side from those she loves the most. Especially Zayne, the swoon-worthy, incredibly gorgeous and completely off-limits Warden she's crushed on since forever.

Then she meets Roth—a tattooed, sinfully hot demon who claims to know all her secrets. Layla knows she should stay away, but she's not sure she wants to—especially when that whole no-kissing thing isn't an issue, considering Roth has no soul.

But when Layla discovers she's the reason for the violent demon uprising, trusting Roth could not only ruin her chances with Zayne…it could brand her a traitor to her family. Worse yet, it could become a one-way ticket to the end of the world.

Thoughts: Some books take you completely by surprise. Last year, that was These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner. And the 2014 winner for the title seems to be the fantastic White Hot Kiss by Jennifer L. Armentrout.

First off, let me address the cover. More confident women than I could no doubt read this book on the tube, but I was glad to have it on my kindle. I know, I know. Society’s misogynistic view of the romance genre should not be indulged – trust me I’m not proud. That being said: this book’s genre isn’t quite reflected in its cover. It is much more a YA Urban Fantasy novel so… yeah. Can’t say the cover really fits it in this case.

Moving on.

White Hot Kiss is absolutely fantastic. It’s an action-packed, well-plotted novel that borders the Young Adult and Urban Fantasy genre. The main character, Layla, had that ideal mix of gumption and self-doubt that makes for the perfect teenage narrator. And as a half-demon, half-Guardian (an Angel-ish type species – just go with it), Layla is quite rightly conflicted. She has been raised in a household where she is actively hated because of her blood and her only wish in life is to fit in. It is ludicrously relatable. But she isn’t just her angst: she wants to be of use to the world and is tough enough to pull off the role as a urban fantasy narrator. Thing Rose from Vampire Academy, only with fewer mood swings.

Of course, like all good Urban Fantasy novels, along come a few big reveals. Parents come out of the woodwork! No one is who they seemed to be! Evil is the new awesome! “No really, I’m a Prince”! If you read the genre, many of these may seem overly familiar, but they are all well handled as to feel fresh. I’ve read about Armentrout’s skill as an author, but I needed to read it to believe it.

Armentrout also managed to handle the dreaded romantic triangle flawlessly. I had not been looking forward that aspect of the novel but it really, really worked. You’ve got two leading men who are spectacularly different and yet so very likable… you can see the cause of Layla’s conflict. I could go on and on about them both for quite a while, but I’d rather not show my “team” hand. Just trust me when I say it will be a tough choice!

Bottom line: White Hot Kiss is, in a way, a very familiar book for the Urban Fantasy genre. What sets it apart is the skill of the writing, the stellar pace and fantastic character development. Go forth and read, my people!

Review: Cress by Marissa Meyer

Review: Cress by Marissa MeyerCress by Marissa Meyer
Series: Lunar Chronicles #3
Published by Macmillan on 2014-02-04
Pages: 560
Genres: Science Fiction YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Cinder, Scarlet

In this third book in Marissa Meyer's bestselling Lunar Chronicles series, Cinder and Captain Thorne are fugitives on the run, now with Scarlet and Wolf in tow. Together, they’re plotting to overthrow Queen Levana and prevent her army from invading Earth.Their best hope lies with Cress, a girl trapped on a satellite since childhood who’s only ever had her netscreens as company. All that screen time has made Cress an excellent hacker. Unfortunately, she’s being forced to work for Queen Levana, and she’s just received orders to track down Cinder and her handsome accomplice. When a daring rescue of Cress goes awry, the group is splintered. Cress finally has her freedom, but it comes at a higher price than she’d ever expected. Meanwhile, Queen Levana will let nothing prevent her marriage to Emperor Kai, especially the cyborg mechanic. Cress, Scarlet, and Cinder may not have signed up to save the world, but they may be the only hope the world has.

Thoughts: After the genius that was Scarlet, I expected great things from Cress. And while it wasn’t quite as stellar, it was certainly an amazing book.

I came to a rather surprising conclusion while reading Cress. Namely, that my enjoyment of Meyer’s writing is completely character-based, rather than author-based. With most authors, I find that if I am luke-warm about one book, I will feel the same about the next. But in Meyer’s case, it depends completely on the character she is writing. As she changes narrators, she completely immerses herself into that character’s mind. So, obviously, if I don’t particularly like one character, I am not going to enjoy the writing. Now, you’d expect all authors to change their style according to characters, but most don’t. Most tend to write in one style, expressing one set of values – albeit in different ways. Meyer can switch it up while still keeping control of the overall plot. Quite a feat.

That being said, since I didn’t particularly like Cress as a character, I wasn’t quite as enraptured with her book. My feelings were reminiscent of the way I felt about Cinder in her book (but not in Cress… I’ll get to that later). Cress is young, naive and was far too enraptured with Thorne. I understand this girl was locked away with no company and her behaviour was only reflective of that… but that still didn’t make it enjoyable to read. Again, Meyer is way too good at getting into her character’s brains. So when you aren’t so keen on knowing what they think, then you don’t love it.

Fortunately, rather like Scarlet, Cress follows the POV of many, many, many characters. We jump back and forth from Cress to Scarlet to Kai to Cinder, so on and so forth. Not only was I totally fine with that, I loved it! There are so many fantastic revelations taking place all over the planet(s), Meyer needs to jump about in order to keep up with the action. And yes, just like its predecessors, there is a ton of action! From Mexican stand-offs to kidnappings to space-ship crashes, Marissa Meyer delivers page after page of keep-you-up-all-night content. It’s a joy to find such well-written, engaging plot in a YA novel.

Also, the multiple POV’s meant I could check in on two of my favourites: Scarlet and Wolf! Oh my heart. While they weren’t featured as prominently as I would have liked, they still made me squee. And surprisingly, I really enjoyed checking in with Cinder. While I’ve always liked her, she’s never been my favourite character. But over the past two books, she has really grown into her own skin. Her self-loathing is dwindling and her confidence is booming – she is really turning into the Queen she is meant to be. Thanks, Ms. Meyer!

Bottom line? Another well-written, action-packed installment of the Lunar Chronicles. While I wasn’t the biggest fan of Cress herself, I am looking forward to seeing how Meyer develops her character in the future!

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Review: Bite Club by Rachel Caine

Review: Bite Club by Rachel CaineBite Club by Rachel Caine
Series: Morganville Vampires #10
Published by Allison & Busby
Genres: Paranormal YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Glass Houses, The Dead Girls' Dance, Midnight Alley, Kiss of Death, Ghost Town

After discovering that vampires populate her town, college student Claire Danvers knows that the undead just want to live their lives. But someone else wants them to get ready to rumble.

There's a new extreme sport getting picked up on the Internet: bare—knuckle fights pitting captured vampires against each other—or humans. Tracking the remote signal leads Claire—accompanied by her friends and frenemies—to discover that what started as an online brawl will soon threaten everyone in Morganville...

Thoughts: Just a warning: this review is more of a rant than anything else.

My dislike of Shane/Claire has morphed into a burning hatred. He is turning her into a wimpy, cowing version of Bella Swan (sorry, Bella) – and it is so much worse because I KNOW Claire can stand up for herself. But when it comes to Shane, she is happy to roll over and let him call all the shots. In Bite Club, it went from bad to abuse.

While I understand that Shane was “damaged” during this book, I felt like a lot of his behavior was his “natural” behavior. It was like seeing Shane drunk: his inhibitions lowered and he turns violent. I am having the same Nash/Kaylee (Soul Screamers Series) problems with their relationship – but unlike that one, I know Shane/Claire one won’t end as happily for me. Loathe loathe loathe loathe.

In a way, it all comes down to Myrnin. I love is Claire and Myrnin’s mutual appreciation for each other’s intellect, and I think their partnership is fantastic. Midnight Alley remains my favourite book in the Morganville series almost entirely because it is a Myrnin/Claire book. That Claire has continued to work for him despite Shane acting like a nutcase is my only source of hope. Whenever Shane would start to rant about Claire working for Myrnin, I felt like I was witnessing a 1950s husband telling his wife to quit her job: it’s unfair, selfish and reflective of his own insecurities.

And I really don’t know where everything went wrong. I used to adore Shane and Claire together – he was protective, but not psychotic. I really thought I could “trust” Shane with Claire; that he would value her intellect and respect her choices. I am really starting to doubt that now.

So why am I still giving this book 3 stars? Well, unlike the last Morganville installment, this book certainly inspired emotion. That’s a step forward in the right direction… that they were negative emotions? Not so good.

Bottom line? Bite Club is a horrifically frustrating book. I keep reading on based on the strength of previous installments and in the (vain) hope of improvement.

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