Monday, October 29, 2012

Ten/And Then There Were None

Ok, so it was really fun reading these two books back-to-back. Especially since the weather where I live has been rainy and overcast and gloomy and perfect for curling up with a murder mystery! Up first, Ten by Gretchen McNeil.

From Goodreads:
Don't spread the word!
Three-day weekend. House party.
White Rock House on Henry Island.
You do NOT want to miss it.

It was supposed to be the weekend of their lives—an exclusive house party on Henry Island. Best friends Meg and Minnie each have their reasons for being there (which involve T.J., the school’s most eligible bachelor) and look forward to three glorious days of boys and fun-filled luxury.

But what they expect is definitely not what they get, and what starts out as fun turns dark and twisted after the discovery of a DVD with a sinister message: Vengeance is mine.

Suddenly people are dying, and with a storm raging, the teens are cut off from the outside world. No electricity, no phones, no internet, and a ferry that isn’t scheduled to return for two days. As the deaths become more violent and the teens turn on each other, can Meg find the killer before more people die? Or is the killer closer to her than she could ever imagine?

My Rating: ***

So normally, this isn't the kind of book I just pick up. Especially with that horror label that came on the spine. I'm NOT a horror kind of person. But... this is a retelling of my favorite favorite favorite Agath Christie novel of all time (I read it probably thirty times when I was a teenager) and I just had to see how it translated to a contemporary teen novel.

Surprisingly not bad! I can't say I absolutely adored it. Was it original and clever? Not so much. But it made for a fun spooky read and I was exactly in the mood for it when I read it.

One of the things I was worried about was gore, and it was such a relief to me that this wasn't gory. It was about as descriptive of the violence as Ms. Christie's original. So, definitely some detail, but nothing to make me gag. There's plenty of death, but not in a nasty way.

I read this before rereading the original, a choice I'm glad I made. It kept my reading from being interrupted too much by that inner voice that constantly snarks about the original being better. There are plenty of things here that turned out differently than the original, but with enough nods to the source that it made me happy.

I liked Meg as a character. She didn't wimp out and cower. She took action and the whole story moved along thanks to her. The touch of romance was nicely done, but without taking focus away from the whole point of the book: SOMEONE IS KILLING EVERYONE! I was a little disappointed by the way the plot turned out - just your basic bullied girl gone psycho which has been done a million times, but I enjoyed it all the same. A little too tongue-in-cheek sometimes, though. Like after that DVD was watched, several people squealed and one said, "That's how horror movies start." You think?

Recommended if you need a YA murder mystery. Perfect for Halloween.

From Goodreads:
First, there were ten - a curious assortment of strangers summoned as weekend guests to a private island off the coast of Devon. Their host, an eccentric millionaire unknown to all of them, is nowhere to be found. All that the guests have in common is a wicked past they're unwilling to reveal - and a secret that will seal their fate. For each has been marked for murder. One by one they fall prey. Before the weekend is out, there will be none. And only the dead are above suspicion.

My Rating: *****

Quite frankly, the best murder mystery ever written. In my opinion.

Ten characters seems like a lot, but somehow Agatha Christie humanizes them all and makes it easy to get inside their brains. We get all their backstories, but without getting sucked into the past. And the danger and intensity are real, folks. It is terrifiying to watch them get murdered one by one, and to find out slowly why each has been targeted. And when at the end they are all dead, each clearly murdered, and with absolutely solid proof that no one else was on the island... well, it never ceases to blow my mind.

And when I read the epilogue and see how it was done I think every time what a complete genius Agatha Christie was.

It was great to read this again, especially because I was having a hard time remembering who did it. I haven't read it since I was in high school. It was fun. And it drove me crazy! There'd be segments where each character's thoughts were written and one of them was obviously the killer and I'd sit there and agonize over those segments, trying to figure out who was the killer because I knew I ought to remember, but just couldn't. And sometimes I could rule people out and sometimes I couldn't! Insane. But in a good way.

My number one recommendation to you this Halloween!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Why I couldn't finish The Casual Vacancy

When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock.

Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war.

Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils...Pagford is not what it first seems.

And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?

The Casual Vacancy is J.K. Rowling’s first novel for adults.

I'm sorry J.K. Rowling. I really wanted to like your adult novel. I really tried.

But it was obvious to me by twenty pages in that I wasn't going to be able to stomach the inappropriate content. The whole "adult" part of an "adult novel".

And what rubbish, really. Just because I'm an adult doesn't mean I want to read hundreds of "F" words and detailed sexual thoughts and acts. And that was in just the first twenty pages. By the time I stopped (at 150 pages in) I'd read thousands of "F" words and some seriously nasty details about people I'd now like to scrub out of my brain.

So much of this book is vile and offensive that it's hard to get invested in the good parts.

And by the way, this is NOT a murder mystery. It's really just about the people in the town of Pagford (many of whom are seriously screwed up) and how their local city council's civil war over a drug rehab center is affected by the random death of Barry Fairbrother. I guess it's supposed to be some sort of deep and emotional character study, except don't expect to like any of the characters. Not a one of them has any sort of redeeming value. Except maybe Barry. And he dies in the first two pages.

I am saying nothing against J.K. Rowling's writing style in general. If anything, she's far too good a writer. When she writes about awful things, she does it in a creative and stick-in-your-brain kind of way. Not necessarily a good thing when what's left stuck in your brain are details about child abuse, prostitution, drug use, affairs, cutting, depression, and sex, sex, and more sex. I shudder to think what I would have read about if I'd actually finished the book.

So if you're considering reading The Casual Vacancy, I hope I've given you fair warning.

NOT recommended.

Friday, October 12, 2012

A Little Regency Romance...

 I have a weakness for good, clean period romance. I'm obsessed with Jane Austen, love the works of Fanny Burney and Elizabeth Gaskell, and am always on the lookout for a good new find from that period (such as Julianne Donaldson's recent new release Edenbrooke). Occasionally I'll get a certain itch that only period romance can scratch. Here are some recent reads:

From Goodreads:

Lilly Haswell remembers everything -- whether she wants to, or not...

As Lilly toils in her father's apothecary shop, preparing herbs and remedies by rote, she is haunted by memories of her mother's disappearance. Villagers whisper the tale, but her father refuses to discuss it. All the while, she dreams of the world beyond --- of travel and adventure and romance.

When a relative offers to host her in London, Lilly discovers the pleasures and pitfalls of fashionable society and suitors, as well as clues about her mother. But will Lilly find what she is searching for --- the truth of the past and a love for the future?

My Rating: ***
Okay, I'm torn on this book. For one thing, I loved all the period details and the writing was fabulous. The story flowed along and I was completely interested in and invested in Lilly. Loved that she was so brilliant at apothecary science and really, all the apothecary details were my favorite. It fascinates and disgusts me what passed as medicine back then.

It really was a good read and I couldn't put it down but several things irritated me. Each of them were male. Too many suitors for your main character, Ms. Klassen! I hate that because I don't know who I'm supposed to root for or what's going to happen. Strange, but I actually like predictability in a romance (to a certain extent). There were a couple other storylines that ended up being dropped, which irritated me because I thought they were rather important. These are all personal opinions. Overall I thought the writing was nice and the romance clean, if frustrating. This is technically Christian Fiction, but don't let that turn you off. All it means is that Lilly occasionally decides to pray about her situation.

 From Goodreads:

The only place Darcy could share his innermost feelings was in the private pages of his diary...

Torn between his sense of duty to his family name and his growing passion for Elizabeth Bennet, all he can do is struggle not to fall in love.

Mr. Darcy's Diary presents the story of the unlikely courtship of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy from Darcy's point of view. This graceful imagining and sequel to Pride and Prejudice explains Darcy's moodiness and the difficulties of his reluctant relationship as he struggles to avoid falling in love with Miss Bennet. Though seemingly stiff and stubborn at times, Darcy's words prove him also to be quite devoted and endearing - qualities that eventually win over Miss Bennet's heart. This continuation of a classic romantic novel is charming and elegant, much like Darcy himself.
My Rating: ***

I've been looking for a good P&P retelling for a while and this had some of the best reviews on Goodreads. There's another one I'm interested in, but it's actually a three book series by Pamela Aiden (Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman), but I decided I didn't really have time for three books. One was just right for my Pride and Prejudice fix.

It was fun to read it. There was a lot of straight up retelling of the book at times, but Darcy's perspective really added to certain parts. Of course he's dying to rush over and hold Elizabeth when he finds her crying over Jane's letter! We all know it, but it was fun to read. :D This story stayed true to the book, even going on a bit after the wedding (no bedroom scenes, thankfully) like the book does and I really loved that.

The writing is my main complaint. Some descriptions were very repetitive. Yes, I got the message; everything Elizabeth Bennett does is "satirically". But other than that, this was plenty of fun. Recommended for major P&P fans.


When Sir Hugh Stanton-Lacy went off to Brazil on a diplomatic mission, he entrusted his eighteen-year-old daughter Sophia to the care of his sister, Lady Ombersley. From the moment Sophy arrived, it was clear that she was no ordinary girl. She is The Grand Sophy - impulsive, direct, fearless, and a scandal to the proper society of London. But Sophy's energy, wit, spunk, and courage shook up and revitalized the entire family, especially her steely cousin, Charles Rivenhall. Saddled with the responsibility of paying his father's debts and keeping his younger brothers and sisters out of trouble, Charles was also engaged to a pious and prim young woman - until Sophy came along.

My Rating: ****

This is my first Georgette Heyer and I'm calling it a huge success. I ADORED Sophy. She was hilarious and just full to the brim with gumption. I loved watching her throw out convention and propriety at times to do what she thinks is right and she always had some ridiculously amusing scheme going on. She was so refreshing compared to other period heroines. My love for Sophy is right up there with Elizabeth Bennett. I found the whole novel incredibly entertaining.

But I don't think Georgette Heyer's writing is for everyone. It's seriously wordy and so packed full of unfamiliar details and dated slang that anyone (even Regency-obsessed people like me) would have a hard time following it at times. I know there were definitely passages I struggled with. But overall, the whole thing is so gosh darn fun that I couldn't dock it more than a half a star. I'd easily call this a four and a half star book. I will definitely be reading more Georgette Heyer.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Mini Reviews 10-4-12

I've been having a mini-crisis in my family these past couple weeks so I've fallen a bit behind on blogging. You know what that means: MINI TIME! Lots to catch up on. :D

 From Goodreads
The prequel to the New York Times bestselling Maze Runner series.

Before WICKED was formed, before the Glade was built, before Thomas entered the Maze, sun flares hit the earth and mankind fell to disease.

Mark and Trina were there when it happened, and they survived. But surviving the sun flares was easy compared to what came next. Now a disease of rage and lunacy races across the eastern United States, and there’s something suspicious about its origin. Worse yet, it’s mutating, and all evidence suggests that it will bring humanity to its knees.

Mark and Trina are convinced there’s a way to save those left living from descending into madness. And they’re determined to find it—if they can stay alive. Because in this new, devastated world, every life has a price. And to some, you’re worth more dead than alive.

My Rating: ***

The Kill Order was exactly what I expected it to be, maybe just a pinch better. It carries all of Dashner's distinctive writing traits, crazy creativity and a focus on non-stop action. There's barely time to breath. I think the world of The Maze Runner is fascinating and terrifying, but I was not satisfied with the way the series played out. There were some serious sacrifices made in character development to keep up that non-stop action pace throughout the books and some major questions left unanswered. That was the main reason I wanted to read this. Did I have my questions answered? Nope.

But still, it was an intense read and I felt like there was a little more emphasis on the plot and the people, instead of just the gore and the plague-ridden psychos. I liked seeing how it all started and I'm glad I read it. There were some weird inconsistencies, though, for example Mark and his friends all start to realize the plague is spreading so they sacrifice some of their friends' lives to keep from getting infected... but then... they meet an adorable four year-old girl who has OBVIOUSLY been infected and they go, "Oh... she's so cute! Let's all hug her and bring her with us! We don't care about getting the plague anymore!" It all made sense later why this particular girl was supposed to live, but at the time I just kept thinking, "LAME! INCONSISTENT!"

I had plenty of issues with the writing and the pacing, but overall better than I was expecting.

 From Goodreads:
Miranda wakes up alone on a park bench with no memory. In her panic, she releases a mysterious energy that incites pure terror in everyone around her. Except Peter, a boy who isn’t at all surprised by Miranda’s shocking ability.

Left with no choice but to trust this stranger, Miranda discovers she was trained to be a weapon and is part of an elite force of genetically-altered teens who possess flawless combat skills and powers strong enough to destroy a city. But adjusting to her old life isn’t easy—especially with Noah, the boyfriend she can’t remember loving.

Then Miranda uncovers a dark truth that sets her team on the run. Suddenly her past doesn’t seem to matter... when there may not be a future.

Dan Krokos’ debut is a tour-de-force of non-stop action that will leave readers begging for the next book in this bold and powerful new series.

My Rating: ****

Interesting! I really enjoyed this and thought the concept was nicely original and very well carried out. I'd like to see more of this kind of sci-fi in YA. Lots of deep ethical questions, balanced with a killer plot, nice action sequences, cool powers, sincere friendships, and nice romance.

It wasn't perfect, and some things about the memory loss bugged me. Miranda lost all of her memories, but they came back at strategically convenient moments. She never seemed to be without a memory when she really needed it. The whole thing wasn't explained all that well and I wasn't sure why she could remember certain things with no problems and not others. Then I also thought the love triangle took it too far. It's one thing to not be sure what you want... it's quite another to decide you want both and just go around kissing whenever the other person's back is turned. Too much snogging.

But there was a lot that I really liked and I think it's a definite read if you like sci-fi YA, memory loss, and X-Men style powers.

 From Goodreads:
After pulling some spectacular heists, Amy and Dan have become two of Interpol's most wanted criminals. So when Vesper One orders them to steal the world's largest diamond, they know they're facing life in prison...or worse. But with the Cahill hostages still in peril, Amy and Dan have no choice but to launch a mission that leads them to an ancient city full of dangerous secrets. With a Vesper mole sabotaging the Madrigals from inside, Amy and Dan have to fulfill their enemy's request before it's too late. Vesper One has developed a taste for killing Cahills, and Amy and Dan aren't going to wait to see who's next.

My Rating: ***

Book 4 in the Cahills vs. Vespers and I think I'm finally a bit sick of them. I'll be waiting a long time to get back to this series, probably until a solid three or four more are out. Everything's just too dragged out and stretched out for me and it's driving me crazy! At least Dan and Amy are no longer heisting. That was beginning to bother me. Still, this is a fun series for middle graders and I highly recommend it for the history, the travel, and the excitement.

 From Goodreads:
This first novel in Alexander McCall Smith's widely acclaimed The No. I Ladies' Detective Agency series tells the story of the delightfully cunning and enormously engaging Precious Ramotswe, who is drawn to her profession to "help people with the problems in their lives." Immediately upon setting up shop in a small storefront in Gaborone, she is hired to track down a missing husband, uncover a con man, and follow a wayward daughter. But the case that tugs at her heart, and lands her in danger, is that of a missing eleven-year old boy, who may have ben snatched by witch doctors.

My Rating: ****

I've been reading more "book club - ish" books lately and this one is lovely and entertaining. It's not all pretty though, in fact, some of the uglier aspects of African culture (particularly in regards to how women are treated) really made me angry. But mostly this book was humorous and interesting. I loved watching Precious on the case! She's intelligent and witty and absolutely delightful to follow.

From the description I was expecting to find a big overarching story arc based on that last case it mentions, but there's really none of that. It's a collection of short stories, and sprinkled throughout are stories from Precious's life and childhood. There are tons of books in this series, and I'll will probably eventually get around to more, but not for a while.


The purest intentions can stir up the darkest obsessions.

In this prequel to Mary Shelley's gothic classic, Frankenstein, sixteen-year-old Victor Frankenstein begins a dark journey that will change his life forever. Victor's twin, Konrad, has fallen ill, and no doctor can cure him. Unwilling to give up on his brother, Victor enlists his beautiful cousin Elizabeth and his best friend, Henry, on a treacherous serach for the ingredients to create the forbidden Elixir of Life. Impossible odds, dangerous alchemy, and a bitter love triangle threaten their quest at every turn.

Victor knows he must not fail. But his success depends on how far he is willing to push the boundaries of nature, science, and love - and how much he is willing to sacrifice.

My Rating: ****

One down on my Halloween book list! I really liked it. Even more than I thought I would. I was worried it would be too dark and that Victor would be all stereotypical brooding Gothic hero, but the whole thing was more - in a good way. I really loved the identical twin dynamic between Victor and Konrad. I also loved the shades in Victor's character. There's some wonderful good in him and even though I know he's headed towards being a psychotic mad scientist, I was cheering for him to succeed and not let the bad overcome the good. Also, the love triangle was not bad. Elizabeth knew exactly what she wanted, and there wasn't a lot of swapping kisses back and forth. No, Victor is mostly just a victim of unrequited love and it wasn't hard to feel sympathy for him.

The quest was a bit formulaic: translate needed ingredient, discover it is conveniently within an hour or two's trip to get it, experience major danger getting it, wash, rinse, repeat.

But who can complain when the setting is in gorgeous Geneva set in a deliciously gothic chateau with secret passageways and hidden libraries?

Not me. :D

Highly recommended if you need a spooky-ish read this October!
When does obsession become madness?
Tragedy has forced sixteen-year-old Victor Frankenstein to swear off alchemy forever. He burns the Dark Library. He vows he will never dabble in the dark sciences again - just as he vows he will no longer covet Elizabeth, his brother's betrothed.
If only these things were not so tempting.
When he and Elizabeth discover a portal into the spirit world, they cannot resist. Together with Victor's twin, Konrad, and their friend Henry, they venture into a place of infinite possibilities where power and passion reign. But as they search for the knowledge to raise the dead, they unknowingly unlock a darkness from which they may never return.
My Rating: ****
The sequel was MUCH scarier! Like I had constant chills and couldn't read it at night. Plenty of communicating with the dead and creating bodies and demons and caves and such *shudder*. I feel like I can easily recommend the first one (it wasn't nearly as scary as I think it pretends to be), but this one you might want to steer clear of if you don't like horror.
Victor is definitely getting closer to being the Dr. Frankenstein we all know and love. But book Dr. Frankenstein, not pop-culture Dr. Frankenstein. One thing I really loved about this series in general was how true I felt it stayed to the source material. Frankenstein is obsessed with science and has good motivations. He just went too far. That is exactly what's going on with Victor. I also liked the subtle nods to the original work, like the street named Wollstonecraft Alley (Wollstonecraft is Mary Shelley's maden name) and Henry Clerval's poem ("She walks in beauty like the night") which was really written by Lord Byron (who was there that night when Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein).
Anyway, overall this is a very interesting series and well done. I don't know if there will be another, but I'll be reading it if it does!