Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Asylum by Madeleine Roux

I...don't...like...asylums. They scare me. They're dirty, unsettling places of torture and inhumanity and I don't like them! Yes, I'm sure our modern day mental facilities are perfectly safe, clean places where people can recuperate in a healthy and secure setting, but the old ones just freak me out! But after going through an entire October reading only two or three books that could genuinely be called scary, I decided to give myself a challenge and check this one out. Much like the Miss Peregrine books, this one relies on the use of old black and white photographs and builds a story around them. Where this one differs from the Miss Peregrine books, this one is a straight up thriller meant to scare and disturb. Does it succeed? Let's find out.

Daniel Crawford is excited to spend part of his summer at the New Hampshire College Prep program.  He gets to be with kids who actually want to learn, he gets to take classes he's excited about, and he's managed to make a couple of friends: pretty, artistic Abby and sarcastic, cool Jordan. The only downside is that he and his friends are living in an old asylum not far from the campus while the dorms are being renovated. This wouldn't bother Dan until creepy stuff starts happening. Cryptic and sometimes threatening notes keep appearing, strange messages start popping up on his phone, and he keeps getting flashes into the mind of the asylum's old warden. Abby and Jordan are being affected too and when students start getting hurt, even killed, the horrors of the asylum's past become a very real, present day nightmare.

 As someone who finds old asylums and old-fashioned mental treatments really unsettling, they actually don't go into too much detail about what went on at the asylum in its working days. In all honesty, I was kind of let down. They touch on suspected lobotomies and shock treatments but they never give us anything else. It's kind of like when someone talks and talks about how evil a villain is, but we never see them do anything evil. If you're going to go there, go there.

That being said, it does make a good horror story and mystery. The slowly building tension creeps up until you feel trapped. There are suspects everywhere so you can guess just who is behind everything going on and try to establish a potential culprit. The best part, however, is Dan's portrayal in all this. Even though he's the protagonist, there's still a great deal about Dan that is left a mystery. As we pile information together, even he starts to become untrustworthy. How much of what's happening is real and how much is in Dan's own head? Can we trust what he thinks and says? It's all handled really well and gets to the point in, at the end when the answers reveal themselves, you're still surprised, even if you could guess what was going on. It's a startling reveal to say the least.

The story is well-paced and the characterization of the asylum itself is well written. You feel it slowly take control of, not only Dan, but everyone living there. The atmosphere slowly changes people, shifting their personalities and even driving a wedge between Dan and his friends. Abby gets fixated on a patient she believes was a long lost family member. Jordan gets nightmares and is seen frantically crunching mystery numbers no one seems able to make heads-or-tails of. It gets to the point where the asylum becomes almost an infection, spreading through the students and twisting their realities until they're barely recognizable as the same kids who started the program. It also makes use of the photos that are scattered throughout the book. The imagery is unsettling and sets the tone of the book. It all comes together in a dark, twisted mystery that I was hoping for.

Final Verdict
Twisted, creepy, dark, this book is just what I was hoping it would be. It's a good mystery with just enough twists to keep you guessing, enough scares to keep you up at night, and a story that makes it worth your money at your local bookstore.

Have you read the book? What did you think? Comment below and share your thoughts.

Next Time: You know what fairy tales need more of? Zombies.

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Wicked Will Rise by Danielle Paige

It's been a long time since I reviewed Dorothy Must Die, the first in Paige's Evil Dorothy saga. This sequel is one that I've been looking forward to for awhile. How does it hold up when compared to the first book? Is it better, the same, or worse? As this is a sequel there may be spoilers for Dorothy Must Die but I will do my best to avoid them. You have been warned, now let's dive right in!

Amy Gumm's mission in Oz is far from over. The Emerald City is leveled, the Wicked Order scattered, and Amy on the run with a couple of formerly winged monkeys and Oz's former ruler who is suffering a bad case of the crazies. As Amy and her friends regroup and determine their next steps, she discovers there may be a plot that could spell certain doom for her former home: Kansas. Amy must gather what forces she can, collect the keys and save Oz and Kansas.

The morbid sense of fun and dread are still very much alive in this book as it was in the previous installment. You still have a lot of really cool characters from Baum's original stories who bring life and light into the story. The story really needs it too, because the plot has gotten even darker as the story progresses. There's no denying that this is a war story, filled with death and despair that hits you the moment the book begins and up until the second it ends.

Even so, with all the trials and suffering that happens in this book, the character of Amy stays determined and focused on her goal. My big gripe with the previous book is that Amy was a bit of a whiner, but this time she's greatly improved. Her whining nature is rapidly being replaced with that of a seasoned fighter and, while it is an improvement, she starts to battle with her own killer instinct. Amy does kill in this story and it eats at her. She struggles to remain a good person even when the wickedness of her actions starts to devour, not only her heart, but her humanity. It's a vastly more interesting dynamic and a great development for her as a character.

Now, does the story have a downside? Well, yes. It gets crazy complicated really quick. What started out as a simple "kill the tyrant" mission just branches off and grows into a kind of end-of-the-world-magicky-wibbly-wobbly plot by several people and it gets a bit heard to keep track near the end. Also, while Amy is greatly improved, not all the other characters in this book are. Some of the new additions like Queen Lulu and Bright are a welcome bit of comic relief, major players like the Scarecrow, Polychrome, and even the Wizard are almost neglected. The characters of Paige's own design are clearly the ones that got all the love in this book, when I would have much rather read more about the ones from the original Wizard of Oz. That and a few choices from certain characters can get a bit frustrating, but that's spoiler territory so I'm not getting into that.

Final Verdict
A good follow up to the first book, but could have used more from the source material. All in all, this book matches its predecessor and is worth your money at your local bookstore.

Have you read the book? What did you think? How did it compare to the first book? Comment below and share your thoughts.

Next Time: They're coming to take me away, ho ho hee hee ha ha

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Can I just get something off my chest real quick? Writers out there, if you're reading this, do me a favor, will ya? Please, for the love of tacos please, STOP having your main couples introduce themselves via the girl punching the guy! I keep seeing it and it annoys the crap out of me! And every time the guy is all like "ha ha, that's so cute, I like that you physically assault me the moment we meet, it's so endearing." No, it isn't. It's stupid. Stop doing it! Rant over. Sadly, this is kind of my feelings toward this book in general. Let's just dive right in, shall we?

The story is of Nyx Triskelion, the daughter of a lord in a country that was taken over and imprisoned by the mysterious Gentle Lord. Because her father made a rash deal with the Gentle Lord before she was born, Nyx is forced to become the Gentle Lord's wife. Trained by her father in the Hermetic arts in the hopes that she can kill the Gentle Lord, Nyx must enter his labyrinth of a castle and break his hold over her people. Which makes it very unfortunate when she starts to develop feelings for him.

Okay, let's start with the good stuff. There is good stuff in here, there really is. Firstly, you can tell this is designed really well. The descriptions of the cursed kingdom, the beautiful and majestic rooms of the castle, and the magical Hearts of the castle, it's a very pretty book. A lot of thought went into the designs of this place that makes it both beautiful but also mysterious and threatening. Also the romance of the story, something I struggle with personally as a reader, was for once well-paced and almost (emphasis on almost) believable. Nyx's reasons for falling for the Gentle Lord makes sense even if some of the supposed "development" scenes are a little...off.

Now, the big problem with the story? Everyone, and I mean, everyone is a horrible person. There isn't a single character in this wretched book that isn't a terrible human being...or demon...or whatever they are! I didn't like anybody at all. Sure, Nyx was raised being told her whole life that her job is to die and that sucks. But it leaves her with this prickly disposition that just makes her think and say the most awful things all the time. That would be fine if we weren't stuck in the nasty broad's head the whole time! Also, her family sucks. Her self-righteous father sucks. Her slutty aunt sucks. Her surprisingly diabolical sister sucks. Everyone! Even the Gentle Lord and his sexy shadow, Shade, have these awful streaks of nasty that makes you just ask yourself why we're supposed to root for these characters. Oh, yeah, the Gentle Lord is so cute and sexy right up until he locks you up in a room full of corpses! What a catch.

Also, the plot can just get downright confusing at times. It flips and flops out plot twists and subplots that go absolutely nowhere and bringing up things that don't even make a lick of sense. For instance there's a chance that Nyx has to escape the Gentle Lord and go home if she guesses his real name. Now, you think this is going to be some really important deal later on in the story right. Well, nope. Just nope. Doesn't pan out. There's also this thing about a couple of rhymes that might kill the Gentle Lord and free everybody and...those don't pan out either. In fact, those are even more useless than the name thing. I just leaves me scratching my head and thinking why the heck they even brought them up to begin with! Oh, and this ending, right? I've never seen such a great, big, string ball of cop out since Superman turned back time by flying around the world really, really fast. Honestly, if this story started at the end as opposed to the beginning (those who've read it will understand) I might have been able to get into this a little better.

Final Verdict
The best way to describe this book is like those vapid supermodel stereotypes you see in movies. Pretty to look at, but dumb and nasty. Maybe there are people out there who will be able to see past the horrible people or forgive the cop out ending, and like I said the descriptions are really good. If morbid curiosity gets to you and you want to read it regardless of what I say, save your cash and check it out at your local library.

Have you read the book? What did you think? Comment below and share your thoughts.

Next Time: When wicked is good and good is wicked....

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Wucaii by Pembroke Sinclair

It's not often that you read a book about the apocalypse that isn't a mad dash for survival. And there are not nearly enough stories about the apocalypse via dragons out there. More dragon apocalypses please! In this unique and rare story, we see mankind's last hours through the eyes of the one who brings hope to a doomed world.

Aelana is no longer human, yet her humanity is not lost to her completely. She is a half-human, half-dragon hybrid and the harbinger of doom and salvation. It is her duty to travel to different worlds that are about to be destroyed by the dragons, immortal creatures of the universe, and deliver them a sign that would insure at least some survivors. But when she is sent to the world that was once her home (which may or may not be Earth) she's confronted with her reincarnated former lover and a whole church dedicated to her coming arrival. But there will always be those who will seek to stop the end of the world and, for the first time in five hundred years, she has something to lose.

The beauty of this story is seeing it from the perspective of the person bringing the end of the world about. Why would someone do such a thing? What motivates them? What happens after? Through the character Aelana, we see that the end of the world is something that must be done and it's her job to see it done. It's very good, therefore, that she's a hybrid. Dragons, the almighty creatures who bring about the destruction of worlds, are kind of Vulcan-esque in the way that they're strictly logical. Humans are destroying their own worlds so we must start over for the planet's sake. But Aelana, who possesses a dragon's logic and can see sense in it, still has a human heart and longs to help whomever she can. Both dragon and human are represented well through her as a main character. She's never too much of one but a perfect balance of human and dragon. Also, there are sections of the story where we dive into her past before her transformation into a hybrid, and I really liked her there too. Far too often strong, independent female protagonists are overly tough hicks who will punch you as soon as shake your hand just to prove how tough they are. Aelana, on the other hand, is patient and humble. When she loses a sword fight, she bows respectfully to her opponent and says she's glad to have offered a challenge. It's a kind of grace that we don't see very often and I really appreciated her.

While Aelana is described as being very powerful and immortal, the forces that seek to stop her still manage to be threatening. People will do crazy things to try and save the world, and even though she's the one trying to help mankind, you can see the logic behind those who try to kidnap or even kill Aelana to ensure their world is safe. While some of the minor baddies don't pose much of a threat even if you can understand their motivations, the real threat doesn't show up until later in the story. I'm not giving anything away, but even if you can guess what'll happen, it's still a pretty intense battle with some legitimate concerns about how the story will play out.

One element I was a little confused of was, as I mentioned earlier, I'm not sure that this planet the story takes place on is our earth. They make it sound like earth, it's described as earth, but last I checked I didn't know any homeless people who can control plants using only their minds. This world has magic in it, which Aelana also learned prior to her transformation, and it's used several times throughout the story. Not everyone can use it, but people don't seem overly surprised when they meet someone who can. Regardless, whichever world we're in, it's an interesting one nevertheless.

This story also holds a lot of potential for future installments. Again, I'm not going to give anything away, but the ending leaves things way open for more stories. I'd even like to see more of the worlds that Aelana has seen prior to the events of this book. What has she seen? What are the other worlds like? Why where they destroyed? How did Aelana adjust to becoming who she is and what she is? I'd definitely keep my eyes out for more stories in this universe.

Final Verdict
Refreshingly unique, fast-paced, and insightful. Wucaii was a fascinating read with a great character and a smooth-flowing plot and I'd say that it's definitely worth your money at your local bookstore!

Have you read the book? What did you think? Comment below and share your thoughts!

Next Time: Beauty and the Beast...if you can't tell which one is supposed to be the beast....

Friday, January 13, 2017

Retrospective: A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

In honor of the new series on Netflix (not sponsored, just hyped), I've decided to take a quick look at one of my favorite book series of all time, A Series of Unfortunate Events. Widely acclaimed and well loved by fans, this series of books is a part of many of our childhoods. I have fond memories of waiting eagerly for the next installment, discussing theories about them with my brother, and drinking in every sardonic and woeful detail of the books over and over.

The story is that of Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire. They once had a very pleasant life with very pleasant parents in a very pleasant house. All that changes when a terrible fire burns down their home and kills their beloved parents, forcing the children into the clutches of the evil Count Olaf, a greedy villain who will stop at nothing to attain the Baudelaire fortune. As the children are passed from home to home, from guardian to guardian, Count Olaf follows their every move and making their lives all the more miserable.

Sounds pretty grim for a series of kids books, right? Well, that's kind of the beauty of them. These books never shy away from the dark fact that these children are very miserable and very little good things happen to them. Kids can handle heavy material and these books understood that. It doesn't hold back because the target audience is mostly young readers. Mind you, there is a fantastical edge to the books. While sometimes your dealing with real dangers such as attempted murder and even REAL murder (yeah, people are straight up murdered in these books), there are also times when you have a baby beating a grown woman in a sword fight using only her teeth. Things like that keep these from being straight up adult books and can keep children both interested and hopeful. Despite everything that these children go through, and even when you're warned right away that the book doesn't end happily, there is hope that things will turn out at least a bit well for our likable protagonists.

There's also the addition of shadow characters hinted at throughout the books. Lemony Snicket, the mysterious author of the books, has a brilliant voice and feels like he's just as much a part of the story as the Baudelaire orphans. His commentary on the lives of the children, the insights into his own life, and even the remarks of a certain woman named Beatrice (a character in which all we know about her is that she's dead), make him one of the first and foremost mysteries the books have to offer. There are a great many hints about some secret force going on behind the Baudelaires' lives, leaving the readers digging for clues right along with the characters.

Now, some may be thinking what the point is for children to read books where everyone is miserable and people die. Well, growing up with these books, there were two big lessons that I took from these books that many children can also take from them. Firstly, be grateful for what you have. Far too often today people in general possess a sense of entitlement and take for granted what they have. Many times the Baudelaires long for the simple comfort of their rooms, or a lost possession, and for their parents love. These children have practically nothing and, as a kid who is reading this in their cozy bedrooms in their own homes with their parents calling them to dinner, they can learn to appreciate what they have when they have it. The second thing that these books teach you is a lesson of self reliance. You quickly learn that the Baudelaire orphans are by far the smartest characters in the books. Every adult in these books fall into one of two categories: well-meaning morons or pure evil! The Baudelaires have no choice but to rely on themselves, as there are no adults who will help them. While in the real world adults can (and sometimes should) handle things on their own, children must sometimes take matters into their own hands and solve their own problems. It's an empowering message to the young and an appreciated message.

The books are a simple read with some great commentary by the author that both teaches children and inspires their imaginations. The tale of the Baudelaire orphans is one that just made my childhood. I even went back and read them again recently, and they still hold up all these years later, the magic not lost. Take a Violent, Fervent Dive into these books and witness the melancholy for yourself.

Have you read A Series of Unfortunate Events? What did you think? Comment below and share your thoughts.

Next Time: The dragons are coming. Heed her warning, and you might survive....

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Tales of the Peculiar by Ransom Riggs

In much the style of J. K. Rowling's The Tales of Beetle the Bard, Ransom Riggs brings us Tales of the Peculiar, a collection of fables from the universe of Riggs' bestselling series that I reviewed awhile back. I've always really liked fairytales, especially when I got older and found out how dark and serious they were and how twisted the morals could be. Anyone who's read Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children and knowing how dark and fascinating those books are can only fathom how the fairytales of the peculiar universe could be. Let's take a look.

The book begins with a forward by one of the characters of the original series, Millard Nullings the invisible boy. Seeing as he's the most scholarly of Miss Peregrine's wards, he takes it upon himself to rewrite these tales and share them with the current times. There are ten tales in total telling wild stories of a serpentine princess, a living island, girls who could tame nightmares and befriend the dead, destructive pigeons, and some very polite cannibals.

Each tale, as any good traditional fairy tale would, possesses morals and lessons to be learned by both the peculiar and the normal. The Splendid Cannibals is a cautionary tale of hubris and greed. The Fork-Tongued Princess is a tale of forgiveness and overcoming hardships. The tales of The First Ymbryne and The Boy Who Could Hold Back The Sea hold actual historical value (the latter story revolves around an actual event that took place in history) and clarity in building the world Riggs created in his stories. But many of the lessons are specific to the peculiars themselves, realizing their powers and the difficulties and responsibilities that come with them. When and if they should be shared with the world, or even used at all.

The whole book possesses the macabre wonder of the source material as well as the cleverness. While the stories all have happy endings (some are even edited from Nullings himself so that they end happily), some of them are a bit more bittersweet than the rest. Like the legendary tales of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen, "happily ever after" often comes with a price. Things must be sacrificed, including freedoms and even their peculiar abilities altogether in order to achieve the best possible solution for the situation. I appreciate that about these stories and their lessons, while some are not quite for the faint of heart (I did mention the cannibals, right?) they can be enjoyed by both young and old alike, and also fans of the Miss Peregrine's series and those just picking this up because they're curious and have never heard of the Miss Peregrine series.

Final Verdict
Everything you could want in a collection of dark fairytales, Tales is an easy and enjoyable read with wise morals and interesting characters and I'd say it's definitely worth your money at your local bookstore!

Have you read the book? What did you think? Comment below and share your thoughts.

Next Time: It's retrospective time again as I take a look back at the books whose Very Fascinating Details in regards made the world fall in love with the must unfortunate children in literature....

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Seeing Redd by Frank Beddor

It's a new year and a time for new beginnings and fresh starts. Yet I'm going back a bit at my first ever review and taking a look at Frank Beddor's Seeing Redd, sequel to The Looking Glass Wars. The criteria for looking at sequels is slightly different than for stand alone novels. How does it compare to the first book? How does it fit in with the rest  of the universe? Is it a step up or a step down? Also, for those who haven't read The Looking Glass Wars, this review may contain spoilers. I'll do the best I can to avoid them, but if you want to read the book, you'd best do that first before you check out this review. If you've already read the book or just don't care, then let's dive right in to Seeing Redd.

Wonderland is healing nicely under the care of Queen Alyss now that the usurper Queen Redd has vanished from their world. But Alyss's troubles are far from over as King Arch, the misogynistic ruler of the neighboring Boarderland, has devious plans of his own to rip Wonderland from the new queen's grasp. Also, there appear to be strange sightings of her evil aunt both in their world and in ours. Alyss finds herself torn between what her title demands and what her heart desires as she fights for security in her queendom, and must rely on her allies of old if she is going save Wonderland and it's inhabitants.

Some time had passed between reading the first book and then getting around to this one. When I did, however, it felt like I'd never left the marvelous world that Beddor created. Immediately, you're sucked into this massive universe of imagination and rebellion and magic and war. Each character breathes with life and the sequel continues to capture that awesome aura just as well as the first book did. The characters as just as you left them and, even with a wide cast of characters, I never struggled to remember who was who.

Something I didn't really get to talk about in my Looking Glass Wars review was the villains of the book. Her Imperial Viciousness Queen Redd is just a wonderfully fun villain who's evil motivations don't expand much further than, "I chose to be evil and if you can't accept it than sucks to be you!" She's like a spoiled child and possesses this sense of entitlement that's almost comical, but she's called Viciousness for a reason and kills and maims without a second thought. King Arch is just a character you love to hate. A pig of a man yet with a brilliant mind for strategy, he's cunning and ruthless and poses and genuine threat in the story. You don't see a lot of villains like them anymore, as today they have to have long and complicated backstories and be sympathetic or else just generic baddies who want money or yadda yadda. These two just revel in their evilness and I really kind of appreciate that about them.

The plot is fast paced and full of intrigue as, once again, we jump around in the story to several different points of view. This is a tricky tactic that can sometimes feel like some characters are left out or make you forget who they are, these characters are strong enough to survive the movement of the plot and keep you invested in everyone. You never forget who is who and what they're doing and why, and it speaks to the author's talents and the depth of each character. This also allows you to see the schemes taking place from every vantage point, and works to properly build suspense as you sense someone walking into a trap that they don't see, but you know is there. It's masterfully done and comes together nicely.

If I had to nitpick, I'd say the one flaw of the book would probably be that of Homburg Molly, Alyss's new bodyguard. In the first book, she was interesting and useful enough but sadly she possesses a lot of teenage drama that sadly takes away from the story. She's often caught up in her own angst and as we're used to the undeniably awesome character of Hatter Madigan in this position, it's a bit of a let down. While Molly still does stuff she never gets to the point where she's annoying, her parts in the story were the hardest to get invested in. Not horrible, but definitely not as good as it would have been if they'd just left Madigan in the role.

Final Verdict
Seeing Redd is just as awesome an adventure as its predecessor. The story isn't forced, the characters are still the same and as alive as ever, and it, like the first book, also belongs on the Shelf of Recommendation!

Have you read the book? What did you think? Comment below and share your thoughts.

Next Time: Once upon a peculiar time....