[Book Review] Beautiful Creatures and Awkward Audiobooks

Meg’s Review of Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

Audiobook read by Kevin T. Collins (with special appearance by Eve Bianco)

I haven’t read any teen paranormal romance since I attempted Twilight, which all but killed my faith in the genre and scarred my brain for life. But I’m a sucker for any book being made into a movie, so I picked up Beautiful Creatures during a nifty sale at Audible. I figured that if it sucked, at least it would only be $5 of suck.

Much to my surprise, I really liked this first installment of the four-book series. Partially, I think my enjoyment was at the deft move by writers Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl to make the narrator a teenaged boy rather than a girl. It inherently dropped the angst factor by about 75%. They also split the love story, with the majority of it revolving around the star-crossed lovers of Ethan Wate and Lena Duchannes, but there was also the added love story of a boy mourning the loss of his mother that gave the book considerable, and quite unexpected, depth. Continue reading

[Small Chirp] Akata Witch and reading about magic in Nigeria

Over the next couple weeks, I will be reading Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor with the McLicious lady over at comp lit and mediaphilia. Earlier this month, Hannah challenged me to take a step out of my sci-fi and fantasy comfort zone and nibble on something different. Some discussion and haggling later, we settled on Okorafor’s 2011 J/YA fantasy-meets-magic-realism novel about American-born Sunny, a twelve-year-old whose family has moved back to Nigeria. Already facing the triple outsider jeopardy for being the new kid, an American, and albino, Sunny discovers that she might also be part of a secret society of people with latent magic powers. Oh, and there’s a killer on the loose, and Sunny has just seen the end of the world in a candle flame.

Akata Witch Prologuesmall

Word map from the Prologue of Akata Witch.

Continue reading

[Small Chirps] Goodreads Choice Awards 2012 – and our favorite genres!

It’s that time again, as 2012 slowly rolls on closer to the new year. Before we know it, it’ll be 2013. December is the perfect month to curl up with a mug of hot chocolate and a book – or celebrate this year’s favorite books! 1,156,852 votes (woohoo!) and Goodreads releases its top reader choice award picks for 2012!

Here are the highlights for our favorite genres:

YA Fantasy and Scifi

Dystopian YA is still the new black, with Insurgent by Veronica Roth taking first place with her oddball (albeit creative) world of factions, intrigue, and a society that’s imploding in on itself. The author, Veronica Roth also finds herself at the top of the Best Goodreads Author category, with over twenty-thousand votes, making her a three-time winner (once for Divergent in 2011, and twice again this year). I know I’m curious  whether Roth’s third book, coming out  September 26th next year, will place first at the 2013 Reader’s Choice Awards, collecting a full set of awards for the trilogy (gotta collect them all!).

We’ll just have to see.

The paranormal teen romance genre is represented with Cassandra Clare’s latest book in the Mortal Instrument (the trailer for the upcoming movie is looking pretty good!) and Richelle Mead’s Golden Lily. The android-meets-moon-prince retelling of Cinderella, coming in fourth, had our canary vote, and –

– oh, why, hello there, Rise of Nine by Pittacus Lore. In almost-fate, Rise of Nine misses ninth place by just a few votes, coming in tenth. Continue reading

[Book Review] Insatiable, or why girls shouldn’t date 500-year-old princes of darkness.

Chirp!Book Review: Insatiable by Meg Cabot

Audiobook read by Emily Bauer

Maybe there really is no way to redeem the vampire romance storyline.

I was browsing my library’s shelves, looking for some light soul-CPR after a brutal week of vet trips, 20-page reports, and googly-eyed misery. I have been meaning to read some Meg Cabot ever since I saw The Princess Diaries movie in 2001, and this looked perfect:

Vampires are everywhere, and Meena Harper’s employers have just shoehorned a vampire storyline into the show Meena’s working on. Meena, whose special talent is seeing when and how people are going to die, wants nothing to do with the fictional undead and even less to do with the “monster misogyny” of the vampire fad.

InsatiableBut when she finds herself falling for handsome Lucien Antonescu, a modern-day prince who traces his lineage back all the way to Vlad the Impaler, and jumped by Alaric Wulf, an honest-to-goodness modern-day vampire hunter because of it, she begins to discover that vampires really are everywhere.

Man, this book started off so well. The reader was lovely, and I felt I was getting a book version of the ubiquitous chick flick – think Legally Blond, Mean Girls, The Devil Wears Prada. Talented, passionate girl with cute dog is stuck in dead end job, meets handsome guy, gets life turned upside down…

And somewhere near the middle, the story changed as the vampire plot kicked into high gear. Meena seems to be unable to deliver on spunk and loses quite a bit of perspective as she falls in instant lurve with handsome vampire prince, Lucien Antonescu (more on that later).

According to the author’s website, this series is a kind of sequel to Bram Stoker’s Dracula: Lucien is Dracula’s son and all, and Meena’s named for her great-aunt Wilhelmina (presumably, Wilhelmina “Mina” Harker who got nibbled on by Dracula). But for me, Insatiable sets itself up as a kind of reaction against the Twilight fad…and yet seems to end up running against many of the same issues as Twilight. Meena makes her dislike for the vampire-romance abundantly clear, yes,  but faced by a pretty-boy vamp, finds herself, much to her disgust, head over heels in love. Meena’s pragmatic take on the situation is marred by the fact that the story also uses trope like instant love, (insta-)love triangle,  he-can’t-read-her-mind!(tm), let’s give ourselves up to the evil vampire to save friends’ lives…

Despite Meena’s stalwart insistence that she isn’t that girl, she kinda is. And the bad starts about halfway through the novel, right when Meena discovers vampires are real and her boyfriendforever just might be her boyfriendforever, being undead and all.

From a quick look at other reviews, it seems like people are split into two camps, those of us who loved the first half of the book, and those who loved the second. I’m firmly pro-first-half – but perhaps that’s because I went in looking for a heroine, and not a vampire romance (can those two even coexist?).

That said, it looks like plenty of people thought the real story started right when it stopped working for me, about halfway through, so, fans of vampire romances, if you’re struggling with the opening, keep going! There’s hope. In fact, stop reading this review now, because I’m about to hit you with a bunch of story spoilers.

After I wrote this two star review, I took a step back and asked myself, “Am I being too harsh on Insatiable?”

It’s not a bad story and the first half is pretty darn fun, in a YA-adult romance crossover kind of way. What really killed me was that it pulled a bait-and-switch on me. It promised and delivered me a strong heroine, and then took her away just as things got moving. Meena hangs back. Meena gets rescued. Meena’s heart breaks (a lot). Meena gets held hostage.

Sure, she’s just a plain ol’ mortal, untrained in the art of defending herself. But, Meena’s brother, who is even more vanilla human than Meena, gets his hands on a crossbow and starts shooting with delighted abandon the first chance he gets. Meena ends up going with the holy water balloons. (Why, hello there, Freud.) Lucien turns into dragon and incinerates a church full of vampires, Meena ties a tourniquet.

True love also manages to stomp all the part of Meena’s brain that, presumably, houses sanity. When Meena has a vision of Alaric dying – Lucien gouging Alric’s eyes out and then ripping out his throat – that doesn’t really faze her faith in her boyfriend’s goodness. When she tells her vampire boyfriend not to bite her while they’re getting it on, he bites her, and it’s okay because she changed her mind when he pressured her with lurve. It is not until the final battle when Lucien turns into a real-life dragon that Meena decides that she’s had enough and tells the vamp that she needs some space. Of course, she makes it clear that it’s all his fault:

He tells her he’s the dragon a few times, but who’s counting?

“You know,” she said, swallowing hard, “when you told me the story of St. George and the dragon that night we were in the museum, Lucien, there was one thing you left out.”

“What is that?”

[deleted: Description of Lucien upset and barely clinging to control.]

“You never told me that you were the dragon,” she whispered.

Thunder – or maybe it was his voice – rocked the walls of the apartment [deleted: Meena covers her face!]

“I’m the prince of darkness.” His voice was like a sonic boom in her ears. “What did you think that meant, Meena? Did you think that meant that…I…was…the…saint?”

Touché, Mr. Vampire, touché. You bring up a salient point.

And this, really, is why I couldn’t buy into Meena. She makes the strangest cognitive leaps. When deciding what to do with herself now that she has no job, she comes up with a bright idea; she’s going to join the society of vampire hunters to use her skill to warn them if they’re in deathly danger.  This is her explaining her decision to her vampire (now ex-)boyfriend:

“It’s not like I would ever do anything to help them go after you, Lucien,” she rushed to explain. “You know that. I’ll always try to do everything I can to help you. Because I love you, too. I always will. But I just can’t be with you. Not if it means my friends are going to get hurt. And this job…it means I can finally do what I think I’ve always been meant to do.”

And by that, I can only guess she means to help the Palatine Guard be more effective in their efforts to kill vampires indiscriminately (nevermind that she slept with one, and was close friends with the two living next door), instead of, say, helping abused and exploited young women get the help they need before they end up dead, as she’d done before meeting Lucien. I just…

I don’t understand.

But hey, at least they end up taking a break:

It wasn’t until they were almost halfway there that Meena stopped shaking and began to believe that she’d done it.

She’s told him “no” and she was still alive. She’d survived.

Honey, that’s not a sign of a healthy relationship. But good for you.

As a book, I suspect that Insatiable would have been a one-canary. But Emily Bauer’s reading salvages an entire canary. She was incredible. Her reading had me falling in love with Mary Lou’s southern drawl, Meena’s mental quips, and Alaric’s running commentary on interior design.

As I lost more and more faith in Meena’s abilities to make rational and effective decisions, I decided that  the actual hero of the story is our human vampire hunter, Alaric Wulf, (team “wolf,” anyone?) as he tries to deal with his anger over his ex-partners savaging at the hands of vampires, his own imminent death as predicted by Meena, and his coming realization that maybe, sometimes, (albeit incredibly rarely) there are things more important than staking the nearest undead. I wanted Meena to run off to Thailand with Lucian so the sequel could be all about Alaric’s adventures with his faithful vampire-head-chopping sword, Senor Sticky.

A girl can dream, right?

All in all, this is a fun read. Just don’t go in like I did, expecting a feminist-approved overhaul of the vampire storyline.

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Canaries, is there a way to redeem the vampire romance storyline? Any recommendations?

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Related Reads:

[Advance Book Review] A healer on the run, an army on the march.

Scent of Magic by Maria V Snyder (Healer #2)

Publication date: December 18th 2012

(This review may contain spoilers of book one, Touch of Magic by Maria V. Snyder.)

After reading Touch of Magic (has it really been a year?) and stamping it with a Five-Canary approval rating, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the sequel. And here it is!

Avry of Kazan, the last Healer in all of the Fifteen Realms, is dead of the plague, sacrificing her life to heal the man who destroyed her people…or so everyone thinks. Finally free and able to make her own decisions, Avry’s loyalty is torn between the need to help a sister in the clutches of a vicious mage, her own calling as a Healer, and the need to do her part against the tyrannical King Tohon and his ravaging army. And if she is to do all this, she must part ways with Kerrick, so soon after finding him again. Continue reading

[Small Chirp] When Worlds Get in the Way

The world of Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan trilogy is mind-bogglingly original. It recasts World War I as a battle between nations wielding steampunk warmachines and living beasts. The two protagonists, Alek, the on-the-run heir to an empire, and Deryn, a girl disguised as a male solider and the strongest female hero this side of Holly Short, have a will-they-won’t-they relationship of Austenian proportions.

When I first read the books, I couldn’t stop extolling the vibrancy of the world that Westerfeld had created. Every person who stood still long enough got an earful of the dashing adventures aboard the living airship, the Leviathan, and the delightfully infuriating manner in which Westerfeld strings along Deryn’s secret life as Alek hovers ever closer to the truth. Just look at the trailer! How could you not want to dive into the book?

My mother got the biggest dose of my Leviathan mania during daily phone calls. And at the time I was devouring the books, we were also in the midst of selecting new books for our book club — and it was Mom who suggested that I throw Leviathan into the ring. And I laughed at her until I realized she was serious, that she’d been drawn into the stories by my never-ending praise. Continue reading

[Small Chirp] Vote in the Goodreads Choice Awards 2012!

Canaries, it is that wonderful time of year. Lights are twinkling in trees, your favorite series are coming out in brand new box sets in time for the present-giving season, and a top ten list of 2012 is being compiled for everything from best fashion to the best new characters on fall TV. And most importantly for us, the round-up for the best of 2012 books is just beginning. And you have a chance to take part in the festivities by voting in the Goodreads Choice Awards 2012.

What started as a behemoth list of every book published this year has become 10 books in each of the 20 different categories, from fiction to cookbooks. One neat facet of this year’s layout is that a small right-hand navigation bar tells you if any of the books on your Goodreads shelves appear in the lists  – making it easy for you to pop in and vote for your favorites. Continue reading

[Book Review] The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan

(Book four of the Lost Heroes Series)

This review will contain spoilers from Son of Neptune.

Remember how much I raged at the cliffhanger for The Son of Neptune? Well, that ending now looks like rainbows and cuddly butterflies compared to what Riordan left us with in The Mark of Athena. I’m officially back to being pissed at him for being so good at leaving readers hanging.

Athena picks up right where Neptune left off, with the giant flying Greek battle ship hovering over the Roman demigod camp. The Romans are none too pleased with situation, but they allow the Greeks to come down to the city unarmed. Not that demigods need to be armed to do damage.

Less than two chapters in, and we have Annabeth MMA-launching Percy to the ground in order to threaten his life should he ever leave her side again. It was a lovely reunion between the two star-crossed lovers, and an even better treat to finally be inside Annabeth’s head and seeing the plot through her eyes at least some of the time. Continue reading

[ Series Review ] A catpaw birthmark doesn’t have to mean she’s a shapeshifter, honest.

Series Review: Darkness Rising by Kelley Armstrong

Last week, I posted a review of Armstrong’s The Darkest Powers series covering book 1-3. The Darkness Rising trilogy makes up the next three YA books in the same world, following sixteen-year-old Maya living in a small medical-research community on Vancouver Island. In a town of some hundred people, strangers stand out, so when a journalist shows up asking about a tragic death a year ago, Maya takes notice. And she begins to ask her own questions.

The Gathering:

The mountain lions are acting up, Maya’s best friend is hiding something, a stranger is snooping around town, and a Maya is haunted by a memory of a friend’s  drowning that might just have been murder. Oh and there’s a cute bad boy in school who suddenly develops a sudden and inexplicable attraction to Maya that she doesn’t believe and doesn’t trust.

I actually read this series first, before realizing that it connected indirectly (and eventually directly) to The Darkest Powers. Still, it is a comfortable standalone, and it helps that even if you don’t have the backstory from The Darkest Powers and don’t recognize some of the references, you’ll still know that something isn’t quite right in this peaceful little town. And of course, even the most oblivious reader will zero in on the fact that Maya has a birthmark in the shape of a cat’s pawprint. Because, you know, that’s never significant.  Continue reading

[Small Chirp] Sneak peek at the next book in my favorite-love-to-hate series

To everyone, even those who don’t know my long love-to-hate relationship with the books, I refer to Pittacus Lore’s series exclusively as IAmSexy Number Four. There is a whole legion of very confused people wandering around the Midwest trying to find such an excellently titled series. Sometimes they actually stumble upon the real books and, after reading the first, they say, “Meg, this is utterly terrible. Why did you make them sound so good?”

And I always tell them, “Wait, read the second one. It gets better.”

And that, canaries, is how I lose friends. Continue reading