ARC Review: Under Dark Skies by A.J. Scudiere

Under Dark Skies by A.J. ScudiereAuthor:  A.J. Scudiere

Genre: Fantasy, Crime

Publisher: Griffyn Ink

Publication Date: April 2, 2015

366 pages, paperback

NOTE: I was provided with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!

Check out the full synopsis on Goodreads.

I enjoy crime fiction quite a bit, but it’d been a while since I’d read any when I was contacted about possibly reviewing this book. I jumped on it for two reasons: crime fiction and werewolves. I love when two genres that don’t normally mix are thrown together.

Medical examiner, Donovan Heath, and FBI agent, Eleri Eames, are recruited to a special FBI division called NightShade. It’s not as random as either of them think though, and as they begin to investigate a cult and the decade-old kidnapping cases the cult seems to be involved in, their secrets just might surface. The question is, will it “save them…or destroy them”?

Sounds cool, right? What are their secrets?! I liked figuring it all out, and A.J. Scudiere combines the supernatural with the…well, I can’t really say normal because cults aren’t exactly mundane, are they? But Scudiere weaves these two stories together in an interesting and (mostly) fast paced way. We’ve got cults, murder, kidnapping, and werewolves all thrown together in this huge, crazy, easy-to-read book.

While I really liked the story itself, I couldn’t connect with some of the characters which made the book feel pretty long. I thought Donovan was quite interesting and I liked learning about him as a werewolf, and I thought all of the things he could do and his history was super cool. Eleri was just kind of there for me. I don’t know. She wasn’t necessarily a bad character, but I didn’t connect with her as easily as I did with Donovan. I’ve always thought cults were kind of fascinating (I don’t know what this says about me), so meeting Jonah, who escapes from the cult, and learning about the cult leader kept me hooked.

I liked that while there were forensic investigations, it never got overwhelming or over-technical. Instead, Under Dark Skies focused on the abilities of the NightShade members, which were all fascinating. However, I thought the case itself was a little too easy. All of the witnesses just kind of stumbled into their path – some of them literally did just that. It made the believability factor lower quite a bit.

The bottom line:  This book reads almost like a normal FBI thriller but then you’ve got the addition of werewolves (and other supernatural abilities that I won’t spoil), which is a combination you don’t normally come across. It occasionally felt drawn out and long, but overall, I enjoyed it. I would recommend it to people who’ve read a few too many cheesy paranormals and would like something new or people who like crime fiction and would like to mix it up.

Rating: 6 – good, but not great

Book Review: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

The Raven Boys

Title: The Raven Boys

Author: Maggie Stiefvater

Genre: YA, Fantasy, Supernatural/Paranormal

Publisher: Scholastic

Publication Date: September 2012

Paperback: 408

Stand alone or series: Start of a series

How did I get this book: Bought

 

Let’s start with a brief synopsis (from Goodreads):

“There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve,” Neeve said. “Either you’re his true love . . . or you killed him.”

It is freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrive.

Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.

His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

What I thought:

It took me about 30-40 pages for me to get into this book, but once I did, I was hooked. I couldn’t read this book quickly, like I usually do, but it wasn’t because it was hard to read. It was because the prose made you slow down to savor the words and feel the magic surrounding them.

The Raven Boys is just gorgeous. There were several times that I got goosebumps because I could actually feel the magic in the book. The prose was absolutely beautiful. Let me give you a couple examples of this:

“This was a beautiful, old wood, all massive oak and ash trees finding footing among great slabs of cracked stone. Ferns sprang from rocks and verdant moss grew up the sides of the tree trucks. The air itself was scented with green and growing and water. The light was golden through the leaves. Everything was alive, alive.” – page 219

“The air moved slowly around his body, somehow tangible, gold-flaked, every dust mote a lantern.” –I’ve lost the page for this! L

“When Adam got to Cabeswater, it felt like a living being. The wind through the leaves was like the bellows of an exhaled breath and the hiss of the rain on the canopy like a sucked-in sigh.” – page 381

Asdfjkl; – so pretty! Safe to say I was captivated with the prose and it drew me in and wrapped around me like a warm blanket.

As for the characters: I loved them all! Stiefvater has a way of writing each of the characters so carefully that each of them feels developed even if they aren’t central to the story. Blue was fascinating: the daughter of a psychic who doesn’t have the abilities of the rest of her family, but amplifies the abilities of those who do. She was different and strange and wonderful. I found myself wanting to go on these adventures with the Raven Boys, and I was glad to put myself in Blue’s shoes to do so. And the Raven Boys – oh, man. They had such an air about them. They were real, quirky, relatable, sarcastic, and I loved them. Even Ronan.

The story was so unique and interesting, unlike anything I’ve ever read before. Maggie Stiefvater is a master storyteller, and I was very excited to read another book by her (I loved her Wolves of Mercy Falls series). I liked that though the romance was central to the summary, it was more like an underlying theme throughout the book. It was there, but it wasn’t being thrown at you. It made it more beautiful that way.

I will say that the book is one of those smoldering, slow to burn novels. It never feels boring or sluggish though. It’s just not going to give away its secrets all at once. This may bother some people, but I really enjoyed it. It felt even more powerful because of that. But it does take a bit to get into the story and might make it seem confusing at time because there is just so much happening.

Also, I won’t give anything away, but that last line?! I literally said “What?” out loud about ten times when I finished. You can ask my family. They were just staring at me, but they’re so used to outbursts like this that they just let it go. I can’t wait to get my hands on the sequel.

The bottom line:

Magical, beautiful, smoldering, lovely. All words to describe this book. You can feel the magic in the narrative coming off of the book’s pages.

Rating: 9 – Practically perfect

Reading next: Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

 

Have you read The Raven Boys? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!

Book Review: If I Stay by Gayle Forman

If I Stay

Title: If I Stay

Author: Gayle Forman

Genre: Paranormal, young adult, romance

Publisher: Speak

Publication Date:

Paperback: 234

Stand alone or series: First in a series

How did I get this book: Borrowed

 

Let’s start with a brief synopsis (from the back cover):

On a day that started like any other…

Mia had everything: a loving family, a gorgeous, adoring boyfriend, and a bright future full of music and full of choices. Then, in an instant, almost all of that is taken from her. Caught between life and death, between a happy past and an unknowable future, Mia spends one critical day contemplating the only decision she has left—the most important decision she’ll ever make.

Simultaneously tragic and hopeful, this is a romantic, riveting, and ultimately uplifting story about memory, music, living, dying, loving.

What I thought:

Blaaaaaah.

Is that enough? Can I be done?

No? Okay, I’ll try to put into words how I feel.

I did not emotionally connect with this book. At all. There was one scene close to the middle that made me pretty sad, but mostly because I imagined what it would be like if that happened to me. I don’t want to give anything away, but I have a younger brother too, so I could relate. But I didn’t feel anything because the narrative made me feel that way, but rather because I could imagine it for myself.

Everything I read or heard about this book made it seem like I was going to cry and be devastated and that I would remember/be thinking about this book for a long time after I’d done reading it. In fact, the back cover quotes the Sacramento Bee as saying, “Long after its last moment, readers may find themselves dwelling on how the story resonates in their own lives.” Honestly, I doubt I’ll think about this book after I finish this review.

The “romance” in this novel is non-existent, at least to me, until the last 5 pages. The relationship has been having problems since the beginning; Mia actually says that. She says that her relationship with Adam started off rocky and that the last several months of their relationship has been problematic as well because they’ve been moving in different directions in life. Mia says that the middle of the relationship was wonderful; they were in love, blah blah blah. But the reader doesn’t actually see that.

Everything that the reader is supposed to feel in this novel is, I guess, implied, but even Mia doesn’t feel anything. In the state she’s in, she doesn’t feel: not the physical pain of her injuries nor the emotional pain of the tragedy that’s occurred. How in the world are WE supposed to feel anything if she doesn’t?? Seriously. I don’t get it. Also, you can’t tell me I’m supposed to be sad. You have to show me, you have to make me feel it through the narrative. I just didn’t, and, therefore, I didn’t connect.

I will say that If I Stay was an easy read. I read it quite quickly. For some reason I can’t actually explain, I will probably read the sequel. I guess it’s mostly because I’m curious. And because I know it’ll probably be as quick a read as this one was. The writing style was easy and simple, which was nice.

I honestly don’t know if maybe I just read this at the wrong time. Maybe after the other books I read this week, this one just didn’t live up to those or something. I do think this book was overrated, and that my opinion might have suffered from the hype surrounding it. It was not “devastating” as the synopsis said. Sad, sure, but only because of the subject matter and not from the way it made me feel. I was just kind of bored with it, to be honest.

The bottom line:

I couldn’t connect with this book. And if I can’t connect with it, I’m not going to like it.

Rating: 4 – Eh. This is bad.

Reading next: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Have you read this book? What did you think?

Book review: Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead

Vampire Academy

Title: Vampire Academy

Author: Richelle Mead

Genre: YA, paranormal, romance

Publisher: Razorbill

Publication Date: August 2007

Paperback: 332

Stand alone or series: First in a series

How did I get this book: Bought

I’ve spent the day (I finished VA this morning) trying to figure out whether I liked this book or not, and I’ve just decided to say how I felt right when I finished: I both like and don’t like this book. There are things that I really liked about VA and then there are other things that I really didn’t. Let me try to tell you what I mean.

Let’s start with a brief synopsis (from the book jacket):

Lissa Dragomir is a Moroi princess: a mortal vampire with a rare gift for harnessing the earth’s magic. She must be protected at all times from Strigoi; the fiercest vampires—the ones who never die. The powerful blend of human and vampire blood that flows through Rose Hathaway, Lissa’s best friend, makes her a Dhampir. Rose is dedicated to a dangerous life of protecting Lissa from the Strigoi, who are hell-bent on making Lissa one of them.

After two years of freedom, Rose and Lissa are caught and dragged back to St. Vladmir’s Academy, a school for vampire royalty and their guardians-to-be, hidden in the deep forests of Montana. But inside the iron gates, life is even more fraught with danger…and the Strigoi are always close by.

Rose and Lisa must navigate their dangerous world, confront the temptations of forbidden love, and never once let their guard down, lest the evil undead make Lissa one of them forever…

What I thought:

So I chose to use the summary from the book jacket instead of writing my own because I think it really gives you a good idea, pretty much the whole idea, of what the book is about. It does a good job at summarizing the story, so I figured I’d just go with that.

I want to start with the things I really liked about the novel: the plot and the ideas behind the different types of vampires. The plot is pretty interesting. You’ve got a vampire princess who, along with her ‘guardian’, slip out of a super protected fortress school, but are dragged back. Once there, they’re dropped back into the social scene of a school full of vampires, which has changed slightly from the way they knew it. There’s a crazy, spiteful vampire named Mia who has taken over Lissa’s position, along with her ex-boyfriend Aaron. Rose has a new, older guardian named Dmitri giving her extra lessons to try to catch up with the other novice guardians. We’ve got a creepy but also sweet outcast named Christian who sparks an interest in Lissa. It’s a somewhat typical, drama filled high school story, but then there’s vampires and sort-of-superpowers and queens and dead birds showing up, and you know it’s not so typical. Pretty cool plot. Then add in the way that the queen/king is chosen in this world: the current queen/king chooses their successor from among several other royal families but is not allowed to choose their own offspring for the role. The plot moved along at a decent pace, so my attention was kept the whole time. There was a fair amount of action and generally interesting happenings (dead animals, people being lit on fire, you know, happenings). Additionally, Mead’s writing style wasn’t all that bad, so that’s another plus.

I love vampire stories. Like, a lot. Well, except that really well-known one about some Mary Sue and her creepy, sparkly vampire boyfriend; you know the one. But new takes on the vampire origin/history are one thing I really enjoy, so the different types of vampires in this novel were fascinating. You’ve got the Moroi, the Strigoi, and the Dhampir. The Moroi are vampires, but they’re mortal and they have an affinity for harnessing one of the elements. The Strigoi are pretty typical vampires: they feed on blood, are extremely sensitive to sunlight, and want to kill people. However, the way they become vampires is sort of different; they can be bitten by another to turn, but they can also be a Moroi and drain another vampire/human/Dhampir of blood until they die to turn. Then you’ve got Dhampirs: the offspring of a Moroi and a human trained to protect the Moroi; they don’t feed on blood, have no powers, but do have increased strength and are generally badass. Cool, huh?

I also really liked Christian: outcast, creep, but all-around sweetheart. He’s an outsider at St. Vladimir’s because of his parents’ conscious decision to turn Strigoi, but after Lissa returns, they start to develop a really sweet little romance. He’s dark and brooding and a loner, but he becomes softer when Lissa is around. Their romance was one of my favorite things in the book. It felt realistic and was adorable. I was definitely rooting for them.

So now I need to talk about the things I didn’t like.

Rose is an asshole. I’m sorry for the language, but in my opinion, that is the best way to describe her. She’s so extremely shallow. Here’s two of the things she says about herself:

I knew I was pretty, but to Moroi boys, my body was more than just pretty: it was sexy in a risqué way. – Page 51
I knew perfectly well that there weren’t a lot of girls at this school who looked as good in a bra as I did. – Page 121

If she’d just said something like this once or twice, I think I could have handled it, but she talked about how hot she was several times. SEVERAL. But it wasn’t just when she was talking about herself (which she did a lot). Her ‘romance’ with Dmitri, her older (by seven years – totally illegal) guardian mentor, was super shallow as well. Like, holy crap. I definitely could not handle them. To me, the only reason there was a romance here was because they were both ‘hot’. In fact, after denying his feelings for Rose for a while, he kind of admits to it, but even says it’s partly because of her body. I just didn’t feel their romance at all. If you could even call it a romance. Near the end of the book there is a short little justification for their feelings for each other, but it is only briefly mentioned and didn’t give me any more reason to believe in their pairing. It was weird, awkward, and forced.

Rose is the type of girl who would date someone just because of how hot he was (e.g. Jesse). I also think that Rose was really bitchy and mean just to be mean. She totally destroys the burgeoning romance between Lissa, who is supposed to be her best friend, and Christian. And just because she was jealous; Christian is taking up Lissa’s time, so let’s destroy him, even though Lissa obviously really likes him.

She tried so hard to be the fierce, independent, badass character, and while she is pretty badass (I mean, she’d totally kick my ass), she wasn’t exactly the strong, independent woman I strive to be every day. I will say that she was rather funny at times, and I did like her sarcasm. I found myself continuing to read to find out what stupid thing she was going to get into next, which I’m not sure is a plus or negative.

I think this novel was just a bit too immature for me. Please don’t take this the wrong way if you loved it. I’m not trying to insult anyone. This was just firmly in the TEEN genre for me. I’ve heard later books in the series get better, so maybe I’ll have to see about that. I don’t see myself buying any of the others, but I might check them out from the library.

I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I think I prefer the movie version of this book (which I saw in theaters). At any rate, I preferred movie-Rose to book-Rose. I am glad that I watched the movie before I read this book, and therefore had movie-Rose’s voice/looks/actual humor in my head while reading it, because had I not seen the movie, I think I would have seriously hated book-Rose. Being able to have the fully-developed characters from the movie in my head allowed me to fill out the characters in the book.

The bottom line:

This book was very readable, but its main character/narrator was obnoxious. There were things I liked and things I didn’t, though I did want to keep reading. I have mixed feelings about it, but I’d say it is worth a shot to any fans of vampire stories, school stories, and female leads.

Rating: 6 – Good, but not great

Have you read Vampire Academy? What did you think? I’d love to hear your opinion; don’t be afraid to comment if it’s different than mine!

Reading next: Gone by Michael Grant – yay for the first on my Bout of Books list!