Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side (Jessica #1)

Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side (Jessica #1)by Beth Fantaskey

If I were a movie, what would I be rated? PG-13

Any spoilers in this review? Yes.

Summary: Marrying a vampire definitely doesn’t fit into Jessica Packwood’s senior year “get-a-life” plan. But then a bizarre (and incredibly hot) new exchange student named Lucius Vladescu shows up, claiming that Jessica is a Romanian vampire princess by birth—and he’s her long-lost fiancé. Armed with newfound confidence and a copy of Growing Up Undead: A Teen Vampire’s Guide to Dating, Health, and Emotions, Jessica makes a dramatic transition from average American teenager to glam European vampire princess. But when a devious cheerleader sets her sights on Lucius, Jess finds herself fighting to win back her wayward prince, stop a global vampire war—and save Lucius’s soul from eternal destruction.

It wasn’t really my intention to read this book again. See, I remember this book. I remember liking it a lot when I was younger, gobbling it up and reading it with guilty pleasure. Probably because it was paranormal. I remembered a rich romance and lots of wittiness. I ran across it in a used book store and I bought it because of nostalgia mostly.

A couple days after buying it, I got an irresistible urge to read it about 30 minutes before midnight. You may see where this is going.

Anyway, I had to get up at 6:15 for work and finished reading around 3 a.m. The problem was that it was a very easy read and the chapters were short. It was far too easy to say, “One more chapter…” And so, there you go, I read it. I hadn’t even intended to.

So. That happened. Now, onward.

The writing was eh. The characters were all a bit… flat, if strikingly realistic for a teenager at times. I liked how Jess clung to her facts and science and had a brain for it. I didn’t like how cliche the other supporting characters were. You have the Witch Cheerleader, Jess’ rival. The ultimately flat hick character: sweet, handsome, and no match for the bad boy love interest. The somewhat ditzy best friend who was literally there at one point just to help Jess get ready for a dance. They were all… eh. Lucius was cliche was well. In the beginning when you met him, he was rather over the top with his accent and his overbearing conceit. That disappeared rather quickly to make him more palatable. And by palatable, I mean cliche.

Now, the plot was interesting. If you peel away the YA romance and look at what the plot actually could’ve been… you get duty vs freedom. Lucius was influenced by American culture while visiting and that was an interesting aspect. His letters certainly drove it home and the book would’ve been a lot worse if we didn’t have his letters to read.

It came down to this: do you have a duty to do something you have no choice in? To stop a war that might technically break out? Do you marry to fulfill an engagement you never had a choice in, or do you let the adults figure out how to end a possible future war without forcing you, their offspring, to marry?

Now, I’m sure women and men suffered with this question way back then, with politics being what they were, but it’s an interesting concept today in our individualist culture, isn’t it?

In the end, Lucius fell for Jess and got self-destructive when he realized he loved her enough not to force her into a marriage that might ultimately kill her. Having made that decision, he left a future war to possibly happen and countless lives to be lost, but Jess free of him.

And then Jess wanted to fulfill the engagement, because she realized she loved him. And that’s the entire reason I think the book went downhill for me. She wasn’t doing it to be self-sacrificing or to save countless innocent vampire and human lives if a war broke out. She wasn’t doing it because she wanted to change the backward sounding—Lucius had quite the abusive childhood—vampire world and better it. She didn’t do it because she thought she would be a good ruler, even with no training. She did it because she realized she wanted to marry Lucius and actually loved him. Not because of what was at stake. (Ha. Stake. Because vampires? Sorry.)

Now, I understand that Lucius figured out the Real Plot and that’s also why he didn’t want to marry her. This is a noble enough reason not to marry her. But… there was a potential for an interesting, lovely little political twist where they both went in knowing the Real Plot and did their own thing anyway. Or maybe he could’ve brought Jess back with him later—long engagement they talk everyone into—and put their future marriage on hold to train her some to to protect herself. All kinds of things.

Lucius grew up with all these people. And after his experiences in America, I like to think he had some clarity going back about who he could actually trust.

Of course, they get married anyway. Despite her being more of a burden and risking her entire clan being wiped out and all the political ramifications of her not being trained or ready to be a ruler at all. Because love. Sure, they avoided a possible vampire war. But they also made the inner politics of that world a whole lot more complicated and war, because of bad blood, possibly still possible. And much more difficult to spot, though, because now their clans are “united.” Problem sloppily, and not completely, solved.

All I’m saying is I wanted a more… cunning approach to this vampire world. They’ve been around eons. It’s all about politics and ending bloodshed and, in the case of the Bad Guy Vampires, it’s all about consolidating power with their clan only. A brief war, a decent amount of worthless human lives (to them) lost, and the inferior clan would be gone. No need to sully their prince’s line with a crude, American raised, vampire princess. And, reading about Jess’ clan, Jess’ clan really didn’t seem in a position be able to put up much of a fight if it came down to that, so why the pact was still even on is beyond me. The Bad Guy Vampires don’t seem the type to just keep their word if it doesn’t serve them.

There was so much Potential wasted, you know? Ah, well, it was an interesting idea and an interesting walk down memory lane. I don’t think I’ll pick up the next book. My understanding from reviews makes me think it’ll be disappointing.

What some people might be uncomfortable reading about in this book because of personal opinion or belief: as may be expected, the talk of blood drinking eventually does get sensual in nature. The biting sounds like it happens most naturally around, or during, sex. It’s about your average paranormal YA book basically.

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Poison

1331529Poison, by Chris Wooding

If I were a movie, what would I be rated? PG-13

Any spoilers in this review? Yup! I quote enough it would be hard to make this review spoiler safe. Apologies.

Summary: Poison has always been a willful, contrary girl, prone to being argumentative and stubborn. So when her sister is snatched by the mean-spirited faeries, she seeks out the Phaerie Lord to get her back. But finding him isn’t easy, and the quest leads Poison into a murderous world of intrigue, danger, and deadly storytelling. With only her wits and her friends to aid her, Poison must survive the attentions of the Phaerie Lord, rescue her sister, and thwart a plot that’s beyond anything she (or the reader) can imagine…

Alright, so this book came out of the left field. I read it ages ago, so my memory of it was mainly an impression of profoundness and really, really enjoying it. This didn’t mean much, though, because my opinions and standards have changed since I read this oh-so-many years ago.

We’ll start with the plot, which is basic enough. Her sister gets kidnapped and she goes to get her sister back. However, the simple plot morphs over time. Frankly, by the end it felt like a bait and switch, as if Wooding realized the plot was a wee bit too simple, so turned it into a murder mystery, then a coming of age, and then wrapped it up. Simple plots can be good, though, and it did a small disservice to the book to change it by the end. After all, the drive Poison had to get of Gull and just to save her sister was wonderful in itself, simple or not.

Now to the characters, which also were… basic enough. Poison bordered on a Mary Sue at times—what with her special violet eyes and tough, no nonsense, “everyone wants to be a princess; it’s boring” (page 115) character. I found myself at least once thinking with a little bit of disgust “yes, you’re special little snowflake.” But there’s no need to diss princesses. There’s no shame in being a princess, and it doesn’t make you cooler to scorn being one. But Mrryk points out on page 115 that at least they’re not the overused warrior, sorceress, and thief trope. And we can be happy for that. However…

There’s a line you can cross when pulling off this style of storytelling. Wooding almost crossed it. As an author, you can point out the flaws and the weak plot points via characters sometimes. It’s a way to acknowledge that, yes, you see how ridiculous X is and, look, the character recognizes it too! And sometimes that’s okay. But sometimes it’s a wee bit shoddy. Pointing out the flaws yourself as the author doesn’t justify their existence. Melcheron did it to Poison a few times in their conversation, either about her own character and reactions or about a past plot point—like Mrryk and how he never needed to eat even after 100 years.

Overall, it didn’t get too heavy handed. And Wooding didn’t lean on it as a crutch, which was good. But his characters did feel like various archetypes. Like, of course Poison began to care for Peppercorn. And of course Peppercorn was flighty and emotional, a good foil for Poison—to show that Poison did care, but also that Poison was much more on top of things compared to Peppercorn. And of course there’s a vague father figure in Bram. That kind of thing. It wasn’t terrible or overdone, but it was headed in that direction.

But there was a reason for Mrryk and Melcheron pointing out the things they did, even though it got a bit annoying at times. It worked towards the meat of the plot, which is actually where I had some trouble. Because the worldview taken to it’s full extent is… a little scary. And I didn’t like the conclusions it, I believe, unintentionally came to. Especially as the plot—the Hierophant angle—can easily be a real life worldview.

Here’s an excerpt from page 203:

Poison would have shed a tear then, if she had any left. “You’re fictions, all of you. Just like me.”

“How can you think that?” Fleet cried, suddenly spurred to animation. “We feel, we love, we cry, we bleed, we sacrifice. . . . If that is not life, then what is? What’s your definition, Poison? How can you think that the Hierophant is controlling you somehow? Don’t you make your own choices? Didn’t you choose to come on this quest?”

“But did I? I don’t know,” she said, sinking back to the pillows. “If ever I needed proof that my choices are illusions, you have just given it to me. Look what happens when I refuse to do as he wants. The story is fading around me. Why can’t I choose to give up?”

Ok, that’s skirting some very fine lines about suicide here. And it can so easily be applied to real life. So, if you’re reading this book and don’t have an opinion on where you end up after you die, I just… taken to the full conclusion, what’s the point of living? It’s more powerful to take your own life and prove you have control than living in a world—real or fictional—where you’re not sure you control your own destiny. And that, anyone-who-reads-this, is a very, very sketchy ground to trod on in stories. Especially for the audience age group this is for.

The turn around happens on pages 205 to 207.

“You’re fictions . . . ” she protested weakly.

“Yes, yes, I’ve heard that, too,” he snarled. “Fictions. Ridiculous! I’m as alive as you, and you’re as alive as the Hierophant. We’re all alive, Poison. By any definition you have, we’re alive. Even if you think we’ve been given life by someone else. We all have dreams and ambitions, we all have plans and wishes, and you’re taking them all away from us.” He stood up, making a gesture of disgust with one gloved hand. “Didn’t you ever believe in a god, Poison?”

“When I was young . . .” she croaked.

“Then how is this different?”

“Because then I believed . . . I had control of my own destiny. . . .”

“But don’t you see?” Bram cried. “You’ve proved your point! You do have control over your own destiny. You’re choosing to die, choosing to kill us all with you. Nobody has stopped you; nobody can stop you except yourself. It doesn’t matter what the consequences of your choice are, but you made it yourself.”

Poison was frankly surprised that Bram had thought that up himself. “That’s . . . good enough,” she said, wiping the lank strands of her hair away from her face. “If the only way to make the world right . . .  is to do what he wants me to do . . .  then it’s no choice at all.”

“You don’t have the right to kill us all!” he cried.

“How do you know . . .  you’re even alive?” she countered.

“How does anyone? How does anyone know anything? There’s never any true answers, Poison. Everything is uncertain. That’s life. We can only deal with the world as we are presented with it. Don’t you appreciate that? All I want from life is to get back home, to buy that house in the mountains, and to never have to think about phaeries and Hierophants ever again! You’re robbing me of that dream, Poison! What gives you the right to decide whether all of us deserve to live?”

“Because . . .” she whispered.  “Because you’re all dying. Because you’re all dying because I’m dying. What gives you the right to make me live? How can you make me responsible for the whole world?”

“You are responsible for the whole world!” Bram said, suddenly triumphant. “And do you know what that means?”

Poison frowned. “I don’t . . .”

“It means this is your story, you fool!” he cried.

[…] “It means you have power over it just like the Hierophant does!” Bram cried. “If I die, if Peppercorn dies . . . well, the world will go on as normal. But because you’re dying, the whole tale collapses. Don’t you see? You’re the heroine! This is your story. Without you, it doesn’t work.” Bram’s eyes were flashing now with manic enthusiasm. “So if this is your tale, then take control of it! Fight back! Do something!”

“Do what?” Poison said weakly. “How can . . . how can I fight?”

“I don’t know!” Bram said, stamping around the room. “You’re the clever one. You’ve overcome everything that he’s thrown at you so far. Fight back, and there’s a chance, a chance you can do something about your situation. Are you willing to throw your life away—all our lives!—without being certain? Try! And if you fail, you can always give up again.”

So, I don’t even know where to begin with dissecting the logic Bram puts forth. And I realize that this story is fictional, and fantasy at that, but all stories have some foot in the real world. And the reasoning used here, applied to real life, is… well, I find it a bit horrifying? Especially Bram’s last line.

(Side note: Bram read OOC in that entire scene and the entire time all I could think was, “Yes, you know why you’re so surprised at Bram’s character change, Poison? Because this is a last ditch effort by some Hierophant somewhere to save everyone’s skin and they’re using Bram to be their mouth.” Honestly.)

The writing style and everything about this felt like it was directed for the younger side of the middle school age group, despite mostly seeing it on YA shelves on Goodreads. It’s a clever little story, but because of the worldview, I’d be incredibly wary letting just anyone read it. Read at the wrong time, it could drive someone into a downward spiral. Or maybe I’m just being overdramatic. I certainly didn’t pick up on it from what I can remember reading it ages ago, but I was and am entirely oblivious to some things at times. I just don’t want to underestimate the power of the written word. So the worldview in this alarmed me.

Overall, because of plot, the book felt a bit… meh. Indecisive, especially with the way it all wrapped up and Poison never did get to see her sister again. I can’t decide if I’d recommend this or not, but if you read it because of this review, drop me a comment or such with your thoughts. Or link me to your review. Whichever.

What some people might be uncomfortable reading about in this book because of personal opinion or belief: less than five curses at the most, kidnapping, death threats to the main character—anything you’d expect in a fairytale retelling, since this definitely has a fairytale vibe through most if it. PG-13 at the most, for disturbing images, some violence, and dangerous situations. Some of the antagonists were very disturbing. (Looking at you, Lady of Spiders.) There was no sex or romance.

The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle #1)

17675462The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle #1), by Maggie Stiefvater

If I were a movie, what would I be rated? PG-13

SummaryEvery year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue never sees them–until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks to her. His name is Gansey, 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 is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul whose emotions range from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher 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 doesn’t believe in true love, and never thought this would be a problem. But as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore. 

Guys. Guys, I don’t even know what to say. I feel like I accidentally finished this book, because it wasn’t my intention to read it in two days. And everyone in this book won my heart over. So, on the one hand I’m like, “This is so amazing! I love them all! Look at them! So real! Look how true and complex and realistic their relationships are!” and the other hand I’m wailing in a corner, clutching at my heart because these stupid raven boys.

I don’t think you’lll get a very articulate review out of me. The summary was rather “eh” and I wasn’t ready to be so emotionally compromised. Gah. There feel like there are literally too many things to address.

I was actually yelling, “What does that mean!” after finishing the book, though. And then the summary for the next book explained things.  Anyway, great book. Amazing job. I didn’t need my heart, apparently.

What some people might be uncomfortable reading about in this book because of personal opinion or belief (beware of spoilers below!): cursing is mild. There were a handful of inappropriate sexual comments (love you too, Ronan) and there’s a murder. Two of the characters find the bones of a human being. There’s ghosts. The main character is a daughter of a psychic and lives with psychics, all of whom are touted as real. One of the characters is in an abusive family and, since the POV switches sometimes, you get a chapter where they’re beaten by their father. It’s violent and disturbing. On screen, this may rate an R rating. As it is, precede with caution.

~

Miscellaneous thoughts:

1. I think Persephone is the famous psychic named Leila that was mentioned in passing.

2. The more I read of Adam and Gansey, the more I saw what I imagined Godric Gryffindor and Salazar Slytherin would’ve been like. I mean, look:

Maura continued, “You’re avoiding a hard choice. Acting by not acting. You’re ambitious, but you feel like someone’s asking some of you you’re not willing to give. Asking you to compromise your principles. Someone close to you, I think. Your father?”

“Brother, I think,” Persephone said.

“I don’t have a brother, ma’am,” Adam replied. But Blue saw his eyes dart to Gansey. (Page 145)

I read that as was like, “This. This is Godric and Salazar.”** It’s a Slytherin in a tough situation that the Gryffindor wants so desperately to fix, but both have different types of pride, and so neither can really move farther. It was amazing. And the characters all stayed consistent throughout the book. I’m also pretty sure Adam is an INTJ or ISTJ, as some of his thoughts and reasoning was rather exactly what I would think in his situation. Adam is my favorite and needs to be hugged.

~

Quotes of interest:

Blue never grew tired of feeling particularly needed, but sometimes she wished needed felt less like a synonym for useful. —Page 11

Gansey preferred Ronan to his elder brother Declan, and so the lines had been drawn. Adam suspected Gansey’s preference was because Ronan was earnest even if he was horrible, and with Gansey, honesty was golden. —Page 48

Ronan’s expression was still incendiary. His code of honor left no room for infidelity, for casual relationships. It wasn’t that he didn’t condone them; he couldn’t understand them. —Page 49

“I could cover you until you found something.”

There was a very long silence as Adam continued scrubbing his fingers. He didn’t look up at Gansey. This was a conversation they’d had before, and entire days of arguments were replayed in the few moments of quiet. The words had been said often enough that they didn’t need to be said again.

Success meant nothing to Adam if he hadn’t done it for himself. —Page 132

A wrinkle formed between Adam’s eyebrows as he looked away. Not at the double-wides in the foreground, but past them, to the flat, endless field with its tufts of dry grass. So many things survived here without actually living. He said, “it means I never get to be my own person. If I let you cover for me, then I’m yours. I’m his now, and then I’ll be yours.” —133

 

 

The Martian

18007564The Martian, by Andy Weir

If I were a movie, what would I be rated? R

Summary: Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate the planet while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded on Mars’ surface, completely alone, with no way to signal Earth that he’s alive — and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone years before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark’s not ready to quit. Armed with nothing but his ingenuity and his engineering skills — and a gallows sense of humor that proves to be his greatest source of strength – he embarks on a dogged quest to stay alive, using his botany expertise to grow food and even hatching a mad plan to contact NASA back on Earth. As he overcomes one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next, Mark begins to let himself believe he might make it off the planet alive – but Mars has plenty of surprises in store for him yet.

This was a very interesting book to read because, as far as I know, it’s all accurate. It seems realistic. But I also feel like I must acknowledge that I wouldn’t know if it weren’t. This is a good thing for the author. As a reader, you just assume the author knows what they’re talking about. And the amount of math and sciencing Watney does to survive is impressive as all get out, but do I have a way of knowing if the math and science is realistic and accurate? No. No, I do not. The amount of math and science thrown at you in this book is enough to make one’s eyes cross at times. I can only assume it’s all accurate. Otherwise, Weir pulled a good one over me.

Hilarious at times, Mark had a good, strong voice. Sadly, most of the third person scenes weren’t as great as they could’ve been. But they did offer a break when reading about Mark felt a bit much, which it did for me towards the end.

I freely admit to watching the movie before reading this. I think the movie had a stronger ending but, overall, this book was good. Considering 75 percent of the book relied on one person all alone with their thoughts to keep you invested, Weir did a great job.

What some people might be uncomfortable reading about in this book because of personal opinion or belief: enough f bombs to make this rated R. Otherwise, there were only five or less sexual comments and it was generally just about Mark surviving Mars. Pretty clean read, considering.