alwaysanswerb’s #CBR5 Review 61: Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead

“St. Vladimir’s Academy isn’t just any boarding school—it’s a hidden place where vampires are educated in the ways of magic and half-human teens train to protect them. Rose Hathaway is a Dhampir, a bodyguard for her best friend Lissa, a Moroi Vampire Princess. They’ve been on the run, but now they’re being dragged back to St. Vladimir’s—the very place where they’re most in danger…

Rose and Lissa become enmeshed in forbidden romance, the Academy’s ruthless social scene, and unspeakable nighttime rituals. But they must be careful lest the Strigoi—the world’s fiercest and most dangerous vampires—make Lissa one of them forever.”

When I finished this book and it was added to my Goodreads update feed, my friend dryly asked, “Is this Twilight?” My answer, at the time, was “I haven’t read Twilight, so I can’t honestly say,” but I thought it might be a fun exercise nonetheless to compare Vampire Academy to what I know about Twilight.

  • I am pretty sure that both have “good” vampires and “bad” vampires and the “good” ones don’t kill humans.
  • Twilight banks on pseudo-chaste UST, and Vampire Academy is much less oblique about sex. The romantic leads don’t get it on though — not yet.
  • This book’s cover girl is a second-string Angelina Jolie, and the other one has Kristen Stewart.
  • Arguably, in Vampire Academy (or in the first book in the series, anyway,) the power couple is a pair of best girl friends, not any kind of romantic pairing.
  • Both series give vampires weird abilities that aren’t exactly part of traditional vampire canon, e.g. sparkly skin in Twilight; in Vampire Academy, bending, basically (in the “Avatar The Last Airbender” sense.)
  • Rose, the VA protagonist, is the prototypical snarky kickass PNR type, and Bella, well… we know about Bella.
  • Both have scenes in the woods, I’m pretty sure
  • Both are in high school, kind of
  • Allegedly the VA series does develop love triangles or pentagrams or whatever

I know none of that really tells you how I felt about the book, so to summarize that: the Goodreads plot write-up up top and cover are pretty WYSIWYG, it was fun enough, if you’re into lightweight vampire stories and sarcastic heroines you’ll be in luck.

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alwaysanswerb’s #CBR5 Review 59: Endless Knight by Kresley Cole

“Evie has fully come into her powers as the Tarot Empress, and Jack was there to see it all. She now knows that the teens who’ve been reincarnated as the Tarot are in the throes of an epic battle. It’s kill or be killed, and the future of mankind hangs in the balance.

With threats lurking around every corner, Evie is forced to trust her newfound alliance. Together they must fight not only other Arcana, but also Bagmen zombies, post-apocalyptic storms, and cannibals.

When Evie meets Death, things get even more complicated. Though falling for Jack, she’s drawn to the dangerous Endless Knight as well. Somehow the Empress and Death share a history, one that Evie can’t remember—but Death can’t forget.”

Despite kind of hating a lot of Poison Princess, the first book in this series, I decided to read the sequel, since PP ended with a bang and gave me enough confidence to soldier on. I’m glad I did, because this book had a lot more of the parts of the first that I liked: action, expansion of the cool Tarot concept, Evie not being a complete muppet. Oh, also, there are probably spoilers for PP in this review, so tread with caution. Despite it being a slight stretch of the imagination that Evie went from having literally no idea what she was capable of to suddenly displaying a massive show of power, it was kind of fun that we didn’t have to trudge through a literary training montage. In a fluffy book like this, sometimes it’s just more fun to accept that her magic is natural to her and she just needed to unlock it.

I was also curious to meet Death (the guy doing his best Spike impression up there on the cover) since I wasn’t a huge fan of Jackson, the first point of the love triangle. Kresley Cole, having quite a formidable background in PNR (just ask Malin and Mrs. Julien!) draws on traditional archetypes to set these guys up against each other. Jackson is definitely a rogueish Protector, while Death is a romantic Tortured Soul who initially lashes out at Evie because he’s all Damaged like that. It’s an interesting study in contrast, because while both have moments with her where they alternatively treat her like dirt then do something intended to be completely swoon-worthy, their actions come from decidedly different places. I guess it’s just up to readers to pick their favorite type of hero, because neither one is obviously a better choice in my opinion.

This series is meant to be Cole’s foray into YA, by virtue of having younger protagonists and fewer love scenes that are also slightly less explicit. More interestingly, writing for the YA set gave Cole an opportunity to really flex her high-concept plot muscles, which is something I think she’s done well at. She may even be better at this than traditional PNR, since in that area she comes across as having creative ideas that are weighed down with genre tropes like weird gender issues and gratuitous rough sex. And I’m not saying gratuitous rough sex doesn’t have a place in PNR, but I’ve gotten the sense from her that she almost enjoys building new worlds more than writing love scenes (see as evidence: her many sprawling high concept series for which she seems to never run out of ideas, but sex scenes that are mostly the same when you really get down to it. SEE WHAT I DID THERE) Anyway, read if you’re curious, a fan of Cole, the genre, etc.

alwaysanswerb’s #CBR5 Review 56: Allegiant by Veronica Roth

 

This is the third and final installment of the Divergent trilogy, and since it will be difficult to speak another word, including giving any summary, without tremendous spoilers for the first two in the series, the rest of this review will go behind a cut.

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Polyphonist’s #CBR5 Review #24: The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr

Lucy-Variations-Sara-Zarr
There are times when a book comes to you just at the right time. For me, this was one of those books. I happened to bring my niece to the library for storytime and after, while she played in the juvenille section, I took a look at the new YA offerings. As a singer and dancer, most images depicting music appeal to me, so the cover of The Lucy Variations, with a girl’s hand on a piano jumped out at me. Yes, I fully admit, I often judge books by their covers. And this one was really pretty and clearly had to do with music. It wasn’t until I read the synopsis that I realized it was also about so much more. Passion. Family pressure. Making choices that you don’t fully know the full scope of until after you’ve made them. Recovering from the aftermath of major life transitions. Waking yourself up to life again. The hunger for attention and the blurred lines we dance around to get it. Yes, this book was so much more than a a sixteen year old girl playing piano. But it does start there. Well…actually, it starts with the death of a piano teacher. Not a spoiler; it’s literally the first scene of the book.

In the opening pages, we’re introduced to Lucy Beck-Moreau, sixteen year old former piano prodigy, and her ten year old brother, Gustav…the up-and-coming piano prodigy. Lucy is trying to do CPR to her brother’s piano teacher and…well, fails. It’s theorized she had a stroke, and that there was “probably” nothing she could’ve done (Jeez, Mr. EMT. Couldja maybe have given her a little reassurance?). From there, Lucy and Gus’s family need to find Gus a new piano teacher that a) is available (duh), b) meets with their grandfather’s limited approval. The latter is actually what proves to be harder, since their grandfather’s musical opinions are harsh and not very inclusive. He’s an affluent codger who thinks performing is only valid if you’re the best or striving to be the best. Even at the expense of family. This type of pressure can get to anyone, especially children, and it’s revealed that Lucy walked away from her budding career less than a year earlier and had never touched a piano since. This garners the wrath of her grandfather and detached disapproval of her mother, making her family life a bit more strained than your average teenager.
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alwaysanswerb’s #CBR5 Review 43: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

The_Fault_in_Our_StarsGoodreads: “Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.”

TFIOS is a touching, funny, sad, poignant, and somewhat dreamlike story that is well-loved and has been reviewed to death here and elsewhere. I don’t want to re-invent the wheel on this one, so I’ll just quickly share some of my general thoughts. Overall, I found this to be a wonderful novel, but for some reason I can’t put a finger on it didn’t become an instant favorite of mine.

John Green’s teens are, across all of his novels, generally wise beyond their years, and so it is the case here: Hazel and Augustus at times come across more like idealized versions of themselves than actual living people. Even their faults are perfectly expressed in metaphor, their emotions precisely defined. It was that precision, though, and that heightened realism that helped ground the “cancer story” and prevented TFIOS from becoming too maudlin. Where other tragedy-porn authors steer into verbose, florid language and hyperbole to create the verbal equivalent of that token string swell, Green’s incredible ability to put a point on the exact situational qualities that define a moment draws out more honest empathy from the reader. In other words: this may still have been emotional manipulation, but when the tears came, I felt more like they came from actual understanding than from a heavy mallet to the back of the head.

alwaysanswerb’s #CBR5 Review 42: Looking for Alaska by John Green

Goodreads summary: “Miles “Pudge” Halter’s whole existence has been one big nonevent, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave the “Great Perhaps” (François Rabelais, poet) even more. Then he heads off to the sometimes crazy, possibly unstable, and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed-up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young, who is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart.”

Looking for Alaska predates Paper Towns, which I read first. I mention this because in my review of Paper Towns, I suggested that John Green had successfully navigated the familiar waters of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope by at first buying into it, then subverting it. He tried something very similar here, but I don’t think he was as successful. The two books are very, very similar, but Paper Towns seems to be a slightly more mature version of Looking for Alaska; both feature self-proclaimed ‘average guy’ protagonists whose worlds are upended by an extraordinary girl, but while by the end of her book Alaska Young remains more of an iconoclastic symbol than a real person, Margo Roth Spiegelman in Paper Towns explicitly rejects the idealized version of herself the protagonist believes she is.

This was, still, a book I enjoyed, and even though all of the characters sound in one way or another like they have a healthy measure of John Green in them (by which I mean, it’s like in movies where an actor might be doing a really great job, but s/he is so famous that you never quite forget it’s that actor. That’s kind of what a lot of John Green’s characters are like), they were all still people I wouldn’t have minded having as friends in high school. His prose is very lyrical and he has the ability to describe feelings in a very acute, descriptive, and yet poetic way. More than once I stopped and thought to myself, regarding something I would have previously thought indescribable, “Yes, that is exactly what that feels like.” That ability is probably his greatest asset as an author, especially given the specific realm that he chooses to inhabit in his novels, which I would title “teenage romance and self discovery in peculiar circumstances.” Anyway, you probably don’t strictly need to read this if you’ve already read Paper Towns, but given that my audience is a bunch of people who are specifically trying to read as many books as they can, I’ll just say that this is an enjoyable few hours.

3.5 stars