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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Book Review: Monstrous Beauty

Author: Elizabeth Fama
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Release Date: September 4, 2012
Pages: 295
Read it in: 3 days
Source: ARC from the Publisher

Summary: Fierce, seductive mermaid Syrenka falls in love with Ezra, a young naturalist. When she abandons her life underwater for a chance at happiness on land, she is unaware that this decision comes with horrific and deadly consequences...

Almost one hundred forty years later, seventeen-year-old Hester meets a mysterious stranger named Ezra and feels overwhelmingly, inexplicably drawn to him. For generations, love has resulted in death for the women in her family. Is it an undiagnosed genetic defect . . . or a curse? With Ezra’s help, Hester investigates her family’s strange, sad history. The answers she seeks are waiting in the graveyard, the crypt, and at the bottom of the ocean—but powerful forces will do anything to keep her from uncovering her connection to Syrenka and to the tragedy of so long ago.

LC's Take:

OK, so where do I even begin with this book... because I seriously LOVED IT!!! It's been awhile since I've read a book where I felt totally captivated, where I was basically hanging on every word, and the more I read the more obsessed and involved I became with the story and characters... But Monstrous Beauty single-handedly was able to wipe from memory many of my horrible experiences I've had lately with several YA books, and has restored my faith in the genre as a whole.

YEAH. It was THAT good.

So characterization is always a *big* thing for me in any book, and that's typically my main focus-- if I like the characters, I will most likely become invested in your story. On the other hand, if your characters are paper cut-out fake stereotypes who I can't take seriously, I really don't care how great your story is, I'm not going to become invested in it. And for me, the true sign of good characterization is when the characters come across as real people. When I can imagine them as my friend or enemy, when I can relate to how they're thinking or feeling, and when they talk and behave in a believable way, that's when I know the author really took the time to develop the characters in his/her story. And in Monstrous Beauty, I definitely felt like I could get into the heads of each character and understand where they were coming from.

So the main character Hester Goodwin was awesome and I loved her. Not only did she come across as an actual, real person (which was very refreshing given the surprising difficulty to find realistic characters in many YA books), she was also a history-loving nerd so I immediately felt like I could connect with her. She could be confident and stand up for herself, she swore when she was pissed off, she could be awkward and self-conscious like any normal girl around her crush, she could be vulnerable without coming across as pathetically desperate-- I understood her character and connected with her. That *one thing* right there made me feel invested in the story being told.

Then we have Ezra, the 19th century spirit who Hester becomes drawn to-- I loved him too! Ezra had the delightfully cute quirkiness of a Tim Burton character-- awkward yet intelligent, sweet and sensitive, Ezra is the kind of guy every bookworm girl dreams of meeting. He was also another example of fantastic characterization-- for example, we know that Ezra was a scientist/naturalist in his lifetime who studied oceanic life and mythical creatures. Therefore, when we see things through Ezra's eyes, things are acutely detailed and scientific-- that's how he thinks, so that's how we see the world from his perspective. The fact that Fama actually took the time to give her characters unique perspectives so that we could tell whose point of view we were reading from set this book apart from many others-- it seems so simple, yet it's been awhile since I've seen unique POV's!

And another thing I HAVE to point out-- THANK YOU Elizabeth Fama for not being like so many other YA authors and treating sex like it's the Black Plague or something!!! You know how in some books the authors' main characters can't even *think* about sex, because it would be the end of the world? I 'm so sick of watered-down, G-rated adolescent characters who are totally out of touch with reality. But not Hester-- like any teenage girl, sex is a very real and important thing to her and it isn't treated like some dirty, taboo thing in this book. Seriously, thank you! Because guess what YA authors? Guy and girl teens think about sex quite a bit, so stop making up characters who basically think and act like eunuchs or something, and who wouldn't ever *dare* thinking of doing anything more than making out. And yes, this book does include some rather mature content-- like sex, swearing, rape, murder, etc.-- but they're all written in with the assumption that teens are half-way intelligent and can handle these things, and don't need to be spoon-fed Disney-sweet characters and plots. Let me give a standing ovation to this book just for that!

I was also a huge fan of the world-building in Monstrous Beauty. Since the story switches back and forth from modern times to 1872, it was crucial that things were set up for both time periods. The dialogue and character interaction were both spot-on-- when the story switched back to 1872, the characters actually spoke and behaved like they were from the 19th century-- and it came across very natural, not forced or cheesy. The author clearly did her research to make sure that her readers would feel as though they were going back in time. The descriptive language was also wonderful, and you could see each scene playing out through Fama's words. I think that a truly good writer makes you feel as though you aren't reading, but actually observing/experiencing things as they happen, and Fama was definitely able to do this for me! Finally, I loved how the story and setting had a slightly dark and Gothic feel to it-- the sea, the gloom of the New England coast, the creepy supernatural elements in it-- all of these things really set the tone for the story and made it irresistibly readable.

So lovely readers and bloggers, if it has been awhile since you've read a book where you were so eager to devour the words on each page that you couldn't read fast enough, this is the book for you. I was totally captivated by this story and its characters and could not put it down. Especially if you love historic settings, dark and creepy stories, and realistic characters, I hope you will bump Monstrous Beauty up on your reading lists, because I really think you will enjoy it just as much as I did!

~Cover Talk~

So there are actually two covers I want to look at and compare-- the first one is from the ARC, which is the version I have, and the second is the final cover chosen for the published edition:

OK, so to the left we have the ARC cover version-- this is the one that I have. Honestly, of the two, I like the original cover art the best. Yes, I know, there are tons of YA covers with gorgeous girls on the front but I just think this one is so elegant and eye-catching. It isn't as colorful, but I sort of like that the colors are more drab and muted, because the story's setting is dark and gloomy too.

Don't get me wrong-- the published edition cover is also beautiful! I love the bright blue-green colors in Syrenka's tail fin, and it also does the story justice by coming across as being dark and mysterious. However, between the two, I personally prefer the ARC edition-- which cover is your favorite?? :)

Interested? Hear an Audio-clip from Monstrous Beauty Here!

LC's Rating:
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Amazing characters and a supernatural story that takes place across two centuries made this an absolute must-read-- I could NOT put it down! Creepy, mysterious, romantic, suspenseful-- all of these things describe Monstrous Beauty. It was unique and completely unlike other YA, you will NOT be disappointed!

Check It Out!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Book Review: Tiger's Curse

Author: Colleen Houck
Series: The Tiger Saga #1
Publisher: Sterling
Release Date: January 11, 2011
Pages: 403
Read it in: 4 days
Source: Gift from Chantel @ Little Miss Bookworm :)

Summary: Passion. Fate. Loyalty.

Would you risk it all to change your destiny?

The last thing Kelsey Hayes thought she’d be doing this summer was trying to break a 300-year-old Indian curse. With a mysterious white tiger named Ren. Halfway around the world. But that’s exactly what happened. Face-to-face with dark forces, spellbinding magic, and mystical worlds where nothing is what it seems, Kelsey risks everything to piece together an ancient prophecy that could break the curse forever.

Tiger’s Curse is the exciting first volume in an epic fantasy-romance that will leave you breathless and yearning for more.

LC's Take:

What would you do if someone offered you an all-expenses-paid trip to India with a mysterious white tiger who also happens to be a handsome Indian prince? Eighteen-year old Kelsey Hayes is faced with just this offer after spending 2 weeks working as a hired hand at a local circus one summer-- and her life will never be the same.

I had pretty much been *dying* to read this book for ages, and after reading review after raving review, I FINALLY picked it up off the shelves. I was so positively sure that I was going to absolutely love this book, that by the end, I would be in raptures and stumbling over myself trying to say enough good things about it.

I don't know what the hell happened.

I KNOW, and I hate saying this, but I have to be honest. There were some things I liked about Tiger's Curse, but they were all completely overshadowed by some of the worst characterization I've ever encountered in a book. OK, here we go...

So first, let me talk a little about Kelsey Hayes, the main character. At the beginning, I actually liked her. Laid-back, down-to-earth, and slightly quirky, she was a fun character to follow in the story.

But then things started to go down hill-- rapidly.

I noticed about a hundred pages in that Kelsey's way of talking and thinking could be *extremely* juvenile at times-- juvenile and annoying. I don't know if anyone else thought the same thing, but as I made my way through this book, I just didn't feel like I was reading from an 18-year old's perspective. Some of the expressions she uses (my FAVE was when she exclaimed, "You wily scoundrel!" when Kishan tries to kiss her), the way she addresses people ("oh hey there Mister!" <-- seriously? Is your main character from The Little Rascals?), and just her whole way of thinking seemed more like that of an immature little kid than an adult...

Things only went from bad to worse when Ren the Prince stepped into the picture. If Kelsey was slightly childish and annoying to begin with, it was nothing compared to the monster train-wreck she turns into in the last half of the book. The immaturity levels reached astronomical proportions. How you ask? Here are a few examples:

1.) She pouted and threw tiny tantrums when she was displeased about pretty much anything-- and rather than be an adult and communicate with Ren about how conflicted she was feeling, she turned into a cold and standoffish biotch. Then, when the poor guy asks her what's wrong, she says "nothing" (in that way where it's obviously something) and goes right back to being Ice Queen Supreme. Clearly, this is an awesome way to treat people.

2.) She had the * exceedingly* annoying defense mechanism of needing to make sarcastic quips every 5 seconds, and the more defensive she got, the less likely it became for her to be serious or mature at crucial points in the story. I mean, the girl almost dies and the first thing she does upon waking up is crack a few dumb jokes-- well I'm sorry, but I don't want to read about a main character who acts like she's constantly auditioning at a comedy club (and failing miserably, I might add)-- I want her to have a grown-up, serious side too! It was just too much. There is no way in hell this chick was 18-- maybe 12? Maybe.... even that's pushing it.

3.) I just love how Kelsey was absolutely shocked and appalled when she sees Ren the Tiger-version and his brother hunt for food. She does realize that "hunting" involves killing something right?? And that tigers have a tendency towards being carnivores? And that tasty meat often comes from cute animals? I mean the girl had to actually sing herself to sleep to get over it-- no, I'm not making this up, she sings herself to sleep ("happy songs" from The Wizard of Oz) because the tigers killed an antelope. Then she has nightmares about it. And she's eighteen   -_-

4.) Kelsey just LOVES to continually tell us about her little "love-plant" for Ren-- because you know, normal people talk like this. By the end I wanted to take some pesticide spray and a blow torch to Kelsey's freaking love-plant and incinerate the damn thing into the ground...

5.) "Only socially deprived wierdos talk to tigers in their free time every day." ~Quote by Katlyn on Goodreads. I couldn't have said it better haha :D

(I won't even get into the fact that she was dumb as a brick and could barely tie her own shoes without Ren holding her hand, or how she nearly gets herself killed near Kishindha because she goes to grab a pretty sparkly diamond out of the water, moments after she and Ren nearly died because DUH the prophesy TOLD you not to believe your eyes and that things weren't as they seemed! She's like freaking Abu the monkey in Aladdin, literally that is who she reminded me of! **slaps forehead in total frustration**)

But I think that out of all the things that bothered me about Kelsey, the VERY WORST was the fact that she made such a snap judgement about Ren-- without even giving him the chance to prove that he was a good guy-- and then proceeded to treat him like total crap for the rest of the book. All because of her own stinking insecurity that "she wasn't good enough for him." Like seriously, give me a freaking break-- Kelsey, you were to put it bluntly, one of THE most immature characters I have ever read about, and you need to go find yourself a therapist. Pronto.

Let's just say that by the end of this book, I had never wanted to punch a main character in the face quite so badly as Kelsey "Boo-Hoo I'll Never Be Good Enough So I'll Just Act Like a Bitch 24/7" Hayes. 

While we're talking about How to Make Your Characters As Unlikable as Possible 101, let's take a look at Ren. Overall, the guy wasn't too bad when you stand back and see him over the course of the book-- but I still couldn't stand him. And the thing is, he wouldn't have been such an unlikable character if the author hadn't set him up to be totally unlikable. Here are just a few of the phrases used to describe Ren's actions in the book:

-Laughed "acerbically"
-Smiled "mockingly" and "malevolently"
-grinned "maliciously"
-scoffed and smirked
-was "annoyingly happy"

Now you tell me-- would you like a character whose behavior is described that way?? The guy is annoying even when he's happy for crying out loud, and I'm supposed to be falling in love with him?!? There's only two explanations for this kind of character portrayal:

1.) Ren is a douche, in which case I can't stand him and hope he jumps off a cliff, or

2.) Ren is actually a good guy and all of this is Kelsey's perception of him, in which case Kelsey is *psycho cray cray* and I hope she jumps off a cliff.

In either case, I'm really not rooting for your characters.

I also felt like the pacing of the plot was slightly off. Overall, I thought that the story itself was pretty good-- I loved the Indian setting and the adventurous element it had going on-- but there was just a lot of superfluous description that got in the way for me. For example, when Kelsey gets on the plane to go to India, I thought we were never going to hear the end of all the luxurious details of the plane's interior and the food they ate. Don't get me wrong, I think that adding vivid description to your story is wonderful and sets the backdrop for all the action, but I also think there is a way to describe a scene while still leaving something up to the reader's imagination! I don't give a crap about what color hair ribbon Kelsey ties in her hair every day-- and by the by, how many 18-year-olds do you know who tie ribbons at the end of their braids? Or carry their blanket around like they're Linus from Charlie Brown? JUST SAYING.

Besides plot pacing being off, many parts of the plot made ZERO SENSE. Tell me, how many foster parents do you know, who seem to be fairly sensible and *sane* let their foster-daughter go off on a trip to INDIA with a strange older man and a tiger, after meeting said man ONE TIME?? This is basically how things played out:

1.) Kelsey works 2 weeks as a hired hand at a circus (WHICH she got from some super-shady work placement company)

2.) Kelsey reads Shakespeare to the tiger at said circus (Hmm, yeah that's completely normal) and then a strange Indian man shows up and tells Kelsey she is PERFECT for taking care of the tiger, if she can only GO TO INDIA to put tiger in a nature reserve (RED FLAGS GOING OFF HERE) But no, no, Kelsey and her guardians think this all totally legit...

3.) Kelsey's parents AGREE TO LET HER GO TO INDIA with strange older man after meeting him once, and within a WEEK Kelsey has all her documentation, passports, vaccines, etc. taken care of and is on a plane to India to take care of a rare white tiger species because 2 weeks of sweeping up crap at a circus has turned her into a total animal GENIUS.

**Insert dumb-founded expression HERE 0_o**

As far as the romance goes, well it was about as dysfunctional as they come. It was like watching two cars heading for a straight-on collision, and not being able to do anything about it. I've already described Kelsey's emotional constipation and total lack of ability to do anything remotely mature, but I also didn't like how possessive Ren got of Kelsey as the story went on. Protective tiger-- awesome, Possessive love interest-- HELL to the NO. Not a fan. I was also pretty annoyed at the good ol' YA ploy of presenting the main character as Ms. I'm-Totally-Average-But-Every-Guy-Who-Sees-Me-Falls-Inexplicably-Yet-Madly-In-Love-With-Me, because it's been done SO many times. In fact, it's gotten to be about as cliche as being Disney-Princess-Perfect. Which brings me to...

** My Brief Bookish Rant**

Yeah so after all that, you're probably wondering what the heck else I have to rant about. (Do not underestimate my ranting skills *whahahaha!*) So here is my totally random gripe-- and trust me, this is random-- that I have to get off my shoulders. And I'm not trying to pick on this book specifically, it's more of a general trend that I see again and again in YA books-- and my slightly annoyed question is this:

WHY do authors always make a POINT of telling us that their main female characters never or seldom wear makeup? 

I know, I know, this is such a dumb thing to rant about, but for *some reason* it bothers me. I mean, is there something bad about wearing makeup or doing your hair on a regular basis? Do they think that makeup makes their protagonist seem stupid or fake? Do they assume that readers won't relate to a character who wears makeup because... I don't know, people who read don't wear makeup? Like why does it even need to be mentioned? It's like they expect me the reader to go, "Ohh, she doesn't wear makeup! Well I can respect her a lot more now!" And then on the other side of things, the "mean girl" or the bitchy back-stabber is often described as wearing makeup or being super tan or having the latest fashions. WHY?? Is it a given that if a girl cares about her appearance she must be less of a person? If the main character is a frumpy Plain-Jane who's never worn heels and who thinks at best she's "average," am I supposed to like her more? What exactly are you trying to convey to me the reader when you tell me that your main character doesn't wear makeup? I just don't see what the heck this has to do with the characterization of someone, and personally I couldn't care less whether the main character wears makeup or not, so stop bringing it up like it's a determining factor in whether or not I'll relate to/like/respect that character more!

(I will mention that Kelsey does get dolled up a few times in the book, but what irked me was her complete inability to see herself as being attractive, no matter what. This is not a good character trait. It is immature and I CAN'T STAND characters that constantly use self-pity and self-deprecation to excuse themselves from acting grown-up. STOP IT RIGHT NOW!!)

OK, rant over. I feel much better now!

~Final Thoughts~

Tiger's Curse is one of those books that I think appeals to a large group of people because it has a lot of great things going on-- romance, adventure, travel, mystery, an ancient curse-- I mean, what's not to love about that? BUT-- and this is a big but-- none of them, in my opinion, were executed well. The romance devolved into two spoiled teenagers acting like juvenile brats, the adventure and mystery were bogged down by way too much description, and honestly, by the end I was so fed up with the main characters that I really couldn't care less about where the story was going-- I just wanted it to end so I didn't have to constantly fight the temptation to throw the book out the window of a 50-story building.

So my final word with this one is- proceed with caution. While I can see the appeal for many readers, if you are like me and can't stand pointless drama, immature dialogue, and characters who act much younger than their years, you might want to think twice before picking this one up. On the other hand, the ratings overall for Tiger's Curse are extremely good, so this may very well be a case of me just personally not liking it.  Read what other people had to say about this book, you might end up loving it-- I, unfortunately, was not one of those people.

~Cover Talk~

After all that, the cover for Tiger's Curse is still probably one of my favorite YA book covers of all time. I have the paperback version of this book, but it is still amazing. Besides that ice-blue eyed tiger that captures your attention right away, the details are beautiful-- the Indian decoration at the top is in raised silver, along with the title, and the entire thing is on a gorgeous metallic paper. Also, the inside cover opens up with flaps in front and back to show a map of Kelsey's travels. The design work for this book is, in my opinion, PERFECT-- if only the story inside had done it justice.

LC's Rating:
A book that potentially had a lot going for it, but was dragged down by excessive details and some of the most immature and annoying characters I have ever read about. I hate to say this, but there is definitely a reason why Tiger's Curse is not for everyone. If you like your characters to have intelligence and any level of maturity, proceed with caution...

Check it out!

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