Tag Archives: 3.5 stars

ARC Review: In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

  • TitleIn the Shadow of Blackbirds
  • AuthorCat Winters
  • SourceARC Review Copy from Publisher
  • No. of Pages387
  • PublishedApril 02, 2013 by Amulet Books
  • Rating3.5/5
  • Check it outGoodreads or Amazon
In 1918, the world seems on the verge of apocalypse. Americans roam the streets in gauze masks to ward off the deadly Spanish influenza, and the government ships young men to the front lines of a brutal war, creating an atmosphere of fear and confusion. Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black watches as desperate mourners flock to séances and spirit photographers for comfort, but she herself has never believed in ghosts. During her bleakest moment, however, she’s forced to rethink her entire way of looking at life and death, for her first love—a boy who died in battle—returns in spirit form. But what does he want from her?

Featuring haunting archival early-twentieth-century photographs, this is a tense, romantic story set in a past that is eerily like our own time.

I’d like to thank Tina from A&C Kids for providing me with this ARC.

Truth be told, In the Shadow of Blackbirds is one of the few historical fiction novels I have read, so my perception and view of this genre has not yet been muddied by cliches and overused plot lines. However, I was expecting a rich plot that exposes readers into the 1900s, the war, and the horrors of the Spanish influenza that had taken so many lives from people of all ages while still maintaining the suspense and excitement of seances and ghosts from the pasts of the living. With this, Cat Winters does not disappoint.

The beginning is especially interesting, as readers get a peek into the complications of Mary Shelley’s life. Her father is in prison, accused of being a traitor to the country and she is shipped off to her Aunt Eva, who lives in one of the few places not yet infected by the flu. I loved reading about how the war and the influenza changed so many things in the lives of the people, the women especially. The transition from extravagant parties and ridiculously expensive dresses to working-class women earning a living through means that used to be horrific shows the difficulty of life for these people. It also explains why they were driven to seek out seances and ‘spirit photographers.’ Julius, the brother of Mary’s childhood sweetheart, Stephen, is especially popular for taking pictures of the living with spirits of their pasts who died mostly because of the flu or the war. However, Mary never believed in the pictures, not even when something so drastic and unexpected happens and shocks her into thinking ghosts and spirits might just exist.

An aspect of the book I liked was how Mary was so vividly attacked by dreams and spirit visitations and how these just propelled her to find out who, exactly, was responsible for the death of Stephen. Her inquisitive nature thickens the plot for the readers and shows the dark side of the people we may have trusted in the start. Throughout the book, I liked the balance of the thrill of ghosts and the horrors of war blended together to make sure readers were integrated into the world Cat Winters painted as well. Mary was a nicely developed character, and despite the doom and gloom that seemed to surround the book at every page, it was Mary who made sure twists were developed and the secrets were found out after a clever foreshadowing. There was a tinge of madness in the book as well, which was, surprisingly, the cherry on top of the cupcake. It showed the depth of the characters and explored the world that pushed these people into corners they never imagined they would be pushed into.

However, though the writing was beautifully done, I felt it quite slow in a lot of parts, and a pinch of boredom threatened to attack me in some of the pages. I could go without some events happening, and I think some scenes were too developed it almost seemed redundant, though I suppose I would prefer that over an underdeveloped plot. That part of the book took out its shine, which is why the book seemed too gloomy and repetitive at times. There was something that kept me going until the end, though, and I’m very glad I listened to that instinct because the ending revealed something so wonderfully secret yet so blatantly obvious I wanted to smack myself. I reveled in the way the author kept me in the dark and controlled my mind despite my being the reader, and kudos to her for that.

Overall, In the Shadow of Blackbirds is a well-written book which contains secrets that fit in like puzzle pieces into an exciting plot. Though it can be somewhat slow at times, the world-building is quite exquisite, and the foreshadowing: excellent.

Review: The Pledge by Kimberly Derting

  • TitleThe Pledge (The Pledge #1)
  • AuthorKimberly Derting
  • SourceBought
  • No. of Pages323
  • Rating3.5/5
  • Check it outGoodreads or Amazon
In the violent country of Ludania, the classes are strictly divided by the language they speak. The smallest transgression, like looking a member of a higher class in the eye while they are speaking their native tongue, results in immediate execution. Seventeen-year-old Charlaina has always been able to understand the languages of all classes, and she's spent her life trying to hide her secret. The only place she can really be free is the drug-fueled underground clubs where people go to shake off the oppressive rules of the world they live in. It's there that she meets a beautiful and mysterious boy named Max who speaks a language she's never heard before . . . and her secret is almost exposed.

Charlie is intensely attracted to Max, even though she can't be sure where his real loyalties lie. As the emergency drills give way to real crisis and the violence escalates, it becomes clear that Charlie is the key to something much bigger: her country's only chance for freedom from the terrible power of a deadly regime.

Imagine a world wherein classes are divided by language. Only certain people are allowed to learn a certain language and people lower of rank must never acknowledge them while they are speaking that tongue.

Charlaina, though, is a girl with a talent. She can understand every language and that secret is very closely kept by her family, lest she get captured by the queen of Ludania–a severe dictator despite her old age and frail looks. As the novel progresses, Charlaina discovers the lengths and source of her power. She finds out her parents’ well-kept secrets and a boy that catches her eye along the way. Max.

To be honest, Charlaina and Max’s relationship is a huge pet peeve of mine. (Another insta-love, anyone?) Both of their personalities were not well-developed and Charlaina always described Max as ‘intriguing.’ Every single time. Even though Charlaina knew Max spoke a foreign tongue she never heard before, she still continued to be ‘intrigued’ by him until it reached a point of liking (and very nearly loving) him. If I were Charlaina, I would be very suspicious as to why Max—a person clearly higher of rank—suddenly started appearing and trying to get closer to me. Granted, she was slightly suspicious, but she could have at least gathered more information about him before trusting him.

The plot, though, is definitely not overused and is exciting to read about. The twists and turns along the way made me gasp and flip the pages frantically for more, (twice) and despite the characters, it was an addicting enough read. The ending heightened the action, especially since it is when we finally understand what the prologue is about, and it tied up everything until the last string. When I thought I would get closure, I learned there was something more, evil and lurking in the seemingly peaceful Ludania.

But that’s for the next review!

Review: Everneath by Brodi Ashton

  • TitleEverneath (Everneath #1)
  • AuthorBrodi Ashton
  • SourceBought
  • No. of Pages379
  • PublishedJanuary 24, 2012 by HarperCollins / Balzer + Bray
  • Rating3.5/5
  • Check it outGoodreads or Amazon
Last spring, Nikki Beckett vanished, sucked into an underworld known as the Everneath. Now she's returned--to her old life, her family, her boyfriend--before she's banished back to the underworld . . . this time forever. She has six months before the Everneath comes to claim her, six months for good-byes she can't find the words for, six months to find redemption, if it exists.

Nikki longs to spend these precious months forgetting the Everneath and trying to reconnect with her boyfriend, Jack, the person most devastated by her disappearance--and the one person she loves more than anything. But there's just one problem: Cole, the smoldering immortal who enticed her to the Everneath in the first place, has followed Nikki home. Cole wants to take over the throne in the underworld and is convinced Nikki is the key to making it happen. And he'll do whatever it takes to bring her back, this time as his queen.

As Nikki's time on the Surface draws to a close and her relationships begin slipping from her grasp, she is forced to make the hardest decision of her life: find a way to cheat fate and remain on the Surface with Jack or return to the Everneath and become Cole's queen.

Everneath is a captivating story of love, loss, and immortality from debut author Brodi Ashton.

It took me quite a while to come up with a decision for Everneath. I didn’t believe that it deserved a low rating, but I wasn’t ready to give it a high one as well. There was nothing wrong with it really. The characters were great, the plot wasn’t overused… yet I found something lacking. Thus, I ended up awarding it with a solid 3.5.

But before I go to what I found that was missing in the novel, let me start with the things that I really liked. One, the characters. I think I feel in love with Jack the moment he appeared in the story! His love for Nikki and the lengths he would go for her were just so endearing and absolutely sweet. And then we have Nikki. She suffered for a century in the Feed, and now was the only–and the last– time she can see her family again. Nikki had six months left to try and say a proper goodbye. I think that despite that, she is heroic, and will never ever  put anyone in danger. Lastly… we have Cole. Seemly the antagonist in this tale, (Well, he is trying to force Nikki to come him to the Everneath so that he could take the throne.) there’s actually more to Cole than what means the eye. (Ah, no spoilers here!) Also, his mysterious, broody personality added the spice in this story that kept me turning the pages.

Two, I really appreciated, like what I mentioned earlier, how the plot wasn’t one that was overused. It was a whole new, refreshing concept that made it so intriguing in the first place.

Okay, so what did I find so lacking?

Explanation. I know that there are some books that go overboard with it, with paragraph after paragraph of explaining why this and this happened, and there are novels wherein answers needed to be found. In Everneath, I didn’t love the beginning as I did in the ending. The first thing that I felt was this: confusion. What is going on? I had no idea why Nikki even ended up in the mortal world in the first place, how she got there, or why Cole was using his ninja-stalker skills to follow her. Some did get revealed near the end, but I think that if they were answered at the start, it would have enhanced the story even more.

However, I want to read its sequel, Everbound. Perhaps there I will get my answers, and like I said, I find the story very interesting and alluring. This is one of those paranormal novels that manage to draw my attention because of the explicit writing, and the unique plot itself. Go ahead and give it a go! It’s a novel still very much worth reading.

Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

  • TitleThe Night Circus
  • AuthorErin Morgenstern
  • SourceBought
  • No. of Pages387
  • Rating3.5/5
  • Check it outGoodreads or Amazon
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.

Alright. After a few days of thinking and arguing with myself over this book, I have come to a conclusion.

The Night Circus deserves a nice 3.5 star-review. There were things I loved, some I liked, and even a few parts were disappointing, but overall, the book was nice. But before the real review though, I’d like to point out the summary, which is awesome. It definitely hooked me in. About the story, though…well, you’ll just have to read on.

Okay, first of all, it was really, really hard to rate this book which is unusual for me since I can give ratings in a matter of seconds, especially if I have just read the book. But I am only typing up this review about two weeks after I finished it, so I can definitely say that The Night Circus intrigued me in many different ways, both good and bad.
So, let’s talk about the characters.(Well, only the very main ones)

Obviously, there’s Celia.
Celia was definitely interesting. The book started with her as a very young girl but with unusually gifted powers. As the book progressed, I began liking Celia more and more because though it was hard to distinguish new characters from the old ones at times, there was an aura of mystery surrounding her, things I wanted to know. So really, I was more interested in the image of Celia, if that makes any sense. Throughout the book, for some reason, when there were new girl characters, I guessed they were Celiaall the time because I thought that the book was centered on the two main characters. I was so, utterly wrong.
DECISION-Celia was a fascinating character, but not a favorite female lead.

Next up is Marco. Okay, first things first. I thought Marco was his ‘fake’ name of sorts, but since they never revealed the ‘true’ one, I assumed at the end of the book that he was just…Marco. For me, Marco was a likable character, though I didn’t like how he just…well kissed Isobel within minutes of meeting her. I felt that the relationship between him and Celia, or with him and Isobel for that matter, wasn’t very well developed. It felt like the only reason he fell in love with Celia was because of her powers, and also because she was his opponent. I’m blaming Marco’s character for this because, well, I’m old-fashioned and I believe it’s the guy who takes things to the next level romantically.
DECISION-Marco was a good enough character though he wasn’t very ‘real’ for me.

Unfortunately, there are too many characters in this book so I won’t bother listing them down.

LIKES ABOUT THE BOOK:
-The plot was very unique and intriguing. I liked the idea of a ‘Night Circus’ and also the vague ‘competition’ mentioned in the earlier chapters. Of course, it was all revealed in the ending though my comments for that are in the ‘dislikes’ portion below.
-All the characters mentioned were very many, but they were all interesting and they all served a purpose, which was not revealed until the last few chapters of the book.
-Writing style was exquisite and beautiful, I loved how in the start of each chapter, there was this short scene which kind of felt that I was going into the circus myself. Everything was well detailed and the pace wasn’t too slow.
-The twists and turns were surprising in the why-didn’t-I-realize-it-sooner-sort of way and they were totally unexpected (some of them) but they were actually required to give the plot a certain push, which I liked.

DISLIKES ABOUT THE BOOK:
-The competition was verydisappointing. This is the most major letdown, for sure. In fact, that is why I didn’t rate this a 4.5! There was hardly any action at all, and if you expected a cool duel of sorts, well, you’ll totally be disappointed because Celia and Marco competed indirectly. For me, it was like a show-off between the both of them, which was not very interesting to read.
-There were too many POVs!! There were over 5 characters narrating and it was really hard to keep track of them in the first few hundred pages, plus there were even a few characters who seemed useless, but in the end, the true purpose is revealed and all the characters are tied together, so I can’t complain. (much)
-For me, the way the main characters fell in love was sort of unrealistic. Sure, Marco was fascinated with her magic and all that blah, but it didn’t sit well with me that much. But then again, romance isn’t the main aspect of this book so it should only be a tiny, trivial thing.

Overall
The Night Circus was a nice, refreshing read, chock-full of twists and turns that are completely unexpected. Though some parts were sorely disappointing, the writing style was magnificent and the story itself was very creative, unique, and imaginative.