Thursday, August 30, 2012

Tantalize | by: Cynthia Leitich Smith

Quincie's family resturant is undergoing renovations. Not only will it be an Italian resturant, but a vampire-themed Italian resturant. However, that's not the only part of Quincie's life that seems to be changing, either. First of all, a dear friend of hers gets murdered. Kieren, her werewolf love interest, seems suspicious. But Quincie knows he will have to go and find a pack soon, leaving her behind. Though this saddens Quincie, she seems to get her mind off it by getting the new chef ready for the reopening of the resturant.

Somehow, all these things are connected. But will Quincie figure it all out in time?

Tantalize screamed at me in the bookstore when I thought I should pick up something quick and fun to read. Okay, fine, I'll admit that Annette Curtis Klaus' blub on the back of the book helped in my decision-making, but still, Tantalize looked like just the paranormal book I was in the mood for. But, as with many books that are simply meant to delight and entertain, Tantalize had a number of good points and bad points.

Ironically, one thing that stood out about Tantalize is that even though it's paranormal, it flows like a contemporary book. Readers are in the rather realistic day-to-day setting that is Quincie's life, with the exception of her werewolf best friend/love interest and the climax. I liked that. Why is this ironic? Because the only time I've read a paranormal book that was written in a way that reminded me of contemporary novels was when I read Annette Curtis Klaus' The Silver Kiss and Blood and Chocolate.

But, I'm not saying that Annette Curtis Klaus fans are garunteed to love Tantalize, because I'm a fan of her books and I didn't love Tantalize. Sure, it's not terrible, but it's not... not that great.

The typos in the beginning didn't bother me too much, but what really made this book suffer was the plot and characters. Unfortunately, I didn't really like any of the characters, except for one of Quincie's possible love interests. Of course, that guy turned out to be a cliche psycho. As far as the rest of them, Kieren wasn't quite there enough, Quincie's uncle and girlfriend are just too negatively strange, attempts at sexiness from anyone came off as bizarre, and Quincie was just vulnerable.

Worse yet, the plot remained predictable and corny. I predicted the antagonist, and the corny bits often came from the antagonist (once this person had been revealed).

On the bright side, I enjoyed the resturant setting in which the characters were in majority of the time. It was quite refreshing, as I don't even think I've ever read a story in a resturant setting before. And besides, Italian is my favorite. The best part about this resturant, however, is the vampire theme. Plenty of people would go to a resturant like that in real life, so why isn't there one? This element contributed to what made this story fun.

Another thing a bit unusual about Tantalize is the werepeople. No, this book isn't just limited to werewolves and vampires, but it expands to other shape shifters, like cats and opossums! When it came to this aspect, it took me a while to understand that Quincie wasn't the only one who knew about these shape shifters, for they are actually quite commonplace in the world Cynthia Leitich Smith envisions. Usually in paranormal romance, the paranormal elements are some huge secret, so this was different. Although I don't like opossums, let alone wereopossums.

In the end, Tantalize proved itself to be a semi-entertaining novel with ups and plenty of downs. So, I don't reccommend this unless one is seeking a little non-serious vampire fiction that's enough to keep the pages turning.

2.5/5 Stars

Leitich Smith, Cynthia. Tantalize
Cambridge: Candlewick Press

Monday, August 20, 2012

Blood | In This Moment

American metal band In This Moment is back with a new album, Blood, which was just released August 14th. Though this new direction is darker and a bit different lyrically, the sound is definitely still representative of the band in more ways than one.

First on the album is an intro entitled "Rise With Me," which is electronic based, effective, and epic. Soon, Maria Brink comes in with her signature vocals, belting out repetative lyrics in a way that doesn't make them sound repetative. This intro certainly promises a dark atmosphere to the album.

With an intro like that, the album's title track seems a bit more, dare I say, fun? But not quite out of place either. "Blood" took a while to grow on me, particularly the verses, which do not feature much singing nor screaming, but yelling. The chorus is what saves this song, as well as the guitar solo during the bridge. As "Blood" can cause headbanging, I'm sure it'll do well as a single on the metal charts for a while.

"Adrenalize" comes next, with a heavy intro. Anyone will know what awesomeness they're in for when Brink says "Adrenalize me" in a nearly robotic way. Quickly, the verse comes in, where Brink's voice is a bit synthed-up amid the (totally cool) guitar riffs. Just about every listener should feel like a badass when listening to this song, or at least overwhelmed as if one just saw Kate Beckinsale in Underworld for the first time. "Adrenalize" is a track that'll get people pumped, even more so than "Blood." Honestly, this better be used in a movie trailer sometime soon.

"Whore" is the fouth song, bearing the loveliest of titles. Though it opens with a semi-mellow guitar line, the verse soon becomes quite emotional in the most obnoxious way. Maria Brink is not singing, but only sometimes screaming. Much like the verses of "Blood," it's more like yelling. However, she does actually sing and scream in the chorus and pre-chorus, which sounds much better. The chorus is very powerful sounding (musically) with tortured lyrics.

If listeners thought the theme couldn't get any angrier after "Whore," the next song proves them wrong. "You're Gonna Listen" demands attention, with Brink screaming "Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!" during each chorus. The verses aren't even half as heavy as the chorus, and Maria is singing quite nicely during that time, but this is still one of the heavier songs.

As if introducing a more sinister side of Blood, "It is Written" is the creepiest thing In This Moment has ever created. With that, it's the most effective interlude I've ever heard. Am I sure if I like it? Not really. It's great that Maria Brink is talking about the measures of her passion for music, but it's lyrically a bit extreme.

The seventh song is called "Burn," and it is by far my favorite. It opens with an eerie piano before the guitars come in for the rest of the intro, but the piano part returns for the verse. More than anything, the chorus is what blows everything else on this album away in some way. It just feels so nostalgic to me, taking me back to the time I first discovered my own love for rock and metal music as well as the time I started listening to In This Moment. Plus, Maria Brink's voice soars. In some way, "Burn" reminds me of the general vibe of the music on Beautiful Tragedy, In This Moment's debut album, except Maria's vocals have improved so much since then. Also, the bridge has a heavy breakdown that I found enjoyable.

"Scarlet" comes next, opening with acoustic guitars. For whatever reason, the vocal line almost sounds familiar, but perhaps it's just catchy in its own right. Eventually, the tempo picks up and the vocal line gets even better with the great guitar line, making it stand out more than I initially expected.

Another intro/interlude comes next, "Aries," which is also creepy, though not as overly sinister as "It is Written." Really, it's not sinister at all. It brings a hopeless sense of longing as Brink narrates in echoes.

Just in case fans missed elements from In This Moment's sophomore album, The Dream, they incorporated a song on this album called "From the Ashes." Like the music found on The Dream, "From the Ashes" is lighter. Unlike the other tracks on this album, it's more free-spirited and positive. Although it momentarily breaks away from the darkness of Blood, the track is not out-of-place. It's still relatively heavy, especially the guitar riffs of the bridge. In other words, it's still In This Moment.

"Beast Within" is the eleventh track of the album, and I must say I have a love/hate relationship with it. Musically, it's fantastic. Lyrically... kind of annoying amid some brilliant lines. What irks me about it is that the band is practically trying to throw a random attempt at sexiness in your face. The verses and pre-chorus don't really affect me at all; it's the chorus that kind of makes me wonder. Musically, I love the chorus. And I love almost all of the lyrics, but I strongly feel as though the third line had been misplaced. If you take the third line from the chorus, it sounds like vengeance.

The next song is "Comanche." Immediately, I am reminded of Marilyn Manson due to the way Maria Brink's voice is electrified. Following the typical Blood pattern, I'm not particularly enthusiastic about the song until the chours, which is filled with screams " or die, let me hear your war cry!" But, it's definitely not the best from the album.

"The Blood Legion (Legion)" is the last of regular tracks, though not the last song. Again, I am reminded of the vibes from the albums The Dream and A Star-Crossed Wasteland as the song begins. Maria's voice sounds nice in this mellow setting, which consists of quite a bit of the song before it changes over to heavier guitars and drums. "The Blood Legion" does what In This Moment does best, as it is a song filled with great riffs as Maria Brink's empowering voice fuels wonderful lyrics of strength.

Honestly, they could have just ended the album there; it would have been a great closer. However, In This Moment decided to be a little more creative with closing the album with "11:11." Or so it would seem. Right away, the song grabs my attention, for it reminds me of the eerie music found in the movie The Woods. The song consists of airy effects and Maria vocalizes in multiple layers, like a choir of Marias. But then the lyrics come in. "Baby baby baby baby baby..." are majority of them. Not impressive. I'll give them credit for the meaning of the song and for the Beautiful Tragedy reference (which are all found in between the series of baby-ing). Unfortunately, Maria's voice (the top layer singing the lyrics, not the choral-like vocalizing) doesn't sound so wonderful on this track.

Well, In This Moment definitely got more creative during Blood, and I loved to see their music get a bit darker than usual. There were a lot of standout tracks on this album, and I do believe that Blood is superior to their previoius work. (Funny how I say that everytime they release a new album.) Amid all this praise, I will say I don't know how I feel about the multitude of songs without standout verses, but then again, all those epic choruses kind of make up for it.

Though I love this album more than A Star-Crossed Wasteland, I'm unsure if I will grant it .5 less than A Star-Crossed Wasteland. Why? Because while they experimented more and I liked the general direction better, I feel there were a couple of flaws on Blood. While A Star-Crossed Wasteland's good songs weren't as good, there weren't really any slip ups. So... 4.5/5 or 5/5 Stars?

If I cut technicality and went with my In This Moment-loving heart, I'd probably say 5/5 Stars. But, you can decide for yourself.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Fault in Our Stars | by: John Green

Hazel is living with cancer, and everyday she must carry around her oxygen tank in order to breathe. Her lungs just aren't doing well in her fight against the cancer she believes will eventually kill her. During this bleak time of negative emotions and physical struggle, her caring mother makes her attend a Support Group at a local church. Since Hazel doesn't even like Support Group that much, she didn't expect it to completely change her life forever. She didn't expect to meet Augustus Waters.

Together, the two of them journey through life exchanging books and ideas, even love.

The Fault in Our Stars is award-winning author John Green's newest novel, and it is also the first I've ever read by him. After watching his Vlogbrothers videos on YouTube, I had already determined that John and his brother Hank are perhaps the coolest people on Earth, so I was definitely looking forward to reading one of John's novels. However, I held off on this book for a while because I had a feeling it would make me cry, and I was right.

John Green is a remarkable man. Only he could write this a story in such a way where I might be sobbing one minute and giggling the next. Augustus Waters and Hazel Lancester are such unique and amusing characters (which is most evident in their dialogue, which I find relatable), and that's half of the reason why their relationship ended up being so engaging. The other half, unfortunately, is the tragic manner in which it all happens. With these utterly human characteristics, I couldn't put this book down; I flew right through it.

Of course, the complexity of Peter Van Houten was also an interesting factor to see play out among these pages. There was a lot of his character that I didn't expect, but I won't give anything away.

I already know I'm not the best journalist out there; my heart has always been with creative writing and I hope it always will be. Though I never considered myself to be the most astonishing writer anyway, after reading this book, I feel like a really crappy writer. John Green's just so... good. He'll grab your emotions and won't let go even if you already feel kind of miserable. But, that's not to say there's no hope in this book, because there is. Sadness isn't the only thing readers will feel when reading The Fault in Our Stars. Like I said earlier, there's humor in this book. There's humor and friendship and love. There's life.

One of the many, many things I loved about this book is the honesty. Everyday, we hear the same things about anyone that dies, not only cancer victims. Once someone dies, everyone loves them. People that barely talked to them suddenly think that they were best friends. Everyone talks about how strong they were as they fought. But most of these people don't even know what they're talking about. The people closest to the victim do know how hard it all can be, how hard it was. I don't know why people get so weird when someone dies, so appreciative and caring of someone they didn't pay much attention to in life. If it were that simple, of course it would not be an issue. But there's an extremity to it that's just so melancholy and fake about it, and it makes me sick.

The Fault in Our Stars is one of my favorite books, and I really can't say enough about it. Words of appreciation don't seem to do it justice. Still, I can't stop thinking about it, how each element came together so perfectly. It deserves all the praise it gets; there will never be another novel like this.

5/5 Stars

Green, John. The Fault in Our Stars
New York: Dutton Books

Friday, August 10, 2012

Brother Odd | by: Dean Koontz

Brother Odd is the third book telling the story of Odd Thomas, a man with strong intuition and can see the dead who have not crossed over. But there are also more sinister things he can see that others cannot.

After months at St. Bartholomew's, the monastery Odd Thomas has been staying at in order to find refuge from the hectic supernatural life he leads, Odd Thomas sees such sinister things that may be a sign of impending death. More specifically, he sees them lingering around the disabled children at the school at St. Bartholomew's. Meanwhile, there are a couple of brothers at the monastery that Odd Thomas does not believe he can trust, for he suspects that there is much more than meets the eye.

There is something odd happening at St. Bartholomew's, and if there's anyone who can figure it all out, it's Odd Thomas.

When I began to read Brother Odd, I felt as though I would never finish this book. In other words, the start was slow. Of course, Koontz needed to give readers a good understanding of the setting, St. Bartholomew's Abbey, as many readers may not be accostomed to such a setting. This was done in a way that was a bit babbly, kind of like when historical fiction writers ramble about all the information they know about a time period and the plot suffers. Thankfully, Brother Odd did not continue to go on like this. When Koontz made the enviornment well-known, he no longer persisted and the plot was in motion.

And from then on, I rarely ever felt like putting the book down.

Dean Koontz's writing is descriptive and humorous as Odd Thomas narrates, but there are definitely some heartfelt moments in the midst. For one thing, Odd Thomas is an interesting and sympathetic character. Each time he spoke of losing Stormy, my heart sank a little. He seems like such a nice guy with good intentions, and it sucks when bad things happen to kind-spirited people - even if they are fictional.

Speaking of which, while Odd Thomas is at the monastery, he talks to a couple of the disabled children there as the plot progresses. Being an overly sympathetic person, some of the backstories of these kids really felt like a knife in the chest. Especially Jacob and Florrie (aka Christmas). Those two contribute to why this novel is as good as it was; they gave this story so much more meaning to it. Honestly, without Stormy, Florrie, and Jacob, I probably wouldn't have seen quite as much in this novel.

Still, there are even more standout characters involved. All the characters are carefully crafted and likeable, and each of them had a backstory (which could be a bit tedious at times, but I think it's generally a positive factor). Brother Knuckles was a favorite of mine because of his troubled past and toughness, while Brother Romanovich stood out more and more as the story progressed. Readers will definitely be amused that Elvis Presley is a character, and an enjoyable one at that.

Despite all of the lightness previously mentioned, this is a suspenseful novel where creepiness was always a factor. Though it was indeed a bit eerie, there's nothing particularly frightening about this book. I couldn't really feel the suspense as much as I would have liked to. In the end, the who/what/when/where/why was surprising to a degree, but I must say the way to finally stop the antagonist was very predictable.

Though Brother Odd hit some good notes, I do feel it could have been better if the suspense factor was more potent. But overall, it wasn't bad at all and was indeed more than entertaining.

3.5/5 Stars

Koontz, Dean. Brother Odd
New York: Bantam Dell