Monday, October 5, 2015

Magic, Music, and Werewolves: REVIEWING Madison's Song

Hello and welcome back to The Real World According To Sam! It's been several months since my last post, because as usual, college and summer vacation make things difficult for blogging when you don't have a personal computer. Working on that whole situation, I promise!


Today I have a very special treat. If you've been here for at least a year then you know that this blog has played host to a very special author, Christine Amsden, as I was given the honor of reading her series about Cassie Scot, a paranormal detective. Links to all those reviews are on my Bookshelf so you can revisit those or check them out if you haven't yet read that series.

I mention this because today I have the pleasure of reviewing yet another book by Mrs. Amdsen, but this time it is a spin-off novel focusing on Cassie Scot's friend Madison Carter!

Madison's Song
Author: Christine Amsden
Publication: October 2015
Genre: Fantasy, Mystery. Paranormal


          I should begin by saying that this book takes place AFTER the Cassie Scot books, which establish several of the characters that are in this book and brings back conflicts that were present in them. You could go in blind and probably still enjoy it, but you will get the most out of it if you read the entire series. 

          The cover is beautiful, as always, which is not at all a surprise to me. The artwork never ceases to amaze me and catch my attention. I like the greenish tones and the piano at the bottom. I also love the way that the music notes fade into the backgorund and cover the lower right angle of the moon. The moon is also a nice detail to include! Again, brilliant work as far as cover's go. The title font is also catching and quite elegant on the "M" and "S". 

          The characters in the story are all very fleshed out and realistic feeling. This is another aspect that is never lax in Mrs. Amsden's novels. All her characters are well-rounded and each one has a purpose. There is never anyone around just because, no frivolity. Madison and Scott are the main two characters and the stakes are clearly shown with no question as to what they want and need, even if they themselves don't always realize it for themselves. They are both likable and very different, making them a great juxtaposition. The conflicts between them are apparent and make for a lot of fun and highly suspenseful conversations and interactions. I enjoyed them both and I also enjoyed the return of other characters, such as Evan Blackwood (who was my favorite character in the Cassie Scot series), as well as mentions of others like Madison's father...or ex-father. 

          The plot is very straightforward from the get go, although there are plenty of twists, turns, and conflicts to keep things suspenseful and to keep the tension rising. Basically, Scott is a werewolf and Madison's brother Clinton is bitten by a werewolf, hence why Madison needs Scott's help to find Clinton and help him get successfully through his first transformations. However, this gets a bit difficult since Clinton disappears and no one really knows where he's gone and things keep getting in the way. Not to mention that Scott and Madison's relationship is a bit rocky and it isn't always comfortable being around a werewolf who has killed people and who Madison has seen kill people before. Add into the mix inner demons and fear and you have a wonderful time ahead of you. The payoff is fantastic and each situation they face causes you to know more and more about each character. The character development as it unfurls through various plot points is just remarkable.

          Overall, Madison's Song is a great read and is a wonderful addition to the Eagle Rock collection as I'm going to begin to call it. I'm hoping that there will be more to add in the future because I'm not ready to let these characters go yet, I"m so attached. This book takes a slightly different angle at werewolves, throwing in magic and intrigue, while pulling in romantic elements and dynamic, lovable characters. I give Madison's Song a 5 out of 5. It only took me a few days to read it and that is because I was forced to set it down because I had to do a bit of reading for my college classes, but otherwise I definitely would've spent a whole day or two reading straight through if that had been an option. I carried it everywhere and took every opportunity I could to read it, hating when I had to put it down to do homework or eat dinner. Come back in another week or two because the fun doesn't stop here! Madison herself will be visiting The Real World According To Sam in an exclusive interview post! 

Also, Madison's Song is currently on a Book Tour that started July 15th and is going until October 15th. This review just marks one stop made along the way so be sure to check out the other reviews that other bloggers have had going up over the past few months and come back soon to meet Madison. Thank you for reading!!!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Magic, Mermaids, and Politics: REVIEWING Deep Blue

Hello and welcome back to The Real World According To Sam.

This review is for a relatively newer book that my mom and sister picked up for me at the library. 

Deep Blue
Author: Jennifer Donnelly
Genre: YA Paranormal
Year of Publication: May 2014

Deep Blue is a book published by Disney Hyperion that follows a mermaid named Serafina. This is the first book in the Waterfire Saga, a four book series. Serafina is the principessa of Miromara, daughter of the regina. Miromara follows a matriarchal system and is one of a few kingdoms under the ocean. Serafina is about to go through a ceremony in which she proves she is the heiress to the throne when things go wrong. She finds herself on a quest to find the Iele, witches who are believed to just be myths, who have summoned her and 5 other mermaids from different areas of the ocean through dreams. 

Let's pause for a moment to discuss this cover. I love it.....a lot. The bluish green shades are gorgeous and I have always been fond of underwater views. The girl on the front is clearly Serafina and is actually depicted just like she is in the book (sometimes the cover image doesn't quite line up with the context of the book). I especially think that the little bit of shimmering light towards the top, as well as the inclusion of bubbles where Sera is swimming are nice touches. The way the material of her dress is shown is also very excellent, capturing the movement and an almost eeriness. At the bottom Miromara is shown on fire, as happens several chapters into the book when things hit the fan (not really a spoiler since the jacket tells you that chaos takes over the realm after an assassination).  This is precisely the kind of book that I'd like to show off on my shelf for everyone to see. 

I wasn't exactly sure what to expect from this book because I have never heard of it or of the author. I only found it because of my mom and little sister who requested it from the library for me to read. It seems they know exactly what I like and need! I loved this book. How much? Enough to stay up until about 3 in the morning trying to finish the last 100 pages. Enough to be able to say that I basically read it in one day. I read the first two chapters before I went to bed the night before and the next day I plowed through it (in between meals and going to church). I was hooked from the beginning. 

Sera is a really interesting and relatable character. She is royalty, but she is just as insecure as other girls! She doesn't think that she has done a very good job of making her mom proud of her and really just wants to find a way to be alone. Being royal, she is never really left alone and the merpeople are always watching her, be they commoners or other nobles. I'm not really fond of politics, but miraculously, they were here in this book and I did enjoy them. There have been tensions between some of the underwater kingdoms lately and there are certain rules and ways that the royals must follow in order to keep their people happy and protected. The villain is after objects of legend and Sera is on the run for most of the book, along with her best friend Neela. The merls (mermaid word for girls) run into the other girls they were told about as the book progresses. 

This book is mostly a setup for the adventure that is yet to come, but that doesn't mean its slow and boring. Not by a long shot! There is adventure galore in this book and I just didn't want to put it down. There is also a dash of romance at the beginning that hasn't really been too well explored yet, and I'm aching to see what happens as the book progresses. There are a couple of things that I'm still super curious about in regards to a couple of characters, but sadly I have to wait until next year to get any answers. 

I hadn't really realized it before, but I have never actually read a book about mermaids. I've read the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale and seen all of Disney's Little Mermaid movies, but never picked up a book about mermaids (surprising for a girl who actually always wanted to be a mermaid). I am very fond of the ocean in my reading and am so shocked I hadn't done this before. That being said, I want more!!! I really wish I could already have the next book......the adventure has only just begun! 

The one thing that I really loved about this book, aside from the characters all being written very well and being individually recognizable, was the style of writing and the voice of the author. The book is written simply when you really look at it, but its absolutely beautiful. There are lots of descriptions of the settings and the general style of the land of merpeople. Shells are useful in different ways and there are different foods and treats. Seagrass, kelp and bubbles all have uses. One of the coolest things is the mermaids abilities to use magic using their voices when they sing. I thought that was so interesting. But the thing that solidifies it all and really makes it enjoyable is the writing itself. It's just gorgeously written and that makes it so vivid in my mind as I'm reading. It was calming and relaxing, with the feel of the ocean interlocked in the words, but also had high tension moments that got me excited and had me bouncing up and down trying to get to the next part. There is a blending of the mermaid and human world, as well as tidbits of Latin and lots of mention and use of Atlantis. Having just completed 2 semesters of Latin for a language requirement, I found the inclusion of Latin very cool. I'm also really interested in Atlantis so that aspect of the story was especially fascinating. There is also a blend of the mer world and the human world which is always a really interesting topic to get into. Everything about this book is just incredible. The settings, the characters, the plot, the concepts, the execution......I can't really ask for more as a reader. Not to mention that gorgeous cover! 

Overall, I had a huge amount of fun and excitement while reading this book. I can't wait for the next one and I really wish I owned this one now. I might have to buy it at some point. I am also considering looking into some of the author's other books, considering that many of them have won awards. It has been a while since I stayed up to finish a book and even longer since I finished a 300 or so (324 pages to be exact) page book in one day. Due to its awesomeness, I have no choice but to give Deep Blue a 5. I highly recommend it and it was the perfect way to get started on my summer reading. I went to SeaWorld last month so this was one that I read just before I left. What a perfect combination that was. 

Thanks for reading this review! Hopefully you'll come back again for the next one here at The Real World According To Sam

Monday, March 16, 2015

Aerodynamics, Manta Rays, and New Species REVIEWING: Natural Selection



I had stumbled across this book on Goodreads a long time ago and honestly not all the reviews were very good. It was on my recommended books area because I had been reading things like Jurassic Park and Jaws, just to name a couple. I found it unexpectedly at the local library and picked it up for the summer reading I was doing. So without further ado, here is what I thought. 

Natural Selection
Author: Dave Freedman
Genre: Horror/Science Fiction/Thriller
Year of Publication: 2006

This book started off really strong. I was super into it until about 200 pages in. This might not be a reflection on the book itself, considering that when I hit that mark, I started getting busy. I had carried this book around quite a bit, to the eye doctor's office and even the mall at one point. I was blasting through it like crazy! However, somewhere between chapters 44-50, I started losing my momentum. This rarely ever happens to me. Sometimes I start a book and I just don't finish it. I'll pick it up later on, start over and get through. That or I'll get bored out of my mind, but I'll feel a nagging sensation that just screams FINISH IT ALREADY. This book wasn't too terrible, because I clearly didn't have that emotion. I guess I can say that it was just kind of there. I had it sitting on my vanity for at least two months and just didn't feel like reading it. I knew I wasn't far from the end, but that didn't make me want to jump right back in. I wanted to finish it, yes, but not out of complete desperation to be done and get it as far away from me as possible. 

To start off simply, let's pick at the cover a bit. At first, I honestly couldn't tell what the creature was. I was having one of those times where you look at a picture one way and later on realize it's supposed to be something else and it seems super obvious from that moment on. On the Goodreads image, I thought it was some kind of funky trilobite with a long tail....having mistaken the left "wing" for an extended appendage. and seeing a shape inside the teeth rather than teeth and a mouth. Very silly of me. Now I know what it is. 

This book is basically about a team of scientists plus one extra guy who begin to investigate a few odd occurrences and end up on the trail of what they think is a completely new species. There is a lot of science going on and I think it's supposed to be thrilling. Occasionally, it is. I liked the setting, when the scientists are on the water or in the red wood forest. That's pretty cool. I like the resourcefulness of the creature, and its heightened intelligence. I also thought the characters were rather good. They weren't stellar, but they weren't cardboard cutouts. Well, a few of them weren't. Jason, the main character, does show a lot of development. He undergoes significant change over the course of the book. Lisa isn't too stagnant, but she doesn't really change that much from what I saw. The rest are just kind of the same. They are all unique and flawed in their own ways, making them interesting to begin with, but they don't seem completely rounded out towards the end. I got the action parts at the end and they were exciting, but at some point I stopped caring about mostly everyone. I cared about Jason, occasionally Lisa, and I only sympathize with the married couple in this novel because they want to have a family and you can see them pushing through some hard challenges. 

The dustjacket says: ""Weaving science and thriller in a way not seen since Jurassic Park, Natural Selection introduces a phenomenally dangerous new species that is rapidly adapting in a way never before seen...." 
Don't get me wrong, I wasn't really expecting something as incredible as Jurassic Park. This sentence isn't really that far off from the book, but people wanting something similar to Jurassic Park won't find it all here. This book tries to be deep and get you engaged in its story, but somewhere along the way it just starts to drag. Even when I wanted to get super excited, I had a hard time. I'm not a morbid person who loves death, but every creature movie gets at least one or two good scenes where the creature the characters are facing devours somebody. That doesn't happen til pretty late in the book. Most of the book is spent tracking down the creature, which could be a pretty fun concept too, if you know how to execute it properly. The science regarding the creature is some of the most fun stuff, but too often are the characters sitting and waiting for the next big thing to happen. It takes much too long to tell this story. Are there things I would have cut? Yeah, definitely. Some events are just too predictable. Beyond that, they take too long to be addressed, but then get almost instant solutions! I'm not saying who, but somebody at some point betrays everyone else. Not only was it predictable, but the main group of characters had that problem solved almost instantaneously. On top of that, the person didn't have to deal with much in terms of consequences!!! If you're going to include a problem, make sure its actually worthwhile, and then make sure that the appropriate consequences will come of it. I found some segments to be so cheapened because they only stuck to the surface and didn't go the extra mile to make them worth my reading. Maybe this sounds bad, but a summary would've been more enjoyable than having to read through some of this book. This book had all the right pieces, but it doesn't even come close to being one of the best creature thrillers out there. If this book was ever made into a film, it would be a direct-to-TV, Syfy Channel feature. Everything needed to make the book great was there, but the author failed to deliver a satisfying thrill. Was I thrilled? Not really. Was it entertaining? Yeah, somewhat. I didn't hate it, but I really don't think I'll be rereading it anytime soon, if at all. Once was enough for me. The romantic element is very subdued and it does help to further develop some characters, but it isn't spectacularly done. I liked it, but I don't think it would have bothered me if one of them had been eaten and wrecked the chances of them being together in the end (which is odd coming from me. I usually cheer couples on and hope against all hope they'll come out together when all is said and done). It worked, but it wasn't enough. 

I just realized this book was supposed to be horror too. It didn't meet my standards of excellent horror thriller in regards to a creature. The creature itself was interesting, but connections between one aspect of the story and the other were never strong. There's the creature....there's the humans....they meet and....then I felt really disengaged. This would not stand up next to the best creature thrillers out there that I've read or seen so far. It doesn't come close. To mention Jurassic Park is to set the bar high for yourself. I didn't read it to compare it to JP. I read it as its own story and then had to come to the reality that not nearly enough was done to make it half as good as anything that Michael Crichton has written in terms of scientific thrillers. To compare itself to JP was to doom itself even further than the less than stellar execution had already done. The idea was good, the execution was ok, and it could've been way better. Half was good, half was unnecessary and parts of it still don't feel right to me. The puzzle pieces haven't been properly connected to each other, even though every piece is there that could have made it excellent. 

While not a terrible story, Natural Selection fails to deliver thrills and takes way too long to do anything satisfying. Some characters are well developed, others fall short and become forgettable almost immediately. There are too many quick fixes and not enough punishments granted to people who complicate things and almost ruins the lives of the people around them. The creature does not do much to anybody to make it truly terrifying as all instances of "horror" are few and far between. Overall this book is fun, but not overly thrilling, and it failed to excite me, although it did grant a few good hours of entertainment. Overly predictable, I have to give Natural Selection a 3, though in all honesty, I'm leaning towards a 2.5, out of 5. 

This concludes a review here at The Real World According To Sam, thanks for reading!!! 

Friday, March 6, 2015

UPDATE

Hello everyone!

I am so sorry I have been inactive for the past few months. Most of you know that I am in college and so that is taking up most of my time right now. I end up having to read 3-5 things a week, between novels, short excerpts, and parts of epic poems.

Over the winter break, the computer I used at home to do my posts decided to act up and...well it took the word break seriously and broke. I've been having to do all my schoolwork at the university I attend and it doesn't make things super convenient most of the time. I will get back to posting regular as soon as I can, but as of right now posts will be highly irregular. If you wish to keep up with what I've read lately, feel free to follow me on Goodreads. Also, I'll be attempting to put up short updates on what I've read and what I think about it on my facebook page, so if you follow me there you'll be able to see those.

My Goodreads Profile
The Facebook Page

I will not have time to do many reviews that are requested of me right now. Know that if you send me a request to review your book or the person you are an agent for, you will put on a long term waiting list that could stretch for months...

Thank you all for reading my posts here and I wish you all the best in all your endeavors, whether they be academic, career oriented, or just getting through the next day with a smile!!!

Sam