Friday, October 28, 2016

Audiobook review: Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Title: Coraline
Author: Neil Gaiman
Narrator: Neil Gaiman
Publication Date: August 4, 2002
Publisher: HarperCollins
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Coraline lives with her preoccupied parents in part of a huge old house--a house so huge that other people live in it, too... round, old former actresses Miss Spink and Miss Forcible and their aging Highland terriers ("We trod the boards, luvvy") and the mustachioed old man under the roof ("'The reason you cannot see the mouse circus,' said the man upstairs, 'is that the mice are not yet ready and rehearsed.'") Coraline contents herself for weeks with exploring the vast garden and grounds. But with a little rain she becomes bored--so bored that she begins to count everything blue (153), the windows (21), and the doors (14). And it is the 14th door that--sometimes blocked with a wall of bricks--opens up for Coraline into an entirely alternate universe. Now, if you're thinking fondly of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe or Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, you're on the wrong track. Neil Gaiman's Coraline is far darker, far stranger, playing on our deepest fears. And, like Roald Dahl's work, it is delicious.

What's on the other side of the door? A distorted-mirror world, containing presumably everything Coraline has ever dreamed of... people who pronounce her name correctly (not "Caroline"), delicious meals (not like her father's overblown "recipes"), an unusually pink and green bedroom (not like her dull one), and plenty of horrible (very un-boring) marvels, like a man made out of live rats. The creepiest part, however, is her mirrored parents, her "other mother" and her "other father"--people who look just like her own parents, but with big, shiny, black button eyes, paper-white skin... and a keen desire to keep her on their side of the door. To make creepy creepier, Coraline has been illustrated masterfully in scritchy, terrifying ink drawings by British mixed-media artist and Sandman cover illustrator Dave McKean. This delightful, funny, haunting, scary as heck, fairy-tale novel is about as fine as they come. Highly recommended. 

Let me start by saying this: if the blurb on the book cover calls it "One of the most frightening books ever written," I expect to be shaking in my boots. Now, I get that Coraline is a children's book, but I have seen this on so many "best of" horror lists that I just had to give it a try during the Halloween season! It's worth pointing out that this was also my first Gaiman book so I didn't really know what I was getting into, although I know his reputation.

Coraline is about a girl who lives in a really weird house with another really weird house on the other side of a bricked up door. Coraline was a fun character, if a little, um... weird. The real fun starts when she does exactly what she should not do by visiting the other side of the door in the room she isn't supposed to be in to begin with. There lives her other mother and other father, a couple super unnerving folks who want her to forget about her real parents and stay with them forever. Coraline meets other characters including a talking cat and a bunch of singing rats who help her on the way to get back to her world.

I really did want to know more about the other mother. While she was a super creepy villain, I never felt like I really understood who she was or why she was evil to begin with. All villains have some kind of backstory, but not the other mother. Why is she living on the other side of the bricked up door and what is her purpose? Maybe I just totally missed that.

Honestly, this is just a really weird book. The world building is spectacular, though! Neil Gaiman really knows how to create a world that's unique and creepy right from the first page. The characters are all intriguing even though we never get to know them super well. What this book is not, however, is horror. I see now on Goodreads that the first genre listed is fantasy and that is much more accurate.

One thing I did really enjoy about this book was that Neil Gaiman himself performed the audio. I always wonder when listening to audiobooks if the author actually intended the characters to be presented in the way the narrators are interpreting them. The audio here portrays the strange, whimsical feelings that Gaiman obviously wanted to get across to the reader and it was awesome.

I enjoyed Coraline for what it was - a creepy children's book. I liked the characters and thought the villain was pretty great! I also really liked the world and the cat. I just expected more from a book that's blurbed as one of the most frightening ever written. I feel like there's a bit of nostalgia that goes along with Coraline and if I had read it when I was younger perhaps I could have appreciated it more. As it stands, I did like it, but really hoped for something a bit more scary!

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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Horror movies that actually terrified me (+giveaway)

With Halloween in just a few days I want to continue the horror of yesterday's top scariest books by talking about some of my absolute favorite horror films! This topic could have gone a lot of ways. There are horror movies that are creepy, but not terrifying. There are movies that are more mind blowing that scary, but are still considered horror. But I wanted to talk about horror movies that legitimately scared the crap out of me! These are my top nine (in order of release)!

I have seen people say that The Blair Witch Project doesn't stand the test of time and I have to respectfully disagree. I have watched a LOT of horror movies over the last 10 years or so and I still think this is one of the absolute most frightening movies in the history of movies. There's something really darn scary about not seeing the big bad.

The Ring, 2002
The Ring is another movie that may be a little outdated. Yes, yes, I know it has an actual VHS tape in it, but it definitely holds up, I think. I never did see the original Japanese version, which I hear is even better, but this movie is my go-to when I want to be scared!

The Descent is one of those horror movies that's extra terrifying because it's not that far outside of the realm of possibility. There are really no ghosties or ghoulies, just some really creepy cave happenings! Although it's over ten years old, I highly recommend this one!

When I first saw Silent Hill I had no idea it was based on a video game. Now I've watched other people play the game on YouTube, although I've never actually tried it myself, and I still think it's equal parts weird, unnerving, and actually terrifying. If you haven't watched this movie you really don't understand what you're missing and you should definitely rent it ASAP!

I know people like to hate on this franchise, but the first Paranormal Activity was legitimately scary. Like I couldn't even finish it the first time I went to see it (don't judge me)! When I finally did make it through the entire movie I was even more freaked out and I will forever defend it against the haters.

Quarantine, 2008
I know I might get some hate for this one, but I actually haven't seen the original, REC. I really want to, I just haven't had the opportunity! In any case, Quarantine was a definite hit for me! It kept me on the edge of my seat (and trying not to have a heart attack) through the entire thing.

Insidious, 2010
I remember seeing this in theaters and being actually scared, which doesn't often happen with horror movies. To be fair, the ending wasn't the best and the main villain was a little cheesy, but the rest of Insidious makes up for it! I only wish the sequels were as good.

Sinister, 2012
Who doesn't love a good haunted house? With Sinister I had no idea what I was getting into but it quickly made my favorites list! The villain in this movie is absolutely horrifying in every way and so is the entire premise behind the film.

I saw the first Conjuring movie back when it came out and thought it was scary, but nothing spectacular. I got to see The Conjuring 2 this year in theaters and was totally blown away by it! It was the first horror movie in years that I've really loved. The big bads were incredibly well done and the story was the kind that really pulls you in! You can read my full review here.

I'm always on the lookout for amazing horror movies! 
Are there any I missed that you'd add to the list? 
Let me know in the comments!

To celebrate the most spooky day of the year I'm giving away my personal copies of two of my favorite horror movies, The Blair Witch Project and The Descent, on DVD! To enter, just leave your email address along with your comment below and I'll choose a random winner on Halloween! (US only, sorry!)
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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday #119: Halloween reads

Today's Topic: 
Top Ten Seven Halloween Reads

I love Halloween, but I'm also really hard to please when it comes to horror books. Although I read quite a few, there aren't many that I actually love. These are seven that blew me away for being super terrifying, having awesome twists, or just being really great reads. 

The House by Christina Lauren
Insylum by Z. Rider
The Long Walk by Stephen King
Pines by Blake Crouch

The Shining by Stephen King
The Shuddering by Ania Ahlborn
Welcome to the Dark House by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish.
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Monday, October 24, 2016

Audiobook review: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Title: Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows #2)
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Publication Date: September 27, 2016
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Pages: 536
Add to Goodreads
Review for book 1

When you can’t beat the odds, change the game.

Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn’t think they’d survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they’re right back to fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and badly weakened, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz’s cunning and test the team's fragile loyalties. A war will be waged on the city’s dark and twisting streets―a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of the Grisha world. 

Crooked Kingdom, I wanted to love you. I really, really did.

Leigh Bardugo's Grisha trilogy is one of my top five favorite series of all time. In fact, it may be my favorite series, period. It's certainly the only one (other than Harry Potter) that I've collected foreign editions of. When I read Six of Crows earlier this year I was amazed that I didn't love it. I found incredibly slow and tedious and didn't come to love the characters like so many others seemed to. I thought that Crooked Kingdom might be just what I needed to love this series so I bought it on release day and immediately started reading... and I finally finished it (embarrassingly) 16 days later after switching to the audiobook halfway through. This is obviously just not the series for me.

Crooked Kingdom picks up right after the explosive ending of Six of Crows. Inej has been taken hostage and Kaz has been busy devising a plan to get her back and even the score. He is forever trying to break down Pekka Rollins "brick by brick" to get vengeance for his brother and each scheme is more incredible than the last. That's basically what this book is - Kaz's scheming. He makes a plan, they carry out the plan, it works or doesn't. Rinse and repeat. That is to say I found it a bit repetitive.

Despite the fact that this book (and the one before it) is 85% character building, I never grew to love the characters. Although it seems everyone else in the world is in love with Kaz Brekker, I'm left wondering where he gets his reputation for being ruthless when he never actually does anything especially terrible. It's somewhat disappointing for a character with the nickname "Dirty Hands." Inej was kind of sweet, I guess, and Nina was interesting. I enjoyed Jesper and Wylan enough and if I had to pick a favorite it might be Matthias, but honestly any of them could have died and I wouldn't have been terribly upset about it, as horrible as that may be. I'm just incredibly disappointed to not have connected with characters who everyone else apparently adores.

I also still never found the romance. Sure, a couple characters kissed once or twice, but for the most part I am baffled. I constantly see other people squeeing over how sweet and adorable the romance is, how perfect the characters are together. What is everyone else reading? I'm still wondering what I missed and hoping someone can point me towards the swoony romance.

The plot of Crooked Kingdom was interesting enough, but it was just so tedious. It dragged on forever. It's actually weird. I liked it enough while I was reading it, but I just couldn't find the motivation to keep picking it up each day. (Hence, why I switched to audio.) I read somewhere that this duology was originally supposed to be one book and I think I would've found that much more enjoyable since it would've been more fast paced.

One thing I did really enjoy was seeing some old faces from the original Grisha Trilogy. The cast of characters in the back of the book had me really hopeful for more but I was happy with what I got. I did find Kaz's backstory to be interesting and I liked the revenge plot, but there was never much doubt how things would end up so I didn't feel incredibly invested. I did like how Wylan's story played out. That was perhaps my favorite bit of the story itself.

Obviously, it's incredibly disappointing not to love a series by the author of what is arguably my favorite series of all time. The Six of Crows duology won't be going on my favorites shelf and I doubt I'll read it again, but I will definitely still read anything this author writes ever. If you loved Six of Crows, you'll probably love this one too! If you didn't, I wouldn't recommend this one because it's really more of the same.

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Sunday, October 23, 2016

Weekly Recap: 10/16 - 10/22

Happenings Off the Blog...

Well, this has officially been the worst blogging week of the last two and a half years. My inlaws were in town and, while I anticipated having plenty of time during their visit to read and blog, we ended up doing things from the time we woke up until we went to sleep pretty much every single day. The good news is we had a lot of fun! We spent four days at Disney World where we got upgraded to an incredibly villa, a couple nights at Disney Springs, a night at Universal City Walk, my niece got a mermaid makeover, and they also went to do a couple other things without me. I also ended up getting sick...

The bad news is I did basically nothing else. To make up for the lack of content on the blog this week, have a collage of the awesome things we did together!

I am now more determined than ever to queue up a ton of posts before Christmas and ALA next January! I'm honestly a little embarrassed not to have had any content ready to go and I won't let it happen again!

New Books



In Case You Missed It

Monday ARC review of Gemina
The topic was character dog names for Top Ten Tuesday

Upcoming Review

I'm linking up to Stacking the Shelves & The Sunday Post!
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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday #118: character names for my future dog

Today's Topic: 
Top Ten Characters
I'd Name A Dog After

I had so much fun with this topic! I always say that I need more pets to name because I there are so many awesome names out there, and some are hilarious. For example, my 10lb toy fox terrier's registered name is Bella the Beast. These are ten character names I'm keeping on my list for my next puppy!

Darkling, Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
Captain Hook, Never Never by Brianna R. Shrum
Kestrel, The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski
Morph the Moth, Unhinged by A.G. Howard
Lada the Impaler, And I Darken by Kiersten White

Rhys, A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
Serafina, Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty
Sirius Black, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
Varen, Nevermore by Kelly Creagh
Wen, Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish.
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Monday, October 17, 2016

ARC Review: Gemina by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Title: Gemina (The Illuminae Files #2)
Author: Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff
Publication Date: October 18, 2016
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Pages: 608
Add to Goodreads

//I received this book from ALA in exchange for an honest review//

Moving to a space station at the edge of the galaxy was always going to be the death of Hanna’s social life. Nobody said it might actually get her killed.

The sci-fi saga that began with the breakout bestseller Illuminae continues on board the Jump Station Heimdall, where two new characters will confront the next wave of the BeiTech assault.

Hanna is the station captain’s pampered daughter; Nik the reluctant member of a notorious crime family. But while the pair are struggling with the realities of life aboard the galaxy's most boring space station, little do they know that Kady Grant and the Hypatia are headed right toward Heimdall, carrying news of the Kerenza invasion.

When an elite BeiTech strike team invades the station, Hanna and Nik are thrown together to defend their home. But alien predators are picking off the station residents one by one, and a malfunction in the station's wormhole means the space-time continuum might be ripped in two before dinner. Soon Hanna and Nik aren’t just fighting for their own survival; the fate of everyone on the Hypatia—and possibly the known universe—is in their hands.

But relax. They've totally got this. They hope.

Once again told through a compelling dossier of emails, IMs, classified files, transcripts, and schematics, Gemina raises the stakes of the Illuminae Files, hurling readers into an enthralling new story that will leave them breathless.

I read an advance copy of Illuminae last year and totally loved it! I could not wait to get my hands on Gemina and when I found it at ALA over the summer I was SO excited! Gemina is told in the same unique format as Illuminae, which I was really looking forward to. It also did a lot of other things the same as Illuminae, which I didn't love so much.

Gemina introduces two new main characters - Hanna, the captain's daughter, and her drug dealer, Nik. Hanna was a great character, strong and fully capable of handling herself. There were times when I wondered why a spoiled captain's daughter would know so much about certain things and she seemed a little too knowledgable at times. Her backstory mostly explained these things, thankfully. Nik was also a fun character, although he seemed very similar to Ezra to me. One thing that I noticed throughout both books is that every person in this universe seems to have taken sarcasm classes at some point because almost everything they say is snarky. It is amusing though. The romance between Hanna and Nik was cute, but it just wasn't on the same level as Kady and Ezra.

The storyline of Gemina crosses paths with Illuminae, which was awesome! I was concerned about a second book not having the same main characters as the first, even though it worked for the Starbound Trilogy. The big bad was also really different. Instead of a terrifying zombie virus, this time we have some kind of weird space worm parasite thing. While kind of scary in concept, it didn't end up packing the same punch as the virus from Illuminae. I did think the invasion of the ship by unknown troops was really well done, though. Like with Illuminae, I never felt like I knew exactly what was going on until the end. I love to be kept guessing!

Unfortunately, the rest of the story was quite predictable. I was really disappointed to see that Gemina used many of the same tricks as the first book in the series. There were several times when something happened that was supposed to make me sad or anxious where I didn't have much of reaction at all because I already knew what was going to happen (and I was correct). I'm sorry to say that most of the big reveals were extremely predictable because they followed a pattern very similar to Illuminae.

That isn't to say the book was a total loss though! World building is definitely where this series excels. The format that the book is written in makes it extremely easy to feel like part of the world and it's really easy to picture the ship that the characters are running around. I'm sure it'll be much better once the final art is included too!

Overall I liked Gemina but it did not blow me away like Illuminae did, mostly because it felt much to similar. I did enjoy some of the new characters and there were a few reveals that did surprise me. I also loved being immersed back in the world the authors created. I will definitely still read the next book to see how it all wraps up, but I'll probably go in with lower expectations next time.

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