Book review: ‘Terra Vonnel and the Skulls of Aries’

(Disclaimer: I received one or more of the products mentioned below for free using Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.)

Terra Vonnel and the Skulls of Aries, by D.C. Akers (YA fantasy fiction; paperback, 110 pages). 3 of 5 stars.

Terra Vonnel and the Skulls of Aries reads like Pirates of the Caribbean meets Indiana Jones for the teen set. It’s a speedy 11,000 words in e-book format, meaning you can zip through it in one sitting without trouble.

The plot centers around 17-year-old pirate Terra Vonnel, who will stop at nothing to get her hands on a pair of magical skulls said to show the location of the Orb of Time. Once Terra steals the Orb for herself, she will be able to travel through time to save her murdered mother–and plunder to her heart’s delight along the way. But before she obtains her treasure, she must battle vampires, dead souls, cursed mountain passes and other treacheries and somehow come out alive.

At first I had a little trouble believing that someone so young could be such a notorious pirate, but I guess this novella is aimed at teenagers, so in that light it makes sense to have such a young protagonist. It’s nice to read a YA novella with a teen girl who’s kicking butt instead of moping around in a love triangle. (Cough, most YA novels these days, cough…or is it just me?)

It’s a pretty level adventure all the way through. I like stories with a feisty female lead, of course, but the story still has to flow and contain well-written fight scenes or else I lose interest. Luckily this novella has plenty of action and no unnecessary lags.

If I have one gripe it’s that the story was too short; it feels like it cuts off too soon and leaves you wanting a bit more resolution. However, I note on the Goodreads page for this novella that it’s the first in a series, so hopefully there will be new additions to the story coming soon–I’d like to read about more of Terra’s adventures.

(Disclaimer: I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free using Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.)

What I read: July 2013

I did a terrible job of reading in July, and I have no excuses. I really don’t know why I didn’t read more. But here’s a look at the two books I did read:

The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (paperback, 512 pages). Four of five stars. This is the second time I’ve picked up a Spanish-language novel (the first being The Map of Time) and gotten sucked into a story that’s thoroughly bizarre and thoroughly entrancing. Maybe I need to look up more Spanish authors? Anyway–the story is set in 1945 Barcelona and has the moody patina of a vintage noir film; the narration is excellent and really brings the city and the characters to life in vivid color. A bookseller’s son named Daniel comes into the possession of a mysterious novel and finds himself on a collision course with a man who wants to destroy the book. Soon their fates become seemingly intertwined, with their separate stories of love and intrigue mirroring each other.

This book is a weird hybrid of horror, suspense and mystery. It has some pretty heavy themes of fate, death, obsession, revenge and redemption and it is very dark–and I do mean very dark. This seems to be a theme with European books and film, but I think I might prefer it to the American way of wrapping everything up with a bow and a happy ending. You might like it if you like books like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini (paperback, 372 pages). Four of five stars. Hosseini’s books are full of brutal moments and they are not beach reads, by a long shot. But he’s an excellent writer and this story of two young boys growing up in pre-Soviet Afghanistan is hard to put down. I’ve noticed that people love to hit Hosseini over the head in reviews for being melodramatic but, um, that’s kind of the genre, is it not? I will say, though, that his books should come with trigger warnings for survivors of abuse, assault, and/or war trauma–he puts his characters through some pretty bad stuff. Just an FYI.

What have you read lately? Don’t forget to get in touch with me on Goodreads!

Books I read this month: June 2013

To be honest, I struggled to get through anything this month. I was super-busy so I didn’t spend that much time reading. However I did finish these three:

Atonement, by Ian McEwan (paperback, 480 pages). This book was such a hot mess. The plot sounds really interesting, but the tone and tempo jerks around so much that the whole book feels disjointed into parts, as if a few different authors teamed up to write different sections of the same story. And the ending was just too sad, and really ruined it for me. I guess the moral of the story is supposed to be that we should always be careful of what we say and do, because we may never get a chance at atonement. All well and true, but not really beach reading. (2 out of 5 stars.)

Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden (paperback, 499 pages). This was much better. You really get sucked into the story of Sayuri’s life. I think Golden did a good job of crafting the book as though the stories really were being told as a memoir to a biographer. I raced through this book as fast as I could. (5 out of 5 stars.)

Scarlett, by Alexandra Ripley (paperback, 896 pages). I love Scarlett O’Hara. She’s feisty and flawed and brash and she never, ever lets anything keep her down. I feel like Ripley did a good job of replicating Margaret Mitchell’s style and tone from Gone With the Wind. That said, let’s be adults and call a spade a spade–we KNOW how this story is going to end, more or less, so dragging it out over 900 pages seems a bit excessive, and the story did start to drag partway through, which is why I knocked off a star. (4 out of 5 stars)

What are you reading these days? Any recommendations? Tell me in the comments! (Don’t forget to hook up with me on Goodreads here!)

What I read this month: May 2013

May certainly flew by! I thought it would be fun to show you guys the books I’ve been reading this month and some mini reviews of each. If you’re a big bookworm like I am then feel free to look me up on Goodreads!

Okay, on to the books. I read six books this month, which is actually kind of high for me considering that I normally don’t have a lot of time for leisure reading.

Kingdom of Cages, by Sarah Zettel. (Paperback, 608 pages) This futuristic sci-fi novel isn’t something I’d typically pick up, but I liked it overall. In a future where humanity is on the brink of extinction, Chena and Teal Trust and their mother are chosen to immigrate to Pandora, a planet fiercely guarded by a group of ecologically minded scientists. Once they get there, the Trust girls learn that the Pandorans don’t want new inhabitants, only their pure DNA for a science project–and they wind up on the run as they try to beat a system that is trying to enslave them. There are some rough patches and the twists and turns aren’t always the most original, but overall I think the characters were believable and the pacing was steady enough to keep me turning the pages. (3 of 5 stars)

A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini. (Hardcover, 372 pages) This one was kindly sent to me by Jasmine from Green Eyed Monster as part of the April book swap. The book spans about thirty years, from the era before the Soviet Invasion, through the occupation and the rise of the Taliban, to the post-Taliban era of rebuilding; the story is told through the eyes of two generations of women, Miriam and Laila. I’m not going to lie: this book was really hard to read, as it depicts the harsh reality of life as a woman in Afghanistan, where oppression and abuse are routine. That said, it’s a real page-turner and for all the sadness, bits of hope shine through so the story isn’t wholly depressing. You can also tell that the book was written by someone who has actually lived in Kabul as opposed to someone totally foreign to the culture; it was really interesting to see these decades from the perspective of a native author as opposed to an outsider. (5 of 5 stars)

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, by Alexander McCall Smith. (Paperback, 235 pages) This was a zippy read! Precious Ramwotse is the cheerful Botswanan lady detective who often compares herself to Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple–fitting, I think, since Miss Marple was the literary character who kept popping into my head as I was reading. This book also came from Jasmine in the book swap (I feel so bad that she sent me two books and I only sent her one!). If you’re a big fan of hardboiled crime novels or noir detective novels then you won’t like this one, but if you like laid-back mysteries a la Miss Marple or Sherlock Holmes, where deduction and good sense wins out over violence, then this might be up your alley. (4 of 5 stars)

Requiem (Delirium #3), by Lauren Oliver. (Hardcover, 391 pages) I was really excited to wrap up this trilogy about a dystopian future where love is considered a disease and people are surgically “corrected” not to feel such emotions. I don’t want to give away any spoilers for any of you who haven’t read the book, but I felt like Lena really evolved over the course of the trilogy and the pacing stayed very taut throughout. That said, I didn’t enjoy this book as much as the last two; I felt like the end wasn’t very satisfying, as it’s both the end I predicted and also a very open-ended, not entirely wrapped up conclusion. It was still a good book, I just wish the series could have finished on the same tense note as the first two books. (4 of 5 stars)

Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang, by Chelsea Handler. (Hardcover, 244 pages) Here’s the description from Goodreads: “Get ready for big laughs as Chelsea Handler lets loose with more comic personal essays. In this new, no-holds-barred account of life on the ridiculous side, Chelsea mines the wealth of material that is her family, her sex life, her career, and her distinctively outrageous worldview…Chelsea never lets anyone off the hook, even herself, as she delivers page after page of irreverent humor, biting wit, and deliciously off-kilter entertainment.” I’ve seen Chelsea on TV and read interviews with her in magazines, so I know she possesses the potential to be funny; but I didn’t find this book funny at all. Half the time she’s just being a jerk to the people around her, and the other half she’s making these jokes that are flatter than a slashed tire. My honest thought is that she wrote this book while drunk and/or high (both of which she talks about a lot), because that’s the only excuse for her thinking such a disjointed and crass series of ramblings was funny enough to submit to the printer. (Side note: I have nothing against crass humor done well. When you’re just being crass because you don’t know what else to do, that’s another story.) (1 of 5 stars)

Inkheart, by Cornelia Funke. (Hardcover, 534 pages) This is supposed to be a young adult novel, but it’s just as entertaining for any adults who fondly remember a childhood steeped in books. Young Meggie discovers that her father Mo can read characters right out of books; unfortunately, his unique talent led him to accidentally read a troupe of villains out of a novel, and now they are targeting Mo and his daughter because of that talent. Meanwhile, a traveling performer who was also read out of the book just wants Mo to read him home, and Meggie wonders if her mother–who disappeared into the novel–can ever come home again. The pacing was fair enough, though I do think the book is a bit over-long, at least for kids. (4 of 5 stars)

Random Thursday: Top 3 Books Turned Movies

Much of the time, I’m not really a fan of the way Hollywood butchers my favorite books for the big screen. I’m one of those annoying people who can’t enjoy a movie or TV show because they’re lamenting all of the missing dialogue, changed scenes, and actors who look nothing like the character inside my head.

That said, three of my favorite books did manage to get a decent adaptation treatment, and those are…

1. ‘The Lord of the Rings’. I’ve read the books a couple of times, in between watching the movies about a gazillion times, and I have to bow down to Peter Jackson for not only making an amazing series of films but actually improving on the books. If you’ve read them then you know that J.R.R. Tolkien, for all his imagination and language wizardry, was not exactly the master of the gripping narrative. I could go on and on in true obsessed geeky style about how much I love these movies but I’ll spare you all the slobber.

2. ‘The Hunger Games’. When I found out they were turning this into a movie I realized I would probably wind up going to see it with friends who had read the books, so I decided I needed to sit down and read the entire trilogy as well. I’m really picky about reading the book before I see the movie! Anyway, I fell in love with the books from page one and by the time the movie finally opened I couldn’t imagine it would be nearly as good as the books. Wrong. It’s not 100% at the end and I still love the books better (what can I say, I’m a bookaholic), but it’s pretty darn near close to perfection. I can’t wait for the sequels.

3. ‘Pride and Prejudice’. Technically this isn’t a movie, because I’m talking about the five-hour BBC miniseries version. It. Is. Perfection. I love Jane Austen’s novel to death and I’ve reread it over and over since high school, so obviously I have really high standards for the characters of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. I don’t think you can really get much better than Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, do you? Or do you have a better candidate for a remake?

Jewelry I want this week: inspired by…

I didn’t write my regular ‘Inspiration Saturday’ post this week because, after the exhaustion of Thanksgiving and Black Friday, I wasn’t feeling particularly inspired. Today, though, I’ll show you a few pieces of jewelry I’m hankering after, and the inspiration behind them!

Can you guess why these three items are grouped together?

I’m really feeling wild and different jewelry lately, and all three of these pieces make me think of one of my favorite literary heroines…Daenerys Targaryen. Amazon just started taking pre-orders for season two of Game of Thrones and I’m impatiently tapping my foot until A Dance With Dragons hits stores in paperback, so Dany has been at the front of my mind.

These pieces of jewelry all make me think of Dany the Khaleesi, her Khal (am I the only one who cried when he died?), her horse, and her independent spirit. I suppose at this point it would be appropriate to move on to finding some dragon-themed jewelry…stay tuned!

Moon and Stars Pendant from Bear and Mojo, six pounds, Girls and Horses ring from Lulu’s, $12, Ear Cuff with Feathers Set from Claire’s, $12.50,