Tag: dnf

October 15, 2016

Review | The Reader by Traci Chee

Review | The Reader by Traci CheeThe Reader by Traci Chee
Series: Sea of Ink and Gold, #1
Publisher: Putnam, September 2016
Pages: 442
Format: Hardcover
Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Once there was, and one day there will be. This is the beginning of every story.
Sefia lives her life on the run. After her father is viciously murdered, she flees to the forest with her aunt Nin, the only person left she can trust. They survive in the wilderness together, hunting and stealing what they need, forever looking over their shoulders for new threats. But when Nin is kidnapped, Sefia is suddenly on her own, with no way to know who’s taken Nin or where she is. Her only clue is a strange rectangular object that once belonged to her father left behind, something she comes to realize is a book.
Though reading is unheard of in Sefia’s world, she slowly learns, unearthing the book’s closely guarded secrets, which may be the key to Nin’s disappearance and discovering what really happened the day her father was killed. With no time to lose, and the unexpected help of swashbuckling pirates and an enigmatic stranger, Sefia sets out on a dangerous journey to rescue her aunt, using the book as her guide. In the end, she discovers what the book had been trying to tell her all along: Nothing is as it seems, and the end of her story is only the beginning.

I wanted so badly to love The Reader. I always want to like debut novels, since I can only imagine the heart and soul that goes into each word. But Chee’s debut wasn’t for me,

Why? I was bored. The flashbacks were fun reads, but the action in the present didn’t grab me. I felt my mind wandering when Sefia’s aunt Nin was kidnapped, when she follows her trail on a rescue mission, even as she starts to learn to read. There wasn’t enough of Sefia to grab my attention.

I mentioned the flashbacks: those are the winners in the first pages. The heartbreaking narrative as Sefia discovers she’s an orphan, the numbness as she moves through the predetermined route to safety. It was stunning, but not enough to make up for the lack of character in the present Sefia.

I loved the introductory pages as Chee weaves a mythical, almost hypnotic description of a world without books, without readers. It felt engaging, fascinating. But The Reader didn’t live up to this narrative promise. It didn’t have that vibrancy, that urgency Sefia must have felt when she took off after her aunt. It didn’t leave my heart pounding, my mind frantic to find out just what the hell was going on.

The Reader isn’t bad, per se…it just isn’t all the way there. Without the urgency, the emotions, or a powerful protagonist, it fell flat. And after 50 pages, I didn’t want to go on.


Posted October 15, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
Tags: , , , ,

August 24, 2016

Review | Best Laid Wedding Plans by Lynette Austin

Review | Best Laid Wedding Plans by Lynette AustinThe Best Laid Wedding Plans by Lynnette Austin
Series: Magnolia Brides, #1
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca, November 2015
Pages: 384
Format: Paperback
Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Jenni Beth Beaumont thought she left her broken heart in Chance, Georgia, when she moved away. But when she suddenly inherits her family's beautiful, antebellum home, her dream of turning the residence into a wedding destination calls her back.
Cole Bryson, an architectural salvager and Jenni Beth's former flame, intends to purchase and deconstruct the Beaumont family's down-at-the-heels estate. To his surprise, Jenni Beth is more of a stubborn Southern girl than he thought. Cole will have to use all his sultry, steamy tricks to test more than the resolve of his sexy competition…

I wanted so desperately to love this story. A Southern girl after my own heart, returning home to start a boutique wedding planner service that will save her parents’ estate and hopefully their town. Yet despite his best intentions, Cole Bryson is hell bent on disrupting Jenni’s best laid wedding plans. It sounds almost picturesque, right?

From the first page, the relationship between Jenni Beth and Cole was convulted. Austin threw the reader in without any warning or backstory – it felt like pages were missing from the story, instead of a smooth opening to the characters and their story. The introduction to Jenni Beth, ending her last night as a wedding planner in Savannah, isn’t too bad…until Austin throws in Cole. Then it feels like the narrative is abandoned in favor of setting up a clunky sexual tension between the two.

The odd relationship continues as Jenni Beth heads home, and Cole…follows? He starts to intervene in her life, following her to the bank to “help” with her business loan, then to the quilt shop that’s going under… The lack of character development and the awkward, stilted relationship was the biggest reason I put down Best Laid Wedding Plans after 50 pages.

The other major reason this book is heading back to the library? The horribly awkward Southern cliches that threaded through the dialogue. Instead of feeling welcoming and friendly, they felt awkward, making me more aware than ever I was looking at typeface on a page instead of a story of love. I couldn’t stop seeing them. It was jolting and slightly uncomfortable.

Instead of finding a warm, small-town romance about a wedding planner and the one she let get away, Best Laid Wedding Plans fell flat. It needed a burst of humanity, of character, and a stronger narrative to create the story the title and blurb promised.


Posted August 24, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
Tags: , , ,

August 22, 2016

Review | The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye

Review | The Crown’s Game by Evelyn SkyeThe Crown's Game by Evelyn Skye
Series: The Crown's Game, #1
, May 2016
Pages: 399
Format: Hardcover
Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Vika Andreyeva can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters—the only two in Russia—and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs threatening, the tsar needs a powerful enchanter by his side.
And so he initiates the Crown’s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill—the greatest test an enchanter will ever know. The victor becomes the Imperial Enchanter and the tsar’s most respected adviser. The defeated is sentenced to death.
Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter—even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?
For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown’s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with—beautiful, whip-smart, imaginative—and he can’t stop thinking about her.
And when Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love…or be killed himself.
As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear—the Crown’s Game is not one to lose.

I’ve had my eye out for this book since last November. I fell in love with the cover, the blurb, and after seeing pages of positive GoodReads reviews, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. When it finally arrived at the library last week, I was thrilled.

But as I turned the pages, my thrill turned sour, and at page 54, I marked The Crown’s Game dnf. Why? Well, there were a few reasons:

1. The slow beginning

And when I say the slow beginning, I mean the slooooowwwww beginning. I loved the depth of description when it came to the scenery and magic – Skye’s writing prowess really shows here. But when it came to her two main characters, Nikolai and Vika, Skye fell flat. They had no depth, no vibrancy to them that made me care about them. Granted, I put the book down after only 50 pages, but there should already be a character hook here.

2. This felt a little familiar…

Let’s get this out right now: I am in no way accusing Skye of plagiarism. It was more that The Crown’s Game felt like The Hunger Games set in 1800s Russia with magic instead of arrows.

3. I really hate violence against animals.

It’s one of my major pet peeves in books. Honestly, it may be the one thing that will make me put down a book and never pick it up again. Around page 50, when I was wallowing back and forth on putting this book in my return bag, Nikolai returns home from his first sighting of Vika to find his room filled with wild animals, including a tiger and vipers. His mentor, Galina, tells him he needs to kill them to get used to the sight of blood.


What? Seriously? Useless killing so he can get used to blood? No.

I liked the premise of The Crown’s Game. I loved the idea of it: a magical test of feats, set in Romanov Russia. I wasn’t too big of a fan of the idea of a love triangle, but I was willing to look past it. But after a slow start, lack of character development, and the out-of-the-blue animal violence? I’m done.

Posted August 22, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
Tags: , , , ,

July 30, 2016

Review | The One You Want by Gena Showalter

Review | The One You Want by Gena ShowalterThe One You Want by Gena Showalter
Series: The Original Heartbreakers, #0.5
Publisher: Harlequin, March 2015
Pages: 109
Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

New York Times bestselling author Gena Showalter introduces the Original Heartbreakers—about sexy bad boys each meeting their match—with a special prequel novella!
In small-town Oklahoma, reputation is everything, and Kenna Starr will do anything to overcome hers. The supposed bad girl is determined to walk the straight and narrow, a seemingly impossible task when Tall, Dark and Sexy shows up…
Rich and powerful, Dane Michaelson is every woman's dream. When he returns to Strawberry Valley after a sixteen-year absence, he is unprepared for the redheaded girl he's never been able to forget. She's all woman now—and he's never wanted anyone more. But to have her, he'll have to break through her defenses… and surrender his own.
* First published in the 2014 anthology, All For You.

As this is the first book I’ve marked DNF in a while, I feel it’s only fair to state that The One You Want is the first book in The Original Heartbreakers series I’ve read.

That being said, from the first page, it was borderline ridiculous. We meet Kenna Starr (I couldn’t stop thinking about how it sounded like a stripper name) as she walks into a society party. Her worries about how she’s wearing the same outfit as the wait staff (she normally works with them) wasn’t too bad, but her constant Twitter references in her head drove me insane. I couldn’t get to know her from all the chatter in her brain, a constant trait throughout the novella (well, as far as I got).

Her romantic hero, Dane Michaelson, is an asshole. He won’t let anyone touch him without his permission (yanks his arm back from his date when she tries to) and god forbid you touch his face. I didn’t stick around long enough to see what that was all about. He’s degrading, judgmental, and has few to little redeeming qualities (again, DNF). In the first scene, he displayed his disgust for his date by deciding he was dumping her because she tried to touch his face. Oh yeah. There’s a winner.

There were so many elements in Showalter’s novella that just didn’t make sense, but were thrown in for pop culture effect. I finally threw in the towel when she revealed (for the second time) that she was packing a giant, double-edged sword just in case of zombie attack. Seriously. Where did that come from? Are we Walking Dead addicts? Because there’s no previous reference – just a random conversation with her roommate about how the zombie apocalypse is coming.

Honestly, this was a waste of the $2.99 I spent to buy the ebook. I might try a full novel of Showalter’s but The One You Want was just a disaster.


Posted July 30, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
Tags: , , ,

January 29, 2016

Review | Unraveled by Courtney Milan

Review | Unraveled by Courtney MilanUnraveled by Courtney Milan
Series: Turner,
Publisher: Courtney Milan, December 2011
Pages: 258
Format: Paperback
Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Smite Turner is renowned for his single-minded devotion to his duty as a magistrate. But behind his relentless focus lies not only a determination to do what is right, but the haunting secrets of his past—secrets that he is determined to hide, even if it means keeping everyone else at arm’s length. Until the day an irresistible woman shows up as a witness in his courtroom…
Miranda Darling isn’t in trouble…yet. But she’s close enough that when Turner threatens her with imprisonment if she puts one foot wrong, she knows she should run in the other direction. And yet no matter how forbidding the man seems on the outside, she can’t bring herself to leave. Instead, when he tries to push her away, she pushes right back—straight through his famous self-control, and into the heart of the passion that he has long hidden away…

Full disclosure: I marked this book dnf after 100 pages.

You may have noticed I’m on something of a historical romance kick, so when Milan’s Unraveled finally arrived at the library, I expected to fall heads over heels in love with it. 
That just didn’t happen. 
I didn’t feel a yearning to get to know the characters, to find out what made them tick. There was nothing attractive about Smite Turner or, more commonly known, Lord Justice. The introduction to him in his white wig and black robe didn’t paint the same man who hides his past that the blurb portrayed. Milan built him up after, but I couldn’t shake the image of a goody two-shoes pronouncing judgment as the romantic hero. 
Miranda, in turn, is nearly as bland. She’s fighting for all these people: for herself, for Robbie, for her memories, but where’s the passion? Where’s her fire, her inspiration, her pride, for heaven’s sake? Her decision to View Spoiler ».
I wanted characters I couldn’t stop thinking about, a plot that drew me back in just when I put the book down. I’m sure View Spoiler »The pacing was off, the narrative slow. 
Overall, Unraveled just wasn’t the book for me. 

Posted January 29, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
Tags: , ,

December 17, 2015

DNF | Twain’s End by Lynn Cullen

DNF | Twain’s End by Lynn CullenTwain's End by Lynn Cullen
Publisher: Gallery Books, October 2015
Pages: 352
Format: Hardcover
Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

From the bestselling and highly acclaimed author of Mrs. Poe comes a fictionalized imagining of the personal life of America’s most iconic writer: Mark Twain.
In March of 1909, Mark Twain cheerfully blessed the wedding of his private secretary, Isabel V. Lyon, and his business manager, Ralph Ashcroft. One month later, he fired both. He proceeded to write a ferocious 429-page rant about the pair, calling Isabel “a liar, a forger, a thief, a hypocrite, a drunkard, a sneak, a humbug, a traitor, a conspirator, a filthy-minded and salacious slut pining for seduction.” Twain and his daughter, Clara Clemens, then slandered Isabel in the newspapers, erasing her nearly seven years of devoted service to their family. How did Lyon go from being the beloved secretary who ran Twain’s life to a woman he was determined to destroy?
In Twain’s End, Lynn Cullen reimagines the tangled relationships between Twain, Lyon, and Ashcroft, as well as the little-known love triangle between Helen Keller, her teacher Anne Sullivan Macy, and Anne’s husband, John Macy, which comes to light during their visit to Twain’s Connecticut home in 1909. Add to the party a furious Clara Clemens, smarting from her own failed love affair, and carefully kept veneers shatter.
Based on Isabel Lyon’s extant diary, Twain’s writings and letters, and events in Twain’s boyhood that may have altered his ability to love, Twain’s End explores this real-life tale of doomed love.

I received this book for free from Library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

In Twain’s End, Lynn Cullen reimagines the tangled relationships between Twain, Lyon, and Ashcroft, as well as the little-known love triangle between Helen Keller, her teacher Anne Sullivan Macy, and Anne’s husband, John Macy, which comes to light during their visit to Twain’s Connecticut home in 1909. Add to the party a furious Clara Clemens, smarting from her own failed love affair, and carefully kept veneers shatter.

Based on Isabel Lyon’s extant diary, Twain’s writings and letters, and events in Twain’s boyhood that may have altered his ability to love, Twain’s End explores this real-life tale of doomed love.

I expected Cullen’s Twain’s End to be like her Mrs. Poe, to have the same draw and passion, to bring the characters to life with the same vivacity. 
She brought Twain to life, but unfortunately, in the worst way. Portrayed as a man deathly afraid of being alone, Sam Clemens was fighting a battle between the two different personalities inside him; so he chased after each skirt that flitted by. Whether this is accurate, it was upsetting. There was no sympathetic element about him, something to redeem this harsh portrayal. Instead he was…gruesome. 
I had no sympathy for Isabel. I tried. In the beginning, it was “well, maybe she’s young” or “may it’s first love” – that’s the intensity of her infatuation with man, even after he was openly demeaning to her. Isabel isn’t a girl, at least in the introductory chapters: she’s a full grown woman who’s put her life on hold for The King. She was irritating, whiny, and spineless. 
Cullen’s depiction of the women in Clemens’ life doesn’t stop there. She creates his daughter into a mean shrew, his wife another spineless but sick old woman in love with him, and Helen Keller as a giggly…fool. Even the maid is in love with him, for heaven’s sake. 
Again, whether this information is accurate, the lack of sympathy in Clemens’ made this just irritating. None of these characters had enough development to redeem or, at least, explain this strange infatuation. 
I had hoped Cullen’s narrative, which I found so fascinating in Mrs. Poe, would at least offer a redemption for Twain’s End. Instead, the book is loaded down with scenic information, overly detailed and stuffy. 
I wanted to love this book, but it’s heading back to the library tomorrow. 

Posted December 17, 2015 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
Tags: , ,

December 3, 2015

Review | Serena by Ron Rash

Review | Serena by Ron RashSerena by Ron Rash
Publisher: Ecco, October 2008
Pages: 371
Format: Audiobook
Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

The year is 1929, and newlyweds George and Serena Pemberton travel from Boston to the North Carolina mountains where they plan to create a timber empire. Although George has already lived in the camp long enough to father an illegitimate child, Serena is new to the mountains—but she soon shows herself to be the equal of any man, overseeing crews, hunting rattle-snakes, even saving her husband's life in the wilderness. Together this lord and lady of the woodlands ruthlessly kill or vanquish all who fall out of favor. Yet when Serena learns that she will never bear a child, she sets out to murder the son George fathered without her. Mother and child begin a struggle for their lives, and when Serena suspects George is protecting his illegitimate family, the Pembertons' intense, passionate marriage starts to unravel as the story moves toward its shocking reckoning.
Rash's masterful balance of violence and beauty yields a riveting novel that, at its core, tells of love both honored and betrayed.

I picked the hardcover copy of Serena up out of the library twice in the past year, but never managed to get past the first fifty pages. M and I headed out of town to a wedding after Thanksgiving, so I thought it would be the perfect time to try the audiobook. Some stories are just better out loud, and third time’s the charm, right?

We got through the first CD and pulled into a trucker rest stop to buy another audiobook (snagged J.D. Robb’s Obsession in Death). 
What happened?
To start, I couldn’t get into the actor’s storytelling. His female characters sounded off, and as Serena plays a large role in the story, I couldn’t get into it. Granted, it’s hard for a deep-voiced guy to pull off a high-pitched female, but it was just too much. 
We found ourselves talking over the story instead of being hooked on the plot. The first chapters had us: the first scenes in the train station and Serena’s introduction to the town were as gripping (and gruesome) as I remember, but after they arrived at the camp, our minds started to wander. The hook wasn’t there. 
I don’t mind unlikable characters – in fact, I rather like them (hah). There’s a pull towards people we’re not supposed to like, but their complexity and ability to do all the things we sometimes wish we could say or do endears them to us. I rather liked Serena in the first few passages: she’s cold, hard, and perfect for Pemberton. It was Rachel that irritated me. 
She was handed the short end of the stick, no doubt. With all the drama that happens in the first CD/chapters alone, she should be a heroine, a idol of determination and self-sufficiency. Instead, I found myself caring more about her horse, Dan, and the cow she intended to sell off than her.
That was the moment we decided it was over.
People love this book (just check out the GoodReads reviews), but it didn’t click with me. I was forcing myself to read or listen to it. That’s not a book match for me.

Posted December 3, 2015 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
Tags: , ,

March 25, 2015

The Good, the Bad, the DNF

Oh, I wanted so badly to love this book! The cover was so gorgeous, but I’m glad I listened to that little feeling in my stomach when I decided not to buy this (library, my friends!). There is so much potential in The Outcasts, from the atmospheric setting to the plot, but when it came to the execution, this book fell flat for me. I kept pushing through, hoping something would reignite my attention, but I found my mind wandering. A big disappointment.

Don’t hate me for this one. 

I’ve tried LaFevers’ wildly popular first book a few times now, but I can’t get past a certain part when she lands on shore (if you’ve been with me for a while and have read this book, you probably know the one I mean). One day, I might pick this up again and just skip that part, but it made me so upset that this went back to the library the next day.

I’ve never been so upset with a book before. This first 150 pages of this book (how far I got) is absolutely ghastly. A family, destroyed first by a husband’s wanderings, then his murder of his wife; a young girl, unwanted and left to the hands of the foster system to be constantly abused. When the girl was raped (again), I threw the book on the floor. There was no hint of hope, nothing for this girl (or I) to hold on to. I had absolutely no motivation to keep reading. Actually, I’d like to get this book out of my house as soon as possible. Looking at the cover irritates me. 

Posted March 25, 2015 by Ellen in Uncategorized / 1 Comment

February 22, 2015

The Good, the Bad, and the DNF

Here’s the thing: I hate marking books DNF (check out this post for more on that) and since I’ve stopped pressuring myself into finishing each and every book I pick up – a relief, let me tell you! – there have been a few more DNFs piling up on my return-to-the-library pile. Instead of writing a whole post explaining in detail why I didn’t like a book/marked in DNF, I’m taking a page out of the fabulous Mel‘s book and following her footsteps in making a feature of mini DNF reviews. Welcome to The Good, The Bad, and the DNF!

I so wanted to love The Last Mermaid! Mermaids are my creature of choice: The Little Mermaid was my go-to after school movie when I was a kid and I tried so hard to grow my hair long and red like Ariel’s (managed to get it long, but turning it red was trickier…). Maybe my expectations were too high going into The Last Mermaid: the layered love story, time travel, and hint of destiny caught my attention, but the execution of this promising plot left a lot to be desired. 

My mom handed me this book a few weeks ago and simply says, “Tell me what you think.” Normally when she lends me a book, it’s a full review (occasionally spoilers included) of how much she loved it. Intrigued, I started Charleston when I got home. The plot was interesting – a girl, struggling to find her place in the world, lost love, the trials and tribulations of returning home – but the narration completely threw me off. It was stilted, awkward and forced. There wasn’t a single conversation that flowed naturally, and the odd phrasing in the general narrative made me hyperaware that I was sitting, reading, instead of falling inside the novel. A pass for me. 

A few weeks ago, M and I went on a road trip, so he went by the library to grab a few audiobooks (along with the massive amount of books waiting for me in the reserved section) and found Davis’ A Nation Rising. Both M and I love history, so this looked like a slam dunk: we didn’t make it through the first CD. 

To be fair, if we were reading this from the book, we might have been able to actually get into the thick of the book, but the author’s introduction note was so…arrogant, that we simply couldn’t handle it. The narrator’s voice had the oddest inflections, emphasizing odd words and disregarding ones that would have made a bigger impact. A Nation Rising might be a good read down the road, but we’ll grab the book format next time.

Posted February 22, 2015 by Ellen in Uncategorized / 1 Comment

February 21, 2015

The Canon Talks | Marking Books DNF

I hate not finishing a book. Maybe it’s an OCD thing, or simply a drive to finish what I’ve started, but whenever I start a book, it feels like I should give it a fair shake. Physically putting a book down is one of the hardest things in the world for me.


You might think it’s a bit silly, but each book is someone’s heart and soul, their hopes and dreams, their struggles…and I owe it to them to read it. It would be horrible to look online and find my work marked DNF.

DNF can feel like a cop-out rating: occasionally, it’s based solely on personal preferences and can’t be explained as simply as the writing was horrible. To choose to not finish a book is a tough thing, especially for me. But I have my limits:

There are some issues I just can’t overlook:
1. Animal cruelty
2. Descriptive, graphic torture
3. Pedophilia

And a few in the writing…
1. Dull, one-dimensional character (like Ana in Fifty Shades)
2. Flat, lifeless dialogue.
3. Lack of plot.
4. Poor narration.

Beyond those, I’ll give anything a try. However, it’s come down to this: there aren’t enough hours in the day anymore. Instead of forcing myself to finish a book that just isn’t clicking with me or has one of the above issues, I’m going to mark it DNF. I always felt a bit of guilt when writing a DNF review, for I hate writing an entire post about something I dislike/hate. However, I found a solution! Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post – The Good, the Bad, and the DNF.

Posted February 21, 2015 by Ellen in the canon talks, Uncategorized / 0 Comments