Saturday, October 29, 2011

I am EXCITED, folks!

I just got an email from Amazon saying my copy of CROSSED by Ally Condie has shipped and will be in my hot little hands Nov. 1!!! Does anyone else get a tiny bit nervous for the sequel of a book you loved?? Like you worry the author will do something you don't like? *ahembreakingdawnahem* Sorry for the weird spacing. I'm trying to post this from my phone and it's covered in vegetable oil bc I was in the midst of cooking when I got the Amazon email. :) Anybody else getting CROSSED this week?? (Those who have the arc already pipe down before you make me feel an ungodly jealousy!) :)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

"Supernaturally" by Kiersten White, Paranormalcy series book 2


Supernaturally (Paranormalcy)

Supernaturally (Paranormalcy)
by Kiersten White


Product Description from Amazon: Evie finally has the normal life she’s always longed for. But she’s shocked to discover that being ordinary can be... kind of boring. Just when Evie starts to long for her days at the International Paranormal Containment Agency, she’s given a chance to work for them again. Desperate for a break from all the normalcy, she agrees.
But as one disastrous mission leads to another, Evie starts to wonder if she made the right choice. And when Evie’s faerie ex-boyfriend Reth appears with devastating revelations about her past, she discovers that there’s a battle brewing between the faerie courts that could throw the whole supernatural world into chaos. The prize in question? Evie herself.








Evie is finally living a normal life, and she's getting bored. She doesn't have the same sense of purpose she did when she worked for IPCA, so when they ask her back for a few contract jobs Evie is excited to pick up Tasey (her bedazzled Paranormal bad-guy taser) and get to work. This review may contain SPOILERS!* Things I didn't like: *There is still too much "so" and "totally" and "bleep," the little vocal tics of Evie's that kind of got on my nerves in Paranormalcy. There seem to be even more of them in this book. *I found myself getting really frustrated with Evie at times because she seemed so darn whiny. She was getting dangerously close to the YA heroine stereotype of "Oh, I have no life without my fabulous perfect amazing paranormal boyfriend!!" Fortunately, she did get over this a bit toward the end of the book. * One of the things I enjoyed in Paranormalcy was that Evie was honest with Lend and tells him the truth even if it might cause problems in their relationship. That goes out the window in this book for most part. *I still don't understand why Evie freaked out so utterly upon learning about her origins. I guess it was so her later revelation that who she is and how she will be is her decision, no matter what she is (or isn't) would be more powerful? Still, I found myself thinking her leaping into the Faerie Realms with Jack was an overreaction.
Things I did like:
*Glad we learned how Evie was made to be an Empty One for the faeries.
*I like her complicated relationship with Vivian, and how Kiersten White balances the way personal choice versus how they were raised to think and act combine to make characters who they are. I appreciate that Viv took responsibility for her actions in the previous book.
*Every now and then, Evie will make an observation of surprising depth. She's a girl who loves all things sparkly and pink, but she is also capable of some pretty insightful thinking on occasion and I like that in a character.
* Kiersten White still cracks me up. She has created a great voice for Evie, and for the most part I find her a fun character to spend time with. Example: Evie is worried about getting in trouble at school and also about Lend having a pretty dryad lab partner at college. "I was so, so dead. I was going to be expelled and then I'd never get into Georgetown, and I'd work at the diner for the rest of my life and Lend would marry the dryad lab assistant and they'd have half-tree-and-one-quarter-water-thing babies, and no one would know quite what they were but they'd be beautiful. And I'd serve them french fries when they came home to visit." That kind of inner monologue sums up Evie as a person pretty well. :)
*I liked how the book ended with an interesting set up for the final installment, Endlessly: What, if anything, will Evie do about the faeries? I think this book established that they are evil and I hope she will decide to open a gate and send them somewhere else. I'm glad she didn't do what Jack wanted her to, but I really hope she doesn't just let them continue to exist in close proximity to the human world where they can show up and cause harm when she has the power to do something about it.
*I have a hunch we will learn more about Evie's mom in the next book, and I hope she will be able to have a relationship with her. I liked that she finally accepted her relationship with Raquel for the sweet but strange thing it is, and understood that Raquel loves her in her own way, but I really want her to have her mother in her life at some point.
So overall, I liked more about the book than I didn't like and the whole premise is so different than a lot of YA books I've read. (Thank goodness there wasn't a love triangle, for one thing!) I think some of the freshness in the characters is gone for me, but I still found it an enjoyable read.
Rating: 3.5 Cupcakes
sarah

Monday, October 24, 2011

"Delirium" by Lauren Oliver Review and Cover Comparison

Delirium OR  Delirium: The Special Edition

The cover on the top is the UK paperback version. (I only know that because I was asked to post my review from Amazon on the UK site and I thought for a second I had the wrong book!) The other cover is from the US Special Edition version.
I prefer the US one myself. The girl on the UK one looks so young and innocent. Too young, really. Lena is supposed to be turning 17. Maybe it's just me, maybe I've watched too many CW network shows, but I picture teenagers more like what real people look like in their early to mid-twenties. Also, almost every fictional character I see in my head is extremely pretty. Again that may be the CW weighing in on my subconscious!
Back to the covers: I like the intensity of the other girl's stare, like love might drive her to do something cuh-RAY-zee (which is does.)
Thoughts? Discuss your preferences, preferably in Comment form so I don't feel like I'm talking to myself.
Plot Summary: Amazon Best Books of the Month, February 2011: Lena Haloway is content in her safe, government-managed society. She feels (mostly) relaxed about the future in which her husband and career will be decided, and looks forward to turning 18, when she’ll be cured of deliria, a.k.a. love. She tries not to think about her mother’s suicide (her last words to Lena were a forbidden “I love you”) or the supposed “Invalid” community made up of the uncured just beyond her Portland, Maine, border. There’s no real point—she believes her government knows how to best protect its people, and should do so at any cost. But 95 days before her cure, Lena meets Alex, a confident and mysterious young man who makes her heart flutter and her skin turn red-hot. As their romance blossoms, Lena begins to doubt the intentions of those in power, and fears that her world will turn gray should she submit to the procedure. In this powerful and beautifully written novel, Lauren Oliver, the bestselling author of Before I Fall, throws readers into a tightly controlled society where options don’t exist, and shows not only the lengths one will go for a chance at freedom, but also the true meaning of sacrifice.

Also, here's the review of the book:
You've got to suspend your disbelief and go with it, people.
I liked it a lot quite a bit, almost in spite of myself. As others have said, the pacing is slow and there are similarities to Ally Condie's "Matched." At first, I kept comparing the two books as I read but when I started taking Delirium on its own terms I enjoyed it much more.
There's no denying the action doesn't start until later in the book, and the whole thing is a little too long. BUT...I really didn't care. Oliver's writing is poetry, and anytime I found myself wishing the pace would pick up, I would suddenly be bowled over by an exquisite image or sentence and forgive the book any of its faults. I think we all have things we will overlook if other elements of a book are good enough, and for me a slow plot can be dealt with if the writing is striking. Huge chunks of the narration read like blank verse poetry. If you find that sort of thing bothersome, this book probably isn't for you. If, like me, you're a reader who will get teary-eyed over a beautiful turn of phrase, I think you'll love this book.
As far as the plot goes, t I didn't really buy it. I can never imagine any society looking at its own vices and evil, then deciding, "You know what? Love caused all this! Let's perform brain surgery on all our citizens so they can't love anyone."
Dystopias work best when they take a present societal problem (like the proliferation of technology and lack of in-depth learning mentioned in "Matched") that you can actually imagine progressing and growing worse. I have no idea how any government would ever see fit to outlaw love, but as I said, I just read the book for the gorgeous prose and the romance. However, it's not just romantic love that Lauren Oliver contemplates, although that is certainly the main focus of the novel. The book is sort of a hymn to all types of love: romance, the love of dear friends, and familial love.
I ended the book and immediately starting searching online to see if there is a sequel. If there wasn't, I couldn't have lived with the ending. I was happy to see this is the first of a trilogy, and book two (Pandemonium) will be out in the spring of 2012.
sarah

"The Warrior Heir" by Cinda Williams Chima

The Warrior Heir

From School Library JournalGrade 5-9–

An apparently ordinary 16-year-old boy turns out to have magical powers that make him a target of a covert society of wizards, enchanters, and warriors called the Weir. Jack's small-town world in Ohio begins to unravel when he starts to unleash unintentional bursts of wizardry. When he recovers a powerful sword from an ancestor's grave, he begins to realize how different he really is. A battle with a wizard and some magic-laced conflicts at his high school keep the pages turning while the truth about Jack's destiny slowly emerges. The scene switches to Great Britain, where he learns that he must participate in a duel to the death against a mysterious opponent. Many details about the Weir are initially hidden from readers, as well as from Jack, so the gradual revelations about the society are involving and often surprising. Jack makes a fairly convincing hero. He is disbelieving at first and reluctant throughout, but ultimately finds a way to utilize his new powers without sacrificing his honor or basic decency. An appealing mixture of supporting characters includes relatives with various magical abilities, a couple of nonmagical but loyal friends, and an engaging assortment of villains. Occasional plot developments are unconvincing, as when Jack's protective aunt, an enchanter, takes him straight into the clutches of a wizard who clearly wants the young warrior in her power. For the most part, though, the teen's unavoidable involvement in the intricate world of the Weir is suspenseful and entertaining.


When I finished reading The Warrior Heir, I tried to gather my thoughts to review the book. One word pretty much summed it up for me: OK.
The plot was OK, the characterization was O, the setting was OK, the mythology behind the fantasy was OK. Serviceable and adequate, but nothing I got particularly enthralled with while reading. Then again I didn't get annoyed or frustrated with anything in the storyline either.
I wished for more character descriptions, because I didn't even know what Jack--the title character--looked like until nearly the end of the book. I liked the resolution to the main conflict, although the idea of two combatants-to-the-death deciding they can't kill each other was done much, much better in The Hunger Games.
I enjoyed how Jack didn't just jump right into his role as the warrior heir with joy. He felt anger, annoyance, fear, and hopelessness upon learning what being a warrior meant. Those were realistic emotions, although I did notice the author does a lot of telling rather than showing to let us see how the characters are feeling. I know "show, don't tell" is very important to some readers, so I thought I'd mention that this book has a lot of things like: "Jack was angry, he felt (fill in the blank)."
I saw the revelation of who Jack's opponent would be way before it was revealed.
The book ended with closure, no cliffhangers or loose plot threads. The other books are companions pieces if I understand correctly and not continuations of the story so reading in order or even reading all of them isn't necessary. I think I'll skip the other two books in this sequence, unless there's nothing else at the library I'm really interested in.
Rating: Three Cupcakes
sarah

Review: "The Son of Neptune" Book Two in The Heroes of Olmpus Series by Rick Riordan

sarah

Sunday, October 23, 2011

"The Near Witch" By Victoria Schwab

I bought The Near Witch because I heard it was set on the English moors and involved a mystery and romance. Those are pretty much my three favorite elements in a novel.
It's hard for me to review this book, because it's successful for what it was meant to be (a fairy tale) but it wasn't the gothic paranormal romance I was expecting. This isn't a failing on the author's part, just a misalignment with my expectations as a reader. Schwab's debut novel is a beautiful, simple story of families and a community coming to understand and overcome its fears, with a little magic and legend thrown in.
The action takes place in a moorland village some unspecified time in the past where the women wear long skirts, the stone houses have thatched roofs, and the washing is done in a stream. I grew up reading the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, and Charles Dickens, so that's the sort of dialogue I was expecting. Instead the language was mostly contemporary, including many of the character names. (I don't think people were named Lexi and Tyler in 1800s England, but I could be wrong!)
The plot is simple and linear, and there was never much question in my mind of who is taking the children, but the mystery isn't the point of the story. The lure of book is in the atmosphere and mood Schwab sets, not in any complicated plotting or character development. Fairy tales aren't really concerned with growth or change in their characters, and neither is The Near Witch. It's about the haunting moors, the wind, and the strange witches. (Also, I've never come across male witches in any book. They're always called something else, like wizard or warlock.)
I didn't really buy into the romance, because all we really know about Cole is that he has a tragic past and is sad most of the time. While I understand this was integral to his character, it made him hard to warm up to. If you're looking for a paranormal romance, that's not really the focus of the book.
The book contains only a couple instances of mild swearing, and nothing beyond some rather chaste kisses so it would be appropriate for younger teens.
Rating: Three Cupcakes
sarah

Ebook review: "Destiny Binds" by Tammy Blackwell

Destiny Binds Product Description from Amazon:
Scout Donovan is a girl who believes in rules, logic, and her lifelong love of Charlie Hagan. Alex Cole believes in destiny, magic, and Scout. When Alex introduces Scout to the world of Shifters, men who change into wolves or coyotes during the full moon and Seers, women who can see your most private thoughts and emotions with a mere touch, the knowledge changes everything and everyone Scout thought she knew.

I got this book because it was cheap and I needed something on my Kindle to read on a road trip. I wasn't expecting much. I've read some really terrible ebooks lately, and I wasn't getting my hopes up.
I was so happy to find myself really enjoying Destiny Binds! Sure, it's been done before: werewolves, the girl's best guy friend is in love with her, she's in love with someone else, he's dangerous and she should stay away but she can't, etc. But here's the thing...Tammy Blackwell has created such a funny and charming heroine in Scout Donovan that I didn't care if the storyline wasn't very original. I actually laughed outloud a lot.
There were some editing problems (ex: imaging instead of imagining, missing words, punctuation issues), but nothing so obvious as to distract from the story or make it hard to follow. I especially liked how Scout's brother was part of something mysterious at the first of the book and wished the author had played up that aspect a bit more. Scout vows to investigate and figure out what's going on, but she really doesn't do much along that line and solves the mystery pretty quickly and simply. However, that's not a major problem and I got over it quickly because I loved her sweet romance with Alex. It was perfect. I loved their Secret Relationship Game, Scout's sneaky little sister, and Scout's snarky but still witty remarks. Sometimes sarcastic characters become downright unlikeable, but not Scout.
The ending was a perfect cliffhanger. I thought all was lost...until the very last setence! I'm so happy it's going to be a trilogy. Seriously, this book is every bit as good as most of the YA paranormals I've read this year (and I've read a TON of them). I hope Blackwell publishes the sequel soon. Get past the boring cover art and enjoy this funny and romantic book!
Rating: Four Cupcakes
sarah

"Starcrossed" by Josephine Angelini

Starcrossed
Plot Summary from Amazon.com
How do you defy destiny?

Helen Hamilton has spent her entire sixteen years trying to hide how different she is—no easy task on an island as small and sheltered as Nantucket. And it's getting harder. Nightmares of a desperate desert journey have Helen waking parched, only to find her sheets damaged by dirt and dust. At school she's haunted by hallucinations of three women weeping tears of blood . . . and when Helen first crosses paths with Lucas Delos, she has no way of knowing they're destined to play the leading roles in a tragedy the Fates insist on repeating throughout history.
As Helen unlocks the secrets of her ancestry, she realizes that some myths are more than just legend. But even demigod powers might not be enough to defy the forces that are both drawing her and Lucas together—and trying to tear them apart.



Amazon kept recommending Starcrossed for me, so when I saw it at the library I thought I might as well give it a shot. I knew it was a Romeo and Juliet love story set against the backdrop of Greek mythology and the Trojan war because I heard the author describe it that way in an interview.
The book started off rough for me. The sentences were choppy, the transitions didn't flow, and the back story was awkwardly added in. (Plus, I had a hard time dealing with Helen repeatedly referring to her "tummy" hurting...I just have a problem with the word tummy being used by people over the age of five.)
There was a lot of telling instead of showing. The plot really kicked in when the Delos family moved to Helen's island hometown and she immediately wanted to murder them for no apparent reason AND she started seeing frightening visions of the Furies when they're around. That was an interesting and unexpected twist. Instead of the typical YA love at first sight, it was instant raging hatred.
There were times when I thought the book could've used some tightening up, because it took too long for plot points to be resolved. For example, when Helen first saw the Furies, she knew they were somehow connected to the Delos family but she didn't ask them what the heck was going on for a long time. I don't like it when tension or mystery are created in a book because a character won't do the logical thing and just ask a simple question. Also, this is the second book I've read this year where a character wakes up after having "dreams" of walking in a frightening landscape and discovers his or her feet and bed are covered in dirt. (The other was Beautiful Creatures). In both cases, the character just brushes it off as something bizarre that they can't really deal with right then. I've got to throw my "Logic Violation" card on that play. I'm all for fantasy and the supernatural invading the real world in my books. But when a character suddenly starts having some MAJOR whackiness happening (seeing people no one else can see, having an unexplained bloodlust to kill the new guy at school, creepy dreams that leave mud in the bed, etc.) they need to react in a rational way and it needs to be more than, "Well, I don't know what's going on here...hmmmm. Oh well."
Some of the lines made me cringe, like "Lucas spun his head to look at Helen." Does that give anyone else Exorcist flashbacks? Or when Lucas has "panic wash down his legs." That kind of struck me as unintentionally funny.
The main thing that really hindered my enjoyment of the book was the complex political motivations of all the characters. There are lots of factions and sub-factions, and I had a hard time keeping straight who was on whose side. Moreover, Lucas's giant family never really gelled with me so I forgot who had what power and who was related to each other. Plus, a big plot point revolves around how horrible, terrible, and unforgivable it is to kill a kinsman. Granted, normally I'd agree with that: but a character I liked gets exiled from his family because he killed a sociopath cousin who had JUST killed another family member and was going to take out more of the clan if he wasn't stopped so....I can't really get behind a family that's operating on such ridiculous ancient codes of conduct. And when Helen is nearly beheaded by a Delos family member, she says it was "the bravest thing she'd ever seen." That's right: the person who almost chopped her head off was brave because she was following what the Fates decreed. That's just silly.
Speaking of Helen, as the book goes on she is revealed to have more and more superpowers. After the fourth or fifth surprising reveal of a new power (she's electric, she's super fast and strong, she can fly, she can change her appearance), it just got to be a little much.
Despite all the superhero stuff and talks of war, the book is basically a romance. Helen and Lucas go from hating each other to snuggling at every opportunity. But they can't be together (you know what I mean), because if they do it will start World War III. You thought the normal YA problem of "we can't do this or I will kill you" was bad. Try "we can't do this or we'll unleash Armageddon." It's a serious buzzkill.
SPOILER: Helen and Lucas end the book in deep angst because they have figured out a way to be together only to then mistakenly believe that they are first cousins. All they would have to do was some basic math about Helen's birth date to figure out that this wasn't true.
All in all, it was an OK book but not great. I enjoyed some of the funny comments (one vampire reference made by Helen's best friend Claire really cracked me up), and it was a clean romance. There was some cursing, but not really so much that I was uncomfortable, although I didn't think it was necessary. Since I never really felt invested in Helen and Lucas' relationship, I don't know if I'll get the sequel or not.
Ratings: Three Cupcakes
sarah

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

"The Iron Daughter" by Julie Kagawa

The Iron Daughter (text only) Original edition by J. Kagawa
If you enjoyed this book's prequel, The Iron King, then you'll like The Iron Daughter too. For me, it was a lot more of the same. Meghan facing danger, escaping danger, not knowing how to use her glamour (at least we found out why that is) longing for and sometimes being angry with Ash, and Puck being in love with her. I'm not a big fan of love triangles, but this one in particular bothered me. I felt like Meghan was just using Puck to get over Ash, although she claimed she does love him...just in a different way than she loves Ash. (I am so, so sorry to bring up Twilight because so many reviews do for just about every book in the YA genre, but Puck's love for his bff Meghan and her obsession with chilly Ash was just too much like Jacob/Bella/Edward to miss.) 
Speaking of Ash, I know he has some serious emotional baggage, but I find him hard to like for much of the book. I'm pretty sure repeatedly telling a girl you will kill her if necessary isn't good boyfriend material. That said, he is an interesting character with all his flaws and issues. Seeing how much he cared for his first true love humanized him somewhat. Still, I hope his feelings for her are resolved in the next book or in the fourth one, The Iron Knight. Who wants to have the hero of the story still pining for his dead ex? 
The story line follows Meghan through her attempts to prevent the Iron fey from destroying all of the Nevernever and stopping the war they have engineered between the Winter and Summer courts. I never really cared for the quest aspect of the story. I know this sounds awful, but the faeries as a whole have been terrible to Meghan, and the Winter court in particular is brutal toward humans. Even the Summer court is, at best, callously indifferent to the world outside faerie. (I mean, Oberon just wanders around having kids with mortal women and never caring much about them, and that's just one example.) I kept wondering why Meghan cared so much about the fate of the faery realms. 
Although the plot and romance left me a little cold, I have to give Julie Kagawa credit for writing the most elaborately described, intricate scene details I've read in a long, long time. When she's telling what a room looks like, don't skim. It's worth your time to see what creative things she'll come up with next.
sarah

"The Soulkeepers" by G.P. Ching Review

I feel bad writing anything less than a glowing review about this book, considering the raves it's been getting. My personal reviewing standard is this: three stars is "Ok or good," four stars is "so good I'd recommend it," and five stars is, "I loved it and I'm going to harass you to read it!" 
For me, The Soulkeepers was a three star book. It was good, but my main problem is I never really felt connected with and emotionally invested in the characters. That said, G.P. Ching had one of the most inventive and amazingly different storylines I've ever read in YA. Just the part where Jacob finds out about the tree and what it actually is was enough to make me stop and say, "That's different!" There were plenty of moments that were really cool. The stories from the book of Enoch, the explanation of what the Nephilim and their descendants were, and Jacob's role as a Horsemen were all outside the standard YA paranormal fare. I appreciated that. I also like my books really clean, and this one pretty much was aside from a few curse words (in particular an over abundance of "what the h***" to the point I started to wonder if everyone had lost the ability to express shock in any other way.) 
Jacob's romance with Malini was almost peripheral to the plot. I'm never one to turn down some romance, but I actually found myself thinking it wasn't necessary in this book. I guess the hardcore stare of the dude on the cover made me think there would be more demon butt-kicking or fighting the forces of darkness. Aside from one final battle in the land of Nod (again, an interesting take on a biblical reference), there wasn't much action. 
There is definitely a spiritual undertone, specifically that everyone is capable of sin, and everyone is equally capable of seeking forgiveness and redemption. I liked finding out the truth about Dr. Silva's identity, and that of her cat Gideon. Still, I don't think I'm interested enough to find the sequel when it comes out. 
3 Cupcakes
*Review also posted on Amazon.com
sarah

"Firelight" by Sophie Jordan Review


Firelight





Descended from dragons, the draki's ability to appear human protects them from hunters. Jacinda lives with her pride in the Cascades, but she chafes under her special status as the only fire-breather in hundreds of years. Recklessly breaking the “no-fly” rule, she attracts hunters; mercifully, one hunter, a beautiful boy who looks upon her with wonder, lets her escape. After this, the pride intends to hobble her rebelliousness, and Jacinda is forced to flee. But while twin sister Tamra, who never manifested and was shunned, is happy with the move, Jacinda feels only anguish within Nevada's desert climate. Then she meets Will and, despite recognizing him as the same draki hunter, feels herself come alive. Jordan's compelling addition to the supernatural star-crossed lovers theme is equal parts taut suspense and sensuous romance, with visceral writing and believable relationships among characters, particularly among Jacinda's family. A foreshadowed twist and a thrilling confrontation in the end pages leave Jacinda heartbroken and in trouble, and readers will howl for more. Grades 8-12. --Krista Hutley for Booklist


Amazon kept recommending Firelight for me, and when the price dropped on the Kindle version I decided to try it. 
If you're expecting a rip-roaring fantasy with lots of action and adventure, you're going to be disappointed. Firelight is above all a romance novel where the heroine happens to have scales sometimes. 
I read that author Sophie Jordan write romances under another name, and it shows. I mean that as a compliment. She knows how to write a YA makeout scene with the best of them. :) 
The book follows Jacinda, who is a draki. The draki are descedants of dragons, and I think for future intsallments of the series Jordan needs to make it a little clearer exactly how the draki look when they're all "dragoned out," for lack of a better term. I pictured then as still humanoid in appearance, just more colorful with scales and wings. I didn't think the draki turned into straight-up dragons like some readers did, but I could be wrong. 
The male lead is Will, a dragon-hunter with a heart who lets Jacinda escape the first time he encounters her in draki form. The big secret of draki is that they can morph into human form. So when Jacinda's mom moves her and twin sister Tamra away from their pride and they wind up in the same school as Will (a bit too convenient, I'll admit), he doesn't recognize her. 
Jacinda's POV started to wear on me halfway through the book. There is a ton of angst going on, even for a YA novel. Granted, she has a reason to be upset. Her mom has deliberately moved her into the desert, a climate that will kill Jacinda's inner draki. Why? Because mom knows the pride is planning to use Jacinda for a "brood mare" (among other things) in hopes of reproducing her particular draki talent for fire-breathing, a skill thought to be extinct. The one thing that made me really stop and say, "What?!" was when Jacinda takes the news of the pride's plan with barely a raised eyebrow. She even continues her plot to try and escape back to the pride for quite a few more chapters. I'm thinking that would be a dealbreaker for almost anyone, especially a sixteen year old girl. 
Despite its laws, I did enjoy this book. I recommended it to a friend who was looking for a simple paranormal romance. Sometimes, you don't want anything heavy or with a deeper meaning. As with a lot of romances, Will and Jacinda fell into almost instant love, so if you need character development and a slow-building attraction then Firelight might leave you cold. (Sorry! Couldn't resist!) 
I don't mean to say there's not a plot and an actual storyline going on. There is. It's just kind of secondary to Jacinda and Will's relationship. 
The book ends on a cliffhanger, and the sequel--Vanish--is already out. 
Language: Can't remember anything too gritty 
Sexual Content: Pretty steamy kissing but nothing beyond that
4 Cupcakes
*Review posted on Amazon.com also
sarah

"White Cat" (The Curseworkers Book 1) by Holly Black




White Cat (Curse Workers)


Grade 9 Up—Cassel, 17, is an anomaly as the only untalented one in a family of curse workers. While his mother, grandfather, and brothers make their living by illegally performing death curses, manipulating memories, and casting emotion charms, Cassel relies on his quick wit and con-artist skills to convince his private-school classmates that he's normal, despite bouts of sleepwalking and patchy memories of standing over a murdered friend named Lila. Nightmares about a white cat that resembles Lila, his family's ties to organized crime, and evidence of a mysterious plot against him threaten to pull Cassel into the world he's fought hard to resist. Black has written a dark coming-of-age tale with a likable hero. Teens will empathize with Cassel's desire to fit in and his occasional clashes with his family while rooting for him to unravel the conspiracy. Though readers will enjoy the fast-paced plot, there are points, particularly in the last few chapters, where the action is confusing and clarity appears sacrificed for expediency. Some secondary characters, such as Cassel's grandfather and friend Sam, are three-dimensional, while others, including his brothers and Lila, are less well realized. Despite these minor flaws, White Cat will appeal to readers who grew up on Holly Black's "Spiderwick Chronicles" (S & S) and are ready for something edgier.—Leah J. Sparks, formerly at Bowie Public Library, MD 







Normally, I write reviews based on my own feelings about a book without trying to be objective about whether it was a "good" book or not...just if I personally enjoyed it. 
With White Cat, I realized quickly that this wasn't my kind of book. The characters are dark and more than a little twisted, and I prefer my characters to be more clearly good vs. evil. Their motivations are never pure and no one is a truly great person. I wouldn't want to meet and hang out with a single character in this book in real life. 
BUT I can't deny that Holly Black did an amazing job with this story. The characterization is extremely well done, because even though the people are unlikeable I really understood how they got that way. Cassel is a con man and hates himself quite a bit, but since I understood him so well I was able to sympathize with him at least to an extent. The backstory for his royally screwed up childhood helped. I even got the psychology of why he was attracted to the bold, bullying, and brutal Lila. 
Also, I should mention I listened to the audiobook. Jesse Eisenberg (star of "The Social Network") is an outstanding narrator. The book is written in first person from Cassel's POV, and Eisenberg's voice was engaging. He made Cassel easier to spend time with. 
As far as plot goes, I won't sum it up since many other reviews have. I will say that I figured out what was going on with the cat pretty early on, but the whole world of curseworkers was so interesting and unique I didn't care that the mystery wasn't very mysterious. 
I'm giving the book four stars because I would recommend it for readers who don't like their characters squeaky clean (even though I do), who like ambiguity and don't need a happy ending, and because I ended up thinking a lot about Cassel and the other characters even after I finished the book. When it book sticks with you, even if it disturbed you, I think it deserves four stars. And of course I ended up tracking down the sequel, Red Glove, the next day because I really wanted to know what happened next. 
Language: some, nothing too drastic or pervasive 
Sexual content: several references to sexual acts, one intense makeout session that was about to go further before it was interrupted. 
Lots of teen drinking and general immorality. In a book about magical grifters and a curseworking mafia, that's to be expected.
*4 Cupcakes, although I realize this book is going to be too gritty for some readers. Also, I wasn't able to finish Red Glove because things only got darker and dirtier, and it wasn't something I enjoyed reading*
sarah

"Glimmerglass" by Jenna Black (Faeriewalker Book 1) Review


Glimmerglass (Faeriewalker, Book 1)






From Booklist

This new series begins smartly with 16-year-old Dana, tired of coping with her alcoholic single mother, running away to find her father in Avalon, which, in this arch and insightful version, is situated between twenty-first-century London and the world of faerie. Black handles the mash-up of genres and cultures deftly, giving Dana a credibility that keeps readers cheering her on through such dismal adventures as being dogged by a bodyguard while trying to spend her newfound father’s euros and getting attacked by would-be assassins, as well as those of a more delicious variety, like discovering that bad-boy hunk Ethan may not be all that bad after all. The world building here is brisk but accessible, the issues range from teen angst to faerie politics, and the skills needed to negotiate both include some magic-spell work and some sharp-tongue work. This is a promising start to a series that should have broad appeal among teens tiring of vampires but not dangerous romance. Grades 8-11. --Francisca Goldsmith

For me to give a book two stars, I have to finish it and think, "I really didn't enjoy that at all." That rarely happens, and even an "It was just OK" earns three stars in my ratings system. 
Glimmerglass just wasn't for me. The plot was promosiing: political intrigue in Avalon, the only city where humans and Fae coexist. Dana, the main character, doesn't know who to trust or what side anyone is really on. That should've made for a dramatic and twisty-turny book. Instead, I found myself noticing how simplistic the writing style was and that Dana was kind of whiny and immature. She tells us how responsible and grown up she is, but when an author has to tell us things instead of showing, it's not nearly as effective. Plot-driven, first person POVs often have this problem, but I can overlook it if the narrator has a distinct and well-created voice. Glimmerglass didn't make me overlook its flaws. 
It could almost have been written for middleschoolers, but the profanity wasn't approriate for that age group. Nor was the fact that everyone wanted to give Dana alcohol, and she willingly accepted, even though she was underage and her mother is an alcoholic whose drinking has ruined Dana's life. 
I just couldn't get behind the main love interest, Ethan. He is, of course, "hot." We're told that repeatedly. (Everyone is hot in this book, except for Dana who mentions over and over again how average and painfully human she is compared to the gorgeous fae.)*Minor Spoiler* He secretly uses magic to "help Dana relax" while they are kissing and I'm sorry, but that's just a little too close to "You know you'll like it...here, have another drink" for my taste. This is supposed to be a book for teenagers, so that didn't sit well with me. Neither did the description of the...how can I put this delicately?...very visible physical sign that Ethan was into their makeout session.I've heard the descriptions get more graphic in the next book in the series. 
Plus, there are hints of a love triangle in the future. There's no reason for Dana to like any of the guys she's into, other than that they are...yet again..."hot." 
One more thing: I can't stand it when a character does not ask the obvious question that is staring her in the face. If you had a mysterious necklace that seemed to get warm whenever magic was being used nearby, wouldn't you ask someone who knew about magic what the deal was? Dana doesn't. I could've dealt with that had the rest of the book held my interest, but it didn't. I'm not going to read the rest of the series.
2 Cupcakes
*Review also on Amazon.com*
sarah

"Hourglass" by Myra McEntire Review






Hourglass




One hour to rewrite the past . . . 

For seventeen-year-old Emerson Cole, life is about seeing what isn't there: swooning Southern Belles; soldiers long forgotten; a haunting jazz trio that vanishes in an instant. Plagued by phantoms since her parents' death, she just wants the apparitions to stop so she can be normal. She's tried everything, but the visions keep coming back.So when her well-meaning brother brings in a consultant from a secretive organization called the Hourglass, Emerson's willing to try one last cure. But meeting Michael Weaver may not only change her future, it may change her past.

Who is this dark, mysterious, sympathetic guy, barely older than Emerson herself, who seems to believe every crazy word she says? Why does an electric charge seem to run through the room whenever he's around? And why is he so insistent that he needs her help to prevent a death that never should have happened?

Full of atmosphere, mystery, and romance, Hourglass merges the very best of the paranormal and science-fiction genres in a seductive, remarkable young adult debut.



I'm usually not a fan of time-travel in books. When Hermione broke out the Time Turner in the third Harry Potter book (something Myra McEntire briefly mentions in Hourglass with sly wit, by the way) I needed migraine medication. But I instantly liked Emerson, the main character of Hourglass. I can deal with a lot of plot oddities if the characters are well-written. 

There are lots of reviews with plot summaries already posted, so I'll jump straight into the pros/cons. 
What I Liked: I loved the cleanness of the romance. 
There were plot twists I just didn't see coming, and the pacing of the book was steady and fast enough without being too rushed. 
I really got who Em was as a character, and I found her snarky, defensive humor funny and not obnoxious. I was smiling and laughing to myself frequently. 
Mercifully, there is no cliffhanger ending! I'm so tired of turning the last page of a book and getting absolutely no sense of closure. Hourglass has plenty of plot threads that can be picked up for future installments of the series, but it also ends with enough finality so you aren't left hanging.

Things I Wasn't Crazy About: 
Ok, Michael's best bud Kaleb is smooth putting the moves on Em from the get-go. I didn't enjoy that, but I kind of liked the character of Kaleb anyway. McEntire did a good job of showing how his particular gift and the tragedies in his life contributed to Kaleb being such a player. 
Michael, Em's mentor/love interest, needed to be a bit more fleshed out. He was a wee bit too good to be true. 
Emerson can see "time ripples" (aka "rips), which are people from the past. One of them is Jack, and he's not acting like the typical rips. I didn't really buy Em's reasoning for keeping Jack's visits a secret from Michael. If a mysterious person from the past (maybe?) keeps turning up in your room being all cryptic and weird, wouldn't you tell the guy who is helping you understand your ability to see the rips? 
I'm not entirely sure why we learned about Lilly, Em's BFF, having her own gift unless it's going to be featured in a sequel maybe? 

I really liked Hourglass, almost in spite of myself. Humor and a sweet romance can make me overlook a lot of things, even the complexities of time travel. 


4 Cupcakes
*Review also posted on Amazon.com
sarah

"Across the Universe" by Beth Revis Review




Across the Universe





Amazon Best Books of the Month, January 2011: As the spaceship Godspeed travels toward a new earth, the lives of 100 cryogenically frozen settlers hang in the balance after someone endeavors to quietly murder them. The other passengers aboard the ship have never known life outside its walls and are enslaved by the machinations of Eldest, their tyrannical leader, who divides them into three distinct classes. When Amy, a frozen settler from earth, survives being thawed in a murder attempt, she immediately bonds with Elder, Godspeed's lone teen and future leader. Amy’s individuality, her rebellion, and her fierce desire for freedom, inspire Elder to act on his own doubts and defy Eldest--his mentor and keeper--with shocking results. Eldest’s methods of twisting history and altering the lives of this captive community are a frightening echo of tyrants in our own history, and Across the Universe challenges readers to consider the impact of unchecked power, blind trust, and the ability of one dissenting voice to make a difference.-- Seira Wilson
Pros: 
I don't read much sci-fi at all, so for me the concept of a ship of colonists off to settle a new planet was novel and interesting. I hear it's a standard set-up for this genre, but since I read almost exclusively YA, it was new to me. 
The first chapter, where Amy describes the freezing, was brutal. I mean that as a compliment. The writing was tense and graphic, and I thought this was going to be one awesome and gripping read. 
But, then it really wasn't. 
Cons: 
There are some awkwardly written sentences and descriptions that distracted from the story. I started counting and Elder describes Amy's as having "sunset hair" five times in about four pages. 
I didn't like the POV switching from Amy to Elder and back again with each chapter. The head-hopping jerked me out of the story. Plus, we had a huge instance of narrative misdirection that was revealed at the end. 
One of our narrators lied to us, and I'm still not sure how I feel about that. It was a shocking twist, to be sure, but I don't really like narrative misdirection. 
When the reader is supposed to wonder about a key point, it's spelled out too clearly. Elder will hear a bit of info or make a discovery and then the point gets pounded home: "But what if this means..." or "Could it be that..." Not the most subtle strategy. 
The mystery of who was unplugging the frozens wasn't that mysterious. 
Anytime a book has something graphically sexual in it, I want to know ahead of time. When the entire ship basically goes into heat at the same time during The Season, they're running around breeding like animals. That was gross enough, but I had no idea there was going to be an attempted and very intricately described sexual assault on Amy. For some readers, this scene alone would be a dealbreaker, especially if you read YA because it usually has less mature content. 
There are faux curse and slang words in this book. Frexing, chutz, brilly...much like the made up words in The Maze Runner by James Dashner. For me, it's distracting. 
There is also a suicide where a character leaps into space. I'm not a sciencey person by ANY stretch, but I thought one of the basic principles of space travel was that you can not open the space ship?? I don't think you can just open the hatch and jump out. 
Finally, something non-depressing needs to happen in this series or I won't be reading any further. I want the ship to make it to their new world in a timely manner so Amy's parents can be woken up and still get to spend some of their lives with their daughter. That's just the Mom in me, I think. I'm not sure I'm interested enough in the future of these characters to read the next book unless I happen across it in the library someday when I can't find anything else to read. It was just an OK read for me.
3 Cupcakes
*This review  also on Amazon.com*
sarah

"Beyonders: A World Without Heroes" by Brandon Mull Review


A World Without Heroes (Beyonders)












Best known as the author of the popular Fablehaven series, Mull offers a new fantasy adventure, in which Jason and Rachel, two American kids, are separately drawn into an alternate world called Lyrian. They want to return home, but they don't know how. Aided by Rachel, the Blind King, and other allies, 13-year-old Jason undertakes a quest to discover the magical word needed to overthrow Maldor, Lyrian's evil emperor. The two teens set out to find the word's closely guarded syllables while thwarting the maneuvers of Maldor's crafty, vicious minions. Headlong adventure scenes, inventively conceived creatures, and surprising plot twists all figure into the mix as Jason and Rachel make their way through this treacherous world. The book's conclusion is not so much an ending as a respite before the beginning of the sequel. Readers seeking character-driven fiction should look elsewhere, but those drawn to long, action-filled fantasies may want to try Mull's latest. Grades 4-7--Booklist




I'm a fan of Brandon Mull's Fablehaven series so I was excited to see this at the library last week. It starts slowly, but give it time and you'll be rewarded. I hope to read this to my sons in the future. 
It's appropriate for older children, I'd say middle school age or older. There are some upsetting scenes, including one where a group of musicians purposefully commits suicide by going over a waterfall. The hero, Jason, gets beaten up and captured on a regular basis and everyone suffers in some way during their quest to undo the evil Emperor Maldor. 
Fablehaven taught its lessons with a bit more subtlety and had more character growth than Beyonders. This book is more of a straightforward quest story, although Jason does have to make a conscious decision to be a hero even when the odds are stacked sky-high against him. 
There are crosses and double crosses, betrayals and rescues, escapes and near misses, lots of action and adventure. I think boys would love this book but hey, I'm a grown-up girl and I thought it was great!Jason's traveling companion, Rachel, is a smart and competent homeschooled student and I really appreciated that Mull didn't go in for the stereotyping of homeschoolers as socially awkward and weird. :) 
The Displacers are one of the most interesting creations I've read in any kids' book, ever. I'll let you discover who and what they are for yourself! 
I can't wait to see where this series goes. I was really happy with this book and will be reading the rest of the series. 
4 Cupcakes
sarah

"Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25" by Richard Paul Evans Review

Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25
 
The start of an action-packed teen series from #1 New York Times bestselling author Richard Paul Evans.To everyone at Meridian High School, fourteen-year-old Michael Vey is nothing special, just the kid who has Tourette’s syndrome. But in truth, Michael is extremely special—he has electric powers. Michael thinks he is unique until he discovers that a cheerleader named Taylor has the same mysterious powers. With the help of Michael’s friend, Ostin, the three of them set out to discover how Michael and Taylor ended up with their abilities, and their investigation soon brings them to the attention of a powerful group who wants to control the electric teens—and through them, the world.





I enjoyed the story of Michael and all the other kids he encounters, some of whom share his powers over electricity. This book moves quickly, each chapter ends with a mini-cliff hanger to lead you on to the next chapter. 
Michael Vey is a character you can't help rooting for. He's picked on at school, he's got Tourette's syndrome, his Dad died when he was younger. I also liked his super intelligent and admittedly dorky best friend, Ostin. Michael's friend/love interest Taylor is a cheerleader but thankfully not the stereotypical YA mean girl cheerleader. She's smart and well liked and genuinely a nice person. And as a parent involved with adoption, I appreciated how adoption was portrayed in a positive light. Taylor was adopted as a baby and has a great life with her family. Another minor character mentions that while she is Chinese her parents are Caucasian because she was adopted. 
According to the book jacket, the author won an American Mother Book award. I don't know what that is, and can't find anything about it online, but I can see why this book would be mom-approved. There's nothing here to send up red flags for parents looking for something for their kids to read. There's no profanity, sex, drinking, or drug use. Michael and other characters learn to make right choices even when faced with easier alternatives. Some of the bad guys have a nice redemption arc and learn to not be bullies. If it weren't for the use of electrical torture...and there's a lot of it, although not too graphically described...I'd say this was more of a preteen book. And part of me still thinks it is, because even though the characters are fifteen, they all come across younger. The dialogue, the situations they face at school, it all just seems more twelve or thirteen to me. 
I liked the book, and it ended with enough wrap up to not leave me frustrated at being left hanging while waiting for the next in the series to come along.
Rating: 4 cupcakes
*This Review also appeared on Amazon.com*
sarah

Thursday, October 6, 2011

"The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer" by Michelle Hodkin review

                                                                                                    
Product Description--
Mara Dyer doesn't believe life can get any stranger than waking up in a hospital with no memory of how she got there. It can.                                                                                                                                                  
She believes there must be more to the accident she can't remember that killed her friends and left her strangely unharmed. There is.                                                                                                       
She doesn't believe that after everything she's been through, she can fall in love. She's wrong.


I really struggled with how to rate this book. I settled on three stars because while I adored the story itself, I didn't like the profanity and pervasive sexual innuendo. That took this book from a five cupcakes read down to three. (I'll explain the cupcake thing soon, I promise!)
The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer is one of the most engaging and downright freaky books I've read in a long time. I didn't want to put it down, and when I finished it late at night after a marathon reading session, I really didn't want to be alone in the dark.
Mara is slowly unraveling after surviving an accident that killed her three friends and left her with barely a scratch and no memory of what happened. When she begins seeing horrifying visions, neither Mara nor the reader is sure what parts of her hallucinations are real, what is PTSD, and what is something much darker and harder to explain. The story is taut, well-paced, and leaves you guessing until the end...and then even after the end. Part psychological thriller, part paranormal mystery with a smoking YA romance, overall it's a cool head-spinning, heart-pounding novel. Michelle Hodkin created characters and a plot that stuck with me.
Mara's relationship with Noah Shaw, self described "smuthound with daddy issues" was well done. I didn't find it to be "insta-love" as some others have complained, since Mara didn't fall for him immediately.
It's so hard to give details about what goes on between them without spoiling the book, but let's just say that Mara and Noah both have secrets and aren't as normal as they appear.
There were times when I felt the book was almost too twisty and complex, and some elements were never explained at all. (One example: Where did the priest and his shop go? A whole building vanishing requires some explanation.)
Another thing I enjoyed were the little shout-outs to book nerds like myself. Hodkin includes witty references to Lord of the Rings (Mara notes that if her mother starts watching any more intently, she will "turn into the Eye of Sauron"...that made me laugh) and Harry Potter (Mara's friend is banned from the phone and internet so he tells her she won't be hearing from him unless he finds an owl to send). There were lots and lots of funny things like that, and I'm sure I didn't even get all the references.
And while I realize that cursing and sexual references don't affect the enjoyment of a book for many readers, for some (like me) they do. Since I like to know beforehand what type of mature content is in a book, I always try to include that information in my reviews. There's no actual sex described in this book, but it's talked about a LOT. I've never seen the word "vagina" in print this often since I was in AP Anatomy. Or maybe when I was in Labor and Delivery classes before I had my kids...
There's a twist at the end that I kind of thought might be in the works, but I'm still stunned at how the book ended with so much unanswered and left unexplained. I'm hoping the next book will have less locker room talk, because I really want to know what happens next, especially after the cliffhanger ending.

Funny lines:  "Seriously, you must have better things to do with your life than waste it on the hopeless?"
"I've already learned Parseltongue. What else is there?"
 "Elvish."
(pg 124, US hardcover)

"I gracelessly darted into the crowd and only narrowly avoided being elbowed in the face by a girl attired in what could only be described as 'slutty Gryffindor' apparel. So wrong."
(pg. 142, US hardcover)






sarah
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