Monday, January 9, 2012

Hallowed: Oh my Tucker! This is middle book at its very best...

For months part-angel Clara Gardner trained to face the raging forest fire from her visions and rescue the alluring and mysterious Christian Prescott from the blaze. But nothing could prepare her for the fateful decisions she would be forced to make that day, or the startling revelation that her purpose—the task she was put on earth to accomplish—is not as straightforward as she thought. Now, torn between her increasingly complicated feelings for Christian and her love for her boyfriend, Tucker, Clara struggles to make sense of what she was supposed to do the day of the fire. And, as she is drawn further into the world of part angels and the growing conflict between White Wings and Black Wings, Clara learns of the terrifying new reality that she must face: Someone close to her will die in a matter of months. With her future uncertain, the only thing Clara knows for sure is that the fire was just the beginning.

Book Review

Title: Hallowed
Author: Cynthia Hand
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: January 17, 2012

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This series is what every other angel book wishes it could grow up to be.

Hallowed is "middle book" at its very best.

Out of all the paranormal creatures in YA, angels get by far the worst treatment. Three of the worst YA series all feature angels, and until Unearthly, I thought perhaps it was impossible to write a decent angel book. But Unearthly was not decent--IT WAS AMAZING. That delicious, slow-build romance between Clara and Tucker. A strong, likeable heroine with a realistic voice. A vivid, gorgeous setting. Intriguing mythology that makes sense. Tucker. (Did I mention Tucker?) Ever since I closed the pages of Unearthly, I've been clamoring for a sequel.

In Cynthia Hand's follow-up novel, she DELIVERS. She makes me feel things about characters that I never thought I could. She takes this in the direction hinted at throughout Unearthly, but she makes it work (in ways this Team Tucker girl didn't think were possible) and adds some complexity with other unexpected twists. My heart was aching--ACHING--when I finished this book.

Cynthia Hand, how did you make me like Christian? I'm as TEAM TUCKER as they come, and yet you drew me in to see Christian's goodness and charm and caring with such a sly hand. I'm no advocate of love triangles, but this one is as good as they come.

And the writing? As addictive and snappy and heart-breaking as ever. I love that Cynthia can poke fun at her own book and genre with funny little lines about stalker girlfriends and love triangles and jealous boyfriends. Her writing makes these characters feel REAL, so real that she can make me feel absolute joy and then devastation because of the struggles and choices these characters face. And trust will feel a gamut of emotions reading this.

Cynthia Hand has shown that Unearthly was no fluke. This woman can WRITE. This series shines with stellar characterization, fascinating mythology, compelling choices, and Tucker (it needed to be said). I cannot wait to see what she has in store next for these beloved characters.

P.S. Jackson Hole and Idaho, I love you.

Everneath: A haunting, desperate tale that will linger with you long after the last page...

Last spring, Nikki Beckett vanished, sucked into an underworld known as the Everneath, where immortals Feed on the emotions of despairing humans. Now she's returned- to her old life, her family, her friends- before being banished back to the underworld... this time forever.

She has six months before the Everneath comes to claim her, six months for good-byes she can't find the words for, six months to find redemption, if it exists.

Nikki longs to spend these months reconnecting with her boyfriend, Jack, the one person she loves more than anything. But there's a problem: Cole, the smoldering immortal who first enticed her to the Everneath, has followed Nikki to the mortal world. And he'll do whatever it takes to bring her back- this time as his queen.

As Nikki's time grows short and her relationships begin slipping from her grasp, she's forced to make the hardest decision of her life: find a way to cheat fate and remain on the Surface with Jack or return to the Everneath and become Cole's...

Book Review

Title: Everneath
Author: Brodi Ashton
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: January 24, 2012

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I am so in love with this dress.

What a deliciously creepy tale. The feel of this book has lingered with me for days...the desperation, the ache, the tiny glimmers of hope. Read some Georgia Nicolson after this one, folks, because this is heavy stuff.

Everneath begins with one of those amazing prologues...the enigmatic kind that grabs you and makes you read a book in one sitting because it's so evocative and...different. It's been the year of the YA Greek mythology retelling, with Persephone and Hades receiving extra attention, but this is unlike anything else I've read. Most Greek myths have not translated well into modern-day YA tales (um, Goddess Test, anyone?) but this one WORKS. Actually, it works unexpectedly well. The mythology is gripping and eerie, and I just couldn't look away.

These characters bleed with flaws and impulsiveness and raw emotion, and they completely hooked me. This is not your typical YA love triangle. In fact, I wouldn't call it a love triangle at all, which gives it an extra layer of complexity. It's more like Kiersten White's Paranormalcy series where you have the steadfast boyfriend and the other guy, who is one creepy dude with some mixed motives and complex emotions.

I will say, the middle is a bit muddled and drawn out, but that intriguing beginning and electrifying (not to mention heartbreaking) ending made up for any missteps in the middle. What an aching tale. That was an add-some-stars ending, and I got chills at some of the last lines. This story is far from over, and I need a sequel stat!

Geek Girl: This book oozes with chemistry...I love these characters!

Jen's life of partying and sneaking out has grown stale. So on a whim, Jen makes a bet to turn Trevor, a goody-two-shoes geek, into a "bad boy." As she hangs out with Trevor, however, she finds it's actually kinda fun being a geek. But when Trevor finds out about the bet, Jen must fight for the things she's discovered matter most: friendship, family, and, above all, love.

Book Review

Title: Geek Girl
Author: Cindy C. Bennett
Publisher: Cedar Fort
Publication Date: December 8, 2011

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Cedar Fort acquired a real indie gem with Geek Girl. I first read Geek Girl back in March when it was self-published, and I burned through it in a matter of hours. Talk about flow...Cindy C. Bennett's writing is addictive and all-consuming and emotionally gripping. And she ALWAYS makes me cry.

I initially gave Geek Girl four stars, but as I re-read it now that it's been published, I'm upping it to five. Out of everything I've read this year, this is one of those stories that has just stayed with me. I can't tell you how many times this year that I've stared at all the books on my iPad and opened Geek Girl back up to read some favorite passages again. These isn't anything too earth shattering here, but I've had a hard time saying goodbye to these characters. Cindy's characters always breathe. Her heroines are fierce yet symphatic. They speak of the attrocities of their lives with such raw honesty that you can't help but cheer for them to get their happy ending. And let me tell you, Cindy knows how to write the White Knight.

This book has only gotten better with time. I can't wait to see more from Cindy C. Bennett. Her book Heart on a Chain is another indie gem, and I'd love for it to see publication (hint, hint!).

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Iron Knight: Julie Kagawa knows how to end a series...

But never forgotten.

My name—my True Name—is Ashallayn'darkmyr Tallyn.

I am the last remaining son of Mab, Queen of the Unseelie Court. And I am dead to her.

My fall began, as many stories do, with a girl…

Book Review

Title: The Iron Knight
Author: Julie Kagawa
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Publication Date: October 25, 2011

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Julie Kagawa knows how to end a series.

It's always sad (and a bit scary) to say goodbye to a favorite series. Last books come with such emotionally-fueled expectations. And after, some authors leave you feeling wrung out and crushed, while other authors make your heart sigh with happiness and contentment. Whenever I read a last book, I'm always overwhelmed with that feeling of Please don't ruin what you've created. Well, I am ecstatic to say that in The Iron Knight, Julie Kagawa gives us the perfect journey to the perfect ending that this stellar series deserves.

The Iron Knight was one of my most highly anticipated books of 2011, and WOW did Julie deliver. It was everything I was hoping for: adventure, anguish, romance, danger, and a slew of game-changing twists that left my head spinning. Within the first ten pages, Julie hit me with a whiplash twist that I just didn't see coming (the summary wasn't available then) and then she kept them coming for the rest of the story. Things that weren't anywhere on my radar were thrown into the mix, keeping the story fresh and compelling.

And let's talk about ASH. This is his story. His narration is everything my little fangirl heart was wishing for: some moments were pure bliss, and others, as Ash begins to thaw that icy cold heart, were harrowing and heart-wrenching. Everything about Ash--his emotions, his intense love, his regret--is laid bare. We see every vulnerability Ash hides behind that cold exterior, and we feel the extent of his absolute devotion to Meghan. And as Ash has told Meghan many times, there are horrific crimes in his past, and as Ash atones for those crimes to be worthy of what it will take to be with Meghan, we see how much his love for her has changed him--how much her love for him as already redeemed him.

For fans worried there may not be enough Meghan, I thought Julie devised some sneaky, delicious ways to fit in plenty of Meghan. Besides, we've had three books with her, and I'm a sucker for any kind of alternate POV, especially from the hero's perspective, to truly feel the extent of his love for our heroine.

So this Ash fangirl thanks you, Julie Kagawa, for creating such a satisfying, stirring end to this beloved series. I found myself re-reading entire chapters just so I didn't have to say goodbye so soon.

(And let's all give Julie's editor a big cheer for convincing Julie to write The Iron Knight and not leave that heartbreaking goodbye in The Iron Queen as the end like Julie initially intended. Yes, those parting words of Ash and Meghan in TIQ were tragic and all-sacrificing and made me cry, but oh, how I love my happily ever after instead.)

Lola and the Boy Next Door: Even. Better. Than. Anna.

Budding designer Lola Nolan doesn’t believe in fashion . . . she believes in costume. The more expressive the outfit -- more sparkly, more fun, more wild -- the better. But even though Lola’s style is outrageous, she’s a devoted daughter and friend with some big plans for the future. And everything is pretty perfect (right down to her hot rocker boyfriend) until the dreaded Bell twins, Calliope and Cricket, return to the neighborhood.

When Cricket -- a gifted inventor -- steps out from his twin sister’s shadow and back into Lola’s life, she must finally reconcile a lifetime of feelings for the boy next door.

Book Review

Title: Lola and the Boy Next Door
Author: Stephanie Perkins
Publisher: Dutton
Publication Date: September 29, 2011

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Even. Better. Than. Anna.

And that's saying something.

I knew I was going to love this from the moment I read the blurb. Cricket is an inventor (and so is the hubby--25 patent applications, thank you very much). It takes place in San Francisco (which is our city). And Stephanie Perkins wrote it (and we all know her words are magic. MAGIC! Everything she writes is oozing with amazingness.)

Lola surpasses all expectations. When you read these words, you FEEL everything. Lola's embarrassment, her sadness, her longing...and the sparks every time Cricket touches her. How does Stephanie Perkins weave these spells? I can't remember the last time I felt quite like this reading a book...this heart all a-flutter feeling where you're holding your breathe waiting for them to touch. Oh, wait--I can. It was when I read Anna and the French Kiss.

Lola is a story of finding yourself, and finding the one you love. And Stephanie Perkins writes chemistry like no other. Sigh.

I can't wait to see what Stephanie has in store for Isla, and she uses the events in Lola to set the scene perfectly for Isla to ensure all our favorite characters will be back.

Go read this book. And then read it again because that's what I'm going to do right now. (I swear, this book must be laced with some kind of addictive substance...or else Stephanie Perkins' pacing and characters and writing are PERFECT.)

P.S. You've GOT to see this cover in person. It's ADORABLE.

The Scorch Trials: Dashner just gets better and better.

Solving the Maze was supposed to be the end. No more puzzles. No more variables. And no more running. Thomas was sure that escape meant he and the Gladers would get their lives back. But no one really knew what sort of life they were going back to.

In the Maze, life was easy. They had food, and shelter, and safety . . . until Teresa triggered the end. In the world outside the Maze, however, the end was triggered long ago.

Burned by sun flares and baked by a new, brutal climate, the earth is a wasteland. Government has disintegrated—and with it, order—and now Cranks, people covered in festering wounds and driven to murderous insanity by the infectious disease known as the Flare, roam the crumbling cities hunting for their next victim . . . and meal.

The Gladers are far from finished with running. Instead of freedom, they find themselves faced with another trial. They must cross the Scorch, the most burned-out section of the world, and arrive at a safe haven in two weeks. And WICKED has made sure to adjust the variables and stack the odds against them.

Thomas can only wonder—does he hold the secret of freedom somewhere in his mind? Or will he forever be at the mercy of WICKED?

Book Review

Title: The Scorch Trials
Author: James Dashner
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: October 12, 2010

My Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

James Dashner's writing just gets better and better. The Maze Runner was good but I wasn't sold on it...but this latest installment has made me a complete fangirl of this series. The stark writing is perfect to tell this grim (yet hopeful), mind-bending tale. There's this stirring sense of these characters struggling to hold on to their humanity in the midst of all these trials and confusion that has me invested in their fate. As these characters persevere and fight and SURVIVE with their hope intact and pushing them forward, I can't help but cheer and then hold my breath for them...because Dashner is a master at creating that exhilarating feeling where you really, truly NEVER know what's going to happen next.

I love the Lost-esque feel to everything. And I do not evoke the Lost word lightly.

What an electrifying series! I can't wait to see what crazy twists James Dashner has in store in The Death Cure.

Wolfbane: Can Calla please act like an alpha?

When Calla Tor wakes up in the lair of the Searchers, her sworn enemies, she’s certain her days are numbered. But then the Searchers make her an offer—one that gives her the chance to destroy her former masters and save the pack—and the man—she left behind. Is Ren worth the price of her freedom? And will Shay stand by her side no matter what? Now in control of her own destiny, Calla must decide which battles are worth fighting and how many trials true love can endure and still survive.

Book Review

Title: Wolfsbane
Author: Andrea Cremer
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers
Publication Date: July 26, 2011

My Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Let me say this: Andrea Cremer can write. Her books ooze with imagery and pretty phrases and that I-must-consume-this-book feeling (especially Nightshade). She even adds some decent mythology to the mix in Wolfsbane, something I thought was blatantly lacking in Nightshade.

So why the two stars? This series just isn't for me. I've never liked Calla. She's never seemed like an alpha to me (I mean, I've been TOLD for 800 pages that she's an alpha, but it's been rare that I've SEEN it) and I've never felt connected with her character. Shay is the biggest snoozer of a male lead I've read about for two years running, and the love triangle is strangling this series. When done with grace and charm and chemistry, a love triangle can keep me feverishly tearing through the pages. But in this series, Calla's indecisiveness and lust for both boys--and first Ren's and now Shay's pushy ways--make this love triangle irritating. Frequent scene: Calla and Shay making out, Calla thinks of Ren, wants Ren instead, pushes Shay away, Shay pushes Calla for more. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

(And it has to be said: What did Cremer DO to Ren's character??? Of course circumstances can drive people to make choices they wouldn't have made otherwise, but a character needs to stay true to what's already been created for him. The Ren depicted in Wolfsbane is NOT the Ren we met in Nightshade.)

Although not as compulsively readable as Nightshade, Wolfsbane does expand the mythology (albeit with a ton of infodump conversations). Unlike other authors, Cremer acknowledges the holes in her mythology and offers some patches (why Keepers can't weave, how the mother determines the essence of the child, etc.) although some of the patches are a bit TOO convenient. However, after the bare mythology in Nightshade, the expansion of the world is welcomed.

The writing's good. The mythology's gotten better. But until I can actually LIKE these characters--their personalities and choices--I can't give above two stars.