Friday, November 26, 2010

Beautiful Darkness: WHAT ABOUT LIV?

Ethan Wate used to think of Gatlin, the small Southern town he had always called home, as a place where nothing ever changed. Then he met mysterious newcomer Lena Duchannes, who revealed a secret world that had been hidden in plain sight all along. A Gatlin that harbored ancient secrets beneath its moss-covered oaks and cracked sidewalks. A Gatlin where a curse has marked Lena's family of powerful Supernaturals for generations. A Gatlin where impossible, magical, life-altering events happen.

Sometimes life-ending.

Together they can face anything Gatlin throws at them, but after suffering a tragic loss, Lena starts to pull away, keeping secrets that test their relationship. And now that Ethan's eyes have been opened to the darker side of Gatlin, there's no going back. Haunted by strange visions only he can see, Ethan is pulled deeper into his town's tangled history and finds himself caught up in the dangerous network of underground passageways endlessly crisscrossing the South, where nothing is as it seems.

Book Review:

Beautiful Darkness
By Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

4 stars out of 5

Like Beautiful Creatures, this sequel drew me in with the lush, vivid descriptions and fascinating characters. However, Beautiful Darkness suffers from the same problems that plagued its predecessor: uneven pacing and a confusing ending that solves few of the problems that have been building up for 500 pages. And who am I kidding--I'm knocking off a star for my favorite character, Liv, who really gets shafted in this book.

The delightful supporting cast is my favorite part of this series. These two authors can be masters of characterization. From Amma, Marian, and Macon to Link, Ridley, and Liv, this series contains an impressive supporting cast of witty, brave, and loyal characters. These characters come alive for me, and I look forward to any scenes with them. Where the book struggles is with the leads. Ethan is a sweet voice for the story but perhaps not particularly realistic for a 16 year-old-boy. And I admit--I've never been crazy about Lena. The authors did such a good job having Lena push Ethan away that I didn't WANT Ethan to go back to Lena. I understood he needed to help her and would always be there for her, but I thought a teen paranormal novel would finally break from the predicable relationship pattern and provide a fresh twist...and that brings me to Liv.

I adore Liv. She's brilliant, loyal, and caring, and she could have been the sunshine Ethan needed after so much darkness. By half way through the book, I was completely cheering for Ethan and Liv. I thought, "Finally! We get a unique story where the guy and the girl (Ethan and Lena) DON'T end up together but everyone's still happy and the choices feel real." Nope. I thought for sure the book was establishing that you can find love again after loving someone you can't be with. Yeah, he'd always love Lena (like his Mom loved Macon) but he could find sunshine, warmth, love, and acceptance with someone else. I just loved how Ethan described Liv...how he said it felt like he'd known her forever, how easy and natural it was to be with her, how warm and caring she was. How could he throw that away to jump right back to Lena's cold, dark arms? I was beyond disappointed when in the wrap-up at the end, Liv was relegated to a few quick sentences after she sacrificed so much and had such a natural, healthy connection with Ethan.

Was it just me, or did this book feel like it could have been about 100 pages shorter? I remember feeling that way when I read Beautiful Creatures, too. The world created by Garcia and Stohl is rich, captivating, and original; however, the pacing is uneven with huge chunks of the book that slow to a crawl and delve into talking about the same problems again and again and again (you get the point). And after reading SO MUCH about the problems and conflicts, you expect a little resolution at the end. Nope. Just more confusing, vague endings that aren't really endings at all and more "choices" that aren't really choices. At the end, didn't you feel like you were back where you were at the end of Beautiful Creatures? After 1000+ pages, I really need a little resolution, here, instead of dragging out the same problem for two books.

Will I read the next installment? Yes, but I hope the authors provide a real ending at some point. There's a way to end a book (that's part of a series) where the reader feels satisfied and it feels like an ending, and yet the door is open for sequels. I hope at some point the books in this series can give readers this kind of a satisfying ending. (And here's to hoping Liv gets an ending she deserves.)


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Iron Queen: Ladies and gentlemen, meet the TRUE ASH.


My name is Meghan Chase.

I thought it was over. That my time with the fey, the impossible choices I had to make, the sacrifices of those I loved, was behind me. But a storm is approaching, an army of Iron fey that will drag me back, kicking and screaming. Drag me away from the banished prince who's sworn to stay by my side. Drag me into the core of a conflict so powerful, I'm not sure anyone can survive it.

This time, there will be no turning back.



Book Review:

The Iron Queen by Julie Kagawa

5 stars out of 5 (I'd give it an entire galaxy if I could)

WARNING: When you start this book, just take the day off from work or get the kids a babysitter. YOU WILL NOT PUT IT DOWN. I was both completely riveted and couldn’t turn the pages fast enough, and yet I wanted to savor every word, every captivating exchange. This is Julie Kagawa’s best work yet, and that’s saying something because I adored The Iron King and The Iron Daughter. Written with equal parts of romance, witty banter, and action, The Iron Queen is a glistening gem of a book. You’ll never look at a “faery tale” the same again. (And did I mention that gorgeous cover? Won’t that look pretty on your bookshelf next to The Iron King and the The Iron Daughter?)

My favorite part of this book? All things ASH. Julie peels back the icy exterior of Ash and leaves him vulnerable and open. In the beginning of the book after their exile, Meghan says she’s getting a glimpse of the Ash she always knew was there all along. As a true Ash fangirl from the first pages of The Iron King, I wanted to cheer and squeal because that’s what us Ash devotees have been saying about him the whole time. And Julie doesn’t just give us a glimpse of this true Ash—she lets us gaze adoringly for page after page as we truly SEE Ash. He’s tender. He’s devoted. He’s caring. He’s ROMANTIC. AND HE TREMBLES. His love for Meghan tears down the fa├žade, the emotionless mask, and his emotions are laid bare. I cannot wait for everyone to meet the TRUE ASH.

My, my, how Meghan’s grown since those first painful pages of The Iron King. At one point, Ash tells her she’s not the same girl he met when she first came to the Nevernever, that she’s changed, and I agree. It has been a truly beautiful journey to see Meghan grow and change over the course of the three books. She’s become a strong heroine ready to face any threat head on, to fight side by side her loyal companions, and to embrace and exercise her immense power. No more will Meghan shy away or cower and hide—as she tells the false king’s messenger, she’s going to take the fight to him.

And the ending? I can’t remember the last time I cried reading a book. It was probably when I was 12 and Beth died in Little Women. Maybe I’ve just read too many books and have become jaded, but not only did Julie have me crying, I was WEEPING. Tears were streaming down my face. Ash’s words to Meghan at the end? Is there anything more romantic in literature? Julie’s writing pulls at all of your emotions.

Stunning from start to finish, Julie Kagawa’s Iron King series is the most riveting, most captivating faery series I’ve ever read (and with the explosion of young adult paranormal romances, I’ve read about A LOT of faeries lately). The concept of the Iron fey is original and compelling, and Julie uses her immense creativity to create a world and characters that draw you in, hold onto your heart, and take you on an awe-inspiring journey. Go on—immerse yourself in this enchanting world.

If you haven’t experienced this series yet, I highly recommend it. And that’s what it is—an experience. It will touch all of your emotions. You’ll FEEL true love, heartbreak, humor, friendship, sorrow, and suspense. I laughed, I cried, and I savored the romance. This book will haunt you…you’ll be thinking about it long after you turn the last page. How long until The Iron Knight is released?

As a footnote to my review, I just want to rave about the sensational Julie Kagawa. She is so gracious to her fans and treats us like true friends. Some authors seem to act like the fans are just a bother, but Julie is so kind and thoughtful to our league of Ash and Puck devotees. I mean, how many authors write an entire novella (“Winter’s Passage”) and let their readers devour it for free??? How many authors post juicy, delightful teasers EVERY WEEK for their fans? Julie Kagawa is full of awesomeness.

Firelight: Read. This. Book. Seriously, read this book.


A hidden truth.
Mortal enemies.
Doomed love.

Marked as special at an early age, Jacinda knows her every move is watched. But she longs for freedom to make her own choices. When she breaks the most sacred tenet among her kind, she nearly pays with her life. Until a beautiful stranger saves her. A stranger who was sent to hunt those like her. For Jacinda is a draki—a descendant of dragons whose greatest defense is her secret ability to shift into human form.

Forced to flee into the mortal world with her family, Jacinda struggles to adapt to her new surroundings. The only bright light is Will. Gorgeous, elusive Will who stirs her inner draki to life. Although she is irresistibly drawn to him, Jacinda knows Will's dark secret: He and his family are hunters. She should avoid him at all costs. But her inner draki is slowly slipping away—if it dies she will be left as a human forever. She'll do anything to prevent that. Even if it means getting closer to her most dangerous enemy.

Mythical powers and breathtaking romance ignite in this story of a girl who defies all expectations and whose love crosses an ancient divide.

Book Review:
Firelight by Sophie Jordan

5 stars out of 5

Read. This. Book. Seriously, read this book. I've read stacks of books this year, and this is in my top 3 because it sucked me in completely. I read it in one sitting (finishing at 3:00 a.m.) because I could NOT put it down. It was original, refreshing, and ROMANTIC. You can tell Sophie Jordan's a romance novelist--the romance in this book had me swept away with every glance, every little touch between Jacinda and Will. I LOVED THIS BOOK. Can I say that loudly enough?

It all started when my friend passed me a copy of this book and said, "Read it. It will be like reading Twilight for the first time." What she meant was it will suck you in, you'll stay up all night reading it, and you'll feel like a teenager in love all over again. Now, I read my share of the classics and the deep, literary-type books, but I LOVE a good escapist read. Firelight was one of the very best "let's get away from it all and escape into a fresh, new world" books I've read all year.

The premise (a race of human-like creatures descended from dragons) felt fresh and original. I've read about WAAAAAY too many werewolves this year, and Sophie Jordan's world felt new and exciting. AND THE ROMANCE. Seriously, I LOVED Jacinda and Will. They felt real and complex and had AMAZING chemistry. They become people I cared about, and by the end of the book, my heart was breaking, too. I was also intrigued by Cassian. I can't wait to read more about his motives and his true intentions regarding Jacinda in the sequel. And speaking of sequels, fall 2011 is feeling like a long way away right now! I have some predictions regarding Tamra's future, and I can't wait to find out if I'm right!

Jacinda was a strong heroine trying to find her place between two worlds, and I thought her anxiety and emotions felt very realistic. I didn't find her whiny at all---her mother was trying to kill a very real part of who Jacinda is in her mother’s attempts to protect Jacinda, and of course Jacinda's going to fight that. I have read the inner thoughts and MANY whiny heroines this year, and Jacinda's voice felt fresh and real in a good way.

Seriously, buy this book. After I read it, I had to have it for my shelf. It was the most "Oh my gosh--they're looking at each other and I can't breathe" book I've read in a long time. Intriguing characters, original premise, lush prose, and intoxicating romance. I am waiting with bated breath for Book 2...

Shadow Hills: Meh...just okay.

After her sister Athena's tragic death, it's obvious that grief-stricken Persephone "Phe" Archer no longer belongs in Los Angeles. Hoping to make sense of her sister's sudden demise and the cryptic dreams following it, Phe abandons her bubbly LA life to attend an uptight East Coast preparatory school in Shadow Hills, MA — a school which her sister mysteriously mentioned in her last diary entry before she died.

Once there, Phe quickly realizes that something is deeply amiss in her new town. Not only does Shadow Hills' history boast an unexplained epidemic that decimated hundreds of its citizens in the 1700s, but its modern townies also seem eerily psychic, with the bizarre ability to bend metal. Even Zach — the gorgeous stranger Phe meets and immediately begins to lust after — seems as if he is hiding something serious. Phe is determined to get to the bottom of it. The longer she stays there, the more she suspects that her sister's untimely death and her own destiny are intricately linked to those who reside in Shadow Hills.

Book Review:

Shadow Hills by Anastasia Hopcus

3 stars out of 5

Meh...this was just okay. I'd heard a lot of hype for Shadow Hills and was excited to read it. While it did have some original paranormal aspects and I usually love boarding school settings, I just couldn't get excited about this one. It felt like lots of elements, plot lines, and characters all mish-mashed together, leaving the story feeling really choppy and chaotic.

Also, Shadow Hills had way too much teenage drinking for my taste. Phe is only supposed to be 15, but she talks about all these parties she went to in L.A. at what, age 13 or 14? Yeah, I know teens drink, smoke, and do drugs, but the book seemed to glamorize these things. I was bothered by all of these 15-year-olds running wild at this boarding school with no real supervision having drinking parties in the woods with no real consequences.

Shadows Hills was an okay read, but nothing I'd recommend to a friend. I don't even know if I care enough to read the sequel, which was so conveniently set up at the end. I know others liked this debut novel a lot, but it just wasn't for me.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Judge this book by the cover. Seriously, do.

Evie’s always thought of herself as a normal teenager, even though she works for the International Paranormal Containment Agency, her ex-boyfriend is a faerie, she’s falling for a shape-shifter, and she’s the only person who can see through paranormals’ glamours.

But Evie’s about to realize that she may very well be at the center of a dark faerie prophecy promising destruction to all paranormal creatures.

So much for normal.

Book Review:
Paranormalcy by Kiersten White

5 stars out of 5

Judge this book by the cover. Seriously, do. I loved this cover so much I sat at the bookstore staring at it, and then when I read the book, I loved it, too! And the title? I LOVE THAT. The sequel's title, Supernaturally? Love that even more.

I heard a lot of great hype about this book, which can often lead to a letdown once you actually read the book. However, Paranormalcy was just as flirty, funny, and refreshing as promised. It had great characterization, hysterical dialogue, and just enough answers with just enough mystery still unexplained to have me eagerly awaiting Supernaturally. I loved all of the bleeps, the sighs, and the quirky sense of humor. Seriously, I just loved it all.

And the romance? I loved the innocence of it. Here you have two secluded teenagers falling in love for the first time, so I thought the innocence was perfect. I felt myself cheering for them to hold hands for the first time! One part I don't get? The quote by Aprilynne Pike about the other paranormal winning her heart. Was she talking about Reth??? Reth was so creepy. I thought he was a fantastic, intriguing character and I can't wait to read more explaining his motives, but stealing my heart? He was crazy creepy. Let's all just cheer now that Evie is still with Lend.

Paranormalcy. Loved it. I have to hold myself back from using some sort of "bleep" phrase to describe it because I really loved it that much. Like, loved it enough to stay up until 2:00 a.m. finishing it after starting it at 10:00 p.m. because I could not go to bed without knowing how it ended. Kiersten White, keep the funny, quirky, flirty books coming!

And a thousand cheers for a teen paranormal romance where the crazy, psychotic, obsessive guy does NOT get the girl!

And...don't judge this one by the cover.

Beware of a kiss under the full moon. It will change your life forever.

Celeste Parker is used to hearing scary stories about werewolves—Legend's Run is famous for them. She's used to everything in the small town until Brandon Maddox moves to Legend's Run and Celeste finds herself immediately drawn to the handsome new student. But when, after an unnerving visit with a psychic, she encounters a pack of wolves and gorgeous, enigmatic Brandon, she must discover whether his transformation is more than legend or just a trick of the shadows in the moonlight.

Book Review:
Once in a Full Moon by Ellen Schreiber

3 stars out of 5

And...here's an example of a book you shouldn't judge by it's intriguing cover because it was pretty lacking in substance and depth. Once in a Full Moon was a quick, light read. I admit, I was drawn in enough to read it in one sitting, probably because I kept waiting for the "really good part". However, the ending was abrupt, and I felt like the two main characters, Celeste and Brandon, were not nearly worried enough about the events of the final scene. The whole book felt underdeveloped and lacking in chemistry and intrigue, but it was a fun, light way to spend an afternoon.

I loved Celeste's voice and her caring ways. I appreciated her attempts to bridge the social gap between the Eastsiders and the Westsiders; however, I think she missed the strongest statement she could have made: publicly announcing Brandon was her boyfriend. I kept waiting for Celeste to show her friends and her classmates that she was going to date Brandon and who cares that he's a Westsider, but all we saw was Celeste defending him when Eastsiders made fun of him.

Ultimately, the message of "it doesn't matter where you come from" fell really flat because Celeste was only ready to admit that truth in private to Brandon and not with her public actions. She was so completely and utterly in love with him, and yet she wouldn't even be seen with him at school? I found it hard to believe that Brandon would go along with that--it was like she was too embarrassed or cared too much what her friends thought to publicly acknowledge that she liked him. I understand that she didn't want to lose her best friends, but if your lifelong best friends will desert you over something like dating a Westsider, are those really friends you wanted anyway?

Celeste provided an interesting narrative, but at times, some of the dialogue felt a little contrived and stiff. I can't really imagine teenagers really saying a lot of it. Celeste's volunteerism set a good example, as did her caring spirit, but wow, she made a lot of unwise and unsafe choices to keep seeing Brandon transform when he kept telling her to stay away. She had no idea if he'd turn into a crazed monster, and yet she insisted on staying by his side when he transformed. Not the smartest choice!

All in all, Once in a Full Moon was a light, fun read. The plot was simplistic and lacking in substance for the most part, but fans of Ellen Schreiber's Vampire Kisses series may enjoy it. Hopefully as the series continues, the plot and characters will becomes more complex and developed.

And for our friends at the FTC, I received an ARC of this book from the publisher.