Monday, March 7, 2011

Unearthly: angel story paranormal fans can get behind

In the beginning, there's a boy standing in the trees . . . .

Clara Gardner has recently learned that she's part angel. Having angel blood run through her veins not only makes her smarter, stronger, and faster than humans (a word, she realizes, that no longer applies to her), but it means she has a purpose, something she was put on this earth to do. Figuring out what that is, though, isn't easy.

Her visions of a raging forest fire and an alluring stranger lead her to a new school in a new town. When she meets Christian, who turns out to be the boy of her dreams (literally), everything seems to fall into place—and out of place at the same time. Because there's another guy, Tucker, who appeals to Clara's less angelic side.

As Clara tries to find her way in a world she no longer understands, she encounters unseen dangers and choices she never thought she'd have to make—between honesty and deceit, love and duty, good and evil. When the fire from her vision finally ignites, will Clara be ready to face her destiny?

Unearthly is a moving tale of love and fate, and the struggle between following the rules and following your heart.

Book Review:
Unearthly by Cynthia Hand

5 out of 5 stars angel story we paranormal fans can get behind. Today's angel stories are riddled with weak heroines, obsessive "love interests", and shoddy mythology (Fallen and Halo, anyone?). With its strong characters, swoon-worthy guys, and unique angel lore, Unearthly is now my gold-star standard for angel books.

I grew up on a ranch near where this story takes place, so reading Unearthly felt like coming home. Cynthia Hand creates a vivid setting and characters that spoke to me. She perfectly captures the western charm of Wyoming and Idaho (Tucker, anyone?) and I couldn't put this stunning debut down.

Unearthly really shines in its characterization. Cynthia creates a strong, likeable heroine through Clara's voice and actions. Instead of being the well-worn whimpering heroine who needs everyone to save her, Clara is smart and resourceful, yet relatable and believable. Too many authors try to make their heroine appear strong by making her cold or distant or unfeminine, but Clara is warm and kind and isn't afraid to wear a dress. She faces challenges and struggles but doesn't let them overcome her. (None of that "I'm going to DIIIIIIIE" because of boy troubles for our heroine.) From Clara's friends to her mom, Cynthia Hand creates engaging, believable characters that I care about.

Tucker. You had me from "Carrots." It was Anne and Gilbert all over again, and I loved it. Cynthia weaves some delicious romantic tension between Clara and Tucker that had me coming back chapter after chapter (I may or may not have let my kids play at the park for hours so I could stay on my bench and keep reading). Instead of the ridiculous "I loved you because I saw you from across the hall" that's way too prevalent in today's young adult books, Cynthia lets the attraction simmer and build, with a lot of "pulling the hair" antics and teasing along the way that had me smiling. It felt real and believable, and I LOVED IT.

Unearthly is an enchanting tale oozing with unputdownable qualities. It delivers on the promises made by that gorgeous cover with its believable, likeable characters; intriguing mythology that reveals just enough to be satisfying but holds back some answers for a sequel; and one of the most team-deserving guys to grace the pages of young adult literature in a long time.

I am seriously clamoring for a sequel.

Everlasting: A hidden gem...Adventure and romance combine for an historical fiction thrill ride!

Sailing aboard her father’s trade ship is all seventeen-year-old Camille Rowen has ever wanted. But as a girl of society in 1855 San Francisco, her future is set: marry a man she doesn’t love, or condemn herself and her father to poverty.

On her final voyage before the wedding, the stormy arms of the Tasman Sea claim her father, and a terrible family secret is revealed. A secret intertwined with a fabled map, the mother Camille has long believed dead, and an ancient stone that wields a dangerous—and alluring—magic.

The only person Camille can depend on is Oscar, a handsome young sailor whom she is undeniably drawn to. Torn between trusting her instincts and keeping her promises to her father, Camille embarks on a perilous quest into the Australian wilderness to find the enchanted stone. As she and Oscar elude murderous bushrangers and unravel Camille’s father’s lies, they come closer to making the ultimate decision of who—and what—matters most.

Beautifully written and feverishly paced, Everlasting is an unforgettable journey of passion, secrecy, and adventure.

Book Review:
Everlasting by Angie Frazier
5 out of 5 stars

This is a hidden gem of a book. Why haven't we heard more about this one? It combines adventure, romance, and a touch of mysticism into a meticulously researched historical fiction thrill ride. I LOVED IT.

I picked up this book on a whim at the library. I was so intrigued by the jacket flap that I found myself glancing through the pages at the red light by the library's parking lot and every red light thereafter. I couldn't put it down! (Yes, I know--totally not safe.) I couldn't wait to get home and immerse myself in this book. This was another "I read it in one night because it was THAT good!" book. IEverlasting felt unique and refreshing. I wish it had a different title to reflect just how special this tale was. The title "Everlasting" makes it seem so generic--too much like every other teen book published this year with all of these "ever" and "never" and "forever" type titles (I can't keep them straight!). This book was anything but generic--it had a riveting plot, steal-your-breath romance, and exceptional characterization.

Angie Frazier's writing and research shine throughout this brilliant novel. Her cast of characters is delightful, from the dashing Oscar with his charm and loyalty to the loveable con-man Ira with his wit and humor. Her settings are lush and enthralling, from the high seas to the Australian Outback. Unlike so many other novels with their "I loved you for no reason the moment I saw you," Angie creates a simmering romance between Camille and Oscar that gradually intensifies throughout the novel. I was enthralled as I watched the romance unfold--the tender moments and little touches and longing looks had me hooked! I love that Angie let the love simmer--it creates so much delicious romantic tension as a companion for all of the adventure.

With equal parts adventure and romance, Everlasting is sensational! This novel is bursting with plot and adventure with just the right amount of romance to spice things up. I felt like I was reading Romancing the Stone and Pirates of the Caribbean mashed into one enrapturing historical fiction gem.

Sea: A beautiful message of hope wrapped in a beautiful cover

Still haunted by nightmares of her mother's death, fifteen-year-old Sienna Jones reluctantly travels to Indonesia with her father's relief team to help tsunami orphans with their post traumatic stress disorder—something Sienna knows a lot about. Since her mother's plane went missing over the Indian Ocean three years before, Sienna doesn't do anything if it involves the ocean or planes, so this trip is a big step forward.

But the last thing she expects is to fall for Deni, a brooding Indonesian boy who lives at the orphanage, and just so happens to be HOT. When Deni hears a rumor that his father may be alive, Sienna doesn't think twice about running away with him to the epicenter of the disaster. Unfortunately, what they find there could break both their hearts.

A compelling summer romance, Sea marks the arrival of a stunning new voice in YA.

Book Review:
Sea by Heidi Kling
4 out of 5 stars

Sea is unlike anything else I've read this past year. The story is rich and unique--I can't fathom the amount of research that must have gone into this beautiful tale. The characters were compelling and believable--you could feel their emotions, feel their heartache, pain, and love. Seeing the intersecting journeys of healing (for several characters--Sea, Deni, her father) took hold of my heart, and I could not put this down until I knew how it ended.

And the ending? While it may not be what you expected, it was so satisfying. This is not a sad tale--it's a story of healing and redemption, of opening up your heart and finding yourself again after immense tragedy. It's a beautiful message of hope wrapped up in a beautiful cover.

Outside In: The Queen of the Pipes has returned! (Hold on tight--this one's a thrill ride!)

Me? A Leader? Okay, I did prove that there's more to Inside than we knew. That a whole world exists beyond this cube we live in. And finding that led to a major rebellion - between worker scrubs like me and the snobby uppers who rule our world. Make that ruled. Because of me, we're free. I thought that meant I was off the hook, and could go off on my own again - while still touching base with Riley, of course. He's the one upper I think I can trust. But then we learned that there's outside and then there is Outside. And something from Outside wants In.

Book Review:
Outside In by Maria V. Snyder
5 out of 5 stars

The Queen of the Pipes has returned!

Me reading Outside In: What? What?? WHAT??? WHAT????

(In a totally good way--this book is full of intrigue, deceit, and stratagem. I did not see half of these twists coming!)

This is what Across the Universe should have been. Dare I say it? This is what Mockingjay should have been.

Outside In explores the question so often overlooked amidst the cheers at the end of these dystopian books once the crazy regime has been overthrown. WHAT HAPPENS AFTER THE REVOLUTION? Yes, the tyrant is what?

What a thrill ride! I was getting mental whiplash from all of the twists and turns of this plot. Just when I thought I knew what was going on, BAM!--I'd get hit from behind with another crazy twist that was absolutely nowhere on my radar. Don't you just love reading a book where you're so immersed the pages just melt away and all of a sudden you look up and you've read 100 pages without even noticing? That is Outside In for me.

I heart Trella. She's a little rough around the edges at times, but talk about a plucky, spirited heroine with mad skills, crazy courage, and loads of determination and loyalty. Sure, she's a little reckless at times, but when she risks her life, it's for a reason. (Take notice, Nora Gray.) And it's a good reason. Trella puts herself in danger's path for the cause she so passionately believes in and to save those she fiercely loves. NOT BECAUSE SHE'S STUPID. (That's directed at 2/3 of YA heroines these days.) Yeah, she needs to add a pinch of "verbally expressing tender emotion" capabilities to her skill set during parts of this book, but she shows her love through her actions. THIS GIRL HAS GUTS!

And one of the best parts? Seeing Trella's growth in this book. Yes, she's just as resourceful and tenacious as in Inside Out, but she faces her fear of making mistakes, of being responsible for others, of doing the "clean up" after rushing in to save the day. I loved seeing Trella tentatively test and then embrace her ability to love, forgive, and accept, especially when it came to her mother, and to see her acknowledge and accept that she loves Riley.

Yes, there's the obligatory YA Book 2 break up, but while this one did further the plot, it didn't scream LAME PLOT DEVICE. It felt very in-character for Riley and Trella. Trella was still coming to terms with loving and caring for another on a deeply personal level, and it hurt Riley too much to have Trella keep pushing him away.

And while it's probably not realistic for a 17-year-old to lead this enclosed society, I'm willing to suspend reality because I LOVE THIS SERIES AND THESE CHARACTERS. After initially faltering and cringing away from being a part of the leadership of the new world, Trella steps up (almost too late) and embraces her role as a unifier and leader, and for the rest of the book, she shows why she's the Queen of the Pipes. There is no curling up on drugs in a hospital wing *coughs, Katniss* for our heroine.

I don't know if this is the end of our adventures with Trella and Riley, but WOW what a ride it's been.

Content: Unlike Inside Out, a couple of scenes in Outside In are on the more mature side, so I wouldn't recommend it for younger teens. These scenes weren't really necessary, so you could easily skip them if they bothered you

Prom and Prejudice:A delightful modern retelling that captures the essence and feel of the original

After winter break, the girls at the very prestigious Longbourn Academy become obsessed with the prom. Lizzie Bennet, who attends Longbourn on a scholarship, isn’t interested in designer dresses and expensive shoes, but her best friend, Jane, might be — especially now that Charles Bingley is back from a semester in London.

Lizzie is happy about her friend’s burgeoning romance but less than impressed by Charles’s friend, Will Darcy, who’s snobby and pretentious. Darcy doesn’t seem to like Lizzie either, but she assumes it’s because her family doesn’t have money. Clearly, Will Darcy is a pompous jerk — so why does Lizzie find herself drawn to him anyway?

Will Lizzie’s pride and Will’s prejudice keep them apart? Or are they a prom couple in the making? Whatever the result, Elizabeth Eulberg, author of The Lonely Hearts Club, has concocted a very funny, completely stylish delight for any season — prom or otherwise.

Book Review:
Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg
4 out of 5 stars

I have read a lot of retellings of Pride and Prejudice (one of my absolute favorite books). Some are okay; some are downright dreadful. Somewhere, Jane Austen's gotta be rolling in her grave at the sacrilege some people have committed regarding her works.

Now, let me say this: Prom and Prejudice is my new favorite retelling of the beloved classic. Elizabeth Eulberg perfectly balances the fresh and modern with the classic and original to create a surprisingly delightful tale. Predictability is often a problem with retelling well-known works, but Eulberg manages to throw in surprises and twists that smash all predictability, while staying true to the essence and feel of the original. I've got to say, I am impressed.

To demonstrate how much I enjoyed this book: I read the whole thing in one evening and turned around and read it again the next day. At 227 pages, it's a quick read, which is so refreshing after reading all of these bloated young adult books in badly need of an editor (Halo, anyone?) or books where it feels like the author is tossing in words at random to get to 350 pages. Prom and Prejudice is tight and concise in a good way with near perfect pacing, giving it that unputdownable quality I'm always craving.

Elizabeth Eulberg writes engaging characters and manages to brilliantly modernize their faults. I found myself even enjoying the parts where Eulberg veers slightly from the source material. (Dare I say it? She even made me like Collins!) Although Mrs. Bennet dishes up some hilarious lines in both the book and the movie, I'm always mortified and embarrassed on Lizzie's behalf at her mother's behavior. I'm thankful Eulberg dumped all of Mrs. Bennet's bad qualities on Lydia (whom I've always despised) and gave Lizzie a nice, normal mother instead.

How fun is it to read a modern, teenage version of Darcy? I loved it. The essence of Lizzie and Darcy and their relationship ooze from this book, and Eulberg captures the romance tension of the original in a way that I couldn't put this book down. Her explanations of how pride and prejudices are keeping these beloved literary characters apart are accessible and modernized. (My husband needs to read these explanations--I made him finally watch the BBC movie with me, and he hated it. He didn't get the whole "pride and prejudice" standing in the way, insisting Lizzie only started to like Darcy once she saw his house. I will not tolerate anyone calling Lizzie Bennet a gold digger.)

And Prom and Prejudice's ending? I didn't see that coming. Just another example of how Eulberg scatters surprises throughout to make a fresh, delightful tale that hopefully will lead readers to take on the original.

Angelfire: I couldn't turn the pages fast enough!

This debut, the first novel in a trilogy, is achingly romantic, terrifying, and filled with blistering action.

When seventeen-year-old Ellie starts seeing reapers - monstrous creatures who devour humans and send their souls to Hell - she finds herself on the front lines of a supernatural war between archangels and the Fallen and faced with the possible destruction of her soul.

A mysterious boy named Will reveals she is the reincarnation of an ancient warrior, the only one capable of wielding swords of angelfire to fight the reapers, and he is an immortal sworn to protect her in battle. Now that Ellie's powers have been awakened, a powerful reaper called Bastian has come forward to challenge her. He has employed a fierce assassin to eliminate her - an assassin who has already killed her once.

While balancing her dwindling social life and reaper-hunting duties, she and Will discover Bastian is searching for a dormant creature believed to be a true soul reaper. Bastian plans to use this weapon to ignite the End of Days and to destroy Ellie's soul, ending her rebirth cycle forever. Now, she must face an army of Bastian's most frightening reapers, prevent the soul reaper from consuming her soul, and uncover the secrets of her past lives - including truths that may be too frightening to remember.

Book Review

Title: Angelfire
Author: Courtney Allison Moulton
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: February 15, 2011

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Angelfire by Courtney Allison Moulton is one of the best angel books I've read in years, and I've read A LOT of them. The only other angel book on the same level is Cynthia Hand's Unearthly, which is also stellar. With Angelfire, it's like Moulton had a check list of what makes a great young adult book and seamlessly blended all of these components together into this sensational debut novel. I was hooked from the first chapter and couldn't stop reading--it was another "wee hours of the morning" finish because this book was THAT GOOD.

There are so many cliches in young adult paranormal fiction these days, and Moulton has an antidote for all of them. Tired of weak, whimpering heroines? You will LOVE Ellie. She's the perfect balance of mad battle skills and heart. Wondering why every teenager has to have absent parents? Ellie and her mother share a close, loving relationship. Yes, youth of today, it's okay to love your mom. Creeped out by centuries-old guys falling in love with teenage girls? Well, Ellie's soul's pretty old, too. Annoyed by girls throwing themselves at obsessive, stalker guys? Ellie totally calls Will on it and actually shows a healthy level of suspicion. After reading about one too many TSTL heroines this year, Angelfire was refreshing and original.

Frustrated by book series holding their cards too closely and providing no answers? (I'm looking at you, Fallen.) Well, Moulton's perfect mix of answers and mystique creates a well-developed, intriguing mythology for her series. And thank you, Courtney, for NO CLIFFHANGER. Angelfire's ending is my favorite kind for a book in a series--there's a satisfying resolution to this book's conflict with just enough unanswered questions and mystery to have you clamoring for the sequel. AND I AM CLAMORING.

And that romantic tension? You'd need to use one of Ellie's Khopesh swords to slash through it. I was about to say this is where Moulton really shines, but then I remembered her action scenes (which are brilliant, and I don't even really like action scenes), so I suppose Moulton is equally brilliant at writing heart-aching romantic tension and gripping action scenes. Moulton's pacing for Ellie and Will's relationship is fantastic. I loved seeing Ellie fall in love with Will (none of this "I love you for no reason other than I happened to see you from across the hall" for our heroine), and Moulton's use of flashbacks was captivating. This book oozes and seethes with romantic tension, and it kept me coming back chapter after chapter waiting for the moment when Ellie and Will would FINALLY kiss. So, so, so worth the wait.

Although I was a little thrown by the big reveal about Ellie near the end of the book (I definitely did not see that coming and I'm not crazy about that development) I cannot wait to see these characters again. Intriguing mythology, well-crafted characters, riveting action, and captivating romance combine into one thrill-ride of a novel that grips your heart and doesn't let go.