In this sixth installment of the House of Night series, Zoey and her friends find themselves in the aftermath of their great sho...moreTempting? Not so much.
In this sixth installment of the House of Night series, Zoey and her friends find themselves in the aftermath of their great showdown with Neferet and Kalona. Zoey continues to juggle three love interests and now possibly a fourth as Kalona tries to lure her through their ancient connection. Stevie Rae is starting to come clean on some of her secrets about what lurks in the tunnels under Tulsa, and Neferet and Kalona are pursuing their quest for ultimate power halfway around the world.
Sounds like a nice set up for character development, some resolution of relationships, and some continuance in Zoey's battle against evil, doesn't it? Sadly, this doesn't happen. I have read all of the HoN series as a form of brain candy, knowing that the writing wasn't good, the characters not well-drawn, and some of the content unbelievable or offensive. However, despite these flaws, I was always interested to see what happened next. Such is not the case with this book.
Pros: I actually thought the writing was cleaner and more mature in this book. Not good, but less dependent on repeating itself and using pop-culture references that will date themselves very quickly. The storyline involving Stevie Rae, her conflicts with the red fledglings, and her new "friend" are all interesting. By the end, the reader discovers that some of the boyfriend issues are resolved and whether Kalona is possibly redeemable or not.
Cons: The book itself is longer than prior ones due to its smaller font size, but the length drags instead of adding to the story. Instead of having one voice as narrator, this book switches between Zoey's first-person account and third-person accounts through other characters. Third-person is necessary to describe things going on outside of Zoey's awareness, but it feels choppy to change from first to third so frequently. Four or more other characters have chapters written from their point-of-view.
Very little is moved forward with the story arc, and Zoey does not mature as a leader at all. She continues to act immaturely, despite all of the trials she's experienced in a few short months. Aphrodite's relationship with Darius, while handled lovingly, still doesn't make sense. Unfair characterizations about the way gay people act and African-American people speak continue (despite the fact that it's obvious that the authors want us to accept diversity). Many characters that had at least some value in past books are made to be superfluous at best.
Things didn't pick up until the final 20 pages or so, and it then ended hastily with no resolution. I don't expect full resolution in a book that's part of a series, but it would have been nice to have this book be able to stand on its own a bit. Unfortunately, it feels like a slow, lengthy transition to the next novel. I'll wait that one out until it comes to my local library. (less)
Not as bad as expected when you read the entire thing, but the middle third was full of nothing but romantic angst that almost did me in. This is not...more Not as bad as expected when you read the entire thing, but the middle third was full of nothing but romantic angst that almost did me in. This is not the strong female story that the blurb claims it to be, but instead it is a romance sandwiched in between typical fantasy/adventure events.(less)
If I rated this on my reading experience alone, it would get 1 star. If I rated this, however, based on how it fares and compares to other novels in t...more If I rated this on my reading experience alone, it would get 1 star. If I rated this, however, based on how it fares and compares to other novels in the romance genre, it would get 2 stars. Therefore, I'm going with 1.5 stars overall.(less)
In Sarah Rees Brennan's debut novel, The Demon's Lexicon, two brothers must fight against the evil magicians who seek...moreOriginal concept, poor execution
In Sarah Rees Brennan's debut novel, The Demon's Lexicon, two brothers must fight against the evil magicians who seek them and the talisman their mother wears. Another set of siblings, Mae and Jamie, seek out the brothers' help when it is discovered that Jamie has been marked by a demon. The four teens, and now awkward friends, set out to find a way to remove Jamie's mark and then that of Alan, who is marked in the process of trying to help the others. A race against time begins, as Alan and Jamie must have their marks removed before demons ravage their bodies and souls, all while avoiding the magicians who still seek to harm them.
While many others enjoyed this book, it fell flat for me. The writing felt awkward and forced, as though the author was trying to make things sound important. Poor pacing plagued the novel, and things didn't pick up until the final 100 pages. When things did pick up, the villains were portrayed as mostly inept in spite of the frightening powers we've been told they possess. Though the book had an original set-up about demons and magicians, there were problems with the mythology that made me question the story. Additionally, the main character Nick was emotionally distant and unlikeable. Though this is a significant plot point and one that is explained later in the book, it made it difficult to connect with him as the main narrator (third-person). Secondary characters, like Jamie and Mae, felt underdeveloped.
Despite these qualms, I did see glimmers of a strong story with potential for the books to come in the series. The story differs from typical YA paranormal fare by focusing on demons and magicians, and the darker tone should appeal to fans of dark urban fantasy. Also, instead of being a romance, it was refreshing to see sibling relationships as the focus. When hints of romantic tension did enter the story, they didn't take away from the main story arc about the brothers. Finally, as mentioned, things did pick up in the final chapters and some of those plot surprises were both creative and frightening.
I know that Rees Brennan already has a devoted fan base, both due to her previous fanfic work and then this original novel. Though I won't be rushing out to get it, I hope that the sequel, The Demon's Covenant (The Demon's Lexicon Trilogy), expands on her original story concept and takes things to a higher level. (less)
Though I had a rocky experience with Harkness' first novel, A Discovery of Witches, I began reading Shadow of Night with hopes that its setting in the past would add intrigue and excitement to the unfolding story. Unfortunately, it did not, and the story became more plodding and convoluted in this installment.
Shadow of Night suffered most from its almost obsession-like focus on detailing every aspect of the historical period in which it was set. From particulars about the floor coverings to the convenient inclusion of almost every notable figure of the time, I felt bogged down in the details and the name-dropping. Character development also progressed in fits and spurts and ultimately stalled. Though Matthew and Diana have some "breakthrough" moments in their relationship, Diana remains relatively incompetent and reckless and Matthew continues to be controlling and possessive. Slow pacing made the first 80% of the novel drag, and very little time or attention was given to the threats or worries of the present day. When action or plot movement did occur, it provided little tension or excitement. The couple's impetus to be in the past - to hone Diana's magic and to find Ashmole 782 - often got lost among historical notes and unrelated intrigue. The mythology regarding time travel and Diana's magical skills was also unclear and seemed to contradict itself at times.
Even though Shadow of Night didn't work for me, this book might be an enjoyable read for those who love history and detail. The time spent exploring Diana's magic and her special capabilities was interesting, as was the information revealed toward the end of the novel about Ashmole 782 and its related prophecy; I finished the book wanting to know more about each. The story also provided some insight into Matthew's character and how his past and his family had shaped him. Chapters set in the present day that were interspersed between sections also provided glimpses into what was happening in the present-day world and moved things along for the secondary characters. Of all of the different parts in the book, I enjoyed these infrequent additions the most.
While I can appreciate the ambitious nature of Harkness' series, I left this second book of the trilogy feeling unmoved again by the story or its characters. Even such, I will likely read the final installment when it comes out to see what happens to Diana, Matthew, and all those connected by Ashmole 782. As she wraps up her story, I hope that Harkness provides readers with faster pacing, clearer world building, and more character development.
Note: This review refers to an advance review copy. (less)
Somewhat predictable and dragging sequel, 2.5 stars
In the second book of Andrea Cremer's Nightshade series, Wolfsbane, Calla finds herself imprisoned...more Somewhat predictable and dragging sequel, 2.5 stars
In the second book of Andrea Cremer's Nightshade series, Wolfsbane, Calla finds herself imprisoned by the Searchers, her lifelong enemies. When the Searchers end up being much different than expected, Calla must decide whether it's worth the risk of trusting them in order to save her pack. She must also decide if her allegiance belongs to Shay, the man who escaped with her, or Ren, the one she left behind.
WOLFSBANE was a somewhat predictable and dragging sequel that still left me interested enough to keep reading. In this installment, the reader learns a great deal more about the Searchers, the Keepers, and the Guardians and how they're all connected to one another across centuries of warfare. Certain new characters added to the developing story, and the action scenes really moved the story along in the second half. Cremer also again integrated serious themes into her story about important issues like belongingness, choice, war, and how authority can influence and oppress people.
Though these good things could have combined to make a great book, they frustratingly did not. More than 200 pages were spent awkwardly dumping information on the reader, and the sheer number of new characters and roles became confusing. The new people were then often characterized using clichés. Repeated scenarios to reinforce the idea of a new human "pack" also felt redundant. Because of all this, the book was very slow to start.
Character development also faltered. Calla and Shay both act in unbelievable ways regarding each other and those around them. Their previously egalitarian relationship disappears, and both love interests act in ways that made it difficult to root for either guy, especially Ren. Calla also continues to not act like the alpha we're told she is; she does a lot of telling about her warrior and alpha attributes but she doesn't show them. Instead, there was too much reliance on teeth baring and snarling to make the Guardians seem fierce. Flowery prose also bogged down much of the story, and I noticed a few plot holes. One major plot twist was predicted too easily, and the book then finished with an unsatisfying cliffhanger.
Even though WOLFSBANE was disappointing in many ways, I'm still looking forward to see what happens as the trilogy wraps up in Bloodrose. I'm hoping that Cremer takes some major risks regarding the resolution, especially the love triangle, and that she brings some of the social and political issues to the forefront. (less)
Whimsical but slow fairy tale retelling, 2.5 stars
Heather Dixon’s fiction debut, ENTWINED, offers a retelling of the Grimm Brothers’ tale of the Twelv...moreWhimsical but slow fairy tale retelling, 2.5 stars
Heather Dixon’s fiction debut, ENTWINED, offers a retelling of the Grimm Brothers’ tale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses. Following the death of their mother, Azalea and her eleven sisters are left nearly abandoned as their father, the King, goes off to war. Though they’re in mourning, the girls long to dance just like their mother had taught them. When the girls discover a magic-filled passage to an otherworldly pavilion, they begin to spend each night dancing to exhaustion under the watchful gaze of the Keeper. Though he appears kindly at first, the Keeper soon becomes a frightening presence that may endanger the girls and the kingdom itself.
Fans of fairy-tale retellings will likely appreciate ENTWINED’s take on the Twelve Dancing Princesses, as Dixon’s version makes use of many elements from the original, including twelve girls, an invisibility cloak, and suitors who have three nights to uncover the princesses’ secret. This story offers its own whimsical touches like a magical tea set with a spunky attitude, girls named alphabetically after different plants, and a focus on the intricacies of dance steps and curtsies. Azalea comes across as a likable protagonist, and the story touches on the complexity of father-daughter relationships and how different people grieve. Even with dark notes, including a villain who is truly creepy at times, the story is also very clean and appropriate for younger readers.
Though ENTWINED had these strengths as a basis for its tale, it never caught me up in its story. Along with slow pacing for the first 400 pages, the book was too long for the story it contained. The plot sagged under the weight of the author’s ambitious attempts to characterize every character, and this led to limited character development overall. The girls’ changing relationship with their father seemed uneven, and the romances didn’t have much development or spark. The attempts to sound historical felt cliché at times, and I don’t think this novel will resonate with many young adult readers because it remains too grounded in the original tale. This book felt much more like a middle-grade read because of the very chaste romances and little in the way of truly scary parts.
Fans of the original Grimms’ tale will likely enjoy this story, even if it takes a while to get through it. Unfortunately, I didn’t experience that enjoyment. In future books, I hope that Dixon provides tighter pacing, more character development, and a bit more passion and danger.
Note: This review refers to an advance reader's copy.(less)
In AWAKENED, Zoey and Stark are recovering on the Isle of Skye after their harrowing return from the Otherworld. Nefe...moreLackluster continuation of series
In AWAKENED, Zoey and Stark are recovering on the Isle of Skye after their harrowing return from the Otherworld. Neferet has returned to lead the Tulsa House of Night after being exonerated by the High Council, and she continues to grow stronger with Kalona now under her control. The rogue Red Fledglings are terrorizing the city, and Stevie Rae and Rephaim continue to struggle to define their relationship. With new threats and tragedies occurring in Tulsa, Zoey must decide where her conscience leads her and what she will do.
Despite my concerns with this series, I always come back to the next book with hopes for improvement. Unfortunately, AWAKENED continues the series' downward trend. The use of slang, unrealistic "teen talk," dated references, and racial and homosexual stereotypes continue (even though it's obvious the authors are trying to be inclusive). Like TEMPTED and BURNED, Zoey's perspective is written in first-person, while everyone else is in third-person. This stylistic back-and-forth remains frustrating, especially given the sheer number of characters included. Very limited character growth happens for anyone, especially Zoey. As a character, I'm no longer able to take her seriously. For example, Zoey refers to other characters as being "gross" for "playing kissy-face," and then she's depicted as sexually and emotionally mature a few chapters later, which seemed unbelievable. While things moved forward plot-wise a bit more in this book, the pace still felt stagnant for the first half. The major conflict remains Neferet and Kalona, with little change, and predictable plot outcomes continue. At the end, the book also concludes at a moment in which the authors resurrect a painfully overused plot point.
On the positive side, as mentioned, there is a bit more movement in the plot when compared to the previous two installments. The relationship between Stevie Rae and Rephaim remains interesting, and character development occurs in Rephaim, a bit in Kalona, and even a little bit in Erik. Damien and Jack's relationship also gets some more attention, and it's depicted as healthy, loving, and meaningful. While the switch from first-person point of view to third-person remained bumpy at times, the transitions were smoother and the writing was better in the third-person sections than in previous books.
With four book more books to go in this series, I'm finding it difficult as a reader to motivate myself toward picking up each additional one. If I do, I hope the Casts move beyond the set conflict or kick it up a notch, along with some significant character growth for Zoey and her friends. (less)
Good second installment (but leaves you hanging again), 3.5 stars
In The Awakening (Darkest Powers, Book 2), the second in Kelley Armstrong's Darkest P...moreGood second installment (but leaves you hanging again), 3.5 stars
In The Awakening (Darkest Powers, Book 2), the second in Kelley Armstrong's Darkest Powers trilogy, we catch up with Chloe, Derek, Simon, Tori, and Rae. Chloe learns more about the extent of her special powers, the intent of the Edison Group's experiment becomes clear, and the threats to each character's safety becomes more apparent. New alliances are built, old ones are rekindled, and current ones are questioned, all while trying to escape the clutches of the Edison Group.
Like the first book in the series, I enjoyed immersing myself in Armstrong's world. Her writing is strong for a young adult series, and her characters are well-drawn. The roles of some characters are expanded, especially Derek, and relationships are both strengthened and tested between characters. There's more exploration of each character's special skills and how well he/she can master them. Chloe remains a strong teen heroine with a conscience, though she comes off more cliché in this book. Again, the action and the trials the characters experience remain the focus of the novel, not any romantic subplot. There's romantic tension, but it's limited when it appears.
However, also like the first book, the ending leaves the reader without any closure. The series feels like a serialized novel, not a series of books. In this installment, there's no sense of plot other than running from the Edison Group. Though character development and discovery does happen during the journey, the book is almost entirely one flight scene that changes a bit, based on the circumstances. Compared to The Summoning (Darkest Powers, Book 1), it was a lot less satisfying as a stand-alone book.
Despite these misgivings, I'm looking forward to the conclusion of the trilogy this spring with The Reckoning (Darkest Powers, Book 3). Like the first two books, I'm sure it will be a good read and I hope it will provide readers with a satisfying conclusion to the series. (less)
Though I really enjoyed the first one in this prequel series, I'm now a bit worried about book two. The teaser chapters (available through MTV's Holly...moreThough I really enjoyed the first one in this prequel series, I'm now a bit worried about book two. The teaser chapters (available through MTV's Hollywood Crush site) suggest that this one is going to bring the unnecessary romance and sex drama like WOAH.
(view spoiler)[The first two chapters are about nothing but the scummy boy wanting to have his rape-y way with our heroine and then the heroine trying to have her lovey-sexy way with the hunky, reasonable love interest. In 24 hours, she goes from her first-ever kiss to seeing people battle evil and die to fleeing on horseback under the cover of darkness to talking herbal birth control with her lover in the forest after trying to run her hands up into his man goods. Really? (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Left wanting better romance & more resolution again
In BEAUTIFUL DARKNESS, Garcia and Stohl return to the world of Gatlin, where magic and mysterio...moreLeft wanting better romance & more resolution again
In BEAUTIFUL DARKNESS, Garcia and Stohl return to the world of Gatlin, where magic and mysterious happenings are afoot in an otherwise idyllic Southern town. Coming off the dramatic supernatural showdown on Lena's 16th birthday, Lena and Ethan are struggling to keep their relationship alive and to move forward, especially since Lena remains grief-stricken over her uncle's death. When Lena starts hanging out with Ridley and a dangerous new guy, Ethan decides to get to the truth about what's happening by traveling through the Caster tunnels underneath Gatlin. What awaits everyone is another dramatic face-off between the forces of Light and Dark, both of whom want Lena on their side.
Earlier this year, I read BEAUTIFUL CREATURES and enjoyed it, but it left me wanting better pacing, more romance, and a less contrived ending. Unfortunately, BEAUTIFUL DARKNESS didn't provide those things. Pacing dragged for the first 250 pages. Once the pacing picked up, the book switched from being about relationships and the past to being more of a heroic quest of self-discovery for Ethan. Though this could have been interesting, it didn't mesh well with the feel of the first half. Like the previous book, I also didn't find Ethan and Lena's relationship very moving, especially given how Ethan is now treated by Lena (though there is a plot reason). Ethan's voice, while sweet, is beginning to feel less and less believable. He seemed too nice and innocent (and I like good guys, not bad boys), and he never got really angry or scared or asked questions, despite what's happening. Continuity errors also drew me out of the story. Most frustratingly, the conclusion obviously set up things for the sequel, and it did so in a way that was terribly similar to the first book. The world building and mythology felt unnecessarily complicated and too convenient this time too; instead of being able to suspend belief and immerse myself in the story, I kept stopping to notice how things were working out too easily to further the plot or to protect certain characters.
On the positive side, this installment featured the introduction of new, likable characters like Liv and the expansion of existing ones like Link, Ridley, and even Ethan's deceased mother, who seemed to come alive as he learned more about her past. The development of the Caster and Otherworld mythology continued, including a lot of big reveals regarding each person's history and that of their families. A gripping back story for one couple in the past also added to the romance of the story.
Though BEAUTIFUL DARKNESS didn't meet my expectations, I'm sure that those who loved the first book will love this too. In the next sequel, I hope that Garcia and Stohl pick up the pacing and move beyond their set conflict to something more dynamic to keep readers interested and engaged. (less)
Andrea Cremer’s debut novel, NIGHTSHADE, explores a world infused with werewolves, magic, treachery, and love. Throughout her life, young alpha female...moreAndrea Cremer’s debut novel, NIGHTSHADE, explores a world infused with werewolves, magic, treachery, and love. Throughout her life, young alpha female Calla has known her fate: to marry alpha male Ren on their shared 18th birthday and form a new pack. But when Calla goes against pack code and secretly saves a human boy named Shay, things begin to change. Through Shay, Calla begins to question her role to protect the mysterious Keepers and the history she’s been told all her life. As her birthday and pairing with Ren approaches, Calla must decide whether to follow tradition or her heart.
NIGHTSHADE is full of strong elements like consistent writing and a complex mythology. There’s also a paranormal love triangle, but there’s much more than that. Cremer uses her novel to explore issues like sexism, servitude, the abuse of power, and the value of tradition. Beyond these larger conflicts, the protagonist has to deal with problems that regular teens might face: controlling parents, conflicted feelings for two boys, and the struggle to determine her role and place. Taken together, these components made the story interesting and the characters sympathetic, despite their supernatural origins. Action throughout the book moved things along, and the nuances of pack dynamics were incorporated well into the human interactions.
Despite these strengths, there were also places for improvement. Some climactic scenes lacked oomph and were resolved too quickly, and the major plot twist lacked suspense because of its predictability. In the first third of the book, the mythology was very confusing, and it remained muddled at the end. Calla’s character, while initially strong, became less likeable across the book as she fell to mush around her love interests. The love triangle seemed cliché, and the love/attraction between Calla and Shay was never really explained. Character development was lacking, and while I appreciated the inclusion of real issues within the story, their presentation often came across as teaching moments. Even with its obvious feminist leanings, the book also still romanticized Ren as a forceful lover. The novel concluded with no resolution and an extreme cliffhanger that will require readers to pick up the sequel to see what happens next.
Overall, NIGHTSHADE kicks off Cremer’s planned trilogy with a complex and original mythology that includes some meaningful concepts, and it’s likely to be loved by fans of love triangles and paranormal romance. In the coming books, I hope Cremer brings more clarity to her mythology and her characters’ motivations and a greater deftness to her exploration of issues within the story. Even though I wasn’t overwhelmed with this first installment, I know I’ll pick up the next book to see where the story leads Calla, Shay, and Ren.
Note: This review refers to an advance reader's copy.(less)
More complex, engaging, and emotional ride, 3.5 stars
Though I was disappointed with Sarah Rees Brennan's debut novel, THE DEMON'S LEXICON, I was intri...moreMore complex, engaging, and emotional ride, 3.5 stars
Though I was disappointed with Sarah Rees Brennan's debut novel, THE DEMON'S LEXICON, I was intrigued enough to pick up the sequel from the library, and I'm very glad I did.
In THE DEMON'S COVENANT, siblings Mae and Jamie have tried to return to as normal a life as possible after the harrowing demon and magician attacks of the prior month. When Mae realizes that Jamie is getting mixed up with the new leader of the magicians' circle, she calls the only people she thinks can help: brothers Alan and Nick. Though willing to help, the brothers' presence brings added problems, including the magicians' desire to control Nick and the Goblin Market's rebuke of Alan. Mae also finds herself conflicted about her feelings toward Alan and Nick. With her loyalties stretched between the two and her own brother, Mae must make potentially dangerous decisions to protect those she cares for most.
Compared to the first book, THE DEMON'S COVENANT was a more complex, engaging, and emotional ride. The writing improved overall, and transitions were smoother. Rees Brennan excels in her descriptions of complicated sibling relationships and in her portrayal of how love and concern may be expressed in different ways. Told through Mae's limited third-person point of view, the narration was more accessible than Nick's distant perspective of the first book. Mae's viewpoint also provided the opportunity for more mystery and suspense regarding what would happen with Alan and Nick. The quick and snappy dialogue felt more natural in this installment, and it helped to move the plot and to define characters. Character development advanced for the four main characters, most notably for Nick and Mae in some poignant moments involving his father's journal. The role expansion of secondary characters from the first book and the introduction of new ones also provided for an increasingly detailed mythology. The book then finished with a conclusive, satisfying ending (instead of a cliffhanger) that provided growth for the four main characters with the hint of future challenges.
Even though I enjoyed the book, there were still some weaknesses. Moments of rough transition still existed. Inconsistencies in Nick's character also became confusing and frustrating regarding his ability to understand human interaction and his willingness to be touched. Aspects of the mythology remained unclear at the end, as did parts of the climax and its effects. Finally, some of the secondary characters, like Annabel, Seb, Gerald, and Sin, sometimes felt more convenient than necessary.
As this trilogy concludes, I hope that Rees Brennan continues to expand and clarify her magician and demon mythology and that she maintains her focus on the strength and fragility of the sibling relationships. Though I didn't expect my opinion about this series to change so much, I'm very glad I picked up THE DEMON'S COVENANT and I'll be looking forward to the final installment next year.(less)
This review is from: The Reckoning (Darkest Powers, Book 3) (Hardcover) In her final installment of t...moreGreat series but disappointing ending, 3.5 stars
This review is from: The Reckoning (Darkest Powers, Book 3) (Hardcover) In her final installment of the Darkest Powers trilogy, The Reckoning (Darkest Powers, Book 3), Kelley Armstrong returns us to the safe house where Chloe, Derek, Simon, and Tori are hiding from the Edison Group. Unsure of their new protectors and sometimes uncertain of each other, Chloe and her friends feel trapped and hesitant about what to do next to save themselves and to free Rae and Aunt Lauren. Combined with dangerous new ghosts, increasing romantic feelings, and the impending likelihood of Derek's first full Change, things are tense for all involved.
Like the first two books in the trilogy, I enjoyed Armstrong's strong writing and the world she has created. Pacing was solid, and the plot's twists left me guessing whom to trust and surprised when the answers were revealed. Character development continued with Chloe, Derek, and Tori, though Simon became more of a secondary character. The romantic subplot was done well again, but the romance was stronger and answered the long-awaited question of Simon versus Derek. The reader also got glimpses (though not always clear) into how the Darkest Powers trilogy relates to Armstrong's Otherworld series.
Even with these strengths, I finished feeling disappointed. This book did not provide the satisfying ending to the trilogy that I had wanted. Too many plot threads were left unexplored, unfinished, and unexplained. Nothing felt settled at the end except the romance. I understand why Armstrong may have left things as she did: the ending was just enough to close the series but also enough to leave readers wanting more, either from her adult series or from her new YA trilogy, set in the same universe, to be released next year. Though I understand this, I didn't like it. In this book, characterization also felt uneven sometimes, especially with Derek and his interactions with one character in the second half of the book. Tori's character also changed significantly within a few days' time without explanation. Though necessary to move the plot along (and in ways I liked), it didn't fit with how they had been portrayed before.
Despite these problems, I still enjoyed the book a great deal and plan to read Armstrong's future YA books. However, I will do so knowing to not expect a sense of closure from her books, even when it's the end of a trilogy or series. With her strong writing, likeable characters, and creative worldbuilding, Armstrong has the ability to craft a wonderful series of books and draw the reader in. I just wish she knew when to provide a real ending and let the reader go. (less)
Strong protagonist, action, and romance combine for solid read, 3.5 stars
In Rift, the prequel to Andrea Cremer's Nightshade series, readers get a gli...more Strong protagonist, action, and romance combine for solid read, 3.5 stars
In Rift, the prequel to Andrea Cremer's Nightshade series, readers get a glimpse into the origins of the Keepers and the Witches War of the 15th century. The daughter of a noble, Ember Morrow must leave her family after her 16th birthday to serve the mysterious order of Conatus. Though most fear the knights, Ember readily embraces the life of battle and purpose the order provides. Once training begins, she finds not only her skills tested, but also her wit and her heart. Dark powers soon start to infiltrate the group, and Ember must decide where and with whom her allegiances lie.
Though I had a rocky relationship with Cremer's other Nightshade books, I really enjoyed Rift once I got past some slow parts in the beginning. Ember was an able and spirited protagonist with a strong sense of self. Though a bit reckless at times, she doesn't complain or expect others to rescue her. Action scenes were well-described and plentiful, and the author's prose painted beautiful images of the Scottish highlands cloaked in gray fog. The slow-building romance was another highlight with its swoon-worthy love interest who was both strong and masculine but also considerate and effusive. Even though it's a prequel, Rift can also be read on its own as the satisfying start to a new series, and the story ends in a place where a reader can look forward to the next installment without being left on a terrible cliffhanger.
As mentioned, Rift was slow to start, however, and I felt bogged down during the first 100 pages by some character interactions and historical information that wasn't always clearly explained. Ember became too adept as a knight too quickly to be believable, and the romance blossomed from little sparks to full devotion in too short of a time near the end to feel truly natural. The story line about the split within Conatus also wasn't nearly as engaging as hoped, and I found myself rushing through those sections to get back to Ember's story. Overall, the story just felt a bit light on content where there could have been more development.
While I might have found a few stumbling points, Rift is the best thing I've read by Andrea Cremer, and I'm already looking forward to the sequel (Rise). In it, I hope Cremer develops the swoony romance even more and provides greater tension to the emerging story about the split that leads to the Witches War.
Note: This review refers to an advance review copy. (less)
Malinda Lo's debut novel, Ash, has a great premise, lyrical prose, and a richly detailed setting. Despite these po...moreBeautiful writing but didn't grab me
Malinda Lo's debut novel, Ash, has a great premise, lyrical prose, and a richly detailed setting. Despite these points, I finished it feeling unmoved. In this Cinderella re-telling, the reader follows Ash across her teen years, during which she loses both of her parents and ends up as an indentured servant to her stepfamily. In an attempt to escape her grief and her work, Ash walks the forest. A fairy named Sidhean starts accompanying her on her walks in the woods, and later, Ash also meets Kaisa, the king's huntress, in the same way. As the prince's ball draws near, Ash finds her feelings and obligations split between Sidhean and Kaisa, and she must decide whom to choose and how to spend the rest of her life.
Lo's writing was strong, lush, and lyrical throughout the book, but her style also simultaneously maintained an understated feel. Based on the descriptive passages, I could easily imagine the woods through which Ash walked. The author also incorporated a strong folklore component in part one, which added depth and dimension to the story being told. Though different from traditional Cinderella tales, Ash was a strong female lead, making her own decisions and caring for herself. Others have found this too far outside the regular tale, but I appreciated this reimagining of the character. The possibility of a same-sex relationship was done with subtlety and presented as a normal choice without fanfare or drama. I think this new spin on a traditional tale could really appeal to LGBTQ readers and allies.
However, despite beautiful writing and new twists, this novel didn't create the impact I expected. I didn't feel Ash's connection strongly with either Sidhean or Kaisa, and her choice seemed obvious long before the end. In addition, while Lo's writing style provided a slow, realistic build, the novel felt sluggish due to the plot's predictability as a re-telling of a classic tale. Finally, the power of the main character potentially picking a female partner was not realized as strongly as it could have been. The book doesn't need to be a political or social treatise by any means, but this was an essential plot point and it felt underdeveloped in its significance.
In spite of not overtly enjoying this book, I can tell that Lo has a lot of promise given her obvious writing talents. I'll look forward to reading her future works with a cautious eye.(less)
Beautiful Creatures was an enjoyable read, but it left me wanting more Southern atmosphere, more romance, and bett...moreGood read w/room for more, 3.5 stars
Beautiful Creatures was an enjoyable read, but it left me wanting more Southern atmosphere, more romance, and better pacing. Set in rural South Carolina, Ethan has grown up feeling limited by the small town that surrounds him. He longs for the impossible - for things to change. Things do change when Lena Duchannes moves to town, bringing with her suspicion and prejudice on behalf of the townspeople. Ethan feels inexplicably drawn to Lena, and very soon, he finds himself part of a world where the supernatural, history, love, and curses all meet.
On the strong side, the story itself is fascinating and unpredictable, with multiple, intersecting plot lines that reveal themselves over time. The book has a different and developed supernatural premise compared to the typical werewolf or vampire fare. The writing is mostly clear and strong overall. The novel takes a welcome departure from books typical to this genre by featuring a mortal guy (Ethan) as the narrator who's involved with a supernatural girl (Lena). Many secondary characters, like Amma and Macon Ravenwood, are fleshed out and of value to the plot throughout. There's also a strong, consistent theme that one's actions have consequences - even when done in haste, even after generations.
However, I expected this book to grab me and keep me reading into the wee hours; this never happened. The novel felt too long, and the story dragged significantly in the middle. For a story that's centered on the fear of an upcoming date and the potentially devastating changes it will bring, I didn't feel a sense of impending doom and tension until the end. Ethan and Lena had a relationship that developed in a non-rushed, realistic way, but I didn't feel the spark between them as romantic characters as much as I have with other books. Despite the generally good writing, there were also a few notable discrepancies in the narration that pulled me out of the story. While the setting had a small-town, rural feel, it wasn't specifically a Southern one. I wanted more description so I could envision the landscape or environment. Finally, I was disappointed because the book, like so many others, concluded with an obvious unresolved ending to set up a sequel.
Overall, it wasn't a huge gripe on any matter; it was merely that the book didn't grab me as much as I had hoped. I look forward to Garcia and Stohl bringing more clarity, a better sense of place, and more even pacing in the novels to come.(less)
Charming historical-supernatural romance that's slow to start
In Saundra Mitchell's The Springsweet, seventeen-year-old Zora finds herself stuck in Ba...more Charming historical-supernatural romance that's slow to start
In Saundra Mitchell's The Springsweet, seventeen-year-old Zora finds herself stuck in Baltimore - both emotionally and physically - as she grieves the tragic loss of her fiancé. When a rash choice provides a way out, she takes it and finds her way to the wind-swept prairies of Oklahoma to live with her aunt. Once there, Zora discovers that she has the power to sense water under the ground and that her skill is in much demand in a drought-ridden land. While burdened with the responsibility of locating water (and hope) for others, Zora finds that her own heart may be awakening again.
Overall, The Springsweet was a charming historical romance with a light dash of the supernatural. The novel was short and succinct, and it was easy to sit down and devour it in one sitting. Zora, though a bit selfish, was a sympathetic character given her experiences and loss, and side characters like aunt Birdie and her young daughter helped flesh out the story. One of the love interests was also very likeable, and the romance, though quick and not entirely explainable, had some swoony moments. The greatest strength of the novel, however, lay in its detailed and beautiful descriptions of prairie and frontier life; these vivid mental images provided the story with an excellent sense of place and time.
Despite these positives, the novel was slow to start, and the writing felt a bit awkward in a few places. This novel is also not a good choice as someone's first foray into a historical/period novel, as there were words or descriptions, such as Zora lifting up the "combination" under her dress, that didn't mean anything to me and left me confused. Some of the supernatural elements weren't clearly explained either. The romance also developed too quickly and without much substance. This was one of the few times that I wanted a book to be longer, instead of shorter. It seemed like a lot of my concerns about the romance and the supernatural elements could have been cleared up with a few more pages about each topic. Though it's advertised as a companion novel, not a sequel, there were also times I wished I had read Mitchell's first book, The Vespertine, before this. The story does a good job of filling in the gaps, but I still felt like I was missing something.
Even though I found things I didn't like in The Springsweet, I found a lot that I did, and those strengths are enough to make me want to catch up on the first book The Vespertine and read the next (Aetherborne) when it comes out. In the coming book, I hope Mitchell continues to create a memorable sense of time and place while also providing readers with more insight into the supernatural ways and romances of her characters.
Note: This review refers to an advance review copy.(less)